Central to my Poet Laureate Plan is the offering of writing experiences for adults and youth where we explore the nature of our communities and our city. What follows are poems composed of lines from participants’ individual writings. When participants have given me their individual poems to share, I have included links to those. Here, too, is a link to a poem I wrote in collaboration with other Cincinnati poets, Cincinnati: The State of Us, 2016. And to sonnets composed as part of the Cincinnati Walking Sonnet Project. I hope you enjoy reading these group poems; I certainly enjoyed composing them!
In August I had the opportunity to write with a fine group of artists at Dunham Recreation Center, just about a year after my first visit to the to the center’s afterschool program. Founded by Arnelle Dow in 2006, Art4Artists is a group of novice, semi-professional and professional women artists who meet regularly to support each other’s creative endeavors and explore new techniques and ideas. (Click here to read two poems by Arnelle written as a result of the workshop.) For more information and to join Art4Artists, please call the Dunham Center at 513-251-5862. The group is filled with talented practicing and retired art teachers, artists and arts enthusiasts. And some fine writers, too! We used former Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon’s prompt, “I am from,” and will be sending our group creation off to her “I AM FROM project,” which aims to build a quilt, a scroll, a multimedia display, a swell of voices, a collection of poems in celebration of the diversity and beauty of who we are.”
We Are From: Art for Artists, 2017
I am from a blank canvas,
from the typewriter set up
in my mother’s kitchen,
from bright colored fabric and shiny beads,
from the country attic where
obsolete treasures lived,
from the vegetable garden in the summer,
from a hand gliding over big boards,
flour dust flying in the air.
I am from that girl,
the one who called herself
writer, artist, gardener, cook,
from the space she held to grow into.
It is like a trail through my memories,
which shoots straight and sharply
through my town, my life, my thoughts.
I am from struggling children
and a nation divided,
from tall scary people all in black,
So long ago, it seems familiar.
The streets are filled with too many ghosts.
What a strange journey through time.
I am from a life reinvented,
floating in and out of fog and clarity
and plunging in again,
from a long hard slog to make my way
through scrambled streets with cul-de-sacs,
from a towering blue spruce
that mocks my journey.
I am from many steps,
the ones I tumbled down
grabbing life, reclaiming fears,
pursuing and abandoning perfection.
I am from the nest of peace
I have made of my home,
from the joy of dirt and rocks,
the delight of sun and moon,
from quiet Friends and deep meditation,
from the “see you later, welcome home”
barking of the dogs,
from the sweet shade of the same old trees.
All in all, a pretty good life.
I am here.
Now in my 50s,
By Art4Artists Participants: Sue Brungs, Pat Bruns, Mo Conlan, Carole Douglas, Arnelle Dow, Mary Hennigan, Vivian Kline, Sally Murray, Pat Ostenkamp and Carolyn Stewart with Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel.
Dunham Recreation Center
August 15, 2017
Composed by Pauletta Hansel
If you happened to be driving around Hyde Park on April 10, you might have seen a swarm of students with notebooks roaming the streets. That was teacher Andrea Rotter’s Creative Writing Class doing a Cincinnati Walking Sonnet Walk! The poem that follows is composed of lines each of us wrote as we wandered through the neighborhood.
Clark to Clark—A Sonnet Walk x 2
Beginning in the east, ending in the west,
us kids are powerwalking through her hood.
We speed past, missing the house for sale,
smell of sweet flowers, musical wind chimes,
plastic bag flying through the air, trash all
the way. Some sidewalks are like people, cracked,
broken and damaged. A drum tempo makes
a heartbeat in the wind when you 180
back the way you came. Ivy creeps closer,
threatening entangled ankles, rosebud trees
rising up against the unknown. April
is the cruelest month, says the man waving
American flags, the white stark against
the parade of blue shining in the light.
Trees without leaves give the leaf blower no
job. Birds chirping a weird birdish sound, cars
driving, children playing and water sprinkling
the blue blob drawn in chalk on the playground
blacktop. Redeemer Preschool, not a kid
in sight, but a dead mouse on the sidewalk.
We’re in Hyde Park, so of course it is Black,
the wind that made me feel powerful too
as if I was the one to change the world.
A nice, neighborly man with sprinklers
to help the heat tells me of poems I don’t
recall. This is me leaving my high school.
Nothing will stop me from wanting to be home.
Wherever I go, this is where I’m from.
Andrea Rotter’s Creative Writing Class
Compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel
Writer and teacher Annette Januzzi Wick offered me the privilege of writing with the men of City Gospel Mission who are part of her “Journey in Words” program. Formerly located in Annette’s neighborhood of Over the Rhine, it is now located around Crosley Field’s Home Plate, and is home to men seeking the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical skills and resources needed to achieve life transformation.
City Gospel Mission, March 2017
My mask sees lots of troubles, fences, mountains, thunderclouds.
I don’t want people to know my troubles or to burden them.
When you see my mask, you see what I want you to see.
Underneath there are mixed emotions:
creative, humble, impatient.
I need a girlfriend. I hate being alone.
My mask became my face because I wore it for so long.
A lie is a modified person.
I was wearing a mask of my lie.
When you see my mask you see what I want you to see.
A mask allows me to be seen,
and to give others the grace to be seen through
a lens of acceptability,
of respectability, of positivity.
We all want to be seen as we wish to be.
On rare occasions, I allow it to slip off—
somewhat confused, tentative, and unsure;
somewhat bold, funny, truthful.
Hurting, anxious, joyful, lonely, optimistic
Without my mask, you see a person that’s happy.
But I’m not because I’m not where I want to be right now.
The amount you see of me depends on who you are to me.
Without my mask I feel alone and vulnerable and unprotected. Too nice.
I feel most comfortable when I wear my mask.
When I remove my mask I am scared of the real world,
about being sober and alone.
When you see my mask you don’t see the inner gears
of my constant worry, clicking, clacking,
wondering, adjusting, seeking.
When you see my mask you see a cover for comfort.
My mask sees loneliness,
struggle in the world.
My mask sees people who need me to be strong.
Without my mask I see predators.
As time goes on I choose my masks.
Who are they helping, me or others?
Don’t wear a mask.
Be who God has called you to be
and leave the results up to him.
I finally realized I didn’t need to be something I’m not.
Without my mask I see a world
that wants to hold me, give me comfort.
I want to know “Me,”
to like what I see in the mirror now.
I know it’s my choice and I choose to be me,
clean and sober.
By participants in Annette Januzzi Wick’s City Gospel Mission Writing Group, March 2017.
Compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel
Poetry Month began early for the fine folks at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. (Check out their other Poetry Month at Cincinnati State activities on Facebook!) Professor Geoffrey Woolf extended the kind invitation to me to help get students, staff and faculty warmed up for their first annual Poetry Month Celebration by leading a writing workshop, “Writing our Lives.” Here’s what we came up with!
In my name, infinite notions live.
I was born named Ngaame
but I prefer to be called yellow
because I love bright colors.
Flashy, sequined, and unapologetic.
If my name was a scene it
would be a multitude of colors,
existing in a sunrise over the ocean.
My name was Ross until I goofed
and was born female.
I was named Ashley to end a fight
with someone who didn’t stay to raise me
Raymond was not me,
it was the other
who existed only on paper.
Stuck with the syllables
of a language that doesn’t match,
they gave me an “e” instead of an “a”
so I’m left wondering if I’m ever “e”nough.
Now I walk with rage running amok,
and the destruction is ever growing.
It is the spectacle marveled at, teased,
tossed in the corner where the weird names hide.
Never daring to say them aloud—
Margarette, Maura, Michael, Martin.
The statement is one in the same.
I exist, but not in name.
I am digging to find myself again.
My name used to be daughter,
Now I am Mom,
earned from twice giving birth,
a name honored by a dirty oven and sticky floor,
or “Mrs. J.”, a cherished name,
reflecting my passion, teaching.
Celebrations change to honor the presence
of those who laugh to go on living,
reminiscing on past encounters
and life’s dream.
I knew I’d be different
once I learned my own name.
My name is loyalty.
Who could want more?
My name will make you rip your heart out
and serve it to me on a golden platter.
Don’t worry, I keep Band-Aids in my wallet.
Laugh. You have a powerful name.
My name did not make me, I made my name.
My name is no one else but myself,
enabling me to view life with such simplicity.
I will not have it any other way.
Hear me, see me, know me
and you will never forget my name.
By students, staff and faculty of Cincinnati State’s “Writing Our Lives” workshop, March 15, 2017. Compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel.
