free verse

Learning to See

Many readers here will remember the story of Lily, the hummingbird who built a nest in my backyard this past spring and set me off on a new life journey with my camera. I wrote some poetry about her at the time but then, after the tragedy with her eggs, I found it hard to go back and revisit the story. Now enough time has passed and enough new hummingbirds have crossed my path that I feel I can begin to try and capture more of that wonderful experience in word to accompany the many photographs.

Today’s poem actually had its beginning back in April when I was doing Kick the Poetry Can’ts for National Poetry Month. You can read the first draft which had its beginning in a poetry exercise that eventually led me to this poem, Learning to See.




Outside my office door
an aging Japanese maple begins the garden
her dress trimmed in deep green
lady ferns and soft baby tears
edged with purple violets,
yellow-eyed grass
a wetlands wonderland bordered
by bubbling water rocks.

Beyond the maple tree
a toyon waits to grow.

On stormy days its stick-arms
bend, break, then bend again
like a skeleton
shadow dancing  against the fence.

Within the bush
(no tree itself, at least not yet)
branches zig zag toward the sun
a modern highway for ants and aphids
a picnic place for spiders
a sunny spot for birds to perch, to preen
after a midday bath.

Along the branch
dark green leaves cluster like a fan
protect the jewel nestled
oh so carefully
in the vee that meets the trunk
hiding a secret I could not find
without the help of a friend.

Behind all the leaves
there sits a tiny nest
woven with bits of spider webs
scraps of dryer lint
white downy feathers
a so-soft bed newly made
waiting to hold the tiny eggs
from the tiny dancer.

Now I understand
all those days
the dog refused to budge
from her post on the path
all those days she watched
the coming and going
of the ambitious architect
all those days she knew
something magical was happening
right before our eyes
when all I saw was her stubbornness
that made her refuse to come
when I called her name.

–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved


Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has the whole great big Poetry Friday roundup today at The Poem Farm.

Also a reminder that over in my Etsy shop, Poppiness,  (which has hummingbird calendars, prints, notecards and more) you can get a 10% discount on everything in the entire shop today just because you are a supporter of Poetry Friday.  Just be sure to use the coupon code PF2012at checkout.

Friday, November 30, 2012|Categories: Poetry Friday, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |29 Comments

Proof of Life

It’s been a while since I participated in Poetry Friday. I’ve missed it. Last night I attended a local poetry reading by San Francisco poet, Dean Rader. He read from his book Works & Days which I highly recommend. He’s a terrific reader and his poems are very accessible. And if you are looking for a kidlit connection, well he writes about Frog and Toad. Yes, THE Frog and Toad, but the poems are NOT for children.

The reading was hosted by The Willow Glen Poetry Project which is a terrific group that meets less than ten minutes from my house. I’m so glad I found them. After Dean’s reading it was an open mic night and I got to hear a variety of talented poets read their own and a few poetry lovers read poems by other writers.

I decided at nearly the last minute to read too. An original poem that wasn’t from my YA novel-in-progress, that wasn’t written with my normal kidlit world in mind. These simple facts shouldn’t matter but the thing is, they do. They do because I can’t remember the last time I had such an adrenalin attack and then adrenalin rush. I speak in front of people all the time with no fear (anymore) but this was a brand-new arena for me where I was a total stranger. No one knew I had been published or not. No one was there because they paid to hear me speak. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I love it!

This poem had it’s genesis back in April of this year when, after taking the month of March off to play, I tried to distill the experience in a poem a day for National Poetry Month. The original poem appeared here. The new and much revised version is below.

Proof of Life
by Susan Taylor Brown

I find it hard to take anything on faith alone.

I want proof, facts to nourish the idea that mindfulness
is worth the time it takes away
from doing nothing.

Easier to cave in to echoes from the past,
nodding as they aim ink-stained arrows
at my list of undone dreams.

I think I’m finally (okay, just beginning) to understand.
Be here now is not defined
by climbing mountains and vanquishing dragons,
it is a never-ending journey
away from
back to
face-to-face with
the me I can never trust
is good enough.

Today I shadow-step the dog on garden patrol,
down the path behind the hedgerow where unwelcome Bermuda grass
creeps under the good-neighbor fence,
along the side yard filled with dogwoods, leaves still clinging
to the almost-red-for-winter branches,
and past the pond where goldfinches gather for their morning bath.

Nose to the ground, she gobbles any bugs that cross her path,
bugs that will make her throw up in the middle of the night,
bugs she will happily eat again the next day.

This is her religion, her testimony to me.
She will keep me safe from all things,
even from myself.

We weave a new path through the overgrown herb garden
until the scent of mint and sage clings to us both
until she has finally sniffed everything that could be sniffed
until she is content to sprawl in a puddle of sun,
trusting I will not stray far.

She knows how brave I’m not.

A lone, but not lonely Ceanothus
hugs the fence, just beyond her shadow.

Industrious honey bees,
fuzzy bumblebees,
plump carpenter bees
and hover bees that look like flies,
all swarm the blue blossoms,
ignoring the now sleeping, snoring dog
ignoring each other
ignoring me.

Faith isn’t always found in stained glass cathedrals.

I let go,
let go of unclimbed mountains and dragons still breathing fire,
let go of everything that isn’t here and now,
let hungry, happy bees buzz all around me
and listen to the concert
I almost missed.

© Susan Taylor Brown
All rights reserved.

Jama has the Poetry Friday Round-up at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Please check out all the great postings. And come back next week when I’ll share some of the poetry books I’m reading as a panelist for this year’s Cybils!


Friday, October 21, 2011|Categories: Poetry Friday, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |14 Comments

How to Listen

A few months ago, Laura Salas and I read and worked our way through Sage Cohen’s book, Writing the Life Poetic with a little blog-to-blog book club we called, Write After Reading. The idea was that we read a lot of craft books but we don’t often to the exercises. This way we read together shared the exercises that we did.

One of the chapters had an exercise about using the another poem as the jumping off point for a poem of your own. The title I chose to write to was “How to Listen”.

Here’s my version.

How to Listen

Put down that stinky cigarette,
the one you promised to stop smoking.
Quit fiddling with the piano
and no, you don’t need another drink.
You never need another drink.

Pretend if you have to —
you’re at work,
inspection time,
uniform neatly pressed,
just like all those lies you told me.

Eyes straight ahead.
Must. Not. Move.

Look at me, no, really look at me
in the eyes, those windows to my soul
you tried to crush.
I know I’m angry.
I want you to know it too.
I want you to hear what I’m saying
with my entire body.

I may not get this brave again.

Don’t look down
or away with that
“you just kicked a puppy” expression on your face.
It doesn’t work any more.

Focus on me,
the way you used to focus on me,
before vodka became your lover.

That pause between words
isn’t an invitation for you to interrupt and tell me
how the world is against you.
I don’t care.
Not anymore.

You don’t have to listen long.
Just long enough
for me to say goodbye.

© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is with Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.

Friday, July 22, 2011|Categories: Listen to Me Read, Poetry Friday, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |5 Comments

Good news about one of my poems

Recently author/poet Beth Kephart had a poetry contest on her blog and Jill Santopolo, senior editor at HarperTeen was the judge. To  my surprise, I won! I thought I would repost the original poem here.

It was written when I began to work on my latest MG verse novel MTLB. I had stalled on that book for a while but now I find myself thinking about this character again and wanting to get to know him a little bit better.

Searching for the boy
I find him
not running
not hiding
but standing
for someone who is
not him
for someone who is
like him
for someone who
doesn’t know
to stand up for himself.

Not recognizing
their very sameness
he fights
for what
doesn’t want
to be.

© Susan Taylor Brown, 2009

Irene Latham has the round-up for this week’s Poetry Friday.

Friday, May 29, 2009|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |22 Comments

The Tree That Used to Be

I know that many people are posting holiday poems because, heck, we are knee deep in the midst of the holiday whether we want it or not. But not me. I have to say goodbye to an old friend. When we decided to rent this house a few years ago we looked at the inside, the bedrooms, the kitchen, the coveted two bathrooms after way too many years of just one. But the Pepper tree in the front yard called to us more than almost anything on the inside. They speak of houses that have character but here it was the tree that had so many stories to tell. Stories I wished to learn.

A few months ago a big chunk of the tree cracked and fell, slowly and ever so carefully, across the front yard and into the neighbor’s. No one was hurt and no houses were damaged. Several inspections later and it was official: the tree was dying. It had barely held on to the branches that fell and more was likely to fall at any time. The tree was home to an enormous hive of bees (see this previous post and when it cracked, the bees were suddenly homeless. It took some convincing on my part to save the bees (rather than having them just killed) but after 3 trips, they were mostly all moved to a new hive. But this week, after a city hearing and permits and appeals, the tree was brought down before it could fall and cause damage. Wednesday the tree men worked all day to chop it up, pausing as they woke the opposums who ran off to hopefully find new homes. There was a ten foot hole straight down into the ground, wide enough for all to see how rotten it was, but still, watching that old tree come down was hard. Today they worked for hours to grind the stump. All that is left now is mound of sawdust waiting for something new.

I give you a quick poem on my thoughts.


There used to be a treee
standing guard
100 years more
in the midst of Silicon Valley orchards
before the Silicon Valley ever existed.
Bark of varying shades of gray and black and flecks of white
leaves drifting to the ground
all year
and shade
oh so welcome shade
come summer months
we sang its praise.

There used to be a tree
in a neighborhood of homes
to children playing hide and go seek
calling “Olly Olly Oxen Free”
racing to touch base
before being named “it”.
Roots raised the ground
to a hill of tangleness
where nothing grew
but ice plant
and the occasional wildflower that found the sun.

There used to be a tree
home to roof rats
(that we battled)
and squirrels
(that the dog chased)
and a family of opossums
(that often made us smile.)
House numbers were rarely needed
because the pizza man
and so many others
knew the tree
long before we called
this house home.

But sickness comes
to people and to trees
and slowly
from the inside out
the tree began to die.

One hundred and three years is more
than I can expect
to live
yet there used to be a tree
that lived that long

What stories it could tell
this tree
that used to be.

Thursday, December 21, 2006|Categories: Poetry Friday, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |11 Comments