Friday, September 30, 2011

The Local Library Book Sale

Used  book sales where musty harlequins rub covers with Tolstoy and private eyes trail memoirs checking for truth--

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Enigmatic Ending

A cloud, ominous and mournful, hangs over New England. The Boys of Summer, hampered by an inexplicable flight from reality tumbled, tossed, and plummeted to the ground. Several states away the Rays refused to accept defeat and in a storybook ending started to pile on run after run until they made up seven runs. And then they capped off their miracle by scoring the winning run.

Perhaps the Red Sox were weighted down by prophesies prior to the season.

Perhaps they were the Emperor's New Clothes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Armchair Traveler

I travel quite far without a passport or luggage. Occasionally I'll run into difficulty understanding regional dialects, but get by without phrase books. I endure Antarctica's cold, am not bothered by the insects in the jungle—even the goliath birdeater tarantula of South America. My clothes never wrinkle when I'm scaling mountains, sleeping under the stars, or spelunking a thousand feet below the earth.

If the readers of fantastical journeys stopped reading and began to take their own trips— who would read the plethora of books written by those intrepid souls who travel to exotic places?

We belong to a class of watchers, vicarious thrill seekers.

I travel around a small parcel of land—get to know a burl on the tree that overlooks a small stream, the way the apple trees wend their way up a hill, the places on a incline where grass never grows, day lilies in the front of a house.

Without any backpack or tent or accouterments of travel, I meander the streets of this small town. I can show you the yard where a scruffy looking goat resides, or the sculptures put together by a collector of items relegated to the trash heap.

And without a passport I walk around a pond ringed with cat tails and watch a heron standing in one spot.


Maybe someday I'll set out for some far away place with a unpronounceable name and take part in an adventure filled with danger.

Then I'll return home and write a book to be read by an armchair traveler.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The End of the Season

No more peaches. As of September 23rd the peach trees gave out and the local variety took their hiatus until next year. Apples are in and after Christmas the orchard will sell whatever is left and close until the spring. We'll be eating fruit shipped here from elsewhere or frozen, sliced and stuffed into bags.

Nothing lasts forever. The summer like days slim down to a few oddly out of place days. Perhaps autumn can tarry beyond the appointed time and winter will be squeezed out of some of its usual allotment of days.

Tomorrow evening I'm going to a birthday dinner for a friend. We'll all dine on Indian food and talk about the coming year and the past year. We'll toast the possibilities of days, lament the downfall of the Red Sox and maybe compare their decline to the decline of the Roman Empire.

I'll think about all the lost opportunities, the chances they had and the collapse.

I'd rather contemplate the three peaches in a white bowl. No bruises. Sweet aroma.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Holding Autumn at Bay

of sun
remind me
of long summer days
when daylight lingered into night

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On a Sunday

Blessed be
the sifting of sounds
and weaving of words
to create stories

Blessed be
the thread that winds
its way through the tale
and finds an ending

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On a Big Scale

Who ever heard of writing a book about haying in Montana, where winters are freezing and summers can be torrid? I'm reading such a book and reside in a state of amazement.I grew up in a big city, hardly ever thinking about hay and never thinking about cattle and horses .Actually I did think about horses. Some members of my family loved cowboy movies and Zane Grey books-- and both the movies and Zane's stories always included horses.

Large machines found on ranches could sever fingers, catch hair in their serrated blades , alter your life. I don't even like using too sharp a knife when I cook.

I think I'd like to be in Montana during haying season. Maybe I could find something useful to do or at least stay out of everyone's way.

Those books that list places to visit before you can't visit anyplace, never suggest any of the places and experiences on my list. After Montana I want to watch ranchers involved in cattle-buying.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Heated Dispute

We need a definitive hot scale. One pepper, two peppers, three peppers appearing next to a dish needs to be held to the same exacting standards as all other measurements. Ten ounces always equals ten ounces. Even free spirited table tennis aficionados accept 2.74m as the standard length of a table tennis table --with a margin of error "no more than 3mm from that length." No one stands around debating the sagacity of the measurement --take it or leave it. This is not true of chefs. Don't tether them to an across the board hot designation. Tonight I ordered a two pepper Shrimp Cashew Nut entree.

