Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Last Day of April

My mother-in-law has planted her garden. According to the almanac, this last day of April is the best day to put seeds into the ground and expect a harvest. She's next door to me for the first time in many years. The last time I lived next door to her, my 28-year-old son was a baby, and I hadn't discovered my own love for the garden. This year, I'll pay more attention to the process, though my own affinity runs more toward flowers than food. You never know, though, maybe I'll absorb something by osmosis, just by being close.

The end of April also means National Poetry Month is coming to a close. I have enjoyed posting poems and reading them on some of my favorite blogs. So, one last poem to end the month. This is from Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary who spent 53 years in South India. She founded Dohnavur Fellowship, a refuge for children. From Elisabeth Elliot's biography of her: "In a far more secular and self-preoccupied time, Amy Carmichael's vision of the unseen and her ardent effort to dwell in its light, making any sacrifice for its sake, seems hardly believable..." Yet "Amma," loved by hundreds children, was just such a woman.

Dust and Flame

But I have seen a fiery flame
Take to his pure and burning heart
Mere dust of earth, to it impart
His virtue, till that dust became
Transparent loveliness of flame.

O Fire of God, Thou fervent Flame,
Thy dust of earth in Thee would fall,
And so be lost beyond recall,
Transformed by Thee, its very name
Forgotten in Thine own, O Flame.

--Amy Carmichael

Monday, April 27, 2009

What Are the Odds?

I'm working on a novel. Actually, it's been in various stages of writing, rewriting, in the drawer, in the garbage, and back to writing for a number of years now. Thanks to my fabulous critique group, it finally has an ending. Hooray!

The setting is my hometown (never actually named) on the street where I grew up (name changed to Brick Street). The year is 1971 when forced busing finally brought integration to schools in the South. The main characters are two sixth grade girls, one white, one black, and their journey to friendship.

Last week I had lunch with a new friend, a dear African American lady that I want to get to know better. We have had some professional interaction during the last few months, but that was all. So we scheduled lunch.

As we began learning about each other, we realized that we both lived on "Brick Street"! I moved from the street with I was in 7th grade. That was about 1968. She moved into the neighborhood when she was in 7th grade. That was about 1970. We both went to the same junior high school and the same high school, again missing each other by a few years. We were both English majors in college. She became a teacher. I became a homeschool mom. And twenty some years later, we're having lunch talking about familiar people and places.

We could have been my two story-characters. I think I like the way this ends. Or begins.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Beast

National Poetry Month

Inspiration often comes at inconvenient moments--walking my neighborhood and I've forgotten my phone with it's memo-to-self capabilities, planting flowers in my garden with dirty hands and no pen nearby, in the middle of the night when I try to convince myself I'll remember in the morning. And then the phrase, the next scene, the image is gone.

The same is true in life. How often we miss the moment for a word or an act of kindness that will make a difference in someone's day. We let the opportunity pass, and the act that only you or I could do goes undone. And something is lost.

I'm learning to listen to that inner voice that prompts me to respond, whether it's with pen and paper or a kind word. Regret is harder to live with than failure.

The Beast

I came to a great door,
Its lintel overhung
With burr, bramble, and thorn;
And when it swung, I saw
A meadow, lush and green.

And there a great beast played,
A sportive, aimless one,
A shred of bone its horn,
And colloped round with fern.
It looked at me; it stared.

Swaying, I took its gaze;
Faltered; rose up again;
Rose but to lurch and fall,
Hard, on the gritty sill,
I lay; I languished there.

When I raised myself once more,
The great round eyes had gone.
The long lush grass lay still;
And I wept there, alone.

--Theodore Roethke

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Bedtime Ploy

My granddaughter often answers questions with a very serious, "Okay, I'll tell you, but first I have to tell you this." She's four and bursting with information that's like money in her pockets with no place to spend it. As you can see, she's delighted with her new baby brother, even though she wanted a sister from the very start.

In a recent conversation, what she had to tell me first was all the excuses she could come up with to keep from going to bed. She needed water, then she needed a song, then she needed to go to the bathroom, then her blanket fell underneath the bed. At four, she has already mastered the tricks of the trade!

Here's a poem in honor of the bedtime ploy.

How to Stay up Late

At night when grown-ups start to yawn
Beneath their reading lamps
Is when I whip my album out
To stick in foreign stamps.

And when pajama time draws near
I start to write the story
Of Lincoln’s life, or set up school
Like Maria Montessori.

So kid, wise up. Unless you like
To go to bed too fast
Just save your most impressive play
Of all day long for last.

-- X. J. Kennedy

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Favorite

This has been a favorite poem for a long time. I heard Richard Wilbur himself read it last year in Atlanta. I happened to be standing in just the right spot when he walked out of the auditorium and was first to have my book signed. He went on to tell me about his daughter's book. Like any proud father, he wanted to talk about his daughter.

I've had some time with both my girls in the last month. It is a wonderful thing to have daughters who are also friends. Though neither of them are writers, at least not at the moment, they are both great readers and wonderful young women. I'm so proud of them.

The Writer

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

--Richard Wilbur

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celebrating a New Life!

We are celebrating grandbaby number 5!

Joseph Michael was born at 6:30 last night in San Antonio. He weighed 5 pounds 13 ounces.

Isn't he just perfect?

And as we continue to celebrate National Poetry Month, a poem from a favorite 19th century author and poet especially for little Joseph.


Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok’d it as I went by.

What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than any one knows.

Whence that three-corner’d smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.

Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.

Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.

Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs’ wings.

How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.

But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.

--George Macdonald

Friday, April 10, 2009

Like a Kid!

This is such a fun poem! The author certainly knows how to think like a kid.


Why is it…
While other people
Are thinking about all kinds of
Important things…
I am thinking about what it would be like
To jump barefoot
Into an open box
Of jelly doughnuts?

--James Stevenson

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My yard is at its most beautiful right now. With all the rain and the warm days (not counting today when it's in the 30s again!) everything is blooming happily. Buckeyes don't usually grow this far south, but I have two on the bank on the creek bursting with red blooms.

The azaleas vary from the orange red Christmas Cheer to the almost purple Pride of Mobile. They are beautiful. Today's poem is a celebration of garden color. I couldn't agree more.

The Garden Changes

When I was young, I grew
dull plants returning food
for work. But I, now older,
repent my practicality.
I’ve renounced beans, and turned
to crocus, gladiola,
and coreopsis. I’ve moved
past zinnia, marigold,
to bougainvillea.
I’ve even learned to love
poor salvia, which blooms
on August days, when few flowers
will venture anything
but green. The summer’s short
and ornament is what
I want—all vividness.
Not pasty cauliflower
and not potatoes, whose
gnarled flesh is more and more
like mine. Give me bright blossoms
against the teeming green.
Give me orange flags, blue horns,
white faces, yellow wings.
Give me the purple throat,
breathless, of calla lilies—
and red, red, red, red, red.

--Andrew Hudgins

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Poem for Christopher Robin

I didn’t read A.A. Milne as a child. I was an adult before I discovered Pooh Corner and Milne’s lovely stories sprinkled with verse. Any writer for children who has tried to tell a story in rhyming verse knows just how difficult it can be and why editors tend to say don’t send it to them! Here is the perfect explanation.

From The House at Pooh Corner

“Don’t Bustle me,” said Eeyore, getting up slowly. “Don’t now-then me.” He took a piece of paper from behind his ear, and unfolded it. “Nobody knows anything about this,” he went on. “This is a Surprise.” He coughed in an important way, and began again: “What-nots and Etceteras, before I begin, or perhaps I should say, before I end, I have a piece of Poetry to read to you. Hitherto—hitherto—a long word meaning—well, you’ll see what it means directly—hitherto, as I was saying, all the Poetry in the forest has been written by Pooh, a Bear with a Pleasing manner but a Positively Startling Lack of Brain. The Poem which I am now about to read to you was written by Eeyore, or Myself, in a Quiet Moment. If somebody will take Roo’s bull’s-eye away from him, and wake up Owl, we shall all be able to enjoy it. I call it—POEM.”

This was it.

Christopher Robin is going.
At least I think he is.
Nobody knows.
But he is going—
I mean he goes
(To rhyme with “knows”)
Do we care?
(To rhyme with “where”)
We do
Very much.
(I haven’t got a rhyme for that
“is” in the second line yet.
(Now I haven’t got a rhyme for
bother. Bother.)
Those two bothers will have to
rhyme with each other Buther.
The fact is this is more difficult
than I thought,
I ought—
(Very good indeed)
I ought
To begin again,
But it is easier
To stop.
Christopher Robin, good-bye,
And all your friends
I mean all your friend
(Very awkward this, it keeps
going wrong)
Well, anyhow, we send
Our love

--A.A. Milne

Saturday, April 4, 2009

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. In celebration, I'm going to try and post some favorite poems throughout the month, but before I start, I have my own poetry news to celebrate. My poem, "Allison," is included in this month's issue of the Birmingham Arts Journal. Click on "latest edition" and navigate to page 15 of the journal. I would love to hear your comments.
On Thursday, I had appointments with my Delaney sales job in some of my northern counties. So after heading north, I meandered west, over to Birmingham, for the journal's launch party. It's always fun meeting new folks who love the same things you do. The reading was held in the Maralyn Wilson Gallery, a wonderfully eclectic little art gallery. I love reading aloud, and reading poetry aloud is such fun. Watching for people's resonses, listening for the hush that accompanies understanding, the satisfaction of the final word. It was a delightful evening.
A poem for today from one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke:
A Light Breather

The spirit moves,
Yet stays:
Stirs as a blossom stirs,
Still wet from its bud-sheath,
Slowly unfolding
Turning in the light with its tendrils;
Plays as a minnow plays,
Tethered to a limp weed, swinging,
Tail around, nosing in and out of the current,
Its shadows loose, a watery finger;
Moves, like the snail,
Still inward,
Taking and embracing its surroundings,
Never wishing itself away,
Unafraid of what it is,
A music in a hood,
A small thing,