Category: Mexico

2016 Watershed Changes

Definition of watershed –

1a:  divide

b:  a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

2:  a crucial dividing point, line, or factor: Turning Point

No matter where I travel, from the classroom to the Home Depot language exchange to family in Northern Ireland for Christmas, people ask what a Trump presidency will mean for our nation and the rest of the world. I have no answers, no hypotheses. I just know, as the rest of us, this feels like a watershed moment.

The following exquisite lines from Simon Armitage’s frightening 1963 poem “Gooseberry Season” capture an alarming sense of landmark change.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.

(Read more of the poem at:

Speaking of watersheds, I have three poems appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of Watershed Review “Recipe for Peach Salsa,” Dancing a Little, and “Jesús Wants to learn to use the internet.” (

Many thanks to the editors for including my work in this knockout publication.

  • Armitage’s poem is a mini horror story. Confide an equally sinister confession.

“That Honey You Carry in Your Mouth”


I am delighted to see the Tuna, a male musical group, much like mariachis, whose members play musical instruments and sing Spanish folk songs. The group members are typically university students and are dressed in short pants that are both wide and tight at the knee, tights/long socks (green for apprentices), a blouse, a jacket, and a cloak decorated with colorful ribbons and patches. They perform to keep the tradition alive. However, the groups originated as a way for university students to perform in exchange for small amounts of money or food.

The tambourine and guitar are key to the joyful and playful serenades that engage this audience enjoying nightfall on the plaza outside of Santo Domingo church. As they sing the traditional “Clavelitos,” I realize that I learned the word carnation (the title of the song) this summer, and I smile at the part that refers to a carnation a woman wears in her hair.

In the dark this evening and caught up in the crowd clapping and singing along, I realize the connection between playing music and playfulness–the pure pleasure of these merry singers as well as what they stir in us.


Mocita, dame el clavel, dame el clavel de tu boca
Para eso no hay que tener mucha vergüenza ni poca
Yo te daré un cascabel, te lo prometo, mocita
Si tu me das esa miel que llevas en la boquita

Clavelitos, clavelitos, clavelitos de mi corazón
Yo te traigo clavelitos colorados igual que un tizón
Si algún día clavelitos no lograra poderte traer
No te creas que ya no te quiero, es que no te los pude coger

La otra tarde a media luz vi tu boquita de guinda
Yo no he visto en Santa Cruz una boquita más linda
Y luego, al ver el clavel que llevabas en el pelo
Mirándolo creí ver un pedacito de cielo.

Little Carnations

Girl, give me the carnation, give me the carnation from your mouth

For that, don’t be ashamed

I will give you a little bell, I promise you, girl

if you give me that honey you carry in your mouth

Little carnations, little carnations, little carnations of my heart
I bring you little carnations colored like a firebrand
If someday I am unable to bring you little carnations
Do not think I do not love you, it is that I could not pick them for you

The other evening in the half-light I saw your cherry mouth

I have not seen in Santa Cruz such a pretty mouth
And then, seeing the carnation you wore in your hair,
Looking at it, I thought I saw a bit of heaven.

  • Listen to Tuna perform “Clavelitos;” let yourself get carried away:




Though my first instinct is to label the artist in the park a con artist, I admit there are far worse ways to trick or swindle the public. And, I wonder, what’s the real harm?

I am not a naturally cynical creature, but I spied him affably permitting a young boy to add strokes to this same portrait.

Maybe I just don’t understand his art.  Maybe what he is doing is more like collage. Or sampling. Perhaps it is teaching. Or sales.

In the poem below, Elizabeth Bishop uses her art, poetry, to address the art of losing. Still trying to figure out what his art form is exactly, I try to imagine what he might be thinking: When they ask whether I painted her, if she’s my greatest muse, if I still love her, I whisper yes, yes. (This is largely true.) She is mine—for now, but she might be yours, could deliver you the radiant joy I discovered as I encountered her (at a yard sale).

When you first inquire how much I might want for her, I listen for how desperate your voice becomes as I confess fear of being without her, of giving her up—without a fight.

His art is embellishment.

One Art

–Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

  • Bishop’s poem is a villanelle. Whether you enjoy using form, the advantages to experimenting with form are worth the effort, particularly in the invention stages of the writing process. Form is not only for poets. You can set limits: word, syllable, etc. Make up some rules and make something from them. Here’s more about the villanelle:

Taco Friday

You finally resign yourself to the evidence that Fridays are irretrievably (and, don’t deny it, splendidly) dedicated to the ritual of eating carne asada tacos in the park, of huddling with the locals under crowded canopies at folding tables covered in bright stretches of oilcloth.

