Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Seven Trees

Fog krumps into the valley,
a coordinated pop-locked logic.
It isn't easy being weather,
open to the bitterest
of criticisms.

It takes force and atomic fractalature
to create snowflakes, it takes
the purest of cautions to make
raindrops. They are as beautiful
as death.

Broadcasts about thunder,
wind, the shaking of the earth
are a mosh pit of terror
over what we feel we can't manage
with an umbrella, or even aspire
to be. We wish to be so free.

Let the weather
express itself through stomps
and arm swings, let it battle
in a kingdom of radical, uplifting, mighty praise.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Warning: I can't write well about this now because I'm still too giddy. There will be many future rewrites. Consider this a happy, but hackneyed sketch.

There's a list of "100 Dreams" in the back of a notebook I've misplaced. The list isn't a bunch of dreams I've had while sleeping (I've got a longer record of those!). It's a list of things I'd like to do in my lifetime. Not only did I misplace the notebook (In the cubby of my desk? In a purse in the closet?) I've actually forgotten some of the things I wrote in it. I remember "sing" was on there, and I meant sing in public in a non-squeaky way, not "sing in the shower." Performing. I like it. It's nice to step out of your skin and be someone else for awhile.

I think "get a part on a television show or in a film" was on my list, but I don't remember. Apparently my list of dreams is forgettable and/or ever-changing.

Well, whether or not it was on my list is insignificant now, because I will appear in an episode of the new CBS series "Unforgettable," which airs next month. The best part of all of this is that I had a totally new life experience.

A few months ago a fellow hooper friend encouraged me to call her agent about an upcoming shoot for a show called "Girls." They needed extras who were hoop dancers. I called, sent photos, then missed the callback because, well, I was hooping and the ringer was turned off on my phone so I could use it in my iPod dock for music. Lesson learned.

Last week I got a call from the same agent, and she said she "sent my pictures along" and I was wanted for a shoot. Was I available next Friday? Sure. She said she'd call back next Thursday with details. Helen was present for this phone call. It was hard not to be absurdly giddy. They saw my photos and liked them? Wow!

I spent the week with the ringer on, and the volume turned up to unbearable. With the exception of Helen and Dan, I kept the news to myself just in case it didn't happen.

Thursday afternoon, the phone rang, and it was the agent. Was I still available for Friday for the shoot? Yes. She said she'd call again later with details. At 6 p.m. she called again, and said I'd be AFTRA waivered (a paid gig!), and I had the part of "the artist's girlfriend" on a show called "Unforgettable." I needed to give her my social security number, and then call an 800 number after midnight for the call times and details.

I set my alarm, and called the number to have a recording tell me that the call times for the show were not released yet, and I'd have to call back between 7 and 8 a.m. I went back to bed thinking that might be a game-changer for me, since a trip to New York is a three and a half hour journey. If the call was at 9 a.m., I wouldn't make it. Luckily, when I called at 7:45, I learned that my call time was 12:30 (I had to leave now!), where the addresses for the shoots were, what to bring, what to wear, and that there would not be time for everyone to have makeup and hair done. I was on my own, unless I needed a touch-up.

I threw on a vintage dress, Helen's belt, leggings, my character shoes (sandals would be eyed by wardrobe suspiciously, I feared), and I did a really quick make-up application and hair arrangement while Dan took the car to fill the gas tank. We were on our way in less than a half an hour.

We almost missed the train, but thanks to a helpful conductor, we were on the way, and it was looking like I'd be on time. One expensive cab ride later over the bridge, a little confusion over the address (I met a fellow hooper who was also there for the shoot and looking for the holding place), and I was finally there. In the basement of a church.

If I'd had time to eat, I could have had an omelet, fresh fruit, cereal, a croissant, juice. A catering truck waited outside for anyone who needed anything, but there were several tables laid out with food in the holding area. The production assistant sat at a table and handed out voucher forms to everyone as they arrived. Everyone working behind the scenes wore an earbud that was their line of communication with the rest of the crew. I didn't have to tell her my name, which was a surprise. Kyle handed me my form and said "Jenny Hill. I recognize you from your headshot." Amazeballs! A good memory, unlike mine.

Everyone milled about with their forms. I filled mine out with the help of the hooper friend I met outside. I also learned from her that sometimes shoots can be long, which was a bit worrisome since Dan was with me and wandering around the city.

I could guess what parts the other extras might be playing by how they were dressed: hipsters in skinny jeans, homeless men with shaggy hair and torn sweatshirts, moms with floppy hats. There were a few kids too. The shoot was in a park. After my wardrobe was checked, I tried my hand at having a small bowl of Cheerios, but Kyle needed me on the set and I still needed to change. The Cheerios were doomed to sog on the table by my purse as I changed and ran. Kyle ate her omelet as we crossed the street. She asked how I was doing, and if I was in Men In Black, because I reminded her of someone from a recent shoot.

When we reached the entrance to the park, she motioned to a man and said, "See that guy there with the grey shirt? Go to him." I walked in, and he high-fived me. "Jenny Hill! Let's do this!" "This" was drawing me. John (I think that was his name?) asked me to sit on a bench and he got a drawing pad out and started to sketch. Behind him, the sunny park was filled with lighting rigs, cameras, sound equipment, and crew. I kept my eye on a bolt in the back of John's easel so my gaze was the same for his sketch. The director came over and gave him some tips. "The tree needs to be key here - I mean, it's not a drawing of a tree, but it needs to be prominent." John did some erasing. He apologized for drawing me poorly since the "real" artist was supposed to be a hack. The director returned with a coffee in his hand and smiled at me. "I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself. I'm John, the director." I was really impressed by this. It was a kindness I didn't expect.

Other extras started arriving on the set and were given direction from another crew member, Sal. Hipsters sat on benches or stood, kids and their "moms" played on the playground equipment or tossed a ball, chess players sat behind their chess boards. I watched a real park turn into a set of a real park. The lighting crew tinkered with the lights in the park, switching them off and on for effect. Extending filters blocked or changed the quality of the sunlight. The trees, free agents, blew in the breeze however they wanted. I kept my gaze on the bolt of the easel until the drawing was done, and then I sat until it was my turn to be placed in the scene.

I met a guy who was a medic. He does stunt work and gets called to strangle people "the right way" or preside over violent scenes that might need the help of a medical professional. He wore a cross around his neck. The night before he saved a baby's life. For real, not a stunt.

I was introduced to my boyfriend for the scene, another Jim. He was playing the part of the artist, and I was the artist's girlfriend. He would get all the credit for John's sketch of me. We were placed near the chess players for a rehearsal.

Each group of extras had a number. Moms and kids were Group One, and hipsters, chess players, Jim and me were Group Two. I learned some new vocabulary. "Eye line." Crew needs to be out of eye line during rehearsals and shoots, or an eye line can not work in terms of where an actor needs to look. A tall blonde woman rehearsed in place of the star of the show (Poppy Montgomery) before she arrived on the set. Jim and I were told to watch for Sal's cue, and when Jim motioned to me, I was to stand up to look at the drawing and we could "chat" about it. When Poppy arrived and ran through the scene, her eye line was wrong for looking at the drawing, which meant we needed to be moved. Since the scene was going to get edited anyway, she shrewdly requested a spot to look at and they shot the scene without us. Jim and I stood on the sidewalk and watched. I could see the monitors capture what the camera saw.

We were called in again to do our background scene, and the director worked with us closely this time, giving notes to us to flirt a little, then to gesture to the drawing, chat, smile. The moms and kids were more prominent in this scene. A couple of well-behaved kids got to run around. A ball was tossed. I was so keyed in on what I had to do with Jim, and that I was getting direction from the director (!!) that I don't remember exact placement. A member of the lighting crew blocked the sun from shining on the drawing. We rehearsed two or three times, then shot the scene, and it was over.

I returned to the holding area to gather my things, exchanged emails with Jim who took a photo of the drawing, and said goodbye to others I met. I thanked Kyle, and I said goodbye to John.

I called my mom from the sidewalk by the catering truck. Our phone connection was weird, so it was a short conversation, but I had to tell her. Dan met me and was eager to show me all the rental trailers on a parallel street for the actors and crew. An entire block was devoted just to them. We walked past the park where my shoot was and everything was already packed up and gone. Only one coiled electrical cord rested on a bench. The crew was kind and fun to work with, and very efficient and organized.

