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 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.




The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


Some of my plans for my wild and precious life:

  1. On the days I must work, as well as those dedicated to leisure, I will commit myself to absorbing the golden tips of daylight into dusk, of lingering with the cats into the cooling of the day—and season.
  2. I will hold the boundless freedom and joy of summer within me to help me as I strive to be fair and frank and kind to those I encounter on my path. I will leave no strangers in my wake.
  3. After traveling widely in new lands, I will open myself to learning from thousands of grasshoppers and butterflies. And, I will return with new seeds to sow and nurture.
  4. I will generously share the harvest and gratefully receive the bounty of others.

Speaking of bounty, fall semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:






Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. They may, as I, have more questions than answers, but they will take you with them as they celebrate our world.

Making Up Words


There are many reasons for me to continue taking formal Spanish classes beyond my abysmal verbs and my teacher’s thoughtful writing prompts.

The reason I am focused on this afternoon is how the prompts stimulate memories.

When I was in tenth grade, in high school chemistry class, I was awarded extra credit points despite the fact that I was a mediocre chemistry student. These points arrived as I, singeing my thumb and index finger on a crucible, threw the graphite container into the sink and exclaimed: “Eenie!” My instructor was impressed by my creativity under duress.

I owed the points to my mother who insisted that my sister and I avoid profanity. She educated us in specific anatomical terms should we need to refer to ourselves or others. And, knowing we might have instances to yelp out in pain or delight, we were encouraged to make up nonsense words.

I flash to this as my Spanish teacher offers me a list of six words–that are completely foreign to me but are clearly pejorative terms. I know this because of words I see within them, such as mal.

She has me guess what the terms mean, using them, before investigating their formal definition. And, for the most part, my sentences, about the pedophile priest, the misogynist, and the thief (I make her a woman to spread the contempt around) are practically accurate.

Then, she offers me a series of syllables and has me combine them to make words that are praising and positive, antonyms to the previous list.

Of course, my mother’s and my Spanish teacher’s approaches to invention inspire me to think of “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll: http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html.

  • Invent words; use roots, context, and repetition to help readers make sense of them, to help us crack the code.