Saturday, January 16, 2010


Each line contains the fortune contained within a fortune cookie, added as I, or others who contribute, open a cookie and obtain the fortune inside. I plan to add to the list over the course of the year.  Will it be a list of random fortunes?  Or, will there be some sense of pattern and order?

You have an important new business development shaping up.
You will be traveling and coming into a fortune.
Culture and customs of China attract you.
Culture and customs of China attract you.
It is a nice day.
It only gets better when you get better.
Work hard and you will become more wealthy.
All your hard work will soon pay off.
You're heading in the right direction.
You are original and creative.
The night life is for you.
You should be able to undertake and complete anything.
Every friend joys in your success.
Your happiness is intertwined with your outlook on life.
You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.
You should be able to undertake and complete anything.
You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.
Don't let friends impose on you, work calmly and silently.
Have a beautiful day.
There is a true and sincere friendship between you both.
You are independent politically.
A cheerful letter or message is on its way to you.
You will enjoy good health.
People find it difficult to resist your persuasive manner.
You will have many friends when you need them.
You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.

You may attend a party where strange customs prevail.
You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.
You will have many friends when you need them.
The will of the people is the best law.
You are careful and systematic in your business arrangements.
You have an active mind and a keen imagination.
You are demonstrative with those you love.
You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.
You will have a fine capacity for the enjoyment of life.
Happy life is just in front of you.
You will be fortunate in everything.
You are never selfish with your advice or your help.
Now is the time to try something new.
You are one of the people who "goes places in life."
You are heading in the right direction.
You are one of the people who "goes places in life."
Soon, you will receive some pleasant news.
Your present plans are going to succeed.
You have an ability to sense and know higher truth.
Find release from your cares, have a good time.
You are going to have some new clothes.
Your home is a pleasant place from which you draw happiness.
Friends long absent are coming back to you.
You like participating in competitive sports.
From now on your kindness will lead you to success.
You lead a useful life no matter what riches are coming to you.
Watch your relations with others carefully, be reserved.
You will be showered with good luck.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Something old, something new...

... something borrowed, something blue.  This wedding rhyme has been running through my mind over the past month.  Not because I plan to get married (already am), but because I'm trying to write another installment in The Skimino Cycle.  The poem that I am working on ("struggling with" might be more appropriate) focuses on the marriage of John Ratcliffe and Mary Townsend, my great-great-grandparents, and the subjects of the largest group of poems in The Skimino Cycle.  John and Mary were married in 1848, in West Alexander, PA.  My effort hasn't yielded any useful lines, but the research process has been quite interesting. 

I've been trying to build the poem around the two glasses that I've imagined John made as wedding gifts.  These glasses feature in earlier poems, one of which Mary breaks before leaving John (in "The Glass"); the other that John leaves by her bedside when he visits her just before her death (in "She Will Not Thirst Again").  John was a glass cutter in Wheeling, before they moved to Kansas.  When visiting with a distant cousin of my father's, she showed us a blue glass that, according to the family story, had been passed along to her father (my great-grandfather's brother), and was apparently made by John.  This is the glass that I decided was left by John on the table beside Mary's bed.  The two glasses will be the "something[s] new" in the poem on which I'm working.

So, I got to wondering what the lines in the rhyme refer to.  "Something old" is meant to convey continuity with the bride's family and past.  "Something new" represents good luck and a bright future in married life.  "Something borrowed" should come from happily married woman, lending the good fortune she's experienced to the bride-to-be.  And, "something blue" symbolizes purity, faithfulness, and loyalty.  What was interesting to me was that up until the late-1800s most brides wore blue, and not white.  This bit of information is critical to the development of the poem, and points to the need for research and understanding the people and period about which one writes.  I don't know that I intially thought I would mention anything about Mary's dress, but knowing now that brides wore blue in the mid-1800s saved me from making an erroneous reference to a white dress.  And, the meaning of the rhyme now gives me a framework around which to "build" the poem.  New glasses, made by the groom, perhaps working on the glasses after his shift is done, blowing the glass himself, and the cutting the grooves and designs.  Traveling to the chapel in a borrowed wagon.  Mary wearing a blue gingham dress; John in white shirt and black trousers, a black, broadbrimmed, Quaker style hat.  Mary, her hair tied back with a blue ribbon; John, blue ribbons around his sleeves.  I haven't figured out what the "something old" will be-- perhaps something old from her Uncle Thomas Townsend (a noted, and somewhat eccentric, doctor and amateur botanist and geologist in Wheeling).

Development of the poem required researching other questions.  John and Mary lived in Wheeling, but married in West Alexander, PA, which is about 10 miles to the east.  Why West Alexander?  I don't know exactly why, but West Alexander was where couples went in the 1830s and 1840s to get married quickly-- when they were eloping, whatever the reason.  This is intriguing to me, and I've envisioned that John, raised in a mixed Quaker/Disciples of Christ household, and Mary, perhaps a lapsed Quaker, decided that they didn't want to be married under the care of any Quaker Meeting and didn't want to be married in a Disciples of Christ chapel.  Of course, there could have been other reasons, but we won't go there without any sort of evidence.  I've claimed poetic license and imagined many things in the Skimino Cycle poems, but never imagined scandal where none existed.  Another question:  how do you make blue glass?  Cobalt would have been used in the 1840s; now I can imagine John, or maybe John and Mary, gathering rocks from which to obtain cobalt.  Traipsing around the mountains east of Wheeling collecting geological and botanical specimens was one of the things Thomas Townsend was known for; perhaps Mary accompanied him.  One imagined scene of mine has John in the mountains looking for minerals to color glass when he runs into Mary collecting plants or rocks.  And, of course, because John was a glass cutter, I have had to learn what glass cutters did, and how they carried out their work, which required a deft, artisan's hand when etching and cutting glass.

Much to learn; much to imagine-- but all necessary to constructing a poem that captures the essence of John and Mary and places them in the proper context.  And, in the end, I've added "something new" to my stockpile of esoteric knowledge that makes writing fun.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


[Published in The Little Patuxent Review, Spring 2010]


I killed a centipede today.
I don’t know why, but there I was,
sitting at the bottom of the basement stairs
waiting for the iron to heat.
I had just put on my socks
when it walked across the bookshelf.
God only knows where it was going.

I watched it for a moment,
then perhaps some primal instinct
that abhors bugs in houses
took over and led me
to grab it with a tissue, crush it,
and flush it down the toilet.

Do centipedes believe in fate?
Are they Calvinist or Arminian?
Is there a centipede family somewhere
wondering what became of their father, son, uncle,
unquestioningly accepting his loss
as the impetuous act of a callous god?
Or, explaining that their vengeful god
punished him for his sins?
Or, are they shaking their heads and saying
that he knew the risks yet chose to go
and now he’s gone and life continues?

I do not believe in fate,
or a vengeful god.
I chose to kill the centipede,
and now I am diminished.

Monday, January 4, 2010


[Published in The Beatnik, March 26, 2011, on-line at]


Age pares away the fruit of life,
to the heart,
to the kernel of spirit,
to be sown anew in the second spring.

The parts once thought tastiest
now lie discarded,
no longer digestible;
they do the soul no good.

The seed,
though hard and once thought bitter,
now is prized,
for it contains new life.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


[Published in The Beatnik, March 26, 2011, on-line at]


Sitting in the brown rocking chair
next to the window in my bedroom
waiting for the afternoon sun to stream in again,
I read Li Po.

Cold wind gusts outside,
whips round the eaves,
rattles the front door.

Outside the window, a shutter flaps against the house—
the same shutter I thought would fall off last year.

The afternoon sun streams through the window.
Some day I’ll have to fix that shutter.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year's Day Poetic E-Parlor Game

This morning, I posted a New Year's Day haiku as my status on my Facebook page. My sister, Amy Ratcliffe, commented with a haiku of her own, which set off a series of haiku, modified haiku, and one tanka. I've posted the series here. My contributions are in regular font; Amy's italicized.

White snow on green grass;
Clouds obscure the dawning sun--
A New Year begins.

A gentle rain falls
Washing the slate of time clean--
A New Year begins.

Clouds part; sun lights way.
I resolve to not resolve--
A New Year begins.

Though cleansed by soft rain,
The landscape beyond my door
Has not been transformed.

A New Year begins,
And I must see with new eyes
The view I desire.

A New Year begins
With sun and clouds in one place;
In the other, a soft rain.
Our thoughts flow as rivers; words
Are the landscape that connects.

Winter's icy winds
Are prelude to Summer's warmth--
Verse, our playful Spring.