Tuesday, March 03, 2015

In Time

Monday, July 7, 2014
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials on Monday dedicated a memorial for the unclaimed remains of 3,500 people dubbed the “forgotten souls,” most of them former patients at the state mental hospital who became a symbol of the nation’s history of mistreating, neglecting and warehousing the mentally ill.

Their ashes
left in copper canisters
stacked on shelves
wait for a proper burial
Time and water altered
some surnames,
Corroded letters hide
who slept in this place
for a few months
or decades
Their stories now
interred in copper canisters

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Sun's Work

I look beyond today
to find days ready
to turn from this long cold
and deep snow covering
to a possibility of warmth
to a sun that burrows deep down
and touches bone and marrow

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Gather 'round

A speaker asserts something rather alarming with assurance and the audience assumes the accuracy of that information. The more authority vested in that person the surer we are of care exercised when vetting information. If it's a topic that's strange or esoteric we either naively accept the interpretation or perhaps question some of the assumptions.

This past week I listened to someone give an interpretation to an ancient event. Their explanation struck an uncomfortable chord--one part accepted exposition and one part flavoring to add to the overall discourse.

We know of newspaper columnists who bend a story or create a story out of whole cloth in order to augment a point or add to the emotional impact of their story? Occasionally the newspaper realizes that the story, while poignant and attention drawing, didn't happen or didn't quite happen the way presented.

The wont to add to something said or written to amplify the message is a lure. I can think of three local columnists who succumbed. They probably told themselves that the story was of such import that one needed a hook to make certain that their audience might act.

So when I listened to the speaker, I understood how one wants the crux of the story, the message, to impact the listener. But I couldn't accept the amplification.

Don't we all want to scream listen?

Just find another hook.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Starting Over

I waited for seven weeks for a book I requested. It arrived and I picked it up today, both anxious to read and unwilling to plunge in and hurry along. Once starting I know that I will rush headlong into the story and find myself pursuing the ending.

Is the desire to reach the end and see the threads picked up and woven into the narrative a complement to a book that holds the reader's attention or something else? Do we see ourselves in the story? Perhaps we read the story as a metaphor?

The book I'm about to read is a dystopian novel. Perhaps I want to know if the universe totally succumbs or comes back in a different shape.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Divine attentiveness cannot be kept
casually, or visited only in season,
unlike Venice or Switzerland.
-- Mary Oliver

Watch the light enter a gap
between night and dawn

Wait to hear the silence of daybreak
Breathe to the rhythm of the universe

Attend to this extravagant display
with reckless abandon

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Moving On

Now that our Bible study of Genesis finished yesterday, I'll add Exodus to a Lenten practice. In some ways both are about getting out of a narrow place and making room for renewal and recommitment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lost Time

My watch lost one hour last night. Today it's keeping accurate time, neither speeding ahead or dawdling. Perhaps the cold in the room seized it up and it stopped and then began again.

Isn't it that way with time? We sometimes wish we could expunge a particular period of time. Move the clock's hands beyond the hour and eradicate anything that took place in that timeframe.

It isn't as if we lose what happened, or words said disappear. No everything in that timeframe ceases to have a reality. Of course that's fantasy, but my watch losing one hour and then righting itself is real.

I'll have to check tomorrow morning and see if losing time is a nocturnal occurrence.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Workshop

What turns one person on is anathema or simply boring to another person. My local librarian spoke to me about recently hearing a lecture on George Washington portraits. Not only did the subject fascinate her, but she expressed dismay at missing a weekend talk about the relationship George had with some of the portrait artists.

Overheard in a small store, " How can I be assured that this is the purest kale." What does that even mean? I recently ate a kale cake. It's a patty in the shape of a burger, but thinner. I have a book that bills itself as a cookbook of five hundred quinoa recipes. Perhaps the same publisher will do the same for kale and answer the question of purity.

Eleven writers in the newest issue of Poets and Writers share "stories of retreats that changed their lives." I never went to a writer's retreat, but I did go to a writer's workshop. The first one I attended, The Feminist Writer's Workshop, met in a college in upper New York State-- an area far removed from New York City.

We were twenty women, including one from Italy and one from Germany,  meeting for two weeks of workshops, shared writings, and new experiences. We were diverse-- a few women on scholarships, several women of color, and all of us on a continuum from those just dipping their toes into a feminist agenda to separatist radical feminists.

We started out writing quiet acceptable pieces until we learned how to navigate the shoals of our emotional landscapes. I learned that if you write a poem you needed to keep writing until you discovered the emotional truth. Without that, all you had was acceptable diction.

