Gazing at Ghazals

The ghazal continues its relentless battering of my brain. I really can’t express how painful it is wrenching these lines out onto the page. When I wrote my month (month plus) of tanka, I was struck by how fluidly the poems seemed to fall out of me. That form was, somehow, entirely mine, entirely in sync with my brain. The same is most definitely not true of the ghazal. The ghazal is like a language so foreign its alphabet and sounds cannot be produced with the rudimentary tools at my disposal. Folks who speak the language strain their ears toward me, but all I give back is cacophony.


The ghazal is, clearly, going to kill me dead. What even is this form? It’s clearly something conjured up specifically to drive me over the edge. It’s too bad, too, because it’s such a cool-seeming form. I’m a lover of repetition and thought the refrain would click for me and help me deal with the rhyme. Um … not even close.

Yes, it’s still early in the ordeal. Anything’s possible. I’m worried because the 9th is fast approaching. That’s my niece’s birthday, and I always write a poem for her birthday … but usually I’ve got more of a handle on the year’s form by then and can turn out something workable. I have serious doubt about whether that will happen this year.

So, tonight’s poem. Ugh.

Shitty First Drafts (after Anne Lamott)

Entreaties in the midst of drama need hearing.
Of course, of course. Stop all tasks to speed hearing.

There's a rich magic in patience and empathy
and the power of both can seed hearing.

Thick silence enfolds and closes around us
pushing and pushing us all to plead hearing.

Bubbling through stories that flow urgently
grabbing up plot twists and all endings freed, hearing

questions, conversations, ideas shaken and stirred
dialog turning inward to bleed hearing.

And I, Stacie -- head against this concrete wall --
insisting, reaching for more than a screed, hearing.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), 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 … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

Hail to the V, indeed.

Finally I understand. Finally someone has shed light on a biological question that has plagued me for years. Thanks to Missouri’s Todd Akin, I now know that I should never have worried about getting pregnant after Alain forced himself on me. The superpower of my vagina kicked into high gear to shut that thing down. Amazing. I wish doctors had been more forthcoming with that news earlier. Would have saved me a lot of stress, maybe delayed the onset of my hair going grey.

Oh, but wait. That wouldn’t have worked for me, would it? After all, by Akin’s definition, I wasn’t legitimately raped. Date rape doesn’t meet Akin’s “forcible” criteria. My trusty vajayjay would have been all confused, unsure about releasing the shut-down chemicals and blasting that rapist sperm to smithereens. Damn. Guess I was right to worry and just plain lucky that all I got was raped.

I’m betting the folks who came up with the ridiculous and offensive ad campaign for Summer’s Eve had no idea just how right they were when they exhorted us all to hail the V. I mean, that’s some awesome power. Okay, so it wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s my fault for not having the sense to get myself legitimately raped. But for all the women who do, wow. Someone ought to harness the power of those shut-down chemicals. Surely a natural contraceptive would be welcomed by millions. No more migraines and weight gain caused by the pill. Oh yes. Hail to the ever-loving V.

Of course, now that I know about the shut-down system, I’m a little annoyed. The system seems flawed. It’s great, the whole not getting pregnant from legitimate rape thing. Really great. Absolutely. But it doesn’t go far enough, does it? Even Representative Akin realized that, saying that there should be some kind of punishment for the rapist. Some kind. I don’t know what kind he was thinking of, but I know the kind that seems best fitting to me. That fabled vaginal shut-down system should shut down more than pregnancy. I’m thinking a two-step approach. First, of course, is the instant penile vaporization — which would take care of the pregnancy danger most handily. Next would be the injection of a neutralizing agent that would make rapists turn themselves over to authorities as well as acknowledge and seek help for their power and control issues. Now that’s what I call a shut-down system.

Alas, that’s just crazy, unscientific, hysterical fantasy talking, nothing to do with the evidence-based pronouncements of Representative Akin. Hey a girl can dream, can’t she?

Bowing out.

I have done something I’ve needed to do for a long time.  I quit my night teaching job.  Really.  I know it’s the right thing for me.  Teaching three nights a week on top of my day job and my morning class has really been running me into the ground.  I get home so late and am so utterly exhausted that nothing gets done in any kind of quality way.  All of my 10,000 jobs suffer.

I’m relieved to have done it, but I’m also sad.  I’m going miss seeing the Ed Center staff, miss the sometimes crazy energy that would bounce off the walls of my tiny classroom, miss quick runs to Family Dumpling to grab a $2.00 dinner on my way to class.  I love that night class, love the different vibe in that program.

But I love me, too, and I finally had to accept that, as my night-job boss said, there’s only so much one woman can do in a 24-hour period.

On this Thanksgiving, among the other things I’m grateful for, I’m grateful for the experience of teaching the last two years at the Ed Center.  Those classes gave me back my teaching, re-introduced me to working with teens, blew my mind, pulled all my heart’s strings.

I have a month of class left, and then I think I’ll just sleep for a month.  After that, who knows?  Jay says this leave-taking is really just a sabbatical.  Time will tell.  For now, I’m looking forward to having more of my time to myself.

And if I’m gay, what’s your point?

Catching up with Jay, I was happy to find this little history lesson on tap:

As a life-long ‘East Coast Cat” myself, I’m glad Jay chose to step up and share a little knowledge with Larry Johnson about Stonewall and ‘weakness’ … and in the process help us all remember that prejudice starts with ignorance.¹

I’m wondering when calling someone a ‘fag’ is going to stop being a go-to insult.²  It’s an easy slur, right?   “You fight like a girl,” makes such a smooth slide to, “You’re a fag.”  Never mind the fact that there are plenty of girls who could kick anyone’s ass, making that first dig meaningless.  The second is more on my radar right now because I’ve begun to hear it a lot more, and I’m wondering what that’s about.  Let me just get wild here and say that being gay has nothing to do with anything other than sexual orientation.  Lest there be any doubt, let me clarify: being gay has nothing whatsoever to do with physical strength or athletic ability.  Being gay has nothing whatsoever to do with the right to have an independent thought.  Being gay has nothing to do with who’s at fault for bumping into whom on a crowded street.  And yet I hear people called ‘gay’ in all these situations.   You let that quarterback get past you?  You’re a fag.  You chose not to fight that man who got all up in your face?  You’re a fag.  You have a different opinion?  You’re a fag.  You accidentally bump someone as you’re walking down the street?  You’re a fag.

What is that?  What does it even mean when people say it?  And why am I suddenly hearing it so often?  I’m hearing it almost as much as I did during my politically-incorrect and insensitive high school years, a time during which we would have stared at you with blank incomprehension if you had tried to talk to us about homophobia.  (And then we would have snickered, Beavis and Butthead style, because you said ‘homo.’  Ah, the glorious days of my small-town youth!) 

But we’re not living decades ago in a freakish upstate backwater.  We’re here, in 2009.  We know more, we’ve seen more.  How can we be getting more stupid rather than less?  What are we so afraid of?  Where does it stop?  How? 


¹  I was going to say “prejudice starts with stupidity” because that’s much closer to how I feel and also because I like the little alliterative run it makes, but I thought “ignorance,” while less accurate and more anemic, would make me sound vaguely more tolerant.  And Mr. Johnson?  Do some homework: Dave Kopay much?  Esuara Tuaolo?  Get over it, already.

²  I have two fronts to fight on here with the go-to insults.  Sexual orientation and body size are the two remaining ‘safe’ insults … and the former is only safe in a handful of circles.  I should probably focus my attention on the fat-phobes, but I feel obligated to spread my vitriol around.


On the 2 train, I look across the aisle and there is a young woman, maybe 25 years old, reading The 10 Women You’ll Be Before You’re 35.  Ten?  Only ten?  And some author who knows nothing about the woman holding the book would somehow know who those 10 women were?

Of course my curiosity drove me to look it up on Amazon.  Here are the ten:

New Graduate


Dollarless Diva

Crisis Chick

Worker Bee

Ms. Independence

Party Girl

Wirl (half woman/half girl)

Body-Conscious Babe

True You

Hmm … Ok, I was “New Graduate,”  and I’ve even been “Party Girl” for a few brief moments, sure.  Plenty of days I am stillthe “Dollarless Diva” and my current stupidly-heavy work load qualifies me as the “Worker Bee.”  But the rest?  And I was supposed to magically become my true self by the time I reached 35?  Seriously?

So I was only four women before I was 35?  Hardly.  I may not see myself much on Alison James’ list, but I can easily fill out the list with some titles of my own:

  • Rose-Colored Glasses Girl
  • Quits Her Job to Go on Vacation Woman
  • Starving Artiste (sometimes doubling as Literati Lady)
  • Which Way Is Up Woman
  • Wasting a Lot of Time Trying to Please Everyone Woman
  • Finally Got a Respectable Job Woman

Notice how “True Self” isn’t on that list.  For me, we’d have to wait for the sequel, The 10 Women You’ll Be After You’re 35, if we want to see “True Self” make the list.  And, sadly, there are others that could be added before we got there:

  • Queen of Unrequited Love
  • Abusive Relationship Woman
  • Yawning Maw of Insecurities Woman

Oh, it could go on.  And on.

I hate books like this.  They piss me off in the same way that Dr. Phil and Iyanla VanZant piss me off: categorized, over-simplified pap passed off as something meaningful and supportively helpful.  Not that anything labeled ‘self help’ is useless, but sometimes what gets lumped into this category does more to make the reader unsure of herself than help her move forward.

Admittedly, I have’t read this book.  Maybe it’s excellent.  I’m guessing it’s supposed to be funny as well as serious, given the names of some of the women I was supposed to be before I was 35.  Still, the cookie-cutter approach irks me.  Don’t women have enough voices around them telling them who and how they should be and by when?  (Maybe this is true for men, too, but I can’t speak from that experience.)   What does it say about me that I was never the Body-Conscious Babe or the Crisis Chick?  Should I be worried that I’ve missed some important developmental stage because I somehow neglected to be the Chameleon?

A job-readiness program I know has “Skirt-Suit Wednesdays” on which all the young women in the program have to wear, yes, a skirt suit.  Participants have to dress in business attire every day, and the Wednesday is a come down from everyday, but I’m still offended.  What are we saying to these young women?  Their skills take a backseat to whether or not a prospective employer likes the way they look in a skirt?  Show those legs, ladies, if you want to get that job!  Which of the ten women is that?  The Clerical Call Girl?  The Work It in the Workplace Woman?  I know that’s not supposed to be the message of Skirt Suit Wednesdays, but surely it’s one of the messages being sent. 

Clearly now I’m trying on “Curmudgeon-y Crone” for size, one of the women I get to be before I’m 50.  Who’s writing that book?