Thursday, March 16, 2023


He was a good duck, if a little avoidant and non-comital. In fact, it was perphaps his side-eyed consideration of situations that kept Pocky earth side for so long. He was part of the "Original Gang" of eight ducklings that arrived here by post in February of 2020. Two of those ducklings died early on; one of a respiratory condition, and the other trampled by siblings. All of that original crew were named after our childhood words for objects and ideas. "Pocketwock" was Helen's toddler way of saying "pocket watch." I sometimes called him Pocket, because he seemed like a true pal, the way a pocket is always there for you, to hold what your hands must let go. Pocky was all brown, a chocolate runner duck, and his partner, "Cawcoff," named for Helen's toddler word for "washcloth," was one of the most vocal ducks of the bunch. 

I've learned that spring is a terrible season for ducks on a farm. While the weather warms, and trees bud, the foxes have their kits, and they need to be fed. They are fed at the ongoing Duck Parade Buffet, which happens at dusk on the apron of the pond. Foxes are bold. I've shaken my staff at their glowing eyes and they do not startle. I have some respect for them and their abilities. Their determination. Everyone wants to live. I just wish they were vegetarian.

Bisti (Bistigetti -- my father's childhood way of saying "spaghetti"), is the last of the Original Gang. Last night he wouldn't go into the run. He kept vigil just outside it, looking for Pocky, who never showed. He knew the pattern was upset, and that his last sibling was gone.

Now they are a dozen ducks, the last one a memory of my father, and the rest named after favorite foods, performers, and childhood tv shows: Bisti, Pip, Marceau, Tati, Great Zuccino, Moderate Zuccino, Mr. Rogers, Hatchy Milatchy, Kewpie, Yuzu, Tadpole, Pickle. 

I like to think of Pocky, Cawcoff, Sardine, Tot, Tomato, Potato, EB, Mushroom, Clo, Binder, Moonlight, and The Lizard of Oz, as all having packed up their bindlesticks to go seek fortune in New York City, the farm life no longer big enough a pocket to hold all their dreams.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

The Outgoing Tide

A few days ago Linda Pastan died. I discovered her collection of poetry Aspects of Eve, on the shelves of the 800s in the Kutztown University Library in the early 1990s. I sat on the floor and read it all, memorizing "Mini Blues," which I carry inside of me like a bell that sounds in the outcast moments of my life. When I felt lost or sad, or not knowing what I was doing at college (I was a fine art major taking creative writing classes and was in a constant state of beloved melancholy), I returned to that spot on the floor of the library and grounded myself with her poems. The book was always there for me the way poetry is, the way we expect it to be. It was there in the same way we assume the poets we love will be alive and writing, keeping up their rituals, carrying their notebooks everywhere, giving readings.

In the past few months I began re-reading Linda's poems, first with the collection Carnival Evening. I read a few poems each morning, the same way you might allow yourself a few chocolates from a fancy sampler. Every poem was delicious, activating, oxygenating.

I found her email, and sent her a letter of thanks. It was time. I wasn't sure how old she was, but did it matter? We owe our mentors, especially the ones who don't know they have helped guide us. We owe them our sincere and specific gratitude. She replied:

Thanks so much for your generous email!  Sometimes I forget that there are actual people out there, reading my poems!
Her reply came within a day. I was surprised and delighted by it. It made me feel better about poets,  and the poetry world, which I have distanced myself from in the past few years. I have been reading, and writing, but quietly. Hermetically.

I purchased copies of her older books, and her newest book, Almost an Elegy. I shared poems with my friend Maggie, who then shared a video of Linda giving a reading a few months ago. Her reading is elegant and natural, with an intention to the order of the poems, and she talks at the end about submitting work to magazines in a way that gave me some hope. I still have the reading open in the tabs on my browser. It's been up for weeks, there for me when I need to hear her words in her voice. A gift.

When reading "Away," from her newest collection, I recognized a symbolic connection to her poem "Mini Blues," from Aspects of Eve. It felt like the joy in discovering a tadpole, or a fossil of a shell, from my childhood spent exploring in the woods. Here was an evolutionary connection, a whisper sent through a very long telephone line. She was a master of metaphor, and of condensing and paring down to the essentials to expose feeling:

Mini Blues

Like a dinghy
I always lag
behind, awash
in somebody else's wake.
Or I answer 
the low call
of the foghorn,
only to find 
that what it meant
was keep away.

- Linda Pastan, from Aspects of Eve


In the small craft
that is my body, I am
ready to take off

from the shore,
waving goodbye
to the faces

I've loved,
not sad exactly
but anxious

to catch
the outgoing

- Linda Pastan, from Almost an Elegy

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Bloom's Taxonomy

The students will describe flowers they have seen.

The seed catalogs arrive daily, illustrations of zucchini and melon, photos of giant peonies. Hope. I throw them in the trash, then remember my preschool art class — maybe they can collage a garden, paste cutouts of roses on top of canceled roses. Their vision is the sky that lives in the ocean, one I wish I had, or remember having once, which is why I return, although this job won’t pay for even an hour of planning. The time clock app I punch on my phone allows the instructor to check in just fifteen minutes before class begins — the corporate idea of enough time to conceive a project, set up tables and chairs, gather supplies customized for students, and create a welcoming atmosphere for anxious toddlers.

The students will discuss animals in the ocean.

This week the class huddled around me as we read a book about the sea, and cut paper fish to glue onto flat, blue oceans.

The students will imagine and draw how their flowers will bloom.

I ordered too many seeds from the catalogs last year, romanced by glossy photos. A whole garden I purchased withered, some seeds, as they waited in the house, were gobbled by mice, the tomatoes we planted starved by drought.

The students will observe how to plant a seed.

Out of the 600 sunflowers I planted in concentric circles, a dramatic vision, six made an entrance, all separate from each other as if they were angry from an underground argument. The others were perhaps too old to sprout, or eaten by crows who watched as I planted on a rainy day in April. My fingers went white and numb.

The students will select their seed and plant it.

This year, I’ll plant sturdy, reliable zinnias. It takes two months for the carnival of colors to spin in wheels of ecstasy. A whole field becomes a tribute to Peter Max, the sixties and seventies, childhood birthday parties, sprinkles on ice cream, a glitter covered crown for bees and butterflies.

The students will predict how long it will take their seeds to bloom.

A few weeks from now my preschool students will press real seeds into dirt filled cups to take them home, watch and tend, or neglect. A real lesson. I will dream about it, analyze, prepare, produce the supplies, cancel the plan, decide to cultivate it, then mark each cup with a name. Who owns a daisy?

The students will cope with whatever does not grow.

The students will hope.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

If You Let It

It's the end of the year, if you haven't noticed. I moved into my writing room to cool my face down. For the past hour or two I sat and read in front of the fireplace, and my left cheek blazes with a shaming blush of sluggishness. I haven't exactly been slothful because I hauled in the firewood, folded some laundry, made a salad, and put away all the holiday decor. I was a verb this morning. There's tension in my neck and shoulders, a tightness in my foot. There's that light orb of grief, an ornament that rests in my chest, ready to break during any season.  My head is an unkept office space. My whole body has much to say, outside of calendrics. I possess a body chemistry that rejects time. Watches stop when on my wrist. 

I do like this time of year in spite of its expectations, sales, announcements, exclamations, proclamations, and resolutions. I feel the contrasts build in me like a cloud cover. It's a quiet drear among the glitter: to be more, do more, wrap everything up and move ahead, to get beyond, to rise above, to have it all figured out and together. Have you seen the aisles of empty plastic containers, ready to be filled with what we want out of sight? Once you've hidden Who-You-Once-Were, you can set your table with the gleaming flatware of I-Know-What-I'm-Doing-Now. 

I know what I'm doing now, which is writing this while red cheeked and feeling the collywobbles caused by a robust handful of chocolate almonds. I haven't made a list, or drawn up a plan for anything else I wish to share. I have nothing for you. Were you expecting anything? I just have now. The dog across the road barks into darkness and fog, there's one light on in the neighbors house, and if you let it, the sound of rain as it hits the porch roof could be mistaken for a clock. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

All Day Duende

A duende is an elfin figure of folklore. I think of duende as a feeling, a cross between fidgety passion and contemplative inspiration. Frederico Garcia Lorca's vision of duende includes irrationality, earthiness, an awareness of death, and a diabolical touch. That fits.

In Spanish duende originated as a contraction of the phrase dueƱo de casa or duen de casa, effectively "master of the house." The duende of various cultures get up to all sorts of tricks, masquerading as leaves and woodland creatures who then prank women by pulling down their skirts and pinching their bottoms, or they pop down chimneys and lurk in corners to create havoc in the home. The chimney entrance sounds familiar. Is Santa duende? Because the whole season, this stretch from the end of October through about mid-February (as soon as I can smell the ground again) is intense All Day Duende for me. The rest of the year is All Day Duende for me too, but with the sun's varied satires.

The Moon Appears

by Frederico Garcia Lorca

     At the rise of the moon

bells fade out

and impassable paths


     At the rise of the moon

the sea overspreads the land

and the  heart feels like an island

in the infinite.

     No one eats oranges

in the full moon's light.

Fruit must be eaten

green and ice-cold.

At the rise of the moon,

with its hundred faces alike,

silver coins

sob away in pockets.

Sunday, December 18, 2022


A few mornings ago I looked up from my desk and saw a raccoon hop up from the road onto the stretch of grass in front of my window. It was raining that day, and its fur was sodden. It walked right up to the house like it had important business by the Japanese quince and the linden. Then it disappeared. It was right near the house and I lost track of it. This is the magic of raccoons. They are shapeshifters. When they visit, they are here to teach you to be vigilant, or persistent, or clever in your dealings.There's a lot of folklore surrounding them. When we visited Japan I fell in love with the sensual depictions of tanuki. Tanuki are more of a cross of a fox and a raccoon. I prefer the cheerful and benevolent rogues they turned into to their original forms, which were said to possess humans and haunt them.The rogue tanuki is a partier, with a large belly and scrotum, and usually a bottle of sake at hand.

The animals around here have more business than I do, scribbling and dreaming at my desk. The owl knows when there's the business of a loose duck, the fox knows spring dusks by the pond are her best business hours, the deer keep a quiet business of traffic across the fields, stray cats have the business of frog and field mouse hunting, the rats keep a hippity hoppity duck feed business.

My business hours are 5 a.m. to about 4 p.m. now, when the light shifts into night. I crack open a can of corn, put on muck boots, a giant, black sweater that makes me look like an ominous wooly worm, and lead the duck parade to safety. The business of the raccoon, the weasel, the fox, the owl, thwarted once more by the cleverness of chicken wire, hardware cloth, and hope.

The Raccoon Whisperer, a retired veteran in Canada who feeds raccoons hot dogs, is raccoon and human business transaction at some of its best.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Views From the Windows of My Mother's House


A stretch of green yard with a concrete sidewalk on the left. A 100 foot tall (or so it seemed) Norway Spruce that dropped torpedo pinecones we loved to throw at each other. The garage where Dad kept his car washing supplies, and the upper room full of hats, costumes, props, and a filing cabinet with our childhood drawings. The parking pad with Mom's car next to the garage. The gate with a closure Dad made that was difficult to open and close when it rained. The long garden of perennials Mom planted along the chainlink fence that separated their yard from the Gehr's. Tammy, Mr. Gehr's tiny dog, sniffing the edges of the fence. The alley beyond the garage.

Dining Room Gehr's Side

A porch with a square table covered in a black and white checked tablecloth in the summer, topped with a tiny blue vase with choreopsis and speedwort from the garden. The patchwork pattern of the Gehr's asbestos shingled siding, and their dining room window, curtained in 1945.

Dining Room Other Side

The first floor apartment porch of a reclusive woman who lived there for decades. She had an exotic sounding name I can't remember now -- Florence, Lorraine, Yvonne, Eleanor? A man visited her regularly, who she claimed was her brother, but Mom figured to be her boyfriend. When he arrived, he'd pee facing the garage on that property, an action we could see from Mom's kitchen window. His suspenders ran up his back like crossed train tracks. 

Living Room

The brick porch with a blue painted ceiling, a cherry tree, a lavender bush, and a stretch of State Street with a line of large Victorian homes. Most of the neighbors were unknown. The road was a wide river that wasn't crossed too often. 

Bedroom Porch Side

The upper floors and roofs of houses, the midsection of the Norway Spruce, a zigzag of powerlines, the sky. This porch is where we watched the fireworks each year from a bench swing that hung by chains from the ceiling. Dad installed it.

Bedroom Other Side

The rental property with the reclusive woman. A long staircase leading up to the second floor apartment, which changed tenants often. More often than not, there was a pile of moving boxes and leftover, unwanted items on the porch.

Bathroom and Guest Bedroom

The second floors of all those expansive Victorian homes across State Street. The tops of trees, the sky. This was a view you only saw if you were brushing your teeth at the sink in the bathroom and happened to turn and focus your attention through the sheer white curtains Mom hung above the two little shutters on the bottom of the window. Or if you were making the bed in the guest bedroom with the blue striped wallpaper and matching comforter.

If there were windows in the attic and basement (there must have been), I never looked out of them. The basement was Dad's stained glass workshop, so my focus was on what was being created there when I was in it. The attic was filled with childhood toys, books, costumes, dead birds, and holiday decor. I can see in my mind's eye where the light is coming from up there, and I never walked over to it, afraid of dead birds or squirrels.

My memory of this house asks for more. It is the season of more, please, until I am stuffed to the tear ducts with nostalgia.