Otherwise Engaged Is Here

Otherwise Engaged against a background of Christmas Eve music I was supposed to play. Taken by me.

Amidst the busy time of preparing for Christmas, made even busier because i broke my left wrist* and am effectively one-armed for six to eight weeks, this lovely journal arrived. It contains my poems, “SLOW” and “Tappan Square,” which I wrote about here. It also contains many other pieces and is a delightful thing to dip into at odd moments or pore over at leisure.

So if you missed someone on your holiday gift list or are looking for a varied volume of poetry and prose for your own delectation, check it out here.

Hope you are having a happy holiday season.

*Fell on the ice during a magnificent trip to the Grand Canyon. Small fracture in left wrist, but irksome for a left-handed violinist.

“Why the Frogs Sing” Accepted by WhimsicalPoet

My mom and her dad. Unknown photographer. Not sure when this was. 1947? ‘49?

Many thanks to Sara Altman, Editor of Whimsical Publications, for accepting “Why the Frogs Sing,” which is about my reaction to the death of my mother. When I got the call telling me she was dying, I had an odd sensation of lightness. Later, I woke up when it was still dark. It was a steamy Southern night, and the frogs were chorusing.

A few years ago, I heard a story on NPR about how frogs in a lake (as I recall) near the Atlanta airport were unable to chorus due to noise pollution from the planes. Because they could not produce their intimidating group noise, owls were picking them off.

My imagination connected the image of frogs borne upwards to the lightness I had felt when I first heard Mom was going. I felt many confused things about Mom’s sad life and her death during, but apparently not from, COVID. I thought of the abuse she had endured as a child, and of how hard she had tried to escape the mental illness that landed her in a home far away from me, and of how hard she had found it to socialize with us even for a short time the last time we saw her.

It seemed to me there was a parallel between the frogs’ short, desperate lives and our own, between their singing to cheat death and our efforts to give our lives meaning, and between their ends as they were borne aloft in the owls’ talons and the feeling of a lightening of burdens and at the same time an emptiness that i imagine death brought to Mom, and that I certainly felt.

This is what I tried to convey in the poem. Again, I’m grateful Editor Altman found it suitable for WhimsicalPoet, and I look forward to familiarizing myself with that publication.

“Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake” Accepted for Hotazel

Train bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Taken by me.

I was surprised and pleased that Editor Linda Mostert and team accepted my poem, “Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake,” for the new South African journal, Hotazel. I think this poem is one of the better ones I have written, and I am excited that it will come out in South Africa, where I have not published before.

Lady Bird Lake, much like South Africa, is a study in contrasts. On the one hand a kayaker finds themself in an urban wilderness, nesting ground for several species of water birds, not to mention turtles and the famous bat colony that makes its home seasonally in the tiny space between the surface and the concrete undergirding of one of the bridges across the lake. On the other hand, the lake has a lot of trash in it, and giant skyscrapers, including a new Google tower, rise on every side. These contrasts are oddly parallel to my experience of taking a bus outside Johannesburg to visit an elephant sanctuary, though I did not think of that at the time.

Lady Bird, too, seems to me to embody many contrasts. I have only read her Wikipedia bio, but her decade of determined work on what was then Town Lake supports some of the details I read about this apparently traditional Southern lady who famously concerned herself with the beautification of US highways. Though some might consider that preoccupation the kind of lesser field deemed appropriate for ladies before the era of feminism, Lady Bird was the first First Lady to have her own office and staff to carry out her initiatives—in other words, she transformed her position into a real job with some real power. “The Highway Beautification Act was informally known as ‘Lady Bird’s Bill’” (from her Wikipedia bio). She was also a trained journalist and a successful businesswoman who used an inheritance to help her husband run for Congress.

As for the supposition that Lady Bird’s beautification efforts were a sort of decorative hobby (a supposition I myself had entertained, I admit), the amazing urban biome she got constructed at the lake that now bears her name shows how important and serious her work was. In fact, she reminds me of my mother, who was also raised to be a Southwestern lady, but worked hard to earn her Ph.D. in art history and become a professor.

Finally, the art of the lake presents yet another evocative set of contrasts. Graffiti, often regarded as vandalism and defacement. becomes a shifting tapestry in which mostly anonymous artists put their stamp on the lake and make their voices heard. For me, the command, “BREATHE,” on the bridge depicted above, evoked the tension between the peaceful solitude I found in the kayak and the busy urban culture around it, between the natural richness and the sinister throwaway culture of our times, a culture embodied not only in the trash of the lake, but also the fate of George Floyd and so many others.

I look forward to my study of these contrasts appearing in a land of different, often troubling, contrasts, and I hope to see other, similar work in Hotazel.

People waiting for the bats to come out of the bridge. Taken by me.

“Tappan Square” and “SLOW” Out in Otherwise Engaged

Photo credit: Daderot, Tappan Square, Oberlin. Ohio, US. July 2008. Wikimedia Commons. PD.

Usually, I post when poems are accepted. But in this case, I failed to notice the acceptance amid the sea of requests for financial assistance that crowd my inbox daily. So it was a surprise when I received an email informing me that my poems, “Tappan Square” and “SLOW,” were already out in Otherwise Engaged Literary and Art Journal Volume 8. My thanks and apologies to Editor Marzia Dessi. I look forward to reading the journal.

“SLOW” is a can poem on the theme of carpe diem. I don’t think it says anything earthshakingly new, but I’m not sure anyone else has pulled comparable wisdom out of instructions for heating soup.

“Tappan Square” is about a real square at the center of the town where I grew up. If you just went to the back of the picture, a bit right of center, and made a left, it’s a five-minute walk to my old house. The square is also where I had my college graduation. I was moved to write the poem after I learned that Moses Fleetwood Walker played baseball there in 1881 before going on to become one of the first Black players to play openly as a Black man in major league baseball, before the major leagues were officially segregated.

Although I recognize that Oberlin is far from perfect in terms of diversity and equality, I still feel proud of the college’s legacy as the arguably the first college to admit Black and female students and the town’s as a station on the Underground Railroad. It was also an enriching place to grow up and attend college, and that’s really what the poem is about.

I don’t yet know how the other pieces in the journal are, but I have a pdf, and when I receive my hard copy, I will post a brief review. In the meantime, as I say to annoy those fighting the War on Christmas, Happy holidays!

“Be Well for Life” Up at ubu.

Photo credit: Bruce Bisping, Old Style Cash Register and Canned Goods in a Butcher Shop in New Ulm, Minnesota. October, 1974. Wikimedia Commons. PD.

It was gratifying to see my poem, “Be Well for Life” (which I wrote about here), up in the second issue of ubu. today. Many thanks to Editor Lori A Minor. I must also note that once again, I am flattered to find myself in the company of redoubtable poet Shloka Shankar, who has a powerful poem in the same issue.

In her email alerting people to the publication of Issue 2, Minor writes, “In curating work for ubu., I’m not looking for absurdity for the sake of absurdity; I want to showcase literature that makes me question everything as I know it.” It is good to know she found my poem fit this paradigm, and satisfying to destabilize someone’s world in just eight words.

So go on over, see how I did it, and check out Shloka Shankar’s observations on the inherent muddiness of humankind. If you want, come back and tell me what you think.