To see the announcement for my poetry book, Sparrow, selected by poet Dorianne Laux for the Kenneth and Geraldine Gell Poetry Prize at Writers & Books, go to

You can find a review by Kathleen Kirk at EIL:

Thursday, December 31, 2009

At the Choral Concert, by Tim Nolan

I happened across this poem in Ted Kooser's daily column, and wanted to share it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Talking Back

What does a mind of winter
look like--
isn't it only carrying your perspective
with you, a pane of ice
you've lifted from some puddle?
What other mind
can mind you once fall
and summer sit down
beside the path like tired travellers?
You have to keep walking
though spring isn't even a dot
on the horizon.
Without a mind of winter,
how on earth (and why)
would you keep trudging?

image from

Monday, December 21, 2009


Something for the solstice --


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Imagining the poem I will write,
I remember that I haven't hemmed
my daughter's choir dress.
It has to be done this morning.
What was the poem?
Did it have a hem in it?
Would I have stitched it carefully,
making a fine line like embroidery
at its edges? Where does a poem go
when chores startle it away?
To the mending basket to wait,
torn or frayed, until my needle
finds it again?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Siblings, Strangers

One of my students slipped this quote from Clara Ortega into her final essay. I've been thinking about it all morning.

"To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each others' hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"Even if inspiration seems to do almost everything, writing is still work, like the 'effortless' leap of the dancer who has been practicing every day for years." -Kenneth Koch

"Inspiration is another name for knowing your job and getting down to it." -Joyce Cary

"It is evident that no professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it. If he waits until he is in the mood, till he has the inspiration as he says, he waits indefinitely and ends by producing little or nothing. The professional writer creates the mood." -W. Somerset Maughm

My friend Carla recently challenged me to fine tune what I meant when I used the word "inspiration." Ever since, I seem to see definitions every where I look. It's inspiring!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


"If you hate it, there's bound to be something there you need." Heather Sellers

All day I have been Jane Eyre,
feeling orphaned and ungoverned.
In a dream, I sat talking
with Chaucer's Wife of Bath,
interrupted by the snake and Eve
out of an old copy of Paradise Lost.
Late last night on television,
Hester Prynne and Robinson Crusoe
held hands and waited for passion
to rescue them from obscurity. And just now
it seems my brother, two decades dead,
has found a way out of my mother's
photo albums and is sitting
at a table across the room,
his blue eyes trained on a book of old poems
as if by concentrating he can catch
Rilke before he slips away.

image from

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Song of the train, three notes repeated.
Song of the refrigerator's faulty motor.
Song of the furnace clicking on.
Tires of a car crossing wet pavement on 143rd street.
Pages of a book turning.
Coffee, or the song of my lips and tongue and throat, drinking coffee.
A cat leaping from a bed upstairs and padding across the floor.
Nib of this pen across the paper and my wrist across the paper after it.

These songs.

Friday, November 20, 2009


How did Emily do it? Sit alone
in a room for hours. No i-pod,
television or computer, e-mail
and on-line classes. Just a choice
of bed or chair - standing or sitting.
Awakening to the rustle
of tree leaves, chirp of birds,
clatter of milk wagon wheels,
the clop of horse hooves, maybe
the squeak of a pump handle. Two
questions -- Shall I write? Shall I read?

A postcard poem by my friend Carla Shafer / 7.25.09

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mark Twain's Cat

My students began reading Huckleberry Finn this week, and I stumbled across this quote, which for some reason I find irresistable.

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." Mark Twain

Monday, November 16, 2009


Some mornings when the words won't come,
I go to the laundry room
and fold clothes warm from the dryer.
I fold towels and underwear, denim jeans
and brightly colored skirts. I fold
shirts into neat rectangles, folding back
the sleeves and tucking under
the lower half. When I'm finished, each shirt
is about the size of a sheet of paper,
bulkier of course. And I don't write on them,
but the necklines are so vulnerable,
so inviting, I almost feel as though I had written.
What I write would be a song to laundry,
to the feel of clean cotton and terry cloth and denim
under my hands. I might take a moment then
to feel sorry for the poets who had laundresses,
the poets who stayed at their desks
while their mothers or wives or servants
coaxed ink-stains from cuffs,
and separated darks from lights.
These folded shirts won't last so long
as the poem I might have written.
But bearing the stacks of clean, folded clothes
up the stairs to our daughters' bedrooms
is, for now, enough.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"the rich topsoil of our imagination"

I love this quote -- it's from Bill Kenower's Daily Blog which you can find at

"Despite the wealth of solid things all about us, our worlds are constantly being invented, as malleable and fluid as any river. It doesn’t matter whether we are writing books or starting families, our futures are planted in the rich topsoil of our imagination, vague and similar as seedlings, but accumulating specificity over time. We fill in all the colors and shapes and sounds to build from what could be what some day is, and the experience we call living is actually us being propelled forward by the creative need to meet the world we are every day imagining."

Friday, November 6, 2009


Having 45 student papers sitting on my desk and traveling everywhere with me in my trusty bookbag -- puts a real damper on the creativity. Why is that? Is there a different way to be?

Here's a poem inspired by Rilke's line, "I want to unfold."

Today I would like nothing better
than to be folded,
folded like a note slipped into a book
to mark a page you don't want to forget,
or folded like a sheet tugged from the clothesline,
in half and in half again, and again.
I want to be folded the way egg whites
are folded into a meringue,
like sheep into a fold,
like an origami bird.
I'd like to be folded like a dollar bill
into a coin purse, and later taken out and unfolded,
my edges smoothed. You can spend me then
on something unexpected and delicious
like a peach or a packet of art paper
or a bar of dark chocolate
folded into its envelope of foil.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Everything is gestation..."

"Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist's life: in understanding as in creating."

--Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A plum morning, red oak and purple sweetgum leaves--

overhead, gray clouds.

Image from

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Elizabeth Berg

A student told me I had to read Elizabeth Berg, so I am. This quote is from her book on writing, Escaping into the Open:

"The more you write, the more there is to draw from, the more you say, the more there is to say. The deeper you go in your imagination, the richer that reservoir becomes. You do not run out of material by using all that's in you; rather, when you take everything that is available one day, it only makes room for new things to appear the next." (103)

The deeper you go in your imagination, the deeper you are in your imagination.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


A nid of orb spiders
near the swingset has sprung,
gold globules rushing

the strings. So my girls grow.
Today they invite a friend
to play after Kindergarten. An airplane

walks the path over our house. My girls
dance through the web
dripping spiderlings from their hands,

drape them over their shoulders,
elegant shawls. The spiders are young,
and the girls. The earth

leans back in her rocker,
smoking her pipe, watching.
It is a time of war, but she recalls

her first children,
when nothing had happened
on the long first day, but peace.

image from

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Quote from Kathleen Norris

I wrote down this quotation in my poetry notebook and have been returning to it and thinking about it all week, so I thought I'd share it with you.

"Paradoxically, human love is sanctified not in the height of attraction and enthusiasm but in the everyday struggles of living wtih another person. It is not in romance but in routine that the possibilities for transformation are made manifest." -Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries

Sunday, October 11, 2009


for Paul Marshall

When we came to the end
of the path we rested,
wondering if we couldn't

grow wings. Looking,
we saw only the path's end,
the brick wall, the razor wire,

the concrete monuments
of men on horseback,
sabers raised. Then someone

began to dig, and from that moment
we traveled not so much forward,
as deeper.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Butterfly Effect

But what about the butterflies everywhere
already moving their wings?
And isn’t there always a hurricane
beginning or blowing itself out or holding you
in its eye, even now?

How can you say it’s the butterfly’s wings that unleash the wind?
How can you say it’s not?

When he walks in the door yelling
are you sure there wasn’t some cause, some butterfly wing
so small you weren’t aware you were
starting anything? Are you sure it isn’t your fault
just for thinking you could fly in the first place?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On finding a great writing group...

"This is joy--the kind that comes from expressing the most intimate part of our lives and having it valued and known. Awakening such joy allows us to love." -Peter Levitt, author of Finger Painting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom

(image from

Friday, September 25, 2009


If you opened a box and found it, would you lift it out?
If you held it in your hand, how much would it weigh?
If you looked at, would it look back at you?
Would it have fur, hair, skin?
If it had a name, what would that name be?
Is it more like a bird, or more like a fish?
Does it have a mouth?
What does it like best to eat?
What sound does it make when it cries?
What color is it?
Is it more than one color?
If it were your size, would you ask it to play?

found this in my notebook, written one year ago this month...I think under the influence of Parker Palmer's Clearness Committees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Bad" as in really, really good

This poem by Louise Bogan (1897-1970) has been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share it. Her last line -- "Now that I have your heart by heart..." is so amazing.


Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden, there, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Poem for a Fall Day

Written on a fall day several years ago, and published 2 or 3 years ago in Stringtown.


The dog caught a snake and my girls forgot
about picking blackberries. A garter snake,

ten or eleven inches long, green,
a pair of brown stripes down its back.

They teased the dog away and captured it,
all nerve, its single tendon tight as a blade.

It wrapped itself around their wrists, flicked
its tongue. They carried the snake

all afternoon, trading it from arm to arm
to arm, the most tempting of bracelets.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


"’Keeping busy’ is the remedy for all the ills in America. It's also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed." –Joyce Carol Oates

At our first informal writers' group meeting today, I handed out this quote. It guilted at least one person into staying when he had intended to drop by to offer his excuses. And then we all sat down...and wrote!


Monday, September 14, 2009

What Are Your Plums?

Today is my first official day back to work. Classes begin in one week, but this week -- meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Here's an older poem, included in the Bellingham dance and poetry performance, Phrasings II .


"What are your plums?" the note asked,
Speaking of the upcoming schoolyear, of meetings, of classes.
It must have meant, "What are your plans?"
But I reread the note and, no, it said, "What are your plums?"

It is the end of July and my plums are green,
Hard and sour. By September they will be a purple
Almost black. On one tree, the plums
Ripen to gold, and so quickly
Bees find them the same moment I enter the orchard.

If you meet me there, I'll show you how sweet
Their flesh. So moist the juice will drip from your chin.
So moist you will have to wipe your hands on your plans.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When you are writing...

"For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone." Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Making Money vs. Making Poems

"Artists have to please whim to live on their art. They stand in fearful danger of looking to this taste to define their working decisions. Sometime during the course of their development, they have to forge a character subtle enough to nourish and protect and foster the growth of the part of themselves that makes art, and at the same time [be] practical enough to deal with the world pragmatically." Anne Truitt, Daybook

trying to be thankful for a job that allows me to do the art for its own sake

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Soul Mates

My friend Glenda just this morning shared a story about the soul, which set me thinking about John O'Donohue's wonderful book Anam Cara. Here's a quote:

"Love is also a force of light and nurture that liberates you to inhabit to the full your own difference. There should be no imitation of each other; no need to be defensive or protective in each other's presence. Love should encourage and free you fully into your own potential." (p. 29)

Not that it's easy!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I dropped my daughters and friends at the Evergreen State Fair yesterday afternoon for a few hours at the Carnival before it closed. Wouldn't you know, as we drove into the foothills of Monroe, rain was falling. It didn't let up either, and after two hours my drowned rats called me to be picked up.

Meanwhile, I've been working on my September send-out (the goal is to submit a packet of poetry somewhere every day for a month) and trying to decide what poems from the last year are worthy of being revised. Here's one that might be, but I think this version is raw enough to self publish on the blog, and won't too much resemble the final.

The rain that isn't already lost
is quickly losing its way. The leaves
mutter directions muddled
as wet maps. Up becomes down,
down, up. Right and left
are no hands you can count on.
The rain falls sideways.
Umbrellas point away from home.
What did rain ever know?
Wasn't it lost as soon as it took on
a body? Weren't we,
coagulating out of ether,
willing ourselves here, pell mell,
yowling like cats, our necks
scrunched against rain's cold hands?

Thursday, September 3, 2009


My daughters have headed back to school, which means, inevitably, that I, too, am headed back to teaching for another year. This year, however, I hope to stick to teaching only two classes per quarter, and pay attention to things that matter most to me: my girls, my marriage, my writing life, my parents. We'll see if I can persevere in the face of my husband's fears about money, not to mention my college's needs. Here's what I want to keep in mind:

"I pay a steep price when I live a divided life--feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another's identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another's integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open--divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within--things around me get shaky and start to fall apart." -Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Poetry Postcard Month

Our August Poetry Postcard blitz is at an end. Here's my one-bad-poem from yesterday. I need a picture of wine glasses, but don't have one.

This Afternoon

I met my friend Ann at the waterfront
restaurant for a glass of wine,

two glasses, and Tuscan bread
which is French bread (incongruously)

draped with tomato and basil and mozzarella.
We talked about writing,

about writing students, and how a teacher
if not careful (if her students are lucky)

can pour her whole self out
into a single class. We ordered

another glass of wine. An osprey
sailed over, looking for prey.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig


She comes back again after thirty years,
feeling as though she's returning
to the scene of a crime. Beach strewn
with oiled sunbathers, seductive waves,
air mattresses, mopeds, sun block,
scent of plumeria and Coppertone, hibiscus,
bright prints, rows of kitschy shops.
At evening, tourists line the streets
dressed to kill (she remembers discos,
a party boat, a boy with such soft lips).
Her reflection in a window, children
trailing behind. Where did she bury
the body, she'd like to know, meaning herself--
sunburnt, chapped--that naive girl.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Grace Paley

Dec. 12, 1922 - Aug. 22, 2007

Today is the second anniversary of the world's loss of Grace Paley, one of my all-time favorite authors. She is best known for her short stories, but I thought I'd share a line of her poetry. This is from "Education" in her last book, Fidelity.

it's good in one ordinary life
to have witnessed the hard labor
of a long death the way one
high branch can still advance alone pale green
and greener into the sun's
nutritious light

Friday, August 21, 2009


I scribbled this poem at my friend Madelon's house where I've been invited to write two mornings a week. Having two sixteen-year-olds, I find that I can't attend as often as I'd like, but whenever I do, it's magic.


She begins the sentence
imagining she already knows
where it will go, imagining
that its beginning possesses a kernel
of knowingness to carry her
to its end, imagining (at least)
that the sentence knows what it's
about, imagining that like
a caterpillar becoming a butterfly
the sentence will progress
from beginning to middle to end neatly,
predictably, never imagining
that she will have to end
her sentence without knowing
what may have been meant by it,
never imagining anything
so abrupt, murky, and final
as the ending she finds.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In the City of Books

I found a Powell's Book Store postcard and wrote my 8.15.09 poem on it.

In the city of books
the lampposts never flicker.
Lights lean over shoulders,
illuminate crisp pages
where taut words crawl
like lines of tidy insects.
In the city of books a moth
might be an open book.
See how he holds his wings wide
as if to be read.

Friday, August 14, 2009

That Summer

I read on the open mike at Esther Helfgott's "It's About Time" reading (Ballard Public Library) last night. It was truly a wonderful reading with a visit from a Knockout literary magazine editor Jeremy Halinen plus poets Joanie Kervran Strangeland and Joan Swift (who read an amazing essay about a recent eye injury).

Here's a small poem from me, a marker for an essay I would like to write (I need a picture of daisies, but can't find one; instead, my neighbor's abundant roses):

I wanted a baby. That summer
I dug up fern and bleeding heart, transplanting
them to our shadeless yard. The plum tree
bore fruit that was mostly pit.
The rose my mother gave us
bloomed blood-red. Only the oxeye daisies
understood ours was a yard dreaming of fields.
They spread and multiplied. I brought home
a borrowed crib. Anything was possible.

This looks like fun.

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

As my students know, I have about a gazillion books on writing (great tool for procrastinating on writing -- buy and read another book about writing!). Here's a quote from one of them, Writing Your Way:

the human imagination contains a kind of wisdom, a vision of wholeness, which we ignore at our peril. Indeed, in these impoverished times when the indwelling of imagination is needed as never before, the concept of art as an integrating force, an entrance into the spiritual, and a path (rather than a distraction or entertainment) which anyone can tread, while not new, is pre-eminently valuable, even essential, to the process of becoming whole -- wholly human..." (Manjusvara, xi-xii)

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Dreaming of fences
I wake weary
of holding in, of keeping out.
How to be like the deer--

or like the sparrow,
to believe that a fence
is only a platform for song.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Divine Miss Em

My daughter Emma (10 years old) saw my blog and wanted to read the Melina poem. I read it aloud to her, and she said, "That's not a very good poem." She then asked me to write one for her (assuming, I guess, that she would make an inspiring topic). So here's my one-bad-poem from a couple days ago.


For Emma

I put my daughter on the passenger ferry
with seventy-nine other intrepid souls.
She's wearing a sky-blue sweatshirt,
though the sky, this morning,
is an unrelieved gray, a foggy ceiling so damp
it pulls her hair into ringlets.
The ferry sails. Her sweatshirt has a hole
in the wrist. She pokes her hand through
to wave goodbye.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summit Creek

...or Crick...a very old poem that has never been published (until now). The picture is of Elk Creek, where I grew up, but the poem is about me falling into the creek at my grandparents' house when I was three years old. I'm told that my older cousins (all boys) watched me with great interest. My dad leapt out a window of the house and ran down to rescue me. (It wasn't deep.)


Aged three she makes her first murky foray,
toes nubile as minnows,
tease of the moss, come deeper, deeper.

She rides the creek's body
under the handhewn bridge, under
Tom Sawyer lines of brother and cousins, sober faces
at a curious fish.
Clouds, white feathers tickling
a sky seeping summer's deep colors,

blue going magenta, purple, silver
at the wings of its horizons.
Green leaves dapple
the water, shadows on stones.

Some days, still,
it's all water--blue
or cloud's milky gray. She moves
that slowly, upstream in memory,
a homing salmon, instinct

ticking inside her like a second heart.

Monday, August 3, 2009


My cousin Patrick has been after me to get some poetry linked into Facebook...and this is one way to do that. I'm also interested in blogging this year as part of my new writers community here at Everett Community College. (More on that later.) So jump in, and hang on!

August is Poetry Postcard Month and here's my August 2 postcard, written for my friend Melina (a good friend of my teenaged daughters):

She's home from Wolf Camp
where there were, unfortunately,
no wolves, though the squirrels
talked much more there
than they talk here.
What did they say? I ask her
and she says, I'm not sure
what they were saying during the day
but at 5 a.m. they were saying
Wake up, Melina. Wake up!