Poetry: The Ultimate Karmic Adventure

Well, maybe I exaggerate just a tiny bit, but not much. Full disclosure for those of you that may not know – I revel in my English degree, and still get giddy over sonnets. Anyone’s sonnets really, from Shakespeare to Browning, and all the way back to Donne. The sparse snippets of thought from Emily Dickinson can shine a glaring light on the human condition far brighter than any self important TV host or politician (stay tuned, Dante has a secret ring of hell just for these two categories of oxygen suckers, and I’ll be dealing with them soon).

Ah, poetry. A dear friend of mine reminded me, on April Fool’s Day, no less, that April is National Poetry month. No doubt some bean counter in a windowless office somewhere was told to find a month to celebrate the charms of the written word, and thought starting on April Fools Day was fitting. Ah, Karma. What a tangled web you weave.

Wait! Don’t go! Yeah, you in the Metallica shirt – hold it right there. I promise, I’m not going to start quoting Kerouac, and you aren’t going to be trapped in a flashback of 1960’s North Beach San Francisco. I will, however, tell you that poetry has worked its way into far more of your life than you’re probably willing to credit. Don’t believe me? Read the lyrics to your favorite song, without the music. Oh, Neko Case is a brilliant songwriter in her own right? Then try it with absolutely anything Eminiem has done. Go on – I double dog dare you. Then try the same with Metallica’s Enter Sandman. I’ve seen your Facebook status, and your Twitter feed. At least once a week, you’re tossing a line from a long forgotten song out, drawing us not only to the state of your thoughts, but to someplace deeper. Beguiling us to revisit hidden memories we thought were gone forever. The last party of high school that had slipped away through the cracks of the grocery list and the big presentation; or the night our life changed forever, and we swore we’d never think on it again.

That’s the power of poetry. At its best, it can evoke mood, memory, or an entire state of being in 17 syllables. At its worst, it will take you back to 12 years old, struggling fruitlessly with a first crush. And that’s just on reading it. But to write it: the figurative equivalent of running through the halls of your office or school, wearing nothing but striped socks and a polka-dotted necktie, is where the real fun begins. And where Karma stretches out her hand, and invites you to dance.

The same friend and I were lamenting the lack of quality angsty poems today. I’m talking real angst – the kind of pain that seeps into your head, and raises your worst fears when you’re not looking. Reading a poem about real pain is like watching the aftermath of a fatal accident on the side of the road: it will change you forever, but you can’t look away. Most of what passes for that today is self-important whining about what a terrible place the world is, and we’re all selfish for even thinking about procreating. The karmic warning to those that stoop so low to try to seem artistic, sophisticated, and terribly complex: you are the Emperor, and we ALL know you have no clothes. You have been discovered, and you will pay. You will be called out for the pompous fool that you are.

For those that write from a real place, whether it’s a place of absolute despair, or a nostalgic confection reminiscing about the first trip to the county fair, the gifts are immeasurable. It’s knowing, that even if another living soul, besides you, never sees what you have written, you have given life to a part of you that is rarely, if ever seen. It’s real, and you can see it, touch it, and smell the page it was written on. And, if the day comes that you must set it free, you can crumple it up, shred it, burn it, or eat it. Even better, you can share it. Shout it to the four winds, whisper it to a sleeping loved one. Leave it anonymously on a truck stop bathroom sink. Blog it. Trust me on this one.

Happy National Poetry Month everyone. Read one. Read two. Better yet? Write one. You’ll be glad you did.


  • I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!
    • Lizzy Bennett

For Katie…

You Can’t Go Home Again

Not too long ago, the boys were invited to a roller skating party.  Since the rink opened in our town, I’ve occasionally busted out with the 25 year old competition skates, rolled around on the floor, and pretended that if I really, really wanted to, I could still hit ths at double salchow.

Our rink seems a tad smaller than the ones I skated at when I was a kid, but something tells me it’s all perspective – when you’re 7, everything bigger than your living room can look enormous.  For some reason though, on a Saturday afternoon in February, the Starlight Skatium, my own little retro slice of heaven, was an enormous cavern of disco heaven.  Walking down the ramp to the front door, I could hear the faint bump of the bass, under the high pitched squeals of 10 and 11 year olds trying to stay upright.

I had almost pulled myself out of my time travel episode, when the DJ hit the sweet spot of skating music.  Car Wash.  Don’t Stop Believin (yes, I know it was 1981, but you get the point). And the Bee Gees.  THEY PLAYED THE BEE GEES!  The only thing that could have possibly completed the bus ride to Retroville would have been some KC and the Sunshine Band, with a chaser of “Boogie Fever”.   If anyone I just mentioned is completely beyond you, go to bed, it’s past your bedtime.  The rest of you know exactly where I’m at right now.  Forget the Cha Cha Slide…the rest of you are waiting for Donna Summer’s Last Dance to tell you that it’s time to take off your skates, please tuck your laces into the boots, and return them to the skate counter.

Yep. That's me

Ah, but like everything good in the world, there’s a price.  And the price of admission to 1978?  The 7 year old had an appointment with the eye doctor because he’d been having headaches.  I tagged along for an annual exam.  Guess which one of us had perfect vision, and guess who had reading glasses by the end of the week?

