Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 30/30: Unwrapping the Ornaments

And finally, here is poem #30 of 30 in my November Poetry Challenge. It has been a fun ride for the most part. There have been evenings that I've sat here in front of the computer screen, at a loss for words. And there have been nights where the images wrote themselves. But I've managed to churn out something resembling a poem for 30 days in a row! Some are quite good, some are not so wonderful, and most are probably somewhere in between. But almost all of them wouldn't have been written without my annual challenge pushing me on.

Thank you so much, those of you who have been reading and cheering me on. The feed back has kept me from throwing up my hands in frustration on those nights when the words were awfully slow to come out of hiding.

See you again next year?

Unwrapping the Ornaments

Choose some mellow holiday music,
brew a mug of honey sweetened tea,
and turn on the colored lights that wind
around our man-made pine tree.
All set? Yes. It is time for
a cherished seasonal ritual.
I put the large plastic tote on the table,
and carefully crack open the lid.
Inside are layers and layers
of tissue paper wrapped treasures.
The cheat sheets are on the top.
Almost every single ornament
has a pencil scribbled entry--
who it was for, and from,
and what year it was given.
But I won't need them today.
For each sparkling prize
holds vivid flashes
of memory.

Unwrap...here's the stained glass unicorn
from my high school crush.
I'll hang that one up front and center.
Unwrap...there's a glass globe
with a dusting of fuzzy fake snow.
That one was on my parents' first tree.
Ah...here's a whole cache
of hand made gems.
I have a very talented family!
Unwrap...be gentle! It is the precious
glass pine cone
from Grandma's tree.
Unwrap...A lacy leaf that I picked up
on family vacation through Yellowstone...
and here are the herons
from Sioux Narrows. Same trip? Ummm...
(Ok, I'll check the cheat sheet.
Nope, different trips.)
Unwrap...Ah ha! The unassuming
white plastic ball, found in the attic
in my grade school New Jersey home.
I claimed that one fair and square.

each uncovering of old friends
brings bemused smiles
and moments of quiet reverie.
My hands pause,
touching my past,
turning people and places
over in my mind.
And then, I place the jewels
on the twinkling branches,
and ring them round
with an exuberance
of golden tinsel.
There...finally complete.

My Christmas tree may be artificial,
but it does grow beautifully
year to year,
and its roots go so very,
very deep.

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 29/30: Spinning my Wheels

Here's poem #29 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. One more to go, and I'll have made it! The goal was to write 30 poems in 30 days. And I haven't had to resort to bad haiku once this month. Yet...

Spinning my Wheels

There's many an afternoon
I just sit here,
spinning my wheels.
Mind drifting,
hands wandering through the same
sequence of actions again...again...
unthinking motion...
foot tapping...tapping...

...and fiber slipping soft
and sure through my finger tips,
transforming into luscious
lengths of pettable, practical
hand-spun yarn.
Because, for me?
Spinning my wheels
is a wonderfully
productive activity!

Melissa McCollum

(Yes, that is me in the picture, taken a few weeks ago while I was modeling for a life drawing class. I got 2 1/2 bobbins spun up that day, and the students came up with some cool artwork as well. A win all around.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 28/30:The Hunter

My kids say I have a secret superpower--I can track things down. All it takes is time, patience, and a discerning eye...which leads us to poem #28 out of 30 in my November Poetry Challenge.

The Hunter

Lurk...scan...look again...
That one? No...
too common to bother...
too far away...
too much...
that one is broken...
yes? no, can't use it now...
OOh? Perk...Maybe?
...pounce! and...nope.
Came up empty.
Dang. Waited too long.
Back to the slow stalk...
be patient...wait for it...
There!! That one is perfect!
"Hello? I'm calling
about your ad on Craigslist..."
A quick dash...and...YES!
The primal hunter
lurking deep in my genes
grins with the exhilaration
of a successful hunt.
Drag the spoils
back to my studio lair,
gloat, evaluate,
and then...maybe...divide the bounty
with my chosen tribe.

After I take
first pick
of the kill.

Melissa McCollum

(This was today's find. 63 light weight leather hides that will make great gloves or garments. I look forward to working with them...eventually. Right now, I'm just hovering over the new addition to my hoard.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 27/30: Contemplating the To-Do Lists

Here's poem number #27 out of 30 in my November challenge. My mind was in spin cycle tonight, running over all the various things I just need to get done over the next few months...

Contemplating the To-Do Lists

Sign the cards, find the addresses,
dig out the boxes,
set up the tree, the lights,
(need to run to replace dead strands...)
ornaments, tinsel, creche, stockings...
Buy the gifts, wrap, mail...
This year cookies for sure, and fudge, and...
...and Christmas will happen
and will be Merry
even if I don't get every bow tied.

But then I need to get ready
for the New Year's Eve party!
Clean the house, find firewood,
tweak the hot tub, send out emails,
get new games, find crash space,
figure out a menu,
drag out the coolers, and...
...and the New Year will come,
shiny and complete,
even if I don't get the party favors.

But, Estrella is right around the corner!!
Get everybody pre-registered,
track down who is in camp, tetris their tents.
I want two more outfits,
Kevin needs pants, Eric needs shirts.
So much pre-cooking to do I should start freezing now
and I need to weave an arts entry! And...
...and Estrella will be a marvelous
gathering of chosen family,
whether or not I get that tunic sewed.

Thanksgiving has passed,
which means I'm deep into crazy season.
For the next two and a half months
I'm up to my eyeballs juggling, organizing,
people are depending on me
and there just isn't enough time! And...
...and every detail doesn't need to be perfect.
What gets done will be
The gatherings will still make memories
full of sparkling laughter and joy.

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 26/30: Soup

Yup, I made up a batch of soup from scratch today. My tummy is very happy, and it gave me the inspiration for poem #26 in my November challenge. I'm looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. It should be even better then.


