Category Archives: children

Sonnet: Talking on the phone to the mother of two pre-schoolers

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Written with the greatest admiration for anyone who works at home looking after small children. How y’all get anything done is a minor miracle. Apart from, you know, EVERYTHING which you somehow squeeze into those odd 30-second snatches of free time.

 

Sonnet: Talking on the phone to the mother of two pre-schoolers

…so maybe we could all do a picnic
next Tuesday, unless Lauren has a thing
(don’t put that there). Let me give you a ring
when Jack gets up from his nap – he was sick
yesterday at church, you know. (Do NOT pick
at that scab). (Tomato juice). What? Oh, bring
him over, sure. He can practice climbing
the back steps. (Don’t hit Rufus with that stick).

Books? Are you kidding? Like ones with a plot?
(That’s beautiful! Don’t lick your brother’s nose).
By now I’d gladly trade everything by
Anne Tyler for a shower alone. Not
even with Brad Pitt! Ha ha…. that just shows
why I got him fixed! (Pickles). Oh Lord – bye!

 

Seventeen

Seventeen

It’s a whirlwind season in my home life. Graduations, college preparation, combing through old pictures, casting off items we forget we had and certainly will never use again.  Everyone is drifting – not in a bad way.  But we are definitely coming un-stuck from each other.  There is nothing to prepare you for this kind of pulling apart.  Everything tastes bittersweet.

In the middle of all of this, I wrote a villanelle – about change, and love, and seeing the ones we love with new eyes. For my father, for Father’s Day.

 

Seventeen

Suddenly, he won’t talk to me:
He’s become a steel curtain.
It’s just the way I used to be

with my father, too, half angry,
half amused at the old cretin.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me

about even simple things. We
are strangers more than next-of-kin.
It’s just the way I used to be –

I remember the agony
of this age – the man-trap he’s in.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me

except on days he needs money,
and really, is that such a sin?
It’s just the way I used to be!

I don’t take it personally –
this is a game a dad can’t win.
Suddenly, he won’t talk to me –
it’s just the way I used to be.

 

The shepherds on the trolley

In the midst of all the holiday rush this week, there was an amazing story in our local paper about a woman who gave birth to her baby while on the local interurban trolley. Musing about this story, I pieced it together with a fragment from Philip Larkin’s poem “Days” in the form of a glosa.

 

The shepherds on the trolley

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
[Philip Larkin]

A girl gave birth in Goshen
on the trolley yesterday
right outside the courthouse.
She said nothing like this
had ever happened to her before,
and to be fair, it was unusual
for all the other passengers as well.
But why on earth was she giving birth alone
in front of that grand governmental bastion?
Ah, solving that question

could drag a friendly conversation
into politics or sociology
all of the dark arts broken free from
anchors in reality. She must have been
on drugs or didn’t use protection.
We raise the dreaded specter
of the welfare state to put her in her place.
But really any proper telling of this holy story
of the bus-born child and the girl who rocked her
brings the priest and the doctor

long before the yard signs and the
focus groups. For here’s the miracle:
we have a child not left behind.
A host of ordinary saints embrace
with great compassion the miracle
before their eyes, this fellow-traveler who dotes
upon her newborn, nestled in a crèche
between the seats. These put to shame
the glad-handing talking heads still chasing votes
in their long coats

with talk of census numbers, tax adjustments,
of sacrifice for everyone except themselves.
Ask the children now, and the neighbors,
with their noses pressed against
the glass – ask them if it matters
even slightly if some
stuffed up suit wields
the sword of morality. They’ll tell you:
every life is sacred, every fresh beginning,
every wave of hope a baby’s first cry yields
running over the fields.

 

Breaking

It’s been a strange week in our neighborhood.  Fall is getting into full swing, and the trees are glorious.  At the same time, there have been a spate of break-ins, the most recent of which turned deadly for one of those doing the breaking-in.  I end up feeling sad and angry more than scared.  I hate the waste – of life, of hope – and the toll that events like this take on an entire community.  I feel for the homeowners, too – so tired of wondering if they are safe within their own four walls.  Thank God for the leaves amid the sadness.  And for all who care. (To share with friends at the dVerse Poets Pub).

 

Breaking

They wrapped our street in yellow tape today
and turned the sky the colors of the flag

a stain of red, depression blue, and white
for a surrender that went unheeded.

Tracker dogs are nosing down the alley
while a shit-scared juvenile lies bleeding

in an ambulance, blinking back his friends,
the ones that escaped, the one that didn’t.

And no one will say for sure what went down
how many broke in, or how he found them.

I imagine the cries, the deadly force,
the chaos and bile spattered on a floor.

Some might say the young man had it coming
but I think something just died in us all.

 

The truth about Klondikes

 

My latest listener commentary for our local NPR station, WVPE.  True confessions of just where I draw the line on telling the truth to our children…

Click here to listen.

 

what do you do

 

It’s graduation season here in northern Indiana.  The past two weekends have been taken up with high school graduation parties, awards ceremonies, after-parties, and of course the graduation ceremonies themselves.  This morning, I ran across one of the local valedictorians at the YMCA with his mother.  Yesterday, he had been on stage, addressing his class as they received their diplomas.  Today, he was just another sweaty t-shirt watching ESPN.  He looked tired, self-confident, and yet also… a bit lost.  How do you cope with a huge event?  How do you come to grips with a life passage?  The real work of the summer begins with commencement…

 

what do you do

after the helium balloons
have kissed back to the
ground the gaily painted
crocodile waddled
every back yard wiped
frosting from its teeth
and shed its share of tears
after all the platitudes
have burst in silver bubbles
and the orchestra packed up
after you have swept the
living room and ordered
meatball subs even though
you’re not hungry and
stared at the cards and cut
your toenails at the sink
after you have driven your
mother to the Y and found
yourself running twenty miles
on the treadmill twenty miles
without stopping because
that’s all you know and
there’s nobody to tell you
what to do when you get off

 

How we got to Vegas

(a quatern)

Looking back on it, we might have
thought twice before bringing a kid
blessed with agoraphobia
thirteen hours to the Grand Canyon.

It just never occurred to us.
Looking back on it, we might have
noticed the first signs of distress
when he stopped in the parking lot

at the South Rim and turned around,
striding away from the view, not
looking back at it. We might have
forced him to stay, but why go there?

Nature’s overrated, I said.
Let’s go to Vegas. So we did.
Did we have the best time ever?
Looking back on it, we might have!

My old man

To be honest, it’s not clear how you got this job.
Maybe you applied, maybe it just happened
to you like a piano falling out of a third story
window, jingling down black keys of destiny
on your incipient male-pattern baldness.

You try and learn how to love. For a guy that’s not
easy. Mostly all you have known is movies with
explosions and lots of cleavage. And now, all of a
sudden, you’re watching a tiny chest rising and falling,
speechless before one of the wonders of the world.

Over the years, you walk the wire like you own dad did.
Sternly setting your deckchair at strategic points on the
beach, sometimes for well-considered reasons, sometimes
just to prove that you are still bigger and wiser, and
that you do in fact exist and matter somehow in the universe.

But meanwhile there’s the constant undertow. The cloud
of unknowing pierced by unforgiving questions. The realization
that maybe you don’t understand at all. That all you have
succeeded in becoming is a carbon copy of your own father.
And in a way, you don’t mind. As long as the kid is okay.

But then comes the night. And you’re lying awake, listening.
Listening for the front door to open and close. Listening
for voices to tell you that actually nothing is wrong. Listening
to the vast silence. Listening to your baby crying, because
his whole body hurts and he doesn’t understand why.

Written for a prompt over at the wonderful Poetic Bloomings site.

Orlando’s practicing

Orlando’s practicing
a word he heard me say
last Friday at the store.
I thought I whispered it,
but now I’m not so sure.

Orlando’s practicing
and I can’t make him stop.
He’s having too much fun
at how folks choke each time
he lets his foul mouth run.

Orlando’s practicing
was cute at first. But now
the parents of his friends
won’t let us visit them
until this blue streak ends.

Orlando’s practicing
again tonight. I tried
distraction, but no luck.
He simply scrunched his eyes
and burbled, “Daddy! F***!”

A goofy monchielle for frends over at the dVerse Poet’s Pub.
This may, or may not, be a true story…

The hand you are dealt

A good friend will cause you pain today. She
will not see why even if you try to
explain. You will think you are going mad.

You will wish to kill someone. Try not to.
Your other children will suffer enough
without you compounding things. Suck it up.

Try to avoid awards ceremonies.
Jealousy is ugly. Schadenfreude
is also to be frowned upon. Mostly.

Church will become the worst hour of your week.
You will spend the whole time praying no one
turns around. God will appear not to care.

There are no trophies for surviving.
You will not sleep well tonight, or ever.
You would not trade places with anyone.

(a fortune-cookie poem, originally written for a prompt from Robert Lee Brewer over at Poetic Asides)

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