Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

Some Things I Learned This Week


A lovely autumn day with a few flowers still in full bloom.  Snow starts at ten tonight they predict.

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In spite of this loveliness, I keep thinking about a few sad facts I learned this past week.

On June 2, 1924, Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the US and finally, the original inhabitants of the USA could actually vote.  Well, some of them.  Certain states still barred them from voting until 1957.

More tigers live in captivity in the United States than in the wild worldwide.  95% of wild tigers gone in just one century.

More people have died from opioid addiction in the US in the last few years than from Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.

 

 

 

 

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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A Letter to the Man I Loved the Most


Today is your birthday, June 6.  I cannot wish you Happy Birthday because you fell into a coma a year and 1/2 ago and died several months later.  Our daughter came over and over to see you, unconscious, eyes staring into empty space.  She drove the five hours back and forth repeatedly.  Sometimes I came with her.

What happened to you?  Your mahogany hands and arms looked as they did when I first met you decades ago.  I looked at the signs of aging on my own; yours seemed so young, ageless.  But not your face.  I wonder if I would have recognized you on the street.  I remember the first time I saw you, sitting on a sofa–fancy, engraved silver tipped cowboy boots, shirt open half way down your chest, and your smile radiating across the room.  I knew immediately I had to have you.

What happened to you?  How could I have guessed I could be so wrong, decades of believing you just left, no explanation, nothing.  Then after you are comatose and I cannot talk to you, I learn a far different truth, a truth that never leaves me, a truth from which I will never totally recover.

What happened to you?  Charming, laughing, the man so many loved.  That you.  Did the other you finally dominate–the sad, disappointed, angry you?  The you few knew, the hidden you, the one I often held, tried to protect. Now I talk to your cousin, the one you forbade to tell me the truth I never knew, the friend I thought I had lost forever.  Yesterday we talked.  Today she left me a message.  She and I will never be the same, she filled with irreparable loss, your company, your mutual love, and I with a hole in my heart that can never be filled because I cannot talk to you.

What happened to you?  A decade ago when you came to see our daughter, it was like I had seen you only yesterday, in so many ways as if we had never been apart.  It haunted me.  You could have told me then, the truth.  But no, I had to learn it by accident from our daughter.  She thought I knew, that you had told me.

What happened to you?  I look at photos of us, young, filled with hope and love and promise, smiling brightly toward a camera.  I wonder how different my life might have been.  I will never know.

 

 

 

Sunday Poem-Puma I


“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”  Martin Buber

 

My neighbor walked out her door

found a puma lying on the lawn.

Puma rose, stretched, disappeared.

 

At night when I open my gate

I wonder if she lurks

behind the cedar trees,

pounce ready.

 

My daughter dreams puma dreams:

a puma chases her up a tree.

There are no trees here big enough to climb.

 

A Zuni puma fetish guards my sleep.

I run with puma

Night wild

Free.

 

I scream and howl

Moonstruck

Bloodborn.

 

I hike the canyon

stroll around my house

look for puma tracks.

I see none.

 

I would rather die by puma

than in a car wreck.

 

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Note:  This is the first in a series of Puma Poems in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.

Sunday Poem–A Life


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I wrote the first blog post about this in February, a second a few weeks later.  The following poem I wrote a week ago but never posted:  too upset, too sad, too filled with regrets I could have no way fixed because I did not even know all the story.  He remained unconscious for two months from late January until March 22.  It seems strange that the memories of a life I lived so long ago, mostly forgotten, could surge into so many waking moments now years later.  Life:  always filled with wonder, surprises.

yesterday we put his body in the ground

the wind blew through the trees

whispering green spring, beauty

yesterday we put his body in the ground

the man I loved, beautiful mahogany velvet

dazzled the world with his smile

yesterday we put his body in the ground

my daughter’s father, standing with family

some we had never seen before, worldwide

yesterday we put his body in the ground

watched a life flash by, slides from baby

to our life long ago, other lives and children

yesterday we put his body in the ground

family, friends, two of his children

a life struck down, too suddenly, too soon

In honor of the life of Kenneth A. Mowoe

You will not be forgotten, your memory lives on with me, your family, your children and grandchildren, your friends.  Peace.  Love.

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Catrinas


In 1913, Mexican print maker Jose Guadalupe Posada sketched the original Catrina, an elegant, upper class skeleton woman in a ball gown to symbolize the emptiness of the upper classes.  Subsequently, Catrinas have come to be a part of El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.  None of this has anything to do with Halloween, absolutely nothing.  People sometimes associate the two erroneously, but only because of the dates when they occur.

This evening I was privileged to be one of the judges of a Catrina contest.  Before the contest occurred, the evening began with some traditional Mexican dancing.

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There were also several traditional El Dia de los Muertos  family displays to honor deceased ancestors.  The following was the most elaborate.

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Finally, the Cartrinas were ready.  Ten young women competed.  The following photo shows the top three, judged for originality, costume, and makeup.

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The young woman on the left never smiled.  The top makeup impressed everyone.  The skeletal bones you see on the young woman on the right were all painted on and a backbone, etc. was painted on her back as well.  The young lady in the center won the costume portion–a bride in a black veil, elegant, empty.

 

 

Meet the Artist–the Writing Process and Poetry


This evening I am the artist at a local Meet the Artist event in Amarillo, Texas.  This event occurs bimonthly and past presenters have included musicians, photographers, and painters.  While I sing and take photos, my presentation will include reading poems from my book, “On the Rim of Wonder” and new, unpublished poems and talking about the writing process.  While I honestly thought few would be interested in the latter, several people have asked me specifically to discuss this.

Although I consider myself a writer, I do not sit down on schedule and write every day like many writers.  Inspiration, thoughts, come to me sporadically.  I write creatively exactly like I used to write college papers, magazine articles, etc.; I look like I am doing nothing, but in reality, all these ideas run through my head and finally gel.  Then I sit down and write it all at once.

The following is one of the poems from my book which I plan to read this evening:

 

Aging

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  Dylan Thomas

Custom says, “Age gracefully.”

Are they crazy, dumb.

Who wants to look

old

wrinkled

grey?

They lie.

All of them.

Who wants a broken mind

confused

unfocused

lost?

Shoot me!

Burn my bones.

Scatter them

in the desert sands

to feed

desert willow where

rattlesnakes lie

searching for shade.