Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I've been taking lessons, free of charge, from a young man who's doing graduate studies in Arts Administration, and who is also a musician and dancer. As part of his thesis work, he is pulling together a 200-person choir to create "a river of song" in the park behind Columbia Library, where 100 years ago a river did flow but has been long filled and forgotten.

He's a tall, understated, erudite man, healthy and square-shouldered, handsome, with blue eyes. He speaks in the voice of a poet and sings as if he's the (undiscovered) lead in an opera. I used to sing -- all the time -- until the morning I woke up (twenty years ago) and discovered that the middle register of my voice had vanished. The cause: a drip on a small section of my vocal cords, allergy-related. Antihistamines help only marginally. I can still sing a decent first tenor, and an okay limited-range second soprano, but my alto -- where the heart & soul of my voice resides -- is nowhere to be found.

Campbell -- my teacher -- is absolutely certain that his instruction will bring it back, or release it from its constraints. Singing with him this afternoon in the studio at work, my voice cracking and cutting out, it felt as if all good sounds were trapped somewhere in the back of my head, lodged in a part of my skull: impenetrable bone.

I am less confident of the potential for success.

We're working on relaxing the throat muscles. My homework is a lot like the breathing exercises that one encounters in yoga, and that which I find most difficult in yoga: being still, listening, breathing. Isn't breathing something we do automatically?

Campbell spoke of the necessity & importance of silence -- as necessary as the presence of voice. Then he said:

"Think of your voice as a flame which melts away that which is bad in all people."


At the rate I am not progressing, I fear that evil may well exist on this planet for a long time.

Nonetheless, I have my assignment for the next month while he jets off to NYC to assemble a choir similar to his Columbia Park choir, but on a slightly smaller scale.

Tra la!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Melinda and I are doing a holiday show at the Rainier Club in downtown Seattle tomorrow afternoon. Check it out here.

We've been advised to wear "business casual", but since neither of us had any inclination to go out and purchase a "business casual" ensemble for a three-hour gig, we both decided, instead, to go, um, "artistic". Which means, to us, "normal".

My own composed attire will include the "recycled" skirt that I bought yesterday at Value Village for $4.99.

The Rainier Club is very Olde Seattle. Exclusive. Moneyed. I figure that we artists are going to be their little December sideshow. Exotic! Quirky!

But as long as they wield their wallets generously, I won't be complaining. Their money is green.

And we're allowed one complementary cocktail each. Woot! Party!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It's late, Saturday night, and I've been playing music for hours and my hands aren't aching, despite painting at work all afternoon. Did someone shoot some cortisone in my knuckles when I wasn't looking?

It's really weird.
I like it.

There's a piano piece that my sister taught me in the 1970's that I like to play, but for years I haven't been able to summon up the bridge. I don't even know the name of it. But tonight it suddenly came back -- go figure. I started playing and there it was, unlodged from some previously-dormant part of the brain. I remembered it, played it through, was astonished. Who can account for lost melodies, suddenly called forth?

I played three of six Bach Variations. I played Moonlight Sonata, if even in the absence of moonlight on a rainy November night. I played and sang "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles.

Stacks of music heaved from the big wicker basket: Chopin, Mozart, Fats Waller, Strauss, Carole King. Single sheets of notes, out of order, rag-eared & ripped. Ghosts of pianos past. Notations written in pencil, some from the 1960's.

Buried in the basket was my melodica, unused for years because of a wonky key. I said fuck it and got my handy-dandy multi-tip screwdriver and took the damn thing apart, poked out the loose pieces, repositioned them, put the screws back in, et voilĂ : music. And of my own doing.

I worked out Cal Scott's The Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz, key of G.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Post T.G....

....and the pecan pie is gone.


Nonetheless, it was a grand feast for the six of us, my dining room aglow with new paint, the furniture in a yet new configuration, candles lit for the comfort they offer. The kitchen hummed with cooking.

Earlier I clipped the last of the cosmos from the garden, a sprig of borage and two sprigs of pink valerian. Meager, but still in bloom.

My massive harvest of five sugar pumpkins yielded squash for pie. Fresh sage for stuffing, parsley from my neighbor Candy's garden.

For the first time ever I love my house.

I am grateful for it.

Grateful for my convivial, big-laughing, handsome sons.
For the friends who came bearing vodka and vino: grateful for their reliably generous and loving hearts.

I would not have guessed -- a year ago -- that T.G. would be hosted this year in this reconfigured house, this life-under-construction. But here we are, here I am, and (dare I say) it's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My mother would wax her kitchen floor late, the night before thanksgiving, all of us in bed. It was the only time she could be certain of no one making tracks across her gleaming floor. But me? I'll be lucky if I get the floor swept, much less mopped.

And do people really still wax floors? Mine is old-fashioned (but not old) vinyl composition tile, and could definitely take a wax coating, but lord, who could be bothered?! Yet I still judge a holiday by the cleanliness, or lack-thereof, of my kitchen floor.

It will be swept.

Will make an honest attempt at mopping.

But mop or no mop, our dinner Thursday is going to be damn good.

And that's enough by me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Nesting

(collage by Michael Bristow)

(I've posted this before, but it seemed so appropriate for today, for right now -- )


--for Mark Benchley Anderson
September 28, 1956 - November 21, 2003


You called me out for a sparrow
fallen from the Douglas fir,
the nest invisible in the endless web
of branch upon branch reeling above us.
And what comfort was I,
your earth-bound wife, nine months
pregnant, barely moving?

You lifted it into the warm cradle of your hands
and for a long moment we didn’t speak.
The child inside me shifted and turned —
a certain impatience, I suppose, to get on with things.
And then so gently you balanced the bird
on a low bough, out of reach of cats.
We knew it would not survive the night.


The City Light crew
has trimmed the upper branches,
sheared off most of one side
to keep us safe, they say, from a collision
of evergreen and wire. Now it stands
lop-sided, north-heavy.

In wind I fret over gusting limbs,
a shattering of glass and timber —
I keep watch over our sleeping children,
yet they wake and cry
to the rhododendron’s rasping
against storm windows.
My bones shiver
under cover, safe
from careening branches, from small birds
dropping into darkness.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Minus Poundage + Youth

I've shed more than a few #'s in the past seven months, and suddenly realized (or, rather, it was pointed out to me by MMW), that most of my clothing is literally falling off me.

And then this week when I tossed the last of the summer things to the back of the closet, there remained but a handful of things actually in my size. I know, I know -- I should be rejoicing in the New & Improved Me. It's just that the journey (which I've been advised to trust) has been a chapter straight out of hell. (The Ninth Circle, to be exact.)

Okay. This is really boring.

This is not boring -- came home tonight to this framed photo, a birthday present from my son Nelson:

In September he did something called "Warrior Dash" -- an "extreme 5k dash from hell". And although the photo is obviously photo-shopped, he really did leap over fire, muddy legs and all, carrying a beer the entire way.

Yes. That's my boy.

Damn -- to be 23 again!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

These are not girly hands. More likely to be smudged with paint. More nails jagged than smooth.

They can heft a Sawz-All as easily as a pie crust. Rub a cat's belly and come away with torn skin. Never polished. Often softened. One ring, two. Or none.

Can quickly raise a middle finger in an emergency, but has raised a thumb just once. Left thumb smashed at age six in a car door before Mass, the bone crushed and a dearth of ice. The writer's lump still evident despite years now of a keyboard. Will push concertina buttons, but not for cash; plunk plastic chipped piano keys.

They toss garden gloves quickly: in love with cool dirt. Deadhead cosmos with a snap, pinch dahlias. Caress the unfurling of a frond. Check a grape for sugar.

They uncork like a sommelier: quick & snappy. Pour, twirl the glass. Sponge lip-prints from rims. Wipe spots with a linen cloth.

They rub eyes, a furrowed forehead. Conceal a yawn. Rest atop the body as if in prayer, but only in sleep. And only in dreams do they pause -- poised as if gloved in kid, tender as a peach, blushing.
Pablo Neruda nails this one:

Ode to the Present

present moment,
as a wooden slab,
immaculate hour,
this day
as a new cup
from the past--
no spider web
with our fingers,
we caress
the present;

we cut it
according to our magnitude
we guide
the unfolding of its blossoms.
It is living,
it contains
from the unrepairable past,
from the lost past,
it is our
growing at
this very moment, adorned with
sand, eating from
our hands.
Grab it.
Don't let it slip away.
Don't lose it in dreams
or words.
Clutch it.
Tie it,
and order it
to obey you.
Make it a road,
a bell,
a machine,
a kiss, a book,
a caress.
Take a saw to its delicious
And make a chair;
braid its
test it.
Or then, build
a staircase!

Yes, a
the present,
by step,
press your feet
onto the resinous wood
of this moment,
going up,
going up,
not very high,
just so
you repair
the leaky roof.
Don't go all the way to heaven.
for apples,
not the clouds.
Let them
fluff through the sky,
skimming passage,
into the past.

your present,
your own apple.
Pick it from
your tree.
Raise it
in your hand.
It's gleaming,
rich with stars.
Claim it.
Take a luxurious bite
out of the present,
and whistle along the road
of your destiny.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem: What the Living Do

by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

--Marie Howe

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Been back in this house since the first of May and other than a few potlucks this summer on the back deck, there hasn't been a whole lot of entertaining going on. Just haven't had the heart for it. But yesterday I inhaled deeply and hosted my first full-on dinner party of this new life in the B-Street house.

I just had the living room painted, and haven't yet hung a single thing on the walls, so it felt a little austere. I sent my son to the hardware store in the afternoon to pick up a picture-hanging kit and he came back with something completely other than what I expected. (Growl.) Sigh. Bare walls.

Nonethless, low lighting and the warmth of candles amped up the ambiance considerably. And then there were the numerous bottles of wine, all of them, incidentally, French, save for the 1957 -- yes, 1957! -- bottle of Tawny Port and an 18-year-old Jameson's. Ah. Lovely stuff, every drop.

I've still not unpacked everything that was frantically stuffed into boxes last April, and when it came time to serve the meal, I hadn't a platter anywhere. No baskets for bread -- wait! My sister had just minutes before given me a beautiful red basket for my birthday, so it was put to quick use. Espresso cups? Teacups? A sprint down the basement stairs solved that, a hurried rummage through a box labeled, amazingly "teacups". Okay -- that wasn't so hard.

Last week my trusty Joy of Cooking reappeared (minus the first 167 pages!), but my red binder with all my own recipes is still oddly nowhere to be found. I've done this gotta-move-immediately twice now in this lifetime and if I have to do it again, may it be in another lifetime. It fucks everything up, washes away every last remnant of carefully constructed foundation. (I'm a girl who needs the underpinnings to be not only solid but thoughtfully reinforced.)

Rebuilding, one cookbook at a time, one teacup at a time.

The big hit of the meal was the stuffed pork loin -- the scent of onions and red apples sauteeing and caramelizing yesterday afternoon was the stuff of inspired dreams -- made even better with a handful of chopped fresh sage, panko crumbs, nutmeg. Tied it, rubbed in a generous portion of S & P plus some spices (my son pulled the rub together), layed two slices of bacon along the length, roasted it for an hour. (It just occurred to me that we no longer "bake" anything: we "roast". Ha. Even the language of cooking has its ins-and-outs.)

Dessert was an ice cream pie:

-crust of crumbled ginger snaps and melted butter
-softened vanilla ice cream for the bottom layer
-pumpkin mousse for the top layer

Um, yeah. Divine.

My toast: "To loyal friends and family -- may you endure."

I did it.
And I think maybe I can do it again.

God it's good to be alive -- really alive, this right-now alive, this moment.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I want to be here, under this sky, in this mist, on this beach....

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I often leave my monthly writing group in a kind of spell, charmed by the company of poets. Tonight was no exception.

Eve appeared, and also Lucifer, and a Danish audiologist named Old Bentzen who died from laughing in 1989 while watching A Fish Called Wanda. There was a hummingbird and the beating heart of a bird, a grieving carpenter, the semi-colon, blond spiders and live music (guitar & voice). There was a reading from the New England Journal of Medicine about the changing language of medicine. There was a saw.

The spell begins to diminish the moment I walk out the door, and lingers always not long enough. I hear their voices, though, for weeks afterwards, as I pluck and prune the flaws from a poem-in-progress.

It's all good stuff.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I've not done this:
played music with friends.
I've sung, played piano, sung harmony, but not an instrument with other instruments. Do I have permission to do this? Do I need permission?

Guitar, mandolin, concertina.

I'm new to it all and play badly, and every time J. picked up the beat I'd lose it and my fingers would begin to stumble, tumble, and T. would give me a look like I don't think that's part of the melody and then of course I could barely stop myself from dissolving into laughter. GAWD it was hard to concentrate and not forget fuck-all. To makes things worse, really bad, they decided that I was the one to follow because the concertina is dominant and I HADN'T A CLUE.


We were in luck.
The music police weren't patrolling that street; no one banged on the door demanding cessation; the two other musicians were patient; our audience of ONE was very mellow.

But when it worked, when I hit the right buttons and J. and T. hit the right chords, it was a hallelujah moment, an I-can-barely-sit-still-for-this-joy moment.

The question, of course, is Why Did I Wait So Long To Do This?

(I'm not sure why All The Upper Case Letters but sometimes they just leap to the fingertips and demand to make their presence known.)

Anyway, I survived.
And here is John Boutte in NOLA singing his version of Hallelujah (a song which has been covered at least 200 times):


Hello early darkness.

Fall Back

It’s returned, that hour lost last April,
slipped in at 2am while a half-moon
gleamed in the pine. Hovered
while I slept, unclaimed
angel, tick-tock.

I don’t desire to use it yet: I want to be
selfish, to hoard, tear it into ten
minute bits. Fold one into
my wallet for the late

in the vegetable bin to forestall wilt.
Under my pillow to prolong
the dream, into the oven to
extend the fragrance of
Quick Yellow Cake

I’ll give one to my son to get out of jail
free. One I’ll bury in the garden
in eternal plastic, mark an X
with apples. Maybe I’ll
forget it’s there.

maybe, in the next century,
someone will unearth this
ten-minute treasure,
and it will be that one
extra moment they’ll
need to save their life.

© T. Clear 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How It Is.

Out of focus and off-kilter.

The Dimming of the Day

Richard Thompson closed his show last night with this:

His voice drops me to my knees, makes me weep.

Today at work I said:

"No more inspiring words. I just want to feel better."


It's been one of those weeks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yoga Strange & Wonderful

It was a little like walking into a prayer -- an unremarkable bungalow, circa 1900 -- going to "Quiet Yoga." My friend C. and I were the only people there other than our facilitator, a beautiful young woman named Lin, whose hair was pulled back in a long black braid and moved with the ease and grace of the young and fit. All very hushed, no music. Silky light. We unrolled our mats and Lin told us we could do our own practice or follow her.

At first the silence was disconcerting -- we were all-breath, and without a melody or chanting the breath-sounds grew magnified and took on greater importance. My usual (bad practice) breath-holding was more evident than ever, and finally I settled into a rhythm, air in, air out. Who knew breathing was so important?! (Duh.)

Stiff. Out of yoga-shape.

At one point I was facing Lin's calendar, and saw that she volunteers at the Crisis Clinic. It struck me as very odd that here I was in someone's home, knowing nearly nothing about this person. (C. had seen an advert. for "Quiet Yoga" on a local reader-board.) Lin had opened her door to us, complete strangers. And we took off our shoes and went to work, bending and contorting our limbs in this stranger's house.

Lavish blue blossoms and some East Indian characters were painted on a wall; paper shades concealed the sliver moon, city lights. The energy was that of peace, at a slow simmer .

When an hour was up, and we regained speech, she asked if we'd stay for meditation. Alas, it was time to go.

C. and I walked the half-mile back to our houses through dark November streets, a day past Halloween. No pumpkins lit, the noise of the world turned way down.

Life continues to offer up the new and the unexpected.
I bow my head in gratitude.