His Master’s Choice

After watching too many presidential Coronavirus “briefings,” I woke up at 4 am several nights ago and wrote this ditty. I’ll let the poem speak for itself.

HIS MASTER’S CHOICE

–with apologies to Alexander Pope’s, “Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness”

I’m Mr. Pence, but call me Mike;
In D.C. I’m called “little Spike.”

I love to stand behind my man,
To fawn and fetch whenever I can.

I do not bite. I am not bold.
I do whatever I am told.

I’m a Christian, a Boy Scout, I never lie.
That’s not a leash. No! That’s my tie.

I’m well-groomed and obedient;
I’m Donald Trump’s Vice President.

–Nancy K. Carpenter
© April 9, 2020

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My “No Green Thumb” Poem

I’m posting this poem at the request of several Facebook friends, who were curious about a reference to my former status as a non-gardener (and, I should admit, a lousy housekeeper).  In my son’s early years on our small farm in Texas, we had the “go-to” house, since I wasn’t fussy about boys vaulting over my living room couches, sleeping all over the den or raiding the refrigerator day and night. I just made sure to stock the pantry with good food, or so I thought, and always had plenty of Pillsbury pull-apart-and-bake cinnamon rolls.

On one occasion, my younger son’s pal decided to make something truly healthy for the gang and dove into the lettuce/veggie drawer. When it came time for the salad dressing, he was horrified to find that most of my bottles, half-empty and crusty around the tops, were grossly outdated. After that, he vowed never to eat at my house again. Oh well, I got a poem out of it:

I AIN’T NO BETTY CROCKER
(OR) I AIN’T NO MARTHA STEWART

The Smith and Hawkins Company
Has sent two “Lily Kits” to me.

I’m double-dared to force “Lily,”
Against all odds of Botany.

Just look in my fridge and you’ll agree,
Green mold’s my green thumb’s specialty.

The mildewed cheese and mysteries
Are well-known to my sons who tease

That immunizations are just a breeze–
They’ve survived Expiration-Date Disease!

                                          NKC

 

 

 

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Spaghetti in My Hair

In the Fall of 2014, I took a job at Headstart in Liverpool, N.Y.  I had moved back to Upstate New York after living 26 years near Dallas, Texas, in the wake of a divorce. I longed to be closer to my family and the land of four seasons, lush green summers, and snowy winters.  Employment was suddenly a necessity. Having taught high school English in Connecticut in the late ’70s, I decided to try something new. Vastly new. While my teaching certification was in grades 7-12 English, I was curious about the other end of the spectrum. In the years preceding my return North, I had written a children’s book series, and wanted to learn first hand about the pre-school reading process. Working with 4-year-olds seemed like a good place to start, and I had always been curious about the Headstart program.

As in all my teaching stints, I experienced great joys, coupled with myriad frustrations. It’s the nature of the vocation, but my time spent as a classroom assistant to a young woman fresh out of graduate school was an education unto itself. Call it my apprenticeship or trial by fire, it was a crash course in elementary education. And I had, (as do most high school teachers) great respect for my elementary counterparts. Despite the non-stop nature of the job, it was a pleasure to have a classroom to go to every day, work with the same team of dedicated teachers, and get to know the same group of children personally.

Sadly, I could not live on the pay that was offered to a classroom assistant and moved on to substitute teaching at a local high school. It was a difficult but necessary choice, but my time at Headstart was full of memories–so many that I wanted to write them down to keep them close. Memories shaped themselves into chapters, and I decided to print some here.  Perhaps someday I will cobble them together into a book.

This was to be Chapter 3: Spaghetti in My Hair

The site I had been assigned to was under construction for the first few months of the school year. Previously, my director’s site was in the basement of a neighborhood church, but an increase in rent pushed them out and made way for a wealthier “for-profit” day care.

Now we were waiting for the school’s maintenance crew to renovate a hair salon and window store in a strip mall into a school, and over the next few weeks they did just that. Meanwhile, we met at a sister site, an old elementary school downtown that made room for our little band of homeless teachers. It was there that my first lessons in pre-school began, and the first occurred in week one, when Janet, our director, took the rookies of our group into a classroom for lunch.

Lunch in this program, like all activities, is a learning opportunity for the children. It’s served family style, and while we are required to sit and eat with our little charges to model behavior and manners, we are not to assist them unless absolutely necessary. Independence and self-sufficiency are two of the main goals of the program, so learning to pour milk from a small pitcher into a small glass (all plastic), is something to be learned and encouraged. So too was serving oneself from a common bowl of noodles or vegetables, without diving in with one’s own fork or spoon, and eating right out of the serving dish. When that happened, the bowl was quickly whisked away and replaced by a new, clean one.

I sat across from Janet, and watched her interact with the children; it was an invaluable lesson in Headstart 101. She spoke to them in a quiet, respectful tone, asked them about their day, their likes and dislikes, encouraging them to try a vegetable, but not insisting. She was absolutely nonchalant when one youngster’s milk-pouring turned into a Niagara Falls of white, flowing from the pitcher to his glass onto her lap and then to the floor. She simply got up, politely excused herself from the table, and went to get paper towels to help the child mop up the mess. No fuss, no muss. I was determined to achieve this level of composure and skill. She was inspiring.

She moved on to another table, leaving me and a fellow rookie in charge of our kiddos, and I learned all about the joys and love of “noodles,” or what I would call, spaghetti. Pasta was a favorite, and subsequently, double and triple portions were taken. We did not rush the children at mealtimes. When the majority were finished, they went to the “toss and scrape table”, where they cleared their plates and dumped the empty dishes into a bin. This was done in such a fashion that I realized it was a daily routine they had mastered. And it was only late September. That was impressive.

Two little girls, however, were apparently extra hungry that day and took serving after serving of the sticky spaghetti to their plates. They told us stories as they ate, reveling in the attention of two new faces. Spaghetti that stuck to the little serving tongs was shaken loose onto plates and went flying everywhere. When I got up at the end of the meal, I found spaghetti in places I’d never imagined. And, most noticeably, in my hair.

Driving home from work that night, I composed a little verse, as is my habit, to celebrate the occasion:

YIPPEE, SPAGHETTI

Spaghetti on my napkin,

Spaghetti in my hair,

Spaghetti stuck beneath my plate–

Hey, would you like to share?

Spaghetti on my blue jeans,

Spaghetti on my chair,

Spaghetti with and without sauce,

Spaghetti everywhere.

Spaghetti on the table,

Spaghetti on the floor,

Spaghetti on my sweater.

Please pass it, I want more!

Later, when our site was up and running, I did learn to model my behavior and stay calm as Janet had taught me during that first meal. I learned to let accidents happen and consequences ensue. No more jumping in to prevent spills. No more hovering to “protect” the table from floods as I had done as a mother with my own sons. I watched in amazement as these little 4-year-olds learned to navigate a table full of silverware and bowls of hot food. I don’t know who learned more over those months, but I had a good idea.

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Christmas Inflatables

We’re having a wild and snowy winter in Upstate NY this year, and it stands in sharp contrast to my previous 26 winters in Dallas, TX.  With ceramic bumps as lane dividers on TX highways, plows are not allowed, nor is there much need, since most years, Dallas might get a couple of days of the white stuff. Salt and snow are used sparingly, so consequently, an inch of snow can shut down schools and stores for a day.

It takes subzero temps and many feet of snow to do the same here in Lake Effect Land, where the winds coming off the open waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario pick up moisture that is dumped as several feet of snow in an hour. And such storms can last for several days! It’s beautiful, but sometimes harrowing. http://s.newyorkupstate.com/sojU4Gd

There is also a phenomena that I believe results from the lack of snow in parts of TX, and that is an overabundance of holiday lights. We do string up lights in NY, but many nights they are covered in snow, trying to twinkle beneath heaps of icy snowdrifts.  To make up for the lack of a wintry wonderland, Texans have created a festival of lights that can be seen from airplanes thousands of feet in the air. And the newest decorating rage for Christmas– blow-up lawn ornaments, or “inflatables,” as I’ve seen them advertised, has reached ridiculous proportions. In one neighborhood, a lawn might have as many as 15 figurines glowing like bulbs all night, held in shape by generators puttering away in the background. I’ve seen teddy bear ferris wheels in snow globe bubbles, Dr. Seuss’s Grinch standing taller than the live oaks, and inflatable reindeer that looked like they could swallow a round bale of hay in one gulp. Such  inflatables are sometimes seen in NY, but here, if they are not anchored down like dirigibles on a dock, the winds could easily set them aloft for miles. I envision a Macy’s Day Parade gone amuck with one lake effect snow blast.

The most memorable Christmas inflatable I ever encountered was in my last year in the Lone Star State. I was taking a morning walk through a friend’s neighborhood and saw a North Pole display next to an entire Nativity scene deflating right before my eyes. I couldn’t fathom setting Santa down next to the Wise Men, let alone wanting to replace a wooden stable with a balloon barn, but there it was. A poem began banging around in my head, and was finished by the time I arrived home:

THE INFLATABLE BABY JESUS

Santa to the left of him,
Snowman to the right.
Little Baby Jesus
Has made it through the night.

But with the dawning of the day,
And the Texas winter sun,
This cheery scene grows bleary,
As Phoebus makes his run.

Joseph’s knees are buckled,
And Mary’s in a heap.
The ox collapses to the ground;
So too the little sheep.

The snowman’s grin is grimacing
As he sinks into the grass.
The Wise Men fold into a pile,
And Santa’s on his ass.

Oh where is little Jimmy
Who’s supposed to check the pump,
Watch over this Nativity,
Give camel back his hump?

He’s been out hunting squirrels
With his brand new Christmas gun,
‘Til a stray cork popped the manger.
Baby Jesus is undone.

****************************************

But a miracle shines down from the porch steps,
Like the star over Bethlehem–
It’s Dad and a flashlight and duct tape.
All’s well. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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NY Winters: Shoveling

Many of my friends in Texas thought I was insane to move back to “snow country” after 25 years of living in the Lone Star State. There was much I loved about my home in Dallas, especially my horse and hay farm, but I missed the four seasons, the Upstate topography, and the winters. You can only take off so many clothes (in public!) to cool off, but I love wool sweaters, puffy quilted coats, and mittens. I grew up in Whitesboro, NY, outside of Utica, and the landscape and weather became a part of me. My first winter back, I wrote this poem one afternoon after returning from teaching. I had to shovel my driveway before I could get my car in (I have no garage–113-year old house–no cars back then ). But, I didn’t mind. Even at 63, (this was in 2014).

SHOVELING

Darkness comes early to Upstate Winters.
Late afternoon, I drive home in dusk and cloud cover,
To a driveway indivisible from lawn and street.

Snow that has fallen all day and night
Lies heavy on tree branches. Shrubs
Lean low and in, help me define
The brick passageway for car
And small footsteps.

Gleaming in a glaze of ice and snow,
Everything draws my eyes up and away
From the shovel, full of snow,
So wet it clings to the black blade,
Will not let go,
Grows heavier with every push and heave
Of my arms and back.

But everywhere I look is white:
Trees, mailboxes, the porch steps,
An old outdoor grill, patio chairs,
My neighbor’s snow-arched trellis,
The garden gate,

All blanketed, all whispering,
Aren’t I beautiful,
Aren’t I beautiful.

NKC

my neighbor's trellis

my neighbor’s trellis

snow trees

snow trees

snow rocker

snow rocker

snow on bushes

snow on bushes

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More Leaves

More foliage poems. This time, haiku. As a teacher, I used this form to introduce students to the power and use of metaphor and to ease them into writing poetry. But now, I love the simplicity of it for my own writing, when a glimpse of something moves me or a stray thought comes and bangs around in my head. Many poets use haiku as a warm-up exercise for a day of writing. I don’t write on any schedule, so for me, it’s just another form that fits certain subjects.

This one came after a rainy walk:

Gold leaves of Autumn
Face down on wet, black asphalt.
Such a fall from grace.

And this one, after 9/11:

Leaves fall one by one,
In pairs, threes. Windblown flurries.
Some hold hands and jump.

 

 

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Autumn Walk

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this site, and the Upstate Autumn has emboldened me to start posting some of my poetry. Most know me as a children’s poet,  since I have a children’s book series, Itty & Bitty: Two Miniature Horses, and I am a contributing writer for the Highlights for Children magazines, Hello, and High Five. However, I have drawers of other poems that I’m going to finally bring out into the light.

I grew up in Upstate New York, in a town outside of Utica. I never realized how the land had become a part of me until I moved to Texas in the ’80s, and experienced a vastly different landscape. My husband and I searched to find a home in a setting that somewhat approximated our former home, and settled into a rural area outside Dallas, into a farmhouse with some acreage, trees (post oaks–what were those?), a pond, and a grassy pasture. I learned to appreciate the scrubby look of the land, and the tough trees that could weather 110 degree summer days for months on end, but my heart was always back in N.Y.

It helped that my sons thought of Texas as home, since they were ages 1 and 3 when we moved for my husband’s career, but it never felt quite like home for me. I made wonderful friends, had a menagerie of cats, dogs, and horses–a childhood dream, but still, I missed the topography of N.Y’s rolling hills, lush fields, rivers and streams. And perhaps the hardest thing to adjust to was the lack of 4 distinct seasons. I remember in my first year on the farm, waiting for the temperatures to drop in September, then October and for the rain to come. But at Thanksgiving, we were still in tee shirts, and the kids were playing ball out in the dusty pastures.

A return to Upstate N. Y. in 2010 to be near family reminded me of all I had missed. And my first Autumn was full of joy–the smells of wood burning stoves, rain soaked soil, and the sight of the leaves changing, heralding the coming of winter.

Out came my pen, and this was the result:

AUTUMN WALK

The red leaves always catch my eye.
Like bright red lipstick in a crowd
They shout out,
Draw attention to themselves.

Even once they’ve fallen
Face down on the sidewalk,
They pull me down to pick them up,
Turn them over in my hands,
Examine stem, veins, striations, edges.

And so many reds–
ruby wet kisses
scarlet flash of a Cardinal’s wing
the matador’s taunting cape
the Pope’s cope
a fluttering Valentine
blood’s rush.

People drive long distances to see these
In their glory, in Autumn,
But this year’s warm days and warm nights
Have left colors muted–too much burgundy
And brown.
Leaf-peekers are disappointed.
Weathermen apologize,
As if this were a burlesque, for our benefit–
Some performances good,
Others not worth the price of admission.

But having been away from this for 26 years,
In a land of no seasons,
Where September’s best red is poison sumac,
And brown is dirt and dust,
I marvel at the mystery of
This bloodletting of the trees.

And with books at the ready to explain all the reasons–
I prefer to wonder…
Who or what chooses which leaves turn to red,
Which to rust?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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