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.

Art for the Blind


In the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, has a Touch Tour, for the visually impaired. In addition to sculptures that can be touched, there are three-dimensional representations of some of the pieces, including Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Standing in front of the majestic piece, we could simultaneously feel the winds showering her with roses and see them in full color. Her coy attempt to cover herself seemed every more futile under our curious fingers.

Of course, we recognize writing and painting as art; most of us can literally and metaphorically see the similarities. However, touch yields similarities in line and form.

Consider the following vivid visual descriptions of “The Blind Woman” by Ted Kooser:

Her brown shoes splashed on
into the light. The moment was like
a circus wagon rolling before her
through puddles of light, a cage on wheels,
and she walked fast behind it,
exuberant, curious, pushing her cane
through the bars, poking and prodding,
while the world cowered back in a corner.
  • Read the start of the poem at; you can also listen to the piece at the same site. Describe your favorite color or time of day as if you are delivering it to a person who cannot perceive it with her eyes.

Dancing in the Kitchen: Cooking Class

I made this. Though my fingers at first resisted, I made squash blossoms stuffed with raisins and tomatoes and chicken and goodness. I made: avocado soup with a little too much salt;  a mole with green olives, almonds, tomatoes, pineapple, plantain, cinnamon, chiles, and raisins; tortillas (including plantain tortillas). I also made a cucumber water with jalapeno, lime, and just enough sugar, and to top off the feast: orange juice and mezcal sorbet.

Nervous as a chihuahua; I am practically a wreck in the kitchen. At one point, I dropped an apple on the floor. I splashed (a lot of) mole on the stove. I had to scrape my raw tortilla from the stove and press it again–and one more time–to, at last, make a single tortilla. But I returned to the cooking class at Casa Crespo again this summer to practice. And, it certainly was delicious practice under the precise instruction of the artist Oscar Carrizosa:

From Good Times

–Lucile Clifton


…My Mama has made bread

and Grampaw has come

and everybody is drunk

and dancing in the kitchen

oh these is good times

good times

good times…

  • Paint a picture of prevailing good times despite allusions to life’s challenges. Consider simple joys, spontaneous happiness for small things.

Rain Like a Stranger and Lightning Like a Tiger


I grew up in Desert Hot Springs; I repeat the word desert to emphasize how little I know about rain. Rain was a stranger  most of my childhood. I wore cowboy boots and a blue down vest to keep me warm. We had wind (boy did we have wind!), but I didn’t own an umbrella until I went away for university. Instead of raincoats, at the rare appearance of rain, my sister and I donned black plastic garbage bags.

I spend part of most summers as a stranger in a city in southern Mexico where it rains as reliably as high tide. It is undeniably more insistent on Mondays and Wednesdays when I have to travel some distance to teach classes on an outdoor patio in one of the smallest towns on the planet.

It rains its warning against English or English teachers who failed to pack a tarp or at least a couple of garbage bags.

Summer Rain

What could be lovelier than to hear the summer rain
Cutting across the heat, as scythes cutting across grain?
Falling upon the steaming roof with sweet uproar,
Tapping and rapping wildly at the door?
No, do not lift the latch, but through the pane
We’ll stand and watch the circus pageant
Of the rain,
And see the lightning, like a tiger, striped and dread,
And hear the thunder cross the shaken sky
With elephant tread.

– Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986).

  • Write a memory about rain featuring several metaphors.
  • OR write a poem with an extended metaphor about the rain. Below is another Coatsworth piece:


Rain Poem

The rain was like a little mouse,
Quiet, small, and gray,
It pattered all around the house
And then it went away.
It did not come, I understand,
Indoors at all, until,
It found an open window and
Left tracks across the sill.

– Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986).

Why Would Someone Do That to a Baby?

HD drama

Jack-in-the-Box and Home Depot Parking Lot

Standing in the gravel of the planter box between the Home Depot and Jack-in-the-Box, we had a rather large circle of up to eleven at some points in our conversation. We were talking about a certain politician’s plans for building a giant wall and the problems it might pose to the US as much as Mexico when we all noticed a man with a stroller crossing the parking lot. He was arguing vociferously into his cell phone.

Because his volume had captured our attention, we were all witnesses as the woman he was arguing with on the phone rolled up beside him in a black Honda Civic. And, trying to pepper spray him, she showered the baby in the stroller.

It took me a couple of whole minutes to register what we had just seen and to grasp that some of my students had been exposed to the particulates carried by the breezy afternoon. Pepper-sprayed a baby!

The whole scene focused on the stroller. A man in a rusty old truck threw open his door as he was still rolling and poured water over the girl to try to stop her awful wailing.

A woman rushed into Jack-in-the-Box to get more water. Another gave me the car’s license number as I was on the line with the Sheriff’s department.

All of us saw exactly what happened. (We just didn’t believe it.)

I dismissed the students and stayed around to offer my statement. The man who’d been sprayed could not hold his daughter because, just as she, he had cayenne oils all over his clothing, skin, and hair.

Because she was too young to have words, she continued to shriek after paramedics arrived and treated her.

Daniel, one of the English students, asked me in Spanish, “Who would pepper spray a baby?” Though I knew it was a rhetorical question, I responded, “It doesn’t make sense in any language.”

On my way home, the afternoon’s events raging in my brain, I carelessly wiped my sleeve across my face. My lips burned nearly as much as my mind.

In class, the next day, we debriefed the incident. One student confided that she could think of little else. Another, a veteran, shared that, were we in battle, this woman would be guilty of a war crime.

*According to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” Start with an unequivocally evil act, and help readers empathize with, but not condone the actions of, the evil-doer. This reminds me of a poem titled “The Torturer’s Apprentice.”


The Torturer’s Apprentice

by Doug Anderson


Almost a man now,

he used to shudder

when the old man

slipped hatpin under fingernail

but now he’s got

the master’s calm,

the seducer’s whiskey drift

to ply his subject

to give up his neighbor, tease

from him how many,

where and when.

Next month he’ll have his first,

no more dabbing the old man’s brow

with a cool towel,

no more sopping up the blood,

spraying air-freshener

to mask the lingering stink

of fear and anguish.

They’ve saved a little nun

for him, some dear thing

who still believes

that deep down people

are good.

(From the anthology Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination, FROM Curbstone Press, edited by MartÍn Espada. Get the collection for the rest of this poem. It is a powerful anthology.)


Necesito Correr


Hale Kai Restaurant, Fairmont Orchid, Big Island, Hawaii  

I regularly start stories with the same first line: “A funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day.” For those of you who don’t know, I learn Spanish (and teach English) in the Home Depot parking lot one day a week throughout the semester.

Thus, a funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day. It was nearly 2:30PM, and we were about to wrap up our hour-long language exchange. We were shaking hands around the circle and offering, “Mucho gusto” and “Nice to know you” in our most practiced accents.

Typically, after this cordial ritual, if I do not have a meeting or another class, I send my college students off and linger a little to chat about gardening (how Lalo’s avocado tree is so much taller, how I plan to plant before the next rains) or when my plans are for traveling to Mexico next (mid-June, I promise).

Then, I regularly say, “Necesito correr” (I need to run) and often posture slo-mo running as I head off to my car. It is my way of sharing an English expression that seems silly in Spanish. (It’s pretty much as close as I get to being able to tell jokes in Spanish.)

The guys who regularly participate in our exchange know this is just my way of essentially saying “the end,” and I follow it with: “See you next week; hasta la proxima.”

However, Alejandro, a man unknown to me before Monday, offered graciously to meet me in a park ay 6PM to run laps and help me get in a mile (five laps) as he understood me clearly state that I need to run.

I tried to explain that it is an idiomatic expression, that I didn’t really need to run, that I knew what I was saying, but I was playing with the words, and that I was grateful for his offer, but that last bit made him think I wanted to meet him at 6PM. And, he offered additional advice for a pleasant, evening run.

By this time, the other guys were beyond giggling; one even held on to a tree as he was guffawing. I felt bad; Alejandro was being friendly and generous. The least I could do was explain what an idiom is. But I had to run.

This experience made me think of a piece I read on the Poetry Foundation’s website:

Language Lesson 1976

by Heather McHugh



When Americans say a man

takes liberties, they mean


he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw

a kid on a leash look mom-ward


and announce his fondest wish: one

bicentennial burger, hold


the relish. Hold is forget,

in American.


On the courts of Philadelphia

the rich prepare


to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,

in which love can mean nothing,


doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying

doubletalk with me. I’m saying


go so far the customs are untold.

Make nothing without words,


and let me be

the one you never hold.


*Write about a misunderstanding due to language or cultural barrier. If you don’t have one off the top of your head, ( has an idiom of the day.

** Talk to random people in parking lots to see what misunderstandings unfold.

No Love


Photo: Cat Diner, fourth hole,Waikoloa Beach Golf Course, Big Island, Hawaii

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Avoid drafting love poems about your lover. You can write love poems about fruit, or weather–anything but your lover. (Think Neruda’s Odes to Common Things.) Skip the inclination to craft even a single love poem unless you can celebrate your beloved as ecstatically as Rumi (“I Have Five Things to Say:” or as abrasively as Shakespeare (“Sonnet 130,” “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”), unless you can “feast on your life” as Wolcott shows us in the poem above. Eschew attempts to exalt any “love supreme”—unless you’re John Coltrane.

*If you can’t resist the temptation, start with “I Have Five Things to Say.” What are these things you need to say?