Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Slaughters and Shifts and Migrations—Arizona"


My poem, "Slaughters and Shifts and Migrations—Arizona," was included in the anthology Poetry of Resistance, voices for social justice, published by University of Arizona Press, 2016.

in response to SB 1070
I spent the day skirting the Mojave in nearly 100 degrees, 
no air conditioning in the car, wondering how people can make it
in such heat, crossing the Sonoran Desert by foot to get to this side.


Past nightfall I catch 66 through Slegman wrecked and in need of a bed.
How do they sleep with pillows of cactus and scorpions under their heads?

I pull in after a neon motel sign: SUPAI.
I receive the last available room from the affable owner. 
She inquires about my profession and her face brightens at my reply. 
"When we first moved to America from India,” she tells me, 
"my son he made the Taj Mahal from clay in school. He painted it, too. 
Teaching art to children,” she assures me, “this is very, very important.” 
She hands me my key with a sudden melancholy gesture. 
“But in this small town,” she shakes her head and glances outside,
“they have no art.” She sighs, “so my children, they do sports 
and computers instead.”

My room, recently remodeled is uninspiring but clean. 
What can you expect for 40 bucks? 
But why am I complaining—an entire family could live in here
if they managed to make it over the border safely.
Los coyotes ahora cobran $4,000.

Supai—from Havasupai, the indigenous language of this land.
Slaughters and shifts and migrations;
greed and dreams and people searching to survive. 

This morning, on the road again and already hot, grasshoppers perish 
on my windshield as a bolt of lightning over the mountain I’m driving toward
momentarily steals my eye.
The news says: “some support the installation of a minefield 
 to keep illegal immigrants out.
  Arizonahow many need to die?

Moving over the land can push us into the heart of our existence,
beating and aching and keeping us alive.

What agony over killing these insects!
What exhilaration driving toward the rain!

Only Earth holds the right to tell any of us where we belong.

Some recent literary news . . .

My poem "Village Sketch," has been published by the online journal "Apple Valley Review."

The poem was based on memories I had of the small village I grew up in Vermont. 

Read the poem here:


I recently learned my chapbook "Paint Yourself as a Saint," was a semi-finalist for this year's Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Poetry Competition (New York City). According to the editors my manuscript stood out among over 300 entries. Maybe next year . . . I do love letterpress books!


My poem, "Black," was recently published by the online journal Riverbabble. The poem was inspired by a five-day silent meditation retreat I did at the Vedanta Society of Northern California's Olema retreat.


I have dwelt in the blackbird                                       

in the lowering light I watch a lone deer
cross the dry grass, tail

the same black as the crows which keep
calling from far-off trees, columns 

of black 
last night, no stars, 
another bad dream
my pupil in the mirror, the bull in the field

the quail’s single black head-feather
bobbing near the bush with the black-
striped bees

this poem—black cursive in a black journal

beside me, blackberries

picked along the path

Monday, March 31, 2014

Reading at Luna Negra, Mission Cultural Center, March 26, 2014


very in love at eighteen 
my grandmother Mimi
was married in a blue dress
wearing blue glass beads
blue like her eyes
like these forget-me-nots 
blooming everywhere here 
and it’s these flowers 
that make me think of her dress 
and of her eyes and if I continue
I could bring in the sky 
were it not a rainy day and gray 
but still
thoughts and heart
are connected of course
in the great circle of consciousness
and were Mimi alive today
I would decorate her hair 
with these pretty little flowers 
and she would praise their sweet
prettiness and then fall into 
a kind of flower-rapture 
all dreamy-like
oh my look at the pink of these azaleas 
wouldn’t they make a lovely dress . . .
only to snap out of it abruptly
to ask me (once again) 
if I believed in God
but instead of feeling squirmy 
like I used to
I’d tell her I believe 
in these forget-me-nots
which are one and the same—

blue like your wedding dress 
your beads
your eyes (and mine)

blue like god if that’s
the color you choose

Many thanks to Adrian Arias for this photo!
The poem I am reading is for my grandmother Mimi and is included in my book
I Just Wear Wings - collected poems of an aspiring mystic
available at book stores or by ordering from Small Press Distribution:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Title poem from my book RADIANCE

. . . each time a human being’s desire-energy leaves his body, 
and goes out into the hills or forest, the desire-energy 
whispers to the ear as it leaves: “You know, one day you’ll die.”
                                                                                     Robert Bly
                                                                        News of the Universe

To this undulant end of land,
washed into drumming caves below me by the sea,
I come to watch the sun leave.

The ebbing light makes all around me swell
with colors of parting intensity:
the purple asters glow like sea urchins;
the stems of the faded thrifts seem to bleed.

The pelicans, seagulls, and terns are not moved
as I am to a certain lovely sadness in this hour—
they swoop and glide and feed.

I think of what Bly wrote in his book
on poems of twofold consciousness.
I like where he says the whispered words are good
(even if the message makes you mourn)
because they mean a certain consciousness in nature
has connected with the same awareness awake in you—
though I’ve never heard those words whispered to me
in moments of profound beauty.

