I’m sleeping with the enemy.

I’m a tree-hugger, and my husband builds roads. I’ve been looking for the smoking gun online – some article or data that identifies road construction as the #1 cause of deforestation, but all I can find is this quote:

“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to bomb all the roads.” Dr. Eneas Salati, Technical Director, Brazilian Institute for Sustainable Development

Sounds like some Monkey Wrench Gang -type sabotage to me.

My friend Suzanne recently pointed out that roads are tree graveyards and asked this pernicious question: “What if trees could come back and haunt those who cut them down?”

I think I found member #2 of my monkey wrench gang.

Now, I don’t want trees haunting my husband, but there’s something about sentient plants that captures the imagination.

Certainly, the nicest of all must be The Giving Tree (don’t cry). All the other plant people are real jerks in comparison.

There’s Audrey II, from the Little Shop of Horrors. She’s no Giving Tree. But she wasn’t vengeful, just hungry. “Feed me, Seymour!”

There’s the Ents (thus the name of this post), from the Lord of the Rings, who definitely were out for revenge. Did you see what they did to Saruman? The Ents’ job was to protect the other trees – guardians of the forest.

Which is different from the Guardians of the Galaxy, who also have an alien supertree – Groot. He can only say “I am Groot,” but he can transform from potted plant to fighting giant at a moment’s notice. What wouldn’t I give to fling a potted plant at my enemies and have it turn into a superhero?

In Little, Big, a novel I read for the fifth or so time recently, one character turns into a tree at the end – he becomes so slow, so rooted in his landscape, so indifferent and chill, that he just leafs right out and never moves again. We’ve all been there.

Another good book with woodland mythology is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, a fantasy novel set in a forest inhabited by mythological creatures. It won the World Fantasy Award (like Little, Big ) in 1985.

There’s the Green Man (rarely do you see tree women), legendary symbol of spring rebirth from multiple cultures, gracer of garden gates and old churches, leaves in his hair and mouth pouring water.

And there’s the Wild Man or woodwose/wodewose/wodwo. He’s hairy, like Bigfoot, reverting to nature with vines in his hair, dirt under his nails. As in the poem “Going Wodwo” by Neil Gaiman, in his story collection Fragile Things that I’m reading right now. Here’s an excerpt (because I’m not sure if I’m allowed to share more):

“I’ll leave the way of words to walk the wood
I’ll be the forest’s man, and greet the sun,
And feel the silence blossom on my tongue
like language.”

The other day, I was sitting quietly at the park with my kids and found myself admiring a well-shaped juniper tree. I thought, she has really nice hair.

And so it begins.

Adults Only

Adults Only

I like my insurance agent. He gives that personal touch – you know, like I’m his only client, his only concern. He looks me in the eye. He knows my name. He asks about the kids. He never scolds me or rolls his eyes when I ask redundant questions or need it all re-explained to me, one more time.

When my husband wanted to switch providers after a particularly horrible exchange with his current company, I suggested my guy. My husband called him, and my guy transferred him over to his female associate. The hubbie says she gave great phone. She really listened. She ran all the numbers, then ran them again, as many times as he needed, without complaint. She was cheerful about it, even. He signed on with her and is looking forward to a long, mutually satisfying relationship.

Last week, we went to the Adults Only program at the Beaufort Maritime Museum, where we sampled Carolina moonshine (my favorite tasted like a pina colada), smelled whale poop (pungent but not overpowering), and learned about such topics as: why bare boobs are lucky at sea, King Louis XIV’s enemas, whale bone dildos, and actual whale weenies.

Prostitution came up, as it will, and the host told of a wildly successful port town brothel in South Carolina. It catered to an elite clientele, even offering a legislators-only week in the spring. That brothel reminded me of a book I read not long ago, Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways & Sailors’ Wives.

With such a great title, my expectations ran high. Unfortunately, the focus was more on men than women; the women were about as well-developed as those racy arm tattoos that dance when the fellas shake them.

Still, the chapter on magical marine maidens was helpful. Turns out there’s 3 kinds: nymphs, sirens, and mermaids. Nymphs ride dolphins, sirens sing the (deadly) music of the spheres, and mermaids can occasionally transform into humans.

There, that’s all cleared up.

And the pirates were entertaining, of course. It would be hard to ruin the daredevilry of Mary Read and Anne Bonny. I’d enjoy an entire book just about them (any recommendations?). Can you believe they pirated together and were the only members of their crew to refuse surrender? Mary shot a crewmate when he wouldn’t fight and Anne reportedly told her captain, while he awaited hanging, “If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

What I most clearly remember, though, was the part about prostitution.

There were brothels in most port towns during the Age of Sail, from about 1570-1860. At those brothels, sailors often had “wives”. A lonely sailor would pick a prostitute to stay with for the days or weeks he was ashore, expecting her fidelity for as long as he could afford her. When he left, she’d take on a new sailor and be just as loyal and genuine to her next temporary “husband.” When the previous sailor came back, he’d visit that same special lady – “Hi honey; I’m home!”

These guys wanted the whole package – someone who listened, gave them undivided attention, and (acted like she) missed them, in addition to the basic services. They wanted that personal touch. The fact that their “wives” did the same for other fellas didn’t really bother them. The illusion was enough.

Sorry, insurance salespeople, but I think you know what I’m saying here.

My brother calls these “soft skills” – the ability to handle others so that they like it, control your emotions and reactions – interpersonal skills. They are the most valuable asset in business and the hardest to teach. Only pirates get to forgo them completely.

So which are ye, matey? Pirate or sailor’s wife? Yo ho ho and a bottle of moonshine; it’s a pirate’s life for me!

Punk Poetry

Punk Poetry


You know why second-hand stuff is better than new stuff?

Because someone else already decided it was good enough to buy in the first place. It’s been curated. The really awful junk doesn’t even make it to round two; the best of the best gets to advance to the finals, where it become vintage or antique. Plus, when you dig through hand-me-downs, there are all sorts of surprises.

I have an older sister, and she’s been generously passing down her hard-earned college education. She has a PhD in reading, or writing, or short stories, or something like that. There’s lots of big words and theories. I don’t get any of that boring stuff, though (thankfully), just the good parts. When I realized I was a poet who didn’t know anything about poetry, Sis sent me a trash bag full of used poems.

Rummaging through, I kept catching hints of a familiar perfume. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was – something from my past – maybe CK One, or patchouli. It definitely wasn’t Estee Lauder Pleasures or Bath & Body Works Sun-Ripened Raspberry. It was far more dangerous than any of those. I couldn’t quite place it.

But then I skim-watched a video of Simon Armitage talking about poetry being a form of dissent, and it hit me. The thing I was smelling was…punk.

Simon Armitage says, “There’s something about poetry which is oppositional, and it’s a form of dissent. I mean, even in its physical form, it doesn’t reach the right-hand margin, it doesn’t reach the bottom of the page. There’s something a little bit obstinate about it […] Poetry’s always had a complex relationship with language. It’s alternative. It’s independent. It simply cannot be a mainstream art form.”

Like punk music: if it becomes widely appreciated, blasting on the radio or at a Superbowl concert, then it’s not punk anymore. It’s supposed to be fringe.

I have another friend who knows poetry (what are the chances?). She says you can do pretty much whatever you want and call it a poem. Currently, she’s serial-killer cutting up old poems and pasting them together to make a new one. And it’s poetry. She shared this gem with me recently, and it’s poetry, too. Anything can be a poem. Back in high school, a few friends tried to start a band. They wrote some really awful songs. When I voiced my opinion (a lifelong fault of mine), they said it didn’t matter – it was punk music.

I was at the skate park the other day, with my two young boys, just fooling around. They don’t skate; instead, they fling their bodies around in free-form parkour. No rules – you know, poetic. Punk. We were about to leave when a guy walks up with his BMX bike, in all sorts of flashy gear. He sets up by the big skate bowl, which resembles an empty swimming pool.

My boys were rapt. Was he going to bike it? He blared the Misfits, then Social Distortion, while he surveyed the area. He walked around and around, considering the drop from different angles, kneeling down, standing up again, kneeling at the other end. He mumbled something and picked up a hefty rock from beside the bowl, throwing it to the side. I thought, he’s doing an extremely thorough job of getting ready. He must be about to do something really cool.

And it was cool, especially for my four-year-old, who fancies himself a trick biker. The guy dropped in, straight down the side, then flew around in circles, all speed and color. He popped up over the edge at the end and balanced on one wheel. Oooh. Ahhh.

Then, he came over and chatted us up. He was a nice fella – my age or so, not as young as you’d (I’d) expect.

“Those long-haired kids have been throwing rocks into the bowl, chipping off chunks of the concrete,” he said. “You see the rocks they were using? I tossed one over there. It’s a shame.”

Now that he mentioned it, I could see gouges in the riding surface and the big stones scattered nearby. Those punks.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes came on, and we reminisced about the good old days. Even during our youth, though, punk music had been secondhand. We’d already missed its heyday, in our heyday. And like The Ataris’ cover of Boys of Summer says, ““Out on the road today I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said don’t look back; you can never look back.”

When I see poetry being performed lately, it’s often speaking up for minority or other underrepresented communities. Did you know that American youth, age 13-25, are a minority? They’re somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the population, from what I can tell. Us old folks are the majority.

I’ll be stopping by Town Hall soon to request they fix that skate bowl – repeatedly, obnoxiously. So we have something to hand down to the youth. And maybe they can host a punk concert while they’re at it. Or a poetry reading. The poetry of dissent.


Percolating Poetry

It’s time for the Percolator. It’s time for the Percolator.”

I was twenty-something. It was the early 2000s, and I was in Raleigh, NC at a nightclub called Visions (long since extinct). The DJ took center stage, and the crowd gathered ’round.

“Come on up to do ‘The Percolator,'” she said, and I took a step forward, towards the spotlight.

My friend grabbed my arm and held me back. “You don’t know how to do ‘The Percolator,'” she hissed.

She was right; I’d never heard of it in my life. I fought off her grasp. “I don’t care; I’ll do it anyways.”

But she was a muscly sort, and she held me back as a handful of dancers came forward, and a song came over the speakers – more of a pattern of popping sounds than a song. The only lyrics:

“It’s time for The Percolator
it’s time for the percolator.”

I don’t know that I ever properly thanked that friend.

This is the closest video I could find to what I saw that night:

I remember more popping up and down, like coffee in my aluminum camping percolator. Its clear glass top shows when the water is boiling over the grounds, and you can watch it change from light tan to strong, rich brew while you wait. Whenever I use it, I think…it’s time for the Percolator.

This post is, improbably, about my poem being accepted to the NC Poetry Society’s “Poetry in Plain Sight” program. “PIPS” brings North Carolina poems into “plain sight” in major NC towns, such as Raleigh, by printing them on posters. I am deeply honored to be selected.

The poem they chose is “Language.” I submitted it without any clear idea of what “PIPS” was, what I was signing up for, or the slightest anticipation that I’d be chosen. I just stepped forward.

I’m ready to dance. My poem will be on display next February in windows and other street-visible locations in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Burnsville, Wilmington, Durham, Greenville, and Raleigh. As Lil John says, “To the window, to the wall.” It’s time for the Percolator.