This week at Wednesday Afternoon Writers, we used a prompt idea from one of the amazing demonstrations I had the honor of being a part of this summer at the Denver Writing Project. As a matter of fact, for the past few weeks at WAW, we’ve been using prompts or activities I gleaned from the DWP. These prompts have given a new spark to our writing.
For this week, I prepared three small bags each containing a poem cut into strips, written by a poet found on the Poetry Foundation’s web site. (By the way, if you haven’t visited their site and you love poetry, you need to go there: poetryfoundation.org.  It is an amazing resource and you can find works by virtually any  “famous” poet under the sun, past and present.)
We each chose one strip from each bag and attempted to use them in any way we deemed in our writing. We wrote for ½ hour and shared.
So here are the three poems we used.
            Bath from Spring Day by Amy Lowell
            Talking Blues by Calvin Forbes
            Girl Riding A Horse in a Filed of Sunflowers by David Allen Evans
Below in my writing I have printed the words of the above poets in bold. In my story they are ordered: Lowell, Forbes and Evans.
EMMA by Lexanne Leonard
Sitting perfectly upright, contented and pensive on a tree stump, Emma pulled the stuffed raccoon closer to her. The soft fur tickled her chin.  Emma’s tiny giggle twinkled in the cold morning air, making the darkening forest path a less foreboding walk.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to be on the path alone. Emma left her grandmother’s cottage while she could still hear her grandmother’s snoring rising up to her room through the shared fireplace chimney.  But she needed to escape and this was her best chance.
Some people claim, raccoon, that you are too mean to be a good friend,” said Emma staring into the eyes of her quiet companion.  “But that’s exactly what I need right now, a good friend who is mean. The forest is a dangerous place and you are my friend. I know you will protect me, you pretty little friend.  Swear raccoon, tame like a kitty now.  But raccoon bites you if you get too close,” she laughed.  “I know this to be true.”
Standing up, gathering her courage and her best friend, Emma started down the path.  She came to the inevitable fork in the road.  But this time there was actually a fork in the road holding three signs, one on each tine. 
The first tine pointed to the left, “Enter At Your Own Risk, Seriously.”
The middle tined announced, “Straight Ahead The Boring Way For Those Of You With NO Imagination.”
The third sign stated, “ Green-White Water This Way” and had an arrow pointing to the right.
Emma wasn’t there to do what she always did. And, after all, she had a great imagination.  So she wouldn’t even entertain the idea of traveling down the boring, middle road.
Also, she was escaping from seriously risky business.  She wasn’t about to add to her troubles by going to the left.
Green-White Water sounded like a welcoming place. She loved to swim and always wanted to visit the ocean. Emma decided this was the “right” path to follow. 
With a skip to the right and laugh,  And let the green-white water way be before us!” she declared their mission.  And down the right lane, Arthur the Raccoon and Emma the Girl From Her Sleeping Grandmother’s Cottage chose their poison and headed for the Green-White Water.
It is important to stop here for you to learn a bit about Emma herself.  Emma seemed like a very sweet girl who loved her silly, stuffed raccoon.  To the outside world, this is who she was.  But she was left at her grandmother’s cottage by her parents because this was not who Emma really was. 
The evening before Emma left her grandmother’s cottage, she was sure to pour a sleeping draft into her grandmother’s milk to make her grandmother’s deep sleep and snore alarm.  Her grandmother would be sleeping for days, so Emma had plenty of time to do as she pleased.
And secondly, Emma’s parents and neighbors wouldn’t suspect a thing.  Emma sent notes, written in her grandmother’s hand as the clever opening to her clever spell. The notes announced to the neighbors and Emma’s parents a trip the two of them were taking to visit a distant acquaintance, for a week or so. The neighbors and Emma’s parents were instructed not to worry, as Emma and her grandmother would inform them of their return immediately upon their arrival back at her grandmother’s cottage.  This also bought Emma more time for more adventuring, if she so pleased.

Monte and My Marvelous Compendium of Enduring Memories

It is odd that I begin with Monte the Camel. He is just a planter, the type that was popular many years ago in the late 1950s and 60s. There is no hole for water drainage. Yet my mom, and later I, tried time and time again to grow plants in him. They always died because of either too much water or not enough.

The remarkable thing about Monte is the memories he sparks of my mom. She had a great sense of humor, something most people just passed by until my husband, Leroy, discovered it and encouraged many years later.

I can’t remember why my mom named this planter Monte. But I know she had a story that would have been a bit risqué and only she would keep the secret. The rest of us would go on asking ourselves why would Annette name a planter? But I think she named many things.
The one name of an object I do remember is Doobee Faret. It was a bee of some kind. It’s not important that I remember the object itself. What is important is that I do remember her asking me if I wanted to know what the name meant. She had a mischievous grin on her face. I knew it would be good.
My grandfather was a bee hobbyist. My mom or dad drove him miles every spring through early fall almost everyday of the week from Globeville to a farm in Arvada. Here a generous farmer, Mr. Granjeans, (No, not Greenjeans of Captian Kangeroo fame.) had given him a spot on his farm for my gandfather’s twenty or so beehives. My mom or dad made the trip twice a day from Denver to Arvada to drop him off early in the morning before my dad opened his T.V. repair shop and pick him up in the evening after the shop closed.
They also made the yearly trip to Union Station to pick up Grandpa’s queen bee and her court for the season. I remember riding in the back seat of the ’55 Chevy Nomad, hoping and praying that the bees wouldn’t get out of their box. The buzzing was so loud I thought they would certainly sting us to death if they did.
So bees and beekeeping were a part of our life and I wanted to know about Doobee Faret. This was long before the Doobie Brothers ever thought about forming a band.  She made me promise not to tell anyone, especially my dad. I took the oath.
Taking me aside and whispering ever so softly, mom explained to me that with all the bee frenzy in our house, she always wondered if bees farted. There was a long pause with her smiling broadly. I just stared at her. She then repeated, “Do bees fart?” Finally, with disappointment spreading across her face, she stated “Doo…bees…fart?” “Doobee Faret?” She had to conceal the “fart” inside the “Faret” so she could say it in company. I laughed. She giggled. And we promised never to say a word.
So in tribute to my mom’s sense of humor, Monte serves as the mascot and the beginning of my book of memories.
The idea for the book stems from the many “Clean Out Your Lives” shows I have been watching on cable. I really yearn for more open space, everywhere.  I understand that it is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.  But it is hard to let go of things that have been touched and loved by loved ones.
Keep the mantra going: It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.
I also like the revelation that these memories sitting on a shelf hidden by other memories or packed away in boxes not to be looked at for years and years, does not honor the objects or their memory.
Keep the mantra going: It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.
Keeping the objects just results in clutter and more work in their upkeep. 
Keep the mantra going: It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.
We recently moved from 850 square feet into 2700. Granted, some of the stuff in our house is my father’s. Many things are those my mom packed away herself and hadn’t opened since we moved from Globeville to Wheat Ridge in l974. And even more of these boxes held wedding presents from 1950 that she never used.
Keep the mantra going: It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.
So the 2700 square foot house is now full. I need to let go of stuff. And I begin here. Monte and My Marvelous Compendium of Enduring Memories.
Keep the mantra going: It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.
I will take photos and write a quick, or not so quick, note about it and put it in a lovely little journal I purchased for this reason. Then the items will be taken to Good Will.
Of course, I will keep a few objects that are definitive. I believe this process will help me find them. For example, of the ten or so objects I have chosen to go first in the process, it surprises me that Monte the Camel planter is the one I had the most second thoughts about getting rid of. More than my baptism hat, or first pair of red sneakers, or the lone surviving horse from Stock show souvenirs.
This process must not be burdensome, so that I keep up. I hope it will teach me that one step at a time, or object, will make a big difference in the end. It will also keep me writing!
Note to myself:  It is the memory that the object holds, and not the object itself.

