Posts Tagged ‘family’

This is the only time my Amber has ever slept through anything in her life.  I’m so glad she did.


Sleeping Through A Hurricane


Julie Buffaloe-Yoder


When you’ve got ten cents

and an empty tank of gas,

there is no Exodus

to promised lands

beyond the bending trees.


You nail boards over windows.

Put rags in cracks on the walls.

Fill a blue bathtub with water.

Watch the ticking yellow sky.


You light candles and stand

sentry beside the baby

while she sleeps sweaty

through thunder

in a wicker bassinet.


You hold your breath.

You see the rise and fall

of her tiny hands

curled against her chest.


When wind begins to spin,

oak limbs snap and fall.

Hail beats your tin roof.

The old house creaks,

trembles, shifts its weight.


Her face lights in flashes.

Water seeps through cracks

and rises around your feet.


Still, she sleeps.


You pick her up

and hold her high


as if your rod’s not bent

as if you know the way

as if your tank is full


and you can stop

the parting of the sea.



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An Abundance Of Oxygen

This is another true story.  An older friend of mine used to love to take out

stacks of photo albums and show me pictures of her family and friends.

I also loved it, because each picture had such an interesting story to go

along with it.  The presentation of the pictures always went something like



That’s Bertie.  She was over six feet tall.  Everybody called her Aunt Mossy.  She had a birthmark shaped like an anvil on her forehead.


This is Luster.  He worked at the cotton mill until the train ran over his leg.


And here’s Dodie Jean.  She was a shrimp boat captain.


The Fisherman’s Daughter

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder


She is not a problem

or a creature of pity.

She is his daughter,

born with a lack

of oxygen in her brain.


He refused institutions

and takes his girl to work—

ties the wheels of her chair

so she will not roll

on their little shrimp boat.


She is his captain.

Her green eyes tell him

where currents swell.

She does not need speech

to warn of hidden shoals

and gathering storms.


He can feel her stories

in the palms of her hands.

A moonlit leap of dolphin.

The smell of salt laced marsh.

Bright falling stars in August.


There is no beginning or end

to water and air—only him,

only her, working, living

an abundance of wind.


They know this breath

of blood cannot be broken

as old nets lower slowly,

blooming in the ocean.

Forever open, always full.


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large_the_bones_of_saints_under_glassSometimes, a book of poems comes along that is beautifully written, but it also portrays life in a way that is very personal to me.

The Bones of Saints Under Glass by Jeff Fleming is one of those books.

The poems in this chapbook deal   with death, love, and family relationships.  There is sorrow sprinkled with bits of joy.  There is the death of a mother.  There is the beauty of young sons.  It is real.  It is the story of life.


Jeff Fleming paints a vivid landscape with an economy of words.  Each word is carefully placed within the landscape.  In the title poem, the narrator is hiking.


“There is no trail before me

but a rough, jagged path


flows out behind,

slowly disappearing


as the plants I’ve crushed

stand upright again.”


Near a cluster of yellow flowers, the narrator sees the skeleton of a small bird, bleached white.  Like all of the poems in this book, it is a moment in the palm of a hand.  But it is so much more than that.  The moment echoes with questions and observations about life.


Ratchet is a poem that tells the story of an “ordinary” day.  Even an ordinary day paints the larger picture of a family.


“Most days, my mother

sat in the living room

knitting. Her sneezes

sounded like questions.”


The poem then pivots to the father.  With a wonderfully light touch, Fleming shows us the divide between father and son.  The father takes the son out to the garage on weekends and patiently explains “the intricacies of everyday/machinery…”

The narrator ends with a gentle understanding.  “It was the only poetry he had.”


Each poem in this book breathes.  The subjects are universal.   No matter who we are or where we are born, we all have to deal with relationships and the loss of loved ones.  Jeff Fleming does it in a way that is not overly dramatic.  It touches me in a way that I can apply to my own life.


Of course, not all of the poems deal with death specifically, and all of the poems make me think.  But as we pass that “invincible” age, many of us begin to think about death in a different way.  I am fortunate that my mother is alive.  I have acted very immature during the death of other loved ones.  When the time comes for me to say goodbye to my mother, I hope I can remember the wisdom in these poems.


Swimming in Beauty and Light shows the physical death of the mother and how the narrator deals with the pain.


“I am alone, crumpled

in a chair at the foot of your metal

bed, a cage trapping you in this life

a little longer…”


There is deep pain.  There is beauty in the physical act of dying.  And there is also acceptance.  The narrator thinks of how others will deal with his own death.


“They will see me pass

and sadness

will overflow their hearts

and consume them for a time,

but when they break the surface

of pain and breathe the world

anew, the sky will seem washed clean,

Cradled by life,

they will own their days again.”


In the end of the poem, the narrator imagines himself in that “otherwhere” with his father and mother.  They will be “swimming in beauty and light.”


Even with resolution, the questions and pain do not end after a physical death. Orphan Poem One punched me in the gut for many reasons.  The narrator’s cell phone rings.  It is the narrator’s mother.  The mother begins to talk.  She even acknowledges a couple of the narrator’s questions.  But the narrator cannot understand what she is saying.  She is dead.


The last poem in the collection, Empty Farmhouse, leaves me breathless.  An old house was abandoned when the crops failed.  An apple tree has been blown over by a storm, and it leans on the house.  Yet it continues to grow apples and drop them into the house through an open window


“leaving seeds that struggle

to grow among


abandoned furniture.”


Like the seeds that struggle to grow, we are left on this earth when our loved ones are gone.  But there is beauty, even in death.  There is joy as the next generation takes its place.  And there is the comforting thought that someday, we will swim together in that beauty and light.


I’d better stop myself now, or I’ll examine every poem in the book.  Whether you’re a dorky language nerd like me or someone who just enjoys a good read, I highly recommend The Bones of Saints Under Glass.


I should also mention the great cover art, which was done by Hosho McCreesh.  Hosho is another poet on the top of my list.


You can order the The Bones of Saints Under Glass HERE.

Note the low price!!!  I am a HUGE fan of Propaganda Press.  The work is high quality, and the prices are affordable, which puts poetry where it belongs.  In the hands of people.


Jeff Fleming is also the editor of nibble, which is an awesome poetry magazine.  Be sure to check it out.  A new issue is in the works.


And as always…

None of us poets are jack squat without you, the reader.

In other words, I appreciate you very much.  Thanks for reading!


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Two of my poems, Lessons in Genetics and They Called Him Cap’n Glass, are published at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  You can see the poems by clicking HERE.

I love The Mule!   Stick around and read it all.

Cap’n Glass is based on a real person who was a colorful soul.

In Genetics, Lesson #4 is dedicated to my daughter.  It’s one of the things I always tell her about family.  My tongue is firmly implanted in my cheek, of course.

Thanks for reading!


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From Oak We Came

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

Mother comes in through a crack.
She smells of church bells,
patent leather, lilac
five and dime cream.
Beneath her bed, she hides
old pennies in a metal box.
It cost two cents to close
the baby’s eyes when he died.
Each time she lifts the lid, I
breathe the rust of copper
opening, closing, opening.

After an hour, maybe two,
the bells will ring again.
I hear them through the creak
of unclosed cupboards.
In the stiff of summer,
the cupboards sweat
a cool brown smell of oak,
a cool brown sweat of oak.
We fill our mouths with bread
that tastes of oak.
This is our body–take, eat.
From oak we came.
When shall we return?


Ours is the house that oak built.
Where can we turn and not see the roots
uncut inside the walls, the curve of roots?
Fight and they will tighten around your neck.
Ours is the house tucked between tender water.
I hold my face beneath the surface
wait for whales to rise from the bottom,
swallow me whole.
Ours is the house that oak built in the mud.
Five hurricanes and ten kids couldn’t tear it down.
Every few years, it shifts, sinks an inch,
never swallowed whole.


Grandfather sits on the vine purple porch
carving a new arm out of oak.
He lost the old one in a war long gone.
I play among the curls of wood, fill my mouth
with the preoccupation of splinters,
reach for the circle of sun floating upcurrent.
Just walking, my feet already wooden on bottom.
Brothers, sisters, cousins, we all pride ourselves
in the toughness of our soles, walk over shells
and August pavement with the dullness of wood,
count our years by the layers of wood on our feet.

After an hour, maybe two, the bells will ring again,
opening, closing, opening
like a fist that wants to find a vein.


Ours is the father that oak built.
They cut him down one day to build a road.
Where can you go and not see him
rejuvenated along the highway? Progress is slow.
Ours is the father tucked between tender water.
Five hurricanes and ten kids couldn’t tear him down.
Every few years, he shifts, sinks an inch,
never swallowed whole.
Ours is the father, downstairs, tossing
rusty pennies into the fire, one by one.
We spread ourselves like oak above his head.
We do not feel the heat beneath our soles.

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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.



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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