Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Writing Prompts for NaPoWriMo

I’ll be participating in NaPoWriMo this April. That’s National Poetry Writing Month, inspired by NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which is in November. Rather than a novel, the challenge is to write a poem each day of the month. I’ve never done such a thing. Haven’t attempted to write on demand since I took Poetry Writing in college, and that was only one a week. So I don’t actually know that I’m capable of writing a poem every day for a month, but all the people who ought to know agree that if a person is serious about writing, best to do it daily.

It occurred to me today that I could start a list of prompts, so if I don’t have an idea, I can try something from the list. Feel free to use this list any way that is helpful. Here goes.

Your favorite season
A food you love
A food you hate
A conversation with a person you dislike
An imaginary conversation with a famous person
A dream, or dreams
Insect pests. (since I met my first tick of the season today!)
A totem animal. (I’ve already written several about turkey vulture . . .)
Music. (This song has inspired me to write no fewer than three poems!)
A spiritual practice: prayer, chanting (see above, under Music), yoga, etc.
An old object. From where I’m sitting, I can see
vintage binoculars
a photograph of my mother as a girl
a wicker laundry basket
a rocking chair
VHS cassettes
A bell: doorbell, dinner bell, bell jar, bell of a trumpet . . .
Something growing:
your belly when you inhale
a river after it rains
A teacher
A piece of art that moved you
A time when someone did something unexpected
A wild place
Light. Sunlight, lamps, flame, invisible light . . .

Here are some pictures that you could use, too. Look at them, then tell me what you will be writing about this month. What will you add to the list?


Sada Hadur Hai

So there was that man in church who spoke
of his daily quiet time. He would meditate
and ask, What direction is my life moving in?
Where is God leading me?
He was a successful businessman
so I thought I’d probably do well to
learn from his advice, but I can’t meditate. My brain
goes wandering off like a bemused toddler.
Similarly, my life has no direction in particular. Nothing
I expected even looks likely.
And that was before I had to take out that car loan
and hustle more massage business to pay for it, before
the dryer died, my hair falling out from that thyroid thing,
the cracked pipe flooding motel room 6.
I still do yoga,
when I can collect myself. It takes a while.
I put on some peaceful yoga music, a Sikh chant: Moh mohia,
[Infatuated with emotional attachment]
janai dur hai. [we think that enlightenment
is a long journey away.] Koho Nanak, [something about a guru]
sada hadur hai.
[but really it’s here, now.]
I sing along. I lose count
of the sun salutations.
I stand on the mat in mountain pose, looking out
the leaky patio doors, wondering what enlightenment
is, and whether it’s something I really want,
anyway. I have too much to do to allow myself
to be distracted by the Eternal. Moh mohia.
My sick thirteen-year-old coughing on the couch.
She doesn’t like the repetition,
but Dilpreet and I know it takes a thousand
times before you really get it. Janai dur hai.
Triangle pose. Breathe. Forward bend. Bridge.
Ten-year-old watching instructions
for how to make a champion paper airplane.
When I get to final savasana, I try to listen to my breath.
An actual corpse wouldn’t cling to the body so.
Would melt into the floor. Would not notice
that paper airplane flying overhead.
Listen to the breath.
Coughing on the couch. Moh mohia. There’s so much
distraction and noise, I can’t even hear my breath.
And in this moment I see that God is leading me to write poetry.
All this noise, it’s not distraction, it’s the It, it’s the All, it’s the
What it all is. I am to be a poet, navigator of
incomprehensible juxtapositions. Surfer
on the waves of ego, emotion, and event. Witness and scribe
of this body, this being, this
Sada hadur hai.


When the taxes hadn’t been paid
—or filed, and the accountant called
from Topeka to ask why, I didn’t tell her
about the long months after the baby
when death was my greatest longing
and deepest fear. I didn’t tell her that
when you run a motel, it’s never a question
of whether there is a leak, or a clog, but
of which room. Rooms. I didn’t tell her
how I’d come to dread the ring of the phone,
how I jumped at the sound of the
doorbell. What’s wrong now? I didn’t
tell her about the words —trapped, helpless,
that had come to be like
fat lazy friends who crowded me
on the couch with the baby. Or that
my marriage had changed in ways that
I didn’t understand, that I couldn’t trust
my perceptions, that her understanding
of causality probably wasn’t relevant to
the question she was asking.
I’d met that slender woman before,
in person, seen how she looked at me, with her
coif and pantsuit and briefcase that
matched her shoes. I in cutoffs with
a toddler on my hip and a failing
business and a debt I could not pay.
I didn’t tell her that I’d had a good education
from a respectable liberal arts college,
could’ve done anything, and I chose this.
This was what I chose.
I told her that my husband had a job
elsewhere now and that there was more
work than could be done in the hours
available, which answer did not satisfy.

She had a girly first name but her
last name rhymed with penis,
and I did not mention that, either.

Room 8, looking east

I often dream of motel rooms.

Our Song

Forever ago I dated a boyman who was a huge fan of U2. It was in the 80s, before they sold out. We bonded over our mutual depression, which I guess I thought was daringly honest. We listened to U2’s album War together many times. We loved “Bad,” and sometimes I would say it was our song. He would say it couldn’t be our song because it was too depressing and he’d heard it was about a girl who was addicted to heroin. I didn’t see why that was a reason, and to this day that song reminds me of him, thirty years after I couldn’t continue to live in the cage that was his world, and broke up with him. Thirty years after he finally succeeded in killing himself.

When I think about it now, it seems more than ever like the perfect song for the relationship we had. If I could, through myself, set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away, see you break, break away, into the light . . .


This week I saw a video of Bono and The Edge playing in a subway station in Berlin. And I could totally see that nineteen-year-old boyman loving that coat Bono is wearing. He actually wore his hair kind of like Bono’s in this video. And I’d never heard the song they’re singing, but the chorus is Get out of your own way . . . nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside. I could help you but it’s your fight. And oh my. It’s so what Richard needed to hear. I may have said something like that to him back then, who knows, but not with the conviction of having lived half a century and solved problems and lived through failures and gone on.  But if Bono had said those words then, maybe Richard would’ve listened.

Anyway, I don’t really think U2 ever sold out. I’m not looking for reasons to judge anyone anymore. They did what they did for reasons that are not mine. I admire the longevity of their career and their commitment to helping people in need, and they’re still around and writing new songs that can move me.

Midlife Crisis

After a certain number of years—say,
fifty—it begins to appear that the thing
you’ve been doing all this time—the thing
which you thought was a minor obstacle
to be kicked aside on the way to doing
the things you came here to do—
that thing, was, in fact, the thing
you were here to do. And all those
other things, the ones you secretly
hoped for, the ones that seemed so
important that your life would have
been squandered if you spent it all
without doing them, the quest for a
glimpse of the unspeakable beauty
that formerly called to you from dreams,
all those things—nothing. Mere diversions,
vapid entertainment to dull the quotidian
ache of doing the real work.

Ah, this life will grind you down, slowly
over many years, if you’re lucky.
Stone to powder. Bone to dust. And that,
I suppose, is also the point.
Monarch fall 17-09

Fall Dancing

Moh mohia janai dur hai.
Kaho Nanak sada hadur hai.

Sikh mantra

And there are also times of unexpected joy.
It’s always there, here, as in the leaves
that fall spontaneously in stillness
and sunlight, turning over and over.
They are their own shadows.
Joy in the breath and the sound of the breath
and the movement of the body.
Joy in bending down and reaching up.
Joy leaking through the cracks
in the mindless repetition of ancient patterns
you love without understanding.
In every season, exquisite joy
that moves in you, dances you, if
you let it. Do. Dance though the mind
has other plans. You can still count
sun salutations, and dance in between,
though the body be heavy with humanity.
There won’t be dancing later, in that place
you secretly long for.

Sun through window Nov 17-3

Reversing the Process of Decay

I am on the board of the Strong City Preservation Alliance. Our current project is the restoration of the Opera House, also called the auditorium, or the movie theater. There was only ever one of any of those in Strong City, so no one bothers with any more formal name. It’s been empty for decades. People my age remember seeing movies there as kids, so I’d guess it was still open in the 70s or 80s. It was for a while owned by someone who used it for storage of his . . . stuff. Eventually the roof collapsed, and the city took possession so that the Alliance could restore it. It took time to get the roof replaced because first the walls had to be stabilized to be strong enough to support it.

Like most such projects, it could only happen because some people felt very strongly about it, and were willing to put in countless hours to make it happen. I’m a newcomer to the Alliance. I didn’t grow up here, so my only motivation is that I love old buildings, especially ones that have lots of space for various activities and dreams. So I thoroughly enjoyed working today in the clean-up of what remains of the little lobby.

Most of the floor of the auditorium either fell with the roof, or it was removed, I don’t know which. But the lobby just inside the front doors is still there, hanging above what was once a ballroom, and below the skeleton of a balcony. At one time the back wall had been moved to enlarge the space, and you can see the ends of the studs where they were cut and left hanging. When I went in today, a frame of the “new” wall was leaning against a rotting ticket counter, which had been left on top of about twelve inches of dust, debris, and boxes of miscellaneous storage.

