My Voice Is Small, and I Dare to Speak

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I’ve been thinking a lot about endings in stories and poems. As a writer, I often get stuck just before the ending because it has to be just right. You can have a not-so-great beginning and win over a reader by the end; but if you wow the reader at the start and then write a disappointing ending, the reader’s experience is ruined. They feel gypped! They wasted their time!

For me, poems should end with what I call “a lift.” This is not in any poetry textbook—it’s my own term for it. I want poems to take a slight turn at the end, to surprise me, even in a small and subtle way, to not end where I expect them to. 

This poem does that in its quiet way.

This gem is by my sister, Romy Lanier Cawood. Anyone who has read my early blogs (or who knows me) is familiar with the story of how, when Romy and I were little, our father (a writer) gave us blank “books” to write in made out of little pieces of paper stapled together. Thus, we became “authors” at a very early age—authors of stick figures and misspelled sentences, at first, but we both grew up writing stories and poems.

Here is her poem:

“Prayer”

I send this prayer to you, Mighty Heaven,
to you and all your angels, leaning in sorrow over this Earth.

This Earth, for which I dare to speak, small that I am, and
to tell you that in spite of the
opal rain you cast upon us
and the innocence you plant in our souls,
Mighty Heaven, I do not know what other stardust you
keep.

Without bitterness, but with great hope, I ask
for your mercy,
and mercy again.
Without bitterness, without care for the upset of some
reasoned justice, perfect and calm,
I ask for your mercy, more perhaps than
you had foreseen to bestow, as the
thunder of your music arrives a faint
echo in our dream.

Mighty Heaven, my voice is small, and I dare to speak
for this Earth
to ask you
to lean farther
to hear it.

Copyright © 2019, Romy Lanier Cawood, printed here with permission

Thank you, Romy, for allowing me to share this beauty as the last and fifth poem for my National Poetry Month celebration. You can learn more about Romy here. A big thank you to Robert McCready for partnering with me again this year. You can listen to Robert recite Romy’s poem here.

And thank you to all my readers, especially those who do not love poetry, for riding on this journey with me. My hope is that you found something you loved along the way.

In May, I’ll return to your regularly scheduled program. . .

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Photo of the sky by Wil Stewart from Unsplash.com.


How I Spent My Day, Two Years After. . .

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You’ve probably heard the writing advice: show, don’t tell. It sounds easier than it is sometimes. I would like to just write, “I’m sad! I hurt! Love is so so so hard!” and have you get exactly how I feel.

Alas, it does not work that way. A skilled writer knows this. Thus, I introduce you to Barbara Costas-Biggs.

She and I know each other primarily via social media—ye olde Twitter and the Facebook—but she lives in my home state, and if I drive to where I grew up, I travel right through her city. I always think of her when I do now. She and I went to the same MFA program, at different times, and I know her, too, from the poetry I have read of hers. I give you a Barbara poem as the fourth installment of my National Poetry Month celebration.

How I Spent My Day, Two Years After My Father’s Death
for Tom Rogowski

Morning, February, a bit brighter every
day. One boy, Cheerios, an argument
about sugar. The other, a poached egg. 
Toast. Sleep-stumbling the house in my bathrobe,
searching for matching socks, dump laundry
baskets for clean shirts, the right pants
for each child. Brew coffee. 

There is a picture of my father hanging
in my dining room. Montana, a window in a barn.
Stalk of wheat in his mouth. It is a recreation
of a photo taken 45 years ago. Save
for the wheat. 45 years ago it was a Marlboro. 

Load the dishwasher to save the trouble
of doing it in the evening. I wonder
why I don’t usually do this, but I know
why. I’m never this meticulous, this
focused in the almost-dark of almost-spring
mornings, or any mornings at all.

There is a picture of my father on my
living room bookshelf. It’s a selfie he sent.
He’s half-in, half-out of the frame. Napa, my brother’s
courtyard. My mother, my brother, his girlfriend
waving. Tomato plants vine up the fence,
they have glasses of wine, fresh bruschetta. 

Pull a hot bath. I’m at my mother’s house.
She is with my brother in Texas. I have
wine. I have words rattling in the back
of my head. My small dog curls on the bathmat,
settles in for as long as I might take. 

There is a picture of my father with my niece. 
My father at my brother’s wedding. A portrait
of my parents on a wedding anniversary. Caption:
“Still crazy after 39 years.” A photo of my mother
and father on her dresser, at my uncle’s wedding. I’ve always
teased her that she had Marilyn Quayle hair. 

Start supper, wine-stumbling in the kitchen
playlist stuck on “America”:
Alexa, play “America”
again (empty and aching but I don’t know why)
and I’ll end the day the same way it started:
dumping the baskets, this time for pajamas.
Wondering what was out that Montana barn window.

Thank you, Barbara Costas-Biggs, for sharing your poem with me and with us for National Poetry Month.


Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I am offering up a poem in hopes that those who already love poetry will discover a new poet, and in hopes that those who don’t normally read poetry find poems that are accessible and that speak to them, too. My friend, Robert McCready, is reciting each poem, so have a listen here to Barbara’s work. Next week I will wrap up the celebration by featuring a poem by Romy Lanier Cawood (yes, we are related).

To learn more about Barbara Costas-Biggs, click here. To read another favorite Barbara poem of mine, click here.

Not signed up for my blog? You can do that here.

Photo of barn by Zachary Sinclair from Unsplash.com

At Lunch, I Learn My Father May Have Alexithymia

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In a recent interview, I was asked, “Do you have tips on choosing titles?”

I wrote this as my answer: “I used to hate coming up with titles, and then a few years ago, I realized what great opportunities they were, and I started to love titling things—stories, poems, essays. For stories, I like unearthing a phrase I used in the piece that seemed insignificant but really encapsulates the story, or seems to mean one thing initially but has a different (or double) meaning once you read the work. I love titling a poem with something that gives the poem a different/deeper meaning. (For example, if it’s a poem that on the surface is about learning how to run, but the title is, ‘One Year After My Son Died,’ you’d read it differently.)”

When a writer uses a title to add meaning and/or depth to the work, I think of it as allowing the title to do some of the heavy lifting of that piece of writing.

Hannah Cohen’s poem, “At Lunch, I Learn My Father May Have Alexithymia,” is a perfect example of a poem whose title does some of its heavy lifting. (And if you don’t know what alexithymia is—I didn’t— here is the definition from the Merriam-Webster medical dictionary: “inability to identify and express or describe one's feelings.”)

Here is Hannah’s poem:

At Lunch, I Learn My Father May Have Alexithymia 

In the middle of a burger restaurant,
he looks at me, parts
his mouth and before he asks, I say
yes, I’m going to finish
my french fries. Yes. All
of them. Even the nubs.
I dip one into the tin
cup of ketchup, breathe in, bite
and bite until I’m at the end of myself.


Thank you, Hannah, for allowing me to share this poem as part of my National Poetry Month celebration.

Not signed up for my blog? You can do that here.


Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I am offering up a poem in hopes that those who already love poetry will discover a new poet, and in hopes that those who don’t normally read poetry find poems that are accessible and that speak to them, too. My friend, Robert McCready, is reciting each poem, so have a listen here to Hannah Cohen’s work.

The above poem was originally published in Noble / Gas Qtrly , March 2017. (Another favorite Hannah poem of mine is this one.) To learn more about Hannah, click here.

Photo of fries by Mae Mu from Unsplash.com.