Twittling My Thumbs

Twittling My Thumbs

Two years ago, I joined the Poetry Society of Texas. If you ask my friend Rasheed, I joined it for the contests. That’s how they get you hooked. Later, when lockdowns lifted, I joined the local affiliate group: Poets Northwest. Ask anyone who knows me: I’m not much of a “joiner” but now I’m regularly meeting with people. In person. First Toastmasters, now this.

Alliteration

Last month at PNW, we wrote poems demonstrating alliteration. I knocked one out, sleep deprived, and attended the meeting via Zoom from the Lisbon airport while drinking free gin and tonics in the TAP Lounge. This is what happens when you write half-drunk and 110% sleep-deprived:

Alliteration in the Algarve (Reflections on the Family Reunion)

Send sultry summer sun, sea, sand, and wind
To sap strength, slowly, from my languorous limbs.
Three hours’ sleep in twenty-four;
I’d gladly take another hour, maybe more.

Soft susurration seeps as Faro wakes
With sleepless somnolence at 4:00 AM
We wait, and watch with fellow travelers
Dismayed: departures canceled, flights delayed.

Not ours! At last, we land in lovely Lisbon:
Lazing, languid, in the Premier lounge (a splurge!)
To kill six slowly passing hours, reminiscing
On experiences shared the week before.

Ideas already in the offing, know
That, joyful, we will shortly meet again
Perhaps, we’ll change the pace – melt winter’s sparkling ice
With our extended families’ warm embrace.

Terrible poem.* Great demonstration of alliteration. I did not sleep again until we reached Newark. Think of all the awful poems I could’ve written but spared you. You’re welcome.

Persona Poem & The Villanelle

This month, we focused on the persona poem, with some lively discussion about who defines the “rules” of a form; the differences between personification (or anthropomorphization) and “persona”; whether a dramatic monologue could be written in anything other than first person point of view (clearly, yes, according to Persona | Academy of American Poets); whether the “persona” had to be human or even alive; and more. I read Toxic Avatar, a poem written to an audience of one, but we’ve all met this one at some point or another.

Formal Verse

Somehow, we ended up sharing Villanelles and the general consensus was, “That’s just not a ‘fun’ form to write.” The first time I wrote one, I was leading an online poetry workshop and felt compelled to learn the form in order to teach it. That’s what a good leader does, right? Never asks more of their followers than they’re willing to do, themselves? I’d like to say, “I won’t be asking anyone to write one of these things.” But I read Villanelle the Vote at Saturday’s meeting. It seemed appropriate, with elections coming up in the fall. And if you read that whole post, you’ll see that I will ask people to write them – as a dare. A bet. A challenge. You show me yours…

Some poetic forms work better in their original language, but don’t always translate easily to others – for example, does the traditional Haiku work well in English? There are a million of them, but are they any good by the standards of traditional Haiku, or ought they to be considered a whole new form? How about the Villanelle? My theory was that it lent itself to French, not English – but it originated in Italy, danced its way to France, and the form as we know it, with its fixed rhymes and repetitions, did not exist until the 19th century and never really caught on in France! Maybe we ought to take the form back to its roots! The Shakespearean sonnet works particularly well in English because the rhythm is that of natural, conversational speech – in English – but how would it do in Mandarin, I wonder?

Does faithful adherence to any form matter to the poet? Or only to the erudite reader who insists on analyzing it later? In the end, it either conveys the meaning and emotion that the poet intended, or it doesn’t.

New Forms & Brain-Benders

There are poetic forms that I sometimes think are not so much poetry as puzzle. As Sudoku is to math, so Twittles are to poetry. What are Twittles, you ask? Click the link! You be the judge while I explore the Twittle form, which near as I can figure, originated with Carolyn Hastings on Medium and Twitter. Yes, any of us can “invent” a new form! I was a little dismissive of the Twittle, at first. But a small voice said, “Write one, then.” And so, I did.

Poetweets and Twittles

Why this 100-character twittle-twattle form?
Why such silly, fatuous verse?
Isn’t Twitter, with its 280, a
sufficient literary curse?

Writ in haste –
I’m torn:
Studying endless, pointless forms,
Wondering,
Can wordplay ever be a waste
When defying poetic norms?

Would Elon take this fiddle-faddle
Twittle up to Mars?
Would that be far enough –
Or should he shoot it past the distant stars?

