Saturday, December 5, 2009


There's the adage: “You can be right and dead wrong.” I am good at being right. So when I asked God how my rights might harm relationships, I immediately saw an intricate crystal castle. It fit in my hands. Imagine tiny facets, aligned crenelations, symmetrical turrets, the whole edifice an architectural perfection. And yet these “rights” were solidified and brittle. They were unmoved when anyone stood at their gates (gates which, though they swung open on smooth hinges, were too small for much to pass through).

With a sigh of resignation, I held the castle out to God: “Here, go ahead and smash it.” But instead of smashing it, He exploded it—and not in a way that it was destroyed, but that each crystal flew out of its rigid place and suspended in the air. The pieces spun and swirled, reflecting and refracting light. It was beautiful. Now they moved freely and could fit themselves to different circumstances.

It got better. The pieces started to come together. As they moved, they turned from clear to colored and solidified into the round viewfinder of a kaleidoscope. God smiled as he turned the handle, and I watched the equivalent of a stained glass window dancing. He said, “Here, go ahead and hold this instead.”

So now, instead of forcing people into my Castle of Rights, I shift the kaleidoscope. It’s amazing how different everyone looks in the colors of love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When purpose is a verb

During college, I spent several holidays at a friend’s family farm on the Musselshell in Montana. On my first Thanksgiving there, Abby gave me the full tour. On the property stood an abandoned yellow farmhouse—the remains of a township that had tried to survive on the vast plains. She climbed the stoop and reached for the door knob, turning to me with a smile. “Would you like pillows?”

I followed her inside to find a house filled with goose feathers. With each of our steps, the topmost feathers lifted in welcome. Some wafted and shivered as if remembering wings. We began filling bags with the cloudy masses of white.

That afternoon, Abby made me a set of pillows on her mother’s sewing machine. That night, I slept on memories of flight. I’d like to think I had marvelous, sky-filled dreams on those pillows, but I can’t remember.


A feather’s purpose is to aid flight. All by themselves, feathers are useful bedding, ink pens, or headdresses. They need the wings to fly.

I think I’ve spent a fair amount of my life focused on the equivalent of feathers.

Of late, I hear people saying, “We purpose to . . .” and “I purpose to . . . .” Unlike some nouns-turned-verbs, this one doesn’t annoy me. I kind of like the combination of decide/choose/envision that “purpose” the verb condenses into one. To purpose you must have a purpose, a vision. And without vision—it was wisely written—we die.

Once, I wrote a poem that started: Yesterday the angel came, featherless. It’s one thing to know the difference between fluff and substance. It’s another to continually remind myself.

And so: I purpose to remember my vision. How’s that for multitasking?

Friday, October 2, 2009



I once bicycled to an underground party held in the wee hours of the morning at a squat behind a German train station. Everyone was packed into a graffiti’d cellar dancing to a DJ who could make the very stones in the walls shake. All was dim except for a small disco ball that hung above us.

At one point while dancing, when the bass was bone-deep, I looked up at the sparkling ball. I had the oddest thought: God is watching.

That wasn’t what I wanted to be thinking, so I decided not to.

I decided not to during the two years I lived in Germany—during parties crafted by world-renowned DJs and VJs, dates with electro-acoustic composers, sushi dinners that turned into wig-wearing bowling games with very wobbly aim. During the day, I wrote poetry at a large, new-media arts center, and at night I looked for things to write about. It was all great fun, quite glossy, and largely empty of content. Which, interestingly, was a current issue with many of the art philosophers. Here you had technology that could “turn” the pages of a non-existent book or allowed you interact with words “raining” down walls when you cast your shadow across them. But in this technological/informational pipeline, what exactly was passing through?

During my second year there, the arts center hosted one of its many international festivals. One of the exhibits was, basically, about dust. When you walked into the large media theater, you saw several huge screens onto which were projected slow-motion video clips—a vacuum cleaner rolling over shag carpet, a woman shaking out a blanket, dust motes dancing in front of a window. Dust, dust, dust. In the middle of the room sat a man playing the banjo. He was singing an ode to dust.

I’m sure this was tongue-in-cheek—an acknowledgement of some of the ridiculousness occurring. Or at least, I hoped so. It won best of show. Dust won.


Ten years, several countries, and countless lessons later, I find myself in Redding, California at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.

The first day of class, I sat in a seat near the back. Behind me, two young guys who looked like they had a garage band were making video game sounds. Beep, beep. BOING. Dit, dit-dit-dit DOINK. People walking past them were falling down, drunk in the Holy Spirit. One of them gave her testimony after break, saying her neck had been healed when she walked by.

I had the most rational thought: this is weird. I’ve seen and encountered plenty of weird. But this kind was resulting in healings and joy.

When I taught literature to high school students on the Micronesian island of Saipan, I began the year with the Anglo-Saxon text of Beowulf. (That juxtaposition was a bit weird all by itself.) I explained to my seniors that the word “weird” stems from an Anglo-Saxon verb meaning “to become.” As a noun: wyrd. Unlike our contemporary version, which is slightly negative, wyrd was positive. It was linked to one’s destiny and meant “supernatural.” Wyrd is an ongoing, continual happening—“that which happens.”

So I didn’t leave the School of the Supernatural. In fact, on the third day, I knew I was meant to stay. During worship music, I looked out at over eight hundred people, most of them dancing . . . in a church. The Spirit presence lay so strong in the room, your limbs tingled with it. God was not only watching, He was there.

I remembered the cellar party, the dust exhibit. Anymore, I’d rather dance in the direction of love and hope. I’d rather find gold dust on my hands during praise. It’s happening.

I am becoming. Wyrd, indeed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009



The nine-day rosary just down our hill ends today. The tiny house, recently surrounded by great, white swaths of coral gravel and its attendant dust, is owned by reticent islanders who eked out a promise to fill in the deep and narrow reverse speed bumps they dug into the road to keep the water trucks from barreling around the bend. (The water factory behind our building is another story altogether.)

My tires and I sigh as we sink into the set of ruts, sending white dust across the burned piles of brush, into the tagan-tagan trees, into tired dogs’ eyes.

I don’t walk this road anymore. Between the dust and dogs, I’d rather drive north to Marpi. There, the road is lined with lush green crab grass and the horizontal boughs of bright orange flame trees.

But today, I can’t walk there. They have closed the north end of the island to detonate the unexploded remnants of WWII munitions. I wonder if this was inspired by a recent fire. Friends of ours live on the back of the island. When a small fire came close, they weren’t worried about it so much as the latent landmines it might ignite. Sure enough, they said it sounded like the 4th of July when the flames sent rusted elements of war exploding.

I am told that I am a fire sign, but I love the water. I’ve learned to put out my own fires. But as figurative fires race through the forests of my life, I’m trying to brace myself for AND embrace the possible detonation of rusty and forgotten pasts. In the silence afterwards, I can hear so clearly.

Recently, in Australia, I was traipsing through the Daintree Rainforest. I’d rented a car and was proud of myself for getting the hang of entering roundabouts on the left side and crossing the crocodile-infested Daintree River on the cable-drawn car ferry. (The latter honestly posing zero danger of crocodile contact, but it sounds good.) I had just descended from an incredible canopy walk through the tops of trees in one of most biodiverse corners of the earth. But I hadn’t seen any wildlife. Yes, I had seen hoards of kangaroos the day before on the Mareeba golf course, which had been a treat. But here I was, hearing all manner of crazy screeches, slithers, squawks and other onomatopoeia, and I wasn’t seeing any of it.

As I headed back down and along the ground path, I remembered something my father said once: “A season when you don’t see anything sets you up to hear everything.” I laughed. And then an endangered cassowary bird just walked out of the jungle, tilted his mohawked head at me, and led his ostrich-like body by his brilliant turquoise neck back into the forest.

I kept laughing.

Back on Saipan, the annual Flame Tree Festival has begun. As the only art event on island, it gets a pretty good turnout. All along the beach beneath the cadmium blossoms of the tree that gives the festival its name, people gather to dance, eat, and buy island art.

Teaching literature, I should have appreciated sooner that flames can be figurative. When literal, they ravage and detonate or cleanse and warm. When figurative, they can be the flames of Hades or a gorgeous orange the color and scent of blossoms.

Happy Flame Tree Festival to all.
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Saturday, April 4, 2009



I would write an ode to the sun, but the competition’s fierce. It is setting now, off to my right, limning the sea, the sky, my arm hairs as I type. (I love that T. S. Eliot made beautiful the hairs of a woman’s arm.)

It is the eve of my departure for the continent with the most deadly of everything I’ve ever read about: box jelly fish being number one. And it just happens to be their breeding season.


I think I’ll look for the most lively of things there instead. I'll let you know . . . .
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Applauding the Blossom


Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

--James Wright from “A Blessing”

On this island, flowers blossom the year round.
When they fall, others open in their place.

O to be petal, breeze, sunlight, water, salt.
To be the kingfisher that lands on palm branches,
watches the world out of one eye, then lifts away
to the fronds' applause.

To lift skyward.

To turn every fall into flight.
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Welkin = My Sky


Quoting Shakespeare:

But shall we make the welkin dance indeed? (Twelfth Night II.3.58)

Quoting myself:

I’m thinking of where I’ll rest
I’m holding my full hands
Out to the sky
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Friday, January 9, 2009

The Pinoy (Retro) To-Do List


As Autumn and I discovered, when in the Philippines, it is a much better approach to compile a retro list than to have any prior expectations. (Note: second person voice does necessarily indicate which or both of us participated in the following activities):

1. Make a midnight run on Christmas, in Manila, solo, in the rain, for bottled water after the hotel lobby sells you an unsealed bottle.

2. Then tell your travel mate she can kill the cockroach that flies out of your bath towel as you go to dry off after showering.

3. Crawl beneath the bed to find your roll-away malaria pill.

4. Order a hard-boiled egg to-go for the van ride to an underground river, only to discover (in the van) that
it's soft boiled.

5. Arrive to the best restaurant in town only to discover they are solidly reserved for the night. Return the next day and find that the floors are gone; they are renovating. The roof’s next.

6. Under threat of monkeys and vampires, pee in the jungle in the pitch dark night on the drive to El Nido.

7. Redefine the 9 to 5. Go beach hopping with a rule: must finish the 375ml bottle of Tanguy Rum when the boat returns at five p.m.

8. Order your entire New Year’s Eve dinner off-menu and ask the waiter, Dodong, to show you how to extract crab brains.

9. Hire a catamaran to drop you on a deserted beach for the afternoon. Collect hermit crabs and create a race track for them in the sand. Find this immensely entertaining.

10. Start a street party on the cardboard remains of firecrackers to the music of Marley.
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