Open Season


Open Season

While the youngest apparently slept in, the middle and eldest texted with their mother early one morning following a night of storm spinoff tornadoes and wrapping up the weeks of circus clown and flyswatter debates. 

The middle was watching a tale as old as time with his own middle and shared a quick video clip of his daughter (her niece, my granddaughter) watching as wolves chased Belle through the snowy woods. 

There are real dangers in the woods, the sister says, after a moment. Just yesterday, she’d seen a video of a man sitting on the forest floor. A rattlesnake slithered up behind him and even onto his lap for a minute. She thought she might die. 

Her brother says he has seen bunches of snakes, even a rattlesnake bigger than his bicep. 

She says she has a healthy respect for snakes but doesn’t want a run-in like that. She remembers being on the phone with her brother one time when he shot a cottonmouth. He’d killed three water moccasins in the same place that year. 

She says it sounds like a breeding ground of death but confesses it isn’t the noisy rattlesnake or the water moccasin that really scare her as much as the copperhead that quietly blends in. 

Her brother says he saw a copperhead a few days ago, shortly after sending us all a video of an alligator he’d seen raised up on all fours crossing the road to the other side of the swampy wetland. Yes, he agreed, at least those big rattlesnakes can be spotted from a distance. 

We came across a copperhead in the barn under the lawn mower over the summer, I told them. Good thing it was docile as copperheads go, I added, since the one who found it is usually looking up for bees and not down for snakes. He’d called for me to identify it – which was an easy call with its classic Hershey Kiss pattern right down both sides. 

A guy the eldest went to school with posted a video of a copperhead the other day and it reminded her of those pictures people post labeled “find the copperhead” and she has to scrutinize the picture carefully to see it. She says she believes it’s currently baby copperhead season.  

I remind them both that baby copperheads have bright yellow tails and will strike at anything. 

She says she knows this about the tails and also knows they can’t control their venom. 

I point out that they are like  people that way, except for the yellow tails. 

The middle asked about everyone’s plans for the holidays as we concluded our group text, while the youngest apparently slept in….

More than Bones


A Very Mary Variation

A Mashed Potato poem

Featuring borrowed lines from Mary Oliver and placed in a re-arrangement to form a new poem

More than Bones 

ordinarily I go to the woods alone

where the owl lives and sometimes calls out

around me the trees stir in their leaves

the moon, in its shining white blouse, rises

while the dead wind rises

don’t think I’m not afraid 

you wouldn’t believe what once or twice I have seen

there was a strange fluttering bird, high above, disturbed, hoo-ing

he was singing his death song

something came up out of the dark

the darkness grows and is filled with crooked things

the old ghost stood under the hickories 

a plump, dark lady wearing a gown of nails

with a sound like hysterical laughter –

my heart was pounding

death waits for me, I know it

there is a graveyard where everything I am talking about is, now 

it’s more than bones

New Arrangement taken, in order, from

these poems:


“It was Early”

“When I am Among the Trees”

“You are Standing at the Edge of the Woods”

“At Black River”

“The World I Live In”




“Six Recognitions of the Lord”

“The Arrowhead”






“To Begin With, the Sweet Grass”

Game Changer


A Very Mary Variation –

A triple (yes, 3- stranded) Golden Shovel poem using these lines vertically positioned beginning/middle/end from Mary Oliver’s poetry:

12-word lines from Invitation:  “oh do you have time to linger for just a little while” and “just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world” and from Sometimes:

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Game Changer

Oh, please just shred all the instructions! 

Do we really need to have directions for 

you and me to be playful at living? 

Have we not been strategically alive? Has there been a 

time we’ve needed the playbook on how to spin a life? 

To advance to joy, this move has no banker to pay.

Linger over steaming fresh coffee, find attention 

for gratefulness each morning, and be 

just and fair in turn. Stay astonished –

a game changer in this round is to tell 

little-known secrets to heal the broken,

                                     to move freely about 

while chuckling at this checkerboard world with 

                                     both of us in it!

A Heartbeat Down


A Very Mary Variation- today’s double golden shovel poem is taken from two lines of Mary Oliver’s “Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where.” 

“I also know the way the old life haunts the new” and “in his low-to-the-ground chest I can hear his heart slowing down.” Turn small devices sideways to see the vertical lines at the beginning and end. 

A Heartbeat Down

I wanted to let a dog in,

also to change that hellishness of his.

Know that I wanted a non-shedder, low-to-the-ground,

the kind with an innocent face and proud chest –

way off script I went, though, boy did I! 

The one I picked’ll open a spontaneous whoopass can –

old memories plague dogs, I hear.

Life has a way of summoning his

haunts; seeing it’ll rip open your heart:

the head lowers, ears fold back, tail tucks in, gait slowing.

New rescues always seem a heartbeat down.

Travel Fever

 A Very Mary Variation 

A double Golden Shovel poem featuring two lines from Mary Oliver’s  “The Orchard” – beginning “I have dreamed of accomplishment. I have fed ambition,” and ending “and the ripeness of the apple is its downfall.” Turn small devices sideways to read the vertical beginning and ending lines.

Travel Fever

I seek the rush of adventure and

have journeyed to the

dreamed-of destinations, tasted the ripeness

of culture, breathed the passport ink of

accomplishment, even put the 

“I” in the Big Apple –

have bitten my way to its core, as travel fever is

fed by each step along the map of its

ambition to explore….anchors: the crushing downfall

The Real Work: Looking and Listening

A Very Mary Oliver Double Golden Shovel

With lines from “From the Book of Time” beginning 

“I rose this morning early as usual and went to my desk,” and ending “and I am thinking maybe just looking and listening is the real work.” This is my debut golden shovel, and small-screen devices must be turned sideways to see the vertical lines formatted correctly. 

The Real Work: Looking and Listening

I begin each day with pen in hand and

rose to set the tone today (I, 

this day and every day, am

morning-ready to begin the journey thinking

early – when the mind is sharpest – maybe

as a blessing, perhaps as a curse – just

usual patterns of noticing, looking, 

and pondering, considering words) and

went for coffee first, now sit listening

to the wisdom of Mary, who is

my soul poet, reminding me that the

desk at the office is not life’s real




A Very Mary Variation

A Golden Shovel poem from Mary Oliver’s poem “Six Recognitions of the Lord” – “My God, mercy is in your hands, pour me a little”


My Vogel State Park dog-friendly cabin is cancelled

God-willing I’ll get the refund – all but $11.20 – but

mercy is needed here, Lord – my husband 

is always too entrenched in work and politics

in order to make time on breaks – 

your typical teacher letdown when your

hands are full and a trip is needed – to

pour some enjoyment into life, relax with some

me time – – some us time – – but even with 

a two month range he wouldn’t commit; it’s more than a

little disappointing…..I was counting the days…..



A Very Mary Variation 

A Golden Shovel poem using a line from Mary Oliver’s “The World I Live In” – “only if there are angels in your head will you ever possibly see one”


only one child matters 

if death is imminent and

there is no other voice allowed? 

are you honoring her others? 

angels appear as demons and vice-versa

in the surreal fog of illness, and

your chosen one is no angel whose

head is not thinking with heart, who

will not allow a taste of sugar or drugged slumber;

you perpetuate her suffering – have you 

ever stopped and considered that quite 

possibly her hell is not about your getting to 

see fleeting glimpses of her former self from a cage of 


one cancerous regret can later overtake 

10/4 – Over and Out


A Very Mary Variation
A Golden Shovel poem and a right angle poem written with a prayer on every next numbered word of each line, using a line from “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world,” after many prayers. 10/4, over and out. 
10/4 – Over and Out 

don’t pray for death, but I
want for the life here 
to have a merciful hand easing her suffering to the
end without the crying. Lord, take her home –
up to Heaven when nightfall comes-
simply wrap her in your embrace for the journey,
having the promised place you’ve prepared for my mother-in-law a room
visited often by those there now who were Heaven-bound from
this sick world and already know Heaven’s joys. My mother-in-law did your work in this 
world and is your good and faithful servant. Call her today, Lord, I pray. Amen.

Final Hours


A Very Mary Variation

A Golden Shovel poem taken from a line of “Flare” – 

“the voice of the child crying out of the mouth of the grown woman is a misery and a disappointment” where each word in this line starts a new line in an expanded poem inspired by this original line

Final Hours of a Family

The one who would silence the 

voice of all others in the care decisions 

of a loved one is 

the very reason her own 

child resents his mother for the endless 

crying she allows his grandmother and seeks his way 

out from under her overbearing control 

of his life and new marriage as 

the end of an era draws near, the 

mouth of a grandmother now mute

of a grandfather now muted 

the family once held strong now shattered by a 

grown spoiled child who is anything but the 

woman her mother would be proud of 

is anything but a family leader seeking unity – is 

a destroyer-  a wrecking ball who allows her mother’s misery day after day after day 

and refuses comfort measures for 

a loving mother who always comforted her;  what a disappointment and a shameful ironic twist of an ending