Thursday, November 01, 2007

Troublemaker by Wilson Diehl

Every family has one -- usually the one
who writes, the one who spills family secrets
onto the page like so much grape juice
on beige carpet -- creating continent-shaped
stains that are slow to fade and never disappear

Brocaded Life (For Eden) by Hagar Shirman

from Poetry on the Bus

My mother's hands are silken gloves
Woven of the warmest thread,
Embroidered by the day, year, life.

Each caress a flower,
A vine ...
Strength etched in lines.

For this I strive,
This tapestry of life accomplished:
Instead of gold, a softly callused cloth.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Wedding Vows

Eric & I got married last Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007.

I still can't bring myself to tell the whole story -- Friday night welcome dinner for family and out-of-town friends, a day-long treasure hunt, Volcano fiasco in the wind and rain and hail, two-hour rain delay, and backyard ceremony by firelight with friends all around.

I'm proud of all of it, despite the fact that my family will make me pay for each and every moment of discomfort, inconvenience, and unconventionality. Almost more than anything else, I'm proud of the vows we wrote and recited to each other.

Our officiant, Mindy -- a friend to both of us and partner of one of our closest friends -- cued us with the bulleted word, and we provided the rest of the vows. We did the whole list in turn.

§ Kindness: I promise to give the highest priority to the kindness that our connection deserves.

§ Growth: I agree to take responsibility for my own happiness, health, and growth and help as much as I can, as gently as I can, with yours.

§ Gentleness: I will try to understand myself first in silence and speak the hard things softly in order that we both may hear.

§ Connection: I will continue to learn and respect who you are and search out points of connection.

§ Humor: I will do my best to appreciate the moments of humor and celebrate moments of joy that we may lighten the darker times.

§ Responsibility: I promise to take responsibility for the quality of our life together.

These rings, which were once symbols of your private commitment to one other, now become public symbols of the larger commitment you are making to your friends, to your family, to your larger community, and to the work you will continue to do together in this world.

Do you, Eric, choose Mikaela to be your family from this day forward?
I do.

Do you, Mikaela, choose Eric to be your family from this day forward?
I do.

Do you, Eric and Mikaela, agree to be the best partners to each other that you can?
We do.

Do you, Eric and Mikaela’s family and friends, agree to support this couple, individually and together, from this day forward?
We do.

Do you also agree to take responsibility for your relationships and the work you will do in the world and in your communities?
We do.

A Philosophy of Connection & Autonomy

Ever since flirting with being an Objectivist my first year of college, I've been fascinated with the idea of philosophy. I wanted to know everything about everything, a trajectory that led me to try to write an undergraduate thesis linking T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets with quantum physics and William James' pragmatism. The thesis never quite came to fruition, but the idea is still a good one, and I come back to it all the time.

Although I've outgrown Ayn Rand and her very thin, black-and-white fanaticism, I still admire her tenacity of mind and organization to bring followers with her in her thinking. Back in that freshman year of college, I had the poster on my wall listing her main tenets, covering the major branches of philosophy:
  • Ontology: This is the only reality there is.
  • Epistemology: We know what we know because of reason.
  • Ethics: Self-interest.
  • Aesthetics: (Can't really remember other than to say she hated emotional music ala Wagner or sentimental art ala Monet, which I discovered when the President of the Objectivists came to my room and tried to argue with me about why I liked the Monet poster hanging on my wall)
  • Social Organization: Democracy. (Not sure but must have been Representative Democracy, because she wasn't very optimistic about the intelligence of the masses or trusting of their ability to go beyond emotional pleas to reasoned voting patterns)
  • Economics: Capitalism. Period.
There's an objectivist institute. Objectivist books. Objectivist positon papers on current events. Alan Greenspan was an acolyte. This woman had followers. She did for philosophy what Frank Lloyd Wright did for architecture. She made lay people fans.

There was a time -- years, actually -- when Atlas Shrugged was the second-best-selling book in the world, second only to the bible. The bible.

Ever since that time, and after reading quite a bit of lay person quantum physics (Brian Greene and Heinz Pagels, high among them), I've flirted with my own philosophical structure of belief. Ayn Rand was a modernist, but we've moved to the postmodern age. A quantum age.

What holds it all together? Why do Rilke and Heisenberg both describe the same thing, and why does it resonate so powerfully?

I've written about connection, and implicitly about autonomy, but recently while reading the introduction of Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism, I realized these two form the basis of what I believe about everything. Together, they form my ontology.

Ontology: Connection & Autonomy

Gravity operates at all levels, pulling us toward leaders, attractive people and ideas. Where our autonomy is overpowered by this influence, we are sucked into the black hole and lose ourselves. Where our autonomy overpowers our attraction, we lose connection. In the balance, we find growth, health, and love.

From these, all things can be derived, from the atomic level to that of political systems, love, family, etc.

So how do we know what we know? How do we know what's real? What are the building blocks of how we live, how we think, how we reason, how we love?

I think there's a hierarchy, or at least a progression. I believe it goes something like this:

  • Awareness
  • Kindness
  • Respect
  • Impulse toward meaning
  • Choice
  • Identity
  • Family
  • Community
  • Culture
How do you know how to act?

I think there's an ethics that flows from the balance between connection and autonomy, too.


  • Sharing - information and resources (the balance to find here would be leverage -- maximizing connection in a way that capitalizes on the autonomy of both sides to benefit both
  • Listening/receiving - needing both openness and acceptance -- vulnerability being as important as strength
  • Prioritizing - ordering our connections, our own needs, our values, and our actions
  • Valuing/celebrating - the ability to appreciate and be grateful is one of the ultimate purposes of consciousness. Think Color Purple: "Everything wants to be love. Trees do everything people do to get attention accept walk. It pisses god off when people walk by the color purple without noticing."
  • Cultivating/sustaining - we take our celebration of the world one step further when we plant, kern, harvest -- cultivate and perpetuate what grows, in our fields, in our families, in our communities.
Consciousness is our ability not just to notice the world but to construct narratives about it, adding lyrics to the melody of what grows and the rhythm of what is. Plants can dance; we sing.

Love is the degree to which we can strike the balance between our respect for others' autonomy and our attraction to the connection. Where those two things enrich both -- it's healthy love.

Power is the extent to which we can manipulate gravity and pull others into our sphere of influence through both space and time.

Given this definition, what makes a good politician? What's the difference to the universe between Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Those who strike a balance between protecting the rights of the individual with the good of the community. Beware of any leader who asks for personal sacrifice for the good of all -- or asks that individuals compromise what they know to be right for a bigger cause.

So what is justice? That which maintains the balance between autonomy at the small scale and connection at the large scale over space and time. What is expedient in the short-term but doesn't lead to a sustainable connection over time? Not just. That which asks the community to bear the burden of negative impacts for what's good for one little capitalist at one point in history? Not just.

There are implications for faith that I'm still trying to explore. This is the first pass. As Prof. Claudia Isaac would say, it's the first pass at creating the groove in the head. Each pass makes it deeper.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Voces Book - coming this Spring!

This is the cover for the Voces Program Anthology coming out from UNM Press this Spring.

I am sooooo excited!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dare to (Just) Be

Realize the strength
in weakness

in the space between
stronger forces.

You do not need to be the mountain
or the man rolling the boulder up its hill.

You can be the stone resting
the apple already fallen

the shade that gives comfort
because it is not the sun.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thought 3 - Visions by William C. Martin

A wise [planner] does not inspire people
with grand visions
for the visions will become [illusions].
A prudent [teacher] will not call attention to achievement
for that will separate people into “achievers”
and “non-achievers.”
The follower of the Word will not encourage
displays of wealth [or power]
for all will be dissatisfied.
But the one who serves the Word
will quiet the noisy heart,
clarify sight,
simplify the busy life,
and reduce the plethora of needs
so the people may see clearly and with purity
without being pushed or pulled.

The [community] becomes holy on its own.

Thought 2 - Priorities, by William C. Martin

To consider your preaching
of more importance than the opening of a flower
is to leave the narrow path.
To value certain appointments on your daily calendar
and resent others as intrusions
is to misunderstand the Word.
To esteem and enjoy some people in your [life]
and to discount and dismiss others
is to wobble blindly.
To meet the needs of others
and ignore the whispers of your own soul
is to succumb to the illusion
that there is a time more precious than now,
and a place more heavenly than here.

Thought 1 - The Word by William C. Martin

You are a minister of the Word
but not of words.
The Word was in the beginning before words
and beyond words.
And whether they weave sophisticated patterns
of intellectual magic,
or they strike with passion
at the heart of the people’s emotions,
words are not Word
for the Word is inexhaustible.
One can only stand in wonder
and point.

from The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections

I connect with this poem on two levels.
  1. I think this goes beyond pastoring to any writer who seeks to connect at the deepest levels with a reader.
  2. It matches my notion of the most we can know and the best we can live.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Things I Still Want to Be

I've found out that I'm going to have my name on not one but two books coming out next Spring from UNM Press. Both poetry anthologies of sorts -- one a collection from the Voces Program for teens from the National Hispanic Cultural Center, and the other a collection of Slam poems from Albuquerque poets and others here at the National Poetry Slam in 2005.

So I'll have published a book. Check.

Next Spring I'll be taking the exam to become a "certified" planner. That will mean an opportunity to become a project manager at work. So I'll be a real, live community planner for real. Check.

I'm getting married, so I'll be a ... gulp ... wife. Ick. Still sounds horrible even in my mind's back of the throat. Except for the being married to the best partner ever. That part's palatable...

There are things I still want to be, though. A poet, which for me means publishing a poem somewhere "real" where I wasn't a shoe-in.

A teacher, which I'm sure will come in time. Lots of groundwork laid here.

I'd like to be a writer in the morning, maybe a meditation in the morning if I can make that happen. Exerciser? Yogi.

I'd like to ride horses. Read more. Be a mom. Photographer? Researcher.

I want to know more about Native Americans and uranium mining.

Be a cross-cultural mediator.

An author who writes about multiculturalism in place and planning across it. The title: Place & the Politics of Freedom & Inclusion.

I want to be a real-live facilitator. Get hired just to do that.

I want to be ... home right now, cleaning my house.

This weekend, the backyard will get overhauled, and then you know what I'll be?

A gardener.

Two Countries - Naomi Shahib Nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bosque Meditation

We are cotton
blowing in the winds of time

atoms with empty centers
spinning through space

lending electrons
to those we touch.

We buzz through energy
throwing sparks.

We think
we think

but only when we feel
the balance of our changeability

can we control
our reach

our clumsy
whirling hands

our scissoring feet
our tensile connection

to all we are not
until we are

edges permeable
energy credited

motivation our imagination
life a light of consciousness

in a flickering world.
System within

a system
we echo an understanding

that only all together
can hear.

All that is
shadows all that is not

dark matter

holding pressure on the wound
pumping existence

to our universal body
blowing air into our collective lungs

so we can sing
so light can dance to our music.

Our frequencies play
so quantum reality

can flash from time to time
space to space

erupting into our moments
as we drift

cottonseeds shipping our futures
dizzy or purposeful

into the next second
we are.

Today we listened.
The sun held us calm.

The river let us be
realizing it is not yet time

to reclaim
what we have taken.

Today we learn
how to live in place

strengthen our culture
to protect our city.

Today our centers
shake our hands still.


through focus
on this place

our bodies
the bosque

our home
third planet from the sun

with light of a brightening dawn.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Voces has started up again, the creative writing class I help teach at the National Hispanic Cultural Center the month of June.

This year, I've scaled back my involvement and turned over my daily mentoring position to a student who started the program six years ago. Now he's the mentor. Pretty great.

On Monday, I led the 25 brand new students in a mental meditation where they were supposed to visit and feel in their bodies a space where they felt totally safe and then one in which they felt the most powerful. Then we wrote about it. Here are my thoughts:

I am safe in the silence of concentration
when even those far away
are here, present, trying.

I am safe in my skin
stretching past thirty
touching and pushing others moving
through teens.

In this courtyard
with water pouring past memories
we belive in our imaginings
and it is alright to write

to be here
to be scared
to be bored
to be.

Tomorrow will come without me
the grass will push past the bottom
less the pit
that falls in the stomach of fear

when voice catches up to faith
and we are all powerful.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Back Bending

“A life develops in spirals: It always passes through the same points, but at different levels of integration and complexity.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la Raison Dialectique, 1960

At 31
adulthood bends me backward
with a flexibility
born of a strong spine
open to fun
stitched to vertebrae
ground with work,
buffered by acceptance,
flowing in joints
connecting me to what happens

My cells gather themselves taller,
brace for mini-me’s needing support
that grow in my imagination
in the space love makes,
illuminating a path toward life
through my belly
even as all of me sees death
coming slowly
and begins the readiness
to say goodbye.

My hands
lining themselves up
itch between the balance
to grasp, to work, to knead,
to let go,
doing each
in turn.

Love arches in my bed,
rolls out in the kitchen,
looking exactly and nothing like
the shadow pictures in my sharp-cornered
childhood room.

Time flattens me
until my understanding
looks like a line
even though it extends
in an infinite plane.

Everywhere I go feels directional from here
although more likely I circle myself,
circumscribed in Sartre's tilting spiral of life –
sometimes climbing up,
often sliding down,
backbending the whole way

as I slinky myself to that cool, calm lake
where life ends
and memory begins –
time’s thickness approaches forever
and I am suspended,

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Passover - Lynn Unger

They thought they were safe
that spring night when they daubed
the doorways with sacrificial blood.
To be sure, the angel of death
passed them over, but for what?

Forty years in the desert
without a home without a bed
following new laws to an unknown land.
Easier to have died in Egypt
or stayed there a slave, pretending
there was safety in the old familiar.

But the promise, from those first
naked days outside the garden,
is that there is no safety,
only the terrible blessing
of the journey. You were born
through a doorway marked in blood.
We are, all of us, passed over,
brushed in the night by terrible wings.

Ask that fierce presence,
whose imagination you hold.
God did not promise that we shall live,
but that we might, at last, glimpse the stars,
brilliant in the night sky.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Life heats up again, and now it's about words and how they string together to spell community.

On the burner are books -- compiling books, editing, choosing the order of paper. A Voces teen poetry 5-year anthology, a 15-year Slam poetry anthology, a 2-poet chap book. Floating in the back of my head, settling to the bottom of my to-do list, my own book of boys. A closing chapter, one might say, before closing myself off to new boys. Maybe it's just me, but how does one publish poems about old boys when one's first married? Maybe after twenty-five years, it would be refreshing to return to your past. I can see an old married ladies collection. How quaint. How vital she still is!

But a bride? Such a slut. What a mistake! What's she regretting, anyway? These guys sound awful.

Ah, the mantle of bridedom settles close in the night.

This bride shit is getting old, and I'm not even close yet! It's seriously distasteful, and all I can do is push against the tide and try to make this thing something I would still choose to participate in. I've checked, and he's okay living in sin. There's that option. Elope still sounds deliciously simple until one checks the hangover factor. Years, they say.

Between those two stones -- books and weddings -- life slips like sand.

If only days were as long as they once were. I grew lifetimes in the summer. Now? The year comes in two bite-size chunks: Days getting longer, days getting shorter. Everything between? All relative.

Friday, March 09, 2007

From Childhood to Here

It was a time when solitude grew on me

grew me

like the breeze blows on seedlings

kindling them skyward.

The sadness weighed me

adding wisdom not yet lived

acceptance of grief not yet given.

It was breaking,

the way earth pushes through chickenwire

the way crème brule offers itself to the tongue

the way lovers are coaxed open

the way wise men are pried from their families.

I knew then this stillness

that I’ve found again in faith

in the courage to feel everything

ripen under my witness

to feel sad and grounded and broken

all at once

and know I am home

that I am here to greet me

that I never left

yet know more now

having been away.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Commitment Sunday

Forgive me the repetition, but I wanted to post the "pulpit editorial" [oh boy...] I gave last Sunday. It was a hit. I have to say that writing it was easy. It seemed to have a circular structutre that rang true to me. When I was practicing it, it started to seem thin. I was pretty worried! There was so much that I wasn't saying (even though it was way longer than it was supposed to be!).

I read it during both services, and the 9:30 service is much more reserved and traditional than the 11 am. I got laughs (which I was going for) at the later service, but Christine assured me she saw some people wiping some tears away during first service, too, so I guess that's good.

I want to post it here to honor the bravery I could muster to say any of this at all -- to myself not to mention to the whole church.

I'm very much wondering where I'm going in my life at the moment. It feels like there are a lot of big things in motion -- glacial shift, I like to tell myself. Pick a continent or be ready to stretch into the splits... There's work movement and poetry community movement (thanks to those supporters there to see me read TWICE this month -- crazy -- after not having read at a public poetry event in, well, fourteen YEARS) and personal movement (thanks, by the way, to my crazy heart-friends who just presented me with the Anti-Bride Planner). I feel like I'm preparing for something... who knows what ... but something big and good.

So here it is in its entirety.

Christine asked me to share with you today the story of my finding this church and making myself a home here. It’s a long story, so I hope you’ll bear with me through the twists and the turns.

When I was little, I used to sit at my window, watching the rain and feeling myself filled with the overwhelming beauty of the world. My little cup runneth over, and I cried and cried with the aching power I felt in witnessing and connecting to … well … everything. Looking back, I realize that was my own kind of meditation. I did it a lot.

At the time, there was plenty to cry about – the usual family griefs, being an American in the 20th century – namely divorce & family financial stress. Maybe I was crying about those things, but what I remember about those moments is feeling simultaneously bigger than myself – elevated above my personal worries – and suitably small – recognizing the importance of being that single witness in that particular time.

I went to church a lot as a little girl. Always the over-achiever, I liked going to school even on the weekends, and there was something compelling about the stories, even though I didn’t believe them to be literally true. When my family stopped attending, I went with friends and neighbors. My sister remembers me begging my mother to take me.

When I was twelve or thirteen, a family friend asked me about my faith. I told him what I believed – that everything in the universe is connected through energy, almost as if every particle were an instrument that together formed sections within the universal symphony playing time. I thought it was a beautiful description; he said it wasn’t faith at all – it was science – and that I didn’t believe in God. I never knew that was an option!

As I was approaching the teenage years, I embraced it with a passion that mortified my non-church going family when I announced to all of Albuquerque that I was an atheist in response to a reporter’s question about a lawsuit barring the invocation at my high school graduation. My family still brings that up. In my own defense, it was true at the time, and I was siding with freedom from persecution and the separation of church and state! (See – latent UU even then!)

I stayed an atheist a long time, but an atheist who believed fervently in the power of community, the transcendence of connection through language, and in the beauty of quantum physics. I pretty much gave up the idea of ever finding myself comfortable in a church again.

Then my sister had children. Her husband’s family is Christian and were quite sad that their grandchildren would grow up without a religious community. Maybe it wasn’t what they had in mind, but my sister decided to bring them here, for the religious education. She was pretty surprised, I think, when she started learning as much as the girls from attending church. She kept telling me about these amazing sermons by Christine. We’d talk about them for hours. I knew I had to check this out.

I was not prepared for the visceral shock of going to church – how familiar it would be and how different: The singing, the silence buzzing among us during meditation, the compassion and acceptance that underscored every word. I kept waiting to hear the things I would disagree with. This was church, after all. But they never came. Instead, I felt broken open time and again, feeling the power of connection that feels a lot like faith. When my sister and I sit together on Sundays, we can’t stop looking at each other, checking to see if the other one is crying, too.

My exploration of belief keeps getting broader the longer I’m here, and for a girl who went to college to learn everything about everything – and then stayed there for 13 years trying to do just that … it’s a blessing I can hardly believe.

I’m telling you this because I think the story itself is enough. But there is more. Two weeks ago, I signed the book and became a member after attending church here for over four years. It was so hard to join a church – even one I agree with as much as this one. But this community, this church, the work that we do together – in the RE program where I’m helping these fabulous mid-high students, the social action group, our ministry that keeps getting bigger and bigger – is important enough to me that I’m pledging part of my fledgling career salary to help support it. I can’t thank you enough for helping to support me. And to my sister, who’s been there for so much for so long, I say: thank you for giving me back the memory of my faith. It’s been a long time gone.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Space-time Jello Joy

Since the universe
wriggles like space-time jello,

we two carrot sticks
puddle somewhere in the vicinity of Mars,

meeting on the marshmallow
called North America.

The earth streaks backward/below/before us
as our pickup carrot sticks cross in AD 2006,

random as atoms smashing
like party cocktail glasses for a good toast.

We agree
after months of squirming around Albuquerque

to braid futures,
entwine our nows.

If you hold the universe in your hand
all ice-block frozen,

you see us only as blur,
all of our moments fuzzed into an unclear picture

or perhaps only one
harmonized buzz.

What will feel like years to us
won’t even bubble air in that spacetime block.

Our dance of experiences shared and unshared
will only look like our lives

when you zoom in close,
layered with invisible emotions

that show up as color,
or perhaps as song

accompanying the visual light
of molecules vibrating themselves

to connect forward and backward
in space, in time.

What my mind loves is taking the tour
again and again

from disconnection –
singular perception –

to connection –
there is no space, all is fabric –

from small – we are molecules –
to large – all is all –

knowing now,
experiencing later,

treasuring always,
forward and backward in time,

this dance
with you,

my carrot stick
tasting a lot like joy.