Poetry

Here are some of my favorite poems. Almost all of them came to me while I was taking online poetry classes. That is my favorite thing in the world to do—take an online class with lots of prompts and good critiques. The delightful thing about these prompts is that they force me to write things I might normally never write. Also, they seem to free me up to write around to something I must really need to say. I will briefly describe the prompt and then show the poem that resulted.


The assignment here was to describe a town to someone. For some reason, it turned really creepy. I somehow went to a scene from a book I remember reading, where someone took another person out behind his bar next to the river, shot him, and dumped him in the river. And all I wanted to do was make a nice description of the moon on the water, a fish jumping, a shaft of moonlight coming down, etc. I’ve never written anything so creepy.

LET ME SHOW YOU SOMETHING

step off the safe sidewalk with me
to a spot you haven’t seen.
this side of town is silent
and drugged and dreary
and I never linger long.

walk with me by this wide, slow stream.

the water is thick and heavy

and slaps against the shore.
let the movement enter your veins.
smell the water, thick and heavy as it passes,
hear the damp things growing.
envision what may reside on this river’s bed,
lost and long forgotten.

see how a fish flings itself into the air
and how the water bends and curves around it
even after it is gone, back below the surface.
imagine the water closing over you,
lapping a last time against your face
as you sink to the bottom.

see how the moon reaches down
and dips a long finger into the froth
for a taste.

< This assignment was to use nouns and verbs and adjectives from a list. I don’t have the list now but the words were probably: throat, cruel, searched, curve, wreck, wounded. The poem had to be 3 stanzas of 6 lines each, using slant rhyme if possible.

Throats

my throat closed up,
unable to respond
to the cruel words
from your sharp tongue.
you’ve cheated on me
and now we’re done.
why speak such lies
and wreck my heart?
my eyes brimmed up
and searched the sky
soft blue with clouds
for possible replies.
unreality grips me—
bruised and wavering,
I have no words.
Wounded, all I wanted
was to kiss the curve
of your treacherous throat.


This assignment was to choose an object that you see every day and probably carry with you every day and see what you can write about it and discover about it. This one definitely surprised me.

Heartfull, Hurtful

the day he left,
I bought a pair of earrings—
too expensive—
heart shapes of black and gold.
these hearts won’t break,
cold metal studded to my ears—
one heart to replace the one he took,
the other for a spare.


The assignment for this was to take one of several very odd phrases and go with it. And to use as much inner rhyme or repeated letters or sounds as possible. And to watch how I used short, single syllable words compared to longer words. My phrase was: horses eating up the sky.

OBSERVATIONS

mirrored in the ruffled river beside me,
horses eating up the sky of clouds—
cantering, churning with long strides,
chewing up their path, the ribbons of colors.

my face, my eyes, look back at me—
watch me eat up my future
in big gulps,
turn it into my past so fast.

my body, not yet infirm, but not firm either,
can’t carry my burdens, real or not—
and my heart—too small to hold
its load of grief.


The assignment here was to write a poem in three parts. In the first section, write down a dream you had. Then find some prose on the Internet that kind of goes with it for the second part. Then, in the third part, write a poem that is a confession.

I.

I dreamed I worked
on a modern day ranch
and fell in love
with the head wrangler.

every chance we got
we’d run off to town
and go to dances.
I rode his leg around
the dance floor—
no air between us.

we came home very drunk.
his wife found us one night
passed out on the porch.
she packed up
and left with his kids
before the daylight woke us.

then before the sun
was noon-high
he quit his job and
took his stuff
and went after them.

my heart in my hand,
I stared after him.

II.

To dream that you are the one having an affair suggests feelings of self-guilt and self-betrayal. You have compromised your beliefs or integrity. Sometimes the cheating may not be about your relationship, but rather a situation in your life.

Alternatively, your affair with someone else may be about some quality in this person that you need to incorporate or acknowledge within your own self. For example, if you are cheating on your mate with your boss, then the dream may signify your desires for control, power, and authority.

Even though dreams about cheating are hardly ever about actual cheating, it is still important to address the emotions that brought about the cheating dream. Feelings of neglect, insecurity, and mistrust are things that should be confronted.

III.

I want to trust, I want to love.
over and over, I put my heart
in the wrong hands.
I end up alone, unloved.
again.


Then I shortened it to this:

Dream on a Modern Day Ranch

I dreamed I fell in love
with the head wrangler.
every chance we got
we’d run off to town
and go to dances
while the sun
drained down the sky.
I rode his leg around
the dance floor—
no air between us.
we came home very drunk.
his wife found us one night
passed out on the porch.
before the daylight woke us.
she packed up his kids and left.
he went after them
before the sun
was noon-high.
my heart in my hand,
I stared after him.
I want to trust, I want to love.
over and over, I put my heart
in the wrong hands.
I end up alone, unloved.
again.


This prompt was to get out of ourselves and brains for a bit and experiment with a dramatic monologue. Speak as if you are a different person, even an animal.

Stallion

I see you, little human, slowly coming near.
I toss my head and paw the earth,
snorting.
are you afraid of me?
you pause. you make some sounds
meant to soothe.
I do not need soothing.
you tell me I am beautiful.
I already know that.
my strength is barely contained—
my muscles bunch
and move beneath my satin skin.
I step ahead and back, half-rear
and watch you
step away.
you say you want to touch me?
you say you want to ride me?
you may have me locked in this fence
but the pasture is large. I don’t need to
pause here,
listening to your noises.
I snort and snap upward
in a mighty leap,
surge into a gallop and pound away.
oh, the wind lifts up my mane
and slides over my skin—
like your hands would,
if I let them.
I look back at you,
the smallness of you
way back by the fence
while I stand, blowing loudly
on a hill far from you.
one day—one day, I will let you
come with me.
I will lift your weighted feet
free of the
earth.
I will let you flow with me
across the greenness.
we will cascade over the rough ground
as smooth as running water,
our muscles moving
together.


Write a poem or letter to daughter or someone else close to you.

Krista Joy

that would have been her name
this daughter I never had
the name is one I always loved
both crisp and joyous on my tongue
I met her once in a dream
more real than most days
a long night I spent rolling in the covers
dreaming I was in labor
dreaming I was bringing her
into the world
I don’t know now how old I was then
or who I was with—was I married or single?
it didn’t matter
only she mattered
I know I held her in my arms
for a time in this dream
and gazed into her face
I saw all the possibilities in her future
I remember the warmth of her—
the overwhelming swell of protectiveness
that rose up in my heart—
and I remember
the speechless grief I felt
when I woke
to find her gone


Write about a moment of unexpected desire.

Touch

out in public
lots of people moving
I see you
you see me
we can’t stop
we don’t speak
our eyes don’t dare
to meet
but you touch me
as you pass
one knowing finger
runs down my forearm
just lightly brushing
along my skin
sliding a white hot path
that I feel everywhere
your finger moves
with no haste
telling of
intimate secrets
saying clearly
there
will be more


Write a poem about dreaming all night.

all night I dream
and wake and fret
and dream again
I reach for you over and over
like I did on our first night
together—
you were always there
rising under my hand
turning to me
both of us
slick with sweat
how good it felt
to be young and beautiful
to know we were desired
the lovemaking
was so easy then
when muscles responded
when bodies didn’t ache
now I dream
and wake and fret
and dream again
I reach for you over and over
like I did on our first night
together—
my aching fingers
finding only
the empty side
of the bed


Drawing from your ancestors—find old photos of family, write from the perspective of someone you know. This is about my mother’s mother, who died when my mother was only 4 or 5.

Genevieve Irene Ferrier Story (Jennie)
1893 – 1922

I’m sorry
my three little ones
I didn’t mean
to leave you
when I went to sleep
last night
very ill and weak
I fully believed
I would greet the dawn
and be stronger
I’d rise early
to start the day
to fix your breakfast
and to work beside your father
in the barn
or in the field
I fully believed
I’d be up with the dawn
and be there
to kiss you awake
my apologies
my little ones
I didn’t mean
to leave you


Write about the basement or the attic, refuge and roots. These places store things we only need at certain times, or they are a hiding place during storms, and they link us to people and places we came from.

Basement

this basement has crouched beneath
this farmhouse for a hundred years
small and square and damp with a low ceiling
cracked plaster on the walls now a dingy white
always dark, always musty
with cobwebs at face height
three small rooms, two small windows
one opening to a crawl space
that led out under a porch
where no one ever wanted to go
an old coal stove, a chimney
where you could hear the wind whining,
a workbench with tools no longer used
a coffin-sized freezer, a water heater
a deep empty shaft of dank air
hiding beneath the poured basement floor
ancient shelves with jars of canned vegetables
too old to be recognized, a door that led to nowhere
remnants of an old forgotten stairway
and one spot in that basement
that was colder than the rest
where if you stayed still for even a moment
some old sorrow would grab you
and would take your breath right out of your lungs
and a heavy grief would settle down over you
taking away all memory of good things, of light and life
and you knew, you just knew
that someone had died in this spot


Think about someone you love and write a poem that conjures their spirit through a series of sensory images and details without worrying about crafting a coherent narrative—create an abstract painting rather than a figurative portrait. I used phrases from past poems about this person.

Abstract Painting of My Dark Outlaw

Wrapped like barbed wire around
my heart. His skin, the color of coffee rich
with cream. Across my life like a shooting
star. Deep silences in him. Tracing one fingertip
along my arm and making me shiver. Empty side
of the bed. Dark shadows of his past
haunting his eyes. His slow, lazy smile. That hard
frozen pain he can’t outrun. Stars
in his eyes and the wind in his hair. The space
between us keeps growing, a canyon.
The way he reaches for me. Words vibrate
in my heart, low-hung with torment. Dark flashes
of old memories cross his face. Let the light in
his eyes dance. Some unbreakable
tether is still between us. The whimpers
in his sleep. The whole world is out there
calling. When he is eighty and done
running, will he come back to me?


