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. 


John Shoptaw; alkali sinks as toxic depressions

The Northern Californa Book Awards ceremony on May 15 was essentially a delightful family outing featuring 2% poetry and 98% military-grade shopping. My sister Dena and daughter Demi accompanied me to cheer me on. Mostly, however, they tolerated the 2 hours in the Koret Auditorium so that we might spend our time doing what they really wanted to do: shop at Macy's. Nothing like family to remind me that I and my poetry are merely stepping stones on the path of capitalist indulgence.  

One of the many surprises was seeing the PowerPoint that announced my nomination: the commentator's assertion that the alkali sink of my title was more like a toxic depression was an astoundingly strong comment on the overall tone and setting of much of the work in my book. They get me. 

The other surprise was, of course, how fucking LOW the stalls are at the SF Public Library. (Hello; I SEE YOU.) 

So I didn't win the award (Cal professor and ecopoet extraordinaire John Shoptaw did) , but I was utterly & nerdishly gaga that my sweet little Alkali Sink shared the same stage as books by Gary Snyder, Juan Felipe Herrera, Ellery Aker, and Joshua Clover. Those people are serious, big poets. I am a woman from Modesto. Thank you, wonderful dark unknowable chasm of universe, for this delight. 

Alkali Sink NCBA nominee

I was gobsmacked last week to learn that Alkali SInk was nominated by the Northern California Book Reviewers for a Northern California Book Award for Poetry. It's unfathomable that my little ol' pome collection was seen as worthy of existing in the same field as Gary Snyder, Juan Felipe Herrera, John Shoptaw, Ellery Akers, and Joshua Clover...but there it is, and I'm happy as hell to be there. 

I'm now obsessing over what to wear at the ceremony on Sunday May 15. The award ceremony takes place at Koret Auditorium at the SF Library; proceeds from copies of books sold will go to the SFPL and the SF Friends of the Library. As a librarian, this warms my heart to no end. As a poet, this is the best thing ever. As a mom and a sister, I am so proud to represent my family. As a person who likes to wear ironic leopard print, considering an outfit is pretty fun. I'm thinking What Would Carrie Brownstein Wear.