Monday, April 27, 2015


Today's prompt from NaPoWriMo actually comes courtesy of my friend Vince Gotera, who named the hay(na)ku form that was created by the poet Eileen Tabios The above links will allow you to get acquainted with both poets and let you read a delightfully playful hay(na)ku Vince wrote for NaPoWriMo in 2012. At its simplest, a hay(na)ku is a three-line stanza, with one word in the first line, two in the second, and three in the third. Vince's poem, and the one below, are hay(na)ku sonnets with, as Vince explains four 3-line stanzas for a total of 12 lines, finished off with a couplet in which each of the two lines contains three words, so the whole poem comes out at 30 words, a challenge in itself.
         I've written a couple today myself; the one that follows owes its title and possibly some of its mood (though not the content) to Leonard Cohen, whose songs tend to pop randomly into my head sometimes. I also should credit a recent re-reading of James Weldon Johnson's "The Creation" Between them, Cohen and Johnson can put your head into a pretty good place.


that day 
comes, we'll sing.

like birds
with silver wings,

an earth
made whole again.

where green
belongs, and blue,

water and sky,
kissing the land.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

COLD-BLOODED, April poem #26

Today's prompt from Poetic Asides is to ". . . take a word or two invented by William Shakespeare, make it the title of your poem, and write your poem . . . . here are a few: advertising, bloodstained, critic, dwindle, eyeball, hobnob, luggage, radiance, and zany. He invented more than 1,700!" I did not know that! PA also provides a link to some words coined by Shakespeare:

Or maybe it was Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played here by Rhys Ifans in Anonymous.


George Sand likened her body to a marble envelope.
Let's extend that to the mind, but make it glass,
equally hard, cold, rigid, but transparent.
We need to be able to see out.
Of course it's more breakable than marble,
but we can live with that, learn to take precautions.
After all, we watch life, and are watched,
through windows all the time.
We just don't always realize they're there.
Wouldn't the young George Sand and DeVere (as played by Ifans, of course) have made an interesting couple?

April Poem #25

None of yesterday's prompts did it for me yesterday, and I can't come up with a title, but that's okay. We got rain last night and it's still cloudy so there may be more in the offing. I'm sitting at my desk watching birds at the feeders, in a considerably better mood than last night or earlier today.

They always fly away when I come to the feeders,
not far, of course, since they’ll return
as soon as I turn my back and take a few steps.
It’s like two different restaurants a couple of feet apart:
one with cheap seed to fill the greedy masses
and the other offering only the best,
tiny glossy black nyjer seed for the finches, goldfinches,
that is, since the house finches
will eat pretty much anything—
Maison Pur et Délicieux next to McDonald’s.
McDonald’s needs refilling much more often.

I didn’t even notice the young goldfinch
on its feeder till I was just a forearm’s length away.
It flew when I hung the other feeder, and
I stood there a moment, enjoying the cool morning air,
the fragrance that follows rain,
the yellow trumpet-shaped flowers on a shrub nearby,
nearly as big as a goldfinch.

And then the little yellow bird came back.
With just the slightest glance at me, it settled on the feeder
and began pecking out seeds through the small black mesh
that screens out birds with larger beaks.
Just a baby, really, fluffy, with pale baby feathers
and no way to tell its sex, whether or not it would develop
the male’s dapper black cap, and only a hint
of the sharp black and white stripes to come later on its wings.
It ignored me as it fed, and I pretended to ignore it,
to be a garden statue. We had two minutes, maybe three,
of absolute grace, a morning benediction,
before it flew away.

Friday, April 24, 2015

WOLF SPIDER - April Poem #24

I realize that some of my attitudes aren't quite the same as most other people's. For instance, I think spiders and snakes are beautiful, and they don't really scare me. Of course I know some of them are dangerous, and of course I avoid the ones that might kill or injure me. But I'd rather not kill or injure them, if I have a choice. I'd rather call the rattlesnake removal guys than cut off a head with a hoe. As for spiders, I probably would kill a black widow or a brown recluse, but I think I'd feel bad about it. (By the way, my daughter thinks I'm crazy, and although he's less vocal about it, I think my husband may agree with her in this case.)

      Robert Lee Brewer's prompt today at Poetic Asides  is to "write a moment poem. . . . [it] can be a big . . . or small moment . . . good . . . or horrible . . . it can affect thousands or matter to just one person . . . ." I suspect this moment matters mostly just to me, but maybe it will resonate with some others:


Admittedly, she looked scary at first,
half the size of a smallish tarantula,
trapped there between the window and the screen.

We guessed she was dead and were relieved,
since the window had been open all night.
Did she get there from inside or outside the house?

We'll never know. I went outside
to water, shot a little at her from the hose
and watched her scuttle, alive after all.

I could take the screen off, I thought.
If she clings to it, I'll take her up to the fence
and shake her into safety among the oleanders.

Back in the bedroom I examined her
from behind the glass. She was shedding her
exoskeleton, like a woman rolling down stockings.

She's found a good place to do it, I thought.
Then I told you, and you found the can beneath
the kitchen sink and sprayed and sprayed as she ran

madly over the screen. I think one squirt
would have done it. Stop, I said. You've got her.
See how she's curling up her legs?

We'll have to take the screen off anyway
now. She hangs there in the corner, shrunken,
her beautiful long legs twisted like arthritic fingers.

            - Victoria Stefani

I would really love to read your comments.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Today's prompt at Robert Lee Brewer's "Poetic Asides" blog, to "write a historic poem," led me to take out some scribblings I did on a cross-country road trip some years ago. I'd never been to any part of "the South" and the historic sites we visited were fascinating. We drove through Nashville and of course stopped to visit Andrew Jackson's estate, the Hermitage, which is, I suppose, beautiful and very impressive, but rather off-putting, what with those awful audio guides talking in your ears from little machines hanging around your necks, and the rooms of the main house blocked off by plexiglas sheets over the doorways, when roping them off would probably have worked just as well. I do remember that the bed Jackson and his wife slept in looked awfully small. (In contrast, we had an entirely different and much more enjoyable experience at Stonewall Jackson's far less grand but more interesting house in Lexington, Virginia, where a friendly, chatty, and well-informed docent treated us to a more intimate, even gossipy tour, answering all the visitors' questions thoroughly. Humans make much better tour guides than machines!)
Andrew and Rachel Jackson's tomb at the Hermitage
       I was relieved to get out of the slickly packaged "big house" of the Hermitage and explore the grounds - the slave quarters, the gardens, Andrew and Rachel Jackson's tomb, the smaller house Jackson had built for a younger relative, perhaps his adopted son or his wife's niece and her husband. I can't remember who exactly and the online materials available don't mention it, but it is quite lovely from the outside; it was not open to the public when we visited. But the most moving part of the visit for me was the small cemetery, which is not even mentioned in any of the promotional materials I looked at to refresh my memory. And I have no photograph of it, so the poem will have to do.

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

The Confederate dead lie in neatly curving rows
ranged around an ancient maple:
5th Tennessee Volunteers, 22nd Tennessee Volunteers,
and so on, and so on,
all those old men, not battle-dead but dead
after decades of reunions and maybe regrets,
of periodically pulling out the old uniform, grown
frayed, faded, too tight or too loose across the belly.

In the farthest outside row, one "loyal servant" is
relegated to the margin but still part of the group.

It is all so tender, so genteel. The soft spring grass,
the tiny damp membranous leaves uncurling
on the thick old tree
that stands like a circuit-riding preacher
over his rapt and captive congregation.

So many years they have lain there
under that perfect sod,
listening to wind in the branches,
the murmurs of the visiting living
walking and talking softly above them.

So many years of shifting in their graves,
making room for the maple roots
spreading among them,
stretching out beside them like lovers,
twining among their bones.

That old tree anchors the ranks of loyal soldiers
laid there with tenderness and tears,
like the swords and pistols they kept clean and shining,
laid away carefully and brought out from time to time
to be shown to a child or wept over in solitude,
polished with aching papery fingers.

And in the farthest row that loyal servant,
who followed one of those old soldiers
into battle and back out again,
now equally embraced by earth and roots
and indistinguishable from the rest.

              - Victoria Stefani

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DESERT PASTORAL - April poem #22

It's Earth Day! Of course, every day should be, or we should live as if it were. None of us are perfect, however. But Earth Day can be a reminder to slow down and look up from various screens to the real world around us. Certainly a poem about nature seems in order for today. Once I got started on this one it was hard to know when to stop, so I did so rather arbitrarily. I apologize to the hawks, house finches, goldfinches, thrashers, woodpeckers, and cardinals, and also to the coyotes, javelinas, bobcats, various snakes and spiders, including tarantulas, and other creatures who share our yard and neighborhood. Eventually I'll get around to writing about you. I promise. I love you all.


Welcome, spring, for your brief flowering
before we fall headfirst into summer’s cauldron,
never quite knowing how it happened.
Though it happens every year,
every year we are surprised by it,
every year we look at spring with its
tissue paper flowers, and wish it could last longer.
Welcome to the days of sitting outside
on cool sunny mornings,
watching lizards on the path
while birds talk in the background:
doves, quail, quarrelsome sparrows, finches,
the zip and zoom of hummingbirds.
Why do hummingbird feeders have so many portals,
I wonder, since they’re very bad at sharing.
Another approaches and the battle is on.
It’s thrust, feint, and parry with beaks for swords,
flash, dive, attack, and retreat in mid-air,
all begun and over in seconds.

Welcome, orioles. Childishly, I hope you will like me,
or rather like this space, my yard,
that you will want to stay here with your lady
and raise your own children here.
I offer you trees and food and water and my heart.

Welcome, black-headed grosbeak.
We’ve never met before, but you are welcome,
though I have a feeling you’re just passing through.

Welcome lizards, alone and in pairs,
skittering out from under rocks and bushes,
from behind ceramic creatures on the wall,
pale as flesh that never sees the sun and small,
some of you, with new skin that will thicken in the air
of summer, that hot thick air that pushes
the air from my lungs, pushes me down, like a heavy hand
on my head, making it hard to stand against the heat.
Chase each other all around and up and down
the mesquite trunk and act as if you don’t know
what to do when you finally catch up.
Or maybe you’re too shy to show me more than foreplay.
I’ve watched you lay your eggs in my herb garden,
first the digging in the soft soil,
frenzied and quick with tiny claws,
then backing up over the depression, the up and down,
ejecting the tiny rice-like egg and covering it.
Welcome to what emerges from that egg.

Welcome doves, building foolish flimsy
nests for your white eggs that may not hatch.
Sometimes you choose your nesting sites so badly,
like the top rung of a ladder left leaning against
the garage’s western wall, with no shade to
protect it, or your babies, from the sun.
That did not end well. I thought this year’s nest
in the jasmine might succeed,
but then the mother disappeared
and soon there were empty eggshells
on the walk below.

And quail, welcome too, most sincerely,
though you are more foolish than the doves,
laying your eggs in impossible places,
from which your precocious
babies cannot exit safely, or else
abandoning those creamy pointed eggs
dotted with chocolate before they hatch -
such attrition, whether they hatch or not.
It does not do to count the babies, day by day,
and watch their numbers shrink.
It squeezes the heart, urges tears.
We cannot spare the water.

White-winged doves, you are not welcome,
crowding the fence above the feeder designed to exclude you,
great raucous bullies, pushing and shoving everyone else
to gobble up what falls on the ground.
Birds of peace, my ass.

               - Victoria Stefani

WHAT I AM - April poem #21

Alas, I am a day behind again, but will attempt to catch up with a "twofer Wednesday" instead of a "twofer Tuesday." Yesterday Robert Lee Brewer's post on Poetic Asides was to write a "what you are" poem OR a "what you are not" poem. So here goes:


What I am is not necessarily what I wanted to be,
in my days of youthful hubris and excess,
but now I don't know that I'd really want to be
obscenely rich, famous, beautiful, admired and adored
by millions. Probably that would also mean
being hated by other millions,
and that would not make me happy.

What I am is someone who has enough,
who is known to enough people,
liked, even loved by enough people,
happy enough, I guess, with how I look,
though of course I'd like to be thinner.

I know some people dislike me, with or without reason.
Others are undoubtedly indifferent.
That is to be expected.

I know a couple of people hate me,
but I have learned to live with that
because, really, what choice is there?
I've learned the hard way, from experience,
the corrosive power of hate, how it is like a mirror,
reflecting itself with all its bile and pain back on the hater.

As the object of someone else's hate
- provided they have no real power over you
and distance is in your favor,
in other words, if you're among the lucky -
you may be able to ignore them.
You may even, if you are compassionate
- as I try to be though I don't always succeed -
be able to pity them and wish them well.
What I think I am, what I hope I am
is someone who at least tries to do that,
at least most of the time.

                - Victoria Stefani