Against the Machine–Miriam Sagan

I’ve had many adventures recently. I flew for the first time since the pandemic. Two minutes into the trip I fond myself sobbing as TSA patted me down–first once, then twice, in a private area. Well, I was an accident waiting to happen and by the time I was told I had “residue” on my constantly washed hands and that I’d set the machine off by wearing a dress, I was in nervous tears. “Everyone cries” the TSA lady said in a calming attempt.

She was obviously not a bad person, but what kind of system is this? Like most systems, hard on women in dresses–traditional, modest, or chosen. Like contemporary systems, promoting the machine, including cell phones, computers, and imaging devices, not as helpful tools for life but as technological gods we must placate and please.

I had an opposite experience waiting for my flu shot yesterday. A woman in her eighties, wearing a beautiful medallion of the Virgin, started chatting. Her hugely pro-vaccine stance reminded me of my Jewish mother, despite the obvious differences. “My mom had a cousin with polio,” I offered. “And she was ecstatic when the vaccine came out.”

“I had polio as a child,” the lady said quietly. “A mild case. My right leg doesn’t work well and my left is over developed but I’ve had a long and good life.”

“How can people not get the Covid vaccine?” she asked. We shook our heads. Here was a miracle of technology that works, and yet people reject it.

Acceptance isn’t the last refuge of failure, but it isn’t my go-to either. I’m treading a narrow path between my trust in critical thinking and my need to not judge humanity every minute of the day.

It’s nice here in New Mexico in autumn. Th oak tree my son-in-law planted by the mailbox is turning a gorgeous red.

I’m well aware that more than one thing is happening at once–and I hope that in your world many of those things are good.

Haibun by John Macker


I’m immersed in dreams. Years ago, when dissatisfied with them, I used to add a drone of menace. Now, they auger the sublime and the senseless. They sometimes whisper, “stop making sense” right before dawn. Good dreams beg to differ with the dystopia, never boring, they never run out of color, they teach that beyond the weathered and the liminal is the horizon. They help to internalize the far reaches of dusk and love, and when foul weather ends, there are dustings of clarity, sometimes all the blood of the earth dries in the snow. My mother dances with William Holden in heaven, a rose between her teeth. Johnny Cash sings Trent Reznor in my shower. I’ve camped in a side canyon, serenaded by barn swallows on the far side of Mars. An anarchy of denizens : ghost dancers, rucksack poets, desert rats, Basho, compañeros for the journey. Dream senses of place are replaced at dawn, I wonder. A milagro. The world reimagines itself as unpolluted vistas and the warm coals of sunrise

the last things I hear
rivers bend away from rock
long distance deep sleep


John Macker copyright 2021

Support Reproductive Rights or Put a Bean up Your Nose

I have a friend I admire–let’s call her Ruthie. Decades ago as a young mom, she worked to keep abortion legal. Her office was in a non-profit complex, and her toddler daughter was in daycare just down the hall.

Ruthie was set to go on local television to give her pitch about a woman’s right to choose. At that very moment, the toddler put a dried bean up her nose. Everyone tried to remove it, to no avail. The toddler shrieked, and shrieked some more.

Ruthie’s assistant took the toddler out of camera–and ear–range. Ruthie spoke to the cameras. Then jumped in the car and took the toddler to the pediatrician. Let me just say that toddler is now a grown woman, and her nose is fine.

There is no moral to this story, of course. But it does inspire reflection, and is still funny. Ruthie was in a classic working mom bind, but handled it well. There is something endearing about a women’s rights activist having to get a bean taken out of a toddler’s nose.

I think also that some of the unconflicted love the women of my generation–and after–bear our children is linked to a woman’s right to choose. These children were wanted. Even if not planned for, or desired at first, they were indeed chosen. Abortion has been legal most of my reproductive life–and for the whole life of Ruthie’s daughter. It is a real option.

Children can be a stress, or seem inevitable, but we do have the basic right to choose. And with that choice comes love.

