Monday, December 29, 2014

Back to Italy for a week -- while revising my novel

I don't want to finish revising my novel, The Renaissance Club, because then I will have to leave the Italy in my mind. Unless I can conjure up another Italy-centered project or a plane ticket, it's my best form of travel these days, the armchair, or should I say deskchair variety of touring. And there are only two distant places I've ever visited: India and Italy. Of the two, it's more comfortable by far to revisit Italy, though India (twice) had its dramatic or intimately sacred moments and was life-altering. But to see up close the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, and Bernini, and all the other unbelievably numerous Renaissance and Baroque masters, is not only life-altering, but changes any artist or writer. You can see how it affected so many Romantic poets.

 Italy made me aware of art's effects, how it can change the way you see life and its possibilities. Venturing into a radical new place changes you in a way you never could change while staying within your familiar landscape. Any new place changes you, I think, even if it's a truck stop on a desolate highway; but one that is created by an artist can impress more deeply. It can make you more aware of the beauty that nestles within every object and form. That's how Italy made me feel: that a place of total beauty is possible. And that made me think about how beauty is really at the center of life, not the periphery. It's not a mere cosmetic attribute, but a living truth of physical being. Renaissance Italy is the embodiment of the idea that the human form is perfect and divine, irrespective of its apparent individual imperfections. Italy made me feel it could be possible to live inside beauty and to become it. It made me want to write more perfectly and to really look at the world around me, soak up every divine detail of it and be sure I really see where I am.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good blog reading for writers this week

I've been reading around some of my favorite blogs, from Indiana Review's blog on Five Marks of Oft-Rejected Poems, to Erica Goss at Sticks and Stones writing about the Open Mic Experience (both reader and audience sides). One of the things I LOVE doing as a writer is reading what other writers have to say about their process -- whether it's writing, revising, publishing, reading, promoting, or reading. And this holiday season seems to bring out good reading and writing. Even ideas for gift giving, such as Kelli Russell Agodon's week-long blog posts about Gifts to Give Writers and Readers (the link is to the post that includes The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems, which is on my holiday wish-list). And the always inspiring Blogalicious by Diane Lockward has an article for poets on how to use prompts -- a topic on which Diane is an expert, not only by virtue of her wonderful Poetry Newsletter, but her complex and fascinating book on writing from prompts, The Crafty Poet. It's a season that makes me want to read more, and of course, want to buy more books!

Monday, December 15, 2014

My poem "Better Angel" Appearing at Antiphon

I'm delighted to have a new poem, "Better Angel," up in the current issue of Antiphon, an online literary journal based in England. Described as "providing a showcase for the best in contemporary British and international poetry," Antiphon presents its issues in four "acts" -- a dramatic conceit I find engaging, as a playwright. The idea that each issue builds a story, reaches a climax, and has a conclusion is satisfying to me.

Also satisfying to me is the concept of an international English-language journal. More and more, we write as one world and understand each other, though our versions of English may vary a bit, as poets. Antiphon's archive provides a trove of great reading from poets writing in English from everywhere, and all issues free.

This great journal is edited by Rosemary Badcoe, moderator of the on-line poetry forum Poets' Graves and also an editor of Matter magazine, and by Noel Williams, who is also Associate Editor of the poetry magazine Orbis.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Poetry & Prose -- a Discount for the Holidays!

Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and Christmas share a common theme: divine Light. When the short days and winter weather keep us more indoors, it's natural to turn within more too. Poetry is such a joy at this enclosed season! I have a wonderful stack of books on my table from recent readings and friends' publications. I've so far spent two solid days just reading -- what a real writer's treat.

For holiday gift giving (through December 31), I'm offering you and your giftees my book, Gods of Water and Air, at a discount from Amazon's discounted price -- just $11 for 130 pages of poetry and prose on art and ballet, growing up a rocket kid, breaking away, relationships, nursing a parent with dementia, and finding the Light in daily life and hardships.

If you'd like a copy at this newly low price, email me:! I wish you happy and peaceful, Light-bright holidays. Here's a poem from the book:

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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Have a City of Gratitude on My Head

I am very grateful for a writing life. The city of gratitude for poetry and poets on my head is bigger than the Beach Blanket Babylon lady's San Francisco hat. Like the BBB hat lady, I mentally wear a city of poets, writers, and literary projects for whose support and connection I'm immensely grateful. This year, I'm especially grateful to:

* John Amen and The Pedestal Magazine & Ann Wehrman's review of my book, Gods of Water and Air.
* Ami Kaye and the staff of Pirene's Fountain -- very excited to get the new issue containing a lot of fantastic poetry and my two poems based on Motown songs.
* Dan Veach and The Atlanta Review -- I had a real homecoming experience in the launch reading held in Berkeley (Part 2 of the video coming soon!) on November 23 for the new issue. Being invited to read my poem published in a past issue put me among a stellar group of poets I'm so happy and grateful to have met.

Thanks to editors of Halfway Down the Stairs, Ithacalit, The Same, Valparaiso Poetry Review, where my poetry and prose appeared in the last 12 months or so. And to editors at Prairie Schooner, Verse Wisconsin, Crab Creek Review, Blue Fifth Review, and so many others who have selected my work in the past.

My city of gratitude is so big it requires helpers to hold prop up on top of my head!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reading for Atlanta Review in Berkeley this Sun. Nov. 23

I'm very excited about participating in a launch reading this coming Sunday for the new issue of Atlanta Review, published and edited by Dan Veach, poet, editor, author of Elephant Water, musician/composer, and orchid grower extraordinaire. We will read from the new issue, as well as from past issues. I'm reading my AR poem, "Ode to My Purse."

Who knew that so many AR poets lived in the Bay Area! I guess poet Kathleen McClung had an idea, as she conceived of the reading and found Dan willing to come all this way, and then she generously made the arrangements. Once the ball was rolling, more AR alums turned out to be nearby. There will be refreshments, as well as the great refreshment of wonderful poetry.

Here are the particulars -- please join us if you can!

POETRY READING   Sunday, November 23, 2014  3:00--5:00 p.m.
Fellowship Hall, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists
1924 Cedar Street (corner of Bonita),  Berkeley, CA

If you don't know Atlanta Review, here's why you should -- from the journal's website:

ATLANTA REVIEW is an international poetry journal devoted to bringing surprise, wonder and delight to readers around the world. Its unique blend of quality and human appeal have made it one of the world’s best-selling poetry journals. Here you’ll find Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners galore, but also poems that touch the deepest feelings of the writer and the reader. Atlanta Review is a haven for our common humanity, the things that unite us across the boundaries of nation, race, and religion. It is a voice we need more urgently than ever in today’s world. Every Spring Issue of Atlanta Review includes an International Feature with poets from a different country or continent. Each Fall Issue includes at least 20 Publication Prize winners from our International Poetry Competition.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

How to stay sane as a writer

That's perennial question, along with its corollary: Should writers be sane? Or is crazy really better for the work. If there's one thing that drives every writer and poet I know crazy it's the topic of publishing. Publishing is like hunting dragons -- you're not even sure they exist, you know you need some magical arrow that's not in your quiver, and really you don't have a killer's heart. Especially the poets. It's such a contradiction to be the introvert who grew up turning inward, turning to the page, and be expected to do things like:

* Give readings
* Build an author platform (my brother the musician built himself a backyard stage -- I wish building my platform were that easy!)
* Doing (getting) interviews
* Contributing to the writing community by giving of your (nonexistent) time and energy

And all the other recommended author stuff. Having just completed a final-ish draft of my novel, I again read all the books and articles. They all say: Become an extrovert! Reading these lists, I feel slightly overwhelmed. I just want to stay here on my deck, ignoring the beautiful view of trees waving their branches in a soft breeze, ignoring the birdsong that spills out like Mozart improvising, and write words that take me into my own imagined world, where I imagine being a lot of people I'm not. How crazy is that.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Saturday Morning Poetry Habit

I've developed habits. Some are not so good, like eating bites of dark chocolate in bed late at night. My white duvet covers are evidence of why this is not a good habit. Other habits are useful, though. Reading, writing, revising, and submitting poems every Saturday morning turns out to be an excellent habit. I have Saturdays to myself and being home alone seems to agree with my Muse. The minute I hear the door shut I get whims, ideas, even some days epiphanies.

Habits have tremendous power, as do thoughts. I like this comment on the power of habits:
Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors. Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.
                                          – Mahatma Gandhi

I've deliberately formed this Saturday morning writing habit, which fell out of a whim, which became a thought, which turned into a behavior, which has now become a habit. Even though I'm writing a novel -- which is like trying to eat your way through a mountain, a ridiculously huge undertaking and one that makes you constantly ask yourself what possessed you to start -- I can't let poetry fall out of my life. If I do, I have discovered, I can't write all the other things I'm supposed to write in my working and creative life. The juice just isn't there. So, Saturday morning.

It's not much, it might not be enough some weeks, and yet I never find on Saturday morning that I am out of ideas. The power of habit seems to unlock the door of imagination as well.

A habit, once formed, can be difficult to break. That's power! Maybe I should just buy a chocolate-colored duvet.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Life's too short not to have chocolate for breakfast

Among my Saturday morning delights is poeming, as my friend Ace calls it. I set aside this morning each week because I have the house to myself and it's not a workday, therefore no guilt possible. Some people clean their houses on Saturday; I clear my brain of metaphors by getting them on paper. The house can wait. Some do laundry; I rinse myself with the air on my deck while catching images and essences. The poetic flow is much harder to set than the spin cycle.

And chocolate can really jump-start a poetry session.

By the way, there is a website called Creativity and Chocolate. What's it about? That other thing that makes me happy on a Saturday: fashion! And here's a poem about another thing that makes me happy.


Nissa speaks in kisses.
A dog’s mouth isn’t made for English,
so she sounds her vowels with swipes
of tongue – that best pink instrument.
She covers the face, the lips
from which my voice emerges
and patiently investigates
the curves, tasting the salt
of meaning behind my ear,
pressing on the place
that looses my giggles,
which I am sure she knows
as her real name.

~ From Gods of Water and Air, Rachel Dacus (Aldrich Press 2013)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bloghopping: Word Garden + My Poem at Your Daily Poem

I'm happy to report that I have a poem featured today on Your Daily Poem. My "Apple Pie Order" (from my book Femme au chapeau) is a poem very close to me. It's about my 91-year-old mother and was a gift to receive and then be able to give to her on a birthday. Thank you, Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, for featuring my poem today, and for your great inspiration to bring more poetry into our daily lives!

Now to my latest bloghopping. The generosity of blog writers amazes me. People review books, post poems and sections of their novels, and tell me about their lives, and so I get to enter he gardens of writers I might never otherwise meet.

Kate Campbell's Word Garden has a lot of the things I love -- poetry, fiction, flowers, and birds -- and most specially today it features a thoughtful review of a wonderful book by a friend of mine. Grand Slam by Alan Kleiman is one of the most playful, wild, and enjoyable chapbooks I've ever read. From its original cover art by artist John Newsom, to its evocations of baseball, kisses, barbecues, and marshland views, this book is a total kick. Grand Slam is reviewed on Kate's terrific blog today, along with a generous essay on the art of the humble chapbook. Enjoy the read -- and order Alan's book too!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blog tour - writing process questions answered

Last month, I was tagged by Erica Goss to participate in a virtual blog tour of writers. The goal was to answer four questions about my current writing process. What a great exercise for inquiring into the springs of my creative life. Here are my answers.

1. What are you currently working on?
A messy poetry manuscript loosely organized around the title Arabesque. Like the ballet pose and Islamic calligraphy, it dips and swerves, echoes in rhythms and themes and has no straight lines. I'm also deep in revising my time travel novel involving the great Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. The time travel device is a gold pen. Seems suitable for a writer. And points to my process of explorating meaning through traveling back into memories.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I seem to be working a territory of affect I don't see out there a lot: poetry and prose that curves around and into epiphanies, joy, and ecstasy. I'm interested in the marvels that hide in plain sight, in the quotidian of daily life and landscape, and that if attended to can spur sudden music in the soul. I feel a continuity of that pursuit in the Romantic poets of the 19th century, but hope I can express it in 21st century language. My concerns are similar.

3. Why do you write/create what you do?
Poems present themselves to me through compelling images and a sense of how they are connected to my internal processes at levels below awareness but which can be reached into and brought out by writing. It's a compulsion to self-discovery through delving into the images and memories burned most deeply into me. These images present themselves in terms of a resonance that lets me know there's rich material in them and I should explore. As Rilke said, childhood and dreams are great sources. They are for me, especially childhood. The dreamlike lens of poetry refocuses memory in a fresh way that yields self-discovery. I assume I'm not that different from anyone else and that my experience in the form of writing will resonate with some readers. So I go ahead and undergo this sometimes laborious but rewarding process.
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
 See above! The why and the how are for me intertwined.

This was a great exercise in examining how and why I write, and I'm going to tag a few of you to follow suit with these, if you feel like it. Thanks, Erica, for inviting me!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rain and a discount on Gods of Water and Air - email

I can't claim that my twelve potted roses have been dessicated over the past three years, but California surely has been dessicated. I've worried about friendly trees and watched lawns become weed patches. So early this morning, the sound of a steady, soaking rain (as we used to call it back when we had rain) was pure Chopin to my ears. It induced in me a kind of quiet I haven't felt for months. A wish to just sit and think my thoughts.

May the rain dancing around California continue! North and South are for once united, sharing a group wish for moderate (not flooding) downpours. Feeling generously hopeful at the sight of every cloud.

And while it's wet and smelling of petrichor and fertile soil, I'm feeling generous. For a few days, I'm offering my book Gods of Water and Air, my collection of poetry, prose, and short drama, at a deep discount to anyone who wants a print version.

For today through September 30, it's $10 + $2 shipping for Gods of Water and Air. Email me if you want one: 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Land of Totuaba

I'm excited that my memoir essay of camping in Baja California with my bipolar rocket scientist father and family is now published online at Halfway Down the Stairs. This issue of the journal has a rich selection of poetry and prose, and I'm honored to have had my story selected.

"The Land of Totuaba" is an excerpt from my memoir of an unusual childhood with a father who blew up rockets for a living and in a port town in southern California. The manuscript, Rocket Lessons, is still in my trunk, waiting to become my second prose book. My then-agent advised me to hang onto it and simply write my first book! The ways of the publishing industry are unfathomable to outsiders.

Here's a poem from Rocket Lessons that my agent made me take out of the memoir, which then found its way into my new book Gods of Water and Air, which has a whole San Pedro section.

Our New Neighbor

A knobbed mob of water, the Pacific rang
my doorbell in the night and ran.

When I got up, she let fighting cats stand in
and pranked me with the cannery's whistle.

With a sob and a whoosh, she dangled trinkets
over our back fence and showed me her green silk

underwear. A crazy lady in a frilly robe,
the sea was our new neighbor.

Dockside cranes pulled at her flanks,
hauling up surprises. Automobiles,

fish, furniture and anchors trailing seaweed
sputtered out of her. A constant breeze

chopped her green speech and sudden
surges mangled fishing boats and surfers.

Our crazy neighbor lulled me to slide
into her curls, to roll on soft swells.

Neighborly, she pulled me in-
to her doom bed and closed a cold lid.

Then the father who had thrown me in
fished me out. From that day, the air burned.

When I rode her treeless hills and looked back to land
through her glistening I felt

the family's undertow, that was the sinking
lull and downward sea drag.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Permission to be a poet

It's something only you can give yourself: a space to create, sweet as ripe cherries. To find it, buy it with love for your creative self, wrap it in ethereal sheets of time, and then unwrap it as though you deserve every crinkle of the delicate paper and every silky ribbon of ink. You give yourself permission to NOT write a word. Not even think. To drift, a poet in poet time with the willingness to do absolutely nothing if that's what comes. To think about writing without necessarily saying anything is permission. Here's a poem about it from my book Gods of Water and Air.

I had a beautiful bowl of cherries
to paint, stems perfectly arranged, the jade
bowl offsetting the pale red fruit.
I ate them. Such is the fate
of so much art. But only the serious kind.
At least this artist won’t starve.
Looking at a half bowl of cherries
I still want to create. Maybe a painting
of the pits in another bowl, so much life
gone by. Or perhaps a poem about the greed
of the painter for sensuous delight, story
of artists and their models through the ages
and also the story of the art
that was never made
while they became their own
works of art. Jade bowl. Stems.
Hungers ripe and aching.
Summer’s half moon warmth.
Tender flesh. (Note to self:
They were so ripe and cold.
Put cherries on the grocery list.
The dark ones this time.)

I'm offering a 10% discount off the Amazon price of Gods of Water and Air during September. Write to me if you want one!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Gods of Water and Air Celebrates One-Year Anniversary! Woo-Hoo!!!

I'm happy to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my collection of poetry, prose, and short drama, Gods of Water and Air. Thanks to Karen Kelsay and Aldrich Press (an imprint of Kelsay Books) for creating a beautiful print book from my manuscript and supporting it! And thanks to all of you who bought a copy and read it. I'm going to make my book a little cake for its birthday, which I'm calling September 4 (the day I got my first copies). Here are the candles -- I wish it to reach more of you in this coming year! You can get it at Amazon, or if you order from me directly (email me at, I'll offer a 10% discount from the Amazon price for this month.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How much is enough in promoting your poetry book

Asilomar Beach, Photo by Heather Osborne
Jeannine Hall Gailey responded to Timothy Green's Facebook about the responsibilities (and guilt and anxiety) of a poet in promoting a book. Jeannine's post encourages us to forgive ourselves for not doing everything imaginable at our own cost: organizing cross-country book tours, banner ads, local readings, mailing out dozens of reviews copies, etc. Tim's post lamented the lack of support from his publisher. He gave  numbers: 105 sold by the publisher, 200+ sold by the poet. Around 305 total books sold. There you have it: about 300 sales is what you can expect as a poet with a good audience.

I don't do readings. Well, I do if invited, but I don't go out of my way to get invited, and that's because though I enjoy doing them, it involves some anxiety and preparation and I have a very busy life. I like to give my free time to writing new things. I can't afford book tours and ads. And I'm very grateful to my publisher, The Aldrich Press (Karen Kelsay Davis, an imprint of Kelsay Books) for supporting my book by making a trailer and sending out review copies.

So how do I promote Gods of Water and Air? I blog. I tweet. I offer discounts. I'm an active presence on social media, posting poems from the books, news, and anecdotes that connect with it. I never stop. And I don't beat myself up for having sold or given away (yes, I make gifts of books) under 150 in a year. I think it's a pretty good number and it will grow. It's a good book.

I do what I can and subscribe to Jeannine's philosophy. Also, I'm going to take Gods of Water and Air to e-book soon. I just bought Mary Oliver's new one on Kindle. I don't bring paper books into the house much. I don't care about sales, I just care that my work gets read.

