Two Poems by Kate O’Neill

Based on photographs by Ansel Adams.

Sunset, Ghost Ranch, 1937

The way light falls clouds could become
an abacus: summing, totaling, subtracting.

First to penumbra then to iridescence.
If clouds had black & white flecked

wings like a speckled flicker: evanescent,
eloquent: each would have it’s own

unpredictable destiny, alighting for an
instant, stunningly embellished.


Sunrise, Laguna Pueblo, 1937

Major chords enter percussive,
across the scene from left, bend

around corners, sound-bounce reflections
from mudded walls. Woke-dog stands solid on

four legs, ears up, tail illumined, face eclipsed.
Indentations in the foot-travelled dirt shatter light

like bitten glass. Stone walls glitter silver as a
tin-mercury mirror amalgam refracts. Not long

ago a west wind moved through here and left the
clouds a mess: inconsolable wisps. As if they were

broken in a dissonant crescendo. Lost, torn-up, scared. The
tall adobe church walls look smooth to the touch, as if made

from ivory, golden fine butter cream, corn silk, old lace,
goat skin—its polished, caressed body newly awakening.

Field Institute, Taos Ski Valley

I love things posted on trees. Of course I wish these were poems, but they are charming pieces created by kids that explain the natural history of the area. Sort of like a field guide. Rich was pleased to see wild raspberries properly labelled.

wild raspberries
suddenly I see
the bear in you

Selfie Interview on New Poetry Book: Me, Myself, and the Cosmos by Miriam Sagan

Me: Hi Mir! What’s new?

Me: Well…as you are probably are keeping up with world events I’ll focus on something personal and positive. I have a new book of poetry out. STAR GAZING from Cholla Needles.

Me: How did that happen?

Me: Well, last autumn I gave a reading in Joshua Tree. I love the Cholla Needles magazine. The whole poetry scene there felt great—so grassroots and homey, but full of interest. And editor Rich Soos is a quintessential small press publisher with a lot of heart. The whole thing just took me back to my roots in community and to a lifetime in independent publishing.

Me: Sounds nice! I bet you wanted to send them a manuscript.

Me: I did, but I couldn’t figure out what. Finally my husband Rich Feldman gave me the idea—a collected book of my poems about astronomy.

Me: Great idea! Did Rich realize it would all be about him?

Me: Maybe not at first. But he loves the sky, and has shown me a lot, so he has an, excuse me, “starring” role.

Me: The poems go back to the 80’s?

Me: Just a few. And I wrote a lot of new ones. One for each planet, in fact. But not following the usual archetypes. For example, Venus is “The Warrior.”

Me; Was it hard to pick what went in?

Me: Well, I discovered that the moon, or Venus, seems to rise in most of my poems! But I stuck to ones with a real astronomical theme, including observatories, model solar systems, comets, and yes, my famous cousin Carl.

Me: How can people get a copy?

Me: Well, Mir, there are copies stacked up in the study…oh, you mean OTHER people! For a signed/review copy just write me at
You can get a freebie from me for just a tiny review.

On Amazon:

Me: Are you happy?

Me: Usually I get nervous when a book comes out. But this volume has a really nice vibe—feels good, looks good. People seem to like it! So, yes.

Me: And what are you wearing?

Me: A Cosmic Shirt.

Me. Did you get that just to promo the book?

Me: Yup.

Michael G. Smith Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton took a fifteen-day trip to the northern California coast and high New Mexico desert in May 1968. He hadn’t spent much time away from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky during the previous twenty-six years. However, his books were bringing more people to the abbey to see the celebrated Trappist monk. His hermitic life disrupted, he needed the offerings of a different topography. In preparation for his journey to Our Lady of the Redwoods Monastery and the Monastery of Christ in the Desert he wrote

Presence and witness but also speaking of the unfamiliar…speaking
of something new to which you might not have access.
An experiment in openness.

Charitable to the unknown within himself, Merton’s seeking echoed astrophysicists’ search for dark matter, the hypothetical undetectable glue holding the universe together. With no measurable physical attributes, you look for its consequences. Standing at the Pacific Ocean, gazing towards Asia, he watched song sparrows in the twisted trees and quoted the Astavakra Gita, “Neither accept or reject anything.” He ran out of black & white film photographing odd volcanic rocks at Ghost Ranch and bought color in Abiquiu. The actions of an enlightened tourist? Perhaps, but they comprise only a sliver of Merton’s pilgrimage. After returning to his Gethsemani hermitage he continued writing field notes.

I dream every night of the west.

Merton had more on his mind than an imagined west. He held a deep appreciation for eastern religions and traditions, including Zen, for their understanding and descriptions of the human experience. With the above line he reached back through time and touched Bashō.

Even in Kyōto – 
hearing the cuckoo’s cry –
I long for Kyōto

I embrace Merton’s dream as the kernel of a koan illustrating experiential longing. The awareness that knows also yearns for the fleeting and passing ­– loved ones, seasons, mountains. The food dehydrator humming – squash, carrots and red peppers for my next backpacking trip – my hunger for the imagined west I dwell in receives the nourishment of memories of landscapes and cultures I pine to return to. My aging body seeks harmony amongst a Utah canyon’s fractured cliffs. This wavering mind seeks ease with the help of dungchens trumpeted by Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Maha Bodhi Temple.

Dried apple slices
skewer me
with temptation

And too, revelation arrives without having to seek. One evening during a Grand Canyon backpacking trip as I looked for fossils a bumblebee tagged along for thirty minutes. With each step she hovered before me. Small puffs of air from her rapid wingbeats alighted on my face. Following when I knelt to examine rocks, she rose when I did. Her compound eyes focused on my relatively limited ones. Curiosity glued us together. Our desire for connection transcended experiment. I do not claim cross-species communication or understanding. Rather, I felt mutual respect and acknowledgment of being seen by something older and wiser than I. She would zip away, only to zip back minutes later. Thinking my red t-shirt attracted her, I returned to camp during an absence to experiment with a change of clothes. As I tugged a gray pullover past my face, the bee found me. I resumed fossil hunting. Neither accepting nor rejecting me, she neither followed nor led.

Walking meditation
past fading gravestones
accompanied by
footsteps of others

Author’s notes: Merton’s journal of his western trip was the last he approved for publication. Accompanied by his photographs, the journal was published as Woods, Shore, Desert, (Museum of Santa Fe: New Mexico Press, 1982). The lines quoted are from the Prelude (p. 5), and the May 13th (p. 14) and May 22nd entries (p. 42).

There are many translations of Bashō’s haiku. I quote Robert Hass’.

Poetry at Orlando International Airport

Yes, there are still many challenges to meet and obstacles to overcome in the age of COVID-19, but here’s something completely novel that you wouldn’t normally expect to discover on your travels — a poetry exhibition.
Continuing its commitment of support for the arts and culture of the region, @MCO has opened its first-ever exhibition featuring poetry by 13 local writers, including Billy Collins, the former two-term Poet Laureate of the United States and current Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute, as well as two teen poets from the Parramore community.

Devon Miller-Duggan’s Continued Reading on Race

Third and last installment on “White Fragility”: DiAngelo does an unusually good job of using the expansive space of a book to raise issues in great detail, with lists of responses and possible actions. I took the chapter “White Women’s Tears” particularly to heart and found hope in the last chapter, “Where Do We Go from Here,” since it acknowledges that there IS work I can do, even if I’m not in a good demographic to be marching, corona-wise, not that there is a good demographic to march, depending on where you are.

Then I took to reading every article I could find that took up DiAngelo’s argument or took issue with it. This resulted on my spending a lot of time reading all sorts essays on about all sorts of histories and issues I hadn’t gotten around to thinking enough about yet, or hadn’t known about, period. Maybe the best thing about having read DiAngelo is that she makes it very clear that educating ourselves is not only critical, but positive—it’s energizing and clarifying and INTERESTING. Happily, most writers on are working out their responses either as white people who take her work seriously, or black writers approaching her or any other of a range of subjects about racism from the perspective of their lived experience or buried histories.

I will admit that I have also been comforted by the book’s confirmation that I have managed, over the past few years, to make myself less fragile than I might have been before the roll call of the Murdered by Police made me start paying a new level of attention. I wanted this intellectual and emotional onslaught. It feels like my experience of the Civil Rights Movement was too brief and too slight, and that I hadn’t had a name for the absence I was only vaguely aware of until recently. And I appreciate the mixture of frustrated irritation and patience DiAngelo brings to her subject.

This is the part where I mention that one of the points Feminist, Anti-Racists, and Gay Rights activists have been trying to make forever, pacifists too, come to think of it, is that lived experience constitutes evidence. And DiAngelo, no matter how many sources she references and charts she uses, is writing from lived experience. In the parallel field in which I have the most experience and knowledge, Holocaust Lit (the subject of my dissertation), I have watched and read a nearly endless list of books and documentaries. But Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished, and the books of Primo Levi and Jean Amery, those are the works that sear themselves onto the heart and the mind–he testimonies of lived experience. There is never a replacement for that kind of witness, that kind of testimony. There is a reason that scholars call those documents and witnesses “primary” sources.

It doesn’t really matter what sort of credentials you bring to the discussion. Her over-arching point is that white people feel threatened by being asked to realize that being anti-racist is the only door out of the room/castle/shack/park our culture and history locked us into from the moment our fathers’ wigglers ran into our mothers’ eggs. White people do not want to give up being the normative standard for human. We wouldn’t cling to it so hard if we weren’t so horrified by what it might mean to not be white. Frightened people often behave badly. Cops in riot-gear in front of pellucidly peaceful demonstrations are one of the images of that profound fear becoming dangerously bad behavior. It’s an extreme example, but it’s certainly out there at the moment.

Anyway, here are a couple of the better things I’ve read that extend DiAngelo’s arguments: has featured a lot of thoughtful, remarkably civil writing on race, and a number of essays particularly addressing DiAngelo. If there’s an convincing argument against the existence and dangers of White Fragility, I haven’t found it yet.

And then I started reading All American Boys, a YA novel about police brutality by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I decided to read all the books on my 10-yr-old grandson’s summer reading list. He’s in a Montessori school, in a 4-5-6 classroom with teachers who clearly decided to aim high in terms of complexity of issues and depth of confrontation. This book the non-optional read. I was stunned. It focuses on 2 boys in high school, juniors, one white (Quinn, a gifted basketball player whose father was killed in Afghanistan), one black (ROTC, father former military, former cop). The white boy witnesses a cop brutally beat the black boy outside of a convenience store for all the usual reasons. The hook is that the cop is not only the older brother of one of Quinn’s best friends, but has been a steady father-figure to Quinn. So the Quinn comes to grips with one of those questions that never truly resolve—how good humans do completely unacceptable things. And he has to decide how to face or turn away from someone who has been a hero.

What do the two books have to do with each other, aside from Race? Quinn doesn’t just have to face his hero’s racism and capacity for violence, he has to face his own and come to grips with the ways in which his pretty normal unexamined relationship to race has made him fragile—nearly paralyzed him, in fact. It pretty much plays out DiAngelo’s whole argument in the lives of two boys. Rashad, the battered one, has his own issues with coming to understand the depths and realities of  his blackness, too, not that he’s naïve at the beginning, just that he’s like most of us in not really examining things we know until they happen to our bodies. I was surprised that, while this is a coming-of-age story, it’s not specifically male, for all that it “gets” the boys. And it made DiAngelo’s points real in the way that literature can. I didn’t cry through DiAngelo’s last chapter—I just thought a lot about how I could re-construct my Intro to Poetry class this fall so that it covers The Canon decently and leaves me a big chunk of this already-weird semester to focus on African American poets, and about sending more money to the SPLC, and about the extraordinary level of privilege with which I am weathering the pandemic—a thing I can do very little about except make masks for the Navaho and masks for the homeless and masks for local schools. Nor do I think that giving up my privilege would address either systemic racism or white fragility. History changes much more slowly than we want it to, even when it seems as though it’s moving at light speed. Humans change very slowly, species-wide, and it looks an awful lot like we’re hard-wired as animals to identify and fear the other. The wonder is not that, but that so many of us work against that wiring, so often. The Nazis are less remarkable than the Righteous. Not less important, less remarkable.

It feels like I spent a lot of my late childhood and early adulthood thinking about what I would do if I were in Germany in the late 1930s. I was sure I’d join the Resistance, until I had children. Then I thought I’d send my children to safety and join the Resistance. Then I realized that I was incapable of knowing what I’d do, because I wasn’t ever going to be safely Aryan in 1930s Germany. For a while I thought that was the end of that internal discussion. Then I started studying Holocaust Literature after a 35th-year-crisis of identity. How did getting a PhD in that particular field change me? I still couldn’t tell you, really, except that both the degree (a promise my nerdy 6-year-old self had made) and the field made me feel more like myself—my authentic self.

I learned stories and facts from DiAngelo, but what reading the book really did was make me feel more like my authentic self. DiAngelo’s affirmation of issues and their manifestations that I had already been thinking about made me feel like part of a larger conversation I am grateful to join, and willing to fumble through. There are other such conversations that intersect, often uncomfortably, with the discourses of racism—2nd wave feminists seriously bungled the inclusion of women of color, the economics of Quarterly Capitalism demolish anything that gets in their way solely on the basis of the march toward useless and inconceivable monetary wealth, climate change is going to land most heavily on the backs of those who have fewer resources (which boils down, so much of the time, to people who are not white). None of this is revelatory. But acknowledging that white people are fragile about their whiteness and how it deletes non-white humans might help white people be more conscious. More conscious people are more alive. So, maybe I’m weird, but DeAngelo’s book made me happy.

Or, as Quinn says toward the end of All American Boys, “…racism is alive and real as shit. It was everywhere and all mixed up in everything, and the only people who said ‘Don’t talk about it.’ were white. Well, stop lying.” And then he makes hard choices and learns that those sorts of choices are the  only way to feel alive to feel any true strength. DiAngelo isn’t trying to make white people feel bad, she’s trying to help us feel less frightened, be less fear-driven, less invisible to ourselves.

*Update: since I finished drafting this, an interview with linguist John McWhorter has appeared ( ) in which he makes some thought-worthy points, though his points depend on readers taking the book rather differently than I have.

Poem by Leroy Quintana

Although I’ve anthologized his work, I was unfamiliar with the poems about Vietnam.

Armed Forces Recruitment Day
Albuquerque High School, 1962

After the Navy,
the Air Force, and
the Army,
Sgt. Castillo,
the Marine Corps
got a standing ovation
when he walked up
to the microphone
and said proudly
that unlike
the rest, all
he could promise
was a pack,
a rifle, and
a damned hard time.
Except for that,
he was the biggest
of liars.

Interview with Ya’el Chaikind: Counting the Omer / Revelations of the Heart

Editor’s note: I’m always interested in time and counting. And I follow Ya’el Chaikind’s Omer poems. Given that the pandemic may be altering or relationship to time, I interviewed her about her process.

What is your Omer poetry project?

Counting the Omer is an ancient Jewish custom where each spring you intentionally immerse in the spiritual Kabbalistic qualities of lovingkindness, boundaries, harmony, endurance, awe, foundation, and dignity for 49 days. The 50th day corresponds to the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, and is known as a time of revelation.

Counting the Omer begins on the second night of Passover. Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom from slavery. Could it be that we need to free ourselves from old stories, beliefs, or habits that enslave us in order to receive these revelatory teachings? With the freedom of seven weeks to intentionally interact with these spiritual qualities, what new insights and perspectives will be revealed on the 50th day?

These are the intriguing questions for me. So, eight years ago, I decide to follow this cycle. I write a poem each day for 49 days and directly experience the potency of this sacred technology. Some days I have an hour to write, others, only fifteen minutes. The daily exercise of surrendering to my muse, writing a poem without
censoring myself, and then walking away without editing myself, has become a transformative spiritual practice that I repeat each year.

My book, Revelations of the Heart: A 49-Day Journey of Poems and Prompts to Write Your Way to Revelation, is a writing guide and poetry book that helps readers along their own transformative journeys, no matter what time of the year. It’s available on Amazon in soft cover and kindle. Check out my website for more information or if you want a personal guide on this journey. ( / )

PS: An “omer” is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. The next day, two measures of barley were offered. This continued for 49 days. The idea of counting each day represented spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah on Shavuot (the 50th day). (Leviticus 23:15).

How many years is this of the project?

This year marked my 8th year of Counting the Omer through poetry. That’s 392 poems!

How influenced by the pandemic were you? 

Each year my poems chronicle the intimate details of daily life, and this year was no exception with regards to the pandemic. Each year, I get more and more bold in my willingness to share my vulnerability with others, offering my Facebook friends a daily offering of my heart. Another revelation, to find strength and mutual support when practicing vulnerability! Like all art forms, the Omer provides me an outlet for creative expression. The pandemic definitely influenced me, but there is always something deeper to explore under every event, like universal themes of fear, sadness, finding joy in times of pain, where am I going to buy toilet paper, you know, that sort of thing.

Bio note
Ya’el Chaikind is a licensed psychotherapist, educator, book coach, author, poet, and storyteller living in Santa Fe, NM. Please visit her website for more information:



i call upon the indwelling
presence of a she-god, he-god,

searching for a vaccination
to innoculate me against
the darkness

skewing my vision as I search
the horizon for better days
to come and my hope

waxes and wanes in the fullness
of the moon holding up
the sky that might fall

what else can I do but remember
there is only love
there is only kindness

and sniff the freshly blossomed
fragrance of apricot flowers
tender and fleeting

like love, like kindness, renewing
their vows to have and to hold
my heart, forever.

Ya’el Chaikind
April 9, 2020 / 15 Nisan 5780

Omer Day 1:
Chesed Shebe Chesed
Lovingkindness within Lovingkindness




Closing the loop,
dotting my I’s, and
crossing my heart before I die
for tonight I tie the knot
with the Beloved.

Another journey ends,
only to begin again.

Each poem a prayer
that poked holes
in my inner hot air

Instead of deflation,
rising above
the Things That Do
Not Matter on
raven wings.

Tonight I step
towards you
another an inch
and watch as the gates
burst open, wide
enough for a chariot.

Those welcoming arms
that hold the world.

Loving you is
the revelation.

A dignified path that
helps me radically accept
and love myself.

Ya’el Chaikind
5.27.20 // 4 Sivan 5780

Omer Day 49:
Malchut Shebe Malchut
Majesty, Dignity, & Nobility within Majesty, Dignity, & Nobility

Sukkah: Gimme Shelter by Miriam Sagan

I’m not one to retreat from the world. Yes, I can spend long stretches of time alone in remote settings. After all, I twice spent a week in a trailer in an abandoned air force base in Great Basin. Nothing but howling dogs in the distance and three million acres of bombing range.
However, I experience this as being CLOSE to things–myself, the environment, poetry, even what I’ll call G-d. It’s the difference between loneliness and solitude–solitude being a relationship to the unseen, not a lack.
So I’ve hated the idea of being in lockdown during the pandemic. Locked down with what? Fear, an exaggerated emphasis on my own safety, a compliance with rules? Sorry, this does not sound like me.
I’ve done my best to not be locked away from my world–physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’m always practical, so I’ve given in to the demands of the time. But I’m connecting to nature–from the mountains to my veggie garden. To people–from my family to childhood friends. To literature and art and music. To my spiritual support group. And yes, to the sometimes sad often diminished neighborhood that I live in–and love as much as if it were a person. The details are my own, and might not be universally useful. However, I’m trying.
A friend very kindly said to me–“You’ve created your own life within the pandemic.” I was truly encouraged that she’d noticed my effort.
So I think of myself as living within a tent. It’s not my usual life, but it is serviceable. It is a kind of sukkah. “Sukkah” is defined as a temporary shelter covered in natural materials, built near a synagogue or house and used especially for meals during the Jewish festival of Succoth. It can also be used to describe the sheltering effect of the Shekinah, the feminine aspect of the divine.
So, what is going on in my sukkah? One very important thing to me in life are those seemingly random or casual exchanges that often contain meaning or wisdom. I’ve recently seen a very large man happily catch a very small fish. Been complimented on my tie-dye hippie dress by a stranger. And been given some important personal advice by the laundromat lady.
Gimme shelter.