H is for: Heft

As in lifting something heavy. As in the weight of something heavy. And H is for Heavy. As in something of great weight, difficult to lift, move, or carry. As in of great density, thick or substantial.

And what does all of this have to do with my decision to spend this Poetry Month writing chōka? Yes, that would be the rearing of my Little Hater’s ugly head. Let me explain.

Last week, I noticed that I was feeling comfortable with my poetry challenge. Anyone who has read my April writing for more than a minute knows that I have struggled mightily with poetry, with the idea that I can write poetry, with the idea that I would have the nerve to post those poems online, with the idea that I would have the unmitigated gall to call myself a poet. Just about every April since I started my blog, I come here and try to push back against all of that and write poems. I force myself to post them, even when I know they aren’t even good enough to be called mediocre. Because I have to. Because to not do that is giving in to that mean, awful voice that has been telling me since I was 18 years old that I can’t write poems.

Learning a new form sometimes pulls me out of that negative loop very nicely. I don’t know what or why that is. Maybe it takes so much focus for me to wrap my brain around the new patter there isn’t room for my Inner Critic to slip in.

So I was feeling that, feeling pulled away from that mean voice, content to just play with the words.

I’m sure you can guess where this is headed.

Yes. As soon as I noticed that I was feeling comfortable … all that comfort drained away and the tidal wave of doubt flooded in. Of course..

My doubt wasn’t about whether or not the poems were good. Or, rather, not much about that. It is generally a given for me that the poems aren’t particularly good. I am always surprised when I like a poem I’ve written. That is hardly the anticipated result. So I chided myself for not writing good poems — that one from Thursday night is still pretty unforgivable — but then I realized that quality wasn’t what had me thinking negative thoughts about my poems.

No, my Inner Mean Person was kicking my teeth in because my poems were boring. Plain and simple. My poems weren’t about anything substantive. When I did my last year of aruns in 2014, I was just getting into genealogical research, and my poems were about Samuel and finding family and history. When I did prose poems in 2015, my poems were little Black Lives Matter protest songs. In 2009 when I started this April business, I wrote about love, about Sean Bell, about Black death. From the beginning I’ve landed on serious subjects. My poems may not have been good, but they had weight. Heft.

Thursday I wrote a poem about having “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie” as an earworm. Such a piece of fluff as could be carried away by the softest exhalation.

Of course, there are plenty of heavy, serious, somber things to write about. Every. single. day. But I haven’t found my way into those stories, found the way to tell my piece of any of those stories. And so I — and you, dear reader — am stuck here, in this fluffy place. And maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe I need to be here, churning out banal chōka to give my brain a rest, a chance to sort through and process all the everything else. Maybe when that’s done, I’ll find my way back to writing poems with heft.


Smooth, shining spring day
here at last, reminding me
of April in France
Paris opening her arms
no longer stiff, cold
finally welcoming me.
Claude driving us fast
along the Champs Elysees
the air honeyed, light.
Spring reminds me of Ludlow
those days with Walter —
was it pollen in my eyes
blinding me to him?
A later spring, me and Ray
the back of his bike
cruising up the Palisades.

It is again spring
and this old woman’s fancy
turns to thoughts of love
(loves) in the dim long ago —
wringing verses from their bones.


A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.

(Is this an essay? I’m going to call it one. It needs more work, but it’s enough of a start to give my revision some direction, an idea of where I wanted to go.)


I cook like Olivia Pope.

Yes, you read that right.

I am a single woman. I live alone. And, while I love to cook, sometimes it’s just too much. With just me in the house, some nights the production of dinner-making is taking up time that could be spent … well … on just about anything else. So, that’s what I’m saying. I get her, Olivia Pope. Popcorn and wine is not a lie.

More often, for me, it’s popcorn and herbal tea. Sometimes popcorn and ginger ale. But you get the idea.

I’ve gone through many popper styles — electric, air, microwave. But the best is made on the stove.

I used to have this old-school beauty:

This is the Wabash Valley Farms™ Original Whirley Pop™ Stovetop Popcorn Popper (they clearly needed to use the word “pop” at least one more time). I loved it. And I used it so much, I wore it out. Now I just use an old stock pot. It’s not as fun as turning the crank, but it definitely gets the job done.

It gets the job done because it’s popcorn, and it’s really not that serious … except that, maybe it is. If you fire up the Google, you will, in fact, get 47,900,000 hits for “how to make popcorn.” Really. Nearly 48 million hits. But sadly, only 3,400,000 returns for “how to make caramel popcorn.” Why so few? How are we living, people? Surely, caramel corn should play a larger role in our lives. And the results tumble down from there. Only 1,880,000 for kettle corn.

So yes, all of this is quite silly. But it’s also reminding me of popcorn balls (7,040,000 hits!), specifically, the popcorn balls my grandmother used to make. She didn’t make them often, so they were an extra especial treat. And they seemed like magic. No one else ever had them, and I never actually saw how she made them, so they just seemed to become … there’d be a big bowl of popcorn, and then <snap of fingers> there’d be popcorn balls! She was a kitchen magician.

And now I have my pick of recipes, and I might have to give them a try.

Um …

But not tonight. If I can’t work up the gumption to boil some pasta and throw on some bottled sauce, am I really going to take on the decadent extravagance of popcorn balls?! I think not.

I am more likely to go on the hunt for the Brooklyn Popcorn truck!


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge — posting a little bit of something every day in March!

Go check out the hundreds of slicers over at Two Writing Teachers!

Where’s Gordon Ramsay when I need him?

