I hate goodbye even when I need it.

When the cousins from St. Louis come for a week in the summer and you jump on the bed every night while the grownups finish long dinners and the parents are so busy you don’t even get in trouble until someone falls and conks her head badly: like that.

Or when your parent’s friends and their children from Sacramento drive down to your house with a 24-pak of Coke, something never allowed in your house, and you and your sisters and your new best friends all drink three sodas in a row after breakfast then careen through the halls scattering rugs too wild to be caught: like that.

Inviting the muse to spend a month is most like what happens when you open your door to a visitor who disrupts the house rules and decorum, seemingly without repercussion. It’s a whirlwind of rambunctious activity. I bump into corners, forget to eat, mutter in bed at 3 a.m. annoying the cat. It’s exhilarating, draining. My fellow July poets claim we’ll “collapse into a hot mess now,” and endure “postpartum blues.”

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To create a poem a day is to utterly trust and bend to the whims of the muse so when it’s time so say goodbye I feel a mixture of relief and regret. I look at my bare feet and am surprised to see them on the ground.

Call me superstitious, polite, or crazy, but I never ever want to say goodbye to the muse without inviting a return. So of course, I write a goodbye poem, the final lyric for July.

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Sayonara Muse

It’s never really good-bye with us, is it dear?
Even after the fat lady sings, and she always does, you throw your shadow
give good back
pretend to walk away.

You mock me with forever. The quitting kind, I mean.
Later baby, I know your style. Gate’s open.
Soon enough I’ll start cooking up the jambalaya you love.
Don’t slam the screen door on your way back.

Go ahead.
Leave me standing here under the concrete overpass, wailing sax
drowning out the waves at the pier.
The only blue I feel is sky.
It’s really better this way. You’re a beast. Needier than roots.

Go bother some other giver. My tongue’s dry.
Platter’s empty. Bone, I say. Nothing but crackle.
They’re playing your song in another bar.
I’ve got other things to do. Slow dance for instance.
Sway by August candlelight.

Right this minute I’m diving into a quart of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
with one cold spoon.

I miss you hardly already.

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Tupelo Press 30/30 Project: it’s been swell. Nine new poets are at the starting gate to compose a poem-a-day for August. Best wishes to all of them. I feel your joy. I feel your pain.

August: you’re looking pretty sweet. I’m already in the middle of a giant new project: hosting a Backyard wedding on Sunday. Abundant love and happiness, and the muse too, will arrive if you invite them in. Did you open a window today?

Happy It’s-Still-Summer,
~Catherine

How many words in a world?

“I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”

Steven Wright’s quip isn’t too far off from the way this poet thinks. I look at the dictionary, all the words right there at my fingertips. If only they’d arrange themselves to perfection.

photo-48This is the corner of my office where, day by day in July, a new poem literally got hung on the line. Writing a poem a day has been a rigorous creative exercise, but the toil is completely offset by the thrill of sharing space with 8 other poets, discovering their new-to-me voices and fresh perspectives on the world each day.  To honor my fellow July poets, Risa Denenberg, Jennifer Faylor, Janet Ruth Heller, David Koehn, Richard O’Brien, Claudia Rodriguez, Mobi Warren, and Nicholas YB Wong, I created a cento using some of my favorite lines from their July poetry. A cento is a “patchwork” or collage of lines from other poets.

Highlight Reel: Homage For the July Poetry Crew      

Is a poem everything?

What I am trying to say here is my wild wiry hair suddenly has aphasia.
Fire knows no diva can sing god’s linked tongue.
Delta Force of the written word
orange swoon of monarchs

(breathe deep):   the stairway is not
red tulips.

Frogs sing in the pond, purple martins maneuver in squadrons;
orchestra of nerve endings
slows to a steady beat.

If I’m lucky, hummingbirds or deer pass through my yard, and I write a poem.
Two door hinges,
a latch, a handle from the old shed.
God’s voice
rustling toward you.
The way
most of the body is water, yet manages not to seem so.

We knew that being in love 
in saltwater is always a mistake.
The moon blue
shy at first to know you,
frenulum that binds the tongue to the mouth-cave, arresting language.

