What’s Your Plan to Vote?

October is in full swing and now is the time to make a plan to vote. I’ll never forget the year I moved to a new city where the county election commission was riddled with technical difficulties. The problem was so widespread and detrimental to voter morale, it made national headlines. People waited hours in line, myself included. My three little kids were with me as I stood in the elementary school hallway until it was my turn.

This is what happens when you don’t make a plan.

For the 2020 election, I have a plan: I will vote in person because I love the shared experience with my neighbors. For me, this emotional boost of gathering with others who value civic duty is worth the risk of long lines. I am fortunate to live close enough to take a short walk to my precinct. And this time, I will leave the kids at home with a sitter.

But you don’t have to wait (or walk) to vote. Plan your vote today. Make sure your voice is heard. In the meantime, this poem was inspired by the year I had no plan.

Ballot

That year I stood in line

for 3 hours with 3 kids.

I lectured them 

like a televangelist

on voting rights

and American history,

how non-white, non-men

were denied the right

to participate in civil

circles, people died.

And if time in line 

was my earthly cross 

to bear for suffrage

in our amended present,

I would drag a slab of wood

until all the lights went dark,

until every door was locked.

Then I would hammer my fist 

until it dripped with blood

and poll workers let me fill

all the ovals in my ballot.

But gravitas was lost 

on them, their ears

plugged with hunger

their short legs tired

from standing for so long. 

Christmas Cow & Reading Poetry During a Pandemic

I am delighted to have three poems published in Vol. 52. of Broken Ink. Check out their website or swing by USC Aiken to snag a copy. Wednesday night, I attended Broken Ink’s release party in Aiken, South Carolina to read a few of my poems. Since the pandemic, I have basically been a hermit in my shell/home. Maybe that’s why it was heartening to be surrounded (and spread 6ft. out) by so many people who love the arts.

Reading in front of a crowd with a mask on, however, was a strange experience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-mask. I am happy to wear one so we can gather in courtyards to share art safely. I just felt like I was going to swallow the cloth or worse choke on it. Plus, I don’t like the smell/taste/feel of my own breath. I also wondered what was happening beneath the masks in the crowd. Were they smiling, frowning, quietly booing? I will never know.

Below you will find audio links for two poems: Christmas Cow and A Conversation with an Opposum Nesting in a School Trash Bin which both appear in broken ink . They were both acknowledged for Washington Awards. While you’re at it, take a moment to read Allie Pizzemento’s award winning prose too. Like Christmas Cow, it is set in December (and no, we did not plan that out). If you enjoy her work, there is more good stuff on her blog. If it seems to soon to hear a poem like Christmas Cow, keep in mind, there are only 79 days until Christmas.

Christmas Cow by Danielle Ann Verwers
A Conversation With an Opossum Nesting in a School’s Trash Bin by Danielle Ann Verwers

Time is Gentle

Time feels strange right now. Some days it speeds by and other days it creeps. Most days it feels warped and unsteady with months and days rolling into one another unmarked. Before the pandemic, I felt like I had a solid handle on time and schedules. But now, virtual learning consumes most of my days. The constant glow of a screen feels hypnotic. And rituals that mark time (social gatherings and such) have fallen to the wayside for now.

Earlier this year when Ed Madden, the Poet Laurete of Columbia, SC asked for poems about time, I submitted Time is Gentle. At the time I wrote the piece I had no clue how my relationship with time would be transformed in six months as my workload increased dramatically because of the pandemic. Reading the piece now, feels comforting, like a cup of coffee with a good friend who thinks you are awesome just the way you are.

The piece appears on The Comet Bus along with work from other poets. A big thank you to One Columbia, The Comet, and all the people who made this project come to life. As an advocate for literacy, I love the idea of poems on a bus, just waiting to be read. To read more, just follow Ed Madden on facebook or instagram where he posted one poem a day from this collection during the month of September.

Time is Gentle by Danielle Ann Verwers

Gullah Geechee Queen

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the Petigru Review for selecting my poem, Gullah Geechee Queen, for their most recent issue.  The poem is a part of a larger collection exploring life in the modern South.

Jane Bowers, Sue Cryer, and Amber Wheeler Bacon have created an elegant compilation of writing to be enjoyed at your leisure. The readers, designers, and photographers of the Petigru Review have curated a reading experience you don’t want to miss.

Is your budget tight?  No worries.  Amazingly, the online publication is FREE!

