Newsletter Poetry

Her Message: A poem after the California fire

On the first day, the fires came without warning. Just a precession right down the middle of main street, hello, hello, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. The wind scattered sparks skyward. There wasn’t enough time to find the cat who has been stalking butterflies outside. There wasn’t enough time to check in with the elderly neighbor who shared photos of their grandkids and loved your pumpkin pie. There was only time for those who could to run.
On the second day, the smoke had already traveled hundreds of miles. The nearby towns and cities are choked with grey, including mine. We are told to get P-100 or N-95 masks. We are told not to go outside. We are told to close all the windows. And we are the lucky ones: we still have our bookshelves. Our car tires are not melted to the road. The air is toxic, but we are alive.
On the third day, I think about the smoke. It isn’t just ‘smoke’: it is the remnants of melted car tires, burned photo albums of baby pictures, charcoaled couches and guitars and lamps, burned human bodies of people who died in their cars trying to escape. I am breathing them in. They are becoming part of me.
On the fifth day, I order reusable N-95 masks online. I have been putting this off thinking that by the time they arrive, the smoke would clear, but the fire is only twenty percent contained. This is the third time I have needed this kind of mask since I moved to California. The fires are becoming a regular occurrence.
On the sixth day, the air is the worse it has been yet. I read about the cities whose air quality is always like this. Yes, San Francisco’s air is bad: 290. But Dhaka, Bangladesh is 465. Delhi and Mumbai are frequently above 290 on typical days. Kolkata, India is 208. Lahore, Pakistan is 207. What is it like to live with this as a daily reality?
On the ninth day, I realize that my bedroom is not at all sealed. The cracks in the windows and doors are completely open to the outside air. I think about sleeping on the couch.
On the tenth day, I read that the trees love smoke. Smoke is carbon dioxide, which is what they love to breathe. I read that areas where there are the most trees, the air is the highest quality.
On the twelfth day, I read that the air is so bad, it is the equivalent of smoking ten cigarettes a day. As a former smoker, I think, well that actually isn’t so bad.
On the fourteenth day, the rains finally came. The puddles become full of toxic ash. We are advised not to let the dogs drink from them, but who ever could stop a dog from drinking a puddle? Our deck is slick with the residue. The city glitters and shines, fresh from a bath, and I can see across the Bay again.
Every day, I think: Could the earth be any more clear in her message?
Paradise is burning down.

Newsletter Poetry

celebrate with me

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” — AA Milne

won’t you celebrate with me
By Lucille Clifton
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

I love this poem … thought I might share it with you as part of our month exploring the theme of resilience.
Don’t we all have that thing that we were born which makes us different? I didn’t have models for queerness, for butchness, for non-binary expressions, for sacred intimacy, for kinky topping and play. I too had no model. And I love this question: “What did I see to be except myself?” Would that I could have that kind of resilience.
I love the idea of celebrating this survival. Celebrating our resilience. Things do come after us, daily — the microagressions, the racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, prejudice — and we don’t have to survive it. Not all of us do. But hey, I’m writing to you here today, and we have. You and I have both survived it. Not only that, but here we are, ourselves.
Celebrations all around!

Newsletter Poetry

A combustion of words

A poem, an offering

This delightful poem speaks of combustion, our planetary theme for August.


Sara Eliza Johnson

If a human body has two-hundred-and-six bones
and thirty trillion cells, and each cell
has one hundred trillion atoms, if the spine
has thirty-three vertebrae—

if each atom

has a shadow—then the lilacs across the yard
are nebulae beginning to star.
If the fruit flies that settle on the orange
on the table rise
like the photons

from a bomb fire miles away,

my thoughts at the moment of explosion
are nails suspended
in a jar of honey.

I peel the orange

for you, spread the honey on your toast.
When our skin touches
our atoms touch, their shadows
merging into a shadow galaxy.
And if echoes are shadows
of sounds, if each hexagonal cell in the body
is a dark pool of jelly,
if within each cell
drones another cell—

The moment the bomb explodes

the man’s spine bends like its shadow
across the road.
The moment he loses his hearing
I think you are calling me
from across the house
because my ears start to ring.
From the kitchen window

I see the lilacs crackling like static

as if erasing, teleporting,
thousands of bees rising from the blossoms:
tiny flames in the sun.
I lick the knife
and the honey pierces my tongue:

a nail made of light.

My body is wrapped in honey. When I step outside

I become fire.


Sweet Darkness . . .

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
 the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone,
 no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
 where the night has eyes
 to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
 you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your home
The night will give you a horizon
 further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
 The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
 except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
 confinement of your aloneness
 to learn
anything or anyone
 that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Happy summer,