Poem of the Week (excerpt), by me

Ever wanted to write a picture book? Join me on Zoom next Sunday afternoon, November 6, for a nuts and bolts workshop on The Art of Writing Picture Books. Click here for details. I’d love to see you in this or one of my other workshops!

All my life I’ve dreamed of flying. Just me and my arms, soaring through the sky. In a recurrent dream I run down my city’s streets, but my strides get longer and longer and higher and higher, until I’m floating above the sidewalk. Long, effortless air strides.

At first it’s exhilarating. But then it accelerates, and suddenly I’m too high. Beyond the reach of gravity. I can’t get back down. Soon I’ll be among the stars. And I don’t want to be among the stars! I’m not ready to be among the stars!

Sometimes a picture book you wrote long ago comes back to haunt you. Like this one.

Only a Witch Can Fly (excerpt), by Alison McGhee

If you were a young witch who had not yet flown,
and the dark night sky held a round yellow moon
and the moon shone light on the silent broom
and the dark Cat beside you purred Soar
would you too begin to cry 
because of your longing to fly?

The dark night around you fills with Fly, fly
and bright yellow moonlight shines down. 
Cat, by your side, purrs a gentle Bye, bye
and Owl stares up at a star, so far.
Your heart tells you now and you walk to the door. 
Cat arches his back and croons, Soon.

You stroke dear Cat and slip from your home,
your home in the woods by the fire,
cauldron and hat, brown velvet Bat,
the too-small robe you once wore…

Click here for more information on the incredible Taeeun Yoo.


Words by Winter: my podcast

So Many Days

so-many-days-coverA while ago, years probably, the way things are blurring together, someone gave you an idea for a picture book.

“Doorways,” was the idea, which was passed along to you in a three-degrees-of-separation kind of way.

That’s the kind of idea you like. A better word for it would probably be “challenge.” One word, nothing too specific, bedeviling in its abstraction.

Doorways. Look at it long enough and it looks weird, dour even, maybe because of that beginning DOOR.

You picture some of the doorways you’ve known in your life, the literal ones: the many-paned one that led from the kitchen to the dining/living room in the house you grew up in, the door that was never closed because the house was “heated” from the woodstove in the kitchen.

The small door that led to the tiny triangular bathroom in your first one-room apartment, the door that people who didn’t know you assumed led to the rest of the apartment,  the “real” apartment.

The doorless doorway of your friend’s childhood bedroom.

The doorway of your youngest child’s room, hung with beads.

The chained door that you’ve thrown yourself against more than once.

The door that you tried and tried to open, only to come away with the knob in your hand.

These are a few of the doors you’ve known. Passages from one place to another, doorways that you step through. Now you look down at your feet, those long feet that have walked you from one place to another all your life, some you wanted to go to, others that you didn’t but had no choice.

How do you write a picture book about doorways? What can you say? What does it even mean? Think of a song. Make up a little song. Make up the kind of song you used to make up when your children were babies.

“So many doors in all your days

So much to wonder about –

Who will you be and where will you go?

And how will you know?”

You didn’t think much about who you would be and where you would go, way back when. You wanted to go everywhere, and you were young, and you went far, and often alone.

The age you are now seemed unimaginable when you were young, but you don’t feel much different. You’re more patient now, not by nature but by necessity. You’ve let go of some of the things you wanted so fiercely, not by nature but by necessity.

You’ve gone places you longed to go – children and books and friends and loves – you’re lucky. You’ve gone places you never wanted to go, never would have chosen to go – funerals and heartbreak, loss that felt too painful to bear – you’re human. To be human is to love what is mortal.

How do you go from one place in life to another when you don’t know what’s coming? How do you keep going? How can you fit a lifetime of wonder and longing and heartbreak and love into 32 pages?

Can you?

You keep trying. You think of your own children. You don’t want them to hurt, to go through those sudden terrifying doorways that they, being human, will someday have to go through. Will they know that you are watching over them?

You imagine a bird, a kite, earth and sun, the unimaginable depths of that dark ocean. You keep returning to that refrain: How will you know? Sometimes you won’t, is the answer that comes back.

So many doors in all your days

So much to wonder about

Who will you be and where will you go?

And how will you know?

You think of your children again. Please, let them know that you will always be watching over them, no matter where you are, where you have gone.

You are loved more than you know.

And finally it’s a book.  “So Many Days,” illustrated by the quietly brilliant Taeeun Yoo, edited by the wonderful Caitlyn Dlouhy, due out next week from Atheneum. Up top there is the cover.

Ever wish you could fly?

only-a-witch-can-fly-coverAll my life I’ve wanted to fly. On the tops of mountains I lean forward with the urge to jump, and the same with tall bridges, and the roofs of tall buildings.

I don’t want to die. No no no, I don’t want to die.

But I want to fly. How I want to fly.

My best dreams are dreams of flying, ones in which I’m flying low through a valley, drifting on the  wind like a hawk or an eagle, and then suddenly my arm-wings are pumping and I’m swooping up and up and up and the mountain is rushing toward me and I’m pumping harder and harder and then suddenly I’m up, I’m over, I’m high in the sky and the mountain is far below me, and the valleys and rivers are spread like a map on the surface of the earth, and I’m gliding on the invisible wind toward the far horizon, where the river runs to the sea.

That’s my favorite dream, right there. Sometimes I make a wish before I go to bed that I will dream that dream, but so far, that wish hasn’t come true. The dream of flying comes when it will, and it will not be willed.

The closest I’ve ever come to my arms as wings and my body drifting weightless on the wind was the time I went up into the sky in an ultra-light. Or maybe it wasn’t an ultra-light – does an ultra-light have an engine?

Because this tiny little wind-plane did have an engine, not that it mattered much except to get the pilot and me up into the sky and then down again. Once we were up there, it was a different story.

“Should I turn the engine off?” the pilot said to me.

This man was someone I didn’t know. I was in the deep South, driving on a rural road, and I saw a sign that said Ultra-light rides, $30. I was very poor back then, and $30 was a lot of money, but I looked at the sign and I thought about flying, and I forked over my dinner money for the week to this man who came walking through the field when he saw my little red car stop by the sign.

Should he turn off the engine? Why would he turn off the engine? Wasn’t the engine the thing that was keeping us afloat, up here in the almost-soundless sky? If he turned off the engine, wouldn’t we go arrowing toward the ground? Wouldn’t I die?

“Okay,” I said.

And he turned off the  engine. And then  it was soundless, high up there, drifting without words in the sky. I looked out the window – the tiny plane was all window – down at the fields and mountains and creeks and valleys of that land where I was a stranger.

He didn’t say anything. He knew how I felt.

We drifted up there a long time, far longer, I’m guessing, than my dinner-money-for-the-week had bought me.

And many years later I wrote this book, Only a Witch Can Fly, about a little girl who dreams of flying. I wish you could see the pictures. They’re by an artist named Taeeun Yoo – gorgeous, haunting woodcut illustrations.

Our book looks like a Halloween-ish book because it’s about a witch, so if you’re a Halloween fan you might like it.

But if you’re a girl, or a not-girl, who wants to be up there among the clouds and the stars, looking far far down – leaving it all behind, if only for a little while – then you’re the one I wrote it for.