Monday, May 18, 2020

Pebbles of the moment

One morning the dream world leaves words in my mouth:
the present is a point of energy seeking direction.

I tug at that prompt and an army of words marches onto an empty field.

Eager words, yearning for a band and bright flag, a stand of cheering patriots, hands over hearts.

Too many words for the 90-second program.

Space only for the color guard while the rest stand in sidelined shade, dutiful shoulders back, uniforms pressed, rifles at the ready.

Pebbles of the Moment

The present is a point of energy seeking direction.
The present is a deceiver whispering assurances 
that he knows the future and that it looks just like him, 
that he is in charge, saying "just hold fast and all will be well."

The past is a landscape of experience 
and momentary knowings, 
some a needle sharp virtual reality, 
some blurring like old photos, 
some already in the land of here-there-be-dragons.
The past is a trickster, a shape-shifting juggler 
tossing you colorful memory balls, 
in truth merely water balloons, bursting as you catch them, 
drenching you today with the emotions of then.

The future is a galaxy of bright stars 
coolly winking their promises of perfection.
The future is a sensuous siren shimmering her rainbow colors, 
blinding your eyes, emboldening your heart, 
luring you closer to the unseen rocks of reality.

and then there is you 
 
struggling to be present, aware,
holding that squirming energy,
wet-faced and torn with remembering,
yearning for that just-out-of-reach star promise, 
cracking under the fearful weight of past failures,
grasping for that hand of the confident deceiver,
and, ever and always, missing, 
arm left outstretched into the deceiving void.

bedazzled by possibilities,
chained by the familiarity of today and yesterday,
overlooking the sparkling pebbles at your feet,
you float like dandelion fluff
on the capricious winds of chance.

until … until … 
 
your eyes fall away from the stars,
your heart turns away from yesterday,
you pick up one of the pebbles at your feet,
feel its sun warmth pulsing in your hands,
slowly turn in a wide circle,
see the forests greening around you,
hear the birds singing their welcome song
and know that you are already home,
and this moment is all that is. 
 

  

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #23: dancing through time


"Dancing through time"
by Joyce Wycoff 

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.) 
 
 I love Google.

Recently, I was thinking about my life and the dance of time and money when one of those odd memories popped into my head: “time is money - look in the clock.” I remembered it was from an old sitcom and vaguely remembered it being a mystery sitcom. That’s where the synapses parted ways and left me in the dark.

Until I googled the phrase and this answer, given twelve years ago, popped up in a forum:
Yes, this was on My Little Margie. They went to the house of a dead millionaire to find his treasure. His parrot kept saying "Time is money -- Look in the clock." But there were thousands of clocks. There were also sliding panels, secret passages, and a chair that dropped you down a chute into a big net in the basement. Most of the regulars sat in that chair eventually. I especially remember Margie's father Verne going down the chair. (There was a similar chair in one of the original Topper movies).
Taking it a step further, I discovered that My Little Margie aired from 1952 through 1955. I must have seen it when I was about 10 because that’s when we first got television. The Wikipedia synopsis triggers more memories:

Set in New York City, the series stars Gale Storm as 21-year-old Margie Albright and former silent film star Charles Farrell as her widowed father, 50-year-old Vern Albright. Many of the shows episodes are still available but apparently “Parrot Gold,” which features the line about time and money, is not available.

So, back to the dance of time and money. Most of my life was focused on career and money. However, 2008 changed all of that as the economy unilaterally decided I was retired. It took several life-style readjustments before my income and expenses began to balance out, but now I am in a lovely place where I can live on my Social Security, which is good timing in this covid-19 world of financial turmoil.

What I’m rich in right now is time … and a willingness to be open to whatever comes my way. Almost two years ago I began the practice of celebrating my death day every month on the 17th. It seems to create a momentary vortex, a black hole that sucks new energy into the mix of my life. Flitty little things like memories from an ancient sitcom as well as things with a little more substance such as the incredible book Ten Thousand Doors of January.

My standard process as I near the 17th is to watch the ideas showing up that I might want to write about. Often words and sentences start to form, especially in the twilight hours of the morning. I hold them loosely, letting them develop like steeping tea. More often than not, they turn flat and are replaced by other possibilities. 

This month seems to be following that pattern. A couple of days ago the theme of time and money appeared with that little sitcom phrase. I followed that lead until it stopped, and then waited. Apparently it was done and I needed to move on.

Corona Curiosity aka Corona Wisdom

Yesterday, a new thread dangled itself in front of me. Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been creating a journal of sorts about it, exploring the rich field of new learnings and endless drama. At times, I’ve felt like I was on a mission to synthesize this unique experience and tease out actions and stories that represent the whole of the pandemic. In the beginning, I expected this journal to become a little book of 30 pages or so. It is now sitting at 112 pages and I have begun to wonder when it will be complete.

The new turn began as I read about the mental health problems being created by the stress of the disease and financial devastation. My intention was to create a two-page spread in my normal format, synthesizing the issue and pairing it with an inspiring quote and a piece of my art. But, things changed along the way. 
Change #1: Suddenly I became clear that I was part of the problem. I was writing about these times in a way that amplified the stress and fear. I had to stop. I want to spread peace and kindness on the water, not add to the divisiveness of these times. I didn’t want to stop writing about this pandemic, but I wanted to do it in a different way: instead of feeding the negativity monster, I wanted to share wisdom and create peace.

Change #2: As I decided I needed to lessen the negative input I was absorbing from social media, I spread my yoga mat and clicked onto my browser to find something soothing to listen to, instead of my normal chanting playlist. I’m not sure how it got there, but the tab I clicked was on a TEDtalk by a Shaolin master, which was automatically followed by a talk by a Buddhist nun. That seemed like a confirmation of my new direction.
Not that I want to be a Buddhist nun or necessarily even a Buddhist. I also know I don’t want to be rich or famous; so, in our western society’s view of success, the question is always ... what else is there? 
 
That's what I was trying to clarify when I recently went through a 5-year planning process. The result of that thinking showed me that what I really want is to keep learning, creating, connecting with myself and the Universe, and sharing what I’m learning. This is who I am or at least who I want to be.  This is what brings me delight. 
 
Of course, the Universe and the 7 billion other inhabitants of this planet are buzzing around creating circumstances that will ultimately affect me. Just as I can't imagine that five years ago any of us would have thought we were sheltering in place, wearing masks, and watching an unseen enemy make mincemeat of our lives. So come what may, my job is to stay focused on my four priorities: LEARN-CREATE-CONNECT-SHARE and keep my actions in line with them.

Stay safe and find ways to feed your spirit.


TEDTalks: 

Master Shi Heng Yi – 5 hindrances to self-mastery

My Path To Becoming A Buddhist | Emma Slade

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Calle Arteaga": a modern art street gallery


Calle Arteaga
All art has a beginning ... a thought, a feeling, a soft word, a hard angle, or an image that haunts. This one began with a street scene in Jiquilpan, Mexico, and became one of my favorite art pieces … not because I think it’s great, but because of where it took me. 

original photo
Where it began: A night scene on a street named after general and politician José María Arteaga Magallanes

Library with José Clemente Orozco murals
Backstory: Jiquilpan is a Pueblo Mágico in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Since it was close to Lake Chapala, a friend and I planned a short visit there and instantly fell in love.

It was one of those trips where serendipity happened repeatedly. At a coffee shop, we met a local celebrity who interviewed us and introduced us to everyone he thought we might like to meet. That night we joined a family at the plaza, laughing because we were in one of the most reputedly violent states in Mexico on one of the most peaceful nights of our lives.

Jiquilpan is the birthplace of one of the most popular presidents of Mexico, Lázaro Cárdenas. When we visited his museum, there happened to be a VIP group touring. They invited us to join them and we were treated to a private tour. Too bad my Spanish wasn’t up to the opportunity. We went to see the silk workshop, but it was closed … until they opened it for us and our tour guide was the director. By the end of the first day, we were planning a return trip and I had thoughts of moving there. Although I returned to the US before that trip could happen, should I ever return to Mexico, Jiquilpan would be high on my list of places to visit and even live.

After returning to Ajijic and processing my photos, this street scene haunted me. As much as I liked the feel of the scene, that long empty street bothered me. I tried a horizontal crop but didn’t like the result.

During a trip to Zacatecas, I kept running into amazing collections of modern art and had recently discovered the ground-breaking work of Hilma af Klint (now recognized as the first modern artist). For some unknown reason, I began to drop pieces of modern art onto the street scene. The first was a piece of Mondrian’s work that was a perfect fit for the foreground of the street. It called a Jackson Pollock piece into the mix, and after that, there was a joyous scavenger hunt to find ways to include other modern artists and turn it into a modern art gallery on this historic city street.

