Monday, July 28, 2008

The Smell of Sun, New Poem from the Geraldine cycle, Counting Fingers, Smelting Light

I have a reading tonight, and I will be reading this poem, which I wrote while we were on vacation in the UP. We were staying at the Bay Furnace Campground and had returned from the Pictured Rocks boat cruise and tour, and were taking a stroll along Lake Superior after dark. I had been struggling with the honeymoon poem for my Geraldine Chapbook and had made several false starts, but sitting in the darkness with BB, sitting on a log looking at the stars and moon and listening to the quiet ripples, I had a new idea for the honeymoon poem and wrote this in my tiny pocket notebook in the dark with no light.

The Smell of Sun

A swell of water rises, curls and falls to the sand,

tinkling like tiny bells, opening an "ah" in Geraldine, opening

a space inside, in darkness where once she was solid like a rock,

opening an internal ear horn that listens for a sound like bits of ice

dropping into fragile glass. She watches as another

wave follows, as soft and sweet as the first, and then a third.

In shining darkness, waves angle against the shore. The quiet

singing of their touch passes along the sand from right

to left. Ricky's hand warms Geraldine's in the cooling night,

and she squeezes it, laughing aloud at the quick squeeze back.

The full moon the guardians teased about ("perfect

for your honeymoon") casts a single shadow on the sand,

echoes Geraldine's body leaning into Ricky's. Fireflies

blink on and off along the sand, in the bushes, and out

over the water, mirroring a wilderness of stars. Wisps

of mist, lit by moonlight, drift over the lake, thicken and gather

in the bays and between the hills. Down the beach, a lone boat

stands out in silhouette against the moon path.

Geraldine wiggles her toes in the sand and snuggles closer

to Ricky and says "oh" and "oh," again. She breathes

the smell of sun from his skin, the clean, sweet smell

of his body. His arm, circling her shoulders, draws her

yet nearer, presses close. Then, a moment later, he tugs

her to her feet. They walk barefoot down the beach

to their honeymoon cottage, to the bed turned down

and waiting for them, scattered with daisies,

to the sheets that smell of cedar and lavender,

like sunshine, like love. After they drop their clothing

to the floor, after they pull the sheet cool to their chins,

before they turn toward each other, they watch a star fall,

blue and flickering over the water, steaming

into the ripples like misted flame.

Mary Stebbins Taitt

-----this line and everything below this line are not part of the poem------- 080729--1533--2d; 080718; 1st Written 7-18-08 at Bay Furnace Campground on the shore of Lake Michigan near midnight in my pocket notebook without a light. Details from our own experience. The reading copy has the names of Jake and Luisa, Al and Lily removed

the blog format always messes with the formating of the poems, too bad.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Oops, The Night that Nothing Happened, again

Oops, I emailed/posted this too soon, just spent a couple more hours working on this.  If you like poetry, you may want to read this one.  If you don't care, and have already read the other one, skip it.  The story is the same, I worked on the language, which is part of what poetry is.  (Also worked on the formatting so I hope it comes out better!)

The Night that Nothing Happened
Jean proposed the idea.  Easy to imagine as we drove across Nebraska,
flat all day, sunny.  Laughing, counting hawks, taking turns at the fur-covered wheel.
The plan?  We'd save money, lodge free by sleeping at a jail.  Simple. 
She'd read about it somewhere.  We'd brag about it later.  We'd tell tales

to our grandchildren.  We'd do it on the way back, too.  We drove on, told stories
to each other.  In our log, we recorded the towns we passed: Oshkosh, Bridgeport,
Scott's Bluff, signs saying next gas 70 miles.  Next gas 85 miles.   Took pictures
of weathered rock formations, pronghorn antelopes leaping over sagebrush.

Sang with the wind whistling at the open windows:  I've been working on the railroad
and Swing Low Sweet Chariot.  In Wyoming—a day west of Iowa City, a day east
of Pocatello—we decided to stop.  It wasn't Cheyenne or Laramie, but a tiny town
120 miles to the next gas.  A hamburger at Mabel's Diner, a bowl of chili.  Then

it was time to test the idea.  At the jail-house door, we fidgeted,
each trying to slip behind the other.  Which of us spoke first
when the Sheriff asked what we wanted?  We looked back at our car,
forgetting the bravado of earlier talk.

But one of us asked.  Probably she did.  The Sheriff cocked his head,
puzzled.  Looked us over.  We were twenty,
slender, had curves.  Our breasts pressed
suddenly on the insides of our T-shirts.  Big

and soft.  We were alone with the Sheriff.  He loomed, particularly male,
large and strong.  No chaperon, no witness.  I looked at the door,
took a step back.  Jean took a step forward.
He said, "I will have to lock you in

for the night."  We nodded.  Two cells, two beds.  One big key.
We went in; the doors clanked shut.  He sat at his desk.  We sat on our cots
and looked at him.  Later, he approached our cells, keys jingling.  Said
he was leaving.  Turned off the light

and left us alone.  Shadows of iron bars divided the floor.
Stripes of setting sun, neon lights from Main Street, a sliver of moon
sinking.  Perhaps Jean was actually calm.  She talked, spoke
as if we were still in the car.  Still free.  Maybe I spoke too, pretending

to be having fun.  But even if I spoke, even if I smiled, I huddled
scared in a dark, close space, smaller than a jail, tighter than a narrow cell.
The stripes shifted; the segmented sky darkened.  The moon intersected
each bar, pressed and stretched dim shadows on the floor.  I watched

bats flicker across a sky splashed with more stars than I'd ever seen.
Tried to pick out the dipper among them, looked in vain for Orion.  Lay awake
and listened to the catch of my own quiet breath.  Don't let me have to stay
here again, I whispered to the stars, long after Jean's breathing slowed. 

Not ever.  In the morning, the sheriff returned
and unlocked the cells.  The outer door opened to an expanse
of Wyoming sunshine.  At Mabel's, we bought bacon, eggs, home fries
and coffee for a dollar.  Ate outside on picnic tables, quiet in the morning chill.

Mary Stebbins
for Jean Kilquist  

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lost Rose, Found Star

We peel the plastic lid from the cold, forgotten coffee can.
It was delivered earlier from Ann, my aunt, in the heat
of a summer afternoon.  Inside, we find ice-cube thank yous,
mostly melted shards floating in a sea of lemonade.  I pull
out the largest to study it:  a disk-shape.  A pink rose
dribbles between a dripping green Thank and an oozing green you
Flavors, tasted from the tip of a finger, lemon, lime and strawberry,
run, mingle and melt into each other.  Although she sent one
for each of us, three rapidly shrinking disks and slivers
are all that remain.  If we'd only opened them sooner;
if it could only be undone.  But it cannot.  Inside the frame
of the disk melting between my fingers:  crystals of ice,
joined at the center, a many-pointed star.  Shining.  Blazing
radiates all of the sun's light and maybe more.  My Aunt's love! 
Such surprising brilliance!  Such luminance and beauty! 
I want to capture and keep it in a picture, but is melts,
crumbles and is gone before I can get my camera.  I'm sad
until I realize we have her love.  She may have melted
between our fingers and disappeared, but her love is with us. 
And that star?  Snared in my memory, and still intact.

Mary Stebbins Taitt
for Ann Ciaranello

Monday, March 17, 2008

123 Acrostic Poetry meme

H-Acrostic 123 Poetry Meme

This is for Andree, it's a variation on the page 123 meme for
poets--anyone can do it but it does take some time. I did this today,
this morning, but I recommend taking more time with it for best

1)choose a book (mine is Marge Piercy's Three Women (Excellent book!)
2)go to P 123, Look for the first interesting word or phrase:
"Increasingly Silent All Day" (you can go on to the next page if
necessary)(Short words are quicker!)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26

For each letter of your word or phrase, add that letters number of
pages and count down that letter's number of lines and write down the
first interesting phrase BEGINNING with the LETTER. Continuing adding
pages, and if you get to end, continue from the beginning. Or just
open any page randomly. Do NOT use a poetry book.

I=123+9= 132 p132, 9 lines down: insane desire to flee, to run off
into the misty morning and vanish
N=132+14=146, p 146, 14 lines down: nothing else, she waited until
Monday afternoon when everyone else was out of the house.
C=146+3=149, p149, 3 lines down: could no longer handle ordinary (clothes)
R=149+19=168, p168, 19 lines down: religiously, full of tales and dreams
E=168+5=173, p173, 5 lines down: Expect the brightest spot in her life
A: All he needed he could fit in a backpack
S: Sensible and cool. She liked to keep him on edge
I: I'm good for you, I only have to charm everyone, it was the
excitement she craved
N: Nothing's going on, not something she should spring on him, not fat
G: gently by the elbows as if she might fly apart. Grinning

S: Stood staring, seeing through her lashes. Scared. Bleak
I: I was innocent. I was depressed
L: Love had been a roaring inside her
E: Enjoy other people's pretend lives
C: Coward. Failure. Tried to kill herself.
E: Eyelids fluttered several times. Opened a slit. Moaned.

(Yours of course will look different.)

Now comes the hard poetry part. Now that you have a start, you can
change anything you want, look up new phrases. You can keep the
acrostic form, but if you do, try to make it not be obvious. Or get
rid of it. Revise and Edit till you have a poem. Feeel free to take
a week or two at least with this meme. Try to keep at least some part
of the original words or phrases.

Increasing Silence

I want to flee, to run off insane into the misty morning and vanish as if
nothing else mattered, as if everyone was gone from my life, as if I
could no longer handle ordinary relationships, as if love didn't
exist. I am not
religious, but spiritual maybe and full of tales, dreams and fantasies, always
expecting love to be the brightest spot in my life, and full of
laughter. If only
all I needed could fit in a backpack. If I could just be
sensible and calm. But life keeps me on edge. Remember love? Why can
I no longer charm you? Once I craved excitement, adventure.
Now, nothing happens. At bedtime, only sleep. Not even sleep. Hold me
gently by the elbows—I might fly apart. Stop frowning. I'm

scared. And bleak. I stand staring, seeing your lips through wet lashes.
I'm not innocent. I'm depressed, angry, hurt. Lonely.
Love roars inside me. Of course I still love you. But I don't
enjoy pretend lives, and silence! Distances. Touch me. Am I a
coward? A failure? I want the opposite of suicide. Give me life! Kiss my
eyelids! Butterfly kisses, moans of delight. Shhh, just hold me.

And here's another:


Crazy you mutter the blues festival city's a mess ugh such a mob you look
over the boisterous crowd from a frowning face frown more deeply your
main gripe's the noise the surging swarm of humanity your
principle goal's to keep from slipping into the unruly streets
listen blues and laughter shrieks of joy but you shrink back
anticipate jostling pickpockets thieves and hustlers
insist always on security on your own way you would
never admit you'd prefer to hide inside turn on the TV watch the whole
thing canned later say yes you saw the sweat on the bass player's lip come on
stop grumbling lean closer enjoy with me this dancing pageant of people.

(Both poems by me, Mary Stebbins Taitt. the first one is brand new.)
the H in H-Acrostic is from HARVESTED--meaning you start with harvested phrases.

The robin is from Thursday--they've been here about two weeks now.

I tag Andree, Michael, Pam, Leaf Lady and anyone esle who would like
to play along.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Magic in Poetry (The great American P...

If you have time and are willing, please read what I have written below (it's short) and then please send me the names of the two (or more) poems (or the actual poems, if you have them handy) you consider to be most "magical" and your own personal most magical poem (if you are willing to allow me to possibly write about it.) Furthermore, if (and only if) you have time, tell me any thought you have about the poems you sent (your own and others) or the topic in general. I know you are busy, so if you don't have time, just delete this message. (Did you know I married and moved to Detroit?)(This is not for a course, but simply for my own cogitation and edification at the moment.) Also any comments on what I've written would be nice but absolutely not necessary. Hope you are well and enjoying life. Mary Stebbins Taitt

Magic in Poetry (The Great American Poem?)

by Mary Stebbins Taitt

Dawn McDuffie, former classmate and current poetry teacher at the Scarab Club in Detroit, Michigan, assigned us to write "that poem we've always wanted to write" (The great American poem, perhaps?), "a magical poem that does all those things we've been learning to do," show senses and emotion, have metaphor and avoids cliche, thesis statements, weak verbs, state-of-being verbs, too many adjective and adverbs, verbosity, etc. The poem that does something new and exciting.

Of course I wrote not the magical great American poem, but the next poem I needed to write. It didn't flow out of the head of the muse like spontaneous music or leap full blown from the head of Zeus; it was a struggle, even more so than normal. It started out more as prose than poetry, which while becoming more common lately, has not always been my modis operendi. I went through and did all those things I always do, revising and editing, deleting unnecessary words, ferreting out cliches (or attempting to), looking for stronger verbs and nouns, and slowly, painfully, it moved from prose toward poetry. I looked at the line breaks and the lines and the sentences. I looked for alliteration, wanting some but not too much. I looked for inadvertent rhyme, to do away with it or make it intentional. I kept thinking of all those things I'd been taught: no surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader. The turn is the center of the poem. No turn, no poem. And I wondered, can this poem ever become magical, or should I start over from scratch?

How could I know if I needed to start over without knowing what I was looking for? It's all very well to say that I know a magical poems when I see one. But if I don't know what defines it, how can I create it? I guess, theoretically, one could create without being able to articulate. Zen and the art of poetry writing, perhaps. Get into "the zone" and go. Then, being the sort of curious and ambivalent person I am, I wondered if attempting to define, articulate and understand is antithetical to the poetic process. Perhaps it is, but since we are of two minds, I suggest we can do both, though not necessarily at once, and that examining and defining can help in the creative process, because that material, knowledge and comprehension becomes available to those separate minds within us that create.

I thought about a paper I wrote for Natasha Saje in my second semester at Vermont college. I'd been talking about joy in poetry and Natasha suggested that I try to articulate what I meant. I did. She was disappointed. "You just say why you like the poems," she complained. She was right, an a way. My problem was a lack of time in the context of working and attending college full time. I had a list of books I was required to read and write about and insufficient time to explore other work, so I wrote about what was joyful in the poems I was reading. I found no shortage of joy in the assigned work.

Now, I'd like to do it again, with magic, but my available time to cogitate is still very limited and the subject is just as slippery. However, I have no deadline, so I could theoretically work on it a little at a time until I complete it. But I have ADHD and sticking single-mindedly to a project over a long period of time in the midst of multiple ongoing projects and life is very hard for me. I might fail to do so.

But I will surely fail if I do not begin.

What is a magical poem? Is it the same as a joyful poem? A delightful poem? Are there black and white magicks? Can a dark poem be "magical?" What did Dawn mean, what was she suggesting, when she told us to write a magical poem? How did she hope we would understand that?

Dictionary definitions don't do justice to the sense of magic I believe Dawn intended. So I will create my own list of synonyms for this specific use: enchanting, extraordinary, miraculous, spellbinding, marvelous or monstrous, numinous, luminous, wondrous, superhuman, transcending, magnetic, entrancing, astonishing, remarkable, awe-inspiring. I propose that a magical poem is a poem that works, that succeeds at the highest level. All the poetic devices work with the imagination of first the poet and then the reader to evoke a sense of wonder, strong emotion (e.g.: joy & delight or horror) and surprise. The magical poem contains an "aha" and a sense of uncanny rightness. The cliched poem is exactly what the reader expects. The magical poem is unexpected but just as right and far more satisfying. The magical poems simultaneously sings to the senses and whispers to the dream self. It engages the whole reader, body mind and soul.

If a magical poem is simply a highly successful poem, is there anything else to say about it? Thousands of successful poems exist in every language. Much has already been written about them. Have I anything to add? To tell you the truth, I am not certain, but I intend to consider it. But not at this moment, so I will continue later. More to follow.