Thinking Metaphysical

I’ve been thinking more than usual about the relationship between spirituality, poetry, and the body because of the workshop I’m taking at the Poetry Barn with Jenn Givhan, “Poetry as Altar: Creating Space for the Sacred.”

Since childhood, I’ve been asking myself questions about the nature of existence. I’ve always thought that if I just keep looking, searching, that the answers will come, that they are just around the corner.

Maybe it’s because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church.

Maybe it’s because my dad used to talk about Jesuit theology with me on our trips to the hardware store or the dump.

Now that I’m much older, nearing old age, I think I will not know the answers until I cross over into a spirit realm. That’s my hope, anyway, that there is a spirit realm or an astral plane.

I read a story about astronaut Edgar Mitchell who, when he saw Earth from space, experienced a deep knowing, a profound sense that infused him entirely, that he was in the midst of a limitless cosmic mind.

After his experience of seeing Earth from the surface of the moon, Mitchell created a center called The Institute of Noetic Science. On the website history they say, “As he watched the Earth float freely in the vastness of space, he became engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness.”

I’ve never had an epiphany like his, nor can I vouch for the scientific validity of the astronaut who experienced such bliss. But experience counts for something.

The realizations I’ve experienced have been fleeting ones that I need to practice again and again, moment by moment, through yoga, walking, writing, meditating, and even by teaching, reading, and discussing literature with friends and students.

What I Need Is More Yoga

Tree in tree pose

Tree in tree pose

When I woke up yesterday morning the light in the room was still dim. The closed door, stained dark walnut, looked like an open portal, a deep black tunnel.

At the end of yoga class yesterday afternoon, when our teacher said to allow the mind to go into the deeper states of consciousness, this ink black portal, a door made of shadows, opened before me once again.

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.


Peeking at 2018

Conventional wisdom holds that the way to begin a productive new year is to set goals, but I’m loathe to do so because I have a rebellious nature.  I even rebel against my own goals.  How self-defeating is that?

Some of my writing friends have set benchmarks such as accumulating 50 or 100 rejection notices so that they maintain a steady stream of sending out poems for publication. Last year I agreed to shoot for thirty, but I think I only sent work to five or six journals. I did receive two acceptances, though–

“Letter to My Father at the Winter Solstice” at Heron Tree, one of my favorite online journals. They publish one poem a week and then gather all of them together and publish them in one volume. Here is a link to volume 5, which is ongoing: Heron Tree, volume 5.

The other poem I published in 2017 is a contrapuntal poem, a specific form I learned about in a workshop led by talented poet and teacher Amy Pence.  I wrote this poem, “Dependent Co-arrising” from a prompt based on the writing of Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space at Switched-on Gutenberg.

Amy had already led a contrapuntal poetry workshop based on ekphrasis, where we described an image in one column and then wrote from the perspective of a single individual in the next column.

In the second workshop we used intertextuality as a springboard. I wrote four or five contrapuntal poems last year, and found inspiration from this technique for revising other poems I had abandoned.

I took two other poetry workshops in 2017, one with the poet and teacher with Jenn Givhan on narrative poetry and the other with Ada Limón at 24Pearlstreet.  In both of these workshops, I wrote about the pilgrimage I took to Fisterra this past summer.

I have written many new poems in the last year, but I don’t like sending them out into the world because they all feel like works in progress. Maybe once I complete the project I’ll feel better about trying to publish individual pieces.

I suppose when I look back on what I did and did not accomplish last year, I will say that my intention (not a goal), is to continue writing. I find inspiration from reading poetry, walking in nature, practicing yoga, just from being alive, really.

But motivation to write comes from discipline. It requires daily practice. That’s where the workshops factor in for me. The deadlines to write, read, and comment on other poet’s work helps me stay focused.

For more concrete guidance on goal setting for 2018, read “Poetry Action Plan” by January Gil O’Neil at Poet Mom.

For inspiration, take a look at poet Dave Bonta’s erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys–this one is titled “Gusto.”

Writing in Community


Pyrenees Mountains, Vierge d’Orisson

Led by Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer, a group of poets who used to blog together in the mid-2000s has gathered once again in an effort to revive our blogs and our communal writing space outside of Facebook and Twitter. 

I’m not sure about everyone’s motivations, but I find that if I have a community of writers to turn to, I stay motivated to write and share my process with others. The 2016 elections and the onslaught of trolls and bots has left me fatigued with and leery of other social media outlets, and so I return to my own private Idaho on the web–my blog!

