Giving Thanks for a Research Grant

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A huge thank you to the South Dakota Humanities Council for awarding me a 2018 research grant! The funding will help me conduct the research necessary for my next historical novel and spin-off projects, which will concern the Canton (SD) Asylum for Insane Indians. (SPOILER: Few if any of the detainees were “insane.”)
I’m so glad that the Humanities Council supports such work. To receive this news just after Thanksgiving was incredible. Thanks again!

What the Bear Ate for Dinner (and Didn’t)

We hope our carelessness didn’t harm the bear. (Photo credit: Carol S. Bock)

What the Bear Ate for Dinner

5 apples
4 ears sweet corn
4 spicy Tofurkey sausages
2 Italian hot brats
¼ lb. veggie sandwich meat
½ lb. sliced smoked turkey
½ lb. sliced salami
½ lb. sliced Swiss cheese
½ lb. Colby-jack cheese
1 container jalapeno cream cheese spread


What the Bear Didn’t Eat

1 peach
1 bag Clementines
1 bottle Sriracha mayonnaise
1 package spicy Boca Burgers
2 cans Coca Cola
2 bottles New Belgium 1554


The back story: The morning of July 27, 2017, while camping in the Rock Mountains, our family wakened to the sight of food wrappers littering the ground. Surely, we thought, a nearby camp must have been raided by a bear. It couldn’t have been our camp, after all, because our SUV looked just as it had when we’d hit the sack the night before. Its doors were still shut, the lids of our two big coolers in the rear of the vehicle were still closed, only—

The heavy blanket meant to conceal the coolers from snooping animal eyes was now in a heap, filthy from muddy paws.

We’d apparently forgotten to lock the SUV’s doors. Our nighttime visitor had opened one of them, climbed over the seats into the back, dug into the coolers and proceeded to feast as we slept.

Either that bear was incredibly courteous, or a park ranger later closed the door of the SUV. We found a park citation on one of our camp chairs. In the checklist of infractions, the ranger had marked the box beside “Please secure all food items in bear boxes.” Handwritten at the bottom were the words, “I guess this is self-explanatory.”



Maybe We All Should Take a Knee

Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before a match this past weekend. Photo by Paul Childs/Reuters
Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem. (Photo by Paul Childs/Reuters)

U.S. Representative Kristi Noem, who wants to be South Dakota’s Governor, recently asked her constituents this question: “When we stand for our anthem we stand for our troops. We stand for those who have stood at attention and sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and our flag. I stand. Do you?”

Below is the answer I sent her (and my local newspaper).

I’ll tell you the truth, Ms. Noem. I stand for the anthem, but I do not cover my heart, and I do not sing. I bow my head in silent prayer. I’ve always done this, in adulthood. Because much as I appreciate my country, it isn’t my God, and I refuse to worship it like an idol. Neither will I worship its flag, or its anthem.

In my view, compulsory patriotism is idolatry. It is also fascist—just ask my husband, who grew up in Mao’s China and was made to bow, bend, recite, sing in every patriotic way imaginable.

I have family members who served in the military. I’m not opposed to the troops. I’m opposed to taking away the freedoms our troops try to defend—including the right to kneel when the national anthem is played.

Have you ever asked why the NFL players are kneeling? Throughout history, kneeling has been a gesture of respect. It’s not like these players are giving the flag a finger. They’re trying, very peacefully, to draw our attention to a very real issue in this country. But instead of talking reasonably with them about that issue, many of us are attacking them.

We need to listen to each other more and preach less. Let’s try to understand one another’s perspectives instead of resorting to name-calling and dog-whistling, especially to whip up our political supporters.

Thank you very much.

Deep peace,
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Happy to Announce My Latest Book

smallest cover for web

Poetry of Presence,
co-edited with Ruby R. Wilson,

has officially been released!

$21.95 USD
248 pp.
6″ x 9” Quality Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9982588-3-6
Publisher: Grayson Books
Release date: TODAY (September 5, 2017)

Here’s how to get yours:

U.S. customers:
✓ To buy up to four copies
via PayPal or credit card, click here
✓ To pay by cash or check, please contact me directly

International customers:
✓ Please contact me directly

Other Details:

Shipping & handling: $3/book,
for up to four books within the U.S.
Bulk orders (5+ copies): Contact me directly for a 10% discount
Custom orders: Contact me regarding
international orders, expedited shipping or other special requests

Other Sellers:

Grayson Books
Barnes & Noble

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If You’re Interested in Poetry …

… you might be interested in this one-sheet (flyer) about my upcoming book, Poetry of Presence. If you like what you see, email it to some of your friends, or print off some copies to share with them over coffee.  You can download the one-sheet (PDF) here.

My co-editor and I expecting the book to be released very soon. Stay tuned. Believe me, we’ll be shouting the news from the rooftops when it’s finally out.


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SD Festival of the Book, I’m on Your Side!


I’m very happy to announce that my co-editor Ruby Wilson and I will be hosting two sessions at the South Dakota Festival of Books (Sept. 21-24, 2017, Deadwood, SD). A big shoutout to the South Dakota Humanities Council for promoting our upcoming book Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems in a sidebar of its official program. We’re excited to be part of what is always a grand event!

After Charlottesville: Uniting the Light

Earlier this summer, on our way to tour Jefferson’s Monticello, my teenage son and I passed through Charlottesville, Virginia. I didn’t pay the town much attention. My thoughts were too much on my driving, and too much on the complicated past we would soon encounter at the plantation, only five or six miles ahead. Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Proponent of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Slave owner. Keeper of a sex slave. Sire of slave children. Architect of the government’s policy of forcibly removing indigenous people from their homelands to make room for white settlement….

Like I said, complicated.

After last weekend’s horrors in Charlottesville, it should be abundantly clear, if it wasn’t already, that the “complicated past” is still with us. And it’s downright ugly. Stunningly so. The overt racism now afoot in this country robs my breath, drops me to my knees. It fills me with bewilderment, sorrow, rage—perfectly natural things to feel, but they can be paralyzing and destructive, unless I work at transmuting them into acts of compassion, justice-seeking, peace-building.

The last few days I’ve been studying photographs of the people who clashed at the “Unite the Right” rally. I keep looking for eyes. Such images are elusive, but I keep searching. White supremacist. Counter-protester. Police officer. Medic. Clergy. Car driver. Victim. Hat wearer: “Make America Great Again.”

I want—need—to see deep down in the eyes. Glimpse a flash of soul, perhaps. What happened in Charlottesville was terrorism, plain and simple. The eyes remind me of the complicated part: that I share something fundamental with everyone who was there, even with the Nazis, even with James Alex Fielders, who wielded his car as a weapon, likely hoping to commit mass murder. The eyes remind me, We’re all trying to be human together. And I dare to believe what all terrorists refuse to: That because we’re all trying to be human together, we have a responsibility to one another.

I imagine that white supremacists find themselves quoting Thomas Jefferson on occasion. After all, he was into having an armed citizenry, and thought a little rebellion (with bloodshed) could be good for the nation, now and then. A fairly close relative of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general whose statue was at the center of the Charlotteville clash, Jefferson was also, frankly, a racist.

But at least he recognized the possibility of his own limitations. “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind,” he wrote. “As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” Institutions, and citizens.

So here’s a message to my white supremacist brothers and sisters: You’re not keeping pace. You’re living in the past, and the rest of us aren’t going back with you. To quote the Declaration of Independence, “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” to nonviolently drag this country, and if necessary its leadership, into a future where the equal rights and worth of all people (including you) are recognized and celebrated. It might take us generations as a nation to get there, but that’s the prize, and our eyes are fixed on it.

Oh, and just so you know, I refuse to hate you. I don’t need to hate you in order to resist what you stand for. Besides, I don’t want to hate you—for moral and spiritual reasons, yes, but also for strategic and tactical ones. To quote your possible hero Jefferson one last time, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”

So, a friendly warning: You’d better watch out. Because my kinda people, we’re cool as a solar eclipse, and we’re unruffled as ducks on water. Go ahead and try to “Unite the Right” if you want. You’re wasting your time. All around you, we’re uniting the light.

Don’t be scared of it. Come on over. Let’s look each other in the eye.




Are You Tuned In?

My latest book, Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems (co-edited with Ruby R. Wilson), will soon be out. Tune into the tv screen below, and you can distinguish the book’s beautiful cover image, which was shot by David Moynahan.

Seriously, though, the poems in this book are all about “tuning in” to our lives. I was recently reminded of how difficult that can be when I ended up having to copy-edit the book’s proof while camping with my family in the Rockies and Tetons, far from the Internet and cell phone service!


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