Some days
...ok, probably too many days...
I get by on drive through bags,
frozen dinners, take out
pizza, and restaurant offerings.
I'm in a hurry. Too tired.
Out with friends.
Feeling lazy, uninspired.
But while the grab and go
feeds the body,
every now and again
my soul
tells me it is high time
to slow down, and simmer
up a big pot
of simple peasant-fare soup.

Lets see...I'll need some liquid.
Reach into the freezer,
and pull out the zip lock bags
full of the picked over bones,
left over from those quick
grocery store roast chickens.
Into the stock pot, cover with water,
simmer a few hours, and strain.
And already, the house
smells like
a welcome home.
Something primal in me
straightens, sniffs,
and smiles.

A source of protein,
a batch of vegetables,
and some starch...
This is the fun part
as I scrounge around
the pantry and the refrigerator
for whatever strikes my fancy.
Lentils, the rest of the chicken.
Baby carrots, frozen corn,
dried mushrooms.
Noodles, rice,
dehydrated potato slices...
Ooh...that looks good.
Chop it up, add it to the mix.
And then a shake of Italian seasoning,
and a dash of white pepper,
a bit of rosemary,
and...hmm...this smells good.
Toss it in too.

And the longer it goes,
the richer the mix becomes
...and the more relaxed I get.
As my hands chop and stir,
I can feel my motions
echoing back through time.
How many women
in how many generations
have cared for the heart of their families
with a similar simmering pot?
Yes, I could buy a can of Campbell's.
It would be much faster.
But I'd miss this gentle magic
of creating rib sticking nourishment
out of bits of seeming nothing.

And then, with a quiet
happy sigh, I sit
down to the table
and ladle out my liquid comfort.
I add couple of thick crusty slices
of hot buttered french bread,
and some nice sharp cheddar cubes.
And steep a steaming mug of tea
for good measure.
And then just sit,
and sip,
and savor,
in a timeless moment
of quiet contentment.

Yes. I needed that.
Tomorrow, I can return
to my usual headlong dash.
But today,
I'm having

Melissa McCollum

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 25/30: A Thankgiving for my Family

Here's poem #25 in my November poetry challenge. I hope you all had as wonderful as day as I did!

A Thanksgiving for my Family

Just a typical Thanksgiving dinner.
My daughter was home from college,
and my brother and his family flew in,
so there were 11 around my parents' table
for turkey and stuffing
and card games.
I took pictures,
even though they'll look pretty much
like last year's shots,
and the years before that,
back through pretty much all my life.
I take it for granted sometimes...

...but not tonight.
Tonight I'm thinking of my uncle's
family dinner,
as they deal with the aftermath
of his illness. He's back physically,
but his brain is still drifting in transit.
And I consider my friends,
with an empty seat at their table.
It is their second Thanksgiving
without husband and father.
And there are the folks I know
who grit their teeth
and brace themselves
for their obligatory
family gatherings,
with their inevitable
soul ripping
And the ones
who for their own health
and mental survival
have cut blood family
out of their lives entirely.

I don't take my picture perfect
family Thanksgiving
for granted
at all.
I am so blessed
that my folks are still with me.
That my brother and I
can share jokes and stories.
That there is laughter, and honest delight,
and layers of family history to enjoy
and to pass on to our children--
who are soaking it all in
with grins on their faces.
Asking for more.

I am incredibly Thankful
for my unusual,
And I will cherish
each and every year
that we can gather
at the Table.

Melissa McCollum

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 24/30: Thanksgiving Eve

Poem #24 of 30. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanksgiving Eve

I step outside for a moment
into the crisp midnight air.
A haze of high clouds
slips silently over
a ringed, glowing moon.
I can smell wood smoke
adrift on the dark.
I pause...motionless...
listening to the stillness
until the chill brings me to shivers.

Coming back into light and warmth.
I am wrapped in
the thick sweet scent
of pumpkin pies
cooling on the counter,
and the cinnamon laden apple slices
slowly cooking into tomorrow's breakfast.
A smattering of other ingredients
lies scattered on the kitchen table,
patiently waiting for dawn.

The family is snug asleep.
Tomorrow I know we'll drag out
old bespattered recipe cards
in our annual ritual
of giggling kitchen mayhem, told
and re-told stories, and shared connections.
But tonight...tonight I stand in serene solitude,
sending down roots, and feeling
the pulse
of the year.

Melissa McCollum

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 23/30: Cognitus Interruptus

Ok, given some of the folks I know are reading these poems, I almost didn't post this one. But, well, this is what came out of the pencil tonight, and this is me too. So, here's poem #23 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. (I've got a personal goal of writing 30 poems in 30 days. Only 7 more to go after tonight!)

Cognitus Interruptus

I had a poem forming
in the corners of my brain.
I'm sure it would have been very insightful
in a lofty, cerebral fashion.
But then I took a shower.
For two.
And there were steamed up mirrors
and hot pulsing water
and tasty droplets trailing down
tender flushing skin
the words are just gone. Poof.
All that's left
are lingering shivers,
vividly intense
sense memories,
and a very very self-satisfied
Sorry. I'll be all profound
another time.
Right now I'm just going lie here,
in the sure, purring
knowledge that I am
an extraordinarily

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 22/30: A Life Drawing Model's Internal Monologue

Tonight's poem kind of wrote itself while I was working tonight. So here's poem #22 of 30 in my November Poetry Challenge:

A Life Drawing Model's Internal Monologue

30 minute pose.
I can do that.
Set the cushions up,
take off the robe,
give them a diagonal line and a
for composition
and settle in...
dang. That pinches the hip.
Well, they're just 30 seconds or so in,
I can still shift. A bit.
Now No More Moving for half an hour.
Set my spotting position for the eyes...
and I can't see the clock.
So much easier to hold on
if I know how much time is left.
Lets see...60 relaxed breaths = 5 minutes.
So, count 360 breaths, and I'll be close.

there is a hair tickling my nose.
that is really annoying.
can I blow it out of the way?
Yes. Good.
my side and shoulder are tight.
Ah well, they'll stretch.
Modeling poses are like pregnancy.
The first third is uncomfortable
until the body adjusts
to the strain.
Nothing but the scritching of pencils.
All quiet. Let the mind drift...

and here come the yawns.
Must stifle them!
I'm not that tired, am I?
I got eight hours last night.
Oh yeah,
my torso is twisted and bent,
which compresses the lungs.
Hence the...YAWN...dang it.
Breathe deeper to compen...YAWN...sate.

203...my eyes are starting to close...204...
must keep them open.
Students are drawing the face
and I can't change it on them.
206...tickle the roof of my mouth
with my tongue?
Sensation helps a bit.
Too quiet. Heavy eyelids.

223...oh good. The teacher
is finally making rounds.
I'll concentrate on that for focus.
"Look at the negative spaces...
You've got the head at the wrong angle...
Bring the leg in a bit, and finish on a light tone...
Good structure, but add the drapery under her...
There's bounced lighting on the belly..."

240...Man, my arm is falling asleep.
I can't feel my right hand.
And my neck is really starting to ache.
That danged hip wants to cramp again too.
242...Oh yeah. Pregnancy again.
The last third of the pose
is like moving into the last trimester,
when you are so blasted uncomfortable
that you just want it OVER already.

...260...ow...Maybe if I flex the leg muscle
I can shift the weight just a bit
to ease the hip?
...270...now the leg muscle hurts too.
Breathe. Relax.
Focus on the left elbow. That doesn't hurt.
330...just a bit more...
muscles starting to shake from exhaustion...
almost there...breathe...
I will make it.
Too close to give up now.
345...oh man this hurts.
Ow bloody OW just a bit more...

-Beep beep beep beep beep-
Thank God for the timer!
I can...

"Melissa, could you hold that
just a few minutes more?
Now, see if you shade it a bit more here..."


Smile sweetly,
deep breath,
and HOLD.
Of course I can.
I'm a professional.

Melissa McCollum

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 21/30: Practicing Joy

I ran into some of 'those' type of people today. You've met them--the ones who are never satisfied unless they're griping about something. The encounter inspired tonight's bit of writing for my poetry challenge. Here's poem #21:

Practicing Joy

When you practice,
you get better.
Everyone knows that, right?
And when you devote almost every
waking moment to the effort,
you'll get darned near perfect.
So tell me...
How come so many people
are practicing so hard
to be so...miserable?
They make sure every word
is a gripe
or a snipe.
They grab two-fisted onto mistakes,
and pounce immediately
on every single nit-picky wrong.
They cherry pick the awful from the news,
and for reinforcement
surround themselves with others
who are just as displeased
with the world as it is.
So much energy spent
on being so negative...
that after awhile it isn't an effort at all.
It's a very easy habit.
An unthinking one.
Life's...just a bitch.
Practice makes perfect,
and they are perfectly

I want to practice joy.
I want a life of blissful happiness
and serene, loving contentment.
Wouldn't anyone?
But to get there,
I need to be willing to put in the effort.
Because grumpy
can come all too easily.
No, not everything is all sunshine and roses...

but I can find five things
that make my eyes sparkle
every day.
I can find a real compliment
to give
to others...
and to myself as well.
I can pause to look at cloud wisps,
and take time to rub puppy bellies.
I can hug my sweeties.
Real hugs--none of that A-frame
pat on the back stuff.
I can take five minutes out of a busy schedule,
close my eyes
and savor what is just
then and there.
I can find a reason to laugh
that is not at somebody else's expense.
And I can turn off the danged news,
and choose
to surround myself with the kind of people
who can see the sheer
that wraps around us.

I can find moments of merriment
until joy is just
...second nature.

So...come practice with me?

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 20/30: Shared Magic

I'm up way too late again, getting this written in the wee hours of the night. I would have started earlier, but we were playing silly games until 2am. yawn So here is poem #20 in my challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days. And now I'm going to go to bed...

Shared Magic

My fingers are still twitching,
reaching for the keyboard.
And I think my dreams
will be full of
sharp clawed moon beasts,
shambling zombies,
and deadly conjured swarms
of mucking big snakes.
And spiders. And scorpions.
Really really big.
See, I just spent hours
and hours

playing video games with my family.
With rapid fire mouse clicks
we merrily mixed spells
and tossed fireballs,
jogging together through
a simulated world
full of dastardly wrongs to right
and sinister forces to fight.
There were evil sorcerers
and hermit witches,
glowing rune stones
and swirling potions,
and enchanted creatures pouncing
from around every turn.
But the real magic
of the game?

My teenaged son
willingly got his homework done
so he could hang out gaming
with his parents.
On a Saturday night.

Now, that is wizardry indeed!

Melissa McCollum

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 19/30: Why I didn't get any sleep last night...

This is about how things went for me Thursday evening. Don't you hate nights like this? But at least I got poem #19 out of it, so I guess it wasn't all that bad...?

Why I didn't get any sleep last night...

Look body, it is 3 am. It is time to go to bed.
No, I want to make things! I've got this great idea, and...
But we need to be up early.
Just a check through the internet then.
You know that will suck us in for hours. We don't have hours. Go to bed.
I'm hungry.
We shouldn't eat past midnight.
But I'm hunnnnnnnngry!!
Fine. Have some crackers.
Crackers, and bed.
Diet Coke, too?
Caffeine? Nice try. Water. Now get undressed and crawl in.

Shhhh. Just lie there.
....I'm cold.
sigh We'll put pj's on. Better?
I'm not sleepy.
Well, pretend. We have to be up in 4 hours!
The cat is on my head.
Cats do that. Push it off.
Now the dog is scratching. You know we can't sleep if the dogs move at all!
Aargh! Then kick the dog off too! Just go to sleep!!!
But I wanna make things!!

