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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Poetry of Thanksgiving

How would Thanksgiving read as poetry?  Would it be a paean of praise for turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pie, or the suitably rich, gourmet equivalent of another culture, chockful of sensory experiences and satiated appetites?  A ghazal celebrating yet lamenting the surfeit of fare, the absence of love?
Would it be a witty or a call and response conversation enumerating family members passed, past, sick, or present, comparing or elaborating their exploits and relationships?
Would it be a series of aphoristic poems, each gem of family wisdom brought forth and polished up with new nuances and facets, real or imagined, in the telling by elders, along with a Greek chorus of precocious offspring?
Perhaps it would be the prose poetry of sports reporting, this league and that, illustrated in living color, or perhaps by live demonstrations in the November chill.
Toasts to teams, guests, and the cooks?
Lists of accomplishments, events and gains?
Or would it be a sonnet, contrasting his version and hers, albeit placed in a singular context, which side of the family, or side of the bed, was richer, was better, was authentic and true, eyes blind to the commonality even a reader could see?
Would the facts and rhymes evolve like Fibonacci numbers, strict in pattern yet understandable to few, reading like fractals to the rest of the crew?
Perhaps an acronym, explicating as much meaning as one could squeeze out of a name?
Would it read like the curse and the charm of the a charity kitchen, open to all and One, at once both blessed and guiltily accepted, admission and foretaste of the feast to come?
How would YOU write Thanksgiving as a poem?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What does 'prose poem' mean to you?

Heard Michael Dennis Browne today, reading and commenting on the poetry of D.H. Lawrence...that's right!
He was a great poet, much of life and death and looking at life through the perspective of creatures often
couched in spiritual terms.  In fact the program was at Plymouth Congregational Church, part of their "Literary Witness" series.  Worth the trip into town.  I hope they have more poets...

This week, prose poetry...and what is it that makes it so?  The "vibration" that MDBrown says a poem needs? A developing image or metaphor that 'stays with you'? It doesn't necessarily have the rhyme or rhythm or line structure of a more traditional poem...although I think there is definitely movement, almost breathless, and/or a grand extolling, hm?  TSmith says it's often about place...I think I hadn't heard that before writing this one in class.  What do you think makes prose poetry??

Here's a draft I wrote in class last week: 
Missing the Old Guthrie
a prose poem
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Why abandon that charming building of candy bright light, light and the various concentrated attentions of the elite, the effete, and the earnest hardworking and student come seeking salve and salvation for tired souls, excitement for energetic minds, exposed under glass to entice or distance the man or woman on the street, the messenger and the driver passing under the grasshopper bridge, the man under the freeway holding a crudely lettered cardboard sign.  Why not, retaliates the stark new building across town, hurling the names of its plays like flames against the sky; why not stage a warren of dim corridors even more complicated, dark and diverse, why not stadium seating outside a proper bar in an architectural interlude more like a giant beak, brooding over flowing dark waters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A 'prompt-in-a-box' this week was "A List."

In My Study:  A List                                                                        October 19 and 30, 2011

The bookshelves in my study are lined with books.  Too many books.  Books I intended to read when I retire, books gathering dust while I ply the library for more, order them online, haunt used book sales. A long, low row of journals.  But, on high shelves at eye level around the room are momentos, snatches of times, ancient and modern, trinkets and toys, snippets of nature, travel echoes, family photos, well wishes from friends.

 A wooden jig toy, which fascinated me, but the working of which I never mastered, its essential, wooden ‘stage’ long lost.  Two tiny shells.  Few cells of a hive.  Small paintings by two artist friends, marble doggie from a writer friend.  Subtle hint of floral pastel, water-colored by a dear heart, faraway.

Here’s a well wish for retirement from a career that took half my life away from family and the sequestered nooks and serenity of books prettily depicted on the front of the Mary Engelbreit card. Inside, a valediction from my daughter. A golden oval beside a small, heart-shaped, red-lacquered box frames her mischievous, Mona Lisa smile in her high school photo.

Come to think of it, every shelf bears photos of my daughter: in chortling infancy, self-conscious teenage, college camaraderie, exulting in soccer, basking with her fiancée, falling back on friends. In one photo, she holds her little brother, in another they hold small flags on the day they took citizenship.  In yet another, she embraces me and my mother; this picture next to one of a more fortunate friend studying her own mother who lived, joyfully alert, til one hundred.   Here’s an earlier photo of my own mother, recently widowed, smiling ruefully before a window reflecting Lake Minnewaska on which our house stood.  In a silver frame, my Finnish grandparents; grandfather,  straiaght and tall in his worsted suit, hat in hand, stands beside my beaming grandmother, who wears a brooch at the collar of her best black dress.  The photo was taken on the occasion of their first grandson’s baptism.

Here, a framed magazine photo, one of the ingenious ways my mother brought art into my childhood home.  A postcard of the big blue marble, A snap with our son in front of the Louvre, capturing his boyish delight in Paris;  his childish handiwork:  a stick-and-yarn eye-of-God.  A pale blue music box that still plays ‘The Washerwomen of Venice,” harking back to my other grandmother, “Gramma-on-the-farm.”

A red-dyed, wooden, Swedish, no-nonsense nutcracker.  Cross-stitched red and green, tasseled gew-gaw of Hmong handiwork, teal-dyed box of Polish handiwork, brimming with beads for a grand-daughter’s dress-up-and-play.  The granddaughter’s first kindergarten painting:  modernist sunshine bursting with life (she tells me it’s ‘just a design.’), waiting to be framed.  A tiny turquoise dancing doll from India.

And a worn but still workable, wind-up Cinderella, the clockwork hidden under her ballroom skirt still able to propel her along predetermined lines and circles.  The prince who was once attached has broken off, leaving her scarred hands spread wide as though extending an invitation.  Each of these memories is an invitation.  The memories invite me to write them down, let the pen or the keyboard dance, in the study.       

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hello Haiku

Whew, I'm finally back to the blog, trying to limit it to my themes of India and/or the writing life.  Taking a poetry class with Thomas R. Smith.  Great fun.  Reviewing a form a week, authors of the same, examples of their work and signs of their times; practicing writing, sharing our own.  Last week:  Haiku.  Three lines, of 5-7-5 syllables, respectively.  Or less.  Here are a couple of my own:

Two or Three Haiku
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Habit forming.                    (p.s., It really is! Like eating's hard to stop!)

Dusk in the forest.
Out of gathering silence
An owl calls my name.

Why all these
Miss-understandings?                       (spelling, sic)
Why not Mister?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


"I see you're a fan of Robert Frost," he said, as I concluded reading a sheaf
of my poems for our writers' group.

Actually, I'm not.  Neither is my favorite writing role poet, memoirist, playwright,
or novelist, though these are all genre in which I write.

The 'favorites' question has perplexed me since childhood.  The question
implies a demand for an unambiguous answer.  Decisions are hard for me.
Today I may wear turquoise, red,  or gray.  It all depends, upon what will go
together with what I wore yesterday into the next load of laundry, whether
the sun is shining or not, and/or the available options of clothing appropriate
for the company and situations in which the day's activities will take place.
So what is the point of stating a preference, anyway, when, in lieu of reasons
to the contrary, that preference is open to change and any number of

Oh, I have preferences of type.  I will read memoirs and period or culture-
specific writings, both sacred and secular, as opposed to murder mysteries
and science fiction.  But that's just me.  I may indeed read any or all of these,
given a fondness for the author, historical basis, experiential affinity, or highly
recommended quality of writing.

I like deep male voices, sunny days, happy colors, little children, new
friends, learning new things.  I like sound sleep, good writing, smooth or
grand music, talking with a friend.  I like the feel of a book in hand, the
softness of a rose petal, and butter, potatoes.  (Oh, you've caught me there,
potato is far and away my favorite vegetable.)

