funerals Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno poetry poor ventilation

I Am So Over All That Midnight Dreary, Pondering Weak and Weary

For me, the last couple of decades have been a glorious gambol. Sure, a couple of guys broke my heart, and a slew of annoying fine lines started creeping in around my eyes, but, on the flip side, I began investing in more expensive shoes, spooning every night with a man superior to those who previously dented me, and discovering that a full-time salary can purchase heckalotta dark chocolate.

Oh, and I also realized poetry doesn’t always have to make me lie down in a darkened room and long for a pretty boy to place a moist cloth upon my brow.

When I was studying English in college, poetry felt like the suck. I was always, “Huh?” and “What the fetzpah?” and “Who said hummanuh?” in class, cowering in the back row, trying to avoid participation–yet ready to blurt out, if called upon, “It’s a Christ figure and/or beauty is a means of conveying the truth! And if neither of those, then dusk is imminent death, and every rose has its thorn!!”

My head came to hate poesy.

Being so negative, I was, thus, primed for a dramatic turnabout. Because–who knew?–there is actually a fair amount of kickass poetry in the world. Too bad Them Alls in Charge don’t teach it in the stuffy classrooms.

Hey. Wait. I think I may just be one of Them Alls in Charge these days. On occasion, when I’ve not been able to sidestep it (such as when one-third of the curriculum in my British Lit class focused on The Romantics, and damn my hide but those poncy absinthe-drinking boys only cranked out rhymers), I’ve had to bring poetry into my own classrooms, which, yes, are literally quite the hell stuffy because my college is ventilation-impaired and likes to take one big classroom, chop it into three smaller ones, and then not actually consider airflow in the new layout, which means that the new classrooms are generally, kid you not, 86 degrees and that–HELLO, PLATO–is not exactly the best path to good education. Seriously, is there any other more stultifying English equation than poetry + 86 degrees + class held after lunch = kill me now?

So, anyhow, for a variety of reasons, I am profoundly appreciative whenever I find a poet who actually keeps readers awake and writes clear sense in real words and doesn’t stress out my fluffy brain or cause my armpits to sweat even a tidge more because then those big perspiration circles would reach down to my waist.

The latest find in my continual search for Poetry That Keeps My Humours in Balance came, as so many good things do, over the airwaves of public radio. Some weeks back, I heard an interview with Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, herself an English teacher, but, in the case of her latest volume of poems, more importantly a mother…whose daughter was murdered–strangled by an ex-boyfriend. In Bonanno’s recounting, the poems come together to form a narrative of that event and its aftermath.

Clearly, Slamming Open the Door is not low-density reading.


Bonanno’s style is accessible, frank, heartwrending. Most refreshing of all, she’s one poet whom I’m pretty sure I’d like, were I to meet her. I would like to invite her to come sweat and do a reading in my non-ventilated classroom.

I would bring her a Frappucino. At the end, the students would clap with more than vegetative politeness, for she would leave them sitting up straight, amazed at the power of a words strung together with great deliberation.

Here, then, is an introduction to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, a woman who will make a true English major of me yet (in this, my 19th year of teaching English). In this poem, she draws upon the experience of her daughter’s memorial service and dispenses advice to all mourners, everywhere:

“What Not to Say”

Don’t say that you choked

on a chicken bone once,

and then make the sound,

kuh, kuh, and say

you bet that’s how she felt

Don’t ask in horror

why we cremated her

And when I stand

in the receiving line

like Jackie Kennedy

without the pillbox hat,

if Jackie were fat

and had taken

enough Klonopin

to still an ox,

and you whisper,

I think of youDon’t finish with

every day,

because I’ve been going

to Weight Watchers

on Tuesdays and wonder

if you want to go too.

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charles bukowski poetry red porsche summer breeze

My Mom’s Visiting from California, and I’m Busy Chauffeuring Her and the Kids Around Town to Clang in the the Trolley, Toot in the Train, Bob in the Lake, Strike (Out) in the Bowling Alley, and Gnosh on Sweet Treats, So I Haven’t a Breaf in My Body Left for the Blogging I Really Want to Do–All of Which, In Sum, Means I’m Quickly Tossing Out a Poem I Love, One That Captures My Current August Zing

Indeed, this poem has a summertime feeling for me–bright and cornucopial and ticking along.

I’d like to fancy myself the woman in this poem, but the truth is I’m more the lucky fool.

THE RED PORSCHE By Charles Bukowski

it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman better-
read than I
it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman who can explain
things about
music to

it feels good
to be driven about in a red
by a woman who buys
things for my refrigerator
and my
cherries, plums, lettuce, celery,
green onions, brown onions,
eggs, muffins, long
chilis, brown sugar,
Italian seasoning, oregano, white
wine vinegar, pompeian olive oil
and red

I like being driven about
in a red porsche
while I smoke cigarettes in
gentle languor.

I’m lucky. I’ve always been
even when I was starving to death
the bands were playing for
but the red porsche is very nice
and she is
too, and I’ve learned to feel good when
I feel good.

it’s better to be driven around in a
red porsche
than to own
one. the luck of the fool is

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childhood poetry room sharing siblings

Mounting Evidence That I May Not Hate Poetry

“Mom, how come you have that poem taped to the end of our bunk beds?” Girl asked a few weeks ago.

She was referring to this:

“A Supple Cord”My brother, in his small white bed,
held one end.
I tugged the other
to signal I was still awake.
We could have spoken,
could have sung
to one another,
we were in the same room
for five years,
but the soft cord
with its little frayed ends
connected us
in the dark,
gave comfort
even if we had been bickering
all day.
When he fell asleep first
and his end of the cord
dropped to the floor,
I missed him terribly,
though I could hear his even breath
and we had such long and separate lives

–by Naomi Shihab Nye

My response, as is my wont, had many layers and went on at great length.

First, I told her, “Well, I like this poem because it reminds me of you and Niblet and how lucky you are to have each other and to be each other’s special person for all of your lives. You know, Dad and I will die someday–not for a long time, we hope, not until cars can fly and fold up into briefcases that we then tote into our offices as we’re carried along by a moving sidewalk–and most likely you and your brother will have a lot of years of life without us. So it’s a comfort to know you’ll always have each other, even after you grow up and go off and do your own things.”

Girl nodded warily, distracted by the idea of briefcase cars.

Then I told her, “Plus, I like this poem because it shows how sharing a room can bring brothers and sisters together. I mean, do your pals K and J share a room?”


“Do they get along?”

“NO! They fight all the time!”

“That’s what I mean. How about your other buddies Q and M? Do they share a room?”

“Oh, yea,” she said, sucking on the ends of her hair and contemplating.

“And do they get along?”

“Totally! They never fight.”

“So, Girl, do you think there’s a connection? How about you and Niblet?”

“We share a room, and he’s my best friend!” she screamed joyously, as the pieces fell into place. Our bodies flushed with the pleasure of a communal comprehension.

Point made. Case rested. Next question?

“Mom, when can I have my own room?”

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