Friday, January 30, 2015


Marveling, this week, at the light that lingers past 5pm, and more so for the sunny afternoons. Mornings rise tamped down in fog, which fades not completely as the hours tick by, a shadowy film on the anemic winter light. In the middle of my workday I step outside, look up — and turn around and around. There is no end to the wonder of these ordinary days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Open Mic: Happenstance Poets

It always wracks my nerves to stand up with a microphone in a busy bar and introduce my 4th Monday Easy Speak. An exodus usually follows, leaving behind our motley bunch of poet-stragglers huddled in booths with beer.

But last night, no one headed for the door. Yes, there were some surprised looks of WTF, but everyone quickly settled-in to the evening — and a remarkable and uncharacteristic quiet descended upon the low-lit room.

Once past the intro, my resident butterflies calm themselves down, and I begin to enjoy myself.

Last night there were about a dozen readers, and not enough musicians. (One of the poets played one song on one ukelele.) There's always some droning, almost always some yelling, but mostly it's pretty damned good writing, well-presented. We're lucky. I'm lucky.

After everyone on the sign-up sheet had stood his/her time at the podium, I wrapped up the evening with the usual banter, said good-night, and went to turn off the microphone, when an older man sitting at the bar asked if he could say something.

Well, of course I said yes, and he came up to the mic and introduced himself, said he was from Somalia, and that in his country, everyone loves poetry.

"In Somalia, poetry is organic. Everyone can recite poems. Poetry is very important to us!"

He went on for a few minutes speaking of the poetry scene in Somalia, then went to sit down when a cry came up from the assembled crowd:

"Recite something for us!"

And so he did, in his language (Somali? Arabic?), and not recited but sung. Sung! It was a little bit of magic, even not knowing the words.

I like to call these unplanned participants my happenstance poets. It's occurred only a handful of times in the past year, always someone who just happened to be at the Hummingbird Saloon on the 4th Monday. They stay, they listen, and they decide to go for their own spontaneous five minutes at the mic. And each time, it's been a bright sparkle layered upon the already inspired recitations of an evening.

Ali — last night's Somali poet — drew the heartiest applause of the evening.

I always feel a glow, a fullness of heart when the open mic is over and my poet-friends and I hunker down for the next hour or so crowded into booths. Someone almost always orders Tater Tots.

The post-poetry poets' exodus is a slow trickle of good-byes. When we're done, the bar swells with late-night patrons and the sound of pinball machines. The jukebox pounds out a bass line.

We laugh and deconstruct the evening, catch up on poetry gossip. We laugh some more.

'Round about 11:30pm, I glance at the time, curse my early next-day rising, settle up the bill.

It's a mile to my house, and in the few minutes it takes to drive home, I wonder, every time, why those butterflies, every time?

Maybe one of these months they won't be there. But I'll tell you: they're worth it, and they're short-lived. Last night's happenstance poet was the evidence I needed, the reminder to keep going despite my vexing anxieties.

I remind myself: I'm lucky. Again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I texted my friend T. this morning:

"Wanna come to dinner tonight?"

I hadn't yet had coffee; in fact, I was still enjoying my Saturday morning in my bed.

He immediately called me:

"Did you invite me over for shingles?"


"I don't have my glasses on, and I guessed shingles."

"No! Bingo! I invited you over for bingo!"


"No! I said swing dancing!"

"SWING DANCING?!!" What time?"

"Seven. And there will also be dinner. See you then."

I like to call this intentional mishearing, or creative misinterpretation. It drives my kids crazy and they insist I need a hearing aid, when, in fact, I've heard them just fine. I love these little verbal jazz riffs! In any case, I started my morning with a hearty laugh, and can't think of a better way to begin my weekend. (But, alas, there will be no bingo, or swing dancing, and absolutely no shingles.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

So how do you feel about that?

Yesterday people told me things, all manner of things, and I listened.

There was an account of a planned suicide by pistol, that was cut off at the pass, as it were. There were two separate incidences of rape. There was a recounting of high-school years as a drug addict, and the subsequent recovery. There were Zulu warriors at a public ceremony.

I thought: this is what it must feel like to be a therapist.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eliot was wrong: January is the cruelest month.

In six days the sun will set at 5pm. I've been keeping track of the accumulating minutes of additional daylight each day, +2 minutes 17 seconds, + 2 minutes 40 seconds, etc., divided disproportionately between sunrise and sunset, a little here, a little there.

And not enough anywhere.

It's the 5pm mark that seems to spill me over into fragments of hope. 5pm: the shift into evening, the close of the work day, the beginnings of the evening meal preparations; and in earlier times, the arrival of the evening paper and all that it contained. 5pm was when my father came home from work — until he didn't, after an untimely and early death.

5pm has always been about change, about the permission to let go of the day's requirements and slip into a more relaxed mode. Today it's about a glass of wine, the NYTimes crossword puzzle, playtime with the cats. (Even they recognize the hour.)

Winter is once again beating me up. I just cut myself two pieces of a lovely cornbread I made yesterday, heated with butter. Dinner, and almost like cake. In the middle of January, it's hard to face a cold salad.

I googled "January is the cruelest month" (a riff on Eliot's "April is the cruelest month") and the first hit was a NYTimes article, by Neil Shubin (full text here), that spins a marvelous perspective on this ever-challenging battle with the shifting seasons:

"Our clocks tie us not only to other creatures, but also to the formation of the solar system itself. The spinning of the earth and rotation of the moon form a backbeat that thumps inside the chemistry of our cells. The Apollo missions returned more than 840 pounds of moon rock and soil samples. Analysis of minerals inside reveals that they have a chemical signature similar to those of Earth’s crust and are in this respect unique among other bodies of the solar system. 

The current theory that accounts for all the evidence is that a Mars-size asteroid hit the Earth over four billion years ago. The mélange of Earth’s crust and asteroid debris ejected into space, ultimately congealing as the moon and tilting the primordial Earth. 

With that great cataclysm came our seasons, months and the duration of days. Our internal timepieces, and some of the maladies we suffer, lie as artifacts of this moment in our planet’s history." 

Small comfort knowing that my acute awareness of winter's day-length points even more to my insignificance as a single organism in the universe, at once an artifact of primeval debris and just a 58 year old woman at 47.6097 degrees N and 122.3331 degrees W trying her best to slog her way through yet another sunrise/sunset.

But mostly ticking off the days until the light really returns: 5pm, January 25th.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Stranded in Winter

The gutters are dripping, a perpetuity of grey. Yesterday this entire landscape appeared swathed in wet dryer lint. When the mountains aren't out, my world lacks perspective.


What I miss most not having a partner is the companionable silence that imparts texture to the hours. The buzz of a game in the background, another person's footsteps. Someone who is not me opening and closing a door. The secret duets of private jokes, layered one upon another.

How to endure — not a question, exactly.

(Waiting on the daffodils to ruffle up those yellow skirts.)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two Tartes, Redux

I lingered tonight in the doorway of the nearly empty café, a constant drizzle on my shoulders, the sidewalk lit by a single streetlamp. In the glow of the apricot-colored walls, I could see the vinyl floor my husband installed (with leftover 12-inch tiles stacked in our basement from his flooring days), the oh-so-high ceiling our sons helped to paint, the old battle-axe of a convection oven that cranked out its roaring heat beginning at 5:30 every morning. The pastry case with a couple of plates of cookies, the cold case lined with pop cans, the blackboard with its chalked specials.

How many times have I dreamed of this place in the past ten years? How many times, while I slept, have I stepped back through these doors and resumed my rightful place in the kitchen? (Always, it's close to opening time, the shelves are empty, the customers lining up.)

So much history. Odd to think that the current owners have been here nearly twice as long as I was. (How is that even possible?) And even more curious that this storefront, where my heart resided for only a few short years, has taken on a significance of much greater proportions. Those years spanned two husbands,  a car-accident/death, a multi-million dollar lawsuit, the demise of a long-standing friendship, and, ultimately, the loss of this very place. Hard to imagine that much living is possible in that amount of time.

And how many cases of butter? How many 50# sacks of flour did I heave into the plastic bins? How many times did I wrap a 10kg block of Callebaut dark chocolate in a clean towel and whack it with a hammer?

How to measure my broken heart? Teaspoons? Cups? Gallons? 

I stood there, gazing in, not going in, not caring what the girl behind the counter was thinking. (Who is that strange woman, and why is she just staring?)

The light inside was soft and warm.

It felt like home, or a kind of home, the kind you can't go back to. And this time there was no sadness attached to it, only a sweetness of recall.

I stood as long as I wanted to.
It was my moment.
This was my life.

Friday, January 2, 2015

And if you're too f---ing lazy to go outside.... can drive ten miles to the mall and buy a bag of moss so that you can recreate, inside your house, an outside-like "forest" environment. No actual time in nature required!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

How to Go Outside

I read an article this week about the benefits of ecotherapy, ie, going outside, unplugged. Really? There's a name for this? Can I get paid to show people how to do this? (When I was a child, I specialized in giving tours of the woods, especially during nesting season, when I conducted birds' nest tours.)  I'm only half-serious when I say that I think I've found my next career. Seriously half-serious. (Only a lifetime of experience.)

Taking my own advice, I quite reluctantly put on my shoes and coat and hat and scarf and gloves and trudged out into my back yard this afternoon, despite really loving the sunny warmth of my upstairs room. It was really chilly outside, and these old bones do not have a friend in ice. I had no plan, no chores to attend to, no yardwork that needed doing. My new year's assignment was to poke around in winter's detritus. It felt like I was eight years old again and my mom had sent me outside in the cold to get some fresh air.

But you know what? It was marvelous. Yes, the garden is in ruins. Yes, the ice was abundant, but also unlike any ice I've ever paid much attention to: the saturated earth had heaved upwards, kind of like nature's tilling of the topsoil, and there were vertical columns of ice, stacked one upon another. How is it possible I've spent so much of my life not looking closely at this?
And while I considered sweeping up the kiwi leaves, I'm happy to have left them where they've fallen, in all their lacy configurations. (I'd much rather peer down at a decomposing kiwi leaf than a clean-swept piece of Trex decking.)

I checked in with James Fenimore C.; his words are beginning to slur together, and this piece of a maple seedpod appears to have found a peaceful landing place —
And my last bit of ecotherapy involved a few quiet words with the Virgin of Guadalupe, who seems to be a bit throttled at the neck with leaf debris —
I was neither cold nor bored. A hummingbird dithered loudly and incessantly from the laurel hedge (I put out fresh, unfrozen nectar this morning.) The winter light was achingly clear and seemed especially focused and bright. The green tips of snowdrops were just beginning to show, and the hardy ferns appeared to be gathered into themselves, conserving energy. The unpruned grape vines, stripped of leaves, arched into the blue, a crazy erratic weave. The watering cans brimmed with ice.

There are some old russet-toned bricks around my fire pit, and each of these was encased in a slick icy sheen. Again, water saturated, I'm guessing, which expanded outwards in the freeze. Curious!

After only 15 or 20 minutes of poking around, my imagination felt ignited, my lungs expanded in the sharply brisk air, and where there had been a musty haze was now a sense of clarity and purpose. And so easy! All it took was to walk out my back door.

Ecotherapy. Ha. Just go outside.