Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Cats, Remember", a poem in honor of the Women's March on Washington



Cats, Remember isn't a poem I wrote for the occasion. The issue of women's rights isn't something that was invented for today either, it's just an occasion that calls for a reminder that we won't be property, we won't be subjegated, and that we won't be ignored.

This is a poem about cats, but it's important to remember something that's been observed in the fight against animal abuse: cats, in particular, tend to be "practice victims" of abuse, torture, and killings for people who go on to victimize women. There are speculations as to why the cat, male or female, is the species so often chosen in this case. Some believe it's the cat's independence and refusal to be fully tamed.

Special thanks to the Gertrude Poetry Journal, where this poem first appeared, the Gertrude Poetry Award, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and The Blind Man's Rainbow where it subsequently appeared.

Cats, Remember

Remember the drowning,
young rough edged hands and drawstring bags,
the burn of  summer evening sunlight on burlap, thrashing
elbows and knees of eight siblings and a mother, growling,
angrier than a hiss.

Remember the stomach drop plunge into
cold still water and the frantic swish
of claw cutting faces, ears, paws,
and the cool feeling of blood
drawing away.

Remember the first to go down
sudden stillness, an involuntary twitch.
Remember when it was the one above you,
her weight like a fist, pushing pushing.

Pushing weight without movement, just the bearing
down, the still heart and heavy ribs above you like the collapse
of a tired house under the dark green weight of kudzu vine.
Just one kitten lump and then another, smaller,
more compact. There is no sound, only the silent dis-
solve of another lifetime disposed.

Remember this, when they feed you.
Remember this, when the collar clicks on,
when they stroke your kitten ears and pretend
to love your slick satin coat and
the white iron bones beneath.

Remember this, when it is time
for warm baths or revolution.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Really? 50?

I love Goodreads. I love knowing what my friends are reading. I love writing reviews and reading them. I love having a place to put my "want to read" list and if they would make it easy to print in a handy-dandy compact form so I wouldn't get book amnesia the minute I walk into Ed McKay, it would be positively indispensable. No, I'm not getting free books or kickbacks. Heck, they haven't even published one of my poems in their monthly newsletter. Which reminds me==reading the monthly newsletter poem, chosen via slush pile by a guest judge, is another of my favorite things. Goodreads is just something I'm really nerdy about.
My cat eats books faster than I can read them.

What I don't like is the way their annual reading pledge that encourages obsessive people like me to think, "Sure I can read fifty books in 365 days. Who can't?" Yeah, Veronica. Were you thinking of devoting this year to re-reading the Frog and Toad are Friends series, perhaps going for the long haul with the Superfudge books after that? Get cerebral with the Sweet Valley High series? Nothing against any of those books, all of which I adore, I just didn't account for the fact that most books I read are...wordier. So...the main thing I've learned so far is that I am unrealistically ambitious and a far slower reader than I thought. It's even worse when I really like a book. I start getting lengthily distracted every other page, picturing scenes in my head, arguing with myself regarding whether or not I think the protagonist would really do whatever he just did, and/or looking up words in the O.E.D. Not even obscure words, but words that make me wonder if I am absolutely certain I know every nuance of, and words I've only read, not encountered verbally and therefore find myself killing the next fifteen minutes trying to decipher the dictionary's pronunciation key so I don't sound like a dork the next time I try to casually use the word in conversation. Biopic. Is it Bye'-Ah-Pick or Bye-Oh'-Pic?

Violet in action: une gourmande de mots

mOf course, now that I wrote down my fifty book overreach, and better yet, wrote it someplace public, I have to make a concerted effort to accomplish that goal. I honestly doubt I can make it, but it nonetheless has me reading four books at once to try. You can read my previous reviews on Goodreads, and I'll be posting some of them here. Make your own account and friend or follow me on Goodreads, so you too can submit poems to the open call for the coveted monthly newsletter spot and plot an overreaching reading goal for yourself and scramble madly about for the rest of 2017, wondering if travel pamphlets and lost pet flyers can count as books.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Riff Zine's Inaugural Issue

Riff Zine is a new literary magazine with a different theme for every issue. The first? Shakespeare. The fifth? It's the page my poem is on. Check it out!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Veronica Goes On and On About Animals. Topic: How to Walk a Dog

I want to address a problem I see all the time. It's such a common problem, you've most likely seen it, too. If not in real life than definitely in the Sunday comics. Marmaduke's creator has made a living off of this training error. Blondie drags this one out on a slow idea day, too. Even Charlie Brown catches air behind his half-canine, half-human-in-a-dog-suit. 

"How to walk a dog" sounds so simple, but actually, what I'm talking about is even simpler. It's actually, "how to use a leash". For a piece of rope with a loop on one end and a C-clamp on the other, there's an amazing amount of operator error happening. It drives me crazy to see someone struggling not to be pulled off their feet by their dog, clomping along the street with both hands on the leash handle in a waterskiier hold. They usually begin in the single-handed stunt skiier position, only to realize they aren't quite ready for trick moves. Then there's the dog who's less a runner, more a lunger who with one fast leap yanks the leash free of the hand that thought it could restrain a 70lb dog with four fingers. This really scares me because it's often a car or motorcycle that inspires the dog's chase instinct and a dog running loose like that could lose his life, cause an auto accident, or keep running til he can't find his way home. Yes, if you have a little, politely walking dog, you can probably handle holding the leash in one hand, but even a well-trained or diminutive dog can surprise you. Plus, it's so easy to use a leash correctly. 



Don't hold the leash like a drawer handle. With only your curled fingers hanging on, a sudden lunge could cause you to lose your grip very easily.  Put the loop on your wrist, then hold the place where the loop meets the leash in your hand--adjusting so the loop rests on your wrist snugly. We're just beginning, but already you have a grip you are far less likely to lose control of.

The loop hold. (Please excuse the dog bed and cat scratcher. :))

Most dogs are playful, have some weight to them (compounded by speed when they get a running start on a lunge), are prone to chase, or may be nervous about sounds/cars/other dogs and may bolt, so you need more control so you don't get knocked over or lose the leash. Start with the loop as mentioned above, on one side of your body, then take your other hand and hold the leash at a comfortable length on the opposite side of your body...usually about 2-3 ft down the leash.  Some people like to tie a knot in the leash at the spot they find most comfortable. It helps you remember that spot and gives you something to hold onto (or hold just above) for comfort and to keep the leash from sliding through your hand and rubbing against your palm. As far as which hand you choose for the loop and which you hold the knot in is really up to you. I prefer to walk so my dog is on the inside of the curb or sidewalk that is furthest from the street and traffic, just for safety. Holding onto this second point on the leash gives you significantly more balance and control. This is especially important if you are walking through a crowd, passing someone (or someone and their dog) on the sidewalk, or if you're walking through a tight trail with poison ivy on the edges and snakes possibly sunning themselves on the rocks just off the path. Keeping your dog away from the underbrush helps prevent ticks from hopping on, too. Of course, that doesn't mean you should take all the fun out of walking. A dog needs to sniff and explore, but you can both relax and enjoy the walk more when you feel more secure about your ability to keep him safe while you're having a good time together.
Your opposite hand. Well, mine anyway.

This part may sound a little odd, but it helps. Before you start walking, root your feet to the ground. Think of yourself as an immovable force with both feet planted firmly with each step. Starting off with this in mind seems to help you take stable, confident steps. I'm not saying you have to march around your neigborhood like Kaiser Wilhelm. Just don't tiptoe around, either. 

It's a bit of a side note, but a related problem I see happen too often. Please don't let kids hold the leash until they are are big enough to handle a dog without falling on their face or losing control. It's also essential that they can take direction and follow instructions reliably. Kids (even ones in the early double digits) tend to let go when the leash is pulled abruptly or causes discomfort to their hand. The dog goes running off often right into the street which risks both the dog's life and unimaginable guilt for the child should the dog get lost or injured. Show them how to hold the leash properly, as explained above. Practice at home or in an enclosed yard, where the dog will be less stimulated and won't be hurt if you find your child isn't ready to maintain leash control just yet. While working together on good walking skills, make sure your don't slip knot the leash around a child's wrist (it could cause injury) and always teach them that it takes two hands to walk a dog: one inside the loop, and one further down. It might be a good idea to get them their own 4-foot lead so the dog can't get a running start on a lunge.

That leads us (get it?) to the question of what kind of leash is best. As with everything, different trainers have different preferences, but I like a 6-foot woven cotton lead for comfort and security. The width you need depends on the size of your dog and which feels comfortable in your hand. Unless your dog is very small, a 1"-2" leash is a good choice. Chain leashes may look tough, but they aren't as strong as they appear. A good hard lunge can cause a link to bend or break completely, and they're not conducive to being held properly, since holding onto anything but the loop will result in the chain digging into your hand painfully, and could even cause injury. Nylon leashes are strong but not quite as comfortable to hold since they don't mold to the shape of your hand the way cotton does. They aren't a bad choice, though, and they do last. Some people like leather leashes, but leather is unappealing to many animal lovers, raises ecological concerns, and leather leashes are awfully appealing to chewers. In addition you may have trouble getting a knot to stay in one, should you choose to add that to your grip.

I suppose I can't end the discussion of proper leash use without mentioning Flexis and similar zip leashes a.k.a the bane of a trainer's existence. The problem is that you have very little control since they are super easy to pull out of your hand--imagine how many pounds of pressure can build up when your dog has a 15' head start! Also, your dog can't be pulled back quickly if something potentially dangerous appears, and it's easy to get tangled up with another dog's leash, which can turn into a very bad situation, very quickly. These leashes tend to get tangled beyond the point where you can simply drop the leash in the event of a fight and allow your dog to get away, and if you do drop the leash, that can cause its own problems, too. A friend of mine accidentally dropped the zip leash attached to his rescued greyhound who ran for miles, tearing her paw pads completely off in places. As far as she knew this loud clacking thing was chasing her and wouldn't stop. A less dramatic, but still painful problem with zip leads is the danger a fast moving string or tape can present if it comes in contact with skin while the dog is running to the end of the lead. I know a lot of people with scars from cuts and burns they received when the leash rubbed against their skin at great speed. Yowch. There are a few instances when these kind of leashes can be handy, but not for a walk.

So, those are the basics for walking your dog. There's plenty more you can learn to make walking easier and more fun, but this is probably the easiest lesson you can implement, with the biggest payoff. It won't make for funnier comics, but neither does Marmaduke, really. Blondie? Maybe you had to live back when binge eating, abusive bosses, and your best friend's alcoholism were hilarious. I'll spare Snoopy, but if he could fly a plane, surely he could master an off-lead recall. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bugs: The Insects and Me

So I’m in the shower when I pick up my scrubby brush revealing a creepy looking black bug. Suddenly exposed to the bright light of bathroom florescents, he loses his little mind and takes a suicide dive into the bathtub, disappearing down the drain while I am frantically searching for a bug cup.  I feel guilty for not moving faster and for maybe secretly not wanting to have to pick up this particularly unpleasant looking bug.

If you don’t know what a bug cup is, you’re probably like most people, who don’t think twice about dispatching an insect with anything that is handy, but being a Buddhist, and a vegan, I have cups for the purpose of escorting insects from my home. The trick is that you turn a cup upside down, capturing the bug in a makeshift bell jar. The next thing you need is a magazine subscription card, always found in great abundance in our home, which you gently slide between the cup and the surface it is resting on. Pick up the whole thing and take it outside at the first opportunity and release said insect with a figurative pat on the back and “good luck to you”. 

Things can go wrong though. Occasionally I’ll find a cup I forgot about, something that makes me feel absolutely terrible, having created an inescapable cell and sentenced the poor bug to death by solitary confinement. Oh. Shit. So, my efforts to be kind do sometimes lead to something far worse than death from above by sneaker. Sometimes while I’m running off for a subscription card my cat finds the fascinating new cat toy I have created. By the time I return, there's just an overturned cup, a couple of legs and maybe a wing. Sorry little guy. I didn't mean to set you up as a tiny Roman gladiator doomed to fight a 50 foot tall lion.

It’s hard being a giant in a world of tiny creatures. I would never do something like using pesticides on my yard. Bugs have to live somewhere and I respect that the outdoors belongs to them. I can live with the little cobwebs found in every window of my home. It earns goth points and the tiny spiders are pretty benign. But there are more complicated situations. Ants, for one. When he's been able to find them, Scott’s removed whole nests from the attic by using the shop vac. Sucks them up, dumps them outside, and the ants have a pretty wild alien abduction story for their friends, but what about the scout ants that start a little trail toward the cat food bowl, foretelling an onslaught to come? What about other bugs that can infest and destroy a home directly (like termites) or by laying waste to the pantry, or threaten you bodily by trasmitting disease? Am I creating a genocide when I ask Scott spray the basement for those gigantic scary waterbugs--a.k.a. “massive southern roaches”--to prevent an infestation? Do we proactively kill a few to avoid killing the many?  Do I begin walking with a broom before me, sweeping away any tiny creatures I may accidentally step on? Am I just making lame excuses to avoid things I find icky? Is there an answer at all? 
Then there are these. WTF? Despite the cleanliness of her home, my sister-in-law discovered this monster in her essential oil diffuser. Both repelled and fascinated, I looked up centipedes on Goodsearch (It’s not procrastinating, it’s raising money for charity, right?) Hundreds of photos and millions of legs greet me, and I get a feeling like the stomach drop on a roller coaster each time I dare myself to touch one on my screen. Reading further, I find out that their diet consists of various household insects including something known as a carpet beetle. While silently thanking Scott for having replaced all the carpets in our house with wood, I read about these tiny insects and their diet. Their name reflects their delight in nibbling on wool rugs, though they also love other animal parts like fur coats and taxidermy, and I breathe a little vegan sigh of relief. Then I remember that my sister-in-law's household is vegan, too. It hits me. They eat fur. I don’t have dead animals lying about, but there are plenty of live ones. Huh. I think I’ll be vacuuming a lot this week. I also read that they can also be enticed to infest grains when their population gets a little big for its carpet. I look at the photo again and my stomach turns.

One night when I was in high school, I was hit with that still-growing-body kind of hunger that it’s hard to relate to once your bones stop lengthening and your insides stop stretching. In the kitchen I find a box of cereal, pour myself a bowl and eat like I won’t see food again for years. On my way to put my bowl in the sink, I notice tiny dots surfacing in the milk. Looking closer, I see that they are tiny beetles. How many I ate, I can only imagine. And imagine. And imagine.

I’ll be ruminating on that (figuratively, thankfully, for both the insects and me) for a long time to come.

Want to know what kind of bug you've found indoors, outdoors, or that you just accidentally swallowed? You need one of my favorite sites on the whole dang internet: What's that Bug?

Only obliquely related, but so worth sharing, I subscribe to the Parasite of the Day blog (they don't actually post one every day, but who cares?), which I highly recommend. The most recent one is about lice who hitch rides tucked under the wings of flying insects. Enjoy!

Monday, April 4, 2016

The View from Couch Island: A Message from Your Concierge

In an effort to post more often, I've decided to drop the formality of only posting about writing-related things, and write about the things that I trip over every day that grab my attention. So, let's begin right here:

Couch Island is where I live. Since I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease about seven years ago, my day-to-day world has shrunk down to the couch by the window and the bed. Oh, I get out now and then, depending on how my pain is behaving. Sometimes it's only once in a month that I'll be well enough to leave the house. Thankfully, due to a delicate balance of meds and finicky tricks and tweaks, I can get out of the house once or twice a week for brief and/or well-planned outings like a trip to the grocery store (a place I adore, but only get to see a few times a year) or a visit to a friend's house lugging my pillow and heating pad along if I hope to stay for more than an hour or so. That's called Island Hopping, or getting to know the other couches around town. The pain never stops, but it comes in different volumes. It's pretty loud all the time, but sometimes it's a radio blaring a song you hate right in your ear, and sometimes it's a sound cannon they use to break up riots.

I do still travel as much as I can. I spent my early years travelling the Southeast with my mom and dad whose job as a musical instrument company rep required him to go from music store to music store, doing the job of a website in a pre-internet world. I grew to love the motels--still clad in the leftover palette of the 60's, aquamarine and tangerine--and I still sleep better to the sound of a humming hotel air conditioner than anywhere else. The hotels where I roam are even more important now, since I know I'll be spending a fair amount of time in my room, getting to know Couch (or Bed) Island there. When I am out, a lot of what I do involves remaining in a reclined position. I have lain in pain on the most beautiful beaches of the Caribbean and on verandas overlooking the most vibrant cities. If I have to recline in pain somewhere, it may as well be somewhere amazing.

So, most of my day is spent semi-reclining, the pile of pillows I'm propped on as carefully adjusted as the trigger wires of a bomb on a late-night cop show. This is where I work, play, train my dog, eat most of my meals, and watch the rest of the world do what it does. Welcome to Couch Island. I hope you'll enjoy your time here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Summer of Open Minds

It seems I am destined to begin each post with an apology about my delayed posting. This summer was a rough one, physically. My spine has been a real jerk, and I've had to cancel everything from dinners to entire vacations because the pain was uncontrollable. I spent an inordinate amount of time moving from room to room, trying to find some position or piece of furniture I could drape myself over that might offer a modicum of relief.

Of course, I feel about summers the way many feel about winters. I spend all my time cooped up indoors. I get mopey. My pain escalates and I start to feel like I'm living in slow motion. The days seem to get shorter. I know that doesn't make sense in relation to the light/dark hours, but somehow the night starting later makes it seem like that half of the day disappears so quickly. It's dark and then, suddenly, it's midnight.

Some of it is plain preference. I loathe hot weather. My skin burns easily and I get a nasty headache and nausea in direct sunlight (I think it's just the brightness. I'm pretty certain I'm not a vampire or anything else that would make me fodder for the current trends in YA novellas.) I hate sweating (yes, I am that prissy), and I get panicky about overheating after going temporarily blind during a near-heatstroke at an Ice-T show many years ago (does he still even perform like that? I'm pretty sure he's too busy Law and Ordering for an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. Doink! Doink!) So that's fun. Then there's the stuff that goes a little deeper. Getting out of town and arriving at university for the first time was one of the most intense and important moments of my life. The freedom, after living under the lockdown of an angry and suspicious parent, was almost more wonderful than I could fathom. Being sent back for summers and holidays was almost more than I could take. Returning to the place where things went so wrong in so many ways, hunkering down again to take the force of one parent's frustration and fury, while having to watch the other falter under the weight of alcoholism and bad decisions, I felt like Persephone. Don't get me wrong, even in the darkest of times I was lucky to have some pretty excellent people there to hand me a mag light. Still, even with the best of them on my side I felt like I was composed of darkness, or instead maybe dark matter--very small and unfathomably heavy.

So, since summer brings out a lot of my crazy, it seems apropos that this summer (and the flanking months), an assortment of my poems about my experiences with mental illness are being published. Open Minds Quarterly is a magazine geared toward mental health "providers and consumers", meaning people like me who have mental illnesses, plus psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists.

It's no secret that I have had OCD as long as I can remember, and my poem, High Functioning, was featured in the Spring Issue of Open Minds. The poem is a letter to Howard Hughes, someone well known for his (undiagnosed) obsessive-compulsive disorder and the extensive demands he made upon others to feed the beast. This was arguably responsible for his death, as he holed up with movies and morphine in an attempt to dodge the anxiety and the pain in his spine. It's not hard to see why his story resonates with me. I've often thought how easy it would be, provided you had all the money it would take to buy the compliance of people around you, to lock yourself in a room and have other people take care of your brain's demands and demons. Let them preform the one thousand steps required to prepare a single peach. The problem is, the more you give in to OCD, the more the compulsions multiply and the more cruel and elusively beautiful the obsessions become. It's a game you can't win, but can I see the appeal of locking myself away and trying until I die or run out of money? Oh yes. I tend to think, after years of psychiatry and a lot of effort, I'm healthy enough not to do anything like that and yet, still sick enough to find the idea of doing so delicious, in the way only what would destroy us can be.

The summer issue (the current issue as of this writing) includes two of my poems, Carbon Monoxide and Pain Scale. The former is about suicide and the mixed feelings that arise when my belief that suicide is a basic human right collides with a desperate wish that I could forbid someone I care about from choosing that option. The latter poem stems from my experience as a patient with debilitating chronic pain, and the maddening frustration that comes from being forever required to translate that pain into numbers that lack a constant scale. There is something quite disturbing about having to put your fate into the hands of a near-stranger, subject to their prejudices and ability, or lack thereof, to translate these numbers back into real suffering.

Finally, coming up in the Autumn issue is a poem I titled, Somnesia, obviously a combination of the words "somnolence" and "amnesia". It's about a special sort of unbridled anxiety that only happens when you find yourself shocked awake and alone 4 a.m. Everything you know about anything you know has vanished, and the things you used to know irrefutably--like that the sun will rise again--are entirely suspect.

So, I hope you'll come along with me on this arc into and back out of summer, through its poison ivied scrub trails undulating with insects and the green-reflective eyes of opossums. I tried to make it worth the walk. I hope you'll find it so.

Order your copies of Open Minds Quarterly at the link, below. The poems referenced in this post are featured in the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2015 issues.
http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/shop/
Additional available issues featuring my work:
Winter 2011, Declawed and Pullet, http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/product/open-minds-quarterly-winter-2011/
Fall 2010, :01 and 5:30, 3 and 9, http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/product/open-minds-quarterly-fall-2010/
Spring 2009, A Bucket of Divinity, http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/product/open-minds-quarterly-spring-2009/
Winter 2004, Eleven Cats, http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/product/open-minds-quarterly-winter-2004/
Summer 2002, Stone Fruit, http://www.openmindsquarterly.com/product/open-minds-quarterly-summer-2002/