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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Writing Poetry is Not for Sissies

Writing Poetry is Not for Sissies

To write clearly

                with simple words

                                is a chore.


My pencil wants

                to write words

                                that dance


with alliteration

                and adjectives

                                (those dreadful things.)


I have to beat my poems

                to teach them

                                to behave, flail them


free of adverbs

                and of clich├ęs;

                                clean their teeth


of flowery phrases

                they sneak when

                                I’m not watching.


My husband asks,

                “What are you



And I have to confess.

                “I’m beating a poem

                                to death.”


He laughs, but it’s true

                and I’m not done


Monday, May 27, 2013

I Miss the Sun

I Miss the Sun

On rain-dark days

I miss the slant of sunlight,

melting its butter

on the hardwood floor,

in the places the cat likes to sleep.

After days and days

of cold and damp,

I forget the light’s still here;

well, up there, above the clouds

just twiddling its thumbs.

And forget,

after days and days

of sun and heat,

I’ll be moaning for the rain.

Words and photo copyright 2011-2013 Carol Steel.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

As I Gather my Clothes for the Day

As I Gather my Clothes for the Day

I am caught at the window

by a slant of light,

by these oak leaves turning to gold.

The sunrise is singing the morning awake

with songs that melt on my skin

and underneath their spreading spell,

I breathe the buttery light

and dream of becoming the same,

dressed in mist and leaves and dew.

I stand long and long at the window

breathing the dazzling day.

As the skin of my life loosens,

I spark and ignite, burn,

and flow shimmering

into this welcoming light.


Photo and poem are ©copyright 2011-2013 Carol Steel.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memories of Playing in Mud

Memories of Playing in Mud

What is it makes me smile at seeing three children stamping in the mud?  Perhaps it is this memory from my childhood of a heat-held day in August and the five of us pleading to go to the river to play. 

Five faces under twelve nagging in unison are hard to resist.  We pack our jam sandwiches and oatmeal cookies and endure the usual warnings.  “Watch out for the changing tide, don't play in the main part of the river, stay away from the quicksand behind the fence on the marsh, don’t play with skates—just leave them alone, make lots of noise to warn bears you are near and come home when you hear the whistle.”

We nod, yes, yes, and scamper off.  We walk the mile and a half to the river in the company of black flies who are happy to see us.  Fingers of alder and needles of spruce scratch at our arms and legs, but we are cooler now walking under a canopy of oak, maple and birch, as we chatter our way to the water.

We strip to our bathing suits and throw ourselves screaming down the sluices of mud.  Soon we wear sleek new skins, as we slide down and down the troughs, shrieking when our legs slip into the frothy brown river.  We scramble back up the banks grabbing toe holds in the muck, giving ourselves to the lure of the squelchy sludge, to the call of the syrupy ooze.

We are sun-warmed and wet with soft, heavy clay squishing from our feet, clinging to our fingers and clumping in our hair.  We slide and play.  We are brown shining creatures, wild and exuberant under resinous pelts.  For hours, we slide and tumble; we become river otters. 

Yet eyeing the tide, we know we soon need to leave and begin the chore of washing ourselves in the freshwater brook that spills into the river.  We try (as much as any child tries) to get clean, but the brook water is so cold it bites into our bones.  Unable to remove all the clay, we sit on the banks sunning ourselves, flaking off dried chunks and flicking them at each other, teasing and eating our lunch.  In our teeth, we catch sunlight and laughter.  The summer heat dries us like creations kilned after the potter’s wheel.

Then far away, a signal sounds.  Our grandfather’s two-fingered whistle calls us back up the wooded hill, “Come home.”  We carry our clothes.  We are still so encrusted we can’t put them over our bathing suits, now dyed the colour of dirt.

When we arrive in the yard, too bespattered to go indoors, we wait.  We know the routine.  Our grandmother sprays us with the hose, the water from the gravity-fed spring as cold as the winds of December.

We shiver as bits of mud and clay slip and plop to the ground.  Cuffing at them with our feet, we make mud mounds.  Later, we gather these globs of damp clay and create pinch pots that will bake in the sun, to hold the dandelions we love.

Bits of my childhood are preserved in mud, like the red pottery made from Petitcodiac River clay.   Memories of being river otters, enchanted with the magic of mud chutes, of splashing into the river, scrabbling up slippery banks and coming home caked with clay and laughter; these memories whistle me back to my childhood home, whenever I see children stamping their feet in the mud.

Photo and words are ©copyright 2011-2013 Carol Steel.  These are three of our grandchildren walking in the mud at The Rocks in Hopewell Cape, supervised by both their grandfather and their mother.  They were not in any danger.

If you would like more information about the Petitcodiac River, click here

WARNING:  The Petitcodiac River is not a safe place to play.  It has strong tides and undercurrents, quicksand and mud so sticky you can get stuck and can't get out.  This memory is from 50 years ago and involves a small tributary of the river that entered our property and provided the safer banks and slower waters in which to play.  Do not slide into the banks of the main Petitcodiac or you may not get out.  It can be dangerous and deceptive and often is.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cat and Crow Have a Quarrel

 Cat and Crow Have a Quarrel

Upstairs, my cat sits in this open window and watches, sniffing smells carried on the winds of sunset.  Without warning, black feathers flash filling the frame, as old crow lands on the nearest branch of the maple that shelters our home.  What a rumpus.  Their arguments grate, their words need oiling; each one huffed up and cursing the other.  Fearing the screen may not hold, I clap my hands to distract them.  They yield, and old crow flies off into the twilight.  The cat sulks and stares, searching for feathers.  All I can hear now is my heart drumming the beats of this battle.  Evening closes its shadows over their squabble and the air grows still, as if nothing had happened.  Then the cat’s head jerks to the left; something is stirring the darkness.

Words and photo are ©copyright 2011-2013 Carol Steel.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall*

My knees don’t like the rain, though they now give more accurate predictions of the weather than the meteorologist.   Aging is less fun as I pass the six decade mark; at least the physical aspects of growing older are less amusing.  Gravity is not my friend and some body parts are missing and others, wearing down.  Each day, I grow more curious about what will accompany me into the future and what I’ll relinquish.

And yet aging bears gifts.  I am more patient, more focused on fewer priorities, have a deeper wisdom and have let go of needing to force what I know into the ears of others.  And I have lived long enough to recognize there are cycles in my life.  There is a kind of balance between the dark times when all is painful and waiting and the fecund times when all is green and growing.  Life, all of life seeks balance. 

Me, too.

After passing through four years of depleted energy levels, depleted to dangerous levels resulting in back-to-back illnesses, I have come to a place of stillness and inner focus.  There is time now to spend loving my husband and family and friends, time to cuddle the cats and to garden.  There is time to stop for a while as my life comes back to healthier balance.  There is time for me to write, to stare out the window and to gestate inside.

My family genetics lead me to hope that I might live into my mid-nineties.  How encouraging that is in terms of becoming a skilled poet and writer.  There are still many years in which to learn the craft, to hone the skills, to practise and to write.

I’ve learned I can give myself sweet permission to do what I need and want to do.  So now, I write every day, sometimes wearing my magenta bathrobe until noon.

And I know that no matter what happens in my life, whatever it is, it will begin and it will end, just like the rain. 


NOTES:  *“Into each life some rain must fall” is a quote from the poem, “Rainy Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.   The line is also the title of a 1944 song performed as a duet by The Ink Spots, featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Kenny.   Words in colour will link you to another website with additional information, if you click on them.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hurricane Sandy 2012


Hurricane Sandy 2012

Late last October the winds came up, way up; blew in at one hundred and ten mph.

A hard storm curled its way along the coast, bellowed its tantrum into your island,

ripping trees, pitching them into houses, crushing cars.  The tide surged in

and in, until the sea sucked the bones of the land and spit out death.  Then, the waves

tried to bury what they’d done with sand and debris and seaweed, tried to cover the windows.


And after, days into weeks with your wife and children huddled near the fireplace,

eating fridge leftovers, then mining the canned goods, waiting for the grid to crank up

with civilisation again.   When cold had crept into every last corner, the baby got sick. 

It didn’t feel like camping anymore with the candles burned and clothes covered with vomit

and water getting scarce, yet the damage went on.   “Never seen anything like it,” you said. 


Seven months and your chainsaw continues to chew the deadfall into fire wood, now drying

in tidy rows in your yard.  Chunked lengths of black oak lie where the crane dropped them

to your flagstones; they await the teeth of the portable mill.  For you are determined

not to waste these trees fallen after two hundred years of touching the sky; you choose

to honor and remember them.  You want to saw them, plane them, build furniture;

you want to build tables with tales of the wind to tell.


The words and photo are copyright © Carol Steel.  This story of Hurricane Sandy is a compilation of stories and is not meant to depict any one family.

Monday, May 20, 2013



There is the satisfaction that comes from training hard
and finishing a marathon
and there are the wide blue eyes of pleasure
as a baby discovers the world in his mama's face.

This poem is after Mary Oliver's poem "Yellow" from the book Evidence.  The photo is mine.  If you would like more information about Mary Oliver, click here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Saucer Magnolia

Saucer Magnolia

All day each blossom opens
from a bare branch no bigger
than the handle of a teacup,
bursts out of a dark pink bud
and, it has in turn burst
from a fuzzy cocoon, once tight and brown.
Yet, from cups and saucers,
the cream and rose
pour out again and again.

This poem is after Ted Kooser's poem  "Screech Owl" from Delights & Shadows.  The photos are mine.  Words in colour will take you to another website with additional information, if you click on them.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


A late spring night and the raccoon mama
has come again to the shadows in front of my house
as she has for the past eight years,
with her kits tumbling, wearing their masks.
Don't think they are a casual part of my life,
these white-ringed tails in the dark.
(This poem is after Mary Oliver's  "Snowy Egret"  from Evidence.)
Words in colour will take you to another website for additional information, if you click on them.
The photo is not mine.  It is used with permission under a creative commons license.  The photo is owned by vladeb and is from vladeb's photostream, which can be found online.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Crab-apple Tree in Your Yard

The Crab-apple Tree in Your Yard

Each spring in your yard, a crab-apple tree, two stories tall

unfolds rosy ruffles, spills petals in showers of silk,

soft as your new baby’s skin.  The tree sprinkles a blessing

for those who can see.


Yet one morning at five, your neighbour appears

outside in her housecoat, its belt cinched tight,

outside in her yard with not a leaf out of place;

her hands on her hips, she stands under a fresh fall of petals,

a gift from the breeze.

Ah! Glory sifting pink through morning’s slant light.

But her face is pulled into a purse of frowns,

as she glares up at your flowering crab.


She sweeps; head down, studying the slate slabs.  She’s battling invasion.

Waging a war, she conquers each petal, every last one.

Heaving a sigh, with her brown slippers and broom,

she retreats to her house, so tidy and beige.  And later,

I hear her leaf-blower blowing, dusting the lawn

again and again.
Words and photo are copyright Carol Steel.




Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Doe Group Walks the Yard

A Doe Group Walks the Yard

My rhododendrons do not bloom, though they have grown five years in my yard.  They are not as advertised:  “Henry’s Red, a hardy rhododendron with plump buds, and promising fifteen individual flowers to each cluster.”  

The promise has not been kept.  I have not seen one red bloom.  Not one.  The plump buds disappear before any flowers come.  It’s a mystery but I suspect I know the answer.

To test my theory, I sit at my living room window, looking out over the front garden.  There are no interior lights on and nothing except the window screen between me and the rising darkness.  I watch and wait.  The dark throws layers of shadow over the lawn.  I can taste the cool air and hear the robins singing a welcome to the evening.  I am silent, still, waiting.  Shadows stretch and deepen, as charcoal silk spreads over the grass and gardens.

I sense something; movement?  It’s a perception behind my eyes, a knowing, just before my eyes can focus.  Then a ripple of movement; shadow upon shadow on careful, quiet legs.  She stops and looks, searching before leading her family down the hill.  They keep near the edge of the street, travelling mute over the grass.  Their split toes soundless and delicate like a lover’s touch.  Silent, they glide in and out of the deeper shadows cast by the trees and the neighbour’s house. 

Close now, she stops, head up, neck straight, brown ears scoping side to side.  Does she see me, sense me in the window?  I hold my breath; turn to stone.

She decides all is well and brings her two yearlings with her, stepping out of the shadow of the maple, stepping nearer.  Careful, watchful, hungry.   The doe is full, budding ripe herself, soon to birth new life.

I intended to frighten them away but cannot.  I cannot take my eyes from their brown velvet skin, their long lashes, their eyes, round and full and deep.  I watch them bend and nibble; their lips and teeth like a surgeon’s fingers, taking what they want and no more.  What they want are the buds on my rhododendrons.

I should startle them, make a noise, and wave my arms.  If I did, the pregnant mother would straighten and stamp her split hoof, snort a warning and all three would bound away, white tails raised.  I should but I don’t.  Something stops me.  I only sit and watch.  I cannot stop staring.

They step away from the garden and fade, shadows upon shadows as they melt through the yard to another neighbour’s house, to his pond for a drink.  When they are still, I cannot see them even though I know they are there.  They are part of the darkness.  Only in movement are they revealed.

The three deer have gone now, up through the mulch at the edge of the driveway, stopping to snack on the green shoots on the yews, eat bits of new grass.  They cross the street to another yard, searching out other treats before returning to the sheltering woods at the top of the hill.

My mystery is solved. 

I stared into her face.  She stared into mine.  I didn’t move or shout; she didn’t bolt.  In that moment, a kind of blessing passed between us, mute and tender and real.  My rhododendrons have no blooms, but another form of beauty is walking my yard at dusk and dawn.


The words and photo are copyright ©Carol Steel.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Waves of Writing

It is hard to write this week.
My head is full of ideas and my pages full of scribbles and jottings, but nothing is coming together into poetry or story.  So, yesterday, we drove along the coast of New Brunswick to get some fresh air and different perspectives. 
We stopped here.  Saw this, breathed spray from the white caps.  The wind was blowing right through us and out the other side. 
As I watched, the waves reminded me that coming in, going out, over and over again, back and forth, over and over is one way to discover.  Sometimes it takes time.  Sometimes writing takes time.
And, sometimes the writing has its own rhythm.
Words and photo are copyright Carol Steel.