Ann Riley: in Memoriam


Guruji (Pandit Pran Nath), Ann and Terry Riley

Friday evening, November 27th my beloved friend Ann Riley passed away, surrounded by family in hospice care at her Moonshine Ranch home in Camptonville, CA. In 1974 Shabda took me to Terry and Ann’s newly-purchased ranch for an overnight. As I remember we were warmly welcomed, and slept under the stars on the hill behind the house. Shabda and Terry rose early to sing together, and Ann and I began a soon familiar kitchen tea-talk. She was an excellent listener, with a wide variety of interests, known to break into a smile or laugh easily. Soon we were pregnant together with Gyan and Solomon, so the conversation went down that path. There was the porch with the grapes, and the garden, the pond, and the barn, where the music happened, until the remodel, considerably later.


Both our husbands had another “wife.” The same one. Shabda called Pandit Pran Nath or “Guruji” his first wife, and I was the second wife. Terry and Shabda spent a great deal of time in service to this wonderful Indian singer, who honored each of us. We were a family. Our private family occasions were times when the guru stayed with us and music was everywhere. The public ones were concerts, in the San Francisco area, at Mills College, in The Garlings’ house, or in New York City at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, in New Delhi and places I no longer remember. After Guruji died, Terry and Shabda went to India for the next four years, then as time passed we saw less of each other, but in the last decade, Gyan, a brilliant guitarist, performed with Terry, and we’d go to see them whenever they played in the Bay Area. Birthdays. The decades stretched out.

New Years Eve was a time when Ann and Terry and I sang standards way into the night years ago. Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…

My 50th birthday I spent as an overnight with several close women friends. Ann was among them. Shabda’s 60th we were together by Donner Lake. Weddings, funerals,  family gatherings. For my last birthday party they appeared with a sweet gift. It was a colored gourd with an OM, a Buddha crowned with flower patterns hand-painted in gold, white, green and brown. Inside was a card with birds wearing party hats and the message in Ann’s tidy script “We love you, Tamam.”

This morning, in meditation there was Ann all covered in light and I knew, before the phone call that the line that held her here had stretched thin. She was already gone beyond the body. I searched my poetry books for the right words to honor her. She liked Naomi Nye, wrote me in 2011 she had bought her poems.

from Fold:

I am partial to poems about

little rumination, explosions of minor joy,

light falling on the heads of gentle elders.

Also the way pampas grasses look toward

the end of summer, shining, shaggy…


<><    <><     ><>

I like the melancholy tone of this one—

From One of the Butterflies by W.S. Merwin

…I cherish

only now a joy I was not aware of

when it was here although it remains

out of reach and will not be caught or named

or called back and if I could make it stay

as I want to it would turn to pain

<><    <><     <><


Ann and Shawn, Alia Meyer, Shabda and me at our wedding, 1976

Ann, dear friend, what a beautiful life you have shared! Married to Terry for 60 years, friend to many, teacher to many, mother and grandmother, you will be missed. You will bring love and great benefit wherever you go.



Fairness isn’t always so….

unfair grafitti2

“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.””I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”― Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbs

“Maybe yes, maybe no, fairness isn’t always so…” These words I stuck on my fridge from my friend Hayat Rubardt started this.

Unfair: not based on or behaving according to the principles of equality and justice: unjust · inequitable · prejudiced · biased · discriminatory · one-sided · unequal · same-test.png - Version 2uneven · unbalanced · partisan · partial · skewed · undeserved · unmerited · uncalled for · unreasonable · unjustified  (

Frequently parents hear the voices of their children age four and up saying, “That’s NOT FAIR!” My granddaughter, Oona, cries big tears when she says the word, UNFAIR, followed by a sound that explodes like an explanation mark that hurts her mouth. There can be a kick or something thrown. Fairy tales in children’s books, often begin with unfairness and triumph at the end, like Cinderella restoring fairness as her foot slides into the glass slipper. A poem should show, not tell, as in this beautiful section by Naomi Shihab Nye from So There:

Because I would not let one four-year-old-son

Eat frosted mini-wheat cereal

Fifteen minutes before dinner

He wrote a giant note

And held it up

While I talked on the phone


Then he wrote the word LOVE

On a paper

Stapled it twenty times

And said


∇  ∇  ∇  ∇  ∇    ∇  ∇  ∇

My father was a lawyer and his father was too. I remember he gave a good deal of attention to the word “fairness,” attentive to how it felt to my sister and to me. So did my son Solomon. When I told him it was too stormy for him to drive the car (he was 15 and had a permit) He countered with how it was more than unfair, unreasonable even, followed by words for the defense, “Don’t you want me to be able to drive in all weather conditions?” My logic rarely stood up to his, so I said, “It doesn’t FEEL right to me.”

“You could say to the universe: this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.” Terry Pratchett, Interesting Time

The Dictionary “Fair” moves from “free from bias” to “likely” to “bright and sunny” to (#22) “Archaic: A beautiful or beloved woman.” Fair meaning “beautiful” is an old German word of origin: fagar.  “Mirror, mirror on the wall,/ who is fairest of them all?” Poster - My Fair Lady_04The answer was enough to drive one woman to poison another. FAIR can mean light in color, especially blond: fair hair. It means light complexion: fair skin. Not so good in an era of equality for women. Unfair, in fact. Although Audrey Hepburn was a brunette…..

I spent hours recently going through scores of poetry books, looking for poems using FAIR or UNFAIR. Here’s one. Gerald Stern in his poem The Dove’s Neck has “Fair or not fair” on the top line of the second page in an uncorrected proof of his book, LAST BLUE. I was lucky to find them, although to take a piece of a Gerald Stern poem is like extracting a tooth. It works so well with the other words and ideas it seems wrong to mess with the over-all structure.

…I lay in a field of daisies and clover… practically

sleeping, a short drive east of Ohio, near the abandoned

coal mines, half a century

after the grass had hidden

the disgusting earth including,

fair or not fair, the anger

for all I knew, underneath that

field which seemed to tilt

in such a way that stretching

my arms and legs the flowers were

always there and the wind

was always blowing, one of

my bitter personal heavens.

 ∇   ∇   ∇   ∇ ∇ ∇   ∇ ∇ ∇


Although I know it’s unfair, I reveal myself one mask at a time.      Steven Dunn.

I’ll end with a poem from a favorite moment in my life. I was at San Miguel Poetry Week years ago, in small Q & A with W.S. Merwin. I had never met him before, or heard him read, although I read his poems for years. I raised my hand and asked how we can tell what needs to be told. He looked right at me and recited this sonnet by William Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

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

Amazing garden! - Version 2

After those Creative Hours….


I’ve “finished” my poetry book on Fatima, daughter of Prophet Muhammad. There still remains the fine edits and that page (paragraph? sentence?) where you mention all the poems in this collection have been published. All the awards, etc.

Now there’s that reading I’ve been wanting to do, the tidy pile of books by my bed-table… outside exercise such as strolling the trails on Mt. Tam with my friends, the ones I’ve been saying for five years — can’t, working on a new poem…. The movies I’ve been wanting to see, but put haven’t. Poetry came first.

What about my prayers to let me just finish this book before death or a major health concern interrupts my concentration? Do other writers do that?

At this point I’m still alive and just can’t concentrate to make those minute, squirrel-y corrections. I can’t see either the forest or the trees. Or smell the roses—which aren’t in the forest, anyway.

Oh, yes, I remember this territory from my first book. The Valley of the Shadow of What-Did-I-Waste-the-Last-Ten-Years-Doing? This time it was five years.

Then there was my husband’s cousin’s wife, who mentioned her book to me. The one that took a week to write back in the 70’s, translated into dozens of languages, sold over a million copies, and has supported her for years. She told me this at our kitchen table. That small, self-help book. No endnotes or bibliography. Simple. A great success!

