the tailrace

tailraceInside the power house, overlooking the tailrace at Ryan Dam

My daughter married last month. My son married this month last year. I saw the minute hand move. Click.

Watches. Alarms. Clocks. Turbines spinning water into power. You can’t follow me here, said the man with the hard hat, the flashing tail lights. But my father told me to follow him through the gate anyway. Just go. And so I did. I drove my father’s van through the opened No Trespassing gate, my mother protesting in the front passenger seat that the hard hat man wasn’t going to recognize my father, sitting in the back seat. You just can’t go where you want to go, Bill, she said.

And when the hard hat man in his large white pickup saw us in his mirror, he turned around to confront us. I know, I’ve always known, the hows and whens to stop. It’s going forward that keeps me still.

Hello, Bill, the man said. Through his opened window, through my father’s, wound-down. Of course they knew each other. At one time, my father was the boss of this power camp. At one time, I was the little girl, Bill’s middle child, running through the camp, climbing cliffs, keeping a measured distance from the waterfalls.

Can you break a spell by yielding to it? This river has always had her way with me. Running through me when what I wanted was distance from her roar. She must have had a good war, this Missouri river. What it has taken for her to still be here, carving through landscape of wheat and rising yeast. Red stone, brittle shale. Dams strapped against her swell.


The Montana Girl Speaks of Water
                                                             after Langston Hughes

My soul has grown deep like
the rivers. The curl of eddies and bays

pool inside. I retreat downriver, into the spray
of the Crooked Falls, climb rock

cliffs, toeing dirt, sliding down
banks into the graveyard

memories of the familiar wide
lazy shoreline of my youth, retracing steps

skipped out with the verve and the snap
little girls had back in the day, still

wading in shallow water, my cuffs rolled
and my muddy elbows,

dreaming all the world was one
cool, shin-high ripple.

(Previously published at Babel Fruit)


Tailrace: The part of a millrace or the like through which the spent water flows





Tuck this thought inside your head.  Instruction I resist. In a family known for its stubborn streaks, I might be the one to claim top honors. One person’s determination is another’s definition of being a shit-head. (A direct quote from my mother.)

Just, please. I can’t think when family says to me, Tuck this thought inside your head. I can’t think their thoughts.

So when my smoke alarm goes off minutes after we’ve agreed, by text, not to meet for breakfast because he doesn’t want to drive to town, and I text him that my smoke alarm won’t stop, and he texts me back to disconnect the batteries, and I text back to say it is hard-wired, and he texts back to ask if I am sure I don’t smell smoke, and I text back that I am about to smash it with a hammer, and minutes later he shows up at my door with a screwdriver, I realize he’s never tried to put a thought inside my head. He’s all about ladders from the basement, wire-nuts riding on floorboards next to the Van Morrison Moondance CD.

Minutes later I am climbing inside his car, my feet finding space on the floorboards between the half of minnow trap he has left and a street poster he meant to give me last month. The thirty-five year old smoke alarm has been disabled, and we are headed out for breakfast after all.

Except that he drives past the good breakfast cafe, intent on explaining how he dropped half the minnow trap in the channel when a stray rottweiler came trotting over to him. The trap portion not tied to the rope is the part that he is now missing. All those minnows gone.

When I mention we just passed the good cafe, he doesn’t turn around and go back. Because that is what he doesn’t do: turn around and go back. This astonishes me, but in all the time we’ve been friends, I’ve never asked him to go back. Which is how we often end up eating at the casino with the flashing lights where no one goes to eat. This time, two yellow striped lines away from where I open the car door, two opened beer bottles stand sentry to the deserted parking lot.

And after a breakfast where I always order the same thing and he never orders the same thing twice, we step outside the casino and stop. He notices what I notice. One of the beer bottles is gone.


The gallery owner meets my daughter and me in the second room of her warehouse. She wants a custom pendant for her daughter who is moving back home after leaving her husband.  None of our pendants she sells in her shop work for this situation. She wants a word in the collage that will give her daughter strength. How do you say it, she asks. No longer in a marriage, she’s . . . what? In a divorce, now? Is that it?

Through, my daughter says. It’s the word you use to move yourself out of something bad and on to something good.





why the war shirt, how the square


Every now and then a writerly thing comes this way.

Kathleen Kirk, a generous poet and writer I have admired for some years, has asked me to contribute to the Writers’ Process Blog Tour. You will want to check out her blog and the way she links art with words, with life, with humor, with bugs. Stuff like that. She’s been a mainstay on my page of links for years because I don’t want to lose track of her wise and humorous ways.  She’s asked me four questions:

KK: What are you working on?

I can’t manage a game plan. I’ve landed without a plot. I am interested in poetry outside of the poem, yet contained within the line break. Music, street photography, collage, memoir, creative nonfiction, film. The connections, the disconnects. When I’ve been writing, it’s been along the line of tracking down Chief Joseph’s war shirt, skirting the poem and following instead the energy connecting us to him. Follow this link to the War Shirt.

KK: How does your work differ from other writers in your genre?

I write from a place of confusion. Theirs seems to be from a place of clarity.

KK: Why do you write?

Writing is my filter. I am not so interested in the plot line that threads our universe, but rather the disconnected moments strung every which way between your world and mine. Writing is how I process, exploring the edges of between. Why the rhino and the soup can. How the whale and a taxi cab. When the asphalt and the tears.

KK: What is your writing process?

Probably it begins with: observe. Without purpose. Becomes paper slips with words on them, written in my hand, accumulating in pockets and cedar bowls. At the most inopportune time comes the urge to unfold those paper bits, line them up like soldiers crawling from foxholes, cookies cooling on a baker’s rack. What is this? I ask. How or why these phrases written on the back of a coupon, across the headline news? The pups press against my legs. I turn the music off, open the back door. Find a blank page on my computer screen and wonder what is to become.

Now, we pass this list on to two of my favorite writers: Rose Hunter and Consuelo Saah Baehr. Both writers amaze me with their views on life, the way they can share in a few words what I can’t do at all. They both come at you without bopping you on the nose and if you are looking for another bit of life to explore, click on over to read them. They have been asked (or will be asked) these same questions as well and we hope to see their answers soon.

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.”




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