Armarolla Issue One is Out–based in Cyprus and Prague

And I’m glad to be included! This is part of a long sequence written last summer about the solar eclipse.

astronomers call the eclipse
a cosmic coincidence
how our satellite
can blot out the star of our sun

I’ve held my thumb up
to cover many things
I didn’t want
to see

is it coincidence
I hold you in my arms
in this bed
held you long ago
and always will?

A Visit to a Las Vegas Temple Dedicated to Beauty & Commerce by Richard Feldman

In the middle of a multi-day February visit to my father, I was searching the Web for new and interesting things to do in greater Las Vegas on the upcoming road trip that I was planning with Miriam when I happened across a description on Atlas Obscura of a free-to-visit James Turrell light installation atop a Louis Vuitton store entitled Akhob (supposedly an ancient Egyptian word meaning “pure water”).  Although Turrell’s works of light have been featured in a number of exhibitions around the country in recent years, I’ve been most familiar with him as one of several artists who have devoted decades out of their lives to the creation and refinement of giant land-based projects paying homage to nature and science in the American West, while innumerable announced completion dates have come and gone.  Turrell’s project has involved the reconstruction of Roden Crater, the remnants of a northern Arizona volcano.  While the Roden Crater project, like other examples of this particular art form, never seems to be able to be finished, it has been possible to visit at times by those who’ve provided substantial financial support.

I mentioned Akhob to Miriam, who was enthusiastic.  According to the Atlas Obscura article, the lead time for tour reservations was at least three weeks, which meant that the first available tour slot would likely be several days after we planned to leave Vegas.  I decided to give it a shot anyway.  Notwithstanding a poor phone connection, I ended my call to the reservation number at Louis Vuitton having arranged places for us on a tour at 1:30 PM on our last partial day in Vegas.  The scheduling wasn’t quite perfect, but the opportunity seemed worth the inconvenience.

Our tour was scheduled for a Thursday, we were arriving in Vegas on a Monday, and the installation was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so my vague hope of someone else’s cancellation allowing me to reschedule for an earlier tour was unlikely from the start.  However, my reconnaissance visit to the high-end shopping area where the Louis Vuitton store was located (an extension of the Aria Resort and Casino confusingly referred to both as CityCenter and the Shops at Crystals) revealed the existence of additional Turrell light installations in the rooms adjacent to the tram station at the very top of the shopping area.  Miriam was pleased.  Although it seemed unlikely that she would be allowed to take pictures within Akhob, there would be some of Turrell’s work that she could photograph.

Thursday arrived.  We checked out of our lodgings, ate lunch, and parked at the neighboring Cosmopolitan.  We made our way again to CityCenter/the Shops at Crystals, where Miriam photographed other artwork, including the tram station Turrell installation.  We weren’t sure how much in advance we needed to arrive at Louis Vuitton for our tour, so we arrived what turned out to be needlessly early.  After we announced our purpose and were directed to the tour meeting place, we had plenty of time to sit and observe the few people shopping, who I thought looked surprisingly normal given that Miriam had told me that everything in the store cost thousands of dollars.

A few minutes past the scheduled time, our tour guide appeared and introduced herself to us and the other three people on the tour.  We would not be taken directly to our destination, but instead spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes hearing the history of Louis Vuitton and its commitment to art and being shown various items in the store to illustrate the history.  I didn’t think there was a whole lot of point in the store’s proselytizing us, but went along gamely.  Finally, we proceeded to the elevator and pressed the otherwise unlabeled “3” button.

When the elevator door opened at the third floor, our tour guide handed us over to two other female employees who would be our chaperones in the actual installation. Whereas the dark-haired guide had been dressed in black, the chaperones had on nearly identical white outfits of tops, jeans, and sneakers.  With the strong aura of reverence and ritual, it was as if I was visiting a shrine or temple, and our guides were priestesses.

The priestesses ushered us into the next anteroom for us to exchange our shoes for white booties and to read and sign multi-page liability waivers.  I scanned mine in a perfunctory manner in preparation for initialing and signing it, but as Miriam read hers, she became increasingly alarmed by its litany of potential mishaps.  In a moment, she decided to decline the experience and instead wait for me back in the store.

Having returned my waiver form, I climbed the flight of nine steep, curved, black stairs and joined the two priestesses and the three other visitors in the first of two cylindrical chambers.  The colored light suffusing the installation was beautiful but somewhat disorienting.  We were warned about the easily overlooked step between the two chambers, not to mention the six-foot drop off at the end of the second.  Like another unearthly light experience, last year’s solar eclipse, the experience was over too soon, after perhaps 15 minutes, much of which I spent either asking questions (how many light sources were there, where were they located, did the cycle of changing colors repeat and, if so, how long was the complete cycle?) of one of the priestesses or bonding with the blond-haired woman who worked at the Palo Alto gallery representing Turrell.  She had had the opportunity to visit Roden Crater four times, accompanying important clients.  She in turn seemed impressed that I had at one time worked for Lannan Foundation and invited me to stop by the gallery the next time I was in Palo Alto.

Perhaps I should have been talking less and concentrating more on experiencing being suffused by the light, but the allotted time would still have been nowhere near sufficient (I did have the thought that certain mind-altering substances would likely have enhanced the experience).  As we were guided out of the installation, re-exchanged our booties and shoes, and came back down to the first floor in the elevator, the ritualized overtones of the whole event continued to resonate.  I found myself grappling with questions similar to those prompted by my visit years ago to Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field—how much is the interaction undermined by the implied elitism?  Is there any way of making it more accessible while simultaneously respecting the aesthetic vision and economic considerations of the artist and/or gatekeepers?  I appreciate that both natural and human-created beauty offer an opportunity for non-religious (and religious) people to have an experience of the divine, but the implicit or explicit bundling of the experience of beauty with conspicuous consumption spending adds an unpleasant aura to the occasion for me.

When we had arrived at the Grand Canyon earlier in our trip, I was immediately struck by and commented about how I felt yanked out of my sense of selfness by its magnitude.  Both spirituality and art aspire to yanking people out of their senses of selfness.  I suppose that my pickiness about how I engage with spirituality is analogous to my pickiness about how I do it with art.  I was grateful to have had the chance to visit and be immersed in the temple of Akhob, but regretful of the extent to which our society has evolved in ways that require paying homage, if not actual money, to multiple intermediaries for access to great art and its transformative potential.

Photographs from Atlas Obscura.

Hello From Spring

It’s been a very mixed day. Last night hail arrived raucuously like a convocation of unwanted door to door salesmen. Today the clouds of apricot and peach blossoms seem untouched. Studying some torah, I just felt very sad about part of the story of our foremothers, who were essentially bought and sold. But what woman on earth can claim her ancestresses were free people?
I had lunch yesterday with two Zen Buddhist priests–women teachers. I felt a bit better about the world, because they were old friends who had found their path. There is little I enjoy more than a certain kind of intimate conversation–about what happened to everyone, who died, who lived, who failed, who triumphed. It gives me a pure and abiding sense of connection to the world. Call it gossip if you like–it is gospel to me.
My daughter Isabel and I went to Tune-Up. I ate chile rellenos. For many years I felt I had to skip them because I didn’t want to agitate my gallstones. I haven’t had an attack in almost thirty years, and I’ll eat that fried pepper now (knock wood). We worked on our renga–linked Japanese poem. We started this one very traditionally, by translating a haiku by Basho. That way neither of us had to start–the great Basho started for us.

