Thirteen Haiku

I’ve been studying haiku and how to write it, what it’s supposed to mean. It’s interesting. Haiku used to seem like an incredibly easy format to me. It doesn’t have to rhyme. It’s just a certain number of syllables and lines. Turns out that’s not really all haiku is.

By reading some original Japanese haiku from Matsuo Basho, I’ve learned that there’s more to haiku than just counting syllables and lines. It’s more about the feeling you are left with at the end of the poem. So haiku isn’t so much about what’s there as what’s left. If that makes any sense.

Anyway, here are thirteen haiku I’ve written over the course of the last few days. I’d love to know if you have a favorite. Do any of them leave you with anything?

#1

The gardener prunes

But new growth won’t be restrained

Bright green emerges

#2

Fireworks entertain

But divisive words excite

Rebellion looms near

#3

Stained glass wings hover

Glory in the hot summer

Swoop fast, stop away

#4

2020 sucks

plague, famine, deluge and war

make a new start now

#5

it’s the halfway point

the race isn’t won yet

can we just restart?

#6

Heartfelt empathy

Pain from any side will hurt

Shut down the spirit

#7

No lightning tonight

Just rain falling in the pines

Sounds lonely alone

#8

Dark voices cry out

I search for them in the sky

Black wings spread, take flight

#9

Crows call murderous

Shrieks splitting the morning light

I listen and smile

#10

Desirous waking

Leads to newspaper reading

This day just the same

#11

Stay home to be safe

Wear a mask, don’t go out there

Life is lived this way

#12

Spiders don’t frighten

But dark doubts creep up on me

Fear takes over life

#13

Disaster movie

Background characters await

Saving grace. The end.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

What we are witnessing—from a Southern White Woman’s perspective

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.” —Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, June 2020

I actually don’t think that’s all we’re witnessing. I think our problems run much deeper. Four hundred years deep, dating back to the day the first slave stepped off the ship onto the soil that would one day be the soil of the United States.

Oh where were our visionaries then?

I suppose we could look to our founding fathers. Well, not all of them. But Benjamin Franklin allowed himself to be educated on the slave situation, though he remained pessimistic about integrating Black people into society. However, a thoughtful, intelligent man could not help but be troubled by what he himself saw as “an atrocious debasement of human nature”.

Yet he owned two slaves himself. And Benjamin Franklin was the best white man we had to offer at the time.

Jump ahead a few centuries. On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump announced he was running for president. Less than a year later, it was obvious he had the support to win. To the befuddlement and consternation of thoughtful, intelligent people everywhere, Donald J. Trump went on to become president of what was once the greatest nation in the world.

Life went on, but from that moment, the rights of the marginalized were under attack and in danger. As Mattis says, we haven’t had mature leadership. We have had evil leadership. Ignorant leadership. Leadership with the rights and privileges of the rich and powerful and white (and mainly male) prioritized. And our institutions have suffered because so much of them is controlled by that very demographic. It’s hard to stand up for what’s right when your stock portfolio is soaring. It’s hard to be concerned about “the others” when your race/religion/party is on top.

“The founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. I feel as though that is under assault and is eroding.” —Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, May 2017

Turns out Clapper was right. Our institutions have crumbled. Our checks and balances are nearly gone. And now we have a choice to make. The economy is on the verge of recovering after the blow it was dealt by Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. We haven’t seen the last of COVID-19, but people are learning how to live with the danger. That’s not even the wrong thing to do. We had to adapt. We are strong that way. Where we are weak is remembering the bad times.

Black Lives Matter has a chance for the first time in our history to make a difference. As a Southern White Woman—which I put in capitals because I worry constantly that it defines me to others, but, worse, to myself—I know this is important. It is important to every marginalized human being in our country including women, but it is most important to the Black community, which may finally throw off four hundred years of oppression.

Can we as a nation find the strength to resist a government which would oppress all of us—all but the powerful, white, and rich? Can the powerful, white, and rich find it in themselves to resist the call of more power and more money? Some have. James Mattis was one of them. There have been others.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.” —Senator John McCain, October 2017

“Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.” Senator Jeff Flake, October 2017

Can others follow? Can we all come to realize what is wrong is wrong even when it is not in our own interests? I don’t know. In November 2020 I hope I will find out. I pray what has been normalized—whether that has happened over four years or four centuries—will be rejected. Only then will the symbols of freedom we treasure mean anything at all.

Southern White Woman signing off.

Eagle. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Happy 25th and 18th: An anniversary, a book and a poem.

Today is, in a very real way, a very big day for me. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary and the day I officially release my 18th book.

Thank you.

It’s hard to celebrate right now, as I have good reason to know. My 50th birthday fell right at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. My son and my daughter also have celebrated birthdays. Today I have no actual plans to celebrate. I once envisioned a busy day full of well wishing friends for both my book and my marriage. I mean, not as many people make it to their silver wedding anniversary as used to, right? And quite a few authors never see 18 books with their name on the front.

But celebrating is hard right now. People are still sick, still dying. I’m working hard to make sure I’m not one of them. I have nightmares that my family is. And life goes on.

And still, I am happy to announce the publication of my 18th book, Magic at Sea, the seventh book of my Sleight of Hand series (and still a standalone, so you can read it even if you haven’t kept up with the series!). And I am happier still to be married to the same wonderful man for twenty-five years. Rain or shine, we’ve had them both.

Rain or Shine

By Michelle Garren Flye

When did it rain?

I never heard thunder

Or wind or raindrops.

When did they fall?

It must have happened

Behind the scenes

While we were busy

Doing something else.

Something important.

Raising kids, living life,

Paying bills…surviving.

I didn’t know it rained.

Just like so many other

Things have happened

In the background.

It’s funny how you start:

Focused on each other,

Certain nothing will change.

But then it does.

Work and family and life

All change you.

And rain falls unnoticed

Until you see the puddles,

And then you notice the wet

And open an umbrella.

Happy anniversary to my patient, supportive, loving husband. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Living in a fantasy world

I do live in a fantasy world a lot of the time, so I know what I’m talking about here. Writers mostly do. You may see us grocery shopping or taking our cars for service or dropping the kids off for school, but that reality doesn’t mean we’re not living in our fantasy world, figuring out plotlines, talking to our characters, considering story arcs…

Until reality impinges on fantasy and we have to face it.

Recently I’ve felt more and more that it’s the opposite in my corner of the world, at least. Fantasy is impinging on reality. Because we don’t want to deal with reality, we create fantasy. Covid-19 doesn’t exist. It was made up. It’s not going to kill anyone we love because so many people survive it, it’s just like the flu. There are only 40 or 60 or 100 or 200 cases in my community, and nobody I know has it, so I won’t get it. Masks don’t protect you. It was 5G that caused it.

Reality is scary right now, yes, but not facing it is scarier because you know what I’ve found from living in a fantasy land a lot of the time? Reality will force you to face it eventually. You do have to come out of the clouds and pay the bills or your power gets turned off. You gotta scoop the cat litter or it gets stinky. Right now I’m wearing scratched glasses because going to the eye doctor is too much reality.

And if we don’t face the frightening reality of covid-19 as a community, we’re going to regret it. All of us.

I hate wearing a mask, but I do it.

Poem: Wisdom of the Baby Bird

Wisdom of the Baby Bird

By Michelle Garren Flye

Like an eagle or hawk soaring

We want to leap into the sky!

We don’t know what waits;

We just know we want to fly.

Hawks dive onto their prey,

Seagulls wheel above the sea,

Eagles may drift along drafts

Our senses cannot perceive.

Maybe turn our eyes instead

To the baby bird in the nest.

Standing precariously on the edge—

He’s waiting, not taking a rest.

Take a leap of faith—oh yes, let’s do!

But only when the time is right.

Stretch the wings out first—

Take a short practice flight.

Only then will we grow stronger,

Only then will we avoid a plunge

Headfirst into a maelstrom

Of dangers we cannot dodge.

Juvenile owl waiting the right moment to fly. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye
Pissed Mama Osprey. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

It’s Magnolia Time (poem): Mourning the loss of refuge

My bookstore has been a lot of things for me from the time I took it over in January. The realization of a lifelong dream. A haven. A happy place for me, and I hoped, the art community and book lovers in my town. One thing I didn’t want it to become was a place of negativity, and I refused from the beginning to allow politics in the door.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, but the worst for me so far is that it has taken that from me. In order to preserve a healthy workspace for myself and avoid the potential of taking home something horrible to my family, I asked that my customers wear masks in the store. When it became obvious just the asking wouldn’t work, I began requiring them. If a customer arrived without one, I provided a simple handmade one to them. My customers were very agreeable about this. I began to relax. I began to believe that the people in my town, regardless of personal beliefs, were well bred enough to honor my rule.

Yesterday, that belief was shattered. A customer turned away when I told them masks were required in the store. Another argued with me that masks did no good, using talking points I’ve heard on conservative news outlets. The CDC has an agenda. Cloth masks are useless and will only hold germs against your own face, not protect you. I didn’t tell him that was the point, that I wanted him to keep his germs to himself. I asked him to leave.

And that’s when my store stopped being a refuge. I went home and cried because I’d never intended for this to happen there. I hate that it has happened. I hate that potential customers who might enjoy the otherwise welcoming atmosphere in my little store may now just go to Amazon or Books a Million. I hate it, but I can’t help it.

And so today I mourn the loss of the chance to share my refuge. I will continue to require masks until the danger of COVID-19 is gone. I realize many won’t come into the store if I do. I will miss them.

It’s Magnolia Time

By Michelle Garren Flye

Yesterday she was just a bud,

But today she’s purest wonder

against leaves of darkest green—

out of reach of all but the worthy.

It’s magnolia time now, folks,

and she knows what that means.

She’s got the strength she needs

to survive the stormiest weather.

The toughest of flowers, nothing

easy or giving in her breast.

She reigns above your head

because magnolias won’t be plucked.

A gale won’t blow her down,

no man’s hand can push her around.

She’s here to stay, so get used to it

because it’s magnolia time.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 30 (whew!) (National Poetry Month): Through the Window

Well, this is it for National Poetry Month 2020. I had hoped my bookstore would be full of poetry all month long. And in a way, it has been. I’ve certainly written a lot of it. And read some (including by NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Greene—and you should too!). And a wonderful friend brought me several new poetry books to read. It’s been…not quite what I wanted (poetry readings and fun times with fellow poets), but I’ve celebrated my love of poetry the best I could in the confines of coronavirus quarantine.

And with that, I leave you with this. Stay well, my friends. And keep reading poetry, and writing it if the spirit moves you. Remember: “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” Or so said Robert Frost.

(Note: This is for all the parents and grandparents whose visits from family have been put off because of COVID-19.)

Through the Window

By Michelle Garren Flye

Through the window, I see the squirrels play

I hear the birds singing about the new day—

And you say you’ll be coming to see me

When the world makes travel for you easy.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Looking out the window doesn’t tell me a thing.

The traffic flows past, and I sit alone.

And your voice sounds weak on the phone.

Watching does no good, I know.

Nothing I do makes time slow.

The world continues to spin on its way

Even if I sit here watching all day.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 27 (National Poetry Month): Normality is Too Normal

We could do this, you know. Normality as we once knew it is gone. The slate really could be wiped clean (with a Clorox wipe) and we could begin something extraordinary, if we wanted to do it. I don’t think we will right now because you need a visionary leader to accomplish such a thing, probably more than one. And I haven’t seen many visionaries recently. But right now while the slate is erased, I can’t help but contemplate the possibilities.

Normality is Too Normal

By Michelle Garren Flye

Normality is too normal for me.

I have no wish to go back there.

What’s so great about normal?

Extraordinary is better.

Rainbows and butterflies

Are not normal at all.

Last year, small toads

Hopped through our yard

All spring.

That became normal.

It wasn’t great, though.

We ran over them by accident

And felt bad when we saw it.

Normal. Not good.

Definitely not great.

Roses and daffodils aren’t normal.

Not really.

You have to wait for them to bloom

And then they’re only here for a while.

They are extraordinary.

What’s normal?

If you think about it all the great moments

Aren’t really…normal.

So why go “back to normal”?

Forward to extraordinary, instead!

Product placement… Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 24 (National Poetry Month): When We Return to “Normal”

Everything feels wrong now, and it seems that everyone is trying to quantify it and box it up and make it what they’ve always known. “Don’t judge people if you see them not wearing a mask or taking their kids out or trying to go back to work—you don’t know what they’re going through,” say some. This is true. But it does not escape my sense of fairness that some of these people are the same ones who are quick to judge those who take their families and flee from death and poverty in other countries. Don’t judge them, either. You don’t know what they’ve gone through.

We all want to go back to “normal”, but I don’t think we’re ever going to get back there from here. We’ll go back to some semblance of day-to-day life, but I believe what scifi writers have been warning us about—that some event would come along eventually that would change us forever—has finally happened. Where we go from here is really up to us. We can remain politically divided with half of us in denial about our doom and the other half constantly lecturing about it—or we can unite and fight for survival. I pray we opt to find the best in all of us when we declare victory over this virus…and return to “normal”.

When We Return to “Normal:

By Michelle Garren Flye

“I like that lady’s mask, Mommy.”

The little boy doesn’t wear a mask.

His face bare, he points at me.

Why is he here, I’d love to ask?

But life now is far from easy;

You can’t judge or take to task

Those whose differences you see.

Maybe we will remember this lesson

When we can declare our battle won.

When the world returns to “normal”

And we look each other in the face again

We may remember we are all mortal

And not judge each other by colors of skin.

Maybe we will recall we’re all one world

And where we come from is not our sin.

Maybe this can be done because it’s natural

When we survive a crisis with our fellow man.

Yes, let’s look at each other and see only “us”

When we stand on the battlefield victorious.

Like a flower conquering concrete, we will survive. It’s where we go from there that matters. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem 23 (National Poetry Month): Stay

Inspired by the juvenile owl I saw perched next to his nest in my backyard while his parents chased away the hawks that saw him as prey. As well as my own experiences letting go

Stay

By Michelle Garren Flye

I know the wild world calls—

You want to spread your wings;

But, stay, a little longer, dear.

Put off your springtime flings.

Trust me when I say to you

I remember feeling that way—

Like I’d burst if I didn’t leave

To dance on the wind and play.

But stay, a little longer, dear;

There’s no need for you to rush.

There are dangers you don’t know

That all your dreams may crush.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye