aphorisms and observations: a short life

The pieces in this series are distilled from my Facebook status messages. Read more here. This installment includes status messages written during a bout of bronchitis and a trip to the emergency room for an adverse drug reaction.


Every day a desire.

The cardinal is a single drop of blood on the birch tree’s white arm.

A long day in a short life.

Don’t ask me what my problem is because you’ll be in for a long answer.

I woke up screaming these words in my head: “Why the FURNITURE am I awake right now!” Only the word furniture wasn’t really furniture. That’s just what my phone suggested I type instead of xxxx.

Another night’s sleep, another opportunity to further define these boob wrinkles.

Hey, when did I put on this turtleneck? Oh, that’s just my actual neck.

How am I? I’m wearing a broom skirt as a sundress. That’s how I am.

That’s it. If my underwear doesn’t fit right, I’m throwing it out. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

I must be feeling a little better because my pissed off is back.

Every time I look at potatoes, I think “Taters gonna tate.”

american life in poetry: shuffling out toward morning

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004–2006

We describe people we admire by throwing around words like “indomitable spirit,” but here’s an example and a proof by Don Welch, a Nebraska poet.


Shuffling Out Toward Morning

After an hour in the infusion lab,
Taxol dripping into her,
fighting her cancer;

after sitting nauseous
next to a man
vomiting into a Pepsi cup,

she rose, palming the wall,
stooping only to pick up
a pen a doctor had dropped,

giving it back to the doctor
who had slipped it poorly
into his coat.

 


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Don Welch, whose most recent book of poems is Gnomes (Stephen F. Austin Univ. Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Don Welch. Introduction copyright ©2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

the voices in my head: identity through the natural world

This series is a means for curating the poems that surprise, delight, startle, unsettle, and challenge me. I’ve also thrown in a few pieces of prose, some craft discussions, and quotes from various classes and workshops I’ve attended. I first shared many of these pieces on Facebook, where I link to one or more poems each day. Attributions in blue link to the entire piece or to information about the publication in which the piece appears.


We have time on our hands here, in our hearts, and it makes us strange. — Kathleen Norris

I was immense / and empty out there. I filled myself / with their lives, I stored up / the whole town, generations / of the town, other towns. / I have them now and it’s nothing. — Carl Adamshick

We domesticated the ocean / In a single continuous strand / And brought it ashore in our hearts. — Charles Potts

A certain day became a presence to me; / there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light: / a being. — Denise Levertov

After all anybody is as their land and air is. Anybody is as the sky is low or high. Anybody is as there is wind or no wind there. That is what makes a people, makes their kind of looks, their kind of thinking, their subtlety and their stupidity, and their eating and their drinking and their language. — Gertrude Stein

There it stood again: / wood’s edge, and depression’s / deepening / shade inviting me in / saying / no one is here. / No one was there / to be ashamed of me. — Franz Wright

Because words have no effect upon the wind / or the trees, I am a curious onlooker — David Ignatow

So the hens and geese make us think in terms of help / outside, how they flap and move with fat ease in front of trains, / across the chopping block, to the hungry winters of final leviathans, / even as they land just so on the wires above us ― Amy King

Oh and let’s not forget / the heartbreak, / the heartbreak of newly-mown grass, / of any and every awful beauty. — Kay McKenzie Cooke

All is elegy, / departing or gone; incessant rain, / language the earth understands. — Luisa A. Igloria

american life in poetry: coffee break

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004–2006

Kwame Dawes is the editor of Prairie Schooner and one of my colleagues at the University of Nebraska. Had I never had the privilege of getting to know him I still would have loved the following poem, for its clear and matter-of-fact account of a sudden loss.


Coffee Break

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.

 


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Kwame Dawes, “Coffee Break,” from Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Kwame Dawes and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

aphorisms and observations: heavy machinery

The pieces in this series are distilled from my Facebook status messages. Read more here. Some of these status messages were written after I inadvertently took cough medicine during the day. (I was attempting to use my inhaler, but I took the wrong medicine because I was on autopilot. Welcome to my ADHD world.)


Between now and later, there is nothing but time.

I’ve discovered a private, out-of-the-way place to discuss my greatest hopes and deepest fears. It’s called the internet.

Someone on a Christian radio station just said that God will “supply” me with all my needs. That’s right. Because God is just like Walmart.

I am having trouble operating heavy machinery right now. By heavy machinery, I mean my cell phone.

Last night’s infusion mostly went into the skin surrounding my elbow. Now I have an elbow boobie. For five bucks, I’ll let you fondle my elbow boobie.

I want to stock every closet, cabinet, and cubby in our home with sex toys, then hold an open house. It’s the only way to get someone to buy this place.

I’m walking backwards in an effort to make time go in reverse.

I feel like that ride at the carnival that’s about to break. You know the one.

My hairdresser asked me if I “tucked,” and I said, “No, my penis is invisible.” What she actually wanted to know was whether I tuck my hair behind my ears.

You know you’re having a bad day when you get mad at your chihuahua for not putting her toys away.

In the spirit of us all being one, whenever you accomplish something great, I’m going to put it on my resume.

I just checked the Dalai Lama’s Facebook feed to see if it’s anything like mine. It’s not.

aphorisms and observations: safe and chaste

The pieces in this series are distilled from my Facebook status messages. Read more here.


Today when I wasn’t wearing any clothing, my husband grabbed me—not for sex but to do a quick all-over mole check. Thanks for keeping me safe, honey. Safe and chaste.

I think my mother was ultimately a good person who, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, watered the wrong seeds during her lifetime. To be more accurate, she doused those seeds in alcohol.

I’m pretty sure Hayden thinks my flute is a squeaky toy for humans.

I should go to the bookstore with several copies of one of my poems, paste a copy inside all the poetry journals that are available (Poetry, Boulevard, Tin House, and so forth), then list those publications in my bio as places my work has appeared. Because it would be true.

If we keep calling windchills negative, we’re going to give them a complex.

I feel like the whispering prairie is talking about me behind my back. Grass can be such a gossip. It never learned how to hold its tongue.

If she wants her photo taken, then by all means shoot the messenger.

Tonight I tried to draw a phallus, but it ended up looking like a femur. Long time, no see.

I keep reading “wind-powered organism” as “wind-powered orgasm.”

I just misread the news headline “Unique Lodging Options” as “Unique Longdong Options.”

american life in poetry: elegy for blue

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004–2006

I’ve read lots of poems about the loss of beloved pets, but this one by J.T. Ledbetter, who lives in California, is an especially fine and sensitive one.


Elegy for Blue

Someone must have seen an old dog
dragging its broken body through
the wet grass;
someone should have known it was lost,
drinking from the old well, then lifting
its head to the wind off the bottoms,
and someone might have wanted that dog
trailing its legs along the ground
like vines sliding up the creek
searching for sun;
but they were not there when the dog
wandered through Turley’s Woods looking
for food and stopped beneath the thorn trees
and wrapped its tail around its nose
until it was covered by falling leaves
that piled up and up
until there was no lost dog at all
to hear the distant voice calling
through the timber,
only a tired heart breathing slower,
and breath, soft as mist, above the leaves.

 


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by J. T. Ledbetter, from his most recent book of poems, Old and Lost Rivers, Lost Horse Press, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of J. T. Ledbetter and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.