Colleen at Wordcraft poetry suggested this prompt today: write a syllabic poem using synonyms for the words green and spring, but do not use those words themselves. I decided to use the form tanka because I am starting to really appreciate that structure.
Rather than a title, a tanka might have a topic. My topic is Arizona seasons.
March in the desert
is verdant, a vernal gem,
budtime under blue
and blossomy without freeze,
Phoenix repeats in the fall.
Vernal and budtime are both synonyms for spring. Verdant is a synonym for green.
In Arizona we tend to have two springs, meaning that some blossoming trees bloom twice a year and that we plant new annuals in both fall and spring. For this reason March and April—and October—are my favorite months in Arizona.
This week’s prompt by Colleen Chesebro is to find a spice in my cupboard and write a syllabic poem about it. I chose a spice that I no longer use that has sentimental significance. And for the form, I chose a hard one, the Kerf. The reason I find it hard is that I think pairing syllable counts with rhymes makes it hard for the poem to be sincere and meaningful.
Kerf with Mild Sri Lankan Curry
When I was in grad school,
she was my daughter’s teacher
in the university’s large day care.
She taught my girl each rule,
was the one who could reach her.
We became friends with times and hugs to share.
We loved her native food--
curry that she loved to cook--
so she gave us dried powder at the car--
richest spices, imbued.
Now we can just hug; time took
her memories, leaving only this jar.
You can see why I want to keep the jar of curry powder, although what is left at the bottom is no longer fresh or at its peak. But when I open the jar I remember the old Elaine, vibrant and chattering and smelling of roses and fresh chicken curry.
About the Kerf: it is 12 lines with 4 tercets. Lines of each tercet are syllable counts of 6-7-10. The rhyme pattern is abc, abc, dec, dec per stanza.
This Sunday and Monday is the release of my new poetry chapbook, Our Wolves, based on the Red Riding Hood story.
I love that Colleen wrote: “REMEMBER… don’t just describe the woman… we can all see her. Like all of us, this woman has a story. Write THAT poem….” I have been working on my ekphrastic poems, as well as syllabic, so this was a fun exercise. I chose to write a Reverse Cinquain. And, I’m sorry if this seems like a strange response, but all I could think about once I put myself into the woman herself is how uncomfortable I feel wearing this outfit. Then, my second thought was, but I sure feel beautiful (and I can’t wait to unhook my bra and the spanx and take off my shoes, etc.).
This week’s prompt is to use synonyms for change and growth in a syllabic form. I decided to write a haibun because it’s a form I feel comfortable with. I like the expansive quality of the haibun. It’s a prose poem, followed by a haiku that sort of furthers the poem or comments upon what comes before. I prefer the prose portion to be aligned on both left and right sides, forming a box, but I don’t know how to do that on WordPress.
My inspiration was the hummingbird mother I reported on years ago on this blog and then two years ago it happened again that a hummingbird mother helped her more immature baby.
How to Mother
She builds an elastic nest of spiderwebs and leaves, twigs and lichen, so small and round it fits in a child’s palm. Then she lays two white eggs, the size of cannellini. All month she warms them with her tiny body and only whirs away to feed on nectar and then whir back again. When the babies burst through the shells in all their wet messy glory, she begins the rapid rhythmic constant search for food for their always open mouths. After the first one leaves the nest, she spends all afternoon with the other demonstrating how to fly. The metamorphosis from nesting to new flight is complete.
The mother directs life’s forward move, inspiring her babies to thrive.
Have you tried writing syllabic poetry for the #TankaTuesday prompt? If not, give it a try!
This week I am participating in #TankaTuesday for the first time. Inspirational photo prompt was shared by Terri Webster Schrandt. I hope I am following the instructions correctly. Apologies in advance if I didn’t!
Terri says: “This is a filtered version of a rose I photographed at the International Rose Test Garden in Portland.”
Tankas are syllabic poems of five lines—5 syllables, 7, 5, 7, 7. Here is my tanka:
Note how the red rose,
velvet worn by early frost,
to its own treacherous stem,
never accursed by mirrors.
