A Poetry Showcase from Jen Schneider including Loretta Lynn inspired poem

from pixabay

“One day you ordered a Happy Meal for the last time and you didn’t even know it,” McDonald’s said on itsFacebook page earlier this month

somehow McDonald’s seems to think
that the over-20/30/40/50/60-plus set
would return to days of childhood in a blink
when the reality is many of us never 
thought of youth as happy times
or a Happy Meal as anything other 
than an overpriced / poorly seasoned, 
underwhelming twist on nuggets 
that beg for a hint of lime

                       / a marketing twist that poorly rhymes

as McDonald’s rolls out its new 
and improved version 
of the adult Happy Meal
puffed and stuffed / packed and stacked
plated and baited / a high-end advertising campaign
with promises of smiles and joy amidst daily rain
in a designer box
i’m much happier now that i realize 
it’s no more than a childlike game
of dress-up, the chicken nuggets inside
still utterly uninspired / the lettuce,
tomatoes, and onions layered and limp /
and the promise of the hidden toy 
(artificial, highly processed joy)
nothing more than fleeting
clutter for the counter

	/ some things are indeed better left 
       undone / unsurfaced / unsaid 
       / undercooked & a closed book (box)

Source: https://www.npr.org/2022/09/29/1125809528/mcdonalds-adult-happy-meals-october

"And now, we won't always have to buy them to try them!”

as news 
of the samplers’ return
(chocolate and coffee and corn, oh my!)
hits the airwaves, bellies 
in this & that neck 
of the woods --
all compass dials spinning 

           hit the roadways

for there’s nothing quite
like a free bite 
of a salty & sweet mix 
with a surprise twist

especially after almost 
three years of pent-up
demand & no giveaways

it’s high time
to buckle up
and hit the roadways

perhaps it’s the promise
of a pint sized
scoop of vegan bulgogi
(enough for you & me)

or maybe a paper cup 
half-full of maple 
oat milk (pure silk)

whether a dash 
of granola
or a pumpkin cereal bar 
bite square (a worthy dare)

i realize that it’s not
the sampler itself
for which i care

it’s the traders and the joes 
and the strangers-turned comrades
with whom I share 
newly discovered
bite-sized faves 
/ on the house from a smartly 
dressed lad with a chipper wave
together we eagerly inhale
the scent of savory bait
and the whiff of the latest fanfare 
as we adjust our gait
in perpetual states 
of willingness
to recalibrate
our shopping lists 
/ turkey tips,
Joe-Joe’s, creamed kale,
Toscano cheese spreads, 
cannoli dips - 
and metal carts
all highly dependent
on both storewide scents
and free-for-all, 
bargain accoutrements
             / the sample sale, a bargain-basement term of art
	     with which even i, never partial to kale, cannot part

Source: https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/03/business/free-samples-trader-joes-costco

Nine Ways of Looking at a Rain Lamp

1 :: As a young girl, I’d sip soup (chicken, mushroom, lentil) and sit (crisscross applesauce) on the rug (thick shag) in my great-grandmother’s third-floor apartment. As elders of varying degrees of mobility (and politics) shuffled cards, dealt hands, and folded laundry (all corners tucked, all pins pointed), I’d study a photo in an ornate frame stationed in the middle of a rectangular oak console. The console was fixed to the right of a plastic-covered lime-green sofa. The sofa’s floral fabric simultaneously pristine and unable to be punctured. The photo (and frame) sat to the left of a rain lamp. The center of the rain lamp boasted Aphrodite – uncontested and clothed in nothing other than green vine (also plastic). At the center of the photo sat a woman (clothed in a long, flowing white cloak) on a large, white horse.  

                        -       the woman, the horse, and the statue – majestic

2 :: Most Saturdays, I’d watch the rain lamp on the console, while the sitter watched Rain Man on the tv. Neither of us were interested in pretend play. Neither of us were willing to pretend. She’d snack on oyster crackers, moisturize her arms with mineral oils, and read Greek mythology. I’d consume consommé and alphabet noodles, tally strands of filament, and study Aphrodite. Both of us would count down the hours until bedtime. All transactions timed. When the clock struck ten, the sitter would press stop on the remote. I’d pull the plug on the lamp.
                   - all (f)oils capped / performance stops with the rain
3 :: Most Sundays, I’d sit at the base of the rain lamp and wait while my grandmother curated then contained my hair in pigtails (one plus one plus / sometimes / two / sometimes / three). The number was never meaningful. Much more a reflection of humidity and happenstance. I’d watch her fingers braid (mirrors on all walls) and inhale the scent of strips of bacon (straight from the butcher and the pig’s belly) that fried in the nearby kitchen. Stomachs would growl and grumble in sync (sometimes staccato). Both of us eager to consume.  
               -       pigtails fried and tied   
4 :: As I grew, I’d wave (a temporary) farewell to the rain lamp and take brisk (though brief) walks at dusk. One evening I noticed a pigtail in the middle of the street. Yellow cabs (some with trailing metal cans) headed both north and south. I feared their rubber tires would destroy the pigtail. I also feared its elastic wrappings might snap.  I never thought to wonder how it got there. I never thought to rescue it. I also never thought about its undeniably limited function (the tail incapable of reattachment). I simply wanted it to remain, like the rain lamp.
                   -       chemical reactions in perpetual states of motion
5 :: I was never allowed to touch the rain lamp. Its filaments forbidden along with the television dial, the master bedroom, and the shoebox (undersized) tucked behind my great-grandfather’s (oversized) tweed overcoat. “I won’t break anything,” I recall pleading, as the naive often do. “Maybe true,” elders would respond, “but what you consume through touch, taste, sight, and/or sound may break you.”  
                 -       i would have preferred to believe us all unbreakable
6 :: As grown-ups broke (then dissipated) and dust accumulated as varying degrees of destiny danced, I cleaned-up (and ultimately cleaned-out) my grant-grandmother’s third-floor apartment. I cleaned not because anyone asked me to, but because no one else did. The day “For Sale” turned to “Sold”, I packed boxes of summer linens (mostly cotton) and winter layers (mostly wools) - all closets outfitted of moth balls, mold, and memories (mostly mine). I plucked lint off sweaters stained of marinara and marmalade (raspberry and grape). I packed notes of palmetto olives, poker plays, and palm readings. I stacked photos in piles. Carefully not to touch, I used cloth to wipe dust from the woman on the horse and the Aphrodite covered in vine. Only then did I realize that what I had taken for goddesses were simply girls. And that my great grandmother had been simultaneously guarded and avant-garde. Once everything was securely packed in labeled boxes and sealed of non-stick tape, I turned and left. Hadn’t thought to tuck the photo of the girl on the white horse in my purse and the rain lamp under my right arm.
                    -       to touch forbidden

7 :: My great-grandmother used to tell me life was what you made it. “Add some oil to the rain and a splash of happy to every day,” she’d say. She found happy in semi-sweetened chocolate morsels, vanilla-bean ice cream, and dr. pepper. She also began and ended each dawn the same way -- with a swig of coffee and a starlight mint. On a plastic-covered lime-green floral couch positioned to the left of a rain lamp – Aphrodite at its middle. I remember the tray of starlight mints she’d keep on the table (to the right of the plastic-covered sofa) in a small glass dish and to the left of the rain lamp. Always full.
                 starlight, starbright
                 / i’d wish upon a star (and a statue) each night

8 :: I spent hundreds of hours studying the photo, always as the oil rained. Chemical reactions in perpetual states of activity. Had I known that both the photo and the lamp were prone to tarnish, I’d have painted them. Had I known my eyes would fail from persistent strain, I’d have recorded the sound of the beads as they coated the cotton strands. Had I known that the door to the third-floor apartment would not always be open (to me), I’d have hugged my great-grandmother longer before I last left. I’d have asked strings of unanswered questions that dripped and collected like beads of oil at Aphrodite’s feet. I’d have cut then pasted sketches of the woman and her horse using tubs of elmer’s glue and hodgepodge paste and scotch taped their four corners in scrap books. So that I could still sit (crisscross applesauce) on the rug (a thick shag) of another third-floor apartment (five hundred miles from home) and study the photo (the one to the left of a rain lamp). Because I hadn’t known to ask the questions. And I hadn’t the nerve to take (or touch) the rain lamp (or the photo) when I still could.

