safe harbor

Leonid Afremov

Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine. – Macklemore

Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it. – Stevie Wonder

Would you harbor me?

Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew
a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a run away woman, or child,
a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee,
a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth
a fugitive or a slave?
Would you harbor a Haitian Korean or Czech,
a lesbian or a gay?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
song and lyrics by Ysaye Barnwell
Sung by Sweet Honey and the Rock on their album “Sacred Ground”

This week, we came together again to write songs. The song we studied is called, “Would you harbor me?” written by Ysaye Barnwell to be sung by gospel group Sweet Honey and the Rock. When I put the lyrics on the board, someone asked, “What is a harbor?” The group worked together to define harbor. We all gave our explanations and looked it up in a dictionary but ultimately, we said it was place that, in our culture, harbor has come to mean something more significant than its earliest definitions. A harbor is safe place to land in a storm. It is important remember that not all harbors are prepared to take us safely. We learn, over time, the signals that indicate that a harbor is safe and welcome.

There a sentiment shared by those in the group – that it is easy to answer the quetion, “Would I harbor you?” One writer said that as long as she had a couch and a cupboard, they are open to those in need. The harder question for our circle was, “Would you harbor me?” While most of us trust we would take in those in need, we do not believe we will be harbored with equal care and readiness by others. It is a practice in our circle to become fluent in the signals that indicate safety for others; that by listening and keeping each other’s stories Continue reading

give us a song


Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. – Maya Angelou

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. – Plato

This week, we departed from our usual work and focused our attention on song writing. When anyone works long enough on one artistic medium, in this case poetry, a certain freshness in the work can be achieved when the artist practices another form. This is the case here. We listened to music together, discussed different songwriting forms, and challenged ourselves to write in that form. The work that came from this was potent and surprising, some of the strongest the writers have made in some time. It’s as though they have been practicing and practicing in the same way with the same diligence and potential and this new form opened up possibilities in their work that they didn’t know what there.

This happens for many artists – something new and out of their control moves into their realm of experience, their consciousness, and changes the way they do their work. In the pieces below, you will read what happens when well-practiced writers ride the energy of something new. It makes magic.


This year was the first celebrated Memorial Day that my Grandpa and Grandma were buried in the same spot.

Every year my aunts and uncles would plant flowers at my Grandpa’s grave.

This year they decided to also sprinkle tobacco and pecans on the grave for my grandma.

I still have her old, classy jewelry and antique gloves that I wear with pride.

I also have a spoon you can use for root beer floats with a straw on it.

I miss you a lot Grandma B.

You always told me that if boys came around to hit ‘em with a baseball bat. You ornery presence will be missed.

Try not to smoke a cigarette with your oxygen tank and blow up heaven.

When we reunite we can have all the root beer floats and pecan pie and watch CSPAN.

See you in Paradise.
RIP Verna Barwin August 7, 2015


*** Continue reading

remembering outside


I get my best ideas in a thunderstorm. I have the power and majesty of nature on my side. -Ralph Steadman

“We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”
― Andy Goldsworthy

The Horizon Leans
by Maya Angelou

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

There are some weeks where we bring in a prompt everyone writes to it. We say earth and write earth. We say school and write school. We say motherhood, parenthood, and write about kids and memories and caregiving. But there are other weeks when we offer prompts and writers can’t help but address their state of mind, that there is something serious they need to talk about and no prompt is going to reign that in.

In the space below, you will read the accounts of three writers remembering the time before their incarceration – relationship with others, with nature, and with themselves and all each are mutually transformed through contact with one another. These are the stories they needed to tell. Please hear them and the voices they came to the table with.


Forever changing.
Forever changing, we all flow
Day one to 12 thousand.
Never staying the same.
Starting small evolve and grow.
Everything is always changing
from where I stand.
The moon affects everything,
including my ever changing moods.
I lay down.
I’ve found thunderstorms are soothing –
An ancient lullaby we’d forgotten,
The rain splashing against the earth,
replenishing what’s been lost.
I stand there, in the thunder and rain
Everything comes with a cost
Please wash away this pain
When will the clouds open?
Why won’t this storm stop?
How long must this song go on?
What was once soothing?
Now has been overdone.
When will the sunshine come?
The water is getting deep.
I’m in over my head, I try to swim to shore.
I only slam to the floor,
fell off my bed.
Scared and alone, I’ve become impermeable.
I look out the window to reassure my fears,
the sunrise is beautiful.
No need for tears.


Continue reading

writing the body of the world

Creative MagEzine –

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir, American environmentalist


This week we both wrote and drew into the spaces created by what ever came before. The opening poem describes green vines growing into the cracks in the walls made by both love letters and bullet holes. The whole range of human experience however beautiful or violent created space to grow. Through their work as artists and writers, each inmate explored that while they do not wish a repeat of some of their past experiences, they recognize that something else can grown from them.

In the pieces below, you will read an account of these experiences and the writing process each writer engaged in to explore each experience.


It doesn’t matter what came to pass.
More often than not life has put me right on my ass.
There have been times I worked so hard, only to fall harder
like a candle in the wind/trying to withstand the pressure.
A children learning to ride a bicycle/truth be known
You need to fall in order to gain some balance.
Have you ever blown out a candle to relight it?
The flame travels down the smoke to be greater than
the one your breath lost.
I personally believe everything comes with a cost.
We don’t know what kind of pain to anticipate
until we are burned.
It doesn’t matter what came to pass.
If you prepare today, tomorrow will be easy.
I don’t mean to sound cheesy.
Leave the past where it is/gone by too fast.
One thing I learned, hard as a stone.
Everyone has a sad story/ I used to tell
mine all the time/thinking about all
the tears, pain, how gory.
My daddy taught me everyone’s lives vary.
Sympathy lies between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.
It’s not what it was.
It is and always has been what you make it.


to awaken for no good reason… Continue reading

container of care

My Modern Met

Plant a seed, this springtime. Hold it in your hand, and envision a world in which we live in balance with nature, at peace with one another, where creativity and love can flourish. Place your seed in the earth. Water and tend it as you tend those qualities and take those actions which can bring that world to birth.
–  Starhawk

We are all of us all the time coming together and falling apart. The point is, we are not rocks.
Who wants to be one anyway, impermeable, unchanging, our history already played out.
 –John Rosenthal

In our writing group, each week is an act of continuous tending. We come together to write and attend to a delicate ecosystem of words, writing, and agreements. If we do not hold to agreements, we can’t share our words. If we do not share our words, there is not point to the agreements. In this week’s group, I found myself saying again and again, “This is where our listening is as important as our speaking.”

And this is always true. Throughout group, there is no moment where listening is not fundamentally important – it is what allows us to write and hear one another, to share and be understood. The hope is that each of us use this as a model as we continue out into our lives. In the poems below, you will read what we heard and bore witness to, how the strength and consistency of our listening and the container created by our group leads to powerful writing, to power discovered in writing.


At times, we forget how much
we are really capable of dealing with.
We are taught as we grow to multiply fast,
hold our lives together: work, school, kids,
partner, house, set…
but are we doing the best we can
with all these things?
Are we giving it our all?
Or are we just getting by
at the end of the day?
We ask ourselves if we did okay
open our hand and ask for the strength
to get through it again tomorrow.



A hand turned upwards holds…

the life lines that linked me to my
mother’s womb, embraced my welcoming
into the unknown world, held tightly
on to my mother’s finger as she searches
for 10 fingers and 10 toes.

A hand turned upward held many
possibilities, opportunities only known
because I had to physically touch the gifts
given to me.

A hand turned up is a hand ready
to receive, a final exhale and moments
of impact are remembered and
the memory cherished.

A hand holds comfort, it searches
for love and it sheds the path of what
was old and welcomes the new.

A hand is steady, and strong, endures
pain remembers what’s familiar and
sometimes hesitant to change.



I would just describe her as an extraordinary yet ordinary woman.

Mama mama, you’re a star, a damn star.
Mama, remember when I lived in my car?
When I took the street shit too far?
How you always allowed me to come home?
You never gave up. You just loved me so hard.
Mama mama.
You’re the realist; I was always on the corners
making those deals, had to call collect
and you let me have it, always told me how you feel
and still do, although we shared many tears
and fears – the most common one was one
of us dying from our addiction, Mama.
You always prayed, I wouldn’t get killed.
My mama-my mama, you’re my world.
You taught me how to win and not be a loser.
I know I used to tell you, “I hate you,”
but really, I’d hate to lose you.
Mama mama, I know I’m incarcerated,
missing Mother’s Day. I’m sorry Ma,
but I’ll be alright. I really tried mama I still am.
Now that I’m older I regret making you,
all the times, I lied didn’t help none.
Mama your baby boy loves you.
You have a beautiful soul, Ma.

Mama, mama, you’re my lady.
You’re the realest. I love you, Mama.




My whole life I’ve been hidden
in institutions. In my mind,
I have always been trapped.
Locked away is where I find myself
with no possibility for change.
Every day, I put on a facade:
A pretty face, a huge heart
but beneath the surface
I’m falling apart, caught up
in the toxic life.
I’m looking for an exit only
finding dead ends.
But here’s a daily dose of brutal honesty:
Despair is not a strategy.
At times, I forget how much
I am really capable of dealing with.
A hand held upwards holds
what needs to heal.
Sometimes it comes to a rare moment,
one good fight. Other times,
we open our hands and ask
for the strength
to get through it again tomorrow.
A hand upturned is a hand
ready to receive.
I build my life better.
I never give up.
I carry on, a white fox,
a one-eyed race horse.
My power’s got no limits.