Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My quarter acre

Forty-nine years ago: I stood
and sat on the university’s
parade ground to listen 
to speeches and presentations 
and wander around booths
and demonstrations.
What I remember: the sunburn.

Forty-nine years later: my patch
of earth is about a quarter acre
leveled down six feet to solid clay
(with zero organic matter)
and first called a lot, then gradually
changed with mulch and leaves
and organic stuff and topsoil and
cow manure and various additions
to manage the pH. Slowly it all
reassembled itself into soil. 

Things grew. 

Things still grow.

Except for dogwoods.
I killed more dogwoods than
I could count and finally gave up,
content to watch the neighbor’s dogwood
flourish across the street.

Clay became soil became gardens and
grass, which retreated as gardens grew.
Of the 63 rose bushes, four survived 
rose rosette disease. Bulbs came and
went; some stayed, bless their hearts.
Somewhere along the way I fell in love
with coleus and hostas, annual and

What I learned: taking care 
of your quarter acre is hard work,
not unlike taking care of earth.
What I also learned: you have 
to keep at it, over and over and 

During April, the editors of Tweetspeak Poetry have been hosting a 30-Day, 30-Poem Challenge for Earth Month entitled, appropriately enough, Poetic Earth Month. Today, the featured (and final) poem is an excerpt from Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems by Maureen Doallas. The poetry prompt is to wrote a poem about the making of you as a poet who cares about earth, self, and others.

Poets and Poems: Michael Spence and “Umbilical”

In the 2016 movie Paterson, Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson, who works in the town of Paterson, New Jersey. It’s the same town where the poet William Carlos Williams practiced medicine, and Williams has s a not insignificant presence in the movie. The bus driver is also a poet; he listens to the conversations on his bus and writes poems based on what he hears.

Art, meet life. Or perhaps this is a case of art imitating life.

Flip to the other side of the United States, specifically, Seattle, Washington. For 30 years, Michael Spence was a bus driver for the transit authority, following service in the military. Spence also was, and is, a poet. While he was driving a bus, Spence published four poetry collections. His most recent, Umbilical, published in 2016, won the New Criterion Poetry Prize.

His work has been published in The Chariton ReviewThe Gettysburg ReviewThe New York Quarterly, the North American ReviewNotre Dame ReviewThe Sewanee ReviewThe Yale ReviewThe Hudson Review, and many other literary journals as well as anthologies.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 16: The Poetry of Unemployment

It happens to most of us, at one time or another in our careers. You’re called into the boss’s office and discover there’s an HR person waiting as well. Yep, you’re being laid off.

Sometimes you’re expecting it; sometimes you’re not. In my case, I knew it was coming. A work colleague had found out and couldn’t keep it to herself. She tried to look appropriately sad and concerned, but it didn’t work. She was actually rather gleeful (yes, there was a history here). I looked at her and said, “You won’t understand this, but a considerable amount of good will come out of this for me.” Her almost angry response: “You’re just in denial.” 

Perhaps I was. I felt my ears grow warm, a sure indication that I fully understood what was happening. And I really upset the process when I walked from her office to my boss’s office and told him I knew I was shortly to be laid off. He blew up – because it upset the usual process for these “elimination” programs. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

“The Garden on Sunset” by Martin Turnbull

I have a weakness for novels about Hollywood, especially old, pre-1950 Hollywood. One of the first ones I read was The Man Who Died Twice by Samuel Peeples, published in 1976. It was a fictional account of the true-crime murder of director William Desmond Taylor in 1922, and I was fascinated. The murder was never officially solved, and it had a host of possible suspects, including silent-era movie stars.

I know where my interest comes from. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the movie theater with my mother to watch movies. She loved movies; they were the great communications media of her childhood, teen, and early adult years. 

Imagine my reaction when I discover there’s an entire series of novels about old Hollywood.

Marcus Adler, disowned by his middle-class Pennsylvania family, arrives in Hollywood in 1927 to make his name as a writer. He knows one address on Sunset Boulevard, the home of the movie star Alla Nazimova, because she visited him when he was 11 and had diphtheria. He discovers that her home has been converted into a hotel, The Garden of Allah. He’s able to secure a tiny room, and this is where he will live for the next nine years.

Marcus makes two friends at the hotel – Gwendolyn Brick, a Southern girl determined tobecome an actress, and Kathryn Massey, who’s just as determined to break into the male-dominated journalism business. The experiences of Marcus, Gwendolyn, and Kathryn become the story of The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull.

Martin Turnbull
Famous Hollywood names of the silent and early-talkie eras appear as minor and not-so-minor characters: Tallulah Bankhead, Greta Garbo, Ramon Navarro, George Cukor, Errol Flynn, Marion Davies, and many more. Turnbull pulls no punches; the stars (and the fictional major characters) are presented as real people, with all the generosity, kindness, nastiness, tawdriness, and even criminial behavior long associated with the movie industry. But it’s the three fictional characters who remain the focus, and the novel excels at telling the story of how three people doggedly persist to find success.

The Garden on Sunset is the first of nine novels in the Hollywood Garden of Allah series. A native Australian, Turnbull moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s. In addition to writing his Hollywood novels, he is a blogger, webmaster, and tour guide. (And I thought I had an addiction to stories about Hollywood.)

The Garden on Sunset doesn’t finally reach some grand climax; it doesn’t build toward a final and ultimately resolved crisis. Instead, it tells a story of Hollywood, an ongoing story of Hollywood that continues today.

Top photograph: The Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in the 1920s.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A little is a lot

After Luke 16:1-13

Being faithful in a little
holds the promise and likelihood
of being faithful in a lot,
and the converse is true:
being dishonest in a little 
holds the possibility and likelihood
of being dishonest in a lot.

A little is a lot,
and the money aside,
what will you do
with true riches, true wealth;
what will you do
with the great blessing 
entrusted to you. A choice:
serve one or serve the other.
Both demand complete devotion,
and you must choose between
a little and a lot.

Photograph by Conor Sexton via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

Over the past decade, I spent more than a few days in “the canyon,” the Laity Lodge complex in the hill country of Texas. It is a starkly beautiful place, evoking a sense of how landscape and geography often have an inherent sacredness.

One of the more indulgent aspects of Laity Lodge is the food, and one of the best-tasting aspects of the food is the graham cracker cookies. They will probably never taste like they taste in the canyon, but Laity Lodge posted the recipe

Speaking of food, growing up in the South meant growing up with grits. My mother frequently made them; my grandmothers made them; and they were usually a staple on hotel and restaurant breakfast menus. Some of the best grits I’ve ever eaten were at Tujaque’s Restaurant on Decatur Strreet in the New Orleans French Quarter, right cross from CafĂ© du Monde (the coffee and doughnuts or beignets place). They were a side dish to barbequed shrimp, and I would have been content to have eaten the grits as the appetizer, main course, side dish, and dessert. 

Grits were born in poverty, says a report by Kristen Hartke at National Public Radio, and now they’re showing up on fine-dining menus everywhere.

More Good Reads


Why We Need the Apostles Creed in 2019 – Michele Morin at The Gospel Coalition.

Silencing the Scream – Chris Castaldo at Tabletalk.

Life and Culture

Is This ‘Common’ Language? A College’s Misguided Guide – Rand Richards Cooper at Commonweal.

News Media

The Press Will Learn Nothing from the Russiagate Fiasco – Matt Taibbi at The Rolling Stone.

Writing and Literature

Salvaging: Boat Trailers, T.S. Eliot, and Resurrection – Jeff Bilbro at Front Porch Republic.

The Magic of Ed McBain’s 87thPrecinct – Paul Abbott at CrimeReads.

The Protestant World of Shakespeare – E.J. Hutchinson at Mere Orthodoxy.


Light and Fear – Joe Spring.

Auction – William Baer at The Agonist.

American History

What was So Wrong with Slavery? – Stewart Henderson at Emerging Civil War.


Notre Dame: experts explain why Macron's five-year restoration deadline is impossible – Hannah McGivern and Nancy Kenney at The Art Newspaper.

Greenland – Land of Unending Ice – Stefan Forster

Painting: Woman Reading a Book, oil on canvas by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875).

Friday, April 26, 2019

The river runs by me

It takes scant notice of me,
which is part of the pull,
I suppose.
I am the only creature
I can see or hear 
in this place, and one 
might think that makes me
the center oy my universe,
even for a brief moment,
but the river sings a song
that speaks another truth. 
Before you were, it says,
I am.

The editors of Tweetspeak Poetry are hosting a 30-Day, 30-Poem Challenge for Earth Month entitled, appropriately enough, Poetic Earth Month. Today, the featured poem is “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats. The poetry prompt is to write a poem about the peace you feel when you go into a secret place in our natural surroundings.

Photograph: The Meramec River as it passes the gravel bar at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, Missouri.

Put your money

After Luke 16:1-13

Dismissal stared him in the face.
Therefore: step strong, act quickly.
To have friends after the fall,
he reduced debts, writing off the losses
for future gains and making friends
through shrewd dishonesty,
calculated through experience,
learned through a lifetime
of attitude, action, activity, avarice.

The master laughed.

The shrewdness was laudable
in its consistency, putting his money
where is heart was.

Photograph by Rene Bohmer via Unsplash, Used with permission.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

“Blue Blooded” by Emma Jameson

Lord and Lady Hetheridge have temporarily moved out of their home in London’s Mayfair. The house was heavily damaged when Kate Hetheridge’s autistic brother tried to light a Lego block with a lighter. No one was hurt, but Tony Hetheridge, Kate, Richie the 27-year-old brother and Kate’s nine-year-old nephew Henry are temporarily living in a rather posh condo at 101 Leadenhall, in Westminster not far from Victoria Station. 

Tony and Kate met on the job at Scotland Yard, when he was her boss. He’s also old enough to be her father.

He’s gotten his private investigator license, and is looking for a young man who’s disappeared, following the death of his twin sister from a fall from 101 Leadenhall when it was under construction. Kate, at the moment a detective sergeant in Scotland Yard, is investigating a car bombing (via hacked computer) that killed a fringe candidate for Parliament. Richie’s mourning the loss of his Batman Lego set. Henry’s developing his own detective skills by investigating the condominium building.

Emma Jameson
And then who should surface in Tony’s and Kate’s investigations but Sir Duncan Godington, sociopath, psychopath, and killer who’s gotten away with murder several times. He loves to play and toy with his victims. This time it looks like he’s playing for keeps, and Tony and Kate are the prime targets.

Blue Blooded by Emma Jameson is the fifth (and, so far, last) in the Lord and Lady Hetheridge series. It’s the best in the series yet, with action popping on almost every page and a wild climax at the end.

In addition to the Hetheridge series, Jameson has a second series of novels featuring the amateur detective Dr. Benjamin Bones. The series begins in Cornwall during World War II, and it has a companion series called “The Magic of Cornwall.” Jameson is currently working on the third Dr. Bones mystery, and she says there will be more Lord and Lady Hetheridge novels.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

“Tender Love” by Juliette Duncan

Tessa Scott is a veterinarian in her 20s who is trying to get over a broken relationship. Her housemate Stephanie is an intern at a Christian counseling agency, and she has a tendency to talk too much about her clients. 

One of those clients is Ben Williams, an accountant in his mid-30s and the father of a 13-year-old boy. Ben is trying to work through his own broken relationship – more than a year before, his wife walked out on him and their son and filed for divorce. She had found what she’d been looking for along in a tournament golf professional. 

Ben and Tessa meet at dog training classes, and they both attracted to each other. But Tessa realizes right away she already knows too much about Ben and his problems from Stephanie. Ben is wary of beginning any kind of relationship. And his son Jayden is just as troubled by his mother’s abandonment as Ben is.

Juliette Duncan
Set in Brisbane, Australia, Tender Love by Juliette Duncan is the story of how Tessa and Ben gradually feel their way through brokenness and uncertainty. Past experiences lead both to doubt their ability to sustain a new relationship, and the story turns on whether or not their faith can enable them to overcome doubts and reach toward each other.

Duncan is the author of numerous inspirational Christian romances, many set within series. Tender Love is the first of six in the “True Love” series, which involves many of the same characters over a period of time. The author lives in Brisbane.

Tender Love is a quiet, simple story of two broken people who discover they don’t have to be mended to love again.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Sunset, briefly reconsidered

Darkness proceeds, gathering
strength, chasing the cotton cloth
of light as it, in turn, diminishes,
a few vestiges still scattered
on the placid surface of water,
right before a final triumph,
a crew of nine sculls its way,
silently slicing the surface.
Growing darkness and fading light
pause momentarily; the fate
of the emerging stars is suddenly
in doubt. 
Light briefly considers mounting
a counterattack before deciding 
a strategic retreat, knowing its time 
is coming again.

The editors of Tweetspeak Poetry are hosting a 30-Day, 30-Poem Challenge for Earth Month entitled, appropriately enough, Poetic Earth Month. Today, the featured poem is an excerpt from the poem “Trouble in Paradise” by Maureen Doallas, included in her collection Neruda’s Memoirs. The poetry prompt is to write a poem pointing to some kind of loss or joyous arrival of something or someone.

Photograph: Creve Coeur Lake, St. Louis County, Missouri.

Poets and Poems: Mike Bond and “The Drum That Beats Within Us”

Reading the poetry collection The Drum That Beats Within Us by Mike Bond brings to mind the concept of “warrior poet.” The phrase came unbidden to mind, and then I had to go searching around for why it did and what the common understanding might be.

I found a definition at Urban Dictionary. Like others, it cites words at the ending of the 1995 movie Braveheart, which told the story of Scottish nationalist and hero William Wallace"In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland - starving and outnumbered - charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen and won their freedom."

The two terms seem almost contradictory. A warrior poet is simultaneously tough and tender. He can lead other warriors into battle and be a ferocious opponent, giving no quarter, and return to the campfire after battle and recite both epic poems and love poems.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 15: The Poetry of the Best Job You Ever Had

It started with a phone call from a friend. “Did you see the job ad in the paper?” he said.

“What job ad?” I said.

“The city school district is looking for a communications director. You’d be perfect.”

“Do you hate me or something?” I said.

The city school district was indeed looking for a communications director. The district was in organizational chaos. A reform school board had brought in a management consultant firm from New York to reorganize the district. Schools had been closed. Central office staff had been laid off – some 800 people. Management of cafeterias, school buses, and other services was being outsourced. The management firm was doing what had to be done, but the district was so strangled by its own politics and so intertwined with city politics that it was impossible to try to make the changes from within. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

"Changing of the Guard" by James Farner

Edward Unwin is being reared by his aunt and uncle. It’s something of a hand-to-mouth existence, the Unwins are poor, even with Uncle Clarence’s job at the Ebonson Carrying Company. It’s also something of a brutish life; Clarence is free with his fists towards his wife Hannah and will give Edward a slap as soon as look at him.

This destitute life in 1830s Birmingham, England, is what Edward knows, until an elderly man, Henry Beechworth, moves in nearby. He seems just as poor as the Unwins, but there’s a difference. He can read and write, and he seems to be decently educated. And he takes a special interest in Edward and the boy’s drawings, and Henry teaches him to read and write. 

Edward believes what he’s been told about his parents – that they died in an accident at the carrying company when he was an infant. But too many people are taking an interest in Edward, and it’s not only Henry. There’s a middle-class lady, Mrs. Forsyth, who lives in a better part of Birmingham. And there’s Hugo Ebonson, heir to the Ebonson estate, who on his good days is a cad and a bounder and on his worst days simply downright evil.

James Farner
Changing the Guard by James Farner is the story of the young Edward Unwin, stretching from the late 1820s to the 1840s. It has the “big story” sense of a Charles Dickens novel, the mystery and suspense of a Wilkie Collins novel, and the sweep of a R.F. Delderfield novel. It is the story of a boy in strange circumstances growing to manhood, and it is the story of the rapid changes in British society with the growth of the railroads, ongoing industrialization, and the beginnings of cracks in the class structure. This is also the period when Dickens was writing Pickwick PapersOliver TwistThe Old Curiosity Shop, and A Christmas Carol, when literacy was exploding and more and more people were understanding the need for and value of education (which plays an important role in Changing of the Guard).

Farner has written numerous historical novels in several series exploring British history: Pomp and Poverty (6 books), King of the City (3 books), Johann’s War (7 books), The War Years (5 books), and Made in Yorkshire (7 books). Changing the Guard is the first novel in the Pomp and Poverty series.

Changing of the Guard is a big story, a historical novel, and a mystery all rolled into one. Farmer has done well in capturing the period and its people, and writing a fascinating story of greed, power struggles, and love.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


Look for your passion, they said.
Look straight ahead, they said.
Look at what you’ve accomplished, they said.
Look for what inspires you, they said.
Look at what inspires others, they said.
Look for the beauty, they said.
Look for the good, they said.
Look within, they said.
Look to how to be happy, they said.
Look to your heart, they said.
Look to the stars, they said.
Look to where your feet are planted, they said.
Look homeward, angel, they said.
Look to progress, they said.
Look to your elders, they said.
Look to your leaders, they said.
Look to your followers, they said.
Look to nature, they said.
Look to your left and your right, they said.
Look here, they said.
Look to wisdom, they said.
Look to truth, they said.


I looked upward,
above the darkness.
And discovered light.

The editors of Tweetspeak Poetry are hosting a 30-Day, 30-Poem Challenge for Earth Month entitled, appropriately enough, Poetic Earth Month. Today, the featured poem is “Night” by Sara Teasdale. The poetry promptis writing a poem about looking for a lovely thing and finding it, perhaps using the catalog poemform.

Photograph: Sunrise begins at Laity Lodge, Leakey, Texas.

So it's a good story

After Luke 15:11-32

So it’s a good story
with a rather pointy point:
forgive the lost who are found
forgive the lost who were never lost
   in the first place, except within
The need was the save both
   From themselves
One knew it,
one didn’t
In the years that passed,
   one learned
   one didn’t
one embraced grace
one embraced works
Two prodigals:
take the quiz and
choose one.

The Oscar for best performance
by an actor isn’t
the ticket to heaven.

Photograph by Caterina Beleffi via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Playground on the levee

We were children, running
upward through foot-high grass,
playing chase and you’re it
and sometimes when we were
ambitious an angled Red Rover.
It was an elongated hill,
designed, we believed, 
for our entertainment because
it had always been there,
in our lifetimes. None of us
asked why.

Slightly older, we could see
the water on one side was
higher than the streets and 
the houses on the other.
We’d watch ships pass, and
look behind us to see cars
and buses pass. 

Older still, I walked to the top
one spring, to see how close
the river and its rising waves
were to the top: a few feet,
a closeness I’d never seen,
at a speed I’d never seen, 
as if the river had determined
to widen itself 
like a woman’s fan
opening at the opera.

I couldn’t find the playground.

The editors of Tweetspeak Poetry are hosting a 30-Day, 30-Poem Challenge for Earth Month entitled, appropriately enough, Poetic Earth Month. Today, the featured poem is “Immolation” by Anne Doe Overstreet. The poetry prompt is to write a poem that attempts to either harness or challenge natural forces.

Photograph by Justin Wilkens via Unsplash. Used with permission.