Shall I Tell You? (on Ravel’s Tzigane)

Melancholy
is a desert
dust storm
And then,
and then

the salted scent
of wet caliche blows
down the city street,

and children
step out in rainbow shoes
running to catch rain
on open hands
on arcing tongues
faces, spinning, lifted in glee

but the dissonances,
too much:
too much water,
too much lightning,
flowering thunder,

children fleeing
squealing home,
to tell the adventure
dripping
all over again.
beneath raven braided
regaños*.

~LD

*regaño = a scolding

My thanks to my musician friend who pointed out the  possible poetry in a stray comment on Ravel. ~LD

Colegio — NaPoWriMo2015 #18

borrowed from urgentrehab.co.uk

borrowed from urgentrehab.co.uk

Each day you have looked down
at the toes of your shiny black shoes –
each year a bit longer –
against the barro tiles
of the hallway floor.

Moving from one end of the building
to the other, year after year,
step after step,
black against red terra cotta;
Eight million steps and fourteen years.

Side by side and face to face
with old acquaintances and new.
Upstairs and down, in doors and out
with “Hurry! Hurry!
I can’t wait” in your voice,
all over your skin.

Rung after rung climbing over
holding hands, clumsy
first kisses, lasting loves, and sudden ruptures.
The glisten on those shoes has protected
and walked with you on the path
of this opening gambit

Leading to a portal inscribed
in elegant bold font:
Go Forth, now, without trepidation
and create excellence.

~LD

The Prompt: “write a poem that involves an urgent journey and an important message.”

A kind of cheesy one for “my” kids (h.s. seniors) who are all suffering with the impending changes in their lives. NOT the official letter of farewell. ~LD

Braided and Dashed — Poems on a birthday eve…

Braided

Strands of silver
Woven in the old way
Hand over hand over hand

Build a sluicing melody
Rushing against the damming
Demands of time

as it speeds along
in sightless pursuit
of a crooked path

sketched onto a map
long hidden,
ragged ends folded amiss.

Dashed

Like a sunrise
across the striped limestone
hills, not so distant

Time brightens aged gullies,
green, now, with unexpected rain
life lengthens and inhales possibility

No hyphen here to join
pieces of idea,
but rather dashes
marking ends and beginnings
of interruptions.

~LD

Tools of the Trade — thoughts on home ownership (week 1)

As I clamped the pliers down on the disappointingly named decorator hook and it bent into a shape utterly unrecognizable as a hook, I thought, “I should have known better. They’re called “decorator hooks”; OF COURSE they are made of cruddy pot metal that won’t hold up to any serious twist.” I had pre-“drilled” a hole using a hammer and nail, and still, the underside of the MDF cabinet wouldn’t take the pretty little hooks I’d picked for hanging my measuring spoons and cups without mangling the hooks. I sighed, such a waste of elbow grease. Did the math – about two bucks for ten essentially useless, but pretty, hooks. Lesson learned (again): if you can’t handle and examine the product before you buy it (especially when it comes to hardware) there’s a good chance that it is, well, crap. Back to the hardware store, this time for hooks which are less pretty and more functional. Fine.

In the master bedroom, as I set up the somewhat tall, massive, buffet-style table that I built a few years back, with the notion of using it to fold clothes and to hold my jewelry boxes, I’m still rather amazed that the only major flaw is that (just) one leg is about a centimeter shorter than the other three. I cut the lumber for that table with a handsaw. A HANDsaw. I measured everything carefully, but still that one leg got away from me. Though the table is hardly what you might call beautiful, it is exactly what I wanted; I should take the time to plane the other legs down to match the short one. But, I never do. You should see my plane, so antiquated as to be nearly a joke. A plane requiring elbow grease. I use it. But I try to keep it to a minimum. I’m low on elbow grease, and they don’t sell that stuff at the hardware store.

Having purchased a home, I think I might have done well to also invest heavily in a hardware / paint store. I’ve lived here four nights, and already I need a new key for the hot water feed to the washer (that side is drippy at the handle), a decent drill with concrete-capable bit, paint for the façade — not to mention the front entryway — a couple of quarts of hole-filler putty, a good pair of cable cutters to dispose of the tv cable in inconvenient places. I’m sure more such details will occur to me over the weeks and months and years to come. Maybe if I’d invested in a hardware store, I could convince them to stock elbow grease.

