Tuesday, April 28, 2015


I lived in San Francisco for seven often wonderful, intensely melodramatic years, and I wouldn't exchange them for anything. When I saw this morning's prompt from NaPoWriMo, to "write a poem about bridges," I briefly considered a number of other bridges - the narrow one over the Snake River between Ontario, Oregon and Fruitland, Idaho where a couple of my ex-husband's trucker buddies used to run side-by-side, so close that one's left sideview mirror would be inside the other's righthand window, just to see if they could do it; the lovely covered bridges of New Hampshire and Vermont; the high trestle railroad bridges that look so beautiful and deadly - but I knew all along I could only write about the Golden Gate Bridge, so familiar even to those who have never been within a thousand miles of it, that bridge I crossed and recrossed so many times, the source of so many urban legends that, as far as I've found, aren't even acknowledged on Wikipedia or elsewhere. So they must be true, right?


There are rattlesnakes on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Crotalus viridis, the Western rattlesnake.
Even the San Francisco Bay Area National Park Science and Learning
website acknowledges their presence in the area, but they downplay it
and sure as hell won't say you'll find them on the bridge.

Crotalus viridis, the Western rattlesnake,
likes to sun itself on the cables and pylons
of the Golden Gate Bridge, much to the consternation
of the painters who work up there every day,
since they never finish painting the Bridge.

If you can get a job painting the Bridge,
you've got a lifetime gig. It takes seven years,
they say, from end to end, and then you just start over.
Those guys can tell some stories, you bet,
and not just about rattlesnakes. Consider the jumpers.

Two thousand plus people so far. You pay your toll
and walk across, and maybe on the way out,
maybe on the way back, when no one's watching,
you just slip over the rail. That water's cold.
You'd better hope the fall kills you.

Only the ones who aren't really serious, who just want
attention, make sure they're seen by someone
willing to interrupt their tourist photo opportunity,
who'll go back to Colorado or Vermont
to tell the story wide-eyed over martinis or beer.

Those tourists never see the rattlesnakes, of course.
It would scare the piss out of them.
They'd never pay the toll to walk the bridge.
But you can believe me, those snakes are there.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Today's prompt from NaPoWriMo http://www.napowrimo.net/day-twenty-seven/ actually comes courtesy of my friend Vince Gotera http://vincegotera.blogspot.com/2012/04/day-14-napowrimo-poem-day.html, who named the hay(na)ku form that was created by the poet Eileen Tabios http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/eileen-r-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" http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/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: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html

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 http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-21 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

Monday, April 20, 2015



I know there will be cat hair on my pants when I get up from the sofa.
I know I shouldn't wear black pants at home for that reason.

I know the woodpecker will rob the hummingbird feeder,
big clumsy thug that he is, and in the process will tip it,
swing on it so half the liquid pours out onto the patio.
I know the ants will delight in the resulting syrupy feast
and rise up rejoicing, convinced there is a god.

I know I planted too much basil and the freezer
won't hold all the pesto it will make.
I know I really don't like dried basil as much as fresh,
but I'll dry some anyway so it doesn't go to waste.
Same with the dill. It's out there in the garden now,
waiting for me, wearing a righteous frown,
while I pretend I don't see it.

I know I shouldn't plant cilantro at all because I forget about it
and it always bolts before I've used much.
I know parsley is an annual here and not a biennial,
but still it pisses me off when it goes to seed its first year.

I know my grandmother was a terrible housekeeper
but a fantastic cook and gardener.
I know I'm a better housekeeper than she was,
but not necessarily by much.
I used to believe in brownies who would tidy up everything
if you left out bread and milk for them.
I know I should probably try it, because otherwise
how will I really know if they exist? Or not? And if they do,
who am I to rob them of gainful employment?

I suppose that sounds crazy, but wouldn't it be nice?
And bread and milk are cheap.
I know that if the brownie stories turned out to be true,
it would make me very happy.

