Martha's birthday poem: 69

Martha Koock Ward posting her poem, musing about her birthday today.... How do you feel about how you are aging?


Finishing off this 6th decade
Like that last bite of cake, or
Downing a draught of cool
Water, my thirst to slake, gives
Me such a sense of satisfaction
To feel both the time & the endless
Measures of help, I’ve been given to heal.
Legions of persons have lain on
Hands, touched my heart, willing,
Praying, and way-showing me to
Wholeness sought, promised from my,
Sometimes deranged & disparate parts.
I see that so many landmarks are gone,
Family relations, friends, leaders of nations,
And, strangers, who dressed this stage.
I am grateful for each known, or not,
As I await my next entrance,
I am very curious about the plot.

— Martha Koock Ward

Happy are they


Happy are they who still love something they loved in the nursery:
They have not been broken in two by time; they are not two persons,
but one, and they have saved not only their souls but their lives.

— G. K. Chesterton


Hurricane Harvey


This poem by a student of Gaelyn Godwin Roshi, resident teacher at the Houston Zen Center. It's the perfect "instruction" on how to pray for Houston.

Hurricane Harvey

if you want
to pray for Houston you have to pray
in her way
pray like Beyoncé when she was
or Billy and Dusty shooting pool
at Rudyard's
pray like you're sitting over soup
at Spanish Flowers
or pho at Mai's steaming your glasses
pray like the kids playing soccer
on the east side
or mutton busting
at the livestock show
pray like the runners
in Memorial Park
lacing them up
or the researchers
in the medical center looking into microscopes
if you want
to pray for Houston you have to pray
as quietly as
the Rothko Chapel
or Houston Zen Center
and you have to pray as loudly as
the old scoreboard at the Astrodome after a José Cruz home run
you have to pray sitting under
a live oak tree
or standing next to an azalea bloom while your skin clams in the heat
if you want to pray
for Houston
you have to pray without pretense
this ain't Dallas
and in a neighborly way as friends come out
to check on each other in the rain
and those
who are far away watch screens
and wipe our eyes
if you want to pray
for Houston
raise a bottle of Shiner to the gray sky
and say that 130 mile an hour winds and 9 trillion gallons of rain
are no match
for a city of such life
and diversity
you can fill up our bayou but you will never rain on our parade

Jeremy Rutledge 2017
Hurricane Harvey


I do pray for things. Not very often. And only when my resources are depleted. So I'm waiting for the results of a test. I pray. I guess Kevin, with his doctorate in the philosophy of probability, would say that I'm intuitively calculating the odds that I have some incurable disease, and I have  figured that there is a chance, if only remote. I'm not sure if my kids or my wife knows that I do this. (I just asked my wife and my son, and they both said I didn’t pray.) They must just think that I'm blessed and that's why things generally turn out so well. Or maybe, Janelle, our class minister, might say, that I'm blessed because I do pray. I never told my parents, either. And now it is a little late, unless I'm mistaken about the power of their remains.

I guess I could pray for the people in Houston. Or at least I could feel guilty for not doing so. I knew a woman who was recovering from an illness. She went to a weekly prayer group, and they all prayed for one another. Against all odds, she is still around 25 years later.

Once in college I was really worried about something and I went to a church that was open 24/7. I put $5 in the box on the wall. Lo and behold, an intervention occurred and things turned out well. So I went back to the church and retrieved my money.

This would be more understandable if things had turned out the way I didn't want them to turn out. Then I could rationalize that I had wasted my money so it was ok to retrieve it. And maybe it did do good.

So I've heard a couple of things this week about karma that were new to me. One is that karma is not action, but rather intention. So my intention was good, perhaps, to put the money in the box at the church. But maybe not so good to take it out.

The second idea about karma is one that I had read just an hour ago. And it slipped my mind when I wrote the last paragraph. It said that the rational mind shouldn't try to understand the relationship of karma and action. The effects of karma are not comprehensible. In the article I was reading, it said that karma is mystery. We don't know the effect of our intentions.

Prayer? I'll continue to pray. Will I believe it will make a difference? Some part of me probably will because otherwise I wouldn't do it. But another part thinks it is silly. So let's keep my praying as a secret between us. OK?

Kim Mosley


If You Want To Pray For Houston

My brother wrote today.
The epicenter of deep water
Was three blocks from
Where we once lived.