It was an unforgettable experience. I don't know when the episode will air, but as soon as I do, I'll share it with everyone. I'll be watching the entire season!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eight Trees

The game always works this way -- one person has all the answers
and the rest are in the dark, left to interpret questions,

It's summer, and I'm at a table of teenage girls
who can still eat grilled cheeses and wear sarcasm like a scarf.

The Umbrella is the game we play. Yesterday we all sat in a circle
as one girl murdered each of us one by one with her eyes.

Can I bring my solar powered furnace
under your umbrella?

No, you cannot, the lead girl says with a smile.

May I bring my hate under your umbrella?

No, you most certainly cannot bring your hate.

Can I bring my dull shed under your umbrella?

Nope. No dull sheds, sorry.

Um, can I bring my alcoholism under your umbrella then?

Yes, yes you may. Please do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nine Trees

Everything has significance --
the laziest of raincoats, slack
on their hooks.

This is a series, maybe,
or at least you hope to bank
the words like rain in a jar,
full to the cleanest threads.
That can take days, an army
of them, for the drops to meet
and greet each other. Weeks
of pouring. If you're lucky,
months of damp confinement.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ten Trees

Stars snap their fingers,
refuel, then slam a palm
of light onto fronds and pines.
The moon's no crown of the sky,
its contribution blown
out of proportion through poems --
but stars glaze a reader over too.
They drip with sterility,
so efficient,
so ready.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Eleven Trees

Eleven pine trees, resinous and fine, were left to live in the center of a strip mall parking lot. Shopping center planners surrounded them with a ring of concrete, creating a long island in the center of a sea of tarmac. In the nighttime quiet, when the only people out were the drunks smoking at the 24-hour Donut Delite, the trees whispered poetry to one another. One line at a time, they passed the short phrases from branch to branch. The sixth tree, named Volta, had a very crooked trunk. She leaned into the seventh tree, who disliked her controlling voice. During the day, the pines presided over people in their rush to get to the ATM machine, Foodtown, or the Suds-n-Duds. Filmy wrapper discards from a nearby McDonald's tumbleweeded onto the island, then rolled away on another breeze to skitter across the parking lot. The sun rose and set, the stars snapped their fingers of light, the traffic streamed in a time-lapse blur, and the trees continued to whisper unheard sonnets.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Spot of Honesty with Your Tea, or Perhaps Pee in Your Tea?

Warning: These are not words of encouragement.

If we ever moved, we'd have to fold up the bookstore and take it with us for a whole other community of literary types to snub. I'm tired of the word "grateful." How about honest?

People don't want to shop local. They want quick and easy, shrink-wrapped and shipped to their doors from a warehouse. People don't want to read poetry. Even poets don't read poetry! Well, that's not fair. Some do. A few, I guess. Then there are those who just read their own poetry. Writers around here are "grateful" to have a literary community to sustain them, then never visit their local independent bookstore. Most don't even approach to ask if they can give a reading. I'd be thrilled to have a poet come in and ask to give a reading. Do I want to chase them all down to offer them readings so they can feel extra good and puffy-bloat that they are now published? No. No, I don't. Your poems have been published. Great. Now go find places to read them.

Do I want to carry your book? I don't know. Have you ever been in the store before to see what we carry? No? Then no, I probably don't want to carry your book.

This is nasty, I know, but it's honest. Sometimes I sit in this store and wonder why I'm here at all, in the same way I sometimes sit at my desk and wonder why I ever bother to write poems. No one cares about any of it, because they are all too busy caring about themselves.

I know the grass isn't greener. It's just other grass. Other grass that will still be a pain in the ass to mow. And I don't know why I titled this post with tea, honesty and pee, and then ended it on a cliché. It's not a metaphor. It's just tea with pee in it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Deliberate Progress

purpose, or nothing

the bright path of rain
through green

water hunting power

desire's forest
(musk of mushroom)

the flat blizzard
of leaving a lover,
or the updraft

anger like a whalebone
stays at the ribcage

a blank page yawn
into a new alphabet

a ladder
for the victim

the dog
at your doorstep

essence of lilac
or first day
of journey

the skylight
or the whole meadow
of tiny suns
others called weeds

oh into the humming
dawn, stumblebeast

with handfuls of butterflies,
go on living.

- JH.