Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 30, 2014

13 Ways of Grading Essays

sea-sun-outside-window-15244348The last day of Spring Break finally brings sun and warmth, after a week of cold and rain.  Of course!  Isn’t it one of nature’s traditions to tease us this way?

So here I sit, with the stack of papers I’ve put off, looking at the bright sunshine through my patio doors.  I’ll escape for a walk, no doubt.  But in the meantime, I must tackle these paragraphs — drafts from my sophomores’ beginnings of research papers.

During the week when I was traveling and then busy with appointments, errands, and outings with family and friends, I knew this day would come.  In anticipation, I had a little fun with a riff on Wallace Stevens’ “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

This one’s for all the English teachers.  Let’s brace ourselves for 4th quarter!

 

coffee spoons mug

Thirteen Ways of Grading High School Essays


I

Drink two cups of coffee –
warrior black –
then wield the purple pen
like a sword.


II

Eyes to the rubric,rubricwrite2
notice shapes, lines,
blocks of words,
commas, periods, and – hopefully –
question marks.


III

Eyes off the rubric,
follow sparkling phrases
to astonishing blazes
of clear thought.


IV

Consider all verbs
as messengers of deepest longing,
nouns as sentries
camouflaged by shiftless adjectives.


V

Withhold judgment.
Picture tender fingers,
white as they grip the pen.paper_airplane

VI

Fold the top corners inward
on the diagonal, creating a point.
Repeat twice.
Lift and toss gently
across the room
toward the corner wastecan.


VII

Read aloud slowly
again and again
while listening to Beethoven’s 7th –
the Pastoral –
and wait for the hidden songs
to emerge.

Three glasses
VIII

Everything depends upon
three glasses of red Merlot
lined up within reach
beyond the stack of white papers
on the desk.


IX

Remember the tree
in its sun-baked splendor.
Let it imbue the page
with dignity.


X

This paper must be read.
This paper cannot be read.

XI

O startling teens –tree
naiads in the woodlands
with eyes like unfolding buds –
must you be so predictable?

XII
In their words I see
their future images of themselves,
brave and successful,
which means they are – as yet –
gloriously ignorant
of all ignorance.

XIII
Save for last
the essay you know will be
brilliant and flawless,
that will restore your dignity.
But even this one –
if read after ten p.m. –
could make you up and quit.

harvest moon

 

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 21, 2014

Poem posted: Prairie Wolf Press Review

TC BoyleI’m thrilled that the editors at Prairie Wolf Press Review have included one of my poems in their new online edition.

The poem, “T. C. Boyle might have been a biologist,” was inspired by an evening spent listening to Boyle read one of his stories and talk about his work.  The opening line is partly quoted from Boyle himself.  The rest of the poem comes from being familiar with his work — which teems with creatures of all kinds.

garden-spider-crawling-on-web_1200x1800Boyle told us he gets nearly all of his ideas for his stories and novels from items in the news, but that he is drawn to tales that explore humans’ encounters with elements of nature.  My poem imagines writers like Boyle huddled over their laptops, bringing their creations to life.

http://www.prairiewolfpress.com/issue_vii_spring_2014/tc_boyle_might_have_been_a_biologist_by_kate_hutchinson

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 2, 2014

Zombies Await Spring

greekchorus_largeBoy, this winter has just sapped the life out of everyone and everything, hasn’t it?  At school, students and teachers alike are the walking dead – pasty, sniffling, and deflated.  I haven’t worn a skirt since November, and the last few weeks I’ve resorted to jeans, boots, and bulky zip-front cardigans 3 days a week without hearing a peep from the boss.  (Probably because she’s wearing them, too.)  There’s a crust of salt half an inch thick on my garage floor, and this morning, the snow plow buried my Sunday New York Times under the four-foot mound next to the driveway, where it joins 3 others entombed there beginning with the blizzard on New Year’s Day.  (See photo below.)

