Posts tagged poetry

I am afraid
Of people behind counters
And of talking on the phone.
“Here; you answer it.
I don’t know who it is.”
My husband shakes his head,
Takes the phone, and says,
Like it’s not the hardest word.
He smiles,
Calls me ridiculous,
Kisses me on the cheek.
I laugh even though
I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.

I am afraid
Of neighbors across the street
And of visiting our friends.
“Our friends”
Because I don’t have any of my own.
My husband says hello again.
“Dinner next week?”
He raises eyebrows at me
And I nod my head,
like I know he hopes I will.
The next seven days are
Composed of dread and low expectations.
During dinner my mind
snaps a picture of every awkward silence
and confused stare.

But after is the worst,
When I take the photographs from their box
and read the writing on their backs.
They hate you.
You always say the wrong thing.
Why do you—
Now I am especially aware
That they are our friends.
“Our friends,” not mine.
Because he is the one
Who answers the phone
And I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid
Of congregants in their pews
And of talking to the pastor.
My husband isn’t here to answer.
He’s across the room,
A link in a circle of strangers,
Talking to our friends.
So I sit next to the pastor’s wife,
Our bibles on the pew between us.
She tells me it’s the devil
Saying those things I hear;
It’s the devil
Making me afraid of the telephone,
Of being a link in the circle,
Of singing the wrong note during worship,
Of talking too much, too little,
Too fast, too loud,
Too soft, too slow.
“It’s the devil,” she says
When I bring up brain chemistry
And therapy and medicine.
“It’s the devil,” she says.
“Let me pray with you.”

So we pray.
And I try to concentrate,
But I’m too busy being afraid
That I will say the wrong thing,
Pray the wrong thing;
That she will notice
My stutters–
My halting phrases–
That I am holding her hands too hard,
Or that my fingers are too cold,
That I am too open, too closed,
Too little, too much.
But most of all I am afraid
Because we are calling God
And he might notice too.

I hang up before He answers,
Smiling at the pastor’s wife,
Letting her hug me after “Amen.”
She laughs at the devil,
Her way of giving glory.
I laugh too, even though
This devil is me
And I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.
“Just pray,” she quips, looking away,
Punching a number
into her cell phone,
Like it’s something she
does every day.
“Call on Him and He will answer.”

But that’s what I’m afraid of.

Counting Bridges

You’re counting “No Thank Yous”
like pennies that I owe you.
Counting birthdays, anniversaries,
dinner parties I’ve skipped.
But me?
I’m counting bridges.
three of them
that I have to cross
to get to your house
on the other side of town.
Counting the minutes it would take me
to get my children, all
three of them,
out of their belts and into
the life jackets I’ve stowed
under the back seat
just in case one of the bridges breaks.
I’m counting the feet of rope I should bring
to tie their tiny arms to mine
so no one floats away from me.
And if there were no water,
and no bridges between us,
I’d be counting
stovetops left on
doors left unlocked
broken blinds
for the monsters to peek through.
I’d count electric poles
that might snap in half;
trucks weighed down with logs
that want to come loose
and roll into the street like hand grenades.
I’d count everything–
everything I didn’t want to.

You think I drive you away,
But I never drive if I can help it.

Shadow & Shape

I’ve been walking like a shadow these last three days:
like me, but
silent, dark
and dimensionless,
with parts just misshapen enough
to not really be parts of me at all.
Legs stretched out
like cables between telephone poles–
fingers scraping the floor,
as if trying to seep straight through
warped wood and concrete
and wormy, black earth.
As if they could snatch you up and bring you back.
But my stomach is not round enough,
my head too small and pointed at the top,
ankles melted together like a fish tail
stinking in the garbage.
If I could bring you back
You probably wouldn’t recognize me at all.
I’m different now,
At least for now.
I am the shadow,
And grief is the shape.


You have hands that never formed–
fingers that didn’t get the chance
to curl into hungry fists
or wrap into the ribbons of your sister’s hair.
How then, did you
grab ahold of me so tightly?
I loved you
When you were nothing more
than a shade of pink
and I loved you still
When you turned red.

There is a future–
I think there is–
when others will come.
Pink, then flesh, and nude, and brown.
And I will love them just as well.
But there will always be
A space in me
That was meant for you to fill.


If I am a new creation,
why do I sometimes feel so old,
bones brittle with the memories
of who I was the last time
I walked the earth,
In the same feet
I’m wearing now?
I’m expected to shed that life–
my old life–
like a dried-out skin.
But it’s not that easy,
Is it?
Because lives are more
than flaking cells,
turning to dust and
settling on the mantelpiece
to be wiped away when
you get sick
of looking at the mess.
have people in them
and smiles
that crinkle the corners of eyes,
laughing without laughing.
Lives are stocked
with everyday wonders
and what-ifs
and missteps
and regret.

Regret is the skin
I can’t bear to shed.


I saw you
across the Atlantic,
coated in claws,
And I miss you
so much that it feels like
claws hooked in my chest,
Because to you I am nothing,
but you are still something
to me.
I resent you like hell
because you didn’t keep fighting
when I gave up–
when I was so tired of having my claws out.
Because you didn’t see how confused I was;
You only saw how much I was changing–
not how much I didn’t want to.
I resent you like hell
because you thought
my illness was who I was.
So did I.
But I needed you to tell me different.
To see me different.
So I’d know I was different
than the thoughts inside my head.
But what were you supposed to do?
I can’t resent you at all.

I’m afraid to talk to people.
Did you know that?
I’ve wished you seven silent happy birthdays
and none of my new friends are closer than
“How’s work?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Well! See you next Sunday.”
because I still love you
like I love my childhood home,
like the bannister I curled my fingers around
when I first tried out my feet.
And I’m afraid I’ll hurt everyone
the way that I hurt you;
lose everyone
the way that I left you.
And that they will all think
my illness is who I am
because no one will be sane enough
to tell them any different.

Seven silent happy birthdays,
and my sickness still stalks me like a lost prize.
Maybe one day it will catch me
and mount me upon the wall,
forever with my claws out.
Maybe you’ll see me suspended there,
shake your head and say,
“Yep. There she goes again. Some things never change.”

Turn on the Faucet-- Get Writing!

FaucetQuote Some of you may have read my post from yesterday about the bout of writer's block I've been experiencing. Well, yesterday evening I saw this quote and felt inspired. It's completely true what Louis L'amour says: you can't write until you start. So this morning I made a point of waking up before my children. They both ended up in bed with me last night, but I managed to make my escape without disturbing them. Then I showered, brewed some strong-but-not-too-strong coffee, and set right to writing. No distractions (until the two children in question finally did arise). I turned the faucet on, and the water has been flowing ever since! Bye-bye, writer's block! I'm not about to shut off the flow now, but I wanted to share this quote with anyone else who might be having a hard time pressing forward. Take the advice. Start writing. Turn on the faucet and don't shut it off 'til the sink is overflowing.

Today's Prompt: Write a modern day fairy tale (an original story or a retelling of an old favorite). Include water imagery in your opening scene.

Happy Writing!


A Tribute to a Fellow Writer

doctorquote A friend of my husband's passed away this week. I didn't know him, and I don't know much about him, but I do know that he was a writer too, with an unwavering commitment to his craft. Even after the diagnosis that signaled the end of his life, he continued to work on his book with the desire to have it published. I greatly admire that determination and hope that somehow his book does get out there into the world, even though he no longer inhabits it. More importantly than that, I know he had people who cared for him deeply and who are now suffering a great loss due to his passing. I know he was a father, a grandfather, and a friend. For his loved ones, my heart aches. Instead of giving a writing prompt today, I'm asking that you say a prayer for Tom and the people who are now mourning for him. May God comfort them and heal their pain.

Thank you all,


Original photograph by flickr user Adrian Clark.

A Story Only You Can Tell

  You could live an experience exactly like another person—be in the same place, with the same people, witnessing the same things—and still have a different story to tell. That's where individualism comes into writing. Let's face it: there's nothing new under the sun. Most stories come down to the same few core subjects: good versus evil, falling in love, self-growth, etc. But year after year, books come out. They keep enrapturing us, even if we've read the basic subject matter a million times before. And the reason for that is because no one tells any story the same way. Everyone has a unique perspective that transforms age-old topics into new adventures. If nothing else, you have something that only you can offer to the world of literature. You are the only one who can tell your story. So tell it, because it's the only way we will ever hear what you have to say.

Today's Prompt: Write this story. Two characters, Bill and Catherine from Louisiana, are vacationing in Oregon and visit Tamolitch Pool (pool pictured below). After exploring a bit, Bill decides to take a dive from a cliff into the pool. But when he does, he doesn't come back up. Catherine realizes he's in trouble, jumps in after him and (after quite a struggle) manages to get him to shore. She begins administering CPR and...

The wrap-up is for you to choose.