I spent a jittery weekend compiling possible open submissions posted on the internet. The names are changed— well, you understand.

bubble book

Collision Press: The winning manuscript will receive a cash prize of $1000, publication in the next summer, and a complimentary copy of the winning book. The judge reserves the right to declare no winner. Must be postmarked by September 30. Simultaneous submissions are allowed. Non-refundable reading fee of $25.Unspoken message: due to the heavy volume of submissions, and the enormous slush-pile, the chance of our Judge even seeing your manuscript is very slim.

Cataplexy Press (I looked up the word: Pathology. a condition characterized by sudden, brief attacks of muscle weakness sometimes causing the body to fall helplessly, that is usually triggered by strong emotion) Our Submissions process is under the guidance of an international team put together by the former editor of a prominent Israeli publication. At this time, it is best not to mention the journal name or hers. She has promised to be fair and unbiased.

Fat City Press does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Submissions. Send a Book Proposal only. After 6 months if we are interested, we will notify you to send the book manuscript. (Spoken message) You should keep in mind we have a long line of books already scheduled for publication.

Grannie and Gramps Press. Finally, a publisher who appreciates you as an older writer. We welcome your submissions, but ask that you contact us only if you are in good enough physical shape to attend readings, and publicity events should we publish your book. Must be postmarked by August 30. Simultaneous submissions are allowed. Non-refundable reading fee of $20.

If you are about to write your first book, don’t let this discourage you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though it may just be an LED. Keep the Faith (KTF).

Here's to delicious poems!

Here’s to delicious poems!

DJ AM played it first

August 1st, 2015 edit:


Last night I went to see the film As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM, created by Kevin Kerslake. This was an emotional journey for me as AM or Adam Goldstein, had been a mentor for Solomon. He was at the top of the DJ world six years ago this month, when he died, but the Berkeley theater was half-empty, and when the woman who introduced the film asked the audience who knew about this man, only about 15 of us raised our hands.

The film points out what a genuine, heartfelt friend, genius musician, and man-with-a-mission to help others give up addictions. Sadly for me, the movie stresses AM’s relationship to drugs much more than his wizardry at the turntables. I wanted to see and hear parts of a set, instead of seeing the girls wiggling to his music. The filmmaker was clearly an observer, not a fan.

Here is my blog on DJ AM from 2009, after I saw him play with Travis Barker, the drummer, at the Mezzanine just before the plane crash when he was burned and on pain killers and anti-anxiety drugs that let to his death August 28, 2009.

Original 2009 post:


He’s gone now, connecting tsunamis of sound in heavenly gigs. DJ AM, (or Adam Goldstein) died last week in New York City. His was considered the “top” of his genre of Mash Up DJ music. I like the best of anything musical and he was it, so here is the tribute.

It was April, 2006 and my son Solomon was playing San Francisco’s Mezzanine Club south of Market Street – a very  high profile DJ event. He and Guitarist-Songwriter Chris Clouse were opening for DJ AM and Travis Barker, drummer for the group Blink 182. Each duo was a good match: a live musician and a DJ.

DJ AM and DJ Solomon

DJ AM and DJ Solomon

Solomon had been educating me in his niche music for sometime. Years before, he took me to see the film Scratch about the birth of the rhythmic and inventive art of manipulating vinyl in new ways.  Now Solomon, like DJ AM, was on the cutting edge of digital, and he had offered me mixes of AM, so I could see what he could do. I listened on my i-phone and liked what I heard.

My friend Cynthia and I passed a line that snaked around the block for the sold out event. At the door we were given passes and entered to find Solomon already at work on the stage, alone. He was warming up the crowd. Chris would join him as soon as the room filled. AM and Travis were due at around 11. An hour later I stood on a balcony wondering if it could hold under the weight of the gathering crowd.IMG_0070_2

Somehow Ean found us and took us backstage for the last 20 minutes of and Chris and Solomon’s set. Then AM and Travis took the stage. The crowd was screaming and the volume was turned up way above ear safety. My heart began to experience an a-rhythmical take-over by bass tones. It occurred to me that I was in a territory where anyone up to twenty years younger would fear to tread. I had stepped over the line of audial sanity and entered something not unlike the film Close Encounters … standing beneath the gigantic Mothership as it lands… with DJ AM at the controls.n500248739_1302718_4856

As a writer my job is to translate his music into words. But that is impossible.I offer my own sample 45 second flash of AM and Barker at Mezzanine when I can get this page to up-load it. He is all over You Tube. Here are some clips:

If you want to feel like you are with the band with reasonable volume, try this cut with Travis on drums– recommended by Solomon – (T-Mobile Sidekick Launch Party, Paramount Studios, May 2009):

Stunningly unusual recent stuff – (BFD Festival, June 2009)  you mostly can’t indentify the tunes. He’s moved into musical Abstract Expressionism of beats and short lines, not even dance music – though you can’t stay still. It’s like he’s distilled early mixes into this elixir which is internal and physical and new.

Mystery Mix:  Scroll down to DJ AM “Mystery Mix” part 1 and 2. Good download for the car.

DJ Qbert – tribute:

I like a couple minutes of a piece recorded outside the loud performance world and nailing the likes of an orchestration of the cool 80’s? song Bette Davis Eyes set to what??  And Jump (for my love)!!

For me his signature opener is Dance to the Music, with “inda da, do do do, inda da do do” –and fast scratches over it. I feel really sad about this loss. DJ AM you won’t be needing those special ear-protectors every DJ mom wants her son to wear… Heavenly tunes to you!1190762389.61663.56339

Solomon’s 38th Birthday, July 11

Sol 3

SolomIt’s been three and a half years since Solomon left us. Tomorrow, July 11, marks his 38th year. Thinking about giving birth on that cool evening, with fog blowing pieces of cloud just above our valley, streaming East and North, as I labored in our room on Montecito Avenue, on the bed with the pale orange flowers. It was a quick easy delivery. Shabda sang to him.

Today, all those years later, I am in a kind of pre-labor moment — with my new book. Five years of writing poems. They are —54 of them— stapled and in my travel bag, awaiting a 7AM flight to Boston and a short flight to Martha’s Vineyard, for a manuscript conference, discussing what is next – editing, ideas beyond my desk, and that creative incubation, research, drinking cups of tea, printing out drafts.

bed n booksT2 - Version 3

Then New York City—Solomon would have loved this. The Wide Shore: A Journal of Global Women’s Poetry, where I have a poem in the current issue, has borrowed an (the?) events room at Poet’s House below Tribeca in Manhattan, for 6 women poets to read our poetry on Friday, July 17th. I always dreamed of reading a poem about the first women of seventh century Arabia at Poet’s house in New York.

So this will be the birth of my work, made possible by Shabda’s enthusiastic support in all ways. Tomorrow, the date July 11th, is full of so many memories of beloved Solomon, DJ Solomon, Solomon who inspired, led his family members and his many, many friends on continuous adventures outdoors and in clubs and halls. Celebrating life fully!


And BIRTH. Nicole and Ryan are expecting a little girl the beginning of October. We are all over-joyed. Solomon is too, I’m sure of it. Looking down from the clouds, smiling that gap-toothed grin. Happy Birthday, Sweetie.

Solomon in India years ago

Solomon in India years ago

DJ'ing in the Napa countryside

DJ’ing in the Napa countryside

DJ'ing the DeYoung Museum, Fridays

DJ’ing the DeYoung Museum, Fridays

 Bangkok, February, 2012

Bangkok, February, 2012


Celebrating Grandma Gloria 3/26/21 – 6/12/15

It isn’t what I do, but how I do it. It isn’t what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it… Mae West


Gloria Gonzales Barreto Haggerty Byrne I am honored and joyful to have known you. Grandmother of my son, Ammon, great-grandmother of my granddaughters, Oona and Maeve.



Gloria came from Cameguey, Cuba a middle child of 6. Deep in a childhood of poverty, she joined the circus, then became a dancer. Her talent took her to America where she toured and was in the movies as a ball-room dancer, like Ginger Rogers. There is a film clip of her dancing in the clouds in a diaphanous dress, her blond hair flying, beautiful, graceful, mesmerizing.

She got a place in the mission of San Francisco, sent for her 13 year old sister, Carmen, and took care of her. Meeting Frank Haggerty changed her life. A jazz guitarist, he played with Tommy Dorsey, had made recordings with Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme. They married and suddenly, she was a Marin County housewife, then a mother in the 1950’s— with 3 kids. In those days, there was no way she could continue to perform or open dance studio, as she would today. She became a citizen September 7, 1955. She was a wife and mother.

I met Gloria in 1969, 1970. She always looked great. Spent time on her beautiful face and hair. She was never a housewife. She was the mother of my boyfriend, Terry. We came over to tell her I was pregnant, so she was going to be a grandmother. She was thrilled with the news, but then husband, Frank came home, having had a few drinks, in an ugly mood, and still mad at Terry for being a Rock Guitarist — music he despised. He started shouting at us, and I remember Gloria yelling: “Run Terry, Run!” We high-tailed it to the car and screeched out of there. Later I made friends with Frank, he liked me and enjoyed being a grandfather.

Grandma G + Isa - Version 2

I gave birth to Ammon in the cabin in Lagunitis that Terry and I shared. We had a midwife as well as Dr. Whitt. It was the beginning of home delivery birthing. Gloria held my hand for hours with such understanding and sweetness. She knew what labor was like. The first words Ammon heard from her, as he was born were “You are going to make some girl very happy!”

She would come pick him up in her red ford truck and take care of him for a few hours, as I now do for Ammon’s girls. She would sing A roo roo platanous verdes, a roo rook ay ah-rah-jo and trucked and he trucked and e fatty-fat-pig, home again home again jiggity jig, rocking him, smiling her infectious smile.

After a couple of trial separations, she left Frank and began to live her own life. I love this story. Gloria was in her early 60’s. She was at the Forest Lake Golf Club and she saw a handsome man across the room. “Oh, my God!” she said. “What’s wrong?” said the bartender. “Look at that man standing over there.” The bartender introduced them, and Jim Byrne asked her to dance. They dated for two years, and just before Thanksgiving, when he had been a widower for 10 years, Gloria said to him: “I love you. By now you should know if you want to marry me or not. No matter what, I’ll always be your friend.” One night his son, Jimmy came over for dinner. “Jim said to him: “Jimmy, Gloria and I are going to get married.” That was it!

Ammon, Grandma, Jim and Laura ant Ammon and Laura's wedding

Ammon, Grandma, Jim and Laura ant Ammon and Laura’s wedding

We attended the wedding with the Haggerty clan, along with Jim’s five children and their families. The family photo at the church showed dozens of relatives. What a celebration! The next 26 years were the happiest years of her life. She had met and married the man of her dreams. They traveled to Europe, Hawaii and other places.  They played lots of golf. Gloria, a natural athlete, hit a hole-in-one. Then another. Jim died in 2011. She missed him terribly, but in her late 80’s still played golf and even walked with me around her hiking lake. She moved to Brookedale Place in Northern Santa Rosa in 2012, and made many friends there. Her daughter Isa, spent a great deal of time with her as they had always been close and even traveled to Cuba together once. Isa became her main caretaker. As she became troubled with illness, her spirit remained positive, an example to us all.  Her wit continued to make us all laugh.I was fortunate to be at her bedside the day before she died, and felt that she would be welcomed with choruses of angels to the other side.

Grandma, Isa and Maeve, 2014

Grandma, Isa and Maeve,

There were rose petals on one of the greens at the golf club at her memorial there last weekend. She asked Isa to sprinkle her ashes on the golf course at the first hole near the stream. She hated hitting the ball in the stream, but, with characteristic humor, wanted her ashes spread there so she could watch other people losing their balls in the water! She also asked Isa to keep the family together.

Oona and Grandma, 2015

Oona and Grandma, 2015

A few months ago I took Oona, her great granddaughter to see her at Brookedale. She was 93 years old.

Oona was 5. It was such a sweet moment to be in the room, witnessing the ancestral ladder linking, Gloria, Terry, Ammon, and Oona— 4 generations. May Oona and Maeve inherit her resilience, bravery, athleticism, loving kindness, beauty, joy and quick unforgettable one-liners. Today I opened the envelope I brought back from the memorial and out fell a charm with the words, “Grandma.” I am wearing it. Thank you Isa.

