Three Poems by Erika Wurth

GOD in the West

In Tucson, in the bar where a man who calls himself GOD will brand his name on you for five dollars, from the entrance you can see the steam rising, and the newly religious yelling for GOD in the West, the poets at the bar waiting for something to transform them, their hands on their glasses, on the wood, in their own Indian hair, religion in the girl running back and forth across the room yelling for GOD and for Pabst blue ribbon, in the shot that one of the poets bought the other, in the woman watching the girl getting branded for life, telling her to brand her own name and the girl rolling her eyes and saying I like GOD and I like Pabst blue ribbon, in the clouds moving quietly in the dark outside above the heads of the unknowing poets, in the iron that presses to the flesh, the flash of enlightenment after as the camera’s pulled up, and in the girl who simply sits down from where she had been standing above and like a tiny new god, admires her newest wound, consecrating all of the others, and then looks up, asking for her free shot and takes it, her blue eyes glowing with the kind of knowledge only the very strange and very beautiful ever fully understand.


That Small Wooden Box

Why does it always end up in grass, dirt, stars, where we all go
for release. We will come again and again and again. Your eyes, I hold you,
I fuck you, fuck you, fuck me come in (me) boy and shut the rusty screen door tight,
don’t let the cat out, let me hold your mixed blood head in my mixed blood arms. Look how dirty we’ve gotten, we’re covered in grass, blood, mine, hers, yours.

Perhaps this too will fade, the memories a closet full of old glass, sky clouding over
for days, the way my heart wavers with the wind, something strange and musical
in the air. But no one better open the door, or we will all get cut, bleed into the night,
the grass, the dirt.

Tell me, where is that small wooden box that someone buried long ago,
somewhere in the grass, in the night, lost lost they buried it
and died with the secret; we are the thing it hunts and we will never be found.


How Big and Cruel the Ocean

It’s like the man said; it’s a doorway that opens straight into the ocean, a nothingness, a knife, the blade that you took to yourself to cut the parts of your grief away, the big black curls sitting at your feet. I imagine you staring into the mirror of his eyes, the black of them behind those bars all of those miles and miles across the desert away, the wind blowing like the sound of a train at midnight. Lonely and tidal. Fall, fall in, sink into this ocean, think of his prayers of forgiveness and hate me for my big, red blood instead. Close, close your eyes boy let the cold seep in, the knife in your heart twisting and twisting in the kind of pain that nothing can spirit away. Your lips against my hair in the dark, how you said you wanted to bundle it up in your hands… how small your voice was, how large his, how strong my hands, how big and cruel this ocean.

Bio Note: Erika T. Wurth’s published works include a novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and a collection of poetry, Indian Trains. Her collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine and her collection of poetry, A Thousand Horses Out to Sea are both forthcoming. A writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and was a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Boulevard, Drunken Boat, The Writer’s Chronicle and South Dakota Review. She is represented by Peter Steinberg. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.


Thanks to poet Tony Hoagland for sending this wonderful manifesto.


The recipe for a work of art – its ingredients – how to make it – the formula

1. There must be a clear preoccupation with death – intimations of mortality.  Tragic art, romantic art, etc., deals with the knowledge of death.
2. Sensuality.  Our basis of being concrete about the world.  It is a lustful relationship to things that exist.
3. Tension.  Either conflict or curbed desire.

4. Irony.  This is a modern ingredient – the self-effacement and examination by which a man for an instant can go on to something else.
5. Wit and play… for the human element.
6. The ephemeral and chance… for the human element.
7. Hope.  10% to make the tragic concept more endurable.

I measure these ingredients very carefully when I paint a picture.  It is always the form that follows these elements and the picture results from the proportions of these elements.

-Mark Rothko

The Magic of Jewelry

Sheila Ortego kindly asked me to muse of jewelry for her blog that emphasizes beads and the handmade.

I was once sitting around with a group of friends, feeling alienated as they talked about femininity and beauty. I wasn’t raised with much emphasis on this, and although I’m proud to be from a line of intellectual women, I sometimes feel insecure. I told my friend Ana this, and she said, “But Mir, you express your beauty in your poetry and in your jewelry.”

To read the piece:

I still feel the protective influence of my friend Elizabeth Lamb, the haiku poet, in some of her jewelry.

Amulets are never amiss!

Bad Neighborhood

I’ve been in a bad neighborhood on the internet. Let’s just say that googling “habeas corpus” gets you there quickly. I shouldn’t have lingered to read that chat board. But I did. And I must report.

