Painted Chickens

chicken mug

Photo of actual coffee mug in question, circa 1994.

Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—

yes, painted chickens—

three plump specimens posed around the outside,
& one that looks like an index finger
with an eye, a comb, a beak, & a wattle,
slapped onto the bottom.

How, I can’t fathom,
but my friend knew that those chickens
with their orange-red, expressionistic bodies
would be a boat-floater for me—

the one time I had slept with him
had been an epic shipwreck,
with a silent drive to the airport in its wake;

on the way, we choked down pancakes,
& I stifled sobs in my coffee,
averting my eyes
from the helpless horror in his.
I then flew off into the wild, wide sky,
bewildered, drowning.

Somehow, for years to come,
his southern gentlemanly charms
still served to allure:
he kept his promise to write
& took pains to catalogue for me
the details of his worldly escapades
& various, accompanying sexual conquests,
always making sure to emphasize
the ways in which they were hot for him,
so as to prove those trysts’ relative rightness.

Then, came the birthday gift—
the unexplainably gratifying
chicken cup.

Still burning hot
& feathered in their chili-pepper red,
royal purple & verdant green cloaks,
my static & impossibly happy
aphrodisiac chickens
blush like lovers on a Grecian urn;

clucking, urgent.

My southern gent,
now so long ago flown from this callous coop,
wooed another & had his own brood,
as, in due course, did I,
but the mug, no worse for wear, remains
a spectacular feature—
like a bright birthday piñata
(with its promise of sweet reward)—
of my sacred morning ritual.

These chickens,
still ecstatically surprised,
letting out unabashed, open-beaked caterwauls,
adorn my most aged & prized coffee mug;
a vessel, perfectly-sized,
it cups its contents so adoringly,
fiercely,
like an egg enveloping its cache of gold,
as I take privileged sips.

The big chicken on the left
might actually be a rooster,

& that one on the bottom,
a middle finger.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER
Chicken with attitude

“Painted Chickens” was first published in the winter 2014 edition of Sixfold magazine.  I was inspired to post it on the blog today by a dream I had the other night involving a brood of chickens who were all trying to ingratiate themselves to me with their eggs, all of which were severely malformed and/or proportionally impossible to have been laid by the given, proud clucker presenting it. One of the eggs gifted to me was shaped like a tiny, raw roast that fit in the palm of my hand. Trying not to snub this sweet avian’s generosity, I remarked, with all the casualness I could muster, “Oh, it looks like this one isn’t quite done yet,” and I gently set it back in the nest. From the slapped expression on my friend’s feathered little face, however, I’m pretty sure she knew the score… A viable analysis of this one as yet eludes me, so I’m definitely open to suggestions!    

My poem,”Tempted,” is up at Figroot Press…

My poem, “Tempted,” is now live at Figroot Press!

Sappho-Issue-Cover

Many thanks to editor Tamara Franks for including this quirky (now, no-longer-lonely) piece — a sestina in the voice of a siren, page 19! — in Figroot’s first special themed issue, For My Lover, She is Fair: a Sappho Tribute, available for free download in pdf or purchase in print HERE!

 

Beesiness as Usual

Beesiness As Usual_Matthew Harper

One of the many advantages giving birth to and raising a natural-born photographer offers, is that when your debut chapbook of poetry gets accepted for publication nineteen years later (and you happen to have the slightest inkling of how blessed you are), you will already have an “in” with a brilliant cover artist!

I’m so proud to share with all my WordPress Compatriots that this gorgeous photo, “Beesiness as Usual,” by my son, the one and only Matthew Harper, will be gracing the cover of my poetry chapbook, This Being Done (Finishing Line Press). Stay tuned for more announcements regarding my book’s availability for pre-publication order and estimated release date (don’t worry, I won’t let you forget…)!

In the meantime, please check out the following beautiful poetry collections — also forthcoming from Finishing Line Press — and available for order now:

From Every Moment A Second, by Robert Okaji

Anastasia Maps, by Devi S. Laskar

 

GISHWHES 2017!

What on earth is GISHWHES, you might be asking yourselves? Well, in a word, it’s the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. It’s also a wonderfully creatively energizing/exhausting week of pushing your boundaries and spreading acts of kindness through your communities (which happens on a world-wide basis), while making mayhem/harmless mischief, and connections with like-minded others internationally. My kids and I participated in last week’s hunt for the 2nd year in a row, and I thought I’d share one of my more impressive accomplishments (well, I was impressed with myself!) with my beloved WordPress compatriots! This item for the hunt required me to compose and disseminate via Twitter (that is, 140 characters w/spaces at a time) a 2,000 word essay on the topic of “The Best Way to Get Pregnant for the 10th Time.” Considering the fact that I’m not all too well-versed on the subject, I think I pretty much knocked this one out of the park! By the way, 2,000 words is A LOT OF WORDS!

Anyway, I’d love to hear your impressions, whatever they may be, so here’s the link to the initial Tweet, to which I then replied the requisite number of times (I’m not telling you how many Tweets it took, because I don’t want to intimidate you out of reading it…) to make the whole thread accessible in its entirety via one link.

Enjoy!

Last Day of Pre-Publication Sales for Robert Okaji’s Chapbook

Don’t get left in the cold as Robert Okaji’s wondrous poetry takes the literary world by storm! 🌩 Let’s celebrate the difference that Bob’s vital words have made in so many lives, and take today’s last opportunity to make a difference for him! 😊

O at the Edges

From Every Moment a Second

Today is the final day of the pre-publication sales period for my new chapbook, From Every Moment a Second. If you intended to order a copy but haven’t yet (the dog ate your homework, you had to wash your hair, poetry? you’re kidding, right?), time’s running out. Order here.

Many, many thanks to the members of this blog community for supporting my writing.  I am truly grateful for your wisdom, advice, humor and willingness to help me traverse the strange and wonderful worlds of poetry and publication.

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Day 6/30 of Charles Payne’s Poetic Feats in the Tupelo 30/30 Project (20170806)

Our resident WordPress Corvid is but one small poet, but he’s taking 30 giant leaps for Poetkind! Let’s help him stay afloat while he helps an Indie Press keep poetry vital and accessible! Please consider supporting his cause – a cause which is relevant to all of us! – by sponsoring one of Charles’s 30 poems in the month of August, or by making a donation (no amount is insignificant!) in the name of poetry! Most of all, let’s show our appreciation for all the ways “the stuff that comes out of a bird’s mouth” entertains, inspires, and helps us feel connected!

Words and Feathers

this side of the creek
i dried my socks
and went barefoot…

——

Want to read more? You can. My poem invisible made visible is available to read at the Tupelo 30/30 project page.

Already Day 6, and you may actually be reading this one Day 7. I hope I get better/faster/stronger/6 million dollars worth soon so that I don’t keep you waiting.

Folks, I need your help. Tupelo Press needs your help. More people need to read poetry. I have three whole weeks of sponsorships still left. So why not take advantage of me–I mean, this opportunity. Go to Tupelo Press’ Project 30/30 page for more details.

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How to Take an Amazing Photo of a Solar Eclipse

Eclipse.PNG

“Solar Eclipse with Sunspots” by Matthew Harper

 

First,
get knocked up,
plan a wedding in three months
and waddle down the aisle in white pumps
that fit you when you bought them. 

Gain a total of forty-eight pounds
while throwing up for forty weeks,
and give birth to a nine-pound baby boy,
who is bigger and cries louder than any other
newborn in the maternity ward. 

After you blink once or twice,
find yourself moving across the country
for your husband’s engineering job,
with three cats, the six-week old baby,
and all of their respective paraphernalia
crammed into a purple minivan. 

Critical Step: Raising Your Boy
To do this, start learning more about more things than you knew existed;
begin appreciating that this cherubic, gorgeous,
but almost alien issue of your loins
sees individual ice crystals in distant clouds,
hears crickets chirping at dusk
over the sound of rush-hour traffic,
plays the piano with no lessons better than you ever will. 

Have conversations with your boy (that he begins)
about the waxing gibbous moon
when he is still in diapers.

Don’t freak out when he runs to the garage to feel the water main
every time someone flushes the toilet
for an entire year. 

Realize that this otherworldly child means no slight
when the Valentine’s Day card he makes for you in first grade says,
“Dear Mom, I love the plants from Chris Tuffli’s science project.”

Scoop your bottom jaw off the floor
when he inquires about how nerve impulses
not only respond to, but initiate thoughts
(you will have had about seven years
to prepare for this moment,
but your heart will still flutter dangerously). 

Believe that you are the only one who notices
that he has decided not to “turn left”
during the ages of eight and nine.

Get comfortable slinging around terms
like high-functioning autism, echolalia,
sensory integration dysfunction, perfect pitch
and freaking genius.

Find a place deep in your understanding that “gets”
how he is not unloving, ungrateful, or deliberately obtuse,
but admirably, unprecedentedly honest and real.
Become very angry when his teachers and coaches
try to justify being put-out
and dare to assign blame to a child,
rather than consider how they, being the adults,
might assume responsibility
for their interactions with him. 

Fall fiercely in love with your magnificent boy,
so that your heart screams, your scalp hurts,
and your vision blurs
in this unsympathetic, simple-minded world’s injustice.
It will then be easy for you
to put aside your concerns about ruffling feathers,
making waves, and rocking boats.
You will do anything necessary
to arm your son to thrive, shine,
and find his own joy.

Trust in his gift of seeing every moment
in terms of geological time––
of constantly holding the cycles of mountains
rising up and eroding away in his mind’s eye––
and strain in your every breath, step, and toss in your sleep
to grasp
how his world is wholly un-glossed over
by super-imposed paradigms. 

Never try to propagandize him
into a semblance of societal expectation.

Never believe for an instant that you
should temper your awe of him. 

When he is a teenager,
endure an epic tongue-lashing
from your superego,
then fork out the dough,
anyway,
for the camera of his dreams.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Thank you to Editor Dave Essinger for publishing “How to Take an Amazing Photo of a Solar Eclipse” alongside Matthew’s amazing photo (above) in the 2016 edition of Slippery Elm Literary Journal. This piece is also included in my forthcoming chapbook, This Being Done (Finishing Line Press). I will post information for ordering my new collection as soon as it becomes available!

Matthew Harper is an avid photographer and videographer of wildlife, weather, and astronomical phenomena, the more extreme—i.e., skunks and coyotes, thunderstorms, meteor showers and solar eclipses—the better. He is also an accomplished digital artist and musician. Matthew recently completed his high school studies as a home schooler, and earned a Certificate in Audio Technology from the Oregon Music School of Technology. He currently lives with his family in Hillsboro, OR.

Oh, yeah, he’s a gymnast, too! “Intense Matthew!”

Recording of Robert Okaji’s Poem, “Mayflies”

Hear the words that inspired this artwork for the cover of Robert Okaji’s new chapbook, *From Every Moment A Second* in the voice of the man himself!

O at the Edges

“Mayflies” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. FLP is taking prepublication orders here. It was also the inspiration for the artwork gracing the cover. I am in debt to Stephanie L. Harper for providing such a vivid and appropriate piece of art for the book.

Please note:  prepublication sales determine the print run, which means this stage is crucial in terms of how many copies will be printed and the number of copies I’ll receive as payment. So if you feel inclined to help, and are able, please purchase your copy before August 11. Thank you!

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