Writing Sideways Poems/ “Where You Are Not” in Esthetic Apostle

Back in 2001-2005,  I suffered the loss of several loved ones, both families and friends.  Before then, I sometimes marveled how I had not experienced the death of anyone I cared about and I was nearly 50 then.  I knew that would end, and it did as friends died from freak accidents (falling on ice in a church parking lot and having a bone fragment reach the bloodstream–RIP Ruth) to dying while sleeping and choking (RIP Earl), to the death of my godmother from heart disease, my mother from dementia from a terrible head injury to my father to a stroke he suffered while we were on the phone–and so on.

All of this emotional and body memory is being resurfaced by the death of my only sister last week.  I remember grief, what it feels like (shock, anger, grief, disbelief, pain), what it tastes like (tears), what it sounds like (choking, crying, silence). And then the permanence, the inability to touch the loved one anymore.

I wrote a lot of poetry about grief before then because of childhood losses that did not involve death, during this time, and afterwards, for my sister was diagnosed with terminal illnesses, one after the other after the other.  She lived an amazing 15 years after the first terminal diagnosis–truly amazing.

But I rarely wrote directly about the one who died, except for about my best friend Susan who died young, before age 40, from colon cancer.  We were such close friends I was shattered.  When someone told me I should get over it, I snapped and wrote a very harsh poem titled NOTOVERIT, full of profanities.

You may have heard that writers used everything in their life to write, and that is true of me, but not in a direct fashion. I write sideways poems.

Sideways?  I usually wrote about the death of a spouse or a divorce, telling my dear husband it was how I could deal with the grief, to write about it sideways, obliquely.  Since we are still married, he just gave a puzzled look.  But it helped me to write about grief in a way others could understand without battering me further.

This poem, “Where You are Not,” was written to explore the empty feeling of not being able to touch, to feel, to see the loved one anymore. I am blessed to have my spouse with me in my daily life, but grief is grief I think, and while I could not yet write about the many others since they came too close together, I could fictionalize my losses and take poetic license.

I really appreciate Esthetic Apostle for publishing this poem in their June 2019 issue.

where you are not poetry at esthetic apostle June 2019

 

 

Lessons from Garbage Day–repost

bicycle pexels    You need help, was all he said. Not a question, a statement.

I had just come home from visiting a dear friend, and was making three trips from the curb to the car to the house–taking in emptied garbage cans, my purse, etc. I think I was limping a bit, leftover injury that’s so much better now, but still a limp at times.

He was a boy of 11-13, just riding his cool stingray bike around the block, around, around, around. I noticed him circling, looking bored. He seemed to be new to the neighborhood. Maybe he was checking out the middle school nearby.

After my second trip, a wheel on one of the garbage cans fell off.

You need help, he said, loud enough for me to hear him. No yelling. No gestures that would raise alarm. He stayed on his bike. A kid.

You need help.

Excuse me?

You need help?

No, thanks, thanks a lot though. You getting ready to go back to school?

Yeah, he said, sounding a bit sad.

And he rode off.

In another world, I would have said thank you , what’s your name, here’s $5 to carry this stuff in for me.

In this world, I wish I could have told him, someone taught you manners, and that’s great. But in this world,  young men might best be taught–don’t talk to women you don’t know for it scares them and we women tend to mistrust many males, even boys of 12-13.

And as a teacher, I would be very reluctant to accept help from ANY youngster not known–and I mean parents knowing ME.

If I see him again when I’m with the Big Guy, I will say hello and thank him for the offer.

But in this sanitized and isolated suburbia, we pay for help we cannot do ourselves. There is no community. None. We are advised to socialize out back, not in front. Nothing in front of the houses. No bikes, no lawn furniture.

Make it look like no one lives here but trees and shrubs and garbage cans.

I think I’m right that this was a boy who was taught to help the elderly.

Lesson learned, we are no longer than country.

We are the country of no guns allowed signs on schools, churches, etc.

We are the country of ever smaller nuclear families.

We are the country of cars and garages and where simple courtesy can be seen as dangerous. By children or adults.

It made me glad somehow that he asked, nonetheless. I salute your parents for teaching you manners. I hope I thanked you with a sincere smile; I didn’t have the heart to tell this middle-schooler that we just are not friendly to strangers.

I did look for this boy, but I never saw him again.  I hope he is still willing to help out older folks, and hope his heart is still so good.

Poetry as Gift

L has now reached out to me; we share the recent loss of siblings.

Laura Lee

This has been a touching day. A former colleague reached out and asked me to join/ read her blog dedicated to her brother’s memory. I waited a while, then read…about a missing brother, found dead after 62 days, and what that meant to her family.

A nightmare… missing, dead… found dead by my friend. Her mom doesn’t know anyone saw the body… in that condition… so much more I don’t wish to say.

