The False No and the Real

Something that often comes up in Amy Jo’s sexuality workshops is the question of “How can I really understand what is a no, and what is just my fear talking?” or the converse: “How can I understand what is really a YES for me and not just me doing what I think the other person wants?”

Cut off and dissociated from the source of own life-giving eroticism, is it any wonder that we have lost touch with our own internal signals of yes and no? We live in a culture of mixed messages in which sexuality is both shameful and titillating. Stories from men: “I started to put my hand up her shirt and she said ‘no,’ so I stopped; and she asked me ‘Why did you stop?'”
For many of us, the sense of wrongness emerges from childhood. Our early sexual memories are a melange of childhood sensuality and the deep sense of wrongness we felt from adults–the repression, the discomfort with their own adult sexuality displaced onto the inherent eroticism of their children.
And as adults, we live in a world of media in which depictions of dubious consent are so normalized. In which breathlessly panting “no” in the ear of the co-star is written to be part of the come-on. No wonder we adopt those scripts for ourselves, in our teenage bedrooms, in the back seats of cars, under the bleachers, in the dim rooms of our own sexual explorations — and then wonder why we don’t feel the way we think we are supposed to feel. Truthfully, seduction without consent is just violation. The real deliciousness comes, not from overpowering someone else’s no, but from the mutual awareness that we both want this, even though it scares us.
So which one is the false no, and which one is real? The only way to tell is by feeling it in your own body; knowing it, trusting it, making it real through voice and action. And that is something you will never learn from a book or a magazine or a movie or the casually practiced gossip of your more sexually experienced peers. You will not feel it in yourself until you can unlearn the numbness and detachment and find your way back to your wild, wanting heart.

Delight In Your Design


Part of the Daily Poem series.

Somewhere in darkness, the light bloomed
and fell back again into a crack in the earth.
Or was it in fact my father’s body? I saw
secrets, chasms, magma of love, old hurts
atrophied into darkness visible. Father,
I see you in hunger and tenderness,
in your impeccable skillfulness,
I see delight in your design. And
in the purple lilac’s bloom,
crepuscular twilight of the visioning cave
there are dreams shaped by heaven’s lathe —
beyond sight and sound
and rhythm unbound
there’s a love so deep it heals us both

Conjure Visions of Foreign Birds

At my mother's kitchen table, May 2013
at my mother’s kitchen table, may 2013

Part of the Daily Poem series. For Ben Maisel.

Tea drunk from this cup
will conjure visions of foreign birds: for you and
I, when I go traveling
under the name Arctic Tern
pole to pole, by daylight and starlight
through sadness and exhaustion
and joy, and restoration
which comes in the lines of a familiar face
or easy silence of shared history:
Kindness is the only thing that makes sense anymore
(like Naomi’s poem, handwritten on Mom’s fridge)
along with the ease of old songs
and dreams of the Green Mountains
when echoes of friendship from over the years
hit the sun-slashed golden hills and
return unbroken to my ear

May The Dark Be Gentle

Photo credit: via / CC BY
Photo credit: via / CC BY

Part of the Daily Poem series.

Sun, sinking slow, shedding sweet
light on low hills of home —
sudden golden light outpouring,
tears breaking through the veil —
all of us wishing to come home, to
the sudden stars. Across the narrow sea.
Sun at solstice, tender grief.
Heavy light and nights are deep.
And the weight of the world is love, is love.
And only in silence, the word, the word. And only
in dying, life; in the taking and the giving, life.
And in the chiseled dark of winter’s bone,
let us find beauty in the seed. In our lowliness,
the wish to rise. And everywhere let this
small light fall and with it, may the dark be gentle.

To Run Amazed

birthday bow & arrows. 24 years old. vermont, 2013
birthday bow & arrows. 24 years old. vermont, 2013

Written in the autumn of 2015 as I took the Running with Artemis class at MountainSong Expeditions, a 6-week course of trail running and archery that culminated in a 5K run through the beautiful woods of Worcester, Vermont. Part of the Daily Poem series.

It’s autumn
and the red maple has wept her tears
till in the stand by the mountainside
only the yellow beech still blooms.
I’ll run till this race on earth is over, and
a voice rises up, and then another:
it is the chorus of those long dead
who turned far away to
follow the lure,
the dream of the white hart
that calls me fearlessly through
this forest.
For they gave me breath to run the woods
by the hollow tree, and the hollow
hill, where the sun rays catch
in the glistening web,
where the bow is instrument
of blessing and power
and at their call, I wake again
to run amazed
in the glittering world.



Seven Nights at Home in April, and the Rest on the Road

photo from

In August 2013 my friend Alex Beeken and I started a daily poem exchange where, each day, we’d e-mail each other an original piece. We’ve kept up the collaboration, though the deadlines have relaxed somewhat; nevertheless Alex’s friendship and poems have been a constant in my life over the last 2.5 years. I wrote him many versions of this poem while spending 6+ months of the year on the road. This is the best version of it, I think.  

To read more of the Daily Poem series, click here.


I spent seven nights at home in April
and the rest on the road
in the dry dry canyons of the west-southwest
where the sun shines dark on crow wings
and braided hair

but I don’t know the names of the plants
or people there, who find red flags in how I walk
and there was snow in Flagstaff and the
Phoenix sun burned me, and the Bay dusk
drew a jewel-like path down to the Farallons;
I flew ocean to ocean in just two days and found
there were dolphins on one side
and tears on the other
and the tulips were scarlet in New York, crimson …

I think I don’t have a home anymore, except
for these poems I write you.
In these hours of lassitude and introspection
on a flight someplace, somewhere over the Midwest.

The Earth is a Witch, and I Her Lover

collage (by me) of images from taproot magazine, january 2016

Part of the Daily Poem series. Written after Vermont Witch Camp, 2015.

The earth is a witch and I her lover,
casting off old cauls, have
danced undaunted in the fall fields beneath
the gibbous moon.

You can call me by many names: I have been
Pretty Flame, I have been
First Snake. I have even been nameless
for a time, and crawled rawly naked
through the damp earth
in darkness before light
was born.

How could any touching seeing hearing
tasting being doubt inimitable She
of a Thousand Names and breaths and wings?
The earth is a witch and through our blood
she sings.

The Cup Fills Up, Spills Over…

photo from

Part of the Daily Poem series. (“Beautifully sexual,” Alex said.)

In the threshold of the year, I traveled through strange weathers.
The wetly rippling hills of Pennsylvania
could have been Ireland, or Scotland–they were emerald
in the Rust Belt, vibrant in December rain. As vibrant as
my lover’s words, his heart opening unexpected, how
suddenly and sonorous his whispers of affection came and went, and
I learned to love them, and the silence in between. In Vermont,
I saw lightning flash, and thunder, and then
came morning snow-kissed and languorous as I recalled how their
mouths, like little flames, had lapped me clean. This is my life.
Sometimes I can feel it rising through me like steam off water.
Its heat roils around me in a luscious pelt of winter fur.
As the light refracts in ice, and sings itself into a thousand other songs,
I’m learning there is nothing wrong with me; there was never
anything wrong with me, and it’s not hard for this cup to fill up and spill over
and pour herself into the earth with hot, abundant magic.


Can Hunting Be Feminist?

On the NO front:

  • Ecofeminist ethics say that the ways in which the privileged dominate the oppressed should include the way humans dominate nature, ergo women’s oppression under patriarchy is intimately linked to the exploitation of the natural world. (Vegetarianism is historically linked with feminism for this reason.)
  • Popular portrayals of hunting since the 1950s have emphasized the cruelty towards animals (e.g. Bambi’s mother being shot by the hunter–a scene with has traumatized generations of kids), inherently at odds with feminist values of equality and compassion.
  • Hunting is usually seen as a “man’s sport” and something done by the “good old boys,” for whom feminist ontology is… usually not a huge priority.
  • The use of firearms in hunting, and the broader gun culture that is a part of hunting traditions in rural communities, are in conflict with historical feminist values of pacifism and disarmament.

On the YES front:

  • Factory farming is undeniably responsible for some of the worst things going on in our world: global climate change, disruption of local environments, heartbreaking cruelty towards the animals themselves, human rights abuses of farm workers and the production of  cheap and readily available meat that’s making people sick. Hunting is a way to source meat that’s completely free from the ethical and ecological morass of industrial factory farming.
  • As soon as you actually start to learn about hunting you realize it involves way more than shooting the first animal that appears. Deer hunting–especially in Vermont–requires a great deal of patience, skill, persistence, knowledge about deer and the environment, plus respect for and compliance with the hunting laws and procedures. At its core it’s about relationships: with other hunters, with the deer population, with the Fish & Wildlife Department, with the people the deer will feed, with yourself. Feminist ethics enjoin us to step outside the isolated individualism of modern American culture and to see ourselves as part of an interconnected web. Hunting calls us into awareness of our place in the ecological web in a way that is 100% real, providing an embodied and visceral experience of that connectedness in a cultural age in which we are usually disembodied and think about nature in metaphorical terms.
  • The good old boys are out there, but I’ve consistently been surprised by the warmth and support I’ve experienced from men who are eager to impart their knowledge and welcome more women into hunting traditions.
  • Learning to hunt with a group of women has offered a lot of lessons, including the realization that being in the woods with a gun felt weird because I was not used to being a predator–in fact, I had gotten used to the feeling of being prey in the rest of my life.

Can hunting be feminist? I was turning the question over and over in my mind in the summer of 2013. Newly transplanted from New York City to Vermont, I had one of those soul urges–something that speaks up from deep inside with an urgency that’s uncomfortable: one day, I want to be so connected to the land that I can hunt deer and sustain myself. Quite the radical thought for a former vegan and city liberal who had never been around guns. I want to tell  you the story of how I got from those hesitant, transgressive-seeming hunting aspirations to where I am now. But that’s going to be a story for another time.


Dross to Gold

At a small business conference in Phoenix, Arizona I decided to indulge in the small luxury of a salon manicure. And because I had spent the morning introducing myself to other entrepreneurs and talking deep shit like What’s Your Vision and What Do You Value, I got into a deeper than usual convo with my manicurist. Also, he was baffled by the long nails on my right hand and short nails on the left. I said “I’m a musician,” (also thought “…and I’m bisexual!”); then we started talking art, music, poetry, business and my all time fave conversation with Asian manicurists: “What kind of Asian are you” (me: half Chinese, him: Vietnamese).

At one point he asked, “Has it been hard for you to find a man who really understands and values beauty and art?”

I said, “I’m blessed to know many such men and I value our friendships deeply. But actually, my partner is a woman.”

Without missing a beat he nodded and asked how long we had been together. And, over the rest of the conversation, asked thoughtful questions about our relationship.

Is the non-reaction of a Vietnamese manicurist to hearing I have a girlfriend really so remarkable?

It is when I remember that I spent years feeling so fucked up inside about my sexuality that I never gave people the chance to accept me, because I didn’t accept myself.

It’s easy to take these micro-acceptances for granted. And it’s so easy to let our daily conversations and interactions become dull, rote and routine.

But it seems to me that spiritual teachings have, at their core, the damn simple truths that we all want to belong and be accepted… and that in kindness and presence, we find the alchemy that turns the dross of our human lives to gold.