It feels right and I am smiling.

The Memoir of the Chocolate Cake

Yelling into the bullhorn, I thought what I was saying was something encouraging, soothing.  Possibly, even profound.  It wasn’t.  It was a scream at the top of my lungs letting loose a string of profanities that would make a mob boss cry.

I always wanted to be an admired leader, just like my dad.  At one time he was a mayor of a small town in Iowa.  He brought in the quarter-finals of the International Hot Dog Eating Competition and, with it, enough income to keep the town in the black until the County Fair.  Inspired by his financial gamesmanship, high school graduates flooded the local community college to study neoclassical price theory, economic liberalism, and the free market.  I wanted to inspire kids to reach for the stars, too. 

How the hell was that ever going to happen with my vocabulary, regardless of my dreams?


My dad was widowed in a freak accident with a chocolate cake when I, his only daughter, had just turned one.  So, I was raised by my grandma.  Grammy looked like everyone else’s grandma except for the shock of red hair that changed shades on a monthly basis.  She colored it to match her mood.  If violet-red was the color of the choice, we knew it would be a gentler time and her words not so sharp.  But if crimsons and oranges raged through Grammy’s locks and gold streaked to the tips of her split ends, we knew we were in for a bumpy ride with her lamentations.

It was storied to be a month of flame reds glowering from Grammy’s hairdo when the cake incident happened.  It was my dad’s birthday and Mom was hiding the cake on top of the fridge when she slammed the freezer side-door.  It actually wasn’t the cake that killed her, though.  The cake slid off and planted itself on the floor upside down.  Mom stood stunned for several seconds.  She had labored long and hard to get that cake done.  She wanted it to be just like the cake Dad remembered from his childhood.  But she wasn’t a baker.  She struggled for days to make the special cake using the beloved recipe.  Grammy refused to share the recipe with Mom until the first grandchild was one year of age.  Grammy felt that one year of life would cement the fact that the new generation was there to carry on.  Grammy lectured Mom time and time again about how the cake recipe had been in the family for “generations upon generations.”  Grammy insisted it was the same recipe used by our humble relatives and served to Marie Antoinette.  Secretly mom wished she could someday visit the scullery in the Palace of Versailles to be inspired by the kitchens that produced this family heirloom.  What Mom didn’t realize was that while she appreciated that Grammy could swear like a sailor, the benefactor of the honored recipe could lie like a rug, too.

Despite the tension caused from the ownership of the recipe, Mom and Grammy supposedly got along famously.  One of the amusements they had in common was appreciating pulling off a real good practical joke.  They were Mom’s specialty and Grammy embraced the challenge of not letting her succeed.  It took mom two attempts at baking the cake with the so-called original recipe, before she connected Grammy’s regular visit each afternoon and the smirk plastered across Grammy’s face with the botched cakes coming out of the oven.  The first time Mom tried baking the chocolate cake, it turned out more like pudding.  Grammy simply grinned and offered to tweak to the recipe.  Later that evening as Grammy was leaving for bingo, her purse felt a bit heavy.  Opening the clasp, Grammy witnessed her lipstick tube, a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum and her grocery list submerged in brown, sticky goo.  

Mom’s second cake attempt was so dry and hard that she simply threw it away.  Mom stormed out of the kitchen refusing to acknowledge Grammy’s Cheshire grin wrapping around her face.  Grammy dug the cake out of the garbage can, wrapped it in tin foil, and used it as a doorstop until the day she died.  

Again Grammy offered to adjust the recipe.  But mom decided to take the bull by the horns and complete the cake without Grammy’s assistance.  Mom finally succeeded in her quest by contacting the Women’s Social Group.  The church ladies descended like chickens to their feed.  They had a mission.  They quickly and, rather proudly, deciphered Grammy’s scratchings, re-adjusted the hallowed recipe for the high altitude of Leadville, the Two Mile High City of the West, and produced a most perfect cake.  

As the blessed cake lay on the floor smooshed between the linoleum and the cracked cake platter, Grammy came rushing into the kitchen.  Grammy later told the story with the patois she’d banked over the years.  “Your mom stood there like a blankety-blank not knowing what the blankety-blank to do.”  Then, according to Grammy, as mom bent over to pick up the cake, mom’s pants ripped.  Mom stood and turned towards Grammy.  Grammy taunted, “What the blankey-blank do you think you’re doing? That blanking son of mine will be home in 45-blanking minutes and you can’t even give him a blanking birthday cake.”  

That was all Mom needed to hear.  She began to chase Grammy round and round the tiny kitchen.  Each time they passed the cake, they got closer and closer.  Just as Grammy skirted by the ragged edge of the broken cake plate, she took a sudden turn out the backdoor.  

The neighbors still reminisce about the foot race.  Grammy running down the street giving her best dissertation while my mother followed close behind waving her arms gloriously in the air and adding to the din.  Although Mom couldn’t begin to touch Grammy’s dubious parlance, she had been in training with Grammy before she married Dad.  Apparently, the Iowa town where Dad was mayor could ignore Grammy’s outbursts.  But adding Mom into the discourse would not be tolerated.  So after the wedding, Dad found a new town high up in the Rocky Mountains and a job running the local bookstore.  He said he chose Leadville so Grammy’s words had less traveling time to reach the atmosphere before being sucked forever into outer space.  

Anyway, Grammy just kept running with Mom matching her pace in stride, as well as words.  By the time Grammy and Mom reached the town’s edge, there was hardly room on the sidewalks for sightseers and the cheering almost overrode the battle cries of my matriarchs.  Once Grammy and Mom faded into the distance up the mountainside, everyone had placed their bets on the champion of their choice.  The bets would be settled once the victor descended back down the mountainside.

Grammy and Mom continued running along the hiking trail turning the crisp air blue with their words.  As Grammy came to the boarded-up mine entrance she took a turn away from their normally agreed upon stopping place.  It was here under the pines they would usually end their charades.  Their deceptions were always planned in advance.  On the agreed upon day, Grammy would take her regular morning stroll to the mine entrance with a not so regular purpose.  With the promise of a late afternoon swig, Grammy would hide the Shanahan’s bottle with a couple of glasses, one for each of them.  Both enjoyed whiskey and a local distiller was their favorite.  It wasn’t until Grammy died a few years ago that Mr.  Shanahan himself came by the house with Grammy’s inveterate tab, smiled at dad, and tore it up.  Mr.  Shanahan assured Dad that he delighted in his bi-monthly shot, chat, and cigar with Grammy and that he would never accept a cent from dad to pay Grammy’s bill.  

But the day of the chocolate cake incident, Grammy didn’t stop for their appointed toast at the predestined spot.  Mom followed Grammy through the pine forest, this time without a path.  Grammy kept stringing her words together, then stopped.  Mom’s retorts had ended a second before.  It was silent, no padding of feet.  Nothing but the wind scratching the tips of the pines.  Grammy turned.  Mom was gone.  Grammy traced her steps backward.  She knew this area like the back of her hand.  Grammy had taken the right side of the large pine, while Mom ran around the left.  But on the left was an old mine shaft that had probably been recently uncovered by curious tourists, leaving a hole descending into darkness miles deep into the mountain.

Grammy didn’t linger.  She high-tailed it back to town, cursing all the way.  As Grammy descended, the townspeople began to settle their bets.  That day, however, they sensed a different tone upon hearing Grammy’s usual anathema.  

They searched for days for my mom.  They sent down expert rescuers and Grammy understood the importance of rooting for them at the edge of the shaft the whole time.  They never found her.  Not a trace.  It was as if she disappeared off the face of the earth.  There is a river that runs deep beneath the surface of the Leadville mountain and it was determined that Mom must have been swept away.