9 :: I drank from the rain lamp (once; then twice; then once more). Despite knowing not to touch. My tongue would dart then dare. I consumed the oil beads like air. Each time I thought might be my last. Yet, I was always thirsty. For Hawaiian Punch. For Rain Main repeats on black and white tv. For more rain. I thought my time in the third-floor walk-up apartment would last. I never imagined the woman on the horse had passed (of a pernicious anemia). I never realized the liquid gold was nothing more than mineral oil. A fix for constipation, complexion, and curiosity. My great grandmother would buy packs in bulk. At the local discount store. I hadn’t realized that, like other laxatives, mineral oil is meant for short-term relief only. And that life, also, too short. Chemical reactions in perpetual states of activity.

    -       i remain thirsty / for long-term relief and permission to touch 

Source: https://www.loc.gov/item/97510669/

of hands and handiwork:: a woman named  ___

each summer, the local strip mall ran a sale. christmas in july beckoned in thick, expo marker block print on laminated card stock. births & birthdays marked. mr softee trucks (chocolate & vanilla) and philadelphia water ice carts (cherry, lemon, & blueberry) would idle alongside giant air men (smiles always on). arms groped / common tropes on perpetual display. most proprietors on wheels. some on stilts. peddling and handiwork often a matter of perspective. the small stores (mostly mom & pops, some staffed by tots) put out (then pushed) racks full of fabrics. plaids & tartans. cowboy hats & high-end wool slacks. some stitched by hand & hard work. others by automated handiwork. items deeply discounted. potential sales marked. the sidewalk would fill early. before the sun hit its strongest mark. everyone eager for three for ten-dollar cotton tees, tie-dye scarves, and half-price denim. cuffs hemmed, seams tucked. i’d spend my time sorting & shuffling through cardboard boxes. tucked just beneath the long skirts / sized x small to xx large. ample fabric to conceal ankles & anglers.  

i believed the shopkeeper stocked the box / a special lot for space-saving purposes / perhaps to save face. judgment paraded in plain sight. i also believed in santa claus. & tooth fairies. & that the box bode not only threads, but tidings. the box held items no longer favored for public consumption. mismatched socks. faded lots. bleach spots. specks and stains. crisscrossed seams. last season’s winning teams. neither knock-offs nor cast-offs. mostly one-offs. stocked, stacked, & stored for properly threaded time & temperaments. one summer, a new set of racks was added / front & center / to the traditional lot-sized celebration. rows of purple, white. & green. hues both hangry and turn of key. pre-sorted / not by size or season. but color. shirts & shirtwaists. shawls & covers for stalls. all stitched by hand. strings of letters – not for sale – handwritten in cursive print on the side of cardboard signs.  

the shop’s owner was a woman whose name (& name tag) changed with the day & the seasons. each july, she was leonora. hand-written in large block font. she’d sew most of her own merchandise. mostly while the locals would whisper. pettiness on parade, she’d say. i chose to linger – toil with the fabric. finger seams. read labels like library books. tee’s with black and white images of 1915 parades. nyc / down 5th. washington dc / along pennsylvania. protests & protests. ironed & threaded. all corners clipped & lycra stretched. all cotton prepped & limits stitched. 

did you make these? i’d ask

in the USA, the woman would snap / then smile

make a stitch, she’d gesture / then teach me  

how not to follow patterns, but to thread new knots. all steps clocked. all shirts & stitches stocked – of time and tradition. she’d wonder out loud while she worked. i’d listen. like a woman named leonora. she sought to agitate the locals. she’d sit in a hard back chair to the right of the racks. shoulders locked. & sew. deliver words like daily stitches. her needle & thread traced time to november 1909. to mark not christmas in july. the new york shirtwaist strike of 1909. through march 1910. an uprising of 20,000 knots. by then i had learned there was no such thing as santa claus. neither fairies nor fair weather. all claws hidden in plain sight. most knots manmade (& made of man). clauses inked of cotton fibers. all seams sealed. all soles squared. then clocked.

her fingers
would move in rapid
motion. each of three bones,
all named
according to the relationship
/ both proximal & technical
to the palm of her hand.
all palms
tellers of futures & fortunes.
all paths
clocked & clacked. shirts
& seconds stitched
all seams
of sermons.  

her thumb
alone with no middle
/ phalange
and the persistent
push & pull
alone amidst fabrics
of varying
weights & tension 

each shirt        of a trillion
stitches           each stitch
a cell               a building
block               of knots 

of life, liberty,
            & the pursuit

of ____ 
in an America

a base                       not basic
a structure                not structured
nutrient serving        not notorious
an uprising               not upright

in an america

of ___ / not to be consumed
composed of membranes
/ nor confused
of mud & mocha-flavored memories – 

baste / running
            	catch / blanket
            	back / whip
            	slip / ladder

            	a thread of
            	a trillion 
knots / 
             & cotton tees 

in an america

our dna. our rna. our rights. shirts on racks.
deeply discounted. each stitch a cell.
/ each thread a t(r)ack. stocked & stacked.
smocks of purple, white, & green on backs.
(not) for sale. of knots and needles. at the local
strip mall. threaded / at the six-month mark.  

12 (plus) ways to thread (move) a needle :: it’s christmas in july
1. Trade corsets for cottons (& needlers for knowledge)
2. Harness handiwork and hand-me-downs
3. Gather garments and gatherings
4. Layer fabric (and labor)
5. Agitate aggressors. Box confessors
6. Knead knots (& knotted labels)
7. Organize buttons and bandwidth
8. Curate collars and corners. Thread strands of syllables.
9. Examine all sales & tales. Question all claws & clauses (claus, too)
10. Peddle serious sales. Maintain handiwork in perpetual perspective
11. Shirk standard shirts and sermons (standards, too)
12. Strip racks (trace new tracks)

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonora_O%27Reilly

joy in cranberry-striped spandex

she’d approach the gates with a regularity i could only dream of. her wide torso no match for the undersized metal turnstile. her right hip would thrust through the awkward jack-like maze as her left served as a cushion for her dollar general plastic bag. keeper of her turquoise cap & her lemonade yellow towel. joy can’t be purchased, though i imagine it also held her red cloth coin purse, the one she’d tilt then watch four quarters from a roll. always after her thirty-minute swim. an odd number of butterfly & backstroke. alternating laps. both rituals completed daily. at the ice cream counter. i’d count then stack the quarters. & ask if she’d like her regular. a sandwich. rectangular cuts of vanilla between two thin chocolate wafers. she’d consume the sandwich while water dripped from limbs & stray locks. the cap no keeper for her energy. her cranberry-striped suit no match for her joy. layers of skin. folds of time. planted squarely on concrete & soles of rubber. 

10 (plus) reasons (& ways) to float 

1. pink flamingos paired with yellow lemonade 
2. limbs locked of knotted lycra & well-known lyrics 
3. late afternoon drizzles in wading pools (weather rules) 
4. paper umbrellas under cloudless skies 
5. early morning laps in deep ends (time suspended) 
6. paper boats & penny tosses tease high & low tides 
7. sunscreen on noses, blueberry polish on toes 
8. undersized spandex (striped) on oversized girths (all bases covered) 
9. lifeguard whistles time rowboats in thistles 
10. toes in tepid water wriggle. legs make gentle waves 
11. don’t look back.up.down. keep eyes closed. flap arms

summer in the city

the neighborhood diner makes fried eggs sandwiches twenty-four hours a day. grills always on. breakfast always ready. for the regulars. the lot of us. in the small pockets of air where limbs lock. sweat pools on upper lips. scents of cheddar & colby jack on rye linger as overheated bodies banter & barter. city folk on all corners. knees to chins. elastic bands tame locks. two steps south. three north. the sun continues to rise. heats on. black asphalt sizzles. patience frizzles. spatulas flip burgers on portable grills. wooden spoons stir kool-aid over ice. laundry lines sag. hurry. three steps west. break time. spoon change from frayed denim. fingers poke back pockets. swap with staff. single silver keys in sweaty palms. one stroke closer to a hidden slice – twenty square feet, depth of six -- of heaven. cotton t’s tucked in twelve-inch cubes. stainless steel doors click. by the clock. lycra hugs layers of life. fingers tug. never enough fabric. never enough time. rubber soles flip. one. two. three. necks crack. concrete, too. walk. don’t run. run. toss towels of rainbow stripes. one per person. checked & tracked. in the distance, a belly flops as the sun sizzles. bodies fry. whistles blow. adult swim. all plastics banned. all guards on duty. a slice of cool whip pie & time to fly. chlorinated serenity. perfectly positioned peace. eighty degrees of quiet. amidst concrete. horns. shouts & sirens. in pockets of air where one hundred and twenty decibels simmer. summer in the city. never tire. of the community pool. open noon till five. monday thru friday. several paces from the neighborhood diner. guard always on. water always ready. inhale. exhale. ready. set. dive.

On Challenges, Pills, and Lyrics that Whirl:: Thank You, Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn’s The Pill was challenged when first released in 1975. Now, as I consume the lyrics, I lament the passing of time. Lynn was one of eight. All stars. Had six of her own. Shining bright. She sang of miniskirts, hot pants, and potlucks. Lyrics layered of regular and random (fandom) frills. Today’s teens opt for tennis skirts and teddies. Pearls of single and double strands. I wonder what Lynn’s great-grandchildren think of today’s trends. Most tracked in (and of) phones. Largely tied to offbeat ringtones. In 1975, radio dials remained simultaneously timed and out of tune. The Pill rose to No. 5 on the charts in the U.S. despite (or in spite) of caustic remarks. Upwards of sixty bans. Tension a curious phenomenon. All fibers stretched. All ropes tied. I bathe and linger in Lynn’s lines. Language that can set the world on fire. I’ll never tire of her tunes. The school of hard knocks called, and she answered. Umpteen times. With layers of lyrics and blankets of conquests. She rode a one-town horse (from a one-horse town) right up, then out, then down the highway. She did it her way. Country roads all around. Found home. Then. Now. Known. 

The good ones. They leave too soon. Radio roundups stacked. Lynn’s songs trend. In small pockets of air between then and now. Her voice well known. The channels differ. The challenges remain. People continue to contest. Airwaves continue to save. Tries. Lives. Family Ties. A few good men. Lynn was quick with the pen. Her life on parade. Both a balm and an aid. Lemon. Fire. Little Red Shoes. Loretta Lynn – a coal miner’s daughter and The Pill save. I’m convinced of it. No matter what the studies say. Lynn’s hit both contested and dynamically tested. A quilt and a comforter. Of Silver Threads and Golden Needles. A warm embrace. Lynn -- a master mistress who ran her own race. She led the pack. 

I’m grateful she had our backs. The Pill both a gin (grin) and a tonic (conic). Far more satisfying than a bout with Mario’s Super Sonic. It’s been a while (and no time at all). Perspective as layered as moments turned minutes turned music. I’m grateful for pills and radios on windowsills. For fingers that snap and ankles that tap. For roosts in time and beans on the side. Cola in tin cans and carefree rural (big-time) stage bands. For country gals (flashing smiles that shimmer) that know how to make songs simmer (and handle men with gin). Grin. For the trends that inspired the challenges retired. For the resistance conspired. For Loretta Lynn. The epitome of a win. A wonderful whirl. Rest In Peace. Then. Now. Known.


Author Note: There’s not much more to say. I’m spending my time listening (thinking, too). Loretta Lynn’s passing has me streaming her songs on replay. The Pill especially relevant now, more so than ever. Questions of advances in contraceptives equally so.

Bio: Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, works, and writes in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania.