Singing the Blues

From Lamentations
to Stevie Ray Vaughn
the blues remind us
we're not alone

Bitterly we weep
   while the sky is crying

Affliction and sadness
forever universal
and somehow
  that simple reminder
    set to Biblical verse
      or a guitar riff that talks
makes life bearable

It’s Quadrille Monday once again at dVerse Poets Pub where is calling for our 44-word poems incorporating the word blue. I immediately thought of one of my favorite genres of music and poetry. Head on over to the pub for a virtual drink of your choice and see what other blue topics poets are writing about.

As a bonus, dVerse is celebrating its eighth anniversary!

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Paint Chip Poetry Prompt #28

Week #28 is here and it’s back to the usual format for our paint chip prompt. When I pulled the cards for today I had to chuckle at the theme because it means two weeks in a row we have gratitude in the mix. Maybe that’s a good thing because in these trying times gratitude might just be the thing to keep us sane and get us through.

The Challenge

The theme for today is I am grateful and I’m challenging you to use all seven of these paint chips words and phrases: blazing sun, blue ribbon, fossil, red clay, grassland, deep dark wood, and driftwood. Bonus points if you can write your poem in rhyming couplets.

My Poem

I decided to go the rhyming couplet route myself for this fictional account that I would gladly live out in real life. I’ve actually been longing for a trip to the beach for several weeks now. Maybe it will happen before the summer is over.

The Gift of Gratitude

I stroll along the ocean shore
blazing sun forevermore

makes me smile and gaze afar
o'er the waves this greatest star

offers warmth from up on high
a promise from the cerulean sky

I trip on driftwood at my feet
once deep dark wood until the heat

baked it like a red clay pot
in a kiln scorching hot

I pick it up with grand plans
to fashion with my own hands

a work of art from beauty within
that rises to a blue ribbon win

As I leave the tranquil shore
journey through grasslands of yore

there's time to come another day
I drop the wood as if to say

I'm grateful for this quiet time
spent upon the shore sublime

and if this wood should fossilize
in sands of time where it lies

I'll remember the perfect reason
for gratitude no matter the season 

Your Turn

Okay, now it’s your turn. Spin me a tale or tell me the truth about your enduring gratitude. Use all seven paint chip words and I’ll be grateful as hummingbirds. Share your poem in the comments below, or on your blog with a comment link instead.

Thanks for playing along!

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A Reluctant Confession

Did you ever have a situation where you knew you were supposed to do something, but you really didn’t want to? Have you felt God impressing up on your heart to take a certain action, but instead of obeying you argued with God about it? Or worse, you did something else instead and pretended it was the same as obedience?

Two weeks ago I did just that. I had an idea for a blog post or article—a confession of sorts—and I knew it was an idea from God. I did not want to write it. I feared negative backlash. It involved a story that, once told, I could never untell.

So I wrote a different blog post titled No More Denial.

I wrote it, I posted it, and I called it good.

That post—though on the topic of racism and not at all a bad post—got very little traction. At a time when such posts ought to go viral, it didn’t get even 40 views and three likes. It didn’t really fit the bill of my claim that I write “candid memoir.”

On a recent walk I was pondering another article I want to write, but I couldn’t stay focused on it. God reminded me I still hadn’t written the post He wanted me to write. At some point you have to stop arguing with God. So here it is.

A Little Background

The year was 1982, my freshman year at Whitman College. I lived on the first floor of a co-ed dorm. Whitman College is a prestigious school, often referred to as a liberal arts college in the New England tradition.

It was a challenging year for me. Not academically, but socially and emotionally.

I was thrilled to be away from my hometown, where I had endured too much trauma in the four long years of high school.* But leaving that town meant leaving the guy I loved and any hope we would get back together. I thought I would marry him but he dumped me right before prom senior year. I was in no frame of mind to be dating anyone new.

None of that is an excuse for what I did. But people aren’t one-dimensional and sometimes reasons are relevant for understanding.

My Confession

There was this nice black guy who lived in another wing of my dorm. He was actually kind of cute too. One day he asked me if I would go out on a date with him. Nothing serious, just a date.

I could so easily have said I wasn’t ready to date because of my recent break-up. Why I chose not to go that route I can’t say. Instead I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t. If I went out with a black guy my dad would kill me.”

There was some truth to the assertion that my dad would not have liked me dating him, but knowing my dad would not approve hadn’t ever stopped me from doing something I wanted to do before.

A Little about My Dad

You might be wondering why I would think my dad would disapprove. To answer that requires telling another story I’d rather not commit to paper. Especially since my dad is no longer alive to defend himself or apologize and recognize that what he did was unkind.

My fear of cancel culture, of being shamed because of something my dad said almost 50 years ago or something I said as a naive 18-year-old, is high. I press on not in spite of, but perhaps because of, that fear.

Again, people aren’t one-dimensional. My dad was many things—good family provider, loving father and husband, hard and honest auto mechanic, friendly and outgoing person, WW II Merchant Marine—but that doesn’t mean he was perfect.

The year was 1972 or 1973. I was 8 or 9, the perfect age to love a day at Magic Mountain amusement park. My mom, dad, sister Berta, and I were having a great time. The sun was shining and the rides were a blast.

We were standing in one of those never-ending lines that switch back and forth, and I was excited for the next ride. A young black man appeared to cut the line to join his friends or family the next row over. My dad called him out for taking cuts, saying “What do you think you’re doing, boy?”

“Who are you calling boy?” he replied.

That’s when my dad said something I’ll never forget and would rather not write down: “Well when you act like a n***** you get treated like a n*****.”

My heart raced with fear. It’s almost as if time froze right there because I don’t remember what happened next. I think we all just stayed where we were in line and got on the ride. But I wonder now what impact that encounter had on the man and his friends or family.

Trying to Understand and Make Amends

I love my dad and he had many wonderful qualities. But he wasn’t perfect. None of us are, we are all shades of gray, good but with flaws. Somewhere in his Ohio upbringing my dad learned this attitude toward black people. The Magic Mountain incident revealed it to me and made me not want to be that way. 

When I told my fellow Whitman student who asked me out that my dad wouldn’t approve because he was black, that likely was true. But it wasn’t kind. I used the easy excuse, making my dad the fall guy, instead of just being honest and saying I wasn’t ready to date anyone.

I don’t remember the young man’s name, but I owe him an apology. I would like to tell him I’m sorry for making him feel less than because of the color of his skin.

Less than acceptable to a white girl’s dad.

Less than important enough to be trusted with the truth.

Less than worthy of an honest answer.

Less than worthy of even having his name remembered all these years later.

Lessons Learned and Why I Wrote This

It’s quite easy to point fingers when it comes to the issue of racism. But pointing fingers, especially into the past and at those who can’t join the conversation, doesn’t promote healing and reconciliation. It doesn’t foster change.

So instead, I’m looking in the mirror and relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal any problems in my own heart. If everyone did that, the world would be a better place.

*For a little background on what high school was like for me, check out these blog posts:

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Paint Chip Poetry Prompt #27

We’ve reached the second half of the year and I decided to mix things up a bit. Today’s prompt still includes paint chips, but also includes a word from my deck of angel cards. I’m planning to make this modification to the prompt once a month. Well, unless there’s a huge backlash because no one likes it.

The catch is that I’m requiring all the words to be used. This week it’s all about family. The paint chip words and phrases are banana split, key lime, mystical, and grandma’s hydrangeas, and the angel card word is gratitude. You are allowed to use the angel card word in your title only, if you desire.

I see poems where eating dessert runs in the family or maybe growing flowers is a family legacy. I hope this prompt inspired some sweet childhood memories. But fictional poetry is also an option.

My Poem

I’m going in the fictional direction myself. My grandma’s both died before I got to know them very well. But if I remembered more about either of my grandma’s, this is how I imagine my memories.

Family Gratitude

My grandma's hydrangeas, 
in white, red, and blue, 
were topped only by her recipe book.

Her key lime pie, requiring fresh
key limes(no everyday limes allowed),
was to die for. It was my favorite
birthday treat, better than any
ordinary chocolate cake.

The recipe for banana splits
described the perfect ripeness
of the bananas for the split
but otherwise offered options
to make it your way.

Her mystical muffins were also
a big hit with the grandgems,
sometimes with chocolate chips,
other times with blueberries.

My gratitude overflows
as I think about how
her love of cooking
and eating
runs in the family.

Your Turn

Okay, now it’s your turn. Share your poem in the comments, or post it on your own blog or website and share a link in the comments. I can’t wait to see what kind of family traditions you all decide to write about.

I’d also appreciate feedback on what you think about this prompt format.

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Paint Chip Poetry Prompt #26

It’s week 26, the halfway mark for the year. Time sure does fly when you’re hanging out at home due to a pandemic. It seems like I just wrote my poem for prompt #25 and it’s already time for another.

The Challenge

So the challenge this week is to write about the phrase “What a Relief.” Have you been relieved about something? Maybe you got to go back to work? Or some test results came back negative? Or the bee population seems to be doing well and is busy pollinating this year?

Whatever it is, craft your poem about it using at least 4 of the following 7 words and phrases: smooth sailing, shark, concrete, wax seal, summer camp, margarita, and straw hat.

My Poem

For some reason, these words and phrases have me feeling a little silly, so my offering today will lean that way. Besides, there’s been too much serious in my world of late.

Changing Summer Plans

Summer camp is cancelled
and what a relief it is
The wax sealed invitation
sure did send me in a spin
The sea shore was the venue
and I'm deathly afraid of sharks
They said it would be smooth sailing
but I seriously have my doubts
I don't even have a straw hat
to protect me from the harsh sun

I'd rather visit my sister
We'll sip margaritas and eat tacos
on her concrete patio
Now that's what I call summer

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to share your poem about something that was a big relief. Remember, use at least 4 of the paint chip words or phrases. Extra bonus points if you use all 7. Share your poem in the comments, or if you have your own blog, post it there and share a link in the comments. I can’t wait to see what y’all come up with.

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No More Denial

Her impish face was adorable. I so wanted to play this game she’d made up.

“Hold these,” she chirped, and handed me three pine cones. I don’t even know where she got pine cones in Houston, Texas. I hadn’t seen many pine trees.

Try as I might to hold them lightly, I could barely stand having them poke my tender palms. “I can’t hold these,” I finally said, as I set them down on the coffee table. “They hurt my hands.” That was an understatement.

My sister looked at me with puzzlement written on her face. “Does that really hurt?”

At least she’d asked. I’d grown up hearing, over and over, “That doesn’t hurt.” The denial of my physical pain by those who knew me best often made me wonder if I was crazy. Because it DID hurt. At least that’s what my brain was telling me.

A Lesson in Compassion

Last weekend, my husband and I were watching Hour of Power on TV. We really like Bobby Schuller’s preaching style. He clearly paid attention to his grandfather’s preaching years ago and has carried on the legacy well.

He was talking about what we, as Christians, should do about the racial issues plaguing our society. The bottom line was to love. But he said something that triggered the memory above. He said (and I paraphrase) that we who are not African American, or Hispanic, should not deny the experiences of those who are.

When we hear or read stories about what our black or brown brothers and sisters have experiencedwhether it be bullying, racial profiling, being followed in the dime store as a teen, being taunted or called names because of the color of their skin, being pulled over and threatened by a cop for no good reasonwe must not deny their experience.

They were there. We were not. We simply must stop telling them it didn’t hurt.

We must let the truth of what others experience into the light. That is where healing begins. Darkness fosters denial and is the enemy of truth.

Practical Steps

So what do we do? When we hear stories that are appallingbut we can’t quite grasp what we’re hearing because it’s never happened to uswhat do we say?

I know what I would like to hear when I express that something is physically painful to me. Instead of having someone deny my pain, I’d rather hear, “I’m sorry that is painful for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

A simple acknowledgement that the hearer may not completely understand my pain, but they believe me when I say it hurts.

It’s not rocket science. It’s basic compassion.

So when we hear a story about what another has experienced because of the color of their skin, we can respond likewise. It’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry you had to experience that. It sounds like that would have been emotionally painful. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Maybe there isn’t anything we can do, but showing a little compassion can go a long way.

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Paint Chip Poetry Prompt #25

It’s week 25 of the paint chip poetry prompts. I feel good about keeping this going and not giving up. Those of you who have participated have been my motivation. Thank you for playing along.

The Challenge

This week’s challenge is an opportunity for nostalgia as we write about “My Hometown.” Unless, of course, you are one of those who still live in your original hometown and never plan to move away. That could be a whole other angle on this prompt. You could write about yesterday.

There are some great words in the line up today, and no weird phrases, so my challenge is to use all seven of these words in your homegrown poem: jasmine, spotlight, fog, bubblegum, pyramid, scarecrow, and sand. You can rhyme or not; it’s up to you. Free verse is a great option for sharing fond memories, but some of these words have wonderful rhyme choices.

My Poem

My Old Hometown

The first thing that comes to mind
when I think of my childhood hometown
is dusty dirt roads with soil
finer than sand at the seashore.
Pedaling my banana seat bike up hills
and down, dodging dust devils and pot holes.
Warm wind in my hair and sun on my face, chewing
bubblegum and loving life.

Rural life was peaceful and blessed. I remember
the garden in our back yard, with fresh veggies
ripening on the vine. We didn't grow jasmine
or sweet William, no daisies, just beans and 
carrots, tomatoes and dill. We didn't have 
a scarecrow to keep away the birds, but our 
cute, noisy little dog did the trick.

Tucked away in the mountains, our wee town
was miles from civilization. Coming home
from the big city meant traversing
a winding road socked in by fog. There might
be a deer around any curve, or a coyote
slinking across the road. I remember one time
we'd been to a scary movie and I imagined
nightmares in every rock and crag.

We had no great wonders of the world in
my hometown, nothing to rival the pyramids
or attract tourists, although the San Diego
Wild Animal Park was just down the road a piece,
where a spotlight shone on the zebras and
antelope at night, and you could see them from 
the roadside turnout. Our closest claim to fame.

Fond memories of my California hometown, good friends 
and church ties; Collier Park pool and Dos Picos Park; 
the home of the Bulldogs, our high school mascot. These
images make me smile wistfully. I often wish we hadn't 
moved away when I was just a tween, to subsist in an 
equally small, rural town that will never seem like home.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to write about your hometown, or maybe someone else’s. Or perhaps you want to wax philosophic about hometowns in general? The choice is your. But remember, use all seven paint chip words. Post your poem in the comments, or post it on your blog and share a link in the comments. If you post on your blog, I’d appreciate a link back here so others can find the prompt and join the fun.

Shared for Open Link Night at dVerse Poets Pub.

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Paint Chip Poetry Prompt #24

It’s week 24, almost halfway through the year of weekly prompts. Some weeks it’s been harder than others to get this posted. This is one of those weeks. You may have noticed this wasn’t up at 7:00 a.m. as usual. I didn’t even have the words and prompt chosen by then.

But I’m determined not to miss a week. As the saying goes, better late than never.

The Challenge: Listen Carefully

I have to confess that I’m not thrilled with this week’s selection of paint chips, but random is as random does. These are what we’ve got. Maybe because I’m in a serious mood but these words lend themselves to a more nonsensical poem.

In the interest of everyone’s sanity, I need you to listen carefully: I’m only suggesting you use two of the seven words or phrases. Choose carefully. Here’s what you have to work with: kindling, hot cocoa, monsoon, purple mountain majesties, fig leaf, rubber ducky, and cheese puff.

My Poem

So here’s what I came up with this morning using just two of the words or phrases.

Listen, My Son, and You Will Hear

Listen, my son, and you will hear
The voice of those who've gone before.
Who treasure freedom, oh so dear;
As kindling burns they ask for more.

Along with freedom let justice ring
Over purple mountain majesties.
And with angelic host do sing;
Trusting God who holds the keys.

Though today it seems all's lost,
Where hatred and power rule the day,
Measure carefully the cost
And follow the truth, the life, the way.

Your Turn

Okay, now it’s your turn. Hit me with your serious or whimsical poems using at least two of the prompt words. You’re certainly welcome to use them all if you can find a way. Post your poem in the comments, or post it on your own blog and share a link in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.

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#MeToo and the Blame Game

Photo credit: Stephen Rowland

A couple of months ago, a woman who is a member of the Sexual Assault Survivors Facebook group asked if she could contact me via FB Messenger. She needed someone to talk to and didn’t trust anyone else in the group or anyone in her “real” life. I said yes, and we struck up a friendship that has blessed me more than I think she realizes.

