Saturday, July 25, 2009

Psalm 1

This has always been one of my favorite psalms. It was serendipitous that it was one of the readings during the week, as I felt it spoke so directly to the community and the experience.

Psalm 1

Once a year I try to go on a week long retreat
loosely patterned after the rule of Benedict.
It’s an opportunity to step out of the routine of ordinary life,
and take a break from contemporary culture.
I share these seven days with about thirty people
from all over the country,
kindred spirits seeking silence and perhaps a new perspective.
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners

As we arrive that first evening,
we greet one another with tentative familiarity
offering mutual welcome to this time that will hold and shape our week long, intentional community.
With open hearts, and perhaps a tiny bit of apprehension, we get acquainted with small talk, which will soon be set aside,
making space for the deeper conversation that calls and unites us.
Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

Being here in this beautiful place is certainly an advantage.
There is something healing about spending time in nature--
taking walks across golden hills, trimming the rose bushes, or gazing out over verdant valleys, some striped with vineyards,
Personally, I prefer just sitting beneath the live oaks in front of the chapel, pondering nothing in particular.
It refreshes the soul.
Over time, without my even noticing, something inside begins to shift.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither
everything they do shall prosper.

I wish that I could say that the doubts and fears that plague me completely disappear
or at least do me the favor of staying home.
But are here with me, my companions of the “should haves” and “what ifs”.
Yet, there is something about the rhythm of being here—
the combination of chanting, prayer, and silence,
that robs them of their power.
I am sure that the combined intention of the other people gathered here doesn’t hurt.
In fact, I believe that it calls forth some ineffable presence against which those inner demons don’t stand a chance.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

So year after year, I return,
never quite sure if I am doing it right
or playing by the rules,
However, I learned just this morning during Sr. Donald’s talk,
that the definition of regula, or rule, is in fact a trellis whose purpose is to guide and support.
It’s not meant to limit or constrict.
This is also a pretty good description of community.
And we all know what happens
whenever two or three are gathered in his name.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

BenEx Reentry

It is hard to believe that I have been home from the Benedictine Experience for nearly two weeks. I just looked at the BenEx Blog that Matt set up. Check it out to see some wonderful photos of the place and the community.

I continue to work on paintings that the week inspired, but the images are illusive--there still may be too much in process.

Most of the poetry that I wrote during that week was written around the psalm of each day. It is a way to incorporate the voice of the psalmist into the rhythm and concerns of my own life.

Psalm 18

It’s interesting how an abstract concept such as God,--
something so grand and beyond my comprehension
can at times, be so personal and close.
I love you, O Lord my strength,
O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven

It’s not as if I don’t struggle with this concept,
or never question it,
but it very often it feels like a given to me, especially when faced with problems or challenges.
My God, my rock in whom I put my trust,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge:

Yet, the truth of the matter is that a good part of the time,
probably most of the time, now that I am getting honest about this,
I am a bit cavalier about my faith,
until of course, I run into difficulties and feel that I need some help.
I will call upon the Lord,
and so shall I be saved from my enemies.

In fact, I am glad to know that in addition to being a mighty warrior and advocate, my God is one of forgiveness and compassion,
for I tend to take this eternal, Divine love for granted.
That is, until I run into problems that I feel unequipped to handle---
like most recently, hurtful betrayal by people I should have been able to trust.
The breakers of death rolled over me,
and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid.

It’s at times like that, when I feel beleaguered and vulnerable, and life seems unfair, that God seems most real.
I realize that there is a paradox in this.
Some people regard injustice and adversity as proof that there is no God
and I can understand their point of view.
But I don’t see it this way.
Even though there have been times when I have felt like
a helpless pawn in a game that had become fierce and ugly,
and I don’t know what to do or how to respond.
The cords of hell entangled me,
and the snares of death were set for me.

Yet at these times, when things seemed about as bad as they could be,
I knew in my deepest being, that it wasn’t the whole story.
I knew that there was something bigger and more powerful
than the hurt that I thought would consume me.
I called upon the Lord in my distress
and cried out to my God for help.

And in those moments of feeling most alone,
I came to know that I wasn’t.
And that the me who was caught up in the drama-
from my perspective the star and heroine of the tragedy-
simply wasn’t that important.
Something much bigger was, and is.
He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling
my cry of anguish came to his ears.

There is a great relief in this.
St. Benedict expresses it as true humility, seeing oneself as the least of all.
And when I am able to do this,
or more precisely, get to the point where I’ve run out of other options,
something changes.
He reached down from on high and grasped me;
he drew me out of the great waters.

I still don’t understand how this works,
but time and time again I have learned that it does.
It defies logic.
He delivered me from my strong enemies
and from those who hated me;
for they were too mighty for me.

It’s as if I am able to become an observer,
and God is sitting there in the bleachers, watching with me.
After a bit of time,
I can actually begin to enjoy the show,
and occasionally find some humor in it,
which eventually leads to compassion.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster;
but the Lord was my support.

Then it almost doesn’t matter what happens,
for I know that I am not alone.
And there is a great comfort and security in knowing this,
even though I’ll very likely forget it until the next crisis hits
and I start all over again.
he brought me out into an open place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Bishop’s Ranch
July 9, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Desert Day

(Psalm 16)

There is something remarkable about taking time away from ordinary life to come to a beautiful, peaceful place on retreat.
Protect me O God for I take refuge in you.

There are no great bells or whistles,
(well there is one bell I suppose)
that mark this as especially holy or sacred time.
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my god above all others.

Yet something wonderful happens as these three dozen or so people gather and form community,
by singing, praying and being together, mostly in silence.
All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land,

It really is delightful, this time here.
I can’t put my finger upon exactly why,
but something greater seems to be at play.
upon those who are noble among the people.

Yesterday, Desert Day, was especially peaceful,
and it was the most unstructured time of all.
People were free to do whatever they chose,
and it seemed that most of us just walked or sat around,
sinking deeper into the ground we’d been preparing all week.
But those who run after other gods,
shall have their troubles multiplied.

No one seemed inclined to do anything out of the ordinary.
Their libations of blood I will not offer,

Or venture very far from the groundwork that had been laid for us all week.
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

Personally, I found it to be a good opportunity to focus on what brought me here in the first place.
O Lord, you are my portion and my cup

I drew, read, and snoozed,
and thought a lot about Christ being the vine and the source.
it is you who uphold my lot.

I walked around the grounds quite a bit as well.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

I felt grateful for my family, just down the road,
and the gift of life and many opportunities that they gave me.
indeed I have a goodly heritage.

I also spent some time reading the Psalms and listening to the sounds of nature.
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

I considered my dreams, and pondered how luminescent crystal globes in moonlit gardens apply to my life.
my heart teaches me, night after night.

But mostly, I did nothing.
I have set the Lord always before me;

And even in this nothingness, I felt divine presence supporting me.
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

Why does this continue to amaze and delight me?
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

There is a peace in this that touches every fiber of my being.
my body also shall rest in hope.

It reassures me and takes away my fear.
for you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

Just this morning during Mattins,
I thought about Christ, and the example he set for us--
You will show me the path of life;

how he was able to laugh and enjoy life, knowing what lay ahead.
in your presence there is fullness of joy,

And how great is the gift of his eternal presence.
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Tea Ceremony

After Mattins,
before breakfast, I sit outside and enjoy a
cup of tea. I
guilty about
just decided to not
keep the traditional and
lovely practice of silent
meditation with the others.
Not to
prayer and
quiet at the beginning of each day
really would be a
shame, but
underlying most practices, even morning tea,
vast possibilities lie,
waiting to be
explored by
yet another Way,
zen or otherwise.

Like Incense before You

Last night I woke to the sound of coyotes howling,
not once but several times.
It was thrilling to hear that mysterious, primal sound
rising from the hills.
I especially like the way the alpha starts,
and the others join in,
sustaining that haunting sound in harmony.
It reminds me of how we chant the psalms.
John gets us going with a line or tone,
and then, one by one, our voices merge,
creating something complex and beautiful--
our longing, lifted up in song.
Much like those coyotes,
filling the valley with a joyful noise--
an offering of praise and thanksgiving.

BenEx IV

(Alphabet Poem)
A week set aside to practice the
Benedictine way, fairly
closely anyway
does wonders for me.
Even the
fundamentals, like
getting up at dawn and
having to chant psalms
in the chapel under
John’s direction
keeps me on my toes.
Leaving behind the daily concerns of
my life, for example,
not having to cook dinner
or clean the house,
provides time and space for
quiet contemplation.
Really, it is
such a privilege
to be here,
under the
veil of
watchful, monastic
experts, sharing their
years of practice and
zeal for God.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The staff here at the retreat is comprised of wonderful people.
Sr. Donald, shown above, gives a presentation each morning on some aspect of the Benedictine Way. She is a wealth of information (how does she remember all of those facts, titles, authors and dates?), and a warm and delightful person.
This photo was taken today, on Desert Day. Archdeacon Dorothy is shown behind her, staff in hand, setting out for her own personal wilderness. I spent the day drawing and photographing the local vineyards, gathering material for a series that I am painting on the "I am" statements in the Gospel of John.

BenEx II

The view from my window. The last glimpse of the full moon, early morning.

Benedictine Experience

I am now into my fifth day here at Bishop's Ranch. It is a peaceful time, and a great blessing to be in this beautiful place with the others on this Benedictine Experience. We start each day at 7:00 with Mattins, with readings, chanting of psalms and quiet time for reflection. After breakfast, there is "choir practice" with our music director, John Renke. I must confess that I no longer attend choir practice---not because I don't need the help, but the time for me seems better spent writing. Next is a presentation by Sr. Donald, a Benedictine nun from Transfiguration Monastery, followed by Eucharist at noon, lunch and then time for rest. Afernoons are spent in quiet prayer or lectio divina (sacred reading). Evening Prayer is at 5:30, then dinner, meditation and Compline. The truth of the matter is that I don't attend all of the discussions and gatherings, and the Experience is quite accepting of individual's needs for private time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July

Mike and I spent July 4 at the Benbow Inn. It was a terrific weekend---charming inn and great food---John and Teresa Porter are master innkeepers--- and spectacular fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. It was grand.

While there, we had the good fortune to meet some very nice and interesting people. Betsy and David are from the Bay Area. Betsy is an attorney, and David a scientist who also has the gift of writing and reciting poetry. He provided delightful entertainment as we waited for the fireworks to begin.

I am writing this from Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg where I am for a week long retreat---The Benedictine Experience. It's a week set aside for following (loosely) the Benedictine schedule of the Daily Offices, work and recreation. The work I have chosen to do is poetry and drawing--much of which will show up on this blog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mary's Visit

Last weekend, my friend Mary Siebe came for her annual visit from Colorado. She and I grew up in Petaluma together, and have been friends for over 46 (!) years. We went through school together, were in the Petaluma Junior Riding Club together (we both loved horses, and continue to), usually ended up in the same classes (where we weren't the teacher's easiest students, but we had lots of fun), and have kept in touch all these years. What a gift to have a friendship such as this. She was also responsible for setting up the blind date with my husband Mike 37 years ago. During this visit, Mary discovered that in addition to the gift of music (she sings like an angel), she can also draw.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mad River Anthology Interview

I recently was interviewed by local poet John Brugaletta on Mad River Anthology, a progam featured on KHSU which highlights local poets. Not only is John a very good poet, he is a skilled interviewer. He came up with interesting questions and inspired insights. To hear the interview, please click on:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This painting won Second Place in the Art Competition at the Fish Festival. Jane Robin's wonderful iconic painting of a crab won First Place.
I didn't think that I had time to do a painting for the show, so wrote a poem instead. The poem inspired the watercolor.

Trinidad Morning
(an alphabet poem)

A morning ritual of watching and
being still before the ocean
can’t possibly be a waste of time.
Deciding to devote
even just the beginning of each day to
follow my desire to
greet the morning with reverence, while birds
herald the dawn,
joyful cacophony,
kindles a mood that colors my whole day.
Leagues beneath the water’s ever-changing surface exist
more kinds of fish than I can even imagine.
Not being a biologist gives me the
option to imagine
possibilities without
questioning whether they are in fact
realistic or
simply my inclination
unleash my imagination, and thereby experience
worlds where fantasy and longing
exist alongside
yellowtail and
zostera marina.

June 20, 2009

Trinidad Fish Festival

The Trinidad Fish Festival was this past Sunday, and was by far the best yet. Congratulations to the Chamber of Commerce, and especially Mike Morgan and Patti Fleschner for their hard work and creative ideas!

Trinidad Fish Festival, 2009

Yesterday at the Fish Festival in Trinidad
there were lots of people in town for the festivities.
In spite of the strong wind, it was a delightful day and
people were obviously in the mood for a party.
There were local crafts for sale, rock music blaring,
and lots of happy kids running around with balloons and painted faces.
At any given time, one or two courageous people danced alone in the street, transported by the music and the occasion,
oblivious to the crowds of mildly interested onlookers.

Most of the time, my friends and I sat in the little church,
greeting people who came in to see the sacred art exhibit.
It was an oasis of calm and peace right next to the busy food court and across the street from the loud, raucous music.
From time to time, I ventured out to peruse the booths,
visit with folks, or get something to eat or drink.

Spirit in Aramaic also means breath or wind,
which may not seem germane to that small town street fair,
but I believe that She was definitely at play on this windy day.
It wasn’t just the low pressure that caused the fierce gales to whip down the street and through the crowds,
playing havoc with the supposed order of things.

At one point, a menu took flight, blew across the table, and right into my face,
Taste and see . . .
a $20 bill flew by which I grabbed in flight and returned to the owner,
all things come of thee, oh Lord . . .
and finally with one big gust, my glass of beer seemed to explode and sprayed suds all over me, soaking me and my new pashmina shawl.
anointed by the Holy Spirit . . .

A sacrament of baptism,
only this time with pale ale--
a clear reminder that God was right there in the middle of the revelry having as good a time as anyone.
Lo, I am with you always . . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Here is a page from my sketchbook featuring the sunflower mentioned in an earlier post.

Opera Weekend

This past weekend I went to the San Francisco Opera with my friend, Connie Butler. We saw two great productions---Porgy and Bess, and Tosca. We also saw La Traviata, which was fair. But it was a great weekend. My friend, Kali Wilson, joined us for two of the performances. I was unable to get a photo of her, but here is her Web site: She is a wonderful singer and soon we will be seeing her on stage in these productions.

On Sunday, Connie's daughter Laura was with us. In the photo at left, from left to right---Laura, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, Connie, me.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Two Lovely Ladies in Orange

Last evening, my friend Connie and her granddaughter Erika joined us for dinner. They arrived with a spectacular sunflower that smiles down upon me as I write this. Odds are very good that it will end up in a watercolor tomorrow. It has been great having Erika visit---she's bright, down-to-earth and lots of fun, just like her grandma.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Speaking of Mexican friends (see last post), I recently received these photos of my friends Carolina and Montserrat enjoying some chocolate that I sent them from Partricks Candy in Eureka. While visiting with them in Cuernavaca I learned that they are chocoholics (it is a disease that respects no international boundaries) so wanted them to sample some of our local products. Muy sabrosa! Muchas buenas amigas!

Muchas Buenas Cosas

Yesterday, I had my Spanish lesson with my teacher, Lila. Once a week I go to her home where we sit at her kitchen table, read literature, review grammar and vocabulary, translate some of my poems into Spanish, or simply chat about life in general. Through these conversations, we have become friends, and this has become one of the blessings of my Spanish/Mexican odyssey. Not only is she a gifted teacher, she is a delightful person and these lessons are a highlight of my week. Recently she visited my blog and read my poems about Mexico, so yesterday we discussed them and my reactions to the country. I realized that I had neglected to post the poems that spoke of my appreciation for Mexico, so in order to remedy that I offer this alphabet poem written near the end of my stay in February . . .

Muchas Buenas Cosas

Alphabet poems are good
because they force me to go deeper than my
conscious perception in order to
dig up things that I have
enjoyed about this country—Mexico.
For example, I had the good fortune to
get acquainted with some kindred spirits and made new friends.
However the point of this poem
is to focus on the country itself. I have a
kaleidoscope of impressions and there are
lots of ways to perceive Mexico.
Most of all I enjoyed the Mexicans that I met along the way.
Not all of them, of course.
Occasionally someone was a bit rude but
people on the whole were warm, friendly and
quite as I’d expected. The
roses, bougainvillas, and lime trees blooming as if it were
springtime was another plus.
Tacos, enchiladas, and chile rellenos were delicious and also not
unexpected. I enjoyed the
variety of food and the
warm welcome I
Yes, quite a few Mexicans may be poor, but they do have a
zest for enjoying life and one another.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Guest

The Guest

Last night I dreamed that God had come to visit.
He was here in my house, relaxing on the daybed,
quite at ease and comfortable,
wearing white cotton pajamas,
in the Indian style.
For us, it was a bit of an occasion to have him here,
and we weren’t quite sure how to behave.
It was like being with a distant relative--
that unexpected level of comfort and familiarity
around someone that you don’t really know and haven’t spent much time with.
So while it seemed the most natural thing in the world to have him here,
it was also a little strange and awkward.

All he asked, but he didn’t use words for this,
was that one by one, we go to his side,
touch his hand,
and in doing so, receive his blessing.

But some people didn’t even want to do that,
which seemed odd to me.
It was such an easy thing to do
and he was asking so little of us.

Now that I think of it, he seemed a little weary
and I can certainly understand that.
I don’t think he ever tires of loving or forgiving,
but he still has to put up with us,
and we can make things so difficult.
No wonder that from time to time
he needs a little rest.

Silent Retreat (sort of)

I spent this past weekend in Auburn at a silent retreat on the theme of the feminine in the early church, sponsored by the Community of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal religious community of which I am an Associate. Connie and Lee, two good friends from up here, made the trip with me. Not surprisingly, in preparation for two days of silence, we talked pretty much the whole time during the six hour drive down, and did the same on the way back. Once there, I found that I had a couple of errands to do, which took me away from the retreat center and into the charming town of Auburn. So, it ended up being more of an enjoyable little getaway, punctuated by interesting presentations by our presenter, Rev. Ann Hallisey (see above). I suppose that it was an encounter with the feminine in the contemporary church, and a worthwhile and enjoyable weekend.

In anticipation of the weekend, I wrote the following (alphabet) poem:

The Silent Retreat

A few days set aside for
being quiet, when I
cease talking about
daily concerns, and not verbally
engage the
familiar, mundane topics that
generally fill my
Instead, I seek to
keep silence, in order to
let the
mind take a rest, and
not do anything special. The
objective is to simply be
present to the
quiet place within, and
realize that all of the
vibrate in my head,
waxing melodic like a
xylophone, actually

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Journal

This spring has seen my first real attempt at gardening. I tried to get Mike interested in vegetable gardening, but the maples take most of his time so I decided to take the plunge and do it myself. Now I am hooked. I have two raised beds with greens and assorted vegetables, and have scattered strawberries and sunflowers throughout the rest of the yard. I started cucumber seeds which are descendants of cucumbers brought from Greece by my grandparents when they immigrated in the 1920's. Unfortunately, they haven't done very well so far, but whatever happens, gardening is a great way to spend time outside, dirt is healing, and it offers unlimited material for drawing and writing. I won't give up.

Sunflowers via NYC

One of the gifts of our trip to Africa was meeting Shirley and Dennis, a very interesting couple from New York. Tales of horse racing, flying helicopters, and life in the Big Apple fascinated us as we sipped drinks and watched the setting sun during sundowners at the end of each day of wildlife viewing in the bush.

They sent us sunflower seeds from their garden (not NYC, but their summer home) which I started indoors and are now placed next to the artichokes in the raised bed near the goat pen. So far, they look good. Here they are in my sketchbook when they were just getting started.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Raleigh's Agility Training

My Corgi, Raleigh, and I started agility training recently. Mike joined us for the last session and brought the camera. The photos seem to indicate that I am a lot more interested in what our teacher, Clare, is saying than Raleigh is, but he really seems to enjoy it once he gets going.

(an alphabet poem)

Agility training with my dog Raleigh
brings out the kid in me.
Coming together with those eight other people and their
dogs two hours
each week in
Fortuna, has
got to be one of the most pleasant things I
have done in a long time.
I love
just being with a group of people who
keep focused on their dogs running through tunnels and hoops,
leaving cares like
money, troublesome
politics, behind. It is the
quintessential escape.
Raleigh is enjoying the experience as well,
since he gets praise and
treats just for trying something new,
unless, of course, he really messes up which happens
very seldom. Nearly always
we cheer him on as he
ecstatically charges through tunnels, jumps through hoops, and
yaps as he joyfully
zooms around the track.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I received an email from a friend today (see photo above taken just before we dined on the fabulous paella that he prepared for dinner during his last visit). Jamie is a wonderful blend of free spirit, techie, and artist. He can also be a little directive, which I appreciate. The first line in his message was:

"Well, if you're gonna have a blog, could you at least update it once in awhile?"

An excellent question, and the answer is yes. So here is the first one, Jamie. More to follow. As I posted earlier, I am blessed in my friends.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grace Cathedral---Gallery 1055 Lenten/Easter Exhibit

The Way of the Cross series—fourteen contemporary interpretations of the Stations of the Cross--was on display at Gallery 1055 at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco during Lent and Easter. On Thursday, April 2, I attended the opening reception hosted by Bishop Marc Andrus. After Evensong in the Cathedral (heavenly!), we gathered in the gallery to walk the Stations after which we enjoyed refreshments and an informal discussion. It was the most moving and meaningful “art opening” that I have ever experienced. Many thanks to Bishop Andrus and the curator, Mel Ahlborn, for the privilege of showing in Gallery 1055, and to friends—old and new---who were there to share this wonderful evening!

The complete series can be seen on my Web site:

Photos from Grace Cathedral, Gallery 1055, Opening

A few photos of friends at the opening . . . from the top--Robbie, Connie, Frances, Fr. Leo,
Fr. Donald and Sister Alice. I am blessed in my friends!

Photos from Grace Cathedral, Gallery 1055, Opening

My husband Mike and I with Bishop Andrus at the opening reception.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I spent most of February in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The purpose of the trip was Spanish immersion--an opportunity to get an extended, in-depth exposure to the language. The result was that my language skills did improve (Chac-Mool is an excellent school), but probably more importantly, the three weeks away from home on my own gave me time to write, draw, and ponder the rich experience. I came home feeling even more grateful for the good fortune to live in such a beautiful place and inspirational community. The resulting artwork and poetry will be appearing on these pages over the next month or so.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

There Was a Reason the Cab Driver's Name was Jesus

When I first arrived in Mexico three days ago
it wasn’t much as I had imagined.
Those images in storybooks from my childhood
had made a bigger impression than I’d thought--
bright colors, starry skies, the occasion burro,
smiling people wearing sarapes and sombreros.

The only thing I’ve seen of that are the smiling people
and though they wear jeans instead of serapes and no sombreros,
they are much more beautiful
than the simple drawings I remembered.
Maybe it’s the contrast the their environment that makes them so.
The night skies are dull, not a star in sight.
The streets are dirty, and the houses, packed together like building blocks,
don’t show a lot of care or planning.
Upkeep doesn’t seem to be a priority here.
It’s a dirty and fairly grim place.

I wish we hadn’t exported Burger King or McDonalds
or the unflattering fashions of worn-out jeans and torn tee shirts.
Do their sweet spirits and gentle souls,
or even their fierce warrior traditions
stand a chance in the face of this degrading onslaught?
I have to believe that they do.
The conversation with Jesus, the cab driver, that first day,
the hospitality of my hostess, Paquita,
and the patience of my Spanish teachers,
give me hope.

Taxco (alphabet poem)


As I consider yesterday’s trip to Taxco,
being as open to the experience as possible, I
can’t help but be a little
Everywhere I looked, there was garbage.
Fountains in plazas were filled with trash instead of water.
Groups of people were visiting in the plaza, which was nice.
Here and there I saw the occasional bird, but
in the city itself, I saw mostly
junk, both in stores and out. I hope the
kitchens are cleaner than I imagine, but I don’t
let myself think about that.
Most of the people looked happy enough,
not paying a whole lot of attention to
onerous things such as bad smells and graffiti.
People adjust, I suppose,
quite naturally to what is their life,
realizing that they can’t do much about it, or perhaps not even
seeing or being aware of it.
Too often, we just don’t notice as the
underlying fabric of civilized life, which is really so
very fragile
wears away, bit by bit,
exposed to
years of
zooming taxis and hopeless kids with spray cans.


Morning (alphabet poem)

Already I feel better, having spent some time in silence.
Beginning a new day in prayer, even
complaining a bit to God,
does wonders for my outlook.
Eventually, the negative thoughts disperse.
Finding a new perspective
gives me a entirely different attitude and
helps me to see God’s hand in all of this.
In my darker moments I wish I had planned better.
Just one week longer, I tell myself, while a soft voice whispers
Kath, you can do this.
Limit your intentions to learning Spanish.
More time will give you opportunities to speak and interact.
Not taking advantage of that would be a huge mistake.
Open your heart to Mexico.
Put thoughts of home aside for a while.
Quiet the negative self-talk.
Really, all it does is get in the way, and
separate you from the rich experience before you.
Today offers great opportunities.
Unless you get out there and take advantage of it
while you have this chance,
expect to be disappointed
years from now when looking back on what just might be a
zenith of this marvelous life.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Alphabet poem


At the carnival yesterday in Tepoztlan, it was hard to
believe that so many people
could gather in such a small village to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Dancers in the Plaza, vendors lining every street—revelers were
everywhere. At first, it was overwhelming, but I
finally settled in and could
get into the swing of it.
Having that beer helped a lot.
In fact, it made me feel like part of the crowd that was
jumping around to the mesmerizing music in a
kinesthetic frenzy,
looking kind of silly and
manic, but after an hour or so
no one could resist getting
out there to join them and
participate in the celebration.
Questions of what this
really means don’t
seem to be important now. Even as we watched, we didn’t
try to analyze or
understand, but simply
viewed the goings on.
While revelers, caught up in the
excitement of this
yearly event, celebrated with
zeal, and no thought whatsoever of what may lie ahead.

I’ve grown to like this little room.
It’s become a bit of a haven for me.
I close the rusty metal door
and its squeak and clang
make me feel secure.

Not that I worry about safety much here.
but there is a film of dirt
and layer of degradation
that I simply can’t ignore
when I’m out there on the
street walking by trash, graffiti,
and people who look so tired
and hopeless.
I guess I can understand their fascination
with the United States.
It’s not Disneyland and perfect
like Carolina thinks.
We have lots of problems.

But she’s closer than those
who hate us
and think that we are the source of all the world’s ills
and are still writing songs about Viet Nam
for heaven’s sake.

Probably the ones who have it closest
are those who risk their lives to
cross the border to come to a place
where they can work hard,
be paid for their labor
and experience, if only second-hand
the fruits of a society
that’s core value is


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Alphabet poem

A lunch out at a lively Mexican restaurant
before I settle down to study irregular verb tenses, is a treat.
Cocina mexicana is
even though sometimes it is a bit spicy and I
forget to say no muy piquante por favor.
gustatorial delights abound here. I
help myself to another tortilla
in spite of the fact that I’m pretty full.
Just a few more frijoles will
keep me going till la cena, and I
love the idea of a little siesta after lunch.
My mind and body appreciate the chance to
not do anything for an hour or so. It’s an
opportunity to relax and take the
pressure off for a while.
Quiet moments in the middle of the day
restore my ability to think and learn.
Studying Spanish requires my full concentration,
tenses of verbs especially.
Until it all comes naturally and becomes
verbal instinct, I’ll need to keep
working at this.
Exactly when I’ll really be able to speak Spanish may be
years from now, even with my
zeal for learning this beautiful language.


I’m surprised at how heavy the Mexicans are,
the women especially.

I’d expected svelte, lovely Mexicanas wearing full skirts
and embroidered cotton tops,
long black hair, braided, or tumbling loose over dark shoulders.

The only thing that comes close to that are the Indians selling cheap jewelry to tourists in El Centro.
And now I kind of wonder if that isn’t just for show,
and suspect that they, too, change into jeans once they get home
after a long day of selling beads and trinkets on the plaza.

But it’s really those tight jeans that put me over the edge.
And I can’t help but notice the rolls of fat
even on young women.
Along with that there is the junk food and Coke
that they seem to be consuming all of the time.

Just last night, Ana, my hostess, suggested that I
dress like a Mexicana in order to fit in more and not stand out too much.
I stood there in my cotton skirt and blouse
as I listened and looked at her brown polyester tee shirt and jeans,
and was at a loss for words.


Alphabet poem

As I prepare to go home,
bags packed with the
clothes I brought to wear, now
dirty with Mexican grime, I can hardly control my
For three weeks I have been here in Cuernavaca
getting immersed in Spanish
having opportunities to learn and speak,
interacting with locals and
just getting by with my basic grasp of the language. It’s been a
kaleidoscope of experiences.
Lots of them very good, some of them pretty trying.
Many thoughts swirl in my head, yet
not one seems to be completely developed
or clear right now.
People have been very nice here. Most are
quite happy to talk with gringos like me, and
ready to offer a helpful word when I
stammer and then pause
trying to come
up with the
verb for “to look for”
when I’m trying to find an internet café or pharmacy.
Exactly what I’ve learned here, I’ll probably know
years from now, after videos and talks about
Zapata and Pancho Villa have become dim memories.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Larry Consults His Guide to the Pyramids While All Hell Breaks Loose in the Cosmos


Another historical site
and once again, I feel like I’ve gone to the wrong party,
or am wearing the wrong dress.
Why is it more interesting for me to draw frogs and cats
sculpted on clay pots
than to learn about ancient civilizations that sacrificed slaves to an angry and insatiable god?

I must be very dull.
Or is it that I’ve heard this story too many times before?

Ash Wednesday

Lord, why don’t I feel your presence
when I am in class trying to learn Spanish
being annoyed by that other student
who dominates the class
thinking that she knows it all,
correcting the rest of us,
and looking at her watch when it is my turn to talk?
Why should this bother me?
Why can’t I see her as one of your precious children
beloved and cherished,
instead of as a pompous ass who is putting a damper
on what had been a pretty good experience?

Would it really have been that difficult to have made this week as enjoyable as the first,
so that I could leave this place with warm feeling of gratitude
instead of the annoyance that has overtaken me like a dark cloud?
I count the days and hours until I get to go home,
and instead of focusing on uses of tricky words like
ser and estar, por and para,
I’m thinking about how slighted I feel and
how out of place and alone I feel here.
Is this your idea of a joke?
A mean trick to play on this Ash Wednesday
as we enter the holy season of Lent?

I know your timing is perfect, and nothing happens by chance.
In the comfort of my room,
I can see the bright side of this
and view it as a blessing that I now have two teachers
instead of just one.
In class, it’s not so easy.

I came here to study Spanish with a Mexican teacher,
the French Canadian wasn’t part of the bargain.
The first teaches me to conjugate Spanish words for “to accept” and “to love”,
the second challenges me to live them.

Stay with a typical Mexican family and
experience Mexican culture firsthand
the school’s Web site advertised.
It sounded great so I signed up for three weeks.

The first evening with my Mexican family,
dinner was Hawaiian pizza from Costco.
Ana and I sat at the table and got acquainted
while her husband, Enrico, and the three kids
ate in front of the television in the other room
watching a dubbed version of Caspar.
It was a fairly revealing introduction.

Down the street, another student was getting acquainted
with her typical Mexican host family.
The cousin of Ana, divorced with two young children,
also had another student, a German boy, I think, living there,
doing her best to make ends meet.
When I finally met her, near the end of my stay,
she was wearing tight jeans, stiletto heels and a tee shirt that said
“Make love not war”
I later learned that her mother visited from time to time
and made derogatory remarks about the American student
thinking that she didn’t understand Spanish.

Another student paid the family directly and up front
as the school advised.
The only down side to that was that her Mexican mother
ran out of money before the end of the week and wouldn’t feed her.
so the student ended up eating in the restaurant down the street.

I don’t think the school was misrepresenting the situation
or promising something they couldn’t deliver.
I just made the mistake of focusing on the world “Mexican”
rather than the more important word in the description--

Yesterday, the young man who sold me the beautiful painted crosses last week
was back at school with his wares.
He told me that my Spanish was better.
I would like to believe him
but think he might have said that
because he wanted for me to buy more crosses,
which I did, and would have done anyway.

I think that these will make nice gifts for my friends-
scenes of village life, naïve and fresh,
painted on smooth wooden crosses
of various sizes.

They’re lovely to look at and charming in their simplicity.
but I think I like them so much because they show that grace
can be found in village life—something as simple as harvesting corn,
cooking a rabbit for dinner over an open fire.
or having a young Mexican artisan
tell you that your Spanish is better this week.


Oprima el Numero Dos

Now that I am here in Mexico, away from home,
in school for Spanish immersion,
I sometimes wonder what my real reason is for doing this.
Is it a chance to get my mind around a new way of expressing the same old thoughts
giving them the illusion of being new and original?
An attempt to convince myself that I’m not in an existential rut?

Or perhaps an excuse to finally visit Mexico
that enigmatic country to the south—
the place of bright colors, spicy food rich heritage,
and cheap labor?

Spanish gives us the names of many cities in my state.
St. Francis must shake his head as he sees what goes on in the city that bears his name.
And it’s best not to know what the angels are thinking farther south.
San Jose is home to a lot more Jose’s than it bargained for
and they’ve brought their language with them.

Even farther north where I live, just south of Del Norte County
Spanish isn’t just heard in Mexican restaurants anymore.
It’s common to see it on labels, applications, and even ballots.
There’s no telling where this may end up.
Which come to think of it,
just might be the reason
that it’s a good idea to learn Spanish.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

(Each line of this poem begins with the next letter in the alphabet.)

Another day in Cuernavaca,
before dawn breaks the sound of traffic rises
cars zooming through narrow streets,
drivers intent on getting a jump on the day.
Even though I don’t have the impression that ambition and work
form the foundation of this culture.
Gringa that I am , it seems pretty chaotic to me.
Having said that,
I marvel at the pockets of cleanliness in this dirty city.
Just yesterday I discovered Las Mananitas, a Relais and Chateau property
kept pristine and secure behind a pink stucco wall which
lies across from the large Catholic church that I pass
on the way to El Centro, which is
my least favorite place in this city.
Nevertheless, I find that I go there a lot.
Oh, there are places here that are lovely.
Pristine surprises in the midst of squalor.
Que bueno! To find a well-maintained ancient cathedral
right across the street from Jardin Borda, where
sculptures of angels by a Mexican artist
touched my heart.
Under the chaos of the city lies a tender Mexican soul, which the
Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mother of Mexico, mourns,
weeping soft tears which
express her sorrow that the many
years of hope and caring, fueled by the
zeal of her love, have produced this.


Spanish Lessons

Juan shows such patience
as I struggle to shape a sentence
using the pronouns he’s just introduced.
There are only about ten of them
and their use is perfectly logical
if you think in Spanish.

But my brain is wired in English
and has lots of trouble accepting that an
object can come before a verb.
It’s a little easier to tack them on the end
which is an option in some cases.
But it still doesn’t come naturally.

No estrese! No estrese! Reminds Juan
and of course, he’s right.
It doesn’t help to throw frustration into the mix.
That only makes it worse
and punishes my verbal cortex
which is really doing its best.

So I breathe deeply and try to see the humor
in sounding like a dyslexic five year old.
Poco a poco, Giovanni assures us. Poco a poco.

I am here in Mexico to learn Spanish,
but I think the biggest lesson of all might be

Getting Settled

How good it is to be in Mexico,
comfortable in my simple room,
with kitchenette just outside the door,
two twin beds,
and a fresh towel once a week.

The teachers at the school are patient and kind
and don’t seem to approach teaching like a job or duty.
They even seem to enjoy spending evenings with students
in outdoor cafes where we struggle to hear and understand them
over the blaring salsa music, to which couples dance between the crowded tables.

Bit by bit, poco a poco, I learn the language.
Bit by bit, I learn that important things sometimes get buried by needs and wants
that have nothing to do with being alive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My first day in Mexico

I was so excited about the prospect of coming to Mexico.
A new culture, new friends, new vistas,
different food and traditions.
But mostly I was looking forward to learning a new language,
a different mix of sounds to express thoughts and feelings.
I never imagined that what I’d want to say most of all would be . . .

I want to go home.