Tuesday, June 12, 2018


From murals at San Francisco's Beach Chalet painted by Lucien Labuadt in 1936.

Wanda was the most magnificent woman
I’ve ever seen
with her
shiny black hair and sparkling brown eyes
strong thighs in tight jeans
striding back and forth
behind the bar
pouring drinks
for the supplicants
who hung on every word
through her
red lipstick lips
in her
wry honey drawl
even telling, perhaps
what she’d cook for dinner:
white beans with a ham hock and
a mess of greens

I loved Wanda at once
but couldn’t fathom how much
till one night she jumped the bar
with a club in her hand
to chase a bad drunk

The sight was so dazzling
I could scarcely comprehend it
She flew over the counter knees tucked
like a gymnast
eyes blazed
like a Fury
arm raised
like a God
For all I could tell
she had holstered the lightning
It was everything I ever wanted to see
in a woman
everything I ever wanted
to be

Another day she rode up
on her 850 Norton
cockless and cocky
in her aviator’s cap
on her way to
a crawfish boil
on Lake Ponchartrain
where she'd show me how to pluck
the delicate white flesh
from the small red tails
and suck the heads

And on the pool table
at Sonny’s
she’d make all her bank shots
pointing to the places she’d hit
before dropping the ball in the pocket
Never choking at the endgame
like me
Challengers would line up
bright quarters on the railing
but Wanda held the table
for as long as she wanted
laying her body on the green felt
squinting one eye as she lined up the shot
sliding the pool cue back and forth
over her fingers
until ‘CRACK!’
She loosed the ball

Wanda was the most magnificent woman
I’d ever seen
and I never understood
why she suffered me gladly
did not find me lacking
all cloaked in my grief
and inadequacy

But we were 20 years old
when I slept on her couch
in the Quarter
and when I went back to California
there were 2,000 miles
between us
and I didn’t return the favor when

a bad marriage
a baby
a car crash
money troubles
came to sleep on her couch

We had a few good phone calls
then a bad call
then nothing

And now I search for Wanda
at nighttime
I scour the web with her name
scanning thousands of images
crammed onto my laptop
and not one of them
is the woman I loved at once
in New Orleans

Not even the one with her face
only 40 years older
sitting on a porch in the Seventh Ward
drinking beer with a friend
in a shabby shift
and scabby legs
after Katrina

After the hurricane destroyed it all

Monday, May 21, 2018

You Are My Spiritual Practice

You close the door in my face
as I stand on the porch
with my basket of gifts
and hear the loud lonely sound of the
bolt clanking into the lock

red leaves fall on the bright green lawn behind me
and white snow falls
and tiny yellow flowers push up through soft brown earth
while I wait and wait and wait and
with my basket of good bread
and money for the vending machines
and new shoes without holes
and fresh white socks

You are my spiritual practice
as you chase me down the front stairs
and out into my car
screaming my faults through the window
as I turn the ignition
You paste yourself on the driver-side door
clutching the roof with two palms
while I drive away
for you to give up and peel off

You are my spiritual practice
as you spy out my sore spots
and poke them with a sharp stick
as you bend my spine to your will
and stretch every tendon taut
until I'm almost snapped in two
and cry out

You are my spiritual practice
as your blue baby body's aborning
and the kind nurse dabs the blood from my thighs
in the darkened room

You are my spiritual practice
when your brown hair full of vaseline and chicken pox
stands stiff in the wind
as you run across Ocean Beach
in the dazzling gray morning
with your siblings chasing after
your wild energy all uncontained

You are my spiritual practice
particularly when
you lock me out
You chase me away
and still

I don't forget you
I do remember me
and all it means
for a mother
to love

Saturday, February 17, 2018

On Lemons and Lemonade

I was chagrined when I got kicked out of a San Francisco-themed Facebook group recently.

First, the administrator deleted a lively thread in which people were discussing homelessness in San Francisco. He explained in a private message that he didn't allow discussion of politics in his group. Okay. Understood. I would restrict myself to posting pretty pictures of my favorite city, like the one above.

But I wondered if he knew where I could go instead for the conversation I craved. He provided a name, and I checked it out. The group description began with the question, "Ready to Rumble?"

Well, no. I'm not.

Anyone who's tried to talk politics on the Internet lately has been in a few rumbles, whether they're ready or not. Because political discourse has become a bloodsport in America. But I've never liked the taste of blood.

What I wanted, instead of bloodletting, was a place that people could go in a spirit of cooperation to talk about problems we face in San Francisco and try to come up with solutions. I didn't want to cry, kvetch, insult, accuse. I wanted to discuss. But I couldn't find a good place to do that on Facebook. So I created one. Then I went back to the original group and posted a comment, saying it wasn't appropriate to talk politics there, but people who wanted that type of conversation could talk over here.

Three minutes later, the admin kicked me out.

He said via private message that I was "poaching" his members. He said I'd misbehaved. Here's the thing, though. It's not an either/or decision. You don't have to choose between pretty pictures and politics. You can have both.

It's also not a competition. I don't want the biggest group on Facebook. I don't want the bloodiest group, or the most entertaining. I just want a group of sincere people trying to fix a broken system. So, high on the adrenaline that chagrin provided me, I added everyone I knew who lives in San Francisco to my newly-created group and started posting.

That led me to search out good information for my posts. I called the DA's Office, the Police Department, the Department of Homelessness, and reported on what I learned. I wrote emails to politicians and shared what they replied. I attended a meeting of the Local Homeless Coordinating Board and wrote up a summary. I re-posted Chronicle stories of interest. And I found myself on a new path.

Here's the thing. Since retiring from teaching high school in June, I've been a little bit lost. Don't get me wrong. I love retirement. I love the new way I'm experiencing time, like a gently unfolding ribbon before me, instead of a noose tightening around my neck.

I'm developing a schedule that meets most of my needs: I dance; I write; I lead walking tours; I spend more time with my husband; I meet with friends. But one need isn't met. One itch isn't scratched: the desire to contribute something useful to the world.

But now, it seems, I've stumbled on a way to continue doing that in retirement.

So I guess I should thank the grumpy old fart who kicked me out of his Facebook group and inspired me to take those lemons and mix up some lemonade.

Feeling thirsty? Come share a glass at "San Francisco Politics -- Let's Talk."