Day 14 #NPM15 – Loss (blackout poem)

Death relived the race, flying
first to tragedy, next to context.
Imagine a patch, a circle with people
and flowers. Death did something good—
offered help, gave gentle assignments.
But Nature answered with violence quickly.
You wouldn’t believe the block.

So that’s the easy-reading version. A blackout poem is where you take an article (newspaper, magazine, etc.) and black out all the words except the ones you want to keep. The spacing of the words is part of the challenge. Below is a version that more closely mimics the spacing in the article this poem came from. It gets messy to read because WordPress doesn’t allow very good control of spacing (in the context of poetry).




the race


first                to                                    tragedy





a patch               a circle with




death                       did something













you wouldn’t believe

the block.

Des Moines, Summer 1993

The summer of hot rain

ran May to September.

After undue autumn showers,

ample winter snow, and

persistent spring storms,

we nearly drowned in July.


The river quivered, surface

tension pushed to its limit,

meniscus ready to burst…


then the torrent…


crossing roads, filling gullies and ditches,

rising to the water works.


despite the sandbags and levees.


Skeleton crews staffed airless

downtown offices, queued for

port-a-potties on the streets.

The true beginning of

business casual.


The sporadic stream

at the bottom of our yard

never dried up. Dogs

tracked in mud



Stuck inside, no summer in sight.


We craved sunshine.

We craved vitamin D.

We craved vitamin F (friends)

and C (cookouts)

and L (laughter).


We craved the nutrients we lacked.

Mountain Appeal

Past the bodies of the dead when we come down,

eyes frozen open

or frozen shut.  Did they struggle or

sleep to death?


Past the near-dead calling in muted tongues,

holding out waxy hands,

reaching for mercy

not given.


They knew the risk.  They made

the granular calculations balancing air

and weight and time, sitting

on the thread between majesty

and despair.  They knew the price of failure—

wandering in the breathless cold,

drained in the middle of the death zone,

like opening a vein, fading out

before their lives were



Holy Mother, hear our prayer.

Setting a beautiful table

We weeded the garden yesterday after more or less neglecting it since it was planted. The weeds had grown so tall I could hardly distinguish them from the young vegetables (I exaggerate, husband).

I like weeding. It has a soothing quality, similar to finishing the laundry, folding it and putting it away (I do not exaggerate, husband—try it!). A task completed, chaos held at bay, one little corner of the world returned to order.

But not only does weeding benefit the plants by virtue of reducing competition for nutrients, it provides aesthetic nourishment for surrounding humans. Beauty consorts with production.

As we finished clearing one section and started moving to the next, a robin appeared and sat on the concrete that wraps the plot. My husband said, “Wait—he’ll start going for the worms and insects in the soil. They do that when I’m tilling, too.”

Sure enough, Mr. Robin eyed us for a few moments to reassure himself that we were fully occupied with our own task, then hopped onto the soil and began pecking at bugs. Within minutes a second robin appeared. As we worked our way from one end of the garden to the other, the birds continued kissing the soil, gaining comfort and moving closer to us. Familiarity bred fearlessness.

By the time we finished weeding, swept up the dirt, and put away the tools, the birds had a beautifully set table upon which to feast. Bon appétit!

(Incidentally, I have to admit I have no idea if the robins were he’s or she’s or one of each. Apparently, the male of the species has a brighter orange breast and a blacker head, while the female has a duller orange breast and greyer head. Want to learn more? Try this article. I’ll report back if I’m able to distinguish robin sexes next time I’m feeding them dinner. :-))

In the Woods

In the woods I am grateful for

the rocking of the hammock

the lullaby of the wind

the mobile of light through leaves

I am grateful for quiet foot-

steps on the pine path

I am grateful for the chance

to listen


Writing exercise: Write a poem using a repetitive phrase, e.g., “I am joyful when…” “I think of you when…”

Start by listing as many things to finish the sentence as you possibly can. When you run out of ideas, think of at least 10 more. Then see what you’ve got to work with.