Church of Sister Nun

“Church of Sister Nun” is the last poem in Sister Nun (which, if you are new to this blog, is a book of poems from the voice of a former Buddhist nun). I spent the majority of summer, in 2011, writing the book and really had no idea how I’d end it. I knew she had to leave the earthly narrative, but I was not ready to let her go. I also had it in mind that she would have lived a long time. I decided that I would continue with the surrealist nature of the book and let her live for 215 years. In the last poem, I give her a second coming.

Throughout her first physical incarnation, she joins and leaves a convent, but in leaving, she takes a bit of the convent with her. She changes her name to “Sister,” and she keeps her head shaved; however, she also explores the Earth’s core and outer space, and she writes a self help book. Although she often thinks of convent, either to compare or to interpret the present, she never finds religion nor cares to. Therefore, the title of the poem, “Church of Sister Nun,” already indicates that someone, or a group of people, have overtaken her narrative. The first stanza contradicts the title’s implication that she may have started her own church (or has condoned one in her name) and also declares that she has returned to Earth centuries after her death:

In life, Sister always
thought of church as an
unlucky place. The jewel
toned glass, impressing
a false sun. There’s incense,
she remembers that, lit
everywhere like perfumed
bugs, sliding down the stick.
Now, centuries after her death,
she’s back.

The second stanza declares that Sister had lived for 215 years and that, although she was heavy with grief, she was free:

After the span of her Earthly
life, 215 years, she had finally
seen it all. The melodrama
of her broken, old heart.
An impractical paperweight
holding down nothing at all.

For the next stanza, bear with me; I’m about to discuss Britney Spears, gender expectations, and the fine line between pain and freedom. Years ago, as you probably remember, Britney Spears, exhausted by the paparazzi, shaved her head in a hair salon and then took an umbrella to the windshield of a photographer’s car. I can’t speak to her deeper mental state, but I recall seeing the image of a bald Britney, umbrella in attack-mode, and thinking, “Good for her.” She shaved her beautiful, long hair, a symbol of feminine sexuality that kept her rich and working but also hounded and mocked for the better part of her adolescence and young adulthood. Truth be told, I was a fan of Britney after the umbrella incident and was disappointed that the media reduced the scenario to “crazy” (not that that’s any surprise).

Spears is thirty-six now, and like many, has taken more control of her image through selfies on Instagram; however, she is back to promoting that image of sexy seductress. I get it. Sex sells, and the images she posts couldn’t be more stilted, but I can’t help but miss the day she lost her locks and went on the offense.

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For the poem, I pictured the future to be about as hollow as the present, and although Sister Nun’s experience with fame is not as aggressively felt as Britney’s, the paparazzi’s presence burdens Sister in her golden years. The faux intimacy of their proximity foreshadows the remaining narrative after her death: “And/at her age, followers behind her/every step with their future cameras.”

In stanza three, Sister Nun again is objectified, although this time more tenderly. There is also a reference to the commodification of Sister Nun’s image:

Sometime in her 90’s she had caught
the eye of a young, male sculptor
(whom she later outlived) and spent
all his mornings creating versions of
her from clay, glass, silk, even trees.
All his lovers were bald. You see,
to hope that someone has reached
the tower and sees you, the village,
and the hills beyond the sea is worth
even more than an original Sister Nun
fetish.

In the first part of the final stanza, the speaker reveals that the worship of Sister Nun was for nought, as she also did not understand the mysteries of the universe. With this understanding, she slips away “from camp,” indicating that she has a small following in future times:

But the truth is, Sister never knew a thing.
And one night, she slipped away
from camp. The boys slept in piles,
clutching the air. The girls, curled
into the Earth, reminded Sister of
something from a long time ago.

The final lines of the poem juxtapose dark and light imagines and are rooted in nature. Sister has just left the group, and the speaker implies that she will leave her body once more:

Black sky and happy, pulsating
stars as she reached, at last, the
tamal tree, jasmine opening
the night.

In a previous blog post, “Pagans and Buddhists and Christians, O My!” I discuss the religion that I grew up in and followed until my late 20s (Self-Realization Fellowship). In church, I remember hearing stories about Krishna, who voluntarily left his body under a tamal tree. (The Mahabharata tells a different version, claiming that a hunter, named Jara, mistook a sleeping Krishna for a deer and fatally wounded him with an arrow.) The tamal tree is said to have a dark, blue bark that resembles Krishna’s skin. In the last couple lines of “Church of Sister Nun,” I wanted to allude to the story of Krishna, giving up his body under the tamal tree, and to imply that Sister would soon do the same.

Screenshot 2017-12-27 21.29.37.png

I also wanted to end the poem with a sensuous image, and I chose the scent of jasmine because certain varieties will only blossom at night. In the beginning of Sister’s journey, she is grieving and alone. Although it’s arguable that her loneliness remains through the end, it is out of the darkness of her heartbreak that Sister Nun connects with her true self and finds an enlightenment that grants her meaning, depth, and adventure.

 

Church of Sister Nun

In life, Sister always
thought of church as an
unlucky place. The jewel
toned glass, impressing
a false sun. There’s incense,
she remembers that, lit
everywhere like perfumed
bugs, sliding down the stick.
Now, centuries after her death,
she’s back.

After the span of her Earthly
life, 215 years, she had finally
seen it all. The melodrama
of her broken, old heart.
An impractical paperweight
holding down nothing at all. And
at her age, followers behind her
every step with their future cameras.

Sometime in her 90’s she had caught
the eye of a young, male sculptor
(whom she later outlived) and spent
all his mornings creating versions of
her from clay, glass, silk, even trees.
All his lovers were bald. You see,
to hope that someone has reached
the tower and sees you, the village,
and the hills beyond the sea is worth
even more than an original Sister Nun
fetish.

But the truth is, Sister never knew a thing.
And one night, she slipped away
from camp. The boys slept in piles,
clutching the air. The girls, curled
into the Earth, reminded Sister of
something from a long time ago.
Black sky and happy, pulsating
stars as she reached, at last, the
tamal tree, jasmine opening
the night.

Photo Credit: https://visualwilderness.com/quick-tips/choosing-a-location-to-photograph-aurora-borealis

Season’s Beatings, Dadaists, and the Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld

Ah, the holiday season. For some, it is a religious time. Others just like coziness and Christmas carols. For the rest of us, it is a time for worming through trenches, praying to Krampus we won’t set off some gnarly childhood-memory landmine. (That’s me dressed as Krampus in the photo, by the way. Tomorrow, my wife [who is infinitely patient with  my costume-lifestyle] will dress as St. Nicholas, and we will deliver licorice and pretzel sticks [from Krampus] and chocolate [from Santa] to our little three-year-old neighbor. I think it’s important to take stressful holidays by the horns [pun intended] and turn them into something that doesn’t make a switch and cage seem par for the course.)

