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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Plague of Tyranny

Conservatives (read: fascist) groups in California want the state to delay granting marriage licenses to same sex couples, defying, of course, the recent State Supreme Court ruling, which held that the State cannot withhold such licenses – essentially confirming what anyone with half a brain and one pinky’s worth of reason understands: withholding the right of marriage to same sex couples is unconstitutional, and beyond that, simply irrational and immoral - how can you, in all good conscience, deny a right to an entire class of people? The ruling also confirmed that no argument based on logic and reason to support denying this right exists.

The ever-so stalwart Campaign for California Families warns us that in light of the recent ruling, “the plague of same-sex marriage will soon spread rapidly across the nation.” Lovely language indeed. The black plague of the Middle Ages? The plague the Bible speaks of that came down upon the Egyptians when they would not let Moses’ “people go”? The metaphor is ill-chosen: the same-sex couples I know are all extremely healthy ones – healthy in mind, spirit, body, and healthy in their relationships. What plague is that? Would that my own marriage had been as healthy as those same sex relationships. But even so, even if those same sex relationships were in some fashion unhealthy, if the individuals themselves were in some fashion unhealthy, so what? Do we deny marriage to heteros because in some fashion one or more of the partners, or the relationship itself is not healthy? Of course not.

The CCF advises us to “resist the Supreme Court’s tyrannical gay marriage ruling.” What tyranny? How is granting a right to same sex couples that hetero couples take for granted tyrannical? Is it not tyranny to deny such a basic right as marriage to an entire group of people?

But the CCF appears to be on a mission. A further inquiry into the organization’s website nets this glittering generality:
“Campaign for Children and Families is standing up for the best values the world has ever known. We are strong advocates of … religious freedom.”
What hyperbole – “standing up for the best values the world has ever known” – now there’s a reasonable, specific, supportable claim.

And how about that advocacy of religious freedom? CCF advocates for their religious freedom – for freedom to force their religious moral code on us all.

The CCF believes that in November, the good voters of the State of California will approve a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. And they are essentially asking the State to enforce that ban NOW- before it even exists.

The attorney for the state responded this way to CCF’s stance: "Such an action would be tantamount to putting the (ballot) initiative into temporary effect more than five months before it is even submitted to the electorate. The court would ... set a dangerous and highly questionable precedent were it to manipulate its own processes to accommodate a political interest."

Instead of trying to force their cruel, absolutist religious beliefs on us all, instead of trying to undermine the judicial system, instead of playing politics, the CCF should focus their attention on truly supporting families: how about advocating for a decent living wage? For more funding for public education? Quality child care programs? Tutoring centers? Prenatal healthcare? Healthcare for children? Would not such advocacy support families more than the dictatorial denial of a basic right to a group of people based on … religious belief?

Let the CCF have their religious freedom – if CCF members don’t wish to have same-sex marriages, they can simply not have them. Pretty simple solution. No one’s forcing anyone to marry anyone. Where’s the tyranny in that?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And She Likes The Way He Says Baby

She likes the way he makes love to her.
Ride my cock baby, he says, as he rolls over and pulls her on top.

She likes the way he critiques her writing.
Baby, this is magnificent. Superb. Tour de force, he says.
But baby, I made just a few edits.

She likes the way he scolds her.
Baby, don’t post your poems on that blog.
Baby, I don’t ever want to hear you say you’ve failed again.
What’s a matter with you baby? You’re a star, baby, a star.
Baby, he says, don’t ever say you weren’t good enough.
Your children owe you respect, baby.
They owe you respect.

She likes his thick, Brooklyn accent.
Doll, he says, come sit on me.

She likes when he argues with her about politics.
Baby, I used to be a political reporter, he says.
Baby, you’re like every other idealistic liberal out there.
Come out of the rain, baby.
Step into the light, baby.
Politics aren’t ideal; politics are pragmatic, baby.
You idealistic liberals will ruin the party, baby.
It’ll be your fault come November, doll.

She likes the clucking, soothing tone he takes
when she reports over the phone
that she is sick.
Oh honey, oh sweetie, he says, if I were there,
I’d slip chicken soup down
your hot throat
and bang that bug right out of you.

But he is crazy as a loon.

Stays up late at night,
imagines bugs in his bed,
crawling on his skin.
Can’t sleep.
Can’t write.
Sits on his couch, covered with plastic
and listens to the pounding beat of his heart
the raspy draw of his breath.

She calls, from across a thousand miles.
How are you, baby, she asks.

Not so good baby, he says. Not so good.
But what do I have to complain about?
I can always think of you baby. He he he.

From a distance, she remembers that years ago,
his laugh would have made her skin crawl.
And probably would now too, if she bothered to care.
He he he.

Thank god he lives across the country, she thinks.
Thank god they are not banging each other any more.

But she wants him, she wants him.
And once more
picks up the phone
dials his number.

Hey, baby, she says. How are you?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Drumming the Semester to an End

I was on campus every day last week (finals week) and watched the campus clear out. Students scurried about from library to computer lab to classroom, their heads ducked, brows furrowed, stress showing in their hurried strides. They juggled final projects and papers, finals, and the time-honored labor of packing up - moving out of the dorms.

Students in lounging pajamas and old sweats pushed odd carts piled high with TVs, computer equipment, posters, fluffy quilts, microwave ovens, mini-refrigerators, tennis racquets, basket and soccer balls, scrapbooks, stuffed animals, odd-shaped lamps, suitcases stuffed full - some with plaid shirts hanging out the sides, and boxes straining against the duct tape that reinforced their cardboard walls. Behind these students and their carts full of precariously stacked possessions trailed fathers and mothers, arms full of bags and boxes. A chain of mini-vans and SUVs pulled up in the parking lots, and parents stuffed all these boxes and bundles into their vehicles, leaving scant room for the students who squeezed into rear seats between boxes and the partially opened-car windows.

On Friday, facilities began to set up for Saturday's graduation. Metal barricades were placed along the access roads, signs went up directing folks to various parking lots and to Cox Stadium, where the graduation is always held, rain or shine.

But as I walked out the door on Friday, a bag of papers slung over my shoulder (yes, it ain't over for me ... yet), and headed across campus to 19th Avenue to catch Muni, I paused at Malcolm X Plaza, outside the Cesar Chavez Student Union. Sitting on the plaza's stage, a trio of students drummed the semester to a joyful end.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A May Morning in San Francisco

Last week, San Francisco experienced a heat wave: temps were in the 80s for a few days in a row; the sky – a clear, sharp blue – arced over the city as a joyous proclamation. The weather was so warm that last Friday night, as I waited for my bus on the corner of Market and Castro at 11:45PM, I wore no jacket, no sweater, no sweatshirt – just the thin, cotton, sleeveless blouse I had worn to the ballpark. My Giants sweatshirt remained in my backpack, unneeded, unwanted.

But the fog has rolled in again and my city is shrouded now in soft grey.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Class Slam

Tomorrow is the last day of instruction for my classes. Hurrah!

And I end the semester on a very high note, for two of my classes finish tomorrow with the third round – the final round – of a class slam.

I have taught two sections of 2nd year composition this semester – in which students write expository, argumentative essays about literature. We have read and talked and read and talked and drafted, revised, revised, edited and polished, edited and polished, and proofed, proofed, proofed our way through 4 critical essays about various stories and a novel.

But I wanted to end the semester with something fun and relatively speaking, easy. Or at least, so fun that my students would think it’s easy (but actually, it’s not).

First, I sent them out into the world at large, searching for spoken-word events or slams. They were required to attend at least one event and write a review. They returned to the classroom, many of them, in a state of shock and hilarity. Far too many of them had no idea that poetry could be performance – that poetry could kick your ass – that poetry could make your brain steam, your heart pound, your feet stamp, and your voice call out in response to the poet and the poem – hooting and hollering. Far too many of them thought poetry was an old man in a stiff white shirt, reading in a monotone voice from a dusty book, sucking the life out of the words and never, ever making you feel anything at all.

But they went to poetry events and slams at bars and taverns, cafes and pizza parlors, and came back excited, enthralled, invigorated. That was the easy part - I lulled them in.

Then we began to investigate what Billy Collins calls “poems in the air” and “poems on the page” and talk about the differences. We read and we listened. We talked about the meaning of the poem and how its form on the page hindered or helped craft that meaning, and how its sound in the air did the same. They had to write two critical papers about poetry – and discuss the differences between poems on the page and poems in the air and explain why those differences matter – or why they don’t. No one complained - they wanted to discuss and write about poetry (even the ones that groaned when I said we would be writing about poetry).

Then I delivered the sucker punch. I told them: you must write poetry.

Their jaws dropped. But, but, they stammered, we aren’t creative writers.

Oh really? I said. Too bad, because you must write poetry. And not only that, you must compete in a class slam.

What? What? They shouted. But Ms. G – that’s not fair – we’re not creative writers.

Too bad, I said. Do it anyway.

They relented, hanging their heads low, mumbling in their seats. Fine, we’ll do it. But what do we write about? How does it work? What are the rules?

You write about anything you want.



Are you sure? ANYTHING????

You're writing poetry - that's art and I don't censor art.

What about the rules for the slam?

There are no rules.

How can there be no rules?

Ok, there’s two rules: 1. the poems cannot be longer than 3 minutes. 2) the judges must judge on content and performance.

So what's the criteria for that? What basis do they judge the content and the performance? Will you give us a rubric?

There isn’t any criterion. There is no rubric.


There is no criterion, no rubric. Judges decide based on whatever they like, whatever they don’t like. And then they score your poem however they feel like.

That’s ridiculous, they said.

Yes, I said. It is.

We formed groups. Each student wrote three poems and brought those poems to their group. And each group selected three poems (one for each round) to enter in the slam. On Monday, we had the first two rounds of the slam. Groups performed their poems. Judges rated the poems on the Olympic scale of 1 – 10. The audience applauded the poems and the poets, then applauded or booed the judges as they revealed the scores. The numbers were tallied, and the four highest-scoring groups (out of five) moved into the second round. After the second round, the three highest-scoring groups moved into the final round – that’s tomorrow.

I heard some terrific poems. Some were wise, some were sexy, some were sarcastic, some were about love and angst, some about social change. One was about chocolate cake. Some were about sex. Some were about war, strife, terror, and politics. Some had nothing to do with anything but were just plain fun. One of my quietest, softest-spoken students suddenly became a spoken-word star. One student who has struggled all semester with essay writing suddenly became the best writer in the room. And all I heard on Monday when our two rounds were finished was how much fun everyone had. Students didn't want to leave class - I had to kick them out. They wanted to talk about the poems, tease each other, clap each other on the backs. One student visited me in my office today to tell me that even though he has struggled with the course and knows he is failing (he will take the course again over the summer), he feels he accomplished something. "I can't write an essay very easily," he told me, "but I know I can write poetry now."

Victory is mine!

Sunday, May 11, 2008


We get credit for a lot: everything that goes badly when you raise a child is laid on our doorsteps. And rarely do we get credit for what goes well. We are often seen as monsters – if perhaps only momentarily – during our children’s lives. They see us as bigger than life (as well we are to them when they are young) and wholly inexplicable when they are teenagers (as they are to us – even though we actually do know what’s going on with them – having been down the same path, having felt similar emotions, having once been young ourselves).

Even though we make mistakes and sometimes fail miserably in our task, most of us never get up in the morning and say to ourselves, “Today, I’m gonna fuck my children up good.” We have good intentions, even when our actions go awry, even when we misunderstand, even when in an effort to keep our children safe, we overprotect them, in an effort to teach them discipline and provide a moral compass, we come down too hard on them, in an effort to provide comfort and compassion, we are too easy on them. Mothers are angels dancing on the head of a pin.

But along with the blame and guilt and life-encompassing responsibility, we have other things laid at our doorstep. Here are some of them:

The sweet contentment that comes from rocking a nursing baby in the family rocking chair by the window on a rainy day as the house sits quietly and all you can hear are the soft breaths and suckling sounds of your baby, and all you feel is her mouth on your nipple and her little hand resting on your breast. The world stops and all is well.

The absolute shambles of your kitchen after a pack of 9-year old boys – laughing with cracked voices, sometimes deep then screechingly high – invade it, plundering the refrigerator and pantry, on a summer’s day after a pick-up game of baseball.

The sleepy satisfaction you feel when your teen-aged daughter comes home from a night out with friends and sits on the edge of your bed, chattering excitedly about her evening for a good hour and then curls up next to you in bed, resting her head on your shoulder.

The deep, booming, goofy laugh of your son, 6’4’ tall, 250 pounds, his arm weighing heavy as he drapes it around your shoulders and says, in front of all his friends, “I love you, Mommy.”

The peace you feel when finally, after many restless hours, your child’s fever breaks, he stops fussing and both of you fall asleep, his head resting in your lap.

The absolute annoyance you feel (and pride) when your daughter mothers you by pestering you endlessly to get that damn colonoscopy when you turn 50.

The hysterical laughter you hide when you smell something burning in your son’s room, and when you enter to investigate, he and his best friend gainfully try to deny that they have set fire to a baseball but then abruptly confess they were merely conducting a "scientific experiment on the incendiary properties of baseballs."

The worry and pride you have when your 18 year-old daughter, against your better advice, stands by her friend of 14 years when that friend descends into the utter chaos of crystal-meth addiction and your daughter’s faithfulness and sheer willpower gets that friend into rehab.

The howling of the dog next door every afternoon at 4PM when your son begins to practice the saxophone and the pleasure you experience weeks later when the dog stops howling and you sit on the landing outside your son’s door, listening with pride to the jazz riffs he has now mastered on the sax.

The joy you feel for your son when he wins the day for his soccer team at a Thanksgiving tournament with a sudden-death shootout – he is the victorious goalie and when he blocks that last kick, the team surges onto the muddy field, engulfs him and lifts him up on their shoulders, chanting his name.

The admiration you have when you come home on a dark winter’s night from your part-time job at a bookstore and discover your daughter, in an effort to surprise you, has unpacked all the Christmas boxes and has not only decorated the house for you, but is waiting patiently by the warm fire she laid and lit, with a plate of homemade cookies and a mug of hot chocolate just for you.

The box you have in your closet, filled with the homemade cards, the abstract finger-paintings, the ceramic hand molds, the oddly-shaped clay figures, the twisted lanyards, the painted coffee mugs and plates your children made for you, and the odd dry leaves and stones and shells and twigs that meant so much to them, and which they gifted to you with their deepest pride and love.

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

How To Write A Poem

First, it helps if you have grown up with
bi polar
or OCD.
ADD or ADHD won’t work.

It needn’t be you who has the ailment
as long as you grew up
in it
around it
with it.

If you didn’t grow up
in it
around it
with it

then there’s nothing for it
you must get it.


If you
lose your job
hit the bottle
smoke crystal meth
shoot heroin
that might be good start.

If you are a man
live on the streets.
If you are a woman
walk them.
Or, cut your hair short
and say you are a lesbian
(especially if you’re not).
If you are a lesbian already
you are doomed
for you are passé.
(Don’t blame me – I don’t make up the rules.)

Second, you must read
e.e. cummings
T.S. Eliot
Sylvia Plath
Elizabeth Barret Browning
and that guy she banged.

Then you must read
Walt Whitman
Allen Ginsberg
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Diane di Prima

Galway Kinnel
Anne Sexton
Maya Angelou
Ted Kooser
Billy Collins
Charles Bukowski
William Carlos Williams
and of course
Wislawa Szymborska

and all the rest.
The order in which you read them
doesn’t matter. Just read them.

Imitate every poet you read until you want to puke
and you are no longer
sure you have any
thing to say
in your own

Stop writing. Yes
just stop.
Tell everyone you know you have
because of course you are
off the booze
the meth
the heroin
and no longer live or walk the streets.
And you’ve grown your hair back
and are sure you are not a lesbian after all.

Stop reading the poems of others.

Stay home for three weeks straight.
Don’t answer the phone
or the doorbell
or any knock on the door.
Throw your cell phone and television out the window.
Disable your wireless connection or the DSL on your laptop.

Write some more.
Don’t stop.
Don’t stop for food or drink, nor sleep.
Don’t stop for anything.
Don’t stop for days until it is done.

Now. Shower.
Eat a steak and drink a martini.
Wine will not do.

Drink at least two (perhaps three)
straight up
on the rocks
with only a hint of vermouth
and at least three fat
olives skewered on the toothpick
(eat those last, ensuring they
are soaked thoroughly with the gin).

Now comes the Inquisition.
Stretch your work out on a rack
interrogate it closely
and write down
everything it says
and everything it doesn’t say.

Hold that up to a mirror and
read it.
Read it again.
Read it again.

Take it out to the garage
where all the tools are
and attack it
with a hack saw until it bleeds.

Whatever you do,
do not relent.
Let it bleed it self out.

Use the jig saw on your line breaks.
Make cross cuts
and scrolling curve cuts where appropriate.

Pick up a small, sharp knife.
Whittle the work carefully down.
Be precise – measure twice, but cut more than once.

If there is anything left when you are done
you have a poem.

Of course,
now you have to submit it for publication.
But that my friends,
is another poem

He Calls Her

hot one
lover lips

sweet knees
sugar puss

But never her name.

she wonders:
intimacy or detachment?

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Do you think you can come back
and rip my soul away from me again so easily?
Without cost? Without penalty?

This time I will rape you.

I will spike my cunt with shards of glass.
You will cut your tongue on me
and I will fuck you until you bleed.

Then I will turn my sweet countenance
to other lovers.
open my generous thighs

and with all the tenderness I command
I will fuck them
till nothing is left except soft sweet sighs

and the inner folds of my vagina no longer know your name.