Here are the relevant photos:


Here is a link to more information about the area if you're interested:

Happy Writing! KC

Stay in the Game: Writing after Rejection

   I've heard people say that art is pain. And it's true, to an extent. To be an artist is to open yourself up to rejection, ridicule, and unwanted remarks. Everyone has something to say and oftentimes they focus on the negative. That hurts.  And don't even get me started on the publishing process. From querying agents to finally getting in with a publisher, the road is fraught with "no" after painful "no." Many times rejection isn't a reflection on you as a writer so much as a product of the circumstances—but it doesn't feel that way. Every "no" is like a tackle, knocking you off your feet.

When you're on the ground with the wind knocked out of you, bones and muscles aching, you have two choices: get up and make another play, or stay down. So what do you do? Well, you probably make the same choice every other writer makes. You stay in the game, not because you're a glutton for punishment or because you heal instantly, but because you love it. You love it so much, you're willing to be tackled again and again just for the sake of the game. In fact, if you're anything like me, you probably don't have a choice; sitting on the sidelines would be more painful than anything a publisher could throw at you. That's just how writers work.

So keep playing. Keep writing. Take the tackles: the rejection, the ridicule, the unwanted remarks. Continue to put yourself out there, no matter what the cost, and one day you'll make it past that goal line.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about an unlucky football player and how his luck finally changes.

Happy Writing!


The Non-Writing Monster (Quote of the Day)

  Kafka sure doesn't mince words. And he's not wrong. I haven't had much opportunity to write recently lost and I kind of feel like a "monster courting insanity": a big scaly monster with pens for claws and a deathly sharp tongue. Nice, right? So instead of blogging about how ugly this monster is and how the only way to get rid of it is by sitting down to write (which let's face it,  everyone knows already), I'm going to take my own advice and go work on my novel. If you're feeling monsterish, maybe you should do the same. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a horror story including a terrifying creature.

Happy Writing!


Beyond Currency: Write for Yourself

  A simple truth from Stephen King for your Friday. Money and writing are always separate. Sure, you might get paid for some of your work; maybe you'll even make it big--books, movies, action figures, bobbleheads. But at the end of the day, "the act of writing is beyond currency." Money is a bonus, not a reason.  Write for yourself. If money comes, it comes. If it doesn't, well, your achievement is just as great; it just looks a little different.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about a person who is a bank teller by day, and something wildly different by night. Have someone from his/her "day life" catch him/her in the "night life."

Happy Writing!


The Power of Self-Knowledge: How Understanding Mental Illness Made Me a Better Writer

IMG_3623 When I was 19, I took a ride in the back of a police car.

I hadn't been arrested; I hadn't committed a crime--I'd simply gone off grid at the height of a very public emotional breakdown. A consuming depression, along with a series of misunderstandings, led my parents to fear that I'd disappeared with the intention of harming myself. The police were enlisted to help find me--which they did. So I took a ride in the back of a police car and ended up involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Physically, I was a danger to no one; I didn't need to be in the ward because of that possibility. However, I don't regret the time I spent there. Those days marked a turning point in my life--a defining moment, you could say. Locked up within its walls, I began to understand myself--my mental state--better than I'd allowed myself to do up until that point. Self-knowledge had been something I'd avoided because I didn't like what I learned. There was a brokenness in me I couldn't fix, so I refused to see it. But being committed forced me to see it--the whole ugly truth: who I'd hurt, what I'd destroyed, things I'd done that I'd never have done in my right mind. Only when I accepted that brokenness was I able to start working towards getting better.*

Mental illness is never someone's fault, but I didn't know that at the time. I nursed a deep self-hatred because of actions I'd had little to no control over, and it took months--years, even--to learn that though I had hurt and destroyed and broken things, the blame wasn't on me. The sickness that had altered my mind and behavior was to blame. Once past the point of despising myself, I was able to get to know who I was apart from depression. And once I knew myself, I was able to write.

My work in progress, Ourselves and Others, is based on true events--namely, my time in the psychiatric ward and the resultant occurrences. The only reason I'm able to write about it now, six years later, is because I finally understand where my mind was when the events occurred. There's a deep place I'm writing from, one previously locked away. And self-knowledge was the key to finally opening up that door. In fact, it opened many doors: doors that led to opportunities, art, new relationships, self-improvement. Knowing myself, I can excel in areas I wouldn't even have attempted otherwise. As Rosoff says, "Self-knowledge is essential."