Among my fellow citizens there are those who believe the NEA funds Broadway musicals. To a New Yorker, this is like hearing that the earth is flat. But it appears that “art” is suspect, and “political art” should not be funded by the government—so we should cut all government funding to “Hamilton.” I had to pinch myself. (It is estimated that Broadway theaters pay a total of $500 million in taxes annually).

There is also the critique of Alexander Hamilton himself—that he was an elite New Yorker. (He was). But thank goodness for Andrew Jackson, who took him on. I enjoyed this ahistorical superhero battle existing on…what planet? Did Jackson perhaps teleport back in time?

It’s easy to mock out bad grammar and spelling—and I’m a terrible speller myself. But I have to say one remark really cracked me up. Someone posted to the satiric effect: if you were raised too poor to afford apostrophes, I’m glad to lend you some for free. I don’t know if this is original, but I found it very funny.

I’ve been in some nervous making situations in my life. A convenience store in survivalist country where everyone was heavily armed and in fatigues. A cafe with a motorcycle gang parked outside—with a hungry toddler and no place else to eat. The edge of the East Village at dusk 1969—a place I had been forbidden but was in anyway, in a mini skirt and of course no cell phone.

I know to get in and out fast. And try and not do it again.

An Innovative Project To Write About Grief: Postcards Tell The Stories

Rachael Chadwick explains-“There’s nothing we can do”, they said. In January 2012, my mother (aged 59) was diagnosed with a very aggressive case of bowel cancer. Just sixteen days after diagnosis, she died in our family home.I spent that year trying my best to cope with what was happening and put on a brave face to the world, as my own world, behind closed doors, felt like it was crashing in around me.
There is very little that can prepare you for the loss of a loved one. You strap yourself in for the rollercoaster of emotions, attempt to shelter from the uncontrollable storms of grief and you try to get on with life as best you can. But life is not as you know it anymore.

The milestones – the ‘firsts’, Mother’s day, Birthdays – felt so brutal. It was almost the build up of anxiety leading up to those days that hit me the hardest. Death, sadly, felt like a taboo subject and I was desperate to shout out to the world about the wonderful woman I had lost. And so, to celebrate what would have been Mum’s 60th birthday later that year, I decided to create a tribute.

To read more and see the project–
60 Postcards: Using Storytelling to Tackle Grief


A Day in My Post Election Life by Sheila Ortego

I have long admired Sheila Ortego. She was the president of Santa Fe Community College for many of the years I taught there. She is a writer and supporter of the literary arts—her published novel is The Road From La Cueva. You can find her on her bead/jewelry blog —

When I heard of this terrifying incident, I asked her to write it up and share it with readers here.

A Day in my Post-Election Life

It’s no secret that I noodle around on Facebook quite a bit, probably most often reading and appreciating what my more conservative family and friends would label as liberal propaganda. One of the short articles I enjoyed recently was about how in Britain, residents there have taken to wearing small safety pins as a signal to immigrants or minorities who might be under threat that, in a pinch, there is refuge nearby. And indeed, social media has encouraged American citizens to also wear the safety pin, as a symbol of unity with those who are feeling vulnerable right now.
Like many others, I felt horrified and helpless after the election, not knowing what more I could do to begin to help in setting the world aright. The safety pin idea resonated with me, as I am particularly horrified by Trump-inspired racial and religiously motivated harassment and abuse. It’s a small, quiet thing, to wear a safety pin. And it’s very easy, and I believe, may be very powerful. Articles have also been written against the idea of wearing the pin – with themes ranging from warnings about putting yourself in harm’s way, cynical views about how it’s “just a thing to make white people feel better”, and a “way to make you feel ‘better-than’ Trump-supporters. I don’t buy all that. I just want to add to my list of small actions I can take in my everyday life, like making donations to worthy organizations, volunteering, including exhortations for kindness into my writing life –- and now, wearing the safety pin.
I used to feel so overwhelmed by all the troubles in the world, but the teachings of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Jane Goodall and Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandella and Martin Luther King and the other incredible wise ones of the world have taught me — small, humble actions can make an enormous difference, especially when multiplied by many others joined together in such actions.
I put on the pin the very next day after reading the article. Fortunately, I had read a couple of helpful pieces about what to do if you are personally harrassed as a result of wearing a safety pin, or if you truly end up in a situation in which someone needs to be defended and/or helped. I say fortunately, because I wasn’t away from home for more than 10 minutes when a woman started verbally and non-verbally harassing me because I was quietly wearing this pin. In fact, I had just pulled up to the bank , and hadn’t even gotten out of my car.
The tall blonde woman walked up to my passenger window, looked deliberately inside, evidently to assure herself she saw what she thought she saw (the fairly large safety pin I had put on my shirt), and very deliberately gave me a long, slow ‘finger’, and the most hateful look that had ever been directed at me in my entire life. Frankly, the look on her face was vicious and frightening, and it stunned me for a moment. As she finished her gesture and turned to defiantly walk into the bank, I sat in my car and thought about what had just happened. I couldn’t believe it at first, thinking perhaps I had cut her off on the road before we got to the bank or something. But as I reviewed the events and those leading up to them in detail, I realized it was, indeed, just that little symbol of support for the vulnerable that had set her off.
I decided to turn on the video function of my cell phone, as I still needed to go into the bank and I assumed I would run into her again. Ironically, I found myself standing behind her in line, and as our respective ‘turns’ came with the tellers, we were standing about 4 feet apart from each other at the bank windows. I apologized to the teller as I paused to prop my phone on the counter , explaining that I needed to keep the video running. The woman heard this and looked at me then, and turned to her own teller to complain loudly that I had photographed her. I immediately explained that actually, I was video-taping her because she had been harrassing me outside, apparently for the safety pin I was wearing, and I needed to document the situation, in case it re-occurred or continued.
Fortunately, both tellers seemed quite supportive – of me. The woman became even more angered at that point, and said maybe she needed to change banks, and then she worked herself up even more (while I fumbled for my checkbook and other items I needed for my transaction, understandably distracted from the main business at hand) – and proclaimed that maybe she should just move out of the state (New Mexico, which had several significant democratic victories during the election). My response to that was simply “Good” (meaning I would be glad if indeed she were to move out of the state), at which point she stalked out of the bank and left me to complete my business.
In my life, I have dealt with a lot of stressful situations, including very hostile people – most often in times when as an administrator I had to make unpopular decisions or be the bearer of bad news. But never before in my life have I felt myself to be the subject of such pure, raw hatred and hostility. My hands were shaking, and I realized the article about putting yourself in harm’s way was right on target. But I also realized how very important it is to wear that pin, every day, if only to give myself opportunities to explain and demonstrate my position to people who may not understand, or be aware, or those like this woman – who would hate those who simply want to see more kindness in this world.

For those of you who would like to know more about the safety pin “movement”, here are some of the sources I appreciated most.

Many thanks to Miriam for inviting me to do this guest post.

Soundtrack of Life

Our lives seem to have soundtracks. Mine does. And different situations have their theme songs. I came of age during the renaissance of rock and roll, and that is still my emotional home. I like a song that says let’s party, dance, get stoned, make love, and fight the power. Soul and funk would be the exact middle of my taste. And I’ve always felt the Beatles were communicating directly with me.
So, I’m like millions of others. But that’s what makes art work, isn’t it, the sensation that the song is specifically about us. It’s my hand John Lennon wants to hold. And yours. And yours
I recently was going through a very difficult work related situation. I’d tell the cosmos—send me a message through the car radio. The gist of it was—pray we don’t get fooled again. Over and over. Let me just say I never ignore a cosmic message via rock and roll.
Now, in this current time of social crisis, I find my own sound track reassuring. I listen to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” for the inspiration it gave me the first time I ever heard it. I’ve kept up with the times enough so that I hear Lady Gaga belting “Born This Way” when I need to stand up for myself. Coming of age in the sixties, love and sex and rebellion have always been entwined in my mind. Romantic love—erotic energy—is almost always opposed to totalitarianism. I was thirteen when I first heard a recording of Gracie Slick singing “Somebody to Love.” Literally every hair on my body stood up. Something…something…was out there calling to me. Turns out, it was freedom.
A few months ago I was thinking idly that if it wasn’t for the blues and soul and funk I don’t know how I could have stayed alive all these years, endured. You can’t really say thank you to something as big as music, but today might be the time to try.
And I found this recently scrawled in my handwriting on the last page of an otherwise blank notebook:

still sweet
even the dumbest
songs of my youth.

Two Persian Poets

Two Persian Poets
Hafez Moosavi and
 Shams Langeroodi
translated by Gary Gach and Hamed Kashani

Hafez Moosavi
she waves to me

a child

behind a car windowpane

& i blow her a kiss
memorize this

as one day
you may read

the exact same scene in the past tense
& from a different point of view in another poet’s poem 

Shams Langeroodi
what good is a map of the whole world
the maps i love are those you dream up

lined with boundaries rivers subways houses
& a tiny map by you
with a guard at each of the four corners
shouting to each other from their watchtowers

& whose two ends I unite

rolling it all up in a tube

To see full bio notes and more: