New Poetry: A Different Seed

texas-bluebonnets-081

 Photo by Texas Parks & Wildlife

So … I’m knee-deep in poetry right now, still.  And I feel almost guilty. I have so many people waiting on my next novel, but I’ve set it aside (again). I’m drawn to poetry and I’m gonna ride this pony til she stops.

Here’s one of my latest that I worked on in a recent Lighthouse Writers workshop. I can’t seem to get the line spacing right on this blog, but it’s close.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

A Different Seed

I was born in fields of bluebonnets,

ink-well-sapphire             dense petals spiked in sun-blind white

short-lived in the Texas spring —

each dew-soaked stem

flattened just yesterday

by the sharp nose of the coyote

the hoof-step of the Hereford

hiding the hiss and slither of the rattler —

always bouncing back

seemingly singular,

good for early-morning picking

before the heat sets in.

 

Yet by high noon

it’s never easy

to detach a wilted loner

from the rest      held together by a nest of roots

entrenched in the holy dirt

of Saint Sam Houston

el malvado Santa Anna

battle-blood of the Alamo

sweet bread of the German siedler

rusted barbed-wire of fences

oily cotton boll of the farmer

weather-worn skull of a fire-ant-stricken calf

my grandfather would’ve tried to save.

 

And even though Lady Bird’s highways are lined with them —

musky-sweet flowers,

family ties,

good intentions —

 

not every seed will grow

where planted.

 

Is it easily spread on the wind?

Can it tolerate full sun?

 

And what happens

when

the parched and crisp soil

becomes suddenly drenched,

clay-like —

unable to breathe?

New Poem: Invincible Ignorance

I I’ve been dabbling in poetry lately. While several of my poems have been published through the years, and one even placed in a literary contest here in Colorado, I don’t consider myself a poet, really. I’ve not studied the genre like I have fiction and creative nonfiction. But something about it has been calling me. I think I like that I can play around with language and punctuation and flow and metaphor in ways that you just can’t with other types of writing. And I can swoop in and out of thoughts and imagery on the page.

Here’s one of my latest poems, dedicated to Mom and Dad’s daily challenges as they work through their early 70s.

Invincible Ignorance

Her hair dark, shining, beyond her shoulders

thick as three horses’ manes

legs perpetually tanned

sure-footed

in the garden

on the sawdust dance floor

carrying her sharp-tongued wit

wherever it wished to go,

taking her children along

for the bright lights of

the Ferris wheel ride.

 

His hands rough,

capable

of moving livestock

and minds,

holding dogs

and the dreams of little girls;

his shoulders, those shoulders

carrying us

and keeping all things steady,

the shelter of reason

the home of

it’s all going to be okay.

 

But now

her hair,

turning a corner

to spun silver —

where there is no planting

on uneven ground,

and the fair

with its lights spinning

at the pink of dusk

is likely

leaving town.

 

And his hands,

those shoulders,

they’ve turned on him

with knots like centuries-old

live oak branches,

creaking in a South Texas

night wind,

and swollen joints

no amount of tools

from his truck

can fix.

 

Uncertainty creeps in

like a rattlesnake

slipping

through tall dry weeds

for a strike.

 

pain overtakes

the laughter

 

meds don’t mix

with beer

 

mornings

are a crap shoot

 

and

reaching for anything

is just too much.

 

Me? I can’t, won’t

wrap my head

around the present

or how it fits with the past

or how it shapes the future.

 

Yet I do know

invincible natures

live longer

than those

who are not

 

bone and muscle

are a fallible

source of direction,

salvation

 

and, mostly,

ignorance remains

a nice place to visit.

 

After all

their truth

is not my truth

 

and the state of

all matter

is relative

anyway.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Is Forever Ruined

rudolph the red-nosed reindeerWhen the holidays roll around, our family usually sets aside time to watch the old favorite, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And this year was its 50th anniversary, so, yeah, it was on the DVR. And we were ready with fresh-baked cookies and popcorn, the Christmas tree lights on, and a roaring fire in the woodstove. As traditional as it gets.

Unfortunately, this mama was stressed the hell out that night. Life hadn’t been easy that week. So I had, shall we say, a couple of glasses of wine prior to Rudolph. Yes, let’s go with a couple.

And as it turns out, a wine buzz and 1964 claymation do not a good combination make.

In a mere 40 minutes, it seems I pointed out everything that’s completely wrong about the show. As in pausing it and rewinding and pausing and pointing it out again and again. And laughing hysterically.

Yep, I have pretty much ruined the show for my kid and all future generations of his kids.

But at least he was laughing along with me. He even took pictures of the screen.

Here are a few of the highlights of our analysis.

claymation snowmanFirst, the Snowman narrator plays a banjo. And while that is hilarious on its own perhaps, because real-life snowmen don’t have fingers and such, what’s really funny is that the song he plays the banjo to is Silver and Gold. There is no banjo music in Silver and Gold. Piano yes. Cello maybe. No banjo. Also, he has a porn mustache going on. (No, I did not teach my kid what a porn mustache is. Not this time. That can wait til he’s 9.)

Secondly, Santa is a serious asshat throughout the whole movie. He doesn’t like the song the elves sing for him. He tells Donner he should be ashamed of Rudolph and his nose. He’s a total steaming pile of turd to Mrs. Claus. And he looks like he’s been on the Paleo diet during most of the movie.

santa claymationFurthermore, if you look closely, Santa only has three fingers and a thumb. No lie. Where is the other finger? Did he use it during a period of road rage when sky traffic got bad one night? And then did he get into a bar fight where someone taught him a lesson? It could happen. I bet a lot of guys who dress up like Santa and go to bars get beat up.

Yukon Cornelius, who was my first boyfriend really, turns out to be a problem. You see, this is a kids’ movie, right? Even in the 1960s, he really shouldn’t have been packing visible heat in a children’s holiday special. But yep, right there in his holster is a big ol’ shiny gun. The Moms Demand Action and gun violence activist in me was quite disturbed by this. He had a gun. A gun not used for hunting. In a children’s Christmas program. And we wonder what’s wrong with the world.

My testosterone-laden family members, however, were more concerned about the fact that he had a gun with him and yet never tried to use it to defend himself and his friends from the Abominable Snowman monster dude.

Also, he had a flask. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t have apple juice in there.

photo 2Yukon’s team of dogs also poses an issue. Early on, he has them and is mushing them and all, while being chased by the Abominable Snowman monster. But then all of a sudden, Yukon, Rudolph and Hermie are on an iceberg floating away from the monster. And no dogs. They were obviously left behind at a kill-shelter or they were eaten by the monster. I cried a little. But then they suddenly reappeared later. Where were they during the adventure on the Island of Misfit Toys? Did someone give them food and water? Also, amidst the Saint Bernards and Huskies, one of the dogs is a bona fide Poodle.

Yukon's poodleHermie may or may not be gay. Which is absolutely fine. Love who you love! But did they use “dentist” as a code word for “gay” back in the 60s? I need to look that up.

Also, Bostonians take a hit in this move. Because one of the mean-ass little bastard reindeers who is so clearly bullying poor Rudolph had a distinct Boston accent. Was that necessary? I guess I should be grateful they didn’t make him a Texan. Although now that I think about it, Hermie had a bit of a drawl.

Sexism was alive and well in the special, too. Donner has a name but his wife doesn’t. She’s only Mrs. Donner. And when Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice are out looking for Rudolph and can’t find him, Donner decides the best thing to do at that point is to “just get the women home.” Oh yeah, Donner? Like we’re so frail and useless? Well, I hope Mrs. Donner burned her bra in 1972 and found fame and fortune (without you) at Disneyland where she currently surfs the waves, reads Chaucer on the beach, owns a high-rise luxury condo, and goes out at night with J-Lo and a number of nice bucks who know how to treat a lady. And I hope you waste away alone in that little cave of yours or that Yukon mistakes you for supper. (Too harsh?)

I also have a little bit of a problem with the way the Abominable Snowman was tricked into coming out of his cave, with Hermie pretending to be a pig and “oinking” to get his attention. Yukon says if there is something any snowmonster can’t turn down, it’s a fresh side of pork. But I’m pretty sure there are no pigs, domesticated or wild, in the North Pole region. I googled it.

I’m just saying that I could handle the whole reindeer born with a glowing nose and an island of misfit toys and a flying sleigh better if there had been some fact-checking going on in other areas of the plot.

Finally, the movie ends with Santa flying off into the sky with his reindeer pulling his sleigh and Rudolph leading the way. It’s a touching scene, really. Until you realize that the sky is beautifully clear without a cloud in sight. So that kind of blows the whole a-blizzard-is-the-reason-why-Rudolph-was-needed story climax. That’s just lazy writing, people.

santaNext up, look out Charlie Brown.

One of the Lucky Ones

sleetintexasI wrote this for my mom’s birthday and am a day late in posting. I have a kick-ass Texas mom. What’s yours like?

100-Percent Chance of … Mom

The clouds were already gathering that morning, hanging low and moody in the South Texas sky. As we sat around the breakfast table before school, we listened to the weather forecaster out of San Antonio, broadcasting on our rural, small-town radio station. He was predicting sleet overnight — a rare thing in our part of the state, even for January.

A possibility of sleet or a bona fide ice storm was exciting, I had to admit. But even more so was the fact that the first game of our junior high girls’ basketball tournament was set to begin that evening in a town about 50 miles from ours.

The tournament was a big deal. We were dominating this season, and if we could win this first game against our toughest competitor, we’d likely win the whole tournament. We’d solidify our rank as the best in the region. There was even a pep rally planned for us that afternoon. (A pep rally for any type of girls’ sport in Texas in the 1980s was a reason to check to make sure you hadn’t been abducted by aliens and placed in an alternate universe.)

Basketball, though, hadn’t always been important to me. In fact, this was only the first year I’d played.

Let’s just say I wasn’t known for my athleticism. I was not lean and mean. I fell more in the chubby and uncoordinated camp. I was a full-on, straight-A, teacher’s-pet nerd. Spelling bee champ, science competition winner. Trying out for the basketball team had been my way of trying to break out of that mold. I wanted to fit in with the cool kids for once. I wanted to wear those sweet uniforms and high-top sneakers.

And it was working. I not only made the team, I was a starter on defense. (Turns out, you really only need height and brains to play some positions in life.) The cheerleaders even knew my nickname: “Special K.” (The positive connotation of special, not the other one. I think.)

I was living the dream, as much as you can when you’re 13.

And then came that game day.

The predicted cold front slipped right through the county, dropping temperatures into the mid-30s by noon. It was raining buckets when I reported to the gym after school to meet up with the rest of the team. As we waited for the school bus that would take us to the game, we huddled together, giggling like even cool, athletic girls do, excited about the game, jumping up and down to stay warm in our official team sweatshirts.

That’s when I saw her. She was marching toward us, small red umbrella overhead. Dark, thick hair to her shoulders. Sunglasses on, even in the gray. Her camel-colored long coat pulled tightly around her curves and whipping around her knees. Her car keys still in one hand. Her lips pressed into a painted-on, don’t-mess-with-me smile. She looked like a force even a 50 mile-per-hour northern wind couldn’t reckon with.

My stomach dropped. I knew that look well. She was determined to do battle of some kind, and I understood by then it had everything to do with me.

She walked up to our coach, who was looking down, checking things off on a clipboard. Poor innocent soul.

My mother began to explain, politely at first, that under no condition would her daughter — the one trying desperately to shrink into the shadows — go anywhere on a run-down, hick-town, bald-tired, rat-trap of a school bus when the back country roads we’d be traveling would most certainly be a sheet of ice within an hour or two.

We heard the coach attempt to reassure her that all would be well. That the school district and the tournament managers agreed there was no reason to cancel the game. That she was, perhaps, overreacting.

She took that coach down with just a few quick, choice words. Then she walked over and pointed me in the direction of her faded maroon Lincoln town car, parked right where the aforementioned bus would soon be.

The unfairness of it all was incomprehensible to me. Everyone else was getting to go!

As we drove away, I saw my teammates nudging each other. I was sure they now considered me an overprotected baby, not cut out for the tough life of an athlete. With a mother who was quite possibly a hair shy of crazy.

That evening, I ate Mom’s warm grilled cheese sandwiches and beef stew in silence. And then I watched the sleet begin to come down. I watched the county road in front of our house turn into a skating rink. Conditions got treacherous in a hurry.

Luckily, my team made it home safely, although it had taken three hours to go those 50 miles home after the game. We’d won, and we would end up advancing and winning the tournament. I played in the rest of the tournament, but not as a starter. The coach made me run additional laps in practice on Monday for letting down my team, as if I’d had a choice in the matter. My teammates made fun of me often and for the rest of the season.

Back then, I’d wished she could just be like all the other moms, who didn’t seem to mind that their kids were heading out onto slick roads. I’d wished that she hadn’t made a scene. But now, I’m a mama myself.

Now I see I was the lucky one.

Some parents might have simply taken the school district’s word for it all, bowed down to authorities who are perceived to know more than we as parents do. But my mother has never been one to let others make decisions for her or to automatically assume people in positions of power can’t be challenged. She’d done her own research that day. She knew she was right, and nothing was going to stand in her way when it came to keeping me safe.

That day and so many times since, she has taught me that sometimes it takes courage to be a parent in ways no one tells you about. That it’s not okay for someone else to put my son in danger, and that I have every right to step in and protect him. It’s something one particular school administrator has already learned about me after seeing no reason to keep the back door to the after-school care classroom locked in the evenings before parent pickup.

Even though I’m at the age she was when I was in junior high, I remain so thankful that I still have my mom on my side. Because I know, even though she’s in her early 70s now, she’ll fight for me, always willing to hand out another dose of her take-charge-now, ask-for-forgiveness-later attitude if I need it.

And besides, I’m pretty sure there may still be some icy roads in my forecast.

10 Books That Impacted Me

An author friend, Lauren Clark, challenged me to quickly come up with 10 books that impacted my life. Definitely not an easy task, but I took a shot at it. (Lauren has a new book out, too [Pie Girls]. If you like southern fiction full of sassy, smart women, you should check it out!)

Meanwhile, here’s my list. I really need about 200 more spaces to work with here, folks.

1. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. Birds of America – Lorrie Moore

3. Waltzing the Cat – Pam Houston

4. Larry McMurtry – The Last Picture Show

5. Annie Proulx – Close Range

6. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

7. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

8. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

9. Beloved – Toni Morrison

10. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Now, I’d love to hear your lists in the comments! Then I’ll psychoanalyze you. (Kidding. Mostly.)

Also, I am already revising my list in my head … Stegner, Steinbeck, McCarthy, Salinger, Lopez, Smiley, Conrad, Lamott … oh and The Solace of Open Spaces (G. Ehrlich) …and so many poets like Mary Oliver …heck, even Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books … I’ll stop now.

Which Novel Should You Read First? Take the Quiz

The infographic craze is, well, crazy. I think it’s safe to say that I’m about as tired of infographics as I am the #IceBucketChallenge.

And yet …

Let me know your result of this quiz, would ya? I’ll psychologically analyze you later.

infographic

Why Of Course There’s a Recipe for Dr Pepper Ice Cream

A great Texas friend (thanks, Lorri) who shares my unfortunate crack-like addiction to Dr Pepper recently sent me a recipe for Dr Pepper ice cream.

Because, well, hell yes, I want some! What could be better than ice-cold Dr Pepper but ice-cold Dr Pepper surrounded by smooth, ice-cold cream?

I haven’t tried it yet, but wanted to share the recipe with others, so that the joy will be spread around the world. Or at least WordPress.

Here you go:

Dr Pepper Ice Cream
(Recipe is for a one-gallon ice cream freezer)  
   
     1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand or similar)
     1 pint half and half
     3 regular cans Dr Pepper
     1 cup sugar
      4 eggs
      2 tsp vanilla extract
      1 T. flour
 
Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

Dont-Mess-With-Texas-350x288

Two weekends ago, the husband and I saw the Seth MacFarlane comedy-western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s all about how completely batshit crazy-dangerous it was to live on the Western Frontier in the 1800s. Basically, if a gunfight didn’t kill you, cholera would. It was good for a few laughs … but mostly just a great excuse to sit in the air-conditioned theater and eat buttered popcorn. (Real butter, people! Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse.)

It got me thinking, though, about my beloved (sometimes) home state of Texas. Because let’s face it. It’s not that much different than the Wild West, even in 2014.

Now, I won’t list the full million ways to kick the proverbial bucket in Texas, because I do have a life. (And I won’t even go into the whole open-carry, everyone-ought-to-have-an-AK47 gun thing because I prefer not to get hate emails.)

But here’s a start:

