Sunday, May 29, 2011

Graduation: Santa Fe High

I didn't faint, my hat only blew off once, I made a friend (Thanks Tammy!), and I got to shake 302 graduates' hands. I read too fast, but I forgive myself since every single person told me it was too long and the fear of more beach balls flying around the field was upon me, and nary a beach ball flew during my talk. The highlight was shaking every graduate's hand, looking at so many smiles, and half of them even made eye contact. Their faces, youth, the great variety of lives touched me. I thought of Amachi the Indian Saint who hugs everyone and I tried to be a virtual Amma and send love to every person. The 302 people passed in an instant, and I wan't even tired. Tammy, my new friend who will teach the poetry class next year, videoed me but my battery ran out half way, so if anybody has a record I've love it. Here is the text:

Graduation at Santa Fe High, May 28, 2011,

I have come to Santa Fe High as a Poet in the Schools with New Mexico CultureNet, visited some classes, and way back I also know some of you from Santa Fe Girls’ School.

When asked what a Poet Laureate means someone in Julie Hasted’s poetry class said, “Poet Warrior” and I liked that more than explaining what I do is function as the city’s poet for two years. In some classes I had you calculate how many days they have been alive. I have been alive 23,000 days and you already have 6,000.

I spent a week and probably six to eight hours writing a talk for today. When I read it to my husband it was so boring that both of us practically fell asleep or got divorced, so I ripped it up. It came to me that it was my chance to give some of the wisdom moments, the secrets of success, and plain old advice that people have given me that I have found useful.

1. When I said I would do this talk I had a houseguest from California we call Six Foot Tall Girl, because she is six feet tall and it’s her e-mail. She has taught school for many years. She said that I have continued doing what I love all these years. She talked about fame and that in our culture people think that fame is the measure of success. She said not many can be famous, it’s what makes fame fame.

Naomi Shihab Nye who is an Arab American poet says in her poem “Famous” “The river is famous to the fish….The boot is famous to the earth,/more famous than the dress shoe,/which is famous only to floors,…I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,/or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,/but because it never forgot what it could do.”
So, thanks to Six Foot Tall Girl I want to tell you, you are famous if you remember what you can do, maybe what you loved as a kid. Today you are famous to your family, your friends, and your teachers.

2. My friend Cecile was also visiting, and she gave me advice once, which I found very helpful: Every Day do three things for the good. Whatever impossible thing you want to happen, career as an artist, saving the world, renting an apartment, enlightenment, do three things a day towards that end. That’s all. Very small steps that accumulate.

3. My oldest daughter. Whenever she comes up against some challenges in life, she says it is her soul’s path, that she has chosen it, and following it she learns what she needs to. In that way she takes responsibility for her own life, which is exactly what Oprah would have said on her final show, if I had been watching it instead of trying to write this talk.

4. Six Foot Tall Man which is what my husband now wants to be called, started leaving me notes with his advices. He says to think about treat people as if they were angels. Everybody has a message, and that is why you will never see him yelling at another driver. He also brought me a quote from our refrigerator,

“Marriage is the hardest yoga, be householder saints” and he should know after 40 years.

He reminded me of a musician friend of mine from college who said:
“Don’t make me uptight in my own house.”

He even quoted me from a poem of mine that said, “Worry is reverse prayer.” I need that line cause I have a black belt in worry.

5. I once heard the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet speak in this school’s gymnasium. One of his teachings is this:
Never give up
No matter what is going on.
Never give up.
Develop the heart.
Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart. Develop the heart.
Be compassionate.
Not just to your friends, but to everyone.
Be compassionate.
Work for peace in your heart and in the world.
Work for peace, and I say again.
Never give up, no matter what is happening.
No matter what is going on around you.
Never give up!

6. I am terrible at making decisions, so I can’t help you too much, but baseball great Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” You do have choices, you will have choices, you have made choices. Poet, Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler/ long I stood….I took the one last traveled on, and that has made all the difference.”

Carlos Casteneda wrote, “Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. if it doesn’t , it is of no use.”

