Sunday, March 26, 2017

Watching the Stars - Reflections

Watching the stars here makes you think about watching the stars. You can see enough sky clearly enough to feel its vastness. When little white and red blinking lights cross your view, that's actually marvelous too. There are people up there! Jeez! You wouldn't see any such thing even 100 years ago. Just from watching, you wouldn't know that those guys aren't wandering around as far away as them stars.

It's incredible. It's sad that a majority of humans in the world don't get such a great view – or get it only occasionally, camping out. Jeez, we're lucky.

It makes my mate wonder why we're here.

I don't wonder that. I don't assume there is any real reason, in the sense of Allah or God or Begochiddy planning it all. Nature displays not only beauty but marvelous intricacy, a creative mix of simplicity and complexity, and even a sense of humor. We're just here, part of that. Tasked with surviving, helping the human race survive; and perhaps some (unconscious and miniscule) contribution to our race's evolution and improvement.

It seems we ought to try to do the best we can – whatever that means. I know what it means to me. It means something very different to Donald Trump, a member of ISIS, or Aaron Hernandez.

Helping its species survive is a key imperative for any life form. We find what seems like altruism in some pretty disrespected places. Rats will sacrifice food to share it with a starving rat; they'll delay gratification in order to try to rescue a trapped rat; in forests, trees use delicate root systems to share food with a tree that's in trouble.

How then can we not all get the message that irremediably fouling our nest, poisoning or even killing future generations of our kind, is a major no-no? 

Obviously many do get it, though sometimes to very limited degrees. People buy solar panels or Priuses. Some recycle and/or compost. 

But as a species – particularly in this part of the western hemisphere under our latest political turn – we're clueless. It's unfortunate to hear Steve Pearce flatly misrepresenting where things stand, particularly knowing how he's contributed to the tragic uncertainty by calling to formal hearings witnesses who would be a joke in any serious scientific inquiry. Could someone at least give him an intestinal-fortitude transplant, so he could say, “Yes, I know science says that, but doing anything about it could cost me my job”?

I'm no scientist; but if specialists were as unanimous about a medical procedure as climate scientists are, I'd listen!

How can we be so casual about such a threat?

You might say global warming is all nonsense. But that's hard, with Alaskan tundra melting, glaciers losing New-Jersey sized hunks regularly, and coral reefs dying. (Oh, and the bees? Bees pollinate stuff we like eating. Will Pearce do that once they're gone?) 

You might say that it's all too big and vast for us to do anything about. Well, we whipped Hitler and put men on the moon. As ballplayers say, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Where something matters, trying counts. (Particularly if you believe in God, who might help us do something.)

You might say that we're just tragically stupid. That this particular evolutionary experiment will simply fail, because the human race couldn't quite adjust its selfish drives, important for the individual's survival, to mute their selfishness when faced with a serious danger to the entire race. 

Might be true. Best I can do is try to mute my selfishness.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 26 March 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  A slightly condensed spoken version will air on KRWG Radio Wednesday.] 

[Because the column discusses global warming (or climate weirdness, as I prefer to say), I'll hear from an acquaintance who is a meteorologist and denies that, historically, what's going on is anything out of the ordinary.  Some day, if I get time, I would love to learn more of the science.  My acquaintance can shower with me a bunch of graphs and figures and maps.  My personal scientific knowledge is too limited for me to assess them.  So, he asks, how can I presume to speak about this stuff, even write about it?  He has a point.  I am used to investigating things for myself and reaching my own conclusions, not relying on others, even others I tend to trust.  For a journalist and certainly for a lawyer, that's essential.  Here, unless and until I can break off a big chunk of time to study science, I have to rely on the experts.  I do so knowing that at earlier moments in time, medical experts used leeches and later shock treatment, while employees at an asbestos company thought nothing of bringing home asbestos pots for growing tomatoes, or of giving their kids asbestos stuff to play with.  
Science is imperfect.  Still, at the moment scientific opinion is more unanimous about global warming than about aspects of evolution.  Beyond the mere numbers, there are other factors that tend to increase my confidence in that fact.  Above all, follow the money.  We know that the Koch Brothers and several oil companies and many others would readily pay zillions for a peer-reviewed study showing conclusively that global warming was nothing to worry about, and/or is a natural occurrence to which human activities have not materially contributed.   There's no such study. Rather, opponents tend to say "Well, there's still some doubt about human contribution to climate change," just as some of the same people, unable to produce a peer-reviewed study showing the harmlessness of cigarettes, kept saying "The evidence isn't conclusive that cigarettes actually cause cancer."  Or they blow out of proportion some minor irregularity in connection with some study, hoping to impeach all scientific evidence that points to the same conclusion.  
Further, we can already observe significant and frightening events, including the dramatic disappearance of glaciers, the shrinking of polar ice, the melting of tundras, the death of coral reefs, etc. ]

[Our New Mexico sky is one reason I feel very fortunate to live here.  I've thoroughly enjoyed many other places I've lived; but the relative silence, peace, and isolation, combined with the unobstructed view of a particularly bright sky, with the nearby mountains just dark, jagged shapes in one direction . . . restores me.  In the press of daily life, we do not simply sit out back staring at that sky nearly as often as we should.]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spaceport Secrecy Act SB 429

The failing Spaceport got a local state senator to introduce Senate Bill 429, the Spaceport Confidential Records Act, which would cloak the Spaceport in secrecy, supposedly to attract customers.

New Mexico law already protects companies' trade secrets. This bill would protect the Spaceport's own “secrets” from its owners – you and me. The second excuse for it is to protect “cyberinfrastructure information” from potential terrorists. (Would some terrorist bomb the spaceport just to kill a few rabbits?) If this bill has any legitimate objective, it's unfortunate that someone drafted it using a meat-cleaver, rather than exercising actual thought. 

Knowing how essential governmental transparency is to our democracy, I worry about bills like this; and knowing that many citizens feel the Spaceport is an irredeemable failure, I wonder about management's motives.

The bill would bury any and all information about anyone or anything who/that provides revenue to the Spaceport.

Sorry, but I'm with the folks who feel we've bent over more than far enough for the Spaceport. 

If you're doing business with the Spaceport, you're doing business with me – and Tamie, Larry, and Bev. We have a right to know who and what you are. Maybe we don't WANT to do business with you because of your corporate conduct. Maybe we'd like to know whether the Spaceport managers, whose optimistic predictions haven't yet come close to panning out, gave you an unjustifiable sweetheart deal. Maybe we want to know if your brother-in-law is on the Spaceport Board.

We have a right to that information. Morally. Ethically. And legally, so far. I oppose this effort to obliterate that right. The context magnifies my objection. We're being asked for yet another sacrifice to the Almighty Spaceport, when many of us are not yet believers. The less say we have, and the less information we get, the more our financial contribution feels like taxation without representation. 

A host of other public entities are waiting in the wings to keep information from you and me. They'd like to keep salary information or public complaints or some pet pile of information confidential, mostly to protect their hind-parts. But certain obligations accompany the paycheck and other benefits public employees get. Transparency matters – even when it's inconvenient. Meaningful democracy requires public access to public documents.

“Cyberinfrastructure?” If there's a hole in the IPRA that would let me get information that should be secure, such as the password for detention center computers, by all means let's address it. (This bill makes no such broader effort.)

In September, management presented a rosy picture to a legislative oversight committee, without the requested secrecy. (The minutes show that a legislator stated that fencing 160 acres of Spaceport America land cost taxpayers $2 million when it should have cost only $28,000.)
On March 11, the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 6-1 to report the bill without a recommendation. The Judiciary Committee has it now, as I write.

In a weird way, the bill reminds me of Trump's ban on immigrants and visitors from certain countries: courts that follow the law and overturn it will be “responsible” for most any future terrrorist act committed by an immigrant or visitor. With management claiming this nutty Spaceport Confidentiality Act is necessary to bring in revenue (which the Spaceport has spectacularly failed to do), opponents will now be “responsible” if the Spaceport continues to be a loser.

If proponents of this bill were representing their constituents, they'd be asking serious questions about whether or not we should pull the plug on Spaceport America. I don't know the answer, but that sure seems a more urgent question.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News, this morning, Sunday, 19 March, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website, and elsewhere.  I submitted it several days ago.  The legislative session then ended, with SB429 still in committee.]

[The Legislative Finance Committee analysis concedes that “there are protections for trade secrets under New Mexico law,” but suggests that “specific protections for potential clients of Spaceport America may help increase customer solicitation.” To me, that's an admission that this thing ain't necessary. It "may help"; but customers' trade secrets are already protected, as noted in the column.]

[I always have to qualify anything I write about the Spaceport: technology can rapidly turn us in an unexpected direction, and many things given short shrift for a long time end up huge.  Edison thought that what he'd developed that led to the moving pictures was amusing, but too insignificant to bother patenting.  Serious scientists swore they'd never see man fly only a year or so before Kitty Hawk.  So maybe everything I write now will seem awfully foolish in a year or two or five or twenty.  
But as time passes, that feels increasingly like a teenager musing,  "But who knows, MAYBE there is a Santa Claus . . ."]

Maybe the wire is the $2 million fence.  

[I haven't independently verified the state senator's allegation that the cost should have been $28,000.  A sharp-eyed friend happened to notice it in the minutes.]

[Below, I've included additional material, including part of a news story and some quotes from email threads among local citizens:]
According to news reports, new Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks argued that such strict confidentiality is expected in the hyper-competitive commercial space industry.  Laura Villegran, Albuquerque Journal Las Cruces Bureau Chief, reported Hicks as saying,
“Having spent 34 years in the Department of Defense, I thought secrecy was big there.  It is nothing compared to the commercial space industry.”   He reportedly argued that SB 429 could make the spaceport more competitive with new spaceports nationwide. An underling reportedly noted that business secrets are closely guarded by start-ups still in the R&D or testing phase; but it's highly unclear that those companies would be disclosing truly proprietary information to the Spaceport anyway.
Again per Ms. Villegran, Gregory Williams, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government President Gregory Williams, called the bill “ a concern,” adding "In a purely private business situation, businesses can often keep information private,” he said. “But this is not purely private; this involves a lot of New Mexico taxpayer money. Anyone who wants to take our state’s money needs to be accountable.”

Williams said Spaceport needs to “convince us that the overall benefit to the public is better if we have more confidentiality.”
“But just because they are claiming they are at a business disadvantage doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case,” he said. “They are going to have to come forward with more information to demonstrate that confidentiality has a significant impact on their business.”
[The following are quotes from communications by local citizens against SB 429:

"The argument that companies need secrecy in their arrangements with the state is a bogus one.  The only information which requires and is entitled to secrecy is proprietary data already defined and protected by law.  Although some arrangements include proprietary information, this narrowly defined information can be redacted without the need to hide the terms of arrangements as wholes.

"It is hard to imagine that secrecy rather than transparency promotes higher confidence in government or better decisions in the state interest.  It increases opportunities for mistakes and corruption.  And it flies in the face of efforts to address issues of unethical conduct."
                                                         - Michael Hays (to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee)

"Is this a joke? This bill 'protects information pertaining to spaceport authority security and cyberinfrastructure that could be used to facilitate the planning or execution of a terrorist attack.' Oh yeah there will be a terrorist attack on Spaceport America. Protection of the national infrastructure is a high priority for cybersecurity in this country. Critical infrastructure such as the national power grid, commercial financial networks, and communications networks have been successfully invaded and re-invaded from foreign and domestic attackers. However, where is cyberinfrastructure at Spaceport America. Is it protecting  the wealthy and this joyride? This is not the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range. Please someone explain the  cyberinfrastructure at Spaceport America."
                                                 - Greg Lennes (to me and others)

"With an inactive spaceport - a "boondoggle-in-the-desert", why is this legislation necessary? The Inspection of Public Records Act makes it clear that lawyers, journalists and all other members of the public are entitled to the greatest amount of information possible about the work of their government. The Judiciary Committee should vote this SECRECY bill down. Ensuring confidentiality for the private businesses that want to use the spaceport will help, Spaceport America argued. This is a mighty poor and weak argument when the taxpayers are paying for this white elephant. There will be no public scrutiny. It is an insult to New Mexicans. VOTE NO!"
                                                   - Greg Lennes (to NM Sen. Joseph Cervantes and others)

"One of the many scandals in New Mexico's political scene is that a progressive electorate tolerates a Democratic Party apparatchik that is economically and fiscally conservative.  They stay in power by their never-ending promises to bribe businesses to relocate here (bringing good paying jobs) rather than doing the heavy lifting of making it economically attractive to to move here by building a first rate educational system, building and maintaining a modern infrastructure and creating a simplified and fair tax code."
                                            - Larry Gioannini (by email)

"As a past state government manager in a state (OR) with strong sunshine laws, I learned how important it was to the CITIZENS that they believed their government was above board. Anything less made all my (and your) job harder if not impossible. The level of distrust for government is not only unwieldy, it is actually dangerous for government employees. There is no reason to obfuscate the dealings of the spaceport for which we taxpayers are getting soaked except to cover up operational fiascos, waste, or incompetence.   Leave our sunshine laws alone and certainly don't make exceptions for a single company."
                                           - Connie Potter (to members of the NM Senate Judiciary Committee)

"SB 429, for whatever merit it may have, can only be seen as a dangerous and completely unreasonable and unneeded proposal to hide information which should be completely in the public knowledge.
"I am absolutely opposed to the State ownership of the Spaceport, but I would oppose this bill even if I favored the Spaceport.
"There is every reason to protect the valid commercial or proprietary details of systems being tested or operated at the Spaceport, and certain test results.  That is common and established practice.  But this bill takes secrecy to greater extents, without necessity, tradition, or apparent need.
"I urge you to . . . "Vote NO on [this bill] at every opportunity, and encourage your fellow legislators to do the same; and make public who generated this bill, and why - what were their real aims and objectives."
                                          - Bob Hearn [to members of the NM Senate Judiciary Committee]
"But this proposed law is and would be an abomination even if I supported the Spaceport."
                                           - Bob Hearn [by email]

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Enjoying Another Friday Evening Ramble

Friday evening a week ago, we went to the First Friday Downtown Art Ramble. 

This one was a little bittersweet. We learned that the Big Picture Digital Photo Lab will move to the Arroyo Shopping Center on Lohman, home of Mesilla Valley Kitchen and MDC Computers. The specter o f two years of torn-up streets was too much, after everything else. (We've already lost two Ramble favorites, MVS Studios and Main Street Bistro. But we hope this move will prove highly successful.)

Big Picture's a great place to get photographs restored or enlarged. I've shown photos there. We watched our friend, the proprietor, struggle with the long illness and death of his wife. He grieved deeply. Slowly he healed. He's even found new love – and his new love's homemade cookies are one of the unsung delights of the Ramble. 

We gabbed with old friends and made new ones, as always. Jim Rodgers has some great images in the Rio Grande Theater's EPE Gallery. At SWEC, a lively 80-year-old artist (Penny Duncklee) told us how much her husband John loved Soledad Canyon. He even wrote a poem about it. He was going into another room to get that poem when he had the fall that caused his death. His ashes found their way to Soledad Canyon. Leaving, we spotted several of John's books in SWEC's “gift store” and bought one.

Later we went to a “poetry slam” at Art Obscura. A few years ago we got to know a young woman named Abbey. She was working at Spirit Winds while attending NMSU, and had founded Cruceño Cleanup. When I write about what's right with our young people, I'll feature her. (And Josh; and Saba.) Abbey's mother is on the board of El Caldito. Doing good runs in the family.

Abbey and her partner, Deret, an excellent artist, started Art Obscura. In Mesilla Park, near the tracks. Great mix of funky antiques and edgy new art. Even a few pinball machines, my personal weakness. Creative young people hang out there. So many that there's often a food-truck outside.

At the poetry slam, we heard some moving poems by young poets, several from El Paso. The place was full of energy. I told several of the young poets about the open-mike readings at Palacio's, third Tuesday of each month (next one: March 21). 

I felt a thousand years old, recalling similar readings. How intensely I experienced each moment! Did I ever look so fresh-faced? I chatted with an NMSU graduate student from Maine, about to graduate. (“Then what?” “I've no idea.”) The uncertainties of youth, rife with hopes, expectations, and dreams, differ so much from our uncertainties and reflections 50 years later, so much of one's story written. Their poetic subjects differ from what I hear at poetry workshop, where I'm one of the younger poets at 70. But poetry is poetry. You find a voice to express your pain, love, thoughts, or confusion in a way others can hear – or you don't. 

Writers write because they must. Our art is the tool we reach for at our most troubling, painful, frightening, or ecstatic moments, to make sense of things and maybe share something. One of the better poets at the slam said poetry was the way she could talk about a painful subject. When she said poetry helped her recovery, I understood – and hoped her love of poetry would survive beyond this specific need, and impel her to turn her developing skills to a lifetime of other subjects.

Overall, another fun and thought-provoking evening in our favorite city.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 March 2017, as well as on the newspaper's websiteKRWG-TV's website, and other venues.]

[Poetry may seem frivolous to many; but it can matter deeply.  As poet William Carlos Williams said, "Literature has no practical unction, but people die every day for lack of what is found there."  For the writer, it involves honest self-examination, or should.  That's healthy for any of us.  For some, it may be otherwise unattainable, and poetry (or fiction, even memoir) can provide a back door.  Writing is also a way to understand the world that surrounds us.  And it can communicate stuff that can't be communicated so effectively in less subtle ways.
Particularly in modern life, with such a surplus of stimuli and such limited time, poetry is essential.  I remember once when we were trying a case in Tyler, Texas, I spotted (and bought for my friend, the head trial lawyer on the team) a small sign: "It doesn't matter how fast you drive if you don't know where you're going."  Most of us don't.  We're too damned busy reacting to everything around us.
Poetry?  The writing of it, for those who form the habit, is a marvelous antidote.  It involves reflection.  If we're too antsy to sit and reflect, or meditate, poetry kind of forces us to.
Reading it, or hearing it?  Poetry can remind us of what's human.  Like a movie, someone's poem can give you a sudden clear insight into another human being or some comic or tragic aspect of being human or something.  It's also healthy for the psyche to focus for awhile on something a little deeper than getting by.]

[Although few of my posts touch on poetry, it's important.  I wish I read more of it.  I wish I wrote more of it, and better.  Ironically, my most recent post,  the "For Love of Lit" reading last month , was a mix of poems, photos, and reflections from a reading a few weeks ago.  We have some good local poets (not including me).  For anyone interested, I recommend the monthly reading at Palacio's Bar in Mesilla.  It's in the huge dancehall in back, not in the main bar.  Third Tuesday each month -- the 21st, this month -- at 8, although arriving a little early is good if you plan to read.  But non-readers are welcome too!  It's a cheap way for a quirky sort of break from everyday concerns.]

[I mention Big Picture's move: the move and expansion will occur June 1, and the new address is 2001 Lohman Avenue in the Arroyo Plaza. - Space No. 109.]

[Meanwhile I do want to express sadness (and condolences to family) about the recent deaths of two people who put a lot of themselves into improving the world around us, fighting particularly for fairness, tolerance, and ethnic equality: Barbara Myers and Chuck Davis.] 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

For Love of Lit

As part of the annual For Love of Art Month, local poets held their annual For Love of Lit
reading, at the Branigan Cultural Center.  A dozen poets read.  The audience was modest, but highly enthusiastic.  Just before we started, artist Jill Somoza, who often takes pictures at these events, asked me to take that on.  I liked the occasion and I liked some of the photographs, and loved some of  the poems, so I'm posting images and maybe a few poems here.  (More poems may get inserted later.)

Some of our poets -- notably Joe Somoza, in my view, but also several others -- are quite exceptional.  The poems are also quite varied.  I should note, for anyone interested in such things, that among other events there's a monthly open-mike reading in the back room (sort of a dance-hall) of Palacio's Bar in Mesilla on the third Tuesday of every month.  Palacio's is on Highway 28, on the west side of the road, south of the turnoffs for the Mesilla Plaza but north of the light where Highway 28 meets University Avenue.  A good time to arrive is 7:45 or so, and reading begins at about 8.

The poems are varied: Joe beautifully weaves simple reflections, usually from a morning spent sitting in his backyard with the trees and birds and cactus, into a web that more often than not surprises the reader with a quick spin or sudden insight; Terry Hertzler's poems often arise from his experiences in war or his reflections on how going to war in his youth has affected him; Dick Thomas's are often love poems or bittersweet reflections on
time and aging, often with a slice of humor.  Some are rather quiet, while others - Tim Staley's for example, always well-performed; Frank Varela's -- are bundles of rapid-fire and often discordant images.  Ellen Young and Chuck Harper include religion among the subjects they explore in poetry.  Anna Underwood is working on a series of poems on farm-life, exploring the details of that life and the mind of "the farm-wife." 

At the same time, the group at the Branigan was not as varied as I'd wish.  Too many of us are white.  Too few of us are young, or from an ethnic minority.  Since I doubt many of us will get much younger over the next year, I hope we can make connections with other folks who write poetry.

Having said that, though, it was a delightful couple of hours that seemed to go past a lot more quickly than usual.

Our friend Dick Thomas read this recent poem:


                                     “You Are Not Your Disease.”

                                            --Parkinson’s support slogan.

      Feel faint 
      when you stand too fast? 
      Hard to uncurl your fingers 
      to button your shirts? 
      Does it take as long 
      to turn the page of a book 
                                           as to read a page? 
                                           And when you walk, 
                                           do you stagger: sidewalks 
                                           now too narrow? 
                                           When you speak, 
                                           do you mumble? 
                                           Does your stomach 
                                           bubble and belch all day? 
                                           Is your libido shot?
                                                       not to worry!
                                           That’s not really you!

When Dick workshopped this poem, he described it as "curmudgeonly."  To me it sounds like a pretty fine mix of realism and sort of a sweet, sad irony.   
I like the progression of vivid images, sharing what P.D. is like, crisply and frankly -- and the ironic conclusion.  The slogan is true and important; but so's Dick's comment on it.  Yeah, there's a contradiction in that, but life is  huge, tangled ball of contradictions, ain't it?

Red Poppies

There was no religious ceremony
no back alley den
only the black kitchen stove
and the two thrift store knives—
one covered in black sap
fresh from the red poppies
and the other, hot from the flame.
The hot knife touched
the black opium gum
and my father inhaled
through the paper towel roll.
Smoke like burning tires
crowded the house.
My mother waited
behind my father
for her turn, while
I waited to be old enough
to leave.

Published in Adobe Walls (an anthology of New Mexican Poets)
©2014 LeeAnn Meadows

 Chuck Harper

 [Note 22 March:] Chuck read a very fine little poem about sitting with his wife reading and about courting her quite a few decades ago.  What's sad is not the absence of that poem here but the reason Chuck hasn't had time or emotional space for such things: her illness will be terminal; she is dying, quite possibly this week.  We will all mourn her.  Somehow death seems all the more tragic when it interrupts a long, loving marriage.

                                          by Anna Underwood

The banty rooster Tiny was the first to go.
A miniature marvel, his Old English Game
iridescent feathers, green, orange, blood-red,
had lit up the White Rock hens for four years, as did his pierce
of a crow, belying his bantam size.

The fox from the ditch, or waiting hawk, the family never knew which,
took him when a Spring wind tore open the hen house door;
his brave defense
surely proved a distraction
saving the harem within. 

Now, in the year of silent dawns,
only an occasional egg lights up the nest box.
Old hens look at the farm wife with dull eyes
and scratch their fat earlobes,
picking and plucking at overweight Matilda
when she can't fly up on the roost  anymore.

“Welfare Chickens,” the farm husband calls them,
urging speedy butchering of “critters
only good for stew.”
Money for feed is dear without some gain.
Yet it's unclear which hen should get her throat slit.
Nervous Nellie? La Jefa?

The farm wife, feeling like an old hen out of eggs,
makes a special ramp for Matilda,
moves the coops to greener spaces,
lines the useless nests with fresh hay, 
tosses the biddies tall alfalfa stems
 with beany tasting purple flowers, 
 saves apple peelings for their afternoon treats.

Many of Terry Hertzler's poems are set in Viet Nam.  That war was for him, as for many, a formative and life-changing experience.  The poem that follows describes another dimension of his life, one which many will find familiar.  Terry seems to treat it with lightness, humor, and compassion:

The Case of the Stolen Feather Duster

So, my mother calls me at 4:00 in the morning, tells me she found her large feather duster. She's been up since 2:00 cleaning her house and was worried that someone might have broken in and stolen the feather duster when she wasn't looking. "It's an expensive one," she says.

"If someone broke in, Mom, they'd probably steal your flat-screen or your jewelry. Most burglars aren't really looking for used feather dusters."

"Did I wake you?" she asks.

My mother's 80 years old and generally gets up at 2:00 in the morning because that's when her dog, Joy, likes to get up. Joy pretty much runs the house. I've asked my Mom numerous times not to call before 9:00 a.m. or so, but her memory is bad and she forgets.

I moved from San Diego, where I lived for 30 years, to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to help my Mom. Sold my condo, left the beaches, a job, my friends. I'm only five minutes away now instead of 12 hours.

One morning we're sitting in her TV room, where she spends most of her time, watching the Today Show, when she suddenly looks startled. She turns and asks, "Am I late for work? Do I have a job?"

"No, Mom," I assure her. "You're retired."

"Oh, that's good."

She loses her keys sometimes, pushes the wrong buttons on her TV remote and calls to tell me she has a blue screen or a snowy screen. I drive over and fix it for her. I've showed her the procedure many times.

She's often in pain—ruptured disk pinching her sciatic nerve. Sometimes she gets angry, turns paranoid and mean, tells me I never loved her, that I'm fat and lazy and a liar, that I moved here just to get her house, that it's clear to her why I'm divorced.

In those moods, reason is impossible, so I leave, hurt by her accusations, while that small voice that each of us carries deep in our bellies whispers its own cruel indictments.

She always calls a few hours later or the next day, apologizes for being so mean if she remembers what happened—says she doesn't know why she acted that way, that she loves me, that I’m her favorite eldest son (my brother her favorite youngest son). So, humor survives. I always forgive her.

Here's a poem by Frank Varela.  I like the way the poet re-imagines a familiar scene in a manner very different from the usual.  (Would some call it religious "fake news"?)  He takes the facts of the old story but alters the moods and motivations of the characters.  (Ironic that shortly after hearing this poem we watched at the Fountain Theater the film The Brand New Testament, in which God is an irascible and somewhat sadistic old man living in Brussels.)


there was the matter of darkness
the silence   and the scent of lemons
i remembered wanting something different
a new creation   the desire filled me
with a nostalgia for uncreated things
so i shuffled the atoms like a deck of aces
and created the heavens and the earth

this went on for six days

day one   the light and the darkness

day five   the living creatures

day seven   rest

“but what about adam and eve”

part of me doesn’t want to respond

let’s be clear   I should’ve let the matter drop

left them alone

but they stank to high heaven

were mean spirited   lazy

what i hated most was their neediness

“you made us in your image   now make us happy”

the serpent and adam and eve

the three were inexorably linked

(i can see that now)

yet   there was something about the serpent

her sinuous body   skin   smooth   cool

waiting to be caressed

nothing detracted from her elegant form

not like adam’s silly limbs

not like eve always grabbing   an unhappy woman

making adam’s life miserable

casting lascivious gazes

on the tree of good and evil

and then there was the matter

of the serpent’s eyes

i could lose myself in their depths

i made her just before adam

and let her wander throughout eden

wherever she wanted to go

but she always ended up

in that tree   stationing herself

in it as if waiting for prey

i should’ve been sensitive   aware

but i had forgotten the time adam wanted her dead

i heard there was a row

words exchanged like hot sparks from a flint

“leave my woman be”

the day of the incident

eve was alone   enjoying

the fragrance of lemons

“how lovely you look today”

she gazed up at the tree

“pick one”

“no one will be the wiser”

she plucked

“it’s good   it’s fresh”

calling to adam   she said   “eat”

i exiled them on that very day   cursed them

to the end of their seasons

i should’ve been angry with her but i wasn’t

“very clever”   i told her

she looked at me

flicked her tongue twice   and

watched her knife through the grass

parting it like the sea

and bringing light

to the world

Here are several images shot during halftime.


Some fine books to choose from!

Joe Somoza read several poems, including "Here, Together":

                            Here, Together

Sometimes, like

right now,

I can’t believe

I’m really here,

always surrounded by

these tree branches

and a partly cloudy sky,

roofs of houses,

a sandy ground,


as if someone

had laid all this out and

dropped me in the middle:

See?  This

is what the world is.


is where we thought

you’d spend your life.

What do you think?

No wonder

I seldom think of anything

to do.

I’m doing just being here.  And you

are doing with me—together,

so much better

than alone:

(I still remember  

walking endlessly in the city,

wondering when,

or if, you would ever appear.)

This casual, meditative quality of wonder is frequent in Joe's poems.  I like it.   We all know people who ruin jokes by announcing first, "This is really funny!" or "You're going to love this one!"  I feel obligated to comply, which tends to hinder true amusement.  Others start so casually that you may not even be sure whether you're hearing a joke or not, then suddenly wham!  I find that tends to enhance the effect of the punch-line.  Similarly a poem can announce itself in a way that borders on the pompous.   Joe's don't.  He doesn't demand your attention.  He's just Joe, "Hey, I'm sitting out here doing nothing and wondering . . ."   One thing I like in this poem is the way he shapes his reflections into a poem and comes around to the fact that we (the readers, as I took it, but also his wife) are along with him on the journey.  I've suggested he consider losing the last four lines, though.  I guess that would leave the first "you" ambiguous.  But then, it ain't my poem, is it?

 Chris Eber

When my turn came, I started by pointing the camera at our small but excellent audience:

I read . . .


Past midnight the sound of rain pouring down
awakens us.  Wind swirls.  We close
an East-facing window, then minutes later
one facing South.  Lightning and thunder,
so close that sight and sound coincide.
We could get an inch in an hour!

After the storm passes, something roars.
“The arroyo?” she asks.  We listen. 
We dress. With flashlights we walk
to where a muddy river rages
down a channel usually dry and silent.
The storm has left; stars
cover the moonless sky; but 
water from the high mountains
seethes past.  Each of us is
the child our mothers awakened to see
the hurricane, the northern lights, or a nest
of baby robins.  We kiss.

Back in the dark bedroom the cat
lies where he lay, indifferent.
We do not explain.  She
thanks him for keeping her side of the bed warm.
“Like a little heater!”  Our bodies
arrange themselves, under covers, hands
holding each other.  The arroyo
is silent.  Already.  The crickets
chatter as if nothing
has happened.

I closed with this tanka:

                                     Dozens of blue worlds
                                     bounce away – catastrophe
                                     for inhabitants.
                                     She moves on, unaware her
                                     shopping cart leaks blueberries.



 Gerry Stork

Ellen Roberts Young read this poem, from a series, I think, on unicorn tapestries.

In Olden Days

In those days there were kings, lords, ladies,

servants, serfs, tradesmen, artists.

Maidens, fair by definition, were

by elegant dress made beautiful.

In those days mirrors gleamed, newly

made of fine glass, mesmerizing.

Human coupling and the greening

of the land could not be disentwined.

In those days dyers turned crushed plants

into red, yellow and blue thread.

Weavers came to buy the thread

when patrons ordered their weavings.

In those days narwhal tusks, harvested far

to the north, were sold as unicorn horns.

Unicorns lived

in tapestries hung on walls.

Ellen's poems always seem particularly well-crafted and, I want to say literate -- she's studied a lot of neat things I don't know much about, which enhances my appreciation of her poems.

I like Tim Staley's reading style -- which, first of all, ain't reading but saying, or telling.  Just as with other kinds of public speaking, it's incredibly more effective simply to say a poem from memory, as if it's something you're telling your listener(s).  It feels more direct and even spontaneous.  You're not at the mercy of bad light or failing eyes.  You can pay more attention to your delivery -- and to your audience.  Just as we'd not normally have an important or delicate conversation while staring at a piece of paper, but would watch our audience, one's better off saying a poem.  (I've often done that with other poets' poems, but rarely with my own, which may mean that mine suck.)

In the Water House

Water boards keep wheat grass nails growing


            I keep the walls free of eddies

                        of water spiders too


A vapor trail rises from the chimney


Down the stairs I glide

                        a canoe for slippers

                                    a paddle for a cane


Trigger fish in the hallway

koi in the windowsill


As one summer

            rotates into another

            I roll on parquet waves          

            in otiose slumber


            The telephone’s sunk


                                    Sunsets blanch


                        Rings rise in colorful bubbles


                                    and die in quiet splashes        


Tim even gets a little demonic!

Jill and Joe Somoza and Gerry Stork

Through the front window -- Jill, Joe, Gerry, and Dick Thomas
After how many poetry readings and other gatherings have shifting collections of us sat around gabbing?  Whatever we may have said, in retrospect we seem not unlike the birds gathering in the desert each morning, delighted to be alive and in each other's company -- though Gerry doesn't look delighted, exactly, at whatever Frank or Helen is saying.   

Below are several more images from the event, either audience shots or shots taken after the reading finished.  (And again, if anyone in these images either sees one you'd like a better copy of OR sees one you'd rather I removed, please let me know!)

Note: all poems  are copyrighted by their creators, and the photographs are © pgoodmanphotos