Mashed Potatoes and Ruth Krauss


The Broken City has a new issue out on the theme of food.  They’ve included a poem of mine, “Mashed Potatoes” which begins:

So there must be gravy
and a decision about who’s to make it.
Thanksgiving celebrates acquisitions,
mergers: his family’s sauerkraut,
her neighbor’s homegrown squash. . . .

You can read the rest of this poem, and other interesting poems about food at: http://www.thebrokencitymag.com/BC12web.pdf.  There are also stories and, at the end, comments from the contributors, who were asked to answer the question: “If we are what we eat, what are you?”

For my poem I used an epigraph, “[Mashed potatoes] . . . are to give everybody enough.” This definition comes from Ruth Krauss’s little book for little people, A Hole Is To Dig.  Krauss collected definitions from first graders for this book.  It is a wonderful early reading book which I remembered from my childhood and read to my children.

Even better for reading to children is Krauss’s book, A Very Special House. The words are spread on large pages among drawings by Maurice Sendak (before he became famous for his own books).  The “special house” is inhabited by creatures of all kinds.  A lion eats the stuffing from the chairs.  My favorite lines, remembered since childhood are:

A Very Special House

A Very Special House

And that’s not all―And that’s not all,
They’re playing toesy-woesy on the wall wall wall.

These books must have been important influences in my developing appreciation for words, rhythm and rhyme.  I’m delighted that I was reminded of her work while writing “Mashed Potatoes” and could acknowledge my debt to her. Krauss died in 1993, but her books are still in print.


More About William Paley and his Bridge

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Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The bridge which William Paley admired at Wearmouth (see my post of July 26) tells us two important things about the time when Paley wrote his book, Natural Theology.  First, the smoke from the smokestack tells us that the industrial age has arrived.  Second, the sails on the ships tell us that engines which can move ships (or trains for that matter) have not yet been invented.  This is a world of commerce, but it is not our world.

William Paley came to live in Wearmouth in 1795.  He was then 52 years old; his most successful years were behind him.  Paley was educated at Cambridge and became a teacher there.  He was ordained in 1766 as an Anglican priest, and was appointed to various positions in the church.  He wrote three important books before Natural Theology, one on moral philosophy and two defending the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

In all his writing Paley emphasized reason, and wrote clear, logical arguments.  That clarity, and his use of language in general, makes Natural Theology a pleasure to read, in spite of the fact that, as the picture demonstrates, his world is very different from our present circumstances.

My collection of poems, Made and Remade, responding to William Paley’s writing, is to be published by WordTech Editions in 2014.

A Mountain Hike


This past week I found the time to drive to Cloudcroft for a hike in the Lincoln National Forest.  I’ve been meaning to do this for years – since I moved to Las Cruces, in fact, and this was the first time I did it.  The air temperature in Cloudcroft, at over 8,000 feet, runs about 20 degrees cooler than the temperature here at 4,000 feet, where it has been up in the high 90s for many days.  The weather was beautiful; it only rained while I was in the car.  The beginner hike of two miles round trip was just my speed.

Osha Trail

Osha Trail

I hoped to see more wildflowers.  Those I did see are not known to me by name, but pleasing all the same, especially the one that pokes out of other plants’ leaves to give itself a green background.













The forest is primarily pines and maples.  At one spot, the baby maple trees were so thick they looked like ground cover.


I promised myself I would come back again soon.  It’s an hour and a half drive away, which in New Mexico, is not considered far at all.  I have no excuse.

After Rain

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The ground in my back yard is mostly sand between the bushes.  But then it rains and it becomes clear how many seeds are buried in that sand.   Rain is a good metaphor for all kinds of nurturing.  When the rain doesn’t come for a while, more yellow shows from the ground.  When it comes again, the ground is green.



Dry skin in winter,
wind burnt in spring, the ground
turns to green fuzz
after rain, grows out ragged
as an adolescent’s beard.


Recommendation: The Pleasures of Tanka


Tanka, as you may know, is a Japanese form slightly longer than haiku.  The traditional pattern calls for five lines, a total of 31 syllables, in the pattern 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.

If you’d like to learn about tanka, I recommend Janet Davis’s blog, twigs&stones, which I’ve just added to my blogroll:  http://www.twigsandstones-poems.blogspot.com/

Here are a few of my favorites among the tanka she has recently published on her blog.

One she offered for July 4: though I usually make my own potato salad, I can feel the embarrassment in the word “shriveling”.

the brimming bowl
of potato salad
she made at home
…..my tub of store-bought
…..shriveling beside it

red lights, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2013

A more serious moment is described in this one:

railroad arms
rise up as I approach …
on the long drive
to the hospital
I hope for an “all clear”

—American Tanka, June 2013, Issue 22

The next one struck me because I have been working on a poem on a similar subject.  What she says in five lines is something I struggled to say in eighteen:

I trace them
clear back to Jamestown—
of the grandfather
I knew little about

—Simply Haiku, Winter 2009, Vol. 7, No. 4

You have no doubt noticed that none of these examples reach the number of 31 syllables.  As with haiku, tanka writers in English strive for greater conciseness.  As a beginner in this form, however, I am finding that the 31 syllable form is a good place to start.

Enjoy many more tanka at twigs&stones.

Half Way to Fall


It’s another cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.  About this time I begin to notice the days are getting shorter, and there’s some logic to this, because of the sine wave nature of the changing sun patterns.  This means the changes are faster in the middle than at the peak and nadir of longest and shortest day.

This is the day commonly called Lammas.  it is the early harvest.  If you think it is too early to be harvesting grain, think corn.  We have been enjoying corn on the cob for a few weeks now.

Any harvest time is a thanksgiving time.  When we receive the bounty of the earth, we should give thanks, one way or another.  Here in the southwest we give thanks for the rain, which has come sooner and in greater abundance than for several years past.  Not enough to cancel the drought of course, but a pleasure all the same.  The plants too are showing their gratitude (to speak anthropomorphically) by putting out their flowers.  Here are two making a show in my yard this week.

Desert Globemallow

Desert Globemallow




The desert globemallow is a third generation plant from one I transplanted from the arroyo beyond our housing development.  The purple mat came with the house; it is hard to photograph because of its small size.  It takes many of the little purple flowers to make an impact.

Purple Mat

Purple Mat