Firewood Delivered

There are certain harbingers of a season.
In the mountains, one such winter’s messenger is the delivery of firewood — a cord of oak or lodgepole pine cut to size, left in an unwieldy pile in the driveway near the house.  Below is an unpolished, unedited poem from my writing journal.  I don’t have a woodstove now…I have another type of heat.  But I remember very well that sense of gratitude and a feeling of wealth when the firewood was delivered.  These were my poetic thoughts while stacking wood.

Stacking Wood
© by Christine O’Brien

I don’t know what it is
to witness a tree falling
toppling hard upon the earth
vibrating with a thunderous curse.
Was it ready to give up life,
spirit sap, seamless strife,
surrendering to weapons
which sever, protest unheard.
Who will house that lonely bird
which once kept home within these leaves?
Does the bird fly to another hovel or
descend with the tree in a graceless flutter
like flower petals
though not so gently.
Perhaps they remember
the earth from which they’ve come
and rise again in a new form.

Now I stack it in imperfect piles
heat of my hearth
blazing and wild
challenging me
to be so used
The wealth of all that one life can be
standing small am I beside this tree

Writing Prompt:
What is a harbinger of the season in your hemisphere?  Choose one thing and write about it uncensored in poetry or prose.  Be real, be silly,  be serious, be ridiculous, be imperfect, just be.


with relish

with relish
© by Christine O’Brien

in the land of white bread

and red kool-aid

where secular thoughts

are proscribed

there’s bologna sandwiches

for lunch

and mom makes

chicken pot pie for dinner

we believe what they teach

at sunday school

and that the president is

a wise leader who really

cares about his constituents

where blind trust is rampant

and you get only one true love

the happily ever after package deal

hollywood endings are gospel

i swallowed such lies

with Relish

Writing Prompt:
Preview the landscape of your childhood.  List a few memories that quickly come to mind–the ones that generally symbolize something that seemed to be true then or that you wanted to believe.  Let any of these memories be the prompt.  Write a poem or prose following this lead.  “Present the thing”, that is the experience and within it, guide the reader to the feeling.

Note:  What is the feeling behind my poem?  I would say it is “cynicism”.


Quigley on the Klamath

quig1.jpgThis past summer, I decided to explore some new places within proximity to where I live, to take “day trips.”  A friend told me about the Quigley General Store with a little cafe on the Klamath River.  “They make the best pies,” she said.

The Klamath River flows 257 miles through Oregon and Northern California.  Quigley, itself, is about 1-1/2 hours from where I live.  Arriving at the little cafe, I immediately noticed the extreme quiet.  This particular day, there weren’t any exciting pies in the pie case, so I ordered a turkey sandwich.  And a water beverage with quinine?  I had never had quinine before, but my mind dredged up the idea of it being an elixir of sorts.

I wandered out to the back deck, the only customer.  The plants in pots were dead.  The river itself was hidden with overgrowth and there wasn’t the expected sound of flowing water.  I had brought a favorite magazine to read and sat in a chair with a wet pad.  I changed seats and then got comfortable.  It was a warm day.  The type of heat that penetrates and forces welcome relaxation.  Sigh.

One of the scraggly young men in the cafe brought my lunch out to me.  I thanked him.  He and a heavyset fellow seemed to be either wandering around aimlessly or plopped themselves in chairs indoors as the woman, presumed owner, worked busily behind the counter.  I found myself thinking that they should be helping her.

The sandwich was exceptional and so was the coleslaw.  At first, I was disappointed in not having a slice of the “best pie.”  And that I couldn’t hear the river running?  And that the plants on the deck had died because the owner had been away and no one had watered while she was gone.

Then, a sense of deep calm came over me.  A feeling of settling down inside.  And I thought I could sit here all day, reading this magazine and being with this unusual feeling of palpable peace.

Driving home from Quigley on the Klamath, I recognized how much my life lacks this type of peace.  I considered how often I fill my moments with noise, hyperactivity and distraction.  I wondered why I had to go somewhere else to sink into that most beautiful space?

Writing Prompt:
When was the last time you experienced deep quiet?  Is it something that you can invoke by choice?  Or does it, at rare times, take you by surprise? Write about it.


Pablo Neruda–“The Word”

Pablo Neruda was a renowned and prolific Chilean poet and diplomat.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971.  The fictionalized 1995 film, The Postman (Il Postino), takes place in Italy during Neruda’s time in exile.

Neruda loved his native language, Spanish (Chilean).  He wrote in this native tongue; there have been beautiful translations of his work.

