The Chicken Question some things are better left unknown Wed, 02 Dec 2015 19:12:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Verbatim Poetry: A Phone Message in Two Voices Sun, 07 Sep 2014 00:13:52 +0000 phone message poem

Voice mail can deliver poetry, if one listens closely. Sometimes one needn’t even listen so closely because the message is delivered at more than sufficient decibels. This, transcribed verbatim from a recent message. Unfortunately, I cannot credit the source. They didn’t leave their name and phone number.

Verbatim Poetry: A Phone Message in Two Voices


[Sound of short expulsion of air from the throat.]

THE WOMAN: Wants to leave—

THE WOMAN: —the—

[Another expulsion of air. Greater conviction;
perhaps warm spittle.]

THE WOMAN: Leave your name and telephone number.

THE MAN: That’s what I did.

THE WOMAN: Well, do it again.

THE MAN: There’s nothing there.

THE WOMAN: That’s the dumbest—

[Expulsion of air mixed with whatever patience was left in reserve.]

THE WOMAN: Because they’re closed already.

THE MAN: 4:11 and they’re closed?

THE WOMAN: Yeah. Whadja—

THE WOMAN: Whadja do, hang up?

THE MAN: I hit Speaker.


THE MAN: So I could hear if someone came back on.



Photo by judy_and_ed, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

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Twenty-five Cent Lemonade Tue, 05 Aug 2014 21:26:53 +0000 lemonade

The boy wears a camouflage t-shirt, long sleeved, on a sunny day with a temperature that’s just over the line for sleeves.

“Twenty-five cent lemonade.” He’s not so much calling out to potential customers (there are none on the empty boulevard) as mentioning it to the air as he circles the telephone pole, careful not to step off the curb and into the street, which is currently torn up for construction. Location, location, location they say.

I’m warm. Even perspiring under my yellow pinstriped Oxford, also long-sleeved, though rolled up to the elbow. I still have a mile or so to walk, my grocery sack in tow. I’ll bite.

“Is it any good?” I ask, making a point not to let him see me smile.

“It is.” He makes his way to the back side of his table. “I think it is, anyway. I haven’t tried it. My cousin made it.”

Between long sleeves and truthfulness, I like the kid.

“Good enough for me. I’ll take a glass.”

He opens his red and white Igloo and pulls out a clear plastic pitcher of lemonade. It’s full. It appears business has been slow. He’s struggling with the cover, one of those fancy all-or-nothing contraptions. Every time he gets it loose, it comes off altogether.

“I’m very sorry for the wait,” he says.

“Not to worry. Those lids can be a hassle. And you don’t want it all coming out at once.”

He secures the open lid and pours pale yellow into a white styrofoam cup. We each extend a hand for the exchange. He with the cup, and I with a folded dollar bill.

“Do you want change?” he asks.

“Nah, keep it,” I say.

He folds it again and pushes it into his jeans pocket . “Thank you. Have a nice afternoon.”

I walk down the alley, take a drink a few paces in. I turn back, and raise the cup into the air. “You were right. It’s good stuff.”

Truthfulness: the twenty-five cent lemonade could have used a little less water, a little more Igloo.

Still, it was the single best dollar I spent all day.




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Poem: Passing Fri, 11 Jul 2014 17:38:35 +0000 Passing

A woman I don’t know
approaches from the south.
She looks away as I glance
up from the gravel at my feet.
I avert my eyes—
the way it’s done
with strangers
in back alleys
in broad daylight.

Another eight steps,
when the time is right,
then we’ll both lift our heads.
We’ll smile, mumble Hello.

I curl my fingers to hide
the thing I’m carrying,
turn palm toward pants leg
as we pass, not wishing
to be mistaken for a person
who eats donuts
just because (sometimes)
I do.

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It’s Almost Take Your Poet to Work Day! Fri, 11 Jul 2014 17:30:05 +0000 free take your poet to work day coloring book

Take Your Poet to Work Day is next Wednesday, July 16. Tweetspeak just released a free coloring book full of my poet illustrations.

Stop by and pick up yours, free for the taking. Then get on the stick and take your poet to work with us next week!

Free Take Your Poet to Work Coloring Book

Encroachment Sat, 31 May 2014 15:35:57 +0000 The tree the Internet said

was a dogwood (but it isn’t)
is still burdened with seeds
it should have dropped
in the Spring, giving
a million or so little trees
just like it a chance in the world.

But as it is they fall unceremoniously
into the junipers or on the sidewalk
or on the roof, clogging the gutters
and causing the basement to flood.

Now I see its branches
forcing their way
into the flowering-whatever tree,


on the space that should be
lush with shiny green leaves
and bright red berries,
a couple of thick scraggy limbs
carrying too much baggage instead.


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A Few Places I’ve Been Lately Sat, 31 May 2014 15:06:12 +0000 If you like to keep up, here are a few places I’ve been lately:

peter rabbit blue jacketIt’s funny the way we remember things. I have clear childhood memories of reading Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and of being creeped out by the story. My parents are pretty sure we didn’t have the book when I was small. Some people share my memories of discomfort, while others remember the tale fondly, even consider it a favorite of their childhood. We each get to remember things the way we remember them, I suppose. We’re having a fun discussion over at Tweetspeak about the 14 Reasons the Tale of Peter Rabbit Should Be Banned. Come weigh in.

An excerpt:

9. Beatrix Potter is a villain from the wizarding world

Beatrix sounds suspiciously like Bellatrix. And her last name is Potter. I think it’s pretty clear who we’re dealing with here, and it’s more than a little Lestrange.


Sandra Heska King invited me to share my poetry story on her blog this week as part of her ongoing study of Dave Harrity’s Making Manifest.  You can stop over and find out why I was late to poetry, and why I was a wee bit angry about that.

An excerpt:

[The words of the poem] made sense to me. In fact, they made sense of me. It sounds more dramatic than necessary to say that they were the first words I’d read that ever fully made sense. But it may be the truth.


We all know the kitchen is not my best room. Even so, I find baking bread to be a contemplative time, even sacramental (with a small ‘s’). And yes, I find poetry in it. The poetry of images, of visual action–the poetry that happens before there are words. You might enjoy my Poetry at Work piece on Baking Bread.

An excerpt:

About every third time I bake bread the yeast balks at my sense of what is warm enough but not too warm and instead of taking breaststroke laps around the bowl before shooting triumphantly to the surface, the particles clump together in a huddled mass, refusing even to dunk their heads like a class of beginning swimmers.


And finally, I’m happy to report we’re coming up on this year’s Take Your Poet to Work Day event. We have a new lineup of poets to add to last year’s collection and I’ll begin releasing them at Tweetspeak every Wednesday between now and July 16. Check it out and get a look at the 2014 Take Your Poet to Work Day Infographic featuring all of the new poets.

W. B. Yeats Adrienne Rich Langston Hughes ]]>
Interpolations: A Poem Stack from Major Jackson Sat, 17 May 2014 01:19:38 +0000 Last week L.L. Barkat posted at Tweetspeak about “poem stacks.” She was talking about the way it’s easy to become jealous of another writer and the importance of listening to that jealousy. Instead of sitting on our hands wishing the jealousy would go away, taking time to listen and see what it has to say:

Jealousy is that piquing of the soul: “I’m not happy. I want. Why not me?” It’s a key which I never, ever throw away (nor chide myself for). You could say I honor emotions for what they try to tell me—rather than judging them, feeling guilty, or sweeping them aside. As humans, we’re built to feel. I like to pay attention.

I’m reading Holding Company: Poems by Major Jackson. I’m not feeling jealous, but I do want to put my hands in my hoodie pocket and say, “Major, what great words you have.” I started writing them down.

Chicory, thalamus, seraphic, nightsheets, turnstiles, stupefaction …

They’re rife with edges and curves, potholes and dark corners.

Barkat recommends taking words like those I wrote down from about a half dozen of Holding Company’s poems and creating poem stacks. “No one is really going to call these poems,” she says. But they are a start. And if you don’t worry too much about meaning, they sound pretty amazing when you read them aloud.


Barricade tectonic chicory.
Convexed knotholes rollicking,
frothing hydrangea, effigies.
Languorous stupefaction, oneiric
insurgencies. Pontifical.
Belowstairs. Abovestairs.
Cathedral. Ghettos—
celestial municipalities.
Nightsheets coppiced,
seraphic deputies
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Two (more) After Wisława Szymborska Wed, 30 Apr 2014 14:16:02 +0000 I wrapped up my National Poetry Month series on Wisława Szymborska at Tweetspeak Poetry this morning. I’m actually feeling a little disappointed that the month is over so soon, and that I’ve finished reading the collection, Poems: New and Collected. I’ll certainly be exploring new options for May.

Three posts concluded the series, two of which included my poems in reply to Szymborska’s poems, and follow the links below:

National Poetry Month Poetry Dare: Wisława Szymborska’s “Could Have” – on explaining good fortune, and all the things that “could have” happened (but didn’t)

National Poetry Month Poetry Dare: Wisława Szymborska’s “A Speech at the Lost-and-Found” – an attempt to grasp infinity in the curved handle of a missing blue umbrella

National Poetry Month Poetry Dare: Wisława Szymborska’s “Interview with a Child” – this might be my favorite (I’m not sure) on the way a child’s mind persists in seeing things as more than what they seem


My poems in response:

What You Couldn’t Have Known (after Szymborka’s “Could Have”)

If you’d made the flight,
you’d have argued
with the flight attendant
for two whole minutes
before she sighed
and trucked
your oversized bag
back to the front
past dead-
tired passengers
with carry-ons stowed
securely in the overhead bins.

Two minutes is short
beside a six-hour flight—
just enough time
so the bird
that flew
the engine
could have
been long gone.

The Definitive, Actual World (after Szymborka’s “Interview with a Child”)

Well, so what if your eyes take up most of your head?
(One could choose to find that helpful,
in the event of neck strain, for instance.)
Between feet armed with tiny suction cups
and those powerful translucent wings, you could go
anywhere in the room your little thorax desired.

But there you are, vigilant, perched
on the very tip-top of the fruit salad,
wasting those golf ball eyes
watching over your shoulder
(without turning your head)
for the pink mesh of a swatter,
hopelessly bemoaning the way
you are “a fly caught in a fly.”

I’m asking you:

You’ve a whole ovipositor to yourself
and the best you can think to do
is secrete a hundred teensy eggs
across the juicy ridge of a ripe tangerine?
If it’s really true—if there’s no escaping
yourself—I’d want to say it’s a failure
of imagination.

Get the book: Wisława Szymborska: Poems New and Collected

Listening by Writing Wed, 30 Apr 2014 13:00:06 +0000

I used to write because
there was something I wanted to say.
Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write
because I have not yet said
what I wanted to say’;
but I know now I continue to write
because I have not yet heard
what I have been listening to.

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

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Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire: The Winner of “How to Read a Poem” Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:33:54 +0000 Last week I invited you to enter to win a copy of Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem for an English teacher as part of an effort to get this important book onto teacher’s desks across the country. I loved the responses as people shared who they would give the book to if they won:

Mike Geyer captured the spirit of this endeavor, saying

If I happen to get chosen to win this book, I’m going to quickly read it first (I teach a little poetry in my chemistry classes – Frost, The Secret Sits, for example) then pass it along to a 2nd grade teacher in our district who has asked me to speak about poetry to her class since I’ve published several poems. I want kids to learn to love poetry EARLY!

It goes without saying that I’m delighted to see that Mike uses poetry in his chemistry classes. (Mike, I just emailed my son’s biology teacher for help in understanding  a poem this week.)

Dawn Leas said “I am a former middle-school teacher, but now I am the associate director of a graduate creative writing program. If I win, I am going to give the copy to one of our alums who teaches middle school.”

Liz Cook would give it to a friend who has a new high school teaching job to help her “spread the joy of poetry to her young charges before they get to university.” Donna Falcone would have given it to a writer’s conference (she already bought a copy for a friend who teaches middle school in New York), Monica Sharman would have passed it along to a teacher at her alma mater in California, Darlene, a home educator, would have shared it with her writers group, and Nancy Franson would have… well, Nancy would have given it to someone very special.

TR-How-to-Read-a-Poem-front-350 (1)

I’m hopeful that those who didn’t win the book will still find a way to put this book into a teacher’s hands. But this time around, the book, thanks to Kevin Stotts, is going to someone who, according to Billy Collins, “teaches like her hair is on fire.”

I’m a retired ELA teacher (39 years). I recommended a former bookstore clerk to become an English teacher. She did. She loves it and the students love her. Her assistance with Poetry Out Loud is invaluable. Billy Collins signed a copy of one of his books to her: “To the woman who teaches like her hair is on fire.”

Thanks to everyone who participated, and caught the vision for putting good tools into the hands of hardworking, energetic, and, possibly even combustible teachers.


random number for how to read a poem giveaway

The accounting services of Arthur Andersen are a little out of my price range, so our contest results are managed by the True Random Number Generator at