Free Verse by Sarah Dooley

In this unique YA fiction set in rural West Virginia, poetry becomes young Sasha’s expressive lifeline as well as her means of social belonging. I appreciate an author whose plot turns can keep me guessing, and Dooley keeps surprising me  all the way through. She also does a skillful job of pacing and dramatic tension. For example, Sasha takes baby steps in trust just before a mine accident which sends her running again in mistrust in order to block her pain. In another example, the crafting of Sasha’s blackouts–Dooley’s writing  causes the reader to viscerally experience the Sasha’s disorientation— startling, and most effective for making Sasha real.

But the poems themselves are the beating heart of the story, all of them but especially the final crescendo poem  that surprises even Sasha. The way the poems pour out of her when she’s most lost and most silent makes for razor-sharp contrast. The poems hang there in the silence for the reader, and create an arc of the protagonist’s griefs and desires.  Free Verse by Sarah Dooley (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016)is shelved as a Young Adult title but it is a novel for every age group. With Free Verse, Dooley makes a moving contribution to contemporary YA fiction.




Expat? Immigrant!

Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

I am emigrating from the US soon to live in Mexico as an immigrant. I go to make a new dream, as did my Italian immigrant grandparents and my Irish immigrant great grandfather and my Irish immigrant great great grandmother and my Norwegian immigrant great grandparents before me. I will live outside my native country, as they did. Those from the US who do this are often referred to as expats (expatriots), but for me, it’s less about exiting and more about arriving and creating a new life.

I have long had the intention to live in a beautiful natural setting where I can live richly on what I have and use my own two feet for transportation to meet my daily needs. In 2017 I will be 70, living a simpler, quieter chapter of my life. And it will be 50 years exactly from the first time I set foot in Mexico as a twenty year old. I remember riding the bus from Chicago to Mexico with the other students that summer in 1967, excited to see the world outside my country for the first time. I can feel myself twisting in the seat to take everything in, can hear us singing our songs full of hope and joy.

I fell in love with the Mexican people then, and went back many times in my life. So my immigration in two months will also be a return— to a country that feels like home.

Reading Volunteers Needed

giselle-and-susaI am about to become a Reading Buddy volunteer again at Isaac Dickson Elementary School with my favorite Second Grader. I highly recommend this program and encourage anyone with the time and desire to look into becoming a volunteer with Read to Succeed. In one 45-minute session per week, you can make a huge difference and help increase  the number of local elementary school children who are at grade level in reading by the third grade. This year I can only help out until I move at the end of November, but the need is great and I am happy to do what I can. The next Reading Buddy trainings are Sept 28 & 29 – 9:30-noon Wednesday/Thursday and Nov 1 & 2  9:30-noon Tuesday/Wednesday at the R2S office at 16A Stewart Street.


Camping in the Blue Ridge


IMG_0611Below me, and out as far as the eye can see, the mountains look like they are floating. As they actually are, floating on the earth’s soft mantle. These silent mountain friends wish me well. I’m here to do a goodbye and gratitude ceremony for my nearly six years in these North Carolina mountains. It’s all impermanence, as the Buddhists say. From this, from change, come the wonders, the beauty of life.

Every day the world does this magic act of change! Here on top of the world, I get to witness this miracle of transformation. I blow tobacco smoke to honor the seven directions, and then my senses open even more, and I am nested within the sphere of the seven sacred directions.

There’s something about seeing the faraway and the close at the same time.  I see how the near goes into the far, the milkweed and goldenrod stretching down and down; and how the far comes into the near, the mountains with their coves and valleys entering right into my experience up here. Seeing the far and the near at the same time gives me back my own wholeness.IMG_0637In the evening I build a fire. It pops and dances, claps for joy. I feed it my old dream, naming and releasing what I wanted that did not come to pass.  I stare as the fire fashions, from my old dream, new ones for my new life. The full Pisces moon rises, and I, too, rise to my feet in exaltation. Like the fire, the moon swallows my old dream and transforms it–into the moonlight of the new dreams which I sing out.campfire viewAt dawn I wake in the sky a mile high, the clouds below me not yet revealing which world I shall find myself part of this day. The blessed quiet of no human sound allows me to listen differently to what the world is. Birds are just waking. I hear them stretching wings in the brush, rustling their good morning, but not yet singing. And a few early bees, trying out the buzz of their workday to come, their work of love, bees bringing shy flowers together in a kind of third party sex here on top of the world. I am a little human part of this waking day, conjoined with all that is.

The show is about to begin. The curtain of clouds is parting! The shapes of yellow green hills with their pool of shadows reappear to me. Fog lakes spill over the rims of their caldera bowls. As I watch, the solid green of the closest mountain appears. Drops of morning fog touch my skin, not rain but a tiny caress of mist to wish me good day and to mitigate the rising heat.

I think of Thich Nhat Hanh silently gesturing outwards with his arm, saying, Look! I think of Starhawk in her book Earth Path urging us to see the sumptuous world as play of light and dark, to look “where form intercepts light.” Was this world here behind the clouds or have my divine eyes just now created it by looking? Too many thoughts! I return myself to the effervescent present, so as not to miss the next marvel.

Now the mountains seem to stretch and yawn with early light. And the shadows! While the sun touches some of the mountains with her fingers, clouds sail shade over others. I have the best seat in the house for a wondrous shadow play. Sun through cloudbreak spotlights one round peak to show its holiness. Now the sun’s become so very bright on my white page that I must lower my lids like a lizard. I lick the pleasure of heat into my skin.

The writer on the mountain

camp dinnerAnd here comes the blue sky of the day, pushing the clouds westward, so gently that it looks like love. And isn’t all the world making love? The bees, the flowers, the sky, the mountains? Isn’t love, this only morning there is, the very breath of the living planet? Love, the constancy as well as the ever-changing impermanence.

Glorious and gorgeous, these gifts from Gaia, in September above Maggie Valley in North Carolina. I watch the beauty before me, I cry and laugh, I sing. Before I must go, I leave a clay rattle, made by my own hands and dressed with feathers, to return to the earth from which it was made. Like a prayer arrow, it holds my intentions, my new dreams. It has absorbed the moonlight and the rising sun. It has rattled my dreams inwards to my ears and outwards to the cosmos. I leave it here as my gratitude offering to these mountains that have nourished me.

I give thanks that the sun, rising where the night before the moon lifted its beauty, will accompany me in my new life. The sun and the moon and the stars, my companions, faithful always. I likely will not be back. Mexico, with new mountains and new beauty, calls to me.

Mile High and Lovin It