Family Road Trip

Family Road Trip

Family Road Trip

As we cross from Idaho into Utah,
the speed limit increases to 80 MPH,
& the evening empties
itself of the day’s summer ire,
letting it bubble on the horizon,
like the burgeonings that grace
the faces of teenagers just emerged
from backseat oblivion

to find themselves
metamorphosed from neophytes
into sleek, lanky-limbed
molehill-monumentalization
experts overnight.

Somewhere between the relative
metropolises of Ogden & Salt Lake City,
we breeze past a little town
that sprouted in the morning
shadow of a mountain,
& is now
consummating its time-dilated version
of a storm-cloud’s single day & night;

& I think how this place must be
the torpor of teenagers incarnate—
tucked in its little bed, & brimming
with confoundedness—

mustering the elements
it will tower into a thing of splendor.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

See the source image

Recording of “Matthew in the Fountain”

In the Fountain 1999
Matthew, age 14 months
Matthew in the Fountain

(Recorded by Matthew Harper, April 17, 2018)

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Inspired by my beautiful son (who’ll be turning 20 years old in June!), “Matthew in the Fountain” appears in my new chapbook, This Being Done — a culmination of years of work, and featuring Matthew’s gorgeous photo (below) on the cover — available for preorder purchase NOW and for the next 10 days from Finishing Line Press:

This Being Done, by Stephanie L. Harper 

This Being Done is scheduled for June 2018 release, but please consider ordering your copy before the April 27, 2018 preorder deadline, as my print-run will depend on the number of copies ordered during the preorder sales period. Your timely support will be crucial to my book’s successful release, and means more to me than I could ever hope to express!

Harper_Stephanie_COV

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Starlight 01

Cameren at age 4, taken Mother’s Day 2005

In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter

Apologize? For regretting your birth?

That the white dove of sarcasm
has officially fledged from your belly
alit on the canopy     & uncaged its crystal trill
comes to me as no surprise

But neither of us could have foreseen the power
your brooding would conceive of pencil & ire
before the moment you spat out   crumpled     & hand delivered
my saltwater baptism

Your own tears     now dried for hours     blaze for me
from the gold heart in your gray-green eyes
willing my belief that you truly didn’t realize
I’ve been there your whole life

At sundown     I’m the one always stumbling through the wood
like some sort of village idiot     brandishing my dim lantern
at the giant pines     as if I might catch them in the act
of uprooting themselves     & slinking away

Though you flit by & vanish into the trees
in a flash I can barely make out as a memory
your trace among the cedars & silvertips remains as innate in me
as the wolf’s way to her newborn cub’s whimper

Two months early
yet already ripe for the triumph
& pain only the fiercest have dared to carry in one body
you were born to fly from me—

& so     how could I ever be sorry
to know of finding you over & over again?

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

Thank you to editor Eli T. Mond for giving this piece a home in the December 2017 edition of The Ibis Head Review.

“In Response to My 13 Year-Old Daughter’s Letter” is included in my debut poetry chapbook, This Being Done, which is available for order NOW from Finishing Line Press!

If you would like to order a copy, I ask that you please do so as soon as possible before the deadline for pre-publication orders on April 27, 2018. Although my book is scheduled for release in June, the print-run is based on a minimum quota of copies ordered during the two-month presale period ending on April 27, 2018.

Order online: This Being Done, by Stephanie L. Harper 

I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to any of you who have already preordered This Being Done. Your investment in and appreciation for who I am and what I do means more to me than I could ever adequately express. This journey wouldn’t be the same without your support!

Moon Cake

Moon Cake

For Mike

My sixteen year-old daughter wants
dessert at ten o’clock on a Friday night,
so right there & then, her dad tells her to grab
the baking recipe book, has her check
the cabinet & fridge for ingredients,
helps her assemble the list, & proceeds to haul
their two derrieres to the grocery store.

I come home, a bit cranky, from a mandatory
parents’ meeting at the kid’s acting school
about things I’ll be hard-pressed to remember,
to the exuberant sounds of eggs being cracked
on a mixing bowl’s rim, bags rustling, a ring
of plastic measuring spoons clacking together,
an ancient, unwieldy electric mixer splattering
sugared butter across the kitchen, & two voices
bantering in their exclusive dialect of contentment.

The oven signals the completion of its preheating cycle,
& the girl capably slides the glass bowl filled with
white batter—yes, they’ve even separated the egg yolks
from the whites at nigh eleven o’clock at night—to create
a cake in the shape of a half-sphere, which will, of course,
be covered with frosting (covered, to my mind, generally being
the operative word)—though, not just any frosting, you see,
but a certain grey shade of frosting, because this is not just
any cake now baking at long-past-eleven o’clock at night…

& so it remains for the half-sphere to be tipped out
of its Pyrex to cool in the vacuum of space; next, to be
bombarded with ice cream scoopers of multiple sizes
to simulate the impact craters on the satellite’s surface
(while wry husband offers me bites of “ejecta” to snack on);
& finally, for the halved planetoid’s pocked regolith to receive
its lifeless lacquer—at which point, awash in the lunar sunrise
of my daughter’s one o’clock in the morning smile, I will consider
the myriad aims of which I’ve spent my decades falling short;
that is, until I suddenly have the presence of mind to realize,
by god, I’ve done something right in this life—

the precious girl I brought into this world
has a dad who can give her the moon.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Moon Cake” was drafted during the May 2017 Tupelo Press 30/30 project.

Matthew in the Fountain

 

In the Fountain 1999

August 1999, age 14 months

In the spray’s scattering
of afternoon rays
           you pass before the sun
a toddling pointed-toe satellite
eclipsing all
but its faint red ghost

Summer haloes you in sun-white down
mottling the concrete’s cool glisten
like a memory from the womb

Watching the world swim into focus
in your smart brown eyes
           your round cheeks
flushing with the kisses of angels
showering from the sky          I realize
in a shutter’s split-second
                          I’ve traversed eternity

My child    you burst open my heart like the sun
bursts infinitely open each fountain drop

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

This poem appears in my chapbook, THIS BEING DONE, forthcoming with Finishing Line Press, someday (I’ve been hearing that they’re experiencing some delays…). The little cherub featured above, in one of the only decent photos I’ve ever taken in my life (in that the subject isn’t my own thumb, or some stranger’s butt), is my son, Matthew, who’s now 19 (oy!), and whose prowess as a photographer did not come from me. I’ve previously shared an example of his amazing work on the blog HERE.

If I Saw Aidan Turner Walking Down the Street…

Aidan Turner

I would not stop to contemplate the earth beneath,

nor for a second consider that I
was already in junior high when he was born,

never mind that my daughter is now the age I was
when that star-to-be emerged from the womb,

replete with a tuft of black curls, which I can’t help
but to surmise. The pubescent one views

him in his full, adult glory: deep voice, just enough scruff
to pass as a vampire or Middle Earth heart-throb,

provocatively bedecked in black leather
and a lucky cloud of Irish cadences.

The girl, I’m certain, believes she would reach him first—
fully trusting in her sprightly aptitudes,

and in my usual habit to step aside
in favor of promoting her self-assurance.

True, I’ve not been tough enough on her in some ways—
I’ve resisted going in for a hard tackle

to strip her of a ball at foot in one quick breath,
nor have I generally used my advantage

of momentum in everyday foot-races:
ordinarily, I’ll feign a fall to foster

her confidence in her maturing limbs;
in most cases, I’ll give her a healthy head-start, but

if I saw Aidan Turner walking down the street,
I would at once neglect her youthful sighs,

her earnest blushing, her sweet, redolent gaze
transfixed in goofy stupefaction, and discard

the prospect of the joy I’d feel in watching her watch
herself becoming a woman (through watching him 

make love to cameras in a perfect balance
of feigned humility and stunning sex-appeal).

In fact, I’d rather not imagine the abject horror
my impressionable offspring might well suffer,

if I saw Aidan Turner walking down the street.

 

An earlier version of this poem appeared in Sixfold magazine, winter 2014.

Rest assured, my daughter has since made it to age 16, no worse for the wear.

My Cat is Bread

wheat-field

because     what is a purr
but the promise of nourishment realized
in the rhythmic release of the heat
that’s accumulated in pockets
with the rise & fall of her breath?

& what is a bagel
if not a nose meeting the base of a tail
& little pink berry & black currant toes
neatly tucked to sleepy chin
all curled around a heart
that holds no lack?

because basking on my windowsill
in a pretzel of scruff     limbs     salt-tang
& afternoon-sifted sun     she is keenly sweet
like a wheat field’s essence of summer wind
in the last days before the harvest     hearty
with the warmth of a freshly-baked marble rye

because whenever i’m away from home
i long for her     knowing she’s there ‘kneading’
enough for the both of us (for     let’s be honest
no pillowy provender of fleece to grace my bed
has managed to preserve its store-bought virginity
for much more than an hour)

& because     although
I realize the time she yet has with me
will be fleeting    she will ever remain
the loaf of my life

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

UPDATE: Our sweet Hannah passed away from cancer at age 14 yrs. 5months on Friday, January 27, 2017. She lived with unapologetic grace, generously gave to us of her healing energy, and died with stoic dignity. RIP, beautiful girl…

The house has been empty and strange without her, but my grief is tempered by my gratitude and awe for the magical connection this quirky, smart, territorial, eight-pound (in her heyday), dog-terrorizing wonder of a creature made with her human family. Such is the spiritually-rich and filling nature of the “Bread of Life.”

hannah-2016

Hannah, age 14 yrs. 3 mos.

Instead

ctrl_alt_del_fixed_stein

‘if i decided to stop being a poet
what would i do instead?’     i asked
(my husband) the other night

the other night when it was late
it was too late to start cooking dinner
& the cattle dog who lives for order

requires order     & feels its lack
like her hackles feel static     she was pacing
between us     resorting to vocal admonishments

to higher-than-usual-pitched chortling     cajoling
someone to get with the program the other night
after gymnastics     & martial arts     & driving

driving in gridlock on multiple highways
after the shopping wasn’t done
after     & we were too hungry to cook dinner

after hunger became the side dish of the night
after my husband had worked all day
& beer number three hadn’t staved off his hunger

& hunger was a side dish     the kids snacked
on chips     & played redundant games on their phones
& the floor was unswept     the dog was anxious

her nails clicked on the unkempt floor
the cat meowed to be fed     the shopping wasn’t done
& so a can of tuna was cracked

the cat’s bowl was filled     & we gave the dog the juice
the dog lapped     then she went back to clicking
& minutes ticked another hour

while my fingers ticking on the keyboard
whooped up a frenzy of words on the screen
with hurricane intensity they swirled

they dispelled into wisps against cold fronts
& re-galvanized in isolated updrafts     but rained nothing
because meaning always slips drily away from the words

& escapes like sly prey into the woods     because
the words bravely give chase     but they were never cut out for this hunt
& they get lost     & hungry

they go hungry like an injured wolf separated from its pack
like a cattle dog lacking order     & teenagers not-talking on phones
like groceries that can’t shop for themselves

like the cat settling for tuna
well     not like that
like clacking keyboards churning up dry storms

like computer screens adrift
at the mercy of tidal waves of hunters
& peckers     & especially delete-ers

        like a poet who can’t do anything instead

like the shift key     & the alt key
like the fourth beer needs to be the ctrl + alt + delete keys
like delete is a kind of key

                        they go hungry

        like a husband

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

I scratched the first draft of this baby out on the back of a flyer I’d grabbed at random in a cafe, where I was killing time before I needed to pick up my kids from their respective classes (this was just about a week ago). Anyway, you may or may not find it interesting that I later discovered I’d been writing on an advertisement for an employment agency, with the caption, “Looking for a job that makes a difference?”  

