Rio and Candle


Solar Flares Disrupt Communications on Earth, Could Send Shockwave on Friday the 13th

The sun has had three major solar flares on its surface in the past two days that have affected communications on Earth and could send a shockwave through Earth this Friday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One of the flares created a “coronal mass ejection” that actually could come into contact with Earth on Friday, according to NOAA. The ejection is essentially a huge cloud of plasma that could hit the Earth and cause a shock wave, affecting communications systems.
ABC News June 11, 2014



A force equal to billions of atomic bombs

travels millions of kilometers per hour,

reaches Earth in three days.


A solar storm will disturb the atmosphere

induce currents in power lines

trigger voltage collapse

and bring the twenty-first century down.


Now, at the peak of the solar cycle,

the Sun, like a busy fetus turning and kicking,

is flipping its magnetic field one hundred eighty.


A cyclical increase in sunspots

will produce violent flares

and propel charged particles

into space.


The solar wind.


Magnetized plasma will slam

into Earth, sending out electrical

currents like cockroaches seeking dark.


Auroras will appear at the outer banks

of Earth’s atmosphere, visible

as far south as the equator.


Streets will be dark,

water pumps silent.


Ice will melt in the freezer.



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Letter to an Old Poet

 French Market

Dear Rose,

I know you are disappointed that every poem, save one, you submitted for publication since early October was rejected.  I know it is hard to believe.  I mean, who could resist this:

clumps of shredded fur

hawk shrieks above trail of blood

rabbit inside out

Well, Tiny Words, for one. 

But be realistic.  You are an old new poet.  No one wants to publish old new poets.  Yes, Passager publishes works of “the elderly” but even they have not been interested in your work.

Remember what Marjorie Perlof said in an April 2013 Poetry Foundation Podcast.  It is too easy to call yourself a poet these days, she said, adding that there are people who start at 60, even 70, and think they can become poets.

Of course, it’s not like you plan to claw your way up some academic ladder or compete for a Pulitzer.  So, find a niche.  Take this one you wrote for that themed issue about The Midwest.


To make a prairie

take a pen and draw a line

clear across the page -

show roots of grass going South,

perpendicular to Earth.

I know you thought this was a clever poem.  But, just because you are from the Midwest and you know what constitutes a prairie, that doesn’t mean the editors agree.  They did not.

What should you do?  Stop writing?  Stop submitting poems?

Writing will happen, and, you will want to share your poems by getting them published.   One thing you definitely should do is stop responding to “calls” for types of poems.

Another thing is to think more about what to write.  One member of your poetry group writes memoirs, another about birds, another about nature, another about herself and family.  What would they say you write about?

Sadly, you, my dear Rose, are all over the place.  Like your life, your writing is a little of this and a little of that.  That is a good topic for my next letter:  are you simply an amateur and a dilettante or is it possible for you to focus on one theme for longer than two weeks and become a poet…at any age?  Until then, keep on writing.


Aunt Sue

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God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

A Portuguese proverb, “God writes straight with cooked lines,” is the best line and a good summary of The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The proverb, which means that strange events become clear with time, is a metaphor for the book, the story of the transport of an elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the fall of 1551.  

Owned by King Joao III of Portugal, Solomon, the elephant, is given as a wedding gift to Archduke Maximilian of Austria.  King Joao is speaking with his secretary.

Ah, no one can outdo your highness in dialectic and response.  Although there are those who say that the fates who presided over my birth did not endow me with a gift for words, Words are not everything, my lord, going to visit the elephant Solomon today is a poetic act and will perhaps be seen as such in the future.  What is a poetic act, asked the king, No one knows, my lord, we only recognize it when it happens, So far, though, I have only mentioned my intention of visiting Solomon, Ah, but the word of a king would, I’m sure, be enough, That I believe, is what rhetoricians call irony, Forgive me, your highness, You are forgiven, secretary, and if all your senses are of like gravity, your place in heaven is guaranteed.

Portuguese soldiers journey with Solomon and his mahout Subhro overland to Valladolid where the Archduke and his new wife take over and escort the pair by boat to Genoa, across the Alps to Innsbruck and down the Danube toward Vienna.

Like any good travel tale, The Elephant’s Journey is filled with bad weather, poor sleeping conditions, questionable provisions and dangerous conditions including wolves in Iberia and the threat of avalanche in the Brenner Pass.

One day, it starts to rain.