Next time I get a chance to go home again, I think I’ll just settle for peeking in the windows.

It’s Snowmageddon 2011

In the span of about 8 hours this morning, Northwest Arkansas was blessed with 23 inches of snow.  Our usual “major snow events” are typically 5-6 inches, so needless to say, the entire area ground to a screeching halt.  Schools are closed, stores are closed, heck, even major corporations were closed today.  After 4 snow days home with our kids last week, many of us are starting to feel like we’re trapped in “Groundhog Day”, expecting to see Bill Murray waltz in the front door any minute.  He’d have to come in the front door, because there is no way in all that is warm and fluffy, that I would actually leave the house.

In the 11 years I’ve been here, snow days have taken their rightful place on my dread scale, just a shade less disturbing than tornado warnings.  The boys go stir crazy, and I spend 30 minutes getting clothes layered, gloves on, boots fastened, and generally bundled up tighter than Randy from Christmas Story.  They then spend 15 minutes outside, and start banging on the door, cold, wet, and wanting in.  After another 30 minutes of mopping up snow, getting them dried and changed, they ask to do it all over again.

Late this afternoon, I sat on the couch, staring out the window wondering where on earth our street went, and tried to figure out what on earth I did to deserve getting trapped inside for the better part of a week, yet again.  I have no illusions – it’ll be late Friday before I see the black asphalt of our winding little country lane.  But then, the quiet hit me. Not really hit me, but more like wrapped itself around me like a warm fuzzy towel.  There is nothing like a snow day to bring absolute stillness – no sound outside at all, except the rare squeal of a child, or a dog down the street wanting to be let back inside.  It’s not a middle of the night kind of quiet where every bump and creak makes you wonder when the guy under the stairs is going to grab you.  This is so peaceful, so soft, that you can’t help but bring up each of your blessings, turn them over in your mind, and snuggle them down into your heart.  The same way you will with your kids when they come in the house, cold, wet, and needing a warm towel and mommy snuggles.

I’ll probably always take an 80 degree day at the park, lounging under a tree over a snow day.  But now, I have found the key to surviving them.  If you’ll excuse me, I have some blessings to count, then wrap in a warm blanket.  They’ll both be needing me.

Mother Nature Is a Sadistic…

Ah, January in Northwest Arkansas.  A time when a crystal clear blue sky is more likely to mean wind chills of single digits, and snow days are likely to make sure that our kids don’t have a 5 day school week all month long.  But not today.  Today is the one day of the winter when we’re likely to hit 70 degrees.  My friends back in Cali will get theirs next month for 3 or 4 days.

Many of us see this as a tiny reward; a reprieve from what we see as a bitterly cold, miserable time of year. ( Those of you that live where there’s real weather stop laughing now, it’s not our fault y’all are truly masochistic.) It’s the one day where we open the windows, hit the park, and break out the flip-flops to show off decidedly un-pedicured toes. Okay, that last part may just be me, but we all know what it’s like:  the hint of spring days to come.  We can almost smell the fresh-cut grass the air, feel the not quite blistering sun on our shoulders, taste the ache in our shins from too much infield practice (oops, just me again).  We revel in the kindness that Mother Nature has bestowed on us, if only for a day.

Horse hockey.  This isn’t a kind reprieve – it’s granting a condemned man a last meal.  A beautiful spring like day, to remind us how truly beautiful the world around us is, right before she pulls the rug out from under us.  Admit it, while you’re reveling in the sunshine, squinting at the edges of your lawn looking for signs of daffodils sprouting, you’re afraid.  You know that because of this, the next round of Arctic freeze will be that much worse.  I think she wants it that way. Knowing that while we’re grateful for the respite, however brief, we’re all dreading the return of Frosty the Angry Snowman.  And yes, it’s our punishment.  Because one day last Spring, when the  most perfect of perfect Spring days dawned, the one that every last one of us should have been outside, tasting sunshine and lawn clippings, one of you was inside doing laundry.  And when I find out who it was, there will be retribution. 

Because Mother Nature isn’t the sweet old lady that spreads sunshine and bakes cookies, no matter what she wants you to believe today.  No, she’s more like the White Witch of Narnia.  And I’m headed outside to play, before the ice storm hits next Tuesday.  I suggest you do the same before she finds out you’re sitting inside reading this.

Adventures in Karma…Sort of Like Toyland, Only Not

Everyone’s heard of Karma.  It’s a short, handy word for, “what comes around goes around”.  Or, for my more scientific friends, Newton’s Third Law:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

According to some, it’s a grand, cosmic force, maintaining balance in the universe.  For others, it’s lying awake at night, wondering when the awful ex-boyfriend will get hit by a bus, or at least get dumped by the next girlfriend in a terribly public and humiliating fashion.  Me? It’s my nickname for my 7-year-old, because I am paying, spectacularly, for my raising. 

But, here, Karma will be an adventure.  Stuff will happen; I’ll tell you about it in my typical snarky way, and we’ll wonder together who did what to whom to deserve it.  I’ll probably be on the receiving end of that equation most often.  Like wondering what on earth I did to deserve the giant third eye I’m rocking in the middle of my forehead, like a gangly 15 year old.  But some things the world is destined to never know.

And now, we begin our journey, with these immortal words from Mary Chapin Carpenter:

Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug

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