One woman from Utah, a rancher, wrote about the sound of the wind. She also supplied a bottle of Grand Marnier for our late night readings. One woman, a nun, wrote small biographies of the nuns in her house. She was a social worker who worked in the toughest area of the Bronx. On a rainy Sunday evening she agreed to call the numbers in a Bingo game. She taught me that some stereotypes just don't fit real people.

A woman from upstate New York wrote and smoked in her room every afternoon. I didn't recognize the smell until the good Sister told me it was pot. The woman from New York's writing was strong and political and demanded your attention. She told us that she lived in a house with no indoor plumbing.

I left the workshop thinking I'd write and write until I found the bare bones of what I wanted to say.

The woman who lived in a single room in New York City and worked as a bouncer at a women's bar wrote a story about loving the bartender, who didn't even remember her name. In the story she sent the bartender a bouquet of long stem roses with no name on the card.

I wrote to Joyce, the woman who lived in one room, for awhile-- just the way many of us wrote to each other after we left. Those were the days when writing a letter was really a way to share thoughts. Joyce wrote the saddest letters-- about eating a pizza on a bridge table in her room, of the ceiling peeling and pieces falling onto her bed. After she moved to California and after a letter or two, letters came back with a post office stamp -- no forwarding address, I stopped writing. I always wondered if she just gave up.

The woman who smoked pot died of cancer several years after the workshop. The woman from Utah and a woman from Manhattan got together and they both lived on the ranch. One woman went on for an MFA. A woman from Florida returned to her rural community and wrote pieces about the Everglades.

A woman from Louisiana moved to Somerville, rode a bike to work at a newspaper, and left after a year. She hated the weather.

Some of that fervor seeped out, but when I remember to look for the emotional truth I find myself connecting to that time. It's both frightening and liberating to push to that point.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Pagan Response

Let's delete this winter and the cold and snow-- especially the snow stacked on roofs and the snow seeking warmth beneath roof eaves. Where is the fairy godmother to wave a wand and dispel the chill and usher in the warmth?

Perhaps there is a witch of the north who has invaded our territory. What must we do to dissuade her from any more of this icy intimacy?

I think the weavers of stories need to conjure up an answer to this conundrum? Maybe a potent spell that breaks through and dissuades the spirits?

It's reasonable to accept the notion of a deity for each season, for each natural occurrence.  You could ask the deity of winter if he's peeved, having a bad day, or needs something. A back rub, a hot tub, a walk around a labyrinth.

Wait. Just wait. The calendar moves forward. Don't be impatient. But I am.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Going through books and journals --what to keep and what to give away. It's all about simplifying. 

After culling through my books and asking myself if I ever intended to read the book again or if it represented some emotional attachment, I was able to carry armloads of books to the car. 

Then I collected a stack of journals and began to read them-- not everything needs to be saved. 

Oddly enough I didn't recall some things and other events I remembered even when my journal only told part of the story. 

Why hold back? Who did I anticipate might read my journals. Why be such a  Pollyanna?

I did tell of my spiritual journey and its twists and turns. I even wrote about my quest for crystals when crystals were the rage.

And I loved to tell about searching for the penultimate Dairy Queen Blizzard or later on Breeze where yogurt was substituted for ice cream.

And the past invaded the present, " When spring finally arrives, " I said, " let's go to Middleton for  a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reading Scripture

There's someone for everyone. Mishaps, deceptions, glorious deeds, heroism as well as connivers. 

It's good that Scripture is full of flawed folks
who have a number of chances to get things right. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

State of the Street Address

white mounds move
sideways into streets
squeezing, narrowing
movement while
a penetrating army
of plows fights
to hold back drifts

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Readiness Exercise

I'm preparing a list of to do things for our next snow sleet day.

* read two mysteries at the same time 
* take photos of eleven avocado pits I've stored in an egg carton
* create a diorama of Abraham's trek
* plan a trip down the Amazon River
* go through eleven carousels of slides looking for the photo of rolling sagebrush
* begin to simplify my collections by asking each item why it should be saved 
* do a folio page of ink cross hatching
* write three unsent letters
* forgive someone

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Haunting

Given the weather and the cold, more and more people may be seen trolling about in the stacks of libraries, or browsing in those book stores that are left. Ten days ago I began reading books on a list of good reads for a winter's day. At this point I've read three of the fifteen listed and three more from that list sit in my book basket. Last night I found myself in Öland, Sweden-- an island off the coast of Sweden.

While summers sound ideal, winters are harsh and most of the people leave their cottages and return to the mainland. I expect that Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard also present two faces-- the summer people and the year long inhabitants.

Öland in the winter thrives on folklore and ghost stories. Even if you don't believe in ghosts or haunted houses, isn't it freeing to see the sun squat into the small spaces.

