Monday, April 17, 2017

"A Tip" Flash Essay

A Tip
 I earned an extra quarter tip once as a carhop at the Whataburger in Tampa, Florida, because I wasn’t wearing a bra. It was 1969, and a quarter was about what you would expect to get from a lone guy in a pickup, so this would be doubling my money.   
I was getting ready to drop out of college, which would mean the end of parental support, and this job was part of my long-range plan, which didn’t go too far past the actual dropping out. Anyway, the Revolution was coming when we wouldn’t need too much money or college degrees, and I imagined myself living simply in a big house in the piney woods along the Hillsborough River with other groovy friends after I got out of the dorm. 

The guy was a fairly average Gulf Coast redneck customer, a working man, I could tell by the putty on his hands. His truck was neither noticeably bad nor nice. We had all types of folks at the Whataburger—rednecks, stoned-out hippies with the munchies, tourists, families with dirty kids and families with clean ones. In my three weeks at the drive-in, I had already learned that the best tippers were those from up north and that the hippies tended to forget.
This guy looked kind of older, like thirty, but he didn’t try to chat me up so I’d linger at his window. I had also learned that chatting up was part of the tipping scene—as long as there was no hot food waiting to be picked up, which made the old people who owned the place and did the cooking ring the pick-up bell like mad.
I could feel the guy staring at me morosely as I went back and forth in front of his car, taking orders, delivering food, hooking the scratched aluminum trays onto partly rolled-up windows. I sensed the subtle creep vibes coming from his truck, something you can’t quite put your finger on but that a young woman learns to pick up. Just the same, I had been a cheerleader so I knew how to move in front of an audience.
The rule was that you paid for your food as soon as it was delivered, so I would only have to go back once more to get his tray. As I reached for it, I saw the quarter on the green rubber-net mat and a second one he was holding up between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll give you an extra quarter,” he said, watching my face, “if you tell me you’re not wearing a bra.”
Of course I wasn’t. I was a hippie with my mass of frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail and held by a rubber band, and, frankly, even though I was nineteen, I barely needed one. I was a liberated chick out on her own in the world – free, heedless, naïve. I wore cut-off blue jeans, the fraying edges high on my thighs. I can’t remember what I was wearing for a shirt, but he must have been trying to figure it out as he watched me. Or maybe he knew and wanted to let me know he did.
“Well, are you?” he repeated, not letting go of my eyes. “Are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not,” I said.
He didn’t pick up on the nuance of the reply and tossed the coin onto the tray as I pulled it away. The quarter, solid silver as some still were in those days, made a little bounce on the mat and hit the aluminum edge, not with a nice clean clink but with a hollow, flat clang. As the hot-food bell rang aggressively and I hurried to answer it, the taste of metal sat on my tongue.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A quote for writers (and other people with a passion) from Annie Dillard

I ran into this quote from Annie Dillard while reading a review of her new book, Abundance. Narrative essays old and new from Canongate Press.  It seems like it could apply to many things in this life. 

In her 1989 book, The Writing Life, Dillard wrote: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time . . . . give it, give it all, give it now. . . . You can't take it with you."

Writer's desk at Obras, Allentjo, Portugal . . .

 . . .  and its view of 14th Century Evoramonte Castle on the hill 

If you want to see more about Obras Foundation's residency program for artists and writers, check out

And now for some shameless self promotion: 

Writing Place: Landscape, People & the Natural World

Linda Buckmaster, Instructor

August 17-20
Registration by May 1

Sponsored by Whitehead Light Station. A three-night program held on Whitehead Light Island off  Spruce Head, Maine. Accommodations in the lightkeeper's house with wonderful meals.
Open to writers of all levels writing poetry or prose
Linda Buckmaster’s poetry and prose have appeared in over 30 journals. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has been teaching for four decades.
For more information and to register, contact Linda at  or


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After Last Danger of Frost is Past -- for my brother

My brother, Ric Buckmaster, died this time last year. Here is a poem I wrote for him a few months before his death. He was a surfer and saw many sunrises off the Florida beaches. He did not have an easy life.

“After last danger of frost is past”
                                    From planting directions on a seed packet   
For my brother

After last danger of frost is past,

after the final skim of ice leaves the surface of the pond,

after the mirrors of dew disappear in the clear light and
the stilled grasses lie down for your pallet,

after the fox and the sparrow and the deer gather around you,

after the winds cease and the seas calm and the struggles of this world
slip away into the woods at the edge of the field,

you will rest   at last

                        at last


you will rest   at last

                           at last    rest

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Mosquito Truck"

I'm going back to a Florida summer in the Sixties here. (Parts of it are unchanged even now as in this photo.) Enjoy.

The Mosquito Truck
Thick-headed fog roams street to street, engulfing us kids, white stuff fuming from the back of the big truck. Down First, over Sea Gull, up Second, around all the numbered streets and past our house on Albatross Drive. Mosquitoes are the foe, DDT spewing from the back of a truck our big science. We believe in big science. That’s how our daddies’ rockets are going to beat the Russians’.
The cloud billows and blooms dense and white. The boys on their bikes hoop and holler from inside the soft tunnel, following as the truck makes its rounds. The only thing visible is a wheel spoke here, a foot on a pedal there, a wild face squinting. Ghost boys appear and disappear in a noisy ghost machine, following the call.
We girls hang back a bit on our bikes where the fumes are thinner. We squeal. Our eyes burn. We’re repulsed by the stench. But we, too, love the mystery of the fog; we want the magic of invisibility, the coy visibility. We want to be lost in a way you can’t ever be lost under the blasting Florida sun.
The boys will eventually grow to soldiers and disappear into the fog of jungle, or slide away into narcotic mists, or stalk the miasma of manhood. We girls hang back a bit. We still want to believe in magic. We want to believe we will fall in love and turn into princesses.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

 Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

"[The flow of life] Po-wa-ha (water, wind, breath) is the essence of life. . . . It is the breath which flows without distinction through the entirety of animate and inanimate existences."
--Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo

 Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos

I have been traveling three weeks so far in New Mexico and have spent most of my time looking, listening, and absorbing. I can't begin to write about it yet, so I am calling on the words of others to speak for me. All of the quotes in this post are from Telling New Mexico. A New History edited by Marta Weigle and published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in conjunction with its permanent exhibit in Santa Fe, "Telling New Mexico." It is an anthology of essays written by mostly contemporary New Mexicans to fill out the usual story of the area's peoples and history. I am going to write today about the natural environment, which, of course, shapes the human culture.

From Jake Page in "Natural New Mexico: Light."

 "The most important area in New Mexico exists wherever one goes in the state. It is the sky overhead. . . The sky and its sun are . . . the soul catchers.

"Everything stands out with a clarity that is existential. In such a light, the importance of a single rock, and individual flower, the existence of life itself can strike suddenly -- fresh and poignant."

From William deBuys in "The Sangre de Cristo Mountains."

"The Rocky Mountains, spine of the continent, give birth to the Rio Grande in southern Colorado and fork to either side. In the west they become the San Juan range, . . . which diminishes to a long tangle of ridges in New Mexico. East of the river the mountains form a rugged sierra walling the grassy sea of the Great Plains . . . The Sangre [de Cristo] stretch farther south than any other spur of the Rockies  . . . and soar to altitudes of over thirteen thousand feet.

"[The mountains] were always an actor as well as a stage, for their influence reached to the heart of every [human] enterprise. . . .the Chuskas, the Jemez, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, the Mogollon, Pinos Altos, Black Mountains, Guadalupes . . . San Mateo, Sawtooth, Magdalena, San Andreas . . . Cookes Range, the Good Sight Mountains, the Sierra de las Uvas, the last of which suggests (falsely) the sweetness and moisture of grapes amid the arid monotony of rock and sand.

"The roll call of New Mexico mountains is long; it becomes a kind of chant, a song of place, a litany evocative of the wildness of the American West, the panoramas of its land, and the heritage of Native and Spanish and Mexican North America."

From Sylvia Rodriguez in "Waterways: Acequias."

"In New Mexico, the Arabic derivation acequia refers to both a canal structure and a social insituttion whereby river water is diverted and distributed via gravity flow among a community of irrigators or water right user-owners called parciantes.  . . . For roughly 350 years, they formed a core component of the technological infrastructure of New Mexico's agropastoral economy. 

"Today's acequia associations are political subdivisions of the state. . . . At the start of the 21st century, approximately one thousand acequia associations still existed in New Mexico. The humble earthen ditches crisscrossing the fields and arable valleys along the Rio Grande and its tributaries are arguably the oldest living, non-indigenous public works system in North America.

"One must not lose the water or let it get away. . . . Each act of irrigation is particular to a piece of land."

From Roland F. Dicey in "Windscapes: Chronicles of a Neglected Time."

"The Wind personified seems always to be lurking somewhere in my [childhood] memories of eastern New Mexico. Channeled in the mountainless corridor that divides the continent from Canada to Mexico, the wind certainly was 'the Force' in our lives, and we learned to stay tuned to its presence or absence. 

"'There's nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed-wire fence,' the saying goes, and wind on the the high plains carries salvation and disaster, 'chill factor' and moisture, desiccation and dust."

Monday, February 27, 2017

The "High Road" to Taos

Note: My flash essay, "A Tip" was just published on The Burrows Review website  It's a totally different place and sentiment than what follows.

The High Road to Taos

“. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

In “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” N. Scott Momaday tells the story of his grandfather, Mammedaty, and a red horse. The book, originally published in 1976 by the University of New Mexico Press, is an interweaving of old story in the oral tradition of the Kiowa people, historical commentary, and Momaday’s personal remembrance. Nowadays, we would call it “mixed genre,” and each of the three voices has its own narrative within each chapter.  Maybe some of you remember it from back in the day, a time when the voices of Native Americans were beginning to be recognized in their own writing.

As Momaday tells it, “Little Red” was for many years in that corner of the Plains the fastest horse around; he never lost a race. “It was a small bay, nothing much to look at . . . White men and Indians alike came from far and near to match their best animals against it . . .” One day, when Mammedaty was trying to herd his horses, Little Red was acting up and wouldn’t go through the gate. He lost his patience and shot an arrow at the horse in anger and frustration. Instead, he missed him and the arrow went into the neck of the wrong horse: “. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

Years later, Momaday found Little Red’s bones in a box in Grandfather’s barn. Momaday comments: “I have often thought about that red horse. There have been times when I thought I understood how it was that a man might be moved to preserve the bones of a horse . . .” 

I’m traveling in New Mexico for a month and drove the “high road” through the mountains from Santa Fe to Taos in the northern part of the state where the Kiowa once roamed. I had been in Santa Fe for a three-day retreat at Upaya Zen Center for a program of “The Way of Haiku” with teachers Roshi Joan Halifax, Sensai Kaz Tanahashi, Charles Trumball, and Susan O’Leary. We read, talked, meditated in zazen, and wrote.

In Taos, I bought Momaday’s book at the op.cit bookstore, which has a wonderful selection of New Mexico-based books and local authors. When I read about the red horse, I thought of times I have shot the “wrong horse.” And then there are those times when I have preserved the bones of some memory and hid them in the back of the barn. Given my experiences of the past week, I wrote this in the tradition of the English-language haiku.

. . . "the arrow went deep
into the neck."    I have often
thought — that red horse, bones . . .

Sunday, February 19, 2017

After Richard Blanco's "El Florida Room"

After Richard Blanco’s “El Florida Room”

“Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up . . .”

Richard Blanco’s poem “El Florida Room” published in Looking for The Gulf Motel by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2012 reminds me that I, too, had a Florida Room growing up, although two decades earlier. In my day, Florida Rooms were that special feature of the cement block “ranch” houses springing up in developments across the state, a marketing advantage for attracting folks from up north. Long and low and walled by windows on three sides (“jalousies,” when I was young), it represented tropical living in an era before central air conditioning, catching those soft moist breezes. 

As Blanco says, the Florida Room was not a study or a den, though it would have been a den in other climes with fewer windows and heavy dark furniture, a crocheted throw over the back of Father’s chair and real paintings on the wall. I would have liked to have had a den like those I read about (much cozier), but what I really wanted was the kind of family who had a house with a study, sophisticated tall bookshelves lining the walls, a late afternoon sun shining through an equally tall window with many small panes. 
“Not a sunroom, but where the sun/ both rose and set,” Blanco says. Since our Florida Room was on the west side, it was particularly oppressive in the afternoon. We had a terrazzo floor, though, cool and smooth, and a matching rattan furniture set – couch, side chair, end tables, and coffee table although no one in my house drank coffee after breakfast. It was more likely to be Jim Beam on the rocks or Coca Cola in a pop-top can sweating on the surfaces.

Although the Florida room was “not a TV room” or a “family room,” it was still where the family gathered and watched together the black and white picture in the corner. I have an old photograph in my mind of my father during an “on the wagon” night at home lying on his side on the couch, my little brother in his cowboy outfit perched on my father’s hip, and me sitting at the end at his feet in a seersucker sunsuit. We were all looking in the same direction toward what was probably a Western on TV, just as in Blanco’s family.

In his El Florida, Blanco’s mother taught herself to dance and it was where her son learned to salsa. For a brief period, I used ours to give ballet/tap/jazz classes for a quarter to the little girls on the street whose parents couldn’t afford dance classes three times a week like mine could. And there on Albatross Drive in Satellite Beach, we also had a view from the Florida Room of lipstick-red hibiscus just as Blanco did in Miami. So you can see, Richard Blanco and I have a lot in common even though I am a white, post-middle-age heterosexual woman and he is none of those.

But really, we do share a lot. We both lived sticky, sweaty childhoods under that incomparable, constantly changing Florida sky, accompanied by the swish-swashing of palms. We each sat alone for hours in our Florida Rooms doing many of the same kinds of playtime activities. I didn’t do much coloring, and I never thought to ask for glitter, but imagination played contently with solitude. It seems that the salty humidity provided something of a blanket for certain kinds of children who sat twenty years apart, not in a living room, but “in the light/ of El Florida, as quiet and necessary/ as any star shining above it.”