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Archive for June, 2008

Amber Yoder is an Associate Producer for Paul Devlin Productions, an independent film company in New York. She is also an artist, a screenplay writer, and a filmmaker. And…you guessed it…she is my daughter. Of course, I love Amber as a mother loves a daughter. But I also admire Amber as a person and as a professional. When I hear other women complaining about their daughters, I feel sorry for them. I was blessed with Amber. I have learned so much from her.

Last spring, Amber graduated from Denison University and moved to New York City to pursue her dreams. There’s no doubt in my mind that Amber will leave a big and positive mark on the world. In the future, I will show you some more of Amber’s pieces and also some interesting video from Paul Devlin Productions.

Amber looks at the world in very unique ways, and her pieces always reflect this unique vision. In one series of art prints, she climbed inside a hole in an old tree to photograph the world from the inside out.

The following short art film is one of my favorites from Amber’s college days. It is a very thoughtful piece and quite poetic in nature. For the filming, Amber snuck into some old houses that were scheduled for demolition in an area not too far from her school. The broken picture of the American flag was a random object in the house. On the same day that Amber was filming this, I wrote the poem you will see below. I did not know her topic, and she did not know mine, at least not on a conscious level. Our connection is sometimes eerie.

Occurrences

 

by Amber Yoder

 

 

*****************************************************************************************************************

The Window Seat

 

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

 

Next to rain warm windows, rusty screens,

wood makes a seat wide enough

where children disappear behind curtains,

dream, maybe find last year’s pink candy

that was hidden, forgotten.

 

There are spots of life on old wood

gummed with the fingerprints

of some day in summer

when tiny blue butterflies

zig zagged past and June bugs

pinged on the screen.

 

There is always a clay figure there

molded by hard, little fingers,

spelling bee certificates,

school pictures faded stiff and maybe

cherry drops melt on sun soft wood

because a grandfather gave them

to a girl who pretended to cough.

 

There are curtains, fat with wind,

that smell like bacon cracking

in a big black pan.

Rows of green tomatoes

turn yellow, then red, forever

leaving circles of small stains.

 

A girl carved her name there

with an old pocketknife

the night she overheard

her father sobbing, and babies

have chewed that same spot

for more than a hundred years.

 

There might be a fly there, sun crisp,

on its back, maybe missing a wing,

not antiseptic and pretty but

a source for neverending stories.

 

Pennies stuck there,

once lifted,

leave faces in the wood.

 

There is a life there that sings

because that is what wood will do.

 

But when the dark storm blows,

the window will be closed.

That breath, frozen in time,

for a moment, disappears.

 

Eventually, old wood will be

boarded up, broken, forgotten,

replaced by pressboard.

 

How quickly plowed down.

Not easily sold.

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This poem was prompted by a “brief” I read in a newspaper a long time ago.  It was just a few lines buried in the middle of the local paper about a little girl in a different region of my country.

I suppose the people who did the layout of the paper needed something to fill in a couple of inches of white space.  So she became filler.

It was before the day of the internet, and I was never able to find out anything about her.  The paper mentioned a rural setting with no neighbors.  Her house had no electricity or heat.  The girl was trying to start a fire in an old fireplace.  Officials on the scene concluded she went upstairs, because she was afraid.  The mother was out drinking with friends in a bar.  That’s all I know.

The little girl has haunted me for years.  I’ve met her many times since.  She has different faces, colors, and languages.  On many occasions, she’s a boy.  I try to help her when I can, but usually, I fail miserably.

After reading the brief on that long ago night, I went outside and howled at the moon for a while.  Then I wrote this poem.

********************************************************************

This poem published in Shoots & Vines.

.

Waiting For Mother

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

.

For the little girl who wanted to be warm.

.

Waiting for mother was easier

before autumn crackled in

and ate the days up early.

It was my job to never cry

and light the living room fire.

I was six and alone with wood

and the sharp clear bark of cold.

.

The wind tip-tapped

the spider crack windows

looking for a place inside

to build its nest.

.

I knew Mother would come,

she would come home and see

me in the big of the dark,

clumsy with wood and the room

closing its teeth around me;

the naughty buds of fire

refusing to open and grow.

.