You now distinctly expect the aromatherapy of the meat barbecuing and the bustle of the surrounding market to ambush you into abandoning any other prospects for the rest of the day. You surrender and bask in the warmth of the grill and the showy noise of dilettante entertainers that busk and hustle around you.

You think about how the word busk is related to buscar (to look for), and you realize you, too, are searching for something to fill you. But what manifests as hunger is the urgency of a panacea for the loneliness broiling inside you.

from A Physics of Desire
–Annah Sobelman
at  first  she  thinks  the  attraction  does not
fill  her  with  enough  blood ,  but
with  a  thing  like  the  dove —    White and coloured
feathers   —   Bones  unlike  her  own
bones  that  gravity  can’t  pull  down  ,  a milky  thing
unlike   the  seas .           Fills
           her  with    a                      wind —    Starch  rustle  of the quick
passing  of    things  ,  then    silence   afterwards
  • Develop an extended metaphor of hunger. What is your or a character’s literal hunger a metaphor for? How can you/she be satisfied?



Four calling birds, three French hens, a clutch of fairies, a swarm of mimes, a wreck of penguins, and one lost deer

It is not Halloween. No, Llano Park has not been overrun by fairies and deer. Mini Marcel Marceau here would speak Spanish should he need to speak.

Every stretch of the park is brimming with fantastic Lilliputian beasts. Perhaps it is the season, but I am certain I have interacted with the majority of the cast of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but the pear tree is more mango.

I cannot help singing the whole inventory of presents for the five circles I complete. It is as if I am stuck on repeat. My whole life I have unabashedly belted out Christmas songs from my seat in the back of the pickup truck, to the horses as I waited for their troughs to fill, to an audience of cats and chickens, in my own little car, in the grocery store for an entire season. I would only karaoke Christmas tunes or Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.” I do a mean “Private Dancer.”

Twelve Days of Christmas

–Frederic Austen

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens,
Two turtle doves, and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me five golden rings,
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me six geese a laying,
Five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
And a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven swans a swimming,
Six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens,
Two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a milking,
Seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds,
Three French hens, two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings,
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ten lords a leaping,
Nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying,
Five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves
And a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a leaping nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming,
Six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens,
Two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping, ten lords a leaping nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking,
Seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds,
Three French hens, two turtle doves and a Partridge in a pear tree.

See the Muppets and John Denver sing:

  • What “Private Dancer” ( and “Twelve Days of Christmas” have in common is of course the dancing )as the children were preparing to do); they also have fantastic lists. Consider the various “forms” of the list: the listicle; the list or sequential poem; the shopping, to-do, check, and wish lists; there are opportunities for (another list): brainstorming as well as character, conflict, and point of view development.


Mercado de Abastos: Supply Market


It is Saturday before 8AM, and Miguel is knocking at my door. I am only half-dressed and reading The New York Times to get my daily dose of English before I head to the intercambio at the library.

When I finally emerge from my room, Mari and Miguel laugh at me, how tired and disheveled I look.  Then, Miguel says we are going to the Mercado de Abastos, a place tourists are warned not go, a place known for pick-pockets and surprised stares.

I ask for five minutes to pull on a pair of jeans and brush my teeth. I don’t want to carry anything, so I stuff a coin purse, keys, and my phone into my pockets. I am so out of it, I unintentionally tuck my back-up phone into my bra.

I jump into Miguel’s tiny black car with his decal of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns on the passenger-side window and we are off to the market.

Because it is early for most of Oaxaca, we find a parking space with ease and begin to search for a taxi driver who can deliver me to San Juan Teitipac in the afternoon.

We talk with Pedro, someone from Miguel’s town, and he suggests I meet him outside of a chocolate mill on a street off of the zocalo at 3:30PM. Miguel does not like this plan; he thinks too much can go wrong. Pedro is not going to convince him otherwise, so we skip the line of taxis (though I promise I know where it is now), and we ask around for an area called el cajon where the afternoon taxis meet.

We roam through the aisles of the market through the various sections: clothing, beans and seeds, vegetables, flowers, and so forth. The engine of of commerce is still warming up.