I started out dismissive of Twittles, but they grew on me. They are, at their core, an exercise in packing punch. In editing a short message to its essential core. It requires making conscious word choices, trade-offs, and compromises. Because of the odd rule that they be 100 alphabetic characters (don’t count spaces, punctuation, or numbers), don’t even attempt it without using Character Count Tool – The Best Character Counter, which will give you character count in all sorts of ways, in addition to your readability score.

If you want to hone your editing skills, go over to Twitter and practice composing meaningful, grammatically-correct tweets that are exactly 280 characters, including spaces and punctuation. If you make a habit of it, I think your writing and editing skills will improve.

The short answer to, “Who makes the rules of formal verse?” is “The poet does.” I think of any form as a hat-rack or a coat-tree; something fairly standard from which to hang the words so they don’t get all mussed and wrinkly. But who’s to say that a hat-rack can’t be a coat-tree, or vice versa? Who’s to say that you should only hang hats or coats from it? Only the reader can say whether a poem is “good” or not, and one hundred readers will never agree.

* In the end, whether readers judge a poem to be “good” or not is really none of the poet’s business. Our job is to play with words, excite brain cells, and pluck heartstrings.

From the Sky to the Depths

From the Sky to the Depths

Bram deftly spread the picnic blanket, allowing it to unfurl like a silk sail in a gentle breeze before settling over the soft sand. He placed poles around the large blanket and draped mosquito netting and a brightly colored canvas shade over the poles. His toil earned a smile from his beloved, Diana.

Bram lit charcoal briquettes in the portable grill as the sun dipped towards the sea. He’d been marinating catfish in buttermilk for hours; now, he dredged them in cornmeal, salt, pepper, and other spices – Diana’s favorite – and laid them over the coals. Their glow now matched the darkening sky, tinged orange behind blue-black clouds far away on the horizon, dusted softly in brilliant white.

Diana thought back to the day she and Bram first met. It was the oddest thing: like a bird without wings, something large had whirled, round and round, plummeting with a heavy splash into the ocean. A man, cocooned in cables and silk, dressed in puffy, sponge-like overalls. Something was attached to his feet – each of them strapped to a piece of smooth, shaped wood of equal size, unlike the driftwood Diana was used to seeing in the ocean. It had shattered on impact, bits of it floating away in the waves. Diana pulled off the man’s sodden outer clothing before it could weigh them both down and drown him. She dragged the man through the surf, to the shore, where Bram sprinted towards them from the cliffs.

Diana felt shy under the stranger’s gaze and pulled a clump of seaweed around the lower half of her body. He didn’t seem to notice as he dropped to the sand and felt for a pulse. Faint, but regular. Bram felt the man’s skull, neck, ribs, arms, hips, and legs for fractures. Nothing broken, he murmured. That’s when he noticed the strange, broken footwear. “Snow skis? What the Hell?” How did a snow skier end up in the ocean? Bram wondered. He looked towards Diana, who shrugged. What could she say?

The fallen man moved. He was breathing on his own, at least. The handsome stranger stopped pumping his chest. “I called 911. They should be here any minute.” The woman smiled. A quiet one. “I’m Bram. Bramley. My friends just call me Bram.” And I’m rambling, he thought. “I should go up, make sure they find us down here. You’ll stay with him?” Diana nodded. She didn’t want to – didn’t dare – but she didn’t have the heart not to.

When Bram returned with paramedics, Diana slipped quickly into the dark waves and vanished. It wouldn’t be long, though, before they met again. Bram came to this little crescent of beach every week or so. He had just wiped out after surfing a choppy wave. As he surfaced to gasp for breath, there she was, elbows resting on his board, laughing eyes twinkling with sun and seawater. “Well, there you are.” Bram floated on the other side of his surfboard. “You disappeared, last time. I hoped I’d see you again.” Bram smiled. “Do you have a name?”

“I’m Diana,” she said.

Well. She had a voice, after all, thought Bram. And a name. “Nice to meet you, Diana.”

“How’s the man we rescued?” she asked.

“He’ll live. But it’s the damnedest thing. Sounds like he was supposed to be dropped over that mountain slope–” Bram pointed to a snow-covered peak about 10 miles inland. “Some sort of parachute-to-ski adventure. A combination of nerves, a premature jump, and unexpected tradewinds blew the poor guy way off course. He’s lucky, I guess, to land in water where you could get to him. Could’ve been worse.”

Diana nodded. People did such brave, stupid things, sometimes. Well, what are you doing, right now? Diana wondered, annoyed at her own recklessness.

Bram and Diana had an unusual relationship; in some ways, they were more like an old married couple than a couple of furtive lovers. They had a son together; their boy, Dylan, would be heading off to university in the fall. But they had only met here, at this spot, once a month, for the past twenty years. Sometimes, just the two, sometimes the three of them.

The tent provided peace, shade, and privacy. Together, Bram and Diana ducked inside. “I wish you didn’t have to go,” whispered Bram, brushing a strand of hair away from Diana’s cheek, tucking it behind her ear.

“You always say that,” she said, cupping his face in her slender hands. She leaned in to kiss him and he pulled her close.

“That doesn’t make the reality of it any easier, Di.”

She touched his forehead with her lips. “No. You’ll tell Dylan come to visit me, won’t you?” Dylan lived with Bram most of the year, but he was a young adult who could come and go as he pleased. Dylan knew that he was loved. And he knew he had the best of both their worlds.

“As long as you promise to keep him safe, and send him back to me.” Bram grinned. Diana nodded. It broke her heart to bits, each time. If she were in charge of all things, the three of them would never have to part. Dylan and Bram, her reasons for being. Neither would ever make Dylan choose one over the other, nor would he.

“Let me go check on our dinner.” He hitched the curtains to the side poles to let in the breathtaking sunset. The last rays were golden flashes on the water. Above the sun, the sky was streaked in Mai Tai hues of red, orange, and yellow, painted on blue-gray silk. Bram dished up the catfish and served it with a sesame and Thai pepper seaweed salad. They ate in silence, there on the shore. Diana found the spicy pepper delightful on her tongue. It made all the flavors of an otherwise bountiful life before Bram seem bland.

They made love on the soft, blanket covered dune. Diana rested her head in the crook of Bram’s arm, as she had on so many moonlit nights before this one, humming an ancient sea song. He never meant to fall asleep, afterwards, but he always did. Diana saw to that with a voice that could lull a whole ship full of sailors far off course. She listened to Bram’s deep, easy, breathing, willing him to dream of her till morning. As darkness ate away at the large, bright disc of the moon, Diana slipped into the waves on legs that felt shaky and weak, like a newborn foal’s. As they resumed their natural amphibious form and strength, Diana dove to the bottom of the sea, and wept.


This story brought to you through the inspriation of Writing Prompts – Creative Copy Challenge (wordpress.com) and the words Net, Bounty, Toil, Sand, Blanket, Shore, Wave, Skier, Charcoal, Briquettes. The words, themselves, first brought to mind a twist on one of my favorite old “urban legends”: Dead Scuba Diver in Tree | Snopes.com I wanted to try twisting it in reverse. I hope you enjoyed it!

Creative Outlet

Creative Outlet

“I do not have writer’s block.”

“Then why are you sitting there, struggling, looking like you’re trying to bleed on paper through the pores in your forehead?”

“Use your imagination,” I snarled, nearly knocking the chair over as I pushed away from the desk to refill my coffee mug. “Maybe I’m just singularly lacking in creativity.” I sighed, deflating my lungs to match my spirit.

“I think you need an adventure. Come on, change your clothes and let’s go for a nature walk.”

A little voice in my head whined, “Don’t wanna. You can’t make me.” Instead of giving it a voice, I downed the coffee – it was lukewarm, anyway, as the coffeemaker had shut off automatically an hour earlier. “Fine.” I put the mug on the counter and went to pull on some clean clothes.

“Don’t forget water. It’s hot out there.”

Hot enough to cook my brain. I filled the CamelBak with ice and water and slung the straps over my shoulders. “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

As I trudged the well-worn path into the woods, the only sounds were birdsong and the sound of tiny twigs snapping under my hiking boots. I didn’t think. I’d been thinking all morning. Might as well give my dysfunctional brain a rest instead of trying to beat it into submission. My legs and back muscles cried, “Freedom!”

A mile in, a sense of contentment washed over me. I was curious: did I have the resourcefulness to survive in the quiet wilderness, alone? I daydreamed about a rustic log cabin, nestled into a clearing in the woods. Would Amazon drop firewood and food in the front yard? I wondered. Maybe Amazon drone deliveries would prove useful, after all.

My restless energy, given an outlet, finally, gave way to myriad story ideas. As the sunlight’s rays grew golden and faint, I walked back home, contented. Calm. Ready to write. I could hear the sound of laughter from my annoyingly persistent Muse.

“Hush, you,” I whispered to the wind.


