Poetry And Prose

I quit my job with German public radio after my assignment for the US Westcoast ended in 2008. Since then, I am on a path back to creative writing, to making up stories, to going from reporter voice to deep voice, to being personal and vulnerable, to playing with words. Auf Deutsch and in English. What started as a few steps here and there has turned into a daily routine. I hope I never give up on it again. Do you also want to write poetry and/or prose? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I would love to support you in your quest.

Letters to Make Sense - Tehrangeles, CA

     Two sheets of white paper lie in front of me. One is covered in bold and vivid lines, green and golden. To me they look like arches, minarets, sails and ships and stars. Next to it, on straight black lines, I see familiar German words. Unruly, shaky letters which look like they want to fly away. It is a letter from my mother, a belated Christmas greeting.

     I received both papers on the same day, the first one from a poet in 'Tehrangeles', a part of Los Angeles where many families live who came to the U.S. from Iran. That morning I walked into the poet's shop as a reporter looking for reactions to escalating tension in the Middle East. He said there was not enough time to talk and make sense of anything, as he was with a student to teach her calligraphy. He then handed me the paper with green and golden lines. "I wrote this poem about news coming from Iran, the demonstrators that were shot," he said. "It is for you."

My Novel - Beginnings, Drafts, Agents, Query-Letters

ScreenShot NovelStart July2022

This is the beginning of the 6th draft of my novel. The Cliffs is my working title.

“What is your novel’s story in one sentence?” a friend asked me yesterday. She says I need to know that sentence and be able to say it out loud at a moment’s notice in case I meet a literary agent, an editor, or a publisher. One sentence? For a book of roughly 70 000 words? Hm.

Farewells and New Beginnings

Farewells and New Beginnings

Poetry and Short Stories

Author: Kerstin Zilm

My first published book in English takes readers on roller coaster rides through love and loss, death and life, dreams and small perfect moments.

I took notes for these poems and short stories in California during a year of record fires, destructive rains and blossoms of wildflowers visible from space. In my life it was a year of confronting death with an open heart while embarking on a journey of many new beginnings.

Available at Amazon

Memorial Day - My Uncle Niels

I wish I met my uncle Niels. We have the same birthday. May 23rd.

My uncle Niels was four years older than my dad. He was born in 1933 when birthdays of boys with blond hair and blue eyes like his were celebrated in Germany more than others.

My grandparents started a photo album on his birthday. "For our crown prince Niels," it says in handwritten Art Deco letters on the first page. "A document of his life, his travels, and his big adventures."

My uncle Niels was the first of three siblings. Five years after my dad, my aunt Swantje arrived. All of them had pearly skin, were blond and had blue eyes. My uncle Niels was the only one with a straight nose and straight short hair. They combed it Hitler-style across his head. In pictures, he wears short lederhosen, my dad sailor suits, and my aunt white dresses.

The pictures from his first two years show my uncle Niels looking curious at the photographer and the world around him, mostly wide beaches and happy-looking people posing in old-fashioned swimsuits. Later, there is a sense of distrust in his piercing eyes.

Fluffed Pillows

It was way after midnight in a fancy hotel room near Florence, Italy: marble floor and countertops in the bathroom, golden toilet-paper-roll-holder, golden faucets at the sink and the deep bathtub, extra-plush white bathrobe with matching extra-plush white slippers. Two bottles of water on the cherry-wood dresser, one still, one sparkling. The scent of orange blossoms coming through the open window with a view over green hills covered in olive trees and blooming oleander bushes.

Ein Jahr in Kalifornien

Ein Jahr in Kalifornien - Auswandern auf Zeit

Auswandern auf Zeit

Author: Kerstin Zilm

My book about events and encounters I had as freshly arrived correspondent in Los Angeles. From trips along the coast, into the desert, to San Francisco and to National Parks to surprises within the city of Los Angeles. I write about meeting celebrities and about getting the chance to contact aliens on desert campgrounds. I describe how even constant traffic jams and bureaucracy did not deter me from exploring California. Hopefully this book will leave you with the desire to pack your bags and start your own California adventure.

Available at Herder or Amazon

One Twenty, Twenty-one

Is the sun brighter? The air lighter? The sky wider?

A blanket I did not know I carried was lifted.

The first tears roll down my cheek when a woman in uniform pledges allegiance to this country not only in words but in sign language.

I watch in awe the young poet, fierce, in a yellow coat and red headband, her hands punctuating every line like birds in the winter air.

Her words and voice pierce through my heart, they sever and slash, soothe and caress, whip me awake.

Tell me to take

responsibility and help make

this world whole and united.

Remember her name

not just her fame

or her performing

It is Amanda Gorman.

She makes me want to be better, choose my clothes more wisely and my words, comb my hair with

So We Pretend - Marina del Rey, CA

{http://soundcloud.com/soundslikerstin/so-we-pretend-a-poem}

I have a hard time these days putting into words what I see, hear, feel and think. Some days I am busy with radio work. Some days I go on walks with our puppy. Some days I can't stop crying while I watch a stupid movie with a talking dog.

Labor day weekend, a weekend of record heat and smoke-filled skies from fires in Southern California, I sat in Los Angeles' Marina looking out on the water with a cold drink next to me. Suddenly I thought: "How can we pretend that everything's ok?"

Later at home, I wrote this poem:

Ausgeschlossen

Ausgeschlossen - Eine Weltreise entlang Mauern, Zäunen und Abgründen

Eine Weltreise entlang Mauern, Zäunen und Abgründen

Authors: Die Weltreporter, i.a. Kerstin Zilm

Donald Trump’s fans loved his campaign chant "Build that wall!” But not only in the United States are we in an era of walls and border controls. Today, there are more than three times as many border fences, walls and barriers worldwide as were during the Cold War. All in all, they are 41,000 km long.

weltreporter have traveled along these borders on different continents. They have visited construction sites and talked with architects, entrepreneurs and politicians, border guards, smugglers and refugees.

For my story, I met a family that has been separated by the US-Mexico border for 17 years. At a fence they can see but not touch each other. I also accompany a photographer who documents the changes at the border. She took me to a place where I could see Trump's wall prototypes up close.

Available at Randomhouse

My Privilege to Breathe, Los Angeles - Minneapolis

May 25, 2020. Memorial Day. 6 PM in Los Angeles. We decide to prepare the tenderloin, sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts first, go to the beach for sunset, have a dinner and movie night at home. I start peeling potatoes while my husband marinates meat for the grill.

2000 miles northeast it's 8 PM. The sun has set. There is still a glow of light. The air is warm. An employee of the Cup Foods store, corner of 38th street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Missouri calls the police. A man, he says, used a fake 20 dollar note to buy a pack of cigarettes. Eight minutes later a squad car arrives. 

6:20 PM Los Angeles. While I pour olive oil over the veggies, add fresh rosemary and lemon juice, 17 year old Darnella Frazier pushes the video button on her smartphone.

Die Flüchtlingsrevolution

Die Flüchtlingsrevolution - Wie die neue Völkerwanderung die ganze Welt verändert

Wie die neue Völkerwanderung die ganze Welt verändert

Authors: Die Weltreporter, i.a. Kerstin Zilm

Refugees are found everywhere in the world. The whole globe is in motion. People are escaping from war and violence, from inequality and prosecution, fearing the destruction of their home land and a bad future for their children. The United Nations Refugee Agency registered 60 million refugees in 2015. The Weltreporter met refugees all over the world and wrote down their stories. They also documented ideas and plans about how to meet those changes with innovative ideas.

For my story, I accompany a mother from El Salvador and her son who followed her to Los Angeles. Lidia left the shadows of her life as an undocumented immigrant to represent him in court. They tell me about their dangerous trips to the North, their disappointments, hopes and courageous steps to fulfill their 'American Dream'.

Available at Randomhouse

What The Bird Knows, - del Rey, CA

{http://soundcloud.com/soundslikerstin/whatthebirdknows}

I was lucky. When the corona virus restrictions started in California, I was staying in a secluded writing shed close to Malibu working on a 3 hour segment about bestselling writer Cornelia Funke for Deutschlandradio's, 'Die Lange Nacht'. I was in the middle of nature with almost no access to the internet, which turned out to be an even bigger blessing than I initially thought it would be. 

Coming back to my home office was a different story. I can not help but follow the news, scroll through Social Media feeds, keep way to busy instead of seavouring the moment to be still and wait for what needs to arise.

I do stare out of the window quite a lot though when I sit at my desk and try to make sense of it all. I am still working on the 'making sense' part, but staring out of the window at least made me write a new poem. Here it is:

WHAT THE BIRD KNOWS

I wonder what the bird knows/The red chested finch/A cheerful troubadour

Jumping from branch to branch/In the tree with purple flowers/That almost died ten years ago

Does the red chested finch miss the humming chant to its a capella song/The constant buzz of nonstop traffic

Does the air drift lighter through its feathers/Is it easier for the finch to breathe

Turbulences - Memories From Germany

My last trip through Germany was intense. There was the weather: October, cold and rainy mostly. Then there were my parents: fragile, sick, needing help. For a while I was sure, we would not make it to my nephew's wedding, a seven hour car ride up north. But we did! We celebrated through the night, our hearts full of love and gratitude. Then we drove back to my parents' house. The next day I spent ten hours on trains to Berlin and arrived just in time for the annual weltreporter meeting. "The vanishing world" was our main event, discussing the future of foreign correspondents. Nothing lighthearted and not a lot uplifting here ;-) Three days later I was back on a train to see my parents once again before my flight home to LA. A vacation it was not. 

Back at home I sat at my desk looking at familiar houses across the street, birds in the bushes, and cats on the prowl. I started writing. My memories from this trip boiled down into a story-dream.

Turbulences

     "Hang up your coats, enjoy the ride," says the conductress. "Here we go." I hang onto my armrest. I focus on the fields of harvested corn race by. I unwrap my liverwurst-pickle-sandwich and take a big bite. Then I delete thoughts, plans and memories with one blink of my left eye. Fog moves in. Layers of future, past and present.

     "Hopelessness is the path to presence," a message pops up on my screen. Mind readers are hiding on my wrist.

Völlig Utopisch

Völlig Utopisch - 17 Beispiele einer besseren Welt

17 Beispiele einer besseren Welt

Authors: Die Weltreporter, i.a. Kerstin Zilm

Yes, they do exist - realized utopias. Weltreporter tell the stories of small and gigantic steps out of society into a new world. Of projects and alternative societies at the edge of globalization. Of people, who went for realizing their dreams of a better life, here and now against all odds.

I visited town of campers, tents and RVs in the California desert close to the Mexican border. “Slab City” calls itself the last free space in the USA. Without connections to power, water and infrastructure they face daily struggles of survival. Drug dealers and smugglers regularly cross their territory,  but the revolutionaries, outcasts and artists find a creative way to live according to their own rules. Slab City’s residents talk to me about their reasons to leave behind houses, jobs and families. I attend one of the legendary concerts under a sky full of stars and get a better understanding of what it means to live an utopian life.

Available at Randomhouse

To-Do-List For Real Love - Santa Monica, CA

Last week end we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary, and I thought back to how we met more than 20 years ago. I thought about how on paper it looked like this relationship could never work. Not only because we lived on separate continents in different time zones and had grown up in different worlds. I thought about how my future husband checked only a few boxes I had come up with for my next boyfriend after the last breakup. I thought about how happy I still am that I did neither follow reasonable advice friends gave me nor serious warnings that I gave myself.

Then, I wrote this poem: 

To-Do-List For Real Love

Go ahead! Make your list of what your next companion has to be:

Nice, strong, filthy rich

A traveler of the world

A savvy business woman

A race car driver with a mansion

A nomad creating poems in a van

By Heart - Culver City, CA

One of my favorite things about writing beyond journalism is: I never know where it takes me. Like when I answer prompts for writers' meetings. "What do you know by heart?" was one question. Minutes later, memories folded into spices on my tongue seasoned with lines from the morning's newspaper: 

My parents' phone number I know by heart: null sieben sechs drei eins, vier drei drei acht.

My school friend's number: null sieben sechs drei eins, sechs eins drei fünf.

My number in L.A.: three one zero, three eight three, one two five one.

 

I know by heart the feeling of sand between my toes on Venice Beach. I know by heart how to pick up a pen and write. And write. And write and write. I know by heart lyrics of ABBA songs, Smokie, Rolling Stones, Juanes, Kate Bush, Zara Leander, Blondie, Prince. I know by heart a lot of useless words like that. Not at all useless, because I'm very happy when I sing along.

I know by heart my favorite recipe: coconut ginger carrot soup. I always put more ginger than the recipe instructs.

Today I peel ginger, an extra portion on top of what I usually do. Ginger to burn away words, pictures, sounds of those killed

In Gilroy

In El Paso

In Dayton

To burn away thoughts of those left behind with candles, prayers, tears.

The River Calling - Esalen, CA

"Now, I want you to leave the yurt," our teacher said. She pointed to the windows as if we did not know what was outside: pine trees, eucalyptus, redwoods, the Pacific Ocean and clouds heavy with potential rain. "It is too beautiful to stay inside." She asked us to go towards what's calling us. She promised it would speak to us. She said it would tell us what to write. "It can be a flower, a tree, a bird, a wagon wheel. You will know."

We were in Esalen, Big Sur, a magic place, where people say those things and no one laughs. 

We put on our shoes and jackets, and off we went in all directions, notebooks and pens in our hands. Some of my fellow explorers seemed to know exactly where to go. One sat down next to a bush, one touched a tree. Most seemed a bit lost and still searching like me. We walked slowly, stopped, looked to the sky, into the distance, to the earth. 

Butterscotch Pines - Palm Springs, CA

We walk between the smell of butterscotch from pines. Snow swirls melt on my hair. A creek makes soft turns between red barked giants. Our steps are soft on paths moist from leaves and needles. In the distance water crashes over granite slabs into the gorge.

The light is soft beneath heavy clouds. The air is thin and cold. Each breath is precious. A tree with naked arms becomes a bridge across the flood. Silver, it pierces the sky. We cross, we smile, we laugh, take pictures. An adventure off the beaten path. My jacket is bright blue and warm. You carry our backpack and help me down the graveled rocks. 

Home on the Cliff - At the California Coast

Stuck to the window frame in front of my desk is a picture of a house at the ocean. My dream home. 

It is also the place where the story of my next book might happen. Last week I wrote the following words. Would you keep reading?

Drunk from this new beginning. My cup of life is filled with sage, rosemary and love. 

This is the magic place where I will start with all of who and what life made me. Where lies to please and appease end. Where nothing but straight forward action is required. Not a lot of spoken words, but kindness and compassion.

The house came furnished. All I brought fit in my car: a suitcase with clothes and a box of books, notebooks and pens, kitchen stuff, two sets of sheets and towels, the teddy bear my mother gave me when I was six years old and a machete for the weeds. 

Barefoot Under Waterfalls - Santa Monica Mountains

Our hike is mellow after an asphalt climb between mansions, wrought iron gates and garden landscapes. We walk through meadows of fresh grass towards a valley of dead trees, leaves the color of rust and a path of mud mixed with ash. Out of scorched hillsides grow fields of phospherous green, wild mustard yellow, lupine purple and California poppy orange. We cross a creek. Its whisper will be our companion and lead us to the waterfall.

The sky is this day's canvas. Cornflower blue. Not one cloud. Coal limbs from old trees stretch towards it, surviving witnesses of last November's forest fires. I touch a bark-less carbon skin. It's soft like driftwood and leaves no trace inside my hand.

Before the fires, thorny bushes scratched my calves along this hike. Sage and fern grew everywhere. Shade from trees used to keep the earth moist and slippery.

Today, we walk on sun baked paths.

Body of Love - Los Angeles California

{http://soundcloud.com/soundslikerstin/bodyoflove}

Get out of your head, they say.

Get out of your house.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Well, I did all that last week, when I stepped towards the microphone at pspoets "Night of Love".

BodyLoveReadingEddieDirk

Start the Smoke Signals - Los Angeles, CA

The start key of my computer broke.

"This is a sign", a friend suggested.

Is it a sign that I should never start the thing again?

Is it a sign of improper handling on my side?

Is it a sign of bad design and shitty craftsmanship?

Anyway, I kept using the computer and each time I did, I wiggled the start key alive. I used tweezers, scissors, sometimes a letter opener, sometimes a nail. Until the light came on and the computer sighed its signature start-up-melody. When I was done working I kept the computer in sleep mode. Until out of habit I turned it off. Which happened more often than you might think, and forced me to wiggle it alive more often than I wanted to.

The computer I am writing about is the one I use for writing, editing, producing, sending my stories to the clients. It is my only one. IT IS IMPORTANT. And the start-key is an important key. The most important, I used to think. But that's