Monday, December 31, 2012

The third portrait

The world cries white snowflakes;
tomorrow it will giggle
bluewinged butterflies.

Today we are weeping
over the small bare graves.
Below us the earth, unstoppable
pushes up its silent green.

The second portrait

This too is a message --

We have forgotten how to read.
See only stars --
We track the tides and storms
map different routes to work.  

We have forgotten how to read
the secrets of an opened bird.

The ancients with their magicians,
their calendars and instruments,
were wiser.
In the East and in the Americas,
in green Egypt, in their temples,
their eyes grew deepsouled from searching.
They read the circles in the world.

These lives we live now are circled too.
We live within one age:
another will succeed it.
After winter, always, there is spring.

Everything bad is a sign
we have forgotten how to read.
When landmines are sown
and reaped
when women and children are raped:


These are the death throes are the birth pains
the end of an age --
The entry to a kinder, wiser world.

We will live, then, more soul and soul.

Anyway that’s what I choose to believe.
It’s a more hopeful way of looking at the world

(we have to live in it)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

grieving -

The first portrait.

When children die
don't cry:

They have gone out like stars,
still hoping.
We only are left.

Envy them.
Envy the passionate
the humanists, the atheists
with their fairy tales.
Envy the innocent dead.

Don’t cry for their small ends.

Cry for yourself:
you have still so many moments
to be borne.

Even the distractions become tedious;
the carousing habitual as toothbrushing.
I go on buttoning and unbuttoning.
I have given up finding,
in their lips,
any door –

I have come to desire one thing only:
to sleep through long seconds.
There is no one to ask.
We are all trapped in boxes,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why I Like Fall

The air grown dry,
smelling of Sherwood
and of the wood
to grandma's
full of wolves

shy trees blooming
bright redgold and tender
so many lovestruck girls

like laughter
and as sweet

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Should i so liquid naked be--

An oyster on the halfshell
stone skin ripped off
no sturdy meat
a raw, translucent gleam --

So quivering defenseless
to be sipped and dissolved upon your tongue?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Footsore Blues

Got a long long road to travel
before I reach my home

I got a long long road ahead of me
before I reach my home

Heart broken on my shoulder
is heavy like a stone.

My feet they get so weary
The walking is so slow

My feet get so damn heavy
and I got so far to go

It's a long long road ahead of me
before I reach my home.

Devil waiting at the corner
he says lay your burden down

Oh that devil at the corner
says lay your burden down

Says come and sleep my honey
lay your head upon the ground

You're footsore and heartbroken
you still got far to go

You're footsore and heartbroken
and you got so far to go

Devil says, Sleep my darling
you will not reach your home.

It's a long long road ahead of me
before I reach my home

A long long road to travel
before I reach my home

Heart broken on my shoulder
heavy like a stone.

Oh it's a long long road ahead of me,
a long long way to go.

blues II

So to get you started, here are some blues poems that more or less follow traditional blues music structure (sort of a call-and-response rhythm ... Read 'em out loud; imagine a rhythm guitar and harmonica playing behind you).

"Po' Boy Blues" - Langston Hughes
"Madam and her Madam" - Langston Hughes
"Hard-time Blues" - William Waring Cuney

And then there are the poems that are blues all the way through but sound a little different:

"Walking, Blues" - Jane Mead
"Immigrant Blues" - Li Young-Lee
"Inside the Blues Whale" - Afaa Michael Weaver
"The Blues Don't Change" - Al Young
"Eternity Blues" - Hayden Carruth

"Sugar" and "Blue" are both blues poems by ME you can find here - look under the label "blues."

Monday, June 18, 2012

blues I

Blues poetry comes straight from the blues -- an American musical form with its roots in African music and the music of American slaves. Actually most American popular music (R&B, rock, rap, etc) is heavily influenced by the blues. it is also basically the most essential, visceral music there is, I THINK. Definitely my favourite musical genre, especially the old stuff.

According to the Handbook, blues poems may or may not follow the structure of traditional blues music. As you might expect, however, they always reflect "blue" content -- loss, hardship, hopelessness. Blues aren't depressing, though -- they acknowledge and accept the reality of the human condition, and i think say something about the endurance of the human spirit. They aren't songs about giving up. Occasionally, too, the blues have something to say about the humour to be found in bad places.

Before you try to write blues poetry, get a feel for the structure and tradition of blues music. I like to create stations on Pandora based on old performers like Bessie Smith, Howlin' Wolf, Lead Belly and the like.

