A redhead named Janelle
is cleaning my teeth.
I feel the warmth of her
body through a blue glove
as she leans her tiny hand
against my chin to scale
She wields the Cavitron with
what might be called love
sonic pulse of water down
my deep pockets, she takes such
care. I count breaths, my jaw a
canyon for her small fingers
She intuits the tender spots,
knows where to swab
my gums with local,
knows when to suction, when
to spray, gently wipes spit from
my face like a mother cleans her child
She reads my body and
my pain, seeks to comfort me
Unspoken trust is here,
the intimacy of strangers
Yet is she so strange to me?
I’ve heard that Buddhists believe
every being has been our
mother innumerable times.
Suddenly, Janelle seems
I notice her kind responsive
hands, her bright crooked smile,
the way she studied a dark bloom on
my X-ray and broke
the news in a low solicitous voice
Imagine every person was once your
mother. Let affection blur the
critical gaze, meet every pair
of eyes with tenderness and
Notes on writing poetry
When my book of poems was published in 2014, I had mixed feelings. I knew they were rushed and rough, many more prosaic than poetic. I adopted the view that the process not the product was most important. I had gotten a surprise contract on the strength of a few poems, and a short deadline. I enjoyed waking up every day for most of that year with the challenge to write a new poem, 80 pages of poems in 8 months. But I knew they weren’t polished; they did not reflect long craftsmanship.
The book got scant attention when it came out. My mother-in-law, then 95 (RIP, Barbara), loved it and told me it was “so clever.” I thought, well I’m happy it pleased her. That’s enough. I have a few fans, mostly family members. There were two reviews. One was mostly positive, the other mostly negative. The negative review included the following: “Its text…makes shameless use of exclamation marks and ellipses—punctuation that I abhor.” Strong words—”shameless” and “abhor,” words that seem more appropriate collocations for rape and genocide than for punctuation. I felt the reviewer had missed the point that free use of “!” was part of the “birth of the uncool,” the shift from cool, critical academic to open, mushy, middle-aged explorer of the self.
The review said lots more, but I’ll stop there. I think I suffered from that review more than I let on. Ouch! It seemed so mean and tight and shaming. Though I actually agreed with many observations the reviewer made about my poems, her tone stung deeply. What I found curious to observe was how reading that review seemed to paralyze me. I didn’t want to write much poetry for almost two years.
I want to reclaim poetry again. It felt (defiantly) good to put that exclamation mark at the end of the poem. As Chesterton said, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.
Madeline, I am sending you my loving thoughts!
Olga thank you. I am sending you loving thoughts as well. xo