Writing Prompt #1: Challenge Accepted


The Legend of Sir Chester Nutt

(or, Thank God for Karma, She’s Less of a Bitch than We Thought)


One day in your car for a whirl,

You swerved to avoid a squirrel.

He swore on his life

That he’d make it right,

Then he went off to train with the girls.


Xena taught him to use a sword,

And Wonder Woman her golden cord.

And he trained his might

To become overnight

The squirrel who quite loudly roared.


Then one night you are held up with knives

And you rightfully fear for your life.

You squirm and you struggle

With this frightful big muggle

And then suddenly, that squirrel arrives.


He’s a great sight for you where you cower

Defeating your foe with great power!

With a whack and a thrust,

He’s the hero to trust,

Defending you in your dark hour.



For three years, I studied flamenco dance at the local adult education center, mainly so I could write about it. (Writers are like that.) In the process, I discovered Spanish tapas, made friends, and realized that I liked darker colors than I had previously (cranberry, fir green, etc.). Also, kalamata olives! So, win-win.

As it happened, my teacher in real life is a florist, so I wrote this poem with her in mind, trying to capture the 3-3-2-2-2 rhythm of many of the different traditional dances, such as the allegrias (joy).


The Flamenco Teacher

for Malena, who is “just a florist”


The flowers are extravagant, unafraid,

brazen gypsies, holding nothing back

except their thoughts, haughty, bold

and sultry as a summer in Seville.

Their jade hips, clad in silken frills

blazing orange, purple, red, tilt

and turn toward the sun. They look

it straight in its single eye, like

matadors who challenge a golden bull,


like a flamenco dancer,

like two

who gaze

over their shoulders

at each other,




Petal, pistil, stamen, stem and root:

beneath your hands, these blossoms toss

heads, moody, beautiful, game for anything.

When you dance, your wrists become veined stems.


Your hands,

like yellow irises,






Twelve students cower, nerves jangling, filled

with doubt, try to crack through shells built

of concrete, tackle your taconeo, heelwork drills,

and, though tangled in our fears, leery of passion

and lacking the proper heat, feel the music, loud

and fast, hear the sad lyrics, enter the beat of










Something happens there, between one foot

and the other, with the keening, thrumming

guitar and the snap of castanets, something lean

and wary, beguiling, a trial by fire–

Uncomfortable? Yes, but vast and rowdy,

extravagant, filled with lust: just what we need

to travel out of our flustered selves, to become


tiger lilies

shot through

with fire,



at breaking inertia,


noses closer

to smell a faint perfume–


We trust you. Down to our roots,

where trembling buries itself in layer

upon layer, we strive to act proud,

new, we strive to fling away nine-to-five

inhibitions, hear the complaint of the driving

guitar as part of our everyday. You try

to turn our white carnation lives

patiently, into vivid play, create

a place for us to grow hardy

and come to no harm, be flamboyant,

joyous: gladiola gorgeous and sure.

Your arms draw broad circles in the air.

We mimic you grimly, well aware

of our flaws. Our own earnest arms only


stammer and

stutter those

moves that




until the music

we hear–


and you can see the difference clearly, in our faces–



the rambunctious

music clamors

through us,

proves your faith in us



Lightness follows, and grace, and, if it is not

consistent, if navigating gypsy space still

causes us to tighten our muscles and sweat,

if we still swallow our best instincts, if

our breath comes in broken, obstinate gusts–

still, we know we did it once, so we can.





our two



Bulbs do turn into buds, the beginnings

of burning color. And buds, though they may

wait a long time and bloom late, always

open and climb if they get enough sunlight

and cultivation. We are, each of us, not such

different creatures, our shut petals stirring,

finally, when we trust. You are a florist. Just

so. What you have learned from flowers,

you must teach.

The Rhino at the Tricycle Shop


Well, today is Shakespeare’s birthday and possibly also the day he died, give or take fifty years, and in honor of the Bard of Avon, I am offering this poem written for Mike Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow for kindly drawing this picture for me. Some of the words even rhyme. And because this day also marks the beginning of Write a Love Poem Fortnight, it is a love story. As one of my sister’s exes used to say, “It’s spring. Love is in the air. If you’re not in love, you’re not breathing hard enough.”


Rudy the rhino was cycling to Judy’s house,

Planning to ask her out for a meal.

Rudy was psyched. He would wine her and dine her!

But all of a sudden he heard his wheels grind.

(Now before we go on, we should point out that Rudy

Was kind, eco-conscious, aware of his duty

To avoid fossil fuels: hence the red trike.)

But for all of his virtues, our friend is a rhino,

A big, heavy fellow. His trike was quite small

And all the wheels bent, both before and behind.

As he pulled into the tricycle shop and he stopped,

The squeal of the metal brought out Bertie Bunny.

“Oh, Bertie!” said Rudy. “Money’s no object!

Please fix my trike. I am late for my date!”


Bertie, laconic mechanic, wiped oil off

His paws with a rag as he paused to consider

The mangled Turbo Triangle detritus.

He sighed, “This will take me at least until Tuesday.”

Said Rudy, “Oh no! But my need is quite dire!”

Bertie pulled out his pliers and wires and a hammer

(His canvas workbag was really quite full)

And finally a skateboard with very thick wheels.

“Rudy,” said Bertie. “I hear you, my fine rhino.

But cry no more or your horn will turn red.

I’ll give you a loaner, my great lovelorn fellow.”

So Rudy skated off to his date with dear Judy

A little bit differently than what he’d planned.

And Bertie the bunny just sighed, “That was funny.

But I’m glad to do my small part. Ain’t love grand?”


Illustration by Mike Allegra.

Some Internal Rhyme for You Heathens

Don’t take it personally, Gentle Readers. A good friend of mine refers to both her two large cats and her college students as the “little beasts.” It’s a term of endearment. Enjoy the poem.


Nightview from the Beanstalk, with Moon



Up here, night clouds move like an ocean breaking

against the beanstalk, rolling into charcoal

horizonless shore as if racing to discover new worlds,

ferocious and green. But there are no new worlds

left to discover. There is no green; only heavy midnight

blue indistinguishable from eternity. Without moonlight,

this foliage is primal, reaching out. Jack says,

Navigate by touch as salmon do, heaving themselves straight

upriver, up waterfalls, up to invisible sky. It is easy to see,

here in the dark, how explorers of old could

convince themselves of destiny, cousin to destination,

of a magnet star calling to the magnet in the breast.

Quest is kin to conquest. Scaling these leaves, helmed

ghosts cry out in seven romance languages, Devil

take the hindmost! and flail their way into the surf

of sinuous vines. Like them, I navigate by clutching.

The shadows between my fingers chime

in recognition. No new worlds. No, now

we colonize each other’s bodies, plant flags

between each other’s eyes. Look at Jack. Unlike most

men, who brag of the last woman laid, he brags

of the last giant killed, lectures long into evening

how the storytellers got it wrong: he never chopped down

the beanstalk, he merely greased its leaves. Effective

enough. I stall his rehearsed glory, resume our dark climb.

Another hour, Jack calls back to me. Until the top? No,

until the moon. He laughs at the way it sounds, as if light

were a place one could climb to, or gloom were a path

to a door. The clouds roll in with a hush like high tide,

leaving their moisture to lick my face, muting my voice.

In the dark, every whisper is loud, every motion

endless. The tangled boughs bend and sway beneath me

like so much black lace. I pry my fingers open, pick

my way blindly upward, always upward, among vines

slicked by cloud, scrambled by breeze. Jack murmurs,

We could drown in all this wet air, these beans

the hue of stone weighing us down. I am glad I can’t see

the ground, justified in asking to climb here at night.

The last boundary, Jack says, lies above us,

in cumulus cliffs of lapis and glacial white

bigger than anybody’s fear of falling. Close your eyes.

What does verdancy mean now? What does height

signify? If beans tremble, but the night wraps

so close you cannot see them, do they fear?

Jack’s right about the beans. Their cool grey

leather strands hang like bits of bone: malleable

and waiting to be fleshed and shoved toward

birth. A terrifying change, that fall into chill

unknown, caught by too many dry hands, ferried into

this netherworld new life of pangs and urges,

blown into a crêche filled with straw and destiny–

that word again, whose syllables encompass end

together with beginning, doom with estimated

time of arrival. If I mapped this altitude, with its

webbed stems and stone lessons, if I charted these blue

fathoms where owls glide, curious as dolphins,

along the prow of this beanstalk, could I soon navigate

through cloudwracked straits to Jack, to a hidden country,

guided by owls as dolphins once were known to guide

ships past reefs, stars past the dark side of the moon?



The white tiger moon crouches, tensed, then lacerates

the clouds and peels them back to reveal a new

beanstalk: both compass rose for a map, and waterfall

of black marble illuminated by blossoms like perfumed

gloves, phosphorescent and casting their own light

on my face, on Jack’s, on village and valley below.

The beanstalk spills from this incalculable height, spills in

ribbons of black ink that pool and trickle into boundaries,

lakes and vales, mountains and rolling roads, the soft

spread of forest–all drawn to scale, all shining like velvet

under moonlight. Soft laughter trails up to us

from the satisfied magician and his dry milkcow, no more

than stick figures in the corner below, near thatched

cottages strangling among the beanstalk’s tangled roots.

Perspective lies. From a distance, waterfalls appear

to pour upward the way the eye climbs from bottom

to shadowy top in the Chinese painting of this night.

From where the magician stands, I am not following

but chasing Jack, tracing his path through a garden

of moonbrightened blooms, up one side of this scroll.

The tiger moon rolls down the hill of clouds, gathering

white, only her eyes still bronze and reflecting our ascent,

her whiskers hoarding starlight, her musty breath

foregoing Confucian Analects to whisper, “Catch him,

catch him,” in the cold breeze. Daylight women have

chased Jack on land, to dig for his gold and fawn

over his beans in the hollows of tawny dunes. I follow

without such haste. Like him, I am an entrepreneur

of thinner atmospheres. I lure him as altitude does,

sew silver behind the clouds, knowing I will reap it again

before dawn, before its white heat scorches our hands to

flinders, tempts us to turn back from this endurance

climb in a vertical jungle gone wild, whose malachite

webs, only dimly seen, stir me until I could weep

from unspent passion, from the feminine ascendant and

racing in pale light. Nightingale song fills the leaves, says Jack.

But I am the silent roaring gale of this night, and my

fireflies flicker and cicadas chirr like the finger cymbals of

a dancer whose limbs twine and untwine as this

beanstalk does around Jack, even in the slightest of winds.



Spilecki, Susan. “Nightview from the Beanstalk,” Sow’s Ear Poetry Review 8 (Fall 1998): 3.

Readers Reply with Hue and Cry!

In response to my little rant the other day about rhyme, I received the following poems, the first from 10000hoursleft (also known as Mek):

After looking up the meaning of profundity
I came to the conclusion you’d likely be
Lumping me in
Oh for my sin
With those in the 98 per cent
Who keep aiming for ascent
To the lofty heights of the minority
To be a 2 percenter my priority
Joys of creative expression
Need not get a mention
Now, I’ll have to stop rhyming


And the second from Mike Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow:

Master sculptor, bearing chisel,
Paused his work so he could wizzle.
And so the marble had to wait,
For sculptor to evacuate.


(Drops mic and strides purposefully toward the exit.)


So I offer here as an apology a sloppy English sonnet. It’s got the rhyme scheme, but I dropped that whole iambic pentameter thing because I am tired after a long day’s work, and iambic pentameter would just be too much on an empty stomach at 7:41 pm.


