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.

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 msagan1035@aol.com.
You can get a freebie from me for just a tiny review.

On Amazon: https://amzn.to/2EmPiBt

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.

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. (yaelchaikind@gmail.com / yaelchaikind.com )

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: yaelchaikind.com.

FIRST POEM:

APRICOT BLOSSOMS

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

***

LAST POEM:

CLOSING THE LOOP

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
ballon.

Instead of deflation,
elation,
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

Poem by Levi Romero

Levi Romero, poet laureate of New Mexico, has a Facebook page I follow as it reads like a poetry blog, with particular emphasis on our state. Reprinted by permission, one of his dynamic poems below. Please enjoy!

Tres Copas de Chanate, Black and Sweet

¡Orale! Saludes de la calle cuarta
South 4th spicy street overflowing
With creamy joy and scornful sorrow
Resembling a faded watercolor painting
Rotting under the sun and growing tangled
‘Neath the billboard bosom signs of a new frontier

I have felt you waking up sweating
To the sounds of 3 A.M. trains
Rolling in on greasy tracks
Spreading across your innocence
Like melting butter on a hot tortilla

Your gold tooth mouth of prominence has gone silent
Under the weight of rusted steel and faded brick
Where cash registers on sang like Christmas chimes
On you black heeled streets bleed tattooed backs
In blue-ink penance for your soul
Proud, Puro Barelas~13

Your chapped dusty sidewalks kissing the calloused souls
Of homeless saints rising out of trash bins
In the red eyed dawn
Are fed by the black vein freeways
Dripping diseased America into your dirt alley dreams

Your complaints become rheumatoid groans
Of aching feet sliding across linoleum floors
Towards clock radios weeping Mexican ballads
Into the trumpet gold haze of memories
Too strong to stick or sink into the Río Grande mud

Me llamo Manuel Leyba but they call me manual labor

Behind the soot-screen windows and padlocked doors
of the Red Ball Café
Sit chrome and metal flake countertops
Frozen in the chewy silence of a Catholic Sunday ringing sad
A billion more still yearn to be served

And pickup trucks once danced
into the Royal Fork Restaurant parking lot
from Gallup and Farmington
Slipping through the honeydew sweetness
of ripening September

Oh earth goddess of asphalt and grime
Let me hear your hearty laugh
Flapping heavy
Like El Cambio’s storefront window adds
That fill my salty visions
With sweet-roll promises
Crumbling onto the dry tongue
Of my worn-out shoes

Levi Romero
(In the Gathering of Silence, WestEnd Press)

Interview with Mary Oishi

Full disclosure! I asked Mary Oishi to do an interview with the blog just a few days before the announcement was made–she is Albuquerque’s next Poet Laureate! I could claim to be psychic, but I’m not. I’ve just followed and admired her work for many years. 



1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.?

There are two distinctly different poetic lines in my poetry, depending whether I am writing a poem filtered through my Japanese ancestral DNA, or through the many hours each week of my early life spent in a Pilgrim Holiness Church, with the cadences of a “holy roller” preacher and the lofty old English of the King James Version. If the former, the lines are stark lines or perhaps simple brush strokes that require the readers’ or listeners’ participation to identify the emotion and fill in the details with the people and experiences of their own lives. If the latter, the lines have a musical cadence, building somewhat hypnotically into a trancelike song. An example: “women when we rise” (Spirit Birds They Told Me, West End Press, 2011).

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

The first connection between my body and writing is that I always write poetry with a pen and paper, never on a computer. I have boxes and shelves of poems in their original forms, most written in blank books or sketchbooks, because I love the freedom of no lines. Often in the course of writing the poem, I scratch out words, phrases, or whole stanzas and scribble new words above, below, or curving into the margin space. It feels like a connection to the lineage of ancient writers. And since I’m left-handed, the heel of my hand is usually blue by the time I’m done. But it’s well worth it. Writing with a pen on a completely blank page is completely grounding, yet creatively liberating.

The ongoing connection between writing and my body is when I read or “perform” the poetry. Although I had my first poem published when I was 13 in Read (a national magazine for high school English students) mostly I considered my poems to be soliloquys that needed my voice to animate them in front of a live audience. Since publication of a chapbook and two collections, plus many individual poems, I still love what happens organically when I read poetry in person. I love to lift both hands like an invitation when I say the last line, “when women, women, rise!” or do a few dance steps at the end of another poem when I say, “you should have died, but here you are, still here, still here, still dancing.”

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

I have heard other more formally-trained poets scoff at this idea. But for me, to be a poet is to be a mystic, not necessarily as intentional study but just by allowing the mystery to flow through. I once audited a graduate class in poetry. The instructor said, “A poem is never done. It’s just given up on.” I can’t relate to that at all. Most times it feels like the poetry comes through like a new life through the birth canal. Yes, it has elements of me in it, but it has a life of its own that came from beyond me. That’s honestly how it feels. I may read it 86 times over once it spills out, clip the cord, and wash the extraneous away to get it down to its clear essence. But the building it cell by cell—that’s already done in the womb of poetry that I hold within me—where it grew its shape and most of its attributes until it was ready to come out. How can I dislike anything about that? It’s a precious gift and for me, one of the greatest joys of being human.

However, I have at times lamented how seldom a production/profit-driven society recognizes the role and value of its poets. Thankfully New Mexico, perhaps owing to its Latin American origin, seems to esteem its poets. I am grateful to be here.

4. How has the pandemic been affecting your creativity?

At first, I wrote with the starkness of haiku, or just a brief stanza. It seemed best suited to capture the solitude, my longing to be around other human beings—especially my daughter and my closest friends. The very first one:

we must stay apart

now when we need each other

most, shelves bare of touch

But as the isolation went on, from weeks to months, I became more acclimated to it. The poems came more as responses to outside stimuli, like hearing the taps being played at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base, or reading the news that we crossed the milestone of 100,000 deaths, or a Facebook post with pictures of Albuquerque’s deserted and boarded-up downtown, or facing another holiday eve knowing there would be none of the usual social rituals the next day. In the midst of this long stretch of solitude, getting the news that I was to be named the next Poet Laureate of Albuquerque jolted me into the reality that I would suddenly be forced into the public eye from the long near-hermitage to which I had grown accustomed. That prompted a flurry of poetry—so far only a portion of which I have shared. I hope the inspiration continues through and well past the pandemic, and I certainly hope there is the ability to share more of its gifts—along with other poets similarly inspired—in many public performances before the end of my two-year tenure.

***

pusher

are you out there in the stealth night on the edge of blue?   listening.
are you loving me for sending you this fix of heartbreak
slid down metal, taut and wound. electric. are you?
are you dancing with the spirits of those who left us
forty fifty sixty eighty years ago? dancing. in a jukejoint.
in R.L.’s living room. are you in the field picking cotton in the broiling sun?
wishing for shade. any shade. a toothpick. anything.
can you feel it? the sweat. the thirst. blur between slave and sharecropper.
slave and chain gang. can you? are you out there in the stealth night?  listening.
understanding. coming closer in. becoming. blues surging through?

Mary Oishi was named Albuquerque Poet Laureate on July 1, 2020. A familiar figure in New Mexico’s thriving poetry scene, Oishi is the author of Spirit Birds They Told Me (West End Press, 2011), and co-author with her daughter, Aja Oishi, of Rock Paper Scissors (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2018), finalist for the New Mexico Arizona Book Award. She is one of twelve U.S. poets in translation in 12 Poetas: Antologia De Nuevos Poetas Estadounidenses (La Herrata Feliz and MarEsCierto, 2017), a project of the Mexican Ministry of Culture. Her poems have appeared in Mas Tequila Review, Malpais Review, Harwood Anthology, and numerous other print and digital publications.

Oishi worked professionally and as an on-air personality in public radio for 25 years, hosting blues shows at four radio stations in New Mexico and Colorado, currently at KSFR-FM Santa Fe, where she hosts a weekly blues show, Wang Dang Doodle.

Her involvement in the work of community and social justice is life-long. She served as lead facilitator for an LGBTQ youth group for seventeen years, produced Peace Buzz, an event of art-as-protest in 2003, and was an NGO delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism in 2001

Spouses: Poem by Miriam Sagan

Spouses

“What’s that noise?” the wife asks the husband
even after so many years

night noises, raccoons, and the Federal Government
are his problem to solve.

It’s not late, before midnight
“Firecrackers?” he speculates

although it sounds like gunshot
and we’re just blocks from the capitol building

where armed men show the threat of force
against our governor.

That sounds straightforward,
but really I don’t understand

what they want
other than to bully us with a supposed right.

But probably the husband is correct,
it’s midsummer’s night, and America’s birthday

a few weeks away
although frankly I’m not sure

this country of mine
deserves much of a party.

Much later, towards the witching hour
skunks head home and spray

through our bathroom window
that opens on the narrow alley

that creatures use to cross.
The thrashers are sleeping

in the blossoming cholla bush,
not once in all these years

has the invisible neighbor’s orange cat
manage to catch a bird

in all those cactus needles.

I pull the baby–poem by Miriam Sagan

I pull the baby
in a blue plastic car
along the empty dirt road
beneath the inverted
basin of a sky

two things are blue—
one small
one enormous

the baby has a fate
I can’t read
she likes to open
a board book
then
put it in her mouth

the world has
gone to hell
and left us here
like shells
tossed up by a storm
to litter the tide’s wrack line

a pair of unmatched
ridged
bivalvular
angel wings

one big
one little

Upcoming at Vivo Gallery–Poem by Miriam Sagan & Art by Ann Lasser

Brewed Sestina

Hot water
will brew memory
as from a teabag
out of the past
the door, half-open, turquoise color
this feeling needs a word.

I wanted to say the right word
to bring to the surface water
no longer occult, but gushing, colors
like memory
of the future as much as the past
essence of a teabag.

The origin of tea
Bodhidharma sat in silence, not a word
about sleep, or the past
about wind, or rain watering
memory
of the sky’s blue coloring.

Trying to stay as awake as a wheel of color
needing caffeine, inventing tea
tearing off his eyelids, sleep’s memory
tossing them with a word
so they sprouted, watered
by tears of the past.

This is the plant’s origin, in the past
beneath Asia’s dome of brilliant color.
Heavens water
the earth, brew hot tea
a calligraphic line, a word
mantra, gatha, memory.

Peace should be more than a memory.
What we did in the past
we can forgive, release the word.
Polish our kindness like mineral colors.
Drink your tea
more delicious than water.

Water holds its own memories.
Tea transcends future and past.
What is this color—the clearest word.

Cosmos by Miriam Sagan

For those of you who ask…

“Am I related to this guy
Carl Sagan, and who is he?”
My daughter wants to know.

Yes, I say, a famous—very
famous astronomer, and I think
he is your second cousin, twice removed

because he was my father’s
second cousin (my grandfather
was his great uncle)

or so we’d been told. Like many things
he was forbidden to us.
My father the atheist

kept a kind of kosher—
Carl Jung, no
Karl Marx, yes

Freud, yes
Lenin, maybe
at least he once told me

“the end justifies the means”
but I was a child, and helpless,
and I knew he was lying.

And for some reason
Carl Sagan, no
although his mother

had been an union organizer
and my grandfather
a factory owner

but somehow
we weren’t
rooting for her.

When my brother was in grade school
he wrote our Carl, asking
“send me pictures of Venus”

for a school report
and miraculously
a large manila envelope

appeared
full of brilliantly colored, high resolution
planets…

On his deathbed, Carl
told my real first cousin
“You aren’t really Sagans”

something about Ellis Island
and a brother-law’s last name
“The Sagans are the smart ones.”

Who could quarrel
with that assessment?
The famous astronomer

handsome and opinionated
like my father
made the last name

that isn’t really ours
so well-known
that at the cash register

people still ask me
and say
“billions and billions”

and I always laugh
and say “yes”
and “stars.”

Interview with Simon Perchik

Library Journal called him the most widely published unknown poet. However, I’ve followed Simon Perchik’s poetry for decades. His newest book, THE ROSENBLUM POEMS (Cholla Needles), is 140 poems written in triplets.

This coffee is still learning, spills
sweetens night after night
the way fireflies flavor their legs


then wait for the rippling hum

that’s not a bat

And, one of my favorites:

You keep the limp, stoop
the way this cane
lets you pretend its wood

can heal

At almost a century old, Perchik’s work certainly deals with aging, but most deeply with perception. Those triplets give me, as a reader, a sense of motion, uncertainty, even possibility.

Miriam’s Well is very happy to have an interview from the poet that answers the blogs usual three questions:

1. What is your 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?

Perchik:
1. Enjambment is an important concern for me.The line should have a feel so that it’s not just chopped-up prose with wide margins. Not only the reader’s breath must be considered but surprise and the tension so necessary to the text.
 
2. If there is a relationship I’m not aware of it. I do know that in the process of writing I often find myself agitated and often find my heart beating faster and louder. I just consider that a cost of doing business.
 
3. I’ve never considered myself a poet; just someone who writes poetry. In fact, except for a few close friends I never told people I wrote poetry. I think the title “poet” is something others call you, not something you call yourself by.