???????????????????????????????I’m sure I’m not the only writer who suffers from Dry Pen Syndrome each winter.  It’s been a daily struggle to fend off depression, plus the crabbiness and lack of creativity that come with it.  Even my full-spectrum light bulb didn’t help this year.  Only now, with the sun rising before I leave for work and staying up until dinnertime, have I felt the clouds lifting.  With 6 new inches of snow last night and a high of 12 today, though, it’s hard to be hopeful that Spring will find us any time soon.

writers-blockSince the holidays, any spark of creativity I’ve felt has petered out within 48 hours, leaving me with several half-written or barely-started stories and poems – a word graveyard strewn across my dining room table.  It took a writing prompt and a deadline from the Northwest Cultural Council to get myself writing poems again.  Their annual contest, themed “The Fire of Spring,” closes this week.  We can each submit 2 poems, so I wrote one in a literal vein – about the Equinox – and one that is more metaphoric — about my son’s annual springtime quest to find out where all roads end.  [Update:  I found out on April 3 that the latter poem won 2nd place!]

Here is the poem about the sun’s returning. (It’s written in couplets, but Word Press doesn’t allow double spacing of incomplete lines — grrrr — so I’ve had to use the intrusive dashes to separate the stanzas.  When oh when will software become friendly to poets???)

Happy Spring in advance, everyone.  It’s coming one way or another on March 20.

Equinox

budsShe tiptoes downstairs

for coffee and quiet

just before dawn. Outside,

gray light greets mist

dripping from the maples,

buds mere thoughts

on branches. Frost glistens

as silver melts to blue,

winter’s threadbare coat

mid-shrug. She swirls

her cream, sips, sighs,

each swallow warming her

JTB-K006-003643Nas the sun’s first rays

set rooftops aglow.

She stands at the window,

heart centered below

sleeping children, and

feels the Earth swell

beneath her feet, its

cosmic pendulum

lifting her into Spring.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 25, 2014

One Vignette at a Time

pen and paper imgPulitzer Prize winning Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich discourages would-be memoir writers from making grandiose plans about what their books will include.  Really, she discourages any planning at all.  Just write, she urges.  Tell the story that calls to you today.

Many writers offer similar advice to newcomers, whether at workshops or in guidebooks.  Some suggest we try writing early in the morning when our brains are more uncluttered; others encourage us to find a certain spot in the house just for writing.  But nearly every writer will say the key to being a successful writer is to sit the butt down in a chair and crank out the sentences, one at a time.

schmichI’m sure many people think about writing memoirs, of their own lives or of someone in the family, but few of us ever will – and mainly because we are daunted by the seemingly impossible task of fitting an entire life into 300 pages.  Where to begin?  Where to end?  What points or moments or experiences to include?  Will this story be written for the family only, or might it be interesting to a wider audience?  It’s all too overwhelming.  So most of us write nothing.

Mary Schmich, in her Trib. U. talk the other night, provided a wonderful solution for those of us who had come to her session to figure these things out.  What she suggested is the same process she used in culling the list of columns for her most recent collection. (The intriguing title is a statement her mother made late in life.)

IrcboardSchmich suggests we try writing one story a day for 30 days – whatever stories come to us – without giving a thought to structure, theme, or larger picture.  After we’ve accumulated 30 pieces, we should lay them out on the floor and see what’s there.  Only then should we start thinking about threads of meaning or how our book might take shape.  We might also find a spot to pin up photographs, words, or mementos that will help us visualize key people or places we wish to include in our stories.

Being a full-time teacher and mom with little free time, I know I won’t be able to write a story every day for 30 days running.  But I’m sold on her idea of letting go the need to figure things out in advance and just letting myself drift toward the stories that come to me, letting that inner power direct my thoughts and my pen just as I do when I sit down to write a poem.  It may take me a year or two to gather 30 stories about my family, but eventually I can do it.  How much less daunting a task it all seems from this vantage point!

105 oaktonThanks, Mary Schmich, for your insights and nudging.  I’m going to start writing my family’s stories, one sentence and one vignette at a time.  The possibilities are endless if I just let my mind wander back to the 60s and 70s, in that little house on Oakton Road where my sister and I shared a sky-blue room with matching desks and would fall asleep to the beeps of the dialysis machine in the next room….

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 3, 2014

New chapbook available

???????????????????????????????To kick off the new year, I’ve put together a chapbook of 18 recent pieces — poems and a couple of flash prose pieces — a few of which have appeared on this blog.  I’ve named it Finding Ithaca, which is the title of the final poem, one many of you liked when it was posted here for a few weeks last winter.  It took 2nd prize in the New Hampshire Poet’s Society’s 2012 contest and appeared in their Poet’s Touchstone magazine.  Other published pieces include one I’d posted here several months ago, “Playing Monopoly with My Son on Christmas” (just out in Pentimento last month), and “Survival Skills,” the poem for my stepmother who passed away in 2012 (in Journey to Crone and The Bellingham Review), plus two others.  I’m hopeful some of the other recent poems will be chosen by literary journals or anthologies in 2014.

The overall tone of this collection is a bit more somber than that of my first book, but the poetry continues to explore interesting characters, elements in nature, personal memories, and the ongoing search for meaning in this crazy world.  A very short story in the book’s center grew from an exercise in 2-person dialogue and explores relationship breakdown.  I haven’t written much fiction but intend to try more of these short-short pieces in the future!  One more added feature in this book is a series of small bird and animal drawings, which I collected from online sources.  I hope they serve to enhance the reading experience.

This second book, unlike the first, is not officially published but is merely a photocopied booklet, pared down to its skivvies.  Having gone through the whole publishing experience with my previous chapbook, I’ve decided to keep things much simpler and cheaper this time around.  If you would like a copy, drop me a note and I will send you one for free.  I’ve decided that sharing my writing with those who enjoy it is a far greater reward than any monetary profit.

chapbook coverThe Gray Limbo of Perhaps, my first book published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press, is still available at Finishing Line and Amazon for $12, but I would be happy to sell you one of mine for $8 — which covers the author’s price and shipping.  I have a few copies left.  Just send me a note, and we can work out the details.

My email, for anyone who wishes to contact me about receiving the free chapbook or ordering the other, is:  k28hutch@yahoo.com.  I only have paper copies, so we’ll have to use the U. S. mail.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 23, 2013

Communing with the Ancients at Winter Solstice

Darkest of dark descendswinter-solstice

Silence blankets all the Earth

And stars dance upon ice

The Winter Solstice has become one of my favorite days of the year.  It’s cold and dark, yes, but it’s hugely significant in the grand scheme of the Earth.  I love to think about our ancient ancestors gathering at Stonehenge or other holy sites throughout Britain, waiting for the sun’s golden beams to shine directly into their precisely-carved holes or cairn-covered tunnels.  I share their long-ago excitement as I ponder the exact moment when the sun will begin to move back toward the center of the sky on its daily crossing.

stonehenge-winter-solstice-2003-01Perhaps there is even more awe today when we consider that it is not any god pulling the sun back up into the sky but our entire planet shifting on its axis, like some sleeping giant rolling over in its bed to find a fresh spot on the pillow.  Still, they were no slouches, the ancients.  They had much of the world figured out without fancy tools or telescopes – they merely observed natural phenomena and discovered patterns.

Solstices are times of such dichotomy, accentuating the pull of yin and yang without and within us.  In December, the cold and dark outside pull us inward – to our contemporary caves where we crank up the artificial heat sources and curl up with our devices. . .or big fat books.  Edison’s light bulb may be considered a curse as much as a savior:  are we better off for keeping second and third shifts going through the longest nights, or might the Electric Age instead mark the point when civilization began to speed out of control toward its inevitable demise?  We might praise and damn Mr. Edison in the same breath.

reading by fire 2Part of me loves to romanticize those times when nightfall meant the end of work, time to retreat to the cave or the hut to tend the fire and be still.  And sleep.  How glorious to have utter darkness and silence for hours on end.  I know, I know, life was grueling and dangerous and painful, and you’d be lucky to live past 40, but I can’t help but be a little bit envious when I consider the simplicity of that rhythm, letting Mother Nature set the schedule.

Yet Nature is still calling us to us to slow down and rest this time of year.  She hasn’t changed, nor have the wild animals.  And what is our reaction?  To do exactly the opposite!  We have invented a season of the most frenetic, crazed, ever-growing list of rituals and obligations, right at the time when everything in the world around us is telling us to hibernate.

hibernation-dormouseWhy do we do this to ourselves?  I supposed it’s an evermore desperate form of the many “longest night” rituals practiced over the ages in cultures all around the planet, when people gather to light lights and proclaim their own existence in the face of certain death.  Christmas, Hanukah, and Solstice rituals all involve light — fire, candles, stars – symbols of our hope for eternal life.  “We are here, and we matter!” we seem to be calling out into the darkness to whatever Great Beings may be paying attention.