Here's a poem from my book:


I was especially taken
with the grasses today, their herringbone
weaves and golds, purples, and greens,
the seed pods floating
like butterflies on tall stems.
I felt like a boat in a restless ocean
at sunset, among its moving flecks
and hues, rocked by the wind
with tangled bird trills,
and the Earth yawned
and mouthed me
and tongued my neck.
My speech came in medleys
of mood. I swayed
saying the Beloved’s name
with endless vowels.
I was especially taken
to the bone-clean rock
owned by a tiny lizard blinking
with its pebbled lid,
and when it slunk down,
hugging its planet, I went
home hugging my heart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My poem newly remixed in the Poetry Storehouse today

Thank you, The Poetry Storehouse, for including my poem "As Yearning Is Red" in the collection. This marvelous video remix of the poem, a film by En Doubluu of my poem read by Marie Craven, with music by Titee, showed up today on Facebook. What a lift into the air for my writing day! The Poetry Storehouse is a collection of poems and poetry remixes that is the brainchild of the amazing poet and poetry entrepreneur Nic Sebastian.
The poem is from my collection Gods of Water and Air. Here's the text:

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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Happily buried in the Italian Renaissance

I'm coming down the home stretch (= two-thirds through) of what I sincerely hope is the final revision of my time travel novel, The Renaissance Club. I'm past fallen-in-love with Gianlorenzo Bernini -- I'm in the forming-a-fan-club stage. If only for this sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, made early in his magnificent career as a sculptor. He was also the official architect of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome under two popes.

 When I say buried I really mean it. Buried in research, juggling plot lines and character growth steps in my ever-expanding memory, metering out metaphors to enrich but not overburden the narrative -- all while dancing to the tune of my clients' fundraising needs and juggling all THAT sea of information. I feel like the Beach Blanket Babylon lady wearing the hat containing all of San Francisco, but thank God I have some props and poles to lean the weight on. Thank God for the Internet, or the pile of books near my bed and couch would be even worse. Thank God for laptops. Oh, and thank God for the Renaissance. And for the wise and comprehensive advice from my editor, Arielle Eckstut of The Book Doctors. Even while juggling all this, I'm sort of relaxed because I have a handy list of What Needs to Happen Next.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July is winding down -- 9 days left on my book discount

If you haven't got a copy of my new book, Gods of Water and Air, I'm offering a hefty discount. It's a book with poetry, prose, and even This collection has prose a once-act  play (about the afterlife of dogs). 135 pages of summer reading -- a deal!

This price is good through July 31!  Email me ( to order one direct, for only $11.00 + shipping. (Amazon charges $2 more.) Here's a taste.

-->Life Can’t Be Art You Say

But if those clouds were Turner’s pale blooms
stemming from ocean – if any horizon could tie itself
in evening’s lilac knots, my stanzas of self could
sail into the not-everything-a-poem.

If not art, why would our family villanelle
have been just Say it!, all arguments end-stopped
rhymes with ever and fend. Whatever else
explains this morning’s layers of birdsong and wind?

A musical threading of our years’ arabesques
of absences. You admit relationships
are either art or science, so don’t those lean winter trees
somehow alliterate with alien and lenient?

And the air’s tang reverberate with the new year’s
blossom pink? Our rising mountain years,
the waterfalls of doubt we scurried beneath,
our bare legs and umbrellas like a print by Hokusai.

Love is different than a work of art, I agree.
The layers keep rearranging
their chrysanthemum geometry.
We remain an unfinished still life,

breaking into a cantata of dish clinks
and dogs whining – and yet
pristine breakfast silence
can cloud with lyric all our logic.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

July's big discount on GODS OF WATER AND AIR

Happy Fourth! If you haven't got a copy of my new book, Gods of Water and Air, I'm offering a hefty discount on Gods of Water and Air to celebrate midsummer. This collection has prose as well -- even a small play. Email me ( to order one direct from me, for only $11.00 + shipping (135 pages -- a deal!). Or you can get it from Amazon. Here's a taste.

From "Prayers for Everywhere":

Prayers for the volcanoes
that need garlands when they erupt
and prayers for the freeways
you never drive them the same twice,
prayers for the buds
that look like babies' faces
as they open next week and for the blossoms
opening their soft legs to the bees.

Prayers for everything the soul
must reluctantly or passionately kiss:
rain-running gutters, a pebble in the shoe,
the silt gritty on your ocean-washed lips.

Because what is a prayer
but a laugh that can't be formed
in letters, but only heard
in that place that, praised, lights up.
So prayers for everywhere
that needs them.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Time Traveling in Italy

Today I'm working on my time travel novel set in Renaissance and present-day Italy, featuring the genius sculptor and architect who invented The Baroque style, Gianlorenzo Bernini. Of this sumptuous sculpture of Bernini's beloved, Costanza Piccolomini, art historian Jonathan Jones wrote: "He has made an intimate monument to secret moments, a sculpted memento of his lover, whose marble reality dissolves, when you chance on her among the stony dead, into breath, life. Bernini's genius for motion is dedicated to making his lover live for ever. Her wild hair and loose clothes speak of energy and passion. He has caught her mid-glance, mid-conversation, perhaps before or after sex."

What was the truth of the Bernini's relationship with his assistant's wife? We may never know, though if you read my book, you could learn the secrets. Wikipedia tersely sums up the interesting facts: "... Costanza Bonarelli, with whom [Bernini] fell in love when her husband was working as Bernini's assistant in 1636. The normally polite Bernini openly insulted the husband, which led Pope Urban VIII to intervene before anyone was killed. He advised Bernini to get married, which he did, in 1639, to Caterina Tezio. Their marriage lasted 34 years and produced 11 children."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Metaphor Monday

The only way to sanely start a week, if you're a poet, is with metaphor. Reading to start and revising is the juice. I have three inches of print drafts to plow through, how many e-files, and am grabbing summer by the shorthairs to make a space for poetry. I need to make a fresh pile of worked-up stuff, need time and peace. Hedging my priorities. Here's one from Gods of Water and Air. Have a luminous day.

 American Luminous 
“California Spring” by Alfred Bierstadt

The painting at the de Young Museum
is so big I can walk ten steps
before reaching the other side.
Stepping out from under the umbrella
thundercloud onto a slope, I pause
inside the canvas and rest
next to a cow. I’ve left the actual
California to contemplate its light
and illuminated mists, the way they billow
and thin as the sun’s roving spotlights
ray out over inky valley oaks.

That dot on the hills---a wagon train?
Stunned settlers stopped to ponder
a life so wide. They’ll snug their hopes
into cabins and live in miniature
under skies with county-large shadows.
One among them wonders
how to cover a canvas with this horizon.
Bringing their pianofortes, they plunge
into birdsong thick along the river’s length
and the rattle of a thousand alders.

With their cousins and aunts
they weave through rock fields
and forests the size of cities.
This landscape devours. They enter
the kind of time that turns grandly
and meanders. I wait for them,
learning to see their earth’s
pastels of space and light,
wanting to take it back outside
and free it from the frame.


Friday, June 20, 2014

A taste of GODS OF WATER AND AIR - Eight en Croix (a story)

DISCOUNT -- I decided that Midsummer Metaphors discount didn't go far -- or long -- enough. I'm lowering the special price for now on my book GODS OF WATER AND AIR through the end of July to just $10. And offering a sample of the memoir and poems in it here -- below. Just email me at if you want to grab one!

I love writing in the summer, so the title Midsummer Metaphors is literally what I'm doing in these mild months -- often outdoors, in a nearby field or on my decks overlooking trees full of birds and squirrels and breezes. The flow of nature encourages my creative work in a way that being cooped up inside in the winter does not. Childhood in southern California is to blame, where we opened up all the doors and windows and ate outside on the patio every night. I didn't know a house was meant to contain everything a family does. And the beach. Lots of beach time changes you.

So her's the taste -- "Eight en Croix," a story of growing up as the bipolar rocket scientist's kid.


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.
I was three inches shorter than everyone my age and getting worried, but Rosalie said that at twelve, no one knows how your body will come out. She kept yelling at me to tuck my bottom under, and there was that thing about my knees, but I could do three pirouettes in a row and jump so high the class once broke into applause. Surely this was talent outing.
At Thanksgiving dinner, I looked at my father's squat Russian family, their muscular legs and unwaisted torsos. Aunt Fritzi and Uncle Ed both had paunches and necks so short they looked like those Russian wooden dolls that nest inside each other. They had munchkin-stumpy legs. Thanks to Rosalie, I possessed a power of concentration that was going to shape my growing body. I studied photos of Pavlova, Karsavina, and Nijinsky. They were Russian, weren't they?
The next week, I lifted my leg so high I could feel it pull at the back of my tongue. I would never be able to do this again. I waited for Rosalie as she walked slowly down the line of girls, frowning. She stopped.
"Good, Raychelle." She whacked my quivering foot. "Now don't sickle your foot."
That was the week Dad moved out for good. It was just like another of his trips to Cape Canaveral for a missile launch, only Mom said he was never coming back. You would think after all the fighting, I would have been prepared, but never was so huge a word it made me nauseous.
Everyone kept telling me that I was starting the best part of my life. My English teacher said that in high school I could be on the school newspaper. Joyce's mother said high school was the best time for a girl, with cheerleading and proms. Lana's mom said I would be adorable in poodle skirts and as a dancer be a hit at sock hops. Rosalie said I could not afford to be distracted by these things. In a year or two, I should be auditioning for a major ballet school.
"But what about college?" I asked.
She looked surprised. "Dancers don't have time for college."
So it was time to decide, and it was no contest. Ballet – one hundred, other stuff – zero. Ballet was my talent, the single thing right with my life.
This was a shock, since my family had always assumed I would go to college, but it was not hard to decide. Ballet was the single thing right with my life.
In 1962, America was just inventing divorce as a social institution, but in San Pedro, it lowered your standing. Once, we had been the well-off newcomers on the hill, but now our Italian, Portuguese and Croatian neighbors, with their relatives crammed into tiny bungalows, pitied us. My brother and I showed up at PTA meetings and Fourth of July barbecues with only a mom. My girl friends subtly flaunted their intact families. My parents said none of this was our fault, but I knew it was my fault, with my smart mouth (Dad said), my fusses (said Mom). Clearly, I was the family wrecking ball and it was up to me to fix everything.
"It's just a garden party to you girls,” Rosalie said.
We had just done a series of leaps across the huge floor – not once, but three times. Rosalie  shook her head so hard her dangling earrings hit her cheeks. She made a mock tragic face and put her forehead on her arm, pretending to sob, always getting more out of us with laughs.
"Once more! Just so I don't have to jump off the roof!"
The summer show was coming and soon Rosalie would be casting. We summoned what little breath we had and did the fourth series of jumps.
Rosalie stopped me after class. "Raychelle, for this show, I have something special in mind for you."
She explained that the part she had in mind would be a short Russian dance, a duet with Alva. I became so excited that it was difficult to concentrate as she explained that it would be a showy folk dance, as authentic as possible, with shoulder shimmying and foot-stamping, perfect for me, since I was part Russian.
"Are you interested? Do you think you can come to a lot of rehearsals and work very hard?"
I never worked so hard at anything in my life. When I had been a butterfly or a snowflake, all I had to worry about was not stepping on the feet of the girl in front of me. This year, there would only be two of us onstage for two and a half minutes. That was one hundred and fifty seconds. A second is a long time in ballet. A pirouette only takes five. A leap, including preparation and landing, only ten. Basically, I had to be perfect and then leap onto Alva's shoulder with split-second timing, because that was when the music stopped.
I nearly quit the first few times we ran through it, but Rosalie was very patient, talking me through my first lift by demonstrating with Alva. After only four tries, I found myself atop Alva's shoulder, staring down at the world from a height of eight feet. Talk about levitating!
Rosalie shrewdly made use of my rhythm and jumping ability, as well as Alva’s strength and presence. She had a sense of pizzazz that wowed them in San Pedro. It was going to be a magnificent work, the centerpiece of our show.
We were responsible for our own costumes in the shows, either purchasing or making them. Since this was a solo, Rosalie left its design to me. My mother and I got a library book on Russian costumes. She took me to the May Company and we found a white cotton blouse with loose sleeves. Mom sewed a peasant skirt out of an embroidered tablecloth and made me a little black vest. Rosalie banished the thought of toe shoes – this was a folk dance! I had to wear something that looked like boots, but softer. We made cloth leggings to pull over my black ballet slippers. Rosalie found a garland of fake flowers for my hair. She arranged for the local newspaper to photograph me and Alva in our finale pose.
"This will make a great picture for the papers," she said.
It did. There I was, looking like a real Russian dancer, my waist-length hair pulled over one shoulder the way the Moiseyev dancers wore it. The San Pedro News Pilot actually mentioned my name. They also wrote about the bleachers Alva had installed to accommodate a larger audience, along with their new, machine drawn velvet curtain.
I heard from friends and neighbors that they were all coming, though not all approved of my plan to become a dancer. Lana's mother gave me advice from a movie. This was to be expected from a one-time actress.
"You must see 'The Red Shoes' darling," Mrs. Malloy said. She was always telling me to pattern my life after some movie. "You don't want to end up like that poor girl, throwing herself off the roof of the theater because she couldn't choose between love and the stage."
I thought anyone who had a ballet career and killed herself was a moron.
'Why don't you think about joining the Peace Corps," said Joyce's mom. She thought everything President Kennedy did was wonderful, especially this new program to send rich kids around the world to help poor kids. "After you've been to Ghana or Chile, you can decide about the stage." She said 'the stage' as if it were akin to leaping off a roof.
