Sep 28, 2022

Jisei or Death Poem

When death was imminent, it was the custom of the ancient Chinese and Japanese to write a poem. If the person was unable to write on their own, Zen monks would write the poem for them. The earliest record of the Jisei was from 686, by Prince Otsu, son of Emperor Temmu. He wrote his when he was forced to commit sepaku (ritual suicide).

The Jisei is not so much a form in itself as a category for the subject. It was usually written in either the classic Chinese Kanshi form: four lines with a 5-7-5-7 syllable count; the Waka form: five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count; or the Haiku: three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable count.

Death is never mentioned explicitly in a Jisei, so that the poet is able to think more about their life. Early poems used symbolism and imagery, later poems added images from nature. A Jisei can be dark or it can be hopeful but above all it’s meant to be an expression of the acceptance of death, and how the poet has spent their life.

I’m not sure if my examples can be considered true Jisei, as (to my knowledge) I’m not on the verge of death. And I can only hope that by writing them I’m not tempting fate.


Behind me is the
long road that life has taken –
ups and downs and turns,
I look back with no regrets

Waka Form

Life’s no longer mine
and I come to the trail’s end
I hope it’s autumn
my favorite time of year
would be a good time to leave


Like the autumn leaves
my concerns fall and scatter
wind take me away

Sep 26, 2022

Long Road to Satisfaction

Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.
– Phyllis George

When people ask me ‘How did you get to be so creative?’ I tell them it’s because I ate paste as a child.
– Unknown

‘Heirloom’ is knitting code for “This pattern is so difficult that you would consider death a relief.”
– Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

At the beginning of the summer I bought a couple of sundresses from Old Navy. One was an off white with tiny multicoloured pastel flowers embroidered on it and all I needed to do was take it up a bit in the shoulders to make it work for me. The other one was a kind of washed out medium blue colour with cream and grey roses on it. I wasn’t keen on the ruffles on the straps, and I hated the way the straps were constructed because it was impossible to keep them up. Here’s the dress:

Yes, it was as shapeless as it looks in the picture. I tried to adjust the straps, but they still didn’t work. I tried adding elastic at the waist to give it some shape and that didn’t really work either. I could have just abandoned it altogether, but I really, really liked the material it was made of. So I did the next best thing – I cut it off to make a skirt out of it.

And then I got the brilliant idea to make a sleeveless blouse out of unbleached cotton to wear with it. And just to make it look like it was supposed to go with it, I decided to embroider it with roses to go with the pattern in the skirt. But where the skirt was blue with cream/grey roses, I decided to do my roses in blue:

I was going to do the leaves in grey, like on the skirt, but one of the ladies from the stitchery guild talk me out of it, saying I should use green instead. I must have gone through half a dozen different greens before I found the right shade. And I must have picked out the embroidery for them at least three times.

The embroidery alone took me the entire summer. It’s not that it was especially hard to do, it’s just that I had a lot of other things going on and I wasn’t able to work on it as much as I’d like to.

I was about halfway through it when it occurred to me that I had the roses going the wrong way. The pattern was in an L shape, and I probably should have had the long edge of the L in the middle with the short edge facing away from the center. But I had the short edge facing the middle and the long edge on the outside. So then I thought I should fill in the gap with something fancy.

I found a couple of lace collars online, and then spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide which one to go with, the grey:

Or the blue:

In the end I decided on neither, I’d just leave it plain. On to constructing the blouse itself. And once again I started running into problems. The first lining I tried was from a stash of material I came into, and I think in its former life it was the lining for curtains. At any rate, when I had to re-sew one of the seams it tore like tissue paper. Obviously this wasn’t going to work.

So next I tried the material I’d originally bought to go under the blue lace I did not use for the granddaugher’s ball gown. It was synthetic, and slightly stretchy, and my sewing machine hated it and started acting up. So that got abandoned too.

Getting fed up with the trouble the blouse was giving me, I turned my attention to the skirt. It was a pretty simple matter to put a casing on the top and threading elastic through it. And the skirt was done.

Finally I went back to the stash and found some more unbleached cotton, this time a little heavier than I would have liked, and it was a little discoloured in places, but it worked. I got the lining made and sewed the blouse together, and . . . it didn’t fit. It needed to be taken up at the shoulders and let out in the sides.

Fortunately, the way I added the lining I didn’t have to rip the whole thing apart. I made my adjustments and put it back together again. I did the hand stitching and very carefully made the buttonholes. After sewing the buttons on, I was finally done. And it even fits properly.

I have never taken so long to finish a single garment in my life.

But that’s not going to stop me from another embroidered, sleeveless blouse down the road.

Sep 21, 2022

Virelai Poetry Form

This poem comes to us from medieval France, and was often set to music. It’s one of the three fixed French forms, the other two being the ballade and the rondeau. It’s a kind of complicated form, with alternating rhymes and syllable counts.

The Virelai can have any number of nonets (9-line stanzas), but usually has at least three. It is syllabic with the syllable count being 5-5-2-5-5-2-5-5-2. It also rhymes, with the five syllable lines rhyming with each other, and the two syllable lines rhyming with each other.

Here’s the schematic:


Now, in the second stanza, the first line picks up the rhyme from the last line of the first stanza and this continues as the rhyme for the five syllable lines of this verse. The two syllable lines get a new rhyme of their own. This pattern continues in the following verses. In other words, the end rhyme for the second verse would be bbcbbcbbc, the third verse would be ccdccdccd, and so forth.

I told you it was a little complicated. Honestly, after struggling with my example I want to go back to an unstructured form! The five syllable lines were bad enough, but the two syllable ones were a killer. Yikes!


vaguely, in my mind
stray thoughts left behind
some thoughts are unkind
some are less defined
like glass
all are unconfined
stories in my mind
en masse

deep in the morass
dreams may come to pass
such dreams oft surpass
the mind’s deep crevasse
of sight
and reason is bypassed
here at this impasse

flash, like a floodlight
pierce the brain, ignite
for the things I write
under the moonlight
thoughts, I cannot fight
this is my birthright
. . . forget

Sep 19, 2022

Let’s Go to the Fair!

From food trucks to hot dog stands to county fair favorites, 'street food' has enjoyed a rich and storied history in American cuisine. However, street food has been around for thousands of years. In fact, street food is believed to have originated as far back as Ancient Rome.
— Homaro Cantu

If you've ever noticed, beauty pageants are a lot like county fairs. The farmers show the cows the same way. They walk their prized Jersey cow across a stage in front of an audience with judges, and maybe the cow even twirls around a couple of times. Then the winning cow gets a satin ribbon draped over it, which has the title and the year on it.
— Sherry Argov

The seasons don't matter to most of us anymore except as spectacles. In my county and in many places around this part of the nation, the fair that once marked the harvest now takes place in late August, while tourist dollars are still in heavy circulation. Why celebrate the harvest when you harvest every week with a shopping cart?
— Bill McKibben

I did something on the weekend I’ve never done before. I went to the Port Hope Fall Fair.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to fairs. The daughter and I used to go to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), Canada’s largest agricultural fair, at the end of every summer. And I even made some entries in the Roseneath Fair (brought home a few blue ribbons too). But I’ve never been to the Port Hope Fair, which is just the next town over.

And I’ll be perfectly honest and admit that I probably wouldn’t have gone this year except the stitchery guild I belong to was invited to put up a display. So a few of us went Friday night to set the display up, and then I volunteered to man the table from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The empty chair is where I was sitting. :-) The lady who was supposed to relieve me was also a rug hooker, but her relief never showed up so I stayed later so there could be two people at their display.

Fortunately, the next volunteer arrived early and I was sprung to enjoy the fair. I wandered around a bit and looked at some of the exhibits – jams and jellies and preserves – and there was a surprising number of entries by children, including this display of art:

And this was an agricultural fair, so let’s not forget the produce such as prize-winning pumpkins:

and corn (among many others):

There were even flowers to be judged:

Because there was a lot of construction around the buildings at the fairgrounds, they had the animals across the laneway in a different field. By the time I figured out where they were it was too late to see them. But I did hook up with my daughter and her family and we enjoyed a stroll around the midway:

The granddaughter didn’t want to go on the rides badly enough to stand in one of the insanely long lines, but she did play a couple of the games and was quite thrilled with the prizes she won.

All in all, it was a great way to mark the end of the summer.

Sep 14, 2022

Seguidilla Poem

Be careful what you wish for. Last week I complained that I didn’t like a form so unstructured, this week I’m finding the form a little too structured. There’s just no pleasing me, is there?

The Seguidilla began as a folk dance in 17th century Spain before evolving into the poetic form. It has alternating long/short lines of 7 syllables and 5 syllables that gives it its rhythm.

It can be written in however many septets (7 line verses) as you wish, although there is a slight pause between lines 4 and 5, often an end stop. This is often marked with a change in thought between lines four and five.

Here’s the schematic for it:


An alternate rhyme scheme is:


I have to admit I struggled with my example. And honestly, I’m not happy with the result although I did manage two verses where the examples I’ve seen only have one. I may revisit this form some day to better do it justice, but for now I’ll just have to share what I managed to come up with.


The days grow short, nights are long
death is in the air,
darkness is growing closer,
time to reap with care.
Harvest moon up high
shining down on empty fields,
timeless in the sky.

When harvest time is over
fire lights up the hill
to celebrate the Samhain,
promises fulfilled;
ancient rites achieved
by those who keep the faith if
legend is believed.

Sep 12, 2022

They’re Baaaack . . .

When the mouse laughs at the cat, there's a hole nearby.
― Nigerian Proverb

If one mouse is a spark...then ten thousand are a conflagration.
― Carmen Agra Deedy

A mouse never entrusts his life to only one hole.
— Plautus

I wasn’t going to post about this today because I already talked about it on my other blog, although the focus there was on why I didn’t get much writing done last week.

Anyway . . . remember back to the beginning of May when I shared the problem we were having with mice in the house? Between the traps and the cat, 13 mice were sent to meet their maker. There was a 14th mouse, but he figured out how to eat the peanut butter from the trap without setting it off. We stopped baiting the trap and after a few days we didn’t see any mouse signs. Problem solved.

Or so we thought.

Now, a little backstory is required. I have never seen any signs of a mouse in my office. This despite the fact I used to keep a secret stash of snacks in my bottom desk drawer and chocolate on my desk.

In an effort to be healthier, I stopped stashing snacks, although I did keep the Kinder eggs (foil-wrapped chocolate eggs with a plastic bulb inside containing a toy) for the granddaughter and I to share when she came to visit on Sundays in that drawer.

In August I picked up a few eggs and left them on my desk because they were a little soft from the heat, but we never got around to eating them.

Last week, when I was cleaning my office, I discovered the Lindt chocolate bar I’d been given for Christmas, that I’d only eaten half of and left in the small bookcase I keep my tea things on, had been chewed on. There were also mouse droppings on the bookcase. Can we say Ewwwww?

This called for a more thorough cleaning of the office, which is when I discovered that one of the Kinder eggs on my desk had been broken into:

There was an open baggy of dark chocolate on the desk that hadn’t been touched, nor had my Werther’s caramels that I keep in a jar. The bottle of Planters Peanuts in my stash drawer, however, had the crap chewed out of the lid. It was still sealed, but it still went into the trash.

So I thoroughly cleaned my office and when I moved things around to vacuum in all the corners I discovered the remains of a Kinder egg in a corner by the bookcase under my window. And by remains, I mean the half-chewed plastic bulb, the toy/prize, and a few flecks of foil from the wrapper.

Once I was done cleaning I scattered little bundles of cloves done up in cheesecloth around the room (I had an aunt who swore by cloves to keep rodents away) and figured that was that.

But late Saturday night, the hubby reached for the Cadbury chocolate that he keeps in a caddy beside his recliner in the living room, and what do you know? It had been nibbled on. He’s kept chocolate there for months, and there’s never been any sign of a mouse. I guess the word is out in the mouse kingdom that we no longer have a cat.

So he rebaited the trap we had in the dining room, and it wasn’t long before there was a snap. He caught a second one shortly after, and a third one sometime during the night. We really need to figure out where they’re getting in.

And I think it’s time to start kitten shopping.

Sep 7, 2022

Descort Poem

What has no rhyme, no rhythm, and no syllable count? If you answered the Descort (which means quarrel or discord) poetry form, you’d be right.

The Descort is believed to have been created by Garin d’Apchier, one of the French troubadours of the High Middle Ages (1100 t0 1350). It’s distinguished by its lack of consistency, which makes it the perfect poetry form for the beginner. The Descort is constantly changing, which creates an inconsistent flow. Here are a few guidelines:

There is no rhyme.
There is no syllable count.
There is no meter.
Every line should be distinctive – each line should have a different length from the one directly before it or after it.
There can be as many or as few stanzas as you wish, but they should be of different lengths too.
Despite its erratic nature, it was intended to be musical, although I’m not sure how one would set it to music.

Do not confuse the Descourt with Free Verse, or a List Poem. Its discordant nature makes it unique. It’s an interesting form to work with. My default is rhyme and rhythm and it’s strange to actively avoid it. To be perfectly honest, I like a little more discipline to my poetry – this is not going to be one of my favorite forms.


Leaves turning
The days are getting shorter now
Nights, longer and chill

Crisp sunny days
The park is all but deserted now
My footsteps crunch
Vibrant colours begin to fade
Squirrels gather nuts

Thick woolen sweaters
Plaid blanket
Favorite pair of hiking boots

Sitting by the fire
Steam wafting upwards from a cup of tea
A book open on my lap
Maybe pie
Pumpkin of course

Sep 5, 2022

The Grass Is Always Greener . . .

Of course the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Why do you think the neighbors put up the fence?
— Teresa Bloomingdale

...the grass actually IS greener on the other side, but it's only because of the bodies buried there.
— Robert Ford

Even if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, keep to your own side; it's where you belong. There you can plant your own grass and tend to it.
― Richelle E. Goodrich

Every time I’ve mentioned my garden in the last few weeks, the words “sad” and “pathetic” come up. I figured it was finally time to show the world I’m not kidding. I actually have two raised vegetable gardens. This is the first one:

Those spindly leaves sticking up on the front left are my beet crop, such as it is. Don’t be fooled by the leaves hiding behind the asparagus, those aren’t beets. A little less than half the row survived, thanks to the squirrels.

Directly behind the beets was a row of spinach, which came and went so quickly I didn’t have time to pick any. I put up a low, plastic fence to separate the spinach from the bush beans, which were really slow coming on but I still don’t need to pick them more than once a week. And behind the beans is asparagus, which my neighbor planted for me last year.

*sigh* I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but this asparagus is the bane of my existence. It takes up a lot of space in my tiny garden, and I can’t even start harvesting it until next year. While it was kind of my neighbor to share, I could wish there was someplace else to put it.

This is my second garden:

Notice how once again the asparagus is dominating everything again? Oh, and she also planted the rhubarb that took over the right side of my tiny plot. This picture was taken after I’d pulled over half of it. I still have rhubarb in my freezer from last year (given to me by the same neighbor when she was harvesting). I really don’t need more.

On the left hand side are my sweet peppers, which started out doing really well but then they stalled and haven’t done much since. Between them and the rhubarb in the front is my lettuce. I tried using one of those seed strips for my lettuce, and although it got off to a really slow start, once it started growing it grew faster than we could use it, which is why it’s gone to seed. In front of that though, is a row of lettuce from a different kind of seed – it’s got a slight reddish tint to it.

Behind the lettuce is what passes for my tomatoes. The plants have not done well (I blame the asparagus) and if you look carefully you can see I have a single green tomato on the vine. It may interest you to know that the pepper plants and the tomato vines came from my neighbor. Curious about her garden?

This is a glimpse of (some) of her tomatoes on the left, peppers in the middle, and you can just see her bumper crop of hot peppers on the bottom right. The vines on the left are cucumbers.

A closeup of her bumper crop:

Here’s cucumbers in the foreground, with beans on the left, and more tomatoes on the right.

Here’s the view from my side of the fence:

That’s pole beans on the left and cucumbers on the right. Her rule has always been that what comes through the fence is mine. In past years I’ve been out there every day picking beans, and she used to grow butternut squash against the fence so I’d get several of those. This year it was cucumbers. *sigh*

Cucumbers are okay, but a steady diet of them can be a little much. She normally has a bumper crop – I have no idea why she plants so many when she has such trouble getting rid of them. A couple of weeks ago her husband came to our door to let me know I had cucumbers that needed picking. There were four of them. One of which was 18 inches long. I still have three of these monsters in my fridge.

Which brings me to my final picture. A couple of times in the past a squash will start developing close to the fence which creates an odd shape to it. I have no idea what happened with this cucumber.

I wonder which side of the fence it belongs to?