My  friend Nina's family owned a car--unlike my family-- and her family occasionally invited me on a Sunday jaunt. Her father loved quant places and one Sunday he drove to a haunted barn-- at least that was its billing. While Nina's parents prepared a picnic we went off to explore the barn with explicit directions not to climb any ladders, touch anything , or go into any tight places.
" Just look around," her father said, "and after we eat we'll really explore the barn."

Her mother said that she'd wave her arms when it was time for us to return and eat lunch. Because her younger brother begged to come along and her mother said we needed to  take him, Charles accompanied us on this exploration. At ten the entire episode seemed like an adventure.

Who saw the plaid shirt and denim pants first? Nina said she did, Charles said he did and I thought I saw the boots. We all agreed -- he was hanging from a rafter high up in the barn's ceiling. No one could see arms or a head, but we knew he was hanging.

Did we all scream at the same time or did one of us scream and the others followed? By the time we returned to the site of the picnic we all spoke at the same time. Nina's dad took us all back to the barn, although we stood outside while he went in to explore. He did find a plaid shirt in the loft area of the barn and wondered why we went up there when told not to explore that area.

Supposedly a man had died in the barn and the story of his haunting the barn was well known. Had we heard that story and imagined the figure or did we see his ghost?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Finding the Right Place

My third Nordic mystery and I am certain that I couldn't tolerate the darkness, or the feeling of foreboding that surrounds the setting. Of course if you're writing a mystery these settings exude a level of fear.

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a mystery, possibly a cozy because readers aren't sticklers for how the murder was done. However, if you select a taxidermist as the "investigator" you best be sure that you know, practically everything about taxidermy.

I went to a local book store and browsed mysteries—the cozy kind. Obviously, I needed to find a niche. Scan the shelves and you'll find flower lovers, owners of coffee shops, bakers, knitters, quilters, tea lovers and a plethora of others solving crimes.

Select something you know  played its melody in my ear. What did I know? A teacher. A teacher of learning disabled students. The series never got off the ground. I really didn't want to see mayhem erupt in a school.

The whole project fell flat when I realized that the setting felt right for a coming of age story and not a cozy mystery.

Perhaps I'll need another niche.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I See

"The truth. Every story is the truth," and he laughed...
Hold the Dark William Giraldi

Reading between the lines, reading as a participant in the story, reading as if what happens matters isn't for the feint-of-heart. Books illuminate my world, someone else's story spreads fault lines straight into my own past ; engaging with a character reminds me of someone or something in the past.

I want to shout, "stay awhile, haven't we met." But it's not every writer who invites me to enter into the composition, to partake, to walk quietly with the characters.

We may be mirror images or alien to one another.

Haven't you ever stopped and thought, "Yes, that's how I see the situation."

And there are times that reading is a catharsis allowing the reader to examine feelings, to see a plot through another pair of eyes.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Comic Opera

Enough. It's enough. The snow piles are akin to archeological tells. They grow higher and wider with each storm. Today I woke up, looked outside and knew that my car was the fifth mound in the parking lot, even though I couldn't see it over the piled snow.

Steps disappeared. The deck carried the weight of four consecutive snowstorms like a beast of burden. One neighbor attacked the roof edges with abandonment, unfazed by the deadly looking upside down spires of ice. At one point he stood his ground and, like David, slew the icicle beasts. They dropped with a menacing groan.

I dutifully dusted off the gas meter, checked the gas vent, and broke some thin layers of ice on the air conditioner. Would this ever melt?

Winds obeyed their own inclinations and spun out of control ,stinging bare skin with snow spray, tree limbs in obeisance bowed down. A plow driver revved his motor and pushed against a pile of snow, forcing it to retreat.

Tomorrow the real feel dips down to minus twenty degrees.

Perhaps it is time to purchase a Russian Ushanka hat.

My only question, do I want sheepskin, rabbit, black mink, red fox or muskrat? And will my Ushanka hat come before spring?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On the Eve of a Snowstorm

roses and balloons
Chardonnay and chocolate,
dinner out, candlelight
and soft music

at five degrees the flowers can't survive--

we eat dinner with friends,
and share the laughter
of years of Valentine Days

we order a bottle of Chardonnay
and toast to love,
taking care to leave the restaurant
before the snow
storm gains traction

the first Valentine Day

You held a balloon
And said, " This is my favorite holiday"
Same here

Friday, February 13, 2015

To Be Continued

What's in the margins,
in the small spaces
where whispers
speak loudest

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reading to Oblivion

Last week a blog I subscribe to listed: 15 Crime Books Perfect for a Winter Day. Instead of bewailing the weather, checking the latest dire report, seeing my car disappear under a white down of snow, I recognized nirvana.

 I borrowed the first book on the list—Snowman by Jo Nesbo. Instead of worrying about additional snow, I found myself swept up in a fast paced  story. And a snowman plays a role. Rather than escape to a tropical climate where snow is only found in a crossword puzzle, I remained in the cold. Snowman's setting— Norway.

Following each clue, trying to untangle the web of the story, I hunker down for long reads.

As soon as I heard about more snow coming this weekend, I sought out a library  copy of the second book on the list.

Total immersion in books. Bibliotherapy for the winter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New England

It is cold outside, but this is winter and one anticipates cold weather. In a day or two, the temperature outside will plummet—or so we're told by those who follow the jet streams and the arctic blasts and all the other tell-tale signs.

Ice stilettos hang off roof edges
ready to impale anything below
Ice waterfalls weep
down the sides of houses


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Heroes

They tied ropes to trees, donned helmets, buckled into harnesses, set up a sixty- foot ladder, and climbed up to the roof. Walked up the front, down the back, with tools dangling from belts. For twenty or thirty minutes we heard the sounds of ice dams being broken into smaller bits. Snow flew off the roof mixed with thick ice.

Soon the drips, caught midstream by nothing more to feed on, slowed down and stopped.

I watched three men walk backwards down the ladder, unbuckle themselves, roll up the heavy rope, and, like magicians or owners of Russian Nesting Dolls, fold the ladder into itself.

" Did you get all the ice dams."

I wanted to ask, but didn't, " Do you ice climb mountains?"

Monday, February 09, 2015

What's in a Definition?

You never can tell what you find in a magazine. Imagine a scientific journal, or one that regales its readers with stories of lost ships, found treasures, and a plethora of  stories from all over the universe, spending a number of pages on The Marquise de Sade.

On the other hand I couldn't imagine that the movie based on Fifty Shades of Gray sold out shows before the movie opens.

Is it the winter weather? You know all that gray.

Sunday, February 08, 2015


Twice in the last week I've tripped over the word schadenfreude, a wonderful German word that means taking pleasure in someone's misfortune. Or joy when you see someone who is down on their knees. It's rather like laughing when the person in front of you slips on a banana peel and slides half way across the floor.

Another person receives a chewing out, is denounced, or admits to some scandalous event or is accused of a less than glorious deed and you gloat.

It's the way Floridians respond when you say, " We're getting more snow and my roof is leaking." They reply, "It's seventy degrees and sunny today. I don't know why anyone suffers those winters."

My response to their schadenfreude, " Bet you can't go ice fishing."

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Somewhere over the rainbow...

I admit to going to the occasional cooking demonstration when they offer treats. This past year I've tasted pretzels, small pizzas, cookies with class, and a cheesy appetizer.

So when I received the email announcing a demo of a Spiralizer, I knew that I was up for the experience. Given the state of the weather, the drizzle like snow and the cold temperatures, a demo with the possibility of a taste seemed perfect.

And I never heard of the item being demonstrated. Although at first, the very sound of it brought to mind infomercials. I admit to occasionally -- there's that word again-- listening to them when I was on the treadmill. That was before I switched to DVDs from The Teaching Company.

How often I found myself on the verge of believing that a tummy belt would produce a flat stomach when used only five minutes a day, or desiring a gadget that broiled, baked, steamed, in one tenth of the time usually allotted for a recipe, or blenders that could grind up the toughest vegetable into a juice that provided every mineral and vitamin your body required.

I even got off the treadmill to write down the number to call, within the next ten minutes, to receive not one but two ultimate shredders that provided every conceivable manner of cutting a vegetable. And if I responded within the allotted time I received a set of three bowls, a wood spatula and a recipe book-- to use with all the vegetables I had cut, sliced, diced, shredded.

Something always held me back. It was a memory of saving the code from ten boxes of my favorite cereal and finally sending all the cardboard along with a dollar bill to some square state. I waited patiently for my personal pedometer and book of codes. Every day when I arrived home from elementary school I asked, " Is it here?"

I had just finished the third grade and summer was beginning. My best friend, Annie, thought we could write notes in code and tally the miles we walked while exploring.

When the thin package arrived, I refused to be disappointed by the size of the envelope. The code book was four pages printed on newsprint. The pedometer, a thin plastic gizmo with a plastic strap was to be worn around your calf.

I strapped it on and walked back and forth in our three room apartment. I even volunteered to walk with my mother to the incinerator. Despite wearing it every day for a week my walking never exceeded one mile. My father tried to make the experience a learning experience. He was a school principal and that's what his training taught him to do in similar situations.

So with that in my background I was able to hold off most purchases. I did buy the shredder and it, like the pedometer, didn't live up to the hype.

The Spiralizer demo included making pasta out of veggies, a delectable salad, and a chance to taste three dishes. I held off, but just might go back and purchase the smaller unit. Who can resist zucchini pasta or butternut squash noodles or parsnip latkes baked in a state of the art toaster oven?