Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poem for My Husband on His Birthday at Summer Solstice

In this photo, my husband Ben sits in the middle between our dear friend, Sergio Troncoso, and me at the 2017 AWP national conference.

Today is his birthday and the summer solstice. In less than two weeks on the Fourth of July, we will have been living together as a couple for 29 years, and on December 27th, we'll be legally married for 25 years. So I wanted to post a poem I'd written for him to celebrate his birthday and the Solstice.

I've written many poems for him, including the title poem of my chapbook of passionate love poems, Skin Hunger. But in today's solstice heat, I thought I'd post the one I wrote about the day after we arrived home from our honeymoon when he ventured out after an overnight ice storm for the newspaper and fell on the ice. It seemed to offer insights into the risky act of marriage itself.


after a back injury is a constant
putting yourself at risk.
I know this fear well
from years of setting nerve-damaged heel
firmly on glazed cement
that may turn banana peel on me
as if in some eternal silent film gag.
For you, it’s all new—
the discovery that solid earth can shift
you from upright to supine
as soon as the water on its surface hardens.
We age by learning
such hard truths, move through life
gingerly testing our footing, or else
by smashing the brittle in our way
and sweeping the shards
from the sidewalk.
It’s not so hard, learning
to balance on the shine.

Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Poem for Father's Day--"Safe At Last"

This photo is of my youngest brother's Little League baseball team and its coaches, including my stepfather (the small man on the left in the back row).

On Father's Day, it is this man I remember and honor, a man who took on a bunch of traumatized kids when he married my mother and earned his "Dad" the hard way, the man who died in my and my sister's arms with our brothers all around his bed in that town where none of us lived any longer. 

I wrote this poem after his funeral, and it seems appropriate for Father's Day and all of us whose fathers and stepfathers and father-substitutes are no longer with us to celebrate on the day in their honor.


I can’t cry any more,
eyes swollen, lashes stuck together,
so come then, elusive sleep,
wipe the screen behind closed lids
of today’s grief. Show films
scrambled in the projector,
ends and beginnings framed
by the middle, split once
and then again, past still coming,
future remembered, present
dreamed but never known.
Mix the stilted eulogy and the trip to Disneyland.
Let him coach the scrubby little-league team
as we stand on glowing green plastic
artificial grass carpet
under the cobalt blue vinyl canopy,
listening to echoes
of his voice calling to my brother,
“Slide home. Go for it. Home.”

Published in Heart's Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Friday, June 16, 2017

For Father's Day, In Praise of Men Who Take On Other Men's Children

When I look back on my life, I realize I’ve been lucky enough to be closely involved with three men who had the ability to take on children who weren’t their own genetic children and love and care for them as fathers. It will be Father’s Day soon, and I want to say a word or two about these kinds of unsung heroes. ...

Read more on my blog today at The Stiletto Gang.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Books of Interest from Writers of Color--GOOD SEEDS by Tom Pecore Weso

Guest Review by Ben Furnish

(Since Ben Furnish is writing a food memoir called Restaurant Therapy himself, he seemed the best reviewer for this new award-winning (National Winner of The Gourmand Award and IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards Silver Medal Winner) book, which memorializes an entire Indigenous way of life through the gathering, preparing, and eating of food.

As always, I encourage readers to support the small and university presses that publish these books, without which we would have few books by writers of color, at all. Order Good Seeds below.) 

Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir by Thomas Pecore Weso (Wisconsin Historical Society Press) is one of those rare books that really does stretch and dissolve boundaries of genre that too often separate literary from culinary and historical writing. 

Weso focuses especially on what he remembers about cooking and eating with his traditional grandparents as he grew up in 20th century northern Wisconsin. As deceptively simple a detail as the uneasy status of oatmeal on his grandmother’s breakfast table, which Weso recounts early in the book, becomes a key in understanding the religious identity and educational background of his grandparents and mother.

Weso’s grandmother, Jennie, encountered oatmeal—and other such fare as pancakes—having attended Catholic schools that served Menominee areas in Wisconsin. In fact Menominee at that time had to choose between the Catholics and the Lutherans for schooling. If they wanted a secular-sponsored rather than religious education, their only choice was to do like Weso’s medicine-man grandfather, Moon, and attend the federal Haskell Institute in Kansas, where “they didn’t care what your religion was, as long as you were there for head count at morning muster.” 

A generation later when Weso’s mother attended Haskell, however, she learned to eat oatmeal there. So Weso remembers oatmeal occasionally served in deference to his mother, but it remained something of an interloper on his grandfather’s menu. But even so, for the Menominee, oatmeal became a savory rather than a sweet dish, and Weso gives the recipe for Menominee-style oatmeal seasoned with pepper.

Although each chapter ends with relevant recipes for its storyline, the chapters’ narratives form the real heart of the book. Each story offers an intrinsically interesting story about his grandparents’ lives, but Weso goes on to place their experiences in the broader spectrum of Menominee experience of the time, and of Wisconsin and American experience more broadly.

"This is one of the most important differences between Native and European traditions," says Weso. "Wild rice grows and is used; it is not a profitable crop. ... Before a culture can take root, the storytellers need to be fed. ... Wild rice made the Menominee life possible."

Among the later chapter subjects are Wisconsin diners and the Menominee tradition of an Indian county fair—which today lives on as a Menominee powwow. While Weso’s guidance in preparing squirrel or beaver will likely remain for me an exercise of the imagination rather than a practical matter of instruction, that fact only rendered it more compelling on the page. Weso also captures something of the feel of this close rural community of Native Americans near the Canadian border—and of colonialism's uninvited cook at work in the family kitchens of of 20th century Native Americans.

With the literary economy to rival poetry, these recipes and commentary document a particularly vivid and essential aspect of daily life and cultural expression in a changing ethnic community.   

Ben Furnish works as an editor/publisher and teacher in Kansas City, is the author of Nostalgia in Jewish American Theater and Film: 1979-2004 (Peter Lang), and is currently writing the food memoir, Restaurant Therapy

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sparking Your Creativity - Today on The Stiletto Gang

Sometimes we work so hard with such packed days that we burn out. This is not uncommon among writers. Unlike the image of the writer out there in the media, it's actually a hard job, full of dailiness and routine for the writing and the business sides, in addition to creativity. And sometimes the demands of the job leave us feeling dry and empty. At those times, it's vitally important for a writer--or any artist--to get back in touch with the creativity trapped inside her.

Today on The Stiletto Gang, I talk about ten ways to do just that.