Pens and Swords

Lucille Clerc, Illustrator
Lucille Clerc, Illustrator

As proven once again this week, the sharp crack of gunfire and the rattling of sabers is no match for the sound of pencils and pens scratching ideas and ideals across parchment. Whether your power comes from word or picture, essay or cartoon, as the symbol of this week’s tributes of solidarity have shown, the pen remains, as it must, mightier than the sword.

Though I will never be asked to test the merit or strength of my character or conviction in the way that the twelve victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre were, I recognize and appreciate the symbolism of the pen.

Though from the 1990s, this poem was first published recently in Tipsy Lit, Issue 3. It seemed fitting to share at this time. This poem was written long before the current incarnation of ISIS entered our news feeds and consciousness, the title and references are to the Egyptian goddess.

To the twelve who lost their lives the other day, through conviction or circumstance, this is my pen raised.


Like Isis

I’ve got a brand
new notebook. I’ve
got a head full of
drippy neon colors and
a knapsack full of
red bic pens. I’ve

got chunky
clunky sentences in
my pocket tap dancing
with shiny
nickels. I’ve

got popcorn strings
of ideas grace
songs chorus lining
through my head. I’ve

got sky words
moon rhymes linked
into sparkle jewels
that coil around my
wrists. Like

Wonder Woman bracelets
Like Isis. I’ve

got a dash and a
pinch of a notion that
Isis really didn’t give
a toss whether Osiris
lived or died. She

had those bracelets
honey wound round
serpent slinked
gold shiny power clamped
round her wrists.
Hers. I’ve

got my red pens.


Love Poems are a Dime a Dozen

i write this
blind no experience
no background. write without
the benefit of stanza
verse or prozac. i

write to you:
a thousand words of
poetic translation ultimate
frustration. without bending
or melting myself into
color sound or feeling. without
hiding behind pretty metaphors
or white and glossy symbols. this

is not a poem of bread crumbs:
it will not does not can not
lead you anywhere beyond a now;
beyond a you, beyond an i.

it would be easy to
give you a treasure map that
would lead you along red veins
until you reached the gold X
of memory or to describe the hiss
of steam from your fingerprints
splaying across skin. it would be
simple to fill a page with
silk and syrup…..but

this poem is blind deaf dumb to
that: passionless but slow steady
dripping with want of understanding. it
lacks the juice of early morning kisses
the sunburn of midnight penetration but
it has a carefully folded piece of
myself in it opened
for a you to read. consider

this a love poem.
consider this an invitation to
tea with my soul. consider it
a hundred words dedicated to a raw
you and a naked i. nothing
no one nowhere else
beyond this now.



Poetry was my first foray into creative writing. Lately, I’ve been excavating poems, carefully dusting off the build up of time from their bones to see what I can piece together. Some of them stand alone, skeletons intact. There are others that may prove to be just as sturdy with a little glue here and there. And of course there are many more which deserve nothing more than the respect to die peacefully, chained by the ankle to the time and place in which they were written.

Two older poems, Pinpricks and Creation, Saturday 5PM, which did a circuit of NYC poetry slams back in the 1990s were published today at Purple Pig Lit.

The poem above was published in The Olivetree Review way back in 1996 and remains one of my favorites. It was published as Untitled, but now, this many years later, I prefer Love Poems are a Dime a Dozen.

My Life as an Open Book

vintage-gal-writingI mentioned in a comment recently that being home means confronting the ghosts in the floor boards. Along with the memories comes the monsters in the closets and the poltergeist in the pipes. None of those hit home with a more resounding thwack to the temple than going through a musty box pulled from the bowels of the basement. A lone box stuffed full of journals, notebooks, folders, diplomas and other scraps of teenage and young adult detritus. The journals span about 13 years, from 1984 to 1996 and reading them now, as a woman of nearly 44, is eye-opening, heartbreaking, befuddling, cringe worthy, painful, hilarious. In other words, exactly as they should read. My So Called Life, but written. In a pink, fabric covered diary there are love poems written in a flowery, cursive hand. Rhyming stanzas that take a wild stab at love and loss and longing. By 13, I had kissed my fair share of boys, but still, the pool of available emotions to tap into didn’t go much beyond a sanitized longing for hand holding and slow dancing, first base and French kissing.

And if the moon throws shadows
I know the sun will shine
because as long as the sun warms our hearts
you will always be mine

The sentences get denser in the next few years, the emotions more complex, rawer. There are pages of questioning and answer seeking; white pages stained in black ink forever asking why: why does he prefer her? why can’t I be pretty? why can’t he love me? why do I feel this way? There is a dense black book spilling over with desperation, with sadness, with confusion. Should either of my children ever feel that as an adult I don’t know what the desperate torrent and hurricane of teenage and young adult emotions is like, I will hand them this book, baring my word soul to them simply to show them that they are not alone walking a path littered with answerless questions. The later notebooks are a mix of a spiraling descent into depression, mapped out in sentences.

I sit in the window
thinking about
how it would feel
to float in the mist for a few seconds
knowing my lips would kiss
the wet concrete below
the clock on the wall
would keep ticking
and ticking
telling its tale while
the glow of my cigarette

It used to be
I had things to hide in:
giant white pages
to play
peek-a-boo from behind,
words whose curves were perfect for diving
and curling into.
And I could sleep between the lines
snug; tucked into color and
that only I knew existed
because I made them up.

composition bookThere are composition notebooks riddled with notes on Hamlet, course descriptions and poems popping with rage; anger sometimes aimed at individuals, but more often spotlighting rules and traditions that cut and carve out large swaths of society. Seething, writhing words; fragments and scraps that jump off the page with fury. Poems that spit in the face of patriarchy, prose that cast thinly veiled women in the role of Kali, of Gaia, of creator and destructor. Evolution of a girl. Revolution into womanhood.

They chained me to shadows
and left me
pale and riddled with white hot bruises
Transparent skin
Vampire sucked of everything but
a dull recollection of color
and an open sore of blistering revenge

From faltering school girl to depressed young woman to vengeful lover.

Oedipus talked to Passion
orange-hot, fickle speckled passion
summer soaked, slippery grip passion
even Passion betrayed
pocketing two iconoclastic souvenirs
before she disintegrated
into ordinary germ-dipped love.

The pages stop in 1996, a year before I met my husband. By then the anger had given way to reflection. The questions were still present, but turned outward. Instead of chewing at the cuticles of my own faults, I combed through the hair of everyone else, looking for nits to pick. But the words were softer, more forgiving, more mature.

Under the jaundiced glare
of barroom lights and soured fairy tales
you kissed me
breathing liquid silver
into the rattling hollows of my spine
uncorking something
long ago abandoned

open bookI have always been an open book, both figuratively and literally. When you write, it is your job to make people feel something. What people who don’t write may not know is that often you use your own blood as ink in order to do that. Laying myself bare in the pages of a notebook or in a teenage journal or even on a scrap of barroom napkin is no different from writing a blog. I’m just a better writer now. The question remains, what do I do with all of this? It seems silly to keep a lot of it, not to mention embarrassing, painful and  tedious. At the same time, it is a written history of myself, an evolution of a girl in words. Because my writing is so tied up in my experience, so entwined, it’s a bit like throwing away a part of myself. Though I ache for the young girl through some of those years, there was triumph in there too. There was growth, there was maturation, there was resilience and ultimately, there was a life fulfilled.  A life as an open book.

What do you do with old journals, writing samples, stories? Do you keep them or have you said good riddance?