Friday, June 13, 2014


My friend Sarah (an activist and poet who blogs here: has seen me flip out a time or two (or three) about something ridiculous.  Her poem challenge for me is related to a minor flip-out she once witnessed where a mutual friend of ours told me (out of nowhere) -- "You know, you'd have made a good homeschooler."

I turned around slowly, menacingly, and said, - "What is that supposed to mean?"

He couldn't give me a good explanation, and I wouldn't let it go.  Unfortunately, in my indignant huff, I forgot that our friend who commented on my homeschool potential had himself once been homeschooled.  Later, he got a little indignant with me about what was offensive about being called a homeschooler.

And of course, he should have been indignant.  I was wrong.

As I took Sarah up on this challenge of writing a poem about homeschooling, I thought about the stereotype of homeschooled children being sheltered.  Then I thought about stories children often hear from their parents, myths and fairy tales, and how parents use these stories to prepare their children for the awful things in the outside world.  Even within the relative safety of a supportive home with kind parents, kids have to deal with loss, fear, sadness, the past.  No one can be all that sheltered by their parents.

Home School

Even if a mother won't go to the depths
of hell to find her daughter,
she'll search for her name
in the crossword on the cereal box.

When she loses the family's minds,
she can shape new ones from dough,
drenched in red sprinkles
to signify the world's commotion.

The world is fearful.
Even horror stories are less painful to enter,
where drywall can be replaced
with gingerbread, and still the house won't shake.

You stop teaching kids when you notice
they learn alone
to find psalms in soda cans
and dissect frog songs.

In the yard,
generations of kin stretch back
from solid to spirit
to give her what she needs
to give the children:
a holy coal;
apricots for oatmeal;

Sarah's review:
"As I've generally come to expect from your poems, there is a stream of consciousness that initially seems somewhat unconnected, but begins to fall together as the list of thoughts goes on to form a cohesive impression by the end.  In the case of this poem, just one word is sufficient, "coats."  The single word acts as a capping image for the concept of shelter that has already been explored in the other stanzas, whether positive or negative: the mother who may not go to the depths of hell, but will search for her child's name (possibly read as identity), or the mother who shapes the mind like cookie dough, but always with the inclusion of the "world's commotion."  There is an effective parallel throughout the poem of life within the home and the world without. I  think you've done a good job of communicating shelter.  As far as form goes, your line breaks are also very effective, especially in the last stanza: "from solid to spirit / to give her what she needs / to give the children..."  Thanks for including me in the blog.  You probably would make a good homeschooler."

Thanks for this insightful review, Sarah!  You'd make a good homeschooler, too. 

Friday, June 6, 2014


My youngest brother, Ben, gave me the word "stereoisomers" to write about while he was studying for a chemistry exam.  At first I thought this would be easy.  Chemistry IS poetry, right?  It involves speaking about things you can't see with the naked eye, and there are a lot of weird names to marvel over.  Unfortunately, I didn't know what stereoisomers were. 

I ended up reading about them for a long time, trying to understand them.  The basic idea is that they are two sets of the same atoms in the same order with the same sets of bonded atoms, but arranged differently in space.  One type of stereoisomer is a diasteroisomer, which I misread as "disasteroisomer"...and if I could have written about this, the poem would have just written itself.

At any rate, here's what I came up with.  Ben's review is to follow, and it's ambivalent at best.


If your eyeballs were placed vertically,
I'd tilt my head.
Like molecules, we're made
from distinct parts, oh let me teach you
this word:


Stereoisomers are arrangements
of the same atoms in different places.
They're different bodies
with similar traits.

The carriage to the ball
is not the pumpkin rearranged.
The dentist's mold made of your teeth
can't chew your meat.
These relationships
aren't like us.
You and I, love, are
I'm the slightly altered heart unseen
in the tarnished mirror,
the secret body hidden
on the other side of the tree,
the sadder smile
on the second carved pumpkin.

What we share is stronger
than what separates.

Ben's review:
"This poem is a fine piece of modern expression. While the writer evidently lacks proficiency in the particulars of organic chemistry, the poem conveys the molecular nuances that are present in stereoisomers. While a few phrases lack conviction, this poem is refreshing."

He's right...I often lack conviction, and I also find that to be a refreshing quality.