you have journeyed with intensity. You should regret nothing, neither hours waiting for buses without schedules nor long evenings vigilant for summer’s abundant rains to pass.

Traveler, these are the reminders that the roads zig and zag and, by design, demand you rest enough to be rested, ready to throw yourself into the next and the next glorious adventure.

Traveler, you have taken every opportunity to sense this place, looked into the eyes of the children, the animals, the weather.

You can predict what comes next in the afternoon’s plot, you have done your job, you know this story, their story, by heart.


Listen to this piece, and write to yourself about your own travels.


Asking Questions: the Test in Protest


And what happens if we all don’t vote?

Consider this question and a new form of poem: The Quiz.

  • Quiz
By Linh Dinh

Invaders invariably call themselves:
a) berserkers
b) marauders
c) frankincense
d) liberators

Our enemies hate us because:
a) we’re sadists
b) we’re hypocrites
c) we shafted them
d) we value freedom

Our friends hate us because:
a) we’re bullies
b) we hate them
c) we’re hypocrites
d) we value freedom

Pushed to the ground and kicked by a gang of soldiers, about to be shot, you can save your life by brandishing:
a) an uzi
b) a crucifix
c) the Constitution
d) a poem

A poem can:
a) start a war
b) stanch a wound
c) titillate the masses
d) shame a nation
Read more, and learn the answers at:

Try your own quiz poem.

The Synthesis of Hyacinths and Biscuits


On the plaza where the artists show fresh pieces and work while you select your favorite recollection of your travels, you find: a gallery’s worth of lovers positioned on park benches entirely unaware of the surreal gigantic ladies floating in space close by and as naked as stars.

The canvases are wild with color as if these ladies sail on Zapotec rugs; traditional landscapes feature this valley in the rainy season: Mexican green grasses and hills and nothing grazing, not a single dusty goat.

These plains are plain.

Three Oaxacan sky blue sheets of plywood overflow with insects as terrifying as a nightmare you had as a child: wasps swarming darkness and your pillow.

No one smiles in portraits. Not even the lovers. It is as if no artist has mastered the fine art of teeth.

A still life seems to spill from an upset bowl, pomegranates defy gravity, a flute of champagne has mostly vanished. In another composition, voluptuous pears and golden peaches march as soldiers, led by one green grape. Or, they are a symphony with a grape conductor. Either way they are loud and in motion.

Of course, you are neither surprised by the entwined lovers nor the magic.

Even the charcoal wooly mammoth in a parade with a band along the Alcala pedestrian avenue makes sense. You have seen her yourself.

  • “Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits…and echo asking a shadow to dance.” –Carl Sandburg

What kinds of strange combinations can you imagine? Offer us the most surreal synthesis to make magic.

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?



In Spanish class, my second teacher asks me about the intricate, creative lessons my first teacher plans for me. And then he says he has prepared nothing, but there are two words on the whiteboard, leftovers from the last lesson, and I am welcome to take one.
He recommends tela, fabric, and says, okay; write.
I think, yes, it is really that easy to just go, no fancy instructions are necessary (though they are appreciated).
I want to take a side route and get all of the cliches out of my system, the fabric of life bits that float to the surface of this broad prompt.
The hard thing about writing in Spanish is the limitation on my words and what I have the capacity to narrate.
In Oaxaca fabric stores line one of the streets off the zocalo. I am often drawn into these labyrinthine businesses as hummingbirds seek petunias, impatiens, day lilies, and lupines.
I do not know the names of these flowers in Spanish. Thus, they are banished from the poem. And, I’m off in search of another inspiration that will match the 20% claim I have on this language. I assess the value at 20% because people consistently ask me to quantify my language knowledge in these terms, something i go along with (therefore, reporting 20%), but I insist it is absurd.
Even if I really did know 20% of the language, my lack of knowledge of idioms and culture would cause me to register at a negative number (-40% or something equally preposterous).
The dictionary guesses I want Portuguese and reports that tela is screen. I think of telanovellas (soap operas), the television screen, and the broad cloth that makes a movie screen like my teacher’s white board that contains this broad prompt and that becomes its own large cloth, like a sail, to send me off into the ocean to sail.
  • “The fabric of existence weaves itself whole.” –Charles Ives

How does “way lead on to way,” as Frost warned/reminded in “The Road Not Taken,” how does the fabric seem to weave itself?



Some people ask me why I open myself to the sorrows of others, such as the Little Businessman and his family. I cannot imagine a life without them.

For those of us who lack the words to describe the ache that has centered itself within us, for those of us who get up before the sun to wander through darkness because we think the practice will help us on this path, for those of us who listen for the wisdom of the drowsy stray cat, we who are devoted to greeting sunrise, there is hope in the constancy of the crow’s caw and all of the ways the day rises. There is, however dim, light.

For those of us who are disenfranchised, muffled, reminded we do not matter, we who are drowned out by the engine of capitalism and the roar of getting ahead, we who are daily sold someone else’s aspirations and language, for those of us who are told we are not good enough, there is, however muted, light.

For those of us who are hungry, for those of us who know love alone cannot fill us, there is, however faint, the promise that arrives with the light of a new day.

Some people pity the Little Businessman for his hard life.  They are surprised to learn he looks at me with pity for my lack of children, for the busyness of my life.

For those of us who are in various stages of discovering the leagues of our misery, there is, however blaring, the light.

  • Write a litany:
    synonyms: prayerinvocationsupplicationdevotion;

    “she was reciting the litany”

A Litany for Survival


For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed


like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;


For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.


And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid


So it is better to speak


we were never meant to survive.


During English class in Arrazola, we played with cootie catchers* to practice the future tense: you will find your true love: you will find satisfying work.
I did not know what the word cootie was. It turns out to be lice (and that’s a whole different conversation, involving lice eggs). Anyway, I said, it’s what my mother told me boys have.
And one of my students, impatient and confused, politely inquired, “Excuse me, do you mean a dick?”
Certainly blushing, I said, “I can see how you arrived at this question, but no, the word I am looking for is lice, piojo.
The young man’s fortunes were hilarious (mis)fortunes (perhaps curses): you will be eaten by a shark, you will lose your job, you will have ten sons. I asked why he hadn’t added “you’ll be bald and toothless.”  He simply lacked the vocabulary, not the cruelty.
We were still laughing about this activity when my friend, who’d arranged this exchange, arrived and commented that the terraza had been filled with laughter all afternoon.
We agreed but dared not offer any explanation.
Instead, we laughed some more.

* A cootie catcher is also known as a fortune teller, a chatterbox, and because of its appearance, a salt cellar (picture it upside down), a whirlybird, and a paku-paku (think Pac Man).

  • Show how misunderstanding can lead to hilarity. Show what happens when our limitations in vocabulary and/or understanding can lead us to great laughter.