Instructor Website: www.grossmont.edu/stephaniemood/
Retired Creative Writing professor STEPHANIE MOOD has a Master's
Degree in English and French from Ball State University and has taught
Creative Writing since 1977. Her own writing includes poetry, short
fiction, and essays. Her work has been published in Minnesota Review,
Cedar Rock, Poem, Poetry Newsletter, Antenna, Impact, Encore,
Astronomy Magazine, and Griffith Observer. She has
published California Poems: Gold in Them Hills(XLibris, 2010), which
includes poetry and short fiction. In her teaching career, she has taught
E.S.L., T.E.F.L. (Peace Corps Volunteer, Tunisia, 1967-1969), Creative
Writing, Poetry Writing, Short Fiction Writing, composition, and literature
(including American Indian Literature). Mood worked actively with the Community
Service Learning Program. She is the co-founder of Grossmont College's annual
Literary Arts Festival
In recent years, her main emphasis of study has been in Native American Literatures,
specifically tying in with the oral tradition. Her latest book, California Poems: Gold In
Them Hills (Xlibris 2010), is an historical exploration of the promise of California but
incorporates Mood's own personal history of a life in the Golden State. Her new book is
In her teaching, she stresses the importance and power of stories, whether one is
writing basic compositions, poetry or fiction. She teaches fiction writing, composition,
and literature (including American Indian literature). A co-founder of the annual
Grossmont College Literary Arts Festival, she currently coordinates the Creative Writing
Program with Sydney Brown.
Death Valley, California
Making Songs Quick
Chumash Winter Solstice
There was the beginning of something that could not be saved. I am almost 40,
Ruth thought, almost old.
Ruth sat before her dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror, her throat
dry right down to her lungs and heart. She turned her head to her good side, the left
side, and looked sideways at her face. She tried to smile, but her face held rigid, the
thin lower lip trembling, the eyes watering. She pushed the brush through her thin dark
hair. I look awful, she thought, I need help. But there was no one this time to rescue
her, not her judgmental mother and father nor her bossy sisters, not anyone in this
gossipy town of Cretin, Indiana, no one.
She had lost control of her three children, and Judith, the oldest, was to blame,
always disobedient, never compliant. She did not do her chores properly, did not go to
Ruth put down the brush and straightened her shoulders, raising her ample chest,
hand on her hips. That was better; Ed loved her breasts, and they were as big and
beautiful as ever. Some things had not changed. But a new calm had come to her,
silent, unlike the red-hot fury that usually took hold of her. She felt strangely
surrounded, as if she had crossed a line into some kind of a spinning, like the tornado
that had struck Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz. Even her room felt different, static.
I will pray about this, she thought. She sank heavily down onto the kneeling bench, red
velvet, next to Ed's bed near the door.
Yesterday had seemed like just another battle on a playing field of devout mothers
and defiant daughters. "No, you must go to church," she had told Judith, who wanted to
be excused from church services so that she could go on a date with her young blonde
doctor's son, Michael, with the white Oldsmobile convertible. "The pastor's children
must set an example to others."
"But Mom." Judith frowned. "Mary and David want to go out, too. It's not fair."
Ruth sighed. "I'm so tired of fighting you about everything having to do with
church." They were in the side room, Ruth at her desk, solemn, and Judith standing in
that slumpy posture she'd adopted. "You don't want to go, you don't want to wear a hat,
you don't want to go Christmas caroling, week after week after week of it. You're going
to church on New Year's Eve, and you can go on your date afterwards."
Judith said, "By the time church is over, it will be too late." Ruth watched the back
of her daughter striding away, white sweatshirt with the narrow collar and Judith's long
dark hair stringing behind.
That should have been the end of it. But just now, Judith had come into Ruth's
room, bragging. Ruth, in her bra and girdle, sat looking at the girl reflected in the mirror
of the dressing table. Judith's eyes smoked with anger, the cheekbones rounded like
hard ping pong balls.
