My Soul Turns into a Tree…

Miguel, the night watchman at the posada, invited me to his town. His directions were specific: which taxi to take, the name of the store to ask for his niece who’d be passing by about the same time I was to arrive. It was a flawless plan (in a small town). I doubt it would work back home.

The niece was sweet though she did not seem to be expecting me. She took me around the corner and down the path to her uncle’s place where I met three grandchildren, a niece and a nephew. (The niece and nephew looked as if they were characters from The Nightmare before Christmas.)

I was seated in a plastic chair outside the door to the house as Miguel cleaned up the remnants of a small fire. I was instructed to give the children English lessons to pass the time. This mostly consisted of them firing off any word that came into their minds. I was like a live Spanish/English dictionary just for them.

We went to the back yard to meet the other dog (there were two). This dog was tied under a tree because he could not be trusted with the half dozen chickens that wandered the yard.

The children climbed an abandoned automobile to fetch pomegranates and limes from the trees until the rain came and we took cover in a small work area with a hammock.

Meanwhile Miguel’s wife, Linda, was making beans and eggs and noodle soup, and cactus. I was finally welcome into the kitchen/dining area, but I was permitted no farther into the dark house. We ate a filling meal and then were off on foot(and one bicycle) to see the town.

Because of me, we became a parade for the townspeople. Some stopped us to ask questions and practice English. Two men in a van circled us four times (until Miguel mentioned their obvious actions). We were like a wreck and people wanted to see how awful the carnage was…

We were especially conspicuous as we went to the place where the rodeo was going to be held later in the day. (I would not stay for the rodeo as transportation home would be impossible, and, as far as I could tell, there was no hotel–only the covered hammock.) The cowboys stared at us as if we were cattle thieves.

We went to the church where we picked more fruit from the trees, some green oranges. They were more for play than for eating. My height was appreciated by the grandchildren who wanted more and more of the harvest.

Miguel, who had been inside a church office, returned to the tour guide role. He proudly showed me the tile he installed in the church, taught me about the town’s patron saint, Geronimo, and pointed out the candles he had purchased for the church as the town celebrated his daughter’s wedding. (Oswaldo was horrified that I did not cross myself as I entered the church; he had never met someone who was not Catholic; he wasn’t even sure if this was a real option.)

Next, we were off to see Miguel’s parents’ graves. We entered the beautiful cemetery that was green with weeds.

Miguel, slightly embarrassed by the obvious lack of maintenance, went into action as he had with cleaning up after the fire, enlisting me in weeding his mother’s side of the plot.

It was nearly 6:30PM, and even the grandchildren were tired out. They all headed home to rest before the big rodeo, and I, dirty hands and all, hopped into a collectivo taxi.

It is afternoons such as this one that I feel are the real Spanish tests. I not only arrived at a remote destination, but I was able to master most of the tasks along the way.

I wondered how to tell Miguel what a lovely day I had, so I also figured out how to use the Kodak machine at the grocery store and gave him some prints of the afternoon.

He was visibly moved to have them, but he said only: “My wife is very short.” I added, “and beautiful.” What more needed to be said?


–Herman Hesse, translated by Robert Bly, from News of the Universe, poems of twofold consciousness

Sometimes, when a bird cries out,

Or the wind sweeps through a tree,

Or a dog howls in a far off farm,

I hold still and listen for a long time.


My soul turns and goes back to the place

Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,

The bird and the howling wind

Were like me, and were my brothers.


My soul turns into a tree,

And an animal, and a cloud bank.

Then changed and odd it comes home

And asks me questions. What should I reply?

  • How much can/has one small journey transform your character?


You don’t have to wait until the end of July to get a glimpse of the Guelaguetza celebrations in Oaxaca. Several restaurants offer the opportunity to sample a smorgasbord of the dances that represent each of Oaxaca’s eight regions while dining on a vast buffet of traditional Oaxacan dishes.

Despite being held indoors, down to the smooth host and gorgeous dishes, this evening of sensory stimulation is reminiscent of a Hawaiian luau. It is a good way to stick a toe into the culture, but it is nothing like the deep dive into Oaxaca’s music and dancing and mezcal for the two festive weeks that are the Guelaguetza festival.

At the Quinta Real show (, attendees certainly miss some of the excitement of the offerings (including pineapples and bread) that are thrown to the crowds in the streets and at the official stadium, but the pageantry and artistry are tantalizing and well worth the ticket price.

–Carl Sandburg
THE LADY in red, she in the chile con carne red,
Brilliant as the shine of a pepper crimson in the summer sun,
She behind a false-face, the much sought-after dancer, the most sought-after dancer of all in this masquerade,
The lady in red sox and red hat, ankles of willow, crimson arrow amidst the Spanish clashes of music,

I sit in a corner
watching her dance first with one man
and then another.

  • There are at least 105 names for dances–from allemande to zouk ( Have a character literally dance, or use dance as a metaphor for an otherwise inanimate object.


For a Girl I Know about to Be a Woman

When I went on a first date, mom strategically warned: “When you are kissing him, think of what your children will look like.” Needless to say, he didn’t get a kiss–ever. Mom didn’t always offer advice designed to halt me in my tracks, but her techniques were quite effective.

When I went off to college ten hours away, my dad imparted the wisdom of Frederick Schiller: “He who dares nothing need hope for nothing.” He knew I needed to be reminded to be courageous and take risks.

I grew up on a small ranch with seven horses, dozens of cats and chickens, and a couple of dogs.  My parents exposed me to the magic of the world as I witnessed a new foal land in the world and hosted a box of baby chicks in my winter bedroom; I learned how to take care of myself as I cared for and developed loving relationships with other creatures. These childhood experiences filled me with information and wonder for the world.

How fortunate I was to thrive in an environment that emphasized respect for others, knowledge, and thought. How precious it is to be guided to thrive with such balanced guidance!

From For a Girl I Know about to Be a Woman

–Miller Williams

Because you’ll find how hard it can be

to tell which part of your body sings,

you never should dally with any young man

who does any one of the following things:


tries to beat all the yellow lights;

says, “Big deal!” or “So what?”

more than seven times a day;

ignores yellow lines in a parking lot;


carries a radar detector;

asks what you did with another date;

has more than seven bumper stickers;

drinks beer early and whiskey late;


talks on a cellular phone at lunch;

tunes to radio talk shows;

doesn’t fasten his seat belt;

knows more than God knows;


See the rest at:


from Some Jazz A While: Collected Poems

  • The specific pieces of advice in the are helpful to the intended audience, and they are equally helpful in shedding light on the speaker. Craft advice to add depth to two characters.



After Drink

One golden ale could ravel the day, unwind her shoulders, mute her internal megaphone. She selects the cerveza named sun and wishes for him to seduce the night’s into going with him into her empty stomach.

She can’t help but smile into her glass and then out into the gloaming to no one in particular.

After drink, she’s full and lighter and heavier and hungry and still in her own country,  alone.

Get Drunk

–Charles Baudelaire

Always be drunk.

That’s it!

The great imperative!

In order not to feel

Time’s horrid fardel

bruise your shoulders,

grinding you into the earth,

Get drunk and stay that way.

On what?

On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.

But get drunk.

And if you sometimes happen to wake up

on the porches of a palace,

in the green grass of a ditch,

in the dismal loneliness of your own room,

your drunkenness gone or disappearing,

ask the wind,

the wave,

the star,

the bird,

the clock,

ask everything that flees,

everything that groans

or rolls

or sings,

everything that speaks,

ask what time it is;

and the wind,

the wave,

the star,

the bird,

the clock

will answer you:

“Time to get drunk!

Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,

Get drunk!

Stay drunk!

On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”

  • Take a “martyred slave of time” and intoxicate her with something. 

Stocked to the Ceilings

At the oxxo convenience store, before supplies were delivered by plane, the shelves were so depleted that I asked a clerk working what her plans were should the store  run out of cigarettes and sodas. They were already out of coffee and cups and energy drinks and milk and chips and gooey nacho cheese and many other items. The cooler had few items in it.

The clerk responded, “I will run.” I was pretty sure this was a joke, so I laughed.

While oxxo found itself unprepared for the enduring blockades, Soriana has a promotion the whole month of July where nearly everything in the supermarket– from cleaning supplies to dog food, from underwear to yogurt– is three for the price of two.

They have reserves of nearly everything.

Walking in the aisles, I am in awe of the impossibly gargantuan mountains of food leaning over me. Of course, I am reminded of Monte Alban’s breathtaking pyramids.

The other shoppers laugh at me for snapping photos–as if I take my job as tourist too seriously, but I am impressed by these fearsome bluffs.

We are in an active earthquake zone and could easily be buried in an avalanche of cookies or cans.


Ah, Tener­iffe!

–Emily Dickinson

Ah, Tener­iffe!
Retreat­ing Moun­tain!
Pur­ples of Ages — pause for you —
Sun­set — reviews her Sap­phire Reg­i­ment –
Day — drops you her Red Adieu!

Still — Clad in your Mail of ices –
Thigh of Gran­ite — and thew — of Steel –
Heed­less — alike — of pomp — or parting

Ah, Tener­iffe!

I’m kneeling still —

Spanish Class – Calaveras

Calaveras are small poems that are often political in nature and are common during the celebration of Dias de Los Muertos. Because early in the week, I wrote a piece that included Donald Trump having a nightmare (that undocumented people can vote), my teacher decided to have me try a couple of stanzas out about him. It was easy to find words that rhymed with hands and hair and, believe it or not, avarice, but I had to bury xenophobia and racism within the lines. The results were passable, nothing inspired.

The homework, then, was to practice the calaveras in their other form, between colleagues or friends with an exaggeration of virtues or characteristics. Thus, my teacher requested one about us. Harder than I anticipated. Much harder.

I’m starting with the Spanish:

Heather es una profesora con pelo gris.
Angeles es una estrella bella, una actriz
quien puede llevar los papeles de princesa o catrina.
Y Heather puede ser una pepinilla.

Heather is a professor with gray hair.
Angeles is a beautiful star, an actress
who can play the roles of princess or catrina.
And Heather could be a pickle.

  • Try out a calavera: see guidelines above, and it should be at least a four-line stanza with end rhyme (and internal rhyme, if you can manage that as well).

Searching for Magic Words in Llano


Walking laps in Llano Park, I suddenly understand where the term squeaky clean comes from. It is the noise the shoeshiners strive for as they are tending to the shoes of (mostly) men they only know from the belt down as their trunks are buried in the newspaper.

The park is all noise and commotion; even the people practicing Tai Chi add their peso’s worth to the hullabaloo.

There is a trio of awful trumpet players who improve with the arrival of half a dozen drummers.

There is a tamale vendor on a bicycle with a microphone! There are blenders at the juice stand.

There are children marching in formation and others posing at the fountain for pictures; they are synonymous with cacophony. The pigeons, too, pick boisterous fights amongst themselves, cooing throatily into each others faces.

Even this pigeon perched atop the Llano lion has plenty of babble to add.

It seems we are all vainly attempting  to reclaim our magic words.

“Magic Words,” after Nalunginq, in News of the Universe, poems of twofold consciousness, chosen and introduced by Robert Bly.

Magic Words

In the very earliest time,

when both people and animals lived on earth,

a person could become an animal if he wanted to

and an animal could become a human being.

Sometimes they were people

and sometimes animals

and there was no difference.

All spoke the same language.

That was the time when words were like magic.

The human mind had mysterious powers.

A word spoken by chance

might have strange consequences.

It would suddenly come alive

and what people wanted to happen could happen–

all you had to do was say it.

Nobody can explain this:

That’s the way it was.

  • “A word spoken by chance might have strange consequences.”