Saturday, April 08, 2006


Today I am grateful that my old car still runs well and takes good care of me. I am also grateful for weekends without clients.

And sugar-free banana cream pudding. Mmmmm . . . pudding.

What are you grateful for?

[This one has better rims, otherwise it's my car's twin.]

autumn poem

This poem is from 1995, during a dark period when the relationship I was in at the time was coming to an end. Seattle was very dry that summer and fall. The scene (of the poem, not the picture) is the old warehouse district just south of Lake Union, on Terry Avenue.


Tired of being beautiful, red and gold leaves release and fall,
relaxed, to the sidewalk. It has not rained in many days.


Each morning the sidewalk beneath the maple is clear,
a cigarette butt maybe, but the leaves are gone, and the day
seems, (I know the drought has touched my imagination),
to have misplaced its color, relegated to endless grays.


A woman sits, shivering in the cold clear sun, on a bench
beneath the maple tree. She eats a sandwich while she reads
a letter. There are many pages, and after the third page she begins
to cry, tosses the last bites of her lunch into the gutter, and stuffs
the crumpled letter into her purse. A dry breeze scatters stray leaves
as a crow chases several pigeons from the scraps of food.


Tonight, as I sit here, I imagine the moon touches herself briefly
in the joy of completion, bathing in light which reaches me
reflected and fractured by tree limbs, her body crisscrossed like veins
of an eye viewed closely, or the back of an old woman’s hand.


The tree grows more bare and I feel my eyes covered by dust. Dense
clouds pile against mountains to the east, and I pray it will rain soon.

[image source]

Poetry Month Round-Up #2

I posted a collection of links to poems appearing on Buddhist and integral blogs earlier this week, but there have been several more since then. So here is an update. As long as you keep posting, I'll keep collecting links.

Green Clouds is doing a daily poem, with audio no less. He also adds some commentary on the poems. I've been working with haiku as time allows, and some others have posted haiku and senryu. Woodmoor Village, where Nacho started this meme, is also posting poetry almost daily.

Green Clouds: Poetry Meme: Causes, Conditions and ‘The Smile’
Woodmoor Village: a nice haiku
The Daily Goose: "When We Make Art"
Green Clouds: Merely Remembering You (Kensho!)
Green Clouds: It’s not you
Whiskey River: a poem by Nadja Van Ghelue
Stacey at Seeking Enlightenment posts some senryu, and one more
Woodmoor Village: 'Gospel of Judas' & Poetry Meme V
Kathy at Bamboo Shade posted "Just Think" by Robert Service (with a very cool raven picture)
Green Clouds posted Poetry meme 5 and Poetry meme 6

So that's it for the last few days. If I missed you, please drop me a note in the comments or email me.

And please note I am posting something poetry related each day (either my own or someone else's).

If you haven't been infected by the poetry meme yet, give it a try -- it's good for the soul.

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Emperor

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use "meditation" here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

Sallie Nichols begins her chapter on the Emperor in Jung and Tarot with this quote from one of the few female alchemists:

"One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth."
~ Maria Prophetissa
The quote refers to the alchemical process of extracting spirit from matter, but as the Emperor is the fourth card of the major arcana, we might look to this formula to explain a little of his significance.

As I discussed before, the Magician/animus and High Priestess/anima are given form through the Empress. Through the Emperor, all the creative energies that we've worked with until this point get grounded in the real world -- through the first three emerges the one, the Emperor, as the fourth card in the sequence.

Paraphrasing Nichols: past, present, and future are meaningless abstractions until they are grounded in space. Likewise, events in three-dimensional space cannot become concrete until they are grounded in time. The Emperor brings stability, permanence, and wholeness -- he grounds us in the real world of time and space.

Having encountered the Emperor, the Fool is confronted for the first time with reality in all its variations. But s/he has a father figure to help her/him find some footing in the world of adults. S/he needs the stability provided by the Emperor if s/he is to continue growing toward enlightenment in a healthy way.

As the fourth card in the sequence, the Emperor has some unique meanings. The number four is a common number for wholeness in Western culture: four directions, four seasons, four phases of the moon, four elements, four Gospels, and so on. Four symbolizes the way humans orient themselves in reality.

