After years of sometimes brilliant, often intriguing and always entertaining community theater in Telluride and Ouray, I’d become rather insular. I’d developed an unsubstantiated opinion that our small mountain towns offered the best chance of quality theater in the region.
Added to that there’s both tourist towns’ liberal distaste for Delta/Montrose‘s Trump/Boebert boosterism, particularly after a Delta jury thumbed their nose at Telluride citizens’ protecting their community gateway by arbitrarily doubling the cost of saving/condemning the Valley Floor to $50 million — twice what it had been appraised at.
For me and others, opinion had become more like a full-fledged bias. Artistic as well as political. In all my 43 years on the Western Slope, I’d never gone to see a single play in Montrose.
Kind of embarrassing actually for a former newspaper theater critic, son of a California community theater star, and one-time usher at the Schubert Theater in New Haven.
Then, last month I heard a Colorado Public Radio interview with castmembers and organizers of the all-volunteer Magic Circle Players of Montrose. Started in 1959, MCP is a repertoire theater company that has been putting on plays for 63 years. On the air, one of their spokespeople made the claim that MCP shows were the best community theater on the Western Slope. It sounded like hubris. I resolved to go see for myself.
Plus, the current show that was just winding up its run was Amadeus. I had missed the original play. And the movie. It’s been on my to-do list forever. Since that hadn’t happened. I enlisted a friend from Hotchkiss to join me. We attended the finale performance of the late Brit playwright and screenwriter Peter Shaffer’s best known work, which had been awarded five Tonys for the stage play (1980) and eight Oscars for the movie (1984).
A period piece set in 18th Century Vienna, the play is a nuanced struggle between sloppy brilliant Good and clever mediocre Evil, the composer Saltieri we’ve never heard of and the composer Mozart we all love. I figured I’d go and see if MCP could pull off the conceit of this recent classic and make it believable and engaging –- especially as I was very interested in the story and I had not seen previous interpretations.
Well, to be honest, it was not only believable and engaging, it was terrific! I was blown away. In no small part because of really extraordinary lead actors.
M.A. Smith was our Virgil on this Dantean descent into the hell of fame, jealousy, intrigue and betrayal, superbly re-creating Antonio Salieri for us. His foil — the babbling, immature and outre boy genius Wolfgang Mozart, excellently played by Everett Gregory — made us laugh, cringe and listen in awe to bits of his musical classics. Both gave dazzling performances.
Unfortunately, community theater is well-known for tolerating weak links in its productions. Hard to get professional quality acting out of volunteer thespians. But that’s just what Director Kathy Murdoch flat out did.
Gary Hokit owned the charmingly stuffy (and dare I say witless — “There it is!” — or at least out-matched) Joseph II, Emperor of Austria. Janel Culver did a marvelous turn as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s wife. One could call each name on the playbill list and laud their very convincing performances, all in character, all audibly enunciating, all well-acted.
Add to that a chorus that doubled as audiences, servants, crowds and crew, moving the delightfully minimalist set pieces in and out and making visible costume changes on stage in a marvelous choreography of inobtrusive staging.
In the second act I got to move from the back row to the front row. Up close I marveled at how well everything in the production worked.
The ornate backdrop doubled cleverly as a screen where royal chambers and other relevant scenes were projected from the rear, giving an effective illusion of set changes. The costumes were lavish, well-made and appropriate. The tech, the lighting, the sound.
Perhaps my one quibble might have been seeing upfront Gregory’s discrete headset microphone visibly scotch-taped to his cheek. But hardly significant.
Just about everything about MCP’s production was so well done that this one teensy faux pax was easily offset by the effective voicing the headsets provided the primary castmembers.
A standing ovation from the large crowd in the 225 seat MCP theater validated the excellence of the evening.
Magic Circle Players, bravo!
I’m definitely planning to go back to see more MCP shows. Particularly any in which Smith or Gregory star, or where Murdoch directs.
Next up in early December is MCP’s Readers Theater offering: Miracle on 34th St. –- a script reading in the guise of a live radio play.
When Shimazu Yoshihiro (1535-1619)happened to be engaged in military affairs on Korean battlefields, from which he would return as one of the celebrated winners in 1598, he took the opportunity to take along a number of Koreans, some say more than seventy. This was an unfriendly take-over but a substantial acquisition of external knowledge. And it was needed to start the production of Satsuma wares on Kyushu. One of those Koreans was Kinkai (1569-1621). His work was of outstanding quality and greatly pleased the Daimyo, who made the potter a samurai and changed his name to Hoshiyama Chuji. His descendants continued to work until the end end of the Edo period, mid-19th century.
The most typical features of the Korean style Kinkai wares are the marks scratched into the wet glaze on the outside of the bowl and the rather high split foot. These features apparent on this bowl made one of the previous owners write Korean Kinkai tea bowl (Korai Kinkai Chawan) on the box. The fact that the bowl was produced in Hagi, another kiln founded by Korean potters is not mentioned in the inscription.
Simon & Schuster sold 900 signed copies of the singer’s new essay collection, but superfans and internet sleuths noticed something wasn’t right with the autograph. Now the publisher is issuing refunds.
Henry Bernstein has seen Bob Dylan 27 times in concert and owns three items autographed by him: a copy of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, a photograph of the singer and a “John Wesley Harding” songbook. His favorite song is “Tangled Up in Blue.”
So when Simon & Schuster, Dylan’s publisher, advertised limited-edition, hand-signed copies of the musician’s new collection of essays for $600 each, Bernstein was among 900 fans who went for one. Last week, he received his copy of “The Philosophy of Modern Song,” Dylan’s first collection of writings since he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, with a letter of authenticity signed by Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive.
There was only one problem.
Karp’s signature “looked more legit than Bob’s,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein was one of hundreds of fans who sleuthed their way around social media, reaching the conclusion that the supposedly hand-signed books had not, in fact, been signed by Dylan.
You fucking Pirate, In your “darkness” you have abandoned us, your followers , you have cut us free, left us adrift – The tattler’s tongue and the bloggers blunder , we miss you – Correspondence with the expat Canmore cowboy . . . concerning your insatiable urge to host the Pisco bash.
Señor Berg, We spoke of the pirate, rŌbert and his endless Pisco ritual. We spoke of the adoring flock that returns to his fold with gift bottles from Chile and other SA Pisco nations. If I were to make my way to his “distilled spirit temple” I would gift “HijoPuta” It’s a fitting libation for liars and raconteurs . When mixed or poured straight, it would unleash and bring forth the telling of tales we love to share . I think of HijoPuta, shared and enjoyed under the seasonal palapa or the awning covered deck; the one up front with the Desperado Cimarron view. Rōbert would surely get over his disdain and admit HijoPuta to his shelved bottle collection, once it passed his sensitive taste test and after he sees the pleasing look on the faces of his guest tasters. Viva HijoPuta ! Mateo
It’s been dubbed The Road to Hell, but it’s also called the most beautiful drive in Colorado. The Million Dollar Highway is magnificent, death-defying, and it should have been impossible to build. It nearly was. And at a terrible human cost to the Ute people as well as to the men who blasted, dug and drilled a path through the steepest, hardest, roughest of mountain passes.
frost on the pastures in rural America adding to the white
Although haiku poetry is governed by certain time-honored conventions, there is no universally agreed-upon rule about what subject matter can or cannot be addressed within the form. Poets are always testing the limits of haiku, pushing it in new directions to see what can be said using just seventeen syllables.
Japanese haiku took a political turn during the lead-up to World War II. In 1937, the most influential magazine of the day, Hototogisu (“little cuckoo”), created a special section devoted to patriotic haiku—poems that became increasingly militant after 1939. But Japanese fascism was not without its critics. Some poets wrote haiku that opposed the war, and many of these poems are considered masterpieces today.
Saito Sanki (1900–1962) was the nominal leader of the antiwar haiku movement. Here are two famous poems of his:
Machine gun bullets: right between the eyes a red blossom blossoming
At Hiroshima, to swallow a hard-boiled egg the mouth opens wide
The first haiku is shocking in its nontraditional use of the season word hana, for “cherry blossom.” About the second, written in Hiroshima on a dark night one year after the bombing, it is best to let Sanki speak for himself:
Sitting on a stone by the side of the road, I took out a boiled egg and slowly peeled the shell, unexpectedly shocked by its smooth surface. With a flash of searing incandescence, the skins of human beings had as easily slipped off all over this city. To eat a boiled egg in the wind of that black night, I was forced to open my mouth. In that moment, this haiku came to me.
—The Kobe Hotel, trans. Saito Masaya
Sanki was imprisoned by Japan’s Special Higher Police for writing haiku like the first one. The second was published in a magazine but was omitted from Sanki’s second collection for fear that the book would be censored by American Occupation officials, who suppressed information about the atomic bomb.
Political protest haiku have been written in English, too, but they have rarely succeeded as well as this season’s winning poem. The first two lines offer a panoramic landscape of rural America, its pastures covered with frost. The scope is national, not local, as we would ordinarily expect in a haiku. Only in the last line do we understand the significance of that choice. We are being shown not just a visual landscape but a political one.
A good haiku works through the subtle nuances of spoken language, and this one is no exception. Expressions like “killing frost,” “hard frost,” and “frosty reception” inevitably influence our reading of the final line, making it clear that the spread of white nationalism through the American heartland is the real subject of the poem.
A poem like this is unlikely to be met with censorship in 2022 America. But it still takes courage to write it. The chill I felt when I first read it gets deeper with every day.
The Tricycle Haiku Challenge asks readers to submit original works inspired by a season word. Moderator Clark Strand selects the top poems to be published in Tricycle with his commentary. To see past winners and submit your haiku, visit tricycle.org/haiku. To read additional poems of merit from recent months, visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.
Since its 1984 publication, Sandra Cisneros’s book The House on Mango Street has been read in more than 20 languages by millions of readers around the world, and in the United States it has been studied by students at every level, from elementary school to graduate college seminars. Today, Cisneros’s oeuvre includes poetry books, a short story collection, a volume of essays, and the novel Caramelo. She has received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature, and in 2016, President Barack Obama honored her with the 2015 National Medal of Arts.
Before I knew any of this, however, I knew the girls on Mango Street. I had never read a book narrated by a young Latina like myself from a working-class immigrant home. I had also never read a book that was poetry, short story, and novella all at once and that wove political commentary into the magic of its sentences. I began reading Cisneros’s other works too. Day after day, I boarded the New Jersey Transit bus to my first publishing job with a Cisneros book in my hands, and while an old man next to me snored and a middle-aged woman across the aisle stared wistfully out the window, I dove into prose and poetry so stunning and alive it made me cry.
I discovered Cisneros’s creative work at the same time that I found Buddhism, and in a way both broke me open. Both invited me to look at myself and the world as it was in the present moment. I could listen to my mother scrubbing her rage into another pan and the sirens of ambulances careening around the corner, and while Buddhism taught me that I could sit with all of this, Cisneros taught me that I could write about it.
Years later, when I attended Macondo, a writer’s workshop Cisneros started in 1995 in San Antonio, Texas, the organizers handed me the “Compassionate Code of Conduct.” A little longer than a page in length, the text underscores the spiritual dimensions of the creative community Cisneros was creating with other writers: “Mindfulness is a spiritual cornerstone derived from Macondo’s Buddhist, Feminist, communal, and activist roots. It is a practice motivated by having witnessed marginalization in our communities, and it is a compassion applied with the resolve to treat each other better.”
I almost yelped: Sandra’s a Buddhist?! But I tucked away my astonishment and even acted like I had known it all along—and maybe in a way I had. Cisneros’s books created art from the lives of ordinary people and did so with compassion. She had marvelous images in her books, yes, but she also had a voice that said: I see you. I love you.
Cisneros calls herself a “Buddhalupista,” a term for her spiritual life that honors both the Buddha and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas and a powerful symbol of Mexican identity on both sides of the border. A tattoo on her left arm depicts the Virgin in the lotus position, her right hand pointed toward the sky in the mudra of blessing and protection.
A Chicago native and longtime resident of San Antonio, Cisneros now makes her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where the Covid pandemic returned her to poetry in life and on the page, resulting in her newest book, Woman Without Shame. Many of the poems in this collection speak to love—loves made, loves lost, loves turned away, loves witnessed. And yet there are poems here that also address the brutal realities of people’s lives in the United States and Mexico, offering verses as spiritual balm. The poem “El Hombre” creates a chorus from the lines “Mándanos luz. Send us all light.” After several stanzas, I found myself repeating these words as a prayer, a mantra, a hope.
—Daisy Hernández, Contributing Editor
How did you first encounter Buddhism? It came to me by way of a friend who I think of as a spiritual sister, Jasna, from Bosnia. She was visiting me when I was living in Berkeley, and one day we went to Old Wives Tales [a feminist bookstore in San Francisco] on Valencia Street. We would always buy each other little gifts, so she had this little bag and she goes, “Here, this is for you.” And it was Being Peace [by Thich Nhat Hanh]. I thought, Oh, no, she’s getting me a religious book. So I didn’t crack it open. This was 1988, and then I didn’t open the book till she was lost in the Bosnian War, maybe four or five years later, when I was asked to give a speech for International Women’s Day. I thought I was going to write something just sweet and tender about my friendship, but what came out was an essay called “Who Wants Stories Now,” motivated by reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, which literally fell off the shelf when I was looking for something to inspire my speech. It was the first time I read it, the day before the speech, and I was transformed. My way of battling was changed. I realized that I could speak, that I had the power to speak and I had the power of words.
After the speech, I organized a peace demonstration, an hour of peace, in San Antonio in front of the San Fernando Cathedral. I had women who usually showed up, but that day no one showed up but me. I was holding signs about what was happening in faraway Bosnia—a country most Texans couldn’t place on a map—but it’s difficult to demonstrate when you’re all by yourself. I went home dispirited and sad, and I dug my hand in the mailbox, and there was a letter from my friend who had been incommunicada for years! It had been handed from one journalist to another and sent to me. So I believe in that power of shifting from nonaction to making action. It’s how I found that my friend was alive.
What was so empowering about reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book? I think what happened for me was that I was waiting for other people to do something, and one of the things that book taught me was that, no, maybe I couldn’t go in there [into the war in Bosnia] with a helicopter or an AK-47 and rescue my friend like Rambo. But I could talk. And I could make peace with people in my town, people in my family. And I could be peace. Instead of talking about peace and holding up a sign for peace, I had to be peace, which is really hard.
You grew up visiting the basilica in Mexico devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Talk with us about your relationship with Guadalupe and about “Buddhalupe,” this fusion of the Buddha and the Virgin. I grew up in the shadow of that basilica. That was my playground. When I was a little kid, my grandmother, who was very devout, would take my brothers and me along. While she was in the church, she’d say, Go over there and play. And we would run up and down the little hill where the Virgin had appeared. I had no idea that was going to play such a central part in my life. I feel very fortunate that she is an icon that’s so personally relevant to me, not only as a Mexican, a woman with Mexican roots, but especially with my mother’s indigenous roots. I really don’t see Guadalupe as being a diosa [goddess] or a Catholic mother. She’s more like an energy.
“Instead of talking about peace and holding up a sign for peace, I had to be peace.”
Thich Nhat Hanh said in one of his retreats that we had to return to whatever our spiritual roots were and incorporate that into our Buddhism. So that’s what I did. I have the Buddhalupe [a tattoo] right here on my arm. I wanted this so that I could tell people, “This is my spirituality,” and it’s a blend of all the goddesses, and Coatlicue [the Aztec earth goddess] is there, and Guanyin.
You’ve also written that your interest in Guadalupe was very tied with the silences that Latinas have about sexuality, and your new book of poems embraces our bodies and our sexiness across the years. How do you understand the relationship between spirituality and sexuality? People think we don’t have sexual desires in our sixties. I still feel sexy. And I still want to look sexy, and I still have sexual desires. Our society tends to view us as being invisible, especially as women. I don’t like that you’re supposed to look a certain age, you’re supposed to dress a certain way. You’ve got to cut your hair and, like, defeminize yourself and look neutered. There are some weird things about aging that I don’t agree with.
I always felt like sex took me to a spiritual door. I always thought sex and spirituality were super connected in the sense that you discover parts of yourself and you discover vulnerabilities and strengths about yourself. To me, it was a cosmic door. I was just really freaked out and thought, This is so powerful! They don’t want women to have this. There is a reason why men are controlling it, because it’s really powerful. I think if more women were not ashamed of their sexuality and their sexual needs, we probably would be less likely to have to look for Mr. Right. We would realize, I’m here! I don’t have to find another human being necessarily.
A number of people come to Western Buddhism because they are grappling with some form of nonacceptance. Your new book is titled Woman Without Shame. What did working on this book teach you about shame? I learned that it’s an every-day practice. Even though I might release some shame, there’s a new one that comes up. So maybe I got rid of a shame of being poor, having ugly shoes, or being the only Latina in the room, or shame about sex, and now I have other things that I’m ashamed about—now that I’m 67! Now, I eat any old thing and I’ve got to run to the bathroom because it upsets me. That’s shameful, that your digestive system is not like it used to be fifty years ago. [Laughs] Everything’s changing, and you think, Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?
Your body is aging, and it’s reacting to things it didn’t react to before. Or like your neck suddenly gets this drapery. Remember Nora Ephron, who wrote about hating her neck? I don’t want to be ashamed about my neck. I want to show it off and say “This is what 67 looks like.” I feel like I’m a role model for other women. I don’t want to get plastic surgery. I don’t want other women to get plastic surgery. I want to be a role model in saying, “You know what? My body is transforming itself.” I want to watch this transformation with as much fascination as when I watched myself morphing into the woman-body.
In a conversation with the novelist and scholar Ruth Behar, you said that you advise writers to open their hearts for the writing to come, and you spoke about this as the process of getting “very empty.” How do you empty yourself for the writing? We have this idea when we write, akin to I want to drive to Cincinnati, but what if your writing takes you to Taipei instead? I think we have to get out of the way, and the way to do that for me is to put the intention of honoring my ancestors with my writing and writing something that makes them proud. If I honor my mother and father in the work I’m doing, then Cincinnati’s not that important. I repeatedly say this: Just do it on behalf of those you love con puro amor and amor puro, and it will always turn out better—better than what we could plan. And that flushes out your ego. It takes you to a higher intention. That’s what I’ve found.
Are there works of literature or poetry that you feel are Buddhist that you find yourself turning to? The Japanese poets—Matsuo Basho and Kobayashi Issa. And Joy Harjo, who is not Buddhist, but her writing is very Buddhist, don’t you think? I go to Joy Harjo when I’m a little bit lost. I think that those are the writers who are the most nourishing when I’m feeling impotent and just a little discombobulated. They’re the ones that help get me back on course.
You’ve written about people who want to ban your books, and you’re even interested in your books being banned. Why is that? I have a chapter in [A House of My Own]—it’s a letter to a woman who wanted to ban The House on Mango Street. I did something very Buddhist there, and that is I spent an entire week writing and rewriting a letter to someone who doesn’t believe what I believe. I knew that she was getting frightened and not understanding my book. So I wrote it as if I was writing it to someone I disagreed with but whom I love: my father. I imagined that my father was this woman wanting to ban my book. And it allowed me to write with so much respect and gentleness. And I was able to convince her and make her understand that she didn’t need to ban the book.
I wish we would have conversations with people we don’t agree with. We haven’t had conversations. We’ve just had conflagrations. And this is a time in history when people are so polarized. I don’t think that we’re always going to agree. In fact, it’s very unlikely that we will agree. But I think the problem is we haven’t been able to hear one another.
“Poetry is about a moment for me. It’s about time standing still and examining something very deeply.”
There’s this practice in Tibetan Buddhism of imagining your relationship with your mother as this ultimate creation of gratitude within yourself. Your meditation was a letter to your father. I often disagreed with him, but I loved him. And I knew ultimately that he had unconditional love for me. And vice versa. So to me it’s a way that I hope to talk to people who don’t understand me or who are at odds with me, and to come to them from some loving place. I’m not always ready to do that right away. It takes a little time and work. That’s why I say I’m a baby Buddhist, because I think if I lived 150 years, I would still be a baby Buddhist. I’ve got a long way to go.
What does your spiritual community look like now? I just am so exhausted from the public work I do as an author that when I come home, I don’t want to be part of community. I have to detox from people overdose—“people overexposure” is what I call it. But I think I have a community of ants and hummingbirds and trees and dogs and clouds that I’ve been very much in touch with, especially since the pandemic. They’ve been my teachers, and I write about and post photos of them a lot. And then I think of my writing and the hours and hours of work I do as a very intense sitting meditation.
Since writing is a spiritual practice and home for you, how was poetry helpful to you during these first years of the Covid pandemic? Poetry is about a moment for me. It’s about time standing still and examining something very deeply. And poetry did that for me. During that time, it made me wake up to all the gurus that I had around me. The ants who evicted me from the shower, who were very proud. But you know, I learned a lot about their character. Another time I put my nose to a beautiful peach rose, and then a very, very striking chartreuse green spider came out, like: “What are you doing?” I wondered if he chose that home because he looks so beautiful against the peach. It was just things like that, that I wouldn’t have noticed, that made me think, How extraordinary and how lucky that I got to see that green spider come out of that peach rose!
I think of poems as being like bells, like the Buddha bell [the temple bell that summons monks to prayer]! It rings, and it just resonates and leaves this very deep vibration in your being. Attending to that vibration and paying attention and transforming that vibration is the poet’s job.
Calendar in the Season of the Pandemic
the ants have deserted my shower for the garden
at long last spring
At Fifty I Am Startled to Find I Am in My Splendor
These days I admit I am wide as a tule tree. My underwear protests. And yet,
I like myself best without clothes when I can admire myself as God made me, still divine as a maja. Wide as a fertile goddess, though infertile. I am, as they say, in decline. Teeth worn down, eyes burning yellow. Of belly bountiful and flesh beneficent I am. I am silvering in crags of crotch and brow. Amusing.
I am a spectator at my own sport. I am Venetian, decaying splendidly. Am magnificent beyond measure. Lady Pompadour roses exploding before death. Not old. Correction, aged. Passé? I am but vintage.
I am a woman of a delightful season. El Cantarito, little brown jug of la Loterería. Solid, stout, bottom planted firmly and without a doubt, filled to the brim I am. I said the brim.
A brave new collection of poems from Sandra Cisneros, the best-selling author of The House on Mango Street.
It has been twenty-eight years since Sandra Cisneros published a book of poetry. With dozens of never-before-seen poems, Woman Without Shame is a moving collection of songs, elegies, and declarations that chronicle her pilgrimage toward rebirth and the recognition of her prerogative as a woman artist. These bluntly honest and often humorous meditations on memory, desire, and the essential nature of love blaze a path toward self-awareness. For Cisneros, Woman Without Shame is the culmination of her search for home—in the Mexico of her ancestors and in her own heart.