Do you know yourself? Let the person you are come through in your writing. Write from that deep place that only you can fully understand. If you don't know yourself--if you've never been to that deep place-- get to know who you are and allow that knowledge to transform what you do. It'll be worth it.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story based on a defining moment in your life. As you write, try to learn something about yourself as a person: your state during the event; how the event changed you; etc. Let the story come from that place of understanding.

Happy Writing!


*Anyone who has ever struggled with a mental/emotional illness knows it isn't that easy. You can't just decide to get better. My story is not everyone's story. Denial stunted my healing, but many people accept and admit their sicknesses and still don't feel like they're improving. "Working towards getting better" for me included taking my medication, going to therapy, moving back in with my parents, leaving school, and being honest with myself and my family about my illness. It was a long road that truthfully, I'm still on. Depression hasn't been a part of my life for a long while, but I'm now living with Social Anxiety Disorder, which I think is largely due to the breakdown I had in 2009. Accepting that has been the difference between function and debilitation. You can't just decide to get better, but you can decide to get help.

Living Write (Quote of the Day)

  I write this blog post as I sit on the couch, a baby in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I'm still in my pajamas. My day will consist of laundry, cooking, and keeping little fingers out of electrical sockets. The life I'm living is by definition simple, regular, and happy. And for me, just like for Lauren Groff, that makes for better writing. When exciting, irregular things are happening, I tend to lose focus. If there's too much going on in my life, I can go days—weeks—months without writing a single word. And even if I do write, it's often disjointed or plain awful. What can I say? I'm just too distractible. So I need a slow pace in order to be successful at what I really love: writing. I know others, however, who flourish when their lives are busy. They find inspiration in the exciting, irregular things happening, whereas I would only find interruption. 

We all have different lives that hopefully enable us to create, rather than stunt our progress. If you're not living a life like that, something needs to change. My advice? Make your life what you need it to be in order to write something beautiful. If you need to speed up, go on an adventure; if you need to take it slow, drop something from your calendar. Changing your life is only as complicated as you make it. So make the change and create a life that motivates you.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story about a perpetual nomad who finally decides to settle down.

Happy Writing!


The Other Side of Writing (Quote of the Day)

  The foundation of this quote can be traced back much further than Maya Angelou (check out its origins here), but I like her take on things. Easy reading is damn hard writing. It's so true, people have been saying it for centuries. At the same time, however, I wonder if it's always true for everyone, every time.  There are moments in which some force takes me over and the words just come to me, almost like I'm jotting down a dictation rather than actually writing. And sometimes, I read those "easy" scenes and find there's very little that needs changing. But there are other times that each word is a challenge. "And... Then... She... Bought? Purchased? Bartered for?" To top off the ridiculous difficulty, I go back and read only to discover that the last few paragraphs are utter crap. When that happens, I don't even edit. I just scrap and start over.

So I feel like there's something missing from this idea. Easy reading is damn hard writing. But is it really the writing that's hard? I don't know about you, but what I find hard isn't so much the writing as the dedication. We all know what words mean and how to put them together, but when you start a novel or a poem or a kid's book, you make a commitment to create something and make it the best it could possibly be—to finish, to hone it, to sacrifice favorite scenes and lines for the good of the whole, to kill characters you love, to show the good in characters you hate, to spend hours on a chapter only to realize you've taken the wrong direction, to write in past tense for ten chapters only to decide your book would be better in present, to actually implement that change. All of that is hard. And sure, putting words together in a way that sounds good is a challenge. But there's a whole 'nother side to writing that most people don't see. And that's where the real battle begins.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story in which the protagonist succumbs to the conflict. No happy endings.

Happy writing!


Words and Music: Using Poetic Devices (Quote of the Day)

  As both a musician and a writer, this quote makes sense to me. I understand what Truman Capote means because I hear the same music when I write. And, at least in my mind, that music is poetry. Simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, alliteration, rhythm—all those things that make writing beautiful—they're all poetic devices. It's those devices that lend a lilting, flowing quality to any work. Without poetry, our words would be as dry as burnt toast—and even less flavorful. We need poetry to make our writing palatable. Once we master that inner music, our readers will hear it, even if they don't realize there's music playing. And the best part is that more often than not, they'll keep coming back to listen.

Today's Prompt: Write a poem on a subject matter of your choosing, including at least one example of each of the following: simile, metaphor, alliteration, and repetition.

Happy Writing!


Casualties and Character Growth (Quote of the Day)

When I saw this quote today, it reminded me of a similar sentiment I saw just yesterday: another quote posted by my friend Michael Bacera.

Here is the quote image he posted:

Obviously this is a common feeling among writers, and for good reason. Life comes with suffering; it comes with casualties. We all know pain, because pain is a distinct part of being human. To a large degree, our pain makes us who we are. So how could we possibly write characters who don't know pain? If we did, our stories would lack the realism and relatability that render them worth reading. I would even venture to say that suffering is what makes readers care about a character; it evokes empathy. We can look at a character's pain and say, "I've been there. I know what that feels like, and I'm rooting for you." Maybe we're rooting for them because in some way, seeing them triumph gives us hope that we'll triumph too.

Everywhere, suffering exists. But out of suffering comes hope, endurance, growth, and victory. Our stories need those things. For all of us who have characters who are real people to us, pain is there in those characters' lives, waiting to be discovered. We just have to write it.

Today's Prompt: Write a story that includes a death.

Happy (or unhappy) Writing!


Redefining Literature (Quote of the Day)

I grew up considering literature to be the kind of works I read in English class: Romeo and Juliet, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye. Even In my free time, I enjoyed similar works (and still do). My taste has always been broad, however, so I also liked other things. More "commercial" things, like Pendragon, Harry Potter, and pretty much anything else I could get my book-loving hands on. I loved to read. I would read toilet paper packages if there was nothing else around. Instruction manuals. Nutrition facts. And in my mind, I knew these things were "literature," but they weren't… Literature.  Please read that last word in a snobby-sounding, accented voice, because that's totally how I said it.

Merriam-Webster appears to agree with Growing-Up Me on that:

So there's literature, and then there's less-than-literature. We even make a distinction between "literary" and "commercial" fiction, as though one is related to literature and the other is simply business-based, somehow; as though their intrinsic value relates to different things.

Well. Since leaving the academic world, I've learned a thing or two, and I have to say to Merriam-Webster, Growing-Up Me, and most of my English teachers/professors:

Literature (snobby accent again) is not the only literature out there. It's not the only type of writing with literary value. I've seen blog posts more beautiful than some canonized works. There have been advertisements that made me cry. There's even been—yes—graffiti that made me think more intensely than Dickens or Hemingway could (not that I don't dig those two, because I do).

Don't get me wrong; I'm not one who thinks all art is created equal. Obviously there are some works that are better than others. But who decides that? And who decided that means that only the "best" are literature and the rest are tossed into the not-quite-literature-but-almost pile? The truth is that anything written can be beautiful and worthwhile, because language in itself is beautiful and worthwhile—no matter the format.

Today's Prompt (if you're brave enough): Go graffiti something. If you're not brave enough or have other constraints: Write a story in which someone graffitis something.

Happy Writing!


For the Love of Writing (Quote of the Day)

Yes. This is what I'm talking about. This is why I'm not in any rush to self publish my novels or put them out there myself (not that I have anything against that). One of these days (maybe) I'll get around to sending out query letters and hopefully finding an agent. And sure, it would be nice to see my work in print, knowing some people will read it. I'm aware of that. 

But ultimately, being published is not a big motivator for me. I write simply because I love it; because it helps me learn and grow; because it teaches me things about myself that I couldn't have known otherwise. I write because, just as Gwendolyn Brooks says, I feel I have to. It's not for publication. It's not even for readers. It's for me.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about a construction worker with aspirations of fame.

Happy Writing!


The Practice of Practice: Learning How to Write (Quote of the Day)

I believe that great writers are made from a mixture of two things: talent and practice. No one can be truly  remarkable without either one of these, no matter how much they have of the other. That's a lesson anyone can learn without trying; just think about what your writing was like when you first began. The likelihood is you can easily identify marks of immaturity.

My teenage poetry was overly angsty—"crawl into a corner and die, but no one will notice" angsty. When I began writing short stories, I focused too much on the description of the setting as opposed to what was going on in the story. Snoozeville. And when I began writing novels, I never finished anything. Out there somewhere in the abyss are five poor novels that never got their endings, and it's all my fault.

Happily, all of those problems had a purpose. There's no shame in them. I needed those years of immaturity to teach me how to write—to mold me into the artist I've become—because the act of writing really cannot be learned all at once. To be quite honest, I don't know if it can ever be fully learned at all. It seems to me that as long as you're still writing, you're still growing; still perfecting; still becoming who you are as a writer. 

And that's half the fun, isn't it? ;)

Today's Prompt: What were your weaknesses as a beginning writer? Identify at least two of these, and then write a short story featuring these failures.

Happy Writing!