Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting My Grumble On

Alone in the studio this morning, I listened to poets Billy Collins and Howard Nemerov on YouTube while I exposed sheet after sheet of film, each for 25 seconds, then washed each one out under hot running water, after which they were strung (with manuscript clips!) to lines above my head.

Water underfoot on the concrete floor. Cold coffee. Water railing from the sky outside.

Crabby Monday.
Dissatisfied and uninspired Monday.
What I wanted was to march into Washington to give the House of Representatives and Boehner a piece of my mind — and the back of my hand. I'm counting on The Affordable Care Act, which translates into a raise for me. I mean, I love working as an artist but, as in poetry, it ain't where the big money lurks.


And I started to think about poetry, about the fact that I often hate poetry, wish that I could just walk away from it, like a bad relationship. I can't read more than a single poem at a time, because for me a single poem is often the equivalent of an entire novel, distilled down to a minimum of lines. Reading ninety pages of poetry is like eating ninety pieces of cake. (And reading ninety pages of bad poetry is like eating ninety pieces of Safeway cake: shortening, sugar, food coloring.) An entire collection of poetry can take months to read. This is a problem. But I can't go without it! It's what makes sense to me, the thing that unwinds the tangled threads connecting everything.

And then there's the writing of it. I'll go months without a new piece, and every day passed in the absence of a new poem is barely tolerable. A certain deadness lingers, a procession of days minus those moments of clarity where life unfolds into an infinite number of possibilities.

It's been a month since a new poem tapped me on the shoulder and demanded WRITE ME. I need my fix, my sugar, my twenty-five lines of metaphorical caffeine. I need a simile, like an addict needs a hit. Shoot me up with imagery. Get off your assonance and alliterate me. And make it quick. (She said to the muse.)

What I don't need is a bunch of white guys in Congress with their penis-waving puffed-up self-aggrandizing self-important (is that redundant?) agendas messing with my access to affordable health care.

(The muse whispers settle down.)

It's late now.
I'm tired and poemless.

Bring on the violins — 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rivers, and Buttercream

Storming here, early this year. I'm hunkered down in the late afternoon dark while the house gets pummeled. I've left so many grapes on the vine, I'm afraid I'll lose them to this torrent. And the tomatoes, oh.


There's talk of flooding in the news, and something in me wants to walk the banks of a spilling river, see its aggressive surge. I've said this for years, and every fall there is something more compelling in staying-in with popcorn and some strong black tea instead of trouncing out in hip-waders (which of course I don't have) to gamble on flimsy footing and muddy water-whorls.

We can have our illusions of safety, but as inhabitants of the organism we call earth, we're all teetering on the same edge.

When I was out running errands this afternoon, I couldn't quell a nagging heart-dropping sensation, and I finally remembered that today is my late husband's birthday. For the first few years after his passing, I sent his mother flowers on this day. And now she's gone, and so is his sister, and there are sharped-edged gaping holes in a part of me, somewhere that I can't identify exactly, perhaps in the solar plexus.

Everything surges forward, river or no river.

There should be a party tonight, and buttercream.
And small sips of Calvados to mark (to Mark!) yet another year.

Crank it up!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On the Job

A., one of our new luminous employees, told me today that he came in to work on Wednesday in a crabby mood (I didn't notice), but that the laughing began quickly, and he snapped out of his funk right away. Said that he tried to tell his girlfriend what it was we were laughing about, but gave up because there was so much of it. (So much laughing.)

Well, damn.
This made my day!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


At the Hummingbird Saloon, at the inaugural Easy Speak, my dear friend Emily gave me a gift — a book entitled Hummingbirds of North America — Attracting, Feeding & Photographing, by Dan True. It's a beauty of a book, not only for its scientific approach to the subject but also for the book-making itself, with a handsome red hardback cover and semi-glossy pages. The hummingbird has, in the past two years, evolved into a kind of totem for me, a spirit-bird — and I was both moved and delighted by this gift.

I'm going to mention a little trick that, if you do, you can reference back to all the blog posts about my hummingbird encounters: if you look in the upper left hand corner of this blog, you'll see a small white rectangular box with a grey magnifier icon. Type in the word "hummingbird", press "enter" (or "return") on your keyboard, and you be instantly redirected to that page.

And to report: Easy Speak was an overwhelming success! Standing room only, the bar owners were delighted and enthusiastically ok'd a regular once-a-month open mic. I left there Monday night with a full heart, a happy heart.

In closing I'll include Emily's inscription in my new book:

Eagerly awaiting the start of my epic journey!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Post # 1999

Theses days it feels like everything's already been said, and often said repeatedly. So here I go again, this first day of autumn, on the eve of Post # 2000.....

Blustery rain and wind today, long awaited from me after a summer more glorious than any I can recall here, where I've lived all my years. To welcome the new season I baked gingerbread with a lemon glaze, and pork ribs are tenderizing in the oven in the heat of a low flame, awash in homemade BBQ sauce. I'm going to mash a giant sweet potato with coconut milk and ginger, and I'm awaiting a note of criticism from R., who will undoubtedly point out that BBQ and a Thai-themed potato mash commit the sin of flavor clashing. I say So What.

Feeling a sweet sadness at summer's passing, especially now that I'm on the side of the hill where I'm counting future possible summers in a set of numbers that, most likely, will be less than 50. When did this happen, this change of perspective?

If I could I'd stretch out each day so I could stay awake as long as desired, and then stretch out each night so I could stay awake under a moonlit sky even longer. I'd insert an extra day between Saturday and Sunday, call in Someday, and linger there, in dark or light — awake, alert, listening, seeing.

There is never enough time, in all of eternity, in every moment that has slipped away and in every still-possible second/minute/hour before me.

The challenge, of course, is to be present and in appreciation of all of it. Even in sleep, when my dreams each night launch me into ever more extraordinary scenarios: last night I was packing for a trip to India, opening a cafe, examining a new fabric that rippled like water, watching old episodes of Mickey Mouse on a television from the 1950's, choosing from dozens of kittens with sky-blue eyes. (I'd say that was sleep-time well spent!)

Tomorrow evening is the launch of Easy Speak, my new open mic venue at Hummingbird Saloon, not far from my home. The last time I initiated a literary function was in 1991, when I formed a poetry critique group, which still meets monthly and with a history of people coming and going, many staying, for 22 years. That decisive act, which was met with a lot of opposition from my very-controlling husband, changed my life. A non-profit poetry press grew out of it, which has operated in the black for all of its 19 years.  Deep friendships were formed, and continue to evolve.
New friendships are still being formed. Off and on for these years, it has served as a kind of backbone to my social scene.

When my husband passed away, I stepped away from it, and from poetry, for a long time. Poetry was my source of spirituality, and I felt disastrously betrayed by that which had for so long sustained me. I came back to it — in my heart — this past year, and Easy Speak is the child of that personal renaissance.

It's an open book, all of it, all of life.

And the view from the top of this hill, looking at what some may see as the downside, is lit with candlelight and lanterns, bonfires and oil lamps, illuminating a landscape that is at the same time deeply mysterious and spilling with enchantment.

While in Hawaii in early September, I engaged in a conversation with a mathematician about the arc of a human life. His philosophy was that in life one has two or three occasions to make a decision that will influence and shape the entire rest of that life. I played a bit of the devil's advocate with him — I love a lively debate — and disagreed. In a larger sense, I partially agree with him. The decision to go to college or not, to marry or not, to make a career change (or not) are certainly seminal moments in life. But taking it down to more personal level, I said that I thought that life was made up of possibilities, of all sorts, and at any point in time, one could make a decision to take Road A or Road B, or Road J, or even Road X. (I should probably mention that this conversation arose out of a discussion of the Multiverse Theory in Quantum Physics.)