Circuit—

We hack our way through rough brush, thorns, vines that
strangle the forest—the agony of vaulting the temple wall
only to discover the gods have moved away.

The radio is a comfort–
to be on the same frequency, possibly, as you are.
Words can’t be arrested,
Go at you — rock’ em sock’ em robots.

No doom descends on Michigan.
A dull
Eye translates what
You see.

Break me a sunrise 
in a cup.

In and out of time,
the stars remain the same;
in the marrow of limestone caves,
silent albinos⎯rare blind beetles,
eyeless spiders, lived.

Alarm
the jays clamor
hidden in the pleated grass—
a warrior heart on her sleeve—

Into the air on a dare, the arrow was meant to strike a concrete
Blue whale.

A woman opens a book and finds her mother’s handwriting in the margins,
gets up to sharpen pencils.

Everything is a poem.

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To read more from the July poets, including their bios and links to their author websites, take a leap over to the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project site. It’s a rather remarkable repository of extraordinary poetic lines.

On an entirely unrelated note, yesterday I was surprised by a sudden influx of dragon flies in my garden. Maybe they want their own Sacred Garden tanka?

I wish you some sort of beautiful bewilderment today.
~Catherine

Some of us work, some of us play

umbrellasAnd the tireless poet celebrates you all.
For your Monday morning reading pleasure, Day 29 poem:

Litany to Our Saints of Perpetual Summer
To the umbrella bearers and the striped short wearers:
Play for us.

To the sand ploppers and the watermelon choppers:
Play for us.

To the sleeping babies, squalling babies, toddling babies and nursing babies:
Play for us.

To the squealing toddlers who wear twirly skirts
and the fathers who swoop them out of waves’ way:
Play for us.

To the man dragging his foot in a cast across sand
trailing woman with red feathers stuck in her headband:
Play for us.

To all you straggly-haired feral boys who skim board at dawn and the mongrel who yelps at you:
Play for us.

To the teenage girl in black trunks and the white shirt skipping rocks in the surf
and the boy on a rock in the shadow (yes I see you) rolling weed on your skateboard:
Play for us.

To the tortilla maker, the chocolate chip baker, the spring roll roller and potato chip taker:
Play for us.

To mothers who brush sand off sons’ backs
and little girls squinting eyes against sunscreen spray:
Play for us.

To all the young girls wearing fringe string bikinis and boys in sagged bottoms,
all the hands holding hands, and the waited-for-kisses:
Play for us.

To smash ballers, and crossword scholars;
to football throwers, and volleyball spikers, to frisbee catchers and sand unicyclers;
to the lady in red cowboy hat skipping with a man in green paisley head scarf:
Play for us.

To the anorexic and the morbidly obese and the lifeguards who save us:
Play for us.

To the girl taking a picture of the boy taking a picture of himself at the beach with a girl:
Play for us.

Here’s to beer guts and melon round pink baby bellies
To furry-backed men with Brazilian-waxed babes in gold jellies
To old guys in puka shells and shark-teeth leather leashes
To thongs and board shorts and long skirts fluttering on beaches
To tattoos of stars, tattoos of tears, tattoos of dolphins and cherubs and spears
To tattoos of skulls and tattoos of crosses, to tattoos of names so as to not forget losses

To the blue cooler bearers and the plastic pail pickers
To the haters and the lovers and the daily sun seekers
To the tide pool pluckers and the drooling day nappers
To the rock sculpture builders and the sand castle blasters
To the brown bag lunch packers and the debit card snackers
To the trash bin pickers and the empty can nickers
To shade where you need it and free bathrooms and benches
and to workers cleaning up after us in the sand’s sandy trenches

To the entire communion of summer vacation day souls:
Please, please, play for us.

___________________________________________________

You’ll find dozens of more delightful poems for July on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project website where “Litany to Our Saints of Perpetual Summer” first appeared.

Happiness,
~Catherine

Sacred Garden

Air. Earth. Water. Fire. Find the four elements of nature within life, love, work, garden, and art and you’ll create a sense of balance without boredom, surprise without chaos.

These elements have long been subjects for poets.

The Fire, Air, Earth and Water did contest
Which was the strongest, noblest and the best,

wrote Anne Bradstreet, “the first woman to be recognized as an accomplished New World poet,” in her poem, “Four Elements [Fire, Earth, Air and Water].”

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In the spirit of Sunday as a day of rest, and with an invitation to you, dear reader, to find sacred places within your own garden, patio, or apartment, I give you Day 28 poetry for the 30/30 Project.  I composed four tanka: 5 line poems with  5,7,5,7,7 syllables per line, for a complete 31 syllable poem.

Sacred Garden: Four Tanka
Air
Canyon breathes, trembles
manzanilla olive leaves.
Starlings flush. Startle
golden garden bells. Birthday
gift erupts in temple song.

Earth
Angel’s apple tree
holds his palm imprint above
rootline his hands once
grasped, now both deeply buried —
roots and hands at rest in ground.

angels-apple-tree

Water
Patter on copper
rain chain drips a water chant.
Peace Rose bends toward war
veteran’s gate. I watch him stand
in open storm, hands clutch rain.

Fire
Votives lit on rocks
every night an evening prayer.
Dinosaur bones once
found here, two fossils. We too
press lantern path, watch light rise.

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While I’m happy enough with these poems – written in a day – they’re not finished, in a true poetic sense yet. Complete tanka needs a turn between lines 3 and 4, “a pivotal image, which marks the transition from the examination of an image to the examination of the personal response.” Poems, like gardens, need constant pruning, rearranging, and feeding.  What inspires you?  Why don’t you try your hand at writing tanka today while your feet are resting on a ledge.  You’ll find a complete discussion of the form on the Academy of American Poets website here.

To balance,
~Catherine

p.s. In the spirit of small things, did you know that a donation of $10 to the 30/30 Project as a gesture of support and love for poetry and its publication, is as beautiful as the tiny blossoms on Angel’s apple tree?

Oh my, thank you!

Bee still my heart.

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, I’m so bowled over with gratitude to you dear readers who cheered and cajoled, who read and donated to the 30/30 Tupelo Press Poetry Project this month while I turned poetic cartwheels all over the form manual based on an idea hatched about trying to harness the nature of words by grappling with poetic structure. (You can reread that post, “Five Lines to Challenge Chaos ” here.)

Art happens when we’re attentive.  I photographed this heart-shaped bee swarm on vacation in June at Kalapaki Beach, Kauai and weeks later the image worked its way into my poem, “Self Preservation Techniques the Body Knows By Heart.” (You can read it on the 30/30 Project, Day 10, here.)

Creativity blends the actual with the possible, the real with the dream, all under the wings of infinite tinkering, discipline, and technique.

If you’re the type of reader / writer who likes to experiment, I’ve made it easy for you to begin your own monthlong poetry writing adventure by cataloging the forms I played with this month.  You can find all the poems on the 30/30 Project website.

Incantation (Day 1)
Persona poems (Days 10, 12, 13, 15)
Cut-up (Day 4)
List poem (Day 6)
Concrete poetry (Day 8)
No Word poetry (Day11)
Epistolary form (Days 13 and 19)
Sonnet (Day 15)
An experiment with poetic duende (Day 19)
Cento (Days 16 and 30)
Found lines (Day 20)
Cinquain (Day 21)
Reverse poem (Day 26)
Tanka (Day 28)
Litany (Day 29)
All the other poems are lyrical free verse, including today’s, “Reseeding With Grace,” below.

marbleReseeding With Grace

Three barefoot women alone on Glass Beach wade ankle deep into black ocean
brown paper bags bulge with marbles god it’s cold! in dead of midnight.
Grace insists on ceremony.

Glinting arcs rise by fistful
cat’s eyes, corkscrews, clearies, aggies, onyx, swirlies sail through dark;
three women in silver grace tones harmonize like McGuire Sisters
          Somethin’s gotta give, somethin’s gotta give,
A plop between waves and plip! The arthritic arm has no heat.

Full moon a cliché as silver curls from hand to sea
glassy marbles opaque as eyes turning —
returning here where marble find was proof enough of lucky day
promoted to windowsill status at homes dressed with curtains now
fading and thin as pink daisy aprons hidden behind the pantry door.

God I’m cold! Grace shivers
receding, holds up blue pearl to her eye against moon
whispers under breath
for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrows ‘s granddaughter
plip! last marble sinks into moon glowing foam.

Waves lap feet submerged in bone cold sand, sinking further and further.
Grace flings up hands to stars,
We lost our marbles!

Three silver women in moonlight clasp each other up against the tide
shimmy shudder silent laughter drowns out the cold,
slowly sinking treasure just now out of reach.

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Back story?  A few years ago I spent several months near Glass Beach, WA, a treasure trove of marbles, sea glass and pottery shards. I met some women there who talked about how, at a certain age, they’d reseed the beach with their collected marbles – the most prized find – for the next generation. I often wonder if they ever did. Based on the women’s personalities, I imagine it might have gone down something like this.

If you’d like to make a small contribution on my behalf to the 30/30 Project, there are still a few more days in July.  In the meantime, I’ll keep turning cartwheels while wonderful readers like you help poetry grow and thrive, and small literary presses stay in business.

Hold onto your marbles as long as you need them,
but when it’s time to let go, here’s hoping you find all the grace you need.

With joy and gratitude,
~Catherine

Strange things happen at midnight

“This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson
done…”    from “A Clear Midnight” by Walt Whitman


My head has been in perpetual midnight this month. I walked off an airplane and into the terminal leaving my gate-checked carry-on luggage sitting on the tarmac. I accidentally left my cell phone on my car’s back bumper and drove away. I’ve taken Chester out for walks without his leash and set off the smoke alarm when the bread I forgot in the oven burned. For 25 days now my body has been on earth, but my heart and soul have been tuned into the frequency of the poetic muse on the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project.  Sometimes I look at my feet just to see if they’re on the ground, craving the “free flight into the wordless.”

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The experience has been weird and wonderful and I heartily recommend a one-month total immersion in whatever you love to do. Your support – by reading and forwarding the poems, by joining the Orange Whistle Secrets Divulged group, by e-mailing to discuss poems, and by donating to Tupelo Press – is deeply appreciated. You have no idea how much a kind word fuels literature.

Just for you, dear readers, I’ve reprised two favorites from the 30/30 Project website.

From Day 20
gullWhat the Gull Heard One July, Main Beach, Laguna   

If I tell you a secret, will you promise not to tell?
Never trust a woman sitting at a table alone without a glass of wine at dinner.
Of course she’s difficult, that’s her schtick. She calls herself a Mensa puzzle.
“What did you expect, hula girls?”

Careful, surf’s rough.
My wife thinks I’m at work today.
That seagull, like your eyes when you wake up before you put your glasses on.

Before I wanted to be an artist I wanted to be a saint.
What did you create this afternoon? Havoc at the very least.
I wonder if the pigs are out. No sharks today.
Only looking, no touching.

I thought the ocean would be bluer.

Mama, can we have our Daddy back?
Living gives you heart trouble.
We have so many issues we should open a newsstand.
I’m a lot like Barbara Streisand except that I don’t sing.
Would you mind if I walk alone for a bit?
This would be a great spot to get married.
Hey, hey, don’t run. You’ll knock people over.

I’m starving. I’m cold.
Hit your mute button.

Things that are worthwhile are sometimes more difficult.
There’s no need to yell.
That wave that knocked you over was God’s way of saying you shouldn’t walk out so far.
It’s nothing like the pictures.
It looks just like the photo!
3.  2.  1.
Snap.

And from today:
photo-21

Faith

We hear of rain
some years
breeching banks
creating a right flood.
Horses stampede. Fish take up in the basement. Whippoorwill trills all night.
Other times
drought.
Cicadas. Flat shimmer. Dust for breakfast.

 Water, so very much like love.

 Saying It’s the season
isn’t enough to end a parch
right where you stand
palms up, head tilted skyward, mouth an open urn.
I see you wait like you are sure
it will rain once again.

 

You can read all 25 poems at the 30/30 Project.  (Day 22 was written just for one of the Backyard Cousins.) If you’ve been meaning to make a small donation to the press, time’s almost up if you’d like to mark “In Honor of Catherine Keefe.” Come August 1, I’ll be back to my more grounded self and you’ll never hear me ask you for a single thing again.

Long live books and readers and poets who write at midnight. Long live those who support the arts rather than grumble about the decline of fine publishing.

Looking toward dawn,
~Catherine

Weekend Dish: Secrets

dish: The scoop, only bigger
Urban Dictionary

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Shhhh. I held up my hand to silence the chattering ladies sitting around a fire in our mountain cabin. It was nearing midnight on a Saturday.

tweeeeeeeet

A faint whistle chirped from down the hall. Leaving the group of women, I felt my way in the dark along the wall toward a closed door.

tweeeeeeet

Yes, the sound was definitely coming from inside the bedroom where a troop of seven-year-old Girl Scouts were “camping” heel-to-toe in sleeping bags on the floor.  I slowly pushed the door open, peering in.

“Mrs. Keefe, Mrs. Keefe!” S sobbed. “I’m lost! I’m lost! I need to go to the bathroom but I don’t know where I am.  You said if we get lost to ‘hug a tree’ but there isn’t a tree, so I stayed where I was and blew my whistle!”  She held up a plastic orange whistle on a lanyard. We’d given all the girls a whistle at the beginning of the trip before heading out on the first hike.

Biting my lips to near bleeding to avoid laughing I helped S to the bathroom, turned on a nightlight, and returned to my fellow Girl Scout leaders around the fire to report that at least one little scout had fully learned her safety lesson for the day.

“If you get lost, hug a tree, stay where you are, and blow your whistle.”

This story flashed back brightly yesterday while having a conversation with my friend, D, the kind of friend who will read poetry because I write it and I’m working on this crazy poem-a-day in July project.  D is a brilliant retired high-tech software expert who can speak in acronyms like IT, HRMS, and ISM and know exactly what they mean.

“But I don’t get poetry,” she says. This is a difficult thing for her to admit; she’s really really smart. She’s so smart, in fact, that I’m pretty sure she does “get” poetry, but she doesn’t realize the things she intuitively picks up on are in fact some of the elemental wonders of the genre: poetry’s rhythm, its imagery and word play.

D tells me – in that way of good friends being kind so maybe they’ll lie a tiny bit – that she likes my “One Poet’s Trade” from Day 6.  (You can read it here; scroll down to Day 6.) She shakes her head as if trying to dislodge water from her ear. “But I don’t think I get it.”

“What do you get?” I ask. What I really want to know is which tree she’s hugging. I wonder if she recognizes the repetition of sounds, if she notice the two-line stanza structure, if she notices the ways each first line word and second line word are related to each other.

“Well…I hear some T sounds that are the same and some V sounds are the same. And it’s all a list. The list is in two-word order but I don’t know why.”

I nudge a little. “What if I told you that each first word is a tool of some trade? And what if I told you that each second word is a body part.”

She pauses. Thinks. “Then it goes in order from your head to your feet!”  I nod.

“But what about the end?”  Ah yes, what to make of those last lines? Who is this “you?”

I don’t answer that for her. I invite her to ponder.

And then I have a bright orange whistle of an idea.

plasticwhistle

For one week only, from July 7 – 14, if you make a $25 donation to the 30/30 Project, “In Honor of Catherine Keefe” I’ll give you all the navigation you need to get out of the woods for  Day 7-14 poems. Message me here as a comment in Backyard Sisters, or find me on Facebook.  You can pretty much ask me anything: the back story behind the poem, how it developed, the language decision-making process, and what I was hoping the poem would invoke in a reader.

In return you can tell me where the poem succeeds or fails for you, dear reader.  As Anne Stevenson once wrote,

The poet needs to reach out to people he or she has not met. That someone will read your poem and say ‘Yes, that is right; I know that, I recognise that.’ I think poetry always has that interior communicable strength.

Here’s to “communicable strength” and divulging secrets. This Backyard Sister is willing to dish.
~ Catherine

p.s. Please note that it takes up to a week for Tupelo Press to notify the poets of donations made in their honor. The minute I hear from the press, I’ll open up to you.