Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pipevine swallowtails

Today was one of those days when a rare black swallowtail butterfly decided to cross my path, and flit in front of my car bearing down at 40 miles an hour. Nothing to be done, I saw it flutter to the road and I thought of how not only did I strike down a rare butterfly, I killed the only pollinator of an even rarer plant, the pipevine plant. Both, indelible images from the landscape of my childhood. The carrion-scented pipevine, or Dutchman’s pipe, with its heart-shaped leaves, is the only foodsource of the butterfly, the butterfly, its only pollinator. Their age-old dance is a deep symbiosis that I cannot even begin to fathom.

When I went to pick up my friend for his appointment, another black swallowtail fluttered overhead. I felt that for a moment, that maybe I was forgiven. I drove slowly along the road looking for the one I had struck down, thinking I could at least photograph it in death.  A memento mori. But it was gone, like the shadow of a leaf in the wind. California pipevine swallowtails are melanistic, and in the right light, their sooty wings are fringed with indigo jewels. In many cultures a black butterfly is a symbol of transition, renewal, or rebirth.

To ameliorate that sense of loss, call it unnamed grief, having an hour to kill, I hiked up the fireroad to the ridge above Terra Linda while my friend was in the hospital getting a procedure done. Lately, I’ve been keeping the doldrums at bay with routine and projects. It sneaks in when the pattern is broken. An old friend, Katelin died, and from that, there is no recovery. I walked along the ridge line, gazed back at the iconic shape of Mount Tam, and then north to the broad expanse of Loma Alta Ridge, Sleepy Hollow below me. I dawdled, and took photos of wildflowers and rock outcroppings of Franciscan strata, ribbon chert, and stray blueschist knockers. 

It wasn’t until when I was leaving, that unexpected stop after what you think is your final stop—I doubled back to see the place where an old house once stood on the ridgeline. Near where the front door might’ve stood, a liminal boundary to the east, there were two clumps of white freesias in the grass, that heavenly narcotic scent taking me back to another time, another place, when life was not as painful. Someone once said, let grief come in, and then let it go out again. I have not seen the ocean for over a year. Cease, surcease.

Still feeling blue, I headed back north to prepare for a Sierra Poetry Festival poetry reading for the California Fire & Water anthology reading with Molly Fisk. I joined a little late because I stopped off at Hick’s Valley to feed the Dolcini horses some apples, it was a necessary stop, if only for their soothing animal kindness, and gentle presence, as they snuffed and whuffled, and begged me to itch that one unattainable spot high on their necks for just a little bit longer. 

We breathed in each other’s breath in greeting. Theirs smelled of spring grass, and summer lawns. Mine, of coffee. Their soft eyes, like the deep lakes of the wings of those butterflies, held no judgement, no expectation, other than that of animal companionship. They crowded in, glad for the distraction. Sometimes I forget that deep connection with horses. The unexpected stop made me a little late for the reading, but was necessary for peace of mind.

Some 50 of us poets were electronically joined at the hip via Zoom. We read for the children, we read for the planet we read for the jetstream—that it might find its way back home; we prepare for what is to come. This year, the fire season will arrive too soon and already the hills are losing their greenery. As I listened to the poems, I was lifted out of the doldrums. After the reading, the blues slammed back in, wanting its due—that pound of flesh. But there are indigo skies on the horizon. It is all part of the dance.

There is always tomorrow for the reboot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

MY MIND WANDERS


My mind wanders to the clouds 
where I find lost dreams 
of those who wept for other lives 
having found theirs wanting. 
Sometimes my heart is so heavy 
it wants to lie down 
right in the middle of the road and give up. 
But then it sees something shiny 
and is distracted by the beauty of the day. 
It frolics in distant meadows, 
wanders off to far horizons, 
where it loses contact with the mothership, 
and returns the prodigal child.

4/13/21

Sunday, April 11, 2021

IN THE GLOAMING


I was crossing a bridge on the River Callender,
when a tiny red-breasted bird hopped up to me.
Fearful of stepping on it, I froze.
And it promptly fell in love with my foot. 
Was he seeking solidarity with my shoe? It was red.
Was he begging, did he want feeding? 
I had nothing to offer. I stared down at it, 
and the penny dropped, I realized 
it was an Old World robin. Not a thrush, 
not the large American robin
that visits us each spring. I thought of how, 
sometimes the renaming of things 
fails us with false similes, not metaphors.  
Impossibly tiny, it communed with my boot.
I wasn’t too sure what the attraction was about. 
Needless to say, we stood a very long time 
on the foot bridge, in the gloaming,
that robin and I, while the river carried on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

P&W CA town hall meeting: poetry in a time of crisis

I joined the most recent Poets & Writers California Town Hall Zoom meeting: Poetry in a Time of Crisis. Lucille Lang Day, Ruth Nolan, and Molly Fisk introduce themselves via the native names for the lands we inhabit. Ohlone, Shoshone, Nisean. 

They talked of their community work, and how their anthologies came into being—a reaction to what was happening to our state (of mind). Diversity. They read selected poems from their anthologies. Lucille talks about bio-regions and fire ecology, she reads a poem about about the evolution of redwood seed cones, and a ladybug poem from Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.

I think: Ladybugs fly hundreds of miles to mate and congregate in my grandmother’s old bedroom, why that place, who knows? Every year they come, and cover the walls. A living mosaic flickering like fire. My childhood room. We haven’t the heart to fix the windows. Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire, and your children do roam. Oh, the pheromones of home.

Ruth Nolan talks about the drought and her experiences being a firefighter during the 1980s. She lives in a cabin in the Mojave desert. I keep thinking of fire, fire is always on my mind, but then I am born under a fire sign. Mend and weave. Fill the word basket with fire words. A song fragment is stuck in my head. Old Woman, Weave and Mend. In the darkness of the storm she is watching. Gathering the fragments. This becomes my backdrop. My ear worm.

Molly Fisk reads selections from California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology. She talks about the program, and how CPITS poets taught residencies to kids about how to deal with climate crisis. She shares that she came to poetry via personal crisis. How, through that experience, teaching poetry became her life’s work. She asks us, how can poetry help people to heal? An old woman is weaving, her bones become the loom.

I think: The fire season came early this year, it’s a drought year, too soon. Too soon. Poetry is the language of emotion. It is the perfect vehicle to understanding the problem. It is the way to heal. She says, if you can’t understand something or you can’t put it into words, put it into the third person and then write about what didn’t happen. 

I think: Poems are like baskets holding the past. Poets see things differently, we have acutely honed observation skills, we are the watchers. This is why I like to watch murder mysteries. Honing my skills. Looking for clues, the divine mystery. We are gathering the fragments. The old woman, she is weaving the sacred circle, gathering in the colors, she is watching over you. Oh, sisters, weave and mend.

We are spreading the word, we are saving all we can save. It turns out everything burns—asphalt becomes a molten river. I remember how last year, during the wildfire, we were under evacuation alert mode, how the ghost leaves drifted across the valley, and fell, glowing like fireflies on the wind. Leaves drifting like snowflakes, like feather down. Such hot kisses. A torch song. On warm days, the attic still remembers the acrid odor of wildfire smoke. A constant reminder of the past, and what is to come. Oh women, weave and mend.

Can poetry change the world? Its narrative is where things begin. Jamie FitzGerald says, We need to change the narrative. How do we go about teaching in a time of crisis? Working with landpaths and creating eco-poetry. Call it passing the baton of social awareness to the next generation. Oh, Sisters, weave and mend.

Jamie said, During the Covid crisis, the penny dropped, the disparate pieces of climate change became a puzzle, the picture came into focus. How do we name it, this thing called climate change, without distancing from it? Oh, women weave and mend.

Molly says type up lines from poems and put them under windshield wipers at night when no one is looking. I like the idea of guerilla poetry for April Poetry Month. The tapestry we weave with our words. Grandmother Spider. The song, what does it want? So insistent.

We talk about Carolyn Forché’s latest book, Against Forgetting, the role of the poet. This is how we bring about change. Bearing witness. Never forget. 

And finally the song’s message is revealed. I look it up. The Elderwomen of Nanaimo, a place lately on my mind. Songs and poems work in funny ways, an undercurrent below the conscious level of the psyche. The elders are speaking to me through the song:

For years I’ve been watching, waiting for Old Woman, 
Feeling lost and so alone, I’ve been watching.
Now I find her, weaving, gathering the colors.
Now I find her in myself.

