Sunday, September 30, 2012

In My Attempts to Lift the Veil

Early this morning, while sitting at my table saying good morning in an email to a friend, I looked outside at the full moon that was still up just over the tree tops. In that same moment, I heard a flock of geese honking as they flew by under the light of the moon. It was not a bad way to start the day.

I've become quite obsessed with the always-changing light this time of year. It reached a fever pitch last year under the crab apple tree as I chased the light round and round, always seeing something new. If I stand in one spot for even a minute, the light will change several times. The leaves that are highlighted one moment become upstaged by the bark, which is busy filling in its rough edges with leftover light.

I learned  long ago that running for your camera at such moments is a waste of time. By the time you return, all you saw previously is gone, replaced by something else. Beautiful perhaps, but not that moment. Better to stand still and just look.

However, I have taken to keeping my camera in my pocket and am now attempting to have my cake and eat it, too.

I will sing for the veil that never lifts.
I will sing for the veil that begins, once in a lifetime,
   maybe, to lift.
I will sing for the rent in the veil.
I will sing for what is in front of the veil, the
   floating light.
I will sing for what is behind the veil -
   light, light, and more light.

~ Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud

Friday, September 28, 2012

Saying the Inadmissible

This poem doesn't seem to want to recede into my personal archives, but keeps reappearing. I like the poem, but am not certain why. Perhaps I like the idea of saying something inadmissible (actually, there's no perhaps about it), and I think kisses make pretty good oaths. Other than that, I'm not sure... But now, I feel I should post it. I don't know why. Perhaps I'll find out....

"The Rules of Evidence"

What you want to say most
is inadmissible.
Say it anyway.
Say it again.
What they tell you is irrelevant
can't be denied and will
eventually be heard.
Every question
is a leading question.
Ask it anyway, then expect
what you won't get.
There is no such thing
as the original
so you'll have to make do
with a reasonable facsimile.

The history of the world
is hearsay. Hear it.
The whole truth
is unspeakable
and nothing but the truth
is a lie.
I swear this.
My oath is a kiss.
I swear
by everything

~ Lee Robinson

I took the photograph yesterday just because I liked the way the light was coming through the trees. It sure is pretty outside.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Peas on Earth

Amy and I met shortly after I arrived in Santa Fe in the late fall of 2001. When we were introduced, I wasn't so sure I was going to like her. The first thing out of her mouth was about how my "accent" sounded like something right out of the movie, "Fargo." I silently took umbrage. I do not sound like a character from "Fargo," but I am from Minn-e-so-ta. Turns out, she was not the only person who would pick up on that. In time, I learned to ameliorate it through a greater awareness - cutting way back on my, "Yeah, you betcha's," - and we became fast friends, though she was sort of a city girl.

Born and bred on the east coast, in a family that had become wealthy but broken, she was still struggling with family issues when we met. They seemed to follow her around, nipping at her heels. We had many conversations about life with her father, otherwise known to her as "The Great Santini." I was invited to lunch with them once, when he was visiting Amy, and I saw things differently. But, perception is everything, I didn't grow up in their house, and Amy's perception seemed locked in around that issue. I only mention this because, well, it all seems tied to Amy's life, and, perhaps, even her passing.

Amy was a sculptress who created beautiful pieces using the theme of pea pods, naming her small company "Peas on Earth." She had an article in "Victoria," a magazine I had liked very much at one time, years before I met her, and she'd built a nice following to her work, often creating commissioned work such as a canopy bed for someone's daughter, or a garden bench for a mutual friend who lived just off Canyon Road. She created a line of jewelry and, to make ends meet, home decor items such as wall sconces, candle holders, and wine decanters. Just prior to her passing, a piece of her sculpture was added to the International Peace Garden on the border between the U.S. and Canada.

Before she arrived in New Mexico, she'd spent most of her adult life in New York City. She got her start by creating jewelry for herself and then for friends who inquired about it. One day, while on an elevator, someone from Cartier spotted her jewelry and she was invited aboard as an apprentice designer. I'll let Amy tell you a little more about that in her own words further on in this story.

At the time, she lived in the same neighborhood as John Gotti, a "family" man you might have heard of, and she mentioned that many times his guys would help her carry her groceries, always very polite and helpful. It was just one of the NYC stories she shared with me and I was all ears. She had some great stories.

We both liked to try a variety of cuisine and Santa Fe has no shortage of that. One day it would be Greek, another day Thai, and yet another day Himalayan or Vietnamese. It was a cornucopia. Because of her, I had my first cup of Turkish coffee. The best cup of coffee I have ever had. It comes in a very small cup and you only drink about 2/3 of it so as to avoid the grounds at the bottom. No sweetener, no cream, and it was absolutely delicious.

She possessed a joie de vivre that constantly amazed me, her sense of style always shining through. She could throw something on and be ready to go in no time at all. And she did it with no fear. Amy didn't keep the most organized house, but she did keep an interesting one. One day, we were getting ready to go someplace, she hadn't selected anything from her wardrobe yet and laundry day was way overdue, so she pulled a colorful vest from the pile, asked, "What do you think?" Then she put it on - backwards. It was perfect.

Her hair had turned silver at a young age, and so she had fun with it, often sporting a slash of pink among the silver. It was a combo that seemed to go with her style and her passion for life. One evening, as we sat at the Saigon Cafe, she handed me a small box. Inside was a brooch and a pair of earrings she had created for me: pea pods, with tendrils curling around them in an elegant earthiness, and an insect, sort of a pea pod praying mantis. I was thrilled and loved wearing them. The purse I'm displaying them on is one from my collection. I bought it at the Tesuque Flea Market, where we loved to go and just look around on the weekends. They once had matching slippers, which have since worn out.

She would haul stuff home from second hand stores or the Habitat for Humanity store and rework it into a great new piece of home decor, a hanging lamp or something. One day, we thought we'd go up to the Santa Rosa Reservoir in the hills above Chimayo. We both had a hankering to be near some water. We decided to take the road through Nambe. As we made the turn, we saw a white cabinet in the middle of the road. We stopped, she jumped out, hauled it in the car, examined it briefly, and then announced it was exactly what she had been looking for, for a project she was working on. See?  I'm not the only one.

She was one of those friends with whom you could share anything and she would listen without judgement or an inordinate amount of questions. We were both adult women and had lived our lives without a whole lot of hesitation. She was working on a screenplay loosely based on her life, and she talked of how we'd enter the world of film-making together, setting the industry on its ears with what we had to say. A lot of talk, but it sure was fun talk.

We talked about our times of loneliness and how we dealt with it, the little ways we'd found to combat it, when it wanted to tap at the edges of our consciousness. She had the practice of leaving the radio on at home, to a much-loved oldies station, and whenever she returned from being out and about, there it was, voices and that familiar, almost always happy music.

We shared a friendship just shy of three years, but we packed a lot into that time. Cancer seemed to come and go and just when we thought she had it licked, it reared its ugly head again. About the time I thought she was finally past it, I found out she was just keeping quiet about it. Maybe she wanted to protect me from the worst of it, or she just wanted to proceed on her own. One day, in the fall of 2005, her mother came to visit, told her it was time for her to come home to Saratoga Springs, in New York, and within a few days Amy had given away most of her things, made arrangements to move back east, and that's the last time I saw her.

We stayed in touch through letters and phone calls for a few months. She sent photographs of a lake in upstate New York she thought I'd like, with islands for camping, and encouraged me to visit as soon as possible. That was around Christmas time in 2005. A few weeks went by and I hadn't heard from her, so I called her number only to find it was no longer in service. I found her mother's number and called. Amy was already gone. She had passed in late January and her mother, not knowing me at all, had not contacted me. It was probably almost impossible news to deliver and I do understand.

After hearing the news, I found myself driving over to Second Street, where she had lived, walked down to her loft, thought about the day before she'd left, how I had walked away from her place with the sun shining so bright and warm, and yet knowing, on some very deep level, I would never see her again. That day, I barely held it together on my way to the car. When I returned to her place, after hearing of her passing, I sat in my car again and wept. Bitterly. It seemed unfair and it seemed unnecessary, and I had to take some time to adjust, learn to accept it.

It's taken me some time, but I think I have come to accept it, as much as one can accept the loss of a friend who brought so much to one's life. It's why I can write about her today. I have come to appreciate more and more the struggle she faced, how she fought to maintain a sense of normalcy, her deep love of life, and her ability to live each moment fully for whatever time remained. Her courage encourages me still. I'm even thinking of replacing those worn out velvet slippers with a brand new pair.