Here are a couple of classics to get you started:

yup, totes put Led Zeppelin on there.

so yeah, have some fun with that stuff if you like. In a couple days i'll post some examples of blues poetry by peoples who knew what they were doing. Then i'll share a few of my amateurish attempts (^_^)

Friday, June 15, 2012


The ballade is a pretty ancient French form with a strict rhyme scheme. A traditional ballade includes three stanzas of eight lines each, in a rhyme pattern a, b, a, b, b, c, b, C. You use the same rhymes in each stanza, and C -- the final line, is a refrain which stays the same, or pretty much the same, every time. There is often also a short verse called the 'envoy' or 'envoi' at the end, addressed to a poetic patron, or a lady, or somebody like that.

Not very many people write ballades, because they are pretty freaking difficult, especially in English which doesn't have the same kind of verb endings as French. My favourite author ever, Geoffrey Chaucer, was actually the first guy to write ballades in English (he was influenced by a lot of French writers). He is basically the boss of poems, although to be fair, Middle English was a little more flexible about verb forms and spelling.

Chaucer's "To Rosemounde" is about as perfect a ballade as you can get. He also wrote some other (more tongue-in-cheek) ballades as well -- I'll post one or two in the notes. If you read the Middle English, you can really see the rhyme scheme. I've done a little "translation" afterwards in case you get thrown off by the (actually more sensible than modern English) spelling.

If you look further down the blog i've posted a couple of my pretty lame attempts at ballades. Hey, it was a fun exercise.


Madame, ye ben of al beaute shryne
As fer as cercled is the mapamounde,
For as the cristal glorious ye shyne,
And lyke ruby ben your chekes rounde.
Therwith ye ben so mery and so jocounde
That at a revel whan that I see you daunce
It is an oynement unto my wounde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.

For thogh I wepe of teres ful a tyne,
Yet may that wo myn herte nat confounde;
Your semy voys that ye so smal out twyne
Maketh my thoght in joy and blis habounde.
So curtaysly I go with love bounde
That to myself I sey in my penaunce,
"Suffyseth me to love you, Rosemounde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce."

Nas never pyke walwed in galauntyne
As I in love am walwed and ywounde,
For which ful ofte I of myself devyne
That I am trewe Tristram the secounde.
My love may not refreyde nor affounde,
I brenne ay in an amorous plesaunce.
Do what you lyst, I wyle your thral be founde,
Thogh ye to me ne do no daliaunce.

Emily's translation:
Madame, you are the shrine of all beauty / As far as is circled by the map of the world,
For you shine as glorious as the crystal, / And your round cheeks are like rubies.
On top of that, you are so merry and jocund / That when I see you dance at a party
It is an ointment to my wound, / Though you show me no friendliness.

For though I weep a barrel full of tears / Still that woe does not overcome my heart;
Your high voice that you twist out so softly / Makes my thoughts abound in joy and bliss.
So courteously do I behave, bound by love, / That I say to myself in my private sorrow,
"It is enough for me to love you, Rosamond, / Though you show me no friendliness.

No pike was ever simmered in galantyne (a sort of pickly sauce) / As I am simmered and wound up in love,
For which I full often perceive of myself / That I am truly a second Tristram.
My love may not grow cold or numb, / I always burn in amorous pleasure.
Do what you desire, I will still be your slave, / Though you show me no friendliness.

Rosamounde (Ballade)

Your mother named you Rosemounde:
she studied Chaucer briefly (viz: read those handy notes of Cliff)
in college, which your Poppy paid for. This was of course before she found
her doctor-lawyer-heir, your to-be Daddy, Jeff.
She got her MRS, her B.A., and then she left
to be beautiful full-time. It was about four years
before you came along -- you and the second Jeff.
She raised you to be lovely, just like all the other lovelies here.

She raised you well, my lovely Rosamounde:
To wear the shades, the shoes, the weary stare.
You've the right clothes, the hundred-dollar-tousled hair
dyed six shades of pale blonde. Your skin is brown.
You've never weighed above a hundred pounds.
You wear white jeans and wedges, and you glare
hungry-eyed at your boyfriend's bread, and cheese, and beer,
and nibble at your dinner. Leave most of it there:
You must be lovely, just like all the other lovelies here.

You do hot yoga, and you shop downtown,
Buy organic chia seeds, and iPhones, and the ugly mocs
everyone's wearing this year. You sound
informed and passionate about the cause.
You can demolish mainstream-sellout bands. Your thoughts
and likes are fervent and sincere:
World hunger, local produce, candidates' talks --
Oh Rosemounde -- just like all the other lovelies here.

Fair Rosemounde, I can't see past the skin
of loveliness you've wrapped yourself in.
You have, I know, a single, starlike soul
that I could love -- you could be a friend.
God humble my heart. Make my eyes clear
To see, not another polished clone,
but the only Rosemounde of all the lovelies here.

Shall i compare thee? (Ballade)

Elaine, as lovely as a day in summer:
There is such truth in tired similes!
Elaine, walking, might leave a rainbow shimmer
Like a slug's melting path. Her knees
Are lovely as the wind through leafy trees:
She moves like breezes, and every little print
Heartprints, and gently bruises -- crushes -- pleases --
Such warmth will melt the coldest heart's defense!

Such warm and sleepy promises that shimmer
In the soft shadows of her blithe blue eyes --
So wide, so free the smiles that dart and skim her
Face like larks -- black shapes on blue, seized
With the joy of soaring, and the bold joy of being.
So does Elaine's self capture every sense
And hold it cupped and frantic, mothlike, beating
In adoration, despite all cold defense!

Nor does an icy perfectness encumber
Her summer loveliness: Elaine is free
And sweet as any bird. Her beauty glimmers
Dappled and freckled, like the sun through leaves
And shifts, and changes. As beautiful as bees
Dancing their honeypromises. Immense
And gentle, and intractable as heat:
Her loveliness has melted my defense!

Friday, June 1, 2012

On a morning run.

A little wren is chuckling. Listen --
God is laughing to himself, ready
to tell a joke -- oh, this one's funny!
The beech trees are rattling, chortling,
sniggering, whispering the punch line
from tree to tree. Their laughing leaves
cast silver shadows on the lawn of clover.
The air itself is sweeter, cool and merry.
Delicious mirth! Just wait! Soon you will hear it --
Darkling and jocund clouds roll over,
purpled with the pun of it. Listen!
God's laugh is loud. He's cracking jokes.
His world prepares, tickled and grinning,
for the rain.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Here, at twenty-four
I sit, thicker than before
Older than i ever dreamed --
I am 17 no more --
I am not 17

If i were in Jane Austen, i
Would sit upon the shelf --
A Charlotte settling
But i -- i am, my self:

Too old to be a princess
Can't wait for any knight
I find i must content myself
To live my life --

To love an admirable man
To be a daily wife
To put off scrubbing toilets,
To cook dinners daily, and
To live a daily life

To crucify desires
(I wanted breathless beauty)
To learn the sweetness of small things -- of
Diligence, and duty --

To ripen daily into flesh
Softer and more heavy --
To learn to live in roundness
Around a husband's body --

When i was 17 i longed
To live brief, sharp and bright;
I'm 24. Those dreams are gone.
I want
To live in peace, to
Love your light --

And all that i once wanted
All the dreams i've lost --
For all i have been granted,
I cannot count the cost.
I have received
Too much.

O i am blessed
I do believe --
I am not 17 now,
I am not 17.

Monday, May 7, 2012

For my mother

One day also my mother will arrive in Heaven,
trembling, pulling her brother's garment
tight around her shoulders,
trembling before that great, bright throne:
 And all the tears she's cried
in all her days here,
and all the tears she's swallowed --
She will find God has been keeping them
in His pocket.
He will give her a necklace He has made of them.
It will be more beautiful than diamonds.
And all her smiles, all her laughs
will be embroidered onto her new robes
in rainbow reds and purples.

When she is a queen,
my mother will have dinner with C.S. Lewis,
eat fresh, buttery pasta,
talk theology and life.
G.K.C. will forget to eat.
For dessert, Jesus will join them,
and she will bake her dutch apple pie
with sweet walnut streusel.
He will say it is best pie He has ever eaten.

My mother will work long days in her part of the Garden,
burn brown and happy
sweating between rows of strong beans and fragrant tomatoes.
My mother will have endless days to sit, to muse, to write,
to meditate.
She will write true stories, heartbreaking poems.
All the saints will read them.
My mother will have a horse in heaven,
a fond, sweet, sassy mare.
She will go riding with Jesus over green hills.
Sometimes they will talk about their Father.
Sometimes they will just ride.

When she is a queen,
after dark my mother will sit
with her sister queens
in robes the bright colours of the world:
peacock, emerald, purple.
They will rest on the porch, watch fireflies
breathe in the sweet smells of the night
talk about their King
drink wine sweet and heady as red roses.
They will laugh.

One day we her children also will arrive, and we --
We will praise her at those gold shining gates.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Eve was a lovely lady (ballad)

Eve was a lovely lady
Lived in a lovely garden
Where all the trees grew tall and straight
To live there was no burden

It was a lovely garden there
All dark and sweet the soil
Oh I would walk in that garden there
But i am cursed to toil
Because of Eve

Eve had a husband Adam
They loved to play together
When they had done their gardening
So lovely was the weather:

Oh it was a lovely garden there
All green and sweet the leaves
Oh i would walk in that garden there
But i am doomed to grieve
Because of Eve

Of all that garden full of trees
Eve might enjoy the fruit so sweet
Save one tree only -- of that tree
God said, she must not eat.

So ripe and round that fruit did seem
So tempting-sweet and tart
And when the serpent sang its praise
Eve felt it stroke her heart

If i could taste that fruit, she said
And know that full round love
Would i not be like God? she said?
Would that not be enough?

Oh it was a lovely garden there
All dark and sweet its soil
Oh i would walk in that garden there
But i am cursed to toil
Because of Eve

The snake was just the messenger --
It was her heart that sinned
Oh Eve would be God to her self
And worship what was in
Or like her self

Oh it was a lovely garden there
All green and sweet the leaves
Oh i would walk in that garden there
But i am doomed to grieve
Because of Eve

So ripe and round that fruit did seem
So tempting-sweet and tart
The lady bit the fruit -- the taste
Was bitter: her own heart,
Her own dark heart.

Oh it was a lovely garden there
All green and sweet its leaves
Oh i dream of that garden there
But i am bound to grieve
Because of Eve

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The peony, perhaps --
Her hundred wanton lips
Curling or dropping,
Windblown, antvisited --

May marvel at the tulip
Who, demure,
Unfolds herself into
That sure, spare bowl --

The tulip, who, frill-unobscured
Blushes her pink, her
Firm bright red, her
Confident yellow --

Perhaps the peony --
Pouting, flirting, gives herself
More sweetly to the earth
Than her tall
Unbending sister --

Yet this is sure:
That love is no less deep
Is no less pure
That unfolds itself in days
quiet, straight, sure.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Apostrophe: Apostrophe

Why must you be so difficult to use?
Daily i wince at idiots' abuse
of you.
Don't you see
The way they stick you everywhere
You properly
ought not to be?

I want to cry!
Youre like an eyelash
in my eye:
Making plural's,
Not possessives
or contractions.
Obscene exposure,
indecent action's:
id really rather
much not see
so much of you,

I want to weep!
Put myself to sleep!
English is a dying art.
I'm not a philistine.
"Improper" grammar doesn't turn me green.
Linguistic evolution
Exists -- but being stupid
Is always wrong,


I don't know how to breathe today. Somehow
my lungs forget their instinct/memory.
Each inspiration is an act of will. Reluctant will: i don’t
know, today, how to breathe in without a press of pain.
I don’t know how to breathe. The laundry looms
in bedroom corners, stinking, faintly sour.
The bathroom sink is rimed in toothpaste, the countertop carpeted
in strands of my long hair, the shower greasy with the unscrubbed buildup of our skin.
Outside my unwashed windows might as well bristle a hedge of thorns,
so thick and silent is the coverlet of dust on every face.
I wrap myself in this detritus, I cocoon myself in stale bedsheets,
inkstainless, I let words flit into my brain, then toss them out
so many papermoths freed. 
I cocoon myself
in the stale bedsheets; I teach myself to breathe. Again,
I teach myself to breathe. Next moment,
I teach myself to breathe.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anorexic, Alphabetic

Avocados are off limits -- full of fat. Also
bread, bananas, butter, beef,
chocolate, candy, cookies, cake.
Dinner (I ate at my friend's!).
Eggs: eat the white part.
Fast food -- say, "I love french fries!" Steal one only. Dip it five times into ketchup.
Green beans are OK. Twenty calories is safe! Avoid
Hash browns in their evil calorific ovals, and
ice cream:  i'm lactose intolerant!
jelly. Just sugar -- it doesn't count as fruit.
King Ranch Casserole: cheese, chicken, tortillas (Carbs!).
Lasagna. (Eat a bit of beef out of the sauce. Say  "Yum!" Say "i'm stuffed!")
Macaroni. (Sometimes i dream about those noodles coddled in their creamy cheese.
Noodles of any kind are a no-no. Sauce is a pitfall.
One bite is enough. Just one -- say "Thanks!" Stir it. Say "I'm stuffed!")
Pizza = panic. Say "I already ate."
"Queasy" will work the first time, or eight.
Remember to nibble, to rearrange, to
Stir. Camouflage your plate.
Tiny is better than tasty! Don't tell the truth,
Unless you want a residential hell ...
Vomiting -- the last resort. Better than absorption.
Water. Drink lots of water. A glass every half hour. Remember:
X on flesh.Remember peace. Remember power.
You can do it -- you can win.Think thin. Thin. Think

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alliterative Verse

"The repetition of stressed, initial sounds" -- specifically, consonant sounds. An awful ass, a beastly boy, crepuscular creature! Die dreadfully!.  Alliterative effect is when the sound is unstressed, or isn't at the beginning of the words.

Early English poetry is typically alliterative rather than rhyming: Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (there are several translations out there, including one by Tolkein!), etc. Fred Chappell used a similar technique in his poem "My Grandfather's House Goes Up." You can use alliteration more subtly -- enhancing certain words or phrases, rather than dictating the poem's form. The Handbook suggests scanning your poems for any alliteration to make sure you aren't overdoing it. As always, reading aloud helps you use this tool most effectively!

I don't know which came first -- my love for alliteration or my enthusiam for early english epics -- but i've enjoyed this technique as long as i can remember. The only poem from my preteen years that i haven't utterly destroyed begins,

"Alone, aloof / a lioness
Lay languidly / as her prey passed."

We watched a lot of Nature and Nova on PBS back then.

An old old poem

(i found it the other day. Evidently i had been reading the real Emily again...
Well, how do you learn, right?)

Into a House of Secrets born,
where the laboured beams all mourn
and walled-up closets whisper to
the bones beneath the floor --

Into an Edifice of Silence,
built up by years of lies,
its proud whitepainted outsides
breathing wooden sighs --

(The breathing of ancestral Ghosts,
whose secrets, still untold
Fog up the warped glass window-panes
To leave them dim and cold) --

I build my own Storey on
the secrets of the Past,
Seal all the cracks and seams,
lock the doors up fast

on my inheritance. When I rest
in my last, best bed --
And I leave this place,
the House will stand,
its keys dissolving with my voice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Conventional Girl

When i was young i liked girls in leather dogcollars
said i would dye my hair blue
wanted mermaid tattoos

i would write sadbeautiful poems
or the great american novel (all gorgeous despair)

i would wear all black
and paint my fingernails black
my eyelids black
my words black
i would talk back

i would write sadbeautiful poems
the gorgeous great american despair

i would smoke cigarettes and look bored
i would breathe in all the colours of the world

(when i was young i was a good girl)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter thoughts

Resurrection: no mere symbol, no parable
although you loved parables.

Resurrection means life, breath,
skin clogged with road dust, damp with sweat.

Family suppers sweet scented with bread
with red wine,
nose full, mouth full, belly full.

The trees are budding white, maroon, cherry-pink.
The lawns open all their violet eyes.

On every road i may meet you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It feels like summer today!

Oh brilliant green!
all the hills are breaking out
in violets and dandelions.

The trees too are holding out hands
and hands full of flowers,
white and pink

I am the night sky
blushing midnight
smiling stars and stars
and still more stars


Sweetheart, they call us, honeybunch
sugarpie. Us women,
where i'm from.
I'm as Southern as any Southern girl
but these names rankled.
Endearing, perhaps,
undeniably trivializing.

I thought:
Is what we are to them wrapped up
in such toile-patterned packages, such
sticky diminutives?

Now i am a wife.
My husband has his names for me,
not sweet, i am not at all sweet, i am not
sweet to him:
only old men who don't know me call me
(call all girls) Sugar--

Now i have been a mother.

I have been your mother. I felt
the world uncurling in my womb:

Now my baby done left me, i can't find
no sweetness any more

It's still good, this life, it tastes
like wholemeal bread
like good brown rice.
It's just

you were my sugar.

My little chilli pepper
my vinegar pickle
the drop of perfect honey on my tongue.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Goodbye, lullaby

Goodbye baby,
gone to grace
out of my body.
Save a place
beside you
till i come.
Though i be waiting
long and long
till i come home, dear,
i will come.

Whatever years
are set to pass
may you and i
grow in grace,
grow in love
for Him we love.
You were a gift,
a pearl, a rose.
I do not own
nor would i wish, dear,
to steal your love.

Your body,
your small heart,
were never mine.
But i am yours:
i was your mother,
for a time.
Little rosebud,
you were housed, dear,
in my skin:

I was your bread,
i was your wine.
You breathed my breath.
Your life in mine
was a rich gift.
And at the end
my blood washed your flesh.

i own no part in
your small heart.
i carried you
for a few days--
carry you still, but
it is not your face
i shall best love
when I come home.
But i shall love you, dear,
when i do come.

Little gift, little pearl
you were not mine.
But i was, dear,
your mother,
for a time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012