I set the bullhorn down.  I knew there wouldn’t be another talk by the superiors of our town’s summer camp warning me that I had one more chance if I could just control my language.  Earlier conversations had strongly suggested that if I wanted to rise to Camp Counselor of the five-year-olds and, one day, to Camp Director, I would have to learn some self-control.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  I wanted to make my Dad as proud of me as I am of him.  But I had spent the first eighteen years of my life under the tutelage of my Grammy.  

I turned from the wide-eyed stares and dropped jaws of the Bunny Hoppers and headed towards the bus stop.  I didn’t need my stuff.  I was on a new mission.

Walking down the gravel path I reached into the pocket of my shorts.  I pulled out the tattered, yellowing piece of paper titled “Chocolate Cake” that was left to me in Grammy’s will.  I read the final line of the recipe one more time.  Across the bottom in bright red felt tip pen Grammy had scratched: Your mom always wanted to live in Paris.

Well, I guess it was time for a blanking trip to Paris.

Author’s Memo
This piece was one of several written during my time with the Denver Writing Project. It is a piece of silliness. I wanted it to be much darker and funnier. I don’t know how to do that. Yet. I will learn. But for now, I hope you enjoyed this little bit of fiction and had a little chuckle.

The Blues

Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. He can sing the blues without using a single note. His words sway across the page like the music itself.
Today’s poem escorts the melancholy of the blues onto the page.

The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
         He did a lazy sway . . .
         He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues…
When I read this poem, I feel like I am sitting at a table in the bar listening to this man’s lament. I feel the beat and smell the smoke.  There are little or no words spoken between those left at the tables.  It’s too late for that.  The night is slipping into the early morning and regrets fill the air.
I wonder, did the music give definition to the word – blue?  How could a color so calm as the morning sky or vibrant as the rolling sea give birth to such heartbreak?
The deep navy that streaks across our flag is a noble blue. How much sadness, as well as joy and triumph, are held within those borders?
Happy Independence Day everyone.
The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes can be read in it’s entirety at Poets.org.  Click here:


Today I came across a remarkable young poet, J. Michael Martinez. I must give gratitude to Poets.org for the introduction.

         as the meat
            within the shell
as the shell before the caw…
This is the type of poem that puts many people off and takes them away from even trying to understand the poet’s words. I ask you not to be swayed and quickly go away. 
The wonderful thing about poetry is that it should be read aloud. If you click on the link below, you can hear the poet read this poem. When I am unsure about what a poem means, I read it aloud, several times. If that doesn’t work, I look for a recording of the poet, so I can hear his phrasing and stops and how he feels his own words. 
Then it is up to me. I must make it live in my own life. That is the beauty of good poetry. It will mean something different to each person who reads it. We always bring our experiences to the table when reading other’s words. Our understanding and comprehension turns on who we are. That is how poetry speaks to us.
Let this poem have a chance to speak to you. Allow Mr. Martinez to read to you and enjoy.
How do you see white? How does it live and breathe in your life? What do those white stripes on our flag say to you this holiday time?
Happy 4th.
Click here to enjoy J. Michael Martinez’s words in his own voice at Poets.org

Red Wheelbarrows and the 4th of July

Thought I would share, over the next few days, some of my favorite poems inspired by my work at the Denver Writing Project.
My choice for today is by Williams Carlos Williams.
The Red Wheelbarrow  
so much depends
And so begins a poem I love for its simplicity and elegance. William Carlos Williams is a master of precision and beauty. It’s easy to throw a lot of descriptive words onto a page. What Williams does, is what the master gardener does.
The master gardener is a creator with an eye to the minute, as well as to extravagance. While the entire garden tells a story, it is in honing in on the exquisiteness of the diminutive vignette that completes its own narrative.
In that breath, I invite you to imagine a clear blue sky when reading this poem. Even better, find a friend and take turns reading it to one another while the listener’s eyes are closed.  It’s a perfect compliment to this holiday weekend.
Happy 4th of July everyone!