Poetry Dollars & Married Eyes


Poetry dollars are absolutely thrilling to spend.  When I return from a gig, or while on one, I am flabbergasted that I have actually managed to grow up to be what I always told my mother I’d be.

I shop with the bliss of a kid with a whole week’s allowance, overcome by the possibilities of filling a waxy white sack with Bonomo Turkish Taffy (vanilla), Bit o’ Honey and fireballs –  now, grown up and ecstatic, with a wad of fresh bills earned by being a poet, set loose in fragrant, multi-countered department stores, seductive antique shops jammed with heartbreakingly good treasures, and naturally, the closest bookstore I can dash to. 

That money is simply conflagrating in my sequined wallet. Wanting to jump back into the world and return as new Composition Notebooks (graph-paper only), Pilot fountain pens (black), turquoise or coral earrings, extremely cute camisoles, long elaborate lunches with Divine GirlChild, sharing spicy platters of Lamb Vindaloo and Sag Paneer, and pretty jars of profoundly emollient face cream and suggestively scented bath stuff. Plus, lately, a full tank in the Toyota, the au courant version of a major splurge.

When I fly home, my de rigueur, double-your pleasure pit stop is the MAC counter at Concourse B, to cruise extremely excellent eye liner, in rowdy colors. It’s my re-entry prize. I buy ridiculous shades of screaming purple and sparkly blue, my sister reminds me is sooooo hopelessly ‘70’s, fer goodness sakes…. But really: why not?

Everywhere I shop, as I happily hand over my greenbacks, I confide to all about: I made this money with poetry!  Invariably, everyone involved or overhearing gets excited too.  What a bizarre and original concept: a poet in America making money from poetry!

It’s simply radical, positively revolutionary!  Even sitting down to pay my car insurance has a certain tang, a frission, when paid by the wages earned in the employ of Muse.

I live a handmade life: and the delight of this never ceases to amaze. Inside that word is an underpinning of service, and a vow made and kept.

Poem, from the Greek word poiema, means something made or created, and to somehow become made of the stuff of our dreams, our life must needs be a created thing as well.  Cobbled together of longing, luck and practice.

I love the story of the fellow, who, watching Jack Nicklaus sink an incredibly difficult 14-foot putt, commented, “Wow, that sure was lucky!” Nicklaus, with his usual dry humor, replied, “Yeah, and I find the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

When I first started writing for the Albuquerque Journal during the ebullient ‘80s (my restaurant column, Food Beat) under the tremendously generous Perrywhiteish tutelage of Journal North Editor, Tim Coder, I would sit in the newsroom, such the agonized beginner, poring over every word as poets do.

Still, my compatriots in the newsroom would drift by my enthralled, devotee self, and sigh, telling me, Dang, I wish I was a “real” writer.  You realize, these are people that write for 6 and 8 and 10 hours a day; when the editor sticks his head out of his office and assigns one of them 35 column inches on some breaking story due in three hours, they Nike up and Do It. Fast. Easily.

I was in admiring awe of them all, these talented, diligent folk, who spin words into dollars, and they, also of me, with my oddball, risky life choices. These professional writers especially, feel the pressure of inner yearning – for perhaps, novels, screenplays, or just the time a “free-lance” writer has.

Days spent at home in PJs, noodling about, doing the required bit of magnificent nothing that art and life are made from, correcting a word here, a phrase there, searching for the mot juste, sipping Bewley’s Irish Breakfast. Staring for long, sweet minutes, out the window and up the mountainside, now turned veldt green and ravishingly carpeted with purple asters and wild sunflowers, in these deliciously near autumnal days. Listening to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto Op. 64 in August’s fragrant air, until the Zone thing kicks in hard and you’re swept away, gripped by the fierce blaze of the imaginary, there to work and burn and rejoice.

It’s a life of passion, and often jubilant, rollicking hilarity. And, a lot of luck increasing with practice.

If money panic hits, pre-car payment-due days, sometimes asking myself, Is it time to became a cocktail waitress?  Or get the MFA and ivory towerize/tenure track myself?

Too late for those, babe, that Lil Inner Voice pronounces: stick that courage to the sitting point and write.

But there was that crossover moment, and I remember it vividly.  I had created and run my Santa Fe bakery, The Chocolate Maven, and not yet ensconced it where I would come to part from it, at the last, in an adorable house on Guadalupe Street.  One night, making maybe my 4000th batch of Fudge Espresso brownies, I heard a poem in my head. Up past my literal elbows in chocolate, I repeated the words over and over until the batch was tidily spread into twelve buttered pans and arranged inside the awaiting 325° oven.  Then I cried. Then I wrote the words to Take A Woman, a recipe for what made a Judyth.

I thought about the old Hasidic tale, wherein Zoysha, arriving in heaven and apologizing for not being Moses, gets asked by God, So, who needed you to be Moses?  What I want to know is why weren’t you Zoysha?

And I knew if I wouldn’t write my poems and do my work, who would?  Who could?  And really, come to think of it, why should they?

I had this epiphany: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.  As in: the should of staying in my bakery business for life, and never seeing if I might make a living as poet. 

That realization is, for me, a truth that has appreciated over the years, and been well-applied to many seductive business ventures. 

I called my then-husband, and told him I would begin to make money as a writer, as a poet, a performer, a teacher of poetry, as a journalist, whatever it took, until it was my livelihood.  And lively it surely was, then and now.

 I began slowly, fitting my writing life around the bakery, did kind of a jump-start: heading downhill, popping the clutch into second.

Then, there was the necessary leap of faith, to create the space where you don’t, can’t know the next thing, because it hasn’t happened yet, but only that wide-open place can let something new enter.

The wild blue, the yonder that comes closer when you head towards it: the day that I sold my beloved Maven and set out.  I bet you could almost see the Huck Finn look in my eyes, imagine my small belongings tied in a bandana, knotted on a stick, heading out on that shining road.

People asked me, then and sometimes now, Don’t you miss the bakery?  No, I’d answer; I was there, really there with all my heart.  My gone has been seasoned with the days and hours of that presence.  The way all our overs, our loved and lost, our afters, and never-to-bes, flavor, tenderize and enrich our present.

As for the Trickster pressure of our daily life – the constant must-dos and have-tos and the without-whichs: in my version of that Jewish wisdom Cuento, God is perhaps not overwhelmingly impressed that we managed to pick up our dry cleaning, if we haven’t returned in kind the gift we were given to live out.

No wonder an antique word for money is “talent”: it’s a clue that we are supposed to spend it, spend it all, here and now.

And so, I gaily do, happy that I have such a rich and generous boss. 

But what, you and I are both wondering, does this have to do with Married Eyes, a phrase I associate with Poetry Dollars? 

Somehow, I always knew they were a part of the same story. 

Perhaps it is the vow I made to marry my writing, keep my eyes private for that love, as for so many years, I had learned to keep my eyes for my lover’s alone.

Love enters, it is said, through the eyes, and yet, the Greeks believed in psychopodia, that the eyes are a kind of limb, the arms of the soul, as it were, reaching out to embrace the world.

I’ve kept a practice of “married eyes” – know what I mean? I have the eye-contact habits of a wife, a funny kind of reserve, a reticence close-up. Yet O, I do have floozy eyes for rocks and trees, the beauty and griefs of the lustrous world we are blessed to inhabit, eyes that search and seek and hold close what I love.

Stage eyes, maybe, eyes that look eagerly at you, but are shy when you look at me.

What the heart yearns for, will remain desired, despite all, and the fully-lived life demands our all-hands-on-deckness, whether with eyes or mind, soul or pen, trowel or piano, paintbrush or oven mitt.

So I am going steady with my writing, quite the hottie, it turns out, and entirely faithful. I confess I am also having a serious affair with my beloved homestead, and triple-timing that lover with some good old-fashioned adoration of my children and the glorious buzzhumm of friends.

Hmmm, and several species of grasses on the mountainside, a new recipe for bread…the list goes on, on and out, into the wild blue.