Saturday, December 23, 2017

What the Shuttle Driver Told Me

What the Shuttle Driver Told Me

My spiritual education began when I was broke, dead broke.
I went to a park, sat down and cried.
A man in a black suit stopped in front of me.
He said, I’m a magician.
I have one trick no one else in the world can do.
No, I won’t explain.  It’s magic.
God sent me to give you a blessing, he said:
Don’t worry about money.
Oh, and feed the birds.

Three days in a row I sat on that bench.
Three days in a row, that magician found me.
Each time, he repeated his impossible trick.
He always had a big bag of bread
and fed the birds: 
pigeons, crows, sparrows,
They waited for him.
Those birds knew him.

Growing up in El Salvador, 
I used to catch little lizards and kill them.
I thought I was a hunter.
As an adult, I realize I’ve caused a lot of damage.
I have to pay it back.
That’s one thing the magician taught me.
You can feed a bunch of birds really fast, every day.
Those are little blessings.
You can give away blessings easily.
It’s not that hard.
Every day I look for a new way.

After the third blessing, I went back to the garage,
told the other drivers about my magician.
Oh I know who you mean! He wears a top hat, right?
Yes, I said, and a long black overcoat too.
Wait, when was this? 
My friend was looking at me funny.
Today, just now, I said, and for two days before that.
Oh no, Eduardo, my friend laughed, 
That can’t be right.
That’s old so-and-so (I can’t remember his name), he was famous.
He died ten years ago.

I’ve never seen that magician again.
Was he a ghost? a spirit? an angel?
I always remember what he said: 
God sent me to give you a blessing.
There is a little bit of truth in all religions.

I’ve never worried about money since then.
I’ve never been that penniless again.
What he did was teach me how to give blessings.
I wish I had some rose quartz to give you.
Rose quartz is for healing.
The first time I touched it, I fainted.
It was like an electrical shock.
Now I still tingle all over, 
but my body absorbs the energy.
I’m hungry for it, like a vitamin.

I’m giving you this story—
is this your destination?—
Sign here.
Take your receipt.
Remember me in your prayers, okay?
I will do the same.

Deborah A. Miranda

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Walking the Chupacabra": Spontaneous Writing Prompts from the Edge

I've always been a fan of writing prompts, but my all-time favorite ones come about spontaneously, when everyday language or a phrase overheard in a passing conversation, or a misread headline, goes just a bit astray.  Language-play disrupts my predictable patterns of thought, my internal editorial demon; it encourages wild and unique connections precisely because I am no longer in charge; instead, language is the boss.  

My wife and I are especially fond of word-play, puns, or even just a delicious combination of words that fall out of our mouths and stun us with synchronicity.  "That would make a great poem title," we often blurt out in the middle of such a conversation, "or a great name for a garage band," or "a porno flick title!"  

If a phrase would work for one or two of those things, we're tickled, but if it happens to score for all three, it's a verbal hat trick. 

This is the kind of word-weirdness that reminds us why we're together; nobody else is strange enough to tolerate, let alone enjoy and perpetuate, this reckless enjoyment of the English language.

For example, we recently, acquired a new member of the family, a rescue dog named, inexplicably, StevieNicks! (Margo insists that it's all one name, and the emphasis is on the second half, with a move to the upper register. Don't ask.)

StevieNicks! is a smallish (55 pounds - small to a woman whose past dogs have tipped the scales at 125 lbs), black German Shepherd/Mallinois mix with severe food allergies and the personality of a perpetually delighted puppy. At four years old, she still races around with a ping-pong ball trajectory, does not have a linear bone in her body; she’s on the skinny side, and a bit moth-eaten from hair loss (although two months worth of an allergy-free diet, antibiotics and great veterinary care are having a wonderful effect). She's got gigantic satellite dish ears, a loooong face, and Big Bad Wolf teeth.  She also has hip dysplasia, a Shepherd trait, so her gait is usually a graceful lope, but sometimes crow-hoppy in the back end when going uphill.  For her diminutive size, StevieNicks! has a tremendously scary, full-throated bark, and she's not afraid to use it.

Because of her ferocity, her scruffy appearance, her rangy legs, her sharp white teeth, her loooong snout, and her big bat ears, I started calling StevieNicks! "the chupacabra."  [If you need an explanation, follow that link.]  One morning last week, I asked Margo, "Are you walking the chupacabra?"

There was that beat of silence that happens when word-magic has been made.  We looked at each other.  Walking the Chupacabra.  "Ohhhh," I said, "that is a beautiful poem title. But I don't think it's mine. Hmmmm... I want someone to write it, though ..."

I ended up posting it on Facebook, to any poet/writer friends.  An offering, I said, to someone who felt the same strange electric thrill at the sound of those three words spoken together, but had more poetry mojo at the moment than me.

That's how this kind of poetry prompt works: it's not official, not given to you in a classroom or as an assignment.  It doesn't appear in a how-to book. It comes from the slippage of regular conversation, or a sign seen out of the corner of your eye; it comes from the blurry edges of standard language.  

The blur, the edges: that's where the magic happens.

Here are the three poems I received back from three people who felt it, and responded.  They let language take the reins, and then – like all good poets – stepped in with expertise and craft to support the initial spark.

My thanks to Minal, Ire’ne, and Margo!

(And yes, I think Walking the Chupacabra also works as garage band name and porno flick title - which just goes to show you that when something is awesome, it's truly unstoppable.)

El Chupacabra

We are walking the chupacabra
in the morning. Every morning
we check his Twitter to see what bile
he’s spewed, we check the orange rug
to see what we need to clean up,
put down, burn off, weep around.
We count the goats
to see if they are safe.
We clean the blood & tears
off our sustainable
bamboo floor. El chupacabra
hisses, rubs the thorns 
along his spine all over
the house, shredding 
the leather couch. Afternoons
he likes to lie in the sun,
tongue lolling as he licks up smog
from the breasts of the skies. 
This is when we sleep,
huddled up against the wall
through the rough comfort
of his snores. When the sun sets
el chupacabra runs
to the red horizon. 
We hear his howls
all night long, clamoring
for flesh.  We answer—
fire in our bowels, fire in our lungs,
fire in our hearts—for we are 
exploding with love for our people
through the long war
knowing one day we will prevail
& make the beast ours.


every morning we put the leash around his rough furred neck let him take the lead out the door and onto the sidewalk while the neighbors look askance at us we walk the chupacabra every morning or shall we say he consents to let us walk him and we walk on the balls of our feet here we are walking the chupacabra or shall we say walking the threat of violence walking the shadow of imminent death we walk on the balls of our feet and breathe rapidly ready to run should he decide to turn and maul us should he become unable to hold his hunger in check not hunger for flesh but hunger to see life spilled life burst life ended

we walk the chupacabra praying under our breaths hesitating when he stops to inspect a bush or a butterfly or a dog walking down the opposite side of the street though we never hesitate when he decides to change direction we speed our steps so quickly we almost trip over ourselves we walk the chupacabra until it is time to return home until he turns his eyes homewards and he waits while we open the lock on the door while we remove the leash while we set his water and food down on bowls on the floor and we sleep in this house this house where the chupacabra sleeps sleep with our eyes open in case he wakes sleep in this house guarded by the chupacabra

Walking the Chupacabra

We always walk at night (as though
darkness could hide her trembling anticipation).
She waits for me by the gate, breath hoary,
starlight glinting off daggered teeth.

Darkness hides her trembling anticipation.
Shadows shapeshift into monsters,
starlight glinting off daggered teeth
(what holds the ends of their leashes?)

Shadows shift shapes into monsters.
Every woman has a chupacabra locked away
or at the end of a leash she clings to -
perhaps we should arrange play dates.

Every woman has a chupacabra, locked away
in a midnight corner of her mind.
Perhaps I could arrange a playdate
with a woman willing to release hers.

In the indigo corners of a mind,
or on a hand-knotted living room rug,
a woman willing to release hers
is a treasure not to be discarded.

A hand-knotted living room rug
woven from rags by my grandmother
is a treasure not to be discarded,
a saddle blanket for her own chupacabra.

Woven from rags by my grandmother,
my chupacabra is never cold -
no saddle blanket for her,
black fur glistening in moonlight.

My chupacabra is never cold
waiting for me by the gate, breath hoary,
black fur glistening in the moonlight.  
We always walk at night.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Questions on the Sixteenth Anniversary of Your Death

Questions on the Sixteenth Anniversary of Your Death
            for my mother

Where do you walk now? 
What new maps have you drawn,
or have you left maps behind? 
How is your heart? Does turquoise
in a stone or lake still bring you joy?
Wars have ended, and begun,
since your soul and body parted ways.
Trees have fallen in brutal derechos,
acorns burrowed into the soft earth
with one green root.  I have slept,
and dreamt, and walked in rain;
my skin has burnt, healed,
darkened.  A million words
swarm around me, but
I do not know if any of mine
reach you, nor do I have any of yours
to hold to my heart and praise. 
Are you humming as you travel?  
Which road will you take next? 
Do you think of me?
I keep your memory
like a singing cricket
on the hearth of my heart. 
Those notes, steady as footsteps,
will outlive both of us.
That’s all I know for sure.

Deborah A. Miranda

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dear World: Yes I Wrote a Poem About Dicks Let Me Explain

Dear World:

You've been waiting for this book: a celebration of renowned scholar, poet, novelist and all-around-phenomenal woman, Paula Gunn Allen.  These pieces started out as a special insert in a literary journal, then (through a series of unfortunate events that turned out to be fortuitous) morphed into an even better, richer collection with beautiful editing and a perfect press (West End Press in Albuquerque) of its own.  And now, here it is, in your hands, with a classic Paula photo on the front.

So you open it and start flipping through the poems, essays, stories, and lovely artwork.  Such an elegant design! Such wonderful insights!  Such -

                           wait a minute.
Ha! You thought you saw . . .  wait.  You did see . . .  a series of words . . .

Naughty words. Bad words. Silly words.

It's a penis . . .
a prick,
a cock, ,
a dangler,
a clamdigger ...

Well, who the heck would put a poem like that in a collection honoring one of the most revered Native American scholar/writers in the 20th century?  What a jerk. How inappropriate.  How disrespectful.

But wait!  I wrote that poem! I swear, my intentions were good!  Yes, I admit, it's a bit odd that a lesbian poet would write a poem for another lesbian poet about male genitalia.  

The problem here is context.  This poem was actually sent off to the editors (many years ago) with an epigraph that Made It All Perfectly Clear.  It included a quote from Paula Gunn Allen herself.  It was the intersection of Paula's quote and a news story that inspired this poem.  

Unfortunately, the epigraph was inadvertently left off the published version - my fault? editorial mistake? printing error? -- I have no idea.  And, for the record, I have never worked with two more determined, honorable editors than Stephanie Sellers and Menouka Case. So let's chalk it up to the trickster energy generated by the poem and which, as Menouka reminds me, Paula would have deeply appreciated.

Future printings of the book will be corrected. For now, I provide the epigraph here for you (below).  I'm curious to know how, or if, access to the epigraph changes how the poem reads within this collection.

By the way, here is the statue in question, created by Joe Pachak.  In the end, the statue was not actually removed from the park, but instead, moved to a less conspicuous area.

Yup. There it is.

For the White Lady Who Had Kokopelli's Statue Removed From a State Park

In her introduction to Off the Reservation, Paula Gunn Allen mourns, "…poor Kokopelli! … he capers sadly about on wall hangings, tea towels, pot holders, tote bags, t-shirts and pricey bronze cutouts sans his joyful manhood . . . Perhaps this sorry loss is symptomatic of all that is wrong with colonization, and indicative of all that fills Native hearts with rage."

It's a penis.
Your father has one.
Your brother has one.
Your son has one.
Your grandson has one.
It's a penis,
not the Mark of Cain.
It's a penis,
a prick,
a cock,
a dangler,
a clamdigger,
a babymaker,
a lovemaker,
a dick,
a dong,
a one-eyed snake
a pee pee
a wiener
a wanker
but it's not
the Mark of Cain.
Your father has one.
Your son has one.
Hell, if you believe
in the Bible
God has one
(we are made
in His Image,
right?)  I've got
news for you:
have 'em
or we wouldn't
still be
and maybe that's
your problem
with Mr. Kokopelli
and his joyful
Indians having sex
means more Indians,
happy Indians,
and gay,
mono or poly,
mixed or full.
Still here,
still happy:
is that too much
for you
to take?

Deborah A. Miranda