Let Them Eat Artichoke

For the longest time, I disliked artichoke (among other “weird” looking vegetables and fruits). Artichoke looked entirely unapproachable. Artichoke looked scary, unknown and unknowable. Dislike is the absolutely easiest thing in the world. Dislike implies little to no emotional risk.

My thoughts will sound non sequitur, but trust me, as my grad school mentor (progenitor of bitch face) used to say, “Everything is to the point. Our job is to make the connections.” I should know: even when I was a sketchy teacher, I proved Nancy Walker right every single school year, and usually again during the miniscule weeks of summer break. I still do. Every year, I remember that I know for sure that our job is to make the connections.

I first gave artichoke a chance the summer of 1996 when Paulina, a dear teacher friend, gave me a book called She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes. (I think I finally know why, after a four week summer writing workshop she gave me that book – connections don’t always come instantly.) My mom was visiting that summer. My mom the gardener, the would-be vegetarian; my mom the writer and thinker and teacher. Momma and I were inspired to boil up artichoke and make hollandaise dipping sauce thanks to Paulina. Thanks to Momma, I learned about the “choke”, and the nutty sweetness of the heart.

To get to that tender nutty sweetness, the raw, fresh artichoke has to be boiled, steamed or baked a long time. A long time. An hour. Sometimes more. And like the efforts of a teacher who has watched over raw, fresh students, the cook asks and waits, offers and waits, and even after she asks and asks again in a rolling boil the work is still not done.

I waited, and watched, and offered, and asked, and “boiled” this senior class all fall semester. There was a part of me that began to think finding their hearts was too hard, and maybe I should just dislike them and move on with my life. But early in the spring, as I kept watching and offering and waiting and asking – I saw unexpected bubbles of interest here and there linking the struggles of the wife who lamented to the conflict between vengeance and survival in Hamlet; recognition of themselves and their culture in the frustration of Winston and Julia as they sought freedom. Among these bubbles of interest and hints of tenderness the purple heart beneath the choke began to appear.

The artichoke metaphor came to me in the blinding, breathless five days in which I read and evaluated ninety-four 10-page essays (sometimes more, sometimes less). But the metaphor was incomplete until the following week when I sat for three straight class days in the brand new auditorium listening to my students tell each other and their teachers what they know for sure, right now, this moment – about themselves, about excellence, about the world at large.

Unlike my students, when the talks got a little dull or repetitive, I couldn’t distract myself with games or social media on my phone since I was evaluating the nuance and structure of argument and general effectiveness of the talks. I had to pay attention to the peeling away of each teardrop-shaped leaf of experience with my complete self, my whole brain and intellect, while my students reached into themselves and exposed the tricky, hair like choke above their hearts.

At times, during the talks, I wanted to curl up on the floor under my chair and disappear as students sheared away all illusion of youthful innocence. Despite all the watching and waiting, I had glossed over important details about the needs of astronauts, the bent backs of dancers, the shadows of introverts, the power of WORDS, the losses and losses and losses and near misses. In those three days I could see how my students held each other together both intentionally and by accident through the traumas and victories of their lives and the lives of others. Being a grown-up had dulled my sense of observation and turned me into nearly pure choke. On the final day of the talks I was both shaken and renewed. My students had revealed the heart hidden beneath the protective choke, and allowed me to find the nutty sweetness the choke protects.

That was three weeks ago. Now those students are gone and they will never be that senior class in those particular groupings ever again. And they are a nutty sweet memory with a lingering burn on my tongue and in my throat. I will remember each leaf – the beast, the giant weeping Pooh bear, the surgical steel-coated heart, the twin, the son, the daughter, the dancer, the actor, the comedian, the philosopher, the coder, the triathlete, the scholar, the loafer, the lover, the friend, the artist, the broken-hearted and the whole, the insomniac, the gamer, the anxious, and the complete orange – as if I had scraped away the choke protecting them with a spoon and let the pure heart beneath meld into my own experience.

When the artichoke is gone, it always seems too soon. As if I could have savored these hearts so much more, appreciated more, loved more. The wish for more leaves me with an ache, a yearning. Yes, dislike would have been easier, less complicated. But the heart is totally worth the effort.

Only You will Know

if Night slips by
and you don’t notice
the verdigris left
on the back of your
smooth cotton shirt
where you’ve been leaning
against old cemetery gates
waiting in vain with Vladimir
and Estragon

don’t ask me
where time went
or how the stains got there

Keats understood
flight of time,
and Yeats knew
the beauties and dangers of modernity
but none could know
my steadfast heart.

Daedelus, father of Icarus,
borrowed by Joyce,
flew free of the isle
while his son failed.

Cemetery gates don’t call me,
I’m wanted everywhere I go,
except by you
my parallel self.
So, you go;
Believe yourself unwanted,
my raven-haired Icarus.

I’ll fly alone,
low, along the line of cerros —
my heart will carry you
next to the cool flesh
of my soul.

I trust you will wake
from dream tracings
of my fingers on the
verdigris left
on the back of your shirt
where you’ve been leaning
against cold cemetery gates
waiting in vain, when I’ve always been
right here resting into the warm
skin of this Tree, wanting you,
loving you
even though you don’t.


Nearly a Decade of Facebook Status Fails…

(subtitle: censorship is bad, even when you are both censor and censored)

I catch myself wanting to argue on Facebook (FB) with people that I actually care about, but whose philosophies and values don’t fit with mine. Luckily, my more rational self nearly always kicks in before I go “there” – under the troll bridge. But in case you are one of my FB peeps who thinks I don’t believe anything at all because I seldom if ever post stuff other than my cats and my house and occasionally work, let me take this opportunity to give you a long list of FB posts that never made it to FB.

I am a feminist (#Ineedfeminism because at least once a week I’m asked if I feel “complete” as a woman without children – “It’s not too late,” they say). I am a humanist, and an independent voter. I believe in social justice and states’ rights and true equality of opportunity. I don’t think a party exists that embraces these apparently contradictory ideas. I love the country I was born in and the country I live in. I think international borders are political creations to make some people feel bigger and others feel smaller because of an accident of birth. I don’t believe in the concept of God that other people do. But I do believe that energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only be transformed. Given the opportunity, I would vote for very limited gun control and for drug legalization, but against defunding Planned Parenthood (where as a young adult I received healthcare far beyond reproductive health when I couldn’t afford to pay for a “regular” doctor). I would vote to allow people to marry (have the same legal rights granted to heterosexual persons in a legally-recognized committed relationship) who wish to do so regardless of their biological genders, and to legally recognize the identities of persons whose biological gender may not match their psychological gender. I think it is heroic to find the you-know-whats to say out loud that the conflict between biological and psychological gender exists from either experience or scientific research. I think it is heroic to fight and / or die for a nationalistic ideal that may or may not be true. I would vote to educate every person with the desire to study without charge for as long as they want to study, and the right of every person to both preventative and curative health care from a personal physician. I believe that many times medicine is not the answer to what causes people dis-ease. Though I’d love to see a woman in the Oval Office, not in a million years would I vote for Ms. Clinton. Republican candidates don’t inspire my confidence, either. I will vote.

I function in what I consider to be organic and intuitive ways that I’d like to think allow people to be their own best selves regardless of their agreements or disagreements with me: in part because I know I am flawed, at best, and in part because I can nearly always understand the points of view of others, even when I disagree passionately. I will not argue politics or religion with you or anyone else, though I am happy to have an open, honest, evidentiary-based conversation about nearly anything, as long as your evidence doesn’t rely solely on the sacred texts you cling to. As literary and cultural evidence such texts are fine and good places to base oneself, but in isolation mythology isn’t valid evidence. I don’t feel the need to be right or to convert anyone to my point(s) of view. I am a person without borders, but rather with limits.  You don’t have to “like” any of that. ~LD

Divinity in August

Coincidentally, I thought this week of Nannie’s hands, fingers running at sharp, arthritic angles into her knuckles even when I first knew her twenty-odd years ago. She was my love’s grandmother, and I loved her stubborn perseverant joy in life despite the obstacles of age. She made candy at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and made the best morel mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. I used to have some of her recipes stashed on three by five cards in a box that was lost to the ravages of time, flour, use, and carelessness. I loved her as much as I could, not nearly as much as I think she deserved. When I learned today that Nannie had died, all I really wanted was some of her homemade divinity and a few extra days in Missouri for a twirl up through northern climes to hug her when I was there this summer. But decisions have to be made. Time is always too short, our wishes too long to fit in this miniscule grain of sand that is life.

Mine won't turn out as good (at least not the first time), but I'll give it a go.

Mine won’t turn out as good (at least not the first time), but I’ll give it a go.

I thought, too, of the woman with younger hands, with a life fully lived in only half the time that Nannie had, whose kids have been my students, are my students, will be my students. She died on a school day; her kids pulled from school on thin pretense to go home to grieve. I never knew her, but I had walked near her eldest son last year as their family wandered through a jungle of bewildering illness, wavering between hope and despair to end here where life and death step out of textbooks and into the living room, the hallway, the driveway, the front and backyard, and all the places that can’t be avoided because life insists on continuing in the face of loss. Her nieces wrote about her kindness and her joy; her ability to think of others despite her situation.

The next day, I got up before dawn to go to class, as I always do. I went with heavy heart and eyes swollen with a weight that didn’t belong to me, and I gave class as if nothing were different, nothing had changed. But I gave a couple of extra unsolicited hugs, and wished I could ease this path a bit for the several young people I know who were touched by her life and the many good, bright things she taught them.

And my Saturday, despite knowing that Nannie isn’t there any more, will be the Saturday I had planned months ago; classes and cooking and house chores that must be done in the interval before I go back to work on Monday. But I will tend my plants with extra care, and I will take time with my cats, and I will admire the roundness of tomorrow’s full moon. Maybe I will make Nannie’s divinity – I have everything I need, except for hugs to send from far away to my former love, and his mom, and his aunt, and his cousins.

Our little grains of sand remain miniscule, but the things we wish to squeeze onto them seem to be more and more. Sometimes the only solution is to keep rolling out with the waves, riding out in search of song-struck sunrises, and sweet, divine cloud-light sunsets.


Navigating Ink Stains

(a poem in two tongues)

dawn scatters across the room
to find me still tangled in strands of
ink – I struggle, half-heartedly,
to free my fingers from a dream
where you reach for me
pleading that I dive back among
the rivers of your mane,
sable and silky, until the daze of
your tenor finally breaks at my feet
against cold ceramic floor

pero la idea de encontrar
con mis labios, lengua, dedos, piel y pestañas
el arroyo de tu carne
en el mapa de tu cuerpo
que te llevara al gozo completo –
físico, emocional, espiritual —
no es lo que me pega al salir
de los sueños de nadar
en ríos de tu cabello
de tinta negra

No, dawn scatters flesh’s desire
in shards over the floor
where they stick in my feet,
while before my ink-blurred eyes hang
motes of shared truth,
growth, insight, unexpected tenderness,
laughter, song, books,
flawed but growing humanity —
meanwhile, the dream that I must
walk away from clings to me

like letters written indelibly on paths
that I tread every day
pretending I don’t feel
your voice whispering
against the nape of my neck.



High above the center
of the labyrinth,
where I sit sipping
the last of my wine,
the Host of moon
is scraped flat to the east,
but still generously lights
the thread across my palm
showing red dye
awakened by sweat and
smeared like blood
on the day Theseus
fought the minotaur —
now a mere skittering
of enormous, whistling bones
leaning on shadowed stones;

Tugging the thread,
I know that Ariadne’s nap
long since ended curled
in Dionysus’ arms; this thread
leads out to the rocker rails
at my grandmother’s feet, now,
and I pull myself along
right and left and left again
until after many long turns
I’m seated again at her knee
As when I was small;
Today my arm is long
and reaches round her waist,
still strong, and warm
Though her eyes fade and withdraw
From a few feet away,
this close, touching,
she hears every word
and her eyes widen and sparkle
recognizably the woman
I remember,
hanging on to her own thread,
twisting knots of memory
between weary fingers.



The sun winks
As he turns toward night,
and blush washes over
the breast of thin clouds

Thick velvet mat of treetops
are shot with shining
green threads woven
through by busy lighting bugs

I breathe air
thick with mist
of time, and think
I hear my name

I roll the base
of my glass in its
puddle of sweat
on the table

the raspy, low voice
of flayed earth
calls me across the miles

the sound falling like
grains of sand down through
leaves fish-scaled up to the sky’s
watery surface

the outside edge of my soul
misses the open arms
of desert galaxies
that echo with song

and winds adornment
around the waist
of a yearning not numbed
by spirits.



I’ve been careless
with the ink
from my pen,
going to bed
before the ink
is fully dry
on a leaf.

Words left to
steep overnight
are marred in
morning light;

Some little squirrel
has wandered
through my
and stolen
my last stanzas,

every single one

I hope you’ll understand… for the Senior class of 2015

Dear You,

You know who you are.

You came into my room last August and I was still sweeping up the dusty pinfeathers left behind by those who came before you.

Today, I felt like I was at the amanecida (all nighter) last night / this morning, though there is exactly zero chance that would ever happen. Nevertheless, I’ve been running on fumes roughly since you started presentations in mid-May. I knew this was coming. I’ve done it every year for so many years that I should be used to the end by now. So I watched you drag in today, pale and barely showered, your eyelids drooping through what would otherwise be a pretty engaging day of stories. You looked like I have felt these last three weeks. Drained, exhausted, hungover in the traditional sense, and in some cases in the more mundane lack of sleep. I watched you slog in, and tried my best to take it in stride, as I often do. Like you, I am utterly and completely exhausted.

But today was not just any old day. Today was the last day. Yes, I’ll see you next week in our final official meeting, but by then the routines will have changed already and the dynamic won’t be the same. You will still be you, and I will still be me, but there will be this underlying change in the way you see yourself, the way you see me. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

You were a little offended, I could tell, that I’m not “in love” with you as I was with the last, and I didn’t explain well, I know. English has its limitations. So let me try it this way: sí te quiero, pero más, te amo. It’s that kind of emotional subtlety that my native language doesn’t hold – alas.

I don’t really know what you see when you look at me, though you have tried to tell me: patient, strong, intelligent, non-judgmental, comfortable, happy (in spite of ten thousand things), a mentor, a friend, a listener, benevolently powerful, genuine, at ease, authentic, passionate, part of you. I guess we can never really see ourselves through another’s eyes because I see very little of what is on your list (ok, intelligent and patient, maybe) in myself. Still, it was nice of you to say so, and I will try my best to notice and at the very least maintain those qualities. Maybe I can even add a few others in the years to come.

And I have lived so much with you in this short time: university essays, recommendation letters, hanging out with Beowulf and Chaucer and Hamlet and the Romantics, new loves, old loves, unrequited loves, decisions about yourself, your beliefs, your direction, fights with authority in many shapes, recognition of grave hurts you didn’t let yourself feel before, losses of friends and loved ones – to age, ideological and personal changes, even death. I won’t take credit for the fine things you have discovered and take with you because I can’t; I’m glad, though, to have been a part of this time in your life and I’m more than a little sad to see you go. It has been a powerful, terrifying, exciting, horrible, wonderful year. I am hard-pressed to let you go, to say goodbye.

But go we must. We will meet again. Or we will not. Either way, the energy of this day could only be held today. A little firefly (luciernaga) in my hand that I must now release to the wilds, lest it lose its light forever. You will do well and you will be happy and successful if you decide to be – even if none of those things turns out to fit into the picture you have painted for yourself today.

Whatever else may happen between now and the next time we meet, know that I hold the light and the hope you brought to me this year fondly in my heart. I will remember (even if I decide to do nothing about it) that it’s not too late, that lessons can still be learned – and taught. So take wing my little lightning bug and show the way through the forests of night. I’ll be watching for you.

With great love and affection – Ms. H

Shall I Tell You? (on Ravel’s Tzigane)

is a desert
dust storm
And then,
and then

the salted scent
of wet caliche blows
down the city street,

and children
step out in rainbow shoes
running to catch rain
on open hands
on arcing tongues
faces, spinning, lifted in glee

but the dissonances,
too much:
too much water,
too much lightning,
flowering thunder,

children fleeing
squealing home,
to tell the adventure
all over again.
beneath raven braided


*regaño = a scolding

My thanks to my musician friend who pointed out the  possible poetry in a stray comment on Ravel. ~LD