A Thanksgiving Poem: Max Coots’ A Harvest of People

As it’s Thanksgiving week here in the US of A, I’m sharing a Max Coots poem I heard today. It’s fitting for this week: food and friends and the way time gallops by sometimes and creeps by other times.


Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.

For children who are our second planting, and though they
grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may
they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where
their roots are.

Let us give thanks;

For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright
as their blossoms;

For feisty friends, as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,
keep reminding us that we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and
as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, as plain as
potatoes and so good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and
as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes;

And serious friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle
as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as
dill, as endless as zucchini and who, like parsnips, can be
counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time,
and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold
us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past
that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that
we might have life thereafter.

For all these we give thanks.

Max Coots



Remembering Audre Lorde 20 Years Later

It’s Saturday night and the house is filled with the not-so-distant voices of neighbors and friends, visitors and housemates. Snippets of conversation float in from the kitchen, and I am here, a little antisocial, looking up poems by Audre Lorde. She died in 1992, at 58 years old, before I had ever heard her name.

Some of the reasons I love her have nothing to do with her writing. For example, she was a librarian. Like me, she attended Columbia University. She put words to intersectionality, a concept so ubiquitous at conferences and academic conversations that the world seems myopic prior to its nomenclature. I love the perfect symmetry of the five letters of her first and last name, that each one ends with the letter e.

Two great New York City organizations bare her name: The Audre Lorde Project, which serves queer people of color, and The Callen-Lorde Center, which provides primary care services to the queer community.

I’ll end with one of my favorite Lorde poems, which deals with one of my favorite topics (adolescence). It’s sweet and accurate, and I rarely see it out and about. Savor with me, now:

Progress Report

When you do say hello I am never sure
if you are being saucy or experimental or
merely protecting some new position.
Sometimes you gurgle while asleep
and I know tender places still intrigue you.
When you question me on love now
shall I recommend a dictionary
or myself?

You are the child of wind and ravens I created
always my daughter I cannot recognize
the currents where you swim and dart
through my loving
upstream to your final place of birth
but you never tire of hearing
how I crept out of my mother’s house
at dawn, with an olive suitcase
crammed with books and fraudulent letters
and an unplayed guitar.

I see myself flash through your eyes
in moments caught between history
and obedience
those moments grow each day
before you comply
as, when did washing dishes
change from privilege to chore?
I watch the hollows deepen above your hips
wondering if I taught you Black enough
until I see all kinds of loving still intrigue
you growing more and more
dark rude and tender

What you once took for granted
you now refuse to take at all
even I knock before I enter
the shoals of furious choices
not my own
that flood through your secret reading
nightly under cover.

I have not seen you, but
I hear the pages rustle
from behind closed doors.

Audre Lorde [1971]


Ruminations on Savita Halappanavar’s Death: The Difference Between The Law and Its Application

Surely you’ve already heard of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death in Ireland on October 28th of this year. Go on, read the article if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.

I’ve been listening on the radio, reading, thinking about the heartache her husband and family feel, about the protests in India and Ireland. About the medical providers who saw her suffering and are likely suffering now themselves. I’ve been rolling the facts around in my head: Savita was 31 years old. A dentist. A Hindu. Since 2008, Savita was living in Ireland with her husband, Praveen Halappanavar. She was organizing the Diwali festival in her community. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant with a desired pregnancy, then she miscarried. When she went to the Emergency Department, she requested an abortion and was denied one.

Some facts I do not know the answer to but wish I did: How well did Savita or her husband Praveen know Irish abortion law? What support did she and her husband have during the miscarriage? What influenced the decisions made by the medical personnel treating Savita? What had occurred in prior incidents when other women had come to the hospital in the midst of a miscarriage? What are the repercussions for denying a patient the necessary treatment? Who provides illegal abortions in Ireland? If a woman is unable to travel to the UK for an abortion, how does she access these non-medical and likely unsanitary and unsafe illegal abortion providers? What are the medical providers who treated Savita thinking and feeling now? When they talk with their beloveds at night, what do they say about this story?

Hearing about Savita’s autopsy report, we learn that her death was caused by septicaemia, and E.coli ESBL. However, these conditions were caused not by the miscarriage she was experiencing, but by a miscarriage of the law. By delaying the one treatment that would have likely saved Savita’s life: an abortion. I am certainly no expert on Irish abortion law, but after some searching I’ve learned that: Despite the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which not only made abortion illegal but also punishable, since 1992, Ireland explicitly allows abortion in order to save a women’s life.

Ah yes. The law has been adjusted (20 years ago!), but public opinion, provider knowledge and attitudes and skills and training…take time to change. The systems in place to prevent women from receiving abortions (including the kind that save their lives) has been around much longer. Maybe medical providers were uncertain, unskilled or afraid. Change takes time. Eventually, the miscarriage was removed from Savita’s body, but by then it was too late. Too much time had passed.

It is not the law itself, but the interpretation of the law that determines whether it is followed. The law is a blunt instrument, and when applied without clear interpretation, without ample knowledge by those affected, the results are often tragic.

This also presents an example of how a geographical location and its associated laws supersede nationality and religion. Because of the borders a cartographer drew around this land, our rules are different from those of the land next door. Rights you had back home are no longer accessible to you. It didn’t matter that Savita wasn’t Catholic, and wasn’t from Ireland. The decision-makers had decided long before she arrived.


Los Angeles Curiosities: Unmarked Helicopters Hovering

In the same style as Colombian Curiosities, I have found some LA curiosities in the past few months. The most annoying one is the ubiquitous unmarked helicopters.

In the morning, and at night, we have unmarked helicopters circling our neighborhood. Have you ever heard a helicopter? It has a loud, monotonous white noise sound. It’s somewhere between menacing and soporific. It’s unnerving to hear one most days, seemingly right above your head, circling over your house.

At first I thought it was just happening in our neighborhood, that we lived near a prison and there were frequent escapes. Or that busy dignitaries were flying in for last-minute dinners, or traumatized children were being airlifted for a surgery. Then I was at the beach and saw one.

Real close, just going back and forth over the beach. Disturbing the tourists and beach-sleepers.

Of course I think of the Soul Coughing song every time I hear a helicopter. I used to have the whole soundtrack on tape.

What’s the deal LA? There aren’t any famous people, escaped convicts or trauma centers where I live. Don’t you have something better to do than circle over my neighborhood with your loud, un-funny roflcopters?


I Don’t Cook, But…Quinoa, Arugula and Sausage Salad

I’m an eater, not a cooker, but here’s a quinoa salad I learned to make this weekend. And I didn’t cut myself or burn anything while learning, so there is hope for you too.

First you make some quinoa, the healthy food that Bolivians have known about forever but has more recently becoming the new granola. To make the quinoa, you put it in a pot with some water and making sure it doesn’t stuck to the bottom. Turn the heat down or something.

You put the quinoa you didn’t burn in a bowl, then add some green stuff on top. Like arugula or spinach.

Meanwhile you’re heating up some chicken (or non-chicken, if you want to be like that) sausages in a pan. I told you about the sausages, right? Put some oil in there beforehand.

Then you cut up those sausages. They go top of the green stuff.

If you have some around, add some tomatoes and avocado on top. Little tomatoes mean less chopping for you, and they look more like candy. Hopefully your avocados won’t be kinda brown like mine were.

At the end, you put some dressing on there (lemon + honey + oil + salt + pepper is the standby for me) and mix it up.

Eat! Finally. Celebrate knowing how to nourish yourself for another couple of hours.

I was thinking of granola quinoa ways of naming this salad, and so far I’ve come up with Green Gratitude, Bolivian Breakfast Salad, Quinoa Layer Cake, and Green Sausage Tom. Other suggestions?


First Day of Full-time Work Post-MPH: First Impressions & Gratitudes

Today was my first day of work at my new job. Yay working! I won’t tell you exactly what the work is, or where, but I will provide some first impressions & specific things I am grateful for:

– the fancypants coffee/tea/hot cocoa maker, which saved me when I left my tea on the counter at home.

– that my coworkers seem nice & no one told me I was smelly despite my forgetting to put deodorant on this morning.

– that my coworker said that some Fridays, there is a dog that visits the office. (!!!)

– that when I stayed past 5 pm, I was told to go home.

– that when I got locked out without my office keys, phone or ID, a kind stranger let me in when I banged on the front door and made a sad face with praying hands.

– that I was the most over-dressed person at the office, which means I can retire the heels & suits already!

– that no one beeped when I stalled on the way to and from work, twice. Twice each time.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali

I’ve been collecting other people’s words for about a decade now, and I think it’s about time I start sharing my bounty. For the next couple weeks, I’ll be starting the week off with a quote.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’Muhammad Ali, the greatest.

Though I’m not a boxer, and likely neither are you, this was my mantra for parts of last year. This quote was at the top of my daily To Do list, one of the first things I’d see every day. When it was cold & dark & late & lonely. When the work piled up high and I thought I’d never get to sleep. It applies to anyone working on something difficult, that may not have a clear end. Maybe the idea of giving up is comforting. It’s okay to think about it. Just don’t do it. Keep at it.  Sometimes all you can do is endure. And that’s enough. Let the commitment to staying the course guide you through the rough waters.