This story brought to you with inspiration from Creative Copy Challenge #674 | Writing Prompts – Creative Copy Challenge (wordpress.com) and the words Struggle, Adventure, Nature, Curiosity, Creativity, Freedom, Resourcefulness, Imagination, Outlet, Contentment.

Unchoice: Don’t Ask Women for Trust

Unchoice: Don’t Ask Women for Trust

Unchoice

 

Their fingers linked
intertwined,
driving past the angry mob
choking back the anguished scream
with pale-faced silence.

Failing.
Kidneys, womb – a hostile place
Her life, his? Theirs?
Two more at home. Unchoice.
Lover, husband, father by her side
the knife slips in, twists
it is done.

A human cross.
Still merciless, without compassion –
waving lurid, bilious, bloody images.
“Our child,” she whispers.
A sudden squeal of brakes
Reined emotion loosed
on well-meaning ignorance.

Tears fall, fists fly,
understanding too much, too little, too late.
Torn, ripped to tiny shreds –
fingers, toes, umbilicus
floating towards the grate.


I wrote the poem, Unchoice, to honor a woman I knew, a devout Christian, who was very much opposed to abortion. She had a loving husband and two beautiful daughters. She was also suffering from kidney disease, and had been warned that another pregnancy could well prove fatal. Despite their precautions, she got pregnant. And despite all the warnings, she tried – really tried – to carry that child to term. But it became quite clear that her “choice” really wasn’t a “choice” at all: The fetus couldn’t live. She could either continue with the pregnancy and they would both die, leaving a widower and two children alone to grieve the loss of wife and mother, or she could have an abortion and live. She could stick around to help provide for her family, to raise her daughters to be good women, and to love and support the husband she’d vowed to love and support. Had it been her alone, she’d have risked death and carried that child inside her on faith and a prayer and (in the opinion of her doctors) foolishness. But she dared not risk it – for her loved ones’ sakes. The day she had the abortion, there was a protest in town – a mile-long “human cross” of protesters carrying lurid, full-color signs with grisly photos of aborted fetuses. She saw the pictures and it was just too much, right then. Her husband pulled over and had words with one of the protesters (no violence, just angry words). When the man understood what this couple had just been through, and how hurtful all this was to them, he threw down his sign and went home. Sometimes, people just don’t think. They get so caught up in their cause, they just don’t think.

Another friend of mine, a young woman at the time, had a late-term abortion; she was about six months along when she first learned she was pregnant. I had seen her nearly every day of that six months, and wouldn’t have guessed, so don’t scoff – it’s quite possible. She wasn’t “showing.” The doctor performing the ultrasound that confirmed the pregnancy couldn’t get the fetus to move, but it wasn’t dead, either. There’s a good chance something was horribly wrong with this pregnancy, but that’s not why she chose to end it. She chose to end it because the father wasn’t involved and she wasn’t ready to take care of herself let alone a child, though she was mature enough to recognize that she didn’t have the maturity, the financial stability, or the driving desire to be a mother at that point in her life. Her parents didn’t particularly want to start over and raise their grandchild, and it would have been unfair to ask it of them. She thought I’d judge her harshly; the fact is, I thought her decision to terminate the pregnancy was wiser than the decision to bring an unwanted child into the world would have been. The moral struggle wasn’t mine, and I’m quite thankful I’ve never been faced with it. I don’t judge my friend.

When I was in law school, I researched and wrote a draft of a paper on “Baby Doe.” I learned about some horrific genetic “oopses” in nature; I think I know my limits. I do believe that quality of life – the baby’s, the mother’s, the father’s, the siblings’ – matters, no matter that some people would have us all believe otherwise. Once upon a time, there wouldn’t have been a “choice.” Some of these children would simply have died in utero, or shortly after birth. But we have gotten very good at prolonging “life.” Too good, I think. There are things that can break a person, a marriage, and a family. The only people who should have a say in whether such a pregnancy is carried to term are the mother and her chosen advisors – husband, doctors, and, perhaps, clergy.

To have an abortion or to give birth is, and should be, a choice – and terminating a pregnancy is rarely an easy one. But it should be the woman’s choice, and hers alone. Do I believe it’s the ending of a life? Yes. Do I believe it’s the mother’s right to end that life while it is growing inside her, wholly dependent upon her body, up to the point where it can live outside the womb without “heroic medical intervention”? Yes. It’s my right to slice off my arm if I choose to do so, though there are very few circumstances under which I’d think it was a good, “right” thing to do. Each woman has to struggle with her own moral and religious beliefs, the “physical, emotional, and mental healthiness” of her own choices, and come to her own conclusion – to do what’s right for her. Just as no one should coerce or force a woman to have an abortion, no one should coerce or force a woman to remain pregnant. I have no respect for those who cannot understand that and seek to force their own beliefs down someone else’s throat by threatening, bullying, or coercion.

The doctors who perform abortions don’t do it because they love to perform abortions – they do it because they’re compassionate enough to want to ensure safe, healthy abortions for women who’ve chosen to end their pregnancies. They do it because it’s not their place to judge, but to treat and to heal, others.

No one who would physically attack a woman, a doctor, or healthcare workers, or who would bomb an abortion clinic can credibly say to me “I’m pro-LIFE.” They’re just making very different choices about which lives are worth protecting.


Today’s Supreme Court Ruling, overturning Roe v. Wade, robs women of bodily autonomy and is tantamount to choosing a clump of cells that may or may not become a person over women, mothers, living children, and families. No child should be unwanted; no woman should be forced to become or remain pregnant against her will. But that is exactly where we are, now, in this country. It is a dark day.

And make no mistake: They are coming for your rights, too.

 

Click to read full Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade (PDF).

It is good that some corporations seem to understand the economic impact of today’s ruling and the importance of this issue, but it is not enough to say, “We’ll pay the costs of travel to states where abortion is legal” if these same companies are contributing to the regressive Republican Party or its candidates. Given half the chance, Republicans will make such travel, itself, illegal. Don’t say “trust us.” That’s proven to be a hollow promise. Women have little reason to trust anyone, today.

That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

That Time Arnold Palmer Saved the World from Alien Zucchini

…and Didn’t Even Realize It!

I was 19. My parents left the country for ten days – and left me in charge of the house, the kitchen, and two zucchini plants. My mother’s instructions went something like this: “Don’t burn down the house, don’t fall in love while we’re gone, and check on the zucchini every couple of days. It looks like a few are almost ripe, and it’d be a shame to let them go to waste and rot out there in the garden. It shouldn’t be much trouble; there are just the two of them.”

I didn’t burn down the house.

And I did check on those zucchini plants. I dutifully plucked the dark, green summer squash and tucked them into in the fridge until there was no room for anything else. And still they continued to be fruitful and multiply. I began to envision them as the first wave of alien zucchini pods, little infiltrators poised to take over planet Earth from my kitchen. I supposed it was my patriotic duty to eat them, but I wasn’t terribly fond of zucchini. I wasn’t even sure how to cook them. My mother had always shooed me out of the kitchen, saying, “Go on, it’s just easier to do it myself.” I opened the refrigerator door and gave those zucchini the evil eye. They were unmoved and unintimidated.

I began to tear through the cookbooks.

And there, in a cookbook my mother put together in 1976, called Mrs. Cratchit’s Kitchen, was a recipe for zucchini bread, contributed by none other than the famous golf pro, Arnold Palmer. Armed with a grater, a large bowl, and a wooden spoon, I read Palmer’s blueprint for defeating the alien zucchini army:

By the time I was done, I had vanquished the foe and stocked up on enough loaves of zucchini bread to feed my girlfriends and all their boyfriends for a week. I could hardly lift my right arm; it ached and throbbed and hung limply at my side – worn out from stirring so many batches of the thick, heavy batter.

I refused to make zucchini bread again until after I had a Cuisinart food processor.

I had to draw my own Purple Heart. In crayon.

Next up, another grand, culinary adventure: Calamari Marinara with Couscous. Or, Chewy Rubber Bands with Lumps of Damp Concrete.

I eventually learned my way around the kitchen, and still make Arnold Palmer’s zucchini bread – I only wish he knew how grateful I was not to be squashed by the insidious squash.

Epilogue

I’ll be honest: I’m no sports fan. In fact, I think the “any interest whatsoever in sports” gene skipped me and doubled in my daughter. But Arnold Palmer is special. For my daughter’s first birthday, I wrote to nearly 160 celebrities in various fields: actors, politicians, royalty, sports figures, pioneers in medicine, musicians, artists, writers, and others. I asked them to help me make her first birthday memorable, since it was a big milestone in her life, but the odds were good she wouldn’t remember a minute of it. And just as Arnold Palmer had come through with a recipe to save the world from evil zucchini, he came through for me:

Thank you, Arnold Palmer.


This was originally posted on my older blog, “It’s All a Matter of Perspective.” As with most technology, it’s all a matter of time before those posts fade into the sunset, to be salvaged here or lost to the Wayback Machine.