Sheltered Between the Rays

Unwrap each mote of dust
suspended in the sunlight

borrowed from a Saturday
spent dissecting almonds,

snakes, and birds. Our books
tell us almost nothing

of this goddess sheltered
in the ripples of the day

but open your palm to the
light. Feel her brush your skin.

Now sing us all the jagged songs
you suddenly can sing.

Magpie Tales #214 | We Wordle #13 | PAD 2014 #9: Shelter

Ripping Off Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams depart
Life is a worn-out athlete
With a failing heart

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams vanish
Life is an iron prison
Bleak walls and anguish

NaPoWriMo #8: Rewrite a famous poem

I like to have my students analyze “Dreams” by Langston Hughes and then write their own stanzas following his pattern. When we’re finished, everyone reads them aloud following the original. If it’s done right, if sounds like one long poem. The kids usually have fun with it, and some come up with some really cool metaphors. Much better than my weak attempt above, which I’m sharing in response to NaPoWriMo’s prompt to rewrite a famous poem.

Why Self Portraits Shouldn’t Be Trusted

Jazz or maybe rock, some country, when they
Ask that odd question about my favorite
Music genres and artists. But my tastes are
Eclectic. There’s always a bit of an internal
Squabble. It seems so odd. How do you

Determine which conflicting tastes should

Box you in? It’s as strange and unsettling as
Relying on physical appearances and style to
Understand anything true or honest about
Someone you’ve only just (or never) met, so
Here’s something that really happened:

I have gray hair, but momentarily forgetting,
I told the nice lady working at the DMV
It was brown. She took a photo for my license.

PAD 2014 #7: Self Portraits

Since Lonesome Dove

Between prairie fires, buffalo
and wind few trees could live
here. The ones that did take root
and survive grew tall over the grass.
We stopped the fires, and the buffalo
are gone. Now fences provide
shelter for saplings to grow.
But when I drive up 183 toward
Abilene sometimes an oak catches
my eye, a tree, hundreds of years
old. Settlers would have known
this tree, Comanches too, I’m sure.
And ever since I read Lonesome
, I can’t help but wonder
what horse rustlers may have been
hanged from its branches, their legs
twitching in the space above
the wildflowers blooming.

PAD 2014 #4: Since… | We Write Poems #207

Sticky Note

I could tell you of the dappled sunlight
shining through thorny green trees,
the acidic soil and maybe a bright tropical
bird that lands in the branches before
fluttering away from some fruit picker’s
tired hands. Then the highways, the gray
interstates and the trucks that rumble
through time zones into the past. Eastern
to Central, the hours passing, the clock
resetting. I could also back up and speak
of processing plants where hourly workers
perform the mundane alchemy of phase
change, the solid becomes liquid. Poetry
is so ambiguous, you can’t help but wonder
what conclusions you might draw from this
obscured message, so I’ll clarify
and write it out in plainer mundane words
on a yellow sticky note: Could you pick up
some grapefruit juice on the way home?
Oh, and some cat food too. Love you.

PAD 2014 #3

Made or Just Happened

They say Voyager crossed the heliopause
last summer with thirty thousand years to go
to clear the sun’s gravity. Our plutonium
spark, a flicker of human warmth returning
to the stars like that first purple martin
returning again in the spring to the place
where he was hatched or the salmon
swimming up blue streams. We are called
home to where our atoms first began,
the water, the sky, the stars. The silent iron
in our blood aches for the supernovae
and so lying on our backs beneath
the wind-swaying oak trees, we hold
hands and watch the stars, imagining that
long journey whose end we’ll never know.

PAD 2014 #2 | We Write Poems: We Wordle #12

Origin Story

There is the blank page
or screen, the twisty open

road, the still surface
of your favorite pond.

Consider the rocks
at your feet, which one

will you throw in? One
is good for skipping, another

will make a loud plash,
and one might just hold

enough mass to create
a singularity as it rockets

down to the dark bottom.
A new universe is born.

The characters you imagine
may live and love and die

and debate your existence
while they’re young

drinking with their friends
what passes for coffee

in their pond bottom
universe. They’ll never know

how you wanted a second
chance, why you never said

goodbye, or where you left
your car keys this morning.

PAD 2014 #1

In the Kettle, the Shriek by Hannah Stephenson

I’ve been enjoying Hannah Stephenson’s blog, The Storialist, for several years. She posts a poem every day, usually inspired by someone else’s artwork. They’re quite good, amazing really, when you consider she does this every weekday. So I was happy to read her collection In the Kettle, the Shriek (Gold Wake Press, 2013).

These poems are full of warmth, wit, and so many questions. I really like the way she asks questions in her work. I found myself stopping in my tracks, sometimes doubling back after a few pages as I realized my thoughts weren’t keeping up with my reading. Go slow, with this book. Too fast and you’ll miss something. I suppose many books are like that, but In the Kettle, the Shriek rewards that doubling back.

Many of the poems seem to throw a bunch of vivid images and intriguing ideas out there, and I wonder what will stick, where is this going, and then I think, who cares, I’m enjoying the ride. But at the end, the poet often manages to both tie it all together and reveal something new in a single line that is often a question. This is the genius of the work, I think, and what I found so compelling, so interesting.

This is a very positive book. There is darkness, death, panic, extinction, in these pages, but there is light too. A gentle reminder that things will often work out if we are strong, if we are brave. I was especially struck by “Pressing Ghosts,” in which the speaker shares her own fears that her work is unremarkable and dull (it isn’t!) and concludes with:

Even so, I keep creating, I am capable.
I will calmly allow its heaviness
and stand when it goes. It will.

Strong work here, and I look forward to rereading In the Kettle, the Shriek one day. In the meantime, I will keep reading Hannah’s work at The Storialist.

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush