House of the Tomato

If a woman wants to be a poet, she must dwell in the house of the tomato. -- Erica Jong

Regional website for the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, in partnership with the Reader's Loft.

GREEN BAY / NORTHEAST

Celebrating, sharing and inspiring poetry throughout Wisconsin.

Synesthesia

Another odd childhood poem. I knew there was a name for what I experienced, googled a description of it. I explored types of rhyme schemes, went with abab, cdcd, efef, etc to gg. The rhythm is a little off, does it matter? (Remember, I said my sleeves smelled pink? That’s synethesia.) Tried to make it fun, funny. (Would a rhyme scheme of aa, bb,cc,dd, etc to gg be better?)

Synesthesia  

   Epigram: “Definition - Greek words: “synth” (which means “together”) and “ethesia” (which means “perception). grapheme-color synesthesia…three to five percent of the population… often hereditary , more common if you are left-handed, and a woman…begins from birth. Synesthesia is a sort of cross-wiring of the nerves and brain synapses related to the five senses. No two synesthetes have the exact same wiring scheme.”

 As a small child, my mind danced and played
matching words, numbers and colors,
synesthesia is how my brain is made
my perception has found new wonders

As a synethete, I have sensory enhancement
my brain connects where others pull apart.
Friends disbelieved my color attachment,
thinking me weird, but I learned it’s an art.

My senses have unique configurations
numbers and weekdays have colors assigned.
These pairings creative are my own invention,
only I, see my how my senses combine. 

As a child, my lucky number was eight,
when I see eight, I think green.
A two is rust colored, number one is white,
three, bright yellow, four has a red sheen

 Five is the best, paired in deep blue
Six is bright yellow; nine comes in black
10 is red, 11, white, 12 is green, I just knew
and Monday dawns yellow, in my color pack

Wednesday is gray, I just don’t know why,
Thursday is painted a blue-green streak
leaning to the shade of bright green dye.
Friday, yellow; and Sunday-red starts the week

As a child I played for long hours,
making friends out of words and numbers
each month has a vision, its very own color 
Feb blue, March, yellow; July, red in summer

January is deep cranberry, April is red
May grows in green, June, a fine pink 
September yellow, October, gray, I said
November is black, December is white, I think

Being left-handed, my hands would have races
tying my shoes or stashing of toys,
left hand won the race to tie laces,
I cheered on my left, at age four, with joys.

Creative connection with words I encounter,
this unique gift is my poet superpower.

 

Winkles and Whelks

Another Scottish Husband poem….does it end too abruptly?

Winkles and & Whelks

My Sunday impression is marine gastropod mollusks,

heaped and slippery in a dish on the bar with sea snails

and pickled things: onions and gherkins. A piccalilli

sun creating shapes and shadows, bouncing beams

off brass and etched glass, and bottles and bottles.

A barman with a comb-over welcome, white-toweling 

a smile as he half-pours a pint, damp smell of hops 

and barrel. My Scottish husband drinks an ale called 

Long Life. I mis-order apple cider, fooled by the idea

of fruit, glass of yellow-gold fizzing with fermentation.

Public houses have a long tradition, standing on almost

every corner for wayfarers, a gathering place for the

neighborhood. A gumless character on a low stool

is already singing. Percy, Percy, the other patrons clap

along. Everyone subscribes to the service of roast

beef, already juicing at home or waiting to be slid in.

These are his people, he says. I need to understand.

Winkles and whelks are a strange apperitif, but they,n

too, have a history here, belong to a time when cart 

vendors waited for closing to sell their wharf wares.

We're all characters here, with a story, our own dialect,

my flat vowels ordering another. This round on me.

Dear Chickadee

For decades I’ve been trying to write the poem about my Dad channeling a chickadee. His family call (in a store, in the woods, ) was the chickadee mating call. I’ve tossed many unrelated drafts. I began again. Here it is: Do I get the point across that he’s a chickadee keeping watch over me?

Dear Chickadee

You keep four seasons at our feeder
fluffed and vibrating
at 50 below in the wind.

Chick a dee dee dee
you beak a sunflower seed
carry morsel to the maple branch,

Tap-tap against the bark,
split open and eat,
then back to the feeder.

Pluck, fly, tap, eat
and repeat. How many seeds
will satisfy the bitter of 50 below?

When maple sap runs
you call Hone-ey,Hone-ey,
little black cap, looking for a mate.

Dad borrowed your mating call
whistling Hon-ey, Hon-ey for his brood
to return to the roost.

Listen, dear chickadee
I hear him in you,
calling us home.

 

Prompt No. 19

My “compilation”… don’t spend too much time on feedback… just tell me the lines that seem interesting… and I’ll see if I can do anything with them…

Prompt No. 19

Always the obliqueness
What my hands will do to him
How beautiful we'd like to remember
Plates as moons, creamy and white
What you say for feeling
A tree on its knees
Beneath the wind stirring, the sky branches of trees
Behaving is proscribed action and simply the nature of
The knotted trees and roots, an overgrown part of me
I wonder about strange fruit
What are angels exactly? I think reincarnated memory
How nourished I feel by carrots
Like handholds would have saved me
The color of coolness, possibility, far-seeing
Alone between the questions?
I could feel his words like a storm system
Invisible pollen and tiny insects, hidden lives
Capable of weather, leaves an imprint
A seam going nowhere, anyone can tell
Is there a blue seam to most things?

Buttercups

Here’s the first poem I had published back in 1988 (Touchstone mag, Viterbo College in LaCrosse), “Buttercups” (another odd childhood thing I did: Tasting buttercups in the the grass, hoping for butter). I rewrote it today, ruined it, then decided I liked the orig. better (with a couple minor revisions). I’m fleshing out a collection of published and not-yet published work. Started an outline today. One section is “As a child”. Is this a good enough poem for a collection? I opted for no punctuation. Does that work?

Buttercups

Sitting on moist morning grass,
sun hot on my hair,
I pick a palmful of buttercups

lick them to taste the butter
I taste creamy, salty sun
butter dripping over theatre popcorn

a sweet yellow river
runs the edge of a mountain
of mashed potatoes

gold beads soak through
yeasty holes of steaming bread,
almost too hot to slice

sitting here, watching the sun
melt buttercups

 

Wintertide

It might need a little more. Not sure.

Wintertide

Scotland's hag fury of bitterest winter.

Dark Beira howls across the moors and glens,

hewing the sea in great sheets of ice.

She is old again, old and weary.

Her one eye squires the light of a paltry sun,

wintertide a long night of desolation.

She is the mother of all gods and goddesses in the north.

her terrible hair, white and frozen, breaks from her

head in icicles. She remembers when the world was young,

and land was water and water was land.

She wears a shawl that floats on the sea,

gathered up in snow and sleet, her teeth

red-orange, halation of a treeless horizon.

She is old again, old and weary.

On the night of nights she searches for the drifting,

magic waters. She drinks. A sleep like

seasons, changing of the guard. She is the blossoming,

limb-legged one, fairer than any story.

We are pink with story. We like her mountainous

sons. We like her conjuring hammer.

But for her each day is a time bomb. She is middle-aged

by summer, decrepit by autumn equinox.

This aging in fast-forward is the worst.

There is No Hurry

Day 19 writing prompt: I highlighted lines from our Jan 14-15-16 writing days plus fragments of sentences/images from NINETEEN days of prompts, wrote them on a bunch of cards. Also typed them into the computer as just lines. I thought: I have a bunch of nonsense BUT then I shuffled, then selected lines that related to one of my themes: “The passing of time”. This poem started to emerge. The different prompts gave me images and metaphors that I would never have discovered if not for: Exploring the photo in day 2, making lists another day, the geology terms, and that google map. This is a different kind poem for me. I’m interested in what you think. Does it make sense? Does it need to? I had all this “garbage” in my free write pages, I felt so disorganized but I pulled out these nuggets. What a surprise!

As a child, where the
mystery of life starts and ends

parents are like silent giants standing in the mist
at the intersection of an angled street.

Through double doors, more glass than wood
I cannot hold onto them.

We forget memories we can’t remember
They disappear like vapor on a cold morning

the long slide of alluvial mess
no cake in sight

like pulling a wisdom tooth from the ground
through an opening, the anti-black hole.

Living is first nature,

slow me down,
to slow
the passing of time

 how can I be on the other side of so many years?
Before and after is just a false binary*

Isn’t it family that ties us together?
Now becomes the past, forever.

