Poetry Week # 4: A book spine poem

I wanted to write a paint chip poem today, because they are so neat, but I cannot find any paint chips with color names I like. I realize this defeats the purpose of “found” poetry, but I am too much of a control freak to leave chance completely up to chance. Besides, the color of the moment seems to be shades of gray, and as a person raised in sunshine but now trapped (I mean, “living”) in a state with six to nine months of the year full of rainfall, I disapprove of neutrals on principle. Especially grays and browns, because that is all I see for most of the fall, all of the winter, and part of the spring. Gray clouds, gray sidewalks, grayish tree trunks, and brown bare branches, brown dead looking shrubs, and brown mud. (My house is painted yellow, in case you were wondering. Every room inside is painted a different soft, pastel-bright sort of color.) So anyway, I cannot bring myself to write a poem about gray or taupe or beige or brown. I’ll have to give up on the internet for paint chips and walk to the actual neighborhood paint store. So far, though, I feel a little awkward about wandering in and telling them I am not looking for anything in particular, just paint chip with interesting words on it.

I switched to book spine poems, which are always fun to write, because I have over a thousand books in the house, so I have a lot of title choice, and writing a book spine poem gives me a good excuse to ignore my family and pull books off of the shelf and fondle them. I decided today to go with “ominous” as my central organizing idea.

3.29.18 Book Spine Poem

Poetry Week # 3: A Day in the Life

Online teacher life starts before dawn.

In the quiet darkness, even the birds still dream.

I answer email, grade papers,

mentor newbies, help colleagues.

A quiet week, with the students on vacation.

I scale vast mountains of paperwork

as the sun lifts over the horizon.


A sleepy boy climbs onto my bed

rubs his eyes and

pets the cat,

then begins to jump up and down.

I finish my work while he builds

a Lego shipyard and

colors the crayon wrappers,

dreaming of a crayon castle.


We have breakfast together

and play a game involving

a handful of googly eyes.

Not the same game as yesterday,

which somehow involved

Rock Paper Scissors, at which

he cheats,

and thinks I do not know.

By lunchtime,

the game has changed again,

and we play some more.


Our play shifts to Cat Crimes

and we solve all the mysteries –

at least the easy ones.

Time for chores.

Only a seven year old boy thinks

scooping the cat box

is like

looking for treasure.


Yard work together.

My motions careful and precise.

My joints ache.

He moves freely and often,

Enough energy for the both of us.

Hard work shared with hard work,

and we make a dent

in the winter washed garden,

until the neighbor arrives with her puppy,

and they all bound off to the park.


Alone for a moment,

I sink onto the step, and

read peacefully.

Poetry Week – #2: A Found Poem

This is a found poem from The Grapes of Wrath – Chapter 25, which is one of my two favorite chapters in the book. It’s still a work in progress. 

Spring is beautiful in California.

Blossoms, fragrant pink and white,

Grapes swelling from old gnarled vines.

Blossoms swell and grow –






The fruit grows heavy.

 Behind the fruitfulness are men.

                                               Men who experiment,

                                               Men of chemistry,

                                               Men with surgeon’s hands, who graft.

                                               Great men.

The fruit swells and the warmth grows.

Prunes lengthen,

pears take shape,

limbs sag.

The year is heavy with produce.

Men are proud.

                                                They can make the year heavy.

                                                They have transformed the world.

The cherries ripen.

Cent and a half a pound?

                                                Hell, we can’t pick ’em for that.

Cherries, full and sweet.

Birds eat half,

Yellowjackets buzz.

The seeds drop and dry.


The prunes soften and sweeten.

We can’t pick them.

                                                We can’t pay wages.

Prunes carpet the ground.

Skins wrinkle.

Flies swarm.

Sweet decay shrivels on the ground.


Pears, yellow and soft.

Forty boxes for five dollars?

                                              We can’t do it.

Fruit splashes on the ground.

Smell of ferment and rot.


Rip the grapes from the vines.

We can’t make good wine.

Rotten grapes.

People can’t buy good wine.

Mildew in the vats.

Add sulphur, tannic acid.

Smell of decay and chemicals.

They can still get drunk.

The men can find no way to let the hungry people eat.


Carloads of oranges dumped.

Squirt kerosene on the oranges.

A million people hungry.

Kerosene sprayed on the golden mountains.

                                              Burn coffee.

                                              Burn corn.

                                              Dump potatoes in the river,

                                             guards along the banks.

                                             Slaughter the pigs and bury them.

Keep the hungry people out.

                                             Keep the hungry people out.

                                             Keep the hungry people out.

A crime

A sorrow

A failure.

No profit from an orange.

Children dying of pellagra

because the food must rot.

In the eyes of the people there is the failure.

In the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.

The grapes of wrath are filling –

growing heavy for the vintage.



Poetry Week # 1

One of the things that I really loved about last year’s March Slice of Life was that I spent a lot of time writing creatively, and I feel that I have not done as much of that this year. (The unfortunate conjunction of two much busier-than-usual-for-March weeks at work and a nasty cold probably had something to do with that.) I’ve decided that for this last week of daily writing, I want to try to write poetry every day. I have a bunch of different ideas bubbling, so I may use a different form daily. Or not. We’ll see how often and how effectively the muse strikes.

First up, acrostic poems! I used the letters in my name and wrote one about myself. It was a bit harder than I expected, because my name is full of a lot of weird letters. I am obscurely grateful that I never got my childhood wish of a name full of Qs and Zs (because I liked writing them in cursive). I’m also glad that I did not include my maiden name, which is Bolenbaugh, because that is just too many letters and I would run out of adjectives. (If it reads a little bit like a job application, that’s because I am thinking of leaving online teaching and going back into the classroom, and I have been polishing my resumé.)







Yours truly








10 Facts about Me

I probably should have written a slice like this at the beginning of the month, but it has taken this long to think about ten interesting facts about me. Here are 10 crazily random facts about me.

  1. I love fast race cars. Dad took me to my first Formula 1 race when I was three months old, and plenty more races and car shows after that while I was growing up.  In my preschool years, I knew every driver by name, number, and car, and could tell which car was passing at 170 mph by the whine of the engine. I also wanted to own a hot pink Lamborghini when I grew up.
  2. I am disastrously accident prone. If it can be tripped on, fallen over, or run into- or even if it can’t- I will hurt myself. I’ve had injuries that my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist have said are not actually possible to get, and they couldn’t even figure out how I had managed to do what I did. My classroom students used to take bets about whether or not I would get injured that year, or how long it would take before I was injured. They thought I did not know this. 😀
  3. I’m a storyteller. Nothing so awful has happened that I cannot make an interesting story out of it.
  4. I have a photographic memory. This is less useful than people think.
  5. My younger sister and I are both teachers, much to the surprise of our parents, because there were never any teachers in our family. We are also the only two lefties in a family of right handed people, but I don’t think there is a connection.
  6. I have one child, a seven year old son, all energy and imagination, whom I love dearly. I became a mom older than I had planned, mainly due to all those years of near continuous injuries and crutches and surgeries. At the same time I got pregnant, a colleague with whom I shared a classroom also got pregnant, after years of trying and heartbreak. The other teachers in our department thought they should probably stay away from our classroom, lest pregnancy was catching! Her son is six days younger than mine, and they are still friends.
  7. My husband is an architect. He got there by wanting to be an architect, but being told by his father that he would be disowned, then wanting to be a marine biologist, then living abroad for a year, then majoring in physics, then not getting into graduate school, then thinking hard for two years about what he wanted to do instead if he did not get into graduate school when he reapplied and realizing both that he wanted to be an architect and that he was 25 and not beholden to his father anyway and going for it. He is an excellent and successful architect and his dad has come around.
  8. I used to be organized. (“Files for class notes, original documents, and daily copies labeled and divided out for every day of the school year, color coded by course, and cross-referenced with a list of who was absent on what day so I could get them materials when they returned” kind of organized.) Then I became a mom. You’d think, working from home as an online teacher, that I could spend a few minutes here or there to keep things organized, but no. A child is entropy in its sheerest form, and once you have picked up the clutter and actual hazards to human health and barriers to navigation, there is no time or energy left over to do small tasks like dust or sweep on any sort of regular basis. This drives me around the bend, but that does not change anything.
  9. I love to read. I can (but only barely) leave a bookstore without buying anything if I truly cannot afford books right then, but I cannot leave a bookstore without finding something new that I want to read. I have about 1500 books on shelves around my home, but now have to cull some when the shelves get full because my husband is worried that the floors will collapse if I put any more shelves on them. This is like ripping out chunks of my soul. My biggest vice is checking out too many library books at once and making towers on the bedside table. I have panic attacks if I think I might run out of reading material, and my plan for eternal life is to never die with something left to read, because that would be horrible.
  10. I also love to knit and to quilt, though I have not done much quilting since my son was born, because knitting is easier to stop and start and can be carried around with me. Since I am planning to live forever, though, I have lots of yarn and patterns to tackle, and lots of quilt kits to make and stray fabric to figure out how to use. I am easily seduced by bright and vivid colors and pattern and texture, but I also know I have more enthusiasm and imagination than time to create. My husband says that my real hobby is collecting projects. He may have a point.


I am spending my Saturday sick in bed, but trying to find the small lovely moments in the day instead of feeling sorry for myself. So here are some vignettes for today.

Soft warm weight of an old cat sleeping on my feet, while the young one stands on my pillow and sniffs my ear.

