Sonnet for the End of the Baptist World

Inauguration Day Advent Calendars

Right before Christmas, people starting sharing this idea: if you start your advent calendar over the day after Christmas (or buy discounted ones that have CHOCOLATE in them), you’ll end the calendar on January 20, on Inauguration Day. That seemed like a great idea, but our advent calendar is very much nativity story–didn’t seem like a good fit. And the discounted chocolate calendars weren’t VERY discounted, and my son is allergic to a lot of them. So I started thinking about making them.

My mother told me today, looking at hers, that her Grandma Marlow used to make “sunshine boxes” for people–just a bunch of little boxes with fun things in them for people who were sick, or having surgery, or shut-in. Either I heard that story at some point and internalized it (I don’t remember hearing it), OR I got a visit from an ancestor. Grandma Marlow was my maternal great-grandmother, and had passed on before I was born. But she was very creative, and her children were all creative in different ways. (More on that some other time!)

The Inauguration Calendars I ended up making are these:

picture of boxes made of paper with dates on them, tied with ribbon boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon small boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with washi tape

I’ve been posting as part of the #makedontbreak challenge, and sometimes the prompt worked, sometimes not. But it’s been pretty amazing. I don’t drink alcohol any more, or take Xanax, so managing my anxiety has to come from other bad habits OR–in this case–#craftingismyxanax (I’m not the only one to use that hashtag). When I’m crafting, I really do feel absorbed and relaxed.

Except for today, when the level of relaxation and absorption was fluctuating. I really, really wanted to get these finished to take to my folks. Mom is in assisted living & I can give things to her, but can’t have visits. We can say hello from a distance as we’re leaving boxes, etc. on chairs, stepping back, retrieving them. For Dad, who’s in the nursing home side of the same facility, I can leave packages and someone gets them back to him eventually. I’m going to try to Skype with him tonight to talk to him about it. Because I had a deadline, it did feel kind of tense.

Still, I’m thrilled with what I was able to do. I learned how to make little boxes from scrapbook paper. I learned how to use a scoring board (which I bought with Christmas money). I found quotes to include for some days, chocolate (which my son isn’t allergic to) for other days, and silly little toys for other days.

When this morning started, I had all the boxes made, but no dates, not assembled with their stuff inside, not in their trays. It looked like this:

So little by little as the day went on, I got the dates affixed, the goodies inserted, and then the hard part–affixing them inside the tray w/ double-sided tape because I didn’t want my folks to have to worry about keeping the boxes in there. I was worried they’d pop out and it would be a chore to sort them (although the dates are on there, and probably won’t come off).

I learned that you have to figure out how you’re going to close the box BEFORE you put the double-sided tape on the bottom of it to affix to the tray, because once it’s in the tray, you’re way more limited in terms of how you close it. My Mom’s calendar uses a lot of ribbon (which I found challenging to tie–I have arthritis in my hands and a paper cut under one thumb nail that is very sore), and my son’s uses washi tape–which didn’t work very well (I have more to learn about washi tape, apparently).

This is the closure mode I ended up liking most, the third way I’d tried, for Dad’s. I used a hole punch and threaded twine or ribbon through and tied.

boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon

Why all this effort? Well, it gives me an excuse for crafting. But also–I wanted to do SOMETHING for my parents, who are pretty isolated in winter, in a pandemic, in a time of insurrection (though I didn’t know about that until Wednesday). And something for my son, who just turned 16 but can’t get his drivers license yet because we haven’t wanted him in a car, breathing with someone we don’t know, for the behind-the-wheel part.

And it’s just a way for me to fight against the darkness. Here’s the letter I wrote:

  • This is an Inauguration Day Countdown Calendar, kind of like an Advent Calendar, but looking forward to Inauguration Day instead of Christmas.
  • It is similar to Advent Calendar in the sense that when you’re little, December 1 seems a long time away from December 25. (When you’re in charge of shopping, planning menus, etc., it feels like barely any time at all!)
  • Advent and Christmas are all about bringing light to a dark time.
  • We are definitely in a dark time in our nation’s history, but I have to believe light is coming.

We are definitely in a dark time in our nation’s history, but I have to believe light is coming.

I think my #makedontbreak project for tomorrow will be back to sewing face-masks, which I did a lot of all summer, fall, pre-Christmas. I make them for my parents & a few others, and have a list of folks I want to make them for.