"Dad said we didn't have to go to church, Mother. He's the pastor, and he says it's
okay." Judith stood in the doorway, hands on hips, hair hanging in her face. I wish she
were pretty, Ruth thought, I wish she would understand her duties as the pastor's child,
but when the mother turned to face her, Judith was gone.
Ruth tried to concentrate. The children must be obedient to her, she thought, they
must. Ed was too often away at church to witness the constant rebellion she faced from
the children; he did not know the devils she faced in being a mother. Mary, the awkward
child, always bumping into things, bruising herself. David, the silent, the dreamer. She
could not understand any of them. But if Ed would not support her, what was the use of
it? The Lord needed to tell her. She prayed, beseeching.
After a while on her knees, her legs started to get stiff, and she felt suddenly frozen
with the familiar fear of polio. When she was 8, her legs had been paralyzed for three
months. Their house had been quarantined, and her mother, Naomi, had kept
everyone away from her for fear of contagion. Ruth shivered as she felt her muscles
start to lock up; she looked up at the crucifix on the wall. "Please, dear Lord, guide me
and keep me. Shine your face upon me. Amen." She waited a moment, tried to feel the
presence of the Lord's countenance, but there was nothing.
She crossed herself, pushed herself up, pulled at her girdle, and began to pace
the bedroom floor until the blood seemed to flow better again in her legs. She did not
look at her legs in the mirror because she was embarrassed to see how they bowed,
always creating a sort of "O" between her legs. 7:30 a.m. At midnight, it would be 1960,
a whole new decade.
The house was unusually silent. The three children had made themselves scarce
after Judith's announcement; Ruth could hear them talking low in the kitchen
downstairs and then the back door opened and slammed shut, and then she was
alone. Outside, the wind that had been blowing since Christmas Day was still going
strong, the ground covered with five inches of hard-packed snow.
The phone rang, loud and insistent.
"Hi, Mom, hi, Dad," Ruth said into the phone. "How's everything?" Trapped.
"What's wrong? We've been waiting to get a letter from you, tell us how Christmas
was," her mother said, her voice full, accusing.
"Nothing's wrong. The kids loved your presents. They will write you thank-you
notes as soon as I can sit them down to do it. Happy New Year. Have you made any
resolutions?" Ruth went for a lilt in her voice. She did not want Naomi to know what
had happened. Naomi would want to butt in and tell her what to do.
"Oh, no, dearie," said Naomi with a tsk in her voice.
"The choir is singing Bach tonight," said Ruth. Written in chalk on the small
blackboard on the wall above the phone were the words, "JUDITH LOVES MICHAEL."
"Oh, that's nice, dearie," said Naomi. "How are the children? Did Judith like the
sweater we sent her?"
But Ruth's legs were cramping again. "Dad?" she said. "You there, Dad? How
are you, Dad?"
"Peter?" Naomi's nasal voice twanged into the phone, calling. "He's gone out
back, I guess."
"Okay, Mom. Listen, I've got to go now, okay? Thank you for calling. I'll write
soon." Ruth felt suddenly isolated. She got up, made the twin beds-hers and Ed's--,
pulled on a sweatshirt and blue corduroy pants, and went downstairs to the kitchen.
Breakfast dishes sat drying in the rack on the sink; the window was covered with frost.
Dimly, she could see three figures moving slowly towards the house. Thirty years ago,
her life in ruins, the vague outline of a young man had moved bravely towards her front
door, and she had been saved.
It was in December when she was eight that she first saw Ed carefully picking his
way up to the house in the Minnesota snow. She was sick with polio, the dreaded and
feared disease which had struck her one hot morning in August. She awoke that day
with a severe headache, and she spent the morning vomiting and shaking with a
piercing chills, alternately cowering under thick blankets, then pitching them off. Later
that day, her legs cramped up, she could not walk, and the doctor was called in. After
poking and prodding, he announced that Ruth had polio; further, he said to Naomi and
Peter, "You have to prepare for the fact that she may die, and it's quite probable that she
will never walk again."
The next day, a Minnesota Department of Health worker came and nailed a
"Quarantine" sign on their front door of their St. Paul home. Then followed the worst
time in her life. The greatest polio epidemic would not come for another 18 years in
1949, but now, in 1931, the fear spread like a wildfire through the neighborhood where
the Abel family lived. The newspaper printed their address in the paper for two weeks,
even supplying a map to their house. People would come by in their cars or on foot and
take pictures. Peter worked at the local Piggly Wiggly, and people would often turn
away from his counter when they recognized him as Ruth's father.
For four months, Ruth was confined to her bed in the small front room that Naomi
made up for her just off the living room, her legs paralyzed and painful. Because of the
paralysis, she could not urinate and had to be catheterized without the benefit of any
numbing local anesthetic, unavailable in those days. Everyone but Naomi was afraid to
get too near her because of the contagion. Her legs would spasm erratically, painfully.
She seemed to be a curse on the family. Was God angry with her for something that she
had done? She prayed for forgiveness. When her headaches seemed to sear her
brain with their intense stabbings, she simply wanted to die and hoped she would.
Perhaps if Jesus saw how much she was suffering, He would forgive her, and she
would get relief and eternal happiness in Heaven.
About a month after she had gotten sick, she was awakened by banging on the
window. "Cripple! Let's see your crutches, Cripple!" Ruth peered cautiously out the
curtain to see a group of three white teenagers bundled in winter hats pulled down over
their laughing faces. Naomi came running, opened the front door, wielding the broom
she had been using in the kitchen. Ruth shuddered at the memory of her mother
running awkwardly out of the house like some sort of madwoman, arms flailing as she
flung the broom in a grotesque imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Ruth was 8
and she was isolated from her school friends, forced by a terrible fate to wake up every
day to endure such atrocities.
On a day just before Christmas, Pastor Ed came. When Naomi ushered him into
the bedroom, Ed was carrying some books under his arm. This was indeed an honor
that the young minister would visit their home. Ruth would never forget how tall and
handsome Ed looked. His whole face shone with a kind of openness that seemed to
include the entire world, with special emphasis on the 3rd grader with polio.
He sat by her bed and talked to her. "Ruthie," he said, and his big hand patted
hers, so warm that Ruth felt a kind of thrill she had never felt before. "God bless you.
How are you doing?" he asked. He did not seem to be afraid of her at all, not afraid like
so many others of her disease. He had a dimple in his chin, and his blue eyes twinkled.
"I'm feeling okay, Pastor Ed," she said, and indeed, at that moment, looking deep
into those blue eyes that looked like heaven to her, she felt stronger than she had in
weeks. His hand seemed to shoot her with an energy that made her legs tingle with the
anticipation of getting up and walking.
"May God's blessings be upon you," he said, making the sign of the cross. "He will
heal you in His own time. We must be patient," he said. Ruth swallowed hard, and her
left leg twitched. Her whole body suddenly felt electric, as if a switch deep inside her
had been turned on. At that point, she determined that she would get up and walk
again to live a normal life, just like the lame man in the Bible had done when Jesus
spoke to him. She smiled at Ed.
"I brought you something to read," he said, opening a book by P.G. Wodehouse,
Carry On, Jeeves. "This is all about Bertie and his valet, Jeeves. Jeeves knows how to
get out of all kinds of scrapes that Bertie gets himself into. Would you like me to read
you one of the stories?"
Would she! So for the next hour, Ed read about Bertie and his Aunt Agnes and
Jeeves, always the quiet clever Jeeves. Ruth loved that the stories were about grown-
ups and that Ed thought she was intelligent enough to understand a grown-up story.
When finally Ed got up to go, they had both been laughing so heartily that Naomi and
Peter had come and stood in the door to watch. The house had not been so cheerful
since Ruth's illness began.
From that day on, Ruth thought of herself as an adult; she would be a survivor, and
with that would come wisdom. She yearned for her years to catch up to her sensibility.
Soon her sisters were taking her in a wagon down to Lake Phalan to exercise her legs,
and soon she felt strong enough that she could walk back from the lake, only getting
back into the wagon when they came upon sight of the house so that Naomi would not
scold. Her sisters finally told, and Ruth said, "Mother, I can walk!" and the wagon was
When she was 13, she was confirmed by Pastor Ed one Sunday morning, and she
took communion for the first time. When Pastor Ed shook her hand after the service,
she whispered in his ear, "The Bible says that the priest should be married, and if you
are not married by the time I am 18, I will marry you." Startled, Ed dropped the Bible he
had been carrying in his left hand.
During the next five years, Ruth sat in the front pew of the church and listened
carefully to Ed's sermons, paid attention to the prayers and hymns. She taught Sunday
school; she attended Walther League, even helping Ed to organize activities such as
Christmas carol singing to church shut-ins. When she was 18, she asked Ed to
accompany her to the ice capades because her father had gotten some free tickets.
After that, Ed and Ruth were officially a couple. They married when Ruth was 21 and
Ed was 34. For Ruth, this was the miracle that repaid all the misery she'd had with the
But too soon, only nine months and one day later, Ruth gave birth to Judith. All
during her pregnancy, Ruth prayed that Judith would stay inside her full-term; nights,
she pressed her hands over her vagina to keep the baby from coming out early.
Pastors had lost their clericals because of babies who came earlier than a full nine
months after marriage. When Judith was born, she came out screaming. Even when
the nurse put the infant on Ruth's breast in the recovery room, Judith still wailed, her
tiny face red and wrinkled with exertion. Mary and David, born in quick succession,
were tame by comparison although Ruth felt so overwhelmed by their constant
demands that often she felt trapped in the cage of her home. The idyllic future she had
envisioned when she and Ed married had become a personal struggle between her
love for Ed and her resentment at being a mother.
But this time, this struggle with Judith felt terminal, and Ed would not be helping
her now. The three figures outside the window were pushing close now, heads bent
into the wind like hunters. Ruth prayed again, "Help me, Lord," but again there was no
answer. When the children came in, stomping their feet and clapping their mittened
hands, Ruth went quickly into the living room where she searched under the Christmas
tree, her fingers closing around the nubby keys to the new car.
It was the sixth day of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the tree would stay up
until January 6, Epiphany, when the Three Kings had come to worship the newborn
babe. Did Jesus ever rebel against his mother Mary? Joseph supported Mary, but the
husband was mostly absent after the birth of the Son. It was Mary that everyone
"All teachers are like that," Judith was saying. "They just want to pile on the work
and you just want to scream." The smell of popcorn slithered through the living room
and towards the hallway.
"He looks fat," came Mary's voice. Ruth stood, cradling the keys.
A week ago, Ed had given her a new Nash Rambler for Christmas. If she wanted,
she could just get in her car and go. She really could, just leave them all. But where
would she go?
Ruth looked at the tree. Eve had eaten from the forbidden tree, and women had
borne the brunt of pain ever after. Children were supposed to honor their mothers as a
payback for the pain. But none of the commandments demanded that parents love their
I don't love them, she thought suddenly, and the thought seemed to blow itself into
her brain like a balloon. I don't have to love them. The sense that she had been
spinning stopped, and the house seemed to settle around her like a great shawl. She
sat, rubbing her legs, urging the blood again. I don't care what they do, she thought.
The sounds in the kitchen receded until they became a tiny hole in her brain. She
could not save what was lost, but she would find a new way to survive on her own. If
she could not walk away, she would instead build a mental wall to keep her tormentors
out, hang a quarantine sign on the disease of children, a vaccination to keep her safe.
© Stephanie Mood
I straightened the silver-plated toasters lengthways so that customers could see
their reflection and admire themselves. Standing back. Eye-level. Good. It was a
typical hot humid afternoon in Indiana, after lunch, and I was enjoying the prospect of
another supply of fresh customers in the electrical department. I was awfully proud of
myself for getting such a great job. My mom and grandmother were already planning
how we could spend all the money I would now be making.
After three minutes and ten seconds, a bald stooped man and a gray-haired
woman with one leg swollen larger than the other came walking slowly down the aisle
towards me. They paused, and the woman fingered a display of blue-flowered kitchen
towels, the waffle kind that feels bumpy to the touch.
"Not there," I thought. "You want small appliances, not kitchenware." I moved a
little farther into the aisle and pretended to arrange an electric food slicer, one of our
featured new products for 1976. I could tell these two would love to buy something from
me. I swooped down on them. "Aren't those towels lovely?" I said. "If you buy two of
them, you can save $1.00. They're very useful; I just used one polishing these toasters
The woman raised an eyebrow and looked at me. I love old people; they are so
frail and many of them don't seem to have any wits about them, and they are crazy
about all the new gadgets coming out. The new automatic egg cookers were very
popular with the old folks. But this woman in the aisle dropped the towel and shot me
with her piercing dark eyes. "Really, dear?" she said. I hate it when old people call me
"dear"; I start to feel like I'm in kindergarten again or something when really I am twenty-
one, legally an adult. That's what I kept having to tell my mother, that I am a woman
although the word sounds strange. Look at what I had already sold this morning: two
brilliantly cleaned toasters, an electric skillet, a slow-cooker crockpot, and three light
bulbs. Most of the people that I sold to came in already requesting a fryer or a mixer,
but that did not matter to me. I felt like I could sell anything to anyone. Lately, I had
taken to cruising the nearby departments looking for more customers. It was fun to spy
on people and imagine that I could take them. I had not sold anything this way except
for a light bulb, but that did not deter me. I was practicing my skills. I would get better. I
raised my face and flared my nostrils.
"Come here and look," I beckoned with my manicured index finger, smiling like I
had practiced in the mirror every day, my pink lipstick outlining my Liz Taylor-like lips. I
did not wet my lips like I do at the younger customers; old people can't see very well,
and some of them don't like it if you seem pushy, even though they are pushy
themselves, always complaining about their aches and pains, like my own grandmother
who lives with my mom and me. My grandmother hates getting old, and she likes to
shake her head at me and say, "Becky, don't ever get old." I did not intend to, did not
see how I could get old. Look how I made all A's in school! Look how easily I could get
a good job at Sears during summer vacation!
Baldy and Big Leg entered my department, and I leaned against the counter,
partially blocking their way so that they would have to stop by the toasters. "See? You
can see yourself in them," I said. "Aren't they beautiful?" Big Leg pushed by me,
dislodging my bent knee. She smelled like Ivory soap, clean and sharp. Ignoring the
toasters, she stopped by the electric egg cookers. Why does everyone want those
stupid things? People will forget how to cook eggs by themselves without some new-
fangled gadget doing it for them. Then Big Leg turned her head sharply towards me
and, raising an eyebrow, she leaned towards the toasters and primped her permed
hair. She was almost bald at the crown of her head, and thin short hairs were carefully
sprayed over the scalp there. She looked like a porcupine. She tapped a finger at the
"Nice and solid," she said. "Come here, Robbie. Look at yourself. Oh, that's right.
You're too short to see. Try standing on tip-toe, dear." And she proceeded to grab him
by his armpits as he put a foot on the lower shelf which immediately collapsed with a
loud snap. An electric can opener fell on its side against another one and then both of
them slid onto the floor into the aisle. Robbie recovered his balance quickly, but in
doing so, he thrust his hand down in between the can openers, and I saw blood. There
was only a dim metallic clack, but Big Leg shouted "Good Lord!" and my manager Al
came hurrying out of his office back in the storeroom.
Al Bitten was a small man, almost bird-like with a pointed nose and think neck. In
his haste, he had forgotten to take his pencil out of his mouth, and this gave me some
time to regroup and think fast on my feet.
When I first came on the floor last week, Al had bobbed his round head, smiled briefly,
tightly, and thrust a sales report into my hands. "We're behind on sales in this
department," he said. "Remember the customer is always right, but for you, make sure
that the customer buys as much as you can sell him. If he doesn't buy, he's wrong and
you need to make him right." He thumped his clipboard with his knuckle. "Got it?"
I had looked Al over pretty good, the pants of his brown tweed suit clumping at his
ankles. He reminded me a lot of my wimpy father, who I'm happy to say moved out
when Grandma moved in five years ago. Nevertheless, I took Al very seriously. During
the Sears training, I discovered that I was now part of a team, a team that worked
together to generate huge sales. I liked being on teams, such as the team my mom and
grandma and I made against my father. Like my mom always said, "You're a winner,
Becky. We Tostotos always come out on top." When she said that, I would look around
our studio apartment with its torn tapestry couch where I slept in the living room, the
kitchen taking up one wall, and I knew that an outsider might not see much "winning"
there. But then I would look at the painting that Grandma had hung up, and my mouth
would water. The picture showed an eagle diving towards some sort of squirrel whose
head was cocked towards some invisible sound on the ground, unaware of the talons
about to descend on it. I liked that one because of the beauty and power of the raptor
and the vulnerability of the squirrel despite its beady-eyed searching. I felt like the
picture symbolized our ultimate triumph over my father, the wimpy Twinkies salesman
who never sold very many Twinkies. Loser.
Thus, when Al came running out of his hole-in-the-wall office, I held up my hand to
him. "Everything's cool, Al," I said. Baldy Robbie was already setting the can openers
to right although the shelf was still unhinged. One of his fingers was bleeding, and
some blood came off on the can openers. "Would you like to buy that can opener?" I
asked, addressing Big Leg, who had jumped back into the aisle towards kitchenware
when Robbie slipped. It was her fault that the whole thing had happened, and I was not
going to let her get away with it. I fairly bared my teeth at her. Al stood rooted to his
spot, his eyes darting from me to Robbie and back. I could see Big Leg's nose
twitching. Then, quite deliberately, she picked up a blue-flowered towel and brought it
to the can opener, wiping off the blood. Then she straightened, full upright, and
pitching her head towards me, started to throw the towel which I alertly caught, smiling
brightly as if nothing in the world were wrong at all. She hooked her arm around Baldy,
and the two of them marched crookedly away.
"Thanks for shopping at Sears," I called after them, casually turning on the charm
towards Al. Practicing your smile and tilt of head really helps sell the boss, I've found.
"Sorry I lost the sale, Mr. Bitten," I said. "I'll get them the next time." Al turned on his
frumpy heel, mouth still full of pencil, and strode back into his cubbyhole. I straightened
the shelf and finished repolishing the small appliances.
© Stephanie Mood
all poems appearing on this page © Stephanie Mood
Say that it doesn't happen
by attack or brutal improbability.
Pretend that the end flashes mute
and coaxes intensely in visions
Say that death is an eclipse:
In silence we dream through expectation
to dawn, light opening through the clouds
like hands, lined purple in roses
the sun rising like a slow bubble
warmth spilling over the north land like lava
like every day
but not today.
Image on a lasting page
the eyes of these words smile up
from paper to mine
but once the eye of the sun
winked at me and
the bowl of the universe around my small head
blinked off like a switch
stopping the day
dying the day
and any words I might say.
(The earth is a sunbather
leaning mute on its axis
it lives inside itself
like a warm cocoon
but its naked eyeball always moves.)
Say the moon catapults like a croquet ball
smack for the tail of the sun
it wants to steal the sun's thunder
it wishes to close the door on the sun
Poof! some thanks for a place next to us!
The sun big as a redwood in the east
The morning dawn barely begun
The moon somersaulting
like a loose wheel from a racecar
In helpless fascination
I watched them pledge and marry
as the moon sat squarely on the sun's face,
tried on its ring
and sprang like a grasshopper
inside the crown around it.
The moon made a stovepipe hole
and my eye stared through it to space past time
The sun was up and the stars shone out
everybody was there all at once
and I was there, mouth gaping in a circle
on my face, eyes round and unblinking
I wheeled on one foot like the earth
like everybody turning through flesh
like death dancing inside the fire
glowing like a patient gift
now making me watch and name our white destiny
in the stars and the jeweled beyond
in this black ink that is poetry.
Death Valley, California
We never hear screams
when the earth falls running
and the rocks play tag
crashing up down below.
The bulldozers move in
and the quiet ache of the snakes
flees silently with the rats' moanings
and the trees crack with pain
we do not hear.
When senses fail, the skin dries out blood
like the valley they called death
cursing behind blistered backs.
The foghorns shrilled eerily
down that robber baron tunnel;
the sun cooked all life
and the earth tumbled crazed
throwing its bowels towards heaven
while jackrabbits and mice died
painlessly, as from some gas or a hemlock.
Here in civilized America
we still debate the death penalty.
Everybody gets the death penalty:
the boulder hung poised overhead
or a sudden jab in the throat
stealing fast, like swift flatnosed sharks.
The scars on huge mountains slung grandly up
belie the beauty of skin smooth as a jewel;
its cuts are colorful as open wounds
lying in layers like blankets or flavors
giant knuckles of uplifted earth
soon buried in their own gentle rubble.
Scum undulates like women
in putrified water
and pupfish live because the valley died.
Sifting borax blinds saltbeds of fire
while gold loses itself and expires in the relentless living air.
The earth kills itself
and there's no one to weep
all ears wax and wane
while nostrils drink dust.
Dead things become colors
clouds dance a new rain
our bones decay smiling
atoms wave where we've been.
Making Songs Quick
for the Liverpudlian lad
I saw how his head pulled
away from his heart
the brain a fist
punching up through the top
How his hair caught yellow
fire and bubbled out
while streaming atoms bled
and ran down the street like rain.
Inside, he'd been singing
clothed in a thin tan coat and
like any fan, I reached out to touch
quick, a quick one on his arm;
how his skin came through the fabric
his arm a guitar string plucked
hand like a note shaking mine
then the others, the excitement in these meetings,
all fingers, bony and warm with music.
Once planted, a sweet violet will seed
itself freely, the pods bursting open
into mouths; then roots drop into soil
like slowmotion rapids and leaves rise
some pursing into flowers of little faces.
All these gifts the air hands us like shots
The combat stance, the bullets popping red pepper,
all those songs spilling fast like
so much trembling milk.
Chumash Winter Solstice
In this season, power and mystery move forcefully;
Sun has journeyed very far away
the days are too short and increasingly cold.
Sun, whose name means "the radiance of the child
born on the winter solstice," whose rays bring
the colors of the corn
white for the east
yellow for the north
blue for the west
red for the south
Mother Corn and Father Sky.
Before we came, chaos
We brought order and balance
Though Sun is free to choose
he always chooses the proper yes
he has always come back.
Everything depends on our coaxing
Only the people know these interventions
how to dance the steps
how to beat the drums
how to dress the tables
how to pluck the strings of the trees
of the earth and sky.
We make offerings to Sun
We settle our debts
We erect the sunstick with the stone disk
it is the center
When the moment is right
we toss the feathers of eagle and goose in the air
we hit the stone disk and
Power shakes, blood air ground sky
and Sun moves back; the people shall have
another crop, another season, more.
We take down our sunstick
and put it away for another year
We plant our feather poles in the earth
one to the east,
three in a circle where
we honor our dead ones,
one high on a hill, the center
and the connections of everything.