Thursday, January 31, 2013

Random Thoughts on a Cold Winter Day

One of the first questions in my head this morning was how on earth was I going to get my eggs from the neighbor across the river when there was a windchill of  - 25?  I called her yesterday and told her I'd be by to get them. Well, I got my answer a couple of hours later when she called, said she and her hubby were going out and would drop them by my place on their way. Hooray! That meant, of course, I would need to get out of my robe and into some clothes, quickly, and meet them at their vehicle so they wouldn't have to walk up to the house. As they left a few minutes later, I almost danced my way into the kitchen. One and a half dozen eggs all snug in their cardboard carton! Amazing, how happy farm fresh eggs can make me, especially today, in the middle of a very cold winter. Life feels pretty darn good. But, there's good news and bad news. I plan to make chocolate chip cookies with two of them.

In other news, my son, Coleman, rolled his vehicle a few days ago. He hit a patch of black ice and over the bank it went, rolling about five times. He said it all happened quickly, yet in slow motion, just like they say, and each time he was upright he said to himself, "I'm still alive, I'm still alive." That was not easy for me to hear and even harder was seeing the vehicle, knowing he'd been inside that thing. The vehicle was demolished, but he walked away unscathed. He managed to push the passenger door open and an ambulance was called, but all tests and x-rays showed everything was fine. He's always been a cautious driver and worn his seat belt religiously, but weird things can happen. Again, life feels pretty darn good.

I still have eight squash in storage from my garden, which feels like buried treasure. I plan to bake one for supper tonight. I'm starting to dream of gardening, a good sign.

Buddy's doing fine, maybe a touch of cabin fever as walks are tough if not impossible in this cold wind. Throw the Ball Down the Hall is fun for a while, but soon we both settle back in - he naps while I write.

Twitter was over-capacity for about an hour this morning, so I actually had a life for a while and wrote this instead. A word of caution: if you don't tweet, don't start. It's highly addictive.

Well, that's all the news that's fit to print.

Here's some Bruce Cockburn to help us get through another winter evening. YouTube wouldn't let me embed it, so please click the link.  "Coldest Night of the Year," is a great song. It always makes me want to get up and dance, which is exactly what I aim to do. I hope you will, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Secrets We Carry

I started out this morning thinking I was going to tell you about a man I met on South Padre Island a few years ago who had been living on the beach. Or, the writer whom I briefly met in Santa Fe when he was reading at Collected Works, a downtown bookstore I'd been frequenting for many years. In the space of a few minutes he may well have changed my life. But then, a story from my childhood intruded and wanted to be told, so I'm putting those stories aside for now. I'll get back to them.

Why this story came to mind this morning had to do with a poem I was reading in which I was reminded of a purse I once belonged to. Yes, there was a time when I belonged to a purse, an old leather purse with a lock, given to me by Grandma Korich. She wasn't really my grandma but lived in a house at the edge of the woods up on the corner where our country road met the highway. Her house had never, to my knowledge, seen paint, but was in a perpetual state of gray abandonment.

When I was twelve years old, she went to live with her son in International Falls, leaving her house alone and unlocked. One day, my pal in summer exploration, Michael, who happened to actually be her grandson, came by, and looking for a way to spend a summer day we decided to check out her house.

When we walked into the house, it felt as though I had walked into a dream in which I found myself in an old black and white photograph and was about to discover what was hiding in the corners, what had been left behind that might provide clues to her life and perhaps even to my own. Standing in her living room, looking out those empty windows, I saw only a gray landscape; the world as I knew it had become black and white.

We didn't find much on that long-ago summer day that captured our childish attention except for a large stack of small pamphlets devoted to developing one's bosom. Michael didn't know what a bosom was and so I enlightened him, followed by awkward giggling and then a strange silence. We continued to move through the house silently and then, just as silently, left. It was as though we had uncovered some knowledge previously known only to Grandma Korich who was now many miles away in her new life, which should have made owning that knowledge a little more comfortable, but it did not. She was Michael's grandmother. I felt I knew something I shouldn't and I wasn't even sure what it was.

The previous summer, perhaps in anticipation of her move, she had given me the leather purse that locked. She surely knew, after all those years, how much I loved purses, but something else came into play that she may or may not have known. Having this purse made me feel I had been given a sacred duty. I was the carrier of the secrets. I'd walk down our dusty road with that purse over the crook of my arm with an air of self-assurance only that purse would allow. Unlike the amulet bags of my ancestors, it carried nothing but my secrets. I didn't know what the secrets were, but I knew they existed. I still feel them, nudging the corners of my consciousness, not dark, not sinister, not even bleak, just secrets. All these years later, I'm only now beginning to learn what they are.

Painting by Winslow Homer

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Billy Bob and the Buddhist Monks

It was a beautiful summer evening on Canyon Road. We were holding an opening reception at the art gallery for one of the artists we represented, and I was there to meet and greet and try to sell some art. I didn't really like working these events - I've never liked crowds - but it was my job, a job I'd gotten quite good at, and it was a way to show support for these artists, many of whom had become close friends of mine.

I was mingling and working my way through the crowd when I had an uncontrollable urge to step outside. The sea of people parted and I stepped under the portal just as several young Buddhist monks were making their way down Canyon Road. There were perhaps twenty of them walking down this very old, very narrow road lined with window boxes full of flowers and small colorful gardens beneath aging adobe. Against this backdrop I stood transfixed for several minutes by these incredibly beautiful monks in their burgundy and saffron robes. But, even beyond their beauty, there was a deep sense of serenity. My friend, Michael, came and stood by me and we watched together.

When the last monk had disappeared up a tiny side street, I looked at the gallery directly across from us. Lo and behold, there stood Billy Bob Thornton with what I can only assume were a couple of friends. I looked at Michael and he looked back at me, as if to acknowledge we were seeing the same thing. When I looked back at Billy Bob, just for a second, our eyes met. I turned and walked back into the gallery.

I know trouble when I see it.

Billy Bob was in town promoting himself as a musician with a new album. He had been at Borders earlier in the day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Good Morning Heartache, Sit Down

In the summer of '79, I had just ended my first marriage and was having a hard time navigating through life. I had recently bought a house in town, fallen in love again with a man I'd met at the local library where I worked, and was dealing with family members who were angry with me for both. The guilt I was feeling over being in this new relationship with nary a break between them and the pressure from family to conform to their expectations was unnerving me. I felt isolated, alone.

One night, when I'd reached a point where it all just seemed too much, I hung up the phone and sat down on the kitchen floor with my back against the cupboards not caring if I ever got up from that floor again. As I sat there, the music I'd put on earlier started to come through the fog. Billie Holiday was singing about heartache. I listened. I had no other choice. For some strange reason her song actually brought me back to life. Maybe it was knowing I wasn't alone with my feelings, others had known heartache, too.

No, I didn't stay on that kitchen floor. Heartache comes and goes and we go on with life determined not to make that mistake again. But we do. Again and sometimes again. Now, here comes the good part: I wouldn't change one moment of it. Not one. You see, a few years back Hafiz taught me how to sit with it, how to let it all go so I could get to God.

"Absolutely Clear"

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

~ Hafiz

Painting by Danish artist, Vilhelm Hammershoi  (1864 - 1916)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dear Edgar

Last October, on the last day of October in fact, a friend sent a video of Jeff Buckley reciting Edgar Allan Poe's, "Ulalume." I was not familiar with it, or had long forgotten it. Either way, Buckley's reading is the perfect introduction. It's beautiful and mesmerizing, and today is Poe's birthday, so it seems like a good time to bring it out, especially on this cold and windy night. I purposely chose a video of Poe's photo only as, I believe, unembellished listening is a better option here. I hope you like it, too. Happy Birthday dear Edgar, poet of extraordinary insight.

That beautiful girl is Mrs. Poe, Virginia.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cherokee Boogie and the Calendar Girls

There's something about local garages, the ones that do small repairs and oil changes, that have always appealed to me. I love the masculine ambience and camaraderie that seems to exist there. I even love the smell of grease. While I was living in Santa Fe, I found a small pop and son operation just down the road from where I was living at the time, Mino's and Greg's Auto Repair. They did all my car's oil changes, repairs as needed and even towed it once for free cause I gave all my business to them. Life was good in their kind hands. I never knew for sure which one to flirt with because I was smack dab between them in age and they both had their charms. Were I forced to choose, which I wasn't, I probably would have had to go with Dad. Man, he was nice looking.

Anyway, I tend to get off track sometimes, where was I?  Oh, yes, garages I have known and loved. While I was doing some online research of the musical variety, I found this crazy cool video by Johnny Horton, "Cherokee Boogie." I always liked the song as a kid. His album found its way onto the turntable more than a few times. "Dancing on a Hardwood Floor," and "North to Alaska," were favorites and, of course, "The Battle of New Orleans," but this video sold me on the Boogie. It reminds me of all the old family repair shops that so often were decked out with pin-up calendars. They're vintage works of art now, and the variety in this video is just amazing. Yes, they appear a bit sexist, but taken in the context of the times, they are what they are. I think they're fun. And as far as the song goes, my great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, and I'm giving it a thumb's up. Enough said. I think it's a really cool video.

Addendum: turns out, my grandmother wasn't Cherokee, she was Lakota Sioux, but the sentiment is the same ...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Catching the Right Bus at the Right Time

There's something about a bus ride late at night, not the one taking you uptown or downtown, but the one taking you across the country, the one taking you from your job in D. C. back to the hills of Tennessee, or to your father who lies dying in a hospital in Des Moines. There are only a few dim interior lights and even fewer passengers, but the one you're supposed to meet is in the back of the bus, waiting for you to sit down ...

"Secret of Life"

Once during the war
on a bus going to Portsmouth
a navy yard worker
told me the secret of life.

The secret of life, he said,
can never be passed down
one generation to the other.

The secret of life, he said,
is hunger. It makes an open hand.

The secret of life is money.
But only the small coins.

The secret of life, he said,
is love. You become what you lose.

The secret of life, he said,
is water. The world will end
in flood.

The secret of life, he said,
is circumstance.

If you catch the right bus
at the right time
you will sit next
to the secret teller

who will whisper it
in your ear.

~ Diana Der-Hovanessian

Monday, January 14, 2013

That's How the Light Gets In

One Sunday, when I was about 11 years old, my father and I were late for church so we stood in the vestibule with the doors to the congregation closed. We knew they were mid-way through the opening prayer, The Lord's Prayer. As we quietly waited to enter, my father - who had a wonderfully wicked sense of humor - reached for the rope that rang the bell in the steeple every Sunday morning and pretended he was going to pull it. Thinking of the response that might ensue, I fell into a fit of stifled laughter. My father just stood there with that little smile on his face, satisfied that he had made me laugh and awfully happy to boot. As the preacher arrived at the "Amen," I composed myself and we opened the doors, entering the church with just the right amount of irreverence. Some days I really miss my dad.

Photo taken on my trip to Maine in the spring of 2010.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

As Pigeons Float Down in the Evening

With this poem by Billy Collins, I'm reminded of a class in college I may have already mentioned, Oral Interpretation of Literature, in which we regularly read a prepared poem or piece of prose in front of our classmates. This would have been in the Before Time, way back in the '70's. On one such occasion, I chose Sylvia Plath's "Daddy." To call this poem dark would be an understatement. I read it with slightly restrained anger, taking it down just a notch from the venom with which it was conceived and written. I could see halfway through my reading that a classmate in the front row, whose eyes never left mine, was becoming particularly uncomfortable. When I reached the end and had closed the book, the room was very still. Our professor asked, with a wary smile, for reactions. Matt, in the front row, admitted to being extremely uncomfortable, so much so that he had wanted to bolt from the room. He registered it as a complaint. I, however, felt no remorse. It was how it should have been read. Matt, however, who had occasionally walked with me the two blocks to my house and then on to his own place, kept a distance for a while until time offered him emotional trust once again.

Anyway, this is not that poem. It's certainly worth a read, if you're so inclined, and can be found in myriad places here on the web. This is a poem of a different nature, another story of our lives, but told with the gentleness so often found in Billy Collins' poetry. Loving this poem as I do, I've decided to post it in its entirety. For those who might like to listen, I couldn't resist recording it. Either way, buckle up, here we go:

This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

~ Billy Collins

Images taken from the third floor of my place at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, spring 2010.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Finding Happiness in Raymond Carver's Socks

It was a Raymond Carver kind of evening, which wasn't necessarily a good or bad thing, the darkening hours had simply left me feeling a little weighted down. Without giving it any thought, I found myself reaching for Raymond - certainly not for a lightening of the mood - and there he was, telling me about waking up "feeling anxious and bone-lonely." Not wishing to go down that dark corridor, I read his poem, "The White Field," with a bit of trepidation. And I was right, the story he tells there of "relentless logic," is for another day.

My attention was then drawn to his poem on the next page, titled simply, "Heels." I don't think it was his opening words, "Begin nude," well, it could have been, I think it was more the dilemma of finding his socks, something I'm not entirely unfamiliar with. Just this morning, after a brief search, I found my own hiding behind the nightstand. After a little discussion with myself over whether or not to wear the same socks I wore yesterday, laziness won and on they went. Besides, I'd only worn them briefly when I went into the meadow with Buddy for our afternoon walk. Isn't rationalization a wonderful thing?

Anyway, I'll let Raymond tell you his own story of searching for socks. And just so you know, by the time I'd finished reading this poem, I was in a much lighter state of mind. There was something about seeing Raymond standing there in the doorway, with unexpected stars overhead and his socks on his arms, that cheered me. Someone else was doing the almost foolish thing and willing to tell us about it.


Begin nude, looking for the socks
worn yesterday and maybe
the day before, etc. They're not
on your feet, but they can't
have gone far. They're under the bed!
You take them up and give them
a good shaking to free the dust.
Shaking's no more than they deserve.
Now run your hand down the limp,
shapeless things. These blue,
brown, black, green, or grey socks.
You feel you could put your arm into one
and it wouldn't make  a particle
of difference. So why not do this
one thing you're inclined to do?
You draw them on over your fingers
and work them up to the elbow.
You close and open your fists. Then
close them again, and keep them that way.
Now your hands are like heels
that could stamp
on things. Anything.
You're heading for the door
when the draft of air hits your ankles
and you're reminded of those wild swans
at Coole, and the wild swans at places
you've never heard of, let alone
visited. You understand now
just how far away you are from all that
as you fumble with the closed door.
Then the door opens! You wanted it
to be morning, as expected
after a night's uneasy sleep.
But stars are overhead, and the moon
reels above dark trees.
You raise your arms and gesture.
A man with socks over his hands
under the night sky.
It's like, but not like, a dream.

~ Raymond Carver

Image: Raymond in his study, socks clearly visible and on his feet, where they're usually worn.

Friday, January 4, 2013

When You Turn it Toward the Light

As I sit here this evening, in the quiet of my kitchen, a book of Mary Oliver's poetry in hand, I realize it's entirely possible to actually fall in love with a book. In this case, a slim volume of poetry, titled, A Thousand Mornings. May I tell you about the cover?  Besides the simple beauty in the juxtaposition of font used for her name, the title, and that one little divine word - poems - hanging just above the treetops in the darkly atmospheric photo gracing the cover, there's also this beautiful haze above the pond, as the rising sun comes shimmering through the trees. And the paper. The paper has the feeling of suede, yes, a sueded paper cover. It feels so good in my hands, soft and sensual. I've managed to leave a few fingerprints, visible when turned toward the light, but that's to be expected. A book should be lived in and know when it's deeply loved.

It's hard to decide which poem I should bring out in celebration of this perfect night, when the right book came to stay, filled with a thousand mornings of companionship, but this seems as good as any:

"Poem of the One World"

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

~ Mary Oliver

Illustration by N.C.Wyeth

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Following Barefoot

It had been a while since I hung out with Hafiz, Persian poet and mystic of the 14th century, and so early this morning I set out to remedy that.

I first met Hafiz on a walking path in El Dorado where I was living just outside Santa Fe. It was a warm day in late December. I had been reading his poetry for the very first time and then went for my usual walk in the evening light. Lost in thought, I wandered farther from home than usual. As I became more aware of my surroundings, I found myself face to face with a single quaking aspen, just off the path, still shimmering with the golden leaves of autumn. It was so unexpected, I was taken aback. Then, it was as though I heard Hafiz himself speaking to me, telling me he had brought me there, to show me that little tree covered in unexpected beauty, and I became so happy in that moment I laughed out loud. Not wishing to draw attention to myself, I stood still and watched the tree move with the sun. A few minutes later I quietly bowed to the tree and then to Hafiz, thanked him for bringing me to this place, stepped back onto the path and returned home, more alive to life's beauty than I had ever thought possible.

Today, at the first sign of daylight,  I opened one of his books of poetry at random and this is what I found:

"I Follow Barefoot"

I long for You so much
I follow barefoot Your frozen tracks

That are high in the mountains
That I know are years old.

I long for You so much
I have even begun to travel
Where I have never been before.

Hafiz, there is no one in this world
Who is not looking for God.

Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style

As they possibly

~ Hafiz, from The Subject Tonight is Love, translation by Daniel Ladinsky

Image from Tibet by Steve McCurry. For more of his current beautiful post, "Two by Two,"  which arrived in my email just this morning, please visit him here:

Addendum: Here are the links RealityZone provided in his comment, which I think you will find very interesting: