Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The other day I realized that I have lived in my Bloomington house longer than I have ever lived in one place, nine-going-on-ten years.  For a girl who spent her first years in small-town South Dakota, with both grandmothers in town, my life of frequent moves has come as something of a surprise, one I may never quite get over....  
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse


I didn’t always live in a cookie-cutter house, in a subdivision where every street, every house, looked the same to me when I arrived and I didn’t know my way home for the first week.

Before that, home was a comfortably shabby two-story colonial on a fast country road, hidden on all sides of more than an acre by encroaching trees, and from my pillow I heard coyotes singing.

Before that, I lived in a box of glass and concrete, beside a lush walled garden, by a famous river, in a historic city, and walked my firstborn through the Revolutionary War history she studies now.

Before that, I inhabited a secret cottage behind a front house, where outside and inside blurred, and a tiny latched window in the bathroom looked out onto tile and skylights and our dining table.

Before that, I lived briefly in a different secret cottage behind a front house, where our golden retriever preferred to drink from the pool—the world’s largest dog dish—and we watched ripples travel out from his tongue across the turquoise expanse of water.

Before that, I lived high in a concrete tower above a stoplight where motors gunned and rap boomed all day and all night, and had to coax the dog onto an elevator for every outing.

Before that I rented the front of a house, lodger to a woman who endlessly created tasks for me to fill the time I owed her in exchange for rent, until she died and her husband was too griefstricken to speak to me.

Before that, I perched briefly on a mountain slope looking west over sparkling ocean sunsets, breathing eucalyptus and watching fog rise out of an overgrown gulch each morning.

Before that, I read Beowulf in a stone millhouse that straddled a river, behind a medieval deer park, and slept in a room paneled in dark wood with leaded glass windows that opened onto the rush of waters, and walked home lit only by moonlight.

Before that, I lived in a tenement by the el, and painted my windowsills bright green, and was the only one in the apartment to empty the mousetraps.

Before that, and before that, and before that, I lived in a succession of my parents’ Midwestern colonial homes, where the Ethan Allen furniture inhabited different rooms in changing configurations, and my mother managed to make each one feel enough like home for us all to get by, and I never knew the neighbors.

Before that, I lived in a big stucco house with a haunted attic and a scary octopus furnace in the dark basement filled with coaldust, and had my own room with four doors leading out from it, and a pigeon coop on the garage roof, and we burned leaves in the side yard in autumn.

Before that, I lived in a small frame house, and led neighbor children around the long block to my grandmother’s, where she gave us coconut cookies and licorice at the side door, and when we moved away, I vowed I would map the location of each piece of furniture in the house on graph paper so I would never forget my home, but I never did.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hear me, See me: Incarcerated Women Write

Munro has heard that voice. She has spent her life laughing at it, recording it for centuries to come, and in the lives of girls and women, silencing it.

“Alice, come out from behind the tool shed and pick up the phone,” tweeted Margaret Atwood on being told that the Nobel Committee had had the most difficult time getting ahold of Munro very early this morning to tell her the news.

How wonderful. That’s Munro dialogue. Who do you think you are, Alice, sleeping off a party while perfectly nice Swedes are trying to give you a million dollars and some bubbly champagne nonsense. Answer the phone, Alice. That’s a nation crying out to you. Take that call.  

Heather Mallick  for The Toronto Star

Hear Me, See Me: Incarcerated Women Write
I received in the mail a copy of Hear Me; See me the new anthology from WWFAC Vermont-edited by Sarah Bartlett the owner of WWfaC Vermont. Sarah is also the facilitator and outreach director of Writing Inside-VT a prison writing program at the Chittendon County Correctional Center in Burlington, Vermont.  I read the book cover to cover in one morning: poem after poem, prose piece after prose piece written by the women of a faraway corrections center.  I was amazed at how the stories of the women in the Vermont corrections center are so much like the stories of the women in the Monroe County Corrections Center, where my colleagues and I volunteer to lead writing circles on Saturday afternoons. (We have been writing with incarcerated women for 8 years now.) All the stories are individual, all unique, but collectively the truth is familiar, and painful, and just a bit hopeful.
So last Saturday when I went into the jail, I took these writers and their words with me. I made copies of poems from Hear me, See me, and I spread them out in our circle and let the women of the MCCC pick which poems they liked and write a response. They worked happily and quietly.  They shared favorite quotes and poems between them. They talked about the woman who chose drugs over her kids, the one who missed her mother, the one who was abused by her mother, and the one who never knew her father. They talked about what they had in common. There were poems to God for help and strength, and there was a strong recognition that they were not alone. Here are women in another state sad and struggling and regretful, yet optimistic.  Here were other people like them who found solace through writing and community.