DSCF6697

Last year, this time, I was at the beginning of what I now refer to as my “year of the mixed bag.” On the one hand, by the end of 2016, Voldemort had finally collected enough unicorn blood to take power and make America gross again. On the other hand, I was planning what was to be a beautiful and happy wedding in the following month. 2017 began in the best way possible: I married my now wife, and the memory of that day, and the fact of our marriage, has provided a backdrop for the year, one that has kept me from ever feeling too dark for too long. On the other hand (there are too many hands in this narrative) I lost a dear family member to mental illness and watched as friends, old and new, either moved far away or changed so drastically that I could no longer recognize them. (Or was I the one who changed? I can’t tell sometimes. Either way, friendship’s fault lines cracked once more.) Work went smoothly…or horribly. My sweet 18-year-old cat died. 2016 has definitely been a good candidate for a sad country music song.

As for Christmas, I think that the commercialized version of it comes at a bad time. I am a mixture of extrovert and introvert, but the latter definitely takes over in winter. It seems as though shopping and making merry are activities better left to spring. In winter, I like to take quiet walks and notice how the branches hold hands across the skyline without leaves to keep it private. Most plant life is either dead or asleep, and I like the silence of the outdoors.

I recently bought my first house. Each spring, I am still surprised to see what types of flowers and vegetation pop up. In winter, though, I am left to find clues about what might have been and what will be. My house is warm, and there’s something in the crockpot. The spices develop and the vegetables soften. I’m not sure what I’ll find in myself during winter, but I know that it won’t quite be ready until spring.

I have always loved the last line of Joy Harjo’s poem “The Path to the Milky Way Leads Through Los Angeles”: “But like crow I collect the shine of anything beautiful I can find.” This month, I want to talk about found poetry and offer a writing prompt. If you, too, are experiencing the affects of “the mixed bag,” perhaps you can write a found poem where you pick out the jewels from a conversation you overheard, from a math textbook, from a fashion magazine, or any other source, really. If you do write a found poem, I hope that you share it in the comments below! In the meantime, here’s a brief lesson on the found poem. Hope you enjoy!

But first, let’s start with…

The Dada Movement

The Dada Movement arose in the early 20th century and philosophized that logic and reason had lead to world war and believed that the only response to such chaos was anarchy and irrationality. Also, Dadaists were none too fond of the bourgeoisie, whom they believed were responsible for society’s rigid imposition on art and society. Dadaists fought against rigidity by producing “anti-art,” flipping the bird to aesthetics, meaning, and morality. Dada art’s meaning was to express meaninglessness. They wanted to offend and to destroy tradition (which is understandable if you’ve ever studied the horrors of World War I).

Meanwhile, many believe that “found poetry” stems from the Dada Movement. It’s easy to see why. Below, Dadaist Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is a good example of one of his “readymades.” (Yes, it’s a urinal.)

marcel-duchamp-fountain1.jpg

L.H.O.O.Q. (below) is another version of Duchamp’s readymades, which was created from a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa that Duchamp doctored by drawing on a mustache. The name of the piece is a pun: the letters sound like “Elle a chad au cul,” which, in French, means “She has a hot ass.”

duchamp.jpg

Found Poetry

Found Poetry is a form that is what it sounds like. The poet finds “poetry lines” from unexpected places such as textbooks, advertisements, news headlines, and conversations overheard. The poet may decide to take the lines verbatim, and distinguish them with line and stanza breaks, or may pick and choose parts of the “found poem” and heavily edit it.

My hope is that you, dear readers, write a found poem this December and post it in the comments below! Until then, please enjoy the found poems of D.H. Rumsfeld (that’s not something you hear everyday, is it?) from Hart Seely’s wonderful book, Pieces of Intelligence. Seely’s found poetry comes from Rumsfeld’s briefings and media interviews, and reveals an existential brilliance that I bet you’ve never thought to associate with our former secretary of defense.

Happy winter, everyone, and be nice to yourselves!

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

A Confession

Once in a while,
I’m standing here, doing something.
And I think,
“What in the world am I doing here?”
It’s a big surprise.

—May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times

Happenings

You’re going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don’t happen.
It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t—
It’s printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.
Everyone’s so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story’s there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven’t happened.
All I can tell you is,
It hasn’t happened.
It’s going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

The Digital Revolution

Oh my goodness gracious,
What you can buy off the Internet
In terms of overhead photography!
A trained ape can know an awful lot
Of what is going on in this world,
Just by punching on his mouse
For a relatively modest cost!

—June 9, 2001, following European trip

The Situation

Things will not be necessarily continuous.
The fact that they are something other than perfectly continuous
Ought not to be characterized as a pause.
There will be some things that people will see.
There will be some things that people won’t see.
And life goes on.

—Oct. 12, 2001, Department of Defense news briefing

On NATO

You may think it’s something
I ought to know,
But I happen not to.
That’s life.

(July 9, 2003)

On Reporters

If you do something,
Somebody’s not going
To agree with it.
That’s life.

(Feb. 19, 2003)

On the Budget

If you do anything,
Someone’s not going
To like it and
That’s life.

(May 7, 2002)

On Leaks

Look bumpy? Sure.
But you pick up
And go on.
That’s life.

(May 17, 2002)

On Democracy

People elected
Those people to office.
That’s what they think, and
That’s life.

(Feb. 20, 2003)

On Criticism

It makes it complicated.
Sometimes, it makes
It difficult.
That’s life.

(Sept. 11, 2003)

The First Woman

My parents are from the snowy, muggy midwest, but I grew up in sunny California and was so unaware of prolonged gloomy weather that I did not understand what “Seasonal Affective Disorder” meant until I moved to Ireland in my 20s. But my earliest travel memories are of road trips to the desert, my dad driving our crayon-blue Datsun. Some weekends, we’d drive from Glendale, California to see the Cabazon dinosaur structures (pictured above) and then to Banning for date shakes. (My parents used to be into health food desserts.) I think it was my mother who loved the desert so much. Whenever I think of our trips, I remember these three images: my pretty, young mother, approaching me while sipping a date shake and wearing 70s-style macrame sandals and a Bodhi Tree t-shirt; a view from inside the T-Rex head; and across the pink desert, among the palm trees—the dinosaurs of Cabazon.

Photo Family trip
My parents and I on a road trip, circa ’79.

In my mid-twenties, I began Northern Arizona University’s MA program in Flagstaff. The town is 7,000 feet above sea level, so the weather and terrain are much different than Cabazon. There are forests of ponderosa pines and aspens that turn gold in autumn, and the whole town is covered in powdery white snow for several months of the year. However, the sun still shines on  most days, which was a welcomed sight for this California girl. One of the most beautiful natural scenes I’ve ever witnessed is snowflakes glistening through sunlight, all the trees, bejeweled. I often walked in the woods when it snowed. The whole world went silent under white blankets. Every now and then, I’d hear a muffled crash and turn to see a pine tree unburden itself of top-heavy snow drifts. I have never felt more wonderfully alone than I did in the desert.

As you drive south from Flagstaff, you pass through central Arizona, where pine trees and snow turn to shrubs and red mountains. Further still, shrubs give way to tall cacti that always looked friendly to me, as though they’re waving toward the passing cars with their arm-like branches.

Even in the parts of Arizona where it does not snow, there is a quietness to nature, probably because most animals and insects hideout during the day, as do many humans. Also, the dry heat makes you more aware of your body, and in that way, it can focus the mind. I often hiked alone back then. Unlike in the deep south, where insects and frogs sing a happy heralding, the utter silence of the desert made me feel like the only person in the world, a feeling that has always comforted me. Even desert rocks feel different to me. In the south, rocks are highways for every bug, reptile, and amphibian; but in the desert, rocks invite you to sit and to be alone with them, and you are.

As I wrote Sister Nun, I found many desert images popping up in my stanzas. I lived (collectively) in Flagstaff for only four years and have (collectively) spent thirteen years in the south, but the feeling of the desert has never left me. While the south’s nature is teeming with loud and aromatic life, the desert feels like the very beginning of life, quiet and red and prehistoric.

In “Sister Nun Faces a Sidewinder,” the first few lines set a tone of loneliness, enhanced by the mention of a chain motel, which has always seemed to me the perfect setting for any lonely story: “Sister would say that she had lived / a lonely life, if pressed now in / this chain motel parking lot.” In the next line, “Scales bright as her own / bald head” likens Sister to part of nature herself as well as reminds the reader of her appearance. (When she leaves the Buddhist convent, earlier in the book, she keeps her head shaved.) The next few lines give the reader further description of the setting: “The cacti, fuzzy and / soft from a distance, wave / at the cars, taking them / for suns.” The cacti’s appearance from a distance is much different than its sharpness up close, and the cars’ appearance from a distance confuses the cacti, who see the glare on metal as passing suns. This image provides contrast and foreshadows later imagery that pertains to the brightness of early creation.

In the next stanza, the speaker qualifies Sister’s loneliness: “If she said she was only alone / when she asked to be, that, too, / would be true.” Although Sister is lonely, she often chooses to be alone. In the next line, however, she must put aside human concerns of loneliness and remain completely present in the face of potential danger: “but today she faces / a sidewinder, and she stills / like red rock.” The last line again reflects the low desert setting.

I separated the next section of the poem with a set of asterisks. Although stanzas themselves are a pause in language (and often a shift in topic) using asterisks helps the reader know that there is a rather large shift ahead. In this case, the poem shifts from Sister Nun in contemporary times to the creation of women during the Mesozoic Era. I wanted to invent a creation myth that reflects Sister’s loneliness and offers a hereditary loneliness that links all women. In my creation myth, the first woman was created toward the end of the reign of dinosaurs:

“Here’s a little known fact: Women
were created by accident. As
dinosaurs lay dying, giving up
on their offspring, lightning
struck a stone, and a giant
woman appeared. Her physical sight
was slight at first, and she hopped
around lava and ducked
from Pterodactyls on
gut alone.”

I liked the idea of the first woman appearing by accident as opposed to the structured Biblical creation myth: a male god intentionally creates a woman from part of a man and then prescribes her a subservient role. In my myth, the first woman emerges from a natural, assertive act: “lightning / struck a stone, and a giant / woman appeared.” I remember eating at a restaurant in Phoenix and watching fat strobes of lightning smack the sand outside. I wanted the woman to exist from electricity’s force. Yet, when she first materializes “Her physical sight / was slight at first.” As with most beginnings (including Sister Nun’s own travels) the first woman had to find her footing with little experience and few defenses. Although the dinosaurs “laying dying,” unable to care for their children, there is still threat: “she hopped / around lava and ducked / from Pterodactyls on / gut alone.”

The first woman feels a maternal urge and nurses “baby Brontos when / their mothers passed. Held their / long necks gently across her lap.” As she finds connection with the world around her, she must also watch it deteriorate: “But soon, the comets made them / so sad that they lifted their big, baby / legs into tar pits, and positioned themselves / to the sun.” I’m not sure if the scientific community has determined certainly why the dinosaurs went extinct, but for my poem, I wanted to reference different schools of thought that the reader may remember learning in class. One theory I’ve heard is that Earth was hit by a meteor. I also read that some dinosaurs died because they got stuck in tar pits. I wanted to play with that latter idea by having the young Brontos (I know, the Brontosaurus never existed) intentionally entering the tar pits, knowing that the end for all the dinosaurs is near. They position themselves to the sun to see the last beauty the world has to offer them.

In the last stanza of this poem, there is, again, a contrast between beginnings and endings: “The woman painted her body with wet / sand and opened her eyes for / the first time as she sank into the salty Earth, and / waited.” As an act of mourning, she paints her body and lets herself sink into the Earth as the dinosaurs allowed themselves to sink into tar pits. At the same time that she surrenders to grief, her eyes open for the first time. The last word “waited” implies that she does not find death but will rise again when she is stronger. Since she opens her eyes before she sinks, one might assume that she will be wiser upon return.

The last stanza provides a frame to the first narrative about Sister’s encounter with the sidewinder and connects her situation with the first woman’s: “Sister has learned to wait.”  The snake “finally returns to / her cold nest” and “Sister thinks of the / woman she left this morning, wrapped / in sky, blue sheets, her naked body / heated in the dark room.” First, the snake’s threat is softened when the reader learns that she is protecting her nest, which also echoes the first woman’s attempt to protect the young Brontos. There is contrast in language and imagery between the cold nest and the hot desert. The image of the hotel room that Sister leaves behind (along with the woman) is cold and dark. When I was living in the desert, the dark, air conditioned interior of my home, or hotel rooms I stayed in, felt like caves. The motor of the air conditioner both numbs loneliness and exaggerates it. But when you step outside—you can barely see at first—the sun is so bright. The whole sky is against you. Little by little, you can feel the air around you. You spot an animal diving under a rock for shelter. You cannot leave your cave in the desert without feeling that you are on some kind of quest.

In contrast to Sister’s intense and frightening moment with a venomous snake in the harsh sun, I gave the woman Sister leaves in the hotel room darkness and quiet. She is “wrapped in sky, blue sheets” but is in a “dark room,” and she has “the / look of our first mother” (again referring to the first woman in the creation myth) both “loving and / astonished.” The first woman has become “mother,” a far more personal description, and there is a sense of inheritance: with love comes pain.

 

Sister Nun Faces A Sidewinder 

Sister would say that she had lived
a lonely life, if pressed now in
this chain motel parking lot.
Scales as bright as her own
bald head. The cacti, fuzzy and
soft from a distance, wave
at the cars, taking them
for suns.

If she said she was only alone
when she asked to be, that, too,
would be true, but today she faces
a sidewinder, and she stills
like red rock.

* * *

Here’s a little known fact: Women
were created by accident. As
dinosaurs lay dying, giving up
on their offspring, lightning
struck a stone, and a giant
woman appeared. Her physical sight
was slight at first, and she hopped
around lava and ducked
from Pterodactyls on
gut alone.

She nursed baby Brontos when
their mothers passed. Held their
long necks gently across her
lap. But soon, the comets made them
so sad that they lifted their big, baby
legs into tar pits, and positioned themselves
to the sun.

The woman painted her body with wet
sand and opened her eyes for
the first time as she sank
into the salty Earth, and
waited.

* * *

Sister has learned to wait.
And as the snake finally returns to
her cold nest, Sister thinks of the
woman she left this morning, wrapped
in sky, blue sheets, her naked body
heated in the dark room, and with the
look of our first mother, loving and
astonished.

Sister Wolf

Sister Nun is a character who suffers, as most people do, from the pain of duality. Sequestering herself from the world does not heal her broken heart; rather, living in the convent exasperates it. She must strike out, dramatically, in order to hunt for the connection she craves. It is by leaving seclusion that Sister finds connection with herself, and in doing so, reconciles her inner diversities. She longs for others but often prefers to be alone. She wants to understand the universe but enjoys mystery. She loves both men and women. Later in the book, we learn that she is also a werewolf.

Sister Nun often uses the surreal as a lens through which to understand life’s realities differently. In the case of “Werewolf,” the reader can immediately understand Sister’s duality, on one level. Werewolves are usually portrayed as humans who can (or are cursed to) turn into wolves or wolf-type creatures. Many tales portray werewolves as tortured: they turn into grizzly beasts against their will and become conscious again only after it’s too late, their wild instincts already satiated. However, I wanted Sister Nun to accept this transformation, especially since she is in the process of finding peace with her dualities.

In the first stanza, the speaker reveals a dark incident from Sister’s past. She becomes a werewolf after someone “pierced her back with dirty / claws, infecting her with the urge.” There is an idea of transference, that someone else’s “dirty claws” can change another person’s future. However, “Sister Nun does not mind that / she’s a werewolf. It doesn’t / bother her” to think of how she became one. At the end of this stanza, the speaker vaguely refers to the affect of the “infection” as “the / urge.”

In the next stanza, “Dogs bark at the night, prepare / for Sister’s visit.” It is unclear for what they need to prepare, but when Sister arrives, she “gnaws their / bones, humps the women, and makes everyone laugh.” In this stanza, I contrast the images that could be taken as aggression (“gnaws their / bones, humps the women”) with the fact that she “makes everyone laugh.” Everyone is included in the good time, and although the previous two images are wild in nature, the dogs and she are having fun.

The final stanza deals with Sister’s interaction with humans. The first few lines contrast her easy, natural relationship with other canines with the violent and fearful reaction she receives from other humans: “But not everybody likes Sister / Wolf.” Here, part of Sister’s name even changes from “Nun,” a distinctly human calling, to “Wolf.” Although it’s still capitalized, the name change reveals the shift from her connection to canines to her conflict with humans. These humans “grab their / rifles or, in a pinch, chuck / silver bangles at her and / shriek.” The beginning of these lines sound aggressive: they are willing to shoot Sister Wolf, but the narrative quickly devolves as their reactions become rather silly. The silver bangles refer, of course, to the myth that you can kill a werewolf with a silver bullet. However, they are throwing jewelry and shrieking, in what sounds like a pitiful attempt to keep her at bay.

Sister’s reaction is a mixture of aggression and pleasure; she “growls” and “laughs.” One gets the sense that her aggression is playful and that she is not afraid of the humans’ attempts to end her. In the morning, she “wakes nude / and adorned until the next / bald moon pulls / her like a riptide.” Rather than the traumatic wake up call that most werewolves experience in folklore, I wanted Sister’s “day after” to feel like waking from a dream where she felt beautiful and happy. The “bald moon” both refers to the moon’s fullness and references Sister’s head. (Sister had joined a Buddhist convent but kept her head shaved, even after she had left.)

The final lines “pulls her / like a riptide,” in one sense, shows that she is not completely autonomous. She is still pulled in by nature, but when she is part of nature, she also finds freedom.

“Werewolf”

Werewolf

Sister Nun does not mind that
she’s a werewolf. It doesn’t
bother her to think of the night
he pierced her back with dirty
claws, infecting her with the
urge.

Dogs bark at the night, prepare
for Sister’s visit. She gnaws their
bones, humps the women, and makes
everyone laugh.

But not everybody likes Sister
Wolf. The humans grab their
rifles or, in a pinch, chuck
silver bangles at her and
shriek. Sister growls,
laughs, and wakes nude
and adorned until the next
bald moon pulls her like a
riptide.

Photo Credit: Christian Hughes
http://www.christianhouge.no/Shadow-Within

Our Mothers

In preparation for America’s Next Top Model, I used to cook a giant bowl of pasta and toast a  hunk of garlic bread. A neighbor came over one evening, which happened to be the night of the season premiere, and was surprised when I shushed him. I usually turn off the television / phone / computer—or whatever technological distraction—when someone visits. He sipped his drink and watched as the models cried about their new haircuts, their weight, their tight, pointy shoes.

“Why do you watch this show?” my friend asked.

“Shhh,” I said. It was time for their close-ups.

Here’s why I liked ANTM: it reminded me of writing poetry. Bear with me. The best models possessed both technique (knowing how to angle their bodies into “good lighting,” for example) and an ability to relinquish control. Many of the models were criticized for looking “too posed.” In poetry, the writer must “find the good lighting” through word choice, line break, and punctuation. However, if the writer cannot let the poem grow organically, it feels too manicured, and the reader is left wishing for the poem’s heart to beat.

I like the way Lu Chi describes the relationship between technique and intellectual depth, in The Art of Writing:

“While the language may be lovely
and the reasoning just,

the ideas themselves
may prove trivial.”

