Pause for Tradition

I wrote two poems yesterday, one in keeping with this year’s NaNoWriMo theme, and the other in keeping with my April 9th tradition of writing a poem for my best-beloved niece for her birthday. This year’s poem isn’t as strong as some of the ones I’ve written for her in the past, but it has its moments.


Loving You, Like a Rock
T, turning 21

I want to write
to all of your past selves,
to every younger you
and to all the wonderful women
you are set to become.
Such a bright and delightful magic
you are in my life.
From the first time I held you
twenty-one impossible years ago.
You have always seen me —
both with a beloved’s rose-colored glasses
and clear, honest eyes.
Every version of you has been safe with me
and sacred to and savored by:
wise and smirky baby you,
wild abandon toddler you,
clever, adventurous kid you,
compassionate, progressive young adult you.
This is a love note to you all
a praise poem to who you’re growing into,
a proud, shout-from-the-rooftops,
a pep-squad cheer.
And a prayer that we can be face-to-face
in some soon-coming day
in our apocalypse world.
You give my heart light.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Unlocking Doors

Whoo, in a much better mood than last night. Thank goodness. 🙂

Sometimes it’s just like that. You get cranky, and it is what it is. I can’t do anything to change people who get on my nerves, but I can for-sure change how I respond. Again, thank goodness.

Today I started a writing, meditation, and self-care challenge (yes, because I have soooo much time on my hands, while working more than time and trying to write these poems and keep up with the forever essay challenge … yeah). I started thinking about two vacations I took with my mother years ago and how wonderful it was to see her slide out of herself and into a woman I’d never seen before. The trips were very different, and what I saw in her was very different one trip to the next, but both pleased me enormously. So I thought I’d write today’s poem for the me who did that traveling with her. Then I realized I didn’t want to cram both trips into one poem, so I’ve pulled them apart. Tonight is the first trip, a week on the southern coast of Jamaica. Just thinking about it makes me smile.


Dreaming inside Her Dreams
Forty-seven, traveling with my mother

The first morning in Jamaica
you found her on the verandah
her eyes full of the sea
her face soft and open.
Yes, you thought. She understands now.
Yes, she said. I see what you meant.
She relaxed into the heat,
chatted up fishermen
played dominoes
drank from a coconut fresh from the tree
drank in the quiet
drank in the comfort
showed you a face you’d never seen
so still, so at ease, so beautiful.

Maybe she was the woman you would have met
had she chosen that road not taken.
You watched her, fascinated
in love
and also sad
denying that life not taken
made your life possible.
Did she give up ease to give you everything,
to give you the chance to find this place
to dream a life so different from hers?

But here, this perch above the waves
this lavender heaven,
this you can give her
can share with her
and watch her sigh and smile,
be waiting for her when she arrives
whole and happy
sun glittering through her silver curls.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Shimmy Like Your Sister Kate

I will probably go ahead and post the poems I wrote over the last few days. I’m annoyed to have let myself be sufficiently bothered by nonsense to stop me from keeping up with something I want to be doing. Alas, despite all the rumors, I’m actually human.

I was thinking about times when I’ve been able to shoot down La Impostora, times when I’ve gotten past her and just gotten on with the business at hand. And all of that led me to tonight’s poem. This form is still irking the mess out of me. It is what it is. I continue.


Body Roll
Thirty-seven years old, Bellydance classes

The surprise,
accepting visible vulnerability,
facing down a familiar fear.
You, God’s own rhythm-less girl,
enrolling in dance class?
You’ve always known you couldn’t move fluidly,
with grace.
You’d long since stopped dancing in public —
shame is so cruel,
closing you off from our loves, from yourself.
But you pushed past, through.
Gave yourself that freedom, that gift.

The discovery —
every movement made for you,
every movement full, round, voluptuous.
Revelation,
reintroduction to your physical self.

I stay grateful for your refusal,
rejection of doubt.
The line from that first hip circle,
that first undulation
traces through to the jigida I wear today.
That embrace of body,
embrace of self.
Finding the way home with no turning back.
You brought me here
with grace.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

That’s not how love works.

Yikes! It’s only day 6, and I’ve already fallen behind! I fell asleep while working on yesterday’s poem, looked at it this morning and thought … um … no. Maybe I’ll catch up. We’ll see.

Still not in love with this poetic form. It seems to highlight more than most just how much of a poet I am not. I don’t appreciate that. I have a hard enough time allowing myself to dive into this pool once a year. I don’t need the form I’ve chosen making me feel even less capable. Sigh.

I’m still wrestling with what this form is “supposed” to be. It’s not the first form to give me this kind of trouble. I struggled in the same way with prose poems. It would seem that in my mind there are little walls around “PROSE” and “POETRY” and the twain are never s’posed to meet. So poems made of prose or made to evoke a prose form … it’s like the way my brain can’t handle green tea ice cream.

Yeah. I’m not loving these poems. But on I go …


Desperate Joy
Eight Years Old

You didn’t understand the thing about friendships —
that they weren’t competitions,
no one’s affection was a prize.
You wanted them —
you always wanted them.
Were they beads on a string, shiny adornments?
You showed them off but never brought them in,
never made them part of your life.
You were jealous of their love,
coveted their attention,
yet gave them nothing of yourself.
And once you won them, you cast your lines elsewhere,
seeking, seeking,
the next, better friend.

Look at the photos from that party in third grade.
The hurt on Terry’s face
watching you hug and grin on Lynn.
You’d called Terry your best friend,
for two years, your best friend.
Then threw her over at that party.
And Lynn lasted no time at all.
You moved on to Beverly,
then Nora.

And not one of them allowed to fully embrace you,
not one of them a confidante, a sister.

I want to hear what you think you’re doing,
maybe help you see a different way.
You were on a path and I want to shift it.
Of course I’m too late, but you hurt my heart.
You were looking so hard for something,
looking so hard.

But I’m mistaken, aren’t I?
The disconnection was deeper than friendship.
It was love you didn’t understand.
Did you think it was finite,
that you couldn’t give love to one
without taking from another?
That isn’t how love works at all.
You could have loved Terry, Lynn, Beverly, Nora,
because love is the sky,
stretching on and on and on.

I look at that picture, that long-ago party,
the sadness on Terry’s face, the desperate joy on yours.
You could have relaxed, leaned into loving,
spread your arms wide —
embraced every friend and your own dear self —
and still had the infinity of your love left to feel, and to give.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Lived Experience

I am not feeling wise in my choice of poetic forms this year. Okay, do I ever feel particularly wise this early in the month? Maybe when I did tanka. That form felt made for me. And maybe with aruns, too, but that should probably go without saying. 🙂

But epistolary poems and me, not anything like a match made in heaven. I’m struggling with rhythm, with balance, with rhyme. I’m struggling with content, with placement of myself in the dynamic. I’m just struggling. Full stop.

And also, my childhood sounds so awful in these poems! Good lord. I mean, yes, all of these things were awful, but there was plenty of excellent stuff, too. Not tonight, though. Tonight, I’m writing again to 12-year-old me. And 12 was kind of a banner year of suck. As if the jeans fiasco wasn’t enough.


What They Called You
Twelve, Epithet #1

Does it even take two seconds to say it,
to spray it like hot tar over your skin.
You weren’t prepared — should you have been prepared?
How would you ever have been prepared?
I think about both moments —
in class with one boy, at summer camp with the other —
each boy spit it out so easily.
The word was there,
that word, so specific, so clear
so close to the surface.
Close enough, that they must have thought it often,
perhaps every time they saw you.

A white boy with no lived experience of Black folks,
what inspires him to let “nigger” fall out of his mouth?
When does he practice it?
When did he learn it?
How long has he had it in his back pocket, wating?
How many times does he part his lips, ready?
You wondered then. I’m still wondering.

You helped the first boy learn never to say it again,
at least not to you.
He surely still has the scars you gouged into his throat.
The second boy got off easy,
your (white) girlfriends harangued him.
One even wrote a taunting poem
(which you can still recite, by the way).

I know you were alone in those moments,
surrounded by white people
who couldn’t feel what you felt.
You hated the not-one-of-us-ness of it,
the way it made you gargantuan and microscopic.
Both, at once.

Today I wonder if either man remembers.
In his FB profile pic,
The first is a man you’d think would grow from the boy.
And it’s easy to imagine the word
just as familiar on his tongue.
The second has changed.
He has quite famously changed:
his career centers on anti-racism.
His work has been powerfully resonant.
Still, I wonder if he remembers that sunny summer morning,
using one simple word like a punch in the face.

You’ll remember.
And again, and again …
It won’t hurt. That power faded long before now.
It won’t hurt, but neither will it fade.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020