NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 10: A Portrait of Someone Important to Me)

Darla Jean

This is a portrait of a stinky dog
who sighs and weighs 15 pounds
black as thunder, white as ribbons
(but in the sunlight, the black looks red).
She barks in our windowsill to let us know
that anything is happening and she is guarding
our farmstead, keeping the rats and thieves away.
She steals cheese from the kitchen. She once ate
half a stick of butter and then pooped it
somewhere. Memories like that fade when
so much has happened, so many games of
grody ball — “grody” because she stole
the ball, muddy and wet, mouthed by
who knows what other dog. So many times
she has jumped on my feet, tucked her head
under my thigh on the couch (also black and white)
that she was committed to eating for a while,
and still sneaks some stuffing from now and then.
She has the warmest eyes. The warmest, prettiest eyes.



From a prompt at


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day Nine: A Nine-Line Poem (Star Thistle Honey)

I wonder, how do they make it so the bees
only feed on star thistle to make star thistle honey?
In the back of my mind, too, is a whole thing about
cruelty, the various mechanisms that support me
without my knowing them, the blast of smoke
that results in honey on my toast. What a luxury
I am, an almost insupportable mystery of desires,
all this evolution leading to an overabundance,
stray drops from someone else’s dances in the dark.



A prompt from There was a further suggestion that I write a sonnet, but I opted out of that.


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 8: A Repeating Phrase (It’s a Classic)

It’s a classic, chocolate cake with white frosting.
It’s a classic, fried lake perch with tartar sauce.
It’s a classic, the willow tree getting struck by lightning,
dripping sparks. It’s a classic, Twilight Zone
in a darkened room, waiting for Rod Serling to pop out.
It’s a classic, popcorn and Twizzlers during a movie.
It’s a classic, the time I tried to clean my scraped knee
with Dr Pepper at a drive-in, already anachronistic,
in Dayton, Ohio, before we moved away. It’s a classic,
a moving van in the driveway, all your board games
taped shut so they’ll never be the same, Col. Mustard,
Miss Scarlet. It’s a classic, her long cigarette,
her eyes through brown tape that can’t be removed.





From a prompt at


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 7 (Catching Up)

OK, here’s the prompt that I missed yesterday:

Create the following lists:

1. List 1 – 3 random objects. (Smaller tends to be better.)
2. List 1 – 3 random but specific locations. (Think in the cookie jar, or under my seat…)
3. List 1 – 2 objects you’ve lost and a few notes on their back-story.
4. List 1- 2 objects you’ve found and few notes on their back-story.

Now, choosing an object from List 1, a location from List 2, and connect them in a poem with ideas from Lists 3 & 4 and Voilà! A fortuitous poem! As an example of a finished “fortuitous” poem, here is Elizabeth’s own “State of Grace”.

OK, three random objects:

1) a dead flower in a bowl of water
2) my glasses
3) a birthday card

Three random but specific locations:

1) on the dining room windowsill
2) under the tablecloth
3) behind a forsythia bush

Two objects I’ve lost, and their back story:

1) My mother’s pearls, which my dad brought back from somewhere in Asia when he was in the Navy during the Vietnam War. She never liked them much. They were an awkward length, but then years later, when he offered to add to them, she didn’t want that either. I wore them when I got married and a few other times. I know they’re “somewhere,” but I feel very guilty about not knowing exactly where.

2) My new Target debit card, with chip. I used to love the 5% off deal, but now since I misplaced the new card (somewhere at home) and keep not calling to let them know, the whole Target experience is fraught with knowledge of my failure to do something completely normal (as in, not misplacing the card at all, or certainly calling right away), so I end up shopping at Target much less, and feeling the missing 5% discount when I do go.

Two objects I’ve found, with back story:

1) A little pink plastic elephant embedded in some dirt in a park. I think I worried that a child might have lost it, but then I picked it up so it wouldn’t be outside by itself, in case no one ever did come back to find it.

2) An end table that I saw in the end-of-the-year trash dump outside my dorm on graduation day. I was already in my cap and gown, but I walked it back in and up to my room. Decades later, we still have it and refer to it as “the Danish Modern.”

And here’s my poem:

The Danish Modern

A dead flower in a bowl of water,
behind a forsythia bush
as if in offering or apology,
bringing the bloom back to its source,
as if my mother’s pearls were to
go back to Asia, back into their oysters.
If that were possible, what an errand
it would be — a reality show sponsored by
Target, the camera following me as I
fruitlessly search one oyster bed
after another, eventually seeking
not the oysters that made the pearls,
but any oyster that knows anything,
is willing to talk. Pink elephants may be
good luck for searchers. It’s for the best,
then, that I picked this one up years ago.
I’m pretty good at picking, having once scored
a honey-colored end table from a trash pile,
a solid thing with some style to it, perfect for
holding a bowl of water with a dead flower in it.


My NaPoWriMo Activity Is Temporarily Suspended

Because this thing is happening tonight!

secret snip

I meant to do all the things today, but in fact, I could only do some of them. I’m also not baking cookies for this event.

Secret Rivers is my chapbook from a few years ago (thus far, an only child), and a local theater group will be reading it in voices other than mine and with a few props and stuff.

If you happen to live in Chicago and have a free evening, Augustana is at 5500 S. Woodlawn, in Hyde Park. But my main purpose in posting this is as an excuse for missing a day. See you tomorrow!


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 6: Thirteen Ways (A Plant Came Home from School the Other Day)

This cabbage plant could win my son $1,000.

It sits on the dining room table, right in the middle,
as if I owe it something.

I feel sorry for all the other cabbage plants, going to
homes where no one knows how to love a cabbage.

I told my son we could plant this cabbage.
I gave direct, false information as to my knowledge
of cabbages, their growing.

Someone else would do a much better job with this cabbage.

In no way can I imagine my son ever harvesting this cabbage,
standing there with a knife, grinning for the photo
that must be submitted in order to win the $1,ooo.

Google what month cabbages are harvested
here in Chicago, whatever USDA growing zone this is.

In any case, by then, his third grade class will have long since dissolved,
becoming fourth graders in whole other classes, or disappearing
the way some children do. So I may never know
who grows the $1,000 cabbage.

Cabbages require three feet of growing space around them.
That’s what the information sheet says.

This cabbage does not yet have three feet around it.
It’s still in the pot that my son carried home,
whether tenderly or carelessly, I don’t know —
my husband picked him up that day (and may have
carried the cabbage, as a matter of fact).

But what I meant to say is that the cabbage is still in its pot
which we then placed in a plastic cup (but I think that was a mistake,
now that I look at this situation anew) and it’s growing toward the light,

unless I’m imagining that part, too.






From a prompt at, the ol’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird thing.


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 5: A Nature Poem (Another Park Tree)

Everything breaks down,
though it does seem odd
that this tree is not exempt

or, at least, that we are not exempt
from seeing it decompose —
this being a public park.

Where is the truck to haul it away?

Instead, we see the reddish, rotten stump
become powdered earth, the broken branches
a refuge for some small bird, so that now
hauling away the tree would disrupt

a community other than ours,
close to a sidewalk and a pathway, both.
And now in the sun, a small dog I’ve adopted
watches the birds, perhaps other life

that I can’t see, then comes over to lean
on me where I sit, under another park tree
that is, for now, still standing in its life.



Based on a prompt from I’m supposed to also explain why this bit of nature is personally meaningful. In this case, it’s because I’m grateful to be able to see this cycle in such a public area and to witness nature, given that I live in Chicago. One of the ways that my city may defy what you’ve heard about it or believe about it is that we do have significant green space rather than wall-to-wall buildings and concrete. The moment I describe was also meaningful because of my dog’s decision to come sit with me after she’d watched the tree for a while. I appreciated being chosen.


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 4: An Engima/Riddle Poem

Are You New Here?

Unlock the tree to access the sun in the sap;
it’s the only thing you can do sometimes.

When life hands you limes,
learn to make limeade
instead of the lemonade you expected
to make out of this shitty situation.

Go forward when you have the light
to do that, but when you don’t,
try not to envy those who do —

somewhere a lettuce grows or a cabbage,
maybe a cabbage, and it carries your name
in its cruciferous heart; you have only to
water it and weed it and harvest it and read it.



Today’s prompt over at was to write a poem in which something is hidden or hinted at or otherwise not obvious. Can you guess what mine is?


NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 2: A Recipe-Inspired Poem (Beasy Mist)

Recipe creates one beasy mist, which may be shared separately or encountered alone in a snifter. Back door must be open and screen dirty, with dirty-screen smell, and yard must be gray. Enjoy!

In windowless room
open one window
using serrated knife

or saw

Place hand through
one window
so hand is outside

One palmful of mist
is now
on inside of hand

add bees
or beast
or bezoar

Muddle in the
inside of
puddled balloon.




Today’s prompt at is right up my alley: a poem inspired by a recipe. My poem was further inspired by the recently viral story of what happened when scientist Janelle Shane trained something called a neural network to come up with some names for new recipes. Some of its attempts sound like they could be in my 1961 Betty Crocker cookbook. I was especially taken with “beasy mist.”