Monday, December 31, 2007

Allergies and Rainbows

Last night we went to First Night in Canfield.
Brady's Leap played--they were great. Really.

But I discovered I have a new allergy.
If I hear "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
(which I heard 3 times)
one more time, I will go into convulsions.
I might stop breathing. Someone will have to dial 911.
Between that song and that Celine Dion song
from the Titanic . . .
I'm sorry, but this is a serious problem . . .
No matter how well the songs are sung . . .

Allergies, my doctor told me a few years ago,
are very serious.
You should not laugh at them.

My mother didn't believe in them either.
She used to make me eat crab, shrimp,
and lobster, even when my eyes watered
and my throat itched. Just three more bites.
After all these were delicacies.
It was rude to refuse them.
I learned you could eat anything,
even if your throat itches
if you suck ice during and after.
You have to swallow chunks of it.
And keep swallowing. Ice cream headache and all.

I told Mom the doctor said I might die of an allergy.
Mom was indignant.
That's why kids are allergic to everything now.
Their mothers are soft on them.

I don't know. I really don't.
But no matter how fine a delicacy it might be . . .
I'm thinking if your eyes water,
and you start gagging
and people are looking at you funny,
you should probably stop doing whatever you're doing.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

To Tell the Truth?

I always wonder about memoirs. Biographies. How do you tell the truth? I like to tell little tiny tales about my family, but if I expand at all, there are too many contradictions.

My father, for example:

He cried when Hubert Humphrey was defeated but loved Ronald Reagan.

He insisted we go to church but also insisted we leave before the bellyaching about God began.

He worried about propriety --what others might think if only they knew -- but liked to burp, fart, and insult people to their faces. He always took his amazing farting dog to business meetings. He made a habit of accusing his associates of stinking the room up so much, he had to leave.

He also liked to dicuss his theory that Jesus was gay.

He was worried that my brother wasn't manly enough, while he, himself, loved picking out lipstick colors, dresses, necklaces, and all kinds of items my mother and sisters had no interest in. All you need is a touch of red lipstick, he'd tell me.

He was excellent at science, math, and logic, but he practiced every superstition known or unknown to man.

He thought it was unladylike to compete, discouraged his daughters from any kind of competition, and bragged outrageously when any of us won anything, even a sack race.

He blew up when any of his kids misbehaved but liked to brag about everything we did wrong. I heard him say once at a cocktail party: My son had a stellar marijuana crop this year. My one daughter was suspended for kidnapping the ice cream from the high school dining hall, and another one went grocery shopping in her underwear.

He was, I think, reasonably happy with his life, but he was just as happy to die. As he put it, I've been here way past my expiration date. It's good to be going now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Which takes the prize?

I've heard some pretty dumb things lately. Tell me, which is the dumbest?

1. A kid in Spanish class said he had to learn Spanish. Why? Because he works at Home Depot. He said there are these signs in Spanish everywhere. You mean the signs with Spanish words underneath the English words? Like in Best Buy when it says musica under the word, music? Yeah, he said. I need to know what they mean.

2. A friend's son-in-law was looking at a picture of the three wise men. Who are these three men, dressed up kind of like Santa? he asked. Those are the three wise men, she answered. Really? he answered. I didn't know they had black men back then.

3. Before break one college student was talking to another about how she was driving south for Xmas break. She was really excited to be headed to the beach. She figured it wouldn't take that long to get to Florida because it was south. But it would take a lot longer getting back because she'd be driving north.

I guess south means downhill?

4. According to an article I read recently (I think it was that same article as the one below about the hugs), women practically have an orgasm when they chat. That's why women like to talk so much.

5. I heard this minister speak at an Episcopal Church in Cleveland. He said sex is about as important to a marriage as washing dishes.

I'm still wondering what kind of dishes he was talking about.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to Make a Woman Trust You in Just 20 Seconds

I went to Starbucks today with this idea I'd work. But of course I just eavesdropped. I can't help myself. I have a chronic listening habit. Especially when the women next to me start talking about sex. (I was glad it was sex this time instead of weight or money or in-laws.) They were both thin and done-up just so. Pretty, I guess, in a seasoned way. One was saying that her new man had this thing about hugs. She thinks she's finally figured it out. He must have read somewhere that thing about how if you hug a woman for 20 seconds, she will trust you forever. And once she trusts you, well, you know. But, the woman added, I hate hugs. I don't just hate them. I despise them. I feel like I'm drowning when people hold me too long. A 20 second hug is just way too long. If he didn't hug me, I think we'd be having a really good time of it.

The other woman answered that most men don't know how to hug. They don't have a clue. You can't just throw your arms around a woman and then squeeze like she's a blow-up doll that needs to have the air pushed out of her. You have to do it just right. But you know how men are. Men think everything is so f-ing simple. Like hugs, compliments, or how you say thanks, that was really nice . . . They don't get it, that you have to finesse the moment.

I've been wondering about that finessing of the moment. Hmm.

I went home and googled the 20 second hug and sure enough, it's supposed to work, just as the woman says. A 20 second hug is a magic recipe for a woman's trust. I'm getting claustrophobia just thinking about it.

Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum?

Yes, in answer to a recent email, that's the title of my new chapbook. I've had a couple of people ask me how they can order a copy. A few have found the Subito site and complained that they have to play a computer game in order to place an order. It's true. You have to get the Subito bird to land on a nest. Otherwise, no books for you.

You can also just send an email to: Ask for whatever you want, and they will get back to you. Hopefully, the books will be on Amazon eventually. But flying computer birds around your screen isn't all that bad either, even if the nest seems to escape the bird every time.
If you're interested, click on

Saturday, December 22, 2007

7 Weird Things about Me

in response to being tagged for this question.

1. I've never seen Leave It to Beaver. The first time I heard someone refer to June Cleaver, I asked if that was Eldridge's mother. (I grew up with no TV)

2. I've been drunk only once in my life, and that was when I was five years old.

3. I can't see out of both eyes at the same time, so I pick which eye to use.

4. When I was a girl, I was absolutely certain I flew at night. I even remember how I did it.

5. One of my earliest memories was of this man called Toby. Toby was an African American man who would come to our farm to catch turtles. He would take a burlap bag down to the pond and come back with a snapper bigger than I was. How did you catch it, I'd ask. He always said I just feel in the mud with my toes.

6. I've never eaten a Big Mac.

7. When I was girl, my mother used to like to show off her yoga postures for my friends. She would waltz into our game room and start into a yoga move. She did the same thing to my daughter and my daughter's friends years later. Watch me, she say. Then she'd stand on her head in the middle of the carpet. She did that until she was 87 years old.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Turtle Photo Essay by Jimmy

It's turtle weather again. I never go anywhere without one. You just never know when a turtle might come in handy, as Jimmy points out. A few other uses--a dog sweater, a tube top or jog bra, (or as Kelly would call them, a onesy for ones who fit into onesies), or a cover for books with embarrassing titles, the ones you read and don't want to admit, even to yourself, you are actually reading them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Hotdogs and Good News

I've been away from my blog for so long, I almost forgot about it. It's that time of year I guess. The time to be too busy to remember your own name, life, thoughts.
I've been busy writing my Christmas story. It's called How to Love a Hotdog.

I'm very excited about How to Love a Hotdog. I mean I am so excited about it, I can't even say. I mean how does one love a hotdog? And I mean, really love a hot dog. A hotdog that is like no other hotdog?

Lot's of good things are happening. Karen Schubert's chapbook is due out soon. A little chapbook about all the places she lived, the lives she had as a child, and more. Much more. Karen is always much more. And in the best of all possible ways. The book is coming out from Pudding House.

Also, there is this wonderful essay by Kelly Bancroft called Boob Suit. No one writes like Kelly. She has this honesty that is beyond honesty. I love whatever she does.

Then Brady's Leap is playing for New Years Eve at that St. Michaels in Canfield. I love to hear them play.

My chapbook, Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum?, is out now from Subito Press.

And it isn't raining-snowing or doing anything yet. I love snow. I love snow. I hate that snow-rain mix. I am praying it will just snow . . . None of that half-way stuff.

And my daughter, Suzanne, is coming home Monday night. She was a banana recently. I won't bother explaining. But I might post a picture. So please pray that the horrible storm that is forecast has blown over, and the travel gods let her fly in safely.

And my son, Jimmy, is flying in from California, the land of milk and honey, this weekend. I can't wait.

Even though I love snow, most of the time I really do, I hate anyone who has the luxury to live in California where the skies are blue, and the weather is warm. They always gloat. It's disgusting. And it just isn't fair. So if you live out there, and the sun is shining, I don't want to hear about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Shoveling Manure

People used to tell me how lucky I was to live on a farm. They had this romantic idea about farm life.

I'd smile. Yep. But the truth is, it was really boring. And it was lonesome. And dull. And hard work. A lot shoveling manure, no matter what the weather, no matter how I felt.

These days people tell me how lucky I am to be able to write. And they have this romantic idea about a writer's life.

And I think oh yeah, romantic. But the truth is, it's lonesome and tedious. Not that I'd trade it. But I think about how many times I go over and over the same sentence. I never, ever get it right. It's like going back into a stall I thought I'd cleaned a thousand times, and finding fresh, steaming shit.

There is just no end to the manure you have to shovel in this world. I swear, this is the one and only truth.

I sometimes imagine there are invisible critters I never see, but the minute I turn my back or shut my eyes, they enter my rooms, stories, or poems, or any other place I thought I'd polished, cleaned, perfected, and they start crapping. Some are subtle, and leave only tiny marks, maybe little teeth punctures. I don't notice at first. (Even editors let me get by with a few mouse turds in between my better lines.) Other's I don't even want to think about. I mean, they let loose. It's just what happens. The evidence is everywhere. And what can I do about it?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Learning French from Buffy the Vampire

Today I talked to Mom on the phone about what she calls "my impressive children." She is so impressed with Suzanne. Especially for learning all those languages, she says. Tell me again how she became fluent in French? I'm not sure Suzanne is fluent exactly, but my mother doesn't want to be corrected. So I tell her again how Suzanne spent the summer in France with a family who lived in a tiny apartment and never went out. They sat on the couch and watched Buffy the Vampire reruns in French all day long.

Who is Buffy the Vampire, my mom asks again. You've never heard of Buffy? I ask, also again. I don't tell her that I think Buffy the Vampire sounds like a good name for a porn star. My mom is 90 years old, and she doesn't talk of such things. Shoot, she's going to be 91 in a few months.

Then she asks about Jimmy. That son, she says, who does those things I don't understand. He's brilliant to do them, she adds quickly. That's why I married your father. He made brilliant offspring. (My mother gives my father credit for all signs of intelligence on earth, esp. now that my father is dead.)

So tell me again what Jimmy does? I try to avoid the topic of computer science, but she loves the words, artificial intelligence and film graphics. I think they remind her of Buffy the Vampire.

Soon she's tired. I'm too old for all this, she says. I'll leave the vampires and the computers to your children. I'm glad they didn't have those when I was your age. She says goodbye suddenly, sounding happy to have chatted, and happy not to have what she calls "our lives" to look forward to.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What I Learned from the Heifers

I remember once overhearing my parents talking.

Dad: Don't you think you should talk to her about the facts of, you know, married life?
Mom: Which facts?
Dad: You know what I mean, Jane. Talk to her. She's going to be married soon.
Mom: She doesn't need me to talk to her. She's a farm girl. She's watched the heifers.
Dad: She's not a heifer, Jane.
Mom: If the heifers can figure it out, I'm sure she can too.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Today in the news there is an article about salt.
It says don't eat so much of it.
It says salt is bad for your heart.
You will die younger
and young of heart
if you eat loads of salt.
Ah, but what if you love salt?
Heart and soul? I mean, what if
you REALLY LOVE salt?
When I was a girl, I loved salt so much
I would pour it on my hand and lick it.
I'd lick the tops of crackers
or suck them just for the salt.
I liked the taste of sea water.
And sweat.
If I wouldn't eat something,
my dad would pour salt on it
and I'd suck it right down.
I'd even lick the salt blocks
in the cow pasture.
Those are for the heifers, Mom would say
whenever she caught me.
After a while she just said,
those are for the heifers and Nin.
(She never worried
when I shared things with her cows.
She liked us about the same.)
She figured we were farm kids,
immune to germs, unlike those delicate urbanites
in their antiseptic homes.
What do they do in there,
she'd ask sometimes when we drove
through the burbs, the TV lights flickering.
We didn't own a TV.
And Mom could never sit still anyhow
or stay inside.
She liked being in the garden or fields.
And she liked cows.
I never understood how anyone could like cows.
They're dumb and smelly.
They fart and shit and eat all day long.
But Mom used to say
we have a lot in common with cows.
We, too, like to eat and eat and eat.
All day long we like to eat.
And we like salt.
She admitted she liked salt too.
Once I even got her to lick a salt block
herself. Admittedly it was a new block,
not one that had been in the fields yet,
not yet softened and smoothed by cow tongues.
She said it wasn't so bad.
She even agreed when I said salt licks
are some of the best-tasting salt ever.
I suggested we could serve something like it
as an appetizer. Little cubes of cow salt
for guests. I thought about it for years.
How you could hold the cubes in your mouth
and suck them down like sugar.
That way I, for one, would be sure I died
when I was still young at heart.
Who wants to die with an old heart?
Not having enjoyed the salt of life?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Never been to a mall

My daughter, Suzanne, took Marecela, the girl in this photo, to register for college on Monday at the Universidad Tecnologica in San Salvador. Marecela is one of the recipients of a university scholarship (from a scholarship program set up by S and another Peace Corps volunteer). Amazing experience, I imagine. After registering, they went to a mall where they were to meet their ride. M. had never been to a store before, much less a mall. She sat on a bench and just stared . . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blowing in the wind

pic. by my son, Jimmy

Oh my God, I forgot my helmet and now look at my hair!

Congrats to Jimmy for publication of his story, "Chick Magnet," and for having his computer game, "Mr Heart Loves You Very Much," selected by Montreal's Game Competition. (I'm not sure what the event in Montreal is called).

Reading November 29

Yep, it's my last scheduled reading for 2007.
At Kent State . . .
at the Kent Stark Campus
at 7:30
in the Library Conference Room
(which is right in front of you
when you enter from the Frank Road entrance).

Robert Miltner,
(one of the nicest humans on earth
and a really great poet)
invited me to read
with Kirk Nesset,
who just won the Drue Heinz Award.

The address:
Kent State University Stark
6000 Frank Ave NW
Canton, OH 44720


These are from Suzanne's classes. I've yet to unload my photos . . . But the school is tiny, and it takes in about 360 kids a day in 2 shifts. The first shift is 8:00 to 12:00. The second is 1:00 to 5:00. The same teachers teach both shifts. Everyone packs into the little cement rooms. It's hot! Maybe high 80s. And really humid. I was soaked with sweat, but everyone else seemed chill. The first time I went there (last March), I had this idea I'd wash up before meeting the teachers. I forgot . . . no running water, no real bathrooms . . . Suzanne, teaching environmental education, finds ways to stay outdoors.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Travel Fatigue

I am so glad I don't have another trip for a while. When I have to travel a lot, I feel as if I never really land. I am always thinking of my next take-off date.

I am reminded of the story about the man who was afraid of flying . . . One day he finally had to board a plane. Afterwards, when asked how it went, he answered that it was just fine. Why? Because he never put his feet down.

My pathetic Spanish has finally gotten to the point where I can understand a bit but am way too slow to answer as effectively as I'd like. I can hear people talking about me. Like the man ahead of me in line saying to his pal that all gringos look alike. Like the woman, looking at my daughter and me, commenting that American women are really skinny but sure can eat a lot. And another man asking his friend why my husband would let me travel alone. American men let their wives do all kinds of things . . .

I actually spoke more Spanish in Miami. The Miami Book Fair is a mad house. But Denise Duhamel and Nick Carbo are the nicest, greatest poets and people ever.

I found two new authors to love madly: Abigail Thomas and Marlena Morling.

About El Salvador: there were some icky things . . . the armed guards with their big guns, the heat, the poverty, and the smell of burning plastic. (How else, folks ask, are we to take care of the garbage problem? The smell is nauseating.) Also, I never knew a cockroach could grow as big as my hand . . .

Good things . . . the beaches of El Salvador are beautiful. The village where Suzanne works is really pretty . . . up in the hills, and everyone is so friendly and welcoming. (Okay, so they all come to their doors and stare.) And I loved the kids in our poetry class. The kids were so happy to have their own packet of poems to take home, to have a chance to write their own poems . . .

When Suzanne and I went running, the kids from every house raced out into the streets and ran with us. Packs of kids . . . ending back at her house for water and giggles.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Back from El Salvador at last! A few poems below from the school kids. They were beautiful. No two ways about it. One assignment (which we never got to because we ran out of time) was to write the exact details of today. I told them that when they were as old as I was, they would not remember today. They giggled. Clearly they could not imagine it, being old like me. I remember as a girl, thinking I would never ever turn into a woman, esp. an old woman.


Centro Escolar San José Carrizal

Primer Taller de Poesía, Martes 13 de Noviembres

El sol y la luna y los girasoles

Kendy de Lourdes Cerón, 10 años

Todas las noches

los girasoles despiertan…

Para aprender lo que

La luna en lo alto de las nubes enseñaba

Pero la luna solo les enseñaba la vocal “o”.

