susan o’leary | in and out

21 03 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 221 | March 21, 2008

Susan O’Leary

In and Out

Writers, artists, musicians, seekers, journey East when they are called, creating their own map along the way.

For every seeker, a singular journey.

Intuition. Awareness. Perception.

Not a religion, no one to worship. Only to live, deeply.


Nothing is everything.

There are many pathways. Find your own.


For some, to begin: just breathe…knowingly.

This is the journey celebrated in BREATH TAKING.

This is the fragile awareness of Susan O’Leary’s map within, of being and non being, of breathing words that can’t be said. Norbert Blei





Let it go

Let it go,
the weathered teaching,
let it go.
Fear, love, anger, desire,
Release them all.
Stay here.


What Have You Learned About the Breath Today?

There is this story of the teacher who gave his students this practice: come fresh each day with something new they have learned about the breath. Each day, a new recognition. Or dawning. Or delicate understanding of the feel, touch, awareness, heartbeat of the breath. For years. This same, one, practice for years. It is in and out. It is not simply in and out. It is. In and out.


Being home

Ours is an old house in the heart of a Midwestern American city. This is where we daily breathe (not always in mindfulness), where we daily walk, where we daily sit. This is where our practice starts in the morning and ends at night. We do not always practice well, we don’t always remember we’re practicing. But this is the space where our mindfulness over years has grown. And as we quiet and settle, our house quiets and settles with us.

The kitchen reminds us we are home, and I love to stand in its silence. There are two windows in the kitchen – one above the sink looking over the back yard, one on the stairs that come down into the kitchen from the second floor. In the seasons when windows are open, you feel the breeze move with bare attention through the room. When I open the door for the back hall leading to the basement, and open the window on the landing, the breeze then moves differently. It comes together with fullness, entering from three directions. Inside and outside. In and out. Silence. Air.

Right now there are tomatoes on the windowsill from our younger son Tom’s garden. There has been little rain this year, and they have ripened unusually small, a lovely coral red. In the morning, when I’m making coffee, I watch our collie in the back yard through this window. He goes to the border of the garden and stands. Still. Then, after this pause, he walks around the edge of the garden fence (we put it up to keep him out), and makes his way in. Each day since they have ripened he goes to the tomato plants, slowly pulls a tomato off, then comes back out of the garden, sets the tomato on the ground, and begins to eat. He is a timid dog, and it is a surprise to see him be so bold.

And the dailiness of life here is just this: we stop more now, we see more slowly. My husband Jim notices a need, and answers it before anyone asks. Tom stops at the bell in passing, and invites it. I see the pleasure of a dog trespassing in a garden. The transformation is small and present. And it has changed our life.

No one has accused us yet of enlightenment. We still argue. We still have days that start wrong and stay wrong, old hurts that get remembered and then nurtured. But this is the difference: we know more easily our way back now. Somewhere in old patterns of distance, we will be kind. Or stop and listen. We will decide out of love to understand, to open our heart just a little more, though instinct and pattern say to close it.

A presence, a sense, cannot help but change what surrounds it; I have seen that as a teacher. Being with children you learn how families nurture kinship, responsibility and happiness. And also how repeated disappointment and want in a family can turn to anger and despair. Each year some few children bring that anger to school, and you see how their anger affects other children, how it can change a room. It took me years of practice to understand this simple thing: mindfulness transforms not just the practitioner, but the place. If we all know that anger can suddenly change a room, change a space – doesn’t, too, love? Doesn’t, too, mindfulness?

The practice entered our house twelve years ago with the breath. With that simple, surprising awareness of now. Now our practice has become home. There is emptiness to sense in the house, to quiet in. The awareness of our two older children, Nate and Nora, both grown, both gone to lives beyond this house, and yet always returning. Difficulty, sorrow, illness; celebration, joy, all have passed here, all have found their way, some staying, some surely to come again. But moments of peace, of mindfulness, have grown over years, and settled in the rooms, too. The breath sent out and brought in. Presence becoming. This is our home, where we are.

We are here, a family. The walking of daily life takes us from room to room, from cupboard to table, from book to bed. The sitting of daily life brings the family together at meals, gets bills paid, offers the refuge of a favorite chair. The breath of daily life, often unnoticed, is life itself. Walk. Sit. Breathe. This is where we know our path. Footsteps repeat. The movement of the house becomes known parts of our life. The practice settles in our hearts here.

crp023.jpgfrom BREATH TAKING, Cross+Roads Press, 2005, 71 pp. illustrated by Emmett Johns, $12

dave etter | two jazz poems

29 02 2008


The Lighthouse jazz club, Hermosa Beach. Photo: (c) William Claxton

Poetry Dispatch No. 211 | February 28, 2008

Two Jazz Poems by Dave Etter

JAZZ JUNKIE by Dave Etter

How come when I
come to your house
what you got on
is always some Louis Armstrong?
There are other trumpet players
out there, you know.
Where’s your Dizzy,
where’s Clifford Brown?

I’ve met some of the big cats
like Dolphy, Gil Evans,
Dexter, Bird, “Lockjaw” Davis.
Shelly Manne asked me one time
at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach
did I have a light?
I gave him two matchbooks.
He said, “Hey, I’ve seen you here
the last three, four nights.”
And we shook hands, talked about
Chet and Chico Hamilton
and what Max Roach was up to.
When I got back to Chicago
I put his face on my wall
alongside Bud Powell
and “Fat Girl” Navarro.

Look here, brother,
I most never go
anyplace anymore,
don’t even make the club scene,
I’d rather stay in my room
and dig Pharoah Sanders,
Illinois Jacquet,
and Elvin Jones.



Didn’t like the party
didn’t like the people there
tossed down my whiskey
put on my corduroy coat
passed some tacky tycoons
country club bumpkins
double chins double gins
yanked open the thick front door
lit a fresh Cuban cigar
went down white stone steps
went down crooked walk
went spinning round and round
goodbye to Wall Street weirdos
bigoted Republicans
bad hearts sick with greed
glad to be out of there
turning and whirling
dancing dancing like Monk.

crp003_t.jpgfrom I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU, Cross+Roads Press, 1995, 35 pp. $6.


some selected Lighthouse recordings…


alice d’alessio | three poems

28 01 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 208 | January 28, 2008


Three Poems by Alice D’Alessio

norb3neu.jpg When people question why I devote so much personal time and energy to projects such as Poetry Dispatch, the answer seems very clear to me: because too many fine writers never receive the attention they deserve. Alice D’Alessio, another case in point. She’s as good the best poets on the American scene today, yet she’s barely known in her own state of Wisconsin, where she can write circles around many of the highly touted poets-in-universities who know how the game is played, appear regularly in all the ‘important’ literary journals, receive all the grants, get paid to read their work at other universities, and inevitably find their way to major presses, small and large. Why Alice’s work has not appeared in the hallowed POETRY magazine after all these years…well, go ask the literary entrepreneurs who run that enterprise.

blessing.gifShe has published only two beautiful books to date (and I do mean beautiful in design and content)…both books limited editions, and both books out of print. The first, SOMEBODY LIVED HERE ONCE is long gone. The second, A BLESSING OF TREES, which my press published (500 copies) four years ago is also long gone, but occasionally a copy surfaces, one way or another I get my hands on it, and when I do, I ‘offer’ it (at a collector’s/negotiable price) to a list I keep of people looking for specific back copies of CR+Press works. I’ll be happy to add your name to the list, if you are interested.

Alice’s poems are highly crafted works of art shaped by a deep love for language, ‘the’ exact word to capture precisely the moment she wants us to share. If you have ever held the tiniest bird in your hand, felt…well, that’s what many of Alice’s poems are like. Norbert Blei



Somebody Lived Here Once and woke to bird songs by Alice D’Alessio

The first chirp comes at 4 a.m. in May
after a night of barred owl
coyote howl, and yes,
the whippoorwill.

We don’t know who he was
or what he did—his tiny cabin
just big enough for
rusty wood stove and a bed.

Outside, the pump and somewhere,
no doubt, tho’ long gone now
an outhouse, weathered—its rank fragrance
mellowing into earth.

Once in the woods
I stumbled on foundations
of long-gone buildings, up the hill,
under the gloom of oak
and basswood trees,
buried in honeysuckle, blackberry
wild geranium. Close by
the barn—gray, hand-hewn timbers
rough notched at ends, to fit
and stand for decades—now tumbled in
on bales of wire. old tires
and rusted wash tubs. It’s 30 years
that we have owned this place
and yes it keeps its secrets.
Who planted the apple trees?
Who plowed the field, where
corrugations underfoot, hidden
beneath the goldenrod,
attest his dreams?

And did he count the fireflies on a summer night?

from SOMEBODY LIVED HERE ONCE, The Valley Poems; privately printed, 20 copies, Madison WI, 1997



Saving the Forest by Alice D’Alessio

On my desk, a hawk’s skull
thin as parchment
rests in its pottery cradle beside
the ivory clenched talons;
acorns and fluted walnuts
sleep in an oak-leaf nest
their tasks undone.

Gleanings from the forest,
they whisper of soft rain, wild wind,
their fiber woven from millennia of adaptations-
spring’s wanton surge and autumn ripening.
I keep them close at hand.

If I store them
in stoppered urns
hand-painted with Druid symbols

If I take them out when the moon
silvers the birch,
rub my fingers on their sacred skin,
turn slowly around three times
chanting the dove’s slow plaint,

will the stealthy ones cease their invasion?
Will the earth cool, the rains come?

Will this be enough?

blessing.giffrom A BLESSING OF TREES, Cross+Roads Press, 2004



Something for the Journey by Alice D’Alessio

Suppose, for instance,
this is the last morning. You never know.
You wake to find a wet snow
has sneaked in after midnight
wrapping the branches
with an airy gauze, spangled with diamonds
so that every snarly twig and tendril
is an epiphany of white
etched against the purplish-blue
of an undecided sky.

And you want to be sure to seize it,
store it in scented linens,
in carved and gilded coffers
along with last May’s poppies,
August sunlight spilling its motes and spores
among the pines and sandstone cliffs,
and a copy of your only perfect poem.

Because we must take something with us,
like the pharaohs.

blessing.giffrom A BLESSING OF TREES, Cross+Roads Press, 2004


Editor’s Note: Check for an archived edition of this dispatch in the next few days. Please send others there as well to experience some of the best writing to be found anywhere on the net.

frances may | my country, which is of trees

9 12 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 203 | December 9, 2007


Everything on this great green earth is alive —
alive in a planetary way, holding our truth.
You hear how the leaves come awake in the night
like people we know and marvel at their industry,
but trees in the summer can be deeply disturbed
and keep us under anxiety all through the night
in our minds that they cannot reach in our sounds
but rattle, thrash and groan among their ancestry
locked in boards of houses and barns, our churches
until the young shingles fly away in the night.
In the morning elms may be darkened and silent
and the glorious maples are bedraggled creatures
combing their leaves in a seemingly penitent air.
In their shadow-height and their lack-luster gratitude
the trees still shed their beneficence for all comers.

And the winter seems to be the long night for trees,
cold, wet snow creeping around their earth bound feet,
ice water dripping down bare limbs to a sodden ground
while they wait, wordless, for the sun, moods of its own.
Our alien chatter, if it could pierce the bark of a tree
has no foreseeable effect on these natives we use for shade
and comfort according to the old rabbinical bards of nature
but the elements imposed into the bodies and blood of trees
are here for lifetimes, like our birds, jewels of the air.

crp025.jpgfrom THE RAIN BARREL, Cross+Roads Press/Door County Editions, 2005, $10.

This poem also appears in THE NATURE OF DOOR, Writers and Artists on Preservation of Place, edited by Norbert Blei and Karen Yancey, 135 pp, illustrated, The Door County Land Trust, 2006, $15

ralph murre | fooled

7 12 2007



Poetry Dispatch No. 183 | August 16, 2007

crp028.jpgHere’s a relatively new one by bestselling Cross+Roads Press author, Ralph Murre, (CRUDE RED BOAT) which was entered in a local contest (you all know how I feel about contests) and should have won 1st, but didn’t — but you all know how that goes. You could a fooled me — and did. A winner in my book, though. Norbert Blei


Fooled by Ralph Murre

You know how you can substitute
baking (soda) for baking (powder)
by adding buttermilk or cream of tartar
or yogurt or molasses or (something),
and how you can make a fake
apple pie with Ritz crackers and lemon juice?
Well, there you go.
You know how, when your local
rainforest is out of ebony and
you really wanted some for that
(jewelry box) you’re making her, you can
use birchwood and (black liquid) shoe polish?
Well, there you go.
You know how, when you buy scallops,
they might not be, but just little circles
cut from (shark fins) or how happily
you buy imitation crab meat made,
it says right on the label, from God-Knows-What?
Well, there you go.
You know how (Sally) could fake an orgasm
and it got you to wondering, and
how NASA faked the moon landings
in a desert with bad lighting, and
the way some American flags are (Made in China)?
Well, there you go.
You know how you can elect complete idiots
pretending to be (presidential),
or how easily a truckload of chickens
can be mistaken for a weapon of mass destruction?
Well, there you go.
You know how you can play solitaire
or go to reallygigantictitsdotcom
while appearing to be at work on your (novel),
or how you can act like you’re listening
to me now, saying (blah, blah, blah),
by nodding and saying mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm?
Well, there you go.