And now, I'd better pull myself together, because Buddy isn't used to seeing me cry and it's time to get on with this day. Maybe I'll wear my pea pod earrings and brooch around the house for a while and think of Amy. I can see her now: she's riding in a convertible through the streets of Paris, a man who loves her is by her side, just like all those years ago. She's happy, the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing through her beautiful pink and silver hair.

Here, in Amy's own words, from her brochure (please click to enlarge):

Postscript: As I was going through the memorabilia and brochures for this piece on Amy, I decided to look again at that last card she sent me, about five weeks before her passing. I hadn't looked at it for years, nor could I remember anything about it. Imagine my surprise when this is what I found. 

Yes, I believe she is telling me something. For those who might not remember this post, from March of last year, "Everything Lives Inside Us."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dreaming of Amy

Somewhere between 4:00 in the morning, when I first got up for the day, and now, sitting here a few hours later, I laid down on the couch, fell back asleep and dreamed. No, I don't do that often, but when I do, dreamland seems even more real, more accessible.

I was in a city that I've dreamed of before, but have never actually inhabited in this reality. I know this city only from my dreams. While there, early this morning, I inquired at the house of a landlady I knew in the city, remembering how much I had liked where I'd lived before and was hoping she still had that place or something similar available again. She did. And so I found myself back at my old apartment in an interesting old building, an apartment of hardwood floors and several rooms strung together with a long, inside hallway, each room with large windows overlooking the small city three stories below. I know these streets, have both walked and bicycled them many times, which is something I have never done in real life. The city has an old world feeling to it, but is in somewhat modern times. I stand at the windows looking down. I'm glad to be "home," again.

Then, I'm sitting at an outdoor table with my friend, Amy, who passed on several years ago. The sun is shining brightly and a man I know, but have never met in this life, is introducing me to two young men that we all know I've met before, but because this is a new dream we silently acknowledge this and introductions are knowingly made anyway. One of the young men, probably in his late 20's, has a thick shock of already graying hair and seems shy or maybe a bit unsure why we are being introduced again.  We all know each other already.

While walking by a busy pier of sorts, I see an old friend whom I've met in previous dreams, and only in dreams. We greet one another and are happy to see each other again. We then both move on, into the day and the dream as life is bustling right now and it feels good. The sun is shining and it's a beautiful day.

I could describe this friend to you, could even pick him out in a crowd, but haven't actually met him in this life. Perhaps we are yet to meet. That's happened you know, perhaps to you, too, this meeting people in dreams, seeing them so clearly and knowing them, and then they show up, sometimes years later, in this life.

That dream fades and my friend, Amy, and I are walking down a side street - it's autumn in Santa Fe - and we are making our way slowly to the Pink Adobe Cafe, a new and  smaller version of the older one that has recently opened next door for light lunches. We are going very slowly as Amy is showing signs of frailty and is feeling weak. We don't know that she will be gone from this life as we've known it in just a few short months. She is fighting hard to remain in this life she loves so much. We are fighting together for her, but fear sometimes creeps in and makes for awfully disquieting silences. We sit together in the silence and the sunlight that's pouring through the large glass doors near the table where we are sitting. The dream expands into pure light and I wake up.

Perhaps it's time to tell you about Amy. I've been keeping her story for the right time. I think you're going to like her as much as I did, and do.  More so, every day.

I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mapping Sunlight Through the Trees

The sun is going down and I've just removed the laundry from the line. With the scent of autumn in the bed sheets I watch the last of the light filter through the trees. In the background I hear the hum of the refrigerator and think of how it must have felt to be a Native American, to always watch the world in quiet. No wonder they wanted so badly to keep this land exactly as it had always been. They surely knew that someday we'd be right here, right where we are ...

"A Map to the Next World"

for Desiray Kierra Chee

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land,
how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, 
as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals
our children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map
appears to disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak
to them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your
father’s small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—
a spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the
song she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where
they entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs
from the destruction.

Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning
our tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who 
was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

~ Joy Harjo

The photograph is mine.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Boots and Middens

When I arrived in Santa Fe, back when the fall of '01 was heading into the winter of '02, one of the first things I did was attend a screening of "Endurance," a documentary about the Shackleton Expedition to the South Pole. It's an adventure that's always intrigued me. It was appearing at what became one of my favorite movie houses, then known as Plan B, a single screen with stadium style seats. It made for nice viewing in polite company.

While I was waiting in the lobby for the previous film to end a man approached me and started talking about the movie we were both going to see. Well, what was put in motion that night ended up being a nice friendship with many interesting dates. We saw Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain in Albuquerque, as well as a Russian ballet troupe performing a ballet based on "Spartacus." That's right. There were stringed quartets, symphonies and orchestras. We also watched and listened to Elizabeth Futral, a well-known soprano, sing a variety of arias at an auditorium in Los Alamos. It was very moving. A handsome, dark-haired man in front of us sat quietly, not moving a muscle, tears rolling down his cheeks.

But none of those events were our first date. No, our first date was going to the landfill together. It was actually a rather clever way to get things rolling. He had to make a trip there, he invited me along, and ever since I have used landfills to take care of my garbage instead of a truck picking it up at my house. It's way cheaper and I like to do it myself. You are aware, of course, that's where the garbage you have picked up every week goes, right? The stuff we don't recycle? It does not disappear into the truck and then the ether. It goes into the ground. One day, years hence, archaeologists are going to do some rather extensive digs around here and we're not going to look very good. We've taken the idea of a midden to a whole 'nother level.

Anyway. The landfill in Santa Fe - El Dorado, outside of Santa Fe, to be exact - was state of the art as landfills go. I paid twenty dollars for the year and that gave me ten trips, which was exactly right for me.

Time appearing to do what it does, another winter came along, I believe it was '07, not an "Endurance" kind of winter, but I needed a pair of snow boots for the first time since arriving there. All the winters had been very mild and basically snow-free. But this particular winter the snow came on New Year's Eve and didn't let up until late the next night thirty seven inches later. Plows are almost non-existent in New Mexico so we were snow bound for about five days.

In the meantime, we found rather creative ways to shovel snow. Friends up the road used the lid to their garbage can. I used a spade. In 30 minute increments and with the sun shining it wasn't half-bad; if you get into the rhythm, it moves along quite nicely. As a matter of fact, I kind of like shoveling snow as long as it doesn't get Sisyphus-like.

After arriving at some form of acceptance I knew it was time to get those winter boots. Ugly Uggs were very popular but I didn't want to spend the do-re-mi, so I just put it out there, not outlining what my boots should look like or when they should show up, although I mentioned that soon would be good. Where they would show up, of course, became the fun part.

Not long after I put that request out to the universe I had to make a trip to the landfill. When I was done throwing  the detritus of my life into the pit, as I was getting back in the car, something caught my eye near the big doors where sometimes people would put nicer things they thought someone might be able to use when their use for them had been exhausted. There my boots were, waiting for me, almost brand new, in that ubiquitous tan and size 11. Not exactly a usual woman's shoe size, but my size.

So you see, that first date had a purpose even if the subsequent ones didn't. Fun as they were. That's how I learned about the landfill. Funny how things get set in motion and where they take us.

Happy Autumnal Equinox. Here are the Moody Blues to help us welcome it:

Image: autumn at Lonewolf 2011.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Standing Inside the Rain

Well, I suppose I should follow my Hendrix story with my unrequited love for Richie Havens story. I don't think a Woodstock theme is emerging. Time will tell.

It began many years ago, as most memories seem to these days. It was in the '70's and I was watching a television talk show. Couldn't tell you now which one, but Richie was a guest. In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he could remember being nine months old and he described this memory to the interviewer. Not knowing much about Richie, my ears perked up and it made me want to pay closer attention. There was something about his presence, even through the television, that reached out and touched me in ways I couldn't explain. Later, I would describe it to myself as a spiritual presence that seemed to enshroud him, in a very gentle way. I wasn't into auras, it was a feeling. Every time I saw him on television or listened to his music, there it was, same feeling. It didn't go away.

Then, in October of 1992, a whole bunch of musicians got together at Madison Square Garden and celebrated thirty years of Bob Dylan's music. Neil Young dubbed it Bobfest and it stuck. It was shown on PBS and I think I still might have it on VHS. That was a while back, and won't be viewed again in that format. The main reason I wanted to hang onto and re-watch portions of it, on more than one occasion? Richie Havens. He performed Dylan's song, "Just Like a Woman." I was transfixed, repeatedly.

