Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perils of Packing & Putrified Peanuts

I was packing up an order Monday, scooping up handfuls of recycled packing peanuts to fill the top of a box, when I plunged my hands into something wet and slimy. LARGE and wet and slimy. SCREAM!!

We make a dedicated effort at work to use recycled packing materials as often as possible, and most of the packing peanuts we use are delivered to us by a woman who gathers them up at the local natural foods market. She also has a home-based business, and in her generosity, delivers to us the surplus peanuts from her foraging, as it were. We are fortunate, as these supplies can be costly to purchase, and why use something new when a recycled item is just as good?

Well. Many of these peanuts we get are starch-based and biodegradable, and soluble in water. A bag of two of this latest batch got caught outside in rain, and the water dripped inside the bag, and, well, things began to grow, if you get my drift.

When I recoiled at the slimy handful, I stepped back, held the bag at arm's length and lo and behold what should appear but a basketball sized hunk of blue-packing-peanut mold. Alive! Thriving! In its own little warm, plastic-enclosed terrarium-of-sorts.


At least there is a good chance that this was organic blue mold.

I suppose I should be thankful for that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


The man who mows my lawn was murdered this week,
along with his two daughters. The shooter was his mother-in-law,
who also injured her daughter before turning the gun on herself.
This happened Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday afternoon, the day before the shootings,
I stopped by my house (where my sons live) and paused
for a moment to notice that the lawn had been freshly cut,
the edges meticulously trimmed. Made a note to get a check
in the mail to him.

The man -- Chouen Harm -- has been taking
care of my tiny strip of grass for seven years. I recall having
a conversation with my son where he said it probably wasn't worth
the $25 charge, but a friend pointed out that it provided
a measure of order and sanity in my struggle to keep up this house
which I would've unloaded a few years back if it hadn't been
for the economic downturn. Thursday night, before I'd heard
anything about this tragedy, I dreamed that Chouen had come
to the house where I lived as a child, and only mowed half the grass,
leaving expansive wild swathes in the half-acre yard.

I recall a sweetness about him, and always made a point
to thank him for his good work. He was reliable
and efficient, year after year.

I cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of grief
that the surviving wife/mother/daughter is experiencing,
or if she is able to feel anything but a staggering bewilderment
and numbness. I would suspect that a human consciousness
can only take in something like this in infinitesimal measures.

From today's Seattle Times:

Like thousands of her countrymen, Saroeun Phan fled Cambodia's genocide in the late 1970s, hiking through the jungle for days before reaching Thailand.

She left behind the horror of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, which exterminated as many as 3 million people through execution, torture and starvation, forcing many into labor camps.

"I don't think anybody can really appreciate the horror that was Cambodia," said Dr. Carey Jackson, medical director of the international clinic at Harborview Medical Center. Studies showed the average Cambodian refugee family experienced seven traumatic events — more than twice as many as other Southeast Asian refugees — including torture, rape, watching the torture or rape of a loved one, imprisonment and warfare, he said.

"They frequently don't talk about it," said Jackson, an internist. "There's nothing there they're particularly proud of, so they don't pass it on to their kids. They sublimate it; they push it down ...

"They are literally haunted people."


All I can think of is the capacity for horror -- horror upon horror --

that exists on so many levels, everywhere, and our too-often

inability to escape from it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I admit, even in my atheistic post-Catholic brain-state,
to a certain obsession with statues of The Blessed Virgin Mary,
which are ubiquitous in Ireland. We encountered her
in roadside shrines, at holy wells, in gift shops.
And that's it -- an obsession, without any philosophical
rants or reasons or explanations.

BVM on the road to Rosmoney:

BVM at St. Patrick's holy well, in rain:

A bounty of BVM's in a gift shop at the shrine in Knock:

Ring of Kerry BVM:

Not the BVM, but a saint (Bridget? [Gidget?])) in North Mayo:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sometimes The Road Goes On Forever

Post #1354

And so it's back to the routine, and I am glad for it. My time in Ireland was so intensely packed with visual/musical/poetic imagery, I need some time to let it all sort itself out, to settle the rearing and reeling horses of exhilaration. Get a hold of the reins, as it were. The work I do for a living is good for this as it's often of a meditative nature. And then the people I work with -- all artists in their own right -- are a continual inspiration with their expanses of knowledge and expansive wit. I will miss, however, the ample swaths of time in which I indulged myself these past three weeks. But contrast is of utmost importance: yin and yang, zig and zag (Cheech & Chong). Amen.

And I will remind myself that All Things Are Not Beautiful:

Time to swear off anything made of plastic. On a remote
beach in the wild West of Ireland, I photographed these
eternal remnants of human existence. And they were not
few and far-between, but every step of the rocky way.
"Butterlicious" was exactly how I found it: upside down.
And may I add that I saw a Butterlicious container
on EVERY beach I visited.

Monday, September 20, 2010


A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

--from Have You Ever Tried To Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver


These few words, from the longer poem, were a consolation
and mantra for me some years ago when my own boat/life
was caught up in a seemingly never-ending whirlpool-tailspin
of death and disintegration, and I sought for meaning in events
that defied explanation.


These boats, however, are undergoing their own gentle
sinking: no floundering, no heave; perhaps only grace.
Salvageable, in the wake of the storm:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lest there by any confusion....

....there will be a LATE charge of two euro ninety five:


I give you emptiness
I give you plenitude,
unwrap them carefully –
One’s as fragile as the other –
and when you thank me
I’ll pretend to notice the doubt in your voice
when you say they’re just what you wanted.
Put them on the table by your bed.
When you wake in the morning
they’ll have gone through the door of sleep
into your head. Wherever you go
they’ll go with you and
wherever you are you’ll wonder,
smiling about the fullness
you can’t add to and the emptiness
that you can fill.

--Norman MacCaig.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Carrowholly Live!

Paul has been busy learning the rudiments of digital video editing, and has put together some lovely clips in anticipation of our forthcoming website. Here's a preview of our little slice of heaven:

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Driving up in remote North Mayo at what seem like mortality-affirming speeds when in reality it's not all that fast it's just that the roads/lanes/tracks are so darn narrow, we sped by a ruined house which exhibited a certain blog-worthy quality, so I shouted out to P. to stop and turn around, and being the good man, he did just that. Situated so close to the road, it quite possibly was an inn of sorts at one time, or a gate-house, which, from the looks of a stack of bills in what was the kitchen, has been abandoned since around 1980. My first thought was, oh, that's not very long. But it is 30 years, which, at least in American terms, is a LONG time for a house to sit and wither into decay.

I climbed in through an absent window into the pantry
where stacks of blue cups and saucers teetered on the edge
of a filthy table --

I always want to know the back-story to abandonment --
the likely guess being death or debilitation -- but the question
that looms is how can a building sit for three decades
with the forks and spoons still in a drawer?

My only answer, again, stems from my American orientation
where few things remain untouched in the name of progress
and reinvention. Raze that ramshackle ruin! Plunder
the detritus, host an estate sale for god's sake!
There's always something someone is willing to pay for
on ebay. Even this kettle --

I poked around -- a bit spooked, I admit -- and ignored
P.'s entreaty to come see something, even when I heard him
get in the car, sound the horn, and drive off! I had important
work to do rummaging through thirty years of mold and merde.
(He was only turning the car around, I found out.)

There was still time to send a petition to Lourdes --

-- and photograph the stunningly colorful mold on the walls
which coordinated with and complimented the tones
of the overstuffed chair:

(Shades of Hurricane Katrina flood damage.)

Although the upstairs bedrooms beckoned, I didn't want
to risk putting my foot/leg/body through a dry-rotted stair,

so I contented myself with a prolonged prowl through
the extensive main floor, ducking under cobwebs thick
as quilt-batting, taking only shallow breaths. In one room
I discovered a disemboweled piano, most of its ivory
pried loose, the felt-guts spilling out: the end of song.
Boxes of books gave up no treasures to the thief that I was
soon to become, and I held a single, soiled Blue Willow plate
for a minute before putting it back to its long sleep
on a shelf. I finally snatched up a few copies of blank receipts
(it was the bakery connection that caught my eye) --

(And even this felt like theft, a violation amidst the state
of post-desecration in which I lingered.)

I hefted myself back up through the gap in the pantry wall
and performed my own small act of abandonment
of the Blue Willow Plate, the sugar tongs, the mildewed

And lastly, a humble list:


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Love

I have stumbled upon my drug, my muse:
color, and the Irish landscape.
All sense of time has vanished, evanesced into the mists.
Here resides my heart, the core of my soul.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Des Pommes

Always in search of the odd apple, something other than what seems to be a universal-grocery-store inventory of Galas, Granny Smiths and (the powerfully-misnamed) Delicious; and discovering that Pink Lady has joined the ranks of ubiquitous boredom, I purchased a bag of tiny and irregular apples at the Saturday Market last week from my neighbor-up-the-lane Lilly, who told me that she didn't know the variety, only that they were from Very Old Trees. Thus, I've named the best apples I've tasted since I was a waif in the wilds of Renton the Very Old Trees variety. Thank-you, Lilly!

I'm going to get all nostalgic here, as I tend to do when apples are involved. My father, who toiled daily at the airplane plant (which would be Boeing), spent his free hours tending our dozen fruit trees, his sprawling vegetable garden, his chickens and rabbits. Raised a city boy near Boston, he indulged his fantasy of going west, and went as far as he could in the continental America post WWII, my reluctant mother lagging behind with two toddlers and diapers (a 24-hour plane ride), never quite accepting that she ended up raising seven children so far from her hometown of Providence, and many years of that a widow.

But the apple trees: only four of them, semi-dwarf, but they were my universe as a child. I sat company with dolls when my father did his dormant pruning, bundled against the damp, my dolls swaddled up to their vinyl necks. Blossom-time was the annual beginning of the alchemy, the transformation of delicate pink flowers to robust ruby fruit, fist-sized, which spilled from wooden crates we stored in the garage all winter. Many a dark January evening I hunkered over the kitchen table, aswamp with homework, consuming apple after apple. I'm not sure I recall their varietal names -- some were just called Pie Apples. Other maybe Jonathan, and Rome.

They're long gone, of course, given way to sub-divisions and paved driveways. But every fall I seek them out, and sometimes, like last Saturday, I get lucky.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Earthquake, with Forty Pianos

To honor those in New Zealand, where the Tuesday Poem blog originates, whose lives were impacted by the recent earthquake there, we've been asked to post an earthquake poem, if possible....

Earthquake, with Forty Pianos

No mere measure, more

a minute waltz, over

before you ponder, on your back

beneath 500 pounds of maple

and tilting ivory. Perhaps

better judgment would have kept you

home at 2am, safer than this

basement receptacle of pianoforte.

Above you three stories

of brick upon brick upon rafter, creaking

as the wood floor slowly rolls,

tips from one end -- a planked wave –

to its opposing wall. For a flash

you imagine standing

on a floating log, balance uncertain,

the only definable sound

like someone clearing his throat

for a moment that reeled away

off the known edge of the earth.

No time to consider the years

stacked up like sounding boards

into your future. You dance step

a polka, a jig, a mambo,

you fox-trot it between veering pianos

to the brick-arched doorway,

certain all should have collapsed

upon you. Your jitterbug nerves

plunk out their own terrible beat

in the oncoming silence, in the grand

and holy presence of forty pianos

wholly unharmed. Each

of the 9,200 steel-wire strings

zinging, zinging, zinging.

--For Tom Porter, piano tuner

copyright 2010 T. Clear

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Particular Hunger

Our Lady of Ballinrobe:

I wonder, when it rains hard here and all the low bogland
and shallow fields fill with water, if suddenly on ordnance
maps there appears additional evidence of lakes and ponds?
Over-spilling, and everywhere the constantly changing sky
reflected on the surface of the earth.

Generally when I'm here in Ireland, it feels as if the same
thing happens in the visual-storage centers of my brain:
filled overfilled spilling out save save save. No infinite memory
can possibly contain all I desire to contain, to store.
I take photos, tweak photos, makes collages in as many shades
of green and blue possible, press soft oil pastels to paper,
write and write and write. I go to the markets and buy enough
produce to feed a hoard, come back to the house and chop
and dice and mince and saute and bake and roast and drink
red Bordeaux all the time the music cranked to speaker-cracking
volumes. I could spend all of this next (and last) week
just picking blackberries, half for me, half for the horses,
and feel like my time had been as well-spent as is possible.
The big question, then, for me, is how to choose
what to do? This is a luxury beyond what I could ever
have imagined in the years of raising children and working
often three jobs at a time just to pay rent and plunk down
on the dinner table a tuna casserole (which now precipitates
the gag reflex).

I adopted a stray cat 13 years ago who walked in the door
with guests at my 40th birthday party. Homely black-and-white
unneutered male, with a tiny-head and ridiculously long body:
a yowling bone-bag who topped the scale at just five pounds.
We couldn't seem to feed him enough -- he'd drag a loaf of bread
from the kitchen counter, rip open the bag, and franticly
consume as much as possible as quickly as possible.
I decided to feed him as much cat food and dinner scraps
as he could take in for about a week, and he finally settled down.
His screaming yowl, though, continued for years until we taught
him to meow without making a sound. We really did this!
And now he's long and plump with a belly that sags
like a suspension bridge between the supports of his legs.
And irrepressibly cheerful! (I used to tell my boys,
it you ever wonder how to react to a situation, just Be Like Tip.)

But the notion of satiation, saturation, satisfaction -- when is it
that one has had enough? Is it greed? If so, then greed
is perfectly acceptable.


We went on a pilgrimage yesterday afternoon to seek out
the work of Harry Clark, an early 20th century master
of stained glass art. I was struck silent in gape-mouthed awe
at what I saw. In a country devoid of grand cathedrals
and castles, where hundreds of years of oppression
leaves it remnants of ruined abbeys amidst cow pastures
and grazing sheep, these windows are akin to having
the Sistine Chapel in one's backyard. Paul and I traipsed
through nondescript churches (with a modicum of reverence
stemming from our faintly lingering Catholicism), climbed
on pews (this felt completely sacrilegious), peered down
from choir lofts and poked around behind altars.
(I did not, however, genuflect even once.
Nor did I dip my fingers in the holy water font,
which I almost regret seeing that that particular act
has always seemed wonderfully pagan to me.)
In Cong -- where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed --
the windows were low enough and accessible so that
I could run my fingers across their surface, and although
the gown of a saint appeared to have the luster
of emerald silk velvet, it was indeed glass.

I had no language for hours after that,
and as we drove back to the coast through the mountains
and valleys of Joyce's Country, we were assaulted again
and again by a spectacular and numbing beauty --

I was, however, able to say to Paul Turn Around! and Stop The Car!
Poor man. Kind and generous man: he kept stopping for me,
all with continual good cheer. At one point I pressed myself
into the heathers side of the road so an oncoming car careening by
at 100KPH wouldn't hit me and still the force of his/her speed
sucked the breath from me and my pulse leapt exponentially
but I didn't stop taking photos, no sirree bob!


I still haven't processed everything I saw yesterday.
There's a yawning upload going on upstairs
and nary a rush for anything.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I carried the anxiety about my son's heart in my own, tense and guarded, for more than a year until yesterday when he wrote me to say that, after tests, Everything Looked Normal. It was a year ago July when at the age of 23 he suffered a heart attack due to a side effect of a prescription medication. P. and I were here -- in Ireland, on Achill Island -- when the call came from my other son. I spent most of the next few days on the phone, to him, to his brother, to my sisters, to various docs and nurses. It was not a serious heart attack, as those things go, but the fact of his young age and my distance -- 6000 miles -- made me frantic. And he insisted I not come home. Insisted, like he's never insisted before. My brother-in-law reinforced his request, and I felt obligated to respect it, but few things have been more difficult. We stayed the remaining five weeks, in daily communication with skype chats.

And I truly was not aware of how closely I held those remnants of anxiety until yesterday's news, when I literally felt an untightening in my own heart, an unknotting of my tongue. It was an extraordinary moment of awareness.


We'd planned the drive to Achill prior to the good news, but our pilgrimage to one of my favorite places couldn't have been more timely, despite the rain, which intensified as the afternoon light lingered into evening.

Upon recommendation from the barmaid at Minaun View (pub), we took a turnoff to the end of the road below the headlands and cliffs of Minaun Heights --

We discovered St. Finians holy well partway up a steep sheep-path, beside a spectacular waterfall. The ovine creatures perched above us on edges and outcroppings, unconcerned by precipices:

-- while I clung to the scrubby hillside, my sandaled feet slippery and soaked, attempting to balance (it was very windy), avoid the numerous dung piles, and take photos. (The sacrifices I make for my faithful readers!) I neglected to dip my pagan fingers in St. Finian's waters, feeling adequately blessed already, and anyway, it wasn't worth losing my footing, and I didn't fancy an afternoon careen down the slope to the rocky road below.


Then it was on to Dugort, on the other side of the island.
Paul: "What's in Dugort?"
Me: "I don't know. I just want to go there."

And on the remote edge of the continent, in an Irish hamlet without a pub (didn't know this was possible), as we wound between houses situated nearly on the road itself, I saw the usual sign -- "Photographs, Prints, Gallery" -- and expected the usual disappointment, the usual poorly rendered oil paintings, the cliche ocean-beach photos, etc.

But when we stepped into the tiny gallery, we found ourselves in our own version of heaven: Franticham. (Actually not pronounced "franti-cham" as I first thought, but "frantic-ham".)

Belgian print/book-maker Frank Van Maele and the Korean artist known as Antic Ham collaborate in some pretty damn exquisite book-making, printed and bound in the tiny studio --

right there in cliffside Dugort, overhanging the North Atlantic:

I felt as if I had wandered into a dreamscape wonderland, had at last discovered water after wandering, parched, for centuries. Here were hand-tied books, hand-bound books, books with odd catalogs of items, poetry, prints, postcards, all with a high level of artistic integrity, begging to be taken home by, well, me. And Paul.

We fell in love with this: Franticham's Fishbox. Twenty-six prints by twenty-six artists, signed and numbered. In an actual fish-n-chip box from a restaurant in Westport. With actual fish (dried and encased behind a tiny plastic window). Guess what we came home with? Twenty-six fish. In a box.

I wanted to stay and have Frank Van Maele teach me everything he knows about print-making and the art of book-making. (He doesn't give classes.) I wanted to stay until I'd perused every last piece of paper in the cottage. He does what I've dreamed of doing for many years, and seems to make a living doing it.

Ironic, though, that in this era of diminishing print-on-paper, we would happen upon this mecca of art/paper/print, not on the map, not in the guidebooks (Frank eschews inclusion in any), with only a small sign hand-painted on the side of the house. And to think of the many times we've driven to Achill Island, and never bothered the mile-or-so detour to Dugort!

This, of course, further reinforces my argument that as the written word enters the digital age, the paper books and presses that manage to persist will be those that exhibit a high degree of artistic integrity: letterpress-printed text, lino/wood-cut/silk-screen-printed art, one-offs, signed-and-numbered editions. What could possibly be a death knell for many books as we know them could quite possibly become a boon to books as I would prefer to know them. No more boxes of unsold poetry books piling up in the basement! No more shelf after shelf of mass-market paperbacks in bookstores! No more deforestation caused by crap books! (Okay, a bit of an elitist rant here but I! Don't! Care!)


We returned to the house well after dark, in mighty wind, stinging rain, with an invasive damp in every thread of clothing, but over all was the sense of having spent a day blessed by the universe.

Yes, it's all good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

We tried for lunch at "The Coffee Shop" in Louisburgh where last year for ten euro we had the most amazing pan-roasted cod, freshly cut chips and fresh peas. "The Coffee Shop" was the most nondescript restaurant one could imagine: chipped '80's tables (and very few of them), striped wallpaper in need of paste. The woman waiting tables, middle-aged, was from Holland and happy to chat. This year: out of business.

And then there was the bakery in Newport, run by some Polish women, where a slice of cake demanded UPPER CASE CHOCOLATE CAKE FONT. This year: out of business.

Empty storefronts are more the norm here than those that are occupied. The house next to us has been on the market for two years, its price dropped more than 100 euro. Times are grim. My neighbor wishes she had more land, to grow more of her own food. She has a kitchen garden, and chickens, but it's not enough.

But to brighten things: there is no tax on books in Ireland.


Good news from the homefront today re: the state of my son's heart. All Is Well. Few things could fill me with joy at this moment more than that fact. He's got his life back. I can truly let go of those shards of worry.


Heading up to Achill Island and there is a tease of sunshine. Do I dare hang towels on the line?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I am having fun.

1. at the present time; now
2. up to a particular time; thus far
3. in the time still remaining; before all is done
4. from the preceding time; as previously; still
5. in addition; again
6. moreover
7. even; still
8. though the case be such; nevertheless


1. I am having fun at the present time.
2. I am having fun thus far.
3. I am having in the time still remaining.
4. I am having fun as previously.
5. I am having fun again.
6. I am having fun moreover.
7. I am having fun still.
8. I am having fun nevertheless.