Tag Archives: poetry

Uprooting and Taking Root

I posted this on the new Military Community Writers page, which is a new blog for military-affiliated writers to share experiences, stories, advice, and encouragement. Active duty members, Reservists, National Guardsmen, veterans, retired service members, government employees or contractors connected to a military environment, and dependents of any of the above–all voices are welcome.

Here’s my voice for today:
When we prepared to move back to Okinawa, my kids were dealing with the all-too-frequent hardship of leaving behind their friends. I wrote this free-verse poetry, thinking of the advice I’d rather not give them, even if it applies:

Push those roots down

But not too deep

Widespread roots come up easy

Ripping away some clods of dirt

Leaving a scar on the surface

Which quickly covers over

With new grass


Deep roots don’t come up

Without violent force

Strong hands grasping,

Crushing, straining

Until everything breaks free

Deep roots leave a hole

And a damaged plant


Found a new place for you

A familiar spot to settle in

The ground is soft and moist

The air warm and damp

You’ll grow well here

So push those roots down

But not too deep.


Now, three years later, my daughter is preparing for a new life, marrying the man she loves before he goes off to Basic to join the Air Force. He arrives in a week. They leave a little over a week after that. She’s already packing and planning, excited to see him, worried about forgetting anything essential.


Didn’t I once tell you

That shallow roots were best?

That loose knots untie easier, 

And the hope of what’s ahead

May even shine far brighter

Than the light we leave behind?


Well, I’m sorry, but I lied to you

Or–more truthful–to myself. 

Because there’s no untangling

These roots dug in my heart. 

Only forceful application 

Of a weeding tool or spade

Can separate this budding rose

From all this dry-packed dirt.


And though it feels to me right now 

Like no amount of time gone by 

Will sweep away the scar of absence,

This I also know: 

That neither shall the passing years

Diminish your past presence,

Nor steal the treasured memories

Nor smooth out laugh lines by my eyes

Nor turn the gray hairs back to brown.


And if in my heart there shall remain 

The hole where once you grew and flourished,

Then know that always and forever

There’s a place for you and yours

A welcome mat laid at the door

Even if your stay is brief,

And arms extended to bring in

The luggage you now pack to leave.

Remember Your Training

I’m trying to process the verdict in the case of Philando Castile’s death. With the dashcam video now publicly released, I can only shake my head and wonder how anyone can justify or explain away his shooting.

I’m not a trained officer. I’m totally an armchair quarterback. I’m not privy to all the details revealed in court. It’s easy to second-guess and hindsight is 20-20 and all that

I know every situation is different and no two officers might respond the same to a given encounter. I understand that an officer is at risk and is naturally going to be thinking about how to protect themselves. I am deeply grateful for those who are willing to wear a badge and place themselves in harm’s way to maintain law and order in our society. I want police officers going home to their families at the end of their shifts…

…But I want civilians going home to their loved ones too.

Every situation is different and yet there are videos of white dudes walking around waving guns at police officers, and they don’t end up shot… videos of white guys wrestling cops and reaching for their guns, but they don’t end up choked to death or gunned down at close range… instances of white guys shooting up churches or movie theaters and ending up in cuffs to face trial when other people are sitting in their cars complying with an officer’s instructions and that’s a life-threatening situation.

Again, every situation is different, and I’m not privy to all the details. But I would have to be intentionally blind or ignorant to pretend there’s not an obvious trend toward increased use of force against minorities. Studies show higher use of non-lethal force against minorities is a fact. Incidents of lethal force by the statistics may not be higher but the perception certainly exists and it’s causing distrust between police and the communities they serve.

I saw a video marketing a cheap sleeve that holds all one’s identification and vehicle paperwork. Before an officer approaches the car, you can place that over the door so that everything is readily available, and no reaching for anything is necessary, thus preventing any fear or misunderstanding when you comply with the direction to produce paperwork or identification.

It sounds like an unfortunate necessity after what was done to Castile, who seemingly tried to do everything right.

At some point I feel like we need to ask, how much fear is enough when dealing with a police officer? How compliant must one be? How deferential, how cautious, how meticulous in every response, every motion, every action?

Do civilians – particularly civilians of color – have to behave as if professionally trained for encounters with police? It sure seems that way… and it makes me wonder why it’s not the other way around.

—–

“Remember your training and come back safe

to the land of the free and the home of the brave”

It’s a speech that we save for those fully grown

For soldiers deploying into a war zone

For young men and women just over eighteen

Who experience challenges we’ve never seen

But for far too many, that’s not the first time they’ve heard

Someone giving them warning with similar words

We say all lives matter but it’s clear that they don’t

And we say it gets better but it looks like it won’t

And we hush down the voices loud and outspoken

And we tell them relax, let’s not fix what’s not broken

And we say each encounter has some subtle difference

And we remind the protesters to presume others’ innocence

But the man in the car who did all that was asked of him

Got shot with his daughter in the back seat to witness it

Seems to me there’s a pattern anyone can make out

Clear enough to see beyond all reasonable doubt:

Out playing? Get shot.

Obeying? Get shot.

Run away? Get shot.

Wedding day? Get shot.

Ask why? Get shot.

Comply? Get shot.

Justified? It’s not!

It’s a speech that some give to their kids ‘cause they have to

If you want to live through this, better know what to do

Hands in sight, Sir or Ma’am, be polite, watch your tone

And if you can help it don’t get stopped alone

But maybe live-stream everything from your phone

Otherwise your side might never be known

If it’s your word or theirs, you’re going to to lose

But remember, take care with the actions you choose

‘Cause all they need to say is they feared for their life

And then anything that they do’s justified

So remember your training and come back safe

In this land of the “free” and this home of the “brave”

Heed the Whispers

I was bored in line at the Post Office and decided to play with my FridgePoems app.


The frustration actually came after the poem. While I was waiting for my teen and my middle schooler, I got bad news from work that spun me up about how people make decisions at the last minute. 

The poem’s a little (ok, a lot) emo, acting like the writer is facing the end of the world. But in the middle of the chaos and storms of life, there’s a still, small Voice calling us to a place of serenity. We all have these things that set us off… and I firmly and fully believe it’s up to us how we react to them.

I did in fact heed the whispers, make some time, and sit and worship at the piano. I just didn’t realize I was writing this for me when I put the words together.

(Plus I made tacos for dinner. Tacos fix pretty much everything.)

The Chase

I see, from afar,

Fleeting glimpse of her fleeing

Playing hard to get 
This game that we play

Chase sensations and passions

Always reach for more

And she knows that I

I can’t just let her go, no

She knows I’ll chase her

This dance that we do

Cat and mouse meets the tango

She’s at it again

My inspiration

Curls a finger and beckons

Sighing, I follow

– 

I wrote this at a lovely Creative Writing workshop I attended this past weekend. The facilitator sang a series of haiku he had written years ago, accompanied on his acoustic guitar with something like a Spanish sound. I pictured a carousing and carefree pursuit during a fiesta through dusty, packed-earth streets in a Mexican town. He invited us to write our own haiku to show the variety of meanings and thoughts that could still fit the same rhythm and song.

I debated whether to go in the first place. My dance with my writing muse has been far from a cat-and-mouse, let alone something so intimate as a tango. More like “go sleep on the couch while I make an appointment with the divorce lawyer to draft the necessary paperwork.”

About a month’s worth of word count entries read ‘0’ and the status of my current projects remains unchanged. Scheduling a writers’ group has been problematic, and the pace of work only seems likely to increase. 

But the Muse crooks that painted nail at me and flashes that smile, and like it or not, here I go again. 

I’ve been listening to Brandon Sanderson’s recorded lectures on YouTube during down-time, and Stephen King’s On Writing audiobook in my car. Though the base library version is scratched up a bit–“theme is what unifies a novel into a plea- plea- plea- plea- pleasing whole”–there’s still so much down-to-earth insight that I can’t help but enjoy it.

He talks a lot about writer’s block while at the same time talking about–in his own life–putting his nose to the grindstone and pumping out several pages a day, every day, seven days a week, all year ’round, Christmas and the 4th of July included. 

He and his muse must get along a lot better than mine. (Actually he also talks about that, and his muse sounds like quite a jerk.)

The end result of the weekend is my little group of three or four writers can connect with a larger community in the initial forming stages on island. And I wrote a snippet of dialogue for Fantasy Series Book 3 (when book 2 is barely started). And there’s that poem.

But the word count didn’t show zero that day, so I’ll take it.

It is Not Finished, But It Will Be Soon

NaNoWriMo has kept me busy. When the WordPress app kept failing to update on my iPad, I found it too easy to blow off posting updates.

Because, hey, why waste words on blogs when I could be pushing toward that magic 50,000 word goal?

Now I’m sitting just past 41K with five full days remaining (plus my Tuesday night here on Okinawa). I have no doubt in my mind I can do this.

When I made a spontaneous commitment to this crazy effort, I had no plot in mind. But the news was full of Ferguson and Mike Brown, accusations and protests and justification on all sides.

I started reading blog posts and immersing myself in the voice of a culture and experience completely unfamiliar to me. And I realized how little time I’ve taken to listen or consider what it might be like to walk in different shoes or live in darker skin.

A story formed in my head, but I didn’t feel adequate to the task. So I hit the library and dug into books and websites documenting a variety of viewpoints and experiences. Beyond the Color Line by Henry Louis Gates Jr. offered me the wide range of perspectives I wanted.

Bloggers delivered some profound insights. My “favorite” blog post on the subject–not because of how it made me feel, since it positively wrecked me emotionally–is found here:

Teach About Mike Brown But Don’t Stop There

The link Ms. Wilson includes to a similar post about Sean Bell is equally challenging to those of us who haven’t had a conversation with our parents or children about how best to avoid getting shot by police.

That said, I also found gems like this post, called It’s Hard to Keep Caring, in defense of the difficult job and the unheralded but still heroic efforts of the many good and decent human beings serving their communities in police uniforms.

Basically, NaNoWriMo started (for me) as a fun project to see if I could be a better writer.

I’m surprised, humbled, and satisfied to think maybe it achieved something else: maybe it’s forcing me to become a better person.

I found myself writing a poem from the perspective of a hypothetical protester in Ferguson (or one of the other all-too-similar situations over the last few decades).

I don’t know that I’d find myself on a street holding a sign, or putting my hands in the air staring down a riot cop’s gun. But for a moment, I could expand my limited perspective and try to ask, “How would I feel? What would I say in these circumstances?”

Because on my various social media feeds, all I saw–on all sides–was a bunch of groups of “us” talking about “all of them,” vilifying and dehumanizing anyone who disagreed, anyone who looked different.

That’s my takeaway from this project. My goal in the story was to present the idea that black or white, rich or poor, maybe we’re not so different, maybe we all feel similar emotions, deal with similar struggles, and experience similar tragedies.

I doubt I hit the mark all that well. I’ll end up with a rough draft that will probably sit on my computer and go nowhere. Maybe I’ll self-publish.

But my coworker who inspired me to join reminded me, “NaNo is all about trying something new. Go for it, see where it leads.”

Who would have thought compassion and empathy are new concepts?

Judging by the news, I suppose maybe that’s not such a surprise.

My book isn’t finished yet. The book’s not closed on racial injustice and tensions either. Both are pretty rough drafts with some great moments and touching scenes, mixed with a whole lot of crap we’d all probably rather ignore.

But I can only hope that both will be finished, someday soon.

Here’s the poem. I welcome your thoughts:

The dam you’ve cracked could not hold back
A flood of fury, hurt and worry
The history of wrongs built up for so long
The strong walls of patience and appeasement
Burst and shattered, twisted and bent
By six shots fired in supposed self-defense
At an unarmed teen accused of violence
And they act like the evidence all makes sense
But we see right through all the police pretense
To the obvious truth of an innocent youth
So back off your sanctioned brutes in riot gear and jackboots
Your power was never meant to be absolute
You’ve awoken an army with hands up–Don’t shoot.

Choosing She or Me

There’s an UpWorthy video popping into my Facebook feed, a Fisheye Moments presentation of a poem by the (seemingly quite talented) Leyla Josephine. The poem is titled “I Think She Was a She.”

There’s some strong language, and hey, it’s about abortion, so if either of those things is going to rile you up, you’ve been warned.

The video lays out a case for women’s rights, and specifically for the right to choose on the subject of abortion. It could be viewed as a touching presentation of “what might have been,” a powerful expression of womanhood untamed, and an honest grappling with the variety of emotions that the subject of abortion brings to light.

But there was something about the logic and the in-your-face presentation that nagged at me.

So, since I’m on the ignorant “putting government in your body” side, I thought I’d respond.

I’m sorry, I’m ignorant, I’m stuck in the past
I’m hung up on views that are never going to last
You can say what you like about me, I guess
Because Lord knows sometimes my side should have said less
But we judge and condemn and put down and cry murder
Not considering that this separates our sides further
Not thinking about the woman, we’ll hurt her
With good-intention defenses for the fetus within her.

But let me back up and try to hear what you said
Because your message is all about the story in your head
The hypothetical girl in a fantasy world of what might have been
If she had only come later, instead of back then
You want me to understand you’d have been a great mother
Investing and serving the needs of another
Marking the wall and taking care of it all
Answering the call of responsibility
For this small child you say “who’d grow up to be
And look just like me”
Because she could have been born, had you been ready.

But just after that speech you try to persuade
Any who listen that there was no other way
Or that this mother-to-be, herself still just a girl
Would not, could not handle bringing a child into the world
Due to lack of maturity at such a young age.
She could have been born… at some later stage

I’m sorry, I’m ignorant perhaps to your pain
But the two sides of this story don’t add up to your claim
You’d have me believe you’d be the best parent
Then tell me it’s such a daunting task that you daren’t
Which is it then? Because when I hear your views
You want me to see that you really couldn’t choose
As though this experience was forced upon you,
The only sensible reaction to the unexpected news
You’ll tell me you’d die for that girl’s right to be free
But death is far harsher than responsibility
And you wouldn’t give up the life you desired
To become the perfect mother your story required
But if the roles were reversed, you’d lay down your life gladly?
I’m sorry, I’m ignorant, I can’t buy it, sadly.

Declaring “I’m willing to die for you”
Easy to say, much harder to do
What about choosing to live for her instead,
So that your actions would have proven what your poetry said?
I’m sorry, I’m ignorant, I can’t agree with your views
Nor celebrate the death caused by your right to choose.

UpWorthy makes the point that it takes a lot of courage to talk about the deeply personal stuff in our lives. I agree. I respect Ms. Josephine sharing her views on the subject.

I believe I’m free to disagree with them. That’s my choice.

Taking Root

Thinking of my kids as we move, and the advice I’d rather not give them but I know applies:

Push those roots down
But not too deep
Widespread roots come up easy
Ripping away some clods of dirt
Leaving a scar on the surface
Which quickly covers over
With new grass

Deep roots don’t come up
Without violent force
Strong hands grasping,
Crushing, straining
Until everything breaks free
Deep roots leave a hole
And a damaged plant

Found a new place for you
A familiar spot to settle in
The ground is soft and moist
The air warm and damp
You’ll grow well here
So push those roots down
But not too deep.

The Thief of Days

Pictures fill my mind, I see
Visions of success
Dreams that could be, might yet be
Shall be – nothing less.

Satisfied that certainty
accompanies each vision
I wait for its fulfillment
Inaction my decision

Reliance on tomorrow earns
Regret for yesterday
Ineffective action burns
The dreams and hopes away

Still there lingers deep belief
That God can make a way
That time remains to stop the thief
Who steals and wastes “Today.”

But like a mirror then I see
The thief is none other than me.
God will make a way, ’tis true
Yet work still falls on us to do.

The Mirror

For a Monday Morning Snack, here’s a short piece about mercy and judgment.

The Mirror

I looked out the window at the world, angry at all the injustice.

Then I looked in the mirror, ashamed at all of my own.

I looked out the window at two men in love, and my religious beliefs rose in offense.

I looked in the mirror, saw how little I love, and I was humbled.

Outside I saw greed ignore need and I was enraged.

Inside, I saw my own selfishness, and I was appalled.

I looked out the window at passion paraded and praised, and I stood in judgment.

I looked in the mirror at my lust and desires, and I cried for mercy.

I looked out and saw people reject God’s word, and I thought them foolish.

Then I saw my life contradict my professed beliefs, and I was disgraced.

I looked out the window at everything wrong, and asked, “God, what are You going to do about this?”

Then I heard Him respond, “I gave you a mirror.”

"Prosetry" piece 1

This was a piece I wrote a long time ago for a couple reasons. 1) I wanted to try making a sort of rhyming rhythm instead of a strict poetic structure, and 2) I was dealing with a lot of frustrations about going back and forth between the positive goals I wanted to reach in my personal life and the stupid decisions I would often make that brought negative consequences. The Apostle Paul writes about the struggle with sin in 1st Corinthians that “the good I want to do, this I do not do, but that which I hate, I find myself doing all the more.” I can relate.

Innocent lies change before my eyes
into chains, unbreakable ties, despite my cries for grace;
not because You somehow failed to respond,
but because I rely upon my own strength,
not practicing what You teach me to do,
doing instead as I choose, I abuse
the mercy I’ve received from You.

I preach what I do not practice;
I practice what I do not preach, and the fact is,
I’m weary of this, saying, “Master, Friend,”
with a kiss of betrayal,
choosing to fail instead of asking to stand
when You’ve said I can.
Will You practice what I preach about You?

I know it’s been said that I’m free to come boldly, to confess;
my only hope nothing less than that in Christ I receive
Your reprieve and righteousness–
I’ve been blessed beyond a deserved curse
and yet worse is that I act as though I’ve earned it,
trust in my own merit; how can You bear it
when You see this pride in me–
Your Spirit burns jealously for me to live faithfully,
to give myself unreservedly;
abandon myself to Your grace again
so that when I come to this place, my Friend,
I will be the humble one, come undone,
that You may have Your way in me;
let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done.