This writing prompt and process reminded me of a poem I wrote a long time ago and forgot about. It’s not a tanka, but free verse and about “one particular rose.”
my essay students write of gifts
or if I'm persistent flowers
I have to nurture for a full quarter
to earn violets or daffodils
or simply bouquet
I'm the one with the backyard
full of rosebushes
my husband usually waters
he's in Korea now
with my one particular son
while I water them,
each blossom an individual
that must be noticed
between the time it rises and sets
this particular bend toward the light
this particular black eye-dash of blight
this particular magenta shading into pink
I'm usually too busy
particular about the work I do
teaching show not tell
I forgot about writing posts based on Dawn Raffel’s memoir, The Secret Life of Objects. Joey over at Joeyfully Stated reminded me, so I’m happy to be back at it. I’ve written about the magical bowls of my childhood snacking and the name sign from my grandmother’s mailbox, as well as some jewelry that holds meaning for me.
Maybe the object that I still have that carries my earliest memories is the music box I have had since I was a baby. I know it’s weird, but I am a person with very early memories. I apparently inherited this ability from my grandfather. If you wonder what toddler memories are like, they are exactly like memories from all the other times of your life: vivid and realistic.
When my mother put me down for a nap, she would wind up the music box and set it going. I still remember standing in my crib, looking over the white iron bars, willing the music box to start up again. It didn’t, of course, as it had to be wound by someone.
I think I must have been a hard kid to settle to sleep (undiagnosed ADHD or anxiety?), and I always felt I was missing something. But then again my parents wanted me to nap AND have an extremely early bedtime. As a child I used to play shadow games or read under the covers with my flashlight.
When I became a teen, it was the sixties and incense was very popular, so I used my music box as an incense burner.
Have you ever heard that music is one of the best triggers for memory? Well, my music box–after 60+ years–still works. (Take that you plastic parts in today’s merchandise!)
I did a quick search online for a vintage round metal music box, and there are quite a few that look very similar, even to the color. They are called “powder puff” style. It’s very possible that this music box is from the 1940s and predates me. It could have belonged to my mother or grandmother well before I was born.
Question of the day: what song does the music box play?
Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!
On another note, my uncle has been visiting for two weeks and the kids (daughter and BF) are still living here, so for an HSP like me it’s been Grand Central Station over here.
My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.
When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.
My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.
I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.
You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.
This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.
Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.
Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!
By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.
Remember when I wrote about feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and wanted to write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear? I wrote about “Magical Bowls” and later about my grandmother’s mailbox sign.
This past week I went through a drawer of old jewelry to photograph it. I like to photograph things that I have packed away and haven’t seen in a long time. That way I can decide what to keep, as well as what to get rid of and just keep the photo. Jewelry was always something that appealed to me. When I was in college, I first worked for a department store in the jewelry department. I even briefly considered becoming a “jeweler.”
I use quotation marks because the definition of jeweler versus jeweller is one of the many things that has shown me how fast our world is changing. When I was in my twenties, there was a difference in the United States between these two professions. Today, the first is American and the second British, but in those days there were American jewelers and jewellers. And one was a more sophisticated job than the other. One actually made jewelry and the other sold it in a store. I’ll be darned if I can remember for sure which was which.
The other happy memory I have about jewelry is that the gardener was even more fond of buying me jewelry for gifts than I was at receiving it. This is what he gave me for high school graduation. It is sterling and onyx and was purchased at a shop on the Kalamazoo mall that specialized in gifts and decorative objects from India.
While I worked in the jewelry department, I managed to purchase a couple of pieces of jewelry with my discount. I thought they were a little better than costume jewelry, almost semi-precious. Today, they have no value as the gold is “gold-filled” and the styles are no longer fashionable. They really are costume jewelry.
But I didn’t stop hanging around jewelry after I quit that job. After I graduated from college, the gardener and I opened a store that sold “accessories.” That included handbags (purses, pocketbooks), billfolds (wallets), jewelry, belts, and gloves. I was always more interested in accessories than in actual articles of clothing, so it was a good fit for me. (Actually, I am not very interested in clothes at all). The gardener worked for Dictaphone as a sales rep, while I ran the store.
Over time, I collected a handful of pieces of “semi-precious” costume jewelry for myself. This is my carnelian Les Bernard necklace. Vintage Les Bernard jewelry is available online at about the same price it sold for originally ;). Carnelian represents passive female energies (whatever that means). Check out its meanings here.
Although I enjoyed the freedom from a corporate job running my own store, I was a little bored. Luckily, there were a few aspects of the job I enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of running the store was “doing” the window displays. I never had a class, a mentor, a single comment from anyone teaching me how to decorate a window, but maybe the proudest part of running the store is feedback I got from others about my windows. (I wish I had photos–maybe one day I will run across a photo!) There was a professor at Western Michigan University who loved my windows and one of her assignments was to send her students to check them out and do a write up about them. I would say that the most engaging part of my style was my use of color. For instance, my favorite window was all in bright red and natural wicker/bone. I didn’t bring in any other colors, and the contrast of those two colors was unique and really drew the eye.
Today my enjoyment of interior design is probably tied to my window design background, but I would never want to design someone else’s home interior (although friends have asked me to do so). I have confidence when it comes to doing what I like for myself, but I don’t want to have to take someone else’s “likes” into it ;).
What I noticed as I went through pieces of costume jewelry from one grandmother, then my other grandmother, then the gardener’s aunt, and a piece from an elderly relative who was cousin to my grandfather was that each piece, even if it is absolute junk from the viewpoint of the world at large, means something to me. Each piece makes me remember something about my past. The clay cross from La Purisima mission brought home by one of my children from a school trip, the kukui nut necklace from my parents’ trip to Hawaii, the hand-beaded bracelet a high school friend made. They all mean something to me. When I die, nobody else will have any connection to this jewelry. It will look like garbage to anyone who goes through my stuff.
Sometimes when I go to an antique mall I look at the vintage jewelry displays and try to imagine the stories behind the jewelry. But, honestly, it looks like shopworn seen-better-days stuff to me. That is a crushing blow, probably related to feelings of mortality. So of course I didn’t get rid of anything. Now I have the stuff in a drawer AND the photographs.
While I’m not a hoarder because (to the gardener’s everlasting annoyance) I like to throw things away (he is a hoarder!), I sure have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff for a thrower-awayer. I surprise myself at how sentimental I am. But then you’re probably not surprised!
When the gardener and I lived in Michigan we were good friends with artist Len Cowgill. He specialized in a type of pointillism which was well-suited to the detailed nature of his subjects. We have a series of three pieces that showcase different stages of a man’s life. They are just stunning. Unfortunately, they are under glass, so I can’t really take photos of them.
Recently, I found his work online–in galleries and on Flickr. While his art has grown and changed, it is still recognizably his inimitable style. Using acid-free paper, he works mainly in ink, graphite, white charcoal, and sometimes colored pencil. Len’s work isn’t merely decorative. He doesn’t turn away from difficult subjects, but focuses his eye on the human condition.
We haven’t seen Len in years, but hope to see him before too long now that we’ve reconnected.
When I really love a work of art, I get all revved up (jumping up and down in my chair, if you must know) and want to share with everyone. This is how I feel about Len’s art. He let me use these images from his Flickr account, but please do not copy them for public or internet use.
103 Secret Saints
Strangers Battling Through Eternity
We Are All In This Together
The Burden of Personal History
You can find Len’s work for purchase at the following galleries:
To contact Len, he can be reached through the contact page at Tamarack Art Gallery.
Just writing this blog post is giving me an idea for poetry: to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of Len’s pieces. An ekphrastic poem about a piece of visual art. Traditionally, the poet expands upon the meaning of the art within the poem, but it really can be any response to specific art. Use the artwork as muse or inspiration. Hmm, gotta get to writing. If you write a poem in response to one of the images in this post, please post a link or the poem itself in the comments!
This is my second response to feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir about the “secret life” of objects.
This object is not something I’ve owned for long, carrying from house to house. In fact, I only spotted it in July when we brought my mother home from the hospital.
My mother’s basement has shelves, boxes, and tables overflowing with photo albums and photo boxes. She has little interest in them. They were my father’s treasures. He was the family photographer and tried to hold every memory close to his heart and mind. With him now gone, my mother feels burdened by belongings that she never cherished to begin with. Every time I visit, she encourages me to take as much as I want of our family memories.
Before we flew back to Arizona, I decided to give the photo albums another go-around, taking home as many of the most important photographs as I could pack. I plan to scan them and then email them to other family members. While downstairs, I noticed a metal sign resting on the floor, shoved between two boxes.
This mailbox marker is from the 1960s. My father had it made for his mother’s mailbox when she moved near us from Chicago.
This is how it was attached to the mailbox and what Grandma’s mailbox looked like. If you click on this image, you will discover that there is a company (perhaps) still making these using a machine from the forties. The writer of the article says the company is so old school they don’t even have a website.
Grandma was born in Germany in 1893 and immigrated with her family to Illinois when she was two or three years old. When she was in her early 70s, she decided to leave Chicago for the small town atmosphere of Portage, Michigan, a suburb of Kalamazoo. Dad bought a duplex around the corner from our house, rented out one side, and moved Grandma into the other side. I was ten and could now ride my bike to Grandma’s house.
Not that I liked to visit her. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. When Mom or Dad made me pedal down her street the houses all seemed to be watching me. The nameplate on the mailbox signaled that soon I would be walking in Grandma’s door. I always had either terrified starlings or lake stones in my stomach.
But why? I am not sure, but am trying to figure it out. Grandma was a bit stern, a bit strict, at least more so than my Kalamazoo grandmother who was warm and fun. (Kalamazoo Grandma was 19 years younger than Chicago Grandma). Was it a cultural reflection of Grandma’s semi-German upbringing? I think her father was stern and difficult to know. He might have been domineering and given to punishments. But this is a guess based on my dad’s and uncle’s stories. In old photos, Grandma’s mother looks like a sweetheart–sort of like my maternal grandmother. Was it that I was afraid of my grandmother’s strictness?
If so, that’s odd because my father could be unrelentingly strict. She was an amateur compared with Dad in that way.
I remember Grandma, a talented seamstress and tailor, poking a straight pin in my stomach and warning me that I was getting fat. I wasn’t overweight, although for a period of time my belly protruded a bit. I deeply resented her saying this to me, but she didn’t do it all the time. Would I have held it against her? Maybe, but I think she did it after I already had developed anxiety at visiting her.
Within a year or two, a doctor confirmed that I had “water weight” in my abdomen. Years later I would be diagnosed with lymphedema. Where did I get it? From Grandma who never did get a proper diagnosis. Doctors told her it was caused by congestive heart failure, a disease she developed with age, but the swelling in her legs was visible before she was forty–I can see it in photographs. (I hope you’re seeing the thread here about photographs: they can be important).
Grandma always had a glass bowl of Dum Dum suckers for me to choose from. I didn’t care for those dull little things. Tootsie Pops–or better yet, Slo Pokes–were my lollipops of choice. Did I resent not being offered what I wanted instead of what she wanted to give me? It’s possible that she couldn’t afford Tootsie Pops. The candy was only for us because she couldn’t eat it; she was diabetic. Was I a brat? She seemed to try to make me happy, but her ways were limited and without imagination.
Some of my memories make me wonder if I pitied Grandma. Her age? Her solitary life? Some unexpressed sadness deep within her?
I remember Grandma’s home being so quiet that the clock ticking spooked me like a sudden noise in a horror movie. And still. Every object in the dusty rose living room seemed preternaturally still, the sort of stillness that comes before unexpected movement, as if the contents were waiting for me to leave.
When I left and pedaled as fast as I could down the street, I deeply drew in the outdoor air, thrilled to be headed toward my own street.
Then, all these years later, I saw the heavy metal sign in Mom’s basement and brought it home in my suitcase. The gardener didn’t say anything until I pulled out hammer and picture hangers to hang it on the wall of my study. “You don’t want that there, do you?” Hahaha, yes, I did, and there it is.
Every day I scan a few of the photos I brought home. The other day I found this one of me kissing Grandma, thanking her for the crocheted afghan she made me for my high school graduation (you can see a bit of the pattern in the photo). Proof that Grandma and I loved each other, even if she made me nervous.