Every inventory in view of the favorites question brings me to the same
conclusion. While I don't have much to say about favorite anything, I do
tend to pay attention to the ordinary.  In that way, I think like Robert Frost.
But I am not a fan.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


It's a fine evening following a string of stormy, interspersed with extremely hot,
weather, the latter finally starting to cool, as I pull up to the curb in front of
Mary's house for the July book club meeting.  Today is the annual bring-
an-item-for-salad supper and share-a-book-or-idea-about-gardening meeting.
My two avocado and jar of sunflower seeds are secured in a burlap basmati
rice bag.  Kind of funky, I think, but the focus is not on the bag.
I hear voices in the back of the house, so circumvent the house to a wrought-
iron-latched door in a high wooden fence.  Oh pooh (but not the same as
Winnie-the-), this door doesn't open from outside the fence.  I glimpse my
friend Terry through a crack.  Thinking I can slip in unobtrusively, I
ask her to open the door from inside.  But, bummer, she has to walk through
the whole group, step down to the ground, and circle the deck, to get
the the door, all of which she does with her usual elan.
My initial embarrassment at creating such a blatant interruption with my late
entrance is quickly gladdened by the opportunity to skirt and savor a
small rockery, where running water cascades pleasantly down among subtle
groupings of green plants.  And there are nothing but smiles and cheerful
hellos from the half dozen gals already enjoying cool drinks and the easy,
catching-up-with-each-other conversation of old friends.
Terry had told me for years that this is a group I would enjoy, but I could
never muster the energy for going out on a week night, during a thirty year
career in teaching.  Even after a few forays, post-retirement, I have fallen
into an approach-avoidance relationship with the book group.  (As many
years as it has been in existence, the gathering's name has remained the same:
simply, the book group.)  Many of the members have been employees of
Minneapolis Public Schools; the others have worked in other professions -
counselling and law.
Though there are definite affinities, my longstanding demurment has left me
groping for background information while they've shared stories of the
growing pains of their careers and family, while, aside from Terry, they
are largely ignorant of mine. But I've gotten somewhat more acquainted
with four of the women who frequent the same exercise pool that I attend,
Mary's thoughts and anecdotes fascinate me, Ruth has an elegance of
demeanor and perspective worth emulating and thinking about, Denise's
unique comments frequently challenge me to  broaden my thinking, while
Terry remains  one of my all-time-best friends.  I have gradually learned
that the book of the month is only a starting point for an evening of
gnoshing and sharing.  I am welcome whether I've read the book agreed
upon for any given month or not, and the discussions range far from and
beyond the book.  And so I find myself drawn back again and again, until
I'm finally able to 'let' myself settle comfortably in, tonight.
Terry and I busy ourselves, setting out our contributions among the
delicacies already in place on the buffet, while Mary offers us wine or soft
drinks and adds finishing touches to the display.  As I cut and chatter with
these gals, the results of my attempts to arrange the avocado artfully end up
childish and smudgy. There are half a dozen greens...spring mix,rich arugula,
practical but delicate spinach, tangy Italian parsley, robust basil and spice-like
oregano , (the first time I've seen the last one green.)   My sunflower seeds
have disported themselves over the bottom of my carry-bag, but I notice
that there is another bowl of the seeds already on the full-to-bursting
buffet. there are tomato and gorgonzola salad, sliced mushrooms, a variety of
cheeses, light and dark artisan rolls, pepperoni, butter, roasted almonds,
slivered chicken, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries and more--all artfully
Mary and Terry arrange a second table on the deck while the others
and I talk and relax deeper into the balmy evening atmosphere.  Now Mary
asks whether anyone's hungry.  Weak attempts to deny our desire dissipate
in the ensuing shuffle of chairs and glasses. Our unspoken"Yes" is unanimous;
we know it's going to be good.
Close quarters around the wide-angled island in Mary's cozy kitchen
deter no-one. Culinary affirmations and information are exchanged as we
eye the food we are layering onto our plates; there's  no break in the flow
of comfortable conversation, no fumbling as we  find our way back to our
tables, where our gourmet salads soon disappear, one carefully considered
forkful at a time. Anyone for seconds?  Though some of us would like to,
we are satisfied,and going back for more would put us over the top.
But 'the top' is yet to come.
Mary points out that there is room for all, so four of us seated to one side
move our chairs to join the quartet at a round table under an umbrella.
No sooner are we seated than Mary begins bringing out our dessert--
large goblets of fresh fruit  topped with freshly made sauvignon sauce.
Slowing our already leisurely pace to savor this rich and satisfying
preparation, we are  surprised when Mary serves a second dessert--
individual dishes of something called 'Angel Pie.'  The word 'savor'
does not do justice to our examination and consumption of this confection,
a baroque sandwich of flavorful custard between two discs of
burnt-sugar-flavored meringue, the whole being drizzled with dark chocolate.
We protested that we have no room for more, but curiosity sirens us to try, and
we fall under the spell of an oxymoronic light-rich taste experience like no
other. Restricted to a celiac disease diet, Mary has often introduced us to
glorious treats still possible on a gluten-free diet. Tonight's is no exception.
We delve gingerly into this latest 'concoction.'  Then, for several minutes,
there is only an attentive silence, gently punctuated with the 'Unnnhh!'
'Oh....' and 'Mmmmm' of one passionate woman after another. I suppress
a merry giggle at the thought of how an unsuspecting neighbor might perceive
these sounds emanating from this group of women, all of us on the cusp
of matronhood.
Oh, for sure, 'a good time was had by all.' But, aside from a brief flurry
of suggestions and the flourishing of datebooks as the group agrees on reading
selections for the next two months, our reading, garden anecdotes and books
get nary a mention.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

This looks "do-able."

From npr's link on Facebook, something which all of us writers, or anyone
who has ever had an anecdote to share, can do.  Let us hear it on the radio,
who knows what may come of it?!
Try your hand, and let us know whether it has been accepted and, if you can,
when we can hear it on the radio!

Excuse the absence - the 3MF staff has gone delirious in the DC heat.
3 hours ago · ·

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Painting with Flowers

And the  answer is yes, things and places, as well as people,can and do play significant roles in our lives.

