The Last Poem: Autobiographia

Today is the last day once again that I celebrate National Poetry Month on my blog. I have shared new poems, old poems, and a few favorites once again. I found this poem once again that I had posted a few years ago in April. I love to write and read memoir. This is a memoir-like poem worth posting again.  Reflecting on the theme of the poem, I have to say I had everything also and still do. Above are Mom and Dad back in the day.


I had everything and luck: Rings of smoke
blown for me; sunlight safe inside the leaves
of cottonwoods; pure, simple harmonies
of church music, echoes of slave songs; scraps
of candy wrappers-airborne. Everything.
Mother and father, brother, aunts, uncles;
chores and schoolwork and playtime. Everything.

I was given gloves against winter cold,
I was made to wear gloves when I gardened.
I was made to garden; taught to hold forks
in my left hand when cutting, in my right
when bringing food to my mouth. Everything.

I had clothes I was told not to wear outside;
a face you could clean up to almost handsome;
I had friends to fight with and secrets, spread
all over the neighborhood, the best teachers,
white and colored. I'm not making this up.
I knew that I had everything. Still do.

-G.E. Patterson

This House: Memories of Autie Lila's on Michigan Avenue

 When I returned to Orofino, Idaho last week for the funeral of my aunt I spent time walking inside and outside her house.

Looking out the kitchen window I remembered summers of my childhood and could just hear cousin John's logging truck like it was yesterday, honking the horn  as he drove by.

Walking down the narrow hallway I revisited the timeline of family photos, the shelves of books, and the many knickknacks.
She loved knickknacks.
Sitting in the living room drinking coffee with family I remembered late night cookies, breakfast smells from the kitchen, and a house full of treasures.

This poem illustrated what a house can hold.

This old house has seen the sunshine 
of many different years.
This old house has seen some happiness
This old house has seen some tears. This old house now seems so
Since you left with last
The smiles and talk, the
happy laughs
Echo above the lonely sighs Whether leaves are green in springtime
snow leaves lightly on the ground
This old house will hold the
Of all the old families sounds.

Edna Howard White

Verse for A Certain Dog

 This poem could have been written for all our canine friends, past and present. Here is Annie "singing" to Shelby.
Verse For a Certain Dog 
by Dorothy Parker

Such glorious faith as fills your limpid eyes,
Dear little friend of mine, I never knew.
All-innocent are you, and yet all-wise.
(For Heaven's sake, stop worrying that shoe!)
You look about, and all you see is fair;
This mighty globe was made for you alone.
Of all the thunderous ages, you're the heir.
(Get off the pillow with that dirty bone!)

A skeptic world you face with steady gaze;
High in young pride you hold your noble head,
Gayly you meet the rush of roaring days.
(Must you eat puppy biscuit on the bed?)
Lancelike your courage, gleaming swift and strong,
Yours the white rapture of a winged soul,
Yours is a spirit like a Mayday song.
(God help you, if you break the goldfish bowl!)

"Whatever is, is good" - your gracious creed.
You wear your joy of living like a crown.
Love lights your simplest act, your every deed.
(Drop it, I tell you- put that kitten down!)
You are God's kindliest gift of all - a friend.
Your shining loyalty unflecked by doubt,
You ask but leave to follow to the end.
(Couldn't you wait until I took you out?)

A Place Called Home

A Place Called Home

I’m from
A logging truck hauling along the rutted road
sun peaking over the eastern mountain.
I’m from baby starlings squawking for their first feeding.

I’m from
a glowing fireplace, icy cold Busch beer, BBQ, bluebirds
dark soil, dogs song singing, daylilies, dame’s rocket.
I’m from fresh garden peas, farm eggs, morning glory, fur,
water gurgling, clouds dividing, lilacs lingering, green beans sprouting.

I’m from
first spring crocus, frosty winter ice, fiery autumn leaves, fragrant summer roses.

I’m from
four dog memorials, cats that never came back, rabbits that grew old,
funerals for neighbors too soon and weddings in the yard.
I’m from reminders in the handwritten recipe,
vivid orange trumpet vine, a blooming dogwood.

I’m from
empty food dishes, a collar on a nail, and a photo of two black cats.

I’m from laughing at a joke, sharing a simple meal, saying a prayer,
early evening garden tours, and creating a place called home.

by Christy Woolum


I love Mark Halperin's poem about tulips.

May our failed hopes rise like tulips
Out of the cold ground,
And, when we look around,
There our satin bowls are, chocolates,
And swaying, velvety clarets, aglow
With memories of help we thought would
Appear and beliefs we watered.
And we do have something to show,
goblet-like reminders of our stubborn
labors – or we don’t, and refuse
odorless flowers and choose
to live without consolation.
Mark Halperin

First published in River Styx, issue 61, 2001

The Peace of Wild Things

Yes Mr. Berry, there is peace with the wild things.

The Peace of Wild Things 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

Judith Viorst's Happiness

We examine, experience, lose, question, discuss, dismiss, search for, and relish happiness. Judith Viorst reconsidered it with new eyes. 

Happiness (Reconsidered)

Is a clean bill of health from the doctor,
And the kids shouldn't move back home for
more than a year,
And not being audited, overdrawn, in Wilkes-Barre,
in a lawsuit or in traction.

Is falling asleep without Valium,
And having two breasts to put in my brassiere,
And not (yet) needing to get my blood pressure lowered,
my eyelids raised or a second opinion.

And on Saturday nights
When my husband and I have rented
Something with Fred Astaire for the VCR,
And we're sitting around in our robes discussing,
The state of the world, back exercises, our Keoghs,
And whether to fix the transmission or buy a new car,
And we're eating a pint of rum-raisin ice cream
on the grounds that
Tomorrow we're starting a diet of fish, fruit and grain,
And my dad's in Miami dating a very nice widow,
And no one we love is in serious trouble or pain,
And our bringing-up-baby days are far behind us,
But our senior-citizen days have not begun,
It's not what I called happiness
When I was twenty-one,
But it's turning out to be
What happiness is. 

Snake River

After traveling along the Snake River today I was inspired by this poem.

Snake River

Just one look

Take one look -
There are wonders here
Sights you can’t believe.
So incredible you’d swear your eyes are
Playing tricks on you.

One look
This way, waterfalls.
Over there, mountains, ancient rocks,
They wrap around
The Snake like primordial guardians.

One look
Is all it takes to want to stay no matter what
Just to see
White-shagged mountain goats, trumpet-eared bighorn sheep.
It only takes one look to fall in love.

Read more here:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Remembering Auntie Lila...

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

When We Come Together As Family

The poem below reminded me of how true this is when family hasn't been together for awhile. The line I love is "it pulls around us like a drawstring, that time, when we come together." As the family gathered today to pay our last respects to my Auntie Lila, I was reminded of this poem. I love this moment with my mother and her brother Bob. They were remembering stories of childhood like it was yesterday.It was like a drawstring pulling us together.


all he would have to say is,
remember the time I came home
with a beard and Dad didn’t know me,
and we would all laugh,
Mom would say, just by your voice,
I knew your voice, and my sister
would say, the dog kept barking, and
I would say, that was the
summer I got a camera.
it pulls around us
like a drawstring, that time,
when we come together,
awkward and older,
our frayed conversations
trying to thread some memory
of each other,
one of us will only have to say,
remember the time you came home
from the bush with your beard,
and we were all easy again
with each other,
some will say how
Mom knew his voice, someone
will remember how the dog barked, I
will remember my new camera,
and we are a family again,
young and laughing on the front porch.

-Leona Gom 


We always have so much to be thankful for. Here is Grace.


by Rafael Jesus Gonzalez

Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want - for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace.

Fresh View: Extreme Tree Makeover

 My husband decided he was tired of the pine cones and pine needles from a few big pines behind our house. 

They also blocked the view. One by one he has taken down the trees this week. Lots of work for Everett, lots of firewood for winter, lots of work ahead splitting and clearing the trees. 

Woman Who Loves Gardening: An Original Poem

 A few years ago I was at a workshop with a writer. This poem was the result of an exercise she did. I am truly the woman who loves gardening.

Woman Who Loves Gardening

I have dirty nails
and rarely paint them, living out
my long growing season in the flower garden, trellises
giving view to clematis, climbing Peace
where aromatic flowers
grow in profusion.
I pull the weeds
in the early morning
gritting my teeth
wiping sweat from my brow
and listening
to footsteps of my husband
coming in range to help.
Sun makes my face red;
each sniff with my nose
leaves lily pollen behind.
When I rest it’s the beauty
that causes anxiety to shake loose
from a woman in need
of a quiet place to retreat.
by Christy Woolum

I love Ted Kooser.

by Ted Kooser

Spinning up dust and cornshucks
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor’s crank that broke
the uncle’s arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from the meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.

The Women in My Family: To Be of Use

For many days I have reflected on the inspiration and strength I have gained from the women in my family. Work is and was a given in their lives. Marge Piercy's poem was fitting for my post tonight.

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

-Marge Piercy

Remembering the Queens of Canning

For all of us that have observed the process of canning, helped with canning, or done canning ourselves we know it is not for the weak or impatient! I was inspired to can foods myself by the Queens of Canning:  Auntie Lila, Mom, Grandma West, Grandma Woolum, my sister Carol, Aunt May, Cousin Helen, and Auntie Ronnie. Whether worms came out of the cherries, a few jars broke, or sticky stuff got all over the stove, it was all worth it. This poem just puts you there in a kitchen from youth with the smells of dill and garlic filling the air.

Canning Time

The floor was muddy with the juice of peaches
and my mother's thumb, bandaged for the slicing,
watersobbed. She and Aunt Wessie skinned
bushels that day, fat Georgia Belles
slit streaming into the pot. Their knives
paid out limp bands onto the heap
of parings. It took care to pack the jars,
reaching in to stack the halves
firm without bruising, and lowering
the heavy racks into the boiler already
trembling with steam, the stove malignant
in heat. As Wessie wiped her face
the kitchen sweated its sweet filth.
In that hell they sealed the quickly browning
flesh in capsules of honey, making crystals
of separate air across the vacuums.
The heat and pressure were enough to grow
diamonds as they measured hot
syrup into quarts. By supper the last jar
was set on the counter to cool
into isolation. Later in the night
each little urn would pop as it
achieved its private atmosphere and
we cooled into sleep, the stove now
neutral. The stones already
pecked clean in the yard were free to try
again for the sun. The orchard meat fixed in
cells would be taken down cellar in the
morning to stay gold like specimens
set out and labeled, a vegetal
battery we'd hook up later. The women
too tired to rest easily think of
the treasure they've laid up today
for preservation at coffin level, down there
where moth and rust and worms corrupt,
a first foundation of shells to be
fired at the winter's muddy back.
-Robert Morgan

Remembering Auntie Lila

I wrote this post in October 2010. Last night my Auntie Lila went to be with the Lord. I shared this with her at her ninetieth birthday celebration and I want to share it again today. 

My Auntie Lila is my mom's older sister. We saw her at least once a year during my growing up years. During the summer I often walked up Michigan Avenue from my grandma's house to visit her warm, inviting home. I can remember times she babysat children, watered her lawn, pruned roses, picked green beans, and got dinner started all before the heat really settled into the Orofino valley in the late afternoon. I used to love to sit in the kitchen while Mom and Lila had coffee and chatted about people and events that dated back to when they were kids.  There were many lessons I learned during all those years. Here are ten important ones:

1) Night Owls Rule! I used to love to stay overnight at Lila's in the summer because she loved to stay up really late and watch T.V. , visit, and have ice cream. I loved being another West night owl.

2) Headbands are Cool! My aunt has never looked her age, but I always loved it that she wore headbands to hold back her hair which made her seem very hip when I was a preteen.

3) Surround Yourself with Reading Material.  She has book shelves in her living room, book shelves in her hall, magazines and magazines on her coffee table, a great stack in the bathroom, newspapers around,and probably more books in the back room. I always found something interesting to read at Lila's and we share a love for reading.

4) Cookies Help You Through the Day. My aunt had a cookie jar that sat in the same place on the kitchen counter for as long as I can remember. It was always filled with cookies... always. She had these yummy Sunshine storeboughts that we never had at our house. It was such a treat to dig into the cookie jar while visiting.

5) You Need Your Beauty Sleep. Along with staying up it was always fun to sleep in at Lila's house. She was never one of those up at five o'clock a.m. aunties. It was okay to sleep in while on summer vacation.

  My Uncle Bob, Lila, Grandma West, and Mom in 1955.