The room smiled pumpkin warm

when I coaxed the fire to raise

its broken, bloody wings.

The branches fluttered shadows

like long lashes on the walls.

.

Those nights were yellow glad;

I could play and wait, listen

to the purr of wind against the sky.

.

I liked to watch the moon

scrape across the window.

I liked to tell stories to my dolls,

hold them close to the fire,

and watch their smiling faces melt.

.

And the moon held me.

And the smoke held me.

And the long curly hair

of the shadows held me.

And the moon made me full.

And the fire ate my fever.

And the rise and fall of flames

sang me softly to sleep.

.

Sometimes I woke up

when the fire left burning sores

on the tangled legs of branches.

Sometimes when I woke,

the moon rattled at the window.

.

The cold was thorny

up and down my back.

The knots in the wood

stared like bad baby eyes,

and the clock was click click

clicking its high heels

in the crying midnight room.

.

I knew when Mother came home,

she would come, singing red shoes,

the pretty side of her face

an orange fire glow.

.

She would turn off the bad baby eyes

and the meanness of the moon.

She would listen to the falling leaves

and hear the angel wings with me.

She would fall asleep, and I

would rub her small, soft feet.

I would smell her lemon hair.

I would find her missing slipper.

I would kiss her warming temple,

never ever burn.

.

Waiting for Mother was easier

before the greedy winter came

and chewed up all the wood.

One night, the wind slapped hard.

I only found the skinny twigs.

One night, through the click of cold,

.

I filled the fireplace with dolls

and books, pennies, chairs,

stale dry blankets

.

And I let the room catch on fire.

.

Upstairs, on my mattress,

I waited for Mother

to creep up the wooden steps

and tuck me in.

She would come quickly.

She would come warmly.

I knew she would come home

and I would not be alone.

.

And together we would listen

to the broken goodnight moon,

the glowing wind,

and babies

.

falling from the sky.

.

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Yes, I’m annoying, too. You put up with my eccentricities and weird habits. You tolerate my ego and crazy mood swings. You sigh when I arrive late to your meeting in that purple and orange glow-in-the-dark outfit I thought was a really cool find at the Goodwill store. But now it’s my turn to tell the rest of the world how weird you are. This is just a lighthearted look at:

Ten Ways To Annoy

 

Poets & Writers

(Feel Free to Add Your Own)

#10: “Give me an autographed copy.” What am I? The copy fairy? Do I look like I have a printing press in my house? Are you my mother? My daughter? If not, shut up! I get two free copies. Someday, when I publish my novel, maybe I’ll get five.

Okay, I know when you say this, you’re just trying to be conversational. Maybe even nice. But it comes off as patronizing. A doctor said this to me. Seriously. My reply? “Sure, doc. How about you give me an autographed copy of a FREE office visit?”

#9: No, I will not write your eighth grade kid’s book report for him, even though he’s going to fail if I don’t. You should have made lil’ Cheesy Mac turn off Guitar Hero and read Lord of the Flies two months ago. But give junior a few years, and he’ll probably be my boss at my day job. Then I’ll write all his reports for him.

#8: Please. I know you mean well. But please…I’m begging you. Stop giving me ads for poetry contests you clipped from the side of a cereal box and asking me why I haven’t entered any of them yet.

#7: Your stories about your cousin or your friend’s friend’s latest squeeze who wrote a book at the tender age of twenty and is riding high on the New York Time’s best seller list are just plain cruel. Am I jealous? You bet! Here…shove this butter knife between my ribs. It would feel much better.

#6: Likewise, I don’t want to hear about your nephew who works at Hallmark and entered the “Poetry of America” contest, won first place, and for just $289.95 is now a published poet in a beautifully leather bound anthology. Now I’m just being mean, but sorry…your story makes me want to kick your ass.

#5: (For good small town folk): Please stop asking me to read my poems at the Ladies’ Auxiliary poetry/arts and crafts booth at the county fair. Please. Trust me. You wouldn’t like it. If you ask me one more time, I just might do it for giggles.

#4: If you write cleverly rhymed poems about love, fluffy kitties, mythical dragons, or teddy bears, please stop sending them to literary magazines. There is a market for you on the net. A really, really big market. Or go to the Ladies’ Auxiliary poetry/arts and crafts booth at the county fair. You’ll be a big hit.

#3: When you feel the need to talk about literature in my presence, but you’re not really into it. “Uh, that Emily Dickinson has some amazing commentary about the condition of life and uh, women and stuff.” Yawn. Yes, I’m being mean again. But really…you don’t have to do this. We can talk about politics or the weather or any number of things.

#2: This one almost became number one. You know you’ve said it. “I’ve got this really good idea for a book I want to write about that time my husband and I went water skiing in Cancun, and we saw a barracuda and found this amazing little restaurant off the beaten track where everybody spoke Spanish.” Heavy sigh. “If only I had the time to write it.”

Garsh, Minnie. I’ve got a ruler and a sketch pad. Maybe I’ll design a new wing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art…heavy sigh…if only I had the time.

#1: (DRUMROLL PLEASE) When I’m at home during the day, I am working. I might not have a shovel or a briefcase in my hand. But I am working. If my door is closed and I’m not answering my phone, that means I’m not available to:

a). babysit

b). spearhead committee meetings or bake sales

c). listen to a story about your root canal.

Give me a few hours. If I’m on a roll, it might be a few days. But I will come out and happily raise a glass with you, pat your babies, admire your dogs, and listen to your stories until dawn.

Am I mad at you? Nah. You know I love you, world. You know I do. You can even create a blog about all the stupid things I say about your occupations, and I’m sure I’ll laugh.

I don’t really expect you to know all this. But now you do. So I’m going back to work now, okay? See you in a few days.

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Do you remember an exact moment that defined your coming of age, your entry into the world of adulthood?  I’m not sure if I had only one moment.  This coming of age moment happened to a woman I know.  She’s in her early 70′s now, but it really hasn’t been that long ago. 

If you’ve ever been hungry, you can relate to the situation.  I don’t mean “gosh darn, all I’ve had to eat today is a Starbucks muffin on my way to the gym this morning and here it is four o’clock” hungry.  I mean true hunger. 

The poem is Old Ma’s story as much as it is the girl’s.  Old Ma might seem abusive to those of us who aren’t hungry.  But her world was a world of extreme poverty.  In trying to teach her granddaughter how to survive, she is expressing her love in the only way she knows how.

Thanks to The Panhandler for publishing this one years ago.

*************************************************************************************************************************** 

Killing Chickens

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder   

 

Her thirteenth birthday,

Old Ma tied her to a pine.

Under summer day burnt clouds

behind a little bone lean house

beside the universe of faded clay

and a dust red barn, she watched

Old Ma kill chickens.

Old Ma, the Great One,

seven feet tall and seventy

had lived through many a chicken.

 

“You’re a woman now,” she said

to the pale, thin girl.

“You got to act like a woman,

strong and straight.

Don’t need no sleep.  No sweet.

No tender til you fall from the bone

in the grave.  No pinkened lace.

No flowers.  No honey blue eyes.

No sun unless it’s burning your back

in the wind skinny fields.

Today you’re hard booted and woman.

 

You’ll need calluses, guns, a back God strong.

An eyeful of black, a bagful of blue.

A noon day tongue drought bled and dry.

Big red knuckles and a mule kicked face.

You’ll need bad teeth that ache

til you can’t remember what ache ain’t.

Arms that turn floods into food,

hands that feed thirteen with two stale loaves.

Legs that walk ten shoeless uphill miles

on days when the creek’s gone clay.

 

You got to carry your man on your back

when he’s dirt hoe broke.

Bite on a board and cut off your toe

when it turns green from a rusty nail.

You got to shoot foaming dogs,

landowners, and grizzle toothed bears

who pick through your trash

for what ain’t never there.

You got to wrestle the angel of death

when he burns your babies with fever

ten mad red dawns in a row.

Win he wins, you box two off to the grave,

go home, nurse two more.

 

You’re a woman; you got to learn how to kill

without blinking a muscle.

You’re a woman; don’t you never never cry.

 

When autumn gnaws off all the leaves

and winter comes empty and whining,

you chop down trees to burn up the sneak

of window crack cold

midnight shoves sharp up your nose.

 

You got to always fix your own plate last.

When times are bad,

there ain’t no beans left

so you eat lard and bread

and drink pot liquor

til you’re drunk from the hungry

that’s made its nest in your gut.

When times are bad

there ain’t no shoes.

Wrap burlap straps around your feet

til they bleed sweet and brown

and thick in the snow.

When times are bad

you dog hang on a sagging porch.

In the drool of August

no sleep heat nights barking at your throat

trying to eat you up in one big thick lung gulp.

 

When times are good, you breathe.

When times are good, you sleep.

When times are good,

You Kill Chickens.”

 

Her thirteenth birthday,

tied to a pine

under summer day burnt clouds

and swollen, rusty skies.

Behind a little bone lean house

beside the universe of faded clay

and a dust red barn,

she became a woman.

Quick and sharp and silver hard

the rain began to fall.

Old Ma, the Great One,

seven feet tall and seventy,

warm wet feathers in her hair,

on her mule kicked face,

had lived through many a chicken

 

under headless, running skies

under broken, bleeding clouds

rolled in thunder

and fried.

 

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Here’s the story of the worst editor to ever take up space on this beautiful planet.

During my second year as an undergrad, someone very close to me was raped. It was a horrific experience, complete with guns, knives, and torture, like a scene from a Law & Order SVU episode. She was, needless to say, quite emotionally scarred.

A few years later, I wrote a poem about it and submitted it to a literary journal. I received an unbelievable response from the editor. He took the time to type a six page, single spaced letter in which he ranted about how he would never, ever publish a poem about rape, because he was so tired of hearing women cry and moan about the subject. In his opinion, women who get raped usually “have it coming,” because of the provocative way they dress or act around men. In his words, he was “sick of wenchy women poets who are always bashing men.”

He said that women who write poems about rape secretly desire to be raped, because they want to be dominated by men. He also said that rape was a bad subject, because it was “too baggy” and long, and no poem should be more than fifteen or twenty lines long. He wondered if I thought I was Alan Ginsberg, because he also hated Ginsberg, and he suggested that I pay more attention to commas and less attention to political issues du jour.

The hair on my head physically stood on end as I read his letter.

At first, I hoped I misunderstood what he meant. Surely, no editor of a literary journal could ever be such a cold hearted bastard. But after reading the letter several times, the words were pretty cut and dry. I sat in stunned silence knowing that I understood him oh too well.

Then I ripped his letter into as many pieces as I could and set it on fire in the backyard. Now I regret doing that. If I had saved it, I could have posted it on this blog for the world to see. I could put his name in huge, bold letters. But I was so upset by his letter that I don’t trust my recollection of his name or the name of his journal. I’d hate to mention what I think it was in fear of accidentally slandering some other good soul out there.

Part of my “revenge” is to imagine him as I think he is now–fat, bald, sitting naked at a creaky kitchen table under a bare lightbulb, looking at his latest porn magazine, maybe yelling out the window at the neighborhood kids.

Alone.

Please understand me. I am not offended when a literary journal rejects me. That would be petty and childish. For that matter, most rejection actually helps me. I go back and question what I have done and often make positive changes. Or I rethink my submission strategy or purchase journals when I can. Maybe the market does not fit the style of my work. Or maybe the poem just sucks, and I need to put it aside for a while.

What offends me is the way the poem was rejected. It wasn’t just a rant against my poem. It was a frightening rant against women in general.

So, I immediately sat down and wrote a poem called “DON’T WRITE A POEM ABOUT RAPE,” which was accepted by Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. You probably know about Calyx, because it is a very well established and respected journal with amazing work by some big names and many new names, too. But if you don’t, then check them out. The writing and artwork they publish is first rate, and I was thrilled and humbled to be included. Yes, there are still many good editors out there, so don’t give up hope! Many thanks to Calyx for publishing my poem in their summer 1992 issue.

DON’T WRITE A POEM ABOUT RAPE

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

For the editor who told me

rape is not a fresh subject

(he knows who he is).

Rape is a cliché.

Unless it happens to you.

But don’t write a poem about it

or the editor might say

it’s just not fresh.

Rape is not fresh.

It’s been done too much.

It’s too emotional, confessional.

There are too many words.

People are not shocked anymore.

 

Don’t write a poem about it

especially if you were in the dark

university parking lot, a little more than tipsy,

and he forced you into his car with a gun.

Dark parking lots and guns are so overdone!

Don’t write a poem about it

especially if the digital time on his dash

was 12:00. It’s too much like the Twilight Zone

especially if those stiff red numbers

still ring in your brain sometimes

when you’re in the grocery line

and you drop everything you got, and the tomatoes

and the peaches, and the can of cream corn

go rolling down the aisle.

 

Don’t say he drove you down a dead end road.

Don’t tell how he bent your fingers back,

slammed them with the door over and over.

How heavy-handed can you get?

Don’t tell how he took the right to bare your arms,

your legs, your goose-bumpy little nipples,

and when he ripped your shirt in loud red shreds

you were trite enough to worry

what people would think about you.

 

For God’s sake, don’t say you were a virgin.

Honey, save it for the Movie of the Week.

Don’t tell about the fistfuls

of sand and gravel in your open mouth,

your open face, up your open legs.

It’s just not fresh.

Maybe try a different point of view.

 

Don’t tell how he held the gun so tenderly

in your ear, under your tongue,

deep inside the stretched-out skin

of your nostril, and you could smell the click

as he cocked it, and you could taste the click

in your throat as he made you call him Lord.

With the right music, it might work for a porno flick

but not for a literary journal.

 

Don’t tell how you looked up at the full moon

with its mouth torn into a little o

as you waited for it to be over.

Don’t you know the moon is overused?

And there are inconsistencies if you say

you almost laughed out loud

cause you were a stupid little twit who thought

who actually believed the first time would be romantic.

 

Don’t write a poem about it. Just don’t.

Especially if you went crazy when it didn’t end

and the only defense you had was to black out

and dream the damnedest dreams about a book

you used to have when you were a girl

and you dreamed a little song about the silvery moon,

the moon on the breast of the new fallen road

the Carolina moon that kept shining, shining,

shining on the one who’s raping you.

And when you woke up, it wasn’t over

but the Goodnight Moon was gone,

and you saw an old woman in the distance

come out on her porch to hear

what all the Hell raising was about,

turn out the light and go back inside

and you might’ve thought Good Night

to the Old Lady Whispering Hush,

but that’s too obvious, and anyway

we’ve heard that story before.

 

Don’t say he dragged you down the road by your hair,

the gravel chewing your back to bits.

Good Night Bowl of Mush, it’s just

the caveman syndrome. Get over it.

We’re sick of wenchy women poets

who are always bashing men.

 

And the part where he was gentleman enough

to drive you back to your dorm

just doesn’t fit the character.

Don’t say he told you he’d kill you if you breathed

a word, then asked your forgiveness, told you

not to worry and go get some sleep.

Would he really say that?

 

Don’t say he drove off in a limp line of smoke

as the sun came blinking over the horizon

and you staggered and puked your way back to your room,

knowing you wouldn’t make it to Psychology class that day.

Don’t talk about the guilt for not turning him in.

Take your ass to a talk show or a support group or a priest,

stop throwing the reader around.

 

Don’t tell the never ending end

of your whiny little poem. Get a grip.

Especially if your roommate laughed and said

Why would anybody want to rape you?

And the counselor said you’ve got to take control

of your life, and your boyfriend tried to understand

why even his understanding would never be enough,

why even his softest fingertips would always be too much.

So you drank yourself into a quiet rage

and now six years later it’s backed up in a corner

of your throat, bristling, sideways, ready to lunge

at the thickest, closest, slickest, hardest vein.

 

Nobody wants to hear about it anymore.

And the editor doesn’t care that

you’ve already cut half the words

and many of the details.

It’s still too sprawling, too baggy,

too talky, not fresh.

Go tell it to Ginsberg, we’ve

got a comma to perfect.

 

But if you’re that damned stubborn, go ahead.

You’ll write the poem alone

and it’ll live in a junk drawer

swelling up like a belly

under a pink pile of rejection.

Serves you right.

So stop acting like a bitchy female poet.

It just won’t work. It’s just not fresh.

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