Sunday 160–To Awaken

Photo: David Slotto

Submitted to Monkey Man’s Sunday 160:  In which you submit a poem or short prose using exactly 160 characters, including spaces.

To Awaken

If so awake
to feel each drop of rain
pummeling my body,
to hear my lover’s
gentle snores,
to see rays of
sun bounce off my
dog’s white fuzz—
would I
explode in ecstasy?

The little dog in this photo, a long-haired Jack Russell Terrier, was named Ascot. He was our first (of five). He lived with us sixteen years until he died, two years ago, the day after Thanksgiving. We miss him!

“B” is for Bougainvillea

Three colors of bougainvillea adorn a fence in...

Image via Wikipedia

Submitted to Leonnyes Z to A Challenge: and to Jingle’s Poetry Rally (December 2, 2010):  

I must confess to a bit of poetic burn-out this morning, so I’ve reverted to a poem I wrote last winter during our stay in Palm Desert. Bougainvillea don’t grow here in Reno and certainly not in the snowy cold weather we’re experiencing right now but they are abundant down in the desert.


when you’re aware,
life hurls its beauty
in your face.

Nature you know
so well
comes of age in
her seduction.

Color mounts
surrounding walls,
invades the senses with
its brilliance,

fondles, tantalizes,
coaxes you till you
understand her message,

her loveliness into
your hands
so you will
linger for awhile.

Jingle’s Poetry Potluck–“The Sin Seller”

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things...

Image via Wikipedia










The Sin Seller

A funny little man with a screwed up nose
came pedaling down the street.
“Seven sins have I that you’ll want to buy,
seven sins, but they’re not what you think.”

“I’ll take some lust and a pinch of pride,
just a touch of greed will do.
A scoop of anger is enough today—
hold the sloth—I’ve got lots to do.”

He looked at me with his rheumy eyes
and tried to lift his head.
“You didn’t hear what I said to you—
there’re things that you’ll want instead.

“Envy’s not for sale, gluttony non plus
those are all for free, you know.
Look inside your heart and I bet you’ll find
you can order them ‘to go.’

“But what I’ve got you will recognize
though you might not call them sins.
Check this out, it’s called blame, gets you off the hook.
It’s okay. Take a second look.”

“I’ll go for that, doesn’t seem too bad.
Shouldn’t send me straight to hell.
What else have you got that can help me out,
something light—to my conscience quell.

“Ah, then you’ll want this.” He held out his hand,
Crooked fingers clasped a glass.
“Take a sip and you’ll see (with veiled eyes)
those in need—then walk blithely past.”

“Oh, the poor—those who beg—they are everywhere.
Always looking for something more.
It would be a relief not to have to care.
You know, they’re just looking to score.

“What else do you have that I could use—
Anything to bring joy to my heart?”
His smile should have warned of the slippery path
I was sliding down from the start.

He wrung his hands and his words hissed out
through the gaps in his crooked teeth.
“Here, I’ve got a book that will help you learn
how to use others who believe

“that by helping you they are serving God.
They’re so easy to deceive.
Use them all you want, they will never guess
they are tools to meet your needs.”

“I think that’s all that I want for now,
I’m a little low on cash.
How much do I owe for all these sins?
Let me know and I’m gone in a flash.”

“Not so soon, my friend, these sins are cheap
and I have much more to offer.
Take a look in this box and see what you think.
You can add this one to your coffer.”

He lifted the lid and I peered in.
The box appeared to be empty.
“What the heck is this—do you think I’m dumb?
I suspect that you’re out to contempt me.”

“Can’t you see what this is?” he said to me.
It’s a place to hide your talent.
Once you put it out there for all to see
you cannot find time just ‘to be.’”

“Ah, I like that,” I said to the man.
I want to hoard my gifts.
I’ll take a dozen, put them in the bag.
What more to give me a lift?”

He pulled a watch from his bag of tricks.
“You’ll want this one for sure.
It will store your time for you alone
to use at your leisure.”

“I’ll go for that, I could use some rest.
I’m really tired from living
with those who expect me to be aware
of everything that they’re giving.”

“Then you’ll want this, it will free you up,”
He said with a glint in his eyes.
He reached out his hand and gave me a cup
with a message engraved on its side:

Forget about everything that you hear;
you really don’t need to be grateful.
Ignore those gifts and the joy that they bring.
Don’t pretend that you are thankful.

“That way no one will wait for your return
on whatever they’ve invested.
You won’t have to give of yourself to them.
Love’s easier if untested.

“Take these drugs,” he said, “then I’m done with you.
You’ll want to have this treasure.
Be sure that you remain always unaware
of beauty, joy and pleasure

for if you see what God has done
you will want more of Him
and then you’ll live in consciousness
and not enjoy your sin.”

I paid the man and he ran off
carting his merchandise.
But when I got home and saw what I’d bought
something opened wide my eyes.

Things just were not as he said they were,
these were not just harmless vices.
Within each one I could see the seed
that would lead to darkest crisis.

