The Empty Sky

IMG_0526For about 70 years a Monterey Pine lived in the earth of my next-door neighbor’s home; I could find my way home by it. If two people held hands we could hold the tree but one person alone couldn’t. A high branch on that tree held owls calling to their mates. Turkeys got up in its lower branches. The crows had parties there. Just the other day my neighbor, Tammy, saw an adult and juvenile hawk using a branch for a lookout.

Over the 20 years I’ve lived here I’ve watched the stately tree die a bit at a time. Tree trimmers would come and remove dead branches now and then. Finally, when more of the tree was dead than alive it was clear the tree had to go.

Yesterday was a loud day; the cats hid out in my office with me. Every now and then I went out to take a look at the tree’s disintegration, long branch by long branch: gone. Then the tall heft of its trunk. Bit by bit the saw’s teeth cut the tree down.

It’s gone now, and though I understand why and didn’t want a winter storm to send branches onto our roof or Tammy’s, there’s an empty place in the sky where there was once and for a very long time there was green and brown regality. Nothing nearby has the height that pine did. Where will the owls go to call for each other in the night, close enough that I’ll have the good fortune to be woken by them? For now there’s only a hole in the backyard sky.

IMG_0525And you, what’s gone missing from your life that might need a bit of your attention, a handful of your words? The presence of the absent we may carry a long ways. Here’s a way to honor what you’ve loved.

A Story That Could Be True And Is

photoA friend from many years ago, a teacher, Samuel Ramos, whose classes I loved to bring poetry to because of his love and regard for his students, invited me to be the featured poet as part of a reading series at El Epazote Restaurant in Hollister. “Some of the students will be there,” Sam promised.

Not only did the now grown-up students come, but Sam bought copies of Step into Nature for each of them. And one student, Mary Villegas, during the open mic, got up and read the poem she’d written for her great grandfather when she was nine. Listening, you could feel the loss of so long ago still upon her and you could see it in her brother’s eyes. Another, Mario Jimenez, drove all the way from Los Baños with his wife and four children.

The students weren’t the only ones there; the restaurant was full—standing room only, 70 – 80 people! There were folks I’d not seen since the early 90’s who I was so happy to see. For whatever we may read about community, this was the real thing, and Sam knows how to bring out a crowd.

Before it was my turn to read we were serenaded by Eduardo Robledo and Daniel Valdez. The audience was jubilant in appreciation of that beautiful music, and I got nervous.

For the most part my stories and poems are quiet. How could a group transition from hand-clapping, foot-stomping music to a single voice reading a story? How? Remarkably. Rarely have I been listened to with such love and attention. “You don’t need to applaud till the end, and then only if you like it,” I said, but that didn’t stop them. After each piece I read the group responded. And then they bought my books.

Last night was one of those rare evenings in a life that lasts for always. I wanted you to know.

Mil gracias to Samuel Ramos and Rachelle Linda Escamilla and also to Bob Hammond who brought me to the Hollister schools those many years ago!

Broken Circle


IMG_0461When one of life’s circles breaks, as one in my life—a rather big, old one—recently has, I wonder, what’s left? A bunch of sticks—useless remnants or building material for something new. I teeter on the edge of one of those sticks trying to decide. The stick isn’t straight but nicely curved—a small boat, perhaps?


Collage Giveaway!

IMG_0065I’ve got a favor to ask but one that comes with possibility not only for me… The two collages pictured here—In the Key of Yes and The Letter Home—will be given away to two of the people who write brief reviews of Step into Nature on before 9/1. I’ll put your name in a hat, pull out two names, etc. It’s easy to write the review. I’ll post the winners names here. Go to Step into Nature at and scroll down to Customer Reviews. Add yours. Whatcha think? Would you?


The Animal Before Me

BobcatAfter the climb up into the chaparral and a right turn into the wide I always stand open-eyed, mouth hanging at the absolute, simple beauty of a field with a light breeze combing through the grasses. And that’s how I was standing when an animal caught my attention walking along at a distance from me. I was quiet as my shoes would let me be, getting closer and closer—young mountain lion or big bobcat? You know how it is when you think you’re alone and then you realized you’re not? That’s how the animal responded to me. But that was after I saw her jump up and come down on what I think was a gopher hole. Sadly, she came up empty-mouthed. It was a few steps later she turned her tawny head toward me and stopped and we both stood where we were staring at the other. Pointy ears, small tail: bobcat. Then off she ran into the brush and though I went looking, she was gone.

A Love of Laughter

IMG_3229In a video on YouTube a woman riding the subway begins to laugh at something she’s reading. First it’s an upturn of her mouth and a little ripple of sound. Next it’s nearly wholehearted. What comes next is where it gets really good—one by one nearly the entire car of subway rides starts to laugh. They don’t even know what they’re laughing at. They’re laughing at laughter, with laughter, with each other. Joy permeates even a viewer thousands of miles away and maybe months after the real thing. Sweet contagion!

Sometimes it takes so little, really, to turn a day right side up until our mouths hurt from smiling and our sides ache from laughing, happiness tears running down our cheeks.

A Skirt of Green Silk

IMG_0244In preparation for a writing workshop based on the idea of translation—isn’t writing always a form of that—inspired by a recent collection of W. S. Merwin translations, I ask my friend and longtime student Alice Tao if she knows this 8th century Chinese poem by Niu His Choi and if she would read it aloud to the group in the original. Alice, who just turned 80, has written with me for many years. A few days after her birthday she gave her first public reading as the fine poet she is. After her portion of the event, the applause and the shouts of “brava” erupted from the audience!

Alice’s reply to my query was, “The last two lines are so well known that few bother to remember the whole poem, me included. I did find the Chinese original online with my brother’s help.”

Those lines read:

“My skirt of green silk woven loosely

The new grass will remind you of it everywhere”

IMG_0679Alice continued, “The image of the ‘green silk skirt’ reminds me of the passage, (or rather, when I read the passage forty five years ago, I immediately thought of the ‘green silk skirt’ poem in Chinese) quoted in John Ciardi’s The Act of Language—the beginning of Herrick’s Upon Julia’s Clothes:

“Whenas in silks my Julia goes,

Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows

The liquefaction of her clothes.”

 The Niu His Choi lines didn’t make me think of Herrick’s poem but they did bring back a sweet plaintive song I heard Cleo Lane sing once live and have listened to often in recording, I Know Where I’m Going—“I’ll wear stockings of silk, shoes of fine green leather.” IMG_1044Which can’t help but lead me to Lorca’s line, “Verde, que te quiero verde.” “Green, how I want you, green.”

The swish of the silk is audible. The green of that old Irish song always reminds me of a green suede choker necklace a boy named Brian gave me when I was in the 8th grade.

It’s that flare of color and the brief touch of silk in song and poems that brings them to life—love that’s long gone and love that wakes me up each morning.

August 15, 15

Beauty Past Beauty

IMG_0057Summer is gradually packing up her bags. It was chilly this morning as it’s not been for a while. The night’s darkness comes sooner. It’s not only because of the drought that nature’s green is turning brown. It’s the ending of the season. Oh, how I’m gonna miss you, Summer! But, wait, I love Autumn, too—the beginning of an invitation in. And harvest, the idea of it. Though this Fall I think the only thing I’ll be harvesting are the vestiges of grief. IMG_0222It’s human nature to get all glittery about Spring, that new and brilliant season. It reminds of us that in us that replenishes, is vibrant and bright.

What I’m thinking about is beauty past beauty—when a thing is past it’s prime, beyond its most evident intended or anticipated function. (Am I? Are you?) One might say my mother-in-law, at 86, is past her prime but when it comes to beauty, oh, she’s got it hands down. I’m thinking about  settled-in beauty, the subtle and easy-to-miss. Gorgeousness of that which is now brittle, the beauty of fragility, of almost gone but not quite. I’m thinking of the many hues gray has. IMG_3387With this in mind, I’ve been looking at these parts of the natural world around me. Would love to hear your thoughts.


A Nature Love Affair

Today’s post is an interview about my book with Book Club Babble. Thank you Kelly Sarabyn for asking the best questions:



Free to Wander


IMG_2474 On Monday evening I offered a free poetry writing workshop at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Every quarter I do, always on an early Monday evening, never knowing in advance who will come. I was happy to see twenty-five people show up—familiar faces and new ones. We read a couple of W. S. Merwin’s poetry translations and a bit from Step into Nature along with a children’s book illustrating a single poem: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail. We talked about memory and magic. The next workshop there will be of a different kind. On November 2, we’ll make collage art boxes, a make-and-take workshop. Come join us!


One participant, a man who’s attended a number of my events, Michael Keenan, who gifted me with a bag of oranges before saying goodnight, wrote this. I think you’ll want to read it. I know you will:

It used to happen all the time

when I was a young child,

that age which is the bookend of my memory.

Free wander to the trees, the lake,

the majority of my world in northern Illinois.

Alas, adulthood kidnapped me.

I escaped in California to discover

the same weave of energy inhabits the woods

and waters on this edge of the earth.

Michael Keenan