Today I had brunch. Today I ordered scrambled eggs with home fries. Today I received a plate of half raw, half burnt home fries and two eggs made into an unseasoned omelette. This is the second time this year that I’ve ordered eggs and been served something with no salt, no pepper, no parsley — not even as garnish. And when I’ve complained, I’ve been told, “You didn’t ask for that.”


The first season-less omelette was whisked away from me when it was clear that I wasn’t going to accept the “You didn’t ask for that” response. The cook came to my table and asked what was wrong with the eggs. He had a little bit of attitude when he came out, but he accepted my complaint and went back to the kitchen and made me a new omelette — complete with salt, pepper, and parsley.

But I am cranky thinking about today’s food fiasco. When I told my server that the potatoes were both- under and over-cooked and that the eggs a) weren’t scrambled, and b) were tasteless, he just shrugged.

“It’s what you ordered.”

“I didn’t order raw potatoes mixed with burnt potatoes. And I didn’t order a bland omelette.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do.”

“I want you to take it back and ask the cook to make it again, correctly.”

“Oh, he won’t do that.” (And he actually had the temerity to begin turning away from me, as if the conversation had ended.)

“Of course he’ll do that. I’m not going to eat this. And I’m not going to pay for it.”

“It’s what you ordered.”

“Please bring the manager over.”

He gave me some Grade A side eye, but went and got the manager. As they walked over, I heard him explaining that I was a troublemaker. (And that’s okay, actually. I am a bit of a troublemaker. And, while I’m not usually a person who sends food back to the kitchen, sometimes I am. And when I send food back, I have a good reason, and I’m happy to make some trouble until I’m properly served. This isn’t about being hangry. It’s about the fact that those eggs and potatoes were going to cost me $12, and for that price tag, they needed to be as close to magnificently delicious as possible.)

The manager had a little side eye of his own, already prepared to be annoyed with me, seeing as I was a troublemaker and all. I smiled my sweet smile and used my nice voice and told him what I’d ordered and what was wrong with what I’d been served. I even invited him to try the raw potatoes. I said I was surprised to find that it was a problem to have the food made to my liking. I told him it was good to know the restaurant’s policy so that I could be sure to stay away … and let all my friends know.

Which had the desired effect of inspiring him to have the food taken away and a new order prepared.

Why was this so difficult? It is a thing now to serve entirely bland eggs? Do people no longer know what scrambled eggs are? Have the days of pleasing the customer gone the way of the Dodo? Is Chef Ramsay looking for a new establishment to highlight on Kitchen Nightmares?

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

And today, in Fear of a Black Planet News …

Today, we have the reality of Black people accused of all kinds of nonsense simply for pointing their fingers.  Here’s a snippet from the HuffPo piece:


High School Students Jordan And Juwaun Jackson

In early 2014, the Sheboygan Press did a feature on Jordan, Juwaun and Jamal Jackson, three African-American brothers who had recently moved to the local Wisconsin school district and played on the basketball team. The photo that accompanied the story eventually led to the suspension of Jordan and Juwaun after one police liaison officer contacted Sheboygan Falls’ liaison officer to express concern that the brothers might have been flashing gang signs. Police said that the hand sign being used by Jordan — who is on the far left — is associated with the Bloods. In fact, it’s a hand gesture used by many NBA players to note a three-point shot. Juwaun said “he was simply gesturing at himself and the camera in a playful manner.” The brothers’ suspension was eventually lifted, and the editor of the paper said he was dumbfounded at the “ugly turn” taken by the community over what was meant to be a “positive story.”


This isn’t new news, of course. Black people having the audacity to use their hands expressively is often frightening. I’ve used my own big hands in ways that have upset others. Walking in my old neighborhood a few weeks ago, I waved at a woman who used to be my upstairs neighbor. She was about a quarter of a block away from me. I waved. I waved again. When I got near enough to speak, I greeted her by name. We had never been close friends, but we spoke — beyond saying a casual “hello” in the hall — at least four times a week for several years. When I called her name, she did a curious jolt and rearranged her distressed face into one showing recognition. I said, “I guess you didn’t see me waving.” Even though she’d been looking right at me, I can imagine her being so in her thoughts that she didn’t see me. Here’s where I have to commend her honesty. Her response? “I saw you. I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture.”

Um, what? Has no one ever waved at you? How sad. How lackluster your days must be with no one approaching you with a common, possibly-universal sign of greeting. But she didn’t know how to read my hand gesture. Right. I had forgotten about that ridiculous moment until my friend Pamela sent me the link to this article this morning.

But really, none of this is new. Surely we haven’t forgotten one of the more famous “I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture” moments in recent history, E.D. Hill and the so-called “terrorist fist jab” of 2008:

But clearly, if Black people use their hands for anything other than participating in team sports collecting welfare checks, being handcuffed … we’re trouble.


This level of knee-jerk fear may not be surprising, but it still troubles me. It’s one more step in the unceasing march of criminalizing all Black behavior. If I dance, it’s dangerous. If I show that I’m happy about something, it’s dangerous. If I vote, it’s dangerous. If I use slang, it’s dangerous. If I drive an expensive car, it’s dangerous. If I try to run a country, change healthcare law, keep an economy from dying a rapid death … it’s dangerous.

The fact is, there are few things Black people can do without scaring the crap out of people. When I write posts that fall into this category, I often wind down with some version of, “I’m tired.” I am tired. When does this get so old it dies? How do we push it over the edge and out of our national consciousness? I don’t have answers. I do have, however, a terrorist fist jab I’d love to land in the face of these foolish people:



Folks who want to tell me Hill’s comment — or any of the nonsense detailed in the HuffPo piece — isn’t about race, isn’t about FoaBP, please watch this montage first:

And the Daily Kos piece.