Colleen at Wordcraft poetry suggested this prompt today: to write a syllabic poem using this 19th century painting as inspiration. She mentioned how it looked like the girl is on her cell phone. For a time it was hard to unsee that cell. But then, after I saw something hanging down from the “cell phone,” I realized how important our own world views are to how we see something. As I researched, I read that Hitler loved the paintings of this artist, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, and made his work Nazi favorites. But the artist (blessedly) never lived long enough to see the Nazis come to power or to know the name Adolf Hitler. All these different perspectives are where my poem today comes from and it is what complicates the form, creating an ekphrastic contrapuntal tanka string with haiku.
I’m sorry that the poem had to be a screenshot as I couldn’t make it stay on the screen otherwise. If you click on the poem image a couple of times you might be able to make it larger. Please let me know if you can read it or if I need to figure out something else. Any ideas would be appreciated.
My mother gave me my baby book which I have started to go through. I found a photo in it that I have never seen of the person who was my favorite when I was a kid: my maternal grandmother. In this image I am 20 months old. I also read in the book that for my first week of life Grandma and her other daughter, my sweet Aunt Alice, stayed with my parents and helped take care of me. She was the best grandmother anyone could ever have. The grandmother poems in Rooted and Winged are about her.
For months now I have been writing this post in my mind. The reason is that the post is meant to help clarify my thinking about a matter.
I grew up in an era where people still believed that it was important to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and to “put a good face on.” I also like to be seen as strong or even tough. Most importantly, there are always people worse off than ourselves. Some people have such horrible “roads to hoe” in life. It makes me cry to think of what some people go through.
Further down there is going to be a “but.”
Without boring you with too many details, underneath a lifetime of many and varied illnesses, I have a few chronic conditions that are a bit extraordinary. One of these is primary congenital lymphedema, particularly in the lower extremities. It’s what used to be known as elephantiasis.
Additionally, I have a migraine disorder that for the last 25 years has not (for the most part) been headaches, but a sudden and extreme set of symptoms. Because the symptoms didn’t fit neatly into a specific type of migraine, I was told they were “complicated migraines.” Most recently, the diagnosis is that I have genes for more than one rare type of migraine—and that they work together to give me symptoms of more than one disorder. Most likely these are vestibular and hemiplegic.
An extra issue in the mix, and I’ve written about this before, doctors at Mayo Clinic discovered that I had a very rare tumor in my right foot (rare meaning at that time medical staff couldn’t find any medical literature of a tumor in that particular bone). This was a nightmare that went on for 1 1/2 years and was complicated by my lymphedema. There were only two surgeons in the United States that Mayo considered competent to do surgery on this tumor, and it was performed by the AMAZING Dr. Eckhart at UCLA orthopedic hospital (RIP to a wonderful person and doctor). Five years after the surgery, he told me he never thought the surgery would work but he watched over me so carefully. Since the surgery I am not allowed to run, jump, hike, or do most aerobic activities.
I write about these details to give a little context. Back to putting a good face on and all that. Because I am a writer and keep up with current events in the writing world, I am more aware of new ways of thinking about things than I might be if I weren’t writing and especially reading new work. My view of myself that I have had my whole life has been as a blessed person–certainly privileged in many ways–and that I needed to stay tough and “power through” everything and then set it aside. Another way of putting it is to say burying it down deep. Perhaps what best fits is that I never made space for my health issues. I let everything else in my life intrude and take over the space they needed.
But (I told you there would be a but!) reading young writers, I am beginning to change my view of myself. I am disabled. Any time I go out I must have a hat and sunglasses with me for lighting situations (migraine trigger). I can’t go to concerts or sports games because of flashing lights. I can’t travel alone because it’s become too dangerous with the migraines which occur in a moment and are completely incapacitating. I must bring my lymphedema pump with me to travel–as well as lots of other things for the condition, and it takes a lot of time and energy every day. Most importantly, lymphedema affects much of the rest of my health, and as I age (arthritis and other deteriorations, for instance) it will become more and more of a problem.
So, while I have no ridiculous illusions that my situation is comparable to the tragic illnesses of so many others, I am finally realizing that disability has nothing to do with comparison between one person and another. And it isn’t negative or counter-productive for me to finally understand that it’s ok to admit that I am disabled, that it’s just a useful way to communicate with others. If people don’t realize that I am disabled, how can they be supportive?
I wish I had had this epiphany years ago when my son was still young. He has an exceedingly rare disorder that doctors misdiagnosed for decades. It’s so rare that in the NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders) list it is lumped in with other disorders and diseases instead of being listed separately. At the most, only a couple thousand people in the U.S. have his disorder. The reason it’s important to note the rareness is because the less others know about your disability, the less helpful they are–even if they want to be!
You see where I am going with this? If I had been better about making space for my disabilities, it might have been easier for my son with his own situation. It’s hard enough when people see you from the outside and say, “Oh, it’s not such a big deal,” with absolutely NO understanding of what it’s like to live that life. So, while the gardener and I always respected the importance of his disorder (which I first noticed when he was nine months old, and the pediatrician practically laughed at me), we didn’t teach him to make space.
