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


  1. Good to see this, Peter. I used to read at Palacio's Bar years ago. Not sure why I stopped. Pleased to see my teaching associate Tim Staley! I wish I could memorize my poems, but...

    Since moving to Garfield I travel to Black Cat Books and Coffee in T or C the second Sunday of the month to listen and read. I wrote a short piece after my first visit, Black Cat Books & Coffee and the 3 Jeffs...

    (Some wonderful poets on Medium too ;)

  2. Thanks!
    Didn't know you lived in Garfield. I expected to be living in Derry by now, but I'm not. Still have the land, though. We have gotten up to Black Cat occasionally too, as have some of the other poets in this post.

    1. You move to Derry, we'll be neighbors. Hilarity ensues.

      Never met you, Peter. Maybe you'll come to Black Cat March 12 and...

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