Monday, December 29, 2008

Cure for the aches and pains of writing . . .

My mother practiced yoga. Which meant that when my friends came to visit, my mom would show them how she stood on her head. And years later, when my daughter had friends visit her grandma, she would show them how she stood on her head. Once she stood on her head in the middle of a party. Another time she did it in the airport. Sometimes she stayed upside down for a while, her face growing redder and redder, as she told how wonderful it is for the body to be upside down. How it cures all kinds of pains and illnesses.

For years I thought she was nuts. (I mean, she is/was nuts.) But I’ve discovered that there are some aches and pains, esp. the kind you get from writing too long—that are best cured by going upside down.

Dreamers and Pragmatists

I envy idealism. I really do, but it also scares me. The way it sweeps people up, the way it can overpower reason. I've been reading and watching too many books and movies where the idealists and evangelists of one kind or another take hold of an audience. There's that voice of logic inside me that starts to panic . . .

At the same time, we need our ideals, right? And sometimes I envy the real dreamers and believers. But they need the pragmatists of the world to join in. It's one of my gripes about the Peace Corps--they take these young dreamers and send them out solo with no real financial support or training (or not much training).

The other night we had a small Peace Corps gathering. One told a story about Mali, how three of the volunteers were killed. The first two were electrocuted. The third was one of the leaders. She had this dream--to bring water to the village. She joined with another NGO and had a tower built. They filled the tower with water on the final day--a day of celebration-and the tower collapsed and killed her.

That story seems like such a metaphor to me . ..

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Dance You Learned As a Kid

Because you learned it as a kid, you do the steps without even thinking of it. You hum the dance tune in your head, even when it's not being played on the radio or stereo, and you don't remember if or when it stopped being played out there and started playing in your mind and dreams. You dance even when you're not meaning to. Dancing and dancing. You add a little flourish, an extra turn or twist, but no one really notices. You miss a beat here and there, but you always manage to catch your breath and jump back in. You think you'll never stop dancing. You think it isn't worth worrying about because for now, anyhow, you're still dancing. You think no one ever stops because even when they stop, even when and if they can stop that is, they still feel their feet moving and their arms and legs and hips . . Like phantom limbs and hips . . .

( I know it's a cliche, but sometimes I feel like oh so cliche.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Scary Moments at the Grocery Store

There aren’t a lot of grocery store option in this part of Ohio. I get to pick between the 3 Giant Eagles. I mean, there’s the one where everyone from the bakery folks to the checkout ladies and baggers are eternally happy. How are you today, Sweetie. Or: You look a little down today, Sweet Heart. The second Giant Eagle is the one where there aren’t enough checkout people, so you go to the auto scanners. It’s sort of an honor system. I often watch the person in front of me pay for apples when he’s buying avocados, or for Boston lettuce when he’s purchasing a spring mix. Finally there’s giant cavernous Giant Eagle. Everyone there looks like they escaped from a prison or a zombie flick. If you are looking for something unusual, either in human or grocery specimens, odds are you might find it there but you go at your own risk.

A month ago I got lost in the giant Giant Eagle. I had just visited the doctor for a sinus infection, and he’d given me a sample of some kind of decongestant that wasn’t supposed to make you feel drowsy. Drowsy was the least of what I felt. The store started expanding in front of me, each aisle getting longer, and next thing I knew, these strange items were appearing in my cart. I kept walking and walking, pushing this overflowing cart, but I couldn’t find the exit. When I finally saw the door, I left as fast as I could, walked out into the sunlight, thankful that there was sunlight, thankful that there was still sky out there. Some miracles you can’t ever be thankful enough for.

Later I called the doctor to tell him the samples were a little scary. Oh, he said, thanks for letting me know. My doctor loves samples and gives them away to anyone willing to take them. In fact my doctor gave a friend of mine some sample anti-depressants once. My friend said every time he took a pill, he got an erection. A major erection that lasted for hours. No, it wasn’t Viagra. When he called the doctor to tell him, the doctor said, yes, he too had noticed this side effect. Then the doctor asked if he wanted some more samples. (And no, I’m not telling you the name of my doctor.) I have this drawer now full of random samples for a variety of occasions. I figure you never know when a sample might come in handy . . .

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Two Kinds of Poets

I sometimes think there are two kinds of poets. The gods and the anti-gods.

The gods are born knowing they are gods, knowing that their words are magic, that their words will be heard, that their words are meant to be sung . . .

These are the ones that know that they must be worshiped. That their words will be made flesh.

As boys and girls, they were the teachers’ pets, the golden children, the ones with their hands raised high in the air, the right answers always at the tips of their tongues.

Of course, the anti-gods are as dark as the gods are light, as invisible as the gods are visible.

The anti-gods are those who are born knowing that no one can see them. No one can hear them.

They are the unwanted, the lost, the unadopted . . .

They are born knowing that something inside them is missing, something is lost, something can never be answered . . . No matter how many pages they fill with words, they feel the blank pages flutter inside them. The emptiness. Some days a god fills the space, or a love, or a ray of sunlight, and they think at last. Of course. Thank you. But by morning the blank space has always returned.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How God Became a Poet

A woman imagines she is a poet. So she spends her life writing. She feels sometimes as if she is writing to someone far away, someone she has never met, a muse, an angel . . . Who knows who? But he or she is someone who wants to read her every word. She writes and writes.

One day she reads about saints who pray in the same way she writes-praying and praying to a god who never answers. She finds it disturbing to think of an unanswering god. Why doesn't he ever bother to answer? she wonders. One night she writes a long letter to the silent god, bitching at him for never answering his devotees, and for never picking up his phone or answering his mail or email.

But why should I answer you? God writes her back. It’s women like you that piss me off, women who expect something. Women who want something. Women who never stop asking . . .
In fact, that’s why I am interviewing for another job. A job where no one knows my name . . .

You could be a poet, the woman suggests . . .

(After that, the woman remembered why she never cared much for gods. And the god remembered why he always disliked women.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Zen and the Art of Not Writing

Sit quietly at your desk. Arrange in front of you a pile of blank, unlined paper and your favorite pens or pencils, all freshly sharpened. (I prefer the Dixon Ticonderogas, or fountain pens, the cheap kind that bleed all over my fingers.) Breathe deeply. Let the mind be as blank as the paper. Do not think of a word. Do not write a word. Know: the word is but a blemish on the serene white face of the paper. Do not allow a single word to appear.

In this way, many poets have completed entire manuscripts in spite of their efforts to master their craft.

(It's true. The year my friend, Claire, said she wasn't writing another poem ever, and she wasn't sending out her work; and she esp. would never ever enter another book competition, she won a huge book contest and a Pushcart.)

Tales of Abstinence

Thanks Lyle, for your comment on my post below. And yes, I know . . .

There is a Zen story about the artists who go to the temple every year for seven years. For seven years they aren’t allowed to paint. When they finally are allowed to use their paint brushes, they create the most beautiful art.

Seven years, eleven years, and more . . . the mythic way of saying—a very long time.

There are tales told of love/sex like this.

1. A Zen friend told me—how her lover said they must wait for seven years before having sex. He said in this way he would know she loved him for him, and not for what he delicately termed—his other self.

Did you wait? I asked.
Did I waste seven years of good sex? she answered.

2. There was another story I was told once by my Zen friend. It goes something like this.

Once a king had a beautiful daughter, and when she was of age, all the princes in all the lands came to see his princess. (Her name, which I forget because it’s in Japanese, was Flower of the Sky. Or was it Cloud Girl? ) Soon all the princes were asking for her hand in marriage. Ah, the father said, but which one of you loves my daughter, not for her looks, not for her wealth and power, but for her very soul?

Which one of you will wait for seven years?

Each prince said me, me, me. And each day the princes came to visit the beautiful girl. But after one year, one prince gave up hope, and after two, many more gave up hope. Soon there was only one prince who returned to see the lovely girl. The father wasn’t pleased by this prince because he was smaller than the rest, more reserved, though he had impeccable manners and taste.

(Impeccable taste is also something only the Japanese know, my Zen teacher said.)

And so, after seven years, the king relented to the wedding. By then there were no other men in sight, so what could he do? After all, it isn’t good for a woman to marry too late in her life . . .

By then the prince and princess had become good friends. They understood each other. They knew each others inner most secrets. The prince knew how the princess had never wanted to be either a princess or a bride. And the princess knew that the prince was gay, but he lived in a world where many men were gay but none admitted it, especially not princes. And so the two talked of their sufferings, of their mutual feeling of oppression—And so it was that the two married and lived happily ever after, each setting the other free to live his or her life, just as s/he pleased.

3. The third tale I remember is about a man, an artist, who is allowed to love a woman from afar but never really to possess her. At least not for seven years. How did this work? (I can't recall exactly. Neither can the man.) Except that she was nude. Why was she nude? I don't know. Maybe she was model in an art class. Maybe he was a painter. I don't know, but she was always there in some strange room, and in his mind, and in a picture . . . But he could never touch her. (At least not yet.) At first he feared he would turn leathery and old without ever knowing the feel of her skin. But then he began to fear -- if he actually touched her, what then? What if she wasn't the woman he imagined? Best not to try to love her, he then reasoned, lest he lose her. And be disappointed forever after, as he so often was. After all, he was an artist, a perfectionist, a man not easily pleased . . .

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Art of Not Writing

There is a certain power in it. The power of resistance. The power of not giving in.

Sort of like not answering the phone. Not checking the mail or email. You know someone is there. (But it’s probably no one you want to hear from. The no one who is always there.) But if you don’t check, you know it becomes more likely that someone or something is there. The longer you wait, the more certain you can be that an urgent message is waiting. Like a red light beeping. Someone needs you. Someone needed you. Chances are my love -- it is already too late.

The Art of Not Writing


A professor told me once that in order to write, one must learn not to write. One must understand the significance of not writing. Just as one understands winter. The snows fall, and the fields lie fallow so that spring may follow.

Sometimes, he said, he sits in front of a blank page for hours and hours, day after day. He sees it as a snow covered field. He sees the birds fly overhead, and the clouds. Poems will surely come, he says. He can never say when.


A woman sits alone at her desk practicing the art of not writing. It’s quiet in her home. Her husband is at work. Her children are at school. From her office window, she can see that her neighbor is out in her garden, watering flowers. She listens to a woodpecker tapping at the outside of her house. The phone rings. The dog scratches at the other side of the door, and whines, begging to come in. The dog walks in and out of her poem, its long tail wagging and knocking over a vase of flowers sent by a secret lover.


The professor and the woman are both sitting at their desks, staring out into space. Neither of them is writing. They are both practicing the art of not writing. They are both waiting for the poem that has never been written. The poem that is like the silence in a Zen painting. Like the lover they never had. In the morning news they read of children buried in mudslides. They read of travelers stranded in Denver without their luggage. Of masked men who broke into mansions and left no fingerprints and stole no jewels, no money, no artwork. What were they looking for in the carpeted homes of strangers?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Moments

1. A woman is seated at the next table in Starbucks with a friend and her grade school son. What do you mean, you doubt God? the woman asks her friend. If there were no God, we would all be stones. Think about it.
Stones? the boy asks.
Stones, the mother answers.

2. My friend is talking to me about the economics of Youngstown. It’s a shadow of the city it once was. It’s what happen to cities, she says. It will happen to San Francisco next. All that rampant materialism out there.
San Francisco? I ask.
Yep, she nods.

3. A student has 2 poetry professors. Call them Poet A and Poet B. She admires them both and feels so lucky to be studying poetry with them. One day Poet A tells her he would love to nail Poet B’s balls to the wall. The student tells me that was her moment of awakening. Before that moment, she always thought poets had souls and minds as lovely as their lines.

4. A woman lets her daughter try on her favorite black keyhole dress. It’s a silky sleeveless dress with a hole (hence the term keyhole) in the back. The daughter tries it on, first with the keyhole in the front to show off cleavage. Then with the keyhole in the back. It’s great, the daughter says. I can wear it out dancing. And to funerals.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

At the Mall

I am at the mall, and I have lost all interest or memory of why I am there. (I always do this at malls. It takes twenty minutes, and then I am out of my body. I am floating around, watching the other shoppers shop, the sellers sell, the mothers tug their children and large bags, the fathers wander off aimlessly like fish in the air . . . ) Some man hands me a card and puts out his hand for money. It's one of those cards that reads I am deaf. Give me money. Or something like that. I give the man a dollar.

I am suddenly distracted by a young girl. She's maybe twelve or thirteen, and she is trying on a skimpy skirt (the kind hat my dad would say- shows more than your legs), boots, and a clingy shirt. Her mother is appalled by the outfit. The girl is pouting and twirling around in front of a mirror. Her breasts hang loosely out of the top of the blouse. She is blond and red-lipped and angry.

You look like a slut, the mother says angrily.
I look normal, the girl says. That's the trouble with you. You have no clue what normal is.
The mother looks at me, suddenly, as if I might help her.
Is that normal? she asks me, pointing at her daughter. Tell her THAT is not normal. Tell her.
The girl glares at me.
I can't think of what to say. So I give the mother the man's card. I am deaf . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When a Woman Farts

I'm listening to this guy talk with his friend. He says --

This is the way it is with women. They put on this act for a few weeks,
and you do, too. You're all polished up. She's always gussied up.
She's always saying nice things, and you are admiring her this,
her that . . .
And oh, it's just so AMAZING. And you think how beautiful you both are . . .
And all you do is worry about the if or the what and maybe the when

and then one day you take her to bed once, and you're still so nice, and it's still so beautiful . . .

And so you take her to bed again, and she's still trying to keep her makeup on
and her nice nice on. And her beautiful this and that. And you, too . . .

But then one day, she doesn't care about the if or the what
and then another day she doesn't do or say or wear this or that
and you don't either

And then finally . . .
she farts.
She farts in bed.
(This is the moment you've been waiting for.)
When a woman farts in bed, it means the nice is over.

I mark that day on my calendar.
September 15. Alice farted.

That's when things get real.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Shadow of the Wind

Last night I stayed up late reading The Shadow of the Wind. I thought if only I can finish this book, I can get on with my long list of things to do. This morning, when I finally put the book down, I was relieved for about 10 minutes.

Then I did a search to find out if the author, Carlos Luis Zafon, had written any other books. I am suddenly feeling desperate for another book I can't put down.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Almost You

I was in the store the other day, and this woman started gushing. I can't believe it's you. And when I turned to face her, she realized it wasn't.

No, I am sorry, I wanted to say. I wasn't you. But I was almost you.

You look so much like Sarah, the woman said.

Yes, I agreed. I do.

It's true. I don't know who Sarah is, but I am her mirror image. I have been mistaken for her many times. I have even insulted people who know her by snubbing them as I walk right past them, blank-faced. Sarah, I've learned, is kind of a bitch. She doesn't talk to just anyone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elsa Higby made me a beautiful web site! She's amazing. CHECK IT OUT!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Funny Questions

Okay, now that I posted yesterday about funny questions, I'll add one of the funnier questions I have ever been asked at a reading.

The question was about a poem I had read, which included quotes from Elvis. "I liked that last poem a lot," a young man said politely. "Was that Shakespeare you were quoting?"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Questions from Poetry Readings

Someone asked me at my last reading what were the funniest questions I'd ever been asked at a poetry reading. I thought about the usual questions . . . None of which are particularly funny, but they make me smile a little, maybe because of the quantitative or perscriptive view of writing . . .

Do you write every day? Do you write at the same time with the same type of pen and paper every day? Do you write the same number of pages or words each day? Do you write for the same number of hours? Do you prefer lined or unlined paper? Do you compose on the computer or in the back of your mind? Do you belong to a book group or a writing group? Do you need to be with other writers? Do you like other poets? Which one or ones? Do you wish you lived in New York City or L.A. or D.C. ? Or do you prefer to live in Poland, Ohio? Are your kids ashamed of you? What about your mom? Do you feel guilty? Or depressed? What depresses you? Do you think all poetry and poets suffer from depression? Do you ever wish you weren't a poet? If you could not be a poet, who would you be?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Naomi Shihab Nye

is the best. I met her last night, and was so impressed. She's as beautiful as her poems. Such an amazing spirit! Meeting her is almost as great as meeting the Dalai Lama. A Dalai Mama --I think she is that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reading at Cedars

Suzanne and I went to the reading at Cedar's last night. Maggie Anderson was supposed to read, but she wimped out on us, due to snow. I mean, yeah, there was a tiny bit of snow, but there's always some snow. I mean it's winter in Ohio. But maybe it's best she didn't come. I mean, there weren't many people there. But the reading was so much fun anyhow. Among the readers , there was Mel who read a nice selection from the book she is writing about growing up in Malasia. Steve Reese read a really funny anniversary poem. Phil Brady recited a poem from Neruda that made the poem almost better than Neruda. (Okay, maybe you can't get any better than that, but it was beautiful.) And Chris Barzak read from his new book, The Love We Share Without Knowing--a selection from a love story in which the protagonist was feeding on the life stories of his beloved. He kept asking for more stories until he knew the other's life stories better than his own.

I can't wait to read Chris's new book. I just bought it . .

Like the narrator in his book, I love to hear people's life stories, as much for what they say about that person's life as for what they don't say. After all, it's impossible to tell your story without editing. Without framing, without deleting, creating and recreating . . .

Otherwise there's too much information. For me that's always been the experience anyhow. Life is such an overwhelm. You can't take it all in. There's too much pain, too much beauty, too much meaning, too much meaninglessness . . .

Even in the simplest moments. I remember once in a high school art class, I was painting a tree in spring. It was an assignment. And while everyone else was done in a day, I kept painting and painting day after day, trying to recreate every leaf and shadow before it changed . . . In the end I finished about a quarter of my picture. The teacher called my style pointillist and made me stop after a few weeks. He praised my eye for detail.

For me, it was just a good example of my particular form of frustration or neurosis or myopia. My ablity to obsess on small details and not get to the whole.

Which is probably the reason I write in small forms. If I compose a piece more than three pages, I think it's too long. And I start to whittle it down to size.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Suzanne, my daughter, has completed her Peace Corps Service and is home at last!

I am so thankful!

We fly to Charlottesville, Virginia for Thanksgiving, and on Friday I will give a reading with my childhood friend, Anne Marie Slaughter at the New Dominion Book Shop.

Amazing--now that I think about it, I can still remember where Anne M sat in first grade . . .

How she knew all the answers and always had her hand in the air. There was this girl, Lisa, who sat behind her and who liked to eat paper bags.

Odd the things one remembers years later.

I am really looking forward to our trip. I only wish our son, Jimmy, could join us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Miami International Book Fair

I had the most amazingly fun time at this book fair. I would recommend it to anyone who has the chance to go. It's huge, huge, huge! And there are so many stellar readings, one after the other. Unlike the events at AWP, I didn't go to any mediocre readings or panels. Everyone was ON. And I mean really great.

There were so many famous writers there. I shared an elevator with Scott Simon, a bathroom with Dave Barry. It was a UNISEX bathroom, one of the more interesting features of the Writer's Room. ( Barry asked me how many sexes were in the bathroom. I asked which ones was he hoping to find. ) Vernon Jordan was there. Scott McClellan. Salman Rushdie. And the list goes on.

I read with two amazing and beautiful women. Terri Witek, author The Shipwrecked Dress. And Mia Leonin, author of Unraveling the Bed. I am reading and enjoying both of their books now. I love finding new writers to love at these events.

One of the funnier writers I met was David Henry Sterry who wrote A True Story of Sex, Drugs, Roller Skates and Chippendales.

On the downside, if there is one, I would say the book fair is so big, you can get lost in it. Also, it was hard to find the books and then get them signed because the books sales take place in a different hallway from the readings (and the location is announced at the reading). And then the author is placed (after his or her reading) in still another room or hallway. So you have to run around just to find a book and then to get it autographed. With so many great readings to attend, it was easier to avoid the book buying part. I saw a lot of famous writers sitting alone, waiting hopefully for people to come to have their books signed as participants rushed past. And I heard a few complain that they didn't sell any books.

And then there was the table with Andrei Codrescu and Robert Olen Butler--no one was there (it turned out the fair had not ordered their books, though only a few people bothered to look for them) seated across the hall for their signing from Frank McCourt and Dave Barry who had an endless line of fans . . . The famous vs. the very famous . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reading in Florida

Karen Schubert and I are going to the Miami International Book Fair this weekend!

Reading on Sunday at 2:30.

I'm looking forward to some sun and warm air.

(I'm also counting down the days until Suzanne comes home from the Peace Corps!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Sometimes people ask me what it was like growing up on a farm. I can’t answer that easily, but usually the next question is—what animals did you own. That’s when I talk about cows. Cows and more cows. What did you do with the cows? they ask. And then they often say something about how dumb cows are. It’s true. But there are a few things to say about cows. In fact I just had two essays on cows taken by a literary magazine. Now THAT, I never imagined possible. But about cows—just because people ask . . .

Some days after school I’d lead train calves, leading them a little ways, then wrapping the lead- line around a tree while they bucked and fought, then trying it again. (The calves don't really appreciate being dragged around by their neck at first-for some reason.) After a few days of trying, they’d tire out and walk beside me. It was important to train them before they got too big—Ayreshire cows (the kind we owned) weigh over 1000 pounds, and they’re one of the smaller breeds. By show-time the cows always walked easily around the ring, and they stood nicely as well, stretching their necks just so when I pulled their heads forward, or posing with one back leg forward and the other back slightly to show off their udders for the judge who would come around to each contestant, touching her back to be sure it was straight, examining her tail and withers and etc.. The cow would look pretty hot and bored, and she’d usually start licking my arm or pants with her long sticky tongue or rolling her eyes at me. I’d want to apologize to her, to say, yeah, this is pretty dumb. I admit it, but when it comes to human behavior, this sure isn’t the dumbest thing we do. When it comes to questions of intelligence, I know we always look down on our bovine friends. But at least their behavior usually makes sense.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bush Library

Jim's department secretary forwarded this along. Pretty funny . . .

Plans for the Bush Library are already in the works. Below are some of
the rooms planned for the library.

1. The Hurricane Katrina Room which is still under construction and pretty much a mess.
2. The Alberto Gonzales Room where you won't be able to remember a thing.
3. The Texas Air National Guard Room where you don't even have to show up.
4. The Walter Reed Hospital Room where they don't let you in.
5. The Guantanamo Bay Room where they don't let you out.
6. The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room which no one has yet been able to find.
7. The National Debt Room which is huge and has no ceiling
8. The Tax Cut Room with entry only to the wealthy.
9. The Economy Room which is in the toilet.
10. The Iraq War Room where after you complete your first tour, they make you go back for a second, third, fourth and sometimes fifth tour.
11. The Dick Cheney Room is the famous undisclosed location complete with shotgun gallery.
12. The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
13. The Supreme Court's Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
14. The Airport's Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
14. The Decider Room complete with dart board, magic 9-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.

The museum will also have an electron microscope to help you locate the President's accomplishments!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Few Thoughts

1. That poor man, Mom said happily when she mentioned Obama's win. Such a terrible time to be president.

2. 71% of Republicans approved of Sarah Palin--said she was a good VP choice.

3. A few years ago Strickland was at our home and said, I will make Ohio a blue state. I didn't believe him.

4. Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio Secretary of State, was sued by the GOP for making it possible for voters to register and vote on the same day. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Brunner.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Funny and Not So Funny Moments on the Political Scene

1. A friend attended an Obama meeting in the week following the R convention. Everyone was feeling so blue, she said. So the young organizer had them all close their eyes and do a little meditation in which they relaxed, breathed deeply, and pictured Obama winning. It was a combination of Wayne Dyer and Zen and Obama fever.

2. My 91 year old mother called to tell me her 88 year old friend was knocking on doors for Obama. Wow, I said. I thought she'd identify with McCain. Oh no, Mom said. He's much too old and feeble.

3. Jim suggested I trade the political signs in people's yards on Halloween. I thought about it. But then I thought again--I could only do it in the dark. And there's that guy with a gun collection on the corner . . . I thought he might shoot me if I traded his McCain sign with the Obama across the street.

4. Jim is working as a poll-watcher today. When he arrived at the church in Youngstown where he is to observe, the church representative asked him to leave the premises and called the cops. When the police arrived, they informed this man that he had to allow Jim to enter (duh). He was nice enough after that--though he gave him a little talk on the ten commandments--a least until some of his church members started circling voters and handing out religious materials, complete with advice on how to vote--and then asking them to pray. When Jim called the Obama headquarters, they sent a Board of Elections rep. who came and told the church to curtail their activities.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election Blues

I can't wait until the election is over, and all these calls stop . . . And no one knocks on my door. And the signs are taken out of everyone's yards. And I can walk into a coffee shop and not hear people making stupid political comments, and I don't have to walk out, biting my tongue . . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Check this out!

