Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Greener Here
J.B. Rowell

Belted Galloways in silo shadow,
watch us stand on the bottom slat
of white-painted fence watching them.

One family of all who come to see
the Oreo cows. Not milked or eaten,
these cows are pets, ornamentation even,
donning the green roll from the busy road.

My daughter pulls grass, it's greener
here, she says. Brings handfuls
to the matching goats, with the same
black-white pattern, across the street

that leads to the old inn, surrounded
by multi-use

This place really exists, eerily too good to be true.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Bathrobe Ode
J.B. Rowell

plain, white, and thirsty
for thoughts
freshly bubbled.

thirsty thoughts,
plain, white and
bubbling into fresh

wrap around,
cinch belt, keep
fresh thoughts from
slipping down
between hands:

to dos, you dos,
poem starts,
forgot yesterdays,
remember todays,

between hands
bubbled thoughts slip
down, wrap tighter
around plain
white on white

yoke of list
across neck
of morning carries
weak protection

day will do what it will

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Today I give you a poem by Tom Gordon, Birmingham poet whose work it has been my privilege to publish in Birmingham Arts Journal. This poem is one that Tom recently shared at his mother's memorial service, and it is my honor to share it here, as it shows how one memory can illuminate an entire life. And that it should be a son's memory... it touches me.

Gratitude to Mother

If I am worth anything,
I can trace some of it to that day in the grocery store
When, after my usual mixed success in adding
Extra Oreos or Ice Cream
To your cart, I stood in the checkout line
And watched you tell the cashier, ‘You’re very pretty.’
In reply, the lady not only said thank you,
She said it with surprise in her voice
And a brightening in her face.

I think there was power in your generous gesture.
I would like to think that cashier
Later took a look in her rear view mirror
And smiled that someone had noticed
What she dared not say publicly about herself.
And perhaps, when she got home, your kindness
Was part of the day’s memory she shared with her husband,
Prompting him to put his arms around her in agreement
While inwardly vowing to atone for the times
He had neglected to tell her himself.
And maybe her memory of your three words had the kind of shelf life
That led her to say complimentary things to strangers
Or reaffirm love to those who needed it.

For all the times we mouth the golden rule,
We fail nearly as often to carry it out.
Still, your lesson to me from that long-ago Saturday
Is that every checkout line, every human encounter,
Is a chance at redemption.

- Tom Gordon

Saturday, January 28, 2006


He wants to be a BIG BOY when he grows up . . . that's it. Prompting results in no more more details on what 3-year-old dreams for his future.

Not so long ago, she wanted to be a "Rock Star/President" - like that was a single job description. Now, she wants to be a song writer. In fact, she spent over an hour in her room yesterday sitting on her bed with a pad of paper and pen writing songs. One is about love, and the other is about dogs. My favorite line is, "Our dogs are perfectly fine." This could be a defining moment. Someday we may say, yes, she always wanted to be a song writer, in fact, when she was 6 . . . or maybe not.

What did YOU want to be when you were little, and what are you now? Or what do you still want to be when you "grow up"?


This poem just came back to me this morning, eventhough it has been over a decade since I read and discussed it in a college classroom. I wonder why poems stay, and why they spring back to the forefront of your mind?

Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy's Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Friday, January 27, 2006


My husband's job may take us to Seattle in the next couple of years, and we just arrived here in Durham, NC, about 6 months ago. Exciting and unnerving. Anyone have info or insights?

Seattle Stream

J.B. Rowell

The rain doesn't bother,
what does is another
idea to idealize
the next step over now

moody mist softens what ifs
makes them glow.

From here to there
mind travels, jumps
ahead to convey
expanse, the great idio-

syncratic country of ours
exposed arm to needle.

Roots can absorb
enough nutrients from air
and heaven knows
there's enough water

dangling above dirt keeps
safe from fault line.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Here's a funny little something after Julia's lovely but serious post yesterday... I home-school my third grader, and we just finished up a unit on the poetry of Shel Silverstein, when what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a poetry contest for kids sponsored by The Birmingham News and judged by local great Charles Ghigna. To help the kids, Ghigna suggested an "If you were" formula for the kids to follow, and we had great fun with it. Here's the poem my son Andrew entered in the contest:

If you were a toilet
And I were a sink
I'd be the King of Clean
And you'd be the Queen of Stink.

