Cardinal Directions

Cardinal Directions

Once upon a time, at a staff meeting, a colleague boasted (was it a boast?) that she didn’t know her directions. She rolled her eyes as if she was too busy to know such a thing, as if it was below her.

I was struck by her pride in not knowing, and struck even harder when two other women in the group chimed in. “Me either,” they both said, also with smiles. And these were all very smart, educated women whose job it was to share their knowledge and resources. Two strikes.

Then the final strike. As I sat there admonishing them in my head, I had to admit to myself, that I, too, had once proudly noted this stupidity. Three strikes.

You’re out.

Not only did I claim not to know my directions, but that I didn’t know my left from right. I was much younger when I made such proclamations, and I distinctly, and sadly now, remember thinking it was somehow cute or funny. I was smart, I knew that, but there was this funny little missing piece to my intelligence. Instead of learning it, I laughed. Ha ha.

I recovered from the like in my 20’s, so I can at least give myself credit for that. These women are in their 60’s. But most tragic, yes, tragic (I’m not being dramatic, I promise), is that not only do we live, and have we lived, in a world where women are assumed to be less smart than men, but women wear this assignment with pride, like a sparkly broach. Look at me, adorned with stupidity. I may have learned my directions, but do I not claim stupidity in other arenas? Yes, and this is not as surprising as I’d think.

My mother thought of herself stupid, and my father agreed, and often broadcasted it publicly. I don’t know that she used the words “I am stupid,” but I am certain she said things like, “I was never very good in school.” Or “Aren’t you the smarty pants, smarter than your mother.” Or “I’m not the smart one in the family.”

My mom made the grocery list, but did not do the shopping. She could not (would not?) drive, and could not (nor would dad let her) keep a check book. But she did do the majority of the cooking, cleaning and housekeeping, and she organized and managed the entire family’s wardrobes, menu, hygiene, school needs, and more. Yet, there was a big to-do about the fact that my father could not read her handwriting on the bi-weekly list. He made no small affair of having to re-write numerous items on the list, noting how they were misspelled, and spelling them correctly.

My mother rode this ritual with an odd, dutiful acknowledgement. His job was to be the smart corrector. Sarcastic, and flirtatious perhaps, loving “in his way,” his ridicule was customary. Her job was to be the stupid mistake maker. Apologetic with a repeated “I’m trying,” or “I try,” as if talking to the headmaster, and not her husband, her lover, the father of her nine children. As if she didn’t manage the daily lives of eleven people.

This dance went on in many other situations besides the grocery list. The fact that she couldn’t drive, and she couldn’t because it scared the shit out of her. Left hand turns were confounding. The fact that she never did well in school. “But the teachers loved me,” she would brag. That she smoked (my Dad had smoked and quit in his 30s). And he chided her about how the thing she did best was shop and “spend his money.” Finally, how she hadn’t had a job since before their wedding.

And it is notable that she had worked for the Detroit Edison Company, but they fired her upon her getting married.

My mother was not stupid, and I don’t believe my father truly thought she was either. Beyond the facts—poor grades, etc.— she was brilliant. In fact, while at her funeral, I was impressed and warmed by the many cousins and friends who approached and told me how important my mother had been to them. Her counsel, wisdom, and trustworthiness led many a young person to a more firm place of confidence in their lives. Not only could they rely upon her to not tell their secrets, they could rely upon her for sage advice when it came to boyfriends, relationships, parenting, etc.

My mother was the 11th of 13 children. Her role as one of the youngest in the family gave her a particular in, and an understanding, to the evolving women’s movement and some of the changes in the Catholic church. She was, in fact, quite hip, and dare I say, she would sometimes sleep through Sunday service and let my dad take the line up of children to mass alone. Smart woman!

My mother was an avid reader with at least two novels going at any given time, and she read both the daily newspapers: The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. We also subscribed to numerous magazines which she read including Life, Look, and Time. Yes, she loved her soap operas, and to nap, but she was neither lazy nor unmotivated.

I do not know if she knew her cardinal directions, her right from her left, but I would not be surprised either way. She was not deserving of the ridicule, but she did not fight it. Could she? Can we?

Being stupid for women was, and unfortunately still is, understood as ‘cute.’ Acceptable. Funny. Expected. Sometimes proclaimed with an arrogance that is numbing. Yet, I know well the disdain and animosity that is generated when a woman proclaims the opposite. To be a smart woman, and to say so, is as unacceptable by many, if not more so. A woman can be quickly deemed arrogant, haughty, vain, and somehow a threat if she is smart, knows she is smart, and does not hide it behind a facade of stupid. It is an odd dance we’ve performed. We can’t seem to win, ultimately. Smart or stupid.

As this announcement was made at a staff meeting, I looked around at the group of  women to see their reaction. No one looked nonplussed except for the youngest and  newest employee: a millennial. And me. As we reacted others were quieted, perhaps embarrassed.

Our insisting that cardinal directions be added to the document we were discussing seemed a greater infraction than the women who boasted that they did not know their cardinal directions. And that the document should use some other terminology to explain the southeast corner. A term that was left TBD.

We have a long way to go I am afraid.

So I propose that we stop this silliness. End this madness. Let’s rally and take a stand that it is neither cute or funny or acceptable or expected for anyone to be stupid, and more importantly to not be willing to learn what they do not know, and even more importantly, to never be proud of ignorance, forgetfulness, or stupidity. And let us remember that most of what we can’t or won’t memorize, we can look up. And, there is a mnemonic device for everything. Even the cardinal directions.

I am ashamed of my own role in the like, and I urge all women and men to stop reveling in what you don’t know. Learn it. Don’t dismiss what you do know, share it. Do not judge the intelligence level you perceive, but be willing to teach others what they don’t know.

Future post? My bucket list of the things I need to learn and have been proud not to know. A list far too long including things like changing a flat tire and all the state capitals.

And on that note, a poem.

Cardinal Directions

North is cold blue
Michigan snow sneaking
into untied boots in the morning
when the wind hates you
there are icicles on your nose
the sun forgets your name

Name the opposite – deep green
sticky hot, dank hides
like a crocodile or mint julep
in the veranda’s shadows
the saucy fans of pink ladies
hugging the equator
like and old friend who lingers
too too long.

Linger in the yellow
winding river of sun
the day breaks you in
beckons yellow eggs
pronounces morning
like a fire alarm
not an inkling of past
the eastern shore birds
can not be quiet.

Quiet as a western Washington
rain, I come to you thirsty
like a desert cactus
missing the memories
of reliable raindrops
and succulent roots
all that sunset beauty
the day ends only
for now.

Photo by John Ruddock on Unsplash


Divorce in Two Poems, or Two Kisses as it Were, Second Person


April is Poetry Month. Poetry Challenge. Poem a Day. Nos 29 and 30. El Fin.

Kiss Away

You put our kiss away
tucked it in a drawer below
rolled socks, old Valentines
and a couple of quarters;
underneath that newspaper
with Bridget’s picture on it
and your Boy Scout scarf.

You put our kiss away
slid it under the pillow waiting
for some fairy to make our wishes come true
like when last October’s moon
shined full on our romance
oh how she would peek
into our bedroom window
witness our release

You put our kiss away
stored it among the tents
the crates and junk in the garage
near the screw drivers
your hidden cigarettes
all your layered secrets
waiting in the tool box

You put our kiss away
beside the deck, where
the grease from last July 4th’s
lamb BBQ still stains the soil
the struggling lavender plant
nods and the thriving jade shines
You put our kiss away and I can’t

find it; You, who could never hide
anything very well, hid this like
a spy, but even without it
I can’t forget the taste
of you, your gasp against
my ear,  your thumb
between my teeth

You put our kiss away
for safe keeping
for some day
for never

Kiss You Again

I found your lips inside a hug
and held on as if I could lose

you, I kissed the smell
of your smoke and scratch
of your stubble and knew
it was settled like dust
on the dash but the maybe
of forever was dancing again
upon my tongue

I kissed you and soothed
your cheeks in my hands
your eyes a query
in our moonlit van
I put my nose against yours
and remembered how lovely
are your eyelashes
your breath

I kissed you and led
your fingers to my face
they knew my chin my teeth
our lips returned
to where they belonged
once so sweet

I kissed you and recalled
nothing, planned less
just kissed and winked
behind your neck
at the December moon
she appeared, flanked by pines
to watch over this fleeting
this tease of time
she found a cloud
and I knew then
my kissed friend
that I would never
kiss you

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Louder than the Hummingbirds

food-3324316_1280April Is Poetry Month. Poem A Day Challenge. No. 28

Louder than the Hummingbirds

Jill paid a surprise visit last night
arriving with Jay, a bottle of wine
a pile of poems and a cooling story
about a guy from Alaska who couldn’t
meet her downtown after all.

We sat in the twilight of early June
our stories and gasps drowning out
the clicking of the cicadas, our whir
louder than the hummingbirds
looking for nectar and a place to nest.

My girls entertained Jay with Nintendo
laughter, dances, and bowls of ice cream
they stirred in cookies and Sugar Babies.

Jill told me Jay sees angels each night
short men in turtlenecks who are threat-less
he didn’t share this with my girls.

Bridget had a tantrum that morning
anger pouring from each limb hotter than June
Riana sunbathed for the first time
tanning herself toward adolescent notions
about beauty and boys.

Neither was any of this spoken
by our children, who fingered the gray joysticks
giggling between sticky teeth
and shouting at the screen.

Jill and I talked about everything
on the deck, moms and poets
certain we would never rush off
to Alaska to rendezvous
with even the sweetest of men
or  meet friends downtown at midnight.
Midnight. Would we?

We defined “contentment” relishing
the freedom of a stolen afternoon
alone with “the one” and the definition
didn’t include anything about boredom
sadness, being finished or desperate.

Just happy enough to know
exactly when to fly and who
to bring, where to go
and what we should stir
into ice cream.

Photo from Pixabay


Could Be

crow-2057872_1280April Poetry Month. Poem A Day. Challenge. No. 27

Could Be Just Another Lazy Morning in April

Could be just another day in the life
of the patient blue black bird
his weight pulls down the pine bow
he waves at me outside my window

Could be just another climb
for the eager red spider who camped
all winter in a crevice, decides
to grab the wind, write a new address

Could be the April breezes playing
rough each afternoon pushing
debris across the roof scrubbing
like something serious is going on

Could be the world’s gone crazy
again repeating news as if it was
not a sodden pattern of small words
I ride the rivulet like a raft

Could be all this light, so much
now, I rise with it, eat dinner
with it, I’m not ready for its
warmth, I wasn’t done hibernating

Could be time for that second cup
hot and strong with heavy cream
whip away this lazy spring
it cherishes my dreamy

Could be that damn black bird
returned to see me doze, kind enough
not to screech as he eyes my cold toast
Where are yesterday’s crusts?

Photo from


Approaching Storm

eberhard-grossgasteiger-392281-unsplashPoetry Month. Poem A Day. No. 26

     for the girls from decades ago

As quiet as snow
you arrive at my pillow
frightened by the storms
that jolt your elbows,
that won’t release you,
they cloud your little girl soul

My breath drapes you
sill to ceiling
back to infancy
late night feedings
the lullaby of my pulse
is all that sleep needs
to return and tuck
you in again

I want to push away
your nightmares
the demons
that open your eyes in the dark
with sharp knuckles
and send them out into the cold
without a jacket or gloves
and certainly no sand

And when I rid the fright
from your sleepy sky
that long-fingered grip gone
once and for all
you will not
come to me to snuggle

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Let Me Elaborate

nick-fewings-589145-unsplashApril is Poetry Month; Poem A Day; No. 25

Let Me Elaborate

from early morning journal entries

I dream I watch him run
in the most beautiful teal silk lingerie.
I dream of not pulling out my ChapStick
although my lips feel shriveled.
Nor do I take a seat
when my hip feels pummeled
but every time we lean into each other
it is all I want.

I dream of living with grizzlies
and loving them, talking to them,
they teach me to hibernate
which for me, means write.

Then we are at a party
and the bears call me over.
“You can understand us, you know?”
“This is so weird,” I say.

I dream of babies. Sick babies. Sick mamas.
A baby licking the right ear of a kitten.

I dream that every time I hit the snooze alarm
it posts on Facebook.

I dream of being obese
having a layer, a flap, of fat
hanging below my belly button
so large that I can hold it out
like a shelf
and wave it like laundry.

I dream that I start the hug club
and it was a night full of hugging;
I woke happy.

I dream that my mother wants a cell phone
and that Grandma Chata cooks in cardboard boxes
she thinks that if the flame is low
the boxes won’t burn.

I dream that she looks so guilty and sad
and accustomed to being chastised.

I  dream that I am angry at a friend
so I pull off a lion’s toes
and throw them at him
one at a time
hitting him in the face
and the lion does not mind.

I dream that a friend cooks for us
an egg dish, wine, and quesadillas, maybe.
The wine container has rice in it
and I want to figure out how to filter it.
The dinner takes place in a group of buildings
in the middle of a busy freeway interchange.

I dream that I am in an old and bumpy elevator
with a mirror and I stand where the porter stands.
There are only two buttons
“dint” or “wobble.”
I speak to the girls  about a murder,
a double murder maybe, they question my concern.

I dream of trying on clothes or scarves
one has a spot, a white one
so I clean it out in a pond
the water turns brown
and I point it out to the clerk
who is exasperated
I say I’d pay for it.

I dream that I decide 2 things:
I will take a 3-6 month trip by myself and camp, to see if I can really feel the earth move and know when the rain is coming and to get that in tuned to the planet;
and that I will take a music class because unbeknownst to even myself, I have this love for games and puzzles, but since I am not interested in mathematics I might feed that part of my brain by learning music.

I dream of getting lost and refusing to stop to get a ride or call a taxi.
My phone breaks in my pocket.
I can barely walk as it is like moving
through cement and I blame it
on the wraparound skirt I’m wearing
I carry yellow laundry
I just want to find a place
to stop and fold
the yellow sheets and table clothes.

I dream there is a crying child
and my fire-breathing guerrilla
is no longer a guerrilla
it is a toy animal that changes as it spins.

I dream I am headed to an audition
for a dance production
but I can’t find when it is
or where to go and then
I am eating dinner out
with an unfamiliar family
and I try the dad’s entree:
white meat.
He said it was Bill Clinton’s hand.


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


Readying for Next

andrew-pons-1354-unsplashApril is Poetry Month, poem a day, No. 24

Readying for Next

The summer swing still leans
like an old man with a crooked back
certain that with a little adjustment
he could rock and soothe
a child or lover.

The fence remains in ill repair
planks pop with the dog’s jump
the snow, or windy April,
and mountains push their way
down onto the houses that necklace
these foothills and forests.

The kitchen never grows bigger
the wall remains as solid as the day
I first put flour and coffee in the pantry.
The girls still wanted to wack it down
renew the promise of more space
that their dad had bestowed upon breakfast
Cheerios and toast, oh that embrace
of a bigger dream for this house.

You could still do it they say,
from afar, to their mother who hits
the head of nails only three out of four
tries, I hammer my way
through this noisy solace.

I wonder how many times I’ll pull up
the drive or stand watching out
the window, lean over the sink
and witness the yellows of sunrise creep
up the pine slats, the oranges of early
that turn the wobbles and angles
of broken fences and furniture
into a softer blanket of ownership,
this is my life alone.


Photo by Andrew Pons on Unsplash

The Poet and the Pilot

sedona fr the skyPoetry Month, Poem A Day, No. 23

The Poet and the Pilot
      a sonnet for Richard V

I cannot talk myself out of loving you,
no matter how hard I try, and I do.
You say, between kisses and games of cribbage,
“An unlikely pairing;” I think “Kismet.”

You argue straight-faced with my poetry.
I fact check your sources diligently.
We love words, conversation, oh, to be right,
to listen to Barber’s adagio at night.

You negotiate clouds, quote Schofield or pleadings.
I steer images, bake pastries, give readings.
Reluctant, we navigate smoothly-etched sorrow;
leave vulnerable tight, tucked into bravado.

We revel this comfort, about-face the past,
pirouette with grace this improbable match.

Photo by me, flying over Sedona, Arizona

What’s in for Spring?

cactus flowerWhat’s In for Spring?

Lone baby flower
Desert’s still considering
What to wear this year

Poetry Month, Poem A Day, No. 22

Torture, Cancer, Betrayal, and Flight, Four Poems

Image result for prentis street detroitPoetry Month, Poem A Day, Poem Nos 18, 19, 20, and 21

Scavenger’s Daughter

Their marriage was like a scavenger’s daughter,
each day the pressure greater, doubling
her heartache. She was broken, her ears

bled. He said he’d let up. It was just that he hated
his boss, job, dog, car, kids, the mayor.
As soon as things looked up, he’d let up

on her. He would. Fired from every job:
he called hourly, threatened co-workers, bosses,
certain she fucked everything, everyone,

but him. Always checking. Checking. Sex
a guillotine whirring, each cog bringing orgasm close.
When she screamed he thought she was excited

that she wanted more. He sold her car, phone,
radio, television, bought her a typewriter, told
her she was so good with words. Write!

She rolled her long yellow hair into the carriage
until her forehead hit the “y” over and over
and then she bled from that hole, too.

My Mother Quit Smoking in October

Locked tight in a capsule,
rotated and blasted,
with music for the pain
of cancer therapy.

Yellow lines, a face full
of ink strokes she trusted;
if they slip, hit the brain,
no more Pauline Murphy.

Blood poisoned with chemicals,
stomach ripped and twisted;
raw throat ruined, her saliva’s gone.
Slothful recovery.

Her thin hair’s gray, face pale.
No more Nice ‘n Easy red.
Mouth is bare tooth and bone;
but she’ll see sixty-three.

Old Friend

Your hair is soft, waves, your skin
sags like melted ice cream.
Buttery to the touch and still
tempting. You dress
like the end of a rain storm
flowing pastels with green
and gray hues. Your chosen
mode of speaking is whispers
between sips of certain clear
drinks, vodka or gin, from
your thin wet lips sharp
darts hiss like a whip
as if cutting words didn’t
didn’t didn’t bite so, didn’t
burn       your disdain rides
the bare back of your judge
with black leathered legs
layered heels heavy and ready
to press into the tough hide
each hard beat of the four-
step canter collides
and stomps upon the now
dirt-crushed remains
of friends never knowing
what hit them.

Cleared for Flight

We talk late on Saturdays
you walking an inherited dog
me listening to the frogs behind you
thinking they are crickets and you’re
in love again or forever
ripping reality from your moments
because we all know even the voice
of an old girlfriend will never soothe
decades of life and loss.

You’d love to see the sway of my hips again
you say between croaking or crickets
and I am flattered and afraid; we are taken
we are always taken when we love each other
by bad timing and other temptations
you and I have never been cleared for flight
our journey has always involved the betrayal
of someone. Never each other.

We relish the 1600 miles between us
the sound of amphibians that keep
our sighs muffled safe inside the sky
we danced under years ago
one time I proposed meeting in the middle
so we could have a donut and coffee
in some café and hold each others eyes
you said Elk City would be too ‘Okie.’

I dream of your wife, your kids,
the perfection of who you are in my soul
that has rested for years knowing I will never
know the you I knew on Prentis St.
where I fainted when you kissed me
and listened to you read Truman Capote’s
short stories and the Detroit rain
pounded on my third floor windows.

We cannot fly this love never cleared
for flight. One red flag or another waves
behind each call of the amorous frogs
and no pilot in their right mind would get
on board this jalopy of smooth take offs
and tragic landings.

Photoby Leni Sinclair at The Detroit News