Click on this and then click anywhere on the picture. It's really funny.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Don't Look at the Blondes

Years ago I read an article in the New Yorker that said your peers influence how smart you become. I don't remember anything else about it. But I thought it was interesting. The idea that intelligence is contagious.

Evidently, the reverse is also true. One who looks at blondes, for example, becomes instantly dumber. Yep, it's happens. To men and women alike. Looking at a blonde is like having a nice drink. It relaxes the mind. Which reminds me of my college friend who used to say intelligence is vastly over-rated.

A Short Interview with Peter Johnson and Me

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have some new poems up at Agni. I am so excited!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Zito the Magician

To amuse His Royal Majesty he will change water into wine.
Frogs into footman. Beetles into bailiffs. And make a Minister

out of a rat. He bows, and daisies grow out of his finger-tips.
And a talking bird sits on his shoulder.


Think up something else, demands His Royal Majesty.
Think up a black star. So he thinks up a black star.
Think up dry water. So he thinks up dry water.
Think up a river bound with straw-bands. So he does.


Then along comes a student and asks: Think up sine alpha
greater than one.

And Zito grows pale and sad: Terribly sorry. Sine is
between plus one and minus one. Nothing you can do about that.
And he leaves the great royal empire, quietly weaves his way
through the throng of courtiers, to his home
in a nutshell.

by Miroslav Holub, trans. by George Theiner

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Reading with Peter Johnson

I'm off to Minneapolis to teach and read at the U of M with one of my favorite poets, Peter Johnson.

We'll be at the Weisman Art Museum, U of Minnesota, 333 East River Road at 7:30 on Tuesday night. We'll be speed-reading to get back in time for the debates. Literally, they say 30 minutes total for both of us, so if you're in the area, you can zip in and out, no problem.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

from Grist

Grist had an interesting article about the global warming crisis--why people don't get it. The problem with scientists--they are just too logical. Here's just a short quote from it . . .

Maybe we need some creative writers and thinkers to help us out with the rhetoric.

"Anyone who wants to understand -- and change -- the politics of global warming, must understand why the deniers, delayers, and inactivists are so persuasive in the public debate and why scientists and scientific-minded people are not. A key part of the answer, I believe, is that while science and logic are powerful systematic tools for understanding the world, they are no match in the public realm for the 25-century-old art of verbal persuasion: rhetoric.

Logic might be described as the art of influencing minds with the facts, whereas rhetoric is the art of influencing both the hearts and minds of listeners with the figures of speech. The figures are the catalog of the different, effective ways that we talk -- they include alliteration and other forms of repetition, metaphor, irony, and the like. The goal is to sound believable. As Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric, "aptness of language is one thing that makes people believe in the truth of your story."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


You can vote today! And if you haven't registered, you can register and vote and be done with it. The Obama campaign says vote early if you can . . .

Also, watch out for the issue on those PAYDAY loans--the quick cash businesses that are everywhere now. If you vote YES, you are voting against them. If you vote NO, you are voting for them. Be sure to read the language carefully.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hey, wasn't it the McCain/Bush folks who wanted us to dump Social Security and privatize it--you know, put it into the stock market? Imagine what that would look like today . . .


A spokesman for Mattel announced today that media references to McCain's wife as Barbie have caused sales of the popular doll to fall by 23%. The addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket has increased sales of brown haired Barbies by 33%.


97% of the 350 businessmen who own tanning parlors say they were thrilled by the addition of Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket. 92% of these men already knew that Sarah Palin has her own personal tanning bed in the governor's mansion in Alaska. 62% of the men who believe in a tanner American say John McCain's melanoma could hurt their business by as much as 25%, but that the tanning Sarah could improve business by up to 50%.


36% of the 700 women polled who are between the ages of 42 and 65 define themselves as "sensitive souls." 50% of these sensitive souls are unable to watch John McCain for more than 6 minutes without breaking into hives. Procter and Gamble has recently released a new product which has been tested extensively on 1000 bald mice and is said, when applied to the skin, to cleanse 97% of all bad vibes. The toxic removal cloths, available in handy wipe containers, are said to protect 79% of all sensitive souls.


65% of 570 women polled who were under the age of 29 believe that the country is ready for a women president. 33% of 623 women over the age of 48 agreed. 47% of the women in the latter group believed that the future woman president must dress in navy, tan, or black. She should never wear purple, yellow or turquoise outfits like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


55% of all freckled white men under 5'3" and over 50 years old say they are voting for McCain. 33% of these freckled little men say they are undecided. 42% of these men have a college degree and will vote for Obama. They will also get checked for skin cancer once a year and wear sunscreen and hats when they go to the beach.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Emergency Telegram from John McCain

This was in my mail today. I keep getting these requests for money. I don't understand. I thought John McCain wasn't allowed to take private gifts, now that he's accepting public funding. Does anyone know if this is really legit?????

Dear Friend,

I have never been one to mince words, so I'll get right to the point. If you are at all concerned about the prospect of Democrats taking control of the federal government, I need your help and I need it right now.

With the election less than six weeks away, we must reach a critical funding goal in the next 15 days to keep our campaigns on track and get our message to the voters--or we risk losing ground to the massive fundraising of the Democrats.

To stay competitive and ultimately to win this election we must raise $21.5 million in the next 5 days . . .

That is why I am reaching out to you today and asking you to support our campaign by rushing an Emergency Contribution of $5,000, 2500 . . .

Make your check out to McCain Palin Victory 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Map of the U.S. by Jimmy

Congratulations Jimmy!

Congratulations to Jimmy for passing his CS prelim at Berkeley. Hurray!!!! Jimmy has poems forthcoming in Gargoyle, too.

Sarah explains the bailout

"That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in . . ." Palin began, before meandering off in fruitless pursuit of coherence.

But I'll let the governor speak for herself:

" . . . where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh -- it's got to be all about job creation too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing, but 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

“I have come to the conclusions that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

“Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him.”

Charles de Gaulle

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.' 'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'

Just a Community Organizer

Yes. That's a pretty good description of what a Peace Corps worker is. And I know it's just politics, but I am still so offended by Palin's and Giuliani's sarcastic comments . . .

Monday, September 22, 2008


How can I ask this question? How can I explain to you what happened?

1. I need help. I borrowed 700 billion bucks of your money. I lost it all in Vegas. Would you give me some more, please? No?
Let me try again.

2. Dear, dear Friends. I know you will understand. I know you trusted me. But I have to say something . . . About that loan you gave me of 700 billion bucks . . . I lost it all. In Vegas. Don't worry. If you give me 700 billion more, you can get it back again.

(Okay, I admit. I have to be honest now. It wasn't ALL spent at the craps tables. I spent $100 billion on room service.)

3. Does anyone want to shoot me?

4. Don't you love the parable of the prodigal son?

(And oh yeah. I still need some help with that fun we are having over in Iraq. How much was that per day? I like to forget.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why study philosophy, religion, poetry, art, dance, music?

When I went to college, I didn’t know anyone who majored in business. None of my friends asked, why are you studying that? Meaning, how will you ever get a job if you major in music or art of English or . . . Now so many of my friends' kids study business. They're all about the job after. And when they ask the question--what were you thinking? I have no answer. But I do know I am really happy I didn't worry about it. And I don’t know when it all came down to a question of dollars and cents. Maybe we were still in the hippy era, still believing in peace and love and happy evers and ... All of us worrying about silly questions like the meaning of life. Jeepers. Were we nuts?

Whatever it was, I loved all the impractical subjects, esp. philo and religion. I know it’s not going to ever "pay off." But it was just so much fun. Like having a tea party in the mind. I miss it . . .

Just thinking for the sake of thinking. I still love to think about Descartes saying, je pense, donc je suis. (I think therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum.) Which has become transformed in so many New Age best sellers: how I think, wish, or pray determines who, how, what I am (and sometimes you, too, oddly enough) or become.

It’s fun to play with, to say-- I don’t think like a blonde, even if I am one. But then again, can one see one’s own mind? (Or can you really say, it’s not me. It’s just my thoughts that are the problem? Is there a divide?)

Which reminds me of the French philosopher Michaux Henri ( not to be mistaken for the poet Henri Michaux), who wrote about thinking about thinking about thinking. After a while, you can lose track of where the thinker is—it’s as if the I becomes lost in the center of a Russian doll. According to Keirkegaard, there is no greater loss than the loss of the self. No one will notice when it happens. Or care, as Camus suggests, which is really creepy- his ability to make a reader feel as if life is an absurdity, and you have no meaning at all. But I think it was Hegel who suggested there is no I anyhow, really. Rather, all that actually exists is thought which moves through time in a dialectical manner. Theses, antithesis, syntheses. I don’t recall if God was in the theses or the antitheses, but I am pretty certain God was just another thought.

But Kant suggested one might act as if there is a God (though he preferred to talk about reason, pure reason, which made no sense to me at all. He was a really odd duck, and so was Aristotle—all I really remember about him is that he preferred shellfish to women.), which reminds me of Pascal. I never cared for the Pascalian wager, myself, but I love, LOVE the story of Blaise Pascal’s vision, which so changed his life, he felt a deep despair when it ended. If only it could have gone on forever, he thought. He tried his best to keep it in his mind and even sewed a note in the lining of his coat with the single word, fire, to remind of the time he spent in heaven. Like St. Teresa, he longed for the other world, the one that is so much brighter than this one-- which is like some dim shadow in comparison, which brings me back to Plato. (As the feminist theologians say, everything moves in a circle. And the Buddhists say so, too.) The Buddhists teacher, Kornfield writes, it is impossible to hold onto moments of vision and bliss, no matter how intense they are. It is a little like trying to write in water. Whatever the I is, it changes so slowly we hardly notice (unless one is like Keats and feels his life slipping away even as he composes his famous lines and letters), and so quickly we will think we have barely been here when it’s all over. Of course, death is key to every religion. As Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita, the strangest thing about man is that he can see death happening all around him, and still think it will never happen to him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do you ever think people are just like-- so irritating?

I was taking a nice nap until you came along.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Not Just the Bush Doctrine

I can not believe that anyone can argue about whether or not Sarah Palin should know what the Bush doctrine is. Not only should she know the Bush Doctrine, she should also know the the Clinton Doctrine (used in support of our intervening in Bosnia), the Kirkpatrick Doctrine (the doctrine of the U.S. ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick --in the 1980s --which justified the support of creepy anti-communist dictatorships during the Cold War), the Reagan Doctrine (which justified support of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua), the Carter Doctrine (aimed at keeping the Soviets out of the Persian Gulf, at justifying our presence in the Persian Gulf ) . . . all the way back to the Monroe Doctrine. It is, after all, relevant to the job. We need a candidate who understands what we are doing, what we have done in the past, why and when and how, not one who believes we are in Iraq because God put us there. (That's not a God I'd want to believe in.)

And besides, it's fascinating stuff to read about. I get all of my facts mixed up, all my dates and deals. My black Mondays and Tuesdays and Fridays. But then, I'm not running for office. (Why is it that so many people want a candidate who is as uninformed and uneducated as we are? Why are we afraid of those who actually have some expertise? ) The one candidate who knows all his facts I am sure, though, is the one who is a professor of constitutional law. No doubt about that.

McCain, the Problem

This video will make you want to pray.

What I do not understand is--why is this not the central issue of this election? Whether one is Christian, Buddhist, atheist, humanist, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-polar bear, anti-polar bear, red state, blue state, green state, pink state, rich, poor, old, young . . .

God, the Problem

Friends often ask -- how can anyone be Christian? They are usually referring to the Bush-Christians. I find it hard to believe, too. How can anyone be a Bush-Christian? A Palin Christian? But I like to think about things, whether I agree with them or not.

As a former student of religion and philosophy, I still look up some of the great theologians of our time. I want to see what they have or had to say. One such man is Gordon Kaufman who gave a talk on his book, God, the Problem, at my college when I was 20. He talked then of how religions can become truly inhumane --the more fundamentalist usually = the less humanitarian. Below is an excerpt of him writing about the environment.

"So it is not really evident that God (as Christians have traditionally understood God) provides a solution to what is a major problem for men and women today: the ecological crisis.

This is a different kind of issue than Christians (or any other humans) have ever faced; and continuing to worship and serve this traditionally conceived God may even get in the way of our seeing clearly the depths and importance of this crisis. For now it is not a matter of finding a way to live with or overcome despair or meaninglessness or guilt or sinfulness, or other human suffering -- those profound problems of human subjectivity. It is a matter of the objective conditions that make life possible: we are destroying them, and it is we who must find a way to set them right.

This is not, of course, a specifically Christian or theistic problem: it is a problem in which all humans are implicated, and we are all called to do our part in its solution. So the central religious issue today confronting humankind is of a different order than ever before. And we may no longer claim that Christians have a corner on the solution to it; nor do Buddhists, or Jews, or the adherents of any other religion. What is now required is a reordering of the whole of human life around the globe in an ecologically responsible manner -- something heretofore never contemplated by any of our great religious traditions. All of humankind must learn to work together on this issue, or it will simply not be taken care of. We may not, of course, be able to solve this problem at all; we may already be past the point of no return."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Remembering Black Tuesday . . .

I wonder how our candidates will best frame our economic woes.

I keep thinking about how, after Black Tuesday and all, Herbert Hoover promised that prosperity is just around the corner. But it was Roosevelt who first made good use of the radio, that amazing, new technical accomplishment . . .

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

(I always get black Monday and black Tuesday mixed up. Argh.)

Change in 2008? I hope so.

Preachers and Politicians

When I was in college, I studied a lot or religion and philosophy. I will never forget the day -in my senior year--when one of the students stood up and started talking on and on. (I think we were discussing William James at the time.) The professor asked him to take his seat, and the student refused. I know God, he said. You have to listen to me. God is telling me what to say-do-think . . .

The professor put his arm around him and led him out the room. The student, I later learned, had to spend some time in a mental institution. I asked about this event later, and the professor laughed. He said it's not an uncommon event to have someone become deluded in this way. To think that God is telling him what to do or say. That he knows what God wants and means, that you don't. It happens to preachers and politicians, too. To those who want the microphone most.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A line from the Koran and from Li-Young Lee

In times like these, religion is so closely linked to politics. The Muslim religion seems particularly scary.

In college, when I studied religion, I remember thinking that the Muslim religion was beautiful. At least what little I learned of it. But now, years later, I recall only one line from the Koran, which I scribbled in my notes. I love this line:

"Because you are within his workings, God is closer to you than the vein in your neck."

Which reminds me of a line from a Li-Young Lee love poem:

"My tongue remembers your wounded flavor.
The vein in my neck
adores you."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sometimes it seems as if news comes in too fast, too fast. I am reminded of that William Stafford poem (which I can't put my finger on) when he writes something like:

The world will end . . . And I’ll be going to the bathroom or something. And miss it . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

from Conversations at the Beauty Parlor

I don't know what you're talking about with corporations. Like they have rights? I don't know. I am not up on this shit.

But I do know one thing, Honey. As a black woman? I don't have the same rights or, like, opportunities. People don't get it. They think I'm just playing the race card.

But take Sarah Palin. If that lady were me. If she were a black woman from Nowhere, Ohio instead of No Place, Alaska . . . And If she had a pregnant daughter at 17? And five little kids of her own? Shit.

They'd say she was ghetto trash. Nobody would give her a chance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

But She Lies,

a friend tells me after listening to Sarah Palin say again that she didn't support the Bridge to Nowhere . . .
She lies and lies! How do politicians get away with it?

The politician knows he or she must be whatever we want him/her to be. He or she must give speeches then that are not really speeches, but only the idea of speeches. They have no content, but they have the idea of content. An ideal speech is based not on words but on a study of how the words are felt (not heard). And gestures. Yes, it is as much an unspoken language, a manner of speaking, suggesting, meaning to mean . . . . Sometimes one will raise his or her hand or voice to distract the eye. A woman might touch her blouse her skirt or look down, just so. Other times she might laugh for a moment, and shift her glance to the side to deflect from the lie she knows she is saying, but it's no problem. Because she knows they are touched by her almost words. And what the politician likes most is to touch a devotee, a follower. To touch with their almost-words, their hands, their very being . . . Then a kind of power is sucked into their skins, into the very fibers of their beings. It is a feeling they can never have enough of. It overtakes them, forever and always. In this way they can keep talking and talking, and yes, lying.

