Friday, October 14, 2011


I have shown up as a poet in unsuspecting classrooms for 29 years off and on. This time at Santa Fe High School at Blaise Bickett's class. I like his spirit and the fact that he covers his walls with prints of great works of art. There is a ladder in his room. You gotta love an English teacher with a ladder.

This class, a group of 26 sophomores after lunch, was one of the most playful and creative groups I've come across. I think there were embedded poets, maybe they didn't even know it. Thanks to all. We had three visits and they wrote pantoums, odes, question poems based on Pablo Neruda who I found out rhymes with Buddha, and anaphora or poems using repetition to chant our way into the material.

Here are some lines they selected from the Neruda inspired question poems:

Why do we over-think the little things
and under-think the larger things in life? Alicia Archuleta

Trees, what language do you whisper
to each other in the breeze? MRW

Is a squiggle better
than a zig-zag? MPW

What is your Quest? Ben Dahlman

What is beauty?
Can hideous be beauty? Taylor Soveranes

Why can't we be the way it is?
Oh it's because we are who we are. Por Vida A.S.

If we found aliens would they understand us
or take us away and put us in an exhibit? Mariah Garcia

Does the sun ever sleep?
Does it go to bed behind clouds of serenity? Brandon Meitz

Why is hair so difficult? ML

If my parents had never met, would I be me?
Would I be someone else or
would someone else be me? Eliana Lauren Bell

In one image, how do you capture the story of the world?
Why do tears not freeze, like those of the winter sky? Jessica Mascareñas

Do Skittles really taste like a rainbow?
Can you taste the rainbow? AE

Does the longest day ever end? Joseph Lugo

Why do the trees
touch the heads
of the parents
at the graves
of their kin? M.G.W.

How does a sword taste to a hand?
If time is on hands what is on feet?
Can there be emotion in colorless eyes? N.G.P.

How many Merry Maids could it
take to sweep a shore? Jeremy Zeilik

Why do the trees sing to the moon
on a strong, stormy night? Evan Aubrey

Thanks to Poets-in-the-Schools, Mr. Bickett, Alex Traube, and you genius sophomores.
Keep writing, you wide awake ones.

Signed, Your Poet Laureate

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poetry at the Española Farmer's Market

Well, it was market day in Española, and I read student poetry for maybe the twelfth year at artist and market manager Sabra Moore's Biggest Vegetable and Best Poem Contest. The little kids who are the grandkids of farmers are all grown up.

Vanessa Gonzales in 6th grade now and I have been reading her poems to the crowd for many years:

Tomatoes are red
Berries are Blue
I love to eat melons and carrots too
My grandma works hard
In our garden that is large
We pick and Pick
The day goes by and flies away like a firefly
We sell for fun and we save some
Boy they are great
Our friends sure love our veggies
So they always come back
To fill up their baggies

I am grayer and heavier. The vegetables, thank goodness, have not changed. There are the bumpy heirloom pumpkins, the largest apples, the ugliest apple, and the biggest zucchini. There is always the obscene or erotic carrot that wins the oddest vegetable category. Irene Schio and Roger Mignon took some photos,my daughters and grandson were there, and a great time was had by all as always.

There are about 50 farmers and shoppers listening to the children's poetry,one of my favorite readings of the year. I read about seven poems. The line they all loved the most:

"When night falls
I can hear the sound
of the raspberries ripening."

Thanks to Cate Burke of the Santa Fe Girl's School.
She also says to the raspberries,
"Thank you for being good to my body
and not making me unhealthy to the core."

Irene Schio not only took these photos, she shared a chocolate bar,you know those fundraiser chocolates. Life is so about generosity, Sabra gives away a free book to every child every week at market, and she said about $900-$1,000 in food stamps is spent, which means we are making our community healthy to the core.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Locked out at the Lake

Margo and I took a few hours from my last day teaching a course at Ghost Ranch called An Unedited Heart:Poetry Alchemy to get a dip in Abiquiu Lake. We had dunked two days earlier and it was heaven, chilly but a layer of sun-warmed water on top. I had a little inkling on the way over that it might not be a good idea, my last afternoon at class, but I am always a pessimist and was trying to be more fun loving and carefree. The lake was only about 15 minutes from The Ranch.

We both returned cell phone calls because we had reception, got out of the car at the old dock, and I was walking around to get my keys off the front seat when I heard a click. The door lock. We were outside in only swims suits and flip flops, and the keys and cellphones were in a tightly closed up car. I checked and rechecked, and then I just started laughing.A bathing suit and towel are scant security against the elements.

There was one couple by the shore and Margo said to them,"Hello. We are just about to ruin your afternoon." Rick and Lisa were sweet about it and Rick would find us a security guard. Last time we were there they were down in a minute on a woman in our class with a Sarsaparilla in case it was beer which is not okay. This time there was nary a park ranger in sight, so I asked Rock for his cell. He'd never own a cell, he proudly informed us. I was still pretty gone with laughter.

I saw some people off in the distance at the new dock, a distance I would not have wanted to trek in flip flops, not to mention my bathing suit. It looked like two couples, I was sure they'd have a phone. When I got out of the car i heard, "Joan, is that you?" That's what I like about New Mexico, It was Fatima and Taslim, the daughters of Rabia and Benyamin, another young woman named Nada, and a fourth with a bad cold. Three of them knew my daughter, Hope, from high school. They had a cell, they offed us cupcakes, and we sent RIck off with thanks. To complete the scene you have to know that Taslim and Fatima are Muslim and wear hijab. I am Jewish and 64 are wear not much. Margo close enough. We called the Ranch to get my husband and his blacksmith teacher, Renée Zamora. I am still pretty gone with laughter and we sit on the dock, a bit awkward. I had the sense that the young women were ready to go, but they were very kind and said they'd drive us back if need be. I asked them if they knew I was POet Laureate, and they said yes. I thought maybe it would help. I rarely play the Poet Laureate card, and here at the lake in almost nothing, it was a wasted card to play. Margo said, "Would you take our picture?" I said, "We don't mean to impose on you." The tone here was all laughter and water, and here is the snapshot, e-mailed to us right there.

Now here comes the park rangers, we say goodbye and hug. They drive us to my car, tell us it happens a lot, and the two of them can't get into it, i's so tightly closed. I hear the familiar honking of a noisy guy over the steep hill and I know it's Michael and Renée.
The four of them take their time, give up, and then get in. We whoop and thank, and as soon as we can jump into the lake. It's much colder than before, the foot of warm water on the surface from the sun is not present today. I am glad we didn't submerge before our adventure. I have laughed so hard I have a hoarse throat and when we get back to my class who are all milling around, I have to tell them I am too far gone to do a thing.

I tell the story over and over. I am the one who thinks it is the funniest. Margo and I, already friends, are even more bonded by laughter. Does this mean I have become more fun loving and carefree? I don't think so. It took ten people to rescue us, thanks to all you angels. I thought Nada, who had the cell would scorn my silliness, but she asked to be my Facebook Friend.
I friended Nada, the least I could do for all the kindness we received.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Night Blooming Cereus, The Cure for What Ails Me

So, there was last year when so high on being the newly minted poet laureate person, I missed, not once, but twice, the famed Night Blooming cereus. It blooms one night and has loving nicknames like Queen of the Night. I wrote a poem featuring it in 1991 and it got published,and I never saw it. I felt like all kinds of failure were blooming in me, the night blooming serious that I am.

So, imagine my delight when in the middle of the Post Poet Laureate partum let-down in anticipating life after these two years, imagine that I got to see my homely cactus
bloom on Wednesday of last last week, that would be 9.21.11. It was my equinox celebration and I was home alone. I woke up (wild nights wild nights, Ms. Dickinson said) to check on it at 9:30 and there it was. The cereus. Imagine Hawaii, imagine about 8 inches across and a hundred stamen filled with pollen like an audience at opera. It reminded me of the Santa Fe Opera, which by the way I didn't get to, but here it was all the little spectators with their yellow pollen hair just wanting to applaud the flower they found themselves inside. Just like the opera, I think the architect must have seen this flower. Life is like that for me, it comes to me, like truth, and I don't even have to leave home, and buy standing room tickets, I just have to look around the Rancho.

Then there was this star shape at the end of a long tube which I think was the maiden, the Stigma or the stamen or something, and it all smelled like you just walked in on a rain forest during the mating season. I called Michael at the Rio Chama, Gurule's birthday, and told him to come see it.

The next morning it was still mostly open and the audience was still in fine form looking a bit tired of holding all that pollen and by breakfast it closed. It was open for twelve hours. I was so happy. It almost got me out of my post-partum of poet laureate, which by the way ends next June but I am rehearsing how I will feel when the gig is over, but I felt sad that we didn't get to share it with anybody. At 9:30 I don't know who to call except Michael. But here's the thing of it, as Eloise would say at the Plaza Hotel, there were still three blooms in waiting. You can't really tell when they will open, they look like a dry jellyfish, sort of pink tentacles and sort of like they might sting.

The next night, Thursday, we took some of the family out for dinner at Atrisco's and when we came home rushed to see the blooms. It was about 8:00 and the blossoms looked possible but not definitive.

I started calling a few neighbors, just in case, and said they Might bloom. Every ten minutes the blooms looked a bit more positive and by 9:00 they were opening and we called around the hood. Mike brought the plant in from the greenhouse where it lives above the shower, and made a little shrine for it. Myngo came up with his camera, and then Hope and Leland with camera and flashlight. Then Tom Passin happened to call, so we invited him and called Terry Gates and then Rick and Dené and what with the nine viewers and the three flowers there were twelve of us.

These three blossoms were equally amazing, there was much kneeling before them to get a close look, and exclaiming. Nobody had ever heard of them except me, since I wrote about them in that poem. I made mint tea with fresh mint I cut by flashlight, and I wasn't alone. I felt like a real poet again, and am convinced this is a cure for depression. I know it isn't all about me, but I sort of felt like the opera came here, it wasn't a comedy or a tragedy, it was a quiet neighborhood viewing like Japan's cherry trees. It was the solstice and I got it right for once in my perfecting life. The plant sat on its little table and the smell was something over the top and by morning, all three blooms were like helium balloons after the gas has leaked and they get shrivelly. The party was over, but the party happened.

I don't know what
was more rare - the flowers blooming
or my neighbors' faces