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The last place my Mom and Dad lived in before he died was out in the country, near Lake Fork, Texas. There was a big plate-glass window in front of which Dad had hung bird feeders. Among the many birds who winged in were cardinals, crimson feathers startling, vivid, unforgettable. Whenever I see cardinals, real or otherwise, I think of Dad, I think of that place, a home place for him, a vision he’d worked toward all his life. And I think of my mother, too, acquiescing to him, sharing his dream. What was hers?

In Pier One yesterday, caught like a magpie by all the Christmas glitter and glow, I saw LED candles with tiny red cardinals on them. I had to stop and touch the glass. My throat got tight as I thought of my father, but also of my mother, 13 years down with Alzheimer’s, bedridden, incontinent, unable to turn over or ask for what she wants, able only to croak sounds and smile her occasional but still lovely smile. I didn’t buy the candle. I bought five small, red clip-on cardinals, glitter on their tails and shaken like salt in among their color. Foolish, I thought as I checked out. She won’t see them.

But today I go to place them in her room, among the bits of holiday tinsel I put up even though she doesn’t know. My heart hurts, my throat is tight. I think I summoning Dad to bring her on home.





Alpine: July I’m on the wrong side of the tracks, where the hotel and saloons were when Big Bend’s cattle were herded to railroad tracks where trains took them north. The hotel has gone to ruin, two walls left. The saloons have moved across the tracks to the gringo side of town and are called bars. Here houses are weatherbeaten. Blocks have empty spaces where mesquite and desert petunias grow and sheds and barns fall in. We face a hill. Sounds travel. The train. Music.

It’s late twilight. I hear singing. I follow the sound. Valensuela Reunion 2014 a handmade sign taped to metal carport says, and beyond is the band. Mariachi, the accordion, the guitar, the fiddle, and the nasal, heartfelt singing. Someone is grilling. A woman sits in one of a row of empty folding chairs listening. The man grilling sees me, waves me forward. No. The woman turns and waves for me to come in, also.

IMG_1006Why not? I think. I go in and sit down beside Tina, who explains the band is practicing for the party tomorrow night. You need to come, she tells me. The man grilling shakes my hand and tells me his name is Jaime. Come to our party tomorrow, he says. I sit in the long summer twilight listening to Mexican love songs, their wistfulness rising to the hill. It’s neither lonely nor strange to be sitting in this back yard with people I don’t know. It’s Alpine.

research trip….day 1

I’m in another world, literally and figuratively.

IMG_0354The train station at Maastricht. I miss one of my train connections, but after panic subsides realize the trains run like clockwork and just get on one that names the next town I need to be in. Three train changes later, I’m proud of myself and the kindness and English of strangers.

IMG_0362The view from my hotel window. Heart of the city. Narrow, narrow streets. Houses old in a way we have no idea of.

IMG_0368The statue of d’Artagnan on the edge of what was once fortress walls. Fruit trees are blooming everywhere in the city, and all is spring’s green, a special shade.


I am taken by my new historian friend on a foot and car trip around the outskirts of the city, so that he can show me how it looked to the French in 1673. We end up in a vineyard, city in sight, because this is where he thinks a famous portrait was posed from. I am reeling with fatigue, but the hosts of the vineyard, friends of his in a d’Artagnan society they all belong to, give us a complimentary glass of wine. The courtyard and buildings are all old stone. We are in the country though the church spires of Maastricht can be seen. Dinner is late, eaten on the busy market square, table after table open to the night, the sun still up even though it’s past 8. I stagger to bed filled with thoughts of churches where long-ago soldiers might be buried and sacred wells whose water might solace them and monks whose vineyards might have thrived where the one I stood in does.



DSC_0094Le Notre and I are busy. He walks around my yard, leaning on the gold-headed cane gifted him by Louis XIV, and commands me to prune and pick up and plant. I love it when he visits. It’s that time of year, when my yard becomes a siren, and I lured to toil. It’s good to put one’s hands in soil, to dig and rake and straighten. To put a seed down. Seeds are the epitome of hope. I DSC_0094need hope in these days of my aging. It’s my botox.

Buy local

now1Give the gift of story….mine or someone else’s this Christmas……and Merry Christmas, ya’ll………………………….



Hummingbirds are everywhere at this retreat I’m on. They drone and dart and buzz. They zip and hover. I think about Emily Dickenson, whose nature poetry I adore. She portrays bees as fantastic sailors on seas of daffodils. Aren’t those fine metaphors? What are my hummingbirds?

Komikazes? Bombers? Marauders? Winged ninjas? I watch one dip his long beak into the orange trumpet of a vine, then try to play with  with the word trumpet….music, something blaring out, attracting….it wouldn’t be sound, it would be scent, yes? I scratch out orange trumpet blares/scent—you komikazi in/ dip your beak—poof–you’re gone. I’ve too many syllables, and it’s too rough, but I also have fragments, the beginnings to make haiku: 3 lines, syllables of 5/7/5…..the fun is in rearranging, finding more vivid words, staying in the syllable framework. It’s play writing, so nourishing. But I’m tired.

You do it for me.

Before Versailles

I found out that week that Before Versailles was picked by both the Library Journal and RT Book Reviews to be included in best historical fiction of 2011…….

ancient myth

Long ago on a galaxy far, far away……..

Before 7th grade, she’d been her own exuberant maiden; she’d written plays, loved boys, bossed them, fought them. She’d always been full speed ahead. She’d been a leader. It’s in junior high that Hades rears up out of his dark palace and takes her to an underworld of inferiority, not enough, a place where she can’t match the ideal of femininity in the mid 1960s. She runs for class president. Friends tell her they can’t or won’t vote for her because she’s a girl. Her body betrays her. A lithe androgyny changes to busty, hippy, plump, womanly. The cool girls are slimly, primly ripe. She doesn’t have enough confidence to play Marilyn Monroe, to use the body to manipulate. But later that’s a saving grace.

She can’t go steady. Her mother and the religion they practice won’t allow it. It seems like everywhere she turns in those years there are walls around her, walls she runs into and bloodies herself upon. Her mother is secretly pleased at her failures, her mother who can really do anything, but has only been allowed the roles of wife and mother and who has married into a family of broken men, harsh, handsome men, who order women about as if they’re nothing. She loves learning, the academic piece. It’s a place where she’s allowed to achieve without disapproval. But she doesn’t have a boyfriend. She has boys who like her, but they’re not the boys she yearns for…the heroes. She wants a hero…an outer hero to reflect the inner hero she’s had to suppress.

She is years coming out of Hades. There are no Hecates around with advice. Persephone is searching for her, but she doesn’t hear her voice for a very long time.



I always tell the people who take my writing classes to listen to the Writers Almanac on NPR. You can even have its daily dose of poetry and Garrison Keillor’s commentary delivered to your email doorstep, hit a link, and hear the podcast. I tell them to listen to it because poetry is the highest writing art, requiring the perfect word and reflecting in a few lines ideas that can bring one to one’s knees. Which just recently happened. I don’t listen everyday. I think I’m too busy. But a friend of mine always emails me about poems she thinks I ought not to miss. And so I read Baptism by one Ted Thomas Jr and felt breathless when I was done because in a single sentence he captured what has happened to me around my mother. He writes in the poem of his father’s helplessness. In the last stanza, he says he “I pat him dry, he lets me dress him in the white hospital clothes, oil his hair, put him to bed and forgive him.”

Bam. That’s what’s happened in all this. I’ve forgiven the resentments I nurtured so close to my heart. In the bathing and dressing and feeding, in her shuffling daily endless need, something has dropped, but not by my insistence. There is only breathless, painful witnessing of  frailty, and my attendance upon it as best I can, some days far better than others. This last slow dance we’re in is immediate and huge. All else is nothing.

this life anyway


listening to moby as i take down christmas a song’s lyrics vibrate inside me at least we were together holding hands flying through the sky he sings i remember one of the only dreams about my father long gone stern and remote we were flying through the sky holding hands under us pyramids even then the dream seemed profound all these years later the song rings through me and i think of all that wasnt ours closeness understanding rapport but at least we were together flying through the sky holding hands just the way moby sings the way we never did in life this life anyway