Category Archives: Poetry


At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.



Filed under Family, Poetry, Reflection, Writing



I got out of Dodge very quickly after the HNS conference and headed toward the Huachucas and Cochise County, AZ, one of my favorite places in this marvelous country. Temperatures quickly climbed as I left  fog-cooled coastal San Diego. I’ve spent time here before and enjoyed the sights, friends and culture of this sparkling village. This time, I had more urgent business calling me east.

 The farther I went, the hotter it got. My first destination was Yuma, home of the Arizona Territorial Prison. After two weeks of intense palaver with friends, most of whom write, and strangers of the same ilk, I entered into a period of virtual isolation. Well, not “virtual” for I Skyped with my son and granddaughter regularly, as in “When are you coming home, Grandma?” followed by either giggles or tears. Calls to others and from my dirt-digging daughter (the archaeologist) broke my silences as I tried to figure out if I could go to the Huachucas. Reason prevailed, helped by heat edging toward 115 degrees and  the Monument Fire in the Huachucas that started after I left home. Well, so a fire broke out near Yuma, crossing both state lines AND the Colorado River on my second night. I soon turned north and west to seek out the welcome chill of the Pacific where a sweater is a summer must-have.

 I’m writing to the music of Enya on Pandora Radio.  I hope you enjoy my fragments.

            YUMA                                                      READING JEFFERS

Blistering heat beats down                       His poetry sings of the land

To meet fire’s great flames                       Finding the graveyard of

In pungent gusts of                                       Deer bones old and newer  

Severe black smoke,                                      He brings us into the

Skyscraper high.                                              Scene and the life now gone

                                                                                 His words create images of emotion.

Ash flittered about

Raining all around                                        MONTEREY BAY

A small maelstrom                                   Storm clouds gather

Imitating its elders.                                   to the North and West

                                                                            Sun huddles in

Homes evaporate at                                   cumulus blanket

Monument and Wallow                             While kayakers stream      

Hero firefighters  sleep                                around and through

Wherever they can flop,                              Kelp beds brown as

Dreamless, to revive.                                    burnt toast on a gray table.

                                                                                              The otter rests.

Trees succumb

Shaving mountains and desert

Shear to the stony base,

Rage devours all.

I cannot go farther………..


Filed under Poetry, Writing



The 2011 National Poetry Month poster designed by Stephen Doyle.

The Academy of American Poets ( instituted National Poetry Month in 1996 to encourage the love of poetry among Americans. Each year a designer is asked to contribute a poster to the celebration and this year it was Stephen Doyle whose work is seen here. The quote “Bright objects hypnotize the mind” is from the poem “A Word with You” by Elizabeth Bishop. Go to the website to see what Doyle has to say about the poet and her work as it inspired his design…”illuminating.”

“Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands…”  may be the most “memorable” of Longfellow’s poems simply because of the numbers of schoolchildren made to memorize it. Was it your first poem?  Probably not.  After all, our nursery rhymes and prayers were poetry.                         

Now I lay me down to sleep,   

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.                                                                  


                                                                                      Mary, had a little Lamb,

                                                                                       Its fleece was white as snow.

                                                                                        Everywhere that Mary went,

                                                                                         The Lamb was sure to go.

 As we grew, the most dominant exposure to poetry probably shifted to the songs of our teen years, whenever that was.  Words of love, imagined, lost or savored, reflected the angst of our age and our emotional state. In thrall, we may have composed sonnets or dedicated words to our love, or poured out our misery when denied.  We use poetry in our commitment ceremonies, in remembrances, and in greeting cards. Poetry surrounds us in advertisements, music and, increasingly, on the printed and on-line page. The quality varies, as does the form, style and impact.

 Chapbooks are thriving, perhaps as never before. Workshops on form and arousing the muse are more frequent. Writers who may never have tried poetry find themselves delving into the process. Haiku, story-poems, sonnets, rhyming or non-rhyming forms, epics or free verse are finding their audiences in readings, newsletters, chapbooks and larger tomes

For me, poetry is becoming more and more important as an expression and examination of mood, feelings, incidents and the complexities of life.





Filed under Opinion, Poetry, Writing


Devastation scares, intimidates and forces us to take stock. I watched the hour long march of the tsunami late Thursday evening in shock and dismay, hardly believing my eyes. Then, came all the later stories of the loss of lives, homes and livelihoods until the World Figure Skating Championships folks asked the question about canceling this week’s competition in Tokyo.  Excuse me, I think the Japanese will be otherwise occupied for a considerable time to come!


Earth shakes

Fear presides

Breathe, breathe

don’t forget how

Panic rules

Flames incite

Shocks continue

Into the night

Mud rushes in

Capturing the land

Roof becomes basement

Debris swims by

Where are the people

Turned upside down

In seconds, in minutes

Life flows apart

All that water

None to drink

Brother, mother, child

Dead or lost

Shattered earth

Shattered home

Shattered life

Shattered future

Nuclear rods

Hot to let go

Float in the abyss

Of afterglow

Fear runs amuck

Chaos has its day

But shall we skate

The world asks anyway

AD  March 2011


Filed under Poetry


For thirty-five years, February has been National Black History Month.  Celebrations, rallies, and special events happen across the country in schools, parks, churches and other venues.  I wrote the poem, CLARA’S AIR, on a warm spring evening four years ago and it was published online by Janet Riehl on her blog site that summer. To commemorate the sacrifices, endurance and accomplishments of Black Americans, I offer it up again.


 Old Mom-Mom told her,“it’s a track without a train,

a railroad running north and, sometimes, underground.”

In the dead of night,with more stealth than wealth,

they slipped onto the barque of a Louisiana swamp.

Three dark panthers melding into the shadows’ thin cover,

where a white man at the helm did hover.

Fear and quiet made the slither of pole on green water

seem to shout upon the wild river.

Near to dawn, they put in at land, there to await,the next helping hand.

In a slimy cave they rested, in Mom-Mom’s lap, Clara’s head softly nested

Sullied water and moldy bread,a wormy apple or bright berries,

it was on these they fed.

Night two or was it more?

Gators snapping as carefully they stepped in mud and gore.

Sounds of tiger growls rent the air,

when the tree snake reached down to dust Clara’s curly hair.

Dawn found them on a sandy beach,

here to hide and keep watch all day against the sound of dogs at bay!

When Clara’s feet began to bleed, Mom-Mom tore her turban

to wrap those tiny feet beyond the scent of any breed.

Night after night, they traveled on. Hiding again at first light,

always searching for guide or clue to carry them from all they knew.

Until Clara wondered at seeking more, hiding from the searchers,

 their dogs and gun, when hope itself had nowhere to run.

Hiding in cramped attics or soured hay, behind a secret wall,

under a bed or up a tree, caused them often to pray.

A thin soup, a crust of bread, an ear of corn to chew, where came the next meal, they seldom knew.

Drained of hope by pain and sorrow, their next stop caused them to burrow.

To Illinois-land they came, trackers’ hounds at their heels.

A house, a barn, a cellar, promised respite from their flight.

Thin, tired to the bone, with blistering feet and soul,

they fell into a restless sleep.

Awakened too soon and pressed below ground,

no light by which to see,  the shifting dirt drifted down.

Clara, Old Mom-Mom and the others, too,

huddled against a sudden outcry,when a critter ran across a foot,

fear doubled and took root.

On and on they sat in silent dream, thinning air adding to their sleep

sending them into a well too deep.

Clara shuffled close to Mom-Mom’s ear,

“Air’s there. See the mole mice at they’s mother’s teats?”

“Hush, child. You wants the mens to hear?”

Old Mom-Mom’s voice faded,her lungs stretched thin.

“Y’all gots to smell the air,” Clara wanted  to scream.

Tugging and pulling, she made Mom-Mom’s face fit the hole.

A gasp, another and then a whisper,“I declare, child, you’s right.

Dem moles is drinkin’ they’s mama’s milk, sure as we kin drinks the air.”

And so the time passed, each had the luck

to suck of Clara’s air until the last of the slave-seekers left.

The lid popped open from above and the whites declared,

“A miracle from God” that all still lived.

But, Old Mom-Mom and the others knew, it was Clara’s air

that saved the day and them, too.


Filed under Historical Fiction, Poetry


Early February and the rains have stopped for a bit.

We race over the emerald hillsides

Watching feather clouds fan across the topaz sky.

Wildly strewn daffodils and fluttering acacia make my heart jump.

Gauzy yellow mustard stirs by the acre

Blanketing fields left fallow until spring.

Baby calf and lamb shins sink into the slurry mud in mama’s footsteps.

Skunky perfume of road kilt rodent

Disappears in gusts of ocean blown wind.

 Point Reyes Station announces itself with early morning coffee and muffins.

 I check at the bookstore for Larken’s book

And find it shining on the locals’ shelf.

 We move through cypress forests and historic farmland preserves.

 The ocean glistens in the distance and calls us

 To follow the risky trail to McClure’s Beach.

 Storm hammered nuggets of gold and silver line the long trail.

  Fool that I am I persist in the dream and hope

  For today’s peace to echo out to sea and beyond.

 We search through seashore debris to pirate our treasures.

 Baby brush and bottle nipple, soccer ball buoy,

 Tattered rope and plastic doodads float on sand.

 In the distance, splendid waves roar up on giant rocks,


and return to their mother sea.


Filed under Poetry



On that first Sunday, Annie dressed in green plaid,

                With Peter Pan collar, shoes, and purse all white.

                                Curly golden hair streamed down her back,

                                                While her blue eyes tried to hide her fright.

It took three buses to cross the town,

                Until, at last, she saw St. Mark’s steeple,

                                In a neighborhood of worn-out mansions and left-behind people.

Tawny browns and ebony blacks, mahogany and coffee-laced-with-milk

                Were some of the colors meeting her at the church door.

                                In satins and silks or cotton worn thin,

                                                Big-hatted women and crisp-suited men were all going in.

                                                                Children nudged and pointed at Annie, until stilled by a command.

Heavenly light showered down from stained glass

                To scatter more color across each yearning face.

                                Thundering piano and joyful choir sang of Grace.

There, at the sanctuary door, Annie heard Mrs. James demand,

                “How come you to hire that white teacher?

                                It’s my turn to lead our summer session.

                                             ‘Sides, we’s a black church now, Preacher!”

His answer came as he caught Annie’s eye,

                “Like I’ve been saying for months now,

                                White folks are fleeing,

                                                Black folks are seething,

                                                                When it should all be about believing!”

Annie slid into a pew nearby and studied the program without really seeing.

                What have I done?

                                What a horrible blunder!

                                                I don’t belong, I don’t fit in.

                                                                I’ve never had a close Negro friend.

I never marched against the drum to plead freedom for anyone.

                I know we’re equal but I don’t know much more.

                                Nothing of race or culture or custom.

                                                Little of strife or poverty or shame.

                                                                My family came first cabin from across the sea,

                                                                                Not as plunder or property.


What can I do here, a college girl, and a white one at that?

                I know the church and the Bible pretty well.

                                I can lead songs and follow the lesson, offer up prayers,

                                                And even wipe a child’s tears

                                                                 But of life, I know so little.

Lost in reverie, Annie’s soul began to stir to rhythms surrounding her.

                Song vibrated from wall to wall, people began to shout their Amens.

                                Her spirits lifted as Annie sang out, and looked at her neighbors.

                                                In God united they stood and swayed to the beat of a belief understood.

Grasping hands across the aisles, prejudice and fear were set aside.

                 Here was a place, a people and a task

                           Where Annie would do as good as she was asked.

* * *

It is hard to imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. at age 82, the age he would have been today if he’d escaped the assassin’s bullet in April 1968. What would he think of our condition on a “return visit” this week , if such were possible? I’m not certain of his response but suspect it would be a mixture of joy and regret. What might he celebrate or denounce, do you suppose?

How would he challenge us to extend the lessening of hate and intolerance in our world? What can we challenge ourselves to do?

 I’ve adopted minute actions: reduce my exposure to media portrayals of violence so as not to condone its use; monitor my language and expressions; and speak up, in whatever small ways I can, against the degradation of humanity.

 I’ll be interested in your comments.



Filed under Poetry

Sometimes of a Christmas Day

 A sleep-in, all cuddly and snug, with fresh coffee to clear my head,
Then it was off to the valleys, the mountains and coast
Where clouds scurried overhead like imaginary ghosts.

Winter in valleys and pastures alike found trees bare with mist rising,
For the rains had just stopped and the sun shone in full glare
Spreading a pearly softness throughout the air.

A car, here and there, appeared on the road, each destination unknown.
New calves and lambs on hillsides were grazing
There in the long valley called so greenfully amazing.

Down from the hills, onto the plain, impromptu streams poured great froth.
There, Old Watson School since 1856 has kept watch,
Past the lambs wool store and the blooming broom so Scotch.

Soon came Bodega, Victorian in every windowpane and bright light,
We paused to remember all those years long ago,
When the field wasn’t Landscape but land for food to grow.

At Highway One, the big houses and eucalyptus trees so out of place
Are rocking to rhythms from the wind unheard,
And the little bay town, so busy in summer, lies undisturbed.

We stop at Salmon Creek, shed ourselves of the Blue Noise, and take to the trail.
High tide had the ocean climbing the steep beach,
Tossing foam and debris within easy reach.

I graze the sand for treasures, hoping to remake a mobile of my youth.
Instead of odd trinkets of metal and glass,
I am left with an old tire, plastic garbage, no brass.

Winds grab at my long hair and I feel the cold sting of the Pacific calling,
Reminding me of another time in this place
When pregnancy and youth set the pace.

On the road again, following the steep winding path of One’s devious way,
Comes a hot brandy hard won, and famed Timber Cove lunch
Where the swans have long since left, the whole bunch.

Just another tourist, watching the surf beating on the rocks below,
Counting egrets, crumpled old fences and tin barns,
Until the day shrinks and of nighttime it warns.

Up Old Ross Road, away from the Russian Fort so historic,
We climb through the tunnel of wet redwoods and oak,
Giant ferns and huge gulleys all asoak.

Waterfalls emerge, jumping from ledge to ledge and surprise us some more
As the mountains close in and cup us in their grasp
Little of daylight breaks through as we pass.

Suddenly the land jumps to open nature’s door, bring us to rolling meadow.
Here is the sun, brilliant sky and deep crevasses.
Here hang the silvered grey Spanish mosses.

The black ribbon road continues to weave its way through the mountains,
Past the old stage coach stop with its wondrous old view,
Past lonesome country retreat and family homes, too.

Like Dasher, Dancer and crew, we whirl onward this Christmas Day.
Weathered and tumbling down old fences have one story to tell,
And so do the white orange posts from fiber optic hell.

The land levels down near Montgomery School and brings us to Cazadero
Where the redwoods were carved from the soil,
Bringing men hungry for the chance to toil.

A few hardy souls can be seen as we go, but mostly lights and windows glow.
From the smoke in the chimneys now haunting the air,
We know crackling fires are set before many a chair.

We leave the mountains and forest nearly behind as we enter River Road.
Home buildings multiply and cattle dwindle
Where the Russian River churns like thread on a spindle.

It’s homeward we’re bound, as the towns rush by and collide,
Pushing us past Northwoods to Korbel’s gate,
Now vineyards, now river, now lagoon in flood state.

Sometimes of a Christmas Day, things happen to renew our life.
Such was the year in two thousand and three,
When Hubby and me set out for Sonoma County to see.

Arletta Dawdy
December 25, 2003


Filed under Family, Poetry