Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Bladeless Knife Without a Handle

can’t cut much except 
for memories
or time

into smaller and
smaller units
and smaller still 

if you leap halfway across the stream
and then halfway again
and again

you’ll never get there
tantalizingly close but not
unless your feet are big

If I use nothing
to slice into nothing
I have nothing

but blood

Printer Prayer for the Beginning of the Semester

for Ellyn

Sure sometimes Wisconsin gets cold in the summer, jacket-weather cold,
but almost always the end of August is muggy hot
and the machines we need to do our jobs so often stop.
They just stop. They take the pages we labored over,
every policy researched and thought through, assignments shaped
for permanent learning, an ongoing attempt to balance love
of students with love of subject, excellence and kindness weighted
the same. Those very pages—stuck together like hands in gloves.
Like makeup slathered on. Like sandwiches. Or shredded like potatoes.
Or torn like deckle edges. Or folded up like accordion pleats.   
So just this once dear universe, benevolent being, ghosts,
please let the stupid printer simply print. Extra seals
of blessing might include collating and stapling. Thanks.
Honestly, this small thing would be enough for today.

(potential part 2--a prayer for actually staying alive during our 4th COVID semester)


picture of crumpled page in printer


I don’t think it was a funnel cloud I saw, but 
it was black and the sky was swirly and it was at least
a protuberance on the belly of the sky, a bump
that got sucked back up before I plunged ahead and passed
under it. Trees were thrashing and arcing, deep
ceremonial bows to the east, to the west. Metal chairs
and a table flew in front of me; I skirted them, aware
it might have made more sense to back up, 
go around the block. But I just wanted to get home. 
“Holy fuck,” I said to my son. “Power’s out,” he said.  
We might drive around a bit, charge our devices, scope
out the damage. We might wait until everything’s dead.
I used to have recurring dreams, when I lived in a trailer,
of tornados peeling the roof back like a sardine can, 
lifting me gently in my bed. I always hovered at the roofline.
Nothing like that’s happened to me in real life. Not ever.


Sonnet for the End of the Baptist World

Inauguration Day Advent Calendars

Right before Christmas, people starting sharing this idea: if you start your advent calendar over the day after Christmas (or buy discounted ones that have CHOCOLATE in them), you’ll end the calendar on January 20, on Inauguration Day. That seemed like a great idea, but our advent calendar is very much nativity story–didn’t seem like a good fit. And the discounted chocolate calendars weren’t VERY discounted, and my son is allergic to a lot of them. So I started thinking about making them.

My mother told me today, looking at hers, that her Grandma Marlow used to make “sunshine boxes” for people–just a bunch of little boxes with fun things in them for people who were sick, or having surgery, or shut-in. Either I heard that story at some point and internalized it (I don’t remember hearing it), OR I got a visit from an ancestor. Grandma Marlow was my maternal great-grandmother, and had passed on before I was born. But she was very creative, and her children were all creative in different ways. (More on that some other time!)

The Inauguration Calendars I ended up making are these:

picture of boxes made of paper with dates on them, tied with ribbon boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon small boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with washi tape

I’ve been posting as part of the #makedontbreak challenge, and sometimes the prompt worked, sometimes not. But it’s been pretty amazing. I don’t drink alcohol any more, or take Xanax, so managing my anxiety has to come from other bad habits OR–in this case–#craftingismyxanax (I’m not the only one to use that hashtag). When I’m crafting, I really do feel absorbed and relaxed.

Except for today, when the level of relaxation and absorption was fluctuating. I really, really wanted to get these finished to take to my folks. Mom is in assisted living & I can give things to her, but can’t have visits. We can say hello from a distance as we’re leaving boxes, etc. on chairs, stepping back, retrieving them. For Dad, who’s in the nursing home side of the same facility, I can leave packages and someone gets them back to him eventually. I’m going to try to Skype with him tonight to talk to him about it. Because I had a deadline, it did feel kind of tense.

Still, I’m thrilled with what I was able to do. I learned how to make little boxes from scrapbook paper. I learned how to use a scoring board (which I bought with Christmas money). I found quotes to include for some days, chocolate (which my son isn’t allergic to) for other days, and silly little toys for other days.

When this morning started, I had all the boxes made, but no dates, not assembled with their stuff inside, not in their trays. It looked like this:

So little by little as the day went on, I got the dates affixed, the goodies inserted, and then the hard part–affixing them inside the tray w/ double-sided tape because I didn’t want my folks to have to worry about keeping the boxes in there. I was worried they’d pop out and it would be a chore to sort them (although the dates are on there, and probably won’t come off).

