Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ode to a Professor of Electrical Engineering

This video and poem are from about 3 1/2 years ago, and were just discovered in the bowels of the internet!

This is the infamous poetry booth that my dear friend Miriam Hall and I ran for three years at the Willy Street Fair in Madison Wisconsin (kudos to Natalie Goldberg for the idea), and that Miriam now continues with the help of her writing students.

The poetry booth operated in the following manner: folks would give us a topic (any topic, as this poem illustrates), pay us $1, we'd write a poem on the spot, as fast as we could, then read it aloud to them and give it away. It was a powerful practice in dealing with creative resistance, stage fright, and generosity.

I've been contacted by several people over the years who I'd written poems for, including a radio producer who invited Miriam and I to read on his show, a friend who paid me (a lot more than $1 this time) to write him another spontaneous poem, and others - but never anything like this! I have no idea who the man is that took this video and crowned me poet laureate of the Willy Street Fair, but thank you for making my day!

Sunday, November 8, 2009



White music before
I was born.

I never see the sun
go down.

Once it slips below
the thin line of horizon

it settles within my body -
glowing, empty.


To know the moon
you must learn the taste
of your own tongue.

To know the ocean
you must give birth
a thousand times, and still
admit you know nothing.

To know the wind
you must embrace all
your cycles - going, going, going...



You're quick and barefoot
don't have the patience
for sunrise

haul yourself up
the steep legs of mountains

compete for the slender green
accomplishment of grass.


In June, you are
a gravestone

the breeze goes
right through your heart.

For everyone
you hold the solemnity
of all things.


Ripped sleeve on the tight
edge you walk
toes pointed to touch

You taught yourself
how to dance despite
the hut you grew up in

taught yourself to sing
in a bowl that held tears.


I am running through
multitudes of goodness
grass higher than Tokyo
insects my playmates

giving me the music
that flashes green
after the sun has hidden itself
behind the hills.



Shh - the moth is kissing
the screen
with its whole body.

The candle touches the curves
of my bare shoulders
with its light.

I ease music from
the aching piano
the whole warm night
to each breath.


Your tongue
is the tongue of the irises -
licking, purple, shallow.

Your hands curve
to cup the places where
our stems grew once
out of the rich, salty earth

shaking with joy.


Rumor has it you'll
burn me, you'll burn
bright as a pack of firecrackers

set off all at once
on the slick wetness of blacktop
after the rain has passed.

In the deafness of explosion
the space that lies between us
is too thick and red
to touch.


Rust came off in
my hands, the pushed gate
opening the valley.

The grass grew over
my sneakers, the truths
of childhood buried
in the low red heartbreak
of afternoon.



Mother - your soup hands
all day making

your bread hands all
night undoing

Your morning hands
opening space I could
fly into -
a cloud or a kiss.


Don't try to find me
in the field of childhood.
After dark, the butterfly
will come for me
gliding on the light
of its yellow wings,
gently touching the place
I am lost.


In the dark of heaven
we lay together breathing
pine smells, grass smells.
The easy dark after sunset
like many hands
opening us
showing us where
we belonged.


Oh the village
where I was always busy
as an orange

beyond the sweetness
of bread and twilight

after forgetfulness,
before death.



After you finish telling me
what I feel
my heart is locked.
My mouth tastes lemons.

Under the equanimity
of the moon's soft face
my garden continues
to grow.


I must be clear as dawn
clear as throat
clear as ice
to be a mirror for you,
shadowing the lake.
I must be something dark enough
to keep unfolding.


My fingers frost
at the cold's first

your message lost
in the heat of my breath.

Earth is where I could
be sane
if I felt my heart.


No - the snowfall is black.
The park where I thought I was
is gone.
The blanket of defense
is smothering.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Short Poems from Shambhala Art Level III - June 2009

Islands in asphalt, tall grass hairs reaching
No sun today to warn them
One black crow a meager guardian.

Gutter shoals, nuts and bolts
detritus in every color of gray.
No hope for a picnic.

Three green doors, none of them leading home.
Opaque window only reflects back my face.
Fear rises inexplicable in my belly.

One black brushstroke over chipping paint chrysanthemums
burning orange where death used to be.
Garbage and fresh air vie for each nostril.

The grass grows greener over dogshit, clover.
I put my worn feet where children's used to be.
The tires, full of graffiti, hold me like my lover couldn’t.

Purple flowers
too small to notice.
How best to describe the sky?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The sea was talking to itself
all night, gray and full.
The dying bees swept out
by sunrise, all evidence
of the previous day erased.

Landlubber, auburn-haired wonder
bundled in wool, tide me over till
I can be here again. The sea, my friend
the sea, my death.

Fishermen wander, poles
outstretched, noses
to the wind. When will
I give up my wandering?
When my loneliness melts in the sea.

The sea is loneliness
the sea takes melancholy, gives back
driftwood, a tired bottle, worn
to a new thing, mute by its journey.
It no longer belongs to us, refuses
to tell us what it has seen.

I saw the sea first
when I was sixteen, fair-haired
barely out of depression, the doldrums
still clutching my painted boat. My toenails painted
the blue of mermaids. My heart already broken
by a hundred tiny things.

The sea does not touch Portland.
In the dark rain by our small, polluted
river, we stitch patches
over holes and grope the legs of our desolation.
But in the silver of moon, with grains of sand in my eyes
I tell myself I am independent, wise.

