Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the one where the revving engine distracts me from reality

Across the street from my house,
a small black pickup truck idles.
I can't remember what I want to write
or do next
or if I've finished revising any
of the poems I pulled up this morning.

A man in silky red running shorts
and black T-shirt
peers under the open hood, fiddles with


I'd be more specific,
give you a "telling detail,"
but I know nothing about pickup truck engines
or men in silky red running shorts.

I need to run errands this afternoon:

- return books to the library
- pay my water bill
- gas up the car
- wash the car

By tomorrow morning
or maybe afternoon,
I hope I have 10 to 15 pages
of not horrible poetry
to schlepp to the MFA office
for the upcoming residency,
poems that aren't quite finished
but won't make the other poets barf.

I'm getting there.

I can't think why
I didn't revise some of these poems
right after I wrote them.
If I had, I wonder
if I would have sent them out
to journals or contests.

Next step.

My daughter is at her dad's for a while
except for Saturday
when she'll spend the night here
to make access to her friend who leaves Monday
for basic training
Good enough reason to finish
the manuscript before Friday.

Once I'm done with hard focus
on unfinished poems,
I will climb all the stacks
in my house
and chisel them down
into manageable mounds.

(I can't think of a word to go with cleaning
so I will let it sit there

In the next few weeks,
I must organize house
find people to look in on my cat during the MFA residency
find financial files
borrow money from myself
confirm that I am teaching those poetry workshops in September
decide if I will take another improv class though two of the six sessions fall during the residency
maybe find time to work on some fiction before poetry consumes me
make sure the girl gets her drivers license
try to talk her dad into splitting the cost of a "piece of junk but safe" car for her
(I'd cover the insurance)
buy mulch
lose five pounds (or 10 if I fast and move)
renew drivers license

I will be busy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

a day of fathers

My father has been gone
twelve years plus some days,
but can I hear his voice,
which I described in a poem once
as "smoke ruined."
Those Dutch Master cigars
and ivory bowled pipes
are what killed him.

I hear him teasing me
about my "strange kid,"
whom he loved more than breath,
which is saying a lot
because breath was a high-priced commodity
for him in the end.

I miss him.

His voice is like a tattoo
in my head, permanent,
a little faded now
but still exactly his.

My Girl and I took her daddy out
for gnocchi and wine and dessert
at the local Olive Garden.
I spent too much money
but didn't mind.
Her daddy is a good father
and loves his child more than breath.

My father was a good father, too,
and I listen closely to his tattoo voice,
maybe put my words in his mouth
to convince myself I'm doing the right things
these days
for self and child.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

the one where I let myself flow

Sound of the tenor toms (quads) stitched a rhythm in my head that I rather like. I'm glad my Girl switched from bass drum to this gorgeous instrument.

She is off again in a few minutes to go to a special lunch with friends. In eight days, her dear friend leaves for Basic Training, and everyone who loves the friend is cramming in as much time with her as possible. It's exhausting but right.

I am struggling to let myself write without judging what I'm writing while I write it. I'll get over this bad habit by July 23.

I've got 14 pages of poetry gathered so far for the residency workshops (10 to 15 pages required). I'm going to remove and replace, revise a bit, second guess myself, divide the manuscript in two for the two separate weeks with two different poetry teachers. When I think about the actual, real life process, the sitting in a room with six other poets focusing only on poetry, understanding that poetry is breath and blood and laughter, I smile hugely, can't help it. I'm so dreadfully excited that even the nightmares I've been having about money and my not-quite-husband giving me bad financial advice, dreams in which I forget not only my iPod when I leave for the two-week residency, but all of my clothes, waking fears that my work is too personal, not academic enough, not well enough crafted, none of these things can tamp me down.

I'm a fucking trick birthday candle, people, the kind you can't blow out.

So there.

I've discovered a small mound of poems that I never revised, never submitted. I'm disappointed that I didn't give them the attention they deserved. One in particular that I used to despise I realize I only despised because of its title.

It's a good poem worth salvaging (especially since it mentions Thomas Merton).

My focus is split in too many parts lately, and I'm desperate for three solid days of me + poetry time, but my current life is what it needs to be, and I love it.

On Twitter, a young man advised me to take up yoga to help with focus. I didn't laugh at him because he's sweet. But yoga doesn't help with the fatal condition of raising a teenager who now strides into my study, sighs, says, "Excited for today."

Good place to end this
journal entry.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

blink (journal entry in line breaks)

I sit on the floor,
my back against the sofa,
taste of Ramen on my tongue.
An ant crawls onto my right forearm
from some mysterious crumb cave
that's been forming
under the furniture
for the seven years
I've lived here.
He is an outdoor ant, though.
His queen probably sent him in
as a scout
on the hem of my jeans
as I crossed the back threshold.