I don’t think there’s intellectual depth in modeling. In fact, in cycle 1, the best model of the group (Elise Sewell) got “eliminated” because she responded to the question “What makes a woman sexy?”  by discussing the correlation between estrogen in the womb and desired “feminine” features. To this response, the judges reacted with some version of “Oh, you’re smart, huh? Do you think you’re better than us?” (By the way, if you ever feel like hearing a good, expletive-laden rant, I highly suggest listening to Elise go off about the “wasteful” people around her.) Intellect appears absent, and even shunned, from ANTM. However, in order to produce interesting photographs, the young models must contort their bodies in uncomfortable clothing (or no clothing at all) whilst dropping their emotional guards. I was always impressed by the ones who could do it. To lower one’s shields, one must know she has them and what triggers them. Likewise, the life force of a poem, which I believe is emotion, can only be allowed, never forced. While there is, of course, a place for intellect in a poem (but perhaps not in modeling) without a certain surrender, the poem can sound stiff or “too posed.”

Another theme that I noticed in ANTM was the influence of mothers. Tyra enjoyed discussing her mother’s support and love, and she frequently told the girls how sacred their own mothers were, which I always thought was rather naive. Some of the young models even talked about their broken relationships with their abusive mothers, but Tyra relentlessly conjured the mother figure image, either from her own personal narratives or from the memories she evoked from the young models.

It is through these two lenses—the marriage of form and intuition, and the pervasive presence of the mother, that I wrote the poem, “Our Mothers.”

In the first stanza, the speaker describes the youth of the models. Their “blooming faces” and “Tightly-knit / skin that won’t be missed till / worries stick like flour to the dough” indicates both an innocence and a certainty of future worries. The second stanza switches to a  memory of the speaker’s mother, who’s skin is both vampiric (an image that conjures darkness) and without wrinkles (which reminds the reader of the young models in the first stanza). However, the reader also learns that the mother’s skin is young-looking only because she rarely leaves her dark bedroom and that she also has a pill habit. The speaker remembers handing “her bottles like / spices to a master chef,” which references another reality show, Master Chef.

In the third stanza, the speaker discusses the success of the models who don’t rely on their natural physical beauty but rather, allow themselves to be vulnerable:

“On Top Model, the girls who give up
their pretty bones, that which they’ve
relied on their entire short lives, stare
ugly into the lens. The forgotten
loneliness, a soft rage that burns,
looks back at them like
a friend from long ago.”

The speaker romanticizes modeling, indicating that opening emotionally for a photograph can somehow connect the model to her true self, dark as it may be. The models stare “ugly into the lens,” which seems to have been a strange trend in fashion for at least the last twenty years. (On a side note, I got married earlier this year and was surprised to see that even the some of the women modeling beautiful wedding gowns seemed fairly pissed off about it.)

The fourth and fifth stanzas return to the mother. In the fourth stanza, the reader learns that the drug addiction has gotten worse and that the mother is homeless and alone and possibly hearing voices:

“Alone in her car, where my mother
sleeps every kind of night. Only
her voices listen now, though I try
as if the Milky Way is a sparkled
highway that sags under the weight
of our messages, piled star after star
till it breaks the night.”

The speaker wants to connect with the mother, but it proves as impossible as using the Milky Way as a medium of communication. In the fifth stanza, the speaker  again describes her mother as physically youthful: “My immortal mother only now / begins to silver against the black.” The speaker then imagines her as a contestant on ANTM: “Her long, stringy hair would get / chopped on Top Model, razored / to highlight her cheek bones, / centered, even in her sixties.”

The last stanza focuses on the vulnerability of the models: “The models bend like baby / dolls in vintage, ruffled skirts. / The foreign girl gets sacked. / Back to Europe with her chic, / bald head.” The girls pose like baby dolls, which makes them look childlike and susceptible to that strange hue of misogyny that asks grown women to remain infantile. The foreign model is far from home, and using the word “sacked” reveals the harshness of the reality show’s environment. Upon her dismissal, and in the final stanza, “Everyone is crying / and partly wishing it were / them, far away and alone.” In the final two lines, the speaker connects with the models: “like me. Thinking / of our mothers.” The last few lines take the momentum of two narratives (the models’ competition and the speaker’s trouble with her mother) and create a scene of mixed emotion and contrast. The models presumably want to win the contest but also “partly” wish they were going home, and the speaker finds connection and meaning from a show that centers around arbitrary achievements.

“Our Mothers” first appeared in Two Cities Review, Issue 5, Spring 2015

Our Mothers 

On America’s Next Top Model,
blooming faces march
down the runway. Tightly-knit
skin that won’t be missed till
worries stick like flour to the dough.

I think of my mother’s vampiric skin, without
crease for the years she spent self-penned
in a dark and air-conditioned room, delegating
her pill habit. One by one, from the floor
beside her bed, I handed her bottles like
spices to a master chef.

On Top Model, the girls who give up
their pretty bones, that which they’ve
relied on their entire short lives, stare
ugly into the lens. The forgotten
loneliness, a soft rage that burns,
looks back at them like
a friend from long ago.

Alone in her car, where my mother
sleeps every kind of night. Only
her voices listen now, though I try
as if the Milky Way is a sparkled
highway that sags under the weight
of our messages, piled star after star
till it breaks the night.

My immortal mother only now
begins to silver against the black.
Her long, stringy hair would get
chopped on Top Model, razored
to highlight her cheek bones,
centered, even in her sixties.

The models bend like baby
dolls in vintage, ruffled skirts.
The foreign girl gets sacked.
Back to Europe with her chic,
bald head. Everyone is crying
and partly wishing it were
them, far away and alone,
like me. Thinking
of our mothers.

Garbage Angel

April is the cruelest month, breeding
thesis statements from all-nighters, mixing
keggers and study groups…

Oh, whoops! Sorry, T.S. Eliot. ’Tis the nearing conclusion of spring semester that makes me so digress. It also makes this month’s The Poets That You Meet  a wee bit on the short side. But first, a few announcements…

  1. The Poets That You Meet will now appear on the first Wednesday of every month. I am excited for some great upcoming posts, including guest blogger James Duncan’s discussion of his beautiful poem “Last Appointment of the Day”; Kate Garrett’s analysis of her poem about lesbian pirates; and an interview, about the poetics of wine-making, with a talented vintner in Northern California. Do I know all the interesting people or what?
  2. Also, on the first Wednesday of the month, I plan to publish a new installment of Online Enlightenment. This month, the talented Heather Akers shares her sunset photo and a meditation on light.
  3. Well, I’m no Jenna Marbles, but I have recently started a YouTube channel with some videos of me reading at different poetry events. Click here, if you dare disturb the universe…dang it, Eliot, get out of my head—I have a blog to write!

Anyway…on with the show (and no talking of Michelangelo)!

Recently, I watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers, an adult cartoon about a family who struggles to maintain their burger restaurant, above which they live. One of the daughters, Louise, a sarcastic evil genius, falls hopelessly in lust with the teenage pop sensation Boo Boo, from the band Boyz4Now. As she enters a contest to ride on a “grown up roller coaster” with him, she gazes into his boyish face on the computer screen and exclaims, “I’m going to ride a roller coaster with you Boo Boo, you disgusting, beautiful, garbage angel!”

This scene reminded me of some advice I received from Barbara Anderson, when I took her poetry class in graduate school. She told us that, to add tension in language, poets should “juxtapose beautiful imagery or language with MTV street slang.” I haven’t watched MTV in years, but I believe what she meant was that one should contrast the elevated with the crude. I think of Tony Hoagland’s book, Donkey Gospel, and in particular, his poem, “Dickhead.” The adult speaker opens the poem with a reflection on his survival of adolescence:  “To whomever taught me the word dickhead, / I owe a debt of thanks. / It gave me a way of being in the world of men / when I most needed one.”  He goes on to explain that “back in the world of men, / when everything was…scary, / hairier and bigger than I was” that using the word dickhead became “a song that meant the world / was yours enough at least / to bang on like a garbage can.”

I think it’s interesting the way Hoagland transforms a crude word with humor and graceful language: “…and having that / beautiful ugliness always / cocked and loaded in my mind, / protected me and calmed me like a psalm.” Of course, I love the pun, but I also like the juxtaposition of “beautiful ugliness” and the likening of swearing to the comfort of a psalm.

Well, I think it was fun, last month, to include a writing prompt at the end of my post. If you are so inclined, include (in the comments below) a poem that you wrote (or a stanza or two) that juxtaposes a version of “beautiful language or images with MTV street slang.”

Until May, dear readers!

Photo Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CLBWWsbVEAAD_jP.jpg

I Don’t Like “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” There, I Said It.

This week, rather than a poetry explication or an interview, I offer you a writing invitation. Follow me, if you will…

A couple weeks ago, I taught Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream” to my morning American Lit. class. I’m going to be brutally honest. I’ve never really liked this poem. I like the contrast between the living and the dead; I like the rhythm; I like ice cream, but that’s about it. I’ve always found the poem unnecessarily opaque. “Let be be finale of seem”? Please, Stevens.

Anyway, the students were able to recognize imagery and tone. Line by line, I guided them toward an understanding of the dramatic situation, and in some cases, I just filled in the blanks for them. They did a good job. What I remember most about this lesson, though, is the look on their faces when we discussed the ending of the poem and the meaning of the title. Here’s how I will describe their facial expression: blank, with a dash of surprise. They’re a good class, my favorite one this semester. Often, they make intelligent observations about the poems and are lively and fun to teach. I did not take the surprise in their eyes as delight, nor did I take it as a condemnation of the poem itself. It seemed more, to me, a question: “Are you serious?”

I don’t blame them. I wanted to say, “Yeah, you’ve got to do some acrobats for this one,” or “I’m not sure how important it is for you to have read and analyzed this poem; I don’t much care for it myself.” Instead, I just shrugged and moved on to “The Snowman.”

That day got me thinking about poetry in general. I do think there is meaning and growth that a reader can experience through this genre, but I tend to feel as Frank O’Hara did that “Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not.”

Am I sorry that I’ve read “The Emperor of Ice Cream” at least one hundred times in my life? No. Or at least, there are things I’m much sorrier that I’ve read even once. (The comment section of any online article, for instance.) I like piecing together the mystery of poetry, but at the end of this poem, I often feel like my students looked that day in class. Seriously?

Many years ago, I read Jim Simmerman’s “A Brief Introduction,” a postmodern poem whose speaker introduces the reader to tour the poetic home of Simmerman. The line I like best is when the speaker invites the tourist to view one of Simmerman’s forthcoming poems, which reads:

A robin pecks
at the ice
in my rain gutter.

I make a big
deal of it.

I love these lines. I think they perfectly contrast the ephemeral nature of birds and ice, with the blunt pragmatism of a poet’s job: to find meaning in the mundane. Also, I’m a fan of humor.

And so, dear reader, here is my writing invitation. I invite you, in the comments below, to post your own short poem that highlights the contrast between the ephemeral and the blunt. Don’t worry if you think it’s perfect or not—we’re all friends here! Let’s have some fun! But, please, let us keep President Voldemort out of this round. He doesn’t get to have all our attention!

Also, here’s an exciting announcement:

This Friday, (and hopefully every first Friday of the month, thereafter) I will post an installment on my new web corner called, Online Enlightenment. Each month, I will publish original literature, art, or music that explores notions of enlightenment. This Friday, I am honored to share karvy’s beautiful song, “A Place For Us.” Check back on Friday to read her description of how this song resonates with the theme of enlightenment and, of course, to hear her haunting melody.

If you are interested in submitting to Online Enlightenment, please email me at shantiweiland9@gmail.com. I’m leaving the topic of “enlightenment” open but would like work to focus more on what enlightenment is rather than what it isn’t.

Photo Credit: https://www.odt.co.nz/otago-museum-bristling-happenings

The Fish in the Mirror

When I lived in LA, I had a Betta fish that could predict earthquakes. No kidding. Right before the Earth shook, he’d start banging his head against the glass so hard it would wake me up. I don’t know if it was a warning or just his own reaction; he was always a rather strange fish. When I went to the pet store to pick out a Betta, I chose him because he looked like he needed some help. His fins were straggly, and he just didn’t seem happy. I brought him home and named him Rothko, because he looked like Mark Rothko’s painting, “Untitled (Green Divided by Blue),” 1968.

Rothko often tilted in his bowl, which is never a good sign for a fish. I bought him medicine; I gave him special food. Finally, I thought that he might need some privacy, so I bought him a castle. Unfortunately, the little fella got stuck in one of the tunnels, and I came home to a most unpleasant situation. (On a side note, I’m not sure I should have fish. After Rothko’s tragic, and possibly self-inflicted, demise, my brother gave me his red-striped goldfish, Killer, because it kept eating his other fish. Well, I happily gave Killer his own bowl. He was a feisty fish, which I appreciated, but he did not understand his own bodily limitations. One Sunday, I came back from a weekend away, and Killer had cleared the bowl! He had launched himself with such a stunning will to achieve that it took me a while to find his body.)

“To An Ailment” is a two-stanza poem that begins with a harshly worded explanation about why Betta fish need their own bowls. Even their reflection in the glass can ignite rage, if they think they are encountering another fish: “When Betta fish see themselves, / they get so pissed off / that they beat their brains out.”

The second stanza serves as a philosophy on anger that incorporates the image of the fish: “Glass bowls are slick and / cold like fish, but are not / fish. Anger is an emery board, / two-sided and portable.” What only seems a threat—the reflection of the other fish—is enough to cause Bettas to destroy themselves. Contrasting this drastic example of the way that anger can destroy, the image of the emery board depicts anger’s subtle influence. Anger has no smooth side, just as the emery board is rough on one side and rougher on the other. Although the fish is trapped in the bowl, attacking its own image, the emery board is “portable,” and the reader is left to imagine the destruction that subtle anger can cause, when it’s small enough to fit in your pocket.

