Juan has introduced me to the captain of the waiters as his friend for a long time. The captain makes small talk, about basketball. I can hardly keep up. After my meal, Juan offers me a plate of pickled potatoes, carrots, and onions because he remembers I like foods enlivened by vinegar. He says the kitchen staff make them to accompany their own means and is pleased when I compliment their flavor.

As I’ve been dining, he has hustled to serve more than fifty federal police officers, and, though he is nearly breathless, he asks me what more he can offer me. It is late, and I am quite full and tired, so I respond politely with, “The bill.”

He returns with what I think is a flower-tipped pen. (You know the kind of pen that’s adorned when writing instruments are scarce?) I’m paying in cash is all I can think. I don’t need a pen.

It’s a red carnation for me.

I think of The Language of Flowers.

Where did the flower come from?

What does it mean here in Mexico?

I figure this is just another Oaxacan mystery I’ll never unravel.

I don’t know what this red carnation means, but I do know the meaning of “The Red Wheelbarrow:” ordinary/small things are of great importance.

The Red Wheelbarrow

–William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

  • Make the extraordinary as ordinary as a wheelbarrow or a pen.

Definition & Invention

plant1 plant2 plant3 plant4 plant5 plant6

Photos: Flowers, Volcanoes National Monument, Big Island, Hawaii


A firm handshake with truths, fluency

in facts, effortless conversance in particular

subjects; acquaintance and knowing

grow. Comprehension burgeons

like pink blossoms from Prunus serrulata,

brilliant branches of learning.

In planning this poem I tried to utilize the images related to relationship building to show that gaining knowledge is related to our relationship with the material we are studying. I also wanted to use a bit of a turn in the end. The turn emphasizes a specific piece of information, the scientific name of the cherry tree, and the idea a specific reference to learning. What I wanted to show in this end part is the transformation that happens when we have knowledge, when we know things by heart.

Of course I know what knowledge is, but having to use the dictionary caused me to have different angles for the poem. This is a good example of how poetry can help us to make intangible concepts more tangible. In creative writing classes, I advise students to avoid abstract concepts, such as love and desire, but this is one way to handle an abstract if it means results in real transformation: a subject and a deeper subject that resonate with readers.

*The prompt was to define a word and transform it by using metaphor.

Winter Flowers


The morning unfolds as intently as the seven shocked paperwhites on the kitchen windowsill. These eager bulbs arrived in the mail just days ago as a jumble of almost onions in a bed of empty skins, each with a single greedy green talon already demanding light.

Now, they grow in reverse, diving into the sunny glass, the summery water, to establish tethers. Tomorrow, the unfolding will gain altitude, structure.

Days later, as winter will flower on the morning lawn in frost that crunches under the kitten’s paw, and the kitchen will don the vestments of spring; These resolute tubers will overnight transform from fledgling shoots to a constellation of snowy florets.

And, their irrefutable perfume will force us to another season.

Flowers for the Church


Out of the posada by 9:30 this morning, I headed to Alcala to see the vendors setting up, to see what festivities were taking shape, and to enjoy the little slice of sun we were promised today. It was quiet. Not a lot of people were out walking yet, but Van Gogh painted the sky this morning, liquifying the clouds and spraying a layer of whipped cream over the top.

A truck filled with mostly red flowers emptied into the Iglesia Carmen Alta.

I have one Friday left here.


“I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.” -Joseph Addison


As I type this afternoon, my lower back reminds me of the food and flowers I installed in the yard yesterday, taking advantage of the break in the rain to rearrange some of the dirt in the side yard and back yard, to add some color to the atmosphere, and to signal to the birds that they, most of them, are welcome.

(How do I let the woodpecker who weekly hammers into our shingles know he has worn out his welcome and is uninvited to the feast?)

On the side yard, I have: strawberries, tomatoes, cilantro, chili and bell peppers, two types of cucumbers, leeks, mint, basil, and four marigolds to ward off snails.

The soil is teeming with worms and is moist for feet. It is ready to grow.

The back yard contains: blackberries, grapes, and blueberries. It has lavender, rosemary, thyme, chives, rock roses, roses, daisies, and ranunculuses.

The evening air, last night, was filled with the heavy scent of roses, a muddle of basil, lavender, and mint, and the musky undertone of upturned earth, the eau de cologne of spring.


San Andrés Mixquic


Graves in the cemetery which surrounds the Church of San Andrés Apostal in the town of Mixquic (on the outskirts of DF) are decorated with cempasúchil flowers, marigolds, candles, and tapetes (carpets) made of colored sand or colored sawdust.

We navigated through the labyrinthine cemetery to observe families huddled in celebration of their deceased loved ones. The cemetery was flooded with the light of thousands of tapers, and the pathway was so tight in spots I felt my pantlegs might ignite.

Over the solemn reflection and intimate exchanges, and outside of the cemetery, a group opposed to the celebration blasted Christian rock. This clash of cultures was interesting but unsurprising; last year in Oaxaca during an intercambio, one man seemed insulted when I asked what he was doing to celebrate Day of the Dead. He admonished, “I said I am Christian.”

This made me realize that as a consumer of cultural events, I am not discriminating. I welcome all sorts of experiences without concern that they will dilute my beliefs.

The balloons decorating a child’s grave, the photographs, the plates of their favorite food and drink help us to remember that although they have left us, our dead are not so far away.

















Zocalo Ofrendas


This is November 1, All Saint’s Day in Mexico City, and the zocalo is filled with the colors and scents that accompany the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos. Copal incense is wafting in the air, and yellow and purple flowers are ubiquitous. The Federal District has sixteen regions, and each of the regions has presented an elaborate ofrenda, altar, for visitors to see. There are skeletons, skulls, and foods of the region. There are depictions of the dead dancing, smoking, wearing wedding attire, rising from a grave, and eating potato chips. The dead are reveling all around us.