Returning Time

A sliver of moon
mocks blood
and tempts tide

I twist
clock hands back;
now it’s earlier

instead of later.
Time enough
to see clearly

errors without remedy,
fallen in burnished
shades of yellow and red

like sycamore leaves
the size of my feet
along a sidewalk.

They crunch
and break
beneath steps slowed

by a chill
in the desert
sunset that refracts

back on itself
and on me.



Sunday Saving Daylight — NaPoWriMo6

Eyes still shut
I awake to the practiced, stolen
tunes of the mockingbird chief
outside my window;
I love his
teachery ways.
My sleepy ears enthralled
by his youngliings’ answers:
in tune, if not on key.

A crunch of leaves,
already sun-dried in April,
disguises the crack of a bat
and briefly the rustle
of fifty Moms cheering
in the stands;
I break open soft-boiled eyes
and imagine shadows of children
swinging bats for arms and mitts for hands.

A glance at the clock
reminds me time has changed;
by summer schedule
I’m up early even
without counting the hour I’ve lost,
but I envy my mockingbird
his timeless choir practice
that runs on angles of light
not on the hands of a clock.

Las Mamás Esperan que Volemos (The Mommas Hope that We Fly)

Ah, the chamberlain (if I'm not mistaken), pathetic fellow, he is.  Taken from

Ah, the chamberlain (if I’m not mistaken), pathetic fellow, he is. Taken from (film reference The Dark Crystal [1983])

The poor fledgling trapped in my carport looked like a Skeksis. They always do. I can’t help but feel sorry for the ugly things. First off, they’re so pitifully ugly in the midst of molting before they can fly, but after they’ve been cute and fuzzy with baby feathers.  When they get stuck in the carport, as one or two does almost every year at about this time, they always find the same perch under the bench and won’t be persuaded to move more than a hop or two. Usually within a day or so, the local street cats, the bite of starvation, or the roasting spring sun catch and break these fallen nestlings. But this guy had cojones.  All week I watched him go from hobbling the ten feet from my washer to the front gate, faling to fly and then, finally, flying short distances inside the carport and a little beyond.

Every day an army of grackle mommas that live in the tree out front kept a close eye out for any threatening movement from the cats and me.  These are serious mamasotas.  They are not to be crossed. Their presence makes clear why Hitchcock’s The Birds is such a scary movie. As I hung up the laundry last Saturday, I found myself cringing under their screechy scrutiny; there were ten or so worrying the top of the high wall around the laundry space. Even though I didn’t see the fledgling at first, I knew he had to be there somewhere; the mommas army doesn’t deign to notice me unless there’s a baby hiding out.

Sunday morning when I went out to collect the laundry, the main momma — the one with goodies in her beak — sent all the others to harangue me while she looked for the little one. Grackle mommas, aside from being vocal, are quick and wicked looking. I crept back inside, figuring the laundry could wait while the little one got fed. Monday and Tuesday I dashed in and out of the house warily, bearing glares and warning squawks with a mix of patience and trepidation.  I’ve read that crows and grackles recognize human faces and have been known to attack offensive people.  I didn’t want to accidentally do anything to offend.

Fallen Chanate / grackle, before flight

Fallen Chanate / grackle, before flight

By Wednesday he had perched his ugly Skeksis-self atop the bougambilia bush. I was impressed and hopeful that he’d been able to fly high enough to get to that point four feet off the ground. Not wanting to scare him, I neglected watering the plants. I explained the situation to the airplane plant, the ivy, the rosemary and thyme – begging fotbearance — and then stealthily refilled the water bowl I’d left out for the stranded fledgling.  The next morning he was nowhere in sight, and Momma only fussed briefly as I left for work.  When I came home yesterday afternoon he had not come out of hiding, but I’d seen him fly quite high, so I decided that he had finally gotten strong enough to fly himself away. My hope was heightened to a kind of glee when my neighbor told me this morning that yesterday he had seen the bird fly from the carport all the way up to the top of the seven(ish)-foot high perimeter gate.

Today, Friday, he lay there in the fiery afternoon sun, fat, molting, and covered in soapsuds.  His little body had tipped over in a puddle, his beak pointing south, open a crack, still in wait for the day’s feeding, his feet like broken twigs flopped uselessly. The dead fledgling simmered in a soapy soup on the concrete between the hot water heater and the washer.  I hadn’t liked him hanging out in my carport all week, and even less did I appreciate his mom’s scolding each time I went in or out with trash, to water plants, wash clothes, hang clothes.  I guess I should be glad he’s gone, but I’m curiously sad.

He came so close to flying free against the high, endless blue, croaking his misanthropic “song.” Early on, I could have shoo-ed him out the big carport door onto the sparse grass below his home tree.  I could have tried to put him in a cage and feed and water him there.  But I decided to let him use my whole carport to try to find his own way.  I guess that’s why I’m sad.  Of all the options available to me as a witness to his strife, I did the best thing I knew to do: not interfere, keep an eye out (momma grackle, me), make resources available that he couldn’t have gotten on his own, and wait for him to take wing. Maybe next year. ~LD

* * *

A few process details: After a draft workshop on Tuesday with the sophomores (oh, how I love the sophomores) I almost didn’t finish this.  The earlier incarnation had great description, but was purposeless — the fledgling was still living at that point.  But today, after finding the fledgling dead during housecleaning, the REASON came into being.  I remembered being one of Momma and Daddy’s “arrows” set free to fly into an unknown distant future. No other note is needed here, I think.

Glad you dropped by.  Leave a comment if you are so inclined. ‘-) No matter what, have a great weekend.  Summer cometh. ~LD

Root Dreams — NaPoWriMo day 22 — Earth day!

The richness of spreading
stringy fingers
through star-sparkled soil
is enough for today.

The delicious ache
of reaching down
to bind myself with earth,
all the blanket I need.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow there will be sun;
a long, warm bake beneath
the arms of venerable Tree
shading my space and whispering,

“Stretch far, little sapling,
the days of sun are long,
and you will be thirsty
for water gathered far below,

but come the new season,
there will be butterflies
to settle on new blooms
and carry your dreams to places unknown.”


* * *

I planted a tree (okay, a bush) today. How about you? Sweet dreams! ~LD

Kitchen Meeting — NaPoWriMo Day 17 a salutatorian

I would rather not meet you like this,
Soapsuds still tickling the backs of my hands
As I reach back into the cabinet to tuck away
The clean cups, plates and glasses of the day

Keep to your corner, over where the tea set sits;
Not here an inch from my face,
flashing gold palp against black leggy bands
You are beautiful, Black Lady; I appreciate your webby canyon,
though you do have a tendency to startle, Doña Araña.

* * *

I read the prompt early this morning with my tea and news around 5:30, and after the valediction prompt, I got a chuckle out of this twist. The prompt percolated all day, but I hadn’t really come up with anything. I was actually “fretting” over it while I put away the clean dishes when I had this serendipitous moment with my kitchen spider. I love her (and suffer her to . . . er . . . hang around) because she catches flies and mosquitos better than I do. With a little work I can probably fix the rhyme and the wordy lines, but I’m happy with the vignette nevertheless.

On the downhill slide to the weekend, folks! Enjoy the end of your week! ~LD

Turn Us To Stone

Tonight under a waning early-winter moon,
the smack of gunfire fresh, but distant, on the air,
I’d like to be among the stones
that line the cliffs along
the banks and tributaries
at the presa.
I’d like to stroll —
water rushing off on emergencies
great and small, etching a soundtrack —
and there among the wild grasses, run cool hands
over the faces of those ancient, stony watchers.
The heat of desert sun,
not forgotten, still rising from their skin.

Skin that was aged and pitted when
Revolutionaries rode through
with revolvers and rifles at the ready.
Skin that warms the hides
of a hundred beady lizard eyes —
witnesses to destruction
and foundation for rebirth.
Solid, warm, stones
resonant and humming with the lyrics
to thrilling songs and stories
of a lover at home
of liberty
of life.

I’d like to lean back into their heat
and absorb their ability to stand
Still and silent and strong
in the face of destruction.
for change.
The Revolutionaries
would weep
in their copas
to hear the squeal of sirens
stark and bright under a waning moon.
I want to touch beloved, mighty, wise stones
that they could
banish human greed and
return us, lowly wanderers,
to flesh and motion and joy.


Dirty Words, at Home

At around four years old, I learned my first words in Spanish: ojo and rojo. I remember these two words in particular because even though they sounded similar, they meant remarkably different things.  Over the years as I “studied” Spanish (with greater and lesser degrees of commitment and interest), I must have managed to absorb enough to keep my “other language” neurons ticking because when I came to México to work in 1999 it only took me about six months to carry on a reasonably intelligible conversation. I didn’t know I had really “done it”, though, until one afternoon riding the city bus I overheard and understood a conversation between mother and daughter about the girl’s latest novio.  I wanted to kiss them both, as if they were somehow responsible for the flip of the switch in my brain; with difficulty, I restrained myself.

By the time I arrived in Torreón, I had studied Spanish off and on for a minimum of eight years in various formal and informal settings.  I had snuck my way through tests of mastery of vocabulary, regular and irregular verbs in all the various voices, tenses and times (I still tend to say “rompido” instead of “roto” for broken). I tried out my spoken Spanish for the first time ever at eighteen years-old on a mission trip to Monterrey, Nuevo León with my grandparents, and while I couldn’t haggle in the market to save my life, I guess I’d have done no better if the language had been English. Thankfully, Pa was a good haggler in any language. A few years later in grad school, I even wrote a halfway intelligible essay analyzing El Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque novel by an unknown Spanish author that I’d guess everyone who takes Spanish lit reads. On paper, at least, my Spanish language résumé was quite respectable.

In practice, my second language was, well, something less than the A+ indicated on my report cards.  After years of having only a handful of teachers who ever actually spoke to us in Spanish or obligated us to speak in Spanish, the first months in México I resorted to old high school favorites to get by: I copied and out-and-out plagiarized.  Luckily, this wasn’t school, it was life, and so no points were deducted.  While waiting in line at the grocery store (in those days Gigante, now Soriana), I learned how to ask what the total was by eavesdropping on the customer in front of me.  In line at the convenience store, how to ask for cigarettes and how to pronounce the name of the brand I wanted.  From a nearby table at a restaurant to ask for an ashtray, bottled water, limeade with mineral water, and whether or not the salsa was hot (¿Pica?).  As I gained confidence, I gained new vocabulary and expressions from taxi drivers, students, the bands my students listened to (El TRI!, Maná, and Mecano) and bag boys at the grocery store (one in particular from the Gigante days I am still acquainted with – he has since studied in the U.S. and now works as a manager in the mall. Big step up). Roughly around 2006, I began to be forced to add words and expressions to my vocabulary that no one ever wants to learn, in any language.

The words of violence in the two languages I know are ugly, but curiously graceful.  Gunshots, assassin, deceased. Balazos, sicario, occiso. Disparos, balaceros, granadazos, asaltos, robos, secuestros, narcos, narco-manteles, narco-fosas, narco-bloqueos, nuco, calcinados, explosiones, detonaciones, chivas, federales, marinos, zetas, malandros, agresión, extorsión, “las llamadas feas,” mucho movimiento, amenazas, encapuchados, and malitos — among far too many others. To remain informed, to feel reasonably safe, they were words I had to learn. I’d have preferred my new words to be more literary.  But then, these words are literary, I suppose. Or will be, one day.  Literary the way the language of the mob became literary in Chicago and NYC. Literary the way the language of the Holocaust became literary.  Over time. Far too long a time.

All that brutal language, barren and empty and soiled as it is with the blood of tens of thousands of lives lost — lives of the wicked, the ignorant, and the innocent — is like the desert. While the drought rages in waves of heat and hate, the regular guy on the street keeps moving.  Gets up, goes to work. Works an honest twelve-hour day, earns an honest, if insufficient wage (not like me with my seven-hour work day and relatively high salary). Comes home to watch the Santos game — rejoicing in a win (GOLAZO!!!) and mourning a defeat — or to see an old movie or telenovela, to put the kids to bed after dinner and homework. He joins in the occasional carne asada in the neighborhood and has a couple of beers or four.  And then, after a six-day workweek, takes a well-deserved day off before starting all over again.

When the rain finally comes to end a drought, desert life starts again almost instantly. The greens jump out of the landscape, the cactus bloom, and the desert frogs rise up from under the ground where they’ve waited with patience. We need a rain like that to grow new language that can replace the one we’ve had to create and learn as a defense against scary, unpredictable times. I hope when that rain finally comes, we will have found out that no matter how much has been broken (rota, rota, rota) by the dirty words, we can re-build language in ways that not only change what we talk about, but fill us with hope again. Then we can leave the words of violence out in the wilds to gather dust and erode in the wind of time. ~LD

Letter Home — a poem

my tree

first flowering after the big freeze of 2011 — this tree is now less than half its original size, but flowering again. Anyone know what kind of tree it might be?

The workaday world winds its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers drive on
Under whistling stars and winking moon

my inheritance 2012

Taken from the roof into the Mike and Amanda’s back patio…this sun is hanging in my dining room now, sans duckie. =*(

Fine, just fine
The way the sun comes up
Behind the backs of the mountains
Who roll back over and return to dream oblivion
They’ll never know that there was anything to miss

In full sun, the dusty haze of autumn
Begins to collect in the valleys
‘tween here and the ancient hills
behind the steam rising from my coffee mug

Grinding away at stones
We meet and greet
Smile and nod,
We understand and sympathize
Adolescent voices all a-clamor
Adolescent bodies reflect against
each other all unknowing
Like electrons and heat mirages

All summer’s sins sink satisfied against
cliffs’ skin, before the winds sweep in
Brush of winter chill hovers near
Cooler days to come
Will clear the dust from the air
Leaving the day to day
As it always was

the rainy season

All three of these photos are mine, and I accept all blame. =)

The workaday world winding its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers driving on
Under whistling stars and winking moon.


Poem, write me

A couple of weeks ago, in a dull moment, and passing 1,000 tweets on Twitter, I decided to collect up all the tweets I’d ever tweeted and “do something” with them.  (The full document is nine pages!) This week’s post is the first product, though after culling and sorting, it’s clear that there are two or three or more other possible pieces left to go.  I’d call this still in draft form, but it is nearing completion.  I suspect I don’t use Twitter the way it was intended, but that’s the beauty of the internet: its uses are fluid.

Quickie translations for non-bilingual readers: chanate = crow; chencho = local word for mockingbird; golondrina = barn swallow; margarita = daisy; and colibrí = hummingbird. Have a great week! ~LD

Poem, write me

Monday morning, full moon falling
lullaby stars
shrinking into desert flame
a hundred thousand dreams fall together,
dangling by a thread of ether —
Wide universe, slow move, fast dance, long sleep.
The stars have barely risen and still
the night insists on ending
Moon don’t say goodnight…
morning comes up around the sun, chilled by starlight.

Golondrina, chanate, chencho, margarita –
daylight, daydreams, dabbling free
in elderly sunlight…
Oaks, cedars and sycamores…
flycatchers, house wrens and inca doves…
I would like to be in the barn swallow coffee klatch
‘tween greens and feathers there’s no room for bad news.

Chanate sawing, chencho singing
Chencho, chencho,
where do you go,
when the sun is high and leaves are burning?
Checho, chencho,
where do you go,
when the moon is low?

Colibrí love on the porch
before the heat gets high;
covetous cats chattering cheerfully;
strings of mimosa flowers
doodle bug houses of sticks and mud —
to be only four again
when “backyard” meant freedom!

Save poems for another day — full moon, full moon!
Trapping moonbeams with my fingers
Moon in my hands,
sun in my eyes,
dust in my lashes,
poems dribble over my lips,
to fall and break on my pen like glass.
There’s my old friend, the moon…

Flying in

July 26, 2012

Last week I flew into Torreón in daylight for the first time in years, maybe ever.  The dusty earth rippled below us, as if in reminder of our precarious state; as if to say, “Even the solid ground you count on to carry your steps each day waves and ebbs as the ocean; don’t assume you’re safe, perched as you are on flimsy seats aboard a not-bird.”

The PA tone sounded and the captain advised us, “As we come in to Torreón, you should expect some turbulence, so be sure your seatbelt is buckled and your tray table and seat back are in the raised and locked position.” The mom across the aisle from me popped the baby’s bottle in his mouth and checked her seatbelt, and I thought she was pretty smart. Turning back to the window, I tried to fill my range of vision with the desert below and pretended I was flying without mechanical aid.

One group of mountains, in the shade created by clouds, looked like the backs of a family of sleeping black cats.  Twisty, wandering lines gouged into the desert were the only evidence to belie the mirage. The majority must have been roads, but some were probably arroyos. As I wound my way toward Torreón, the land began to take on the geometric patterns of cultivation, giant pilas for cattle, and then, descending further, the Noas mountains curved into full view, damming up the sudden grids and angles of urbanization.

The landing gear jerked into position, and fantasy flying ended. The baby across the aisle was asleep, still intermittently sucking his bottle.  In spite of the captain’s concerns about turbulence, the flight had been remarkably smooth.  But I never seem to notice turbulence.  The plane came to a stop a hundred yards or so from the arrival gate and we had to wait for the ground crew to push the deplaning ladder up to the hatch before we could walk across the tarmac to the gate proper.

Mid-day sun glanced off the windows of the airport building, into my eyes, recalling a late evening thirteen years ago when I walked across the tarmac into this airport for the first time.  More than two years before September 11, 2001 repainted world travel, the airport at TRC was just one story and basically one big room partitioned into large cubicles. Chuckles bubbled up from my belly as I relived the initial disbelief of seeing the ground crew unload our luggage onto the baggage carousel outside; I watched that ritual again, still outside.

The floor to ceiling windows along the back perimeter of the airport are all mirrored — or some trick of the light made them look that way — and I couldn’t see inside, but I knew that it was empty and waiting for us, clean and white and cool. But I also recalled the mouths, noses and foreheads of a crush of little kids steaming up the glass around the entryway from the tarmac. The greasy, steamy finger and nose marks are gone from all but my imagination.

In the perfectly climate-controlled baggage claim / immigration / customs area, I was thankful for at least some of the changes the world has seen.  Once, this airport had been (barely) cooled by evaporative (swamp) coolers, but crowds of people waiting for the arrival of loved ones tended to offset whatever cooling might have been possible.

I lined up behind two or three others at the immigration booth. These days, there is one immigration officer to process incoming passengers; in 1999, we had a layover in Piedras Negras (on the Mexican side across from Eagle Pass, TX) to go through immigration.  The customs department’s “push button” system to determine whether or not your bags get searched is still in place, but the red/green light they use now looks more thought out than the old stoplights they used to use.

After my bags were searched by customs, and they were reassured that I’m not starting an illicit import business with all my creams, lotions, cooking powders and do-dads, I carefully balanced the smaller bag on top of the wheeled one, threw the carry-on over my shoulder and walked through the automatic doors to the lobby / ticket counters where crowds have to wait on their loved ones.  Although there were many small children in the lobby, none had his face pressed against the glass partition between the arrival area and the lobby. I grew a bit nostalgic for happy, squealing brown faces.

I wheeled my cargo over to some seats near the terminal exit and sat down to check the status of my Blackberry.  I wanted to call a friend to come pick me up, but my phone still hadn’t found Mexican airwaves (or whatever they are).  So I opted to go by airport taxi despite their exorbitant rates: 120 pesos (roughly 10 dollars depending on the current exchange rate) anywhere in town.  But before I went to the curb to hail a cab, there was one last stop to make inside the terminal.  I picked up my bags and wheeled them toward the other end of the short lobby area.

Luckily, the carnicería (butcher shop) is still in the airport, albeit with a changed shopfront, and I picked out a couple of steaks to bring home for dinner later.  The old store featured not only the ever present sleek, glass-front, refrigerated display for cuts of beef, but also, beef and goat carcasses hanging from hooks in the ceiling.  Even people who live in TRC claim not to remember that, but why would they? There was no shock value in it for them, nothing foreign.

As I rode through the now familiar streets of Torreón with the stucco-sided concrete block houses and businesses far too frequently adorned with both artistic and defacing graffiti, I realized that the universe has made many many revolutions, and so have I, since that first day when I arrived in México as a stranger. I looked over when a small, beat up, white Toyota pickup honked.  The master carpenter who ran the renovations two years ago at the apartments next door to me leaned out the truck window to wave and holler, “Maestra!” So nice to be home. ˜LD