I love you Grandma.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.…  Anais Nin

Poet, Phil Levine ~ Jan. 10, 1928 – Feb. 14, 2015



Phil Levine died on  Valentine’s Day.  How sad.  How dis-heartening!

I feel strongly about this wonderful poet, this Central Valley-California poet. A great man. An important writer. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his poems, and served as Poet Laureate of the United States 2011-2012.

I wanted to remember all the moments I spent Phil Levine. When I was with him, it was as if he had all the time in the world and we were old friends— even though we weren’t. I chatted with him at his poetry reading in Berkeley about the things that disturbed me about the Bay Area poetry scene. The fragmentation. He agreed. Said he was more comfortable reading in LA or New York. I had a leisurely talk with him one day, probably 20 minutes or more, while waiting for the shuttle bus at a hotel near The Dodge Poetry Fest. He wanted to know what I thought about poetry. He listened.    That’s what I mean.

He had just given an unforgettable reading of They Feed they Lion in a large tent at Dodge the year the Poetry festival met at Duke Farms in the mud— 2004. I remember how he broke-open-the-night with that poem, as I huddled in the hay bales in the cold and wet. Here’s an excerpt. Phil always took his time writing “narratives,” often more than a page or two in length.

They Feed they Lion
Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,Out of black bean and wet slate bread,Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,

Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,

They Lion grow.


Out of the gray hills

Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,

West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,

Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,

Out of the bones’ need to sharpen and the muscles’ to stretch,

They Lion grow.


Earth is eating trees, fence posts,

Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,

“Come home, Come home!” From pig balls,

From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,

From the furred ear and the full jowl come

The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose

They Lion grow. …


…From my car passing under the stars,

They Lion, from my children inherit,

From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,

From they sack and they belly opened

And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth

They feed they Lion and he comes.


Phil Levine by artist, Jon Friedman

Phil Levine by artist, Jon Friedman


His poems are lean and strong. Every word is working hard. He was so unassuming in person, yet seemed not to suffer fools. I wrote to him in 2005, offering to drive to Fresno if I could study with him— to tighten up the poems I was writing for my book, Untold. He wrote me back immediately, and said he wished me well, but had no interest in taking another student. “I have a good beginning on a new book, one that I believe in, but at my age it takes a lot out of me to write decent poems.” He was 77 at the time. Six years later he was Poet Laureate.

In 2012 He read in San Francisco at the JCC. I was there. Here is the link:

*Richard Tillinghast shared this wonderful video on Facebook:

His dry sense of humor, his wonderful poems. Enjoy.

Phil, we will miss you.


Solomon— Three Years! 7/11/77 — 1/31/12

Hollye pics 4-03 001Three years ago today, I’d driven Shabda to the airport for a flight to India, and stopped in San Francisco to have lunch with Ammon. I bought a Hello Kitty watch while waiting for him, and remember regretting I hadn’t seen Solomon since Christmas. Solomon and his fiancé Nicole had arrived in Bangkok where he was being hosted as an Internetional DJ.

Solomon and Ryan beautiful tune!

Solomon and Ryan

Solomon and Ryan

My family 2012. Our lives were about to change in deep and painful ways. Today, I am aware of the countdown to sometime late tonight, when 3 years ago, Solomon was killed in a car crash on a bridge in Bangkok. I look out my window at the Pacific ocean off the coast of Costa Rica and see two yellow-orange butterflies dancing in the trees where the Howler Monkeys were playing yesterday. IMG_0351 - Version 2I think of Matthew Dickman’s beautiful poem called “Grief.”

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla/  you must count yourself lucky./  You must offer her what’s left/  of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish/ you must put aside / and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,…  She has been here before/and now

 I can recognize her gait/
as she approaches the house…<>

In the poem, she takes you in her arms and talks about the dead and those, like me, who are among the living.

