Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Daily, Prompted Poet Writes!

I received a great literary Christmas gift among many this year. This one was an offer to include in my daily writing practice an idea suggested by someone else, a launching pass (appropriate for a rocket kid). So today, having a minor stomach bug and needing to rest, I decided to try one and challenge a friend to join me.

This is the prompt for December 26:
You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine (Thich Nhat HanH). Choose a type of fruit and write a poem about how the universe does and doesn't resemble the cosmos.

The Universe, Like Tangerines

Every year they sell cuties in  mesh bags
and I think of the fishnet stockinged leg
that formed a lamp set in the window
in A Christmas Story, which always occupies
two hours of my every Christmas.
The universe is a lot like a fishnet calf
made into a lamp that illuminates
your bad taste to the neighborhood,
in that the universe too is full of bad taste,
bitter with sweet, olives with double pits,
and the fact that butterflies only live for a day.
Fishnet because, as we know, matter is mostly porous,
and we are mostly air, and there is no air in space.
So there. And because some butterflies
are the color of tangerines, this universe seems less fair
than a universe of concentric circles
where love radiates outward from every act
in perfect echoes like rings from a dropped stone
and water would, ideally, be the color orange.
Oh wait—maybe the universe is like that.
But not like tangerines.

Rachel Dacus

Monday, December 23, 2013

Missing my dad at Christmas (which he hated)

Why do I think so much of my late father, our family Grinch, at this season? Because I always suspected his way of loving the holiday, as a Jew who celebrated it to please his family, was to grumble his way into the whole joyously chaotic event. This poems, from my first book, Earth Lessons, celebrates the frictions that ultimately became a gift.


Up my nose, between my teeth, tiny bullets
of sand flew thick and fast. I lay down
lost in wild howling on a dirt road
in Baja California. A dim dream,
my parents shouting as I was tucked
under the sky’s fierce blanket.

As quickly as it arose, the storm died.
I ran back to our car, oasis in blinding dunes.
Our voices swooped over the expanse like gulls.
Unrelenting sand glittered like a snowfield.
Christmas week in San Felipe.
Why did you wander away? -- they said.
I shot back -- Why did you bring us
to a vacation on the moon?

In the front seat, my parents' disapproving silence.
My younger brother and I 
stared out windows rolled up
against poverty and dust. Windowless
houses, children without clothes. A desolate
Mexican town and beyond, the beach --
aquamarine water ringed by rock spires.
Burning sun and sand
from horizon to horizon.

We tumbled out and filled the void
with a fight. My father’s voice boomed,
a train freighted with spit consonants
that hurtled at my mother as she sat
blowing up air mattresses.
My brother scampered away. Behind a dune, /
Dad's rasping breath and rhythmic cursing
as he pounded tent pegs.
His tent, his family: enemies.

My brother rolled in, a small wave bearing shells,
only to be brushed aside, flotsam.
My father saw me and exploded
into blue-word jazz. Control those kids --
he ordered my mother, his hammer.
Obedient, she fell -- Fill this pail.
The ritual smacked so hard I saw
my family’s outline -- them.
I stood at the surf, tears mingling
with the wind’s gritty lace.

A week of sand stuck to sweaty skin,
crunched between teeth, rubbing me red.
A torture I learned to shape
into wet mounds, sand forts, sand doll houses.
A week amid the dunes
learning to imitate sand --  answering
threat by being limp and malleable
or wild and grating.

Fishing rod propped in a spike,
my father drank tequila and sang
Louis Armstrong songs on New Year's Eve,
capering in the surf. Alarms in me
squealed shrill as the fishing line
that raced unnoticed through his reel.
Giggling, he fell asleep on the sand.
In the morning we walked down the beach,
peering into tidepools. He reached down
and scooped up a dark blob, /
handed me a tiny, squirming octopus.
The water baby slithered in my hand -- velvet-wet
exchange of softness in this hard expanse.
A gift fished out of murky depths,
and released to float
in the years of silence between us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Making a poetry book trailer

At first I didn't want to make one. Then I did. Then I really didn't, once I started putting together a script for a video that was to be no more than two minutes long (plus or minus), and trying to figure out what kinds of images, and whether still or moving, and what the voiceover should be. I wrote a bad script, pulling pieces of poems into a narrative whole. It stank. Then I couldn't find music or figure out how the music would work with the voiceover. Then I couldn't get my microphone to work well.

I watched a lot of book trailers, read some good advice from Erica Goss, and then went with what appealed to me most in the trailers I watched: a reading of one poem. Diane Lockward's blog on this topic, with examples, helped me decide. Free photos can be had at Wikimedia, and free music at several sites. And then there's Sandra Beasley's blog about making a book trailer poetry video. Sandra Beasley is brave.

Then I was lucky enough to find a video editor! I have to say that just recording my own voice and picking sounds and images and text was all I could manage. Garageband totally defeated me. I recommend getting an expert to put it all together as a video! Stay tuned for mine.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy birthday, Gianlorenzo Bernini!

I'm only a few days late but still in time to celebrate the birthday of one of the main characters of my novel and play (both in the works): Gianlorenzo Bernini, the genius of the Baroque, the tempestuous sculptor who they say shaped the face of Rome and who sculpted one of the most talked-about (even today) sculptures of a saint ever made.

Bernini's passionately gorgeous art transformed sculpture and created the style they now call the Baroque. He made marble "flutter and stream" and he was famous for catching his subjects at the moment of speaking, when their expressions are most revealing. This documentary shows some of the best pieces, and makes Bernini the fascinating bad boy of the Renaissance. Enjoy. Simon Schama's The Power of Art: Bernini is like a great potboiler novel, a page-turner. I guess Bernini's life was something of a page-turner too.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Italy in mind and on the page: my novel-in-progress

You might remember that I've been working on a novel about time travel and Renaissance Italy. And if you know me, you know I'm a fast writer (though not one to complete a novel in a month!). So you might be wondering where it is -- where's The Renaissance Club, as my novel used to be called. And might again be. Long story short, it's become a play AND a novel. I'm told you can do this. And to prove it, below is a short excerpt from the novel.

But because I'm used to writing plays, I took the detour of fleshing out my story's arc in the compressed intensity of what was to be a one-act play. Should be quick to write a 20-minute play, right? Unless it becomes a two-act, 90-minute multimedia play. It's had one table reading, and I'm now at work on a revision, which I hope will eventually be seen on a stage near you! Or at least a stage.

In the meanwhile, the novel is not forgotten! Their plots have diverged, though the essential elements remain. Elements of Light, you might call them. Which is now the novel's working title. Here's the excerpt -- comments always welcome!

Chapter Two - Excerpt. Bowled Over at the Baldacchino.

As she finishes her note, May hears a far-off clang. The Swiss Guards are closing the front door. She hadn’t noticed them before, which was surprising, with their bright red and gold medieval costumes.
            Tourists scurry past as the great doors of St. Peter's swing shut. Where are the club members and George? She looks around, then she looks for a side door and sees it closing, too, trapping her alone inside St. Peter’s.
            Panicking, May dashes toward the Baldacchino and nearly collides with a man in a frayed doublet and hose who had been standing so close to the bronze pillar she hadn’t seen him. He’s holding his hands up, framing the Baldacchino like an architect. He looks a little like Bernini in his seventeenth-century costume—the dark eyes, full lips, and long, curly hair. Odd to find someone in costume, she thinks.
            He turns and sees her just as she stops before plowing into him.
            “Boy, watch where you’re---oh, excuse me, Miss, I took you for a fellow in those pantaloons. What are you doing here? No one’s allowed to watch me working.”
            “Working? Are you a restorer?”
            May looks at his doublet and hose, a good period outfit in shades of gray and black, frayed around the cuffs for authenticity.
            “Who are you?” they say in unison.
            “May Perl. I got separated from my tour group and I need to get out.”
            “Signorina Pearl, I am Gianlorenzo Bernini, at your service.” He bows.
            “Using the name of St. Peter’s architect, very funny. Are you in a pageant? Costume’s very good.”
            She sniffs. “Do I smell candles? When did they light those?”
            They’re burning on the altar—immense candles. There’s something different about the Baldacchino. She hears the sound of a lute.
            “Are you rehearsing something? Is it for a concert?”
            “I always have music playing when I work, Signorina. It aids the flow. They light candles of course every day. How can we see without light?”
            “Um, electricity?”
            “I don’t know this term. Signorina, you have to leave. I can’t work with a gawker. A female! My work is based on my meditations on the Virgin and saints. The crucified and risen Savior. You make the atmosphere unsuitable.”
            May finds his characterization overdone, with the archaic diction.
            “And who do you think I am?” she says.
            He looks at her up with contempt.
            You’re clearly not a lady. I could have you arrested. The dungeon, you know, is no place for ladies.”
            “Chill, dude. I’m an art historian. I’m studying this place. I’ve even studied you!”
            He laughs. “Historian? A woman? Impossible!
            “I’m a historian of art and architecture. I know all about your creations.”
            “You’re just a skinny, strange-looking girl with golden skin. A whore from the street and half-starved, it seems. Who told you to say you’re a historian? Your madam, to entrap me? Or the Devil, for the same reason?”
            May laughs. “You’re kidding, right? Harsh.”
            “Then tell me, Historian of architecture, what is the Golden Section?”
            “The Golden Section is the division of a unit of length into two parts so that the ratio of the shorter to the longer equals the ratio of the longer part to the whole.”
            He stares for a moment and then laughs uproariously. His baritone laugh seems too big for his slim, short body.
            “Very nice! Your madam has schooled you well. But she should have put you in skirts to catch a gentleman.”
            He walks toward her and then walks around her, as if assessing her as a potential model.
            “Where do you come from? Your almond eyes and golden skin are not Roman.”
            “I’m half Indian and half American. I suppose you’re all Roman.”
            “Neapolitan by birth, half Florentine by family. So we are both made of halves. Twins.”
            “Twins of an odd sort, you could say.”
            “This pants costume does nothing for what little figure you have. Even with your very nice hands and eyebrows.”
            He stops in front of her, too close. She leans back.
            “Oh, I see. You find me so very unattractive, except for hands and eyebrows. What are you, a priest? I’ve read Bernini’s biography. He hardly led the life of a priest!”
            His dark brows purse together and he compresses his full red mouth.
            “I am an artist, Signorina. A delicate instrument of feeling and a vessel for inspiration.”
            “I only wish you really were Bernini. You’d be quite an artist, yes. And this would be the interview of all time!”
            The Bernini man looks pained. He has been well cast; he really does look like the petulant artist, from his self-portrait at about twenty-six.
            “I create portraits of saints,” he says. “I must understand their experiences and witness their transports. So Saint Ignatius Loyola tells us.”
            “Method acting?”
            She walks away to look closely at the changed Baldacchino as he replies, “Methodical, yes. I am nothing if not methodical. Everyone says so.”
            Even with her back to him she feels him scrutinizing her, as an artist will, taking measurements automatically to translate them.
            “I have just been asked by the Pope to create the altar canopy for this great church, so your pathetic body, what little of it there is, those small breasts and thin shoulders, tempts me not at all.”
            He sounds so defensive she forgets he’s an impostor and feels sorry for him.
            “Thanks for not liking my breasts. So what are you thinking for the canopy?”
            She knows what the canopy design is, though somehow he has managed to make it appear not to be there. Perhaps a holographic illusion?
            “I have to work with the idea of the ciborum,” he says, “the traditional canopy covering a sacred spot. In this case it’s the grave of the Apostle. But I want something new. Something that lifts it toward Heaven.”
            She walks back, interested now in the game.
            “Something with a structure above the canopy perhaps.  You did it that way. At least a minute ago, that’s how it looked.”
He looks puzzled.
“No, I plan to top two intersecting ribs from the columns with a statue of the Resurrected Christ carrying the Bannered Cross. My concept is that the bottom of the structure begins with His sacrifice and rises up to His triumph, ascending to the top of the dome where His heavenly enthronement is portrayed.”
“Sounds too heavy to be supported.”
How did he create that illusion of the unfinished Baldacchino? It looks convincingly empty to her. She begins to feel queasy.
“You know, you really do look like Bernini.”
“You are an odd woman. Yes, the weight is a problem.”
“Try something else? Some volutes?”
He’s startled.
“I was thinking the traditional canopy won’t work.”
“Maybe think outside the box? “
“What box? There’s no box in my plans.”
            Without thinking she says, “It’s just an expression in my time.”
            He really does look like Bernini. And he knows about the problem of the ciborum and traditional canopy. Impressive method acting.
“What about light, curving volutes above the canopy, meeting at the center?” she said, testing him to see if he would recognize his own idea. “And maybe topped by a small orb and cross?”
“You have some interesting ideas.”
“I’m just echoing your own ideas. I saw them a moment ago, four centuries after you created them.”
Bernini looks at her with curiosity and says, “My friend George says time is … what was his term? Relative. Relative to what, I don’t know.”
“You know George St. James?”
Bernini smiles. May thinks there’s no mistaking the famous smile, full-lipped and outrageously confident.
“Signor Giorgio and I are drinking buddies. That is, when I drink. Which is seldom. I must keep the instrument vigorous.”
            “I’ll say. I read that you almost never slept or ate.”
            “Why do you speak of me in the past tense?”
May feels dizzy now, as if gravity has ceased to work well.
“I think I’m from your future.”
            She looks past him at the Baldacchino. It would have been impossible even with holographic images to create the canopy’s absence. It’s easier to believe in a fold in time.
“What’s the matter with you? Are you so hungry you’re delirious? I will give you some of my wine.”
            He offers a small flask, but she shakes her head. The lute player seems to have been joined by a flautist and they harmonize a high melody with warm tones.
            She reaches out and instead of taking the flask touches his arm.
“What are you doing, strange girl?
“Trying to see if you’re real. You don’t feel solid. I can’t touch you.”
He ignores this.
“You have good ideas. And your face is somewhat beautiful. I could use you as a model. You’d have to unbraid your beautiful black hair.”
He touches the top of her head, maing her flinch.
“I felt that!” she says.
            He strokes her hair down to her ear, saying, “Let me loose it, I want to.”
She shrugs away.
            “Listen, I’ll just leave you to your meditations, if you tell me the way out.”
            He smiles.
            “I could call the guards and have you dragged to the dungeon. That’s a way out.”
            “Is that a dare? Remember, I know all about you.”
            “Really? And you may call me Cavaliere. I have been knighted, as anyone in Rome knows. Tell me about my life, then.”
            May smiles. “Hang onto your hat, Bernini. You were born in Naples in 1598 and are credited with creating the Baroque style. You have captured in marble an iconic image of Teresa of Avila, a narrative moment of religious ecstasy that changed the way art is made. Some art historians called you the successor to Michelangelo. You died in---”
            “Stop! Don’t blaspheme. And I have not sculpted Teresa of Avila.”
            “You will. It’s next on our tour.”

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Selling a Poetry Book by Hand

It's a one-to-one affair, a very personal exchange, selling a poetry book of your own. I like that it is so personal, that you have to think about the work and that you're sharing it with each person who gets one. It's a way of making new friends, reconnecting with distant friends, and having a silent conversation with readers. One of the things that dazzles me is when someone tells me about a poem I wrote they really loved, and why it knocked them out. Those are things I carry for years, and carry into my new poems. It's an immense privilege to write and exchange these deep parts of yourself with someone else's deeper self. I know where every book I've personally sold and inscribed is now, and it's a great feeling. Thanks for reading.

Don't forget that poetry books make good holiday gifts, and my special offer makes it extra economical: $11.50 direct from me, signed, shipping included. Beat that, Amazon! Email me if you'd like a copy and I'll tell you where to send a check, or send a Paypal to:

Friday, November 29, 2013

My poem in About Place Journal celebrates my hometown

I'm happy today to have my poem, "On the Rocks, Cliffs, and Tidepools" up in the current issue of About Place, "a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society." My poem is in the current issue "The Future of Water," alongside poems from Susan Terris, Alex Cigale, Alan Kleiman, Ann E. Michael, Jeff Gundy, and too many more to name. I'm happily making my way through this rich read. Edited by Debra Marquart, the issue honors, celebrates, documents, and mourns the important connections we have with water in its many forms–fresh or saltwater, frozen or liquid. My poem is a memoir of my hometown, San Pedro, once home to America's tuna fishing fleet.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review of Gods of Water and Air + four poems up at Pirene's Fountain!

I'm thrilled to have my new book, Gods of Water and Air, reviewed at Pirene's Fountain -- and in glowing terms! -- by publisher/editor/poet Ami Kaye. Ami is the author of What Hands Can Hold and other books. I love the way she summed up my book:

"Dacus gives us poetry she has plucked from the fire of her imagination and heart, imparting warmth and sustenance to its readers, reminding us what is sacred in life. Her finely rendered, compassionate voice guides us through the space inhabited by the Gods of Water and Air. Rachel Dacus’ language fills and rounds our perceptions, and she plies her extraordinary talent, urging us to live life fully and in the moment."

I'm truly honored by this sensitive encomium -- and inspired! It's always inspiring to know what touches and moves someone. Thank you, Ami, for this review, and for all your wonderful work at Pirene's Fountain and Glass Lyre Press. 

And I'm delighted that in the same November issue of Pirene's Fountain, three of my new poems appear, along with a prose poem from my new play about Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, The Impresario of Ecstasy. These poems are inclining toward a new collection, one that will focus on love poems.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nurture for Poets - A New Anthology from Glass Lyre Press

It's a delicious Monday for poets. Today is the official launch of the First Water, the first print anthology from Pirene's Fountain. I'm lucky to have a poem in it, alongside poets I much admire, such as Kim Addonizio, Jane Hirshfield, Paul Hostovsky, Dorianne Laux, and J.P. Dancing Bear. Thank you, Ami Kaye and the Glass Pyre Press/Pirene's Fountain staff. Can't wait to get my copy!

The evolution of this wonderful online journal into a journal, anthologies, and print book-publishing is interesting. A number of online journals now have started out with one or two publisher/editors, expanded, gathered a following, increased their visibility, tested the waters with one print anthology, and then launched a book publishing wing.

As a poet and writer, I ask myself more often lately whether I want a piece to land in print or online. So much of my network of friends and readers is online, and so few subscribe to print journals (and usually not the ones I wind up in!). If it weren't for the idea that "print is more prestigious" (to whom?), I would give up publishing in print except in book form.

But the happiest form of publishing, in my view, is an online periodical that can support occasional print publishing.

So congratulations, Glass Lyre Press/Pirene's Fountain! Wishing you many years of success and joy in the work.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Happy my poem's in a new anthology from Pirene's Fountain!

I'm thrilled to be a part of this great new collection, First Water, from Pirene's Fountain. Publisher Ami Kaye selected a poem from my book Gods of Water and Air. The poem is "Chopin Reigns." You'll have to get the anthology to see it!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sharing Your Life Online

A lot of people who have read my new book, Gods of Water and Air, have remarked on my bravery in sharing personal and intimate moments of my life. It has surprised me, this compliment, because I think "That's just what writers do--they talk about their interior dimensions and experiences in a way we normally don't in conversation." It got me thinking, and then I found a wonderful essay on this topic.

Marie Gauthier, in a brilliant and moving blog on the subject of sharing your life on social networks, quoted Joe Lambert, of The Center for Digital Storytelling: “We have reached a point in the way we think about our lives where our stories of struggle and loss feel like they no longer belong solely to us."She was writing about Scott Simon and his mother, and the brouhaha surrounding his live-tweeting of her death.She writes:

"Reading his tweets, their gradual realization which reminded me so strongly of my mom’s last hours, hearing him speak about it on NPR, was tremendously moving. It did feel like a gift, this sharing of an intimate and painful time. This sharing.

"It’s a verb we’ve absorbed into the internet ether, but sharing serves us. Every day on social media we’re writing the narrative of our lives. It’s a big part of how we tell our stories, about ourselves, to ourselves and others. When Scott Simon shared his final days with his mother, he allowed us to share his mother and share her loss, and share his grief."

I hope Marie doesn't mind my quoting her beautiful blog post so extensively, but I feel I must share a blog that touched me deeply because it gets to the heart of why we make poems and art and plays and movies. The deeply human urge to share our feelings is what keeps us not only human but reaching for something even more--for the unity we all feel deeply within and have a hard time expressing any other way than sharing and caring for each other's lives.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Poetry Is Good For Your Brain (and Maybe Your Heart Too)

I love the new neurological research. It's turning up all sorts of things that make the yellow journalists look like media whore sleazebags with their terrible-terrible news. Here's a new one that caught my fancy -- reading poetry may activate your brain more than reading prose. A study at The University of Exeter showed through MRI monitoring that brains are differently activated when reading poetry than when reading prose: specifically, brains are more lively reading poetry. Different areas of the brain light up when reading "more emotionally charged" writing. And emotion is the heart of poetry, so the poems read -- regardless of comprehension -- stimulated the brain more than prose.

Over at Brainpickings, Alain de Botton, one of my favorite authors, is quoted from his new book, written with John Armstrong, called Art As Therapy. I don't like the title, but I do love a few things he says about the value of art and how it changes us. I like what he has to say about the dancers in Matisse's paintings:

"The dancers in Matisse’s painting are not in denial of the troubles of this planet, but from the standpoint of our imperfect and conflicted — but ordinary — relationship with reality, we can look to their attitude for encouragement. They put us in touch with a blithe, carefree part of ourselves that can help us cope with inevitable rejections and humiliations. The picture does not suggest that all is well, any more than it suggests that women always delight in each other’s existence and bond together in mutually supportive networks."

Putting us in touch with the joy we all carry within is no small part of the way art changes us. Joy as the goal of life -- not a bad idea, and art, especially certain kinds of poetry, inclines us to believe it's so.

P.S. My new book, Gods of Water and Air was discounted at Amazon -- for the time being, you can get it for $12.88 + shipping! Of course, if you order by emailing me or sending a Paypal, you get it for $14.95 WITHOUT shipping! Which is a better deal, because you also get an inscription. If you'd like.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The White Flash of Egrets at the Creek

I'm going to have to create a chapbook of bird poems, I think. Lesser and greater egrets at the local creek, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, mourning doves, crows all have made their way into my work. If I count up the number of bird poems I've written it probably could form a whole book! This one is from my new book, Gods of Water and Air, available at Amazon.
As Yearning Is Red

Sudden as a hat is ripped away
by the wind, he was over my head.
Long, black legs scissored together
as he plowed the seamless sky
with a beak like a boat’s prow.
His wings rowed lazily.

There’s little reason to look up
when I walk. I passed as he paused
to float on a thermal.
I was heading downhill
and he was gliding
down to the creek.
We were nearly eye level.
I had a precarious feeling,
as if my marching feet
had risen off the ground.

His wings rippled several times
as he held onto the wind.
They rippled again:
a lace bedspread shaken out.
He was white as yearning
is red and still as night’s
first sip of moon.

Then the luminous being was gone,
leaving me ruffled and aired,
forever feathered,
able to lift
on the beat of a breath.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Crafty Poet and Ways to Kickstart Your Writing

Diane Lockward's wonderful book to jump-start your creative process, The Crafty Poet, has had a great mention in Poets & Writers as one of the "best books for writers." I'm pleased to have a poem of mine included in this juicy craft collection, "Worst," under the Prompt: Missing You. Diane's prompts and tips are richly illustrated with poems from so many poets I love I can't begin to name them all.

