Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney, on the Bathroom Wall

In 1991, my husband Mark tore a Seamus Heaney poem out of the New Yorker, folded the edges back around the poem, and push-pinned it to our bathroom wall. No frame, no decorum: straight poem. We were that kind of family.

For years I read that text — Like a foul-mouthed god of hemp come down to rut — as I brushed my teeth and dried my hair, the paper becoming moisture-splotched and yellowed as the years ebbed forward. I never truly committed it to memory, one of my failings as a poet, I suppose. There are few poems I can recite by heart, and this, of all poems, should really be the one; neither for any kind of universal truth nor for beauty of language (although these are both present), but because I looked at it every day, year upon year.

In the ensuing decades, past Mark's death in 2003 and beyond, it was removed and relegated, I'm guessing, to some pile, and subsequently put in some box or another. Because who could dispose of such a bare-bones piece of evidence of the consumate Irish poet as well as my poetry-loving husband who, without hesitation and minus adornment (because it needed none!), stuck the poem to our bathroom wall?

In all honesty, I've not given it any thought since I removed it from its hallowed sheetrock. That is, until today, when I read that Seamus Heaney was dead at age 74, and suddenly, tonight, after a long work-week and in anticipation of my one-week vacation commencing Sunday, I let down all my emotional barricades, and wept for the elegant Irish poet who by all rights should have thrived until a much later age, and for my half-Irish husband who went to his death with the unrealized desire to visit Ireland.

And where is this poem, The Fair Hill? Most of my poetry collections are still boxed from my move back to B-Street in 2011. The only way to access the poem online is to purchase a digital subscription to The New Yorker. Instead I'm left with only the essence of what hung in steam and the many acts of human ministration that took place in the bathroom: the showers, the baths, the tooth-brushing, the hand-washing. And then the even-more humbling instances of being alive: the attending to a sick child, the shower set to hot-steaming to soothe a persistent cough, the rinsing of gaps left in the jaw post-extraction.  Seamus Heaney was present for every one of these, a torn page from a magazine,  a Nobel Prize-winning poet alive and present in the most private and essential habits of my family.

More than anything, I wish Mark were here right now so we could each raise a pint of Guinness to the master of verse who presided over my make-up applications for many years. If Mark were here, we'd take turns reading Heaney's poetry aloud. We might stand out on the balcony together — he died before it was completed — and shout the lines of The Fair Hill out into the August night, into the dark and past midnight, beneath this sliver of moon that could, just possibly, resemble a potato slice.

So here's to you, Seamus Heaney.
May you and Mark clink your pint glasses in heaven, or wherever it is that poets and lovers-of-poetry land after your exit from this world of torn paper pinned to bathroom walls.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Advice, Declined

The Angel With Broken Wings is a regular fixture in the studio these days, exuberant in his exhortations and equally entertaining in his on-going commentary on life; a person who knows how to laugh as well as he knows how to cry, and he ain't scrimping on either.

Today he told me that if I was going to land myself a man I oughta dumb things down a bit. And guess what: I was outraged, albeit in a warm manner, and told him very kindly: NO. Not no-where, not no-how.

(Notice that "nowhere" can be read as either "no where" or "now here". Very curious, doncha think?
In that they have opposite meanings? I think it was stuff like this he was referring to when he suggested the dumbing-down.)

Bottom line: if a man isn't able to engage in a little pun-spiked sparring on a regular basis, he's not worth my time.
The days keep getting odder, or more odd. (Maybe more oddly?) (More oddly odder?)

Spoke on the phone today to a police detective, a public health nurse and a hospital records department. This is only slightly better than last week, when it was a detective, a judge, a bar owner and a software developer.

In the past months I have spoken to neither a clown, a taxidermist, nor a prime minister.

To whom have you recently spoken?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Owl, Midnight

Close to midnight I heard an owl.
I was lying in bed, nearly asleep
when I heard the distinct hoo-hooing low notes,
a barred owl. I dragged myself from the mattress
and went to my balcony in the dark,
waited to hear it again, and I did,
not too close, just distant enough —
maybe half a block away in a Douglas fir,
or cedar, I'm guessing. Lovely, ethereal,
almost melancholic.

Seemed to be the sound
of being alone in the dark, no stars.
The city asleep, or nearly there.
Not so much for me after that,
yet worth the interruption, because
in all the years I've lived in this house
I've not ever heard an owl
from my bed at midnight.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


There are dark rumblings in my world at the moment, a shifting of tectonic plates, a teetering on jag-edged cliffsides.

So much cannot be said.
So much wanting to say every last word of it.

And in other news, summer begins a dry crackle to its denouement, the days a yellow haze of thin cloudcover and puddingthick air. The five apples (variety: Chehalis) that my apple tree produced this year have begun to fall, pocked and shot through with mites. Useless, and yet oddly beautiful in their utter imperfection.

White flies.
Every morning the way out of the house crisscrossed with spiders' webs.

If I were ten years old again and wandering the yellow fields of my childhood, I'd go searching for a garter snake or an ant pile. Once, under a discarded piece of plywood in a far corner of a neighbor's one-acre yard, I found a mouse family all swirled together in a soft grass nest, the mother-mouse in full alarm when her roof was so rudely raised by the giant (me), the babies pink and helpless. I gently let the board back down — I recall that afternoon so clearly — and continued on my solitary hunt for the small trappings of wildlife my world allowed.

But not here, not now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

When all the old words became no longer useful
she went at them with knives and scissors —
her desire for  a new language
more powerful than the tidal pull
of the moon, more resonant than birdsong.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Launching a New Venture

I'm securing a venue to host a monthly 4th-Monday open mic in my Southeast Seattle neighborhood, featuring spoken word (poetry, prose, memoir, etc.) and music, modeled after a thrice-monthly event that I attend in the northend of town. Choosing the location has been tricky — it must be open late and must serve alcohol (poets like to drink!). I spoke with one of the owners of Hummingbird Saloon last week, and he sounds 97% okay with the idea. Not excited, mind you. He hosted an open mic at a bar he used to own in New Orleans, and was overrun with loud and obnoxious (and offensive) slam poets. I'm not at all interested in the loud and obnoxious! Not interested in censorship either, but if I'm the one putting the time in to set up and host this thing, I get some say. (Glad the owner and I share this perspective.)

Need to track down an amp and microphone, and learn how to use the damn things. Any leads on this, Seattle friends?

It's been 22 years since I launched a poetry happening by myself, the last time in 1991. My boys were three and five years old, I was married, renting the house we eventually purchased, had different cats and a different job. How different my life was!

The writing group that launched is still meeting, with only one other original member other than myself. There have been at least a dozen other poets that no longer attend, including one who passed away. Currently we're nine-strong, just the right number!

In 1994, the group members at that time formed Floating Bridge Press, which has been operating in the black for 19 years — no small feat for an all-volunteer, non-profit poetry press. We were young and enthusiastic, and more than a teensy bit naive. But our leap into the unknown world of publishing resulted in dozens of books/chapbooks, as well as numerous issues of Pontoon: An Anthology of Washington State Poets, and now, Floating Bridge Review. Essentially, we opened a door to publishing for hundreds of Washington State Writers.

I resigned from my board position two years ago, and am proud to be a founder.

Somehow I seem to have reached an age where I can look back and take note of the ripples of effect a single thing can have on a person/life/community. When I began putting feelers out, all those years ago,  for other poets with interest in a critique group, I was desperate to connect with other writers. (Ah! Those pre-internet dinosaur days!) Little did I know the impact this would have on me and a community of writers, or that long-lasting friendships would be formed. I merely plunged forward with my plans, believing, always in infinite possibilities.

So it is with this same excitement that I'm putting together the open mic plans. I have no idea down which path it may lead, nor which intriguing characters I'll meet in the process. All I know is that it's a new beginning, a new direction, and I'm tingling already in anticipation.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thieving Blue

I've been stealing branches of hydrangea on my walk home from work, glorious fading blossoms spilling over onto sidewalks, driveways, the street. Not sure what I'll do/say if/when I get caught, except that who could resist such an array of every shade of blue imaginable? And because the summer has been exceptionally dry (by Seattle standards), the flowers are losing their intensity earlier than is normal. But no less stunning in their waning!

I like to think that the color evaporates as the warm days persist, and that somewhere is a repository of blue droplets, perhaps in a cloudbank, or a pocket of fog.

Once, in an upscale restaurant in Ireland, I saw a woman wearing a dress of the most exquisite shade of blue possible — not royal blue or cobalt of cornflower blue or azure — but something I'd call beach-glass blue, dark yet with a shadow of green light, and a glowing brightness that defied an accurate description, a hue that changed depending on the direction of the sun. Rather, I'll call it impossible blue. And it's rare to find in an article of clothing, believe me, as I've searched for years for just this shade.