My melancholy is born, I believe,
from my inability to dissolve completely and become
the indescribable radiance of this beauty.


Friday, June 22, 2012

from the recently released anthology OCCUPY SF—poems from the movement
Occupy California
Virginia Barrett

Point Reyes National Seashore

The field mustard
is occupying the land
of the historic ranch
with a brilliant banner
of yellow—urging an early
American Spring.

Crows, in their black,
Zen monk robes, stand
atop the fence posts
and impart:
            “let flowers grow
            in all our hearts.”

Having survived
an earlier eviction,
the Tule Elk graze
on the hillsides
            of loving undulations
above the rousing surf.

Cows, black and white,
conscientiously chew the cud
of the indigestible news
while in Tomales Bay
the oysters form pearls
to pay for better schools.

Mountain lions organize
in the night, stealing
it back from the monopoly
of electric lights,
                        (and the stars are staging a sit-in).

                                    Coyotes circle
                        to devour
            the corporate carnage
in the misty rain
that is washing
this earthly paradise,
                                    this California,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Night at the Cedar Tavern with Tom

I had the honor to read at the closing of the Tom Schultz art exhibit at Art Space 712 in San Francisco on Sunday 16. I met Tom in his studio the day before but was introduced to him via speaker phone several nights before that, as he rambled in conversation with Bobby Coleman. It was a privilege to pen this work! Art and revolution, yeah. It was also an honor to read on the same bill with Jack Hirschman, Agneta Falk, and Bobby Coleman with great sax playing by George Long.


The activity of the artist makes him less socially conditioned and more human. It is then that he is disposed to revolution. Society stands against anarchy; the artist stands for the human against society; society therefore treats him as an anarchist.
                                            Robert Motherwell, “Beyond the Aesthetics”
                                            Design 47, no 8, April 1946, pp. 38-39

Hearing your voice on speaker phone I can imagine
nights in Manhattan at the Cedar, 24 University Place,
in the decade leading up to my birth in that same city
where O’Hara wrote: the tough Rocky’s eaves/ hit the sea”—
the talk of de Kooning, Kline, Motherwell, Reinhardt, Rothko,
Pollack and you too, Tom, hunkering down at the bar
after hitting your canvas straight on all day to furious strains
of bebop: Monk, Mingus, Coltrane. Your idiom takes me back
to my father’s era like the word “joint” for a place to go and be,
as The Cedar gave space to voice visions, radical and free, breaking
through the figurative boundaries of what there was to say,
and how to say it with colors, shapes, gestures, words, rhythms . . .
A communal room of painters and poets, a watering hole
where gathered all the great art animals after solitude in the studio
roaming the wild savannas of abstract expression—
            there were cheap drinks, no tourists or middle-class squares.

If only all the history in those walls of the bar could have been recorded,
before the building was demolished, in that neighborhood downmarket
and dangerous in those days two months before I was born uptown
to never know any of it until now—nearly 50 years later on the West coast—
through you Tom, a true artist to have survived unwavering in your art,
                                    “unconquered by stone, by glass, by greed, by madness..”

I hear your rolling banter with Bobby, who gently urges you on
as you talk while eating and drinking with the unrestrained gusto
of an older man, a gutsy guy with soul, who has lived through whatever
one needs to do to stay inspired, reinventing everyday—revelations
revealed in the process itself. You ramble through your memories
while never losing sight of what it is you believe in now:
            “Americans are dumb about what our own government does.
            We need a 3rd party, we shouldn’t give it up we should do
            everything we can. We’ve killed a million people in Iraq.
            Afghanistan is the longest war ever for this country.
            The president after World War II warned us, he warned us Bobby,
            mother fuckers making money off of killing people,
            you know what I mean?”
You flow on, and I can almost hear lines of Micheline.
                                    All people are enslaved
                                    I tell you
                                    I tell you
                                    in these modern times
            “It’s a war machine,”
                                    the people are so nervous
                                    the people are so ill at ease
                                    in these modern times
            “a war machine, Bobby . . . you know what I mean?”
                                    people don’t believe

You take another bite, a swig and chew while Bobby gives me a knowing glance,
            “Were there,” he asks, a playful grin coming over him,
            “any women on the scene?” I sit on the couch, knitting a scarf by his side.
            “Yes and no,” you say, your mouth still full of food, “no . . . really,
            it was mostly macho dudes, but Elaine de Kooning was there, she was tough.
            You had to be tough . . . yeah.”

And Bobby looks at me again while I think that even if I had been born on time
I would not have made the cut, to be tough enough for such a raw, historic happening.
All the smoking and drinking, Kerouac pissing in ashtrays, Pollack kicking in doors,
all the crazy carousing . . . and so I want to thank you Tom, for unknowingly giving me
one night in the bar with all the vivid, spontaneous boys, an evening stretched large
on the canvas of time still alive in you who does not linger in the past
but keeps on defying the sickening system of complacency—
                                                                                    a truth seer through all the lies.

The making of art is an anarchist’s act, diving into the unknown each day,
a bold-stroked image of the seeking soul, defeating the machine
with human abstractions of passion.
                                                Yeah, Tom, we know what you mean.