I don’t know why she reached out to me, but social media let her find me.

I remember my friend L as a kind, witty, hardworking science teacher. I was the literacy coach in the building, often a hated person. But L was kind and worked with me, let me into her classroom. And then I got transferred to another school and we lost touch until recently.

After read her blog, I was stunned and also very…

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On Cable Bills, Woman to Woman, and Grieving Before Death

Since I blogged this in August, my sister has died. She passed on a few days ago. I have been grieving her many pains and sadnesses for a long time, I realize, and just yesterday was her funeral. I need to regroup, heal, process, and yes–grieve.

Laura Lee

old black and white tv

It’s so time consuming with medicines and visits and the day to day physical needs that I sometimes “forget” she is dying, and sooner rather than later. Sister’s TV/ cable turned off for nonpayment. She lives in a basement apartment and we TRIED a TV with every kind of antenna possible. No channels. Cable is needed.

Since she cannot read due to vision issues and is living alone (that’s another issue), I thought of the cable TV as a comfort issue and paid for it to be turned back on. She cannot use the internet anymore due to cognitive issues, but she can listen to TV shows and she has followed some for a long time.

I understand all the arguments against TV, but in her case, it is a comfort.

As I was speaking to the person at the BIG nasty cable company, I just broke down crying, after…

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“Three Month Sentence” to be Published Tomorrow in The Esthetic Apostle

Capture I am pleased that my poem, “The Three Month Sentence,” will be published in The Esthetic Apostle tomorrow.  I will post the link to the published poem after that day.

But for now, these are some of the words from the poem; I do need to let the journal publish the complete poem first.  But…

We had not wrapped nights
in tender sighs under stars.
Our nights
were wasted in worry.

Thank you for reading.

Laura

Publications

pexels-photo-997721 Publications, Laura Lee

Some of my poems, short stories, and nonfiction articles are included online and in print books and magazines published in the UK, Greece, India, New Zealand, and the United States. Many thanks to the staff at these publications. 

“The Three Month Sentence,” a poem, in Esthetic Apostle, 2019.

“Red Halo,” a poem, in Prometheus Dreaming, 2019.

“Devastation,” a poem, 2019, in Headline Poetry.

“Havishammed +1,” a poem, 2019, online and in print edition available through amazon.com and at High Shelf Press.

“Where You Are Not,” a poem, June 2019, Esthetic Apostle, here.

“Swamp Pearls,” a poem, May 2019, in Prometheus Dreaming, here.

“Not Sleep,” a poem, in Cagibi: A Literary Space, 2019, here: Cagibi.

“The Professor and the Gravel,” (2019), a poem, in Wingless Dreamer.

“Saltwater Faces,” an ekphrastic poem inspired by paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, High Shelf Press, 2018, here.

“Click,” “The Night is our First Language,” and “They Left the Bed,” poetry published in The Poetic Bond VIII print issue, 2018. Available at Poetic Bond VIII.

“Moving Gravel” a short story at Crack the Spine – Themed Anthology Submissions, “Routine”, print edition, 2018. Available at Crack the Spine Anthology.

“Walk with Child,” a poem, in Snapdragon Journal, 2018, “Here and Gone” theme, here.

Coffin Bell Journal,2018, “Herstory,” a poem, 2018,here.

Spillwords Press, “Stopped,” a poem, 2018, here. 

Tuck Magazine, June 2018, “Teach to Kill” http://tuckmagazine.com/2018/06/06/poetry-1528/.

Tuck Magazine,  May 2018, “Refuge,” http://tuckmagazine.com/2018/05/29/poetry-1511/.

 Southernmost Point Guest House (UK), poetry.

Journal of Modern Poetry 21 (Volume 21), “Hell, No,” a poem at JOMP Volume 21 Dear Mr. President.

Journal of Modern Poetry 20 (Volume 20), “Moonlit Awakening,” JOMP Volume 20 Poetry Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Journal of Modern Poetry 18 (Volume 18), The Official Poets Guide to Peace, two poems: “Open” and “After Poetry Class.” 2015. Purchase here.

Journal of Modern Poetry 17 (Volume 17), JOMP Volume 17. 

Cram Volume 12: “White Board Clown,” 2011. Chicago Poetry Press 2011.

Magazine (New Zealand) , Raewyn Alexander, Publisher, nonfiction and poetry.  Raewyn Alexander NZ.

Fiction in: http://staxtes.com/2003/ “Between the Sunlight and the Skipping” in English Wednesdays

Poetry in: https://poetsagainstthewar.org/ archives.

Illinois English Bulletin, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English, nonfiction article about teaching in an alternative education program.

 Poetry in Marginalia, Elmhurst, IL.

“The Three Month Sentence” to be Published in Esthetic Apostle

On a day I lost my sister, I received an acceptance of a poem about grief. I will miss my sister more than I can say; we were close in age, spoke most days, and saw each other a lot.

We laughed, we argued, we accused each other of being stubborn.  But always, we loved each other and shared decades together.

The poem, “The Three Month Sentence,” will be published in The Esthetic Apostle on October 13th.  I will post the link to the poem after that day.

But for now, these are some of the words from the poem; I do need to let the journal publish the complete poem first.  But…

We had not wrapped nights
in tender sighs under stars.
Our nights
were wasted in worry.

 

This was a poem written during another time of grief.

Thank you for reading.

Laura

“The Night is Our First Language” Published

This is a poem inspired by a poetry reading by Li-Young Lee in Chicago.  When I heard  Lee read, I immediately wrote this poem on my train ride back home.  During the reading, the audience was stunned silent.   We listened intently and even stopped fanning ourselves on a desperately hot summer afternoon.

Lee is not active on social media, and that’s okay–he is probably busy writing more poetry!

The poem’s title came from something Lee said toward the end of his reading, that “the night is our first language.”  That stuck with me.

My poem is published here: Willowdown Books, The Poetic Bond VIII.

And here is the poem:

The Night is Our First Language
(after Li-Young Lee’s poetry reading)

Chicago, hot afternoon
packed reading room.
We wait as sweat drips down
faces, onto blouses, shirts–
unpoetic bodily functions.

A slight man, black ponytail,
black boots, turtleneck, blazer,
dark round rim glasses,
shuffles papers at the podium,
asks quietly:  Is the microphone on?
Thank you for coming. I will
read from new poems,
these are not finished.
It takes me so long to write
in English, not my first language.

Can you hear me know?

We sat forward
nodding, yes, yes,
we can hear you, we are listening,

His voice soft but clear
a slow low bell
of three countries
as he read a love poem to his sister,
who at eight
held the family keys and
held the duty
to keep the family together
while Mother
waited at the prison daily,
hoping for a glimpse of Father,
and he remembered sister’s screams
when father was beaten while arrested.

Sister, I will not tell your secrets.

He looked up, startled
that we were there,
as he went on to
talk of his mouth, not
suited for certain sounds,
of a river of escape,
so swollen with dead bodies
their boat could not move.

Finished, quietly, the poet
started away from the podium
as we sat in stunned silence,
a room packed, doubly packed,
while he said in parting,

The night is our first language.

 

From: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/li-young-lee

Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Both of Lee’s parents came from powerful Chinese families: Lee’s great grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China, and Lee’s father had been the personal physician to Mao Zedong. In Indonesia, Dr. Lee helped found Gamaliel University. Anti-Chinese sentiment began to foment in Indonesia, however, and Lee’s father was arrested and held as a political prisoner for a year.

 

Thank you for reading.

Laura

Brief Bio

laura gym picture    Hello, readers.  I never added a bio here, so–better late than never!

I am a reading specialist; reading, English, and ELL teacher as well as a poet and fiction/ nonfiction writer.  My graduate coursework is  in Reading, Education, and ELL.    I’ve attended many colleges and universities, including:

* Elmhurst College (Bachelors degree, English, Sociology, Psychology, Education)
* College of DuPage (English, Spanish, music, writing, and more–over many years–as part of being a lifelong learner)
*National-Louis University (graduate degree in Reading and additional coursework in ELL and Education)
*University of Chicago (creative writing and art)
*De Paul University (started a Business degree program–what was I thinking?)
*St. Xavier University (graduate coursework in Reading)
*Benedictine University (graduate coursework in Reading)
*Concordia University (graduate coursework in Reading)

I think I am missing some; needless to say, I am a lifelong learner.

I began my professional life working in publishing (minimum wage!), banking, and insurance–those student loans had to be paid off! Eventually I was able to pursue my dream of being a teacher and writer; by then I was well into my “late” middle age years. I never regretted this decision to leave a well-paid business job to enter teaching and writing. Not one regret.

Not too many years ago, I “retired” from full time teaching.  I now teach at the college level part time and write part time.

I love nature and people and literacy.  Lifelong passions!

I’m also a volunteer adult literacy tutor with Literacy DuPage.  I also volunteer with Elmhurst College and work with English majors to help them navigate college.

One of the most meaningful things I’ve done is to be a Mentor Coordinator for a high school with a significant gang presence,  matching youths who had been arrested for or received discipline warnings for in-school gang activity and then completed a gang avoidance program with adult mentors.  This mentor program helped our students stay in school.  For me, I used to wonder out loud: What am I doing? I have no training in this field? What if I mess up?  But I learned that I had considerable skills in interviewing people and predicting who would get along/ work well together.

I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for decades.  I am very fortunate.

Thanks for reading.

Laura

PS For a list of my publications, look here: Publications.