Thursday, June 30, 2016

GKCWP SI Portfolio

The Writers Place

Creative Introductions: Poems of Introduction and Response to Creative Introductions

Seven Blind Mice: Reaction

Scribe Notes: 6.15.16 Zoom Notes

Reflections on Orlando: Permission

Nicole's Poetry Exercise: My Life as a Flair Pen

Rankine's CitizenReading Response

Power of Place: Out of Place

Shelly's d6 Tables of Creative Creation Exercise: Byron's Vociferous Gun is Unloaded 

Casey's TIW Exercise: Write a letter convincing somebody to date you (commitment fear evident)

Teacher Inquiry Workshop: Tired & Haggard (Research Paper) and Presentation

Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are BlackReading Response

Literary Luncheon: Offering

Poem Inspired by AC Cleaning: Poem for Rowan

Myself  as a . . . Writer, Reader, Teacher, Learner and Second-Language Learner

GKCWP KC Tour: Blue Hills Goes Black

Taking Action: Rewind, Remind, Renewed

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Life as a Flair Pen

I am flying like a green rocket
through the air
and across the page.
I am smooth and matte but bisected,
composed of hard plastic
and alcohol-soaked felt.
I am from a far-away island,
bombed and occupied and
then reconstructed.
I am forgotten in the bottom of bags
and wedged under car mats
but nowhere to be found.
I am lush yet practical and cathartic,
birthing irregular circles that sprawl across whitespace,
delivering well-intentioned commentary on nascent thoughts,
bearing stream of consciousness upon the page before sleep.

Poem for Rowan

The cottonwood seeds my daughter says
make our cul de sac liminal gather around
the outside of our air conditioner.

Like a cocoon, the puffs of fluff
congregate on the metal webbing,
converging into a solid layer.

I unwind the green hose,
fighting against its kinks and untying its knots,
until water spurts from the nozzle.

The white cocoon softens in the deluge,
graying as the dirt melts into the fibers,
and then breaks into continents.

Each continent floats downward,
toward the leaf-crusted concrete;
some tiny islands loiter at the metal crossroads.

I press my thumb harder into the nozzle,
forcing the water to coax
the remaining islands out and down.

A halo around the machine, what was once the fluff
that revealed the faerie circle hidden in our cul de sac
splayed out, drowned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


“Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” Wally Lamb

But what I was really asking: “Daughter, even though you are 20 now and even though you have your own house and even though you pay your own bills, do I still have something to offer you?”

When my mother had nothing to offer my brother and me, my grandma offered to raise us. I picture her making this offer clad in her red apron with black piping and grease stains, standing in front of the stove. She offered herself every night at the kitchen table, the same one in my dining room today. She offered herself up in too-sweet tea. She offered herself up in green beans with butter and bacon. She offered herself up in the double breading on the fried chicken. She offered herself up in the warmed-up can of Spaghettios in front of my brother, who was too picky to accept her other offerings. She offered so much of herself up that we never left the kitchen table hungry.
But what I read: “Yes, mom, I still value what you have to offer me, despite the fact that I am 20 and despite the fact that have my own home and despite the fact that I don’t ask you for money to pay my bills.”

I consider the evolution of offerings. My grandma offered me a mother in childhood and adolescence. As an adult, she offered me advice on how to mother. When she died Thanksgiving morning, the turkey was ash in my mouth. It gave me a taste for discovering what my mother had to offer me.

But what that means to me: “Blood is undeniable. I am you as you are your grandmother and your mother.”

While my mother did not offer me a permanent seat at her kitchen table, she did offer meatballs and sauerkraut once or twice a year. I observed the ritual she performed in her kitchen, beginning with her selection of music. Her eyes scanned the options, but ultimately, they fluctuated between Kool and the Gang and Tina Turner. The queen reigned, of course, and Tina’s guttural cry kick-started the sway of my mother’s hips. She combined the meat, egg, seasonings, and rice in a large bowl with her hands, squeezing, choking, and squashing to Tina’s rhythm. Then, her fingers pinched portions of the mixture and rolled it into perfect balls between the palms of both hands. A final squeeze in one hand transitioned the ritual to the next stage of cooking before we consummated the ritual at her kitchen table, Tina’s voice pulling up a chair to join us. The meal wasn’t breaded or deep fat fried or sweetened like the dishes my grandma offered, but briny and pungent. Mixed with mashed potatoes, the meal formed a gray, mountainous lump. Like the lump in the back of our throats that kept us from saying all of things we thought about saying, or asking all of the things we thought about asking. I shoveled mammoth bites onto my fork and then into my mouth to force that lump down my esophagus. Tina provided us all the soundtrack of lump-swallowing.

My children grew up eating double-breaded fried chicken, and they watched me prepare Thanksgiving dinner, donning the red apron with black piping my grandma wore. We sat down to eat meals at my grandma’s kitchen table. But they also grew up observing my ritual preparation of meatballs and sauerkraut, even though the pungent smell drove their father out of the house. The Rent soundtrack played in the background as they tasted the sour brininess, my oldest savoring every bite. Together, we sang along with “You’ll See,” “One Song Glory,” “Light My Candle,” “Today 4 U,” “Tango:Maureen,” and it seemed the notes dissolved the lump in my throat.

Over the years, I learned that there is not only an evolution of offerings, but also an evolution of accepting them. I have stopped piling bites on my fork and into mouth in order to accept the fullness of the flavor and allow the lump to remain in the back of my throat. Its presence invites me to recognize my mother’s offerings:


her mouth

her eyes

her freckles

her taste for music

her thirst for more

her appetite for life

Monday, June 20, 2016

Out of Place

I’ve found my place in being out of place. Of course, being out of place didn’t feel like my place at first. At first, being out of place made me feel just displaced.

My freckles made me out place in the sea of white, unblemished skin around me. Despite the wrinkles, even my teacher’s skin was uniform and spotless. Even my teacher, the only one in the room who loved reading as much as I did, was separate from me in this way.  Her unmarred hands displayed a book and its title dropped from her mouth: Freckle Juice by Judy Blume. I felt my own language betray me as the student next to me pointed and declared, “It’s about you!”.
I dissolved into my desk and chair until I was sure the only evidence of me was my spots. I was sure I was gone until the next time the word “freckle” exploded out of my teacher’s mouth and another student contorted around to gawk and taunt. I was sure that the next student to turn would be astonished to discover my desk empty, but adorned with a peculiar polka dot pattern.
Neutral walls. Hard desks with attached chairs. Water-stained ceiling tiles. My new classroom resembled my old one a few hours away. The students around me, indistinguishable from those sitting uncomfortably in same desks 200 miles away, leered at me in a familiar fashion. I had been transplanted from one small town to another.
My language’s sting of betrayal dulled, and I had since locked myself in an embrace with Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. So locked in embrace I was, in fact, that I almost missed the stare-down from the gangly girl sitting caddy corner from me. Accustomed to gawking and leering, this particular form of examination was foreign. Was that curiosity I saw in her eyes? I felt panic rise from the bottoms of feet to my knees and hips. Once it reached my armpits, it pooled there for a moment before bubbling over and down my arms. The panic poured over my fingers, which grabbed onto the seam at the bottom of my skirt. And then, for no reason whatsoever, my arms lifted the bottom of my skirt above my desk and back down again. The second my skirt was returned to my lap, I saw the caddy-corner girl giggle with glee, but I still hoped nobody else saw me.

Being out of place made me want to be invisible. That is, until I wanted to leave my mark. My out-of-place-ness positioned me in the place of stubbornness.

The cold hardness of the tile on my bottom and the backs of my legs. The warmth of the sun from the window against my back. These are the things that occupied the space of my mind moments before Mr. K coaxed the secret out of me, the secret that distanced me even further from the other students and my high school teachers in the small town of Ottawa, KS.
In his Sociology class earlier that day, my class read about a culture in which tradition dictated teens take on the responsibility of motherhood. My myopic peers railed against the idea, filling the hollow basement classroom with a cacophony of judgement. I, in turn, railed back, challenging them to assess how their culture impacted their assumptions about motherhood. Or rather, in their eyes, I got pissed off for no reason.
Yes, Mr. K, I was upset today in class. Yes, Mr. K, there is a reason. Yes, Mr. K, I am pregnant. The unleashed secret didn’t send shockwaves that blasted others away, but rather tiny emissions that nudged them to toward other things.
The office was spare, white, uninviting. In reality, the office may have been painted in warm tones and furnished with a homey couch, but in this memory, it was spare.  Just as spare and white and uninviting as Main Street and the roller rink and the Walmart on the other side of town. Her face has been lost in the years, but her words--they are still present: Well, I mean, don’t you want to transfer to the alternative school, Angie? I knew what she meant: You don’t belong here anymore. I also knew that my school, my place of learning had nothing to do with the fetus I now carried. And I’d be damned if I was gonna let them put me where they thought I belonged.

An essential component of being out of place is refusing to go to the place others think you belong. It’s about finding the comfort in others’ discomfort; it’s about claiming your place among all the places you don’t belong.

Her fever was high, not so high that I needed to rush her to the doctor--but high enough that I set a timer to ensure a continuous stream of Motrin in her blood. She was miserable, but she was also sleeping. And the time had come: my Philosophy final was one hour away, and the trip from Ottawa to Emporia State University took me 50 minutes. My blue book was packed in my bag; various philosophers were tucked in my head. I wasn’t sure I could take my final holding a sick baby--hell I wasn’t sure my professor would even allow me to take my final holding a sick baby. But I did because he did.
She slept curled up between one arm and leg in the wooden theater seat until the last question of the final. As other students in backwards baseball caps walked past this alien sight on their trek to the exit, I could see the puzzle on their faces but I was too focused to piece it together. I could feel her restless movements synced to the final letters of the final words of the final sentence. Just in time.
Dr. Somer’s opening ceremony, calling off our names in his booming voice, began that first day. Our desks were lined up, much like they were in high school, and most of us were ill equipped for the literature he would hurl at us. Student by student, he announced our last names, preceded only by Mr. or Miss. When his eyes reached the Hs, I was first:  Miss Hedges. Despite the first-day jitters of my second year at ESU, I corrected him: Mrs. Hedges.  He repeated it, placing forceful emphasis on my title: MRS. Hedges.
The litany of names, punctuated by MRS. Hedges, provided predictable rhythm to the semester. This rhythm was accompanied by Dr. Somer’s violent gesticulation, my discovery of beat poetry, and our silence in the wake of our professor’s tears. We slipped into this rhythm so naturally, so easily that I almost felt I was in my place. But the daily articulation of my title reminded us all that I wasn’t quite.

Sometimes, you can find your place in being out of place because you are also out of space. Then, having your own space is divorced from finding your place, even if that’s being out of place.

The expansive building of brick and glass overpowered the surrounding fields. When Olathe Northwest High School opened it doors for the first time, 800 students passed through its doors. A decade later, the building still sat amongst fields, but its population exploded. Unused rooms filled, used rooms repurposed, and additions constructed. My students had transitioned from calling me Ms. Hedges to Ms. Powers, and I had transitioned from being the matriarch in a family of four to being a single mother of two girls. But in this moment, I boxed my classroom supplies, pondering the incredible amount of packing and moving my family had experienced in the last year. From hauling all of our soot-covered belongings out to the dumpster parked in the driveway to transporting boxes of donated clothes collected at the school to packing up our meager assets in the rental house to relocate back into our reconstructed house, my family lived in transit. My oldest daughter began driving to explore her place outside of our family, while my youngest hunkered in corners to read. I found refuge in my classroom, but even that was temporary. Sorting my clips and files and books into piles of keep and discard and give away, I willed myself to keep my ratio of keep to everything else low. But my will deteriorated each time I picked up a book to reminisce about its lessons while my fingers caressed the sharp edges.
            I dodged backpacks and feet and elbows as I rounded a corner, lifting the handle of my cart up ever so slightly to avoid finding my back wheel stuck in the crack between the tile and carpet. A woman on a mission, I returned little more than polite smiles to my coworkers’ acknowledgement of Hi Angie! and students’ greetings of Hey Powers!. I skimmed across the surface of the school, cart in tow, for the next three minutes until I reached my destination. The room--not my room but a room in which taught--had the same white walls and hard desks as so many of the classrooms I’ve occupied. The same white walls and hard desks that my youngest daughter now occupied in her freshmen year at Olathe Northwest High. I wedged my cart into the doorway, parked it in place, and surveyed the room: for the next 50 minutes, this room was the place 26 students and I would find ourselves out of space and out of place together

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Yesterday, I granted permission to the tears. I allowed them to well up and over the ledges of my eyes and pool where my cheek and sunglasses met as I commuted. I allowed them to collect there, even granting just a couple passage down my chin and my neck for two long minutes. In those two long minutes, I blocked out the sight of other cars, the drivers who might see my vulnerability, my humanity. In those two long minutes, the soothing voice on the radio introduced me to a man whose friend Omar sheltered him when nobody else--not even his parents--would. Omar was killed by Omar, and both had a mother and father.

The day of, I refused to grant permission to my tears, instead batting them away with vigorous blinking and choking them down with considerable will. I read only half articles and spoke in only fragmented conversations because I could not bear to confront my own vulnerability, my own humanity.

Today, my tears granted my body permission to sob--a deep wracking sob--the kind of sob that echoes in an empty room. My tears allow me to see my daughter, hunched in the corner of the bathroom, texting me, “Mommy, I love you . . . Call them mommy. Now.” My tears allow me to see my Uncle’s body, splayed out next to the bar, with my face on his cell phone, vibrating, until only, “Missed Call.” My vulnerability, my humanity overwhelms me until my tears run out and I pick up my pen.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Poems of Introduction

My Initial Reaction to Writing a Poem of Introduction

Is this sufficient?
activist socialist anti-conformist humanist unionist populist
feminist pacifist atheist liberalist existentialist absurdist

You want something more--
more personal, you say?

Myers Briggs:
Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception
Input, Intellection, Learner, Achiever, Focus
True Colors:
Green, Orange, Blue, Gold
Still not enough?
Something more--
something beyond labels, you say?
Be patient:
and then maybe you’ll see.

Then The Typical “Where I’m From” Poem of Introduction

I am from a dog-shaped cookie jar,
from Nintendo Track and Field and sardines in mustard sauce.
I am from Main Street, Olive Street, Labette Terrace, Ash Street
(and don’t forget Main Street again).

I am from sauerkraut and silence,
from hard dumplings and game nights.
I am from Uncle Charlie perched on a motorbike
and Grandma Vivian in her rocking chair.

I am from the cold distance of Germany
and the stubborn righteousness of America.
I am from pitchers of too-sweet tea,
from cucumbers soaked in salt water.

I am from Catholics and Baptists,
from Episcopalians and Seventh Day Adventists.
I am lost at sea and in faith
(and rediscovered as an Atheist).

I'm from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Eric Clapton on vinyl,
from Dire Straits and Tina Turner on cassette,
from Pantera and Pearl Jam on CD,
and from Jack White and Alt-J on vinyl (again).

I’m from the woods my brother and I lost ourselves in,
from the sting of grandma’s belt after we were found,
from the gurgle of my parents’ waterbed draining,
and from the fiery inferno that consumed the dry wall.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bathtub Poem

The anemic gray bubbles
nibble at my edges
encased in the white acrylic bathtub.

They nibble at the tension,
caress the tissue,
unfurl the fibers.

They weigh down my eyelids
and I go blank
until I see black.

I'm floating--
gray bubbles fade to celestial bodies,
warm water evaporates in a vacuum of air.

I sense the tethers once securing me:
lines stretched to the North, South, East, West,
ropes pulled thin by eager independence,
strings snapped in all arrays,

Each snap tugged me to the left, right, front, back:
an inch, a centimeter, a millimeter,
rocking me with a maternal rhythm.

My eyes, fixed to the distance,
focused on some ethereal destination,
only wavered after decades of snaps.

The strange weight of the final tethers,
only two, extend
to the East and West.

The lines tauten and
the fibers elongate
until one snaps.

And I am a planet
spinning off its axis
defying the laws of nature--
but not the law of the last tether.

The last line gives me gravity
transforming my spin into a rough rock
until my eyes can fix on the distance again.

The last tether reaches beyond the distance
and I release it without a snap.

Spinning, I have no gravity:
I am free from those laws.

My eyes are no longer fixed
but closed, secured.

And I go blank
until I see black.

Then the anemic gray bubbles
nibble at my edges.