On groundhogs, leach fields and curses

Recently, Mary Lee Hahn shared a link to a delightful old blog post of hers that featured paint chips and poetic curses (here). I was intrigued and tucked away the idea to play with later.

And then today happened.

Today was actually a continuation of events that happened earlier this week. It all began when, in search of blackberries, I wandered over our leach field (for those who don’t know, that’s a critical component of a septic system). And I noticed that the ground felt uneven (for those who don’t know, the ground should be flat and even). Looking around, I discovered random piles of sand on top of the grass (for those who don’t know, sand is a component of a leach field and is NOT supposed to be above the ground). This was not a small amount of sand. This could NOT be good.

Um, Kurt, I said, a few minutes later to my husband, pointing out the intermittently spaced 8-9 inch circumference sand volcanos, What’s going on here?

Then we looked at each other, the gears shifting and aligning. We remembered the groundhogs we’d had to get rid of a couple of years ago for suspicious activity in the area. Remembered the cute groundhog that had visited us a couple of times recently. The one we thought had been living under the barn. We also remembered the missing broccoli and leaf lettuce in the garden. The fact that groundhogs love to burrow. It took a while, but the light went on.

Kurt appraised the situation and strategically set a trap. We decided to wait and see what happened for a couple of days and then call in the experts.

Then today, I heard a suspicious watery noise emanating from the basement. Upon investigation I discovered a pipe emitting a steady waterfall which had formed a lazy river along our creepy dirt basement floor.

Uh oh.

I went outside to find Kurt and brought him down to the basement.

Where does that pipe go? I asked him, pointing to the leaking pipe.

Cue the ominous music and the duh Duh DUHhhhhhh!!!!! followed by a long pause.

The septic system, Kurt replied.

The septic system? I asked.

The septic system.

Another long pause.

Are you positive?

Yes.

Clearly this discovery pushed things up to the next response level. I dove into our files searching for our septic service company’s phone number and found the receipt for our last date of service.

Oops.

Another discovery for the day…we had maybe kind of sort of forgotten in the midst of Covid and life in general to get the tank pumped out in a timely manner. We were more than overdue.

So which came first, the groundhog or the overfilled system?

After a frantic afternoon of googling, facebook requests for help, phone calls and explanations(Piles of what on your leach field?), a welcome dose of good luck and a hefty bill, we now have no leaking pipe, an emptied and functioning system and instructions for how to deal with the groundhogs.

Yes, unfortunately, we were right. Groundhogs are burrowing into our leach field. Luckily, it seems like most of today’s issues stemmed from the overdue cleaning, but we still have to deal with the groundhogs or we could have much more significant issues arise.

All this is the background to why I found myself considering curse poems again today.

I reread Mary Lee’s poem and copied her list of synonyms for curse. Then I googled “curse poems” and found this poem by J.M. Synge, which he apparently wrote to the sister of an enemy:

The Curse

Lord, confound this surly sister,
Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver,
In her guts a galling give her.

Isn’t that fantastic to read aloud?

Finally, this evening, with the events of the day and those poetic inspirations in mind, I settled in to vent my spleen by writing a curse poem. It’s been a long day and it’s still a drafty poem, but I feel a little bit better.

A Curse on the Invading Groundhog

Rise ye gods and cast a spell
upon this creature spawned from hell
Jinx his scurvy rodent hide
taunt him with groundhogicide

Bedeck his coat with mange and pox
Bung up his ev’ry tunnel with rocks
Behex his stolen greens to rot 
spoil his food and give him nought

Blast him with pustuling blisters
cramp his innards into twisters
plague him with wounds rank and septic
make his every hour dyspeptic

Roust him from his stealthy burrow
drive him over field and furrow 
Raise his fever by degrees
’til he yields the field and flees

©Molly Hogan, draft

Here’s hoping the groundhog responds to this curse. Truly, it’s better than the alternatives.

Margaret Simon has this week’s Poetry Friday Round up at her blog, Reflections on the Teche. Be sure to stop by and see what’s on offer and wish her a Happy Birthday!

Poetry Friday is here!

Welcome to Poetry Friday! It’s been a while since I’ve hosted and I’m so glad to be here!

This month Catherine Flynn chose our Inklings challenge prompt. She asked us to “Write a poem about any sport you have a connection to–one you participate(d) in or love to watch. Use any form you think works best.”

I must admit that I’m not much of a sports lover, but I do have a favorite sports-themed poem: Robert Francis’s “The Base Stealer.” I’m not sure how or when I first stumbled upon it, but it’s also been a perennial favorite with my fourth graders. It’s a short poem and choosing just one section to highlight is HARD! I wish I could share it in its entirety.

To provide some context, it begins like this:

“Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tightrope-walker,”

A few lines later, the midsection is one of my favorite parts:

“Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball
Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on,
Running a scattering of steps sidewise,
How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases,
Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,”

Fabulous, right!? It could almost make me believe that, as some say, baseball is poetry in motion. Here’s Robert Francis reading the poem in its entirety:

Or, if you prefer to read the poem yourself, click here.

Regardless of my love of this poem, Baseball is NOT my favorite sport by any stretch. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I find it pretty dang boring. I’m sure that’s because I don’t understand the nuances of the game. Regardless, I don’t view it with a favorable eye and I don’t have any warm and fuzzy memories of playing as a child. Still, I opted to focus on baseball for this sports-themed challenge. I’m sharing two responses, from two different perspectives.

©Molly Hogan, draft

Still In the Game

I wear no uniform
but my heart races
My eyes fix on their target
blood pounds in my ears
My hands grip, twitch and tense
The roar of the crowd
swells around me
I shift on the edge
of my seat
poised for triumph
or defeat

My kid’s up at bat.

©Molly Hogan, draft

If you’re interested in seeing what the other Inklings did with this challenge, click on the names below:

Linda Mitchell
Margaret Simon
Catherine Flynn
Heidi Mordhorst
MaryLee Hahn

Be sure to add your post to this week’s Roundup by joining the Inlinkz link party. I’m so looking forward to reading all of your poetry offerings 🙂 Here’s your formal invitation:

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

PF: Garden Haiku and Poetry Swaps

Every year the hydrangea puts on a show in my garden. Even this summer, when much of the state of Maine is in moderate drought, it’s persisted in its effusive blossoming. It looks like it’s in a perpetual state of celebration.

Summer Garden

hydrangea blossoms drift
in bold cumulous clouds
still no rain

©Molly Hogan

After taking a year off last year, I opted to join in the Poetry Swap again this summer. I chose to participate in 3 of the 5 swaps and have enjoyed both creating and receiving. A huge thank you to Tabatha Yeatts for organizing all the fun!

For my first swap, Margaret Simon sent me a clothbound notebook with several of my photos inside, accompanied by her elegant haiku. She invited me to fill the remaining pages, writing, “A conversation perhaps, from poet to poet, photo to poem, and space for your own”– A personal gift and a lovely invitation.

In my second swap, Patricia Franz sent me a dazzling Chagall postcard with a poem inspired by the Chicago skyline and rich with imagery and metaphor.

Marc Chagall American Windows, “Literature” and “Freedom”
(panels 3 and 4)

Chicago – for Molly Hogan

bridges hopscotch a ribboned river
emerald green relief for ageing architected towers
standing shoulder to shoulder like fellow immigrants
in a photograph for posterity

the burly and the refined,
both weathered and worn by the same wind
that welcomed them, daring
to reinvent themselves
to do history’s hard work

July 4, 2022
©draft, Patricia J. Franz

I also finally dove into my copy of Buffy Silverman‘s newest book, “On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasure”. Wow! What a beauty! I hope you’ll go check out my review here.

Overall this week, I’m feeling grateful for poetry in words and in my garden.

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Marcie Flinchum Atkins at her blog. She’s sharing information about the Sealey Challenge and some of her strategies, along with a lovely haiku.

Garden Wonder

I typically spend a fair amount of time taking photographs, but this summer I seem to have lost some of that motivation. My morning field trips to marsh, beach, or the river, have more or less evaporated. I still wake early in the morning, but have had no desire to head out to take pictures.

This morning, after more than a week of high temperatures, morning, noon, and night, it was a delight to wake to cool temperatures again. Yesterday’s downpours had cleared the air and drenched the greenery. They apparently also reinvigorated me. After my coffee and morning notebook time, I stepped outside, camera in hand, to see how my gardens were faring.

How can I forget how easy it is to fall into wonder with the world right outside my door?

On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures

Somedays you just get lucky. I had one of those days not too long ago. Buffy Silverman noticed that I had mentioned on someone’s blog that I was going to be teaching second grade this coming year. Since Pre K-2 is her target audience, she immediately sent me an e-mail with a preview copy of her soon-to-be-published picture book, “On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures”.

Back in December of 2019 I reviewed Buffy’s book, “On a Snow-Melting Day.” (here) Having thoroughly enjoyed that book, I couldn’t wait to check this one out, but then, for no particular reason, I did. It sat in my e-mail box, unread, for two or three weeks, pushed to the side by summer to-do lists, travel and outdoor activities. Yesterday, as the temperature soared once again into the 90’s, and I was actively avoiding chores and those same outdoor activities, it suddenly seemed like the perfect time to dive into some fall-inspired text. I’m so glad I did!

Over and over again, this book wowed me. Buffy is a master at combining poetic craft, photography and science. Her rhymes are natural, original and engaging and the text interacts beautifully with the book’s photographs, many of which are Buffy’s own. Like her previous book, this book is an invitation to children (and adults) to notice the everyday wonders that surround them and to play with putting words to them. It’s crafted beautifully from beginning to end, with compelling and creative word choices and first-rate photography. There’s also interesting and accessible back matter.

Take a peek at one of my favorite spreads:

Stunning, right?

Now check out some of the associated back matter:

Notice how this text not only adds a layer of science, but also provides context for understanding the word “rumble.” Each entry is constructed this way. So, the back matter not only provides extra scientific information for those who want to dig deeper, it also simultaneously builds vocabulary. Win-win!

“On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures” is a celebration of all things autumnal and a treasure in and of itself. It’s sure to be a hit with the Pre-K – 2 audience and would be a fabulous addition to any classroom library. Be sure to check it out!

PF: Poetic Indigestion

This has been an odd summer. I feel like I sort of fell into it in a stupor after the trials of the past year. I’ve been trying to regain my equilibrium, to find some sort of stable ground beneath my feet. One way of doing that has been to push myself to get back to blogging twice a week, which generally means Slice of Life on Tuesday and a Poetry Friday post. Since I’m still a bit off, I rarely have a post ready to go and typically find myself scrambling on Tuesday and Friday mornings. I guess that’s really a long way of saying, “I just wrote this”, which was the only thing one writing instructor I had allowed writers to say before sharing our newly written work, in order to avoid long explanations, apologies for quality, etc.

This week (and maybe last week…and perhaps the week before…) I’ve been obsessed pre-occupied with my first, much-delayed routine colonoscopy. In fact, I should probably write an apology poem to everyone in my household who has been an unwilling partner on my anxious journey to yesterday’s early morning appointment. Perhaps it was my focus on intestinal issues that prompted this recent notebook entry (which probably shouldn’t see the light of day, but it keeps making me giggle, so I’m sharing it anyway):

Poetic Indigestion

These days
poems feel
a bit like bubbles
caught in my throat
definitely there, but
not quite ready
to emerge

Nature helps
Each everyday wonder
acts like a gentle nudge
to push that bubble upward
and oh-wayward-analogy
burp it out

©Molly Hogan, draft

Yesterday’s procedure definitely inspired this acrostic, which came to mind as I tried to drift back to sleep this morning:

Grossly Unfair

Congratulations! Your colonoscopy is
Over! Everything is normal. We
Look forward to seeing you in ten years.
Oh, Wait! Your sisters had polyps?
Never mind–see you in five!

©Molly Hogan, draft

Sorry to bombard you with intestinally-inspired poetry, but at least I didn’t add photos!

This week Mary Lee Hahn is hosting Poetry Friday at her blog, A(nother) Year of Reading. She’s sharing a heart-tugging poem inspired by a clunker line from Linda Mitchell’s Third Annual Clunker Exchange.

Come On, Rain!

Yesterday, much to my delight, I noticed that rain was in the forecast. Much, much needed rain. As the skies greyed through the day, I found myself murmuring, Come on, rain!, over and over again, making me think of Karen Hesse’s fabulous picture book of the same name.

Finally, at around 3 pm, the rain started. Just a sprinkle or two at first. Come on, rain! Next a misting. Come on, rain!! Then, finally, the mist solidified into steady showers. Come on, rain!!!! Looking out my window at my garden, I could practically feel the plants shaking the dust off, their roots stirring and drinking, leaves plumping. I imagined them as jubilant as the young girls in Hesse’s book:

Thankfully, it continued to rain through the night. A soft, steady rush of water. Come on, rain!

In the middle of the night, or perhaps early in the morning, I woke with words running through my mind. I reached for pen, paper, and my book light, then scrawled them quickly so I wouldn’t forget them.

When I awoke this morning, I reached for the paper, remembering I’d written something on it, but not fully aware of what I’d recorded. Canticle? Do I even know that word? As you can see by the “?” on my paper, even my night-time mind wasn’t sure it made sense or that I was spelling it correctly. I looked it up to find that I had spelled it correctly and used it correctly, too, as it means a “hymn or chant.” The mind’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

Here’s what I ultimately did with those words:

The Rustle of Plants: A Translation

On this morning of rain
after endless days
of sun’s piercing gaze
we absorb its blessing
and offer up
a canticle of praise.

©Molly Hogan

PF: Sisters

Earlier this week I wrote a post called “On Grief’s Tender Gifts“. While it seems counterintuitive, I’ve come to realize that grief does offer comforts, many of them deeply moving. Often they involve interactions with others and acts of kindness. In 2021, as we navigated our father’s illness and death, my sisters and I united in a way that resonates as yet another “tender gift of grief.”

Surely the collective noun for a group of sisters must be a blessing.

To My Sisters

It’s not that we weren’t close
or didn’t get along
but the crucible
of his illness
seared away our imperfections
forged us 
into something powerful
unbreakable and true
Perhaps this was Dad’s
final tender gift
to us all

©Molly Hogan

This week the Poetry Roundup can be found on Elisabeth Norton’s blog, Unexpected Intersections. She’s sharing a wonderful, original poem highlighting what can be revealed when we “break routine and change directions.”

On Grief’s Tender Gifts

Last month I came home from packing up my classroom to an unexpected package in the mail. I saw from the return address that it was from my friends, Dan and Hannah, two of the nicest and most considerate people you’d ever want to meet. I set it aside as I finished unloading the car, wondering all the while, What in the world could it be?

After finally unloading everything, I turned my attention back to the package. As I unwrapped the brown paper package, a soft beautiful hand-knitted shawl fell warmly into my hands. Ooooh! I sunk my hands into it and immediately wrapped it around me. I was still at a loss, though. Why had they sent me this? I dug around in the package in search of an explanation. Aha! There at the bottom was a letter. I pulled it out and opened it.

The letter offered a full explanation. Hannah is an in-home hairdresser and has a 96-year-old client, Helen, who lost her son to pancreatic cancer nine years ago. When he died, she was devastated. Ultimately she decided to make a prayer/comfort shawl in his memory. She chose to knit it in an ocean palette as her son made his living from the sea. When she was done knitting it, she asked Hannah if she knew anyone to whom it might bring comfort. Hannah had another client on hospice and she gave him the shawl.

This initial exchange blossomed into an ongoing practice. Helen has continued to make shawls and give them to others with Hannah as her conduit. At this point she has shared more than 75 shawls! Although she does not seek thanks or acknowledgement, she cherishes the notes she receives from recipients and feels that knitting these shawls has helped her deal with her loss. After summarizing this story, Hannah added a note for me, “We thought you might need a little extra comfort on Father’s Day. And the colors of this shawl seemed to me to speak comfort. And Peace.” I pulled the shawl closer around my shoulders and kept it on me all that evening, feeling grateful for its warmth on the cool evening and for the thoughtfulness of friends.

The next day I went to spend time with my dear friend, Sue, who was at home in hospice. I brought the shawl with me. Leaning close to her, I told her the story of Helen and the shawls.

“Oh, how lovely,” she whispered.

I tucked the shawl carefully around her and told her I wanted to share it with her. That I hoped it would bring her comfort.

Today I read a poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer called “As We Sang the Hymn at My Father’s Funeral”. This portion of it really captures that sense I have had so often lately–the feeling that within my grief, I have been blessed by the kindness of others:

Grief comes with its arms full of blessings.
I am not grateful for the loss,
but there is so much beauty in how the world
rises up to hold us—cradles us with kindness,
cradles us with song. There is so much good
in how grief asks us to be tender with each other—

(click here to read the full poem)

I have the shawl back now. The woven fibers hold Helen’s sorrow and comfort, her remembrance of her son and mine of my father, the kindness of Hannah and Dan, and the essence of Sue. Most mornings I wrap myself in it as I write. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.

PF: A Stolen Moment

I just spent some time in Tennessee enjoying family and unfamiliar scenery. One afternoon I spent some time sitting under a crepe myrtle tree, lingering in the moment, looking down over the lake and into the distant fading ridges of mountains. Ahhhhhhh….

Sitting Under the Crepe Myrtle

Sheltered from midday sun
surrounded by the hum of bees
the rustle of leaves
the heartbeat of the tree
Blossom sweet serenity

©Molly Hogan

This week the warm and wonderful Jan Annino is hosting. Be sure to stop by and check out her blog at Bookseedstudio.