This winter I spent time with some amazing people from Walnut Hills–without ever leaving my Paddock Hills home. Cincy Stories is one of our newer local arts treasures. I spent a lovely afternoon on the chaise lounge in my office listening to Walnut Hills stories and writing down quotes that stood out to me. And then (as I am wont to do) I made a poem from those lines. I hope you enjoy it!
And That’s Our Story
As a little kid I was always planting seeds.
Just to be growing things—
what a miraculous activity to be involved in.
Walnut Hills is a proud neighborhood.
We just want to add to that.
The problem is, we don’t know each other.
It’s harder to say, how can I be here for you,
how can I help lift you up?
When you have a passion for something
it makes it a lot easier to do it.
Your passion should drive you to address the issue,
not walk away from it.
Over time Walnut Hills has become a part of me.
I’m having a good time.
We have a lot of talent here.
My hope is not to see that lost.
People talk about what we don’t have—
but I like to talk about what we do have.
I know a lot about this area, and it’s looking great.
My million dollar question is,
do the people living here feel like the change is for them?
You see, there’s maybe something you can do to help.
Just listen to people, that’s all you can do.
If the earth makes everything, doesn’t it make your character?
My Dad, bless his heart, knew that environment was important to children.
It’s easier to get in trouble; it’s harder to get out.
He gave me a chance.
One of the things a lot of people don’t have growing up
is two parents pouring into them,
telling them what you can do,
what you can achieve.
You have to take a “till death do you part”
vow to your children.
It’s about how to help your children
be the best parents they can be.
My mother is the one who got me off into who I am today.
I don’t deserve it, but for whatever reason, I got it.
I just want to share it with other people.
Don’t ever let no one tell you what you can’t do.
One word I like to use is gritty.
I’m just like a little pebble—big as the world is,
I’m just a little bitty spot.
I know it’s not possible to see the end
of every road you start down.
You never know how life’s gonna go.
But you can make contact with one another
in a way to change a person’s whole life.
We all live in community together
and we all get to do life together,
and that’s what makes it home.
If you stay true to what you love,
it stays there.
You put a seed in the ground
and within that seed is all the information
it needs to grow.
Composed from Cincy Stories’ Walnut Hills Street Stories
by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel
In December 2016 I had the joy of working with the little guys, mostly first and second graders in the Afterschool Program at McKie Recreation Center in Northside. The energy bounced from their chairs to the ceiling and back again! Here’s the poem we composed together. Enjoy!
I am thankful to have had the chance to write with the young people of Pleasant Ridge Recreation Center just a day or two before Thanksgiving 2016. May we all appreciate our homes and our families as they do.
by Pleasant Ridge Recreation Center’s Afterschool Program
(compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel)
When I step one foot on the floor,
I feel happy.
I feel the air on my face
and the coolness.
Home is where I hear my dog bark.
It’s where my tablet is.
I also like books.
I can see my very messy room,
with clothes and leggos.
I smell hot dogs
and the fall leaves
and the steam of the water in the shower.
When I get home
I take a long, hot shower.
I feel good. I love home.
Home is my little sister drawing on my face.
When I picture home,
I see me, my mom and my family.
Home is the best.
There’s nothing like it.
If we moved, I’d really miss it.
I can sometimes feel our cat who has died
watching over my family and me.
Home is my bro watching TV.
My favorite thing at home is dinner.
When I think of home I taste tacos.
I like food!
When I think about home,
I think about my brilliant mom,
my loving dad and my tricky brother
and I picture what I’ll look like
leaving the house when I’m older.
I see home in the sunset.
I feel my family’s warm hug.
I touch my dog’s head.
This is why I love my home.
Home is like smelling your favorite food,
or like dreaming that your house is made of candy.
Sometimes it smells like people (good or bad.)
Home is my favorite place in the world.
No matter what.
No matter where.
Home is the place you find your heart.
When I think of my home,
I smell hot popcorn popping.
When my family cooks,
it smells like I’m at home.
Home. It is where I live, and love.
Home smells like pumpkin pie.
Home feels like a feather.
Home feels like love,
especially when my family is with me.
When I am at home,
I tell myself that if it weren’t for my Mom,
I wouldn’t be here.
Home makes me feel safe,
because I know my family is protecting me
and that I have a roof over my head.
And I hope everyone has a place to call home.
What I like best about being Cincinnati Poet Laureate is connecting with other writers, so how could I resist the invitation on the Facebook page of Write Me, I’m yours!: Write with us! In November 2016, I had the honor of writing with this bi-monthly writing circle held every other Tuesday at the Rohs Café in Clifton Heights. The poem that follows includes writing from each of us. You can find member Annette Januzzi Wick’s poem crafted from that night’s writing here.
I feel most myself
putting one step after another,
the same two feet
measuring out thousands of footsteps.
I lift my feet to the crazy change itself,
to the sound of music.
I hear the river,
a pack of coyotes having a howl.
Overhead a turkey buzzard
lazily swirls on an updraft
in a cerulean blue sky—
absolutely clear—no puffs, whatsoever.
I shuffle up the stone steps,
like climbing out of a dark cave.
As I meander along there are
crashes in the crisp fallen leaves,
two black squirrels
hopscotching one another
over the tree, and all
that seems to exist
is one step after another.
I love the flat places best.
I do not feel whole unless I feel safe.
When sharing space and struggles
with my best friend,
her empathy pantomimes my heart,
pushes through the turnstile of ancient iron bars,
refilling it from that drought between visits.
My baby and my best friend, my sister.
We sang every night;
we sang ourselves to sleep;
we sang on the swing set;
we sang in whispers and giggles,
and I feel giddy listening.
We breathed each other in,
the person who was used to being
the only one in the room,
working its way to two.
It’s a strange mystical time.
In my twilight state,
I hear my dad whisper,
“You are Beautiful.”
But Mom, seeing mom—
this is home.
The places that are sacred to me
are places of reflection—water and sky,
past and present,
mirrored glass and pen in hand.
My important places.
The feel of the page
as I turn one—crisp and thick.
One syllable following the next.
The places that are sacred to me
are those where we come together
to go inward.
A real place is inside of us,
our partial-particle-becoming-whole self.
We are not alone.
Composed by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Michelle Dunford, Pauletta Hansel, Daveen Knue, Nat Kutcher, Paula Kutcher, Eva Lewandowski, Preeti Parikh, Claudia Reilly, Susan Scardina, Annette Januzzi Wick and Deidra Wiley—Write Me I’m Yours, November 15, 2016.
If you were music, what might you do? This is the question I put to members of MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati), a free youth orchestra program in Price Hill.Led with energetic gentleness by the amazing Eddy Kwon, and consisting of 110 musicians, MYCincinnati is a true Cincinnati treasure. So what would these community musicians do if they embodied the music they play? They would keep doing what they are already doing, inspiring through their exuberant embrace of their community and the sweet sounds it makes:
MyCincinnati: Our Music
If I were music I would roam the streets.
I would skip around through people’s feet.
I would go to concerts
and be proud of my music.
If I were music I would put on a show
for people to see,
and every time they think,
they think of me.
They will accept me by my music.
If I were music my main goal
would fuel my soul.
I’d make people feel
that anything is possible
and for change,
happy and hopeful
for things to be awesome.
If I were music I would remind you
of something that had happened
or something that would happen in the future.
I’d crack the concrete
so that pretty flowers would bloom.
If I were music—
disappear the I,
eat the you.
My belly would be full
with all the right tastes—
sweet, salty, sour and green—
sleep coming like a heavy blanket.
In October 2016 I had the privilege of meeting with the Lower Price Hill Women’s Group at Santa Maria Community Services’ new space on Glenway. Nancy Laird, Donna Jones, Melissa Cornelius and a half dozen or so other Lower Price Hill movers and shakers shared their neighborhood with me. They talked, I wrote it down as fast as I could, and then we crafted poems from what they told me. Here’s what we made. I hope you also treasure this glimpse inside a very special community.
Lower Price Hill
Lower Price Hill is
bringing dishes for each other’s families
when comfort is needed:
Donna’s meatloaf, the other Donna’s
“beangemese,” Sue’s loaded potatoes,
Patty’s baked beans (but I like her potato salad),
Lori’s mashed potatoes,
Steve’s chocolate cake,
(I bring the pop) and oh my God,
is the bomb!
And Julie brings, brings, brings—
she gives, gives, gives.
Lower Price Hill is
Mattie always saying, “Why weren’t you at church!”
Donna saying, “Let’s go eat, Sue!”
(No matter where we are
it’s always about food.) Fred says,
“Let’s get that haunted house going!”
and Jim, “We’ve gotta have something for the kids,”
(They’re on their third generation of Lower Price Hill kids.)
Lower Price Hill is
everyone always doing something for someone.
Lower Price Hill is
our joy, our pride, our pain, our sorrow.
It’s where family doesn’t necessarily mean blood.
Composed by Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with words by The Lower Price Hill Women’s Group
“We’ve had a lot of loss.”
“Hey, Mom,” he’d say to Donna,
pucker to kiss her cheek,
“The girls are okay today!”
(But don’t get him started on Connie!)
He’d be up around Meiser’s,
before Nancy’d be parked, he’d be at the car,
asking, “What can I carry today?”
(Usually it was her purse.)
He’d say, “I’m Nancy’s right-hand man!”
But he had some left-hand people too.
This summer he got shot in the leg,
it was a ricochet, no hospital would keep him,
thank God the bullet didn’t hit a bone.
It was pushing up and when they finally
took it out and Nancy changed the dressing,
she found a wad of blue jean in the wound.
After that it healed well.
When he wasn’t on his meds
he could be hard to deal with,
wearing his robe and flashing everyone.
Once he shot the stop sign there on State,
flashbacks to the war.
On his meds nothing could rile him.
He always had trinkets for the kids.
This fall his heart couldn’t take it anymore.
After the first heart attack, he walked all the way
up the long hospital driveway, pajamas and socks.
You can’t keep a good man down,
that was Tommy.
After the second,
twenty minutes without oxygen,
he’s not the Tommy we know.
His presence is already missed
in Lower Price Hill.
On Sunday, Reverend Nelsa
showed the empty offering basket
before she sent it round—
all the pennies and quarters and dimes
Tommy would have picked up from the street—
A war veteran on paper,
a Lower Price Hill veteran by heart:
that’s Tommy O.
Composed by Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with words by The Lower Price Hill Women’s Group.
Tom Reese, Service Area Coordinator located at Clifton Recreation Center, has a passion for making sure that “create” remains part of Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s mission. Thursday nights are home to The Listening Room, where all are invited to participate as an audience member or performer in an impromptu arts experience in music, poetry, theater, and any other art form folks wish to bring to the stage. On September 22 we made new art, each writing and sharing on the subject of “home. Here’s a group poem with lines from each of us. Tom’s poem can be found here.
What We Call Home
by Clifton Recreation Center’s Listening Room Participants
(compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel)
My home is the forest,
the leaves falling into the greens and browns,
the quiet of the woods
spreckled with cicadas and crickets and crows—
and what about that owl again?
My home is really the world I see,
the beauty and the grandeur.
From that safe place,
cocooned on a soft-cushioned couch,
I can be my true self.
My home is the warmest music,
with perfect harmony.
This space-place is delicious, created
not just for me but for all
who can open their eyes and see.
I share my heart and hearth,
that comforts me.
I will let my many homes
compete for space
on my page and mind.
My home is memory only,
a crumbling step,
ash in a box,
photos on the wall.
Even in dreams I taste
the delicious touch of a hand.
I call this home my Inner Knowing.
My sixth and seventh senses look at each other—
intuition and my sense of humor—
oh yes, in my home we use them all.
A quick visit up the road to Theresa Kulbaga’s Creative Writing Class at Miami U./Hamilton brought this poem, compiled by Dr. K. with lines from all! You’ll notice some words repeat; we all had the same list of words we needed to include in a poem on “the art of poetry.”
a group poem by Dr. K.’s Intro to Creative Writing class, fall 2016
Poetry, you gremlin, you have no sympathy, no silence.
Poetry is a calm, orange, sunny morning.
It is the blue owl that comes with the wisdom of pain,
of the calm blue Alaskan ocean:
the words become the orange to the
writer’s blue on their creative color wheel,
complementing one another.
Time flies by and a gremlin appears.
The gremlin is orange.
as Dalton’s hair.)
He holds a bowl of soup.
(Dalton would be a cool name
for a gremlin from Alaska.)
Poetry is an all-seeing owl whose silence is mistaken for shyness.
But the silence of feeling is all a busy man could know.
To describe poetry
is like rhyming orange:
until you remember: “door hinge.”
My heart is not a tarot —
Poetry is not like blue
waves crashing into the
cliffs of Mordor.
But like the drawing of the tarot,
a poem can give you the world and the stars
but it can also make you the fool, the hermit
with no home.
(Both enjoy the crashing.)
I would be a blue sunny sky,
calm and silence,
the sky over Mordor —
the sky becoming blue like Gaia,
when Mordor and Middle Earth are real
in your mind, and the sky seems to crash
Cold like the hearts of deplorable men.