I’d been terribly fooled by his evil lies.
I saw it now all too clearly.
It’s bit-by-bit that the soul dies.
It doesn’t scream, it simply sighs.

And so I took his bag of tricks
and tossed it in the ocean
of God’s good grace and cleansing love.
It’s little things that will do you in.

This is the longest rhyming, metered poem I’ve ever written. It has plenty “sins” of its own: cliche, some forced meter and rhyme. But it was the most fun I’ve had with sin in a long time. This poem is written for and submitted to Jingle’s Poetry Potluck: Check out the many established and burgeoning poets who contribute to this site.

Image: Bosch’s “Seven Deadly Sins”

Poetry and Place

I’ve noticed that a lot of the poetry I write is reflective of PLACE. Both Reno and Palm Desert have a character that is distinctive, charged with beauty and sometimes frightening.

This morning I grabbed a camera to take along on our walk with the dogs. We prowl our neighborhood, nestled beside the Truckee River then turn off onto the river walk that snakes along her banks. David looked at me like I’d lost it when I slung the Nokia around my neck. “Are you sure you want to do that? Why?” Implied was the truth that this is something that we see every day. I told him, I want to find a prompt to help me write a poem, since I’m hoping to come up with thirty new ones by the end of September.”

As it happened, I only took one shot. Actually my formerly-professional-photographer husband pilfered the camera from me and he took the photo I asked for, showing me how to adjust for the lighting.

But something else happened that I didn’t expect. Just having the camera catalyzed my sense of awareness and I SAW so much more than I would have had I not had the intention.

I noticed that August is not the most verdant month in Reno but the sunflowers are flaunting their colors. I spotted pumpkins turning orange in our neighbor’s rock garden. I saw that the Truckee is enjoying the consequences of a wet winter in the Sierra Nevada as the flow is more vigorous that it was this time last year.And from underneath a vine, a tiny purple flower caught my attention. In her center, a brilliant yellow star presided, proving the creator’s use of complementary color is spot-on.

David just left for his weekly trek to a local farmer’s market. On the way out of the house, he grabbed my camera. “You’re taking that?” I asked. “Yeah, he answered. I might see something there to photograph.” So, I don’t have my picture prompt handy…the poem will wait and won’t be a part of this post. But that’s okay. Maybe I’ll have something else to work with in a couple of hours. In the meantime, here’s a picture from a meadow across the street from the entrance to our complex. Am I spoiled or what?

Photo Credit: David Slotto

Wordsmith Wednesday–Metaphor

I assume that if you are visiting this site, you are a writer and already familiar with the concept of metaphor, so I will give only a brief overview.

Metaphor is a literary device that creates an image by showing the similarity between one reality and another. It is an effective tool to enrich the readers’ involvement in your story by allowing them to experience an emotion or idea through sensory description.

Here’s an example from my novel, “The Sin of His Father.” In this scene, the protagonist, Matt, has just spent the night at his mother’s deathbed. Shortly before she dies, she confesses that she has lied to him. The father who he never knew did not abandon them, rather Matt was conceived in an act of rape.

Overwhelmed by grief and anger, Matt steps outside the nursing facility to catch a breath of fresh air and smoke his pipe. This is how I decribe his emotions:

One of the birds interrupted breakfast to stare at Matt—Matt would have sworn it was so—and his skin tingled at the thought of stories his mother used to tell him of dead people coming back as black birds. Beside the predator, strewn feathers told of a smaller bird that had lost its struggle to keep on living. Matt’s grief came pouring out. That it was because of a fragile creature stunned him at first before he recognized the similitude. Like the wren, his mother fought her whole life for food and survival. She’d known a dark monster, too. Not one that would destroy her suddenly, mercifully, but one that most likely haunted every moment of her adult life. One that tore her down from the inside-out and in the end defeated her.

What I’d like to discuss today, though, is how to develop metaphor. This morning during my “quiet time” I was reminded to look at life, at people, at things, by becoming aware–by seeing the world around me in the essence of their core nature. I had the idea to start a file of metaphors and this will be my first entry: when I walked the dogs I was accompanied by the mournful cooing of doves, the sound of the place within us that is waiting for something more…a metaphor, perhaps for loneliness or emptiness. Are any of you doing this or something similar?

Another blogger, ketch 1714, shared this description:

The eight, creepy eyes of a spider stared into my soul as it crawled along the wall. As small as the creature is, my spine tingles. I could feel its hairy legs bush against my skin. Its fangs on my neck as the venom dripped over my flesh. I was bound in its web by the mere sight of it, waiting for the cold breath of death.

How would you use that as a metaphor? What experience does this image evoke?

Intention–Kavannah–and Writing

Although I am not Jewish, I have found much nourishment in studying spiritual aspects of Judaism, in particular the Hebrew Alphabet (Aleph Beit). Jewish mystics and scholars believe that God used the letters of the Aleph Beit to bring about creation. Consider the power of the Word.

This morning I spent time with the letter Kaph. It means “palm” as in the palm of the hand. There is power in the hand–we raise a hand in blessing, we use our hands in the act of creating, through the hand healers channel their healing energy–think of Jesus, or Reiki Masters. It is intention, kavannah, that enables this power. Kaph is the first letter of kavannah and, as such, invites us to bring intentionality to our daily actions.

A few hours ago I spent some time doing the domestic thing: folding laundry, doing the dishes, a quick “pick up/put away storm” around the house. The idea of kavannah came to mind and, as I was making the bed, I realized that I can do it grudgingly or with grace. Bringing the intention of love to simple chores transforms them–making our home a blessing. It’s true that this is something I learned at an early age, but it’s something I have to continue to strive to remember. It’s so easy to slip into unconsciousness and go through the actions of every day without awareness.

So, we write. How can kavannah/intention affect this part of our life? What happens when, before we put our palms on the keyboard, we remember that we are instruments of God’s creative Spirit?

Wordsmith Wednesday–More About Description

The more I read, the more I realize the critical role of description–involving all the senses–in the telling of a story. It is through sensory input that we engage in our world. So many of us today rush through life. Always in a hurry, we don’t take the time to notice the beauty of cloud formations, the scent of honey-suckle, the colors of the sunset or the caress of a summer breeze. Sucked into the vortex of Ipods, texting–even blogs–it’s easy to succumb to the inevitability of a life lived vicariously. So, offer your reader the joys he or she may be missing. Invite them to become more aware. This goes whether you write fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction or…you name it.

Here are a few more considerations to bear in mind when writing description:

Good description does not have to be flowery, purple prose kind of stuff. Avoid extensive use of hyperbole, adjectives, adverbs. Go for active verbs when you can.

Description isn’t only about what you see. Train yourself to become aware of all your senses. Keep notes about your experiences in your writing journal so that you can refer to them for inspiration.

Use description to express emotion. It’s that old “show, don’t tell” advice. Become aware of how your body responds when you’re happy, afraid–whatever. Go ahead and jot that down in your journal, too.

Don’t be afraid to describe the ugly, the scary, the difficult, the gruesome, even. This is all part of life, isn’t it?

Description doesn’t have to be lengthy, rambling. Tighten up your narrative, but make every word count. I’m sure that when reading you, like me, have been guilty of skimming lengthy paragraphs of description that have taken you out of the story line.

Suggestion: to develop your own awareness, get in the habit of journaling each day. Jot down some memories of things you’ve observed. Go beyond the visual. Cultivate awareness.

Writing and Zen: “Mariette in Ecstasy” A Book Review

Most every spiritual tradition invites us to cultivate the art of being fully aware in the present moment. So much creative inspiration can be culled by attentiveness to detail.

I’m currently reading “Mariette in Ecstasy” by Ron Hansen–the fictional story of a postulant in a contemplative religious order. The author, a Catholic deacon, has an incredible command of detail. Some of the critiques I read on noted that there seemed to be an ill-defined plot, but in my view, this book is an example of the most brilliant attention to detail and sensory description. It is like reading an epic poem.

If you are looking to experience metaphor at it’s best and experimental fiction that, to me, does seem to go somewhere, I suggest checking it out. The read itself invites exploration of one’s relationship to God in a very Catholic context and is a good example of character-driven literary fiction.

(I purchased this book on my Kindle and was not asked to review it.)

Wordsmith Wednesday: Tune In to Inspiration

The drive home and challenges of unpacking have prevented writing and blogging time over the last few days. However, that doesn’t mean that demands of life have the right to completely stiffle the creative process. Tuning into silence, probing the Within, heightening sensory perception–all of these contribute to enrich sensory description, theme, symbolism and plot. It’s good to be home but the return to normalcy is still a way off. In the meantime, I’ll grab a minute here, jot some notes there. And when my writing routine begins to re-emerge, I’ll have a wealth of material to turn to. Successful writing depends on cultivating awareness.

Inspiration–Wake Up!

What a gift it is–those moments when I remember to notice life in detail. To stop and watch the diamonds scattered across the grass in early morning hours, to catch the sun, back-lighting the soft white fuzz of my dogs or breath in the scents of earth and jasmine in our garden. I wish that I could learn to be aware in each and every moment–that I could learn to silence the mindless conversations I have with myself, to let go of fears about the future or regrets about the past, to ignore gnawing worries about what others think.

An exercise I’ve used before that has been the source of many poems is this: at the end of every day (or even as the day progresses) jot down, in detail, some things that you notice. I usually try to create a list of ten. Here’s an example:

1. In the West, large white clouds hang heavy on the mountains. Someone has painted their underbellies with a wash of Payne’s gray.
2. Sparky lies curled at my feet, head erect like a Sphinx, but his eyes are at half-mast.
3. A hummingbird perches on the feeder outside my window. I think he’s in love with his reflection.

You get the idea…Want to share some of the things you’re experiencing today?