The sea is too big to be lost next to.
It will swallow me, keep me in its belly
of loneliness to polish till I’m dead
till its dreams become mine and my aloneness
is that of a sand dollar, a great white shark
a drowned man - so full he has nothing to say.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"I feel like I'm here every day," says a girl at the next table at the coffeeshop. I look over, I can't help it, and her friend looks back. I don't know what they think. I am also here every day. The friend wears a gray and white striped t-shirt dress, almost too short to cover her underwear, and sunglasses to cover her eyes. The one who spoke doesn't look at me. She has brown hair and is dressed in black, with a tan and hunter green leather purse slung over her shoulder.

Her purse is something my grandmother would have given me when I was 13, along with musty, sun-faded horse books from the 70s, printed in Brittan. The books were filled with pictures of hard-jawed girls with thick, square haircuts, their flaxen bangs almost hiding eyes that peered out at me with glittering severity, gripping the reins of their polished bay and chestnut horses, their manes trimmed and perfectly braided, stitched into tight bundles marching in neat rows down their graceful necks.

I stared unhappily at these girls, and they stared unhappily back, as if they knew that twenty years after their pictures were taken, we would share that moment together, and see our discontent mirrored in the others' face.

It was always late afternoon in the photographs, even if it was probably morning or mid-day in actuality. But something in the muted golds and greens and harsh, sickly sky blues with which the books were always printed led to the impression that the girls and their horses existed in a perennial 4pm, the time of day that I invariably lost all hope for any meaning in life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

new short poem

The crickets

have been outside

my bedroom window

since childhood,

since August.

As long as they follow

me, I know

I am always home.

The Embroidered Garden

One thunder morning, Mildred's father disappeared into the sandy collapse of the well he'd been digging. She heard only the rain on the roof, no shouts, not the metal thud of shovels thrown aside, but she ran outside anyway and stood with her shoes sinking into the mud, her hands crumpled by her sides.

When her father emerged in the arms of his weeping friends, the water he’d tried to capture fell from his mouth, his head tipped gently on one shoulder, more peaceful than she had ever seen him.

Mildred’s hair grew auburn down her back and into her skirts, her shoes. The layers of prim undergarments only came off after the candle had been spit out in the room she shared with three sisters. The town outside made no noise, shimmering below the judgment of the moon. No drinking, no dancing, no card-playing, no makeup. Mildred sat before the window and combed her hair in front of her face, imagining what it would feel like to be seen.

In church they sat, four robins on a pew, each sister nested into the next, gradation of color and height, the trajectory of Mildred’s red ending in Helen’s black. The boys watched them through the sweating, stiff-ribbed hour of the pastor’s sermon, Iowa becoming slowly flatter out the window, washing itself away in the dusty light.

Mildred was confined to her room for a week once, after fixing her blue eyes squarely on Jesse Baker and winking, her mouth a saucy pucker. He must have been beautiful back then, with his golden hair in waves and secret Cherokee nose, his eyes bright in the midst of the tight-stitched Depression, thinness on everyone’s lips, fear in the tired swishing of the corn.

Jesse and Mildred bounced between each other like light from a prism, the colors of their merging so brilliant that the town covered its eyes, awed and wincing. She embroidered an English cottage garden for them to live in, towering pink hollyhocks and azure morning glories climbing the thatched roof to communicate with them as they slept.

They clung to the imaginary cottage even as her hands paled on the bedspread, her lungs weakening daily, until the flowers in thread became more real than the ones she could hear murmuring outside. The flowers whispered behind the urgent dialogue between her mother and the doctors who came one by one, then left bent and sad as scarecrows.

Maybe Mildred forgave Jesse, after she died.

In the stunning apocalypse of heartbreak, he only needed small details to re-create her. Maybe she knew that by marrying her sister Helen, he was only trying to feel her hands again, the wild morning-glory sweep of her hair.

Maybe she knew he made a bargain with God at her deathbed – to stop believing in Him if she died. And so he remained an atheist until his own death, though in later years, he began speaking of the Great Spirit his own ancestors had believed in – something buoyant and ancient enough to make sense of it all.

He wrote her poetry, the pages locked in the walnut bureau in the bedroom where my mother was conceived. The poems continued singing in their small, sweet voices, even after both their lives were only a flicker of remembered light.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A new day, a new blog!

It's been so long since I had a blog. I remember my first one, a livejournal I started when I was 15 and continued to write until about 18 or 19, when I moved from the wood and fields of Dodgeville to Madison Wisconsin, and realized that I could actually have friends that lived in the same city as me, who were not trees or flowers or raccoons.

I had a brief affair with a blog on MySpace, but it seemed so showy and superficial. I was always confused about what I wanted to post on it - creative writing? Snippets of my personal life just interesting enough to share, but not so interesting that they were too personal to post?

Older and wiser now, I've decided it's time for another blog - but this time, one created with the specific intention of sharing my creative writing with others. I have a tendency to closet my writing, and write copious amounts that I never seem to have time to type up (ie: do anything with).

I've also noticed that when I do share my writing with people, I am usually creatively nourished by the exchange. That seems to be key piece of the writing experience for me: it doesn't matter how much I write, something is not complete until I have shared it. But please be aware that the pieces I'm posting will be in all stages of growth, some just learning to walk, some going on their first dates, some well into their mature adult lives. So please handle with care, and enjoy this (hopefully) mutually beneficial exchange.

Now let's ride off together into the crisp morning of a brand new blog!


P.S. A word about the blog's name: The Embroidered Garden is a piece I wrote recently telling an old family story that has haunted me all my life. I'll post it soon.