Steam off the hot tea rises in the breeze from the cracked window as I snuggle into the cozy flannel sheets.

The distinctive schooossss, snap, schooossss snap sound of a happy child digging in the LEGO bins to set his imagination free, followed by my own private show: “Look, Mom! A crash site tree and a truck! Oh no! It crashed! The nuclear waste flew out! And there’s a bomb! What could be worse? Oh no! The bomb’s on fire!”

Delicate white petals unfurling in the watery kitchen window light, as the apple bough in my grandmother’s vase opens itself to spring.

The slippery sweet-tart slurp of orange-lemon jello with mandarin oranges, like my mom always made when I was sick. My husband and son do not know why I like it, but they make it for me anyway.

A warm bowl of soup brought to me in bed is love and nourishment in a bowl.

A quiet and peaceful house as I rest and the fluttering of pages in my book.

I don’t watch reality shows, but…

Sometimes, students assume that teachers, or at least English teachers, do not watch TV. They figure it is too plebeian or something. But, I do watch TV, and, since I am an English teacher, yes, I do match Masterpiece Theater. (Heck, the very first grown-up show that my mom let me secretly stay up late to watch was Masterpiece Theater. Every 8 year old girl is dying to stay up late to watch shows about Edward VIII and Wallace Simpson, right?) I am also hopelessly hooked on British mysteries, whether cozy or gruesome,  because it cheers me up to no end when the bad guys are always caught. And, as a devoted fantasy and sci fi reader, my attention is usually caught by most of the really odd and quirky sic fi or fantasy shows. The odder and quirkier, the better. Since I can knit while I watch TV (unless there are subtitles), I don’t usually feel guilty about it. One thing that does not grab my attention, though, is reality shows. I am not that interested in competitions, and definitely do not care for the manufactured tension and drama.


Except for MasterChef Junior.

In my house, we are all obsessed with MasterChef Junior and wait for new seasons anxiously. We hold our breaths when the kids’ food is judged. We all predict which ones will win each challenge and go forward. We have kids we like and kids we do not. We root for underdogs. We are sad when kids are sent home. I always want to hug them when they cry. Ultimately, though, it is uplifting. The kids are kind. The kids are supportive. The kids help each other out when something goes wrong, and they cheer each other on- always, even when they are fiercely in competition. They are cheerful and optimistic, creative and confident – and their cooking skills are INCREDIBLE. Plus, the teeny tiny chefs, many barely older than my son, are adorable, and they steal our hearts.

So we don’t watch reality or competition shows, but we all curl up together every week to watch MasterChef Junior.

Another 6 word memoir

Today, I have been fighting a fever and traffic jams, got lost in the rain between my son’s school and the doctor’s office (not that hard, really, since I can- and have been- also get lost in a straight hallway and an elevator), finally arrived for an endless doctor’s appointment, home for an all too brief and feverish rest, back to the school again for the big Learning Celebration (probably more on that tomorrow), out to dinner, home again, then enduring a hailstorm that frightened the young cat and a thunderstorm that terrified my son. At last, I have 10 minutes to write, which is also how long I have left until midnight Eastern time. Time for a six word memoir (after a paragraph of introduction)!

End of trimester; spring break time!


Things I Learned on My Commute

I have a seven year old son, and he loves science. He does not have a very solid grasp of the realities of the world and is still firmly entrenched in the realm of What if? questions (What if a squirrel fell in wet cement and got stuck there?), but he loves nature, science, and machines. He is a boy, after all. He has also recently discovered podcasts and the joy of learning weird science facts right in his very own backseat! I don’t know, maybe it is actually the joy of Mom not being able to quiz him about his day, but either way, we have been spending a lot of time listening to the “Wow in the World” podcast. (If I forget to turn it on, I am accosted with an ear-splitting “Mom! Podcast! PODCAST!!!!”)

Here are some interesting facts that I have learned during the school runs this week:

There is a sea snail that is the size of a housecat.

This same sea snail (the giant Triton snail) is so big that it eats starfish. (Gulp!) But that is okay, because it only eats crown-of-thorns starfish, and they eat coral reefs.

Starfish can lay 65,000.000 eggs at once.

That’s a lot of starfish.

There is apparently something called a coralivore. Take that carnivores and herbivores and omnivores.

Not everything I learned was about starfish though…

Some baby rats will laugh if you tickle them.

Bald eagles use their poop to hold their nests together. (“Hmmm, then it smells like them and the baby eagles would know to stay in the nest,” says my son.)

Horse hooves are really one big toe.

Flatworms cut in half and taken to space sometimes grow two heads. No one knows why.

Squirrels sort their nuts by categories.

Many human beings have trace Neanderthal DNA. (My dad is one of them.) This is an endlessly fascinating fact for my son.

Nothing seems to excite my son more than jumping out of the car at school and running inside to tell everyone he sees a new random science fact.