Before I Leave

It was one of those days. Bill was cranky because his computer wasn’t working, and I didn’t have time to deal with that because I needed to get us both fed and me to my monthly poetry class. At first, he said he didn’t want lunch. Then, he said he’d have vegetable beef soup. I opened a can for him and fixed myself a sandwich. Then, he said he didn’t want the soup because it didn’t have any beef. I laugh now when I think about this because it reminds me of the old woman in the McDonald’s commercials who asked where the beef was in the hamburgers. I offered to trade Bill his soup for my sandwich. Unfortunately, the sandwich wasn’t cut in half so he could more easily eat it with one hand, and it fell apart, and he decided he didn’t want anything more to eat.

In the midst of all this, the Para transit service arrived to take me to the senior center for my monthly poetry class. I told the driver I didn’t expect to be picked up for another half hour and wasn’t ready to leave. Could she come back? She said she would try. She didn’t return for another hour, and by that time, Bill was happily ensconced in his recliner, surrounded by chocolate and other comforts, and I was pacing the floor, growing more and more frustrated by the  minute.

Needless to say, I was late to my poetry class. Everyone else had started the in-class writing activity we usually do at the beginning of the period. The instructor suggested I write about what was frustrating me. What came out was the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

 

Before I Leave

 

 He’s cranky, doesn’t want lunch,

then asks for vegetable beef soup.

It has no beef.

I give him my sandwich.

It falls apart.

He gives up on lunch.

 

As I’m leaving, he’s reclining,

a chocolate in his mouth, a bag of almonds on his lap.

His good arm encircles my neck.

We laugh, as we kiss goodbye.

 

 Now, it’s your turn. Think of something frustrating that happened to you, and share it in the comment field below. If you want, you can write a poem about it. I think you’ll find that writing it out in one form or another is a great way to vent.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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Writing Couplets

A couplet is two lines that go together. They can stand alone or be part of a stanza or poem. They don’t have to rhyme but most do, and there are no rules about rhythm or meter. You can read more about couplets plus some examples here.

Last week, my monthly poetry group did an exercise where we came up with a list of words: Garfunkel, carbuncle, whiplash, loquacious, fair, civet, bananas, boil, shiver, lollapalooza. We then each wrote poems containing couplets, using as many of the words as we wanted. Most of our creations didn’t make sense, but that was okay. We had fun writing and sharing them. Here’s what I wrote.

 

 

The Civet and the Lollapalooza

 

 

 

There once was a civet named Garfunkel,

who knew not the meaning of carbuncle.

About this, he just didn’t care.

He was planning to go to the fair.

 

He craved bananas so much

he would risk a monkey’s touch.

He hoped he would see monkeys there,

monkeys at the state fair.

 

On the way, a lollapalooza

told him he was a loser.

“You won’t find monkeys at the fair

because there won’t be any there.”

 

“But I want bananas so bad.

Are there none to be had?”

“Not at the fair, there will be none there,

no bananas at the state fair.”

 

 

Now, it’s your turn to write couplets. You can use the word list above or create your own. If you do this with a group, have each person come up with two words. You don’t have to use all the words in your list. Remember that couplets don’t necessarily rhyme. Have fun, and don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. As you can see above, mine doesn’t. Please feel free to share what you write here.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Selling Books at the Wyoming State Fair

This year is the 100th anniversary of our state fair which is going on this week in Douglas, about a three-hour drive south of my hometown of Sheridan. I must admit I was skeptical about selling books there. Nobody goes to a state fair to buy books, I thought. They go to look at livestock, ride the Ferris wheel and carousel, play games, and see side shows. At least that’s what I did when I was a kid, and we went to the state fair in Arizona before moving to Wyoming. But I had already told the owner of a Douglas bookstore I’d do it so I couldn’t back out.

I drove down yesterday with another writer. Two other authors were selling books at the same time I was. We read our work aloud and talked about writing. Because the book tent wasn’t directly on the midway, we didn’t have many customers, but a few people stopped to listen to our reading and discussion, and I sold five books so the afternoon wasn’t a total waste.

It was a cloudy, windy day with temperatures in the upper sixties, a welcome relief from the ninety-degree weather we’d been having. We didn’t take in much of the fair, but the wind occasionally brought us the aromas of food and manure and strains of country music. As we got ready to leave the book tent, a herd of longhorn cattle was unloaded into a nearby pen, and those poor cows weren’t  happy. This prompted me to remind my guide to point out any droppings because I probably wouldn’t be able to see them. I was assured that the pen was far enough away that there wouldn’t be any droppings. Considering the lungs on those cows, you would have thought the pen was next to the book tent. To tell the truth, I had a pretty good time, and if I’m asked next year, I’ll probably do it again.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Poem Inspired by a Cell Phone

Don’t you just hate it when you’re at a concert, meeting, or church service, and someone’s cell phone rings, its computerized tones filling the room, breaking your concentration on the event? Now, people can download their favorite songs to their cell phones for everyone else to hear when they ring. One gal in my singing group has “Ode to Joy” on her phone. Occasionally, the cheerful strains of this melody accompany whatever song we’re practicing, and as luck would have it, it’s not in the same key.

My brother once had a song by his favorite rock band on his phone. When we attended his daughter’s dance recital several years ago, I suggested he turn it off so the orchestral strains of “Swan Lake” wouldn’t be augmented by the synthesized chords, guitar notes, and drum rolls of Van Halan’s “Jump.” Instead of gliding across the stage like swans on a clear, blue lake, the ballerinas would leap high in the air, not very swan-like.

Have you ever been at an event where you realized you forgot to turn off your cell phone? You don’t want to turn it off now because it will make noise, and that will be just as bad. Your phone isn’t even set to vibrate. You’re sitting in the middle row of a darkened theater. In order to get out so you can answer your phone, you have to crawl over a multitude of legs. How embarrassing would that be? All you can do is cross your fingers, bow your head, and pray the world doesn’t find out you’re a fan of Guns and Roses.

I’ve been there. I was at a poetry workshop when someone else’s cell phone rang, and that person hurried from the room to answer it. It was then I realized I’d forgotten to turn mine off. Fortunately, I’m not a fan of Guns and Roses, and my phone has a button on the top I can push to switch it to vibrate mode when it does ring, but I still felt self-conscious. This inspired the following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

 

The Blue Doorknob

 

 

”Ting a-ling, ting a-ling,” goes the cell phone.

With an apology, someone hurries from the room.

Better him than me, I think,

as I try to concentrate.

I forgot to turn mine off.

“What comes to mind when you think of a blue doorknob,” asks the poet.

The one in my pocket threatens to expose me

or inspire someone to write a poem.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Solitude and Hope

In January of 2007, almost a year to the day Bill had his first stroke, he suffered a second one. This wasn’t as severe, but it was enough to send him to the hospital and then to the nursing home for three more months of therapy. I think both strokes set him back enough that he has never fully recovered. 

The following poems from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver reflect how I felt during this time. The first depicts hopelessness and resignation to being alone again. The second expresses hope that someday, life will get back to normal. Of course it never has. 

 

Solitude

 

 

His side of the bed is empty.

An open space replaces his wheelchair.

His recliner stands vacant.

 

He’s a victim of fate

in the form of another cerebral bleed,

not as bad as before.

 

I’m alone.

The house is quiet, empty, still

with one less meal to fix,

one less person here.

Dear Bill

 

 

 

I believe that one day, you’ll walk through the door,

take me in your arms. We’ll embrace.

What happened a year ago

was a major obstacle flung in our path to wedded bliss. 

What happened yesterday was only a small setback.

I knew that, as I sat by your hospital bed. 

We laughed, talked. 

You dozed from time to time. 

I tried to kiss you.

My lips couldn’t reach yours through the side rail. 

You reached out, stroked my hair, told me not to worry. 

 

So as I did last year,

I’ll lead my lone existence,

get up in the morning,

make breakfast for one instead of two,

go about my day,

visit you when I can,

go to sleep in my lonely bed,

know that you’ll soon be next to me. 

I believe that some day, you’ll walk through the door,

take me in your arms, hold me. 

I’ll live for that day.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Cobwebs

We have plenty of those in our basement, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I just finished reading a book by this title that was recently published by Maine author Bobbi LaChance. Bobbi is totally blind and lives in Auburn with her husband Richard. 

I first met her years ago when I joined Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities scattered across the country. We meet twice a month via phone conference to share ideas and writing exercises and occasionally listen to guest speakers who are writers or editors talk about the writing and publishing industry. We produce an online magazine called Magnets and Ladders which features stories, poems, essays, and articles on writing by disabled authors. You can learn more about this group here. If you’re a disabled writer and would like to join us, please e-mail me at the above address, and I’ll get you started. If you would like to contribute to Magnets and Ladders, the deadline for the fall/winter issue is fast approaching, August 15th. You can read the submission guidelines here.

Bobbi is now the president of our organization. For the past couple of years, she worked tirelessly to promote our first anthology of poems, stories, and essays, published by iUniverse in 2007, and raise funds for our second one which we hope to publish sometime this year. Her first book, Wishes, was published several years ago.

Cobwebs, her second novel, set in Portland, Maine, in 1979, is not about what you find in your basement. It’s a romance. The reason for the title is that the main character, Susan, a freelance writer, is plagued by unpleasant childhood memories and develops mental cobwebs that make her afraid to commit to a long-term relationship. She meets Aaron, a lawyer. They become involved, but because Susan’s mother married an alcoholic who beat her when Susan was a small child, she’s afraid to marry Aaron, although he’s not an alcoholic and is always kind to her.

Susan is pursued by Mike, a counselor at a youth center where she volunteers in order to get information for articles she’s writing about the plight of low income children. She’s somewhat attracted to him but isn’t impressed by his negative attitude and reputation of being a violent womanizer. She soon finds out that her close friend Diana is dying of leukemia. As events unfold, Mike becomes possessive of Susan, and Aaron becomes jealous of Mike. I’m not going to tell you any more. You’ll just have to read the book to find out what happens.

Cobwebs, recently published by Author House, is available in print and eBook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion, and other online retailers. Bobbi is working on getting it into accessible formats for those of us who have trouble reading print. I’ll let you know as soon as that happens, but it may take some time. Meanwhile, if I’ve piqued your interest enough that you just can’t wait, and you have a scanner, you can always buy a print copy and scan it. In any way, shape, or form, I hope you will enjoy Cobwebs. I guarantee that once you pick it up, it’ll be hard to put down until you finish it.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to  Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver