On Saturday we flew to Boston to spend Passover with my sister and her family. Both my kids flew in too (one from Chicago, one from Oberlin.) So I was more than a little distracted when I got my word for the elite eight round of March Madness. But I gathered the family around the kitchen table to brainstorm suggestions for my assigned word: decent.
I don’t recall our exact discussion, but having others to talk to sparked some ideas. I recently finished writing a series of dinosaur books, and I was struck by how little evidence supports many of the “facts” we assume we know about dinosaurs. I thought that I might write from the viewpoint of a Velociraptor, and let the Velociraptor express that s/he is really a mystery to us, despite our assumptions. Do we know s/he was a vicious predator? Maybe velociraptor was a decent fellow. And what will an unknown creature of the future conclude about us 100 million years from now? My daughter suggested I play with decent/descent/dissent, which I thought was a great idea.
But another idea started to take hold. I love praying mantises and mentioned them at school visits this month while talking about my book Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? I had also just finished reading the final edits of my praying mantis story that will be in the May/June issue of Click Magazine. Perhaps it was the praying mantis who was the decent fellow. I started thinking about the mantis folding its arms in prayer and other religious images. In the middle of the night, when my whirling brain and my sister’s hard futon kept me awake, I jotted a few lines:
Come closer dear,
You’ve nothing to fear.
I’m a decent chap/fellow
Alone on my leafy lair
I fold my arms in hopeful prayer
After a few more scribbles I searched youtube for praying mantis videos and found a terrific Animal Planet video. I borrowed some words/ideas from the narration and jotted down some rhymes while my husband slept:
slice and chew from head to tail/end to end
bite/don’t take flight
master of deception
blending in, mimic leaves, twigs
spies prey (10,000 miniature eyes)
sway my head as you move
track prey in any direction
on the hunt
sharp spikes spear
faster than a blink of eye
slowly chew while prey still alive
nibble spine like we clean steak knives
leisurely clean a cat licking its fur?
In the morning I finished a draft just before the gang went out on our day’s adventure. That night I made some more edits, after getting feedback from my sister and my kids. Debbie Diesen, a member of my critique group, had also offered to read it and sent comments. The only one unwilling to offer her 2 cents was my niece (who happens to be finishing an MFA in poetry…but said she knows nothing about kids’ poetry. That clearly wasn’t stopping anyone else!) After a final polish I sent it off Sunday night. I was fairly pleased with the way it turned out:
I fold my arms. I kneel in prayer.
I’m hidden by my leafy lair.
I spy a tremor, tiny shake
creeping closer, quiver quake.
I focus raptly on my prize,
ten thousand lenses in my eyes.
My costume hides me, in plain view;
my dinner nears my holy pew.
I raise my arms and pray my prey
will find my altar, come to stay.
With patience of a saintly priest–
a decent chap–I bless my feast.
She’s almost here, another stride,
will bring my banquet to my side.
And now at last, she’s reached my trap.
I sway my head, and then… I snap!
I’ve made a few revision notes for my mantis. He should probably wear a vestment instead of a costume. I think his pew is a sacred one, not holy. And I wonder if decent chap should fall on the chopping block? I’ll let the poem sit a little longer, and come back to it again.
The voters decided to send M. M. Socks and his Cello Sun to the final four. I had a blast in March Madness and am thrilled to have four new poems to revise, and the starts of several others. But I’m also a little relieved to watch the final two rounds of the contest from the sidelines. You can too!
Head on over to A Year of Reading to read more Poetry Friday adventures.