Which brings us to the card itself. One of the oldest variations of this card shows the Emperor casually sitting on his throne, holding a holy scepter, and with the eagle-emblazoned shield at his feet. This is the same shield we saw in the Empress card, thus connecting them as husband and wife. He clothes are colorful and represent the blending of different regions/peoples into his kingdom.

His scepter, with the cross at the top, signifies his position as caretaker of a divine kingdom. Yes, he is the Emperor, but he is not attached to this role by ego. He knows that he serves a higher power. From all appearrances, he is comfortable in that role.

Because he is more grounded in human affairs than is the Empress, he is more relaxed in his earthly power. He offers us his left side in profile, the side often identified with the unconscious, which demonstrates a remarkable security in his position. He does not fear attack.

The Emperor is very masculine. His card represents a movement away from the mythic and largely feminine levels we have seen so far. He brings us into the world of logos rather than the preverbal, the rational rather than the pre-rational or intuitive.

This card represents a movement away from the matriarchal into the patriarchal, which is always a tough transition. As we move into the patriarchal, we encounter the need to belong for the first time. In human history, matriarchal cultures typically are hunters and gatherers comprised mainly of the family group -- very kinship based. With the rise of partriarchy, families begin to inhabit the same space and with that change arises social needs, such as belonging, a hierarchy of power, and rules to maintain order.

This card, in that respect, represents the first emergence of the Blue meme (ethnocentric, authoritarian, based in mythic order, and highly structured). At the archetypal level, then, the Emperor signifies the creation of divine order on earth as it is in heaven. This is the epitome of "as above, so below."

The Osho Zen deck (their crooked scan, not mine) calls this card the Rebel, emphasizing its sense of mastery and self-possession. This "rebel" energy represents the harmonious balance of Red meme ego/power needs with Blue meme submission to a higher, inner truth.

Whether he is wealthy or poor, the Rebel is really an emperor because he has broken the chains of society's repressive conditioning and opinions. He has formed himself by embracing all the colors of the rainbow, emerging from the dark and formless roots of his unconscious past and growing wings to fly into the sky. His very way of being is rebellious - not because he is fighting against anybody or anything, but because he has discovered his own true nature and is determined to live in accordance with it. The eagle is his spirit animal, a messenger between earth and sky.
This take on the card is not too different than the Western version, but it feels more harmonious because it is less concerned with the outer manifestation of the archetypal energy and is more focused on how the archetype manifests at the psychological and spiritual levels.

The Osho Zen variation is really an "intentional quadrant" (interior-individual) take on the card, while the Western variations are more of a cultural quadrant (interior-collective) interpretation. If we look at the two together, we see an Emperor who is very self-aware and able to be himself even within the confines or cultural expectations. But he understands the structures and needs of cultural enough to become a leader who is trusted by his fellow citizens.

So the Emperor is the archytpal father. With the Empress as the mother, we have the Fool's parents identified in their best aspects. I mentioned that the Empress can have a negative manifestation as the Terrible Mother. The Emperor can also have a shadow side, most recognizable to us the tyrant or dictator.

The Emperor, as an agent of the divine order, has absolute power. We know that absolute power can corrupt absolutely (first said about a Pope, in fact). If the Emperor were to allow his ego to become more important than the divine order he is entrusted with, which includes the care and compassion for all citizens, then he becomes the tyrant we have seen so often in our history.

Having established an interior masculine and feminine for the Fool, and having found that s/he has a family of origin, we can now begin to explore the movement s/he undertakes into the world around him/her, beginning with the need for connection to Spirit now that s/he is fully embodied.

Intolerance Of and In Buddhism

The Dalai Lama is a New Age false prophet. This is the view of Olive Tree Ministries founder and director Jan Markell, who works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She thinks a planned visit by the Dalai Lama will only harm the patients there. In her view, these suffering people need to turn over their lives to Jesus Christ and not some "false prophet, who probably is going to give them some kind of lie because he represents everything that has to do with the New Age movement."

But wait, there's more:
At a time in the Church and in society when many people desire to experience God in a fresh new way, she contends, bringing the Dalai Lama before people who are already in a vulnerable state just paves the road for false doctrine and New Age spirituality to enter their lives.

But despite what Tibetan Buddhism teaches, Olive Tree Ministries' founder asserts, the Dalai Lama cannot offer anyone peace because there is no true peace apart from salvation in Jesus. "The intriguing thing," she says, "is the way people are flocking to want to hear this man. I guess I don't understand, other than that we're in such days of deception now, as the Bible predicted."

