the subtle strength of flowers (–or the duet we never sang)

one day the paint becomes too heavy
for the wall
&i test scripts

tucked safely in the gaps expanding
with each earthquake
& the cracks in our mask move with us
keeping illusions complete

“so you grew up in the ghetto–” says my daughter,
dinner plates still on the table&

matter of fact,
you have to be quick
to catch it

but in many ways i did
the sense of not belonging
neither here//nor there
i need no reminder
the cost” i say, coal&dirt under my fingernails

we were worker kids,
our fathers dying with a bottle on their lips,
the doctor’s/lawyer’s/banker’s offspring
neatly brushed&bathed,
next to me
in school//lacoste-stamped shirt

smelling of cigarette smoke,
crashed hopes, my parents fights last night

the skin etches one molecule
at a time
i learned like mad so one day i might manage
to escape

“i didn’t know this” she says, arms
nestled around my chest

&maybe i’ve grown out of it
like snowdrops pushing with a tender stem through frozen soil

i clear the plates away&scratch
a fork across my skin,

we’ve lost our capacity
to count /but

maybe there’s still some camouflage
that needs



lines in italics by my fav poet & friend Brian Miller…
&we’re inviting everyone for a little knightly joust today… smiles

over at dVerse (the prompt is already up when you read this) we’ve posted two poems & we ask you to grab one line, either of Bri’s or my poem & write your own poem, based on the line you chose…
have fun – and – see you later…


39 responses to “the subtle strength of flowers (–or the duet we never sang)

  1. we count, what matters….
    and you mean we ran a pub together for 4 years and i did not know that about you?


    and some worth keeping still, they all play together to make up who you are at this point, and i would not change that, so….

  2. Your story is a success story & one to be proud of really & shows the value of education & what WILL can accomplish despite adversity. I like the ending…about removing camouflage. So true. I think sometimes we hide things from our children, but these stories really need to be revealed….while there is time.

  3. I like your honest poem and the subtle way you tell us about the rough aspects of your growing up. Brian’s lines are weaved in your words in a very efficient way, as if you had written them.

  4. Often, it is the challenges of our youth that contribute the most to the person we become. This is a tender, very personal poem, beautifully written.

  5. This really touched me… my mother grew up in a very similar situation, and I see how it affected her, and also how hard she fought to keep it from affecting my siblings and I. A really wonderful poem, love the way you incorporated Brian’s lines, and love the way you ended this.

  6. I grew up like that, too, Claudia, and you took me back, to that stale, alcohol-imbued cigarette smoke smell, and going to school with all the well cared for kids, trying to hide the shameful secret of life at home. Fantastic write. Thankfully lives like that propel us towards escape and something better.

  7. It’s a good that you can release things and secrets…to your daughter. The scratching with fork….ouch! …maybe don’t have to be to the last drop….this is who you are….the history of our lives really creates our characters…and to stay subtle like flowers ah, so hard and deserve a big respect…~ thank you for sincerity x

  8. That tinge of darkness and choice of subject matter makes this very much a Brian poem rather than one of your more typical ones…an interesting transformation. You must know each other well to be able to share a voice so eloquently!

  9. [“i didn’t know this” she says, arms
    nestled around my chest

    &maybe i’ve grown out of it
    like snowdrops pushing with a tender stem through frozen soil]………

    That is beautiful and shows a strong woman despite a rough childhood. The bad side would be to not grow and keep passing the pain from generation to generation.

  10. I like that one of the lines you picked from Brian’s poem was the same one I did. 🙂 My favorite line in this poem is “‘i didn’t know this’ she says, arms nestled around my chest”. It’s cool when we can share things about our early days with our kids and they seem interested. Peace, Linda

  11. I understand the need to escape and you have and are…it’s like jousting with one’s self, hoping the scars will heal and the battle is no longer in the forefront, but in the past, wiped clean.

  12. A poem so close to the bone – I loved it all and the careful and scrupulous way you pulled back the layers of personal history, of different times, of the the subterfuge at center, and the ability to pick away at its last vestiges. Beautiful work.

  13. Gay nailed it, heart on your sleeve, words/memories so very close to the bone, ,conjuring other titles: BONE SPLINTERS/OR THE DUET WE NEVER SANG, or just GHETTO CHILD, or Cigarettes, beer, & punishment; the rash of my past. Wow,
    great use of Brian’s line; a long one it seems; creating something so much more than a collaboration poem, stamped with heart-hosannas. I really enjoyed the poetic/or actual truth in this. Adore the lines /&i smelling of cigarette smoke/crashed hopes, my parent’s fight last night/.

  14. Love what you took from Brian’s and how you made it into your own. I can so relate to the blue collar worker smelling of beer and cigarettes. We may have an ocean between us, but this could’ve been my own home. Excellent capture, Claudia.

  15. There is raw real emotions in this poem. I grew up poor so I know what it feels like to be one of the have nots.. Why am I crying? A sign of good poetry..

  16. I too was one of those kids not in lacoste shirts and sometimes neglected. But my parents wanted more for me and I see their love for me in the love you share with your daughter – these truths that make us what we are today. The way you wove Brian’s lines in with your poem was so effective, beautiful, heartbreaking. Great words.

  17. Wow, you packed a lot into this poem — your own history and the tender family moments with your daughter. I like the way you wove Brian’s lines in.

  18. oops… in essential ways. I became a professional and university educated thanks to me parents. It’s always a fascinating conversation to speak of all this with the grands and trace how far we’ve come as a family.

  19. This is SO good, the way you’ve weaved the chosen lines as if they were meant to be. The contrast of backgrounds really hit me…working with children, I see it. The thoughts and reflections provoked by the daughter…..I just loved this, Claudia.

  20. When I am this far down in the comments,
    I fear all that can be said has been said.
    I fear that my words of praise, of love,
    Admiration lost in the crowd seems
    so small and yet no less heartfelt.
    no less full of that same love
    and admiration. I love your
    words and your art so
    thank you for