Thursday, September 24, 2020

Poetry Friday: As Imperceptibly as Grief, Emily Dickinson

Yowza, I missed two Poetry Fridays in a row! Where have I been? What have I been doing!? Let's see. Living (with caveats ... pandemic, you know), teaching, writing, baking (sans flour), prepping for the Catholic Moms' Summit, and trying to retrain my mind to really read a book. (Reading in the time of Covid ... whoosh, it's been a whole thing for me. Or rather, the lack of the thing. I have read far fewer books in the last six months than at any other time I can think of. I. Don't. Like. That.) 

Time to get back to my favorite thing to do on a Friday: share some poetry. 

And autumn is here! Autumn is here! Though we still have to deal with the torpor of a pandemic, at least the torpor of summer is folding in on itself. Yes, it's been hot here this week, but, hey, hot? Your days are numbered. 

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?" 

 "Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." 

 ~~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I don't think another Poetry Friday should pass without my sharing this one from Emily Dickinson. I've loved it for forty years. Or something like that. (The years tend to lapse away, imperceptibly, and it's hard to keep track anymore.) 

As imperceptibly as grief 

by Emily Dickinson 

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away, —
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone, —
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.


Friday, September 04, 2020

Poetry Friday: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Interruption"

The "interruptions" are different these days. 

My two oldest daughters have moved out. Only Ramona is at home, taking a well-earned gap year (which makes immense sense during a pandemic) after graduating from Green Gables Homeschool in May. 

I wrote this poem (or rather, stole some lines from Wallace Stevens and worked around them) ten years ago. Anne-with-an-e and Betsy were in their teens, but Ramona was only eight years old, so I was still sometimes up in the night with a child who was sick, or scared, or needed me in some unspoken way. 

But even with teens, a mother is up in the night: worrying while they're driving home after midnight ... talking to them on the couch, in quiet whispers at 2 a.m. ... tending to tears or heartbreak; other times sharing in laughter and giddy discovery. These days, those talks might start in a text, or a Marco Polo. That's a gift, too. 

When I was twenty years old, when I met Atticus and we started dating, neither of us wanted children. We knew it. We were firm. We would never change our minds. We would not countenance such an interruption to our lives. 

Thank God for crumbling paradigms and fresh and frightening starts that shake us to our core. 

Thank God for interruptions. 


Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Interruption 

by Karen Edmisten

(With apologies to Wallace Stevens. Original lines from his poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird are in italics. Obviously, all the good lines are his. The children, however, are mine.)

In the stillness of night,
The only moving thing
is a child.

I was of three minds:
sleep, motherhood, sleep.

I pretended not to care that I was awakened.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
There is my "to do" list, and then there is God's.
These are not the same thing.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a child
Are one.
Add, mix and stir: my daughters' "to do" lists are mine.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The life with the child
or the thought of that life.

Chatter filled the long day
The company of children
Transformed a mood. Sometimes
for better. Sometimes ... not.

O, dear control-freak-self,
Why do you imagine a different life?
Do you not see how the life
you've been given is unspeakable gift?

I know of a tidy life,
of elegance, rhythm and control.
But I know, too, That a child is involved
In what I know.

When my children have grown,
They will mark the edge
Of one of many circles.
I will be grateful for their imprint.

At the sight of children
I used to say, "Not for me, please.
An unwelcome interruption."
But something shifted. I gave myself
Over to motherhood, and held on tight.

Once, a fear pierced me,
that I would never rise to this task,
would not die to self.

3:20 a.m.: A nightmare. She needs me more
than I need this sleep. 
I rise. I go.
A child will not wait for morning.

It was nighttime all day.
I loved her and I was going to love her.
The child sat entwined in my limbs.
The interruption sweetly complete.


Find more posts about Wallace Stevens here


 The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink

Friday, August 28, 2020

Poetry Friday: Galway Kinnell

Sometimes, no matter who you are, what your life circumstance is, or how many years you've trudged the planet, you just need a good cry.

Ray Bradbury knew it:

"And besides, I like to cry. After I cry hard it's like it's morning again and I'm starting the day over."  
"I heard everything now."  
"You just won't admit you like crying, too. You cry just so long and everything's fine. And there's your happy ending. And you're ready to go back out and walk around with folks again...." 
"That don't sound like no happy ending to me."  
"A good night's sleep, or a ten-minute bawl, or a pint of chocolate ice cream, or all three together, is good medicine, Doug."  
                                          ~ Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury 

Galway Kinnell knew it, too:

by Galway Kinnell
(from Three Books)

Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
and splash-splash-splash!
Then you can throw open your window
and, "Ha ha! ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"

Wishing you a good cry, the feeling that it's morning again, and happiness that's been hidden.


The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Poetry Friday: For Once, Then, Something

I love the questing and questioning nature of this one by Robert Frost.

For Once, Then, Something
Robert Frost

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

("For Once, Then, Something" is in the public domain.)


Molly is exploring the monotetra, a new form created by Michael Walker. I love her results! 
Go check out her work — and all the other Poetry Friday contributions — at Nix the comfort zone

Friday, August 07, 2020

Poetry Friday: Spotted in the backyard

Our ever-charming Poetry Friday host, Laura Purdie Salas, is thinking and talking about anxiety today. I'm right there with you, Laura. With a teacher-husband and a teacher-daughter returning to work next week and a governor who not only refuses to mandate masks but actually threatens legal action against leaders who want to protect the public with said mandated mask-wearing (I'm stupefied by this), well, I'm ... distracting myself.


Spotted in the backyard yesterday, thanks to Anne-with-an-e (who, in her 20s, still stops what she's doing to notice an astonishing little bit of beauty, and then share it with others):

Munching monarch,
overlord of the milkweed,
unstoppable force.

~ Karen Edmisten


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Poetry Friday: Masks, and Fauci, and Coffee, Oh, My

Sooooo, I've posted a few times recently about masks on Facebook because, well, mask-wearing during a pandemic is just good scientific sense, and Anthony Fauci is my man.

Thanks, Jama Rattigan, for leading us to the bobblehead

(And no, I don't care how he throws a baseball.)

This mask is your basic, utilitarian pandemic gear:

However, my pal Tabatha (of The Opposite of Indifference fame) sent a link to a mask that she said made her think of me. (And with friends like Tabatha, one needn't worry about the friends on Facebook who have unfriended one for talking about masks.) 

Who could have imagined a mask that combines allusions to Gregorian chant, Psalm 130, and coffee? Someone did. And their "Out of the Depths I Have Cried for Coffee" mask reminded me of an ode to coffee that I wrote a few years ago. (My daughters mock me for calling 13-year chunks of time "a few years," but oh, just wait, daughters. Someday you'll understand the wibbly-wobbly that is time.) 

And so, with Poetry Friday just 45 minutes away as I type this, I give you my love song to coffee: 

How Do I Love Thee, Coffee? Let Me Count the Ways
(with my sincere apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning ....)
by Karen Edmisten 

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My cup can reach.

I love thee to the level of every day's
most quiet need (which is to start the day with you.)

I love thee freely (as I strive to awaken.)
I love thee purely (as one who is addicted.)
I love thee with a passion (which is embarrassing.)

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
when I was pregnant
and had morning sickness,
but my love is so strong
it was reclaimed when all sickness had passed.

I love thee with the breath (though coffee breath be not pleasant)
with the Smiles, tears, of all my life!

and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death,
for surely there is coffee in Heaven.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Poetry Friday: It's a Party at Ruth's Place!

Ruth, at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town is hosting the Poetry Friday party today and she's focusing on — you guessed it — parties. 

I miss parties. 

Well, I didn't actually go to a lot of parties pre-COVID. My INFJ/Enneagram 4/Melancholic/Introverted self didn't exactly seek them out on a regular basis. But, hey. I miss having the option to go to a party. I miss having a few people over for dinner. And mostly, I'm sad that we didn't get to throw the big bash we'd planned for Ramona, who graduated from our homeschool this year.

It would have been the kind of party that John Brandi sums up in this haiku. I can imagine our most beloved friends and family: meaning to leave, but lingering, having one more beer, just another glass of wine, a few more minutes of talk and laughter, moments that stretch into a few more hours.

We'll have that party for Ramona someday.

In the meantime, friends, there's poetry.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Poetry Friday: "I, Too" by Langston Hughes

I, Too
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
(Read the rest here, at The Poetry Foundation.)


Friday, June 19, 2020

Poetry Friday: A Small Needful Fact, by Ross Gay

A Small Needful Fact
by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,...

(Karen here ... it's such a short poem that I can't share much without violating copyright, so let's jump to the final lines, which are heart-wrenchingly — again, and again, and again, and again, and again — relevant.) 

... like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

(Read the whole thing here.)


Friday, June 05, 2020

Poetry Friday: Lucille Clifton

As per usual, I couldn't decide what I wanted to post this week. (I guess I'm a mood-poster. I'm a mood reader, too, which is why I never do well with "book challenges" or other people's reading lists.)

Late last night, I picked up the Anne Lamott book Atticus gave me for my birthday. 2018's Almost Everything: Notes on Hope opens with Lucille Clifton's poem, "blessing the boats," followed by the words, "I am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen."

And I knew I had my poem for this week. Thank you, Lucille Clifton; thank you, Anne Lamott.

blessing the boats 
by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear

(Read the whole short and perfect poem here, at


Margaret is hosting the round-up this week at Reflections on the Teche.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Poetry Friday: Billy Collins and John O'Donnell

I was in the mood for some Billy Collins so I went in search of my hero. 
He mentioned a poem called "When," by John O'Donnell
so obviously I now have to share that with you. 
So, what was going to be a Billy Collins post is still 
a Billy Collins post, but now it's Billy+. 
Plus a little heart-wrenching, but that's Poetry Friday in a pandemic. 

(The transcript of the interview is here.)


And when this ends we will emerge, shyly
and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace
loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those
it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for 
(Read the rest here.) 


Carol Varsalona is hosting the round-up at Beyond LiteracyLink

Friday, May 08, 2020

Poetry Friday: Instructions on Not Giving Up, by Ada Limón

I felt this way last week: the sudden greening of the trees, spring's sneaky way of springing itself on me. There's always a day, every year, when a sudden burst or bloom makes me catch my breath. 
A beautiful and needed promise. 

Instructions on Not Giving Up
by Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white

(Read the whole thing here, at


Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has the round-up this week at Today's Little Ditty

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Poetry Friday: Time, by Janet Norris Bangs

I don't know about you, but — well, yes, actually, I do know about you. I suspect you're a lot like me regarding time these days. We're all in this together and we're all experiencing time in similar and discordant ways, yes?

My time, your time, the concept of time, the passing of time, the tyranny of time, the luxury of time, the burden and the gift of time.

And somehow Janet Norris Bangs' short poem, which appeared in the February, 1933 issue of Poetry magazine is a perfectly appointed reflection on the paradoxes of Time in the time of coronavirus.


Photo credit: Jordan Benton

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Coronavirus Diaries: Bits and Pieces of Our Days

* I have no idea what day of social distancing we're on.

* I guess you could say ours started on March 7th, when Betsy was diagnosed with influenza A. Since she has asthma and a compromised immune system, we all rallied to start our social distancing before social distancing was a thing here. (All I could think was, "Is Covid-19 here, in our town? How disastrous could it be for Betsy if she contracted that on top of the flu?") By March 12, she needed to go back to the clinic. I went with her, and as we approached the front door, I had one of those moments. You've had those moments, too. The moments when you felt the seismic shift? Like you're now living in a movie you didn't want to see? On the door of the clinic was a sign that hadn't been there just two days before when I'd taken Ramona in for an influenza test. (Yeah, she had it, too.) The new sign told us to STOP. Call ahead if a cough is present. Wear a mask. Because I knew Betsy was dealing with influenza, we went in anyway. Should I have done that? I don't know. Shift.

* The first shift I remember was when Atticus and I went to Costco the day before Betsy got sick with the flu. March 6th. The employees were furiously wiping down carts at the entrance and I thought, "This feels weird. It's not really even here in Nebraska yet, is it?" It felt important, though, to stock up on a few things. They still had toilet paper at our Costco, but they were running low. Seeing Costco running out of things? A shift.

* It turns out that March 6 was the day the first Nebraska case was confirmed.

* I can't even remember what day it was in the midst of all this — early on — when I was at Target, thinking, "Maybe I should grab a bottle of hand sanitizer. We might be a little low." (Gone. Nothing. But you knew that.) I saw a man wandering back and forth, in and out of the aisle that normally held Purell or Germ-X. He looked bewildered. As I picked up a bottle of liquid soap, I said, "Washing with soap and water is better than hand sanitizer anyway." He looked grateful but disoriented.

* It's disorienting to have the ground shift beneath your feet. Especially the familiar ground of Target, which is supposed to feel so safe and mundane. 

* We're watching Lost with Ramona.

* We all feel lost sometimes. Other days are better.

* Some days I wish I had started a daily diary from Day 1 but I'm just not capable of that right now. It's not how I process, however much I wish it were. Sometimes I need to retreat, be silent for a time. Some days I need to journal about gratitude, other days I need to journal about fear. But I'm not doing either one every single day.

* I try to read, but it's hard for me to concentrate on a book. How did Sawyer concentrate on all those books he read on the beach?

* Working from home is such a blessing and a gift right now. I am so grateful to be a freelancer and also to work for Brave Writer. My work contacts and colleagues and students are a gift to me, now and always.

* I'm grateful for Zoom, and for my friend introducing me to the Marco Polo app.

* I'm grateful for all the people who are still working, providing us with groceries, trash pick-up, mail delivery, boxes from UPS and Fed Ex.

* My girls recently asked what I'll look forward to the most when things are "normal" again, when we can go wherever we want to go. I couldn't really even think of a specific place. It was more of a desire for a feeling. I want to feel like I can run to Target when the only thing I need is dishwashing soap or some Advil. I want to stop in at the store for lettuce. I want the whole world to not have to think about toilet paper. I want everyone to know how brave health care workers are, as well as grocery store clerks and mail carriers. I want people to care about people who are less fortunate than themselves ... people with asthma, and compromised immune systems, people who are in their 60s, people who might die from something that 80% of the population doesn't have to worry about. I want people to stop saying that we should just let this thing run its course so that herd immunity will handle it. Herd immunity might be the ultimate goal, but mass graves being dug in New York tell us that herd immunity doesn't happen overnight. I want decent, compassionate, human, federal leadership. I want to know that everyone believes that every human life is valuable and precious.

* I have no idea how many days of social distancing we have left. But I know that I will do whatever I have to do to protect the people I love, and people I don't even know, and people who are invisibly vulnerable. Because that's what decent human people do.

* It's disorienting to have the ground shift beneath your feet. But regaining balance is what human beings do. We just need to shift our weight a little. We can do this. We can shift.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

The Coronavirus Diaries: Shelter in Poems is hosting the "Shelter in Poems" project:
This National Poetry Month, we ask our readers to share a poem that helps to find courage, solace, and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so. As responses continue to arrive from across the globe, we invite you to continue sharing poems from our collection on social media with the hashtag #ShelterInPoems or by writing to us at Whether you’re writing in or tagging to us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, we will select some of your responses to feature on this special Shelter in Poems page. 

I've always taken shelter in the poetry of Richard Wilbur, so today I'm sharing "The Beautiful Changes",  especially for these lines:

... the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

The beautiful changes.

What's beautiful to me in these strange days are the moments that show me the best of humanity. I would not have predicted, only a month ago, that I'd cry over the beauty of a man giving away toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and over the beauty of a young man who, despite the sign, still knocked and made sure it was okay to take some. I love both of these men.

These are days "for a second finding" of what is beautiful, days that can take us back to wonder with the realization that we can be good to one another, take care of one another, and live our lives for one another.