I’ve been following the discovery of ancient footprints at White Sands with interest. The most recent thinking pushes back the date that people first came to North America. The tale below is a story within a story, part of my unpublished novel “The Future Tense of River.” It was inspired by perhaps the oldest hominid foot prints in an African rift valley. For the purposes of the book, it is set on the Colorado Plateau.


What the Rift Told
She kept one eye on the mountain and one on the dying woman. It had been a difficult few days. When the mountain started to spew hot mud and the earth shook and shook, everyone decided to break camp. They’d seen this before. First mud, then ash, then an eruption with earth slides that took down trees and everything else in the path of destruction.. Sometimes fire. Better to move. The dry riverbeds were a barrier, the old-timers said. After that, the delta, the lake, fish, and a change of camping grounds. Summer was coming. They’d been here too long. The proof—a trail of smoke from the collapsed caldera.
But her mother’s sister’s daughter was in labor. Too long, exhausting, swollen. The child lay sideways, and she couldn’t move it. Actually, she suspected the child was dead. And the mother soon to follow. But she couldn’t leave her, not a mother cousin, really not anyone. She kept her two boys with her, lying to herself a little that they’d suffer without her. When of
course they wouldn’t. Anyone could care for them. She’d follow the others later. But she kept them.
And then told them to amuse themselves. Get dinner, grubs, lizards, locusts. They gorged themselves, roasted things to a crunch.
Mama, said the younger one. Is that God? He pointed to the mountain.
No, she said. God is here. And she put his hand to his heart.
But…he said.
He’d seen her offer food to a blue stone, feathers to the wind.
There are little gods everywhere, she explained. Each thing has its god. And there is the big God, inside. And the ancestors of the mothers…there are many things that will help you. Many things.
By now her cousin was beyond hunger or thirst, bleeding out, just a whimper. The mountain rumbled, stinking of mud and ash. Dust started to fall, closer, poisonous. The child lay crosswise and the would-be mother died. She’d have to leave them, come back in four seasons for the bones to gather, disarticulate, smear with red, and bury in a basket. Unless the mountain buried it all first.
Come on come on, she told her boys. We leave now. No more playing slap the hand or hunt the antelope. Run! The younger was on her back, heavy but not that heavy. First child had her hand. Walk walk. Now run! Her legs were long, very long for a woman. She’d seen summer seventeen times, she wasn’t yet old. Faster. They stepped in mud, ash falling. Trotted uphill, down again, and there was the valley. Across the dry riverbeds. The air cleared a little.
Camp could not be far, two days at most. They could walk all night, the little one asleep on her back. Rest in shade in the day. They’d see the others soon. Her own mother was gone, mother’s sister too. She felt the pull of grief in her belly, the mother and child she’d lost.
Mama, said first child, squeezing her hand. Mama, we ran so fast, it was like flying.
She wondered for a moment why she felt she’d left something behind, besides her failure to save mother or child. Maybe just two sets of footprints in ash.

The Oldest Human Footprints in North America Could Redefine Prehistory as We Know It—and It’s All Thanks to These Tiny Seeds

Monday Feature: Bird Pong–More Ekphrasis from Michaela Kahn

Bird Pong – More Ekphrasis

I had so much fun working on the ekphrastic prose poem for last week’s blog post that I wanted to try again. I’ve used another of Leonora Carrington’s paintings, “Bird Pong.” It’s oil on canvas, painted in 1949.


Bird Pong

Celia has invented a new game. “You must tie the birds onto the paddles, Annabelle, you see?” she says, showing me her tidy Highwayman’s Hitch around the hummingbird’s leg. “Otherwise they’ll fly away.”

It’s a subtle insult, the sort I’m used to, the kind I’m meant to smile away—like the ugly partridge-shaped feather hats the courtiers have taken to wearing, or the swan consommé served at tea by a witty hostess, or the feather boas the children have taken to using for their games of tug-o-war.

And so I dutifully smile and brush my hand down over my white-feathered body, smoothing the ruffled places. When one of only six marriageable princesses in Reallia is born with feathers, the kingdom takes it as an affront to its honor. They blame me for the feathers. They blame me for never having scoured them off. (Not that I never tried. I’ve used pig-bristle brushes, silver combs, hemp rope, pumice stone and finally my own sharp nails. At thirteen I plucked myself bloody, only to have the quills poke through skin again.) Since they blame me, they take liberties. Jokes, barbs, small jibes … I’m still royal, so they are careful never to say or do anything they can’t explain away as careless oversight or loving jest. But I ask you, are a million small cuts, inflicted daily, really any better than one deep gash?

Celia explains the rules of “Bird Pong” and smacks her hummingbird down into the first wedge of the table, scoring five points. She squeals with laughter. The poor bird hangs limp at the end of her line. The children, who’ve come to see the horror, start to chant, One, two — Hummingbird fly, snap and catch the fine bright eye. Feathers whirl through the air. I gently urge my own hummingbird to fly down to the second wedge. Celia flings her bird so hard it slips the knot and crashes against the wall. Three, four – blood on the floor, chant the children. Celia reaches into the cage for a replacement bird. I pull my own up into my hand and stroke its tiny head. Five, six, Hummingbird die – snap the neck and eat its eye, the children cackle.

Through the window, in the garden, I see my sister Origina flirting with Gregor. He bends down and plucks her a cabbage rose. A giant pink one. Gregor and I were betrothed before we were born. But of course no one felt they could enforce the betrothal, not when my feathers didn’t disappear by the time I was fifteen. My father was indignant about it (he doesn’t want me on his hands the rest of my life) but he needs the goodwill of Gregor’s father Orloff. Origina puts a tiny pink-skinned hand onto Gregor’s chest.

Celia has slapped her new bird down into the next three wedges. It flutters, dazed, trying to get away. I hold my hummingbird up to my mouth and whisper to it, pull the slip on the Highwayman’s knot on its leg. It darts free, a blur of green and red, flying up, down, here, there, then it speeds off, straight at Celia’s face. Her laughter turns into a shriek.

Seven, eight, the children chant, Hummingbird Gate – in, out, over, through, better look out, its coming for you!

Monday Feature: A Little Ekphrasis by Michaela Kahn

A Little Ekphrasis:
A few years ago I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of artwork by the amazing surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington.  I have loved her works for years, studied them in books and prints. But seeing them in person was a whole different experience.  Her colors are both more vivid and more subtle in person.  There are also many details in the paintings so faint or intricate that they are lost in reproductions. For example, in the image below – you can’t really see that through that doorway (in fact you can barely see the doorway at all) to the far right, is a night scene: a fog-rimmed moon and a figure outlined against the horizon.  Here is my attempt at an ekphrastic prose poem for this painting.
Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen, by Leonora Carrington

(Click to enlarge)

Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen –
It started when I was five. A little shuffle, a tapping sound coming from the kitchen. I crept from my bed and down the stairs through the dark house. The whole house was sleeping. In fact it felt like the whole world was sleeping. Except in the kitchen where the Aunts were – chopping stirring, decanting.  Not my Aunts. Though some beneath their robes and hoods may have been human, some were obviously not. Auntie Wensley-Water was a giant Goose. Auntie Alberdine was a sort of Antelope. I stood at the edge on the cold tile and watched them, trying to be small and quiet, inhaling the smells of cilantro and chili. Near dawn, all at once like a flock of birds, they turned to look at me, small smiles on their various faces. The air between us went gelatinous—their eyes saw what was really inside my skin. Auntie Amelia-Pine fed me a bit of chocolate from her spoon.
In the morning I thought it was a dream. Until the next night. And the next.
Each night they come. Each night I wake and watch. I grow stranger. My sight in daytime poor. I wear my dresses backwards and refuse to go to church. I carry baby chicks in my pockets and sew lavender into the hems of all my dresses. I turn eighteen.
The Aunts are around the kitchen table again.  The smell of garlic mixes with the smell of cornmeal frying on the comal.  The discussion returns to the bottle of 80-year-old eau de vie they buried in the back garden and the pear tree which sprouted from its cork stopper. Auntie Periwinkle has just brought in a basket of these special pears, which the other Aunts mix with chocolate and chili, cinnamon and garlic to make a sauce.  
“Tsk, tsk, tsk … counterclockwise,” says Bertha to Amelia-Pine who frowns and stamps her foot.
Aunt Bertha adjusts her glass eyes, polishing them with a silk handkerchief.  I have grown bold. I stand at the table; I hover near the stove. They are waiting for the message to come clear in the soup.
“Can you see it yet?” asks Wensley-Water. 
“Nor in, nor out,” replies Alberdine and looks at me.  “It’s time to choose your side little girl,” she says.
I begin to peel my nightdress away, stitch by stitch, lace and flannel. Then I peel back the skin, follicle by follicle, mole and freckle. When I step out of my camouflage, my feathers are soft gray and stippled brown, still damp from my hatching.

*** (official site of the artist’s estate) (3-part blog by Christien Gholson about her life and work)

Graffiti by Miriam Sagan

by Miriam Sagan on Jul 27, 2015

She falls from the ledge, a rocky outcropping in an otherwise featureless tundra, breaks her thigh bone in two places. No one comes. The sun rises twice. Dehydrated, delirious, she senses a yellow panther circling her, smells its yaw, feels only resignation. But it is the wind above her dying breath that sustains her, a great swan, wingspan touching both horizons, inner and outer, at the same moment.

Then the band, the people, come back for her, worried, frantic. The old woman sets the bone, but of course she’ll walk with a limp for the rest of her life. But she is changed. Everyone has seen the paw prints of the panther. No one has seen as much as a feather from the wing of the swan.

Creative Writing at Community College

Check out Santa Fe Community College’s creative writing program for fall. There are some spaces left in our classes. Terry Wilson is teaching her signature class, Exploring Creative Writing (English 120). She says:

“I run the class workshop style, so students often get to know each other quite well. Many of my students have had their essays, stories, poems, and even books published. Writing Creatively is a perfect class to take to enter into SFCC’s Creative Writing Program because in it, you can experience many different types of writing and begin to develop a discipline. Or if you’re a more seasoned wordsmith, you can use the class to keep writing, keep getting feedback, and keep developing your skills!”
Wednesdays at 6 pm

And Terry is teaching a FREE intro class. She says: I wanted to let everyone know that I’m teaching a free creative writing class at downtown library on Monday, Aug. 3 from 5:30-7:30 pm.–it’s an Intro class in case anyone wants to know how “happening” my SFCC English 120 class is! 😉 And by the way, we do a lot of memoir writing in English 120 (Exploring Creative Writing) in addition to fiction and other non-fiction. So check it out, y’all!

Shuli Lamden is teaching poetry on Mondays at 5:30 pm. This class rotates among several teachers, so this is a good opportunity to study with her. That’s English 222. In general, Shuli’s approach emphasizes the relationship between the writer and the world, and metaphoric connections.

Just a few spaces left in my on-line intro to fiction class. This is taught with a flash fiction approach. Expect lots of exercises to develop plot, character, setting, dialogue, conflict, and resolution—in bite sized pieces. English 221. It’s on-line, so you can write in your pjs if you like.

My twice a week Memoir class (English 227, Tues/Thursday at 1 pm) is basically full—but if you watch registration sometimes a spot opens up. From diary to personal essay, this is an intensive writing class that is subject driven. What is your autobiography in food? Politics? Nature? How do we know what is “true” and should we even care. A look at the eternal questions of memoir writing, with critique groups, lots of feedback, short and long forms, and inspiring reading.

3 Flash Fictions by Miriam Sagan

“She kept one eye on the mountain and one on the dying woman. It had been a difficult few days. When the mountain started to spew hot mud and the earth shook and shook, everyone decided to break camp. They’d seen this before. First mud, then ash, then an eruption with earth slides that took down trees and everything in its path. Sometimes fire. Better to move. The dry riverbeds were a barrier, the old timers said. After that, the delta, the lake, fish, and a change anyway. Summer was coming. They’d been here too long. The proof—a trail of smoke from the collapsed caldera.”

This is from my flash fiction “Rift” just published in FREE LIT MAGAZINE. To see this story of pre-history, as well as one about Viet Nam and one on family dysfunction, check out:

Dateline by Bibi Deitz


Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

I sit on my roof at sunset.

Santa Fe, September:

No matter how hard I try, I cannot stop smoking pot. My boyfriend—my fiancé—comes home at night and lights a joint before he gets all the way through the house and onto the patio, where we’re supposed to smoke. I’ve been lit up for hours.

West Village, Manhattan, February:

I watch ferries go by. My friend’s dog is on the end of the leash I’m holding. My coat is supposed to be good for up to twenty below, but it’s thirty degrees warmer than that and I’m freezing. I can’t feel my hands. I can feel my heart, though, and fuck: it hurts.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, April:

I meet a man on a plane on the way to the city. It’s after a layover, my second plane. I’m still sniffling from a crying jag and this guy starts it up with me. Or I start with him, I can’t remember. By the time we land, his lips are on mine. He kisses me the way my fiancé never did, not once in the whole six years I knew him.

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

Plastic bags rustle in the breeze. I’m under a flight path. The planes take off from JFK and go God-knows-where. Northeast. Maybe I’m directly under the flight path toward Europe. Something about that is heartening.

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

I have no money but I’m drinking lime Pellegrino from a tiny glass bottle. Earlier I bought a new lipstick. Last week, new shoes. Charge card.

West Village, Manhattan, February:

It ended last week. Our engagement. It’s a silly word for what we had. There was nothing engaged about us. I was never in the same state and when I was, I still wasn’t. If you know what I mean. Mental state, physical state. What I mean to say is we were never going to get married.

Santa Fe, December:

No pot for a month. No drugs, no alcohol. I guess you could call me a saint. Don’t, though. Trust me.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, April:

This is a sublet. For the next thirty days, I get a windowless room and a huge backyard to call my own. A cat. Three itinerant roommates. Best of all, a door that locks and as many cups of tea as I want from a steaming pot of hot water on the stove.

West Village, Manhattan, February:

It’s no warmer. My friend’s husband returns in a month. Until then, I can live here. After that, Lord knows.

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

The Pellegrino’s gone. The wind has changed and now the musk of deep garbage wafts up four flights and finds my nose on the roof. Sunset’s over. I suppose everything really is ephemeral, but that was particularly fast.

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

In preparation for a job interview tomorrow, I inquire as to my closet’s contents. Answer: you might not look professional, but at least there will be no question as to whether you’ve ever gone thrift shopping.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, April:

I stomp over to the plane guy’s apartment. Every time I think about turning around, back to the cat and the tea and the spacious backyard, I chant, Bikini wax, bikini wax. I chant it all the way over there. It gets me to his buzzer.

Santa Fe, December:

On yet another hike through the Sangre de Cristos, I’m asked by a pair of rather rude tourists if I could please keep it down. I’m on the phone with my mother. I ask if they’re sure that they wouldn’t like to make a phone call, too. Try it, I say. It’s awfully quiet out here.

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, July:

At least in New York you can walk anywhere while talking on a cell phone and no one will give you a dirty look. I take a long stroll through the neighborhood along Eastern Parkway under the maple trees. A skateboarder almost plows me down and I have to slap the flat of my palm against his chest to redirect us both away from collision. I don’t break stride and the only clue I give my caller—my mother again—is the Oh no, oh no I involuntarily intone.

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, April:

Aren’t you curious what it would be like to sleep together?
That’s the text message I sent, after some back and forth after the plane.
Now, in the elevator to his front door: I’m less curious.

Santa Fe, December:

There are a lot of things about this place that I won’t miss if and when I make it out of here, but one thing I will think of fondly is the hundred-and-eighty degrees of sky. Sometimes it makes me dizzy when I look straight up.

Writing Fiction in Your Pajamas!

Where are you? Paris? Nome, Alaska? The Falklands? Singapore? Santa Fe? No problem—you can lounge in your pajamas and study fiction writing on-line.
Santa Fe Community College is offering two on-line classes that start August 25. I am teaching the intro to fiction as a flash fiction course. We’ll be reading the two fantastic SUDDEN FICTION anthologies (American & International) and working on character sketches, pov, fable, magical tales, flashbacks, and more. This is English 221.
English 225 with Russell Whiting is the more advanced intermediate course, good for honing skills, completion, extension, vision, and re-vision. We don’t offer this course that frequently, so take advantage.
These courses are very inexpensive, run 15-16 weeks, create a virtual community of writers with discussion boards, and give you a lot of individual feedback. If you are an SFCC student they are requirements and electives in creative writing—and you don’t have to stay in your pj’s—but come by our office hours any time!
I’m glad to answer questions.
You can register online at; by phone (call 428-1000); or in person by going to the Enrollment Center.

PS. I’m also recommending Daniel Kilpatric’s classroom POETRY (ENGL 222). He is know for his intriguing writing prompts to inspire your poetry.

Who I Am Not

Who I Am Not

I realized recently I’m less interested in persona in poetry these days. When I was young–very young–I wanted a hoochie coochie goddess voice not my own. Hence I spoke as many a mythological character.
Now that I’m old in poetry as well as in years I have no idea what it means to speak in a voice not my own, for what could not be mine?
Then I realized, maybe this wasn’t the transcendent Zen experience it seemed. Maybe it was just that I was writing fiction again, certainly writing in a voice not my own.
On the porch of a cabin next to a lake with tall firs and loons, this morning I wrote: Tucson, Arizona was not a bad place to be if you were dying fairly quickly of a painful disease.
The story is a flash fiction, about two very different women who are comet hunting partners. In it I’ve twisted an experience about the non pre-eminence of art in someone’s last few days on earth to be about how what you’ve loved the most, in this case comet hunting, can actually fall away.
Have I experienced this? Have you?

My Story “Zero” is in Olentangy Review

She came around the corner of the cave, and saw the old man dead on the ledge, sitting in the sunshine.
     She was to keep an eye on him, bring him water if he needed it. Sometimes she’d watch him breath as he was dozing, up down, up down.
     She’d been playing with pebbles in the dust like a younger child, marking out the patterns of the stars in the sky and a maze to the underworld.

To see the rest: