The skies here in northern California are still a crazy shade of apricot, and sunlight has a reddish tinge, so I was moved to write a rain dance for California, a poem to the rains we desperately need. Once, in Hawaii, I learned an ancient hula dance said to bring rain. And the rains came, for three days! More than 20 fires are still burning, but rain is in the forecast for next week. More
I’m thrilled and honored to be the Featured Poet in the September Issue of Blue Heron Speaks. This wonderful online poetry journal has a goal of presenting “messages of inspiration, support, and nourishment for the soul.”And they really do offer heart-centered poems that speak to seekers after beauty and peace. My three poems include the title poem from my forthcoming collection, Arabesque. An excerpt from the poem treats the word “arabesque” in its other meaning, a calligraphic figure: More
In honor of Mother’s Day, which often coincides with or cozies up to my birthday, here are two poems I wrote for my mother. She wasn’t the problematic parent, so she got fewer poems than my father, the riddle of whom I keep trying to figure out in verse. But poems for her and for the mothers intrigue me this year, in which I lost a stepmother. So maybe more to come.
Apple Pie Order
The hands that cut the apple
are white-fleshed as the silence
between us in the kitchen. Her sob
of breath. Cotton cloths, simple tasks.
Her hands skin and delve
a pale core from each green globe,
slice smiles and drop
them in the dough’s lap.
My mother’s hands soothe my forehead,
tug and tuck corners, tails, hairs
and sheets. Shove me forward, hold me back.
From their towel-wrapped rigor,
I know cradle and slap. Above
their industry I feel the tears.
For fear of seeing fear
in her, I watch the hands
Make a small, safe corner
for sweet flesh to be sectioned,
layered, sugared, snugged
under thin-rolled crust.
She always knows what comes next.
Her short, round fingers make do,
patch holes, keep going,
though nicked, scraped and scalded.
Ten trudging dough-faced soldiers,
rosebuds furled in flour-scented might.
From Femme au Chapeau (David Robert Books, 2007)
I’ve read that when people reincarnate, they may do so in batches, sticking together for their progressive learning. I find the idea mostly pleasing. But I hadn’t thought about how that might call for group exits. This fall-winter has knocked me on the head with two deaths. First my beloved brother (my only sibling) on October 10. Now my stepmother, January 19, last week.
Death’s absoluteness blindsided me. You can’t plead for just one more phone call or visit. You can’t ask a departed person to send you an occasional text message saying they’re doing fine in that foreign country called the afterlife. Whatever language they speak there is mostly incomprehensible to me. Grief is in the silence.
To process my karmic batch of exits, I write, of course. Today my stepmother’s body is being cremated. It’s a hard fact. I awoke into it not happy. But the impenetrable is what writers write to penetrate. We try to write our way behind the curtain, even when that’s impossible.
The end of 2016 was very lucky for my poetry publishing. In this second installment on an embarrassment of riches, I’m delighted to share my poem, “Bird Bones”, which was recently published in the redoubtable Prairie Schooner.
I also had work published in Eclectica‘s 20th anniversary anthology, Prairie Schooner, Atlanta Review, Panoply (who very kindly nominated my poem for a Pushcart Prize!) and Peacock Journal (where they put beauty first).
Prairie Schooner had published some of my poems before, but as it’s a top literary magazine, it’s always a thrill when they grab something. And I’m always surprised by what they accept, as I was with the very first set of two poems they took. It’s a print-only journal. Here is a photo of the poem page:
My literary stocking overflowed this December. but I was so busy I didn’t have time to mention it to anyone but those who saw the stack of magazines on my coffee table. I’m taking it as a sign of the new year, a flowering, perspicacious publication kind of 2017. I also found a late December rose, two blooms that opened up and held for a miraculous week. All good omens for a new year. No matter what November made me feel, I’m feeling optimistic now.
Thanks to Dan Veach, outgoing editor of The Atlanta Review, for selecting my poem “Rain Dance with Redwood” for this new issue. Judging by California’s rainy season, and the impending “monster storm,” I think the dancing works. Here’s the first of four big print publications I have work in this winter! I’m so jazzed and so hopeful. A good state for January. Happy shiny, new 2017!
As a woman in a time when the recently elected leader of our country has expressed such raw misogyny, I definitely feel as uncertain of my future as Matisse’s “Woman with Hat” looks. So I was honored to have my poem “Wings Clipped” featured by WordPress Discover in an article about poetry in uncertain times: Chaos, Control: Four Poems for Uncertain Times. Four good poems you will want to read.
And speaking of the woman with hat, I’m delighted to announce that my book Femme au Chapeau is now on Kindle for $2.99 — complete with a Look Inside the Book!
Another of my books, Gods of Water and Air, is on a Goodreads Giveaway. Click that link to enter and possibly win one of five print copies I’m giving away by December 12. “Poems to unravel love, grief, and joy” — my Amazon subtitle seems right, right now. I think many of us have experienced these feelings in the last couple of weeks, going through the most intense election I’ve ever experienced.
Added to that intensity was one far more powerful to me personally: the death of my brother on October 10. It put a lot of things in perspective, a very large one being that I am mortal too. Life is incredibly short — shorter for some than it might be — and much longer than had been imagined for others, like my 93-year-old mother. These poems and essays — and even a short play on the imagined afterlife of dogs — speak to mortality too, and how important it is to cherish all the love, grief, and joy we’re given in a life.
As I think about giving thanks in a couple weeks at a family feast where there will be one empty chair, I’m thankful for it all. Here’s an excerpt from one of the poems in Gods, “Accept the Invitation”:
The evanescence in British artist Andy Goldworthy‘s work is what first caught hold of me. (Click the link for Artsy’s wonderful Goldsworthy pages.) He works with nature to make sculptures of the moment, or perhaps the hour, using all natural elements. Ice, water, leaves, twigs, wind, rain are the easel, palette, paints, and media he sculpts with. It’s as if he’s having a conversation with nature and time, an intense wrestling almost. His work seems to say beauty is all around us but constantly changing, impossible to capture for long. It’s as if he’s trying to notate Nature’s delicate and constant singing.
Rivers and Tides, the splendid documentary on Goldsworthy and his work, actually is part of his work by letting us watch him work with fast disappearing natural elements. He describes his work as capturing something “intangible. It is here and then gone.” And Goldsworthy shows how quickly that intangible Something, a spirit of beauty in nature, arrives and departs. It’s a metaphor for life, of course. It’s about time and the sacredness of being alive.
Watching that documentary moved me to a tribute poem. I often like to write poems about pieces of art, but I think this is my only poem about an artist other than my father. This sonnet originally appeared in Image: Art, Faith, Mystery.
Every once in awhile, an author should Google herself. I did my routine check last night and was amazed to discover that Prairie Schooner, one of my longtime favorite literary journals, had reprinted one of my poems. “Listening to the Paint” appeared in their 2012 issue, at a time that coincided with the record-breaking sale of an abstract painting. So PS chose to include my poem in their series of reprints.
The poem is about how my father’s being a painter influenced me growing up and deciding to become a writer. Click on the link above to read the poem in its entirety, but the heart of it is in these lines:
How many times he loaded the brush,
swiped on those parallel lines. Strokes now fossilized
in the exhibition room’s angled-down lights.
I have an idea how long that dry rhythm held
because as I waited for my father to speak
I counted the falling dust motes.
The silence art must bear.
This painting is “Joe Funk” and is of a printmaking friend of my father’s, a man he shared a studio with in San Pedro, where I grew up. The Exodus Gallery contained the oddest group of people I ever met. You had to climb an exterior ladder to get into the second floor space — which is probably why the artists could afford to rent it — and it was a wonderland of strange canvases, tilted pieces of pottery, and best of all an easel with a blank canvas for me to play on. That rich silence of concentration and inspiration floated around the vast space and started me on this journey.
Thanks to Prairie Schooner and their “Alberta Clipper” series for selecting my poem. Finding it now is like a tap on the shoulder from Dad, who’s been gone for seven years. Here’s another of his.
A new scientific study came out following people who had recently been on resort vacations and those who were meditators who had been on meditation retreats. The interesting thing is that the beneficial effects on their bodies, though similar, were different. And meditators seemed to have the longest term benefits. Their immune responses and ability to resist stress were stronger for a longer time than those who had simply greatly relaxing vacations.
Here’s an article that gives a simple overview of the research — interestingly enough, in Money Magazine.
So how about Meditation Vacations? Going somewhere where the goal is intensive meditation WHILE in a beautiful resort. It happens. I just went to one, and am hoping that once I get over the jetlag, I’ll find my resistance to stress much higher.
But HERE’S THE PART NO RESEARCHER STUDIED: I caught 10 poems in 5 days while on my meditation-vacation-retreat at the South Carolina coastline. My normal pace is maybe five poems in a month. Clearly, the inspiration index was through the roof on a Medtiation Vacation. The Muse was hanging out on those beaches and patios, under the oak trees and at my buffet lunches and dinners. All I had to do, it seemed, was feel a stirring of idea, pick up my phone, and dictate. Of course they’re all rough drafts, but THAT MANY POEM DRAFTS in five days is unparalleled in my life.
So roll it all together — resort vacationing, meditation as a focused slowing down, and writing! I’ve been on active vacations three times as long in which I didn’t get either as relaxed or inspired.