Constrictor: Poem by Miriam Sagan

The Constrictor

I sat reading
turning the pages in a quiet room
behind me
a bank of houseplants bloomed
and something else—
intent and beady-eyed—
watched the motion of my hand

“Mir,” you said softly
“Don’t look
behind you, just
get up, and so
don’t ask, just go”

you caught the snake
that had escaped
its glass aquarium
a shimmering boa
with pale blue scales
hueing the rainbow…

at the time
I was annoyed, amused, relieved
you caught it
but also
the problem was yours
in the old apartment
with leaky windows and swollen doors
where once a small wild
garden snake
also set up residence

that was what,
almost forty years ago,
the town has changed
snakes given away
you long dead
and I gone on
to read
other books

Safe Sex

Safe Sex

I’m as tired as anyone of navigating social life right now. The pandemic rages, but I’m vaccinated. Are you? Are we hugging hello, wearing masks, eating in, eating out? Do we make decisions the same way, share the same information, or…

Suddenly I realized, yes, these conversations can be awkward, but it is easier than the ones about safe sex. I got married and left San Francisco in 1984, but before that the plague of AIDS had appeared on the scene. There really wasn’t much emphasis on safe sex yet. Mostly, the public health directive was on NO sex. Given human nature, this was going to fail.

Some genius community activists and health care providers promulgated the standards for safe sex. And at first the conversation was awkward, very awkward. But it saved lives, and it saved sanity, and continues to do so.

I was unexpectedly single a dozen years later—and received a safe sex lecture from my GP and a request for an AIDS test from a potential significant other. Although I prided myself on my know-it-all attitude, I was slightly surprised. Turns out that even though I knew I didn’t have AIDS that really wasn’t a a convincing fact for others. So I complied.

Exchanging bodily fluids is usually more intense than a coffee date. But if the comparison holds up, and I’m pro safe sex, then I should be grateful for safe socializing. In fact, I wish the buzzword wasn’t social distancing, which sounds like a cross between leprosy and existentialism.

Awkward as honest conversation may be, it is never amiss to find out what other people want and need to feel comfortable.

Interview with Richard Vargas

What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to thepoetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it,etc.
rv: My first serious introduction to the importance of the line came about during my early studies of poetry as an undergrad at CSULB. I had developed an interest in poetry when I was in high school, but my teachers were clueless when I asked them for guidance or suggested readings. As a student in college, I started reading William Carlos Williams. His use of the line made me realize I didn’t have to adapt my language and speech to artificial and formal poetic devices to write my own poetry. I didn’t have to sacrifice parts of myself in order to become a “poet.” I was already both. Dr. Williams helped me achieve a certain level of comfort within myself, integrating who I was/am with what I wanted to do, i.e., write poetry. My natural sound could be expressed using a line break based on my breath. I became aware of the relationship between poetry on the page and how it sounds when read aloud. You have to understand that I was a clueless college freshman, and all this was a revelation to me. Within a very short period of time, I found myself reading the work of Charles Bukowski and Nila Northsun, adapting their use of the short line within my own writing style. Robert Creeley’s poems also had an impact. I try to create a rolling, or tumbling effect, where one line falls into the next. I want the poetry to be alive on the page. Poetry is a life force, and as such, we do not choose it, it chooses us.
Do you find a relationship between words and writing andthe human body? Or between your writing and your body?
rv: My body, the physical self, gives me a sense of presence. But it is raw. Poetry provides the means to interpret and measure my interaction with my surroundings; both the natural and the manmade. Art plugs me in, turns me on. To deny this role of art in our lives, or diminish it, leads to the dysfunctions we see every day, and I believe will ultimately be our downfall as a species.
When I was in the fourth grade, I was on the Glee Club, the group of kids who provided the music component to the annual Christmas program. During a practice, the teacher directing us stopped us in mid-song, looked at me, and told me to stop singing, to just “move your lips, okay?” It was a cruel and brutal thing to tell a child. No one should ever tell a kid to stop singing. I was scarred, and I never sang again, because I knew my song was ugly. And I really liked to sing! Poetry found me, gave me back my voice, and I can’t imagine what I would have become without it.
Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
rv: Well, if you put too many of us in a small space, it can get ugly. (I joke, to a degree.) I am not a businessman. But if we don’t honk our own horn, no one else does. So when a book comes out, I find myself playing the multiple roles of publicist/promoter/pitchman, and it’s okay up to a point. I know the publisher is counting on it, and it’s the least I can do. But, as Bones might say to Capt. Kirk, “Damnit, Jim! I’m an artist, not a businessman.” All I want to do is write, read, give readings, facilitate workshops, and publish my poetry magazine. Getting paid enough to make a living while doing these things would be a bonus, but now I’m dreaming.

Bio: Richard Vargas was born in Compton, CA, attended schools in Compton, Lynwood, and Paramount. He earned his B.A. at Cal State University, Long Beach, where he studied under Gerald Locklin and Richard Lee. He edited/published five issues of The Tequila Review, 1978-1980. His first book, McLife, was featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, in February, 2006. A second book, American Jesus, was published by Tia Chucha Press, 2007. His third book, Guernica, revisited, was published April 2014, by Press 53. (Once again, a poem from the book was featured on Writer’s Almanac to kick off National Poetry Month.) Vargas received his MFA from the University of New Mexico, 2010. He was recipient of the 2011 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference’s Hispanic Writer Award, and was on the faculty of the 2012 10th National Latino Writers Conference. He was a founding editor The Más Tequila Review. 

New Chapbook Published in India

It was nice to be asked by Cyberwit for some poems. Now available on Amazon:

The Return

I no longer live
in a monastery
in the clouds

nor am I any longer
the mother
of a small child

the Southern Rockies
seem pre-disposed
to embrace me

I sit on the swinging chair
just out of reach
of my own
cup of coffee

Check out the link to this and other interesting writers–

Interview with Erika T. Wurth

3 Questions for Erika T. Wurth
What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

I feel really strongly about this subject, because I think that aesthetics are getting ignored & are misunderstood in poetry, and they’re so important. For example, though I have elements of narrative in my work, I tend to favor prose poems because they have narrative qualities, but are led by the language of the piece and more importantly to me, by the sound of the piece. And narrative poems, which are done so beautifully, if done well, are being often represented as simplistic or easy. It seems as if something is easily understood, people label it as narrative and if hard, experimental. But what I find is that often narrative poems appear simple on the surface, but are complex underneath (look at Kim Addonizio for example) – and the opposite can be true of experimental. Either way, I’m a poet who is led by sound – once I understand the ryhthm of the piece, the images come. And I believe in the basics of sound, image and metaphor – and I love the fact that there are new aesthetics: Native American poets like Santee Frazier who use stomp dance to influence their work, which to me is a new form of lyric poetry. Narrative poems. Language poems. So many new American forms. I also feel strongly about enjambment; I think that people need to read their work out loud because deciding to enjamb a line where it looks like it might create a sort of psuedo-profound topical complexity can ruin the overall meaning of a piece.

Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
Hmmm. Well, I’m also a fiction writer, so, honestly, I spend ridiculous amounts of time smoking and clacking away angrily at the computer. So, none of that is probably very healthy for me. But then again, sometimes I do feel like my body isn’t there, when the writing is really going good, and I’m listening to some kind of music and I feel genuinely transformed. Between the cigarettes.

Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
Less than 1% of Americans read poetry and although I know poets love to blame American culture as a whole, I’ve been teaching for almost a decade and a half now, and I’ve found that my students like to read; IF you give them work that isn’t meant to speak exclusively to a small, perhaps academic audience. And the poetry world seems to be filled with folks who only write for each other. I like poetry too much to see that happen. And I’m so glad academia has positions for writers – but I see the same thing happening with fiction now – this retreat into academia – and it worries me that the poetry & fiction I love is being launched into space, and perhaps destined to live on planet academia – because it will die there.

Erika T. Wurth is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee. Her collection of poetry, Indian Trains was published by the University of New Mexico’s West End Press. Erika T. Wurth’s publications include two novels, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and You Who Enter Here, and a collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine. A writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Interview with Shirley Kaufman

What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
I relate to the ‘poetic line’ in almost the same way as I would relate to any whole sentence. It has to have a beginning and an ending, and especially in the case of poetry a music of its own.

Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
I like this question, because I think I relate to my writing with my whole self, which includes my body. I feel most my self when I am fully concentrated on the words I am putting down on paper, and it starts at the tips of my fingers on the keys of my keyboard at the computer. I begin almost every day like this, so that it feels very natural.

Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
NO, NO, NO. I think it’s wonderful to be a poet. I think I am very lucky that poetry is the most important part of my life. At the age of seven my mother bought me a leather bound book to write my poems in, because I had already begun to speak poems. I filled that precious book all the way through high school. And have written and published my poems ever since.

Shirley Kaufman was born in Seattle and immigrated to Israel in 1973. She died in 2016.

Interview with Jean Valentine

For the last week of poetry month, I’ll be re-blogging some interviews with poets. Jean Valentine died late last year.

  1. What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
  2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
  3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Answers from Jean Valentine1.  The line for me isn’t a visual thing, but it’s very important for musical and emotional judgments.  I can give an example of a line I’m wondering about right now:
  His two sons had been your students.
  Anyhow.  I’m always, my young fathers, out in the air,  loving you.
or:  I’m always, my young fathers, out in the air.  Loving you.
It’s probably hard to see the whole question without my writing out the whole poem.  But there is a decision of timing, which is both musical and emotional– it includes always, punctuation as well, of course.
2.. Yes, I think it varies from poet to poet, at least in my experience.  When I hear some poets read, I understand and love their poetry more than I might just on the page.  In fact I think this is true of any poet; but more so with some than others.  For instance: Ilya Kaminsky and Yusef Komanyakaa and Harryette Mullen, and when you can get hold of their recordings, Neruda and Yeats.
For myself, I find it’s  hard to know where the mind leaves off and the body begins; I’m feeling that right now, even writing these answers!
3.  I can’t think of anything I don’t like, except the parts that aren’t to do with poetry.  Money, etc.

 Jean Valentine was born in Chicago, earned her B.A. from Radcliffe College, and has lived most of her life in New York City. She won the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first book, Dream Barker, in 1965. Her eleventh book of poetry is Break the Glass, just out from Copper Canyon Press. Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965 – 2003 was the winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Poetry.


I recently met a spiritual teacher, and was invited to ask a question. As this isn’t my first rodeo, I decided to ask a question that was heartfelt, but tricky.

I said: during the pandemic, I have had meaning and fun, but less happiness. I don’t believe happiness comes from inside. I find it a kind of inspiration. How can I entice my happiness to come to me?

The teacher gave this answer: “Happiness is a choice.” (I believe there is a book with this title, too.)

I’m guessing this person had forgotten about depression, bio-chemically indigenous or situational. And about grief. Not cool, in my book. We were strangers. I’d have appreciated more caution. What if I’d lost someone in the pandemic?

Also, I don’t really believe much in choice. (Unless it is Roe vs. Wade). Between character, fate, and chance, I’m lucky to have even a medium amount of free will.

On the other hand, I do everything in my power to practice gratitude, mitzvahs, self-amusement, and friendliness. That is, I practice enjoyment. But it is not the whole picture.


Well, that isn’t the teacher for me, which is good, because I’m incredibly suspicious of so-called spiritual teachers. However, I started to wonder how people I respect would answer the question. And to my surprise, I could pretty much channel their answers!

My old therapist: You ARE happy. But it’s clouded by your anxiety. Work on lowering that, and happiness will shine.

My old Zen teacher: You and your happiness exist in a mutual field. How can happiness entice YOU?

My great aunt Tillie: Life is not meant to be happy, darling. (A Jewish variant on the Buddhist “Life is suffering.”)

Shakyamuni Buddha: Follow the Eightfold Path—right action, right speech, etc.

The Sage Hillel: If not now, when?

The checkout lady (She is a mythical character for me, representing common sense): Do something for somebody else.

My deceased but not forgotten cats: You’ll feel better if you rest up.

My two-year old grand-daughter (psychic, her vocab isn’t that large yet): Watch cartoons, eat popcorn, and hold my hand. Also, this soft blankie—which I am not sharing with you—can help. Get your own.