Old lady

for RDS

Now that I’ve turned in
forms to enroll in Medicare
and received the little red
and blue card with my
official number,

and I’m 54 days from my
65th birthday, happily retired
from the day job for two years,

and I worked out today with
the exercise queen for older gals
and yesterday with my almost
92-year-old mother at the women’s
gym place with purple machines
amid a distinctly not-young bunch,

and the teenager at the sandwich
place, without asking, automatically
applied a senior discount to my lunch
(it’s the gray hair, right?)—

Does this make me old?

If so, fine. I happily accept the old
fart discount, and nod sagely with
elder wisdom when younger folks
call me “ma’am.’

If not, how will I know when
I’m officially an old lady?

Oh, right—I’m your OL, as you’re
fond of saying, a phrase of endearment
you’ve teased this ardent feminist
with for years, as if you were a crusty
hippie or biker dude ready to head out
on his Harley, his OL behind him
on the thundering steed.

Give me the eagle-studded leather
jacket, shiny black helmet with
retractable sun shield, and
let us roar onto the open road—

or whatever adventures await
two, yes, oldsters, in a Honda Civic
overfilled with extra pillows and too
many snacks and comfy shoes that
carry us, upright and striding into
the world for as long as we possibly


Photo / Jan Haag
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Not a compliment, certainly not
when delivered by sneering boys
walking past me, tucked into
a shaded playground corner,
absorbed in that moment’s book,
the two of us safely away from
flung balls and kids’ hubbub—

a word they wouldn’t have known
if a teacher hadn’t used it about me,
the bookworm chomping through pages,
digesting the sustenance of words,
wrapping myself in a cocoon
of my own making, storing up
fuel for a lifetime,

with no idea that I’d one day
shine when I emerged,
unfurling my writerly wings,
flapping them gently as they dried
in the sun, then—surprise!—
lifting my new self into mere air,
having no idea where all
those words would take me.

Young Girl Reading © 1769 / Jean Honoré Fragonard / National Gallery of Art
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Beginner’s mind

for Lucy Bunch, with gratitude

They say
it is good to go back
to the beginning,

when we didn’t know
what we didn’t know,
to wear the snug shoes

of one just starting
to walk the path.
And so, even at this

late date, we tackle
the novel challenge,
dance the unfamiliar

dance, skip along
a path we’ve perhaps
walked before.

But now we come
to it from a new

offering our
novice selves
as students,

ready for the try,
the stumble
through unfamiliar

terrain, maybe find
a fresh learning,
guided by a new

mentor whispering
suggestions in our
once-again tender

ears—dig in, try it
this way, or maybe


There you go,
my dear; now
keep going.

Watercolor / Eric Just
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Diego and the cherries

As so often happens
the day after I return home
from vacation, I am dogged
everywhere by cats, who have,
despite excellent care,
missed me.

After a quick trip to the urban
farm to pick up produce, I
return to two tails and eight paws
circling me in the kitchen as if I
have returned with fresh fish.

But no, Poki and Diego seem
content to settle and watch me
tuck English peas and green beans,
creamy-bulbed sweet leeks
and fuzzy apricots into the fridge.

I tip the basket of cherries into
a bowl, pop one into my mouth
as an idea springs. The lavender
violets in their perky pot by the
window and crimson cherries
in their bowl would look nicely
paired on the weathered wood
of the deck, an image that might
lead to a poem.

I pick them up, head outside,
Diego follows, and—after a bit
of positioning and only one
shot—inserts himself for a pat.
I deliver a scritch atop his skull
ridge and under chin, attempt
a return to the cherries, admire
the violets, picture-perfect in
this moment,

and again, a big orange cat head
eases into the frame, sniffing,
looking up, wandering through.
I try to move the extra element
out of the way, trying to document
what has grown, what is growing,
what is living,

forgetting that he is, too, this
goofy doofus of a feline who
has missed me, who settles near
me in the office when I come in
to write, one who desires only
the essence of me to settle his
big guy self just behind my chair,
his eyes falling shut into a nice
little nap.


Thanks to Soil Born Farms urban agriculture and education project in Rancho Cordova for their good work and yummy produce.

Violets, cherries and Diego / Jan Haag
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Strawberry moon

Sweet start to summer,
though it’s not necessarily pink,
this bright disc in the portal
of night easing itself along
the southern horizon,
warm, misty, welcoming.

Open the blinds: Let it spill
its milk on the floor, pool
and soak in, pearly and

Step into that light—
outside, if you can—
and moonbathe a little.

Watch the trees, the roses,
the dewing grass.
the ripening strawberries
soak in the champagne
reflection of our nearest

You, too.
Allow astonishment.
A little more.

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See the sea

for Klaus and Gundi Heinemann

Let us see what the sea
has delivered this day
with a quick walk down
the meadow path to
the beach,

perhaps taking the sandy
trail through the dunes,
past the lemony lupine
tossing fragrance at
us as we pass, enticing
us to stop and sniff,

then dig our heels into
soft sand down hill to stand
where sea meets land
and survey what’s been
washed and tumbled here—

moon jellies, lacy kelp strands,
rubbery bulbs with tails,
limpets and mussels beached
after their journey from
seafloor to shore.

We stand transfixed,
as if our feet have not
found their way here
before, try to fill every
crevice of empty with
wavesound, hoping
to carry it with us,

dripping through
our fingers, to our
inland lives, inhale
the lifesource,

willing it to fill us,
to sustain us,
have faith that
it will return us
to the peace of
this place
one more time.

Overlooking Walk On Beach, The Sea Ranch / Jan Haag
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Yellow pad

for Pat Schneider
on the 89th anniversary of her birth

So if I write a poem each day,
that’s one kind of prayer,
which I think you tried to
show me long ago,

writing having become your
spiritual practice, after decades
on your knees, after years of
serving churches and believers,
after you no longer called
yourself Christian, though you
still adored Jesus—

you, pathfinder, waymaker,
you who embraced multitudes.

Near the end you said that writing
was one way the light gets in,
that your hand on the yellow pad
connected you to spirit, that
washing dishes at the kitchen
window, gazing down into
the back yard was a holy act,

as you set out seed for birds
hovering like angels, especially
in winter, as you planted seedlings
when the earth was warm enough
to receive them,

as you sit with me now
as the poems show up unbidden—
or did I ask for them
in some way I can’t recall?

And I feel you, deep in mystery,
smiling as they appear, these
gifts from the divine,
dervishly spinning words
on the page,

as they dance their way      
into breath,
into voice.

Pat Schneider writing / Photo: Jan Haag
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Be careful
when you bend
to smell the stalks
of yellow lupine
flourishing on
the sandy path
to the beach

industrious bumbles
are at work here

you are intruding as
they busily hover
seeking the upright
banner with the helpful
spot at its base to direct
pollinators to the
nectar reward

as you inhale
you catch a glimpse of
a black-and-yellow
striped worker
close to your cheek

zeroing in on a
particular floret
the color of
fresh butter

resist the startle

she does not
mind your

just wait

she will collect
her prize in
her pollen basket
quickly wing
her fuzzy way
to another flower

leaving you
to admire her
gentle industry
in this fleeting


The western bumble bee (of the genus Bombus) was once common in western North America, but increasing temperatures, drought and pesticide use have contributed to a 57% decline in the occurrence of this species in its historical range, according to a 2023 U.S. Geological Survey-led study.

Photo / Jan Haag
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Following you

for Sue Lester

I have followed you
since we were 8, you
always a head taller and
eight months older,

down dusty paths strewn
with all manner of loveliness—
poppies, blue dicks, soft
green grasses—and potential

danger—poison oak,
crumbly granite underfoot,
so easy to slip on, all
manner of bite-y insects—

through Girl Scouts and
band, into college and
careers, grownup lives
and loves.

And nearly six decades
later, I still fall into step
behind you on a seaside
blufftop trail, watching

you lope ahead, leading
the way—how I still love
to follow your lead—
heading toward fascination

and discoveries I would not
have seen—or names
of flowers, birds, marine
life I would not have known
without you:

anthopleura elegantissima
clonal anemone

eriogonum latifolium
coast buckwheat

pisaster ochraceus
purple seastar

lupinus arborus
yellow lupine

I will follow you as
long as this body holds
up, heading, like Pooh
and Christopher Robin,

into the world for a big
explore, or little ones,
wherever we find us two,
my girl-next-door best friend,

still a head taller, even
as we shrink a bit,
as we grow to each other—
anam cara, soul friend—

more precious with
each passing year.

Photo / Jan Haag
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Seaside haircut

for Dickie

Of all the places I’ve cut your hair—
and if I could math, I might be able
to calculate it, but I don’t, so I won’t—

perhaps my favorites are within
sight of the sea, the ocean refilling
our spirits, saltwater and sand

reminding us from whence we
came, when animals first transitioned
from saltwater to earth more than

300 million years ago, the source
from which all life comes on this
planet we consider ours.

So where else to best apply scissors
to your straight, snowy fringe,
carrier of keratin that also makes

fingernails and DNA that makes you?
Why, on a cliff overlooking the sea,
97 percent of water on Earth, what

makes life here possible and the
planet look blue from space.
As one of our nearest and dearest

takes photos, you sit and I stand
on the continental edge, doing
what I have done hundreds

of times over our decades of
togetherness—apply silver blades
to the hair on your sweet head,

making you feel lighter, look
younger, and yes, ever more
handsome. I promise.

Jan cuts Dick’s hair above Walk On Beach, The Sea Ranch, Sonoma County / Photos: Sue Lester
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