coat hanger with red circle and slashAnd not in a good way.

When I was younger, I had a pin, a coat hanger with a red slash through it.

The possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act is bad enough, but Speaker Paul Ryan’s strategy to defund Planned Parenthood took me back to those not-good-old days.

And then I thought about the women in Aristophanes’ play—not a ploy I would usually recommend, but I it made me think again about power and how we use it. Being a poet, I wrote.

Consider All the Consequences

Dear Rep Ryan, when you speak
from your arctic heart you do not
talk for me, your plan to ice pick apart
our care, start your war on women,
war on the poor, defund and leave
undone the work begun, skate back
to the past’s shadow alleys, option
often a dead end. I love kids, but keep
your laws off their bodies or we could go
all Lysistrata on you, seize
the day and freeze you out, not
an empty threat, it’s sensible—
sex makes babies and abstinence
will not grow the heart fonder
(ponder men of America marching
to your door) and if you slash
the right to choose before or after,
I can send you my wire hangers.

It gets more complicated—in a good way—because two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, as of Thursday had not committed to supporting the bill if it included that provision, which could be great news for people who don’t want a repeal (or who don’t want a repeal without a replacement already in place).

I’m taking no chances, though, and I’m going to send my wire hangers to Speaker Ryan and cabinet nominee Price. Are you in?

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book cover

It’s been a while since I posted a Saturday poetry pick, but Matthew Nienow’s collection House of Water sings in a way I want to share.

Immediately I was struck and stunned by the music, as in “Ode to the Belt Sander & This Cocobolo Sapwood”:

“The belt kicks on with a whir & the whir
licks the end grain of the offcut with a hint

of ?hesitation.”

and the poem later continues

“A single knot blinks
out of the small block and becomes

the eye of a hummingbird, its beak
bending around the edge of the wood,”

Or in “Ode to the Gain”:

“There’s the paring chisel’s purpose
in the steamed cedar strake, its long warp

laid strong against the bench,
whose pocked surface is the book

of what has already been made,
or marred in learning’s wake —”

There are the kicks and licks, hint and hesitation, blinks and block and beak bending, and steamed cedar strake, long warp laid strong. The sounds fill my mouth, the stresses slow me down, and yet there is a lot of movement happening—the steady methodical movement of work.

If the odes have some of the most lyrical moments, their reflection appears in other poems, especially “From the Middle of It”—a long meditation that reckons with the small moments, their gifts we’re losing all the time.

This is a book of wood and water and family and hammers. And because my husband is also a woodworker, it gave me more glimpses into his world–not just the stories of it, but the experience, as in “End Grain”:

“the most

vulnerable door
of what makes

the holiest of
things.”

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Happy New Year!

flower in snowI love that the snow changes the way I see things. This morning didn’t bring drifts, but just enough shift in perspective, just enough of a clean slate, which feels right on the first day of the year. And while the garden has greatly changed, I have this one bloom, and the rosemary, and in the background the fava beans and rye my daughter planted. I love to make jokes about coming through the rye and the catcher in the rye.

Wishing you joy in the small things and strength for the big things throughout the year.

Here’s to 2017!

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An American E.R.

That was the first title that I wrote for this poem, submitted yesterday to Rattle’s Poet’s Respond.

In this NPR story, Zeke Emanuel, one architect of the ACA, talks about Donald Trump reconciling his pre-election promises to provide health coverage to all Americans and his post-election agenda. When Emanuel said “threading that needle,” I thought about how the way we care for others represents the essence of our compassion and equality—our humanity. In that moment, the current threat to health care served as a symbol for all the other risks.

Threading the Needle

After sewing up the election,
the seven thousand cuts begin.
A stitch in time saves nine,
but new wounds appear on the hour,
sharp knives in the cabinet
whetting their appetites.
In the body’s lobby, scarlet
fountains burble and spew, spray
the stains we can’t scrub out—
no spatters for Park Avenue suits,
just the holes growing wider,
just enough tiny sutures
to keep the patient coming back.
The needle makes a blunt instrument.
The eye sees what it wants to see,
not owning what the hands know.

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In a week like this–in this week–it’s hard to think about writing, and then the news of Leonard Cohen’s passing.

This morning, Advice to Writers sent out this quote:

“I can’t discard anything unless I finish it. So I have to finish the verses that I discard. So it takes a long time. I have to finish it to know whether it deserves to survive in the song. So in that sense, all the songs take a long time. And although the good lines come unbidden, they’re anticipated. And the anticipation involves a patient application to the enterprise.”

LEONARD COHEN

One of the most formative songs of my youth was Suzanne.

Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for your music and for the reminder–in writing and in so much more.

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