detail “BLACK FOREST”, 2009, ceramic, sand, wood, 8’l x 18″h x 38″w




Half brittle
Half dampened yellow leaving leaves
Laid down
Under my half worn
This morning.

A half-grey sky
Spit half snow
And some rain
Onto Emma and me
As we cruised
At full speed
Dressed for the bitter
Except for mittens.

There were no croissants
And half-glad
I read my magazine
New mothers
New humans
Full access
To the dirty floor
Of the coffeeshop.

Emma was half content
When we sped home
Before she was ready.
I was too cold
And half-assedly
Swore into the full headwind
Making sure
I pulled it completely together
Before crossing the street.

Barely just inside
My apartment door
Emma and I just sat there
Fully winter-clad
Silently, we waited five minutes;
Both heads half-mast
Waiting quietly
To de-frost.

You wouldn’t think
A day like today
Merited the label
Would you?
I am a fine specimen
Of full-on Michigander
And I say it is so.
Half in jest.

-CA 2018



installation in private garden,naturally pigmented earth,ceramic


If one is a farmer of life
Times of drought tiptoe in.
Rough, old earth workers
Expect such chilly emptiness.
They wait.
Patiently by the fire
With a scrappy mutt
And darned socks
They wait.
Inside illness
As I am
Time is stained by fear;
Will I slide smoothly
Into a new season
Of fecundity?
Will summer sweat be mine again?
Or will I wither
From lack?
The oddest questions
Seek me out.
With expectation
Is suffering.
I should know by now
That emptiness
Is only
And possibility
We humans
Dress up
Today, Riley
(my shaman barista)
Decorated my latte
With an artfully drawn frond
Of some sort.
That tiny action
Rose up to grab me
By the heart.
Can we make anything beautiful?
That little flower he drew
Affected me as such
Because it came
Into my anxiety-tinged emptiness
I feared
Might never end.
If the emptiness disappeared
There’d be nowhere
For the Love
To land.

I Sing

“BIRD”, 2001, 5″ x 4″ x 4″, ceramic




Ever-present oceans
Of adoration
And also
Fairly gracious
“Get a move on, wheelchair girl!!”

Does each
And every
Tree trunk
It’s own personal
Dog symphony?

In her complete silence
Emma is
A potent diplomat.
She instantly shifts all
Granting us a few untainted moments.

If she likes someone
She may
Grant the fortunate
A tiny tail wag
Or even a lick.

Never needy
Or unappreciative
When I move
Away from her
In bed at night.

It is then
I hear a rustle of blanket
And slight adjustment
Until the press
Of her warm back
Meets mine again.

Emma is communion.
A wafer and wine at mass
Don’t hold a candle to her.
I open my personally writ hymn book
And sing.

– CA.


Emma Loves Earthworms









CA- 2017

Raven Walking


I saw a raven walking.
Really more of a strut.
He felt himself fully
Flashing this way and that.
Hysterical children
Bothered him not.
He walked;
Courting no one.

I am like him.
Little need
To bolster my flash.
I enjoy my lot
Taking only as much
As I need.
I roll on;
Courting no one
In particular.

That raven I saw
Has a black stride
More secure
Than my own.
I did notice
He had
One feather

His naturally black eyes
Have no overleaves
Of pretense or posturing.
The swagger he owns
And the flash too;
He can’t divorce himself
From who he is.

I got up this morning
And vacuumed
The dustbunnies
Off my precious
And secret
When I emptied
The bag
It was less full
Than yesterday.
(Big sigh)

I roll.
Hoping to meet that raven.
“Thank you
For showing me
Your Real”
I shall say.
“Here is some of mine
For you.”


White Dog Waiting




A white dog waits while

I perform my ablutions.

She extends her paw.



CA. 2017



Pigeons and Autism



In the early morning on the plaza 

A young



Tried unsuccessfully

To keep up with his autistic child


Flapping his arms wildly

Made pigeon guttural soundings

Weaving wildly

This way and that.

The Dad

Was close

To  hysteria

Trying to make it

To the street curb

Before his kid

Attempted flight

Not wanting

To leave his feathered friends

Quite yet.

The mom

Was inside a restaurant

Across the street

Finishing her breakfast;

Her stress level


With their absence (I imagine).

I was the watcher.

The boy,

With his pre-existing condition,

Seemed free.

I envied his arm-flapping

And calling

To the pigeons.

I wanted to take the Dad to a bar

And leave the Mom

In peace.

The boy

Flew the coop

In my private theater





Hand in hand

We took off

After those glittering quicksilver birds.

The boy

Knew more

Than I

About giving in

To the Mystery.




photo- Dennis Chamberlain

How a Heart Gets Plumped


Sometimes twice a year

My blonde sister visits me.

I say that

As all in my family

Are blonde

But me.

Dreary Oregon days

Wetted her down

The past 100 days

Or so…

I prayed for sun;

Making a deal

With God:

If He/She delivered

I’d start meditating

In the mornings

Beginning my day

With my own 

Fervent prayer

For goodness

To glitter-bomb

All who could use a shine.

As it happened


We ate and drank

And just looked around

At stuff;

Told stories

Of bad husbandsX

And other curious choices.

I saw her bloom

In the sunshine.

I was,

Like a plant,

Ever drawn 

Toward the essence 

Of her.

My recently

Chipped front tooth

Really saw 

The light;


As we did.

Now she is gone.

My blonde sister

Has left.

I feel hungry

In my heart.






Tiny Noises

The day Emma and I met for the first time. Finally safe and off the streets of L.A. We rescued one another. Still do.




Emma’s tiny sleep noises

Heat up my heart

And my heart

Melts it’s way

Down to my toes

And my heart seeps

Out onto the damp land

And takes me with it


In the end

There remains  

Just Us.

As Every


In Spring.





Apricot Night

my living room





Last night Emma and I rolled.

In the deep 

Sort of dark


We silently skirted potholes.

A restless bird

Given to insomnia

Cawed a weary warning

As we passed.

Venus gleamed.


A scent

Slipped into 

My sphere.

Ahead of us

Dotting black pavement

Were leavings

Of the first blooming

Apricot tree;


Impossibly tender and innocent


Of bursting bloom

Slipped toward us

Through the night air.

I released

My wheelchair joystick,


To let the barely pink gift

Give its’ self.

I lifted my head 

As Emma rustled nearby

And felt my being

Slightly dusted

With something

More than me.

Onward we went

Cruising the dark;

Our pace slowed 

By olfactory arrest.








Christmas Haiku



Deftly, the wide wings

Of hope gave us some shady

Ground to pray after all.




– CA


.photo:  Dennis Chamberlain


she walks
detail of painting on wool flannel



Crispy cracklin’
Sleepy ground
Frosted yellow.
Floating yellow.
Down, down,
Leaves leaving.
Catching air.
Tilting this way
And that.
Slicing through
On their way
To rest.
This yellowing
Of leaves
Takes a whole year
To get the color
I will wait
For the next round.

The yellowing
Leaves leaving
Finally rest;
Suddenly still
The brown
From the ground
Takes them home.
They surrender
Their yellow
Then brown
And crisp
Their way
Into the folds
Of Mother.

As they do
Into wallpaper
For worms
The coming Winter
Makes them rest.
In their de-yellowed
They each dream
in utter
Stripped down
Of yet another season
Of yellow.

The truth is
It is quite impossible
To reproduce
The very
Same yellow
Next year.
It will never happen
And this is why
We must be
The registrars
Of the perfectness
Of the yellowing
They give us
As their gift.
It happens once.
Only once.
And it is we

– CA Oct. 2016

Just Breathe





She had her own mind
But it bored her finally.

She loved her own company
A little too much.

She knew there is a reason for everything.
Spent her time decrypting life.

She learned what love is
From her dog not a man.

She came close to violent
When hungry.

A whole life got used up
Finding her true voice.

Perpetual ‘original self’ student
Describes her well.

For too long she looked to be saved.
Then saved herself after all.

Red lipstick
Is her favorite.

It lays top drawer
In her weaponry cache.

Dressing to entertain herself
Pleases her.

So easily distracted in life was she;
Endless shiny threads to follow.

Her concocted story
Was entertaining. But done.

Giving it up
Took lacking the energy to tell it.

Precious family and friends
Always listened well.

When that day came
Everything was oddly empty.

Threads still shine
In a lovely tangle at her feet.

Now, lusty living
Is dialed down to low.

Finally learning to live with fewer I’m sorrys
She is free to be.

Her closet is home
To some very fetching hats.

She costumes herself
With a white dog to match.

She rides her wheelchair
With a bright orange safety flag.

But she was saved
That day she laid her story down.

This is not to say
Chanel #5 holds no elan!

Stand in her wake
And breathe.


-CA 2016



porcelain figures, ea. approx. 6-7″h



This evening
A broken man
With a trembling hand
Approached my dog and me
With wet eyes.

He wore dirty camo
and drove a pretty Harley
To shield himself
From a world of noise
No longer sweet to him.

He gently petted Emma
With the tenderest of touch
Only looking to me
To show off his own beloved dog
On the phone.

I somehow knew
He loved that dog
So much
Because he’d lost
The ability to love all of us.

He went to war
But he broke.
This gentle man lost the choice
To love
When and whom he wanted.

I know a lot more
About freedom
Sitting in this wheelchair
Than I did
When I wasn’t.

Today Elie Wiesel died.
He survived Auschwitz
Because he kept choosing
Attitudes that fed him;
And others.

He knew
Our attitude
Is all
We can ever hope
To control.

I know
My attitude
Is all
I can ever hope
To control.

My friend, the vet
In too many places
To count on his consciousness
To save him.

He paid parts of his mind
For us
To have many
Of the choices we now enjoy.
I roll away with damp eyes.

We are only rich
If we remember
Those who got us here
By staring down
The bogeyman.

I am blessed
Because I know
I can change my mind.
There are those here among us
Without that ultimate privilege.
I bow.


-CATHY ATEN 2016 July

What does mysticism really mean? It means the way to attain knowledge. It’s close to philosophy, except in philosophy you go horizontally while in mysticism you go vertically. Elie Wiesel


FullSizeRender (1)
Emma survived on the streets of L.A. before we found one another. She was due to be euthanized the next day as she suffered allergies, little hair, no teeth and looked pretty bad. I saw her straight, clear, open and willing eyes. Miraculously undefended. They reminded me of my own. We are rescuing each other. Every day. Every minute.
** Photo credit: my beloved friend Jann Tennenbaum



In the early morning
A ruckus of younguns’
Disturbed the peace.
And guttural.
Slightly alarming
Was their wail.
“The mother should come.”
Where were the caretakers
Supposedly taking care
Of these wee wanton ones?
I felt my stomach muscles
Grip imaginary hunger
Quite sure
The seeming vacuum
Would not be sated.
Or ever.
The recalcitrant
Screamed on.
They were too new.
Too raw
And helpless
For the natural pitch
Of alarm
They cast to the dawn
In case the airs
Beyond the heat of their own
Held a savior.
They annihilated the atmosphere
Out there
Beyond my control.
I was un- nerved
And slightly sickened
By the refusal
Of parental valium delivery
In the form of food.
Can’t you fucking shut them up?
I needed to nod off
Not feel responsible
To insure
The nourishment
Of others.
In my disturbed mind
I saw their yellowed beaks
In the taught nest
Built with adoration
By parents feathered
Yet slightly disheveled
From the chronic need
Of a brood
Full of need.

I was born in the 50’s
When leaving
A babe
In the crib while wailing
Was the accepted method
To teach
My stomach
And heart
Endless alarm.

This is why
I am a very poor
Alpha dog mom.

–Cathy Aten May 2016



I Thought I Knew





I thought I knew
What Love was.
But what is true
Is that I knew
The smell and taste
Of just the base
Of the whole beanstalk.
I was so sure
It was all there was.

What I know now
Is the substance
A personality
Can only tell
Stories about.
Only a ripe soul
Maybe shattered
Can recognize
And carry;
Maybe share
The numinous
Which is surely
Our shared legacy
From God.

The daffodils
Don’t give a hoot
If you get their name right
But loneliness ensues
If you refuse
The yellowness of their best yellow
Quietly laid at our feet.
I think their gift
Is no different
Than the press
My dog keeps gifting my thigh.
Also- the toothless and unashamed grin,
Slightly shy
The street musician laid on me
Seems the same.

I only say:
The love I know now
Is too big to fit in words.
It is me
In my spectacular brokenness
And reclamation;
The whole shebang!
My breath
You breathe
And I breathe once more,
Gratitude laid
At my own feet
And yours.


C. Aten February 2016


My Hands (repost)

photo credit: Gay Block


These are my hands.
They have made both good and hopeful love.
They’ve coaxed night terrors from a dog
And curled in upon themselves
So hard
As to wake cramped.
These hands have prayed belligerent and beseeching prayers.
Fine and common meals have been made.
Black eyeliner and red lipstick
Precursors to an exhibition
Of art both sublime and something less.
These lovely hands are mine
Because I baited fishing poles
And threw back the fish.
Sometimes I gutted those fish on the driveway
And loved the color and shapes I found inside.
These hands have thrown one wine glass
At a man
And missed completely.
They have signed unread contracts
And penned love letters
Unfortunately unappreciated
By anyone but me.
I love my hands
Because they have been strong
And now they aren’t.
I love that I still love them.
I love them still.
-Cathy Aten 2013




My spiritual advisor is white.

She likes who she likes

And lets the others know

Her distain

First, with a muffled yet throaty


And if that doesn’t take

She ups the volume.

Beyond seventy

In dog years

Has given her street cred.

She weighs a scant 7 pounds

Yet her sturdy legs

Can stop my wheelchair

When I want her to go

Where she’d rather not.

How embarrassing

That her wee frame

Can alter my course.

It bugs me.

Frustrates me.

Makes me lay down

Any modicum

Of genteel comportment.

I surreptitiously

Look around to see

If any body saw me lose it.

She is that Akido master

I saw on TV

From Korea

Who, with the barest ruffle

Reduced twenty men

To prone.

I have gotten stuck in stasis.

For a long time now

Avoiding projects,

Pedalling in place

And not doing

Yoga poses I know will save me.

I bend to whisper

In her ear

Just now:

“I love you.
I respect you.
It is a privilege to live with you.
Won’t you help me
And teach what you know
About intent?
You see..
I’ve lost my moxie
And you have it
In spades.
I’ll trade you
Really great food
And original songs
Along with
Your spot
Always saved
In bed
Next to me
If you’ll just share
You keep calling up
The gladiatorial acumen
Running red
In your blood
So close beneath
The white white whiteness
Of your lovely fur.”

Don’t Worry





Don’t worry
If you are not
Where you want
To go.

If I say ‘‘empathy’’
Does your heart
A few old scales?

If a dog
Happens to dance
A prayer for food
Do your eyes gleam?

I don’t know
My multiplication tables
But I can remind you
If you lost your song.

No longer do I ask
“Am I good enough?”
I AM which is
Indeed all there is.

I saw two black birds
Dipping and veering.
I gave them my attention.

That’s as good
As it gets I think;
Pay attention.
No expectation.

There is
No wrong road
You follow someone else’s.

Dipping and veering
In the hall of mirrors
Is the cost
Of character.

I’ve paid my dues
And then some
For the privilege
To know nothing.


-Cathy Aten


“MARKS”, 2002, 24×24, m/m


The loveliest places of all

are those that look as if

there’s nothing there

to those still learning to look.


-Bryan Turner

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