What are the last words you
want to hear?
What is better than a doctor’s
room, full of drugs?
Letting go does not have to be
a horror or bad—
Or if you are just a dad, that’s
We live our lives honestly, and
our rewards, too, will be true.
Jump on board the cycle, the
pure life is ours one day at a
time; flush out fear with a higher
power, pray often, turn it over,
Love completely and without
guards, deny the fear that locks
us into someone else’s version
of life and be you.
The true life still goes to heaven,
work and wait for it, love it,
and never fear the body’s
expiration date not troubling in
any single way to the soaring soul.
Living free of fear is the goal
We smile heading up the hill—
Life is but a game of thrills—
Every ill and fear is false evidence
appearing real, go to the mountain
top and tell God how you feel—
For the grave, as Longfellow did say
is not life’s goal, ashes to ashes and
dust to dust cannot cloud nor dirty
Climb up or down do work every
Work is force multiplied by distance,
Physics and science meet with the
in a place both artists and scientists
equally call truth.
Call on major forces to align and
it’s the youth we want in you, not
the jaded adult
so off we go another day today,
doing everything we can
to be as children to enter heaven,
Then native American chiefs are next,
wisdom flows like waterfalls, good
luck trying to catch one, like sand
through hands, each rock a boulder
of cells in the universe under a
Searching we seek,
Finding we found,
Asking the key step
after admitting we
can never do it all
It’s not as late as you think…
Time is such a relative thing…
Peace is at the end if we live and
love now like a child.
Be about it, and I’ll be rooting
you on from the clouds…
Not on my watch.
How about a game of hopscotch?
Vex not, love today then strong
and sure, read Longfellow, with
a firm and ample base—now,
And ascending and secure, Henry
Shall tomorrow find its place;
Vex not, or do, it’s whatever makes
that smile in you, do nothing.
Do everything. We have to give it
all away sometime, so why not
grow a tree!
Vex if you want to, go with the
flow of all you dream to, there’s
the cycle, once on we live forever,
a comfort to the vexing type,
Give up all to get everything
You go from workshop to workshop,
hone your craft with experts in the
field, who tell you when something
you write works or does not.
You’d like to please some people,
sell some books, write “good” stuff,
where the deciders of “good” are
your teachers in that impressive class.
You pay them some money, they
show you their credentials, but
strangely leave out the Pritchard
Scale for good poetry, a mistake.
You are ready to graph your efforts
against the “best” in the world, where
the “best” in the world are of course
decided upon by experts in the room.
I shall be telling this with a sigh some-
where ages and ages hence; two types
of poetry diverged in the soul of motives
to write, and I, I finally write to please
my higher power from dreams no
classrooms can touch or inspire. I
refute right and wrong in poetic
adventure, deny your “expert” status,
But Love you and encourage you to
strip your titles away to write and perform
the totally free way; I wouldn’t pay a cent
to sit in a workshop by Robert Frost,
but I’d pay a hundred to see, hear and
watch him perform. Better yet, I’d bring
a poem, for the best readings are free,
the best poems from the heart, that aid
in the warming of oft’ frightful night.
“Read to me some poem, some
simple and heartfelt lay,” read Longfellow’s
“Day is Done,” then have an open mic.
-by Bill Watkins for Bill’s Poetique 12/8/2019
Since I lost the seventy-two minute recording of my interview with poet Sara Berkeley Tolchin last night, I wanted to jot down what I remembered in a hopefully true and poetic way.
Sara is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and started writing poetry at nine years of age, after her parents gave her a lined notebook and writing set that seemed to her magical. It reminded me of my start in poetry at twenty-three years of age traveling through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico because of the “magic” part. I prayed for poetry to come, Sara was gifted it by circumstance, parents’ love and youth. The bottom line is that I see the magic in Sara’s work.
In last night’s call, we went over some poems in her latest volume, called What Just Happened (Sentient 2016), a title that of course with a question mark would be one thing, without the question mark another. We spoke of being reporters of fact and truth as we see and experience them plus beauty, the idea that poets are fancy journalists in some ways. We jot down facts, figures, and in Sara’s case sailing terms and Geological terms for ice formations—stuff she likes to look up and use in her work—then we throw them together in hopefully a beautiful or clever way. Maybe we exult, something to memorialize the moment, as she does with geese flying over a shopping mall in her poem “Swan Geese” on page 22 of the volume.
Sara has been prolific and has received lots of awards and recognition for her poetry. I found her in an anthology edited by Joan McBreen called The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets (Salmon 1999), searching through the poetry section at my local library in Pasadena, California. I was doing an anthology myself, before I considered the hard work of getting permissions, and I chose one of Sara’s poems, “Emergence,” featured in Ms. McBreen’s book, to be in my volume. I never published my Hooked on Poetry book, but I did contact Sarah finally last year, asking and receiving her permission to publish the poem on this website.
Having made contact with a poet I admired, I asked her to be on my podcast, Bill’s Poetique, which she agreed to do. Then my neck went out, and I had to postpone… Last night, we finally got together for the podcast… It was a great conversation and reading by Sara, and lo and behold: I used the wrong app, and though my phone told me it was recording our call, it was in fact not. That will make you sweat a bit more than you wanted prior to publishing a podcast that was supposed to feature an interview, and prior to going to sleep. Sara and I talked about sleep a little, a she shared she struggled with it; though a few years her junior, I presented my humble advice to she and all my podcast audience of how much help writing and sticking to a daily schedule has been for me.
Write your highest power or inspiration at the top of the page, then the things you want to do, decorate it all with love, and for goodness’ sake: write “Sleep” at the bottom of the page, something that will come as a welcome rest if and when the day you planned goes at all like you planned it! Horribly pretentious of me to advise anyone, but the daily schedule has been a great tool to help me out of alcoholism and suicidal depression—so why not insomnia itself!?
I loved talking with Sara about her work and life; she is a hospice nurse, which is something that instructs and informs her lines—both the self-admitted wrinkles that come with age, and the kind poets write! When we started with the first poem in the volume, What Just Happened, called “Cracking Open,” it was a revelation to me that the first stanza referring to “lines” did in fact have those two meanings, not just one. As a Shakespeare fan, I see “lines” and I get locked into poems and verse, but Sara had very cleverly used the word as pun to open “Cracking Open” and her whole book with an invitation to read both her physical signs of aging and her lines of poetry.
The woman is brilliant to me, and each compliment like that I make I’m patting my own back because I think we write and think alike… to a point. Her favorite poet is Dylan Thomas, which surprises me because I figure women will be inspired by women, men… men. My big three are Shakespeare, Longfellow and Frost. I love women writers and poets, but I commented with Sara last night that while I loved them, I cannot live with them. There is a limit and a roadblock to full emulation because I am a man, they women, and our experience is all so similar minus a couple things. Those couple things keep me dedicated to emulating and aspiring to those dudes, while Sarah and many other writers I’ve talked to about this are perfectly comfortable inhabiting the opposite sex’s point of view all the way.
In discussing “If I Met You Now” Sara and I spoke of sailing terms, and at first my being convinced she was a sailor herself after reading her material. In my second whiff of the interview, she said she was not a sailor at all, in fact didn’t like her only memorable experiences sailing with Dad (I think it was) in Dublin as a child. “Cold and uncomfortable” was her general experience with it… But as a poet, and someone who loves words, she dives into sailing terms and analogy, does so in “If I Met You Now” beautifully, connecting it with writing poetry, divorce, and a “certain call among girls” to do those things to be free and to “sail alone.” We spoke at length on this “call” and whether it was universally a female intuition to leave a marriage, and in Sara’s experience, she felt it was more a womanly thing than a manly thing to want to break free something like that.
I’ll say now that this theory of Sara’s may be like mine about men liking men authors, and women sticking with women! Both our theories might need more research and polling, as Sara and I agreed at some point! Writers deal in truth. What is true for us right now is what we need to write, express, and say. Therein lies our story, the “certain call” of all inspired poets from San Miguel de Allende to Dublin, Ireland… We jot down truth, add beauty and exaltation, even cleverness and a puzzle, of course metaphor and analogy. Sara does all of that, and so I think do I—why complimenting her is so narcissistic!!!
There is reference to futility and darkness in Sara’s work, why she said she started the book with the optimistic “Cracking Open.” “Sitting with the Art” has architecture and the Murphy’s Law-esque finale:
“You need proofs, and when they’re ready
you need to tear them up and start again.”
“Crown of Vines” exalts and expresses joy, also the very astute comment that “age is an earned reward, a shared joke, a consolation.” Sara and I talked at length about the “consolation” part of that, memorably for me that a life well lived heads toward a final, deserved rest. Our bodies change, break down slowly, but our wisdom, experience, even sense of humor can overcome those things. As a hospice nurse, Sara is in contact with “the other side,” you could say; has daily reminders and experiences with the body’s end, and her writing shows readers what she has gained by facing those challenges. The hardest things in life turn blessing, I reflect now… Last on that poem, the ending refers to playing music so that a neighbor joins your revelry! My recent living experiences in Los Angeles would always make me temper such thoughts with “Great, as long as you keep the bass on the music down please!”
“Outliers” deals with stuff, battles the darkness, fights off divorce and negativity, depicts the light in dark, and definitely the dark hiding under the light: “…the thunder’s always there lying low beneath the sunlit evenings.” More memory, aging, nostalgia, pain and love but never bitterness, thank God. There is always something celebratory and exalting under even the darkest depictions in Sara’s work that I’ve been blessed enough to study (more compliments and self-congratulations).
In “Sun and Standing Tall,” a great title, Sara refers to “caged birds” which I starred, as myself someone who fights for the rights of birds to fly and be free. Sara agreed that caging is no way to treat nature’s animals. In “Things That Keep Me Awake” and “King Tide,” we get some geological terms for ice formations and more hints at troubled sleep, that I pray like the rest of the cares that infest Sara’s and audience member’s day, “Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, and as silently steal away.” (Longfellow, “The Day is Done”)
We skipped for a moment “What We Seek,” for I wanted Sara to close by reading that one. “Swan Geese” captures a moment when geese fly over a shopping mall:
…Something should arise
from their regal passage over
the cheap jewelry of Vintage Oaks
mall and parking emporium,
even if it’s only this.
Indeed, a wonderful reason to write a poem, take a picture, draw something, paint a picture. “Remember!” John Boorman’s Merlin told us in Excalibur (1981). “For it is the doom of men that they forget.” Yes, write it down, exalt and celebrate it; see where it might have something to teach us, tell us that story please! “Most nights are broken but the mornings mend them,” Sara goes on in the poem, “and who cares anyway what mad jumble the past has to show for itself?” All from geese over a parking lot and a pen willing to write…
I asked Sara to read “Sailing” and the aforementioned “What We Seek” to close our night of hanging out on a non-recording phone call that was supposed to be a part of my podcast. In “Sailing” Sara copes with her day to day as a hospice nurse, notes the pain she sees and feels, the types she comes in contact with and why. Her breaks and moments of peace are key to getting by, “a cello joins the piano solo in the house of their tomorrows,” reminding me of “Emergence” and its musical references, the poem that brought me first to Sara and that is on my website. She finishes the poem with another sailing metaphor, though when I first read her material I was, as I said, convinced she was quite the sailor!
Sara called “What We Seek” a divorce poem, but I just find it rather beautiful. Something brings her to depression’s cliff edge, she considers what all despairing humans consider, that fatal jump, but finds within herself a “true north,
the secret heart of all things,
and willed the red glimmer
of dawn to the tips of my wings.”
A great ending to a great conversation with Sara. Though my recording failed, we certainly did not! We covered a lot of ground, held a candle high for poetry, the “why we do it,” the “why it’s worth it,” and the “Why we have to do it.” Poetry is beautiful truth, I contend, and Sara embodies that as she scratches, claws, scrapes and glides ultimately sailing with a smile down the craggy cliffs of Dublin memory, family gifts and relationships with nature. People give and take, as some speak of God; nature the same. The light and dark, positive and negative, music and noise come all together poetic and perfect, in that effort we poets make to organize, make sense of and exalt the moment.
We came where the salmon were so many
So steady, so spaced, so far-aimed
On their inner map, England could add
Only the sooty twilight of South Yorkshire
Hung with the drumming drift of Lancasters
Till the world had seemed capsizing slowly.
Solemn to stand there in the pollen light
Waist-deep in wild salmon swaying massed
As from the hand of God. There the body
Separated, golden and imperishable,
From its doubting thought – a spirit-beacon
Lit by the power of the salmon
That came on, came on, and kept on coming
As if we flew slowly, their formations
Lifting us toward some dazzle of blessing
One wrong thought might darken. As if the fallen
World and salmon were over. As if these
Were the imperishable fish
That had let the world pass away –
There, in a mauve light of drifted lupins,
They hung in the cupped hands of mountains
Made of tingling atoms. It had happened.
Then for a sign that we were where we were
Two gold bears came down and swam like men
Beside us. And dived like children.
And stood in deep water as on a throne
Eating pierced salmon off their talons.
So we found the end of our journey.
So we stood, alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.
leaking raft held
between sea and sea
forgotten cable melting
into deeper darkness where,
at the root
of it, the slow
sea circles and chews.
Nightly the dark-
ness lands like hands
to mine downwards, springing
till dawn finds
field is bog, bog lake.
There’s talk of gang activity
in San Miguel de Allende
tempting many to fear, worry
or be angry.
Love your enemy.
They set up, they say, as if
evil is organized and linear—
threatening and killing shop
Love your enemy.
People are people, somos
igual; gang members, white,
black, red, brown, purple,
Love your enemy.
There’s an answer to all
strife, all hands seeking pay
or games with bedeviling drugs,
Love your enemy.
Amor, Bilingual, Borderless, Hermanos, Joy, Juntos, La Tierra, Love, Mentes Abiertas, Open Mind, Open Minds, Paz, Peace, Poem, Poema, Poemas, Poems, Poesia, Poetry, Sin Fronteras, Unidad, Unity, Verdad
by Óscar Rodríguez
y Bill Watkins
Esperaba el día en que mis
pupilas te sirvieran de espejo
A mirror to remind us all,
from Trump to the Taj Mahal
Que sirviera de brida a tus
recuerdos para cabalgar hasta
ese viaje que fue el origen de
nuestro inesperado encuentro—
Estoy un poco perdido—
Brida es el freno que se pone
en la boca a los caballos
Okay, I understand now, you
want to go back to our own
personal pasado. To the time
I jumped on a Guadalajara bus
with you; I watched your students’
play and we met as brothers
Esa noche hablamos largamente,
de nuestras naciones y sus lazos,
sin lugar para los desencuentros,
tú ojos azules y yo ojos castaños,
tú cabello rubio y yo cabello negro,
pero nuestros pechos latiendo en
hermandad naciente dos corazones
I Googled that, it’s beautiful:
“That night we talked at length,
about our nations and their ties,
with no place for disagreements,
you blue eyes and I brown eyes,
your blond hair and I black hair,
but our breasts beating in
brotherhood rising two equally
That’s poetry, it’s truth. It’s
beautiful truth, the brotherhood
of all human beings despite outside
differences from looks to language.
What are national borders next to
love, open minds and Spirit?
Yo, mexicano, con olor a tierra
mojada y papel picado de colores
haciendo mariposas sobre mis ideas,
bebiendo el misticismo de una
mezcla de culturas y orgulloso
de mis raíces mestizas.
Yo, sin casa, hijo de Europa,
ladrón de tierra indígena.
I’m sorry, in English—I’m a land
thief without a home, Celtic and
Viking mixed with Roman, tweaked
on violence, conquest and murder.
(My passport says I’m “American”)
Pero esa noche los dos fuimos
ante todo humanos, hijos de una
misma América, respirando un
mismo aire que no respeta las
fronteras, un aire que no paga pasaje,
que no requiere visa, y que en ese
momento de cercanía era un
vínculo invisible, un lazo cósmico
que nos hermanaba.
Lo irónico… the ironic thing being
that we were brought together in
that moment of fraternity and
raceless, borderless friendship
on a trip sponsored by my father,
yes my dad. No Spanish, no great
care for Mexico or indigenous roots,
just a white man of business,
reaping the benefits of his
own hard work, yes—
But of his race. We stole land
and had slaves work it, called
that a country.
You met a recovering racist, sexist,
alcoholic land thief in 1995
Yo no ignoraba entonces que mi
nación perdió medio país ante
el suyo por la estupidez de mis
antepasados y la codicia de sus
ancestros, pero en mi universo
no cabe culpar a nadie por los
errores o los pecados de otros,
así que le llamé como quise,
y quise llamarle hermano.
Brothers whether we say it or not.
Words fail at times, so do ancestors…
De la misma semilla,
From the same seed
No matter how many
Buildings built or guns shot,
Walls conceived, fears stoked,
yelling “puto” at the soccer match,
all our sins from fear or ignorance
or both. Hermanos!
To smile or joke, eternal life
in times with friends or brothers
like you, turning “homesick in
Mexico” into an open door, Family,
covering “usos de mamá,” maldichos—
Te amo, chico—
Más allá de los muros antiguos
como el que cayó en Berlín, más
allá de los nuevos muros nacidos
del miedo y la ignorancia, más allá
de la segunda enmienda y de las
armas, ahí estamos nosotros que
sabemos quienes somos, que
sabemos que el amor tiene los
ojos y la piel de mil colores y de
ninguno, que sentimos como laten
fuertemente, dentro de nuestros
pechos, dos corazones igualmente
Pues, hermanos somos
Brothers are we, forged by
Love and need,
Not the politics of fake scenery,
walls of plastic and stone, metals
that forget the common seed,
neglect the students’ mirror,
our childhood dream to love
and be loved—
Youth inside us all, even Donald
Trump, boys and girls at play on
this Earth, in this life, on this day
y ahora , ya maduros, con el cabello
rubio y el cabello negro llenándose
de canas igualmente blancas,
más allá de las barras y las estrellas,
de las águilas calvas y las águilas
reales, de las serpientes, de los muros
y las escaleras, más allá del
Thunderbird y de Quetzalcóatl, de
los wendigos y los nahuales, del Día
de Muertos y el Halloween, del
guacamole y las french fries, de
las historias verdaderas y las oficiales,
más allá de todo eso estamos nosotros,
mi amigo, mi hermano, y te amo.
Abrazos para mi,
Abrazos para ti,
En la tierra sin nombre
Que es amor…
y como decía San Juan de la Cruz:
“Donde no hay amor, pon amor,
y encontrarás amor”…
Even on a bus to nowhere,
With an open mind and heart to
love, the child’s path calls us to play.
Family is there, the will of God,
Octavio’s Paz, the peace in making
y si el tiempo y la distancia
no pudieron apagar la hoguera
que encendimos, si Cronos el impío
no pudo deshacer el nudo que
formamos con nuestros latidos,
Donald y su muro pasarán a la
historia como una curiosidad, como
una anécdota más en el libro de
las vergüenzas de la humanidad.
Donald? Hah! A nothing, really.
He is the tip of the racist iceberg,
Love is the answer, he and his kind,
of which I used to be a member,
need love, but sadly may never
It’s the enlightened artist’s job
to share truth,
The enlightened person’s to pray
for others, help the sick. But
should they not want help,
we move on, heal ourselves,
win the fight over our own demons
to shine as a beacon to the
hopeless and homeless.
Los verdaderos artistas no
aceptamos las fronteras ni
compartimos la imbecilidad
de construir murallas, los verdaderos
humanos sabemos que la historia
va a poner a cada quien en su lugar.
Pobre don nadie, su cara va a
quedar junto a las de aquellos
tiranos que dice odiar.
Es fácil odiar a su enemigo…
Pero lo que ayuda mas este
universo es AMAR nuestro enemigo.
Perdonar… Por eso, invito Trump
a Boyle Heights para una horchata
Each thing in its place, all
is ordered in a perfect way,
our job to let it happen and
Then we get called to action
and we must initiate and make
something happen in order to
There is a perfect opposite to
everything, from nothing to
all things, from one to none,
from voids to infinity, good
and evil, success and failure;
The peace of mind we most
need and crave before sleep
depends not on the best results
but on best efforts, that’s all
we can control, so we let go…
The future is beyond us, my
Higher Power starting where
I finish, myself so powerless,
and there’s our smile, on
admitting we don’t got it,
Declaring Something does,
Now let’s pray to it, garner
the peace of mind needed
to sleep in peace, breathe,
dream and enjoy.