Poem Is Banquet, Poem is Feast

My students want to know

What makes good poetry?

I think, bread and potatoes, plenty of food in the cupboard.

A full stomach. Then vivid dreams. Attention.


Beginners mind, I say.

Don’t cross out. Take risks. Ask questions.

“How can one day be so many things?” one young mother wrote.
A Zen koan I’m beginning to unravel.


Make desire statements.

This is the place I stop

To censure the thought (I’m losing my Buddha mind).
No ideas but in things.

The thing is that truth set down on the page looks nothing
like the mind of illusion.

The magician’s trick. Sleight of the hand.
Not knowing.


But I want them to know, fully.

The way sky shines

After July rain.

I want them to know.

Each word a jumping off place

To ecstasy or sorrow

Nothing in between.


A poem is a morsel to feed the hungry

A grain of kindness.

Water that permeates

Unmovable stone.



Where Sorrow Lives

Sorrow lives in my mother’s kitchen

Polished clean

Scrubbed with the force of a woman

Who is wounded and fighting

With all her might


Sorrow lives

Between the glistening pots and pans

And the freshly pressed linens

Let me lie down with this sorrow

Her prayer


Sorrow lives in the basement

Where my father labored

Among the skill saw, hammer and nails

The time he lopped off a finger

Sorrow sang

But usually she hummed gently in the background

Through the leaves of autumn swaying

Radiating like the ping pinging of the sideboard heater

Snowy winters


Sorrow lives in the ancient apple trees in the yard

Where even the blood red

Of the gladiolas my father planted

Could not spirit it away

Or obscure the history of the man in the barn

Who hanged himself finally

While the horses stood

watched quizzically

And at the last moment

Ready to warm him

with breath

Fresh with the hay he had just offered them.


Sorrow lives in the church

We visited on Sundays

At the altar

With the statue of Jesus

In the rusty nails straight through the hands and feet

And the cold tears shed

At the crucifixion

When he felt abandoned by his own Father


Sorrow lives quietly

For three days

in the tomb

And rises again

Spreading like wildfire

Smoke and ashes and dust

in our mouths

Soundless and wordless

In what we cannot say

Sorrow lives


And she’s in my sisters

behind their eyes and the crook of my neck

and underneath our fingernails

In the most intimate of places.


How can we turn our backs on sorrow’s seduction?
So we succumb

To her lamentations

And weeping

She is shrouded

In a veil

She is vain

She is sometimes sleeping

In my sister’s
days in bed

There she is


Day after day

She flirts with sorrow

Until she cannot get breath — almost loses consciousness

Becomes ecstatic with sorrow


Sorrow and my own anger

Both rise

Twin flames in a frosty glass

A porch light dim on a starless night.


I offer drop-in writing and editing workshops through the Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Santa Clara Library systems. These free workshops are designed for all ages and levels of poets. Check the calendar page for more information.

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