Pump up the Volume

Today I want to talk about something serious. There is an election coming up in November for US President. The act of voting itself is so important to me, that every election I encourage everyone to vote for the candidate of their choice, even if it’s not my choice. I’m a Democratic so you know who I will vote for; but this post is not a campaign ad for Biden. This is about the act of voting and the disease of racism infecting that system.

I learned about Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement in school. For years leading up to and during the Civil Rights Act are full of stories of people of color not being allowed to register to vote and being turned away at polls. I thought that was “history.” It is not. Voting is getting harder to do, not easier.

Voter suppression is still an active and effective tool of the Republican party, and it is growing stronger. In 2010, states across the country had already introduced legislation that would put unnecessary barriers in front of the ballot box, particularly for voters of color. Some states with early voting reduced the number of days of advance access to the polls. Others required forms of identification to vote that lawmakers knew many Americans did not have. States like Tennessee also burdened community groups that help register voters with unnecessary regulations and restrictions.

The Republican party knows that this year the pandemic may do the work for them. That is why they are dragging their feet on approving VOTE BY MAIL. We need secure technology, fair and accessible voting locations, machines and poll workers.

How can you join the effort to protect the vote? Let your Governor and Secretary of State know how you feel. Sign an online petition if you can find one. Get registered. Encourage everyone you know to check their registration status and make sure it’s active. Request an absentee ballot if you are eligible.

You can also get creative! The Declaration for American Democracy organization (https://declarationforamericandemocracy.org/openmic/) is holding a Protect the Vote Open Mic.

They are asking people to use their creativity to Pump Up the Volume! Here are some options that you can do:  Record a video. Take a selfie with a sign. Write a poem. Perform a song. Draw or paint a picture. Make a playlist. Design a graphic. Write a letter. Write a blog post

Then share your creativity on Social Media using the hashtag  #DemocracyOpenMic.

Vote like it’s the last time you’re going to vote because if things keep going the way they are, it just might be.

Corona Life Pictures

Dear Diary,
Month three of my confinement. I’ve been following Rapunzel’s “patented” regime, but my hair has not reached escape-from-tower-length yet. Instead, I just feel like that other Disney character, The Shaggy Dog. She’s going to get a piece of mind the next time I see her.
Princess JM

The pandemic induced stay-at-home orders have made me appreciate my freedom and privilege in a whole new way. Despite not going out for social events, I do go out for essentials such as groceries, gas, and the occasional drive through. I haven’t done any non-essential, browsing for fun type of shopping, and I miss it. However, recently I broke my dustpan – the special one on a stick so I don’t have to bend over. I get wobbly when I do that.  I got it for a dollar at the everything-for-a-dollar store which just so happens to be my favorite place for retail therapy. I deserve to be safe in my own home. Right? OK, I took my privileged self to Dollar Tree.  No dustpans-on-a-stick. Don’t cry for me though. I got a few essentials, some snacks, and ….

My $5 Retail Therapy Haul:

retail therapy

New puzzle! An easy 500 pieces.  Hmmm. This box is really small….

dime for scale

Dime to show scale on how small these pieces are. Really?! This is what happens when dollar-store-brain takes over.

But I persisted.  I had to practically be on top of it, but I got it done…

missing piece

Are you kidding me?! One missing piece?!

I decided to tape it up anyway. Glad I did because I found the rogue piece.

finished art puzzle

Ready for hanging!

Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay shaggy.

contemplating haircut

Poetry News & Notes

While the corona lock down has been bad for many in terms of work, school and sports, it has not slowed down poetry at all. I’ve got lots to tell you to let’s get to it.

dance
Two of my “plague” poems have been published by The Typescript poetry journal. I’m pleased as punch. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen these in slightly different format, but please do click here to read them out on their website. Poke around the site a bit. There’s a lot of good poetry!

dance
NJ Mayor reads poetry at daily corona updates to uplift the city. I believe that poetry has the power to change to change the world. Others do as well as evidenced by this quote from the article:

“He knows poetry is not simply entertainment, but a part of the civil charge and consciousness of the people, his people,” Jasmine Mans, a poet, author and the creative director of artist initiative Embrace Newark, says of Baraka.

dance
The creator and primary editor of the Heron Clan poetry anthology has been holding a series of poetry readings for contributors to celebrate the release of book 7. They’ve all been during the day but the LAST one is this week, Thursday, May 28 from 7 pm to 9 pm EST. I’ll be one of the featured readers, AND there’s plenty of space for an open mic. If you’re in need of poetry, to listen and/or perform, please send me an email (see my “About” page) and I’ll hook you up with the Zoom URL info.

dance
My new favorite thing is Writing With Auntie Laurel. Hawaiian poet and author, Laurel Nakanishi, teaches poetry in public and charter schools. During the corona virus lock down she has created a series of videos so that children can learn poetry from home. The series is called “Writing With Auntie Laurel.” Although the intended audience for the 10-minute videos are children in grades 3-5, don’t let that stop you from enjoying these charming interactive videos, and prompts.

In fact, I loved these videos so much, I sent the link to my buddy Bart and suggested that he use the prompt in lesson 6 – Write a name poem – for his weekly Monday poetry prompt. And he took me up on it plus added a nice grown-up twist. Check out the Living Poetry 5/25 Monday Poetry Prompt to read my poem about my name, as well as an acrostic poem I did about someone else. While you’re at it, feel free to sign up to get the weekly prompts delivered to your inbox.

Zooming Poetry

Today was the NC Poetry Society’s Sam Ragen Awards Day. Poets, family, and friends gathered, via Zoom, to hear poets read the first and second place, and honorable mention poems of the 2020 contest.

It was my first time attending an NCPS event. They start at 10:00 in the morning when I am generally asleep, and are held at a small town almost two hours away. Frankly, the “commute” (to my desk) this morning was a bit much. I didn’t sign in till 10:30. However, as an Honorable Mention-er, I made the effort.

It was good but frankly, I’m a bit over saturated. The day started with readings for the youth contest winners, followed by an open mic. After a thirty-minute break, the adult contest first, second and honorable mention winners (10 categories) fread from 1:00 to 2:30. Yikes! That’s a LOT of poetry!

I’m glad we have technology to support us during this time of social distancing, but there are drawbacks. Everyone is muted except the person speaking, and the lack of sound makes the experience a bit desolate.  During the youth readings the screen was filled with small windows of participants. Lots of folks put hands in the air to clap. The moderator for the adult contest, elected to have the speaker show up in a large window. Many thanks to the generous audience members who kept the comments coming in the chat window! My poem is in the humor category and I missed hearing laughter. I also have a new appreciation for all the late-night talk show hosts who are doing their stand-up monologues in empty rooms. Tough gig!

But enough about me. Let’s talk about my poem. Now that the NCPS annual anthology of winning contest poems has been published and is being mailed, I am now free to share my poem here, with permission and recognition. Enjoy.

Husbandry
Husband number 1 was my ticket out of town
away from the local factory which swallowed
hopeless high school graduates.
When we got to Vegas I gave back the ring
and told him, kindly, “It ain’t no thing.”

Husband number 2 was my sugar daddy.
He earned a living from the poker tables
and wore me like decoration.
But when he hit a losing streak
I left town with a computer geek.

Husband number 3 was my baby daddy.
It was all coos and cuddles until
we argued about dishes and diapers.
He gave me a boy but not a better life
so I left him, and he found a better wife.

Husband number 4 was the high school coach.
I went to all the hometown games
to cheer on the team and whet his whistle.
It turns out that he was not a good lay
but my kid didn’t need a dad anyway.

My son is grown with a wife of his own
and I’m starting to feel that familiar itch.
Hey Good Looking! Wanna get hitched?

First publisher: Pinesong: Awards 2020, Vol. 56

In Praise of Endings

I am happy to see the end of April, National Poetry Month, and another poem-a-day challenge.  I am filled with poetry, saturated with similes, overflowing with metaphor. I have a pile of new poetry to sort through. Some are complete, and some will go to workshop. Some will rest quietly, unseen and undisturbed, while some will venture forth seeking publication. It’s all good. As I write this, it is not quite midnight, so I present, my final April 2020 poem:

In Praise of Endings

When the music stops
tired revelers linger in the boozy glow.
Children sleep in laps
while adults sprawl in lazy repose
around tables heaped with dishes
reluctant to break the spell
until at last the lights must out.
Home beckons. That too
is a celebration.

Our lives are defined by edges.
The infinity of time measured
in minutes, hours, days.
Doors that swing open and shut.
Buzzers, bells, and blood.
Every transition has a moment
even if we don’t recognize the boundaries
until years have passed.

We move through the world
discovering and knowing who we are
by our beginnings and endings.
Every first is twinned with a last.
The exquisite lovely pain of separation ̶
the beautiful space where once lips touched ̶
creates panting anticipation of the next.

Be grateful for the end of suffering,
whether a temporary release
or the lasting peace of death.
And pray that the end of happiness
is not sorrow but contentment.


And now, a bonus poem. You can blame Pat for this one. She’s the who told me to post more poetry.  This was my final, April 30th poem for the 2019 PAD challenge.

End Stop

“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – LOTR, Tolkein

here at the end of April
our love affair grows cold
even as the days heat up

I won’t stop looking
until the tide erases your words
written in the sand

 

It takes a village

Dear Diary,

Day Eleventy-Eighty of my confinement. Yesterday I went on a covert mission to retrieve items from the car, when one of the villagers spoke to me. I froze momentarily, my shock and alarm hidden behind cloth. Slowly I nodded. Yes, I remember how to do this. Emboldened and cheered I used my phone today. It does more than text! Life is good.

Princess JM
emoji disappointed
I hope this finds you well, and thriving in this weird time. We all need a village from time to time, whether to survive the plague or get through the April Poem a Day challenge.

How are you doing with that? Is it getting easier or harder? Are you more inspired to write poetry or just tired at this point? For me personally, the answer is, Yes, and both.

I follow Robert Brewer’s PAD prompts, but sometimes they bore me. I also get ideas from other writers and other poems. The title of today’s poem, see below, came from something my friend said on the phone. I gave the line to my friend and colleague, Bartholomew Barker. (Click here to see read what he did with the line.) His post, in turn,  gave me the title, and the idea, for this blog post. It’s that village everyone keeps talking about.

~ ~ // ~ ~

The Loudest Silence
The cars, horns, sirens, and gunshots
are stopped.
There is nothing but birdsong and cicadas
in the streets.

Even the voices in my head
have quieted,
drowned out by the tinnitus
of the conch shell.

Alone now, I can finally listen,
heartbeat skips
There is nothing but void,
the loudest silence.

Want one more?  This is the poem I wrote on April 1 to the prompt, “write a new world poem.” I brought it to Living Poetry’s monthly workshop, and this is the revised poem.

New World

I did not walk through a wardrobe
or follow a rabbit into a hole
or stare too long into a looking glass.
My house was not swept up in a tornado

The naïve woman I was, secure in my belief
that shocking lies and bad behavior
could never bear fruit,
died the day reason left the land.

What was once a granite foundation
has become sandstone, eroding from ill winds.
Apathy grows slowly like the buildup of callus.
A war zone can feel homey when bombs become a habit.

The sun has set on the democracy of my youth
and I am lost in my own country.

Dear Diary…

Today is day eleventy-twenty of being quarantined exiled for the good of the kingdom. My enemies may be invisible, but I know they are still out there, lurking. I cover my face and dress in rags when I venture into the woods for substance. So far the disguise is working but I miss my people and long for my crown, now rusting in the pantry.

Princess JM

emoji disappointed

Oh, hey there! How are you doing? Where are my poets at?  Congratulations if you are currently still swinging in the April Poem A Day challenge. We’re past the half-way point. Keep up the good work, whether you’ve got one for every day or not.  The rest of you still have over two weeks to write a poem. I believe in you!

I am happy to report that I have finally written a few non-plague poems! I mean, everyone knows we’re living in bizarro-world right now. The time has come to look up.

I’m mostly following Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides  prompts, but after years of this, I’m getting bored with the repeats. Luckily my poetic colleague, Lisa Tomey, has been offering alternative daily prompts. The first non-plague poem I wrote was to her wake up prompt. Click here to read it. It’s in the comments of her post for that day.

And, just for fun, here’s the poem that I wrote to the April 13th prompt, “write a purpose poem.” Yes, there’s no imagination in the title I choose but then again, the poem is not that imaginative either, as this item actually exists in my home. I’m open to suggestions for a new title. Please leave them in the comments.

Purpose

A place for everything ̶
everything in its place ̶
everything else in the junk drawer.

A tidy home is not the same
as a clean home. I know
where everything is;
just don’t look close at my floor.

Everything has a purpose
except the quarter inch of plastic
I found on the floor one day.
It might be a screw,
but it has grippers on it,
although it’s too small to hold a picture.
The hole on top
is for an allen wrench
if I had one that small.

Where did it come from?
What does it do?
Can I afford to toss it away?
These unanswerable questions
keep it in my drawer.

odd nut 1

Passover, Plague, Poetry

April 8th was the first night of Passover. I was blessed with an invitation to a beautiful Passover Seder hosted by dear friends via Zoom. Prior to the meal, participants received a link to a Haggadah, which is essentially a program that details each part of the ritual including questions and responses, prayers and songs, in Hebrew with English translations. 

Given that we are currently enduring a Corvid-19 pandemic, it was especially poignant to celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people after their captors had suffered through 10 plagues. That’s a lot of suffering. I’m very glad that we have only one at the moment… sort of. More on that later. Why were there so many plagues in this story?  As I’m neither Jewish or a biblical scholar I can’t answer that question. I only know that Exodus says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Hmph. He must have been a Republican.

It would be overblown and sensational to say we’re living in a parallel universe, but there is an old truism that states: “Everything old is new again.” During the Passover Seder, participants recite the 10 plagues. If you need a reminder, they were, in order: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Cattle Disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the first born. A difficult list to be sure, but I got choked up by this statement that came next.

The joy of our celebration today is also lessened by our awareness of sorrow and oppression in all parts of the world. The plagues of the Egyptians can be said to be repeated in modern tragedies. As the pain of others lessens our joy, let us once more take from our juice or wine as we say together these current day plagues: Hunger, War, Homelessness, Domestic Violence, Environmental Destruction, Injustice, Poverty, Toxic Chemicals, Pollution of the Earth. and Lack of Health care. L’Chaim- To Life: A UU Haggadah for Church Celebrations, copyright 2012 -Rev. Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn

Next Year in person! May all people live in peace! Happy Passover, L’Chaim, To Life!

~  / /  ~

National Poetry Month is rolling on. Are you one of many writers committed to writing a Poem A Day? I am committed to writing as many poems as I am moved to write. That might be 30, 20 or some other number. My output as of April 8, is 7 poems. But here’s the problem. They’re all plague poems! They all reference either the pandemic directly or the current dystopian environment we are in at the moment.

I’m not one to share everything I write. Some are fodder for a critique workshop; some are just poetry practice. However, in the spirit of the month, and Passover,  I’m going to share 2 of my plague poems. Enjoy. Stay safe. Keep washing your hands. Moisturize.

Breathless

I wanted a moment that took my breath away,
to be held close and get lost in your eyes,
before a kiss so deep we come away
panting with passion.

Instead I got the brush of a stranger,
a fever and a cough,
and a ventilator to push air
into my breathless body.

The nurses assure me that you are well,
safe and sheltered at home.
Their gloved hands hold mine
a poor substitute for yours.

When it is my turn to go, breathe deep
and I will come to you on the wind.

Dating in the Time of Corona
We are six feet apart, shoulder to shoulder,
if we both stretched our arms
and touched fingertips.
Forbidden to do so, we resort
to mutual masturbation.

Jigsaw Lessons

I’ve loved jigsaw puzzles since I was very young and have probably put together at least 100 in my lifetime. Trust me when I say that the 1,000 piece puzzle I finished tonight, see above, was the hardest puzzle I’ve ever completed. I brought in the picture from the manufacturer’s website, White Mountain Puzzles, because I haven’t been able to get a really good photograph.  What you can’t see is the incredibly fine detailed art and the 6-point font labels of breed and county of origin for all 67 cats in the picture. Given that there are only so many colors a cat can be, I had to work all over it right up to the end, which included the 32 mini cat portraits surrounding the large cats in the middle.

Now that it’s complete, I can give up looking for pieces on the floor and look for my sanity instead. Seriously, this puzzle almost broke my brain. But, like my hero Elizabeth Warren, I persisted. And now seems like a good time to share the life lessons I’ve learned by working jigsaw puzzles over the years.

Change your viewpoint regularly.
Get up and move to the other side of the table and work on it upside down, or stand up and look straight down.  You will see things you haven’t seen before.

Make peace with missing things.
Not all things can be completed. This puzzle came from a thrift store and I was convinced, right up until the end, that there were missing pieces. It has happened before. I’ve also lost pieces on brand new puzzles. It’s best to assume something is missing in life and be pleasantly surprised when it all works out in the end. Go forward anyway.

Change the way you look.
Sometimes  you look at the shape of the pieces. Sometimes you look for the color. It’s difficult to hold both in your head at one time, in the same way it’s difficult to clear your mind of all stray thoughts when you meditate. Just do the best you can.

Don’t get locked in.
If you don’t like doing puzzles because you were taught that you had to do the border first, I’m giving you permission to disregard that rule. Sometimes doing the border first will help you and sometimes it won’t.  If you want to start in the middle that’s okay.

Choose your surface wisely but understand you cannot control everything.
Sometimes you will put together a black cat on a dark background. Sometimes you will put together a white cat on a white background. Proceed anyway.

It’s OK to take breaks.
Sometimes you have to walk away from a puzzle or a situation in order to get perspective. As with most problems in life, the puzzle will be there when you’re ready to tackle it again.

Life is about patterns. 
Jigsaw puzzles are great training tools for pattern matching and detail work. Is that part of an eye? A nose? What is this?! It certainly set me up for a lifetime of proofing punctuation and character spacing. Humans need to identify objects and people around us for survival so our brains are geared to look for patterns, sort, categorize and organize the world. Often just a fraction of something is enough for us to identify an object. But when we can’t figure out what something is, we get frustrated, even nervous. It’s OK but try to make peace with ambiguity.   The more we can tolerate uncertainty, the better we are.

cat eyes

complete

Welcome April

It’s April again, which means it’s National Poetry Month. It’s time once again to celebrate poetry and the contribution it makes to the human experience. Poetry illuminates the dark corners and shows us who we are. Poetry tells the truth in way that prose cannot. May you all find poetry this month, and every month, that illuminates your world.

Red Virus

little white pom poms with sprouts of red yarn
leftover valentine decorations
kitty cat playthings
funny floaty festive
killers

spicy popcorn balls
cinnamon puffed rice
a petri dish of contagion

don’t get too close
beware rosy fever cheeks
wash your hands red
and raw

death be not beautiful