Poetry Thursday

Good enough, Day 19: Prodigal Writer


I was going to return
with wisdom and grace,
the knowledge of lifetimes lived
in our mutual absence.

Or, at the very least,
with my best Saturday-night smile,
and a dozen coral roses from the farmers market,
wrapped in a little extra flash and dazzle,
just in case.

Instead, there is this.
It is not exactly right,
and 17 miles from the morning shadow of perfect,
but it is true in the places that count,
and that, my friends, is good enough.

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Good enough, Day 5: A poem


You know that thing where, completely by accident,
you run into an old friend you haven't seen for seven years
at a place neither of you would expect because
how the hell would they know Terry and Rich?, 
they moved away SEVEN years ago—
at least two before Terry and Rich even got to L.A.,
much less met each other
and you're both so excited you shriek
and hug each other
and maybe even cry a little
and then, embarrassed,
motion to your respective, politely bored companions that
you haven't seen this person for SEVEN YEARS
and exclaim over how great it is to see them (because really, it is)
and how each of you looks exactly like you did fifteen years ago (because, well—ballpark)
and then, before you realize what you have unleashed,
you ask them what they've been up to
and they catch their breath and say, "Omigod...!" because of the enormity of it,
but then, in a steady stream, release things like "MFA"
and "...Seattle, for Greg's residency"
and the names of two things you're pretty sure are children
and one you really hope is an animal
but honestly, you're having trouble concentrating
because you already know what comes next.

And when it does, as it always does,
you think about the various men who have come and gone
and the one husband who was gone but came back as a friend
and the several careers you've tried on
like costumes sewn for someone else—beautiful,
but tight around the shoulders—
and even the one time you wound up in the emergency room
and thought you saw Jesus but it was only dehydration and a trick of the light

And you consider telling them all of this
but you are bored of it already
and why get into what's really going on,
or even the simple, crazy story of how it was all set in motion
on that early Thursday evening when you walked out of a Ross Dress for Less
and the sun hit the palm trees in a particular way
and how, for one nanosecond, maybe two,
you finally knew that someday, you could feel all right
even if you didn't know how just yet.

No one talks about the long climb
back to okay
at a cocktail party,
even one with dear, old friends.

So instead, you say, nothing! nothing at all!
and you both laugh
and ask how the other knows Terry and Rich
and you all friend each other on Facebook—
right there, on your phones, like the Jetsons!—
and promise to meet for coffee
which you just might do in another 40 years
when the witnesses are gone.

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Embracing the tiny, Day 17: Getting over yourself

the kroger building in cincinnati, from Over the Rhine

It is not, as it turns out, that hard
to take a half-decent picture.

What's hard
is taking 4,000 horrible pictures first.
What's hard is standing in the middle of the street
like a stupid tourist hick
taking two, three, seventeen horrible pictures
while people stare at you with your doofus camera
and your zero credentials acting (as if)
this is something you do every day
because it is so much fun.

What's hard is going home
and sifting through
the ten, twelve, ninety horrible shots,
and trying to suss out
which are really horrible and
which are just bad and
which are...okay?
and which are slightly better than okay
and which of those remaining two is better
because they look exactly the same

And what's really really hard,
as it turns out,
is not taking the picture at all
but putting it out there for people to see
and judge
and form assumptions
about your talent
and your character
and your level of denial
and to not just do it once
but to do it the four thousand times (at least)
that you have to be bad
before you can start being halfway decent.

But taking a half-decent picture?
Is not that hard
as it turns out.


This is Day 17 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Poetry Thursday: Focus

christina katz quote illustrated by alissa walker

This post is #25 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

One foot in front of the other.

This is how everything moves
from one place to the next.

From chaos to clarity.
From fear to love.
(And back. And back.)
From nothing to something.
(And back. And back.)
From empty to full,
from birth to death,
from blank to fin,
from impossible to done.

And the doubt
that pools around you
as you pause
to catch your breath

And the voices
that whisper
of hazards ahead

And the fear
that seems to color the air
a sickly shade of gray

All vanish
when you focus
on putting one foot
in front of the other.


Image inside the frame by Alissa Walker, from a photograph she took on one of the many trips she's taken doing just that. You can get it in a luxurious, desktop-sized image of inspiration with a $15 contribution to the 50-for-50 project on IndieGoGo, through September 13, 2011.

Poetry Thursday: the spaces in between

THIS big

This post is #18 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Are you still worried
about that participle
you left

That inelegant phrase,
that wobbly metaphor,
that questionably situated adverb?

Never fear, fellow traveler.