This morning, however, this piece of art surprised me when it took another turn while I was listening to David DuChemin talk about choosing what intoxicates us in his podcast A Beautiful Anarchy. For some reason, it made me think of "Calle Arteaga” a piece that incorporates work from 14 modern artists. I wanted to revisit it and capture some of the intoxication I felt when I was in the midst of creating it. I wanted to remember the joy of finding the modern artists I loved and make a tiny bit of their work a part of this one.

This particular rabbit hole lasted a few hours as I traced down the artists, especially women modern artists, in order to incorporate and rediscover what I loved about modern art. Below is a list of those artists who are woven into this piece, with links to their work.  I'm repeating "Calle Arteaga" in case you want to follow along with the various pieces of each artist.

Calle Arteaga
This catalogue is still available from the Guggenheim.
Hilma af Klint - her portrait is framed by a piece of her work in the upper right corner. The Guggenheim recently featured an exhibit of her work titled Paintings for the Future. It is a good place to get acquainted with her work.
Wassily Kandinsky - before Hilma af Klint, Kandinsky was considered the father of modern art. I guess if he is the father, Hilma would be the mother. His portrait is on the left in front of one of his works.
Paul Klee - Swiss artist and pioneer in modern art. Klee’s work “Red Balloon” hovers over the street scene.
Kazimir Malevich - another pioneer. Yellow and black figure on right.
Michel-Eugène Chevreul - he is here, not because of his art but because of his ground-breaking color theory which influenced so many artists. His portrait is below Hilma's.
Jackson Pollock - American artist, foreground squiggles.
Fiona Rae - contemporary, British Hong Kong artist whose work I fell in love with. Small piece in upper right.
Tess Jaray - contemporary, British artist. Geometric on left wall foreground.
Sonia Delaunay and Robert Delaunay - French artists who founded the school of Orphism (strong color and geometric shapes). Three circles on the left near front. Link goes to a fun article about Sonia.
Mark Rothko - American contemporary artist who spoke four languages and was basically untrained in drawing and painting. Committed suicide at age 66.
Albert Irvin - British contemporary artist known for large canvases and broad brush strokes. Lower left to right of bottom Delaunay circle.
Dan Perfect - British contemporary artist known for complex fantasy canvases. Next to Irvin painting.
Paul Tonkin - British contemporary artist known for his visual metaphors. Small piece on left as if the woman is pointing at it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Emerging: Memory reminders of a journey

Emerging
Ten plus years ago, during a Miksang photography workshop in Boulder, Diane Walker, an amazing photographer/artist/poet/blogger and gradually a friend, listened to my story and said:

Your cup is empty.

That's all it took. Tears started flowing and within days, this blog was created as a place to record the refilling of my cup. Over a thousand blog posts later it has become a surprising memory bank.

Every once in a while, the blog stats indicate someone has visited a post from years ago. I generally take the opportunity to re-read these old posts and have often found them to be surprising memory moments.

This is a recent one from late 2014:
It Happened in Kingman, Arizona  -- when I saw that title, I was stumped. I've been through Kingman a lot but couldn't remember anything that had ever happened there. Turns out that in a Motel 6 that night, the direction of my life changed. 

Missy and I were returning from Tennessee where she had been staying with family while I spent four months in Mexico. I thought we were on our way to a happily-ever-after rendezvous that would result in our moving to Las Cruces, NM. My optimistic nature had pushed all doubts completely out of the picture, leaving me in the hands of my planner: what did I need to do to move forward, to take the next step? 

While I was in to do list mode, something  else took over.

Absolutely nothing happened during that Motel 6 night ... except a knowing. A recognition that all would be right. At the moment, I was "without home" ... much different than being homeless ... and in a puzzling relationship with an odd wall between now and what our expressed intentions were. 

Suddenly, that was okay. As I wrote in the post, "the fever broke." All the unexpressed doubts, the confusion, and attempts to control the future just disappeared. The next morning we proceeded toward my sister-friend's house in the Sierra foothills. And, within a week, the confusion ... and the relationship ... were gone. I'm not sure that would have happened so easily and effortlessly if it hadn't been for that night in Kingman.

Thanks to the unknown visitor who triggered this memory of a forgotten turning point in my life.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Corona Fridays: We must remember what we're learning

On the second Wednesday in March 2020, the world officially shifted, but few of us noticed. 

Not much changed on that day. We went to work, attended school, stopped for groceries on the way home, The day was not etched in our memories like 9/11/2001 or 11/22/1963, or 12/7/1941, or 10/28/1929.

March 11, 2020, however, is considered the official start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). People were already dying; however, mostly in places where we weren’t. 

Six weeks later, over 200,000 thousand (and probably more) had died worldwide and over 60,000 in the US. Today, it would be difficult to find any person over age 5 who hasn’t felt the pandemic personally: from small business owners who have closed their doors, to high school seniors who will never dance the night away at prom, to health care workers frustrated by the lack of personal protective equipment for themselves and their patients, to panicked seniors in nursing homes which have become virus hotspots. 

There are hundreds of thousands of different stories happening every day … tragedies, comedies, stories of courage and cowardice, greed and generosity, inspiration and abject depression. Most of these will be lost in the normal fog of memory long before this pandemic is actually over. That’s the way memory works … only the sharp, momentary memories last, making such deep impressions that we remember the details of the day, where we were, who we were with, how we felt.

This pandemic, the most significant, 
widespread event of our generation, 
deserves to be remembered. 

The pandemic is proving to be a universal teacher, revealing things about us personally, as cultures, and as a planetary society. Many have already described it as a wake-up call, although our normal reaction is to go back to sleep. When an event continues over a long period of time, something called interference writes current events over previous memories until yesterday is a fading shadow.

How can we remember the lessons of the pandemic? 
Make notes.

If someone asked you today if you would forget this pandemic, you would most likely respond, “Of course not!”  How could anyone forget the isolation, the lost sports and movies and cultural events, school children with no schools to go to, millions of unemployed with no incomes? How could you forget the sight of kangaroos hopping through an empty street, the crisp views of the mountains from the LA basin, the heartbreaking images of bodies being loaded onto a semi-truck in New York City, the unsafely-distanced, assault-rifle-bearing protestors screaming at police wearing protective face masks?

But, you will: it’s the way our brains work. There’s only one way to truly capture these memories and lessons … take notes, now, in real time. Whether it’s in a journal, an electronic notebook, photographs or videos, or letters to yourself, a child, or your cat …  record the pandemic from your own perspective. What was life like Before Corona and what did life become After Corona?
Harvard Health Publishing stated in an article on memory:

"You are most likely to forget information soon after you learn it. However, memory has a use-it-or-lose-it quality: memories that are called up and used frequently are least likely to be forgotten.”
Each of us has different circumstances that influence our individual perspectives … people who have lost loved ones see it differently than people who have not been touched by sickness. People who can work from home are less affected than small business owners or gig employees who no longer have an income. And, single moms doing everything including home-schooling their children live in a different world from retirees on Social Security.

Tell your story

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, stated, "Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.” Wiesel made it his life work to bear witness to the genocide committed by the Nazis during World War II.

Each of us does not have to make this our life’s work, however, making notes on your pandemic experience will help you make sense of it and could help your children and grandchildren better understand a challenge being experienced by the entire planet in a way that changed everything.

Questions to help you get started:
  • Where was I when the coronavirus became real to me?
  • What new awarenesses do I have now?
  • How have my values changed during these days?
  • What have I discovered about myself?
  • What have I missed most?
 
Corona Curiosity: My note-taking “journal"

I am a blogger and a photographer, so by early March, I already needed an outlet for all I was seeing, learning, and feeling. Since I had recently started making small, photoessay books, it made sense to start one for the pandemic. Most of these little books are about 30 pages, mainly photos and a few words. 
I didn’t realize the pandemic would be so big or go on for so long. By the end of April, it was at 72 pages and growing daily. Obviously, it was going to have to stop somewhere. 
At this writing, I still don’t know when the pandemic will end, nor when Corona Curiosity will be complete. However, I do know that doing this work is helping me feel grounded as I observe the reactions of the world, try to find the lessons, and feel more gratitude for my life and health and for the friends and family who are on this journey also.
You can see Corona Curiosity in it’s work-in-progress state in a magazine format here: Corona Curiosity, day-by-day glimpses of a pandemic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been adapted for phone viewing yet.

If you have any questions about how to capture your pandemic notes or tell your story, I would love to hear from you ... just leave a comment below. 
Stay safe and find ways to feed your creative spirit. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Poetry Month #30: Wolf Creek Pass by CW McCall

It seems only fitting that we should end this poetic adventure with a bit of humor from CW McCall ... only problem there isn't any CW McCall ... he was the invention of an advertising guy named William Dale Fries, Jr., who, theoretically, still lives somewhere in Iowa. Fries wrote the lyrics and sang while Chip Davis, later of Mannheim Steamroller, wrote the music.

Back when the girls were young, we drove from California to Missouri to visit my parents. To entertain us along the way, I made a mix tape (long before playlists) of story songs, some funny, some sad, some just down right silly. This one was a favorite especially since we drove over the real Wolf Creek Pass.

Somewhere along the line I memorized it and I love it when a conversation opens up and I can say with a sorta straight face ...

did I ever tell you about the time that me and Earl 
was haulin' chickens on a flatbed out of Wiggins ...

It's a fun song ... hope you enjoy it ... and hope we're all around next year when Poetry Month rolls around again. And thank you Mr. Fries ... or CW ... your music has given us a lot of fun.

The real wolf creek pass -- click here for the song
[Verse 1]
Me and Earl was haulin' chickens
On the flatbed out of Wiggins
And we'd spent all night on the uphill side
Of 37 miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass
Which is up on the Great Divide

[Verse 2]
We was sittin' there suckin' toothpicks
Drinkin' Nehis and onion soup mix
And I says, "Earl, let's mail a card to mother
And then send them chickens on down the other side
Yeah, let's give 'em a ride"

[Chorus]
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side


[Verse 3]
Well, Earl put down his bottle
Mashed his foot down on the throttle
And then a couple of boobs with a thousand cubes
In a 1948 Peterbilt screamed to life
We woke up the chickens


[Verse 4]
We roared up off of that shoulder
Spraying pine cones, rocks, and boulders
And put four hundred head of them Rhode Island Reds
And a couple of burnt-out roosters on the line
Look out below 'cause here we go

[Chorus]
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side


[Verse 5]
Well, we commenced to truckin'
And them hens commenced to cluckin'
And Earl took out a match and scratched his pants
And lit up the unused half of a dollar cigar and took a puff
Says, "My, ain't this pretty up here"

[Verse 6]
I says, "Earl, this hill can spill us
You better slow down, you gon' kill us
Just make one mistake and it's the pearly gates
For them 85 crates of USDA-approved cluckers
You wanna hit second?"

[Chorus]
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side


[Verse 7]
Well, Earl grabbed on the shifter
And he stabbed 'er into fifth gear
And then the chromium-plated
Fully-illuminated genuine accessory shift knob
Come right off in his hand
I says, "You wanna screw that thing back on, Earl?"

[Verse 8]
He was tryin' to thread it on there
When the fire fell off of his cigar
And dropped on down, sorta rolled around
And then lit the cuff of Earl's pants
And burned a hole in his sock
Yeah, sorta set him right on fire

[Verse 9]
I looked on out of the window
And I started countin' phone poles
Going by at the rate of four to the seventh power
Well, I put two and two together
And added twelve and carried five
Come up with twenty two thousand telephone poles an hour

[Verse 10]
I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide
His lip was curled and his leg was fried
And his hand was froze to the wheel
Like a tongue to a sled in the middle of a blizzard

[Verse 11]
I says, "Earl, I'm not the type to complain
But the time has come for me to explain
That if you don't apply some brake real soon
They're going to have to pick us up with a stick and a spoon"

[Verse 12]
Well, Earl rared back, cocked his leg, stepped down as hard as he could on the brake
And the pedal went clear to the floor and stayed right there on the floor
He says it's sorta like steppin' on a plum

[Verse 13]
Well, from there on down it just wasn't real pretty
It was hairpin county and switchback city
One of 'em looked like a can full of worms
Another one looked like malaria germs

[Verse 14]
Right in the middle of the whole damn show
Was a real nice tunnel, now wouldn't you know
Sign says clearance to the twelve foot line
But the chickens was stacked to thirteen nine

[Verse 15]
Well, we shot that tunnel at a hundred and ten
Like gas through a funnel and eggs through a hen
We took that top row of chickens off slicker than the scum off a Louisiana swamp

[Verse 16]
Went down and around, around and down
And we run out of ground at the edge of town
Bashed into the side of the feed store
Downtown Pagosa Springs

[Chorus]
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Corona Gift: Virtual Movies


Trailer photo: The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
Maureen Doallas posted on Facebook about a new film: The Booksellers. Following that link, I found a list of virtual theaters offering movies and trailers. It reminded me that recently  Brené Brown talked on a podcast about her “movie nights” where she only watches trailers because they are designed to deliver an emotional punch.

When I started exploring this link, I found a list of virtual movie theaters all across the US, each offering several movies and their trailers. I had just decided to sign up for amazon prime or Netflix but wasn’t thrilled by their offerings. Since the list did not include a theater in Reno, I clicked on Denver and found a trailer for The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. I happen to love giraffes also (who doesn’t?) so I watched the trailer and weeped … a sure sign I’ll have to rent the movie tonight.

The movie is offered by the DenverFilm.org with this info: For over 40 years, Denver Film has focused on building a rich community through the art of film. During this temporary closure of our home at the Sie FilmCenter, we have partnered with distributors to bring you theatrical releases of films that were set to open at the theater, right to your home, with part of the proceeds going to your favorite arthouse.

I quickly realized two things:
  1. I’d much rather have my money go to these local cultural organizations than the biggies like prime or Netflix.
  2. I love going to the movies and sitting in the dark with a group of unknown people who all laugh at the same lines and weep at the same sorrows. However, it has become increasingly hard for me to find movies that call to me. (Probably a function of age and having seen so many already.) Anyway, after looking at the 20-some odd movies offered by the Denver Film group, there were only 2 that didn't sound fascinating. 
 This is going to be an adventure and I will document what I find in this space and would love to have you come along with me. Popcorn optional.



Poetry Month #29: Untitled by Yanyi

Three poems of this poetry month celebration were recommended by people who truly know poetry: the folks at Seattle's Open Books: A Poem Emporium who generously helped me fill out the schedule.

Imagine reading in a comfy chair in a tiny, inviting space brimming with over 10,000 new, used, and out-of-print books ... all poetry. In fact, Open Books is one of only two or three poetry-only book stores in the country and offers a wide variety of readings and other poetry-oriented events. Of course, right now, you can't do that because the store is closed because of the coronavirus.

When owner Billie Swift had to close the store, it was clear that she needed to start selling books online. However, she knew she wanted to maintain some of the look and service offered to people who came into the store. She didn't want just a fulfillment warehouse so she kept all the staff and designed a process that would replicate as closely as possible the store experience. Email questions are encouraged and staff picks showcase new and important work.
Online store has a bookish look and is simple to use.
Here's the third recommendation from Open Books as described by bookseller Jeric Swift: The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. This untitled poem is a short prose poem that I find myself wondering about a lot, while we're all inside social distancing from everybody we love. We're all kind of forced to stick with ourselves (for good reason) and, for me, I'm trying to figure out how I'd like to emerge from this moment. It's going to take self-reflection, rest, for sure, and at some point I'm going to have to reckon with the systems I find myself beholden to in "regular" pre-covid-19 life.

You tell me that the old you is dead. I am also not who I used
to be. The revolution is emotional. I found a reason to not fear
death. I found more reasons to live, reasons to change what is
living inside me and around me. The revolution is that I care
about my own safety, that I believe my life is valuable and worth
pursuing. As in, I am worth the work of transformations. As in, I
do not fear how I will emerge from myself, or how many times.

            ––Yanyi, from The Year of Blue Water (Yale)


 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Poetry Month #28: Make Rice by No'u Revilla

Three poems of this poetry month celebration were recommended by people who truly know poetry: the folks at Seattle's Open Books: A Poem Emporium who generously helped me fill out the schedule.

Imagine reading in a comfy chair in a tiny, inviting space brimming with over 10,000 new, used, and out-of-print books ... all poetry. In fact, Open Books is one of only two or three poetry-only book stores in the country and offers a wide variety of readings and other poetry-oriented events. Of course, right now, you can't do that because the store is closed because of the coronavirus.

When owner Billie Swift had to close the store, it was clear that she needed to start selling books online. However, she knew she wanted to maintain some of the look and service offered to people who came into the store. She didn't want just a fulfillment warehouse so she kept all the staff and designed a process that would replicate as closely as possible the store experience. Email questions are encouraged and staff picks showcase new and important work.
Online store has a bookish look and is simple to use.
Here's the second recommendation from Open Books as described by bookseller Jeric Swift: No'u Revilla, who is a queer Indigenous poet and educator of Hawai'ian and Tahitian descent. She was born and raised on the island of Maui and has performed all over the world in places like Papua New Guinea, Canada, and at the United Nations. 

The making of the rice, the washing of the grains in preparation of feeding her family, and how the running of water over the grains somehow find its way running over the bodies of children... The speaker is reminded of children escaping through fences, alluding to the treacherous journeys immigrants and refugees, at times, are forced to undertake when leaving home. The dread of raising a daughter seeping into this simple and domestic act of washing the rice is startling.

Make Rice

I rinse fists of brown grain with
water that comes from the faucet and
even if I can’t afford it, I take
the time to watch hard pellets
squeeze through my fingers
like hard brown children are squeezed
out of holes
in fences
on private property.
Pouring dirty water out,
shooting faucet water in.
But I never lose a piece of rice
because that could be my daughter.

            ––No’u Revilla, from Effigies III: Permission to Make Digging Sounds (Salt Publishing)

Monday, April 27, 2020

Poetry Month #27 "We Aren’t the Only Species" by Craig Santos Perez

The next three poems of this poetry month celebration were recommended by people who truly know poetry: the folks at Seattle's Open Books: A Poem Emporium who generously helped me fill out the schedule.

Imagine reading in a comfy chair in a tiny, inviting space brimming with over 10,000 new, used, and out-of-print books ... all poetry. In fact, Open Books is one of only two or three poetry-only book stores in the country and offers a wide variety of readings and other poetry-oriented events. Of course, right now, you can't do that because the store is closed because of the coronavirus.

When owner Billie Swift had to close the store, it was clear that she needed to start selling books online. However, she knew she wanted to maintain some of the look and service offered to people who came into the store. She didn't want just a fulfillment warehouse so she kept all the staff and designed a process that would replicate as closely as possible the store experience. Email questions are encouraged and staff picks showcase new and important work.
Online store has a bookish look and is simple to use.
So, here's the first recommendation from Open Books: Craig Santos Perez, whose book Habitat Threshold just came out this month from Omnidawn. One of the gifts of this pandemic has been a healing of the planet, even if temporary.

Jeric Swift who made this recommendation stated: "Perez has always been a champion for the environment and for Pacific and Indigenous communities. This poem of his speaks to me because of the way it reads, its repetition actually changing the way I breathe while reading it. It's such a poignant reminder of the breath, the air, we share with all species."

 We Aren’t the Only Species
who age who change who language who pain who play who pray who
save who mate who native who take who break who invade who claim
who taste who want who talk who crawl who walk who yawn who trauma
who laugh who care who hear who fear who steal who heal who friend
who remember who sex who nest who settle who smell who help who eat
who feed who greed who sleep who see who need who belong who bleed
who speak who breathe who breathe who breathe who think who drink
who sing who thirst who birth who kill who smile who lick who listen
who kiss who give who sick who piss who shit who swim who migrate
who die who fight who cry who hide who sign who mourn who mourn
who mourn who work who school who tool who colonize who bond who 
protect who hope who lose who love who lonely who touch who moan
who drown who hurt who hunt who run who hunger who nurse who
suffer who build who trust who bury who future who house who house
who house on this our only 

––Craig Santos Perez, from Habitat Threshold (Omnidawn Press)

Here is a video of Perez reading "Praise Song For Oceania":
Click here to listen.
And here are the Open Book's last two virtual readings for Poetry Month:
>Tuesday, April 28 8:00pm
Instagram Live Reading with Kaveh Akbar, Paige Lewis, Rachael Allen, Ella Rimmer & Memoona Zahid
>Thursday, April 30 7:30pm
 Shelter in Poems: A Virtual Poetry Reading

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Poetry Month #26: "Remember" by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019.

Her website offers us this information:

Born in Tul­sa, Okla­homa, she left home to attend high school at the inno­v­a­tive Insti­tute of Amer­i­can Indi­an Arts, which was then a Bureau of Indi­an Affairs school. Har­jo began writ­ing poet­ry as a mem­ber of the Uni­ver­si­ty of New Mexico’s Native stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion, the Kiva Club, in response to Native empow­er­ment move­ments. She went on to earn her MFA at the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop and teach Eng­lish, Cre­ative Writ­ing, and Amer­i­can Indi­an Stud­ies at Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Los Ange­les, Uni­ver­si­ty of New Mex­i­co, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona, Ari­zona State, Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawai’i, Insti­tute of Amer­i­can Indi­an Arts, and Uni­ver­si­ty of Ten­nessee, while per­form­ing music and poet­ry nation­al­ly and internationally.


by Joy Harjo
 
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away tonight.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.