Let's Just Be Rhinoceri

What is with all this anti-intellectual sentiment lately? Honestly, do we prefer to be led by idiots?

I hear it all the time. Even my daughter, attending closing ceremonies in the Peace Corps was told it's best not to get a PhD. Esp. not to go to a university like Harvard. Or Yale. Oh, God forbid if you go to the best universities in this country.

(I am not saying that simply attending these universities is enough . . . After all, there are a few legacies . . . )

But people do seem to ask -- why seek out the best education? ( Why bother to rise to the top of your law school class? Esp. if you want to lead this country? ) I mean, honestly, why challenge yourself to be a real thinker? Better to be one of "the people."

Better to be like the rhinos in Ionesco's play Rhinoceros - a play about the birth of Nazi-ism, fascism, nationalism . . . in which everyone is taken over by the urge to become a rhino . . . It's an amazing play and film-- and unforgettable.

Oh, let's just be rhinoceri . . .

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Politician Is a Human? (Or does he have Alzheimer's?)

No, the politician is not a human. The politician knows the people don't want him (or her) to be a human either. Then they might think about human things.

They might wonder or worry. How tired he (or she) looks!
How old!
How pale.
Maybe he is low on B vitamins.
Maybe has has low blood pressure.
Maybe he just needs a drink. An Advil.
A blood test.

A colonoscopy.
A prostate exam. Or a pelvic.
A test for Alzheimer's . . .

(The people think, couldn't they at least check for the Alzheimer's gene?
But then they remember Reagan. That most popular of all presidents.
Esp. years later . . .
Who remembers the Iran-Contra affair, the mining of the Nicaraguan harbor,
the invasion of Grenada . . .

Who needs memory? )

Hurray for the Pumpkin Pie

Politicians are another race, another breed. They aren't even human really. It's true. Scientists are studying them, and the evidence is in.

For one, it can be demonstrated in the way they talk. They talk and talk. They talk constantly, but they never talk as everyday humans do. They only pretend to. This is their secret. This is their game. To master a way of speaking that is familiar, that reminds people of themselves—of their small lives, complete with barbecues and hockey games and laughter and sweet little puppies and kittens and babies. Lots of babies. Yes, to remind them of their lives in their safe little Norman Rockwell towns in their tidy little Norman Rockwell homes with their smiling Norman Rockwell children. The lives they never had but imagined they did. Along with the pumpkin pie and ice cream. Who can best promise the life they never lived? And promise it will stay that way. That no one will take their babies away. Or their pumpkin pies.

Change? No, the politicians know that deep down the people don't want change. They just want more pies.

Some even want to go back to the good old days, to the ideals and the moral fortitude of those founding fathers, way back when, once upon a time. Founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson. And his slave mistress, Sally.

And yes, she kept the baby.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pro-Life Nations and Alpha Males

Who do you think is smarter? People or rats? my high school biology teacher asked us once. Then she added she voted for the rats. Why? She said she had read somewhere that rats stop reproducing when their population becomes too excessive. Imagine if people could only do that!

"World population stands at over 6 billion now. Projections differ on how high it will go. At one point it was projected to top out at 15 billion. Then it was reduced to 13 billion. The latest numbers I have seen are 9 billion. This will happen in the next 25 years. What happens after that? Mass die off. It’s a fact of population biology. Eventually the bacteria on the Petri dish use up all the resources and die. We live on a spherical Petri dish. Almost all the resources—remember that "living space" is a resource—are used up. As groups led by alpha males come into unavoidable contact with each other, conflict erupts. Osama bin Laden is an alpha male. Yasser Arafat is an alpha male. The clerics of the Taliban are alpha males. God help us, our alpha male is George W. Bush."

Pro-Life Nation?

El Salvador is the ultimate Pro-Life Nation. When people talk of being pro-choice, I think of the situation there. It's a deeply religious country.

In El Salvador women often see birth control as a a sin, too. In the town where my daughter works, where there is no running water, limited electricity, rampant poverty, women have huge families. This, I suppose, is God's plan. ? Teen pregnancy is a huge problem. Often no one says who the father is . . . The father, after all, is not responsible.

El Salvador is a macho country. Men are the bosses. Women have their babies. No choice about it.

In El Salvador abortion is a serious crime. If you have an abortion, you could end up in prison. For as long as 30 years.

In El Salvador there are no exceptions — rape, incest, life of the mother — A pregnancy can not be terminated legally. As Jack Hitt wrote in his article, Pro-Life Nation:

"El Salvador has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement apparatus — the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor's office responsible for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal."

An OB-GYN doctor is required by law to report a client if she sees any evidence that the woman has undergone an abortion. Doctor-client confidentiality? No, sorry. This is a pro-life nation.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

About Sarah Palin

I seem to be missing something, my 91 year old mother said on the phone this AM.
It seems most of the excitement is about her babies.

Yep, she has lots of babies, even a genetically challenged baby. (Is that the politically correct way to describe it?).

My mother, a dairy farmer paused. Then commented in her typical style.
Even the heifers can do that.
We had a five-legged calf once.
We kept it, too.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Football Season in Poland, Ohio

So it’s football season again in Poland, Ohio. The insanity has begun. Every day I walk the dogs through the woods and past this football field where young boys charge around, and their parents sit up in the bleachers and scream. (For crying out loud, I want to say, Get a life.) To make matters worse, there’s always this big-assed coach, yelling. I mean, this man loves to yell. I swear there’s some kind of coaching disease that miserable middle-aged men catch, and they go berserk. It's as if they have rabies and can barely contain the urge to bite someone. Really. Someone should lock them up. Or come to the games with a big bag of rotten tomatoes. The other day this coach was making the boys stop the practice and line up. He was really steamed.

How many times do I have to tell you? he yelled.
How you gonna play ball if you don’t know how to line up?
You call that a line?
You call that a g.d. line?
How many of you boys know what a line is?
Look at you boys. When I say a line, I mean a line. You hear me?
And where’s Johnny Z gone. Has anyone seen Johnny Z?
He’s taking a leak in the woods? Again?
He’s taking a leak in the woods when I say line up?
You think you’re going to be taking a leak in the woods during a real football game?
You think you’re going to be taking a leak whenever you want to, like Johnny here?
You think real football players take leaks?

I am reminded of my daughter's high school cross-country coach. (Maybe we all have our coaching stories.)

You think you can skip practice just because you have the flu?
You think any college coach is going to put up with your shenanigans?
You think just because your knee hurts, you can't race?
You think you know your body better than I do?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Geothermal Anyone?

And we thought it would take 2 days. A week later, it's in! Our new heating and cooling system . . . They hit rock, sandstone gunk (evidently some sandstone is worse than other sandstone, and we had the worst kind). Six holes in our front yard, 175 feet down . . . Haven't done much writing--just watching the drills going has been my latest pastime.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Split Brain Theory

"Read the one about the split brain. It's my favorite"
"It's not really a poem, Mom. It's just silly"
"What do you mean? I like it. Read it. But do you think the decade is over?"

The Split Brain Theory

from Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane

"If split-brain patients are given such tests, the left hemisphere generates many false reports. But the right brain does not; it provides a much more veridical account." Michael S. Gazzaniga and John W. Karapelon; "The Split Brain Revisited;" Scientific American; July 1, 1998

Years later it would be postulated that the President had only half a brain. Something had happened to his right hemisphere, which impaired his sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, God and the Devil. When trying to say, think, or do one thing, he always accomplished the reverse. This loss of brainpower proved highly contagious. For a decade the entire nation could not successfully pass a true-false test.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About Translations

I love translations. I love looking at foreign words and wondering . . . what they sound like, feel like, think like . . . I love making up meanings, guessing meaning, writing mis-meanings or mean meanings or fun meanings or . . . I love the idiomatic phrases, the different ways of saying things . . . the ways that words make up another world somewhere somehow . . .

Le style, c'est l'homme.

1) The stylo is the man
2) The style, it is all the hum.
3) The steely man is the man who hums.
4) Pretensions are all we are.

Il y a du monde au balcon

1) There is a balcony to the world.
2) He is there, at the edge of the world, preparing to fly . . .
3) Or maybe it is she who is his balcony of the world.
4) Ah, he says, it is she.
5) His balcony to the world, the Frenchman explains, is a large-breasted woman . . .

Il me manque

1) I miss him.
2) He is missing from me
3) He and I, we are the missing . . .
4) We are there, together, with all that is missing from our lives . . .
5) There at the balcony of the world . . .

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cool News on Dear Professor

Eric Mazur (Harvard) was awarded the Millikan prize this year, and I stole this blog post (or rather, I excerpted this from it out on my sidebar because all her posts are terrific). Her post offers a detailed account of the marvelous keynote lecture he gave for the occasion. You can download the entire presentation on his website, and I recommend that you do so, because, well, it was marvelous!

The AAPT Press release on the award has this to say:

“Professor Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique has altered the landscape of physics teaching. Numerous teachers have adopted Peer Instruction, enlivening their classes by turning passive students into active learners. AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal recognizes Eric Mazur’s outstanding scholarly contributions to physics education,” says Harvey S. Leff, Chair, AAPT Awards Chair, as well as the 2008 AAPT Past President, and Professor Emeritus of Physics, California State Polytechnic University.

Here’s the content of the lecture.

He opened up with this poem from the “Dear Professor” collection of poems based on emails sent to a real live physics professor and compiled by his wife, Nin Andrews.

Dear Professor,
I still don’t believe heavy
and light things fall at the same speed.
A feather and a stone, for example.
You kept saying I’d get it
if I lived in a vacuum.
Do you live in a vacuum?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Poet Packs Her Suitcase

When a poet packs a suitcase, she makes a list first. White sunhat, striped sundress, sunglasses, sun tan lotion, pink sweater, flip flops, Spanish dictionary, etc... Then she folds her clothes into her rolling suitcase (carefully selected and marked with a purple ribbon so that it stand out as HER suitcase), and when they don't fit, she begins weeding out the unnecessary outfits. (But I need at LEAST 14 pairs of underwear, she worries, but maybe only one pair of nylons. On second thought, who needs these repulsive Hanes flesh-colored things.)

This process can take days, weeks. And endless quantities of angst . . .

When the fiction writer packs a suitcase . . .

he empties the entire laundry basket into a duffel bag. Who needs lists? Whatever he has worn in the last week is what he will wear in the coming week. Plus a swim suit. He’ll borrow the lotion or buy it there. And the towel. The past, after all, is often repeated in the future. This should work except for a few details like changes in geography, and the fact that most of the clothes belong to his mother, his sister, or his father (who is the same height but 3 sizes wider). Which adds a nice twist to the plot. And there's that evening out --wearing his sister’s tiny pink T-shirt . . .

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hasta Luego El Salvador!


It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you are born with.
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure . . .

--Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peace Corps Projects in El Salvador

So what does a Peace Corps volunteer do?

These are just a few photos of some of Suzanne's projects, which include stove building, teaching, composting, writing grants (for computers in the school. Also, five kids went to the university from her village! Okay, that isn't in the photos), a recycling project . . . And more.

Also not pictured is her work of translating for doctors: volunteer doctors who don't speak Spanish, who come from the U.S. to her village, expecting perhaps a nice little doc-in-the-box kind of facility. What they find is a room with no running water, no AC (of course-but the rooms get hotter and hotter as the day goes on) and a long line of women who haven't seen a doctor for ages (some never) . . . Of course the person who gets an earful of the doctors' anger and frustration is the translator . . .

People always ask about the Peace Corps. I don't like to answer.

But there are a lot of jokes about the Peace Corps for sure. And stories. Like the one about the electrician who was sent to a village with no electricity. (He played Frisbee for 2 years. Had a great time.) The one about the woman who asked that she NOT be asked to work with children. Yeah, she taught kids. Or the woman who was sent to Benin and arrived at her site, only to find out no one knew she was coming. They all gathered around her, wondering what this strange white woman was doing in their midst.

Speaking about El Salvador

On our last day in El Salvador, we stayed in the Sheraton in San Salvador. (The Sheraton, according to our research, is in the safest part of El Salvador. And it's upscale. It has everything you could ask for--even a workout room -- I was in bliss!) Working out in the morning, I sweated away next to a man who is a human rights activist and works for an NGO (the name I can't recall), who told me how he suspects the ARENA party (the right wing party) might rig the next election, that he suspects them of all kinds of corruption and worse, that he wonders what will happen next, now that the FLMN (the left wing party) has a viable candidate . . . He went on to tell me how many people in El Salvador have no hope, no jobs, no way out of poverty . . . How when the economy is bad in the U.S., it's many many times worse in El Salvador. He kept talking and talking.

He asked me about the Peace Corps, and when I said that the Peace Corps doesn't allow the volunteers to be involved in the politics of El Salvador, he made a few jokes about the P.C..

Listening to him talk, I suddenly noticed I wasn't feeling well at all. I spent the rest of my day making trips to the bathroom, feeling eternally grateful I wasn't in one of the latrines at my daughter's Peace Corps village. I wasn't sure whether it was the overwhelm of worry I felt when I listened to this man talk-or if I had somehow managed to drink some of the water. (Politics, I do think, is sickening-here, there, everywhere.)

After a day or so, I realized it was the latter. Thank goodness for Cipro.

Men with Guns

On my first trip to visit my daughter in El Salvador, I was terrified of the men with guns. Like the nun in the post below, I saw them everywhere. I didn't want to look at them for fear . . .

On my second trip to El Salvador, I didn't notice them so much. Patrona, my daughter's friend, explained that joining the police force is one good way to get a job. And it's an ideal job at that. She talked of one of Suzanne's "brothers" (one of the sons of the family she was then living with) who got a visa to the U.S. easily after being on the police force.

On my third trip to El Salvador, I would see men with guns and think--Oh, maybe that's the driveway for the hotel. Or- a Walmart (they aren't called Walmarts in El Salvador). Or the place that Patrona stops and buys food for her pigs . . .

(But no, in answer to questions I've received, I don't expect I'll ever get used to seeing so many men with guns.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Speaking about El Salvador

I was speaking with a nun the other day about El Salvador. She told me how she had been there a few years ago to commemorate the three nuns and the missionary who were raped and murdered by soldiers in 1980. She commented on the military presence in the country. You get off the plane, she said, and there are men with guns everywhere.

I thought about it. These cases which remain in the minds of Americans, which everyone remembers whenever I say the name, El Salvador. People think of Oscar Romero who was shot while serving mass, and of the bomb explosion and mass panic of mourners at his funeral. It doesn't seem long ago that I was listening to NPR talk of how there are still questions in these cases.

I began to wonder, as well, whether Romero is a saint yet. I think he is still being beatified. He is considered one of the few martyrs of the 20th century.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Spanish Language and a Note on Translation

I love the sound of the language . . . It's so much more musical, dreamy, like waves washing over me. It doesn't have the urgency of English--the staccato, the sense of --I have to say it fast and now. I have to rush, or I might miss my life, which is a feeling I carry with me most of my days . . .

It's that feeling Ann Sexton described as having a rat inside her.

I am reminded of the translations of Whitman I once read --into Spanish--
How the word, urge, lost all its intensity, its passion, when written as urgencio or impulso.

"Urge and urge and urge,
always the procreant urge of the world,"

Neruda translated this as:

"Impulso, impulso, impulso,
siempre el procreador impulso del mundo."

Reading that, I can't help laughing. Impulso del mundo. It sounds like some cumbersome sea creature, washing ashore, slowly but surely.


I love odes. Today I am thinking of Neruda's wonderful "Ode to Laziness"

Yesterday I felt this ode
would not get off the floor.
It was time, I ought
at least
show a green leaf . . .
on the pine peaks,
appeared in the nude,
she led me dazzled
and sleepy,
she showed me upon the sand
small broken bits
of ocean substance,
wood, algae, pebbles,
feathers of sea birds. (translated by William Carlos Williams)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Things That surprise me about El Salvador

If I had to choose between the beach in El Salvador and Mexico, I'd choose the former. But I hate the built-up tourist-beach scenes. I don't know what we're doing in this picture. We seem to be standing next to a house that has been damaged by a hurricane, holding up coconut shells as if to offer a toast, grinning like idiots. Hmm. I suppose this is one for the--can you think of a caption for this-- contest.

