What You Get When You Flood Your Mind With Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”

Lenore’s Reprisal (inspired by “The Raven”)

January is a dangerous month. January is deadly. Don’t believe me? January. killed. my. Lenore.

Ok truth. A-steering-wheel-through-the-heart killed Lenore, but it was January’s fault. Lenore’ll tell it was the road, slick with ice and a blanket of snow. She’ll tell it was the brakes on the Volkswagon—that’s what did her in. But don’t you believe it.

You hear that? She’s always jingling the keys, telling me I need to take the car to the mechanic. From the garage I hear them ringing, hear her earrings and their blinging, and my guilt is ever-stinging at her mangled, undead form.

Though the Browns are playing, which is to say they’re losing, I get up when she starts her jingling because I know I’ll get no rest till I let her in the door. Why she doesn’t just come right on through—my ephemeral, vaporous wife of thirty-nine years, some of them while she lived and breathed—Lenore wants me off the couch, that’s why.

I tell her, “Wait just a minute, will ya, honey? It’s January.”

She tells me she waited for me to fix the brakes and look how that turned out. I meant to. Really.

She stands right in the way of the telly, hands on hips, keys a jangle, rusty earrings a’dangle, matted hair a crimson tangle. Who can enjoy a game with such distraction? Not I, nevermore.

“Your father wasn’t a glassblower,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint.

She doesn’t.

I ask her to remove the serrated keys from my chest. She twists until only the key ring is visible, wrecking my PJ’s forever.

“Please?” I ask. “Take your keys from my heart, your form from my foyer, your brakes and your bangles, your oxidizing earrings and your weather-beaten bones, you zombie chore. Won’t you go? I can’t take it anymore.”

“Nevermore,” says Lenore.

photo credit: @amarnathtade

I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words class: read “The Raven” at least three times then craft a story based on it. You can change anything, POV, genre, aspects, motivations, setting, etc. 


fiction, Poetry

Christmas. Finished.


On linen and straw

lay a birth and a death.

God hedged by flesh

shepherds, magi.

It pleases us to imagine

God just born, vulnerable

delivery’s slick dross clings

the ache of mortality.

It’s comfortable: God

on bovine-scented straw

held in woman’s arms

and a lowly one at that.

It’s Christmas: a keening deity

swaddled. Bound

by a choice to come

die. One day. A black Friday.

Not Black Friday savings

markdowns, slashed prices.

But marked, slashed, battered

He saved us.

It’s God:

carrying His death and ours

to a far-off hill, an infinite burden.

A mustard seed must die

For a tree to thrive.

Centuries’ old tradition


In linen and blood

hangs a birth and a death

God hedged by flesh


on writing, Poetry

Considering Death This Christmas? Read T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”

I’ll never forget the first time I read “The Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Elliot. Think: Passion of the Christ, sub magi. This poem is deep and dark and human, revealing the grit that’s glossed over by art and centuries. All I knew of the magi is they were funny-looking little men-dolls we set up each Christmas, and there they stayed, their gifts outstretched toward baby Jesus for all the month of December.

Enter poetry to save the day. Enter “The Journey of the Magi.”

Turns out there’s much more to their story besides a manger moment and a savvy decision not to tell Herod where Jesus was because they had the sneaking suspicion Herod was a psychopath. They’re not called “wise” for nothing.

Tradition says there were three wise men, but only because there were three gifts. The Bible records it in Matthew chapter 2:

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,

Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;

For out of you shall come forth a Ruler

Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.




If writing is about creating empathy, Eliot gets you so close you can smell the goat cheese curdling in the travel bags, taste the sand in your mouth, and smell the sweat and camel dander. He clothes with human skin these porcelain men who live one-twelfth of the year on our fireplace mantels. They were complainers, cynics. They lost heart, lost their money, lost sleep over it all. Like us. They found Jesus. And the find was a loss as well. Follow their journey and note the change Jesus wrought in the lives of these wisest of men. The last line of the poem makes a curious statement– the magi would be glad to die. Most people won’t be able to figure out what on earth the man is talking about… can you?

The Journey Of The Magi

‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

by T.S. Elliot

Homeschool Life, Poetry

5000 Words Poetry Lesson, 10-13 Year-Olds

img_1589I nearly jump out of my seat when students come up with bold, fresh images that sound like something out of open mic night. A year ago I decided to teach them simile. “A cat is like a kitten,” someone offered. Now I have them churning out similes like: disappointment tastes like rocks. Fourteen tweens gather weekly in my home for writing/literature class. Today we learned how to write a sensory poem and a cinquain, both of which are non-rhyming, formulaic poems. I had to do one (ok, I just wanted to) as an example.

Joy, a tall cup of Starbucks, creamy brown.

Gurgles, burbles, bubbles, “pssst” on the hot plate.

Seared black and oily, cracked beans, smell like possibility.

Bitter, strong, I purse my lips against the steam.

This cup of American optimism and luxury

Feels extravagant in my hands, in my nose, down my throat.


For those of you who’d like to try a sensory poem, here’s the “recipe.” If you do, post it to the comments! 🙂

Line 1 – Name an emotion or feeling. Finish the line with a color.

Line 2 – Tell what it sounds like.

Line 3 – Tell what it smells like.

Line 4 – Tell what it tastes like.

Line 5 – Tell what it looks like.

Line 6 – Tell what it feels like.


I also wrote a cinquain. I’ll try to post it and some of my student’s writing in an upcoming post.

              5000 Words Shoes on my Landing

R is for Raveled



See the kite

assembled, tied, stretched taut

on a bone frame, its colors

a brazen flutter in a blue-white sky.

See the kite

coveted, owned, loved.

New-toy perishable love.

Kites are frustrating.

Without wind,

without a hand on the string

they fall. See that.

Or this: a dropped kite

sliced by leafless branches,

nothing more than worthless ravel,

the kite string

slithers along the ground

wraps mummy-like around

the tree that stopped its flight.






Personal Journey, Poetry

I is for Invictus

IThe first words ever to move me were penned by William Earnest Henley just after his leg was amputated. “Invictus” was put on a screen in my 8th grade English classroom for a rhyme scheme lesson. I furiously copied every word, oblivious. Henley’s words challenged my view of myself as a leaf in the wind. It was the first time I coveted strength.
Little did I know “Invictus” also inspired such great men as Nelson Mandela, who leaned upon it during his horrific treatment in various South African jails. Later Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela, would love it enough to memorize the lines.
You can imagine my disappointment when American terrorist Timothy McVeigh declared it his favorite poem too. I wanted to tell McVeigh he couldn’t possibly like my poem, that monsters aren’t allowed to like poems about inner strength and perseverance. Were you the captain of all those other souls too, McVeigh? The ones you stole from the earth? I still remember when he was put to death. I remember thinking McVeigh was about to meet “what Gods may be,” and that he was in for a serious and much-deserved detention.
Truth is, I fell in love with this poem before I fell in love with my Savior, so some of the sentiments don’t exactly apply anymore. I know “whatever gods may be” and He’s the captain of my soul, rightly so and to my joy. “Beyond this place” of mostly blessings, lies more blessing still. The I-won’t-be-crushed-come-what-may attitude still speaks to me and makes me sad for Henley, who thought he was destined for hell after completion of a miserable life. Henley’s words, though a timeless, elegant commiseration and call to courage, betray a misapplied trust (in self), a lack of faith (in God), and a pitiable error (his captainhood). Only by half does this poem speak to my heart, how funny that it once stole it.
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.
Personal Journey

Via Non Facta: Everest

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood…

To understand humility as more than a theoretical concept, to be dethroned, struggle in a wilderness, to cry out for God’s strong arm, to not feel like the beautiful one, the popular one, to be overwhelmed by converging deadlines, tempted by conflicting choices. This and more I see for you, should you decide to take the road less traveled.

To embody humility, to find your limits and surpass them, to overcome, to willingly pass up a throne, survive in any wilderness, to know God’s strong arm is always there and has always been, to appreciate the beauty in others, to not covet popularity, to be able to stand in your choices, come what may. This and more I see for you, should you decide to take the road less traveled.

If you turn away from this, if you choose the well-worn level path, I promise you, you will regret it one day. Maybe not today, or this week, or even this year. But there is no man who doesn’t wonder, when he gets enough height to plainly see the trajectory on which his choices sent him– what he could have done, would have done, had he climbed the mountain. The level and pleasant road is not the road less traveled. There’s a reason that road is overgrown. Only now, as you face it, do you begin to understand why.

You may not recognize it because you’re at the base, but this is only the first of many Everests; at each one you’ll have a choice: climb it or walk away. The flatter route tastes bitter later, when you see fellow climbers who chose the challenge and overcame, when you look up and see their shapes, small as ants against the sky above.

Imagine the end, though you are at the beginning. Do you want to be the one to say, “I took the road less traveled. And it has made all the difference.”?