Posted by: ktzefr | May 14, 2017

My Mom: the Collector

My mom was a collector.  Her house was full of “things” on tables and shelves and the living room mantel.  By the time she’d reached her 80s she was asking us not to buy “anything else to set around” for birthdays and Christmas.  But she liked her “whatnots” and had a story for each one.

Every place she went she looked for a rock to bring home.  Sometimes she’d find a pretty stone or a pebble with unusual markings, but often she just picked up a rock — any rock — as a memento of the trip.  And, if she spotted a sprout she didn’t recognize, she’d pull it out of the ground, wrap it in a wet paper towel, and put it in the suitcase to take home and plant.  She could make anything grow.

When I was growing up I shopped at the local Ten Cents Store for gifts at Christmas and I almost always bought a “whatnot” for Mom’s collection.  After she died, I brought several of these home.  Here are some favorites:

I was excited when I saw the purple cow on the Ten Cents Store shelf.  It carries salt and pepper shakers and jugs of vinegar and oil.

The skunks are well into their 50s and still smiling after migrating north.

I bought this little copper church for my mom in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I had spotted it and rushed into the shop last minute and had to run to the plane.  It’s only about 3 inches tall, but the tiny bells tinkle.

Mom liked crosses as both jewelry and decoration.  My favorite is a wooden cross filled with silver milagros (miracles) that I bought in a shop in a small mountain town in central Mexico.  But I like this one, too.  Full of color and also from Latin America.

When my mom traveled she always bought a plate for her collection.  A shelf in the kitchen held plates from many different states and countries that she or a family member or friend had brought back home.  Some of the tiny plates in the photo below are ones I bought from street vendors in Rome and Paris, Copenhagen and Rothenberg, Germany.  She had decorative plates from Cumberland Falls and Niagara Falls, New York and DC, and many other states and places from Maine to Hawaii.

One of the prizes I discovered in her things was a plastic medicine bottle with a tiny something inside.  It looked like a seed; it felt like a pebble.  There was a note in the bottle in my mother’s handwriting. 

I don’t know if this is a pearl or a pebble or a seed.  My mom found it in an oyster shell that had washed up on the beach.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a treasure.

I realized after adding this picture that my mom is holding something.  Probably a napkin.  She always took a napkin or paper towel or plastic bag along on our beach walks.  She would have been holding a hand full of seashells.

Collections are great.  I have a lot of “stuff” in my house, too.  But I’ve found over the years that the best things to collect are the ones you can’t buy.  They are not tangible.  Memories.  Those are the best.



Posted by: ktzefr | April 25, 2017

12 Poems from Around the World

Travel is a surefire way to dispel myths about others.  I’ve learned again and again that all people are more alike than different.  But the big similarities in people around the globe rarely make the news the way even our smallest differences can define us and tear us apart.  You don’t have to travel around the world, however, to understand others.  I’ve found that one of the best ways to get to know a people is to read the poets.  Poetry is powerful; it comes from the heart.  A single line can create connections across cultures.   We all dream and hope and do what we have to do. 


If a poem were a mirror, which one(s) of these dozen from a dozen different countries would reflect you?


“A balloon!  My Daddy brought for me…

     It goes up, I go up,

     I go down, it goes down.

I am the hummingbird awed

By that highest rosebud.

~ Blanca Rodriguez, MEXICO, from “Surprise”



“White shells,

I still can hear the ocean sounds

I used to hear when childhood

Was small and sweet

I still can hear, within the depths

Of every sleeping shell,

The vast sea-roar!”

~ Javier Heraud, PERU, from “Autumn and the Sea”



“I am like Jojon, the farmhand from Tegal

Who left his wife and children behind

To pedal a pedicab in Jakarta.

Like Salka, the fisherman in Cilincing

Separated from his family on Madura Island…


We are hundreds of thousands…

At the city’s construction sites

Who have left our families behind in the village…

When you see the mist descend from the sky,

Or when it rains for days before Christmas,

Relax, sleep in peace.

In your dreams I will send millions of stars,

As long as you, in your prayers, also mention my name.”

~ Eka Budianta, INDONESIA, from “Family Portrait”



“…I want every instant

To be lovely as crayons.

I’d like to draw – on chaste white paper –

A clumsy freedom, eyes that never wept,

A piece of sky, a feather, a leaf,

A pale green evening…


I want each breathless moment to beget a flower.

I want to draw a future I’ve never seen—

Nor ever can – though I’m sure she’ll be beautiful.”

~ Gu Cheng, CHINA, from “A Headstrong Boy”



“I tell you, even rocks crack,

And not because of age…

And so the moss flourishes, the seaweed

Whips around,

The sea pushes through and rolls back –

The rocks seem motionless.

Till a little seal comes to rub against them,

Comes and goes away.

And suddenly the rock has an open wound.

I told you, when rocks break, it happens by surprise.

And people, too.”

~ Dahlia Ravikovitch, ISRAEL, from “Pride”




In the tangled boughs

Of the jasmine tree

And sometimes

On the green emerald floor

A nightingale sings

The poignant melodies

Of love.”

~ Muneer Niazi, PAKISTAN, from “A Dream of Paradise in the Shadow of War”



“When the moon rises like a cradle in the sky,

The bird flies and sings and cries:

Sleepytimes, little sleepy heads

Of those who have no food.

I am the angel of your dreams.

I am the birdsong of your sighs.”

~ Ramon C. Sunico, PHILIPPINES, from “The Tin Bird”



“from here let’s dream of every distant thing

Here let’s gather low-tide shells,

From the sea or sky at dawn

Let’s bring back little starfish…

Here let’s sit together for awhile

Let’s be blown by the cooling breeze.”

~ Shuntaro Tanikawa, JAPAN, from “Picnic to the Earth”



“Oh, the dream!  The dream!

My strong, gilded wagon

Has collapsed,

Its wheels have scattered like gypsies…

From now on you will not find me

At ports or among trains

But in public libraries

Sleeping head down on the maps of the world

As the orphan sleeps on pavement

Where my lips will touch more than one river

And my tears stream from continent

To continent.”

~ Muhammad al-Maghut, SYRIA, from “The Orphan”



“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers.

Trust, and be assured

That the whole world is a sky-blue butterfly

And words are the nets to capture it.”

~ Muhammad al-Ghuzzi, TUNISIA, from “The Pen”



“…there are in my landscape

Errors of colors and scents

Yet always

Always I love

What incessantly


As a golden ball

She runs before me:

Approached again and again,

My beloved,


~ Tymoteusz Karpowicz, POLAND, from “Love”



“It hurts, the things of old,

Attachment to the things of old.

Let go of them,

Let them go as they are;

From afar comes the sound of

The scissors of the *rag-picker.”

~ Kim Chiha, SOUTH KOREA, from “Inside”


(*Rag collectors make noise with their scissors when they are walking around neighborhoods looking for rags to collect and salvage.)









Posted by: ktzefr | April 18, 2017

A Poem for Teachers on a Tuesday…

Purple Wave by Dylan Fawcett

A blank page is full of possibilities…

The three teachers I acknowledged in my book, To Come and Go Like Magic, were not alike, but each was important to me.  My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McCormick, was strict and impatient at times, but she introduced us to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and Heidi, and she played Carnival of the Animals and Peter and the Wolf and other classics, expanding our world beyond the Appalachian hills.  Mrs. Evans, my sixth grade teacher, was kind and soft spoken.  She encouraged me to write, and I produced two short “plays” that year and a “gossip column” to read aloud at our Friday class meetings.  Miss Irene Hughes was a tiny woman who terrified those who landed in her high school English classes.  She was loved — and hated — by a generation of students who remember her as the most difficult teacher at the school.  She insisted on giving her best and expected the same from her class.  I have only good memories of the two years I spent in her classes — Shakespeare every semester, great poetry, interesting assignments. 

I discovered early on that the best teachers were not the easiest.  More often than not, their classes were the most challenging.  But the best teachers do have some things in common — they love teaching, encourage individual differences, and want their students to succeed.   

Like Mr. Barta in Alexis Rotella’s poem, “Purple.”


In first grade Mrs. Lohr

said my purple teepee

wasn’t realistic enough,

that purple was no color

for a tent,

that purple was a color

for people who died,

that my drawing wasn’t

good enough

to hang with the others.

I walked back to my seat

counting the swish swish swishes

of my baggy corduroy trousers.

With a black crayon

nightfall came

to my purple tent

in the middle

of an afternoon.


In second grade Mr. Barta

said draw anything;

he didn’t care what.

I left my paper blank

and when he came around

to my desk

my heart beat like a tom tom.

He touched my head

with his big hand

and in a soft voice said

the snowfall

how clean

and white

and beautiful.


Remember: Michelangelo saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set it free.

Posted by: ktzefr | April 12, 2017

The Migration of a Lilac

Lilacs; Photo:KFawcett


My grandparents raised five kids

in a wood frame house off a dirt road

up a hollow in Appalachia. 

They grew corn and potatoes,

tomatoes and beans, in a valley between

the hills where a wide meadow stretched

all the way to the river.


What did those kids do with their long

summer days?  What did they dream?

Did they ever wonder what life was like

on the other side of the mountain?


Some left, some stayed, some came back.

For a long time after the house fell,

the pear tree still stood in the back yard.

The poplar up on the mountain, the one with

my parents’ initials carved into its thick trunk,

still stands almost a century later.


Granny’s lilac bush lives five hundred miles away

from the place where it was planted. 

As a twig, it migrated to the city in my mother’s suitcase,

and blooms, again, in my front yard.


Posted by: ktzefr | April 10, 2017

Blowin’ the Bubble Gum Sun…

Locos parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett


Monday.  Back to work and school, to lessons and meetings, to the mundane and…maybe, the extraordinary.  Start the week with a poem or two or three — be serious, be silly — and see what happens.





“Jackrabbits, green onions and witches stew

3 dollars & upside down lemons & you

Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite

O, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops

Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed

The Redbook of Ants says you better run

No sireee, LOL, blowin’ my bubble gum sun”

~ Juan Felipe Herrera (US Poet Laureate), “Jackrabbits, Green Onions & Witches Stew”


Stop.  Let the rush go by.  Find your thread and hold on!  I love this poem by William Stafford.



“There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

~ William Stafford, “The Way It Is”


Dead ends.  Unseen paths.  Baffled minds.  The struggles we overcome often provide us with a song — as in Wendell Berry’s lovely poem (below) about real work.

Nature, too, sometimes gives us something to sing about.  Today, the Kwanzan cherry trees are in bloom!


Kwanzan Cherry; Photo:KFawcett

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Berry, “The Real Work”


Posted by: ktzefr | April 7, 2017

Freedom and the Sea…Friday’s poem

Neruda’s “The Poet’s Obligation” seemed to fit this Friday morning.  He is speaking to everyone who is not listening to the sea today.  Me?  I’m listening to a lawn mower at one of the houses on my block.  Before that someone’s car alarm went off twice.  But the birds have been singing in the snowball bush outside my window and inside — the beautiful Spanish Celtic music of Carlos Nuñez.


St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

The Poet’s Obligation

“To whoever is not listening to the sea

this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up

in house or office…

to him I come, and without speaking or looking

I arrive and open the door of his prison,

and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,

a long rumble of thunder adds itself

to the weight of the planet and the foam,

the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,

the star vibrates quickly in its corona

and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

…So, through me, freedom and the sea

will call in answer to the shrouded heart.”


Note: These passages come from Neruda: On the Blue Shore of Silence/A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, which was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Pablo Neruda.  

Posted by: ktzefr | April 6, 2017

“Questions in My Eyelashes” — Thursday’s Poem

I love the eyelash image from Neruda’s “The First Sea” because it surprises; it’s not an image that pops readily into mind.  But, at the same time, the feeling is recognizable.  I recall my own childhood dreams and questions and urge to break free and expand my world. 

One of my favorite things to do is hike in the Virgin Islands and sometimes the forest can be so dense that you lose sight of the sea, and then you round a bend or a rock or a huge, old acacia tree and there it is!  Like a new discovery each time…

US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

The First Sea

“I discovered the sea.  From Carahue

the river Cautin flowed to its estuary

and, in the paddleboats,

dreams and another life began to possess me,

leaving questions in my eyelashes.

…I broke free of my roots.

My country grew in size.

My world of wood split open.

The prison of the forests

opened a green door,

letting in the wave and all its thunder,

and, with the shock of the sea,

my life widened out into space.”


El Primer Mar

“Descubrí el mar.  Salia de Carahue

el Cautín a su desembocadura

y en los barcos de rueda comenzaron

los sueños y la vida a detenerme,

a dejar su pregunta en mis pestañas.

…salí de las raíces,

se me agrandó la patria,

es rompió de la unidad de la madera:

la cárcel de los bosques

abrió una puerta verde

por donde entró la ola con su trueno

y se extendió mi vida,

con un golpe de mar, en el espacio.”


Read the complete poem, “The First Sea.”

Note: These passages come from Neruda: On the Blue Shore of Silence/A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, which was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Pablo Neruda.  


Posted by: ktzefr | April 4, 2017

Poems by the Sea, 2

I love the sea any time of day, any time of the year.  But I think early morning and full-moon nights may be the best.  Here, Neruda’s poem, “It is Born” —


“Here I came to the very edge

where nothing at all needs saying,

everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,

and the moon swam back,

its rays all silvered,

and time and again the darkness would be broken

by the crash of a wave,

and every day on the balcony of the sea,

wings open, fire is born,

and everything is blue again like morning.”


Morning, Bethany Beach, DE; Photo:KFawcett




Yo  aquí vine a los límites

en donde no hay que decir nada,

todo se aprende con tiempo y océano,

y volvía la luna,

sus líneas plateadas

y cada vez se rompía la sombra

con un golpe de ola

y cada día en el balcón del mar

abre las alas, nace el fuego

y todo sigue azul como mañana.”


Note: These passages come from Neruda: On the Blue Shore of Silence/A La Orilla Azul del Silencio, which was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Pablo Neruda.  

Posted by: ktzefr | April 3, 2017

Poems by the Sea…

A poem a day

keeps the doctor away –

like autumn apples

Apples are good for the body; poetry is good for the soul.  This week, in honor of National Poetry Month, I’ve selected a few passages from the poems of Pablo Neruda.  His favorite place was his house by the sea at Isla Negra, and all of the poems this week are about the sea.  I’ve chosen photos of some of my own special places by the sea to go along with them.  (Follow the link at the bottom of the page to read the entire poem.)

St. John, US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

“I need the sea because it teaches me.

I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,

if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,

or only its harsh voice or its shining

suggestion of fishes and ships.

The fact is that until I fall asleep,

in some magnetic way I move in

the university of the waves.”


“Necesito del mar porque me enseña:

no sé si aprendo música o conciencia:

no sé si es ola sola o ser profundo

o sólo ronca voz o deslumbrante

suposición de peces y navios.

El hecho es que hasta cuando estoy dormido

de algún modo magnético circulo

en la Universidad del oleaje.”


From “The Sea”/“El Mar” by Pablo Neruda

Posted by: ktzefr | March 31, 2017

Scaly-napped Pigeon in a Gumbo Limbo Tree

Every morning this fellow and/or some of his friends cooed outside my cottage in the British Virgins.  In the tropics their morning song is the next best sound to the night rains.  Although the scaly-naped pigeon is common in most of the Caribbean, is any bird truly ordinary?  This one is arboreal, spending most of its time in the trees, eating seeds and leaf buds and even small snails.   

Here he sits in a gumbo limbo tree.  The locals call this the “tourist tree” because its bark is reddish and peels like the skin of tourists who stay too long in the sun.  Zoom and look at those red eyes!

Scaly-naped pigeon, British Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

I collect birds.  Not real birds.  Pictures of birds.  Memories of birds.  I keep tabs on the birds I’ve known — where they come from, where they go, what it feels like to look into the eyes of a bird.   A bird sees everything at once in total focus.  Whereas the human eye is globular and must adjust to varying distances, the bird’s eye is flat and can take in everything at once in a single glance.  Ordinary? 

I always wanted to fly like a bird, not strapped in a seat but with “wings” flapping free.  For years I’ve had a recurring dream of flying — or, at least, trying to fly.  But, even in the dream, I’m more chicken than bird.  Not “chicken” as in afraid, but I fly like a chicken — literally.  It’s more like fly jumping.  I leap into the air and fly for a second or two but then fall back to the ground, like a fat chicken trying to flee the coop.  I can’t stay aloft.  That’s ordinary.


Have an extraordinary weekend!




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