Mouths Full of Flowers



A bouquet of squash blossoms will disappear by lunch, their orange flowers pinched from the green, minced into quesadillas and eggs.


The fifteen-year-old poses, hands full of marigolds and carnations, chrysanthemums that echo the pattern of her dress, a bright textile from Oaxaca’s coast. Tonight, she will receive her first bouquet of roses, will dance with her father. Will dance as if she is still his little girl.


Even aphids could not deter my own father from deadheading the roses to devour them stop iceberg lettuce. Alarmed, sister and I worried about insects and poisons.

He tasted good dirt, the right mix of shade and desert sun.


The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ~Basho



Maybe it is because you’ve spent twenty days alone, but you see your sister’s cat everywhere in Oaxaca; he’s unmistakably smoking a pipe, posed with a storm cloud above his head.

Some days you write home to see if you are still real.

One afternoon, your mother slyly offers: you’re as real as your sister’s cat.

So, still, you have no answers.


  • What does it mean to be alone? For a week? For a month? In your home? In a foreign land?

Alone for a Week


I washed a load of clothes

and hung them out to dry.

Then I went up to town

and busied myself all day.

The sleeve of your best shirt

rose ceremonious

when I drove in; our night-

clothes twined and untwined in

a little gust of wind.


For me it was getting late;

for you, where you were, not.

The harvest moon was full

but sparse clouds made its light

not quite reliable.

The bed on your side seemed

as wide and flat as Kansas;

your pillow plump, cool,

and allegorical. . . .

I Have Wasted My Life


You grab the blind man, wrapping your left arm under his right to shuttle him to the spot where a flower is painted on the blue wall.

He knows you by the scent of your shampoo and your silence. You don’t doubt your Spanish will sound worse given his heightened senses just as you know you’d waste time announcing yourself. The breeze told him you were behind him a block before you even noted his hat.

How much sharper would your senses be if you weren’t watching the pomegranates ripen on their trees, if you couldn’t see the swallows scavenge for rice, if you didn’t waste entire mornings trying to precisely name the sky’s blue?


Poetry Is the Singing

It is Saturday night, and I am feeling especially alone in this city full of families and friends and connections.
I like that Jorge, the man who sells scarves, stops to check on me and share snippets of news. Today, he tells of a bridge washed out near the coast and of highways blocked by trees felled in the storm. I offer that the storm’s name is Calvin. He repeats the name. Calveeeen into the breeze.
I like that the lady selling tablecloths shows me photos of her grandchildren and the way she calls me amiga as if we’ve known each other for years. We have.
I like that Max waves as I pass the cafe where he’s a waiter. I like that Pablo will play the game where I ask: what is the thing that–long description here, weird look from Pablo, revision of description with better detail, and then voila! an answer. Today, after several hilarious rounds, I learned drones are still called drones in Spanish. Though I am sure the spelling differs.
I like practicing English with César and Andres. I like that Mari asks for her coffee a different way each day. Today, she had an americano with milk. Thursday it was a cappuccino with cinnamon and sugar.
I like that I can come across a couple of tired musicians snoozing on the street and not worry about their safety.
Still I am feeling alone in the city this Saturday night. And then I see a group of six girls performing an impromptu choreographed dance show to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” and I know, without hesitation, I am part of this grand, happy music video.
  • “Poetry is the singing of what it means to be on our planet.” –Galway Kinnell
    • What does it mean to be on our planet? What does it mean to be a part of this grand, happy music video?


Happiness Is…


When I was young, I had a tall glass that had a jubilant Snoopy and Woodstock and the words: “Happiness is a root beer float.” This stein, even when filled with milk or water, made me happy.

For me, happiness hasn’t changed too much since then. I still delight in birthday cake, mom’s cooking, and afternoon naps.


Yesterday, as I was Spring cleaning my office, I observed how I display, for students and for myself, all sorts of reminders about the value of happiness: a poem by William Stafford, photos of celebrations and loved ones, favorite words, quotations, papel picado.

In tidying, I noted that one of the photos contained a person who has, over the past year, hurt me. He seemed to hang on the edge of an otherwise fondly-recalled celebration.

So I lopped him off the picture.


I immediately was not sure what to do with him, this quarter-inch-slice. I mean, I wondered if I should slip him into a book, throw him into the trash, slide him into an folder and file him.

All I knew was that I instantly felt happiness that he was no longer in my  office.

So, I recycled him.


I have a sore throat. One of my friends says that a sore throat is from not saying what you need to say, but I’ve been to the doctor and it is just an end-of-winter cold.

Despite the fact that my voice was scratchy and tired, I told M last night, “I felt like a sixth-grader this afternoon. I cut X– out of that birthday photo of all of us on the patio. It made me happy.”

He laughed at me; he knows that happiness is sometimes acting like a kid who is not trying to making anyone else happy.



–Raymond Carver

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.


  • My colleague, K–, recently did an activity with her students to make abstract concepts tangible. She shared some of the creative images her creative students concocted.

Lost: a sad song trapped in an empty jar

Chaos: a spilled box of dry spaghetti

Forgiveness: the sweet taste of a Sour Patch Kid

Joy: A free scoop of coconut ice cream

Despair: Writing a ten-page paper for days and forgetting to turn it in

Here are some abstract nouns for feelings, what do they remind you of?


Adoration, Amazement, Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Clarity, Delight, Despair, Disappointment, Disbelief, Excitement, Fascination, Friendship, Grief, Hate, Helpfulness, Helplessness, Infatuation, Joy, Love, Misery, Pain, Pleasure, Power, Pride, Relaxation, Relief, Romance, Sadness, Satisfaction, Silliness, Sorrow, Strength, Surprise, Tiredness, Uncertainty, Wariness, Weariness, Worry


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: