Wednesday, August 16, 2017

La Vía Poética

How is poem born on a pilgrimage to the homeland of Pablo Neruda? I'm happy to say you can find out in the inaugural issue of Hidden Compass, where my essay & illustrations await you!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Thousand-Word Morning

I wish I'd written a thousand words sitting by the bank of the Chetco River that morning, wrapped in a red-wool blanket. And though a picture is worth that word count, I heard a thousand word-songs. The birds singing to the dawn, my own voice reading Annie Dillard, the riffle of water around the bend, and the chalky clack of stones as a friend walked down the bank to bring me coffee. May our summers always share moments like these.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Wordbody Blog Turns Ten

Sunrise, Sunset:
Today also happens to be summer solstice—
a great reason to watch the sun set!
Ten years ago today, I started the Wordbody blog before flying off to a tiny island in Micronesia. To celebrate, I compiled an entirely random assortment of things I learned between then and now.  

1) Earplugging fear. Might as well start with the main event. Ten years ago, I flew to Saipan to teach public high school because I was afraid of public speaking. I decided it was time to face that ol’ fear. A wise man once said, “The dogs of doom bark at the door of your destiny. But when you step through the door, you usually find a Chihuahua with a megaphone.” Truth. Today, I teach locally and globally. And I do love it. It is part of my destiny. When those dogs start barking, plug your ears and keep walking.

2) Own compassion. We’ve all heard it before: we can only be as compassionate (or honoring, or respectful, etc.) to others as we are to ourselves. But it’s really, really true. We can’t give what we don’t have. Speaking of giving….

3) Give like a river. I read this somewhere, once upon a time. What you put in from where you stand on a river’s shore will likely be carried downstream. And what you receive may come to you from upriver—from an entirely unexpected, unseen source. As I continually learn this, I’m getting better at releasing the illusion of reciprocity (bonus: this is a great antidote to bitterness).

4) Some reflexes & assumptions can kill you: While driving over the Siskyou Pass in sub-zero winter behind mud-spraying semi trucks, don’t reflexively squirt the cleaner fluid on your windshield. (If you do, you have about two inches of visibility beneath the wiper line to see enough to pull over!) Assumption scenarios with fellow humans can be equally dangerous.

5) Happy day. Years ago, while traveling in Asia, I read Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. By that point, I had lived and worked on several continents, and all but North America knew to take more than two weeks of vacation a year. In Weiner’s search for what makes people happy in Thailand, he found that the Thai people are less likely to take big, long vacations. Instead, they have learned how to build breaks and rest into their everyday lives. I loved that idea. Since reading that, I’m constantly reminding myself to intersperse my freelance work day with hammock time, cups of tea, reading poetry, or just staring out the window. Happier (and more productive) me.

6) Metaphors for the “Big Lessons.As a writer, I love metaphors. As an artist, I also love visual ones. You know the adage about giving people a clean slate? I remind myself of that figurative clean slate by keeping a literal slate (aka a mini chalkboard) above my door. It’s clean—nothin’ on it. A nice reminder.

7) Low fat! Low carb! Paleo! No! While standing in a wedding buffet line in my early thirties, I picked up a piece of bread. One of the women across from me noticed and pointedly said to her friend how great she felt when she avoided bread. That comment felt like a slap on two levels: it felt shaming, and it showed me how my own “didactic diet” had likely annoyed or even hurt others. Sure, if a person has a serious disease or food intolerance, it’s wise to let people know. Otherwise, food trends come and go. Unless someone asks, it’s probably better to figure out what works for ourselves and eat it—not preach it.

8) We are spirit, mind, and body—in that order. I wrote about that in a 2011 post called “Bikini Season for the Spirit.” Reading it again was a good reminder. 

9) The best investment. As a poet/painter, I’m not exactly a Fortune-500-level investor. But a couple of years ago, I decided to give up financial insecurity for Lent. For 2-3 hours a day after work, I read books, watched instructional videos, and navigated websites to figure out how to build a nestegg. When friends asked me what I was up do, I would tell them, and we’d end up sharing our good and bad financial adventures. Over those 40 days, I realized something. The best investments are relationships. My Roth IRA may fluctuate, and the few stocks I bought certainly will, but investing in people—regardless of reciprocity (see #3)—is always savvy.

10) Mistakes are often creativity in disguise. When I first returned home from the island of Saipan, I missed the 180-degree views of sea and sky. I had watched most sunrises and sunsets. One afternoon back in Oregon, I wanted to paint with some leftover red wine. I made myself a cup of coffee but bumped into something as I went to set it down. I splashed just enough over the rim to leave a coffee ring on my paper. At first, I was annoyed. I wanted to use that sheet of watercolor paper to paint! But then, as I looked at the common “mistake” of the ring, I saw the beauty in it. I dipped the cup in wine, and voilà: a tribute to watching sunrise with one beverage and sunset with another. Here’s to seeing coffee rings and other mistakes with new eyes.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Six Celebrations of Poetry

“A poem is not simply words on a page but a way of touching the stars and having the stars that have fallen into the sea touch us.”—Sawnie Morris

“I don’t think that art or poetry needs to set out to change the world but I think that it can change the world and make us more compassionate, more just, more aware.” —Michael Wiegers

“The struggle of the poet is to reach the natural sensations, emotions, and feelings that are often concealed or hidden by the mechanisms of civilization.”—Donald Hall

“My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important, actually, than any of the poetry he writes.”—Robert Bly

“A poem, like an oar, extends inner life into the waters of story and things, of language and music. There we in turn are changed, moved by the encounter’s supporting buoyancy, and also its useful resistance.”—Jane Hirshfield

“Poems are really messages to me whispering, Be calm, go deep, go slow.”—Susan Goldsmith Woldridge

Sunday, April 30, 2017


 A staircase at Royal Château de Blois, France

Beauty is a bank of clouds and the riverbank
Beauty is the fine tip of your favorite pen
Beauty is the butter churn, the salt mine, and the breakfast plate
Beauty is a dozen eggs, a dozen cookies, a dozen months 
           each year
Beauty is an infant’s hand grasping your ear lobe
Beauty is the osprey nest, the eagle's nest, and learning
            the difference between them
Beauty is primary—a blue stamp, a yellow letter, a red mailbox
Beauty is bare feet on a warm beach, toes sinking slow
            in the surf-soft sand
Beauty is the Moroccan orange tree and the Californian lemon
Beauty is the cat purring, and beauty is the cat
Beauty is the grandmother’s garden of tended and amended soil
Beauty is the hemisphere and the blogosphere
Beauty is a screen of pixels shaping the face of your love,
            and beauty is your love
Beauty is quick—a glimpse through the train window
Beauty is slow—a dinner with as many conversations as courses.  
Beauty is a pair of dancing shoes with holes worn through,
            and beauty is the music that wore them out
Beauty is the staircase and every shadow ever cast across it
Beauty is a sink on a second story, water piping up
            from deep below the earth to wash your hands
Beauty is a hot shower
Beauty is a sky of stars and planes and satellites
Beauty is the embroidered pillow and the night full of dreams
Beauty is the truth, told straight or slant, with pen or brush 
            or body or sound or tongue or hands or clay or glass
            or stone or flowers or tile or might
Beauty is Creator and created
Beauty is here 
           and beauty is now

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tax Season for Poets

Seven meditations on money from a poet who wishes she had thought of the book title The Financial Lives of Poets (she didn’t)

1) “Money often costs too much.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

The poet filed her taxes for the previous year—a year she dedicated to her art. She realized that she technically lives at her country’s poverty level. To her continued wonderment, she finds ways to see many other countries without debt. (She would like to add that she has no trust fund, offshore accounts, or supporting spouse—though she has nothing against any of those!)

She starts to wonder: do the little digits on pieces of paper or computer screens really mean anything?

2) “Money is like a sixth sense—and you can’t make use of the other five without it.” —William Somerset Maugham

And then she sees a pair of boots she’d REALLY love. That aren’t on sale. That would chip away at her dedication pay her annual IRA contribution. And she realizes that yes: those little numbers mean something.

But not everything.

3) “Money will buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail” —Richard Friedman

Like a good egalitarian, the poet has dated both rich and poor men over the years. Their financial status had little to do with the end of those relationships—but she did notice that the ones who respected their finances respected themselves—and her.

The day the poet realized she loved herself, she realized she was a wealthy woman.

4) “Budget: a mathematical confirmation of your suspicions.” —A.A. Latimer

The poet used to have a little budget sheet. Back in high school. But since she has spent most of her adult life either self-employed or with erratic income, she long ago moved from budgets to savoir-faire. This works. Except when it almost doesn’t (see #2).

5) “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” —Spike Milligan.

Go ahead and try her!

6) “Money is the opposite of the weather. Nobody talks about it, but everybody does something about it.” —Rebecca Johnson

The poet, who once gave up financial insecurity for Lent, observes:

She has been the girl with the salaried job and the vacations to far-flung lands.

She has been the girl living in an unplumbed cabin after the economic downturn, learning how to fill a bag of groceries for just $20.

She discovered something in those contrasts: she wrote more poetry in the cabin than she did with the salary, and she remembers those poems with far more fondness than direct deposit paychecks. (Though she’d truly be game for the opportunity of #5.)

7). “There is the natural economy, and there is the Spirit economy. Though I have no idea how it works, I know it does work.”—Anna Elkins

The poet has come to believe that the Spirit economy transcends the money-for-time model, numbers with lots of zeros, and all the dog-eared financial planning books on her bookshelf.

She has learned that you can invest in friendships, give extravagantly, travel the world, and buy organic chocolate at Grocery Outlet with very little money and very much delight. (Though she’s game to try life with very much money and very much delight! Again, see #5.)

Maybe most importantly, she has learned to be grateful for a life that inexplicably works—partly because she doesn’t put her faith in her own ability to earn it (though she can and does work hard) but instead is thankful for both the visible reality and the invisible. And she has a hunch that the realm beyond the “possible” has a far stronger currency!

we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.

—W.S. Merwin
from “Thanks”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Poem is Coconut

A poem inspired by reading Octavio Paz beneath the palm trees in Mexico

Yelapa: En Edible Poem

poem is coconut
poem is sea salt
poem is margarita salt
poem is sunscreen
poem is dinner two hours from the now
            of sun and blue & bird
            & ocean licking beach
            in a tidal hunger
poem is hunger
poem has nothing to do with the tongue
poem has everything to do with the tongue
(poem tastes like luz y luna)
poem climbs a palm three
            cuts the green fruit
            throws them to the ground
            lets gravity & distance break them open
            releasing milk & meat
            & both are sweet
poem eats itself and is also called “poem”
poem is coconut