Friday, December 12, 2014

All I Want for Christmas
is a Book about Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Always grateful for a good book,
a sunny corner, and a couple of close friends!

Three Girls Reading, 1907
by American Impressionist
Edmund C. Tarbell, 1862 - 1938


Notes on the Art of Poetry
by Dylan Thomas
I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

Also, take a look at
"12 Beautiful Poems for Book Lovers"
by Alison Nastasi

Friday, October 31, 2014

Books for a Scary Night

Thanks to my facebook friend Bonnie Gushard
for sharing this October ~ y vintage image
from The Graphics Fairy

Read Quickly:
The Circle
Gone Girl

Got Started:
A Mother's Work
Someone Knows My Name
Super Sad True Love Story
Where Wicked Starts

Thinking ahead to Christmas:
"It's the most wonderful time of the year . . .

There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago . . .
music & lyrics by Edward Pola and George Wyle


. . . and this eerie yet charming passage
from A Child's Christmas in Wales
Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs where the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. . . .

One, two, three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door.

"Good King Wencelas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen . . . "

And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small, dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.
"Perhaps it was a ghost."

~ Dylan Thomas ~

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Book Inside Me

I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I've left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I'm wearing the cloak, I've slipped on the ring,
I've swallowed the magic potion.
I've fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

by Julia Donaldson
in her book Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum: Poems


Thanks to my grade school friend Joan
for introducing me to this fanciful poem!
We were in the same reading group together back in first
grade at Eugene Field Elementary, Neosho, Missouri.

And to my friend Paula for the Grammarly Card!


A couple of titles I enjoyed this month:
American Wife
The Friendly Persuasion

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stories Worth Telling

Not all sandals come with their own postcard!*
Just one more reason to love my Tevas!

"Life. It's a funny thing.
You know, the moments we live for are so short. . . .
But if you think about it, it's in these rare moments
that you feel, that you really feel alive.
That is where great stories are born,
and it's these stories that make us tick.
So, what story will you tell? . . .

Your story? It could be anything.
It's out there waiting to be lived,
and there isn't a different you who can live it.
The stories that you choose to live, that is your decision.
That is what defines you.
So are you happy with your story? You should be."

~ Live Better Stories ~ by Teva ~


Anne Lamott, in her recent (August 12) tribute to Robin Williams, urges us to "Live stories worth telling!"

She quotes from Frederick Buechner --
"It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life's story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others' lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling "
These lines from Lamott and Buechner brought to mind something that I read earlier this summer in Terry Galloway's memoir Mean Little deaf Queer. Like Buechner, performance artist Galloway puts her finger on what it is that validates our existence: "the presence of something still unspoken" (emphasis added).

from Part III: Emerging: "Why Should I Matter"

"As a child who suffered mightily from existential doubt, and took enormous pleasure in it, by the way, I grew up thinking that an overwhelming loss of faith in one's existence was an everyday
occurrence. . . .

"If I don't matter, neither does that poor southern man. Nor does his son who was my father. Neither does the young Texan named Edna who died of typhoid nor the lush little beauty Edna for whom she was named. Nor does the fragile baby Robert who died in his crib or the two identical Eves who loved and held him. Nor do those two beautiful boys, both named Donald, both so thin when they died the needles went right through them.

"If they don't matter then neither does anyone else whose name I've evoked in this small book I've written, including Shakespeare, Mother Teresa, June Allyson, and FDR. And while I may have trouble believing in the meaningfulness of my own life, I have a little less trouble believing in the meaningfulness of theirs. In every sentence, every word of stories told I feel the presence of something still unspoken or as yet unheard, and I feel it as an emptiness akin to hope. There are so many more of us out here who don't know how to tell our own stories or to make our own small triumphs compelling or simply convince others that we have souls as complex (or perhaps more so) as any movie star, politico, or prince of the realm. If we don't or won't or simply can't tell our own stories, does that mean we matter less or not at all?"
(201, 219 - 220, emphasis added)

from the Epilogue

"That morning, the little bit more I'd been given to hear no longer felt like delayed and bitter restitution, but like the gift and promise that it was. Lying abed surrounded by that cozy domesticity of sound -- the shower, the cat, the book falling off the bed onto the floor, my own deep, grunting sigh -- it seemed churlish not to admit that mine was a happy life, when I could stand it." (228)


~ Funny Story ~ From Donna ~

See also:
Goodbye Sandal Weather & Everyone Loves Stories

*Len writes: Reading your post without my glasses, I read "Not all scandals come with their own postcard!" Hmmmm. . . .

