My Papa’s Tilted Hat

Today being Veterans Day, I am thinking about my grandfather, Papa. He was one of the best men I’ve ever known or expect to know. He died too early and yet, he lived far longer than expected. Were it not for skilled doctors in an Army hospital in Korea, I never would have met him and the hole in my universe would be an all-encompassing black.

Though he put in an entire career in the US Army, the Papa I knew never felt like a soldier to me. He had a perpetual grin, an easy laugh and always, ALWAYS a hat over his bald head at a jaunty little tilt. He was warm and wonderful and my siblings and I adored him. Teddy bear material – Yes! Soldier? Not this guy. But there he is.

I grew up puzzled at how he ended up in a green suit. Why he kept reporting for duty long after the war and then the other war and then the other war had ended. How he maintained that grin, that laugh, that calm and steady demeanor.

Obviously, there’s more to this story. I know a little of it.

Papa

Came from a family
who had nothing except everything.

Stayed in school just long enough to read
diplomas that would never hang on his wall
married his one true love
held two baby girls
in his burly arms
.

Went to war
to make ends meet
.

He sobbed in a silent room
beside his daddy’s casket
then soldiered on
teaching other young men to

Lock

Load

Aim

Fire –
New generations of boys

born to nothing but need,
braving foot rot for freedom
and the paycheck sent home
for their babies
growing up without the comfort
of burly arms
.

©2022, Marilyn Garcia

 I think of him now and remember that tilted hat. I wonder if that hat, ever so slightly against Army regulation, was the way Papa held tight to a small piece of himself he would never, could never surrender to the green-suited soldier. Someday, when we’re together on the other side, I will have to ask him about that.

Now, please head over to Buffy Silverman‘s blog  for more Poetry Friday goodness.

Going off the Rails

I don’t know about you, fellow poets and poetry lovers, but when I sit down to write, what ends up on the page is rarely what I think will end up on the page. More often than not, my mind goes off the rails, scurries down rabbit holes, mole holes, lots of holes, and utterly surprises me with what it latches onto.

For example, this month, I have been soaking up poetry wisdom from the fabulous Georgia Heard and Rebecca Dotlich at the Poet’s Studio. Given the prompt to write about autumn and to lean into metaphor, I thought I would write about building a fire in my woodstove. I mean, who doesn’t love the glow of a fire, the scent of smoke in the cold night air, the way that a hearth fire draws the people you love to a common room where you can pass an evening in the warmth of each other? See, poetry is just begging to be written about this.

Instead, I got this…

…which is quite the opposite of fire in the woodstove.

But you know what? I really like this. And following all the weird twists and turns in my brain allowed me to remember, contemplate, and experience all over again the amazing time when the outside air bobs above and below freezing. Do you remember walking to school and blowing clouds from your mouth? Pausing to examine the overnight lace work on your windows? Crunching grass under your feet? Squinting against the dazzle of a frosted field? Frost is COOL! (Wink, wink.)

Feeling all these feels and reliving all this life is what Georgia and Rebecca would call the magic of poetry. I couldn’t agree more. May we all have a little more magic.

Now, please head on over to Bridget Magee’s blog, wee words for wee ones, where you can read the whole Poetry Friday roundup!

In Praise of Revision and Generous Editors

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone!

Several of the Poetry Friday peeps and I are having an exciting week. We have poems in a new anthology by Pomelo Books, What is a Friend? Any new anthology by Pomelo Books (a.k.a. Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong) is a cause for celebration and this one has even landed on the Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Presses” list for October. Yay!

I have had the great good fortune and honor of working with Pomelo Books on three anthologies. Each time, I submitted poems that had been scribbled, stewed over, shred and pieced back together until they were…PERFECT!

Yeah. No such thing.

