Janet

She stood at my front door,
her mousy hair now red,
her sad eyes wild in green spectacles
(not hunter, chartreuse) and exclaimed
“I have written a story about peas,
and one about carrots, too!”
It was her mad manic editorial
of the book I’d just written.
My hurt and insult welled up,
formed a river no compassionate
Buddha could cross.
Funny, all I knew of Buddha then
was what she’d taught me.
First teacher. First mentor.
First guide to connect the dots of the Universe,
explain its constellations.
Then all I could see was that red hair,
those euphoric eyes turned sharp left
to back down the driveway,
my devotion dragged beneath tires.
She would crash and burn, of course.
(They always do.)
But I hear she went out on a high…
blazing love and light across
the crazy brilliant sky
in which I still find stars
and stories and faith.

©2018, Jen Payne. Photo by Neale LaSalle. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.

Bear Thy Name Is Fear

If you asked me 15 years ago what my biggest fears were, I would have said 1. Spiders, 2. Public Speaking, 3. Flying.

If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said 1. Spiders, 2. Public Speaking.

If you asked me last year, I would have told you that I love flying, had made peace with spiders, but that I would rather die than get up in front of an audience.

So, flash forward to this:

Yes. That’s me. On stage Wednesday night in a production of Thornton Wilder’s The Long Christmas Dinner by the Moses Gunn Play Company.

Now, if you’d seen me 15 years ago, in fetal-curled panic at the thought of giving a 3-minute presentation — you would understand the size of the bear that was wrestled on Wednesday.

But “a funny thing happened on the way to the theater,” as they say. There were grand moments of at-all-cost avoidance and embarrassing failures. Six months at Toastmasters and healing humor. More embarrassing failures, lots of baby steps, wise coaches, Rescue Remedy…and a few surprises. Like a 3-minute presentation. And then a 30-minute presentation. And then lines read in a play in front of a live audience.

Fear is a powerful opponent.

So is Perseverance.

©2018, Jen Payne. More of Jen Payne’s writing can be found in her new book Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, available online from Three Chairs Publishing.

Star Gazer

The man who
loved me forever
told me once
he slept on
Cherokee ground,
under a tent
made of stars,
…..dreaming of me.

It was mythology
of course —
his and mine.
An optical illusion,
those celestial bodies
rising forever
to dance
across the sky.

We were the ones moving
slowly…..slowly…..slowly…..apart,
from that first, brief collision
now only starstuff

dusting

…..memory

……….and poems.

If you like this poem, you’ll LOVE Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, the new book by Jen Payne. Click here to buy your copy today! ©2017, Jen Payne

Flood Insurance

These are the things I thought to save:

……shells from Cape Cod circa 1977

……an orange Sears towel from my grandmother’s house

……and the necklace she gave me from her trip to Arizona

……the dissected photos of my parents’ wedding

……my Dad’s watch, overnight bag

……(also, his hardcover copy of Walden with margin notes)

……Winnie the Pooh……in the red shirt my mother mended

No matter the flood of seas or tears, accidental fire or the kind that comes with brimstone, and with all apologies to Buddha of course, I will suffer these attachments — these glimpses of a past life, the smells of cedar and déjà vu.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. Image: Water Album – The Waving Surface of the Autumn Flood, Ma Yuan. If you like this poem, you’ll love Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind. Click here to purchase your copy today!

Book Review: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

It is no surprise that for the two nights since reading Kin Types, I have had vivid dreams of my own family. It is no surprise because Luanne Castle’s thought-full book presents the concept of family in such a palpable manner, one feels as if you have sat across the table from an aunt, a grandmother, a cousin, and heard family stories that could very well be your own.

Layered with poems and prose, you turn a page to reveal the next colorful character, the faded memory, the texture of a detail only a poet would think to include. The result is a beautiful collage of the family experience — its loves and losses, its joys and sorrows, its tragedies and secrets.

How clever of Castle to include the modern-day theory of behavioral epigenetics, essentially we are that collage, we are the stories, they are in our DNA. It is the premise of the book, and holds its own from the opening epigraph by Liam Callanan (The Cloud Atlas) to the final, beautiful poem “When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother.”

Speaking of photographs, do make note of the woman on the front cover, her knowing glance to the author’s photo on the back. Is this the forebear who whispers “Don’t quit writing like I did”?

No matter, we are happy Castle heeded the advice.

CLICK HERE to order a copy of Kin Types from Finishing Line Press today.

Memory Made

You are the building
that makes me whole —
my upright infrastructure.
They tell me you are bone,
sing songs that this
connects to that,
but how else to explain

the mystery pain
that takes up residence
in random places?

the cache they cannot see
with their machines
or diagnose with certainty?

the telltale whispers
in my head that haunt
but never relent?

the words that break off
from aftershocks
and fall at my feet,
collected in bowls
around my house?

I pick one up and write:
this is the labyrinth,
the year of sadness,
the walk on hallowed ground,
the day we saw whales
and he loved me because
I cheered.

Poem & Photo ©2017, Jen Payne

Commonplace

the one who watched her walk to sixth grade from his front door, the gold bathrobe open, exposed

the one who slipped a tongue when no one was watching, just a goodnight kiss to his best friend’s daughter

the one who assumed flirt meant fuck, crushed her hard against a suddenly reclined seat

the one who figured the Big Mac and fries bought him sex, like a toy you get with a Happy Meal

the one who insisted on air conditioning in winter, who joked about cold nipples while pouring hot coffee in the breakroom

the one who called her girl in a room full of men, then ignored her while she led the meeting

the one who slammed her into a corner, left bruises as a reminder that dishes were to be done before he got home

the one who dined her, wined her, loved her, then left her alone, in the dark…and never came back

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. #MeToo. Image: Man and Woman I, Edvard Munch.