Sparked by Words

Down the Stairs

 

“Yes, I pushed him down the stairs

But he’s the one who fell.”

Not a valid defense for violence.

Doesn’t turn a terrorist into a freedom fighter.

Won’t create justice for the wrongfully accused.

Can’t replace lies with an ethical mission.

Won’t douse fire once ignited

Or salvage what’s been destroyed.

Not a reason to hold hostage the innocent.

Does not showcase nefarious behavior as decency.

Won’t grant a medal for heroism

Or a trophy for humanitarianism.

Unconvincing as policy for disguising acts

Of bigotry, racism, misogyny, deceit, or hatred.

Address God in any and every language,

It doesn’t make an evil deed holy.

And it sure as hell isn’t a mandate for peace.

Only cowards push and blame.

 

 

Just a Thought 73

 

Painting Steps in Algiers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

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Once a Thief

 

Amazing how many thieves there are, in all enterprises. So many politicians in fields so far from politics. So much dishonesty though the claim for integrity tops a company’s mission statement. We pride ourselves on the highest standards of ethical behavior in the industry. Sure you do. Don’t sit – your pants are burning.

I used to design artwork that became fabric bolts that were made into active wear, a lengthy process involving many companies and several countries. Think bathing suits, bikinis, Hawaiian-style shirts, all directed toward teenagers and college students. Also the usual hangers-on who acted cool and hip, ignoring their aging thighs and bellies.

As an artist, the prima ballerina position in the company, I was supposed to get back any of my original work that was produced by a manufacturer. There was no monetary gain, just a phantom badge of honor for having created the artwork that had been purchased for production. An artist’s coup, the feather in our cap. Look, that kid over there is wearing my art on his tush! You’re familiar with the companies but I can’t name them here.

Over the years, none of my original art was ever returned to me, and I questioned Boss Lady, the art department lead. She insisted my work hadn’t been used by the manufacturers. My artwork must not have been returned to our company – lost in the mail, eaten by mermaids, something like that. It wasn’t true but I had no proof. You can always tell when someone is lying. She couldn’t look me in the eye, she fidgeted with desk doodads, her voice dropped to her lowest register so none of the other artists in the studio could hear.

One day I sorted older fabric samples and there I found my art printed on cotton, proof of purchase and manufacture – except Boss Lady had manipulated my original work. She’d changed just enough that she could claim it wasn’t mine – but hers. Where I’d painted turtles, she’d changed them to fish. Where I’d used one color way, an orange-purple-lime combo, she’d switched to another – orange-purple-turquoise. She’d assigned me the wrong information to intentionally force me to paint something incorrectly, then made the “corrections” herself, and called the “new” designs her own.

I’d been hired by a previous department head and had no formal art training. (I had a degree in English but had done free lance art commissions.) Boss Lady constantly flouted her art degree. She hated that I had a gift for art that hadn’t been university trained.

Boss Lady was talented and accomplished. Once she became the department head she had little reason to fire me as my work was excellent, but she fabricated a work place that was palpably unwelcome and emotionally toxic. But why would she do this? Basic jealousy. Arrogant disdain. Pure nastiness. She probably considered it eminent domain.

It’s always about power in the end. No matter how altruistic one may appear before their whiskers grow in, no matter how much talent and passion may have directed first forays into a field, eventually the corporate ladder and the wallet’s bottom line take over. Laying claim over others’ successes, denying culpability for all failures becomes modus operandi for managers. They call it delegating authority, a catchphrase for dishonesty.

I resigned the fabric converter company after three years of their soul scorching routine and launched the career that defined me. That fulfilled me. I taught art through a city recreation program, then in several schools, developing curricula for kindergarten through twelfth grades.

And I always remembered, throughout those decades of teaching kids, of watching them flourish and delight in their creations, that their mastery was not mine to claim. They trusted me to teach, not to take credit for their work.

No one trusts a thief.

 

Photo of Hawaiian fabric courtesy Pixabay

 

Popcorn Bowl

I filled the dog’s water bowl with my popcorn.

