Poem Too Gross to Read

I woke up once to the sight of vomit
pouring like an upside down fountain
from a camper on the top bunk
down to the floor where it blossomed
into a stunning mess, ten feet across,
almost perfectly round.

Nothing about it was beautiful.

I was the counselor so I had to clean it up.
I half-heaved a thousand times at least.

Imagine waking up to vomit every day.

Imagine the thing that makes you gag the fastest.
Someone else’s vomit? Someone saying vomit?

One time when I was swimming laps I saw
a giant loogie floating below me, sinking
slowly toward the filter. It had tentacles
of slime coming off of it. It was green.

You know how we say “I just threw up
a little in my mouth” to joke that something
strikes us as horrifying or just bad news?

My son says that every day. It’s not a joke for him.

He just now choked on what he’d regurgitated.

The disease that causes his nuclear reflux
is hard to pronounce and not commonly known.

Because the pain’s inside of him some people think
it’s mostly inside his head or that he’s lying
or exaggerating or maybe just an unpleasant child.

What he has is invisible and what they can’t see
they can’t believe, apparently, but I wonder
if they could see this: maggots sliding and oozing
inside a jack-o-lantern. More maggots

inside a pus-filled cut in the arm of a woman
whose plane crashed and she wandered in the jungle
for weeks and her feet blistered and bled and cracked.

That one time in honors math class when the weird guy
popped a big stinky zit and it sprayed onto
all the really smart students next to him.

When the sad girl threw up on the bus
and it ran down the runnels of the rubber mat
and the bus driver poured the pink sawdust on it
which was supposed to soak it up but just made it worse.

I would do anything for my child.
I would write something I can barely stand to read.
I would ask people to read it and if they said no,
I would ask them if they know how lucky they are—
they can choose to avoid the thing my son can’t avoid.

Asking for a Friend

Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Thanks for your help. Just asking for a friend.

Wow. One matchbook collection more and you’d be in
a clutter monkey reality show of your own.
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

And if there is a demarcated line, can
you live inside the shape you’ve bent it in?
Thanks in advance. Just asking for a friend.

When your life falls apart, what does that mean?
Will your house ever be clean, ever again?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

What if you remember one scary time when
one of your cousins seemed way too interested in
your secret parts. Asking for a friend.

You don’t recall his touching you like that back then.
So why his interest? You were so scared. So why?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
(I know you know it’s me) asking for a friend.

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(This is actually an organized spot in my house, where we store paper to recycle and reuse. But it LOOKS messy.

 

 

Lying Awake After Six Hours of Sleep and Finally Admitting That’s All the Sleep There Is

It’s pretty early to be thinking “How
can this day be redeemed?” But when you draw
from a deep well of self-loathing, trust me,
you can ruin your hours well in advance
of inhabiting them. Insomnia is
such a fucking waste. Of time,
of course, and energy, and the sheetness
of sheets,  so innocent with their way
of seeming cool and warm as needed.
Note also: I wasn’t asking
“How can I redeem this day?”
Well, no. Because that would indicate
some level of control. A modicum.
I very well may sleep
a little better tonight.
I could stand outside
and get absorbed
in how very gold
the goldenrod.
But some days there is no resolution.
There is just the question of redemption
and the passing of time and giving up
or almost inadvertently
having an o.k. but unredeemed day
that will not count on any list
of very good or very bad
days of any description at all.

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Rotten Apple Yoga

Apple, apple, mother-fucking apple.
I tried counting, the way counting
can be meditative. I got to five.
Listing colors worked a little better:
yellow, red, green, brown, black,
beige, rust, orange, peach, pink,
dark red, dark brown, white, off-white.
I modified some poses to enable
picking rotten apples simultaneous to
breathing, just breathing, well, mostly breathing.
Cat pose, cow pose, quad stretch—those worked best.
I talked to my right wrist as it began to hurt
and then my left when I shifted.
My knees both hurt but not at once.
“Hello tightness, my old friend”
I’ve begun saying to my lower back and hips,
but not tonight when I was gleaning
from below the apple tree I loved
when we bought the house but which now I hate.
Somehow my familiar pains were simply not
there tonight. It’s standing and sitting that hurt me
most, not crawling on my hands and knees,
putting all those apples into one broad, galvanized bucket,
one five-gallon cat litter bucket, and then aiming
so many more apples onto an old bed sheet.
I started saying apple, apple, apple, in my head,
apple, apple, apple, two apples, three apples,
another apple, apple, apple, apple.

