23 August 2020

Telling the Sky – II

Telling the Sky II

Cloudsunk sun.


What becomes of coal after burning
becomes this sky.


Wind flirts, a whistle. My feet

—Razel Estrella

Here is the second installment of my Telling the Sky series. The lines were originally drafted in 2009, and I tried to bring more energy, a certain luminescence about them in my current revisions.

20 August 2020

'I learn by going where I have to go'

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

—Theodore Roethke
A friend shared this poem and I think it's worth a reshare. It's been my ambition to write a villanelle. The song-like form makes it instantly pleasurable to read. This one by Roethke captures my early morning mood, whenever I watch the sun rise.


I learn by going where I have to go. On a related but rather mundane note, I have turned my TikTok into a sort of creative writing minivlog. I just started filming one afternoon some thoughts about writing, which I always had but didn't get around to expressing.

Notes on writing: Messy desk

♬ original sound - Razel Estrella
So far it's fun and sustainable. My initial idea (two years ago) was to run a podcast. Doing profiles and interviewing people was the only task I truly enjoyed during my publication stint. It gave me a sense of fulfilment. I thought I'd continue it in a podcast. But alas, I got sidetracked.

Am not doing interviews on the minivlog, especially not now in this pandemic. So it's a dialogue between me and myself in the meantime. Also, it's nowhere near perfect. In fact, I don't know yet what my real purpose is for doing this (other than passing time); and I'm still figuring out the sixty-second vlog form.

What's important is I feel that sense of excitement and fulfilment again. I learn by going where I have to go.

10 August 2020

Ode to the Japanese oven toaster

Home-made bread
My favorite thing to make in my no-temperature-setting "oven toaster": bread.

I grew up calling it an "oven toaster". When I decided to buy a new one for myself, my online research kept telling me that it's a "toaster oven". Thanks to my Japanese trainees (and some helpful netizens), I learned that it's a Japanese thing — the name and the machine.

If you know, you know. You probably have or had it at home, too. That small box that calls itself both oven and toaster, and kind of does neither. There's no temperature setting, only source of heat options. The timer never works. But it works.

It's complicated and beautiful and has changed my life, so here's me singing my oven toaster praises by way of an ode (I don't think I've ever written one before).

Ode to the Japanese oven toaster


Precision is none of your business.
A second more yields the blackest bread;
A second less and breakfast's a pale mess.

Half toaster, half oven, one's a fool
To seek perfection in either.
The critics laugh. Yes I am mad.


Stripped of haute pretenses,
I learned to tame you. In time
We pulled off a knockout roast,
Baked sweet potatoes, pies,
A cake to pass an entire Sunday's
Worth of loneliness. Friends tease
Out my bachelorette life,
But you're the real mystery,
My kitchenette's box of surprise.
You make me dare, you make me bold.
Is it the tool that makes the master?


The year is 2020. My, a machine
Made in Japan is keeping me company!

We shall stay at home
As long as diseases spread 'round

The world and leaders can't be trusted
With the numbers.

I wake up to find your metal skin
Gleaming by the window

Where I choose to see a future brightened
By feast and fair labor. And me,

Cooking in a changed country with you
Who assumes so little a space in my dream.

—Razel Estrella (August 2020)

02 August 2020

Lessons with my niece

My niece. Photo taken in June 2020.

Is it so wrong of me to crave adoration from my niece whenever I untangle her slinky or teach her a new trick? That I ask this betrays my guilt.

Yesterday we were playing chefs. With her toy spatula, she tried to remove a half-slice of miniature watermelon from a miniature frying pan but ended up pushing so hard that the fruit flew and landed on the floor. I suggested dividing the task into two parts: (1) lifting the edge of the watermelon with the edge of the spatula; then (2) sliding the latter to the bottom of the former as gently as possible.

We did it. There was me, an effective teacher and her, a bright student.

The moment felt like a reward I didn't work for, because I was having fun. Looking back, however, changes my perspective, or rather creates this desire in me for her to remember everything as I do — with awareness of how and why our time together was perfect. Is that so wrong?


This poem is for my niece, with much inspiration from A Little Tooth by Thomas Lux.

Lessons with my niece

You were four when I taught you how to flip plastic eggs
With a plastic spatula. The look of wonder
On your face is frozen in my head.

Soon we learned to read time and got the months
In order. You were six and dared to run
Downstairs on your own.

When you’re old enough for things like patience
Or sensible arguments, I will ask, How much of us
Do you remember?

Maybe then the world has already trained you to lie
To placate a woman desperate
For a few hours more of play.

—Razel Estrella (August 2020)

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