Morocco Sidi Shiker Gathering 2009 –

Guest of His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco

I am reposting this page. I feel it’s important today, perhaps more than it was then.



Marrakech Sufi Gathering: The Sidi Shiker World Gatherings of Tasawwuf Affiliates. I just returned from Morocco. The Royal Government paid for airfare, hotel, and food for a week. I was invited to present my poetry to a conference of nearly 2,000 Sufis. It doesn’t seem possible – but it’s true. I was there in the triple digit heat, sharing a tajine, heaped with rich and delicious food or an elevator with people from Lebanon or France.

In 1998, my husband, Pir Shabda Kahn, and I went to the Sacred Music Festival in Fez, Morocco as leaders on a “sacred journey.” We returned the next three years with groups of American Sufis and visited sacred sites and caravan-ed on camels in the Sahara. Our good friend, who made this possible, was a man named Dr. Sidi Ahmed Kostas. Now he is the assistant to Dr. Ahmed Toufiq, the Minister of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs for the king. Around the Summer Solstice June 21, 2009, Dr. Kostas and Dr. Toufiq got permission from King Muhammad VI to assemble a Sufi Conference in Marrakech July 10-12. They had less than a month! I got a personal phone call from Dr. Kostas while in England, waiting to go to Germany and teach from my forth-coming book: Untold: A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad. Dr. Kostas wanted me to read my poetry at the conference. I IMG_1270_2said yes.

Dr. Kostas set out to invite Sufi groups from all over the world and on 10 days notice almost 2000 people accepted the all- expense-paid invitation of airfare, beautiful accommodations and banquet-meals – from Minister Toufiq on behalf of the King of Morocco. 100 Nigerians. Chinese and South Africans. Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners. It was the Moroccan travel agent’s nightmare. The conference was tri-lingual, Arabic, French, and English, with simultaneous translation for all presentations. The weather – hot as West African summer; the hotels were well air-conditioned. Marrakech is as sophisticated as it is beautiful.  The reason for this whirlwind was echoed in the words of the presenters. Sufism is recognized as a hedge against fundamentalism in Morocco. Sufi teachers and their followers hold the notion of the true meaning of Islam as ” the inner state that causes the feeling of peaceful surrender to the protection, safety, and healing of the Divine.” The Sufi is one who carries the essence of love, harmony, and beauty, and pays attention to transforming the nafs (ego). He or she may be a warrior of the inner jihad (a phrase that means to contend, to challenge the unrefined self). Sufis are known to stand together and chant, la illaha illallah (There is no Reality but The Reality,) celebrating this in joyful assembly. My definition of Sufi mysticism is: “It is the fragrance over the flower of religion.”

The king, like his father before him, recognized it was in Morocco’s best interest to promote this fragrant fraternity for benefit, and bring together Sufis from everywhere to foster connection and mutual brother-sisterhood.

Dr. Kostas and a photo of the king

The Ministry further seeks to fund and promote publication and education toward this gentle reflection of Islam in the culture of Morocco.

Of the 2000 delegates, there were less than 50 women. Three of us presented; a Moroccan scholar, Dr. Zakia Zouanate, and an American scholar and long-time Sufi friend, Murchida Tasnim Fernandez, and myself.  Several times at the break I was the only woman in the vast, hotel restrooms. The women were a tiny minority, yet

we made our presence felt. I had instant sisterhood with the few women I saw, nodding or introducing myself to Laurence from Paris, Ikram from Fez (in the photo below), Hafsa from Scotland, Fatima from Nigeria, Ora from New York.


My poems were translated by Dr. Kostas, as we stood on the stage at the banquet close to midnight Saturday night. Dinner had just ended, but nights in Morocco seem to go on forever. Before I began to read, I thanked the King. (He was absent, but it’s not often you get chance to say, “I want to thank His Majesty, King Muhammad VI for his generosity ….”) Afterward, Dr. Toufiq expressed his appreciation to me for my work on the Mothers of Islam, and told me I was always welcome in Morocco. My friend and fellow poet Abdal-Hayy Moore read his poems as well.The next day, Arabic-speaking delegates called out to me in Arabic, smiled warmly, gave thumbs up or offered me their business cards.

  Abdal-Hayy Moore and me at our poetry reading

The conference swag was amazing; the women received silver or gold brocade slippers and a stylish silk scarf; the men, an elegant white hooded burnous, a briefcase, leather slippers, an Arabic language Qu’ran, and a beautiful sacred manuscript book.

Because my name ends in a consonant, an Arabic “male indicator,” and my husband’s with the female “A,” our invitations read His Eminence Tamam Kahn and Her Eminence Shabda Kahn. Nice.

Murchida Tasnim on Sufi Ethics

On Saturday, the international press was everywhere. I gave two interviews, one to Italian TV and the other to a journalist and photographer from Brussels. You could spot the women reporters in their casual hot weather clothes, while most delegates wore traditional robes called djelabas and some kind of head covering. The Nigerians dazzled – in vivid colored caftans and hats. The day we went to the desert, it was well over 105 degrees and all who went – nearly 2000 of us – ate lunch in tents with ceiling fans and a couple portable ACs. We were there all day. The women staged a take-over and claimed the large tent designated for us and provided with pillows, couches and a computer. Sleepy men left and went elsewhere. At 7:30 we all returned for dinner in a bus caravan accompanied by a police escort all the way into Marrakech, flashing lights and all.

The night before, we were driven to a palm garden just outside the city and entered the circle of tents on red carpets, lined with drummers and men playing long trumpets. We sat in chairs at tables of ten in twelve traditional Moroccan tents placed around a carpeted open space, desert style. The couscous and chicken arrived with a procession of tajine-carrying waiters. After dinner we listened to live Turkish music as the moon rose over the dark palms.

I return with new names and e-mails in my address file, my

Ahamed, Khalifa, and Sheik Tijani Ahamed Granoff, Khalifa Abul Fathi, and Sheikh Tijani

luggage perfumed with amber from the souk, and most valuable –the gift of friendship. In this time when most people in the world are withdrawing financial largesse, when programs falter, I was conscious of how generosity on the scale of this event may bring expansion, blessing and God willing, insh’allah, the peaceful benefit of the open hand and heart.

Morocco, may you be peaceful and strong.

Letter to Art

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The end of a tabla and Kanjira drum duet (Zakir Hussain and Selvaganesh in Berkeley  three days ago)—that last moment of eight beats played at light-speed—that moment linking heaven and earth was pure delight! I dedicated it to you, Art Buehler, right then just 6 hours before you passed away, April 1, 2019.


          Art Buehler  9/20/48 – 4/01/19

When I remember this I’m not so downhearted with  loss  from all that connects us, the years of back-and–forth translation and critique of 7thcentury stories that made up two of my books and one of yours—just finished. Gone is the coaxing of beings from writings of another time, and the accuracy of the charting. The disagreements and the places I was unable to climb in the tower of refined scholarship, how your stern German roots showed themselves only to move into laughter; your laughter, then my smile of relief.

About the time you started getting ill I took on plant-sitting for my friend Malik. He had six African Violets he brought me in a box. A table was made for them under the window and I began to water the little white trays once a week. When I began to spray and feed them with a brown plant food they bloomed into delicate flowers of purple and several shades of pink. I re-potted them and then had eleven. They thrived. Malik returned and took back six. Then came the fading; the leaves and flowers turned brown. There is no return to the full green leaves.  I inhabit the world of loss.

I especially mean loss that is connected to the flowers that words make. First Master Poet Bill Merwin leaving this world and his palm forest slope in Maui on March 15th, and now you, Art Buehler at a hospice in Tucson. William and Arthur—kings of their craft, translators par-excellence, poet and consummate scholar—mentors to me for all that I have written in the last decades.

At a workshop in Mexico in the nineties I asked Bill Merwin a question I worked on for two hours:


How can we tell what needs to be told? What can you say about the vital shift from personal self-involved writing to a beneficial service to others through the poetic form?

 He answered: “There is no poetry in the Absolute!  Poetry is relational. It starts by being the attempt to say what cannot be said, while prose is something we can say.”

Then he looked at me and recited Shakespeare’s sonnet #18:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day? 

Thou art more lovely and more temperate

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Merwin continued: “You can’t change a word of it. When you get to that kind of intensity, the poet must bear witness to the aspect of life from which poetry comes. It is beyond Shakespeare’s experience. A hologram. Because it is complete it can tell you something of the whole world.”  Life-changing answer.

In that time I had linked my poems together in a rough text that would—years later—become my book Untold, A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad. In 2005 at the San Francisco Sufi Symposium I introduced myself to you, Art. I had read that you taught Philosophy and Religious Studies at Louisiana State University, and had lived in Yemen and with the Naqshbandis of Afghanistan. Plus you received a PhD from Harvard and wrote several scholarly books. I mentioned my writing on The Prophet’s Wives. Could we make time to discuss it?

You just sat down with a pen and began to edit my work. You told me to look for the oldest sources, not contemporary and 20thcentury historians, but the early ones, and continued over the next couple of years to send me crucial information on that. Less than a decade later you graciously invited me to contribute to a book you were writing on Fatima, Daughter of Prophet Muhammad. I flew to Amman, Jordan where you had just moved with your wonderful, beloved wife, Josemi.  We spent a week with a twenty-five volume biography of Fatima. You’d ask what part of her life I wanted to explore, then open that volume and translate from the Arabic, while I wrote down every word.

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Me and Josemi on the roof of the apartment in Amman, Jordan, 2014 where she and Art lived. She worked in the Brazilian Embassy

There was the story of Fatima grieving for her father after his death. The door opened there were three houris (female heavenly beings) who told her—we’re from paradise and have brought you blue date cake. Your father: you were longing for him. We know. ) From Shia Hadith: Musnad Fatima al-Tuyya Sirukani, #252, translated by Dr. Arthur Buehler). I made a poem “Blue Date Cake” published in Women’s Voices for Change November, 2017, and is in my book Fatima’s Touch—which I put out on my own as your work was far from finished in 2015.

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Here’s some lines from one of the rough drafts you sent for me to edit: “A note to the reader:” My goal in writing this book is to provide an opportunity for more people to appreciate Fatima… By honoring Fatima, everyone gets honored. When I started out ignorant of Fatima there was no way to know how much I would end up loving her. If only one person comes to love Fatima after reading this book, I will be happy. May that one person be you.  (March, 2015.)                  This poem brought you to mind recently:

…There was no arrogance about him
No vanity, only the strong backs
Of his words pressed against
The tonnage of a page

His suggestion to me was that hard work
Was the order of each day…

I drank deeply from his knowledge
A cup he gave me again and again
Filled with water, clear river water

He was never old, and never grew older
Though the days passed…

from: Mine Own Phil Levine by Dorianne Laux


In my last conversation with you, that phone call when you gently let me know about the incurable cancer, I had just been walking in a bird reserve, and offered to take you with me on my next outings, and that I’d send my husband Shabda’s bird pictures on email. Isn’t it strange, I said, that both of us were very healthy before the Fatima books. After I finished, right when it came out in the fall of 2016 I became ill for two and a half years, and am just now recovering; that you completed Fatima the Resplendent: The Prophet’s Daughter—as your new book was called as of January 30—that you may join her… as I would like to when it is my time!

poem from Fatima’s Touch by Tamam Kahn

Fatima is described in elaborate detail, in Shia history, crossing the bridge to paradise. On the Day of Resurrection, a herald will call from the middle of the throne: O people of the Resurrection, lower your gaze, for Fatima the daughter of Muhammad is crossing… reference: Suyuti, Musnad Fatima (courtesy of A. Buehler)

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Fatima rides with the emerald houris,
maidens — immortals with transcendent eyes.
High on that she-camel known as al-Adba,
dressed in a thousand sheer garments of heaven,
with beautiful greetings inscribed on each hem.
Five thousand angels go with her as escort
on sapphire horses with pearls in their manes,
joining this liminal moment of glory:
she’s crossing death’s bridge, but it’s wide as a hair.
Gabriel guides her into God’s throne room.
Here, like a bride, she is light-crowned and perfect,
while star-marked galaxies gleam in her hair.
She’s known as the doorway to life-everlasting.
Calling and crying for help, people beg her:
Please help us, lift us right over the gap.

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Thank you Habibi, for your friendship, bold spirit of adventure, and support. May the way open before you, Ya Fattah!  I dedicate this to Josemi Sawczuk

with love, Tamam

Continue reading

Love to Solomon 7/11/1977—1/31/2012

solo blur1 January 30

One-hundred and seventy years ago on this day San Francisco received its name.

AN ORDINANCE WHEREAS the local name of Yerba Buena, as applied to the settlement or town of San Francisco… has been applied from the local name of the cove on which the town is built: therefore to prevent confusion and mistakes in public documents and that the town may have the advantage of the name given on the public map; IT IS HEREBY ORDAINED that the name SAN FRANCISCO shall hereafter be used in all the official documents… appertaining to the town.           W. Bartlett, Chief Magistrate January 30, 1847

On this day in 1848 the first gold nugget was found starting the California Gold Rush. Betsy Ross, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dick Cheney, and Phil Collins were born; and Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. The Beatles gave their last concert in 1969 on the roof of Apple Records, London.

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On this day in 2012, I took Shabda to the airport for his trip to India via Frankfort and had lunch with Ammon in SF, buying a new watch just before we ate at a restaurant a floor down from his office at Microsoft. That night I vaguely remember the phone ringing after midnight but was too sleepy to answer. It rang several times. I woke to the news from the embassy in Bangkok that Solomon had died in a car accident a few hours before.

To me the 30thand 31stof January are the same, as Bangkok is 15 hours ahead of San Francisco. He died as one day slid into the next while I slept in my bed in San Rafael and Shabda flew over the pole.

January 31

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AA Milne died (1956), ending the era of Winnie-the-Poo. This day Meyer Baba and the 11th Dalai Lama passed on. The Apollo Mission launched a rocket to the moon, in 1971, where a few days later, Alan Shepard would hit a ball with a golf club—on the surface of the moon. In 1893 the seatbelt law for drivers and front seat passengers became law. In 1990 the first McDonalds in Russia opened in Moscow. The 31st is Justin Timberlake’s birthday. Philip Glass will be 82 on Jan 31st, 2019.

Solomon will have been gone for 7 years. And yet he is with us in moments of freedom— walking, dancing, snowboarding, bicycling, out on a boat and in the world of music.  I hear from Nicole and Ryan and Ean, from Michelle and Leila, Naomi and occasionally Nikolai in Germany, from Chris, Scott and recently talked with Christian from long ago. I meet a man named DJ Richard Habib who was so happy to learn I was Solomon’s mother. He said he helped organize the memorial for Sol back in March of 2012. Jason Rezaian read from his new book PRISONER from his 544 days in an Iranian Prison, at Dominican in San Rafael a few nights ago. They were at Marin Academy together back in the day. His mother Mary and wife Yegi were there. I felt Solomon in the room with us. His cousins Tiphani, Django, and Runni are in touch. And brother Ammon and his family are very close. Many more who love Solomon are not mentioned here. We love you Solomon!

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Solomon’s 41st birthday —celebrated!

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Solomon’s birthday is July 11. This year he would have been 41 years old. In looking over the pictures I want to share I found this message that came into my heart when we lost him in Bangkok the end of January, 2012. These words were the clearest communication gift to me—to all the friends and family he loved:

My love for you is in everything you do.

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Solomon was always moving Toward the One. Here he is with his big brother Ammon in Lake Tahoe or Mexico way back in the day. …And the more recent is from a couple decades later.P1040243.JPG

Django&SolomonCowboys - Version 2.jpg   P1010667.JPGDjango and Solomon are cousins born exactly 4 months apart – 11/11/77 and 7/11/77

Roll 24 - 4.JPG  Cousin Runni or Rah Vermel


DJing the Giants_MG_3460_display.JPGP1020733.JPG  A favorite evening was time Solomon was voted to be the top DJ at the Black and White Ball. Here he is in front of City Hall in San Francisco. A dance party in every sense of the word—on Van Ness Avenue.


Solomon and his dad. Sweet picture.

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IMG_0434.JPGThe years go by…..None shows the time better than two pictures of Oona, Solomon’s niece, back when she was 3, with the red balloon, now going on 9 years.

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We miss you, Solomon. We are all celebrating your happy birthday.


Inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision

“Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.”   —Frank Lloyd Wright

I’ve always felt an affinity with Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings. His legacy is scattered throughout the Midwest. There were at least 25 homes he designed in surrounding areas north of Chicago where I grew up.

 image  Lloyd Lewis House 1939, Libertyville, Il.

I’ve lived about a mile from Wright’s beautiful Marin Civic Center north of San Francisco for nearly 40 years. In the rainy winter weeks this year, I began to take hikes inside the Civic Center for exercise. The halls are spacious, well lit with a curved glass ceiling, and filled with trees, indoor plants and occasional flowers. The hallway on the ground level runs more than a city block. Two rounds would take me the same amount of time as a neighborhood walk.


This magnificent architectural space is a 3-D art piece. The atmosphere holds a lifetime of Wright’s focus on landscape, light and materials. Civic Center continues to be a work of masterful poetry.

Respect the masterpiece. It is true reverence to man. There is no quality so great, none so much needed now.


July 30, 1957: Architect Frank Lloyd Wright… gets his first look at the hillside site where his Marin Civic Center would be built. “I’m going to do something unusual here. I already have my idea,”* he said. Wright died before it was completed. Construction began in 1960. The first building was completed in 1962, with credit to Marin Supervisor Vera Schultz who came up against political opposition and exercised her leadership. My ex-father-in-law, Frank Haggerty worked there as County Recorder from the beginning. I occasionally visited him around 1970. The Civic Center was only 10 years old. Over the years I was called in for Jury Duty now and then. The Farmer’s Market is in the enormous parking area on Sundays when the building is closed. There is a clear view  of the turquoise roof from the hill above our house


Wright spoke of the arches as “suspended crescents hanging from the floor above making these lovely arches.” His plan he said is: “…a complete synthesis of ground and building which is what organic architecture should mean.”*


I photographed the building and in a dream-like state began to remember Wright’s creations that hold large pieces of my life’s history. The first was in Desbarats, Ontario (pronounced Debra). My father built a cabin 500 miles north of Chicago down the channel from the my mother’s family summer house when he was courting her. I grew up on the rocky channel in summer and as I entered the age where boys were important, discovered the dark, wood house on Sapper Island, the home of the boy in the fast white boat, the object of my focus.

1010816_10201411505266552_1303252536_nThe Pitkin House on Sapper Island designed very early when Wright was still an apprentice

Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials.

 12688240_10208333023193617_4417968860186734040_n Actress Island next to our house. Sapper Island to the left behind Picture Island, Desbarats, Ontario

It took while to get to the place where I was cooking spaghetti in the kitchen there one night, concerned over the length of time to boil the noodles. That was after tender moments on the wicker couch, the house empty except for us. Usually I met with a young group up the river at another house.  The wood was black even in sunlight, with a roof that extended far out from the walls, making it like a fortress on a rock hill with water on three sides. Short but sweet visit. A house like a chocolate bar.


Around 1985 my husband Shabda and I leased a store at 171 Maiden Lane in San Francisco. It was called DREAMWEAVER. We sold sweaters, woven and well-made clothing. Business was good. Chanel came in next door, If we had trouble there was always a Chanel guard I could call. There was an upscale café outside during lunch and across the street was a gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Maiden-Lane

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.


140 Maiden Lane pre-dates the Guggenheim Museum—his other internal spiral design— by a decade.I loved looking out and a few doors down to the odd brickfaçade with no windows, and often carried out photo shoots in front of Wright’s mini-museum. I was there for 15 years, until the landlord doubled the rent and Dreamweaver closed.



Maui, Hawaii


My husband Shabda and I were in Maui in 2017 and met at a golf course for lunch. The dining room held a private party, and the manager apologized and suggested we drive up the hill to the private golf course dining room.  The King Kamehameha Golf Course Clubhouse is located on the West Maui mountains facing Haleakala and easy to see from the road that crosses the island east to west.  As we got closer I began to feel a familiarity in the shape of the building. Once inside, I knew!

44305In 1957, Marilyn Monroe contacted Frank Lloyd Wright about building a home for her and her husband Arthur Miller in Roxbury, Connecticut. Wright expanded the original plans for Crownfield, complete with movie theater, pool, and nursery for the children Miller and Monroe planned to have. But the marriage did not last and Wright died shortly after, leaving the unfinished plans archived….   Until it was developed and completed in 1993. The place became the King Kamehameha Golf Course Clubhouse in 2006. There was a coziness and joy I felt moving inside another Wright creation, seeing how he framed the view from the West Maui Mountains, the slope of the floor.

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In his old age Wright gave this statement: “The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes.”

 *His quotes are from a historical section of Marin Civic Center, posted on the inside walls.


Solomon’s Tribute this year ~ 1/ 31/12


Memorial time again.  Love and Remembrance.

It will be six years since Solomon left this earth in Bangkok; marked this year with a special lit-up full blue moon that looks red, said to be the rarest of the rare, a Supermoonbecause Earth and Moon are as close as they ever get, so the lunar disk appears bigger and brighter than at other times... Also an eclipse. I think about death and life and the love of a mother for her son.  Poetry from Wanting the Moon by Denise Levertov

…The moon. No, a young man walking
under the trees. There are lanterns

among the leaves.
Tender, wise, merry,

his face is awake with its own light…

…music rings from his bells…



Giants stadium, Solomon DJ

I used to know who was who in the Grammys, because Solomon would tell me about the best music, the artists and the edgy tunes. I went to see the Warriors several times a season when he was their DJ. The SF Giants_he DJ’d there.

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His friends would descend on our house, our backyard, the pool—and leave it shiny and cleaner than when they came over. He’d invite me to his gigs like this one in San Diego.  Solomon constantly celebrated life, challenged it on mountain slopes, the wake of a boat, two tires or four. He lived more than fully, he lived COMPLETELY.

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  San Diego hotel roof — with Chris Clouse                                                           

Shabda is in India now, just arrived in Delhi for the yearly celebration of Inayat Khan’s URS. In 1999 Solomon went to India with his Dad, and then traveled on his own. Another time he went for Scott Kaiser’s wedding. Here is an email from the early days of cyber communication that he sent me from there.

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INDIA -at the Diggi Palace with Shabda, Terry Riley (in green) and other musicians and students              


2001 Northern Morocco traveling with the Sufis                                                  

The world was his home. Then there is the family. We think of you often, Solomon. Nicole and Ryan and Samantha moved from 771 Treat Street to Pacific Ave above the bay. We get together and have a good time. Ammon’s girls love Samantha and treat her like a sister when they see her. Sam is 2, Oona is 8 and Maeve is 5.

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Today I was at the bench with Girija, Jon’s mother and took this picture. The last few days have been heavy on my heart, but tomorrow I will honor and celebrate your transition and marvel over how you could have lived such a complete life in just 34 years. You are missed.



Remembering Solomon on his birthday

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Solomon’s birthday. He would have turned 40 on July 11, 2017. In honor of that year I want to bring in Solomon’s love of cars and driving.  When he turned 16, that morning he had me take him to Motor Vehicles to get his license. He had saved $$ for a car. Really.  But Shabda and I said NO. A year of driving, understanding what that meant—then he could get a car. I don’t remember his first car or second, but gradually he upped the price, entered the luxury car world. Audi, then Audi race car when he discovered the speedway in Sonoma—his Blue Lotus—the world of cars was an apple pie with ice cream.

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Mr. Toad:  Outrageously magnificent! Was there ever such a master of motorcars as Toad of Toad Hall?

Mr Toad [singing]: When I’m messing around in cars, the world is apple pie.

Mr. Toad:  Come along! Hop up here! We’ll go for a jolly ride! The open road! The dusty highway! Come! I’ll show you the world! Travel! Scene! Excitement! Ha ha ha!*

Driving on the open road with Solomon was like having your seat up-graded to Business Class on an airline flight.  He had this device that detected police radar, so we could glide at whatever speed seemed right. A year or so after Solomon passed away, I drove home from Mendocino on highway 128 that curves on and on to Cloverdale and is a very tiring drive. I put Solomon’s CDs on and drove to his mix, getting into the swing of the curves and dancing a little in my seat. Soon I was in the movements of the car, the breaking and accelerating with enjoyment. I put in another CD. When I stopped just before highway 101, I was smiling and moving to the beats! It was as if Solomon had taken the wheel and I was along for the ride… just like that.


Solomon went over a cliff at the wheel of our station wagon when he was a one year old. I’d left him in the front seat, standing, holding the wheel. He knocked the car out of park and the emergency break wasn’t on. He not only survived, but without a scratch. 33 years later, in 2012, he died in a taxi in Bangkok, hit from behind. Solomon, we miss you. Your family and many many friends.  Bringer  of  JOY.

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I did get to ride in the Lotus, though not around the track. The seat was hard, and getting in and out was like entering a drawer in a cabinet. There was no room for groceries, but who cares!


A nod to the Warriors, as Solomon was the team DJ for a decade. He even brought the Marin Academy Jazz Band to play for a half-time show probably in 2010. He would be so happy with this years championship. YES!


Golden State Warriors —NUMBER 23—Jason Richardson in 2006 helped lead the Warriors to their first playoff trip in 13 years. He was the master of 3 pointers in those years.

*Quotes from Mr. Toad, Wind in the Willows

Interview with Rebecca Foust, Poet Laureate, Marin County California

We who love poetry and live North of San Francisco are fortunate to have among us an enthusiastic poet and spokesperson raising the flag of words we need to hear. I met Rebecca Foust at the 17th annual West Chester Poetry Conference in June of 2011. We were both happy to be immersing in “Exploring Form and Narrative” with some of the great living formalist poets. This year she was there on faculty leading a workshop on the sonnet and reading her poems!


Questions for Rebecca Foust

TK    You have just begun your work as Poet Laureate of Marin County. How do you see your Poet Laureate role? What is your awareness of your various audiences? What is at the top of your list? Do you have any specific goals?

RF    I see my role as promoting poetry to people living in Marin County in general; my specific goal is to do something to connect Marin’s large and vibrant immigrant community with the rest of the county, and to use poetry to do that. My “theme” is “Poetry as Sanctuary,” and of course I intend the allusion to Sanctuary in its usage in immigrant issues. I am proud of CA for its efforts to be a sanctuary state and for so many of its cities declaring sanctuary status, and I wish more cities and even the county of Marin would adopt this status. Poetry can be a sanctuary, too, in the larger sense: sanctuary from the political turmoil roiling our country, sanctuary from emotional and psychological pain, sanctuary from the pressures and anxieties of contemporary life.

I plan to organize community readings in Marin’s libraries that encourage participants to bring and read a poem (their own or by another poet) on the theme of sanctuary and other themes that will be announced as time goes on. The first of these will be held on Peace Day on September 21 at the Corte Madera Library.

TK    What would you like people in Marin to know about you?

RF    That poetry is not some erudite or high intellectual pursuit walled-off from the general populace. I am first generation college and my parents did not attend college; still, poetry was an important part of my childhood. My mother memorized poems (mostly ballads) and said and sang them when she did her household chores. We had two anthologies on the shelf: Magic Casements, and the Viking Anthology of English Poets. Not much, but enough to ignite a spark that would sustain me through dark times all my life. I hope to remind people that poetry can be a wonderful, positive force in their personal lives and in the political life of this country.

TK   When did you know that being a poet was something that you wanted to spend your time doing?

RF    I’ve always loved reading and saying poems, but those anthologies did not include many women poets, so I did not envision myself a writer of poetry until very late in life. It was partly a confidence thing, or perhaps a not-feeling-entitled thing, but it was not until I ran across a book in a bookstore with a photo of an author who—looked like me—that it occurred to me that my journal scribblings might be something others might want to read. That was in 2007, the year I turned 50, and that is when I began to take my writing seriously.

TK    What advice do you give to would-be writers who feel like they’re too young or inexperienced, they don’t have anything to really say yet?

RF    Flannery O’Connor said anyone who has lived to the age of, I think it was 20, has amassed enough life experience to write. Also, I think that wide and deep reading is a kind of experience, and that people who never travel but read a lot can get legitimate life experience that way. I’d advise these poets to write about what matters to them—right now—and not worry about whether it matters or whether they have much to say, and to read real books instead of watching TV. And also, of course, to live life to the lees in every way they can.

TK    What is it about writing poetry that gives you the most joy?

RF    The act of creating it—that moment when the right word occurs to you and the line falls into place. The most joy happens in those rare occasions when a poem comes to me whole, or almost whole, and all I need do is write it down. But I also feel much joy in revision, when the work yields results and the poem gets better. Finally, for me, reading is just joyous. I was a shy kid and had trouble for years even raising my hand in class—went through three years of law school without volunteering a single comment! Poetry has removed that gag, so much so, that I look forward to and love doing readings now.

TK    Name a favorite poem and why you like it. (something I can make a short extract from)

RF    AE Stallings read a poem at West Chester about the Syrian Refugee crisis called “Empathy” and it has rocketed to the top of my list, along with “Let Them Not Say” and “On the Fifth Day,” two new political poems by our own Jane Hirshfield. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” is one I’ve loved since I was a kid; it’s the only poem I effortlessly memorized, and I wrote about it here: Poetry Daily, 4/21/15, “Poet’s Pick” essay on “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” by William Butler Yeats,  ’%20Picks%202015/0421_Foust.html

TK    What books do you have in your reading pile?

RF    Since I am just back from the wonderful West Chester Poetry Conference, I have a huge stack of books by poets I met there and heard read, including Molly Peacock, Julie Kane, Melissa Balmain, Frank Osen, Meredith Bergmann, John Whitworth, Leon Stokesberry, Sam Gwynn, Mark Jarmon, and others. Ernest Hilbert’s Caligulan just won the Poet’s Prize, and I am really looking forward to digging into that. I’m always reading books for a weekly column I write for an online magazine called Women’s Voices for Change. These Poetry Sunday feature poems by women over the age of 40, and you can find the columns at

TK    If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have three books which would they be?

RF    That’s a tough one. Shakespeare’s collected would be one. Maybe the bible, not because I am religious but because it is so rich with metaphor and allegory. For the third—any one of Jane Hirshfield’s books, I guess the one with the most pages. I love her luminous essays as much as I love her amazing poems. Other books that have been important to me include Larry Levis’ Winter Stars, Louise Gluck’s House on the Marshland and Averno, and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus.

TK    Describe your editing technique: do you read your poems aloud, or do you have a sense for the sound/rhythm internally? Do you have a reader or two you send your poems to?

RF    Absolutely everyone should read their poems aloud during the revision process, and I do it all the time. I also participate in two online and one in-person reading groups who submit one poem from each poet per month. But in the end, no matter what the feedback from these groups, the decision about whether to make a revision is mine and happens usually because my ear tells me to do it. I’m a big fan of “aging” poems, that is, letting them alone for a few months or even years, then coming back to them.

TK    What poetry book should the president read?

RF    What a great question! I fear he does not read books at all, but for purposes of the question I guess we can suppose he will read a book and perhaps get something out of it. I imagine he’d resonate with Frost, a white male poet, and so am tempted to suggest Frost’s book Steeple Brush, just for its inclusion of the amazing poem, “Directive” which has a lot to say about the environmental issues facing us today. Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split is another book he could profit from reading, or Marilyn Nelson’s remarkable crown of sonnets, A Crown for Emmett Till. That book was conceived as a book for young people, and the poems are accessible enough even for a nonreader like President You-Know-Who, but the poems have depth and resonance that make them work for mature readers, and they tell a chapter of history largely left out by our schools. Another is Black Crow Dress, a moving slave narrative written by Roxanne Beth Johnson. To be honest, I’d be happy to hear of him reading any book, let alone one of poetry.

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I close with her comments and a powerful poem I heard Rebecca read at the Marin County Civic Center and again at Falkirk Cultural Center for the Poet Laureate celebration in May.

I wrote this poem Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen in a workshop on the villanelle taught by Molly Peacock at West Chester Poetry Conference. I’d just read Luis Alberto Urrea’s remarkable book, Devil’s Highway, and it resonated with me, so much so that I had trouble sleeping for weeks. How bad must it be, I thought, for people to be willing to risk their lives and especially the lives of their children, to make that terrible and perilous passage to the US? Very bad indeed, worse than anything I’d before conceived. We hear every day about people killed, raped, and traumatized on that journey, and I hoped in the poem to undo some of the habituation that sets in when bad news becomes a regular occurrence in our lives. I want readers to imagine the circumstances that might lead a parent to make that decision, and to imagine what the journey must be like—was hoping to humanize and particularize the story that has become all too familiar in daily news reports. The form offered a way to contain my very strong feelings about the subject.

Requiem Mass for the Yuma Fourteen

Your lungs, now, are leaking moisture to the vampire air. 

Your tears leak into the sky.—      The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Beyond the border they could smell the rain.                                                                                It smelled like freedom. Freedom and home.                                                                            The desert composes its requiem.

The oldest was nearly sixty, his son thirteen.                                                                            One wore new jeans, one carried a comb.                                                                               Beyond the border they could smell the rain.

They got lost; then, they lost their water. The sun                                                                         a furnace blast. Dust. Thirst. Delirium,                                                                                        the desert composing its requiem.

Vampire air. Heat that bakes flesh off bone.                                                                               Hands fretworked with spines, mouths crammed                                                                  with bits of quartz, they smelled the rain.

The boy dreamt saguaro was bread and the stones                                                               were stars. He heard tall, cool-winged seraphim,                                                            rehearsing a Requiem Aeternam.

He made a neat stack of his clothes, and at dawn                                                                       he lay down. He burst like a ripe sunset, a plum.                                                                 Beyond the border, you can smell the rain.                                                                               The desert composes its requiem.


                                                                         First published in Zyzzyva, Fall 2013.



Rebecca grew up Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, a small town surrounded by farmlands and forests, quarries and strip mines. After earning a BA in English, she moved to northern California in 1979 to attend Stanford Law School. A decade of private practice gave way to a decade of advocacy for kids with autism. The year she turned 50, a class offered by a local bookstore inspired her to pick up the writing she had put aside for thirty years. Rebecca went back to school, earning an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson in January 2010.

All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song won the Many Mountains Moving Book Prize and was released in 2010, the same year that God, Seed: Poetry & Art About the Natural World, won the Foreword Review Book of the Year Award for Poetry. Mom’s Canoe and Dark Card, recipients of the Robert Phillips Chapbook Poetry Prize in consecutive years, were released by Texas Review Press in 2008 and 2009. She was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence at the Frost Place and recipient of a MacDowell Colony residence award.

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Fátima, Visions of Mary and the Pope


Fatima and Mary, Mother of Jesus!   Pope Francis is to travel to the Portuguese town of “Fátima” this weekend to canonize two of the three children who had visions of the Madonna there in 1917, foretelling events to come. May 13, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the vision or apparition of the Holy Mother.  1

There is no clear description of the source of the name of the town of Fatima, which leaves out the juicy details that combine the two most sacred and revered women of the Christian and Muslim world, Mary and Fatima.

The Idrisids were a Morroccan Muslim dynasty 8 – 12 century who trace their lineage back to Ali and Fatima. An Arab-Berber military group led by Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed to Gibraltar in 711 and defeated the waning Visgoth rulers. Spain and most of Portugal—known as Al Garb al- Andalus (west of Andalus) was under Muslim rule from 711 until 1249. During that time the town of Fátima received its name.


Within 200-300 years of the initial invasion, much of Spain’s population was Muslim, numbering over 5 million people, many of them people originally from Spain whose ancestors had converted, not immigrants. The Christians and Jews lived along side the Muslims in cities like Cordoba, Granada and Seville.  It was a golden age in Spain.

That a place would be named after Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was natural at that time. One story marks a legend of a Muslim/Christian marriage that resulted in the name. In the map of Portugal, the district of Ourém, north of Lisbon, contains the town of Fátima, population 7,756.  The field known as Cova da Iria is the place where the visions occurred. Millions of people visit this place for blessings.


As I mention in the preface of my book: Fatima’s Touch, Poems and Stories of the Prophet’s Daughter, “…most Americans know her (Fatima al Zahra’s) name only because of a Christian shrine in a small town in Portugal named for Muhammad’s daughter.”

The two women most revered over centuries and in present time are Mary, Mother of Jesus and Fatima, Daughter of Muhammad. The number of daily prayers offered to these two women of history and legend are beyond counting. The Protestant Christians and Sunni Muslims are not as devotional toward Mary and Fatima as Catholics and Shia Muslims, yet Mary or Fatima are regarded by all with great respect and admiration. The Qur’an mentions Mary, Mother of Jesus 34 times! She is considered one of the most pure and honorable women ever born.

Given that magnetic energy, it is not surprising that the veil between the manifest and unseen was parted and messages and predictions passed on from Madonna to children with their open hearts and minds. One of these “children” was Sister Lucia Marto, who died in 2005 at age 97. The other two children died soon after the visions. According to Sister Lucia’s niece, her aunt’s advice was to “…pray the rosary every day… always start it, and if you don’t finish, Our Lady (Mary) will finish it.” 2 [There is a story that when Fatima’s beloved Uncle Hamsa died, she made a chain of beads (tasbih) from the soil of his grave mixed with her tears and used that for prayers.


The children had more than one vision:  <>  According to the children, Mary appeared to them six times that year. In one appearance, Mary said a miracle would occur on Oct. 13, 1917. Initially the children were scolded and even threatened with death for spreading what were considered baseless stories. But pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Fatima on that date and awaited Mary’s appearance. In what came to be called the “Miracle of the Sun,” many reported seeing visions in the sky while others reported miracles of healing. A newspaper of the day reported, “Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced.” 3

Bringing the name of Fatima into the heart of a celebrated vision—with the leader of the Catholic community is a great opportunity to widen the view of these great mothers, historical women, Mary and Fatima. May divisions between religion be replaced with mutual appreciation!





Remembering Huston Smith 1919 – 2016


Mystics, great academics, Tibetans, people young and old from many traditions — Huston is honored! April 1st many gathered to celebrate the life of Huston Smith at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He had lived for 97 years, is remembered with a wide smile, stamping on small-minded thinking.


In 1976 Shabda and I had a chance to travel to Varanasi India. It was a day of finding thanka brocade and the cremation ghats by the Ganges. It was our chance meeting with Huston Smith, then age 57. The world professor with a group of Berkeley students invited us to an Indian music concert that day. We followed him there. His energy was invigorating.

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In the nineties I joined a young group called The Rhythm Society (We are One in the Dance!) that Bob Jesse and my son Ammon founded with visionary electronic tec-lovers. There was an added spiritual perspective. Music, all night dance celebrations and experiences of the sacred took place in the church of St John the Evangelist, the Episcopal church on Julian in the Mission.


Each ANDC (all-night-dance-celebration) several hundred celebrants would join hands and make a positive intention, then the DJs began to play. Most, if not all members were wary of gurus or teachers. But the man they turned out for on special occasions, hosted, read books by, talked about was Huston Smith. When Huston came they sat quietly and listened. When it was question time, Huston would slowly respond, That is a fantastic question! That is wonderful thinking. And he’d beam at the questioner. They read his books and talked about him.


Huston and Shabda 2005

Twenty-nine years after India, we came to his house for tea, arranged by Bob Jesse. The conversation went like this. He spoke slowly with enthusiasm: Tell me everything about you. Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out. Shabda mentioned we had been married for almost 30 years. He said: Well, I don’t know about marriage, but my partner (Kendra) and I have been honing each other’s edges for 60 years and we STILL have rough edges!

When the subject of Sam Lewis came up he said: I think he was the happiest man I ever met. I used to play the Sufi Choir Album in my Berkeley classes. I loved the Sufi Choir. Then he started to sing an old Sufi Choir song: “Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram…”


Sufi music at the memorial

It was that love of Sufi music that brought Bob Jesse to invite Shabda to share music for the memorial at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Saturday April 1. The weather made us giddy with its shine and light breeze. Like a Huston Smith smile—warm sun lit up the day.      <>     Here is a sample of a couple of his books, quotes and shared stories:

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Huston’s book, The Religions of Man (1958) was a standard in college level religion classes for half a century. 1n 1991 it was given the title The World’s Religions. The two versions sold more than 3 million copies!

Huston invited Aldous Huxley to give seven lectures at MIT in 1960 and was at the birth of the psychedelic movement. Huston wrote Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Enthogenic Plants and Chemicals. (entheogen: substance that induces a spiritual experience and is aimed at spiritual development, what Huston calls “God-enabling.”)


“The book’s most interesting essay, “Psychedelic Theophanies and the Religious Life” was written in the late sixties and contains an insightful critique of the psychedelic movement which, well over thirty years later, is still entirely relevant. Huston asserts that psychedelic religious experiences often don’t have any lasting effects because people are more interested in having a religious experience (i.e. getting high) than living a religious life.” <;


Huston and Kendra

Huston helped introduce the Dalai Lama to the U.S., and he supported the Tibetan cause. As his wife, Kendra, said in her words at Grace Catherdal, (Tibetans looked after Huston in his last year,) “they arrived in the house after he died, chanting—with hugs and food and incense. More than 14 hours later, they were still there.”

He had the gift of making everyone around him feel special. * Patricia E. de Jong

He said his favorite way to pray was with a pencil in his hand. * Dr. Philip Novak

And this from his daughter, Kimberly Smith: <> He was a sustaining current of fatherly love. <> When we kids became teenagers, he sang Beatles songs in harmony with us. <> I never once saw him veg on the couch. <> January second, three days after he died, a rosebush outside my window burst into bloom…

The memorial ended with singing (led by Rashida Chase) the song: O Happy Day, from decades ago by Edwin Hawkins.

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With Huston’s long-time friend Gray Henry at the memorial