you can still sign up for ireland

black square


I failed art in second grade. Miss C held me back from recess until I finished my finger painting. I had painted a stick person standing beneath a tree. The person at the time had no clothes on because I was letting the flesh-colored paint dry before I clothed him. Miss C said everyone knew you didn’t paint the flesh, you just painted the clothes. The shock. There were rules? I had had no idea there was no flesh beneath all the painted clothes in every painting in Room 5. I needed time to think about that.

I missed out on a week of recesses.


After mankind learned to make fire, we didn’t always know how to put the fire out. If evil spirits started the fire—and why not think that way—then beating a drum might put the fire out by scaring the spirits away. Five thousand years–that’s how long drums were beaten before we could think of using water.


Rules that make us judges. I wrote about this earlier, but it is still on my mind. A friend to Pope Francis is quoted as saying this is why the Pope works at avoiding so many rules. Judging can make us walk over a hungry body, thinking he got what he deserved.


My daughter teaches K-2 kids who need more time learning lifetime skills. She has fallen for them, as have I. At Christmas I was invited to Gingerbread House Day in her classroom. She paired me with a student whose name has since changed twice. His family is in transition. He and I were so involved in his gingerbread house, we never looked up to realize the other adults were making the houses while each assigned student looked on. I didn’t build the house, my student, Q, did. We had frosting on our glasses, wrists, ears, hair and not so much on the house. It didn’t look like a house, but a forest, growing, on a tinned sheet of ice.

Last weekend my daughter and I stopped by her classroom to pick up flowers she had left behind. The hallways were dark, the exit signs glowed red, the waxed floors shone. Had we looked down, we might have noticed we were both, suddenly, wearing Mary Jane shoes that could make clicking sounds if we skipped instead of walked. Outside her classroom, stapled to a cork board track, eight pieces of art greeted us. Her kids were learning about shapes, and from these shapes they were learning to fashion faces.  Seven construction paper faces and one without: Q had made a body, but was still thinking about the word, face.


The sky shines from within. – Peter Heller, “The Painter”


Behind us at our favorite cafe, one woman is singing to another two measures from a score—illustrating the clarinet solo from that morning’s rehearsal. Her song rises. It takes us out of our own conversation about how neither of us had known that the word, shone,  can refer to a girl who “f*cks easy.” This according to the Urban Dictionary found on our iPhone while debating the difference between using shined, glowed, or shone in the above story I was already writing in my head.

Our whispered “f*cks” and the other woman’s impromptu solo meet at the same moment and mingle. Seemingly so.  We smile. We hush. We drink our lemoned water.

” . . . It was just eight notes,” the singer behind us says, ” but I felt so good, you know? I mean, I felt physically good. I  . . . I glowed.”




day lightning bugs

stepInstead of Being Worried, We Tell Stories
Our rooster would be crowing, if we had one,
and the horse we’d name Jeep or Chevy would be rolling
his oat bucket behind us as we walk along the river
to catch our school bus. First day as the new kids
from the country, too poor for any pets. Mousetraps
in the hallway, snakes beneath our porch. We tell stories
the city kids won’t know. God is serving breakfast, scrambling
up a sunrise, explaining how trees breathe, why streams
beg for ice. Is it true, we ask, that stars are lit
by catch-colt boys with slingshots and pebbles rolled
in noble dust coughed from our pockets every time
we’re nice? He nods to show He’s listening, opens
a fresh egg carton packed with twelve new months.
Cracks September open, peels it hard-boil style,
the way we tear labels from old crayolas. Lemon
green, wrinkled maple, frozen river black. We know
this is how new colors are born- melting crayons
in a can, talking with God before the sun
comes up, waiting for our bus.

(Previously published by Quay Poetry Journal)


I had forgotten about this poem until I came across an article about a book of colors from 1692. An obscure painter had set about to create a book filled with 800 pages of separate colors—water colors. And how to achieve each color. How many drops of sky mixed with how many drops of lemon, diluted with a certain measure of water. Being 1692, the book remained obscure- it was too impossible to make copies enough to share.

And now, the latest color guide documents over 2100 colors, 175 of them being considered “new.” We can pick the guide up at number of paint stores.

Where do colors come from? A long time ago in a different life, a man who also tried to teach me how to defend myself against any imagined attack, explained the concept of purple to me. Apparently, every color in the universe which finds its way to earth is accorded its own specific number on a spectrum. Purple, however, doesn’t land on the spectrum. To achieve the color of purple, numbers from two other colors must come together first. So many colors, he told me, lie rather far from the spectrum.

What I took away was still no ability defend myself, and the continued belief new colors are still waiting to be seen.


Since 1989, scientists have been aware of one baleen whale with a voice registering at 52 Hz. That’s higher than any whale sound known. Most whales sing in the range of 12 to 25 Hz. And the thing about whales is that this is how they find each other. This is how they gather, fall in love, form communities.

But what if you have that one voice no one can hear? You become the color purple that can’t be seen unless two other colors come together. You become the sound wave, dismissed. Scientists can hear her now and then, but they can’t find her. None of her songs are answered by another whale, and the search continues for her.. It’s 2014, and this whale has been “out there”, singing at 52Hz by herself for over two decades now. Waiting to be heard by another whale.

This is what the ocean  sounds like when the scientists stop to listen from the ocean’s floor: Click here.


I am reading Before Night Falls as slowly as I can. Reinaldo Arena’s words shore and shine even during (or perhaps because of) the horrific times spent in the Cuban prison system for being a poet and a Castro critic.  Sit beside him in his cell when he writes that the body is weaker than the soul. The soul, after all, has art and poetry to keep the soul strong.

For example: “Like a lightning bug… Like a lightning bug?… Yes, just like a night lightning bug; because there are day lightning bugs too – even if nobody has ever seen one, I know there are some, and I know the day lightning bugs are the cockroaches that since they can’t light up, people kill them.”


penguin against a rope


We all know Bentley doesn’t read most of the books in our book group, but he doesn’t know we know. He isn’t here tonight when we discuss The People of Forever Are Not Afraid. By show of hands some of us loved it and some of us had otherwise to say about it.

For example what was up with the rental with a bedroom and a half—what was that? It shows up in the latter part of the book. And what about the line that said something about how the more sound was taken from us something something the more we turned into a song? Where did you read that? We pick up our books with the yellow cover and thumb through the pages. One of us finds the line.

The room gleams, two walls are glass, sheeted in 4 x 10 lengths. On the other side of the glass sit two men with laptops balancing on their knees, books stacked on the table between them. The window for our room fades to white when the sun goes down. Green technology, energy star efficient. We can stay here until we decide we are finished. The window stays white until sunrise and then you can look through it again.

“I didn’t actually finish the book.”  Someone admits to this.

“How far did you get?”  someone else asks.

“Page 55.”

We turn to page 55 and nod our heads: This happens.


What also happens is the way the soundtrack at the gyros shop is only 25 seconds long. At the peak of the singer’s soar, just as he is declaring undying love to someone named Adonia, the music stops. You can imagine easily the scratch of a record skipping, someone crossing a room to reset the needle. Five seconds and then the song begins again.

“Maybe the shop could only afford the free sample to this song.” My daughter gestures with one hand, the other is busy with a gyros because once you pick one up, you cannot set it down just so you can use both hands to talk.  Cucumber dressing dripping, tomato pitching forward. If you are going to eat it, you better bite in now.

So we do the math. Soundtrack plus delay equals thirty seconds. That is two pieces of the song every minute. Okay, so we’ve been here thirty minutes so we’ve listened to this sixty times. We agree we won’t leave until management finds a different song.


I want to buy old cigar boxes, but the cigar shop next to Bottles and Shots is closed. A bold blue sign on the outside of the door warns, “These doors must remain unlocked during business hours.”

Another sign says the store opens at 9:00 A.M. It is 8:49 A.M, but he doesn’t want to wait and so he takes me home. We’ll get the boxes another time, he says. Then he drives away.

Front door unlocked, happy dogs to greet me. I fill their water bowl and start a load of laundry. In this way ten minutes pass. His car returns. The cigar shop is open now, he says.


Why a penguin against a rope: this.

notes while waiting to decide how long to leave the ashes on my forehead

fishCrazy M has no employees and answers the phone five times a day because people call to ask what is cod, what is halibut.  At least five times a day. People in Montana don’t know their fish, she says.  She reaches over the bar and sets two baskets of halibut and fresh slaw before us.

First I take this photo.  Then we ask for forks. The way she serves her fish no utensils are required. But what about the slaw?

Oh! She laughs, disappearing behind a curtain to find two clean forks. Back there is where she makes her secret batter. Out here, everything is on display. What you get is whatever it is you see.


Last week I dreaded leaving my house in 30 below wind chills to work at our art museum’s annual art auction. In that kind of cold you can’t walk fast, but walking fast is the only way you want to move. Given enough time a person learns to slide or never leave the house.

I wore a volunteer badge and until the auction began, I had no artwork to wrap for patrons. This was when I came across Rabbit’s son participating in a Quick Draw exhibit. The same slow boom, the same authentic reach. Though we had never met before, and though I was not a patron who had paid $150 for a seat at the auction, he took time to find his wife and introduce us to each other. A warm gift wrapped in quiet paper—this hospitality. Later, I would wrap one of his paintings that had sold for thousands. Eight feet by eight feet, resting on my packing table. What does promise look like? Close your eyes and see: layers of Khowshisgun deep red evening smears.


Find me in the wilderness. These stained-glass lyrics and the thorns, piercing. Whatever society we live within, whatever century, we link. No matter I don’t believe in the pope or follow faithfully Catholic doctrine the way  I was raised to do.  Ashes on  my forehead administered by the man with fat thumbs. To dust you will return. We are connected. Each of us to each other. No matter the century, the sidewalk, the phone calls we don’t make.


These ashes come from burning palm leaves because we can’t burn the stars.


Crazy M talks while she cooks, peering at us over the counter that separates us from her grill. This place feels like home. On the counter is a framed note from the Governor commending her for her fine fish, but she says she doesn’t remember serving him. Was he really here? She already has some steady customers: one with crutches and a bad leg stretched out in the narrow pathway in her fish hut.  She tripped on his leg the first time she served him and asked him to move his leg, not realizing his situation. How it took both hands and torque. Now, he eats there every other day, but she tells us she won’t ask what happened to his leg. Because, she says, what if it was self-inflicted, we all know how that is.


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