I have such mixed feelings about officially feeling thankful, particularly on a holiday associated with nationalism. However, gratitude is a practice of mine. And I’ve been feeling grateful for something very specific–the younger generations of women in my life.
I recently wrote a blog post about needing to feel more grounded. I wanted to get an African violet and bake biscuits. As if on cue, I got a note from a former student and early contributor to this blog, Bibi Deitz. With a photo of her grandmother’s African violet.

Then, my daughter taught me how to bake some gluten free biscuits. We ate them hot while watching the classic, if somewhat surreal film about an Armenian poet–The Color of Pomegranates. (If you are interested–This avant-garde film by Russian director Sergei Parajanov depicts the life of revered 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova.)
Younger women can go where I haven’t been able to. Their freedom of thought and self expression inspires me. I also feel taken care of, often a nervous spot for me, but not in this case.
Which leads me to my granddaughter. Who at nine months crawls, stands, clings, hoots, shouts, smiles, eats, grabs with a zest for experience. Yes, I’m taking care of her. But with any luck some day she’ll tell me what is hip, what looks good on me, what I should read. Her mere existence as a woman of the future helps me keep going.

Cholla Needles

I love the small press world–it’s my people. Bright on my radar at the moment is Cholla Needles, doing so much for poetry in the Joshua Tree area. Check them out at I know editor R. Soos is always looking for new work, and I said I’d send my network his way! It’s a very prolific press, with numerous beautiful issues a year and a thriving publishing arm that does individual books. I was excited that two books by the widely published poet Simon Perchik, now in his nineties, are forthcoming.
I particularly like the recently released haiku collection by Peter Jastermsky, “Steel Cut Moon.” They emphasis the aesthetic of loneliness found in classical haiku.

recess time…
the shy boy picks a shadow
to play with


fallen tree
one last storm
in its rings

there are also moments of awareness and opening perception:

as if
no other answer-
mountain trail

This is lovely work, squarely in the stream of contemporary American haiku yet also full of individual sensibility.

Also of interest is Lisa Mednik Powll’s “Finding the Azimuth.” These are diary entries, poems, drawings and poetic prose–all arranged on an alphabetical grid. They are full of little gems from a wandering troubadour-esque life. “One night in Auckland, I went out alone to hear Toots and the Maytals.” A unique approach–and the effect is that the ephemeral is captured and shared.

What Gary Lawless Is Reading

way up here in Maine (at Gulf of Main Books) I am reading:

poetry –

“Sisters’ Entrance” by Emtithal Mahmoud – originally from Darfur, she is
now an international slam poetry champion and spokesperson for the UNHCR

“Milk Black Carbon” by Inupiaq poet Joan Naviyuk Kane

Non-fiction –

Terry Tempest Williams’ new book of essays “Erosion”

Fiction –

Overstory by Richard Powers

Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout (Oprah’s film crew just filmed Elizabeth
reading in our bookstore for a piece on Oprah’s new TV show)

and the incredible about to be published novel “Apeirogon” by Colum
McCann, centering on two fathers, one Palestinian and one Israeli, who
have both lost daughters to random, senseless acts of violence.

In Which I Realize I Am An Olympic Athlete by Miriam Sagan

I fucked my leg up “hiking” last weekend. The Park Service described the walk as “easy” and fit looking young folk did it in fifteen minutes. Hidden Valley, a very pretty part of Joshua Tree. Up some steps, through a rocky crack, down, around…It took me an hour, and by the end I couldn’t feel my right leg. No surprise. This happens a few times a year. As I was walking, at first I felt euphoric. I had a vision in my head–if I didn’t have the will power I have, the help I’ve gotten (PT, osteopathy, rolphing, you name it) I’d be in a wheelchair in the Bronx. It felt true. Granted, I’ve spent very little time in the Bronx. But I knew what my vision meant. I might be slow, gimpy, and on my cane…but I was in Joshua Tree under a peerless blue sky passing by rock formations that seem to sing silently straight to the heart.
Towards the end of said “hike” I got a little weepy. “Rich, you gotta hit my leg,” I said. This is a great trick learned from a master body worker. Rich does a few karate chops or shiatsu moves on my leg and sensation returns. Recently I got some clarity on a diagnosis–the femoral nerve gets trapped in muscle/soft tissue spasms. And voila–or whatever the opposite of voila is–control of that leg is gone. This is just one of many problems from long ago illness and surgery.
So I made it back to the trail head, having done the loop. “Good work,” Rich said, which filled me with ridiculous happiness. I love praise, and we hit upon that as another way to keep me going. It seems silly, but it really perks me up. “I’m an athlete,” I thought. All these fit people from L.A. are in great shape, pushing performance. I’m in terrible shape, but I’m pushing too. Not one of these people could walk this loop with such a bad leg and so much pain. Heck, half my right lung is gone and I can still do it! If those fit hikers were me for five minutes they’d collapse. I rock!
Of course, I paid in the usual fashion. My leg hurt more than usual for a few days. I complained–maybe quite a bit–and to several people. I felt both pleased with myself and stupid for pushing.
But a certain euphoria has not left me. I can walk. And I’m not in the Bronx. I’m going to take credit for both those things.

Renga: Time and Shadow by Else-Maria Tennessen and Douglass Rankin

Time and Shadow

The green-tailed towhee
comes to feed on garden seed
he won’t stay long. DR

Bloom and grass fade
Hunter’s moon. ET

The departure
of one
is the departure of many. DR

Your skull with gray hair
startles my younger heart. ET

A to-do list
falls from the book
twenty years old. MS

Buy black beans, soap, and bread,
that’s the year I fell in love. DR

Warm candle light
French onion soup—
Dakota blizzard. ET

Snow-muffled silence…so deep
Stoke the fire, move close. DR

On the wintry bank
A white hare
I only see his shadow. ET

Snowy owl—wing beat, heart beat
Night falls, leaving no trace. DR

Pages turn
The clock ticks
A story unfolds. ET

Dark falling on the city
Two silhouettes on the shade. DR

A pink sunrise
over the Christos mountains
steaming hot coffee ET

Quiet start of a new day
Only “now” is guaranteed. DR

As the moon rises
Jack rabbits take flight
Over the dusky road. ET

Anything is possible
floating in the land of dreams. DR

Dawn on snow
An early spring breeze
Snowdrops in bloom. ET

Honey bee legs—full of pollen
return to the hive…again… DR

Half Kasen Renku
Else-Maria Tennessen and Douglass Rankin, with Miriam Sagan

3 Years In by Miriam Sagan

By the end of 2019, I’ll have been on the current trajectory of my life’s path for about three years. I retired, and by unplanned coincidence, my mom died. I felt shot out of a cannon–in a good way. I was no longer flying to Boston every three months to caretake. I was no longer going to work. For the first time in my life I felt I wasn’t operating with some kind of deficit. I know this can’t last forever–I’m 65 and well aware of aging. However, I planned to make the most of this new stage, and I think I have. However, I am suffering from a lack of feeling grounded.
I’m not exactly sure why. When I retired, I said I wasn’t going to do
1. Home Improvement
2. A lot more writing
3. Self Improvement of the diet & exercise sort
Well, I did not manage to avoid the first–renovated kitchen, concrete garden pathways, raised garden beds, etc. But it’s been fine–worthwhile.
And I didn’t manage to avoid the second, either. At least this year, I published three books and a chapbook. It’s not quite as prolific as it sounds. Writing takes a while, publishing another while…this was kind of a logjam that came to fruition (mixed metaphor and all).
Mercifully, I’m eating and exercising per usual–a regime of several decades.
I don’t like to live exclusively in the creative world. It feels unbalanced. Maybe I’ve swung too far in that direction. For volunteer work, I did a year of hospice, a year of teaching ESL…when my grand-daughter was born I started taking care of her about two days a week. It’s been tremendous, but maybe too close to the creative world. After all, she and the studio I share with my daughter are in the same house. We started photographing her as part of a project…
I struggled for a long time to live an integrated life. Now I want something…looser? I don’t know. I’m worried about all the things I’m usually worried about–Trump, my chronic pain, my friends’ difficulties, the future.
I keep making a To Do list for getting grounded but it has only two things on it:
1. Learn to bake biscuits.
2. Get an African violet.

And how are you these days?

What Alma Gottlieb Is Reading

What a great series!  I’m really enjoying seeing other folks’ reading lists.

Here’s my contribution . . .

Despite being a lifelong non-coffee-drinker, I’ve somehow found myself reading two fantastic books about coffee the past month.
The first: our own Miriam Sagan’s 100 Cups of Coffee, which hijacked me from reading the OTHER coffee book I’d just started.  This series of short meditations inspired by drinking coffee here, there, and everywhere got me thinking profound thoughts as only Miriam can, about life, death, and everything in-between.
The second: David Liss’ The Coffee Trader–another compelling read about coffee, but in a totally different register.  It’s a historically based novel set in 17th-century Amsterdam and has way more fascinating character development than a book with this good/fast a plot should have.  I won’t say more about the gripping story other than to predict that if you love/are intrigued by one or more of the following, you’ll probably love this novel: coffee / Sephardic Jewish history / Jewish-Protestant relations / 17th-century Europe / the development of global commodity capitalism / an exciting mystery.

Alma Gottlieb