Markell suspects that the public's fascination with the Dalai Lama may be a mark of many people's desire to have a fresh encounter with God. "But this is a false god in a false religion, who has nothing to offer anybody," she emphasizes. "As a matter of fact, he's a Buddhist, and Buddhists don't even believe there's a God."
And the Catholics wonder why they are losing so many people in the Western nations. Buddhism is a New Age belief?! I guess that may be true if by New Age you mean 500 years before Jesus was even born.

This kind of ignorance and intolerance is so archaic -- and it is not limited to Christians (see below). But it does clearly illustrate that there is little difference between the intolerance of Islam and the intolerance of Christianity when it comes to other faiths. Both religions have built-in virus protection that allows followers to believe they adhere to the one true religion and that everyone else is a heathen or an infidel.

However, it really isn't fair to condemn the whole religion simply because so many of its followers are stuck in the authoritarian Blue meme (click here for a brief explanation of the memes and their colors). The religion itself encourages a Blue meme worldview at the organized level, but the greatest teachers from all faiths, including Christian and Muslim, advocate a much more open and relativistic approach to faith.

No Catholic did more to advance that perspective than did Thomas Merton. But so many of the advances that were made during his lifetime have been rejected in this age of regression.

As Buddhists, how do we promote tolerance and a better understanding of what it means to be a Buddhist when our own leader's views are being co-opted by the religious right in this country?

An article in the Telegraph (UK) about the Dalai Lama points out his own very conservative views on homosexuality.
Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. "Full stop.

No way round it.

"A gay couple came to see me, seeking my support and blessing. I had to explain our teachings. Another lady introduced another woman as her wife - astonishing. It is the same with a husband and wife using certain sexual practices. Using the other two holes is wrong."

At this point, he looks across at his interpreter - who seems mainly redundant - to check that he has been using the right English words to discuss this delicate matter. The interpreter gives a barely perceptible nod.

"A Western friend asked me what harm could there be between consenting adults having oral sex, if they enjoyed it," the Dalai Lama continues, warming to his theme. "But the purpose of sex is reproduction, according to Buddhism. The other holes don't create life. I don't mind - but I can't condone this way of life."

We might expect such a narrow, close-minded view from the Pope, or Pat Roberson, or any Islamic cleric, but from the Dalai Lama?

What a Blue meme viewpoint, which would seem to run in direct opposition to some of the highest teachings of Vajrayana Buddhist tantra (but I am no expert). As Western Buddhists, many of us want our spiritual leader to be as relativistic as are we. Most Western followers are approaching or are centered in the Green meme worldcentric viewpoint, with its tolerance, egalitarianism, and embrace of sexual freedom for consenting adults.

So how do we come to terms with a teacher who still equates sexuality with reproduction and not with the expression of love and creativity? Do we reject him and the teachings? Do we just reject that teaching?

Or do we attempt to disengage our egos from the situation and see the Dalai Lama, the man, and Buddhism, the religion, as products of an Iron Age culture that was completely isolated from the rest of the world during his and its formative years? He may have achieved the highest levels of consciousness currently available to human beings, but he is still a man who is shaped by the unique collection of vMemes that form his identity and his religion.

However, we might want to separate the man from his teachings.

If we look at him within the quadrants, we might see that he is highly developed in the intentional realm (interior-individual), but would appear to be lacking in the cultural (interior-collective). These cultural views influence his understanding of the behavioral, so that anyone who engages in non-procreative sex is accumulating bad karma. Does this make him less of a spiritual leader? Yes and no.

The cultural/behavioral views he expresses place a great many of us in the position of rejecting his teachings in this area or of fearing that we are accumulating bad karma because of who and how we love. This is clearly a false teaching from our vierwpoint.

But if we clearly see his teachings on this as a product of his time, his culture, and his religion, which does not make them correct or justify them in any way, we can separate the wheat from the chaff. We might notice that he claims to have no problem with non-reproductive sex, but makes it clear that Buddhism teaches that it is wrong. We're not likely to hear the Pope say he's down with a little oral sex, but it's just Catholic teaching that says it's wrong.

Buddhism -- like Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism -- is an Iron Age religion with cultural viewpoints locked into it that reflect views from that time in history. This may be one place where Sam Harris is correct: we need to get some of the religion out of Buddhism. I wouldn't go as far as Harris would like, but clearly there are archaic viewpoints in Buddhist cultural teaching that must be ignored or removed.

I wish the Dalai Lama would bring a more modern approach to his Buddhist teachings, but he is merely the representative of the religion. Still, if he said that Buddhism was wrong on this point, people would listen and it wouldn't have the same effect as the Pope doing so.

People expect the Dalai Lama to be more open-minded and are often surprised when he isn't.

As Buddhists, our goal should be to seek the end of suffering for all beings. If the Dalai Lama's visit to the Mayo Clinic can end some suffering, that's great, no matter what the Catholics think. For the rest of us, removing the stigma from same-sex love needs to be part of that agenda to end suffering.

[image source]

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gratitude, Day 30

So many things to be grateful for, so today I will choose just three: canned protein drinks (taste bad, but do their job), clients who want to change and do their part to make it happen, and Kai's comments on my efforts at haiku (very helpful).

What are you grateful for?

Word Cloud

I saw Kathy's cool word cloud, and I'm sure I've seen ~C4Chaos post one of these, so I thought I'd try it, too.

Morning Poem

What is in the mind of the spring wind,
blowing day and night in these groves and gardens.
It never asks who owns the peach and plum trees
but blows away their petals without a word.

~ Ch'i-chi

[Image source]

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gratitude, Day 29

This is the penultimate day of my 30-day pledge of gratitude. I've found it a very useful practice in getting me to focus on things that are good in my life rather than my habit of focusing on what is not so good.

I plan to continue this daily posting for a while and be mindful of any other changes in my outlook that may result from this practice. I want to work on increasing the number of things for which I am grateful each day.

Today I am grateful for gratitude and what it can do to reshape a limited view of the world into a larger more appreciative view.

I am also grateful today for tools that I've picked up over the years that allow me to help clients in ways that surprise both of us.

What are you grateful for?


I'm trying a new (for me) American form of haiku (suggested by Kai) that has more structure than the Western version that rejects the 5-7-5 structure. This form aims at a 3-4-3 structure to more closely approximate the sparseness of the original Japanese forms.

So here are a couple of feeble first attempts.

[image source]

quiet moon
song-dog howls --
desert night

[image source]

red-tail hawk
circles overhead --
soft prayer

Who I Am and Who I Want to Be

A while back I left a message for Nagajuna on his birthday:
A very wise person once told me this: "You are right now exactly who you need to be, where you need to be, and who you are is exactly what the Universe wants you to be."
He then posted about the comment I left, writing about the difference between who he is and who he wants to be -- and whether or not that is a reconcilable contradiction.

I clarified my previous comment with another one, which I then added to again today. I am editing and posting the ideas here because I think they are relevant to living an integrally informed [Buddhist] life.

Maybe these ideas are only relevant to me and my small worldview, but writing them down and sharing them helps me keep in mind that this whole life I sometimes get so caught up in is more and less than I can comprehend.

So here are some thoughts on being:

I think what my friend meant with that statement is that wherever we are in our lives, it's exactly where we are supposed to be in our personal evolution. That may mean we are dissatisfied and we want to be better in many ways (certainly, that is where I am). But the thing is, we need to learn to love ourselves exactly as we are, flaws and all, because in truth, that is how God (or whatever we want to call it) loves us.

One of the hardest things I faced last year in therapy was the realization that I felt unloved, and unworthy of being loved, by God (I'm not Christian, so that may sound silly, but God is the best word I have for the Eros of the Kosmos).

I'm working on that hole within me. And part of doing that is learning to accept myself exactly as I am, whether I am satisfied with me or not. God accepts and loves me exactly as I am, whether I like it or not.

At this moment in time -- right now -- I can wish to be different than I am, but all the wishing in the world -- and the anger, frustration, fear, sadness, joy, and so on -- can do nothing to change the fact that right now -- at this moment -- I am who I am.

So why do we cling so hard to some other version of who we should be?

Because we are living in the realm of ego, and ego is never happy with what it has/is -- it always wants more.

However, we have the option of deciding to change who we are at any point we choose to do so. It doesn't happen immediately, but we can say that next year we'd like to be more patient or more compassionate. So we do some inner work in meditation, art, therapy, and/or writing, and we do the things that others have verified might help us make the changes we desire to see in ourselves.

If we are dedicated, we will see those changes at some point.

I don't believe in fate or a preordained universe. But I do believe that the Kosmos operates with Eros as its driving force and that the more we can align with that force (which means disidentifying with our small, fragile egos as much as possible) the more we will feel that who we are is who we would like to be.

But here is the other part of that original quote I posted -- and this might be only my issue: We seldom allow ourselves to be exactly as we are and to be okay with that. What's more is that we should be loving and compassionate with who we are at this very moment.

As far as I can tell, I will never be as compassionate with others as I want to be until I can feel that same compassion for myself. Part of developing that compassion is to act as if I have already mastered that skill as I go about my daily life. It's a synergistic process -- we work from the inside out and from the outside in.

But we have to do the inner work. We have to develop understanding and tolerance for who we are at this very moment as a way toward that compassion. We may need to do talk therapy, or we might need to write a narrative biography, or we might need to work through free drawing or finger painting to find the place inside of us that we can feel compassion for -- whatever it takes.

And I know there are a lot of Buddhists who feel that meditation is all that is necessary to resolve our inner issues and develop the compassion of a Bodhisattva, but I disagree. If we have traumas or maladaptations at any of the developmental levels, the only way to "fix" that is to address the issue directly.

However, as we engage in that process, we must do it gently, with as much compassion as we can muster, and with the heart of a warrior -- tender and open. It may take a months or it may take years, but it will take as long as it takes, no less and no more.

The difficult angle for me most days is to be aware that at the mundane level, things are hard and it seldom feels as though we are who we want to be. But at the same time, at the absolute level, things are exactly as they are and that is exactly how they should be.

[Images by Alex Grey]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gratitude, Day 28

After a tough visit to the dentist, I am grateful for oxycodone. All I can say is, "D'oh!"

On a totally unrelated note, I am also grateful for the excellent photos Dave puts up at Via Negativa and that Tyson Williams posts at his site.

[Tyson Williams: Contemplation on Death]

What are you grateful for?

Lopez Island, WA

I wrote this poem following a Memorial Day weekend on Lopez Island in the early 1990's. It has been worked and reworked over the years, but it never found a home in the pages of any of the lit mags I sent it to. I really don't much about the shipwreck that we saw, and no one in town was able to tell me the story.

[Photo of Lopez Island]

Lopez Island

low tide: steep slope of shore
washed smooth
in morning light, a sandpiper
skitters from spot to spot
snatching insects near water's edge

down the beach
dark heavy wood,
the front of a hull, thick
with barnacles and algae
growing from fertile pulp

a heron balances where rusted metal
once secured the prow against storms
and heavy waves, a fishing vessel,
likely, though the history
seems unimportant

intriguing, the way ocean conceals
then exposes a fragile secret
to sunlight, reveals the bones --
living things feeding
on the corpse -- only
to reclaim the secret
later in the day

as the heron lifts to air,
a loss of balance
as my eye follows its flight
through clear bright sky,
stark winds carving
into granite cliffs, the heron
disappearing amid spruce
above the beach

and a hidden thing
has revealed itself: rotting body
of a ship bared to sun

or black cormorants circling
in a dream where my body
is naked, standing in moonlight,
wondering what secret is hidden
beneath smooth surface of skin,
what secret is sourced in depths
where I once felt at home,
tide rising over my knees

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Gratitude, Day 27

Yesterday I was grateful for getting back on track with my training (no that wasn't me in the picture), and today I did cardio for the first time in nearly 5 months. I quit doing cardio back in November in an effort to gain some weight (can't build muscle when I'm doing consistent cardio) and never got back to it when I got busy in January.

I did 40 minutes of cardio. I've lost a lot of endurance, but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. So today I'm grateful that my body is generally stronger and fitter than I think it is most times. The more I learn about bodies, the more I am amazed by how they work.

What are you grateful for?

[Image: Cardio]

George Oppen: Who Shall Doubt

[Image source]

Who Shall Doubt


in itself

of itself carrying

'the principle
of the actual' being


itself ((but maybe this is a love

Mary) ) nevertheless


the power
of the self nor the racing
car nor the lilly

is sweet but this

Morning Quote

[Sargent: Wheel Ruts in a Dirt Road]

This is yesterday's quote from my Zen Page-A-Day calendar:
Habit, laziness, and fear conspire to keep us comfortably within the familiar.

~ Jane Hirshfield
Ah, the story of my life.

So far, I've found only a few things that can break me out of the rut of that comfort-trance: meditation, therapy, and love -- not necessarily in that order. There's probably more, but those are the ones I can think of right now.

If you have others, drop me a note.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Gratitude, Day 26

Today I'm grateful that my workouts are getting more regular and more intense. Due to work obligations, travel, and a cold, my workouts were very irregular for me. I need to work out often and hard to stay sane (or at least as sane as I am).

So, more specifically, I am grateful to be doing squats again. To anyone who says weight training isn't a form of meditation, check out the single-pointed consciousness you get when squating 4oo pounds.

What are you grateful for?

[This isn't me.]

new haiku

Some guy named Jim Hawkins has a bunch of bird songs on his website. Here is the song of a Red Cardinal if you have never heard it.

loud cardinal
roams fence post to orange blossoms
morning light

[image source]

National Poetry Month Meme

Nacho at Woodmoor Village has started a meme for National Poetry Month. His goal is to post something poetry related on his blog each day this month. I'm down with that. I already have the first two days covered, so I'm still with the program.

What I've noticed in the last couple days is a lot more poetry being posted within the integral and Buddhist community. As a former English major and writer of poems, I'm pleased to see so many people celebrating National Poetry Month.

Here are a few links to poetry I've found from the past few days. If you have poems on your Buddhist or integral-related site, and I missed you, please drop me a note in the comments.

Dave at Via Negativa posted a short poem called Part of the Solution.
Nerdine at My World at the Moment posted two poems.
Garreth at Green Clouds took up the poetry meme challenge.
A haiku from Nacho at Woodmoor Village.
An excellent Neruda poem at Woodmoor Village.
Garreth posted an audio file (show off) at Green Clouds.
Jigdral Dawa of The Pagan Bodhisattva posted a poem/meditation.
Stacey at Seeking Enlightenment posted three haiku (and another beautiful fractal).
Matthew Dallman has added a new poetry page to his site to share some of his work.

That's what I've found so far among the links I look at daily. If there is interest, I'll do this again in a few days.

I look forward to reading more work in the coming weeks.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gratitude, Day 25

[New growth in a cypress]

I never know what's going to happen when I get out of bed in the morning.

Through a strange series of events, I had an opportunity this morning to take a look at who I have become in the last four years (this last week marked four years in AZ). I was surprised to find that I am a much healthier person now than I was five or six years ago. I hold this realization with deep humility because I very aware (sometimes painfully so) of my flaws.

Anyway, today I am grateful for all the practices, education, experiences, and people who have contributed to whatever growth I have experienced.

What are you grateful for?

More Haiku Info

Purely by accident, I stumbled upon this site containing a good, three-part article on haiku and meditation. The creator of the article also hosts a haiku website with tons of useful information, including exercises and haiku theory, as well as examples of Asian forms other than haiku.

Today's offering:

red cliff face
winds swirl through cool canyons
reckless raven

Sunday Poet: Sherman Alexie

What the Orphan Inherits


I dreamed I was digging your grave
with my bare hands. I touched your face
and skin fell in thin strips to the ground

until only your tongue remained whole.
I hung it to smoke with the deer
for seven days. It tasted thick and greasy

sinew gripped my tongue tight. I rose
to walk naked through the fire. I spoke
English. I was not consumed.


I do not have an Indian name.
The wind never spoke to my mother
when I was born. My heart was hidden

beneath the shells of walnuts switched
back and forth. I have to cheat to feel
the beating of drums in my chest.


"For bringing us the horse
we could almost forgive you
for bringing us whisky."


We measure time leaning
out car windows shattering
beer bottles off road signs.


Indian boys
sinewy and doe-eyed
frozen in headlights.

Some biography from the Academy of American Poets:

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, was born in 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He received his B.A. in American studies from Washington State University in Pullman. His books of poetry include One Stick Song (Hanging Loose, 2000), The Man Who Loves Salmon (1998), The Summer of Black Widows (1996), Water Flowing Home (1995), Old Shirts & New Skins (1993), First Indian on the Moon (1993), I Would Steal Horses (1992), and The Business of Fancydancing (1992). He is also the author of several novels and collections of short fiction including Ten Little Indians (Grove Press, 2003); The Toughest Indian in the World (2000); Indian Killer (1996); Reservation Blues (1994), which won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award; and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), which received a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Among his other honors and awards are poetry fellowships from the Washington State Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award.

Alexie and Chris Eyre wrote the screenplay for the movie Smoke Signals, which was based on Alexie's short story "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona." The movie won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998 and was released internationally by Miramax Films. He is also a three-time world heavyweight poetry slam champion. Alexie lives with his wife and son in Seattle, Washington.
I first met Sherman Alexie at a poetry reading in Seattle, in 1997. At the time, he was the rising star of the Seattle literary scene, soon to break at the national level with a rave review of his poetry in New York Times Book Review.

Over the next couple of years, he gave readings from Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and from Reservation Blues in the bookstore where I worked. He was young, brilliant, and angry. He took joy in ridiculing upper middle class white women who held the stereotypical view of Native Americans: wise indian or drunken indian.

I enjoyed his anger at that time in my life, because I was angry, too -- just for different, less noble reasons. But even more, I envied the ease with which he produced new work -- not just good poems, but brilliant poems, amazing poems, poems that could tear out your heart or lift your soul.

His short stories were even better, especially that first collection. The novels were good, but nothing compared to the poems and short stories.

I sensed in his work then, and still feel it now, that poetry is healing for him. He filters the myths and stories of his tribe, of his region, and of his nation through language in a way that offers healing for the pain beneath so many of the experiences.

He is not just an "indian poet" or a Pacific Northwest poet. He is an American poet. His visions are American visions. Good, bad, and otherwise.

Little Big Man

I got eyes, Jack, that can see
an ant moving along the horizon
can pull four bottles shattering
down from the sky and recognize
the eyes of a blind man

who told me once, The future is yours
and I believed him until he left me
without a campfire, without an axe
to chop down a tree and build myself
a chair, house, cold drink.

Jack, how much pain is there
in the world? I think there's only one kind
and we all keep moving around it in circles
like clumsy pioneers, over the same ground
until the landscape becomes so familiar
we settle down and call it home.

Seems like everybody wants to be an Indian.
Why should you be any different, Jack?
Still, when you rub the red dirt off your pale nose
your little insanities vanish.
Listen: the proof is glass.
When an Indian looks through a window
it's like a mirror. When the Indian looks
into a mirror, it's like a window.

I know you have dreams, Jack. We all want
an acre of land, love, and a full stomach.
Without that, we couldn't listen to the wind
without anger. But I've been sitting in a cold room
watching stars through a hole in the roof.
That bright star to the north doesn't have a name
I know. Like everything else, it will break my heart.

There aren't too many of Alexie's poems available on the web. Here are a few resources.

Slipstream Press: Four poems from I would Steal Horses
Modern American Poetry page on Sherman Alexie
Alexie links on the web, includes poems, essays, and audio.
Sherman Alexie's homepage.

One more poem (I decreased the font to try to keep the couplets together, but the lines are too long):
The Exaggeration of Despair

I open the door

(this Indian girl writes that her brother tried to hang himself
with a belt just two weeks after her other brother did hang himself

and this Indian man tells us that back in boarding school,
five priests took him into a back room and raped him repeatedly

and this homeless Indian woman begs for quarters, and when I ask
her about her tribe, she says she's horny and bends over in front of me

and this homeless Indian man is the uncle of an Indian man
who writes for a large metropolitan newspaper, and so now I know them both

and this Indian child cries when he sits to eat at our table
because he had never known his own family to sit at the same table

and this Indian woman was born to an Indian woman
who sold her for a six-pack and a carton of cigarettes

and this Indian poet shivers beneath the freeway
and begs for enough quarters to buy pencil and paper

and this fancydancer passes out at the powwow
and wakes up naked, with no memory of the evening, all of his regalia gone)

I open the door

(and this is my sister, who waits years for a dead eagle from the Park Service, receives it
and stores it with our cousins, who then tell her it has disappeared

though the feathers reappear in the regalia of another cousin
who is dancing for the very first time

and this is my father, whose own father died on Okinawa, shot
by a Japanese soldier who must have looked so much like him

and this is my father, whose mother died of tuberculosis
not long after he was born, and so my father must hear coughing ghosts

and this is my grandmother who saw, before the white men came,
three ravens with white necks, and knew our God was going to change)

I open the door
and invite the wind inside.