She won’t drink water from anything but my popcorn bowl and I’ve grown weary of arguing in barks and growls.

The popcorn tastes of salt. I can’t be sure if it’s the spice of the bowl, the popcorn, or my tears.

 

Just a thought 72

 

Popcorn image courtesy of Max Pixel

 

Struggles on the Ground

No matter the struggles on the ground

The fire or earthquake or flood or revolution

You still awake to the baby’s cries and rush

To quiet her, diaper her, lift her to your breast

 

Rain descends, rivers run to oceans, wind rises

Dust settles on the white linens, grit mars the table

Boys and girls beg for a story and pencils

Babies turn in the womb, mouths reach for a kiss

 

No matter how weary your back bent to task

Your spirit slashed by fever, worry, conflict

The electric bill must be paid, bread bought

The children need breakfast before school

 

Surgeons raise their knives over ill flesh and cut

Farmers plough fields and force seeds into earth

Fishermen drop nets so deep in the sea they vanish

Some get well, some harvest, some eat, some drown

 

No matter the guns in the street, rockets overhead

The body bows to its insistent daily needs

Before you stand, work, march, weep, shout, fall

You must park outhouses along the battlefield

 

An old woman reads documents and diaries

An old man sorts certificates and photographs

They write their letters to their grandchildren

Wishing them fewer struggles on the ground

 

Just a thought 71

 

Homeward, painted 1881, Georges Inness, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

I Am Not a Poet

This is a thank you note to all of you who’ve praised my poetry. I’m humbled by your flattery, but I’m not a poet.

Next to music, poetry is perhaps closest to our souls, arriving on the hem of intuition, in thrall of sensation. Even infants are lulled by poems whispered in their ears, thrummed against their chests. The poems I heard in my own babyhood were often in Yiddish, the comforting sounds of my grandparents, the only language my great-grands knew.

My father recited to my sons and I’m certain to me, Untah da  babuh’s vigola, a lilting verse about an onion under the baby’s pram. Don’t ask why an onion, but probably placed there to ward off the Evil Eye, a nasty creature always lurking around babies deeply loved.

Then there was this one: Fishy, fishy, in a brook/ Daddy caught him with a hook/ Mommy fried him in a pan/ Baby ate him like a man. I can’t remember feeding fish to my very young sons but the sing-song rhythm is a pleasant adjunct to rocking a baby.

I read poems to enchant my sons when they were awake, then until they fell asleep. They were my selections, of course, the poetry I loved to read aloud because that’s the only way a poem can enter your bloodstream – infusion through your ears, via your lips and tongue. We roll the words in our mouths, smacking them against our palates, forcing them through our cheeks, our laughter, our tears.

I never had a poetry class in all of high school. Though my senior English teacher presented a complete course on British literature, she admitted she didn’t like teaching poetry. I didn’t breathe a sigh of relief like the rest of the kids. I wanted to understand its construction, its magnetism, its secret codes.

My only college poetry course was taught by a woman about ten years past her expected retirement. Now that I’m the age she was then, I respect her desire to continue, whether for passion or economic need. But she taught very old poetry – sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth century – much of it founded on Christian imagery and metaphor, reflecting the creed of the Christian Bible, and lauded by the faithful.

Problem was – I’m not Christian. I hadn’t yet read The New Testament, and probably wouldn’t have gotten all the allusions even if I had. The language may have been gorgeous to ears steeped in Christian mysticism, but to me it was tangled in archaic vocabulary I’d never heard and couldn’t relate to contemporary events.

Our last assignment in her class was to interpret a poem by Gerald Manly Hopkins, with specific and insistent instructions not to consult Cliff Notes, the literary assistant booklets available at the time.

Chump that I was, I followed the rules, struggled with a lousy interpretation, and earned a well-deserved C-. Then was infuriated to see the glowing A’s on most of the other papers, especially as nearly everyone else consulted Cliff, who told all Hopkins’ secrets for less than $2.00. How did the prof not recognize the same interpretations, one paper to the next?

Now I hated poetry, at least any attempt to figure out what the dead poets meant, steeped as it was in the bowels of a mythology I didn’t own. I wrote essays and short stories, but poetry eluded me. Let’s see, what word rhymes with stupid? Unpopular? Incompetent? How do you fit an entire history about how you’ve failed Human Relations 101 into a pensive, six-line, iambic pentameter stanza, then write a second lyrical stanza brimming with philosophical certitude?

Poetry sits in our sternum, thumping along with our heartbeats, pulsing next to our lungs. But to get to it you have to be honest with yourself, willing to be vulnerable. Open to your fears, hopes, expectations, confusion, wonder. And young love. That’s the stuff of poetry.

Confession: the other part of my childhood was a traumatic, violent history with parents that left me feeling stupid, incapable, worthless, frightened out of my wits. Some people wrest their way out of such misery through artistic endeavor. Me, I hid, convinced I was awful.

In my one and only university poetry writing class (I majored in literature with an emphasis in creative writing and had to take the class,) I was stifled by my inexperience. I might have been in love a few times but it was never returned. I limped through life but saw nothing I understood. I suffered a crippled hand and a locked tongue.

So while my classmates poured out pages of insightful lines that generated admiration, and really, some of it was quite good, I came up with ditties meriting a bonfire. A rag stuffed down my throat. A shove to the hallway where I might find the secretarial classes. Or just start pushing a broom.

About ten years ago I began a serious and difficult journey to understanding and forgiving my parents. To learning to forgive myself, all my failures and foolishness. And found I could write poetry. I would never be such a blockhead to think I’m good at it, but my poetry digs into my recesses and pulls out the required self-examination that infuses poetry. I’ve written about a hundred poems, some ridiculous, many too private to expose, a few that make me proud of my pen. If you’ve read any of my attempts here on my blog, I am deeply grateful for your attention.

Because the other quality one must have to write poetry is courage. And I’m just finding my cache.

 

Photograph of woman writing courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

Tiara

I recall my cape of hip-length tresses

Wavy locks swirling to guitar and drum

Brazen curls snaking around my jaw

Skirting across a lawn of auburn leaves

Igniting the tinder of other girls’ envy

Catching the sideways desire of boys

 

Bound with braids of stolen daisies

Wriggling out of tortoise shell clips

Thick locks fatiguing rubber bands

Youthful rebellion straddling my head

Besting the nascent rioter of my heart

Too young for grown up restrictions

 

I dream the tiara of teardrop pearls

Illumined by a pose of silver arabesques

Clutching jasmine white ballerina tulle

Cloud-like on my pate, glancing shoulders

Secreting vows we’d already pledged

As I waltz the aisle to my betrothed

 

I did not wear that jeweled tiara

But a twist of roses and baby’s breath

Garlanding my hair like whispered vows

Cascade of satin ribbons sighing after me

Nor on a glade of strewn petals and vines

But over a trampled path to my beloved

 

I remember the bent clasp of mindless jobs

Friday coins dropped in my blistered palm

Hungry for more than burned rice and coffee

Fighting for time to study, for rights of others

Struggling to hone my wits, find a moral core

Years of adulthood forced upon my head

 

Brutal decades of wifedom and motherhood

Of employee and citizen, friend and neighbor

Learning to share with ill and hungry strangers

The ones who plead for virtue within me

Begging my twin gifts of sorrow and charity

Now I seek only the crown of a good name

 

 

Just a thought 70

 

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

At first I was nothing more than ack. Holy mother of all things holy, it’s a baby, and he’s a – wait – oh boy – it’s a girl! ACK.

First mistake.

Because this is a story about how I came to write stories.

I wasn’t always a writer. This is an important distinction between me and others who write. Many authors claim they’ve always been a writer. Not me. First I was a nothing, a sea sponge sucking up salt and brine, sputtering to breathe. Rose to the top of the swells, opened my lungs for oxygen, and wailed. Like a starfish, I grew arms. Ears, actually, eyes, a tummy, a mouth, tongue, hands and feet. I learned to listen, to see, to hurt when hungry, to taste, to cry, to grasp and kick.

Eventually I learned I was not the whole world. Mother, father, bird mobile, shiny things, puppies, other people, cold or warm air, blankets, linoleum floor, grass. Thunderous noises (scared the hell out of me,) barely perceptible warning sirens (hurt my infant ears,) music, speech. Sensed anger and mystery. Understood neither though both gave me colic. Light that blinded, darkness that prevented sight. Rocking motion let me sleep.

Bitter, sweet, salty, sour – hardly anything prevented me from trying to eat stuff even if the sensation was distasteful. Rain dripping on my face, snow burning my fingers, ocean waves tumbling me into sand, rocks tripping my wobbly steps, grass cushioning my falls.

Not even aware of that momentous first step though I must have championed the skill. Not on camera. They actually had cameras back when I was born but not cell phones capturing every single moment and lots you wish they hadn’t. So, no photo of my very first land-on-my-punim step. I still walk, sometimes dance, hike, run, trip, fall, get up and walk again.

Listened for a year until I began to speak. Language, a world unto itself. Not even sure why I first spoke English. Could have chosen Chinese or Spanish, nearly useless on the East Coast of the US in the 1950s, but so convenient in today’s world. I would have been presciently prepared. Stupid baby girl.

Drew squiggles and shapes, then letters. Then words, sentences, paragraphs. Story.

First stories were not stories at all. Write what you know. This is me. This is mommy. This is daddy. Here is our house. Between identification of the landmarks of my world was a story about all those already intricate relationships, but I had no ability to organize them into a plot.

Around second grade my first real stories began to take shape. Fantastical, loosely organized, lacking internal logic, peopled with bizarre characters. All the primal experiences of me sensing me, and then the separation of me from the world led to stories.

The magic began. From nebulous impressions of how the world should be – nice, neat, sweet, kind – to how it really was – dirty, nasty, unfair, unpredictable – I wrote. My wand was a yellow number 2 Dixon Ticonderoga, zipping along the lines of a blank sheet of paper. In the margins I drew illustrations – early graphic novels.

Once in a while a teacher read my stories aloud. If the rest of the class wasn’t awed by my skills, I was still thrilled at my minute in the limelight. My efforts earned A grades and I’m relieved that none have survived. Around fourth grade I started hearing the word writer and – ZAP! – I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.

School got tough, my social life tougher, distractions and obligations led me along the typical adolescent/young adult trajectory. I schooled for a long time, in classrooms, over hill and dale, sequestered in my room. College diploma finally in hand (actually in a drawer somewhere), married with children, working a Chinese menu of jobs, the stories dwindled to ideas I had no time to write.

Until one day I began again and wrote for the next six months, producing what I was certain was a masterful children’s book. I sent it off to an agent and got back my first rejection notice. Should have known, I’d been warned, that the book wasn’t polished enough to clean the table, much less make it to print. The brief note convinced me I’d wasted everyone’s time and brought me to a full stop. What was I thinking? I could write a shopping list. I could not write a book.

So I put away the yellow pencil and set on a course as an art teacher. Nearly three decades of teaching kids, a career I’m proud of. Until the writing bug nudged me again. Now I had a really fancy pencil: a computer. In the past fifteen years, I’ve written four novels. Women’s commercial literature, if you have to know. I dislike the genre name but detest the more common title: chick lit. That’s a prickly discussion for another time.

I do love every aspect of writing except for one. I really hate the murky territory of trying to find an agent. So, I’m back at ACK now, Leave her alone, she’s writing a book, and trying to find my way to ZAP, Well, would you look at that – she really did write a book, and here it is.

No, not there yet, but still trying. This time, I won’t give up until the words The End are printed at the bottom of my published novel. Take that, Harry Potter – ZAP!

 

Photo of little girl at Camp Lejeune getting a magic wand from magician Jeff Jones, courtesy Pfc. Joshua Grant