Of course, blogging is another form of social media, but on my site, at least, I don’t have ads popping up.

My project for today is to begin writing a sonnet crown based on the seven words the current occupant of the White House has banned from the CDC budget papers. I’m going to begin with the word “vulnerable.”

For more inspiration, I recommend this podcast interview with U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith–American Masters: The Poet: Tracy K. Smith.



It Feels Just Like Starting Over

I’m happy to be a part of this group of poets—a community of writers is a great way to recharge and maintain a writing practice.

Put Words Together. Make Meaning.


It’s been a while, readers. It’s almost 2018, and I haven’t posted in over a year here. Which I miss. And I’m hoping you’re still there.

If you are, then stick around for what I hope you will consider good news. Many writers like myself found their first poetry communities online. By reading posts like this one and participating in forums (like ReadWritePoem), we built relationships and learned from one another. Since I do not have an MFA and have been primarily an autodidact when it comes to poetry, this was very important for me.  And, although I now use social media to connect with a large literary community, many of us have been mourning (for lack of a better word), the opportunity to have access to each other’s extended thoughts on the writing life and poetry in general.

So, sparked by a Twitter…

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Poems about Pilgrimage

After finishing another online poetry workshop with fabulous writer, poet, and teacher Jenn Givhan, I find myself still steeped in the creative process.

Jenn’s narrative poetry prompts at Poetry Barn gave me the nudge I needed to start writing about my experiences this past summer on the Camino de Santiago.

I had started writing a prose travelogue about my first pilgrimage in 2015, and had gotten almost three quarters of the way done, but the project derailed after my father’s prolonged illness in 2015 and his passing in April, 2016.

And then the 2016 elections took place.

I found that I couldn’t go back to my prose writing after these personal and societal upheavals. So I returned to Spain to take another long walk, this time with a portion of my father’s ashes in my backpack. These are the poems I’ve been writing.

Because I’m in a poetry writing mode, I’ve stayed quiet on my blog and in my personal life, but in an effort to be a part of a literary and writing community, I’m going to post here more frequently, sharing the books, paintings, and travels  that inspire me.

Dad in Spain

My dad in Spain, 1984. My parents came to visit me at the end of my year of study in Madrid. My mom took the photo. I’m in shadows. All you can see are my legs.

Aspens Look Like Individual Trees

Aspens look like individual trees that grow up together, but beneath the surface, they form a common root system, a single seedling.

Humans are like aspens. Race is a contrived concept meant to separate us and keep us from growing together like an aspen colony. We come from a common seedling. We thrive in groups. We depend on love from our community for survival.

Southern plantation owners pitted poor whites and recently emancipated slaves against each other so that together they would not overpower their plantation bosses.

They drove home the idea that poor whites would have to accept their low wages because at least they weren’t black and wouldn’t be beaten or jailed for “vagrancy.” If a black man was found without work, he was subject to imprisonment, where he was once again forced to work without wages.

Today, our so-called president is a demagogue who attempts to create a wedge between us by inflaming these old fears and hatreds.

His overt enemies are the immigrant population and Muslims, but through his racist agenda, he’s turning back the clock on civil rights and criminal justice reform, among many other dangerous policies.

The problem of racism/white supremacy is the most important issue of our times. For the past 20 years or so, there has been a “colorblind” movement that has absolutely not worked. People have come up with devious ways to subvert the laws.

When I was younger, I used to think the term “white supremacy” only referred to neo-Nazis and the KKK, just as I put the word “racist” in that same category of people who verbally and physically attacked others based on their race or religion.

But the words are broader. Whenever we make assumptions about the behavior of an entire group of people (or a subset of that group) based on race, we are being racist.

It’s scary to admit that we have held racist or stereotypical views. But if we don’t forgive ourselves and others for these old views that we’re now discarding, we won’t make any progress. We won’t heal. We need to stop being defensive.

If we are white and have harbored old stereotypes about a certain group, we have been racist.

If we have remained silent about systems of oppression such as voter suppression, mass incarceration, and police brutality against people of color, we have been part of the problem.

If we see that the DREAM Act (DACA) is going to be dismantled and we say nothing, we are being willfully ignorant, no different than the white preachers who did not support Martin Luther King.

These are difficult conversations that require patience and compassion. White folks (myself included) tend to either “virtue signal” by showing what great allies we are, or we shut down and get defensive.

A therapist once said to me, “We inherit our lives.” White people inherited white privilege, even if that only perceived benefit was that we were white.

Most of us wish we had not inherited this unfair world, but at least we are living in a time when we can actually wake up and actively work to end the “myth of superiority,” as Toni Morrison has defined racism.

It’s time to mindfully reject any kind of racial or gender-based stereotypes by challenging our pre-conceived, inherited notions of who we are as individuals and as a society.

We need to have these difficult conversations and not let our EGOS get in the way.

We are not only like aspens, we are aspens. We will only thrive by working together, by caring for each other, by realizing that, as Martin Luther King wisely claimed, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Albergue Verde 

I’ve found a little slice of heaven in Hospital de Orbigo–the Green Hostel, located on the edge of town. 

For the first time since I arrived in Spain I took a yoga class here. We arranged our mats in a circle in the garden while the teacher played music on a drum he called a hand pan and led us through a meditation on the breath and on sounds.

Even though my foot was hurting, I could feel myself relax. Birds sang in the trees, sounds and smells of cooking came from the kitchen, and voices of people across the garden drifted by. Thunder murmured vaguely in the distance. 

Later we ate a vegan meal made mostly with ingredients that the hospitaleros (innkeepers) grow in their greenhouse: chard pesto, carrot purée, lentil hummus, roast squash, peppers, and mushrooms, and salad. 

The yoga teacher and owner played the guitar for us before the meal began, a song about being happy and loving. How could I feel discouraged here?

In the evening the western sun lit up the last of the storm clouds. People formed small groups in the garden to talk about their day. I rested in a hammock with an ice pack on my foot. Nuria, a nurse from Spain who’s walking the Camino, told me I probably just have muscle and tendon pain from over use. 

Today I’m going to the doctor to get her advice about my foot. I’ve lightened my pack as much as I can, and I’m hoping that tomorrow I can walk a short distance. I’m planning the rest of my pilgrimage around a list of vegetarian albergues on the way, so if I’m able to walk,  those are the places where I’ll stay.

If the doctor thinks I have a stress fracture, I’ll take the train to Santiago and then the bus to the beach. I’ve also found some hot springs in Ourense.

Later today I’ve offered to help with the meal preparations. 

Over Halfway Done … In

Today I’m wondering why I’m doing this Camino for a second time. News from home has been emotional, making me wish I were there to be a support. 

My foot hurts, possibly from over use or from carrying too much weight in my pack. I’m hoping it’s not a stress fracture. 

The mattress in this albergue is flat, and I can feel the metal bar from the bed frame under my back. 

The sun at 7 is still very hot. It’s a searing, dry heat.  After 10 or 11 in the morning, the sun is too strong to walk.

 I want to quit! 

La Meseta

Today I’m in Fromista, a town on the high plateau, known as the meseta. I’m staying at an albergue (a hostel) that’s behind the train station. It’s a quirky place run by a young woman named Tatiana who is giving me all kinds of advice.

I asked her for a lemonade and something small to eat, and she said no, if you snack now you won’t eat your dinner, and I don’t want you to waste food. 

She also told the woman I’ve been walking with that since she was done in from the heat, she should save her health and take the bus to the next town tomorrow. She reasoned that you can’t buy good health, and if you over do it because of pride, you’ll never reach Santiago. 

On the meseta it’s cool at night, about 45 degrees, and the cool air lasts through the morning, until about 11:00. The smart pilgrims wake at 5 am and finish by 11:00 or 12:00, but I’m so slow in the morning. 

Often I’m the last person to leave the albergue in the morning. I need to put on sunscreen, make sure my phone is in my right pocket, passport and money in my secret pocket, and my pilgrim’s credential in the left pocket. 

Once I begin walking, I take a while to warm up. I go slowly. I notice my surroundings, take pictures, and stop in almost every little town to have a cafe con leche or a snack. 

But by late afternoon, when I’m one of the few people left on the road, the sun beats down. It’s a dry heat, but there’s no shade on the meseta, and the sun crisps the skin and the air.

The way is flat. If you stand still, all you can hear is wind rustling the wheat and birds singing, hidden in the grass and shrubs. If you look out at the fields, it feels like you’re on the edge of a vast ocean of wheat. In the far distance you can see the last curl of the Pyrenees as it rolls into the northern coast.