" Please make that a one pepper."

The last time I said that my dish arrived devoid of any seasoning. Tonight my one pepper dish was prepared by a firedrake intent on sending scorching barbs of chili into my mouth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Remains

If you find scraps of paper save them in a shoe box. Peeling wallpaper, telephone book pages, smoldering paper from a fire, lint, old letters, stamps from the time stamps needed licking—save everything. Catalog your findings. Labels from tuna fish cans, recipes written on napkins, crinkled potato chip bags— preserve it all. Collect the detritus of the world and create a collage for posterity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011



My words disappeared. They evaporated. I wrote them down and left to get a drink of tomato juice when something unexpected took place. I returned to a blank page, nary a word. I looked under the paper to see if the words were hiding.They simply evaporated. I cannot say any more because my words are too light. They float away. I need to find some gravity for what I write.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Visit

I'm writing this while watching the clock. Outside a dank rainy day matches my waiting—each drop another second in the count down. Today is my semi-annual dentist appointment. I drag myself in and it's never as fraught with anxiety as I imagine, but then my imagination is also an asset. I imagine myself walking out—free.

Growing up the family dentist had an office in my apartment building—ground level, to the left of the lobby. I recall that he relied on sweet talk to convince you that the drill worked without having any additional support from a shot in the mouth.

"Just raise your hand if I'm really hurting you."

His next favorite line, "I'm almost done." A line I've learned to recognize as attesting to the inadequate sense of timing enjoyed by certain professions.

While I don't recall his last name—his first name was Aaron, I do remember his sculptures. His small wood and stone carved pieces filled every flat space in his waiting room—a rather cramped space. Some were abstract while others quite representative—none looked like molars.

A large molar shaped pedestal holds a glass tabletop in my present dentist's office. Children's books are strewn on top. Rather traumatic for an office. I wonder if she sculpts— something besides teeth.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bide One's Time

Whoever heard of a half-hearted fan, one who lasts for half a season and then moves on to the next sport. That's akin to eating a peach, swishing the juice around and then placing the half- eaten peach on the highboy and selecting a nectarine. Then after two bites of that smooth skinned member of the Rosaceae family leaving it on the armoire and sampling a papaya. That's akin to the Medieval assayer whose livelihood is measured in small bites.

Molly who spent her days in the library researching the deadly Larkspur and Meadow Saffron collected fruit pits. She harbored a desire to work as a treeplanter, but lived in the city. So she planted pits in mason jars and waited. Waiting is an arduous task. The real fan waits all season for the playoffs, for a decal, a shirt attesting to the accomplishment, a jacket, rain pants with the team logo, another hat, or a shot glass with the team name painted on the outside. It will wash off in the dishwasher. Real fans even wait for next year.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I never remember my father either watching or talking about football. He loved basketball and track, but football— "A lot of men dressed in padding pummeling each other."

So I grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium thinking that football didn't hold a candle to baseball or basketball.

In my twenties my next door neighbor loved college football and knew a lingo I never learned. We lived in the south, not deep south, where college football was close to a religious experience. My neighbors grew up in Louisiana and Mississippi and football was serious business.

Whether Ole Miss won or not mattered. Whether they received an invitation to a bowl mattered. You can't live someplace surrounded by this adoration and not take a peek at a game.

First, I put a toe in and then my son took an interest and while he never wanted to play— he collected football cards and knew each player's statistics.

When we moved to New England I found myself interested in the Patriots. They weren't too successful and I loved cheering for an underdog. That's a long time ago.

Now they are one of the best teams—and I find myself, if not watching a game, checking the score on my ITouch.

How did this happen? How did I find myself watching "A lot of men dressed in padding pummeling each other." —and really caring about the score.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Finding Magic

Loose paper, notebooks, three-ring binders filled with paper and dividers--all fascinating.

My romance with paper began early and continues unabated. I recall owning a black and white wide lined notebook and carefully writing between the lines. The words so contained and measured never touched a line.

By middle school I moved on to three-ring notebooks--all sizes. Flimsy paper worked for school, but not for verse. My nascent poetry required a smooth heavier paper--one that welcomed the scrawling of my fountain pen.

By high school I owned a small black three-ring binder that I used to record items discovered in the newspaper.

Before the behemoth large stores put many stationery stores out of business, I enjoyed the variety displayed in those small stores.

That's where I unearthed treasures--French notebooks, binders that opened and snapped shut on a hundred sheets of heavy weight paper.

I knew enough about paper to resist the folly of allowing a cover to seduce me.

Nothing comes close to the organic feel of good paper--especially if you eschew the ubiquitous roller pens.

That said the computer and the paper coexist in a respectful manner on my desk.

For me poetry must be written first and then transcribed--years ago on a typewriter and now on a computer.

Still a new notebook holds out the possibility of magic.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Dream

Years ago my next door neighbor Donna clipped newspaper articles before that occupation became obsolete. Now clipping services toggle through thousands of newspapers and magazines for stories that meet your criteria.

Donna spent hours each day scanning several dozen newspapers and a ruler high stack of magazines for information pertaining to a client's specific requests. She never read through a paper in a leisurely fashion because she wasn't interested in the entire article.

"Do you like what you do?"
"It pays the bills and it gives me time to do what I really want to do."

Donna enjoyed pigeons.

"Someday," she said, " I'm going to build my own coop and join a racing club."

Until that time she cut out all articles about pigeons and pasted them in her scrapbook. I never knew if she lived out her dream because she moved away when the clipping service fazed out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

To Speak One's Piece

I'm celebrating your birthday today even though you're unaware of the celebration or of my peregrinations

When most people speak of a journey they conjure up places with exotic names--or at least locations far away from home. Destinations.

My journey is between two towns — six miles apart— and two libraries.

I stop at my local library  to pick up a book-- ennui prophet by Christopher Kennedy. A collection of prose poems, or prose wearing the accouterments of poetry.

I recall how you sold my poetry chapbook at a small retail card store. Did you read the poems?

One line In Kennedy's prose poem titled "Amish Radio"—resonates for this day .

Wind travels around the world to speak it's piece.

I, too, travel with my words uncertain of who  hears and what they hear.

While in the library I found Ursula Hegi's new book and borrowed it for two weeks. Imagine writing about a single day and the transformation of people's lives on that day. But you know that—

I open the book to a random page and read of a teacher listening to the rain. Rain alters its voice—sometimes gentle or hoarse or tapping or pounding with urgency. The rain falling against hard city concrete and the rain falling in the woods differs in sound.

Upstairs-- where the library keeps fiction and non-fiction,students sit in front of computers, a few people sit on brown leather chairs or at a long wood table.

I recognize one man. He often comes into the local coffeehouse and reads his newspaper— inhaling every word, in every section, over one
cup of coffee.

I could write a memoir of my life inside coffee houses. Do you drink coffee?

The next library— in a town only six miles away, but a town wealthier than my local town, opens its doors early and closes late every night—save Saturday. Their collection spans several floors and spills over into small rooms.

Roaming around in the stacks of the second floor—selecting a book because of its cover, or size, or title adds to the enjoyment of an unexplained discovery between chance and choice.

The Gathering of Birds by Edward Shenton catches my eye because of a shabby cover. This is an anthology of ornithological prose. Without any notion of what I might enjoy I open the book.

The trees lean this way and that, and they are scarred and marked as it were with lichen and moss"

We, too, are marked by an exposure to life.

Then I found a small, less than imposing looking book between two large tomes: Dunwoody Pond by John Janovy. I'm
enamored with his explorations of a small nondescript pond in Nebraska.

No nothing permanent except the memories and the meanings. You better make them, and use them, while you can.

Across the aisle and I'm in fiction. I don't want to select an author I know. I pull out a slim volume: Timothy, or Note of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Verlyn assumes the voice of a tortoise—, but not any tortoise. Timothy is the very tortoise Gilbert White observed in his garden and wrote about in his book, The Natural History of Selborne—first published in 1789.

The world is filled with "only Connects". Many years ago I ordered my copy from Blackwell's in England.