There is no hurry
the sun is not setting, but turning toward light

(*A line from Jenny Xie)

Map of a Castle

From Prompt No. 11 about a place. I feel like I started strong but petered out towards the end.

Map of a Castle

The castle of my imagination he grew up next to.
We were cold and hungry, stiff from sleeping
in the car. We'd drove all night. The castle was

the largest country house ever built in Scotland,
called Bog-of-Gight for its six-storey medieval
tower. My tongue clacked for a cup of tea.

My Scottish husband seethed because an officer
of Police Scotland dared. He did not trust the improbability
of our together. A student? American? Why,

he was old enough to be my father. The abruptness
of dawn rose in a mist off the hair and meadow grass.
The most inconspicuous tiny village, behind a green

door a demolished estate with its walled garden.
Walks beside the fast-flowing, leaves dark and waxy as
rhododendron. Imperious white birds gliding

elegantly as cupcakes in the dipping pond, but
preposterous next to the path. Beware of the swans,
he said, pulling me away slightly. They can be

vicious. The fuming could be muddy after
a rain. He tucked my hand in the crook
of an elbow, diverted by the scent of rosemary

hedging a nectar garden, traversing an avenue
of goblet apple and pear trees. Let us perambulate.
He laughed it off. The house could be a ruin,

but behind the wall a garden maze of rare
and rarefied, quince trees and saffron crocus,
fierce swan and contradictory men.

You Can't Fight City Hall

The Google maps prompt + the next prompt, playing with metaphor = I wrote an essay. Maybe could shorten to a poem? But I might submit an essay - something new for me to try getting published.

You Can’t Fight City Hall

 My father used to say hell was 948 Kent Street when he and mother would argue; about what, I don’t recall, but I thought this was as happy as any family and home could get. This three-bedroom ranch with New England white cedar shakes was home. My father came from New England where houses had to be white. 

We were the second house from the corner from a road that followed along a lake and nearly dead ended at the intersection of Kent and a riverbank on a quiet, tree-lined street. We kids played in the woods across the street, chased down paths that descended to Lake Wausau, a widening of the Wisconsin River. We grew up during a time when fathers went to work, mothers stayed home to make lunches, and pinned laundry on clotheslines that opened up like umbrellas.

 The quiet street was cocooned by a long row of 50-year old maple trees that arched their branches over us like a cathedral. The shade kept our house cool in hot summer during those Baby Boomer years when no one had air conditioning in their homes.

 The gravel street where we played was oiled a few times each summer to keep the dust down. We scattered like frightened mice when the noisy truck rolled past, spaying oil. We played in the shade of those trees, trunks so fat we could not reach our arms all the way around.

 Kent Street grew busier when added to the bus line and more traffic headed to the expanding healthcare center nearby. The city fathers declared the street needed to be widened by three feet to accommodate the increased traffic. They said the big trees had to come down. We were devastated; my parents built their house on that street because of the majestic trees. My mother went to meetings at city hall, argued a case to save those gentle giants that fortified our days. She fought hard, wrote letters, testified at meetings and eventually lost the battle. She said, “I tried, but I guess you can’t fight city hall.”

 One day in autumn, when the trees were dressed up in their vivid golds, reds and yellows, bulldozers roared in with long chains that were looped around the trunks. Each tree was pulled like a wisdom tooth from the ground, impacting us all. Huge, gangly roots upended as the trees groaned to their sides, dropping in a cloud of dust. With his 8mm movie camera, my father captured the uprooting, the wrenching, and the agony of each tree being yanked. Neighbors clicked their tongues and my mother cried in pain, to see half-century beings destroyed.

 The street was widened by three feet, dusty gravel gave way to clean concrete, plus curb and gutter. City officials planted a long row of skinny seedlings tied to thin wooden poles to hold them upright for rooting. Life went on, we gradually healed, but we ached for those old shady friends that lined our street.

 

He Called It Liquor

The Google prompt got me here… was digging the result, so dwelled for a while while I wrote this… longer for me… perhaps more aware, too? Not sure of the title.

He Called It Liquor


         I knew it as gravy, but my Scottish Husband called it liquor.
We came from the public baths.
         He said I was in for a treat.

         A sign said "Baths" beside the architraved double doors.
The liquor was green.
         The bathhouse was built of handmade clay brick.

         I felt clean as a drain.
Mash was smeared on the edges of our plates like impasto.
         At the flat we shared a bath.

         By the time the four of us fannied through,
the water had the look of gun metal.
         Yellow stock they were called or common.

         Cavernous showers with cathedral ceilings.
I tried not to be last.
          A sauce made with finely chopped parsley.

         The sound of rushing water like another natural wonder.
The booths in the pie shop were deep and dark,
         ceramic tile rubbed shiny by the promenade.

         Islands of squeeze bottles on each table.
The locker room echoed voices in many languages.
         An awning shuttered the street pea green.

         Oblong pies with fissures of layered pastry.
My body gave off steam in the thickness of a worn towel.
         He thought of himself like the bricks,

         a certain class of humanity. 
He sliced the pie's soft underbelly.
          My skin was tight with the stringency of coal tar soap.

        I (Americans?) never considered my (our?) place in the broader sense.
He meant common as in unexceptional, inferior.
        The mercy of potatoes, mince, and flecks of pepper.

        I made room at the lockers for an older cinnamon (Asian?) woman.
The grace of our nakedness, her shy small.
          I lingered for the giftwrap of her sari.

Tuck in, he said, chewing slowly.
I held the fork and knife in the hidden handle style,
   tasting how the liquor gave the plate a shared purpose.

Pencil Hoarder as a Young Child

The Winter Bramble theme of memory prompted another weird habit I had as a child. From a free write, I edited (a lot). Played with words and line lengths. Here’s a shape poem.

Pencil Hoarder as a Young Child

Because my parents saved everything.
Because they discussed The Depression.
Because I worried we might be poor.
Because there might not be enough.
Because pencils could not be found.  
Because my dad was a writer.
Because I loved to write,
Because I loved pencils.
Shiny, long ones, short
stubby ones, sharpened,
or broken-tipped, red or
green, yellow #2s with
soft lead. Because some
had words printed on
the barrel, and teeth
marks from figuring
or thinking too hard.
Because I needed to
know we had enough,
I hoarded pencils
on my bedroom window
sill, an unlikely hiding
place. Pencils positioned
parallel, wood on wood,
grain pressed to grain.
My community grew,
stacked four and five
deep, the ones with
hexagonal sides held
the round ones, so
they didn’t roll away.
Leaded ends pointed
north, eraser ends
faced south. Happy
abundance,
lined-up
on the sill.
Because
concealed
behind my
window
shade, I
felt rich
in pen-
cils.

 

Becoming (or maybe "Birthing Story")

Four days of prompts. My head was in the stars, I think seeded by photo #12 prompt. Each prompt has taken me down an extraterrestrial, philosophical path. After highlighting my best lines I crafted this. I’m not sure what this is, or f it makes sense. I had no title and then while posting here added two possibilities..

We grow as a constellation of cells,
seeds of now at the heart of beating
descending as cloud, ghost vapor.
Like sun and moon
we do not rise and set
for it is our turning into and away,
turning from dark toward light,
beginning again and again,
alpha and omega alpha and omega
we are mature specks of the universe
quickly becoming the past
through that gentle hum of moving time

Shining

I tried to answer a question for myself today… not sure I succeeded… not sure about the title either… let me know what you think. Wanted the poem in “rows” so had to do it as a picture.

Shining

Principle of Everything

Annette, here’s the poem I wrote today, springboarding from the prompt and a recent podcast I listened to that related God to beauty and the comparison of two kinds of people… those that relate the outside or nature to their interior life… and those that experience it as something other.

Principle of Everything

         Childhood was what we used to pretend.
The thread count of forts or sails or long,
         trailing dresses as we attended masquerade balls

         hosted by epaulets or wicked queenly mantle
who took golden maple leaves as invitations,
         linking arms through the forest.

          To deeper rooms in meadow,
we'd pull back back the stems of dandelions
         exuding white milkiness, curling into rosettes

         we'd place behind each ear.
The trees would dematerialize all three of us sisters,
          turning us spritely in our gossamer gowns.

          The moon behind it all, shooting lunar
power from the ends of our fingers. This energy
          we were so conscious of lighting a trail

          up our vertebrae to the bouquet of our cowlicks, 
down the lengths of our arms and legs.
          Our knees were magical.

          The outside of our innermost, the moonglow
stayed with us despite curfews and coaxing. Night-blooming
      in our beds like the five points of a star.

The Little Foxes

Another in the Scottish Husband series… do you think I have to keep repeating “Scottish Husband”? as the protagonist/antagonist? Not sure I exactly captured the essence of this experience. Trying to figure it out as I wrote. Likely I’ll get closer as I get feedback and rewrite… rewrite… get deeper… “down more rungs on the ladder” as Tracy K. Smith suggested.

The Little Foxes

We arrived at the theatre's majesty of expectation,     
prisms of light from the chandeliers.
How we hurried.                                                  
His smell complex velvet jacket
like fallen leaves discovered in a vintage desk --
earthy, woody and full of mystery.

My eyes swimming with points of light,
remembering the motion of roundabouts.
The theatre was at the very end of
the City line on the underground.
My Scottish husband (he?) never completely answered any of my questions.
The tube map was how I oriented myself.

The actress was a legend in America.
Myths about her many husbands. How she
wore her eye-shadow.  The audience applauded
and applauded. Her eyes painted Egyptian blue.
When she walked out on stage her scheming 
décolletage. The play was a drama about the 
selfish pursuit of the American Dream.

I gripped the handbill. Her Southern belle
cinched waist, glistening gemstone choker,
an exaggerated portrayal he muttered, restless.
"There are people who eat the earth."
The drawing room of erect posturing,
Southern drawl wrawling I won't say bray. 
her two actor brothers foxy as she.

He could not sit still. The era of old Hollywood
lost on him. Her fame submerging
the rest of the cast, the story itself. I tried
to pay attention. A certain impassibility rippling
through the audience. Her way of shrugging,
repertoire of shoulders, bare and otherwise.
Her jetset glamour attracting nobility in the
crowd. He rifled his fingers. Was she too
American? An intermission of undimmed opulence.

We walked out on Elizabeth Taylor.
He said he didn't have time to waste on theatrics.

What Happens to Us

(I’ve been thinking about old friends, acquaintances. Last weekend I was thinking about my childhood babysitter. I had stayed in touch with her all these years until she went to a nursing home about 10 years ago. Finding her obit online last Sunday has bothered me all week—how I lost touch.)

What Happens to Us

Every now and then I think of someone
I knew long ago.

 My favorite childhood babysitter.

 Linda, a friend down the block I played with when I was 10.

 Mr. Grimm, who we said smelled like whisker juice,
owned the corner store, where we took our nickels
to buy orange Popsicles that dripped down our wrists in July.

I remember a woman from my first job at the bank in my hometown.

I think about Annie our mutual friend who introduced us.
And now, you and I have been married forty, plus four years.
I wonder, did she ever marry that live-in boyfriend?

I google names.

Linda died in a fiery car crash in Las Vegas when she was 19.

Old Man Grimm was old back then, so he’s probably gone by now.

I can’t find our “blind date” Annie, not even in her hometown with a maiden name.

I find the woman from my first job, on Facebook. We become virtual friends.
Her name is Ann.

I search my dear childhood babysitter Margaret, my mother’s friend.
Her obituary comes up. She was 98, died only last December.

(NOTE: afterthought, 1/9/19, Maybe this I could be a Haibun. if add a haiku, and make the lines single-spaced above like a prose poem.)

brown milkweed stalks
pods stand empty in the garden
seeds scattered to the sky

 

Screaming Toes Pose

Here’s another feet poem…

Screaming Toes Pose

The splaying of proximal long bones. Application of         pre-     
ponderance. From all fours, I tuck my         toes,
sit back on my         heels. 
The yogi epitomizes the         pain. 
The years I've been on my feet, my back, my knees          telling.
Black is the darkest color, a         color
without color. A foot is a         terminal
portion of a limb, which bears         weight.
White is the opposite of           black.
I sit up tall, looking straight           ahead.
The yogi walks among us, sateen      shine
of her black leggings, cutout under the        heels.
The history of my feet in 26 bones, 33          joints,
more than a hundred muscles, tendons and          ligaments.
Mostly I've been thankful for the           locomotion.
I breathe in and out through my          nose.
The yogi's definition of hands to          heart,
black and white roses wildly          growing.
The pattern is old, and new, and old          again.
I swing a coat in that          floral.
My mother left behind many          coats.
My sister,           too.
I release the pose, untuck my         feet.
I see their angels in wildly          growing.
My feet carry the thorn of many          losses,
some gains. Children of children gradually unfold their          petals.
Tenacious scent of roses diffusing          spicy-floral.
I bring my hands behind me and, leaning back,         lift
my knees to stretch the tops of my          feet.
The arches of my feet less agile about          flexing.
I always come back to the         kneeling.

Ocean Lesson

(Been pondering:  Advance directives. Foot pain. Life - where I am on the timeline. This rolled out as notes a few days ago--I looked at it this morning and the poem wrote itself. )

Distant wave builds
rolling big, dark blue,
mirror of sky
barreling toward shore,
crests like white wings, lifting
then a big curl down,
pounding the sand,
chasing itself up to my feet like
an excited dog
slapping my toes,
circling ankles to calves
knocking me over
licking my face.

Each knock down, harder to get up
each wave a small death
losing power, thinning on shore,
reminder of my own small deaths.
I can no longer run or sprint, but
walk the beach, gingerly,
bones click and hurt, spurring.
Like the once bold ocean, crashing surf,
receding in small deaths
over and over again.

 

Church of Scotland

Willie told great stories… one of his great attractions… this was one…

Doctrinally he set aside the kirk.
He distrusted the body of Christ.
Despite the blue-paneled doors
in the square with the fountain and cherubs.
Where was the salvation? 
Scottish soldiers kept the peace in Northern Ireland,
the Middle East. Anyone could have been bomb-
carrier. The evil done in the name of religion.

In the boys brigade he was asked to spit out
the marbles. Say what you mean, boy.
He was assigned the reediest instrument,
trained for cannon fodder, ridicule.
He had no idea what the word even meant.
He'd only hoped to avoid the hour and a half
of worship, play soccer. Agnostic seemed to him
a good-enough theology.

He was ordered to stand at attention
in the parade yard with the mud, ruts, his blue breath
while the others filed past full of benediction.
He dreamed of corner kicks, trapping, begging
his mother for passage to Australia. This service
a disservice, scarcely instructive, how to spit-
shine, make a bed of four corners. He'd made his bed.
Perhaps he'd overreacted with the volunteering.
He did get out, but agnosticism could not save him
from the draft.

In My Mother's Recipe Box

There’s new anthology for migration poems. Lisa Vihos. It was in the Museletter. I wanted to send this poem. Is it “immigration” enough? I’ve been working on this since Thanksgiving when I went into my mother’s recipe box. Still fussing with stanza lengths..balance etc. LMKWYT.

In a cloud of rising flour you will
find my great-grandmother Marie. Aunt Minnie.
Grandma Mimi. My mother.

 Here in this winter kitchen meet them
on three by fives packed into a flip-top wooden box.
Divider tabs thumbed by them are worn
enough to expel paper dust
the bent edges divide tastes of the old country,
into breads, cookies, desserts, meats, main dishes, vegetables.

 In my mother’s recipe box you will find handwriting
in slant cursive, always in blue fountain pen,
cards filled with lists of ingredients,
with directions and temperatures continued on the backs.

In my mother’s recipe box you will find Minnie’s
sugar-dusted smudges next to instructions for cut-out cookies,
and that gravy stain, graces our beloved Norwegian meatball recipe.

In my mother’s recipe box see chocolate fingerprints
on the card for our favorite brownies,
just out of the oven, shiny on top, moist in the middle.

In my mother’s recipe box find Grandma Mimi’s
light lemon cookies served for tea time,her secrets stir in the mixing bowl,
her pie crust, rolled with the one-handled,
handed-down, rolling pin.

 In my mother’s recipe box you will find
how to make delicate potato dough for lefse at Christmas.
Rooted in the old country, my mother’s recipe box migrates to me, 
filled with the imprint of strong women,
hands that kneaded the dough of yulekake
that stretches across four generations
and one wide ocean.
Great-grandma escaping scarcity, bringing her recipes,
seeking abundance in a new land,
back then, open to all.

© 2019 House of the Tomato