Thursday, December 30, 2010



© Renee Goularte ~ Sept 2010

Last week my father
watched his son and grandson
prime the pump that would
siphon the fuel from an oversized tank
that had been unearthed the week before.

He watched
from a dusty office chair
three generations at work
dismantling the business
piece by piece, truck by truck.

He said,
This is my life’s work,
all gone now.

We looked at his face, his eyes
scanning the concrete yard,
the weed-invaded pier blocks,
the giant hole where the truck scale
had weighed each load before it left the yard
until the day when it was sold and hauled away.

And so goes the family business....

... started in 1958, closed down in 2010, the victim of urban progress combined with an economic downfall, with no construction going on to keep it alive. In a short period of time it devolved from a thriving business to essentially nothing.... as trucks and equipment were sold, buildings dismantled and demolished, and finally the concrete was ground up into a pile of rubble. And there you have it ....


Monday, October 25, 2010

thrill the world 2010 ~ chico

On Saturday, Oct. 23 my friend Sharon and I, along with hundreds of other people, participated in Thrill the World Chico, part of a world-wide attempt to set a world record for the most people simultaneously dancing Michael Jackson's Thriller dance. Our group's performance was in the City Plaza in Chico, California, but there were groups all over the world dancing at the same exact time.

We had practiced twice a week for six weeks to prepare. At first we were skeptical about whether we were going to learn the whole dance (and be able to actually do it) but, as it turned out, thanks to a couple of very good dance teachers and some awesome "learn the dance" videos online, we managed to put it all together.

In our little corner of North State California world, it rained the whole time, and we got soaked to the bone. But we had a great time dressing like zombies and getting involved, and we're both looking forward to doing it again next year.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I am an Art teacher.
I was An art teacher.
The Art program was eliminated, and my job along with it.

Last month I retired from teaching.
Now I'm looking for a job.

Contrary to what we read and hear in letters to editors, on television, etc., a great many teachers and other public servants do not have retirement benefits that will support survival. It all depends on how long you have worked. I changed districts after ten years, losing my permanent status and my seniority. But the economy was good and districts were hiring, so I was optimistic about building my reputation in a new place. Then everything went to hell after the 2000 election and I got caught in a series of education cuts that kept me working part-time. With no full time teaching positions available in my area, I was lucky to land a part time job teaching Art to young elementary students. California had sent aside money for the fine arts, and once again things were looking up. Until they headed down again, and the state decided to let school districts use that fine arts money for whatever they wanted.

The money that funded the art program was no longer dedicated to art, and the art program was axed, along with my job.A creatively-thinking principal thought he would be able to add an art program to his school using federal money, something that is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. But the California Department of Education, in its wisdom, says the money can only be used for language and/or math. Those almighty test scores, apparently, are the only things they care about.

It is utterly ludicrous that people in power don't understand that true learning is broader and deeper than what can be shown on a bubble test. While the children of California suffer and are denied a true well-rounded education because of bureaucratic nonsense, I guess I will be taking some naps. And making art. And looking for a job.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

loosening up

I love tall bearded irises and have been wanting to paint some. Or even just draw some. So when they started blooming this spring I took about 746,925 pictures and then looked and looked and looked at the shapes and colors and lines and then I finally did a watercolor painting of three irises.... which I promptly threw away. Then one day in watercolor class the instructor had us do some wet-on-wet "splotchy" exercises and I decided this technique would work for irises.

So I did splotchy iris colors and some green leafy colors on wet paper. And then I looked at the splotches for about four weeks before I was brave enough to add to them. Finally, I decided to just draw the iris shapes over the splotches with pen and ink. Actually, it's not pen AND ink. It's just ink pen. I like those micro pens with the permanent black ink. Anyway, after drawing the iris shapes I looked at the painting again for about a week, and went in and added some background color, darkened the leaf shapes a bit, and quit.

Quitting is the hardest part. But I am learning how to stop while I'm ahead.

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Last week I announced in my watercolor class that I am planning to be the van Gogh of skies. Disregarding for a moment that I am not likely to be the van Gogh of anything, I do have to say that I paint some pretty interesting skies. It seems no matter what the lesson is, I manage to incorporate a sky. This painting was actually a lesson in painting grasses using many alternating layers of watercolor wash and masking fluid, and once I got going on that, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite scenes.... tumbly cloudy sky, sweeping expanse of landscape, and far-away trees. I love the colors, love the sky, and love the way it looks on my wall. I was so anxious to get it framed that I didn't even photograph the last version with the finishing touches, some dark brown and green grasses overlaying the lighter ones.

Friday, January 08, 2010

painting rocks

I love rocks. I pick up random rocks from sidewalks, from beaches, from roadsides, and even from my own backyard. They find their way to glass jars or bookshelves. I carry a particularly smooth and symmetrical black stone in my purse that I like to touch. I even wrote a poem about that one.

Now that I am taking a watercolor class, I look at practically everything through a lens of wondering whether it would be good subject matter for a watercolor painting and I've started carrying my digital camera in my purse so that I can preserve images or ideas for myself.

My latest watercolor was inspired by a photograph I took on the beach at Asilomar in December. I started with a general layout of shapes using a flat brush and a very watery burnt umber, followed by a series of layers to create the curves, shadows, and depth. I had a good time mixing colors like purples and greens to create interesting grays and browns. It's not finished yet. Or maybe it is. But I think probably it's not.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


A month ago or so I started taking a watercolor class at the local Art Center, mainly so I can discipline myself to take at least some time each week for getting back into an art mode. The teacher's style is completely different from what I learned/did in college (about a thousand years ago) so I am having to stretch myself right out of my own box. It feels good and a little weird at the same time. I'm experimenting more than maybe I ever did, which is a good thing. So anyway here are two of my favorite watercolor paintings so far.

The inspiration for this one is from a photograph I took one day several years ago when I was driving home from work. The clouds were awesome and I loved the colors in the layers of the hills.

This one is a still life that I basically copied from a picture that I found in a Sunset magazine.

I left out all the background and tried to mess around with the greens and reds in the leaves. This is also an experiment in using a lighter hand, since I have a tendency to overdo. I think I like it. :-)

Friday, July 03, 2009


Recently I spent a great deal of time scanning a whole box full of my mother's old pictures. This started because I needed a certain picture of my grandmother for a book of poetry I was putting together for a family gift, and turned into one of those mushrooming projects that, of course, is still not finished because now I am looking at scanning all my children's baby pictures plus other random pictures laying around in baskets, boxes, and albums. Anyway, in the process of going through my mom's collection, sorting through pictures of grandparents, great-grandparents, various cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends I could almost barely remember, I found this picture of me which 1. I did not know existed, and 2. I just love! I seem to have one of those "can't you just leave me and my cat alone and put that camera away?" looks, and I must note that I still have those eyebrows today. And I wonder just how long the cat put up with hanging there in my arms before it rebelled. In reality, I have no memory of this cat or any other childhood cat, a lack for which I am making up today. Still, this cat must belong to someone, or I know it wouldn't allow itself to be subjected to this sort of handling. :-)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

poem a day: 25 through 30

I made it all the way through the Poem a Day Challenge in April, although I did have to make up a few days that I missed. These are the last six poems with their respective prompts. No pictures this time, just words:

April 30: farewell poem


Don’t placate me with
fond farewells and promises
to be friends. When you
walk away it will be for good.
There’s no mistake. Someday
when I ask for a moment
we’ll see what kind
of promise you can keep.

April 29: Never _____


Dangerous finality of thought
this nevering, this stomping of feet
this gnashing of teeth

over the silliest of things. Eating
broccoli or brussels sprouts or
making nice with relatives

who long-ago did something so horrid
so insulting you don’t even
remember what it was anymore

only that it was their fault. Never
is the black and white of those
who refuse to accept a life in color.

April 28: sestina

I refuse
to write
a sestina
or tomorrow.

like today,
I will refuse
a sestina
to write.

a sestina
in defiance
I’ll refuse
just like today.

I’ll not write
I’ll refuse
again tomorrow
in defiance
to write this sestina.

A sestina?
I cannot write!
Nor tomorrow!
I’ll still refuse!

This refusal
to write a sestina
or today --
a sestina to write --
I can only defy.

In defiance I refuse
to write any sestina
today or tomorrow.

April 27: a poem of longing


With no wish to travel to exotic places,
to win the lottery, to drive a fancy car,
I can stand at my own deck railing
or the edge of the sea, and wish
for just a little more time.

April 26: miscommunication/misinterpretation

Lapse of Clarity

A choice is made,
life-changing, permanent,
the result of an off-the-cuff comment
misunderstood in a moment
of confusion. It is a pivotal decision
to walk away, to choose
the inevitable.

