Swear Words

I’ve been wanting to resort to swear words all week. Here are two good poems to help you deal with whatever is frustrating and they are great as mood setters for any upcoming time with family.

Swear Words                                          Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Even now I laugh when I see the look on my mother’s face
when I swear in Tagalog. I have no idea what these phrases
really mean, but they’ve been spattered on me since I was still
a fat, bawling baby—and scattered onto my head when I’ve toppled

juice glasses on white carpet or come home past curfew.
Sometimes even the length of my skirt or driving her through
a red light produces ones with a bit of a gasp, a wet sigh
of disapproval. Now I catch myself saying them out loud

when I knock my knee against the coffee table,
slice a bit of my knuckle with paper. When I asked her,
she told me one phrase meant ‘God,’ so of course I feel guilty.
Another is ‘crazy female lost piglet,’ which doesn’t even

make sense when I think of the times I’ve heard her use that,
and still others, she claims, are untranslatable. But the one
I love best is Diablo—devil—pronounced: Jah-blew! She uses it
as if to tell me, “I give up! You do what you want but don’t

come running to me,” after I tell her I bounced a check
or messed up a romance with a boy she finally approved of.
Diablo! Diablo! Here comes a little red devil, tiny pitchfork
in hand, running past the terra-cotta flower pots

in my mother’s sun room Diablo! Diablo! And still another from behind
the kitchen curtains, a bit damp from the day’s splashes of the sink.
Today when they meet, they dance a silly jig on the countertop, knock
over the canister of flour, leave little footprints all over the place.

Hell Pig                                       Aimee Nezhukumatathil


To keep me from staying out late at night,

my mother warned of the Hell Pig. Black and full


of hot drool, eyes the color of a lung—it’d follow me

home if I stayed past my curfew. How to tell my friends


to press Pause in the middle of a video, say their good-byes

while I shuffled up the stairs and into my father’s waiting


blue car? How to explain this to my dates, whisper

why we could not finish this dance? It’s not like the pig


had any special powers or could take a tiny bite

from my leg—only assurances that it was simply


scandal to be followed home. When my date and I

pull into my driveway and dim the lights, we take


care to make all the small noises that get made

in times like these even smaller: squeaks in the seats,


a slow spin of the radio dial, the silver click of my belt.

Too late. A single black hair flickers awake the ear


of the dark animal waiting for me at the end of the walk.

My fumbling of keys and various straps a wild dance


to the door—the pig grunting in tune to each hurried step, each

of his wet breaths puffing into tiny clouds, a small storm brewing.


Writing Prompts:

Do you have a favorite swear word(s)? Are there swear words particular to your family?

Write about someone trying to hide scandalous behavior from someone else.

Write about curfews a person, a town, or region that has a curfew.

Write about something that lurks in the shadow. If you like anthropomorphize it.

Write about someone who would dance if you got into trouble.

Write about preparing to spend time with family.

Waiting to be Rescued

It’s hurricane season, something taken very seriously in the south and elsewhere. This poem and the quote offered don’t resolve the many problems that arise when your world is changed irrevocably, but words can be a comfort when your thoughts and feelings are linked to another fellow being. Be safe and brave out there. May you receive the help you need.

“Nature repairs her ravages – but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred: if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.”       George Eliot


Waiting to be Rescued                                                                     Maxine Kumin


There are two kinds of looting,

the police chief explained.

When they break into convenience stores

for milk, juice, sanitary products,

we look the other way.


When they hijack liquor, guns,

ammunition, we have to go in

and get them even though

we’ve got no place to put them.


Hoard what you’ve got,

huddle in the shade by day,

pull anything that’s loose

over you at night, and wait

to be plucked by helicopter,


saved by pleasure craft,

coast guard skiff,

air mattress, kiddie pool,

upside down cardboard box

that once held grapefruit juice


or toilet paper, and remember

what Neruda said: poetry

should be useful and usable

like metal and cereal.

Five days without shelter,

take whatever’s useful.

Why We Must Struggle

Do we really know why bad things happen or why life is sometimes difficult? I surely don’t and I always look for things to ease up. Often it is my attitude or perspective that needs the greatest adjustment.

Why We Must Struggle                Kay Ryan

If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?

The Arrival of the Bee Box

Can we celebrate Sylvia Plath’s short legacy enough? How many of us started reading her in high school and have never forgotten her brave life?  She and her husband did order bees and make other moves toward self sufficiency before he left her and before she died. In this poem you may find the scope of her pain and some hope for a future. I include a quote as well from The Bell Jar which came out shortly before her death.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the inrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people, I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”                                             Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The Arrival of the Bee Box                                                  Sylvia Plath

I ordered this, clean wood box

Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.

I would say it was the coffin of a midget

Or a square baby

Were there not such a din in it.


The box is locked, it is dangerous.

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.


I put my eye to the grid.

It is dark, dark,

With the swarmy feeling of African hands

Minute and shrunk for export,

Black on black, angrily clambering.


How can I let them out?

It is the noise that appalls me most of all,

The unintelligible syllables.

It is like a Roman mob,

Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!


I lay my ear to furious Latin.

I am not a Caesar.

I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.

They can be sent back.

They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.


I wonder how hungry they are.

I wonder if they would forget me

If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.

There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,

And the petticoats of the cherry.


They might ignore me immediately

In my moon suit and funeral veil.

I am no source of honey

So why should they turn on me?

Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.


The box is only temporary.


*Laburnum is an European tree with poisonous seed pods.


Maturity, belonging and being needed and useful are themes in this poem. Who is the underdog and who is the over dog in your relationships? So much can happen in a few minutes over breakfast. The poem is funny as well.

Muck-Clump                                                                         Mark Halliday


My wife was being too busy around the kitchen one morning

I think to give herself the sense of being on top of things

and when I poured a bowl of Shredded Wheat Spoonfuls for Devon

my wife bustled over and said “Oh Devon likes to have more cereal

than that”

so she poured more Spoonfuls on top of the considerable number I

had poured.

This griped me because now it was as if I hadn’t really given Devon

her breakfast

because it might as well have been my wife who did it all

which would imply that I wasn’t really making a contribution,

as if I were just a log of driftwood on the sand of time

while everyone else built the boats and caught the fish

and made the whole human drama fare forward against the void.


So I watched Devon pour a lot of milk on her Shredded Spoonfuls

and I figured she would hardly eat half of them

and when she went out to the school bus there would be

this awful soggy mass of decomposing cereal left behind

which would resemble the way I sometimes see myself

so I figured then I could show the bowl to my wife

and I’d say ”Do you think Devon got enough cereal?”

and the moment of sarcasm would be exquisite.

While Devon ate Spoonfuls I tied her shoes—I did accomplish that—

and I imagined how I would say with measured irony

that would sting slightly but also come across as witty—

Do you think Devon got enough cereal?”—I would say it

and then more vigorously dump the sodden milky muck-clump into the trash.

It would be a moment in which I would be quite noticeably

on top of things… Then the bus came

and Devon hoisted her backpack and hurried outside, calling Goodbye,


and I saw with astonishment that her cereal bowl was empty.

How was I going to deal with this? It wouldn’t be fair

to be angry at Devon for her unreasonable appetite; but

I could possibly complain about my wife’s failure to provide

a more balanced breakfast for our daughter—but I sensed

that his challenge would backfire because my wife is the one

who really does think about nutrition and besides there were, actually

some strawberries on Devon’s placemat.

So I decided to rise above the entire episode, to be large minded,

to wash a few dishes nonchalantly and read the newspaper

and make an insightful remark about something in the news.

Awareness of the larger world, after all, is

a central part of being mature, which is

something I want to believe I am—

when you see some old chunk of driftwood on the beach

you might say “That looks so calm, so peaceful”

or you might say “That is so dry and dead”

but you don’t say “That is really mature.”


“Birthing” and “The Menstrual Lodge”

There are two poems today. Spring is here bringing the annual seasonal time of new birth. The power of birth is undeniable and available to all of us in its many faces. The first poem celebrates the poetic possibilities of fresh emergence while the second poem is much darker.

Birthing                                                                                              Mary Tallmountain

On the dark side I slip


like silk through night and chaos

wind splinters my hair

peacocks stalking

wild and sensuous as jewels

I see earth through their eyes

past bursting patterns


flashing at utmost speed


O I hear the light


The Menstrual Lodge                                                                       Ursula K. Le Guin

Accepting the heavy destiny of power,
I went to the small house when the time came.
I ate no meat, looked no one in the eye,
and scratched my fleabites with a stick:
to touch myself would close the circle
that must be open so a man can enter.
After five days I came home,
having washed myself and all I touched and wore
in Bear Creek, washed away the sign,
the color, and the smell of power.

It was no use. Nothing,
no ritual or servitude or shame,
unmade my power, or your fear.

You waited in the thickets in the winter rain
as I went alone from the small house.
You beat my head and face and raped me
and went to boast. When my womb swelled,
your friends made a small circle with you:
We all fucked that one.
Who knows who’s the father?

By Bear Creek I gave birth, in Bear Creek
I drowned it. Who knows who’s the mother?
Its father was your fear of me.

I am the dirt beneath your feet.
What are you frightened of? Go fight your wars,
be great in club and lodge and politics.
When you find out what power is, come back.

I am the dirt, and the raincloud, and the rain.
The walls of my house are the steps I walk
from the day of birth around the work I work,
from giving birth to day of death.
The roof of my house is thunder,
the doorway is the wind.
I keep this house, this great house.

When will you come in?


Going Home: New Orleans

If you can feel the heat and humidity you can begin to slow down. Add street performers, music, cajun food, chicory flavored coffee, beignets and powdered sugar. Slow your speech and ambitions. Think about seeing some fantastic art. Walk the streets and feel this poem come to life.

Going Home: New Orleans                                                                Sheryl St. Germain

for my grandmother, Theresa Frank


Some slow evenings when the light hangs late and stubborn in the sky,

gives itself up to darkness slowly and deliberately, slow cloud after slow cloud,

slowness enters me like something familiar,

and it feels like going home.


It’s all there in the disappearing light:

all the evenings of slow sky and slow loving, slow boats on sluggish bayous;

the thick-middled trees with the slow-sounding names—oak, mimosa, pecan, magnolia;

the slow tree sap that sticks in your hair when you lie with the trees;

and the maple syrup and pancakes and grits, the butter melting

slowly into and down the sides like sweat between breasts of sloe-eyed strippers;

and the slow-throated blues that floats over the city like fog;

and the weeping, the willows, the cut onions, the cayenne, the slow-cooking beans with marrow-thick gravy;

and all the mint juleps drunk so slowly on all the slow southern porches,

the bourbon and sugar and mint going down warm and brown, syrup and slow;

and all the ice cubes melting in all the iced teas,

all the slow-faced people sitting in all the slowly rocking rockers;

and the crabs and the shrimp and crawfish, the hard shells

slowly and deliberately and lovingly removed, the delicate flesh

slowly sucked out of heads and legs and tails;

and the slow lips that eat and drink and love and speak

that slow luxurious language, savoring each word like a long-missed lover;

and the slow-moving nuns, the black habits dragging the swollen ground;

and the slow river that cradles it all, and the chicory coffee

that cuts through it all, slow-boiled and black as dirt;

and the slow dreams and the slow-healing wounds and the slow smoke of it all

slipping out, ballooning into the sky—slow, deliberate, and magnificent.


Here are two poems by Ginger Andrews. Andrews is a born again Christian who owns a cleaning business and works with and lives near extended family members. There is often a bit of humor in her pieces as well as an acknowledgement of the grace imbedded in everyday life.


Prayer                                                             Ginger Andrews

God bless the chick in Alaska
who took in my sister’s ex,
an abusive alcoholic hunk.
Bless all borderline brainless ex-cheerleaders
with long blonde hair, boobs,
and waists no bigger around than a coke bottle
who’ve broken up somebody else’s home.
Forgive my thrill
should they put on seventy-five pounds,
develop stretch marks, spider veins,
and suffer through endless days of deep depression.

Bless those who remarry on the rebound.
Bless me and all my sisters;
the ball and chain baggage we carried into our second marriages.
Bless my broken brother and his live-in.
Grant him SSI. Consider
how the deeper the wounds in my family,
the funnier we’ve become.
Bless those who’ve learned to laugh at what’s longed for.
Keep us from becoming hilarious.
Bless our children.
Bless all our ex’s,
and bless the fat chick in Alaska.


Down on my knees                                        Ginger Andrews

Down on my knees
cleaning out my refrigerator
and thinking about writing a religious poem
that somehow combines feeling sorry for myself
with ordinary praise, when my nephew stumbles in for coffee
to wash down what looks like a hangover
and get rid of what he calls hot dog water breath.
I wasn’t going to bake the cake

now cooling on the counter, but I found a dozen eggs tipped
sideways in their carton behind a leftover Thanksgiving Jell-O dish.
There’s something therapeutic about baking a devil’s food cake,
whipping up that buttercream frosting,
knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes
they’d love just a little piece.

Everybody suffers, wants to run away,
is broke after Christmas, stayed up too late
to make it to church Sunday morning. Everybody should

drink coffee with their nephews,
eat chocolate cake with their sisters, be thankful
and happy enough under a warm and unexpected January sun.

The Colonel

I am going to state right now this poem is about listening. But, first you have to get through the horrors of reality that this piece brings to the forefront.  It is also about timing -the beat of the words, the rhythm of the reporting and the selection of images are masterful. And I can’t imagine a better ending to a poem.

“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


The Colonel                           Carolyn Forché

What you have heard is true. I was in his house.

His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His

daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the

night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol

on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on

its black cord over the house. On the television

was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles

were embedded in the walls around the house to

scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his

hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings

like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of

lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for

calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes,

salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed

the country. There was a brief commercial in

Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was

some talk of how difficult it had become to govern.

The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel

told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the

table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say

nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to

bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on

the table. They were like dried peach halves. There

is no other way to say this. He took one of them in

his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a

water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of

fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone,

tell your people they can go f— themselves. He

swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held

the last of his wine in the air. Something for your

poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor

caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on

the floor were pressed to the ground.


“The Colonel”relates Forche’s experience in El Salvador in 1978 and exposes the military brutality of Latin American dictatorship. El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war waged between the country’s US-backed military-led government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Sorrow Home

Margaret Walker

Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 7, 1915.
– Her mother was named Marion Dozier Walker and she was a musician
– Her father was named Sigismund C. Walker and he was a Methodist minister
– She was taught philosophy and poetry as a young child
– In 1943 she married Firnist James Alexander
– She had four children
– She passed away on November 30, 1988 in Chicago due to cancer

Sorrow Home                                     Margaret Walker


My roots are deep in southern life; deeper than John Brown


or Nat Turner or Robert Lee. I was sired and weaned

in a tropic world. The palm tree and banana leaf,

mango and coconut, breadfruit and rubber trees know



Warm skies and gulf blue streams are in my blood. I belong


with the smell of fresh pine, with the trail of coon, and

the spring growth of wild onion.


I am no hothouse bulb to be reared in steam-heated flats


with the music of El and subway in my ears, walled in

by steel and wood and brick far from the sky.


I want the cotton fields, tobacco and the cane. I want to


walk along with sacks of seed to drop in fallow ground.

Restless music is in my heart and I am eager to be



O Southland, sorrow home, melody beating in my bone and


blood! How long will the Klan of hate, the hounds and

the chain gangs keep me from my own?



Another poem from Margaret Walker:


For My People


I want to write

I want to write the songs of my people.

I want to hear them singing melodies in the dark.

I want to catch the last floating strains from their sob-torn




I want to frame their dreams into words; their souls into




I want to catch their sunshine laughter in a bowl;

fling dark hands to a darker sky

and fill them full of stars

then crush and mix such lights till they become

a mirrored pool of brilliance in the dawn.