Category Archives: 30/30 Project

30/30 Project: The Poison Control Issue


woodpecker eating poison ivy

It’s poem #18 in my March Poetry Marathon!  Today the Pileated Woodpecker is back in my neighborhood.  Whenever I hear him, I feel like he is trying to tell me something.  I feel lucky.  I also feel similarly blessed when a cardinal flies in front of me, or I see a hawk several days in a row.  I’ve read that it’s just our human ego acting up when we feel important in the face of animal activity.  I’m also familiar with Native American beliefs about spirit animals and such.  I think I lean toward the latter.  We’re all in this together, the birds and us.  At any rate, my red-headed pal never fails to inspire a poem.  See?  Lucky!

Remember, if you like what you’re reading, be sure to hop (fly?) on over to the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project site and read all of the awesome marathon-poetry being written.  And donate.  Do it!  Please.

Mary Kneels in the Garden

She is prepared for plants out of place,
weeds to follow.
Lady of the Dandelion. Mother of the Lion’s Teeth.

The other women cultivate
neat bushes,
grow showy cacti on their perfect lawns.

To eat what is not meant to be eaten.
To swallow
the hairy stem, the jagged leaf.

Ask the woodpecker why she leaves
her nest,
why she gorges on the ivy. She will tell you

about the beauty of the berry, the joy
of running a tongue
over a living thing, thick and white and round.

Toxicodendron radicans.
the hairy arms, the hands with narrow fingers,

the fine golden hair. Poison as seasonal,
poison as lover vining your trunk,
creeping toward your throat. Your obituary

a record of children hidden in the heart
in a dying tree,
an urge to devour, a case of mistaken identity.

You will never be the loud bird, the thrumming bird.
Make love to the worms,
the larvae and harmless seeds. From your waste, beauty.


30/30 Project: The Ides of March Version


Ah, the Ides of March.  A day filled with trepidation, if you go in for that sort of thing.  It has been kind of a funky one, here, but, once again, poetry saves me!  And the milkman, of course.  Gotta love the milkman.

If you are enjoying the Mary series, why not stop by and thank Tupelo Press with a teeny, tiny donation?  It’s all their doing, you know, this deluge of all poems Mary!




The True Story of Mary and the Spilled Milk

It always begins in half-light,
silent houses curled on their sides,

grass poised to resume its steady thrust.
This is the soft hour she likes best,

before morning pours its cereal
and soles pick up where they left off.

In these see-through moments,
she walks the neighborhood,

making love to what goes on
just past the coupling shutters.

When you are a mother you see
what the other women do not:

rough hands cupping hips,
full lips falling like rain.

You hear babies slip
through open crib rails,

hear men sigh
in something like sleep.

Oh, Queen of the Gaze.
Oh, Lady of Streetlamp Eyes.

You are not here to help them,
only to look in their empty windows,

practice their intimate gestures.
Tomorrow you may wish them well.

30/30 Project Day 12: And Now a Word From the Pope


It would be awfully cool if the voices in my head would put on heavy black robes and red beanies, then disappear into a locked room, only to send up white smoke when my latest poem is completed.  Alas, it is all me–the girl who doesn’t own a little black dress (or heavy black robe), a red beanie, or a room that one of my children doesn’t know how to unlock with a butter knife.

pope and maryIt is with this admission that I present my latest in the Mary series, and my 12th poem as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project.  Have you donated yet?  It is truly a worthy cause, and every $5, $10 or $50 will help keep a wonderful indie press in business.  And did you know about their $99 subscription deal?  9 books for $99.  You can’t beat it.  Check it out!  (And if you subscribe, tell them you heard it here!)

So, the poem.  My dear friend Dan Wilcox donated to Tupelo in my name and requested a poem about the Pope.  Funny thing, Dan, I have been vaguely following this whole papal process and have found it very poetic.  Problem is, I’m not sure what I make of it.  I love the idea of waiting for white smoke to send us a message.  (I think I’d like to invent a cell phone that emits a puff of white smoke each time I have a new message.)  I also love the solemnity, the tradition, and the secrecy.   And I am fascinated by the maleness of it all.

I am not convinced the Pope has said enough to Mary.  Mary might need to reply.  Jill might need to learn a little more about popes and priests and nuns and such.  Until then…

The Pope Writes a Letter to Mary

Was it the ghosts in long lines
outside our lonely bedroom,
the fingers in your hair,
the hands at your gorgeous throat?

I made of you a painting,
my empty canvas,
my virgin easel,
my uterus tipped with gold.

The other women said stallion,
said knight, bishop, king,
said your man, your man, your man.

My sweet Pinocchio
you lied to the puppet maker
told him you loved his hammer,
his chisel, his hand woven strings.

Your voice a broken doorbell,
the knocking I couldn’t hear.
Who’s there?
Who’s there?

Remember me in a curl of white smoke,
a signature disguised in a tattoo,
a red feather dropped as a cardinal passes.

30/30 Project Lucky 7: The Handyman Version


There is something to be said for beginning a daily writing practice.  I know, I know.  I’ve sung this tune before.  I wish I remembered the words.  Each time I set off down the “I’m going to write a-poem-a-day” road, I am pleasantly surprised by how, once I start writing, the poems keep coming.  It’s the “if you build it, they will come” theory of poetry.

Likewise, and this happened with my dear June Cleaver poems, now that I have opened up the portal for Mary to speak to me, she just keeps popping up in the strangest places, with the most interesting ideas.  Take today’s morning message, for instance.  Well, I can’t really explain it.  Maybe the poem will.

Please don’t forget to take a minute to stop by the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project blog.  There are some mighty fine poems being written!


fridge pic


Mary Buys the Refrigerator Repairman Flowers

The other women say she is lucky
to have a man come to her house
at all, say the tools are a bonus.

He says he is a good man,
and she believes him—
the heavy boots, the scent of restoration.

She has spent a long time being a mother,
knows how to lean in a doorway,
how to hand over the right wrench,
how to kneel and be thankful.

He tells her he will see
if she has power,
if her couplings are poor,
if she has any resistance.
This is the electricity portion of our house call.

Mother of the Ice Box.
Mother Most Frozen.
Mother with a Tiny Light Inside.

While his head is in the freezer
take out your kitchen scissors,
trim your dying bouquet.
Strip the stems, slice the old thorns,
pull off each brittle petal until only your face remains.

Oh, Queen of Handymen.
Oh, Blessed Homemaker.
Your lips and eyes in the crevice of an ice jam.

30/30 Project Day Six: For the Birds


barred-owlI might have known the birds would make their way into the project.  This morning, the hawk that has been following me for the past year swooped in front of my truck on my way to work. Then, while I was {supposed} to be watching the children during recess, a woodpecker lured me away (no children were abandoned in the gathering of material for this poem).  The project for art class today?  Button owls.  And my daughter at dinner?  Crazy as a loon.

As a side bar: if you have donated to Tupelo Press on my behalf, please be sure to mention my name in the “In honor of” section on the donation form.  And if you have a prompt request to go along with your donation, please email me directly:  Thanks!


Mary Dreams of Flying

Easy as the window, the roof, the neat leap.
Mary walks a tightrope and the owl follows,
spreads his raggedy wings,
pins himself to the front of her dress.
Hello, old friend, says the mouse in his mouth.

St. Mary of the Circus.
Blessed Mother of Swords and Swallows.

It is not true what the other women say.
The mothers in little black dresses
will not eat their young
if Mary touches their babies.

Oh lonesome bird.
Oh molting wren.
Someone must eat the children,
someone the poison berries.

Behind her home, a forest of standing dead,
a single woodpecker, his steady thrum.

To have faith in the hole,
in the nest deep inside,
to hear the predator’s persistent knock,
never see his royal crown.

30/30 Project Day 5: Dear Garbage Truck Driver…


forgive me for cutting you off, and to the nice man driving a tan pickup, sorry for veering into your lane.  You see, Mary was dictating a poem to me this morning on my way to work.  I had to type it into my phone.  Or you know what would happen…poof!  No more poem!

Since I began writing a poem a day, and yes, it has only been five days, but since I began, the ideas have been coming fast & furious.  Having a theme from a friend (thanks, Diana!) was a whole new level of inspiring.   Taking notes from an insistent muse on the way to teach a Composition class, then being unable to find quiet time until 8:00 pm at night, well, that has been another kind of inspiring. However, I did it.  So, I guess I showed me.

* Note (mostly to self): The ending I have posted here is different from the one I sent to Tupelo for their 30/30 Project Blog. I am having a hard time leaving them as drafts.


Mary Writes a Prayer

Because love of my life has a nice ring to it.
Because love of my lie had already been written.
Because want without song

is ugly need,
unwashed hair,
worm dried to twine on the pavement.

Prayer of the second date.
of the unwashed window,
of the sheets frozen on a clothes line.

Prayer to ward off Good Time Charlie.
Prayer for a sailor, a port, a sturdy vessel.
Crush your compass under foot,

rip the needle from its center
thread holes in stones
thread holes in bones

the click
the clack
beads on veins like wire.

Oh Lady of Leaving.
Oh Lady of Left.
Oh Lady Already Gone.

Mary, Mary write a prayer,
lead us through the final verse.

30 / 30 Project: A Poem for My Pal Diana


How excited was I this morning when I woke up to an email from my friend Diana, donating to my Tupelo Press 30 Poems in 30 Days Project, and providing me with a prompt!  A poem immediately started percolating in my mind (even before the coffee), then I sat down to write it.  And holy guacamole…it is nerve wracking trying to write a poem for a friend.  Who knew?  I mean, I like Diana.  And I want her to keep liking me.  So I had to make this A Good Poem.  Ay-yi-yi.

I set my timer for 45 minutes because I had to get out the door and volunteer at my daughter’s book fair.  Not enough time.  I went from the book fair to my studio to teach an art class…and couldn’t wait to get home and work on my poem.  Another ah-ha moment.  When one has a poetry goal, one looks forward to writing.  Again–who knew?

What follows is my poem.  I will call it a rough draft, because it’s still not good enough for Diana.  But it’s a start!


Mary Goes Below the Surface

For Diana McGrath

Frozen lake, after sunset, across a sheet of ice,
Mary searches for the other women.
All her life she has tried to fit in,
worn beautiful robes,
whispered sweetened prayers,
feasted on suitors and saviors.

She has heard it is a different world
down below: slick of seaweed between the legs,
thick lips and silken scales,
mermaids for wet nurses,
fine ocean views.

Like most virgins, Mary believes she is stalking the divine,
forgets her swimsuit, her air tank,
her bright orange life vest.
She is on her own in this sprawl of spawning mothers,
absent men and sand.

The hole so easy to cut,
the dive so easy to make.
Tip of the blade and rhythm,
pointed toes and thrust.

Oh Shanty Town,
Oh Lonely Bride,
Oh One that Got Away,
what your net can’t hold on land,
is the very thing that will kill you here.

30 / 30 Project – March 2013


Dear Friends,

I confess I have not been the best blog keeper.  I confess in my mind I have a daily writing practice, but, in reality, it is more like a weekly writing practice.  I confess I do not like asking for help, for money, for favors (of any kind :).  To that end, please join me this month as I begin a daily writing practice and ask for money and favors!

Say what, Jilly?  Let me explain.  This month I am running (Oh, yes, I also confess I dream of running) what is basically a poetry marathon.  I will be writing 30 poems in 30 days.  Hey, wait a minute, those of you who know me might say, You’ve written a poem a day for a month before.  What’s the big deal?

Yes, what is the big deal?  Why don’t I let my friend Jeffrey Levine from the awesome and amazing Tupelo Press explain:

Welcome to the 30/30 Project, an extraordinary challenge and fundraiser for Tupelo Press, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) literary press.

One poet per month will run the equivalent of a “poetry marathon,” writing 30 poems in 30 days, while the rest of us “sponsor” and encourage her or him every step of the way.  For December 2012, our first volunteer was Rebecca Kaiser Gibson. You can read her full month of poems here. For January 2013, we had 9 volunteers: T.M. De Vos, Shannon Hardwick, Lindsay Penelope Illich, Mike McGeehon, Janie Miller, Nina Pick, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, Allyson Whipple, and Margaret Young. You can read their month of poems here. For February 2013, we also had 9 volunteers: Alison Cimino, Kate DeBolt, Lené Gary, T.J. Jarrett, Jacey Blue Renner, William David Ross, Joanna Solfrian, Dan Thomas-Glass, and Nina Israel Zucker. You can read their month of poemshere.

This month, we again have 9 volunteers: Serena Chopra, Jill Crammond, Rachel Fogarty-Oleson, Brett Elizabeth Jenkins, Kali Lamparelli, George McKim, Luisa Muradyan, Dan Nowak, and Emily Rudofsky. Read their full bios by clicking here.

Please follow their work (by clicking “Follow” on the bottom of the page), and feel free to acknowledge their generosity and creativity with a show of your admiration and support by donating on their behalf to Tupelo Press. (Click here to donate, scroll down to the form at the bottom, and put a contributor’s name in the “honor” field.) Just imagine what a challenge it is to write 30 new poems in 30 days!

So you see, dear friends, this is a big deal.  I will be writing for a cause.  Writing to help a small, indie press keep publishing great poets like Aimee Nezhukumatahil, Ellen Dore Watson, Kathleen Jesme, and others.  Because I believe in poetry.  And you should, too.

What’s in it for me? you might ask. Well, other than the satisfaction of supporting an independent literary press, how about the opportunity to tell me what to say or see your name in print?

  • For a donation $5, I will dedicate a poem to you!     A poem which will be posted to the Tupelo Press website and which you can see for days and months to come!  Just imagine!
  • For a $10 donation, you can give me a theme to write my daily poem about.  AND I will dedicate it to you.
  • For any donation of $20 or more, I will dedicate a poem to you AND write it on the theme of your choosing, AND plaster your name and your awesome contribution all over the book of faces and Twitter.

Many, many thanks!