This task I loathe is loathsome largely
on account of the symbolic baggage that grows
prolific with the apples:

I waste resources.
I am a woman from whom things get away.
I don’t keep up. My ambitions don’t match my energy.
I am lazy. The person I thought I was 20 years ago
when we bought the house is not the person I am.
I have a million mason jars I don’t fill
with anything
but dust.
The mother-fucking tree isn’t even on our property.
Why am I the only one who worries about attracting
yellow-jackets? Why haven’t I hired someone to prune it?
Why haven’t I sabotaged it so that, dead,
it would have to be cut down? Why won’t my husband
prune it back the way the orchard pictures show?
Why won’t he cut it down?

Why don’t I remember to put out the organic fly traps
in time? Why don’t I make applesauce every year?
Why don’t I pick up the few apples that drop
every day and add them to my compost pile?
Why don’t I have a compost pile at all?

I am an awful person. I must be.

I thought all those thoughts. I tried not to.
But I thought them anyway.
And when I thought those thoughts, I also thought,
my t-shirt’s riding up. I’m not going to pull it down.
What if someone sees the white expanse of belly
and hip laid bare right at this very moment?
And then I thought so what if someone sees?
None of what they see should be a surprise.

Each time I thought those thoughts I also thought
apple, apple, apple. Red. Blood. Brown. Apple.
Rabbit carcass. Or possibly excrement.
Apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple.
Then I was breathing deep in my big belly,
the belly this shirt’s too small for,
breathing in and also out, a little longer out,
and in again, the rotten smell, the cider smell,
the smell of apple after apple, apple, apple.

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I’ve written about this tree before, a poem called “On Conscientiousness,” which I see myself lacking.

But there really were moments tonight when all that was in my head was “apple” and my body was just a body that existed to move rotten apples from one place to another.

I’m not going to say nirvana, but it was not loathsome or even particularly unpleasant. Interesting.

 

 

Poem for a Cold Spring Which I Somehow Entitled Grace

This was published a very long time ago in Tar River Poetry. I am now motivated to try to ascertain if Tar River Poetry still exists. [UPDATE: It does! Here’s the 30th anniversary issue--I published there almost 30 years ago.] It’s always so misery-inducing when spring is cold. I don’t care how much I love British mysteries set in cold, wet, beautiful places. I don’t want the place I live to be cold and wet and beautiful in APRIL. I want warm and wet and beautiful.

This was long before I met my husband, long before I had a son. But I was babysitting a lot. I’m curious now where these girls are. What happens to the children of writers with interesting names?  (I actually am invested in that question now.)

I’m reading this tomorrow on WRCO, Richland Center’s radio station.

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GRACE

Hymns don’t work on this baby–only torch songs
bribe her fussing into sleep. I’ve planted
Lady Day deep in her downy head:
“Summertime,” mostly, though it’s a cold spring
in Montana, nowhere near humid enough for blues.
Her sister sleeps upstairs, rousing choruses
of “Amazing Grace” still bouncing off crib slats
like a holy mobile set loose.I stand guard, willing
my notes into warmth until the windows bead up
like a glass of tea, my voice ungainly
and stubborn as a weed. I don’t believe
nothing can harm them, but tonight nothing will.

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“Summertime” is one of the songs I’ve always sung to my son. That and “Blue Moon.” I tried adding “Tennessee Stud” to the mix but I can never remember all the words. My husband sings a version of summertime that is medley with “Whipping Post.”

Two things strike me about this poem now (well, lots of things, but I have to save something for the radio show). First, this was before I started writing a lot of sonnets, but it seems to me this wants to be a sonnet. Second, I had nurturing to spare back then.

Go Ahead and Do Nothing

If I loved you before I realized we are really, really far apart in our views about how to respond to school shootings, then I still love you. If I liked you, respected you, before, I still do.

If you’re posting all kinds of articles and links and memes I don’t agree with, I’m probably not responding.  If you’re posting things I agree with, I’m not responding much to those, either.

Here’s my blanket response—go ahead and do what you think is right.

If you think it’s a mental health problem, vote for people who will fund mental health care.

If you think mental health care is messed up, vote for people who will reform it.

If you think it’s a matter of domestic violence and toxic masculinity, the vote for people who are funding shelters and education.

If you think that we need to arm teachers, vote for people who will make that happen*

If you think the FBI dropped the ball, vote for people who will fund the FBI, or work to reform it however it needs to be reformed.

If you think schools and communities need to do a better job fighting against bullying and making sure no child is ostracized, then vote for people who will fund schools and community organizations who are already trying to do that. Or if you think schools and communities need to do something differently, figure out who’s doing it right, and support them.

If you’re not sure what the answer is, do some research. It would be nice if we could research gun violence as a public health issue, but we can’t: Still, there is research out there to read. From other countries, who don’t have the school shootings we have.

If you think there’s nothing we can do, then go ahead and do nothing. Keep doing nothing.

But if, like me, you think there is something we can do, let’s all just go ahead and do it. Join organizations that are working for what we think is the right thing to do. Let’s all vote for people who don’t just SAY the right things, but are actually voting the ways we think they should.

Maybe you’re already doing that. I, personally, could work a lot harder in terms of sending money, working on campaigns, getting involved in organizations. So that’s what I’m going to do. I just made a donation to Moms Demand Action, which I first heard about last year in church.

Why now? Why not sooner? I don’t know. The answer to “why not sooner” is easier–I tend to be cynical about the possibility of progress.  Why now? A teacher I admire wrote a really impassioned piece I found moving. And Emma Gonzalez is just one more example of why I’m pretty excited about Generation Z.

So, anyway—you go ahead and do what you think is right, and I will, too, and we’ll see how it goes. I’ve read that the majority of Americans support sensible gun legislation (but I haven’t researched it, to be honest). So we’ll see.

The only option that seems absolutely inappropriate to me is doing nothing. Although, I suppose if I revert to my cynical self, if you disagree with me, then go ahead and do nothing. OR just go ahead and keep posting stuff on social media. Which I mostly won’t respond to.

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(I don’t tend to post a lot about politics, anywhere. I don’t think this’ll be a trend.)

*I’ll quit teaching when teachers are allowed/encouraged/actually armed in my school, but I’m pretty ready to retire anyway–could you just make sure the wheels of legislation turn slowly enough so I get about four more years in? Here’s a blog I wrote a while back talking about why I think arming teachers is a cowboy fantasy

I Choose to Be Here

It’s the middle of Finals Week. Other semesters, I’d be thick in the muck of a grading backlog, trying to get caught up so I could start grading finals. This time, I came soooooo close to having the backlog done before finals started coming in.   Didn’t quite make it, but I’m still in a good place, on track to have grades turned in on December 23.  Which is before Christmas. Which is fantastic.  (I hear from my family I’m not very pleasant when I’m still grading over Christmas.)

Because I am a master procrastinator, and because over the years I’ve been slower than I’d like to in terms of returning graded work to students, I have a spreadsheet going back more than ten years with precise records–when students turned things in & when I returned them.  This semester wasn’t my best ever, but it’s the best in a while.

Why? Was it because it was a lovely, unencumbered semester in which my family life was smooth as pudding and my work life was also smooth and lovely? NO.  We’ve found 7th grade challenging in my house. We’ve been virus magnets this fall. And at work? Well , my campus administrator is moving on. In a couple weeks. And there’s work to be done.

And, oh, what else? Let’s see. My campus is in the process of merging (though we’re not supposed to say “merging” any more, I don’t know why) with a larger campus. All over Wisconsin, fine, little campuses are merging (not-merging) with fine, larger campuses. This has resulted in many, many more meetings and phone calls and emails. None of which are my favorite things about my job.

And yet.  And yet.  I’m feeling as genuinely copacetic as I have felt in a very long time.

Here’s one reason. In September, I listened to Episode 057 ,”How to Stop Fighting Against Your Life & Fall in Love With It Instead,” of the Courage and Clarity podcast. It’s a great podcast–each interview has two episodes. One is the “courage” episode, in which a woman entrepreneur explains how she broke away from her regular life and had the courage to do something risky.  The “clarity” episode explains some specific process or task.

On Episode 057, Steph Crowder (the host, and part of the triumvirate at Fizzle.co, which I love, seriously, ♥, and which I’m sure I’ll write about more at some point) interviewed Catherine Rains, the Hotel Artist.  I was hooked early on, because they were talking about “resistance toward the day job.”

Even before the merger-not-merger was announced, I was finding my job challenging. Maybe everyone does?  But I’m working with Fizzle because I’m trying to develop a side hustle in creativity consulting, and part of the motive for that is being able to retire from my day job, which I’ve been doing since 1991. So even though I wouldn’t say I was miserable in September, was I loving my job? Happy to be there every day? Giving it my best? Prolly not.

A lot of this episode resonated with me, but this especially:

Catherine says that at some point she was in an academic job that wasn’t thrilling her, but she was captivated by a phrase she thought of, “What you resist persists.”  So she started doing what she called a game, of saying, “This moment is my destiny” any time she was in an unpleasant moment at work.  She also said, “I have lived my entire life to be sitting here at this moment doing this thing.” She said these things “over and over again for three months, and at the end of three months, I realized I had fallen in love with my job.” Catherine also talks about:

  • “learning new ways to surrender to what’s in front of me, as opposed to resisting it.  Because resisting it is what keeps you stuck where you are.”
  • “I think that what makes people think that they haven’t gotten far enough is because they’re resisting where they already are.”
  • “When I stopped trying to get somewhere else, and fully sunk into where I was, that’s when the next step revealed itself, without me doing anything.”

There was just level after level of resonating for me. Somehow I decided to go for it.  I tried saying “This moment is my destiny” and that phrasing just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it felt too whoo-whoo. But then I tried, “I choose to be here” instead, and snap!  Every moment when things at work seemed tense, when I was feeling tired of any particular task, when I just wasn’t feeling the love for what I was doing, I said to myself, “I choose to be here.”

It wasn’t as if everything was suddenly rainbows and sunshine, but there was a subtle transformation. Work just felt good. Within a week or two (which seemed sudden), I wasn’t working on my side-hustle to escape my job. I was working on my side-hustle because it was an important thing I wanted to develop to spend some time on now and more time on later.

Work just felt good.

So then when the seismic announcement of the merger-not-merger happened (about which I have many thoughts and feelings), my response wasn’t doom and gloom or terror. My gut-level response was positive. And still is.  And as we move through the muck of making a massive transition for this merger-not-merger (about which I have multiple thoughts and feelings), I’m still saying “I choose to be here.” It makes a huge difference.

It’s a huge part of why I’m feeling so mellow during finals week, looking forward to a full day of grading tomorrow, a Solstice bonfire tomorrow night, more grading on Friday, then an email to students asking them to check my data entry one more time, and then turning in grades on Saturday. Then celebrating Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. And actually taking a week between Christmas and New Years where I don’t check work email. At all.

So right now, at the end of a tumultuous semester, I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree feeling copacetic even before I take a single sip of the brandy I’ve poured myself. This whole method isn’t just for tense moments at work. It’s also for moments like this. I choose to be here.

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