Check out my poem, Gullah Geechee Queen at: https://thepetigrureview.com/1104-2/

And make time to read the other pieces at: https://thepetigrureview.com/

On Writing, Failure, and Writing

National Write a Novel Month (NaNoWriMo) ended yesterday. I love the hype. I love the energy. And I love a good challenge. Naturally I accepted the task at hand: write 50,000 words in one month. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No

Throughout the challenge, life didn’t extend the courtesy of pausing or at the very least, slowing down. Instead it raced ahead. During November, I studied for college classes, took a Praxis exam, spent over 30 hours driving to a funeral, hosted a birthday party, taught a few lessons to high school students, took one daughter to the doctor and took another daughter to have surgery, cleaned up after several children when they became ill from a stomach bug, waited for my husband to return home from two out of state trips, and looked after my five children.

Whew!

It’s no surprise that I failed the NaNoWriMo challenge. I wrote until the very last minute and fell short.  But I managed an impressive 48,658 words- less than 1,500 words shy of my 50,000 goal.

In terms of the challenge, I’m a loser. I didn’t win the NaNoWriMo challenge. I didn’t plan for my children to get sick or an uncle to die. But things happen. This is real life. The real challenge isn’t just about winning. The real challenge is writing during adversity and finding satisfaction in the work. I learned I can  rise to the occasion, tackle a project, and finish better than I started.

Like it or not, failure is part of the journey.

November may have brought you beautiful highs. Or maybe, like me, it brought you unexpected obstacles. Whatever the case, keep moving forward.

I will reach my word count goal no later than Tuesday. After that, I have my work cut out for me as I revise and redraft. Word by word. Line by line.

Writing. Failing. And writing again.

 

 

 

Grown

“Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher.”

-Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Gardening should be a part of my genetic make-up. Close and distant relatives maintain successful gardens. Some even farm. Farm! Like my blue eyes and big feet, I should have inherited a green thumb.

But I didn’t.

Plants die under my care. All. The. Time. I blame my parents. When I was a child, they moved from city to city for work. In fact, we moved more times than I can count. All this bustling from one place to another was not conducive to landscaping. No one wants to spend hours tending plants only to leave before they take root.

Once I managed to grow pumpkins, but it was purely accidental. I put a pumpkin, a scarecrow, and a bale of hay in the front yard for a fall vignette. Snow came early that year. Several inches piled up on Halloween and never melted. I plucked the scarecrow from the cold ground and stored it in the basement. But when the pumpkin and hay disappeared under the blanket of white snow, they also disappeared from my mind.

Mid-summer I finally got around to cleaning up yard. When I disposed of the rotting hay, I discovered a vine emerged from the exact spot where the pumpkin sat. Given my track record, I thought it best to assume a lazier-faire approach. Watch and wait. Months later, three small pumpkins came out of the whole ordeal.  The pumpkins were my pride, never mind the facta they were a product of my negligence.

The white house on Washington Street was my first home as an adult. Built in 1910, the front yard boasted three hearty peony bushes. Every spring they faithfully erupted in massive blooms. Their fragrance is a smell I can’t forget though decades have passed.

Of course, fat black ants loved those peonies, with their flowers unfolding like little heads of lettuce, layered and lush. Clippings for floral arrangements required a firm shake to evict the unwanted guests before they were brought in— a lesson I learned the hard way.

The peonies, like the pumpkins, thrived with no help from me. Every year, I stood by greedily snipping blooms until their silky petals turned brown from summer heat. Then I plucked their heads and tossed them in the trash. Lush leaves remained until fall when I mowed the plants to the ground. Like clockwork, every spring they returned.

My Grandmother took special pride in her gardening and rightfully so. Her massive garden in the vacant lot adjacent to her house is admired by many. She is the only person I know who keeps geraniums alive through winter with a little artificial light and a lot of faith. Every summer they return blooming. Each year they seem to get bigger and more brilliant than the last.

She is also the only person I know who plants cucumbers among her flowerbeds. The practice started as marital rebellion. Grandpa insisted that his wife would never toil in a garden like his mother did for decades. But grandma begged him for a flower bed until he finally conceded. Little did he know, among the marigolds and naked ladies, she planted cucumbers which she sliced and served in a sour cream dressing for family gatherings.

When we moved into the brick house on Drexel Lake, we were far from Grandma and the white farmhouse. Still, I was lucky enough to inherit a gardenia shrub by the front steps, a pink azalea bush in back, and a stunning violet hydrangea plant by the driveway. Each one was a stunning delight that I never planned or planted. The stood as a constant reminder that sometimes, life is generous and we enjoy the toils of our predecessors.

Every spring I took a picture of the children decked in their Easter best in front of “my” azaleas. Occasionally, I cut gardenias for the dining room table. Older and wiser, I was careful to shake them outside before bringing them in. Like the peonies, they attracted ants. But not the big ones from the Midwest; these ants were almost microscopic. The effort was worth it. Small bouquets of gardenias sitting pretty on my table freshened the air better than any store bought deodorizer.

We have lived in our current home for almost two years now. A hopeless optimist, I finally mustered the courage to plant some bulbs. The temperatures dipped and leaves yellowed.  Carefully, I dug holes then planted the bulbs point down in the soil.

It occurred to me as I covered the final bulb, I should have put on gloves. The realization came too late as do most of my epiphanies. My hands were ruddy from soil and required a vigorous scrub to remove the earth which clung to my dry cuticles with fierce desperation.

It has been a wet November. This would mean something to a person with a green thumb. But I am not, so I just try to remember to take my umbrella when I leave the house.

The bulbs now lie dormant in darkness beside rosebushes that bloom without fail in all but the coldest of months. Their red blooms taunt me as they flaunt their independence. They are completely unreliant upon my human hand. Much like the dandelions that overtake my yard in the summer sun. They bloom without fail.

Dandelions don’t bother me like they irritate other people. In fact, one day I plan to harvest them for dandelion tea and maybe even use their greens for salad. For now, though, the girls bring me bouquets by the handful. I promptly put them in water, but they droop faster than any flower I know.

The problem, as I see it, is plants listen. My boy inevitably sees a vase of dandelions and slanders the flowers. “Why are weeds inside?” he demands.

But I have my own demands. Who decided dandelions are weeds? Why all this ugly talk? I am a full-grown woman, old enough to suck it up and move on. My skin should be thick like the calluses on my feet. Weeds? I cannot plug my ears like a child. This name-calling, if you ask me, isn’t right.

Dandelions ought to be called champions, not weeds. They beat the odds. Man declared war against them, yet they prevail. And how to we respond to such victory, such resilience? We call them weeds. Say what you want. But wherever I go, the dandelion, follows like a faithful friend. Bringing the same serendipity as the pumpkin vine, the peony bush, and the azalea shrub.

Months will pass before I know if the bulbs took root. For now, all I know is occasionally, I have unearned wins, like the pumpkins. And sometimes, good people bless their successors with peonies and gardenias.

And there are times to dig in, get dirty, forget past failures, and hope for the best.

The flower beds may be fallow this spring— a risk I am willing to accept. Because even if the bulbs don’t bloom, I know I can always count on the dandelions— ever faithful with their bursts of yellow cheer.

 

Dresses and Messes

 

Pristine white dresses hang in a closet. Easter is just around the corner and I willfully ignored all logic and bought satin white dresses. A week later, I looked at them. Clearly, they are a sign of my bad judgement.

What was I thinking?  

Five-year olds are notoriously messy and mine are no exception. They’re more concerned about exploring bushes and eating chocolate than staying clean. I run my hand along the flawless satin trim and pearls. These dresses don’t stand a chance. Should I exchange them?

***

Somehow, we get the idea that our lives are like those pristine white dresses. They are to be hung and admired rather than worn.   But lives, like dresses, are meant to be lived in. And sometimes, messes happen.

Life is beautiful. Life is messy.   Maybe you’ve been thinking about foster care. You would love to help, but you’re worried it might mess things up.   You’re right, foster care will get messy. Expanded living always does. But the passage of time is like a trip to the dry cleaners.   The messes disappear and all that’s left is beauty.

As I reflect on late night calls from DSS, the tightrope-walk of reunification, and the rollercoaster of emotions, I know it’s messy. Easter approaches, and I am more certain than ever that resurrection power can transform a mess into something beautiful.

You know what? I think I’ll keep the dresses. After all, they’re beautiful. 20190409_221300

Dance

Dance has never been easy for me.  Chemistry and Spanish were a breeze compared to the challenge of learning the dance routine for my cheerleading squad.   Even today, I find a statistics class much easier than a Carolina Shag dance class. I was born with no rhythm and a general lack of body awareness.  As a result, I’m a hopeless dancer.

Our first “visitor” from DSS had more natural dance talent in her pinky toe than I had in my entire body.  Any tune would set her into motion.   A musical toy?  A t.v. commercial?  A ringtone?  The source was irrelevant.   If there was a melody, she was moving.   Her ears were listening for music  and her body was ready to dance.