My mother responded with, "Well, if that's what you really want" and changed the subject.
A week before the performance, my mother decided we should go all-out for my appearance. She took me to the corner hair stylist for a chic new haircut. The stylist’s hand swashed through the air, as he lopped off my waist-length mop. A cut here, a cut there; he said he was making the most of my "Oriental eyes." I waited to look until he swooped off the cloth and there in the mirror was a Chinese doll with a chin-length bob.
"Fabulously chic!" he said.
I went to sleep that night secure of stardom. I looked like those girls on American Bandstand with velvet headbands and dimples. I knew my part so well I could dance it in my sleep.
Rosalie walked into the studio the next day, took one look at me, and shrieked. Her face twisted like a dishrag. I thought she was having a seizure. Alva came running out of the shop.
"What have you done?" she screamed.
For a few moments, we were in a standoff of mutual disbelief.
"Alva! What are we going to do? Just look at her!"
Alva's voice was, as always, deep and slow. "Now, Rosalie, calm down. What's all the fuss?"
"Her hair! Look at her hair – it isn't there! Raychelle has ruined her appearance! She doesn't look Russian now, she looks like all the girls."
I had never seen her so angry. She would not even look at me. "Alva, what about a wig? We can put a wig on her."
"Oh, Rosalie, I don't think so. She doesn't need it. She looks plenty Russian."
Rosalie turned to me, now composed in fury: "NEVER alter your appearance before a performance. NEVER make a change without asking your director. I only gave you that part because of your long hair!"  
She turned and stomped out. Alva smiled sadly and mumbled that I should not worry, Rosalie was always getting worked up. I walked to the dressing room to change back into my clothes feeling dizzy under the sudden, palpable absence of hair. All these years of hard work gone in a few snips.
I was thinking I would call in a few days and tell them I was sick. Let Rosalie dance the duet. She would be better, with her glazed smile, her showy gestures and beautiful feet.
Carmen came around the corner and said, "Don't let her get you down, honey." 
Great. She had probably heard the whole thing and by tomorrow everyone would know that I had only been given a solo because I could grow hair.
Carmen put her hand on my shoulder, but it did no good. "She does this every year. Last year she picked on me because I streaked my hair! Cheer up, honey. She'll get over it."
My father called to say he was coming to all three performances. "I want to see my little star get lots of applause." His gravel voice did its best cooing, trying to make up for leaving us, but I was not going to give him satisfaction.
"Great, Dad," I said and hung up.
After another miserable day, I decided that the best revenge on Rosalie would be for me to give three knockout performances.
In the wings before the first performance, my legs were shaking so badly I thought my teeth would fall out. They continued to shake as I went on, forcing the top half of me to shimmy and my lips to smile. The critical moment came. I jumped so hard I almost hit Alva in the head, but there I was, on his shoulder, looking out and the audience was applauding. I smiled into a blur of light. I don't even remember taking bows, but I walked off triumphant.
My nerves were better by Saturday night. By Sunday afternoon, I was actually looking forward to it. I shimmied with verve, twinkled at Alva, and then twirled out to the end of our  extended arms to prepare for my leap. The penultimate chord sounded, I jumped – and missed Alva's shoulder, sliding down the side of his body.
That was it. There was no more music. I could hear the audience draw a collective breath as I looked frantically into the wings for Rosalie. What was she signaling? Try again, try again!
In silence I spun out again arm’s length from Alva, thinking that if I did not make it up there, I was going to just walk offstage. Then I jumped. Alva yanked my arm so hard I thought I might fly right past him.
And there I was again, eight feet high. They were cheering and whistling! Someone came out of the audience toward me. It was my father, holding a bouquet.
My exhilaration did not fade when the bouquet did. I pressed it into a scrapbook, along with the article, pasting down a rare spotlight.
When Dad came a couple weekends later to take me out on a jaunt, he exclaimed, “My beautiful daughter! You're growing more beautiful every day.”
He never said a word about the performances as we went on his usual round of errands. Coasting down Seventh Street hill, he talked about his new painting, a study of the bait tank on a fishing boat. He said Connor did not like his impressionistic style, but what did Connor know, he couldn't tell crap from a good grade of clay, and what were those crazy numbers he painted all over his canvases? 
Dad talked about the stupid woman in the car ahead of us, who failed to signal at every right turn. He asked me how my school work was coming.
"Okay, I guess. I got an A in English, but Dad, I really want to talk about dancing. I want to be a ballerina like Margot Fonteyn."
"Damn it! You shouldn't talk to me while I'm making a turn. Now I have to go all the way around three blocks. So you got an A, huh?"
We cruised by the docks and the bobbing tuna boats. My life goal seemed to hiss away with the gulls. If my own father found it unimportant, who would? Of course my life was never going to get started, not here. What San Pedran worried about arabesques and turnout? Art? I could almost hear the longshoremen mutter. Ballerinas? whistled the pelicans. I’ll give you Art, frowned the man behind the counter at the Army-Navy Surplus Store – for a nickel. I had a feeling only the cold, shifting sea could describe.
In a rare silence, I again broached the subject of dancing professionally.  This time Dad seemed to hear me, but his reply was puzzling.
"My father was an architect during the Depression," Dad said. "Now there was a useless profession." He hummed a jazz riff in a tuneless bass and tapped rhythm on the wheel.
"I really want to be a dancer," I said, leaving out the last part: "instead of go to college."
“Whatever my beautiful daughter decides, she will do it well.”
He said it as if a beautiful girl was something to roll up and fire off into the stratosphere. At that moment, something was born in me, but it had to find a way to thrive in a world of women making scratch pies and handmade Christmas ornaments so their husbands could invent better living through chemistry and outer space.
I made up my mind. I was going for a different stratosphere, even if I had to invent it. And Rosalie was going to launch me. Just as soon as I grew some more hair.