Los girasoles ya estaban

Aburridos de la vocal

Un día aunque no había luna

Apareció el sol que les dijo

Yo les enseñare y les enseño

Todas las vocales.

Un girasol le pregunto

¿De que palabra viene la

Letra “e”? y respondió la letra

Viene de la palabra tierra.

The sun and the moon and the sunflowers

Every night

The sunflowers awoke…

In order to learn what the moon

In the height of the clouds would teach them

But the moon only taught them the vowel “o”

The sunflowers grew bored

Of the letter.

One day although there was no moon

The sun appeared and told them

I will teach you and then taught them

All of the vowels.

One of the sunflowers asked:

What word does the letter “e” come from?

And the sun answered: The letter “e”

Comes from the word earth.

Una mañana tan hermosa

Un sol iluminaba muchas arboles,

Muchas flores hermosas

Y un aire tan fresco

En una noche tan linda

La luna iluminaba la tierra

Los niños desde sus cassas miraban

Las nubes y las estrellas

One beautiful morning

A sun illuminated many trees

Many beautiful flowers

And a cool breeze

In one beautiful night

The moon illuminated the earth

The children from their houses watched

The clouds and the stars

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Miami and El Salvador

I leave for Miami tomorrow . . . a weekend at the book fair before flying to El Salvador for a week. I have my Spanish poems in hand and my lesson plan to teach a class with Suzanne, but all the Spanish I know has suddenly abandoned me . . .

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What do you do?

Sometimes, when asked, I tell people I'm a poet. Usually I try to think up another definition for myself. Dreamer, cow whisperer, harpoonist, griddler, lemming. If I say I write, I dread these two familiar responses . . . Why do you do that? Meaning you can't get rich that way, now can you? The other: I write too. Would you like to see my poems?

Maybe it's a little unfair, but I love it when Jim, a physicist, has a similar problem. My two favorite responses to his profession . . . Wow, so you can explain string theory? And: I have this idea for a perpetual motion machine. I'm sure it will work. My only problem is that I never studied physics so maybe we could talk and . . .

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Runners

I leave for Miami for the book festival this coming Thursday. Then I'm off to El Salvador to visit Suzanne. We'll teach a poetry class in her school, and maybe I'll take run with her team of young runners. Here they are pictured with their new shoes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Bird Man

Do you ever remember a story your parents told and look for it years later,
only to wonder if they made it up?

There's a story my father used to tell me when I was sick. Now I can't find anywhere . . . A kind of fairytale about a bird man. If I asked him, he would take a pen and draw a picture of the bird man in the story.

The bird man had this problem. You see, he plucked his feathers out. Why? Nobody knew for sure.

But there were three possible answers.

One, he was an artist. It was only by pulling out his feathers that he could weave them into a beautiful tapestry that told the story of his life.

Two, he was a scientist. It was only by taking out his feathers and examining their structure that he could understand how he flew.

Three, he was man. It was his nature to tear himself apart one feather at a time so he would never soar too high and would always live close to the ground.

In any case, according to the story, we descended from the bird man. That's why we still dream of flight and angels.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hostess would like you to know

Twinkies do not last for eternity.
Out of the packaging,
they only stay fresh for 25 days.

Dear Diary,

I bet you've missed me. I've been gone a whole week. I had my eyes operated on. Now I have to wear a patch for weeks, and I can see the little stitches where they sewed up my eye balls. Gross.

That was an entry in my grade school diary. Usually I just told my diary what I wanted most. Like snow. Please make it snow.

I wonder whom I thought I was writing to then.

I wonder that now sometimes too.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It is not an urban myth?

Okay, so I was telling my husband and friends at dinner that a woman found a python in her toilet, and they started teasing me. I thought maybe I was nuts, but it's true. At least if you believe the news.

I've been thinking about what that would be like. To find yourself seated over a python . . .

Preciosa Dumlao - AHN News Writer
Brooklyn, NY (AHN) - A 38-year-old restaurateur found a 7-foot-long python in her toilet while she was washing her hands early Monday. She said most of the venomous python's body was hidden in the pipes and was trying to come out of her bathroom.

The New Yorker Nadege Brunacci said, "I turned on the light and screamed. It still makes my heart race."

According to Brunacci, when she saw the snake, she yelled for help.

Her landlord came to see what happened and plumbers had to tear down the pipes to trap down the snake.

She said it is questionable how the snake got into her bathroom pipes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Radio and embarrassing moments

Last night I did a radio reading. I could hear myself echo back into my ear, as if my words were making fun of me.
I think they were.
I felt as if I were talking to the air, and only I was listening. An eerie feeling.
As soon as it was over, I wanted to fix it, make it better.
So much of conversation is like that. So many words get sent out into the air, wishing they had a second chance . . .

At night I dreamt I was back in first grade. I had a solo, and I started singing all the wrong words. I woke up in a sweat, remembering the concert exactly. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I was all dressed up in black velvet with silky red ribbons in my hair. I felt like a movie star, and I wanted to be sure everyone heard me. So I sang as loud as I could: I had grits and eggs for breakfast. My cow, Mildred, died last week. She got the bloat.

I think I was supposed to be singing Deck the Halls . . .

That night my mother told me it's eggs, not aay-eggs. My father phoned Mrs. Wallace, my first grade teacher, and asked her never to give me a solo again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Spartans

The Spartans have always fascinated me. My mother used to read me tales about the Spartans, esp. the one about the boy-warrior who had a pet fox who ate his entrails . . . But I'll save that for another time.

In today's encore excerpt from Delancey Place, the rigors and rituals of Spartans, the fiercest warriors of the ancient world, circa 560 B.C.:

"Even the newest-born baby was subjected to the proddings of old men. Should an infant be judged too sickly or deformed to make a future contribution to the city, then the elders would order its immediate termination. ... A cleft beside the road which wound over the mountains to Messenia, the Apothetae, or 'Dumping Ground,' provided the setting for the infanticide. There, where they might no longer shame the city that had bred them, the weak and deformed would be slung into the depths of the chasm ...

"[I]t was the goal of instructors not merely to crush a boy's individuality, but to push him to startling extremes of endurance, discipline and impassivity, so that he might prove himself, supremely, as a being reforged of iron. ... Denied adequate rations, the young Spartan would be encouraged to forage from the farms of neighboring Lacedaemonians, stalking and stealing like a fox, refining his talent for stealth. Whether in the heat of summer or in the cold of winter, he would wear only one style of tunic, identical to that worn by his fellows, and nothing else, not even shoes. ...

"[A]t the age of twelve, he became legal game for cruising. Pederasty was widely practised elsewhere in Greece, but only in Sparta was it institutionalized-- even, it is said, with fines for boys who refused to take a lover.

"Just as boys were trained for warfare, so girls had to be reared for their future as breeders. The result--to foreign eyes, at any rate--was an inversion of just about every accepted norm. In Sparta, girls were fed at the expense of their brothers. To the bemusement of other Greeks, they were also taught to read, and to express themselves not modestly, as was becoming for women, but in an aggressively sententious manner, so that they might better instruct their own children in what it meant to be a Spartan. They exercised in public: running, throwing the javelin, even wrestling."

Tom Holland, Persian Fire, Abacus, 2005, pp. 81-85. From

Monday, October 15, 2007

Familiar Story

Last night Suzanne called to tell of a friend in El Salvador,
a high school girl, who was beaten by her dad
so badly she had to go to the doctors
and to the police. Of course the police did nada.
She is such a great kid,
Suzanne said. Never in trouble.
Always trying to be helpful.

The kind who always does whatever her daddy says
because, after all, he brought her up right, right?
Didn't I bring you up right?
he shouts sometimes late at night.
The neighbors hear him (don't they?)
though no one ever complains.
Maybe they hear the wife saying,
stop now, stop.
But he keeps shouting . . .
And don't you make a fool of me . . .
Don't you ever run around
in the streets with boys like those other girls . . .
But she's a smart girl, this girl.
She knows if the boys don't abuse her,
her daddy will . . .

Why is this story so familiar?

Q and A

I always hate the Q and A part of a reading. It takes all my mental energy to stand up and read, and there isn't any left to answer questions. A well-meaning aspiring poet might ask those seemingly simple questions. For example, why is a prose poem a prose poem, esp. the one you read that sounds like it has an internal rhyme scheme? Is it just a question of line breaks?

Instead of answering I wish I could ask my own questions.

1. Tell me, Darling, what is your relationship with structure and meaning, form and message? Does your body and face tell who you are? Are you sure, or are you lying even now? Where is your soul, and does it fly?

2. Can you explain to me the magic of your favorite lines of poetry? Do you know what a satori is? Or what meaning means? Is this just this?

3. Can you define the relationship between the divine and silky mauve shirts? Or tiramisu, sepia photos of the dead, and fountain pens, the kind with just the right ink flow. Not too much, not too little. Only black ink will do . . . And the right kind of porous stationary . . . .

4. Do you have a favorite wish? Lust? Lie? If so, do you know you should never say it aloud? And what will happen if you do? And why?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Female Athletes

I love female athletes. I get such a high from watching women compete. Somewhere in the back of my head, I can still hear Dad's voice . . . "Back in my days men wouldn't care for a woman with legs like yours. Too many muscles . . . It just doesn't look right." But listening to Marion Jones weep and confess after all of her bold claims of innocence was so depressing. Those performance enhancing drugs, I believe, are here to stay. Sad.

Also sad to see are the number of anorexic runners, like the girl on Suzanne's team who couldn't believe that Suzanne didn't mind being "fat." Her coach told me once that he couldn't allow some of his faster runners to compete in the steeple chase or the longer track races because they didn't eat enough, over-trained and generally didn't take care of their bodies. Female runners, he said, have a higher injury rate than football players.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


After one hurdle, there's always another. And I thought I was going to rest between the jumps?

Haven't I learned anything yet?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Track Side

Lately I've been walking the dogs past the football field, seeing the boys ram into each other, the girls cheer, the parents on the side, shouting and cheering. I've never been a football fan, never cared for cheerleaders, but I spent years and years track side. I never really thought I'd miss it, but now sometimes I get a little ache for that thrill of watching a kid put all of his or her energy into a competition. I remember a coach sobbing one day when my daughter, Suzanne, broke a college record. He came over and shook me. There's nothing like it, he shouted. Nothing like it. Watching it all happen and in a matter of a few minutes.

There is something amazing about it. But it's not just in sports. Watching people I love succeed makes me feel so proud, so high, I sometimes feel I as if I'll burst open. Watching my life-long friend, Anne Marie Slaughter, on the Colbert report was one such high. (She was awesome!) Reading my friend, Mary Beth's, first published poem was another. And watching my son graduate made me cry even if I thought the ceremony would never end. I sometimes think it's easier to be really happy for someone else than for oneself . . .

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Another beautiful poem by Kelli

I have to add one more Kelli poem to my blog, a poem about death and birds. I've always wondered about the link between birds and death in our minds. Of course I understand the wings, the angels, death and so forth. But the beliefs are so strong. A few years ago when we were having our house worked on, I came home to find two burly carpenters outside, afraid to re-enter the house. Why? Because there was a bird inside. Evidently, they'd left the door open, and a robin had flown in. The poor robin was beating against the windows, trying to escape. The men warned me that death would soon follow the bird.

When Women Die, Waxwings Appear

By evening, the tips of their wings are dusty
from footsteps of men who don't know
what to do with themselves,

from children jumping rope
in an abandoned lot unaware
that anything has changed.

Waxwings appear in the madrona.
Someone has died and they try to carry sadness
to a bed of twigs, search for string and straw,
small branches to weave into edges.

By nightfall, the tips of their wings are arrows
for the men who don't know where to go,
for children looking for their way home.

At times, a bird will steal tissue from the hand
of a mourner, cover its nest to keep grief
from slipping back into families living below.

These days every limb contains a nest;
there are never enough wings to hold the men
who try to comfort their children who linger
with hope of finding a new home.

from Small Knots by Kelli Russell Agodon

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

Just when I was beginning to think, don't worry, be happy, Bill sent me an article from Patagonia to remind me of the bad news about plastics . . . How it's everywhere and in everything, esp. in our bodies.

Add to that, today I was at the hair salon, and the woman next to me started telling me how she was sure her daughter's breast cancer came from plastics. An elderly woman, she said her daughter was from the microwave generation. So she never cooked anything because it took too long. Instead she microwaved it. The plastic on the top of the frozen foods she microwaved melted into the food and into her body. And all that microwave cookware, you know that stuff isn't natural. Whatever it's made of shouldn't be near food . . .
If she's just learned to cook rather than to microwave, she might still have her breasts.

She reminded me of the article:

" . . . bisphenol A seeps out of polycarbonate plastic when it's heated or exposed to acids and also as it ages. Sometimes labeled , Recycler Image 7, polycarbonate is used in baby bottles, transparent reusable water bottles (but not the bottles water is sold in), food packaging and utensils, coffeemakers, kitchen appliances, and numerous other products. Bisphenol A also forms the epoxy resins used to line food cans and is in dental sealants. It mimics the effects of estrogen and has been linked to prostate cancer and precancerous breast tissue in animal studies."

The article said a lot more too. I'm too depressed to post more of it here today. I can rest assured that corporate America doesn't want me to worry about this. I can hear it singing, don't worry. Be happy.

from Practical Values: Hard to Break
By Elizabeth Grossman

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Kelli Russell Agodon

I just started Small Knots, this beautiful book of poems by Kelli Russell Agadon. I am totally in heaven, just where I want to be with a book, any book . . . I who always want to leave this world and find another. This is just one of my favorite poems so far:

A Mermaid Questions God

As a girl she hated the grain of anything
on her fins. Now she is part fire ant, part centipede.
Where the dunes stretch into pathways, arteries appear.
Her blood pressure is temperature plus wind speed.

Where religion is a thousand miles of coastline,
she is familiar with moon size, with tide changes.
She wears the cream of waves like a vestment,
knows undertow is imaginary, not something to pray to.

Now her questions involve fairytales, begin
in a garden and lead to hands painted on a chapel's ceiling.
She wants to hold the ribbon grass, the shadow of angles
across the shore. She steals a Bible from the Seashore Inn;

she will trust it only if it floats.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Male Brain

I had to laugh at Friday's entry from So I guess it's true what they say about the male brain being a sex organ, and the female brain being just a blabber box. And I thought those were just urban myths and/or stereo types.

"Under a microscope or an fMRI scan, the differences between male and female brains are revealed to be complex and widespread. In the brain centers for language and hearing, for example, women have 11% more neurons than men. The principal hub of emotion and memory formation--the hippocampus--is also larger in the female brain, as is the brain circuitry for language and observing emotions in others. This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events. Men, by contrast, have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive as well as larger brain centers for action and aggression. Sexual thoughts floats through a man's brain many times each day on average, and through a woman's only once a day. Perhaps three to four times a day on her hottest days. ...

"The numbers vary, but on average girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys. ... Girls speak faster on average, especially when they are in a social setting. Men haven't always appreciated that verbal edge. In Colonial America, women were put in the town stocks with wooden clips on their tongues or tortured by the 'dunking stool,' held underwater and almost drowned--punishments that were never imposed on men--for the crime of 'talking too much.' ...

"There is a biological reason for [this female talking] behavior. Connecting through talking activates the pleasure centers in a girl's brain. Sharing secrets that have romantic and sexual implications activates those centers even more. We're not talking about a small amount of pleasure. This is huge. It's a major dopamine and oxytocin rush, which is the biggest, fattest neurological reward you can get outside of an orgasm. Dopamine is a neurochemical that stimulates the motivation and pleasure circuits in the brain. Estrogen at puberty increases dopamine and oxytocin production in girls. Oxytocin is a neurohormone that triggers and is triggered by intimacy. ...

"Why do ... boys become so taciturn and monosyllabic that they verge on autistic when they hit their teens? The testicular surges of testosterone marinate the boys' brains. Testosterone has been shown to decrease talking as well as interest in socializing--except when it involves sports or sexual pursuits. In fact, sexual pursuit and body parts become pretty much obsessions."

Louann Brizendine, M.D., The Female Brain, Broadway Books, Copyright 2006 by Louann Brizendine, pp. 5, 36-39.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

About Plagiarism

I've been having fun looking for poems in Spanish
that would be good for ninos and also for muchachos.
I found a section of this one, "About Plagiarism," for the muchachos . . .
(I still have to figure out how to make accents on the computer.)

". . . when we like a woman, we tell her so
by stealing poems from the great poets.
The women fall disastrously in love with the poem
and even though they smile, looking into our eyes,
they never believe in our lyrical prowess,
yet they admit they've never read anything like it.
Sometimes they ask in a whisper how we came up with these things.
Fortunately, they don't wait for an answer."

. . . cuando nos gusta una mujer, para decirselo,
robamos los poemas de los buenos poetas.
Ellos fatalmente se enamoran del poema,
y aunque sonrien mirandonos los ojos
no confian jamas en nuestra lirica aptitud,
mas reconocen que nunca hablan leido asunto semejante.
En ocasiones susurran preguntando como se nos ocurren esas cosas,
y no esperan respuesta por fortuna."

from "Acerca de los plagios"
by Eduardo Langagne from Ruido de Suenos


Here Suzanne is giving a charla in her school on the importance of composting. I keep looking at this photo, imagining the two of us teaching poetry instead. The kids were fascinated by our presence there.

After Suzanne's presentation, all the kids ran outside to start their own composting project. A few were more interested in picking mamees and handing them to us. A mamee is a fruit that tastes like a papaya crossed with an orange. I'm not sure how you spell it, but I learned the hard way, one must not eat too many mamees in one day . . .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This is a pic of Suzanne and me at Suchitoto, one of the few tourist spots in El Salvador. We spent some time today talking on the phone about our Spanish poetry day in her school near Santa Maria Ostuma. I'm getting excited about it and am finding some fun Spanish poems and bilingual books for kids. Suggestions are welcome.

I love this one from Octavia Paz from "Duration":

I will speak to you in stone-language
(answer with a green syllable)
I will speak to you in snow-language
(answer with a fan of bees)
I will speak to you in water language
(answer with a canoe of lightning)
I will speak to you in blood-language
(answer with a tower of birds)

from The Tree is Older Than You Are
selected by Naomi Shihab Nye
(one of my all-time favorite poets)

October Readings, Etc.

I have readings this fall! Please come if you are in town! And check out the The Montserrat Review’s best picks below. You can buy my book and the other BOA books at I'm thrilled to be on that list, and I have already read and really, really liked Peter Conners' and Tom Ward's books. Now to check out the rest!

October 9) I will be reading with Adele Steiner and Willa Schneberg for the Library of Congress, Poetry at Noon Series at the Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington D.C..

October 9)Richard Peabody and I will read at 7:30 at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. Phone: 301 654-8664, Fax: 801 730-6233

Oct. 13 and Oct. 21) I will be teaching a workshop from 1:00 to 3:00 on prose poetry and short fiction at The Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland, 12200 Fairhill Road, Townhouse 3-A, Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 421-0403

Oct. 25:) I have a reading with Sean Dougherty and John Menaghan at 7:00 at the Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman Street, Youngstown, Ohio.

Oct. 27: ) The one and only Phil Brady and I will read at 5:00 at Mac's Backs, Books on Coventry, 1820 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118. 216-321-2665

The Montserrat Review Picks

Best Books for Fall Reading, 2007
By Book Review Editor Grace Cavalieri


The Montserrat Review Picks Its Favorite Reading (in no order)
Selected by Grace Cavalieri, Fall 2007.

Best Books of Poetry

Old Heart by Stanley Plumley. W. W. Norton & Co, Inc, c2007. 96 pgs.ISBN: 978-0-393-06568-8

Still to Mow by Maxine Kumin, c2007, W. W..Norton & Co, nc. 93 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-393-06549-7

Whiskey in the Garden of Eden by Sarah Browning, c2007. The Word Works. 77pgs. ISBN: 0-915380-668

Disclamor by G.C. Waldrep, c.2007. Boa Editions, Ltd. 99 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-929918-97-3

The Matter of the Casket by Thom Ward, c2007. CustomWords 80 pgs. ISBN: 9781933456690

Edge by Edge, The Quartet Series, c2007. toadllily Press. pgs. 67. ISBN: I-978-o-9766405-2-3

Of Whiskey and Winter by Peter Conners, c2007. White Pine Press. 81 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-893996-89-2

In line for the Exterminator by Jim Daniels, c2007. Wayne State Univ. Press. 114 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-8143-3381-5

Encouragement for a Man Falling to his Death by Christopher Kennedy, c2007. Boa Editions, Ltd. 68 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-929918-98-0

Sleeping with Houdini by Nin Andrews, c2007. Boa Editions, Ltd. 86 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-929918-99-7

The Kimnama by Kim Roberts, Vrzhu Press, c2007. 48 pgs. ISBN: 978-104303-1407-3

More Than Anything by Hiram Larew, c2007. Vrzhu Press, 52 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-4303-1406-6

Best Chapbooks:

The Good Body by Anne Becker, c2007. Finishing Line Press. 29 pgs. ISBN: 978-1-59924-165-4

A String of Blue Lights by William Palmer, c2007. Puddinghouse. 30 pgs. ISBN: 1-58998-529-X

Best Novel:

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick, c2007. HarperCollins. 281 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-06-089052-0

Best Anthologies:

American poets in the 21st Century, edited by Claudia Rankine & Lisa Sewell, c2007. Wesleyan Univ. Press. 388 pgs. ISBN: 978-o-8195-6727-7

Kiss the Sky, edited by Richard Peabody,c2007. Paycock Press,420 pgs. ISBN: 0-931181-24-0

Best Literary Magazines/Journals

Best Annuals:

Paterson Literary Review # 36, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, c2007. Passaic County Community College. 360 pgs.

Pembroke Magazine #39, edited by Shelby Stephenson, c2007. Univ. Of North Carolina at Pembroke. 289 pgs.

Best biennial:

Connecticut Review, edited by Vivian Shipley,c2007. Conn. State Univ. System, 208 pgs. ISSN: 00106216

Best Quarterly Magazine

New Letters, edited by Robert Stewart, c2007.Univ. Missouri-Kansas City. 165 pgs. ISSN: 0146-4930

Best Monthly Literary Magazine:

Ocho;MiPOesias Print Companion.# 12, DiDi Menendez, c2007. A Menendez Publication. 85 pgs. ISSN:1939-4985


Grace Cavalieri is a poet and playwright. She produces and hosts "The Poet and the Poem" from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Last night I dreamt that my father was alive, and when I woke I was thinking of all the superstitions he practiced and taught me. He believed in premonitions and ghosts, too. He and my southern cousin, Hadie, loved superstitions and loved to tell them to me. Some they laughed about, but others they practiced. My father, for example, never passed the salt hand-to-hand. He said it was bad manners to do so. Here are a few of their superstitions. I know there are more, but I can't remember them now . . .

1. Never pass the salt hand-to-hand. If you do, you might spill it. Spilled salt, everyone knows, is a bad omen.

2. If you spill salt, toss a pinch of it right hand over left shoulder. If you don't, bad luck will happen to you or someone you love.

3. If you wake up before 7AM on the first day of the month, you have to say bunny, bunny. Say this before saying another word. If you don't, you will never escape the mean kids on the playground or the bad luck that is already blowing your way.

4. If you are at a party, and suddenly everyone is quiet, start your watch. Take note. Because this happens every twenty minutes. Yep, every twenty minutes, the world goes silent, but just for a second. That's when the dead trade places with the living.

5. Hold your breath while passing a graveyard, or the dead will listen in on your secrets and dreams.

6. If you leave flowers on a bus or a train, your future love will find them and know you are thinking of him.

7. If a bird flies in the house, death will soon follow.

8. If you see a ghost walking by the sea, a hurricane is brewing. Leave immediately, or you will be washed out to sea.

9. If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you must remember your dreams. Otherwise your dreams will stalk you, ruining your life for days, weeks, months . . .

10. If you are eating a piece of pie, always eat the point last. You can wish on it, and the wish will come true, but only if you don't eat another bite until dinner time.

11. If you listen to your heartbeat for a long time, the distance between one beat and the next will lengthen. In this way you can slow down your life.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Oh man. It's hot again today. I have the fan on high. My legs are sticking to the chair, and my head feels 100 degrees because the little engines in there are stuck in one place. I keep taking out and putting back in the same stupid line. And I know I will do that from now until this poem is published or thrown out. Whine. But I can't wait until fall is really here. My sister sent me this photo from Maine to make me jealous. Just looking at it, I can taste the salt in the air and smell the pines. I bet it's a Northwest day, cool enough for a sweater . . . If it's not, I'll put on a wetsuit and take a dive in the ice cold water . . .

Of course I have nada to complain about. Suzanne calls from El Salvador where there are no seasons. It's either hot or hotter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Man with the Hole in His Head

by Rick Bursky

I'm reading at the Library of Congress on October 9 at noon. The topic is magic and magicians. I get to read my own and others'works. This is one of the Bursky poems I plan to read.

He doesn’t mind the whistle of pain
being sucked from his head by a breeze,
though occasionally he wears a hat.
It’s the way he surrounds himself in solitude
when his hair grows weary of responsibility
just as a field of prairie grass
tires of hiding a damaged landscape.

He knows the difference between a crutch
and a bowl of soup: a crutch is a wooden stick
a ruined man uses to poke at the world;
a bowl of soup is the mirror he stares into on Thursday night.

If the phone rings while he’s doing a crossword puzzle
the man might put his pencil in the hole then forget
where it is until it falls when he bends to tie a shoelace.

At a costume party, a rose stuck down in the hole, thorns taped to his shirt.
Each person asks how it happened and gets a different answer:
automobile accident, war wound, birth defect.

He knows more about empty spaces than anyone you’ll ever meet.
For instance, a hole, he wrote to a friend,
weighs twice as much as whatever it once held.

(from The Soup of Something Missing)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

General Petraeus

copyright 2007

Rick Bursky sent me this photo of the General. The photo is copyrighted, so please don't use it without Rick's permission. But if you don't know of him, Rick is an amazing poet. Whatever he writes, read it. My favorite is his book, The Soup of Something Missing. This is what he wrote about the photo:

"I found this photo I took when I was in the army. It's General Petraeus when he was just Lieutenant Petraeus. We both were in the 1st of the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team stationed in Northern Italy. The photo was taken in France, 1976. Petraeus and I were part of a small group of paratroopers were sent to the French Army paratrooper school. The house behind him is a chateau in the Pyrenees Mountains in which we had dinner the night before."

Brady's Leap

Brady's Leap has been playing better than ever lately. I hope they do a new CD soon. Phil Brady can recite poetry like no one I've ever heard. And Kelly Bancroft has the voice of an angel. Listening to them play . . . it's so much fun. Maybe they'll play at AWP again this year. Or better yet, get a gig in the city at the same time at some cool place . . .

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sleeping with Houdini

My new book will be out so so soon! You can even order it on Amazon if you are, well, part-saint. Oh please! I always feel a kind of panic when a book is done. I look at it and immediately find something to change . . .

In fact I never stop changing my work. I can't read from my poems from books. I have to print out the pages so I can keep changing and changing them. No wonder I'm a poet. If I wrote a novel, the ending would change every time I thought about it.

Ah well, enough on anxiety! Houdini is almost here. Houdini, my childhood hero. I thought of him as a kind of god, or someone who dared to be like a god. I could never understand why someone would punch him in the stomach, just to prove he was human. I guess it's true what my mom always said. We people don't really like our gods.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

General B.S.-us

How is it that General Betray-us claims
there is evidence the surge is working . . .
How about the military's definitions and methods for taking statistics?
I particularly like this distinction I read in the Washington Post:

“If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian.
If it went through the front, it's criminal."

Ergo: sectarian violence is on the decline!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Los Tortugueros

For her birthday Suzanne slept on the beach with friends and watched for sea turtles (tortugas) to come up and lay their eggs. They didn't see any sea turtles, but they met a poacher who had gathered a sack of eggs. He showed off his eggs proudly but didn't appreciate their lack of enthusiasm or their efforts to make him give the eggs back. (Usually the eggs are taken to a preserve where they can be reburied and guarded.) Sea turtle eggs are such a delicacy there, they are worth some money. And where poverty is the norm, the folks who work to protect the turtle eggs are no match for poachers, or los tortugueros.

from the essay: "How I Came to Meet and Work with the Great Poet, Henri Michaux"

by Louise Landes Levi
in the intro of Someone Wants to Steal My Name

(Oh I wish I could have met Henri Michaux!)

. . . He never let his picture be taken . . . He didn't want to be recognized . . . Michaux understood poetry as a tool. He liked the phrase, "monastery of the mind," . . . I thought of him as a kind of Dzogchen master, who, through the dialogue of his absolute medium, tore open the illusion of the subjective world, and explored its limits, like a gifted child in an unexpected universe . . . He did not want his photo taken, but was happy when the Dalai Lama saw his photo. Now I'm in the Dalai Lama's mind, he said, beaming.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Con esas tetas

These are two of the El Salvadorian boys in Suzanne's youth group. One has on an Abercrombie t-shirt. The other has a black t-shirt with these words:

con esas tetas que tienes lo que no quiero es ser tu amigo

With those tits you have, what I'm wanting
isn't to be your friend.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nipple Head

Sometimes those word-a-days
(like the one posted below)
get into my brain
and then I can't stop thinking
about them . . ..
Esp. when I've been writing so long,
my neck hurts and my head feels so heavy
I swear it will fall right off,
and I'm hungry and tired and insane . . .

So now I'm thinking of having a napple
which is either a small nap
or a small apple
or a sleeping apple,
or an apple I dream of but never eat
or the nap I never take
but only imagine . . .
or maybe it's a misplaced nipple
or an insult.
My brother used to call folks
nipple heads. George Bush
for example, would be a perfect
example of a nipple head. Now THAT
was an insult back then, up there
with wiener. I mean nobody
ever wanted to be a wiener.


I love this entry from Word a Day:

"What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire?
Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an".

They were coined by a process called false splitting. Let's take
orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached
English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in
"an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in
Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become
"an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and
reshaped many other words.

The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle"
resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same
way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into
"an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily
oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling
is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though
not impossible.

This week we'll look at a few more examples of words formed by false splitting.

eyas (EYE-uhs) noun

A nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk.

[By erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". From Latin
nidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) that
is also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, and

from Wordsmith

How Dumb Is He?

The man never ceases to amaze me. This article from Grist is just one more reminder of who is leading the country and where we are heading . . .

We'd Blame Jet Lag, But ...
Bush makes gaffes at APEC gathering, forum sets weak voluntary climate targets

In Sydney, Australia, late last week at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, U.S. President George Bush referred to APEC as OPEC, then tried to cover up his gaffe by explaining that Australia's prime minister had invited him to a summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries next year. Unfortunately, Australia has never been part of OPEC. Bush also called Australians "Austrians," mispronounced leaders' names, walked the wrong way off the stage, and, when asked whether there had been any new message in his speech, bristled, "Haven't you been listening to my past speeches?" Which is all far more interesting than the climate-change statement the 21-country forum's leaders agreed to this weekend, which touts non-binding "aspirational targets" to reduce "energy intensity" 25 percent by 2030. Energy intensity is the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of gross domestic product.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sperm Sermon

Suzanne called last night from El Salvador because she had just returned with her youth group from some kind of religious event. The minister had given a sermon on the difficulty of getting into heaven. She called it his sperm sermon. Between giggles Suzanne quoted him:

Do you know how hard it is to get into heaven, the minister asked.
Do you know how bad the odds are for any one of you?
Well, let me put it in terms you teenagers can understand.
I know what's on your minds.
So let me tell you about heaven and sex.
Because I'm talking about sperm here.
Yes, sperm. And I want each of you to imagine
how many sperm come out of a single ejaculation.
60,000 is what I've read. Yep. Imagine that.
Now imagine all those sperm trying to fertilize one egg.
But only one lucky sperm ever becomes a man or a woman.
That's right, each one of you here today is one of the lucky sperm
walking around on human legs.
Many times not even one of the 60,000 even make it
through those Pearly Gates.
Have you ever wondered why?
No, I bet you haven't.
Well, I have . . .

Friday, September 7, 2007

Sick Pup

Nothing like a sick dog to take over your week. Sadie ate something nasty in the woods, and the vet was afraid it might have been chemicals of some kind because her reaction was so violent. She had to stay overnight in the animal hospital. Froda whined and whined for her. We all did. Now she's home, and both dogs are dining on chicken and rice like queens. (Froda won't stand for dog food if Sadie's over there chowing down the gourmet stuff.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Last lines

I used to think novelists didn't have to worry about last lines. For a poet there's so much pressure on that last line.

But lately I've been noticing the last lines of chapters. Some are like the moment before the soap opera ends. They have to keep you tuning back in. There are always those almost revelations, dead bodies, what ifs . . . I don't think I'll ever write a novel, but I've been thinking of last lines for chapters. Here are a few. I keep thinking of more.

1. But when I opened my eyes the next morning, nothing looked the same. I had no clue where I was. Who was this man looking down at me?

2. If I said it three times, it would have to come true.

3. This is your brother, he said, pointing to the dead body at the door. But it wasn't. It wasn't anyone I knew. But where was my brother?

4. I knew it was just the end of Act I, and I had lost. Or had I?

5. I was careful. Each day I made sure I left no evidence.

6. Even when I stole a glass of water (I was so unbearably thirsty then, I couldn't resist that cold filtered water ), I washed the glass and sprayed it with Glass Plus, erasing all fingerprints.

7. But still I sensed that someone was watching, as if my body were being traced by someone I could never see.

8. But what if they looked too closely at the girl walking down the street in his daughter's clothes?

9. Did anyone anyone notice that she was a little taller, thinner, that a few blond hairs sometimes strayed beneath her cap?

10. Did they think she was just some foreign relative, or someone who had a reason to be here after all, in this place where no one had a reason or a place to be or an after all.

11. She told him exactly what he needed to do. She told him his life depended on it. But would he listen? No, of course not. Instead he walked right into the burning house without a backward glance.

Managing Perceptions

1. When I was girl, I loved Coke. Coke in a green bottle, which I called Cocola. Then one day my dad told me it was brown sugar water. That if I put a tooth in it overnight, the tooth would dissolve by morning. I never liked Coke again. I imagined I could taste my tooth decaying.

2. I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. When I was child there, Charlottesville was a sleepy nowhere town. People complained of the heat and the ticks. Now Charlottesville is THE place to live. Every time I go back to visit, a new glitzy shop or hotel or business is going in.

3. The other night I read a story about about a Pakistani woman who was all set to marry the man of her dreams. Then the guy heard a rumor that she had kissed another man when she was twelve. So he decided she was no longer the woman he thought she was. One kiss had changed her in his eyes forever.

4. The US agricultural dept. is afraid to allow Creekstone Premium Beef to test all its cows for Mad Cow Disease. It doesn't want any beef company to be able to claim its beef is safer than other meat. Then American might begin to question the safety of their burgers. After all, Americans now believe Mad Cow Disease only takes place in England and Canada.

5. My daughter's best friend used to have a sound machine. She couldn't sleep without the sound of the ocean. Then one night Suzanne spent the night. Why do you listen to static all night long? Suzanne asked. After that the friend's mom told me her daughter couldn't sleep for a week. The waves were no longer waves.

6. Sometimes I go to the bookstore and read the best sellers. I read the books that other people say are good reads. I don't necessarily like them. But the word, "best," promises me something. And I can almost imagine I am getting it, even if I am not. I have this feeling that's a metaphor for my life.

7. My sister gave me this CD that is supposed to help you calm down, love the world, be at peace. It makes little rain and binging noises. The directions warn that it won't work if you fall asleep. The minute I put it on, I fall sound asleep. I use it as a sedative. It's audio-Sominex.

8. A few years ago, I told a friend I didn't know how to kiss. I never felt sure what to do with the tongue. She gave me this book with deep kissing exercises. One of them was to pass a piece of candy--or some kind of sweet- from mouth to mouth. Ever since then I've kept my lips sealed tight. I don't want anything to do with kisses like that. Makes me think of left overs burped up.

9. When Bush was first elected, I remember thinking he might not be as bad as I feared. I had a friend who convinced me he'd be okay because he hired Rumsfeld.

10. I have this book by Pema Chodron called ALWAYS HAVE A JOYFUL MIND. The title reminds me of this story about the Harri Krishnas. They had this devotee who was always blissed out. They thought he was almost enlightened. Turned out he had a brain tumor that was turning him into a human cabbage.

11. I used to think of Zen as peaceful. Now I think of white noise and sandalwood incense, which makes me sneeze.

Monday, September 3, 2007


I've been thinking maybe I should write a blurb collection.
Just in case anyone needs one.

One blurb could start very Zen-like. Like one of those Hirshfield poems.
(Does anyone really live like that? Like all Zen?)

Within this book is another book. An invisible book which is not the book but has the same cover, title, font, page numbers . . .

Ah . . . such BS. There is no other book. I up to my nose in BS today.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Messing with my cookies

Strange things have been happening. I mean

just a bit ago I was trying to access my blog
and I got this little note from blogger headquarters

Someone has functionally disabled your blogger cookies.

I couldn't get in here for a while.
What's this with my cookies?

The Nicest Guy

What a week last week was. Between the news of Senator Craig and the news from the kids' high school where a faculty member (this guy I really liked) was arrested for importuning a 12 year old girl in a chat room (who turned out to be a cop), I dunno. I keep thinking of how my dad used to say, it's always the nicest guy who has a few kids and some nasty secrets buried in his backyard. It was a creepy point of view, and for years whenever someone said the term, the nicest guy, I'd think of his words.

But then again, my dad had a thing against nice guys. He was sure nice, by definition, was a kind of perversion.

The Most Pesticides

What fruits and vegies have the most pesticides?

The answer:
Peaches (97% have pesticide residues when you buy the non organic varieties at the store), apples (92%), sweet bell peppers (82%), celery (94%) , nectarines (97%), strawberries(92%), cherries (91%), pears (87%), grapes (85%), spinach (70%), lettuce(59%), potatoes (81%).

The least?

Onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, papaya, blueberries . . .

My friend, Ann G., asked me this so she'd know which foods to buy organic. According to the EWG (Enviro Working Group), if you avoid the top 12, or the dirty dozen, you will effectively lower your exposure to pesticides. For a more complete explanation and list, check out:

Friday, August 31, 2007

Doctor Phobia

I have doctor phobia. Whenever I feel ill, my first thought is I hope I don't have to see a doctor. I've waited until I could barely breathe before seeking a diagnosis, and I've never bothered to X-ray various body parts when I've fallen despite the insistent pains. I think this Plume poem, "Plume Had a Sore Finger," by Henri Michaux explains my phobia perfectly. It opens like this . . .

Plume's finger felt a bit sore.
"Maybe you should see a doctor," said his wife. Often it's just a matter of lotion . . . "
Plume took her advice.
"Take off one finger," said the doctor, "and everything's perfect. With anesthesia, the whole thing takes six minutes at most. And since you're a rich man, you really don't need so many fingers. I'll be delighted to do the operation right away, and then I'll show you several sorts of artificial fingers, some of them truly exquisite . . . "

Translated by Richard Howard
From Someone Wants to Steal My Name, CSU Press, 888-278-6473

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't Leave Me!

Every time I think of going anywhere, I miss my pups. (And Jim too.) Of course this is an old photo. Froda, 4 months old or so. Sigh.


I'm going to be teaching a poetry class or two to kids when I go to El Salvador in November. I've just started to think about this. Suzanne tells me that no one reads books for fun there. No novels, no magazines, no newspapers. Of course she lives way up in the hills.

In the city people read. They talk politics behind closed doors. When I was talking to one woman there, a friend of S's (in the city of San Vincente) about the U.S., I said George Bush is stupido. She stared at me. You're allowed to say that?

Jim told me stupido is a bigger insult in Spanish. I should be careful. But the woman said no, no and then repeated, Bush es stupido. Bush es muy, muy stupido. And then she burst into laughter.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Questions about Dick

I am in such a bad mood today. I feel like the whole world is just bumming me out.
Maybe it's just the change of seasons. Maybe it's the wasps that keep stinging my dogs who are allergic. (God I hate wasps.) Maybe it's just the way it is, or this book I'm not having fun writing right now . . . But I keep imagining not writing it but instead composing some of those annoying questions that appear at the end of books for "discussion." Here are few I thought of for Dick and Jane ages ago.

1. Is this a book about a particular Dick or a Universal Dick?
2. Is Dick really Dick, or is he merely a symbol of Dick?
3. What might Dick be a symbol of?

from Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Strange Medical Facts

I received an ad in the mail yesterday: Discover a surprising four-a-day habit that will destroy brain-draining parasites lurking in your body right now.

A couple of years ago I became suddenly ill. I lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks and kept losing. After a month, I weighed only 100 lbs. I went to doctor after doctor. Most of them told them to eat more fiber and exercise more. One suspected there were parasites that no one could recognize.

My son went to have his blood drawn 2 weeks ago. The nurse stuck the needle in and waited. Then she told him she was sorry. He didn't have any blood.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I took this photo of my friends at my 8th grade graduation. It was a sad day . . .

Random Last Lines

1. In this way, by a trick of the sea, the morning has returned to me my white key, my sand-covered hat, my head--the head of a shipwrecked sailor."

Pablo Neruda, translated by Dennis Maloney and Clark M. Zlotchew

2. And anyway, Honey, you look kinda peekid and droopy, like you could use a little dialysis yourself.

Marily Krysl from "Single Head of Household"

3. Oh, no, dear son, for that would break all the toilets in the world, and there wouldn't be enough toilet paper to wipe away the shame.

Rusell Edson from "The Dear Son"

4. "I beg your pardon," Plume said, "I haven't been paying attention . . . " and he went back to sleep."

Henre Michaux from "A Manageable Man," translated by Richard Howard.

Last Lines taken from The Prose Poem, An International Journal, Volume 7 and from Someone Wants to Steal My Name and Other Poems by Henri Michaux.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Suzanne!

Suzanne is 24 today. She's been in the Peace Corps in El Salvador for almost a year now. In this pic, she's breakdancing, which is just one of her many talents. She spent last on the beach, watching for sea turtles that come up to lay their eggs.

People ask me often what she is doing. Here are some random sentences from her recent emails to give a general idea.

"We gave away the papaya trees about a month ago and I bought seeds to start a demo organic garden--planting cucumbers, tomatoes, radish and hot chiles, with the 5th and 6th graders next week. We bagged most of the organic compost and one of the local tiendas is donating tomato crates for the seed beds."

"Starting the next school recycling campaign next week as well, . . ."

"Helped out with a sanitation--abatization campaign with the two 5th grade classes yesterday. We hiked house to house through the community dropping off little bags of abate to kill mosquito and zancudo larvae in family washbasins and barrels, . . ."

"I applied to take Inez and Mehtabel to an HIV-AIDS conference at the beginning of September and I have also started scheming of ways to find funding--both women have years of nutrition and reproductive health training and offer invaluable services and education at no cost to women in children in my community, who cannot afford to pay. "

"I've been teaching English, but it's not my favorite thing. The kids are quick, but the school teachers are lazy."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Beauty Contestants

I stole this from Suzanne's blog, Mi Vida El Salvador. Somehow it makes me feel sad looking at the little beauty contestants.


I especially love this poem. Of course a Frenchman (okay, Belgian) would think to carry a bed where-ever he goes just in case he sees a beautiful woman, oui?

Simplicity by Henri Michaux

What has been missing in my life until now is simplicity. I am beginning to change, little by little.
For example, now I always go out with my bed, and when a woman pleases me, I take her to bed immediately.
If her ears are ugly or large, or her nose, I take them off with her clothes, and put them under the bed. I keep only what I like.
If her underthings could use a change, I change them right away. That is my gift. If, on the other hand, I see a more beautiful woman passing by, I excuse myself to the first and make her disappear at once.
Some who know me suggest I am incapable of doing just what I said, that I haven’t the temperament. I once believed so myself, but that was because I wasn’t doing everything exactly as I pleased.
Now all my afternoons are good. (Mornings, I work.)

Translated by Nin Andrews from Someone Wants to Steal My Name, CSU Press, 888-278-6473

Friday, August 24, 2007


O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.

-St. Augustine

How to hug a man?

Okay, I have this problem. I have certain men friends who shake my hand warmly, others who hug me, others who kiss just one cheek, others who kiss both cheeks, and a few who land a quick smack on the lips. These acts are all performed as a way of saying hello or goodbye.

My problem is that I never know which to anticipate. Without fair warning, I have smashed a few noses, been kissed on the hair instead of the cheek, and otherwise embarrassed myself while attempting to master the art of the polite embrace.

In France, of course, a kiss is a simple thing. To kiss. Baiser. Little buzzies. Always both cheeks, always quickly. Such kisses barely touch the skin before they are over and done with. Phew.

My son sent me this little video, but alas, it only applies to men. To men who are hugging men. But it does offer a few directional tips that cross the gender lines. I found it quite enlightening. But I still need help.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A few things I learned on my recent airplane trip

1. I should like George Bush because he listens to God.
2. Airplane salad turns brown if it's not hosed down with sulfites.
3. Brad loves Angie just the way she is.
4. There are magazines called Cement and Asphalt.
5. I look like a liberal.
6. "If it weren't for those environmentalists, Wal Mart and Lowes would be doing a lot better."
7. There's a Steven Hayward who isn't Steven Hayward, the cool Canadian novelist, and who is an anti-environmentalist and a hero for the readers of Cement.
8. Airplane rides can give you deep vein thrombosis. That happens when cement enters your veins.
9. Soon your head will turn to cement too.
10. You can hear people talking even with noise-cancelling headphones on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This Gives Us Paws from Grist

I thought all my cat-loving friends should read this. Go to the Grist link below if you want more sources and info.

Thyroid disease in house cats may be linked to common flame retardants called PBDEs, according to U.S. EPA researchers. In a small study of 23 cats, all the felines had blood concentrations of the chemical 20 to 100 times higher than average U.S. adults -- who, it oughta be noted, carry the highest human PBDE load in the world. PBDEs first began to be used about three decades ago; at that time, feline hyperthyroidism was rare, but has now become one of the most common diseases in older cats. The fireproofing chemical is used in TVs, carpet padding, furniture, and mattresses; kitties easily take the substance in by grooming themselves after lounging about. (Food for thought: pound for pound, a 2-year-old child ingests about as much dust as a feline.) While the link between PBDEs and kitty sickness is still a hypothesis, researchers urged further analysis. PBDEs already have a bad rep when it comes to health, and two of the three main types of the chemical have already been banned in the U.S.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Things I Hate

Okay, it’s been raining for three days, so now I’ve had it. I’m just in one of those moods where I hate everything, esp . . .

1. People who live in California. They always brag about the weather.
2. Family values.
3. Learning in the first five minutes of a conversation that someone went to Harvard.
4. Best selling authors who ask: why do you write poetry?
5. Pinchy bras. I vote with Kelly for the uni-boob style.
6. Dentist drills. Why can’t they invent one that sounds like Mozart? Or Bob Dylan?
7. Anyone who wants to save me. Especially when they’re at my door, dinging and dinging, and I answer, hoping it’s the UPS man.
8. Football coaches. They remind me of George Bush.
9. Victoria’s Secret, nylons, thongs and anything that clings to the crevices.
10. Insomnia. Or worse, those dreams when I dream I can't wake up.
11. The feeling, right before I give blood or a poetry reading.
12. Christmas, sermons, and organ music.
13. Saying goodbye.
14. Ice cold salad. Like the pre-made ones in restaurants. Or Salad Under the Sea: green jello, things within.
15. Four o'clock in the afternoon. Too early for dinner, too late for inspiration and a cappuccino.
16. Shaving heifer necks.
17. Talking on airplanes. Or during sex. (I like to enjoy my flights, thank you very much.)
18. Three days of rain. And the aftermath: the song of a bazillion and one mosquitoes.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's pouring out there, and I am not going out to pee. Nope, I'm sitting right here by the table by the door. I'm sure you understand.

Teflon and Dead Canaries

My sister asked me about Teflon and nonstick pans. Are they safe? Well, I dunno.

Teflon fumes kill birds. Every so often there's another article about someone's parrot falling off his perch. Or his canary. About twenty birdies died in the San Antonio Zoo a while back after they'd cozied up to the light bulbs to get warm. The bulbs, it turned out, were coated with Teflon. And if birds are our canaries in the mine, well, as I said, I don't know.

Teflon,or rather the chemical in Teflon, has a lot of trade names. And it's on all kinds of things. It's depressing to think about, so I won't list them. But here's a link in case you have a bird. Or think you might be sprouting wings.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

This is an old photo of my life-long friend, Anne Marie, and my first dog, Luger. Anne Marie just wrote an awesome book, The Idea That Is America. It's one of those books that might give you some hope while looking honestly at the dung heap we've gotten ourselves into.

I don't know how anyone can write books like that. I just say the words, liberty or freedom, and I want to bark or bite someone. Which is what Luger, true to his name, was good at. He liked Anne Marie and me. The rest of the world he wanted to sink his teeth into. He used to look up at me with this mournful look, as if to ask. . . Oh please may I bite that guy? He was good company.

Black Butterflies

There was a bat in our room last night. I caught it in a laundry basket, mid-swoop, and took it outside. Now I'm thinking it will come right back in. They must hang out in the attic. They've never come visiting before. Now I'll have to find someone to help me get them out of there.

My father-in-law was terrified of bats. Once I told him there was a black butterfly in the kids' room in Maine. I didn't want to alarm him. He came rushing up the steps to see it. Where's the black butterfly?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I was telling a friend the other day that I really understand the fear of success. It's okay to try. But it isn't okay to fly. He couldn't understand. I mean, if you have wings, he said. Don't you want to use them?

Wings. Yeah, right. Made me think of this Jimmy pic. He's leaving for Berkeley in the morning. He already has been asked onto a research project. I'm worried. I think that's what parents do best. I'm going to miss him lots.

Family photo op. Okay, extended family photo op . . . And to think we could fill this whole stair case and then some. It's kinda scary being related to so many people, directly or indirectly. Makes me realize how much of who I think I am is just some genotype . . . All programmed in before I ever arrived.

I'd never write a word if I had to look at all these relatives every day of my life. Nope. I need to at least imagine I'm unique, alone, and there's nobody out there, watching or listening . . .

Not a soul. Like today. It's just me and the words.

At least it was, before I looked at these pics. Say, do you think we look alike?

Friday, August 17, 2007


One of her more popular planned events was a breakdancing workshop.

Happy News from Suzanne in the Peace Corps

Buenas tardes amigos!

How are you? How is vacation, grad school, working a real job, summer training and getting ready for pre-season? What else are you up to?

Most recently (5 minutes ago)..Sitting in frigid computer center in downtown Zacate I checked the Peace Corps website and discovered that my recently posted computer lab parternship project proposal had dissappeared completely. Every other pending project was still there. Mine? Missing. My first reaction was panic. Did I screw up the budget? The community contribution was left at 00.0 --a definite mistake.. I called the Peace Corps office . . . It turns out that one of their biggest donors came in yesterday, picked it off the list and wrote the check. Crazy. So pretty soon we should have a fully functioning school computer lab in Carrizal...

Project description:®ion=latinamerica