Nothing like potty humor to engage the young male mind!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


First Lady Laura Bush
The White House

10 February 2003

Dear First Lady,

These poems – the first by an Iraqi woman writing in the seventh century – I send you as a fellow mother. The proposed pre-emptive strike seems to me a “September 11th” which can still be stopped in time, sparing many children. It seems to me that all avenues to alternative actions should be explored now. I pray you agree and will bring your deep and humane influence to bear, for the children.

Sharon Olds


My camel kneels at Ibn Marwan's door
and groans three times in birth pangs.
Men circle her each night
with torches lighting the hills.
A leader and a youth bring companion armor
and words bright as Yemen cloth.
But crude milking injured her.
Now softly, on the slopes of Thadaq,
she's given dry food.
Then quickly to water, on good hoofs,
fast, her body lean.
Her summer offspring is unweaned
but day already smells of autumn.

-- Laila Akhyaliyya
7th Century

The Issues

(Rhodesia, 1978)

Just don't tell me about the issues.
I can see the pale spider-belly head of the
newborn who lies on the lawn, the web of
veins at the surface of her scalp, her skin
grey and gleaming, the clean line of the
bayonet down the center of her chest.
I see her mother's face, beaten and
beaten into the shape of a plant,
a cactus with grey spines and broad
dark maroon blooms.
I see her arm stretched out across her baby,
wrist resting, heavily, still, across the
tiny ribs.
Don't speak to me about
politics. I've got eyes, man.

The Dead and the Living , A. A. Knopf, 1984

-- Sharon Olds

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I have been a regular lurker at cafe' cafe', which is the MiPOetic community with poems posted to be considered for IBPC and other ventures. Even if you're not a contributor to cafe' cafe', it is a great place to read a range of fresh, and sometimes astounding poetry. I like to try my hand at their monthly challenges set by Didi Menendez (editor of MiPO), and this month's challenge is to write an ode or a dialogue with fairly limited perimeters to insure the fresh factor. One of the choices was to write an ode about your bathrobe and/or slippers. I chose my bathrobe - I boring garment for a non-morning person. Here it is:

Bathrobe Ode
J.B. Rowell

plain, white, and thirsty
for thoughts
freshly bubbled.

Wrap around,
cinch belt,
to keep from
slipping down
between hands:

to dos, you dos,
poem starts
forgot yesterdays,
remember todays,
and occasionally

Yoke of list
across back
of morning
carrying weak
protection against day
that will do
what it will.

Monday, January 23, 2006


A gender and writing discussion is also going on at Silliman's blog where he is criticizing a woman's book as a "grand failure," and a mostly male crowd is commenting. I have not read the book, but I can't escape the feeling when I'm there like I've walked into a male locker room. Scrolling through the archives I notice the photos, poets, poetry, books - also mostly male. A few females - have they just learned how to play by the rules?

Are men and women poets speaking the same language?

A TIP A DAY . . .

Thank you, Irene, for this exercise. I continue to find excellent tips and inspiration at your blog DAYTIPS FOR WRITERS.

Y Antennae
J.B. Rowell

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Rumi

If you step off the edge
of righteousness,
escape the chatter
of monkeys
in the crowding trees
it will find you

close lids, feel the breeze
navigate away
through grasping limbs
ignore cross-back lines
over hills, to whistling crest
teetering over dense green
on one side
developed land on the other

head down blind
into steepness
let your knees take the brunt
as you lose you
in tangle of panic
rising as canopy
of doubt shrouds day

and what else can you do
but wonder if the path
was not the better way
to trust the ones who
made the map
carved the signs, nailed
them to trunks

momentum drones
carries down
into nightfall set without
knowing, arms fighting
until burst of field
thick with white
moonlight, a blank page

long grass licks legs
feet suddenly naked
body wearing only hint
of sun reflected off face
of dusty moon

dark stirs along edges
flash of yellow
walk to center and spin
raise arms, cup hands

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Write Like a Man
J.B. Rowell

I can’t.

I try.

I bore myself, why?

Because compartmentalizing words
and logically connecting,
and catapulting

just doesn’t do it for me.

Sometimes there’s no layer
beneath the layer,
no motion,
no crash.

Blackberries can mean
not sex.

Dead poets are dead

I’m alive

and I can’t help but write

the way I write

throwing in
words you will want
to cut.