          - Victoria Stefani

(Image from http://spiderwick.wikia.com/wiki/Brownie)

LANDAY - April Poem #19

According to the April 19 post on NaPoWriMo http://www.napowrimo.net/day-19-3/, the landay is "[a] form of folk poetry from Afghanistan. Meant to be recited or sung aloud, and anonymous, the form is a couplet comprised of 22 syllables. The first line has 9 syllables and the second line 13 syllables. Landays . . . treat themes such as love, grief, homeland, war, and separation." The prompt also contains a link to a long investigative article on landays that you might want to check out: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/media/landays.html. One thing I learned is that women in particular practice this form, in secret, as their poems often address topics forbidden to them by their culture. This is definitely a form I will return to later. In the meantime, how about being intoxicated by love?


Jasmine scents the air beside the door.
Shall we get drunk inside on wine or outside on flowers?

                     - Victoria Stefani

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Just a word first about the epigraph: there was nothing whatsoever of Lady Macbeth about my friend. I chose these lines because they came to me in my own grief and, in the context of the play, I interpret them as the heartbroken cry of a man who loved his wife deeply and has lost her, whatever the reason, much too soon.


"She should have died hereafter. 
There would have been a time for such a word." Macbeth 5.5: 17-18

All of us will die. All our friends,
family, acquaintances,
no matter how beautiful or brave
they are, will leave us,
or we them. I know that.
But this loss I cannot accept.
It was too soon for you to go.
Six or seven months from now,
maybe, after we'd had
one last reunion, with
whispers and secrets and mirth -
that would have been hard enough.
I would still have felt that
heart-stopping instant of disbelief,
repeated over and and over, for days,
still the anger without a target,
the caught and shuddering breath,
pain under the breastbone,
tears that come, no matter how
unbidden, unwelcome, unstoppable.

Where did you go? Into darkness?
If it is darkness, I have faith in your power
to make it light there, you who could
always summon laughter,
whose eyes shone with light, often
at the least provocation.

I will not believe you are truly gone.
Just gone ahead, perhaps,
to set the table with lace and flowers,
to make a place for the rest of us,
so that when we arrive we will not feel
bewildered or unwelcome.

           - Victoria Stefani

Friday, April 17, 2015

THE CRACKED VASE - April Poem #17

Today's prompt from There Is No Pilot http://there-is-no-pilot.blogspot.com/2015/03/prompts-for-poem-day-challenge-april.html?spref=fb invites us to "Make a metaphor that likens the self to an inanimate thing, say 'I am an ice cream cone' or 'I am an all-weather tire.' What implications does your new context have for your human attributes - say, your body, the way you speak or breathe or for your sexuality? Write a poem in which you ponder your new container." Hmmm.


Not shaped from fine white porcelain, certainly no
treasure from the Ming dynasty, nor Sevres,
Limoges, not even Belleek, but simple earthenware. Still,
I have turned a head or two, drawn the occasional admiring glance.
The potter made me sturdy but curved to fit the hand.

My glaze is crepuscular - blue, gray, lavender,
like darkening twilight, like a bruise over
a white undercoat that shows only in thin streaks
of separation, revealing what lies beneath.

A flaw in firing left an almost invisible crack
up one side, so I don't hold water.
The leakage is too little to notice until,
over time, it can ruin a fine wood surface.
Therefore I am useless for flowers, unless
they're dried or artificial. But no one knows that,
so long as I stand with my back against the wall.

              - Victoria Stefani

ANATOMY - April Poem #16 (a day late)

Yesterday I decided to combine the prompts from Poetic Asides http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-16, to "write a science poem," and NaPoWriMo http://www.napowrimo.net/day-sixteen-2/, "to write in the form known as the terzanelle. A hybrid of the villanelle and terza rima, terzanelles consist of five three-line stanzas and a concluding quatrain. Lines and rhymes are chained throughout the poem, so that the middle line of each triplet is repeated as the last line of the following triplet (or, for the last triplet, in the concluding quatrain." There's more too, about which lines are repeated verbatim and which just repeat end rhymes, and it all seemed pretty confusing and complicated to me when I first read it, so it's a good thing a couple of examples are included.
     And then the day got rather complicated too, so I wrote the first stanza, knowing that I had something to say about the necessary relationship between art and science - I don't suppose everyone will agree with me about that - and came back to finish it, or at least a first draft, this morning. And I cheated a little, which you'll be able to spot if you go to NaPoWriMo and read the complete description of what a terzanelle is. But I won't apologize for that.


Under the skin, under the fur, muscles, including the heart,
tighten and release, lungs expand and contract, tiny electrical currents
travel along nerves, keeping it all alive while someone makes art.

Twitches stir the skin, lift golden hairs upright. The cat, intent
only on sleep, sleeps on. The artist pauses, wondering at the mechanism
that tightens and releases, expands and contracts, the tiny currents

at work under the skin, under the body's canvas. Perfectionism
makes him want to capture every muscle, twitch, and hair,
so active even as the cat sleeps on. The artist wonders at the mechanism

how to freeze, distill it into a fixed image, static yet with life there,
ready to spring from the frame, given the right conditions, the right prey.
The artist wants to capture every muscle, twitch, and hair,

all that lies beneath the surface, knowing there is no way
for him to arrest in paint what is hidden but essential, what animates
the cat and would let it leap from the frame to follow the right prey.

He wishes he'd paid more attention in school, wonders if it's too late
to grasp what's under the skin, under the fur, muscles (including the heart),
the science of what is hidden but essential, that animates
what travels along the nerves, keeping it all alive so we can make art.

                   - Victoria Stefani

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ANGRY - April Poem #15

I'm delighted with the straightforwardness of Robert Lee Brewer's prompt on today's Poetic Asides blog post, http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-15: ". . . pick an adjective, make it the title of your poem, and then write your poem."


I knew a woman whose mother put ground glass
in her rival's sandwich. Chicken salad, I believe.
They were having tea on the terrace, chatting
amiably enough, while the would-be killer
waited for her victim's agony to kick in.
It didn't happen. Then the hostess began
to worry that perhaps she'd switched the sandwiches.
Her stomach started hurting and her guest
insisted on taking her to the emergency room,
where the doctors found nothing wrong.
The incident just gave her more to be angry about.
As it turns out (according to snopes.com),
glass that's ground finely enough to be undetectable
won't hurt you, urban legends notwithstanding.
As for the murderous sandwich maker, she
eventually gave up her fantasies of revenge
against the other woman. They became friends.
Which made the first woman's husband very angry.

          - Victoria Stefani
So, what adjectives do you have in your wallet? I was just thinking of more positive ones, like cheerful, sunny, kind, intelligent, peaceful - all words I really like and qualities I admire - and how sometimes - not always, but certainly sometimes - it's easier to dive into the darker stuff. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

THE LIBRARY - April Poem #14

As I've mentioned in other posts, I like prompts, but nothing on the three sites I've been looking at this month really did it for me today. The closest was Robert Lee Brewer's from Poetic Asides http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides , but what he suggests - to write an honest poem or write a dishonest poem - applies to creative writing in general, I think. We try to be honest; we allow ourselves the freedom to be what some might call dishonest in service of our own particular creative purpose at the moment. Oh, yeah, creative license. I was feeling really blocked until some angel (in the form of my husband) said, "Why don't you write something about a library?" I could write sooooo much about libraries! In fact, other library pieces are currently flooding my brain, but this is the one that got there first, partly because it was so very important in shaping the person I have become. It's set in Weiser, Idaho, the small rural town where I grew up, though I suspect the rather ugly, squat buildings on the block the old library was on have all been razed, and I couldn't find a picture of it. The poem is honest, in that everything in it is factually true as well as emotionally and other kinds of true. It's a bit dishonest, in that I quit before the end of the story, because it seemed like a good place to stop before going off into another long tangent, which would be necessary if I were to complete the story of the book report I wrote for my high school government class. And what I have here is quite long enough. Maybe too long, if I'm honest.
This is not the old library (which was not in the building on the left, but one that looked a lot like it) but rather the Pythian Castle, one of the more interesting buildings in downtown Weiser, Idaho. I hope it's still there!

I always went alone, without parent, without friends,
and no one questioned or bothered me.
I never asked the librarian for help, just wandered
until I found something and then checked it out.
The rule was two books at a time, for two weeks,
with a penny a day late fine, though that soon doubled.
The librarian wore her salt-and-pepper hair
in a bun with a pencil stuck in it, which
she took out from time to time to write with.
I never saw her stand up, so I always
imagined she was child-sized, like me, but thicker.
Over time, she got smaller. At first she looked
straight across into my eyes, but by high school
she had to peer up over the tops of her glasses.

There was a card catalogue, of course, a small one,
small wooden drawers filled with small cards,
small like the library itself in our small town.
I don't remember using it. I was more of a grazer then
than a focused searcher. Despite its limitations,
the library's somewhat random collection did
include all the Oz books, even the one
where Dorothy's captured by a princess
who wants to add her head to the collection
she keeps in a closet, deciding which to wear
on a particular day
according to whim, or maybe the weather.

I chose my reading matter on whim as well,
wandering through the children's and adult
sections equally, with no guidance whatsoever.
One week it might be Harry Black hunting his tiger,
another the Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare.
I would have enjoyed that even more if I'd known
Charles Lamb's sister and co-author killed their mother.
At twelve I devoured everything there by Daphne
du Maurier, then regressed to Tales of a Chinese Grandmother,
followed by other tales by other grandmothers -
Korean, Russian, Swiss, Turkish, Basque -
before plunging into bodice-rippers about the Tudors.
I read Peyton Place before my mother did
and told her with eleven-year-old gravity
that I didn't think it was suitable for her.
(It wasn't.)

The last time I went to that library
I was a senior in high school, looking
for a topic for a book report for government class.
Mrs. D, a pillar of the local John Birch Society,
had suggested something by J. Edgar Hoover.
But since she'd been denouncing Marx the way
a preacher might denounce the devil, I thought
I'd check him out. I found him in the library,
at the end of the shelf with dust in his beard.
He'd arrived in 1935 and no one
had taken him out since. I set him on the librarian's desk.
She frowned up at me over her glasses, took
the pencil out of her hair, and said,
"I'll have to call your mother." As she held
the receiver to her ear, her lips pursed and tightened.
She date-stamped the two cards,
mine and the one in the book, and handed it to me
without another word.

                    - Victoria Stefani
Hooker Hall, the main building of the old high school in Weiser, Idaho. The government class in the poem would have been in a room on the second floor, in the front, just left of center. That's a geographic description only; I'm sure Mrs. D would have had apoplexy if she'd heard anyone describe her class as being to the left of anything (though aside from her politics, she was really quite nice).

It occurs to me as I get ready to post this that I don't think I ever told any of my high school friends about that incident at the library, or about my government book report and what transpired later, though in retrospect it would be much more important in my life than the kinds of things we did talk about (boys, cars, boys and their cars, dances, dancing with boys . . . etc.).

Monday, April 13, 2015

CONFESSION - April Poem #13

I must have had a teacher who dissed the "confessional poets," because for many years I never wanted to be associated with them or even read them. But unless you are deeply, religiously invested in keeping yourself out of your own poetry, it's kinda hard to avoid. And today's prompt from Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides amounts to permission: ". . . write a confession poem. For some poets, this may come naturally - confessing feelings, actions, and/or intentions. For others, it may be hard to get personal . . . ." Well, here goes:


Sister Carmelita told us not to say "I hate . . ."
because to hate someone was to wish them dead,
and to wish a thing was as great a sin as to do it,
so to say "I hate" was the same as murder.

I'd been saying "I hate" for a long time:
I hated math, my little brother, the cranky
lady down the road and her ugly mean dog.
I hated lima beans. How would you murder lima beans?

But what if I didn't hate them, I wondered.
What if I just wished they had never been born?
Not a sin of omission, exactly, but of
imagination. And imagination is a good thing.

When Jimmy Carter confessed in a Playboy
interview to lusting in his heart, I thought,
what's the big deal? So he has imagination. So what?
Besides, he's not even Catholic.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

DEAR HIMMEL PARK - April Poem #12

Today's prompt from There Is No Pilot http://there-is-no-pilot.blogspot.com/2015/03/prompts-for-poem-day-challenge-april.html?spref=fb was one I've often used with high school students in the summer program I used to teach in. It is to "write a letter to a landscape, structure, or scene you pass today." I didn't exactly pass Himmel Park, in central Tucson, on Tucson Boulevard a block south of Speedway; it was our destination, for an outdoor church service followed by a potluck picnic, and the cool, cloudy morning that seemed to promise rain (but didn't quite deliver) made it a lovely place to be.

I didn't know you had so much clover growing among the grass
until our little flower child began bringing me blossoms,
first one at a time and then by fistfuls. I didn't know
what to do with them, having no buttonholes.
I tried sticking them in my hair but had no bobby pins
either, or any other fasteners, so they just fell out.
Then I noticed an arch of perforations all around the toes
of each shoe, so I stuck them in those. They fell out of there
eventually too, of course, but by then the flower girl
had lost interest, had pinched her finger in a folding chair,
but that's not your fault, dear Himmel Park.
You didn't supply that chair, just as you didn't supply
the baseball that hit me in the eyebrow twenty or so years ago
and sent me from your green fields to the emergency room.
It broke the skin but but didn't leave a scar. My fault.
I was always a lousy catcher, always afraid of the ball.

What you do supply, dear Himmel Park, is green and peaceful space
with all the requisite amenities: playground, picnic tables, a small hill
where people used to gather on Sunday evenings to drum
back when we lived in the neighborhood, when we could walk there.
Maybe they still do. You don't provide a track around your perimeter
but people run there anyway. We used to do that,
and then do yoga in the grass to cool off, while over near
a big pine tree someone else might be practicing t'ai chi.
Sometimes on weekends a few middle-aged men brought
a croquet set, and I sort of wished they'd invited us to play,
but really, why should they? The anonymous camaraderie
you offer, dear Himmel Park, is so comfortable, so restful,
your very existence so inviting, so without expectation,
that you create that same calm acceptance in those who
come to you for exercise or rest, or just a space to breathe.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Today's prompt from Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog was to write a seasonal poem. As a gardener, I think I'm never more aware of the changing seasons than in spring, even here in the desert, where the major planting of both food crops and ornamentals is divided between fall and spring, with fall being at least as important, if not more so, since what we can grow in summer is limited by the extreme heat as well as aridity.
     But I grew up in a more temperate climate, where things and plants unfolded in different patterns that I can't forget, nor do I want to.


Forsythia came first, a great fountain of weeping gold
a child could hide under, not the crocus peeking out
from beneath the hawthorn, nor lilies of the valley tucked
in dark corners alongside steps, overshadowed by juniper.

Then daffodils, tulips, narcissus, popping up everywhere,
especially the daffodils, all that yellow scattered over the lawn,
like dandelions, but welcomed even by adults, and then
the lilacs, each flower in its turn and overlapping.

Grape hyacinth, shy but fragrant, ignored in favor 
of peonies, so lush and loose in red and pink and white,
crawling with ants, trailing their petals like the ragged petticoats
of harlots after soldiers, showing up just in time for Memorial Day.

The women always worried: would there be enough blossoms
for the graves? Would the peonies bloom on cue? Would the lilacs
last long enough? The tulips, daffodils, and their kin 
would likely be gone, and it was too soon to count on roses.

That day, everyone trooped up the hill with mayonnaise jars
full of flowers. In the military section a flag was raised,
guns shot off, prayers said, songs sung, children scolded
for walking on the graves. Tomorrow would be summer.

                  - Victoria Stefani (draft)

Friday, April 10, 2015

ABCDEFG. . . April Poem #10

Oh, wow, we're 1/3 of the way through National Poetry Month and I'm still keeping up with a poem a day . . .  hard to believe.

Today's was fun, with no deep meaning, though it is based on memory, specifically of when I was in my very early 20s and working at the Union Labor Life Insurance Company on the 8th floor of the Flood Building at Powell and Market in San Francisco. When Joe and I were there in 2006, ULLICO was gone, though the building itself survives in all its Edwardian or Art Nouveau or whatever kind of glory, I was happy to see. John's Grill, just outside the back door of the Flood Building, also survived, and I hope it still does. It was a lunchtime and after-work hangout for various business types, including Mr. K, the VP who was my boss. One evening a whole group of us from the office got kicked out of there for singing spirited (pun intended) Irish revolutionary and drinking songs. I think it was because we got a bit too rowdy on "The Rising of the Moon," especially Mr. K, who, as the poem mentions, did enjoy his drink.
The lobby of San Francisco's Flood Building; I have no idea who any of those people are, so please don't ask. 
Today's challenge from NaPoWriMo http://www.napowrimo.net/day-ten-3/ is to "write an abecedarian poem - a poem with a structure derived from the alphabet. There are a couple of ways of doing this. You could write a poem of 26 words, in which each word begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. You could write a poem of 26 lines, where each line begins with a successive letter. Or finally, if you'd prefer to narrow your focus, perhaps you could write a poem which focuses on a few letters, using words that repeat them." I chose the second option, partly because, as you'll see, it relates to something I've done before, and partly, to be honest, because it seemed easiest.


After lunch, sitting at my desk relaxing
(Because my boss enjoyed his 2- and 3-drink lunches and
Could be counted on not to return before 2:30 or so), I
Doodled on yellow legal pads. Sometimes down the
Edge I'd list the letters of the alphabet, then names for the
Family I would one day have. Mostly I listed
Girls' names: Aine, Bridget, Cathleen, Deirdre,
Homing in on my Irish heritage, but others, too. Guenevere,
Isolde - I loved tragic Arthurian romances - and
Juanita, after my second grade teacher and a song my grandfather sang.
Keeping things romantic, mythical, pre-Raphaelite, I included
Lilith, but only the one from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem. And no
Marys, Margarets, or even Maries. Too common.
Niobe's a lovely name, I thought, but not with all those tears.
Or Niamh, but it was unpronounceable, I thought then.
Patrick was good (my mother's named Patricia; she'd have
Quite liked a grandchild named after her), or Quentin, for a boy.
Ragnar would be a great name for a dog;
Sometimes I made lists of dogs' names
Too. (Ragnar was Ernest Borgnine's character in The Vikings.)
Ursula's a name I considered for my dog Greta, who fell
Victim to distemper as a pup but survived because
We gave her Certo pectin to combat dehydration, and it worked.
Xena wasn't around then or I might have named my daughter after the warrior princess.
Yolanda was my best friend when we were little yet her name showed up
Zero times on my lists. I wonder why? I always liked that name.

So what would be on your list of names, and why? And please, I'd love to read any comments you care to make.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

BIRD WORK - April Poem #9

Today I'm doing the taxes, but poetry comes first. Even when it's a struggle, I'd rather at least attempt to write poetry than do the taxes. Today's poem combines Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides prompt  http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-9, to "write a work poem," with There Is No Pilot's directive http://there-is-no-pilot.blogspot.com/2015/03/prompts-for-poem-day-challenge-april.html?spref=fb to write a sonnet. Writing a sonnet is work in itself, and as I sit here at my desk I can look out the window at two feeders where an assortment of birds - hummingbirds, quail, doves, curve-billed thrashers, house finches, and sparrows, at the moment, though a pyrrhuloxia or some goldfinches may show up - are also at work. I feel very lucky to have such an abundance of wildlife to watch in my yard (the lizards are also busy this time of year, and we have a lovely blonde tarantula making her home on one of Joe's recently built terraces, but this poem's not about them - maybe later).


They have one job that comes first. It's eating,
so they can perform their other tasks:
fleeing predators, building nests, mating,
feeding and protecting their young, who lack
skills, except eating and defecating,
the last quite cleverly, hanging their back-
sides over the nest edge and not shitting
in it.  Hygiene, instinct, a clever knack.

That's how we dismiss their accomplishments.
Free as a bird, we say, like they don't toil,
hunting and being hunted, always intent
on seeking insects in air, grubs in soil,
seeds, water, sticks and safe places for nests.
Nor do they sing only to bring us joy.

                  - Victoria Stefani (draft)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I DARE YOU - April Poem #8

Today's prompt from Robert Lee Brewer's "Poetic Asides"  http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2015-april-pad-challenge-day-8 is to "write a dare poem. This poem could be written as a dare to someone. It could make a daring proclamation. It could involve a dare that someone has accepted . . . or refused. In a way, each day of this challenge is a dare to write a poem."

I feel fortunate to still be in touch with so many of my classmates from our junior high and high school days in the small Idaho town where I grew up. Of course, back in those days, sometimes just walking out the door to go to school seemed like an act of great daring . . . and some days required more daring than others, like the the noon dances on Fridays in junior high (as if junior high itself wasn't torture enough) . . . .


On Fridays at lunch we got 20 minutes to eat,
then, whether we wanted to or not, everyone
assembled in the gym, a couple hundred
nervous, sweaty, giggling, silent, blushing, or pale
seventh- and eighth-graders, boys on the east side,
girls on the west, in our stocking feet.

When the music started the boys, the brave ones,
the jocks, the popular ones, the confident ones, the ones
with girlfriends waiting on the other side,
crossed that wasteland, that no-man's-land
to ask some girl to dance. The rule for girls
was, if you turned anyone down, you couldn't
dance to that song with anyone else.

But there was Crazy Ed. He twitched, sometimes
he drooled, but it took guts to cross that space
and smile. When he got turned down
he moved to the next girl, left or right,
you never knew which way he'd go, down the line.
We held our breath till someone took pity
(though never for a slow dance) or the song finished.

Then he'd walk back, turn, and do it all over again.
I dare you, the girls whispered to one another
when we saw him coming.
I dare you. I dare you to be brave.
I dare you to be kind.

            - Victoria Stefani (draft)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April Poem #7: The Gold Kimono

I'm struggling with this one. I like the challenge of writing to prompts, but the only one that spoke to me today is the one from There Is No Pilot: "Select five objects from the room you're in and write a poem in which you recontextualize them - put them in a different landscape, or in a junkyard, or some other place." I was in my bedroom when I read this, a room filled with objects with varying degrees of interest or resonance for me, but it wasn't until I went into my study that I saw something I really wanted to write about, though I think ultimately what it calls for may be a story rather than a poem. My poems have been getting so long lately (except for yesterday)! Five objects? One was challenge enough.

She brought it home from Japan after the war,
after the Occupation. She’d been an army nurse
there, in Yokohama, in the former Swedish
consulate pressed into service as a hospital,
its huge rooms, designed for diplomatic
entertaining, turned into wards.

I grew up on her war stories. Dances
at the officers’ club – all the nurses were officers
and not supposed to date enlisted men.
How she was dancing at the officers’ club
in Mindinao when the band suddenly stopped
playing and a general announced
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then they went to Japan, where the nurses and WACs
weren’t allowed to go out without a man.
But still she made it sound like a party.
She laughed when she told me about a pilot boyfriend
who took her up in a little plane to buzz
the farmers in their rice paddies.

She brought home souvenirs, elaborately
carved and painted mahogany shower shoes
from the Philippines, whole jungle villages
incised into their wedge heels.
I wore them to play dress-up.

I didn’t know about the kimono.
She gave it to her mother, who put it away
in a cedar chest because it had no obi.
Long years after Grandma died, she gave it to me,
and I put it in my own cedar chest
Years after that she told me how she got it,
how her soldier boyfriend asked her if she’d like one.
They were all buying them for their wives
or mothers or sweethearts, and she let him choose one for her,
muted shades of purple silk with ivory streaks
like ripples on water, and chrysanthemums,
purple, gold, and ivory, floating on the water.
People were poor, she said, after the war,
and probably happy to sell.

A Japanese friend showed me how to hang
it from a bamboo rod, on a wall painted
gold to set it off. I look at it and wonder
whose it was, what mother or grandmother
sold it, how long it had been in that family.
As long as in mine, seventy years now?
I would give it back, but to whom?
I will never understand what’s woven in that cloth.
                    - Victoria Stefani (draft)

Comments, please!