More cut-ups!

…this time from Montserrat Wassam.    Montserrat created this first poem at our women’s KM meeting a couple of weeks ago.


Chocolate almond midnight

Thursday morning gift

our ever-changing experience of body and breath

the child’s fear, essentially of death

Possibilities of loving wisely and well,

Here it is, the secret that saved my life

And then, inspired by our evening of Cut Ups, Montserrat created  several more.  Here’s  one of them.  The picture of Martin Luther King Jr. is the front of the card.  The second image is the inside of the card.  Brava Montserrat!


from Mark Coleman…

Here is a poem I wrote at sunrise while on  a writing retreat at one of my favorite wilderness retreat centers, Vallecitos Mountain Ranch in New Mexico




Morning Song

It begins with a single finch

Followed by the sound of

Chickadees and blackbirds.

Then comes the hammering

Of woodpecker

Bearing down into heartwood,

And boisterous geese

Descending like planes

Into cold ponds.

Until a unison of song

Heralds the new day.

I want everyday to be like this,

Where I feel dawn

Rise up in my body

And sunrise in my heart

Warming fingertips

And crisp frosted leaves.

Where early rays

Turn still aspen trees

Into pillars of light,

So luminous,

They transcend

Their rootedness.

While the silent stars

Make way for this day

Teem with possibility,

Reminding me,

I too can paint the canvas

Of this life

With confident strokes

And usher in

Some new song of delight.

Cut Ups

Hi!    Gayle here.

My women’s Kalyana Mitta group (spiritual friend group) that started last February is about to complete our first book, “A big new free happy unusual life” by Nina Wise.  The subtitle is “self-expression and spiritual practice for those who have time for neither”.  We gather twice a month  and each meeting we do one or two practices described in Nina’s book.  This last week we did a practice (on p 211) called “Cut Ups”.

The instructions were to “Reach into your paper recycling bin, grab a piece at random and cut or tear it up into small pieces…     Select five or six of the pieces that contain phrases you find of interest and build a sequence, a poem.”

We also looked at, and read, the practice of Generosity of p. 221, and made our “cut up” poems as cards with the intention to gift it to someone who has been important in our life this past year.

Using many of the various practices ( writing, drawing, vocalizing, movement, sculpture, etc) in Nina’s book has been stimulating, fun, sometimes challenging, always engaging.  Doing these practices as a group, as well as meditating and chanting together, checking in, sharing snacks, etc.  has helped us to create a group that is energetic, supportive, collaborative, enlivening and compassionate.

We wanted to share with you the results of our latest practice “Cut Ups”.  We hope you enjoy them.  and ps.  Many thanks to Nina Wise for her glorious book!

windchime of leaves, fellowship of dawn and dusk

rust is a very slow fire,

small wonder we personalized the night

aperture of the mind widens

deer slouch through

then everything shines

—-Colleen Lookingbill



In each of us, there is a young, suffering child.

That inability to see is a kind of ignorance.

sustain confusion and habitual patterns

come home to ourselves

This is the energy  —  something new.

the never-ending energy of our basic goodness

—-Barbara Redfield



seeds in my hands

a thousand years of profound insights

doesn’t make life perfect; it doesn’t make

us immortal;

if I went to a certain park across

the bridge.  The stuff of magic and miracles,

away like two hooded fairies.

—-Jennifer Scaff King



Now that you know what you know, there’s no turning back.

Stop and swear, pound the steering wheel,

Take at least two deep breaths.

Name that feeling.

Eat a rainbow.

Can it really be this simple?

—-Deb Garland

I was just in time to see

the faces of the people in your lifesacred but essential

human beings.

When you can see

the messages

jutting over the hill of trees,

our task

will also be

good for our souls.

—- Maximilienne Ewait



Activating our Life

come together to form something gorgeous;interdependent;

living lightly on the earth;

there is an open moment in history where

glowing with the light that suffuses us

we are transparent to transcendence.

—-Freidel Cohen



I drop the labels and allow things to be as they are

wool, water, feathers, and dreams.

Just this moment, this life

promise of papaya and mango

Often I burst out laughing

I move to my pillow, a down-puff extravagance

—-Gayle Markow



express yourself

born with 100 billion brain cells

access “inner experts”

gratitude and an abiding zest

ebullience in your bones

grow your own

—-Barbara Patinkin


from Gayle… a reflection and a poem…

Feeling lucky.  There’s a lot of poetry showing up in my life these days.  One way is a class I joined a couple of months ago at the Bernal Heights Public Library, called OWL, for Older Writers Laboratory.  I mentioned this group in my Nov. 30th response to Lorene.    My friend Anita’s been going for awhile and told me about it.  I’m really glad I started going.  Though more people are involved, approximately 12-22  show up on any given Monday afternoon. A couple of men, the rest women, mostly in their 60s and 70s. For the first hour, a handful of people – who wish to – read their poems and get feedback.  The second hour is devoted to creating new or revising old poems with a variety of skillful “prompts” from the teacher.

The poem I’m sharing with you today I wrote a couple of weeks ago after one of these classes.  Last Monday was a “revision” day, so I worked on the poem further.  Is it ready to be “born” into the light of day (read — cyberday)?  I don’t know.  I have qualms, judgements, comparing mind.  I do have a perfectionist streak in me that goes along quite nicely with a judging mind.  I want to advise against it.  If you have a choice.

In the meantime, I get to keep practicing kindness and compassion, and being in community.  I hope you’ll consider participating in our Dharma Road community with a poem of your own and/or some responses to others’.

Here is my poem:

On Listening to  Good Poems

Though a clever turn of phrase can spark my admiration,

cleverness is not what I long for…

Rather…     deeper listening,

a certain naked defenselessness, vulnerable, powerful

Simply this…

a single blade of grass pushing through cement

Aware… of its place in this universe without remorse or

need for greater significance

On comparing… the blade of grass…  small,

though larger than viruses, bacteria, or protozoa

vibrant green, spiked with definitive borders

On reflection…  a life span of…   what?       hours?        days?

Declaring itself arrived no matter the boot heel about to land.

What are the odds of any of it?

A tiny blade of grass pushing through cement

wondrous, no less, perhaps more than the cleverest king, or poet

And yet… when a person speaks or writes words that pierce

the protective shield of our everyday armor

and moves our heart/mind into a shared appreciation of the tiniest —



The mind quiets

The heart opens

Longing for some thing else ceases

And…    joy ascends

♥   Gayle

San Francisco Renga

Wow!  What a great day we had yesterday!  Thanissara was in town for a few days and offered to lead a group in the practice of Renga.  Nine of us – nine women – gathered at my house on a cold crisp sunny winter day.  Cozy inside.  Thanissara taught us the basics of Renga…  It’s an ancient Japanese form of poetry, based somewhat in Haiku (though we did a Much Looser form of it).  The basics are that you start with winter, and as the poem progresses you write about all four seasons.  The first verse is 3 lines, the second verse is two lines, and it continues to alternate like that.  Somewhere near the beginning (but not in the first verse) there should be mention of the moon, and a few verses later, some mention of love.  Each verse furthers the theme of the verse before and at the same time moves the poem forward.  Thanissara, who had been taught this form by a Buddhist monk, played the role of our Renga master — the person who ultimately decides which verse will be included at each point.  As we each wrote each and every verse, and shared them aloud, there was quite a lot of discussion to decide which would be the best verse to include.  As there are usually many wonderful verses offered, it is not an easy task to decide which verse to use each time.

Ultimately all nine of us wrote the poem.  And here are the poets:

Renju (renga gathering)

Joyce Futa                                                                                                                              Lucy Hilmer                                                                                                                                       Anita Kline                                                                                                                                          Joan Kresick                                                                                                                                     Colleen Lookingbill                                                                                                                                 Gayle Markow                                                                                                                                    Kathy O’Brien                                                                                                                                        Cathy Wickham                                                                                                                               Teishu: Thanissara

Here is our collective poem:

San Francisco Renga

San Francisco mist gone

sunlight floods yellow room

silent winter waiting


thoughts wanting to be spoken

the evening comes soon


golden pool of lamplight

smell of supper’s soup

steam upon  the windows


outside buds burst open

ten thousand tasks to do


mist of plum blossoms

footsteps on white petals

a dream of moons to come


ninety degrees at ocean’s edge

still, carry your coat!


morning fog hangs heavy now

heaved past peaks by inland heat

green gold hills bleached by sun


wind bends the cypress down

postpone dreams of sun ’til fall


fruit hangs heavy on the tree

as love hangs ripe upon the heart

I bite into the sweetness


gather apples in the baskets

fallen leaves, like love, become loam.


