A Blessing

Editor’s Note: It was Richard the Third, I believe, who shouted out for a fresh horse in his last battle. From food source to pack animal, engine of war to track-race beauty, the horse has helped and inspired humankind on every continent.

When I grew up in the 1950’s, the horse was a romantic symbol of the Olde West — symbol of freedom, co-worker in cattle ranching, prize of Indian trading, and rodeo star.

I can still name all the horses of famous Hollywood cowboys, from Tom Mix to Alec Ramsey. And I still have my milk glass Hopalong Cassidy childhood mug.

I’ve spent everyday of almost 2 weeks now, going to the barn each morning to tend and keep company with Buddy, my wonderful quarter horse, who punctured a foot in the pasture and has been lame since. Yesterday and today he seemed to become much better, showing signs of boredom, applying equal weight to each leg, and generally acting more spirited.

Having Buddy as my partner and friend is the fruition of a life-long dream, since the days when I entered every annual “Free Shetland Pony (complete with saddle and bridle!!)” contest and begged my father to promise I could keep it in the backyard if I won!

I am thinking about rereading Black Beauty.  Here is one of my all-time favorite poems.

 

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright

 

WRITING PROMPTS:
1. What is your horse dream? Give it life in unbridled prose.
2. Describe how you feel about horses in a poem tribute.
3. Write about the wild mustangs of the West, or a favorite horse from fact, fiction, or film (Trigger, Silver, American Pharoah?)

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

To a Terrorist

Editor’s Note: I am in a somber mood today. A good friend fell last week and broke her hip. My horse became very lame. The body is fragile. The weather remains lovely, but without rain.

That September 11th was like today: bright and still and warm and promising. But promises, like hearts, can easily be broken. Ask the Cherokee, the Cheyenne, the Seminole, the Apache. Remember your own broken heart. Remember how the hearts of nations, of cities, of community colleges, can be broken.

Send a prayer for the mending of all broken things.

 

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there’s nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father’s ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there’s nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you’re hating me now,
I who own my own house

and live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man’s holiness another’s absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I’m just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.

Stephen Dunn

 

 WRITING PROMPTS:

1. If your heart has been broken, write a poem to The Breaker of Hearts.
2. If you or someone you love has been injured or ill, write a poem to The Bringer of Accident or Illness.
3. If you are praying for rain, write a poem to One Who Sends Rain.
4. You get the idea — write a poem —-

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Unharvested

Editor’s Note: I’m sure I’m one of millions who stood last night in the dark and watched the full moon slowly fall into eclipse, and then eversoslowly return to its silvery brightness.

When I see such things in the heavens, I wonder how they affected my great-great-great ancestors, how they might have sat around a fire watching that ancient face grow shadowed, then reappear. What stories did they tell one another about it?

I expect it was more wonderful than the ones we tell ourselves today — how this or that angle or orbit or calendar is at work, and when it happened last, and will repeat. So obsessed we are with measuring and defining!

Sometimes I search a long time to find a poem to share with you. And some days, like today, there seem so many that I want to unfurl them like banners across your evening sky.

However many times the moon has been eclipsed, such an event will inevitably repeat, whether or not we are here to see it. And those uncountable number of stars — some, I’m told, that are really no longer “alive,” but burnt out long, long ago. How strange it is to contemplate such things.

I am overwhelmed these days by the abundance of the natural world: the dancing cloud of gnats I can see from my door, the ever-sprouting blades of grasses, the billions of leaves that will soon fall from the trees, the molecules of love floating through the universe.

So here is a poem about abundance, and the unending cycle of life in the universe.

 

 

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

WRITING PROMPTS:1. Write a story that your ancestors might have told one another about the moon.
2. Compose a list poem about things that have gone unharvested, whether naturally or by design.
3. Define “Abundance” in a poem by using images and metaphor.
4. Create a poem called “Eclipse,” using the letters E-C-L-I-P-S-E as first letters of each line.
Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Instead

Editor’s Note: Fingers strolling along the spines of poetry books on my over-full shelves, I found the book I was seeking right away, and next to it a slim, blue volume — pulled out just to see what it was, since I didn’t recognize it immediately.

So today I bring you a poem called “Instead,” from a slim volume of the same title by David Lunde, who retired to the Oregon coast after a prolific life of publishing, teaching, writing — instead of a poem by the poet I’d first intended (who shall remain nameless for now, since I’ll certainly use one of those later).

Do you collect random books of poetry from workshops and bookstores and writers’ conferences, as I do, and tuck them away only partly read, to stand uprightly waiting on the shelf for a change-of-season day when they whisper to you, “choose me instead?”

I hope so. So much joy comes from such happy meetings! May your days be bright and delicious.

 

Instead of writing this poem

this weekend,
I could have poisoned cabbage worms
in the garden, assassinated aphids
with a handy, multipurpose agent
invented by the Germans in World War II;
I could have attended the Democratic picnic,
barbecued my mustache
and played Frisbee with the old farts;
I could have explained once again
to my neighbor that it’s not the Kiwanis
itself — I’m sure they’re a fine bunch
of leisure suits — I’m just not
a joiner; I could have strolled
downtown for The New York Times
in my bathrobe and slippers
not giving a good goddamn
what the churchgoers thought
and spent all Sunday reading it;
but instead, here I am again
wasting my time on you.

 

WRITING PROMPTS:
1. What did you do this weekend “instead?”
2. Is there something you have explained in answer to others that you seem to have to answer again and again?
3. Write about a time when you wrote a poem “instead” of doing something else.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Did I Miss Anything?

Editor’s Note: Oh, the smell of newly sharpened pencils! Favorite pens, and a special backpack! List of materials needed, and a few extras “for fun!” It’s Back-to-School month, and many of my friends are headed back as classroom teachers, from my sister at Castle Rock Montessori, to others at high school and colleges across the country.

The weather, too, is changing a bit. Last week it was over 100 degrees here, and today it’s a cloudy low-70’s. While I’m not yet ready to get out my winter clothes, I am remembering an old favorite poem that many teachers print out for their students.

 

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here

we sat with our hands folded on our desks

in silence, for the full two hours

 

    Everything. I gave an exam worth

    40 percent of the grade for this term

    and assigned some reading due today

  on which I’m about to hand out  quiz

    worth 50 percent

 

Nothing. None of the content of this course

has value or meaning

Take as many days off as you like:

any activities we undertake as a class

I assure you will not matter either to you or me

and are without purpose

 

  Everything. A few minutes after we began last time

    a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel

    or other heavenly being appeared

    and revealed to us what each woman or man must do

    to attain divine wisdom in this life and the hereafter

    This is the last time the class will meet

    before we disperse to bring the good news to all people

        on earth

 

Nothing. When you are not present

how could something significant occur?

 

    Everything. Contained in this classroom

is a microcosm of human experience

assembled for you to query and examine and ponder

This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

        gathered

 

    but it was one place

 

    And you weren’t here

 

 

© Tom Wayman

 

WRITING PROMPT:
How would you answer this question? Phrase answers both as “Nothing” and “Everything” responses. You need not assume the questioner is a student. Have fun making up your answers — be outrageous, sarcastic, witty, direct and inventive.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

 

Shirt

Editor’s Note: I’ve spent most of this day considering the reasons for this holiday. It does far more than mark the traditional end of summer. Yes, there is a kind of melancholy over the sunset on Labor Day, at least I always felt that when I was in my public school years.

In my grandmother’s day, it also meant the official end of permission to wear white shoes!

Although much has changed, some things persist. For me, one of those persistent truths is the necessity of remembering why we celebrate this Day in the first place.

I don’t usually assign “homework” with the POTW, but I urge everyone to look up a bit of history on Labor Day, and even delve into the allusions in this week’s poem. I think you’ll not only enjoy it, but you may learn something to share with friends.

 

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,

The nearly invisible stitches along the collar

Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

 

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break

Or talking money or politics while one fitted

This arm piece with its overseam to the band

 

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,

The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,

The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

 

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.

One hundred and forty-six died in the flames

On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes —

 

The witness in a building across the street

Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step

Up to the windowsill, then held her out

 

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.

And then another. As if he were helping them up

To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

 

A third before he dropped her put her arms

Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held

Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once
He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared

And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,

Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers —

 

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”

Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly

Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

 

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme

Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,

Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

 

Invented by mill-owners by the hoax of Ossian,

To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed

By a fabricated heraldry: Mac Gregor,

 

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers

To wear among the dusty clattering looms.

Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

 

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter,

Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton

As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

 

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black

Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma

And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

 

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied

Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality

Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

 

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters

Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,

The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

 

Robert Pinsky

From The Want Bone, c 1990

 

  1. Find an item in your environment and create a poem praising everything that went into its creation and everyone who took part in that.
  2. Create a poem or journal entry in which you infuse something of history into the making of a favorite thing in your possession. This can be especially fun if you have a collection of something you have accumulated over time. 
  3. Write about how you celebrated Labor Day when you were younger. What did it mean to you then? Explore your current feelings about this holiday.
Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Wean Yourself

Editor’s Note: After weeks of smoke-filled air, today the sky is clear and blue. Have you ever wondered how you might explain color to someone who cannot see it?

What is blue-of-sky, or red-of-strawberry, or gold-of aspen-leaf?

Today it is like seeing blue for the first time, blue in every direction. A miracle.

 

Little by little, wean yourself.

This is the gist of what I have to say.

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,

move to an infant drinking milk,

to a child on solid food,

to a searcher of wisdom,

to a hunter of more invisible game.

 

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes,

and orchards in bloom.

 

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

 

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up

in the dark with eyes closed.

                    Listen to the answer.

 

There is no “other world.”

I only know what I’ve experienced.

You must be hallucinating.

 

 

Jelaluddin Rumi 

translated by Coleman Barks

 

WRITING PROMPTS:
1. Explain a color to someone who has never seen it.
2. You have been an embryo, an infant, a child. Have you been “a searcher of wisdom” or “a hunter of more invisible game?” Describe that existence.
3. What “hallucinations” have you heard about a world beyond/before/beside/after this one? Do you believe that?

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

A Small Story about the Sky

Editor’s Note: At the last open mic reading, half of the poets read poems about smoke. The air is choked with it. The entire Western US is on fire. I have tried, in my own way, to write about this — the smoke that causes everyone to cough as if having smoked one cigarette lit from another all day and into the evening, the disappearance of the nearby hills and not-so-distant mountains behind a haze of gray, the neon tangerine of the setting sun, and the bloody scepter of the moon as it waxes in the sky.

Here is a poem about fire that speaks to me of the horrible devouring, and does it so well I can see it when I close my eyes.

I send our blessings to those displaced, human and animal, and to those fighting for the trees, which cannot run away.

 

The fire was so fierce,

So red, so gray, so yellow

That, along with the land,

It burned part of the sky

Which stayed black in that corner

For years,

As if it were night there

Even in the daytime,

A piece of the sky burnt

And which then

Could not be counted on

Even by the birds.

 

It was a regular fire—

Terrible—we forget this

About fire—terrible

And full of pride.  

It intended to be

Big, no regular fire.  

Like so many of us,

It intended to be more

And this time was.

It was not better or worse

Than any other fire

Growing up.  

But this time, it was a fire

At just the right time

And in just the right place—

If you think like a fire—

A place it could do something big.

 

Its flames reached out

With ten thousand pincers,

As if the fire

Were made of beetles and scorpions

Clawing themselves to get up,

Pinching the air itself

And climbing,

So many sharp animals

On each other’s backs

Then into the air itself,

Ten thousand snaps and pinches

At least,

So that if the sky

Was made of something,

It could not get away this time.

 

Finally the fire

Caught the sky,

Which acted like a slow rabbit

Which had made a miscalculation.

It didn’t believe this could happen

And so it ran left,

Right into the thin toothpicks of flames,

Too fast to pull back,

The sky with all its arms,

Hands, fingers, fingernails,

All of it

Disappeared.  

Goodbye.

 

The sky stayed black

For several years after.

I wanted to tell you

This small story

About the sky.

It’s a good one

And explains why the sky

Comes so slowly in the morning,

Still unsure of what’s here.  

But the story is not mine.

It was written by fire,

That same small fire

That wanted to come home

With something of its own

To tell,

And it did,

A small piece of blue in its mouth.

Alberto Rios

from Poetry, February 2011

 

WRITING PROMPTS:
1. Write a myth about how humans discovered the taming of fire.
2. Write a poem of praise to those who are fighting the scorpions of flame that threaten so much each day.
3. Write what the sky in this poem might tell us about how fire took a bite out of it, and how that feels.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

Advice from a Caterpillar

Editor’s Note: The sun is still hot! We’re going for 100+ again this week.

Yesterday I spoke with the young man whose job it is to regulate the flow of water in the irrigation canal I walk along each morning. The canal runs for miles, carrying water to crops and livestock greatly in need of it. Area lakes are at 16-34% capacity, and Four-Mile Lake has disappeared completely.

I, for one, am praying for a long, wet winter with lots of snow in the mountains. The rain can hardly come soon enough.

The low water levels have caused the water temperature to rise, promoting lots of moss growth. Where I walk, the water plants trail like the yard-long tresses of invisible mermaids, undulating and beautiful.

I’m not sure that last week’s poem reached everyone. Was Mercury acting up? Or was it Charter’s internet service? I’m not even sure if I’ve used this week’s poem before.

Poet Amy Gerstler work is delightful, with many poems too long to feature here. But this is a good one. I recommend her highly!

 

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt
again. Self-reinvention is everything.
Spin many nests. Cultivate stinging
bristles. Don’t get sentimental
about your discarded skins. Grow
quickly. Develop a yen for nettles.
Alternate crumpling and climbing. Rely
on your antennae. Sequester poisons
in your body for use at a later date.
When threatened, emit foul odors
in self-defense. Behave cryptically
to confuse predators: change colors, spit,
or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.

Amy Gerstler
from Dearest Creature ©2009

 

WRITiNG PROMPTS:
1. How much of this advice can you translate into human terms?
2. Are you sentimental about any of your “discarded skins?” Write about that.
3. What tactics do you use when threatened?
4. Where are you in the rest/molt/rest/molt again cycle?

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.

The Trees

Editor’s Note: I’m still in Colorado for a few more days, but I’ve been keeping up with news from home, the heat, and now the fires that we knew would come. Smoke and ash are in the air. The forests are ablaze. Even a bit of rain first brings lightening, which sparks yet more fires.

I dreamed I went out into the forest to see the men fighting the blaze. They worked together as a mighty team, silently clearing underbrush before it could blaze up.

A wide, clear dirt firebreak had been created. Through this barren highway, the animals were racing past: deer, rabbits, raccoons, even a moose, all trying to get to safety.

I have seen fire up too close. I have watched at night as men and trucks were silhouetted on a hilltop against a background of scarlet and orange flames. I have watched fire eat its way uphill before the wind. I have choked on smoke, and seen ash sifted down on the roof of my car.

It is the heartbreak of every summer, to know the woods are burning, to know human and animal lives are at risk, that homes and meadows are being destroyed.

Here is a poem to ponder.

 

 

Do you think of them as decoration?

 

Think again.

 

Here are maples, flashing.

And here are the oaks, holding on all winter

   to their dry leaves.

And here are the pines, that will never fail,

   until death, the instruction to be green.

And here are the willows, the first

to pronounce a new year.

 

May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?

Oh, Lord, how we are all for invention

   and advancement!

But I think

   it would do us good if we would think about

these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.

The trees, the trees, just holding on

   to the old, holy ways.

 

~Mary Oliver

 

WRITING PROMPT:
Write a journal entry or poem in praise of the trees. Be specific in naming them, and their qualities. And pray for the fire fighters who brave the heat and the danger.

 

Copyrighted material. Reprinted for educational/therapeutic use.
Writing Prompts Copyright © 2015 Featherstone, All rights reserved.
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