I catch glimpses of Solomon today with his wonderful smile, the way he used to touch his nose with the tip of his tongue. His slow, comfortable-with-himself walk into the kitchen when he would visit us, after laying his cell phone and keys on the place at the top of the stairway. Now my warm hug is from the purple gorilla.

 So much has happened, Solomon, in these 3 years! You have a niece named Maeve you never met. She was 4 months from birth when you left us. Now she’s going on three. Oona, your other niece, asked me about you the other day, when she saw a picture in my office. I showed her a picture of you carrying her on your shoulders on our last Christmas together. You should see the Bay Bridge! And the Golden State Warriors! Number ONE in the NBA. They are 36 wins/ 7 loses!!! You would have really loved Pharrell Williams’ Happy, and most of the stuff on his album, Girl.

Solomon as a toddler– looks like a DJ

Solomon as a toddler– looks like a DJ

The other day I drove to the East Bay and listened to your favorite music. One after the other, the songs arranged themselves from hundreds on my I-phone I just called to say I love you … Stevie Wonder, Celebrate by Kool & the Gang, the band you opened for opened for at the San Francisco Black + White Ball probably in 2011.<> On a painful note, your friend, Jason Rezaian, has been imprisoned in Iran since July 22. Nothing so far has gained his release. Any strings you could pull from the other side would be appreciated.

I still remember your words that came to me soon after your death. Take me with you, Mom, in all that you do. I think of that when I’m on a curvy road — your love of driving— when I play the djembe drum, and when I give a talk, like I did at the Asian Art Museum a couple weeks ago — I remember how you held the space for people to have a good time. Miss you, Baby, and love you — forever and ever!



Dreaming Robert Bly

bly3I had a vivid, delicious dream about POET, Robert Bly. I have taken classes from him and met him briefly. In the dream we were friends. We were in the car, Shabda, Robert and I, and I was crying with delight and saying, why did it take us so long to connect? He and Shabda had just sang a little, harmonizing some beautiful piece of music and it opened my heart, and woke me up, so I could remember the dream and write it down. We had been at a conference, somewhat boring, and Robert wasn’t surrounded with eager people — he and Shabda were just laughing over spiritual jokes.

RBly-photo_t479The clock said four AM. I went back to sleep and dreamed Robert into my suddenly expanded writing room… He was just smiling, as if we had all the time in the world, sitting there in a big comfortable chair that holds him in his vastness – not large size, I mean his energy body, though he is taller than I am. I remember him bending slightly as we walked together at the Dodge Poetry Fest years ago, and I asked him, “Tell me something I need to know about writing ghazals.” “Exagerate,” he replied. “Don’t say 100 birds, say a thousand or a million.”

 I had my back to him, struggling to find my favorite poetry books— the ones I felt we both liked. In the dream my books were scrambled, not where I keep them in sections. I kept mentioning authors—

Mahmoud Darwish If I Were Another, with the beautiful translation by Fady Joudah: Like a Hand Tattoo

…He said: We’ll walk even to the last fraction

Of life, even if the paths let us down.

We’ll fly, as a Sufi does in the words… to anywhere.

I mentioned Bly’s Ghalib translations: Lightning should Have Fallen on Ghalib. “Why would you smile so mischievously in my dream?”—Ghalib. The lightning struck ME— Tamam! I am telling him how I found a beautiful quote from Ghalib and posted it with pictures of his shrine I had just visited in India. In my haste, I forgot to mention the translator’s name. I wrote an introductory note to Michael Sells that week. He replied that he loved my translation of Ghalib…. I wrote him back excusing my oversight and knew I never heard from him again. <>   Bly looked at me and said nothing.

Where were those books? Anything by Shahid Ali. From Kazim Ali:

Dear Rumi
…Dear Shams-e-Tabriz, I do not mourn
You spindle me, sun-thorn to the sky.

Adonis: An Introduction to Arab Poetics. I put that in his hand.

Oh, Robert, soon to be 88 years on this planet, I love your words! Everyone over 60 should read Talking into the Ear of a Donkey. Words of a poem from that collection:

Frogs After Dark:
…We’ve heard the fiddlers tuning their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
We’ve heard her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.
There is some slowness in life that is right for us.
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

Here’s the great thing about dreams— you pull at a corner of the dream sometimes, and it opens. Writing it down gives you the sound, taste, smell of the dream— just a whiff, but in this case, that’s enough. Thank you, Robert Bly.

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Inhabiting the Poem


Among contemporary poets, I appreciate those who are willing to be vulnerable with the spiritual power of their poetry, who are clearly writing in the service of a larger goal.       Annie Finch

Phone cord, zip-line, hairlines, nylon, flip-flops fly off, mannequins, your tits — and these are from poems in two well-respected poetry journals. My eyes glaze over after the first sips of cleverness. When there is substance, I need to say the words out loud to get the music, rather than the smart style: “pork-pie hat,” “scatter-shot,” “fleshy wrecking ball.” I can’t live inside this writing — even for a short time. Not one of the poems that used these words give me that moment of an exhaled “…oh!” like this does:

 The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers…
                                    (Saint Francis and the Sow, Galway Kinnell)

Although this was written over 30 years ago, before the speed and short attention span of the Age of the Internet, it is timeless and open to the reader’s reflection. With his recent death, we have lost a poet who will be well-remembered. <>

 From another poet writing today:

 …You built a tower to god out of bricks and mud      
when you should have built it with breath
Wings will not carry you skyward
Your own body is the only mosque you need
The tongue in your mouth the only rock
From which you could launch yourself into heaven
                                    (Promisekeeper, Kazim Ali)

Kazim is a widely published contemporary American poet and associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. I appreciate his beautiful, musical writing. <>

…May language’s language, the silence that lies
under each word, move you over and over,
turning you, wondering, back to surprise.
                        (Blessing on the Poets, Annie Finch)

 Annie has had a strong influence on my work lately. I have been in dialog with her as  I dig deeper into form in poetry. As I write poems that call up the life-rhythms of 7th century Arabia, I am pulled toward metrics. Drumming reinforces rhythmic language. Poets like Annie Finch, A.E. Stallings, and Marilyn Hacker are my green oasis in formal writing, as they have made metrical poetry not only “new,” and brilliantly hidden in its craft, but as bright and alive as sunrise in desert sand dunes.

 More from Annie: When I experience good free verse I feel as if I am a spirit larger than the poem, contemplating it; when I experience good formal verse, I feel that I am a body smaller than the poem, inhabiting it. It’s more of a rhapsodic, physical experience. I am really enjoying reveling in the complex and variegated landscape of the physical aspects of poetry these days. And in general, more and more, I consider poetic form as a powerful spiritual tool; to write in a truly difficult form provides a priceless education in humility, patience, flexibility, self-discipline, faith, and non-attachment! 1

T&M4 This from an interview with Marilyn: I like the tension that comes from the diction of ordinary speech playing against a form. When there is an internal or external form to be worked with and worked against, unexpected and illuminating things can happen in the piece of writing.2

Sometimes I feel isolated as I practice accented and unaccented syllabics, like piano scales, focused that fluency will appear. But then last spring I won honorable mention in a literary competition in the sonnet category. A journal or two is taking my formal poems. This one was in the Women and Food issue of Adana. [It is re-edited here.] The pattern is in eleven beats: Long short, long short short, long short, long short, long short = /u /uu /u /u /u (Hendecasyllabics). No substitutions.

Fibs of vision, no food— no water. Children
cried, while little ones nursed, not even drinking.
Blurred it, blotted it out— reflection, logic.
Nothing worked, due to raw-edged hunger, famine…
…Daylight rubbed all those onion eyes for water.
Twilight pushed on a shovel, served the resting place.
            (Planned Famine, Mecca around the year 617 )

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Annie and Kazim at Moe's Bookstore

Annie and Kazim at Moe’s Bookstore

For more on Formal Poetry see A Poet’s Ear: A Handbook of Meter and Form, Annie Finch U. of Michigan, 2013.

  1. (also the first quote)
  2.  Interview Marilyn Hacker— Interview with Karla Hammond Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 5, #3, Autumn 1980.