Friday, September 23, 2016

Sky Song

This poem appeared as part of the Black Earth Institute's "30 Days Hath September" Project

Sky Song

Hear the sound of the age changing—
it is the refrain of yes
shaping new constellations
from the old stories
that scroll through our days.

Hear the galaxy hum of love—
the quantum is of the unseen
singing our names (when we
only know to say them) and scheming
sweet rhymes in the forth dimension.

Let’s get invisible.
Let’s kiss elisions.
Let’s get spirit naked
and play in the river of give
and good and mmmm.

Let’s dabble in destiny
and possibility
until we turn into songsters
who heal the holes
in skies and hearts.

Let’s hum in the night.
Let’s ring in the day.
Let’s write a new chorus
across the sky with contrails
of stubborn joy.

Let’s sing it even when it hurts—
even when the blood runs,
even when the fire burns,
even when.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Beyond Myth: The Poet Sandal-Maker of Athens

The Poet Sandal-Maker and I: Athens, Greece 2006
(Thank you, Molly, for getting this photo!)
A very hairy man smiled and pointed down another, greasy Athenian street. I had my doubts, but he had great shoes. We must be close.

Molly thanked the man and led the way. Our friendship had spanned Archie comics to eBooks, and we travelled well together—tag teaming who led and who lagged behind…questioning where the other was leading.

It was my turn for the latter: “You sure he understood what you asked?”

Not long later, Molly pointed. There it was: the shop sign I’d been seeking. To a tall poet who has spent years trying to find size-12 shoes I like, the Poet Sandal- Maker of Athens was as intriguing as any myth I had read in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.

I had brought just one pair of walking sandals with me on our ten-day trip to Greece. The weather websites had forecasted sunny delightfulness, and I had decided to bring only a single, carry-on daypack. That spring, I needed to keep my life simple.

Despite spending the winter in a Swiss chalet with a fairy-tale view across the valley to Italy, it had been The Winter of my Discontent: a messy breakup, Gruyère weight gain, and the looming Indeterminate Future after returning to the US.

When Molly had asked if I wanted to join her in Greece before I returned home, my answer had been a rather desperate, “yes!”

It may be more grownup to be able to deal with one’s issues without leaving them behind, but it’s a lot more pleasant to have the change of scenery—especially when the scenery will include Athens and the Peloponnese islands.

The problem was, Athens is not the islands. It is a polluted, gray, treeless city, bearable mostly because of its headline ruins. When I climbed up the Acropolis, I wondered if it were even more magnificent when contrasted with the modern cement buildings in varying hues of sidewalk that sprawled below it into a haze of smog.

We did enjoy the antiquity. We enjoyed having the Parthenon to ourselves at dawn for the briefest of moments before the tour buses crested the hill. We enjoyed playing caryatid, taking pictures of ourselves as if we were holding up the porch of the Erechtheion.

Back in the Archie-comics era of eighth grade, Molly and I had volunteered to illustrate our classroom’s Greek myth binders. We drew Hera with gladiator sandals on ill-proportioned feet, Apollo with a lumpy bow and arrow, and Poseidon with a trident that poked past the three-hole punches. We knew our Greek mythology and our accessories.

But let’s face it: as tourists, we weren’t going to get a glimpse of Poseidon on the docks of Piraeus, and even if we did, he was notoriously aggressive. Who wants to risk encountering a stormy god with a trident and all of the Aegean Sea at his disposal?

The Poet Sandal-Maker, on the other hand....Now here was a legend we could experience.

Molly had already been inside the shop for a few minutes while I continued to stand in silly reverence on the street. She leaned out the doorway and waved at me, “Coming in?”

I stepped in to a parfumerie of leather. A long-haired artisan sat bent over a stack of soles. He smiled when we entered and kept working. The only other person in the shop was a mannequin wearing a sheer red dress in front of a wall of sandals, boxes of sandals, and chairs stacked with sandals. 

The man introduced himself as the son of Stavros Melissinos, the poet of the shop’s name. My disappointment at not meeting the legend himself disappeared as soon as the son pointed us toward the wall of shoe design options. Choices spanned leather hues, band widths, strap lengths, and ties. Deciding to stick to my plan of keeping it simple, I opted for a single pair: an elegant variation on the flip-flop called the Minoan. 

After measuring my feet, the third-generation sandal maker began to craft my sandals at a worktable invisible beneath strata of soles, Marlboro boxes, knives, and pliers.

Within minutes, I had custom-made sandals. They were smooth as the yogurt and honey we’d had for breakfast and just as sweet. Kneeling before me, the sandal maker adjusted the leather while I asked him questions about poetry. When he was finished, he looked up to see what I thought. I smiled—a genuine, eye-crinkling smile I hadn’t felt across my face in a long time.

Molly was laughing. “I hope my sandals make me look half that happy.”

I pulled off one of my new shoes to examine it. The sandal soles were imprinted with the poet’s trademark: the gestural profile of a face. The image could have been carved on a column at the Acropolis. Or it could have been an illustration from the Odyssey translation I’d read a few years before.

“The leather will stretch. It will get very soft,” the sandal maker said as I slipped the shoe back on and began to walk around the shop.

He was standing now, watching me wiggle my toes. The thongs were tight, but I trusted his advice.

And he was right. They did stretch. They are now so soft they shine. I walked in them later that week on the Peloponnese island of Hydra, later that month through the wine country of the Languedoc, years later to a wedding in Montana, and recently into a serendipitous Market Street encounter on a sunny, San Francisco afternoon.

They are my go-to summer sandals for nicer occasions: flat, lightweight, and easy to pack. When I pull them out of my bag and see the imprint of the Poet Sandal- Maker logo, I am always reminded that there is joy down the most unpromising of streets.

Maybe it was shallow of me to be equally thrilled by leather sandals cut to fit my feet in Zeus’s homeland as by the Parthenon at dawn. Or maybe the things that make the journey possible and pleasant can be just as important as the destinations they bring us to.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trimming my Mindsets

I just cut my hair. As in: me, myself, and a pair of scissors. It’s fun learning how to do this, but the original motivation was annoyance. I knew ageing would change things, but I didn’t expect my hair to be one of those things. Don’t get me wrong; I love the gray hairs—really. Each one is a badge of wisdom, a lesson learned from four decades on this earth, and I don’t plan on dyeing them away.

What bothered me about my hair was the fact that I could no longer roll out of bed and bound off into the day without it looking a bit…um…tired. My hair just sort of hung there, lifeless. I resented the thought that I’d want to start spending time actually doing something to my strands besides rubbing a bit of argan oil into their ends.

I’m not a primper. I have the same curling iron I owned in the eighth grade (it survived in my grandmother’s attic while I gallivanted across several continents, and I rediscovered it in my mid-thirties). I only use a hand-me-down hairdryer to dry layers of acrylic paint on my canvases when I’m feeling impatient.

I could have gotten a perfectly good cut in a salon, sure, but I wanted to take this particular task into my own hands. I look down at the curls of hair that have fallen from my scissors and smile. As clearly as those dark clippings on white porcelain, I can see that my annoyance didn’t originate with my hair but with the conflicted feelings I had about cultivating beauty to begin with.

My grandmother—the one with the attic—had been a beauty. In her late teens and early twenties, she wanted to be a model, and I have one of her portfolio shots hanging on my wall. In the photo, her hair is perfectly coiffed. She faithfully and painstakingly twisted little bobby-pin curls all over her head. When I was a girl, I’d seen her curl her hair that way during sleepovers at her house with my cousin, Heather. We would watch Grandma sit at her long, glass-topped vanity while the curls dried. She used the interim to apply the contents of mysterious bottles to her face. She always took the time to look as good as she could, right up to the final years of illness before she died. Heather inherited Grandma’s aptitude and the willingness to use it.

I decided not to. I spent most of my high school and college years with my hair yanked back in a lumpy bun, happy with the fact that my shower products consisted of just shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap. Rebellion can look like a frizz halo.

I wasn’t rebelling against any person so much as the way our culture urged women to manufacture and maintain beauty. Not until grad school in humid Greensboro, North Carolina did I discover styling products—at first out of necessity (it’s hard to see through a sheen of frizzy hair), and then for amusement. UNCG’s creative writing program held legendary themed parties and thesis readings, and these required trips to the CVS for eyeliner and lipstick. I even let friends talk me into a trip to the M.A.C counter at the mall for a makeover.

For my first Halloween in Greensboro, I went as a Very Tall Woman. I’m already 6’ 3”, but my goal was to have to duck under door lintels. I invited several friends to get ready together at my apartment before we walked to the party on Carr Street. A fellow poet teased and hairsprayed my hair into a skyscraper of a beehive. Along with my five-inch silver heels, the hair added over a foot to my height, and I measured 7’5’. (A measurement confirmed by another poet who had to stand on a chair to read the measuring tape.) On the walk to the party, my beehive snagged in a magnolia tree, and I was the only one who could reach up to disentangle it.

It was a brief and entertaining season of playing with beauty products.

The reason I decided not to dye my hair came a few years later. I was living in Switzerland, high in the Alps, attending a theological study center called l’Abri. In a chalet with 35 students and three bathrooms, we were allotted just two showers a week. There wasn’t much point in styling limp, greasy, day-four hair. One winter night, I traveled down the valley to listen to a string quartet. I knew the cellist, but my eyes were on the violinist. She leaned deeply over her instrument, the crown of her head pointing almost straight toward the audience. Her long hair was dark brown, and swirling from the top of her head like petals from the heart of a blossom grew thick sections of unabashed white. It was striking, the way she embraced the evidence of her age. As I watched her play, I told myself I would always let my white hair show, too.

At the time, I had about four white hairs. Now, as I dry my damp hair, I lean into the mirror and see that the white ones are already innumerable. They are also becoming my favorites. They are the strongest and thickest. They are visible wisdom in a part of the world that often forgets to remember the beauty of time. And I’ve discovered that I want to celebrate them, even if that means occasionally taking time play with hair gel and bobby pins.

I think what once prompted me to skip the primping was the thought that it was faking something—that it was a well advertised attempt to mask reality. Sometimes it is. But maybe sometimes it’s also an individual way to celebrate reality.

All to say, you might see me with bobby pins in my hair—or see a trail of them falling out behind me as I figure out how to actually anchor the things. Or you might see me looking like I just rolled out of bed. Because that’s a celebration, too: simply waking each day into the continuum of ever-wiser life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Les Yeux du Coeur

I couldn't resist: "Eyes of the Heart" just sounds so lovely in French! And now for a prophetic workshop in Tours, France...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Paper & Egg

I’m housesitting at the moment, happily tucked away in the countryside, alone with several projects and a few animals. Those animals include two chickens who live waaaaay down the hill toward the bottom of the lane. After the first round of morning coffee and writing, I walk down to the coop with any veggie scraps, feed the hens, and collect an egg or two. I tuck the eggs into a fencepost nook and continue my walk, past barns and vineyards, taking at least an hour until the list of tangibles in my head dissolves and ideas of the heart can blossom. When I return to the base of the lane, I gather the daily newspaper and eggs, and climb the steep hill back to the house. Then it’s round two of coffee and the afternoon work—the stuff that doesn’t need “morning brain.” Some days that’s painting. Some days it’s catching up on pixel work. Often, it’s both.

Even when I’m not housesitting, my days have a similar structure—sans chickens. But when I started hiking back up the hill today, a fresh egg cradled in the Wednesday copy of the Medford Mail Tribune, I thought that “paper and egg” made a nice metaphor for the day’s ritual.

Somewhere on a social media discussion this week, I saw a comment about the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Curry. Though the book is on my overlong wish list, I haven’t read it. I looked up the book description and saw that it examines the habits of dozens and dozens of artists, past and present. Apparently—and this was from the lost discussion thread—there are four elements that most successful artists across genres seem to share:

1. Structure
2. Solitude
3. Simplicity
4. Exercise

And despite quoting someone I can’t remember about a book I haven’t read, I felt the “yes” of these enough that this little list stayed with me over the last couple of days and remerged this morning as I finally crested the hill and reached the house with the paper and egg.

In the kitchen, I set a cast iron skillet on the stove and turned on the burner. I thought about it; those four elements aren’t sexy or groundbreaking, but they work. And they are a gift that most of us can open in some way—whether easily when housesitting alone or with admirable effort in a household with a large family.

Today’s simple structure continued after my solo walk—including a very nice egg, over easy, to fuel the next creative project.

As will tomorrow’s….

Saturday, April 30, 2016

#Micropoetry for Poetry Month

{Photo by Danny Hall}

For this year’s Poetry Month, I wrote and posted a micro poem every day on Twitter. It was a fun challenge to condense “the best words in the best order” into 140 characters or less. Less, really, since I tried to squeeze in the hastags #micropoetry and #PoetryMonth with each post, too!

Here are my five favorites. Enjoy....


Thick sleep, strong coffee—
the day’s armor donned,
I begin to write and find
there is no battle but a dance.


For wrists & knuckles, knees & hips, 
for all the parts that twist & bend
with & without me thinking—thank you.


Between finger & thumb,
between river & shore,
between yes & no,
every “if” awaits.


Yesterday, a Machado poem fell
from my pocket. To you who
finds it—let the bees spin honey
from every marvelous error.


I opened an old set of drawers in my mind,
dumping out lists & grudges & desires.
So little to keep, I tossed
the dresser, too.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Rumi of Her Own

I'm happy to have another essay up at Perceptive Travel! This one is called A Rumi of Her Own and was inspired by a trip to Sayulita, Mexico a few springs ago. I stayed in a villa named for a love poem...and on the floor named for the poet Rumi. Since some of the photos are already published with the essay, here are a couple of watercolors I painted in Villa Poema de Amor. Enjoy the essay!