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Wild Swans

"A place a cat tries to hide in is a lucky place."

~~ Dr. Xia, quoted in Wild Swans, 110 ~~

Beaumont in the Wrapping Paper Drawer

Pine in the Cereal & Table Cloth Cabinet

Fuqua, Napping Next to Josef's Ashes

A secret napping spot of our youngest cat, Fuqua (3 years old next month), is in the sunroom on the little underneath shelf of the wicker coffee table, wrapped around the can containing the ashes of our dear old Josef cat (who died in 2007 at age 19). As my sister Peggy said: "I find there are very few coincidences in this universe. Sweet little Fuqua is probably channeling equally sweet little Josef."

Even though Fuqua never met Josef, he seems to sense that there is some kind of special connection on that shelf! Some of Josef's toys are there, and you can also see Josef's favorite purple socks with green cuffs, which he loved dragging around the house or bringing up and leaving beside my bed as a present. They actually had little kittens printed on them as part of the original design! Once again, it's as if he knew that those socks were meant for cats! Cosmic!


This post, long in the making, contains a selection of my favorite passages from Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, who grew up in the 1960s under the Maoist Regime. I highlighted so many paragraphs when reading this intense memoir, but have tried to focus on the most informative descriptions of what life was like for the author, her mother, and her grandmother -- the three wild swans of the title:

76: When hiding their Japanese friend from the Russians in 1945: "In case anybody asked, they would say she was my mother's cousin. The Chinese have so many cousins no one can keep track of them."

81 - 83: For a short time back in 1946, Chang's mother dated a young man named Mr. Liu, "who was about nineteen [and] seemed to be a man of the world; he was wearing a dark - green suit with a handkerchief sticking out of his breast pocket, which was tremendously sophisticated and dashing for a provincial town like Jinzhou. He was enrolled in a university in Peking, where he was reading Russian language and literature. My mother was very impressed with him . . . ."

But after a few months, despite his "urbanity . . . my mother felt he was shallow. She noticed that he never went to Peking, but lounged around at home enjoying the life of a dilettante. One day she discovered that he had not even the The Dream of the Red Chamber, the famous eighteenth - century Chinese classic, with which every literature Chinese was familiar. When she showed how disappointed she felt, young Liu said airily that the Chinese classics were not his forte, and that what the actually liked most was foreign literature. To try to reassert his superiority, he added: 'Now have you read Madame Bovary? That's my all - time favorite. I consider it the greats of Maupassant's works.'

"My mother had read Madame Bovary -- and knew it was by Flaubert, not Maupassant. This vain sally put her off Liu in a big way . . .

"My grandmother . . . said, 'Who ever heard of a girl rejecting a man because he got the name of some foreign writer wrong?'"

99: " . . . the Chinese tradition made it virtually impossible to say no to a relation. The obligation to one's family and relatives always took precedence over one's own moral judgment."

114 - 15: "From the moment the Communist forces arrived [in 1948], my mother had been longing to throw herself into working for the revolution. She felt herself to be very much a part of the Communist cause. After some days of waiting impatiently, she was approached by a Party representative who gave her an appoint to see the man in charge of youth work in Jinzhou, a Comrade Wang Yu."

"My mother set off to see Comrade Wang one morning on a mild autumn day, the best time of year in Jinzhou. The summer heat had gone and the air had begun to grow cooler, but it was still warm enough to wear summer clothes. the wind and dust which plague the town for much of the year were deliciously absent."

125: "She was both soft - spoken and persuasive, and also, something rare in China, precise. This was an extremely important quality for him, as he hated the traditional florid, irresponsible, and vague way of talking. . . . She was also attract by his conversation. He struck her as learned and knowledgeable -- definitely not the sort of man who would mix up Flaubert and Maupassant."

133 - 39: "My mother did not get on with some of her bosses in the Women's Federation. They were older, and conservative, peasant women who had slogged for years with the guerrillas, and they resented pretty, educated city girls like my mother who immediately attracted the Communist men. My mother had applied to join the Party, but they said that she was unworthy.

"Every time she went home she found herself being criticized. She was accused of being 'too attached to her family,' which was condemned as a 'bourgeois habit,' and had to see less and less of her own mother. . . .