This week’s poem is short and sweet, like the life of the prophetic, if not unstable, Rothko the fish!

To read “To An Ailment,” click here.

For the audio version, click here or below.

Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Green Divided by Blue)” 1968

screenshot-2017-02-06-11-47-04

Featured Image: http///www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/features/articles/frequently-asked-questions-on-siamese-fighters

Home Is Where The Poem Is

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my old friend and writing buddy, Alanna Krinard, who has worked in real estate for the last twenty years. We discussed writing, literature, and the poetry of house-hunting!

I remember reading a poem in my twenties called “The Race,” by Sharon Olds, about a woman who is desperately trying to reach her flight in time so she can see her father before he passes. I always loved that poem and admired Olds’ use of enjambment lines. When I was older, and teaching the poem in one of my literature classes, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the dramatic situation in the poem. What I had once just admired for its form and compression of language, I now identified as a possible scenario in my own life, knowing that my dad is getting older. Are there any poems that you read when you were younger that have now morphed in meaning or intensity for you?

Yes, actually. The most significant one for me is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or perhaps more appropriately titled, “XXII,” by William Carlos Williams. This poem seems so simple on the surface but has stayed with me for so many decades, rolling around in my mind, popping up at many different moments.

When I was young, I was struck by its direct candor and the vibrant nearness of the red wheelbarrow to white chickens. I’ve carried that poem around with me for many years, pondering the colors and rain, finding more and more complexity within its short lines. As I’ve become older, it continues to expand with meaning for me. This poem was purported for some time to have been written as Williams cared for a sick child. I had a child with severe asthma, and spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. During those times, I realized how the more mundane, average things in life that we take for granted can become so foreign. Sitting at a hospital window watching the rain outside, just wishing that my child could be well enough to be home, hoping for the mundane to become normal again.

I learned much later that the poem was instead inspired by someone who was a very hard worker.  Interestingly, this information came to me as I was strongly developing my own career, and my son had mostly grown out of his asthma. So, the poem then took on new meaning for me. In my career, I’ve worked very hard to develop my skill set and be an asset for my clients. So much depends on my ability to see an escrow through—people’s lives are changing, more often than not in very significant ways, and it’s my responsibility to make sure this part of the transition goes well for them.

Another is “Oranges,” by Gary Soto. This poem still makes my heart race with its sensuality. The newness and nervousness of a budding relationship, the understanding of another person who sees the situation from the outside. It gives me butterflies. I love the color play in the poem, and the feeling of winter—so exquisite.

A couple years ago, I bought my first home. While house-hunting, it was interesting to see how other people had remodeled or decorated but even more interesting that it made little difference in the “feeling” of the home. On one afternoon of house-hunting, I, who had lived alone for thirteen years and am not prone to fear of spooks, suddenly bolted out of a basement that was visually no more or less creepy-looking than any of the others we had seen! Do you find, as a real estate agent, that this intimate look into people’s lives, has influenced your writing over the years?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write as much as I would like. I originally got into real estate because I believed it would afford me the flexibility to develop my writing and potential literary career. However, I’ve become so active in real estate, that my writing has become more of a hobby.

Real estate is a very interesting career, because I have the opportunity to very intimately get to know my clients and their families in an exceedingly short period of time. We spend a great deal of time together in a very intense setting.  I need to glean their needs from their reactions to properties they see, because often, people can’t definitively explain what they’re looking for until they see it. I’ve learned over the years to read body language and sometimes depend more on that than verbal explanations. I can always tell when someone walks into the home they’re going to purchase—everything about their body changes, and they take in things differently than they do when viewing homes that might be ok but are not ideal.

And of course, I have the requisite “spooky house” story! This happened nearly 20 years ago, but I remember it plain as day. I was with a large group of extended family looking at multiple properties in an afternoon. We came to one home that was vacant, and from the moment I stepped foot in the door, I felt uneasy. Because I depend so much on my intuition when working with my clients, I’ve learned to listen to those feelings, so I was cautious during the showing. There were several children I was doing my best to keep an eye on, while talking with the adults about the property. This particular home was three stories, including a large basement-like addition with several bedrooms downstairs. As we walked downstairs, there was a very audible growl. Everyone heard it, and it sounded as if it were rumbling through the ductwork, coming out through the vents. We finished checking out the downstairs while the growling continued, and finally my clients decided to go outside and find the crawlspace so they could look in the ductwork, assuming that maybe there was an animal stuck somewhere in the heating system. We found the ductwork, but there wasn’t anything in it. I still, to this day, don’t have any idea what was growling at us, but… My clients decided against purchasing that particular home, even though it had all of the space they needed and was in a great location.

I can always sense discord in a home, even if it’s perfectly kept. Homes often very clearly represent an owner’s mental state. So, I suppose that I may have a broader understanding of the human condition than I would if I had chosen another career. In this respect, I do believe it’s true that these intuitions and experiences show up in my writing. I often find myself explaining settings and relating them to characters, and that’s probably a symptom of my own life experience as a Realtor.

Do you think there is poetry in the house-hunt?

Oh yes! Unequivocally so!! For me, poetry has always been about evoking emotion in meaningful, thoughtful ways. Poetry is often an opportunity to communicate something in a way that can influence another’s emotions or make something known that has been buried emotionally, politically, or that has just gone unnoticed. I’ve applied that to my real estate career.  From the very beginning, I’ve understood the power of communicating details.  That’s why I’ve always loved WCW’s Red Wheelbarrow—I’m so attached to the chicken that she’s stayed with me for decades. In my line of work, I use photographs and property descriptions to build attachment, and to depict a unique understanding of a property.

Every home has a story and can evoke emotion through that story.  Think of an older couple who is selling their family home to downsize—think of all of the emotions tied to the family who was raised there: Where have the children gone as adults? Are there grandchildren? How many birthday parties did the backyard see? How many spaghetti dinners were cooked in the kitchen? How many times did the oldest brother cannonball into the deep end of the pool? Was a chin ever split open on the pavement from a spill off of a bicycle? How many neighborhood kids played at the basketball hoop on the court, racing into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade that was made from scratch?

Where is the couple going now? What’s their new chapter? What is the freedom that will be afforded to them when they downsize into a more manageable property?

And what of the new Buyers? Maybe this will be their first home, and they want to start a family. Maybe someone wants to open a cottage business from the garage, and the location is just right for transporting goods. Maybe there’s an extra bedroom that would be perfect for….. A writing studio! The backyard might be amazing for BBQ’ing on a warm summer evening, with the pool lights on, and some music playing.

There’s always a story in every real estate transaction, but the story comes from the people.

People’s hopes and dreams are tied up in the spaces where they live, and this is what keeps me connected to the poetry of real estate. People build lives in their homes.

When I list a property for sale, my job is to tap into that feeling and market the home to people who might be attracted to feeling that way about where they want to live their life. That’s why staging is so important—it helps people feel connected to the space, and allows them to understand how they might live in a home. It’s harder for folks to envision a floor plan without furniture or warm paint colors that help tell a story. I want people to fall in love with my properties before they even see them in person and to be ultimately even more excited when they finally step through the front door.

One of the things I love about the Real Estate industry is that it’s always changing. When I first started working as an agent, our MLS database of homes ran out of  DOS, and I distinctly remember the day that my brokerage purchased its first FAX machine. There were no cell phones, and the internet couldn’t support photos, at least not in a way that was accessible to most people. We’ve departed from those days to a time when online representations are absolutely crucial, and video is becoming more and more valuable through social media. There’s poetry in innovation, because that’s where attachment is born.

Frank O’Hara wrote many of his witty and often conversational poems in his book, Lunch Poems, during his lunch hour, when he worked at The Museum of Modern Art. What would a book of “lunch poems” from a real estate agent be like?

What’s a lunch hour?!?

One moment, because, ah, I do love Frank O’Hara.  From “Morning”:

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

The biggest issue I face with writing is consistency. It’s not because I don’t want it badly enough.  I don’t have the kind of career that is contained within the hours of 9-5, with well defined breaks and vacations. I work during the day when banks, lenders, and title companies are open and am available for questions or deadline-related functions. I work long stretches after hours and weekends, when my clients are off work and able to see properties. I’m available to my agents for questions after hours that are crucial to their transactions, which are often highly complex.

Lunch is often trail mix with an orange in the car between showings and inspections. Both travel well. Sometimes I eat at my desk as I look through our MLS system for new listings. Our market North of San Francisco is highly competitive, and I need to be fully aware of new inventory in order to best serve my clients. Because there are so few homes that come on the market compared to the numbers of Buyers who want to purchase a home, I can’t allow my clients to miss out on a new listing. It’s crucial that I stay focused and passionate in order to serve my clients as they deserve.

I recently went on my first vacation as an adult but needed to be able to check in with clients and the agents who were covering for me while I was gone. I’m pretty well tethered to my business—I’m sure that there are other small business owners out there who understand. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me much emotional energy for writing, but I love what I do and am most fortunate to have an amazing client base who refers me to people like them. I adore the people I work with, and at this point in my career, I choose my clients carefully. The benefit is, I have the opportunity to surround myself with people I enjoy being around. The downside is, I’m a better Realtor than anything else at this stage in my life. I’m working on that.

What does all of that have to do with the question of what a book of lunchtime poems from a Realtor would look like?

Well, I would say that my poetry is wrapped up in the relationships I build with my clients and the other people I work with, whom I care deeply for. I’m fortunate to have an amazing staff.  When I do have opportunity to write, they are often on my mind. They show up in places I wouldn’t expect—in pointed descriptions, in the way a character might laugh, in the distress of a life event that shows up in a startling turn of fictional events.

I’m currently writing a book for Realtors of eleven traits, which successful agents exhibit. I’ve learned these traits from observing other successful agents and by considering what things I would like to improve, so that I can provide the best service possible for my clients. I have two works of fiction that rear their heads occasionally as well. Sometimes, I have to stop everything I’m doing to contribute to those works, because a new twist has just dawned on me, or I’ve realized an aspect of a character that hadn’t quite come together yet.

So, just like my lunch hours are stretched into thin little pieces throughout the day, so too, is my writing.

alanna-krinnard

Alanna Krinard: I started writing when I was about 10 years old, and have continued throughout my life. I graduated from UC Davis in 1997 with a degree in English, and went straight into my family’s real estate business. I’ve been in real estate since 1997, and currently manage an office, recruit and train for Century 21 NorthBay Alliance in Sonoma County, California. I also run my own sales.

Featured Image: http///www.oukongstick.com/2015/12/11/book-sculpture-arts/

Light or Dark, Depending

At 4AM in Mississippi, I woke from a disturbing dream. An old man, whose wife had died years before, had never stopped grieving for her. A group of us young people came to drop off some items that he was going to give to a charity, and when we went up to his apartment, we were met with a shrine to his late wife. Photos of her littered countertops, the coffee table, the walls. I knew that he would feel utterly depressed and empty until the day he died. The dream left me feeling deeply sad and anxious, and I decided to get out of bed, even though it was early.

I’ve never been a great sleeper. My partner kids that the buzz from a mosquito could wake me, and actually, it’s true. I once woke up when a mosquito flew past my head! I suffered many nightmares, when I was in my twenties, but this dream really shook me. It was summer, and even at such an early hour, it was already muggy and warm in Mississippi, where I was in graduate school at the time. I got out of bed, wrote this poem, and waited for my neighbors to wake up.

In the first stanza of “Earth,” the speaker establishes an unsettling situation: No one is perfectly good or perfectly bad, and this scenario has somehow been agreed upon. There is a lack of an authority figure, and the waters are muddy: “There’s no one in Heaven / who’s that bad. / There’s no one in Hell / who’s that good. / That’s the deal.”

In the second stanza, the speaker describes human lives as needing enthusiasm or to “rally.” The speaker claims that humanity is small and insignificant, like microbes that fit in a petri dish: “Here on Earth, / we rally. / It’s a petri dish.” Further, the humans have desires that can either be light (optimistic, healthy) or dark (destructive). The speaker describes humans as “microbes / bumping and worming” who want “dark or light, / depending.” The last word in this stanza, “depending,” points to their actions as a compass to either the light or to the dark. However, because “bumping and worming” also sounds rather haphazard, and because humans are described as somewhat of a science project, their desires could depend on something that is outside of themselves and out of their control.

The last stanza is inspired by my nightmare but is not a retelling of it. I wanted to continue with the narrative of life on Earth. In this stanza, the speaker describes humans, when they are old. The old humans suffer from the past. They wake from bad dreams before dawn. In the line, “We think that we forgot / to kill our tormentor, / but we didn’t,” the speaker describes the haziness we’ve all experienced when we wake from a dream but are unsure which part of our memory is reality. Even though, when the old wake and realize that their tormentor is long gone, they also remember that their family is gone. There is a sense of loneliness and uncertainty. The family is waiting on the other side but possibly in darkness. The last word “depending” lets the reader decide on what the location of the family depends. Did their actions lead them to light or to dark? Do they have volition? Or is it a decision made by forces unknown?

To read this poem, check out Imitation Fruit, Issue 5, November 2009, and for the audio verison, click here or below.

First published in Imitation Fruit, Issue 5, November 2009 

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