Before leaving the restaurant, I stopped at the woman's table to compliment her, and she seemed a bit uncomfortable, which was warranted because I wanted to rip the dress from her and take it with me. (But I didn't.)

And now there are hydrangeas on my kitchen sill, on my kitchen table, and all over my bedroom, some from last year with just a whisper of color, and then this year's crop — still holding on to a generous suffusion of pigment.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Moon, Blue and Not Blue

Who has seen the moon tonight?
— a sharpened sickle, a scythe to fell the long grasses in the abandoned barnyard.
— a scar on my palm, a deep gash from a fall at a young age.
— rind, orange peel, lemon wedge, and all the pulp toothed-out.
— the petal's edge, the color bled.

But before this gloaming, I sat at the bar at The Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, and drank a toast with a stranger to poet Theodore Roethke, whose portrait hangs over the pool table.

In this exploration and discovery that I engage in while blogging, I came across the short film about Roethke and The Blue Moon:
And I'm cast into my own blueness-moonness tonight because poetry taps down into the deepest most unreachable parts of me, and is a danger for the power it wields over me, and for the raw edge of truth that surges when I'm under its spell.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Can a bird die looking up at the sky?

I got a call tonight from the friend who lives across the street from me, wanting me to come over to see something.

The minute I stepped foot in her yard, she started whispering, and led me around to the side yard, where a robin was standing completely still, eyes open and unblinking, beak raised to the sky. She said it had been that way for quite some time. (Long enough, and then some, for her to call me, and for me to walk from my back yard to hers.) She said she'd gotten her binoculars to get a closer view, and it didn't appear to be making any breathing or blinking movements!

I quietly crept closer, squatting, took my iPhone out to snap a picture. At a distance of about two feet, it suddenly jumped, fluttered a few times, and hopped off into the bushes.

All very strange.

At what was it looking?

(And it really did appear to be dead.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Surfeit & Dearth

It's been a week+ of almost no writing, neither here nor in my serious and more focused poetry-writing, which casts me into a state of agitation and fidgets. Gotta write.

On several occasions, I've begun a blog piece, and then word by word I delete it. Bye bye bloggie.

And then I remember just how much is going on in my work-world, my home-world, my everything-world. Still reeling from the recent violence in the glass factory. We hired new help, a young woman who is beautifully blessed with grace and intelligence, but is only available two days a week. Not enough! My mortgage went up in price by more than I would prefer, eating up a significant portion of my raise. (But very grateful for the raise.) Sigh.

Love life is in the garbage dump, festering amid a pile of rotting whatever. My parking-strip vegetable garden, on the other hand, is growing crazily — I've gardened most of my life and I've never experienced anything like this. I like to think of this summer as the result of — instead of global warming—global charming. This abundance is a short-term bonus to the perils our planet seems to be surrendering-to.

Everything appears to be patched together with thin and fragile stitches, when upholstery thread would certainly do a better job of it. But at the moment, my needle is threaded with the finest of filaments, finer than spider's silk and certainly without that tensile strength.

In these past few weeks I've witnessed a man pull himself back from actively choosing death by the bottle to embracing all of life's possibilities. I've witnessed a psychotic break, a personal assault and the destruction of thousands of dollars of glass. My heart has been shattered, people close to me have spoken of profound depression and devastating regret. I successfully rebuilt a loving relationship with my brother, something that, a year ago, I would have said was not salvageable.

I've re-established order in the production line at work, and was stunned by the realization of just how profoundly negative my former co-worker's impact was on every minute of my working day.

Relief! — amid the rising panic, when I see again the look in his eyes the moment before he swept $4k of inventory to the concrete floor.

My ridiculously amusing cat who, in complete darkness, takes a crazed running leap from the edge of the roof to the deck railing: ta-da! Lands upright and, if cats laughed, she'd laugh until tears flowed.

All of this.
All of life.
Spinning, grinding, swirling, singing, erupting, corroding, shining, falling apart, and, sometimes, if we're paying attention, we notice when it all begins to come together again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Type, backspace, delete.
Type, backspace, delete.
Type, backspace delete.

It's been one of those summers.

Meanwhile, among the cabbages —

Saturday, August 3, 2013