"Just eighteen, recently married, and full of hope for a new life, my mother felt miserably confused and isolated. She had always trusted her own strong sense of right and wrong, but this now seemed to be in conflict with the views of her 'cause' and, of ten the judgment of her husband, whom she loved. She began to doubt herself for the first time. . . .

"From the very beginning of their marriage, there was a fundamental difference between my parents. My father's devotion to communism was absolute: he felt he had to speak the same language in private, even to his wife, that he did in public. My mother was much more flexible; her commitment was tempered by both reason and emotion. She gave a space to the private; my father did not. . . .

"My mother's joy at Liberation had turned to an anxious melancholy. Under the Kuomintang she had been able to discharge her tension in action -- and it had been easy to feel she was doing the right thing, which gave her courage. Now she just felt in the wrong all the time. When she tried to talk it over with my father he would tell her that becoming a Communist was an agonizing process. That was the way it had to be."

171 - 72: "In the Youth League my mother was working with people her own age. They were better educated, more carefree, and more ready to see the humorous side of things that the old, self - righteous peasant - turned - Party - official women she had been working with before.

". . . my mother was treated with more respect . . . As she grew to be more confident and to rely less on my father, she felt less disappointed with him. Besides, she was getting used to his attitudes; she had stopped expecting him always to put her first, and was much more at peace with the world."

221 - 22: "This absurd situation [transferring 100 million laborers from agricultural work into steel production in 1958] reflected not only Mao's ignorance of how an economy worked, but also an almost metaphysical disregard for reality, which might have been interesting in a poet, but in a political leaders with absolute power was quite another matter."

246: "As a child, my idea of the West was that it was a miasma of poverty and misery, like that of the homeless "Little Match Girl' in the Hans Christian Andersen story. When I was in the boarding nursery and did not want to finish my food, the teacher would say: 'Think of all the starving children in the capitalist world!' In school, when they were trying to make us work harder, the teachers often said: 'You are lucky to have a school to go to and books to read. In the capitalist countries children have to work to support their hungry families.' Often when adults wanted us to accept something they would say that people in the West wanted it, but could not get it, and therefore we should appreciate our good fortune. I came to think this way automatically. When I saw a girl in my class wearing a new kind of pink translucent raincoat I had never seen, I thought how nice it would be to swap my commonplace old wax-paper umbrella for one. But I immediately castigated myself for this 'bourgeois' tendency, and wrote in my diary: 'Think of all the children in the capitalist world -- they can't even think of owning an umbrella!' "

247: "My image of a foreigner was more or less the official stereotype: a man with red, unkempt hair, strange - colored eyes, very, very long nose stumbling about drunk, pouring Coca_Cola into his mouth from a bottle . . . Foreigners said 'hello' all the time, with an odd intonation. I did not know what 'hello' meant; I thought it was a swear word. When boys played 'guerrilla warfare,' which was their version of cowboys and Indians, the enemy side would have thorns glued onto their noses and say 'hello' all the time."

. . . that I will continue to add when time allows . . .

Monday, June 30, 2014

Books My Mom Suggested

Eating Sweet Potato Fries with my Mom
at the American Diner in West Philadelphia, 1994

One of Gerry McCartney's favorite jokes:

Two guys are sky - diving and their parachutes fail to open.
One says: "It's at times like these that I wish I'd listened to my mother."
The other one asks, "Why? What did she say?"
The first one answers: "I don't know; I never listened!"


But seriously, I did listen when my mother recommended the following, though I must confess that so far I'm only about half - way through the list. You'll notice a strong emphasis on one of Mom's specialities, American History; so if you're in need of a beach book for the upcoming Fourth of July Weekend, you need look no further:

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years
by Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany

The twin narratives of two amazing African - American sisters -- Sadie (September 19, 1889 – January 25, 1999) and Bessie (September 3, 1891 – September 25, 1995) who forged successful, professional careers despite the discrimination they faced in post - slavery America. With fortitude, education, humor, and strong family ties, they let nothing stand in their way and lived to tell all!

The Egg and I
by Betty MacDonald

A highly entertaining collection of essays on the real - life trials and tribulations of chicken farming in the Great American Northwest.

My favorite lines on the joys of life in the country:
Jerry: "I think this is an idea spot to do penance in,
but a hell of a place to live."

Jerry's wife: "But Jerry, this moonlight, the mountains,
the quiet and the food! It's like something you dream about."

Jerry: "Uh - huh, but we'd rather have a peanut butter sandwich
in Grand Central Station, wouldn't we Betty?"
(p 190)

I was reminded of another favorite quotation,
this one from the French painter Edouard Manet ((1832–1883):
"The Countryside only has its charms
for those not obliged to live there."