I don’t know how long we’ll all be wearing masks, but we’re not done yet.

Anyway–I’m super satisfied with how these turned out. And I didn’t stop them at Inauguration Day because I think it’s going to be awesome to wake up on January 21 and 22 and onward knowing that Joe Biden is president.

At least that is what I’m hoping and crafting toward.

boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon

“Ow, ow, I think that penny broke my arm, Mrs. Fledermeyer.”

I was only joking.  My arm wasn’t hurt at all.

The penny hadn’t come from high enough.

My friends and I laughed and laughed

imagining the panicked high schoolers

above us who were just then perhaps

feeling a little regret for throwing things

off the tower they were climbing.

But honestly, why do what they were supposed to?

Just stand in line until the top then look around

and point? That’s what the ads showed. 

It looked like a giant waterslide without water.

Or a slide. Just a thing to pay money and do.

My brain knows I find it amusing

so works pretty constantly to please

and handing me this sentence

(which I’ve said out loud six times already)

right before my alarm went off two hours ago

was definitely a gift—a precious Monday morning gift—

not only does Fledermeyer rhyme with 

Neidermeyer so that Animal House

hovers in my memory of the dream

(maybe that campus is where my friends

and I were walking to, instead of where I really work),

I realized on reflection that the lack of masks

and distancing were of no concern

to anyone, not even me (and I am

generally, dramatically, in real life, concerned),

so it must have been done, the whole thing,

finally, and we could walk with our friends,

and make dumb jokes, or leave the house

to climb a winding stairway, mushed together, 

get bored in line and get in trouble,

the kind that isn’t about a disease.

Questionnaire on the Occasion of More Republican Ratfuckery

I hope Asha Rangappa is right:

But wow is all this exhausting.

Between pandemics I will

have nights when sloppy kisses seem just the thing

to bestow on every still-living friend I see 

and we’ll stare so close the sparks in our eyes will clank

together, warming our faces, and we’ll be drunk

on air, each other’s breath, we’ll pant, outrush, 

and suck each other in, French-cigarette-style, Irish

waterfalls of laughter—such noise!—and good old love

and food we paid someone else to make and serve.

Or maybe I will read about these things

or overhear them but not emerge from my house

because you never know what’s lurking about,

what new horror’s slouching in the wings.

I will stay in, I will demur no thank you,

I will say safe is what I’ve gotten used to.

See Seed Seen

I may have picked my nose on that Zoom call
just now. I don’t do it a lot, I promise.
I just lose track of being onscreen is all.

If I did it, I didn’t notice while
my finger dug. But I sensed an emptiness….
I may have flashed a boob on that Zoom call

while I was fixing both bra straps, which fall
off my shoulders so constantly, so fast.
I just lose track of being onscreen. It’s all

so mediated, so exhausting, so unreal.
I miss other people’s halitosis.
I may have murdered someone on that Zoom call

when they walked in front of my camera. Again. “Talk talk
talk talk talk” and then somehow, silence.
I lose track of being onscreen. That’s not all.

I chew, mouth wide open. I mop up spills.
Why shouldn’t I? I am, after all, the host.
I may have transubstantiated on that Zoom call.
I just lost track of being onscreen. That’s all.

What the little cat wants

The kitten I’m holding watches
the pen move across the page,
nose tracking the same pace as my writing.
She would rather my right hand
spend its time some other way,
petting her, for example.
She’s so small, a runt
(not a kitten any more) and I can
hold her with one arm, steady,
and feel her purring over my heart.
But she keeps wiggling, wanting
all my attention, both of my arms.

Tuuli, the little kitten.

(I was thinking of this Phil Levine poem, “A Theory of Prosody,” as I wrote, as I stopped writing.)

NOTE: she got down by choice after the selfie. I’d have waited to post it online otherwise. NOTE: she’s back. So it’s time to hit publish.