Melissa McCollum

Friday, November 19, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 18/30: Heroes

I got kind of philosophical about the internet tonight, and poem #18 (out of 30 in my month long challenge) is the result.


So, I spend a wee bit of time
on FaceBook.
Ok, maybe more than that.
And I read Live Journal
and a handful or so of blogs.
And, because I'm like that,
sometimes while I'm scrolling away
I consider what it is we're building,
and what we're saying with it.

I've seen an amazing community
emerge these past years,
one connection at a time,
as sooner or later just about everyone
dabbled at this internet thing.
It feels like a small town writ large,
with friendships forming,
support offered,
tips and tricks passed back and forth
(I've got to try that cold killing
ginger tea recipe--who had it again?)
and all sorts of avenues for gossip.
On a far flung, chaotic scale.
I even like watching memes go viral,
spreading from one person to the next.

In fact...memes. Those are fun
and quite revealing if you think about it.
Lets see. Today's crop:
Did you see the house cat
face down the alligator?
The elderly woman who got a standing ovation
for her jaw dropping audition?
How about the boy
with the biker escort,
and the depressed 91 year old
holocaust survivor
who posed for those cool superhero pictures?
And of course, the food blogger
who brought down the thieving magazine,
and the man
who took on airport security.
I smile, and click,
and on their way they go.

I have come to the conclusion
that the internet
loves an underdog.
No, more basic.
People love underdogs.
They yearn to see the unremarkable,
the ordinary person
--just like them--
face their fears,
take a stand
and become...extraordinary.
Something shining and wonderful
but not...quite...larger than life.
Still within reach.

I think...
I think when we click 'share'
we're whispering to the world,
Look at this marvelous thing.
This is you.
And...maybe...this is me too?
And maybe...just maybe...
we could be brave enough.
And we could become

Big enough
for the whole world to see.

-Melissa McCollum

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 17/30: Opening Night

This is poem #17 out of 30 in my November poetry challenge. For those of you coming in part way through the month, I'm trying to write 30 poems in 30 days, in what has become an annual challenge for myself. I'm posting them here as a way of holding myself accountable, so I'll actually get them done. Thanks for dropping by! It tickles me that people are actually reading these. I hope you're having as much fun reading as I'm having writing.

Opening Night

Opening night for my daughter's
first college play
is in just a few days.
I listen to her talk of tech week,
and look at her backstage pictures...

and I'm back in high school theater.
I tried out for every play,
even though it scared me to death.
Actually? I'd try out
it scared me to death.
I'd push myself, just to say I did it,
and then retire back stage
to help concoct the magic.
Now that was fun.
I'd pound flats together,
and prime and paint.
I'd cobble together props,
build platforms,
and stay out of the way of the costumer.
(She had pins!)
And we goofed around a lot of course.
But I loved being part of a mass creation,
feeling the intensity pick up speed
in those frantic final weeks
as we scrambled to get everything done.
We'll never make it!
And then suddenly...

it was time.
Props were in place.
Lights were aimed and ready.
The set sat patiently behind golden curtains
waiting for the grand reveal.
And the actors were downstairs
getting in make-up, going over
lines one last time, and finding
that missing piece of their costume.
This...this was my favorite time of all.
I'd sneak upstairs away from the frenzy

and sit, stage right,
back against the brick wall
and look out over the empty house with its rows
and rows of waiting chairs.
I'd close my eyes...and breathe...and listen.
I swear I could feel the theater,
alive and eager,
gathering itself to fling open the doors,
usher in the audience,
and let the wonder flow.
This coming performance, whatever it was,
is what it lived for.
And yes, that play house did live!
I'd hug that still moment
of vibrant anticipation to myself...
and smile...
and then the theater would chase me
back downstairs to the bustle,
so we could get everything done
before curtain time.

I hope
on my daughter's opening night,
in that hush before the house doors open,
she gets a chance to go breathe
in the empty wings
and look out over the waiting seats.
And I hope her theater
speaks to her too,
saying, "Welcome.
I'm glad you're part of this.
Now get back to work--
it's time for us to make some magic!"

Melissa McCollum

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 16/30: Bell Range

Here's poem #16 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. As I was working today, something made me remember burrowing in piles of leaves as a kid. When I got home to the paper tonight this one came out...

Bell Range

When I was a grade school kid
we had what was probably a typical
suburban home, tucked away on a culdesac.
But oh, that place was magical!
Or maybe it was just that I was learning
to explore, a girl let loose for the first time
to run where I pleased--as long
as I was within Bell Range.
See, Grandma had been a one room school house
teacher, and Mom had her recess bell.
As long as I could still hear her ring the bell
to call me in from my adventures
I was home free.

There was a mysterious sunken circle
in the side yard. My parents
thought it was where the previous owners
had removed a pool.
But I knew it was a grand amphitheater
fit for staging all sorts of shows,
ringed with tiger lilies for giving
orange pollen nose make-up.
And in the fall it turned into an enchanted
labyrinth, laid out with crunching piles
of multicolored leaves.
I'd burrow through the walls
and come out covered
in bits of autumn.

The culdesac pavement in front of the house
was a giant canvas for chalk masterpieces.
And if you were careful to avoid pebbles
(and the occasional car coming home from work)
it was an awesome skating rink.
On long summer days we'd spend hours,
chalk in hand, laying out swooping road ways
and rectangle shops and schools and homes,
creating our own private city.
And then we'd skate our streets
in elaborate games,
impatient smudges altering
the land scape as needed
as our shared story unfolded.

And behind the house
there was a vast wilderness, hiding
lost cities and magical doorways.
If you were a careful archaeologist
you could dig through the dirt piles
and find bottle-cap treasures,
and Important Clues
to pressing neighborhood mysteries.
The grown ups thought
it was just an empty lot, and somebody
built a house in our space.
So we put toys down the cinder block
foundation, in our own personal
time capsule
to the future.

The future.
Now that I'm in that future,
something is
When I was a kid, that small slice
of quiet neighborhood
held passageways to all the possibilities
the world could hold.
Now? My limits may have broadened,
but my vision...
Today I think I'm only seeing
a house. A street. A missing pool.
And a vacant lot.

I need...I need to coax that
grade school girl I was
back in from where she's wandering.
I need her limitless vision
and exuberant imagination.
I want to play, on a grand scale.
Somehow, over the years,
I've become an...adult.
Where is the fun in that?

But how? How can I call her home?

I know.
I've still got Grandma's recess bell
safely tucked away.
It's a little dusty,
but it should do the trick.
All I have to do is step outside
into a breezy, sun filled afternoon
and let the clapper clang
long and very very loud.
And in a little bit
she'll come dancing along,
breathless and bubbling,
back to where she belongs.

Yes. In fact, looking back
I think my inner child
has always been
just within
Bell Range.

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 15/30: Trolling the Shoreline In

Here's the halfway point in my November challenge of 30 poems in 30 days. This one is by request--an old friend of mine suggested that I write about fishing. She and I grew up going to Lake of the Woods in Ontario, Canada for summer vacations. I was able to visit there again this past summer, and it was a very bittersweet thing to have to leave this time around. The distance is so far from Arizona that I'm not sure when I'll be back again.

Trolling the Shoreline In

Just once more around the island.
At trolling speed, please.
Let me watch the sunset tinted wake
rippling outward from the boat,
and smell the pine scented dusk.
I want to hold the rod against the drag
one more time, tip gently curved,
line pointing back the way we came.
My practiced hands are waiting
for a tell-tale tug...
But I don't care if I catch anything more.
I just want to breath in the beauty.
There is a seagull keeping pace overhead,
its crisp white wings cutting the chilling air.
A line of stately pelicans
drifts majestically by,
ready to settle in for the night.
And now we're gliding around the last turn.
I can see the liquid golden reflections
from the camp's lights
reaching for me across the glassy waters,
beckoning me to come back
to safety and shore.
...ok. It is time.
Point the boat toward the dock
and bring me in.
I'll leave my lifeblood waters.
For now.

But I'll be back.

Melissa McCollum

Monday, November 15, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 14/30: A Creative Cycle

Here's tonight's offering in my 30 poems in 30 days challenge:

A Creative Cycle

Once I get to this part of a project
it is just repetitive action, there
...and there...and there...
The hands know what to do.
I can just sit back
and watch them move through
their well practiced dance.
The brain is freed to drift.
When I'm lucky I can slip
into a serene meditative trance
but nights like tonight
I'm just kind of...

But when a project starts...
no, before that.
When an idea emerges in my brain.
I can roll it around my head,
testing phantom textures,
brushing on invisible colors,
puzzling out the process,
prodding, and polishing
this bright new creation
that nobody else can see...
Then I'm full of an addictive
bouncy new-thing energy.

And then I get to gather
the tools, pick out materials,
and dig in to the physical process.
It is an emotional rush,
a personal challenge.
Can I make this really happen?
Am I skilled enough to take the concept
and give it tactile form?
I'll hit snags and roadblocks.
That problem solving trial stage
is often frustrating
but usually full of a shiny joy
that sweeps me
feverishly along.
I want to know:
Do I have the power
to make a day-dream

And then...
I know that it will work.
I can (mostly) see how it will look.
Problem solved.
Theory proved.
The sparkle fades
and all that is left
is this,
the repetitive motion
and meditative movement.
Nights like tonight,
what carries me through
is just a healthy dose
of plain old stubborn

Almost there...

Almost to the 'have created' stage,
where I can bask and admire...

and then I can start to dream again!

Melissa McCollum

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 13/30: One of those nights

Here's poem #13 of 30. For those of you who just found this, I'm working through a month long challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days. The later it gets in the month, the more challenging this gets.

One of Those Nights

There are nights
when the most luscious images
skulk away, stubbornly lurking
out of sight
no matter how hard you try
to yank them decently
onto the page.
Inspiration sulks in the corner,
and the Muse
snores on the floor
down and out for the count.
It's not pretty.
Those are the evenings
when dilettantes throw up their hands
and throw down their pens
because they Just Aren't Moved
and it Just isn't Happening.
But writers?
Writers roll up shirt sleeves
grasp a pencil firmly in hand,
and dig into the word piles anyway.
They go ahead and shovel,
tossing phrases haphazardly
onto the paper,
letting them jumble and spill
and catch precariously on the lines.
Because bad poetry?
Bad poetry can be edited.
But there is just no save
for an empty page.

Melissa McCollum

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 12/30: Blerg

Poem #12 of 30 in my November Poetry Challenge. And now, I'm off to bed. ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....


Yesterday I was a scatter brained
fluff head.
Left my credit card at lunch,
tried to cancel it but forgot
the banks were closed,
and had to drive an hour
each way
back across town to retrieve it.
I made potentially stupid
driving goofs, but luckily
my kids had the brain and the eyes.
And by the time I got home
I was so full of blah and inertia
that packing for the marvelous weekend trip
that I'd been waiting and waiting for
could just...wait.

This morning, playing
with my daughter's hair
was too much effort.
I got through the long draining
line waiting
day (but my son got his license!),
and took my husband
home sick from work. Too fried
again to pack and shop
and drive for hours
and set up camp and...*sigh*.
Maybe if I had minions,
who would do it all for me.
But as it is? That much work
to go sleep in the cold?
Um...how about pizza
and video games?

And tonight,
my tummy is queasy.
I've got that tightness
in the jaw line
that says nausea is lurking.
And the thermometer
(that always reads low)
says 99.8.

Well, that explains things now,
doesn't it?

You all have fun.
I'm going to brew a mug of tummy mint tea
and curl up under some nice fluffy covers
and be a lump all weekend long.


Melissa McCollum

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 11/30: Creeping Inertia

Pushing through, after a very draining day. But here's #11 of 30 in my November Poetry Challenge of 30 poems in 30 days. The next few poems will be posted as a lump next week, because I'm going to be out of town this weekend. (Yes, there will still be folks here at the house. I'm not careless enough to announce on line when the home will be empty.) I'll be out at http://www.southerncrusades.org/ , and will likely have a most wonderful time. But tonight...

Creeping Inertia

I'm supposed to be on site tomorrow,
raring to go,
camp established,
deep into my role of Mistress Gwen,
lost in the sparkling depths
of a shared time out of time.
And here I sit.
No packing list made.
No projects chosen.
No food prepped.
Not even any laundry done.
And no motivation at all.
I know I'll have fun once I get there,
but right now the insidious
Inertia Monster
has me dangling limp in his claws,
and I've got a bad case
of been there,
done that.

Maybe I can shake him
in my sleep.
Wish me luck...

Melissa McCollum

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 10/30: Create!

Poem 10/30. A third of the way there! It will probably get more difficult to come up with topics as the month goes on, but so far so good.


I've modeled for years now, for the life
drawing classes at the local college.
I'll disrobe, and find an interesting pose
up on the podium, all angles
and twists and static movement and then...
hold it...
hold it...
motionless, for up to an hour
at a stretch. An eternity
on my side of the easel,
but if I've done my job right,
crafted that perfect scene,
the students are so lost in creation
that time speeds by for them. I grin
when they cry out in disappointment
as the chime of the timer
releases me
from my deliberate agony.

When I get the chance,
I'll stroll around the studio
viewing the results.
Partly to see if that last pretzeled
pose really worked,
but mostly because it is simply
A room full of people, staring
at the same exact subject...
you would think the outcomes
would be similar, no?

Especially late in the semester,
when the teachers loosen up
and let the students have their head.
The results become wildly different.
Color, composition, media choices,
all jagged angles or swooping curves,
delicate shading or bold contrast...
where did their eyes focus?
What filtered through their hands,
their emotions, their minds,
and made it to the paper?
I may be naked up there,
but it is the artist
whose heart is really revealed.
The drawings say ever so much more
about them
then they ever do about me.

And this is why I tell people:
Yes, other folks have done that.
Whatever it is.
But I know from experience
that hundreds can draw
the exact same subject...
and yet. What you have to say,
what you bring to the easel
(the jewelry bench, the loom,
the whatever your tools are),
what you will bring
will be different.
Will be yours.
I've seen it.
A hundred artists,
yet your creation will be

There is powerful art
that will not exist
unless you give it form.


Melissa McCollum

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 9/30: Lunch Time?

Poem #9 of 30 in my November challenge. I was working outside in the back yard this afternoon, when this one came to me.

Lunch Time?

The Deadly Spaniel stands, poised,
rust and cream fur gleaming
in the noon day sun,
quivering nose raised and dark
eyes intently focused,
all attention spiraled in
on the bird feeder, where a helpless
cloud of fluttering
sparrows has swooped by for brunch.
Wings flapping, little bits of darting
movement and chirping temptation and
"Malcolm, NO! No Bird!!"
The flock scatters
and the pup's head whips around.
His tail wags in Obvious Innocence
and he bounds merrily over
to get Attention! Pettings! Scritches!

But his eyes
are already straying upwards,
and the Fierce Predator
scans the sky...

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 8/30: Beautiful People

I've been doing a poetry challenge this month: 30 poems in 30 days. Some of these will be good, some of them will be bad, and most them will be somewhere in between. But the point here is not so much to write well, as to simply write. The challenge takes its inspiration from the folks over at NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org/).

Beautiful People

I grinned into
the mirror this morning,
wriggling as I pulled on hot
freshly washed jeans and a soft,
tightly fitted t-shirt.
Flip back the hair, and look again.
Yup! Two thumbs up.
You go, woman--looking good!
Healthy, happy, a strong body
ready to tackle the world.

Drove downtown at lunch time,
past billboards flashing
from one come-on to the next.
Do you live in the right place?
Are you smart enough,
pretty enough, do you eat
the most luscious, does your drink
make your life a perfect party?
We can fix that for you!
Just let us help!

Picked up a waiting room magazine
at the afternoon appointment.
Brad had shaved, and worked out
umpteen bazillion hours every day...
Angelina was afraid she'd lose him
because she wasn't spectacular enough.
This star wore a style better than that one.
That model shared her bikini secrets.
This other actress needed a personal trainer,
and only $12,000 worth of surgery. Beautiful!

Tonight I stared into the mirror
and ran my fingers through
the growing streaks of grey
in my flat limp hair.
I turned sideways and sucked it in...
then sighed. Up to a size 10.
My jaw line is sagging. Look at the jowls.
God, I've got a double chin!
How can I fix that?
My body is so falling to pieces.

And now, I could stay up late (ok, later)
pouring through the internet
for sure fire cures
(only three easy installments
of $49.95 a month!) ...But no.
I think, instead, I'll strip back
to my own comfortable skin
and take a shower to wash the world away.
And then I'm going to curl up in bed, and snuggle
between my two very hot men. Who love me. As is.

Angelina can go jump off a cliff.

Melissa McCollum

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 7/30: The Queen's Champion

Here I offer you poem #7 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. I'm active in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and attended a Queen's Champion Tournament today. This should give a little taste of the magic that I witnessed:

The Queen's Champion

A veiled figure stands
on the battlefield in blood
red robes, sun glinting
off of Her golden crown. A crowd
of armored hopefuls kneel
eagerly at Her feet as she speaks
of duty and devotion,
of difficult work to be done
and a job to be won.
Her dark eyes shine
and fighters rise,
She bids them battle for a full
grueling hour
for the chance to serve Her.
And she settles back to watch, intently.
With springing steps keen combatants
begin their bouts.