A call to action. Become the loom. Weave and mend.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

AN OCCASIONAL POEM FOR RIGGY RACKIN




For you, I would go over the hill, 
and meet you on the lonely road to Occidental.
For you I would travel to the parking lot plaza
where we might smile at each other from a distance,
and perhaps even manage a little wave.
For you, I would travel to the stars, and beyond,
keeping you always within my outer orbit,
you, with your canted grin, bright clown nose,
and pork pie hat filled with the music of dreams.
The ever-faithful compañera concertina at your side.
Because today is the first day of April 
and as you know, April is Poetry Month. 
And I would suffer with such fools gladly.

4/1/21

It’s time for the 2021 Poem a Day and NaPoWriMo challenge

From Robert Lee Brewer: Here we are with the first day of the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge! Each day, I'll provide a poetry prompt and a poem to get things started. You can secretly poem along at home, or you can share your poem in the comments below. Catalogue here.

The 2021 PAD line up Last year, someone on Facebook suggested I start the daily prompting and poeming earlier than usual, since so many people were self-quarantining and social distancing at the moment in the United States and elsewhere around the world. And it was a great call. (That was me! —MH)

The minus PaD countdown began March 22. -10. Begin a poem with Let’s. -9. Write a cause and effect poem. -8. Write a fantasy poem. -7. Take a song title, change a word, make the new title the title of your poem, and write your poem. -6. Write an invention poem.-5. write a MacGuffin poem. A MacGuffin is an object (living or nonliving) necessary for the plot but has no greater value to the story. A good example is The Maltese Falcon. -4. Write a universal poem, a universal truth, experience, or a film from Universal Pictures. -3. Write a "spirit of the stairs" poem. that moment when you come up with all the things you should've said AFTER the moment has passed. Hence, you're on the stairs. -2. Take the phrase "Almost (blank)," replace it with a new word or phrase, make it the title of your poem. -1. Write a warm up poem. It could be related to sports, before a baseball game or track race. Or it could be about a computer warming up, the weather, or even a relationship.

Day 1. For today's prompt, write an introduction poem. Introduce yourself, introduce a friend, or introduce a stranger. If you don't wish to introduce yourself, consider writing a persona poem (a poem in which you write from someone else's point of view like Emily Dickinson or a bumblebee). Of course, you could also introduce a problem, solution, or just a situation. Have fun with it! Remember: These prompts are springboards to creativity. Use them to expand your possibilities, not limit them.

Allow me to introduce myself, 
said the sun to the sky.
And the sky said let me kiss this guy.
A guitar solo was the only answer.

4/1/21 —MH

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Emperor Norton envisioned BART and the Bay Bridge, time to rename the bridge after him

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, aka Joshua A Norton

The idea for an underwater transbay tube along the bottom of San Francisco Bay was originally proposed in the 19th century by an eccentric—some say, a mad hatter character—Emperor Norton, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico." Joshua Norton, who once abolished congress, was literature's muse for many writers from Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson, to Neil Gaiman.

The first real transbay proposal was submitted by the builder of the Panama Canal in 1920—essentially the same plan that BART used to build the world's longest and deepest sunken tunnel (in 1965-69, it opened in 1973). The tunnel, technically a tube, as it lies along the bottom of the bay like a snake, withstood the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which destroyed sections of the Bay Bridge. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, to tunnel under the bay, but Norton thought of it first. As well as a bridge. I guess he didn’t like ferries.

But I digress. Definitely canals were invoked. Perhaps not the famous palindrome: a man, a plan, a canal—Panama! In my case, it was ear canals. Stuffed ones. I don’t recommend taking BART under the bay with a headcold. Thinking of Norton, I practiced snorkel snorts both descending to the bottom of the bay floor and ascending to the SF Embarcadero stop. The pain was excruciating. The trick is to know when to blow—too much pressure and you'll damage your eardrum. And maybe find your brain splatted against the far wall. In my case, that might have been a mixed blessing.

What lies below, and so, above. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to name all, or parts of the Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton—another one of his brainchildren. It didn’t take. But one can hope. No one can agree as to when when Norton was actually born, which made it rather tricky to celebrate his centennial birthday. Norton was born in England circa 1814 to 1818, wait, 1819? (maybe it was a long, protracted birth), but we do know that he spent his childhood in South Africa. After his parents died, he sailed to San Francisco in 1849—right in time for the gold rush. 

Cleveland Elementary School Day 8 teaching notes: Hands, journal


We began our class a little late because I could not get online via Zoom for the longest time. No matter that I had tried to join too early which thoroughly confused Zoom. That was OK because Ms. Loser was talking with the kids as to how she spent her weekend, and how she would spend her Easter break. I realized that these normalizing moments are important. That led to a segue into April Fool’s Day. 

I asked them what they thought April Fool’s Day was all about. We got some interesting answers. I told them that during Roman times, the beginning of the year was in spring which was in March, and April 1 was sort of an extra holiday where people could clown around and do silly things. I said that in the medieval world, about 1200 years later, the court jester could actually be king for a day, and people could change places, step outside of their normal roles—usually this happened before Lent. I asked students if they had ever played an April Fool’s Day trick on anyone. Some kids told me what they planned to do which was quite funny as it usually involved fooling their parents.

Because Mr. Grant wasn’t with us last week I use the opportunity as a teaching moment, to have the students recap what we did last week by telling to Mr. Grant. Recall. Cameron gave a really good synopsis: he told Mr. Grant how we wrote about odes, which were small songs to ordinary everyday things, and we included what it reminded them of, their feelings, and memories. I asked them, did they write the poem from the point of view of their object, or were they speaking about it? They agreed, they were talking about it. We were discussing narrative, and the idea that sometimes an object itself could speak. I suggested that they might want to try having an object tell a story during Freewrite.

We yoga stretched, we breathed deep, we shook out our hands, we made starfish hand, and we made moose antlers. And I told them that making moose antlers was a visual sign to cue your audience in that you were going to change the subject and say something completely different. I was secretly leading them up to today’s lesson plan. So we wrote for five minutes. I said they could write about anything they want to as long as they used comparisons and strong imagery. I said, you could go back and revisit an old lesson, you could write from the point of view of your object telling you a story, or you could even choose a different object to write about. But Freewrite was like warming up before a soccer game. I said if you get stuck you can write down I don’t know what to write about and see what else comes up. I wrote: 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

EPIPHAN-i-LINGUSTIC CONUNDRUM

EPIPHAN-i-LINGUSTIC CONUNDRUM

She asked, Why did Yeats call willows sally trees?
I answered without thinking, saileach,
as if that explained everything, and said,
I speak more Irish than the average bear.
But then it hit me, an epiphany—I was gobsmacked.
Bears don’t speak much by way of Irish, now, do they?
Not to mention there are no more bears in Ireland
other than the one in a Dublin business park.

3/25/2021

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

ODE TO THE ADIRONDACK CHAIRS


Ode to the Adirondack chairs
that hunker down on my bookshelf, 
toy models dreaming of a past 
where a young man constructed them,
another facsimile, another lifetime,
still he choose each board carefully 
for grain warp and and texture
as if he were building a sailboat.
Place-holders for other chairs 
that once graced summer porches 
say, at the cabin by the lake 
where the afternoon wind 
ruffled and knitted the water
into a frothy shawl,
and the family reminisced, 
told stories, threading the past
to the present.
And the occasional slap 
and splash of fish 
leaping skyward 
toward the clouds, 
interrupted daydreams 
of summers long lost, 
where the family once gathered. 
But the cabin was sold 
when the grandparents died, 
and the family, 
once united by those chairs, 
scattered to the four winds,
set sail for other realms.

3/23/21

Cleveland Elementary School Day 7 teaching notes: Neruda’s Odes, journal


When I joined the class, the fourth grade students were talking of difficult math and how they were having trouble getting it, how they felt so rushed. They have not learned how to ask for help. I said that I really sucked at math but my math teacher was extraordinary man. We talked about favorite teachers. I have worked with many teachers, I said that Mr. Sugarman, who is teaching you math, is a really great teacher, like Ms. Loeser. These are the people that will stick with you all your life. Then I told them the story of my math teacher, Archie Williams, a long distance runner who didn’t succeed in turning me into a math whiz— which is ironic because so many people in my family are math wizards. But not me. But I remember his stories. And that’s equation enough.

Archie was an athlete from Oakland who broke many barriers, not only did he break racial barriers, he broke a track record with Jesse Owen in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. He also broke records in the sky, he was a Tuskeegee pilot and he taught pilots how to fly fighter jets. In those days, African-American men could not be pilots but Archie came along and he changed things, so I asked this, what is important to you? What juices you? Asking them if they understood what the term juicing means and they said yes. I asked, where does time stand still for you? Or disappear completely? 

One student said that when he plays video games, he completely forgets about time. Many similar electronic devices were rabbit holes, or wormholes of time. I asked them to identify a place where they lost time and to do a freewrite on it. I said it doesn’t have to be a poem. I asked them what are some other things they did during the course of a day, where they lose track of time? Another said that she loved to watch the timer ticking away, knowing when something would end. Boundaries, a different approach to time.

We got into a lively discussion about sports. Ms. Loeser mentioned a story about baseball. We talked about baseball, how time stands still. I asked Ms. Loeser what does it mean when I say it’s the top of the ninth and the bases are loaded? We add more data, the teams are tied, it’s ball two, strike two. Like poetry, baseball is a specialized language, and it’s really about suspended time. When Archie told us about winning the 440 m race, he said the time stood still. It was as if he was in suspended animation.

One thing that’s amazing about this distance-learning teaching process is that you can bring extraneous things in, like this old poem which I would totally never be prepared to share. O Brave New World. We are Caliban lurking in the cave, we are Miranda discovering the treasure. 

We read a bit from Casey at the Bat and I asked about what do we know of this culture, through this poem written in 1888? Team spirit, identity, mud. I tell them, as poets, we are archaeologists mining the past. As poets, we are anthropologists examining culture. We are observers examining everything. We are sleuths looking for clues. We put on our poetry eyes. They notice that the poem is written in paragraphs, I tell them the word for it is a stanza in poetry. We also note how it rhymes. I say that poems don’t have to rhyme, but that was the style in the 1880s.

I talked about what I’m working on right now—the short biographies that I’m writing on Irish American women for Women’s Herstory month. And how in the morning, whenever I read or write—even something boring or banal, like correcting typos, I lose all track of time where 20 minutes becomes 45 minutes—just like that. Sometimes I look down and read for five minutes and the next thing I know, I am late for class, I’m late for appointments, I am late for everything. 

Creativity juices us, it makes us forget about time. That’s the happy place where we want to be. Someone talked about his piano, how he loses time playing it. I say music is like that, it makes us lose track of time. I also tell them that today we will be talking about odes which are a kind of song but in poetic format. Next time I think I will bring in the Salvador Dalí painting with all the melting clocks, The Persistence of Memory.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Equinox

When I was in Ecuador I stood on the equatorial line with one foot in the northern hemisphere and my left foot in the southern hemisphere, as I gazed west, toward the ocean, towards the Southern Cross, I marveled how darkness fell like a curtain, much more suddenly on the equator than in the northern hemisphere. No preamble of twilight.

Jeanne D’Orge, Carmel’s patron saint of the arts


 CARMEL’S PATRON SAINT OF THE ARTS

Jeanne D’Orge, neé Lena, or Emma Yates, was born in Cheshire, England in 1887 (or 1877). When her father, a seed merchant, deserted the family, she and her mother moved to the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

Lena moved back to England and published her first poems at 20, and wrote a series of children's books on animal fables under the pen name of Lena Dalkeith—playing on a combination of her birthname, Lena, and the quaint Midlothian village of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, where she was raised. Thus was the beginning of a woman of many identities.

While on a walking holiday in France in 1906, Lena was swept off her feet by geographer and engineer, widower Alfred Burton (dean of M.I.T.) who was perhaps 22 (another account says 30) years her senior. Lena and her mother joined Burton and his two sons in Newton Grange, Massachusetts where she and Alfred were married. 

A pioneering modernist poet, Lena became involved with The Others, a poetry group that included Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens; she began publishing her work in literary magazines including Others, Scribners, and Poetry. Some of her prose poems were published under the name Lena Dalkeith Burton.

Suffering from poor health, and a profound dislike of east coast weather (and chilly New England mores), Lena fled to sunny San Diego, then up the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1920 with her 3 children in tow—where she built a Craftsman style house. Her husband retired from M.I.T, and joined her a year later. (But they were divorced in 1925, according to one source). They were active in community theater, with Dr. Burton building sets and acting in Forest Theater productions. Lena wrote and produced a series of Commedia dell’ Arte styled plays, including Crazy Ann, under the penname of Lena Burton.

In 1928 Lena created a scandal when she left her children with her (ex-)husband to live with the Forest Theater lighting technician, and M.I.T. graduate, Carl Cherry, some 20 years her junior. They converted his mother’s old Queen Anne cottage, a wedding gift (they were married in 1930), into an art studio for Lena, and a workshop for Cherry. 

During the lean years, they lived off canned tuna and coffee. She began painting in earnest in 1937, and Carl Cherry struck paydirt when one of his inventions, the one-sided blind rivet, revolutionized airplane and shipbuilding construction during the war years. Lena took up her artist name Jeanne D'Orge, after a river in France, having shed all vestiges of her past lives. For D'Orge painting embodied the intangible moods of form, color, and feelings that cannot be expressed in poetry or music.

The Cherrys carried on as before, living a simple lifestyle, but used their newfound fortune to establish the philanthropic Cherry Foundation to "further the culture of America by sponsoring experimental fine arts, sciences and education." The foundation underwrote arts events, concerts, plays, lectures and seminars often featuring world class lecturers and performers. 

She became fast friends with Robinson Jeffers and Edward Weston, and wrote plays under the pseudonym of Juniper Green, after a neighboring village near Edinburgh. 

After her husband Carl Cherry died of cancer in 1947, D'Orge continued to run the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, and "often appeared on the streets of Carmel wearing a big pink hat, ankle length Chinese robes and paint-stained tennis shoes." She died in 1964. Her former home, now an art center, houses over 1200 pieces of her art, plus letters, books, manuscripts, photos and memorabilia, as well as an extensive library.  

—Maureen Hurley, Vernal Equinox 2021

I published this in Facebook’s California History page, it garnered 322 likes and was shared 80 times. a runaway success story in the tiny realm of publishing that I’m most familiar with. I originally published a version of this embedded with my 1998 Pat Wall posts, more here. But his stands alone as a post as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cleveland Elementary School Day 6 teaching notes: I Am & Chain poems, journal


During the week, Ms. Loeser gave students homework to create their own chain poems, but the students wrote singular words down the page—a shopping list—and from the examples, it sounds like they did not take it to the next step, which was to flush out the list to create their own poems. So, we decided to go back and expand our ideas from last week's lesson and begin again. 

I said they could revisit last week's poem, or they could visit another older lesson, or write something entirely new—as long as it had a comparison in it. Atziri wrote about lemonade, but didn't have comparisons. So we identified places where she could add or expand her ideas. First you pick the lemons, then you cut them, heir insides like the sun, then you squeeze them, add sugar, water, ice, The sound of ice in a glass in hot summer. She worked on it some more to flesh it out.

Returning to the theme of a chain poem, writing down 5 to 6 nouns or verbs down the page and filling in the poem around those linked words (adapted from an old Teachers&Writers lesson) we made a group poem choosing 5 associative nouns. We brainstormed: ice, city, mountains, snow, grass. I said, you might find this assignment easier if you write it down first on paper. Writing is messy, we often change our minds and cross things out. it's OK. I hold up some writing with lots of cross-outs by way of example. We wrote:

Freezing ice from ancient glaciers
moves freely toward the city where the mist rises
and surrounds the mountains of trash
where the snow melts
and where the grass grows toward the sun.

    Class poem, Ms. Loeser's 4th Grade

After our second freewrite, a few students shared their work. Whenever a cool line comes up, I repeat it aloud. Or ask a student to read it again so we can savor the imagery. Most notable were the stellar poems of Natalie and Emily. They are naturals.

Monday, March 15, 2021

CAPITAL JACK

 

So, who was your Uncle Jack? 
Was he gracious or was he a supplanter?
Was he a player, or was he a caltrops?
A game of jacks, a jack-tar, a sea dog, 
or a small pirate flag flown from a ship’s mast?
Was he a five pound note hidden in a deep pocket?
High Five, Jack's alive. Give Jack back his jacket. 
Give the man his dues. Did he jack you up?
Was he Jack Daniels, or a jack of all trades? 
Was he a knave? Did he make you cry uncle 
as he rode slipshod across your nightmares? 
Was he a diamond in the rough?
Jack of diamonds come with big news.
All jack of hearts on a Saturday night.
A spade of all trades, a dangerous club.
Was he foolproof, 40 proof, or jackshit?
Did he jack the car, taking it for a joyride?
Jacked up on a Saturday night?
Perhaps an audio jack come to steal your music.
If you can’t question the answer, 
or the outcome, then you don’t know jack. 
Hit the road, Jack! Don’t bother closing 
the barn door, the horse is long gone.

SPRING FORWARD, after Neruda’s questions



Where does the daylight go 
in order to save time?
Is it kept in a dark vault
deep in a lake, or in Geneva?
The study of horology aside,
as the study of time itself is fluid,
when does daylight withdraw time
and where does it deposit it—
in the golden vaults of the sun?
Is it pure verb or all noun?
If it’s an adjective, where did that S go?
What was it trying to save?
Why do we spring forward 
only to fall back again?
What is the compound interest rate?
And is there an early penalty 
for late withdrawal?