Sparring ensued, all good-naturedly.

Before the conversation was cut short, I said,

"Tony, you look at life from a mathematician's perspective, and I look at it from the poet's perspective."

He half-chuckled, obviously not quite in agreement with even this proclamation.


The sun just came out, in a brief parting of sodden clouds. I can hear the wind in the trees in my one still-open window. Time to start thinking about scarves and gloves, ice and sleet. Time to think about the possibilities of the season ahead. Time to ready the lanterns, set out the candles.

It's all new from here on out.

Monday, September 16, 2013


I want to live in a house with a tall wood fence that runs along a sidewalk.

Embedded in the fence would be double-hung windows. (Maybe curtains, yellow and white checked.)

Every now and again, I'd open one of the windows and place a pie on the sill to cool.

Would you take that pie, if you were walking by?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thicket & Forest

My son and I went walking in the woods this afternoon, and the moment we stepped foot on the path the rain started — threatening all day but all day distant — and thunder hailed out across the treetops in its always unexpected bass drum boom. Nevertheless, beneath that high canopy of Bigleaf Maples where ferns grow all the way up the trunk to the topmost and windiest branches, we felt safe and insignificant, sheltered in mossy underbrush. And mostly dry.

There are a few old-growth firs in the park, and every time I see one I can't help but think that these trees somehow survived logging, decades before current logging practices which allow for a less dramatic clearcut. These trees began their lives well before the influx of white settlers, when everything I know as urban was wilderness. It's a good brain exercise, I think, to try to envision this different landscape, minus pavement and parking lots and the drone of lawn mowers and I could go on for paragraphs but won't.

I kept stopping to look at the ferns. In spite of the very dry summer we've had, they appeared lush and hale, growing laterally on nearly every tree. R. point some out in a high notch of a maple.

And then just as quickly as the rain began, the sun appeared, sending long rays like outstretched arms down onto the damp forest floor. It seemed as if everything respired — treestumps and loam and thimbleberries and alders, woodpecker-gutted snags, wild outcroppings of orange and pink fungus. This was no place of inactivity. Despite the relative post-thunder calm, the forest was very much at work doing what it has always done: the work of decomposition, of regeneration, all at once and always. In all ways.

A hundred years ago a person could make a home from the stump of a logged fir, live out his or her years cozy and snug in the hollowed trunk, with the addition of a modest roof.  There's a small clearing on my woods-path where for years I've wanted to camp, for just one night, but of course that would be against the City of Seattle Municipal Code.

Maybe tonight I'll hear an owl from my treetop-level attic bedroom, a half mile from the park, where I'll sleep legally. Small consolation, when what I really want is an entire forest for my bedroom, decorated with sword ferns, floor to ceiling.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Noli timere — don't be afraid."

Seamus Heaney's last words — in a text to his wife — " Noli timere", latin for
don't be afraid.

I'm still mourning the death of this great man, this poet of stunning integrity, keen understanding of the human condition, compassion and outright talent. 

He did a book signing at Open Books in Seattle some fifteen years or so ago, and I stood in the long line that snaked out the door and down the sidewalk, the morning cold and bright. I had two books, one whose cover had been attached upside down. When it came to my turn, he opened the upside-down book, smiled up at me quizzically, and said, "Will you look at that!" I was more than delighted.

A few evenings later he gave a reading as the Roethke Memorial Poet at the University of Washington, and told this story, as I remember it:

It was the christening of my niece, and we arrived late, without a gift. I was worried about this, and my wife told me to go upstairs and write her one of my poems. So I did.

He read the poem —  I wish I remembered more about it, and whether it was ever published. But the memory alone I have of hearing him tell that story suffices. I was, again, delighted.

The following link contains more footage of the funeral — I couldn't find the direct video link, but the URL should lead anyone who is interested directly to it. There is a lovely segment where Paul Muldoon talks about coming back to Dublin from America for the funeral, and the dialogue he had with the Irish customs official upon his entry. Very much worth listening to!

Listening, I was reminded of just how much I love and miss my times spent in Ireland, and how deeply connected I am to that country of my heritage. I know I'll go back, when times and circumstances allow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the Job, Part ____.

I was painting a small sandblasted glass vessel, blending an opaque color (in oils) with a translucent color. Our very present 6'10" painter-man, who has been christened Little G., said that he was fascinated by how we blended the colors.

"It's crazy-brain-making," I told him.

"How's that?" he said, "because it's hard to do?"

I had to think about this. No, it wasn't hard to do, once I got the technique down. But there's an element of blending opaque/translucent color into a seamless gradated tonal flow— generally from dark to light — that messes with my brain.

This wasn't easy to explain, and I hadn't, until then, given it much thought. Just one of those things that elicited an internal grumble from me each time I had to face it. A succession of questions began to spring to mind, prompting a very introspective discussion:

When/where does blindness transform to vision?
Where does the invisible become seen?
Light become dark?
Yes become no?
At what point on the horizon does cloudy become clear?
Is there a line where yin becomes yang, and vice versa?

The task of explaining why this was crazy-making was exponentially more difficult than the painting itself!

The vessel — vase, actually — was finished, finally, a deep gold blending to a sun-yellow blending to zinc white. Translucent at the base, opaque along the top rim. And somewhere along the body of that small piece of glass, somewhere undefinable, unmappable — the lights inside those colors transmuted.

I stopped my grumbling, glad for the ponderings in that I was forced to reckon with the source of my discontent, and in the process discovered that, once I stripped away the mechanics of the task, what remained was actually a more poetic/philosophical curiosity about the nature of seeing.

More than anything, this exploration into the why & how of color blending proved a dramatic contrast to the Stygian mood of yesterday's courtroom drama. And though I tried, in my consciousness, to blend the two together into merely a progression from a dark day to one that was light-filled, I failed.

No matter how hard I try to extend the metaphor, sometimes a courtroom is just a courtroom, and an afternoon spent painting is just that: painting.

In the end, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that this previously-dreaded painting task was, really, not so unpleasant after all. That it was, in fact, rather delightful, all things considered.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


There was a woman who said,
"I don't know if she's been served with papers yet. She's homeless. I don't know where she is. She's threatening to kill my children."
She stood at a table before the judge, leaned far forward, nervous, tripping over her words.

A man who said,
"Well, it's like, he and I were lovers. A friend said he saw him hit my car with a crowbar. I live on Social Security and my rent is $800 a month."

Another woman, who said,
"He just got out of jail today."
She was holding a scrap of paper, and she twisted and twisted it in her hands.

A young man, elegantly dressed in grey slacks, dress shoes, a green pullover sweater. I couldn't see his face, but he spoke quietly, with nervous deliberation, obviously struggling to choose the right words: Continuance? Extension?

A man who said,
" I'm disabled. I have two young children. My landlord intentionally hit me with his car."
The judge said,
"What does being disabled have to do with this?"
The man said,
"I can't defend myself!"

The tension in the room sizzled like sparklers nearly spent but that, oddly, still burned.

When it was my turn to go to the front of the room, I turned and looked directly at the respondent in my case — seated four feet away — but he stared forward, his presence as steely as the color of his suit.

I wanted him to look at me, to acknowledge my humanness; and I wanted to see his humanness, wanted to see his eyes.

When I presented my facts, my voice wavered, lost in some vocal range I couldn't identify as mine. Despite my shaky speech, I believe I told my story clearly and calmly, and the judge listened thoughtfully, for which I was grateful. But my voice!

My heart felt as if it were pulsating outward on every square inch of my skin, as if I were all beating heart, eardrum-splitting beating heart.

I was granted that for which I asked, which was small consolation. A legal bow loosely tied onto something wrapped tissue-thin. But it's what I have; it's how the system works.

Upon exiting the courthouse, I inhaled deeply the warm September air, felt my throat loosen, amazed that outside everything still hummed seamlessly, impossibly on — buses, pedestrians, traffic lights, seagulls, people sitting at a coffee shop on a corner, the usual shady dealings in City Hall Park. Briefcases, high-heels, striped ties, bluejeans, sport coats, shorts, backpacks....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Apron of Apples

Hana, and Beyond

I was a passenger in a 5-car caravan today to Hana and beyond, a mostly invisible person in a group of youthful passengers, none of whom I know well. The rule was that at every stop, you had to switch up which car you'd been in, so I ended up having delightful conversations with people that, in any other situation, would never happen.

But I miss my close friends.

That said, we visited Red Beach (a treacherous lava-field trail first had to be traversed and I thought of sending photos to everyone I'm close to letting them know that this might very well be my last communication with them). I experienced the very odd sensation of looking up at the ocean while swimming, as the ocean was partly barricaded by black lava rock formations. The sea would rise up against the lava rocks, then a wave would break and it would flow between the gaps, then begin the cycle again.

The next stop, at a beach whose name escapes me but contains these letters: H, I, A, M, O, in varying sequences. The young men body surfed — I'm such a water wimp that I'd never ever attempt something like that, but they were beautiful to watch with their exuberant enthusiasm and youthful strengths.

On the road again, twisty-turny-treacherous, a stop at a freshwater pool was cancelled when it was surmised that the pool was most likely in an evaporative state.

On and on, through bamboo forests and garlands of vines suspended from massive trees and ferns so thick on the ground and up into the tops of the forest canopies — so thankful I wasn't driving so I could drape myself out the car window, hair in full insane flight & tangle — the road so narrow in places and so rutted and bumpy it was like an amusement park entertainment. And the scent! From blossoms whose names I didn't know, from the dark dank humus of the forest floor, salt from the sea, a mesmerizing swirl of sensation.

Heaven. Of sorts.

Further on, as the road wound eastward, the landscape performed a dramatic change from tropical to dry and windswept, and for long moments, my head flung out the window to catch the wind — I could imagine I was on the western coast of Ireland, the similarities were so striking. I felt myself letting out a contented sigh. After this rather turned-upside-down week of tentative securities and feeling shifted off my grounding, here was a landscape, a geography that rooted me deeply on a deeply soulful level. And so unexpected! My heart did its song, its quiet dance of This Is My Land. No shouting necessary, it was an internal peace-settling stretch of time, of road, with every window of the car rolled tightly shut except for mine. And the wind that stripped my face of tension — a cool wind with a salty edge — was one that welcomed me to a home that for this short time existed on this other side of a planet whose limitations have become oh-so-obvious.

Tomorrow: a long flight across the Pacific to my chosen home.

Tonight: deep contemplation. An attempt to sort the instances of this past week, to file them into some kind of order, knowing that this supposed order will prove to be most difficult. And ultimately, accepting them for their own uncategorizable selves.

Such is the molecular structure of this life, atoms aswirl, neutrinos even more undefinable, doing the dance of the infinite universe.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Everything is dripping this morning, warm and sloshy with a wide rainbow on the western horizon. A few have bundled their youthful limbs in long pants and sweatshirt, and I can't remember the last time I was cold — most likely sometime last winter. The heat of a middle-aged woman is an untapped energy resource that could not only power, with little doubt, entire nations, but would for all time place women in their proper place: at the top.


The adjustment, to a new space, for me can take a long time, longer than the length of a vacation, for instance. It wasn't until last night that I had the presence of mind to look up at the sky and notice the multitude of stars, the Milky Way — and the gift of a meteor.

And then this afternoon, I opted out of a group beach outing and instead took to the roads on my own, doing the odd things that I like to do when in a new landscape: mostly a lot of nothing, looking in windows, wandering through grocery stores, assessing the trinkets (mostly made in China) at the street markets. All at my pace, according to my whims. A necessary time-out, a breather, a respite from the non-stop pace of the house where I'm a guest.

It's been a most unusual week here in Maui. The scene has been very much like what I'd imagine a commune would be, lots of people, a single bathroom. Shared kitchen. Tents scattered here and there on the grounds. Few doors. Even less privacy. But nonetheless, the youthful majority here has been polite, kind, high-spirited, prone to spontaneous laughter.

The 30-or-so years separating me and most of them has proved to be dramatic. After 50, we prefer more sleep, more quiet, more privacy. I'm loathe to admit to the petty, fussy preferences of an older generation, but the fact of them is too obvious to ignore. I'm older, and I've become fussy.

Ouch. Can't believe I just wrote that.

But I've been here long enough to begin to look outside of my needs for comfort, and walked the grounds this afternoon with an eye for textures / patterns. I found them in the turtle's back, in the bark of the banana tree, in the intricate leaf patterns of palms, in the stripes of a variegated bamboo — until the battery on my camera died, and I was forced to give it a break.

So much for careful attention!

And tonight I'm armed with earplugs, desperate for a decent night's sleep.

Tomorrow: Hana.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Down the Cliff

I found a red gate on the edge of a steep ravine, and a man who'd just pulled up in a beat-up truck said it was to his property, and when I asked if it was okay to go beyond the gate, he offered to walk me down the 150 steps to his property where he farmed and lived.

He moved quickly and I stepped slowly, lagging behind,  careful not to slip. He said he'd lived down in this valley for 25 years, and other than a neighbor's road, which is usually pad-locked shut, his only access is this switch-back stairway. Said that when he built the two houses and outbuildings, he slid all the building materials down the "hillside" — which verges on being a cliffside. Everything: lumber, roofing, refrigerators, bags of concrete. I tried to imagine this, and faltered. Slid? I was unquestionably astonished.

Tropical flowers whose names I don't know lined the path, lush and vibrant. A dry streambed ran through the valley floor, and he showed me where they'd built a small rock damn, to make a pool for swimming, but it was all exposed rock this time of year.

I thanked him for the generous entry he allowed me — a stranger — into his private paradise, and he excused himself and disappeared across the plank footbridge.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Into the Jungle

I received a text this afternoon — friend of a friend of a friend — saying yes she'd be delighted to give me a massage and gave me directions to her house which was at the end of twisting roads where palms brushed down to the sides of the car and bougainvillea snaked up and over embankments in shouting bursts of pink and orange — up and up from the beach, closer all the time to Haleakala (the crater) but not quite that far, down into a deeply shadowed gully and up the other side, guava trees, mango groves....

With my eyes closed on the massage table, the bird calls were piercing and omnipresent, not a single one I could identify, but foreign and tropical. I imagined their plumage and exotic colors, like dream-birds that exist in the rare dream and are always just out of reach, fluttering beyond the branches of a tree too high, barely glimpsed for all the bright feathers —

And in that deep-tissue haze (discovering muscles I didn't know existed but very clearly were calling out to be named), the music of a single flute, a quietly resonant drumming — I thought this is what it feels like to move on to another state of consciousness. One could name that state death, or rebirth, or merely a transcendence to something, someplace other — honestly, I don't know what to call it. All I know is that I entered a place of utter peace and contentment, with the outcome being:

this is enough.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


...and up-country, 2641 miles from home, flung out onto an island in the Pacific.

Here for a wedding, staying in a house populated by dozens of 30-somethings, sharing the single bathroom, on three acres that could only be described as glorious. The sharing aspect is so reminiscent of my hosteling days, with beautiful lithe bodies draped across sofas and an energy I have not visited in decades. Carving out my private head-space is a bit challenging!

There's a flower-consuming Sudanese turtle in a wire pen, horses in the lot next door, and a deep ravine where wild boar roam. I've yet to venture the overgrown trail down into the ravine, but it's definitely on my agenda.

I'm also itching to visit the apiary, somewhere down in that jungled ravine.