Friday, April 24, 2015

WOLF SPIDER - April Poem #24

I realize that some of my attitudes aren't quite the same as most other people's. For instance, I think spiders and snakes are beautiful, and they don't really scare me. Of course I know some of them are dangerous, and of course I avoid the ones that might kill or injure me. But I'd rather not kill or injure them, if I have a choice. I'd rather call the rattlesnake removal guys than cut off a head with a hoe. As for spiders, I probably would kill a black widow or a brown recluse, but I think I'd feel bad about it. (By the way, my daughter thinks I'm crazy, and although he's less vocal about it, I think my husband may agree with her in this case.)

      Robert Lee Brewer's prompt today at Poetic Asides  is to "write a moment poem. . . . [it] can be a big . . . or small moment . . . good . . . or horrible . . . it can affect thousands or matter to just one person . . . ." I suspect this moment matters mostly just to me, but maybe it will resonate with some others:


Admittedly, she looked scary at first,
half the size of a smallish tarantula,
trapped there between the window and the screen.

We guessed she was dead and were relieved,
since the window had been open all night.
Did she get there from inside or outside the house?

We'll never know. I went outside
to water, shot a little at her from the hose
and watched her scuttle, alive after all.

I could take the screen off, I thought.
If she clings to it, I'll take her up to the fence
and shake her into safety among the oleanders.

Back in the bedroom I examined her
from behind the glass. She was shedding her
exoskeleton, like a woman rolling down stockings.

She's found a good place to do it, I thought.
Then I told you, and you found the can beneath
the kitchen sink and sprayed and sprayed as she ran

madly over the screen. I think one squirt
would have done it. Stop, I said. You've got her.
See how she's curling up her legs?

We'll have to take the screen off anyway
now. She hangs there in the corner, shrunken,
her beautiful long legs twisted like arthritic fingers.

            - Victoria Stefani

I would really love to read your comments.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Today's prompt at Robert Lee Brewer's "Poetic Asides" blog, to "write a historic poem," led me to take out some scribblings I did on a cross-country road trip some years ago. I'd never been to any part of "the South" and the historic sites we visited were fascinating. We drove through Nashville and of course stopped to visit Andrew Jackson's estate, the Hermitage, which is, I suppose, beautiful and very impressive, but rather off-putting, what with those awful audio guides talking in your ears from little machines hanging around your necks, and the rooms of the main house blocked off by plexiglas sheets over the doorways, when roping them off would probably have worked just as well. I do remember that the bed Jackson and his wife slept in looked awfully small. (In contrast, we had an entirely different and much more enjoyable experience at Stonewall Jackson's far less grand but more interesting house in Lexington, Virginia, where a friendly, chatty, and well-informed docent treated us to a more intimate, even gossipy tour, answering all the visitors' questions thoroughly. Humans make much better tour guides than machines!)
Andrew and Rachel Jackson's tomb at the Hermitage
       I was relieved to get out of the slickly packaged "big house" of the Hermitage and explore the grounds - the slave quarters, the gardens, Andrew and Rachel Jackson's tomb, the smaller house Jackson had built for a younger relative, perhaps his adopted son or his wife's niece and her husband. I can't remember who exactly and the online materials available don't mention it, but it is quite lovely from the outside; it was not open to the public when we visited. But the most moving part of the visit for me was the small cemetery, which is not even mentioned in any of the promotional materials I looked at to refresh my memory. And I have no photograph of it, so the poem will have to do.

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

The Confederate dead lie in neatly curving rows
ranged around an ancient maple:
5th Tennessee Volunteers, 22nd Tennessee Volunteers,
and so on, and so on,
all those old men, not battle-dead but dead
after decades of reunions and maybe regrets,
of periodically pulling out the old uniform, grown
frayed, faded, too tight or too loose across the belly.

In the farthest outside row, one "loyal servant" is
relegated to the margin but still part of the group.

It is all so tender, so genteel. The soft spring grass,
the tiny damp membranous leaves uncurling
on the thick old tree
that stands like a circuit-riding preacher
over his rapt and captive congregation.

So many years they have lain there
under that perfect sod,
listening to wind in the branches,
the murmurs of the visiting living
walking and talking softly above them.

So many years of shifting in their graves,
making room for the maple roots
spreading among them,
stretching out beside them like lovers,
twining among their bones.

That old tree anchors the ranks of loyal soldiers
laid there with tenderness and tears,
like the swords and pistols they kept clean and shining,
laid away carefully and brought out from time to time
to be shown to a child or wept over in solitude,
polished with aching papery fingers.

And in the farthest row that loyal servant,
who followed one of those old soldiers
into battle and back out again,
now equally embraced by earth and roots
and indistinguishable from the rest.

              - Victoria Stefani

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DESERT PASTORAL - April poem #22

It's Earth Day! Of course, every day should be, or we should live as if it were. None of us are perfect, however. But Earth Day can be a reminder to slow down and look up from various screens to the real world around us. Certainly a poem about nature seems in order for today. Once I got started on this one it was hard to know when to stop, so I did so rather arbitrarily. I apologize to the hawks, house finches, goldfinches, thrashers, woodpeckers, and cardinals, and also to the coyotes, javelinas, bobcats, various snakes and spiders, including tarantulas, and other creatures who share our yard and neighborhood. Eventually I'll get around to writing about you. I promise. I love you all.


Welcome, spring, for your brief flowering
before we fall headfirst into summer’s cauldron,
never quite knowing how it happened.
Though it happens every year,
every year we are surprised by it,
every year we look at spring with its
tissue paper flowers, and wish it could last longer.
Welcome to the days of sitting outside
on cool sunny mornings,
watching lizards on the path
while birds talk in the background:
doves, quail, quarrelsome sparrows, finches,
the zip and zoom of hummingbirds.
Why do hummingbird feeders have so many portals,
I wonder, since they’re very bad at sharing.
Another approaches and the battle is on.
It’s thrust, feint, and parry with beaks for swords,
flash, dive, attack, and retreat in mid-air,
all begun and over in seconds.

Welcome, orioles. Childishly, I hope you will like me,
or rather like this space, my yard,
that you will want to stay here with your lady
and raise your own children here.
I offer you trees and food and water and my heart.

Welcome, black-headed grosbeak.
We’ve never met before, but you are welcome,
though I have a feeling you’re just passing through.

Welcome lizards, alone and in pairs,
skittering out from under rocks and bushes,
from behind ceramic creatures on the wall,
pale as flesh that never sees the sun and small,
some of you, with new skin that will thicken in the air
of summer, that hot thick air that pushes
the air from my lungs, pushes me down, like a heavy hand
on my head, making it hard to stand against the heat.
Chase each other all around and up and down
the mesquite trunk and act as if you don’t know
what to do when you finally catch up.
Or maybe you’re too shy to show me more than foreplay.
I’ve watched you lay your eggs in my herb garden,
first the digging in the soft soil,
frenzied and quick with tiny claws,
then backing up over the depression, the up and down,
ejecting the tiny rice-like egg and covering it.
Welcome to what emerges from that egg.

Welcome doves, building foolish flimsy
nests for your white eggs that may not hatch.
Sometimes you choose your nesting sites so badly,
like the top rung of a ladder left leaning against
the garage’s western wall, with no shade to
protect it, or your babies, from the sun.
That did not end well. I thought this year’s nest
in the jasmine might succeed,
but then the mother disappeared
and soon there were empty eggshells
on the walk below.

And quail, welcome too, most sincerely,
though you are more foolish than the doves,
laying your eggs in impossible places,
from which your precocious
babies cannot exit safely, or else
abandoning those creamy pointed eggs
dotted with chocolate before they hatch -
such attrition, whether they hatch or not.
It does not do to count the babies, day by day,
and watch their numbers shrink.
It squeezes the heart, urges tears.
We cannot spare the water.

White-winged doves, you are not welcome,
crowding the fence above the feeder designed to exclude you,
great raucous bullies, pushing and shoving everyone else
to gobble up what falls on the ground.
Birds of peace, my ass.

               - Victoria Stefani

WHAT I AM - April poem #21

Alas, I am a day behind again, but will attempt to catch up with a "twofer Wednesday" instead of a "twofer Tuesday." Yesterday Robert Lee Brewer's post on Poetic Asides was to write a "what you are" poem OR a "what you are not" poem. So here goes:


What I am is not necessarily what I wanted to be,
in my days of youthful hubris and excess,
but now I don't know that I'd really want to be
obscenely rich, famous, beautiful, admired and adored
by millions. Probably that would also mean
being hated by other millions,
and that would not make me happy.

What I am is someone who has enough,
who is known to enough people,
liked, even loved by enough people,
happy enough, I guess, with how I look,
though of course I'd like to be thinner.

I know some people dislike me, with or without reason.
Others are undoubtedly indifferent.
That is to be expected.

I know a couple of people hate me,
but I have learned to live with that
because, really, what choice is there?
I've learned the hard way, from experience,
the corrosive power of hate, how it is like a mirror,
reflecting itself with all its bile and pain back on the hater.

As the object of someone else's hate
- provided they have no real power over you
and distance is in your favor,
in other words, if you're among the lucky -
you may be able to ignore them.
You may even, if you are compassionate
- as I try to be though I don't always succeed -
be able to pity them and wish them well.
What I think I am, what I hope I am
is someone who at least tries to do that,
at least most of the time.

                - Victoria Stefani

Monday, April 20, 2015



I know there will be cat hair on my pants when I get up from the sofa.
I know I shouldn't wear black pants at home for that reason.

I know the woodpecker will rob the hummingbird feeder,
big clumsy thug that he is, and in the process will tip it,
swing on it so half the liquid pours out onto the patio.
I know the ants will delight in the resulting syrupy feast
and rise up rejoicing, convinced there is a god.

I know I planted too much basil and the freezer
won't hold all the pesto it will make.
I know I really don't like dried basil as much as fresh,
but I'll dry some anyway so it doesn't go to waste.
Same with the dill. It's out there in the garden now,
waiting for me, wearing a righteous frown,
while I pretend I don't see it.

I know I shouldn't plant cilantro at all because I forget about it
and it always bolts before I've used much.
I know parsley is an annual here and not a biennial,
but still it pisses me off when it goes to seed its first year.

I know my grandmother was a terrible housekeeper
but a fantastic cook and gardener.
I know I'm a better housekeeper than she was,
but not necessarily by much.
I used to believe in brownies who would tidy up everything
if you left out bread and milk for them.
I know I should probably try it, because otherwise
how will I really know if they exist? Or not? And if they do,
who am I to rob them of gainful employment?

I suppose that sounds crazy, but wouldn't it be nice?
And bread and milk are cheap.
I know that if the brownie stories turned out to be true,
it would make me very happy.

          - Victoria Stefani

(Image from

LANDAY - April Poem #19

According to the April 19 post on NaPoWriMo, the landay is "[a] form of folk poetry from Afghanistan. Meant to be recited or sung aloud, and anonymous, the form is a couplet comprised of 22 syllables. The first line has 9 syllables and the second line 13 syllables. Landays . . . treat themes such as love, grief, homeland, war, and separation." The prompt also contains a link to a long investigative article on landays that you might want to check out: One thing I learned is that women in particular practice this form, in secret, as their poems often address topics forbidden to them by their culture. This is definitely a form I will return to later. In the meantime, how about being intoxicated by love?


Jasmine scents the air beside the door.
Shall we get drunk inside on wine or outside on flowers?

                     - Victoria Stefani

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Just a word first about the epigraph: there was nothing whatsoever of Lady Macbeth about my friend. I chose these lines because they came to me in my own grief and, in the context of the play, I interpret them as the heartbroken cry of a man who loved his wife deeply and has lost her, whatever the reason, much too soon.


"She should have died hereafter. 
There would have been a time for such a word." Macbeth 5.5: 17-18

All of us will die. All our friends,
family, acquaintances,
no matter how beautiful or brave
they are, will leave us,
or we them. I know that.
But this loss I cannot accept.
It was too soon for you to go.
Six or seven months from now,
maybe, after we'd had
one last reunion, with
whispers and secrets and mirth -
that would have been hard enough.
I would still have felt that
heart-stopping instant of disbelief,
repeated over and and over, for days,
still the anger without a target,
the caught and shuddering breath,
pain under the breastbone,
tears that come, no matter how
unbidden, unwelcome, unstoppable.

Where did you go? Into darkness?
If it is darkness, I have faith in your power
to make it light there, you who could
always summon laughter,
whose eyes shone with light, often
at the least provocation.

I will not believe you are truly gone.
Just gone ahead, perhaps,
to set the table with lace and flowers,
to make a place for the rest of us,
so that when we arrive we will not feel
bewildered or unwelcome.

           - Victoria Stefani