Time passes. The sun beats harder,
and the heavy crack and crash
of sword on shield
begins to mingle with cries
of pain as well aimed
blows win through.
Breath comes heavier.
Arms feel the strain
and focus narrows to the next
Almost there.
The hour is almost up...
just a bit longer...
and Her lilting voice rings out.
Her heroes are not tired enough.
Their battles will continue
for another half hour.
The warriors steel themselves
and fight on.

And now
the strain begins to show.
A struggle for air
and one armored figure leaves the field.
Vision flickers
and another lad is forced to yield.
Pure exhaustion sets in
and a bruised veteran collapses to one side.
Pain. Aching.
But the crowned vision glides
forward with personal words
of encouragement. A touch on an arm.
A gentle gaze. And for each,
an offer of cool, pure water
from Her own lovely hands.
Spines straighten.
Sheer determination kicks in,
and gritty warriors find
their arms will lift swords
at least one more time.

The battle is done.
And one man
A glittering throng of nobility
serves as witness
as he sinks to his knees
at Her Majesty's feet.
Her graceful arms cradle a deadly sword
as she stands, a beautiful inspiration.
She looks him in the eyes...
and finally smiles,
beaming with the warmth of the sun.
He is worthy.
He receives the sword from Her
royal hands
and proudly rises, pain forgotten,
to take his place at Her back,
tasked to defend
this radiant lady
with his honor, his sword, and his very life.
And the gathered crowd gives three
echoing, resonant cheers...

For the Queen
has chosen Her Champion.

Melissa McCollum

November Poetry Challenge: 6/30: Naked Nerves

Here's poem #6 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. I'm writing 30 poems in 30 days. Tonight's topic was easier to come up with than the last few, as I had a rather unique for me experience this evening...

Naked Nerves

I expected more butterflies.
The stomach kind, not the social.
I'm singing with a choir tonight,
the entertainment for a black tie gala
fundraiser, $200 a pop
just to get in the door...and up
from there.

Wow. Look at that.

Formal gowns. Ballroom lit with art glass
chandeliers, each a masterpiece in itself.
The murmur of quiet conversations,
the clink of wine glasses,
and the empty stage
a line of microphones poised,
piano perched to one side...
...And here's our introduction.
A hundred or so heads
watching as we file in.

I should be freaking out by now.
What on earth am I doing?
A nobody amateur
in way over my head.
I just wanted to sing, you know?
And I found a group of people meeting
over music, who let me play too.
I didn't think we'd end up
performing at this level.

Ok, deep breath. Any moment now
there'll be a jumping rush of terror...
But I'm still ...calm?
What gives??
Shouldn't I be a stomach sick
mess by now?
Wait, we're here.
Hold the head high,
spine straight, smile,
and climb the carpeted
steps to the stand.
Er...I mean stage.
Look out at the expectant faces,
settle in, lift my music
and take my pose.


Stand. Pose.
I've got it now.
I've spent the last 4 years
as a life drawing model,
taking off my clothes for artists
and ending up in all my glory
in glowing oil paints and tender
charcoal drawings,
displayed prominently on museum walls.
That practice in poise
and sheer in your face
courage must be kicking in.

This? Yeah, this is nothing.
I can do this.

I've heard advice to performers:
Picturing the audience in their underwear
is a sure fire way to break
a bad case of nerves.
Me? I'm a little different, I guess.
I just have to imagine myself standing
and I'm serene as can be.

Let's sing.

Melissa McCollum

Saturday, November 6, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 5/30: Uncivilized Cravings

Here's poem #5 of 30 in my November poetry challenge. My goal is to write 30 poems in 30 days. This particular poem makes more sense if you know that I'm part of a historical recreation group that works with the Middle Ages and Renaissance. We periodically have camping events where everyone dresses up in the clothing of the time, and loses themselves in a past that never was. It really is a moment out of time, to be savored.

Anyway, the poem:

Uncivilized Cravings

It is 2:30 am and I sit
in my monitor lit
room, safe behind curtains,
listening to the monotonous
electronic hum.
Reading your distant words.
Browsing the internet.
Fingers on my keyboard,
touching only virtual
Quiet. Detached.
A bit bored
and rather passionless.

I need
a different 2:30 night.
I want to watch wood smoke
rising from a flickering camp fire,
drifting up to a deep moonless sky.
I need drums in the distance,
and song, and laughter,
enough that I can close my eyes
and feel the humanity
humming around me.
I want to explore the vibrant shadows,
prowling the darkened pathways
that reach between
glowing circles of cheer.
And I want a cloak big enough for two
wrapped round, warm
against the crisp blowing breeze.

And I want your
In my dark
and very uncivilized

-Melissa McCollum

Friday, November 5, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 4/30: In Plain Sight

Here's poem #4 of 30, in my November poetry challenge. I'm writing 30 poems in 30 days, and posting them here to give me some accountability and keep me moving forward on them. Some of these will be pretty good, most of them will be mediocre, and I expect I'll come up with a couple of stinkers, too. But the goal of the exercise is not necessarily write perfect undying prose...it is simply to write. If you'd like to play along, feel free to post the link to your work down there in the comments.

In plain sight

I'm hiding
right here in plain sight.
I don't mean to, really.
But people see what they expect
and I blend pretty easily.
See, I'm a suburban housewife.
Two kids, the dogs and cats,
driving a minivan.
Quiet, white, middle
aged and middle classed,
with a part time job
to pay the bills
and a weekend hobby
to pass the time.
It is easy to pigeon-hole me.
At first.

Lets make job small talk:
I work at the local community college.
That's mildly interesting...
and then I'll mention
that I take all my clothes off
and pose for the art students.
And there's the first crack.
That...doesn't quite fit the image.
Oh, and my hobby?
I play dress up and lets pretend.
I'm going to be Medieval Nobility
this weekend,
and my boyfriend will be hitting
people with sticks
to try to make me Queen.
Um...ok then.
Wait, boyfriend? I thought you said housewife?
Aren't you married?
Yes, I live with two men
in a polyamorous triad.
Thats...wait, what?
What does that mean??

And suddenly they've stumbled
on the unexpected.
Folks kind of flounder,
head cocked to the side
not sure how to proceed.
Most of the time there's a snap
as they struggle to process
the shift in view.
I could never do that
they say.
Initial disapproval,
a distancing,
and only then
poking at it, perhaps,
a theoretical stretch to acceptance...

And then there is the occasional person
whose eyes light up
with the discovery of a layered reality.
That's fun.
And I wonder...
how many kindred spirits
am I passing by?
How much am I guilty of
the same
mental shorthand,
missing vast riches
of complicated, messy personalities
because I see
what is

What about you?
Are you hiding in plain sight too?

-Melissa McCollum

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Menders

I have a friend who has a mission: to repair the books in her children's library. The books have been literally falling apart, and there just isn't enough money in the budget to replace them as they are worn out. This is where Jennifer stepped in, to do her bit. And well, her project has been growing. She's repairing books. (Today she returned 77 repaired books to the library.) She's teaching others how to repair books. And she's looking at starting a non-profit organization to keep on doing just that.

Now she has a blog, and is starting to post tutorials on how to extend the life of the books, so the children will have access to them for a longer period of time. Today's tutorial is on how to apply clear contact paper to the cover of a paperback book. If you're interested in her project, I suggest you stop on by her blog, "One Book at at Time".


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 3/30: Enough

This is poem #3 in my November poetry challenge. I'm writing 30 poems in 30 days, and posting them here as a way of holding myself accountable so I'll actually get them done. And yes, I see the irony of posting this particular poem here. But it is what came out of the pen tonight.


Others' eyes are my mirror.
An appreciative gleam
and I stand straighter.
My lips quirk
and my hips
just a bit more.
I send phrases and images
across the internet
and wait impatiently for the echoes
that tell me I am heard,
I am admired.
A touch
and I feel wanted.
It gets to be an addiction.
I crave the input, the attention,
hungry to see myself reflected back
strong, beautiful, talented.
More. Give me more.
It's not enough.
Let me wrap your heat around me
because I'm still

I need...
I need to step back. Turn away.
Let it go, and look inward.
Who am I
when I stand alone?
Without the influx...
what am I?
Inside, curled in on herself
there is a woman there
who is uncertain.
Who sees herself aging,
thicker, gray.
Who looks at her creations
and whispers, "Just a hobby."
Who is afraid of not being

I need to cherish that woman.
I. Not others.
I need to send her flowers,
take her on dates.
I need to wrap her in comfort
and spoil her
with soft textured velvets
and sensuous silks smooth
against our skin
just for the wriggling joy of it.
I need to provide her
a warm sheltered nest
to curl up in
and toys to play with
so we can create
just for our own pleasure.

Because I am
Just me.

-Melissa McCollum

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 2/30: Being a Grown Up

Here's the second piece for my poetry challenge. I'm doing 30 poems in 30 days for November. I noticed some of you Googled in on the search term 'poetry challenge'. Do you want to play along, too? If so, feel free to put the links to your own works down in the comments section here. I'd love to see what you come up with!

Being a Grown Up

I'm a grown up today.
I ate my breakfast fiber,
folded the laundry
and washed the dishes.
I filled out checks,
planned the evening's menu,
and weeded the garden.
And I Voted.
So very responsible.

And next,
I'm going to dance in the grass,
head thrown back
and arms wide open,
spinning in the sprinklers.
I'm going to eat my ice cream first,
and create exuberant masterpieces
made of sidewalk chalk
and pure imagination.
And I'm going to celebrate
our marvelous, vibrant differences.

Because I'm a grown up today,
and I can!

-Melissa McCollum

Monday, November 1, 2010

November Poetry Challenge: 1/30: A Missing Seasoning

Happy November!

November for a lot of my friends means NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It is a challenge where you try to write a 50,000 word novella in just 30 days, where speed and output matter more than quality. It is a great tool to get you off your duff, and just write without the pressure to be perfect.

Well, I tried the exercise a few years ago, and made a discovery. I don't like writing novels.

I do however, really enjoy writing poetry. And during the normal course of events, I don't take the time to do it. So a few years back I personalized the novel writing idea. My own November challenge is to write approximately a poem a day, for 30 poems in 30 days. I've done this for I think 3 years. There have been some stinkers, a lot of middle of the road work, and a handful that were good enough to publish. One in particular I actually got paid for later on, which for poetry is rather rare.

In the past, I've used my Live Journal (http://lissamc.livejournal.com/) to chronicle the poems in, but I'm not over there very much any more. However, having to publish them somewhere gives me a boost of accountability, and keeps me moving through the exercise. So, I'm going to put them up here as I write them. Please bear with me. I'll put 'poetry' in the title, so if poems aren't your thing you'll know to skip over them. Of course, if you happen to like poetry I'd love some feedback and/or constructive criticism.

So, here's today's opening salvo:

A Missing Seasoning

I open the freezer door
for a deep breath of thin
cold air, and then wistfully
blow it back in a foggy
puff of memory.
I search the shelves
for stored bits of November.
There's no trailing drifts
of leaf-burn smoke here,
no endless farmer fields full
of dry rustling stalks
or bare waiting earth.
The white tracings of ice
won't spill out
to layer my morning walkway
with a chilled crystal carpet.
No, I live in a perpetual
Arizona summer now,
and even my freezer
says 'frost free'.
Dang it.

-Melissa McCollum