Midrash Writing Prompt by Miriam Sagan & Isabel Winson-Sagan

Describe the setting of a narrative as a short poem, but include no people or storytelling. In this case, it was Genesis 31, where a pillar and mound are set up in the desert as a contract. Every time I read the passage I see the Navajo Res in my mind’s eye, or even just the Galisteo Basin.

smell of sage
tarantula elegantly
climbing out of a hole
left by something else
a long gone rabbit, God’s hand


The Mound & The Pillar

Stones stacked on top of stones
stark against a blue sky
it smells like dust and livestock,
like the desert smells after a long journey
is it a boundary line, a covenant,
or the way back?


Lookout by Robyn Hunt


I pick up this stick pin. Fifty cents worth of ink. Consider animals on my path. Whether there is luck – good or bad. The dead visit me or I stand at the highest lookout, searching for their ghosts. Rippling Monarch butterfly reminiscent of mother, gone. Or patient hawk, like devilish departed
step father on a tall roadside lamp post. Seeking meat and broken eggs below.

We are carnivore though we don’t eat our young. Together, as children we learned of a heavenly place, were directed to picture the old dead greeting the newly dead. At night, my mind cannot cast out its doubts. Weighted foot blanket, grief. I conjure necessary recipes like dog-eared leaves of the Bible passed into granddaughters’ hands. Photographs mistaken for memories…

…Neither epiphany nor revelation. Only the faith to keep us in the circle. Dizzy and in concert with ground and sky and the envelope between.

When I’m Packing A Suitcase

I wish that I could pack all my favorite clothes from the decades of my life.

1. The yellow dress with orange empire band, circa 1968
2. The black cotton 1930’s style dress emblazoned with cherries, 1972
3. Black and white silk vintage dress, San Francisco, 1982
4. Reversible silk sack dress–purple and burgundy, bought at Origins on sale, Santa Fe, 1988
And so many more. Worn out, torn, stained, no longer fitting, too unfashionable, but still missed.

Who am I dressing for? In part, to avoid my mother (even though she is now dead), whose hypercritical eye and sharp tongue ruined many a sartorial moment for me. Clingy things were out, even when I was young and relatively svelte. She didn’t like the opposite direction I went in either–loose, baggy, unconstricted. But there I have stayed.
I’m dressing for certain of my friends who care about clothes–not fashion, but personal style. I’m not dressed for Men with a capital M though. My husbands have been vague about my clothes. “Nice pants,” Robert once said. It was a skirt. (He was very near-sighted). If Rich doesn’t like something, which he mentions about once every twenty years, I know it must be awful (I gave that muumuu from Hilo Hattie’s away at once).
One of my closest friends just likes when I dress up at all, although she rarely does. My short, boxy dresses, leggings, tights, tunic overall look always draws a compliment. Another close friend is quite opinionated and knowledgeable–a compliment from her is earned. Our taste is quite similar but not identical. I dress to amuse.
I never wear jeans, never sweats. To me, the loose dress is the perfect item. I’m sure I’d love a sari or a shalwar kameez if such dress was culturally appropriate for me. Luckily there is a lot of ethnic-derived clothing that fits in a similar fashion. And I have several used kimono jackets.
Right now, I like a lot of color, a lot of pattern, a lot of texture, scarves, earrings. In some ways I’m a minimalist–I like simple food, sharing a car, not being overworked, having few appliances–but not when it comes to clothes.
A marvelous Zen koan asks–for who do you adorn yourself and make yourself beautiful?
One answer might be–for you. And for me.

Midrash: Household Gods

In Beit Midrash torah study, we spent several months on Genesis 31. Towards the end, Rachel steals her father’s household gods.
I was honored to teach a short writing class in the group. One of the topics: What are your household gods? Answers below from me and Isabel Winson-Sagan.
Who Are Your Household Gods? by Isabel Winson-Sagan

My household god
lounges on the red couch
languid, paws outstretched
a false sense of relaxation
and one amber eye, flickering open

My household god
is a framed photograph
next to a stone Buddha
a boy once knocked it off the shelf
and started to cry

My household god
lives in a black pot
from Santa Clara Pueblo-
but sometimes, he prefers
the little blue one, with chrysanthemums

My household god
is kept at bay
by the loaf of bread and salt
that I hid in the back of a cupboard

My household god
is in the apricot tree
grown from a branch
that I took from my parent’s backyard

I keep the ancestors close
the Devil out
and the brownies placated

A whistling teapot is like a prayer
to Hestia, the lit candles
call to Hecate
the skull beads are for balance.

The tarot cards
fall out of the deck
in a perfect circle

My household god
is in the wind
outside my window
stirring up a dust devil
to say hello.


What Are My Household Gods? by Miriam Sagan

1. Grandma Flossie’s X-mas cactus
2. No microwave
3. Frayed broom
4. My dead husband’s bookshelves made of fruit crates
5. My live husbad’s pickle jars full of nuts and pretzels
6. The ghost of a cat
7. Laundry drying rack
8. Every Navajo rug
9. Mouse hole covered in tin can top
10. A pinata that once hung from a ceiling hook

Ruth Asawa

I was overwhelmed to learn of this artist who was interned in a camp as a Japanese-American girl during World War Two. Her father was in a camp in New Mexico–that must have been the Department of Justice camp just blocks from my house today. The rest of the family was imprisoned in Arkansas. She became an artist as a teenager, during this period, and ended up at Black Mountain. She’s famous–the De Young did a retrospective–but new to me, despite my tracking of as much of this history as possible. The video of her installations brought tears to my eyes.

Check out: https://www.ruthasawa.com/

SF Poetry Garden: Acequia de Las Joyas

I’ve started working on the lot! It’s been scary, making that first mark on a blank canvas.
First off, I’m about to get a water hook-up from the City–which despite its mixed reputation has been fine to work with. (Knock wood). A crew member even told me some history of the adjacent lot–it had been a bar back in the 1950’s!

No need for a lot of water, but if I’m going to put in cottonwoods they’ll need a drip to get established. Also, sculptors of earth like water. Frankly it is so little it could be hauled, but I’ve heard install prices will eventually jump and right now the street is unpaved, so no asphalt fee. Considering what drought prices may become, I’m doing it now. But basically still on xeriscaping.

That said, one of my several consultants suggested boulders. Boulders R Us is half the price of anyone else in town–find them on 599. Great selection. The darker stone is from Taos gorge, the rest from Las Vegas (NM) area.

Next steps–
1. Seed native grasses and wait for monsoon. Right now it is red ant, goat head, jimson weed…a disturbed zone.
2. Fence it.
3. There will be a pop-up show in the fall, curated by a dynamic young curator I’ve been working with. But these details will have to wait!

At that point, I’m considering Stage 1 (2018) done. Stage 2 is the more elaborate and expensive–permanent text installation. In 2021 (how did this happen? I’ve never been booked out this far before in my life) the Garden will be part of a national land art show on Extraction (mining, underground, etc.). Again, stay tuned, and I’m happy to be able to share this.