Friday, April 3, 2015

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

My grandmother went to Hawaii.
She wore a muu-muu when she came home
and brought us pineapples, prickly and impossible.
So much work to retrieve all that sweetness.

I wanted the sticky sweet moist of pineapple
upside-down cake. The perfect circles
of pineapple, dotted with bright red cherries,
the red of my grandmother’s lipstick. She never
left the house without her lipstick. I didn’t understand
why she needed make up at the grocery store.

Her mouth looked like candy. I wanted to kiss it.
But her kisses weren’t sweet like the bowl of candies
she kept on the coffee table. I tried to save them for sucking
but greedily bit down hard and gobbled them up,
wanting the sugar to fill that dark place in my belly,
the one that kept me awake at night, dreaming of pineapple
upside-down cake. I liked swinging upside down
on the monkey bars and loved to feel the blood rush to my head.

I wanted all the sugar to fall to a peak like that, when
my grandmother turned the cake out of the pan. I wanted to spoon
it, pure sweet, into my small mouth.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Carrot Cake

My mother bought me a one-way ticket to Portland from San Diego.

I had to put a state-line between me and him.

It doesn’t matter who. There were several. And my father.

It was two weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday.

I packed a small rainbow duffle bag of clothes and sold
my car for two hundred dollars.

When I arrived in Portland, I went straight to Powell’s Books,
a homing pigeon. I bought a hardback copy of The Little Prince.
A man in the poetry aisle invited me to coffee. I declined.

In two weeks, I found a room for rent. Two hundred dollars a month.
A small attic room with a pole in the middle of it. Someone loaned me
a single mattress and a chair. I was doing alright. I worked at a deli
with a massive cheese counter. I became a cheese expert.

I lived in the Hawthorne District, hip before there were hipsters.
I went to my first Starbucks on Hawthorne Street. The coffee tasted
like dirt to me. Undrinkable. But there was this bakery. Tiny.
Just a bit of room for customers in front of the giant glass case.

I went for the carrot cake. Just the way I liked it, but I never knew
until Portland. Warm. No raisins for pineapple. Whipped cream frosting.
I sat on a wooden bench in front of the bakery and ate it. This was when sugar
was still good. It hadn’t been given such a bad rap in the media. By scientists.

I enjoyed it without feeling guilty. I stopped feeling bad about myself in Portland.
Everything was new. I had sadness lodged in me, but I let it come out at the movie
theaters. I went to sad movies and cried. I drank wine in my room and wrote poems
about cheese. I wrote letters. This was before computers. This was when people
picked up the telephone, made a phone call, got a busy signal, and then tried later.

This was a time to enjoy cake. I was twenty-five. The cake was warm. And the fall
days lasted forever. San Diego was another world away. There was nothing cake couldn’t fix.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Devil's Food Cake

I chose Devil's Food Cake every birthday.

My grandmother spun it from scratch, breaking
eggs into a deep metal bowl, while I sat on the high
yellow step stool with the fold-down seat.

She hid money in the cake, folding pennies, nickels,
and dimes into small pieces of waxed paper. Her fingers
poked these little packages into the bottom layer,
spaced out about a coin a slice.

We hoped for a dime, or that one time, a quarter.
That was big money in 1971. A quarter might buy
two candy bars. I cared less about the treasure
buried inside and more about the chocolate.

How many people would I have to share that
cake with? Would I get a big enough piece?
Would there be some leftovers for tomorrow?

I didn't know why the cake was called Devil's Food.
I liked my doughnuts deviled, too.

Devils didn't scare me. My father was the Devil--
a Capricorn, which corresponded to the Devil Tarot card.
I learned that from my parents.

My birthday happened so seldom. I hoped
the Mad Hatter's idea of Unbirthdays would catch on.
They never did. But now, years later, I can celebrate
every day if I wish. Tuesday seems like a very good
Unbirthday. I'll soften the butter and stock up on cocoa.

I'll wrap the coins carefully,

This Tuesday, it'll be a party of one.

All the coins are mine and I don't bother portioning
the cake. I eat across it with a fork.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


My little hands made like the ceramic angels, little houses of prayer, fingertips touching. My eyes closed, asking, as if prayers were wishes. I knew that God was up and stars were up and one wished on stars. My father’s finger traced the belt and arrow of Orion, the cup of the Big Dipper: Is God in those pinpricks of light? Are those God’s eyes? Can God see me? I press my hands together, close my eyes, and try to quiet my mind. Or is God inside? 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Staying Human

So much I ask God to remove from me, but this service happens slowly, honey-pour slowly. A little less judgment is still a big pool in my heart. Less of the wrong is still wrong. Wrong food, wrong words, wrong thoughts. I wish I could sift it all away, and shine, clarified and calm. Instead, I’m wrought with wrongness. Even when it’s down to a splinter, say, of gossip, well, you know how a splinter festers. But every bit I wish I wasn’t keeps me humble, human. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Meditation Practice

My father urged me to stare at a clock with hands on it, imagine another hand that swept counter clockwise—fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven—and I my brain started spinning somewhere, anywhere but in the body I was born to. Nothing wrong with my body when I was born, but I was mishandled, and a kind of terror took over, that made the house of me not a safe place to be. (I know I’ve told you this story before, forgive me.) I lived, instead, hopping from cloud to cloud, searching for angels, hoping to see God, like a girl wandering the North Pole looking for Santa Clause. But while I leapt and sought, that backwards clock hand started careening, sweeping faster and faster. I’d blink to try to bring myself back to body, but the hand moved so swiftly, I thought the clock would spin. And my father sat there, grinning, dumb to my flights, patting my head, Good girl. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. –Luke 1:38

Yes, she said. Yes. Brave woman, to walk through the fire of what God presents her with such willingness. Wish I could be that willing. I don’t even like when the alarm clock rings in the morning or if the sun comes through the window before I’m ready to be awake. Awake. If on waking I could pray with openness, instead of holding a secret no tucked somewhere, the bottom of my foot or in my navel. Instead I say, Yes, but. . .with all the exceptions of what’s acceptable. Have I not had my fill of trial and fire? Now what? Flood? I strive to be as Mary, but I fall short again and again. I fall down at this vocation of being a servant. And I fall brilliantly. But I rise. And there is wanting. The wanting to be yes. Yes, without reservation or hesitation.