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Publishing track record



In the mid-1990s, I looked at my publishing record, which was pretty good, I had either placed, or won several awards, but so many magazines began asking for readers fees, I realized that my publishing effort was like funding a vanity press. And when I added it all up, it cost me more to publish my poems than the prize money that I won. Done. Also, a bad car accident in the late 1990s derailed me. I was so PTSD, it took a long time to work my way back to the writer’s hut. Why I went back to school to get my MA, etc., was to reboot my brain. Now everything is “published” in my blog as it were. Catch and release.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

ODE TO VICTORIA


Above Victoria‘s head, the gilded fan,
like a golden bird, graces the wall.
She twirls and twists her long dark hair up in a knot.
It becomes a comb holding up a mantilla to the sky.
We cannot escape the confines of our rooms, 
but she time travels across the universe anyway.
She has a field of virtual stars behind her.
The fan is painted with cypress trees 
or perhaps willow, I can’t tell from this distance.
She tells me There is a bird nests in their branches.
It is a poem referring back to the ancient past,
perhaps by Wu Wei, a deep canyon, 
that faint promise of spring.
She combs and brushes her hair,
a wave, or a river singing of sorrow and hope.
She is like a Chinese princess of olden times
softly singing in the garden, 
while the birds come to listen.

3/9/21

ACROSS A BLIND SEA


Across a turbulent sea,
the waves quail and argue
about who goes first.
It’s a desert of thought in my mind.
They roar and toss the boats
loosened from their moorings,
lost on stormy seas,
and the blindness is deafening
against the rocks.

3/9/21

Cleveland Elementary School Day 5 teaching notes: Chain poems, 4th Grade, Oakland, journal

Day five, hump week. It’s four weeks until spring break. We chitchat and discuss the origin of April Fool’s Day, it falls on a Thursday. Ms. Loser tells us a story of how she once sent a memo out to her colleagues saying that there was no school on April Fools’ Day, and because they didn’t read to the end of the letter that said April Fool’s! everybody believed her and didn’t come to school. And then someone piped up, Don’t you have to wear green on April Fools’ Day? That made me laugh and then that was my entrance que, as I was waiting in the wings. I said you have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. It represents freedom. It would be fun to do something with customs and aphorisms. I say, Thank you Connor, for the poetry lesson idea. He chuffs.

We go over last week’s work which were based on acrostics, and India reads a poem about a sparrow. Because I can see the document on the screen, I say make it look like a poem too. And so we add commas and line breaks. Atziri read a poem about sunflowers. Some of her lines are very long and we talk about indenting three spaces, or using the tab key when a line continues past the confines of the page. 

Today is a little bit more shoptalk, we are delving further into the revisioning and editing process. We focus on how to make it look like a poem. And whether or not it needs punctuation and/or commas. I say one line, one idea. I often make line breaks at commas. I say, one unit of breath, one idea. We talk of personal choices whether or not to punctuate. I mention that like with Emily Dickinson changing the face of poetry, e.e. cummings, who eschewed capitalization and punctuation, also changed the shape of poetry. 

Emily reads a poem from last week, then Natalie—her ocean poem has a lot of potential. I tell her, make it also look like a poem. Again, we reiterate the process of line breaks. We also discuss using strong verbs versus weak verbs. I tell her that I cannot see the word fun. I cannot see the word get. I cannot see the word go. Are there stronger verbs we can use to make our poems really sing? We look at the worksheets, lists of verbs and feelings, words for invoking the senses. I tell them, these worksheets in your Google folder are resources for you to use when you get stuck.

Freewrite time—we can revisit old poetry lessons, or write new work. The only thing I am looking for are comparisons. I make the comparison sign—two fists, or two ideas, crashing headlong into each other to create similes and metaphors. 

We breathe deep, we make vroom vroom noises, we shake out our hands, we become race cars, we grab the proverbial steering wheel, and screech out, making our words fly across the page. We drive them around dangerous curves, not braking for what lies ahead. It’s all out, flat out, drag racing through the back roads of memory. Dead man’s curve coming up, the twists and turns in the road become sinuous as snakes. We don’t know where we’re going, or where we’ll end up, but we’re going there, fast as we can, pedal to the metal, across the finish line. But a writer’s work is never done.

Friday, March 5, 2021

SILVER LINING photos


As I approached the old stock pond to take a photo of a gaudy wooden decoy duck surrounded by visiting canvasbacks, mallards, and mudhens, I was startled by a stacatto of splashing—it was too much for the ducks who burst into flight. Was someone skimming handfuls of rocks from the levee? No one there. Ghosts? Then I realized those stepping stones lining the shore were dozens of pond turtles—a bale of pond turtles had launched themselves into the murky depths of the water. Though I was far away, I was a threat. In years past, I might’ve considered myself lucky to see a turtle or two, and here were dozens of turtles sunning themselves along the embankment. I thought of the story of Turtle Island. Were they always there in such great numbers and I didn’t know how to see them? Sometimes the oblique glance from the corner of the eye sees far more than what’s right in front of you. I suddenly felt rich, as if I had found a cache of unexpected change hidden in a hole in my pocket.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

IN EMILY’S GARDEN


Imagine Emily alone in a white room 
wrestling with words.
Sunlight seeps in through lace curtains
The garden beckons, spring unfurls its finery,
seeking the warmth of the sun.
Emily tends to her garden and her words take root
in the depths of the soul, to offer solace
and nourishment during these darkest of times.

Here, amidst the pale greenery of midwinter,
Orange blossoms struggle to reach
     the secret heart of the sun.
Poppies remind the sun of its filial duty to return
Every year, relentless time. The wheel of the year.

3/2/21

Cleveland Elementary School Day 4 teaching notes: HOPE, Acrostix 3/2/21 Journal


3/2 We begin class with housekeeping: I remind my students that they need to use only one Google document with their full name at the top of the page, not several documents. They also need to date each day’s work. I expect at least two poems per day.  I still cannot open any of their documents, nor do I have permission. We are working on it. But for now, the only way I can observe their work is if they screenshare their document when they read.

I remind them that they have two writing times. 1. during freewrite, when we review and share last week’s work. A freewrite could also be brand new work. It’s a good chance to revisit some of the previous week’s poetry lessons and redo them, but you don’t have to. The only thing I am looking for is strong images, and comparisons. The worksheets are there to help you if you need starter lines. During freewrite, I tell them you can write about anything you want, you do not have to revisit an old poetry lesson. Make sure you use comparisons. 2. The new day’s poetry lesson.

Last week we looked at a poem by Emily Dickinson. I tell the students the story of Emily, who was a recluse in her own home, she, who had only 10 poems published during her lifetime, changed the shape of poetry, especially American poetry. And here we are, all of us recluses, we are all Emily, alone in our secret gardens of the mind. I repeat a line, Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. We hear poems from India, Justin, and Connor, who share their work from last week.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! A daffodil for Dewi Sant, photos


I'm not sure how the tradition first began, but about 40 years ago, daffodils, sold at a buck a bulb, were planted along Sonoma County roadsides to raise money for cancer research (the tradition may have begun in Canada as early as1965.) However it started, it was a wild success story. And daffodils have been used to raise money and promote cancer awareness ever since. Because daffodils have a chemical, esemastine, that kills breast cancer cells, they have become an international symbol of hope. (Narcissus pseudonarcissus, Amaryllidaceae family, are native to Northern Europe). 

In Sonoma County it has become a tradition that when someone dies of cancer, family and friends plant daffodils in remembrance—like the transplanted Mexican tradition of roadside memorials for car crash victims. The two traditions are beginning to merge in West Marin—shrines with la virgin de Guadalupe, trinkets and toys—even baby shoes—now include a stand of daffodils or narcissi. Most North Bay county roadsides are a riot of daffodils—a living reminder for those who have died. 

Old maps of California, depicting remnants of Tulare Lake, Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake

Tulare Lake, once the largest lake west of the Mississippi, was destroyed by the prodigious thirst of farmers, in particular, a voracious cotton king—which led to the destruction of an entire ecosystem. 

Facebook’s California Geology Forum moderator reposted an “imagined map” from another site, Simon shows you maps. Aussie map collector Simon, who was riffing off a 2012 “Big Think” article, said, “The map imagines a satellite view of California is (sic) 1851.” Simon, who seriously needs an editor, had the poor map imagining itself as being viewed by a “satellite” which had me doubting both its sentience and its veracity, as well as wondering about Simon’s grasp on the English language. Research was required.

I was on a roll. After consulting several old California maps from the 1840s to the 1890s, I can safely say that the Google satellite flyby didn’t happen in 1851, but sometime after 1874—perhaps as late as 1890. No, seriously, folks, all that silly steampunking aside, geographer Mark Clark’s imaginary map, though very cool, seems to represent a much later version of the Tule/Tulare Lake(s) certainly later than 1851—more like something out of the 1880s or ‘90s. All of which led me on a merry snow goosechase hunting down some of the backstory of Tulare Lake, and co., by way of old maps. The maps and storyline posted below are presented more or less in chronological order. 

For starters, I learned that the depiction that Clark used to represent an imaginary 1851 Google map of Tulare Lake was far too small, as Tulare Lake(s) was something like 8 times larger than Tahoe, at 687 mi². it was shallow, with an average depth of about 40 feet, but deeper in winter. It was massive. After the demise of archaic Lake Cahuilla in the 1700s, Tulare Lake was the largest baddass lake and wetlands West of the Mississippi. It was king.

I discovered that prehistoric Tulare Lake—remnant of Pleistocene Lake Corcoran—dried up within living memory, after all its tributary rivers were diverted for agriculture in the 1920s and 1930s. The 81-mile-long lake, named for the vast sea of tule rushes (Schoenoplectus acutus) lining its marshes and sloughs, with three other lakes, Buena Vista, Kern, and Goose lakes, was part of one of the largest wetlands in North America. 

Tulare Lake also had an archipelago of sand islands, home to the densest popularion of Natives in California. The Tulare basin, at 16,400 to 20,000 square miles, depending on who’s counting, was so vast, that its fisheries fed all the major cities of California. It was a major pathway for migrating birds, and also home to the southernmost range of the Chinook salmon on the West Coast. 

There was so much seasonal snowmelt water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains that farmers built levees and canals in the 1880s and 1890s to tame it, and to farm its rich bottomlands. The lake also served as a major water road for paddlewheel ferries. No one imagined that the lake would disappear forever. 

Apparently, during the 1920s, a southern farmer, JG Boswell, in an act of extreme hubris, drained one of the largest lakes in America to build the biggest little ole cotton empire in the world. It was the coup de la mort, the final blow—even the canals and levees constructed during the 1890s did nowhere near the damage Boswell did in the name of cotton. Look away, Dixieland. California cotton was king. 


That headline is so problematic, it made my eyeteeth hurt. Hysterical juxtaposition. The map itself can’t imagine what happened, no matter how hard it tries. No matter how sentient it thinks it is. The cartographer, Clark, whom we hope is sentient, could, and did imagine it, however, Simon still needs an editor. Let's move on, shall we? But what about the maps?

I just so happened to have a motly collection of old maps on my iPad from the 1840s to the 1860s—they show significantly larger bodies of water than in Clark’s “imagined” 1851 map. Maybe it was a drought year. Note that the 1873 map is similar to the imagined map.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

FULL SNOW MOON

grey fox crossed the road
in front of my headlights,
his tail erasing his form.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Links to some of my foodie bloggies

I was compiling a bloglist of foodways for my latest food blog, expecting to find a mere handful. Instead, I found 25 blog posts, and when I compiled a growing list, for some inexplicable reason, Blogger erratically erased the correct links. I had to redo this list too many times to count. I no sooner fixed three dead links, then when I reformatted it, other links went wonky. And so on. For every step forward, I retreated two steps. It took me most of the day to undo the damage. Shame on you Blogger for once again making what once was a relatively simple task into a logistical nightmare. Ditto that with your dogged changing of spelling in the search window. Foodways is a real word. The links are in no particular order, but are mostly chronological in nature. I'm sure I missed a few.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

MY AMERICA haiku

My America 
is a hummingbird hovering 
at an empty feeder 
crawling with ants.

2/23/21

Cleveland Elementary School Days 1-3 teaching notes: LOVE IS LIKE, IF/THEN, MY, HOPE, Ms. Loeser’s 4th Grade, Journal

2/9 Well, this is a first, I came late to my own class, thinking it began on Thursdays, not Tuesdays. Oops! This pandemic messes with my sense of time. It took me quite some time to get into the Zoom meeting as well, which made me even later yet. Egg on my face. What a funny saying. First you have to be eating eggs for breakfast, second you have to be eating them so fast that they’re all over your face. Then you need to be in such a hurry that you don’t even have the time to wipe your mouth. That about sums it up. I never quite caught my breath the entire class. Wipe your mouth!

I am a great one for over-preparing, but this time I had to teach ad hoc, off the top of my head. Luckily the poem I chose was a phrase by William Butler Yeats, Love is like a lion’s tooth as a starter place. Mary did not receive my PDF handouts, so I had to teach, and simultaneously send her the lesson plan via email, talk about multitasking. But we did it.

I did a brief intro—who I am, my relationship with poetry, why I write. How dyslexia, feeling mute, and the urge to share all these feelings shaped my poetic persona. How I arrived late to this class, and also to poetry, I was turning 30 before I wrote a poem, I was late, all out of breath. 

During independent study, or while they were waiting for me to show up for class, students wrote a short bio on Google Docs. A great use of time.

We opened our class with comparisons. I read Yeats’ fragment, Love is like a lion’s tooth. I asked students what they thought it meant. There were some interesting comments, I asked them to write their own version. And there were some great examples. We expanded our ideas into longer poems. Kids are eager to share their poems in this crazy cyber world.

During recess, we had a breakout room. A first. Paloma shared her screen, so we worked on line breaks, a rarity. One thing that came up several times was how to deepen our images. How do we make something generic versus specific? I told her I can’t see the word “bad,” can you give me an example so I can see it? How do we deepen? How do we create a picture that the audience too can see? I tell them, Poetry is a picture made with words. 

Kids wrote in their journals but will transfer their poems to Google Docs which Mary will share with me later. I did not get a chance to record some of the examples that we spontaneously made up, and they were good. Next time. 

I designed a quickie heart card and shared it, saying that since Sunday was Valentine’s Day, they should consider taking one of their love comparisons and putting it inside a valentine card to give to someone. I also mentioned the presidential inauguration youth poet Amanda Gorman was a CPITS student. Kids were sufficiently shocked. They liked the idea that poetry can travel well beyond the boundaries of this classroom.

On being bullied in school

I read with interest a HuffPost article on someone who tracked down and interviewed the bullies she met in school. Coming to terms with your accusers without laying blame. going beyond, and discovering the reason why your tormentors were tormented. 

Few know that I was bullied in grade school and high school. I withdrew into my art, and kept my circle of friends small. At the time, I had no idea I was being bullied. I blamed myself. We did not have the words for it, and it wasn’t immediately obvious. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t liked. We blamed different cliques and went on with our lives, not knowing that bullying behavior needs to be acknowledged and called out. 

In retrospect, I wish teachers had given us some social skills or tools to cope with that kind of behavior—rather than forcing us to take Home Ec. What on earth did those popular girls and cheerleader types have against me? It was the birth of hippiedom, the age of the Summer of Love. Grudges and differences fell by the wayside during the social revolution that ended the 1960s.

I came to terms with some of the bullying, or rather, I faced it, when I went to my 10th high school reunion, thanks to a high school friend friend Ken Bullock who enticed me to the after party picnic, and to old grade school friend, Dennis De La Montanya who welcomed me with open arms. That was the first snakeskin shedding. The first healing had begun. Poetry gave me back the world. 

By my 20th high school reunion I had left that old world far behind, having grown a thicker skin, and by my 30th reunion, the pain was barely recognizable—those days were an afterthought. But it was ossified. Writing had so completely become my world, my realm, that all was fodder for the gristwheel. But I couldn’t write about it. I think on some level, I had long since forgiven my tormentors, and moved on, but more importantly, I forgave myself. However, I was angry for such a very long time. The pain was still there.

Now facing my 50th, actually my 51st high school reunion since we missed our 50th due to COVID, it is interesting to revisit some of those old feelings. Those old stomping grounds had become a kind of fiction. But also they shaped my persona, and how I react to others bullying people is an indicator of what I experienced. I must admit that when I witness bullying now, I am all tooth and claw.

It comes as quite a shock to realize that you’ve carried that albatross for so long around your neck, like a holy relic, but it also informs your personality, makes you even more who you are. This constant process of becoming.

With thanks to Paula Friedman

Monday, February 22, 2021

YOUNG BOBCAT


1.A young bobcat, all tawny and golden, 
bounded in front of me at Nicasio Creek 
as I was driving towards the bridge at dusk. 
His undulating spots were mesmerizing
as his undersides flashed rufous and amber. 
The white tip at the end of his bobbed tail, 
was like a small searchlight or a shooting star.
I didn’t even attempt to reach for my camera.
Sometimes it’s OK to just let it go. 
Be in the present. My heart felt lighter for it.

2. Then there are those darker days 
when I don’t reach for my camera, 
I try to keep it close at hand,  
but I don’t always succeed 
at keeping the rough beast at bay.
My camera, a small beacon of hope 
on a treacherous coastline.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A note on native foodways in the British Isles vs. foods introduced by Romans



I read an interesting post in a Facebook group, British Medieval History, on foodways where someone said, “Introduced by the Romans to Britain: Apples, asparagus, turnips, peas, garlic, cabbages, onions, leeks, cucumbers, artichokes, figs, chestnuts, cherries, celery, wine, plums, etc...”

The list struck me as wrong. I was off and running when I saw that the thread commentor, Paul Davis had credited the Romans with bringing apples to the British Isles. I told him, I suspect if you dig deeper you’ll find that apples were not introduced by the Romans. 

Specific species of apples, cabbage and onions, probably were probably introduced, but apples, kales, and wild onions too were part of the northern European Neolithic landscape. And there were plenty of native brassicas as well. Don’t forget the color woad comes from a brassica. 

Cabbage was domesticated in Western Europe ca. 1000 BC, probably by the Celts. Brassica is from from bresic, a Celtic word for cabbage. Whether native or feral, brassica species favored the white limestone cliffs of Dover, and the Isle of Wight. Brassica oleracea has successfully crossed with native brassica species so it’s impossible to tell them apart. And then there’s another continental shared species, arbutus, or strawberry tree, native to Ireland, but curiously not to Britain. 

I am no botanist or scientist, but I did extensive research on apples, because the information struck me as wrong that apples were introduced to the British Isles via Rome, via Kazakhstan. Also, apples, specifically crabapples, played a significant central role in Irish and Welsh mythology. Then there’s Avalon, the isle of apples. The reason being that certain plant species were circumpolar, such as the corylus, rosids, vaccinium, malus, prunus, brassicaceae and allium—sort of like reindeer/caribou, foxes, etc., so no one region can claim species origin. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

BEAUTY IS NOT ONLY SKIN DEEP

What the mirror said
I learned the hard way
I was born a cygnet
and when I shed my baby teeth
not knowing I was a swan
I thought I was an ugly duckling
I looked away from the mirror
it always lied to me and told me big fibs
but I didn’t see that
the fowlish water was made of crocodile tears
and the rain fell in concentric circles
a stone skipped and danced
across the surface of the pond
I was mesmerized by a shattered reflection
I never learned the truth that
beauty comes from within.

(Now read it again from the bottom up).

Shrove Tuesday on the fly

Laissez les bons temps rouler!  I just realized it’s Shrove Tuesday! I made minimalist buckwheat pancakes on the fly—sans crêpe pan. Stuffed with Laurel Cheney’s cranberry goat cheese and drizzled with maple syrupl, they were divine, but too fragile to flip as I didn’t get a chance to let the batter rest. I forgot to flip mine, does that mean I’ll not be shriven? So they didn’t roll up as nicely as they should have, but they went down the hatch just fine. Burp. 

Somehow this post got lost in the shuffle, or flat out disappeared, when I was compiling a list of food blogs. I found it again on Facebook. So all is restored. Sort of. I don’t have the final rendition.

I used buckwheat pancake flour, an egg, some oil, a little sour cream and milk to thin the batter. Butter for the pan.

The ingredients for pancakes can be seen to symbolise four points of significance at this time of year:
Eggs ~ Creation
Flour ~ The staff of life
Salt ~ Wholesomeness
Milk ~ Purity 

Monday, February 15, 2021

San Geronimo! and Freedom School, Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement

This is a rather odd, convoluted story. I hardly know how to process it. Seemingly unrelated events converged at rhomboid angles when I tried to find the news clipping on a play I was in, called San Geronimo! in 1965. The Marin County librarian had no luck finding it, so when Newspapers.com was free today, I slogged through a decade’s worth of newspapers. Unrelated segue no. 1, I was part of that Marin City mounted entourage from the San Geronimo Valley. I played Joseph leading Mary on a donkey, Dec. 1964. Yeah, I was dressed in white bedsheets pulling a recalcitrant ass through the streets of Marin City. Meanwhile, the good folks of San Geronimo Valley had raised money and made a massive book drive to furnish Indianola Freedom School in Mississippi. Someone’s local son taught there. They needed books. We gave. Many of Marin’s young folks also joined Martin Luther King, marching from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Unrelated segue no. 2. More of a prequel as it set everything in motion. Cathy Barbano who lived on our road, was killed in a car crash in Mexico in 1965. Then her grief-stricken father, Ed Barbano shot himself. Meanwhile, there was Selma Alabama. Bloody Sunday, March 1965. Well, Freedom School was razed to the ground, and Mississippi was burning. So SGV folks began raising money and collecting books all over again to help rebuild that school—and our play, San Geronimo! was a fundraiser. Why I had trouble finding the article was because the lead was buried. Literally. I kept seeing references to Freedom School. Curiosity finally got the better of me. I was so sure I would never find that article. Maddening. And lo, there was the slippery article that had evaded detection for decades. Our fundraiser, the rebuilding of Freedom School was a memorial tribute to Cathy’s father, and our playground teacher, Ed Barbano. See Harold Gregg’s rousing letter at the end. Synchronicity works in mysterious ways.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Day 5, post vaccine blues, round 2

Day 5: So far, so good, but then, I’m still lolling in bed. I awoke at 6AM, bummed that I didn’t sleep in. I am both restless and exhausted, a lethal combination. I decided to wait out the side effects of the Moderna vaccine at a friend’s trailer, as I was feeling far too weird to drive home. I’m totally spaced out—like being high—without the munchies. I have no appetite at all, and I’m trippin’ without the Grateful Dead.

I’ve spent the past few days dozing while listening to audiobook CDs in my car; the warm winter sunlight amplified by all those windows is heavenly—I must be morphing into a cat. Barb’s cat is jealous of my new digs, she wants in. At least I'm not snoozing on the hood of my car in front of God and the neighbors who were already craning their necks as it was. 

Yesterday I slept in, which helped enormously. Nothing like a full-night’s sleep to make you right as rain, as my grandmother might say. But when I went to my care giver job, I was easily overwhelmed and distressed by mid-afternoon. Not quite ready to burst into tears, but close, I felt so out of sorts. Thickheaded.

The first few days after the vaccine I was freezing, cold as the morgue, a place I’m actively trying to avoid like the plague. I just couldn’t get warm. The first night I crawled out of bed and took a long hot shower to raise my body core. I was hovering at 97° flat. I was one cranky human popsicle. I took more showers during those first three days than the past month. If only I had access to a hot tub. I began to fantasize using a small horse trough as a hot tub. I even priced them out on Amazon. Totally doable.

It doesn’t help that I was born under the cranky sign. When I was a child, my granny said she couldn’t wait until I was old enough to drink coffee. Yesterday’s weak coffee didn’t help, it was limp-wristed milquetoast. I was still cranky as fuck. I needed a quad latte, only I wasn’t fit to drive over the hill into town. Driving while under the influence of Moderna is a real thing. The thought of double-clutching around wild curves, staying within the double yellow lines and avoiding entitled cyclists was too much. Stop signs and nuns didn’t count.

Multi-tasking was completely out of the question. Even mono-tasking was problematic, so attempting to do my caretaker job was painfully hilarious—especially the laundry. I was ADHD. Oh look, shiny. It took me three different attempts to finish one afternoon’s worth of work. The concept of pacing myself was not working out. I had no stamina, and it seemed as if my brain was having a three-martini lunch elsewhere, say, Victoria’s Station, ca. 1976, without me. Those everyday autopilot tasks were overwhelming as I had to actually think about how to do them. Sequential was not in my daily arsenal. My little gray cells were definitely on strike. For all I knew, they were probably calling their union rep for gross misrepresentation.

For example, I had three simple tasks, to check the laundry, maybe start a new load, and bring in the dry clothes. I managed to accomplish one task at a time, sequentially, replete with three separate trips to the laundry room, forgetting to carry over the new load twice. 

You know how when you retrace your steps to the last place you were, in order to retrieve an escaped thought? Well, I had to return to the kitchen three times in order to finish the laundry. I don’t think memory foam shoes with homing pigeon instincts would’ve helped much, I was willing to consider it after my third trip back to the kitchen to remember what I forgot. What is it with the kitchen anyway? Why does it becomes the hot thought spot in the universe of forgotten tasks? Please don’t tell me the answer is 42. That reminds me, I forgot to wash the towels.

The rest of the afternoon followed suit in a similar crazy pattern of random memory breaks. Clearly multi-tasking, something which I am particularly adept at—one might even say I was the reigning champion of multi-tasking—was simply not in my domestic arsenal. 

I was also easily fatigued which exacerbated the problem. And I was restless, niggling about like a homeward horse worried about the state of the barn. I couldn’t seem to rest. An odd combo of adrenaline rush compounded by fatigue and an absence of thought. Finishing sentences and following trains of thought was not on the agenda. I kept thinking, so this is what dementia is like, wanting to apologize to my dead grandmother for not understanding. 

I am rather dogged, and tend to finish my tasks—no matter what. But yesterday was a challenge. I left many things undone. Time was an odd, if fluid concept. I was in a quagmire located in the land of forever, so just to make chicken soup and do the dishes was like being caught up in a domestic Godot walkabout. I dumped the pot of chicken soup I was making on the floor.

Driving home to Sonoma Co. from W. Marin was a more of a challenge than I had anticipated, I just wanted to pull over and sleep by the side of the road. I did pull over by Nicasio Reservoir to gather my wits. It didn’t work. They were off with the fairies. I should’ve just stayed over another night in W. Marin, but I wanted to be in my own bed. It was too difficult to be a guest, in a strange bed not my own—especially when I felt so out of sorts. 

I fell asleep while listening to an audiobook, practically in my dinner plate. At least it was Blue Willow.  I have no idea what audiobook. TG I was already in bed. Dressing for dinner during these Covid times revolves around which flannel nightie to don. So I was battle ready, girding my loins with plaid flannel. But at least I’m vaccinated. If I can make it through the next two weeks, I’ll be home free. No more masks. But now the scuttle is that Covid is morphing ahead of the curve. Hello mask.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

OCCASIONAL POEM FOR PAMELA

If that is supposed to be yellow,
well then, I am a monkey’s uncle.
Chartreuse by any other name
I’d say, with a tinge of ochre. 
Give me Naples yellow, or give me death.
Give me cream and sunshine.
Give me limoncello over ice
on a Mediterranean balcony
in deep summer with a long lost friend.
Or a newfound one.
Now, that is the secret heart of yellow.
Not mug passing for light.
Give me sunflowers and dandelions,
and Van Gogh enough for Pamela, 
she with the fiery halo of hair,
who resides in the snow country 
amidst the dreams of sheep.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Words from the Nahuatl

Someone mistook a Nahuatl word, tecolote, for a Spanish dialect, citing donkey, burro and ass as meaning the same thing in English. 

I replied, Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztecan language, is not even remotely related to Spanish, which is an Indo-European language related to Latin. Spanish could be considered a dialect of Latin, but Nahuatl is not even from the same language tree. 

However, you already speak some Nahuatl. Words from the Nahuatl that entered into English by way of Spanish include Asteka, cacahuatl (cacao), chocolātl (chocolate), chayotli, chictli (chicle), āhuacatl (avocado), āhuaca-mōlli (guacamole), xipoctli (chipotle), tomatl, chīlli, tamalli, nopalli, potzolli (pozole), xicamatl (jicama), Mexcalli, Tequila, poliuhqui (pulque), mizquitl (mesquite),peyotl, coyōtl, ōcēlōtl, tecolote (owl), and wueh-xōlō-tl, or guajolote is turkey. 

Had he said homonym, we could’ve agreed.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

An adult in the White House


I didn’t let the overwhelming emotions in until I was getting ready for bed, then as I donned my flannel nightie, I burst into years. (Stet, that typo says it all). So much pent-up grief seeking release. I presume the elation will come in small doses, like a fine mist or dew gathering on the grass. Bit by bit. We drank vinho verde, the bubbles tickling our senses. Small hard-earned steps toward the process of recovery. But first, there is more work to do. Time to roll up our sleeves and get into good trouble. Hello Joe Biden. Goodnight, Moon.

CBS Biden’s first day on the job.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A real president elect

A lot of turbid water has flowed under burnt edifices and fallen bridges these past four years. The term shipwreck comes to mind. Marooned these past four years, we have all but shattered the vessel of democracy. But today, we will pick up those shattered pieces of democracy, we will mend our republic, and we will anoint that receptacle with truth and justice, and polish it with good humor and love. Then we will fill that vessel with good trouble. We will roll up our sleeves, there is much work to do in the days and months ahead. For four years we were repressed, ‘and still we rise.’ I presume the elation will come in small doses, like a fine mist gathering on the grass. We take mall hard-earned steps toward the process of recovery. But first, there is more work to do.

CBS Biden’s first day in office 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Madame Vice President


Tonight, the wind


I don’t like this at all, the wind is blowing like a banshee and it’s unseasonably warm. Way too warm for January. Tonight the wind is  fiercely raging, I gave up on the concept of sleep, or, rather, sleep gave up on me. The winds of change. Portent of things to come. Spellcheck thinks portent isn’t a word.

All I can say, is, that with all this wind, hopefully a little rain will come too. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s the middle of the night, a particularly bad time to fly a kite. The wind is moaning, now a howling, raging beast outside the window. The wind rosins its bow on the perimeter of the eye of the storm. A nearby tree limb is singing its squeaky one note song. It moans and sighs and then moans some more. I don’t know what it wants but it’s an unhappy tree limb sobbing its sorrows in the wind. 

If the wind were the ocean, and the sky, it’s color, then, the trees would be forests of seaweed and kelp. Wow, it is seriously blowing now. Sounds like high surf raging outside my window

What I don’t get, is that PG&E has not turned off the power. These winds are just as fierce as those October winds that brought the fires. And we have not had enough rain to protect us from more fires. I’m surprised that we still have power. Of course there’s a fire at The Geysers. Firefighters are on the scene. And the wind just kicked it up a few more notches. It was last clocked at 97 mph on the ridge tops.

Outside the window, dawn backdrop, the Douglas fir and the redwood sway in unison their branches moving like frantic hula dancers or dervishes. The non-native Italian pine looks like it’s flipping a finger to the sky.

Well, tomorrow is finally today. It’s 6 AM, tho I am unwilling to admit defeat to sleep, I’ve all but finished my flask of tea, and its still as dark as midnight out there. So much for the concept of morning. That one tree branch won’t give it up. I think it’s rubbing against the house, a complaining Cypress with a lot to say. Four years worth of complaints. Moans and shrieks like a banshee in distress.

During the brunt of the windstorm, the roosters were strangely silent. They’ve gotten a late start announcing the dawn. A lone raven braving the wind is plummeted and bandied about. He looks like he’s on speed. He attempts to land on a branch and misses the tree entirely. He zips off again banking against the northwestern wind, does a flip, then spirals out of control. Incoming, kamikaze moves. He slides at right angles to himself. He flies sideways in order to go forward. The wind before the storm.

Westron wynde, when wyll thow blow
The smalle rayne downe can rayne?
Cryst yf my love were in my armys,
And I yn my bed agayne!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Vaccines and blue horseshoe crab blood

Still pondering the novel idea that I now have traces of rare blue horseshoe crab blood in my body. And that somehow, this primitive creature is offering me immunity from the coronavirus. It has begun to affect my dreams. The other night I dreamed that the crabs all rose up and marched along the liminal boundary of the shore and I could almost translate their primitive whisperings. 

After a week of symptoms, followed by another week of relative calm, today I’m running a low grade fever, my arm hurts, the headache is persistent. Nothing like before. My body is girding its loins, gearing up for battle. Soon I will return to receive even more indigo blood in my arm. I will dream of the color of the ocean. I am regressing back into the coral reefs of indigo colored time.

“Considered living fossils, horseshoe crabs trace back 445 million years, before the first animals crept onto land. Not a crab at all, but genetically closer to a spider, it’s a relic of the ocean insects that scuttled across prehistoric sea floors.

“They survived the catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs; they survived the ice age, and the coming of man. These creatures changed so little that an Ohio church set out a 68-foot fiberglass horseshoe crab as testament to divine creation over evolution.”  How the Coronavirus vaccine relies upon Maryland’s strangest fishery, horseshoe crabs, Baltimore Sun

According to Wiki, at 244 million years old, horseshoe crabs are literally living fossils—their ancestors date back to the Ordovician period, ca. 450 million years ago. They are a sister group of “Ricinulei within Arachnida. Subphylum: Chelicerata, suborder Xiphosurida, and order Xiphosura, family Limulidae.” Wiki I learn that there are four species: like the four directions of the earth. Limulus polyphemus, the Atlantic horseshoe crab is oor man, the one extending our lives. Giving us hope in these darkest of times.

My friend Eric Painter said, Did you know that blue crab blood, lysate costs $60,000 per gallon? I learn that it’s not so much about their blood, which contains hemocyanine, which is cool in and of itself, but their unique immune cells which are used to detect and destroy deadly bacterial contaminants. 