An entry marked September 1771:

Dear Sir,
The summer through I have seen but two of that large species of bat which I call vespertilio altivolans from its manner of feeding high in the air...In the extent of their wings they measured fourteen inches and an half; and four inches and an half from the nose to the tip of their tail: their heads were large, their nostrils bilobated, their shoulders broad and muscular; and their whole bodies feshy and plump.

Downstairs in the new book rack I find: Open City by Teju Cole. I open the book, let my eyes drift down the page. I find a line and close the book knowing that I'll recall the line. Yet the line disappears leaving two words—"time restored".

Before heading home I stop for a Lindor white chocolate candy and eat it for both of us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the Familiar

I'm a notorious notetaker. When I find a line in a book that I want to keep, I write it in one of my many Moleskin notebooks. Today while reading Gail Caldwell's book lets take the long way home I stopped when I read these words: "...wedded to the sanctity of the familiar."

I often take sentences out of their original context— because those particular words or sentences speak to me on an emotional level. They may trigger off memories or send me off thinking in new directions. Sometimes the writing is exquisite or the metaphor so strikingly unique that I want to recall the words.

When I read wedded to the sanctity of the familiar , I thought of all the rituals and structures that surround life and how they both serve as comfort and as bars to moving beyond the familiar.

But it's the word sanctity that alters the familiar into something holy. Not everything that is familiar has that quality—it's something we bring to the familiar that lifts it beyond the ordinary.

And if we're fortunately enough to recognize the holy in the familiar it needs to be watered and nurtured.

Years ago I left for work before my two children left for school. They went to the next door neighbor's house to wait for the bus. We had established a routine—fifteen minutes before I left we all sat on the couch and I read a book.

One year I read the The Hobbit . It wasn't a rushed time and it started the day —structured, but more than that we were "wedded to the sanctity of the familiar." It was a holy time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A new store in another town opened several months ago—Dabblers. It carries a bit of this and a bit of that. Art materials, knitting supplies, balsa airplanes, glass making materials—classes for all manner of dabbling. You can even rent a table for an hour to do your own art project. And while you're there—have lunch or coffee at their small eatery.

I understand dabbling since that's been my style since I first picked up a crayon. When I turned ten, I decided that I wanted to be an illustrator after listening to an artist who visited my class. My mother, always willing to encourage my pursuits in art, heard about a free art class for children 8—12. We traveled on the IND train down to Manhattan and then went to the museum. I'm not certain what museum, but I do recall the easels, paints and short lesson.

That day I switched from illustration to poster paint abstractions. That pursuit waned when my mother announced that a three room apartment couldn't handle an easel and large jars of paint.

My art pursuits fill my basement. At one point I wanted to create woodblock prints so I build a sturdy looking bench with a backboard to steady my board as I chiseled away. My next door neighbor gave me an old barn board and I created Don Quixote on his horse. Nothing after that triumph was worth the wood so I simply moved on to another medium.

At various points I've attempted to make money. When I received a small enamel kiln as a twelfth birthday gift, I immediately began the mass production of earrings, pendants hanging on rawhide strands, and enameled money clips. I sold the items to friends, relatives and to neighbors. Because I sold the jewelry for a few cents more than the tempered copper forms I used to enamel the items, I didn't make enough money to buy new materials.

When I lived in Maryland, collage caught my interest and I filled manila folders with pictures and letters. Because I lived in a neighborhood where Bible studies were more prevalent than Tupperware parties, I thought of creating some collages illustrating favorite lines from scripture.My first commission came from a woman who wanted a hellfire message on a three foot high board. We didn't agree on the type of pictures appropriate for the collage and my career selling collages fizzled.

What I don't have is a certain adhesiveness— I move from art project to art medium. Next week I'll be starting a collage course at a museum school. I expect it will be a mite more sophisticated than my first collages.

My collection of materials for this course awaits my first day and as always I have high expectations. This may be my medium—although , at the moment, I'm enamored with pouring watercolors. Before that it was...

And a friend of mine tells me that I'd love encaustics...

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Find

Collecting books—both an art and a mystery. I especially enjoy discovering a book by an author I've never heard of, never read of—someone under my radar. No review to inform me, no book club to tout the book, and no reading at a local bookstore.