No Survivors
by Will Henry

Old Jules
The Battle of Little Big Horn
Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas
all by Mari Sandoz

Valley of Decision
by Marcia Davenport

"Reading . . . began to fill more and more of her time. . . . Now she realized in a few extraordinary hours that she need no longer spend her empty leisure time grinding her problems over and over in her head. She could sit on the straight - backed chair in her cramped room, with a book between her hands, and literally step off the planet of her everyday life into intoxicating space" (111).

"It smells good here," she said.
It did. It had the indefinable smell of a perfectly - kept, well - loved American home; and the smell found nowhere else on earth. A smell of cleanliness and polish and Ivory soap and potted plants and baking bread -- the sweet warm smell of simplicity and abundance. . . . everything in the room felt kind and gentle and safe
" (407).

Not As a Stranger
by Morton Thompson

Dress Gray
Full Dress Gray
both by Lucian K. Truscott

Monday, May 26, 2014

Airplane Reading

standing far left: Ralph Waldo Emerson
seated left, with book: Nathaniel Hawthorne
seated center: Henry David Thoreau, Sophia Thoreau
seated around tree: Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott & Bronson Alcott

The Concord Transcendentalists in 1857
A Joshua Winer Mural.
6' high x 14' long. Private office in Concord, MA.
Acrylic on canvas painted in the studio and field installed.

"Never was a poor little country village infested with such a variety of queer, strangely - dressed, oddly behaved mortals, most of whom took themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny yet were simply bores of a very intense character."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne ~

"I think there prevailed at that time a general belief in Boston that there was some concert of doctrinaires to establish certain opinions and inaugurate some movement in literature, philosophy and religion, of which design the supposed conspirators were quite innocent; for there was no concert, and only here and there two or three men or women who read and wrote, each alone, with unusual vivacity. Perhaps they only agreed in having fallen upon Coleridge and Wordsworth and Goethe, then on Carlyle, with pleasure and sympathy. Otherwise, their education and reading were not marked, but had the American superficialness, and their studies were solitary. I suppose all of them were surprised at this rumor of a school or sect, and certainly at the name of Transcendentalism, given nobody knows by whom, or when it was first applied. As these persons became in the common chances of society acquainted with each other, there resulted certainly strong friendships, which of course were exclusive in proportion to their heat: and perhaps those persons who were mutually the best friends were the most private and had no ambition of publishing their letters, diaries or conversation. From that time meetings were held for conversation, with very little form, from house to house, of people engaged in studies, fond of books, and watchful of all the intellectual light from whatever quarter it flowed. Nothing could be less formal, yet the intelligence and character and varied ability of the company gave it some notoriety and perhaps waked curiosity as to its aims and results.

"Nothing more serious came of it than the modest quarterly journal called
The Dial, which, under the editorship of Margaret Fuller, and later of some other, enjoyed its obscurity for four years. All its papers were unpaid contributions, and it was rather a work of friendship among the narrow circle of students than the organ of any party. Perhaps its writers were its chief readers . . . "
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~
100th Lecture at the Concord Lyceum, 1880

quoted by Susan Cheever in American Bloomsbury, p 50

. . . which I had in my carry - on the last time I traveled . . .

. . . also read on recent flights . . .

The List
by Robert Whitlow

A Walk to Remember
The Best of Me
both titles by Nicholas Sparks

Silent Witness
by Richard North Patterson

a couple of favorite lines from Patterson:

". . . in some crevice of our souls, we are always seventeen" (p 271.

When assembling a jury, main character Attorney Tony Lord
"gambled on . . . a nutritionist, who . . . seemed closest
to those 'practitioners of the human arts'
-- counselors, psychiatrists, and sociologists --
whose careers reward compassion
" (p 279).

I was stuck by this particular passage because Lord's assessment reflects my teaching experience at Drexel University in the Fall of 1996, when I was assigned an entire group of computer science majors in one class of Freshman English, and another class made up entirely of Graphic Arts majors. For some reason, not quite clear to me, Drexel felt that it was a good idea to clump the students together like this -- rather than mixing them up -- resulting in hopelessly homogeneous classrooms.

However, in each of my two sections appeared one lone Foods and Nutrition Major. Could it have been that Drexel did not have enough students in this major to unite them as a group, so they dispersed them amongst all the others? Whatever the reason, each of these young women -- one an 18 - year - old recent high school graduate, the other a returning student in her early 30s, with a 5 - year old son -- bore the whole weight of the counter - culture for her peers.