* * *

On another note, Verse Daily and Poetry Daily seem to have a theme for the day. One poem is written by a man, the other by a woman, and they are both equally complex and lovely. This completely undermines my sexist poem rant above. Oh well.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


I've only read 30-something pages of the book so far, and two poems came right out. Here's the first:

To My Husband

J.B. Rowell

My eyes and brain
are programmed to ask:
What is it?

Yours to figure out:
Where it is now, going, how fast,

As a child, your crayon,
a single, cool color
an instrument
for recreating motion,
a crash.

I selected a variety
of warm hues to create a scene
with people, pets, plants
all facing the viewer.

Interconnecting areas
of the brain, my verbal
capacity is spread
between both

If you had a stroke
on the left, you’d
lose a chunk of speech,
on the right, you’d talk
just fine.

My point, is only
that you compartmentalize,
and now I can forgive you
for not being able
to watch TV
and talk to me
at the same time,

will stop asking our son
to add more color
and about who is behind
the wheel
of the rocket, truck, racecar,
in the black scribble.

Our son draws verbs.

Our daughter, nouns.

And we did nothing to make them
this way, did not fail
at gender neutrality.

He watched the mobile. She
clung to my face.

And that’s ok,
because that’s how they're made.


This weekend I am reading Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. As a parent of a boy and a girl, and as a third-grade teacher, this is fascinating stuff. I also wonder if this idea extends into adulthood. Boys and girls learn differently, and need different approaches from teachers and schools. Men and women continue to learn differently, and need different things from LIFE? This is making me rethink the "Women's Poetry" issue. Men and women ARE different. What's wrong with having differences is their writing as well?

More on this after I actually read the book. In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Here is the exchange on "Women's Poetry" in the current issue of Poetry.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Tough to follow Stephen Dunn and Dobyns . . .

In the Details
J.B. Rowell

I try to remember
how every detail of me
is being imprinted on them,
like hers on me:
Juicy Fruit breath,
Tic Tac rattle
from the heft of her purse,
you could reach in
and bring up
a fistful of coins every time.

Napping diagonally,
folded in the duvet like a taco,
the magical properties
of Oil of Olay in a glass bottle.
I thought Cold Cream was named
for its temperature: Is it?

I was honored to dust with her
or do the pans or dress
in a taffeta apron to serve
appetizers at her parties,
or better yet, plant red
geraniums by her side.

Everything she did seemed so
purposeful, from her choice
of luncheon spots
in a day of shopping,
to the sting of her quiet
judgment of my choices.

I felt the magnitude of her
presence in the car,
over the stove
as I sat at the table,
at the edge of my bed.
I hear the importance
of her phone voice,
the clicking and echo
of her steps down the hall
before a night out.

I remember most the moment
the skin on the back of her hands
began to look like Grandma’s,
papery and crinkled thin.
When I was struck dumb
by death, hers and mine.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Thanks for the thought-provoking post yesterday, Irene, here is the poem that instantly leapt into my mind when I read
The Routine Things Around the House, although this one has a much different tone. What is it about these boys and their mamas?


A woman travels to Brazil for plastic
surgery and a face-lift. She is sixty
and has the usual desire to stay pretty.
Once she is healed she takes her new face
out on the streets of Rio. A young man
with a gun wants her money. Bang, she's dead.
The body is shipped back to New York,
but in the morgue there is a mix-up. The son
is sent for. He is told that his mother
is one of these ten different women.
Each has been shot. Such is modern life.
He studies them all but can't find her.
With her new face, she has become a stranger.
Maybe it's this one, maybe it's that one.
He looks at their breasts. Which ones nursed him?
He presses their hands to his cheek.
Which ones consoled him? He even tries
climbing into their laps to see which
feels more familiar but the coroner stops him.
Well, says the coroner, which is your mother?
They all are, says the young man, let me
take them as a package. The coroner hesitates,
then agrees. Actually it solves a lot of problems.
The young man has the ten women shipped home,
then cremates them all together. You've seen
how some people have a little urn on the mantle?
This man has a huge silver garbage can.
In the spring, he drags the garbage can
out to the garden and begins working the teeth,
the ash, the bits of bone into the soil.
Then he plants tomatoes. His mother loved tomatoes.
They grow straight from seed, so fast and big
that the young man is amazed. He takes the first
ten into the kitchen. In their roundness,
he sees his mother's breasts. In their smoothness,
he finds the consoling touch of her hands.
Mother, mother, he cries, and flings himself
on the tomatoes. Forget about the knife, the fork,
the pinch of salt. Try to imagine the filial
starvation, think of his ravenous kisses.

Stephen Dobyns


posts today:


happy postversary?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Irene, Michelle, and I have poetry in the just-out issue of Verse Libre Quarterly.

The art I have seen so far is amazing, and I look forward to reading it all. It's an honor to publish alongside two of my favorite poets.

Lovely job Rae!


The following poem by Stephen Dunn appears in the anthology First Light- Mother and Son Poems, edited by Jason Schinder (1992). My reaction to it has always been overwhelmingly positive, but others with whom I've shared it have questioned the wisdom of the mother's response to her son's request. I leave it to you to decide.

The Routine Things Around the House

When mother died
I thought: now I'll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable

yet I've since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who've been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she'd live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It's hard to kow exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remember when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbottoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother ( I was trembling)
if I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who've never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer,

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn't doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

perhaps to suck them
what would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

who I think permits me
to love women easily,
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I'm not sure where I fall on the "Women's Poetry" issue yet - right now I'm peeved that none of the women poets who addressed it in this issue of Poetry had a definitive stance on the topic. They're yes/no response annoyed me, even though it may be the best response, even the correct response. In the mean time, Poetry also has a web exclusive from their archives on Carl Sandburg, with a slide show of his orginal manuscripts. One poem I read for the first time seems to sum him up - The Hammer. Of course, it also features Chicago, my hometown poem.

I had said a while back that I had a poem brewing on Mrs. Sandburg, but here's what came out - more on the Mr.

Life Mask
J.B. Rowell

This is where Eternal
Hobo made his home, dirtied
paper at night, slept in mirroring
pond of grey day.

Creative hush punched through
with lightening traffic,
shame, still white house
shines for daily walkers

up hill around decorative
hay bales, 2 lakes, 2
mountains, 250 acres, tour
frozen days, breathe on

papers filed: F=Friends
AAT=Answer Any Time
No=The People

Yes, to idiot box in small
doses, thief of time
guest in Crazy Corner
typing on orange crate

so hobo can get up and
go to mask of Life Mask
see what others see
insomniac strife, socialist

compulsion, goats far enough
away to forget.


January 2006 issue of Poetry:

"Is there such a thing as "women's poetry"? I hesitate to respond—in some ways the question seems to extend the nasty old habit of imagining women as "other" or inferior. But let me offer a mixed-up answer: no there is not. And yes, in a certain way, there is..."

Meghan O'Rourke

Monday, January 16, 2006


In a moment a child can communicate something specific and sometimes horrific with a single look, especially in relation to something he/she just learned about how the the body or world works. For example, the moment my son learned to be more careful when zipping up his pjs after taking off his pull-up - now that's a look I'll never forget! Today, I'm posting an old poem which includes another telling look.

Baby Lessons
J.B. Rowell

Laughter follows an uninhibited sneeze
hysterical cackling a chime
set in motion his eyes shine
a fart reverberates through his body
a look says, “Was that me?”

A tag on the blanket
something brand new a
discovery to be tasted and felt
      spit shine
the essential ingredient for exploring fingers.

Focusing on faces unabashedly
a squeal gets a counter
if he could
he could write a book
on how to be happy.

1. look up on a walk
watch the dark and light
shimmer treetops make

2. don’t take yourself
or your body too seriously

3. fingers are fascinating
especially when wet

4. what really matters:
smiles, eye contact
being held but

too soon
he will think too much
be told too much
see too much
and what he learns will replace
the lessons he can teach.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Julia Rowell writes poetry about mommyhood, and anything else that strikes her. Sometimes, a line will repeat over and over in her head, knocking to get out, until finally, she will write that damn line down and a whole poem spills out slick with blood and tears. The hard part for her is cutting the umbilical cord, and watching the bullies move in on the playground. She stopped writing and trying to publish for over a decade, until she almost lost her mind from all the noise. Now she is feeling quite tranquil with a daily outlet.

Bullies beware—she’s a momma bear.


J.B. Rowell

Tireless up down,
up down,
a bit floppy, but still,
blood travels and
life is taken along.
A thin escape slips
into the next chamber,
carrying oxygen
lungs wait
to receive.

I watch with the reverence
and fear of witnessing
something I shouldn’t:
the moment
disaster moves in,
the space between
cars just before impact,
or a baby pre-born,
when you see
for the first time
the creature you are harboring.

Saline injected,
cold rushes up arm,
lighting right
chamber with bouncing
luminous bubbles,
then a tiny whiff
of white through a wall,
an aberration,
doctor breaks
Uh oh.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I also need to send a photo, and to get one of just me is a challenge in itself, Liam keeps diving into them. Here's my "best" option so far . . .

About as boring as my bio!


I'm supposed to e-mail my bio ASAP to two places, but need help figuring out this strange little phenomenon. Such an odd, horn-tooting thing. I have written many, and liked none that I have come up with . . . The ones that I see for other poets that I have liked say something like, "Joe Shmo lives in Vermont with his dog Ray." Brief and no tooting whatsoever - except maybe to say that I am such an amazing poet, I don't need to list my creds, I just AM. Anyway, I'm posting mine now in all of its flimsy glory.

J.B. Rowell lives in Durham, North Carolina, where she writes poetry and teaches third grade. She is co-host of the daily poetry blog MOM AND APPLE PIE (momandapplepie.blogspot.com). Work by the poet has appeared in the Birmingham Arts Journal, and is forthcoming in the January 2006 issue of Verse Libre Quarterly. Rowell will also have her poetry featured online by North Carolina poet laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer on the NC Arts Council web site (http://www.ncarts.org/poet_laureate.cfm).



Not sure why I've been going by J.B. instead of Julia. I think I was testing out the waters in publishing with a gender-neutral name, but my poems usually give my gender away anyway. So what do you think - J.B. Rowell or Julia Rowell or a pen name like Marie Verona? :)


Do I stick with the straightforward approach or do I try to be witty? I think I already know the answer to that one!

Do I go back to my college days: bachelors in English, poetry and general editor for literary mag, award? That's over ten years ago . . .

Any other dos, don'ts, or editing suggestions are welcome. Thanks!

Friday, January 13, 2006


Perfect word for the poem Anna - indignation - I'm posting the poem again. We may be on to something here - communal, online poetry! I'll try to post another Madlib with more blanks over the weekend. Right now, I need to get to Curves to continue my New Year's pledge for a fitter me. Then I'm off to school to finish progress reports - UGH. Still, no snow here; still mud, mud, mud; but also unseasonably warm sunshine. Surreal weather.

January Notes

The backyard is one mud puddle
where we avoid the deepest sink

our shoes may never recover from.
Children wear short sleeves, turn

their pants into shorts talk
about snow speculated for more

than ten days out. There, dim
like a promise of a groundhog or

a season far off. While this one
stalls like my car off the edge

of the driveway tire spinning,
spilling earth's wet indignation.

The rest of the poem needs work now to stand up to that ending!

Thursday, January 12, 2006


today a high of 70
where is the snow?

American Life in Poetry: Column 039


Many of us keep journals, but while doing so few of us pay much attention to selecting the most precise words, to determining their most effective order, to working with effective pauses and breath-like pacing, to presenting an engaging impression of a single, unique day. This poem by Nebraskan Nancy McCleery is a good example of one poet’s carefully recorded observations.

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

Reprinted from “Girl Talk,” The Backwaters Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Copyright © 1994 by Nancy McCleery. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

My off-the-cuff response poem:

January Notes

The backyard is one mud puddle
where we avoid the deepest sink

our shoes may never recover from.
Children wear short sleeves, turn

their pants into shorts talk
about snow speculated for more

than ten days out. There, dim
like a promise of a groundhog or

a season far off. While this one
stalls like my car off the edge

of the driveway tire spinning,
spilling earth's wet __________.

I can't find the right last word yet, any suggestions? It's like a Madlib!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Dear Lara

After your quick tutorial,
I try to prune the roses
by myself in winter.
I may be too late
and I’m probably
doing it all wrong.

Is this a 45-degree angle?
Or was it more?

And if you were here
you’d remind me:
remove the dead,
then scan the stems
for the blush of buds
facing out
and cut just above.
Make it clean.

It comes back to me almost
like you’re still here
talking about
what really matters
in what doesn’t
with children on our laps.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Poets & Writers is reporting on the recent trend for presses to award no winner in contests. The most recent one returned all entry fees and manuscripts, and gave complimentary copies. So they are being praised. But, I'm wondering. Could there be any other reason for not awarding a winner? After all, they are garnering extra media attention by making such a bold move. Or perhaps they didn't get enough entry fees to make awarding a winner profitable? Whatever the reason, how would you feel if you entered this contest and no manuscript was deemed worthy? Yikes. That's worse than just not winning.

I have over 60 pages of poetry that I'd like to publish, but so far have hundred of rejections and few publications. Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of those few. So here's where I'm at: keep plugging a way at submissions and try to get a few more published, enter chapbooks contests, enter full-length book competitions. I'm just not sure if I can stomach (or afford) contests, and I may be fooling myself if I try to skip steps along the usual "way." The last option is to save up and publish my own book in a couple of years. I know nothing about that process, but I figure I'd have more control, I'd learn by doing, I'd have all my work in one volume, and I'd get the closure I need to move on in my writing life.

Any advice or insights out there would be much appreciated!

Monday, January 09, 2006


Have you ever really looked at a ladybug?
J.B. Rowell

I mean since you were six.
Have you turned one over
to look at the exoskeleton
in a candy-coated shell
decorated to sell
you on the idea
of putting a dolled-up
cockroach in your palm
to count spots, figure age
until red blur wings, besides
who ever said she was a lady?

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Tantrums at Six
J.B. Rowell

Once I could convince
her to calm down
stop the shuddering
with tight wrapped arms
rocking and bursts of air

shh shh shh

now I am the problem
for not giving in and
I try to explain that I
would be a bad mommy
if I said no then yes

just to make it stop

she retreats into
the person she is becoming
and I can’t go with
as she closes her door
turns on her music box

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Michael Parker introduced the world of Colorstrology (sponsored by Pantone), by Michelle Bernhardt, which asserts we are all born on a "particular day under a particular Sun sign" offering insight into our "personality and nature." Every birth date has an essence. I, being born on July 23, am "soothing, receptive, and nurturing." Here is more about me according to Colorstology:

“YOU have a restless spirit that craves adventure and challenge. You enjoy recognition and need to feel that you are at the center of things. Love and affection are important to you. It is important for you to remain open to new opportunities and experiences. Part of your growth comes from dealing with change and unexpected occurrences. Your personal color resonates with trust and knowledge. Wearing, meditating or surrounding yourself with Nile Blue helps ease self-doubt and supports you through times of transition.”

Okay, most of this is ringing true, except for maybe "soothing." The only problem is that Nile Blue is a teal color - ugh - and not one I'd ever consider to wear or paint on my walls. And speaking of walls, I am currently in the decision-making process of what colors to paint in our house.

Here are the three colors I'm considering for my downstairs:

luminous daze (a maze color)

stolen moments (a pale, Martha Stewartish sage green)

lazy afternoon (a shade lighter than eggplant)

What do these colors say about my inner-most self, I wonder?

Friday, January 06, 2006


It's always tough to follow Suzanne, but someone's got to do it.... and since I just posted something on Daytips for Writers about cows, today I'll take you on a field trip to Wright Dairy Farm in Alabama. Try the chocolate milk -- yum!

Secrets of the Bovine Sisterhood

They’ll start the tour by telling you
this land of milk and ice cream
is a haven for girls. Bull calves?
Who needs ‘em? It’s the heifers
they love, so if you are born
that fortunate gender, you will be
coddled and bottle-fed, brought inside
the kitchen on frosty nights.

And it’s true, they love you
for your easy-going nature,
they put you in a pasture
where you’ve got wide open spaces
and endless blue sky
and can eat grass all day long.
You are encouraged to grow fat
and lazy. The only thing
they ask is that you stand politely
while they hook you to a machine
that will tug and swallow, send
your bodily fluids rushing down
small pipes, then larger pipes,
then into the belly
of the pasteurization machine
that you will never see, because by then,
you will be back out in the pasture
grazing sweet grass, chewing your cud,
strolling with a friend to the water tub.

You are happy to give --you are
not burdened with calf-rearing
or barn-cleaning-- could there be a better life?
Only, eventually you’ll begin to feel
something is missing. You’ll get bored
and start gazing across the fence.
Is this really all there is?
Couldn’t they at least bring a bull
over to play instead of just inserting
an artificial insemination needle?
And the calves – after a hard labor,
would it be so bad to be nuzzled and nursed?

You’ll try to get their attention
by withholding milk,
but they won’t understand.
They’ll just give you a slap
on the rump, tell you not to worry,
send you back out to that damn pasture
with its 500 thousand volts
keeping you in.

- Irene Latham

Thursday, January 05, 2006


You know that thing called "voice"? Well, Suzanne Coker's got it. Her poem "Weight, Lost" is one of my all-time faves... if only this blog included a way to watch her read it!

Weight, Lost

Mother says I’m too fat
and so does this boy
at the pool, and so does
my second-best friend Kelli.

my mom, Kelli and me
all join Weight Watchers

and it’s fun. I mean
the food is gross but
Mother and I laugh about it,
which is something we never do
together. We try recipes and
learn more about salad
than anyone should ever know.

Kelli does great, she has
discipline, but Mother and I
have more like guilt.
The pamphlets say we
should talk about this
at meetings but no one
ever does, so we keep
quiet, sneak an extra
slice of bread.

That’s fine for Mother,
she’s old, but I still
have to worry about that
boy at the pool, so I
exercise a lot, strip down
the food plan as far as I can,
time my resistance. How long
does it take the dream
of fake ice cream to force me
into the kitchen? Fifteen
more minutes. Twenty more
sit-ups. I can do this.

Everyone is so proud of me.
Now I’m smaller than Kelli.
I get to know
my own bones.

Except Mother and I don’t laugh
anymore, and Kelli never comes over
to draw and play music. When school
starts again, we go different places.
High school is big and loud,
like prison in a movie.
Many girls are thinner.

I stay up late to watch tv,
stop delaying meals, soon
I’m too bored to exercise.
At weigh-in, Ms. Donna
won’t meet my eyes, but
the numbers she writes down
keep on getting smaller
which is what counts.

Then one day Donna is gone.
Word goes around she was fired
for lying to us. The new counselor
says I’ve gained eleven pounds.
So what. I raid the kitchen at night,
shovel down cookies and sandwiches,
the den flickering with reruns.
My clothes are so tight they leave welts.
Mother refuses to buy new ones, because
I’ve been ungrateful--

I don’t care. I smile as
my body grows,
hips, thighs, boobs,
out of anyone’s control.
My weight says fuck you,
this is for me,
these secret meals,
this burning lonesome light.


Your love for your children is all important
but not all consuming. Another myth falls.
My mother was consumed, she said, by her love
for us, my brother and I, catalysts for that hollowness
that husked her year by year. We
held her in place where love could get at her
its terrible fangs gnashing all that was good in her,
originality, intelligence, common courtesy.
Love swallowed love, that’s all I could think,

And it doesn’t. Not even her love.
It was never love that sucked her dry,
hers for us was maybe one
of the first casualties. The man
takes a drink, then the drink
takes a drink, then the drink
takes the man–goes for women, too.

Many truths of my childhood are still unexploded.
I don’t say this from self pity,
only so that you will be aware.
I’ve learned how to disarm them
and sell them for scrap metal. Just
let me warn you where to step.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


One of the things I admire most about poet Suzanne Coker is her ability to tackle tough subjects head-on. She's one of the bravest poets I know.

Taking the Veil

My mother’s veil was heavy, dark, and fell
not in front of her eyes, but behind them.
Not always a veil, it began
as a limber shadow that danced
with her, urged her to dive
off the yacht and swim down
the moon’s path on Lake Pontchartrain.

The shower in her New York apartment
shot water from all directions.
Her father called her a flying waitress,
her roommate was never there.
She lived on leftovers, it took months
to save the money for a flimsy stoplight dress.

Sometime after marriage the shadow
became insistent. It stood
wherever she did, hard as a door
she would have to open or shut.
She tried to stave it off with babies,
but the shadow ate them,

leaving only their squalling. Finally
she stepped into the silhouette,
allowed herself numb
grace, went through motions
in a pale gray dress, found recipes
to explain her grasp of wine.

The Spider Lays Her Eggs

What happened to their father?
That’s a story I’ll never tell, no
matter how many drinks
you buy me. (Yes, thanks,
another would be lovely.)

Anyway, I left them
safe, wrapped tight
in their little webs
under the armoire.

No one will sweep them away.
They’ll have each other
when they wake up,
for companionship
and food.

They’ll never miss me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


A few years ago another poet and I tunnelled our way out of a poisonous writing group and set out to form our own. That poet's name is Suzanne Coker, and the group eventually became known as Big Table Poets. (When Julia lived in Birmingham, she was a member of the group as well -- we miss her so much!) Today begins a series of posts of Suzanne's poems. But first, here's a little more information about her:

Suzanne Coker lives near Birmingham, AL. She has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and in psychology, barely missed getting a master’s in American studies and is currently working her way toward an associate’s degree in radiography (X-ray tech), having decided it was high time to get practical in at least one aspect of her life. She has been writing poetry almost as long as she can remember, although it took several years to realize that’s what she was up to. This realization prompted an identity crisis that continues to this day. Slouching into middle age, she continues her attempts to grow as a poet and a human being, two states of being that she regards as nearly identical.

Her poetry shows an affinity for life’s more scalding side as well as a dark sense of humor. This affinity is not necessarily shared by the poet in her daily life, although the humor is characteristic. Her poems give voice to the disturbed, lonesome wraith that lurks in us all. Here she lends her unique perspective to the topic of motherhood; this is motherhood gone terribly wrong for both mother and child. Any apple pie here was made with bitter, poisoned fruit.

Hi, How Are Ya?

My first gig as a parasite
was the Womb Romb. My act
was a family-values kinda thing.
No! I’d shout, hormonally,
no, no, no, you cannot
have an abortion! It’s not legal yet!
They’ll take your innocence
and all your money, they’ll use
a rusty coat hanger! Shrill, yeah,
not really so funny, but
you gotta understand,
it was her or me.

So she toted me around for, like,
nine whole months—sucker.
Then I was on to bigger things.
My new handle was Ward of the State,
but not for long. Oh, don’t get me started
on those crazy orphanage days, I can’t
even remember! Next thing I know, I’m
costarring in a family drama. That
ran for years, best years of my life,
and lemme tellya, I really learned a lot.

Like? Well, like crooked dice are the best
to use for luck and any door that won’t lock
can always be held shut. The shittiest deals
are the ones never written down and everyone,
I mean everyone, always wants a cut. Like
there is no honor, only survival and I don’t
mean of the fittest. When trouble starts, glide
away like a fish. Also, anything you love
can and will be used against you.

So ever since, and I really hate to say this,
I’ve kinda been drifting. Okay, maybe
past drifting. No, no, not washed up.
Anyway, thanks for listening, yeah, I
can tell you’re a good person. Hey, you,
uh, maybe got a spare room I could use?


Suitcase lost at the airport.
A jungle child being raised
by wolves and bears.
Athena, sprung from the head,
lead character in a drama of the week.
Statistic, imposter, political cause,
blood calling and calling
to a void which doesn’t answer.
Thinner than water.
Accident, double, neither-nor,
reclaimed bastard, changeling.
Grafted branch, flowers pink
on a tree of white.
Lonesome, striving, miracle,
gift. Orphan-no-more.
Sudden baby, born
anyway, twice mothered.
Choice to be made, abortion
deferred. Stubborn hope.

Monday, January 02, 2006


We Didn’t See the Ball Drop
J.B. Rowell

But I can see 504 faceted crystal
triangles inside my lids from all
those years I didn’t make it out:
too young, left alone wrapped
in a brown and avocado afghan,
propped on elbows on floor
in front of TV drinking
root beer and sucking on rock candy.

Or old enough and passed out.
Left on a friend’s apartment floor,
covered with a strange-smelling coat.
Left to wake blinking at the city
that never sleeps, especially tonight,
listening to the ringing in my ears
of a silent new year.

Or married with children,
Baby New Year in a sleeper-tux,
princess in her satin nightgown
raising sparkling apple cider in real
champagne glasses. Throwing
homemade confetti then
scooping it up when the guests
of honor went to sleep.

We stood, when someone’s cell
phone clock struck midnight
touched blue plastic cups, no clink,
had a drink, sat back down
leaned into the back rest
you made in the corner of the couch.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


My more nobel resolution . . .

J.B. Rowell

papery pings
against glass
against blinds
ladybugs find
way in
not out

dry shells
found on
white carpet
or bathroom
windowsill so
near yet

children used
to tiny
carnage open
front door
set free
to drop

lone travels
along molding
keep going
to return
at start

many manage
to enter
rectangle on
kitchen ceiling

see into
mass grave
we flip
the switch

we watch
from bed
we stand