Sunday’s Child

IMG_8464It is winter, and the language exchange in the Home Depot parking lot continues. We talk about Trump’s politics, the Spring-like weather that has arrived for our class time (though there will be rain the rest of the week), what we had for dinner, what we did on Sunday.

Ariel wants to practice the seasons in English. We learn them and drill on them for a half an hour, mixing these new words with days of the week, months, colors, and questions to make sure he remembers the words. He does.

It is the Monday of midterms and the guys ask, “When will your English-speaking students join us?” I reply, “No puedo adviniar.” (I am not able to guess, predict, divine the answer to this.) And, this is one of the things I love about acquiring a new language.

Before knowing this verb in Spanish, I would utter only: “I don’t know.”

I go on quizzing: “Verano?” “Yes, summer.” “Azul? Okay, blue.” “Invierno?” “Right, winter.” “Viernes?” “Yes, Friday.”

I think about how I was born on Sunday, in the US, in California, in the desert;  I know these are forces that have shaped the happiness and fortune in my life. I say the “Monday’s Child” rhyme out, in English in nearly the same singing way I offered “Roses are red” in a Valentine’s Day lesson.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

“Monday’s Child” is a fortune-telling song to predict a child’s character based on the day of the week of her birth. In addition to the day of the week, humans look for astrology, numerology, graphology, palmistry, tarot, crystal balls, runes, tea leaves, ouija boards, pendulums, scrying mirrors, even a magic 8 ball to lend us wisdom into the universe, to help us know more than we do, to divine.

  • What prophets, soothsayers, clairvoyants, seers, or oracles might inform your story?

The world is composed of stories…

OLS Writers' Conference 2018 Flyer

The writers’ conference is coming soon!

Even sooner, we are seeking submissions through the end of February for the literary journal. Submissions can be posted online at:

And, my online Creative Writing students are blogging at:

No Day

911 quote

On the way to Poland for winter break, M and I spent a couple of days touring New York City. One of the places we visited was the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial. It is a startling amphitheater of  deep sorrow,  a mausoleum for the 2,977 lost, a monument of remembrance for  the survivors–and the rest of us. It is horror amplified to sensory overload with the sounds of sirens and phone calls and news and the photographs of people frozen in disbelief, dumbstruck, confused, terrified.

There is an urgent seriousness buzzing through the halls, as if the tragedy hovers over us–and it does. I did not know how heavy the news of this particular morning (this vast crime) wears within me. Wandering through the exhibits, the heaviness inflates again with sorrow, and I am almost bursting with the deeply personal stories of the people.

Today is the birthday of a handful of victims whose names are marked with a white rose and whose stories play in a dark room, as a vigil of sorts, with friends telling the stories of their loved ones, how brilliantly they lived, how tremendous the loss.

How tremendous the loss. “No day shall erase you,” I am reminded at my discomfort. “No day shall erase you,” I promise to the void.

“No day shall erase you,” reminds the adamant woman who survived the terrorist attacks in 1993 and again in 2001 by climbing down the stairs, these same stairs where she reports to work each morning as a docent bound to share her story and the stories of those who cannot.


I am headed to Poland, and people keep asking me which Polish writers I like. And, I stall, wondering if I have categorized writers by country. I have not. I report that I know I love anything by Wislawa Szymborska. I think of her poem “Hatred” and how relevant it is now–and probably forever. I research other Polish writers and pull out pieces that might accompany blog posts.


I am searching now for other poets’ takes on 9/11. And, the first piece I find comes up Symborska. An audio poem with no companion text, it does not prepare me. It does not prepare me:  Photograph from September 11.


No day.

  • White roses, stories, monuments, museums, poems, and more combat erasure. What must we remember?


[More on Virgil’s quote.]



“Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.” – -Barack Obama

Even though your voice is tired from preaching to the choir and anyone with ears and a heart, even though the plodding makes you ache, even when (perhaps especially when) it makes you afraid, even if you must crawl, you must. Even though some days you believe humans are incapable of goodness, of anything more than greed; though you doubt the point of this life or that any hope or light can guide us through darkness, you must march onward, bear witness, rage with all of your might.

Yesterday in poetry class we discussed how last week I speculated that all poems are love poems, but today I insist all poems are political poems. We realize this is not a “but” but an “and,” that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are complementary. We discuss Leroy V. Quintana’s “Poem for U-Haul,” from the anthology Poetry Like Bread. ( The poem is a four-line masterpiece that shows how a simple and awful domestic scene can inspire reaction and even action. One of the students says sometimes the act of finally loving oneself is a political one.

Hours later, I am still excited about the conversation from class, about the imperative for writing to be “like bread” instead of  as “like cake”–or “caviar,” of the power of words to express love and show us the way to justice.

According to The Guardian, “Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, whose novels and stories record and define apartheid, argues that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflict and injustice.”

  • Write a love poem on the evils of conflict and injustice.


One Sock Almost Always Demands Its Pair

I tell the friendly woman at the laundry that a pair of some other woman’s underwear (or interior clothing) made it into my bag. She says sometimes they are small and hide in the dryer. I agree that they are indeed small.
She laughsand offers the trivia that it is rare for people to return in search of panties, but one sock almost always demands its pair. Neither do people seem to notice the lost washcloth.I
I am grateful for insider information such as this. Of course, I don’t know its immediate application to my life and travels, but I am grateful that I can engage in this sort of small talk with someone who’s smiling and interested in my interest in her domain.
I’m off to the tailor in the market to try out new words.
I can’t help but recall the warning of WS Merwin in his short prose poem “Language,” from:
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
  • Which words will you be buried with? Why?

I Found the Little Businessman!


Little Businessman.JPG
After nearly a week of searching, I first bumped into Mateo (14). Immediately after, I encountered Cecelia and Agostino. Agostino immediately reminded me of how we first met, that I permit him to use my phone, that we sometimes have coffee over there under those trees, and popsicles, and corn, and… I asked him if he had a new show, any new tricks. He reported that he had nothing to offer.
I told him and Cecelia that I’d expect: chistes, bromas, burlas, una charla, or un show tomorrow. They both giggled and said they’d be ready with some kind of a stunning performance.
I wonder how long we will know each other, how things will change in our lives, what fortunes await us. Then, Cecelia informs me that Mateo is married and she introduces me to her sister-in-law, his bride.
I am stunned; I try to say felicidades. I try to understand. I try to remember Jane Hirshfield’s “A Blessing for a Wedding:”
Read the whole poem at:
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
  • What does your character fail to say? Why does she fail?

And the Man in the Park?

A scruffy-looking white guy is propped against his white Titan truck. He has been in the park for more than an hour. I am returning from an errand, and he still looks confused.
The magnitude of confusion is far beyond not knowing a word or how to conjugate a verb correctly or where the neighborhood Volcanes–that name they’re always hollering out of the bus window–is.
No, this confusion is tremendous, more like: How the heck did I arrive in Mexico? Am I really this far south? What am I going to tell my boss?
And where are my shoes?
Before he became my subject, I was thinking about how North American I am, too North American I thought–before seeing this dude.
I’m focused mostly on how my frankness, forthrightness, perhaps directness often come across as impolite.
Going to the butcher and asking for two pounds of meat without first:
1. Making eye contact.
2. Saying hello and good afternoon.
3. Broaching the subject with “please.”
4. Softening the request with “might I be able to have…”
5. Finishing with two pounds of meat
is akin to running into an establishment and demanding:  MEAT!
In Oaxaca, I never fail to be delighted that a man with a scowl will soften at a: “Hello, good afternoon,” from even the most foreign-looking stranger on the street.
It’s all about manners, I think. So I practice what I will say to the man selling hot tortillas. The more I improve my petition, the fresher the tortillas are. This morning I got a quarter kilo straight from the machine.
And, the man in the park?
I’m going to leave him there for now, for I’m quite certain that’s where he’ll be when I head out next.
Lost in the Forest
–Amy Gerstler
I’d given up hope. Hadn’t eaten in three
days. Resigned to being wolf meat …
when, unbelievably, I found myself in
a clearing. Two goats with bells
round their necks stared at me:
their pupils like coin slots
in piggy banks. I could have gotten
the truth out of those two,
if goats spoke. I saw leeks
and radishes planted in rows;
wash billowing on a clothesline …
and the innocuous-looking cottage
in the woods with its lapping tongue
of a welcome mat slurped me in.
Read the rest at:
  • Get your speaker this lost; take her off course; plunge her into the middle of the motion somewhere she’s never been before.