It isn’t true that heaven and the heavens are indifferent to our preoccupations and desires.  They’re constantly sending us signs and warnings, and the only reason we don’t add good advice to that list is that experience, heaven’s and ours, has shown that memory, which isn’t anyone’s strong point, is best not overburdened with too much detail.  Signs and warnings are easy to interpret if we remain alert, as the commanding officer discovered when, at one point along the route, the convoy was caught in a heavy drenching shower.  For the men engaged in the hard work of pushing the ox-cart, that rain was a blessing, an act of charity for the suffering to which the lower classes have always been subject.  Solomon and his mahout subhro also enjoyed that sudden cooling rain, although this did not prevent subhro from thinking that, in future, he really could do with and umbrella in such situation, perched up high and unprotected from the water falling from the clouds, especially on the road to vienna.

This highly improbable endeavor that lasts a good three months and involves the labor of dozens of porters, soldiers, oxen and horses actually took place.  Knowledge of the historical journey was itself the result of an unusual circumstance which came about when Saramago visited a Portuguese professor in Salzburg, Austria who took him to a restaurant that displayed wooden figures of buildings and monuments from cities along the route that Solomon journeyed.

Saramago uses his powers as omniscient narrator to observe the social disparities between royalty and the rest of the entourage, especially Subhro who rides above everyone on top of the elephant but who is totally dependent on the good graces of the archduke.  The elephant, on the other hand, never complains.  He endures an attempt at exorcism, agrees to perform a “miracle” by kneeling before a saint’s stature and saves a child from trampling by wrapping his trunk around her and raising her in the air.  But the people around Solomon are changed by him or by observing Solomon and Subhro together, resulting in respect for the elephant handler and even friendship.

What the reader does not know is that the real Solomon was born to royalty in a town in Sri Lanka that was a Portuguese trading post.   So Solomon has already traveled from Sri Lanka to Lisbon before Saramago introduces us to him.  Solomon’s fall from object of reverence in Sri Lanka to the back of the royal stables in Lisbon is something he bears stoically so long as his rather large portion of forage is consistently available.

In the Alps, a wheel on the Archduke’s carriage tears off, stopping the caravan but resulting in a fortuitous event for Solomon.  The Archduke has renamed Solomon and calls him Suleiman.

With heavy snow like this, the road is always light, no one will get lost, said the  sergeant …  And it was true because, at that moment, the cart carrying the forage arrived, and just in time, too, because suleiman  having dragged his four tons up those mountains, desperately needed to recharge his energies.  ….  When one thinks about it, the accident to the archducal coach could only have been an act of divine providence.  As that never sufficiently praised popular wisdom teaches us, and as has more than once been shown, god writes straight on crooked lines, and even seems to prefer the latter.  (Italics added.)

Saramago contrasts the Portuguese – sunny and intelligent – with the Austrians – cold and hidebound – and is nostalgic for a time before modernity and globalization, which, ironically, was set off in 1497 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

Readers may have difficulty with Saramago’s long sentences and unusual punctuation which neglects quotation marks, capitalization and even periods.  But the book is only about 200 pages long and the people, scenes, events and travel challenges move the book along and Saramago’s observations from high above give the reader something to think about along the way.

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Prompt or Plagiarism?

Cyclamen 3

I recently tried a suggestion to use a poet as a muse for a poem.  I had just read a poem by Carl Phillips and used it as muse for a poem of my own.  I read both poems to my poetry group.  Was it too close to his or did it take off in a new direction?

Someone suggested I contact him and see what he thought.  I did and he replied that my poem was pretty close to his in several places.  He suggested putting “after Carl Phillips” under the title.  He also said, “I think the muse is more than inspiration when whole phrases or only slight re-phrasings occur.”

I had considered submitting my poem to a contest but after reading Phillips’ response, I told him I would not try to publish it.

My poem starts with variations on images in Phillips’ poem that I agree are “slight re-phrasings” and then, thinking about a friendship gone sour, I took the first half to a different conclusion.  I do follow Phillips’ structure with the indented “Righteousness,” and then go into a botanical world of being contented with a place in life, but the last stanza ends with a similar conclusion about choice.

Was this a useful exercise?  Would I use this prompt again?  Sometimes I do get inspired when I read other poets but next time I think I will make a note or two about what inspired me and then close the book, maybe even wait a day or two and then start on my own poem.

I share my poem here with full disclosure as to its origins and credit to my muse.


Hollyhocks, deep grape, stain the fence they lean against, fallen

unlike the impatiens that slump, rather than daisies gone

to seeds hitched onto oak leaves that scatter like notes in the wind

an oboe simmering and bubbling like hawk fledges ready to fly

away, or like sailboats torn from their moorings come loose

like letting go of a friendship that was spinning, time spent at last

recalling – an effort – before the incident, interior of a painted egg

unforgettable.                                          Righteousness, a trumpet flower

that gets our attention, how extraordinary but blemished

no doubt, still a thing of goodness or so it seems for the time being,

wasn’t it just yesterday, a miracle growing little stems and leaves

enclosed souls that are irresistible who do not become restless

or distracted or bored and do not require sleep but remain

content in their righteousness and do not make lists or try

to change because even if they could choose, they would not.

