Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Perfect Tomato Sandwich

This is "German Pink," an heirloom tomato we're growing at Rainbow Tomatoes. Yesterday we had two sandwich tomatoes for sale, along with an array of other varieties. A guy stopped by the stand, eyeballed the offerings and said, "You only got one tomato?" He got the spiel about the 320 varieties we're growing, and how they will ripen, and then he hopped back into his pickup and left. Well, lucky for us he didn't take our "one tomato."

Last night after no one bought this baby, we decided to have our first tomato toasty of the season. I made a quick coleslaw as a side dish. The day was brutally hot, and cooking was not on the list of things to do. This was excellent timing for German Pink to still be sitting in the green produce box at the end of the day.

I sliced it, made toast, applied mayo, pepper, and salt. We sat on the sofa to eat (kind of a regular at the end of long, hot day), and were just starting to watch an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? when I bit into my sandwich. I asked Dan to turn off the TV. I wanted to taste it better, without the noise of the television. This sandwich demanded my focus.

This was the best tasting tomato sandwich of my life. It was the Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings tomato sandwich, all the notes a complete swoon.

For this divine meal, all we did was tear up the earth, plant thousands of seeds in the greenhouse a few days after lockdown, untangle seedlings and separate  the strongest plants so they could grow under lights, bring the hundreds of grown starters outside daily in shifts to get used to being in the sun, bring them back in at night, worry over loss, cultivate fields, measure and plant the starter plants, water, weed, fling tomato hornworms off, trim the low branches, stake and tie the plants up, then tie again and again as they continue to grow. Now we're just beginning to harvest the fruit, display it, and offer it for sale.

In about a week we'll have way more than one sandwich tomato. But last night we had only one, and it was all ours.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Imagine the Video Montage

Lettuces harvested this morning to be delivered tomorrow.
Cue the happy stock music! It's the Hill-Waber Family Homestead video! Imagine a fade in/out montage of the following:

Sweat dripping from eyelids while weeding.
Flies in the duck coop.
Engorged tick on a goat neck.
A flattened tick being slid into an envelope to send to the lab.
Poison ivy rash between the toes.
Planting corn angrily.
Mouse poop in the shed.
"What do you want for dinner?"
"I don't care."
Tater tots. Again.
Cat pee on the ottoman.
Two exhausted people on the sofa by 8 p.m.

And cut!

If you've ever done a YouTube search on anything like "how to trim a goat hoof" or "how to build a duck coop," you know the sunny videos I'm referencing above. Where everything is edited and just Wonderfarm! No ticks, no balking goat, no field of poison ivy. No one has a life like that. 

There's a lot of beauty here, and progress, and plenty to share. It is lovely because we work to keep it so. My eyelids sweat. I am in bed by nine. Today we finished weeding "the anger corn" and Dan tied up tomato plants while I trimmed low leaves from each plant. We did four rows and called it a day. I am wilted, sticky, smelly, and wringing this writing out of my spongy brain.

I took photos today, because it is beautiful here, especially in early morning light.

The ducks might find this tasty if they'd go on the pond.

So many bespoke insects.

The anger corn, fully weeded, with Rainbow Rutalegga, the scarecrow.
"Give us the saltines."
Tiger lilies blooming near the pond.
Morning light and pond.
Dan with the lettuce haul.
The Duck Squad, during morning rounds.
Microtoms. So sweet! They remind you that tomatoes are a fruit.
The driveway to the produce stand was started today.
Pure evil.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There Must Be More

The trouble with my soul
is that it won’t stay inside
where it belongs. It won’t
just rest, make a nest
in the crook of an elbow
or perch in the ribcage.
It flaps, floats, bashes
itself against the windows,
knocks itself out looking,
I guess, for its own pair
of eyes, sure that the two
we have now are missing
a sunrise of eternal humility.