How’s that for irony?

GISHWHES Highlights

My daughter, Cameren, is a wise, wonderful 15 year-old. By insisting that our family participate in GISHWHES, a world-wide week of shenanigans, she not only gave me the gift of new-found appreciation for my husband and kids’ beautiful, generous hearts, many and varied talents, creativity, problem-solving prowess, and potential for spontaneity–but she also restored my faith in the essential goodness of human beings, and made me feel hopeful for the future.

As we embarked on the week-long scavenger hunt, I was terrified of being faced with impossible and/or ridiculous tasks that would impinge on my life, and I had no capacity to envision whether or how my participation in the event might actually matter. Then, somehow, things just began to unfold, and I was suddenly in the thick of the sheer magic we were making in collaboration with our teammates from all over the U.S.  In one week, our 15-member team completed and submitted upwards of 75 items, including acts of kindness throughout our communities, and raising funds to house, clothe, and provide medical care for Syrian refugee families in dire circumstances (see previous post).

And so, I hope you’ll enjoy seeing just a fraction of the wild and wonderful items we completed in our hunt:

032Create a Vision Board from items found in magazines to represent the things you want more of in your life that can’t be bought or sold.

This item took me about 30 hours over the course of 3 days to complete. Dimensions:  18″ x 24″

 

039b

There’s a lot of hype in the news that undocumented “illegal aliens” are stealing jobs from citizens and overflowing from our hospitals and prisons, but what we should really be concerned about is the burden created by aliens from outer space. Capture a photo depicting this scourge on society, and caption it with a message that emphasizes how aliens are a drain on our civic infrastructure.

This item specified that the space alien costume must be “impeccable” — and it just so happens that we proudly harbor a fugitive, fully-functional, life-sized Dalek (meticulously crafted by my husband, Mike, and operated by my daughter, Cameren). Having a  wonderful neighbor who is a police officer with a penchant for the theatrical, was icing on the cake… 

 

006

Have a child under the age of 6 draw your family’s portrait. Then take an actual family portrait in which you make whatever contortions necessary to recreate the drawing.

For this item, we thank my 5 year-old nephew, Corban, for his inspired rendering replete with labels (for most of us). Cameren is on the top left, my husband, Mike, is seated in front of her, my son, Matthew, is seated beside Mike, and I am the speck in the back. Corban also included an additional family member named, “Sir,” who he said is “the one who tells you what to find in the scavenger hunt.” We figured that “Sir” must in fact be the Grand Master/Brain Child of GISHWHES, Misha Collins, and so my daughter’s best friend, Sadie, wore a Misha mask and posed with us. Since GISHWHES is a (mostly) family-friendly event, posing in the nude (as we were drawn) was not really an option, so we decided to pose in the color we’d been drawn in…

I’d like mention a few other highlights that come to mind, the photos for which I don’t have access to at the moment:

Drone Battle: Cameren and Sadie faced off with my son’s Quad-Copter (which resembled a giant mosquito hawk in the photo) while dressed in battle armor made entirely of kitchen items, featuring a turkey baster and a rolling pin.

Create a Coin worth a Half Penny out of actual metal to commemorate the 7th anniversary of Misha Collins’ on-off affair with the Queen of England. Mike machined an aluminum medallion, and etched the recognizable visages of Misha and the Queen with Ferrous Oxide… This was his plan B, and it worked like a charm.

Depict the fairy tale, Trumpunzel, in an illustration. Cameren showcased her artistic genius and knack for subtlety.  

Badminton Match in a Mall Food Court. Yes, with a net, racquets, and sporting our “tennis whites.” In her badminton debut, Cam deftly served the birdie over the net and into her friend’s frozen yogurt cup!