I especially love the chapters on Revision and Recycling poems. Adele Kenny, whose blog The Music In It gives weekly prompts, has a poem, "Snake Lady," illustrates the principle of revising a poem by adding layers of complication. This is a favorite trick of mine when considering a poem whose heartbeat is so faint I can barely hear it loud enough not to consign it to the morgue.

Here's one, "Scared Birds," that I revived with the above technique of layering, and it made its way into Deep Water Literary Journal. It's also included in my new book, Gods of Water and Air. This one was a case of two poems that collided in the night, with great cacophony and surreal mangling of metaphors in a sort of fairytale way. It scared me when I wrote it, hence the title.

Friday, November 01, 2013

On this All Souls Day, I offer a poem about one kind of afterlife (there are many) from Gods of Water and Air:

Smiling Back from the Afterlife

I meet my father for breakfast
in some life after Alzheimer’s. He smiles:
Are you still my daughter? The first sick joke
from the afterlife begins on the phone.
I say, I regret that I am. His skull
knobbed yellow and blue, bruised
from an unremembered mishap, I imagine his face
the color of a car’s undercarriage, the sun
from his ocean view window
catching the green mica flecks in his eyes.
His thoughts float on the surface, torn
out of context. He’s dying, he says:
ninety-two and a ragpile wreck.

He throws down the paper.
Still all assholes! he proclaims and asks
the word for forgetfulness. I remind him
it’s CRS syndrome: Can’t Remember Shit.
His favorite joke lives on in my memory.
Everything between us lives in me,
so when I leave him in his black leather chair,
I feel his confusion pelting my back.
Do I know you? Your name is Rachel, right?
The phone catches his frown, then smile
in its black brick, photo grim as a toe tag.
Still your daughter, I say from the airport.

Now I’m on a plane and as far
as he’s concerned, I might as well be
in the afterlife. I’m mulching him
over, planting him in memory,
watering him with thin answers,
sure that he’ll spring up in life after
this, my old deep-rooted weed.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Amazon Review for Gods of Water and Air

Thank you, Marc Flayton, for your review of my book on Amazon! I especially like this: "The journey of life contains many aspects. One is the parent-child relationship. If it turns out your parent is as creative and as diligent in their art as Picasso, you will enjoy Gods of Water and Air. It pits a creative and talented daughter with a creative and talented father -- the fireworks fly."

Sometimes you wonder if people are reading anything you write. This kind of review makes me want to pick up the pen again today, and begin where I left off. You can read the rest of the review and others at Amazon.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Loss of a Poet

Poet and editor C.E. Chaffin was a fixture in my weekly poetry life for a number of years, thanks to the Melic Review's Roundtable and also his appearances at the Alsop Review's Gazebo. These two poetry workshop sites helped me shape my writing in the 1990s, when I began to shift from focusing on prose to poetry. C.E. passed away unexpectedly in the last week. I remember reading with him at a reading John Amen organized in at a bookstore in San Francisco's Mission District for The Pedestal contributors. C.E. brought his guitar and both he and John sang. It was also a great evening because I got to meet Jaimes Alsop, now also gone. May they both rest in poetry heaven. They have richly earned it!

Other literary news that delights me is hearing that "the Canadian Chekhov," short story writer Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. What, a woman? Who writes about the kind of people I might actually meet and know, with little violence involved in the stories, and almost no political angle? Have they lost their minds? Can't wait to hear her speech. Sanity prevailed. And gender blindness.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

New review of Gods of Water and Air!

Thank you, Barbara Ellen Sorensen, for a wonderful review of my new book on Amazon! She says:

"This is language that burns and pivots. Acutely cognizant of the inextricable link between beauty and death, desire and hunger, Dacus grasps words with warrior strength and molds them tightly until they pop open into molten surprises."


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

"Eight en Croix" or talent = practicing

Excerpt from an essay in my new book, Gods of Water and Air:

Eight en Croix, Four on a Side, Every Day Until You Die

At age thirteen, you need something glorious in your life just to breathe. My mother was at Long Beach State afternoons earning her teaching credential, and Dad was at his new apartment. Everything was changing, so I needed a daily dose of tradition. I found it at Rosalie and Alva’s Ballet Theatre on Weymouth Corners, next to Perry's Five-and-Dime, where after four o'clock class I could load up on bubble gum and chocolate bars. 
"Raychelle, point your toe!" shouted Rosalie. Six years of study, and she never pronounced my name right, but she was like radar on an unpointed toe.
Rosalie pounded her stick on the floor and bull-horned another order – something about a bent knee. With her hair tucked under a white turban and her coral-painted lips and hair, she looked like Rhonda Fleming playing a female yogi. Rosalie raced around the room, bending an arm here, poking a leg there, shouting. Everything about her was theatrical and excessive, from her fabulous arches to her rusty garage door shriek.
"You have great potential," she had told me. "You may even have talent, if you can find the drive. If you want to dance, you can't think about anything else."
This was a problem for a shy dreamer with too many hobbies, but I was a faithful student, taking four classes a week. Rosalie was a model of her own philosophy. Though her dancing had been in movie musicals and night clubs, not in ballet companies, she was devoted to high art, and hoped her students would exceed her career of high-lift ballroom dancing with Alva.
Talent was a potent word, one my mother shied away from when I showed her my stories and poems. "Very few people have talent," she said. "It's inborn." Dad said even straight A's did not mean you could rest on your talent. I was desperate for someone to discover it had been born in me, talent for something. I knew I had a destiny that had something great about it. Rosalie seemed to think I might have talent, which in her view had nothing to do with being born.
In a studio filled with music, passion and pink satin, springing to my toes on a pliant wood floor, despite intense pressure on my knees and toe joints, I could feel talent steaming off my skin. It propelled me into the air. I imagined I might pause in mid-air, as they said Nijinsky did. So I did my eight en croix, four on a side, figuring I would do these exercises every day until I died, because satin toe shoes were levitation devices. With them, I could float onto imagination's gauzy stage, a soloist at last. The cavernous, raftered studio had once been a warehouse and still smelled faintly of walnuts, but it was so capacious that I could leap and spin across it far and fast, feeling myself an object of pure momentum. Ballet was one thing girls could do better than boys, better than anything in my father's supersonic world of satellites, apogees and payloads. Music was energy flowing through me, and I needed no quadratic equation to catch its waves and ride.
Rosalie said I had some physical defects, but determination could overcome almost any defect. I had just seen Margot Fonteyn dance at the Hollywood Bowl with that handsome Russian defector Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet. They were so perfectly paired and he danced behind her with such reverence that I felt I could do pliés forever to dance like that.
"Talent will out," my mother said mysteriously.
I did not know what this meant, but would rather hear Rosalie say, "Raychelle, you must work, work, work."
With my tendons stretched so taut in an arabesque I thought they might snap, I thought, if this isn't talent, I give up. Rosalie came over and whacked my leg with her stick.
"That's where your arabesque must be. Have you gained some weight?"
I had no reply, but she had moved on to her next demolition.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another ocean, another poem with Monet

From Gods of Water and Air.  I write a lot about the sea, living along California's coastline all my life.  Monet's Normandy paintings spoke to me of the coastline I know so well, and inspired this.

Monet At Pourville

He hasn’t quite abandoned the shore
for the celestial. He leaves the viewer
a toehold on the sand. He has yet to go sailing
with the gods of water and air.
Confronted by the vast, he answers
with seven sailboats on the horizon,
spaced as evenly as place settings. Tiny
between sky and sea, they float there,
witty as elder aunts. He isn’t choosing
between here and hereafter--just letting the hues
grow full of fire. The boats both approach
and recede, as he plays with their figure-ground.

He hasn’t yet gone into the world of mist,
but an evanescence is growing. I’m mad
about the sea, he writes. He brushes alight
its hidden prisms. In his umbrella
pastels and wool-tuft clouds, eternity leans
closer. Still, that dark patch of sand
at the lower corner makes us hear the crunch
under Madame Monet’s black shoes
as she comes, calling, and calling him to lunch.