Miguel tells me where to buy the best empanadas. We are both getting hungry.

Before I see it, I smell it.  Still walking, I pull my shirt up to my nose. I put a hand over my mouth. I look down and see an entire discarded crab at my feet and other garbage. We round a corner, and their is a garbage heap reminiscent of the dump.

I start to double over, a quiet gag. Miguel who has been leading the way, turns around. He can’t believe what he sees. He asks: “Seriously?” Then he seems to catch what I have and has to smother his own inclination to retch.

We walk faster. Once the air is clear, Miguel laughingly reports that he’s no longer hungry. We also still don’t have any sort of a plan.

He shows me how to take a bus back to the posada, and I smile all of the way home for all of the adventure one can have before 9:30AM.

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out
–Shel Silverstein

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
Would not take the garbage out!
She’d scour the pots and scrape the pans,
Candy the yams and spice the hams,
And though her daddy would scream and shout,
She simply would not take the garbage out.
And so it piled up to the ceilings:
Coffee grounds, potato peelings,
Brown bananas, rotten peas,
Chunks of sour cottage cheese.
It filled the can, it covered the floor,
It cracked the window and blocked the door
With bacon rinds and chicken bones,
Drippy ends of ice cream cones,
Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal,
Pizza crusts and withered greens,
Soggy beans and tangerines,
Crusts of black burned buttered toast,
Gristly bits of beefy roasts. . .
The garbage rolled on down the hall,
It raised the roof, it broke the wall. . .
Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
Globs of gooey bubble gum,
Cellophane from green baloney,
Rubbery blubbery macaroni,
Peanut butter, caked and dry,
Curdled milk and crusts of pie,
Moldy melons, dried-up mustard,
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
Cold french fried and rancid meat,
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat.
At last the garbage reached so high
That it finally touched the sky.
And all the neighbors moved away,
And none of her friends would come to play.
And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said,
“OK, I’ll take the garbage out!”
But then, of course, it was too late. . .
The garbage reached across the state,
From New York to the Golden Gate.
And there, in the garbage she did hate,
Poor Sarah met an awful fate,
That I cannot now relate
Because the hour is much too late.
But children, remember Sarah Stout
And always take the garbage out!

  • The impromptu dump in the market is due to the protests in the streets and the lack of transportation for sanitation; the whole city has been affected in similar ways (just not at the same magnitude of this monstrous market). What are some other side effects (great and small) of conflicts? Use this to add depth to plot.



In a Oaxacan cooking class years ago you learned you could not make tortillas. The masa became a messy paste in your dull hands. And then you dropped the jumble to the floor. Doña Soledad, your not-so-patient teacher, exclaimed, “You can never marry a Mexican man.” Her prohibition highlighted the magnitude of your failure. You were relieved you were already married, but it was still a shocking testament to your capacity to disappoint people with your cooking.

The next day, determined to redeem yourself, you made a perfect tamale. The masa was spread at the correct measure; the filling was just enough; your swaddling was firm. Doña Soledad praised you publicly and even recanted part of her prohibition, winking and saying: “Okay, you can marry a Mexican man…as long as he doesn’t eat tortillas.”

In cooking class this time you know you have no business trying to make a tortilla, but you remove your rings, keep your palms moist, breathe. The tortilla turns out competently.

Over the stove, the instructor informs you that, if you time it right, the tortilla will inflate. If it does, you will get married.

Of all of the tortillas, only yours puffs up. You have redeemed yourself.

Edmund Dorset’s “On Failure” speaks to the importance of small victories like mine: (see the bottom poem)

  • The tortilla puffing up is an example of a superstition. Consider the following superstition prompts from The Academy of American Poets (
    1. Cover your mouth when you yawn or evil spirits will fly into your body.
    2. If you sit by a fire with a group of friends and a person’s shadow does not appear to have a head, that person will be the first to die.
    3. If a bird frightens a pregnant woman, her child will be born with a wing instead of an arm.
    4. “A mole on the arm can do you no harm, a mole on your lip—you are witty and flip. A mole on your neck brings money by the peck, but a mole on your back brings money by the sack.”
    5. If a hen runs into your house, you will receive important visitors.
    6. If a person’s eyebrows join at the nose, they are not to be trusted.
    7. If you can catch a dragonfly, you will be married within the year.
    8. Dimples are a sign that God has touched you with favor, but “a dimple on the chin means a devil within.”