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{April 28, 2020}   Pre-Pandemic Life

A year ago at this time, I thought my life was finally headed in the right direction. Besides working full-time, I was very busy doing things I loved: I was teaching a writing workshop and regularly attending a poetry workshop. One of my poems had been accepted to appear in a book, and the book was coming out. I was looking forward to an event where I would meet the author (Randy Susan Meyers) who had put the book together. And REALLY looking forward to an event that seemed to complete a circle in my life.

The proceeds from the sale of Women Under Scrutiny were going to Rosie’s Place. I was proud of that, because I knew about Rosie’s Place and thought they did wonderful things, and I had met the woman who started it, Kip Tiernan. Here’s my backstory.

When I was in my late twenties I worked with a wonderful editor at Houghton Mifflin named Edie Nicholson. She was a mentor of sorts for me and for many young women I knew. She encouraged my poetry attempts and hung one up on her cubicle wall. I have never forgotten that one time when I was feeling discouraged about the world and said I wanted to go live in the middle of nowhere in a cabin and not deal with anyone, she spoke to me passionately. “No, that is exactly what you can’t do! You need to get out and be an example!” Whenever I feel knocked down and want to run away I still hear her voice.

Well…on with the story. Edie’s long-time companion was Kip Tiernan. When Edie stopped working (she was over 80), we all missed her. One day my husband and I went to visit Edie at her Beacon Hill apartment. Kip was there. I visited with Edie and my husband talked to Kip. He was really impressed with her intelligence and political views. It was a memorable afternoon.

When Edie died, I wrote an emotional poem about her and sent a sympathy card to Kip, including the poem. Kip called me to thank me and told me tearily that she wanted to include the poem in the program for the memorial service for Edie. I was touched and happy.

My Poem For Edie

At the time of Edie’s memorial service I was no longer working for Houghton Mifflin. I had been laid-off when they decided to dissolve my department and I was a casualty. The head of Human Resources got up at the service and read my poem. Not planned–she said she just saw it and wanted to read it. I felt a softening of some bitterness about the end of an important period of my life and and a little less sadness for the end of Edie’s.

Fast forward to 2019: When the book excitement happened, a good friend at work told me to tell a man at work that I did not know that well. She told me he was involved with Rosie’s Place and might want to know about the book and hear my story. We had a wonderful conversation!! It turned out his mother had worked there for many years and he was an honorary member of the Board of Directors. He was involved with a big fundraiser gala that Rosie’s holds every May (but sadly not this year). It just happened to be coming up about a month after the book was coming out.

I could not afford a ticket to the gala ($500!), but he said he would try to get me involved as a volunteer. I was so excited! I took a vacation day from work. I worked a very long day beginning at noon doing blackboards for the restaurants that would have tables there, and that evening I worked selling raffle tickets for a diamond ring giveaway.

My Volunteer Handiwork

I could not stop thinking about how proud Edie (and Kip) would be not only for my poem being part of a book that benefited Rosie’s, but for my work there that day. In fact I felt like they had something to do with the serendipitous nature of the whole thing that took over thirty years to happen.

I was sore and exhausted the next day (I was not used to being on my feet for so many hours and I am no longer young), but what a wonderful night it was. I really thought it was the beginning of a new direction in my life. When the circle closes, it feels like some sort of pinnacle, and everything seems to make sense!

But the book faded away without much fanfare and I never met the author. The night of the publicity event was the same night my brother passed away in hospice with our family all around. There is always something more important than my own ambitions. Like a pandemic…:-(



{March 7, 2018}   Fireless Dragon

House

 

 

Jackie Paper has left.

 

I crawl like a turtle,

too big and too green

to hide,

losing bits of myself

behind

on the pathway

back to my cave.

 

One last turn of my head

slow and stiff,

to see no one

skipping across

my shadow,

only the lost

pieces of me like

a moat of glass,

glistening colors

in the setting sun

that catch and pierce my eyes,

a simple explanation

for my tears.

 

Susan Merrifield Desrocher



{February 7, 2018}   Screwed Up Love

It seems I am often not patient enough to let poems percolate. Sometimes I just feel like I want to move on to something that is more relevant to my present time; after all I just keep writing more and more, and there is just so much paper!! I have been desperately trying to go through them all and put all the versions of the same poems into file folders. Another step in my never-ending efforts to consolidate and simplify.

As part of this process, I have donated a lot of clothes, books, household items, even jewelry — but not these, never these — my screw in, screwed-up love earrings.

Spiral Earrings

Lots of Screwed up Love

I was your rebound girl,
the quick intermission in the drawn-out drama
of your epic love for her.
But I couldn’t see that then.

You were that guy
across the room,
my dark handsome romance hero.
I was drawn to you
like I was to rocks when I was a child:
I loved holding them
because they felt solid,
yet could contain crystals
or layers of color
if broken open.

You soon went back to her,
and instead I had to break
my all-encompassing love for you
into manageable pieces:
I buried the jealousy and resentment,
safeguarded the memories
and held onto our friendship
dear as a first stuffed toy.

Ten years later
I let go;
I married someone
who forced me to deny
my need for you,
grow up, leave you behind.

Thirty years later, minus the husband,
I wish I could glue it all back together,
embrace the whole.
I pull out the Christmas card
you gave me when we were still
an open possibility, a hollow geode.

You had signed the card, “Lots of screwed up love.”
Back then I had clung desperately to the word, “love”
not connecting it to the gift that came with it —
a pair of unusual earrings –
crazy spirals that wound
into my earlobes,
impossible to lose without
being ripped out;
just as the shards of your smile and laugh
twisted themselves into my heart,
and embedded there.
Now I know “love”
was not the important word:
“screwed up” was.



{October 9, 2017}   Holiday Quiet

It isn’t a holiday for me, I have to go to work, but others in my building sleep in. I don’t force myself to do my normal morning chores, not wanting to disturb my silent community. And so I enjoy the company of my cats and write.

I absorb the silence,
the peace of the cat’s purr.
My tea is simply warm,
no longer hot,
but my tongue lounges silent
in the gold sun of the honey
swirled with the soft clouds of milk.
Perfection
seems so close
I could reach out
and caress it with my hand,
but I know better.
Just as I sometimes
have to let my eyes alone
revel in the swirling softness
of color in my calico cat’s fur,
knowing if I touch her,
she will slip away
and find another place
to sleep.
Susan Merrifield Desrocher

Fur Painting



{September 21, 2017}   Obsession

First of all, thank you to those loyal readers who have visited in the last year even though I have posted very little: Ana Linden, G.P. Cox, Janna Hill, Tyler4Turtles, and Hands on Bowie (among others). I have been obsessed with all my photo groups on Facebook and virtually ignoring my blogging community. I will try to do better from now on! One day a week is better than once in a blue moon.

I had been working on this poem for a while and decided to match it up with this old photo I had posted many years ago. I hope you like it.

Dead Swan

A dock for a headstone…

The Obsession

Half my life ago
I was drawn to you
like a swan to a pond.
I thought I could make
my home in the depth of your eyes:
the warm brown of cattails
with lashes like the tassels
of tall grasses,
a perfect place
for nesting.

Initially my wings were fueled
by desire, but when I landed,
it was the smoothness
of your being,
the clear bubbling joy
of your laughter
in the quiet moments
that locked me into love.

But I soon found that
another laid claim
to your deepest heart —
my comfort was marred
by the fierce hiss
of possessiveness.
I should have known
something so beautiful
could not be unclaimed.

I flew off, but not away,
thinking I could keep
to the fringes,
find a connected waterway,
a secret way in.
I circled and circled
around and around
until I became a wisp
of a cloud,
like the fabled tiger
turned to butter.
In the end,
unsure of who I was
or why I did it,
I crashed hard
into a wooden dock,
wings splayed,
my stretched neck
broken.

 

Copyright Susan Desrocher



{March 28, 2017}   Scenic Overlook

view

Scenic Overlook

For some reason I have never been able to find a writing partner, someone who is not too much better than me or no worse than me, someone who writes in my style, who instinctively understands me, or at least wants to understand me. So when I have a bad day, I either put on the fake cheer on Facebook, which is acceptable to most people, or write in a vacuum to get my thoughts and feelings out, producing yet another poem to stick in a bulging notebook of unread, unpublished efforts.

So yesterday was one of those days for me and this is the result. I am taking the leap of sharing my poem here with whatever readers I have left (considering that I haven’t made my blog a priority for a long time or kept up with the people I used to follow faithfully).

SCENIC OVERLOOK

Some would say life has brought me backward.

I grew up poor in a rich town

where I had to hide my dark hair

beneath a golden hat, which only

made me feel hot and awkward.

Now I live poor in a poor town,

a place most of my old classmates

wouldn’t get caught dead in,

but at least I blend in:

another gray wisp of a cloud

on a sunless day,

another brown leaf on the ground

of a winter wood full of leafless trees

in muddy March

when spring’s new hope

feels like a crazy dream…

But I digress.

 

Yesterday I drove through some rich towns —

just looking —

not like an open-mouthed tourist

but like a coroner searching for clues to a death.

I examined the details as I saw them:

the handsome man with the perfect haircut

jogging on my side of the road

wearing clothes that I recognized

cost more than two week’s of my groceries,

(he forced me to the wrong side on a curve).

Then I pulled over to gaze at a view,

and to avoid the impatient BMW surging

at my back bumper, like the rough waves

against at the rocks at the beach

with the “No Trespassing” signs, whose beauty

I had to observe from afar.

 

But I will keep my scientist stance

because I don’t like the flavor

of bitterness.

I theorize the owners of these million dollar mansions

with empty yards would naturally

look like the jogging man because their parents

looked the same, and because beauty and wealth

go together like cut glass and cognac.

Why would hothouse plants live among weeds

that may choke them

to death?

 



{September 30, 2015}   A Wednesday Poem

shadows on windows

On and On

Life has been insistently busy the last few months and I all but abandoned my writing. This morning I pulled out my poetry notebook to jot down a couple of lines that came to me as I drove to the laundrymat, and I found this poem. Appropriately it’s Wednesday. So I thought I would share it. Never mind Mondays, can you tell I don’t like Wednesdays??

 

It’s Wednesday,

my week’s nemesis,

work’s dullest day.

It stretches like a desert

of time, the afternoon

especially dry and arid.

How to prepare for the journey?

What to bring,

not too heavy that

drags me to the ground

in the moisture-sucking air,

but keeps my parched brain

from cracking and splitting,

and able to savor

the respite when it is over?

copyright Susan Desrocher 2015




We are halfway through National Poetry Month and I haven’t posted a poem. Shame on me!

I decided to post one of my own today and share someone else’s before month end! Enjoy…

Clock made of Wood

Roy’s Clock

 

REMEMBERING ROY

On my wall, the clock Roy made

loses time every day, but I dutifully reset it.

I keep it for the picture of my grandmother

he varnished onto the pine wood tree slice

that reminds me of a knotty pine cabin

in the mountains of California she once owned,

a string to a memory of a summer visit there that made me soar with dreams and happiness.

I keep it to remind me of him.

The clock of Roy’s heart stopped long ago

in a tragic way:

he was run over by his own car

as he tried to stop it from rolling down a hill.

Our possessions sometimes betray us;

our death can be entwined with them,

just as our life is entwined with them,

like ivy running wild,

over time crumbling the very bricks

it is attached to.

Roy, maybe you knew this;

you thought you could bypass it

by giving away your dreams:

the bricks of your life repurposed.

I remember the day you turned us loose

in your garage of clocks;

you told us to take what we wanted.

After their crafting was done

and your time was spent,

they no longer affirmed your life

or made money to live on,

just collected dust.

With bitter generosity you let them go

 to pseudo grandkids,

like released birds you had once loved,

with hopes they would soar

somewhere you couldn’t.

Roy, I don’t even know where you are buried,

but across the country your clocks tick in small apartments,

twigs in the nests of lonely people;

where will they go from here?




Donald Hall, "Essays After Eighty"

Donald Hall’s latest book

Why would a fifty-something-year-old woman relate to the essays of an eighty-something-year-old man? Does that say something about him, about me, or both of us? This is not really a review, but a review of sorts; my stream-of-consciousness emotional reaction to his latest book. In all reality, just what a writer really wants…a confirmation of a connection made, not just an intellectual criticism of the writing.

I have always liked Donald Hall’s poetry, and when I read John Freeman‘s well-written interview with him in Poets and Writers (Nov/Dec edition) and read the excerpts from the book, Essays After Eighty, I was burning to read it. So off to the library I went.

Sitting down to read the first essay “Out the Window,” (without a window in sight) I can see what he sees — the old barn, the snow falling, the birds at the feeder — because he describes his view in vivid language, in a poet’s way. But I also feel what he feels — the isolation of New Hampshire in winter (having just been through the worst winter in my life in MA), feeling unable to do what used to be easily accomplished, and feeling abandoned by contemporaries and left to spend time with the ghosts of old ancestors (those to be joined sooner rather than later). His writing just seems to add credence to what I already know…why? Because my best friend right now is my mother, who is 86. I talk to her daily. She watches out the window when she can and has dreams of cooking and cleaning and doing things she can do now only with difficulty, so I understand the mindset and the feelings. That, and the fact that timing and circumstances took me out of challenging but ultimately satisfying work too young; I have felt abandoned by a changed world that no longer values my skills and my abilities ($9 to $10 an hour to proofread…really?), and no longer believes in my beliefs.

Donald Hall describes old age and aging as “…alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae…If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.”

And though I have some decades to go before I officially get to his age, I feel the separateness as he describes, as if I went to sleep and woke up on a planet I didn’t recognize, where I was suddenly an outcast, where suddenly people could see my antennae.

Well, that is easily rectified you might think: study the creatures of this new world and remake yourself to be like them. Hide those antennae or — better yet — cut them off. But I can’t do it, ugly as they seem to be, all of my beauty is there. And all the positive personal development books I read tell me to value them. They represent that last crumb of hope I still possess that someday another alien will show up at my door with their own antennae displayed in all their glory, smile, and come in and sit down for tea. Maybe that being will tell me of a colony of others like us, which still exists, and that my isolation has kept me from finding. And we will set out together, where the warm sun and exercise will make me feel 50 again. The gears of my mind will squeak and groan, at first reluctant with pain, but begin to chip off the rust and neglect, and then revel in something too long lost and left behind. But I digress…as old people do.

The book also contains an essay entitled “A Yeti in the District.” Each of the essays in the book ends with Hall’s tongue in cheek, a wry twist on what has come before. This one made me smile from ear to ear. Its truth reflected in my librarian’s reaction to my checking out of the book.

Mr Hall reminisces about trips he made to Washington DC over the years, including the year he was Poet Laureate, and the most recent trip to receive a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. Let me be clear: the author is “scruffy” in his advanced years, but it doesn’t bother me (he looks much like my own brother!) In the “Yeti” essay, the author writes of the picture published in his local paper of him receiving the Medal. “Top of the first page was a photograph of the President looming over me, hanging the medal around my neck. My mouth is open in life’s widest smile as I confront the neatly dressed Obama in my sports coat and khakis, with my frizzy hair and reckless beard.”

He goes on to tell of the picture then being picked up by a blogger for the Washington Post named Alexandra Petri. “She identified me, called me a poet, and assured her audience that I was not a yeti. She announced a contest for a caption.” But of course in this age of Internet bullying, the picture brought in entry after entry “…gleeful with ridicule. Then there were reactions. I was praised and Ms. Petri was scolded. I was defended as a poet, and flattered despite my appearance.” He ends the essay with this: “…With our increasing longevity, Ms. Petri should live to be a hundred. May she grow a beard.”

Now back to my librarian. She handed me the book and said, “That’s quite the cover art,” with what I sensed as some distaste (and perhaps a little insult to me for wanting to read it??) I said, “well, yes, it is a bit of a close-up.” I chuckled to release the sense of “judgment(?)” I felt. And she went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put that on my bedside table.” (I hadn’t read the book yet or I would have questioned whether she knew Ms. Petri?). This time I didn’t answer. And she still went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put it on my bedside table because I would feel like someone was watching me.” I then made a judgment on her in return…You are a librarian and you are passing judgment on a Poet Laureate and Medal of the Arts winner???? But again, I digress.

Bottom line is that I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Donald Hall’s writing, his irreverence, and his sense of humor. I’m glad that after eighty he is still writing. And I hope there are plenty of people who won’t judge a book by its cover!




Stone wall

Walls Take Time to Build…and Dismantle

I am now calling myself a recovering writer, and I have photography to thank for it, but I’ll get to that later. Recovering from what you might ask? I have had a way-of-life-threatening case of writer’s block, resulting in my own personal Great Wall of China! The existence of Writer’s Block has been a topic on discussion boards and blogs for as long as they have been around…some people don’t believe the phenomenon exists. I think it does exist for some people and not for others. Some people see angels or ghosts, and some people don’t. I believe in writer’s block because I have unfortunately experienced it.

My wall has been truly impressive: years and years of perfectionism and expectations piled on top of each other, heavy and solid, leaving me unable to pick up my pen, no longer able to put words to my thoughts. Like the Tin Man, I became frozen in place.  My great wall was the physical manifestation of “missed opportunities,” a monument to my failure. Somehow I felt that building this monument was preferable to being mediocre; I suppose it gave me a “heroic” stature in my own mind. And yet… it was making me miserable not to write because it was clearly a passion or I wouldn’t have written all that I have written since a pen or pencil was put into my hand.  I couldn’t seem to resolve this problem. But then…I just walked away for a while; I did something I wanted to do instead of what I felt compelled to do. And now I hear the Ronald Reagan “presidential” voice in my head saying that it is time to “tear down that wall”! And I am seeing some daylight; I pulled out an old poem the other day and worked on it. I sat down to write this post, and not just “toss something out there.”  Thus, the title of “recovering writer.”  Now for the benefit of those readers who may be building their own wall, let me get to the “how” part. Read the rest of this entry »



et cetera
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