Image from

Back To People: Bubbe Report from Miriam Sagan

Back to People

Life with a two and a half year old can feel a bit bi-polar. Wreathed in smiles, acting out Goldilocks, my own grand-daughter looking like an Arthur Rackam flower fairy…all is groovy. Then, hysteria. Sobbing. Lying on the floor. The beating of feet.

“What’s the matter?”

“The ice cream…melted.”

All my protestations about how yummy melted ice cream is go unheard (I’m not lying. I genuinely like melted ice cream).

But, life as we know it, is now OVER. All is lost. All is a terrible, inconsolable, dreadful loss.

The truth is, I know exactly hw she feels. Donald Trump. COVID. Going back in time, a broken heart, a thwarted plan, a ruined dream.

Sob sob sob. Kick kick kick. But I don’t, at least not in public.

So, trying to model…well, something that isn’t a tantrum…I leave her alone for a bit. I’m available, but quiet. Soon, I hear her murmuring to the baby dolls. Soon, the butterfly net full of baby dolls emerges on her shoulder as she distracts herself from the fit.

Until the next one.

This next anecdote contains a confession. We were watching My Little Pony (Yes, it is moronic, but we both like it). I said: I wish I could fly like my little ponies.

G. waved an imaginary wand at me and pronounced: “Fly, little pony!”

I pretended to fly.

She waved the imaginary wand in the opposite direction.

“Back to people,” she said.

She was trying to say, back to being a person, but with toddler syntax.

I like that. Back to people we go, for good or for ill, with all that comes with that.

Haiku by Tina Carlson

Haiku from Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary

(on the ground just above the pollinators garden)

I wander among
small continents of pale green:
Lichen maps on stone.

Sunflower husks nod
Towards purple suns of aster.
Late bees ravenous.

On shards of granite
mica shines mirrors, a glint.
Mornings, cooler now.

Prickly pear small as
my pinky, loosens its spines:
sharp sting in my palm.

(in orchard, on stone bench in front of teepee)

Dry grasses bent as
if a bed. I cannot smell
who may have slept here.

Jays raucous in a
fall breeze. My daughter sleeps far
away in the fog.

Dragonflies dive in
Chamisa’s gold. Few birds sing
near enough to see.

Blue spruce cone laden
from drought. Two men talk non-stop.
I yearn for quiet.

Teepee like a pyre.
Grasses, a dry bed. Stone bench:
momentary home.


These were written in a workshop last Saturday. I like them so much–blogged all of Tina’s.


When I was a young teenager, airplane hijackings came into vogue. Perhaps there were more then than now. Added precautions probably cut down on them. But in the 1960’s, they filled the news.

My overactive imagination easily created a scenario in which I was trapped with my family in a downed plane among sand dunes.”If we get hijacked, what will we do?” I asked my mom.

To her credit she didn’t point out any of the unlikelihoods. She just retorted: ‘We’ll teach Danny to read.”

My brother was about three years old at that time, so it would have been quite an undertaking. But I felt instantly unworried and happy. And that was because I had an activity.

This approach continues to help me. After all, much of life is about being hijacked–by history, health, finances, fate. Even by our own characters, and obligations. Free will, as a Jesuitical friend once explained me, is not an absolute, but on a scale. And that scale slides.

It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve taught literacy my entire adult life–from ESL to composition to poetry, fiction, and memoir. When my plans are hijacked, even by a pandemic, I still have something to do.

Commercial jet flying above clouds.

Colette and Janis Joplin

I’m having a nice morning. I just finished re-reading Colette’s immortal autobiographical novel “The Vagabond” and danced around to Janis Joplin.

I can’t help but compare and contrast the two. “The Vagabond” is about giving up a comfortable but confining love for the freedom of the theatrical road. Colette’s life on the stage isn’t wildly successful or easy, but it is hers. Fascinatingly, this is a period where she self-reports as not writing—and yet she eventually does write “The Vagabond.”

One of my favorite Joplin songs is “Get It While You Can”—a motto I apply to everything from love to theater tickets, houseplants to useful ideas. Compared to Colette, Joplin seems self-destructive, hedonistic, Dionysian. Liberated in an emotional way—Colette after all is essentially post-Victorian—and raw. But that is what Joplin is aiming for, no doubt. I remember the look on Mama Cass’s face in “Monterey Pop” when Joplin opens her mouth to sing. It is the expression of someone unexpectedly seeing—and hearing—the divine.

Joplin died young, Colette lived to be old. Both were bisexual. Colette’s descriptions of love affairs with women are among the most authentic and personal ones of all time. Joplin could go to pieces in public. Colette danced almost naked on the stage. Both are adored to this day.

Colette, however, was eminently practical. When the Nazis invaded Paris her first move was to find some sources for eggs and milk in the surrounding countryside. Then she set about trying to protect her third husband, who was Jewish.

Colette was an anti-feminist, at least in terms of what she said politically. Joplin? Who knows she even thought about it. Both of them were fashion outliers, with an uninhibited style.

Both of them are icons for women making our own way in the world. Full of contradictions, artistic geniuses—I’m not sure either of them would make an easy friend.

But I’m glad I met their spirits when I was young.

(Negative) Bucket List

Although I love to make lists, I do not have a bucket list–and never will. They have always seemed oddly commercial to me, involved with spending money to attain culturally anointed experiences.

I did get to Japan (my kids did that, actually) And live in an artists’ residency in a freezing cold farm house. Was that a bucket list item?

No. I hardly knew that world existed.

And I’ve accomplished things, but I call those things goals. That is, they aren’t wildly aspirational but rather composed of quantifiable, attainable, things. For example, I’m apt to say: my goal is to do five events for this new book. Not–my bucket list is to win a big prize.

So, I’m going to create a NEGATIVE bucket list. Here goes.

  1. I won’t make up with my enemies, bad old friends, or difficult relatives
  2. I won’t need to ever have my appendix removed
  3. Donald Trump will not be president of the United States again

You can see why I don’t trust the efficacy of bucket lists.


I like to think about it, read about it, and talk about it. I like to take a risk. I like to win, too, but the taking is my main motivation.

Covid has radically changed the conversation about risk, but not in a way I find productive. And that is because the cultural conversation seems to set up some assumptions: there was no risk before the pandemic, and current risk is all about the virus.

Being born into a human body subjects us to risk. In the poem “White Shroud” Allen Ginsberg is sick in bed in China. He writes: “I made a mistake a long time ago.” I take this to mean having been born at all, and not deciding to go on a trip.

Stay home, or go to China. Either way, we all grow old and die.

Some risk isn’t really risk at all, but self-destruction. Drunk driving, for example. I don’t count it as risk because there is no potential gain, and it is a doomed enterprise. Not getting a vaccine is similar. It might carry a very small risk–and so does driving to the pharmacy for it. I don’t focus on miniscule risk because I find that more a product of my anxiety than my critical thinking. And there is nothing much to gain.

Risk involves the possibility of great success, and real failure. Artists and writers tend to live in this realm. But so do parents, even if without seeing it. Midwives I know socially told me in all honesty: childbirth is chancey. Babies die. No one wants to admit it, but having children is risky.

And that doesn’t even include raising children. And here is an arena where, in my opinion, taking many small chances is important. Letting children have freedom–physical, mental, and emotional. Not being too controlling. Letting them make their own mistakes.

Let me say right now, I’m not a very groovy or relaxed person. Anxiety is a big problem for me. But I know my fear isn’t an accurate reflection of reality. When my daughter Isabel was about eleven, she wanted to walk a few blocks alone to the bookstore. I was nervous, and asked her step-dad Rich to decide because I trusted his calmer judgement. He said: life is full of risk, and if she figures that out in this neighborhood, that is fine with me.

So off she went. Into competent adulthood.

Of course…anything can happen. I don’t quarrel when people tell me that, because it is true. However, alien abductors or Nazis in the neighborhood just aren’t very likely. Nor is getting Covid from a library book.

And, as anything can happen, perhaps that anything might be beautiful, like falling in love, expressing your full heart, or a good deed.