Independence Day

Drunk on the blaze of my personal arson
and good Tennessee whiskey, I staggered
backwards twenty snaking yards
from my trailer to an oak with a view
of Kiwanis fireworks.
Never mind the drought
Southern Illinois was in the middle of–lighter fluid arced
half a halo in front of me sending undergrowth
crackling and hissing in ashes to heaven.
The blurred outline of my friends through the wall of flame
spurred me on. They were the wicked, quenching
my prophet’s fire with an earthly garden hose,
mortal buckets and tea kettles of unholy water.
It was vision I was after, miles of it,
punctuated by pink and green screaming meemies
and roman candles.The bottle rockets we’d shot
at each other merely tickled and I wanted to scrape
the sky to yell at the Almighty. I scrambled up the tree
in time for the hollow finale, a giant dandelion
of Sousa flashes that sent me disappointed down
into the gentle arms of a blackout.
I woke unable to articulate
“hangover,” the wet-ash smell of war thick as ink,
the charred path behind my trailer still smoking,
beer cans and the pitiful skins of firecrackers
dotting the yard.I stayed in the shower forever grateful
for fire that burned so far and no farther
but I could not cool the sting of vision limited
by recklessness so easily halted: the blank slate
of acres on acres of hardwood forest burned
uselessly might have rendered more wisdom
than my crooked destruction, meager
in scope, unnamed ivies already rooting again.


So much has changed since the late 80s when this event really happened. I no longer live in a trailer. I no longer get drunk. In fact, I almost never drink at all. Prolly a good thing. This poem was published in Cutbank in the early 90s, once I’d begun teaching in Wisco.

These were the days when we’d buy a bottle of Jack Daniels for a party and throw the cap away. “Won’t be needing that,” we’d say. Hey. That rhymes. I wonder if….

Oh–also, I’m sure I could name the ivies now. My guess is that a fair bit of it was poison ivy but also Virginia creeper, or as in the above photo, grape. Which we probably need to clear off our window before it comes inside.

There was also a lot of honeysuckle around that particular trailer, which I knew at the time, because some of it had worked its way inside, into the shower stall, which I liked, because it was so fragrant. I am no longer charmed by plants working their way inside my house from the outside. So much has changed.


I think I have some kind of chronic disease
or condition or ailment or pestilence because I am
productive only one day out of three.

I don’t mean relatively speaking. I mean
one good day & then I pretty much collapse.
I think I have some kind of chronic disease:

congestion, aches, low-grade fever, fatigue.
Nothing awful, but bad enough I can
be productive only one day out of three.

There’s a name for it: post-exertional malaise.
One cat in particular loves that I’m taking more naps.
I think I have some kind of chronic disease

which might be the virus getting all the publicity,
or maybe I’m depressed. Anxious. A hypochondriac?
Whatever—I’m productive only one day out of three.

Maybe I’m a secret Puritan if I think
less work equals illness, that perhaps
I have some kind of chronic disease
if I’m productive only one day out of three.


(I’m exaggerating a little for the rhyme. But I do have some kind of recurring crud.)


This is Tuuli, who loves to crawl under the covers when I nap but would not, for this picture. Weird little cat.

A Fundamentally Backward Metaphor Since Young People Are Less at Risk from COVID-19 but Anyway, a Parasite is a Parasite: Thoughts on Being an Essential (Teacher) Worker During a Pandemic

Please sacrifice your young, the cowbirds say,
depositing their eggs in someone else’s nest.
You know, it didn’t have to be this way—

all the precious hobbitses are safe.
Other countries made a safety net.
But. Sacrifice your young, our cowbirds say,

and we bob our stupid avian heads and let them take
the food we worked for. Our own babies are just waste.
But no, it didn’t have to be this way—

“Many parasitized species routinely recognize and reject cowbird eggs…
destroying the egg, rebuilding the nest to cover the egg, or abandoning the nest.”
Please sacrifice your young, the cowbirds say.

Restart the economy. Open your campus. #vacay.
Do we always, always, always have to say yes?
Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way—

maybe we don’t have to curtsy every single day.
Billionaires don’t always know what’s best.
What if we don’t do what the cowbirds say?
What if it doesn’t have to be this way?


Quotes on cowbirds from:

No cowbirds here. None in our yard. We’d holler at ’em. Scare ’em away. Throw rocks.


Of course I’m lucky to have a job. Lucky I’ve been working from home since late March.  Lucky in that there’s a chance I’ll get to teach my courses the way I want to this fall–all online, but lots of group work for students to interact with, and lots of one-on-one conferences with me (possibly in person, depending).


But universities are opening for all kinds of reasons other than “this is healthy and safe and best for the public good.”