You can find the poem I used as muse here, and judge for yourself:  http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Poem-A-Day–At-Bay-by-Carl-Phillips.html?soid=1110705357409&aid=X4o8o7WU4i4.

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Market in Spain

Market in Spain

I participated in a local event for poets to write about our town, Madison, WI.  The result is mapped here:   http://cowfeatherpress.org/echolocations.html 

Here is my contribution:

The State Office Building, One West Wilson

It was where we met, that great art deco monolith on Lake Monona.
The etched brass elevator doors opened to whisk passengers
to one of eleven floors in the center tower, where the Parole Board
at the top was as distant to us as it was to the prisoners at Waupun.
Before air-conditioning, grit from open windows coated our desks.
When we got our own PCs, the typing pool vanished and so did
the boxes of dusty punch cards and crumbling printouts that hid
desiccated bananas and a few musty athletic shoes and socks.
We watched the Circus Parade on the tracks in back of the building
as it headed to Milwaukee, or escaped to the Wednesday Farm Market,
where our purchases left scent-trails of basil and onions and gladiolas   
in the elevator where you gave me a kiss right after the doors closed.

And the backstory:

I met my husband Roger when we both worked for the Division of Corrections.  He worked in Madison and I worked on a research project in a Probation and Parole office on the Eastside of Milwaukee.  I came to Madison for meetings in the State Office Building at One West Wilson.  I did not own a car so I took the Badger Bus to Madison.  Roger started his campaign to win my heart by driving me to the bus terminal on South Bedford Street.  After a year of commuting to see one another, I transferred to Central Office and moved to Middleton.  I worked at One West Wilson for about fifteen years.  I have very fond memories of our supervisor, Ted Johnson, who likely knew what we were up to, but kept it to himself.

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Prize Poem

020 arbor

I can announce my prize winning poem now because it’s been posted at http://sfpoetry.com/contests/13contest.html.

It won third place in the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Dwarf Poem category.  Dwarf poems are fewer than ten lines.

You have to scroll to the very end to see it or you can read it here.

A Butterfly in Costa Rica

He is reading Wing Systems Theory
when a fly lands on the page.
Paper turns to liquid,
flows over his palms
and evaporates
in the space above his knees.

That was my favorite among the poems I submitted.  Here’s another one I submitted that I like a lot.

The Lawn Care Man Comes Today

Frog-filled lawn vibrates.

Colors shift.

Rainbows strike

like lightening bolts.

Frog-filled lawn vibrates.


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Friday the 13th

Seasonal flowers

Seasonal flowers

Before 9 a.m. today I received two rejection notices.  That made three for the week.  Enough already, I thought.  It’s hard not to be stung by rejection.  I know I am not alone in this.  One of the members of my poetry group talked this week about how she used to paper her walls with rejection letters.  Looking on the bright side, I thought, well, that just frees up some poems that I can send somewhere else.

It’s a beautiful September day, albeit Friday the 13th.  My husband and I headed out to a garden we had not visited before and it turned out to be a delight.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the weather.  It was lovely not to think about the “business” of poetry.  However, when I checked emails upon our return home, I discovered I had won a contest with a little poem I’d submitted … cannot say more until they publish it, but I have to say, I got really, really excited.  Yea!

Here is a rejected poem that was written for a very specific call for poems and I really cannot place it elsewhere.  But I like it.  It’s a tribute to my friend Marian who died several years ago but whom I still miss.  She was about twenty years older than me, and she was prickly and opinionated, but I enjoyed her company a great deal.  I think we each learned a lot from one another.

The title, Little Things, comes from the last line of Kahil Gibran’s poem, On Friendship:  “For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”  The last line of Little Things comes from these lines:  “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? / Seek him always with hours to live.”

Little Things

You, prickly, talked in asides, critical of the speakers.

Look at the art, you said.  What do you see?  Now, look again.

You, grudging, allowed me to follow you, sticking like chewed gum.

You, rolling your eyes.  So impatient.  Never tip on the tax, you said.

You told me I was stuck up.  I told you I am reserved.


plane watching at O’Hare
making tea according to your directions
shopping for a leather foot stool
slow art at the Biedermeier exhibit.

You made me attend a party I wanted to avoid.

I taught you how to join a Yahoo Group.

Why did you think I could save your violet?

A present from you:  homemade salsa.

A present to you:  a Christmas ornament that said, “Naughty.”

We had plans for the coming week, lunch or just visiting.

I sought you always with hours to live.  I did not know how few there were.

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