There is no "done"
when it comes to ideas on a page
and not even "almost"
will work better than
"awful with a beating heart."

Besides, nobody loves
your beautiful words.

They love
the way they feel
in the spaces


Image by Leszek.Leszczynski via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Keep writing

field notes book with

This post is #11 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

When what you write makes you cry,
keep writing.

When the words are coming slowly,
or too quickly,
or not at all,
keep writing.

When the stories won't tell themselves
the way they showed up in your head,
keep writing.

When you are tired
or bored
or sad
or angry

when you are freshly dumped
when you are floating on air

when you are wicked
when you are good
when you are stuffed
when you are starving
when you are sure
there is not one more thing in the world to say,
keep writing.

You are not here to be significant
or meaningful
or even great—
you are here because the pen
cannot do it without you.

So pick it up
and park your ass
and write
and write
and write.


Poetry Thursday: Finding your voice

art by nikki mcclure

This post is #4 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

You begin by following the ones who went before.

Step by step you walk,
straining to find the right set of footprints,
for the trails lead everywhere,
Up mountains, through thickets,
into caves and crevasses,
clearly the work of those crazy, spelunking limericists,
marveling at the wonders the giants have left in their wake,
carved into trees
chipped into stones
blooming in rows
or artfully planted
to look random.

The maps, they never seem to work quite right.

Is this the lake? Was I supposed to turn there?
This road seems so much narrower
than the one in the picture,
than the one in the song,
than the one in my head.

I must be lost, you think.
I will wander this land for all eternity,
traveling in circles,
looping back on myself,
around and around.

I will never get There.

And then one day,
the light slants down at a particular angle
which you both notice
and do not
and the air feels familiar
but completely different
and there are no other footsteps but yours
and you are walking—no, you are walking,
blazing a trail for the next intrepid soul,
scattering your own seeds
and songs
and fairy messages
along the way.


Image inside the frame by Nikki McClure, one of a series of pieces from her beautiful yearly calendars. You can get it in a luxurious, desktop-sized image of inspiration with a $15 contribution to the 50-for-50 project on IndieGoGo, through September 13, 2011. After that, no dice, Bryce.

Poetry Thursday: Narcissus and the World Wide Web

The Internet is full of shrimp and Perry Mason tonight.

When I woke up it was wall-to-wall awesome, pulsing with possibilities for advancement and intellectual growth and emotional connection, an endless road there to take me anywhere I wanted, anywhere in the world.

By noon, I had turned it into a moving sidewalk between Terminals B and C, some tedious ride I've taken too many times, with ads up one side and mirrors down the other, the better to get a good, long look at the asshole who thought she could outwit the Web.

But tomorrow is another day like Scarlett said on Netflix streaming. Tomorrow I will bring that bitch to her knees just as soon as I check my email and my stats and a few select places for mention of my name.

In the meantime, let's see what's up with Della and that stir-fry recipe...

xxx c

Image by xJasonRogersx via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. (And the full-sized, uncropped version is much better. You should take a look.)

Poetry Thursday: Of service

fishmonger holding high two lobsters Virgo is the sign of service visualized as a maiden in a flowing robe, hair up or down, bearing grain.

Not a lion, not a bull not a ram. Not a hottie hoisting a vat of water to his massive shoulder with his studly arms.

Not a sharpshooter, a skilled, sought-after professional, never mind the hairy knees and hooves, not a pair of enigmatic twins or Escher-y fishes not even a goat or a crab or an inanimate fucking object of weights and measures:

Oh, no. A lone shiksa who has never met the high, hard one fondling a shaft of wheat, that's my lot.

I hated being a Virgo like I hated being not old enough or tall enough or smart or pretty or funny or fast enough to be anything but altogether unexceptional.

I hated my sign that started with "V" and ended with nobody getting laid like I hated the black watch plaid I wore every day for eight years that made me look just like everyone else, only somehow, never as cool as the girls with the good signs, the Leos, the Taurans, the goddamn Capricorns, all of whom most assuredly were relieved of their virginity before they were 19 and had to beg someone.

Do you know who serves?

Broom-pushers and burger-flippers; stockboys and bus drivers. Practicing alcoholics spinning condo-closeout arrows on the corner or hawking Caesar salad specials in a chicken suit. Cashiers, counting out other people's money, and actors, when they can't get work as actors, and overeducated foreign nationals and undereducated dropouts all clinging to their last shred of dignity doing jobs too low even to be beneath them.

People with no other choice choose service, don't they?

Yes. They do. They do. And the luckiest of them, I see now, embrace it.

They stoop to wash the dusty feet of strangers, to set the broken arms of girls who slide off the monkey bars, to pour themselves onto the page again and again so that this time, that someone whose heart has barely a hairline crack running across it can finally start feeling the light pour in.

They bend and contort themselves to make pastafazool and music. They bear with patience the slow, slow uptake of mathematics in adolescent crania and self-knowledge in the shattered heart. They give and give and give of their time and their talent, and their sweat and their soul sometimes for little, but never, never for nothing.

Finally, decades later, but not too late, I see that what is truly true: that to love is to serve. And so now, as then, I choose to serve because I cannot choose otherwise.

I must live in service of that which I've been given: my broom, my brain, my pen, my heart. I must push them to and fro to and fro to and fro every day of every week that they are in my custody.

I must live to serve, because now I finally see what is truly true: that I must serve to truly live.

xxx c

Image by Charbel Akhras via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: All the things I wear because the ugly is too awful to bear

nearly-naked protester atop statue at G20 summit Toronto 2010 I wrapped myself in layers to keep out the wind and the rain and the cold-hearted, to protect my delicate belly fur from brushing up against stinging bitches, to fend off hailstorms out of nowhere and guard against shark attacks, sermons, rabies, catcalls, and random acts of insomnia.

I outfoxed the bad and the maybe-bad and the looks-bad-from-here and the ba-a-ad bad bad I heard about from a guy who knows a guy, with my elaborately constructed fortress of guile, goose-down, faux fur, Real Housewives, rants, mantras, uplifting quotes, strategically-placed sarcasms, and a cotton-rayon shell with a touch of Spandex for movement.

Unfortunately it got hot in there and not a little smelly.

Which is how on one of your more tempting summer days I found myself unzipping a jacket just for a moment.

And after the toxic cloud of sour grief and withered possibilies and tears and rage and confusion was finally carried off by a kindly breeze I think I heard a bird. Or maybe it was the ocean. Or maybe it was a poem, finally whispering softly enough so I could hear her, "Off...take it all off."

That was weeks ago, or maybe months, or was it yesterday?

No matter. I am down to the last fourteen layers now, and peeling fast. Two sweaters forward, one t-shirt back.

With any luck, I will die completely naked.

xxx c

Image by Jason Hargrove via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Unmoored

stickers saying "adrift" affixed to some wall/object

Every now and then, you become unmoored.

You will not notice the moment of release.
There will be no fanfare
to note the event
as you float out to sea in your sleep,
no streamers,
no teary farewell waves from shore,
no bottle of champagne
cracked across your bow.

You will simply wake up one day,
staring at a random item from the toiletries aisle
missing your exit on the 101
reading the same line three times, badly,
trying too hard
laughing too loud
crying too easily,
and realize not only that you feel wobbly
and weird
and a little pissy around the edges,
but that it has been a long, long time
since you touched real ground.

Here is the thing
to remember:
the moment you notice,
you are back.

Not back and hale, perhaps,
not back and fixed,
back and firm, but
back, baby, BACK.

You start again now,
breathing once,
three times.
Someone turns the sound back on,
ranchero music, the axe-murderer ice-cream truck,
Marco! Polo!
Somebody cues the scruffy dog
with a bead on that squirrel,
somebody else
throws something on the grill a block away.

And here you are again,
10 and 40 all at once,
you are you,
you are alive,
you are moving across the Earth
under the sun,
you are a million miracles made whole
right this second.

Welcome back.


Image by PinkMoose via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Slow death by bullshit happiness

old clip-art dude holding sign: Dead inside. You? You think to yourself: "I can do this!" or "This will be good for me!" or even "It doesn't matter."

And so you smile when someone asks how things are going, broadly, you smile, with most of your teeth, and you flick aside what's left of your heart, and you stick out your hand and say, "Grrrreat!" or "Couldn't be better!" or, when life is particularly bleak, "Things are looking up!"

And you recite from memory a menu, several pre-selected items from columns "A" and "B", of all the marvelous wins and fabulous opportunities and other stale pellets of extruded terror formed into appetizing, life-like shapes, tarted up with brio and garnished with a wilted sprig of false humility until you question whether you can even remember what it felt like to really, truly feel anything.

What happens, I wonder, when you just fucking say, "Damn, I'm tired. Business sucks, traffic was awful, my husband left me, my hard drive crashed, the dog has cancer, and the Emperor's ass is a flat, pale, pockmarked bucket of sad the sight of which is going to take years to wipe from my memory banks. What's new in YOUR world?"

Whether everything is awful right now or everything is perfect right now everything IS right now.

And I can't think of a single thing that doesn't get a little bit better served up fresh and truthfully, with humor, with tenderness, with the judiciously-chosen expletive, dependent on company.

Besides, what's the alternative, slow death by bullshit happiness?

The end is coming, either way.

And I'm guessing, just guessing, mind you, that if you let at least some of it hang out, the two of you might even toast to the ironies of life, and the way a bump in the road can turn two complete strangers into fellow travelers.

xxx c

Poetry Thursday: Some small magic is making your life possible right now

two young brothers hugging and smiling in a car

If you tell me miracles do not happen
I will not contradict you.

I cannot point to precise amounts of money
showing up in time
to save the curly-headed ingenue lashed to the tracks
from the fiery vengeance
of a foul-breathed dragon.

I do not believe
in spontaneous healing
or insta-overhauls
and I am pretty sure
that if Jesus showed up again today
it would not be
on a waffle.

But if you ask me about magic,
well, then,
I am all in.

Not cruise-ship illusions
or witchy incantations
but real, homemade magic.

Time, for instance,
imbued with tincture of patience,
okay, oceans of patience,

Time works wonders
more amazing
than that big wall in China
and a couple of pyramids
put together.

Laughter, obviously.
Like a light switch,
that laughter.

And let me tell you:
if you have not stood
on the razor's edge
between dark and light
and had the perfectly-timed,
impeccably-turned line
flick you nimbly from one side
to the other
while you weren't even thinking,
much less looking,
and felt the tears that soaked your heart
suddenly pouring down both sides of your face
with laughter,
well, then, brother,
I submit
you have yet to live.

And love,

Well, where do we start
when it comes to love?

Love is a magnet
and a builder of bridges. 
Love keeps feet
on the ground
and launches otherwise logical heads
into the stratosphere.

Love can stitch two hearts together
patiently, bit by bit, 
over sixty-five highly improbable years
and krazy-glue others together
so swiftly
and permanently
that the word "excruciating"
works equally well
to describe the coming together
or the pulling apart.

Love is making something possible
right this very second
and third
and so forth.

Love is so amazing
and enthralling
and uplifting
and empowering
I would live in love all the time
if it didn't scare the shit out of me.

It takes muscles
to live in love
not just a heart of fire
and a head for poetry.

But I will get there.
Just you wait.

Until then,
I practice.
I exercise.
I make what joy I can,
and take what time I am able to
without tripping over my own two feet
like the jackass I am.

May this day
and every other
bring a little more magic.

May I make a moment indelible
by standing still in it.

May you heal or be healed
by some flavor of joy.

And may we both do one tiny, terrifying thing
that nudges us gently
back to the love
we have been standing in
all along.


Image by comingstobrazil via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: The whole point of it

baby looking up from bottom of a large plastic tube

Take yourself back to first grade
or kindergarten
or nursery school
or wherever you first learned
how to really learn:

One thing at a time.
One fascinating thing
that intrigued you at first
pulling you in,
with its shiny
and newness.

Your shoes,
the first time you pictured
them going from untied
to tied
without grownup

A carrot,
lumpy and long,
with delicate hairs
someone showed you
how to shave off
in curls,
onto a paper towel.

You whittled at least one
down to nothing at all
I'll bet.
You put your left arm 
into your right sleeve,
at least a hundred times,
maybe more.
You made your "e"s backwards
and your grass purple
and your shoelaces, knots.

Again and again,
a thousand times
eleventy-billion times
you did it

And now you say
this is hard?

This omelet?
This iambic pentameter?
This 1040EZ
bar chord
mea culpa

Of course it's hard.


Image by Beth Nazario via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Thick of it

a fist with "ARGH!" written on it

I will not lie to you,
I have chewed my nails
down to nubs
to keep from grabbing
a fresh cigarette.

I have wept
before pieces
of chocolate cake
and crusty heels
of bread.

I have powered through
eight kinds of pain
to run one more mile
lift five more pounds
bend one more inch.

I have force-fed myself
in my valiant attempts
to not make the call,
to not send the email,
to stop my thoughts
from veering off
the straight and narrow
into the Land of the Dark Places.

I have braved rush-hour traffic
and hostile crowds
and disinterested rooms
to move from one world
to another.

And you don't want to know
how many buckets
of bile and confusion
I've bailed 
from the deep
and overflowing reservoirs
of my head and my heart 
onto god-knows-how-many
blue-lined spiral-bound pages.

They are nothing,
compared to the exquisite torture
of sitting still 
and doing 

the hardest thing about change
is slowing down enough
to see
what you need
to do next.


Image by Sarah G via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Mister Rogers is my home screen

fred "mister" rogers

I have Fred Rogers
on my phone.

When I turn it on,
there he is,
in his red zip cardigan 
and gray flannel slacks.

When I get a call,
he answers,
in his black dress socks,
a work shoe in one hand
a faded blue deck shoe
with white laces
beside him,
ready for today's visit
to the Neighborhood
of Make-Believe.

People wonder
about that
when they see him.

Is he there
because I need 
a little magic in my life?

Because I need
to retreat
to a place that feels safe?

Because he brings
with his precision
and his pace
and his routine
and his place for everything
and everything
in its place?

Or do I think
that perhaps
he ups my irony cred
on the mean streets
of Hipsterville?

What is he doing there?

Yes, I say.
Yes and yes
and, alas,
yet again,

But mostly,
what he is doing there
is smiling.


Poetry Thursday: My enemy, my Sherpa

halftone image of woman holding hands in front of face

Do not wish away time
or fat
or fear
or change
or any other

If you face them,
those thieves
of what you thought
you wanted
will show you
to your heart's true love.

If you hide,
in the dark
in a bottle
in a bag of Doritos
in the glow of a screen
under cubicle light
behind walls of silence
beneath waterfalls
of meaningless chatter,
they will hunt you down

They will show you.
They will show you.

If they have to wait
until your dying breath

they will show you.

How much better
to invite them in
for a cup of tea
and a moment's rest
and hear
what they have
to offer.

Hello, my enemy!
My teacher!

Let me sit at your feet
and work out the kinks
while you tell me how
to unbuckle my life...


Poetry Thursday: 50,002 miles

I waited

for weeks
for that odometer to roll
the first 50,000 miles
I'd put on a car

First EVER.

Not the extra fifty
I helped put
on the family car
or the twenty/ten/five
that got me to fifty
on all of those  
other cars,

50,000 miles,
from zero to five-oh
(save the few it took
to get it from factory
to me),
all by my lonesome.

For months
I guessed at
the rollover date:
in L.A.,
on the 101,
running mundane errands
or my own crazy ass
over the hill and back
for to get my head shrunk?

In the valley of Ojai,
at night, climbing
the hill toward the stars?

On the road in between,
windows down,
singing to the oldies?

As it happened,
I was somewhere on the outskirts
of Sacto,
negotiating my way
through a surprising number
of Sunday drivers
on their way to salvation,
two miles before I had a moment
to look down
and notice.

and two.

I thought about it
all the way
to Bakersfield.

And then,
somewhere on the outskirts
of L.A. County
I realized:
I would remember
and two
far, far longer
than I could have dreamed
I'd remember


Image by Glenn Gutierrez via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: I will hold you in my arms like a puppy

dog on cushion with slanket and framed photo in background Is it all too much? It is, I can see, and so can you, on a good day when you are well-rested well-fed focused on something you love unfocused enough to feel at one with The Love.

Please, do not worry. Or do, if you must.

A shift of something in the air in your heart in The Love will bring you back eventually.

In the meantime I will hold you in my arms like a puppy, rock you back and forth until you purr, stroke your velveteen rabbit ears until they fold back onto your tender coat.

If you only knew how beautiful you were even now, when you feel so low, so unworthy, you could gentle yourself back to goodness.

For now, let me help, with a song with a bedtime story with a knock-knock joke.

There, there. You see?

I will hold you today. Tomorrow, you can hold me.

xxx c

Poetry Thursday: Eno in the trees

small black dog running through woods

Your shit
didn't break
all at once
or in order,
you could argue
that it never broke
at all,
that you were just you,
fixing yourself
the best way you knew how,
splinting your own leg
up there on the mountain,
miles and miles
from a trained professional.

So go.
Roll out
a doughy stretch
of time
before you,
as much as you can gather at once,
then play with it,
in it,
around it.

Frolic in the sea
take long drives through the country
do your deep knee bends
your yoga
your tai chi
and walk the hills,
with Hank Williams
with Joe Frank
with Brian Eno
with nothing at all,
and as many trees
as possible.

Eat real food.
Drink good water.
Follow the light
around the house,
like a cat,
from one patch
to another. 
Talk to fellow
let them fall in step
with you
and peel off
where they must.
It will be you
and only you
in the end,

Let go
of your notions
of time,
you have all the time
in the world,
and none of it
belongs to you

You are a perfect mess
a beloved clutch of cells
and electricity,
a brain in need of a heart,
a heart in need of room.

Here it is:
all the room you need,
right here.

Do you see?


Image by guy schmidt via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.