In Rumors of Water, L.L. Barkat includes a chapter called, “Dishes on the Red Sled: Do You Play?”

She tells of having a clogged kitchen drain, of having to do dishes outside on the porch, of her girls joining her, dragging out their red sled to use as a drainboard, and turning the dishwashing into a game, complete with rainbow-making as they spray the hose water skyward and dance in its falling droplets.

She says in our writing, we work, but we also need to play.

When I read that, I realized I used to play with words a lot. These days, I’m usually trying to wrestle them onto the screen so I can get my next article or blog post out on time. It’s still fun sometimes but not exactly playful.

Several months ago, I subscribed to T.S. Poetry’s Poem-a-day email. Every weekday I get a poem in my inbox. At the bottom of each email are a few links, each with a photo above it.

At first, I didn’t bother with those links. But one day last month, one of the photos caught my eye: in the snow, a woman in a black sweater staring straight into the camera, wind whipping her cherry-red hair across her face. The contrast of black and white. And that hair! I clicked through to see what it was all about.

It turned out to be a poem prompt: could I find a poem in that photo?

I started imagining the story around the picture. I jotted a few words in my journal, imagined again, jotted more words. I toyed with the words I’d written, shifting them around, adding new ones, crossing off earlier ones. It had been a long time since I’d written just to write, with no expectation that I would show my writing to anyone.

And I was having a blast.

Once I’d gotten started playing with words, I realized how much latitude there is for it in my life: that woodpecker “poem” I wrote was just me playing with the images Jack and I had tossed around, and rolling the sounds of various words around in my mouth to see how they sounded—and how they sounded together.

I’ve written several short poems in the past month, just for fun. I’m working on another one right now. I may or may not show them to anyone, ever. It doesn’t matter. I’m doing dishes on the red sled and loving it.


Photos via