A couple of weeks ago, she asked if she could share with me the details of her #MeToo story. Her counselor had suggested she write it down and then share it with someone. She didn’t have anyone else she felt comfortable sharing it with. Again, I said yes.

As I read the details of her experience, anger burned in my soul. When I read her final paragraph, where she recounted how she felt, my heart broke. And the poem below began to form in my mind. With my new friend’s permission, I fashioned her words into a reminder that sexual assault survivors are not to blame for the fact that they were assaulted.

I do feel it’s important to warn you that this poem is graphic and may be disturbing. Actually, it should be disturbing because what was done to my friend is not okay.

Shared today at dVerse Poets Pub for Open Link Night.

Where the Blame Belongs

It was a Thursday in early May. Two years ago.
Just an ordinary day when she went for a run alone.
Her earbuds blasted favorite work-out tunes.
The sun shone bright filtering dappled spots
through the pine trees onto the public park trail.

Should I have asked a friend to run with me? she asks.

If you’re wondering why she didn’t
then shame on you

for playing the blame game!

She never saw it coming as he came from behind,
two hands on her shoulders pushing her to the ground.
He pulled her hoodie over her head and face,
kicked her feet out from under her.
Her iPod, earbuds, and phone went flying.
He flipped her onto her back and she smelled
wet earth, moss, and leaves,
and the overpowering stench of booze and weed.

I shouldn’t have gone so deep into the woods,
I should have run in the safety of my neighborhood,
she says.

If you’re wondering why she didn’t
then shame on you

for buying into the blame game!

In a gruff voice she heard, Shut up and don’t fight,
then felt another pair of hands grab her arms
and pin them above her head, with a snicker.
She tried to kick the first guy, struggling to get free,
but then felt a third pair of hands grab her ankles.
It was three against one.

Could I have fought back harder? she asks.

If you think she should have
then shame on you

for fostering the blame game!

She shared the details of her nightmare with me.
How they each took a turn raping her in the dirt,
then used a beer bottle because having their ugliness
inside her just wasn’t enough for their sick pleasure
that ended with sodomy with a baseball bat.

Did I do everything I could to avoid this? she asks.

If you think she should have done more
then shame on you

for cultivating the blame game!

When they were finally done with their sadistic fun
they left her there in the dirt and leaves on the forest floor,
broken, bruised, and bleeding.
The pain excruciating.
She lay quiet, listening as they ran away laughing and
joking like they had just finished a game of basketball
instead of gang raping an innocent woman in the woods.

I feel bad sharing these details with you, she confided.

When she was sure they were gone, she pulled herself together,
and despite the pain she ran all the way home.

And she never told a soul until now—
when I said I was willing to listen
no matter how hard her story was to hear.

I am so ashamed that it happened, she lamented.

If you think she should be ashamed
then shame on you

for being part of the blame game!

And this is why I’m telling you all the sordid details
of what those three vile reprobates did to her—
So you will know where the blame belongs.

It belongs with them.

Not with her.
Not with her choice to run alone.
Not with her decision to run on a trail in the forest.
Not with her failure to fight back harder against three attackers.
Not with her.

Not ever with her.

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My New Poetry Journal

I created this new guided poetry journal, titled Harness the Power of Your #MeToo Story, as a tool to help women (and men) overcome the shame and fear that often follow sexual assault. As long as your story is a secret, it has the power to mire you in feelings of worthlessness and shame.

My experience over the last 20 years, as I’ve told my story to more and more people, is this: when your story is no longer a secret it will not have the power to embroil you in shame and despair. Your story—your truth—told has the power instead to instill in you a sense of grace, compassion, and fearlessness you cannot grasp in this moment.

My writing mentor Mary DeMuth often says “An untold story never heals.” I believe that is true. An untold story of trauma and pain speaks into the darkness of the soul untruth about that story. Telling your story brings it into the light where the lies you’ve come to believe can be exposed. Mary expounds on this idea in her new book “Into the Light – Bible Study Book: A Biblical Approach to Healing from the Past.”

You can take the first step toward healing by downloading the PDF of my free guided poetry journal. Click here to learn more and request your copy today.

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