      Flowers are playing an increasingly important role in my life, these halcyon summer days.
      I am a writer, but writing times and ideas often slip away as I bemoan a longstanding lack of discipline. Even during diligent spurts, I am as likely to take snack breaks, do my laundry, dabble in art projects or tend to the plants.  Each summer, pots on the deck, a narrow bed running along our front porch, and circles near and around trees in the front of the house become home to new and old varieties of plants, mostly annuals, varying according to my husband's and my annual whims and preferences.
      This year I've claimed the narrow bed in front, as well as a garden in back deck pots, as "my" turf.  Eying my neighbor Sue's ever-blooming profusion of varieties, faux-fenced at a corner of her sidewalk, I strive for a rich palate of colors, leaves or blooms, in the 3 X 15 foot bed along our narrow, shady front porch.  An overhanging roof not only lends shade, but prevents most rain from watering these flowers. So I treat them to water from the hose, or, along with Miracle-gro, from a watering can, at least every other day.  With the hose, water is easily brought to the circles (there are six of them, planted and tended by others), as well. 
     But my intentions and attention are focused on the long bed next to the front porch.  I'm  really 'getting into it' this year  Every time I pass, I stop to see how things are doing:  Any dry leaves to remove? Are the geraniums, on their puny root systems, strong enough to stand?  Do I have enough deep-throated flowers to attract humming birds?  What's the name of that maroon-green one that looks like Coleus, though it's not?  Fortunately I'd stuck the greenhouse tag nearby:  it's Hypoester, red.  Too bad it's so short, but it's shade-loving, and I had to plant it behind older, taller ones.  Do I cut only the dried-up Iris blooms or the whole flower stem?  This scalloped trailing plant is pretty, but it's a weed which winds around the roots of pedigreed plants; can I train a single sprig to line the shady back of the bed?  Is it too late to stop gracefully drooping Iris leaves from careening into the newer, more delicate, varieties?  Though intentionally apparently random, are the colors balanced?  
     At the end of the bed, where an overabundance of sunshine dries the soil quickly, and where a young Nasturtium as quickly died, I planted fragrant Lavender and sturdy, golden Cosmos.  The Impatiens were all supposed to be vermillion, but they turn out to be several hues of lavendars and pinks. Overall, there don't seem to be enough yellows to relieve these and the opulent reds of the scarlet Geranium majority.  Hmmm.
     Back to the early summer greenhouse tent in the parking lot of the supermarket, where all remaining plants are now priced at fifty percent off.  Bring home new varieties. Dig, scrape, carry, fill, pat, water. Ah, finally  we have them, among the red, pink, lavendar, and front row greens: happy yellows of Pansy, Golddust and Superbells, the latter two, thank goodness, short, catchy names for hybrid Mecardonia and Calibrachoa.  It's almost like I am painting with the flowers, arranging colors in a defined space.
      I've even dug up and moved a couple plants around...  they still won't always 'behave' the way I'd like, because nature tends to have its own way.  And that's a good lesson for me.  I strive to adjust, but at the same time, it's fun to try and second-guess nature's plan.   Yesterday I finally articulated a growing realization that, along with successful gardening and its requisite regular attention and care: voila, I am practicing discipline!  And so it is with renewed interest, as though with a lexicon or palette, I study painting my garden. I meditate, observe, learn, and grow. With flowers!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shirley Franklin Reads Poetry

Shirley Franklin reads her poetry and emcees at Northwords and Rice Creek Writers' groups' reading held at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, Fridley, MN, April 8, 2011.                                                  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Word Order in Telugu vis a vis English Questions

I often notice a mistake like the one I saw today on a language website:  "What remote is called in Telugu?"

Without getting into the answer (which, I suspect, is, no need to translate, just use the English word!) , a comment on the question itself:  There's an important variation to note regarding the order of words when asking a who/what/when/where/why question in English.  *An appropriate form of the verb 'to be' (is, am, are, was, were) in the sentence should immediately follow the question word.

Ex:  What is your name?  NOT  What your name is?
       What is 'remote' called in Telugu?  NOT What 'remote' is called in Telugu.?

I think this mistake arises because these words would be at the very end of the sentence, or simply omitted, in the Telugu language.  But they* are expected, in English.  Or does the mistake follow on an English rule not to 'split infinitives...' 
Whatever the cause, the error causes a 'blip' in the flow of the language whether you leave them* out, or put them in at unexpected places!

I hope this helps!   ;-) 

Note to nephew about blogging and such

Good thought, Chris, using mnemonics, tho' I'd thought mnemonics was something more limited/specific than a sentence (tho #2: tho what that specific is/was I can't exactly define...haha), something catchy.  Revising yours to omit 'the' before the first '5th' and adding 'all' before 'the rest' seems a little catchier; maybe the flow of sounds of the words (is that what they call diction??) fits in the ear (thus the memory) better...Try it and see what you think. 
Let's try again to discipline ourselves to reflect and/or hone our written expression via the blog regularly, hm?  A couple of my friends have recently asked me for mine...which, you can see, has been silent for over a month...and I am flummoxed as to why I can just sit at the computer and 'let'er rip' about life in India, but produce nothing but wooden prose (wood chips, at that) here at home.  The flow is dammed somewhere (ironic choice of words, there??) Is it because Grammy once told me "Never put down on paper what you don't want someone else to read" after, I realize now, she (must have) read the journal I was attempting at the time, when I was in junior high? 
It was a discarded, partially used not-quite-standard-sized spiral notebook (aagh, I hated the way the spirals caught and stuck together when carried along with other books!) with an burnt ochre-colored cover, its narrow-lined pages rounded on the outside corners.  What I'd written in it, I don't remember, and what happened to it, I have no idea.  I suspect words never made it past the cover where I'd doodled a human figure over the notebook's previous owner's name.  The figure, I DO recall, was slightly embarassing, and further covered by copious scribbling, leaving a large, unsatisfactory blot in its place. I don't think I tried journalling again until I went to India in the  sixties...what wet blankets well-meaning comments by parents (or anybody, for that matter) can be for our budding talents, our latent gifts.
Yet I also remember unbidden appreciation of my writing ability from a variety of people over the years. Usually shrugged off with a laughing "Some day I'll write..."  So let me try this blog again, replacing what in Telugu is 'siggu,' by recalling those encouragements...But what are they?  What is the mnemonic for remembering something you've hidden away for 'some day' but lost track of, over the years...?? (Deja vu...I'm just reading HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, where a search through a cellarful of suitcases and other belongings plays an important role...) Hm, can an action or a location play a ROLE? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What to do next...

Okay, napowrimo poem-a-day month is over.  Not that I couldn't keep on writing one-a-day, but now I intend to explore different aspects of poetry, writing paraphrases of definitions,  and attempting to exemplify each aspect for several days as I focus on it. ( 'Looks like I should practice re-writing my intentions in clearer written English!)  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Never Knew

How appropriate for the last day of the write-a-poem-a-day month: the
one forming in my mind is a retrospective look -- based on a poignant
remark made by a gentleman I visited during a neighborhood survey.

What the Widower Said

by Shirley Smith Franklin

She's gone, he said.  We were
married forty six years,
but she's been gone for six weeks now.
Forty six years we lived together,
slept together, ate together...
We had three children together.
I went to work, while she kept house.
Raised our children all by herself,
but they've all grown up and left us.
Now she's gone and left me, too.
I never noticed all the things she did,
that needed to be done around the house.
The sugar bowl's empty.  I never noticed
that somebody had to fill the sugar bowl.

Friday, April 29, 2011

napowrimo poem-a-day month, day 29 and still determined!

Song for a Family
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Praise to the dad
who doth bring home
the bread and the bacon.
Praise to the mom
who doth all the same
plus the cooking and baking.
Cherish their children
who brighten their lives
with talent and mischief and glee.
Cherish grandparents
who relieve mom and dad,
from time to time setting them free.
Relish the going
and coming together
of child, parent, grandparent, spouse,
through illness and health,
in all kinds of weather,
for living makes home of a house.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sometimes the news overwhelms me

Hence, today's poem.  My knee-jerk reaction, after reading it, was to apologize
for bringing the bad news.  But, let's face it.  It's true.  And what does that mean
I should do?  And what does it mean for you???