For What is a Friend? I used the photo prompt…

… and played with the idea that a friend could be someone, or some thing, that comforts you, that boosts your confidence, that you know so well you come alive when you are together. After following the aforementioned process, here’s what I had:

Alive (submitted version)

On this grassy field
I grasp my favorite stick
feel the smooth cylinder of its shaft
sink a clenched fist into its nylon netting
round out a ball-sized pocket

Whistle blows

My stick and I
pivot, dodge, sprint, run
burn the filed like the blazing sun

My stick and I
pass and check
cradle and scoop
catch
aim
SHOOT!

My stick and I
come alive
on this grassy field

©2022, Marilyn Garcia

It’s not bad. I mean, it was good enough to catch Janet and Sylvia’s attention. But, yeah, it could be better. It could always be better.

At their suggestion, and with a little back and forth, we moved some lines around, got rid of unnecessary words, made the tone more consistent, and added alliteration.

Alive (final version)

My stick and I
pause
pose
plot
plan

Whistle blows

My stick and I
come alive
on this grassy field

My stick and I
pivot, dodge, sprint, run
burn the field like the blazing sun

My stick and I
pass and check
cradle and scoop
catch
aim

SHOOT!

©2022, Marilyn Garcia

Look at that – my entire first stanza distilled down to eight words. EIGHT. I admit, I was worried we would lose some of what I liked about my submission if we revised it too much. But after a little more stewing over each word, each change, I think my “perfect” poem became just that much better. Thankfully, I had two sets of thoughtful, expert eyes on this poem to help me send it into the world in its best possible shape.

And all those bits that got cut? I’ll just have to build more poems around them!

I hope you will check out What is a Friend? by Pomelo Books. All profits from this book will be donated to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund which you can learn about here.

Now head on over to Sarah Grace Tuttle’s blog for the rest of the Poetry Friday roundup!

Surprising Poetry Prompts

Lots of times poets, and writers in general, have a few big themes they like to explore and they visit those themes over and over again – the wonder of nature, family relationships, LOVE, social justice, the impact of science and technology, etc. Sometimes, people who play with words and meaning and think deep thoughts need a little nudge to get the brains and pens flowing. Thus, the poetry prompt.

The internet is full of them. That’s all well and good. I occasionally enjoy a good prompt and, truth be told, for the last five years, I have spent one month writing and posting every day to themed prompts.  

But, somewhere along this poetry journey I am on, a fellow writer described the purpose of poetry for her. To paraphrase, we writers use poetry as a way to examine life, to find its meaning with precision and brevity. I would add, to find a meaning in the most mundane things.

The poems that seem to come out of nothing – the morning walk through the neighborhood, the insects in the flower beds, the updating of an old piece of furniture, yes, old furniture – those are the poems that surprise me. Those are the poems I think I both need to write and am meant to write. To my delight, I found one of those poems this week (or it found me). I hope you, too, can be surprised with extraordinary poems out of the ordinary. Enjoy!

Plain Brown Objects

I have packed a truck and moved too many
times to allow heavy objects to hold more
meaning than utility
but this week, according to her plan,
my daughter and I painted the dresser –

the dresser that stood guard under slanting ceilings
of Papa and Grandma’s upstairs bedroom
the sturdy, brown, Army-surplus dresser
with one notch-cornered drawer
the dresser that waited for me
to return to my tiny, yellow room
every winter break, every spring break
the dresser I painted

raw silk and salmon
to welcome a baby girl and flying fairies
the dresser that cruised to Germany
[OCONUS]
and made a return trip adorned in stickers
the dresser that faced my sleeping girl
through every night of her life
and all she faced

My daughter and I sanded and stroked
each square inch of
the dresser
Then, we coaxed it into place
and she filled it.

©2022, Marilyn Garcia

*OCONUS is military jargon which means “outside of continental United States”

Now, please visit the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted this week by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

Unlike Myself, Poetry is Ageless

I had a birthday this week, a yearly reminder the world is still orbiting the sun. Some people stress and obsess about their age. I am not one of those people. I honestly forget most of the time how old, or young, I actually am and have to do some quick mental math whenever I am asked. And though I honestly don’t care about the grey hair or the fire hazard that is my birthday cake, I know my life has seasons, a finite number of them.

Not so with poetry. I believe this because I have been reading “children’s” poetry and “adult” poetry and poetry for middle schoolers and poetry for teens. And you know what? I could, in many cases, plop one age category of poetry into a collection for older/younger readers and you’d be hard-pressed to find the outlier. For example:

Be Like the Bird

Be like the bird who,
Pausing in his flight,
On a twig too slight,
Feels it bend beneath him,
Yet sings,
Knowing he has wings.

This translated little ray of empowerment was written by Victor Hugo. Yes, that Victor Hugo who is not particularly known as a children’s poet. Yet I came across this poem in a book for young children. Granted, this is an excerpt from a larger piece, but that actually proves my point. A poem that speaks to adults can also speak to children. I doubt Hugo intended this as a sweet little piece that kids could appreciate and ponder, but there it is.

And in another collection for young readers:

September Twelfth, 2001 by X.J. Kennedy

Two caught on film who hurtle
from the eighty-second floor,
choosing between a fireball
and to jump holding hands,

aren’t us. I wake beside you,
Stretch, stretch, taste the air,
the incredible joy of coffee
and morning light.

Alive, we open eyelids
on our pitiful share of time,
we bubbles rising and bursting
in a boiling pot.

Wow! This is powerful and dark and celebratory all at the same time.

I am old enough to remember the events of September 11, 2001, but there are no school children today who were alive when it happened. None. For them, this is a poem about ancient history. There are a myriad of ways to use a poem like this in a classroom, which is great. But I’m betting a lot of us folks “of a certain age” will miss out on a piece such as this because it is placed in a collection for young readers.

And that’s a shame.

I say, who cares where they place the poetry on the book store or library shelf? Poetry is for ALL. Amazing nuggets of wisdom and serenity and beautiful language are found in every poetry collection, for every age, from pre-school to adult. Explore it all.

I will leave you with a little “pre-school” verse I wrote. I didn’t think I was writing this poem for myself, but I clearly was. (Spoiler alert: I am not a pre-schooler.) Maybe this poem is for you, too, no matter how old you are.

Untitled

Sometimes I zoom

                                I race

                                                I fly.

Sometimes I fall

                                I scrape

                                                I cry.

Sometimes I am upset and blue
Sometimes I need a minute or two

                To calm myself

Then off I’ll go –

                                Good as new.

© 2022, Marilyn Garcia

Happy Poetry Friday! Visit Jan at Bookseed Studio for the whole poetry roundup!

I Am Often Late to the Party…

and I don’t know if that’s fashionable or not. On the one hand it’s embarrassing that “everyone” seems to know what I don’t. On the other hand, it’s kinda cool to be able to share genuine excitement over a new-to-me find and possibly give something, that deeply deserves it, a little lift out of “old news”.

This week, I discovered (re-discovered?) this collection of poems I would give ten stars on a scale of five.

Joyce Sidman . My goodness, Joyce Sidman. How does someone write enchantingly beautiful poems that are relatable and meaningful to every reader from age 2 to 102? I surely don’t know, but I am grateful that she does. Granted, What the Heart Knows-Chants, Charms, and Blessings might be a little lofty for the two-year-olds, but Joyce has plenty more for them, poems about colors and frogs and friends.

She is a wonder. As the world continues to churn and burn, I am so grateful for her.

I will AGAIN be traveling to Washington, D.C. this weekend to be seen, to be heard, to Not Look Away. I am inspired by Joyce’s words in the poem below. This is our world. May we make it better every day, starting now.

Starting Now by Joyce Sidman

It is time for us to wake:
we who stumble through the day
with our gripes and complaints,
who drift numbly
through thronging halls and streets –

you and I,
who rant about injustice,
who see all that is wrong in this world
but believe we are shackled
and powerless.

It is time to look into
each other’s faces,
we who glide along the surface,
time to dive down
and feel the currents
of each other’s lives.
Time to speak until the air
holds all of our voices.
Time to weave for each other
a garment of brightness.

Open your eyes.
Feel your strength.
Bless the past.
Greet the future.

Join hands.
Right here.
Our moment:
starting now.

Gone camping?

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, we have finally made the turn into warm weather and this week I have been reading poems about camping.

Full disclosure, I put this book on my to-read list because I was interested in the illustrations. (It’s Matthew Cordell – can you blame me?) Lucky me, Tamera Wissinger wrote a truly delightful little verse novel about camping and family and overcoming fear. Bonus – it has great back matter on poetry craft and form.

If you have plans for some outdoor adventures and may or may not be in love with the idea of sleeping in a tent, far away from a comfy bed and a familiar bathroom, this might be the inspiration you need. For me, it certainly brought back memories of an old backyard tent.

Kids and a Summer Night

We were given an old tent –
an old tent from the old couple next door
an old tent with old stains and wooden poles
an old tent with a rusty zipper and old smells
smoke, basement, mold.
We wrestled it into shape
willed it to stand tall
crawled into our old canvas triangle
and from inside
everything was new.

©2022, Marilyn Garcia

Now go grab a tent, make some s’mores, and snuggle in with someone you love!

When Positivity is a Righteous Struggle

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day (Love you, Mom!). Most poets I know took the opportunity to pen gorgeous, heartfelt odes to a woman or women they love. I did not.

Not because I don’t love my mom. Obviously, see above. But because I am a mom and I have given birth to two humans, biologically equipped to be moms.  Because, in our flawed democracy, it looks likely that people other than my daughters will have some power over how, when, and if they will be moms. Because this new reality has been a lot to process.

I want to emanate positivity and light, I really do. But I can’t write sweet words of flowers and chocolate and sunshine when my kids’ lives and futures are under threat. I just can’t. So today, I am writing about things I know, about the kind of mother I am, about why a small, unimpressive bird will take on any threat.

Female Red-winged Blackbird – Do not underestimate her.

These Things I Know

I’ve known men
who could spot a school of fish
in the ripple of uncharted currents,
sit motionless in frigid predawn
and discern four, eight, twelve points –
antlers from naked branches,
peer at a muddy river bank
and know how many kits
the beaver hides.

I cannot do these things.
I do not know one warbler song from another,
I cannot distinguish drifting twigs from a mink’s tail
or remember if raccoons have four toes or five.

I know why
the red-winged blackbird scolds
why it puffs its chest
mocks and mobs
why it teases death.
I know why hawk and not-hawk
circle skyward
chasing, shrieking, striking
until hawk gives up its quiet glide
powerstrokes into the distance
and red-and-black circles back
silent.

These things, I know.

And the men I know –
                do they?

This Saturday, I will be in Washington, D.C. with my daughters, marching to the Supreme Court. I will be there to remind the world that the Bible is not the Constitution, women are not incubators, and I positively will not be silent as human rights are taken away. Please, join me in D.C. or in a protest near you.

Who Knew Haiku…

… is so darn hard to craft?

I mean, a three line poem, taught in elementary schools everywhere – how hard is that? If you can count to seven, you can pump out reams of them, right?

Not so fast.

This week I’ve been reading and practicing haiku. After finishing this little gem of a book, filled with examples of extraordinary haiku and also examples of things that look like haiku but aren’t, I can confidently say that most of my attempts at haiku are… Well, if I was a southern lady talking about them I would have to say, “Bless their dear hearts”.

Por ejemplo, I wrote this little beauty a few years ago to a prompt which pictured an embroidered bird.

Beautiful flyer
Caged in bold-colored stitches
Yearns for sharp scissors

As you can see, I can certainly count to five, seven, and five. I have a surprising last line which, maybe, gives the reader pause to think more deeply about that bird. The idea of a bird caged in stitches and yearning for freedom – good, good. It’s a little something of a poem. But I don’t think it’s a haiku, at least not a good one.

