Poem of the Week: “When I Dreamed I Was Emily Dickinson”

There were several pieces still I would have liked to share, but National Poetry Month is coming to a close . . . so which poem would best tie things up?

This little ditty seemed to fit the bill. Years ago, listening to former Poet Laureate of Florida (and my former college professor) Peter Meinke speak at the community college I’d attended, a chance phrase he dropped set off a spark in my head. I’ve long since forgotten what it was, but it took shape in the verse below. Neither profound nor autobiographical, it always gives me a bit of a smile—and I bet a lot of poets can relate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s offerings, and that the beautifully mysterious gift of poetry will in some way play a role in your life in the days ahead.

* * *

WHEN I DREAMED I WAS EMILY DICKINSON

I took a summer garretquill pen shadow
with a winter chill
and wore black clothes
that stained my pores with ink

Not inspiration

Which, dank upon the page,
left blots upon my thoughts
of what a poet ought to be:

The muse that spoke to Emily
does not yet speak to me.

 

* * *

From The Soundness of Broken Pieces, © 2012 by Lucie M. Winborne. Available from Middle Island Press.

Poem of the Week: “The Ice-Edge of Innocence”

It was October 2012 and I needed one more poem to reach the desired number for the chapbook I wanted to publish the following spring. But what happens when you don’t have a clue what to write about because inspiration has taken a lengthy holiday?

I sat with blank page and pen in hand, trying to dredge up an image, a memory, a thought, something. And got nothing, until the bright idea hit to go look at an old blank book someone gave men me in college, which after more than two decades was still not filled, in the hope that some forgotten notes would light a spark.

I found two, quotes from a member of an old writer’s group jotted down during a meeting years before, neither of which now made a lick of sense, but one of which particularly stood out, and became the title of this poem.

Even as I wondered what could have inspired such a remark, a picture formed in my mind within seconds of reading it. That’s it, I thought, and headed back to the quiet bedroom in which I’d gone to curl up in a recliner and wait for inspiration to strike.

It did now, but not as I expected. In one of those curious instances that make me wonder just how the mind’s creative process works, I closed my eyes and instead of the image I’d seen just a minute or so before and planned to use, came a new one, sharp as a magazine photograph: A woman in a wintry wood, clad in winter hat and coat.

Before I could do more than register her appearance, the picture went dark for a split-second and then she reappeared, this time facing me directly. She was young, lovely, with dark hair and large dark eyes that were wide, expectant, eager. And this time, a hot-pink scarf circled her neck.

I closed my eyes again and a man appeared, slightly less clear but who looked to be about ten years her senior, in the same black and white wintry wood. Hatless, with lightly graying hair, dressed in an overcoat. In stark contrast to her open demeanor, there was a trace of strain about his older, more worldly features.

I’d never seen either one of them before, but they saw each other . . . and were, clearly, intimately connected.

The phrase that originally made no sense suddenly did, and I began to write.

* * *

THE ICE-EDGE OF INNOCENCE

You want to teeter on the brink
of that first step
toward black water,

find yourself groundless,

persuasion a pink scarf
you tentatively finger.

A stranger’s crunching footstep
brought you to this perfect space
for drowning.

Remembering the taste of snow,
you don’t look back,
a cold so pure it burns

your only guide to seeing in the dark.

Frozen pond

* * *

From The Soundness of Broken Pieces, © 2012 by Lucie M. Winborne. Available from Middle Island Press.

Poem of the Week: “Nocturne”

About a decade ago, I overheard the following conversation between my grandmother, who was nearly 90 or a little past it, and my mother, regarding a poem I had recently written (not the one below), which I’d given my grandmother to read:

“Joan? Did you read Lucie’s poem?”

“Yes,” said my mother.

“Did you understand it?”

My mother indicated that she had, at least in part.

Said my grandmother: “Well, I didn’t.” Then, after a pause: “That poem didn’t rhyme.”

My mother told her that rhyming poetry was largely out of fashion, but as my grandmother was already quite hard of hearing at that point, I’m not sure how much she caught. Then she remarked that when she was coming up, “Poetry was ‘Roses are red, violets are blue . . . I love you.'”

After another brief exchange and considering pause, Grandma queried, “Do you suppose you have to go to college to learn to write like that?”

* * *

The answer to her question was, of course, no, but the fact is that in my first college creative writing class, my instructor, himself a poet, wouldn’t allow anyone to write rhyming verse unless it was song lyrics. I don’t recall the reason, but what I perceived at the time as a general bias in the writing world against rhyme made an impression on me that lingered for so long, I was still rather surprised when this week’s offering not only burst forth in what was for me near-record time (30-45 minutes), but in the unintended rhythm it did.

It has held a special place in my heart ever since.

I couldn’t tell you why, though. I don’t class it among my best work, nor can I recall what sparked the shadowy mental image that accompanied it (while I was at work, no less). Yet it nestles in its own tiny corner like a favorite child.

As for whether the addition of rhyme made it easier to understand, I would have told my grandmother all those years later, if I’d thought of it, “No, not necessarily” . . . remembering, as I do with fond amusement, shoving it under my mother’s nose the moment she returned home from grocery shopping and saying, “Read this!”

Her response?

“Well, honey, it sure must be good, because I can’t understand a word of it.”

* * *

NOCTURNE

Now stalks the ever-hunter,
creeping by on muted feet:
Furtive beauty, grace and cruelty
to unknowing eyes—discreet:cat

Warrior hunter hunted
down an ashcan alley street
where remembrance old, unconscious
guides survival of the fleet:

The revels of the gamester
spill into his well-earned sleep:
Trouncing midnight phantoms,
spinning fast and dreaming deep . . .

* * *

From The Soundness of Broken Pieces, © 2012 by Lucie M. Winborne. Available from Middle Island Press.

Poem of the Week: “After the Reading”

It’s National Poetry Month once again, and while I’ve greatly enjoyed sharing certain facets of the craft as well as the work of others on this blog in the past, this year I decided to do something a little different and showcase a few of my own works, plus a bit about how they came to be.

Poetry is something of a mystery, I think, and to dissect it too much would strip it of some of that beautiful quality, but as I thought about what verses to share, memories came with them that interested me not so much for themselves alone, but for how they coalesced into a whole. This week’s poem evolved from years of scattered images, generated by the post-poetry reading energy captured in another writer’s long ago verse, a summer night in a novel I loved as a child and a real-life spring afternoon on the Suwannee River, and one listener’s admiring take on the baritone of a well-known wordsmith, two words of which description I shamelessly cribbed, but I don’t think either writer would mind.

And that’s the prosaic side of creation, for words don’t really spring from the ether like fairy dust, though to some it may seem that way. What I love are those surprises experienced by writers of every stripe, such as the unexpected pattern that crept in with such gentle stealth to help meld the whole.

In the end, what mattered most was that I had at last not just captured an idea, but done so to my own satisfaction . . . because that (for most writers, I suspect!) is something of a rarity.

I hope that you enjoy it as well.

* * *

AFTER THE READING

I would whisper
if you were here
this
that was born

in the echo of
your muscular voice as you stood,
poet at your pulpit,

casting word nets to your hearers.

Later, on a bank of quiet dark
where we’d bared our feet
in a tea-colored stream,

It rippled like a fish in the moon-water.
I would have cupped it in my hands,
a gift to you.

My bed will not hold me. I sit,
forgetting sleep,

whispering this poem to
you who are absent, your crooked stride
breaking the grass
on the way to your own
templed verse.

Stream

* * *

From The Soundness of Broken Pieces, © 2012 by Lucie M. Winborne. Available from Middle Island Press.

 

In Which I Experience Not Only Post-Christmas but Pre-New Year’s Blues Before Reminding Myself of Something Really Important

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt started even before I tossed the Christmas cards or took the old wreath off the front door.

A sense of sadness, a premonition of unease. Usually by December 28 I’m ready to make a clean sweep. Christmas is over, and I’m in the mood to, at least figuratively, put the past behind me and open the front door to usher in the new year. I say “figuratively” because I’m not that good at letting go, no matter how I tell myself it’s as necessary as it is advisable. And a new year always holds at least some promise, some mystery. Some new discovery.

This season, I found myself having a harder time than ever with letting go. The mere thought had me welling up uncontrollably. Was it an aftereffect of all those Christmas sweet treats? Hormones? The first Christmas in almost two decades without my beloved, nutty Siamese? A clear-eyed sense of the grim realities facing the world right now? Or all of the above?

Then again, haven’t there always been “grim realities” facing the world? Of course. And not only has the world managed to keep on turning, but I expect it will continue to do so for a while. So many are facing so much worse—the breakup of a relationship, unexpected death of a child, loss of a job and home, a flight from those who live to destroy and the search for a place merely to exist without fear.

I reminded myself that I currently have all that I need and more. That the new year would be largely what I made of it, though I am not naive enough to think we are ever completely in control (or even that we have much control at all, frankly). In spite of this, when I should have been working on an article due in less than a week, I found myself instead looking somewhat forlornly out my bedroom window at the Christmas tree bright with white lights in the family room of the house next door, then at the neighbor’s front yard across the street, waiting for their lights to come on again. Just one more time.

Thinking, Don’t go, Christmas. Not just yet.

* * *

The star attraction at my personal blues festival this year was not just the normal letdown after too much food and irregular sleep following a mad rush to complete shopping and wrapping and mailing while working 9-5 and taking care of/decorating a house as well. Anyone out of their teens can recount that story. No, the star billing went to someone who didn’t really deserve to have the guest of honor seat, but who shows up at my house far too often. Perhaps he makes a regular appearance at yours as well.

His name is Fear.

This year, Fear looked at the attractively wrapped packages under our little fiber optic Christmas tree only to remind me that there might well be fewer of them next year, as aging relatives with chronic health issues began to pass away.

Fear glanced at the well-stocked pantry and freely running faucets only to remind me of the warnings, even likelihood, that a terrorist attack could disrupt the national power grid.

Fear responded to the unexpected gift of a temporary job that would pay a few large bills with a note reminding me my source of income is currently uncertain and my health insurance scanty.

Fear observed the gift of four new article assignments for a new market with the whisper that I was so busy with holiday preparations on top of work that I might be hard-pressed indeed to make my present deadlines—not to mention the fact that the pay for those upcoming assignments would scarcely cover even a month’s rent.

In fact, Fear did so much talking that I wondered when he ever had time to sleep.

But as I sat at my desk wiping my nose for the umpteenth time with an increasingly soggy tissue, I heard another reminder, this one more welcome and one I decided to share with Fear, because he sure needed it.

Fear isn’t psychic.

I’ll say that again, just to be sure you both heard it.

Fear isn’t psychic.

Fear doesn’t know how much longer I’ll have family to shop for at Christmas, or where and how I’ll spend that holiday in the years to come. Fear doesn’t know what new clients or more traditional jobs await me in 2016. Fear doesn’t know what I’m really capable of, because even I haven’t discovered that yet.

But to start finding out, I had to get to work. First I had to write this post while it was banging at the walls of my heart. Next I had to start that article. Then it would soon be time to prepare for the remaining hours of that temporary job, to tie it up neatly with the rest of the outgoing year as the door to a new one slowly edged open. A door to new opportunities and acquaintances, new lessons and challenges, and, yes, new fears.

Some of which might be justified. Some of which might even be necessary.

But not one of which would ever be psychic.

Happy 2016, Readers.

 

 

 

The Toy That Didn’t Exist

I don’t know what made me think of this story recently, unless it’s that the holiday season—the season of miracles—is upon us, even if it is only October. And maybe it wasn’t such an extraordinary miracle, as miracles go. After all, there was undoubtedly a rational explanation for it.

But at the time I think it must have seemed like one . . .

* * *

I don’t have to be a parent to know that diagnosis of a serious illness in a young child is one of the most terrifying experiences a parent can ever face.

My cousin Matt’s son, Shepard, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL, shortly before his third birthday.

Long-term chemotherapy was on the horizon. Three years, in fact. And as Matt said, he might not be able to control his son’s pain or the toll cancer would exact on his little body, but he could get him a toy to help him through it. So he asked Shepard what toy he most desired.

Much to Dad’s chagrin, Shephard replied: “I want Randall.”

“Randall” was Randall Boggs—lizard-like chief scoundrel of Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.,” and Shephard’s all-time favorite movie character. While Matt couldn’t fathom what toy company would actually manufacture “a slimy villain” like Randall, he was going to find Randall Boggs and put a smile on his son’s face, if only for a moment.

There was just one problem. No retailer Matt contacted had ever heard of a Randall Boggs toy, much less had one in stock. He finally gave up, concluding it didn’t exist.

Not long afterward, as he told his Facebook friends, he was in the throes of “a little bit of a pity party” when his wife, Brady, suggested that he take Shephard’s big brother Sanders out for some fun. The pair ended up at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore, where they played with a train set for nearly half an hour. And on their way out, a toy caught Matt’s eye. A plastic figurine of “Sulley,” Randall’s arch-nemesis.

A closer look revealed that Sulley was one of a series, and yes, Randall Boggs completed it. But while the second figure was quickly located, there was no sign of Randall. Undaunted, Matt tore through a display of nearly 100 boxes until he finally saw, in the last spot on the very last row, a single package.

Guess who?

Overjoyed, he made a beeline for the cashier. Although he left the store $30 lighter in the pocket (having been convinced that a similar toy was in order for Shephard’s twin and older brother), he couldn’t drive home fast enough. For the look on his little boy’s face when he opened the box, he would have gladly paid three times that amount.

“God can use the smallest thing in the world to reveal Himself to you and renew your joy,” Matt said.

Even a toy that supposedly doesn’t exist.

Shep today

Shep today…future Auburn alumnus and…budding chef?

 

Sometimes It’s Just a Very Bad Day

catpawIn the end there seemed to be little more to say than that it was a very bad day, though it was actually a lot of other things as well.

It was, for example, dialing the number of my vet’s office and giving my name to the receptionist, scarcely able to choke out what I must afterwards. Hoping she would know.

“It’s okay,” she said.

She knew.

It was setting the time for an hour before closing, when fewer clients would be around. Watching the hours go by, slowly and not slowly, each one carrying me to that place. It was the moment of panic when I wanted to run out my bedroom door, begging some family member to do this for me, because I could not, I could not.

It was refusing the offers of help, even so.

It was leaving my hand on the back of her neck all the way to the vet, talking to her though she had been completely deaf for who knows how long, telling her the sun was shining, even though my sun roof and windows were open for her to feel it.

It was leaving my sunglasses on in the waiting room and turning my back to the receptionist, hoping she would see on her computer the reason I was there and wouldn’t need to say it out loud.

It was following a staff member to a room where we could be alone for a time, still keeping my sunglasses on and thinking, Please don’t let it be too long. I don’t know how long I can stand this.

I don’t want to cry in front of you.

It was being grateful there was no metal table. I didn’t want her to lie on a metal table, and I had brought a fleece coverlet that she’d napped on many times. But there was no table at all in this room, and I wondered if we would go to another.

It was minutes ticking by but I hadn’t worn a watch; being almost afraid, after a certain amount of time, that they had forgotten me. I took off my sunglasses at last when a staff member came in to discuss “aftercare” and payment.

No, I remember thinking, I don’t want to discuss that! I will not be able to discuss that. Please, just get it over with quickly and let me go.

It was signing paperwork. Swiping my credit card and feeling rather surreal that I actually had to do this now, because 19 years ago they simply sent me a bill, a month after the deed was done, after they sent me a sympathy card with a copy of “The Rainbow Bridge.”

It was waiting, yet again, until the staff member and a vet came in, a vet I couldn’t remember although he remarked that he “hadn’t seen her for a while,” and looked into her carrier to pet her. And while I had achieved a measure of calm at this point, as soon as he very gently inquired as to “what’s going on,” I started to break up again, and the old fear was back, that I would not be able to contain it.

