Saturday, March 10, 2018

Looking Back

Below are two memoir pieces by talented writers I've met through my creative writing classes. The first one is a poem with a sweet, cantering rhythm by artist/writer LAW Fraser. The second one is an ironic reminiscence (and mystery!) by Linda Burk.

Check here in the weeks to come for more inventive literary works by various Portland voices!

My Wish
by LAW Fraser

Every star that shined first,
every wishbone that I snapped,
I asked for my very own pony.
Every day that wish stayed the same.

When asked what I wanted for a gift,
I asked for my very own pony,
one I could sit on and ride,
any time.

I could gallop up hills and
run through streams,
I could rest in the green,
while my pony grazed.

I would sweep out his stall,
carry water and hay,
brush his mane then
polish his hooves.

All these things I could do
if my wish would come true.
All the places I could ride
if only my wish would come true.

I’m now past my prime, won’t ride anymore.
So I’m content to watch from afar,
but still wild ponies excite
this old heart.


The Woodstove
by Linda Burk

We bought the old farm at an auction. It was located on a back road in the hills of Pennsylvania. There were no neighbors in sight. Our boys were young and we needed to live in the city near their school. The farm was a weekend retreat for us. We loved the orchards with several varieties of crisp juicy apples and sweet red cherries. The old yard still had a few strawberries that we enjoyed in the summer.

The house was formerly owned by an old man who lived alone and must have subsisted on sardines and beans according to the piles of cans we found in the back yard.

The living room walls were black with soot but there was no sign of a woodstove. We spent many weekends stripping the walls to the studs while the boys enjoyed playing in the nearby fields.

As winter approached we attached our large woodstove, which we brought with us from our farm in West Virginia. It was cozy and warm in the rooms as we worked.

Our weeks were busy with school and work and there was a month between visits to the old place. When we returned we walked into the living room. We stood there with our mouths open! The woodstove and pipes were gone! We asked the few neighbors but no one heard anything or saw anything. It was frustrating but what did we expect? The old farm was located in a rural area called Exchange.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

All the Sweet and Beautiful Boys

I'm so proud to have my story "All the Sweet and Beautiful Boys" published in A story of love and war and peace and siblings, this one means so much to me. My deepest gratitude to the editors for this reprint.

To read the story, click

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Everyday Celebrations

Whether you love or hate Valentine's Day, here's a poem about holidays by Portland writer and teacher, Susan Donnelly.

by Susan Donnelly

There are days proclaimed

to be holier than others,

as if somehow they are princesses

born of royal blood,

wrapped in soft purple velvet,

and entrusted with Divine Rights.

Days held in awe, holier

like the Portuguese virgins

who shuffle miles on their knees

to light sacred candles at Fatima.

It is as if the first February glimpse

of the Rufous Hummingbird’s green feathers

were somehow not worthy of celebration,

and the sweet scent of lilacs didn’t intoxicate;

as if basking in the unexpected warmth

of fragile October sun wasn’t

the perfect gift.

All days

are holy enough.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Love Parade

As a kid growing up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, I loved going to the Portland Rose Festival Parade in June. My oldest brother was a trumpeter in the high school's band, so besides enjoying the parade floats that glided by, I had the thrill of seeing my sibling marching with the late spring light gleaming on his brass Doc Severinson horn.

Today, my idea of a good parade would be even more joyful. Using the writer Kahlil Gibran's phrase, it would be "a procession of love"    a celebration of people and creatures and all the natural world.

Many thanks to the New Verse News for publishing my vision for a parade in their post today. You can find my new poem at

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Blue Moon/Blood Moon

It's the last day of January, and I’m a little shaken by two poems I just finished writing.

Can a poem be finished? Probably not. When we look at a line with fresh eyes, we notice the cadence is a little off, the similes are a tad limp, or a certain word’s dull glow wants to be replaced with a shimmering synonym.

At any rate, I was answering a call for submissions that ended today, so I had to put an end to my intense editing.

The theme for the submissions was poems from the news. I thought I would be clever and write something inspired by a New York Times wedding story. Maybe something about how the couple met through their mothers, two old school friends who were reunited when they were both widowed and began attending services at the same synagogue. 

I was sure I would find a story like that to write about. I imagined a bride who rode her bicycle to the ceremony, wearing a fern-colored skirt that had belonged to her grandmother. As for the groom, I pictured him in a shirt of pale blue cotton with a Scottish tie of heathery tweed. He’d had a beard when he'd met his future bride, but he shaved it off when she developed a rash after their first long session of kissing.

I’ve read many such stories on Sunday mornings in the Style section of the Times. No, that’s not quite accurate. I tutor a high school student on Sunday mornings, so I usually don’t get to the weddings until later. On Sunday mornings, my student and I discuss commas and adverbs and thesis statements. This year he's taking AP U.S. History (a.k.a., “A-PUSH”), and so before I meet with him, I review my notes on things like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that lawmakers passed to keep Chinese people from coming to America. According to the A-PUSH textbook, in 2012, Congress apologized, which makes me wonder what formal regrets the U.S. will express in 2148.

I find studying history as fascinating as it is depressing. Instead of flying through the chapters in the class text, I read every line, sometime twice or three times.

In contrast, I find reading today’s headlines is just plain depressing: the flames that trapped the occupants of a Bronx apartment building, a grown daughter missing after a hurricane, a refugee clinging to her toddler as their dinghy was sinking in the Mediterranean Sea.

I wanted to turn this submission call into something unexpected. I wanted to make my manuscript a celebration of love that would never be printed on the front page. Alas, other subjects called my name, and like a low tire that pulls a vehicle to one side, I felt drawn to write about homelessness and mass shootings instead.

My new poems may never be published. If they are, they're unlikely to make even a small change in the world's path. Or I may not like them myself the next time I read them. But I'm not sorry I looked these topics in the face or that my bones have felt the horror of the facts on which they're based. Instead of basking in the glow of vows exchanged on a sunny hill, I've spent the last month inside the dark cave of a serpent’s mouth where its fangs sank into my veins.

Whoa, was that hyperbole? Yes, but I’m still trembling at the idea of sleeping outside night after night after night and at the thought of losing a child in an act of violence and then receiving thoughts and prayers as recompense.

Of course I’m not literally debilitated by simply writing. And last night I looked up at the sky and saw the blue supermoon (before the eclipse, so there was no blood moon yet), and I knew this amazing sight was as true as all of the terrible news we take in every day. Then I stepped back inside my old house and shut the door and was cocooned once again by the warmth and comfort and electric lights.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

An Abolitionist Walks into a Bazaar...

Yes, this season can mean gray skies and the glint of the silver chip on a credit card, but this is also true: The holiday shopping season began with a humanist cause. Before the Civil War, anti-slavery societies held annual charity fairs, featuring crafts that were handmade by women. “Buy for the Sake of the Slave,” was the slogan for these bazaars, which were often held before Christmas.

What is it about this story that makes me happy? Is it the idea that we can mold the clay of consumerism to create something beautiful and good? Is it the image of hushed, corseted Victorian-era women finding their public voice? Or the uniting of two causes – feminism and abolitionism – to make a powerful force?

Maybe this anecdote from my country’s history is like the minute flame on top of a birthday candle or a tiny, single bulb in a string of lights. Maybe it’s a suggestion, whispered, in my ear, that there’s no need to sit and wait for a certain star to shine. Maybe the light I crave in December is already flickering in each of us.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Whole Picture

My mother has taught me to see color. Whenever we go anywhere together she's alive to every pink blossom and russet leaf along the way.

Two of my favorite Portland poets, Claudia F. Savage and Carolyn Martin, are also especially adept at seeing a full range of colors and textures, without looking through rose-colored lenses. Luckily for all of us, both women have new books out, so we can share their visions. 

Bruising Continents by Claudia F. Savage
Reading Bruising Continents is like sinking your teeth into a pear still warm from the sun. As earthy and generous as a sumptuous feast set out on a table, the pages of this book pulse with images from the natural world. Cells are “suspended fish,” a man has long limbs like a tree, a woman’s hips are “ripe figs.” Celebrating the physicality of being human, Savage lovingly uses the names of body parts throughout her poems – tibia, medulla, clavicle, rib – while also drawing images of the body of our world as she writes about rain and sky and river and hill. In this lyrical love story, the lines between nature and people are erased. While lovers ache for each other, pine needles also “desire to be splendid.” Savage’s poems make us see – and feel – that, like the naked lovers on the cover of Bruising Continents, the environment and human beings are intertwined.

Thin Places by Carolyn Martin   
It’s no wonder I’ve used Carolyn Martin’s poems so often as prompts in my creative writing classes. In her latest book, Martin takes us on a journey from the Japonica that grows in her yard to a Little League game in Taos, New Mexico and a side street in Puerto Vallarta. As her poems travel from place to place, Martin's work maintains a delightful accessibility. Like the former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, her writing style is as conversational (and entertaining) as a chat with a good friend who has a genial sense of humor combined with a keen eye. In the title poem, she cheerfully writes of “squishing Pacific sand” and sitting at a “smudged computer screen,” and we nod in recognition. Also like Collins, though, Martin never fails to take her poems – and us – someplace unexpected. By the end of "Thin Places," she has moved on from more familiar images to the "quiddity of stars" and "frogs that listen with their mouths.” Nudging this idea even further, Martin's unique vision urges us to close our eyes and “let the darkness concentrate,” a profound concept that leads us into the depths of this perceptive collection.

To hear these two stellar poets reading, join them – and me – on December 4 at the Northwest Library.

Free Range Poetry
Monday, December 4
6:00 - 7: 30 pm
Northwest Library, 2300 NW Thurman, Portland, OR
(the event begins with an open mic – sign-up is at 5:45 pm)