As Patterson observes, I too found that these pre - nutritionists indeed lent a kinder, gentler, more humane perspective to the classroom. They were the two I counted on for a certain depth of feeling and sensitivity when it came to analyzing poetry and grasping the element of human conflict that underlies most works of fiction. I relied on their compassion and insights in our classroom discussions and can certainly see why Tony Lord would want at least one of them on his panel of jurors!

Thanks to my mom
for sending Patterson, Sparks, and Whitlow my way;
and for additional recommendations
. . . coming next month!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Open the Book

watercolor and gouache by Elizabeth Bishop

"Everything only connected by "and" and "and."
Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)
Open the heavy book."

from the poem:
"Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance"
by Elizabeth Bishop

see more on my Fortnightly post:
The Inner World of the Dream Character

and on my Quotidian post:
Elizabeth Bishop: Painter & Poet

and in the book
Exchanging Hats: Elizabeth Bishop Paintings
edited by William Benton

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lovely As A Tree

Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun
Vincent Van Gogh

Just about all you have to do is say the word "tree," and someone else will respond: "I think that I shall never see . . . ." In fact, this very morning when I mentioned to my friend Elizabeth that I was looking at some contemporary tree - themed poetry, she recalled the childhood music class in which she first learned the famous poem as a song. My siblings and I learned Kilmer's enduring and often parodied couplet -- part of a longer, serious poem, it turns out! -- early in life, from the Smothers Brothers.

Out of respect for Kilmer (1886 - 1918), who did not mean the poem to be a joke, here is his work, as written:


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree. ~ 1913

Lately, it seems that every time I pick up a poetry book, I encounter a striking poem about a tree. It began a few months ago, when I came across Francine Tolf's poems, "Between You and Me" (see earlier Quotidian post) and then, a few pages later, "Kinship," which begins with a reference to the parable of the blind man and the saliva. I thought I remembered this passage fairly well from many gospel readings, but one detail suddenly came to my attention as never before: "people looking like trees and walking." Like trees! How could I have missed that incredible image all my life? Thank you Francine for applying poetry and making me see! Francine's poem concludes with the hope that we should feel "a quickening. / A kinship" with the trees; and I could not help but think of the quickening felt by William Wordsworth, the visionary gleam sparked by the the field, the pansy, and the tree:

But there's a tree, of many, one,
A single field which I have look'd upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

If you feel it's time for a new book of poetry to renew the visionary gleam, here are a few of my current favorites, along with a selection of tree poems for all seasons. Thanks again to Francine Tolf; and also Jim Barnes, Leonard Orr, Lee Perron and Donald Platt for sending your books into my life. And for writing poems that are every bit as lovely as a tree!


"He took the blind man by the hand . . . Putting spittle
on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, 'Do
you see anything?' Looking up, he replied, 'I see people
looking like trees and walking.'" ~ Mark 8:24

I, too have seen elms and poplars
against December,
have imagined their poses as wonder,
or longing, or joy.

Their roots suckled life,
their stems pushed sunward
ages before we discovered fire,
invented sin.

A healer through whose rib cage
ride and gale rippled
would have felt this,
might have wanted to give a blind man
vision before sight --

a world where trees walked like men,
so that after reality dimmed understanding
that man could not press his palm
against the trunk of a cypress
without a quickening.
A kinship.

found in the book Prodigal, p 37
by Francine Marie Tolf


I like the way that Tolf ascribes "wonder, or longing, or joy" to the wintry trees, suffused with innocence and free from sin. Likewise, in Perron's poem, winter is near and the trees are filled with yearning. Two in particular -- one yellow, one orange -- not only stand like people but lean like lovers. I anticipated that "the curving trunks and their reflection" were going to form perhaps a heart. But, even better, Perron says they "make an almost perfect circle":

Fall At Spring Lake
Over the trees near the water's edge
at the very end of an autumn afternoon
the dying light is general

on the opposite bank two huge liquid amber trees
one with yellow leaves, one with orange
lean toward one another as if in yearning--
the curving trunks and their reflection
in the opaque water make an almost perfect circle

these early sunsets
pure as the undisturbed imagination.

