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Book Love!

What’s really fun? When your people let you know that they’ve received their copies of your new book! These little surprise posts have been popping up on my Facebook feed all month, and I am humbled by and grateful for the reminders of all the kind people I have in my life. These images are from just a few of those posts.

The Spring Writes Literary Festival, hosted by our local Community Arts Partnership will be virtual again this year, and it’s coming up soon – May 5th through May 16th. There are over 40 events and over 100 writers! Check out the schedule here. I’ll be sharing poems in two readings, the 14th and 15th.

Sign up to hear some great people share their powerful and moving words! The festival is free but they appreciate donations.

In the meantime, Old Stones Understand is available through my publisher, Shanti Arts, through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and two local booksellers that also use Bookshop.org, which is a small-business alternative to big box if you prefer that.

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For Xiaojie


The day I was killed
while doing my job
was a normal day
in my American skin
that is to say
my Chinese American skin
my nonwhite skin
and a taxpaying skin
and a kind one
and a skilled one
and an everyday one
and a valuable one


unless your day
in your American skin
which to say
your white male skin
and an aching one
and a violent one
and a privileged one
and an everyday one
and a more valuable one…

must be a more valuable one

because your bad day
means more than my life
and seven other lives
and that’s just what happens
when you have a bad day.

And when someone with skin
more like yours
with contempt for skin
more like mine
holds the privilege
of holding the microphone
of holding the attention
of the rest of the country
and will talk of my killer
that poor poor man
and his sad bad day
“It’s just what happened”

while I remain nameless
but I am Xiaojie
I was two days from 50
I was a mom
I owned two businesses
I was a citizen
I was a friend
And I was a target.

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Shoveling: A Poem

Snowy scene out of window with candle

I live in the Finger Lakes of New York, and late February means it is undoubtedly still winter! We know there’s likely a good month or so of snow and cold left even as we send well wishes and aid to Texas.

The final of my poetry manuscript has been sent off to the printer. Here’s one of the poems from Old Stones Understand, first written about six years ago, but still appropriate for the conditions outside my window and perhaps in many hearts.

Shoveling

What if
while shoveling tonight,
I stop
just for a moment
cease the stooping, stabbing, groaning and lifting.

turn my face skyward,
close my eyes,
hear the wind
as my shoulders relax,
the handle slack in my unclenched hands.

My ghost age six
rides in on that wind,
whispering giggles
into gusts of cold –
that breathless moment
at the end of a wicked sled run,
with flakes collecting
on my eyelids
like they did when
I finished by making snow angels,
just lying there,
collecting snow

like wishes,
like potential,
as they are
just now:

icy absolution,
melting away
all flaws,
all complaints
and infractions,
guilt, real or imagined.

Just so
on this frosty night
we pause and are
made clean,
new in the world
once again.

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First Poetry Collection!

There’s something really fun about picking out a cover for a book. When we created “NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology” I worked with a creative design friend and we were so proud of the results. I’ve been fortunate again in working with a publisher, Shanti Arts, that is also a promoter of artists. The editor was patient and considerate in picking out this cover, which feels just so right.

We are in the final edits now, and hope to have the release in a few weeks depending on printing. I’m excited to share that news as I have it!

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Coretta

Title: [Dr. & Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front] / World Telegram & Sun photo by Herman Hiller. – Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. In examining the legacy I find myself thinking mostly of strong women of color in America today and the examples and inspiration I find in all strong, persistent women engaged in making the world better. That’s probably why instead of staying with Dr. King this morning, I found myself thinking of Coretta Scott King, his widow. She was amazing.

Coretta

Did you see
the sunrise on April 5, cold and bright and shaking?
Or was your gaze out the window without recognition,
your mind on four children
their young understandings pushing back against your own pain?

Did you see
cameras everywhere watching and dissecting your grief?
Did you allow a hope for no more white bullets or bombs
through the front of the house
while you swaddled and rocked babies in the back of the house?

Did you see
a veiled rocky path forward, backward not a choice?
A day. A year. A lifetime of patient persistence
And unwavering love
called pursuit of justice that expanded in spite of spite?

But did you?
That first bare morning did you give brief audience to
your own grief, too deep and private for anyone else
to really understand?
Did you raise your beautiful voice once for your own broken heart?

2/28/2021

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Epiphany 2021

I can’t stop watching the events in the Capitol and the woman who was killed in the riots. And also feeling prophetic that today is the Epiphany for those who celebrate it. It led to this, dashed off, raw, but anyway.


What did you learn
as you fell and bled out
as your red cap rolled astray?
Did it take your misled bile?
Have blinders yet melted away?

What will they learn
once chambers are restored
the debris all swept away?
Will they stumble forward united
Bruised but building toward better days

when we’ll have learned
to heed our whole history
including this fateful day
and from here more kindly govern.
For that epiphany, I pray.

1/6/21

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lights chasing each other

Highway at Night. Photo courtesy of PxHere.com

Alone on a full charter bus at nineteen
she leaned a warm cheek against the glass
to feel the bone-cold outside
crystals forming near her breath
staring into the first
moments of the day
after Christmas.
Speeding southbound through
stars and towns, the family
dinner long cold behind her;
had they yet cleared Virginia?
She looked over the meadows to the
distant ranch house roofs,
long low rows of blinking lights
the red and green chasing each other
and she wondered at women
inside those houses – were they
still celebrating? Or
did they go to sleep
with the lights on
exhausted from the
effort required by
relentless holiday cheer
and she wondered about the
contentment of one her age in that
house in the middle – if it was all she hoped,
her Christmas, her life – or if that girl was
looking out her own window
watching lights chase each other
down the interstate
phantom traces of
diesel fumes to
quicken her pulse
ever so slightly.

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Hanukkah Poem and Book News

“candle” by ndrwfgg is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah 2020. I am not Jewish, but am appreciating a little surprise gift all the same – a layout draft of my poetry book, Old Stones Understand, with some graphics and the fonts chosen by my editor at Shanti Arts Publishing! As many times as I’ve read, revised, and viewed these poems, the experience brings a freshness that I wasn’t expecting. That surprise was invigorating.

Yesterday, my mother reminded me of a poem I’d written that is in the collection, which should be out in Spring 2021. Back when I wrote it, she tucked a copy of it in a card for her friend, Marlene, who lives in her building and celebrates Hanukkah. I hadn’t known that she did that, and thought it was a sweet reminder that we never really know how far, or where, our words can reach. I thought sharing it here would be a nice gift for those of you celebrating. Enjoy!

One vial of oil

If one vial of oil
can last for eight nights,
endure and light
and fill hearts
for seven extra days of hope –
well then, how long
can one shred of patience last?

How little space is needed
on a ledge,
for one toe to grip,
to hold the rest of me safe
until I can gather strength
to push off
to the next ledge,
and the next
and the next?

What if
the match that I am, nearly burned down,
charred, curled, almost no light left,
what if at the last possible second
I brush against one dry twig
that smolders,
flickers
and then bursts into the biggest
warmest
grandest
blaze of all?

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Shorter on Mercy

Injured Canada Goose swimming in a pond with bare trees in background

One injured goose
left behind at Third Dam
no flock mates in sight
she swam through the gloam
right wing splayed, not tucked in,
head down as a plane flew over
and I said a prayer
that she recover soon
fly off, find a new flock,
or become a lucky break
for a young coyote
learning to hunt,
wishing either outcome swift.
November’s night shadows lengthen
November’s days grow shorter on mercy
reserving grace for those
professing gratitude –
instead I offered a bargain.
Some of my blessings
for an end to her suffering.
A slender aspen quaked reproach
“You know that’s not how it works.”
And I grumbled back,
“I’m just a human. The only thing
clear this year
is that we know nothing.”
And to this, two hemlocks
creaked their approval.

11/17/2020

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At the Seams

Google images

That strange looking tool? That’s called a seam splitter. It does what you would expect.

   Hand me that skirt. Thanks. See? Here is a seam.  I asked for this skirt because the fabric is still pretty, even though it is worn on that side.  This side is still beautiful. Still useful. This is the hope of fabric.

   You will be tempted to just grab on and rip. It is fast. It feels good. To tear is to feel quick power. And if all you want is strips for a rag rug, or to tie up tomato plants, that’s fine.

   But – you probably know this already – tearing is not usually deliberate. More often it’s driven by pent up energy. Impulse needing release. Need can be blind, like rage.  The outcome – a rag rug or whatnot – may not even be a thought in the straining or pulling. Most rips are unintended.

   So, hand me that seam-splitter.  Thanks. It satisfies in a different way. It’s methodical. When I work it along the seam like this, I can already imagine the potential I am creating. I might be planning a quilt. Or curtains. Or even another skirt with a pattern that I met in a dream last night, these very colors winking at me with purpose and knowing. 

  With luck, my hands might even contribute to what Dr. King referred to as our “single garment of destiny.”

   We take things apart at the seams when we need to start over. When the material we have is still valued, still loved, but just does not fit any more.

You know already that I’m going to say that life is like this too, don’t you?

You have what you need. Consider it in a new way. Move forward with purpose and honor.

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Small Poems from the Great Hunkering

In late March, when New York State went into our “Pause” phase in the early days of COVID-19, I began writing and sharing one small poem each day. It lasted as long as my observations brought inspiration, through the end of April. Some are haiku, there were a couple tanka – some were just very short poems. All were based on snapshot impressions of the day in front of me.

That time of spring in upstate NY is notable for nearly-daily differences and changes in the world. I couldn’t get over the sense that nature – the weather, the plants, the birds – were just going on with their natural lives without interruption, and how that juxtaposed so sharply with the bewilderment and shock that the sudden change brought to our human existence. This picture highlights a few of them that speak to resilience.