Words my own

I want words my own.
I want them mine,
olive-tinted pearls
of lime and plum.

I want to pierce through
the mucus drops
with an bone awl
salvaged from
my splintered thumb.

I will treasure them
when strung on a strand
of my hair, conscientiously
plucked from a strange pillow
and I will wear these
words around my neck,
where they can be clutched
in times of muffled confusion.

Continue Reading

That time I almost died from typhoid fever in Tanzania…

“Do you believe in God?” She was earnest. She wielded a clipboard.

A grin skipped up beside. “Ca va?” He sounded young. A green mask covered half his face but I remember him grinning. From my back, on a bed, in a hallway, I replied automatically. “Comme ci, comme ca.

The doors opened. “It is time, Miss Tankard.”

Lights, white tile, stainless steel. I remember the windows. It hurt, so they found another vein. An older voice told me to picture a happy place – to imagine my family – and they counted, backwards.

The grin on the left waggled a vial. “Maziwa...”

I swam upwards to translate. “Milk?” Split second having managed it, before she came in from the right, put her face to my ear, and whispered through her mask.

“Believe, Miss Tankard, believe. He is real.”

And then I was out.

Continue Reading

Sunflowers and stuffed animals.

I went back to Kikatiti. We found the kikaiti Happy Watoto Home.

I took my brother – three years younger than me, exactly the age I’d been when I went there three years ago – to find the orphanage. We just dropped in; none of the contact info that I had was still working. I’d seen the orphanage, or at least the gate and the building from the bus when I’d come up from Dar – between Chem Chem school and the sunflower fields – and at least it was still standing. It’s impossible to walk back in time, to think that things will hold still, the way that you remember them. I’d hope that it would be at least as well as I’d left it, had braced myself to find it gone or forgotten, delapidated and ruined. Instead, we found it better.

Continue Reading

“No get-up stand-up for your rights, here in Zanzibar,”

“No get-up stand-up for your rights, here in Zanzibar,” said a tall dreadlocked man who invited himself to join us three days running at a habor-side restaurant that seemed to be the closest thing to a Reggae bar in Stonetown, and one of the few places that locals and tourists interacted outside of the salesman/customer, hunter/prey relatonship. We never learned the name of the restaurant; the man was called Rashid and wandered through the days seeminly stoned and the nights slightly drunk.

Continue Reading

“… culture… is an ensemble of texts…

…which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong.” – Clifford Geertz


I ate dinner last to the Muslim call to prayer, heard in surround, from the roof of the Pyramid Hotel. The calls came from three different mosques. They started on a slight delay, one after another; out-of-sync, nearly harmonizing. Ascents and vibratto wrapped around each other. The crackling bull-horn speakers turned the male voices into horns – deep trombones and lilting saxophones playing minor, off-key, beautifully. They grew in strength and more seemed to join in – there may have been more than three to start with, it’s hard to say; there seems to be a small neighborhood mosque on every third corner – until they washed out, receeding, drawing back to fade away. I missed the last notes, only realizing it was over when the dogs and laughing children returned to the foreground.

Continue Reading

Oh yeah – I should be writing home!

I’ve been in Tanzania nearly a month now. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long – that it’s been only that long.

I’m in Stonetown, on Zanzibar, which is gorgeous. It’s all of the white plastered walls and arches, heavy wooden lintels and ornately carved doors, winding mazes of unnamed streets that everyone promised. I took the ferry from Dar yesterday.

Continue Reading

It was confusing, it was dirty, and it was absolutely wonderful.

The dig at Songo Mnara already feels like another lifetime, or another world.

It was amazing. The site was incredible, the island was gorgeous, the people were great. The sun was unbelievably strong, straight down on us, and if the wind wasn’t blowing sand and dirt straight into your eyes, it was only because you were downwind of the sieve and getting mouthfuls of it. The minute tonal difference between the types of soils, trying to identify them, to distinguish between them, was infuriating – almost painful – and hours spent looking for traces of decoration or finished edges on pottery fragments had me hallucinating bases.

Continue Reading

Karibu sana, karibu. Just you not worry. Karibu.

Kawe seemed smaller and calmer than I remembered.

I don’t know if it changed or I did.

They tell me that Kawe has grown in people and expanded geographically, but everything seemed to have shrunk. I remembered an insane flurry of color stuck in a deep mud pit, straining to hold the people in – and we drove into a sedate, seemingly organized, relatively broad street that was as much dust as mud.

Continue Reading

Nakwenda Tanzania

I have not seen Africa. There are few gross generalizations as odious as the Western simplification, amalgamation, of an entire continent’s cultural plurality, socio-political diversity, ethnic multiplicity and historical discrepancy to a single noun. I have not been to Africa; no one has; there is no Africa.

Continue Reading
daily life travel

Give the Pacific my love.

What’s it like, being from Los Angeles? It isn’t. You’ve always wanted to go? Of course you have.

Los Angeles exists only as rivers of head-lights and veins of brake-lights. Not a proper city, no center at all, nothing but a sprawl of strip-mall liquor stores and beach-front property twisted around freeway interchanges, highway overpasses, and motorway numerals. LA is movement, jerky traffic. Los Angeles is inhabited by cars driven by an enternally late, under-caffeinated, “Nearly-out-of-gas, lost-the-phone-number, forgot-the-directions, can-I-call-you-back?” simulacrum of a being that has been consumed by his or her vehicle’s need to be in constant motion. Snail-paced motion.

Continue Reading

Trowels and tape; hangovers and side-streets.

I’ve always tried to keep my travelling mixed up – a party here, a home-stay cultural immersion there; volunteer placement and aimless wandering – but, as I’m faced with a trip a bit different than what I’ve done before, I’m beginning to wonder about how to mix – authoritatively, presumptively, intentionally – work and pleasure. It’s one thing to step out of the office and into your social circle; it’s one thing to take your spontaneous adventure and twist it back, folding and editing, into a story – or even a study – when you realize in retrospect that there are larger ramifications; its wonderful to have a private room or two that isn’t fodder for analysis and its shielding to be fortified within a uniform as you work; it’s entirely a different thing, a wonderful and lucky thing, to be have your “work” and your “passions” so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Continue Reading

Retrospective Premonition

– Read this, – she says.
– I thought of you immediately, –
she says by way of explanation
for the magazine she’s placed in my face.
So I obediently murmur through the first
few paragraphs as she continues,
– Burma,it’s horrible, just tragic! –
And I nod, yes, yes it’s (unspeakable,
intangibly tracing patterns a tattoo
outlined repetitively; just twitching;
a lizard tail still moving; a beaten dog)
–Yes! – she interrupts,
– That’s it, that’s what they say, exactly!
Just less poetically than you put it, and –
(the place I had visited, the people I had met,
they had been past pain)

Continue Reading
personal essay poem

Tell me my story

Tell me a
story, they
say (ask plead)
and I am stuck
(trapped stilled
muted) because my
glass (jar urn) is filled
to the brim and should I
open my mouth to sing (cry
laugh lecture babble) I do not know
what else would slip out. It is not hope
that I have locked away and my name is not
Arachne nor am I married but my loom (tongue ink
keyboard) unravels itself faster than I weave, faster
(slower) than I think and I am buying time for conjunctions
or, failing that, waiting for a blade sharp enough to find the edges
I cannot see. I have torn the thread in my teeth, pulled out the seams,
and I have placed a pirate’s patch
over my good eye as I climb in the dark, gripping each step with my toes,
unable to look backwards for fear I’ll never go home again.
I have amalgamated your folklore to my memory.
My metaphors are but dreams, for I write poems in place of dancing,
draft tears to memos, and to the chorus (peanut gallery) only is my rage
exposed. And none of this remains (escapes flees transcends coagulates).
I write that which I do not (remember guess) know and don’t know
what I say nor have said and Sing to me, Muse, sing to me of
the girl I might have been (to be) for I do not know my skin
these days nor even my edges (limits endoskeletal) and I
do not know when my voice and yours diverge
(two roads in a caged bird) and I write about
writing as if conjuring a prophecy and
wonder what happened to the meta

Continue Reading


I’ve uploaded several photo sets to Flickr. Abusively and un-repentantly Photoshopped to salvage them from overexposure and/or blurriness and to renew the saturation that I remembered seeing (feeling, even – Nepal was was this incredibly vibrant tangle of sensory perceptions; you saw the odors and felt the color).

Continue Reading

Tik cha, sister?

“Tik cha, sister?”

It was four in the morning and I was huddled over coffee and muesli; pre-verbal time, but perfectly fine. I gestured to the pot of coffee on the stove and waved at a second cup, which was accepted gratefully but briefly, for no sooner had Didi sat down than she jumped up again.

Continue Reading

Settling In(to Kathmandu)

First things first: I’ve changed my tickets – delayed my return home for a week. I’ll be back on July 27th (instead of the 18th) – it’s only nine extra days, but it will give me a chance to do some exploring outside of Kathmandu without neglecting my work here.

Continue Reading

Said the men of Babel

have drifted loose from
words – which lacked the
weight to hold them
in, having themselves seceded
from the hierarchy
of syntax (forsaking
the patriarchy of phrases).

They float
to my ears and my brain
reassembles them
to my Mother Tongue – nearly,
a dialect close enough for

Continue Reading

… and now…

So I’m not at Danum anymore.

The second day there I started – and I swear I’m not making this stuff up and that I’m not a hypochondriac whatsoever – coughing up blood.

There’s some signs of ill health that you can easily brush aside as the cost of travel – an infrequent cough, a bit of extra fatigue, stomach cramps, headaches – and then there are some things, such as discovering that the phlegm coming up through your throat is an intense bright red color, that make you head for the nearest hospital and email your doctor.

Continue Reading

So here it goes – the jungles of Borneo, and the great red man!

I leave for Danum Valley in about an hour.Two weeks of trekking for orangutans and camping in the jungle!

I never did find a trekking partner – but instead of the Joseph Conrad style hacking through the virgin jungle with our food and water on our backs that I had pictured when I made plans to go to one of the most remote and pristine parks in Borneo, I’ll be staying amidst a variety of researchers and students at the Sabah Foundation’s camp site.

Continue Reading

Cast Adrift

A white haired man with a mane and careless beard, dressed in a crisp white shirt and red tie clasps his hands together before his face; the large rings on his knuckles catch the light and antique aviator sunglasses obscure his eyes. Billy Holiday shifts to Miles Davis. I’ve ordered what is, for South East Asia, an altogether decent glass of red wine and I have, at least, run a few errands today before sinking into this chair.

Continue Reading