To Practice Seeing: a Chapbook

To Practice Seeing

poems by Anda Peterson


Nest appeared in Salt Creek Journal, a publication by the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, April 2018

Circumnavigation appeared in Sky Island Journal, June 2018

Table of Contents

Mermaid Visits Congress… 2

Echocardiogram… 4

Pushaw Lake, Maine, Late August… 6

Lagoon… 7

Requiem for a Dharma Bum Jack Kerouac, read on the occasion at the anniversary of his death at the Flamingo Bar, St. Petersburg, Florida… 9

Nest…. pg 12

Tea Ceremony…. pg 15

Einstein, Buddha and Picasso Walk into a Bar…. pg 16

Chihuly Glass #1…. .pg 19

Chihuly Glass #2… 21

Advice from a Live Oak… 22

Boyd Hill Symphony….. pg 25

Circumnavigation… 27

Tinney Creek, St. Petersburg… 30

Tinney Creek 2… 31

A Good Personality or the Play’s the Thing (with apologies to the Bard)……pg 33

Inhale… 35

For Pema Chodron, Bob, and Margaret…..pg36


From The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen:

“Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

“No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you…then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”

Mermaid’s Visit to Congress

It hurts to walk on land.

Once we dreamt

how glorious it would be

above the ocean

in the land of their power

Once we sang

to guide men home

from their foolhardy voyages

the battles they waged against

the tides, the swells

of mountainous waves.

We all sang our warnings,

Whale sang and dolphin sang.

Now we know.

Each step is a shock,

like walking on shards of glass.

We hear

the cries of those

who walked this way before us,

who forgot how it was

to glide freely

under sunlit water shimmering overhead

among playful fish.

How we wore seaweed dresses

as we danced in the deep

rising like arrows through the water

with dolphins and whales.

We sacrificed our mermaid tails

our shining fish scales

the fields of water flowers

our coral castles

for promises

made of mist.


What is the sound of water?

No, I mean, really…

Who can know more than this:

a rhythm

a beat, a pulse

that rises and falls

after the downbeat of thunder

when rain sounds

like fingers snapping

foot tapping

on the roof

until the swell of a deluge

builds to a crescendo

and ends gentle

with the slow brushing beat of a snare drum.

The musician searches for a cadence

plays the tempo

set by water

the full orchestra of a hard monsoon

or jazz bounce of raindrops,

single notes struck on a piano.

I heard the sound of water

during an echocardiogram.

then I knew

the gurgling beat of my heart

keeps time

with the whole great ocean

Pushaw Lake, Maine

It is late August

The bee flutters about a dandelion

gains its footing and does its work.

A man stands steady in a boat fishing

on the quiet lake.

The hammock, under two maples,

sways in the breeze.

I write these pictures

to capture the last days of summer.

This is a fool’s errand of course

Like trying to anchor the clouds.

But I persist

because I am in love with this moment

like a monk bent over his sand mandala

adding pinpricks of color in a corner of the whole.

He practices impermanence

the one lasting certainty.

The long-lived log

the swing of the ax

solidity split.

So I set these images

one word at a time

bent over the page

with reverence for:

The swimmer in the lake

who does a slow crawl through the evergreen water

the tall pines above her watching.

The black ant who climbs over the boulder.

A loon who rises with a haunting call

and geese

who talk a blue streak in passing.

For now, just now

I walk under the light of the moon

down the path to the fire pit

a full moon

will soon empty itself

become a sliver, a crescent


Lagoon, Martha’s Vineyard

Here on an empty stretch of saltwater lagoon this gray morning

my bare feet scoured by gold-brown sand
I walk mindful of the footprints of dogs and sharp shells, rocks, mud.

I come to meditate

which is simply just to stop

to practice seeing.

Damp translucent and neon-green strips of seaweed

stretch along the shoreline.
The lagoon lies still

under the smoky-pale sky

its calm speaks of a welcome respite from visitors

as if its heartbeat is steady again
so I feel an intruder
I will be quiet, walk slowly
take a seat on a weathered green bench.

It is high tide
a few days after a new moon
(said to inspire new beginnings).

A swan appears on the silver water,
looks my way.
A mate nowhere to be seen.
I whisper an invitation.
I hope she will come to me
teach me about her solitude
but, no, she is only here
to remind me to be graceful and careful

to glide

serenely alone .

She bends her long neck like a ballerina

darts her beak into the water to catch a minnow.

She will navigate this lagoon
following the movement of the tides

the moon and starlight.

To begin anew

is all she knows.

Requiem for a Dharma Bum Jack Kerouac

Read on the occasion at the Anniversary of his Death

Flamingo Bar (where he drank his last) St. Petersburg, Florida

Buddha Jack

sitting at the bar

buying drinks

for your demons

though you knew yourself

also as a jewel in Indra’s net

caught in illusion

yet clear minded

your contradictions

poems spilled on the barroom floor.

You hungry ghost

you beautiful man/boy, Jack

trapped between dharma-love and whiskey-death

on the road

to ruin

on the road

no arrival the right one.

America broke your heart

when it showed

it’s slave owning, lynching


In such a land

you were misunderstood

they loved your uncontrollable thirst

thought you dropped out

so cool man

lauded you for coolness

so cool man

jazz played the longings

you expressed for them

you seduced them

dark-eyed handsome man

they wanted to talk poetic in smokey bars with you

but go home sober

while you fell down the stairs pissing

shaking with the D.T’s

vomit and blood gushing from your mouth.

Far out. Far out

they applauded your shining, cascading words

like jazz

spilling out

breaking grammar

and rules

You were misunderstood

They thought you said nothing matters but sex

Like it was so far out

how far out you went

spirit searching

in a soulless America with your lost boys

high on themselves and you.

Jack, your Buddha brother

went to the edges too

as seekers often do.

Siddhartha the sensual and bejeweled

then Siddhartha the starving monk

traveled every road

until he stopped

got off the bar stool

went to the forest

weary and done

like you are now

woken from the dream of being

and that is far out

so far out, man

so cool

so cool


To practice seeing

I choose an empty nest

fallen to the sidewalk

built into a Tillandsia,

the “air plant” that hangs from the branches of trees

round, bowl-like

A perfect scaffolding.

The plants tentacles intertwine

Round and round each other

The cardinal needs only scoop out the center.

For this, dear architect, did you use your clawing feet?

Your beak?


The cleverness of your construction should not surprise me

but I am human.

I have so many questions.

The answers are mapped in the mind

of a small, smooth feathered head which

pictured the design


shapes, sizes, textures

arranged each element

composed it all

into a unified utility.

How long, how difficult was the construction?

Thin, sliver twigs needed to be bent,

Bits of grape vine collected

Then inserted into the Tillandsia,

Threaded through the curls of grape vines

The stitching secures dry, flaky particles of Live Oak seedpods.

This builder knows how to balance beauty with practicality.

I attempt

to practice the same day by day.

What was next indicated in your plans?

Perhaps, you decided

To lift dry, gray Spanish moss

Lacy string by lacy string

carried in your beak, flitting back and forth

on labored wings

Nest to branch

branch  to nest

you knew that

moss matted down, then mixed with dirt

makes a sturdy stucco

Was this an ancient knowledge inherited from

Your dinosaur DNA?

To the stucco, lodged as if glued is

A one-by-one inch square of plastic netting from a bag of fruit.

Architect, this raises more questions.

How was the perfect size of plastic netting located, then chosen?

Was this serendipity?

Or was it a memory of a bright white, crisscrossed thing you spied from the air?

This plastic web has little function.

Did it thrill or amuse you?

Who can say it didn’t?

And why did you place this swatch of netting

On only one side of your nest?

Was this a statement?

A signature?

Who can say it wasn’t.?

Or was it for fun?

Do you like fun like I like fun?

Who can say you don’t?

Woven between the Spanish moss, Tillandsia fibers and the fragile twigs

are three strips of cotton from an old cloth bandage.

Was this only for comfort?

Do you like the softness against your face?

Like I like softness?

Who can say you don’t?

Six strips of silver tinsel from an old Christmas tree

are inserted at the top of the nest.

Are you making a case for beauty?

Is this a sign of aesthetics in a life otherwise dominated by survival?

Like mine?

Who can say it isn’t?

The tinsel is fragile, not material for construction

but sparkles,


in the sun.

Do you and I both delight in things that shine?

Who dares to say you don’t?

Like any clever architect

You balance beauty with practicality.

I attempt the same

day by day.

I never knew all this about you

Your jokes, your artistry

Until you stopped my mind one day

and opened my eyes

when I found your home.

Tea Ceremony

The steam from Thich Nhat Hanh’s teacup

as a cloud

returns to earth

as rain
to quench the thirst

of tea leaves.

Thay teaches
how clouds appear in teacups
and how

to drink

moonlit rain.

Picasso, Einstein and Buddha Walk into a Bar…

Picasso takes a swig of whiskey and says

there is blue in the horse

Einstein agrees.

Buddha nods.

Yes, blue is in the horse.

If you look beyond muscle and haunch,

Buddha says, sipping his tea,

you will see

atoms that sparkle like a million small diamonds.

Einstein smiles

and drinks his beer.

Picasso says,

they want me to make sense

draw the mouth on the face

they say, where it belongs

they don’t want the eyes on the forehead

they tell me to look at statues

to understand the body.

Einstein and Buddha laugh.

“That’s a good one!” Einstein says

“As if we aren’t particles,” Picasso says

“As if our cells are static.”

“As if we are solid bodies,” Buddha adds.

At this their laughter grows uproarious

the customers look askance.

Einstein says,

“Did you hear the one about the two monks who pointed at a gingko tree and a cyrpess?

One of them said to the other:

‘They call those just trees! and the two monks fall on the ground laughing.’”

“Good one!” the three agree.

The customers shake their heads, concerned.

Since they sound so crazy

and one of them is wearing a sheet and no shoes

another hasn’t combed his hair for days

the three are thrown out of the bar

onto the street

accompanied by a gingko tree and a cypress

all arm-in-arm

they stroll into the night


Chihuly Glass #1

A Chihuly glass shell

is formed,

as are we all,

by a sacred geometry

etched precisely

by water and fire.

These secret equations

that set the exact beat

of our hearts

might be understood

by calculating

the blazing suns

of eons

saltwater tossed rocks

ground to sand

turned hard and translucent by time

curled and bent

to correct angles

surfaces divided

into harmonious parts

fragile as glass

smooth as the bone

of a seashell

or your spine.

Chihuly Glass #2

This is the mystery

of energy enough to ignite

colored shards of glass

into a fountain

of blue and red

yellow and orange

into a fused stillness.

The same mystery


in the candle wick,

the match

the dry kindling.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way…As a man is, so he sees. ~~William Blake

Advice From a Live Oak to the Owner of the Mercedes Floating Down the Street in Miami


says the Live Oak,

Yes, you there

in front of your winter home in Florida

watching your Mercedes float

like your yacht

down the avenue

You seem surprised

that concrete crumbles under your feet.

Nearby, as if in a dream,

you hear someone saying words like

limestone, aquifer, rising sea levels

But you do not understand any language not spoken in banks.

You shouted your mantra

Fix it! Fix it!

Let me explain.

This is how you got here:

You looked at me through blinders and called me a tree.

Then you named me:

Live Oak.

You wrote the name down in a book

as if it was truth.

I became a fact

to dismiss or use.

That was your first mistake.

When you cut me and my sap ran

you did not recall

the stickiness of your own blood.

So, I knew that our reunion would have to wait

until we had no choice.

You were too busy

conducting a war against

all that stood in your way.

You dug mines

drained swamps

smothered the soil with cement

slashed the forests and fields

forced water where it did not want to flow.

Your hand shakes now

as you grab at your pockets

for your rosary of coins.

You watch the news:

Coyotes leap over the walls of guarded houses.

Panthers roam the yards.

Alligators traverse your golf club.

Black bears rummage through your trash

swim at their leisure in your Olympic-sized pools.

Your homes are hidden behind steel gates

but the animals still enter

they know these woods and marshes

have mapped the paths in their veins

feel the contours of the land in their hearts.

For the first time, you hear the alarms.

Your senses open like a deer’s listening for the hunter’s next step.


You mowed when it was time to sow.

Demolished what it was time to save.

You understood only how to ravage

but not how to prune.


You did not see who shared these places with you.

That was your biggest mistake:

Yet, if you look east, west, south, north, up to the stars, down to the valley

you will see that what they call you is not what you are.

Your name is only a thing on paper

our roots, our veins inseparable.


to what speaks quietly

in both of us:




Against this cosmic background, the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change. ~~Rachael Carson

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida

This land feasts on fire and flood

where lightning strikes

scrub pines flare like torches.

Crackling pine needles

play a fiery staccato.

Snakes, squirrels, mice

(who’ve learned from their elders)

burrow together in tunnels

built by the able gopher tortoise.

The truce between predator and prey will hold

below the conflagration

as mouse and snake listen together

to the racing current of flames overhead.

They wait for a drenching deluge

to cool the charred tree trunks.

Grasses turned to ash

(a rich burnt compost)

will nourish sandy soil

needle thin stalks will push up through dank mud

towards the steamy sun.

Soon thickly green

vines wind around vines.

Branches cross one another, reach

in every direction.

After fire and rain

Mockingbirds, thrush, kingfishers, hawks

call out emphatic declarations

while under darkened canopies of oaks

frogs and turtles sleep.

Upon the humid air floats

A symphony of scents

honeysuckle, magnolia, fiddlewood,

rise in sweet crescendos

In the thorny brush

a rustling

as mouse jumps

from the grasp of snake

white clouds, backlit by the sun

grow into mountains

portend the next fire

the next flood

and gopher tortoise casts a wary, wise eye skyward.


Really there is no edge

from which to fall.

We are like ancient sailors


trembling at the horizon.

Everything is a circle

your eye, the earth

the path is not straight

as you come round

and return

as we do

as we all do

to where we started

which may look like

A mandala


of your recollections

in hues of every color


in circular order

the stories

we spent our lives


looking for

the conclusion

but finding instead

A Sufi dancing in a circle of light

round of white





Like a planet

and the sun

illuminated circumferences

all circadian rings of light

that cross over


And around

the globe.

Like the

deep round sound of the

drum, or the

singing bowl struck awake

its overtone



Like the echo

floating in a canyon

gliding up and down

the rocky basin

returning to its origin.

Tell me then

what you fear.

Tell me,

where is the beginning

of this moment

or the end

of the ocean?

Tinney Creek

Tinney Creek runs past


and despite

the TJ Max

CVS, Target .

I live next to Tinney Creek,

across from a mall

along with the ducks, egrets, and crows

and the occasional hawk.

Tinney Creek

travels back and forth

from Tampa Bay

rises and falls with the tide

feeds Egrets,  families of Muscovy ducks and Mallards

seeking tiny prawns, mud crabs, bugs.

In the muddy bank grow

feathery Java fern

rounded Moneywort

verdant, abundant

as if this was still The Garden.


the insults of a styrofoam cup,

a plastic bag.


between snaking highways,

Dollar Stores

gas stations

condo buildings

Taco Bells


hawk has built a nest atop a pole

advertising Beer and Low-Cost Cigarettes.

The ducks, Ibis, Egret, crows and I claim the remaining

palms, oak trees, creek, iridescent sunsets

as our home

Tinney Creek #2

Low tide at Tinney Creek brings

a rare pink-and-white-feathered surprise.

The Roseate Spoonbill

sweeps its ladle-like beak

through the shallow water

ignoring the styrofoam cup floating past

Urban detritus

comes and goes with the tides.

The Spoonbill lifts it’s comical Dr. Seuss face

to me for a moment then

twitching its white and rosey feathers

lowers its wide bill into the water

sweep, sweep

side to side

poke, poke

with open paddle mouth

for shrimps and insects.

The Spoonbill is  a  “gregarious bird” according to the website

“who spends time with other large wading birds,”

It arrived with an egret

now at its side

and likely enjoys the company

of the Muscovy ducks

resting like plump buddhas on the grass.

“I used to see many Roseate Spoonbills here once,”

a neighbor says.

My heart aches

as regularly

as it beats

these days

at the all too familiar words.

There were many


And yet

The Roseate Spoonbill came

to Tinney Creek.

And at night, arriving home,

my headlights sweep over the creek

lighting up a sweet stretch of sleeping ducks

despite ambulance sirens

the roar of car engines.

At dawn they will wake

to waddle like drunks

and raise their chicks

though hawk will seek them.

The creek still feeds them all

And so

My heart resumes its song.

A Good Personality or The Play’s the Thing (with apologies to The Bard)

I usually congratulate people when they tell me, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

~~~Eckhart Tolle

Did Buddha have a good personality?

We would like to think so.

Without it who would he be?

How would he feel without it?



Let out of identity prison?

The prison

constructed, cemented

as he was constricted in his crib.

Conflicted adult

arrives on the stage

having learned his lines

face thick with make-up

mask in place.

The audience enthralled

the performance was so real!

So authentic! Like real life!

I really believed he was…they say.

Would Buddha have been a star

of the stage and screen?

No. He’d be a flop.

Most certainly.


He forgot the role

he was assigned

misplaced the script

left his costume at home.

On his way to the theatre

Buddha got lost in the forest

Still trying to wake up

until he finally heard

suffering—his alarm clock


his personality shed like his actor’s mask

bare-faced, he knew

If we only trust what our eyes can see

we will believe the play is the only thing

and a mirror is a window.



hands on keyboard
shoulder aches

a crowd of thoughts,
elbow each other.

they are like drunks

shouting trash talk

thinking they makes perfect sense.

A car backfires
a mindfulness bell of sorts,
reminds me to breathe

Until ideas, images, words

grab me by my breath, 
hold me hostage 
and I am lost

pushed and pulled

between yesterday, tomorrow.

Then I inhale



after the exhale
in the pause

before the next breath

that flickering moment

that quick bright peace
is real.

For Pema Chodron and Bob and Margaret

Even though Bob and Margaret, lost both of their children

even knowing such tsunamis

are unpredictable

sometimes I still think I stand firm on this

shifting earth

my plans laid out like railroad tracks

viewpoints arranged like books on a shelf

where I can reach them quickly

to prove their validity

(when necessary, of course)


What’s up is up

and down is down

It’s obvious.

I see the clock

I know the time.

I don’t need a weatherman…

Certainties crowd out

my senses

but I don’t mind

I navigate by thought alone.

It’s religious, a sustaining belief

in what I cannot see

what is ephemeral,

my thoughts and assumptions,

In those my faith is absolute.

Then I step out of my bunker

away from the tracks, the bookshelf

I go to the beach, let’s say.

Nowhere important at all

not like the places where my mind is in demand

where I use my thought-training

like a karate master.

I am barefooted

so it begins

first reminded

of my body

as toes grip sand

then, beyond my control

a deep breath rises and falls.

More senses open

seeing and hearing

causing a

slight imbalance

brought on by

the sight and sound

swooping, circling, crying sea gulls

the wide vistas, the vast sky

I stand at water’s edge

dig my feet into the heavy wet sand

anchored, safe again

until the sand slips

beneath my feet

effortlessly carrying what seemed
my dense body

and I sink

an inch
no viewpoint to grab

to steady me

pushed off the track


pulled by the tides
like a pebble.


is like

grinding out the last cigarette under your boot heel

this time for good

this time for good.

Like leaving the key on the table

and shutting the door

that door



Surrender is like a fist opening

the grip loosening

from how it should have been.


is like untying yourself from the chair

to discover you tied it

you can stand upright.

Tear-washed eyes

are willing now clear enough

to see

the wider horizon.

an angel put its arms around your shoulders

and you felt held

and you are certain

it was real.

Surrender then

is a lavender sky at dusk

a sweep of feathery light