Category Archives: poetry

A Chiastic Poem

My God, my heart is broken
as I’m stranded on this table,
from where I spy a corner
of the Jujube, its leaves and dates,
and hear San Miguel’s ringing–
ten peals, and the wind abates.
The light is my only mourner
that moves in shadows, a fable
of health, a glittering token.

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Hold on to Nothing, Except Grasp the Accordion

Nunca te olvidaré; vives aquí en mi ser.

I frequently listen to David Gray’s album Sell, Sell, Sell when writing. I can’t tell you why–his mood is dark and fatalistic and, therefore, doesn’t lift me from my own chronic fatalism. Then I arrive at the song with the repeating line, “There’s no way to write it, there’s no way to write it, there’s no way to write it down.” Sing that line ad infinitum, and you will get the gist of the song. There’s no way to write it down, apparently, which means it (whatever “it” is) must be sung. 

I envy singer-songwriters because their pursuits are both literary and physical at the same time. As a musician, I’m a colossal failure. Still, as you see from the photo at right, I’m trying to be exactly that. I’m waiting for the elevator that will take me from my head down to my soul, or my soles, whichever you prefer. I’m still attempting to write it down AND play it on my diatonic accordion. Between my head and that place where poetry and artistry reside, lies a dark and drafty shaft. The elevator stopped running years ago, and here I am–waiting, waiting.

But do you see that Spanish line at top–the one I typed in bold so you wouldn’t miss it? Literally, it means, “I won’t forget you. You live here in my being.” That must be true of music and poetry. I believe it’s true because I knew it was true a long time ago.

This post is to give an update on my learning to play my Hohner accordion. As with anything else, there’s this enormous gap between what I want to play and what I can play. I hear it–I feel it, but my fingers haven’t learned to finesse the buttons yet. On the other hand–well that’s the same, if you want to be literal. I’ve learned the bass buttons no better than the diatonic scales. But in a figurative sense, and, on the other hand, I have to admit I’ve improved greatly since the accordion first shipped.

Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed by the idea that “there’s no way to write it down”. And “it” is so ambiguous as to create this illusive image of a light flickering in the distance–of a ghost gliding away, a lantern bobbing in her hand. I can’t quite see her, or the light. She’s too far away from me. 

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Mary Leapor, Poem and Perspective**

Several years ago, I wrote a poem about Mary Leapor (I’ll paste it to the end of this post).  I don’t expect anyone to gasp at this news.  It isn’t a particularly stellar poem, nor is it unusual for me to attempt such literary feats.  I have written poems about other historical characters.  Recently, however, I felt inspired to dig out the Leapor poem and post it on Eratosphere.  For those unaware, Eratosphere is a site in which the modern day heavyweights of metrical poetry mingle.  I’m not a heavyweight, but that’s all right–anyone who is serious about poetry, and who has a backbone, may post a poem.  The critiques can be brutal, so I was pleasantly surprised that several people really appreciated my Leapor poem. 

One critique, however, had me wondering about the nature of feminism.  To start with, the woman claimed my poem had inspired her to read about Mary Leapor.  That’s a good thing, I think.  Then, she asked me why I hadn’t focused a little more on Leapor’s feminist views, due to the highly irregular nature of such thinking in Leapor’s time.  I scratched my head.  Were feminist views really all that uncommon prior to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

Sometimes, my brain rolls along like an unfolding scroll with snippets of things read, but this scroll is like the Dead Sea texts–old and damaged (the scroll is, not me!).  I don’t want to do any name-dropping, so please believe me when I insist that there are many literary and intellectual women from the 17th and 18th centuries who preceded Wollstonecraft.  Mary Leapor is but one who dropped into the world for twenty-four short years and managed, in that time, to leave a wealth of verse that includes these: “Yet, with ten thousand Follies to her Charge, / Unhappy Woman’s but a Slave at large (This, I believe, is from her poem, An Essay on Woman).”

Am I to believe that feminist women of the ilk of Leapor sprung on the scene suddenly, as if they emerged from the great deep in response to God’s voice: Let there be light, and there was?  Surely, that can’t be the truth.  People–of both sexes–have been known to rise against their oppressors throughout all epochs of history.  The fact is, though, that we want to cram the idea of feminisism into one definition–a modern one.  In the past, European women of a feminist slant attempted to reconcile their Christian beliefs with their desire for autonomy and independence.  It could be a quandary, but not necessarily.  Living under various authority figures doesn’t negate the passion of the individual.

Mary Leapor was a servant.  Some would say she wasn’t a good servant, but she was one, none the less.  Within the confines of her life, she still managed to read copiously and scribble out heroic couplets.  For my poem, I focused on her servitude because it’s the basic position that all people find themselves in: male or female, slave or free.