April 25: poem about an event

Gold Nugget Days

Hard to imagine the hauling
of a fifty-four pound gold nugget
up a steep mountain
on the back of a donkey
to a northern California
cul-de-sac mining camp
called Dogwood. Hard to imagine
this glittering rock was plucked
from the side of Sawmill Peak
a full ten years after the beginning
of the California Gold Rush.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

poem a day: 13 through 24

The "Poem a Day Challenge" marches on. I've had to play catch up on the Poetic Asides website as well as here. The prompts have not always been instant grabbers for me, but mostly I've been doing other things. But here's a group, with the prompts, in backward order:

April 24: a travel-related poem

Some days
the farthest I go
is to the mailbox and back.

The mailbox being
at the end of the driveway.

Which is about thirty feet long.

Which some days is just far enough,
thank you very much.

April 23: a poem of regret

For Nancy Jenks

We did not visit you
after surgery, knew
there would be plenty of time
when you came home.
We went about our ordinary days,
shopping for bargains
stopping for lattes
getting books from the library.
We’d ask friends,
“How’s Nancy doing?”
and they would say they thought
you were coming along
that your hip was mending
that you’d be healed soon.
“We should visit her.” we’d say,
but we were so busy.
Who could have imagined
a common hip surgery would lead
to our writing an obituary
for the local paper.

April 22: a work-related poem

Kindergarten Teachers

Day after day
they sing the morning song.
count heads, count blocks,
count lunches,
make calendar patterns,
sort blocks, hand out snacks,
tie shoes, zip up zippers,
show child after child
a good way to hold scissors,
hold a pencil, hold on a minute.
They read six books a day,
spread out nap mats.
pick them up fifteen minutes later.
They invent songs, read poetry,
teach the alphabet, manners,
how to flush the toilet.
Kindergarten teachers
do not work. They just
play with children
day after day.

April 21: a haiku

Kindergarten class
a garden for children
or so they say.

April 20: poem of rebirth


When I return
I plan to be water,
to be level, to flow
wherever there is
open space, settle
into the cracks in rocks,
flow easily into dark caves.

April 19: angry poem

I’ve no use for anger
for slamming doors
for cold shoulders,
for strung out grudges.
My time is better spent
with glasses half-full.

April 18: interaction

Feline stands at the base
of a tall Ponderosa Pine.
She is a statue,
frozen, her head
tilted back, her eyes fixed.
She doesn’t so much
as blink.

Squirrel perches on the trunk
faces down, twenty feet up.
He is equally still,
locked in eye contact.
His tail twitches
only slightly.

April 17: All I Want Is...

All I Want

To relive
that one moment

More than a daydream
with no new end.

A chance to know
what might have been
if only

I had stayed
one moment more.

April 16: write about a color


It sprays across the hills
in early spring. Pinpoints
on dogwood still half asleep,
wave upon wave of grassy slope
and humble weedstrewn yard,
a pointillist display on
branches of black oak.

April 15: change the title of a well-known poem

The Brownie Not Taken

Two brownies sat upon a plate;
one got left, and one got ate.

April 14: a love poem or an anti-love poem
I wrote one of each :-)

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
I hate love poems.
How about you?


Sixty years of marriage.
She still makes his lunch,
he still makes her coffee.
It must be love.

April 13: poem about a hobby

Free Bookmarks

It started as a practicality:
free bookmarks picked up
from cashier counters
in book stores and libraries.
They would arrive in the mail
with every order from amazon,
or be tucked into books loaned
by friends or bought at book sales.
They began to appear in other places:
on restaurant counters, at the gym,
at real estate offices, conventions,
there for the taking, the advertising.
I have hundreds now, sorted by size
and find myself choosing
just the appropriate one
for every book I read.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

poem a day: 12

April 12: a poem that begins with "So we decided to..."

So we decided

to get another cat
because she was sleek black
because she purred when noticed
because she was hungry, abandoned
and because five isn’t really too many.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

poem a day: 9 through 11

April 11: poem about an object

The Rock at the Bottom of My Purse

The way it sits in the palm of my hand
smooth-polished by some unknown
water source, tumbled by river or ocean
to become this talisman, this totem,
this reminder to be patient. The way
it falls accidently into my fingers
when I search for lipgloss or a pen
keeps me mindful of small miracles.

April 10: poem about Friday


The days of the week are of no consequence.
Friday, Wednesday, Monday all the same to me.

What day is this? I ask. You say it’s Sunday.
Ah! No work today!

April 9: a memory

One stolen night
twenty years ago:
rain on the windshield
Tito Puente on the radio
3 am patty melt at Denny’s.
Conjured up at will
it sustains an idea:
Love on the run.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

poem a day: 1 through 8

The "Poem a Day" challenge is on for the month of April, and like last year I intend to make it through the month and post my daily poems here, along with the prompts. So here are the first eight, in reverse order, with a couple of pictures thrown in:

April 8: poem about a routine

Feeding the Cats

Once it was easy:
keep the kibble bowls full.
That was before the onset
of Buddy’s diabetes.

Now five gather at 6 am,
arrange themselves near empty bowls
before my morning coffee.
I dole out kibble in quarter cups
because the diabetic one must eat
only high-protein food, which costs
more than a pair of sneakers.

Used to grazing,
they eat like they’ve been fasting for weeks
as though kibble might disappear
from the universe two minutes hence.

Except for the one
who takes three bites and goes outside
while the rest clean their bowls, then returns
ready to eat now, thank you,
and the one who will not eat
while being watched
by those whose bowls are empty
who are ready to do clean up
the minute she walks away.

April 7: clean or dirty poem

My mother always said
if you make the bed and wash the dishes
people will think your house is clean.

I can go one better:
if you leave the vacuum near the front door
people will think you are planning to clean.

April 6: poem about something lost


It seems absurd to hang on to one
lone sock when its mate is lost.
In the odd chance it's stuck
to some item of clothing
unworn for the last two years,
I keep it folded neatly in a corner
among mated pairs.

April 5: poem about a landmark

Golden Gate Bridge

From 19th Avenue, somewhere
in the middle of the alphabetical streets,
I can see the tips of the towers
rise above the fog;
red-orange rectangles beckon me
to come closer.

Just before the Marina turnoff,
looking at Marin across the Golden Gate,
it is not possible to forget about
the men who died during construction, or
to ignore the wild swinging of the roadway
in slow-motion documentaries.

I drive onto the span
guide my car to the middle lane
and take in every detail:
art-deco towers, waist-thick cables,
a gap between road and sidewalk
through which a young child can slip
if she falls just so.

April 4: a poem about an animal


Half Pit bull, half Shar Pei,
she channels gazelles and kangaroos
leaps from sofa to chair to sofa
over humans watching television.
She fetches as long as they are willing
slides down hallways at breakneck speed
returns and drops her spit-covered ball
on the closest lap, stares with wrinkled brow
and one cocked ear proclaiming cuteness
to keep her humans engaged.
She is totally on or totally off,
doesn't stop her breakneck speed
until she drops, exhausted,
on her Ikea doggie bed.

April 3 - “the problem with .____ “

The Problem With Socks

They don't make them the way they used to
the heels sag or slip
or creep out the back of my shoe
but it is the bump
over the fourth toe on my right foot
the one that doesn't make itself known
until I am halfway to work
that overshadows every moment of the day
permeates every vital or idle thought
and makes me wonder why
if we can put a man on the moon
somebody can't make a sock
without bumps over the toes.

April 2 - an outsider poem


She walks into her Kindergarten classroom
on the first day of school, slightly reticent
but willing to give it a try.

She likes to watch before doing,
doesn't like to be forced, digs her heels in
when asked to stand to salute the flag,
would rather sit on the rug
while nineteen other children sing
the alphabet song.

She is quickly recognized, a square peg
unfitting for this round hole. She daydreams
while others trace their names,
hums while drawing rainbows in her workbook.

April 1 - an origin poem

Unknown Origins

Where do they come from,
these black widow spiders
who weave their Jackson Pollock webs

on fence post corners, under the deck
and in the basket next to the television
where cats like to sleep?

How do they survive winter snow
and blistering summer heat, when
the exterminator comes every month

when we smash the egg sacs
with trowels, with shovels,
and pressure wash every dark corner?

They are like the cockroaches
we are told will survive nuclear war.
Where do they come from?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

pine tree down


We seem to be tree-challenged.

During the last snowstorm, in the middle of the night, this tree snapped clean in half.

This is the fifth tree we've lost in three years.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

garden in waiting

Today I planted about a hundred tall bearded irises in the middle of our yard...

... after weeks and weeks of talking about needing to get them into the ground soon. Before frost. Before Thanksgiving. Well, it's after Thanksgiving by two days, but we haven't had anything even remotely resembling frost. In fact, today it was something like 70 degrees. There should be snow. Or rain. Or at least frost. But we are walking around in shirt sleeves and sweat is dripping into my eyes while I turn the soil. But at least the irises are now, finally, in the ground, and I can forget about them until Spring. Or until they send up some leaves, which are noticeably missing because the rhizomes I dug in the summer have been sitting in a tray on top of the wood bin, their roots stiffening beyond any ability to bend, the neatly v-trimmed leaves withering to crisp nothings. But I have faith that they will return.

The only reason they were out of the ground in the first place was because we had to install new leach lines and I had to dig up the quite-established garden, which meant that lavender and daisies and lots of day lilies went into containers, and the iris got tossed in a pile. I've been diligently watering containers for months, keeping everything alive. But I couldn't put the iris rhizomes back into the ground until I got the soil turned, and compost spread, and established the shape of the little path that wanders across the middle.

Eight bags of compost and a few backaches later, they are finally replanted and so far, the cats have not dug up any of the rhizomes. Right now, it may look like just a bunch of brown dirt and a path, but in my mind I see lots of lush green leaves, cats stalking bugs among the day lilies, and a colorful array of iris blooms bordered by wild violets.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

finally fall

This is
my favorite time of year
just yellow at the edges
crisp in the morning
stacked cord by cord
in the yard.

Friday, July 11, 2008

fire days

It is Friday, July something. Something with a 1. Maybe it's the 10th or maybe it's the 11th. I do know it's Friday. On Tuesday we woke up in the morning to an incredibly strange, orangy-gray sky. At 7:30 in the morning it was as dark as before dawn. A little later, the sun was so muted we could look straight at it. As the day progressed, the sky did not. It got a bit lighter, but mostly it just stayed eerily orangeish, and midmorning we realized small bits of ash and embers were raining down on us.
We realized the lightning fires that had been burning for two weeks had kicked up, particularly the one in the West Branch Feather River canyon, which was due east of us.

We spent a couple of hours thinking and mumbling and watching the sky and the news. By 2:00 pm we were putting into our cars the items we had packed over a week earlier: the canvas bags filled with important papers, pictures, albums, assorted pieces of jewelry (like we owned the crown jewels or something), sketch books and journals (me), oil paintings of long-gone pets and lighthouses (Steve), and an odd assortment of small items like little cat figurines (me) and earplugs and swim goggles (Steve). We did this in silence, each of us methodically marching back and forth to our respective cars. Finally the moment came when it was time to pack up the cats (all five of them) into their carriers, throw cat food and a litter box into the car, and take off. With a last scan of the front yard, we drove away.

Friends had set out a couple hours before us, with their four cats, headed for a Motel 6 in Willows, about an hour and a half away, so we followed them there. As we drove into the motel parking lot, I got a call on my cell from my friend Sharon, who had evacuated with her husband and four cats. Within two hours, they were unloading cat carriers into the motel room next to ours. This picture of our cars prompts me to want to sing:

"One of these cars is not like the others.
One of these cars doesn't belong.
Can you guess which car is not like the others,
before I finish my song?"

Thanks to free wireless Internet, we contacted friends and neighbors who had scattered to various places. We had about a day of worry when one close friend, a former neighbor who lived right on the burning canyon and who had been manditorily evacuated (cool word, manditorily) seemed to have disappeared into the ether, but we decided to go with the "no news is good news" train of thought. Finally, we received word from his wife that he was safe, and that the cat was in the shelter run by the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (donations gladly accepted).

The next morning I received some emailed pictures from another former next door neighbor on the canyon, who had snuck with her husband back into their home the night before and taken pictures from their deck, showing the fire burning across the canyon. Their house, and the one we used to live in as well as a whole line of them, sit at the top edge of this canyon, some on stilts. Down below is the West Branch of the Feather River, a rather narrow little thing, certainly not enough of anything to stop a fire.

Firefighters (bless them all) had been and were still battling to keep the fire from jumping the (very narrow) river and racing back up the other side, straight to these houses. 

Yesterday, I guess that was Thursday, we had this view from our motel window:

Conversations with some of the firefighters who descended onto the motel revealed that they were "having a hard time getting the fires under control." Fortunately, it has still been prevented from crossing the river into the town of Paradise. The people in Concow, south of us, have not been as lucky; they've lost about fifty homes and the fire is still burning.

And burning.

Hopefully, we will be able to go home soon. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, June 30, 2008

fire, fire everywhere

Lately we have had fire at the forefront of our thoughts, day and night. Living on a ridge at the top of and alongside a series of canyons, we began on June 11 alternating between various news sources to keep abreast of fire updates as a huge fire skipped across the bottom of four canyons and headed uphill. As I wrote on June 15, nearly 30,000 acres burned just outside the town of Paradise, and 67 homes were lost. It took several days for that fire to be contained, and for those of us who were not affected, things started to get back to normal.

But not for long.

A week ago Saturday, in the middle of the afternoon, we started hearing thunder. And then it got louder. There were not many "one one thousands" to say between the flashes of light and the amazing crashing noises that went along with them. We also heard zaps and cracks and pops. It didn't take us very long to get all the cats into the house (not that we needed to coax them) and by that evening, we started to hear about fires that had been started by the lightning. By Sunday night, hundreds of fires were burning throughout Northern California, over two dozen of them here in our county. And it wasn't long until we discovered that we were literally surrounded by fire.

And smoke. Lots of smoke. For three days, we could hardly see through the trees to the house next door.

There are firefighters here from all over the state and even out of state. We have been constantly checking the Internet, television and radio to see which fires are getting bigger, which ones are spreading to where, which ones are merging, and which might be threatening us (none, so far... whew!), and who is being evacuated from where.

On the day when we discovered that a fairly close neighborhood was on evacuation alert, we started getting organized ... just in case. So now we have satchels and canvas sacks full of pictures and important papers all packed up and ready to be carried out the door. The cat carriers (five of them!) are stacked in the garage and we have lists of "last minute things" to grab, like medications and money and underwear. And the external hard drive and the laptop.

The biggest worry for us is that there is only one road out of our community, going down the hill. For over ten years, the citizens here have been asking for another exit road. There's an unpaved forest road to the north (which also happens to be uphill), but it's pretty rugged and only good for trucks and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Our Congressman, Wally Herger, has been in office over twenty years and has done nothing about this problem. Of course, every time there's a fire, he flies around in a helicopter looking at the damage and then attends town hall meetings where he pats himself on the back for having secured 11 million dollars for the road. Which needs more money than that. Which is still just gravel. Which HE doesn't need because HE lives in an exclusive, gated community. And of course he doesn't mention that he only secured that money because citizens hounded him. But I digress ....

Today the helicopters are flying overhead with regularity, carrying those big buckets of water, and the skies are starting to be blue again. Thank you, firefighters!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


No terrorist, no alien
from deepest space
could do more damage
than fire storming
every edge
of this mountain town.

One quiet morn
it quickly flares in weeds
ten miles away, jumps
over delta-carved canyons
four in a row, just like that,
heads uphill far too fast
for a small town fire crew.

Homes fall in its path
one after another.

On the high side of town,
at the apex of this
confluence of canyons
we flip from news to news.
Maps spread on the table
we follow the path, measure
the shrinking distance
between us and it, finger-trace
the north road, the south road,
balance the cost of leaving
with the risk of staying.

We field emails and phone calls
from family, from friends,
“Are you alright?” they ask
“Is it close?” and we say
“We are fine,” while we know

that we sit at the apex
of this confluence of canyons,
that no road leads to safety,
that we are
at the mercy
of the wind.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

daylilies as metaphor

On the very day an ultimately devastating fire was beginning to rage toward Paradise, just a few miles down the mountain from where we live, our garden presented us with this group of fiery orange daylilies:

Aptly named as they are, this particular group was gone the next day, replaced by a smaller and less spectacular array. Unfortunately, not so the fire. Although we were safe in our home the whole time, the town of Paradise suffered some tremendous losses: over seventy homes, about 30,000 acres, and, if we are lucky, some complacency about how we should act when we live in a fire-prone area in a drought year during a windstorm.

I am always amazed when I drive around town and see people with their cigarettes hanging out their car windows. It takes a particular kind of stupid to act in such an irresponsible manner in a forest town that is not particularly known for its humidity, and in which the fire danger is more often high than low. And if you suggest that people stop burning their leaves, even though they have access to yard waste pickup right in front of their own houses on a biweekly basis, some of them scream about their individual rights and the dangers of tree-huggers, usually accompanied by frantic wavings of the American flag and projectile spit.

If you live in a fire area, smoke with your car windows closed, please.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

gemstone quiz

This morning I did a gemstone quiz. Here's the result:

Your Gemstone Says...

You are stable, strong, and full of life. You are an inspiring person.

People turn to you first for leadership and advice.

You are able to gently help people get to where they need to be.

And while you aren't afraid to lead when necessary, you are never heartless or bossy.

Now this is all very well and good, but I'm not sure people I know would agree with the part that says I'm not bossy. :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

30 poems in 30 days award

Because I (along with hundreds of other people)
wrote a poem a day in April ~ thirty poems in thirty days ~
I (along with those other hundreds of people)
got this award from PoeticAsides :-)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

mother's day

Yesterday, after reading an article about how the deck is stacked against mothers in America, I followed a link to a website called Moms Rising which in turn led me to assorted information about motherhood, parenting, health care, gender inequality and other issues, and of course that pesky little problem of women not being paid as much as men for doing the same kind of work and feminist backlash in general. One would think that we had gotten past that by now, but noooooo....

Anyway, then I started thinking about Mother's Day and eventually my brain cells started contemplating some famous and not-so-famous mothers who have made a difference, like Mother Jones and Mothers Against War and Mothers Against the Draft and even the Mothers of Invention, who of course weren't mothers at all, but what the heck? So anyway, that's how I spent my Mother's Day, after chatting with my kids and my mom on the phone, and taking some pictures of irises in the garden. Hope your day was as informative and entertaining as mine was. If not, take a couple of minutes to watch this Mother's Day video on YouTube... it will invoke fond memories in anyone with siblings. :-)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

poetry wednesday: weather

The PoeticAsides Poem-A-Day-Challenge was so successful that Robert Lee Brewer, the blogger in charge, is continuing the project with Poetry Wednesdays. Every Wednesday there will be a prompt. This week's prompt was to write a poem about weather. Well, I like to blame the weather for lots of things: bad hair days, over-active students, etc. The picture shows my favorite kind of weather. :-)


Any change of weather
can be blamed for a host of ills:
hair standing on end,
skin dry and flaky,
Kindergartners acting as though
they have never before
been inside a classroom.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

lovin' it

I am totally loving my garden today.

For me, spring is finally in place when the iris begin to bloom. It all revolves around the iris.

Here is the front of my house today. A picture really can't do it justice; pictures never do. Even if they are worth a thousand words. :-)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

a poem a day: the last one

The prompt for the last poem in the Poem a Day Challenge:
write a poem about endings. 'Nuf said....

End of the School Year

The calendar stretches
from September to June,
July and August belonging
to some alternate universe.

At the dawn of May, it begins to end:
children once cautious have become
demanding, impatient,
knowing somehow even at six,
that they have accomplished
something momentous
and are ready to move on.

They have learned to make it
all the way across the monkey bars,
can walk edge of the playground wall
without falling, are willing
to share snacks and crayons.

They write goodbye notes
to their teachers, to their friends,
adorned with asymmetrical hearts
filled with “I love you XOXO.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

three before the end

Wow. Only one poem left to write for the Poem A Day Challenge. I can't even begin to imagine what the last prompt will be, considering the prompt for April 28 was to write a sestina. A sestina? Hmm.... I've never written a sestina in my life... until now. Considering that most of my poems are of the minimalist variety, this was quite a project: a highly structured, seven stanza poem, six lines to most of the stanzas, with a set pattern of words used at the ends of each line. I managed to get it done in record time. And it almost even makes sense! And then that prompt was followed by the prompt to write a poem about exercise. Exercise? Ha. I exercise only slightly more often than I write sestinas. :-) Here are the poems for days 29, 28, and 27:

April 29: a poem about exercise


‘Tis an exercise in futility
for me to consider exercise
anything more than tedious
not to mention tiring.
My exercise of choice
is the writing of a poem
the solving of a puzzle
or the carrying of a heavy book
to the couch.

April 28: sestina ~ seven stanzas, six lines in the first six stanzas, three lines in the seventh stanza, using only six words at the ends of the lines, following a set pattern of these words at the end of each line. Click here to read more about writing a sestina. My attempt:

Before Spring

In reverie I’m able to gather
my thoughts into one circle
turning on itself like a line
of adults wanting to be children
one more time before
winter turns again to spring.

My thoughts of spring
when the urge to gather
roses and irises even before
they bloom in the garden circle
remind me of impatient children
unable to hold themselves in line.

And it is a fine line
that draws itself toward spring
when I remember my own children
who brought me bouquets, gathered
with ribbon, blue and red circles
of grosgrain they’d found before

I put away my needlework, before
I gave up and fell into line,
hugging the precious circle
of my self until I could spring
away in silence to gather
precious memories for my children.

Because it is those children
who taught me to put others before
my self, who showed me how to gather
moments that would create a solid line
that held fast from summer to spring
bringing the closing of the circle.

Once they began to create circles
of their own, no longer children,
I knew that by spring
I could be half way gone before
I needed to pay out a line
we all could separately gather.

And we gathered into a circle,
I lined up with my children,
And we made peace before spring.

April 27: one-half of a two person conversation


It doesn’t really matter ...
What I mean is ...
Yes, that’s true, but ...
Well, that’s your opinion.

Yes I understand ...
but I disagree with you.

It doesn’t mean I don’t get it
It just means I don’t agree.

What ever gave you that idea?

That’s absurd.
I never said that.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

day 26: overweight

The Poem A Day Challenge marches on and I'm amazed that I am keeping up with it. Sort of. Today's prompt is to write a poem with the title of "I'm so over (___)." After spending a good part of the day running all kinds of "over" words through my brain, this is where I ended up, probably because I ate way to much at Gold Nugget Days, a yearly event in our town which celebrates the finding of a 54 pound gold nugget during the California Gold Rush.

I’m so overweight

according to the charts
at the doctor’s office and Weight Watchers,
although I’ve read that Marilyn Monroe
wore a size 14.
Just like me.
I can’t help but wonder,
if I put on one of those girly dresses
the kind with a tight waist and a full skirt,
and then stood on top of an air vent,
if my picture could become famous.

day 25: kindergarten teacher

The prompt for April 25 in the Poem A Day Challenge is to write an "occupational poem" so here's my take on teaching Kindergarten, along with some nifty Kindergarten artwork:

Not Always Thankless

The Kindergarten teacher misses the warning
on a child’s changing face
just before he flicks a paintbrush
loaded with paint at the wall, at the floor,
on the little girl with pink sparkly shoes.

After school she gets a workout
scrubbing paint off the floor
in the sudden absence
of children’s voices, each one
wanting her now, needing her,
pulling on her sleeve, her pants,
the tail of her untucked shirt,
asking for help, needing a pencil,
wanting a snack, a drink,
needing to go to the bathroom,
to the playground, to throw up.

In silence she can take the time
to enjoy the smaller moments:
the lighting up of young eyes
when a friend says “You are really smart!”
or “Do you want some of my snack?”
Now she can look more carefully
at the art work, the writings,
and remember the feel of little hands
seeking hers on the playground.

Friday, April 25, 2008

day 24: mary at six

April 24's prompt for the Poem A Day Challenge was to use a photograph as a prompt for a poem. I cheated by using an already-written poem rather than writing a new one, but it's a recent poem, so maybe it's only partly cheating, and I had this very picture in mind when I wrote the poem in the first place. I have to admit that I really have little clue how old Mary is in this photo (she's the one on the right) but six sounds good to me.


At six years old
her wide dark eyes stare out
from a grainy black and white.
In her young life
she has already known
the uncertainty
of being whisked from home
the clatter of a non-stop train
the delivery into hope of sanctuary
holding her mother’s hand.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

day 22 and 23: a poem a day

April 23's Poem A Day Challenge prompt was to write a poem about getting older:

Within sight of the age
when my grandmother died,
I consider each new ache
is it temporary
or will I soon be using it
as a sign that winter is imminent.

April 22:
In honor of Earth Day, the prompt was to write a nature poem. Considering that I, along with a great number of other people, including my mother, have been watching the nesting of two Peregrine Falcons on the roof of City Hall in San Jose, California, and considering that four eyases decided to hatch on Earth Day, I decided to honor the falcons. They are on the *other* side of this building, on the roof:

Urban Peregrines

A pair of falcons takes turns
sitting on their four eggs
on the roof of a high rise,
their nesting habits are visible to the world
via web cam. Every change of the guard,
every body reposition is coo’ed over
by humans living vicariously, hovering
over laptops and in work stations.
Pigeon delivery reports are emailed
by the hour. When the eyases hatch,
all hell breaks loose on the email list.