I learned that you have to figure out how you’re going to close the box BEFORE you put the double-sided tape on the bottom of it to affix to the tray, because once it’s in the tray, you’re way more limited in terms of how you close it. My Mom’s calendar uses a lot of ribbon (which I found challenging to tie–I have arthritis in my hands and a paper cut under one thumb nail that is very sore), and my son’s uses washi tape–which didn’t work very well (I have more to learn about washi tape, apparently).

This is the closure mode I ended up liking most, the third way I’d tried, for Dad’s. I used a hole punch and threaded twine or ribbon through and tied.

boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon

Why all this effort? Well, it gives me an excuse for crafting. But also–I wanted to do SOMETHING for my parents, who are pretty isolated in winter, in a pandemic, in a time of insurrection (though I didn’t know about that until Wednesday). And something for my son, who just turned 16 but can’t get his drivers license yet because we haven’t wanted him in a car, breathing with someone we don’t know, for the behind-the-wheel part.

And it’s just a way for me to fight against the darkness. Here’s the letter I wrote:

  • This is an Inauguration Day Countdown Calendar, kind of like an Advent Calendar, but looking forward to Inauguration Day instead of Christmas.
  • It is similar to Advent Calendar in the sense that when you’re little, December 1 seems a long time away from December 25. (When you’re in charge of shopping, planning menus, etc., it feels like barely any time at all!)
  • Advent and Christmas are all about bringing light to a dark time.
  • We are definitely in a dark time in our nation’s history, but I have to believe light is coming.

We are definitely in a dark time in our nation’s history, but I have to believe light is coming.

I think my #makedontbreak project for tomorrow will be back to sewing face-masks, which I did a lot of all summer, fall, pre-Christmas. I make them for my parents & a few others, and have a list of folks I want to make them for.

I don’t know how long we’ll all be wearing masks, but we’re not done yet.

Anyway–I’m super satisfied with how these turned out. And I didn’t stop them at Inauguration Day because I think it’s going to be awesome to wake up on January 21 and 22 and onward knowing that Joe Biden is president.

At least that is what I’m hoping and crafting toward.

boxes made of paper with the date on them, closed with twine or ribbon

“Ow, ow, I think that penny broke my arm, Mrs. Fledermeyer.”

I was only joking.  My arm wasn’t hurt at all.

The penny hadn’t come from high enough.

My friends and I laughed and laughed

imagining the panicked high schoolers

above us who were just then perhaps

feeling a little regret for throwing things

off the tower they were climbing.

But honestly, why do what they were supposed to?

Just stand in line until the top then look around

and point? That’s what the ads showed. 

It looked like a giant waterslide without water.

Or a slide. Just a thing to pay money and do.

My brain knows I find it amusing

so works pretty constantly to please

and handing me this sentence

(which I’ve said out loud six times already)

right before my alarm went off two hours ago

was definitely a gift—a precious Monday morning gift—

not only does Fledermeyer rhyme with 

Neidermeyer so that Animal House

hovers in my memory of the dream

(maybe that campus is where my friends

and I were walking to, instead of where I really work),

I realized on reflection that the lack of masks

and distancing were of no concern

to anyone, not even me (and I am

generally, dramatically, in real life, concerned),

so it must have been done, the whole thing,

finally, and we could walk with our friends,

and make dumb jokes, or leave the house

to climb a winding stairway, mushed together, 

get bored in line and get in trouble,

the kind that isn’t about a disease.

Questionnaire on the Occasion of More Republican Ratfuckery

I hope Asha Rangappa is right:

But wow is all this exhausting.

Between pandemics I will

have nights when sloppy kisses seem just the thing

to bestow on every still-living friend I see 

and we’ll stare so close the sparks in our eyes will clank

together, warming our faces, and we’ll be drunk

on air, each other’s breath, we’ll pant, outrush, 

and suck each other in, French-cigarette-style, Irish

waterfalls of laughter—such noise!—and good old love

and food we paid someone else to make and serve.

Or maybe I will read about these things

or overhear them but not emerge from my house

because you never know what’s lurking about,

what new horror’s slouching in the wings.

I will stay in, I will demur no thank you,

I will say safe is what I’ve gotten used to.

See Seed Seen

I may have picked my nose on that Zoom call
just now. I don’t do it a lot, I promise.
I just lose track of being onscreen is all.

If I did it, I didn’t notice while
my finger dug. But I sensed an emptiness….
I may have flashed a boob on that Zoom call

while I was fixing both bra straps, which fall
off my shoulders so constantly, so fast.
I just lose track of being onscreen. It’s all

so mediated, so exhausting, so unreal.
I miss other people’s halitosis.
I may have murdered someone on that Zoom call

when they walked in front of my camera. Again. “Talk talk
talk talk talk” and then somehow, silence.
I lose track of being onscreen. That’s not all.

I chew, mouth wide open. I mop up spills.
Why shouldn’t I? I am, after all, the host.
I may have transubstantiated on that Zoom call.
I just lost track of being onscreen. That’s all.

Answering America (pandemic poem #9)

We are an unserious country. We are a joke.
We say “thank you for your service” to police lined up before
we scream in their faces. This has to be funny. This can’t be real
because if it’s real, Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
is, like, the mildest imprecation possible. And maybe we already did.
Some weapons-grade sperm implanted strong, healthy, blond eggs,
implanted in the rivers lining the Midwest, somewhere between
the Mississippi and the Missouri, we were so pregnant we waddled
and gave birth so many times to nuclear idiots, venal and mean, and so white.
So many of them. So loud. So sure. So heavily armed. So angry. So white.

I don’t feel good don’t bother me. It’s not corona virus. I don’t think.
But how would I know? There are tests everywhere. Everyone who wants one gets one.
But not me. So I don’t know. It might be some other dread disease.
I have symptoms. But I veer so whiplashingly from hyper aware to oblivious
about my body, I don’t even know when I’m hungry. Everything hurts. Then nothing does.

I don’t need more books but I’m buying them. And buying them.
Support a local business, I tell myself. I don’t drink beer anymore. I don’t miss bars.
I miss someone else making my coffee. I miss someone else making me cookies.
I miss browsing the shelves. America why are your libraries full of tears?
The books miss being handled. They miss the browsing. Even curbside service
leaves them lonely. When you order the very book you want and someone pulls it
for you, there’s another book just three books down, a bright red spine
you’ll never see, a font that catches your eye, an author photograph you develop
an instant, serious, intense crush on, but not now, not when we’re quarantined,
not when we’re not sure where we can go or how to go when we go where we have to go.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
You and me both, buddy. When? Here’s the thing—when can I go shopping
and not think about washing every single thing I’ve bought? You and your
mid-century modern concerns. No wasted space on those worries. No flourishes.
You had no idea how lucky you had it. You stewed over the atom bomb
but one never went boom by you. That’s not why your hair fell out.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
We need a haircut. We need a massage. We need to go bowling. For the love of God,
we need to park in a row of SUVs and wear our Sunday best business casual khaki
soul suits and raise holy hands together, repeating structurally plain refrains,
daydreaming under architecture designed by industrial archangels bent on compliance
and ease. There is nothing sublime where all of us on stage wear a mic
designed to blend with our faces, making our projected voices seem miraculous.

America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.

The more things change, the more they
change. The more things stay the same.
The more, the more, the more.
Nothing is ever good or bad but America makes it so.
The tiny little campus where I’ve taught for half my life has always had
a lot of international students and I’ve loved them, 93% of them, for sure,
but now we have a sphincter in Arkansas mouthing they can come here to study
Shakespeare or the Federalist papers but not quantum computing. I don’t know but
I’m guessing the mouth-sphincter from Arkansas did not study Shakespeare. Or math.
One time I had a Russian student tell me he missed the Soviet Union.
He missed being in charge of half the world. I guess I should’ve warned someone.

Curvy hips on a girl and six-pack abs on a boy will take us wherever
we want to go if we also have good teeth, good hair, a willingness
to be provocative, to be deeply, deeply offended, to be filmed taking a shit.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
Until the world collapsed, we had no unedited experience, no authentic
way of being in the world, everything styled, just so product placement, curated.
However now our roots are showing. Our nails have fallen off. Perfect lips droop.
The blush is off the rosé colored glasses. The blush was broken capillaries all along.

It’s going to get worse in the city on the hill before it gets better.
We flattened the curve to prove we could and now we’re whipping it
like a cowboy on a tacky tv show because we can. I don’t mean Hee Haw.
That’s where I first learned about re-runs. String Bean died, I knew he did,
but there he was on Channel 12 KFVS Cape Girardeau, as I lived and breathed,
as he did not. Someone explained it to me. Probably my brother who
always loved giving me bad news. Now we say of people who are dead
“at least they don’t have to go through this.” Of people so far gone in Alzheimer’s,
“at least he doesn’t know we’re not there.” This moment nothing seems possible except more
disaster. More terror. More sadness. More cycles of hot takes and outrage and bounce-backs
and war and corruption and always, always, another novel virus waiting in somebird’s wings.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.


(Italicized lines, if it’s not obvious to everyone, are from Allen Ginsberg’s amazing poem, “America.”)


And if you’re super-lucky, the bookstore in your town just drops the books you bought right on your front porch.