Now I see everything differently.
Have you ever had a big shift in how you viewed yourself?
OK, ending on something a little lighter. Perry is very unhappy about the cane I’ve been using since I injured my knee more fully when I got home from Michigan. Yesterday, I was walking in the living room, and Perry came up from behind and crashed into the cane, forcing me down on the bad knee. Yes, it hurt like heck, but it was funny, too, because what cat does something like that? A dog might do that if he’s frustrated enough. But Perry was just being Perry! And then we had the hugging session afterwards where he apologized to me! Sweetest, funniest little goober.
Colleen at Wordcraft poetry suggested this prompt today: to write a tanka using our own inspiration.
Since I just traveled to Michigan to visit my mother and other family, I used something from that trip as inspiration. When I was a baby, a friend or coworker created a caricature of my father and me. It always hung in my father’s basement workshop. I spent a lot of time with him in that workshop; therefore, I saw it often. The last few times I have gone to Michigan, I have looked at that caricature and tried to figure out how to get it home to Arizona. Now my mother is moving from her duplex into an apartment in her retirement community, so I shipped it home to myself. I kept the chipped old frame because it is part of the experience.
In this old cartoon Daddy diapers baby me, the tweety bird babe, as if time is paralyzed by memory’s insistence.
I had a poem published today in a cool Australian lit mag. It’s called Trash to Treasure Lit, and the idea behind it is that “every writer has a piece of ‘trash’ that we can treasure.” Look through your drafts, your poems you figured you could never do right by, and if you can write something that explains why this “trash” can be a “treasure,” they might publish it. In my case, I wrote a love poem to my cat Perry, who as you may know, suffers from a couple of terminal illnesses (so far so good in case you’re wondering). I hope you can tell from this poem that Perry is the real treasure.
Colleen Chesebro’s prompt for #TankaTuesday this week is in celebration of her 65th birthday. (Happy birthday, Colleen!) We were to create a poetic form using 65 syllables.
I created a form I will call the aînée, which is the French word for a female elder. I was going to use the Spanish word anciana, but I didn’t like the connotations which seemed less positive. Plus I like that I am honoring the French language which is a language that has originated a lot of syllabic poetry. 65 syllables are arranged this way: ten lines of six syllables each, followed by a line of 2 syllables, and a final line of 3 syllables.
I had fun reading my poetry via zoom through the Well-Versed Words program, hosted by poet Alison Hurwitz. There was time to read quite a few poems from Rooted and Winged, as well as two from Our Wolves and to yak a bit about the poetry. Having to talk about my poetry taught me things about my poetry and my life. Alison is an excellent moderator and offers a reading every month. Check out her website at https://www.alisonhurwitz.com/events.
The video is 48 minutes long (eeks). It has the name of the wonderful moderator, Alison Hurwitz at the beginning, but you are in the correct video. And of course you can skip around if you want to check it out! As for me, no way can I watch it and see myself and listen to my voice hahaha.
My leg has been diagnosed as an inside meniscus tear and arthritis of the kneecap exacerbated by my primary lymphedema. Surgery is a very very last resort because of the lymphedema. Going to see a PA in sports medicine this week. Long waits for actual doctors. I hope to be able to travel because I have plans to see my mother in Michigan this month. I will be traveling with my daughter while the gardener stays home with the kitties. Yes, I’ve booked a wheelchair at the airport! If you’ve read my blog very long you know there is always a new physical problem ;).
A spot of good news. My son got my sewing machine fixed. It’s been broken for about 15 years. I want to use it for journaling, and now I just have to remember how it works. You would think that the granddaughter of the Head Fitter at The 28 Shop (couture at Marshall Field) would be a natural at sewing. But it was my cousin Leah who inherited some of that talent. Sadly, Leah has now been gone for twenty years.
“If you like interesting and thought provoking poetry, you will love Our Wolves.“
On another note, I looked for an African-American Red doll for my collection and found a gorgeous one on ebay by artist Stacy Bayne: $250! Here’s a link: https://www.ebay.com/itm/225374443246 While I can’t justify that (hah), it’s certainly beautiful. Here’s one of my $20 antique mall goodies.
Thanks to Editor Amanda Marrero, The Field Guide has published my poem “A Wash is Not a Riverbed.” This poem is about the wash that runs right past my house. I think this poem would have fit in Rooted and Winged.
The poem is in six sections. Here is the first one:
From overhead see a route
on an intuitive map. Scriven in earth, etched with blood and spoor.
The route is wash.
The wash is map.
A kingsnake slides its stripes
across the arroyo
in the way that a T is crossed to finish the planet. It tastes the chemical scent of its prey.
The stubbling of grasses amid stones optimistic in the hollow. We wish for custom monsoons
a steady large-drop rain and little wind.