A few years later, word was received that Richie would be performing at a high school auditorium only thirty miles away. Tickets were promptly gotten. I may not have let them out of my sight. It was a night I had been waiting for many years. Our seats were about five rows back, left center. It was perfect.

I couldn't tell you now what was on his play list that night, but I do know how he ended it. Yep. "Just Like a Woman." He played and played and played those strings with such unbridled enthusiasm and joy that by the end of the song we were all on our feet. He jumped up, too, and finished it standing, with broken strings flying every which way. He wore a long white robe and if Jesus had been a guitar player I think that's what he would have looked like, maybe sounded like, too. It was an ecstatic moment and the best altar call ever.

A few months after that, I was hanging out with friends and talking to a guy named Lars about that night. He'd been there, too. Afterwards, he went around to the back of the auditorium to see if he could see him, you know, the same stuff I used to do, until I didn't. Maybe you did that once or twice yourself? Hmmmm? Well, not only did he get to meet him, but there was a pickup game of basketball on the outside courts and there was Richie in his long white robe, playing basketball. Lars was asked to join and so he did, naturally. He played basketball with Richie Havens.

I'm still jealous.

Here's Richie with, "Tupelo Honey," and, "Just Like a Woman," from 1974 ( a beautiful segue), followed by the Bobfest version. In the comments below one of the videos a viewer wrote, "He winds up from beneath his feet and casts his soul across the universe." Exactly so. I include both only because I can't get enough of Richie Havens, and they're both great. I couldn't decide, so I'm leaving it up to you.

I have to add: just as I decided on the title of this post, taken from the song, it started to rain for the first time in a long while.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This is Not Our Fate

Forty-two years ago today, I was sitting in a cafe in my hometown when a carload of friends showed up. I'd never been much of a party-er, but some of them were. Truth be told, I had stayed home most nights and watched Bobby Darin and Dean Martin's variety shows on television. In my wilder moments I fancied myself a flower child. When that car showed up I was somewhere in between.

My friend, Stan, jumped out followed by Ronnie and a few others, then Stan admitted to being "stoned." I had an inkling what that meant but had never experienced it, yet. I was a little taken aback, as hearing that Stan was stoned had never entered my mind. Yet, there it was, and he seemed so happy! How could I not be happy for him?  He said there was going to be a party at Ronnie's. Did we want to go? We (we being a story for another time) decided 'why not?'

We arrived shortly after the party had started. As we walked through the front door, Ronnie, party host, informed us that Jimi Hendrix had died. Although I wasn't a huge Hendrix fan, I knew it was more bad news for the music scene. On the wall behind Ronnie was a poster of Hendrix, colorful and still full of life. It was an odd juxtaposition. I can still see myself standing there, not sure how to take it all in.

Leap ahead many years, we're talking twenty-five years, and I'm living out at my farmhouse in Ansel. My youngest son, Coleman, is eleven years old. He's just started to pick up the guitar my older son, Trevor, had left for him to mess around on. I'm standing in the kitchen, as I seem to be doing a lot of in my life, and he walks in, guitar in hand, and asks me to listen to something. Then he plays, note for elongated note, Jimi's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Woodstock style. I was elated! And then I was concerned. My son, precocious thing that he was, had just escaped my clutches and there was no turning back. He now has a band of his own, has had since he was thirteen.

During the time I lived in Ansel, I had Jimi's "All Along the Watchtower" as my answering machine message, and I do mean answering machine. Remember when we had machines with a cord to the phone and a tiny little cassette tape for taping and receiving messages?  I still have mine. Don't ask why. Anyway, during that time, I had my first and only colonoscopy. One day, while I was at work, the doctor who did the colonoscopy (I thought he was kind of cute, which didn't match well with the whole colonoscopy thing) called and left a message on it. First, he told me he was a Hendrix fan and that he liked my answering machine song and then he followed it with nothing but good news.

And there you have it. Perhaps the only Jimi Hendrix and colonoscopy story you'll ever read. Aren't you glad I got that over with? 

Here's Jimi ...

I'd like to dedicate this post to Stan. He left this world several years ago now, complications from diabetes. I've mentioned him in a previous post. He was a gorgeous thing. His mother was Native American, his father, Cuban. Before he left, we became even better friends, graduating from the same college on the same day in the spring of '75. No, we never had a "relationship," but we did love each other in that best of all possible worlds. What would he think of my mentioning him along with Jimi and colonoscopies? I think he's smiling right now. I know he is. And he's very happy for me on This September day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our Singular and Common Story

We're coming up on a couple of cold days and even colder nights, so today was squash gathering as well as apple picking time. I took my trusty wheelbarrow, Henry, out to the garden to help me haul them back to the basement for storage. While I was there, I stood still for a few minutes just to watch and listen. A couple of cows had given birth to late calves and they were out by the fence line, two mamas and two babies. The calves were lying in the grass, ears twitching and surely as happy to be alive in this beautiful world as I. After greeting them from a respectful distance, I went to picking. There's something both gratifying and bittersweet about those last few days in the garden.

On the way back to the house, I stopped to get what was left of the apples, leaving a few smaller ones for the deer that still visit my little orchard almost every day, waiting, I suppose, for nature's largess. I couldn't resist helping out a bit, the last of them being too high to reach. I'm so grateful for their company. Many evenings, from the porch, Buddy greets them enthusiastically as they make their way across the edge of  our land and into the meadow behind the house where their favorite resting place waits under the Norway pines.

After I got the squash and apples stored, I picked a few nasturtiums to go with the vegetables in the wrap I was fixing for lunch. I used to feel bad about eating them, they're so pretty, but I have two planters full and each time I pick them others quickly arrive to take their place. Now, I've stopped feeling bad and just eat them, filling myself with gratitude and pretty flowers. Life sure feels good as we head into autumn.

"I Want to Write Something So Simply"

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think--
no, you will realize--
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

~ Mary Oliver, from Evidence

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I'll Bet He's Eating Cheesecake Right Now

When I was 13, my sister Jane and I (I don't want to include those pesky commas and you can't make me) went over to Wisconsin with our parents for my father's family reunion. We didn't go anywhere very often, let alone over to another state, but it was the last time his family would be on the original homestead and so it was reunion time. The oldest brother in the family, who had lived there for years, was selling it and moving to town. His wife, we discovered, wasn't handling it very well, and so, when we arrived in the evening she was nowhere to be found. Jane and I went exploring along the river while the grown-ups stood and talked in the yard. At some point in our discoveries, we discovered her hiding behind a shed. In those days, unbeknownst to us, she'd been finding solace in the bottle, until solace turned into something else which showed up that evening along the Yellow River.

She came out of hiding and we stood by in silence as she wept and threw her arms around our father in utter and complete dejection. That and drunkenness. I do not say this out of anything but affection for this dear woman who always wore jewelry and bright red lipstick, and looked like an aging star. To my sister Jane and me, that's what she was and what she will always be. But in that moment we saw something we didn't understand. Not at the time. Turns out, leaving a home you've known pretty much your whole life isn't an easy thing to do.

I've told you before about that night in the cabin on the river, one of the coldest I've known. It was the same cabin in which my grandfather lived, until one day he took his shotgun out and ended his life, back in 1957. It had been a tough life. He'd turned to the bottle after he lost his leg in a logging accident. Then, he lost his wife to cancer, understandable given those circumstances, which took him even further into those dark Wisconsin woods. He would sometimes - my mother told me, not my father - take off his wooden leg and beat my father with it. Not long after that, my father left home and was on his own. He was 12 years old. But, those are stories for another day.

I'd like to add here, that my grandfather would like to be remembered not for those times, but for who he really was and is. He died when I was only 3 and so I never knew him then, but I've seen the photographs. In those early days, he had such kind and beautiful eyes. Inside those eyes is where his true self lived, and still does.

But, that's not why I started to write this. This is supposed to be about the first time I ever ate cheesecake. So, I'll try again....

The following day was the day of the reunion and the yard was full of aunts, uncles and cousins. Sometime in the afternoon, my cousin, Donnie, who looked like Howdy Doody and was almost as nuttily pleasant, tried to convince me to eat a piece of cheesecake. I had never heard of such a thing and had no intention of doing so, but he was so darn convincing and I prided myself in a willingness to try just about anything, so I finally caved in and ate a piece. Nothing fancy-schmancy. Just cheesecake. No fruit. Baked in an oblong metal cake pan.  But, what a revelation! Cheese cake? How could this wonderful thing be? After that first piece, I wanted another, and then another, but I managed to show some restraint and walk away, still filled with longing for just one more bite.

Alas and alack, I made up for it later and now it's not allowed in the house except on special occasions. Is the autumnal equinox a special occasion?  I was just wondering....

I suppose I should bring this back to my grandfather now, so I'll just say, I'm betting my grandfather has learned to love cheesecake, much more than the bottle. As a matter of fact, I know he has.

Mmmm. Cheesecake, Sting, and "Be Still My Beating Heart." It just looks unrelated.

The image is borrowed from Mr. Google.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Waking Up to the World

After reading about the angry protests happening throughout the Middle East and in Africa this morning, the words "World on Fire" popped into my head. Not knowing for certain why, I googled it and this is what I found:

If you'd like to spend a little more time in the world, the real world (which I hope you do), I invite you to see it through the eyes of Steve McCurry. He travels the world and then opens our eyes to it through his beautiful and soul-filled photographs.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pressing Matters

When I was very young, no more than six or seven, after watching my mother iron my father's clothes, even the handkerchiefs, I asked her if I could iron, too. I think it was the rhythmic yet precise movements I wanted to experience. And so, with what surely must have been a mixture of feelings - trepidation melding with the desire to encourage my interest in the necessary, but mundane - she left a small pile of handkerchiefs for me to iron. I could barely see above the ironing board, set up on the back porch, next to the chest freezer, where several summers in the future, a boy I liked would tell me he liked me, using the lyrics of a song. But, that long ago summer, I accidentally jostled the board and in a split second the tip of the iron fell on my wrist. As my mother applied a salve - another mixture, this one tinged with regret - I reassured her it was alright. Over fifty years later, I stand here in my kitchen, turn my wrist, and see it there: a faded triangle of silver nestled between two muted blue lines that form a 'y,' like a fork in the road. I look up and a triangle of silver light has sliced through the branches of a very tall Norway pine and settled on the rough bark. It's still morning on that back porch and here in my kitchen.

Painting by Grant Wood

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"A Million Young Workmen, 1915"

A million young workmen straight and strong lay stiff on the
    grass and roads,
And the million are now under soil and their rottening flesh will
    in the years feed roots of blood-red roses.
Yes, this million of young workmen slaughtered one another and
     never saw their red hands.
And oh, it would have been a great job of killing and a new and
    beautiful thing under the sun if the million knew why they
    hacked and tore each other to death.
The kings are grinning, the kaiser and the czar -- they are alive
    riding in leather-seated motor cars, and they have their
    women and roses for ease, and they eat fresh poached eggs
    for breakfast, new butter on toast, sitting in tall water-tight
    houses reading the news of war.
I dreamed a million ghosts of the young workmen rose in their
    shirts all soaked in crimson ... and yelled:
God damn the grinning kings, God damn the kaiser and the czar.

~ Carl Sandburg (1878 - 1967)

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."  ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, September 10, 2012

Buddy, Mighty Woodland Warrior

There's a breeze in the meadow, towels are drying on the line, and apples are falling from the trees. Not many days are finer than this one. Every once in a while the wind chimes sing out, but not enough to drive me batty. I like my wind chimes to be soft and occasional. I swore off chimes while living in Santa Fe as they were neither. No matter where I placed them the wind would run around that little adobe house and find them. But, here they seem to know there's only so much noise I can handle and they never cross that line. Perhaps they understand that now it's all about the birdsong.

My fall work list has been growing and is sitting there, staring at me, but today I'm ignoring it. Plenty of time to prune the rose bushes and hydrangea tree, move perennials to other beds, saw the lower, dead limbs off a few trees, and then take a look at the rest of my list. I almost wrote, 'the rest of my life.'  Sometimes, that's how it feels. But, I don't make plans. Life will make them for me and they'll be far better than anything I could have imagined. It's always been that way. No reason to believe it will change now.

Buddy and I just came back from a walk in the meadow where he managed to find a fairly fresh pile of bear poop. He's rolled in it about three times this year. As I run toward him yelling, "No, Buddy!" he rolls and rolls in happiness. Today, the damage was minimal and so I took a soft swatch of pine needles that was lying next to him and cleaned up the worst of it, finishing with a handful or two of long, still-green grass. He seemed so proud of himself, like a warrior who's one with the bears, their smell still lingering on the almost lion-like mane around his neck. I can't tell you how much I love him. There are no words.

And now, a short nap on the couch next to the open windows, where I'll fall asleep listening to the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. This is too fine a day to waste on lists. Buddy's lying on the floor next to me and we have some dreaming to do. We'll be running with the bears, my little woodland warrior and me.

Perhaps some of you will remember this poem I posted last year by Leslie Marmon Silko. It's one of my favorites:

P.S. JB, my friend in Moab, Utah, called after reading this. It reminded him of a Greg Brown song we've both always liked. So, I decided to add it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A New Religion

"New Religion"

This morning no sound but the loud
breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.
We caught the wrong metaphor.
Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.
The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.
Heaven's not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.

~ Bill Holm, from The Chain Letter of the Soul: New and Selected Poems

Bill Holm was a Minnesota poet (1943 - 2009). His poems have been popping up here and there for the past few weeks, and it's as though I'm seeing him, reading his words for the very first time. I had trouble deciding which poem to share tonight, but this one asked so quietly and it felt so right.

Image: Joseph Cornell's "Tamara Toumanova 1"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

At the Kitchen Table

"Perhaps the World Ends Here"

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the
table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe
at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what
it means to be human. We make men at it,
we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts
of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor
falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back
together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place
to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate
the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying,
eating of the last sweet bite.

                                                   ~ Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a Native American poet, born in 1951.

Nampeyo, the creator of the pot pictured in the photo, is a legendary Hopi-Tewa potter (1860-1942).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In My Mother's Voice

Her voice was deep and rich, full of peace and promise, and that's not hyperbole or prejudice. She had an amazing voice. Whether speaking or singing, the timbre reached down into the depths of your soul, uprooted all that was unnecessary, and uplifted all that was. So, why I felt the need to speak for her, ever, is a mystery. I have some ideas, but those are metaphysical in nature and for another post, perhaps.

Mom kept the family peace, or tried to, despite the harangues that were sometimes leveled against her and rarely showed her hurt. I would quite often, out of a show of solidarity and great love, do that for her. As she remained silent I would jump up from my chair, usually at the dinner table, and raise my voice on her behalf, speaking (rather loudly) about my anger over the family's inability to accept whatever thought she had offered. Diving headfirst into what I saw in that moment as her infinite goodness, I would buoy her up whether she asked for it or not, and she never asked for it. She didn't need my help but that did not deter me. I pressed on in her defense until my own anger was spent.

If the subject was mushrooms and she had pronounced those growing in the yard as edible, even as other family members questioned her ability to know such things, well, they were going to be pronounced edible if I had anything to say about it. And say it I did, vociferously, all the while reminding them, in layman's terms, of her innate intelligence. But, it wasn't about her intelligence or her mushroom savvy. There were higher issues involved here and when I was young it was all about justice and the disenfranchised having their say. My mother did not fit that category by any specifications other than as a woman married to a man who sometimes resented (my interpretation) her brilliance.

If the subject was her weight - something she struggled with her entire life until disease took its toll on her body - and she was being castigated by my father even as she raised a fork to her mouth with another bite of blueberry pie, a delicious pie of her own making, I would stand up in her defense and in support not only of her culinary abilities, which were myriad, but also her right to have as many bites as she wanted. She could, in fact, "eat the whole damn pie if she want[ed]."

My tirades usually ended with me storming out of the room, taking refuge in my bedroom in the earlier days, or in the basement, and occasionally a certain secluded rock along the lake shore near our home. Eventually, another family member would come looking for me, reassure me I was right, although my timing might have been off, and then quietly lead this black sheep back to the fold.

In later years, when her voice had been eroded by disease and she could seldom muster a response, her voice would occasionally still come through - low, rough and whispered. Near the end, when I called her on the phone, desperate to hear her voice again, and told her I was thinking of going back to a relationship I'd left a few years before, she said, clearly and distinctly, "You can't go back."  It was not advice, it was a philosophical stance she was taking and it was the last time I recall hearing her voice in all its beauty. The strength it took for her to say that, and for me to hear it, serves as a reminder that life is always about moving forward. Moving forward and letting go, including every perceived act of injustice or unkindness. Just let it all go. It's what my mother would want.

In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?

~ Siddhartha