I was supposed to  help her, but in reality she helped me.  She taught me the value of dance years before I read that it was the most therapeutic type of physical exercise for those experiencing trauma.  She seemed to know instinctively, what scientists would spend hours studying.  Dance is good for a hurting heart.

I remember dancing as a child with carefree joy, but something happened.  The cares of life and the worries of the world drowned out the music and left my body heavy.  Dancing felt awkward and foreign.  I became self-aware in the worst kind of way.

When our dancing guest  left our home after a few months, the lesson stayed.  The agile girl with chubby cheeks and graceful limbs taught me more than I learned in any class about foster care.   She showed me how to listen for the  music and keep dancing.

Since then my dance skills haven’t improved.  If anything, they’ve gotten worse.  But sometimes I hear a catchy tune, my foot starts tapping. I remember the dancing girl who taught me so much. Then I dance anyway.

 

Room for One More

With tropical storm winds blowing outside, I snuggled up with an amusing autobiography from a foster family in the early the early 1900s. With the classic inked illustrations and the smell of old book,  I was in heaven.  As you can imagine, many things have changed. But I’m stunned by how much has stayed the same. Anne Rose opens with what people said when they began their journey:

You’re crazy! You can’t afford it and you’re making a big mistake!

Sound familiar?

My husband and I often joke about parenting being much like football coverage. When you have one child, you can double up on coverage. Then, when you have two kids, it’s one-on-one coverage. Any more than two kids and you are on zone coverage. When you’re covering a zone, it doesn’t matter how many people you have in the zone. You’re just covering your zone. Anne’s thoughts aren’t all that different. She humorously addresses the dynamics of a large family in chapter two:

By the time you have three children you are fairly numb anyway so you don’t feel it if you take in a few more.

Today, many kids enter foster care today with nothing more than a bag. It’s worth noting it wasn’t much different nearly 100 years ago. She describes how one child brought his things:

It was a brown paper bag, the kind you carry groceries in….and in it were all his possessions.

Research over the years has shown that some of the methods Anne used were likely not the most effective.  So it certainly isn’t a how-to book,  but it’s honest and maybe that’s the best any of us can hope for.  I love the great one liners which are ample in the book.  They’re sure to put a smile on any face:

Our boys enjoyed cooking, probably because they loved to eat.

Maybe my favorite part of this book are the wonderful nuggets of wisdom that one could easily mount and frame.

They kept their family rules short and sweet. One of their children would repeat them with a sweet dialect , the way kids do:

As I prepare to read a pile of books by Dr. John DeGarmo, it’s fascinating to look back in time. There are trends and there are truths. I suppose you could sum it up in the words of Solomon, ” There is nothing new under the sun. ”

Give it a Few Weeks

The month of August is heavy with the weight of change.   Children start new grades. Lazy summer days fade away as we busy ourselves with new routines.  And the days begin to shorten.

The days seem shorter than usual in my home.  Science says I’m losing around 2 minutes a day in sunlight, but it feels like hours.   I began college classes the last week of August and all my children started new schools.   I was surprised by the emotional toll.  I felt physically and mentally tired.  On top of that, I felt emotionally exhausted.   Excitement, concern, fear, contentment.   I’d feel all these emotions in a 5-minute span.  And it left me feeling spent.

In recent years I’ve become a big fan of mantras.  A mantra is a short, grounding phrase.  For a while, my mantra when plans fell apart was “no one died.”   It helped give me perspective that a change in plans wasn’t a catastrophe.  It was simply a change in plans.  Recently, my mantra (and a few of my kids who felt overwhelmed) has been,  “Everything will be different in two weeks. ”  I’m not sure why I chose the word different and not better.  Maybe because it seemed like the most honest thing to say.  After all, I can’t promise better.  But I can guarantee different.  And I’m not sure how I came up with the time frame of two weeks.  I guess I felt that I could endure anything for two weeks.    Nevertheless, it became my mantra every time I began to feel overwhelmed with paperwork or carpool lines or stress.

“Everything will be different in two weeks.”

And you know what?  It’s been nine days and it is different now.  We’ve found a rhythm. Many of the unknowns have been answered.    The sinking, drowning feeling that comes with a new change has been replaced with a calm ebb and flow to the days.

Certain times, and certain seasons intrinsically hold more change.  A mantra has been a handy tool for me during these times.  Everything will be different and likely better.  Just give it a few weeks.