The Ordinary

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And anything but, featuring poems by Sandy Longley, Linda Goodman Robiner and Fran Markover.
6 minutes


Every once in a while there’s a seemingly ordinary day that becomes extraordinary merely because of something about its date. May 4th is one of them; it’s become associated with Star Wars . . . “May the 4th be with you!” March 14 is another one. It’s become a popular day for mathematicians: March 14—3.14, “Pi.” I forgot to read Passager author Sandy Longley’s poem on “Pi” Day back then, so I’ll read it now: “Minor Deviations.”

I want to love you, pi, or at least admire you,
in part to appease my husband who
is never happier than when talking about

irrational numbers, repetition and random distribution.
“Pi is transcendental,” he pleads. But today alone
there’s so much else competing for my devotion:

a Carolina wren nesting in a blue shirt pocket
drying on the clothesline, singing her descending
triplet tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle,

the foghorn at Long Point streaming
a perfect A-flat out to sea –
the night awash in gray and ochre,

the thought of William Blake, who
at the age of four, believed he saw the face
of God pressed against his windowpane.

“Minor Deviations” by Sandy Longley from her book Mothernest. It started out being about “pi,” but it ended up being about the things of everyday life.

So much of the arts, so much of literature, so much about where most of us live most of the time is not about the exciting or the extraordinary. Most of, most of the time, is about the ordinary.

Here are a couple more pieces that are about the ordinary—even as they’re not.

Linda Goodman Robiner said that she wrote this next poem as a response to Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself.” Here’s her poem “Notes to Myself.”

Ignore dust mites in the bed clothes
and frying pans heaped in the sink.
Throw out every lonesome sock
you’ve saved, hoping to uncover partners.
No more boned bras that scrape your ribs.
Overlook mountains of files
muddling your office.
Get rid of locks on doors and hopes you cling to.
Open every window.
So what if your T-shirt has stains
from Nonpareils warmed in your hands
and cherries dropped
when you nibbled them in the car.
Lose the date book so the hygienist won’t plunk
that bite wing thing under your tongue
and the gynecologist won’t say that line
they all memorize the first day of training.
You know – Scoot down a little.
Give up wanting to be beautiful next time;
there may be no next time.
Memorize the woods; watch long enough
to see fern fronds unfurl.
Encourage the night to have its way with you.
Darkness, too, longs to be held.

“Notes to Myself,” Linda Goodman Robiner from the 76th and newest issue of Passager.

Writer Mary Gilliland said that Fran Markover’s poems “braid languages and generations; they sing their scenes and stories with ingenious formats, gleaming images, and full-throated delight.” Here’s Fran’s poem about the ordinary act of planting flowers, “Why I Plant Sunflowers.”

Because I’d watch my grandfather lose himself
summers among the tall plants. He studied them,
a school boy memorizing the past, urging seeds –
vaxn gezunt, grow well. Because I picture him
among gold-waving faces, lifting me up to the
hardiest flower. Francinooski, he’d shout, schane
. As we twirled, my braids swung like
thick ropes.

Because gardening was his salvation, he left uncut
the fullest blooms for siblings whose names he’d
buried in unmarked plots. Because I imagine how
the brothers played Hide & Seek behind sunflowers
that lit fields, how the boys severed stems, plucked
and cupped seeds, scattered them on a table like gem-
stones. And the petals. How tightly they held, how
soft the letting go.

“Why I Plant Sunflowers” by Fran Markover from her extraordinary book Grandfather’s Mandolin.

To buy Grandfather’s Mandolin or Sandy Longley’s extraordinary book Mothernest, or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.