Moving on, summer 2017

My fire alarm has a feature which engages when the battery needs to be changed: it beeps and a woman's recorded voice intones, calmly and business-like, "low battery." I'm taking it as a warning for my entire existence. 

It's the last week of my job as librarian/supervisor at the Tracy Library before I take a month-long break. In August,  I start a new position as academic librarian at Modesto Junior College, a job I've long since coveted.

And damn, I have needed the break. In the past 1 1/2 years, the job has sucked the life out of me. I commute 1 1/2  hours per day, arrive at a workplace where no one seems to be on the same team & which has been ruled by a long-time toxic employee with control issues.  I can't believe grown-ass adults can't just do what they're supposed to do. Which is this: do as I say, and life will be better, because I'm magic, you fuckers. MAGIC. 

So. In the time off, I'm writing poems, start riding my new bike, planning work on the local 100,000 Poets for Change, and get some long-neglected shit done in my house. Maybe address all my deep-seated emotional issues. No big deal. 

So what is planned for the break? In between poem-writing and mom stuff, I'll be reading with poet Dana Gioa at the Carnegie Arts Center, talking to kids in a summer writing program at CSU Stanislaus, reading poems at our local UU church, and starting an oral history project with Modesto Sound. Oh, and there's this radio project I've wanted to do with the Modesto Peace-Life Center...and leaving the country would be pretty rad too. And starting a zine. And planning a poetry walk.

 I need to stay alive for all those things, so help me out, would you? 

Mayn't We Struggle

Here's a list of poetry things:  

1. Read at LitHop April 29. 

2. Helped organize and present the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center's benefit on April 30.  

3. Attended Queen Bean Poetry Night; read "How to Find Someone or Something by Praying."

4. Wrote poem for Amgen VIP event, May 4.  

5. Judged Merced College's first poetry slam on May 4. Outdoors, 97° heat in early May. Thanks, Obama. 

6. Ordered poetry books for my library: Solmaz Sharif, Danez Smith, Layli Long Soldier, Gillian Wegener, Dana Koster, Linda Scheller. 

6.5. Helping Linda Scheller celebrate her new book, Fierce Light, at party this afternoon.

7. Emceeing/reading poem from Item 3 at City of Modesto's Poets' Corner Reading on Sunday May 7. 

8. Second Tuesday Reading at the Barkin' Dog on May 9. 

9. Mai Der Vang will read at Dana's series at Tri-Chromatic Gallery on Fri. May 12.  

10. Writing poems with Dana Koster at Cosmic Gathering on May 13: "Seedy Poetry: Poems. Wishes. Curses."  

11. Die.  

Collaborations, lectures, and nightmare politics

Republicans can on Main Street, for all I care, at this point. They're nothing but a shitstain on the entire world. Look at this video of a father being detained by ICE. Then there's the douchecanoe Steve King, expounding on his theories of racial purity. Seriously, fuck that guy and any Republican who is not furiously denouncing him. But wait, maybe they're all too busy fretting over how their corporate pals can benefit from President Bannon's imminent demolition of the Executive Branch

In the face of this macro hell and some other personal dumpster fires. how in the world do I approach my writing? With a combination of trepidation, gusto, terror, and ambivalence. I mean, I want to write words that address the utter void gaping in front of us, but all I can manage to address is material at the personal level. There's a person I love. Another few persons I love. A ghost who won't go away. Lost children. Parallels among my loved ones, strange knots and coincidences that feel as if the world is trying to talk to me (VOID, it says). And sometimes I hang onto people like a drowning woman clings to a chunk of styrofoam on roiling garbage seas. 

in light of all this, I go to work. where I help working people access education, information, community resources, and literature/art. I sit with kids and make buttons and Perler bead crafts. I teach kids how to code their initials in some beads and wear that as a bracelet. I order diverse books for my library. Squinting at the computer screen, I wonder when I'll finally go blind because of my eye problems. I worry. I practice denial. I take a baked chicken to my friend who hates whole chicken. I sit with others in their pain and I fucking squirm through it & pretend that I'm stable. I try to solve problems. I am annoying. 

While bobbing around in the Beautiful Hurt Ocean, I think of poems and politics, and I wonder about my role as poet laureate of my city. On Sunday, April 9, I'm giving a talk at the Carnegie Center for the Arts in Turlock on the topic of poetry and resistance in the age of Trump. I'm working on an idea to put poetry inside of bags of bread sold by Alchemy Bread Co. I will write Poems on the Spot at the Modesto Library on April 7, and I want to start a small poetry and art zine. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, wave at me from your dinghy. 

Poetry, politics, resistance

I've been hard at work kicking ass at my public library, alternately agonizing over and reveling in love, being a mean mom, and planning a Writers Resist event for January 15 with Elizabeth Sousa and Shanyn Vitti Avila, two local organizers and all-around nasty bishes who get shit done. 

I'm excited that our event will feature musicians Patty Castillo Davis and Mattea Overstreet as well as almost 30 local writers, teachers, and journalists speaking out for a free, just, and compassionate society. Very excited to hear Lillian Vallee, Gillian Wegener, Sam Pierstorff, Alexys Rushing, Summer Krafft, Manny Moreno (and many more) read their work and the work of others as a way to reclaim the notion of democracy and make it about inclusion, equality, fairness, freedom of expression, truth-valuing, and compassion rather than the cynicism and other bullshit that has come to characterize political discourse in the wake of the alternate-reality presidential campaign shitshow. 

I'll be emceeing. Most fun thing right now involves making a strong playlist of anti-fascist tunes to open and close the readings.

We'll be raising money for the Modesto Peace-Life Center and will offer information from the NAACP & the Peace-Life Center. Trying to get Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits on board as well. 

Our Facebook page has more details. Onward! 


Hello to your new poet lariat

I don't know how it's possible, but somehow I'm the poet laureate of Modesto! I was appointed in July and read my first poem during a City Council meeting in September. Here it is: 

Prayer for You, On the Way to Wherever You’re Going

While you’re on your way to wherever you are going,

make time for interesting civic slogans,

kind tones of voice from your offspring,

and tender pork chops at dinner, as you wait

for those children to grow;


and on your way, don’t forget

to wave at the passing cars, the ’62 Rambler Ambassadors,

the ’57 Chevy Impalas—lowered or not—the ’49 Chevy pickup

with the two-tone paint job and its wine press in the wood-slat bed

on which you chipped your front tooth;


meanwhile, on your way to being an adult in Modesto,

don’t forget to stand at the side of the street

watching the veterans parade by,

the group ever-smaller year by passing year—

and to think about what that means;


and on the way to wherever your route ends, remember  

the urban forestry division and its cherry-pickers taking crews up high,

clearing out the mistletoe taking hold in your soul. It roots

 to your higher self, takes in your exhalations

and thrives.


And on the way to wherever you are going,

don’t forget to design the official flag of your being.

Do it with your own brand of thinking, all of the

small sadnesses mixed with triumph, your flag waving

in the same air that we breathe, here in Modesto—


And while you are on the way

to wherever you are going, bless each face you meet,

the creases at the bottom corners of both eyes; bless

the line of the lips where they meet. Curve your own mouth

into a shape, a symbol, the flag of this singular moment,


when you meet your neighbors at every corner—in the Virginia Corridor,

in Dry Creek; you are here in this moment, you fill it, are filled;

you are firmly twined around the tree trunk of time. And so,

on the way to wherever you are going, you find yourself

always arriving here, where you were, where you are.  


Note: I recall that when my family and I moved here from the Bay Area in the late 70s, Modesto’s slogan (perhaps a Chamber of Commerce-created slogan) seemed to be a phrase along the lines of Modesto: We’re on the Way to Wherever You’re Going. In this poem, I work with that slogan, which might be true only in my memory’s imagination. As an adult who has now lived in Modesto for the past 21 years after leaving for good back in my college days, I’m fascinated by the idea of a city—any city, really, but especially one’s hometown—as both a transitory and a permanent place, a place where one projects one’s own desires, regrets, and hopes.