Slam Town, words, Vanilla Soul

One For My Father

April 1, 2014 in Eulogies, Fathers, Mario Smiraldo

This is one I wrote shortly after my father’s death in late February. For those of us who have survived a difficult upbringing, the truth is often a complex and layered thing.

Second Course:
Il Primo

Ashes to olive oil
balsamic to base

the body of my father
is where it belongs
in a bottle
of dust intent
in a vessel that
means nothing
among the recipes
of Spirit.

He who cannot be
eventually flies
and gets his
fervent wish.
you were never meant
for earthly

You coddled garlic
in your fingers
like sacraments,
bread crumbs
to the Braciole,
your palms
cupped in meaty

You cooked
that you cleaned.

You carried
like currency,
you brow beat some
and flirted others
you constructed
a recipe
that needed a
bigger oven
and you left your
art work
like pine nuts behind
in scattered
that lead
to other recipes
but not to
easy answers.

Now in these after
I discover that
I am not your
sous chef
though often was
your patron.

I ate at your

and it was
hard being
your son

but this Mediterranean
eventually makes
you strong
if you digest well
and choose
that feed us all.

This bottle of ashes
is religion,
this bottle of oil is law
this infusion of both
is vulnerability

three things for which
you had little use
and so I keep
the body there
while the essence
finds the river,
river to the plains
plains returns to
and ocean
into stars.

I let your recipe book go,
I didn’t try for
our become a

I could not pretend
to fix
your meals.

I am building
ink out of tears
and laughter and stars,
oregano and balsamic
and the pages
will be
my body
before it too
turns to dust
and I will be vulnerable,
break the laws
in ways that
could not dance
with your theology.

But please know that
we will all
miss the heaven
in your
and marvel at
how pork
could be cooked into
a taste of
the upper planes

and now
that you
you are traveling
someone’s got
to mind the bottles
someone’s got to
add the oil
someone’s got to
stir the

Ashes to oil
balsamic to dust
the body of
my father
is where it

the songs of
are recipes still.

Finding the Spring

January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Isaiah 55:1-11

“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;”

And one day
I found I was a spring
that the my water
was from a shared source
that when I took my metal cup
and scooped the top
the spirit in me rushed in
that I was built with reserves
that prayers were the pump.

Most of all
I learned
that I rationed,
that I had lived parched
for so long
that to slake,
was strange
and I asked myself
what gift is twice denied
in every hour?
and I realized
that we are taught
to be our own tyrants
that we build dams
and shutoff valves
and spigots
and that the water
is always nearby
and when we stop
turning our lives
counter clockwise
our souls can
pour forward,
and join the cycle.

One day I realized
that I was a joiner
not a follower
but a joiner,
and that this
was eternal
that some called it
living in love
but I called it water
and I started to hydrate
so that my cells
could sing
that my cells were not
my prison, but my path
and this is the promise of this
planet that was finished in
water, fire first, but water last
and we are just like our home.

Amocat Awards: New Commissioned Piece

October 30, 2013 in AMOCAT Awards Performance, Maritme, Poem for Artists, Poems

I had a chance to enjoy a night of art, chills (literally) and thrills and the new Foss Seaport.

Congratulations to all of the AMOCAT winners. I was scheduled as the last stop of the night and performed a new
work which recognizes the silent spaces and solitude for artists in between public events and showings which tends to
be where most of us spend our time. My piece is titled: Poem in a Studio Apartment. Here it goes for folks who wanted to visit
the work another time and for those who couldn’t be at the event.

Poem in a Studio Apartment

This is a poem
that lives in a small apartment
the award ceremony.

This is the dish in
the strainer
that gets washed
over and over again
because every artist
lives alone
even when we have five kids
and a Corgi,
we live alone.

This is a poem that marks
the cinderpath turned to
autumn carpet
when leaves fall there
like triplets,
when an oboe
is the only
the orchestra has,
when the paintbrush is
asking for
the council of
the wrist.

This is the poem that lives
in the spaces
between the plate and
the sink
where the ceramic travels
an impossibly short distance
over centuries
where the split second
flashes like ice
entering the atmosphere

and the crystals know
they will burn up,
but not before
they make a show of it.

We get these moments
to be witnessed
but we live in the
yawning spaces
between them,
and none of us
are any good
for long
because the last
is never enough,
the next one might
dissipate or disappoint
or enter the gazers orbit
at the wrong angle
or a right angle
and burn into
the memory and leave
a brand behind.

We just don’t know.

I once witnessed
a Van Gogh painting
less than twelve inches
from me and I swear
the leaves moved, the
stalks danced and the flowers
Van Gogh had painted a meadow
with so much life
that the conjuring wind
was still blowing there

a hundred years after the
brush had parted
and this is how
magicians work their will
on suckers or seekers like me,
the willing.

In several minutes,
this ceremony will end
and some of us will
meet friends for a drink
or take a walk
or pull out our lap tops,
rinse the brushes,
sharpen the chisels,
shake the cans,
clear our throats
moisten the reed
or wash the dish—

We will head for the
apartment where
the rent is paid
in product
where three leaves
enter the window space
where people outside
are walking
as the clock changes
and ancient ice
from momentary comets
is warming up.

We hope you stay
for awhile
and watch our show.

Tacoma Art Museum Commission: The Ribbon

October 30, 2013 in Annual Gala, Commissioned Work, Tacoma Art Museum

My good friend, Julie Hale, pulled me in as a writer performer at the Tacoma Art Museum Gala. I wrote a piece recognizing the long arm of the museum’s outreach efforts called “The Ribbon” and am sharing it below. It was a great night and I think the piece hit home for a lot of folks there. Thanks for the opportunity.

The Ribbon

This is a permanent installation.
You cannot stand
Expect entanglements.

This exhibit is
part lattice,
part fishing net,
part mesh
living beyond the
back lit
walls, hanging frames
and glass enclosures.

Art is not
a spectator

Ribbons are rivers—
so start paddling
like fourteen interns
on “J” term
thrown into
roiling currents,
leading by
the seat of their
river wear
teach 8 year olds
how to build beauty
while they make a mess
of water color,
all to the chaos roar of
Level 4 management.
These ribbons require
a wilderness pass
so don’t be fooled
by the square tables.

“J” term students
Live a world
without corners
with line curves
textures, contours
and color wheels
and this museum
exchanges tribulations
for tributaries
so don’t expect
shore footing.

Don’t worry,
our children
like a good thrill
slightly older
river guides
and this place has got
so just wave
as the ribbon ways
roll past you.

We have pretty names
for departments
“Education and Outreach”

But docents
follow stream ways
and get lost on purpose
finding that art
has dialect
Northwest indigenous
and transplants
and immigrants
do not speak
the same slangs
do not talk
aesthetics and histories
in the same syntax,

and this museum
is looking to visit
remote villages,
walk ups
and county roads
in ways that are
in greetings
meant to honor
extend families
and share
the common tongue
of “Ribbon”.

This museum speaks

Youth Connect, Arts Impact,
Day of the Dead,
Art as play,
Summer Camp
one shy introverted
who now speaks Ribbon
like a master,
who greets each
in living color,
who tells stories
as if
each exhibit
were a nation,
who makes adults
past adolescent
mind block log jams.

Somehow this once child
has become
a prince
with a paint brush
as a paddle,
a registered guide—

He makes this Center
protected wilderness.

* * *

This is the
part of the poem
where we
tell you
that people are arriving
from Portland
and Seattle,
San Antonio,
sojourners are crossing
down in
San Francisco,
that for some
this place is a pilgrimage,
that rivers
need water
that Hilltop children
are travelers
that Spanaway youth
may only know worlds
defined by four
square miles,
that many of these kids
have never seen
a museum,
that you are
the skies,
messengers with
rain in your fingertips
that the rivers must
not run dry
that this museum
has decided
they will
turn no school tour away—
even if 150 kids
reach the dock at the same time,
that volunteers
and staff
are ready to handle them…

but only if the river
is fed
only if
the water is strong
only if
the ribbons hold.

To speak Ribbon
you must paint
in ellipses,
that your life
of exclusive corners
is over,
that the arts universe curves
toward justice and access,
that every child
deserves this museum
that they are both
and trustees
and that you have
cumulus clouds
in your fingertips
and the flood plains are dry
without you.
So feed the tributaries,
raise your paddles
as if each number were a prayer
and speak your giving like cloud bursts–
feed the deserts,
make our neighborhoods into
fertile riverways
that connect us to deeper sources
where boats arrive
where people connect on
adjoining docks,
where communities gather
and children discover
how paint and line,
and canvass and wood
and brush and chisel
and fire and sand
and clay
and chalk
are the tools of adventure,
raise your paddle
like an oar
and make the waters come.

You are the bringers of
and if you look closely
enough you will see the next
waiting for the river to reach
waiting for a journey
waiting for that vessel,
so let the waters rise.

This is a permanent exhibit
built for daring artists and travelers
with nets and paints and wooden vessels
worthy of our current times.

A Few Good Men

May 25, 2013 in Brothers, Good Men, Men, Uncategorized

This is one for the men who do the work and keep on moving including the guys that joined me for that life journey work we did at “The Wall” recently…

A Few Good Men

I am looking
for a
few good men
though not necessarily
the ones with
crease and side arm.

I am looking for men
who take becoming
like medals to be earned
who fail in exact
to learning
who are not afraid
of facial condensation
because a
river runs
through them.

I am looking for men
who choose to love
“learn to kill”;
who stay with
a woman
before their heart
can get there
who hunt…
I am looking for men
who hunt
who track themselves
in the cold deep
who see the precious
of their past
sorrow selves
and have the courage
to find the lost

and lead

I am looking for men
of balance
who figure out
their worst and best
the summary, the equal
that equals
I am looking for men
who make warrior
journey travel women
who tilt the
world on its axis
twice daily
who never give up
on their brothers
who return for their daughters
a hundred fairy tale years later.

I am looking for men
who hold themselves
hold each other
who are not afraid
to suspend
other men
half way between
and sky
and say,
“Stay there
as long as
you need.
I got you.”
I am looking for men
who do that.

I am looking for good men
because good men
rekindle their goodness
even when their fathers
did not
good men
good men
just keep going
keep pushing past
snow banks
and mud shoals
and log jams
and track
their precious them

I am looking for men
like that,
and the men
who are listening
are like that
are like this
are never lost forever
they are the men who find them,
who find the boys,
good men
find their boys
and love their daughters
and return to
the scene of the time.

I am looking for men
who tilt the axis.
I am looking for men
like that
like good
like men
more than few,


May 12, 2013 in Center for Spiritual Living Tacoma, Matriarchal Lineage, Mother's Day, Motherhood, The Conversation

I performed this work for the Center for Spiritual Living and then for The Conversation and several folks requested a copy so here we go. Here is a 21st Century freedom liberation look at motherhood.

Thank you to all of the women that have made us possible and hope probable..



Let us speak of the women

of the later 20th century sun

with the 21st still rising.


Let us think of how

different your era

has begun.


Let us not compare you

to a summer’s day,

for you weathered new

changing seasons

in the tumult of

unequal pay

shifting reasons to

stay or live alone,

children living in this

home that you

were finding

even as you sought

you settled

your wild heart

in the outposts

of the three story walk ups

castles, yurts and shelters.


Let us speak openly

Of the daring

lesbian mothers

who read their share of

Adrienne Rich

and coupled in constant danger,

could sew a button

in the late hours

after the couscous was


and the roasted chicken

was secure.

Let us think of

what it takes

to earn four bags of


at the grocery store.


Let us not underplay

the distance between

white feminists

and black women freedom fighters

between stay at home


and weary upclimbing



Let us call a summit

and be assured that

you all deserve a

place on this


that no man should

hear what you negotiate

and know

that you will come

down united

in a way that should

make us tremble

and leave us proud

of the first position

 you will take

in leading this way



Let us not underestimate

how bondage takes

different forms

how a burqa

and a bikini thong

can equally confine

and let us as men

not arbitrate

your motherhood.

You are the unparalleled

artisans and architects

of tender villages,

tenant steering committees,

Colored Women’s Associations,

radical book clubs,

Mah Jong kitchen clatches,

tortilla making parties

and macrobiotic cooking



Let us assume that wherever

women gather

mother’s renew and reinvent

themselves in ways

that meet

these times

and no man among us

needs to weigh in

on that


for sometimes evolution

is a solo sport

and women are figuring

it out

as they raise us

and teach us how

to bake the chicken

with the proper aromatics

or steam the rice

with a single packet

of Sazon Goya.

Let us believe that vegetables

can be revived

with sesame oil

and garam masala

and a dash of lemon pepper.


Let us remember that it

is an honor to sit

next to you

that you are beautiful

in circular ways, hard

to fathom,

that you are unfathomable

that we your children

expect you to break

new ground,

and you do, and you have

and you will

that your will is much

stronger than

your won’t

that nothing about

motherhood stays

the same

as much as we convince

ourselves you are unchanging—

you are changing

you are loving us

and raising us in

ways that suit

the times

that perhaps for the

first time

Trayvon Martin

was mourned

by thousands of white

women who joined

their black sisters

that this is

a sea change

on the sea shore

next to a universe


demands more of

all of us

and all of you

are leading all of


into another world

one child

at a time.


Let us speak of the


of the later 20th century sun

with the 21st, still rising.


the best possible hopes possible….

Parrot: For Diane, Cooper and Alex

May 6, 2013 in Animals, Consciousness, Mindfulness, Parrot, Pets


My friend Diane practices yoga three mornings each week. Her yoga teacher brings her beloved bird, Cooper to those sessions and Cooper loves Diane. The bird often flies out of the cage and lands on Diane’s knee or hip or shoulder just as she is executing a difficult pose like Wild Thing, Bridge, Eagle, etc and while Diane loves her friend, she doesn’t want to hurt the poor thing. So Cooper teaches Diane supreme mindfulnes and puts his little body on the line each and every time.

Years ago I wrote a poem about the consciousness of animals based on the life and last moments of Alex who offered a heartfelt message of love to his owner Irene, just before he passed. I am offering it again, in honor of Cooper and all of the creatures who are more conscious and aware than we give them credit. Feel free to “parrot” the poem and pass it on.


 You be good. I love you.

 Last words—

 from a parrot.

 Alex did not want a cracker.

He did


Want corn,

want nut

wanna go shoulder

wanna go gym;


or when you asked him

the same damned question

over and over again

he’d glace wistfully at

his cage and say:


Wanna go back.

 Something I have parroted

in my mind

when I’m listening

at the same insufferable

staff meeting

 Wanna go back



 Wanna go back


 Wanna go back


    Wanna go back…


I would like to claim

dominion over consciousness

parrot the phrase,

 Humans are separate

because we are aware


 You be good. I love you.


muttered from the

beak of a parrot

to this owner/doctor friend

Doctor Irene

 You be good.

 from an animal 

with a brain the size of a shelled walnut.


I am not  a member of 

 People for Smart Ass Parrots


 Orangutans for City Council


nor am I lobbying for

men and women who

scramble to save their kittens

from Katrina floods

but could give a shit

about black men being turned

back by guardsmen on an escape bridge

out of the ravaged city.


But something is going on here

in those little walnut brains.


If God is love

then perhaps

 No Mammal Gets Left Behind


 is going to have to include more

than just


 which means these animals

have a clue

like the Orangutan who visited

Jane Goodall in her jungle cabin

late one night,

rapped on the window,

took the scientist by the hand,

and pointed to the moon

as if to convey:

 Friend. Look. Share….



And so I do.


A thirty one year old


teetering at the edge

as the tiny heart slows

cupped in the hands of Dr. Irene;

imparting while departing,

as beings often do:


You be good. I love you.


24 Reasons to Date a Tiger

May 1, 2013 in Dating, Tigers, Untamed

Based on my recent dream…


24 Reasons to Date a Tiger


Because I had a dream.



Because in this dream

a full grown Bengal tiger

approached my car,

passenger side

and flashed a toothy, flirtatious, grin



Because I thought the tiger was damned

sexy and I was fully aware

that he or she could tear my

skin from my bones,

but I didn’t care.



Because the owner placed a leash on the tiger

and pulled it away.



Because both the tiger and I

had longing in our eyes

as we separated.



Because minutes later, the tiger


tapped my shoulder

with its paw

brought me a business card,

a phone number,

and I really wanted to

call the tiger

call the tiger

after my work,

my day

my unimagined life

and errands

were done.



Because on the business card

the tiger was wearing a hat

and acting silly

and trying to convince me

that he or she had a sense of humor

when in fact

I knew that tiger

was not safe

and wasn’t going

to wear that hat

for very long.



Tigers are muscular

and have less than 1%

body fat.



When a tiger

embraces you,

you are never the same.



I used to be a fan

of the

Cincinnati Bengals.



If you go on a date

with a tiger,


I mean nobody,

is going to

bother you.



Tigers really know

how to move.



I like partners

with big paws.



Because there is nothing

in the Washington RCW

which prevents me from

dating a tiger,

we just can’t get married.



I have been trying

to live a life balancing


with calculated risk

and it is no longer working.



Because I will soon be living

off my retirement

since my unemployment

ran out

and the only plan

left that seems to make


is to live recklessly.



Because no one can tell you

who, or what,

to fall in love with.



Because tigers don’t belong

in cages,

they belong in savannahs

and occasional art house cafés,

eating croissants

slurping mochas,

and devouring rosemary-infused goat carcasses.



Because “the tiger”

means something.



Because I am being courted

by a tiger.



Because the life courting me

is no longer tame.



Because the tiger has escaped

and is stalking me.



I am nobody’s prey.



I am the tiger.






Black History

March 3, 2013 in Black History

I wrote a new piece for the Tacoma Community College Black Student Union. Let’s continue to question why black history is herded into a single month rather than looking deeply at what is true U. S. history. Here it is:

Black History


I have written these pages

once blank sheets, bleached

and recreated

 in ways that forget

Ghana, Mali, Songhay  and Sundiata,

the founder king of Mali or Askia Muhammad

who formulated modern government and

civil service,

I have swept two thousand years away

like sand and written only one word

on the beach of South Carolina’s Sullivan’s Island:


 as if Africans from a hundred tribes and scores

of empires only began when their chain

blistered ankles arrived on these shores.

This, my friends, is hardly black history.


I have singled out a few precious names,

Tubman, Douglas, Hughes and King

as if the arrow of time was a single shaft

with but four feathers, when in fact

if we were to learn you,

if we were to learn us,

 the sky would be thick with arrows

all pointed toward the truth

all threatening our tender hearts

ready to pierce the whitest and darkest

sternums among us

and we would no longer begin and end

our stories in Europe with conquering Popes

and Inquisitions, Conquistadors

marine provisions, just enough to keep a thousand alive

while hundreds threw themselves into the water

rather than face a life that wasn’t free. 

We call that little genocidal journey

the middle passage.


But it didn’t work.

You are the gem that survived

that ocean and it shone

in shades of blues

resonating in syncopating poly-rhythms

like the world has never known

and we could not name this perfected,  unfinished

 sound,  so we just called it jazz.





The President of Emory College in Atlanta

recently praised the 1787 Compromise

which counted each enslaved African

as three-fifths human,  an example, he said, of how

civilized people could find common ground.


Which people?  On whose ground must

he be standing

to fail such basic math?

No one on this earth

has ever been a fraction.

We are all whole numbers

there is only one history

and we inherit the outcome

regardless of the written pages,

we inherit the outcome, in real numbers.


We are again dealing with fractions


the historians give us

one twelfth of ourselves

as if history were beans

and our minds were the cup

and they could pour one quarter Tubman

one quarter Douglas

two ounces of Hughes

and a final serving of King

and expect each of us to be satisfied–

bean soup for February

a reduction for twenty eight days.

Did you eat your lunch?

 Because, it is free and reduced.


We think best

when we are fed,

when history comes in eight courses

when the hemispheres and continents are evenly


when Africa and Black America

are  served  year round

when my whiteness no longer means

rationing my investigations in the name of supremacy,

when Sundiata of Mali and

Touissant of Haiti are contrasted in the same chapter,

where the sculpted works of Edmonia Lewis

and Elizabeth Catlett decorate our essays and our tables,

when we improvise in structure, the way our elders taught us

and strike a series of open fifths.  Five.   To form a whole.



Can it be both?

 Black history. Our history.

Can it be all?

Black history. Your history. My history. Our history.

Can I own what my ancestors have done

what they still do, what I allow

 and also

 what I am becoming,

what  I could become

what is possible?

Can we stop accepting fractions of ourselves?

Can we take you out of this guest room?

The house is yours. The house is mine.

We share it.

The soup is cooking

tender beans with more names

than we can collect,

with time to eat

to get that recipe

to write the books

from many kingdoms

and stop, for once, bleaching the pages.


February 19, 2013 in Body Signs, Health, Speak in Signs, The Body, The language of the body

Truth is, in the throes of being pretty sick, I barely even remember writing this. But in retrospect, it was a turning point and I have been listening to my body deeply since. Listen to yours. Don’t ignore the signs. Live well. Eat healthy and abide the language of the body.


 The body speaks in sign.

Sheds in sign.

Gains in sign.

The body comments

and hurts and grows

small lumps

in signs that

are louder than the rational

wonders of telemetry.


The body will force the issue

cause the stop

cease all superfluous momentum

and simply

become the message.


The body is a magician.

Bumps may appear and disappear

depending on the whims

of the blood, shadows on the pulmonary

haltings of the fibers

the body does not

allow dishonest lives to remain hidden

it reveals

it presents

it embodies

the soul of place

the attitude of this mind

the sorrow in this chest

the release of this solitude

is in the body, of the body

the body is a record.

The body holds things

the body holds memories

the body

tells a story that we didn’t want to hear

at the moment we need to listen.


My body is lighter

while my heavy ancestors

alight from me.

The body has peeled

one layer of burden

in two weeks,

5% of me is gone

In the river of infinite soups

Nyquil and a side of rum.


The body is not done.

The body has a full

system of words

and vocabularies

but most of all signs.


The body speaks in sign.

The signs are all around.

The signs just keep coming.

The body speaks in sign.