Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday Poet: Philip Larkin

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


The British poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985), who graduated from Oxford with honors in 1943, worked for over forty years as a librarian, and published only four slim volumes of poetry, not more than a hundred poems in all.


Upon the suicide deaths six months apart by two of my neighbors -- a couple, one of whom was suffering from terminal lung disease -- I typed this poem up, encased it in a plastic sheet cover, and tacked it to a fenceboard in their beautiful front garden adjacent to the sidewalk on our urban street. It flapped in the wind, was rained upon, grew moldy inside its sheer sheath. It stood sentry before their vacant house for most of a year. I don't know what happened to it in the end, but it served as a reminder to all of us of the fragility of life, and of love.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


P. and I spent the afternoon at Artopia in Georgetown -- great event: food, music, art -- very offbeat and very Georgetown. I walked into Two Tartes for the first time in five (gasp!) years and it was all good. But why -- why -- do Seattlites wear so little color? Maybe this is the post-grunge look, all very grey, khaki & black. (And there I was, a visual siren in my multiple purples.)

When Two Tartes opened its doors nearly a decade ago, Airport Way was gritty and shuttered. It's still gritty, but numerous galleries, antique stores, studios, restaurants and bars now line the west side of the street across from what's left of the Rainier Cold Storage building. Back then we talked about a summer arts event but no one had the time & energy to organize it. Seeing it in full-blossom today was like seeing a child having newly entered adulthood. We pushed our way through crowds -- yes, crowds! -- of people. All the eating establishments had lines out the doors, and bands performed at numerous locations around the Airport Way strip. Booths sold everything from make-your-own-spin-art to jewelry incorporating vintage typewriter keys (P. bought me a 'T' on a chain) to apples and recycled/resewn cashmere clothing. The side streets are still dangerously pot-holed, yet there's an explosion of fennel which seems to have started in an empty lot and has now claimed bare earth nearly everywhere. Life flowed, overflowed, spilled from every doorway. Cops directed traffic as Artopia-goers roamed from side to side of the street. Planes taking off from Boeing Field periodically made the ground shake and the ears ring. A bit crazy, loud, festive, exhilarating and ultimately heady afternoon.

(Nonetheless, it was a relief to cross the lake to Redmond and our quiet forested retreat where the air always smells like camping instead of vehicle exhaust.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Memento Vita

I ended up writing a letter-poem to Carol
for her memorial:

Dear Carol,
Just to let you know
there’s a party tonight at the end of the street,
and we’re going to eat pie and drink wine.
Lots of both, I’d guess.
And this time, no one’s going to ask you to bring a salad.
There’s a rumor of music, I wouldn’t rule out dancing,
and we certainly expect rain.

But the truth is, we’re going to talk about you –
thought you’d want to know. I intend to tell
how we shared a single electric mixer
which traveled back and forth between houses for years
for want of either of us shelling out $15 for our own.
That you always offered to iron tablecloths when I had a party.
That you not once let me do the dishes at your house.
And I’m certain I still owe you at least one cup each of flour, sugar, milk.

How the two of us had an agreement
to call each other in the event of a rainbow.
That, one warm summer twilight you called
to say that your cat was leaping vertically
at insects on the lawn across the street.
How you loved my mom’s recipe for yellow cake.

I might mention that Nora once wrote
“Happy St. Mother’s Day” in chalk on the sidewalk
and that I’ve always coveted the opal earrings
Devin gave you one year for Christmas.
I know I’ll mention that you were a second mother to my sons.
That you and Tom were the best couple I’ve known,
and an inspiration in my own second chance.

You believed in the magic of everyday things:
a walk around Seward Park, a glass of pinot noir,
a single blossom cut from the rose bush in your yard.

Dear Carol, we miss you here on Brandon Street.
We’re doing the best we can, all things considered.
I really wanted to run this all by you before I read it,
wanted to call you, to talk things over –
an inclination I know will not diminish any time soon.
But because that is no longer possible,
I decided instead to read aloud the following quote
which I keep coming back to when I think of you
and the good cheer, wit & joy you offered to everyone in your life:

Rules One and Two, by Brendan Gill, from The New Yorker

"Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. Since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time, and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is no third rule."

Carol, here’s to you, your family, your friends,
and to as many good times as possible.

With love.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I've been short of words for a while now. Saturday afternoon I finally came up with something for my friend Carol's memorial, and read it with a microphone down at the dead-end of Brandon Street to about 150 people on the first day of summer and no rain, no rain, except if you count tears, which were plentiful. A woman I know by name, enough to say "hello" to but that's all, came up and told me she had to tell me something. She said, "towards the end, I asked Carol what it was that inspired her to keep going, and Carol thought for a minute and said 'T.'s blog.'" Although I treasure and accept this incredible gift-compliment, I give credit to Carol herself -- truly an extraordinary woman, and to her dear, dear husband, and two children, and her amazingly loving sister who nursed her through the last weeks. The memorial was a peak experience -- I'm still trying to take it all in. The emotional weight of it has kicked me in the back of the knees, but has also lifted my spirit in ways I didn't think possible. More to come.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

Limits of Spectacle Lake

--in memory of my father

When the sun had slipped behind the hills

I said, let’s go back. Forget this business of lures and lines

and casting so far the eye could hardly follow the thread

out to snag a rainbow’s lip. Afraid we’d lose our way

and soon our boat would spin and sink.

There we’d sit eye to eye with a million trout.

When I was eight I caught my limit. But not before my father

turned the boat to shore and let out one last line

for luck. I held that rod for all the hope left

reeling in the wake. I pulled those fish

from tangled, churning light slipping underhand.

Six rainbow trout.

I don’t know who was more the spectacle that night --

the lake, me, or my father gently guiding the pole

between my unbelieving hands. Somehow he trusted

in the end of all filtering light. When he died

the next winter, I remembered six fish

laid out stiff on a plank of wood.

Eye to eye with the dead, in the wake

of the boat, I learned the limits,

the last ripple of life in a dying fish.

--T. Clear

(A poem from my youth: this dates back to 1980.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Slugs did away with several of my pumpkin sprouts and I don't feel like going out tonight for bait so I've covered them with glass bowls. It's looking a little decorative out there. And pink.

Gardening is a lot like mothering. I dote and tickle a lot.

A long time ago, one of my older sisters mowed over my gourd garden, asserting that she didn't see it. Sheared every plant off at the base. It felt as if my first-born children had been sacrificed to the god of shorn shrubs. I was maybe twelve. She atoned for it years later when she grew gourds herself and brought me a basketful. This same sister payed the Avon lady with my coin collection. Again, claimed that she didn't know that there was anything special about a box of painstakingly-packed coins & bills stashed in the bottom drawer of my dresser. A 1935 mint-condition Silver Certificate dollar bill for a tube of Mocha Madness! Lipstick!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Takin' Care of Business

There is an ongoing discussion at work about just what it is we do when the boss steps out for a minute or an hour. This should answer that question:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I stopped after work at Holly Park Greenhouse for some kiwi (male and female) plants and basil. Alas, P. took the camera with him to D.C., so no snaps of the ferns growing between the aisles, the signs in multiple languages ("if you pick a leaf you pay $1"). It's one of my favorite Seattle places, and was glad to see that the light rail construction didn't put them out of business. In a residential neighborhood, in an iffy area: it's like walking into someone's subconscious. I've not decided -- in the 20+ years I've been a customer -- if it matters if they sell anything. It's a muddled jumble of pots, seed potatoes, exotic cacti, orange trees, hand-packed seeds marked in a language I don't speak, water lilies, Thai basil, pumpkin starts, petunias, grape vines -- I could go on for paragraphs. Often from year to year things seem not to move a centimeter. A black and white fluffy cat yowls as it struts by. This is the kind of place where things grow out of other things which are planted within yet other things -- a twist, a zigzag, an immensely appealing snarl of life.

When I asked the nursery-man how far apart to plant the kiwi, he said (in a heavy Asian accent) "Oh, ten feet, more. They will find each other." Knowing that kiwi won't fruit unless a male and female plant are within pollination-distance, I was quietly pleased at his confidence that the two plants will indeed make contact. The imperative to reproduce is paramount, I suppose, but I prefer the idea that these two kiwi starts -- twigs at best -- were meant for each other.
It seems misdirected to be so meteorology-focused, but apparently it can't be helped, especially when it's mid-June and raining like the depths of November. My tomato plants are just managing to stay alive, anemic as they are. P. insists on wearing short sleeves and refuses to put on a coat. Fool! (But he's my fool.) Joannie at Poe-Query insists that it's like this every year and that we all suffer from insufficient memories. She may have a point, but I would like to assert that this year we are enduring a greater volume of vertical H2O than usual.

The yard maintenance men raked out all my nasturtium seedlings on the edges of the rose bed. Grrrr & hiss.

A neighbor commented that his dog likes to chase my rabbits. My rabbits? Those adorable scrawny feral scruffs would make a nice stew if perhaps I fed them more of my Italian parsley or grew, oh, maybe some carrots and lettuces just for them. Isn't this why I garden?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Cake with Flute

Clang of pan

against lilt of Mozart.

Flour, scoop, and measure, measure.

Buttercream vibrato, vanilla harmony.

Egg whip. Trill.

Three, four.

Three fourths cup of milk

to whisk. And soda,

powder. Rising,

rising, up the scale. Note

the heat now. Allegro,

hotter. One quick breath

and mix with grace

notes. Honey that milk

for all it's worth.

--for Nelson, at ten

©T. Clear

For more Tuesday Poems click here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I went all teary this morning listening to this:

We were at Key Arena, for my step-son's Seattle University graduation. I always cry when I hear this -- surrounded by joyful people. Endings/beginnings. I'm a sentimental fool.

Friday, June 11, 2010


An early memory: being lifted by my father so that I could reach down to touch the blossoms of a pink flowering almond in his garden. (Any pink flower still puts me in a swoon, I admit.) My father -- a Bostonian transplanted to the "wilds" of the Pacific Northwest -- passed on to me his love of gardening, and my entire gardening life has been spent attempting to replicate his flower garden, which I hold in memory as the ideal place, my own flowering Eden. And although memory is an unreliable and often a product of imaginative invention, what I recall are flower beds with not a single bare spot -- a continuum of color and blossom which took root in my three-year-old consciousness and has continued to grow and flourish for decades. I possess a hazy, black-and-white photograph of him pushing his tiller in his vegetable patch, but none that show off the abundance of his flowers. Upon his death in 1966, I vowed -- at the ripe age of nine years -- to continue his legacy, beginning with assisting my brother in the upkeep of the half-acre yard, and a few years later, with my own patch of vegetables and flowers, seeds ordered from the ubiquitous Burpee Seed Catalog, which arrived inevitably in the midst of our single annual snowstorm. That early garden makes itself known at least once a month in a dream, and with it comes the urge to break new ground, once again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And still, the muse is absent. Who is the Muse of Bloggers? Whatever her name, she's out partying with Cleo, Euterpe and Thalia. Or maybe I've just run out of things to say.

There's been a winter's-load of rain these past few weeks, and there's a rumor that summer starts in a little over a week. I don't believe it. My nasturtiums finally popped their heads from the soil, and I'd become so impatient with the pumpkins that this morning I dug down a little, to discover a seed with a little arrow of a sprout poking from it. So that means they haven't gone rotten in all the wet wet wet.

I've a hankering for hearty soups and butter-dripped slices of homemade bread. And cobblers and crisps.

(And I suppose I should offer some apologies for the flitty/flighty color-changes I've been doing lately. Can't seem to settle on anything.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday Poets: The Absent Muse

The Muses: Clio, Euterpe and Thalia

One of the frustrating things about being a poet -- other than the nearly complete absence of remuneration -- is waiting for the poem to choose me. Rarely do I sit down and decided to write a poem about a particular subject. Nearly always, a poem creeps in at the edges of consciousness, teases, perhaps throws me a line or two. And if I'm lucky and have a free moment at that exact time, I'm able to attend to the demands of the poem. It's often not the case: I'm driving, or at work, or it's the middle of the night and even the presence of a notebook and pen at the side of the bed can't entice the my slumbering body to stir enough to scribble a line or two. And then that elusive shred of inspiration evanesces, and when I'm finally in the right (write!) place to receive the muse's proffered gift, it's all but gone.

But it's confounding, to say the least. I wonder how many cotyledons of poems have shriveled while I merged/sped/toiled/snored. Books-ful, I venture to say. (Or, more modestly, files-ful.) There was a time when the months of May and June promised an onslaught of poems -- as the dormant landscape burgeoned, so did inspiration. Ensuing years have spread out the process so that I'm not quite so dependent on the late-spring/early-summer season for my annual output. But here I sit, in fully-leafed, lush and newly-mossed June, with a deadline for a poem creeping up on me, and the muse refuses to make her presence known.

(For more Tuesday Poems click here.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Paul and I drove over to Eastern Washington Friday, staying the night in Ellensburg to take in the opening of a group show featuring two pieces by his friend Helen Gamble. One was composed of several hundred cardboard tags containing handwritten "memories of home", each by a different person. Many had been dipped in beeswax; all were strung from the ceiling on delicate wires:

This morning we got in the car and headed the thirty+ miles to Yakima, crossing the Umtanum Ridge Crest on I-82: scrubby sage on rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Driving through landscape such as this, devoid of trees, unpeopled, I always feel an unfurling of the heart, an opening out, a release. The muscled backbones of the hills stretch and elongate, as if the earth has engaged in yoga. I feel the connection of all living things, from a skeletonized leaf with visible remnants of its vascular system, to the hip-curves of every valley and the sinews of each basalt ridge. It's a little bit religious, I suppose, this experience, minus the dogma.

My brother and his wife retired in the middle of a Yakima apple orchard -- I can never remember exactly how many acres, but it's somewhere around sixteen, which is a paltry number, considering the size of many surrounding acreages, but to me it's sixteen perfect acres. We walked the rows while brother J., who bubbles with information, kept up a steady patter about frost, pollination, blossoms, smudge-pots, helicopters (whose downdrafts can help dry the water from cherries), apple varieties, hail damage, on and on.

Between the rows:

Walking the perimeter:

Retired smudge-pots:

Infant honey-crisps:

I intend to return at harvest-time, to attempt to fathom the weight of a single laden tree.

Thursday, June 3, 2010