New Poem: “American Bison”

Bison rut, Lamar Valley

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Hello, everyone! Long time no see. It’s been a little crazy here starting a new semester and a new job, but I promise I’ve been up to things. The lovely online poetry mag Muse /A Journal just came out with their gorgeous fifth issue, and my poem “American Bison” (hmmm, wonder what it could be about?) is up alongside some other stunning work.

Check out my new poem here!

Love to all.

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New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

After two and a half weeks in the high-altitude New Mexico desert sun, I confess my summer freckles have returned. I like to think of them as my skin’s seasonal blossoming. They’re little circular perennials, roots dug deep and hibernating all winter long, waiting for a warm week to reappear.

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Juniper in front of Abiquiú Lake

I stayed in Abiquiú, New Mexico, a rural town outside Santa Fe, in June to work as an instructional counselor for a creative writing class for gifted and talented high school students. Ghost Ranch is now a retreat center, made famous by the renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who stayed there for many summers and eventually lived there full-time.

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Instructor and friend Natalie atop the overlook at Chimney Rock

This was my first time to New Mexico even though its entire northern border is most of Colorado’s southern border. The high desert there was overrun with crooked trees and low brush—juniper, sage, chamisa.

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Trail to Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch, Cerro Pederal in the distance

At the welcome center for Bandelier National Monument I flipped through samples of dried and pressed plants, matching them to what I’d seen on our hike around the cave dwellings, their ruins. These amazing light brown sandstone cliffs full of holes and pockmarks, made hollow by centuries of erosion.

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Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Circular structures ringed with stacked stones were built and called kivas by the Pueblo Native Americans who lived there. These buildings were used in rituals, especially coming-of-age ceremonies for young men wherein the structure functioned like a sweat lodge.

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More cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is a dormant volcano featuring an enormous caldera, basically the collapsed crater-like center of a volcano since overgrown with grasses, shrubs, and thirsty western high-altitude trees like cottonwoods and aspen.

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Bandelier plant life

As our class stopped beneath some of the less accessible cliff dwellings (reached via a series of ladders) for lunch, we wrote in response to a prompt about rituals, and it occurred to me that the caldera could be seen as a sort of first kiva—the stone circle first laid by some ancient, powerful hand. This is what it looks like when the land forms circles—a collapse, an eruption, layers of volcanic ash pressed into earth, then sandstone.

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Blooming Cholla cactus at Bandelier National Monument

The town of Taos contains the Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the longest continuously inhabited villages in North America. Here the Pueblo people built their multi-story homes out of adobe brick, which consists of clay, hay, and water.

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A typical adobe home at the Taos Pueblo site

Both the mortar and the plaster which covers the bricks are made of mud. Cedar logs were laid across each structure to help form and support their ceilings. These ceiling also functioned as the floor of the story atop it, accessed by wooden ladders.

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Red chiles as decoration at Taos Pueblo

Because of the materials of these structures, it is impossible to outfit them with modern plumbing and electricity. Our tour guide told me only five families remain as full-time residents here, though many more keep their ancestral homes while they live primarily in the town of Taos, or elsewhere on the reservation.

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A window at the Catholic church in Taos

While walking around Taos Pueblo, I saw a man setting up a table with a display of turquoise jewelry underneath a hay canopy in front of an adobe home. We chatted, and he invited me into the home he said had been the birthplace of his great-grandfather, and inhabited by his family many, many generations before that.

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The Rio Pueblo de Taos in the foreground, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background

It was a simple, surprisingly cool single room with a small fireplace in one corner. He explained to me the technique by which the Pueblo people made the chimney. They took a cedar trunk and covered it with adobe plaster. Once dried, they then set the wood on fire, which would leave them with a hollow, cylindrical adobe structure. A circle of sky, open to sky.

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One of many art galleries in Taos Pueblo

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A close-up of the bison leather dreamcatcher

One night on a silent walk to Matrimonial Mesa at Ghost Ranch, I pointed out to the students the hoofprints of a deer in the mud. In a place that receives fewer than eight inches of rain a year, it had rained that afternoon. One student had spotted a garden snake who’d been coaxed out of the shadows by the cool rain. And the small, halved circles of the imprints of hooves wandering from the dirt road to the arroyo’s cottonwoods, weaving between chamisa and juniper.

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Desert daisies and pink sunsets on Ghost Ranch

On the mesa that night we watched the scattered, sputtering circles of stars come into being. We lay there quietly, listening to the high-pitched echoes of chirping bats as they drew their own looped circles in the air above. Kivas, nightly natural rituals. Circles in space and time. Each time we return to repeat the ritual, each time we circle back, something is different. We hold constant what we can, but we treasure everything.

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Looking west from Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

[from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows]

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Sunset over Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch

Georgia O’Keeffe painted Cerro Pedernal (Flint Mountain) over forty times. The story goes that she took any paintings with which she wasn’t satisfied, drove down the mesa, and burned their canvases right there in the desert. About Cerro Pedernal O’Keeffe said, “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” She returned and returned. She ritualized the process.

Locals heard of her affinity for bones and brought them to her, bleached white by desert sun and preserved by desert air. She painted a series centered on a cow’s pelvis. There are circles here, too—the spaces for each leg, the ball of each femur joint, the socket space. She painted it so close up, sometimes, that you can’t tell what the curves are a part of at all, what the lighting reveals.

Circles form from gravity, from wear and falling and moving and the difficulty of moving. Everything softens over time, forgets its corners, collapses. The desert is a land of circles, the simplicity of curves, the complexity of a single eye.

A National Wound

HeartbreakAmerica

Art by Josh Williams, from https://heartbreakamerica.com.

Something I’ve been considering lately—and I know I’m not alone in this—is our current political moment in America. Not only is our president unpopular and repulsively incapable of coherence, but many recent events are arguably assembling into an assault on empathy and compassion. This nonstop rhetoric of division. Trump backed the US out of the Paris climate agreement, has gotten away with bragging about sexually assaulting women, throws together a budget proposal that would be devastating for the poor, consistently calls upon stereotypes to depict minorities, and bullies some foreign leaders while lauding praise on other foreign leaders who are, themselves, bullies. In this state, what good are words? What good is art, or beauty, or attempting to foster compassion?

I want to share with you, dear reader—especially those of you who are particularly threatened by this administration—the young, the poor, LGBTQIA individuals, women and girls, minorities, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, artists, healthcare workers, activists, scientists, animal lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, parents and teachers with a stake in the future. I’d like to share some quotes that both bring me solace and challenge me to act. Since writing is one of the languages I speak, this is my offering to you.

It has been helpful to me to reconstruct my understanding of pain and suffering as a signal of the work that needs to be done, a calling. Mother Theresa once said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” Agitation and suffering are the impetuses of great change.

I’ve also been thinking about suffering as physical—we say that our hearts break for the parents of trans children murdered, for the addicts unable to afford treatment, for the victims of police brutality, for the children growing up poor, for the coastal homeowners facing rising sea levels and more volatile hurricane seasons, the dying polar bears, the thirsty in Flint, the rape victims whose rape kits languish untested. When Trump won the election, students walked around Colorado State University’s campus crying, holding each other. Our understanding of pain begins as physical, as wound, as foreshadowing of death.

Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

In Krista Tippett’s 2014 interview with writer and philosopher Dr. Joanna Macy for her radio show and podcast On Being, Dr. Macy talks about heartbreak: “World is lover, world is self and that it’s OK for our hearts to be broken over the world. What else is the heart for?” In the unedited version of this interview, Dr. Macy also says that if our hearts could physically break open, that’s where we could fit the whole world. Wounding, breaking in the body is a making space for something new; vulnerability as a possibility for growth.

In Tippett’s 2016 interview with poet and memoirist Mary Karr, Karr says, “as deep as a wound is, that’s how deep the healing can be.”

We are a relatively new nation, but our American experiment with multiculturalism and diversity is even newer. We are in pursuit of deep, wide, expansive healing. Healing as deep as slavery and segregation. Healing as deep as institutionalized objectification of women. As deep and long as churches and teachers and parents who’ve hurt us. The potential for healing is great, and vast.

One final quote I’d like to leave for you comes from Terry Tempest Williams’s marvelous and most recent book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. In it she carries on a correspondence with activist Tim DeChristopher, who served prison time for protesting a 2008 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas extraction leases by outbidding on land he would not (and could not) pay for. In discussing climate change with Williams, DeChristopher said, “We must let ourselves be shattered by the hopelessness of the crisis . . . When we abandon the hope that things will work out, the hope that we will be able to live the easy and comfortable life which we are promised, the hope that someone else will solve this problem, then we are free to act . . . The opposite of hope is empowerment” (271).

Suffering is a call to action. What change will your hopelessness cause you to work toward? Work from our places of wounding, and vulnerability. This is where fierceness comes from, fierce compassion. And we can all agree, I think, that our nation could stand to see more compassion in every place, every school, every home, every broken heart.

Desert Abundance

Over Thanksgiving break, Matt and I visited Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks in Utah as well as Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Reservation outside Page, Arizona, and Horseshoe Bend (of the Colorado River) there too. I’ve never been any place that dry before, that red.

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Puddles at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Arizona

North Carolina clay is notoriously red and dense, but that’s all disguised by layers of roots, worms, sloughed needles and leaves, thickets of thorn and vine.

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Sagebrush in Zion National Park

The abundance of the desert is different. Desert comes from French, then Latin—desertus for “left waste.” In English, the word desert is also a verb—to abandon, to leave a place, causing it to appear empty; to fail someone, especially at a crucial moment when most needed. A desert landscape is one with high stakes, where the smallest actions are amplified by emptiness. A horizon unscuffed by silhouettes of trees, left yawning open to dawn and dark alike. It is like the prairie in this way, “big sky country” —weather approaches like an oncoming train, openly. Its plans laid bare as plains. This is like what happens when someone deserts us, isn’t it? Their plans, their feelings and intentions are all laid bare, made plain.

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Mule deer at Watchman Campground, Zion National Park

Only the wily can effectively hide in the desert—the gray fox we saw skim the road at Watchman Campground inside Zion National Park, the chipmunk who approached us atop Angels Landing, the rabbit among the sagebrush near Moab. Mule deer were unabashed in their hunger, making meager meals from fallen cottonwood leaves gone to almost dust in their mouths.

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The roads in Zion are paved with maroon asphalt, presumably to blend into the landscape, which reddens fiery at dawn, then fades to rust at dusk.

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Canyons are the hiding places of the west, the shadowy forests and warren bungalows of the desert. Rivers don’t always run year-round, leaving behind dry “washes,” but when they return each spring, new snowmelt or runoff sand sediment, we allow them to do so under the same name as before. In that way, the name seems to mark the bed—a ditch, a crease in the fabric of the landscape—rather than the water.

Folksongs sing of the “rolling” Shenandoah, the “falling waters” of the Mississippi (the National Park Service has a whole webpage dedicated to “Songs of the Mississippi River”). The silence of a wash, a dried bed, doesn’t lend itself to rhythm, to song. What does it lend itself to?

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Cerberus Gendarme area of Zion National Park

When songs insist on the desert, I feel they then concern themselves with liminality—waiting to get to one place, leaving another. The desert isn’t a place in which we can stay for long. This makes it sparkle with an ancient mystery, the mystery of existing in a timeline so outside of our own.

The river that formed Zion National Park’s main canyon is the Virgin River. I’m still working on a way to formulate the following fact into a joke: the Virgin River is what cut through layers of sediment to form the cliffs now known as the Court of the Patriarchs. These are all Mormon-assigned names. The Paiute people originally called this area Mukuntuweap, purportedly meaning “straight up land.”

We spent our day in Zion climbing at the Cerberus Gendarme area, which is named after the multi-headed dog monster from Greek mythology, and then hiking the famous Angels Landing trail. Each time we went into the park we took the shuttle, which is the only way to park in Zion unless you’re willing to pay for a permit in addition to the entrance fee.

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Matt flaking out the rope before climbing in Zion National Park

The climbing was a fun, varied introduction to the splitter crack sandstone we’d be visiting in Indian Creek south of Moab later in our trip.

Angels Landing isn’t a particularly long hike (2.4 miles one way), but it gains quite a bit of altitude (1,488 feet) over its relatively short distance, resulting in a couple stone staircases and many cement switchbacks.

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Matt on a flatter section of the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park

The last half mile or so is very exposed, meaning an accidental slip could result in a deadly fall.

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Matt approaching the steep, exposed section toward the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Every so often there are metal posts bolted to the rock with chains strung between them for you to grab as you walk.

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Matt clinging to the chains for dear life! (Angels Landing Trail, Zion National Park)

The view from Angels Landing is spectacular, allowing you to see down each end of the canyon the Virgin River has carved over many thousands of years.

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We made it! The view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

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Another view from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

After Zion, we drove to Page, Arizona where it rained all day. The weather prematurely ended our Antelope Canyon tour for fear of flash flooding.

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The sanctum of Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Water streamed down the canyon walls, carrying with it little red grains of sand. Matt and I stood underneath a temporary waterfall in our rain jackets.

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In the car I found red particles of sandstone crystallized to my jacket like salt.

Right before sunset it stopped raining. We spotted a double rainbow through our hotel room window and drove out to the Horseshoe Bend overlook.

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The desert sand had congealed itself into a mud, and puddles were everywhere, signals of the ground’s inability to absorb so much water so quickly. We passed many other tourists and photographers on our way up the short trail to the overlook.

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The pale colors of the cloudy sunset reflected off the surface of the Colorado River.

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Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River, northern Arizona. Ignore the human hand 🙂

I wish I’d had a fisheye lens to better portray the huge, prehistoric bend of riverbed.

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Horseshoe Bend

More temporary waterfalls streamed down from the desert surface into the canyon.

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All smiles, all orange at Horseshoe Bend

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From Page we drove through Monticello, Utah and out to a tract of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land known as Indian Creek, famous among rock climbers for its beautiful sandstone cracks sized almost perfectly for hands and fingers.

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Indian Creek, Utah

We luckily found one unoccupied campsite at Hamburger Rock (with a pit toilet, hooray!).

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Part of our campsite at Hamburger Rock in Indian Creek, Utah

We spent a couple days at Indian Creek—Matt leading some hard and impressive routes, me starting to come to a sort of understanding with the way I would need to position my hand inside a crack in order to pull down on it like gripping a rung on a ladder, reset my feet ever higher, and do it again, and again, and again.

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Splitter cracks! All the gear!

Climbing, ladies and gentlemen. Tackling infinite variations of rock formations with the same square pegs—hands, feet. Not simply admiring but analyzing, utilizing. How can I lean against this? How can I stand atop it? How can I twist and contort my body such that I find a shape against the rock that feels almost like a rest? How, then how? The landscape a puzzle.

One of the highlights of the trip was undeniably the hike we did in Canyonlands National Park on Thanksgiving Day.

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Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

When I’d told people about my plan to go to Canyonlands, I kept hearing recommendations to go to this particular area—Chesler Park, which is accessed via the Needles District of the park. Its remoteness drew us, too.

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The Needles of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

We began at the Elephant Hill trailhead, then took that out-and-back trail to a loop (I like to call this style of trail a “lollipop”) through the Chesler Park area. The out-and-back section of the trail gave us some beautiful scenery of the “needles,” sandstone formations.

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Walking amid the Needles, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It took us through an eerie slot canyon, too, another dried-up crease in this landscape’s fabric.

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Matt in a slot canyon (on the trail!) in Canyonlands National Park

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Matt took this one of me- same slot canyon, all the awe

In the meadows and open spaces we walked among cactus, pinyon pines, and warped junipers.

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Matt can’t *not* climb

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In the grottoes of the wider canyons there were yellowing cottonwoods, and Russian olives and shinnery oaks gone brown. I was surprised to see so many deciduous trees and bushes.