I have always hated crying in front of people.

But somehow I did, just enough to explain that the previous night she’d had a seizure, and . . . all the rest we’d noticed in the past few months.

And he explained what they would do, and that I could stay for part of the process, or all of it, or none of it.

It was worrying that when they took her away, even though she had been confused for the past few months, even though she was securely wrapped in the fleece coverlet on which she had napped many times, that she would be afraid in this strange place. I did not want her to be afraid.

It was the staff member looking in at one point to tell me that her veins were “so tiny” that they were having trouble finding one.

It was looking at a copy of People magazine, though I have no idea now what I read. It was the door opening at last as they brought her in, wrapped in her fleece blanket, and putting the magazine down because this was it.

“She’s so sleepy,”

said the assistant, laying her down between the two of us, so gently.

“That was quick,” I said, petting Chloe’s head.

It was the vet asking if I wanted a little more time with her, me shaking my own head because I could not bear any more waiting.

It was gazing steadily at the closed door in order not to witness the last, stroking her head and neck as the assistant stroked her back. Neither of us stopped stroking until the vet took up his stethescope, until she was gone.

It was the shaky breath, the valiant attempt to steady myself so that I could at least say, “I think I’d better go now too.” The assistant picking her up, so carefully, as if she were only asleep and might wake, handing me the carrier on which I was complimented nearly every time I came to their office, the one I bought at a cat show.

It was finding my car wet from the rain which had been falling through my open windows and sun roof because the sun was shining when I came in and I didn’t think I would be there that long, even though it was the rainy season in Florida.

It was, at last, a semblance of relief, then later, the odd sense of bewilderment that follows a loss. The automatic turning of the head towards the room where her litter box was, the corner of the bathroom where her water mug sat, remembering that I would no longer need to empty the one or refill the other.

It was the tears at unexpected as well as expected times, wondering whether to wash the blanket she died on even though it was clean, driving by the vet on my way somewhere else and wondering if I’d ever look at the building the same way again.

It was searching the Internet for what leaders in my faith said about animals in heaven.

It was reminding myself, and being reminded, that she had a good, long life, that “to everything there is a season,” including death, without it making a bit of difference. Realizing that sometimes there is no epiphany, no rainbow, no mile marker of maturity that says I faced this, I did it, all by myself.

That sometimes it’s not much more than just a very bad day.

And that’s okay.

Meet the Poets: Al Rocheleau

Al Rocheleau

Al Rocheleau

On this final day of National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to close “Meet the Poets” with a tribute from my friend Al Rocheleau. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that all the featured poems were memorials to someone loved and lost, something I had not planned on, but I appreciated this look inside the poets’ hearts. Such tributes can be difficult to write; at least I have found this to be the case with my only two attempts.

It has been said that poems are “among the most compelling expressions of emotions.” That certainly applies to the offerings from the five poets in this series, and I hope you have enjoyed their words, and their memories, as much as I have.

* * *

Al Rocheleau’s poems have appeared in over 40 magazines in the United States, Canada, the U.K., France, Austria, and Poland. For many years he hosted popular online workshops and served as Poetry Editor and Senior Columnist at Amazing Instant Novelist, a writers’ site sponsored by America Online. In 2004, Al received the Thomas Burnett Swann Award from the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Association. He has lectured at Emerson College, the University of Massachusetts, and for many writer’s groups, including the Florida Writers Association. In 2010 his poetry manual, On Writing Poetry: For Poets Made As Well As Born, was published by Shantih Press and is available from Amazon.com. In 2012, Al developed and launched “The Twelve Chairs” seminar program, offering a 180-hour course in poetry writing for poets of all levels. He is a member of the Florida State Poets Association and resides in Orlando, Florida.

“My father-in-law, George Daignault, died from final stage Parkinson’s disease in early February. I had known the man for thirty-six years; he was a good friend, and it was my privilege to be his primary caregiver the last five months of his life. He had spent that life as a truck driver. He was a good man, good family man. When I elected to write something for him, I found it difficult to proceed. I finally settled on the ballad, a simple form (not simple to write, however) that could be turned into a song. In the middle of the night, two days before his funeral, it came together. I had written many elegies before, but none like this, none this close to me. I am thankful that the ballad form was around to frame George’s times, and his time with us. I asked a friend to finish the music and to sing it at his service; he did.”

* * *

George, A Ballad

You drove the drifting snow along,
you drove in days of heat,
you separated right from wrong
with pedals at your feet.

7 b George portrait closeup

George Daignault

The trucker’s life’s a simple one,
you go from A to B,
you try to make it back again,
again, to family.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

Your baritone could fill a room
with confidence and quips,
yet melt to squeak of sentiment
as tears slid by your lips.

Calendars can fly away
their pages with a breeze,
but memory calls the living back
and brings us to our knees.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

Working man, your day is done,
deliveries are through;
rest yourself within His arms
as we deliver you.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

 

Meet the Poets: Walter de la Mare

Fiddle
In this week’s tribute to National Poetry Month, I took a little detour into the past. Unlike the other poets who generously agreed to share their work with my readers, Walter de la Mare is not a personal acquaintance, having died four years before I was born. I’m not very familiar with his work and suspect most people today would say the same, as he is rather out of fashion, though at one time he was one of his country’s most popular writers.

But for many years I have loved the sole poem of his I could recall reading, in a long-ago anthology . . . a poem not considered his best, that also appears to be largely forgotten, though an illustrated copy was deemed by some admirer to be Pinterest-worthy (and what would de la Mare have made of that?). A poem that never fails to choke me up just a little with its sweet note of hope at the end, no matter how many times I read it.

Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare, 1920

Walter John Delamare’s early life was prosaic enough. Born in 1873 in Charlton, Kent, in the south of England, one of seven siblings and left fatherless before he was five, Jack, as he was familiarly known, became a statistics clerk at seventeen, lacking funds for a university education, and remained in that position for eighteen years. While the fortunate bestowal of two Civil List pensions, in 1908 and 1915, respectively, freed him to concentrate on his craft, authors ranging from aspiring to despairing to successful can relate to the hopes he must have entertained throughout the writing and submission of hundreds of poems and short stories, as well as five novels, not to mention the fact that while Henry Brocken sold a mere 250 copies and netted only a bill for excess proof corrections, Memoirs of a Midget and Collected Stories for Children earned two of Britain’s oldest literary awards.

Several of de la Mare’s recurrent themes in all the above genres—death, dreams, and commonplace objects—appear in this week’s poem, along with the “undercurrent of melancholy” that runs through much of his work. But who was the eponymous fiddler, the wizard behind notes that surely sparked an uncontrollable urge to dance in feet of all ages or moved listeners from laughter to tears in a single melody? A real-life acquaintance, a figment of the author’s imagination, or perhaps a sort of alter-ego? Was he loved for more than his music? Did he have a voice outside that music, or did it end when his instrument was broken?

None of that really matters. What does matter is how, in thirteen short lines, the poet channels the flame of a personality without name or physical description (aside from the slightly ambiguous “stooping”), who discovered and lived his richest, interior self through the expression of his gift.

Much as, I suspect, de la Mare did himself. As all artists long to do. And in the end the art, the music, could not be silenced, emerging from branches symbolic since ancient times of the promise of new life.

* * *

 A FIDDLER

Once was a fiddler. Play could he
Sweet as a bird in an almond tree.
Fingers and strings—they seemed to be
Matched, in a secret conspiracy.
Up slid his bow, paused lingeringly;
Music’s self was its witchery.

In his stooping face it was plain to see
How close to dream is a soul set free—
A half-found world;
And company.

His fiddle is broken.
Mute is he.
But a bird sings on in the almond tree.


36647842-small-bird-canary-chiffchaff-on-almond-tree-in-full-bloom

For more on the life and work of Walter de la Mare, visit The Walter de la Mare Society.