Because the poor ugly buggers are a hot pharmaceutical commodity, with their copper-based blue blood, which contains a rare compound,  Limulus amebocyte lysate, they are now an endangered species. Fishermen need to make sure their cold-blooded patients don’t die of exsanguination. Sheesh. What a time to have a shellfish allergy. Poor noble-blooded limulus crabs. Their brains may be the size of a pencil tip, and technically they have no hearts, but that blue blood coursing through their open circulatory system offers us hope, and maybe even love.

I got my first vaccine shot on Jan 6. Moderna. A stormy day all round. My preemptive preparation for the next round will be to take aspirin and Benadryl beforehand. Have a water flask for the hour-long wait after the shot—my mouth got positively cottony and I was woozy, so the trips where I lurched to the water fountain were surreal journeys. I was afraid of falling over. Like a drunk in a swaying choir.

I had an epipen at the ready, there was no swelling. But it hurt like hell, I couldn’t even sleep on my left side for a week. Felt like someone, maybe The Hulk, had sucker-punched me repeatedly with brass knuckles. Strangely, there was no fever on my arm. How could it hurt that much, and yet have no fever? I had to lift my sore arm with my other arm in order to use it. My bones ached. All my old injuries coming home to roost.

I awoke with violent headaches for the next three days. However, during week two, my arm began to itch, there was a faint swelling, a light rash, and some heat at the injection site, and I had a low-grade temperature for a couple of days. Nothing to worry about. The fatigue is real. I spent the next few days in bed, resting and sleeping.

As far as reactions go, this shot was nowhere near as bad as the yellow fever vaccination I got in the late 1980s. Back then, the delivery base use was albumen, or eggwhite, hence the reaction, as I’m allergic to eggs. I also did not fare well with a flu shot, circa 2000. I haven’t had one since. My reactions to shots have been so extreme, that my Kaiser travel nurse suggested that I forgo booster shots if I could help it. I traveled through Latin America with only a half-vaccine for yellow fever, and no tetanus shot.

I have an iodine allergy too. Since horseshoe crabs are shellfish that are loaded with iodine, there is some cause for concern. Except only their rare blue blood is used. I once had a dramatic reaction to a barium iodine stain drip for a kidney x-ray. I got hives inside my throat. Also, my cough syrup with tincture of iodine worked great, except it always gave me an itchy throat. I didn’t realize that was an allergy in the making. 

Luckily horseshoe crabs are arachnids, or rather arthropoda, not even related to crabs, or most shellfish. But they do have a shell, ergo there very well could be a shellfish allergy reaction—which is usually the source of an iodine reaction. So, epipen at the ready too. Sea dreams to sea change. The future is nigh. This vaccine is a saline base. It is is of the ocean. My nightmares will dream in the language of blue horseshoe crabs. We are made of the ocean, and this archaic creature, a living fossil from the ocean will offer us immunity from this novel virus.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Post vaccine blues

Yesterday I awoke with massive headaches, and an unhappy GI tract, but I think I’m through the worst of it. I like to assume that’s my body working hard to produce antibodies. No Covidlike symptoms, not even a fever. Definitely plan for a few low key quiet time out days if you overreact negatively to vaccines the way I do. At least I can raise my arm with effort. It feels like I was bare knuckle slugged by The Hulk. Meanwhile, more mobile morgues have been dispatched to Sonoma County. Scary stuff. Shit’s getting real.

Nothing was worse than the Yellow Fever vaccine I got in the late 1980s. My arm swelled from shoulder to elbow; it was so hot, it was like a furnace—I was laid up for two weeks. When I received a flu shot in 2000, I had a similar reaction. The last tetanus booster did not go well. So I don’t take this vaccination process blithely. But so far, so good. Even the Kaiser travel nurse suggested that I abstain from future booster vaccinations. It was probably the delivery method, not the vaccine. So I sweat it out. Albumen, or egg whites were commonly used as a delivery vehicle. 

I have anaphylaxis to certain foods, specifically hazelnuts. Shellfish has added itself to my list—I can’t take glucosamine for my joints. I’ve experienced anaphylaxis when being tested for cedar and pine pollens at Kaiser. Yep, I know exactly what adrenaline shots feel like, every single muscle simultaneously contracting at once, including scalp muscles! So far, I do not have antibiotic reaction. I read the ingredients for Modena, no albumen, the big culprit is the delivery vehicle, not the drug. The things that may threatening my life may very well save my life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Waiting to be Moderna-ized


I’m standing in line at the back offices of the Marin Civic Center waiting for my number to be called. Waiting to be Moderna-ized. It took a while to find the place. The Covid vaccination clinic is well hidden behind the back offices of the Civic Center. No signage. Nada. As if they don’t want anyone to know. 

A man in black, looking official walks by, carrying an empty black insulated package, I realize it’s an empty medical transport package. That many more people have been vaccinated. How many doses per package? 

We are greeted by a sprinkling of rain. A chain of lenticular clouds in the sky make an uneasy river, where it leads to, I don’t know—towards the east. I’m hoping to God it doesn’t rain any harder because I do not even have a jacket. This down vest is useless in a downpour. Lord knows we need the rain, but now? Really?

A real cloudburst. I run to the car, and grab my car screen shades for an umbrella, the laundry bag was too small to be of use. Small mercies, they move us to an unused auditorium, out of the rain. My car screen shade is a sensational hit, works better than an umbrella. When in doubt, think outside the box. Survival depends upon it. 

I am amazed by how everyone suddenly forgot to socially distance themselves while trying to squeeze inside the building. Rats entering a sinking ship. We are mostly all dressed in black. A somber purple. Midnight blue. Storm grey dots the crowd. 

We are a mixed mob, mostly older folks. Three nuns from Dominican huddle together. I am strangely comforted by their presence, thinking of the nine cloistered nuns who needlessly died of Covid. I am glad the sisters are proactively seeking protection.

We are now more than an hour behind, one woman with the same time appointment as me says, I’m gonna die of old age. We laugh. Someone quips, at least you won’t die of Covid. We laugh harder yet, what else is the, besides gallows humor? We are waiting in line to avoid a probable death sentence. I think, at least we have escaped the seditious politics of the day for a moment. But the bad news finds us. Armed protestors on the senate floor. The government is in a lockdown. We no longer live in a democracy. 

The guard calls out names for the 11 o’clock crowd. then 11:09. He yells Mary O’Sullivan, I look to see if it’s a relation. IDs out and at the ready, proclaiming our individuality. I realize that we’re all related. 

He yells out Padilla, Ortega, Sondheim, Sung. The guard tries alternate pronunciations hoping someone will recognize their name. He calls Magdalena. Another guard delivers bottles of hand sanitizers. The call guard resorts to first names, that humanizes us. Magdalena, where are you? he asks for the third time. His voice is hoarse. I imagine that he has been yelling out names for days. I hope that she won’t regret not showing up.

I worry that the guards won’t accept my application, and if they do, what if I react to the serum. There is always that risk. My ID is at the ready. I have to trust the process.  It’s well past my call time, but at least it’s dry. We’re up to 11:15, but it’s well past noon. I’d kill for a cuppa coffee. And still we wait. We have the rest of our lives to live, no matter what the outcome, it’s always finite.

Ok, I’m on the paramedic’s special watchlist. Got my shots. Woof! As Sinead Dinsmore says. Feeling a little lightheaded, spacy, but adrenaline is a funny thing. So far, so good. I still feel lightheaded, burping like a tree frog, mostly nerves, but I think I’ll live. Vaguely altered states. One guy is having a bad reaction, but for the most part, it’s pretty uneventful. Took a benadryl just in case. Lower lip is hot and reacting, it could be from the mask. I’m surrounded by paramedics and health care professionals on both sides of the equation. Now I’m getting chills, left (shot) arm is cold. Anxiety is not helping. Otherwise no real symptoms. 

I’m at risk because I have experienced anaphylaxis. Nurses conferred with doctors and paramedics, and had me wait longer than the proscribed time frame. I also had to tell the paramedic in charge that I was on the watchlist, so I had to sit up front where he could keep an eye on me. As it was, he had someone react negatively to the vaccine.

Five more minutes. The sun came out, the sky is angry. Ok, 40 minutes, I have left the building. The car is way more tranquil than being inside, people are ignoring social distance, they are huddled around cellphones getting the news. Politically, all hell is breaking loose. Trumpsters have taken the White House. 

I’m trying to stay calm. No anaphylaxis but definitely a small hot hive on my lower lip. Next time, bring a water bottle, and premedicate with both benadryl and aspirin. I need a coffee! Benadryl slowed down the lip hive. It’s no longer hot. I also took off my mask, which may be the source of the problem. Dare I drive Scary times all the way round.