This week’s #TankaTuesday by Colleen Chesebro is to write a syllabic poem using synonyms of the words “quiet” and “seek.” I decided to try a haiga, although that is a little dangerous.
A haiga, in its original form, is a Japanese painting with a haiku in it. The text and image work together. The reason I think it’s “dangerous” for me to try this form is that my mixed media fun leans more abstract, so some people might not think this is a haiga. However, I am experimenting here because I like the idea of blending text and image.
I used “silence” for quiet (as a noun) and “pursued” for seek.
There’s a lot of truth in this haiga: we never really had a monsoon season this year, and yet it’s now September. How will we get to fall if we don’t have monsoons to shift the balance? We have to actively pursue fall by decorating with pumpkins and eating pumpkin ice cream.
This Impressionist painting is in a French museum. I grew up going to the Art Institute in Chicago several times a year. While I’ve seen amazing Impressionist paintings at the Louvre and at the Courtauld in London, the Art Institute also has a gorgeous collection. My favorite painting there is by Caillebotte. Impressionism used to be my favorite style. Now my taste leans more toward Surrealism and Symbolism. Since I have been immersing myself in Surrealism by writing ekphrastic stories inspired by Remedios Varo, I really needed to zap myself into a different mentality first. So I ate some Ruffles and French onion dip. Get it? French chip dip, French painting.
I decided to write a tanka about the man in the painting who is the husband of the painter. I discovered that he was a painter himself, and the brother of the more famous Manet. He apparently was very supportive of his wife’s career as well as that of his brother. I found that to be very inspiring, especially since I am reading a novel about Varo’s life and how the male Surrealists treated the female painters. Not as colleagues.
It’s been a long time since I wrote posts based on Dawn Raffel’s memoir, The Secret Life of Objects. The idea is to write about an object that evokes memories.
I’ve blogged a couple of times about the vacation trip I went on with my parents when I wasn’t even four years old yet. We drove from Michigan south and visited Louisiana and Texas, among other states. Some of my most vivid memories from the time period were in New Orleans. I will always associate the city with sidewalk painters seated at their easels, the brushes that were extensions of their hands, and of course their fascinating canvases.
When I visited my mother in April to help her pack up some items before her move into the apartment building at her retirement village, I discovered this painting, long forgotten and gathering dust in Mom’s basement. My parents purchased it on that trip to New Orleans, and it hung for years in their living room. I shipped it home to myself, and now it hangs in my living room, reminding me of that vacation and the colorful, exciting world that existed outside Kalamazoo.
Colleen Chesebro’s prompt for #TankaTuesday is to use at least one kigo word in a syllabic poem for the current season, which in Arizona is summer. Colleen explains a kigo: 👉🏻 What is a KIGO? A kigo is a season word used in haiku and haibun (the haiku portion).
She provides a possible list of kigos. Daisies are not on the list, perhaps because many think of them as spring flowers. However, daisies are also summer flowers! So many types: Chrysanthemum*, Marguerite, English, Gloriosa, Shasta, Cape, Oxeye, and Gerbera. I prefer Gerbera because unlike the other varieties they are completely non-toxic to cats! *this variety is on Colleen’s list
With son and DIL living here, we have their dog Theo here as well. He’s such a little goofy guy, and I get to let him out when his mom and dad are both gone for three hours or more. I can’t physically handle walking him on a leash, although in a pinch I can take him on the driveway on a leash because he’s very good for me. But I like to let him roam the backyard, which is fenced. He’s very loved and what’s rewarding for me is that he loves his Grandma! In his photo you can see a very typical expression he gets on his face as he is always trying to figure out what’s going on.
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.
When I first started this blog, near the end of 2012, I posted this blog post. Something Colleen Chesebro wrote reminded me of it, and I thought I would share it again. It’s about memory and how the line can be blurred between fact and fiction in memory.
I have a box of old photographs my grandfather gave me before he died. They are family portraits and snapshots dating from about 1890 to 1920. We sat in his living room and wrote names on the ones he could identify. Dozens of other photographs bear family resemblances, but they remain nameless and can’t assume their positions on the family tree.
My own mind houses memories in the same way. Many of my memories bear a resemblance to my life and my relationships, and while minute details might be clear, the facts are hazy or forgotten, perhaps unrecoverable. A memory illustrated by vivid details and accompanied by still-present emotion began on Trimble Street, in front of the next door neighbor’s house. I was two, almost three.
Mrs. Becker babysat me for my parents that day; she let her girls watch me outside. The day felt sun-warmed, with a slight cooling breeze rustling through my play clothes. The oldest girl, Donna, and a teenage boy were the ringleaders of the group. She wasn’t yet in high school and didn’t have her later characteristic beehive hairdo.
Her younger sisters, Susie and Denise were with us. All the children ringed a brown horse standing in the street looking very out-of-place. From my perspective down near the sidewalk, the horse looked like a city square equestrian statue—massive, gigantic, forbidding. Perhaps the boy had ridden the horse to our street. Donna turned to me, kneeled down to my level, and said, “How would you like to go for a ride?”
I shivered, though the sun shone down on my honey-colored hair. “No,” I said.
“Oh, come on,” said Susie.
“No!” I backed away.
“Honey, there’s no need to be afraid,” Donna said. She scooped me up and plunked me down on the saddle positioned across the back of the horse. From this height I looked down at the tall teenagers, feeling dizzyingly and irrevocably beyond their reach.
“Put me down,” I said.
The teens giggled and chattered. Suddenly I heard a loud SMACK, and the horse bolted forward. I swayed backwards for a moment and then righted myself by grabbing hold of the saddle horn sitting in front of me. The horse trotted up Trimble Street. We left the teens behind, just the determined horse and me. The breeze flew through my flimsy hair. I held onto the horn with every muscle I could harness to the aid of my hands. Both my hands and feet tingled and turned numb. My thoughts condensed into one little pinhole: stop stop stop! I couldn’t tell the horse to stop because the pinhole only allowed that one thought; I was beyond the power of speech.
The horse trotted up to busy Gull Road, a main artery without sidewalks, where he turned right. I expected to fall off his back into the path of an uncaring automobile. I clung on. He carried me swiftly to Henson Street where he took another right, and then onto Junction and back to Trimble Street. My powerful hands, drained of blood, were my only compensation for the utter loss of control I felt.
When he trotted to the front of the Becker house, the horse stopped short. I rocked again and almost tumbled. The teens laughed, and Donna’s friend tried to lift me off the horse, but my hands would not unclamp from the saddle horn. I realized then I had been crying; my cheeks, soaked with tears, seem to burn as if the saltwater seared the tender skin.
I couldn’t speak, not even that night when I saw my parents. All these years later, the details vibrate within me, but I’m missing one fact: I can’t be certain if the horse existed or came to me in a dream.
With my mother and the two younger sisters from next door
The names have been changed to protect people who may or may not have participated in this act of baby abuse.
Are you sure of your memories? Do you have any like this one, where you aren’t sure if it really happened or if you dreamed it? How do you handle a hitch like that in writing creative nonfiction?
The new poetry collection of poet Ken Gierke, who blogs at https://rivrvlogr.com/, is called Glass Awash. I wrote a review of it and hope it inspires you to buy a copy!
Ken Gierke’s debut poetry collection, Glass Awash (Spartan Press 2022), is about making art, connections between inhabitants of the planet, and the voices that attach and sustain us. These inhabitants can be human, animal, plant, or mineral. In the poem that titles the book, “Glass Awash,” a piece of glass is tumbled in the waves at the shore where it dries under the sun. Then, “From swaying reeds, / a red-wing remarks on / its beauty, soon consumed / / by a frost, a reminder / of each kiss found / in grains of sand.” In this case the connections seem to be between animal (bird), plant (reeds), and mineral (glass and sand). However, the human is implicit as it is the human who records the event.
These free verse poems are spare with a minimum of words so that the images are not cluttered with less important language. The poems protest against “[o]ur growing world of disconnect,” but notice the “invisible connections” within the natural world (“The Intent of Moonlight and Ethereal Synapses”). Although poems are titled “Words without Voice” and “Thoughts without Voice,” the struggle seems to be to bring voices into being. In “Other Voices,” the persona tries to find a stone at the water’s edge “that speaks to you,” and then the stone with other stones will also speak. These stones, much like the tumbled glass, speak to us only if we listen carefully.
Some of the poems within this collection are elegies for the poet’s mother during her final illness and after she is gone. These are beautiful and while still sparely constructed vibrate with love and loss. These are a few of my favorite lines: “Hidden / in the pockets of my mother’s dreams, / surrounded / by the accumulated lint / of a faded lifetime, are dusty memories / sharper / than this morning’s breakfast.” Gierke uses the uneven line lengths to give emphasis to certain words.
Because the poems are short and not great in number, you can read this book very quickly. But you will want to read it again and again to really explore meaning in this lovely collection.
I presume it’s also available in Canada and other countries.
Ken Gierke is retired and has lived in Missouri since 2012, when he moved from Western New York, where the Niagara River fostered a love for nature. He writes primarily in free verse and haiku, often inspired by hiking and kayaking, while his fondness for love poetry may be explained by the fact that he moved to Missouri to be with the woman he eventually married. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming both in print and online in such places as Ekphrastic Review, Amethyst Review, Silver Birch Press, Trailer Park Quarterly and The Gasconade Review, and it has appeared in several print anthologies, including three from Vita Brevis Press and easing the edges, edited by d. ellis phelps. His first collection of poetry, Glass Awash, has been published by Spartan Press. His website: https://rivrvlogr.com/
Artist Kelsey Montague has painted art wings all over the country (and elsewhere). One of her murals is at the Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale, Arizona. When my daughter and I had lunch at the mall, she took my pic with the wings to celebrate the 2022 publication of my poetry collection Rooted and Winged.
The poems of Rooted and Winged explore the emotional and physical movement of flight and falling. They are of the earth, the place of fertile origins, and of the dream world we observe and imagine when we look upward. Golems and ghosts that emerge from the ground, as well as the birds and angels that live above us, inhabit the collection. We will always be striving for flight, even as we feel most comfortable closest to the earth.
There are poems about Arizona, California, and the lakes of Michigan. My maternal grandparents are the characters that most inhabit this book.
The poems of Luanne Castle’s Rooted and Winged are embedded in land and weather. “Bluegills snap up larvae in slivers of illusory light,” she writes early in the collection, hinting at the sensibilities of the companionable speaker who will usher us through the book.
Six years ago, I published a piece of flash fiction at The Story Shack called “Parking Lot Superhero.” I posted a link on this blog and yadda yaddaed about fiction giving me more freedom for structure. The story was one of the first flash pieces I wrote.
Here’s a confession. I don’t even know why I wrote that about freedom because the truth is that this story is completely true except for the names. So maybe the freedom actually came from changing the names. And by changing the names I was able to change the structure and how I ended up structuring it made all the difference. So, yes, I submitted nonfiction as fiction by changing the names.
Is this a character defect? Or is it just a genre, like a roman à clef (novel where real people occur, but their names are changed)?
Have you ever written nonfiction and disguised it as fiction?
This story is not one of my most well-written (and at some point I might revise it), but it’s still one of my favorites because the hero of the story (not me) was such a larger-than-life character in real life.
Going back to my title–Is it Real Life or is it Fiction?–maybe fiction is often real life, just many different aspects of real life glued together in a different combination and order.
One more thing. Why did I want to come clean about this story being true? Although I published it as fiction to protect “Jack” and his family story, I have felt guilt at not giving him credit for being a hero. I still won’t publish his name, but I feel better letting you know that he is a real living hero.