Monday, January 30, 2017

Your last walk, I ran past your bench last week

Curt—what did you see on that last walk?
Squirrels, those bushy-tailed rats, in a moment of late fall frenzy.
A mama pushing a stroller, your mind wanders to Benji, the little boy you lost to a brain tumor when he was 11 years old. He would have been a boy all grown up now, sitting with you, his hand warming yours.
Litter skitters across the bike path, swirls around the base of a tree, sending the nervous squirrels twittering. The last time you were home to visit your kids you went camping. At night around the campfire you told them what you wanted done with your ashes. They weren’t ready to hear it.

The sun slips behind the hospital across from the bench where you sit. Your last poem touched upon this: a life well-spent, lived to its fullest before the sun goes down. Some of your ashes will be next to Benji, some by your beloved Dawn, some mixed with the wind, as you sigh a breath of release.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Anne Porter, once and this is

Again following in my theme of all things Maine and New York School of Poetry-ish and memoir, haiku prose, flash. All this to say: I’ve been reading the poems of Anne Porter. Her first collection, An Altogether Different Language (1994), published when she was 83, was named a finalist for the National Book Award. Her other volume of poetry is Living Things: Collected Poems (2006).

I was struck upon beginning this collection how many of her poems seem to be reminisces. In deed, she lived a long life, passing away in 2011 just shy of 100th birthday. A number of her poems begin with the word once.

The Wingéd Children

Once when my friends
Were driving through the desert
In Mexico

They passed a pickup truck
And in the back of it

Each with a pair of wings
Of sky-blue plush

Such as is used
For making bedroom-slippers

There rode a dozen little
Mexican children.

In addition she began a series of poems with This is.

Summer Cottage

This is a house
That smells of melons and roses
Sea-wind pours through it
The airy curtains float
And the wiry sprays
Of the sea-lavender
Tremble on the table

The hushed roar
Of the massive ocean
Covers us night and day
It shelters us
Like a tree shadow
We live in it
As in a forest.

Her simple language bestows a haiku hush. Her subject matter is mostly ordinary, domestic: her children (she had five), her home, her faith (a late convert to Catholicism). Her work exudes a humility, a selflessness see Burning. So that even though she writes about the tangible, she is at the same time revealing another dimension, something beyond this world.  This is a collection filled with vignettes, haiku-like thoughts, remembrances, odes, and tributes to others.

For Hot flash Friday—why not try this:

Begin by using the word once
Work on another piece with the zen-like this is

Go, write right now.

She shares a resemblance I think to Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cash Entry Mines: creating from afar

Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Painter
Townsend Ludington

Lately I’ve been reading about Maine authors and painters (see Great Spruce Head Island, see Art Week!). Actually I’ve always had an interest in Marsden Hartley.

Ever since I saw this painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I was simply drawn in. It is in the same gallery as Night Hawk and Georgia O’Keefe, whose subject matter is somewhat similar. There was something about Cash Entry Mines, New Mexico, 1920 that spoke to me. Maybe it was how big nature is or the color palette: dun, washed red, faded black lines, sand colors. We can never know exactly what will touch us, but I suspect it has to do with peace.

I bought at a library sale a monograph about Hartley and I learned that while living one summer in Nova Scotia with a local family the family lost 2 sons and another family member. Their boat was caught in a storm and the lads were lost at sea. This was devastating not only to the family but to Hartley. He loved the young men. His pictures after this were haunted with images referring to them, the family, and Nova Scotian fishermen, the sea. He could not bring them back; they resided in his memory.

But back to Cash Entry Mines, New Mexico. I learned from reading this biography that Hartley painted this and a series of other New Mexico paintings while in Berlin. He wrote to a friend that he saw New Mexico in his mind. He was last there 4 years prior. Here he was—an expat living the life of an artist in Germany, traveling the continent observing art in all sorts of galleries, yet he couldn’t shake the one summer he spent in the US southwest. Whatever his experiences were in Berlin in the 1920s it unleashed memories. Berlin in the winter: grey monuments stained with city soot, walls closing in, leaden skies, sun late and early set. Deep in his blood stirs a restlessness for elsewhere: open skies, rust-colored canyons, dry arroyos, flattop mesas, islands of sage, air!, a wind-bent cypress—it’s tendril roots threading over bare rock.

The art he was able to produce as a stranger in a strange land was “new”. He sparked. The landscapes contained a vitality, a sensualness, a simplicity. “A certain coming toward repose . . ” He wrote that there was little of “me” in the new work. Just “good old fashioned honest painting.”

The collection when exhibited didn’t excite the critics. One called it a study in liver (referring, I guess, to the color palette). But, as we like to say, the rest is history. Several Marden Hartleys hang in the Art Institute, highly collected, highly sought after. Much of his work is on display in museums all across America. All this to emphasize the power of recollection, the creative buoyancy behind memories—they will surface in the most unlikely of places and at the most inconvenient times, but if we listen to them, let them push and guide us, we might discover something NEW.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rejection, inspiration

The most recent issue of Vignette Review is featuring a flash I wrote a few years ago. I actually conceptualized the flash as a series of vignettes. I revised it and cut it down; the ending wasn’t coming together. I sent it around to a few journals etc and it received a round of rejections. Finally it was on the verge of acceptance if I only made a slight edit.

Now let me say I am not at all adverse to suggestions. Maybe not immediately, but eventually after a minute of clear thinking I’ll see what the editor is getting at—but this change didn’t work for me. Specifically, he/she didn’t think heat emitted by a hand-held soldering iron would set off a fire-suppression system. My research told me this person was wrong. We couldn’t agree on the change so I had to let it go. Back to sending out the piece.

But the suggestion got me thinking—see, a good thing. I took another look at my ending, and in a slight of hand, added a sentence that could be read literally and figuratively, something to turn the piece on an angle, causing the reader to go: a-ha!

So check it out—and know this: Rejection can be inspiration. And, if you need any other encouragement check out: 365 Affirmations to help fight off rejection blues.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thank you CSA Travel Protection

Thank you CSA Travel Protection. Usually when I book a flight I’m way to cheap to bother with travel insurance. Something like $30 extra dollars. But this last time, flying overseas with my bicycle and cycling the length of the UK (see JOGLE) I decided to splurge. Just in case I 1.) got into an accident. I could imagine flying downhill and hitting a small rock or nut in the road and skidding out, getting hit by a car, forgetting to ride on the left and getting hit by a car, hitting pea-size scree and skating over asphalt on my butt—I could imagine ANY number of scenarios—and did. 2.) Just in case my bike got stolen, lost, or damaged. I imagined this too. My trip was fraught with imagined difficulties.

My expectations were met immediately—before leaving Chicago. Air Canada was late, thus I missed my international connection in Montreal. Why is it that staff never seemed panicked or concerned over individual passenger’s itineraries? I had train reservations made months in advance so that I could get the best price. I made them even with the idea that my plane might be delayed with a 13-hour buffer between landing and train departure.

Alas those plans went by the wayside as I spent an extra day in Montreal playing tourist. I was assured at the time that Air Canada would reimburse me for the lost reservations (they were already putting me up in a hotel, so I believed them). I began my trip spending an extra $221 on new train tickets and the imposition of finding a hotel at the last minute by the train station as I didn’t realize the Caledonia Sleeper doesn’t run on Saturdays—thus an extra day in London playing tourist. My trip officially began 3 days later than scheduled.

I made it safely home and once back began the work of reparations. Air Canada was a complete fail—though they generously offered 25% off the base airfare of my next flight—within a year of booking. But after 5 weeks of back and forth quibbling by e-mail, I then turned to my CSA travel insurance. I provided them with supporting documents and before Christmas I received a check TOTALLY refunding me the cost of buying new tickets PLUS about $70 extra, which paid for my hotel for the night in London, even though I didn’t submit a claim for that. (Long story: they wouldn’t give me a receipt because I talked them down on the rate, thanks Albany Hotel in Bloomsbury, London.)

So as an update to my JOGLE report: buy travel insurance. That little bit extra will go a long way in peace of mind for your trip and also in reclaiming lost funds. Thank you CSA Travel Protection!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hey! I found your notebook

Hey! I found your notebook the other day. It was a close-bound golden blank book. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to read it; I was looking for a name, address, who I should contact. I read about you feeling sorry about that night, wondering if he might have taken it wrong. If only you hadn’t been so impulsive. Will life always like this?! You had just gotten this cute little notebook and wanted to write down your thoughts in an attempt to sort things out. You feel like if you only had a chance to get things out, spilled on the page things might start to make sense.

About that night . . . did he ever call you? I tried to call, but the number was unlisted—as was your email; my message bounced back.

You seemed conflicted about that night. He was okay and he might be someone you’d be into. In other ways it was so wrong, like he was your roommate’s boyfriend’s best friend. Awkward. He still hadn’t called. And, it’d been 24 hours. You blamed the drinking (too much), the weed (especially after you’d resolved not to), and the fact that you wanted to fuck-revenge your ex. YOUR EX, you shouted. Why can’t I get over him?

I had no idea as I stood there beside the Lakefront Trail reading your little gold notebook. I know you sounded like a very nice person, and I did try to call, and if I had gotten hold of you I would have said, Let’s meet for coffee. Now, we never will. I left it in a carpet of vines growing tight against the golf course fence. I hated to leave you. Again, sorry.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hot Flash Friday: first friend that died

When you reach a certain age you start losing people. There’s been a tally at the end of every year. 2017 reached new lows, new depths of grief. I’ve been thinking especially, somewhat retroactively as it happened during a very busy and then emotionally-occupying time, about my friend Curt Mortimer and all that he has meant to me through the years. His lifetime of selfless giving.

Checklist Before Dying:

*write a poem
*vote for Hillary
*watch an epic sunset
*drink a good cup of coffee (especially good if accompanied by a friend)

Curt had a check in every box before passing away on Election Day 2016 sitting on a park bench late afternoon. He is an example of someone who lived a good, long life committed to the people he loved.

But, I’m also reminded of the first person, the first friend I had that died. They weren’t as lucky to have lived a good, long life. I remember the shock—if mortality, that time isn’t forever, that we can be too late to right wrongs, say we’re sorry, to start over. Time ran out for Cheryl, for me.

She was a few years older than me. Her family had just moved to Centerville and were fundamentalist Christian. They believed in the healing power of God. So that when Cheryl came down with Hodgkin’s leukemia they attempted prayer first.

Looking back there are a number of red flags I can now see.

Cheryl was their first born, the other siblings after her were blessed with athletic prowess, good looks, excellent singing voices (for all those gospel songs), and blind faith. Cheryl’s faith though rigid allowed for grace. You see all she wanted was to be loved. Even as a teenager I could see there were breaks—she was different, not like others, and her family seemed to ostracize her. I’m not sure they gave her a chance. She confessed to me once that she always felt like a sinner around them—especially her father. He was a hard man to please.

Back then I just accounted this as what we all felt—our families can be our own worse enemies. In this case, they actually were.

Cheryl fell in love and moved in with a boy when she got her diagnosis. Together they worked in his father’s doughnut shop. One time she called me, by this time I was a freshman in college in Dayton, and asked if I could take her to her chemo treatment.

This seemed sort of odd and sad. She explained that her family wanted nothing more to do with her. That her boyfriend needed to work, so she was stuck. I thought it was because Cheryl never learned to drive. Because of a lack of self-confidence she never got a license or finished high school. But the real reason—I was to find out. I took her and came back for her, where upon she immediately threw up in my car. I learned that people on chemo shouldn’t drive after a treatment. I got her home and upstairs into bed. She thanked me, but I sort of blew it off. I was confused about all the weird Christian logic. Was Cheryl so wrong to be left alone in this obvious time of need? I couldn’t make sense of it.

But life went on and a few months later I heard she’d died. I was not expecting that. I have always thought back with regret: I should have done more, been more supportive, been a true friend. I know I could have done more for her, but ran out of time.

What about you—is there someone from your past, your childhood, growing up years where their death struck you? The first peer or contemporary to die—and how it impacted your own life?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Time Off at Christmas

I want to finish a book
and start another
sit and listen to music
over and over
watch a movie--
from beginning to end,
   straight through
savor a cup of tea, holding it
letting it warm my hands
next to my cheek.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Flash Memories, Centerville Ohio

Flash Memories:
I was a childhood insomniac. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the quietest hour right before dawn, I’d slip out of my bed and drop out the window to the spongy dew-grass—and under the wan light of the moon I’d twirl, my night dress lifting up like a gypsy dancer.

Later I’d sneak back inside, the dog lifting his head monetarily before closing his eyes, and return to my bed.
what a strange child I was

Friday, January 6, 2017

Flash Memories from Kettering Ohio

Flash Memories:

Behind our house was a woods. More like undeveloped land. I remember trekking through drifts of snow with my brothers and sister to go ice skating on a pond. It was big enough to support a pick-up game of hockey and for the beginner such as myself to make circles. Once (or maybe more than that, but at least once as far as I recall) my sister fell in and kids made a chain, the last person, possibly my brother, on his stomach, to fish her out. She walked home with us soaking wet. A few times my mother drove us and we were able to put on our skates in the warmth of the car. She waited for us to finish with thermoses of hot chocolate.

--If not, the way home felt long and shivering cold in the grey twilight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Here's to 2017--another chance

by John Ashbery
Once, out on the water in the clear, early nineteenth-century twilight,
you asked time to suspend its flight. If wishes could beget more than sobs,
that would be my wish for you, my darling, my angel. But other
principles prevail in this glum haven, don’t they? If that’s what it is.
Then the wind fell of its own accord.
We went out and saw that it had actually happened.
The season stood motionless, alert. How still the drop was
on the burr I know not. I come all
packaged and serene, yet I keep losing things,
I wonder about Australia. Is it anything like Canada?
Do pigeons flutter? Is there a strangeness there, to complete
the one in me? Or must I relearn my filing system?
Can we trust others to indict us
who see us only in the evening rush hour
and never stop to think? O I was so bright about you,
my song bird, once. Now, cattails immolated
in the frozen swamp are about all I have time for.
The days are so polarized. Yet time itself is off-center.
At least that’s how it feels to me.
I know it as well as all the streets in the map of my imagined
industrial city. But it has its own way of slipping past.
There was never any fullness that was going to be;
you stood in line for things, and the soiled light was
impenitent.  Spiky was one adjective that came to mind,
yet for all its raised or lower levels I approach this canal.
Its time was right in winter. There was pipe smoke
in cafés and outside the great ashen bird
streamed from lettered display-windows, and waited
a little way off. Another chance. It never became a gesture.

What are your goals for this new year? New projects? Each one is a seed which will need watering, nurturing. Give it space, light, a chance to grow.
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