Conscience.

Listen. I write about writing. But–I’m also a student of the world. A mother. A teacher. A women’s rights activist. A human rights activist. A believer that we all deserve to be safe, loved, respected, and honored.

I’m not going to lie. This recent world has left me so–fucking hollow and angry, and sad, and despondent. We are sick. We are dying. We are killing each other and hating each other, and judging each other. I have kids, for christssake. Beautiful little beings that I brought into this quagmire of hatred and corruption. I kick myself every day for the world we’re giving them.

If you aren’t angry. You should be. If you aren’t melted into a pool of helpless and hopelessness; you should be. Every day I fight to get up and DO something.

Today I did this.

And if you don’t like it, stop following me. If it offends you, go sit down and examine why. Chances are it has to do with your own conscience.

Conscience

Peel back the antiquity

The antebellum haze over your eyes

The veil of American greatness

And look at what we’ve done.

A body lies face down

Slaughtered in her own home

Life cut short,

Weightless in blood loss

And all the things

She will never do.

She will never again

Be.

Someone’s child.

Someone’s baby.

Someone’s daughter,

Someone’s only heart.

Stop looking away…

Stop justifying

The unjustifiable.

Stop making excuses

Pale, white excuses.

Justifying your hatred

Through the fabric of a flag

Or a bible

Or whatever misguided armaments

You deny the worth

Of another human life with.

Stop denying

That the slave owner still owns.

That the shackles still bind

Stop denying

That the rules don’t apply

Stop denying

That the seething pool of hatred

That puts the small brained

And fearful men in power

Isn’t a sickening, disease,

Worsening this land

Butchering its people.

In the middle of the night

In their own homes.

Stop putting power into

Hands that hold no compassion

Stop putting power

into fear-filled hearts

Into anger-filled heads

Stop putting bullets

Into black skin

Peel back the white washed history

Look to the truth

See it.

The sun shining on

The dark, sweat slicked backs

that built this country

The lives that paid its dues,

Built its land

Its commerce

Its industry.

See how we still manage,

To. This. Day.

To put them up on blocks

Bloodied

On streets

Bullet holes in backs

Children watching

Their fathers cut down

Crosses burned and

Bodies dragged

Churches riddled with metal

And hate.

Six gaping holes

In the pajamas of an EMT.

How many more lives would she have saved?

That’s how many murders you deserved to answer for.

Add in the life of her mother.

Her family.

Everyone who loved her.

Because you killed them too.

Not free.

I hope your conscious is never free.

I hope it shackles you.

I hope it whips tight, thick lashes

into your back

And puts you on the blocks

To weigh your worth.

I hope it steals your children

I hope it guns them down in the street

I hope it corners you, every night

I hope it kneels on your throat

I hope you suffocate in your shame.

Shame on you.

Shame on all of us.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #23: “Snap To! Let’s Get Organized!”

Disappointed I can’t find an image of the scene when John Gavin shouts this line while fumbling with a live chicken and coming out of a tranquilized haze. Apparently, the internet DOES NOT have everything.

I’m not immune to the fact that this blog has tripped around in the dark a bit lately. Let’s be honest, all of us are probably tripping in the dark. We’re in unprecedented times, facing stresses and noise that we’ve never dealt with before. It’s easy, in the dissonance, to lose our path.

So for the next three to four weeks I’ll be getting organized and coming back to the basics. No, I’m not going to make you deconstruct your sentences into diagrams, circling your subject, double scoring your gerunds, slashing through your adverbs (or will I? Could be a fun practice in the lost art of sentence diagramming AND tortuous. I’m a girl who likes it a little rough).

For the love of all that is good and holy…if this doesn’t make you hot…you’re not my kind of nerd.

First, we’ll be taking a few weeks to explore the basics of each type of the most prevalent submissions for authors: poetry, flash fiction, short story, and novel.

Following that, and into the fall, I’ll start breaking it down further into genre work, dialogue, plot building, scene construct, story structure and the basics of good editing.

That’s not to say I won’t occasionally throw in a “stop being assholes to each other” rant. I like to keep it exciting after all.

It’s been a while since we dabbled in the lighter word count and heavier hand of poetry so I thought…why not start there?

(Hold on to your asses, she’s about to ADULT over here!)

Poetry used to be the sole conveyer of great stories, epic tales, and the meat and potatoes of religious creed. The first believed poem, author unknown, was called The Epic of Gilgamesh. Besides this epic, there was Rig Vedas of Hinduism, and The Song of The Harper from Egypt. Centuries before we first heard a Greek throw down an ode to an urn, people were writing poems.

Poetry was borne in the heart of burgeoning cultures and empires. As we move west across the world, we have The Iliad, Beowulf, 154 shout outs to Will Shakespeare’s best girl(s), and eventually, on to the new world with works like The Song of Hiawatha.

From these epic and structured beginnings, poetry has evolved and moved, like a river around obstacles, constant but ever-changing. One of the reasons I love poetry is its ability to capture the heartbeat of time-periods through the use of its language and form, as well as the ideas that it holds.

Poetry records history. From the simplest nursery rhymes (“Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” was actually based on Queen Mary I, aka Bloody Mary, who tortured and killed hundreds of protestants. Silver Bells and Cockle Shells aren’t perennials, they’re torture devices.) to Walt Whitman’s descriptions of the horror and decimation from America’s Civil War (“O Captain, My Captain” was written about the assassination of Lincoln just before the close of the ‘storm’ of war) poetry is a powerful conveyer of humankind’s journey through time.

Poetry connects. It’s visceral and often uncomfortable. It paints pictures with the deepest hues of language. Poetry is vital to song writing, memory retention, and a host of other deep-seated neural mechanisms humans use to survive. (the ABC song, “Thirty days hath September…”, “I before E except after C–and about a dozen other exceptions because the English language is a bastardized torture device for anyone learning it”)

So how do you write a poem?

Well, that’s the beautiful thing. We are no longer shackled to the 15 line iambic pentameter, nor are we beholden to ends that rhyme. Poetry can be written in just about any form you can conceive. You can write it, you can rap it, you can sing it, you can paint it across a street in bold letters. There are no rules but one.

Poetry should be true to your soul.

It should never be half-way. It should fling open the shutters of your close-held heart and expose it to the light. Poetry should reflect the thoughts and the feelings, the commiseration and worry, the anger and peace, the joy or the sadness that fills your head and your community.

When I think of poetry, I think of catharsis and a means to work through big and hard emotions (a girl’s favorite kind?) I think of finding meaning and perspective, shrinking down the large imposing impossibilities to moments I can do something with. To feelings I can direct towards change.

To write a poem is to be truthful about what hurts most in that moment.

I’m sure you can guess this week’s exercise. Write some poetry. In any form you want. Send it to me, let me know if you want it to have a little spot here on The Beautiful Stuff, or if you rather just share it with another soul. I don’t have a preference for form or length. Just get to the darkness, poke around in there, tickle the tender underbelly of what drives your biggest emotions and tug it out into the light.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #14: Poetry: The Quarrel with Ourselves

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats

 

I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.

You know what coming next, don’t you?

Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!

And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.

Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?

Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.

I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.

Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.

I’ll craft one as well.

Happy Writing!

VerseDay 12-12-19

Here, in the middle of your busy holiday season, with the obligations and expectations closing in, take pause and have a little poetry break.

 

I am missing

Cried the mountain,

from your blood and from your breath

 

You are sticky in the pavements and

Choked in traffic

You are gut sick with expectation

 

And I am missing from your blood.

 

You are broken backed

And over ran,

Jazzercised and dieted

Into the pale haunting gaunt

That smiles back from checkout line shelves

 

And I am missing from your blood

 

You are sleepless and achy,

Eyes dry from small ideas

And false images, voices raised

Praising the ego unfaltering

 

And I am missing from your blood.

 

Come back and breathe me.

Come back to my silent path,

The truth of dirt.

Of pine needle crunch,

Rock fall tumbles,

beneath your feet which empty out the filth

and transfuse me back into your veins

 

I am missing

Cried the mountain.

Come and find yourself again

VerseDay 12-5-19

To the moments that change us. Those irreversible seconds, milliseconds, and angel-blinks, that unpend and rearrange the perspective of our lives. May you get upended occasionally.

 

The Moment

 

It took just one

One moment

One pitiful moment

For my heart to fall

In the sanguine, irretrievable way

Blood loss, heavy weight of love gain

 

One moment

And my skin ached

For even the slightest brush

Touch of finger pad,

The heat of your chest against my back

The press of thigh and breath

Drifting warm over my throat.

 

Even if it hurt.

 

One moment

And my world was

you

It was the tenor of your eyes

And the color of your voice

And the expectation and the push

And the never living up to it all

But reaching for your stars just the same.

 

One moment

Was one moment

too long

 

Too long for this heart to sustain

Too long for this soul to survive

You were a flash cannon going off

On the precipice of my too-late blink

 

Such a brilliant scorch,

Killing instantly,

even before the pain could hit

And what a lovely light remained

burned into the back of my eyes

 

One moment and still

you

were the last thing

I ever wanted to see.

 

VerseDay 11-28-19

I probably should have stuck to a Thanksgiving type of theme. But maybe this could be considered in gratitude for the strength we house within ourselves. The strength that keeps us standing up for every knocking down we take. Be grateful for all you have, but don’t forget to include your amazing human-ness.

Travel safe, enjoy the company you keep, and take the moments you can to breath and be present.

 

 

Acrobat

 

Tin cup chalice

Beaten down vessel

Watched by the hungry darkness

of her heart

To fail.

 

The told-you-so on the tip of lolling tongue

Ready to fire as I teeter on the edge, unbalanced.

The narrowed gaze of predatory glee

 

Any day now,

She’ll fall

Any day now,

She’ll wear out that last leg

She’s so precariously perched on.

 

Waiting to be the first

To gloat over my fallen corpse.

 

But I don’t fall

 

And I don’t wear out

 

I bear the dents,

Scratches and cracks

And still

 

I hold true.

 

I always hold true.

 

Any day. Every day.

 

If you really knew me,

The miracle you made

 

You would know this first.

VerseDay 11-21-19

Good morning Poetry aficionados, thanks for joining me here on this blustery fall day. I think we’re beginning to finally see the petticoats of winter and the darkening days are upon us.

Sometimes, my friends, I come across a poem so powerful, so raw, so honest, that it moves me from some deep well inside. It connects me to my humanity and to the visceral pain of life and what it takes to come out the other side still kicking.

Today’s guest Verse is brought to you by Kathryn Balteff.

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.

While Kathryn mostly is known for her poetry, she also pens essays, fiction, and killer to-do lists. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, sea, and the cosmos, Kathryn often can be found wandering the rocky trails near her home along the coast of Downeast Maine with her husband and their collie dog, Lady Kate.

Enjoy, share, and if you like it, let her know.

 

Good Daughter

 

You threw the plate to the floor at her feet.

The damn eggs were overdone, not over-easy, how stupid was she? I listened

and watched

while you cursed, threatened, and bullied my mother. Strange how I remember the first time, but never the last.

 

When I was older, Maybe nine,

I protested

Standing over her,

futile, scraggly-legged, human shield while she cowered on the floor

shards of broken gin tumbler around her feet.

You paddled me until I screamed

then made me write part of a Bible verse

1000 times at the desk in the corner of my room

Black-and-white grade school composition book chewed-end yellow Number 2 pencil

King James in childish printing.

“Thou shalt honor thy father. . .Thou shalt honor thy father. . . Thou shalt honor thy father . . .

 

I was stupid like her and

Ugly too.

 

I did not want to be that girl.

 

When I was eleven there was a college kid, Noreen, one of your students,

around our house,

a lot.

She was there so much my little brother named a stray cat after her. I hated that cat.

There was a party near the holidays.

Rock music, too loud laughter, cigarette smoke creeping upstairs under the door of my room where I

was supposed to be sleeping. I snuck down,

three stairs to the first landing, to see.

 

You in the dark hallway

with Noreen smashed up against the wall.

You were laughing.

She struggled silently against you. She looked up through tears.

She saw me.

 

Quickly I pushed myself backwards, sliding up the stairs. I crept into my room,

eased the door shut,

pushed my nightstand under the knob. hid in my closet, blanket over my head.

 

In the morning my mother was trying

to scour away the stench of stale alcohol, cigarettes, and something else I sensed, but did not understand. Because I moved my furniture without your permission, you made me scrub every inch of my room

and the bathroom again

and again

until you decided they were clean enough. I did not want to be that girl.

In high school I ran. I ran.

You bragged of being a track star when you were in school. You would be proud, I thought.

I was good.

For a girl.

But never good enough.

 

Still, I ran.

The day you finally left us,

I came home from track practice to find my mother ironing your shirts so you could pack them in the backseat of your car.

She was crying,

You were screaming obscenities at her. I shrieked at you to leave her alone. Just. Get. Out.

 

You pushed me hard to the ground

One leg buckled underneath, my other knee sliced open wide on a rock in the dirt.

Hot blood dripped down my leg onto my turquoise running shoes.

You told me that I got what I deserved

Again.

 

 

Who did I think I was?

I would learn my place. I ran.

A friend’s mother patched me up.

She never asked what happened.

I didn’t say.

I would not be that girl. I kept running.

Medals of tenacity clinking a rhythm against the varsity letter on my jacket. Years and years now

I have not run.

Still I hear those medals

as they marked each footfall that took me farther.

 

 

“I am dying,” your note says.

“You should be a good daughter.” “You should come to me.”

 

I will never be that girl.

 

You have been dying four long years since the cancer first arrived in your alcohol-preserved liver. The first year I grieved the what-ifs and could-have-beens,

the if onlys.

 

I lived sorrow, angst, guilt, anger, and more.

 

Those gaping, bloody wounds the years had slowed, yet not fully healed,

tore open.

Ugly infectious mess

seeping out onto my clean, though imperfect skin.

 

I am my own.

Only what I create.

Myself.

I can at least thank you for that.

 

I trim the ragged wounds with a new blade, delicately slicing away rot and neglect.

Pull the edges together,

Stitch neat, tight, hidden rows sealing up leaky vessels.

Add a drop or two of glue for good measure.

 

 

Mending well is hard work through so many layers.

 

There.

I look almost new again. I am this woman.

 

Kathryn Balteff

 

VerseDay 11-14-19

Happy VerseDay my dear readers. Today’s contribution and ode to the brave and selfless men and women of our military comes a from a long-time (I wouldn’t say we’ve known each other since we were knee-high to a grasshopper, but pretty damn close) and dear friend, Ethan Hejki.

Enjoy, share, and take a minute to contemplate what it means to serve our country, and the high costs both to body and soul it demands.

 

 

Untitled

 

I was that which others did not want to be.
I went where others feared to go.
I did what others failed to do. Not by choice

but necessity
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing.
I took nothing from the unwilling.
I was the hero and the villain.
I have accepted the fate of eternal loneliness

and damnation for my actions

I have seen the face of terror

and the face of happiness
I felt the stinging cold of fear

the searing heat of rage
I have heard death’s whisper, beckoning to me.

Soon, soon
I enjoyed the sweet taste of love

the bitterness of loss

I have cried pained and sorrow. but most of all,

I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

At least some day I can say that I was proud of what I was.

A soldier.

 

Ethan Hejki

VerseDay 11-7-19

A cold and blustery day calls for something fitting.

Enjoy the cold embrace of Fall…from inside, hopefully cuddled in your pajamas with a furry beast close by.

 

We

We are the Autumn, love

the life of us, shrunken and dry

And the icy fingers of wind

Slip beneath our coats

And the days are short and gray all round.

 

We know the dark horizon lies ahead

straight from the one track road

our hands and eyes have fallen to

And all that was spring,

Rounded and succulent

Is nothing more than shriveled blooms

Long ago spent are the fickle buds of youth.

 

We are not buried yet,

Beneath the ground, the snow

But we will not again crash into the world

like vibrant green and cherry blossom pink.

Such a subtle death is ours to claim.

Beneath the acrid crunch of leaves

And the ceaseless, howling gray.

VerseDay 10-31-19

I hope you’re all getting into the spirit of Samhain and doing your best to ward off the evil spirits (or inviting them over for drinks and merriment). Today’s foray into the art of verse is brought to you by the lovely Kathryn Balteff.

Enjoy, share, and monitor the mini chocolate bars…they can sneak up on you.

 

Moonbeam Tango

 

I often wonder why

was I sent to this place?

Tending the magic left behind.

Struggling to cultivate

and coerce it into

petals of diaphanous colors

with only lemon salt tears,

hot love, and strawberry memories

for sustenance.

 

Still,

I keep on.

What else would you have me do?

 

Most nights my feet are bound to earth.

Loosely tangled

yet tethered still.

But tonight . . .

Ah, tonight

 

Moonbeams unravel the ribbons

and I tango alone along the Milky Way

to my tryst with Orion.

 

The sea hears my heart,

but the stars

they listen.

 

Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.