Posts tagged ‘writing’

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

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I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

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Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

February 6, 2016

What’s Wrong with My Head?

by lisa st john

“You live too much in your own head,” she said.

I am still trying to understand what that means. Where else do I have to go?

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Ken Robinson explains that university professors, “look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.” Why is that so bad?

I like the inside of my head—my mind. It’s safe there. I have friends there.

When I had my first kiss at age12 (yuck), I could go and complain to Meg. Any girl who can travel through wrinkles in time would understand.

When I had an abortion at age 16 I could go to Narnia and snuggle deep into Aslan’s fur. I had nowhere else to go.

My mind let’s me remember swimming in Isla Mujeres or walking through Central Park or rocking in my hammock. But spaces are not places and inside spaces are more difficult to navigate than outside spaces. So it’s not about where I am, it’s about where my mind is.

I can walk and walk and be back in Guanajuato when I was twenty-something traveling with the love of my life. And he was/is alive.

But it’s not just about confusion or comfort or memory. Isn’t it just one more place to travel? Not only can I go to the past, I can go to the future. Like AFP’s song, “In My Mind,” I can circle around to the almost-or-will-be places. Why not? I can spend a few hours visiting Future Lisa as she finally writes that novel or goes dogsledding in Alaska or becomes a grandmother or buys a house in Mexico. But after those couple of hours, I cannot tell you whom (who sounds better) Present Lisa was sitting next to on the train. Is that so bad?

I will never truly understand the phrase, “I’m bored.” I have never been bored. I don’t know what that means. Of course, I can define the word bored (lacking interest in a current activity? unoccupied?). But I am too busy wondering:

  • If Lolita came to life and wrote an answer to Nabokov, would it be as an adult looking back or in the voice of her child-self?
  • If we kept cats awake, would anything about them change other than their grumpiness?
  • Who is really the closest to my version of Sherlock Holmes? Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller or Robert Downey?
  • If I could go into the world of American Gods, would I want to be Shadow or be his mate?

 

All I know right now is that when I Google the phrase, “too much in your own head” I get over 80,000 hits and too many of them are self-help garbage sites. I haven’t yet figured out what’s wrong with living in my head. Maybe I will walk some more and ponder the movement of light. IMG_3958

 

 

 

“Our minds are all we have. They are all we’ve ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” Sam Harris 

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You can visit my author page at Amazon HERE.

You can also buy by book of poetry, Ponderings, from Finishing Line Press.

September 20, 2015

Either, Or…Or What?

by lisa st john

I don’t want bears in my neighborhood. I love bears, but I would not feed them in order to see them in my yard. It would endanger the neighbors. It is not healthy for them to eat what we humans toss at them. I would much rather have bear than deer (who carry the ticks who carry the Lyme), but I don’t feed them.Black_bear_with_salmon

So when the local police department posted a picture of a bear (big giant black bear) and reminded people to keep their garbage covered, I shared the post and reminded people not to feed the birds yet either. They have plenty to eat right now. Well, I got slammed by a psychic who had dreams last night of starving bears. Yeah. Whatever. This person hopes that some kind people will bring fish to the forest for the bears (‘cause that’s where fish live—in…trees.) So either I feed the bears or I hate the bears? Why has the either/or fallacy become so pervasive? Either I vote for Hillary or I hate women. Either I recycle or I don’t believe in global warming. When did we learn to think so shallowly?

Have we forgotten the subtleties of thought? Have we abandoned the dialectic because we cannot fathom more than one choice at a time? Or is it because we have become too quick to decide things? Apparently it is easier to decide than to investigate.

Soon I will start The Handmaid’s Tale with my students. I hope they see the relevance, the relationships, between then and now. Maybe even glean something about why good literature is timeless. Tammy Faye Bakker is Serena Joy who is (fill in the blank with your favorite anti-feminist religious right fanatic of 2015).

It’s the 21st century and Planned Parenthood is under attack; the anti-feminist movement is underway and the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been passed. So, yeah. I think teaching Atwood’s most famous dystopian novel is important right now. I think more critical thinking is important right now. I hope that my students think so. I hope they realize that I don’t feed bears because I hate them.

False Dilemma-thumb-300x254-153811[1]You can still buy Ponderings HERE!

August 5, 2015

It’s Just Stuff

by lisa st john

 There will be joy…whether we want it or not.

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Cone Dog Millionaire?

Loss and grief are unforgiving teachers. Are you ready for the quiz? No? Too bad; so sad.

All we can do is decide how to react to moments. We cannot choose the moments. All we can do is be good to ourselves so that we can be good to one another.

“Aren’t you sad…devastated that he’s leaving?”
“I, uhm…want him to be happy.”
“But you’ll have to get on A PLANE to see him!”
“Yes. And that’s how I am going to spend my money.”
“But he is your only one, what about saving for your retirement… .”
“I’d like to think I raised a good adult, even though he is my ‘only one’ (!?). Now he is off being an adult. ‘I never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.’ Do you know that song?”
What?!”

Recently, someone told me that I don’t respect money. This is true. It is just stuff. It is used to get more stuff. Or it is used to help create experience. I like to think that is what we taught our son. Experience over things, moments over regrets.

Recently, someone told me that I shouldn’t always pay for her dinner. “Do you forget,” I asked her, “that you wired me money all the time when I was pregnant and alone and couldn’t work anymore?”

“No. I guess I forgot…”
“Twenty-nine years ago I stole a bag of rice from a grocery store. I paid for the can of beans. You taught me that beans and rice make a complete protein—healthy for the baby.”
“Yea, but…”
“You taught me how to ask.”

My late husband used to tell the story of a college friend who didn’t have drinking money. My husband used to tell him, “If I’ve got enough for one beer, I’ve got enough for two. Let’s go.”

I like to believe that this sentiment is alive and well in the world at large and not just in my own life. Can I afford to buy a recent high school graduate a new car? No. Can I afford to give a few bucks toward her crowdsourcing effort? Hell, yeah. It’s just stuff.

“What do you mean you don’t balance your checkbook?”
“That’s what ATMs are for—checking my balance.”

My logic works kind of like this: I got a refund for a $200.00 deposit I put on a rental house for my last vacation. I forgot about putting down the deposit. So now I have a brand new (free!) $200.00 that I didn’t have before. (Well, technically I did have it but I forgot it so… .) Now I have a new $199.00 camera. For FREE! (Sort of.)

There is no amount of money that can buy anything worthwhile. There is no amount of money that will bring my husband back. I am stuck here; I am stuck here without him, and I will be damned if all he taught me about living in the moment is going to go to waste. I hope I die broke. I hope I helped make many experiences along the way.

“Does it get easier? The loss? The grieving?”
“I don’t know anything about easy. I just know about change.”

p.s. My first chapbook, Ponderings, will be out at the end of this month. I just proofed the first set of galleys from Finishing Line Press. Buy it. And if you can’t let yourself laugh at weird, stupid stuff like trumping your cat, well, then… .

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July 16, 2015

The Time for Warnings is Over

by lisa st john

“The Time for Warnings is Over”

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Watch out file cabinet. Here I come. Beware you unfiled pile of folded up receipts and reminders! I am coming for you. You push pins better get in line, and HEY! I thought I returned you Ethernet cables weeks ago. Hiding were you? Under the vocabulary lists and warranty registration cards, huh? We’ll see about that. There is a recipe for salad (yes, I need a recipe for salad) scrunched under a copy of Writers Digest and an electric bill cowering beneath a coffee-stained yellow legal pad. Enough. I can’t think with all this clutter.

And thinking really does need to commence as the summer runs (at breakneck speed) toward its apex. I have to stop thinking about doing things and start actually doing them. Easier than it sounds. I have to give myself some leeway though. I see three distinct pieces to an artist’s life. Number One is creating the art. This stage happens all over the place in any space and at any time. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of a Tom Waits interview in which he describes the creative muse at work:

He just looked up at the sky, and he said, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? … “Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”

Here we bless the beauty of technology. If I don’t have a pen or paper I usually have an iPhone that can take notes or voice memos. Super helpful. Number Two is editing and fine-tuning and making pretty. A bunch of scraps are just that—beautiful, lyrical scraps perhaps, but only scraps. Hemingway was dead on when he said that the first draft of anything is shit. Art is work. Art is not thinking about work. Number Three is getting the work out there—published, printed, talked about. Number Three is the least fun for me. Luckily, there are tools like Submittable and Writers Market. There are even markets for poetry. Who would-ah thunk it?

And so, cleaning out my writing space I came upon a pastiche I wrote sometime in the unknown past. I must remember to start putting dates on things. I almost must remember to thank Amanda Palmer for reminding me of the truth in these lyrics from Ukulele Anthem:

“Quit the bitching on your blog/and stop pretending art is hard…”

Thank you. Time to get back to work. And don’t forget to buy a copy of Ponderings from Finishing Line Press.

“The Time for Warnings is Over”

(with apologies to Jennie Joseph)

Since I am a middle-aged woman, I shall wear my Scrabble PJs,
with a comfy sweatshirt, to the car repair.
And I shall spend my paycheck on wine and overnight trips and concerts,
and say we’ve no money for cat food.
I shall lie on the couch watching Heroes when I am tired
and eat all the samples at Sam’s club on a Sunday and raise hell at work
and run my mouth at anyone who will listen
and try and forget the wildness of my youth.
I shall go out in socks and Crocs
and steal best practices from my student teachers
and practice growling.

You can wear rainbow tee-shirts and get fatter
and eat McDonalds three times a week
or only Chinese take-out
and squirrel away office supplies at home.

But now we must wear shirts without cleavage
and try to make the students do the same
and send them to the office when they are too naked.
We must talk to people and keep up with politics.
But I am beyond practicing.
So people who’ve just met me will not be traumatized
when my friends say, “She has no filter and loves Gertrude Stein.”

July 6, 2015

Doing Things

by lisa st john

IMG_2720I made coffee, fed the cats, drank the coffee, made the bed up with clean sheets, got dressed, paid two bills, did three dishes, started one load of laundry, put away one load of laundry (why this is my most hated chore next to cleaning out the kitchen drain is beyond me, but it is), took my vitamins, ate some cereal (with almond milk—“real” milk disgusts me), signed up for a short story writing class (online—obviously), put an open-mic reading in my calendar (just in case I actually decide to go somewhere), almost answered the phone when “no caller id” appeared, added my frequent flyer number to an upcoming flight to Colorado, renewed my subscription to The Academy of American Poets, began a children’s story about a sock, put stamps on envelopes to be delivered to companies who don’t use PayPal for some archaic reason, thought about typing out the latest poem in my head, chose to brush my teeth instead, and then the noon whistle went off. Yes. I live in a “hamlet” and the noon “whistle” (more like a sounding horn) goes off at noon every day except Sunday which is, presumably, a day of sleeping in past noon (or at least not caring that it is, in fact, noon).

Why the litany? Well, it’s occurred to me that of the many things we “do” on a daily basis the things we talk about are never the inside things.

“What are you doing?”
“Thinking.”

Shouldn’t this be a normal conversation? It’s not.

“What are you doing this summer?”
“Thinking.”
“Thinking about where you are going, huh? I don’t blame you I couldn’t decide if I should … [fade into meaningless babble].

I am thinking about thinking. I am thinking about writing and making new art and smelling fresh grass and wondering if color would exist as well without smell. Isn’t the grass a brighter hue of green when we smell the freshly mowed kind?
Time jumps and bobbles and I am writing a sequel to the sock story (that I haven’t finished yet) that begins, “Somehow the strawberries got involved…” I wonder, also, if it’s possible to live on fresh fruit pies alone. And then I am mowing the lawn writing a poem in my head that never ends.

A New Poem:

You would hate the way I mow the lawn—my line-ish things, my
lack of symmetry, my
desire to go over the same spot twice.

You would hate that I go right over the rocks you taught me to avoid. My
patterns don’t make sense and if I stop to flip a turtle or watch a baby snake periscope its new world, I can hear you asking. I can sense your puzzlement.

You told me once: “Lil, if there is an assbackward way to do something you will find it.” I smile, remembering running down the up escalator in the Paris Metro—you catching me in time for the free concert in Saint Sulpice. We made it. We always made it.

And now I hit the rock and it makes that crunching noise
and now I go over the rock
and over it
and let it make that crunching noise because something should be allowed to make noise.

You would hate the way I keep stopping the mower to get a drink or write a few lines.

You would hate the way I go over twigs of increasing size just to see how much the blades can take.

You would not understand why I keep it in first gear
only. And only you would understand why sometimes I mow the lawn more than once a week.

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Now I have poison ivy on my face and I am going to see Amanda Palmer at Bearsville anyway because I am supposed to do things. People are out there doing things. I am a person, therefore… .

Ponderings is still available at Finishing Line Press.

May 3, 2015

Tip the Scales

by lisa st john

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“Why do you like gardening?” she asked.

“Because I’m not serious about it. Because it’s my own tangible metaphor.”

When I feel like killing, there are weeds to pull.
When I feel like changing, there are shrubs to move.
When I feel like dreaming, there are seeds to plant.

When I feel like crying, there are seedlings that need homes.

And when I just feel like letting all the images of the days sink in, I sit around and look at it all. Then, hopefully, I write.

I dig out a nasty raspberry invader and see a sprouting bleeding heart and I am reminded of the girls on the beach last summer. Looking longingly at the older girls with bigger, prouder breasts the younger ones, with their newly shaved legs, saunter by trying to look aimless. But then the same longing look falls on the little girls building a sandcastle. Their shoulders are bare because the straps just don’t matter—the building matters. Their sandy, matted hair falls wherever it wants. They don’t need mousse. And the in-between girls want both. And I want to tell them they are already both.

When I feel like shaking people up…well, I haven’t found a gardening exercise for that yet. We take so much for granted. An amazing documentary about the feminist movement, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, shook me up—woke me up. I remember my older sisters burning their bras and going to rallies. My students and I live in a world paved by these women, and we forget.

My mother was very proud of having participated in suffrage marches around Chicago, and when I was a little girl she would always take me with her to vote. I decided later on that the two emancipators of women were the vote and birth control…” Virginia Whitehill

The feminists of the 60’s forgot the suffragists, and now we have forgotten the revolutionary women who forged Title IX (usually we think of Title IX in terms of sports, but it also ensures equal access to higher education like law school). The entire world is better because of the Women’s Liberation Movement. To paraphrase the film, “The Supreme Court didn’t hand us Roe v. Wade, individual women fought for it.” It’s 2015 and we are losing.

But somewhere along the road the word “feminism” got a bad rap, and our future is going to pay for it.

Now that I am all shook up—what to do? So I made a list.

Educate. Talk. The Equal Rights Amendment has not yet been passed. It’s three sentences long.

Check out places like:

Ms. Foundation for Women

Center for Reproductive Rights

List of Supporters of the E.R.A.

Women Organized to Resist and Defend

Feminist.com

Listen to more Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin and Amanda Palmer and Adele and Ricki Lee Jones.

Love the men and boys around you and let them know that they are as necessary to this movement as any woman. Be proud to call yourself a feminist regardless of your gender.

p.s. (If you are male or female or non-binary and you are against abortion, then don’t fucking have one; just know that abortion is an equal rights issue, a health issue.)

PLEASE buy my first chapbook, Ponderings. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website athttp://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

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April 30, 2015

Poetry is a Deserved and Necessary Extravagance

by lisa st john

PoetryIsTheShadowCastByOurStreetlightImaginationsByLawrenceFerlinghettiInJackKerouacAlley

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (
Audre Lorde)

The workshop guru said we must fight. Poetry is dying because we over-test the students. “Where is the short story? Where are the poems in your curriculum?” she demands.

I teach high school students. I try and also integrate the language arts. I cannot do a poetry unit for the same reason that I can’t really buy into Black History Month. Poetry is embedded in all my units. Black history is American history, isn’t it? Do I wait to teach the syncopation of Langston Hughes until February? Do I hold off on Zora Neale Hurston or Toni Morrison until “their month” arrives? How do you read Frankenstein without reading Percy Bysshe Shelley or looking at the paintings of William Blake? How do you read Tim O’Brien without writing collage and found poetry? I guess I m not good at separating the arts into little egg cartons. Eggs are too easily broken.

So I go to writing workshops like Nina Shengold’s Word Cafe, and rejoice in the publication and popularity of Chronogram (in print no less). And I nod in understanding when Gretchen Primack describes poetic form as a “lattice for your roses.”

I smile at the incredulity of teachers when they find out my oh-so-optional Poetry Elective (pass/fail—no credit) is full.

I laugh a full belly-laugh when a students says, “Look at that kid—he looks like a purple crayon!” And then I tell the student that he has the start of a poem.

I take them on field trips to hear poets like Tina Chang at SUNY Ulster. I am thrilled when they buy her book or want a picture. Who says poets cannot be celebrities?

When I Google the phrase “21st century poetry” I get 11,200,000 hits. That’s not so bad. Google used to be a number spelled googol and then it was a noun and now it’s a verb. Poetry used to be oral, sung; it changed to include the written, recited, slammed, recorded (audio and visual), animated, mashed, digitized. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek, meaning “to create.”

It’s not going away any time soon. I need poetry like I need cooked food. If I only ate grass, I’d be a sheep.

My first chapbook, Ponderings, is being published by Finishing Line Press. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

The number of copies sold before May 8th determines the size of the pressrun, which explains this gentle reminder.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

I wrote the following poem at a Word Cafe Workshop with a collaboration of teaching and writing and not separating in mind.

“Sonnet for Adam: Denied Donation”

I would leave off a line for you,
not a whole couplet, obviously, but—
a line. Oh Adam, you are not the first.
So many bled—ahead—to pave this way.

At least you had the guts to tell the truth.
You say, “Heighten your attention. See Me.”
“Come back next year,” they told you yet again.
You say, “Listen to truth with wider eyes.”

To savor your story will take longer
than one Stonewall and a few thousand lives.
For you, Adam, for you—oh! Not the first.
For you, the blood will come around again.

See me. See me. Anapest just this once.

April 11, 2015

Persephone is Knocking

by lisa st john

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Persephone is Knocking

There is something so fragile about spring. The little kid part of me that believed in fairies also sometimes believes that spring will never come—that we are doomed to grey snowpiles and ice-cracked puddles forever. Maybe I just watched too much Twilight Zone as a kid.

But April is a fierce beast too, hence the paradox. I have seen crocuses and daffodils bust right through leaves and snow and winter and announce their arrival with bravado. But the cold breezes—right through the sunlight—still whisper winter in the air.

Everything that was covered up for months comes out to haunt and tease and say, “You thought you got rid of me? Ha.” There is no hiding from spring. Leaf piles that never got raked, dog turds and cigarette butts, broken glass and moments too resonant to stay buried come back in spring. IMG_4309

Jeffrey McDaniel said, “There’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” There is something sneaky about spring. She makes you believe in summer while letting winter’s frost in through the back door. Come on up Persephone. You must be starving.

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You can buy my first chapbook of poetry HERE at Finishing Line Press. It’s called Ponderings.

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