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Lost in Translation: Thoughts on Poetry After My Stroke

When I signed up for an MFA class on non-English poetry, I was concerned about how, with only a little high school Latin, French and Spanish, I would be able to understand poetry written in other languages.  Were we actually going to have to translate from languages with totally different linguistic structures? As a late, or more honestly, very late bloomer in academic poetry, I was still feeling my way through the language, rhythms, and forms that students, half my age and less, had already studied in their English coursework, whereas my college years only contained one English course (Shakespeare—probably my favorite undergraduate class), with the rest concentrated on science and mathematics.  Yet, this late-to-the-academic-poetry-table dilemma did not turn out to be my biggest challenge.  

On January 1, 2022, I suffered a stroke that erased names and dates, recent memory, enough of my vision to eliminate driving, and left me wondering what remained of me. 

Translation took on a whole new meaning. Language can define who we are.  Is the writer in Arabic aware of more thoughts or emotions because of the vastness and beauty of that language?  Are there emotions I could access if I only had the words to express them? Are linguistic groups predisposed to more positive or negative emotions based on their access to words to articulate them? Does the loss of function in the left brain cause the right hemisphere to gain dominance? 

How much of poetry is generated by the right brain in all its messiness and art and how much depends on the left brain’s ability to pull together the abstract and make that messiness cohere into something meaningful to another human being?

 Obviously, my old scientific left brain still has the questions, but just trying to make sense of thoughts that are escaping intellectual holding pens, wriggling and rushing off screaming in all directions, is new and frightening.  Was I a fraud?  Did I observe the beauty of right brain poetic art and then counterfeit it through the plodding, calculations of my left brain, or is much of the beauty and creativity of the right brain lost if not captured and controlled by the left brain? In reviewing the syllabus, perhaps my stroke provided a deeper, differently interpreted, version of the class purpose:

By the end of the semester, we will have built upon what we already know while challenging ourselves to write the foreign, the unfamiliar, with the hope of ultimately expanding the range of what we can say and how we say it.

It turned out, the semester for me was not so much “building upon,” because I lost a lot of that foundation of what I already knew. Although some of that “building upon” was still present, I was dealing more with the “foreign, the unfamiliar,” not because of an internal challenge, but more an external imperative from the internal brain.  

Perhaps I need to say that differently.  The change was internal, the lack of oxygen that killed neural pathways was in the brain, but it appeared to the I, the me, the ongoing person I perceive as myself, as an external change, a differentiation between persona and the physical stuff of the body.  I am not a philosophy student, but there is now a dichotomy between the thinking me and the thinking me.  On one hand, the thinking me one is wounded.  The thinking me one cannot remember names, or dates or, in some cases, recent events), yet the thinking me two can profoundly miss names, dates, and events, can look at the first thinking me as another entity and go about trying to write a poem only to find it is different, changed, because the thinking me one is wounded and ultimately inseparable from the thinking me two. 

I fear that the wounded me, the logical me, is doing a botched-up job of trying to explain the newness in this old head, but suffice it to say the translation of poetry, mine and others, during the semester took on greater significance than I envisioned in my pre-stroke imaginings.

That semester I immersed, bathed, luxuriated in poetry that was originally written in languages other than English.  I felt/saw/heard beauty in multiple translations of the same poem even as meaning wriggled through in different ways.  I have learned how the poetic sense of the translator can change understanding at intellectual and emotional levels through choice of words, to adherence or divergence from form, rhyme, rhythm, and how much those dimensions depend on the original form in the original language. This search for understanding is why I joined an MFA program late in life and that did not change with the rerouting in my brain, even as my perception and appreciation were different than they were six months earlier.

One serendipitous exercise that affected me profoundly came from Against Assimilation: A Workshop on Estranging Language, an online workshop I watched to report on for credit in the class.  In it, we wrote a short poem, translated it to another language through Google Translate, and then back into English.  In some cases, the words were the same.  In others, they did not make sense or gain any value for me in the returned English. But in the third case, they stretched beyond original meaning or caused me to wonder why I had not chosen those words originally since they seemed to fit better. Working with the richness of more than one language caused me to see the aesthetic shifts promised in the class syllabus.  

 One mechanism I had not really understood or appreciated from my class, and other classes, was erasure poems.  They felt like fun, a game, but seemed gimmicky, an imposition of mechanical overlay versus creativity.  

Then I became an erasure poem.  From the scans of my brain that showed large white areas where thought, or at least facts, used to hang out, to the necessity to work around thoughts and words that were no longer present, to my poems suddenly needing/requiring/demanding more white space, I now feel an intuitive appreciation, if not yet an intellectual one, for erasure poems. (But then the left brain is not quite so dominant as it used to be, so the battle may yet be won.) 

And then there is form.  It wasn’t until I started the MFA program, that I became enamored with more than the most simplistic forms.  My younger self liked end rhyme because that was how I was introduced to poetry. I was actually jolted by, and looked down on, slant and internal rhyme until I was reintroduced to Emily Dickenson.  

How much appreciation of poetry is learned?  How much is lost through the learning? How much regained? I recently found an old volume of Samuel Hoffenstein and remembered how much I loved his irreverent verse. Doggerel?  

 In the first few semesters of the MFA program, I learned about poetry forms I had never heard of or at least never recognized before.  What joy to create a poem within those rigid structures!  It felt like collecting random fireflies and bringing them together to create light—a concept that does not come from personal experience, but one I can imagine.  This was where my left brain could be its stodgy self and still come up with a poem that contained the ephemeral dancing silk scarves of the scattered right brain.  “Hold still and let me tack that scarf to that villanelle over there.” “That line needs to be tightened to fit this haiku lantern. Let’s just take a few syllables off that mountain.”

Of course, the course was most precious to me in the poems themselves.  How can I be so lucky, an old crone, so caught up in work and family that she spent a lifetime escorting premedical students through the dangerous shoals of medical school application without looking up to see the mountains and music of the world she hoped they would save?  Each introduction to a poet, to a poem, became the more precious as I finally, through force of a stroke, consented to view my mortality. I look around at other wrinkled beings and see stroke, heart attack, cancer. Even just realizing I am the old woman complaining about aches and pains, the old woman I swore I would never be, all these damn frailties folded into awareness, finally forces acknowledgement that there really is an end, one that could have happened anytime, but I had my fingers in my ears, my eyes on an oblong with buttons and blinking lights and shiny apps. Suddenly, finally, that teenage belief that I am invincible is crumbling and I can’t drive and I can’t climb up that mountain to look at a flower, and mirrors no longer accurately reflect the young, lithe, pretty being that is me. 

But there is poetry.  And there is still enough intellect and grey matter in both sides of the brain to appreciate and love and treasure it. And the left brain sees beauty in the organization and intricacy, the turning of pictures and vibrations into words, the words forming on the page in a dance with sounds and sight, to turn back into pictures in a different person’s brain–different, but still finding a common path, shared emotion, and the right brain dances and sings and cares not for form or intellect but somehow connects to others in its own way.

I am looking again at my course syllabus, the part that says, “recognize our own place within the literary tradition.”  Aye, there’s the rub.  Where do I fit?  I suppose a poet, more confident of their own worth, would say, “I am unique, I don’t need to fit neatly into your literary tradition.  I make my own tradition.” 

Yet, there is death again. Slouching against the wall, cigarette in hand, “Ya wanna be remembered? Folks are gonna need a way to fit you into a slot so teachers can say, ‘we are now going to study the blah blah poets.’  Don’t fit with the blah, blah poets?”  He pokes his bony figure at me and sneers, “Who’s gonna write a special section just for you?  Huh?” 

A poem I wrote not too long after the stroke, is probably a song.  Predictable rhyme, repetition, three quarter time, irreverent, probably irrelevant.  But it poured out and felt right and that’s when I felt the need to go find Samuel Hoffenstein.  My lost-its-hard-cover volume was published by the Modern Library so he wasn’t totally ignored (1954 edition with copyrights back to 1923) and damn it, I like his doggerel.

My place within the literary tradition illudes me. Rhyme, no rhyme?  Usually, some sort of musicality and rhythm but not always. And now the stroke has presented me with…ta da!  Holes!  Holes in my head– big spaces in my verse.  Is it better or worse? Damn! (Hits right hand with left.) Stop with the rhyme already.  And before the stroke I had so much fun with intricate structures—villanelle, haiku, sonnets.  Have they taken a powder or are they just lying low? (I tried and failed to remove this next line.)  And where did they go?

But what of the specific poems from that after-the-stroke semester?  I read them and cried because most expressed sorrow and pain and somehow, I have permission to cry when the pain is not mine. I have always cried at poems and stories when others held their tears back, but remained dry-eyed when the loss of spouses, parents, friends was too terrible to allow myself to cry because who knew if I would ever be able to stop?  Pain is where I (and I suspect many) come together with other poets. 

Aside: (Why do I flinch when I lump myself with poets? Why do I have trouble with the words, other poets? Why do I suspect myself and assume others question my right to call myself a poet?)  

I have suffered sadness and loss as has everyone else.  The difference I see is I usually couch my pain in terms of black humor.  Is that the coward’s way out?  Does it really make pain easier to bear?  Is it a way to not glance directly at the clarity that hurts my eyes?

And now I finally come to considering specific poems from that weird semester. To review I went to the modules online and discovered that although I read and reflected on all the poems throughout the semester, they were again new for me.  There is a special shiver on reading a poem for the first time and I went through, reading a poem here, one there–at first wondering how I missed so many.  But all of them?  Damn, the stroke reared its ugly head (er, head minus neurons.)   But now I relive the shivers, Milosz’s Child of Europe–how could anyone forget that?  Yet I shudder on first reading—first reading, I assume, again. Perhaps that one speaks first because there is a horrible irony, and I am a connoisseur of horrible irony. And Abani’s Aphasia.  “My language is dying…” I read this with the most personal assumptions, even as I cannot find the meaning of Uwa’m.  Then Well Meant—So simple, so ironic.  I write (less perfectly) this way. A fellow traveler, I hungrily devour more Abani and wonder how I could have forgotten it and wonder if I will forever read after-stroke poems for the first time.

So, in the spirit of a limping left brain, I find myself having written something I hope speaks to someone outside of my head. It is an adventure, finding this new me.  I will have to remember to develop a new system to remember to go to these poems again, to remember to remember to find new ways to write poetry by looking at translations as well as the volumes of before stroke, more familiar poems, that line my office.  I know I will find among the familiar tomes, little books of poetry whose authors I discovered after the stroke.  Will they always be new discoveries?  Again? And again?

No Hope

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”  Ah, I have lots of things with feathers outside.  Let’s call them birds. The showiest lately are the bright yellow and black hooded orioles who live in the palms on other folks’ property, but feed at the jelly feeders under my intense purple jacaranda tree.  Yellow and purple predominate with accents of red Baja Fairy Dusters and Island snapdragons and the local bright yellow daisies (every locality has some version of them), and then the glint of hummingbird’s throat, bright male lesser goldfinch, overcompensating for his name (who had the audacity to call him “lesser”?), his black cap, the red head and chest of the house finches, the tiny bushtits and kinglets and…

            But I’m putting this off.  I need to talk about yesterday.  Yesterday, after staying up too late to read Not all Boys are Blue because I have to judge for myself when a book is banned, yesterday, May gray, the purple majesty of Jacaranda, pretty in the mist, but the mist, dark and cold, the heaviness in my legs providing ample excuse to just sit, just do the latest game on the phone, blanket wrapped around me, arthritic fingers finding brief warmth in Tashi’s fur coat, mind winding around what-could-have-beens. So many what-could-have-beens. And unlike Emily’s avian hope, mine does ask a crumb of me.  “Get off your pity pot!  Plant a flower! Refill the feeders! Write dammit!”  

And something somewhere deep in me turns briefly, finds a way to lift one eyebrow, Me?  You don’t mean me, do you? And the eyebrow returns to the frown and the hands drop the phone back onto the couch and the tiny something inside turns the light back off and sinks into the ever-deepening tarpit. Let’s call it despair.

            “What a privileged lump of shit!”  

Oh, oh.  There’s judgement.  Not my favorite character. Judgement loves to use truth to turn the knife, cut deeper, add morality to the already deep mud, make sure I know it is all my fault.  All of it. 

“Ya didn’t have to get all mushy and fall in love with an abusive man—-shssssh, you should have known. Ya wasted nine years of that precious life of yours on the SOB and you still can’t get rid of thinking he might have changed, kept the good stuff and stopped with the booze and abuse. Ha! Those years of depression?  Hell, you’re still doing it you idiot!  Of course, you could get out of it if you really wanted to.  No excuses.  Just your sloth, your laziness, your inability to admit defeat and move on.  Yea, there ya go.  Great promise.  Gonna be a famous marine biologist, great writer, great poet. They all take work, baby.  That push you don’t have, sweetheart. Yea, go cry baby, you’ve always been a cry baby.  Didn’t get your way?  Well maybe if you sucked it up and worked a little harder…”

See what I mean?  I’ve got more self-loathing going on in that damn brain.  Why didn’t the stroke get rid of that instead of the neurons that keep me from driving? 

“Cuz then you’d run out of ways to feel sorry for yourself.  Couldn’t have that, could we? What if you couldn’t blame it on sickness or depression?  Huh? What if you had to admit that you are just a person.  Someone who’s gonna die just a little earlier that you planned.  And once you are dead, you are dead baby. Yeah, I know all that crap you push about living through your stories and poetry.  Pure crap.  Ain’t getting published now are ya?  And you ain’t no Emily Dickenson so don’t think it’s gonna happen in the future.  I’m on to ya, kid.  I don’t see you rushing to submit a lot of stuff.  You’re a sniveling little baby.  Get a rejection and you turn into some gelatinous mass of ‘poor me.’  I know you’ve read about papering walls with rejection slips and turning them back around to more places.  But you don’t, do you?  You think you are better than Stephen King?”

No, dammit.  But maybe secretly I want to be better than Stephen King. I think that is the basis of my loneliness.  Thinking, somehow, I could be better than Stephen King, or Emily, or Shakespeare or whatever brilliant writer I am reading lately.  Was that seed planted before birth or by gushing parents and teachers, oblivious to how I latched on and sucked deeply of their praise while classmates looked on in disgust.  Why couldn’t I be just a kid?  Why can’t I be just an eccentric old lady?  Why do I still want it all?  Am I kidding myself when that idiot in my brain insists somewhere out there there is an eccentric old man who would love to love me as we totter off into the sunset singing Bob Dylan and writing poems?  That some publisher will wander into some writing workshop (or zoom) and wax poetic about my eloquent short memoir pieces to his best buddy at the New Yorker?  That some rock star poet will introduce the pair of us—me and my eccentric poetic old man—to the world and we will travel that world reading our poems in every convention, pub, bookstore or in tiny resorts among pines or palms or Sahara sands? 

“You’ve lost it.  You’re nuts!  Go back on your damn pity pot. You ain’t that good and you definitely don’t have the drive!  What a bunch of malarky.  You had your chance–two husbands, college, writer parents, even a writing group that produced multiple books in spite of a pandemic.  Dammit, they had what it takes. You’ve blown every opportunity.  Just keep blaming it on everyone and everything else.  Look in the mirror, baby.  Damn laziness.  Damn self-doubt covered over by phony confidence. Oversized ego filled with hot air—you sure deflate easily don’tcha, ya big fake. Just keep on not submitting your damn work so you don’t have to feel rejected.  And while we’re at it, why the hell does it take deadlines and bulldozers to get you to write?  When you write you like it.  But getting you to sit down…?

Maybe I am ADD?

“Oh just shut up!  Just shut up!

Hope?   That thing with feathers? 

“I think Hope likes the crumbs better in someone else’s yard.” 

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)

Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Today–December 14, 2021

           Today, gusts of rain, finches lined up at the feeders, Allen’s Hummingbird guarding his nectar and looking a little out of season in his orange regalia.  I’m baking brownies, as much for the heat and heart of the oven as for the get-together later today with my writing friends.  It is almost the end of the second season of COVID19.  We’ve been through much of the Greek alphabet and are currently on Omicron—highly contagious, but we continue to hope, perhaps less virulent and the beginning of the end of the plague. 

            Earlier, Tashi and I scrambled to the neighborhood park—me shivering and encouraging an acceleration of her elimination routine—her attempting to humor me by running the half-hearted run of an eight-year-old dog who would prefer her cozy bed by the fireplace. 

            My outdoor decorations for Christmas this year are one half-lit reindeer and sad laser lights from three projectors that make the house and foliage sparkle red and green, one providing light-sourced Christmas trees that revolve slowly around the door.  I am 75, why chance osteoporotic disasters with ladders and tangled strings of lights?  Still, I wish I had already trimmed some pine branches and white sage to adorn the mantle and scent the house before this wild wet windstorm. Outside the giant Toyon, California Holly Berry, purported source of the name of our famous Hollywood has provided lush green foliage and bright red berries that also have not made it to the mantle.  This year, depending on the wind, they may not. 

            My indoor tree is a fake 2.5 foot Home Depot model with gold snowflakes and old dollar store poinsettias with white lights set up on a table in the front window so folks might think it is the top of a much bigger tree.  Maybe if the wind stops blowing icy rain I can stop for a fresh-cut or better, a living pine, the later to find its way to the planted-after-each-Christmas forest my son has established in his inner-city backyard.  They grow rapidly and even his small contribution must contribute to some breathable air.  I’ve written a page.  Alexa’s alarm and the scent of hot chocolatey brownies pull me up from my reverie at the computer.  I smile and find myself feeling a rare anticipatory happiness. I will soon be among friends.

A Little Southeast of Gnome

Here is a game should you choose to try it.

One day, my friend, Erin Tagan, gathered a group of Wild Women on Zoom and started out what sounded like a Mad Libs game. “Give me a place. Give me an article of apparel. Give my a kind of drink. Give me an emotion. Give me a Covid vaccine…”

With each request, we wrote our selection in the chat. Then she said, “Now use those word in a story.”

Here is my result. I wish I had kept the list, but I bet you can guess some of them. Sometimes you just have to be silly.

A Little Southeast of Gnome           

            Some things bring joy, others heartache, but to me silliness is the name of the game.  If I am at the beach, I may sculpt a statue of a bottle of cough syrup or perhaps a pig.  Then there was the day in Ensenada, sitting in a coffee shop when I found a gnome in the back of the shop, sitting in one of those little tents you buy for kids to set up in the living room.  I liked him immediately because he offered me the choice of red wine, a margarita, or Wild Turkey.  I took the wine but kept my other options open.  After that we were inseparable.  He took me sailing and then we went to the boardwalk and skated.  When we hiked to the top of Cowles Mountain, he taught me to yodel.  

            Now some of you might think it was a pain to pal around with a gnome, especially one who wore Hawaiian shirts, but I loved his sense of humor, and we could travel because I’d had the Moderna shots, and he had had both Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.

            Then came the night when he poured out his stale beer into my night-blooming jasmine.  I loved that plant. That night we asked Alexa to play three songs—My Blue HeavenHere Comes the SunBohemian Rhapsody. I whirled around him with my Wild Turkey, and sang at the top of my lungs

            It felt as crazy as crowd surfing at a concert, I was as high as a sky diver, and felt I could run through the traffic naked on the 5 freeway in LA.  

            The gnome looked so elegant in his purple tights, but he ditched them when we went to Black’s Beach.  Later that night, we threw popcorn at the screen in a movie theatre and finally ended up in a casino bar.  The floor was covered with sawdust that rubbed against my bare feet like oatmeal. Oh, we sang, we howled, as we rolled on the floor and brushed sawdust from our clothes. All night we sang and danced back on the beach, and he was most forgiving the next morning when I tripped over him on the way to find a bathroom.

Comments from Insight Timer From when I Started Writing them Down (Spring 2019?) until August 1, 2020

Good morning. Beautiful day. Will take Tashi to share at The poets’ bench in Balboa Park today. This week we admired the flowers on a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail


Sun between showers
Hummingbird flashes purple
Once more dark prevails

Yesterday there was a rainbow next to my alter. Morning light and the glass doors of a cabinet. Serendipitous morning beauty.Today, a little haze. Garden, a muted watercolor. Prayer flags unmoving . Today I will reward Tashi and me with a trip to Fiesta Island where she can run and I can stretch my legs and feel the sea, reward for writing last night after a dry spell. Then, perhaps, tonight I’ll write again, with gratitude.

The California poppies have sprung up in the paths and will get to stay because they’re delightful. Red mallow, Mountain lilac, Encelia, other natives are blooming and the garden is full of finches, towhees, a couple wrens, and of course, the hummers. Think I will sit a bit longer and enjoy the scent of orange blossoms.

Yesterday was in the 80s. I took Tashi with me to the poetry bench in Balboa park and she was a good sport sitting around as folks read their poetry. Today I will take her to Fiesta island to make up for it.


Unpredicted rain
Prayer flags send drops to the deck
Buddha sits serene

Damp after the rain
Tashi  sticks her head out door
Returns to warm bed

Ahhhhh. Enjoy the beauty. My rebellious poppies are blooming in the paths, not where they were sown. Birds serenaded my sit today

Rebellious poppies
Bloom on my garden path
not where they were sown

Time to meditate
Birds line up at the feeder
Strip prayer flags for nests

Sun’s bright energy
Highlights my garden below
Rain becomes flowers

Good earth dressed in spring
Butterflies dance to birdsong
Towhee tugs at string

4/21/19 (Easter) bombings in Sri Lanka churches and hotels 

Cold and blustery
Across world, death in churches
Our Mother Earth grieves

Yet in this morning
The hummer sips her nectar
Flowers bloom their hope


Baby finch parents
Start children on life of crime
Steal oriole’s jam

Ten word:

Crosses, bombs
Can we love
Our holy places
Respect others?

Embraced by the moon
Fluffy owlets’ golden eyes
Silent mom with mouse

Trying to get home
I stop to look at the sky
I’m already there

Become whole again
Each broken piece a lesson
In finding oneness

Wet, not really rain
Walk outside, scent of white sage
Cool May gray morning


Woke to bright sunlight
Settled in to meditate
Now dark clouds, wet deck

5/12/19. Mother’s Day 

Birds gathering food
Tiny baby wings flutter
Heart full memories 

Ten word poem

Day of memory
Tiny beings
Now parents
Circle of love


Monkey-mind morning
Thoughts ricochet off the walls
Dog dreams by window


We wait for the rain
Sit on the edge of the now
Shoes sit by the door

5/20/19 ( 10 word poem)

Wind whipped clouds
Sun struggles
Breaks out
Lights  luminous hummingbird


The morning is gray and soft, yet monkey mind found a way to bounce. 


Back from road trip to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California with Tashi. Grand kids and grand dogs in Colorado, Ghost Ranch and memories of Mom in New Mexico. Sacred places. Places of time. Mesas. Wildflowers. The road. 


Cool fog. Tattered prayer flags. Baby hawks try out their screams. 


Hummingbird at the feeder. Warm morning before the heat sets in. Last night, sunflower seed heads silhouetted against fiery sunset.


Just returned from driving to Denver, flying with my daughter to Tuscany and Umbria, driving back through Utah. The last night jolted me back to reality. Never try to save money by staying at a run down casino on the outskirts of Vegas. Now amid the detritus of the trip, I sit. Buddha has acquired dead leaves and dust but still sits serenely on the deck. My mind flicks back to Tuscan fields, stone monoliths. I sigh. Laundry awaits.

October 20

And today it will be October fire season hot. There is a tension and holding of breath. I stare out my window at tattered prayer flags and the Banyan tree that arrived mail order as a three inch seedling and is now over two feet beside meditating Buddha. Humming bird sips and chases the others. Fall is here. My bare feet are cold on the floor and the warm wool shawl comforts until the day warms. 

November 15, 2019

A little foggy after early morning sun. A slight chill. Southern California is attempting to say autumn

November 16, 2016

Dog’s bark summons me to the window. Two morning Monarchs dance upwards from the manzanita. Two teenage girls walk ahead of old woman with cane around our cul-de-sac. Oh I hope they saw the Monarchs, too. 

November 30, 2019

More rain than I’m used to, but we need it. Yard is green with fresh rain and a smaller species of hummingbird sits in the Baja Fairy Duster in the front yard. Dog sighs. Her walk today was too short. 

December 7

Today the only thing that would entice Tashi to go into the backyard (more than 9 hours since she was outside) was for me to put on full rain regalia and go downstairs with her during a break in the rain. I puttered, pulling a few weeds and planting a few succulents and soon realized she was back in the house. Sighhh. At least we walked Fiesta Island yesterday. Now, after meditation, the Buddha on my porch is meditating in the rain and I must rise and do the laundry. 


First glimpse after meditating:  Buddha sits on the wet deck by the living pine tree decorated by sunlit drops from last night’s rain. The house finches dominate the feeders, then startle and fly.  Bright yellow goldfinches swoop in to take their place. Napoleon hummingbird scolds and chases rivals from two feeders. The prayers flags hang heavy and tattered. I rise, ready to meet the day. 


Happy season of holidays, my meditation friend!


Sometimes I ease gratefully into meditation. Sometimes I get caught in monkey mind until I tell myself to untighten my shoulders, smile, go back to my breath. Sometime, as I did today, I find myself repeating: smile, shoulders, breath. Sometimes I ease gracefully, gratefully into meditation sometimes I do not.  That, too, is my practice. 


Today I must rise from the heaviness of lethargy and write to make a hole in the dark. Thanks for meditating with me.


Yesterday a Monarch bright with the newness of her emergence. A green chrysalis with a crown of gold perhaps nurturing her mate. Winter in San Diego. Will I, too, find courage to escape Into the sun?


Have missed a day here and there, but mostly still sit daily. Thank you for noticing. Today I am running to a weaving class in the desert. Thank you for the energy. I need it. Have a day of sunshine and beautiful clouds.

Be safe. Be well. Be snug and emerge with an incredible lightness, stronger for your ordeal.

That said, do not take it lightly. Do you have chicken soup friends? ( this coming from a vegetarian). If you have shortness of breath, get thee to a physician. Ok. I will stop being grandma.


I am hunkering down, plenty of stuff in the cupboard, a pen and an empty page that seems to remain empty. The orioles have returned and many more hummingbirds. A tiny cottontail in the front yard. My wise facade is evaporating as I obsess on Facebook, but I see the evil corporations becoming the overlords and can only hope  the small band of youth has divine slingshots. 

3/27 /2020.

Day 19:  Tashi (dog) and I are riding it out. I am fortunate to have a garden with fruit trees and have planted vegetables if it becomes a long haul. Showers last night, golden sun today. Be safe; be well. I watched a monarch caterpillar create its chrysalis in a beautiful succulent so am checking its progress daily. Sending safe virtual hugs, Barb

April 3, 2020

Today I will do Zumba on zoom with daughter-in-law and hope my grandkids photobomb. Tonight a Wonderful Jewish friend has invited me to a virtual shabbos. In between will be in between. May bitter fuel turn to oranges and honey. May you take a moment to see spring arriving all around you.


I think a lizard got the chrysalis—nature in action. This morning is cool and damp, but I filled the bird feeders yesterday and the morning is full of birdsong. Thanks for meditating with me. 


Circle of life. I think a lizard got my emerging Monarch. Today a bunny stood on a rock in my front yard and peered in at Tashi who was barking crazily. I feel lighter today. Turned in taxes at Postoffice. First time out in public. Back to my hermitage.


Meditated on the deck. Bird song. Hummingbirds. Orioles rattle. Wrapped in my Tibetan soft wool, I am grateful for the day. 


Today is day 77 of my self isolation and my granddaughter’s birthday. I bought her what she wanted, a Polaroid camera in line green. Her brother got a Bugatti model unbirthday present. My son’s family came over yesterday and we sat in the backyard in our masks and watched the Monarch butterflies. Today I must plant more milkweed as I counted over 30 caterpillars in the yard last night. The days are beautiful and my dog, Tashi, lets me hug her. 

May ( 2018 came up)  
Wet, not really rain
Walk outside, scent of white sage
Cool May gray morning

May 31, 2020

Today is cool. Birdsong comes in through the one open window. The tattered prayer flags lift slightly. Now a hummingbird arrives, checks around him for rivals, perches and drinks from the feeder. I am loathe to rise from my seat, but I will amble to the front window and peer out with Tashi at the white sage and globe mallow, Queen Jacaranda in her purple cloak over a purple carpet, the Monarchs and lizards, tiny bush tits and warblers. 


Birdsongs in cool fog of morning and mourning for our world. May love overcome hate.


It will be hot today. Windows open in early morning to be shaded over as heat creeps in. Tashi sits on an outdoor chair. Goldfinches cover the thistle feeder. Orioles made short work of the grape jelly. Today I found half an eggshell below the swallow nest. Nestlings must be growing. 

Thank you. Glad to have meditation friends during these times. Hunkered down for 95 days. 

June 14, 2020

Cool with lots of birdsong and Monarchs today. Tashi insisted we walk the backyard together. This morning she jumped on the bed to comfort me. Thanks for meditating with me.

My favorite birds change daily. I love the little goldfinches, especially the young ones who flutter their wings and insist on being fed as they sit on the feeder. The hooded orioles come for the grape jelly and they are deep yellow and black and very shy. In the undergrowth I have fluffy brown towhees. The hummingbirds are a bit too belligerent but they sparkle. Even their poop is gold. Then there are the little brown bush tots who come for the sage seed. And the wren I’ve seen once or twice in the front yard. We have bluebirds in the neighborhood but I rarely see them. When I am at retreats, the blue jays sit on my head and eat out of my hands and, unlike my neighbors, I see the crows as wise friend


Today,  74 years on this earth. More and more I hurt when it hurts and sing when it sings.

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6/21/2020. Yesterday my wonderful son put on a hazmat- type suit so I could get my first hug in over 100 days. ? We also had ice cream on opposite ends of an 8 foot table. 


Today Tashi’s  incessant barks caused me to pause my meditation with five minutes left. Through our front window Tashi and I watched a mother and two children begin their silly walks in front of our house where the sign said “ Commence Silly Walking.”  What makes a grin feel so good? Or what makes someone feel so good they can’t stop grinning through the rest of meditation? ( Google: Ministry of silly walks)


Today my WeCroak app had a quote that said something like “ every day I wake up not dead is a good day”. Before I started meditating, I filled the jelly feeder for the orioles and made sure the thistlefood was full for the finches and the nectar for the hummers. So far, the wind is blowing the right way so the smoke from the burning ship is not filling the house. The morning is cool.  My little Bodhi tree has fresh new leaves. 


Today an awkward oriole in full male color, missed a too little branch by the vegetable garden, looked around to see who noticed and flew into the Palo Verde tree where he became invisible. I think my baby orioles have become adolescents. 

August 1, 2020

Today I meditated on the deck amid calls of hummingbirds, goldfinches, and orioles. No early zoom meetings, I had awakened gradually this morning, aware of cool sheets and pillows. Tashi jumped on the bed and I lazily stroked her ears. Now I sit, my Tibetan blanket snug against a cool breeze, not yet willing to go back in the house to start my day



Covid Calling


Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico

I hang up the phone. No, I push the button to disconnect from a WhatsApp-face-to-face chat with my energetic, New-York-pushy friend, Janice. She has issued a demand that I write and she will check back with me at five pm.

It is after one pm, day fourteen of my hunker down.  This should be a perfect time for a writer to write, right?

I don’t write.

I have become one with the reclined seat of my plain brown-cloth couch, one with the iPhone, scrolling, liking, reposting, anything to think about anything but this plague. Except I think of it continually.  I make dark jokes, post dark memes, laugh with Randy Rainbow’s social distancing, make fun of our ineffectual president, growl at the woman on Facebook filling her truck with huge cardboard boxes of toilet paper from a small rural store.  She  proudly proclaims herself a Trump fan as she yells ‘fuck you’ at the person using a cell phone to record her, a person who will not be able to buy toilet paper for herself and her family but who will get a million likes on Facebook.

I have tried to write for fourteen days and only succeeded in writing one small story to a prompt on Zoom for my now-on-line Thursday Writers group.  A week ago, I didn’t know what Zoom was.  Now I have used it to talk to friends and strangers on my phone or desktop computer at least six times—my memoir group, my daughter-in-law’s Zumba class in her living room, where my grandkids photo-bomb as I attempt to follow without all the leaps and jumps.

I am still tired, but I keep moving, even as the couch calls.

Last night, a post on Facebook from a group of poets I didn’t know in the flesh posted a practice Zoom in preparation for an on-line poetry reading and I tuned in.  There were six of us, they all knew each other, but graciously allowed me to read a poem.  It was probably a downer for them—fear, dementia, death—not exactly the upbeat stuff we need during this time of Covid.

As I relinquish my warm seat on the couch, I panic once again. I have been sitting still, but I feel out of breath, my heart squeezing blood faster, panic attack. Do I imagine I am lightheaded?  I start some tea, run to the bathroom so I won’t be interrupted later, check to be sure I fed the dog, stare at the hummingbirds and orioles outside the back window and the monarch butterflies out the front. I switch on the computer, walk back to the kitchen for the tea, sit down.  My fingers are cold, stiff, achy, but I write, “I hang up the phone.”  Now the dog barks and my chair scrapes the floor as I rush to check for deliveries.  No, just a couple teenagers walking their dog. I wonder if they walk their dog in their pajamas as I do.  No one knows we do if we put on a jacket and shoes.

Back at the computer, I decide my phone needs charging and plug it in. By now my tea is lukewarm. I realize I forgot to add lemon but stop in a mid-reflex jump to flee to the kitchen.  What the hell is this?  I hug myself, hands on opposite shoulders and realize it is a common impulse now. When did I start doing that?  Am I providing my own human touch?  It’s not exactly a warm hug. Besides, I do get some other tactile comfort. Tashi snuggles against me at night and during the day I feel content as my fingers sink into the soft deep fur around her neck or between her Yoda ears.

I think about the Covid-19 virus, how it has changed me, us, how it has uncovered the fear of death I thought I had overcome.

Ten years agoI watched my husband die.  He had Parkinson’s Disease, but his death was from pneumonia.  I have heard pneumonia is like the torture waterboarding, panic, lungs filling up, no room for breath. I block the scene from his hospital room from my mind

I remember late April of 2009.  My husband was still alive, his father was still alive, my mother was still alive, her husband was still alive, my best friend was still alive, my old dog was still alive. My father had died gently, calmly, lucidly two years before and his death was my pattern for what death would be like.  I could live with that.

Back to that April eleven years ago.  Spring had brought softness and delicious scents to the yard.  The Jacaranda that provides my purple rain was just beginning to bloom, the hummingbirds were briefly sharing the feeders they fought over the rest of the year, lavender blossoms hosted bees and butterflies, the weeds would have to be dealt with, but for now they only added to the green chloro-phylled world. I would be attending a meeting of premedical advisors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my parents’ childhood state.  I had a caregiver for my husband.  I would travel to Upaya Zen Monastery, spend a couple days in quiet meditation, then go to the meeting where creative professors from the University of New Mexico would be teaching a few workshops that were not directly related to guiding undergrads towards medical school.  Then, back to the Monastery to use as a home base for trips to Taos, Chama, and to discover my mother’s roots in the tiny town of Dulce in Northern New Mexico.  I looked forward to a break from my husband’s care and to return refreshed and ready to instill my newly acquired wisdom in my future doctors and dentists at the university.

Two nights before I was supposed to leave, Mom’s husband, my small, but energetic stepfather, Dick, called.  He and Mom had been out dancing and Mom had fallen and broken her hip.  The ambulance had taken them to a well-respected hospital, but the ER was full because of the H1N1 flu epidemic so they had been rerouted to one that was not as well respected. Now, five hours later, Mom was resting in the hospital bed and he finally remembered to call me.  The nurses had brought him a reclining chair and he would sleep there.  I would have to wait until the next morning to visit.  I called my brother who would come after school the next day on the start of his vacation as a teacher on year-round school.

Mom was confused when I visited, but the doctors assured me it was just the pain medicines.  My brother Bill and Dick and I had to take turns visiting her tiny rooms and I was surprised that the surgeon would be doing her hip replacement that night.  When it was my turn to be out in the hall, I watched nurses and physicians in full masks and gloves carefully enter the closed door next to Mom’s room and wondered if they were the same nurses who came to Mom.  When Bill and Dick assured me they could handle everything and I should go to my conference, I rescheduled my motel in Flagstaff and the monastery in Santa Fe for a day later so I could stay until after the surgery.

That night I stood by Mom’s bed with Dick during her preop.  Mom was still fuzzy-headed and proclaimed with delight that the nurses had donned their blue head coverings to celebrate her birthday.  Dick looked tired but laughed and joked with her.  When she was back in her room, I tiptoed out, confident she was in good hands and I looked forward to my drive to New Mexico.

There is something about New Mexico that pulls me.  I was born there and have only been back a few times, yet the dry air, the mesas, red, black, and stark white rocks, juniper, pinon pines and sudden storms welcome me.  There is peace in the deepest blue of the sky. Clouds are whiter, more massive, and more alive than they are anyplace else.  New Mexico is a prehistoric shaman and I must pay homage. New Mexico is Georgia O’Keefe and D.H Lawrence, and my grandfather’s secrets.  In Dulce, New Mexico, my conference over, I met an ancient Jicarilla Apache woman who jumped in my tiny Honda and piloted me on rutted dirt roads to Horse Lake, Apache summer sporting grounds, bald eagles dancing above a lightening-ravaged pine. In New Mexico I was suspended without time.

Until I wasn’t.  My brother Bill called to say my mother had been moved to a convalescent home, that Dick had slept on the floor by her bed, and now he was sick and had to stay away from her. Dick had driven himself to the Emergency room at the hospital closest to their rural cottage on a Monday but had been told he did not have H1N1 and was sent home.

“Did you notify Dick’s family?” I asked

“No, I didn’t think of it.”

“Well, dammit, call them.”

It’s usually Bill who yells out in anger, but being wrenched out of a reverie, I felt an almost physical pain from the wrenching as I filled my car with gas and headed west. I would normally stop to admire the stark beauty of the mystic rock formations along the highway and the plants and animals that share their land, but with my car loaded with chips and drinks from the gas station, I watched for cops and drove as fast as I could.

By the time I got home, Dick had gone to the local family doctor on Wednesday and loaded up on antibiotics, but he was still alone and I knew Bill and I needed to concentrate on Mom who still seemed confused and did not react to the pictures on my laptop of her beloved New Mexico.  I called one of Dick’s sons who promised to come on the weekend, and I surprised myself when I told him he better “get the hell down here, now.”  The next day, Thursday, Dick’s son drove him back to the ER, but he was already shutting down. They kept him alive long enough for us to bring Mom from the nursing home to ICU.  I don’t know if she knew why she was there or if she recognized the person in front of her with tubes sticking out of his body, but we told her to say goodbye and she did.

Dick died two weeks after Mom broke her hip. Dick’s doctor told me later, Dick probably died from H1N1, but the hospitals were trying to keep the numbers low.  His death certificate read, “natural causes.” He was eight years older than I am today.

Covid-19 strikes the oldest the hardest. I sit at home alone, isolated with my dog and remember Dick in the ICU, the tubes, the sounds of a machine breathing for him. I wonder if his death was like waterboard torture.  I don’t know why I didn’t fear H1N1 then, but I fear Covid-19 now.  Perhaps I have become more aware of death as it whispers its coming in my dull ears, hints of its nearness in my blurred vision, my aching hands. Or perhaps I can only acknowledge a certain number of deaths before I can no longer bear its inevitability, its hideous expressions, its finality.  Perhaps I harbor a superstition that if I don’t write, don’t get out what I need to say, I can’t die.

I stay at home, hug the dog, wash my hands and wonder how spring and death can arrive together holding hands.


Thursday, April 2, 2020–Day 25 of Hunkering Down


     After twenty-five days of sheltering at home, I wake as usual, when light crawls in around the draped sliding-glass door.  Half-asleep, I remember the trip to Penny’s, probably thirty years ago, to buy those drapes with my now late husband. I close my eyes and recall the compromise he sold me: by buying a set that included the same pattern on everything, sheets, shams, towels, even a strip of wallpaper along the ceiling, we could conclude the trip quicker and get out of there.  We often conducted these reversed-gender-stereotype trips this way as he loved to shop and I hated it, but it was our new home and we had agreed to make decorating decisions together.
     I doze again briefly until my left hand under the pillow moves in a dream and conducts a scratchy rumble to my good ear I cannot ignore. On the foot of the bed, Tashi sighs.  Sometime during the night, she has joined me and now sleeps upside down, four legs in the air.  One ear pops up as I reach for my cell phone.  As I contemplate my morning ritual, I wonder how I can be so compulsive in some ways and so uncaring in others.  The morning ritual must be completed, but two loads of laundry sit in the baskets below the bed and implore me for days to hang or fold them.  When I can find no other excuse for my inconsistencies, I pull up the old Gemini ruse—compulsive but disorderly, introverted extrovert, the one who loves to garden, write, read, but who never seems to find the time to pull the weeds that grow among the flourishing pea vines, to read the books piled precipitously next to the bed, to observe the admonishment to WRITE DAMMIT on my daily calendar.
     I swipe the Sleep Cycle app up to reveal three faces: sad, neutral, happy, and to my surprise I poke the happy face.  I’ve probably done that five times in the last ten years.  Usually I press neutral with the occasional sad face when I am sick or sick at heart. Now the app demands I press my finger against the camera light as it checks my pulse, around fifty-five, pretty consistent.  I click on the long list of factors that might be relevant to sleep that the app correlates for me.  I’ve indicated most of them last night:  four ounces of wine, my usual herbs, no late events.  I turn to the morning ones: stomach acid, no; night sweats, heart racing and sense of foreboding, yes.  So why did I punch the happy face today—perhaps a happy dream just before I woke up or maybe my view of upside down Tashi as I awoke?
     Next I record the hours slept from my sleep app into the Heart Study app.  I’ve slept more lately, sometimes over nine hours, since I don’t have to go anywhere, but last night I read late after setting and the sleep app is all-knowing so it recorded only seven hours and fifty-six minutes. The Heart Study app wants to know if I did any exercise not recorded by my electronic devices and since I did Zumba on Zoom with my daughter-in-law from her living room with the grandkids delightfully photobombing yesterday, I add forty-five minutes of dance–moderate. (I don’t jump with these bones and hips.)
     Now I turn to the Pulse-Oximeter, also an app, again place my finger over the light on my phone.  It bombs the first time, and I try again. Good, ninety-nine.  It went down to ninety-four earlier in the week until I returned to putting eucalyptus oil in the diffuser.
     I feel guilty keeping Tashi inside so long.  I look over as one eye looks back, her feet come down, she rolls over, another look, turns around three times and sticks her backside toward me.  I notice dog hair collecting on the gold comforter. I guess I need to run it in the washer sanitary cycle, again.  Maybe tomorrow?
     I read poetry and essays from Vox Populi in my email and post them on Facebook.  This morning it appears I am already friends of the poet, so I send her a private message with my appreciation.  The essayist does not appear when I search for her name.  Then I post another poem, this time from Rattle, and delete the one that bores me from Paris Review.
     My bladder is beginning to taunt me, but I check out The Guardian, and post an article on Covid in Italy.  I was there in October, no Covid-19, just sharing sun and cypress and vineyards with my daughter.  I wonder about the woman who taught us to cook in her country garlic-scented kitchen and fed us by the garden with home-grown tomatoes. I worry about the winemakers and olive oil pressers, the folks at the farm with the truffle-sniffing dogs and the huge white dogs that tended the sheep.   My daughter loved those dogs and became almost as upset as if it were her children she must leave behind on those green hills.  I picture the lazy pig who slept under the barbeque and the cellar with cheeses and olives and almost drift off again.
     I return to the phone, delete political ads and emails from organizations I left behind when I retired but am loath to sever that final connection.  Now I check the clock and roll reluctantly out from under the dog-furred comforter.  I run to relieve my bladder as Tashi jumps onto the wood floor.  It’s a high bed and I hear her come down hard, but I haven’t been able to get her to jump out on the other side on the rarely used dog bed or Mom’s small pink Chinese rug.  In the family room, I open Tashi’s doggie door and she slowly walks out, pauses at the top of the stairs as a flash of scarlet and green hummingbird divebombs and chastises her in its loud high voice.  The finches ignore her, the hooded oriole takes off from the jelly feeder. She finally, reluctantly, saunters down the stairs.
     Why do I feel so guilty in the morning, lying in bed with the phone instead of letting her out? If it is raining, she won’t go out at all unless I become Paddington Bear in my London Fog raincoat and hat and walk with her downstairs. Then I stand at the bottom, block the stairs, dripping and cold until I’m sure she has done her business.  I have only to stand aside and she suddenly has the energy of a pup as she darts past me into the doggie door to the hall to dry off on the Tibetan rugs.
     The morning is moving forward and I reduce the Insight Timer app from thirty minutes to ten, sit on the straight backed dining room chair in front of my altar (I gave up sitting cross-legged on a cushion years ago), black pillow in the small of my back, Tibetan wool shawl with the red, not the purple side out, listen to the bell that ends the twenty-second countdown to start.  I breathe in and out and count one in my head, in and out, two… I make it to ten and start over.  I notice my shoulders are tight, relax them, smile, start counting at one because I’ve lost track, mull over some memory fragment, find myself at seventeen in my count and start over at one once more. Shoulders, smile, thoughts, recognize them, let them go, count.
     Deep sonorous electronic singing bowls ring three times to end the session.  I bow to Avalokiteshvara on my altar, the large Triton’s Trumpet seashell, the silver tipped conch, the prayer wheel, unlit incense, Terra, sword-bearing Manjushri, bald, childlike Jizo, rocks and trinkets from my trip to Tibet.
     On my app, meditation friends from all over the world appear.  I’ve met only two in person:  John, the physician from north county whose home used to provide a monthly meditation amid the lemon and orange trees, and a Buddhist monk from South Pasadena who once walked Fiesta Island with Tashi and me when he came to San Diego to visit the Zen Centers.
     Then there is Chuck whose avatar is a picture of him riding a plush pink unicorn in the freezer section of the supermarket.  He has a red beard and I have recently learned he is a contractor in San Diego. He always writes hopefully and poetically when he thanks me for meditating with him and I look forward to his upbeat, far-out comments.
      Then there is my friend in Phoenix who quotes Rumi, the guru from Florida, the veterinarian in Northern California with the blind dog.  They are why I keep going back to meditation even when the flesh and spirit are weak.
      After meditation, I make my morning sludge with various non-psychedelic mushrooms, herbs, cocoa powder, turmeric, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, honey, hot water.  The cocoa covers all of the taste and sometimes I add coconut milk.   A few days ago I finally scored eggs from my CSA delivery just before I ran out, so I crack two into the pan. They are so small I wonder if they are from Banty chickens.  The first day I opened the cartoon, two days after they were delivered, one egg was missing, perhaps related to the smashed shell and yolk on my porch.  I had looked up in the eaves several times trying to find the nest that had suffered such a casualty.  The missing egg caused me to look through the other three dozen where I located three cracked ones and ground them down the garbage disposal.  I’m not taking chances when food poisoning could take me to the Covid-packed ER.
     I walk outside to take a picture of the Monarch chrysalis in my aeonium.  It is still St. Patrick green, but it has been longer than ten days and I wonder if the rain and cold weather are holding it back.  The longer it stays there, close to the ground, the greater chance another two, four, six, or eight-legged beast might find it.
     As I take vitamins and sip my sludge, Tashi announces a delivery truck. I instruct the unmasked driver to place the packages on the step, wait until he leaves, spray them with my only can of Lysol, coat my hands with sanitizer to hold the scissors to cut the cardboard, spray the contents, place the boxes outside to the left of the steps, leave the contents inside the doorway with other assorted supplements, gluten-free flours, and some plastic thingamajiggers that are supposed to collect dog hair in the dryer.  Then I will wait a few days before I put them away.
     I fall into Facebook and the day disappears.  After dinner, I pour exactly four ounces of red wine and call a poet friend on Facebook Messenger who pours herself a not-so-measured glass of white.  She shows me the effects button at the bottom of my screen and we end up wearing bunny ears and cool hats or looking like aliens and giggling.  I haven’t done anything so deliciously idiotic for forty-five years and it feels soooooo fine.
     Then the carbon monoxide alert goes off, so I end the call and replace the battery and the alarm goes off again. After I open windows and doors to the cold, I call SDG&E.  The guy on the phone quizzes me excessively on whether I have been sick or exposed to the virus, so I quiz him just as excessively on what his service person will do to protect my health.  He tells me to unlock the door now in case I pass out since they do not want to have to break down my door. The service person arrives quickly in gloves and mask and tells me if I were sick he would have to be accompanied by a supervisor with both of them in hazmat suits.  I stifle any coughs from my allergies as he checks the fireplace, the stove, the heater, the water heater, the dryer.  Everything is fine and, of course, the carbon monoxide meter stays off.
     After he leaves around 9:30 pm, I am restless, so I spend more time on Facebook and don’t prepare for bed until almost 11:00.  I have just brushed my teeth when Tashi barks urgently and the Ring Doorbell and Alexa tell me “there is motion at the front door.”  I peer through the glass by the door and find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with a wild-eyed man, dark full beard, what looks like a headband, a large quilt over his shoulders. When he sees me, he backs off and I notice to my horror, that the door is still unlocked for the SDG&E man.  I lock it quickly and stare out the window again as he makes a big display of looking around. He appears to suddenly see the empty boxes waiting to de-virus in the morning sun, and points to one as if to ask for it.  I nod, he leaves, and I turn off the porch light I had left on earlier.  I check the video on my phone taken by the camera on my Ring Doorbell and relive the moment again. My late-night visitor looks high, but I decide not to call the cops.  Now that my door is locked, I worry about how the cops might handle him. I almost change my mind as he leaves.  When the quilt slips off his shoulders it reveals something long and black (a crowbar? a gun?).
     The next morning, I will send the video to my neighbors who chastise me for not calling the cops. They will find the box from my house discarded two doors down. They won’t understand why I didn’t call the police, so I’ll just say I was too nervous.  Then one of them will send the video to the Neighborhood Watch and tells me to call the cops now.  I do, but am chewed out for calling late since now they can’t do anything.  Later someone writes on the neighborhood watch app that the man’s name is Sean.  Evidently, his parents used to live in the neighborhood but died and he scouts for deliveries and takes items from construction sites.  He’s been arrested several times and is a source of much discussion in our residential, usually-no-homeless-people neighborhood.  I will decide from now on to double check the lock on the door.
     But tonight, it is even later, my restlessness more rampant.  I check Facebook again where someone posts a link to a movie of Poe’s Mask of the Red Death.

I click on it.


What I Fear Most

What I fear most
is a lack of collaboration
mind, body,
spirit, if it exists,
bowing out at different times

Dad did it right
sang to me
the day before he died
mind still clear
walked and talked
and only lay down
to give us a heads up
it was time to say
so long

I fear being unable to
walk or talk
when my mind is sharp
unable to say,
I love you
Take care of each other
Feed the dog
Think I’ll die now

Or worse
fogged forgetfulness
to grieve my missing mind
not knowing if the person who says
“I love you, Mom,” is really my child
or an imposter
To strike out in anger and frustration
at visitors who don’t want to be there
or the caregiver who changes my diaper

I fear wanting to die and being kept alive
I fear lingering until friends and family
hate themselves for contemplating murder
I fear there will be no compassionate partner
to pull the plug

What I fear most
is a lack of collaboration.


First published in Chachalaca Review


He Called Them Animals


Black dog
wiggles her feet in the air
snuggles her nose
against my naked arm
soft animal with kind brown eyes

Halloween hued butterflies
whirl and rise
animals whose beauty
enchants my eyes

His obscene mouth
calls humans animals
belittles both
provides permission
for the mean kick
permission to regard

person as pest














Published in San Diego Poetry Annual 2018-19



5/16/19 Haiku

We wait for the rain

Sit on the edge of the now

Shoes sit by the door