~LD

PS. Ridiculously happy in my new place in spite of minor details. I’m dreaming and drawing it into the shape I’d like it to take. No doubt, this will be a project of some planning and time. ❤

Sorting — a piece of thought (think piece)

Packing up the things that have helped turn the house I’ve lived in over the last 6 years into a home I’ve found a lot of trash (and tossed it) and a few treasures (and packed them carefully into boxes). Pictures of family now gone, big groups of us together, lost earrings, broken earrings that I can use to fix another broken pair, but mostly a lot of trash. And I’ve listened to music relentlessly. New to me music (Kodaly, Ysaye, Sibelius among others), and old favorites (Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Def Leppard, Beatles). The music makes the packing easier, somehow. I’m reluctant to try to explain.

* * *

As the things that make my home my own gather themselves (apparently) into carefully arranged boxes and bags and piles, I find myself in the most curious position of thinking about how odd life is, and that the things that make me most uncomfortable are also sometimes the things that give me the greatest delight.

As much as I hate packing, and moving, I am kind of in love with moving right now. I assume that’s because this particular move is to a house I am buying. I’ve always had a knack for making a house my home regardless of who it belonged to, but this time, for real, the house will be mine (someday, many moons from now when all the payments are made).

I have loved taking down every little detail: fan pulls given to me by a dear friend ages ago, the unicorn doo dads, the remarkable number of art works done for me by former students, tapestries I’ve carted all over creation. Even the sorting of DVDs, clothes, earrings, photos and papers has been interesting and enlightening. What a life!

As I sort, I try to figure out, again, how to explain to those who despair of my ever returning “home”, that this is home. Truthfully, I’m probably closer to “home” now than I might have been had I not ever come to Mexico to work for a year, and finally to make my life. In miles, anyway. I think it’s the international border that causes discomfort. Or maybe it’s the US perception of Mexico as a dangerous place over the last few years.

* * *

There is nothing particularly remarkable about moving. People do it all the time. I have wrapped bottles and treasures of various sorts in newspaper and stashed them in boxes: shells, glass unicorns, bottles of patchouli and lavender oil, the gaming pc and its wireless keyboard and mouse. I’ve stumbled across photos I didn’t even know existed (how does that happen?). I’ve sorted through old medicines and vitamins and thrown out anything that was in doubt. I’ve gone through my closet and tossed or given away anything I’ve not worn in a year. I decided to pack all soft things (clothes, sheets, towels, etc) in plastic bags. I’ve thought about what I might need in my new place, and what I can use and what I can live without.

I despised this house when I first moved in, and was sure I wouldn’t be here more than a year, two at the very most. But now, six years later, I’m grateful for the space this house has given me to grow as a person, to let go of ideas that no longer fit what I want, what I need. As annoying as the daily little league games are every day of summer vacation, I will miss their white noise blending with the mockingbird songs in the morning. I want to pack up the mockingbirds and take them with me. I’ve already told them. I think they are following me. I will need a tree to give them.

In a year or so I will be fully unpacked and know what I really need, what I really don’t. In the meantime, the anticipation of Christmas in July is enough to keep me going. The idea of doing all this alone (buying a house, packing, moving in, unpacking) before I began, was rather overwhelming. But now that I’ve begun, I am starting to see how all this work can come together to build a new, or maybe a continued, version of a life I’ve longed for, even if it looks nothing like the original yearning.
~LD

Talking to Doors — (terza rima) NaPoWriMo #15

I'm torn between dark green and bright purple.

pbstudiopro.com

If I could open on the sunrise
bathing the mountain silhouette,
I’d be mahogany auburn, embracing allies.

If I could open on the sunset
Behind the city skyline
I’d be oak, singing a golden evening duet

But I’ve not the rich man’s spine,
just a middle class stiff.
Though plain, I’m sturdy white pine.

If you will paint me a colorful whiff
for those who knock in flood or drought,
I’ll never do less than if

I were a wealthy man’s door, facing south.

~LD

A much better incarnation of the idea from a few days ago. =)

Happiness will be found

One of my students wrote an essay about Raymond Carver’s poem “Happiness” for the literary analysis assignment this week. I didn’t even know that Carver wrote poetry, or maybe it’s among the many things I’ve forgotten. In any case, as I sat with my hot coffee (cream and 2 sugars) Saturday morning marking the student’s analysis, I decided to give the poem a quick read. In this case, the quick read, turned into an entire leisurely stroll down that lane known as Memory.

The last time I read any Carver it was for a class in post-modernism. We read some of his short stories, all of which I found resonant but disturbing. I’m sorry I don’t still have my notes to tell you what my 23-year-old self put down as reaction to his work. I do remember I didn’t like his stories. Resonant but disturbing was difficult to incorporate into my worldview back then. I was not surprised though that this little piece of poetic imagery brought to me by a student prompted memories of (again) the way images speak softly but clearly to our experience, reminding us to pay attention.

Reminding us, for example, of the parallel qualities of our lives.  Don’t we all have coffee (or tea, or juice) in the morning just at dawn, our minds full of “early morning stuff that passes for thought” (lines 3-4): what to wear, bills pending payment, the dog needing to be walked, the car washed, and the yard mowed. We collect up the leavings of responsibility, like the speaker in the poem, and erroneously call them thoughts.

Then the speaker looks out through a window, sees the boys, delivering the newspaper (in our world of digital instantaneity, how quaint the analog world looks where a person delivers the news written on paper). They are silent in their happiness. The boys are so utterly consumed with their happiness that there is nothing to say about it. I can imagine that they say nothing because, perhaps — like so many of us with our coffee in the morning — they don’t even realize that they are happy. For a moment, I wonder if the speaker is being wry, that perhaps these aren’t happy boys at all, but rather sleepy, burdened boys who have to get up to deliver the paper to help generate family income. But then the speaker suggests that he believes “if they could, they would take each other’s arm” (lines 12-13) and the human contact implied doesn’t seem to be seeking comfort in a time of need, just sharing “doing this thing together” (line 15) and doing it “slowly” (line 16), as if it needed attention and time to savor. I imagine them running off, later and faster, in afternoon sunlight to a record store to spend their early morning cash.

Our speaker, still at the window, looks out on a lovely but melancholy “pale” moon that persists even though “the sky is taking on light” (line 17-18). The sick, the tired, the worn are pallid, but happiness? How can this pale moon be part of a snapshot of supposed happiness? Our doubts about the speaker’s assertion are answered when he explains the sight of this pale moon as “Such beauty that for a minute / death and ambition, even love, / doesn’t enter into this” (lines 19-21). Sipping our own steaming cups, we know this feeling. It is a feeling so rare that it tends to escape us. A moment in which we forget the transitory nature of our own humanity, and the day-to-day struggles to make meaning slip away into the wave of happiness before we are washed back out to a sea of routine.

The speaker didn’t expect happiness to be delivering the paper as he took his morning coffee, and he knows, as we must, that “It comes on / unexpectedly” (line 22). I look out my kitchen window, washing my coffee cup, and think about how to talk to my student about her incomplete analysis, and the sun shines white through the glass. I am still considering happiness and the melancholy that comes with it, but there aren’t really words, because I guess I know that the experience of poetry is sometimes like the experience of happiness; it “goes beyond, really / any early morning talk about it” (lines 22-23). Maybe that’s what I’ll tell her.

~LD

Carver, Raymond. “Happiness.” The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. 2 June 2003.            Web. 8 Mar 2014.

Post script for my students: Yes, you CAN do this. Yes, it IS literary analysis. I’m sure there are many flaws in this piece, intellectually and compositionally. When you find them, let me know so that I can make the appropriate revisions and rewrite as needed. Notice that picky and petty things like the author and title in paragraph one, as well as in-text citations and bibliography are still present. The thesis is also present, although it is NOT in the first paragraph.

Post script for everyone else: I did this mainly to see if I still could. ‘-) Let me know what you think. If you don’t know the poem, click on the link in the bibliography to give it a look.

The Last Delicious Bite — Thoughts on NaPoWriMo now that it’s over.

This scribbler's notebook and pen.

This scribbler’s notebook and pen.

And so poetry month ended, not with a bang but a whimper (at least at my house). I didn’t get the final two poems written, having intended to get two more up yesterday evening, but the siren song of my pillow won the night. Today, a day out of the classroom in celebration of International Labor Day, I spent alternating between student essays and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Obviously, I made more progress on the novel than on the student essays. It’s been many years since it took me more than two weeks to grade a set of student essays, though this round looks like it may break all heretofore standing records. After two weeks, I’m merely halfway through. But I didn’t stop in to share my woes about my current student writers. (Or maybe these woes are more about me; anyway.)

In fact, this pit stop on the way to the asparagus “florentine” and salmon filet waiting in the kitchen is to close out NaPoWriMo. Honestly, I am sad to see it go. I looked forward to reading the prompt each day with my early morning coffee, and though each day I wished I could have had the prompt the night before, the prompt dutifully percolated away in my mind after breakfast while I milled around in students’ goings on, and the day’s news, and taking out the trash, and going to dance class, and all the quotidian details.

On the other hand, NaPoWriMo has been one of those guests that after thirty straight days, really could have packed it in a week earlier and been afforded a larger space for longing in my heart. The challenge of coming up with a new (albeit often bad to mediocre) set of semi-poetic looking / sounding words and phrases to post grew to be nearly tedious. Rather (I imagine) like trying to cook for guests every single day when you aren’t a chef. Sometimes, you just order take out and call it good. So I missed two days all together, and recycled two other days. Twenty-six out of thirty poems ain’t too shabby for a self-proclaimed essay scribbler.

The challenge did jerk my imagination out of routine and jangle words and syntax around on my tongue in ways that might not have happened for any other occasion. I will play again next time, though I might not cleave so closely to the prompts.

The best part of NaPoWriMo was reading the participants’ pieces each day. Early on, I had trouble getting to sleep before one or two in the morning because I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the whorl of all their lovely, troubling, powerful words. What a wonderful reason to stay up late!

So, I won’t be around everyday. Once a week of me is more than anyone should have to tolerate. Besides, you also have other things to do and think. I thank you for all your comments and well-wishes and reading over these thirty days; I got some thoughtful feedback that was both helpful and inspiring. I return now to my weekly (ish) posting format with full faith that the exercise of NaPoWriMo has loosened up my tongue and brain and pen. ‘Till next week, then! ~LD

Touch Time — NaPoWriMo day 18

Only if
bare feet
touch earth
and a topknot
reaches for clouds
do the threads
tethering
souls
to the space between
where the
single light
is memory
only then can
tethers
weave a soul into
a new creature
that can
be let go to
spin free
of suffering.
If only. . .

~LD

* * *
The same starting word and ending word came to me quickly this morning. Filling in the middle has been somewhat more challenging, but since I went to Rio Abierto today, that got easier, too. Not much else to say other than goodnight! ~LD

Coming Soon / Proximamente

Over this first week of my spring vacation, I’ve spent an abundant amount of time thinking about writing (and reading). So much time, in fact, that I nearly (but didn’t) signed up for a coursera.org Writing I (college composition) class. I decided against not because I don’t think it would do me any good (all the contrary), but rather that by the time I found it, it was already 10 days underway, and I didn’t want to have missed a single thing.

That urge got me thinking about what I write, how I write, and my “voice.” I’m not sure it’s really my voice anymore. By which I mean, perhaps, that it’s not my main voice, or even the voice with which I have become most comfortable. Rather, it’s the voice that I know others in my long-standing, regular audience are used to and most comfortable with.

In an effort to get my blog readers to talk back to me (read: “be uncomfortable”), a few nights ago I wrote an annotated list of things I believe and why: right to bear arms, and contradictorily the right not to HAVE to bear arms, the right to marry whomever one pleases without legal hurdles impeding spousal rights in the case of illness or death, among other usually inflammatory topics. What I discovered as I wrote is not what I believe (which I’ve known for a long time), but rather that I don’t write about these topics well. Not even from my own experience (more vast than I care to let on – that may be part of the problem with the writing well, or not writing well). Writing well about those ideas, and all my ideas, is important to me, but I think as long as I’m trying to stay in the good graces of the imaginary people of my long-standing audience, I can only write about certain things well. Please note that the “beliefs” post never made the ether; its electrons remain safely stashed among the thousands of things that have never seen the light of day.

At the beginning of the school year, I started a graphic novel project with the help of the art teacher. The story line was to be based on an essay I wrote years ago about a girl I have been, a bowie knife, and a boy she knew. As the art began to come together, I realized that the original piece, a personal essay, was merely the background story to a larger, fictional, warrior-woman story. And I’ve not been able to get past the first scene of this new piece, in part I’d guess, because I’m terrified of what this unknown woman will do, now that she’s tearing away the fabric of what I thought she was, expected her to be. And in part because I see the faces of dismay in my accustomed audience when I write, and the words of her story come to a full stop. Still, her story needs to play out, and it’s up to me to give her that chance.

And so, I’m giving myself permission to return to my rebellious, free-wheeling twenty-year-old mind and voice, unhindered by the audience (that is, the one in my head) that is known to me, and that has certain expectations for correctness — or whatever it is they expect — that keeps my voice from changing. I need to throw open the theater doors and give the familiar faces with all their familiar reactions a chance to leave, open up the ticket booth, put out a new marquee and see who stays, and who comes in to give the ideas a once over. The shows have definitely changed, though I’m sure that in many ways this new voice will sound familiar, too.

All that’s left to say? Break a leg!
~LD