We come in peace (Bayliss Park, Council Bluffs, Iowa)


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Somewhere in Iowa…


…an admonishment to keep the cattle out, while those within slumber peacefully as they have since forever (Grandview Cemetery, east and north of Sidney).

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Driving home from Brownville Sunday night on the old 136/67, I passed a Mennonite church. I am not the least bit religious (and you should ask me sometime why I’m no longer attending church), but, oddly enough, I’ve never passed up a church whose doors were open. This place was lit up and had a few cars, so I U-turned and hesitantly stepped in. A woman with a delightfully plump baby of about 8 months came over to me. “Please come in,” she said. “I don’t have anything to cover my head with,” I replied. “It doesn’t matter,” she assured me, “you are welcome.” Welcome. What a lovely word!

Mennonites are the people you see at county fairs and reenactments: with bonnets and calf-length dresses, selling delicious jams, jellies, breads. The men usually in the background, bearded, with hats. This was a traditional service — women on the left side of the room, men on the right. Almost all the women had their hair pinned up, covered by the small bonnets.

The elder was talking to the kids about a man who acquired a rock for every time someone hurt him, or every time he held a grudge. Pretty soon his pockets got so full, he had to dump them all out in his front yard. People came from miles away to see his rock collection. Finally, someone asked him, “where is your other collection?” The man didn’t know what he meant. “The collection you have when people did you a good deed.” So the man began planting trees for every good deed bestowed on him.

I wanted to hear the rest of the service, but it was getting dark and I had at least two hours’ drive left. I left as quietly as I could, thinking about rocks and trees.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent, Reconciliation

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Mary Elizabeth and Dolly (lower left) did not want their faces to go on the internet, but they did want to tell you that rituals are important and  beautiful — and they also wanted to wish you the most joyous … Continue reading

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Dirges, songs

My intent is to write poems about all my recent days (10) in the hospital and put them here. I was battling a nasty, filthy thing called mycoplasma pneumonia. Maybe this will help me update more often. It may have the opposite effect.

PART 1–To the ICU

swathed in what seems to be

opaque plastic wrap,

you ride with jovial strangers

to the fifteenth floor.

A clear mask pushing

oxygen at 100 pound PSI

is placed

over both your mouth

and nose. You are the queen of all,

flying, laughing. Suddenly

everything goes black.

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Ten things I learned at the National Poetry Slam by katydid


A great piece by my friend katydid, a poet and not a slam poet.

[Please make sure you read all the way to
the end, because it has important qualifications to
the cynicism.]

Things I Learned at The Poetry Slam National Finals,
St. Louis, August 7 2004

1.  Usually, things were better when you were a kid.
(The standard exceptions include poverty, rape,
incest, abuse, discrimination, or cancer – other than
that things really were better, because you got to
have recess, freedom from the demands of conformity,
the demands of productivity, and you got relative
safety from harm without having to ask for it or work
for it, or even think about it.)

2.  Iambic meter is most effective when you “slam”
every stressed syllable.
As in… “to BE or NOT to BE”, &c.
(Is that why they call them “slams”?)

3.  There’s a lot of stuff to be poetically pissed off
about.  In the human condition, there’s really nothing
like joy worth mentioning, unless it involves sex with
people you trust.

4.  Poetry that expresses pride is good, but only if
that pride arises from either
a) surviving horrible things
b) being more aware than non-poets that other people

5.  In general, people are shallow.

6.  Middle-class people are especially shallow, and
especially the ones in suburbia, because they are
insulated by their own choice from the suffering of

7.  Stuff you buy in malls or box stores is bad,
unless it’s the DVD player you got so that you can
play last year’s and this year’s Slam Championship
DVDs, (on sale over by the door).

8.  People like it when you shout.  This seems to be
because it most effectively demonstrates deep feeling
and also awakens deep feeling in other people.

9.  In addition to the atrocities mentioned above,
stereotypical instances of human brutality include
leaving babies in trash bags, war, and lynching.  If
these things are never brought to light in the company
of like-minded people, no one would ever notice nor
care, much less try to stop them from happening again.

10.  Stereotyping is bad, unless stereotypes are
poetically useful.

(That’s about it.  I actually was extremely moved by
many poems, and still feel their power today, as
nothing short of breathtaking.  But poetry doesn’t
have to be bitter, self-righteous, or loud to be
moving.  It just has to make me see the world in a way
that I have never seen it before, and make me desire
what is good, and shun what is bad – or just make me
marvel at the things – at the wonders – that human
beings can create, even staying within a three-minute
time limit.)

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First I run into a shrine of a German convent in the midst of the Bohemian alps….

DSCF1592 DSCF1594

…then it’s straight into a David Lynch movie:


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The Untidy Season — Wild West Style

A couple of years ago my friend Charlene and I decided to drive to North Platte for an open mike. George Lauby has been running this mike since 2006 (he also edits The North Platte Bulletin, an alternative newspaper). A road trip always seems like a good idea to me. Charlene, on the other hand, is up for anything all the time — one of the many things I love about her.

We met George and a couple of his friends for dinner and went on to the open mike which was held at A to Z books, a beautiful expansive bookstore owned by Sharon Owen, a veteran bookseller for 30 years. (Think the old Antiquarium, only less dust.)

The open mike was lively and varied — guitarists, singers, and poets. The whole town seemed to have turned out! There’s coffee and tea. People bring snacks to share, chat and catch up between sets. The whole evening had a relaxed, homey feeling.

I had mentioned to George how disappointed I was the last time I came to North Platte and Buffalo Bill’s Scouts’ Rest Ranch was closed. “On a Saturday!” I complained. “When do they think tourists come to town?”

George made a phone call to his ranger friend who ran the ranch and instructed us to call him the next morning.

We stayed at the gracious and lovely Knolls B & B. It was comfortable and reasonable (“We raised six children here. Our home is a home.” the website states) and Mrs. Knoll had two breakfasts for us — one when we left at 7 and one when we returned at 10!

Ranger Randy was gracious, even though we woke him up. He gave us an extensive tour of the Ranch, including the house and environs. Now several of us are headed back to North Platte, this time with copies of The Untidy Season, an anthology of Nebraska women poets that I co-edited with Liz Kay, Sarah Mason, and Jennifer Lambert. I can’t wait!

north platte open mike

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At McFoster’s: People of Nebraska and Iowa

Left to right: Tonya, Brandon, and Phil aka Conga Mama, Dr Webb, and Maestro Phil

Left to right: Tonya, Brandon, and Phil aka Conga Mama, Dr Webb, and Maestro Phil

“I met Brandon when we were both in a band called Jackknife Suicide.”  Tonya says. She looks at Brandon. “I SAVED you from that band,” she adds, laughing. DSCF8861 And what about Phil? “Oh, we picked him up in the street.” Tonya says, grinning widely. Dr. Webb and Conga Mama, as they are known, can be heard ‘most every Tuesday from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Mc Foster’s Natural Kind Café, 302 South 38th St (38th and Farnam).

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People of Nebraska and Iowa

“I know everyone in this church. In fact, I’m related to most of them. Second and third cousins. She (points to the woman sitting next to her) and I are kissing cousins. That means that her dad and my mom were brother and sister.”


“My dad helped build this church. Put on his button-ups and got his ladder out and put that roof up. My husband and I have been married 64 years.”


–Charlotte, at the Ponca Hills St John’s Lutheran Church ice cream social.

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