That Kind

sexton pumpkin

I was given a pumpkin last month just before Halloween, and lacked time for taking a proper stab at it, so I grabbed some markers and scrawled Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind” across it (and sketched a semblance of Anne’s face on one side).

A few days later, said pumpkin started leaking while in my kitchen, so we hurried it outside. A day or two later, I spotted squirrels doing their thing…



What I find far, far more obscene than local rodents romping with Miss Sexton O’Lantern is the behavior of various so-called public servants. Which is what led to this coming out of yesterday’s exercising:

That Kind

(after Anne Sexton)

I have gone out, whom they call bitch,
haunted by headlines, braver when I write
than when I dream, where with the hitch
that plagues my breath when awake I bite
down fire-curled curses, tame my mind
and modulate my voice to just above quiet.
I have been that kind.

I have found within old pockets of mourning
mustards hard as mortar, mayo soft as silk
and masking like poisons—like how milk
need not stink nor supply some other warning
before it brings a houseful to their knees.
I have buried shame amid indifferent trees.
I have been that kind.

I have been Cassandra, my screeching
marking not one slat of prideful walls
that keep no danger out. No beseeching
of gods will save us from the squalls
that care not who’s been good or who meant well:
the storms will scour us all from here to hell.
I have been that kind.

10 Reasons to Pre-order Mosaic of the Dark!

As we enter the holiday season, here are 10 reasons to pre-order Mosaic of the Dark, my first full-length book of poetry!

  • It’s a beautiful book. Really. But don’t just take my word for it. My mother-in-law, Sherry Samuels, says so too. She would know—she’s a former English teacher. 😊
  • It received a starred review in Kirkus! Click here to read the full review.
  • It’s better for the publisher to pre-order. Don’t you want to do your part to help small, independent poetry presses thrive???
  • The more copies I sell during the pre-order phase, the slightly less broke I will be after my book tour. Chicago, Austin, Pittsburgh, Knoxville, San Francisco, New York, here I come!
  • The more copies I sell, the more exposure my sister-in-law, Jill Samuels, will get for her beautiful artwork.
  • For any order placed by 12/31/17, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Tennessee Equality Project to support the good work they do on behalf of LGBTQ folks in TN. The Tennessee legislature spends a lot of time thinking up ways to marginalize us. Think how much good you can do by buying my book!
  • If I reach my target number by Dec 31, I am going to treat myself to a six-pack of blackberry La Croix.
  • The book will not be released until January but if you want to order the book to give as a gift before then, let me know (by Dec 15th) and I can send a nice card to the recipient. Hey, it’s something.
  • It’s the right thing to do. Trust me. 🙂
  • Have I mentioned how much I love La Croix???

To order, click here!


Hauntings by Lisa Dordal

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately, in part because of a recent, unexpected death in my spouse’s family. In part, because the days are getting shorter. And, in part, because we are approaching that time of year when, in some cultures, the “veil” between the dead and the living is thought to be at its thinnest.

I don’t know what happens to us when we die or where our loved ones go but I do know that sometimes, as a poet, I feel “haunted” by people who are no longer living. Sometimes I feel haunted by historical figures–people from the past who I suddenly want to learn more about. In my poem “Even Houseflies,” for example, I reference Pliny the Elder who was a 1st century Roman Historian and Otzi the Iceman whose 5,000-year-old body was found in the Alps over two decades ago.

Other times I am haunted by family members–by my mother, in particular. My mother died in 2001, largely from the effects of alcoholism, and just when I think I’ve written the last poem about her, another one comes along. Although many of my mother poems emerge from a place of pain and loss, I consider these hauntings to be a wonderful gift; a way for me to connect, through my writing, with one of my dearest ancestors.

I am sharing two poems below: “Last Poem about My Mother” (which is definitely not the last poem about my mother) and “Even Houseflies” which references both kinds of hauntings–the personal kind and the historical kind.


Last Poem about My Mother


This is my mother

watching her heart–


dark, liquid motion

on the screen beside her.


How she called it

beautiful. This is


please and thank you,

and softens the wounds


of strangers. This is a body’s

last words; what is left


after fire. This is cavities

in the bones of a bird


that make flight possible,

and flits unseen


through every gesture and word.

This is my mother


and a way out of my mother;

a place I can say


that I left.



Even Houseflies


The day they entered our house

I did not know that their brains,


if separated from the body,

would resemble a single grain of sugar.


Or that liquid is their only intake,

requiring them to moisten anything solid


with their own saliva. Their lives,

an array of endless regurgitations.


And who’s to say, after I’d killed

the last one–nine, maybe ten in all–


and resumed my reading,

only to be stopped by the words:


Even houseflies must have their angels–

that it wasn’t the angels themselves


who sent me to learn how they live.

Who’s to say this wasn’t the gesture


of some lively god pressing a small coin

into my heart. Like my mother


who won’t stay dead, her eyes

fixing into mine like she knows


I’m her best chance. Or like Otzi

who keeps coming back–as shaman


or shepherd–in a cloak of woven grass;

the ease with which he walks


on hilly terrain. Or Pliny,

studious and brave, drawing a bath


too close to Pompeii. Who’s to say

these aren’t the gestures of gods. Active


during the day, but at night they rest

in the corners of rooms, where their eyes–


their thousands and thousands of eyes–

make a mosaic of the dark.



Both of these poems were first published in Connotations Press, 2017

Truth and Thieves

Truth and Thieves

In dreams and footnotes,
the ancestors’ ghosts —
mine, yours, theirs —
prod me with splinters
of broomsticks and music stands:
It was not easier, cleaner, sweeter
once upon a time. No no no.
Can’t sing if you’re dead, baby girl: look sharp,
speak low but speak up, and praise the moss on the trees.

Not exactly about poetry

Cleopatra: A LifeCleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Langdon Hammer, in a Yale Open Courses lecture on YouTube (… , at about 38:00) , speaks of “Leda and the Swan” as the culmination of a series of poems indicating Yeats’s belief that history is somehow in the body, hence the rape (divine force reduced to brute power) and the question, “Did she put on his knowledge with his power?” I was a little skeptical, and I’m not absolutely convinced that I’ve got it right but when one considers that European Caucasian culture grows from Rome, that shining city on seven hills that has as its founding myth the rape of the Sabine women, the idea begins to seem less outlandish.

And yes, Leda is Greek and so was Cleopatra, but the Romans borrowed their pantheon from the Greeks.

In “Cleopatra,” Stacy Schiff presents us with the triumphant Julius Caesar, balding and vain, strutting and rutting around Rome in red cape and calf-high red boots, “seducing” the wives and daughters of all his colleagues. I am tempted to draw comparisons with modern times but will resist.

But I will say that his triumph was an example of conspicuous consumption that puts our 1% in the shade.

Cleopatra, on the other hand, comes to Rome from another city where arts and culture are much more sophisticated and creature comforts much more decadent. Alexandria had, in addition to its great library, 400 theaters and lots of street theater. Meals of the lark’s tongues variety were served on platters of gold-plated silver. It had hydraulic lifts, automatic doors, and coin-operated machines (the acme of civilization). Moreover, Cleopatra is accustomed to a culture in which women had extensive rights and privileges. They could, for example, “initiate lawsuits and hire flute players.” Because an “and” yokes items of equal value I am left to wonder what is so special about flute players. By contrast, Schiff informs us that a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter. In Rome, ‘women enjoyed the same legal rights as infants and chickens.”

That must surely be a typo but, given the cockish behavior of Caesar, perhaps not.

Not that Cleopatra was innocent. Though she could be benevolent. And seemingly she was a damned good administrator.

We know little about her. Schiff’s strategy is to draw a highly detailed picture of the culture that formed her, leaving a sort of Cleopatra-sized model we can use to picture the woman behind the legend.

I will not finish this book. Not because it is less than fascinating but because I have so many things I must read and I cannot read this one fast. I am constantly compelled to go in search of someone to whom I can say “Listen to this.”

I’m reading it for a book club and today’s the day. And here I am on page 107 of 302 pages. Mark Antony’s name hasn’t even been mentioned yet.

So I’ll let it go.

View all my reviews



Excerpt from Mona Van Duyn’s “Economics”

Out of a government grant to poets, I paid
to be flung through the sky from St. Louis to San Francisco,
and paid for tours and cruises and bars, and paid

                                                                And yet,
did I spend enough in that city all that time
of my country’s money, my country’s right or wrong,
to keep one spoonful of its fire from eating
one hangnail, say, of the Vietcong?

“Don’t clear the fish away yet,” one poet said.
“The cheek of the fish is a great delicacy.”
With a spoon handle he probed away in its head
and brought out a piece of white flesh the size of a pea.

“For the hostess,” he said, “from all her grateful gourmets.”
In SAVE THE CHILDREN ads I’ve seen the babies.
Filled with nothing but gas and sour juice,
their bellies bulge like rotten cabbages.

“One dollar to CARE will pay for ninety meals.”
They cry. They starve. They’re waiting. They are in anguish.
How can we bear to imagine how it feels?
Pain. Pain. I ate the cheek of the fish.

In an instant of succulence my hideous maw
swallowed, I’d guess, the dinners of fifty children.
What good does it do to really take that in,
and what good does it do to vomit it out again?

Gentle reader, should I economize?
I write poems for fifty cents a line.
This poem is worth what it’s worth to the families
of two human beings under the age of eighteen

to see them blown to pieces. “Indemnification
for civilian casualties: from eight dollars
and forty cents for a wounded child, on
up to the top sum of thirty-three dollars

and sixty cents for a dead adult.” I tipped
the waiter fifteen percent, which came to nine dollars.
The cab drive was a third of a child. I slept
each night for a fourth of a mother. What are dollars?


Finding Beauty in the World

A couple of weeks ago, one of my students from last year made an appointment to see me. I assumed it was because she needed a recommendation letter. Although I am always happy to write letters for my students, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this student did not want anything from me. She just wanted to say hello and catch-up. During our conversation, she told me she has been feeling overwhelmed lately by various world events and the current state of political discourse in our country–but that she has been so thankful to have poetry in her life. She spoke passionately about how poetry has been helping her to feel grounded in the midst of so much worldly turmoil.

I, too, have been overwhelmed by what has been going on in the world lately. And I, too, have been very thankful for poetry. I cannot remember a time in my life when I have felt such a visceral need for literature–for the transcendent power of a poem or a work of fiction. I have been reading much more fiction and poetry lately–not to escape what’s going on in the world but to satisfy my growing hunger for meaning, for transcendence, for beauty.

One of my favorite poets–Traci Brimhall–recently had a poem published on To me, her poem speaks so well to this desire for beauty in the world. Here is the link:

Until next month,

Lisa D.

Constellated (Review)

32 Poems Volume 15 Number 1

It’s been many years since I last read an issue of 32 Poems. I picked up Volume 15 Number 1 out of curiosity and perhaps a little nostalgia—oh, and because there were stars on the cover.

32 Poems is a bit what it says on the tin: 32 poems in one issue. The first half-dozen included science—biology, aeronautics, archaeology—which surprised me, making me wonder if the issues are themed. The remainder of the issue discussed racism, video games, expensive parties, airports.

While there was only one poem in a traditional form, I found most of the poems to be full of vibrant words which contributed a lot to how interesting the poems were to read. The lack of sonic texture in the majority of them meant I had no incentive to re-read them.

I do appreciate the issue for introducing me to the poems of Cortney Lamar Charleston, for the title of Kathleen Winter’s “All my engineers” if not the poem itself, for the way revision came back around in Anne-Marie Thompson’s “Prayer to San Francisco”.


My neighbor Ben’s been dead since spring,
his memory gone for longer, yet
his driver’s license sits in my car —
stuck, I think, to the base of my backpack
when I set it down on a postal counter
where someone — widow or executor — must’ve
left it behind, their own mind rocked
by too much grief-smog smothering the have-tos.
Once I thought I heard my mother calling
clear across a KMart, even though
I knew I’d left her dozing or dazed
on a couch at home — some semblance of resting
while I dealt with errands that could not wait
— and, truth be told, also some chores
that let me stay away from the house
a little while longer, to breathe off-script
away from the memories — never to line up,
hers against mine — of what should have been.
Or, let’s be precise, of what we wanted to insist
the memories should have been. I hear Ben sang
a lot of hymns in his time. My fault,
among my many others, not making time to hear
the singing, though I feel not guilt,
just sadness. Clutching and squeezing a watch
won’t make its face roll out any flatter
or wider. Time is not a piecrust one
can stretch or lattice into enoughness,
no matter how many badges one collects
for working instead of sleeping, for other
bargains with devils and demons. I shall
make time, this next new year,
to hold what sweetness it can, but also
let it crumble and flake, as it must,
like pastry and soil and other layers
from which good thoughts may somehow emerge.

Introduction by Sherry Chandler


Or in the immortal words of Cousin Minnie Pearl — How DEE, I’m just so proud to be here.

Mary Alexandra Agner invited me to add my voice to the harmonies here, a timely invitation for me, serendipitous even, though I use that word with caution.

I wrote a blog for several years but one day I discovered I couldn’t do it any more. I think they call that burn out. Lately, however, I’ve felt an awakening of the urge to blog, accompanied by a reluctance to take on so intense a task.

So when Mary’s invitation showed up in my inbox, I accepted joyfully. It seems as just right as Baby Bear’s chair. I like what I read here and hope I can contribute something worthwhile.

Is this a preamble or just an amble? I really don’t like introducing myself. My life story is available at To give you a notion who I am, I’ll give you a poem from my book Weaving a New Eden. The poem culminates a geneology in poems following mothers instead of fathers.

Sherry Florence Chandler
(daughter of all of these)

So I am arrived here, not in the plumb-bob
Heritage of my father’s line, my father called
Eagle-eye because he could raise a barn foursquare.
Rather I am come in zigs and zags, a looping
Ragged line of mothers and grandmothers, nested
Yarn, a thread spun, woven, hooked into coverings.

Fancy finds these women plain, and poor, working
Land farmed out since the first generation plowed
On clear-cut hills. Time’s mainstream washed past like
Rivers and creeks that took their topsoil, left only
Eden Shale, academic term for sticky yellow clay.
Nurture in such an Eden was a fulfillment of God’s
Curse, toil and pain, and yet, from this unwelcoming
Earth they brought forth lilacs and tender lettuces.

Cuttings and seed, handed on, handed down,
Homespun petticoats, spinning wheel on the hearth,
A loom in the barn, then feed-sack frocks, the reciprocating
Needle of the Sears and Roebuck Singer in the corner.
Daughter of all these, I would sing for these women
Like Virgil – strong arms and the woman
Except, of course, that that is not their style.
Rather I’ll call you a dance to the figure of the Black-Eyed Girl.