Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

for friends in Marfa, December 2004

Her broken body, torn through with disaster—

hurricanes of disease—wallowed through December,

neighbors delivering casseroles and breads,

delivering clean laundry and bedside

stories. That year, she’d no sense of advent—

her body, present and pained and now, was the only

earth she knew, though in her desperation, like gold,

the townspeople’s gifts, her chimney, fat and full,

a chute through which a not-yet-known saint, and Savior, fell through.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

According to Your Word

The poet has nothing,

mouth hanging open, staring at the trees,

lit with late autumn—seventy shades of yellow.

Words are empty, too small to contain the awe of advent.

Mary said yes, said, let it be to me.

The poet holds that small word in her mouth,

wondering what it might be to be

approached by an angel. She has no words,

angel—she’s waiting, her hands wringing

wet cloth, accordingly, and wearing

December’s early sun.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Crash Course in Roller Derby

note from Dawn: This was written while working on an article for Downtown Life Magazine in Merced. Special thanks to the Merced Rollin' Roulettes, Bryce Robinson of Roll-er Land, Kim Gong, Roulette's coach, and Tom Price, publisher of the DLM.

Nacho Mama—whose derby name was suggested by her husband because she’s always telling him, “I’m not-cha mama”—asks “Hell” if she’ll give me a quick course in falls. While the thirty-odd other women continue their warm-ups, we skate to the far side of the roller rink—Roll-er Land in Merced, California, a well-worn facility near downtown that hosts school and church fundraisers most weeknights, and that hosts the Merced Rollin’ Roulettes practice on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 8-10 as well as their home bouts.

I’ve been outfitted with a pair of rental skates from behind the counter—the same type and color I wore the last time I roller skated, in 1982 or 83, toward the end of high school—at another Rollerland in another California city. Back then, my stomach filled with butterflies over boys, wishes, and daydreams—I’d skate in circles as the disco ball turned, my mind’s eye picturing possible futures. None of them—I can safely say—looked anything like the life I’ve grown into. And I certainly never thought I’d be learning roller derby from the inside and writing poems and articles about the derby world. However, I wouldn’t trade this life for the soft-focused waterbed world I floated toward back then.

Besides the old brown skates, I’ve been loaned knee, elbow, and wrist pads, and a helmet, and now I begin what Hell tells me is my journey in trusting my gear. I quickly learn four different falls—a fall for all occasions, though I doubt I’ll ever be able to manipulate the way I fall while I start to feel myself teeter while out there in the thick of the game.

Within fifteen minutes, I’m skating straight out and diving into what’s known as the “Superman” fall—and I am, indeed, flying—and feeling like the “rock star” of another fall’s nickname.

“Belle Wringer” switches out with Hell to train me and another newbie. Belle, who in her day life is an administrator for a veterinarian and mother of two, continues my fall practice and gives me a quick course in “hitting”—which is a bump with the shoulder of the other girl’s shoulder, and best if started from in front and below the target. This seems easy enough—when standing still next to the other new girl, but getting beside anyone on skates while in a practice scrimmage is another story.

Kim Gong, the Merced Rollin’ Roulette’s coach, has generously invited me to learn about the game from the inside while I’m working on a news article about the team as well as a series of persona poems about derby girls. He kept telling me I had to play to really understand the game. I secretly wanted to play, but thought I was too old, or too out of shape. All my excuses ended up batted back at me. Some of the key players are older than my 44 and some players came in starting with a shuffle and sticking near the walls as they skated around the rink.

While I was doing the warm up laps, trying to speed up after the whistle blew for a timed speed run, the cross-over technique came back to me. And when we stopped for water, I remembered how to rex (skate backwards), and a new confidence rose in me.

This confidence was quickly lost while being played in all the different positions during scrimmages. I could only laugh at myself as the blockers blocked my jamming, as the jammers ran my blocking, and I was the only pivot in the history of pivots who wasn’t born with eyes in the back of her head.

Unfortunately, laughter is not good for physical stability, and as a joke, Randi—aka Anita Ley—gave me a pretend hit, lightly bumping me with the weight of a feather—and I fell to the ground which resulted in more laughter, along with a great photo opp.

They gave me a sense of the kind of encouragement the team offers each of its players, rooting my name as I finished out the night as part of a relay team, encouraging me to push to skate as fast as I could.

In the parking lot, I chatted a while with Connie Zimmerman aka Karmagedon, who, as she tried to describe derby to me, kept finding herself at a loss of worlds, “It’s unbelievable, unbelievable,” she repeated. “Karma” indicated that on her own, she was very little compared to the power she felt when she became a part of the group of derby girls. She chalks much of that power up to the fact that it’s a very physical game, one in which requires trust in each other and your teammates and physical contact.

A few days later, when I called Zimmerman on the phone—feeling awkward like I was a schoolgirl trying to ask someone “will you be my friend”—I said, “It sounds like you think of derby as a spiritual experience.” She agreed. There’s something in the power of the group, that particular group—all the women I talked with agreed that when they put on their skates and were with each other that the worries of their lives—kids, jobs, home-life, etc—melted away—and there was nothing but the game and the players’ bond with each other.

I realized as I drove away that first night on skates that I’ve already been pulled into the center of a warm, powerful sisterhood. And there’s no turning back.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Marfa Roller Derby

She has stars on her head and the Marfa night

sky hasn't fallen (though its heft's a constant,

beautiful threat). She's a jammer and that's not

because jalapenos are thickening in jars for the farmer's

market (though they are). She's lacing her boots, not because she's

traded her ropers for the city—these have wheels and she's

rolling. The women in Marfa are strong and it's not

because their hearts have grown resilient from multiple

shatterings (though they have). She fights, plucking her past from its hiding

places (the crashes, actual and symbolic), fastening it in her fist,

and fashioning it forward, waiting for the whistle

(not the train's) to blow so she can finally

fly with her pack on the track into play.

Friday, April 30, 2010


This is the last sentence; I deem it so because I so love sentences that it’s painful to continue using them—do you see, class, I am building a metaphor, an extended explanation about why I can no longer remain with a person I adore—my heart gets all shredded from the inside-outness giant love creates: my skin is no longer my own, my hair’s on fire, and my chest wails, a wild animal pounding at its cage for an exit, to run and grab and devour. . .never do this, class—create a hodge-podge of metaphors; it was my father who told me not to mix them and I wanted to take them to a stainless steel bowl and use a whisk, but oh, I love that word—I have to, since whiskey’s now officially out of my vocabulary (can’t put it in my mouth), but that’s another story, one much too long for this (already hobbling, wrong) sentence, the last one written on the entire planet of April.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Speeches I practiced to the mirror

It wasn’t children only—I wanted other things, too. Not a Bachelor’s degree—that thick piece of paper thrown away long ago with the poems I wrote in college, all the useless ceremony and words disintegrating in some land fill East of San Diego. I wanted a heavy trophy, a won award, a king-sized bed; I wanted song. I wanted my father to put down the bottle. I wanted the boy with the pink cheeks and brown hair. I wanted an album cover, a national tour. I wanted the children in baskets, cradles—to come back to my hotel room and hear their beautiful cries of hunger.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Talking to this guy

I was in the hallway in high school, talking to this guy. We weren’t flirting. He and I knew each other pretty well. We did plays together and were both crazy in our own way. He asked me what I was planning after graduation. Go to college, I guess. I’m sure to most people it seemed like a privilege that I was born into, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. But I didn’t know how to not do what I thought was expected of me, except I failed again and again. I woke up the next year chronically confused by thesis statements and acting objectives, lost in lecture halls, Proust, bottles and Barthes. That day in the gray hallway when this guy said how great it was I was going to college, I just shook my head. What would you rather do instead, he asked. Get married and have babies. It sounded stupid and felt wrong but it was what I wanted even though there was no one to marry and my parents were no model for young love. They’d wed at twenty—in my baby photos my long-haired mother looks like a young teen, her wide eyes sad. My father was no gem. (But I loved him.) I traded in my hope, fell into the fire of the wrong direction—fought till I could swim the flames upstream. And here I am over two decades later, seven neighbors with babies. Babies in my arms all the time. But none of them mine.

St. Olga

My great-grandmother, Olga Halko, came to America and worshipped in Russian. Olga, I want to ask you if it was confusing—a Polish immigrant landing in an English-speaking country and having to talk to God in a new tongue. Her fierce namesake, Olga of Kiev, sent a band of Drevlians to their death, burying them alive in a ship grave, to avenge her husband’s death. Later, she worshipped with the same fierceness, spreading her faith without apology, being named for her work, “Equal-to-the-Apostles.” Great-grandmother, I write your name on the prayer roster, so you can pass through a Priest's lips toward humble assurance you will lift to the new life. I’d like to meet you there. Show me the way. Will you lend me your name—I will wear it, a loose garment, the scarf I wrap over my hair, before I am plunged into the baptismal water.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Every day today, Jesus dies. I held a baby today—he was fat and beautifully groggy and his small eyelids scrunched as he fussed and his mother opened her arms, calling him back to her chest. Tonight, the choir chants, I finger my prayer rope, gazing at the icon of the Merciful Virgin, her Child’s arm reaching across her chest. Even in this infant’s eyes, we see today, His end. As teenagers, my friend and I wanted to be virgin mothers. We communicated this wish without words. If an angel came to either of us, its glory went unnoticed. Past forty now, no longer a virgin, I hold, glancingly, what can never be mine. But there’s a fire in my belly, it burns.

Easter Egg

Over two thousand years ago, they gather for Passover. This would be their last. Now, I’m boiling beets and eggs and preparing to end this long fast, this ever waiting. In the church, we are always waiting, while also constantly aware of the ever-present arrival. I will press onto the eggs leaves and ferns, fasten with a woman’s stocking, stretched tight around each egg, plunge into the beet broth, just the way my mother taught me. The color is the blood of Jesus. We bury one in the vineyard for a fertile year. I save a white boiled egg and bury it on the side of the house near the honeysuckle bush, and squat atop the spot for a year, hoping the blood that won’t stop flowing from between my legs will find a home on the egg and my body, the doctors say has run out of eggs, will find inspiration in what I’ve planted.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


A broken pile of bones, we come to meet in streets, near the hedges,

accidentally, as we are accident-prone. We show and tell the places that don’t

work any more. I have a small wind-up ferris wheel, a present from my father.

It won’t wind. I ask the one with yellow hair if she can make it go again.

Our circle studies the little red toy, its stillness. We wonder. One man,

once a boy, offers a story—his first birthday at the children’s home—finally, there

were plenty of present bodies, approximating family. The one with curls

scrunches his face into a pickle. He shows us that try as he might, he can’t cry.