Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Monday, May 28, 2012

Rain Dance

Children make the storms come
By simply wishing it so
By imagining the smell of green and the
Rhythm of rain
The feel of mud sucking shoeless toes
Of puddles splashing bare scraped shins

Parents glare at the sky
The dirty footprints on the carpet
And each other
Their own childhoods hidden
In too many rainclouds

KB ©2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


And now we are awakening.

Comes a sudden streak of daylight
Across the stretch of desert at our doorstep
Which, today, is Arizona.
(Yesterday our doorstep was New Mexico
And the day before that no longer matters)

We are awakening again to the slow spin of earth
Under sky. 
It is an ancient ritual, this dance
This sweet rumbling tango around the sun.
Our simple skins and all they contain—
Tongues and fingertips, ribs and soft bellies
Crest of a hipbone, tender bitten thighs—
Already know the dance.
Even last night
We followed its steps while the moon watched,
Laughing sideways at us in the dark.

But now--morning. 
We push back the darkness
Emerging naked into a cool desert dawn
Made new.

KB ©5/21/12

Friday, May 18, 2012


  "Lovers don't finally meet somewhere;
  they are in each other all along."

 I have done what lovers do in Dali paintings:
Climbed your twining limbs to taste the fruits you offer
Swung from your fingers like a star from Orion’s belt
Trimmed my timeworn sails to the wind of your breath.
These things we do in dreams, these things we never thought
Were possible: I have done them. 

I have felt you buried in the roots of me
Felt you rising in my belly like slow bees
Found you in the tall grass of early morning
When you turned your face to me, sleepy-eyed
As a lion on the make: I know you, stranger.
We were in each other long before we met.

Was it you I hunted in primal forests where nightmares ruled?
Was I the rudder that tilled your Viking ship?
We chased each other down the slopes of eternity and tumbled
Into forgetfulness: the fumbled innocence of childhood
The brilliant distractions that baffled and molded us
All through this wild, aching, amnesiac life;

And now we are awake.  These things we never thought
Were possible: we have done them.
I trim my timeless sails to the wind of your breath
I swing from your fingers, a star from Orion’s belt
I climb the lovely limbs of your body
Disappearing, like Dali’s beloved, in the boundless sky behind your eyes.

KB ©2008

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It Took Everything

It took everything I had to leave you
Packing up the bits and pieces that remained
Untying the ropes and lines of love and
Shoving away from shore

These past weeks I’ve watched you grow smaller
Waving from a distance, your pale face daily
Losing all its features save one: the sad
Crescent of your mouth

Still, there are lessons I refuse to learn
How to captain a sinking vessel
How to lose gracefully
How not to be loved

Better a ship alone on a trackless ocean
Than a lover alone in a loveless bed
Better to hunger on some lonesome island
Than starve within sight of a feast

©KB 2/04

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cowgirl Up?

I was at a local bar the other night, kicking back and taking in some good live music, and a cowboy asked me to dance. A real cowboy with a cowboy hat and sideburns and a slow, swaggering walk that looked like it had just carried him through the double doors of a wild-west saloon. The hat was tipped down over his eyes and when I politely refused him, he just as politely touched the brim of the hat and gave the barest suggestion of a smile. Tattoos rearranged themselves along his biceps, drawing my attention to his well-muscled brown arms; and I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I should have accepted his offer. But the song was slow enough to break your heart, and I just wasn't ready for that sort of thing from a perfect stranger.

I carry a little soft spot for cowboys, just behind my knees, particularly cowboys with sideburns and tattoos who look as though they might have scraped through a few rough spots in life. But then, what woman doesn't? We like the rough types; that's what gets us into trouble. And trouble is what makes life so damned interesting. For the time being, I appear to have learned a lesson about trouble, which is: stay away from it and it will stay away from you. Don't court it, don't chase it, don't sleep with it. (Or if you do, don't beg it to call you the next day.)

Of course, that's not saying the next time I run into that cowboy I won't dance with him. I only said I'd learned my lesson for the time being. 

©KB 5/12/12

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Toubab Dancer

The djembes have called for days.
They aren’t for you
so you stay busy, pretending
to ignore the groups of twos and threes
trickling in from all around,
the growing party atmosphere.
The village is throwing a wedding and
because they are black and
part of a tribe and you
are white and a singular oddity
you are uninvited.
Not out of rudeness; simply
they don’t understand who you are.
Why should you want to go?
But night has fallen again and you
are again pacing the small hot rooftop balcony
with your warm beer and your cold, restless mind.
Suddenly the social boundaries aren’t
enough to keep you out of trouble.

The moon is a ripe yellow three-quarter and across
the goat-path they call a road, out in a bare field
a red fire flickers. The drums are there.
Leaping figures, laughter, shouting.
Your feet take you (rebellious things)
down the steps and across the stubbled remnants
of cassava plants that scratch your legs.
Here and there a stump smolders:
ashes smudge your skin but do not hide
what you are: Toubab, pale wanderer
an unknown creature, a question mark.

Too soon you arrive; it is far fiercer than you imagined
the fire burns high and hot
the dancers whirl, leopard-like and fast
slamming to a stop in midair on seeing you:
everyone turning in your direction
children scattering.
The circle parts for you, drums faltering slightly.
This is unprecedented
a violation they have no words for. Nothing to be done
but bow your head to ask permission
shuffling your too-clean sandals in the dust.  

Eternity passes
as it does for all fools
with a glacial smile.

Suddenly a woman snorts
(laughter? mocking?) and stamps her bare black
hard-as-horn foot so fiercely your stomach drops
and the dance resumes.
You are caught up, swept up, beat up
by those drums: goatskin and wood and thong
set to burst the world apart.
Your heart--a human heart--is simply too small
to contain such a thing.
So you must dance
and soon your sandals are a thing of the past.
Those are your bare feet stamping alongside theirs
your arms encircling the moon
your spine a black mamba
coiled round a tree trunk that later turns out
to be Joseph from the other side of the village.

It is daylight before you can stop
even then
you are still dancing your way home across the field
blood filling your ragged footprints.
It will be days before you can move without pain
weeks of delighted smiles among the lot of you
years--maybe never--before your heart
forgets the rending it takes this night, for now
you are twofold:
that pale cool question-mark of a Toubab
and this creature born of blood, fire and rhythm
dwelling side by side in the same skin
walking the same earth
hearing the same whisper
dance, my sweet
troublesome child,

 ©KB 5/9/12

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


“I am overwhelmed by the grace
and persistence of my people.”

--Maya Angelou

She never was a girl,
This woman standing tall with
A hardness in her smile when she lets it show
Wrapping herself with barefoot splendor
In the pre-dawn light of another long day.

She bears the weight of her world:
Been toting water since she was four
Been walking scared in the dark while spirits
And the shadows of men follow her down forest paths
Fear singing in the back of her throat.

But this woman, she still dances in the dust.
“Dieu merci” she says and laughs—oh she laughs
She knows what it’s about, life, this crazy dance.
She knows the bittersweet taste of it and what it means
For her children: her girls who have never been girls
Her boys who may never be men.

She knows and she gives back all she can of grace
She knows and she gives it back, this woman
Laboring in the dust, these women dark and precious
Singing their hopes to the African dawn
At the birth of another long day.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Wiry wasn’t the word for him
Whip-thin maybe, a skein of hide stretched
Over long, flat muscles
And the cage of bone that barred
His heart: mustang-wild.
His eyes were water-colored and their irises
Held the sky. 
Their whites never showed.

He sat the shifting spine of the horse
His breath coming sure and even, the animal
Calming to match him: the bellows of its lungs
And the furnace behind its ribs and the organ-tones
Of its heart and the great red beating of muscle and bone
All reined in, yielding
To his narrow brown fingers.  Together
They held their ground against the bare sky

And that is how I picture them:
Cattle sweeping down the valley at their heels
The smell of desert wind and dung and leather
All the miles of red earth they’d traveled that day
Caked in dust, sweat
Salting their hides, the man
And the animal
The animal in the man.

There is no name for what they were.
The last of a breed, the end of the line
All the clich├ęs we throw up to defend ourselves
Against the void, defying extinction.
They turned their faces west, horse and man
Pressing the herd onward toward a sunset
Which failed to raise any romantic
Visions of a vanishing age.

©KB 5/5/12

Sunday, May 6, 2012


This morning, waking up
is like a different planet:
I have to struggle, un-compassed,
to locate myself.

I send out a search party
to find the bathroom,
while I command unwilling feet
to navigate me safely through unexplored
islands of clothes, books, and mismated shoes.

An alien sun dawns over last night’s remains.

Last Night

The plane, a nine-seater, is a single-prop Cessna. It's perched jauntily on its three big tires, nosing into the wind that skitters down the runway and whines at the door to the Kenai airport. There are seven of us waiting to board, shifting from foot to foot under the rude fluorescent lights. There's no need for an intercom; the guy behind the ticket counter just raises his voice a shade: "OK everyone, line up for boarding at Gate One." Since there's only one gate and we're already gathered around it, the boarding process appears to be well underway.

I've hugged my mother goodbye already, but as I turn toward the gate she lunges forward and plants a kiss on my cheek. "Be careful," she says. I lean against the wind as the door opens, but she's not done yet. She's yelling something after me, which I can't hear but which I know is "Call me when you get there!" I board the wobbly plane, fold myself into a tiny seat, and hunch my shoulders to look through the window. My mother stands inside the airport, her face inches from the plate glass, waving frantically in case I haven't spotted her. She is wearing a yellow turtleneck and a bright orange vest, set off with the orange silk scarf I got her for Christmas. She's a small, bright spot of color in the windy dark, backlit by those hideous lights and looking very far away despite the mere thirty feet of space between us. A sudden shudder of mortality runs through me.

Only my mother can do this to me. I don't have children, so she is the most delicate, the most vulnerable and loving person in my life. She reminds me of a chickadee, a tiny cotton ball of a bird which somehow survives the harsh Alaskan winters with a song always in its feathered throat. My mother approaches everyone as if she's never been hurt, because she knows Jesus has her back. She and Jesus are great friends; she talks to him every morning and thanks him for every meal. I don't have anything against Jesus, but I'm skeptical about his ability to protect her from the things that might befall a gentle, vulnerable person in this world. I wonder how Jesus compares to my father, whom she worshipped and who left us when I was very young.

We're taxiing for takeoff now, the Cessna's sturdy little wings shivering slightly as if eager to prove themselves against the moonlit sky. Our journey will barely take us up to a thousand feet for the half-hour flight to Anchorage, but that's more than high enough to feel the capricious wind tonight. My mother's bright, urgent presence is far behind, but I can still see her face at the window.

I don't blame Jesus for my mother's fragility. Still, you'd think he could have lent her a tougher skin: something to shield her from harsh words and ugly realities, all the crazy, painful things that happen around her. Instead, I've evolved the tough skin to protect us both. I screen movies before she watches them so she won't have to leave the room for sad parts. This leaves us with mainly Disney classics (but never Old Yeller), schmaltzy feel-good movies, and comedies (as long as they don't use swear words). Newspaper articles are hard on her, too—there's too much tragedy and not enough hope in them. She can filter most of them through her Jesus glasses, which help her see that everything has a purpose and is working together for good, but some stories are too much to bear. Iraq is a sore subject. Anything to do with children being hurt or abused, anything to do with rising rape statistics—all are taboo.

The plane bucks and rolls, along with my stomach, on approach into Anchorage. I think to myself that I will call my mother when we land, to tell her I'm safe. "Praise the Lord!" she'll chirp, her standard way of greeting anything that remotely sounds like good news. Morbidly, I've often wondered what would happen if she never got that call from me. What if the engine fails and we crash into the icy water below? What if the plane explodes on landing, its wheels blown sky-high, the fuselage a fiery inferno? What will my mother do without me? It occurs to me at this point that I may be suffering from an exaggerated sense of my own importance. Either that, or straight-up paranoia. Still, the thought of my mother being hurt, or sad, or even just embarrassed, can send me into a kind of spastic, sorrowful rage. Much more so the thought of her losing a person she loves.

We don't get to have any guarantees about what's going to happen to us in this life. We don't get to know for sure that tomorrow is going to be like today. We don't get to know that we will be loved, successful, grounded, sane. What we do get to have is hope, and this my mother has in abundance. She hopes I will start going to church again. She hopes I will be happily married, have lots of children and live next door. She knows this hope is hopeless but she still hopes it. In my finer moments, I think I might live up to her dream of me as a happy, stable, and spiritually fulfilled human being.

As the plane rocks gently to a stop outside the Anchorage airport, I turn on my cell phone and dial her number. She answers sleepily, already tucked into bed, and suddenly that sense of mortality leaves me. She's safe. We're both safe. I've gained this much more of a hold on my precarious, paranoid existence. Someday I will have the strength and maturity to care for someone in that wide-open way of hers. For now, I'm content to learn my lessons as they come to me, knowing I have a place, and a person, to return to when it all gets too overwhelming for words.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


It's better to look at the sky than to live there.  Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.  --Truman Capote 

It wasn’t the sun that killed him.
It wasn’t the wings that were to blame; he knew
feathers, wax and fire
compose a deadly fusion.

In the end it was the wanting that took him
too far. 
Reason met its end
where desire was born, where he began
to believe it was better to die in flames
than live in safety’s hollow keeping.

Though a fool, he was not alone. 
Listen--the unspoken question
buried in the collective human heart:
Is there any greater joy?  To burn
because we flew too high
fought too hard
loved too deeply? it is this
we want written on our graves:
Here lies Icarus: he
who touched the sun.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Write What You Know

I have to write what I know. And tonight, what I know is that I was born too late. I wasn't supposed to be here, looking over the edge of May 2012, with one ear turned back to catch the whispers of the beat poets and the feminists and the dire predictions of planetary warming. I wasn't supposed to be around to watch nuclear waste take over arctic waters, choking out cod and salmon. I wasn't supposed to land in the midst of a culture whose biggest political issue seems centered on controlling who gets to marry whom, and whether those two parties are of the same gender.

Jack Kerouac said "the best writing is always the most painful personal wrung-out tossed from cradle warm protective mind," whatever that meant, though I'm pretty sure I know. And I'm pretty sure I'm a little in love with the guy, if I can claim that for a person who lived and died a fierce, vibrant, singular, manic, wine-soaked, road-tramping life before I ever thought to be born. Regardless, I agree with Jack--the best writing is always what you know.  You take your innermost self, the most intimate knowledge that you've spent years gleaning and cherishing and building, and toss it out there into the world and see if it holds up.  The world might eat it for breakfast.  Or, years down the road, people might still be talking about it, holding it up to the light as one holds up a strange, sparkling gem.

There is a theory, as stated in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, that says you have to do something for about 10,000 hours before you really know it--before it becomes second nature. This theory explains why I am really good at singing, horseback riding, and taking road trips. What if I had applied those 30,000 hours to saving money, or learning statistics, or playing basketball? Would I be a rich, nerdy basketball star instead of a person who used to live in her car, sings in night clubs, and doesn't mind the smell of horse poop? Hard to imagine. But here's the real mind-blower for me tonight: I'm trying to imagine who Jack Kerouac would have been if he'd spent his 30,000 hours differently. Because let's face it: the guy was good at writing, tramping and drinking, so we can safely guess what he was doing day in and day out. You don't just develop a strong liver from drinking water. Overnight. And you don't learn how to keep yourself alive on railroads and in sideyards and cutting paths through fields and backroads, from holding down a desk and looking at the world from behind safe glass walls. But what if he had?

Well, probably safe to say we wouldn't have this:

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
― from On the Road

There would be no Dharma Bums, no On The Road; the beat culture might never have been; San Francisco wouldn't be what it is today.  Kerouac was a bum, a tramp, an outcast by so many standards. What if he had fit in?  What if he had streamlined himself to the political issues of his day, held down a proper job, refused to mingle with minorities, and stayed on the beaten track?  So much American hippie culture lost, so much color gone down the drain, or worse, never imagined at all.

So I lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.  Maybe I wasn't supposed to be here, nearly halfway through 2012; it hardly seems possible, some days.  Yet the mind wanders ahead: not if, but when, will we see fit to set ourselves free?  When will we have our collective 10,000 hours of practice at caring for our planet and the creatures that share it?  For our atmosphere?  For ourselves?  Each of us needs that 10,000 hours of adventure, doing something different, being someone Other, exploring what might happen if we jump off into the unknown.  And so here I am, nuclear waste and all, puzzling over a culture that strives to control who loves whom, wondering at a world that still insists on repressing half its citizens; but I am putting in my hours.  10,000 hours of loving.  10,000 hours of learning.  10,000 hours of traveling, and another 10,000 for every single thing that brings me joy.  I am only one person; but so was Kerouac.  One single, crazy, culture-defying, life-eating, rail-dancing person.  And years down the road, we are holding up this gem, still looking at the way the light hits it, making it sparkle, making it dance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

This one's for you, Billy

I confess to a crush on Billy Collins.  For those who don't know (don't feel bad, he's a poet and thus doesn't fall in the same category of fame as, say, Ryan Gosling) he is an American poet.  In fact he was America's Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and yes, he's currently alive and writing.  I wrote the following after reading his book Questions About Angels about fifteen times in a row.  (Obsess much?)  He'd probably tear it apart, but he'll never read it and so I have nothing to fear.


At its core, poetry
is anthropology.
You know the words are there
beneath layers of earth
or psyche, and all that remains
is to dig.
Some days it's all effort and no payoff:
you haul in the machines to drag the words
to the surface, and rearrange them into 
something resembling a boneyard.
Their hollow skulls stare
up out of the page, looking lost
as if their subterranean forms could only survive
buried deep in the mad dreams they came from.

Other poems are light as loam
just beneath the crust, cradled
in the roots of trees--
undamaged, their perfect skeletons
ready for display.


I learned how to straight-punch in my kickboxing workout yesterday, striking out from my centerline. At first I was wussy about it, tapping half-heartedly at the bag; it was a bit early for aggression and I hadn’t had enough coffee. But then I started to warm up and bring some adrenaline into it. I channeled a memory of being attacked in Guinea eight years ago, when I was mugged on a dark street by a dark man that I didn’t see until he hit me in the gut. Suddenly I was working the bag like a tiger, driving it back with my fists and elbows, pausing for a wild laugh at how good it felt to beat the crap out of something. Today it looks like somebody took a cheese grater to my knuckles, and I whimper every time they touch something: boy am I ever a badass.

Fear does strange things to our psyches. It’s meant to do what it did to me in Guinea: galvanize our adrenaline, mobilize a fight-or-flight response and push the body into decisive action. But more often than not these days, it sends me into a spiral of passive denial, the only response considered proper in the bonds of the society I live in. I’ll admit it: I’m scared of everything. Scared of change, and of not changing; scared of being alone and of being with someone; scared of dying and scared of getting old. I’m scared of going back to school but I’m about to do it—if they’ll take me, and I’m scared they won’t. I’m even scared of staying here and doing exactly what I’m doing right now. That’s the scariest thing of all.

So, there’s my soft underbelly, exposed: I’m a coward. Just that and no more, a coward, not a brave bone in my body. I take kickboxing, not necessarily for self-defense, because if it came down to it I don’t know if I’d defend myself again if a guy attacked me in the middle of the night. I only did it all those years ago in Guinea because he took me by surprise, and I was pissed off. I take kickboxing because I like the way the adrenaline feels when it kicks in. It gives me a rare chance to think on my feet, to react instead of analyze and second-guess and scratch around in my head the way I usually do before making any kind of a decision. And maybe it’ll help me in an unexpected way: instead of letting fear ride me the way it wants to, I’m starting to find that more and more often it’s fear in the reins, not me. I’m the one doing the riding. Just today it started to rear its head and I smacked it down before it could even get going. Things are changing. And if I forget, all it takes is brushing my raw red knuckles against something to bring home the lesson.