Our task was to clear it all out. At first it was daunting, but like most clean-up jobs, it was essentially a sorting problem. A small amount of the material was salvageable wood trim or pressed tin from the ceiling. Wood and plaster could be sent to the city’s burn site. Plastic and anything that could be called “household trash” needed to be removed and sent to landfill.

It was a good lesson on hoarding. A large amount of the stuff we sifted through was thought by someone to be collectible. But if you collect more than you can manage, or if you fail to dispatch the things to other collectors, they inevitably decay.

There’s an enormous amount of work yet to be done, and it will take a mountain of money. We expect the job to take ten to fifteen years, or more. I may not see the job completed; but I’m glad I was here today to sort and shovel and participate in reversing the process of decay.

Not Waking But Dying

I came home from taking my daughter to school and barely noticed a black V on the gravel in the parking lot. But I managed to avoid running over it, and on closer look it turned out to be a monarch butterfly, presumably waiting for the sun to warm her/himself enough to fly. I supposed it could as likely have been dying, but I preferred to hold hope that it would soon be joining millions of other monarchs on their long journey to Mexico. Meantime, I took advantage of its torpor to get down on the ground near it, close enough for some photos.

Then I stood up, hesitant to leave a helpless creature where it was liable to be run over by a vehicle. I went over the possibilities in my mind . . . It was Friday, so I wasn’t expecting a garbage truck. Kevin was already gone to work. Caretaker Steve’s vehicles were present, and he doesn’t usually get out in the mornings. The butterfly was probably safe. As I stood there thinking over the possibilities, the sun broke over the roof of my house, and the slanting light was perfect for some more shots.

By the time I was done, the sun was shining fully on my little friend. It still hadn’t moved, other than to open and close its wings a few times, and turn to get the sun at a better angle. I went inside for a while, making a mental note to come back out in an hour or so to make sure it got away.

But the butterfly was still there when I came back late in the morning, its wings open and immobile, legs curled inward. This one didn’t make the journey; it wasn’t waking, but dying.


Mars Conjunct Venus

There’s a rabble-rouser in me.
Likes to fight. Likes to shut down
a discussion with his jury-rigged
arguments made of home-canned
logic and duct tape. Lives with his gang
in an abandoned barn on the outskirts
of my mind. Strutting around shirtless
and sweating like he owns the place.
His girlfriend, she’s interesting. Titian mane
falling over a thrift-store feather boa.
Laughs like the bell grandma used
to call everyone in for dinner. Sings
like cold water from a deep well.
I’d be friends with her, if I could
just get them apart. We watch them,
my little girl and I, hidden under the
low-hanging branches of an evergreen.
We only see shadows through the grimy window,
but we can hear their voices, laughing,
shouting. Firing off the shotgun just for kicks.
If they knew we were here,
they’d torch the place and scatter.
We’d never see them again. But they’d
still be around, out there somewhere,
causing trouble.

Rowan at window2

Black Tangle


It could take a year to get this place in order,
but I have to sell quickly. And I have to give
it over to the next owner with my whole heart,
with love and joy. So today I’ll plant this stone
flower box, with mums, because it’s late
in the summer, past the season for annuals.
The box is overgrown with perennials that
no longer flower, and volunteer white heath
that flowers too late. Oddly for August,
there’s new green growth under the black tangle
of last year’s moldy stems. I grab handfuls
of dead stuff, roly-polies scatter. Oh roly-polies,
cute dry-land crustaceans, I remember now
why I hate you. How many times have I
planted mums here, how many times
did you kill them? How many gallons
of water did I carry and pour out
for that which was doomed? I remember now
the full heart I put into this place, the
hope I held. How bitterly I gave up. How
intimate I’ve become with the word failure.
Why am I doing this? Love and whole heart,
oh yes. These blooms will be bright and pretty,
if only for a short while: that’s all I need.
Give me a week to show the place, then
let it be someone else’s job. I leave
a chunk of gangly mystery flower, move
the native late-bloomer a few inches
to make space for today’s fresh batch.
No normal person would find beauty
in these weeds, but I am a master of rescuing
the unwanted, of seeing beauty where others
see trash. The beer-can pinwheel isn’t a loss,
yet. I turn it to the slight breeze, watch it jiggle.
Every time I think it’s slowing to stillness,
another whisper wakes it. It never quite dies,
never really spins.

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