Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bluegrass Fog

Bluegrass Fog

There’s music in the fog tonight.

From the creek it curls up the hollow
like a soft blanket pulled over a sleeping child.

There’s music in the fog tonight.

Step out on the porch and kiss this dew,
folded into the embrace of strum and pluck.

There’s music in the fog tonight.

Stars dimple one by one in softening air
that sings the lilted rhythm of remorse.

There’s music in the fog tonight.

Unseemly shapes clump and throb
in the mist. Ghosts of sunnier days.

There’s music in the fog tonight.

It comes high and thin, fast and sweet,
sweeping over us as mandolin tears fall on tin roofs.

There’s music in the fog tonight.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Power of Words

Researchers are proving what we writers have known all along - words are powerful.

No booze needed for beer goggles:
Fast flashes of certain words can affect your libido.

In one study, reading alcohol-related words caused the same effects as actually drinking booze, while in another, subconscious exposure to words like 'old age' and 'bingo' caused research subjects to walk more slowly.

Think about that the next time you're reading (or writing) a poem, short story, newspaper, or magazine article.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why write?

This past weekend I picked up a copy of the Burnside Review, a new poetry magazine out of Portland. In addition to the poems, which were very good, there is also an interview with Dorianne Laux.

The interview is enlightening and interesting. I think Laux is particularly eloquent in her expression of why she writes - I know.her words ring true for me:

"I don't know why other people write but I write, because I have to. I'm not expecting anything to come from it other than my own self-fulfillment and edification. I'm trying, poem by poem, to figure out who I am and how I belong in this world. I'm trying to make a wholeness from the fragments of my life. I'm trying to find out what I know and where I'm going. I'm trying to see beyond myself and into the lives of others. I'm trying to feel what I feel again, in slow motion, so I can learn from it. I write because I feel compelled to say something back to those who said something long ago and are still waiting for a response, not just from anyone, but from me. I write because it's a form of praise, a form of meditation, elegy, prayer. A way of paying attention, of staying awake in a world that wants to put us to sleep. It's a stay against death, not that the writing will keep me from dying, not that it will live beyond me, but in that it makes me feel more fully alive."

Four of Dorianne's poems can be read in the online archives of Poetry Magazine.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mandala by Anh Chi Pham

I just read this incredible story, "Mandala" by Anh Chi Pham in the Fall 2004 issue of Hunger Mountain:

"Drivers and motorcyclists honked as traffic slowed. As more monks stood in front of us, my view of the street became smaller and smaller. My mother held my hand tighter and tried to cross into Cho Lon. To my left, I saw a white car stop. The doors opened and at that moment, everyone came onto the street. They crowded around some center that I could not see. She continued to push through and all I saw were backs, arms, legs. As we struggled, people fell silent and still. Something changed like when a cloud covers the sun. My mother felt it too. She turned her head toward the car and something caught her eye.

I poked my head in between a monk and a man with greasy hands, but all I saw was a trickle of water through sandaled feet. Then, I smelled gasoline and a man with a deep voice chanted. I saw an opening, so I let go of my mother's hand and stepped into it. There, a monk sat. His robe was wet, his eyes were closed, and his lips curved into a little smile. He looked like the Buddha at the park near home – the same way of sitting, the same smooth face, the same smile. Then, his smile burst into flames. It was so bright like that day at the park when I ran toward the Buddha and the doves flew away, their wings lit up by the sun."

This story blew me away. There is more than one story here - it's really the intersection of five distinct stories in one wonderfully unifying scene. The language is beautiful and spellbinding. If you haven't read this already, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Wordstock, Portland's annual festival of the book, begins today. There will be workshops, readings, and author events throughout the week, culminating in a giant Book Fair this weekend at the Oregon Convention Center.

Over 200 national and regional authors will be participating, including Alice Sebold, Chris Bohjalian, David Shannon, Dr. Andrew Weil, Jean Auel, John Irving, Kent Haruf, Norman Mailer, Phil Lesh, Philip Yancey, Russell Banks, Sarah Vowell, Susan Orlean, and Ursula K Le Guin.

Wordstock will be offering free drop-in workshops during the book fair on April 23rd and 24th at the Oregon Convention Center. They will take place in the “Living Room” where local Oregon writers will lead one hour exercises in poetry, publishing, fiction, nonfiction, children’s writing, graphic novels, self-publishing, subsidy publishing, generating ideas and screen writing. New workshops take place every hour 10am to 5pm.

The Wordstock Children’s Festival will take place inside the book fair 9am-4pm, April 23rd-24th at the Oregon Convention Center. There will be nationally known children's authors, local favorites, music, celebrity storytellers and many hands on activities for children of all ages to enjoy.

This will be a week packed full of literary fun for all. If you're anywhere near Portland, check out the Wordstock schedule and join in!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Writing, life, and other stuff

As of today, I have 50 stories or poems out on submission to a wide variety of print and online journals. Although I've still got several stories under construction and the nuclei of a few poems, I've decided it's time to take a break from writing.

Life is piling up on me very quickly these days:

A week after knee surgery, my mother found out she has three blood clots in her leg. They're taking care of it with blood thinners and she starts physical therapy on the knee today, so hopefully she'll be back at full speed again soon.

My daughter is due to start elementary school next year, and we're currently working our way through the process of entering her in First Grade instead of Kindergarten. She reads at a junior high school level and tests indicate she is 'gifted'. This is both a blessing and a curse. Our main concern is that she does not become bored in school and lose her love of learning, which is so strong the word 'love' does not begin to describe it.

Things are growing, blooming, branching, and I have not stepped out into my backyard in at least six months. I need to feel earth in my fingers.

I have taken up knitting, but in my own perversely independent way, I insist on creating my own patterns and projects. This leads to joy and frustration. Frustration is way ahead at the moment, but I'm too darn stubborn to give up.

My anthropology career has languished too long, and it's time to finish up some articles that should have been published years ago. A colleague and I hope to complete a very interesting article by the end of the summer, reporting on a unique pattern of asymmetry in a skeleton from a Salado site. My 500+ page dissertation on cannibalism in Chaco Canyon is also waiting to become something more palatable - individual articles, a book?

More immediately, I'm dealing with a kidney stone that doesn't want to budge. This is only one in a very long line of stones, and usually they pass pretty quickly. My guess is that this one is stuck somewhere en route. I'll keep pounding the water and hoping.

With all of the above, two birthdays and Mother's Day coming up, this seems like the right time to give myself a two week break. I'm sure I'll be puttering around here fairly often, but I'm also hoping to spend some quality time just plain goofing off, doing nothing particularly productive. Who knows, maybe it'll be fun?!

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Book Quiz

You're The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Frodo Lives!

As most of us have heard by now, a new species of tiny humans, Homo floresiensis, was recently discovered in Indonesia. Dubbed 'hobbits' by their discoverers, the adults of this species stood about three feet tall. Their remains were found in cave deposits, associated with stone tools and the bones of pygmy elephants.

Small stature isn't the only thing startling about these fossils. They had very small brains that were less than a third the size of a modern human, and small even for a chimpanzee. They also date to as recent as 13,000 years ago - yesterday in geological time.

In an earlier post I pointed out the similarity between the genetic history of the Mlabri, a nomadic hunter-gatherer group in Southeast Asia, and the oral tradition passed down among the neighboring Tin Prai group of how the Mlabri came into being.
(Where did we come from?)

Interestingly, local folktales on the island of Flores where the 'hobbits' were found recount a group of diminutive, hairy people with flat foreheads who are said to have lived in caves on the island until the 19th century.

Are they passing on the memory of sharing the world with another species of human? It's an intriguing possibility.

For more on Homo floresiensis:
National Geographic
Homo floresiensis: A miniature human relation from Flores

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Tigger, 1987-2003

I lost my best four-legged friend two years ago today. Still miss him.

In Dreams He Purrs

Spring cleaning today
and I found a crumpled ball
of paper in the corner, nestled
under clumps of dust.
It held no message, just the echo
of a pounce.

In the kitchen we move freely,
no frantic beggar beneath our feet
though still I watch for mice
on the run from games
of four-footed field hockey.

I wear the necklace with the slim
silver chain, three links shorter
thanks to toothsome kitten frolics,
before exuberance was tempered by age and illness.

The bathroom sink holds only toothpaste stains,
no longer a place of cool repose
brimfull of soft tabby fur.

When I sleep, there is a ghostly
weight across my legs,
a comforting rumble in my ears.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Invasion of the Little People

Polly Pocket has invaded my home. Her tiny feet leave no prints on the carpet, but her wee rubber clothes are everywhere - between sofa cushions, strewn across tables, tumbling down the hall beneath the cat's paws, dangling from the fingers of a younger sister as the older one shouts that they're HER toys. Polly herself just keeps smiling, her plastic blonde hair in perpetually perky ponytails. She's not alone, either. She's got an accomplice – a dark-haired, mysterious girl named Ana, dangerously sophisticated in her strapless purple evening gown and go-go boots, a purple flower tucked into her molded hair.

And they're not the first wave. The Groovy Girls arrived months ago, insinuating themselves into our lives with their sweet smiles and funky clothes. They've got their own diner booth, bed, sleeping bag, sofa, snowboard, pets, and bean bag chair. Not to mention a wardrobe any adult would envy. There's even a Groovy Boy, who inhabits a corner of my two-year old daughter's crib, where his single jacket/shirt combo is continuously removed (by her) and put back on (by me). Poor guy only has the one outfit and he can't even keep it on.

It all began innocently enough, years ago, when Winnie the Pooh invited over a few friends from the Hundred Acre Wood. Were we fooled by his vacuous, honey-addled eyes and self-proclaimed lack of brain? Piglet seemed small enough, of little consequence, and Eeyore, well, he could just mope quietly in a corner without bothering anyone. But then came Tigger, bouncing and pouncing and TTFNing all over the place, and we were quickly outnumbered.

Now, I stumble from room to room, dancing around Polly's carrying case, stepping over Groovy Angelique and her friend Myra the mermaid. I shove their clothes into bins, bags, boxes, and try to push them out of sight, at least for the few hours when the sun has gone down and so have the kids. When I plop onto the sofa to catch my breath, something soft taps me on the shoulder. There's Pooh, forgotten in the rush to bed. I nestle him into the crook of my arm and smile.

Land of Enchantment in Gator Springs Gazette

My story Land of Enchantment is live in Gator Springs Gazette.

This issue is terrific, with stories by G.W. Cox, Phil Jones, Pieter Mayer, Joseph Young, A. Ray Norsworthy, and Jonathon Redhorse. There are also poems by Jim Boring and Richard Fein, and a book review by Edmund R. Schubert, as well as the winners of the Gator Springs Gazette Fiction Contest: Rusy Barnes, Richard Madelin, and Kathy Fish.
Start reading and you won't be able to stop!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

How Close is Heaven

How Close is Heaven

There were no footprints in the hard-packed sand
where they walked, bordering the worlds
of water, air, earth. Emanuel wore his coat
close, huddled and hooded from rain and wind.
Cherisse left her shoes by the driftwood log,
socks strewn behind like overblown condoms
limp and spent, as she ran into the waves.
She laughed, kicking foam, fists on her hips,
hornpiping, and called “Manny, come on,
let’s go dancing with our feet in the sea.”
The words gusted away, unheard.

On a brighter day, they climbed,
caressing rock with finger and toe
to hold the world in their palms.
Emanuel paused, breathing hard, pressing
himself into a ledge that split existence
into what had come before and what lay ahead.
Cherisse sang her hands over cracks in the solid wall,
playing the granite’s veins like keys on a piano.
In the stillness, she whispered, “Keep going,
Manny, don’t stop now. We’re cloud-climbing straight to heaven.”
His gasps drowned out the sound of her voice.

This day they walk through grass, green and soft,
thick enough to remain unbent by their passing.
Emanuel carries a rose, a pink one, not red
like blood. He steps carefully, intent and slow
but not halting. Cherisse skips through the trees
like a spring breeze, and tries to tickle his ear.
As Emanuel sets the rose gently on the grave,
she peeks from behind the trunk of a great oak and calls
to him once again. “Oh Cherry,” he cries, brushing dirt
from the headstone, “if only I could hear you one more time.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

National Poetry Month

A Happy Birthday
Ted Kooser

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

April is National Poetry Month. Check out the Academy of American Poets where you can find a list of events for the month, sign up to receive a poem by email every day, read new poetry, and find work by your favorite American poets.

Another good resource for information about specific poets is Modern American Poetry, the online companion to the Anthology of Modern American Poetry.

Write your own poetry? Check out the Random Poetic Phrases generator and get a kickstart.
RhymeZone can help you find the perfect rhyme.

Tonight, I'll grab a poem or two, maybe a whole book. And then I'll sit by the open window and read, until, like Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, I "ride this day down into night."

It's National Poetry Month.