In each of your ten next thousand days I wish you make the choices that serve you.

7. Imagination:::
These quotes are from W.S. Merwin Poet Laureate of America:
"It's impossible to conceive of a human being without the imagination....It's also what makes us able to share the distress of the homeless in Darfur, and the distress of the homeless in the next block.
It produced Albert Schweitzer and Mother Theresa. It also produced Mozart and Shakespeare, Blake and Vermeer.
That's the imagination. It's infinite. It's unpredictable. It's a wonder. It's a miracle. It's what we have to live by and if we live by something else, we're wronging ourselves."

C.K. Rowling, that miraculous writer of Harry Potter, said at Harvard’s graduation address:
"Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not and therefore the font of all invention and innovation.…it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.……"We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better."

8. The three best things I know.
1. Allow extra time and write thank you notes.
The third one I forget.

9. Here’s a very tricky and interesting one, from a book by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you.

10. I read this in a spy novel about when you are a houseguest: never force anything mechanical. We quote this our house.

11. My mother said over and over again, not to depend on anyone else. To always have something to fall back on. I fell back on poetry. She also believed in the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. She said, "I tried to tell the world, but they wouldn’t listen."

12. Kayle is my granddaughter. She was four when I became poet laureate and we celebrated on the Plaza downtown during the free band concert. Afterwards she looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m so proud of you. Don’t lose a bit of it.” This serious moment with a four year old seemed to be coming from my late Aunt Pearl or my mother. I am not saying she was channeling, but that children are tapped into the wisdom. I want to pass that along to you today,


Here I stand at the intersection of Yucca and Siringo,
between Zia and tomorrow,
With my too many words and my disguise as a gray haired poet.

Here you sit in your cap and gowns,
at the intersection of heart and mind,
at the corner of past and future, right now.

And here we are with the mystery of how things turn out
With the mornings all groggy with too late and too early
With the getting to high school anyway, with your homework

done or the pages still printing, with the many lessons learned
and the already forgotten stored inside you. With your success
and the blessing of Santa Fe all around us, its sky

which has been smiling for centuries, watching you,
its paved promises and it been-there-done-that. With its dreams,
graffiti tagged illegally onto your souls

With its history as complicated as any place.
Just yesterday I was driving south on Saint Francis at Cordova
and I heard drumming. Through my closed car window, drumming,

with its base note of Pueblo people, deep drumming
through the open window of a car shining silver,
feathers hung from its rear view mirror.

And the language spoken was English with a back story
of Tewa and a Spanish flamenco, just yesterday with its Conquistadors and the conquered and nobody giving up.

That’s what I love, a city where nobody gives up.
I am dreaming of red shoes, red with sunset, with blood,
with a taste of drama and never stop the dancing.

With your future all shiny like WET PAINT DON’T TOUCH,
with your unknown and your planned. With just today
spread out like a feast at a city that knows how to party,

at Fiesta Central at the corner of already and not yet, I want to say
Look into the faces of those who love you, those holy places
of I’m so proud of you, and take into your body memory,

your heart and belly, how this day feels.
Make the mornings count, today with its bright promise,
every day a slice of why not?, I mean why can’t you,

I know you can. It’s the dress rehearsal for everything, and it’s the show.
I want to send you safe and beaming into the next ten thousand mornings,
into the constant mountains and the meanings under the ravishing sky.

Into the arms of all who hold you and how you carry yourself.
Into the next and the best, not the last. Into the endless nows
with their hard work and small pleasures, into the mystery

with its good news/bad news days. Into your one saved life,
your sacred breath and breathing. Into the Santa Fe you love
and the places that come after,

into the bring-it-on-I-can-take-it, I-can-make-it
city of no indifference, the intersection of you and me, all of us
send you into the caring and daring new day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scrambled Grandma

Yesterday I got to pick up my granddaughter, Kaylee, at 7:30 and have her wonderful company for the day. On the way to my house the subject of imagination came up and she frowned her forehead, as only I could have done as a child, and said she had lost hers. Maybe I was ranting about screens and TV's and Ipods. She kept asking me which device was on, for pretend, my Ipod (don't have) or my phone (don't have one that does anything interesting).
So that became our theme for the day. I explained that when she pictures something in her mind, that was her imagination. She claimed she couldn't picture a thing. Which led me to Little Red Riding Hood and her basket of health food goodies. When she met the Big Bad Wolf it threatened to scramble her, according to Kaylee and it got to grandma's house and did scramble her up.
I wasn't sure if this was what she had in mind for my house, but she decided she wanted to decorate it.
She made me a new refrigerator art piece. Her work always has a structural sculptural aspect that involves string and tape. Then we made a wonderful paper chain with alternating white stock and
manilla paper. I loved its simplicity and elegance. We hung it from an old plant hook over my desk, a patch that covered where the Ashley Wood stove once sat, decades ago. She added a red string, a manilla rectangle with her name in pink, and a sticker of a bunch of grapes dangling on a smaller string. The piece moves in the air right by my computer like a little imagination ghost.
Later that day, after some Sesame Street screen time because I am human and always have important computer screen things to do myself, we had a big discussion about mortality and about every day it is important to do your best. As I was getting dressed for town I heard her singing. She sings little songs constantly. For this one was she was flipping the tiny pages of Peter Rabbit, a book with a Pittsburgh address label it is so old. I got my tape recorder and found the back of a tape that was empty and asked her to sing again. With no hesitation she opened Peter Rabbit and sang a song to go with Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. The song was about decisions and finding your path and your home. It ended as the book ended. She almost turned inside out with joy

when we played it back, and that was the highlight of my scrambled day.
Her mom said that she has been worried about her imagination, an odd coincidence because it has been the topic of our Arts Education Committee. In fact there is a panel on imagination on June 16 at 5-7:00 at Warehouse21, Santa Fe's award winning teen center. I know some has been scrambled by the screen, but I also know, in myself and in Kaylee, that it is a strong force and that a woodsman may come and chop it out of the wolf of technology. And there they are, grandmother and child, whole and imagining.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Books!! & Readings and dates



I have two new books. Available from me, Collected Works, or on-line.
I just forgot to mention it on the blog, but my kids reminded me.
Also, upcoming events in the tri-city area. e-mail me for info,

May 21, Saturday, 12-2:00 – New Mexico State Poetry Society Annual Luncheon and Reading at The Cooperage, 7220 Lomas Blvd. NE, ABQ.
RSVP, 505-889-4672, must purchase own meal.

May 29, reading at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 107 W. Barcelona Rd, Santa Fe, 4:00 PM

June 2, Thursday at 6:00, Collected Works, Love and Death:Greatest Hits launch with Miriam Sagan and Renée Gregorio.

June 12, Sunday at 2:00, reading with Mary Mcginnis at the café on Santa Cruz Plaza, Española. Coffee, tea, and we.

June 18, Santa Fe Community Gallery, Mining the Unconscious, writing workshop with Joan and Jane Lipman to focus on The Redbook Show, 11:00-3:00 PM FREE. (Note time change from original posting).

Reading of Mining the Unconscious workshop participants Wednesday, June 22 5:00-7:00 PM at the main branch of the Library.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

PL Moments

I have my dry cleaning in my arms, and a man and child stand at the crossing of Hidden Chicken and Chow's Chinese restaurants.  Somehow(!?) we are talking and I ask the girl how old she is.  She is six, and so of course I have to recite A.A. Milne:

"Now I am six
as clever as clever.
I want to be six
forever and ever.

The man, is he her father or grandfather? One doesn't want to presume, tells me he used to live
near Robert Frost's house.  And that leads us to talking about all the poets at inaugurations, Frost at Kennedy, Maya Angelou at Clinton, and then we recite Frost together, "Whose woods these are, I think I know..."  Between us, line by line, we have it all.  At some point, of course, I have told them I am Santa Fe's Poet Laureate and I give them my card.  The little girl is looking up with awe or surprise on her face.
I walk away, all of us smiling, and think, how wonderful the invisible moments of these two years are.

I got to read at Boise High School, in the library, and then lead a Creative Writing class taught by my friend over the years, Sharon Hanson.  I ended up reading poems about death, many of them are, and one where a boy dies in a freak sledding accident.  I asked if any of them had lost peers and two hands went up, of the thirty brown bagging it for poetry. Afterwards the librarian said it was perfect that I read that poem.  They had lost a student two weeks before.  Earlier it would have been too raw, but talking about the poem as the container for grief and joy felt spot on.

Here is a poem sent to me by Merrit Salathe:

When I was born
the world curdled
and a film was skimmed off the top.

When I turned eight
my dad would make me cappuccinos
in small crackled cups.

He and I flew to New Orleans.

In the French Quarter
I wept at the loss of two perfect pearls-
hastened from shop to
only an image in my mind:
Easter, poisonous Ebony, white out
on the family tree.

He and I sat in a café
drinking café au lait
that saturated beignets
into an aphrodisiac meant for
ten years later.

We walked on ground
sick with dead water
and FEMA trailers.

Shimmering heat miraged my white tambourine
but all I wanted was to hear its negative
sung once live by my
favorite artist turned scientologist.

We drove through vacant spray painted suburbs,
the water lines
etched in like a filthy skin.

“There’s the house where I was born,” he said,
“The Catholic school where the talking
icebox man and I dropped a conch.”

I was born post-earthquake
But hurricane threats flow in my blood. 

 My third recent PL moment came after a rare Tres Chicas Books meeting.  We had been taped for a radio show to publicize our new book, Love & Death:Greatest Hits, and then met for dinner and planning.  Afterwards Renée Gregorio and I decided to hit Ross Dress for Less and check out the nighties.  We have shopped together a few times, always memorable, Pennys in Taos, The Cottonwood Mall in Burque, and now a Santa Fe jaunt.  You must realize there are about ten years between each shopping episode.  At the De Vargas Mall there was a man in Hastings Books and Music, just sitting there next to his stack of books.  He was my age, nicely dressed, and looked how I often felt at a lack-luster poetry event.  I talked to him, bought his book for good luck, and headed into Ross.  "Did you tell him you were Poet Laureate?" Renée teased?  Of course I did and that I had a reading tomorrow.  Then I engaged in some altruistic shopping where in the depressing Ross dressing rooms I gave the skirt I loved and lusted after to a woman older than myself, shopping alone who said She came in to cheer herself up and now she felt worse.  She loved the skirt, and found another the same style.  I realized that altruistic shopping is right up there with altruistic Scrabble as mentally questionable.  How will I get ahead?  Ayn Rand is turning over in her self-righteous and self-centered grave.

The guy with the books came by my reading, couldn't stay.  Turns out he lives in Mexico, passing through, and is tennis partners with our friend, and Tres Chicas author Tom Ireland.  "Nothing good is wasted" I learned from a folk tale from Gioia Timpanelli.  Michael and I err on the side of give away. When he does it I can get agitated, but when I choose to give, it seems just right.  At least with giving poetry it doesn't wreck the bank account.  Neither does altruistic shopping.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Boise, You Betcha

 So, here's my link to Amanda Turner, interviewer extraordinaire!  It captures the joy. It is long, so I recommend multi-tasking if you want to hear it.  I wouldn't want to presume anybody would be interested in a near hour of me.

   But I want to tell you a small moment of my trip, which falls into my Tales of the Synchronistic.
   My dear husband, Michael, wanted to reach a friend of his in Boise, an acupuncturist named Peachy. He called Luna and didn't hear back from her. He looked in the phone book, asked around, and even went to the chamber of commerce and made friends with the staff. We figure it is some sort of nickname,
as we know many folks with a nom de moment, or a Burning Man Name, or a spiritual name.
    Meanwhile, my friend Diane Ronayne was encouraging me to get a massage,
and though I sort of didn't need one, I figured a little self help in the middle of a busy week would  be nice. 
   The morning before my massage, around our semi-communal breakfast table, I was busy messing up a joke I have known for a dozen years.  I said it was the only joke I could tell, and I only remembered the punch line.  I told it like this, "When a guy from the Middle east marries someone from Minnesota, or the twin cities, what do you get?''  Pause.  Confusion.  "Yassir, You betcha."  Ha ha, I laughed at myself for flubbing a joke.  I went on to say my mother was a great joke teller, she called them stories, and her key to remembering them was the punch lines. She'd write them in a notebook, and after her death I found one little flock of lines.  And here I was with a punch line in hand, and I couldn't remember the set-up.  
   Then Diane drove me for the massage, carrying my dress-up clothes for the rest of the day, two readings, one workshop in poetry and one workshop for therapists.
We pull up at the lovely but unassuming massage site, and on a plaque, as there as anything it says "SEAN PEACHEY, ACCUPUNCTURE."  Diane and I are beside ourselves, whooping with delight, and Dominique Tarif, my gal for the hour, says there are two Peachey acupuncturists.  This one has dreads.  Must be the guy I think.  We send his card back to Mike.
  While I have no need to exclaim what a wonderful massage and cranial-sacral
treatment I receive, and I did, there was one detail I want to document.  Dominique was working on my sacrum, the far end from this cranium, and to something I said she answered, "Yassir, you betcha!"  I went nuts, told her I was just telling the joke this morning, an hour earlier.  She said, "A Palestinian man marries a woman from Minnesota.  What do they name their first child?"   We conferred that we had both heard the joke on Prairie Home Companion's joke night, I don't know what year she tuned in.  I can't recall if Dominique said she laughed her ass or her head off, but laugh she did.  The entire rest of the treatment I would burst into a smile.
   Now I am home, and as I type this I think maybe my mom is at it again.  Maybe this is her punch line, that it will be okay.  My youngest is in massage school and I tell her the story, and how it showed me that a massage therapist can be the psychics and healers of our time.  My daughter nods, she already knows this.
Diane says that others have had similar experiences with Dominique. I am listening to her music this week, and can she sing and play mandolin?  You probably know the answer is, Yassir, You betcha!"  And was Peachy the right Peachy? Ditto.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Basking in Boise

That's the place you can hear an interview I did that hits the highlights on my visit to Boise.
I did four readings, five workshops, one interview, one meeting about PL with their arts administrators and community.  I am landing at home again, the snow has melted and I think I am melting a bit as well.

I cannot begin to write about all my Boise adventures, so I will give you some highlights.

My friend, Diane Ronayne, a consummate activist and community organizer, outdid herself.  In fact she almost outdid me or did me in, but no, I had a grateful blast and it all went smoothly.  We weren't even late one time.  I got to teach poetry to elders, teachers, high school students, therapists, and my old friends.
I got to read at a bookstore, coffee-shop with my second cousin playing a mean guitar,  a school library, and a literary center. I was on the radio, took a few good walks, and introduced WS Merwin, the US poet Laureate.

A lanky girl, i later found is named Sophia, came up to me on the street, "Are you the poet?"  She had to make up a test and so missed my reading.  I gave her my poem typed on a tiny piece of pink cloth, "Dressing Down for Love."  I told her to promise me if she had a poetry emergency she would call me.
Her teacher wrote me this morning that she came into school with the poem, much treasured.  Maybe that was my favorite thing.

Honestly, it was all my favorite thing.  I have said it before, Boise is my Holy Land.  Or is travel just the chance to get out of our patterned ways and become more whole?  I don't travel much, so not so sure.

I fell in love with another poet, loved having Michael meet my friends, and got so tired I had to lie down on a rug.  Now I am home, the world is changed with Bin Laden's death.  Teaching poetry makes me happy, and divisions between us make me sad.  I am not waving any flags, though feel solidarity with those who have fought, lost dear ones, and yet saddened by circumstances that cause us to hate one another.

If I can figure out how to send you any films we took I will.  If you want to hang out with me a while, check out the site above, a great young interviewer indeed.  Love to all in Boise, and to my arranged love, Santa Fe, I'm back.   XXX JL