Forget counting syllables. Have I created clear images? (Maybe) Have I created two clear images in conversation with each other? (No) Have I edited out every unnecessary modifier? (Oh, please. I see a modifier in every line.) I could go on. And on. So I try again.

toddlers at the playground
in identical attire
goslings scurry

This is a little closer. I have two images, one is clearly speaking of the natural world. I have suggested a season, goslings. I have a pivot line in the middle – “in identical attire” could refer to the toddlers or, humorously, the goslings. I have left room for the reader to piece the two images together and give them meaning. There’s something here. Is it good? Could it be published? Probably no and no.

With so many moving parts in such a short form, haiku is HARD. Yet, “haiku” is “taught” broadly and “known” universally. I wonder if its artistry and complexity are lost on most readers. It’s as if, in the western world, we’ve come to think a fine work of oil painting comes out of a paint-by-number box rather than the countless years of practice and failure it took for Renoir to create one piece.

I’m not knocking teachers of the world who use haiku in their classrooms. What could ever be wrong with introducing ways to use and play with words or learning about art and culture? Absolutely nothing. Please, continue. I hope teachers and word lovers everywhere will continue reading and writing haiku. I also hope they will use this deceptively difficult form as a way to go deeper into the power of words, the power of simplicity, and the importance of a single moment. Dive in to haiku, real haiku, and leave the craft store version for the beginners. May they enjoy it.

The Progressive Poem is Here!

It’s the final week of April but poetry month is still going strong. For my addition to this progressive poem, I leaned into spring and Earth day and…poetry, of course! I have modified a lovely line from the poem “When I Was a Bird” by Katherine Mansfield. I came across this beauty in the anthology, Shades of Green”, Poems chosen by Anne Harvey and Illustrated by John Lawrence (Greenwillow Books). This anthology was a gift from my mother to my daughter many years ago and, like all well-chosen gifts, it keeps on giving. Enjoy!

Where they were going, there were no maps.

   Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today.

Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!

   We have to go back. I forgot something.

But it’s spring, and the world is puddle-wonderful,

so we’ll whistle and dance and set off on our way.

Come with me, and you’ll be in a land of pure imagination.

Wherever you go, take your hopes, pack your dreams, and never forget –

 it is on our journeys that discoveries are made.

And then it was time for singing.

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain, paint with all the colors of the wind, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky?

Suddenly, they stopped and realized they weren’t the only ones singing.

Listen, a chattering of monkeys! Let’s smell the dawn 
and taste the moonlight, we’ll watch it all spread out before us.

The moon is slicing through the sky. We whisper to the tree, 
tap on the trunk, imagine it feeling our sound.

Clouds of blue-winged swallows, rain from up the mountains,

Green growing all around, and the cool splash of the fountain.

If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden,

a bright, secret, quiet place, and rather sad; 
 and they stepped out into the middle of it.

Their minds’ libraries and lightning bugs led them on.

The darkwood sings, the elderhist blooms, the sky lightens; listen and you will find your way home.

The night sky would soon be painted, stars gleaming overhead, a beautiful wild curtain closing on the day.

Mud and dusk, nettles and sky – time to cycle home in the dark. 

There are no wrong roads to anywhere

lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.

Standing at the fence of the cottage, 
    I hear the new note in the voices of the birds.

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the message of my heart upward.

I make up a song that goes on singing all by itself

Next up is Joann!

Source List:

1. The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories, by Emily Winfield Martin

2. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
3. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
4. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
5. inspired by “[in Just-]” by E. E. Cummings
6. “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
7. Maybe by Kobi Yamada
8. Sarah, Plain, and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
9. inspired by Disney songs “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
10. The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor
11. adapted from Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman
12. adapted from The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron
13. adapted from On the Same Day in March by Marilyn Singer
14. adapted from a line in Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
15. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
16. Prince Caspian by CS Lewis
17. The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
18. Kate DiCamillo’s The Beatryce Prophecy
19. The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith
20. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
21. ThePhantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
22. Dance Me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen
23. adapted from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

24. A quote from Terry Tempest Williams in Birdology by Sy Montgomery
25. adapted from “When I Was a Bird” by Katherine Mansfield

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