Today, Someone
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Today you awoke early, had a snack, then went for a nap, on the sofa.
Yesterday, a tubercular teenager died in Nepal.
Today you had breakfast, juice, mushroom omelette, and toast with
                                                                                  raspberry jam.
Today a smiling child is dying of AIDS in Botswana.
Today, for a lark, you served your husband his breakfast in front
                                                                                          of the t.v.
Today a child in Syria holds a rifle in his hands for the very first time.
Today you cooked on a glass stove top in a fully electrified kitchen.
Today a woman in Sudan fans a small fire which she fans to keep it
Today you sigh over too many advertisements in your virtual and real
while somewhere a soldier's mother learns she will never get another
                                                                             letter from her son.
Tomorrow a young commoner will become a princess,
while a young servant girl in India is being raped.
Did you ever stop to think, Someone, that everyday, somewhere,
that every day, everywhere, humanity is dying.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kitchen Inventory

Kitchen Inventory
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Cupboard doors and inaccessible corners: I'll clean them next week.
Aging Formica counters, though nicked, still shine when buffed twice over,
The dented stainless, double sink  is still my favorite place,
vantage point for shenanigans in lives of backyard birds.
Washing dishes allows me time to meditate on words.  
The sprayer sometimes sticks, but never, well, hardly ever, leaks.
Cupboard with oatmeal, oil and rice.  Lazy susan, cupboard of spice.
Stove is new; a point of pride is a window, so I can peek inside.
Lower cupboard for pots and pans; upper shelves: trays, liquor, and bags.;
Irregular doors hide shelves of canned food, spices and more
one pulls out, one snaps in, flanking the frig and its supply.
Basement door, covered with paper: dates, calendar, grandchild's pictures.
More cupboards for coffee, recipe books, drawers for phone books, stuff.
Lonely too-small counter piles up, near large shelves, large bin of rice.
Oh there's mail on the table, old and new, family pictures, a note for you.
Gone shopping to restock the cupboard and frig, I'll be back                TBR, greatly!!
 to puzzle out how these figure in a poem.    Meanwhile, stay home!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Riddle

My black-streaked, white fingers
reach toward the sky.
Take a ride: I sway and
bend...  What am I?
Clothed in summer,
in winter, bare,
torn into scrolls,
tear by tear.

Who am I?
                         (a white birch tree)

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Whole New World

An attempt at a riff  i.e. a clever 'take', on Emily Dickinson's poem,
"I'm Nobody, Who Are You?" combined with yesterday's challenge
to write a biographical sort of poem.  It came out as a somewhat-
rhymed prose poem...I'm interested to see if it 'works'...I'm not
very enchanted with it so far...but it's the poem I eked out for today...

A Whole New World
by Shirley Smith Franklin

In my day it was all right to be an ordinary nobody, while in my children's,
it's important to be 'somebody,' be a special 'you.'  They hoot, strut, and
tweet, go casual, tease their peers and elders too, while 'ladies' once
wore hats and  gloves to church in case somebody looked at us, covered
our legs with cotton stockings, demurely secured by hidden garters, 'cause
whether we'd blend in, not stand out, was all that we wanted to know. They
compare and change their personae in cyberspace and fact, announcing
every detail in  their e-lists and their chat.  For us, feet and cycling were
common ways to go, but their feet stand still on skateboards; where to
find the car keys is more  important to know.  Chanting paeans of praise
to singers who bray like monsoon frogs, their milieu is strangely different
from the simple one we knew.  Oh friend, do you ever feel forsaken in
this new world blog bog, too?!

End Story

Today I'll write a bit of imaginary overheard conversation.  Tomorrow the
autobiographical's constantly on the back burner!

End Story
imagined overheard late in the week after Easter

'Guess that's the last we'll hear of that story.
After all that angst, hype, falderal,and glory,
not to mention all the gossip and  rumors,
outright lies and and in-group humor.
To think that crowds flocked out to buy
the trumped-up popularity of the guy.
Why, anyone with a head on his shoulders could make
a pretty good guess that the guy was a fake.
And, did you hear, he bragged of sleeping on the sod!
Why, he'd even --what's that?--back in town again?
                                                             Oh, my God!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today, a word play.

Following the Specs
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Aspect bespectacled.
Circumspect, despicable
expectations fractured.
Guache hatch
justify, know, love                        
operate perspectives
quiescent, respect
transect unction,
vexation, wax
exact, yet zen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

OK, I took the napowrimo suggestion to write a cento...a poem using
(variations on) lines drawn entirely from other people's poems...a weird
premise, if you ask me, but, considering it a challenge, I took it on. 
The lines for this contest (which will award, to each of  three prize winners,
twelve books of poetry by poets I've never heard of...and  admittedly that's
not saying much for my knowledge of contemporary poetry...from among
the thirty five volunteer judges of the contest!) are all selected by the poet,
Danielle Profunda, who initiated the challenge.  Entries are being accepted
through the 23rd, so if you're interested, check napowrimo's day 21 post. 

A Matter of Perspective
by Shirley Smith Franklin

Unveil the cathedral.
Open the purple clothed neck.
I lift my eyes in glee
to drink in each appearance.
But, love, let silence open
your mocha jewel-toned mouth.
Now I hear the clock:
how incidental it seems,
because I have needed you.
Just stay now, and share my room.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ghazal Number One

Today, a ghazal.  I take the hints from, and decide to go for five or more autonomous couplets, the first and last containing my 'signature' (what is this??)and have end-rhyming lines, every verse echoing the rhyme at the end of the second line only.

Ghazal Number One
by Shirley Smith Franklin

I take, oh love, your shadow,
unbidden, know your echo.

Today, there's frost on the field,
and blackbird's forlorn echo.

Introspective, Finnish folk
chant tales of nature's echoes.

At the corner of our street,
loud children's voices echo.

Should Shirley take your advice,
would memories still echo?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

But what???

Let me have my say, poetically, and maybe I'll try writing a ghazal 
tomorrow.  My understanding of that form is that it expresses the distilled 
idea or emotion, i.e. has a haiku like quality, as well as implied or overt 
teasing, and riddles may be included. But, for today:

It's snowing again.
I'm supposed to write a poem today.
My pen is poised
but I've no idea...What to say?

For discipline,
it's good for practice, this poem a day.
Helps wake the brain.
But my only thought is a refrain:

But, but, BUT... 
(But WHAT?!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

On that limbo of a mother whose last child is leaving the nest

He's leaving, or, more
accurately, he
has already left.
After so many years,
his study finished,
he left his notes as though
I'd read or play them,
hear ostinatos
under the silent
symphony he means
I must learn to play.
Gone without the stuffed toys
he maintained until
college.  Gone after
bright shiny new toys,
new friends, new pursuits,
saving precious few. 
Hardly seeing how,
I lean on whom I trust.
Yes.  Pillar and cloud.
Led... by a pillar...
of fire or of cloud..
Thank you, Lord, for these.

If I Were a Bird Today

by Shirley Smith Franklin

If I were a bird, of soaring I'd be fond,
over the house, from this noisy town away,
find peace and some solitude near a still pond,
(near plenty of food and feathered friends, I pray).
I would sing my heart out whenever I pleased,
twittering all kinds of love songs to the breeze,
or,  if I pleased,  repeat frustrated questions
again, again, though answers be suggestions
or outright rejections.  I would want to build
a comforting nest of rambling proportions
with nooks and crannies filled with delicious snacks
and a variety of books--paperbacks.
I wouldn't care about what the other birds said
about ruffled appearance or unmade bed.
I'd humbly (but proudly, probably) reply
in honest, brash poetry:  I'm a Magpie!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taking the "Erasing Poem" Challenge

Okay, let's see whether I got this one right:  Take some writing, a paragraph,
say, and re-write it as a new poem, using the words in any order and erasing
or adding new words ad lib.  Hmm...isn't that how I write a poem anyway,
sifting, blending and kneading thoughts that occur to me?!  I recorded
these first-thoughts in my journal this morning, describing what I observed
from my study window:

"This morning - the bold whistle and boastful twittering of a cardinal.
The sunlight falling on my desk."

The poem:

My Desk Calls
by Shirley Smith Franklin

My desk, awash in sunlight,
computer silent, fingers still,
itching for a dance on the keys,
all conspire to turn my head
toward the window this fine morning.
Outside, spring makes her first call.
Cardinal whoops or whistles,
utters wild, boastful twittering,
calling sunshine to shine on his mate.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Attempting the opposite

What leads a person
to prefer one hand or foot
over another, to choose sweet
over sour,  black over blue?
What leads a person's eyes to see
near or far, voices, sing high or low?
Who can tell which, of many ways,
blind luck is going to go?
Is it the same as what leads from solution,
versus that way which is from woe.
What leads a person, or do I
really need to know?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Whee, Three (napowrimo poem) Days in One

I was too busy to keep up the challenge earlier this week,
but here are three new poems by me, Shirley Smith Franklin.
Enjoy:  word play (meeting the challenge of a '5 Minute Poem'
head-on), a romantic thought, and an April nature report!

Day 13, The Five Minute Poem

Five, I've just five minutes.
I've minutes to write a mini-poem.
Fine.  Minimum five lines of poetry
Minim.  (Stop to look that up:  It's either
one sixtieth of a fluid dram, or,
in music, one half of one whole note.)
I like that idea...half a note.
Noting this poem is half done.
five minutes are half done, too.
Minutiae.  Minimum.
How many words can you make
from letters in "Five Minute Poem"?
Way over sixty, in three minutes flat,
and I like that.

Day 14,  Thinking of You

"Have I told you lately that I love you?"
An old song; an oldie, but a goodie.
Come to think, haven't heard it lately, too.
(Odd word, 'either,' why not just repeat 'too'?)
Haven't heard on "American Idol,"
on T.V., or on radio, too.  But
runs through my mind a lot.  Oh, I love you.

Day 15, April, After a Hard Winter

Young birches sway, white-flagging the wind.
Old Oak turns gray, dry creaking branch snaps.
Maple leaves break out, splitting red buds.
Blue sky oversees ways of being
in a brand new world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forty Line, One Sentence Challenge

Here's a rhyme
told in time,
time and again
same at the end
in sound,
in sight,
coming round,
taking flight,
flight of me,
fancy free,
tale of you,
tale that's true,
tale of sadness,
tale of life,
may be gladness,
may be strife,
fresh, new-minted,
subtle, hinted,
shades of anger,
or cliff-hanger,
at first writing,
with compulsion,
though if biting,
with revulsion,
poets, authors,
teachers, mothers,
fathers, brothers,
sisters, others,
everyone can write,
whoever tries,
though it be trite,
or full of lies,
though it excites,
saddens, delights,
writing can smooth,
writing can soothe,
so try your hand,
you'll be surprised
you're better than
you first surmised.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Getting ahead of myself...with 'The Shortest Verse'

I'll post this prose poem prompted by today's Gospel Lesson from John 11, even though it's the second poem today, because I know I'll be more than busy tomorrow...Can you distinguish the various characters' voices, even though I didn't use quotation marks??
The Shortest Verse

Jesus wept.   John 11:35

Lord, if you had only been here!
   It's okay he says in reply,
   everything will be all right.
How's that again?!  It comes out
as a retort, though she'd planned
to keep her cool.
He's been dead for four whole days!
   Where have you laid him,
   he asks, partly to divert attention.
(They are attracting a crowd.)
Leading the way, quieting her sniffles,
I know you can do anything, she adds,
a palliative afterthought -- or
is it but another, not-so-veiled, barb?
A challenge to show, not tell.
It was only a short walk to their brother's tomb.
Nobody had been able to persuade them
to let their brother rest at greater distance
from their hearts and from their home.
   He turns his head aside,
   lest his anguish become audible to the crowd,
   who understand well enough; but he hesitates,
   hot, salty tears, or is it sweat,
   coursing down his cheeks. Hesitates long enough to hear,
If only you had come, this, from the younger one,
she who had shown such promise.
   Now open it, he says, indicating that they
   should roll away the stone.  Is he thinking
   Oh God, is this how you will shut me in,
   who've lived three years on this earth, under sky
 Four days!!, the elder repeats,  But it will stink!
   Does he sigh, then, or draw a mighty breath?
   He calls in a mighty voice, Come forth!!
And the dead man comes walking.  Of course.
   He can do anything.  But they've forced his hand.

   Does he weep because his friend has died?
   Does he weep because he knows what his heart wants,
   and that he is capable of doing it?
   Or does he weep because, despite their words,
   he knows they still do not believe, or,
   believing, still do not understand?

Meeting the challenge of day nine on day ten

Which was, to write a mirror poem, last line first.  I extract a word or two
from our napowrimo's fearlessleader, vis "Congress did not shut down.'  
OK, here goes...

We, the People

Not many can
understand politics,
or elect those
who really do.
Despite loopholes and gain,
they say, the rich
want no new tax.
Where are their fine morals?
They sun in Spain
while I pay tax.
Sometimes I feel as though
rich and famous
are anti-folk.
Times are hard right now.
I am so glad.
Congress did not shut down.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wait, wait!

It may be 12: 38 a.m., but, to me, it's still Saturday, the 9th.
It was a great day, dear neighbors for lunch, cooking before
and dishes, and dishes (!) after, a short walk, a good nap,
relatives come to debrief, interpolated with a call from our
son...We try to clarify a few plans concerning his upcoming
wedding.  Perhaps this poem flows from all that busyness
(for which the Telugu word, hadaavady, is so much more apt),
with its attendant/fleeting opporunities to really communicate...

If you want to make a point
don't use abbreviations or
contractions.  Make eye contact.
Talk slow.  Wait for the
appropriate moment.
Adjust for understanding,
or lack of it.  Be ever so honest
and intentional.  Make it
exceedingly evident
that you are
when you making a
   o                                            ? tbr?!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hoping for a Better Day

This morning, a graying overcast dulled the promise of a rosey dawn,
and I tried to capture it in this poem, with its hint of teenage angst,
and political-like overtones.


Sullen rose shrugs off tender blue-gray in the east.  Scrawny oleander,
set out on the desk for the sake of spring sunshine, huddles against
the deck door, lest frost come again in the night.  Everywhere, neglected
twigs and leaves no foot has trodden black, no hand has raked, since
that sudden storm last fall.  But in drowsy flower beds, new life's astir.

Lone, erant duck wings across my line of sight, to join its migrating flock.
Darker clouds advance from the side of the receding night.  It appears
that the west is winning.

Bent on breakfast, my hand brushes a money plant on the table.  I am
rewarded by a single dew-drop, unexpected, a silver coin upon my  hand.
I'm savouring it, saving it, saving it up for a better day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Take Two, They're Small

You're right, I missed yesterday.  The muse came and left
when she saw I was busy-busy...but it was a good day to have,
for which I am glad, and I hope to write two short poems,
perhaps prose poems, today...The first is inspired by the
juxtaposition of today's Godpause from Luther Seminary, and
the view from our kitchen window.

A Muse

Mr. Mallard treads gently
checking out a clearing
in the clump of birch
behind our house.  A squirrel
runs after him, perhaps
chattering that
a nearby remnant of snow
is just that, not a pond.

Mr. Mallard moves on,
unperturbed.  I wonder
whether Mrs. Mallard
is nearby, if she watches
with that uncertainty
mixed with hope
which you and I might call faith.
Increase, dear Lord, my faith.

And the second is no more than a 'beater,' I fear, compared
to thoughts I'd wished to express...but that should still be ok,
a poem a day can leave room for improvement...we'll put it
out there, for the sake of the discipline of the month!

Last Words

First word I want to hear on that day is 'rise.'
Rise, like sun, newborn, on a summer morn.
Rise, like shoots of green where cold snow has been.
And the second word I hope to hear is 'shine.'
Shine, like children, dressed in their Sunday best.
Shine, like a small, but warm, bright candle in a storm.
Shine until the penultimate word.  That would be 'grace.'
From then on, there's just one word:  'glory.'
And it goes on forever.  Glory, glory, glory, glory,
glory, glory, glory.......

