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.