found in the book Celtic Light, p 35
by Lee Perron


So the trees prepare for autumn beside a lake in California and, in the next poem, in a garden in Paris. Neither striding strong nor leaning like lovers, even so these trees are like people too, standing weary, with arms folded across their chests, preparing for a long winter's nap. Barnes describes what we deeply admire about the trees: the way they take winter in stride, paying the price of the seasons. As Lee Perron has written elsewhere, in his famous "Nose Poem": "the deciduous idea! trees die for half the year & take all else in the universe." Similarly, Barnes observes that "The trees have gone / to sleep early this year. Not one limb stirs . . . the price is dear: / winter is a hard fact:

Fall in the Tuilieries
The carp in the pond
are Japanese: katakana fins declare
war on the tame ducks

paddling this round
and simple inland sea. Two lovers' chair
tilts dangerously back

over the drowned
pebbles but rights again to show the bare
reflection of breasts slack

after the done
embrace. Nobody lingers long to stare
into the shallow lake.

The lovers' sun
shines upon their backs, and the sky is clear
enough at noon to make

the schoolboys run
down the graveled way. Now last flowers rear
their heads for beauty's sake

before the turn
of season, before the long garden blurs
under November's wake.

The trees have gone
to sleep early this year. Not one limb stirs,
bark and last leaves as black

as coats at pawn.
For the Tuileries in fall, the price is dear:
winter is a hard fact.

found in the book Paris
by Jim Barnes


I picked the next poem, also by Jim Barnes, and the following two by Leonard Orr for their shared imagery of the olive tree: "grotesque" yet strangely elegant; ancient, commanding of attention, worthy of gods, and symbolic of peace. What a perfect world exists under those time - honored branches: "so happy to be sanctuaried there," writes Orr, in the cool, shadowy, aromatic olive grove! They may be "unlikely trees" but not unlovely:

Olive Grove ~ Vincent Van Gogh

On the Black Hill of La Ciotat
Poppies begin to bloom among
the wild rosemary and lavender
the red swath starts meandering
toward the sea. Olive trees belong

here where the wind twists the fruit firm
and trunks into such grotesque form
no normal axe will ever fell them.
We take the drive up slowly, turn

with caution on the narrow roads
whose walls are mostly fallen down
and even more down than we can
say since the hill is steep and broad.

Far down we see a house someone
called a home, or rather we see
more fallen stone the sea will claim.
Once a home but now a ruin upon

the hill few seldom climb. Poppies
lean against its remaining walls
as if to stall the last stones'
completely falling down. I will

remember to count my last days
by rock and flower: to end as smooth
as loose stone in a flow of poppies,
ah, what brilliance and what praise!

found in the book Visiting Picasso, p 68
by Jim Barnes


Sun and Wheat Fields
Two Van Goghs I had never seen
made me overjoyed and then strangulated,
heated, excited, but cloistered and caged.
He committed himself to the asylum
and painted the asylum garden, gaudily green,
shiny surfaces, cool shadows, so you want
to feel those thick fronds between thumb
and index finger, thrusting, soothing,
palpable and overwhelmingly healthy, so
happy to be sanctuaried there, so peaceful,
and I thought of you with me in our groves,
our dells and glades, and those painted trees
made me feel cool and happy, smell our Russian olives
as the branches twisted above and around us;
I could hear again the sighing mourning doves.

The second picture was a large drawing,
Sun and Wheat Fields from his asylum window,
just that perspective, all brown toned, pencil,
sepia ink, thousands of wavy lines as the wind
blew through the dry field, the undulations
of the crop bending their tops, the brown sun
all crazed rays of nervous cross-hatchings,
all somehow hot and dusty, unable to escape
the sharp edges and corners of the field, the window,
the paper, the asylum window, the people
just beyond the edge watching Van Gogh,
watching us, keeping all those boundaries
straight, angular, tight, and sharp.

Constrained and edgy, I wanted to find you,
escape with you, you with your curves, with
your lush colors, exotic and earthy, and we¹ll take
your words, your happy dreams, we¹ll hide
under those beautiful wavy leaves in the first painting,
leaves thick as elephant ears, thrusting, soothing,
palpable, we'll find asylum just beyond the edges.