Here’s my blank verse poem, with its lines of trochaic pentameter:

The Short, Sad Life of Mary Leapor

Mary is a watcher without windows,
and I hear that under her disguises
hides a maid that stirs pea soup for servants
in the kitchen with the melted candles.
Who is like you, little Mira-Mary?
Turn the meat; don’t scribble in the shadows,
waiting for Cordia’s greasy clutches.
Stir the pot and stop your constant dreaming!
Out the door with nothing but your verses,
run from her, and leave behind her curses!

Mary runs to Brackley, hiding rashes
where her cap strings meet her woolen layers.
In her broken hands she clutches volumes,
wilted papers streaked with new pastorals.
Who has taught the serving girl her letters?
Better—who has led her to the pastures?
Pope and Swift together could not couple
thoughtful lines like you, my Mira-Mary.
When it’s morning, tend your father’s garden;
in the night, accept his wine and pardon.

Mary faints.  She falls by sparking embers;
spots are blazing on her pearly brow bone,
as adornment for her plain complexion,
beauty without gold, nor paint for blushes.
Mary, blind now, where are all your letters?
From your drowsy fever-words, drop riches
never heard from spinster serving ladies
sick at twenty-four with Peter waiting
at the gate–his ear to your oration,
kneeling down with words of your salvation.

**I originally wrote this post for The Female Quixote in the summer of 2009. I haven’t written poetry in years and, consequently, haven’t been over to Eratosphere for several years, either.

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Pisces: The Two Fishes of A. Leon Miler

Two Fish by A. Leon Miler

This is an ode to the fish who swim this river, up the ribbons of green, swimming toward an indefinite conclusion. This is an ode to the sign of Pisces, of which we are under, awaiting the water-bearer to return, to ladle the water in the rivers and seas, to pour out his might. This is an ode to the glimpses of color and light hidden in the water, of copper rays and red topaz, faceted as stones worked by a craftsman, who in this case happens to be A. Leon Miler, via the works of God.

This is an ode to my dad, who is my favorite artist for many reasons. If not for the swaying of the lines, the colors, the idiosyncratic ideas, then for the grins on the fishes, which remind me that neither he nor I ever take too much of life seriously–even if it seems as if the hook is in our mouths, and we’ve been baited, pulled free, and thrown back. We keep swimming, unfazed, our fins grazing others, grins on our faces–in the same direction.

I pray that God will bring my dad blessings–because of the years he’s worked diligently–sorting his life and slotting art into second place–because he’s always blessing others first. And, as a matter of fact, if God wants to know (and he already does), my dad brought poetry into my life, all of my early love for T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan. Of course, both my parents must take credit for instilling my Christian faith in me. How they managed, I don’t have a clue, but somehow God managed to work through them to reach past my cynicism, know-it-all-ness, and my general hard shell of inhumanity.

And so those fish–yes, the Pisces in the image above–must be my mom and dad, swimming the river. The slender one is my mom, and the one with a deep grin–that’s my dad. As with most art, this watercolor works on multiple levels: Christians are under the sign of Pisces bringing the Good News to the world, and my parents brought the Good News to me, so they are the fish. But others are fish, too (thank God, not the ones caught for fish-fries). 

Someday, along this river, Christ will return as the Water Bearer and gather up his multitude of various and multi-colored swimmers. Do I sound silly to you? Well, I’m not. I’m utterly serious. Yet, I still have this grin on my face. Thanks, Dad.

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To a Young Lady, on Her Birthday, by Samuel Johnson

I’ve chosen this poem for the kick-off to national poetry month, because April 1st is also my daughter’s 13th birthday:
This tributary verse receive, my fair,
Warm with an ardent lover’s fondest prayer,
May this returning day for ever find
Thy form more lovely, more adorn’d thy mind;
All pains, all cares, may favouring heaven remove,
All but the sweet solicitudes of love!
May powerful nature join with grateful art,
To point each glance, and force it to the heart!
O then! when conquer’d crowds confess thy sway,
When even proud wealth and prouder wit obey,
My fair, be mindful of the mighty trust,
Alas! ’tis hard for beauty to be just.
Those sovereign charms with strictest care employ;
Nor give the generous pain, the worthless joy;
With his own form acquaint the forward fool,
Shown in the mimic glass of ridicule:
Teach mimic censure her own faults to find,
No more let coquettes to themselves be blind,
So shall Belinda’s charms improve mankind. 
p.s. Painting by Hogarth, The Graham Children. I have three daughters and one son, just like the Grahams, except my son is the youngest. The cat looks suspiciously like ours, as well. This is actually a very sad painting because the baby had died by the time Hogarth painted it. But I meant for it to be a happy image, and I’m certain Hogarth did, too, in his attempt to capture the joy of the moment.
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