What these should not be


This is the dread meta letter. To be fair, you probably knew it was coming. You know I am a person much driven into meta: not just the what and the how, but the messy whys. Face value is never enough.

For this project, I knew there were routes I wanted to avoid. This set of letters to you is not meant to be prescriptive or didactic. I worried that if I took either of those roads I’d end up boring you to tears or, worse, resistant and pissed off. I also knew that what I wanted to try to do was to leave space for dialogue. I think that’s why I’ve ended up dwelling in some of our past conversations and then building through them. In other words, these are not advice letters. I guess they’re more like “getting to know you” letters.

I don’t know what that will always look like, so I hope you’ll be patient. One thing that you know, too, about me is that I love words. You belong to a family who loves words, and we love them fiercely, watching words shimmer as they cross borders and reappear, meaning similar but not same. A moonstone is also a piedra luna and that means the same thing but feels very different. Moon and luna rhyme, they do, but only when you shear the ‘a’ off luna and make the Spanish ‘u’ match the American ‘oo’. So close. But no cigar.

Your families have long histories of word-loving. Your great grandmother Gela wrote verses that she would recite to all the cousins (your own Abi’s cousins, that is). Her sister, my tía abuela Amalia, wrote short stories and was well-respected in the Jalisciense literary scene. Your great grandmother Peggy studied literature; she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1939 writing a dissertation on J.M. Synge. Then I grew up in houses–many of them; we moved more often than you have–and each of them boasted bookcases crammed with books. I was the kind of kid who always had her nose stuck in a book but, to be fair, so did your Abu and Abi.

Loving words and the journeys they take us on —fuera de sí but also, of course, down into oneself–means that I feel comfortable telling you that I don’t know how these letters will turn out. I don’t have a map. You have to trust words, and listen hard to the stories they tell. Words carry large suitcases of past meanings and uses; we carry around those words and, in turn, have our own private suitcases of meanings, uses, inside jokes. Like maybe I will always call you by your pet name and maybe if I slip and say “buddy” instead, you will always get play mad.

It really does come down to having all sorts of words inside me that I’m burning to share with you. I remember when I first learned the word ojalá –it was the most perfect word I could imagine (I must have been ten, but maybe younger). It meant “I hope,” but with no trace of the subject who was hoping. It meant “if only,” but it had the open vowels of expectation. I didn’t know back then that it came from Arabic, and of course this new-to-me knowledge makes it an even more perfect word, a traveling word that, at least in my Spanish, had lost all of its religion but kept all of its faith. It’s a single word that cows verbs into the subjunctive and, honestly, I think we’re a world so very in need of the subjunctive right now. For a good year, I think I used ojalá for everything. “Ojalá que llueva!” “Ojalá que no haya escuela mañana.” “Ojalá hubiera pensado en eso.”

When I lived in Germany, I latched onto the world genau with a similarly unreasonable grasp. Putting ojalá and genau side by side is jolting: one dreams, the other assents. Genau, the way my 20-year-old self learned it, was a nodding head in response to someone else, a vigorous, “exactly!” (Apparently Germans often use genau as filler, just like we use “like.”) Genau helped me fill spaces in conversations when I didn’t trust my other German words. I was just nodding, but I was doing it with a hard ‘g’ and a lilt.

You belong to a family who loves words. Sometimes we gather them up and polish them so that we can see the bands of color; sometimes we lick them with our tongues to judge how salty they are and where they came from; sometimes we warm them up in our palms and hand them to someone else who will appreciate the heat. You are surrounded by our word collections and we tumble them around you, hoping that you will appreciate how rich we are, how very rich we are, surrounded by so many words from so many worlds that mean so much to us.







April 7 2017

Friday should be for gratefulness, I think. Thank heaven it’s Friday, after a long week, sure, but also there are a lot of people in my life to thank.

Gratitudes day 38

For smiling listeners; for embracing friends;
for the fifth-grader who taught me Howard Shore;
for the salt that is more than salt and simply salt;
for the postcard signed love.

For the laughter without words,
as we imagine fugitive futures;
for the jam and the honest talk;
for the chance to be real.

Breaking Down

April 6 2017*

Today has been full of good stuff–I gave a talk that landed well; I got to go honor my 5th grade mentee for the amazing work she did on her research project; I had a chance to dig into big topics with thoughtful students.

But the bookending of the day has been … hard. This morning I read one of those brief, harrowing reports of the chemical attack in Syria:

Abdel Hameed is in very bad shape,” his cousin Alaa said. He’s being treated for exposure to the toxin. “But he’s especially broken down over his massive loss.”

Then, coming home this evening, I learned that the U.S. (Trump, without Congressional approval or oversight) decided to bomb Syria.

Breaking Down

Toxins invade my body; my skin crawls
and shreds in the wake of the incursion.

Blood splinters, liver fails, nerves fray:
my body breaks down but nothing

compares to the emptying
of my hands

the way they will never hold
my children again.


*I’ve missed a few days. I have good excuses for them… and it still bothers me.


March 14, 2017

I’m sitting in a cathedral in Lund, Sweden, listening to a group of choirs (there should be a more exciting plural for this happenstance) rehearse. Hearing choral music amplified and shaped by cathedral acoustics reminds me of how religion can work: beautiful harmonies, powerful chords, notes in crescendo vibrate through the air and our bodies. 


Their hum my ticket
i ride this train to glory
shivering with nerves raw
the church walls an organ
as voices swell until 

there is nothing
but song.


I’m tired and jetlaggy right now, but I spent a wonderful half day biking around Copenhagen. I’m not paying attention to US news..ok, I’m not paying much attention. Instead I’m basking in old buildings and bike traffic and unexpected newnesses. Cities are cities, but my favorite thing about visiting a new city–particularly in a country not my own–is that there are small ways in which it defies my expectations. I don’t mean linguistically, although that can play a role. It’s more that every city has its own way of organizing, of flowing, of thriving.


The church bells sound low
and the air smells of salt
while seagulls scream as they swoop

I’m biking in another language
and sometimes I miss the turn
but I keep my eye on the woman ahead of me

she knows what she’s doing
while I’m just playing tourist for a day
mapping out mustard yellows and brick reds
and the weight of bricked history on cobblestone streets.

Resistance- a quilt

March 8, 2017.

Happy International Women’s Day! Happy day without a woman! and as my super friend A says, shout out to all my amazing women, trans, and gender non-conforming friends! I hear by hearby  hereby declare this a great day!

I’m doing something a little different today, mainly because I went to a rally today at noon and, in addition to listening to some fierce, creative, beautiful people, I also got to read a poem that I wrote back in January.  I’m going to say that posting it here fulfills my Lenten promise, however, because I made a video. So there’s my risk-taking…putting the poem into a different medium. Although I need to be honest and admit that I feel this is poem works really well aurally, and I didn’t want it to lose that.

Follow this link, and you’ll hear me read my poem.



#Acwrimo check in

Boring post just to kneel in the confessional and say “here is why I fell off the #acwrimo wagon this last weekend”:

(1) Friday I was grading, grading, grading.
(2) Saturday I was having fun.
(3) Sunday was full of errands.

I feel the most guilty about Sunday. I could have/should have made some time for writing. Instead I took care of all sorts of email odds and ends. I paid bills. But I need to remember that there is no prize for doing  cabinet of curiosities work — well, except for a well-organized mail “box.”

Back to it today, and almost done with the essay from which I needed to cut 2000 words. Next on the docket: the revise and resubmit.

This coming weekend I’m going to take off again, but this time willfully, and intentionally, and, I think, necessarily. I’m looking forward to the pure vacation-ness of it all, and I refuse to feel guilty about it. It has been too long since I took a whole weekend to restore and recharge.