The book and author may be familiar to someone else, but not to me. I understand why people seek out uncharted places to explore—but not everyone is equipped to discover a new route up a mountain, explore unmapped rivers, or visit remote regions of the universe.

Years ago when yard sales spilled out of every driveway I found and rummaged through a milk carton containing books. Many were either missing front covers or smelled too musty. I did find a book about Pitcairn Island. Imagine living on an island that is hundreds of miles away from your nearest neighbor? Imagine having about forty-nine neighbors? Imagine finding a boat out of New Zealand and traveling nine or ten days to arrive at your destination? Imagine being a descendent of Mutiny on the Bounty?

Of course that was years ago. Now —modern houses, VCRs DVDs. The island has a web site, Pay Pal accounts—cruise ships. They've been discovered.

I can't imagine how scholars felt when they heard about the discovery of seventy metal books in a cave in Jordan. "If the dating is verified , the books could be among the earliest Christian documents." Of course they will need to verify the authenticity before they move on to reading these small pages. To add to that the books are in an undisclosed location —smuggled out of Jordan by a Bedouin. The Jordanian government "is now working at the highest levels to repatriate and safeguard the collection."

No one tries to repatriate the books I find—which is fine with me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11th, 2001

I taught in a middle school in a small community forty miles from Boston. Every September the seventh grade attended a one week nature/science camp three hours away. They slept in dorms, learned new skills, participated in skits, sang songs and engaged in activities meant to bond them together as a group. For some youngsters that week meant a first time away from home. All the seventh grade teachers participated as well as a few good souls—who didn't value lots of sleep.If you taught seventh grade you helped out in the library, taught those few youngsters who remained home, and worked on some projects. The library became a teacher's enclave. I'm not certain who first turned on the television or why. Maybe Kathy, the librarian, heard the news or maybe parents started calling the office.

Our principal quickly disabled all the televisions save the one in the library. The parents who called made it clear—they wanted to be the ones to speak to their children. The decision was made—don't notify the camp and don't alert the children in the school. No cell phones or electronic devices were allowed in camp. The only way to get hold of someone was to use the camp phone.

Kathy turned on the overhead monitor and teachers in the room pulled the blue leather chairs close up. I recall sitting next to Gail, the school psychologist. We watched—shocked, in disbelief.

"I can't believe it." Someone said, "Pray —even if you haven't prayed in a long time. Just pray ."

Kathy locked the door to the library. Only teachers went in and out. When the first building crashed down—our audible inflow of breath followed by short outbursts of words ricocheted across the room.

"Oh my God." "Is this really happening?"

Then a quiet descended— a shroud of disbelief and sadness filled all the spaces.
I've watched a number of shows this week—I've cried listening to the stories—of families—of survivors.

The numbers of those affected is numbing.

And I am overwhelmed by the stories of ordinary people who became heroes—who extended hands, words, grit, their lives to save others.

Thinking back to that day in the library— "Pray—even if you haven't prayed in a long time. Pray.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chameleon of Days

appears toting
a morning chill
on her back--
headstrong, wanton hussy

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Penultimate Return

L.L. Bean allows customers the bonanza of returning any item -- irrespective of age or wear.

Several years ago I was in line waiting to return several shirts, a pair of jeans, and one belt. None of the items had been worn-- but all were bought five months before --on my last visit to the store.

A woman in an adjacent line placed a rather well worn sweater on the counter

"What's the problem?"

" This sweater, " she said, " has a moth hole."

It took some time to find the original price of the item.

" Do you want the money or a store credit.?"

" The money. I'm not shopping today. That shouldn't have happened."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Backwards in Time

If everything twirls around and spins, if the whirlpool it generates sends me backwards in time, I'd like to get off at Wolff Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia. Joan Baez is on stage—barefoot and singing protest songs to an appreciative audience. Some people are in seats, but many of the loudest fans found places on the hill. I'm seated on a plaid blanket mesmerized by her command of the audience and the urgency of the words. She's a Pied Piper singing to the choir.

It's the school gym and Academic Freedom Week, but it doesn't feel free. An invited speaker known to be politically incorrect sets off the ire of some local people. And a local newspaper wants to know why in a city college supported by the good citizens we have invited this unsavory character. The invitation is rescinded and Columbia University extends an invitation. But the administration forgot that Pete Seeger is appearing that very afternoon. The incident is the fodder for rousing folk songs. We sing loud and clear—Gonna lay down my sword and shield/ Down by the riverside

And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
if this land's still made for you and me

Drop me off at a Greenwich Village coffee house and let me order an expresso.
I went with friends to nurse my one coffee and discuss Camus and eavesdrop. I heard men with long hair and straggly beards talk about the Off-Off-Broadway experimental theatre. Sometimes a fledgling poet read barely edited poems. I loved the arguments about words and existentialism. We floated in that rarified air and then returned the following day to high school.

Let the winged carpet stop at the Davidson River where cold water rolls around stepping rocks.To the top of a ridge at Capital Reef—where my boots turned orange with the sand. Orange and reds shimmer in a relentless sun.

Then on to Harper's Ferry. Stand and look down at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Someone started singing Shenandoah:
O Shenando' I'll not forget you
I'll dream of your clear waters
O Shenando' you're in my mem'ry
Away, we're bound away, across the wide Missouri

Last stop: Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester. I brought along a home made Sled kite and enough string to send the kite to fly with clouds. A decorative sun in fluorescent hues vied with the sun for ascendency. I flew that kite higher and higher—the string —pulled by a desire to compete sent the winder spinning out of control. I started to rewind the string and then, like Icarus, the kite fell and descended into the ocean.

Last—let me return to Minnies Grocery. I never did get the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Wooden Box for my crayons.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Let's Return to Writing Letters

The post office languishes in a slough of debt.

My Uncle Abe collected Plate blocks of commemorative stamps. Those were stamps still attached to the white margin of the original sheet—and they included the serial number "of the printing plate used to print that sheet." He gave me twelve Plate blocks for my birthday—one for every year. Each block was ensconced in a see through envelope.

For my eleventh birthday I had received a Minkus World Stamp album, a package of 1000 stamp hinges, a tweezers—sometimes called tongs, a perforation gauge, and a book that helped with stamp identification. My uncle gave me a drawstring bag of 500 unidentified world stamps—most still attached to paper. The bag came from the Jamestown Stamp Company. I spent hours identifying stamps—checking an atlas.

Now you peel your stamp— and stick it on an envelope, that is if you mail a letter.

It's not nostalgia to think that something important has or is in the process of disappearing. I love reading the letters of writers.

Flannery O'Connor wrote to Winifred McCarthy: "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment."

Writing a letter to someone is not the same as texting or emailing. There's a chance to visit with the other person, a sense of the personal, an organic connection. Choosing paper—whether it's formal or a yellow pad, selecting a pen and matching it to the paper enhance the writing. The moment I take the pen in my hand and begin to write I can see the other person and visualize the letter being opened.

At one point I corresponded with ten friends. Now that list has dwindled.

Irene owned a bookstore and our conversations often revolved around books. We shared newly discovered books, quoted lines that spoke to us, and how our lives intersected with fiction.

Lynn went back to school to earn an MFA in poetry. Our infrequent letters that year were filled with poetry we liked and the power of women poets. Lynn wondered about the audacity of the degree, "What will I do after I finish?" We critiqued each other's poems.

Jean and I first met when we lived in the same development. Her husband was an opera aficionado and Jean loved singing in choirs. When she moved to Chicago,Joey her youngest, was in the sixth grade and Matt, her eldest, was entering high school. Our letters usually were about children—and only two or three letters a year. One always at Christmas. I still recall the letter I received one fall—months after Joey graduated college. Jean wrote first of the wonderful memories she had and Joey had of the time we all cooked crabs in my house. She then went on to say that she was writing the letter with the weight of unbearable sadness—Joey had taken his own life. I read that letter over and over and then sat down to write Jean. Over the years our letters have continued—now but once a year.

Anna, my next door neighbor for seven years, first moved to England and then to North Carolina. I still have the postcards that came from England—with a letters worth of writing in the small space left for messages. Our letters were filled with books and biblical discussions. Now the letters are less frequent—and they are filled with the stories of her grandchildren. In a recent letter she wrote about her granddaughters' involvement with missionary work in Africa and South America. We don't always agree, but we're still writing.

Marian and I worked at the same school and for a time we were walking segments of the Appalachian trail. When her husband's job called for a move to the Netherlands we became letter writers—and I added to my postcard collection since Marian traveled a good deal. I have a glass box filed with postcards. And people didn't just write—having a great time! Marian and I shared tales of walks—mine were closer to home. Once I recall writing five pages all about a walk around Walden Pond— and I did quote Thoreau.

Writing a letter is like visiting a friend—it can be leisurely.

"A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend."
—Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Return to Cataloging

Recently OED sent out an update of new words. The word that caught my eye--helluo librorom. Even before knowing anything more,  I loved the way the syllables rolled off my tongue. 

Someone who is a helluo librorom is a glutton for books, an insatiable reader. 

As of July 2009 Great Britain's most prolific reader was  ninety-one year old Louise Brown. She has borrowed 25,000 library books and at that time read up to a dozen books a week. Her favorite genre: historical fiction.

Years ago I decided to catalog all my books and add a comment for each book. I bought colored index cards and designated particular colors for each genre. Half way through an extensive trove of mysteries I found myself re-reading a few.  How could I miss another read of  Dorothy Sayers Nine Tailors? I never did finish the cataloguing -- bogging down when I started to go thorough poetry books. For every card I wrote the title and then read several poems. 

Several years after my aborted attempt I threw out the half completed stack.

Now I've discovered Library Thing--you can catalog your books or simply list new books as you read each book. I think I'll simply list books as I read them. I don't want to write reviews, make friends, or search for similar books. But they make everything sound so alluring.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Returning Again

I remind myself that prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.
-- Philip Yancey

Sometimes I feel like a religious traveler--visiting places, shuffling my feet and moving on. My stays limited by some discomfort, an itch to explore yet another road.

I envy those who have set their feet down, unpacked and remained. They learn the prayers, know when to stand and when to sit. At times their learning becomes rote and they disconnect, but stay put--moving from foot to foot.

People speak of pilgrimages, but I speak of loops. My faith paths always spiral around until they arrive back at the original starting point. At first that trajectory astonished me--but now I view it as a perpetual pilgrimage that returns to the beginning.

Religions remind me of gloves, never perfect because they are stitched together by people or by machines tutored by people.A little too tight, or too loose, causing friction, rubbing, or soft and fitting.

I've attended services in temples where I intoned the ancient Hebrew from transliterated text, learned my aleph-- haltingly read the prayer book, began Biblical Hebrew and gave up because it was too hard and I'd already moved my feet beyond the temple door.

I studied Deuteronomy with members of the Hebrew-Christian Alliance. James, our teacher, was a scholar who pondered the meaning of a postage sized fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He translated from Aramaic with ease and quoted text in several languages. He spoke of word derivations and squeezed meanings from word roots.

We met in a private home--ten disparate individuals: intellectuals, seekers, aetheists and the curious.
James wove his meaning from multiple sources while we listened, prayed and ate the hostesses sponge cake and drank tea from cups with saucers

Study suits me. I've sat around a large wood table for Torah study, sat on a wing chair in a minister's study and read Acts with five parishioners, sat at a large folding table and listened to a woman teach the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. I've sat in a temple library and followed a discussion of Levinas. 

I've sat around the cramped quarters of an old church and studied the gospels. I've cooked hot dogs for a church luncheon, attended a number of Praise and Worship services at a local church. Only about forty people ever showed up. Periodically someone was Slain in the Blood.

Years ago I heard Billy Graham speak, listened to a Holy Roller preacher at a tent revival, danced the hora at an Israeli birthday celebration, sang Amazing Grace at a Harper's Ferry festival. 

I've lit Chanukah candles and shabbat candles. I've lit Advent candles.

Now I return again to one of the faiths and wonder when I'll stay and stop moving from foot to foot.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Return to Jones Beach

Now before going out in the sun I slather up with #30 sun tan lotion. According to the squeeze bottle all possible rays deemed dangerous-- are eliminated, expunged. Of course some of the chemicals may cause other dire problems.

When I went to Jones Beach with my cousin Bobby and two of her friends, I intended to come home with a tan. My cousin being  older and  sophisticated wore a skimpy bathing suit and oiled her body. I thought she looked slippery, but refrained from saying anything because of my age, thirteen, and lower status within the group.

Hour after hour beneath a punishing sun they turned themselves from stomach to back. Human rotisseries.

I spread a blanket out on the sand and read. The book I selected for the day: The Magic Mountain . I wanted to impress Bobby and her friends with my intellectual fervor. 

After five hours on the beach we packed  all the accouterments of our outing into purple beach bags.

My shoulders, back and ears began to throb on the way home. Within a day huge blisters vied for space on my back and shoulders. My ears bled. Sleeping required positions mastered by a contortionist. My back couldn't abide any cloth. I felt as if  fiery eruptions had taken hold of  my shoulders.

The tan I anticipated never arrived.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Handball in the School Yard

My father stood five feet one inch tall, but I never thought he was short. No one in our extended family exceeded five feet four inches.

He was an athlete--swam for miles and once rescued a drowning child.

"I learned to swim," he said, "by diving off the pier into the East River." He and his brothers survived their unorthodox swimming lessons. 


 Wade Junior High School and its cement school yard included a handball court--a wall about fifteen feet high and twenty feet wide.

Weekend mornings my father headed over to the courts for a game. He  owned the requisite pair of protective gloves and a hard blackball. 

You need quick reflexes, good eye-hand coordination and survival skills to play city handball. 

I loved watching the games. The men moved across the court with  wily abandonment, their palms struck the ball sending it careening against the wall and bouncing back to their opponent. 
For several hours the air quivered with the sound of sneakers sliding across the court and a blackball ricocheting off a wall.

Mario from Jerome Avenue served the fastest balls while  Samuel who lived  on Morris Avenue was quickest. My father's reputation-- cunning.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Return to the Mt Eden Cinema

When I grew up in the Bronx we measured distances by city blocks. The Mt.Eden cinema, or movie theater, was within my territorial range--which was established by my mother. My father deferred to her geographic prowess. 

The Saturday afternoon matinee attracted kids with an all afternoon extravaganza: a double feature and cartoons. 

On rainy Saturdays I took off for the theater with my friend Nina. Where else, save in books, did I experience the wild west and exotic places far away from the streets of the Bronx.

When it rained my mother insisted on sufficient rain gear to weather a storm even though the theater was less than a ten minute walk from home. Because the showing started
early we took a sandwich and enough money to stop and get a pickle at the deli.

One Saturday Nina and I arrived too late to sit up front. The only seats left were in the last few rows--usually occupied by high school students. Both of us were in the fifth grade.

We sat in the next to the last row. By the time we unwrapped our sandwiches, after the first feature, new words had entered out vocabulary and we had watched the couple in front of us kiss. then they scrunched down and we couldn't see, but could hear.

From then on we arrived early enough to sit up front.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mrs. Rueben's Empty Lot

Mrs. Rueben's Empty Lot

My grandmother's friend Mrs. Rueben owned a store of sundries. " She sells," said my father, " a little bit of everything--enamel pots, pot holders, dish towels, wood spoons, wood bowls and razzle-dazzle."

Before I started kindergarten my grandmother Yette often took me to visit Mrs. Rueben. I recall her store because it abutted an empty lot. If you grow up in the city, empty lots are places of imaginary universes.


Mrs.Rueben gave me a large metal spoon and a yellow striped mixing bowl. I sat on an old dish towel because my grandmother didn't want to bring me home with embedded dirt. 

The empty lot was my kitchen where I created mudcakes.Mrs. Rueben helped  by trudging out with a bucket of water. 

The lot provided popsicle sticks for birthday candles and when I found cigarette  butts they became flowers. 

The two friends sat in the store and drank glasses of brewed tea. I was always in their view.

My grandmother often walked outside and asked, " So what kind of cake is that one?"