Sunday, November 20, 2011

Opening Ceremony

State House, Salem Oregon
On June 14 (Flag Day), I was invited by Representative Tomei of Milwaukie Oregon to read a poem at the Opening Ceremony for the Oregon State House of Representatives. I was delighted and a bit daunted by this request, but the clerk gave me very detailed instructions.

1. You have a two-minute time limit.

2. The two minutes is solely for your reading; it's not an opportunity to address the Members other than a simple 'thank you' or 'thank you for having me today.'

3. Your poem must meet the guidelines criteria and it is not for purposes of lobbying the Members for any political stance or issue.

4. The convening time is fluid, but I suggest you arrive at 10:00 a.m.

I arrived early and was shown to my reserved parking place. Climbing the steps to the multi-doored entryway made me feel like an insignificant citizen entering the cavernous Chamber of the Law. Everyone, however, welcomed me an an honored guest. Here's the poem I read from my newest book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps with quilt artist Cathy Erickson.


They loaded us onto trucks bound for the camps
            took our homes, our possessions, our land
just because we were Japanese – Japanese Americans.

Two suitcases were all we were allowed for clothes
photos, keepsakes ­­– twenty years of our lives in America.
Your grandfather was taken right off his fishing boat.
I was cooking the evening meal when they came.
Your mother sat at the kitchen table studying for a test.

That night I cut strips of cloth from garments
I had to leave behind. And from them I sewed this quilt.
Each stitch, a remembrance ­­­– each square, rectangle a tribute
to nature’s bounty in the desolation of Heart Mountain.

I stitched in the comfort of kasuri,
the smell of wood smoke on rain-black nights,
of days when rain fell soft and even as my child’s breath.
I stitched in triangles of flowers from my wedding kimono.
And as I quilted, I whispered their names:  kiku, hagi, kikyô
chrysanthemum, bush clover, Chinese bell flower.

How cheerful those curtains of plumeria, hibiscus that hung
in our bedroom, their perfume a dream of Hawaii. I sewed in
beauty and vertical rays of yellow, the sun that shone through
the barbed wire and the curtainless windows of our barracks.

The orange poppies were last, fashioned from your mother’s
hair ribbons. I planted them as an afterthought –
question marks blooming with hope.

In Seattle with Elvis

Elvis (aka Carlos Colon) with one of his admirers
One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Haiku North America conference in Seattle from August 3-7. The Organizing Committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry along with a long list of volunteers put on a memorable weekend. Haiku North America provides not only an opportunity to talk about haiku and related forms, but to reunite with old friends and learn about their new projects through readings, presentations, and panel discussions. Previous conferences have been held in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Chicago. Portland, Ottawa, Port Townsend, and Winston-Salem. I've attended nearly all of them.

This year's theme was "Fifty Years of Haiku." To commemorate this gathering, I chaired a panel entitled "Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades," inviting three haiku luminaries and longtime friends to be panelists: Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Penny Harter.

Michael Welch (Introducer), Maggie Chula, Garry Gay, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball
Our stories of following the haiku path were both hilarious and poignant. We began our discussion on a light note by reading our first haiku, thus demonstrating how far we've come! Over thirty years, our haiku have been influenced by place, life changes, losses, and aging. One of my stories relating to place was about returning to the U.S. after twelve years in Japan and feeling that I would no longer be able to write haiku. My reaction during a calamity proved me wrong.

sitting outside
watching my house burn—
mosquito bites my leg

There I was, watching my house burn and writing a haiku—not a great haiku, or even a decent senryu—but it reassured me that I would continue writing haiku.

Some of the high points of Haiku North America for me were Wanda Cook's "Some Like It Hot: Erotic Haiku" workshop; a haibun reading by Cor van den Heuvel; the Memorial Reading for haiku poets who have passed away; and "Between a Word and a Brush Stroke," a haiga talk by Lidia Rozmus. Lidia is a talented artist and poet and her haiga have been exhibited all over the world.

Maggie and Lidia Rozmus in front of her exhibition

The grand finale of the conference was an expected appearance of Elvis during the banquet held at a  restaurant on top of the Space Needle. What an appropriate place for Elvis—on top of the world. That old hound dog, Carlos Colon, had us howling with laughter as he gyrated to the beat of his Elvis senryu. His fans lined up for photos afterwards. Here are a few by Elvis:

not myself tonight
my belt missing
a rhinestone

home in Tupelo
feeding the birds
my golden voice

Labor Day
a spot of barbecue sauce
on my white jumpsuit

you feel them even 
if Ed Sullivan won't let you— 
swivel of hips

not as long
but the girls still like it
army haircut

bachelorette party
an Elvis cut-out draped
with lingerie

Saturday, May 21, 2011

She Who Watches

Photograph by Marilyn Laufenberg
She Who Watches is both a petroglyph (carved into the rock) and pictograph (art drawn or painted onto rock). Tsagaglalal, as she is called by native Americans, is larger than I imagined—about 16 inches across. 

     She Who Watches can only be visited on a guided tour to the Columbia Hills State Park located on the Washington side of the Columbia River. All along the trail, you can pick out petroglyphs depicting deer, mountain sheep, owls, salmon, and a mysterious creature with long flowing tentacles. It's like a treasure hunt with Tsagaglalal as the grand finale. 
    I spent a day here with my women's hiking group. Amidst the chatter and photography, I felt a stillness and power from these rocks. I've experienced this before in Mesa Verde and other national parks in the Southwest—a tightening of my chest and pulsing throat. As we sat and gazed back at She Who Watches, our tour guide told us the legend. 

A woman had a house where the village of Nixluidix was later built. She was chief of all who lived in the region. That was a long time before Coyote came up the river and changed things and people were not yet real people.  After a time Coyote in his travels came to this place and asked the inhabitants if they were living well or ill. They sent him to their chief who lived up on the rocks, where she could look down on the village and know what was going on. 

Coyote climbed up to the house on the rocks and asked "What kind of living do you give these people? Do you treat them well or are you one of those evil women?"

"I am teaching them to live well and build good houses," she said.

"Soon the world will change," said Coyote, "and women will no longer be chiefs." Then he changed her into a rock with the command, "You shall stay here and watch over the people who live here."

All the people know that Tsagaglalae sees all things, for whenever they are looking at her those large eyes are watching them.

    There are several legends, of course, including one that interprets her large staring eyes as a representation of death and disease brought by white settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, sitting there quietly after everyone has left, it is not death that I see in her eyes. It is spiritual energy emanating from rock.

New York Odyssey

Chrysler Building ©  Margaret Chula

John and I often visit New York in February. Winter is a good time to be in Manhattan: few tourists, discounted hotels, and the museums feature exquisite exhibitions at a time of the year when people enjoying spending time indoors. Manhattan is a cornucopia of delights—from the variety of architecture styles to international cuisines, to the finest museums and art galleries, music of every genre, theater, and a colorful babble of languages in the streets. Like tourists, we constantly gaze upward at the skyscrapers and the shapes they form against the sky, juxtaposed to other buildings, and viewed from many angles.

We have our routines: going to our favorite places like the Metropolitan Museum and taking in jazz at the Village Vanguard. And don't forget the earring store at Blue Ice in the Village. On this visit we spent more than six hours at the Met, even meeting our friend Arnold Steinhardt there for lunch at the Petrie Court Cafe overlooking Central Park. The Japanese wing is our favorite, particularly the Isamu Noguchi water basin. We always stop to relax, gazing at the water spilling over the rim. It reminds me of my tanka book title Always Filling, Always Full. This fountain is always filling.

Maggie in front of E.V. Day painting

We also enjoy discovering new things each time we visit—like strolling around Chelsea dropping into galleries. There are some amazing artists, both new and celebrated, exhibiting their recent work. One of my favorites was E.V. Day and her show at the Carolina Nitsch Gallery. Entitled "Seducers", walls were covered with gigantic flowers which were indeed seductive, drawing the viewer into the center like an insect. E.V. spent three months in residence at Claude Monet's estate in Giverney where she collected blooms, pressed them in a microwave, scanned them digitally, and printed them on paper eighteen times their original size. My favorite was the gorgeous pink peony. I could almost smell its fragrance!

Shinichi Maruyams's show "Gardens" was a very modern take on Japanese gardens. "The Zen garden is the expression of boundless cosmic beauty in a physical environment, created through intense human concentration, labor, and repeated action," Maruyama says in his artist's statement. For us, these were more cosmic and surreal than Zen, but they were powerful as art pieces. The colors were spectacular and the images reminded us of Miro. 

Shinichi Maruyama

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trillium Tra La La

Trillium at Tryon Creek
So simple, this triumvirate
of leaves, petals, sepals
that rises from the humus of winter.

Modest beauty, virgin of the forest,
your petals fluting like white tongues
of the Holy Ghost. I can hear the
wood nymphs chanting your name
in the damp shadows
beneath Obie’s Bridge.

You offer your root, a sacred herb,
to cast spells of love
to calm the birth of a child
or to soothe eyes scarred by
what they did not choose to see.

Wake-robin, bath-flower, Indian shamrock
I kneel down to inhale your essence
talcum scent of mother
borne from the dark earth.

                                                                                                  ©Margaret Chula 2009

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Sage Cohen, Kristi Krug, Maggie Chula, Penelope Schott,
Constance Hall, Tonia McConnell
VoiceCatcher has just launched Volume 5 of its anthologies. I am delighted to have a short story published in this collection and especially to be a small part of this non-profit collective that nurtures women writers and artists in the Portland/Vancouver community. The anthologies are beautifully produced, and profits from sales as well as donations are used to fund educational grants for women writers.

And what a fine group of women! I read with five of them on Saturday, March 26 at the Central Library in downtown Portland. Our poems ranged from the embarrassing mammal-ness of being eleven (Girl); a story about the tragedies of Valentine's Day We make quite a pear, Valentine (Two Peas); a poem about a waitress and the poet's child As she speaks his name / both faces break from bud to blossom (The Waitress); a story about a Korean girl and her father She could not blank out the anguished moans of her father as he pushed against her calling out her mother's name (Father's Overcoat); and a story written by Karen Campbell who is currently incarcerated I want to yell and scream and bitch-slap the whole stupid prison (Minimum Custody). Artist Tonia McConnell displayed her art (paired with poems and fiction in the journal) and talked about having the patience of a fisherman, an eye for light, and an ability to anticipate magical moments.
It was indeed a magical afternoon with kindred spirits.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Views from Dufur Hill

I've just returned from a relaxing and productive writing retreat at a poet friend's home in Dufur Oregon. When I arrived, after two hours in the car, I was eager for some exercise. It was a cold, clear day so we climbed Dufur hill for the spectacular views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Miles and miles of undulating hills—wheat fields in the summer months, but now dry stalks shorn to the ground. I collected tumbleweeds and a wizened sunflower from someone's yard to make a desert ikebana.

Dufur, incorporated in 1893, is a farming community of about 588 people. All of them were either inside the school building (Grades 1-12), working in The Dalles, or keeping warm inside their homes when we strolled through town walking the dog. I saw the entire town in two dog walks—crumbling Victorian houses in all shades of pastels, fire hydrants painted blue, Kramer's Store with its oak wood floors and vegetables displayed in bins, and the famous grandfather clock. This late 1800's clock adorned the clock maker's jewelry store, then the Johnson Brothers Bank. When the bank was bought out and moved to The Dalles, people in Dufur assumed that the clock would stay in town. After they heard it was to be moved, they threatened to close their accounts at the bank. So now it welcomes the townspeople as they come to pay their house taxes and water bills at City Hall. It was nearly 9:30 when my friend and I stopped by. I asked the woman behind the desk if it gonged on the half hour because I wanted to stay and hear it—imagining how beautiful the sound from that huge clock would be. "No, it doesn't gong anymore," she said sadly.

Red glass ashtrays and figurines caught the sunlight in the windows of the former bank. We pressed our faces to the window and there we saw piles and piles of deer and elk antlers. Beyond the antlers, the bank cages with their brass bars and signs saying "Teller" stood empty, the carvings on the wood panels collecting dust.

Johnson Brothers Bank Window

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Margaret Chula: Mesto

Margaret Chula: Mesto


In September 2010, I was appointed Poet Laureate of Friends of Chamber Music for their 2010-11 season. For the past four months, I have been writing original poems during each of the concerts in the Classic Series, as well as the Not So Classic and Vocal Arts Series concerts. These poems have been posted on the Friends of Chamber Music website ( and their Facebook page, as well as in print in the concert programs. For each concert, I have attempted to capture the essence of the music—envisioning scenes, characters, and drama invoked by the musicians. To my knowledge, I am the only chamber music Poet Laureate in the nation. It has been a unique challenge to put into poetry the music of composers, played by internationally renown chamber ensembles. 

Here's a recent poem I wrote to Bela Bartok's Quartet No 6 performed on December 7, 2010 by the amazing Takacs Quartet. Mesto is Italian for 'sad' or 'sorrowful'. 


          Written while listening to Bela Bartók’s Quartet No. 6 
          composed in Budapest, 1939 

Damp cave in a foreign land. A woman sits 
surrounded by a circle of stones to protect her 
from the night creatures that crawl and fly. 
Day and night, night and day measured  
by the stitches she unravels from a sweater 
left by her beloved—taken away  
how many months ago? 

Every day she knits it back together.  
The smell of her beloved is fading—fading  
too the colors. Demon bats sweep down— 
seize skeins of yarn in their greedy claws.  
Her hair, greasy and thin, no longer attractive 
to man or beast. 

Nazis strut by— 
their staccato words  
barbs of fear  
crackling through 
the cavity 
of her hideaway. 

A deep cello sound resounds in her ears, 
then nails scratching on ancient walls. 
A turmoil of desire. A disturbing dissonance. 
Her last day, an intermezzo. She stumbles 
out into the spring sunshine, blinded  
with joy. The grass is cool and fragrant. 
Wildflowers begin their bloom. 

Today she will rest from her task, draping  
the yarn over her famine-swollen belly. 
How sweet the lark’s song. How slowly 
the heart beats at the end. 

Vultures carry away strands of yarn  
in their beaks. Lifting off, they flap 
their heavy black wings, bound  
for their aeries in the sky. 

                        Copyright by Margaret Chula