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sanctuary, continued

That is, I'd intended to extend 'Star Sanctuary' (see yesterday's poem)
but got distracted, and the thought evaporated before I got it on paper.
Today's prompt was to use Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker (online) to generate
a random, oxymoronic pair of words upon which to base a poem.  My words
were Blissful and Depression.  My poem is but a comment on the plethora of
blogs, sites, and poems that I would love to peruse, were there only more TIME...

Your poem is so keen,
I know just what you mean;
thanks for reading mine.
The prompts are divine,
though I want to read more,
there's someone at the door,
I need to wash clothes,
cook dinner, wipe my nose.
I want to read more,
but, after digression,
barely write my own
midst blissful depression.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Star Sanctuary

I've been reading Native American poetry today.  Many of the poems are exceedingly simple.  Many are chants.  All seem to be songs.  This neo-sonnet came to me this evening, after I read "The sky loves to hear me."  A Friendly Song, by Mabezic, tr. from the Chippewa by Frances Densmore (tbc)  Before I could write it down, and while I was still thinking up a title, a friend emailed that she was planning a trip to New Zealand, to a star sanctuary.  I've never heard of such a place, but the words struck a beautiful counterpoint to the thought in my poem, that although, sometimes, the poet's intended audience is not inclined to listen, still, there is satisfaction in expression for expression's sake, in simple but heartfelt thoughts sent out into the universe, 'to the stars,' to God.  (tbr)  The last line of both stanzas can be read  in two ways: either as invitation for another to express feelings, or, as complaint.

The sky loves to hear me,
hears my story,
hears my song.
The sky loves to hear me,
hears my sorrow,
hears my joy.
The sky loves to hear me,
hears my gladness,
my complaint.
Why not you?

The sky loves to hear me,
so I will tell my story,
I will sing my song
to the stars.  Why not you?
                             -- Shirley Smith Franklin, April 4, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Under the Stars

Look up, said mother.
Isn't it beautiful!
I was young.
I didn't see, then,
sky full of diamonds,
sparkling on velvet.

Black, freshly turned earth
in an April garden
seemed pretty,
but the sky, that night,
was simply night sky,
darkness, not quite black.

Why didn't I see
what everyone else saw,
bright comets
and constellations?
Soon after that night
I was wearing glasses.

Sometimes I still wish
for ignorant evenings,
not to see
some ways of this world.
But, rosy or not,
these days, I wear glasses.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How about just two?

Today's <>'s poem-a-day challenge is to write a poem incorporating the titles of two of the books in your house.  Misremembering the number, I used the names of just two.  (Halfway to Harmony is a gentle, somewhat laconic portrait of an imaginary town called Harmony, as narrated by fictitious pastor who takes the idiosyncracies seriously.  Under a Wing is the memoir of  Charles Lindbergh's  family by his younger daughter.)
Surprisingly, the message of the poem serves to describe both of the books!  Serendipity?!

Evening in Duckville

Halfway to harmony
a pair of ducks
waddles along
the pebble path
from the pond,
hearing the argument
of their children,
little peeps
and louder ones,
fuzzy ducklings
vying for their places
in the family
pecking order.
Now the parents
come into view.
Ducklings shriek, fall, push,
clambering up
on each other,
or being pushed,
til suddenly,
under a wing, they’re home.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No fooling, this is the first one

All right, this is my first poem as I attempt the one-a-day
National Poetry Writing Month ( challenge.
Day one's specific challenge is to write a poem incorporating
the titles of three books in my house...but let me meditate
on that for awhile, see what might emerge for tomorrow. 
For today:

Sometimes I Notice

Poems are little
               Shirley Smith Franklin, 4/1/11

Thursday, March 31, 2011

OK, this is it!

Okay, this is it.  The new plan, that is, to meet a 30 day challenge by national
poetry writing month (, to write a poem a day during April,
which is, fyi, national poetry month.  We can do this!  You can too!  You can
read my poem a day right here in my blog, but there are ever so many poets
signing up to meet the challenge at the website mentioned in brackets above.
Welcome spring, welcome poets, welcome poetry!

And please note that the Rice Creek Writers and Northwords Writers' Groups
of the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley, MN, will host a public
reading of member work on Friday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m.  The center is about
a mile north of 694 on East River Road, in Fridley.  Yours truly will be
the emcee that night, as well as read a couple of poems (already written and
vetted by peers).  It'll be fun. Be our guest!!

Hmm, now what shall I write tomorrow's poem about....

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How's Lent?

So, how's Lent going for you?  This year I seem to have defaulted into not giving up
anything. I have embarked on a six lesson Interpersonal Communication unit at my
Toastmasters' club--nothing I've not heard before, but the process forces me to
'own' such skills even more intentionally by giving a speech and role playing in a
spontaneously assigned scenario, on each of six topics.  I suppose you could call
that my lenten discipline, although the way things are scheduled it'll last well into
the Easter season... May my learning continue beyond that!!  The way my
communication slips into 'Cherry Pitfalls' (sorry, Candyland) from time to time,
the discipline can use constant upgrading.  So, help me, God!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Of course, plans are ideal....

But reality and too much inertia often have their own way(s). I compose in my head ad infinitum, but getting it on paper is 'hit and miss.' My goal is to write everyday. Well, if you count grocery and to-do lists, notes scribbled on previous writings, sticky notes, calling cards, page margins, and printed program, I might come close. (Of course, e-correspondence puts it over the top. But will I ever go back and actually record highlights of my extensive correspondence???)
The last six weeks have brought fresh motivation, in the form of adequate rest, familiar surroundings, an extended period of silence, daily meditation, writing discipline somewhat renewed, enquiries from accountability peers (You know who you are, and I love you!), the freeing-up that accrues from physical exercise, and faithfully organizing/discarding SOMEthing, most every day...even a little bit frees up space in the mind (not to mention the desk!)
'THE play' has enjoyed a read-through. Unfiled notes are being processed. Poetry writings are now organized (whew)  in a single file. (I notice the pun in that...the second seems to be a reminder to get those MSs moving out!...) Old unused files are being deleted and single-side copies relegated to a 'paper drawer' in order to be used for printing draft copies. My (realtime) voice is finally finding itself again. It's nearly spring.
This blog calls out for renewed effort...and recently told me the direction it wants to take. Lordwilling, I'm ready to roll with it.  Stay tuned, and I'll tell you what the direction is. Promise.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Today's Thoughts on Corruption, Weather, and Storytelling

By God's grace, and careful, at-home eating etc., we are well. Even as unseasonal
rains make us soggy AGAIN this week, and a deteriorating house is constantly being cleaned and just kept up enough to manage through it all.  (I'll spare you the details for now!)  It has rained for 3/4 of the last 36 hours, with no sign of let up.  Evening falls, hardly a different from the level of  daylight all day...More rain on the way.                                                                                                                                                                                         We're hoping it will clear enough for a safe ride to Rajupalem next weekend..In rural areas, the problem of washed-out roads is so common, there's a name for it, waaagu.  And there are some, in that direction, this week....'hope we can make it for our secular (trying to remember that your average Indian English speaker does not understand the word correctly, mistaking it for sectarian--oh my!!!  Evidently the politically correct term is social project) project's teacher workshop on Saturday...I'm not used to giving such presentations, but should be able to do so, lordwilling...wish me luck                                                                     
 Our computer is down again, so I'm at the corner shop...all orange and blue inside, soft ambiance, with music in the background...It's glassed in and air conditioned, but the door is open today, we hear all the rain and traffic sounds right outside the door...a sleepy old building across the street with old fashioned fretwork on rooftop balcony, fanciful second floor windows (half-covered by a huge, blue sign with a photo of a 'hunk' proffering a Pepsialong with Telugu letters saying "Lord General Stores and Fancies," above a jam-packed shop, hardly the size of a single car garage, opening onto the street.  A bright red telephone on a stool outside the shop is available for public/pay use. .                                                                                                         
Rain moved our little Nirmal Hriday class to an upstairs verandah this morning.   I trod carefully, leaning on the low, shiny stainless steel railing of the children's winding, outdoor ramp to the second floor, reassuring my fragile bones with the realization that it has a non-slip coated surface. A dozen children at the far end of the verandah were singing softly and gazing out over the dripping garden.

