Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Thanks" by W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"My Job is Joy: Beatitude in B Flat / A Sharp" in Taos Journal of Poetry and Art

My poem "My Job is Joy: Beatitude in B Flat / A Sharp," which appears in the Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, begins:
In life, I thought my job to follow
the to do list, complete
items with maximum
efficiency. Log tasks.
Enter numbers. Earn bucks...
Geesh, that doesn't sound fun.

The poem pivots its way toward this realization:
Let us be lessoned how it is, finally,
to be without membrane: that bliss
those who worship—through hands pressed,
eyes upturned, with implorations—sought:

that joining
in the palms
of the infinite, who has
no hand.

Let all quarrels be lessened.
From the hovering cloud perspective:
those who seemed my nemeses
were but sucklers of my evolution.
Sudden inrush of forgiving.

God, they held me to their breast!
For them, a gratitude. Forgiveness.
In opposition, there can be no opposition.
(Why not earlier? Then:
forgiveness even of this.)

Let all rifts, upheld with victim
and the wronger, be as none.
Let me in this life begin this practice.

Let the goddess of chaos
descend, eager
vulture await on highest branch,
to tear all temporary form apart.
Let us be sundered from one another.

Let me be mere particulate, rattle,
become the stuff of matter:
cells, molecules. Immanent,
the spirit that moves in every
thing. At once tiny and grand.
Nanophoton, yet expansive.
Husked from identity.

Entered into the wide open that,
in those dreams, I always trekked
toward, repeated motif.
Let me be released from any motive
but pure being, humble, that pulse.

Thank the blessed circumstance
of shift. Pivot
into it.
Thanks to editor Veronica Golos for including the poem in the Taos journal.
Read the whole poem here

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Guarani-Kaiowá Leader Killed in Retaliation for Land Reoccupation

On August 30, 2015, Semião Fernandes Vilhalva, an indigenous leader of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe, was killed in the town of Antonio João, which is 402 miles from Campo Grande, the capital of Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso do Sul (MS). The state is in the west of Brazil, on the border of Paraguay and Bolivia.

The murdered indigenous leader, Semião Fernandes Vilhalva, at the time was involved in mobilizing a lands reoccupation. He “actively participated in efforts undertaken for the recognition of indigenous territories and the recognition of the lands of the Guarani-Kaiowá people,” according to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

Vilhalva’s murder is part of a chain of such murders of indigenous leaders. Pierce Nahigyan of Planet Keepers describes Ambrósio Vilhalva and Marinalva Manoel, both Guarani-Kaiowá leaders:
Ambrósio Vilhalva was a Guarani leader who spent decades campaigning against the planting of sugar cane on his tribe’s former lands. Vilhalva starred in the award-winning film Birdwatchers and traveled the world to speak about the Brazilian government’s failure to protect native Guarani land. In December 2013, after months of death threats, Vilhalva was found dead in his hut from multiple stab wounds. See video on Ambrósio Vilhalva, murdered Guarani leader

Marinalva Manoel was also a leading figure in the Guarani Indian repatriation movement. In November 2014, she was found dead on the side of a highway after being raped and stabbed to death. Read article on Guarani murdered leader Marinalva Manoel

And the list of murdered Guarani leaders goes on. Hermano de Melo, in a Sept. 13, 2015 article on the Brazilian site Environmental Racism, continues the lamentable list. De Melo alleges that there is a pattern of murders associated with reoccupation of lands. In a reoccupation of the Terra Indígena Buriti (Buriti Indigenous Territory), Oziel Gabriel, 35, murdered in Sidrolândia (Mato Grosso do Sul) in May 2013. The Guarani-Kaiowá Chief, Nísio Gomes, was murdered in the Guaiviry encampment, in Aral Moreira, MS, on the border that Brazil shares with Paraguay on Nov. 18, 2011.

It would be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the local ranchers regard it as a legitimate strategy to systematically murder the Guarani-Kaiowá leaders as a way of stamping out land disputes over ratified lands.

In 2005, the Brazilian government indeed ratified 10,000 hectares as the possession of the Guarani-Kaiowá. Yet local ranchers petitioned to have this decision overturned. As a result, the 2005 possession was never transferred. Instead, 9,317 of these hectares were divided into nine ranches, which were given into the possession of local ranchers, who now own the land, and are reluctant to give it up. The ranchers hear “reoccupation” but call it the “invasion” of indigenous people.

The remaining 150 hectares, which amounts to just .58 of a square mile, are all that the Guarani-Kaiowá have had to live on. They live in such a state of overcrowding that malnutrition, illness, and suicide have abounded. As a result, some members have squeezed onto the edge of local highways to live—as you can imagine, a precarious and dangerous situation. According to the NGO CIMI, cited in an article by Planet Keepers, 72 Guarani-Kaiowá committed suicide in 2013, “equivalent to 232 deaths per 100,000, a rate ‘that has nearly tripled over the last two decades,’ says Survival International.”

And thus, on August 30, 2015, after decades of inaction by the Brazilian government to enforce the 2005 legal demarcation of the Guarani-Kaiowá territory, Semião Vilhalva and other people of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe were engaged in a reoccupation of the lands that had been legally deeded to them in 2005. In the town of Antonio João, people of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe mobilized to reoccupy the lands that the Brazilian government had ratified for them—-those 10,000 hectares.

In response to the indigenous reoccupation of 4 ranches deeded to them in 2005, on Aug. 30, 2015, "about 100 people in trucks approached the Barra and Fronteira ranches, in the town of Antônio João, in order to retake the area which they view as having been invaded by the indigenous peoples," according to the newspaper Correio do Estado, which is based in and covers news based in Mato Grosso do Sul.

As the ranchers and the indigenous gathered on the disputed lands were facing off, Vilhalva, 24 years old, was searching for his 4 year old son in the crowd. He was standing on one side of a stream when, from the other side of the stream, according to the indigenous account, a gunman hired by the ranchers fired a 22 caliber revolver. The bullet hit Vilhalva's face, then exited his neck. Vilhava never found his son. As for the ranchers' account, the ranchers claim, improbably, that Vilhalva had died earlier that week and his body had only been transported to the area, and they claim it had already begun to show rigor mortis. However, the police report negated this fabrication, finding no rigor mortis on the date of the confrontation, and citing the date of death as Aug. 30. On Sept. 2, Semião was buried, attended by mourners, including his wife.
Not one person from the town who wasn’t indigenous attended the funeral, an indication of how far the two communities are from understanding one another. The climate between them is hostile, and it looks like the Federal Police are biased; Midiamax, a local newspaper, reported that the Federal Police were giving an escort for ranchers to deliver food, while the indigenous in the face-off went without escort and thus were going hungry.

Though the Federal Police have come to the area, the attacks against the indigenous have continued. According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, more attacks have occurred:

Attacks against the Guarani-Kaiowás continue even after the killing of Mr. Semião Fernandes Vilhalva. The Nanderu Marangatu territory was attacked again on August 30 by 60 gunmen, who entered the land shooting against children, elderly people, women and indigenous men. On September 3, 4 and 5, another Guarani-Kaiowá territory was targeted by the farmers, Guyra Kamby’I, which was attacked with fire conflagration and gun shooting.

In the photo above, leaders from 6 indigenous peoples gathered in protest of the murder of Vilhalva (Guarani-kaiowá, Terena, Munduruku, Baré, kambeba e Baniwa). Their sign reads: "We are not invaders. We're taking back what is ours!"

The Guarani-Kaiowá need long term legal protection. The Brazilian Government needs to protect their territory—those 10,000 hectares that need to be legally demarcated, again as in 2005. At this writing, the Guarani are in an unsustainable situation, and lies are being circulated by and in the media to justify the attack against Vilhalva and the Guarani.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders urges the following actions to pressure Brazilian authorities to act to protect the Guarani-Kaiowá in this increasingly hostile situation:

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Brazil, urging them to:
i. Carry out an immediate, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the above-mentioned events in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law;
ii. Move forward in the processes of Guarani-Kaiowá land demarcation, as delays in the finalization of such processes results in legal uncertainty and insecurity regarding land ownership and foster increased violence in land dispute;
iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Brazil, including in particular land rights defenders;
iv. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998

• H.E. Ms. Dilma Rousseff, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Palácio do Planalto, Praça dos Três Poderes, 70150-900, Brasilia DF, Brazil.
• Mr. Gilberto José Spier Vargas, Secretary for Human Rights, Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic, Setor Comercial Sul - B, Quadra 9, Lote C, Edificio Parque Cidade Corporate, Torre A, 10º andar, Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brasil - CEP: 70308-200. Email:; Twitter: @DHumanosBrasil
• Ms. Izabella Mônica Vieira Teixeira, State Minister of the Environment, Ministry of the Environment, Esplanada dos Ministérios - Bloco B, CEP 70068-900 - Brasília/DF, Brazil. FAX: 2028-1756. Email: Twitter: @mmeioambiente
• Mr. João Pedro Gonçalves da Costa, President of the Indian National Foundation (FUNAI), SBS, Quadra 02, Lote 14, Ed. Cleto Meireles, CEP 70.070-120 – Brasília/DF, Brazil, Email:
• H.E. Ms. Regina Maria Cordeiro Dunlop, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin Louis-Dunant 15 (6th Floor), 1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 910 07 51, Email:
• H.E. Mr. André Mattoso Maia Amado, Ambassador, Embassy of Brazil in Brussels, Avenue Louise, 350 B-1050, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Fax: +32 2 640 81 34, Email:

Please also write to the embassy of Brazil. Click here to find the email of the Brazil embassy closest to you

Watch BBC Video on the Murder of Semião Fernandes Vilhalva

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Horses & Other Animals of the Valley Fire

My heart has hurt to see pictures of frightened horses fleeing walls of flame in the Valley Fire in Lake County, CA, as well as surrounding Sonoma and Napa counties. The fire has now burned 73,700 acres, and is just 35% contained at this writing.

My mind has boggled to imagine how animals would flee such a massive and rapidly jumping fire: Could they run or fly that far?

Last year, I sat in the countryside of Middletown, and listened to the symphony of birdsong, a weaving of spirit through the landscape, from grasses to bushes to trees that are habitat to a multitude of animals.

It lead me to consider that we ourselves have had a hand in animals of all kinds losing their homes in the Valley Fire and fires all across California and the West. With the larger cause of the drought our own human-caused climatic impacts, our failures have resulted in the robbing of home to all sorts of animals, human, equine, ornithological.

I wince to consider the tree homes of the woodpeckers I heard pecking last year: Which trees will they lodge in now?

The New York Times reported on a coordinated, local effort to rescue livestock. Some stayed behind in the fire to save their animals as we see in "Trio Saves Horses From Worst Of Valley Fire" by CBS Sacramento.

I reached out to my friend, equestrian heroine Alison Martin, asking how I could help animals affected by the Valley Fire. She put me in touch with Sonoma Equine Rescue Rehab And Adoption. Though their name indicates a Sonoma county affiliation, they are rescuing horses from the Valley Fire, 200 at present, with more coming in each day.

Until these rescued horses are reunited with their owners, the horses need to be fed. SERRA is appealing for donations of hay to feed the rescued horses. They write: "Supplies are few!" I just donated. You may donate here to help the rescued horses of the Valley Fire.

Grand Canyon from Space Video

One day two years ago, a man ties a GoPro camera to a little white balloon. He releases it. In the video, we see him letting us go: his open hand a goodbye. Then, we ascend above the red earth until we can see a red squiggle through the Southwest. It is the Grand Canyon.

After rising steadily through red-orange earth, our little balloon now matures. It takes in the inky black of space, separated from the earth by a hazy, yet luminous, line that wobbles back and forth as our dirigible bobbles happily through space.

Departing, a peace descends-ascends: oh, this is it, to travel beyond the confines of earth, to edge away, above, beyond. To be freed.

Just then, at more than 100,000 feet above the planet, we see a pale drippy thing scurry past our gaze. Our camera eye is abruptly swiveled 180 degrees upward. Before our shredded self, a hundred white confetti bits explode outward across an azure blue background. They--we--drift. A little meteor shower of dispersed skin. So beautiful.

No time for that, now. We plummet crazily downward, a Charlie Chaplinesque comedy of sped up time. Just as easily as we left the earth's confines, we are deposited solidly again in the low, ochre field, which doesn't hesitate to take us--or is rather indifferent to us--as we, who have known such expanses, stare again our camera eye at the close, dried, yellow brush.

Just wondering: Which place is the homecoming?

Watch Grand Canyon from Space video here

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Quan Yin in the Valley Fire

I meditated many times on a bench before this statue of Quan Yin, just having emerged from an ice cold pool (and just before that, a very hot pool).

Cross-legged on the bench before Quan Yin, I shivered into insights, sometimes staying there meditating for thirty minutes or more. She seemed to look on with benevolence. The light, petals of slim sun, flickered through the grove. The more goose bumps emerged as I breathed steadily, the more insights descended. In her upturned hand, flowers someone had placed with care, above the lip of her hallowed flask. In there, held against her chest, carefully guarded, delicately poised, the secret waters of healing.

Now Harbin Hot Springs, where this grove is found in Middletown, CA, has burned down in the Valley Fire, according to the LA Times.

My condolences and prayers for the entire Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake communities, including the Middletown Rancheria of the Pomo Indian community. May those who have lost their homes be offered comfort, care, and prayers. Let us say a special prayer for the animals, especially horses, who were left behind in the rush to evacuate this rapidly moving fire. May they move to safety as best they can.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reading Oct. 4 in San Francisco

I am pleased to be reading in the Bazaar Writers Salon in San Francisco.

Sunday, October 4th, 6:00 p.m.
Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St., SF

I'll be reading for around 25 minutes. Fiction writer Mark Labowskie and poet Casey Thayer will also be reading. Thanks to Peter Kline, the series maestro, for inviting me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Dating Life: I'll Make It Easy For You

I received a note from a gentleman on a dating site. The note reads, "I think we have a lot in common." When I clicked on his profile, it showed a scowling man in a black muscle shirt, sitting on a home weight lifting set, bicep positioned across his body as his fist closes around a Budweiser can. I wondered about the in common.

In one of the photos, though, he is smiling and seems to show his genuine heart. He identifies his ethnicity as Native American, background as Mexican, height 5'3".

But what touches me is his "About Me," which for me reads like pure poetry:
About Me

single never been married and no kids always working now it time for me in you think you can rope this wild stud come get me if i like you i'll make it easy for you just grab me and hold me and say i want you