He shuddered to think, he wrote.
Was his shudder a prayer?
Parkplace: simple, quiet, just barely middle class.

I remember the Irish (almost certainly Catholic)
Policeman who walked us
Across the busy intersection to school.
Is it underwater now?

The reservoir overflowed today
And a certain measure of water
Let out into the flooded streets
Built when I was 2
The year before my brother was born.

Infrastructure spending was not a sin then.
FDR was in the White House.
Laboratory grade fluoride was in our water
To protect children's teeth
All the children's teeth.

Joel Olsteen thinks Jesus will fix it
And does not want to open
His palacial megaplex
To the little soccer playing kids
From the east side.

As quiet as Rothko Chapel
The prayer of silence
Like researchers looking into microscopes
You must be very still and listen
To learn from looking into microscopes.

My brother wrote today.
He shuddered to think, he wrote.
The great infrastructure project
Designed to protect Houston
Was built before he was born.
My brother is 75.

Houston was just over half-a-million people then.
Today - 6 million 5
Minus those who drowned.

I sit in silence
As quiet as Rothko Chapel.
I shudder to think.
It is my prayer.

— Jamelle Curlin-Taylor



SUJATA was the beautiful daughter of a landowner, and she prayed to the spirit of a banyan tree for a good husband and son. Her wish was granted, and every year, in gratitude, she made an offering of sweet, thick milk-rice at the foot of the tree. Meanwhile, after six years of severe austerities, Siddhartha was close to death from starvation. One day he sat down in meditation beneath Sujata’s banyan tree. That same day Sujata dreamed that she should make her annual offering. She sent her servant to prepare the place for the offering, and the servant ran back, crying, “A god is sitting under the tree!” So Sujata made up the milk-rice in a golden bowl and carried it to the tree with her own hands. She offered it to Siddhartha, saying, “Just as my wish has been fulfilled, so may yours be granted.” He ate the milk-rice with gratitude, and it was the finest food he had eaten in many months. Then he cast the golden bowl into the river, saying, “If I am to fully awaken, may this bowl float upstream.” The bowl floated upstream. Later that day, renewed by Sujata’s offering, he sat down, determined to awaken, and his wish was granted. Sujata and her son later became disciples of the Buddha and members of the sangha.

(2013-10-21). The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women (p. 283). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

The prompt is gift. Write about a gift you have received or given.

Write about a "first."

Protecting What We Love


“because this is how we protect what we love,
by hiding what it truly means to us, this little bag of gold
we keep buried in the yard, the thing we will do anything
to keep safe, even going so far as to pretend
it doesn't exist, that there's nothing missing in the dark.”

Excerpt from Quan Barry's poem “Someone once said we were put on this earth to witness and testify”


Little, tiny drops of rain


"Little, tiny drops of rain, drops of rain may look like pimples on the flower's skin but it's so ironic—it is so ironic—it is those drops that cool the flower. Flaws are the rawest and most original forms of you, how "cool" is that!" —Nita Majethia


FLAWS: I like people who don’t know how to finish a full story. They will start by telling you, “the other day I went to HEB,” and end up with tears in their eyes, sharing with you about their grandma who died last month. They will pause and say, “Anyway, I don’t even remember what I was trying to say…” I like people who say the wrong words on accident. They will say something like “fresh of breath air,” or, “potato couch,” because it was the meaning they were after and not the correct arrangement of words. I like people who don’t talk much and when they finally do, it sounds like a pure bell ringing in the static of everyone else’s voices. But I also like people who talk too much as if they have no filter. They might interrupt you but then say, “hold on, let me just get this one thing out!” I also like people who stutter and mumble, because I have to listen closely, and the words they are choosing take great effort. I like people who can’t control their laughter. Like my uncle who turns beet red during my grandpa’s long prayers before family dinners. We all know he’s excusing himself to just to go release laughter alone in the bathroom. I like that feeling when I’m writing and I’m not even trying to be good. Something embarrassing, awkward will burst out—a girl with a stutter and bad handwriting has something to say. It feels like an accidental birth of an idea, painful and inconvenient, but alive and crying nonetheless. I also like women who wear too much make-up and perfume to HEB because I know the deep hunger of wanting to be beautiful and noticed, even among the vegetables and produce aisle on a Tuesday night. I like the little boy at my summer camp that raised his hand in a discussion about recycling to tell everyone that last night his dad never came home. I like when my uptight supervisor licks Cheetos off her fingers when she thinks no one is looking. I liked the people in Africa who had no sense of personal space. Like the lady on public transport that started braiding my hair and my host mom who would jiggle my belly fat and tell me I’m eating well—o ya gabotse! All of this is probably why adults drink so much. So we can slur old love songs and hold one another and dance to Justin Bieber—even if we can’t stand him, even if we can’t dance.

by Hallie Gayle

A Heavy Branch Fell


One day during a storm a heavy branch fell onto a little snowdrop plant. Later when the branch was removed the small tender stems, unharmed, were seen to have spread out and curled around as if to embrace the log. Less than an hour later, the little shoots had all but straightened out and, unimpeded, were growing upward toward their fulfillment.

Murshida Sitara Brutnell
The Sufi Way, England

From Prayers for a Thousand Years
(ed. Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon, Harper San Francisco)


Lava Ferns

Lava flows settle and solidify
in sheets upon sheets of
brittle, porous planes, like
Phyllo dough for baclava,
left out to dry, now stuck

Cooled surfaces relent to
Nature's thrust, Persephone
rising from Hades lair, seeking
Demeter's embrace.

Fronds of ferns peak out of the lava's
cold darkness, curling back on itself,
like hieroglyph of hope ascending,
spreading slim wings of green.

Spores lifted by the moist motion of the
oceans pounding love against stone-fired shore.
Having broken through the molten manacle
made from within, ferns called forth other
greenings, prehistoric.

And the breeze carried their collective cry,
"It's time to begin again."

by Martha Koock Ward



When everything is over and all this is left on the floors of this
earth is Styrofoam, cockroaches and broken Apple products – what voice
will emerge from the dark? What wind will be left to tear and carry
the remains around and around in a stir of chaos? When all the books
have been torn from the shelves and there are no people left to testify
– what wound will infinity feel in her massive black claw? Which held,
for a time, a rise and fall of oceans, lovers who whispered poetry
about rain, chords on the piano that responded to what was missing in
the dark.
Will she, the dark mass, rise up like an oppressed beast? Will she
shake off the waste, bite into the blood of roaches who live off the
dead? What cry of disorder will spring out a lust for life, like the
voice in Genesis, which responded to the void with a word?
Some people say the earth will end in a fire. And then perhaps a
return to complete silence, with only the remnants of our life longing
to hold form. To re-create.
I hope that this is all that survives, old prayers echoing in
nothingness like particles of dust.

by Hallie Gayle

From Blossoms

Prompt: The poem is called "From Blossoms" by Li-Young Lee
Here he is reading it:


Photo by Janelle Curlin-Taylor (altered by Kim)



I had an idea that Rich might bring a prompt about flowers. Thinking about flowers, I had a flashback from about 50 years ago. My aunt Reggie, my wife, and I walked by some flowers in Reggie’s garden. She went totally ape over these flowers as she pointed them out to us. She started exclaiming how they were so beautiful ... And she started jumping up and down like gorillas do when they meet a long lost friend. Or when a dog jumps all over her long lost master. I had never seen any human so excited about anything. I am kind of a dead beat and often say to myself, “bah humbug.”

Isn’t that what Ebenezer Scrooge would say in that Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

My grandkids started calling me grandpa no fun, until I adopted the name myself and took the fun out of that.

Reggie's excitement about the flowers was especially poignant because she had experienced a couple of tragedies. Normally our family didn’t do tragedy. Experience tragedies, that is. One of Reggie’s sons turned out to be severely disabled and then Reggie had a surgery that limited the use of one side of her body. And yet she was all there, like a cheerleader, telling that flower how beautiful she was and how much joy that flower had given her. Joy to die for, as the curious expression goes.

I was in a store the other day and the free sample lady gave me some chocolate and said it was to die for. I said that if you died you couldn't taste it. At first she tried to object, but then she looked at me and said, “you're right... It is something to live for.”

I was jealous of how Reggie could get so excited over a flower. Part of me thinks that one thing is just as beautiful as another. I decided one semester in college to photograph the ugliest thing in my life. It was a beige coffee cup from the vending machine in our art building. Finally I started to make beautiful images by cutting it up (which I took as cheating a bit). The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts owns one of the prints. But never did I jump up and down over that not-so-beautiful cup.

My painting teacher at the time, who was a great influence on me, claimed his greatest discovery was that corners pick up dirt. He would get excited about that idea. I never saw him excited over flowers.Though Indian turquoise jewelry tickled his fancy.

This takes me to the sirens that sang so beautifully that they'd lure the sailors into the rocks. Do flowers do that for some? Some find peace in flowers. Reggie, on the other hand, found ecstasy. I don't remember the flowers themselves. But I sure remember Reggie, and marvelled at her enthusiasm for these flowers of hers. Here’s a documentary on Reggie:

P.S. After everyone read their writing about flowers, and two women complaining that their lovers had been so inept at giving them the right flowers, and another saying that she and her girlfriends give each other flowers (because men don’t have a clue?)… I scooted over to Central Market to get my wife flowers… only to find that there was a power outage, and CM said I could come in, but could not buy anything. A week ago my wife had bought herself flowers and pointed them out to me, saying “look at the flowers I got from you.” I had the combined thoughts that I was glad she was getting what she wanted… and a little guilt that I wasn’t the one to get them.

P.P.S. Easy to please a woman? I asked her what kind of flowers she wanted today. She said carnations. But by the time I got to the store this morning, I wasn’t sure what she had said. So when I came home, I told her I couldn’t remember if she had said carnations or what. She said “carnations, but that she didn’t like all carnations.” So I took a picture of the ones “I had bought her last week” that were starting to wilt. She also said there were some other flowers she liked, but she forgot their name.

P.P.P.S. We did an exercise the other day at a Zen temple. We each took three minutes to describe a gift we had received in the past. What was surprising was that it was not the gift that had really touched us, but really it was the connection that had formed with the giver. The gift itself of little consequence in the interaction. What are we really saying when we pick apart the gift?

Kim Mosley


Childhood Furniture

Prompt: Think of a piece of furniture or an item from your childhood/young years and write about it or let it write about you.


I was very sickly and confined to the couch.  The couch was large as a house and had many rooms where I could seclude myself.  Sometimes a doctor would visit and listen to my lungs wherein dark waters sloshed.  When I was very still I could feel the tiny waves they made.  The doctor brought the medicine and I breathed it in through a mask while the noisy machine fed me through tubes.  I remained sickly for some time.  My mother vacuumed the carpet everyday while I received my treatment and this sound soothed me, her machine having a conversation with mine.  Presents were delivered to me to make me feel better but I was too weak to open and enjoy them.  When left alone, I retreated into the furthest rooms of the couch.  Where was my father?

There was a place called outside that I could see through the windows, but I was not able to go there.  The green waving things seemed friendly enough, but the light was too bright and harsh, and the dark seemed full of fearful things that I did not want to think about.

The couch was mine alone, unless my father was home, in which case I had to share.  Sometimes he would fall asleep during the day, with a thin quilt pulled all the way over his head.  He looked like a mummy.  I would quietly sneak over to where his head lay and listen to the strange sounds rattling around in his mouth and throat and chest; I imagined the bones of small animals were dancing in there and I worried he might choke.

I grew up into a big man, but I have carried with me the sickly little boy that I was, always providing for him the familiar comfort of a couch with many quiet rooms.  Despite the largeness of my frame and the strength in my limbs, I am still that boy, wondering where my father would go when he was not mummified on the couch, and what were some of the delicious foods served at my mother’s table, and when exactly did I grow up and shed my sickness, and how much of it remains dormant in me still, and what happened to the dark, magic waters that I could hear moving inside me?

Am I perhaps at this very moment asleep and dreaming on the couch, conjuring this world that I inhabit?  Did I slip into one of the moving picture shows on the big black box and forget to find my way back out?  Am I still there on the couch, too weak to raise my arms, delirious with noise and medicine and wanting, imagining that I grew up big and strong and capable of walking on fire without getting burned?


My couch is big enough for a family and I will make a fine father someday.  All the provisions we need for a good and happy life are right here in the folds and recesses and secret compartments.  I’ve amassed a small fortune in loose change and so we need want for nothing.  We will have a comfortable life.  We will host many wonderful guests.  We will live happily in a cuddle-puddle and no one will be forced to eat broccoli if the smell of it makes them ill.  All will be welcome on our family couch and no one will be turned away for arriving in an unshowered condition.  On our couch there will be room for all beings to find a seat that suits them; all honored and even the dishonored ones will find comfort and ease when their weary rumps come into contact with our cushions.

My couch is your couch.

We’re all couched in this life, together, so don’t be shy—just grab a seat and settle in next to me here.  Pull that lever right there by your feet and see what happens—ha!  I bet you didn’t think a couch could do that!        

—Ryan Stennet


Ordinary Miracles

Prompt: Ordinary Miracles


The miracle isn't walking on water, it's walking on the earth.
 — Thich Nhat Hanh

The TV tells me of the miracle
 of modern manufacturing.  I look.
The first one rolls off the line, perfect.
 The second one just like it, the third
is boring, the fourth not a miracle

The sorcerer's apprentice waved
 his master's wand, the broom grew arms,
picked up the bucket and started
 to fill the basin, a miracle.
A second, a third, and so on.
 The miracle turns ordinary.

A miracle by definition isn't repeatable.

These are not miracles.  Now each tomorrow
 is not a day we've ever seen before.
Each person, dog, tree we meet
 is a miracle that will not be repeated.
See that in every person, every rock & tree,
 everyday.  Each a miracle.
Seeing that is a miracle.


     Eames Rocker

What is style before it is hip,
before it's part of a school, has a name?
When it's affordable, but innovative, before
it's Mid-Century Modern and authentic
vintage competes with authentic reproduction.
I came out of the Eames Studio, built
of fiberglass, rather ordinary metal, two
wooden rockers of solid, commonplace wood.
I sat family, company, small children
two at a time.  Turned over
I was a tank, a submarine, inspiration
for B.C.'s bird riding a turtle.  I've
lost count of how many times
I've been moved, tossed in on top
of a trailerful of clothes, books,
other furniture.  Somewhere along the way,
imperceptibly, the surface coat's worn off,
the wooden rocker cracked and repaired,
the children, one then the other left me
upright, just a chair among adults
without the imagination to turn me
over into a tank, a cave, anything
other than a vintage Eames rocker,
too hip to discard, too fragile to be used,
too far from affordable & innovative, too
worn to be the museum display for
Mid-Century Modern!

— Jeffery Taylor



Prompt: A list of types of tables


     Operating Table

At surgery number four, the anesthesiologist said, "You're almost seventy, we ..."  I thought, "Wait, I just turned sixty-five. What do you mean, almost seventy?"  He continued, "... are going to drop the memory drug."  Oh, I thought it was the chemo messing with my memory.

So they hooked me up and wheeled the gurney down the hall.  This is where my memory usually ended.  The aide elbowed the door switch.  I realized this is why the switch is so far back, a gurney's length, from the door.  The doors opened their funny way, one inward, one outward, and we continued on into the operating room.  He lined the gurney up with the operating table and asked me to move myself onto it.  I'm sure this had happened every operation, but I didn't remember because of the memory or twilight drug.

Lying on the operating table, a memory came back, "I've been here before", but no memory of which surgery it was.

When I was settled, they strapped my arms to swinging leaves of the operating table and swung them out of the way.  Only then did the anesthetist nurse say
they were giving me something and I was out.

     Log Tables

For most science and engineering students in the 70s, two items stayed with you through school: a slide rule and a Chemical Rubber Company book of
Standard Mathematical Tables and Formulae.  Both cost \$30, a significant expense in those days.  The CRC Handbook came with a sheet of gold foil to
emboss your name on the spine.  Log tables were needed for some calculations with logarithms where more precision was needed than you could get out of a
slide rule.  Those and the differential calculus formulas were the sections I used.  As I found my path, I switched from straight electrical engineering to
the computer science option and used them less and less.  Instead I increasingly used The Art of Computer Programming.  When I graduated and moved
from job to job, both sets of books went with me to show I was a real engineer.  Only after retirement did I donate them to the library.  The subject area switch, the advent of affordable calculators, and improved programming libraries had made them superfluous.

     Circular Table

My first jobs were in the Silicon Valley.  Much of our joint eating out was at Chinese restaurants.  Occasionally there were enough of us and we were well
known enough that we were seated at one of the banquet tables. They were big enough for 8--10 people with a lazy susan in the middle so serving platters
didn't have to be passed, just the whole thing turned.  But people were impatient or didn't want what was in front of them.  Serving platters were still passed, jumping ahead or behind in rotation.

— Jeffrey Taylor