Because when we pare away all the gifts and tinsel and cookies, that’s what is left at the center of everything – the fire in the hearth, the candles in the window.  We gaze at them and remember times past, from our childhoods and far beyond, to the times of the ancients.  Solstice night, more than any other, reminds us that the only things differentiating us from the Druids are just that:  our things.  When we turn off our screens and carols and mall strobe lights and step out into the darkness of the night, we are just as small and awed by the stars as were the people who had no conception of how truly vast the universe really is.

red candleCommuning with the ancients on the longest night can bring us all some much-needed humility. . .and peace.  On the night of the Solstice, I light a candle and give thanks to the Celtic ancients whose DNA flows through my flesh and my veins, for without their ingenuity and fortitude, I might not have come into being.  Life may be short, but it is indeed a miracle.

Blessings to all in the new year.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | November 23, 2013

Imagining Utopia for the Other-Abled

future_worldMoving sidewalks.  Personalized taxi service. Phone apps that demystify facial expressions or order your favorite pizza just by pushing a few buttons.

My students envisioned these services and more this past week when I challenged them to create an ideal integrated community, where the physically and developmentally challenged would feel as equally valued as their fully-abled neighbors and peers. With no caps on spending, my students drew town layouts that we could all enjoy, complete with parks, fountains, all-service medical centers, and clusters of integrated housing connected by covered and tree-lined walkways.

town parkOne group of girls took to heart the research done by autism rock-star Temple Grandin and laid out their town in concentric circles, with a park in the middle, and walkways and streets radiating out and around the center, affording a safe and calming effect on their citizens with autism – and just about anyone else, too.

A benefit of teaching at the same school for many years is having a hand in course design. Our Contemporary Literature course – a semester elective for seniors – allowed me this indulgence several years ago. My son was just entering high school himself, and I felt an urgent need for my students (and the whole world) to become educated about autism. With more and more people being diagnosed every year, I knew that if the trajectory continued, by the time my students and my son were adults, our communities would be facing a surmounting challenge of finding housing, jobs, transportation, socialization opportunities, and other support services for those on the spectrum.

curious incidentThat’s when I read Mark Haddon’s brilliant novel, The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I knew immediately that I’d found the perfect vehicle for disability education. Students love this book and its fascinating protagonist, Christopher Boone, the young Englishman whose life falls apart around him, forcing him out of his rigid routines and small comfort zones. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite units to teach.

grandin and danesNow my students are further helped to understand autism by watching the excellent HBO biopic with Claire Danes, Temple Grandin. What a blessing this extraordinary woman has been for all people with autism, as her ability to articulate how she sees and feels the world has created a window into the minds of so many others on the spectrum who are not able to speak for themselves.

Increasingly, I have students who have their own stories to share – about siblings, cousins, neighbors, or children in summer camps where they have worked. And they don’t seem to mind too much when I tell them stories about Ramon, either. By this point in the year, we’ve established enough trust with each other to open up and get a little personal. It’s always nice when that happens.

autism-rates0505This year I added something new: a small forum of speakers to further educate the students about what life is like for the developmentally disabled in our own community.  I got them excused from a double period and moved the class to a larger room, where they were treated to presentations by a woman from Clearbrook Center, a large service provider in our area, plus a man from our regional Transition Services provider, and two of my own colleagues – a Special Ed. teacher and a Speech Pathologist.  We all learned about how the SpEd community exists like a parallel universe next to our own, separate and not nearly equal. We then ate pizza and started to talk about how our communities might one day be different – more accommodating for those who can’t function independently.

aerial layout of townNow, the students are working on envisioning a new kind of utopia – one where young and old of all abilities and limitations are valued and accommodated with parity. They’re working at tables in groups, with large pieces of paper and colored markers, designing towns of the future.

Imagining these communities is only the first step in making them a reality one day, we can hope. Today’s young people have impressed me with their kindness and non-judgmental natures. Maybe they will go off into their lives as citizens, workers, and homeowners, and collectively assert the will to change how we all live together. May my class be one pebble dropped into the pond, moving us all in the right direction.

Ala-Action-2010

(These aren’t my students making this cool word collage — though I wish they were!  I grabbed this photo from Google…. They appear to be ‘Bama co-eds.)

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | October 26, 2013

Journeys: Tapping the Mythic

a_woman_climbing_a_mountainWe’re the protagonists of our own lives, and we each go through times of great joy and success as well as times when just facing the day can be too much to bear.  I’m sure many of us would agree, though, that most days are somewhere in between, with an equal measure of enjoyment and difficulty.  And most of us can pull ourselves out of a funk by reminding ourselves that millions of people around the world are having a worse day than we are.

357819-lukeskywalker

I’m about to begin our annual hero-myth study with my students, where we get to wallow for a few weeks with Odysseus, Buddha, Luke Skywalker, and the like — characters whose lives’ narrative arcs have much more dramatic highs and lows than the average person’s.   We study the theories of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, learning of the various archetypes that appear in every hero’s story.  But tempering the fun is always the awareness of the underlying sadness of the hero’s transformation from innocence to experience, where he or she learns of great loss.  To emphasize this element in the warrior’s life, we read many stories of soldiers from more contemporary times – such as from the Vietnam War (“The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich), the Iraq War (“Refresh, Refresh” by Ben Percy), and some true accounts by soldiers recently shared in magazines and newspapers.

griefAlways, as we read these mythic tales, we think about the lives of those who love the warriors and how they are a part of the tragedy, too, since a far greater number of us live to play these roles than that of warrior.  Penelope and Telemachus suffer in some ways as deeply as does Odysseus; his mother Anticleia commits suicide when her grief over his absence becomes too much to bear.  And then there is the horrific illness that until recently had no name but that continues to claim our soldiers years after they’ve returned home, bringing the faraway battlefield into kitchens and bedrooms and work places all across America.  The ancients spoke of P.T.S.D. as sadness, madness, an alienating loneliness, or the warrior’s deepest wound; it’s as old as war itself.

here-bullet-coverI’ve been reading a collection by U. S. Army infantryman Brian Turner called Here, Bullet –poems largely composed in Iraq in the early 2000s.  One of his poems became the title of the Oscar-winning film, “Hurt Locker.”  I’d heard Turner interviewed on NPR several months ago but waited till now to read these poems, as preparation for teaching the unit on the Hero’s Journey and The Odyssey.

Here is one of Turner’s poems, entitled “Ashbah”:

The ghosts of American soldiers

wander the streets of Balad by night,

minaret-72dip1unsure of their way home, exhausted,

the desert wind blowing trash

down the narrow alleys as a voice

sounds from the minaret, a soulful call

reminding them how alone they are,

how lost.  And the Iraqi dead,

they watch in silence from the rooftops

as date palms line the shore in silhouette,

leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

starstreeI read these lines and I think, how can poetry about anything else but this have meaning?  How can my mundane existence, a Saturday of grocery shopping, laundry, and paper grading, offer any words at all, let alone the power to move a reader?

Sometimes the journeys I need to take are those that will move me outward, to learn about the lives of others – the kinds of stories that take me into the mythic, where the bottom falls out and I’m deep in the chasm and my mind finds the universal thread weaving us together.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you view it, the daily news cycle always supplies fresh fodder for my pathos and my pen.  But even then, it’s hard to find the words to describe another’s experience.  How fortunate that we will always have sages like Homer and Virgil, Remarque, Erdrich, O’Brien and Vonnegut, and now Brian Turner, to help us understand how our fellow humans suffer when the thread leads them to battlefields and back home again.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | October 15, 2013

Arts and Crafts and Cinquain

lb-writers-desk-istock-4792809Some writers are able to plop themselves down and jump into their work each day, on schedule, disciplined and productive.  Others of us – not so much.  Usually, a poem or story has to percolate in my mind for a few days before I can get a word onto the page.  This is one reason why I’m much more productive in the summer than I am during the school year, when my brain is in its linear, analytical mode and not ready to create art.

It’s occurred to me that many of my students probably have the same problem in school.  The patchworked, 8-period day requires them to shift from various modes of thinking in the time it takes to pull down a screen or light up a bunsen burner.  Does anyone remember how jarring that was – to go from math to PE to English to science to art to history, all in a span of 4-5 hours?  And then you also must factor in their social agenda – the 5 minute passing period where melodrama unfolds continuously and lingers in their minds far into each class.  Now they also must fight the tug of text messages pulling their attention away.

various color paperLast week being Homecoming week at my school, I decided to capitalize on the excitement and take a day to try an experiment I called “Arts & Crafts & Poetry.”  I’m delighted to report that it worked beautifully.  Even my boss, who stopped in to observe 3rd period, liked it well enough to try it in her own class.

Using a technique I learned from Mary Ellen Ledbetter at a Bureau of Education Research workshop last winter, I had the students each choose from a wide array of colored cardstock paper.  They worked with a partner, sharing a cross-shaped pattern I had made and a small pair of scissors, tracing and cutting out the cross shape from their own paper.  This activity, I explained to them, was forcing them to unwire their analytical synapses and activate the more free-associative and image-rich parts that we use in creative pursuits.  In other words, it forced the numbers and computer screens out of their heads.

As they finished cutting, I asked them to start thinking about the book we’ve been reading together, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, which is set in the Amazon rainforest.  They were to choose a topic related to the story, whether a character, a setting, a scene, or even an animal.  Each student wrote his or her topic in the center part of the cross.

Paper-Cube-Step-6Next came the free-association brainstorming.  In each of the 5 remaining squares on their cross pattern, they thought of words and phrases associated with their topic:  adjectives, verbs, synonyms, metaphors, and feelings.  Once they had lots of ideas written on their papers, I handed out rolls of tape and had them transform their cross shapes into cubes.  This cube, I told them, held all the ideas for the poems they were about to write.

We then took a minute to learn about the CINQUAIN, a poetry form invented in the late 1800s by a woman named Adelaide Crapsey, who was enamored with the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka but wanted to Westernize the form using English word and syllable counts.  We discussed the two forms and looked at some models; then the students begin drafting ideas for their own cinquain, using ideas from the sides of their cubes as they rotated them around in their hands.

When their poems were complete, they used colored markers and wrote out the poems on one notecard-sized scrap from their colored card stock.  They then pinned their poems up onto a bulletin board at the front of the room, creating a bright collage of images and words.  Here’s the result!  Isn’t it pretty?

001

Here are my 2 cinquain in honor of October.  These use syllable counts per line, 2, 4, 6, 8, 2:

AutumnTreesNlake-L2

falling

golden light slants

dappling reds and oranges

high above cranes warble farewells

darkness

Pristine

indigenous

forests, rivers, mountains –

until Europeans arrive

with guns.

Here is one using the other form,  with word counts per line instead of syllables  (1, 2, 3, 4, 1):

the-fireplace-148

Autumn

Earth tilts

Crisp air cools

Fireplaces brim with wood

Aflame

Please feel free to add a cinquain of your own in the Comments box below!  You can do it without making a paper cube — though my students will agree it was kind of fun.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | September 21, 2013

The Filter of Time: 9/11 in 2013

TwinTowersPaintingDo you, too, have a strange relationship with your memories of 9/11?  Those of us who do not live in New York City and who did not lose any loved ones or friends on that horrific day were still unalterably changed by it.   How could anyone not experience a deep shift in life view after seeing the towers crumble, even if on a TV screen?

Now, though, it’s almost as if writing about 9/11 is somehow too melodramatic, taboo, cliche — that somehow the significance of the event is simply too huge to capture in any context in an authentic or meaningful way. Or it’s just so horrible to remember that any mention of it will repulse even the most compassionate of readers.  9/11 fatigue, if you will.

memoriesYet, like any devastating event — war, bombings, torture, gas chambers, Sarin grenades, mass shootings — in time, we sift through our feelings and gain enough perspective that we can begin to talk or write about the event through the filters of our memories.  Time settles the emotions within us just enough to allow us to re-examine them.  Memory creates an imperfect record, but I’ve come to believe that while facts may blur, emotions often deepen and expand over time.  “Accuracy” in a memory may not be as important as the “truth” it reveals to the person who is remembering.

I’ve just this year — on the twelfth anniversary — been moved to write a poem about my own experience in the days following September 11, 2001.  My memories of that time have been reduced to images, snippets, and overall feelings.  But, as Kurt Vonnegut says in Slaughterhouse-Five, what can anyone say about the devastation of a city except to echo the call of a bird:  “Potoo-weet?”

At Mimi’s Nails That Saturday

sky_and_birds_Our toes were real. Our bodies were all

we could trust in the days afterward—

when the sky above O’Hare was empty

and the insolent birds flitted and chirped

overhead.  The only thing we could think

to do, Cindy and I, was to get pedicures—

in the sandals we’d worn all summer,

purses slung absently over our shoulders—

the keys in my hand jangling, startling

in their insistence to go somewhere.

We sat side by side, our feet immersed

in froth, glancing at absurd pages in People,

then raised our wrinkled toes into

the gentle hands of nameless women—

rose-petals-on-a-roadwatching as they clipped, scraped,

primed and painted each tiny white digit.

We waited for the polish to dry, then

walked out into cellophane brightness—

our toenails like pink petals strewn

before us on the graying asphalt.

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