Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fantasy of a Flathead Shovel

Little Boy with Big Shovel

The boy with a flat-head shovel
lifts leaves
and down they slide
a waterfall of brown leaves
flowing back into the
big brown pile of leaves
his father
builds with his back turned

The flat-head shovel dwarfs
the little boy who tries again
lifts leaves
and down they slide
a waterfall of brown leaves

Not a leaf falls into the tall can
that dwarfs the little boy
nor does his father know
raking more brown leaves
into the big deep pile
with his back turned
to the drama
of a little boy dreaming
the leaves won’t fall
back this time
but will fall in


Once in a Blue Moon

It was a blue moon last night, the second full moon in the month of December.
Today I try to think of all that has passed this year, and the only parts I remember are the extraordinary ones. I don't remember all the meetings I went to, all the chores I did, nothing special about the ordinary things.

I remember the day I knelt in the beach sand and prayed the 7th Step prayer with a sponsee to the tune of ocean waves.

I remember the long ride all the way up California to the Oregon border and camping in the big trees on the coast. I hiked with one of my daughters and watched my other daughter blacken marshmallows over the fire.

I remember the Best of Show ribbon hanging onto a flower arrangement I had made for the mid-state fair.

I remember the moment my poem was read as the winning poem at the Central Coast Writers Conference.

I remember the first night at the mental hospital, surrounded by people with serious mental illnesses, while all I suffered from was depression. It made me grateful to have depression. I remember weeping on the floor of the closet and praying out loud the first three Steps. I remember the peace that gave me.

I remember hearing myself read my poetry on the local NPR station, surrounded by my dear friends, all of us glued in to a tiny clock radio because it was the only radio in the house. (I just remembered that I should buy a boom box one of these days.)

I remember many poems pouring out of me this year. I remember my poetry reading in the small city to the south of us. It was glorious.

I remember these times, which are the equivalent of once-in-a-blue-moon stuff. It has been a great year, full of joy, sorrow and fear, and everything in between.

I hope your year was memorable, and filled with the love of family and friends.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lovers and Other Remains

To end the year on something fun:
The Associated Press reported in April that archaeologists think they may be close to locating the graves of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in a temple west of Alexandria, Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves in a suicide pact when their bid to seize the Roman Empire from Caesar Augustus failed in 30 BC. I wondered, if I were Cleopatra, what I might think of that.

Cleopatra Heaps Scorn on the Archaeologists

They think they will find us, my love,
those men with their radar
with their picks and shovels.

They think they will conquer us again
with their greed
with their need to see us defeated
not only by armies but by death too

I can hear their cheers
Look! Here lie the mortal remains
of two great lovers who betrayed

each other and betrayed their nations
mere hide and bone now
all that’s left of their immortal love

I will not be flaunted by our enemies
I be not found in such a state of dishabille
I will not stand for it, Antony

I had to fight Rome for you
I had to war with your own heroic

I would not give you up in life
I will not give you up in death
Lie still, my beloved,
in the circle of my arms
Lie still

Credits: Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts

Painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Memoriam, Massacre at Wounded Knee

Wounded Knee Creek

In the frozen waste of the Badlands I sigh
under the snow for those who fell here

I remember the red-stained white snow
churned into mud and blood by fear

I hold in my white arms the memory
of frightened people running like deer

Between my banks the water still flows
to honor them, tear by helpless tear

Chris Alba)

On Dec. 29, 1890, along Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota, 146 Sioux people were massacred by the U.S. Army. Nearly half of them were women and children. They were retreating as ordered to the Pine Ridge reservation.

Surrounded by a force of more than 350 men armed with cannon and guns, the Sioux had given up what rifles they had and were powwowing with cavalry leaders about the ordered retreat. Their old chief, Big Foot, was bleeding from pneumonia.

The phenomenon known as the Ghost Dance had recently led to a resurgence of resistance by the native tribes to the reservations demanded by the U.S. government. The Ghost Dance vision foresaw the return of the buffalo, and a new freedom for the Indian. Officials feared it would lead to native uprisings against whites.

U.S. government Indian police killed Sioux holy man Sitting Bull on Dec. 15. Chief Big Foot led the surviving members of the tribe toward the Pine Ridge reservation as commanded.

During the powwow, a single gunshot was heard. Immediately the cavalry, including mounted guns, erupted into gunfire at point-blank range. Half of the Sioux people were killed outright, along with 25 soldiers from “friendly fire.” Many of the remaining Sioux were tracked and killed. A few survived to make the trip to Pine Ridge.

The U.S. government awarded 20 Medals of Honor to the Army 7th Cavalry.

The photos here, from top to bottom are: Sioux Chief Big Foot, dead at Wounded Knee (from the National Archives); chief Sitting Bull, killed two weeks earlier in Standing Rock; and burial of the dead at Wounded Knee (from the Library of Congress).

With special thanks to Mark Durfee of The Walking Man (see my blog roll), you’ll find an awesome ballad of the massacre at Wounded Knee here: The Ghost Dance by Robbie Robertson

The saga of Wounded Knee didn’t end in 1890.

By February 1973, corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Tribal Council was at an all-time high. Tension on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation was building and quickly getting out of control.

Elders of the Lakota Nation (known as the Sioux) asked for assistance from the American Indian Movement (AIM), an activist group of mixed tribes. This brought to a head more than a hundred years of racial tension and appalling treatment by the U.S. government.

On that winter day in 1973, a large group of armed Native Americans reclaimed the village of Wounded Knee in the name of the Lakota Nation. They were quickly surrounded by U.S. Marshals and military troops with automatic weapons, who cut off roads and food supplies to the town.

The siege lasted 71 days. It ended in an armed battle with U.S. forces. Two AIM members died by gunfire. One U.S. Marshal was paralyzed.

I sat in the audience as AIM member Dennis Banks spoke at my university a few years later. I’ve never forgotten the experience.

The massacre at Wounded Knee was the end of the Indians' free reign in this country. The siege of Wounded Knee was the beginning of a new Indian groundswell for freedom from the reins of government control

There’s a very fine book about the westward expansion of the U.S and its destruction of the Native American people, called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. It culminates with the massacre at Wounded Knee, which is generally considered to be the end of the Indian Wars. You can find Wikipedia’s discussion of it HERE.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

There IS Peace on Earth

As these photos prove, the lion shall lie down with the lamb.
Okay, so it’s only my dogs Roxy and Riley with the kitten-cat named Mystery. Still, peace on my part of the earth exists between historic enemies.

I wish that were true of my fellow man. As I write this, though, I think of peace that exists today between historic enemies. France and Britain haven’t had a war in over a century. No one on American soil is enslaving black people or annihilating Native tribes. Romans are no longer conquering countries, Japan and the U.S. are trading partners, the Cold War has ended.

I know there’s war between peoples in both western and eastern hemispheres. Human beings are fighting other human beings, and it’s a story as old as history itself.

But there are also human beings helping human beings all over the world. I was deluged this month with requests for financial support to aid all kinds of humanitarian efforts. We were able to help a few, thank God.

Imagine how much money might have been raised if all of western civilization had bought one less gift each for Christmas, and donated that amount to humanitarian organizations. Hundreds of millions of dollars could have flowed into aid for suffering people.

Peace on earth will one day exist, I believe, but I think a supernatural event will bring it about. I have to be content with that belief, and seek peace myself. Psalm 34:14 tells us to seek peace, and not only seek it, but pursue it, chase after it, hunt for it.

So I’m hunting for peace. I found it in my dog and cat. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What I Love About Furry Legs

The view from my office on Christmas Eve

Christmas Morning

We lie abed with the old dogs and listen to the wind

the children are all grown and have flown with the wind

the window is a collage of leaves washed by the rain

these are the gifts of the Magi: the scent of old dogs

the wealth of the years and the preservation of love

We lie abed with wrinkles and our sagging skin

our love windblown by the turbulence of years

imperfect and well worn The smell of it is beautiful

and your legs are soft as fur where they mingle

with mine and I pet them with my foot

as I consider rising up and bowing down

with this great gift extended to the king transformed

as we are by the hand of God

We start off Christmas Eve with a 7 a.m. meeting. There's so much gratitude among the sober alcoholics there, even if they don't have family here, or the family is estranged, or even if they're broke, even if they're homeless. The great gift of recovering from seemingly hopeless state of mind and body is all they care about. The clubhouse in town will have marathon meetings beginning at five p.m. and it will be a safe haven for all who come.

Then we go to work, cleaning the house, dropping off or picking up last-minute thingies, getting dinner organized for our 4 p.m. traditional family supper at our house. That's another great gift. We have shelter and family and food, and many people aren't blessed with such things.

We go to church at 7 to sing the old hymns and savor the atmosphere of our church in full joyous bloom. I know I'll be singing "Angels We Have Heard on High" at some point in the evening. Back home to tidy up and stuff stockings for Christmas morning.

We are alone here on Christmas Eve night, and we wake up on Christmas just the two of us in the house. My daughter will come with a couple of others for the unwrapping of presents, of which there are a few, more than anyone needs, but it's still fun to rip the paper and find the little treasures.

God bless us, everyone, especially those who work through the night in service to others. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jolts of Silk

I'm feeling a little silky with bliss today because of three things:

1. The poetry blog site Bolts of Silk features what I think is among my best poems ever. You can see "How the Egret Saved Me" here.

2. I have a year and nine months sobriety today. I no longer mourn that I drank again after 15 years. The experience has given me a new life and a renewed compassion for the alcoholic who still suffers. I mourn nothing that has happened in my life. It has given me richness beyond what I ever hoped for.

3. Tomorrow my family will gather at our house for the annual Christmas Eve supper, and then we'll go to our separate churches for that beautiful Christmas Eve service. I'm grateful for my family and the precious freedoms we have that I too often take for granted.

And saying that, I suddenly envision the Bill of Rights, that amazing document that spells out our freedoms. Then there's the simple statement in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, merely because we live in the United States, a free country....that is awesome, when I think about it. The signers of the Declaration, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world," sought justice and freedom, pledging their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor to uphold such a declaration.

In spite of the many things that have sullied the independence and freedom envisioned for us, we have that Bill of Rights, and the justice of this land is bound to abide by them. I'm grateful to live in this free country, where I can publish what I like, have the opinions I wish to have, worship the way I want to, and make of my life whatever I'm willing to work for.

Christmas may come and go, but I won't stop praying for peace on earth and good will toward humanity everywhere.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lethal Frosty

Frost (frôst)

1. ( To cover with frost. To damage or kill by frost. To anger or upset.
2. (n.) A cold or icy manner. A deposit of ice crystals formed when water vapor condenses at a temperature below freezing.
3. Frôst, Robert Lee,1874-1963. American poet.

Lethal Frosty hides his vicious teeth
beneath his beauty. I hide beneath
the quilts and ponder yesterday’s news:
The frost that sparkles on the rooftops,
a lovely blanket, and those lacy crystals
on the window are harbingers of death.
Death slipped its frosty fingers
through the windows and killed a man,
age 93, in Michigan, on the same day
Robert Frost died, he who penned his epitaph:
“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

I think of the lover’s quarrel beneath
the cozy bedclothes that enfold me.
My breath is white, and the glass
in the window is a jigsaw puzzle of crystals.
I lie beside you covered to the nose,
still as a chipmunk lest I wake you
and you move, stirring cold air
underneath the nest of blankets.

You sleep hard like a tired child,
unaware of me, the glassy air,
the pocket of heat in which I lie
beside your back, unaware
too of cold hard words spoken
late last night between us.
Frost damage has burned
our tender edges and killed
our fragile growth.

Trussed in my warm coffin,
I shiver at the question
of how you will treat me
when you wake up:
Will you be as frost to me?
And will I be as deeply chilled?


Lovers' quarrels used to be detrimental to my health. I usually got suicidal over them. I couldn't bear that frosty rejection.
Then I got sober, and in the first year of recovery, God saw to it that I wasn't in a relationship. I wasn't lonely either, because lots of meetings kept my mind and body busy.
Then I met the man who would later become my husband. He was four years sober, and we went to meetings together, dating very carefully. Three times divorced, he would often tell me, "I don't know how to have a healthy relationship. Maybe if I just do everything differently, we'll have a chance."
So we learned to love each other, but it meant many battles with old behaviors and old ideas. The first time we had a lovers' quarrel, I got very nervous. But I managed to tell him how I felt, and he had mercy on me, the first of many times that man was going to have forgiveness for me over the 18 years (so far) of our relationship.
We had our heated arguments, but we tried to make up before we went to sleep at night. Sometimes it just didn't happen, because the problems went deep. That's when I wrote this poem. Worried one more time about rejection, I didn't know for certain we'd survive.
Forgiveness has been our saving grace many, many times. We had promised we would never run from each other, and sometimes that was the only thing that made us stay. God always helped one of us regain our sanity in time to forgive and go on. And when one forgives, the other becomes free to do so too.
We let go of our old ideas, and our new, sober behaviors with each other became habits that brought us back together time after time. I know for certain now that we will always survive, because forgiveness and mercy are part of our lives.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Church of Betty Crocker

The Anointed One

My mother’s cookbook is stained
with butter, brown sugar, smears
of chocolate, dabs of unknown origin
Her fingers dipped in oil
anointed the pages with the holiness
of cooking
Pies and cakes, meatballs and turkey
long sacrificed on the altar of family
Pages torn by force of use
pages ripped from their moorings
in the storms of baking that swept
her kitchen
Priceless now, this dog-eared book
record of her life as chief cook
in the tribe of our not-chosen
but birth-born-to and loved
through the fragrance of herbs
hot meat, melting sugars
and crispy crusts of bread
cast upon the waters, returning
to me now, daughter, mother,
new high priestess in the church
of Betty Crocker.


So my daughter and I were baking cookies Sunday, and she said, "May I have this cookbook...."

"When I've kicked the bucket?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Didn't I give you one of your own on your 21st birthday?"

"Yes, but I like this one."

"This one" is a dog-eared, ripped and stained Betty Crocker cookbook dated 36 years ago on my 20th birthday, given to me by my mother. It's a family tradition, the gift of the binder version of Betty Crocker's cookbook.

Certain pages in my edition are worn more than others. Pie crust, for example, is smeared with fingertips oiled by lard or shortening. Cookies, the whole section, are pretty messy too. So are the turkey page, the spaghetti page, Swedish meatballs, breakfast casseroles, and the ever-important page about emergency substitutions for things like bakers chocolate and buttermilk.

The photo is of what my daughter and I call snowballs, which are from the page containing "Russian Teacakes." They're made with butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and flour, then rolled into balls, then baked and rolled in powdered sugar while hot. Yum.

We made those on Sunday, along with chocolate-chip cookies (that page is ripped out of the binder, it's been used so often), brownies, and pastry fans, made with butter, flour, sour cream, and sugar.

I thought it was sweet of her to want my cookbook, my well-used, smudged cookbook, in memory of me and her cooking the Christmas cookies practically every year of her life. She didn't used to like old things; she thought they were "dirty." Now she wants my snowmen, my cookbook, God knows what else.

So I wrote the poem "The Anointed One" just for her, in honor of her request. I have my own mother's cookbook on the shelf.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What the Birds Said

Blackbirds in Winter

A flock of blackbirds careens across the silver sky
and pours into the leafless white birches.
For the span of two heartbeats they are still;
then they explode like Chinese fireworks
into the sky.

The winter has seemed bleak and long
until this moment when the blackbirds fly.
It has been a time of strange juxtapositions:
My friend has sobbed in the arms of her oncologist.
In the garden, sunflower seeds have sprouted
in wet earth.

Hope and sorrow rise together.
Bravery and fear walk side by side.

Painting by Law Wai Hin

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm a Sucker for a Snowman

I live in the town where I was born. I didn't always live here. For 32 years I lived away in Los Angeles and elsewhere. But at the first opportunity to move back, we leaped into the unknown. The town has changed dramatically since I left at the age of 12, but some people I knew or who knew my parents and grandparents still live here, as does some family.

In the oak woodlands where I live, the winters are cold and the summers hot. When I was 3 or 4, we got snow here. I don't remember it, but there's a family snapshot of my dad, my older brother, and me making a snowman in the front yard.

I grew up to have a soft spot for snowmen. I collect them at Christmastime, and I have two boxes and one bag of snowmen in various forms. Sometimes I get lucky and find a snowman water globe like the one here. I really like the falling white snow and the music they play. It only lasts a moment before everything settles, and the music stops. But I can keep enjoying those moments.

I've learned in sobriety how to enjoy the moments. How to recognize one is happening, in the first place. As a drunk, life was just too full of varying miseries for me to enjoy much of anything except the first half-hour of the buzz. And that didn't last either.

Jolts of happiness and contentment come now at odd moments during my days. I'll feel a feeling and recognize it as something like joy. And today I pause when that moment is here, and I savor it. It's like my moments with the snowman water globe, so lovely while it's happening. Just like everything does, it will settle into ordinary soon enough.

But these moments of joy add up into a life that's actually very full of them, if I stay mindful.

What moments do you savor? What happened recently that gave you a burst of joy?

I hope your holidays are full of such sweet times.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Flash 55


In the fog, the road ahead diminishes
to nothing.
The impressions of towering oaks
rise gray and ghostly
running at me, then passing.

I float on a chair
enclosed in metal
gliding toward the eternal
vanishing point.

The unknown rises
to greet me, soft as a cloud
and it is never
what I feared.
If you'd like to tell a tale in 55 words, no more, no less, post it and go tell the G-Man at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What's on Your Desk?

I've had a desk in my room since I was a little girl, all of my remembered life. First I had a built-in desk. Then my mother found an old painted desk, which she stripped down to its mahogany wood and refinished. I took it to college with me. I still have that desk.

When my daughter was young, I bought an old walnut desk for her. She wanted it painted, but I wouldn't do that to the walnut. She left the desk behind when she moved, and I still have that one, too.

Then I found an antique desk finished in shabby chic, perfect for my laptop. It's what I currently use in my sunroom office, pictured at top right.

On my desk is a piece of polished jade from Big Sur. A vase of flowers from my yard (now it is narcissus). A coffee cup. A stack of poems and miscellaneous other papers that I am thinking about.

What do you have on your desk? Is your view as nice as mine? I look out over a park. I've found that I have to look out at something, not just a wall. I can't face a wall. If I can't have a window, I turn the desk so I face out into the room. So tell me: What's on your desk?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What the [Bleep] Have I Done?

A friend moved up to our rural neck of the woods a couple of years ago so she could take the psych-tech training course at a local state facility. She moved up from the city at five years of sobriety, intending to start life over.
But moving disrupts life, and starting over takes time. She battled loneliness and second thoughts for a year and a half, but she completed the training, and school turned into a job she has a feeling for.
It takes a while to build a new network of friends and a support system. She trudged that road, some days wishing she could run off, screaming. But she never gave up.
I wrote this poem in her honor on her birthday:

What the [Bleep] Have I Done?

She stands in a 10 x 10 cell
and stares at the cheap walls
the narrow bed the tiny window
through which wild turkeys plod
more dirt than days out there
in this godforsaken place

She the mistress of pearls
Ferrari, backstage rock stars
She with the Fendi
alligator shoes cashmere coat
mink slung around her neck

with nothing now but turkeys
coyotes, dirt, no room
for all those clothes
the crystal left behind
in the city of angels

Exchanged for this cell
this prison training school
this hell of a new life

Time passes. Tears fall
get sucked up wiped off
The cell slowly undergoes
a transfiguration
becomes the cocoon
where she rests from the labor
of being born again

Time passes. Tears fall
get sucked up wiped off
wings emerge
she rests from her labor
wings emerge
open, close, open, close

And off she lifts
without her pearls
no cashmere coat
but glowing wings
whiter than pearls
winging her way
to freedom

Photo credit:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Turning Point

In the grotto, candlelit,
surrounded by fine diners and
their incandescent wines,
you pour out your heart to me
suddenly like a magician’s scarf
materializes out of thin air.
I hear you talking and sometimes
even hear your words:
Your father devastated you;
mortality stared you in the face;
and now you need to need
and need to be needed
possibly by me, but I am distracted.

Upstairs pacing the sidewalk is
my sailor man, tense, possessive,
fortified by good Scotch,
and he waits to fill my ears
with sweet words of love and art
and my face, which he calls beautiful.

Meanwhile you weep a little
and go on speaking words
you should have spoken yesterday
before my head was turned by Sailor Man,
before my heart was hardened
to your cause. I cannot comfort you.
I am about to embark on a dark ship
sailing to purgatory. (If only
I had known what anguish lies ahead
I might have listened harder,
touched your hand and stayed
to offer my undying love.)

This is a true story. It took 30 years for me to realize that my decision at that meal that night was a turning point in my life. I could have taken one of two roads, and I chose the one that led to destruction. I navigated through years of wreckage to come out into the peace of my later life.
Photo credit: Some Portland, Oregon, cafe that I forgot the name of.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Triangle of Love

The Triangle of Love

We bitterly quarreled that evening like children.
I loitered and dawdled to your great disgust,
And the sunset turned purple before we left home:
With dogs on their leashes, at last we could walk;
You stomped past the houses, complaining in silence
While the sky flamed its final fuchsia hurrah

And there in the purplish blue field overhead
Were three strangely aligned bright heavenly lights
Arrayed in a cozy triangular way,
Ablaze in the sky like diamonds on velvet.
The fingernail moon and two planets combined
In a triangle just a hand’s breadth in size.

I oohed and I aahed while you stormed down the sidewalk
Not speaking to me, still angry I’d dawdled.
We formed our own angles, you and I and the dogs;
The dogs were the moon, and we were the planets.
I must have been Venus; you were probably Mars.

The news said the trinity blessed us that evening;
It would never appear in our lifetimes again.
The triangle of love, I called it in private.
Because it arose in the sky, I forgave you.
Because we are also a mere hand’s width apart.

In the triangle of love, romance hasn’t vanished:
It has only rushed skyward and sparkles above us;
We’ll once again find it if we lift our eyes upward.
You’re Mars, I am Venus; let forgiveness unite us
And the dogs keep us plodding the road of our marriage.

This poem takes poetic license with the facts: Last year's triangle was formed by the moon, Venus and Jupiter.

Photo credit:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Busy Hands Are Happy Hands

Wherever I heard such a thing as "Busy hands are happy hands," it stuck with me. I'll probably be hearing it in my head until the day I die.

We had 50 AA people crushed into our house on a stormy Saturday afternoon, heard a lot of laughter, fed them all and sent them away happy. I'm not sure why they all came out in the storm. Maybe my hubby's six different cakes and desserts brought them out. Maybe they just like us!

The day began with blogging, and then prayer. I think God forgives me for doing the blogging first. He sure did bless this day. Everyone traveled on five miles of rain-swept highway to get here, and they did it safely. They blew through two hams, gallons of potato salad, a vat of candied yams and all the cakes.

For a while, it was like the loaves and fishes being multiplied around this house. The feeding of the 5,000 went beautifully!

Sometimes I find myself looking only at the grunt work in front of me, and not at the pleasures before me. I was doing that for a minute this morning, with a complaining spirit about the rain.

Then I caught myself doing it. For pete's sake, we're having a drought here. What could be better than rain? What could be better than rain and fellowship? Turn that complaining spirit off.

So I have had my hands full all week, first writing my little fingers to the bone (hah!) for my local magazine, then doing the household preparations for feeding 50. My busy hands stayed happy, despite myself at times.

My fat dogs took up all the remaining floor space and begged ham off everyone. They're beagles, but they're overfed, so they look like Texas beagles. Lily is the youngest. I posted her photo at the top of the blog on the left. Then there's her mom and dad, Roxy and Riley. That's Riley at top right.

What's better than good dogs, good friends, and rain when we needed it? At this point, that's all I need to feel very blessed.

We all went to bed happy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

All milk and smoke, the winter sky arcs overhead
rimmed by bare branches of trees

Lie down beneath it
like a hard brown chrysalis
on the dry ground

and look up
Stare at the pearly white eyeball staring back at you
with its branching network of nerves
through which the vision of yourself travels
to the unfathomable resting mind behind the eye

Marvel that you ever bother to cry out
to the God who turns this eye on his creation
and feel the chill of it all
in the tiny chrysalis that is you

I can't leave it like this.
There's a saying that if God seems far away, who moved?
I have done my share of moving away. Returning. That waltz.
I'm in a clinch now. Hugging my Higher Power close. All is well so long as I stay here.
When I saw the date of this post, 12/12, I thought of what has saved my life. Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions. This is the day of an AA open house in our home. I'll be stepping into a hostess role from morning till night falls.
It's been a maniac week with magazine deadlines and prep on the house. But today, when the people come, and I watch them drink my coffee, eat our hams and desserts, I'll feel so much a part of, no longer apart from.
Can I get an Amen, somebody?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something's Melting in My Mouth

Baking Christmas Cookies

Hot sugar
Chocolate melting in the pan.

Baking soda tang
Butterscotch smooth
Heat rising from the oven.

Batter in a bowl
Flour poofing
Stirring soft butter with a spoon.

The last time
you took pleasure
in these textures
was before you shattered.

Now they pierce
the pieces of your heart
with fine small stitches
one at a time.

Many thanks to Poetikat ( for passing this award on to me, intending that I should reveal "7 Things You Don't Know About Me."


1. I once had to sing, "I'm a little teapot, short and stout," in a third-grade school play. I despised having to sing and dance that little tune, because I am short and (now) stout. It has plagued me all these years.

2. I have anxiety attacks pretty regularly, for which I take...nothing! I practice my sobriety tools, like prayer and breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other. The tools get me through it in a sane state.

3. My first name is Diana. It was penciled in on the birth certificate at the last minute because (I was told by my mother) some nurse said I had to have three names, not just two. My real name is Chris. Just Chris. I spent my educational life explaining to the teachers and classmates on the first day of class that my name is just Chris, and it traumatized me like that stupid teapot did.

4. I took my bachelor's degree in English Literature, and went right to work in Los Angeles for the skin-trade, as we called it. I have worked on magazines for both Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. My job for seven years was to make sure all the editorial was grammatically correct. Believe it or not.

5. I've cooked the family meals from the time I was 13 years old until I was almost 50. Then my newly retired husband went to culinary school, and I've been saved from cooking dinner for nearly five years. A gift, I tell you!

6. I've been blogging since September, and now I'm addicted. Not a day goes by that I'm not in the blogland. Well, I missed some in October while I was away.

7. My favorite Christmas cookies are what we call "snowballs" made with flour, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. My daughter insists that we bake them every year. They make a mess when you pop one in your mouth, but then they practically melt. Ah, sugar.

I'm passing this award on to our friend Jenn at
Gingerbread photo by Mellors Ltd.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Frosted Roses

It was 28 degrees at 8:30 a.m. in my woodlands area of California yesterday morning. Ice was thick. I had heat in the house, thank God. Hot water, too. I enjoyed the rose buds frosted over; imagine, roses in December.

I'm on a magazine deadline this week, and researching like a mad dog, writing like a person typing with a pencil. Finished a piece on greenhouse gases and personal choices in the afternoon. Thank God Copenhagen is in session and the EPA made its announcement about, surprise, carbon dioxide is harmful to Americans (in the very least), because I had been searching for story lead, and there it was in the morning paper.

Fighting stress is an exhausting business. It can be fought, though, with remembering to breathe, remembering to pray, remembering just to focus on the next indicated thing. My friend didn't want to stay sober, but I did all I humanly could to reach out and remind her of my love and her choices. The rest is in the hands of Man Who Made the Water, as the old song says.

My radio debut of last week has been archived. The topic was "Ears on Art: the Gift of Art." The link here takes you to the local NPR station's archived program. It takes a few moments to download, but I'm five minutes into it, the second reader, and the first is a woman friend of mine with a lovely poetic voice. The KCBX radio link:

My reading is of the experience of writing poetry while in the psychiatric ward being treated for major depression. It was a gift to find the poetry within me at that time especially.

One of the poems I read is this:

The Visitor

When you came to me in the mental ward
you appeared like an angel to tell me
I was pregnant with possibilities.
Redemption was mine at that moment
when a power greater than you and I
flowed like a spark of creation through
your fingertip pressed against my own.
In that hallowed instant I ceased
to be wretched and became a woman
ripe with life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

Cold Descends

It is very cold today.
I rise up out of my body
and see the white gooseflesh
on the girl in a nook with a book.

It is very cold up here
without skin. Looking down
at the shivering girl with a book
I feel frozen with a form of pity.

It is a bone-deep cold
but I have risen as a spirit and so
it must be soul-deep cold here
in this room where love is lost.

It is very cold in the heart
of the gooseflesh girl
who hopes the phone will ring
but no sound travels through the ice.
So my daughter Milo and I were talking about stuff as we decorated the living room for the holidays. She took a step back and said, "This is good. It doesn't stress me out thinking about you having to put it all away."
So we stopped at three strands of lights, eight or ten snowmen of various heights, half a dozen sparkling red balls and three gold spangly thingies bought at Pier One last year on sale.
I listen to her today. I don't try to boss her around. I appreciated her adult attitude about simplicity.
We talked about her childhood, about fathers, fears, and whatnot. Nothing of earth-shaking importance. She's turning 24 this week. We made a date to bake cookies. We made a date to have dinner.
She left.
I thought, I would fight like a wildcat for that child. Just that fast, I went from mellow to fierce. I washed a few dishes, said goodnight to my husband, played with the kittens. The feeling didn't leave. I would kill a man for my daughter. I would drive all night in the rain if that girl needed me. Thoughts like that.
Where did they come from on this simple Monday evening in December?
Human beings are intriguing. Two women I care about got drunk today. One I know for sure did, because she called me in tears. The other one, I'm hearing different things from her and from someone who saw her today. I don't know. I've been concerned all afternoon.
So I went from zero to sixty in a second. What can I control in my life, with my loved ones? Only my attitude and actions, not their safety, happiness, future.
Can't even control my own heartbeat most of the time.
What this has to do with anything, I don't know.
The cold poem today is about a moment that I remember very clearly. I had been left one more time. I didn't know how I could go on with such a broken heart.
And so, I lived with pain and lived through it, and felt madly protective today, and was powerless. Life as I know it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lost Love

I Can Almost Hear You, Love

I cruise the internet looking for you
the voice I need to speak
the words stuck deep
in the throat of the brontosaurus

I find you not but am distracted
by the voices chattering
like so many birds in the pine
outside the house, they shrill

unless I’ve had my morning coffee
and walked the dog and felt
my life unfold, a blanket
keeping in what warmth remains

then the shrill becomes a choir
singing hallelujah I still live
though you do not and while
my throat is stopped yours is not

you speak and sing in some
other place beyond this place
and I can almost hear you, love
The photo is of Tonya, my best pal, planting a spring garden after getting a fatal cancer diagnosis. She would love it that I've written another poem for her. She was over 6-feet tall, fierce and fiercely grateful for life while she had it. She had a story involving a pervert and suicide that was beyond hysterical. I turned it into a poem and someday might post it here if I get the courage. Oh, wait a minute. (Senior moment) I already did! Find it here: How the Pervert Saved Her Life
Here's the first one I wrote for her. This is a two-for-the-price-of-one post.
The Diagnosis

A six-foot Amazon
warrior woman

everything about her is large
Large feet Large breasts (one fake)
Large mouth (fake teeth)

fighter of cancer five times over
never say die

Ferocious as the beast that strikes her again
dammit all to hell

Large heart (broken) Large spirit (tired)

all the fight has gone out of her
for this moment
all the fire gone

She will rise up again and roar/
have faith

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday 160 Challenge

A Night Sight

The moon is a white eye
in a broad blue face
and it peers over the hill,
over the giant supine silhouette
of some black, some dozing beast.


The Sunday 160 challenge is to write something in exactly 160 characters, including spaces. You'll note if you count that I added a couple of spaces to this poem to make it reach the mark.

The place to check out for the rules is Monkey Man at

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Loved Ones

My Husband in the Kitchen

The sight of your broad shoulders
as you whack the pink flesh of chicken
with a mallet is erogenous.
I want to run my hands over their strength
and with my fingers feel the flex of muscle
as you pound chicken into something
that soon will melt in my mouth.

From the other room sitting with my book
open on my lap I watch you move
from surface to surface in the kitchen
a big man in a small space
carefully preparing supper.

I am the space you occupy
as you control your beautiful solidity
and exert your will over flesh and flame.
It is me you grasp with your large hands
with your muscles


This is my most-requested poem when I'm doing a reading. People seem to like that whacking business. I certainly liked watching my husband do it.

Here are some other faces I love:

My daughter Milo

My niece Allison and Jacob

My daughter Annika

These are a few of the faces I love to look at. There are many more. I see beauty in their eyes. I feel love bloom in my heart. This is a very good life, to contain such fine cadre of beloveds.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Flash 55 Friday

The Musician

A woman spitfire
attacks the guitar
with gusto
like a gull rips
into a bag of Cheetos
with glorious greed
She has gorged herself
on music
She flings it
into the crowd
Rips open
the sack of her heart
Grabs the words
with mouth and hands
Hurls them into the air
with glee

If you want to tell a story in exactly 55 words, do so and go tell Mr. Knowitall.

I have basked all day in the afterglow of yesterday’s spectacular unfolding. Feeling pure joy is a priceless thing.
There’s a phrase in the book of Luke, when the shepherds and the wise men have paid their visits to Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child, that says, “And Mary stored up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I have been pondering in my heart the gifts of friends, poetry, recognition as a poet, blogger buddies who say incredible things, and life as me, such as I am.

Whatever is wrong in this world, and there is much of that, there is good as well. Loving the work we do, for instance: a gift. Writing a good piece: a gift. Talking with a child of two, interested in everything: a gift. Loving a friend, a lover, a father, a child: all gifts. Autumn leaves turning red and gold: a gift. Holding your aged mother’s hand as you cross a busy street, with her shuffling old-woman steps, feeling like a parent of a trusting four-year-old: an oddly wrapped gift.

God bless us, every one.
Chris Alba
Photo courtesy
© 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lust Changes Everything

Lust Changes Everything

Dense fog makes ghosts of trees lining the parkway.
No sun, no sky, no color brighten this bleak place.
Even dogs leashed to dedicated owners droop,
plodding onward on the sidewalk, joyless.

Then they come, the flock of cedar waxwings.
They drift like leaves from trees down to the bushes
where the red berries wait. Gobbling seeds,
these jaunty bandits change everything.
In their red-berry lust, they make even
the coldest heart delightedly sing.


Wednesday was a day filled with fear, anxiety, excitement, and sorrow. I had the radio performance to look forward to, with a small group of women friends coming over to support me in my anxiety.
I had to take my demented mom out for her Wednesday outing first, so I spent some time in prayer about her. I asked God to give me joy and patience with her infirmity, because she is a cheerful childlike woman whom I used to love deeply. I asked for gratitude for her and love of what she has become. In other words, I prayed thoughts of thanksgiving and acceptance.
I took her Christmas shopping, and everywhere she went, she brought joy to clerks and customers alike with her obvious pleasure. My attitude had changed from one of sorrow to one of grace.
I was frightened of the radio broadcast, thinking I would sound like a dork. I prayed all the way home prayers of thanksgiving for the opportunity to read in public, thanksgiving for the gift of words. I had invited a lot of my AA friends over to support me. They came and loved me up. I sounded like a dork reading but they assured me it was very fine, powerful in fact. We laughed and told stories, ate Joe's scones and Karen's wonderful tart, drank tea and talked of art and sobriety.
I went on my blog and found several of you had listened and it was the cream on the cake. My happiness knows no bounds.
My sense of thankfulness runneth over. I walked through anxiety and fear without having to medicate or drink. I'm in a 12-Step program that teaches me how to respond to negative emotions with prayer and gratitude. My Higher Power blesses me richly every day. My God has provided all that I need and blessed me richly besides. I feel more joy than I can stand at this moment, and I thank you for sharing this experience with me.
May God bless your day, and make you a blessing to others, too.
cheers from chris!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Today, Live on the Radio


A rain of lemony leaves
backlit by the sun
falls gently on the green grass
forming a yellow pool
lapping at the black trunk
of the tree
and a little black cat
dashes madly through it
as you wish you felt
on this ending sort of day.


I'm insanely thrilled to be a reader on today's local public radio station program called Ears On Art. There will be several us telling stories and reading our poetry at 4:30 p.m. West Coast time.

If you like, you can listen on your computer to the live broadcast at this link:
The link takes you to a live stream from the station programming. You can click on any of the four live-listening streams. If you have a media player, you can share this experience with me. I've never heard my own voice reading my poems, so I am totally excited.

You just need to account for your time difference in regards to U. S. Pacific time.

If you can't listen today, there is a link on the same website to the program archives, where you will find the archived Ears on Art program in a couple of days. Say a prayer for my peace of mind as I sit in my living room with a few AA women, drinking chai tea and eating hubby's wonderful scones. I'll be nervous as hell.
Yesterday morning, after my posting of the poem regarding red berries, cedar waxwings, and control-freak hubby, a huge flock of cedar waxwings, the first of the season, flew in to feast on the red berry bushes. I was jumping for joy at the sight. Then I heard my dear hubby fire up the leaf blower, and I ran out to beg him not to blow away my leaves. We compromised: He could clean the sidewalks, and leave my lovely leaves alone on the grass.
If that isn't synchronicity, I don't know what it is. I do know that God has blessed me richly today. May His blessings be on you, too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Red Berry Love

You May Not Have All of Me

Luscious red berries wait for the cedar waxwings
to swoop down and gobble them up
to strip the branches bare of berries
like I wait for you to swoop down and gulp
me up like a lukewarm latte, not delicious
perhaps but finished off, the cup stripped bare

Yellow sycamore leaves fall like a congregation
of large butterflies fluttering from the sky
one after another tumbling down in its last dance
before landing on the grass in final repose
The lawn wears a yellow blanket of leaves
and I wait for you to tire of them, to roar
your several engines designed to suck up
dead butterflies because you cannot stand the mess

The red berries are safe from the bushwhacker,
waiting for the cedar waxwings who are late
this year, because the fence protects the shrubs
from your finishing touch, your need for order
and finality. I love you but the wild things
tumbling in my heart cry out against you,
you finisher of things blind to butterflies

You take me lukewarm and swallow the last
drop, not to waste a moment or a latte,
tolerant of my imperfections, loving me
despite the wild things making messes
in our house, our yard, in the mental ward
I wait for you to tire of me as surely you must
when your desire for order overcomes your lust
for the red berries in my heart, untouchable
beyond the fence and safe until the waxwings