I really want to thank Thanissara for so generously sharing this wonderful practice with all of us.  It was so inspiring, and so fun, and most of all, so enjoyable as we went around the circle each time for each verse and everyone read their own aloud.  It was just, well, really beautiful.  I think writing Renga in a small group of people who love poetry is a great way to spend a winter day,  cozy, collaborative, and inspired – inside.

♥  Gayle

The Raven and Me

Here’s a poem I wrote recently and shared at the poetry benefit that we (SF Insight) held for the Khuphuka Project on 10/14/11.

I always liked that quote of the Buddha’s (or was it someone else?) which talked about how people with lots of opinions go around the world annoying people. I am one of those people who gets annoyed.  I am also one of those people with opinions.

Though I like my own opinions quite a lot, most of them are more like a boyfriend I’ve recently started dating.  I might like him quite a bit, but if someone else points out too many of his shortcomings, I might easily give him up.  Or if someone offers up a more attractive “boyfriend” (opinion), I might go for him instead. (ok, don’t start questioning me about how fickle I am).   What I mean to say is that though I am attracted to my opinions, most of the time I don’t feel “wedded” to them.  Still I’m aware that my opinions just might on occasion cause others to feel annoyed.

The topic of right speech( in general) and opinions (in specific) is such a juicy one because most of us have had so much painful experience with “wrong speech” (our own and others’) that there’s a lot of motivation to be free of this suffering.  Still, the patterns of speaking are deeply embedded, so it’s not an easy change to make.  For most of us, there’s no quick fix, so there’s ample opportunity for practice.  This poem has to do with all of that, and I hope you enjoy it, whether you share my opinions or not.  🙂

♥   Gayle

The Raven and Me

sometimes there is a sky full of opinions

as far and wide as a mind’s eye can see…

let’s not talk about comprehend!

right wing             left wing            tail feathers!

raven                           bluebird                         mockingbird!

endless flapping of wings.

cawing      chirping       carrying on    cacophony     freedom song?

re-stating     reciting every right and left winged opinion in bird lexicon.

the raven terrifying.

the bluebird with its poorly kept promise of happiness.

and let’s not even let that mockingbird get started,

as in love with his own voice    as   he   is.

perched on a telephone wire

looking for prey

for a mate

to be the last bird standing!

Isn’t the stating of opinions always like this?

Well, that’s Your opinion!  the raven asserted.

Whatever!!  I shot back.

And this is how it is that sometimes there is a sky full of opinions as far and wide as a mind’s eye can see.

The endless variations of a kind of conversation like that between the raven and me.

by Gayle Markow 9/11

Leaping down the Dharma Road… the first poem

This is a fragment of a longer poem “Reflections in a Slum”  by 20th Century Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid.   MacDiarmid was a communist and a Scottish natiionalist.  I think in this poem he envisioned a person becoming fully themselves under a more just and egalitarian political and economic system.

He wrote:

“People do not cease to interest me when they cease to be miserable.                         Quite the contrary!                                                                                                                 That it is important to aid them in the beginning goes without saying,                               Like a plant it is essential to water at first,  but this is in order to get it to flower,                      and I am concerned with the blossom.”

I love the words in this poem because  they remind me not to settle for too little, that is a little bit of health or a little bit of freedom.  I think the “blossom” can signify radiant health or enlightenment, or whatever your own blossoming or your society’s blossoming means to you.  As the great poet Rumi said, “You must ask for what you really want.  Don’t go back to sleep”.  What kind of flowering do you want to have happen?  As  the Zen monk/poet Ryokan put it  “….  If you point your cart north when you want to go south how will you arrive?”

I’ve been carrying this poem fragment around with me for about 35 years, and I think I am just beginning to “get” it — the full flowering or blossoming of an individual.  No time to lose, our work is cut out for us!  At the same time, we need to relax, get enough rest and take care of ourselves and each other.   Though life is short, somehow the journey is not — lots of twists and turns, potholes, detours.  Travel courageously, and as safely as possible!        ♥  Gayle                                                                                                                              ps, your own poetry and comments are welcome here.