First cherry blossom
This very moment
A good day
-Basho translation 

I’m cooking brisket for tomorrow night’s seder. My mother did not really cook, nor did her mother. So I have no traditional recipe. I use a variation of what poet Joan Logghe taught me. I’m feeling sad about several things–mostly squabbles and situations that don’t directly involve me, but impact me nonetheless. I’m very happy about other things–including that I’m re-reading Trollop and loving it. I also have a beautiful rosemary plant that came through the winter very nicely in my sunniest room.

The 22 Syllables That Can Get You Killed

This is one of the most remarkable things I have ever read about poetry–and its role in women’s lives. Thanks to Julia Deisler for sending it to me. Do read the entire thing, at–
By Eliza Griswold

16 November 2016

When sisters sit together, they’re always praising their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they’re selling their sisters to others.
– Anonymous

Several years ago, I had the immense privilege of travelling around Afghanistan with the filmmaker and photographer Seamus Murphy for a very unusual project we called investigative poetry.

In refugee camps and remote villages, at weddings and on at least one horse farm, we collected anonymous folk poems called landays. A landay is a couplet: a two-line poem passed mouth to mouth, ear to ear, among Pashtun people for at least 1,000 years.

No-one knows for certain where landays come from

No-one knows for certain where landays come from – the most popular theory is that these biting little poems began as a form of communication within the Indo-Aryan caravans that arrived in the region millennia ago. They were born long before Islam, and their closest cousins are the slokas, the two-line verses that comprise the ancient Hindu holy texts called the Vedas.

This image shows an Afghan woman at a checkpoint in Helmand province: landays have been passed mouth to mouth among Pashtun people for at least 1,000 years.
A landay has very few rules. It must have 22 syllables, with nine in the first line and 13 in the second. It must end in the sound ‘ma’ or ‘na’. It must take on one of five subjects: meena, love; jang, war; watan, homeland; biltoon, separation; and, finally, gham, which means despair or grief. But gham doesn’t mean grief in general, it speaks to the particular form of grief that belongs to a Pashtun woman.

It was this grief, this gham, that brought us to this project.

It was the story of a girl who killed herself because her family wouldn’t allow her to write poems that first provided us a window into the complex world of women and poetry in contemporary Afghanistan.

Forbidden love

Rahila Muska, which means ‘love smile’ in Pashto and which was her pseudonym, wrote poetry as a teenager in secret in her rural town of Gereshk in the war-riven province of Helmand.

For women and girls in Afghanistan, poetry is often associated with singing and dancing, and sometimes with prostitution. One of the landays I collected in my 2015 book I am the Beggar of the World refers to the idea in Pashtun society of the riverbank, or godar – where women gather water – as a place of romance. Forbidden from going to the godar, men nevertheless sneak glances at the women they love as they walk to and from the riverbank.

Daughter, in America the river isn’t wet.
Young girls learn to fill their jugs on the internet.

Packing Heat

A few years ago I was in the bathroom at Santa Fe Community College, where I was in the English Department. I was making a rather awkward adjustment to my pedometer that was hanging inelegantly off the elastic of my undies.
“What are you doing?” a student embarrassingly asked me.
“It’s my pedometer,” I said, about to extol the virtues of exercise.
“Oh,” she said. “I thought you were packing heat.”


Was this funny or sad? I don’t know. But today, in support of the marches against gun violence, it seems sharable.

Red Rock Canyon

A journey has a quality of lingering after its end. These are from the Vegas portion of last week’s sojourn. I got sick at the end of the trip and my realities kind of collided–came off the road in the harsh spring wind and went to bed. Then started poking about and complaining–a kind of convalescence. I feel sad about not really being able to absorb the trip on my return because of this. Still hope to.

Broken Bits and Mending Tape by Robyn Hunt

I love this piece that recently graced her blog, Mourning Doves Persist, and hope its gentle insight helps you too.

Sacred stones roll around on the floor of my car, carried in over years of scavenging. Pocketed. Parceled. Placed on dashboard or grave. Markers of present coloring past. The sun bathes the windshield just so and the secret messages written in mud or snow show themselves for the innocent blessing that they are. I walk into this side street café with my bruised heart in a purple and black satchel and am greeted by a circle of banjo players and one free seat against the window. Chairs like we inhabited in elementary school when things were still made of wood, grafted together at the corners with metal, corners rounded and smooth. We kept our notes in desks and lockers, wrote whispers of names we adored on the plain brown wrappers around our math books. Took broken bits and mending tape, carted cassette songs of guitar players who have since died or changed their names. Like mantras, directions to the river canyon where we could picture the rough rope as magical swing over the cold water. The perfect drop into the uncontrolled. The seconds of our happy eyes opening under water to witness the consecrated. To hear every thought in the perfect suspension. The rattle of the sacred. Pocket. Canyon.

Facebook, Russian Bots, Data Mining, and Me

Maybe I’m not paranoid enough, but I don’t think Facebook is really paying attention to me. If it was, I’d be seeing pop ups for the two major issues in my life:

1. How to remove skunks (five skunks) from under your (my) house.

2. Is humanity basically more stupid than evil or more evil than stupid?

The first is a short term problem. Those skunks have been trapped and released far far away. The second more ongoing. I’ve been pretty much worrying about it non-stop since I was thirteen when I definitively realized that “adults” had all the power but far far from all the understanding.

Facebook has realized that I can be lured (like a skunk to a marshmallow cookie, I kid you not) by the promise of cheap, colorful, ethnic, hippie, flow-y, items of clothing. As my browsing history, my closet, and my taste at my friend Joanie’s clothing exchange will attest to.

Otherwise, what I post on Facebook is ultra vanilla. I imagine my former dean or my dead mother’s friends reading it. I voted for Hillary. I am never drunk or naked with a lampshade on my head. I never sign in to anything via Facebook. Got it?

Sestina by John Macker

It is always thrilling to discover a poet through another poet…

Elements of Mystery and Surprise

Nicanor Parra said, “take back everything I said”
anti-poetry was his game and he took it to his grave
his vernacular Chilean love fest with language
permeated my life with hard-edged oblivious
soul and a militant wonder at everything that moves,
that is beautiful or sorcerous, everything a surprise.

That he died at 104 in January is no surprise,
he took his wild white hair with him to his grave
and for a moment I thought of my mother’s oblivious
end, and how silence is its own language
how it stalks and centers the mind, how it moves
through rooms on its own recognizance, left unsaid.

“In poetry everything is permissible,” or so he said.
You can’t improve the blank page from the grave.
I’ve always been attracted to sorcerers of language,
who braved elements, who watched winter’s blind moves
without flinching, who used words that enticed and surprised
who romanced each word with a knowing. Death to the oblivious.

Like those beautiful Chileans Bolaño and Neruda, oblivious
to the sorceries and machinations of fate, they stalked language
with the white hot passion of martyred saints, there ain’t no grave
worth its weight in silence that could still the bold surprise
of their words. Nothing left unspoken but everything left to be said:
winter drives us deeper in, the wind takes a breath but still moves.

Across landscapes wretched with drought, the ancients move
with the alacrity of wind, each track, each bone is a surprise
and if we dig deep enough, the words appear in a language
we don’t recognize but we do, where whispers of wind once said:
everything is permitted, nothing survives the ground, even the oblivious
can take root. Even then the world seemed cruel, its condition grave

its dancing black ghost horses stared at ghost borders on ghost graves.
I visit my mother’s grave and everything we said
is above the ground, in the wind, safe in a quiet house oblivious
the passages of time. I think of her, of Nicanor, how memory moves
us from one dimension to another. Every blank page a surprise.
Nicanor, your anti- is my anti-. I remind myself that snow is the language

of silence. Chile is a long way from Colorado, a different language.
A kid in winter is waiting for the bus in the wind, it moves
him to allow for the coming mysteries and the elements of surprise.

John Macker

Nicanor, young and old, from Wikipedia.