found in the book Why We Have Evening, pp 30 - 31
by Leonard Orr

also found in poemeleon 1.2 (Winter, 2006)
click for links to paintings


Russian Olives
I love the shadows under the trees, all the trees,
the groves of Russian olive trees that form our bowers,
the sweet aroma filling the hazy refuge for us,
for the strange green spiders, for the magpies
whose great flapping entering our silences make us alert for spies,
the hanging twigs and brush poking our heads, leaves
later caught in our disreputable hair in the restaurant.
I love the way the shadows break and reform the sunlight,
taming it, blocking it, making artful chiaroscuro patterns
traveling across your smooth skin as we roll and turn,
as we position and reposition, the way it looks in
hot white spots silhouetting you, glowing in your hair,
now placing your in mysterious dark, now making your eyes
glow green gray green again, gaps in the foliage.
I love the shadows under the trees now because there are
shadows everywhere, it is a portable aid to memory.
There are shadows even at night by moonlight, by streetlights,
and the mottled, dappled shadows, the mixture of bright and dark,
now bring back those days we spent lolling together beneath
the low branches of the Russian olives, unseen, unlikely trees,
where we breathed heatedly together in the shadows,
and together throbbed, sweated, exclaimed, and pulsed.

found in the book Timing is Everything, p 46
by Leonard Orr


And in closing, a poem of healing, in which the trees spring to life at the touch of two poets, the venerable Whitman and our own contemporary and neighbor, Donald Platt:

Walt Whitman Wrestling Naked With the Young Trees
Every time I pass
the old sycamore on our corner, I touch its muscled
dappled torso
where the smooth flesh emerges from the bark’s
rough scales.
Its branches drop on the ground their curled sheets

of old skin,
crumbled parchment or torn fine-grit sandpaper,
and where they were

the secret greeny-white flesh shines. Today I saw
how one of its highest
boughs had been blown down across the sidewalk

by last night’s
storm whose winds gusted over eighty miles per hour.
I stopped

and reached down to break off two of the twigs
with their three-pointed
maple-like leaves and examined the gash

where the limb
had been wrenched from its socket. Touching the ragged

of live wood wet with sap, I thought of
Walt Whitman
in 1877, after the two strokes that paralyzed

first the left,
then the right side of his body, and between them
the death of Louisa,

his mother. To heal his mind and fumbling
body, Whitman
at fifty-eight hobbled out to Timber

Creek, where he stripped
naked except for his boots and broad-brimmed
straw hat.

There he sunbathed and walked through “the stiff-
elastic bristles”
of chest-high weeds and bushes that “rasped arms, breast, sides

till they turn’d
scarlet.” He then would wade into the creek and sink his feet
into the mud’s

cool luxurious black ooze. Thus cleansed, every day
for two summers,
he wrestled hickory saplings naked, pulling down

the young trunks,
bending them into the shape of bows—his “natural gymnasia.” He swayed
and yielded

to the “tough-limber upright stems,” just as he wrestled
fully clothed
with Harry Stafford, the eighteen-year-old who helped to set

his book Two Rivulets
in type and who accepted his ring, then gave it back, then accepted
it again before

finally saying goodbye that summer. Those hickory saplings
and later beech
and holly boughs he bent until each muscle quivered

made him “feel
the sap and sinew rising through me, like mercury
to heat.”

Spanish moss-bearded father, you wrestled Harry and all those young trees
like Jacob
with his angel. Though you once pinned Harry

to the floor,
you couldn’t pin the trees. They sprang back up
almost as straight

as they had been before they met you. They left you
old and broken.
Old man, it’s you and my own life I touch

when I touch
the sycamore. Be whole again. Let your sap run through
the torn branch and into me.

found in My Father Says Grace: Poems, pp 55 - 57
by Donald Platt

also found on VQR: A National Journal of Litertaure & Discussion 79.1 (Winter 2003)


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Heart & Soul

"Listen to your heart. It knows all things,
because it came from the Soul of the World,
and it will one day return there."


The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Maybe not a lot of new depth here, but many mini - parables and thoughtful thoughts worth being reminded of and remembering.

My favorite is the parable of the oil and the spoon. Without realizing that it was from Coelho's book, I first heard this story at a wedding reception several years ago, summarized by the sister of the bride: The youth in search of happiness is instructed by the sage to tour the palace while carrying a spoon containing two drops of oil. The young man comes full circle without spilling a drop, but sadly he can't recall a single detail of the palace because his eyes were ever on the spoon. So the wise man sends him off again with instructions to observe the marvels of the palace. This time, the young students takes it all in -- the fine art work, the architecture, the gardens; but alas the oil has slipped away: " 'Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you,' said the wisest of wise men. 'The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon' " (32).

