pandemic poem #4
i can’t think
of anything better
than telling you
the way you glance at the floor
and half smile
when i say
i love you
the way you
carry the weight of waking:
make your lunch,
zip your bag,
grab your keys,
convinces me to
start with coffee,
the way you
place your hand
on my shoulder blade
is just enough
to make me believe
i might make it
through the day.
when we get to the end of the world
all i have left is love poems
and the memory of your
5 am kiss
as you headed out
into the tangle of danger and fog.
love poem on a monday morning: pandemic poem #3
Praise be to
the leftover night
and to the sun
itching to rise.
to the ones
who woke up tired
about to rise.
to the babies
coiled in their blankets
with their fists raised.
to the ones
zipped in tents
layers upon layers
to raise the heat.
to the gloved hands
that heal at all hours
and praise be
to the thermometer
do not rise.
to all those who didn’t sleep
of the mistakes they made
worried the cost
tapped out on keyboards
sung out in songs
written out in documents
to the people organizing
who will rise.
on the side of the road
sag under the rain.
my friend says
we’re staying dry.
i say that’s good to hear.
meanwhile i’m reading
a lot about the markets
and banks and businesses. bailouts. priorities.
i’d like to see a trillion dollars
or even just a billion (hell a million)
distributed down here by the tracks.
loosen those hundred dollar bills
like butterfly wings,
land them in every palm.
lent poem #3
the day has not yet
peeked over the horizon.
the children sleep.
his truck has quietly
drifted from the driveway.
i’ve been up for hours
about things that seem
planning that next event,
getting documents signed,
a very ambitious book proposal.
and then this poem said
listen to the cars and the kitchen timer,
that one unbelievably loud bird,
the hoarse wind.
whispered a story about the children
when they were smaller
and i used to watch them nap
full of gratitude for every small breath.
cancelled my plans for the day:
you will find me
at that little cafe on stockton
drinking my third latte
and drawing on napkins.
we’re not getting anywhere.
not you, not me, not the rich
in their castles.
today i’m going to recklessly
call people just to say
i love you
even if it’s awkward,
even if i should have another
are so much greater
than the volume of my inbox.
the children are still
resting their heads on their forearms
and my breakfast is getting cold
because this poem
is rioting all over the page
ripping holes in the paper
just to say
this poem draws my eyes
to the lightening sky
reminding me that
Love, Dare, Grow: El Cerrito Families Part 2
For part two of my series of interviews with El Cerrito families, I interviewed a mom with children who are grown about her ideas of family. Nancy Donovan is an event planner at Berkeley Law, a mom and a writer. She loves to cook, read, travel and think about & discuss social justice issues. Her mottos are: "Let Art Help You" and "Do Some Good, Have Some Fun."
Say three things about yourself and one about each other family member.
I am creative, curious and engaged with life. My oldest daughter is currently a college student majoring in community studies. My younger daughter is a seeker.
Who is family?
Family is anyone I invite into my inner circle to love, know and be in meaningful relationship with. Family is also a refuge, a place to be completely myself. Family is my ancestors, my siblings, my aunties, my daughters, my girlfriends and everyone in my tribe.
How do you know?
I know who my family is because I have made a practice of creating a family of choice. The requirements to be family include a willingness to be truly seen and the discipline to do the work of relationship.
What is unique about your family?
We are a family in transition. We are literally moving house soon. Claire is in college, Tala just graduated high school. We are all on our way to our “next” while being in the “present” as much as we can. We are a bi-racial family. We have privilege and we have work to do.
What do you think is the same about your family and other families?
Struggle. The current climate in our world has many people on edge. We are struggling and also offering support to ourselves and each other.
Why is family important to you?
Family is the place where I feel safe, supported and loved. Love is the complicated bliss of shared space & shared lives. It’s not without effort. Parents are not saints, nor are children; we are all trying to do our best. Most of the time. Family is an important place of rest, when done well.
What does your family support you to do that you might not otherwise be able to do?
Be creative, be honest, have fun.
What does home mean to you?
Home is the place where I can cook, relax, dance and make art. Home is a place of beauty and sanctuary. Home means that I am safe. Home is a place to do the laundry, to dream and to rest.
Home is a place to have dinner parties, tea parties, long conversations with teenagers and elders and children. To play with the new kitty, Bean.
What does home look like to you?
Colorful and clean(ish.) Comfy pillows and blankets and places to sit and dream. Art supplies, paper, colored pencils, pens, paint. An active kitchen. Art on the walls. Pictures of us on the refrigerator.
What is it like for a family making a home in this place?
El Cerrito is a welcoming place for families, in my experience. Our block has a block party every year, we know each other and help each other. We have built community together. And, although the east bay has lots of diversity, we don’t have a lot of racial diversity on our block.
What are your dreams for your family?
Freedom, safety and the ability to always have a home base. I dream that my family can accomplish goals, be loving & be of service to the community. I dream that my family will ‘do some good, and have some fun’ every day.
What about your fears for your family?
Climate change, economic inequality and racism all concern me relative to my family, and for the global family. Will children born today have good prospects for long and healthy lives? Life is fraught and fragile and also magical. How to live in the world amidst fear and peril is a challenge.
What kind of support do families here need?
Families need education, parks, clean water, libraries, grocery stores, places of worship. Families need to feel safe and welcomed into schools and other public spaces.
What’s your best family story?
Tala was about 4 years old and she was hiding. She thought it was a game, and she didn’t come out when we shouted for her to please come out. We thought she had run off. A police car happened to be driving down the block and we got the police involved in the search. It didn’t take long to find her. Fortunately. A small moment of terror turned to great relief.
election thursday poem
it’s my favorite moment
of the day.
light slides out
the edges of evening,
it’s not quite night
not still day
some kind of magic
is still possible.
i round the corners
down the hill
and all the miscommunications
of this morning,
the death shadow and
and empty stomach
of this afternoon
can’t keep me from singing
along too loud to the radio.
all of it.
this song, this day, this election, this life,
really we don’t have much time.
the air is getting heavy
and the street lights are coming on.
but right now
in this instant
i could roll the windows down
and belt whitney’s i wanna dance with somebody,
take that last turn just a bit too fast
to get home to the
in all the songs, the one
who right now
is noticing the deepening sky
putting the porch light on.
shrove tuesday poem
tonight i throw on the fire
all the misgivings/mishaps/mistakes
rattling around behind me
the ones that keep me awake
of everything i might be.
they go up in smoke
embers on the breeze
but i am left with burnt breath
and lungs bursting
i remember an old science lesson:
energy never disappears
it is only transformed.
nothing leaves us, really,
not the love or the tragedy.
it’s all under my fingernails,
what do you want to disappear
into the flames tonight?
what suffering would you ignite?
what if it helped make rich dirt,
soil to grow a bounty you could cradle
in the crook of your arm,
something bursting with possibility?
burn it down
i have the lighter fluid ready,
but don’t forget
where all this incineration is leading:
the death of death,
life furiously fighting its way
through the cracks in the earth.
Our Families, Our Community: El Cerritans Speak
This past spring I received a grant from the California Arts Council to do a project with El Cerrito Families. I’m interviewing families from our city to find out what their dreams and fears are, what they think about making a home in this place, and what makes them unique. The first family I interviewed was the Hofmanns. Alisa Hofmann has a company called Design Set Match, which does bathroom and kitchen remodels. Ed Hofmann is a Legal Assistant. Inara is a third grader at Harding Elementary. They’ve been El Cerrito residents for almost a decade. They shared some of their story with me, and their inclusive vision of family. This interview series will continue to add stories of El Cerrito families, and we’ll learn the ways in which the stories are the same and different. After I interview them, the families I’m interviewing are also taking photos of their day to day life for a month, and what they love or find challenging about their community. Stay tuned for a photography show at City Hall! At the end of this project we will have a portrait of our community in words and photos, a reflection of who we are and who we might be in the future.
Dani Gabriel, El Cerrito Poet Laureate
Dani: Can everyone say their name and say three things about yourself and one thing about your other two family members?
Alisa: My name is Alisa Hofmann and crazy enough, I love kitchens and bathrooms. My favorite colors are orange, purple and red. And my favorite food is chocolate. Inara is not so little anymore and she is an awesome dancer. She just doesn't realize it yet. And Ed is a tech genius and he won't ever admit to that either.
Ed: Ed Hofmann. I am a legal assistant by trade. I do graphic design on the side and tech stuff on the side. I was born and raised on Guam and moved out to California in 1997. Let's see, Inara gets very giggly sometimes. And she gives me stink eye...Alisa is very good at what she does with the kitchen and bathroom models and I am super proud of them both.
Inara: My name is Inara...I'm going into third grade... I like “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” and I'm at dance camp right now... Daddy likes playing guitar...Mommy likes reading to me.
Dani: So who is family?
Alisa: For me, family is usually lots of friends and we gather together and support each other. That's really what family is for me is being there for one another.
Dani: How about you Inara? Who is family?
Ed: To me, family is anyone you have a kinship to, whether you are related by blood or marriage or some other institution and the people that you choose to be around. Yeah, with the Thursday Night Dinner, I dubbed that the “fam-unity”.
Dani: Fam-unity. Say more about Thursday Night Dinner.
Ed: So we host a weekly Thursday Night Dinner and we invite friends. Many of them who like us don't have family in the area or even in the state... And we just sort of bond together to support each other. [It’s] just feeding people you love some good home cooked food and doing it as often as you can to build up those bonds. We've been doing it for eight and a half years with no plans of stopping.
Dani: How many people usually come?
Ed: We've had an average of...20 to 25.
Dani: So what is unique about your family?
Alisa: What is unique? I think Thursday Night Dinner is what's unique...It's people coming from lots of different backgrounds and just coming and sharing and being.
Dani: So tell the story of how a Thursday Night Dinner came to be.
Alisa: We first were introduced to Thursday Night Dinner when we were finding a new church and somebody else was running Thursday Night Dinner. They invited us that first week we met them. And...we waited a few weeks before we intruded on their home because we felt kind of awkward being on the outside. But it was really [an] invitation with no requirements. It was not a potluck where you have to sign up and do things.
Ed: It's basically like having Thanksgiving every week.
Alisa: Without the turkey.
Ed: Sometimes turkey. So it has a little bit of organized chaos and there's a lot of cramming into spaces and some messes and all that. But it's a lot of good fun. One of the fun things is we've had other friends have their babies and several of their babies actually learned to walk on Thursday Night Dinner.
Alisa: Or they try bacon for the first time. Inara is an only child and there's some other only children. So they're having that opportunity of socializing like brothers and sisters, without having brothers and sisters and not being in a school environment.
Ed: So that probably is one aspect of what makes our family unique is having that weekly Thursday Night Dinner and invitations to people to join that community as well. We have a new person coming tomorrow for the first time.
Dani: What do you think is the same about your family and other families?
Alisa: We're just trying to live our lives peacefully and be a part of the community and just trying to survive and get by and go along our way.
Ed: Yeah. Working, we work really hard in the Bay area to pay rent and food and all of that stuff. I think that's pretty standard across the board is that everybody's a little crazy stressed sometimes.
Dani: So what is it like for family making a home in this place?
Alisa: This place being El Cerrito? It's interesting because we're kind of on the border of El Cerrito. So we're borderline with Albany, we have a tendency to not just stick to El Cerrito, but to go to Albany library and Berkeley events and things too. And so we're back and forth between the three fairly often. But when we do community stuff with El Cerrito, it's great. The 4th of July festival and Halloween haunted house and all of that. It’s really fun to still have that small town personality and having the Greenway where we can actually ride a bike and "Hey, let's just stop at the little park that just got rebuilt."
Ed: Yeah, El Cerrito is a pretty cool town.
Dani: So what's your biggest dream for your family?
Alisa: It's just being able to thrive in the Bay area. It's a lovely place and I can't imagine living anywhere else, particularly because our careers are really locked to this area so we'd like to stay long term. So yeah, hopefully that's in the cards.
My biggest dream is for the house that we bought, that is torn apart right now and is under remodel. We’ll be able to have everybody come over for Thursday Night Dinners and we can do it outside.
Ed: And invite neighbors.
Alisa: And invite neighbors. We're looking forward to having our 80 something year old neighbor come and join us for Thursday Night Dinner. And our other neighbor who has a couple of kids Inara's age. Right now Thursday Night Dinners are in the living room and the kitchen...but when we move we can [also] go to the backyard on a warm day, go out there and enjoy the El Cerrito breeze when it comes through, because it always does.
Dani: So what about your fears for your family? What do you worry about?
Alisa: Just the cost of living in the Bay area. And my biggest worry is that a lot of our friends who we call family are going to be moving out because they can't afford to stay.
Ed: Same here. Same fear of not being able to afford this area and also friends not being able to afford to live here and stick around. The money is an ongoing concern.
Dani: What kind of support do families here need?
Alisa: From a renter's point of view, since we have both a renter’s and a homeowner's point of view, we need rent control. We really do. It's going to price everybody out. I mean, even though ultimately we'll be a homeowner with hopefully an accessory dwelling unit underneath, I still want rent control because I think it's the right thing to do for our renter.
Dani: What's your best family story? Maybe your favorite Thursday Night Dinner story.
Ed: They all kind of just blend into one, at least for me, Thursday Night Dinner seems kind of like an episode of a TV show that you really like. And so it's a continuing story. I cook the meal and people come in and sit down and eat and you just catch up and find out where you left off the previous week and then how things are going now and things to look forward to. And so Thursday Night Dinners in my mind just blend into one giant complex story.
Alisa: Yeah...when people try and give us compliments and say, "Oh, you're so gracious." I am like, "No, you're family." It's not even a compliment I think we can accept. It's just your family. Just “you belong here.” You should come.
and the heater’s on
tonight it’s raining.
the front door of the church
is wide open,
and beyond the porch
it makes me think of my mother.
she used to do things
leave the door open in the rain,
i don’t miss her.
but sometimes i do miss
the smell of the rain
through the wet screen,
a feeling that the wildness
had a home.
somewhere between the coffee
with a sweet friend
and the three boxes of cookies
i felt a little more like
i might make it through the day.
the week even, possibly til may.
still i was afraid to go to sleep,
i might not get up.
but here i am, again,
surviving. it’s what i do.
and all the overwhelm
of work and the phone bill
and the ever present
possibility of eviction or accident or
all the sad past
and inevitably tragic future
and all the faults
that damn me
and the seventy eight
mistakes i made before noon
are just a trick
to get me in the store,
where everything glitters
and is deadly.
i’m not buying.
i have coffee and
a lot of cookies.
it’s still dark out but the edges
lighten a little.