  1. You could be killed by one of the 15 different kinds of poisonous snakes that make Texas their home. Seriously, there are 15 … and 10 of those are rattlesnakes. There are also three kinds of copperheads. And then there’s the cottonmouth water moccasin and the coral snake. Basically, if you go outside in the summer, whether on dry land or near a body of water, and you’re not wearing boots, you’re dead.
  2. You could succumb to heat stroke. Texas is a huge state, but one thing is pretty consistent whether you’re in North, South, East or West Texas: It gets damn hot. As in hitting 95 degrees in February and staying above 100 degrees for most of the summer. You can actually get five-degree burns on the bottom half of your ass (I made that up; the degrees only go to three) just by sitting on a tailgate in shorts in August.
  3. If you choose to lie down for a nap in the cool (ha) green grass, you might never recover from the fire ant stings. We used to lose more baby calves to fire ants than to coyotes. And if you do get stung by a thousand fire ants, and you don’t die, you’ll likely wish you had. So it’s a wash.
  4. Should I also mention spiders? There are FIVE different kinds of brown recluse spiders and all of them live and love the Motherland of Texas, and also the dark interiors of boots. Of course, there are also effing black widows. BLACK WIDOWS EVERYWHERE. There are jumping spiders and also tarantulas. And while those last two aren’t really all that venomous, if they take aim and jump at you, you will probably die of a heart attack. (To those people who say that jumping tarantulas are a myth, I say you are wrong. I have witnessed it myself, and the only reason I didn’t die of Freaking Out Syndrome is that I was 10 and my heart was still strong.)
  5. Here’s one not many people think of: You could get hit in the head with a rodeo belt buckle. These are large, heavy metal objects that, when sent flying through the air, can be lethal in a severing-a-major-artery kind of way. Please don’t ask me how I know this. Also you may be asking yourself, “How often does a belt buckle go flying through the air?” Doesn’t matter. Only takes once.
  6. One phrase: The Mexican drug cartel.
  7. If you’re allergic to dust, oak pollen, cedar, scorpions or bee stings, and you don’t have an inhaler or epinephrine injection handy, you might as well kiss breathing goodbye.
  8. Finally, drowning’s big in Texas, too. From flash floods or being drunk on a boat on a lake, or simply playing in the Guadalupe River with its magical sink holes and mystery vortexes that suck you under in Gonzales and spit you out in the Gulf of Mexico, your odds of going down are pretty high.

I could go on, but I’m getting homesick.

Texas friends, what would you add?

And Colorado friends, should we make a list of our own for this fine state? I think there may be even more than Texas: blizzards, mudslides, I-70 in the winter, hypothermia, mountain lions …

What about other states? Come on, it’s morbid fun.

 the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_image

 Despite its content, this blog post was not brought to you by the Texas Tourism Board.

 

Losing Your Hair Sucks Worse Than My Six-Year-Old Walmart Vacuum

mama triedHere’s something I’ve learned in the past two weeks: When your body suffers through a brutal illness and you nearly die, your hair can decide, weeks later, to give up the ship, too. And while I am super-thrilled to be alive and all,* I’m a little bummed to be dealing with rapid (and I mean as rapid as a cat with its tail on fire) hair loss.

It began about two weeks ago. I woke up in the morning to find my Snoopy pillow (don’t judge) covered in strands of hair. As in hundreds of strands of hair. As in horror-movie, something-has-gone-horribly-wrong strands of hair.

After my first reaction that involved the word, “mother” followed by one that rhymes with “trucker,” I decided it was surely a one-time kind of thing. Maybe a reaction to a new shampoo? A new medication? Karma for saying that one (tiny, rarely ever happens) mean thing to my husband last week?

But sadly, by the end of that day, I was literally holding huge clumps of my hair in my hands every time I touched my head. There may have been audible whimpering.

Can I mention right now that when you hail from the Land of Big Texas Hair, this is a High-Alert Crisis Situation?

You see, my hair is the one beauty trait I could always count on. I may have been ass-ugly at times from the neck up, or fatter than a Lone Star tick on a cow dog from the neck down, but hey, I had good hair. Healthy, shiny, dark hair, just like my mama. It didn’t frizz, even in Houston in June. It didn’t need straightening or perming (at least not since the 1980s). I hadn’t even thought about coloring any gray yet. It was damn good hair, people.

But now, after only two weeks, there’s not a lot of it left. I have actual bald spots. I have a legit comb-over. (Daddy, I understand now.)

The only options I have these days, since it’s too thin to be styled in any way, shape or form, are to push it all back with a headband like I used to when I was 12 and in love with Scott Baio, or wear a ball cap or beanie ski hat. All the time.

Luckily, the ball cap/ski hat thing works well enough in Colorado; women wear them everywhere here. And by everywhere I mean Target, REI and bike trails. (Headbands work better for the office, though, since a “Mama Tried,” stained cap doesn’t go that well with black palazzo pants and a fancy blouse.**)

I’m working with my doctor to turn this hair loss thing around, but she said it could take months for things to rebound. In the meantime, I’m going to try to picture myself as I remember my Granny when she’d wear her old faded John Deere cap, out in the sun, working cattle or planting okra: One tough broad you didn’t want to mess with before she had her second cup of straight-up black coffee.

Also, at this point in time, I’d like to apologize in writing to every one of my friends who has ever had to go through chemo. Remember how I used to advise you not to worry about losing your hair? How I said it was just hair?

I was wrong and you can slap me next time you see my balding head.

 

* Thank you, Little Baby Jesus.
** Who am I kidding? I wear jeans and boots to work most days.

 

PS:  Are you offended by the word, “sucks?” Don’t be! Here’s why.