The bride's sister then went on to give the most memorable wedding toast that I have ever heard, saying that if there was anyone in the world who could appreciate all the joys of life without losing sight of the oil on the spoon, it was her sister! No doubt the source was supplied at the time, but I missed it amidst all the cheers and hugs. Thus I was incredibly pleased to re-encounter "the two drops of oil" within the pages of The Alchemist. Thanks to my son Sam for the recommendation!

The Spoon by Dawn Marie Nabong
[purchase as print or greeting card]

More insights from The Alchemist:

62: " . . . the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired."

68: "When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision."

As Shakespeare says:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
from Julius Caesar

70: " . . . the words luck and coincidence. It's with those words that the universal language is written."

Or is it connection and coincidence?!

72: " . . . they mysterious chain that links one thing to another. . . . The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being . . . "

74, 76, 158 " . . . the universal language that deals with the past and the present of all people . . . intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there. . . . our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."

78 - 79, 158 - 59: " 'That's the principle that governs all things,' he said. 'In alchemy, it's called the Soul of the World. When you want something with all your heart, that's when you are closest to the Soul of the World. It's always a positive force.' He also said that this was not just a human gift, that everything on the face of the earth had a soul, whether mineral, vegetable, or animal -- or even just a simple thought. . . . No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally, he doesn't know it."

Glass Lucent Heart by Raingarden

116, 128, 159: The alchemist quotes the gospel verse that Gerry and I chose for our wedding: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21, KJV). But cleverly inverted: "Remember that wherever your heart it, there you will find your treasure. You've got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense. . . . Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you'll find your treasure."

127: "The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. . . . Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.'

130 - 31: "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams . . . Why don't people's hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams? . . . Because that's what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don't like to suffer."

So following your dream does or does not lead to a suffering heart?
Not clear. Must think about this some more.


And that brings us to:

The Man with the Glass Heart by Shelly Reuben
"I would have recognized it anywhere. Broken, cracked, hidden by mist, gleaming in the sun, or all decked out in morning dew. . . . a living, breathing heart." (215)
The heroine of this fable is Panache, a woman -- as her name implies -- of flair and verve. There's that word again! [See "Celebrate" & "Parable"]

Resilient Panache refers to herself as a Road Gypsy and falls in love with the nearly brittle Benjamin Pencil: "A lean blond blade of a man." And there's his father, who taught her "to bay at the moon . . . roar at the wind . . . howl at the stars . . . laugh at old troubles . . . And make new troubles . . And run away from those troubles, too" (121, 122). "I am the child of his madness. I am his tradition," she declares; and she makes her way in the world with his blessing -- and his warning: "You expect too much innocence of people." In Reuben's world of allegory, Benjamin and Panache sail away into the unknown on "the Good Ship Brace Yourself," where they grow through exposure, conflict, and a series surprises, some scary, some sweet: "Our itinerary was perfect. We didn't have one" (126, 128, 142, 155).

Panache is sustained by what she calls the Over - Life:

From the minute we started to climb my mountains, I felt that I was living what I have come to think of as Over - Life. This happens when life, instead of being a monotonous series of events that lead to a dazzling and memorable high point, consists exclusively of dazzling high points. Everything I did during that period -- even routing activities like sitting by the campfire with Benjamin Pencil, sipping coffee, and watching the reflections of clouds in his glass heart -- felt far too exciting to be ordinary. (155)

Both The Alchemist and Glass Heart are filled with parable and allegory, and both immerse their characters -- and consequently the reader -- into "the universal current of life." Panache claims no itinerary, Santiago the Shepherd is goal - oriented and treasure - driven; their roads are not the same, yet both travel the path of Personal Legend with spoon in hand in, learning -- the hard way -- not to spill the oil. Like Santiago, Panache and her father speak the language of enthusiasm; and they reach out in hopes of teaching Benjamin Pencil how to do the same, how to hear his own Melody, even if it means a broken heart.

"Listen to your heart. It knows all things,
because it came from the Soul of the World,
and it will one day return there

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

McCartney Library ~ Carriker Collection

Choose thy friends like thy books;
few but choice.

James Howell
~ Cross Stitch by Linda Jeffries~

The perfect alcove for my books:
a superfluous porch, enclosed and converted to library.
See cross stitch, at eye level to the left? ~ Thanks Linda!

An exterior view of the porch . . .

. . . turned library

Whole House View Before Renovation
Lovely! However, we needed a library room
~ with an octagonal window ~
more than we needed a second front porch!

A couple more by Linda Jeffries: