MIKE BAYLES (Photo credit: Steven Foker Giraffe Photography)

Here at Poetic Bloomings, Walt and I divvy up the responsibilities.  Each is fun and fulfilling, but my hands-down favorite is interviewing poets.  Today I have the honor of presenting our own Mike Bayles to you. 

Mike, thank you for allowing me the privilege to discover more about this intriguing poetic voice that frequents our space, and share here with our poet family.  It is a pleasure for all of us to be granted the opportunity to know the person behind the poems. 

Let’s start with one of my favorites of yours, titled The Clouds:

The Clouds

drift, pass, whisper
change shapes
as my thoughts
when I stand
along the side of a road
passages of memories
of friends when I’m away
of what we’ve done
and what we’ll do
when I’m back
of love, how it plays
out, its subtle ways
of how I find new life
in a smile, of how
words long to say
more than moments allow
of waving grasses and winds
the sun and gods
of what I believed
and what I believe
I know
barn swallows erupt
from an open loft
of a tattered barn
and scatter
some perch on branches
some swoop inches
over fresh pavement
of an open road
I take in wonders
the dance of life and death
all around

@ Mike Bayles (May 14, 2022 version)

Marie Elena: There is beauty in poetic perception.  You have discerned whispers of life and remembrances in the passing clouds.  This, in itself, is charmingly insightful. There is also beauty in simplicity of language.  Your use of humble word choices to create elegance and depth is impressive.

Which poem of yours is one of your personal favorites, Mike?

Mike: My favorite poem is How to Find Wausau. I enjoy the narrative and visual nature of the piece. The poem is very reflective, and Wausau is one of my favorite places in Wisconsin. I called in and read it for an online broadcast, called Rattlecast early this year. It was written for a prompt that asked that the title be a question and the body of the poem be the answer. It was a nice challenge.

How to Find Wausau

Take the span of US 151
from Iowa into Wisconsin
and watch currents of The Mississippi
as it converses with itself.

Watch the hills and bluffs
as they rise and reveal themselves
on either side of the highway
as you pass
through the Driftless Region.

As the tires of your van sing
listen to the land
as it tells its stories.

Turn north before reaching Madison.

You’re on another mission
and remember to travel light.

What’s left unresolved at home
will wait for you
while you live another life.

Watch the landscape change
before your eyes
to thickets of forest
and clustered lakes
although you can still find
a strip mall at an exit
on I-39.

Lose yourself in time
when the passing sun fades
and skies turn dark.

Take in all you can see

for you’ll never know
if and when you’ll return.

When downtown listen
as the barefoot girl
plays a painted piano
on the sidewalk
and remember

a sense of joy
can be found
in unexpected places.

Watch an older couple
in the park in the town square
walking hand-in-hand
as if in love for the first time

as children play
on the stage
of the bandshell.

just an hour away
you’ll spend the day in shadows
in wonders of The Great North Woods
and the secrets they keep.

@ Mike Bayles

Marie Elena:  Rattlecast!  How cool! It would have been fun to see you “in person” out there, and now you make me want to tune in more often.  I’m timid, and have never recited poetry. I’d like to get over that.  I know you sing karaoke as well. Since you sing on stage, I suppose you are not at all timid.

Mike:  On stage I almost feel as if I’m an incarnation of Paul McCartney- but maybe I shouldn’t make such a comparison.

Through a period of many years, I blossomed. During grade school years, I could hardly talk to anyone, except to my father in a whisper, when we were out in public. I was a serious and good student in high school, but somehow felt constrained. I felt that my life blossomed in college. And I had to be social when I lived in a fraternity in Ames. When I lived in an apartment in Cedar Falls, I had to reach out to make friends. I always note that I wrote my first short story in a creative writing course at Iowa State University.  Late in college I came further alive when going to blues bars. And someone I dated for four years I met in a blues bar in Des Moines.

Marie Elena:  Mike, that is an amazing transformation.  I’m glad you were able to get past hardly being able to speak.  How did you discover you could sing?

Mike:  One time I sang in a choir in the balcony of a church – sometime around fourth grade. People in the fraternity in Ames said that I couldn’t sing. But late in the year 2000 a waitress friend said that the bar had karaoke, and asked if I would sing. I said, Yeah, sure I’ll sing “Back in the USSR,” but I was just joking with her. Three months later I sang my first song, “All my Lovin’,” the first song The Beatles sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, when they first performed in America. It was very intimidating, but sometime later when a waitress danced to what I was singing, I felt that I must be doing something right.

Marie Elena: Such a cool story!  I remember my sister and I being glued to that particular Ed Sullivan show. Us and everyone else in the country, I suppose.

Between reciting poems and singing karaoke, which do you prefer?

Mike: I’d first say that it’s like a mother choosing between her kids. I love both karaoke and readings, maybe even like each for the same reasons. I was first intrigued about the idea of living a creative life when I read articles in Life Magazine about The Beatles and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and about The Beatles and “The White Album.” With karaoke, I make the song “my own,” and with readings I’m sharing things I wrote. The songs and my poems – they’re all a part of me.

Marie Elena:  That makes sense, and I can see the connection. What got you interested in writing poetry?

Mike: Our English instructor in fifth grade asked us to write a poem. I wrote two and
enjoyed the experience. I also wrote poetry, because I once thought I couldn’t sing.

Marie Good: I’ve found very many of us first experienced writing poetry when we were children, and often through a teacher.  Did you continue writing this entire time?  Or did you write those two poems, and then skip a number of years before writing more? 

Mike: I didn’t do creative writing all the time. In college I was mostly busy reading psychology, sociology and social work texts and books, sometimes even in my spare time. But there was always a thread of writing in my life, such as when I did term papers, but there were occasional poems that I shared with a special friend in Cedar Falls. When I worked as an aide to social workers, I wrote articles and news releases for a running club (I did long distance running at the time.) Although I loved the children, I needed something more.

Then when my dad died in 1993, I got serious about writing to get on with my life. I also wanted to speak out for people in a grief recovery group, so people would understand our grief. I also wanted to write a novel, to emotionally understand my loss.

Marie Elena: I’m so sorry about your dad.  That’s a loss we never really get over, and it sounds like you were very close to him.

I think music can be therapeutic.  Have you ever written music?

Mike: A friend who played guitar asked for some lyrics, and I wrote some. He’d call me on the phone, and played some riffs over the phone, playing for the lyrics in different ways. But I don’t think he ever recorded them. He also did an interview of me as a writer for extra credit for his English course at Scott Community College.

Some people grow out of the creative arts: I grew with the creative arts.

Marie Elena: Do you have interests and talents in addition to being a poet and a musician?

Mike: I write fiction and occasionally win awards in short story contests. I do paintings in classes, and someone bought one of my paintings. I am very interested in psychology. I have been able to help some people. I am interested in environmental causes – we only have one earth.

Marie Elena: A well-rounded soul, you are!  I’ll pry a bit deeper in a moment.  But first, may I ask where you are from?

Mike: I am from Minnesota, where I attended grade school. I went to college in Ames and Cedar Falls, but I’ve spent most of my life in the Davenport, Iowa area. I am a life-long Midwesterner.

Marie Elena.  Interesting. Have you chosen to stay in the Midwest by choice? I’m a Midwest girl through and through.

Mike: To be honest, I have often felt “stuck” in the Midwest and The Quad Cities. Once a friend and I talked about moving to San Diego, but I backed out when I thought about the cost of living there. At times I wanted to move from Davenport to Madison, Wisconsin, but did not.

Now I like being around Davenport, because there’s a great writing community and places to sing. There aren’t a lot of forests here, as there are in Wisconsin, but I like driving by farm fields. I’m not always sure this area fits with my personality. I’m not sure that people around here share my point of view. Some great venues have closed, and I’m not sure this area is eager to support the arts.

I feel my roots lie in small towns and farms, but I always want something more.

Marie Elena:  Hmm … I suppose there are good things to take from both: the comfort and confirmation of being with people who share our views, and the stretching challenges of being with those who don’t.

What do you believe is the best thing that ever happened to you?

Mike: There were a lot of good things, but I think the best thing was a four-year friendship with a lady who moved from Maquoketa to Davenport.

Marie Elena:  This intrigues me.  Are you able to elaborate, without risking invading her privacy?

Mike: We met at the place where she worked. I had just been laid off from my final assignment for the 2000 Census, and she had just moved into town. She was standing under a bright light, and I was instantly struck by her beauty. She was dressed in white, and the first thing I did was to ask her if she was going to be a nurse. She said that she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She had moved into town to go to Scott Community College, something she never got around to doing. I had just been laid off from a job that I loved, for the 2000 Census. Field operations for the 2000 Census had ended. It would be eight years or so before I could work for them again.

My instincts said that she was someone special, and even a few kind words from her could make my week better. At times she was going with someone, but as I later found out, the guys she was seeing weren’t that good to her. I shared most of my published poems and short stories with her. I had a feeling that she didn’t read anyone else.

Marie Elena:  How sad that it ended after only four years.  May I ask what happened?

Mike: After a few years, I found out that she really didn’t like it in Davenport. Although we were close, we never really got together. She left town for a nursing school. I was glad for her, but we fell out of touch. I heard that she had gotten married, but I don’t think the marriage lasted.

Marie Elena: Certainly a bittersweet story. It sounds like she served a purpose in your life though, and you in hers.

Mike, what would you say is the worst thing that ever happened to you?

Mike: Losing a job, and being cut off from Unemployment. But a friend put me up and helped me survive. On the good side – a change of scenery helped my writing.

Marie Elena: Oh my.  That’s really tough.  I’m glad you had help through it.  Might I be on the right track in suspecting this friend is the lady from Maquoketa? 😉

Mike:  The person who put me up was someone I met in a discussion group, called, “Independent Scholars.” That was a group where people could present scholarly papers without having to be enrolled in a masters’ degree program. First, she employed me to help clear out her father’s house, so it could be sold. He had died some time earlier. Then she put me up when I needed a place to stay. She said that she put me up because she liked my poetry. She was strictly a friend who I helped with different things. I also had the morning task of walking her King Charles Cavalier Spaniel each morning. He was my pal, and my reason to get out of bed on the mornings when I felt down. He adored me. I worked part-time (very part-time) as a dish washer and did odd jobs for people in town.

Mike with his buddy, Azzie

Marie Elena: “My reason to get out of bed on the mornings when I felt down.” So very many people can relate to this, Mike.  Pets are delightfully uplifting when we are struggling.

How great is it that this difficult life event help spark your writing!  Was there something about this particular “scenery” that prompted creativity?  Or was it just that it was different?

Mike: Around the time I was moving out of my apartment building I felt that I needed a change of scenery to write. A lot of poets travel. It was a change of scenery, a small town. It was even inspirational looking out the window of my room, or spending time in a park when I walked the dog.

Marie Elena: What would be your career path of choice?

: I consider myself as a social worker wannabe, who didn’t quite become one. I’ve been an aide to social workers in a child welfare program; a customer service representative and research interviewer in call centers; and a highway flagger, controlling traffic for construction and utility project scattered throughout the Midwest. Travelling for my assignments has deeply influenced my writing. Now I’m semi-retired.

Marie Elena: I remember you saying something to Mary about aiding social workers.  Thank you for your help with children in need, Mike.  I admire that greatly.  Do you have any specific story from that work that touched you, that you are able to share? 

Mike: I have written some drafts of stories about foster children. I have always wanted to understand what the experience was like for them. And I will get out a foster child story!

I loved the kids. I got paid to throw frisbees with some, and was part of homes when I supervised visits between parents and their children.

There is one story I can share:   A mother had a breakdown, and was hospitalized. The grandfather came to live with the kids (two teenage boys), but he couldn’t manage their behavior, so he moved out. I was assigned to live with them to provide emergency supervision, until they could be placed in foster homes. For a period of two weeks, I barely had time to go back home, to sneak in a run and shower. Once at a dinner one pulled out a butter knife and threatened the other. I just shook my head. I had to instill discipline by refusing to cook for them until they washed a sink full of plates, utensils, and pots and pans. But they were really nice kids. I even took one of them along with me when I was a volunteer at a running race put on by the local running club.

Marie Elena:  You obviously have a huge heart.  Thank you for what you have done.  Let us know when you get that book written. 

You mentioned being a flagger. I’ve never actually known a flagger!  That seems to me like a lonely, long day of work.  Am I right?

Mike:  Some days as a flagger were incredibly long. Sometimes one of my ankles hurt after work so much, that I could barely walk. I watched traffic, of course, but hours spent gave me much time to observe rural scenes. The first rule of writing is when you want to write – don’t. First observe.  I’m still grateful to the people who gave me the job, and for a while, I stayed in touch with them.

I rarely felt lonely when I was observing things. And sometimes I waved at drivers who passed. I met a lot of people when I was flagging.  My best friend back then was the local library where I could go and write after work, if work was finished in time.

Marie Elena:  First observe.  That’s great advice. And may I just say, for me, it takes extraordinary eyes to see how to help others as a flagger. God bless you!

I commonly ask my interviewees about their faith.  Are you a person of faith, Mike?

Mike: I love to experience the spirits of nature. It was a profound experience working in the forests of Wisconsin. I tell friends to follow whatever path works for them, but I don’t get into religious discussions.

Marie Elena:  I’d love to hear more about the forest experiences that struck you so profoundly.

Mike: I was just in a sense of awe when working in or near the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin. I really feel that was a spiritual experience. I feel that being in nature was healing. The first time up there when a hummingbird hovered by me was amazing. A fragile moment of trust, until I shouted out “A hummingbird,” and it disappeared. I was always intrigued about cabins and bars and grills in the midst of tall trees. And in arial photos, the forest seemed to go on forever.

Marie Elena:  Sigh … that sense of awe in a forest … there is really nothing quite like it.  If we could, my husband and I would live in a forest. 

Mike, you mentioned you’ve been able to help people, psychologically. Please tell me a bit about that.

Mike: In college I wanted to become a psychotherapist/family therapist, but it didn’t work out. Helping people had become a purpose in my life. I read a lot of books about schools of psychotherapy. But in college I successfully worked for crisis lines where I helped people, and maybe even saved lives. To this day, the crisis line experiences I proclaim were the best for me in the field.

I have touched many lives – through volunteer work, two years of taking calls on crisis hotlines, through child welfare and employment training work. I even tried to help some drivers who I stopped when controlling traffic, maybe putting a human face on construction work. And I’ve helped students find books in a community college book store.

My book, Breakfast at the Good Hope Home, a literary collage, helped families touched by Alzheimer’s disease. A magazine publisher in Wisconsin kept ordering copies of my book for families he knew who were touched by the disease. A woman, who lost her husband of 47 years, actually wrote a touching letter back to me.

I always felt that I had to fictionalize the loss of my father to find a sense of closure. My goal when writing a book has always been to write something good, but I found that with Breakfast at the Good Hope Home, I had also written a book that helped people. It has helped families touched by Alzheimer’s disease.

Marie Elena: Mike, what lovely human traits in you.  Thank you for all you do for others, and for obviously seeing needs where not everyone might think to look.

I want to purchase your book.  Were you yourself touched by Alzheimer’s?  My mother had it.  It is such a heartbreaking disease.  I’m so thankful she passed before it played itself to the end.

Mike: I’m sorry for your loss.

My father, Robert Bayles, died from the disease in 1993. I wanted to fictionalize my experience to deal with the loss. In the process, I learned a lot of how the experience affected me. I did a presentation for the Davenport Public Libraries about “The Family of an Alzheimer’s Patient.” Now I’m writing about life after loss and discovery.

Breakfast at the Good Hope Home, can be purchased directly from me, at P.O. Box 2129, Davenport, IA 52809-2129. The cost is $14.00, with shipping and handling.

Marie Elena:  Thank you.  I’ll be ordering that, and I bet others here will be as well.  I’m sorry to hear that is what your father had. Such a horrible, horrible disease.

Okay, last question.  I’m putting just a bit of a twist on my “usual” last question.  Instead of asking what is the one thing you would want us to know about you, I’d like to know this:  Is there anything about you that might take us by surprise?

Mike: The most humorous thing to share is this: During my last semester of living in a fraternity, I slept in a crawl space between my study room and the ceiling to get some peace and quiet. It was also very dark. Some people might not know that I played the clarinet when I was in grade school, and that for about twenty years I was a long-distance runner, who once ran a marathon.

Marie ElenaSlept in a crawl space??  Oh my goodness, Mike! That IS a surprise! That gives me anxiety just thinking about it!  You must not have a drop of claustrophobia in your blood.

Mike: It was cozy to me. I had room to move around.

Marie Elena:  What a way to end our chat, Mike! It has been so interesting learning more about you.  All this last question has done is left me wanting more.  Thank you again for being willing to do this, and for your openness.  It has been a pleasure.


For more from Mike, check out the following.

Books: Threshold (poetry collection, 2013 Book of the Year Award- the Rockford Writers Guild), The Rabbit House (poetry collection, 2014), The Harbor I Seek (book-length poem, 2015), Breakfast at the Good Hope Home (literary collage, 2017), With Suitcase and Bag (poetry collection, 2021) Pending Publication- Second Hope (includes a sequel to Breakfast at the Good Hope Home, as well as a short story collection, and a poetry collection).

I contributed works to the books Ten Stories, Nine Authors (edited and published by Edward Grosek, 2016), and These Interesting Times (The Midwest Writing Center, 2021).

Magazine/Anthology, Selected Credits

Poetry: Lyrical Iowa, The Rockford Review, The Out Loud Anthology, Plainsongs, Coffee Ground Breakfast, Big Muddy, Star Poets, and others.

Short Stories: The Rockford Review, The Out Loud Anthology, Northern Stars (flash fiction), Feelings of the Heart, and others.

Print Coverage: The Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 17, 2017.

Online Coverage: Saturday Is For Sharing.


WVIK Public Radio: Art Talks (twice), read an essay of mine for a news break for the five o’clock news, contributed a poem for the Don Wooten Show, Scribbles.

Progressive Radio: Nurturing Your Creative Spirit



Mary Elizabeth Todd

Today’s guest, Mary Elizabeth Todd, speaks her life in poems.  If we were to piece together all her poems, her life story would unfurl before our eyes. Most of her poetry is told in the voice of a storyteller born of mountain and hardship, and unselfish love of all living things — for that is who Mary is.  This prompted me to go about her interview differently than my others.    Rather than question-and-answer dialogue, I gleaned portions of Mary’s poems and writings, and have simply invited her to expound on them.   I’m saddened by the fact that I had to pick and choose what to share from her extensive writings and sated life. I hope you enjoy these snippets of our poet friend Mary as much as I have enjoyed stitching them together. 

Mountain Born and Bred

I was born of the mountains
As the Moon is born of the sun-
(From Born of the Mountains © MET)

I grew up with ordinary people
Who told the best stories.
(From Born of the Mountains II © MET)

I was born in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I spent my first eight years there (except for a summer on Lake Huron in Michigan). It was a small town, and I was known in the community because I visited all my neighbors freely. I knew many of the mountain people and learned storytelling from them. I grew up hearing some of the best storytellers. 

I often ate down the street with an Italian family.  Their son Zoli was my first hero because he introduced me to Italian cooking. His father cooked every Saturday, and I sort of invited myself. It was not typical Appalachian small town.

Da (my father) was a road builder.  Until President Kennedy, the men that worked building roads did not have a main office.  There was one in Gatlinburg over Region 15, but there was no office except a plywood building with a window opening, a door opening, a barrel for a fire, and a bathroom out in the woods.  On really bad days, the men who worked for Da worked at our home. During the 1950s, the Parkways were often drawn up on our dining room table.  I was a mascot of sorts. My biggest dream is that I want to ride on the roads my father built, and there is lot of them in many states and one foreign country. I need someone to go with me willing to stop at every overlook, so I can get the names of the places, then I need to research his government records for his work.  I would like to write a book, and I know the name, “The Man who Loved Roads.”

I grew up knowing people of all races and many different religions.  I was encouraged to ask questions, and to be respectful of them. I didn’t know this was not the normal experience for white children. It seemed normal to me to have people from all these backgrounds sit down for a meal with us. We learned to be respectful of other religious eating habits. One Thanksgiving we had a Muslim eat with us.  But my favorite was the year we had beatniks and hard-shell Baptists sitting down with us for Thanksgiving. Conversation was lively, but respectful.

When I was 8, we moved to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Back then it was a tourist resort from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The rest of the year it was a small town in the mountains. 

My brother Joe was shot soon after we moved there, and it was very traumatic for me. He was seriously injured, and in the doctor’s office while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I saw things that an eight-year-old should never see. When my father was getting ready to get into the ambulance, a man who worked with him offered to take me.  Da agreed. It was at that moment fear was born into my life.

Then we moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I loved living there. We had great neighbors.  One of them took several of us frog gigging one night: Nancy (his niece from New Jersey, who is still my friend), my cousin Beverly, and myself.  We had to catch the frogs with our hands. We laughed and splashed in that mountain creek, and I think we caught only one frog.

Outsiders saw us ignorant,
But we just shook our heads,
Cause it is their recollection of us,
Not how we knew we were.

(From Born of the Mountain II © MET)

“Looking Glass Knob” on Blue Ridge Parkway

I love the mountains. They are rich with history and wonderful people who love music, and faith, and grieve deeply. I am first and foremost a mountain woman. I grew up seeing beauty everywhere. The second house we lived in in Gatlinburg was on a mountain, and I loved to look at the night sky. It had a long patio that went to the edge of the mountain. I loved that place so much I put it in my novel series as my character Sardis’ mountain home.

In 1973, we moved to where I now live in South Carolina. I was twenty-one. If we had not moved then, I probably would have moved back to the mountains after college, and never left.

The house I live in now is filled with memories of all those I love that are gone. My brother Joe was the architect of the house, and my parents did all the rockwork, including a fireplace with a staircase. I live in an 86-acre forest. I have, at one time or another, roamed the entire forest.

86 acres Mary has lifetime rights to. Amazing view from drone.

Poet and Storyteller of Appalachian Persuasion

While I wait,
I will open the gate,
And see the sea,
And the lea.

(Mary Todd, Age 10)

When I was in the fifth grade Mrs. Lane was my teacher. She was wonderful. She looked to the talent of her students. She had us write a poem to read in front of the class, and that is what I wrote.

After that, I kept a notebook where I wrote my poems – about 200 of them. I am known for keeping a poetry notebook with me at all times. I have also used napkins and whatever scrap of paper to write. I take notes; I lose notes.

I do have an office.  It’s very small and holds a myriad of things.  My father’s slides, about 3,000 plus.  Two piles of genealogy material. A yellow box my father made and about 50 years ago I painted yellow and within it is old letters from friends. I have my father’s engineering tools he used.  A pair of antique handcuffs. One metal thermos in a leather container that I have carried up a couple of mountains. I have my very funky earring collection.  I like the kind that dangle.  I have lots of paper. On the bookcase above me I have my desk name tag from my days of working. I also have a place for my cat Binkey to sleep.  Under my desk is where Gus used to sleep, and Tillie sometimes joins me. Gus knew my ways and whenever I would stop writing and lean back to think, he would pop out his head and talk to me…I miss that the most of him being gone.

I grew up with poetry. My father wrote poetry. He could recite about 20 of his near 200 poems. I can still see him standing with his arms behind him and holding his fedora, as we are about to leave and someone saying, “Joe, recite one of your poems.” He always did.

When I was a freshman in high school, I placed third in poetry for high school students for the state of Tennessee. I like poetry because I can play around with the way it is presented. I had a whole e.e. cummings era. In the end, free verse fits me best. I was the kid who liked to color outside the lines. I can do some form poems, but my wild nature feels like I am scratching my fingers on a chalkboard.  Still, I am determined to eventually master the sestina. I also write my poetry on hard subjects because there are people who need to hear that I have overcome those difficulties, and just maybe they can also. I believe that poetry should be for the masses, and not just locked away in colleges.  I learned this watching people love my father’s poems. I also get rap, and like some of it.  It speaks to people. 

I also write essays, and do some critical studies of the Bible for Lent each year.  I have enjoyed those studies, for they have helped me grasp a new view.  When I lost 12 people in two years, I could not find a way to grieve. Every one of them was important to me, plus I became the last remaining member of my immediate family. I did a book called “The Time I Did Not Dance…” It is an odd book, and doesn’t fit in exactly.  It is a book of poetry and essays on each stage of grief.  The essays address how I dealt with that stage of grief, and the poetry deals with my emotions at that time. Some of my best poetry is in that book. It healed me … still heals me. If it is never published, it has did what I wanted it to do.

Soon after I started writing poetry, I also began a novel. I wrote on it every night from the age of 11 until I was 18.  In one of the most stupid moves of my life, I burned them all just before I went to college.

I have also written a couple of short stories. I have found them more difficult to write than a novel. I think I would like to do more.

I do know this: Whatever I write when I sit down to write, I have no idea where it will take me. I have an idea, and the idea gets fleshed out and sometimes goes nowhere I had planned it to go. 

There were two times I stopped writing. The first time was when I dated a man who told me my writing was not of God, and therefore I should give them up.  I was young and stupid and did not write.  He wanted a submissive woman.  The thing is, I wasn’t.  He decided on another woman, and sent me a Dear John letter. I told him I would not have married him anyway. Then I wrote the first poem I had written in two years.  It was about being free.

The second time I stopped writing was after the death of my father. After he died, it took me three years and a trip to Scotland to get me writing again.

Of Heart and Hurdle

Seeing him cry those silent tears
Crushed my heart for I loved this man, my father.
I closed my eyes and said, “Da,”
He turned and said, “Don’t worry
I am visiting the ghosts
Who died here.”

I heard the story
Many men and women lynched
For the color of their skin
By people whose blood
Runs through me.

(Above passages from Visiting the Ghosts My Ancestors Killed, © MET)

A novel series I am writing is based on a dark history of my family:  My paternal grandfather murdered a black man named Utz Earl. Writing it has gutted me, and yet has made me euphoric. When I finished the first novel in the series, I was floating on air. I could not believe I had actually finished it. I wanted to do a non-fiction book about it, but there is simply not enough info.  My father suffered much because of this family history. My grandfather was convicted in South Carolina in 1921, and sentenced to three to five years on the chain gang. Grannie became the cook and laundress for the chain gang, and my father and his sister grew up living in tents, traveling around South Carolina all year long.

He stood in the doorway
Of an old barn, he was safe with me,
He let his tears fall silently.
I knew he kept secrets;
I kept them also.
He did not know mine
I did not know his.
We were good at keeping secrets.
Our childhoods had scarred us both.
(From Visiting the Ghosts My Ancestors Killed, ©  MET)


I am said to be a loyal person.
It is the code I learned in childhood,
And somehow or other I became
A foreigner in my own family
As I became more ingrained
In what it means to be Appalachian.

(From Born of the Mountain II © MET)

I was told by Grannie that my family did not love me and would give me away if they could, and the physical abuse was bad … the edges of my retinas in my eyes are dead, due to being shaken by her when I was about three years old. She placed hate and anger in my heart. My parents did not know the worst of it. They found out at four I was being locked under the stairwell when I was left in her care. She was sent to my aunts for almost a year.  When she came back, in an effort to keep from her, I did not eat at the table with my family, but in the kitchen alone. When she was not there, I slept in the bedroom she had, but when she was there it got complicated.  Da was gone a lot so when he was gone, I slept on a cot in my parents’ room. Otherwise, I slept on the couch. I had no place that I belonged. I was a nomad in my own house. Da realized that, and put a bar crosswise under his shirts. He took me to their closet and said, “I can’t give you a bed, but I can give you a place to put your dresses.” In later years, as a caseworker, it helped me to understand how the children I worked with felt.

What Grannie did was teach me to keep secrets. It laid a groundwork for keeping quiet when I was bullied at school, when I was sexually abused from ten to fifteen, when I was made to sit in the dining hall until the end of the day for refusing to eat certain foods in the fourth grade, when I was physically and emotionally abused by a teacher … I said nothing. I speak out now, but it took me decades to get to that point. Because I did try to tell a few people, and they told me to say nothing or treated me like I was a slut. I learned to be silent. Even though I am telling you some of what happened, there are parts of it I will not discuss.

Then I heard Jesus, as he washed my wounds and hurts,
“Why did you think you must do this alone?
I said I would be with you.”
He pulled the splinters from my hands and they healed as he said,
“Here. Let me help you carry this.
I have been there, and I know the way.”
He wiped the tears from my eyes and said,
“Come and rejoice; it is a beautiful day.”
He smiled and I smiled.
We picked up the cross … I knew I would follow Him anywhere.
(From Were You There, (c), MET)

I am a person of faith, and it has been a journey of renewal of myself. I had planned to go to seminary in Boston, but that fell by the wayside. My mother did not want a daughter who was a preacher. It didn’t matter that I wanted to be a Chaplin. My father was getting ill, and my mother didn’t drive. So, I stayed to care for them.

I know in this life I need to be kind and patient. Kindness most of the time I do, but patience will take a little time. I believe faith has to be worked on and tuned up, and I need to learn more … so I seek knowledge. I am connected to the Northumbrian Community, in that I try to follow their rules of life:  To be available to God and others, and to be vulnerable to God and others. 

As my mother was dying, the Celtic Daily Prayer Book kept me going. I did not come willingly to God. I fought him all the way, but He gave me what I call a 2×4 moment and it woke up my soul’s desire to be connected to God through his son Jesus Christ.

Then one day I remembered
The last words you spoke to me.
You struggled to speak and
When you did your voice was raspy raw.
I felt my tears pool in my eyes
To see you struggle so hard-
I wanted to tell you not to try, but I knew
What you needed to say was important.
Then this rough voice said, “I love you.”

I felt the world stand still for a moment,
For within those words spoken
Was the history of our lives.
(From The Guilt of Relief, © MET)

These were the last words Ma spoke to me.  In fact, it was the only time she ever told me she loved me. 

The day she died, all of my immediate family was gone, and I was alone in this world. You don’t realize it until you are there, that when your immediate family is all gone but you, there is no one to discuss your memories with about how it was to live as a family. At the same time, I lost the last of my uncles and my aunts. I was close to them all. I visited many of them every week for decades. Their houses were sold, and I could no longer go visit familiar and loved places. I had to rebuild my society.  When you are in your late 50s it is a daunting task, but I do have good friends.

The Inheritance

Ma left me memories, and cats…

I named them the Inheritance.

When times got rough, and

I had to decide to feed the cats or me…

I fed them for I made a promise.

I never break promises.
(From A Promise Kept; A Purpose Lost, © MET)

“I want you to take care of my cats when I am gone.”

Ma said the words that I knew was coming. She had dementia, and she was fading.  She would be gone soon. I closed my eyes for my heart wanted to cry, but I needed to be present in her life at this moment. It was not my loss but her need that was important.

 “Ma I will care for your cats.”

She then said to me firmly, “Promise me!”

That is when the tears came to my eyes. I knew in that instance that a part of her still knew me. She knew I did not take promises lightly. It was a point of honor with me. It had been part of me since I was about ten years old. I rarely make a promise unless I can keep it. Because come hell or high water that promise is going to be kept. It is so engrained in me that Ma knew that about me. She knew that when others tried to get me to say I promise that I won’t do it because I am also stubborn. Ma knew in asking me that night to promise her she was asking me to keep what I was saying. It was April 8, 2008 at 2 AM that I said, “I promise.” My fate was sealed. Ma had given me an Inheritance of cats.  I sat with her as she fell into a peaceful sleep. I kissed her forehead.

I went outside and cried into the cool spring night. I looked into the beautiful night sky, because to me the night sky even when overcast is beautiful. I love the inky dark blue of night.  I began to laugh, for my life now belonged to forty-six cats.

(Above adapted from Mary’s Christmas Story, 2019)

Those cats became my purpose, and they saved me. As I went through years of poverty, I made choices to make sure they were fed. I would be cold or hot or hungry, but those cats were fed. In 2018, they died. My purpose died with them.

Servant Warrior

This toddler empress
With her dark nearly black eyes
And smooth dark chocolate skin
Had a presence at three.
She was regal,
As she held her back
Ramrod straight

“No, it is dark.” Her voice deliberate,
As she repeated her answer.
I knew Victoria knew the color.
She, also at this young age,
Knew she was called black,
And she wasn’t the color
Of that crayon.
I studied her a minute and then asked,
“Victoria, is this the color of your room
When the lights go out for you to sleep.”
She smiled and nodded her head,
“Yes, Dark!”

{Above passages from The Color Dark, © MET)

All claiming to know what is best what is right…
None of them hearing the lost child
Where there is no place or no home…
The only one that hears
Is the one who sits beside them
On their moves from place to place,
knowing what damage this new move will do.
(From When There Is No Home [for the foster children], © MET)

I believe strongly that each and every one of us has service to do while we live, and that purpose is not to serve ourselves but to serve others. When I got the job as a foster care worker, I wanted to do the best that I could do.  I loved the work I did. I did not have children of my own, but I got to love over 800 children.  I miss having children in my life, but I am thankful for each of them that crossed my path. Every child, even the difficult ones, were a gift to my life.  I tried my best to find the key to help each child individually. I loved my work.

In 2004 I was named Social Worker of The Year by the SC Foster Care Association.

Award Night, 2004

Quick note from Marie:  There is far too much to be said and shared regarding the sacrificial work Mary has done for children in the foster care system.  I would encourage everyone to seek out her poems on this topic.  There are many … all heartrending, and all fill me with awe and respect for Mary. We need more Mary Elizabeth Todds in our midst.  

My friends tell me
That I have always heard
A different drum.
I think it is a different
But same difference.

I am a warrior in spirit.  I have to have a purpose.

Now, my purpose is to write. Where it will take me in this life, I have no idea, but it is my purpose. It is what I am here for at this moment. It fulfills me like all those previous purposes.

I danced with death
On three occasions…
Saw the dead visit me,
Walked in a cloud of unknown colors, and
Said to those come for me
My dance in life is not done.

(Above passages from The Way I Dance Through This World, © MET)

Mary, it has been a pleasure presenting you, here. I’d like to end with this sassy, pretty photo of you. May you forever be kindhearted and adventurous, and may you get to travel the roads of your father’s making.

Oh! And keep dancing, Mary. 😉

More from Mary may be found on her blog at: Poetry, Faith, Projects, Growing up Mountain


Erin Kay Hope

Today it is my pleasure to sit down and catch up with Erin Kay Hope!  Erin used to frequent Bloomings years ago (as a young teen), and has recently returned to us.  This gives Walt and I great pleasure!  Although the young poetic voice back then blew us all away, maturity and life experience have brought forth an even greater depth of beauty and heart in the words presented to us by this still-young writer. 

Okay, Erin, let’s get started!

May I begin by asking what drew you back to our Poetic Boomings site after all these years?

Erin: I actually didn’t realize that y’all had started it up again until very recently. In an insomnia-fueled rummage through old emails (literally going back several years and just reading and re-reading old emails and documents), I ran across an email exchange between myself and Hannah Gosselin discussing a poem that I had posted here. It made me very nostalgic, and I found myself missing the friends I had made here and the sense of community. I had been processing and writing a lot around then and didn’t really have a platform or outlet, other than making my dear patient wife read through pages and long notes on my phone of just any ramblings or poems that found their way out of my head, haha. So I went to find the website again so I could look back on old posts and prompts, and that’s when I discovered that you and Walt had revived PB a couple years back. I think I almost cried I was so excited, my heart was literally tap dancing around in my chest. It’s been really really good to be here and be able to share with and read from other poets again. And I especially missed the care and mentorship that I felt from yourself and Walt when I was a funny little 15-year-old trying to pass myself off as a real poet. It’s very good for my heart and soul to be back here.

Marie Elena:  Aww!  I love that you mentioned our Sweet Hannah! Hers is another voice we miss!

Well, it is certainly good to have you back. Your presence and talent are such a blessing, Erin. I must say, you have been every bit a “real poet” since your earliest days with us. Back then, one of the life events that often prompted heartfelt, real poems was the tragic early passing of your dear brother, Cameron.  Your return here has shown us that he continues to inspire raw, moving poems.  The one below, written in March, is one of the most moving poems I’ve ever read. 

Visiting the Cemetery at Springtime (or alternately, Garden of Decay)

I laid down next to you in the sunshine
Feeling the heaving of the earth
And wishing I could sink down under the grass and soil
Into the cold ground to sleep with you
Rotting bones and sinew
While insects devour my flesh and brain
At peace and happy in our decay
Underneath the yellow flower halo crown
I brought as some kind of apology for
The years I spent avoiding this place
I found your tombstone overgrown and abandoned
Neglected like the childhood we shared
Or like the emptiness in my chest that I’ve never been able to fill without you
Guilt feels like bile retched from deep inside of me
Caught and burning in the back of my throat
The utter loneliness and despair of this place consumes me
Encircled in a sea of broken dreams
And dried up flowers and haunted longing
I dream of leaving it all behind to follow you.

© Erin Kay Hope, March 2021

Would you mind telling us a bit about this enormous event in your life?

Erin:  Losing Cameron has been the biggest heartache of my life. He was my best friend and constant ally. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. To this day, I am unsure what type exactly it was (and I have been unable to discuss with my mom for various reasons). I only know that it involved his lungs and chest and that it was ruthless. We had caught it very, very late, and he was initially given about two months to live. He ended up fighting it for about two years instead, going through intense chemo and radiation treatments, surgery where they actually removed part of one of his lungs, and countless hospital/clinic visits. I went with him to almost every appointment, and I caused a scene the few times I wasn’t allowed/able to go with. He was my buddy, and I needed to be there. I was very little, and I knew he was having a hard time, but there was no way for nine-year-old me to possibly fathom the horrific pain and misery he was in for those two longest of long years. Sometimes when I look back on that time, I can’t help but wish he had died quickly and as painlessly as possible, without having to endure the chemo that literally broke him apart and made him quiet, exhausted,  unrecognizable. It is hard to cherish the time spent with him during those two years, knowing that he suffered through every minute. Some nights, I woke up to hear him screaming and my dad trying to comfort him. Those nights I prayed and prayed my little heart out, not exactly knowing if I was praying for him to magically get better or to just be able to stop struggling and be done. He died on April 20, 2008. Complex emotions and feelings followed, of course. It was two weeks before my birthday, and I was initially filled with a lot of resentment and anger for that reason. I was 11, after all. That quickly gave way to a wave of guilt that still hasn’t entirely diminished. It comes and goes, sometimes a very strong surge and sometimes a barely noticeable salty taste. I felt guilty for any time I had ever been upset or angry with him; any time I had been annoyed by the “special treatment” he received from my parents during his illness; and most especially for the fact that I woke up several times the night he died, heard my dad frantic on the phone, heard the loud knock on the front door when EMTs arrived, stayed in bed and somehow fell back asleep, missing entirely the last chance I had to see and hold and say goodbye to him. That’s a lot of weight for an 11-year-old to carry. Probably also the main reason that I have almost no memory of the year that followed his death, other than a few moments of his funeral/memorial service.

Cameron does factor into a lot of my writing. Last year, I did some very good work in actually feeling and processing my grief over losing him, grief that I wasn’t really able or allowed to feel at 11. I had been essentially forced into this place of acceptance where I was never really allowed to properly grieve. Childhood grief that goes untended can absolutely mess with development of good emotion regulation.

I visited his grave for the first time since the day he was buried, and I go back often to bring flowers and talk to him. I wrote some dark dark heartbroken poetry, spent a lot of days and nights unable to move or take care of myself much for the crippling heartache and tears. But what a relief to let out the agony I had been carrying around in my gut for almost 12 years. Poetry has been such a good outlet for me, in so many ways, both writing and reading. Grief still catches me unaware at times, but I am better equipped to deal with it. At this point in my adult life, I believe I have allowed myself the space to work through some of that grief, but I think I will feel the effects forever. I miss him every day.

Erin and Cameron

Marie Elena:  The mix of heartache and growth is palpable, Erin.  Bless your heart. 

Your return to us has also made plainly evident another life event that draws out heartfelt, real poems as well … but on the lighter side of life.  These are the tender poems you write about Mia.


There’s a soft and quiet hiding place
In the little hollow between
Your earlobe and the jut of your shoulder
Where all my anxieties go to rest.
I bring them to you, trickling
One by one eased out by careful flowering
Language, or sometimes overflowing from
My cupped hands like a child carrying too many
Marbles: some of them have to find the floor

Something about the little furrow in
Your brows when you’re thinking (caring) hard
Makes vulnerability easier.
Did you picture us here now with this tenderness
Growing up through bones and skin that first night
In June, in the summer heat and your parents’ house,
When I still kept my jeans on to get in bed with you?

The way your hair smells familiar and
Homey, or how I anticipate the rhythm of your breaths
Before they even move to expand and
Deflate: your lungs and I are old friends.
Our living room is the scene of relearning
Language, and sometimes breaking down
In front of and all over each other like marbles
Spilling out of too-small hands … we’ve become
Very good at picking them all back up again

© Erin Kay Hope, February 2021

This poem overflows with original thoughts and superb phrasing that I can only dream of writing.  *sigh*   These two poems I’ve shared are examples of what draws me to poetry.  Honestly though, I’m not sure I can fully describe what, for me, makes an excellent poem. What do you think makes good poetry? 

Erin: This is a great (and difficult!) question.  I’ve discussed a little about the difficulties I have with understanding and perceiving emotions, my own or others. I think that poetry is honestly one of the only ways I have found where I can really dissect and name and examine complex feelings. When writing, I can often come to realizations about why I was upset about something before or why someone said/did something the way that they did that I wasn’t able to understand before. When reading, I get a semblance of what it is like to feel things as another person, and that is invaluable to me since I can’t always understand it at other times. It’s like the part of my brain where emotions are processed is typically locked, and poetry is something of a key to get in and do some cleaning and organizing. Poetry that stays with me is poetry that has made me FEEL, in a very literal sense of the word. It’s hard to describe exactly what elements are needed for that to happen, it’s all very relative. But I know it when I see (feel) it. One of my favorite pieces of all time is “Box” by Ebony Stewart. She does spoken word performance. She is entertaining and raw and real, and this piece is an example of something that caught me by the heart and forced me to listen/feel/understand.

Marie Elena:  Great response. And I, like you, “know it when I see (feel) it.”    

Your poems fascinated me from the time you were in your mid-teens, through present.  Yet, as I indicated above, I see an evolution.  Was that intentional?  Or did it just happen naturally?  If intentional, how did you go about it?

Erin: Another fantastic question. This is somewhat reminiscent of the “nature vs. nurture” debate in psychology: You can’t discuss one without the other, it is the interaction of the two that is important. The evolution of my writing was a necessary chain reaction that began with me truly beginning to look inside and understand and accept myself for who I am. My writing from my first stint at Poetic Bloomings was a very very small rebellion, a piece of myself that I refused to allow to be swallowed by the dogma I was surrounded with, but that I had to camouflage to keep safe. I wrote like someone who has a manacle on their wrist with a very short chain that jerked me to a stop if I tried to go too far. I couldn’t quite put all of what I felt into words because I had to show everything I wrote to my mom and my dad, and sometimes their pastor, to make sure nothing too freethinking was slipping in before I could share it to PB or be allowed to keep it. A child security lock of sorts. I snuck a few more real pieces past them every now and then, but I was too scared to do it often.  Once I left and began to evolve as a person, my writing necessarily evolved with me. It was both natural and intentional, I think.

Marie Elena:  That makes perfect sense to me. 

Switching gears a bit, what plans do you have for your future that might take us by surprise?

Erin: My wife and I have big dreams of moving to Germany someday.

Marie Elena:  Oh, cool!  What attracts you and Mia to Germany?

Erin:  Initially, the attraction for me lay very much in the fact that Germany is essentially the birthplace of modern psychological theory, and I am a huge nerd lol. But we are also excited about living in the country, near the Alps, in a quiet cottage or farm. We want to raise a family there, and the country’s policies on universal healthcare, sustainability, and equality are very much in line with our own beliefs and values.

Marie Elena:  A quiet cottage near the Alps sounds idyllic to me.  May I also ask, what are some of your own beliefs and values?

Erin: Human rights and mental health advocacy absolutely. I have struggled with a variety of diagnoses and mental health issues, and I know what it’s like to not be believed or valued or adequately cared for, so I am very big on doing what I can to help people, especially LGBTQ+ kids/youth, to not have to go through similar experiences. My goal for a long time has been to one day create an organization for free housing/rehabilitating/medical care for LGBTQ+ youth.

Marie Elena: What a kind, soft heart you have.

Erin: Thank you! I do my best. I struggle with empathy and understanding other people’s feelings/intentions/what have you, so I try to push myself to be proactive in seeking out ways to actually show compassion and understanding with my actions and words. I am working on getting an autism diagnosis (health insurance and psychiatrist services are expensive and oftentimes very wary in diagnosing neurodivergence in women, so that journey will be a long struggle), as a way to help me understand my own brain a little better. It definitely makes me want to be able to provide accessible support for other people who may be struggling.

Marie Elena:  This also seems in line with your career path.

Erin: My career is still very much in the works. I’ve been working full time to put myself through school, and I just finished up my bachelor’s degree in psychology in March and will be starting my master’s program in July. After that, I plan on obtaining licensure as a marriage and family therapist or a certified behavior analyst. I really just want to get out there and start working in the psychological field and see what I can do. Eventually, I want to do some research and get my PhD, but that is a long way down the line.

Marie Elena:  Following the “beliefs and values” question, do you consider yourself a person of faith?  If so, is it something you hold as very private, or are you open about it?

Erin: I consider myself, when I really consider it, an agnostic. I think there probably is a higher power out there, but I don’t necessarily conform to any religion’s idea of a god. I tend to believe a lot more in science and the physical world around me, but I also don’t want to close myself off to the spiritual. It’s a tricky balance that I haven’t quite got right and might never fully understand. It’s taken me a while to get to the place where I can even acknowledge the possibility of spiritual or divine existence, as there is a lot of religious abuse and trauma from my childhood that have made me a bit of a skeptic.

Marie Elena
: Erin, this breaks my heart.  I think it is far too often the case … the religious abuse and trauma, I mean … and it turns people away from the One I believe with everything in me created all, is the author of science and holds it in His hand, and loves us more than we could ever imagine.  I’ve often said that if I wasn’t a Christian, I wouldn’t see much in Christian people that would make me want to turn to Christ.  How sad is that.  I’m so very sorry for these horrible experiences, and I just pray Jesus will re-introduce Himself to you and you won’t be able to resist His true love.

Erin: That is an interesting statement to hear from someone who is a Christian, but definitely one that I agree with. I have met very few followers of Christianity that seem to actually follow Jesus’ doctrine of loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor and the refugee, just overall being a good person without the performativeness and exclusion. My own parents are part of a “Christian” group that is essentially a cult. People in that community have little to no access to the outside world, and once you express disagreement or leave, you are essentially excommunicated. I rarely see or hear from my parents or siblings. They hold the belief that they are the only people who are truly following god and teaching his correct word.  Even other Christians are wrong in their book. All the children are homeschooled (I had never set foot in a real classroom until my first class at community college in 2016), higher education is seen as sinful (especially for women), and secular media of any kind is prohibited. To this day, I feel like somewhat of an alien who doesn’t ever fully understand pop culture references or recognize a lot of well-known songs/movies/stories. I didn’t have access to the internet or my own cell phone until I was almost 18. People also never really seem to fully believe or understand when I talk about having a cultic background either. I think people tend to view cults as things of the past, or believe that they have to involve some major tragic event like a mass suicide/murder to really cause an impact. I feel the impact every day, though. In that group, they practice arranged marriages, exclusively among members of the cult and as something of a “reward” for submission and total loyalty to the group. Women are expected to move straight from their dad’s house to their husband’s and immediately start trying for children, as many as possible. Contraceptives are not used or allowed. My own mom gave birth to nine children, a feat that ripped apart her reproductive system and has led to numerous health problems. This was seen as her duty, though, and was basically unavoidable given the circumstances. I wanted none of that, and from the time that I lost my brother, I knew there was something wrong with the doctrine that they were selling. To add to that, I’m gay, something that I started to realize at around 13 or 14 and that nearly killed me. They are fanatically opposed in that community to people being gay, and I was terrified about what would happen if they ever somehow found out.  I felt so much shame and disgust and fear and had no one to speak to about it. I spent my teen years miserable, harming myself, wishing I could just die rather than grow up to be forced into a marriage with some man I hardly knew to be his housewife and have his children. It poisoned me against the very idea of being a mother someday, and it poisoned me against being able to believe in the Christian god. I spent a long time telling myself that I didn’t want kids because I didn’t want to fulfill that role they had assigned to me with my name and gender at birth. Eventually, though, I found self acceptance and peace and the knowledge that I really do love children and want some of my own, and that I can have all of those things as my own choice and in my own time. Mia and I have plans and dreams for our future children and are excited to raise compassionate and caring little humans someday.

That was quite the monologue there, but I do feel that a glimpse into that background is essential for an understanding of my hesitancy to be part of a religious organization and for really getting a lot of what I write. My poems are very often fueled by the anger that I sometimes can’t help feeling about it all, or by the sense of loss I feel for a warped childhood and a neglected adolescence. Once again, I think poetry is a powerful weapon and outlet for me.

Marie Elena: If it is a weapon, it is one you expertly wield. 

As our time comes to a close:  If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?

Erin: I am someone who works extremely hard in everything that I do. I’ve put myself through college, working full time the entire time, and will be paying my way through graduate school soon. I am determined, and I am proud of where I am now, especially given the very rough start I had. I value hard work and perseverance, but I also would love to see more value placed on asking for/receiving help, on making things easier for future generations than they have been in the past or present, on creating a world where everyone has access to food, shelter, choice, medical care, good education, etc. (coinciding pretty heavily with life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). My career choice and future plans are all about trying to create those kinds of opportunities, and I love to have conversations about it.

Marie Elena:
Well, I sure have loved having this conversation with you, Erin.  Thank you for being open, and for touching on hard topics.  Walt and I will look forward to walks along our Garden path with you for many years to come.  Welcome “home.”


An annual event – Here is our holiday interview from the past – a tradition we like to share (with a few new poems by the man himself!)…

WALT:  Imagine our surprise when Marie received confirmation  to schedule an interview with Father Christmas himself. Frankly, I didn’t think she had that kind of pull, but apparently her reputation preceded her ( plus it didn’t hurt that her name is Good). So as our gift to all of our diligent poets, we present you with Marie’s interview. Thankfully, ’tis the time, and ’tis the season…



SANTA:  Ho, ho, ho … ‘tis indeed!

MARIE ELENA:  I can’t believe it’s you!  Honestly, I totally expected one of your helpers to stand in for you today. I just can’t thank you enough for taking time for this interview.   I’m downright dizzy with delight!  And where are my manners?  I haven’t even introduced you.  Oh, who am I kidding. You clearly do not need an introduction – just a warm, come-sit-with-me welcome!

SANTA: Marie, Marie – I say it twice, because on my list you’re very nice! Thank YOU for taking the time to give this jolly old soul the chance to chat. You make me feel like Old King Cole! Ho-ho-ho!  And you are most welcome! I handle all interviews myself. I always take time to get to know those who hold Christmas dear. I guess that gives me an edge over your poetic partner. I got to see that smile in person. Walt, if you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it!

But yes, we’re in full swing up here in Caribou Corners. I’ll bet you didn’t know that this little piece of Heaven had a name! The “North Pole” is really just a demarcation for the center of all this activity. Look around you! There’s an electricity to this place. Makes my heart glow even brighter!

MARIE ELENA:  Oh by gosh, by golly – you learn something new every day!  Obviously, this most-wonderful-time-of-the-year is the busiest season of all for you.  How are the preparations going?

SANTA:  After a well-deserved summer hiatus, my crew had kicked things into gear in mid-September. The shelves are filling rapidly and I couldn’t be more proud. We surpassed our quota by Thanksgiving Day (my SECOND favorite day, by the way). That’s the day that I start to seriously fill out my suit! But, we have added more seasonal workers this year. And since the season actually runs 365 days, that’s sort of a misnomer! But, we’ll be working right down to the last second. An eleventh-hour reprieve from Santa carries a lot of weight! But then again, SO DO I! HO-HO-HO! We’ll be ready. Will you be ready?


I don’t know why I’m the guy that
always works right to the point
of no return. It’s not that I yearn
for the excitement or challenge,
(although they do entice) it’s nice
to think that my efforts are rewarded,
by the smiles am I awarded.

But, I aim to please, for these are the times
that try my soul. I need to get it right,
right up to the night I take flight.
When I’m getting past the last details,
it never fails that I forget things in urgency,
(but, I always carry extras, in case of emergency).
And I hold this reverent spark tucked

into my parka that fuels me, drives me,
and keeps my ever loving heart pulsing.
Each child knows that an ember burns within them
every December, for as long as I remember,
they’ve made my job worth doing on that night.
Like I’ve said, I need to get it right,
right up to the night I take flight.

I don’t know why I’m the guy that
always works right up to the point
of no return. It’s just the way I roll.
Ready? No! But, I’m in control.
I am Santa Claus.


MARIE ELENA:  You just gave away a little-known secret Walt and I have been privy to for a few years:  You enjoy writing poetry.  In fact, he and I have been quite impressed with your work.  Others can find more of it at your blog, I Am Santa Claus (http://iamsantaclaus.wordpress.com/) So, Santa, please tell our readers what drew you to poetry.  And will you please share with us one of your most beloved self-authored poems in your favorite poetry form?

SANTA: That’s so nice of you to say, Marie. Remember, I’ve had centuries to perfect our craft. Yet, I feel like I’m just starting to come into my own, poetically speaking. Poetry does have its allure, as you and Walt have come to find. It speaks to me in special ways. It’s like a great tag line from a heart-felt Christmas card. It warms you. Comforts you. I love rhyme and the way words and sounds take a melodic tone that I can’t stop reciting or repeating. Poems are Christmas Carols without the distracting background music!

My favorite poetic form would be the SASTINA. I’m aware that Walt (who is working up from being naughty) has an affinity for the SESTINA. Well, a SASTINA is just like a SESTINA, except they’re almost always about me, Santa. Besides, SASTINA is an anagram. Rearranged it reads: SANTA IS (shameless plug) <:o)>

One of my favorites?  Hmmm…


(Another Santa Sestina)

Up on the housetops I stop and the man in red
heads down another chimney. All the imagery you believe,
will not deceive if you keep an open heart.
And for their part, the reindeer dance and prance above
and our labor of love continues. For it is the Magic of Christmas.
And from the North Pole to the Panama Isthmus, I, Santa

accept the mantle of the season, pleasing the way only Santa
can. This is my quest; the best promise ever read:
“To be a lasting symbol of the love this magical Christmas
time brings. All I ask is that you believe.
When you hear a jingle faintly up above,
know that I have seen the goodness in your heart.

And nestled in that and every heart
is the pulse of a true Santa,
this man whose reindeer fly to near and far up above.
If you truly feel the love, and you were bred
to be giving and compassionate, I believe
that you can be an Ambassador of Christmas.
We reach a little deeper at Christmas,
for it is within the fullness of our hearts
that we can find some magic in which to believe.
One needn’t be a jolly bearded Santa
to achieve it. If you believe it and look good in red,
it is said you will be blessed from above.
Up on the house tops, there above
the chimney I float in my red coat and enough Christmas
to fill your stockings and tread
softly with love and joy in my heart,
working the magic any good Santa
would to make you believe.
Do you? Do you believe?
Do you believe in my reindeer up above?
Do you believe in all that I, Santa
presents to the world each and every Christmas?
And will you carry that Christmas magic in your heart
as long as your blood flows bright red?
I only wear red so it would be easy for you to believe,
that I place a good and loving heart above material wealth.
Without Christmas, I would be at a loss. I am Santa Claus.

MARIE ELENA:  Wow.  A wonderful Sastina it is!  (And between you and me, I’m working hard on that whole “Walt working up from being naughty” thing. It’s a tough job, but … well, you know …).  😉

MARIE: My curiosity:  Why crimson?  (Not that you don’t look GREAT in it.)

SANTA: And who wouldn’t look great in it? I’ll explain…


Maybe it’s just my nature.
My charade has made me one of the ones
who looks at every curse as a gift.
And I can always tell which ones are good;
it doesn’t take a detective to solve that mystery.
Failure would turn my face a vivid crimson;
the redder, the better. The fact is, I look good in crimson.
You can’t find this shade anywhere else in nature.
This veiled mystery
is a puzzle I can’t keep to myself. But, it’s not one
that even pure-hearts who are deemed as good
would receive as an unexpected gift.
For no matter what it is I give,
those worthy would want nothing more from this crimson
clad lad smelling of holly and living the good
life. I came from the same place as Mother Nature
and the furry Easter thing. Sorry to boast, I am loved by the little ones.
My identity remains a poorly kept mystery.
I bask in the glow of Borealis; another beautiful mystery.
Seeing this phenomenon daily is a blessing; a gift
never returned or re-gifted. Truly one
to share with all from the bottom of my crimson
heart. I’m a list maker by nature
and I constantly check to make it twice as good.
I can deal with bad, and I can appreciate how hard it is to be good.
I have a well-known history; it’s more myth than mystery.
These are the facts as they’ve always been. I love nature.
An excited smile is the best gift
that was ever given to this Crimson
Crusader! I’ve saved every one.
Each New Year has the potential to be one of the best ones.
It is a real joy to do this much for the sake of good.
From the snow-capped forest green, to this tunic most crimson,
my disguise does not lend itself to mystery.
If you truly trust me, maybe I’ll leave a special gift.
As I’ve stated, it is in my nature.
Human kindness is human nature. That’s rule number one.
Two: Every gift from the heart is especially good.
Three, is really no mystery. I am Santa Claus. Believe in the man in crimson!

MARIE ELENA: Most of the stories about you include elves, who supposedly help you make and distribute the toys.  Is that just make-believe?  Or do they really exist?

SANTA: Do they really exist? Am I Santa Claus? The key to your “make-believe” line is the “BELIEVE” part. The answer is a resounding YES to both questions. They may be small in stature, but no one’s heart is bigger than an elf’s.  Their work is selfless and their dedication is flawless. There is no supposing in anything they do. Without them, Caribou Corners would be a very dreary place. Elves have great senses of humor and are indeed very cantankerous. But when that work chime intones, they’re all business! Their eyes sparkle and there is a determination that is life-confirming! And when an elf sings…well, there’s no sweeter sound in the world!  Tannenbaum, my publicist (who is himself of elf descent), has this poem he uses to explain elves:


If you want to keep your knee caps,
“dwarves” aren’t what you call us chaps.
Small folk is a little vague,
like small pox was a little plague.

They call us elves, we fill the shops,
(a few are even traffic cops),
but mostly, we are proud toy makers,
and rather tasty cookie bakers.

We help Santa this time of season,
we need the work; he has his reasons.
Our craftsmanship is far superior,
although our height is quite inferior.

But he’s glad to have us on his team,
it’s exuberance that makes us beam.
If not for us, his job gets tougher.
We’re dedicated; not one a “slougher.”

Working hard to make your Christmas,
from up here on this merry isthmus.
In this place of endless joy
every single girl and boy

knows our legend. They love this time
and hold us in their hearts and minds.
We elves love children, as it is told
although we’re three hundred and six years old.

He is Santa Claus. We’re his elves.
We hold high opinions of ourselves.

So, watch your knees!

MARIE ELENA:  Hahaha!  Cute, mischievous little rascals!

A global Christmas Eve tradition is to leave a little something for Santa to munch on. So here’s your opportunity, Santa:  What types of Christmas Eve snacks do you prefer?  Should we continue leaving cookies and milk?  Anything else?

SANTA:  I’ll simply put it into verse:


I have a confession
about my obsession,
I’m a connoisseur you see.
For throughout my travels
I just have to marvel
at the cookies left out for me.
Anzac Biscuits, Speculaas,
Spitzbuben, Palmeras;
with a glass of skim milk are heavenly!
Danske Smakager, Pfeffernüsse,
keep me round and quite obüsse,
filling my parka, perfectly.

Torta Fregolotti and Biscotti,
Kolaczki and Krusczyki;
I eat them all because they’re free.
Nanaimo Bars, Kipferl,
Piparkakut all taste swell
and smell delicious, Golly Gee!
But, I love two cookies both the same,
for me, these two just sing my name.
say them aloud and you’d agree,
Kringlas and Fatt(ig)mann are named after me.
So now to take my Cookie Pause,
(I can because I am Santa Claus).
(Whispering) And I love a great chicken wing!

MARIE ELENA:  I must say, that was simply awesome! Here – try a Pizzelle.   It’s a lightly sweet, traditional Italian cookie that looks like a snowflake.  Right up your alley.

Santa, you travel the entire world in one night, year after year.  Do you have a spot dearest to your heart – someplace you’d like to linger, instead of rushing through like lightning?

SANTA: (Pauses contemplatively) There is this moment in my travels where a bright star appears and leads me to a place that is so peaceful and serene. The reindeer and I hover over this spot in reverence, because it is my preference to do so. In that precise moment, all war ceases, all children are protected, homeless mothers and their families are safe, and warm and well fed. No crimes are committed, and if you blink – you would miss it. If every day could hold just an hour of that, this world would be a more special place.

But then, Dorothy Gale expressed it the best: “There’s no place like home!” I love to travel to all the corners of the world. But doing it all in one night is essential. It means I get home faster. I and the Missus love a quiet Christmas day together. (Well, she and I and about 17,000 of our diminutive dependents!)

MARIE ELENA:  “Diminutive dependents”  – giggle, giggle.   And speaking of “the Missus,” we know so little about Mrs. Claus.  What can you tell us about her?

SANTA: Ah,  Mrs. C is a very special lady! She doesn’t get enough credit for keeping this weary old Santa going year after year. She is my strength and my purpose. She is the spirit of Christmas personified.



Patiently she waits.
She knows I planned on going out;
I do every year. And it is here
that she waits. Her eyes still
twinkle after all this time
and I’m sure her smile will await me,
when I’m done globe trotting.
It’s not suspicion that keeps her
planted by the hearth; where else on earth
would she rather be? It keeps her as warm
as a big cozy hug, toasting her frigid toes
and melting her heart for my return.
The logs burn, and I yearn for my traveling
to cease, and desist this all night party.
This North Pole girl is hearty; she loves the cold
and this Jolly Old Man, doing all that she can
to keep me in this Christmas game.
She’s my missus; she calls me Mr. “C.”
But to me, she gives my heart great pause.
And it’s all because…I am Santa Claus.

MARIE ELENA:  Without divulging any “must keep” secrets, how do you keep track of who has been naughty, and who has been nice?

SANTA: The speculation is that there is a BIG book and all the names are listed and I check off the good and scratch out the bad. There’s no real secret, Marie. iHave iList on my iTouch. There’s an “app” for that! But, there is a misconception about the whole naughty/nice debate. Every New Year you get a clean slate. Your conscience puts you on the list. The decision is yours to make. A clear conscience is nice; a guilty one, not so. There is a cumulative effect. And those who are habitually bad year after year are assigned to do infomercials for an eternity. My advice? You better be good for goodness sake!

MARIE ELENA:  Speaking of naughty or nice, our little Sophia (who Walt lovingly refers to in the Polish “Zosia”) has been extraordinarily good, for a nearly two-year-old.  Do you have something special in mind for her?

SANTA: An extraordinarily good, nearly two-year-old? Do they still make those? Well, I’m glad to hear it. How would Sophie look with pointy ears? They’re never too young to recruit, you know! Marie, I do have something special in mind for little Zosia Róża, but she’ll have to wait until Christmas morning, just like every one else!

MARIE ELENA:  *sigh*  I guess I better not pout.  So, moving on, how did you get this gig?  Do you think you’ll ever retire?

SANTA: An old classmate and friend, Marv Levy (former Buffalo Bills coach) used to have this saying, “When you start talking about retirement, you already have.” Being Père Noël is like being a Supreme Court Justice, but better. I’m Santa for life. I’ve been doing this bit for six-hundred some years myself; at this time of year, I am the final arbiter!


(an excerpt)

…There came a time when my father
could no longer man Grandfather’s chair.
He had turned frail, and weak,
not a big man anymore. Not even
when he sat in the chair.
He called me to his bedside.
I came to stand near his feet,
searching his old steel blue eyes.
The twinkle had faded,
and his nose held his glasses aloft.
He gazed at me and said,
“Climb up here young man!”
And his smile shined upon my face
with me by his side, rumor has it.
My father didn’t have to ask
the age old question, he just said
“You’re a good man, son.”
At that moment I was glad that
some family traditions never
change over the years.
I nodded solemnly accepting
that I had become that.
“I need you to see what you can do!”
he said. Then, he’d roll
his head toward the candy jar,
I handed him a striped cane
and held one finger crossing my lips.
He knew what this meant,
I’d let him have one,
but he had to be quiet about it.
My Grandfather and Father handed down
the mantle which I have accepted gladly.
Coming from a long line of large men,
I was now a large man, quite jolly,
every time children would visit me,
I would be seated in Father’s… er, my chair.
It was a big chair for a big man.
The younglings would stand near my feet,
gazing up at my warm blue eyes.
They twinkled when I winked,
and my nose wrinkled when I’d think.
I would always say,
“Climb up here little one!”
And their smiles would light up
like Aurora Borealis, rumor has it.
And I always asked if they
were behaving themselves. That was
something everyone in my family
always asked over the years.
“Been good?” I’d size them up.
A shy nod came, leaving no doubt
that they had. “OK, I’ll take care of you”
I would always laugh. Then, I’d tilt
my head toward Grandpa’s old candy jar,
and hold two fingers across my lips.
This meant, take two and be quiet about it.
I am Santa Claus. Like my Father before me,
and his Father before him.
And that meant I could change the rules!

MARIE ELENA:  Some say you and St. Nicholas are one-and-the-same.  Is there truth to this rumor?

SANTA:  Let’s look at the facts and you decide: St. Nicholas was a bishop in his church and was always depicted wearing red as a designation of such. Nicholas sported a long white beard and he always had gifts for the good children of the villages he would visit: coins, marbles, small toys, maybe pieces of fruit… a little something. The Dutch children couldn’t pronounce St. Nicholas’ name very well and the resulting sound ran together as Sinterklaas. He was a patron of children.

And me? I wear red and have a white beard. I bring gifts to the good children. My name is Santa Claus. If you said we were one and the same, you would be partially right in that I had patterned my life after St. Nicholas. But, he died in 343 AD. I’m just a jolly old guy who is still very much alive in the hearts of many.

MARIE ELENA:  There seems to have been a severe secularization of this season. Forgive me if this is too controversial a question, but where do you think you fit into the celebration of the birth of Jesus?

SANTA: Ah, the Jesus question. First of all, I’m a true believer! And I always love when this question is asked – it’s as if people think Jesus and I are in competition for this whole Christmas scene. But, notice something:  It’s not called Clausmas. It sounds trite, but He is the season’s reason. It is Christ’s celebration, and I am one of the heartiest of revelers in this cause. I have become a representative symbol of all that the Christ espoused. Love, charity, hope and the belief that good will eventually rule the day. And I believe each of us has the capability to do good. Some just need a little more faith to get it right. Say “Happy Chanukah” to me, and I will respond, “Why, thank you!  And a Merry Christmas to you.” Wish me a “Happy Kwanzaa, and I’ll reply, “Indeed!  And a Merry Christmas, too!” Say “Happy Holidays”… you get the picture. I am no less a believer in Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, or Festivus (if you’re so inclined). These are all wonderful celebrations. I mean no disrespect to any of these.  But, promoting Christmas is my thing; my honor.  I carry Christmas with me always.

(i carry christmas with me)

  i carry christmas with me
(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without christmas
(anywhere i am christmas lives;
and whatever is done by me
is because of christmas)
i fear no reprisal
(for it is my choice)
i want no ridicule (for the beauty
of christmas has become my world)
and it is whatever
a child’s smile has always meant
and whatever melodic carol is sung
christmas will be within me.
here is my deepest secret nobody knows
(the birth of love is the cause of my joy
and the bounce in my step
and the feeling of heart
for a time called christmas;
which grows deeper than the soul can grasp
or mind can conceive) and it is this wonder
that’s keeping the spirit alive within me.
i carry christmas
(i carry it in my heart)
i am santa claus

***in tribute to “i carry your heart ~ e.e.cummings”

with Jesus

MARIE ELENA:  So beautifully stated, sir.  Just like you.

Now, as I ask all those I interview — if we could know only one thing about you, what would you tell us?

SANTA:  The one thing I’d tell you is that there is never only one thing. I’m not as lively and quick as I used to be, but I hold my own. All of those surrogates you see out and about in department stores and street corners during December are personally appoved by me to carry that mantle. Reindeer really do fly and I’ve never fallen off of a roof. I’m very proud of that! My favorite Christmas song is “Believe” by that Groban kid; my favorite Christmas special would be the classic original – “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I always get choked up when Linus explains the season. He has it so right! But the most important fact you need to know and understand about me is this: There is most certainly a Santa Claus!


Don’t always listen to your friends,
their opinions usually depend
only on what they can see.
We can be cynical in an age that
makes it easy to be, but belief in something
requires faith and a certain degree of trust.
It’s a must. Certainly, Santa Claus lives.
In the love that breeds a giving heart
and a dedicated spirit, you will find him.
Of course, the joy that exists in your life
and makes it a beautiful expression of love,
is due to the wonder that brought Santa to bear.
Sadness would fill the world; without Santa,
and would supplant love. A world without
you Virginia, would be as desperate.
Your trust in your parent’s love would die.
Romance too. And poetry would cease to ease
hearts and end the expression of the emotions of everyone.
I find agreement with all that Mr. Church had to say,
in his way, he was speaking on my behalf. It is pleasing
that in your question you have re-ignited the world.
Continue to believe in the spirit of Christmas.
Believe, although you may not see. It lives in you.
Fill your heart with the wonder of all you can grasp.
Question all you think you know, if it feeds your curiosity,
but no one can destroy the mantle of what we can not envision;
it breeds division and contempt, exempting a heart from the truth.
I believe in your loving ways as surely as I believe in Christmas.
It will live for an eternity in the souls of each man, woman and child
and bring smiles to my heart for as long as I am Santa Claus.
Yes Virginia, we can agree. There is indeed a Santa Claus. I am he.

MARIE ELENA: Any new poetic works before I let you get back to your busy schedule?

SANTA: I’ve written quite a few…


What I love most is the tradition of Christmas,
born of different times and different ideals.
For me Christmas has always been the real deal.
Back when there were no mega-malls (remember those)
or “on-line” shopping, I’d be roof hopping with gifts
more wonderful than anything offered in mass production,
It is the destruction of those things that troubles me.
Extraordinary and exquisite hand-made wares
were gifts beyond compare. Store fronts
of old “mom and pop” shoppes made you stop and imagine.
A wish list for the mind. Special catalogs bearing names
of long gone enterprises; Sears and Montgomery Ward
were books that helped feed your desires.
Boughs of holly and sprigs of mistletoe adorning
Christmas morning, sneaking your loving miss
underneath there for a gentle kiss.
Stockings hung by the hearth, enough to hold
small trinkets, fruits and candies,
not electronic hand-held games and such.
Some folks want or have just too much.
My list used to contain more nice than naughty,
I take haughty exception to the current situation.
Mothers and Grandmothers baking to their hearts content,
with confections that sent you to nirvana and back,
envisioning things hidden deep in my gift sack.
Gathering to sing carols with neighbors and friends,
the fun never ends until the streetlights fade.
I was made for those times. I remain determined
to hold tightly to Christmases that were rightly
memorable. Staying home to enjoy the presence of family,
huddled together to view special programs of what
the season should be. I’d love to see it again.
So, I am returning to some semblance of those days,
by-gone ways and traditions that we recall.
Things so old that they seem totally new to today’s generations.
From here in my North Pole Station I find placation,
seeing Christmas Day in a new old-fashioned way.
Those memories make me smile and take pause
for I am a good old-fashioned Santa Claus!

…or my newest favorite…


I am Santa Claus in all my glory
and I love to tell this Little story
all about this bright young lass,
so demure with a touch of sass.
She knew what she liked.
She knew what she loved.
And, of all the things she loved, she guessed
that she loved Christmas time the best.

Mary Little was a lovely girl.
Eight years old, a head full of curls.
She loved her father.
She loved her mother.
She loved her sister,
Tolerated her brother.
But of all the things she loved, she guessed
that she loved Christmas time the best.

The decorations seemed much brighter,
The lights and tinsel did delight her.
She loved the Christmas trees much better.
Thought Santa’s cloak should be much redder.
She loved the songs the carolers sang,
and the big wreath her father would hang.
But of all the things she loved, she guessed
that she loved Christmas time the best.

The tasty treats her mom would make,
the candies and cookies she would bake,
Mary Little loved to eat them,
in her mind, you could not beat them.
She loved the snow that fell to earth.
She loved the joy and festive mirth.
But of all the things she loved, she guessed
that she loved Christmas time the best.

The townsfolk knew of her contagion,
and of her love for this occasion.
They got together for a meeting,
proposed that they all gave this greeting
all across their frozen isthmus,
“Have a Mary Little Christmas!”
Of all the things they loved, they guessed,
they all loved Christmas time the best.

SANTA: There’s plenty more at my blog, “I AM SANTA CLAUS”. Thanks for the opportunity to catch my breath and share a bit of myself with your readers, Marie. But now I need to get back to work. Can I offer you a ride home?

MARIE ELENA:  Really?  Seriously?  I’d like that! Let’s go!

Oh, wait.  Will you please take a picture of us in your sleigh for Sophie?  She’ll be so excited!

SANTA:  Ho, ho, ho!  Smile, and…


Climb aboard, it’s time to go,
over the white and glistening snow
with one quick stop in Buffalo
before we head for Toledo.

Hang on tight, it takes one night
to complete this very special flight,
up here where all the stars are bright
on this Merry Christmas night.

It gets breezy, and it is easy
for your stomach to get queasy,
and your nose to get all sneezy.
Bundle up or else you’ll freeze, see?

Over oceans we will fly
in this frigid winter sky,
the view below will make you sigh,
I’ll bet you’ve never been this high.

Feel the wind blow through your hair,
Can you smell what’s in the air?
It’s a scent I love to share.
That’s the smell of Christmas there!

So Dear Marie, the time has come
for this Sprite to take you home,
then head back where the reindeer roam
and write another Christmas poem.

The moon is bright, all through the night;
the sound of your name, just feels right.
So I’ll exclaim as I fly out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all and to Marie, a Good night!

Santa Walt and me




Glædelig Jul,    Maligayang Pasko!,    Shub Naya Baras,   Joyeux Noel,    Fröhliche Weihnachten,    Sarbatori vesele, Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom,    Feliz Natal,    IL-Milied It-tajjeb,    Selamat Hari Natal, Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia,    God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År,    Buone Feste Natalizie,    Milad Majid,    Merry Keshmish,    Nollaig Chridheil dhuibh

(Danish, Philippine, Hindi, French, German, Rumanian,
Russian, Brazilian, Maltese, Indonesian,
Polish, Swedish, Italian, Arabic,
Navajo, Scots Gaelic)


Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Ryan K. Russell

Question:  What could possibly have prompted the internet to connect a sixty-year-old grandmother with a young NFL Defensive End? Why, a passion for poetry!  Of course!  Please welcome Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Ryan K. Russell on this, the day of the launch of his debut poetry book, Prison or Passion!  (The title is linked to a site where you may purchase the book.  After you read the poem below, I believe you will be heading straight over there with me to make your purchase.)

Overdraw – by Ryan K. Russell

Gold coin. Dollars. Cents.
Money can’t buy me a dad.
Birthday transactions aren’t bank statements but hugs and laughs.
Silver dollar. The little boy holler. No father to calm his cries.
Plastic credit card. Cold and hard like the floor you left me to sleep on.
I was below zero. It only takes one number, and plenty commas to make you love a zero.
Should I pay you to love me?

I prayed you to love me.

I cried for you to love me.

I bled for you to love me.

My deposit insufficient.


  Hello Ryan!  A warm welcome, and congratulations on the launch of your book!

“Overdraw” is forcefully unsettling – born of your own life.  So very much is said with few words, which is my favorite style of poetry.  I look forward to reading more, getting to know more about the man behind the poem, and introducing him to our poetry “garden.”  Thank you for taking time out of your ridiculously busy, high-profile life, to stop by our humble site.  In my way of thinking, that speaks volumes of who you are.

This book-launch day is also the day of your mother’s birthday. May I assume this is more than just a happy coincidence?  Was this something intentionally arranged, to surprise or honor her?

RYAN: It’s no coincidence that the book releases on my mother’s birthday. Everything about this book is intentional. The font, the cover design, the arrangement, and any pictures were done by me with great purpose. The relationship I share with my mother is the closest bond two human beings can have. The love I receive from her is truly unconditional. Growing up it was just my mother and I. My biological father was not in the picture. I had a stepfather that raised me until I was seven, then he passed in a motorcycle accident. My mother was all I had. Even though she worked three jobs at times and was still a full-time college student, my mother made sure that we had a strong bond. No matter how long or hard her work day was, she would listen about my day with in depth questions. Sometimes she would listen while resting her eyes, and I would doubt she was even listening. When I asked if she had been, she would be able to repeat back to me, almost word for word, exactly what I said. She made sure I always knew I was a blessing and not a burden. Releasing this book on her day is just one of many ways I continue to honor her.

MARIE ELENA:  I am so sorry to hear about your father and stepfather – such devastating blows to a young child.  Obviously your mother is a remarkable woman, raising you so beautifully on her own. What a gift you are giving her, with this book launch.  We are happy to honor her right along with you, with this interview today.  My intention was to shoot for May, but when I saw the book launch and your mother’s birthday were both today, I stepped on the gas.  And I’d like to take a moment to wish her a very happy birthday!

with mom

How cute is this shot of you both?! 

Ryan, one of the things I was excited to learn about you is that you were a product of the Big Ten, having earned a football scholarship at Purdue in Indiana.  What did you study there?  And why did you choose that field of study?

RYAN: I double majored at Purdue. Since I was on a football scholarship I spent most summers at Purdue training. That gave me an opportunity to take extra classes as well. I studied sociology and communications because initially I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. The plan was to have a long successful career in the NFL and then, when it was all said and done, be a big time broadcaster or analyst. Sociology peaked my interest to know the world around me.  Also I have always been an emotional human being but I wanted the opportunity to study people in a more logistical way. Now I do a lot of public speaking at schools, where I talk about some of the struggles I’ve been through as a young man. Writing was more of a personal venture and a therapeutic way of expression. Eventually I realized that football was not the only thing that was innately a part of me, but writing was as well.

MARIE ELENA:  Thank you for using what you have learned in your life experiences to help our youth. What most valuable lesson have you taken away from being a college and professional athlete? Is there any particular coach or fellow player that you would say helped you with that lesson?

RYAN:  God, the lessons I’ve learned through football and the people I have encountered through it is endless. My friends often joke about my ability to relate anything in life to a football analogy. I would have to say the lesson that has resonated the strongest with me is the finite nature of life. When you’re young time seems endless, you feel invincible. Yes, there’s also a power in that, and a boldness that comes with it, but when you learn the finite nature of things though, details start to matter. Things become more beautiful because you understand they are temporary. You take risks because you know you will never have another opportunity exactly like that one again. You hold your loved ones closer and kiss your lovers deeper because you will never be there again, in that moment, at that time, with that person. Things will never go back to the way they were and they will never remain the way they are.

MARIE ELENA:  So much wisdom, eloquently expressed.

RYAN:  My teacher for this lesson was my best friend, college teammate and roommate, Joseph Gilliam. Joe and I were the same age, lived in the same dorm, played on the same side of the ball, but were opposite in a lot of little ways. Joe was mature and grounded with a strong sense of self. I was immature at times, emotional, reckless, and discovering who I was and who I wanted to be. Joe did everything with purpose, he enjoyed all the little things in life, he took nothing for granted. Our final year at Purdue Joe suffered a career ending knee injury, and by this time we were the two closest people on the team. I was devastated my best friend would be missing his final season at Purdue. See life is finite, football doesn’t last, and you don’t know when it’s going to be over. Instead of sulking, Joe poured all his love for the game into those around him. Joe encouraged me every game, talking to me on the sideline, picking me up when I felt down, and watching film with me constantly. Joe didn’t sulk on the past because it was over. He made the most of every moment.  I was with Joe in 2017 when he was diagnosed with stage four spinal glioblastoma. It was much of the same. I was devastated, as was everyone in Joe’s life. By this time I had introduced him to one of my childhood friends, Rachel, and they had married. Rachel and I did everything we could to be there for Joe, but looking back it seems Joe was consoling us. Joe didn’t torture himself with the past, he didn’t waste his moments fearing the future, he made every present moment full. His time was finite but he made an earth shattering impact on all that knew him. My best friend Joseph Marlow Gilliam III passed September 11, 2018. His life is more than a lesson but an example of how I try to live every day.

MARIE ELENA: Oh, Ryan … I’m so sorry about your dear friend.  You have endured so much pain in your life.  Great blessings, coupled with immense loss.  I remember the story of Joe.  Glioblastoma is a horrible thing.  It took my husband’s mother.  Hers was deep in her brain.

RYAN:  I’m truly sorry to hear about your mother in law. Joe’s was initially at the base of his spine, then another developed on his brainstem.

MARIE ELENA:  He sounds like the kind of friend everyone would want to have.  I’m glad he was in your life, even for that short while.

You blew me away with what you consider the most valuable lesson you learned from football.  Now in the reverse, what would you say has been the hardest thing about a life of football, on a personal level?  Especially in the NFL, where I imagine there are temptations that are hard to resist.  Have you found that to be true?  If so, how have you dealt with them?

RYAN: I won’t ever deny that I’m an emotional person. I have accepted that about myself, and in knowing that, I have to protect myself. The nature of the business is brutal. I have been on three teams my five years in the league, and I have made tons of close friends. With every friend I have made, I have had to say goodbye to many more. I know it seems like something small but to me it can really take a toll. I grew up just my mother and I so friends for me are as close as family.  One day a buddy you’ve been hanging out with all camp might roll his ankle. Next thing you know his locker is empty and there is someone completely different in it. That was hard for me to deal with at first. I know it ties into my abandonment issues I have from my father leaving me, and it took me some time to confront the root of the problem head on. After the passing of my best friend, I started going to therapy regularly and learning how to deal with a lot of trauma I’ve been through, including abandonment.

MARIE ELENA: That really doesn’t seem like something “small” at all, to me.  That is an aspect of professional sports I have never thought of.

On the thrilling side of football, you have moments like the one in this photo.  🙂 Oh my goodness, Ryan!  I wish you had been sitting with me when I opened this photo from you!  I literally gasped, and then laughed out loud, all by myself!  When I asked for photos, I never imagined something as thrilling as you tackling Drew Brees!  You totally made my evening!  I was so excited, I mistakenly hit “send” on a question I already knew the obvious answer to:  Of COURSE you did not play at Purdue with Drew.   He is an old man, compared to you! Sheesh!  And I must say, hats off to the photographer.  Thrilling action. Both names clearly shown.  Both helmet decals shown as well.  Excellent “catch!”  (ahem)


RYAN:  Though Drew and I never played together, he came back to Purdue multiple times to speak, and he was always inspiring. He’s a Texas boy like me, and he was the only reason I really knew where Indiana was on the map. I’ve spoken to him one on one a handful of times and he talked at lengths about the connection of humanity. How you can’t expect to be a good student without being a good son. In his examples he couldn’t be the best quarterback if he wasn’t waking up everyday trying to be the best husband, if he wasn’t tucking his kids in every night trying to be the best father. You don’t pick and choose when you want to be your best and in what fields. You just do it all the time in every way possible.

MARIE ELENA:  Wow.  That makes me glad I asked my embarrassing question.  Thank you for sharing this about Drew, and confirming that he is the man he projects himself to be.

I am used to criticism on matters of athletics, but not on matters of my heart.”  This quote from you touched me.  I do think both require a thick skin. Not that I would know anything about criticism on matters of athletics (I don’t have an athletic bone in my body!). But there is something about putting your “self” out there … the heart of who you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going, what you feel and believe and aspire to … it feels vulnerable.  It is vulnerable.  And maybe that’s where people with lives as different as yours and mine find common ground.  Please expand on that quote of yours.  What prompted you to splay your heart?  And what prompted your use of poetry to that end?

RYAN: Writing has always been personal and football has always been public. In high school on Friday nights everyone in Dallas was in a football stadium. They would cheer and boo during the game but after the game you were always going to hear an opinion. My earliest memories of football come with memories of criticism. It’s funny, when you’re a professional you hear so much more criticism from so many more people, but it barely affects you. I’m not sure if it’s because we are jaded now or because you know 99.9% of the people critiquing you have no idea what it takes to play at your level. On the flip side, I remember writing my first poem around the age of seven when my stepdad passed away. The format was a letter to God asking him why I didn’t deserve a father. Why I was a little boy who had a dad who didn’t want him and the dad who did want him was killed. No one read this poem. No one cheered or booed. It wasn’t the talk of the town and it wasn’t criticized. In my experience, sharing your story with people gives them the opportunity to connect. That part of it is valuable and beautiful. Also sharing gives them the opportunity to criticize. Even more so when you add a monetary value to your heart’s expression, criticism is expected. This quote is me preparing and acknowledging this fact. The noise of criticism grew louder in football when people started paying hundreds of dollars for a seat. The noise will inevitably grow louder for my poetry when people pay money to read them. I focus on the little boys who aren’t ready to share their poems, so they can read mine and know we are on the same journey. And that our journey has a happy ending.

MARIE ELENA:  Again, so much wisdom here.  And thank God for the happy ending.

Ryan, if I may ask … did the little boy who wrote that heartwrenching poem to God ever get an answer from Him?

RYAN:  I think God had always answered that question. I was just too hurt a lot of the times to hear it. I believe he shows me all the amazing things I have that I deserve: my mother, my passion, my art, my career, my friends, etc. I think he also has given me great things I don’t deserve: forgiveness, mercy, hope, etc. God answers me every morning he wakes me up, and every night I fall asleep. He tells me, “It’s not about what you deserve, but what you receive and how you move forward from there. Make the most of it. Love the great, learn from the hurt. Go through the dark so that you may help someone who is stumbling around blind.” I hope that makes sense.

MARIE ELENA:  It makes a world of sense, Ryan. A world.

From the outside looking in, we can tend to think talented people who have “made it” in life have few struggles.  Obviously that is not true, and you have kindly been very transparent with us about some of your hardships.  What or whom do you feel helped you survive, and even thrive, in spite of it all?

RYAN: I love this question because it allows me to shed some more light on the release date of my book. I chose to release Prison or Passion on my mother’s birthday, for the simple reason that I would not have survived the story my book tells without her. When my father passed and my biological abandoned us, my mother was more than enough. She was provider and nurturer, flawlessly. When I suffered abuse from family members, she swiftly removed me from the situation and protected me from harm. She put me in the best schools she could, she listened when I spoke, and she always encouraged my most outlandish dreams. When I suffered injury from football, she was my healer.  When my best friend passed of cancer, she was my shoulder to cry on. When I was cheated on by my first love, she encouraged me to love again. She was the perfect balance of mentor and friend, not knowing she was really playing the role of savior.

MARIE ELENA:  Thank you for sharing this beautiful, strong, loving woman with us.  These photos speak volumes.



MARIE ELENA:  Let’s talk some more about poetry.  Is there a particular poet you are most inspired by?  If so, who and why?

RYAN: I could talk at lengths about Maya Angelou and the role she played in my life not only as a poet but as an African American Female Activist. Not growing up with a lot of male influence on a day to day basis, I think I was more open to growing close with Angelou and her work. I was used to being raised by strong independent women. I learn that like I, she suffered abuse from a family member. She spoke many languages and traveled the world as I had always dreamed. She recited work at the inauguration of Clinton. She had been nominated for a Tony, a Pulitzer, and won three Grammys. Maya Angelou was like my poetry Mother without even ever meeting her. I also learned a lot about the civil rights movement through studying Maya Angelou.

MARIE ELENA: Your poetry mother.  I’m sure she would have loved to have known that.  Her death was a huge loss to the entire poetry community, as well as the world.

Have you been involved in any poetry slams?  I am so shy, but would love to muster up the confidence to take part, sometime.

RYAN: Slam is actually one of the ways I found the courage to publish my book. One Tuesday night three years ago, my brother and I were visiting Los Angeles during my offseason. My brother was one of the few people who knew I wrote poetry and he looked up a one mic for us to attend. Da Poetry Lounge on Fairfax is a great intimate environment where poets all around the world come to read and listen. My brother ended up signing me up and I performed for my first time on that stage. Since then I have performed several times and go more often to listen and be inspired. My brother was under the impression that if I could read my work aloud it would be easy for me to just publish a book and let others read for themselves. Recently I have performed a poem from my book called Sitting Down at Da Poetry Lounge.

MARIE ELENA:  Performance venues would be a good source of inspiration.  My nearly sole source for rubbing elbows with other poets so far has been online.  But I have gleaned much inspiration from them! Many of us here at Poetic Bloomings met online at Poetic Asides, which is a blog by Robert Lee Brewer (poetry editor of the Writer’s Digest).  It was there that Walt Wojtanik and I met, and later decided to begin this little site we having going here.  A few of us have even managed to meet one another, though not Walt and I as of yet.  We have taken to referring to each other as “best friends who have never met.”  Is there an online site where you interact with other poets? You know you are welcome here anytime to respond to Walt’s prompts.  We are a small, but passionate and encouraging group. I know the Poetic Asides community would welcome you as well!

RYAN: Thank you for the invite Marie. I would love to join some more poet communities. I have been so busy doing everything for my book, so I actually haven’t had time to meet as many poets as I would like. I met one of my idols actually on Instagram. I had been following contemporary poet Christopher Poindexter online for a while and after sharing some of my own work, he showed interest in me. Christopher is the creator of three poetry books himself and was looking to start his own publishing company with his brothers. We met on Venice beach, swapped poems, stories, and ideas. Months later I became his first published poet of his company, Jack Wild. Other poets I have had the pleasure of interacting with on Instagram are Atticus, Tyler Knott Gregson, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Jon Lupin, Danez Smith, and some others. I have been very fortunate to be accepted into this community that I have always secretly felt so connected too.

MARIE ELENA:  You are definitely plugged in! Much of Christopher Poindexter’s poetry speaks to the heart of the, “say much in few words” poet I aspire to be.  I have to admit to snooping around a bit on Facebook, and saw that you actually used typewriters on Venice Beach.  I can’t think of anything more fun!  I bet you drew a lot of smiles from people strolling the beach!

Now for another quote of yours:  “We are multifaceted and phenomenal beings with unlimited capabilities.”  I love this, Ryan.  And you seem to be a prime example of it.  I see that in addition to football and poetry, you are also an artist, a novel-writer, a playwrite, and, and, and!  Please help me enter the mind of one with so many talents, such diversity, and such confidence.

RYAN: Honestly that quote is what I believe of the world. I knew it when I was a young boy. My mother was a mom, my best friend, a probation officer, a sister, a lover, a widow, a writer, a social worker, a spiritual guide, etc. She had so much on her plate yet it never seemed to get full.  My family is Jamaican and my mother is the first generation to be born here in the states. I often heard the joke that Jamaican always had a bunch of different side hustling going on. I always thought that was so cool. When I used to visit every summer with my grandmother I thought it fascinating that the same man renting jet skis in the morning at the beach was the man selling curry goat lunches in the afternoon, and he also owned the club we visited in the evening. I think the perception of Jamaican’s are that we are easy going and laidback, but honestly I believe that we relax hard because we work even harder. I adopted that same mentality when I moved to LA. School is a great way to learn and expand but sometimes I think we use it to limit ourselves in ways. We pick subjects we want to specialize in, curriculum geared towards one subject. I see the need for this and by no means am I proposing a complete reform of formal education, but I think we need to emphasize the importance of informal education. Informal education to me is the education of life and its experiences.  I do what my heart calls me to do, I learn from those I meet, I grow from the experiences I have and the relationships I create. Recently I have started writing songs as well. Hahahah but I do need to focus on finishing one project before starting five more. I have promised myself this offseason to try and focus on three projects as “work,” i.e. my poetry book, my novel, my script. Any other writing I’m doing right now I want to keep as leisure.

MARIE ELENA:  You leave me shaking my head.  So young for so much wisdom.  And a true renaissance man, much like our own Walt Wojtanik!

RYAN:  I think I’m just lucky. Hahaha!

MARIE ELENA:  There is no such thing, in my book. 😉

Getting ready (sadly) to wrap up our chat, there is something I have never asked a guest here, but want to ask you.  I hope you don’t find it a morbid question:  When you pass from this life, what would you most like those left behind to remember you by?

RYAN:  I want them to remember I smiled more than I did anything.  I smiled more than I hurt. I smiled more than I cried. I smiled more than I hated, or judged. I smiled as much as I could through it all and I hope I made them smile more than I made them do anything in life.

MARIE ELENA: I want to just sit with that response a while, and soak it in.  If we all aspired to this, we’d live in a very different world.

This last question is one I end every interview with:  If there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you want it to be?

RYAN: Know that I believe in you. No matter what you’re fighting or what you’re striving for, I believe in you. If you know nothing else about me, know I believe in you.

MARIE ELENA:  Well, you’ve certainly made me a believer in you, Ryan.  Thank you so much for, well, for everything.  For visiting our humble site and sharing who you are.  For BEING who you are.  What a pleasure this has been.  I wish my dad was still “with us.”  He would have loved this.

Take care, God bless, and Boiler Up!


For more of Ryan, please check out the links below.

Publishers Website:


My Websites/Social media:




Book Available On:





POET INTERVIEW – Linda M. Rhinehart Neas



Walt Wojtanik and I take pride in welcoming poets of all walks of life, years (or moments) of poetry-composing experience, ages, cultures, and belief systems.  In this diverse Garden, there is a common thread that even a quick look-see is sure to reveal: many seeds of faith, blooming brilliantly.  But you might need to dig just a bit deeper to discover we have a minister among us.

Come take a moment of your day to duck in and welcome our longtime poet and friend, the Reverend Linda M. Rhinehart Neas.  Grab a cup of your favorite drink, sit down with us, and discover more about this delightful poet whose poems are consistently uplifting and peace-promoting.

MARIE ELENA:  Welcome, Linda!  Thank you for taking time to sit with me among the blooms to let us get to know you better.

There is a lot of ground I want to cover, but let’s start with this:  How did you come to write poetry?

LINDA:  Great question, Marie!  I began writing poetry at the tender age of half-past six. My mother recited and read poetry to me all the time. At about 8, I wrote my first poem:

My baby brother’s name is Matty
and he is such a little fatty.
When it is time to go to bed,
he laughs, and laughs and shakes his head.

The poem was submitted to Horn Book Magazine for publication. I got my first rejection letter, beginning my life as a writer in earnest.

MARIE ELENA: Linda!  That is just hysterically adorable!  I love that you still remember it precisely, and that you sent it off for publication consideration – at 8 years old!  I admire your mother for introducing you to poets and their work at such a young age, encouraging your own writing, and letting you risk and face rejection. That is love.

LINDA:  Yes, it is.  I didn’t know it at the time, but as with all of us, we tend not to see our parents’ qualities of goodness until much later in life. I am glad I had the chance to thank her for all she taught me. ❤

MARIE ELENA:  I’m glad too.  A good lesson for all.

Is there a particular style you are drawn to, or a poet who inspires you?

LINDA:  There are so many poets that I love to read. Early on,  I fell in love with Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Robert Service, and Rumi, to name a few.  That said, my style is usually free but I enjoy writing haiku and other poetry forms, as well.

MARIE ELENA:  For a moment, imagine you are in your dream writing space.  What does it look like?  Show us around, please.

LINDA: Oh my…well, my dream writing space is close to what I have now – computer by the window with a garden view, books I love close at hand, a cup of tea, plants, stones and angel statues around me. The only thing missing would be the ocean.  In my dreams, my writing space would be in a small cottage that had a view of the sea.  That would be heavenly!

MARIE ELENA:  That sounds heavenly!  Now, you’ve written a poem in that dream space.  Please share it with us!

LINDA:  Love it!  And here you go …


An audience of gulls and sparrows
catcall and whistle,
as the solar footlights rise along the edge
where horizon meets sea.
The Great Director calls for a backdrop spot
which rises upstage, casting a ribbon of light
on the watery floor.
A soft breeze ripples from stage left to right.
Then, on cue, the selkie raises her head,
looking soulfully at the shore.
In a flash of full sunlit spot,
her diva performance done,
she dives below,
leaving those watching –

MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Linda.  Your last word describes what this poem does — leaves me breathless, from title to end.

While doing a bit of digging, I came across this poem of yours I don’t recall ever seeing.

REFUGE by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

The church was dark,
smelling of incense and beeswax.
Silence spoke from
around the pews and pillars.
This was a blessed place –
Refuge – holy ground.
I sit on the altar steps,
too young to know the

 Mary –
mother, maiden, queen, crone –
hovers above me,
blue mantle, outstretched arms.
Such sad eyes,
I think,
sad perhaps because she knows –
knows the pain hidden deep
within my tiny body –
the pain stuffed deep down
within my soul. 

I wish I could climb up in her lap –
the need for mother comfort
as palpable as the cold marble
on which I rest. 

Outside, rain, children’s voices, seagulls
Create a backdrop for my prayers.
Inside, in the silence,
I hear the softest voice,
“You are safe… rest… you are safe…”
“Momma, I need you…”
“I am here…hush…rest…”

I lean against the altar rail,
eyes closing,
heavy with sleep and burdens
too terrible for a seven-year-old.
Silence, warm and protective,
wraps around me
like Mary’s soft blue mantle.
Fear dissipates like
the heavy incense –
gone, but with a lingering scent,
gone, but ever-present. 

With a start, I wake.
Alone – still –
but for the silence. 

Looking up,
Mary’s eyes,
Soft with mother love –
tell my child’s heart
“You are home.”

*sigh*  This piece touches me deeply, though I can’t pinpoint why it makes me so emotional.  Was this born of personal experience?  If so, may I ask you to tell us about it?

LINDA:  Absolutely!  Yes, this came from a personal experience.

I was raised Roman Catholic – parochial school. My family life was dysfunctional. When things got too difficult for my young heart and mind to handle, I would seek refuge in the empty church. (Our parish had a huge Gothic cathedral-style church. There were downstairs and upstairs worship areas.  Downstairs was used for daily masses, had three altars and was dark wood, marble and stained glass.)

Often, I would simply go kneel/sit at the altar of Mary. The statue had deep, blue eyes that seemed to look right into my heart and soul. As a child, everything is magic, so talking to Mary and “hearing” her talk back wasn’t far-fetched, especially after being raised on Bible stories that I believed and held to be possible, even at that moment.

MARIE ELENA:  Childlike faith can’t be beat, in my humble opinion.

I was interested to learn you are an ordained minister.  My sister is as well!  In this day and age, that still seems to be a relatively rare opportunity for a woman.  What prompted you to seek this career?  Or would you refer to it as your “calling?”

LINDA: For me, it is a calling, which I have had since I was a young girl. I am deeply spiritual. Since childhood, I have known that my mission in this life is to teach and exemplify Love. I wanted to be a priest/minister since childhood.  However, I was always told this was not for women. Nevertheless, Spirit kept calling me to serve. Then six years ago, as I was researching an article for an online magazine, I came across The New Seminary in New York, which had a blended course for Interfaith Ministry. I wrote to inquire about the program and the rest, as they say, is history.

MARIE ELENA:  Speaking as a minister, what advice would you have for the world in which we live right now?

LINDA: Simple!  “Love One Another!!”  These words, although said in various ways, are found in nearly every faith path.

I believe the world needs those who can Love without conditions. This is what I try to share in my poetry, in my writing and in my life.

MARIE ELENA:  That love radiates from you, and is one of the traits I appreciate in you.  I also deeply appreciate that you teach English as a second language to immigrants and refugees!  A woman after my own heart!  I am not a teacher, but I lead two Conversational English classes for immigrants and refugees at the American School for Women and Children, here in NW Ohio.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love doing it, and how wonderful the ladies all are.  But, I don’t have to tell you.  You know exactly what I’m talking about!  I’d love to know what led you to this path.

LINDA: Ah…this was also a long journey.  I will try to be brief.

When I was about 10, our local librarian gave me permission to go to the adult section of the library to check out books on the world’s cultures. I spent hours reading about people – their beliefs, traditions, culture – from around the world.

Speed ahead several decades: I am a young mother, and our church got asked to “rescue” an exchange program that had lost their hosts the day that the students left from Spain to come to Maine for the summer. Because I was one of the local journalists, the organizer asked if I could teach the students English, even though I did not have a teaching degree. Next thing I know, I was organizing classes, creating curriculum and leading field trips for a group of 20 students ages 15-19.

I fell in love – with teaching, but most importantly with the students. They were all so grateful for the experience of learning a new language and culture. The joy they brought to the lives they touched in our community was palpable.

Fast forward again – I leave Maine for Western Massachusetts. I graduate with my BA and master’s in teaching. My first class is at a local college, teaching English to international students. Eventually, I get hired to teach at the Center for New Americans. I have been there for seven years, loving every minute.

MARIE ELENA: “The joy they brought to the lives they touched in our community was palpable.”  Linda, the love you have for them is also palpable. What would you say is your favorite thing about it?

LINDA:  My favorite thing about it is seeing my students grasp the language. When English finally clicks and they can express themselves clearly, it is magic!  I also love that I get to use my knowledge as an ordained interfaith minister.

My students are from many cultures and many faith paths. My training allows me to be there for them when times are difficult, when they have had bad news or are in pain from memories of the past. My knowledge of their beliefs helps me to understand where they are coming from and how best to be there for them.

MARIE ELENA: I’m sure they have a great deal of appreciation for you … for your knowledge, your experience, and your love.

Is there anything about it that bothers you?  Anything you would change, if you could?

LINDA:  There is one thing I would change, if I had the power. This change has nothing to do with teaching, but rather how others see and respond to immigrants and refugees.

Working with immigrants and refugees has opened my eyes up to the vast inequities we live with unaware. I would change the belief that because someone has an accent and speaks a different first language, they are somehow inferior. How egocentric to think this!  Many of my students have terminal degrees from their countries and yet, their achievements and knowledge are not recognized. They are required to start from scratch to be able to do the work they love. They are put into menial jobs to make ends meet – teachers, medical personnel, engineers, carpenters – all washing dishes, cleaning houses or cooking food. This makes me so sad.

MARIE ELENA:  Yes, Linda.  Yes.  Never having heard the term, I must admit I had to look up “terminal degree.”  For anyone else who may not know, this is someone who has attained the highest degree in their field of study.

Okay Linda, now for something different.  You have 24 hours to spend anywhere you wish, with anyone you wish, doing whatever you choose.  Where are you, who are you with, and what are you doing?

LINDA: Oh, this is tough!  So many different people I would love to have 24 hours with – living and dead.  But, if I choose just one, I guess I would say my love and soul mate, Roger. We would go to the Provence in France to walk through the places Van Gogh lived and painted, then go to Costa Blanca in Spain and walk along the shore, perhaps meeting up with some of my first ESL students who live there. We would simply “be” and enjoy the cultures, eat fresh local food and do lots of walking and maybe some writing *wink*.


MARIE ELENA:  That sounds lovely!  And I must say it doesn’t surprise me that you and Roger are soul mates.  It shows, on Facebook (case-in-point, the photo above).  It looks like you have known each other forever.  May I be even nosier, and ask if there are children?  Pets?  Grandchildren?

LINDA: We have been together for 18 years of blessed love and companionship. I have four daughters and he has one. We have had pets, but when our dog Molly died, we decided not to have another pet for a while. I have 11 grandchildren.  They are a joy and delight. Grandmothering is the best!

MARIE ELENA: Grandmothering is most certainly the best!

You may already know that I end all my interviews with this:  If there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you want it to be … and why?

LINDA:  I am (most of the time) a positive person. I work to keep my energy high so that I can be a positive influence in the world, lifting others up with my poetry, writing, photography, and art. I believe passionately that the world needs Love and Hope. I try to personify that in my life.

MARIE ELENA:  Wonderful words with which to end our little chat.  Thank you, Linda!  This has been a joy!


Linda’s blog, Words From the Heart:   https://contemplativeed.blogspot.com/

Information on how to purchase Linda’s books:  https://contemplativeed.blogspot.com/p/books-by-linda-m-rhinehart-neas.html


Today we fete self-acclaimed plain folk, David De Jong. Although his self-view is worn on his sleeve, we’ve come to know him and appreciate David as an exceptional poet and story teller, a far cry from plain. Still another man of strong moral fiber and character, a man of faith – you have no doubts who this man is. I envision a gritty cowboy, fresh from the trail who would regale us with his adventures as we surround the flicker of a camp fire. Within the body of Marie Elena’s interview, David shares “Cowpoke Poet” which embodies all of the above. I’m happy to present David, the poet – rider of the rhyme range with his poem, “Words of Thanksgiving” from Prompt #222 also labeled “Words of Thanksgiving”.



Photo by Lindsey DeJong


The day always began with a trip to church for the Thanksgiving service,
where we sang traditional hymns from the red or blue hymnal in the pew racks.
Pages dog-eared and tattered from countless years of use and licked fingers
from farmers, factory workers, mostly common folk, families, young and old.
Grandpa (Pake) was the janitor and always sat in the back, corner pew so he could
get up to operate the lights and monitor the doors during the services. We
generally sat in the same pew where Grandma (Beppe) would be sitting with her magnifying
glass ready, so she could read/sing along during the service. It was also normal for her
to have her Friesian Bible sitting beside her and another hymnal tucked behind her
lower back because she was in so much pain. Later in life we would get first hand
education on cataracts, osteoporosis and cancer.

The folks, two oldest brothers, grandpa and grandma were all natives
of the Netherlands, true pilgrims in a new land, we now all call home.
They came from world wars, the holocaust, rations, hiding, smuggling
Jews, or whatever else was needed. All their belongings were packed
into a wood crate and a steamer trunk that crossed the ocean on the Queen
Elizabeth. They arrived in America at Ellis Island where they received more
common names. Thanksgiving was much more than a tradition to them. It was
a celebration of life, an honor of freedom, almost sacred, a God given privilege.

Usually the leaves were already raked, burned and gone by the holiday
or just covered from early snow or the latest Midwest blizzard.
I can remember Thanksgiving mornings walking fence-lines, knee deep
in snow, trying to kick up a lone rooster and squeeze in a single shot before
it vanished into the storm. The fence and its gate would be the only guide
back home for the feast. You couldn’t see, due to the cold north wind
and blowing snow. Dad didn’t much like turkey meat, so we would eat
fresh game; pheasants, rabbits, an occasionally ham from the freezer,
or a fat broiler from the chickens harvested out of the coop earlier.
It was always a family affair, brothers and sister, modern pilgrims,
bundled up for the cold, happily walking the neighboring fields, grateful.
Back home, Mom was already busy with the everyone’s favorite pies; pumpkin,
apple, and cherry. When we got back, fresh baked bread, slice of cheese, and
some hot coffee or her special Dutch hot-cocoa topped with real whipped-cream
warmed us up. I think we were weaned on hot tea and coffee, both dark and strong,
always in a cup and saucer, with a spoon on the side, along with
sugar and cream or whipped cream on special occasions and Sundays.

Stuffing and cranberries were not on the menu, but we were definitely
stuffed from gobbling all mom’s wonderful food. It would be many years
before I ever heard of particular things, like yams or sweet potatoes
even though potatoes and gravy were a staple at our table. I can still hear
the steam whistling, escaping mom’s old one handled pot, clicking and
clattering atop the stove, boiling fresh peeled potatoes dug from the rich
black dirt of the garden during the last days of summer.

We were a little envious of friends that had color TV, ours was black and white.
colors were imagined, watching the parades, football, etc. on one of three channels.
Mom and Dad would take naps while us kids sat around the table playing cards;
rummy, spades, canasta and other games. Sometimes the whole family
would go back outside to shoot tin cans and bottles back behind the old Plymouth
in the grove. When we were done, Mom always had more pie and treats
to eat with hot tea or cocoa to warm us up again. Such a rich memory
growing up, that at the time, we just took for granted.
I am so thankful, we were blessed and loved so much.


David’s blog is named Rusty Midnight Ramblins

Interview of David De Jong by Marie Elena Good


I consider this next featured poet, a poet’s poet. Along with Earl Parsons and the late Salvatore Buttaci, he is also truly one who lets his heart fill the page, driven by his love of life and his unwavering faith. He fits in well with the dynamic we’ve created at POETIC BLOOMINGS. Daniel Paicopulos has earned much respect through his work and the story of his life journey is rather intriguing and worth paying attention to (see link to his interview with Marie Elena below). He gives us a glimpse at his view of this poetic life in his piece entitled, “Source Material”. It is a heartfelt testimony to the gathering of like-minded souls here in our “Garden”. Daniel is a beautiful bloom!


SOURCE MATERIAL, by Daniel Paicopulos

Some writers
find their words,
buried in the compost of bitterness,
in a field of anger and resentment,
sown by sorrow, raked with regret,
fertilized by vengeance for abandoned love,
ironically giving birth
to beautiful blooms

Other writers
find beauty in everything,
in their children, of course,
and family, friends, and lovers,
but also in the catalog of daily living,
in the exotic rose,
the mundane marigold,
the common fern,
predictably giving birth
to beautiful blooms.

Most writers
have a sadness muse,
prompting great works
of love and loss,
replete in their integrity,
they open their veins,
water their seedlings with blood,
painfully giving birth
to beautiful blooms.

All writers
know, regardless the source,
no matter the topic,
the truth will come out,
honesty triumphs,
love trumps cuteness,
every time,
each wonder-filled heart
generously giving birth
to beautiful blooms.


Written for Prompt #53 – Returning to the Soil


Find Daniel’s work at his blog Daniel, Living Poet


The sky’s the limit for this week’s highlighted poet in the POETIC BLOOMINGS READING ROOM. Damon Dean is a genuinely gifted poet whose expressiveness and point of view span the spectrum of life in a very keen way. His work is always a destination, whenever and whatever prompt is offered; you know the quality of work you will discover there. He continues to share his thoughts and splay his heart for the world to take a piece and be enlightened by it. Here I give you Damon Dean’s poem, “Rising”


Something rises in my heart
but then I know, not only heart,
but mind as well.

And then I know, it’s in my senses
too, and in the things I’ve known
as well as wondered,
and the blend of
no, not constrained, but trained,
by syllable and rhyme,
converge, sometimes
like ripples leaping rocks
or gasses from a geyser
or lava from a cone of porous stone,
or like the sigh of morning wind’s first breath
on tender meadow grass,
the early kiss that moves
dew drops to quiver–
and a poem appears.

And poems appear,
like nature’s voice
like commentary on the warmth
or judgment on the cold,
or tunes hummed by the middle seasons,
autumn, spring,
as if they were two grandmas holding
children in their laps,
and poems appear,
and like a kiss,
like lava from the heart
the poet feels
a satisfaction
in the rise.

And something settles in my heart,
but then I know, not only heart,
but mind as well.
A poem appears.

© Damon Dean


Read Damon Deans work at


An interview with Damon Dean by Marie Elena Good



Another of the long string of contributors here at POETIC BLOOMINGS is Connie Peters. She had joined us from the very beginning after we first “met” her over at Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer during the April P.A.D. Challenge in 2009. She, the master of Acrostic poetry, has a vision quite refined and defined by her strong faith and her heart for humanity. Connie is also one with an interesting story told in snippets of her poetic wile. She continues to be a strong voice in this poetic community. I am presenting two of Connie’s works, showing her clear vision and her appreciation of the gifts apparent in this life we share. Here are “The Moon” and “Clarence and Marie” by Connie Peters.

The Moon

The moon sat on the mountaintop,
as if it were going to camp there.
Reluctantly, it disappeared,
perhaps searching for poets to inspire
for a romance to rekindle,
or a lake to admire its own reflection.



Clarence and Marie

“Tell me what you’ll need,
and I’ll show you how to do without it,”
said the kind old man
who lived across the road.

But he and his wife did a lot for us
(a young couple and a baby)
living far away from home,
our friends and relatives.

They became our second parents,
inviting us over for holidays,
running us to Bible Studies,
offering us help and encouragement.

We lost each other over the years,
but we’ll always be grateful for them.


Find Connie’s work at 


Marie Elena’s interview with Connie Peters is at


A link to Connie’s Memoir Project Chapbook, “The Party’s Started”