Monday, October 22, 2012

Poetic Symmetry

Words are flowing in symmetry this week.  The Fall 2012 issue of the Loch Raven Review, containing two of my poems, was released on-line yesterday.  Issue #4 of Symmetry Pebbles, also containing two of my poems, was released today.  Both journals contain poems from my US 1 series (the Loch Raven Review actually contains two from that series).  Both of the poems in Symmetry Pebbles reference a river.

So, what's next?  I've currently got poems out for consideration at AGNI, The Indiana Review, Cordite Review, Ampersand, and the Little Patuxent Review.  Keeping my fingers crossed that publications keep flowing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Great Weekend for Poetry

This has been a poetry filled weekend.  On Saturday, I attended the Black Silence event at the C Street Gallery in Laurel.  Truth Thomas was the featured guest.  He read from his new book Speak Water.  There were also several of us who participated in the open mic portion of the event.  I read three poems from my US 1 series--  "The Tire Swing," "The Food Truck," and "US 1, Howard County, MD"-- and three poems on a spirituality theme-- "I Killed a Centipede Today," "Outside the Abundant Life Chapel," and "Friday Prayers."  It was a fun afternoon, and a great opportunity to share each others' work.

The Fall 2012 issue of the Loch Raven Review was released on-line today.  I've got two poems in it:  "The Tire Swing" and "Visiting Day."  Check them out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


This is my day today:
help Missus Mary with the breakfast;
clean up the dishes when we are done;
send the younger boys off to school;
go out to the garden
and pick beans and squash for dinner;
feed the chickens.
Missus is working in the fields
with the older boys,
so I will feed the hogs today.
I hate feeding the hogs. 
Prepare lunch, and take it out to the field.
They’re working in the far field today—
maybe I’ll dip my feet in the creek on the way back.

Mr. John has been gone hunting for days.
We expect him back today.
I’ll make some coffee for him.
I made some biscuits—I know he’ll like that.
Missus complains when he’s gone;
says she doesn’t understand
why he likes to be away so long.
But she knows his wounds still cause him pain,
so he can’t do the hard work of the farm.
Mr. John told me he likes the quiet of the prairie,
lying out under the stars at night.
Says he needs to be alone sometimes;
needs to get away from people.
I asked him what he does all day when he’s gone.
He said he checks his traps,
does some hunting or fishing,
but mostly just sits and thinks and listens.
I think he can’t get the war out of his head.
Pa said men were like that when they came back.
Some got better, some started drinking;
some, like Mr. John, just became sad or angry.

Here comes Mr. John now,
leading his mule down the lane.
Looks like he got a deer.
He’s bent to the side more than usual,
and he’s limping—
his hip and back must really be hurting.
I’ll get an extra cushion for his chair
so he can be comfortable
when he sits and talks with me.
I love it when he talks about the stars,
and all the plants on the prairie,
or about the years before the war,
when there was hardly anyone living here,
and there was nothing but a sea of grass.
Oh, how beautiful that must have been.
He was one of the first settlers here,
him and the others from Ohio.
He told me they surveyed their own farms,
laid out lots for the town, built the mill.
I think he wants to go back
to those days before the war.
I can see it in his eyes—
he doesn't seem so sad
when he talks to me.
I think he likes to talk with me,
maybe 'cause I listen,
and of course I don’t tell him
what he should do.
I try to help him feel less sad.
I wish there was a way I could ease his pain.

The Hired Girl

I took a break from work on the next set of poems in my Skimino Cycle series.  These poems were going to focus on the period of time when John Ratcliffe had his affair with Melissa Hendricks, the young woman whom John and Mary had hired to help out on the farm.  The affair is the act that led to Mary's decision to file for divorce.  It probably wasn't the only cause (although that's speculation on my part), but it certainly was the action that was spelled out in the divorce papers. 

I had drafted a poem narrated by Melissa, but initial comments from others was that it seemed a little flat.  Melissa (unnamed in the poem) seemed too one dimensional.  I agreed.  My goal in the poem was to introduce her as a character in the series of poems and to place her in some sort of work-a-day context.  I also wanted to try to place her in the context of John and Mary's relationship, knowing that as the hired girl she would be somewhat of an outsider, albeit well-informed outsider and observer.  And, knowing that she had an affair with John, she is not, or at least would not remain, an impartial observer.  I wanted to establish empathy for John on her part; establish that she cared for him in some way, that there was something that attracted her to him.  But, I wanted to be careful that she did not come across as a seductress, plotting to eventually get John into bed.  I also didn't want to make her come across as having a sort of school girl crush on John.  He was probably a fairly good looking man (his Civil War enlistment papers describe him as having dark eyes, dark hair, dark complexion); friends described his physical build as trim and fit.  They also described him as being a neat and tidy dresser.  But, family lore has it that he was depressed and bitter after the war, in part because of the wounds he suffered.  Depression runs in the family, so this seems plausible.  So, John had qualities that might have been attractive to a young woman of 21 (Melissa's age at the time of the affair), but he had qualities that would have been less attractive.  What was it, then, that attracted the two of them to each other?  And, did the affair grow out of love?  Or, was it simply something that happened as two people who enjoy each other's company and maybe need each other find themselves drawing closer together? 

Back to the poem itself-- I read my initial draft again this morning.  I read the alternate version that I had drafted.  That version, which tried to get more into Melissa's character, made her seem shallow, naive, maybe even a bit dull of mind.  Given John's upbringing and background, I can't see him being attracted to someone who was dull of mind, and I don't want the affair to be based solely on physical attraction, some mid-life crisis where John is simply looking for fling with a voluptuous young woman.  Maybe it was, and there is a comment from one of his neighbors in a statement in John's pension files that he had an eye for the women, but as author and storyteller, I don't want it to be simply about sex.  As I read the initial draft again this morning, I felt a little more comfortable with the words, with the story line.  I made a few changes to improve cadence and flow, and made a few changes that may help improve my characterization of Melissa and her feelings toward John.  But, as I read the poem again, I realized this is not a poem that delves deep into her character and persona, and neither did I want it to be that.  Rather, the poem is a young woman voicing her thoughts on a particular day, in a particular moment without getting introspective or into self-analysis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Friday Prayers" on Tuesday at Dead Beats

Another poem published.  "Friday Prayers" was posted on Dead Beats earlier today. See  It's already been reblogged once.  It'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.