Poetry is not the meaning of
silence, instead it screams in
the face of the reader.
It could make you feel overwhelmed as if a
wave of emotion comes crashing in, leaving you
Poetry is an orange, annoying to peel but worth the struggle,
once you take that first bite.
My other voice would be words in your mouth
wide as Alaska, but not as cold:
So, poetry isn’t really the little gremlin that I make it out to be.
What a delight the young writers involved in Dunham Recreation Center’s Afterschool Program are! I feel as if I had been invited into their homes. And with this poem, so are you.
Home is what I see every day,
a cozy room with toys and more.
My cats, Lucy and Ash. My dog’s slimy lick.
A couch, a fridge, brother, dad, Elmo, exit.
I can smell the freedom outside.
Home is where we have barbeques
and invite the whole family,
smelling the hot dogs on the grill,
and my favorite food which is hot fries.
At home you can hear birds chirping.
Home is playing football on the streets,
play-fighting with my brother.
Home is a blast because there’s always something to do.
Home is open season.
I love my home.
When I walk in the door,
I hear nothing but silence,
which is good because it means I’m all alone.
I lay on my big ole bed and
continue to think of things
that no ordinary ten-year-old would.
I have lots of books.
My bedroom is my favorite.
I dress up in costumes and play spy games
and spy on my mom.
When I smell roses I know it’s my house.
Home feels like soft places—
my couch after I put my bookbag down,
my comfy bed,
my dog Ginger always touching me with her paws.
A hug for mom and dad.
Home is the smell of eggo waffles
getting made for breakfast.
Home tastes like pancakes, like
macaroni salad or crispy bacon.
Home smells like pizza night,
like sweet apple pie.
Home tastes good at dinner time.
Home is hearing the arguments.
It feels like fun is all around me with family and friends
trying to make things better,
but everyone still has their ups and downs.
The bugs at my house are big.
I am scared of some of the bugs but not all of them.
Home is also a place I can live, no harm,
only peace. My favorite place in the world.
It keeps me warm and smells like cherries.
Home tastes like hard bacon.
Home feels like a bag of love.
My birthday is tomorrow.
Home is where I grew up.
When I think of my home,
I think of all the people in my house.
Home looks like everything I could possibly value.
I see home like there is no way out, it just keeps going.
Home feels like a giant hug,
like a big love circle.
Home is like when somebody says my name.
I just can’t believe that’s my home in front of me.
by Dunham Recreation Center’s Afterschool Program
(compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel)
One young writer, Lennon Davis, gave permission for his writing to be shared in its entirety. You can read it here.
In August I had the pleasure of leading the first of my Cincinnati Walking Sonnet experiences, this one hosted by Chase Public, a small but mighty arts organization in Northside. The sonnet pair below is composed with lines from each of our individual sonnets, which can be read here.
Northside, Night and Day
I must be dreaming we must be dreaming we
drop puddles on gravel and see what grows
through the mural, bright blues, greens. Brilliant
oak tree’s wise nod above it all. Clatter
and strands of ivy shelter noisy birds.
Storefronts stocked with pitchforks and stuffed bears.
Some dreams are accidents, conceived ad hoc
on a leash. The american dream remains
another world—not here. Porch strung with lights,
though the funeral home is long dead,
turret over its rosy door. Word Alive,
this aching love, ever denied me.
No revelation lurks backside Taco Bell;
inspiration needs a good night’s sleep.
Sun opened warm on my shoulder, shrugged
through red bricked alleys, pooled with morning rain.
Every day life happens alongside hope;
pink clovers sprouting from cigar tip. Red
sagging rooflines and cheap UDF beer—
a crazy quilt of movement, sight and sound
playing the mystery mixer’s song. Shadows
ride a cosmic horse with insect wings.
A grey galaxy is spinning outside
this block like where grandma’s liquor store stood.
Cicada shells hang empty from a pole—
spontaneous permanence; three circles.
The quiet library. Garbage and smoke—
the phrase the american dream holds so much.
Composed by Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Cris Cheek, Leslie Clark, Owen Cramer, Pauletta Hansel, Scott Holzman and Nina Knueven.
Shifrah is a group within Cincinnati describing itself as “ongoing conversation about art, faith, justice, community and mystery.” I had the pleasure of writing with thirty-some folks at their Walnut Hills gathering space this summer. Here is something of who we were that night, together. (Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel, August 2016) For more writings from the Shifrah writing experience, click here.
“After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place…” Stephen Dunn
My sacred places are stories.
I never quite felt at home,
but always tried to build one,
listening to music on my own
in a still place of solitude
with no cares on my mind.
I turn on the light
and it feels like
the tambourine in “Pure Blue Eyes,”
tastes like baby.
It is not a coincidence that I hold it to my chest.
I sat there to read books,
in my corner chair by the window
which sadly looks out on the parking lot,
then slipping between threads of cotton
woven so tight it feels like silk.
Anyway, isn’t it crazy?
I know real places change,
but somehow these places
feel more real because they don’t.
Authentic and home, there’s a ford
between the permanence and the temporary.
The cabin is long gone,
but sometimes I let my mind rest there.
I carefully tiptoed out
through the summer breezeway
to the cold gravel path,
past the still silhouette of the still weeping willow.
No flowers, but I was in hot pink.
I was the flower, breeze through my hair.
The pace of walking, the rhythm of my shoes,
gravel, dirt, sky, wind, the buzz of crickets, cicadas,
the songs of birds, chattering, speaking to one another,
to me, as I walk, sacredly.
All that is infinite and eternal, precise and fresh
surrounding me and filling me with magic and wonder.
Light flickers within my mouth,
in and out my nose,
streaming particles shed by dreams and breath,
endless stream of sacred sound.
And I am in the center.
is the gateway I’m looking for a ladder,
a ladder I locate inside myself when I let go?
I remember the dance studio, the spring to the floor,
the smell of practice, exertion, stretch, and flying.
Drum beating the count of steps, and weave of pattern.
In a trance of simultaneous concentration
and forgetting myself,
I feel both small and vast,
weak and powerful,
agitated and satisfied,
alive with the laughter of the river
at the bottom of the world,
for the ebb and flow surges through me as well.
From within or without a place becomes me,
and I it, the air between us translucent,
a hint of gold,
darkened at the edges.
No longer pure pretentious thought,
I am one again,
a creature, surprised
by something sacred.
August 14, 2016
(Composed by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel from lines from our writing.)
This poem is a weaving together of snippets of writing from the participants of Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel’s workshop at the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati on July 16, 2016. Innumerable residents of Cincinnati are caring for loved ones with dementia —mothers, fathers, husbands, wives. Their experiences of tenderness and loss are all too often untold.
For As Long As We Can: Writing our Lives as Caregivers
There is much more hurting than healing
in our lives right now.
An incredible sadness.
Robbed of all this time,
many years, with my mother.
I let go of the colorful gal I once knew;
now her words cut through me like a machete,
leave a hemorrhage like no other.
All this before I even sit down.
I want so desperately to believe
God has a miracle for my dad,
for my beautiful Gina, in beautiful Bermuda—
how I would love to take her again,
away from the tiny world she knows
—and the bitterness of that impossibility.
I hold to every word, to every syllable,
to every streak of black
remaining in Mom’s soft white hair.
I know I am still her baby girl.
I cling to my old memories.
I don’t want it to change, but it does.
But then, a conversation—mother and daughter.
Mom hunched her shoulders
and walked in a silly way, making me laugh.
She doesn’t need that jacket on,
but she’ll wear it anyway,
singing “76 Trombones” and I join in.
It takes her a moment to connect
my place in her room
with my place in her life.
I know she is in there.
She looked in my eyes; I let her love me.
Mom was back,
but not for long.
The touch of your hand—unnerving,
unbounded by time.
At Mirror Lake in Eden Park
the air had cleared,
the colors of sunset filled the western sky.
Tiny blue gills swirled alone in lazy Van Gogh circles.
Heads together, giggling like conspirators
and wishing for more.
I am still comforted by your touch.
Moments—come and gone—
that would not have been
had we not been present.
Engulfing moments unborn, unknown by us.
A salve to put on the wounds part—
the baggage of the day
and my beat-up body,
the parts that broke,
under the pressure of loneliness.
I breathe deep until the next time;
I sink into the car
and think about doing it again tomorrow.
The contrast—the leaving,
the spent memories so different,
so contrary, so final.
Or maybe not final,
maybe this too will change.
I hold her strength, yet I cannot find her.
The joy we had, the hope
and promise of things to come.
I want to believe.
I cling to these prayerful words:
Relax, you are safe.
I will be here for you—not forever,
but for as long as I can.