Later that day, as I prepared to mail the words and notes of my writers off to Vermont, I was reminded of the article in the Toronto Star last week when they recognized-short story writer Alice Munro as she received the Nobel Prize for literature. She never really expected to win anything like the Nobel Prize. She did what we all do, day after day, circle after circle; poem after poem. She spoke her truth, quietly and clearly, refusing to be silenced. I believe whether we win the Noble prize or just write tiny poems from block G, it is all about letting our voice be heard, truly, refusing to be silenced anymore.

AMY for the PGM

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blueberry Sweet Jam

Why didn’t I tell you

Yes! Absolutely!

            Call me Friday night!

            Call me Saturday night!

                        Call me this very minute!

                        Cause I’d really like to feel your voice

                                    Slide into my ear

                                    And down over my whole body

                                    Like—right now!

I’ve got a little buzz goin on with

Mike’s Harder Cranberry Lemonade

            I’m such an easy drunk

            I mean, this stuff is about as

                        Low as you can get

                        On the alcohol content scale

                                    I’ve only drunk half a can and I’m plum silly

                                    Wish you were here

                                    To cash in on my silly

Been grinnin like a possum eatin persimmons

You wanta know why?

            It’s a sticky sweet story

            If you’ve got time to listen

                        Once upon a time in this very kitchen

                        This very afternoon as a matter of fact

                                    I thought of you while lickin blueberry jam

                                    Off the wooden spoon and spatula

                                    I use to scrape the jam-makin pan

Thought you’d drive like

A bat out of Memphis

            Speed all night and into today

            To be lickin my homemade blueberry jam

                        I cooked up three pints

                        Of this pure purple pleasure

                                    One quart of blueberries

                                    Four cups of sugar

                                    And a package of Sure-Jell magic


I’d like for you to be my

Blueberry Sugar Sure-Jell magic right about now!

            I’d lick you off the spoon

            The spatula, the pan, and open up

                        That still warm jar of blueberry jam

                        And eat you by the tongue-fulls!

                                    Stick my fingers one at a time down in the jar

                                    And suck your blueberry jam sweet stickiness

                                    Off my fingers!

Spread you on a piece of toast

And gobble you right down!

            Whoa! I’m feelin this

            Mike’s Harder Cranberry Lemonade

                        Like nobody’s got a right to feel it

                        From this silly grin on my face

                                    Clear down to the pit of my belly

                                    And achin between my legs

                                    Can’t explain it quite

The blueberries, the sugar, the Sure-Jell

The Mike’s Harder Cranberry Lemonade

            I feel more like a vixen

            Than a jam-makin mama

                        And I sure do wish I’d said

                        Yes! Call me for God’s sake!

                                    Caress my ache with your tender voice

                                    And lick the blueberry sweet jam

                                    Out of my bowl right now!

 Glenda for the Poplar Grove Muse


Monday, October 7, 2013

Color Guard

Color Guard

Drab walls the color of clams gone bad,
smells of human waste, wasted humans,
The Watched amid The Watchers.
Basic human needs met
hunger fed,
thirst quenched,
sleep accommodated.

But there are some hungers
that aren’t that easy to satisfy.
A longing for color,
with a fiery glow of its own.

The Watched beg for bright images,
 but not the colors they all wear,
 the bright orange of the ill-fitting jump suits
 and the baby poop color of rubber sandals.

They invent ways to put color in their lives.
They make eye shadow out of moistened magazine pages.
They happily collage.
Stacking purple hills of heather,
green jungle foliage,
cerulean-winged birds,
pink baby faces,
shimmering silvery dewdrops,
golden sunsets and azure seas.
Sorted, lovingly
placed and glued in patterns
that only makes sense to them.

Patterns that make
the sickly gray walls slide into nothingness
the smells evaporate from their nostrils.
The only sound in that clanging, echoing place,
the flutter of an exotic bird’s wings,
a cool tropical breeze,
a soothing balm to every hurt.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse