Poetry

From the Archive: Upon Waking, I Remember

Collage with a sun and moon hovering over two wooden forms overlaid with the words of the poem

It’s snowing nonstop
on the moon over Central Park.

Pop rocks and soda fizz
on my face as we go across

white blankets to a penthouse
apartment I’ve never seen before.

Later, Jackie Kennedy and I
wind up standing in

Joan Rivers’ guest bathroom –
the one with the orange wallpaper.

Behind the faucet is a jar
full to the top with silver dollars.

Hand on my shoulder, Jackie says
Poor lady, she forgot to take them with her.

I originally published this illustrated poem almost exactly 6 years ago as part of a collaborative poetry event called The Full Moon Social – so it seemed a good one to pull from the archive for the full Snow Moon tonight. Joan Rivers had passed away a few months before and her death from complications from a minor surgical procedure had dominated the news cycle for a short time. A little of that coverage had seeped into my subconscious and surfaced as a dream that I worked into this poem.

History Haiku – Red Hand Day – February 12

The army trucks drive so near
the children at play
they see the men take
their siblings away

Today is Red Hand Day – or the International Day Against the use of Child Soldiers – a U.N. observance to call attention to the use of child soldiers and children in war around the world and as a plea for it to stop. Much attention was paid a few years ago to the use of child soldiers in Uganda in the Lord’s Resistance Army (remember the Kony 2012 social media movement?), but worldwide, the use of children under 18 in military conflicts (both as soldiers and in “support” roles) happens mostly out of sight. Some articles on the U.N. day of observance noted that, although we tend to think of this as a problem of the developing world, historically, minors were used as soldiers in every “western” conflict up through World War II. I’d been struggling to write a short poem about this topic/observance until I read that perspective – it reminded me of Sarah Cleghorn’s poem about child labor, “The Golf Links.”


So with apologizes to Sarah Cleghorn, I modeled my little poem after hers. That historical connection also got me thinking about some common experiences we have here in the U.S. with minors and the military. While the U.S. military doesn’t allow minors to join its ranks any longer, military recruitment in U.S. high schools is routine and at least from my experience when I was in high school, could be rather aggressive. Family stories of a now grandfather or great uncle running away from home at 14 or 15 to join the navy or army are fairly common (I personally know of a few) and become part of a family’s origin story. It reminded me that the history of children (minors) in the military is not as distant in developed nations as we might like to think.

Red Hand Day website in English: https://www.redhandday.org/en/


History Haiku – January 22 – Birth of Wilbur Scoville

Polaroid of abstract peppers overlaid with the words of the poem in white letters

snow covered
the ground
like milk the
sun was a red
crescent a
chili pepper
spicing the
air with a
baby’s cry


Wilbur Scoville was born on January 22, 1865 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A pharmacist by training, he wrote a celebrated pharmacy textbook and won many awards for his research – but he is best remembered for devising the Scoville Scale, which is still in use today for measuring the spiciness or heat of chili peppers. One could argue he made possible such things as chili pepper eating contests and our cultural awareness of different kinds of peppers and their spice levels. It is interesting to think of the effect that the attempt to quantify something has on our perception of it!

History Poem – December 11 – Birth of Annie Jump Cannon

Collage of stars and star formations layered with an older woman's face and the words to the poem

the ether swirled behind her eyes
“It’s a girl,” the midwife said
lamplight flickered in the window
the new mother smiled, “My daughter will
count the stars,
call them each by name
one by one.”

My history poem today is in honor of the birth of Annie Jump Cannon on December 11, 1863. Ms. Cannon became famous as an astronomer who pioneered the Harvard Classification System for stellar bodies – a system that is still in use today. She was also a pioneer for women at Harvard and in astronomy. She manually classified an astounding 350,000 stars in her lifetime – a number that is still a record. Her career in astronomy lasted more than 40 years and later included numerous honorary doctorate degrees from top universities – often from universities that didn’t admit women in the 1880’s when she was attending college. The Annie Jump Cannon Award is still presented by the American Astronomical Society each year to an outstanding early career female astronomer.

I wish everyone a good weekend – stay safe and healthy out there!

Highway Haiku and my piece up at Ekphrastic Review!

Purple, green, and black multi-layer collage overlaid with haiku

On a street light
at the highway 8 interchange
an osprey perches

This was one of those transfer prints that didn’t go as planned – as goes so much of life these days – but I have committed to posting the highway haiku, no matter how the transfers turn out, so here it is! I’ve decided that the sparse transfer of the words reflects the oh-so-brief glimpses I’ve gotten of this osprey perched on a highway light. It’s actually the first osprey I’ve seen in the wild here and thankfully they are distinctive and easy to identify, otherwise there’d be no hope for me to say what species of bird it was as I speed around this interchange at 60 mph!

Another unexpected thing that happened this week was that a short creative non-fiction piece I submitted to the Ekphrastic Review was accepted! My thanks to Lorette Luzajic and the editors at the Ekphrastic Review. Head on over HERE to check out my “21 Thoughts on Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans” as well as all the other creative responses to Warhol’s iconic image of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

Death of Camille Pissarro – November 13

collage of eyes in the shape of the U.S. Virgin Islands overlaid with the words of the poem

Camille Pissarro Visits Charlotte Amalie for the Last Time

The hills have more houses
and there are no more clipper ships
the roads curl like smoke from the missing jungle
But the sand in the synagogue is the same
and my memory of the people
the ebony lady with her water jug
she still smiles at me descending
the hill with her hand on her hip

The impressionist painter Camille Pissarro died this day in 1903 – he is not only famous as an artist in his own right, but he was also known as the “dean of Impressionist painters.” He mentored and inspired almost every Impressionist name you can think of – Cézanne, Gauguin, Renior, Seurat, and van Gogh. But one thing I learned about him for my history poem (I guess if I’m not writing haikus, I shouldn’t call them history haikus anymore!), was that he was born to a Jewish family in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, in the Danish West Indies. This is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I had always associated Pissarro with France and the French countryside, so it was fascinating to read about his early life and works in the Caribbean. I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands about seven years ago and toured the synagogue in Charlotte Amalie – it is the oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the second oldest in the western hemisphere. One of the most unique features of the building is that the floor inside is overlaid with a thick layer of sand. The reason given on our tour was that the sand is in remembrance of the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal – the sand muffled the sound of worship in secret synagogues.

Monet Refuses the Operation – Mueller

Photograph of wood panel wall with bright sunlight overlaid with words Lisel Mueller's poem

The post I am working on for Friday to mark the death of Camille Pissarro in 1903 reminded me of this post I did six and half years ago. I took the photograph in the hallway of an old converted house in Cambridge, MA – I was helping a friend of mine move out of the attic apartment. The light was just like that, pouring through a circular window at top of the stairs. Mueller’s poem came almost immediately to mind; this post is still one of my favorite very early ones from my blog. To read Mueller’s whole poem, go here.

World Day to Protect the Environment in War – Nov. 6

collage on pink paper with orange pig standing on a pile of black torn paper with overlaid poem

On a foggy evening, a black-bristle
boar said to the old poet,
“In some forests, a rooting pig
will find metal shards,
more skulls than soil, or –
at the last – a thin rusted tube.”
The grandfather boar huffed, “Poof!
He is a crater in the woods.”
He eyed the path over Mal Paso Mountain.
“I told you this world is a terrible place.”

Today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue and neither does its U.N. abbreviation – IDPEEWAC – so some calendars call it World Day to Protect the Environment in War. Before looking at the historical events for November 6th, I’d never heard of this observance, but it is a topic that has long interested me. Quite by accident, about 20 years ago, I’d stumbled across and purchased Donovan Webster’s excellent book Aftermath: The Remnants of War at a remainder sale at a local bookstore. His book deals primarily with what war leaves behind: landmines, unexploded ordinance, and mass graves. These remnants leave vast swaths of land around the globe unusable and dangerous for generations – possibly forever, until they are cleared. This does not even touch on such things as intentional water contamination, arson, or deforestation that occur during wars.

My poem was inspired by Robinson Jeffers’ poem “The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean.” You can read his poem here at Poetry Magazine (scroll down halfway to find the start of the poem). Jeffers was deeply concerned about environmental destruction as well as a staunch opponent of the U.S. entering WWII. In the 1940’s these were extremely unpopular stances and Jeffers lost friends, public standing, and professional opportunities due to his opinions. Jeffers died in 1962, long before IDPEEWAC was declared in 2001, but I think he might have appreciated a day devoted to the considerable overlap between war and environmental destruction.


The sinking of U-559 – Oct 30

collage of 5 u-boat shapes with labels overlaid with poem text

A black maw in a blacker sea
“your life for my secrets”
It said and three boys answered
Two stayed with the secrets in the deep
One swam and swam and swam
a tattered book under his arm.

I’ve been yearning to do some more history inspired haiku, so I finally sat down with a calendar and got to it! The event for today that I chose didn’t wind up inspiring a haiku, but something a little longer.

On October 30, 1942, the German U-boat 559 was fatally damaged in a British naval attack and forced to surface. The surviving German crew abandoned ship – but left behind their naval cypher code books and naval 4-rotor Enigma encryption machine. In a decision that would prove invaluable to the Allies, they also neglected to open the sea vents to scuttle the ship. Three British sailor boarded the floundering U-boat and seized the cryptographic materials: only one, Tommy Brown, made it out alive with the German secrets. Due to lying about his age to enlist, Mr. Brown became one of the youngest men to be awarded the George Medal for bravery.

The materials Mr. Brown rescued from the sinking U-boat would help the cryptologists at Bletchley Park – including Alan Turing, the subject of my post on Wednesday – finally break the U-boat specific 4-rotor Enigma encryption and bolstered Allied defenses in the Atlantic against the devastating U-boat attacks.

m lewis redford’s Castrated

black and white and brown collage of a large machine overlaid with the words of M Lewis Redford's poem "castrated"

I have been a fan of m lewis redford’s poetry (and follower of his WordPress blog) for at least 5 or 6 years now – wow, time flies! He posted his poem “Castrated” in early 2015, right around the same time the movie about Alan Turning – “The Imitation Game” – came out in the U.S. and I was really struck by his poem about Turing. I did an illustration for it back then (you can see his post about that HERE or go the end of this post).

I’ve been thinking about his poem recently for a number of reasons – one is a history poem post I am working on for later this week. Since I couldn’t get the poem out of my head, I decided to try another illustration of it using some of my more recent transfer and collage techniques. Plus it was a great excuse to spend time again with redford’s poetry and website! For this attempt I wanted something more mechanical, more “flawed machine.” The format was smaller, so I didn’t get the whole poem on there. To read the complete poem, see my original illustration below the “read more” tag or visit his post.

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