This prompt is using found poetry, writing the poems we almost miss. We are surrounded by new material every day—all we have to do is figure out how to use it. We were encouraged to choose lines from songs or books, watch emails, recipes, texts, reading for work, bumper stickers, billboards, advertisements, signs. we were to make notes as we go through our days, choose words we see or hear, use them to inspire ourselves. Or take a paragraph from a novel, using only the words in the paragraph, rearrange them and write something new. (I found the best thing was listening to music and jotting down some lines.) Two poems came from this prompt.

House Sounds

I don’t like the sounds
my house makes
when I’m alone
I used to blame it
on my cat but
I don’t have cats now
memories
keep me tossing at night
I rise up at midnight
and close the windows
against that first sweet
rush of rain
soothe the frightened dog
unplug the computers
then I lie back down
to listen to the low thunder
to half-hope for
cracks of lightning
to brighten the dull
gray sameness of my life
I don’t ask for much
not really
but I sure wish
you could be here
next to me
when I wake up


Storm Blue

I’m out watering the flowers
watching my vegetables grow
plucking a strawberry
sniffing a blossom
the sky signals a storm—
slate blue, storm blue—
the color of a car
I want someday
the low rumble of far thunder
makes my dog whine
the electricity in the air
around her makes her shiver
rain drives me inside
I’m walking through an
empty house, too big,
too silent since you left
if you change your mind
I’m still here, you know
oh, I’d like to be back
here with you
as night falls
beneath
your dark blue gaze
your eyes the color
of the storm outside


Write poems of night life in and out of the city.

After the Weekend

Sunday evenings
after a free-ranging weekend
are the hardest
nights to sleep
work tomorrow
rises ahead of me
like a wraith
while I need to slip away
the house noises
are louder than on other nights
the dog is more restless than usual
and whines from the kitchen
my mind shouts lists at me
things I must do tomorrow
my breathing is ragged and uneven
while I search for calm breathes to count
my legs twitch
and everything aches
there is no spot of comfort
on pillow or mattress
I cannot slow my whirring mind
I wait hopelessly for the day
to let go and unravel
and let me drift away


Read poems of protest and quarantine, discuss how we can write our way through the darkness, find common ground in articulating grief.

Then and Now

then
I craved the dance
I craved the drink
losing myself in the thrill
of a new body pressed against mine
anticipating the rush of pleasure
the need to get closer and closer
evenings full of black holes
unsure how I got home some nights
waking up next to a stranger
our limbs tangled together
his face just a shadow
now
no concerts, no shows, no music
this world is alien to us
this world of no touching
this world where we stay apart
this world of no trust
no more random skin to skin
hands are gloved
faces hidden by masks
voices clouded and obscured
no smiles
and we stay in our homes
afraid to go out


This prompt said that that poetry should be an image that can carry the reader from the conscious world to the unconscious world. Write about a group of people that we have perhaps never considered. Try writing in tercets, three-lined stanzas. Take the reader to something astonishing (perhaps in italics) and then bring them back. I wrote this first as a simple poem, then decided it needed to be creative nonfiction. This is perhaps my favorite thing I have ever written.

For the Billiards Player

I love watching you
as your eyes flicker over the table
planning your shots, seeing the angles,
knowing the invisible paths the balls will take,
knowing the order of your shots.
I love watching you slip into the zone.
your expensive cue stick
slides easily between your fingers.
the object ball rolls into the pocket,
the cue ball responds to your touch
and backspins to the spot you need it to be.
like an artist you follow the angles and lines.
a white noise is all you hear, the table top is all you see.
that revered mental place is yours;
right now you cannot miss.


Performance Art

I am watching the Billiards National Singles Championship in Las Vegas. Over a hundred pool tables are spread out in one huge room and countless pool players are playing or observing, mesmerized.

The players are tense and nervous. They circle the table, calculating the next shot and the next and the next. They see many plays ahead, bending down, lining up, thinking, planning, considering. They know not only which pocket the next ball must roll into, but also how they can touch the cue ball so exactly that it knows whether to roll ahead or come back to them to line up for the next planned shot. This is called English, that precise control of the cue ball.

I appreciate their skill, these pool players who dedicate themselves to perfection, to the scrutiny of the lie of the table. They believe that if they only study it long enough, they can run each table. They can plan far in advance and they are willing to spend hour upon hour in windowless basements or dark smoky bars. They stretch and bend and reach, playing endless games, learning the movements of the cue ball.

I follow one well-known player as he works through the games, winning and winning, moving up the brackets. Loud music plays around him, people drink and talk and laugh. His focus is intense. He talks with no one. He sees only the expanse of green felt that is his world.

Decisions made, he steps to the edge of the table. Like an artist, he performs.

I’d like to tell him: I love watching you as your eyes flicker over the table, seeing the angles, knowing the invisible paths you will follow. I love watching you slip into the zone. I know that a white noise is all you can hear; the table top is all you can see. That revered mental place is yours; right now you cannot miss. Your expensive cue stick slides easily between your fingers. The powdered tip intimately taps the cue ball. A puff of powder floats into the intense light above the table, drifting with the smoke, the music, the tension in the air. The object ball glides smoothly into the pocket. The cue ball responds to your touch and backspins to the spot you need it to be, as if it had no other option.

Much later, I take my leave. I will take those moments with me and remember my response to his touch, his magic, his control.