Writing Prompts, Not Always Promptly Written


I write in my head a lot, mostly when I’m driving. I hear a phrase in the lyrics of the music I’m listening to and an idea is born. I try to keep them in my head until I get to my destination and put them in notes in my phone. If you could see into my head it probably looks like a bowl full of fortune cookie size bits of paper with writing prompts on them.

Yesterday, as I was thinking about the death of a friend’s mother and I suddenly remembered the circumstances of my own mother’s death, a piece of that night I hadn’t thought much about until yesterday. My niece had moved mother to a house she was renting at the time where she was receiving hospice care. The upstairs room in which Mother died was the same room a boyfriend I had in seventh grade had hung himself many years after junior high. That kind of smacked me in the face, seemed like there could be a lot to unpack there. In the seventh grade circa 1958 we called it “going together”, this mostly consisted of walking around the halls between classes and holding hands. I don’t remember ever seeing him outside of school or any conversations we might have had. But he was tall, dark, and handsome. I’m sure we looked quite odd together as I had probably reached my full “height” of five feet and no inches. I had mostly forgotten about him and moved on to shorter pastures until my niece told me of his fate. I still can’t reconcile that boy I knew and how he ended his life.

I came up with one of my favorite characters for my novel Marigolds in Boxes. I was listening to Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church”, in which he sings that’s a fine looking high horse. And, just like that, High Horse Harry was born.

Last week at the Rufus Wainwright concert his sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche opened for him. She’s also a talented singer/songwriter. One of her songs had the phrase perfect fireworks. I don’t know where or when I’ll use it, but I will find a place for it one day, giving her full credit, of course.

Inspiration from the poem “Great Sleeps I Have Known” by Robin Becker came in the form of the line where I saw a bird fly from a monk’s mouth for my novel Flight Plan about escape from abuse and shape shifting.

There have been times when a character has awakened me from a sound sleep. I had to immediately get up and write about that character so he or she would let me get back to sleep. That is how Miss Mayrose Mayhern was born. I wrote her in great detail and let her sit for many years, not quite sure what to do with her until I began writing Marigold in Boxes and knew she would be the perfect foil for the affable Milton Matthews.

Every week I’m privileged to sit in a circle with amazing women writers and take read back lines as we read our words to each other. I have notebooks full of them that I can tap into when the muse is being illusive. I always write down whose line it is, because they deserve full credit also.

We never know where writing ideas will come from. What we need to do is to be alert enough to realize that inspiration is everywhere. We simply have to notice it. It’s not rocket science, but it is kind of magical. I’ve learned through my own writing and listening to the words of others that nothing is too small to write about. Stories are out there waiting for us. That’s how I found my topic for today’s post. Who knew?

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse
2019

Like Me

Sitting in the waiting room,

twenty-four years ago, 

shivering,

not because I was in a hospital gown

2 sizes too small, 

naked underneath from the waist up.

It must have been adrenaline.

Or does that cause sweatiness?

I was freezing, I was never freezing.

Maybe it was the fear that made me cold,

It started as soon as they told me to have a seat and wait, 

just one other woman and me. 

She kept looking at her magazine,

I never saw her turn a page.

A nurse came out and asked me,

in a voice dripping with empathy,

if anyone was with me.

That was when the first tear fell.

That was when I knew.

The lady stopped not reading,

she looked up and said, 

“It will be alright honey”

“But I have a five-year-old” I responded.

She went back to not reading.

I have thought of her many times in these 24 years, 

wondered if she ever read the article she was staring at,

wondered if she snuck it in her handbag,

wondered if she saw a surgeon the next day,

if she was told her breast needed to be removed.

Wondered if they opened her up to cut it off,

then changed their minds,

when they found out they were wrong, 

that it wasn’t cancer.

I have wondered if she still has her breast, 

Wondered if it was alright for her,

Wondered if she is still alive. 

Like me.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

Are We There Yet?

P. L. Krahnke

Thousands of miles in a backseat

Sunk in the bench seat while 

The adults drive and steer

And yell sit down let’s play a game.

Sweet Jesus, why do we have to play a game,

I don’t want the distraction from my dream

Of a better life than an eleven year old

Without equal rights, complete autonomy

Over my body, and where it goes in a car,

Over there, over here, shit

Are we there yet?

They call me names and threaten to pants me, 

That mediocre hoard of other eleven year olds,

And I wonder, who is this lower level of being, 

these small humans who think so little of me

and

What is their point of conveying it in such terms? 

Mom always said 

her Mom always said

Above all be kind. 

So I took it, until I screamed in the darkened bus doorway

Such rage, rage, rage.

Bus Driver screamed back at me to shut up and

Sit the hell down, 

The first memory of my priceless girl voice being told

It was nothing, so I took it, but my head and I screamed

Motherfucker

And sat the hell down after fighting my way down the bus aisle 

through flails and sweats, the shouts and shrieks of these mediocre beings

Allowed to behave in such a way when I was not allowed to behave in such a way,

As I sought eye contact with someone, anyone else

Both silenced and wrathful like me.

I sunk in the bus bench surrounded by stench

As I looked out the window and wondered,

Are we there yet? 

Who was this guy driving that bus, some guy,

Just some ordinary guy, to tell me 

to shut up, 

just some random guy

Who got paid to yell at me 

to shut up,

Who got paid to keep the noise down but

Who didn’t hear the noise in my head 

From the merely average boys who threatened me in whispers

With pain and humiliation,

No one told them 

to shut up

But me. 

Bus Driver was a dick

But for some reason I imagined 

a world where all average mediocre nobodies 

would enter the distant future as ripened, mature,

Carefully spoken, kind in their actions,

Empathetic in their emotions, and generally totally cool. 

But if you pay close attention to rolling machines, 

such as vehicles and Earths and cubicle chairs,

It is clear they represent defined environments, 

claustrophobic interiors, 

for the playing out of such high dramas

That hint at a destination but never actually get there. 

Settle down on the bench seat, don’t raise a ruckus.

Ignore them and they will go away.

Here, play a game. 

What fucking game? I’m being serious, here.

Serious about what I see and where we’re going.

I’m screaming, it’s all real to me we’re

Stuck in the confines of borders and passports and 

moveable walls that may appear to change the inside 

but it’s still the same place,

Filled with mediocre nobodies 

Whispering pain and humiliation with

No Bus Driver to tell them to shut the hell up

And sit down

Because the Bus Drivers are in charge of the ride

And they don’t give a shit,

They’re getting paid to keep it down.

I scan the aisles and the confines, 

the atmosphere at the bend of the lens 

that looks out toward Mars, 

seeking eye contact with someone, anyone else

Both silenced and wrathful like me.

I know they are here. 

Are we there yet? 

Two Attempts to Explain What I Know

                                                                                                                          

POINTS OF VIEW

This morning, alone in the house,
moving up the stairs to my room,
I think…
I am the only one of 7 billion humans who is seeing these particular dust motes
dancing in this specific ray of sunlight
streaming across this bamboo floor at the top of these stairs.
I feel the Universe is charging me with seeing this one particular view.

Across the face of the planet, 7 billion of us look from corn fields and rice fields, deserts, mountains, forests, cities, war zones, prison cells, sick beds, from boats and ships, from airplanes, from beaches and the sides of volcanoes, opening our eyes for the first time and closing them for the last; we are looking from billions of singular points of view.

Trillions of members of other species are looking out on this world with strange eyes
that see a completely different world than mine.
Now as I watch my hens moving and pecking in the grass
I think…
My three hens move through the space of the yard each day,
Looking out of eyes that see more colors than mine.
They are charged with seeing the same world from their particular view.

This Earth is being fully seen.

POINT OF VIEW

Let me be true to that little child who saw that the adults didn’t understand that they couldn’t really name her.
Let me be true to the vastness that has coalesced to form this dot of matter that finds me looking out from this tiny point of view.

My work in this world is to remember the infinity, the emptiness from which all is born into form to take up a vantage point.
All points of view, from plant and insect, to predator and prey, look out on this world and the Formless lives the totality of form and view.

I wish I didn’t keep forgetting that I am a tiny point in an unimaginable, endless infinity.
I am born from the Formless into this particular, individual shape, never to be repeated.
I am here to be awestruck and to look and see and hold the unbearable beauty and the unbearable breaking heart of this lonely, soon to vanish, point of view.

Veda Stanfield for The Poplar Grove Muse