I pick up the mic dropped there by Mike

And scanned the sky for ascended Mek.

They used dread rhyme in a way I like

Unlike those whose Yules get decked.

You see, the Food Network is to blame

For my Poetry Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Their December hacks of Clement Moore

Send me screaming to the border.

It seems that rhyme may perhaps have uses

For getting the poet’s ideas across.

It’s not just used by silly gooses;

Sometimes its users are just the boss!

So I will try to embrace the rhyme,

But please, Lord, please, not all the time.

April is the National Month of Poetry!

April is National Poetry Month. What that means is that a whole shitload of folks are going to be trying their hands at poetry for the next 20 days. That is a fantastic thing because 2% of them are going to make great art and discover a talent they didn’t know they had and their lives will turn into a frenzy of rainbows because of it. Like this:


And for that reason I will not, I swear, complain about the other 98% who are going to attempt 1) rhyme, 2) paragraphs cut up into three to seven word chunks per line, and 3) stabs at profundity.

I will not complain! I will not! Much.

Instead, I will try to be a bigger person and simply point to the poets who have shown me the way. Like the poem by Eliza Waters:

color was how
the world
sprang to life

to which I responded: “I love your poetry. You cut away everything that isn’t poetry and leave us with just the explosion of meaning. Thank you for that. We need you now more than ever in National Poetry Month, when a whole lot of people will be using all the other words you cut away and calling it ‘poem.'”

That Poem about the Quokka

A friend in need, Mike Allegra, heylookawriterfellow, recently gave me a writing topic when I was sore in need of ideas. He wrote, “Aw! Blockage stinks. But I’m here to help; write about quokkas. You’re welcome.” I had never heard of these, but when I Googled it, here is the picture that looked back at me.


The kangaroo’s cousin, cute little quokka

With teddy bear eyes and a winning small smile,

Nicely nocturnal you feed on the seedpods,

Leaves and soft bark by the light of the moon.


Quick! Make a wish! A big steaming mocha

Or peppermint muffins stacked up in a pile:

Some sign that you haven’t been mocked by the food gods.

The Nightblooming Rainbow will bring it right soon.

More on Voice, and Also Why I Hate Rhyme


“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” –Miles Davis

So I was thinking about this line from Miles Davis (because it turns out that epigraphs are a great way to overcome your writer’s block), and I thought about how we constitute the self. And then I had that last stanza from Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse” go through my head, one of the very few pieces of poetry I have memorized:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.


Now, I will admit that this is more than a bit cynical and that I have been relatively lucky in my upbringing, but there is also some good sense to it, as when people have pain, they tend to spread it around like manure, but generally without the benefit of nourishing anything. Still the eight-syllable line and abab rhyme scheme together make for a catchy (and therefore more memorizable) poem, even if does get a little sing-songy, which maybe takes away from the seriousness. So I adopted some of this to create my own bit.


The Tri-fold Self


Three things make up the self, I think:

The mind, the body and the voice.

Such things are passed on down to us

Without our say-so or our choice.


First comes the mind, the wandering wit

That tilts at windmills, fights through mazes,

Eats the words served up in books

And dreams the world in smoky hazes.


Next comes the body, old workhorse

That carries Mind from place to place.

We exercise to keep it fit

And use makeup to gild its face.


Last comes the voice, through which the mind

Speaks from this body to that.

And other minds judge what they hear

And call us either sharp or flat.


It takes long practice to learn how

The mind best works itself to learn,

Itself a cosmos hidden deep

Within the body, there to burn.


And longer still it takes to see

The beauty in the body aging,

Aching, creaking, fighting, winning,

Singing, all while life engaging.


But longest yet it takes the ears

To love the sound the tongue releases

From the moment we, born, wail

Until our last, when all breath ceases.


And so it is, all of us struggle

To be ourselves: voice, body, mind.

You know the struggle all too well,

So as you walk the world, be kind.