The following bit of prose, translated into English, transmits this love and the preciousness of words to him. This is only a partial excerpt from Neruda’s homage to “The Word”.  I’m sorry that I cannot give credit to the translator as it wasn’t available.

The Word
by Pablo Neruda

“You can say anything you want, yessir, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I love them, I cling to them, I run them down, I bite into them, I melt them down…I love words so much…the unexpected ones…the ones I wait for greedily or stalk, until suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…they glitter like colored stones, they leap like silver fish, they are foam, thread, metal, dew…I run after certain words…They are so beautiful that I want to fit them all into my poem…I catch them in mid flight, as they buzz past, I trap them, clean them, peel them.  I set myself in front of the dish.  They have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, oil, like fruit, like algae, like aggates, like olives…and then I stir them, I shake them, I drink them, I gulp them down, I mash them, I garnish them, I let them go…I leave them in my poem like stalactites, like slivers of polished wood, like coals, pickings from a shipwreck, gifts from the waves…Everything exists in the word…”

Writing Prompt:
A brief meditation.  Get quiet, shut your eyes, take a few deep breaths.  Continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  Experience the release of what you think you know with each out breath.  Experience your openness to something new with each in breath.  Ask for entry into the land of the WORD.  In your imagination, construct that land.  Visit it for a few minutes as you continue to follow the slow in and the slow out breath.  When  you feel ready, open your eyes.  Pick up your pen and let your words flow onto the page–write your own homage to the word.


Jack Kerouac with Steve Allen

Recently, my brother sent me a video clip of Jack Kerouac on the Steve Allen Show, an American variety show that aired in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s.  Kerouac is reading his poetic prose in the clip below.  This is not to be missed!

Don’t just look, SEE!

Jack Kerouac lived from 1922 to 1969–a short, fast-lived life.  His writing evokes time and place–what has been termed “The Beat Generation”.  His words are evocative and though I might look at the same images, his words help me to really see through his personal and specific lens.  Listening to Kerouac read his own words, once again, I am moved by this author’s authentic voice.  WOW!

We could debate the difference between looking and seeing.  For me, I look at so many things throughout the day.  A sweeping look, a glance, a quick visual summary of the places I go and the people I meet along the way.

However, there are moments when I really stop and SEE!  These are those moments when I feel most connected to something beyond myself.  These are the moments when I pause and really witness what I’m looking at.  It is a whole other level of experience, the difference between looking and seeing.

Try giving yourself a conscious experience of seeing versus looking over the next few days.  Move yourself from looking at something to seeing it.  Later on, with pen and paper, reflect on this…what was your experience of looking versus seeing?  An interesting exercise.

Practice Doesn’t Mean Perfection

I’ve been practicing how to draw and paint faces.IMG_9403

As a ripening artist, I fall in love with each painting…even when it is far from perfect.  Like this one.  Learning a new technique taught by Sara Burch in Paint Your Heart and Soul‘s year-long online painting and creativity course, I realize that one eye is larger and a bit lower than the other.  Yet, this painting captures something for me that I was having trouble expressing in words.  This painting helped me to bring some disparate feelings together.

Learning and practicing a new technique was the primary purpose of this new-to-me process.   Perhaps there is a time and place to strive for excellence (rarely perfection?) or even one’s personal best.  As I am learning, there has also got to be plenty of room for play, experimentation and error…sometimes happy accidents.


With writing, is it any different?  Writers strive for perfection as they craft their prose or poetry.  Do they ever reach it?  Levels of perfection are relative, it seems.  For with any final piece preparing to leap into the world, the writer decides, at some point, to let it go.  This is not based solely on whether a piece is “good enough”.  There is an inner sense of completion.  What wants to be said has been said in a way that is “kin” to the writer.  In using the word kin in this way, I intend that the writer has expressed him or herself in a way that is unique, particular or inherent.  When that goal is reached, then a painting or piece of writing can feel complete and ready to be launched.

When you write about someone, you look for the dissonant detail.  Perhaps this is also reflected in your greater body of work–that you allow the dissonant details into your writing thereby,  making a work your own.  Those details–which could be seen as imperfections–mark your work in some way.  Those details reveal to the reader “your style”.  Offering your work, with all of its perceived blemishes, does make one feel vulnerable.

Do you find fulfillment in practicing your art or craft?  Are you tolerant of “mistakes” as you learn? Are you patient with your development as a writer or artist?  Can you spot the dissonant details in your work that make it stand out as YOURS?


“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take
if we want to experience connection.”
Brene Brown, Researcher, Story-Teller, Author, Lecturer