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

10. One day Don Daniel couldn't find his phone, so he had his son call it. This loud ringing came from the top of a coconut tree. So Don Daniel just walked up the tree (basically-- and retrieved his phone). He's over 60. His friend laughed and said to me--all Salvadorian men and boys can climb coconut trees. Yeah, I asked him. All of them? Can you? Claro.

Things That surprise me about El Salvador

9. The first time I went to El Salvador, I sat next to a businessman who was completely terrified. He'd never been there before. He said his company (a computer co.) had warned him--not to look flashy, not to go out after dark, not to rent a car (the car thieves wait outside the airport --along the road--and then stop you and steal your car, he said), not to hike, not to act like a tourist, not to go anywhere alone, not to look lost, not to dress in a suit (he was wearing a white polo shirt and khakis), not to . . . He had read and reread and even printed out the U.S. State Dept. warnings to travelers (you probably don't want to read these on the flight in) -and was full of info on gangs, car jacking, thieves, etc.. He said at least he knew some Spanish, and he was reviewing his verb tenses. Oh, those Spanish verbs!

The second time I went to El Salvador, I sat next to a businessman (who was dressed in a very nice suit) who goes to San Salvador every week, flying in on Monday and leaving on Friday. He seemed to know everyone on the plane. San Sal? He said, as if talking about a girlfriend. It's no worse than Miami. In both cities, you have to know your way. But me? I wouldn't mind retiring in El Salvador. I can afford whatever I can dream there. El Salvador has everything: beaches, mountains, rivers, city life . . . But I do need to learn Spanish.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

8. The Pineapples! I thought I knew what a pineapple tasted like, but whatever those things are they sell in Giant Eagle are but a distant relative of these . . .

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

7. The children. They are beautiful. And sweet. I know that's a gross generalization. So forgive me for it. But I did have the luxury of teaching a poetry writing class one day last November (with Suzanne translating), and I was so impressed. I won't bore you with my gushing. But I will post again a poem written by a 10 year old girl. (First in Spanish, then in English.)

El sol y la luna y los girasoles
by 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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

6. I don't like to think about the darker side. The things that make me worry. But, as the mother of a hiker well . . . I don't like this fact (which comes up when I read about the country on U.S.sites about El Salvador):
Mine-removal efforts have ceased, but land mines and unexploded ordnance in backcountry regions still pose a threat to off-road tourists, backpackers and campers.

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

5. The school teachers work double shifts. 8-12. 1-5. No, they don't get paid much, and there's a lot of rote learning. The classrooms are hot. And there are so many kids!!! Here they are doing a little environmental play-in connection with Suzanne's work on environmental education. Save the trees!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

4. People will pay over $100 bucks just to try to get a visa to the U.S.. They will take the bus to San Salvador, wait in long line for hours, then turn their application in, only to be turned down immediately. The reason? They might want to stay in the U.S.. This photo is of Don Daniel who has tried several times to get a visa to see his grandchildren.

(Okay, I had that figure wrong. I just looked it up on the U.S. Embassy site, and below is posted what one must have to get a visa. What's so odd to me is that you have to pay the money, even if it's denied. ?? It's confusing.)

Immigrant Visa Fees

At the time of the interview, each immigrant visa applicant must pay a $400 visa processing fee, effective January 1, 2008 . For applicants whose files have all of the required documents during the interview and who have a qualifying sponsor in the U.S., an immigrant visa will be issued.

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

3. They say adios instead of hello when they don't have time to chat. I wish we had a way of doing that in this country.

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

2. Women don't wear shorts. Or swim suits. (Though they do wear shorts to swim in.) At least the don't wear them in S's site. And they don't run. Suzanne and I went running together, and I wore these giant shorts-
I mean huge. Everyone was staring, but not because of my shorts (I mean, I don't think so anyhow). They were all saying,
Suzanne's mother is here.

Things that surprise me about El Salvador

1. How our government deports people there.

This is a recent case. I think it shows the extremes of the sentiment: send them back to where they came from. Suzanne met a guy who experienced similar treatment.

Burglary conviction leads to deportation

By Leslie Berestein
July 20, 2008
A man adopted by a U.S. couple when he was 6 months old has been deported to El Salvador after spending five years in immigration detention in Otay Mesa while he appealed his case.

(You can click on the link above to read the whole story.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the Hills of El Salvador

Getting from the beach to Suzanne's Peace Corps site in the hills of El Salvador (the closest town is Santa Maria Ostuma, which you can see on the next hill over in this pic) is quite a trek. It's probably not that far, but the narrow dirt roads are so washed out from the heavy rains, it's a long, slow drive. We hired a taxi-driver who seemed happy for the work. I was worried he'd complain when we hit the rutted roads (I was afraid that they'd take the shocks right out of the car), but he seemed right at home, bouncing along with us. When we asked if he'd mind stopping at the Supermarket, he said he wasn't in a rush. (He didn't charge extra for the stop. The entire trip, which was maybe 1 and 1/2 hours was $50 plus a tip) No one was in much of a rush.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Earthquake in El Salvador

The entire village where my daughter now lives was destroyed by an earthquake in January, 2001. A few structures, like this one, still remain.

Just as happened in our last visits, many conversations turn to the subject of the earthquake. Everyone has a story. A common question between villagers:
Where were you when the earthquake hit.

The earth moved like water beneath our feet, a mother says. The people were running one moment, and they were gone the next. One of her 9 daughters was killed when trying to save a child. Just as she handed the child to another woman, the dirt swallowed her.

Do the folks in the USA know about our earthquake, a man asks?

Yes, I assure him. People know about the earthquake in El Salvador. (I don't have the heart to say otherwise.)

The Beach in El Salvador

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Working at the Ice Cream Shop or a tiny story about life in El Salvador

I asked Suzanne’s friend, Patrona, about this five dollar an hour wage. She didn't answer my question, but she and Suzanne started talking in Spanish about F. who got a job working at an ice cream shop in San Salvador. ( I think I understood the most of this story, though my Spanish isn't even close to up to snuff.) Her mom was really excited because it's hard to get a job in an ice cream shop in San Salvador if you are from a tiny village in the hills. Everyone wants a job like that, but no one can afford a place in San Salvador. So the woman who owned the shop let F. stay in her home. What could be more perfect?

Plus F. was starting to see a guy who was 25 and in the police academy too, a guy who was going to be able to make a good living some day. She invited him to a big fiesta she was planning for her 18th birthday, and the plan was that he would ask her father then if he could have permission to date F. (Already her father approved.) This is a big event, the asking to date the daughter event, and usually the young suitor is terrified. Everyone was talking and giggling and asking in suspense.

But then she learned the boyfriend was seeing a 14 year old girl, too. And the woman who owned the ice cream shop stopped paying F.. She kept saying she would, but that times were hard. She had F. working full time and was asking her to do other things, like clean her house. One day F. ran away. (She had to run away? I asked, wondering if she couldn't just have said, I'm not doing this. They nodded and looked at me, as if to say, don't you get it?)

Shortly after her return, C., an old man in the village died, so her eighteenth birthday party (that she'd been planning for weeks with Suzanne ordering the cake, and her mother worrying about the dress . . . and we were all planning to attend) was canceled because you can't have a party when someone in the village has just died. Instead there were seven days of funeral rites with everyone singing and praying into the nights.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Advice from a Tourist Guide to El Salvador

On our first days there, we chose to stay at a Salvadorian hotel on the beach because of the nice write-up in our tourist guide, a book which is completely outdated because, well, maybe no one wants to be a tourist in El Salvador. I imagine Peace Corps parents are the only folks who buy this book. Then I start wondering, are there tourist guides for every country? Your Vacation Guide to Chechnya? Or Benin? Or Libya? Or Papau, New Guinea?
Not to compare El Salvador with those places . . .

To be fair, last time we stayed at a budget hotel, El Salvadorian style, and it was the best. Just not the one the guide book bragged about.

$5 a Day?

Do they really pay $5/day to factory workers in El Salvador? Which U.S. companies?

I think the first guy who told me about the $5/day wage (though he wasn't the only one)
was from Reebok/Adidas. Reebok, btw, doesn't like to disclose its factory locations. Like Nike, it doesn't have the best human rights record.

Lacoste has its major U.S. operation in El Salvador. I spent a long time talking to a businessman who works for Lacoste, but he talked mostly about the beautiful women in El Salvador (verdad!). Esp. his girlfriend who has a home in the mountains, a home on the beach, a home in San Salvador with many servants and . . .