Most Precious whooped upon seeing me, called for chairs, and  five other children joined us, forming a tight semi-circle literally at  my knees.  An older teenager who has grown up in Nirmal Hrudays lifted MP into the last chair, and she promptly propped her elbows on one of my knees. I've been
priming them to think beyond the listen-and-repeat and stock-answer methods so common in Indian education (fastest student often dictating the pace and the responses) ,  I ask who will tell a story today, a new story, not one they already know.  (Belatedly aware that I do not know the Telugu words for 'create,' or 'make up.') MP of course is the first to say she doesn't 'know' any, and John wants to repeat a story his sister has taught him, which he has already recited at least four times.  With a bit of prompting and reminding that everyone is to share in the story-telling, we come up with a reasonably satisfying story of a little girl overcoming several little dilemmas.The children are pleased, and ask to hear it again.  I write it down in English, promise to type and print copies, and challenge MP, particularly, to re-tell it tomorrow. She is glowing as she shrugs and says, "Maybe," but I suspect she is up to the challenge.

Too soon, it is their lunchtime, but the children press me to stay and open one of the books I've brought along today. Their lunches have been brought up from the kitchen, and waft delicious curry smells our way, but the children are adamant.  We close with the reading of familiar Telugu rhymes, MP and John peering into my book and Ramya good-naturedly slowing her pace to match that of the beginning readers.

I am glowing too, never minding the rain, as I descend the ramp in the rain and crunch across the watery gray crushed-rock yard, to the unobtrusive brown painted gate, 'Good bye, Auntie' ringing in my ears.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Writerly Discussion

Shall we add yet another subscription from the emails already flooding our inboxes? I'm sure everyone using the 'net has sighed over this question more than once. But today I've added, the promise of which is a mix of writers from beginner to best seller, discussing what it is that makes good writing work tick. (Did I state that right?) And what's not to like about a writing site whose values include hilarity and elegance of prose??
Today's entry was a totally timely call to reconsider goals. Eager to exchange my usual 'never have time' excuse for not writing, for renewed, enduring, proactive, productive writing habits, I offered my 2011 writing goals as a comment thereon. My goals will need tweaking til they are as specific as Roxanne's (another commentator), but here's a start:
I will write every day,
concentrate on developing and completing one larger writing project at a time -- while not neglecting to 'work the ground' for other projects, and
write a blog entry, and/or make a submission at least once a week .
Additional resolve, which a young grad student recently suggested to me, is to write these goals out and post them where I'll see and repeat them every day.
Lordwilling, this will most certainly be true! Happy 2011 everybody, happy writing!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Recorded of a Sunday morning, Guntur, India, November 21, 2010

This morning Franklin and I walked to church (3 blocks) because the driver wanted the day off. The loudspeaker was so loud, that too inside a concrete building, that my ears tingled. I like it better when we sit outside! (They have a shamiana outside one wing regularly.) I've developed a ruse of pressing a finger into one ear while appearing to be resting my head on my hand, changing sides periodically to give the other ear a break as well.

We sat in the wing that's mostly occupied by families and couples, opposite another one which is mostly used by women and children, both wing off the main section where women and men sit on different sides of the aisle. People filtered in (and a few out!) throughout the service. A few rows ahead of us, a dad came in following two young teen boys, and very intentionally plopped himself on the pew between them ...There wasn't going to be any nonsense there!...LOL...families!! A little girl and boy in front of us drew on paper, dropped pens behind the pew, the girl slipping around her mother and past us to retrieve them, twice, until Franklin picked it up and handed it back the third time; she tried to fold a handkerchief on the pew...toward the end of the 50 minute (!) sermon, the boy grabbed her, she grabbed his hair,and their father set them straight...ignoring them thereafter,
while she sat back and tried to chew sequins off the edge of her mom's saree...

(Obviously) I couldn't really follow the sermon today...It was too loud, and wide ranging, and lost me after the opening anecdote. Pastor seemed to keep repeating something about oil and cd's, which, my husband told me later, was not really the case. I think I got more from looking out the open window, where a bush pushed a bright red, hydrangea-like 'manmatha baarnamulu' (cupid's arrows) flower against the decorative metal grating, and a large group of people, maybe fifty, sat on plastic patio-type chairs under the shade of a tree nearer the gate.

A young mother with an infant in her arms sat between
an active toddler, who sat next to (evidently) the dad, and a grandmother. The poor mom must have been so tired; she sat the whole time, rubbing her eyes and (surreptitously, under her saree) her breasts, and looked like she was first sleeping, then crying into the baby's receiving blanket, with which she wiped her eyes now and then. The toddler got down from his chair and patted her arm, then went to his grandmother, who gave him her purse which he was hardly able to lug over to his chair. Except for this, the father and the grandmother were passively involved only in the service. I wanted to go and say something empathetic, a blessing, to the mother after the service, but by the time we came out they were gone.

We walked over to the nearby hotel for our usual after-church coffee, but Raja Rao did not show up (he had called earlier, but gone to a different church...he usually joins us) and, although the coffee shop is named '24-7' it was not time yet, so we walked out into the intense mid-day sun and scrunched under the vendor's umbrella with another thirsty family, standing while we ordered and each drank the refreshing, restorative water of a 'special Kerala' (large, yellowish) coconut through a thin straw, thrust into the heavy, freshly machete-slashed fruit. My gosh, they were HUGE; there was about a pint and a half of liquid in mine! Not an exciting taste-thrill, but especially good for beating the heat and sustaining health. Like the touch of the toddler, sustaining love of life.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Walk in the Stadium

A Walk in the Stadium Thursday, January 6, 2011

We need to walk more: We are getting a bit spoiled, living in this India society where most every-one who has a car has a driver to drive and take care of it, as well as drive them (us) places. Ours is a cream-colored, 'standard' Indian-made Ambassador, bought second hand last year. Our driver, Raghava, is a soft-spoken man with typically insightful Indian networking skills, besides generous portions of general helpfulness, quick thinking, and a penchant for vigorous stick-shifting, the latter probably accrued from previous employment as a city bus driver. This evening, Raghava drives us to a stadium in another neighborhood for an evening walk.
Night falls early and quickly this near to the equator; it is already dark at six thirty as our headlights join bright lights of traffic and shops along a bustling main road during the busiest, evening hours. Fruit stands lit with bare light bulbs, lights of open-sided refreshment cafe's and bakeries shine upon the road, silhouetting customers standing at their counters. One of the first of the best, "Baker's Fun" is a large, brightly lit pink box sporting an evening fast-food section opposite gleaming glass cabinets of cakes, cookies, and curry-, chocolate-, or cream filled pastries. Next door, strings of white lights outline the "Little Planet" gift shop, the exterior of which is highlighted in hues of ultra-violet. Clusters of Chaitanya students, incognito in deeper shadows under a tree and around the now-darkened entrance of their franchise high school and college steps, seize the opportunity to chat while waiting for friends' or relatives' vehicles, or the school's bus, to take them home.
Every kind of commerce is doing a brisk business; even more people are walking than there are vehicles, along this stretch of road. Raghava turns a corner at the uber-busy intersection of four different neighborhoods, slows past a couple dozen garage-size shops including pre-packaged snack store (where open carts prepared hot snacks to order, last year), a barber or two, tire repair-while-your-wait shop, and a 'dollar' jewelery shop. He drops us in front of a watchman who swings the tall iron-grating of the stadium gate open, just wide enough for us to enter. Raghava parks the car beyond a small sea of motorcycles outside the compound wall, and joins us for a short while, before we have even made our first round.
Inside the stadium, there is an orderly, purpose-driven bustle. Undeterred by a limp and a cane, we step right in to the flow of a couple hundred walkers already immersed in the medium to brisk strides of their evening constitutionals, making rounds on a track which would fit comfortably around a football field.. Wearing sandals or tennis shoes--incongruous but practical below flowing sarees and comfortable salwar-kameezes--, ignoring the occasional rock jutting up from the burnt orange, beaten earth perimeter path, single, pairs and groups of women, singles and pairs of men, some on cell phones, chat comfortably with their peers. Life's burdens are lifted, problems solved, advice shared in the coolness of January evening air and anonymity of this public place. Husbands and wives (the older and younger ones walking abreast of, middle-aged ones walking behind, their husbands ), young and old, singles, pairs, and groups of women and men are in constant fluid movement around a three story concrete building and two large play areas. They flow around us too, sometimes with a side-or backward glance, but never with annoyance, as we move at a slower, but comfortable, steady pace.
Inside one corner of the track a concrete surface, further divided into a roller rink and a basketball court surrounded by benches and a four tier concrete gallery, is well lit by multiple stadium lights, while a larger ground encompasses a second, single, straight track ranging along one side of the building at the center of the rectangular campus,and a still-larger maidan...
Lights high up on the light green,three story concrete building, which houses a gym and a variety of fitness and activity rooms, are muted by the time they near the ground, casting latticed shadows from trees and shrubbery along two sides of the larger track. The dimness and shadows are reflected in the muted voices and relaxed demeanor of the walkers. The maidan is dim, backlit by the brighter rink and court behind a small group of youth attempting to organize casual contests on the straight track, and families sitting and chatting, smaller children cavorting, on the maidan as though they were in a park.
The third side of the perimeter track backs a private high school, the fourth runs along the backside of shops on the main road, punctuated by a secondary gate toward which some of the walkers veer at the end of their walk. Nestled behind shops at the busy intersection we passed on our way here, is another, smaller exit. Nearer that part of the track, a low divider corrals bicycles and a few onlookers...mostly men...
Brighter, stadium lights blaze over eight or ten youth of varying ages, engaged in a session of pick-up basketball. Next to them, a dozen earnest, helmeted in-line skaters bend to practice their skill, speeding and slowing as they weave gracefully in and out of each others' paths, today's newspaper report of district youth skating competitions no doubt fueling their determination. The youngest appears to be about eight, the oldest and tallest, a shorts and t-shirt clad girl, perhaps fifteen or sixteen.
Older gentlemen sit and gab with each other on a series of concrete benches on two sides of the roller rink. Their heads and eyes turn casually toward us and back, a few of them with arms flung casually over the back of the bench and their neighbor, as we pass. They seem to be scanning for information, and perhaps for the possibility of new faces to join their accustomed evening coteries. Young mothers with children too young to allow free roaming, wives waiting for their husbands to finish walking, and grandmothers, some of them evidently babysitting, sit on the triple-tiered bench at the end of the rink, beside a column bearing details of the stadium's creation and namesake.
High in a velvet sky, a sliver of new moon graces the scene that bears ample witness to the wisdom of the stadium forebears. A young man, once gatekeeper at a small school near our home, materializes out of the crowd, toward the end of our walk. He now works security at the stadium compound, and is as obviously enthusiastic about this new assignment as he is to greet us after a year or so of our absence from town. We must definitely come again.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Day in Brodipet

New Year's morning is raucous as well...Our own and the neighbor's phones (Windows are open) ringing with greetings to/from friends as well as every member of the family, now scattered worldwide. Brother-in-law Ramesh, just 'in' from the 'states, is awake, has already been to the neighborhood '711,' a little old shop in a fadey but classy old building two blocks away, and is busy debriefing a six year absence, renewing connections with life in Brodipet. Sister-in-law Chandrahas and her husband come to call. The veggie hawkers and Venkateswarao, the neighborhood ironing man, conclude their business early. A shirt tail relative comes for his usual perusal of the newspaper, two or three beggars surface with holiday hopefulness, and even the postman comes to collect his holiday cheer. Franklin dispenses paper money (all but one of the coins are to be retired in the new year, the newspaper informs us). A former helper and still good friend comes to call, and the guys cluster over tea in the sunny back yard, A neighbor's puja prayers are particularly loud and long.
Raghava, our driver, a mild mannered man who 'wears many hats,' helps Manjula strip piquant gongorra leaves from their red stems, and cook chicken and coconut rice (evidently a new preparation for both of them) for lunch. This was one of my mother-in-law's specialties, for special occasions. There is a 'stir' when the rice is deemed too dry, but should neither be watered down or burn...the joint decision is to wrap and grab a towel around the sides and lid, and flip the whole thing, flat lid in place, upside down...unf. nobody thinks of adding just a bit of water, and it ends up being dry anyway...Never mind, it's well past lunch time...and at least the rice is not burnt.
The next drama is asking 100 yr old Tata to pray...He does not understand, first what, then why, he is being asked to do so. Feeling around himself and his
cot, he asks where is his book. He is used to praying over an open Bible. Ramesh has taken it to use, but it is fetched back. Then he wonders what to read. Cook,
son, daughter, all add their two pice worth to no avail. Finally Franklin takes the Bible and chooses a Psalm, starts to read, and this is all the priming Tata needs...he finishes several of the verses Franklin starts...but is again confused when asked to pray...Finally Franklin prays, a short prayer for an Indian one, for each member of the family and their families,for forgiveness and forbearance. He and I sing the doxology, while the others (two brothers, sister and brother-in-law) have already gone to the kitchen and are dishing out the yellow coconut rice, chicken curry, and Gongorra Mamsam. (It's meat, this time lamb, in a curry in a gravy with semi-pureed gongorra greens.)
The relative leaves his newspaper to join us, and, for once, the helpers do too (they usually demur, won't eat in our presence, as a matter of prevailing custom). Conversation flows as we eat, and veers toward interviewing the relative for whatever he can tell of people and places of common interest. The helpers retreat to tackle the dishes. The conversation, now at a pace I cannot follow and a pitch akin to heated argument--although it's not-- and the rich food at a late hour (it's already three o'clock) challenge my mind, nerves and stomach. Completely unnoticed, I retreat to an inner room where the 'volume' is lower, and I can meditate about my own distant family, our daughter and her crew so recently departed from India, son and fiancee' on the verge of new beginnings in their lives.
New Year's day evening, I analyze perforce the incessant, urgent chant of a Hindu celebration or observance further down the street...It's an insistent ostinato to the tune and rhythm of the first line of "Good King Wenceslas," repeated twice, the second time '...out' omitted in favor of prolonging the last two notes, '-las-- looked--,", to the unison accompaniment of electronic harmonium and a tinkling rhythm instrument. Occasionally there is a 'verse;' after a few hours there are more frequent tacit interludes and new voices, some of them youthful, taking up the chant. The chanting's losing strength by the time I lie down to sleep at 10:20 and peters out by the time I finally doze off, wondering if Indian friends abroad miss the nighttime chanting soundscape of the neighborhood as much as I miss the absolute stillness of a snowy Minnesota night...
Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night. God bless us, everyone.