After I crush him
into two crunchy black pieces,
I fling him into an empty box.

A New York congressman resigns
over a new breed of scandal:
I don't want to care.

I should have known
that he would go down
since his words and charisma (and arrogance and ego)
built hope in my chest
(like those crumb caves under my furniture)
when I heard him debate
reactionary leaders.

I'm tired of the media
creating the news,
stampede of bare-chested images
that have nothing to do
with tomorrow.
fuck it all.

Ah well.
I am done with you, Politics.
I'll eat Poetry, instead,
like Mark Strand. I'll grow fat on strophes
and find my hope in alliteration.

In 30 minutes,
I'll leave my house again
to gather my daughter again
from an activity.

Our plans are "soft"
(like my belly).
Her friend who leaves us soon
for boot camp
may or may not
come over
to visit and watch films
with us both.

I have work
that wants doing,
stanzas to build
(like those crumb caves under my furniture).

Writing lately
is like army crawling
through my carpet.
The weave of the words
scratches my chin
and the exposed portion of my chest.
I'm raw from trying too hard.

Maybe I can get a random ant
to whisper a line or two
into the ear that isn't going deaf.

Friday, June 10, 2011

storms, deadlines, teens

I think the storm is passing. A friend spent the night and was actually supposed to leave at 11, but when the sky cracked open and roared, she decided whatever she needed to do could wait until the grumbles and shouts stopped.

I am stretched out on my bed, kitty is nearby, head flipped upside down, a sign he is happy. I have a couple of forms I need to send to the MFA office. Can't think why I didn't ship them off Wednesday. They're simple forms, accommodation selection, mentor preference. All of the poets who teach in this program have something wonderful to offer. I'm selecting based on whether they are likely to hate my work or like it all right.

What is that about?

I read their poems and think, "They really are going to hate my shit."

I don't think it's true that any of them will hate my work. Maybe I don't write poetry that's connected to mythology or William Blake or Kafka. Maybe I write closer to home both geographically (as in my living room or the high school) and intellectually. That doesn't mean my work doesn't connect or count.

I want to write poems that connect, communicate, touch, reach, mean something, implore, explain, open, crack, weep, laugh, dance.

Lately, I've been wanting to write more and more poems about the teens I know, though it's difficult because I know too many of their secrets, and I place those secrets in my imaginary vault.

But a conversation (email) that I had with one of my oldest and dearest friends, a woman who loves me and loves my child because my child is mine, made me wonder about something related to adults and teens, maybe to adults who don't have teens or don't have kids or who don't remember what their own children were like when their children were teens.

What I'm about to write is a terrible generalization, and I should be slapped for it. But it feels like many people lump teenagers, all teenagers, into this giant box labeled, "Rude, untrustworthy snot. Set aside until ripe."

Teenagers aren't their ages. My daughter, who is 16, is more mature than an acquaintance of mine who is 53. Because she is experiencing everything for the first time, her reactions are more intense than an adult's might be. But her thoughts, emotions, ideas, reactions are just as valid as mine. She is wise not beyond her years; she is just wise.

So are some of her friends.

I often write, "I love teens!" It's not really teens that I love; it's a specific group of young people I've gotten to know through volunteering with the marching band or giving (free) poetry workshops in the schools. It's not even their potential to become amazing adults that I see when I work with them. It's who they are now that charms me, even the boys who don't know what to do with their growing bodies that control so many of the boys' actions (who sometimes harass my beautiful, little daughter. She can handle herself, though. Some of her friends who are boys are extremely protective, so I don't worry as much. Also, those tenor toms she'll be hauling about this next marching season are going to help her build muscle. She'll be strong and able. Well, she already is strong and able).

The storm has passed, darn it. I've lost the thread of this post. Did it have a thread? A theme? I think I'm mixing up my grad school stuff with mothering. This week has been intense and too busy. I've been carting my child and her friends all over the place, happily, but it breaks up my day and exhausts me a bit. I find I can't focus much right now.

But I have to. I need to dash off those forms then build a workshop manuscript of poems I don't mind sharing for comment (see, I also think the other students are going to hate my shit).

Tomorrow, my Girl takes the ACTs for a second time. She thinks she'll do better on the science since the last time she took it, she hadn't actually learned all the things that were on the test in her classes yet. A disadvantage of taking the ACTs when you're still in 10th-grade. She'd already done fairly well on the language portion and will do better on the math, too. She's aiming for a 29 this time. We'll see. She's got time to improve.

Next week, she wants to try to get her drivers license since her permit expires Thursday. She needs to practice maneuverability and night driving more, though. If she doesn't pass, she doesn't pass. We'll just get her another permit, practice another week, take it again.

Hell, there's probably a poem in her putting off this rite of passage.

I suppose I could find a poem in almost anything, even this hour of sitting on my bed writing a bad post, texting with my daughter (who is just upstairs), and petting the cat. I could call it "Hungry Minutes under the Angel Blanket."



Just a note. I am listening to some Zoe Keating right now. Twitter is not my favorite place to hang out because it feels like a time black hole. But when I first started lurking there, I discovered Zoe through a good friend (who is one of the most delightful people I know, so delightful that my daughter gave him the precious nickname of "Weird Guy" and remembers him best for his deep, cello voice. We've only met him once in person, and that's just not enough).


I am also listening to my daughter and her friend laughing and whining at each other. I swear, there is nothing like my kid's laughter, nothing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10:21 a.m. on a Tuesday


1. This afternoon, I'm chauffeuring/chaperoning three 16-year-old girls to a Taylor Swift concert. That sentence sounds funny, but I'm in a hurry and don't feel like messing with syntax or grammar. I am the last-minute "compromise." I will say here since I know teens don't tend to read the blogs of 50something mommy/poets that I'm not a huge Taylor Swift fan. I am, however, a fan of teens.

2. MFA. Because I crept in late through the back door (sort of), I'm missing some bits of information that will get me from the Now to the residency, which starts July 23. Once I have the information I need (for instance, the workshop manuscript. Is there a "rubric" for this?), the thrilled Lizzie will maintain dominance over terrified, self-deprecating Lizzie. Although self-deprecation is one of my forms of self-defense, I think I need to shed that bad mama, at least internally. I believe in my work. Even when I read the poetry faculties' poems and think, "They're going to hate my shit," that thought is a lie. I believe in the power not just of poetry in general to conquer my bratty side, but in the power of my own poems. I write for a reason, many reasons. Although I adore writing fiction, poetry is my drug of choice. I'm not a bad poet. Strike that. I'm a good poet who can be a better poet. I will hold onto my self through these next two years, make sure I get what I want and need out of this program because I'm old enough to understand that I don't have time to get in my own way or to let anyone else get in my way. I know what I want to do, know the kinds of poems I want to write, have a vision, hazy maybe, but a vision.

3. This past weekend, I touched a "thin place." For me, thin places are more than actual geographic locations. They are spiritual moments when joy collides with sorrow, when the wall between me and God thins, and I understand (though I can't quite articulate) the meaning of grace.

4. In the fall, I am going to be too busy, but I can't wait. I will be putting in 25 to 30 hours a week on MFA work, teaching two poetry workshops a week at 90 minutes each session (with double that for preparation time), trying to get in some volunteer time with the high school marching band, raising my teen daughter (well, frankly, she's to the point where she is raising herself with practical support from her parents). It will be happy madness.

5. To ensure that I do not wear out in the fall, I have to improve my physical stamina. My old NordicTrack is still set up in the basement. She waits. If I can find time to read blogs and linger on Facebook, I can sneak in 20 minutes a day on Miss Piggy. I don't care if I drop weight. I just want to feel less tired, and I think moving my body will help.

6. I appear to be letting go of the online poetry workshop I've been taking. I haven't been able to connect with the lovely teacher to see if I can change the way I manage it. The new prompt is wonderful. I started two different poems for week six, but got so busy, I couldn't find the time to finish either. I'll jot prompt seven down in my journal and pretend I can write through the concert this evening, though I doubt that will happen. I don't have the time or energy to comment on the other poets' poems, though, so I will change the way I do the workshop myself.

7. I'm a little sorry that between now and July 23 I won't have time to work on any fiction. I wonder if I can sneak a little fiction writing for pleasure into my schedule.

8. Laughing at myself. I'm delusional if I think I can go from being "slacker poet" to super mom/writer/student/volunteer in two months.

9. I don't know, though, maybe delusional is the way to go.

10. I'm behind. I need to get through morning ablutions, return some things to the library, gas up my car and then retrieve my child from summer gym.

11. This will do for a bad post for now. I want to write my way through the summer, preparations for the MFA residency that will coincide with my daughter's preparations for band camp, the residency itself, the aftermath, how I will fall back into band booster volunteer work by being on the waffle batter crew in August (our band raises money by selling waffles at football games, the county fair and other events) and then riding buses to away games (and helping with uniforms, helping the kids to hide their hair under the uniform hats if they want).

12. Definitely a bad post, but a post nonetheless.