Leona Canyon Open Space Preserve

Down the stairs of my condominium and across Campus Drive to Leona Canyon Open Space Preserve. In April and May, I canter past an expanse of wild radish and California golden poppies, and beyond a pond that is lined in cattails and home to a changing family of mallards whose ducklings hide behind the rushes. Then I continue down a gentle slope where I hear the stream that flows out toward Mills College and eventually to the bay.

I walk three-miles, first an easy flat jog, then up a hill that ends at Merritt College. Along a stretch of California buckeye trees that erupt during the spring months into white candelabra, bay oak and laurel trees cascade along the hillside, trunks undulating like dancers who reach out to partners as robins and song sparrows flit from branch to branch, sunlight filtering above us in a soft shimmer.

I mark my journey up the length of the canyon by three benches. The first overlooks a growth of purple periwinkles that weave themselves into the groundcover. A large oak grows on the other side of the bank and spans the creek and provides a constant expanse of shade. I have had long talks with this oak, particularly after my husband died. I had many things to say. The tree listened and let me know when it was time to move ahead with my life, when it was time to go further up the canyon.

I arrive at a second bench. To get there I navigated past brambles of California blackberry whose white flowers in the early summer turn into ripening fruit, stands of white poison hemlock marked by dots along their stem to distinguish them from similar white umbrella flowers of cow parsnip. This part of the canyon is shaded by bay laurel and harbors large colonies of sword ferns and stinging nettles that remind me of The Wild Swans, a tale by Hans Christian Anderson about a young girl who gathered nettles from graveyards to help her brothers regain their human form. For a time I sat at the second bench with a new lover, until another place with different trees called him away.

Now I rest at the third bench almost to the top of the hill. The bench is memorialized to the Jalquin people, one of the Ohlone tribes that used to call this area home. I am surrounded by yellow monkeyflowers and purple thistle.

Links to My Work

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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How We Demonize Each Other

IMG_1281An ancient monk
wears heavy wooden prayer beads
looped about his neck, maybe of koa or woodrose.

White-robed, he is sworn to protect local
villagers from demons. There are many–
a snow queen with killing blasts of ice,  a troupe of viral bats

victim’s heads dangling
from necks like spent cherry blossoms, and hissing
foxes that split trees wide open,
but the great master zaps them all,

unprepared for what comes next–
a white serpent who slithers along
trying to finger her emptiness, until one day,
Su-Su spots an herbalist on her mountainside.

She is beautiful, snake charms the good man and becomes his wife,
helps him brew herbs to combat a disease
that chars villagers into sticks of ash.

The monk wonders why his services are no longer necessary,
discovers that Su-Su is pouring
a bit of herself into every brown bottle, which is why the medicine
is making her husband a household name.

The monk screams
Su-Su is upsetting the order of things, dangerous

when demons have relationships with humans.
Of course, it ends badly, there’s one last kiss before
she is entombed for eternity.

The healer drifts away on a clot of earth.


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thistle stalks with silvery thorns
not yet turned iron in the summer heat
the  explosion of a buckeye’s start

poppies close up after hours
helicopters go on a spree
a robin squats in a squirrel’s nest

weekenders no longer
melt in the distance leaving me
drenched in my own mist

as I steady myself with the walking stick
of our love, as though there were no distance
between here and there,

as though clouds
were not a cataract covering the sun

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24-Hour Fitness

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.48.55 PM

treadmills, exercise bikes,
pick my way
through a forest
of equipment
gauge how close
or far I wish to be
from monitors
talk shows, cooking programs,
sports, news, no intelligence,
mute turned on,
stake out a machine
near the Barefoot Contessa
spray disinfectant
on a brown paper towel
wipe the machine
from its last occupant
climb on,
set resistance, sweat,
multiply people,
a fitness army
sweat bands around,
ear buds in,
water bottles erect.
Each time I walk
through the door
and enlist,
enter my phone,
scan my fingerprint,
for what war,
keep doing
one finger, one hand,
keep moving.

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Cars and Customer Service: Beware the Gecko

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 9.01.05 AMThis winter I drove across country. Speed limits on these super highways are 75 miles per hour. Along the shoulder, highways are littered with shreds of big rig tires, blow-outs collect like giant snails. After I had crossed the border between Arizona and California, I started to relax. After all, I was getting closer to the Bay Area, my final destination. That’s when my car hit one of these huge clumps of big-rig tire. At 75 miles per hour, I felt a jolt and thud.Immediately, I knew something was wrong. The good news is that I made it back to the Bay Area. I reported the damage to my insurance company. It’s one of those companies that advertise on TV and radio and has a gecko for a mascot.

My daughter recommended a local body shop. She’d taken her own car there several times with good results and I trusted her recommendation. I picked up the rental and expected to have my car back in several weeks.

Back and forth the insurance company’s adjustor questioned every fix required by the body shop to get my car into driving shape. The frame was damaged. The adjustor offered that maybe the car’s alignment issues were caused by another accident. They were slow to approve any repair.

About three weeks later, I flew to Portland to visit my son. One morning in my motel room, I received a call from the insurance company. They advised that the car rental had been extended; however, I needed to re-register. I explained that I was in Portland and could not do so. They insisted I must. Really, what did they expect? As soon as I returned to the Bay Area, I pulled into the rental car office. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that I hadn’t shown up several days before. Instead of engaging in an argument, why hadn’t the insurance company advised me to re-register as soon as I returned to the Bay Area? That would’ve been very simple.

Fifty days later, I still didn’t have my car. To add insult to injury, the insurance company refused to extend the car rental beyond the end of the month. They required me to pay for any extra daily charges. Of course, throughout this back-and-forth, I spoke to the body shop. They kept me informed. At one point, David, the proprietor said, “Don’t worry. I will treat your car as if it were my own. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure that everything that needs to be done, is done.”

On the 52nd day, I received a call from the shop. My car was ready for pick up. Finally. I dropped off the rental, and paid for the extra charges. David was at the shop and handed off the car. I was glad to see my Camry. The car drove beautifully.

When I got home, my next step was to sign up with a different insurance company. My current company had done nothing to make my experience as painless as possible. Instead, they had put their dollars into smoke and mirrors, advertisements and catchy phrases. How had their actions in any way affirmed that they appreciated me as a customer, that they appreciated my business? None that I could tell.

Even if this insurance company already had absorbed a number of drop-offs into their bottom line, word gets out. Do you think that when anyone asks me about my experience I will have anything positive to say, and what about the thousands of other consumers whose claims are treated like mine? As far as the body shop goes, any place that says they will treat my property as if it were like their own, understands communication, which is at the heart of customer service. David even thanked me for being patient.

He told me that the shop hadn’t been fully compensated by the insurance company for all the repairs. “But we’ll deal with it on our end,” he said, and handed over the keys.

I invite you to leave comments about any experiences with the Gecko. By the way, if you live in the East Bay and need a great Body Shop, try 101 Auto Body at 1223 San Pablo Avenue, 510 559-8819. Talk to Dave.

Links to My Work

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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1025 Gilman Street, Whole Foods Market

Allegro Roasters, Whole Foods

Allegro Roasters, Whole Foods

Vegetables were artfully arranged by size and color like models at New York’s Fashion Week. I wanted to eat everything. But this was not a farmer’s market or my friend’s kitchen. I’d happened upon the newest Whole Foods Market that had opened last year on Gilman Street in Berkeley, California. I’d returned to the store after my daughter had brought me there to assemble a salad. No ingredient looked more than three seconds old.

The original Whole Foods Market had been founded in Austin, Texas in 1980. Whole Foods went on to acquire a bevy of companies that were committed to the same vision of marketing natural foods. But this particular store offered not only the traditional non-GMO and USDA certified organic selections, but a building flashing recycled technology from every porchlight.

Near the bathroom, there’s a plaque explaining how the store is built of reclaimed wood, and glazed brick from post-consumer recycled material. The Gilman store also has upped the ante regarding refrigeration, using a “transcritical CO2 system,” a natural refrigerant that outdoes traditionally used HFC (hydrofluorocarbons) refrigerants resulting in reduced energy consumption. It doesn’t stop there. Floors are made of “marmoleum,” a natural linoleum product manufactured from linseed oil, wood flour, pine resin, jute and limestone; bags at the check-out counter are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and made of 100% recycled paper.

I wanted to get the whole Whole Foods picture. So I returned. There’s an entire aisle devoted to different chips including Kale Krunch and Avocado Oil Potato together with any number of differently prepared pretzels and popped corn. Tom’s Toothpaste totally elbows out Crest and Colgate brands. At the checkout counter I found no candy, only energy bars, no Good Housekeeping or Enquirer magazines. Standing tall were copies of the Harvard Business Review and Naturally.

I bought one item and made my way to the coffee bar run by Allegro roasters, large burlap sacks of beans piled on the floor. On the counter were glass milk bottles filled with differently colored coffee beans. In addition to the usual lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos, I also had a choice of home brewed, Chemex, and a number of other possibilities. My mind froze. I knew about Chemex and decided to go with a Guatemalan blend. Pastries were expensive; I did look twice at the lemon brioche tart and the sesame lime and guava financier. The name itself was a show-stopper.

My coffee was brewed by a young woman with a single blonde braid She talked with her co-worker who wore two sleeves of tattoos, bicycles running up his arm with a set of keys dangling from a spiky biker belt.

Who shops at Whole Foods? I saw mostly young people who looked like they had jobs, moms with kids in strollers, and a few retirees. Organic seems to be the new trendy thing that comes with a hefty price tag. Maybe it’s the tie-dye of a new generation. Anyhow, I applaud Whole Foods for stepping out there as a model, even if I do prefer my own Farmer Joe’s market in Oakland’s Fruitvale District where the produce is fresh and the prices more reasonable.

I carried my jar of chipotle salsa back to the car.

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Before the city had cut down pecan trees for the mall, before your brother was diagnosed with cancer, before the crazy woman moved into the fishing cabin, brown earth stretched diagonally toward the bayou topped with stubbles of dried grass sticking out like the hairs of a balding man, orange sun shuddering in a harp of light; before that, I loved you.

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Ghosts: Sequel 2

DSC01425She pointed to the bronze and wooden statuettes. The fact that she didn’t think the ghost was my husband, interested me while at the same time, I was happy he wasn’t messing with her mind. His own mind occupied a world of special relationships, mathematical probabilities especially about chess, an analytical cast inherited from his royal Russian forebears as well as the winter snow blowing across the taiga, a cutting sarcasm. But the fact that Woody was still rattling around in the basement saddened me. I was sorry he had been unable to find peace. Or maybe the ghost wasn’t one particular individual, but a collective history putrefying in a basement divided into a catacomb of dirt cells. We’d covered the largest section of the floor with cement. Smaller areas were repurposed into a writing room, an area used for my son’s hobbies, a storage area that on occasion became a Haunted House, and the rest, a place for lazy cats to do their business.

After my husband died of congestive heart failure, I sold the house, moved away, and raised my daughter. I met Jenning years later through a dating service. Casual dating had allowed me to reclaim my social self. I wasn’t expecting a great romance. But when I met him at the movie theater, he hugged me warmly. It felt easy and natural. He was a self-described “boy from the South,” new to the area and wanting to be introduced to the sights and sounds of San Francisco. I was a single mom proofreading essays for my daughter’s college applications. We watched Spiderman3, touted by critics as one of the best in the series, great special effects and acting. When the evening was over, he opened my car door and closed it softly. For our second date, we went to a pinball arcade. I watched him work the flippers, his moves. And as we got to know each other, I looked forward to his phone calls, our dates in the car driving anywhere, listening to music, laughter, eating at our favorite pizza joint, taking walks along Leona Canyon, being together in bed. But after seven years, our relationship fell apart.

I left Louisiana in the early morning. It was still dark. My boxes were packed along the back wall of the garage waiting for a trucking company to pick them up at a later time. It rained all the way through Texas. I stopped for breakfast in Canton outside of Dallas at a restaurant that was half “World Famous Hamburgers” serving beef, duck and elk burgers, and half a “World Famous Dairy Palace” serving 32 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream. I was glad they also served breakfast and poured coffee. Both were excellent. At the cash register they gave out emery boards imprinted with the restaurant’s name. Plastic poinsettias were stuck inside boxes of plastic philodendrons. I’d been driving for hours and sat in a red-padded booth. Seating areas were packed close. In front of me sat a couple; a woman faced me, her hair carefully coiffed. She looked to be all about business. “What do you do on the weekend? What kind of chores do you do?”

The man answered without hesitation. He was prepared. “Oh, I like to relax, not do much. Sit around and listen to music. Putter. Fix things. Sunday I go shopping, laundry. Things like that. Like to pour myself a beer. I watch football, but I’m not an addict.”

Satisfied, she volleyed with, “Are you a thrower? Are you jealous?” He discussed his relationship style, no, he preferred to taDSC01425lk things out rather than hurl plates through the air, “I’m a communicator,” and while he was capable of jealously and hated to see someone he had loved go out with another man, he tried not to be a total asshole. They both seemed satisfied. From there, the conversation drifted to real estate and politics. At first I thought this woman was a real loser; I’d never heard of anyone interviewing a prospective lover about relationship style. But after I thought about it, her approach made perfect sense. Maybe they were considering moving in together. Maybe she wanted to know what to expect. He didn’t ask her any questions. At least not right then.

Links to My Work

Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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Customer Service

Emails of online surveys: Geico, Kaiser, AT&T. A database addition on a scale of one to five. But I need customer service to tell me everything will be all right after a fender bender on the freeway one exit before my own get-away, before everything piled up on me broken: the desk, doors, sink disposal, guitar string, heart, everywhere people holding hands, dog owners walking with shepherds, collies, golden retrievers. The Customer Service Department for Allied Movers called, wants yes or no answers to ten questions. This is not customer service, people. This is harassment.

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Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew

Louisiana bayou,
you are a collection basket
for Mother Nature’s hand-me-downs.

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