A Little Christmas Cactus Obsession and a Poem

Last spring, a friend who was paring down her possessions for a cross-country move gifted me a Christmas cactus, the first one I’ve ever owned. I keep it on the corner of the desk where I do my writing. Eight days ago, I noticed the first flower buds sprouting — twenty-one of them. Maybe it’s a Thanksgiving cactus after all. I’m a little obsessed with the plant.

Part of a Christmas cactus, with several pink blower buds.

In fact, I wrote a poem for it. It’s still a little rough, but I’m sharing it anyway.


First Flower Buds on My Christmas Cactus

Twenty-one sudden blushing pointed buds
Twenty-one pieces of evidence
That I, erstwhile perpetrator
Of negligent planticide,
Have been successfully reformed
I myself have blossomed into a being
Capable of nurturing
A living thing incapable 
Of speaking its needs
As a toddler or a cat would do
Twenty-one velvet spear tips of validation
Twenty-one prizes to reward
My diligence and faith,
Twenty-one shots of dopamine to my brain
Payoff for my daily ritual of care,
Of arranging the curtains for optimal sun,
Of speaking aloud, Good morning
Christmas Cactus, a greeting unreturned 
Until now


Here are a couple of photos to track its progress, one taken four days after I noticed this first buds and one from this morning. The lighting was a little different.


You go, little desk plant! Live your best life!

~~

A Little Poem for Spooky Season

Photo by Lukas Hartmann on Pexels.com

Wolf, Running

Full curious, half afraid
I followed the wolf 
in my dream last night.
Where could its journey
be leading on city streets?
I never knew.
It picked up speed and
disappeared from view.
No longer did I run behind it,
but pushed myself top speed
in pursuit of something
I can’t recall.
Something urgent, a primal need.
I remember dead-ends, a full moon,
unexpected stairs, so steep
I ascended, panting, on all fours.
Pebbles embedded in my bare feet.
When did I leave my shoes behind?

~~

Let us Now Celebrate: a Poem for Labor Day

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

I wrote this poem a while back, and I wasn’t necessarily thinking of Labor Day. But this weekend seems like an appropriate time to share.

Let Us Now Celebrate

Let us now celebrate those missed 
In the recording of history
The nameless and unremembered
The one who walked in the rain
To a factory job that paid for shelter 
From the rain for their family
The one who brought joy to the immediate crowd
With jokes and laughter, but did it while
Shucking corn, and not near a microphone
Those fallen to disease or war before
They were old enough to fight
The songwriter who composed melodies
To sing the children to sleep
The one who could have gone far in life
If not for so much close at hand
To get done first
The washers of dishes and clothes
Cleaners of floors and furniture
Whose work came undone as soon as done
Leaving nothing to sign a name to

~~

On Today’s Walk: Photos and Verse

I haven’t been taking many walks due to days of cold, drizzly rain and a hurt back. All has improved now, though. The son and I went out for a two-mile stroll on this fine spring day, and I was so revivified I wrote a little poem about it.

First the photos:


Late Spring Walk

Forsythia and daffodil
Hellebores, Siberian squill,
Yellow, yellow, pink, and azure
After winter, winter, and winter
White and gray and gray
Spring returns one day
As we have faith it always will.
    

~~

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, 17th Century Scholar and Feminist Poet

Attribution: José Luis Filpo Cabana, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I first read about Juana Ines de la Cruz and her 17th century feminist poetry in Isabel Allende’s memoir, “The Soul of a Woman.” I immediately knew I needed to learn more, and the universe provided. The next day, her name came up in a textbook I was reading for an online class — just a brief mention of the fact that she amassed one of the largest personal libraries in North America while living in a convent as a nun. Obviously, I had to find out all I could.

Who was this feminist poet librarian nun? Only one of the most brilliant, accomplished women I never learned about in school. In a time when universities and learning were solely for men, she managed to outshine many renowned scholars through a lifetime of self-directed education.

Juana Ramirez de Asbaje (her birth name) was born in 1648 in the Vice Royalty of New Spain, now known as Mexico. Her mother and father were not married, and Juana was raised in the homes of her mother’s relatives. From an early age, she displayed an almost unquenchable thirst for learning and knowledge, spending hours reading the books in her grandfather’s personal library. 

She began writing poetry at age eight, and had an in-depth knowledge of Greek logic and of the Latin language by her teen years, even teaching Latin to younger children. She asked her family to allow her to disguise herself as a male so she could attend university classes, but they refused. She was forced to continue as the creator of her own education.

Later, she became a lady in waiting to the wife of the Viceroy Antonio Sebastian de Toledo, marquis de Mancera. Juana’s keen mind and accomplishments were apparent to everyone, and the viceroy invited a group of noted scholars to test her knowledge. They were so impressed they granted her the equivalent of a university degree, with no need to disguise herself.

A couple of years later, she chose the one path open to her as a woman that would allow her to continue pursuing her studies. She became a nun at the Convent of St. Paula, where she also taught girls in the subjects of drama and music. There she also wrote plays and poetry, amassed her personal library, and collected musical and scientific instruments.

Many of her writings tackled the sexist double standards of society, most notably “Foolish Men,” which criticizes men for displaying the very same illogical behavior they ascribe to women. Here’s one stanza:

“Whether you’re favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you’re turned away,
you sneer if you’ve been gratified.”

Her poem “First Dream” delves into what it means to have a life-long passion for learning and knowledge. Well, it’s a pretty long poem and that’s a simplistic summary of it. But here’s one fragment:

“In Homer’s opinion, then,
the pyramids were mere material versions,
outward manifestations only
of inner dimensions instancing
the human spirit’s attitude:
for just as the ambitious fiery flame
assumes pyramidal shape when mounting
heavenward, so the human mind
assumes this very shape
in ever aspiring to the one First Cause,
the center toward which the straight line tends,
if not indeed the circumference
containing every essence ad infinitum.”

Not everyone approved of Sor Juana’s achievements. In 1690, the bishop of Pueblo published a critique she had made of a priest’s sermon. The bishop used a false name, Sister Philothea, pretending to be a nun, and accompanied the piece with criticisms of Sor Juana, saying she should stop writing anything secular and instead concentrate on her religious studies.

In response, Sor Juana wrote and published a defense of the right of women to attain knowledge, “Reply to Sister Philothea of the Cross.” In it, she recounted the obstacles she had faced. “I went on with the studious pursuit (in which I found relaxation during all the free time remaining from my obligations) of reading and more reading, study and more study, with no other teacher than books themselves.” Later in the missive, she speaks of a period of time during which she had been forbidden to read. She said that she used that time to study the natural world instead. And this is where I find her truly inspiring. When someone put up a roadblock, she said, in effect, “Okay, I’ll make my own road.”

In 1694, her detractors within the church finally either persuaded or forced her to sell her library for alms and to give up writing. She died April 17, 1695 when a plague swept through her convent. But her influence continues to resonate generations later. I’m glad I found her.

~~

Sources:

Merrim, Stephanie. “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Apr. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sor-Juana-Ines-de-la-Cruz

https://poets.org/poet/sor-juana-ines-de-la-cruz

That Lull Before the Renaissance

Photo by Oleg Zaicev on Pexels.com

My friend Liza posted on her Patreon page* about what Germans call “between the years,” that weird spell of time after Christmas but before the new year. Go read it. It’s entertaining and she dug up some interesting cultural information. Also, it reminded me that I wrote a poem on the very topic a couple of years back, not knowing there were entire national traditions surrounding this annual week of being at loose ends.


That Lull Before the Renaissance

That lull between Christmas and New Years Day
Is when pajamas serve as uniform
The chocolates are polished off
The one jigsaw puzzle of the year is assembled
Noble intentions gestate

We sleep in mornings 
Before the date arrives after which 
Every day
We’ll stir ourselves early 
To accomplish worthy deeds

We watch a few movies 
Before the date arrives after which
Every day
We’ll spend free time 
Working out and reading classics

We make grocery lists 
Full of carrots and broccoli
While crunching chips

We indulge and relax while we can
Before next week
When the work of the Renaissance begins


*Her Patreon also includes content behind a paywall that is well worth the low subscription price of pay what you can, if you’re looking for an independent author to support.

Poetry Reading, Me in Action

I did a thing, as part of the River Front Reading Series in Kansas City. Sorry about the glare on my glasses and the fact that I kept moving my head around trying to minimize it. But if you can overlook that and want to hear me read some poems, here’s a link to the video. I’m the first reader. I recommend sticking around for the second readers as well. I enjoyed her work a lot. Also, check out other River Front videos on YouTube.

A Poem and Yesterday’s Walk

The trees I saw on yesterday’s walk inspire me to share a poem I wrote.


Tree Envy

Instead of dreary gray strands threading subtly widening paths
about my head,
I desire blazing red 
for my autumn color
interspersed with patches of can’t-peel-your-eyes away yellow
and clusters
of an orange so perfectly sun-toasted
it holds its own as an independent hue
not remotely a blend of the other two.
I wish for the colors to burst
out all at once
so that people I meet
will feel their breath catch
at the splendor,
the glorious culmination of my maturity.



~~~