Catherine Flynn had our Inklings challenge this month. She took her prompt from the book How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. Here was the invitation she shared: “Can you remember a time when you felt so consumed with the act of making something that you lost all sense of time and your mind seemed to clear? What allowed you to enter this mindful creative space?” When we talked about the prompt, there was some discussion of flow and losing oneself in the flow.
To be honest, there’s a little bit too much flow going on around here, because apparently January flowed right into February without my paying too much attention. Bottom line: I did not remember that our Inkling challenge was due until last night when I was in bed. Oops. And then I had a full day of PD today.
I came home determined to write something. I thought about times I’d felt immersed in creativity, lost to the ticking of the clock, and almost always I remembered mornings outside with my camera in hand. These are such magical moments for me. My mind wandered, recalling vivid sunrises, spiraling sea smoke, soaring birds and dazzling explosions of hoarfrost…the next thing I knew, I was waking up in my chair. It really has been a long, long week.
I finally cobbled together a nonet, expanding from a couple of lines I’d written in my notebook.
Dawn tendrils into full blossoming day. Watch the world wake and shake off nighttime shadows Follow its invitation from one hidden gem to the next Lose yourself in winter’s enchantment
I’ve been toying around with choosing One Little Word (OLW) for a while now. As best as my speedy, somewhat superficial Google search could find, this practice was started by Ali Edwards as a creative project. She wrote, “In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January—a word to focus on, to live with, to investigate, to write about, to craft with, and to reflect upon as I go about my daily life.” This is a practice that’s always intrigued me, but I’ve only joined in twice before. This year, however, without any conscious intention, I found myself contemplating potential word candidates early in December. Apparently, I was once again drawn to the idea of having a word as a sort of guide, or touchstone, to come back to again and again throughout the year.
Over the past weeks, I’ve considered a few words. At first I thought, “Hmmm….How about “Choose” for a OLW? That could be a good word.” And it could be. But then I remembered that “Choose” had been my word in 2016. Oops. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but my first thought was…stagnation.
Back to the drawing board.
I thought of “Grow” next. I liked the gardening connection and the idea of metaphorically tending the soil, pulling out weeds, nourishing new growth. I’d like to grow and push myself into new areas of challenge this year. Still, it felt a bit too passive and didn’t fully resonate. On multiple layers I also didn’t love the definition’s big emphasis on simply getting larger.
“Begin?” I considered that for a while. I liked the push toward starting something, toward moving forward. It felt simple but potentially powerful. Still, it didn’t feel quite right.
Then, another word came to me: “Cultivate.” It’s akin to grow, but implies more deliberate, active choice.
I repeated the word out loud several times. I liked that it was a verb. I even liked the way it felt in my mouth when I said it. I looked it up. (Sometimes a word has meanings that you haven’t considered, and I wanted to cover my bases.) With cultivate, there’s the obvious definition of preparing for and growing crops, but there’s a lot of interesting nuance, too. Merriam-Webster includes these definitions: “to foster the growth of”, “to improve by labor, care, or study : refine”, and to “further or encourage.” The Cambridge Dictionary includes “to try to develop and improve something” and “to create a new condition by directed effort”.
I can think of so many things I want to cultivate within myself and within my immediate environment–relationships, curiosity, creativity, gratitude, a growth mindset, and on and on and on. It feels like a good fit. It combines aspects of choice, grow and begin in one dynamic and purposeful word.
So, there it is. I’m in. I’m tilling the soil and planting the fertilizer. My OLW for 2023: Cultivate.
The Poetry Princesses invited others to join in the fun this month and tackle cascade poems. I was immediately drawn by the name of the form and then intrigued by the mix of structure and freedom within it. Robert Lee Brewer succinctly describes it thus: “For the cascade poem, a poet takes each line from the first stanza of a poem and makes those the final lines of each stanza afterward. Beyond that, there are no additional rules for rhyming, meter, etc.” Here’s my cascade poem:
As Fall Turns to Winter
Outside the snow keeps falling but our fire burns bright even as the world disappears
We stand by the windows joined by our pale reflections Outside the snow keeps falling
We’re quieter these days tender and bruised, a bit sadder but our fire burns bright
We watch as our reflections reach out, hold hands, hold on even as the world disappears.
It was cold. Really cold. Like single digit cold. Still, I was itchy to get out and photograph a sunrise. I was overdue for a weekend photo foray. Friday’s snow still clung to the trees, and it was sure to be a beautiful morning, even if the sunrise was muted. I bundled up and set out, heading south to a beach I rarely visit.
I arrived at the beach about 15 minutes before sunrise. A few rocks rose above the surf, drawing my eye. I watched the waves lift and swell around them. The interwoven patterns left on the sand by the receding tide picked up the early light, glowing. Small depressions of frozen salt water crackled with geometric shapes and crunched beneath my boots. The clouds clung low to the horizon, like a steel grey mountain range. Walking the shore, watching the colors shift in the sky, I felt myself relax into the rhythm of the morning.
As the day slowly lightened, I noticed wisps of sea smoke forming above the water. Even though my toes were going numb, I started grinning. Sea smoke is one of the most amazing gifts of winter. It forms when very cold air flows over relatively warmer seawater. Less dense than typical fog, it disperses easily with the slightest breeze. Today was calm enough and certainly cold enough. I prepared for the show. Sure enough, as the sun crept above the banks of clouds, I could see more and more sea smoke tendrilling above the water.
Then, as day broke, the air and waves gradually transformed to molten gold.
I stood, transfixed, for moment after moment after moment. Thankful. Reverent.
Experiences like this move me deeply. They ripple through me and lift me. I both lose and find myself, saturated in wonder.
After a long while, reality intruded. The deep growing ache in my fingers and toes sent me heading reluctantly back in the direction of the car. Even though I was hurting, I still struggled to pull myself away from the ever changing scene.
“Just one more picture,” I thought, again and again.
Eventually, I made it back to my car. The pain in my feet had become insistent at this point. I turned up the heat, blasting my boots with warmth, then drove along slowly, still lost in the glory of the morning.
Before too long, driving past a local land trust, I noticed the gleam and glow of snow and the silhouette of a favorite tree. Making a snap decision, I pulled into a convenient driveway, turned around, and headed back to the small parking lot.
“Molly, you are crazy,” I thought, as my toes throbbed in rebuke. “You’re going to permanently damage your feet.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured myself. “I’ll just take a photo or two.”
Parking quickly, I stepped out of the warm car into the freezing cold morning once again.
Walking through the snow, trying to get better lighting for my photo, I glanced down at the glimmering weeds and stopped in my tracks. What!? My mouth dropped. I crouched low to the ground, forgetting my aching toes for the moment. All along the snow, miniature forests of frost rose.
“Hoar frost!” I whispered.
It was as if I’d discovered a treasure chest of sparkling jewels. The moist air, combined with the bitter cold, had created an amazing winter wonderland. Everywhere I looked was enchantment. I moved giddily from branch to weed to berry, wondering at the intricate beauty all around me. Bedazzled and bewitched and beyond grateful. Again, I felt that lift. That buoyancy of spirit.
When I finally got back in the car, I was soaked through and my feet throbbed mercilessly. Still, I remained slightly stunned and totally awestruck. I kept thinking I might have missed all of this. I could have stayed home. I could have driven by. But I didn’t, and there was magic to be found.
I can’t remember when we last had a snow day. What a gift! I have all sorts of noble intentions, but keep finding myself drawn outside to take photographs, to watch the birds, to tilt my head back and watch the flakes appear as if by magic from the grey sky.
The gift of time as surely as snowflakes falling transforms the day
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Marcie Flinchum Atkins at her blog. Be sure to stop by and check out her post, which shares her book, some companion books, and a new haiku. The Poetry Friday community is always a gift!
I’ve been dabbling in cinquains lately. Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest describes a cinquain as a “nifty 5-line poetic form.” From start to finish, the syllable line count is 2,4,6,8,2. There’s some flexibility, as the poet can add or remove a syllable from each line. Recently, I discovered a daily cinquain prompt on Twitter (@AlexPriceWriter) and it’s been a fun, no stress way to start my day. Here are two from this past week:
My head: a mad slippery crowd of teeming thoughts struggling to make their way upstream to spawn.
This month Heidi challenged us to write in response to the theme of change. She wrote, “Write a poem that weighs the pros and cons of change… For extra fun, use any form, but consider starting in one form and gradually transitioning in the course of the poem to a quite different form.”
When we met for our biweekly meeting, we all confessed that none of us had created much poetry over the holidays. Mary Lee suggested that we try creating an exquisite corpse poem and then work from that to create our challenge poems. You can read a full explanation of the form here, but the long and the short of it is that one person sends a line of poetry privately to another person, who responds by creating their own line and sending it (and not the preceding line) on to the next person. This continues until everyone has added a line to the poem, seeing only the line that comes immediately before theirs. Our only guidance for this was the theme “Change.” I maybe whined a little before we started, but it was “fun”! (Thanks, Mary Lee!)
After each of us had contributed a line, here’s what we had:
Leaves on the forest floor understand and submit Submit without challenging the direction of the wind to wander and wind along our way the wind unwinds us day by day, shifting clouds, shining light or casting shadows Where steps and stones still lie.
Pretty cool, right?
We agreed that we could alter these lines in any way shape or form as we created our poems. I decided to bold the original words so you can see how they contributed to my effort.
Leaves on the forest floor acquiesce lift and subside, rustlesigh tornado-up toward blasting skies always at one with the wind
Meanwhile, flapping map clasped in hand we march onward focused on forecasting, predicting altering and resisting weather eye to the sky unaware of how much we’re missing
Still the wind unwinds us day by day, changeling breeze and blustery gale shifting clouds, shining light or casting shadows The only certainty that unknown steps and stones still lie ahead
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Catherine Flynn. You can go to her blog, Reading to the Core, to see how she responded to this challenge and other poetic offerings. You can check out the other Inkling responses by clicking below:
Maybe I was just in all out productive mode after the first day back at school after break. Last week I’d told my sisters I’d make the call and had even written it at the top of my vacation “To Do” list. Still, I’d totally forgotten, or, at any rate, I hadn’t done it when I actually had the time to do so.
So, when I got home today before 5 pm (yay!), I zipped in the door, dropped my bags and announced to my husband, “Sorry! I’ve got to make a phone call. I need to call Standing Rock and figure things out.”
Then I grabbed my computer and phone and rushed off to the living room. I was actually going to get something done…on a school night!
I guess I was just thinking of it as something to cross off a list. Not thinking about what I was actually doing. Not really thinking at all, just in go-mode.
I googled the number and clicked the green phone icon. A pleasant voice answered after a few rings. “Hello, Standing Rock Cemetery.”
I swallowed hard and took a deep breath.
“Um, I’m calling for some information.” I cleared my throat. “I need to know about arranging an interment.”
I spent the next ten minutes or so gathering information about timing, dates, availability. I learned about burial transit permits and learned the word “cremains.”
Next, I had to call the engraver. I took another deep breath, wiped away a few tears, and called. I explained that I was calling to check up on the status of an engraving for a cremation niche and to update it. The man at the engraver’s was clearly taken aback. “I’m just so surprised,” he said. “She was just here with her friend this fall. I remember her vividly as we had quite a lively conversation.”
You see, my father died on Thanksgiving Day in 2022. My stepmother arranged the niche for both of them this past September. She wasn’t ready to part with my dad’s ashes yet, but was adamant that she wanted to have everything organized and dealt with before she died. She was clear that she didn’t want us to have to deal with it all. And then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, in mid-October, she died.
So, I don’t know why I thought I would just be crossing something off a list tonight. Why it would be no big deal to make these phone calls.
After I got the information, I typed up an e-mail to share it with my sisters. And then I gave in and just cried.
I don’t know what I was thinking.
It’s done now, but I’m pretty sure I’m not even going to cross it off the list.
When I saw the Poetry Sisters’ challenge for the month, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about. It was something I’d already known that I would write about in some way, at some time. Knowing it and doing it are such different things though, aren’t they? I’ve found it difficult to find my way in, and am still uncertain about what I’ve written.
The challenge was to write a poem with a box theme. There was an additional suggestion to consider using a box form of some sort. After exploring a few options, I wound up choosing a quatern, not exactly a box form, but I liked the repetition and movement of the refrain.
One Not-So-Simple Box
One simple box on our doorstep delivered unexpectedly, filled with a spicy balsam scent and a Christmas wreath, evergreen
My stepmother’s annual gift one simple box on our doorstep arriving just as usual but stunningly unusual
This past November, sad and shocked, we celebrated her life. Now one simple box on our doorstep held both explosion and embrace
She’d pre-ordered in late July a holiday present now so reverberant with love and loss one simple box on our doorstep
I’m enjoying the pace of not-too-much-to-do or at least of time-enough-to-do-it-in during this week off of school. After leisurely running errands this afternoon, I drove the back way home, enjoying the scenery. As I passed over the bridge in town, I noticed the tell-tale silhouette of an eagle in a tree by the river. Behind it the sky was moody and dramatic. What a great image! I glanced at the seat beside me. Trash tags, library books, freshly ground coffee, the mail. No camera.
I drove the mile home, debating. Should I grab my camera and return? Would the eagle still be there if I did? Parking in the driveway, I hurried inside and grabbed my camera bag, stopping briefly to throw the coffee and mail on the counter. Why not try!? I’d never know if it was still there if I stayed at home.
In a few minutes I arrived back at the river and pulled into the nearby parking lot. Yes! The eagle was still there.
But wait! Wasn’t that another one?
And….yes! Further back, wasn’t that another one as well?
Whoa! There were three juvenile bald eagles in close proximity. What a treat! And to think I almost didn’t come back!
All too soon, the eagles flew off, swooping down low over the waters and then heading down river. Still, I lingered.
How could I have forgotten how much I enjoy the drama of the winter landscape? The grey/white/blue palette of the sky. The intermittent thaw and freeze of the river. The occasional eagle…or two…or three! The dipping and diving mergansers. The ebb and flow of winter life on the river. I soaked it all in, warm in spite of the cold temperatures.
It was the perfect way to round out the day, and a timely reminder that spending time outside should be a high priority over the next few days. I’m looking forward to every minute of it.