6) It is All About Family. Lila's family is the center of her life. Her walls are covered with photos, she tells stories, visits family, loved it when her grandchildren were born,  would wait for her son to drive by in the logging truck, hoped her daughter would stop by after work at the clinic, was happy when her other daughter drove up from Boise, and seemed to like us tearing around in the summer also.

7) Home Grown Vegetables Are the Best. Lila had an incredible garden. My dad would wander around picking up tips from Lila before he got serious about raising his own garden. Whether corn, green beans, or cucumbers... they all tasted better out of her garden. 

8) A Yard Need Flowers. I probably have carried this lesson more than any others. Between my aunt and my two grandmothers growing flowers was instilled in me from a very early age. I remember thinking I could never grow roses because Lila's were magnificent and I figured that meant they were hard to grow. I loved the coleus, zinnias, and other bedding plants that surrounded her yard. Every year when I begin planting flowers I think of her.

9) Smile and the World Smiles with You. Lila is always smiling. She could have been baking a cake, boiling corn, and canning beans in the kitchen during a hot August day in Orofino, and she would have a smile when we came into the door.
 10) The Way To The Heart Is Through the Kitchen. Again,all the women in my family have surrounded me with a love for food, fellowship, recipes, dinners, birthday parties, and much time spent gathering around the table. She would bake cakes even if it was summer and hot. She perfected Swiss Steak with the best cut of sirloin from the Glenwood IGA and served it with buttered corn on the cob on the side. My brother shared the same birthday with my grandmother and here they are having a rare celebration together in the early sixties.

Around Us: Celebrating National Poetry Month

It is always smart to notice what we need around us.

Around Us   by Marvin Bell

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane's wing, and a worn bed of 
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks--a zipper or a snap--
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

Fresh Thinking: Why We Write

Even though I have shared this poem before, I looked at it with fresh eyes this evening. It led to a new way of thinking about writing, some fresh thinking.  I love the line "our words make us visible."

Why We Write
By Julia Cameron
There are many things which resist naming,
And that is why we write.
We write because language is slippery,
And the truth is.
We write because
The light we have to see by
Is always shifting
Never forget that writers are prophets.
We speak in tongues.
We testify.
We are for each other a believing mirror.
Our words make us visible.
Our listening makes us heard.

Never forget that writers are soldiers.
Our writing is the long march,
The walk into time.
Each word is a drum.
We sound it across great distances,
Reaching one another and ourselves.
Every poem is a day's march.
A celebration more necessary than water or wine.
Every poem is a drink of blood.

Never forget that writing is an act of courage -

Not on the days when it is simple and we discount it.

Not on the days when it is hard and we write like sand.

Our words are torches.

We pass them hand to hand

And mouth to mouth

Like a burning kiss.

Never forget to say thank you.

Every syllable is a grace.

The Art of Disappearing

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don't I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time. 

Buy Hyacinths to Feed thy Soul

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, 
And from they slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole 
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
Moslih Eddin Saadi

Working Together

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible

working together
in common cause,

to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air

passed at speed
round a shaped wing

holds our weight.

So may we, in this life

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

~ David Whyte ~
(House of Belonging)

Teaching Poetry: Invisible Indian

It seems only fitting that I would teach poetry more intensely to my students during National Poetry Month. We read and discussed this poem today. Ninety per cent of my students are Native American. They understood the poem, but were surprised that somebody thought the woman was Hispanic. They live among their people on the reservation where I teach. Indians know Indians. The last verse was the one that struck all of us. We wondered what "the turquoise in my heart" meant.

Invisible Indian

A few weeks ago
the cashier at the grocery store,
seeing my dark hair
and dark eyes,
counted my change
back to me in Spanish

Three days later
the waitress at the pizza place
made the same mistake.
Happens all the time
since I moved to Miami.
As though without buckskin, braids and beads
I don’t exist.

At a pow-wow last Sunday
I spoke to a Cherokee
wearing faded black jeans and a tee shirt
standing beside a display of stone sculptures
I told him I admired his work.

He didn’t mistake me for Hispanic
But saw that I was Indian
and even guessed my tribe.
Other Indians always recognize me.

Maybe they hear the echoes of the drums
In the rhythms of my voice.
Glimpses the shadows of my Indian grandmother
In the chiseled cheekbones of my face,
Or see the turquoise in my heart.

-Deloras (Dee) Lane