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.


What if it were a dream, what would it mean,
if a cat killed a bird barely ready to fly?
You wanted to protect the birds,
but you couldn’t. The cats’ wild nature,
what you admired about them,
drove them to hunt. When you took them in,
you thought you could balance their needs
with the needs of the local environment,
aliens though they were. You thought
you were more powerful than they.

At this point, in the dream, the cats
would have grown much larger than you’d expected.
They’d be like tigers, paws as big as your face,
claws that could take you down in one playful swat.
You’d be fearful for the safety of the children,
who, because it’s a dream, would be very small,
infants, even, not the actual gangly teens
you know today, who look down to meet your eyes.

You would hope that evolution
might have given the birds something.
They are wild, too. You might try
communication, learning their various
calls, watching and learning their habits.
Don’t build your nest in that tree, there are cats,
I can’t protect you, because cats. Cats.
And miraculously they understand, and
move the nest closer to the house.

What does it mean, when every day
you struggle to keep the wildness in, but it escapes,
and every day another dead bird by the door,
with the mottled feathers of one big enough
to fly, but not yet very good at it,
not having grown into their distinction,
the patterns and colors that show who they are?



Here’s a poem for all the adopted people and parents on Mothers’ Day.

Some families don’t look like each other.
Tall and short, different shapes,
long pointy noses and buttons,
olive complexion and fair with freckles.
Blue eyes and brown. All mixed together
dumped unceremoniously into one pot.
Stir, add heat, and call it a family.
We have no shared genetic memory,
our only history that which we claim,
that which we make together or make up.
A handful of heritages from which
we choose at will. This is adoption.
We are people so audacious as to
choose our family, by luck or by love or
being in the right place at the right time.
There may be times when we feel we don’t belong,
we’re in the wrong family. There may be times
we secretly long for the rich, kind, perfectly adoring
people we were meant to have,
who would buy us everything we want
and never make us do chores.
But we always know better: the real family
is the one you are with. Who needs
blood and DNA and shared cheekbones and skin,
who needs strangers to know by looking at us
who belongs to whom?
We are family by force of will.
Our existence is proof that we are.
Our existence is proof of the power of choice
and when we say mother and father
we are speaking verbs more than titles.
Don’t feel sorry for me, I am adopted and proud
and know the strength of family
in a way you blood relations never will.

Bob King

back massage

Of my teachers in massage school,
he was the one I wanted to be like.
Bodybuilder, deep thinker, he taught me
the importance of balance in structure.
Intellectual: in another incarnation
he would be an engineer, but in this one
he was an engineer of the body.
Lengthen and strengthen, he often said,
and I still say it in my mind
when I’m touching a person’s hip flexors.
Lengthen that which shrinks down and inward,
strengthen that which is overstretched.
Let us each stand as tall as we are.
Big strong hands that could make you feel safe
by touching you, compassionate spirit
that could make the truth feel less scary
when he spoke it. Lengthen and strengthen.
I’ve come to that age when I know
that people I remember from a long time ago
are likely to be dead now, but hadn’t yet
when I heard Bob King had died.
Magician, wise man: He knew the secrets
of the body. He taught me how to breathe.
How could he not live forever? How could I
have had my last conversation with him?
I still hear his voice, the way he measured his words.
I still think of questions I’d like to ask him,
about the vagus nerve, or torsion of the pelvis.
For some people I would be willing to believe
in heaven. I’ll see Bob there, and we’ll talk
about how it was to be in the body,
the exquisite pain and the dancing, the feeling strong
and feeling like a jigsaw puzzle put together wrong.
Remember when we used to lengthen and strengthen,
he’ll say, and I’ll say yes, I do, I did,
lengthen and strengthen.


NaPoWriMo Day 30: Library of the Obscure

Domestication crept in gradually.
It may have started with books.
Remember when books held magical
stories you couldn’t find anywhere else?
When facts were precious, and libraries
were oases of information? In the house
where I grew up, books in every room.
And then I began to collect them.

In things, too, there is rich history
that no one notices, or cares to.
The antique field organ that could literally
be rolled into a field, worth nothing today.
My scientist father’s collection of slide rules.
The voting machine that elected W.
A map of the world that shows Rhodesia,
Czechoslovakia, two Pakistans, one Germany.
A Rolodex, a Commodore 64 computer,
CDs, records, cassette tapes, 8-tracks.
Film projectors and reels and reels of films.
If I had a house with endless rooms,
it could be a library of the obscure,
a museum of archaic technology,
a gallery of unknown artists.
A place one could wander, looking
at objects with history, stories,
memorials to people who are silent now.
We could fix the broken banjolele
and the flute from the 1930s and
play for the children dancing
in costumes hand dyed in the 1970s.

When the oceans drown the coasts
and the governments wither away,
we will be here on the prairie,
reciting the Latin names of medicinal
wild botanicals, hosting readings from
the collected works of Shakespeare,
preserving food in the way
of George Washington Carver,
keeping our deep humanity alive
with the old stories.

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Nomad

I thought myself a nomad, rootless,
in love with the road, addicted to the new.
I lived on little, shrank my footprint,
claimed no place as home. Felt at home
in no place. I “followed the energy,”
committed to nothing and no one.
The world could end at any moment,
and I didn’t waste time on pursuits
that might not fruit in the foreseeable
future. I caught rides to distant cities
to protest oppression, met people
who held exotic political ideals,
followed them to coops and gatherings,
ate brown rice from my bare hands
when I didn’t have a bowl (“Hand food
is the best food!”), hitchhiked to wilderness
to protest logging of old-growth forest.
I could live here, I sometimes thought,
in the mountains of Idaho,
in Jamaica Plain, Madison, Missoula,
Eugene. But I never really did,
just stopped for a few days or a year,
never signed a lease, never took a job
I couldn’t walk away from tomorrow.
Slept on a pile of pillows, or a friend’s floor,
or a bare mattress scavenged from the street.
Went to bed drunk, too restless to sleep.

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Rainbow Gathering, 1991

It was a beautiful day. I closed my eyes
and warmed my face in the sun.
We were sitting on the ground in a meadow,
surrounded by earthy people
in grimy handwovens and tie-dyes,
and before the meal everyone stood in a circle
and shouted WE LOOOOOOVE YOU as a prayer.
We were young, a handful of friends for a summer
whose names I no longer remember,
who didn’t yet know the value
of carrying a bowl and cup in one’s backpack.
A big pot of brown rice was brought round,
some glopped into every bowl
off a very long-handled spoon.
When he came to us, the wild-haired hippie
with the spoon told us to hold out our hands.
The rice was sticky and still steaming,
barely tolerable to my tender skin.
“Hand food is the best food!” he said,
and went on glopping. I took it into
my mouth. It was the best rice I’d ever eaten:
it tasted of sunshine and mountain air
and strong hearts. Of wet earth
and freshly cut cedars. That day I learned a
rich, deep truth: that the story of Jesus
feeding the multitudes was absolutely real.
And that hand food is the best food.

NaPoWriMo day 22: [They rank those kids.]

I decided to lean into the falling asleep while writing thing I’ve been doing all month, and instead of trying to focus on an idea, type all the words that go traipsing through my mind as I doze off. I don’t know that this result is a poem, but I don’t know that it isn’t. What does it mean? Why don’t you tell me?

They rank those kids. Make them drink
motor oil. Sit down with us on the cold ground.
Is it too long from the church
you like to change my direction?
I’m not sure if he’s changed it
or if he’s changed. You’re giving
him more weapons. It’s in Kansas City
more likely, it’s got a little tin to it.
What happened? I just found this
on a high shelf you probably can’t reach.
You want it? They’re lying to you,
Rachel, your head’s so high. Do you hear the
waterfalls doing that? I hear them.
If you make her a paper airplane.
Nobody gets it, the purple zeitgeist.
Those slams really bother you. Mm hm.
That makes sense because everyone agrees
they’re really happy. Don’t box us in.

Mom, what are those giant airplanes?

NaPoWriMo Days 20/21: Rough Draft/To Be An Artist

I’m not sure these go together. Not entirely sure this is poetry. But I wrote them together over two days, so here it is.

I. Rough Draft

If these poems seem rough to you,
it’s because they are. It’s often eleven
before I pick up the laptop,
after the kids have finished their
homework, selected some pajamas,
put the pajamas on, brushed
their teeth until the top of the hourglass is
empty, plugged in their devices, taken
their last hug of the day, and, finally,
gone to bed. Then talked to each other
out loud for a while, then
quieted to whispers.
Before all that, I’ll have wandered
into the kitchen, examined the contents
of cabinets, the refrigerator, and freezer,
maybe perused a cookbook
and decided to do something I already
know how to make, washed a round of dishes
while I think about how to do it, tidied
some work space, prepared the food,
called everyone to dinner,
threatened to sit down and eat right now,
then waited anyway for everyone else
to come to the table.

Mornings are solitary, leisurely.
Yoga. Hygiene. Feed myself.

Afternoons I give my full attention
to one client at a time.

And every day, pretty much the same.
I do all the stuff. I get things out of the way.
Then when it’s quiet and too late
to make phone calls, too dark to clean house,
the cats are inside, the humans sleeping,
I clear a space on the couch,
sit down, open up the magical device,
and bang out a poem, hoping to have
something decent before
I fall asleep.

II. To Be An Artist

To be an artist, you have to want it
more than anything. You have to want it
more than you don’t want to be laughed at,
more than you don’t want to be told what to do,
more than you want all the other
things you want, more than you want
your children to wear clean clothes
more than you want straight As
understanding friends
organic home-cooked meals from scratch
and all the homeless housed.

You have to want to open more than you want to stay closed.
Want to fly more than you want to stay on the ground.
You have to want people to see your naked self
more than you want them to approve of your taste in clothing.

Want to make people feel all your vivid feelings more than
you want to protect them from feeling your pain.

Want to rip your heart out of your own chest and wave it
dripping in the faces of strangers on the street
more than you want to be intact and insulated and safe.

Whatever the medium—color, sound, words—it’s always the same.
Money, friends, stability—be ready to throw it all away
so that you can be here, now, you, all that you are, nothing more,
nothing less, nothing to hide behind, nothing to ask for,
strip off your costume, rip open your chest
so everyone can see the meat clinging to your ribs
and the glory of your gory, pulsating, squirming, bleeding

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Fires of Spring

Burning hill
The vultures love to ride the rising heat.
They see it shimmer in the air
high above road and prairie.
Brown clouds rising on the horizon.
Haze dulls the air. Bits of ash fall,
and come to rest on every surface.
Miles of blackened ground.
Within days, new green seeps up
from the black; indomitable grass,
life that can’t be arrested, even by fire.
There’s dying back in fall, then still cold
of winter, and now this slow explosion.
Even when I cough and tear,
I love the smoky smell of prairie spring.


Here’s some cool footage of the prairie burningfrom the air.

NaPoWriMo Day 18: A Ruined Book

Where will you be?
the land of the semi-colon . . .
which is like a wall, isn’t it, or maybe a wooden fence;
punctuation growing like fruit from the trees.
Moody, insistent, tart – each one with its own flavor—
why limit oneself to the sweet?
Yes, it can be overwhelming, but don’t give up!
Even the rough jagged peaks have their beauty
and the darkness is only a subset of light
and the vines have their own will
and we’ve become old, haven’t we?
Everything fades. We take what we can get.
A path, something green, and living
or only the remains of those who passed by here long ago.
Dinosaurs. We’re all dinosaurs, some more dead than others.
It’s precarious, this living.
There’s the theoretical, and the concrete, the metaphysical
and the symbol;
and the realness disturbs our struggle to live on paper.
Sometimes it rains.
And finally, this is all we have: rain, a place, a ruined book.


This poem was written after the prompt from The challenge is to begin with an unfamiliar poem by another author. Each line of my poem is an answer to a line of the seed poem, in reverse order. The seed poem is “How My Hair Got Wet,” by Greg Fields, published in Flint Hills Review, Issue 22.

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