“We could not sew a sun”

It is Sunday morning, and I have only a few pesos, my iPhone, and the keys to the posada in my pocket. After an hour of walking in Llano Park, I decide that I am not done strolling, and so I wander while considering a list of places I haven’t visited recently. The Textile Museum rises to the top. I have high expectations from my last few visits.

I arrive as they open; there is only one other visitor in the whole place. She is a different kind of tourist than I. She has studied and planned for what she will see; moving slowly, she carries a list and a notebook into which she scribbles furiously.

My experience is affected by her palpable judgment for my lack of preparation, for how swiftly I pass some of the (important) pieces, for how aimlessly I seem to linger over (stirring) others. I want to suggest that we, like divorced parents, try to share custody without animosity; instead, I decide to view the exhibit out of order to avoid a showdown.

Now alone in the main gallery, I want to whoop as I come across a particularly breathtaking quilt, each square of it stuns with simplicity. Though it is composed of coloring book clean images, it reminds me of a primer I had for learning penmanship that depicted flawless lines and graceful curves.

I cannot deny that I feel impotent in the presence of all of this beauty; I admit that the other visitor was right. I have neither the materials nor the skills to devour this show.

From The Art Room

–Shara McCallum

for my sisters

Because we did not have threads
of turquoise, silver, and gold,
we could not sew a sun nor sky.
And our hands became balls of fire.
And our arms spread open like wings.

Read the rest at: http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poems-and-performance/poems/detail/51771

  • Acting teacher F. Jo Murdoch points out: Bette Davis always had something in her hand: a cigarette, a cup of coffee, so her character’s feelings were depicted in her physical actions. Communicate emotion through physical actions, interaction with another person, or deficit as in McCallum’s piece.

Hola, Gatito or Hello, Kitty?


Do you talk to the cat in Spanish? She has lived her whole life in a sunny garden in Oaxaca.

She is accustomed to tourists. Do you whisper to her in English?

What are you talking to the cat for anyway? I mean, what do you have to discuss? You probably shouldn’t broach politics or religion–even if that is what she seems to want to chit-chat about.

Certainly don’t mention Flaco, your dog friend in the park or the two felines you left at home. There’s no need to discuss plans for the weekend, progress on that writing project, what you like most about visiting her residence; these are all trivia.

Clearly, she agrees the weather is splendid and her coat is exquisite; words would be redundant.

Why waste a sentence when you can tell her how much you love her with a firm stroke from her ears to her tail?

A Little Language

–Robert Duncan

I know a little language of my cat, though Dante says
that animals have no need of speech and Nature
abhors the superfluous. My cat is fluent. He
converses when he wants with me. To speak

is natural. And whales and wolves I’ve heard
in choral soundings of the sea and air
know harmony and have an eloquence that stirs
my mind and heart—they touch the soul. Here

Dante’s religion that would set Man apart
damns the effluence of our life from us
to build therein its powerhouse.

It’s in his animal communication Man is
true, immediate, and
in immediacy, Man is all animal.

Read more at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46322

Listen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dIAqmJREMU

  • What do you or a character talk to the cat (or another animal) about? Why? Try out dialogue/monologue using this as a device.


Celebrating St. Carmen’s Birthday with an Awful Choir


I enter the church to what sounds like a tired monster karaoking to a song about God being before our eyes. It is a deep voice that, without the raspy, husky edge, could be warm.

The guy sending off the fireworks to get the tardy sinners to church peeks in the side door; despite hearing no pause in the singing, he elects to send off five more explosions into the dawn.

The hoarse voice instigates another song that goes something like Buenos Dias, paloma blanca/ Good morning, white dove. A younger voice joins in, a more human one, but this voice has problems with the micas he leads us in a round of Viva Carnens!

This is the worst choir I have ever heard. And I was in Mr. Tomlinsin’s choir when he told us we sounded like a truck with four flat tires flapping down the road.