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More needles! Canyonlands National Park

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Armed with jackets, trail mix, and enthusiasm in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The rock formations felt otherworldly, enigmatic. Perhaps this is because their histories, though still mostly unknown, are worn visible on their surfaces. The layers of sediment, proof of years and years, are outwardly visible. Their shape, sculpted by weather’s wind and water, speaks to their experience. We cannot entirely know this history, but we are invited to know by the unlayering made visible—we can start to know.

The final day of our trip (not including driving back to Laramie) was spent in Arches National Park, just outside the town of Moab. The contrast between Arches and Canyonlands was immediately apparent. A long line of cars with out-of-state license plates waited at the park’s entrance to be admitted. The parking lot for the Delicate Arch trail was nearing capacity. A park ranger worked to empty the overflowing trash bins nearby. Children cried and argued noisily. There were lines for each pit toilet, and above each toilet was a sign instructing visitors, among other things, to please go in the toilet rather than on the floor.

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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Due to the recent rains (it had rained here as well as in northern Arizona), the upper road to the Delicate Arch overlook was underwater, so we parked at the trailhead and did the 3-mile out-and-back hike. The trail was reminiscent of Angels Landing at Zion National Park with practically no shade and lots of hiking directly on slick sandstone, but significantly less steep and exposed this time around. The trail was cut out of the rock in places, but those sharp corners had been smoothed over by years of foot traffic.

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Maybe it was the crowds, the two hikers I’d seen shuffling down the trail in their Uggs, or the iconic image of Delicate Arch (it’s the one on all the Utah license plates), but I just wasn’t impressed by Arches, and certainly not in the same way I’d been impressed by Zion and Canyonlands. Was this eerily red and open landscape (an earth-wound) becoming familiar already? Maybe I’d arrived with unrealistic expectations, or I’d let myself be bothered by the presence of hundreds of other people who were also there for the same reason (so hypocritical), allowing a minor discomfort subsume the odd and fragile beauty of this place.

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More Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Hiking back down from Delicate Arch, we took a quick detour to see some petroglyphs believed to have been carved by members of the Ute tribe, after whom Utah is named, in the late 1700’s since the people depicted are on horseback.

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The petroglyphs in Arches National Park, Utah

So maybe my characterization of this desert land being one that only experienced in passing is false? How would these people have survived? The National Park Service says the Ute and Paiute were nomadic peoples at that time, traveling seasonally as needed for food, water, and shelter.

This red, sparse land gives the impression of openness—open to curiosity and exploration just as to death and slow, methodical destruction. But inherent in the brutal openness of desert is a threat, some lurking danger. The ground beneath you may shift to sand, may collapse to canyon, may flood instantaneously. The surrounding air burns you all day and chills you all night. These extremes constitute a radical abundance, one both delicate and fierce.

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Yours truly, dizzy with joy in the Devil’s Kitchen area of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Visiting the Poudre River

Visiting the Poudre River

As many of you know, I began my graduate studies this fall at Colorado State University in creative writing. An assignment in one of my classes required that I choose an outdoor “site,” which I am to visit on a regular basis, take notes, and then journal about it later. I’ve been visiting the Cache la Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins, via the city-owned Poudre Trail, for a little over a month now. On my last visit, Friday September 30th, I took my camera along with me. Here are some excerpts from journal so far, along with a few photos.

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A sign for the Poudre Trail via Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins, CO

August 20

I arrived at my site at 3:20PM. It was 86° Fahrenheit and mostly sunny, with puffy white cumulonimbus clouds in the north. I was sitting on the south bank of the river, the water flowing east. The river appeared almost a copper color because of the stones in its bed. The current was rather swift –as I could tell by the passing inner tube floaters—like a slow jog. According to the markings on the underside of the Poudre Trail pedestrian bridge over the river, the water was just under three feet deep.

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Willows and cottonwoods on the Poudre’s north bank

All around me were dogs, children swimming, and more people walking, running, or biking on the paved trail. Through the trees and over the sound of rushing water I could hear people cheering, laughing, and chatting. There was a constant sound of crickets chirping, and an occasional whisper of breeze through foliage.

In the water, a fresh four-foot Russian Olive branch with all its leaves floated by. I noticed stray, straight spider-silk threads in the grass and in the elm branches above me. Slowly a dragonfly flew by me toward the east. Some individual sparrows crossed the river as well. Dogs barked in the distance, and thunder could be heard coming from the north; the clouds grew darker across the river.

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September 12

I always thought the Poudre River was named after snow powder, especially since it drops 7,000 feet in elevation from the Rockies through a narrow, chiseled canyon, to conjoin with the South Platte River east of Greeley, Colorado. It actually refers to French Canadian trappers, in the early 1800’s, hiding their cache of gunpowder there during a particularly bad blizzard. The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic River.”

Behind me, a woman running west clears her throat. Two bikes tick east. The sun clouds over.

September 17

Today the Cache la Poudre River is just over one foot tall, the pedestrian bridge informs me.

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This means about 775 gallons of river water, of Rocky Mountain snowmelt, are flowing beneath that bridge every second. What seems like a humble stream to the eye—especially with monumental rivers in my mind, the Colorado and Snake nearby, the New and Mississippi and Chattanooga out east—is really a powerhouse, always on the move. Small yellow leaves are floating downstream, to the east, away from the Rocky Mountains and toward the South Platte River, toward the heartland. I read that brown trout spawn here in the fall, but I see no fish in the clear water down to the copper-y bottom, littered with round granite stones. Sometimes I hear the fish—a sudden catch of water, white flash slap above the surface.

Along the bank two blue jays stutter squawks at one another. One flies into view and lands on a yellowing cottonwood branch. His body is a jewel blue and he wears a white collar just above his breast, beneath a blue cockscomb. Later I learn this is the edge of the blue jay’s livable range, as far as they come; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halt them the way they halted railroads, the way they still halt clouds and precipitation.

I think about the river, about the trout. What would it feel like to live in water constantly flowing in one direction? Not like an ocean where the tide is a rhythm of give and take, but always east, the way our ancestors felt pulled westward continually. I ask a fisher friend about the trout—the brown, the rainbow, the cutthroat. He says you can often go back to the same spot on the Poudre or Snake or wherever, the same hole or stone, and catch the very same fish—they don’t stray too far. My concept of fish life has been shaped mostly by the story of spawning salmon and—let’s face it—Finding Nemo, so this was news to me, that fish don’t drift or migrate or explore in spite of the debris that floats right by, that the river doesn’t become their timeline on which to travel. I thought a good metaphor might be that little conveyor belt in sushi restaurants that slowly slides enticing sashimi and rolls right before your eyes, for the taking. I guess a river might feel more like that to a fish—food constantly coming and going all day, all night, abundance set spinning by the engine of gravity, by the churning of season, of freeze and thaw.

September 22

I count thirty-five bleats of train horn in the span of several minutes. A helicopter hovers somewhere to the south and car engines rumble to the east. Behind me, bikes pass and dog leashes jingle. Occasional bits of conversation slip through the weeds—two students stressed about the new semester, a mother making safety-related requests of her young child on a miniature bicycle, two middle-aged women building each other up. A propeller plane’s engine rattles from above, behind cover of low, gray clouds.

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Cottonwoods framing the Poudre River Trail

I have just heard how little land in this country remains untouched by human-generated noise. If not an interstate, then a highway. If not a highway, then a railroad. If not a railroad, then trails for ATVs or snowmobiles. If not a trail, then a reservoir with a marina. And if no marina, then planes etching their contrails above, or helicopters leading rescues of people lost in the wilderness. Silence deserts. The scarceness of silence. This must have devastating effects on animals, especially those who rely on their hearing to find prey, to hunt, to stay safe, to not become prey, to survive.

When I hear a sound—a splash of water, birdsong, crackle of twigs or dry grass—I hope for a sighting of an animal—a trout, a blue jay, a crow, a grasshopper. When animals hear our omnipresent noise—engines whirring, tires squealing, horns honking—what do they hope for?

September 30

All the vegetation and leaves are more yellowing today, rustier—oxidized colors. There was a light drizzle all morning. My field notes are speckled with the occasional raindrop ink-stain. The Poudre River was measured at two feet high, higher than my last visit because it’s been raining up in the mountains, to the west.

Little white wildflowers upstream catch my eye. I walk over unsteady pebbles and a large cottonwood root to get to them. The root is far enough away from any trees that it’s impossible for me to tell to which it belongs. Each flower is in various stages of unfurling—some are fully open, dripping their petals into their watery reflections.

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As best as I can tell, the flower is Carolina Bugbane, or Trautvetteria Caroliniensis, which is native to this area

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Carolina Bugbane is in the Rananculaceae family, or the buttercup family, and seems to prefer wetter habitats

I find myself thinking how it would feel to live in a river that can get as low as one foot deep—to have distance infinitely available to you (seemingly), but know your explorations, your knowledge, were all limited to one foot by the width of the river by its length. I suppose human life, until the inventions of the airplane and rocket-ship, is fairly limited in that way as well—we’re basically stuck to the earth’s surface, most of us. This, I think, is the origin of the desire to fly, our envy of birds. We can’t see the earth’s rotund nature from our limited depth, the slice of air in which we live. We’ve had to escape this space to see the world for what it really is—a sphere remarkably like and unlike any other.

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National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, so what better time of year for a blog post about poetry?

When I was an undergraduate, one of my English professors challenged all the students in my class to think of just five living poets (published, please- not your friend who has a Tumblr). I was surprised but not shocked to see that no one could. Rather, no one even tried. Here was a room full of voracious readers, English majors- self-professed literature lovers! And even they didn’t read contemporary poetry. Despite much ado regarding the “death of poetry,” there is a whole lively world of small literary journals out there, sifting through today’s writing and churning out new issues full of thoroughly vetted beauties.

Once people learn I write poetry, one of the first questions they ask is, “So what do you read?” I always list some poets and then we go our separate ways, them in all likelihood completely forgetting all six or so names I mentioned. So here you go, world: these are a few of today’s living poets I’ve been reading and admiring, along with my recommendations for specific poems, which you should start reading now. And seriously, none of these poems are long. If you read every single one right now, it would probably take you less than 30 minutes. So read! Be inspired! And share! Or, as Mary Oliver (more about her later) says, “Pay attention./ Be astonished./ Tell about it.”

Kim Addonizio: I can’t remember when I first encountered Addonizio’s poetry, but I remember being captivated by her voice- thoroughly contemporary but practiced, mindful, and intentional. She was born in Washington D.C. in 1954, but has lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay area. She’s published poetry and fiction, as well as several nonfiction works. Two poems you should check out are “What Do Women Want?” which was published in 2000 and is as awesome as you’d expect, and “Lucifer at the Starlight,” which is a sonnet.

Billy Collins: This guy’s Wikipedia page even has a picture of him on it, so you should probably know who he is. A former U.S. Poet Laureate, Collins was born in 1941 in New York. Having received many awards and worked on the editorial boards of various journals, in 1999 the New York Times said, “With his books selling briskly and his readings packing them in, Mr. Collins is the most popular poet in America.” Three of his most well-known poems are “Introduction to Poetry,” which was originally published in 1988, “Marginalia,” published in the February 1996 edition of the magazine Poetry, and “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July,” which has since been used in the reading comprehension portion of AP English exams.

Dorianne Laux: I know of Dorianne Laux because she directs the MFA Program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, which is pretty much where I grew up. She was born in 1952 in Maine, and didn’t complete her undergraduate degree until she was 36 years old, after which she went on to get a master’s as well. She lives in Raleigh today. Two of her poems you should check out: “Men,” from her 2011 collection The Book of Men, and “Life Is Beautiful,” which ends up being quite different from what you’d expect, just knowing the title.

Mary Oliver: As promised. Mary Oliver was born in 1953 in Ohio. She has won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her work, and the New York Times Book Review has referred to her as, “Far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” (It helps, I think, to have a book of poems about dogs.) She never completed a college degree, but spent much of her young adult life studying the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Mary Oliver is kind of a big deal – and yet, her poetry remains approachable, simple, and starkly beautiful. Start by reading “The Summer Day,” “Rice” (pictured below), and “The Journey.”

MaryOliver_Rice

From Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1

Natasha Trethewey: Born in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1966, Trethewey’s parents were illegally married at the time, as her father is white and her mother black. When Trethewey was 19, her mother was murdered by an ex-husband, whom she had recently divorced. Trethewey was appointed the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012, and in 2007 she won the Pulitzer Prize. Read her poems “Incident,” which is a Pantoum about seeing the KKK burn a cross in her front yard as a child, and “Theories of Time and Space.”

Ocean Vuong: Born in 1988 in Saigon, or what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Vuong immigrated to the U.S. in 1990. Today he lives in New York. This year Vuong won a prestigious Whiting Award. I was told by attendees of this year’s AWP Conference that there was not a dry eye in the room after his reading. Check out “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” (yes, his name is in the title) published last year in The New Yorker, and “A Little Closer to the Edge,” which is from THIS MONTH’S edition of Poetry Magazine. Brand new stuff, people.

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Are there any poets or poems you would add to this list? Let me know what I should read next in the comments!

Love to all.

Announcement: Grad School!

Reading and writing are two of my earliest loves. My mom is fond of recalling how, on my first day in kindergarten, I read aloud Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat for the entire class. When I was perhaps 8 or 9, my dad gave me an old IBM Thinkpad that ran Windows 95. It sat like a immobile black cinder-block on my desk in my bedroom. I would either play Solitaire or Minesweeper, or compose an endless string of short stories in Microsoft Word- historical fiction, mysteries, etc. In the third grade, I hand-wrote a 40-page (wide rule, obviously) novella that supposedly took place in Europe during World War II, inspired by my collection of dolls. I remember swelling with pride at its length while I stapled the pages together; it felt like a true feat.

I don’t remember the first time I tried to write a poem. I know I played with composing lyrics for songs first. I would sing made-up melodies while pumping my legs on a backyard swing, then share the ones I liked most with my neighborhood friends. I was constantly imagining vibrant backstories for things I encountered- people, trees, animals, cars. One of my favorite recurring daydreams was, while my family drove anywhere out of town, to imagine what my life would be like if I’d had some connection to any of the little places we passed by. What would I be like if I lived behind that sandy shrimp shack? What if I’d gotten lost as a little baby and been raised by the foxes in that abandoned field? What if I’d grown up in that old farmhouse on this Christmas tree farm in the Appalachians?

In high school I was lucky enough to find a year-long elective course focused solely on creative writing. The first time I took it, I was a sophomore. The second, I was a senior, and my counselor informed me, concerned, that I couldn’t receive any credit for this course the second time. Fine by me! We were assigned powerful readings by the likes of Mary Karr and Annie Dillard. Anyone who’s taken public high school English knows how seemingly anything written after 1985 is excluded from the canon, making this all the more incredible. Literature was alive, and it was still beautiful.

During my undergraduate years, I knew I wanted to study English and creative writing, and pursued them fervently. I took a creative writing class every available semester, eventually culminating in a year-long poetry seminar with some pretty amazing folks for whom I’m still so grateful (you know who you are!). After graduation, my writing grew as aimless as a broke teenager set loose in a shopping mall. I published a couple poems in local journals, and tried writing without anyone to tell me what worked, and what sucked. I knew I needed to enroll in a MFA program to further hone my skills as a reader and writer.

All this to say that, come fall, I plan to enroll in the Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing program, focusing on poetry specifically, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. This is a 3-year program offering excellent faculty, intensive writing workshops, courses, and many opportunities for work and studies in teaching and publishing. I am excited to be taking this substantial step forward in pursuit of my passions.

CSU

Though the details are obviously still in flux, and will be for some time, know that Fort Collins is just over a 1-hour drive from Laramie, which is in the realm of totally manageable for Matt and me (and Boone!) now that I own a car with all-wheel-drive. While it won’t be the easiest transition in the world, 3 years doesn’t seem like forever to me anymore and, moreover, the prospect of spending those 3 years working on something so dear to me is exciting.

Thank you to for your part in helping me get to where I am, whether it’s been years of work (thanks, Mom & Dad!) or a couple minutes reading this blog post. I appreciate you.

Love to all.