The priest welcoming us is undeniably the creature whose exhausted voice drowns out the rest. I decide that maybe he’s just excited about being at the saint’s birthday celebration.

If I’m translating correctly, he just said that we can shout out requests for the choir, since it’s a day of celebration.

Next, there is an open mic session where people speak to Carmen. They ask for peace for the world and for Oaxaca and for all of the Oaxacans in these difficult times.

“Santa Maria” is the next song.

The sky outside is lightening from charcoal to the dense blue that surrounds the sun or accompanies a flickering flame.

A woman hangs a banner that says: Te Suplicamos Madre de la Misericordia/We supplicate to you, Mother of Mercy. It is crooked, and three people conspicuously struggle to rearrange it. It takes an Adrian Monk from the pews to get the job done.

A large dark butterfly flies in, capturing our attention not only because It is as large as a bat.

The swinging incense carrier makes the sound of drumsticks struck together. I wait patiently for this place to break into a flash mob. It does not. The sweet scent makes me hungry.

Creemos en ella y tambien confia en nosotros/We believe in her and she trusts in us. This is the heart of the sermon that resonates above the din of our stomachs which growl back at the choir as if it part of the morning’s call and response.


Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

–Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least —
I’m going, all along.

  • I am a foreigner to Spanish, in Oaxaca, and in the Catholic church. Most days the differences are magical and result in all sorts of learning and understanding and lingering wonder and delight. Approximately one thirtieth of the the time, being a foreigner is excruciating, practically unbearable. Drill into the ecstasy or misery–whichever is harder.

Forgetting Zebras

In English class in Tlacochahuaya, we play games to practice spontaneous use of phrases and questions to prepare for the impromptu nature of conversations.

This week, to practice the questions: Do I have two legs? Am I brown?  Do I have wings? Do I live in Oaxaca? we played Headbandz (without the headband and with Post Its stuck to our foreheads).

We reviewed interrogative words and the key vocabulary–related to animals and colors and numbers and body parts–before getting started. Though they have the “answers” and questions written in their notebooks, I encourage them to try to play without their notes.

To keep things fun and light, if someone seems to be struggling, we will offer hints. But the hints are only allowed in English; no mooing or barking or clucking–and no Spanish–allowed.

Sometimes, despite the hints and our notes and some more hints, the answer evades us, and the group’s impatience leads to a sense of nervousness that quickly cascades t0 hilarity.

The word for zebra is cebra in Spanish; they sound similar. When one student knew the animal on his forehead had four legs and a mane (melena) and was black and white, all he could conclude was horse and horse several additional times.

After the hint of stripes was hooted out, he conjured: horse. He reiterated horse as a chorus of his peers insisted: the animal lives in Africa.

He insisted horse even as a frustrated peer desperately whispered cebra and another suggested he scan his notes.

We all laughed as he, at last, snatched the blue note from his head and giggled out: zebra.

From Don’t Think About a Zebra

–Kenn Nesbitt

Don’t think about a zebra
no matter what you do,
for, if you ever think of one,
then soon you’ll think of two.

And, after that, you’ll think of three.
And then you’ll think of four.
Then five or six or seven zebras.
Maybe even more.

And then you’ll think of zebra herds
stampeding down the street,
and zebras wearing tutus,
disco-dancing to a beat.

Read the rest at: http://www.poetry4kids.com/poem-746.html#.V6f2VyMrI9c

  • Richard Hugo, in The Triggering Town (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/essays/detail/69402), uses the description of a silo “filled with chorus girls and grain.” Hugo emphasizes the need for knowns and unknowns to both ground us and stimulate the imagination. The zebra is a chorus girl as are so many of the other elements of the language learning experience. Inject some zebras into your writing.

Everything’s a Show

It is Friday morning. I’m in bed; there’s a knock at the door. I say: “yes” though I mean: “Si,” and, before I can correct myself, three’s another, more desperate, knock.

It is Mari. She has seven people who don’t speak Spanish and want three or four rooms and are a day late and two more people are arriving later. And, they’re not sure if they’re too tired or too hungry or if they’re paying in pesos or dollars.

I want to say: time out. There are so many of them, and they are noisy and it’s early and they want scissors and pans and directions and to know where to get breakfast. (I will soon be giving them a small tour of the neighborhood.)

They want to know why I’m here and if I’ll be here every day with them to translate, and Mari is still totaling their bill, and I am still in my pajamas, delighting in the extemporaneous show delivered to my doorstep.

A Journey

–Edward Field

When he got up that morning everything was different:

He enjoyed the bright spring day

But he did not realize it exactly, he just enjoyed it.


And walking down the street to the railroad station

Past magnolia trees with dying flowers like old socks

It was a long time since he had breathed so simply.


Tears filled his eyes and it felt good

But he held them back

Because men didn’t walk around crying in that town.


Waiting on the platform at the station

The fear came over him of something terrible about to happen:

The train was late and he recited the alphabet to keep hold.


And in its time it came screeching in

And as it went on making its usual stops,

People coming and going, telephone poles passing,


He hid his head behind a newspaper

No longer able to hold back the sobs, and willed his eyes

To follow the rational weavings of the seat fabric.


He didn’t do anything violent as he had imagined.

He cried for a long time, but when he finally quieted down

A place in him that had been closed like a fist was open,


And at the end of the ride he stood up and got off that train:

And through the streets and in all the places he lived in later on

He walked, himself at last, a man among men,

With such radiance that everyone looked up and wondered.


From “A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry,” edited by Czeslaw Milosz (Harcourt Brace: 320 pp., $26)


Five Ways I Lack Courage

  1. There’s a stall in the Friday market in Llano Park where women get their eyebrows pruned, where some get a spare pair of eyelashes installed, or new fingernails, or a purple strand of hair adhered to her head. Though I do not deny needing an overhaul, this place makes me flinch.
  2. On the corner of Margarita Masa and Diaz Quintas, right off Jardin Conzatti, there’s a man in a gray cap vending beef: soup, tacos, you name it. When he has no customers, he rushes out from behind the stand to grab my arm. And kiss my hand. I go blocks out of my way to avoid his corner.
  3. In Teotitlan del Valle, a town where the first language is Zapotec and the majority of the residents are weavers working with wool and brilliant, natural dyes, I greet the locals in Spanish. And, while I have the words to wager over a carpet, I succumb at the first amount an artist utters though I know she expects a counter.
  4. I ask my Spanish teacher, after she confesses to meditating on death daily, whether she worries about being killed. She doesn’t.
  5. Some afternoons, Mexico is too much for me. Instead of facing what a foreigner I am here, I hunker in the posada.

I’m sure you will understand why I have selected the following small poem by Ryszard Krynicki.

I Can’t Help You

–Ryszard Krynicki

Poor moth, I can’t help you,
I can only turn out the light.

from Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule OSI: Spoiling Cannibals Fun, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh


  • Craft additional metaphors that are akin to a moth and a flame. Use these to develop a character.

“How to Spend a Birthday”

The Oaxacan girl in her red, white, and blue gown insists her dress, while reminiscent of the US flag, is not sign she is not evidence of malinchism (form of attraction for a culture by a foreigner). However, in exchange for photos, she wants to know about Sweet Sixteen celebrations in the US, if every girl gets a car. I avoid informing her that I did not get my little orange Volkswagen until I was twenty-one. Instead, I focus on the similarities of our rites of passage.

I want to tell her that many Vietnamese celebrate their birth with their brethren at the new year. She needs to know that Jamaicans dust the birthday girl in flour to antique her as the grit of time has. I want to her to know of the Fairy Bread with a galaxy of sprinkles  Australians consume for their fiesta.  I want to remind her that celebrating being alive is something she should learn to do daily.

You must hear Lee Herrick read his poem “How to Spend a Birthday:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/57219

  • Create a birthday tradition and a character that looks forward to that tradition.