Friday, May 15, 2020

I Dream of Rain

My body buzzes with the grumble
of a tractor beneath it, my feet
become tires, my back a cart
that carries pails of water
to dry fields, and stones
to fill the swale. There’s
a heavy hope in our air,
tension in each lump of clay
we release to crumbs.
I point out the boulders
across the road, and later,
returned to my own legs
for balance, crouch to lift
a duck feather from the grass
and watch it drift,
a weightless curve
of what we dream on,
find our rest.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Total Zero

My body is the luminous suit that carries my spirit through this life. I get to enjoy its eccentricities and quirks, like the extra long second toes, the mole on the upper right corner by my mouth, my overall lush-as-a-jungle hairyness, lines across my forehead, a pair of clear, green eyes with aging vision. I've trained my body to be strong enough to perform various feats with hula hoops, an unusual act for someone my age. As a friend said recently, "You defy gravity." Not quite, but in order to dazzle and convince a pal I defy gravity, my body requires a daily maintenance through practice. This has helped (I think), my overall health. It keeps my brain and body challenged.

So yay! My body! I'm celebrating it all the time, right? No. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my body in a negative way:

Is that a jowl?
Why are my legs so pale and cottage cheesy? They don't even look good when I shave them.
Whoa. Arm sag.
Stretch marks.
Can I still see my hip bones? Yes. I'm ok.
My ass feels huge.
I  have the body I did in 2015, I'm ok.
I have the body I did in 2015, I'm fat.

I don't compare myself to others. I compare myself to myself.

Two years ago,  I was a size zero. I was complimented on this thinness, often. When I went to a Redi-Care center with a badly strained back muscle, the doctor spent more time complimenting my physique than assessing my pain. A fellow hooper on Instagram, one I admire, commented on how great I looked, how thin. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile would see me and the first thing out of their mouths would be about my body. "Wow! You look great! Look how skinny! Must be all that hooping!"

I felt great with all this attention, and I felt awful with all this attention. 

It wasn't all that hooping. It was stress. I wasn't eating. It was probably one of the worst times in my life. I was unhappy, depressed, out of my mind with worry all the time, and scrambling to do the right thing for someone I loved. Most days, I was dizzy. I often woke up and had panic attacks. I tried to tell myself the dizziness and panic attacks were just hormonal, but I was dangerously thin and undernourished.

To be skeletal in our society is a goal. I'm five foot eight inches tall and I weighed 117 pounds. I began to praise myself, too. "I'm thinner than I was in high school!"

I think we need to consider what we say to people about their bodies. We don't know why a person has lost weight, or gained it, or how they feel about it. But our culture sure celebrates the thin, the lost pounds, and a youthful look. All the ads I see on social media are for age-defying makeup, tricks to keep my ponytail lively, or diet apps. They have my demographic pegged.

I'm not a size zero now, and most of the time, the little voice inside my head tells me I'm fat, saggy, and too old to be doing what I'm doing. I should just stop. This voice keeps me from being happy sometimes, all these thoughts about my body and it's "failings," which aren't failings at all. It's just my body, being alive right now, in this moment. My body is the luminous suit that carries my spirit through this life. I get one. Let me love it, please, before I have to leave it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Po Chü-i

The older I get the more I need to read poems by very ancient, and quite dead poets of earlier centuries. Po Chü-i is a Chinese poet who lived from 772-846.

There's great comfort of reading the thoughts of another person, from a great distance in time, and how they connect now. Being human hasn't changed. In this poem about the dreaming and waking world, Po Chu-i reflects on how those two worlds  are both entwined and separate, and how the dream spaces allow him to move as he ages. Po Chü-i  had a long and successful career both as a government official and as a poet, and these two careers seem to have come in conflict with each other at certain points in his life, which is interesting to think about as well as I read this poem.

A Dream of Mountaineering

At night, in my dream, I stoutly climbed a mountain,
Going out alone with my staff of holly-wood.
A thousand crags, a hundred hundred valleys --
In my dream journey none were unexplored
And all the while my feet never grew tired
And my step was as stong as in my young days.
Can it be that when the mind travels backward
The body also returns to its old state?
And can it be, as between body and soul,
That the body may languish, which the soul is still strong?
Soul and body -- both are vanities;
Dreaming and waking -- both alike unreal.
In the day my feet are palsied and tottering;
In the night my steps go striding over the hills.
As day and night are divided in equal parts --
Between the two, I get as much as I lose.

Translated form the Chinese by Arthur Waley

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

For a Five-Year-Old

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.

Fleur Adcock, Poems 1960-2000, Bloodaxe Books, 2000 .

This poem by Fleur Adcock reminds me of my mother, and it is one that is in the unkempt and mislabeled filing system of my mind. It's the connection of kindness and truth, and the phrasing of the last two lines that make me think of her. The harshness of the truths in the second stanza of the poem, so harsh they make the reader wonder if they are all true, well, they are necessary to making the poem work the way it does. It's so good.

There's a family story which is related to this poem resonating with me as well. When my sister and I were young, Mom saw an opportunity to teach us a bit about science. There were a couple of slugs near the house that she sprinkled with salt to show us how they dehydrate. "You were both mortified," she said, when retelling this family story. "You cried. I felt awful." It wasn't an entirely botched lesson. I still think about it, and the places where wonder and sadness meet.

Also, I try to stay hydrated when working outside.

Thanks, Mom. I miss the realness of you.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

The Day is Just a Lifetime in Miniature

Early morning: ballet of possibility
Noon: two buckets balanced on a yoke across the shoulders
Mid-afternoon: lone fencepost of entropy
Early evening: water eddies in the stream around a stone
Night: vulture of sleep

Friday, May 08, 2020


The stone at the edge of the pond
doesn’t know it is called a stone,
nor does it need to in order to exist.
The pond water laps in wind
and all three nouns in that phrase
pond - water - wind
manage well without language,
or our categories for it,
any parts of speech, like noun.
None of this world
had a name before us,
and it still turned on its axis
somehow, without a word
for axis. Without a word.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Excavation of an Uneven Path

I prefer to kneel in the ground
until my back and neck ache,
use my hand as a trowel,
a rake, my fingernails filling
with dirt
as I search for a path
someone else laid out decades ago.

Here it winds toward the shed,
and there it ends
in a profusion
of terra cotta shards and gravel.

A pale grub of frustration
from not knowing
which way to turn
in a spontaneous mudpie
experiment. I find reward
in the tiny
ceramic basket with gold trim
excavated six inches below
where I began this morning.

It makes sense to me to bow down
to where the path might be, search
many generations worth
of stories I hold,

let anger (that lowly, but helpful worm)
with my spatial lacking lead me
to feel the grit
of whispers
from everyone who lived here before.

I listen, aware of my spine
and every impulse my body
still has in its living cells,
I hear what it feels like
to not know what I
might unearth next.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Black Vulture

Guess who has been up on the barn roof three days in a row? A Black Vulture. He looks a bit like he's been taking classes in Commedia dell'arte. Nice mask, friend.

Uh, friend? Maybe not. My ducks are out and about. The first day, I shook my fist at him, and off he flew. The second day, the same, and this morning, he was back, waiting for the thermals to start, or keeping an eye on the dead racoon at the edge of our road.  I felt like a jerk when I realized I shook my fist at the clean-up crew. He's eating a natural predator of my ducks.

So I guess he's just going to do this work until there's nothing left to be done. This morning when we came inside after feeding goats and letting out the ducks I said to Dan, "Three days in a row. Kind of an ugly omen, don't you think?" And he did my favorite thing ever, he made the vulture speak:

"No one ever shakes their fist at the garbage man! I'm not the harbinger of death! Death came first ..."

The first laugh of the morning, hearing the complaint of the Black Vulture, misunderstood supervisor of roadkill, and hopeful player of Coviello.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

What Lives There

The shed is home to a metal bouquet of tools,
hungry shovels, rakes of all stripes,
a carpenter bee snugged deep in a beam.
A nail holds the poultry waterer,
from another dangles a rag, red bucket,
a misanthropic hula hoop. Empty feed bags
(too good to throw away), sag in a corner
and complain with a coterie of fenceposts.
The shelf is a smattering of goat treats,
an opened bag of generic cheerios,
animal crackers, and the saltine box
where you found a field mouse
rustling around in a blissful panic.
The floor is rotted, just another task
we say “tomorrow” to, and from behind
a tub of sweet feed, the upside down
Mona Lisa smile of the scythe sneers
her editorial work — the instrument
made to cut out all we don’t want
from the living.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sympathy Card

Here is the iris of
a solitary cardinal on a branch of
an angel weeping into her forearm of
a heart made of hearts of
a daisy losing the last petals of
the butterflies lifting in the air of
a lotus floating on a pond of
an empty bench of
one horse standing in the fog of
the rainbow behind the roses of
a dragonfly above the lilies of
a cutout heart that makes a window of
the autumn leaves of
what words do I write now of
the loss in this space of
two panels of
winter blankness

Monday, April 27, 2020

Some Thoughts on Publication

It was important to me to make a name for myself in the literary world when I was in my late 20s through early 40s. I sent work out regularly, followed each publication's guidelines, pored over contest rules, sent out work, and had a modicum of success. It felt good to be "someone." When I won a contest that landed me at a reading in New York City among some of the A-List Poets and one of them pulled me aside after the reading to say, "I look forward to seeing your name in journals," my ego soared. I know it was meant as a kindness, a pat on the back of encouragement, and I took it as such. I was young, in my late 30s. I was becoming.

But I think about that phrase now, and it makes me wince: "Your name in journals." It was the assumption that I'd joined the elite crew of the well published, and I'd continue the machinations necessary to keep that boat rowing forward.

Well, I didn't. I doubt that poet is looking for my name in any journal, either. The boat pushes through the water without Jennifer Hill in it.

In a private group on Facebook recently, someone asked, "Do you post your poems in public on social media if you haven’t published them yet?" The responses ran from "Never," to "Well, I think you can if it's in a private group," to my response, which was this:

The older I get, the less time I have to write and share poems. I came to a place several years ago as I faced the blinking cursor in a field on a spreadsheet where I kept track of where my poems were sent, where I realized I was spending way too much time (perhaps more than writing) on tracking where those poems were. The wait was long for some. Years, for a rejection, for a poem that could have found a life elsewhere. Sometimes I'd never hear back at all. Sometimes it would be published, and I'd find out later (that was weird), or I'd be notified that it would appear in an upcoming issue, and I'd forgotten what the poem even was. So I just decided it wasn't worth the effort anymore. 

I'd rather my poems be read than lingering in an inbox indefinitely. Some of it is a letting go of my desire to "be someone" in the writing community. Some of it is my hallmark impatience. Some of it is just enjoying the writing and sharing, and hoping my poems resonate with readers. Do I ever question this letting go? Yes. I've had some success with traditional publication and I've run a press that published books of poetry. There are journals I respect and enjoy reading. I still encourage people to send their poems out, too. But when I weigh the "poem that made it into a high school textbook because it was published in that fancy anthology and got noticed by an editor" against all the real human connections I've made from sharing my poems in other settings, well, the real connections win out for me. It's a decision you make for yourself, of course, and I think you can do a bit of both, but you need to be respectful of each publication and their guidelines. 

I recognize this isn't the most popular thinking, but it's mine, for now.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

As We Become More Inside

For the past forty days
or so everyone is inside
and no one knows
what to do about it
but a snail is outside
and on the edge of rain
exploring a blade of grass
riding its slow green wave
relaxed and ready
for whatever may be
at the end.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Kneeling in the kitchen garden
in his torn plaid jacket and Irish flat cap,
broad back to me,
head bowed,
he concentrates
on a tiny, living thing
perhaps a pea start —
its thready,
vulnerable roots
and new leaves
shivering in dim light.

The April sun is a giant he follows,
who also kneels each day
to clear room for the stars
as they kiss each sprout
in the same way my eyes
graze this man
whose rooted hands
bring me all the food
I will ever eat.

Friday, April 24, 2020

I Wanted To Sing

That morning, I wanted to sing
to my students, full of feeling
about ancient voices
that were showing us
how much we are alike.
I don’t remember the song
that had such tidal pull
I wanted to share it.

How little has changed.

We wrote poems together,
combed Sappho’s fragments
for their meaning and messages
and with only two weeks time
ourselves, ripped our own poems
apart to see what still breathed
in the pieces.

We glued our sea-drift words
to blocks, built up and tore down
poems over and over again
to see what we could lift
from the wreckage.

Their senior year voices
bubbled like the secrets
of Tu Fu or Issa:

I only wanted everything,
all you have to offer —

My soul is heavy
I’m alive

I didn’t sing that day.
How could I?
It was the end of homeroom,
drone of announcements,
the pledge of allegiance,
lunch orders —
patty melt or fish sub?

They would think it
out of place, my song.
I took a coward’s silence.
I groan for this.
But what can I do?

How much I wanted
to give them,
any handful of seashells
or polished glass, sand
passed through fingers.

How little has changed:

My soul is heavy
I’m alive.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Nature's Sweet Message For You Today

Two days in a row I’ve seen the same frog
snugged into the mud by the makeshift
bridge in the watershed.
Yesterday she didn’t move at all,
just sat there, all brown and earthy,
a testament to camouflage and
will you just keep your mouth shut
for once and listen.


I wrote to a friend recently about how I really want to create right now. Every twenty minutes or so I get a blind energy, a dustup of motivation that moves me to research, take notes, or roll around on the floor with a chair and dream. Then it seems as soon as that phase is over, the doomblob rolls in, and everything feels dire and purposeless.

There's a list of projects I am pursuing very slowly, like a cat in the underbrush, wiggling and pausing, adjusting her line of sight, and pausing some more. Is this bird worth it? Is it too big? I may get my eyes pecked out.

When I'm not having full on panic attacks, making soup out of leftovers, or avoiding Facebook by reading Boing Boing, I do yoga, keep up my hoop practice, or "follow along" with free Zumba routines available online now. There's plenty online, and I'm terrible at Zumba. I do not have the hair-flipping, sexybod moves for the choreographies, but I really enjoy the attempt, the fail, and the increase in heart rate. I laugh at myself. What else is there?

Then and only then, when I have written and exercised, do I have permission to go outside and stare at a frog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Lady Wreck raises her glass
and drinks to the stiffness
in her neck, lostness of the day.
She veers into the sofa, her helm
of anxiety crashes into waves
of ambient light and laugh tracks.

Lady Wreck is so grateful to be here,
hello, hello, it’s lovely to be back
where no one can see her
billowed under blankets,
the words of her friend in a loop:

there are refrigerated trucks
outside on the streets
full of dead bodies

Lady Wreck sets her head down,
sweats, shivers, breathes in all
the hull of her body (a dinghy)
wouldn’t allow before,
takes the full weight
of the ocean on board.

Monday, April 20, 2020

As Easy as Herding a Duck

"How do you herd a duck?" is a Google search string I've typed recently, and of course, I found a helpful video on YouTube. What we've learned in the past two weeks as we take the ducks to and from their tractor, is that when frightened, ducks will play-doh themselves through small spaces, get stuck in concrete blocks, huddle in brambles, and veer off under stairwells then shoot out the bottom openings like "Vend-O-Duck."

We've also learned that they have personal kinespheres, just like people do, and once you learn their comfortable space bubble, you can use their flock instincts, and some cooked corn, to get them to go where you want them to (mostly). This morning we had our first real success, getting them out of the brooder in the greenhouse, and outside to the pyramid without any real snags. This is the first morning they are out there early, rather than later, and with any luck, we'll get them into their coop tonight.

A couple of weeks before lockdowns and social distancing began, eight ducklings arrived at our local post office and I got a call from the postmaster, Fran, to come "pick up your box full of chirps." We've been fortunate for the past two months to be preoccupied with ducklings. We were not prepared for the constant stream of care required, or the endless questioning over brooder light wattage, how to build a secure coop, or what kind of grit is needed for their digestion. But I am glad we've had the vast opportunities for creative problem solving while we've been sheltering in place. It's kept our minds and bodies busy.

I've annoyed countless friends with texts of duck pics (for the record, you really need to proofread your text messages when mentioning ducks). I've hounded my friend Howard, the Animal Whisperer, for advice and guidance.

Ducks grow fast. They are messy. They outgrew everything within a few weeks, and we lost two of them (Moonlight and The Undertoad). They've spent the past few weeks growing in a brooder made out of a livestock waterer, in a corner of the warm greenhouse.

We began to build a coop with supplies picked up, and later had delivered, the chicken wire and two by fours piling up outside our house. We researched, and planned, and neither of us has carpentry skills or any particular spatial genius. We ended up with what I call "Patchy Milatchy," or "The Duck Bunker," or "The Quack Shack."

The whole build was a "it's a learning experience!" of problems overcome with ah-ha solutions. One I applied yesterday. A couple of screws were poking out of the walk-up side of the ramp, so at Dan's suggestion, I grabbed a couple of wine corks and screwed them on. Ingenious.

The coop has to be weasel proof, and it is, we hope. It is so tightly built, that when the wood swells during rainy weather, the door is difficult to shut. It's do-able, and then locked down with two sliding hasps.

We also built a "duck tractor," a moveable safe haven for them to be in while we're not out on the property with them. It's a pyramid, because that was the easiest to build with the materials we had, and also Dan's idea.

I'm not sure what would be out there for them if I was left to my own devices to build something. I found myself outside this week on a sunny day, snagged in a curl of poultry netting, with a handful of those jabby fenceposts at my feet, trying to envision a duck run with the materials we had left over. I gave up. So for now, the ducks will move from their coop to the tractor, or out onto the pond.

My next search string for Google is, "How do you get ducks to come in from swimming on the pond?"

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Funnies (or not so)

A Short List of Things I No Longer Lick

Envelopes, to seal
A finger, to coax a page turn
The nib of a drying pen (rare, but still)
Any frayed end of yarn or string
A finger, to pick up a small piece of paper
A finger, to twiddle a plastic bag open

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Throwing Confetti Into a Vacuum Cleaner

Lists are just a way to feel in control of your life, and to put a sense of order to your day. I go through phases of making them and abandoning them. Not making a list means "anything can happen," but making a list sort of means the same thing. You are not in control.

The daybook I put together for 2020/21 is dormant right now, sitting on the edge of my desk. I'm not sure when I opened it last. If we were not in the midst of a pandemic, and all was well in the world, I'd be in full swing with a residency at an elementary school where I'd be teaching writing for the stage. Last night would have been the April edition of the Only an Hour Variety Hour, and today there would be a workshop in the Wunderbarn. We'd have overnight guests here, too. The coffee would be percolating, and breakfast plans would be underway.

Instead, I'm here with my cold cup of coffee, considering making a list so I don't lose my mind, or be the cause of my husband losing his, or spend too much time texting friends terrible YouTube videos or duck photos.

There's a lot of "would have been," that wants to be "is," and with a series of present moments that shift from doom to dim, I'm finding it difficult to make any plans. Everything feels like throwing confetti into a vacuum cleaner.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Wise Woman

By our pond the river birch resists a borer,
grows without applause for shows,
releases catkins, curls her bark, gets older —

knows when it's time to let things go.

There are so many beautiful and unique trees on our property, but I think my favorite so far is the river birch. It has a quality of quiet the other trees don't. This quiet is much needed right now, and was last year as well when we moved here and my mother was dying. Last spring when I was panic researching the types of trees I was seeing with the Audubon Guide to Trees, I gave up on the wych elm, which beguiled me with its strange, early leaves that looked like alien hairdos. Even a visiting arborist shrugged over it. I identified it later by downloading an app, and felt like I'd cheated. But that day, in my disappointment, the river birch beckoned for me to sit and and just be. It had let go of a lot of the little branches in a recent windstorm, and I got a sense of calm from being under it, looking up at the clouds and a twinkle of glossy leaves. It is somehow both shaggy and stately, like a wise woman. I find her branches after storms, little reminders that it is good to let go, to allow for new growth.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Have You Sanitized the Cat Yet?

Our daily rituals are now opportunities for infection. I find myself in a constant internal dialogue about cleanliness. Have you sanitized the doorknobs since receiving that package? You left it outside for 24 hours in the sunshine, then brought it into the kitchen where you took out the contents. You wiped the contents down, broke down the box, put the box in the recycling outside, and then you washed your hands, but did you sanitize the doorknob? The light switch? What else did you touch? Should you sanitize the cat? And what about your shoes? Have you cleaned your shoes? On the news last night they were saying that steps you take could be steps toward infection. The virus might be on your soles now.

Yesterday morning we discussed what dinner ingredients we had and I darkly joked that we wouldn't have anything to talk about at 3 p.m. since we now had a plan. We are fortunate to be food secure here, for the moment. Plenty of tuna and chickpeas, leafy greens growing, and Dan bakes bread. I look forward to the day when what we are growing we are able to share.

Our lives are so routine I can tell you where I'll be in an hour and a half, or in three hours, or at 6 p.m. In a normal world, routine is comforting, but this kind of routine is different. It's an attempt to control time, similar to how life in a nursing home operates. I'm hyper-aware of the hour. I have about another 30 minutes before I'll be sitting at the kitchen table with my husband, discussing our plans for the day.

I took a break from Facebook to avoid the endless scrolling, and everyone else's anxieties, tips and advice, and the constant stream of videos, free entertainment, and good ideas.

Am I being more productive? Not really. I feel frozen, unable to fire up the engines of energy required to pursue any purposeful project, be it paying work, or non-paying pursuits that I have begun and have stalled, collaborations, writing groups, attempts at juggling, and piano practice.

Laundry gets done. I clean the floors on my hands and knees. Animal care predicates a lot of my daily schedule, as does meal planning. I am capable of daily movement (circus training, yoga, walking) and writing, and that is about all. It feels useless at this time, but it is what I can do, and what makes me feel normal and sane.

Yesterday, after propping up a sagging maple branch, treating the goats to some pear scraps from breakfast, and collecting kindling for a fire, I walked out and looked into the surface of the pond. What I saw was a slice of the world upside down, and I knew I could stand and stare at it for as long as I wanted without having to wash my hands.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


There were plenty of peaches last August —
a hundred thousand suns drowsed on branches,
some fallen already, bites out of them.
The rule was no eating as you filled the basket,
but there were bites out of the ones on the ground,
people were cheating. How could you not
in the face of all that plumpness, sweetness
that buzzed with luscious fruit magnetism?
Everyone darted through the trees like insects,
drunk on the togetherness of strangers devoted
to a common cause,  and the children
of the family who tended the trees
gave everyone a little cart to wheel
through the rows, to make the hoarding
easier, a lighter load.

You went for another basket and then we had way
too many peaches for our household of six,
so I peeled and froze a bunch after we gorged
on all we could, and now, months later, with
all of us a safe distance apart, I bake a pie:

and drain
the extra juices
so the crust
isn’t soggy,
use a binder
like cornstarch
and surprise,
it turns out
to be artificial,
like holding
a conversation
with a peach
through a bad
phone line,
its voice
through the crust
and crumble,
a squeak,

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Other: A Prayer for Comfort

The comfort I need now
is in the sawblade of anger
bearing down
instead of saddling up
my merry-go-round
of horses again.
With some relaxation,
the teeth of the saw
will do the work, break
a clean line,
a boundary.

The comfort I need now
is to let the long story
of apathy and depression
inside my home, and fire up
the kettle of complaint
to feel its hiss and piss
and oh, what is that,
more anger, rising?
How it changes the air,
clings to walls, tears up
on the windows,
slides down
every surface,
pools to reflect
my grubby face.

The comfort I need now
is the needle of sadness
its eye threaded with flame,
the point darting tiny holes
in the perfect linen
of my childhood.

The comfort I need now
is the agility of fear
and its whisper of secrets
I already heard but ignored,
the ones I learned from dreams.

The comfort I need now
is a spotlight, a flashlight,
a candle will do,
so I can stand in the light
of my shame
for this instant of forever.
You have come to understand
that I don’t know anything
and I look jowly
with a light on me like this,
saggy with age, tired.

The comfort I need now
is for you to see
who I really am,
my shadow,
oddly shaped
from the happiness
of the sun, twin
goofs, spoofs
of each other.
See how when one exits
the other
isn’t far

Monday, April 13, 2020

It's Not Easy Being Green

When you can say, "I made this over 30 years ago," you are no longer young. You might not be ancient old yet, but if you were capable of making something out of material other than play-doh in the late 80's or early 90s, you're not young anymore. You were young then. You were ready for everything, and full of the world.

The one thing I did yesterday that was satisfying and met with some success (I burnt our dinner, and had quite a flap of a time getting ducks back inside, and I'm generally itchy and miserable right now but I'm alive), was repainting and refreshing a garden sign I made for my parents over 30 years ago.

The sign reads "It's not easy being green - Kermit the Frog." I can hear the enthusiasm in my mother's voice as she tells me she and dad discussed possible garden quotes and this one was the winner. I remember my choice of Celtic letterform, and the embellishment with a thistle.

I was smitten with the meaning of thistles, which is bravery, courage, and loyalty in the face of treachery. I had to add something symbolic and high falutin' because I was 20 and reading Wuthering Heights and the poetry of William Blake. I wore a lot of black then, and had a bad heart rhythm, and was anemic with poetry. I never thought about how a thistle is a garden weed. If my parents eye rolled at the thistle, I never saw it. They loved the sign, and placed it on the gate that led into their little kitchen garden patch where it remained for several years. This was the garden where Mom grew tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and oregano, and the contents inspired her perfection of eggplant parmesan, which she made often.

When they took down the fence, the sign disappeared, until a couple of years ago when I found it in the basement of their house, just as it was about to be sold. There it was, screwed into the bottom of one of dad's stained glass work tables where he'd used it to create a side for a glass filing system. It was still in service. When I saw it, the question that governed that time in our lives loomed: Did I want it? My sister and I had spent almost a year clearing out our parent's house -- selling, giving away, or sheepishly acquiring the objects of mom's life. I decided I wanted the sign, found a screwdriver, and worked out the screws. I took the sign home where I put it on the back porch of our rental, where it didn't make much sense.

When we moved to our new home, the garden sign ended up out by the kitchen garden, where it sat on a green plastic chair. It caught my eye recently. It was stained with mold, and looking faded. I had plenty of time to refresh it in the middle of an isolating afternoon, so yesterday I sat out on the grass by the duck tractor and spent an hour or so painting. I traced over my old letterforms, the ascenders and descenders of my youth, letters robust with feeling and intent. I replaced only one thing. The thistle. In its place is a cotyledon -- the first leaves of a plant. A simple sprout that can be anything. Ready for the world.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Assignment for Self-Isolation

Turn on the oven for no reason at all.
Regard every object in your room with a hello, including the nail file.
Listen to that noise you can’t identify without trying to name it.
Describe your shoe, in detail. Now you’ve said something about death.
Forget a relative’s name, then sort through old photos as if you’ll remember.
Try to describe the sky without using the words blue, cloud, or paperweight.
Tell us what you’re really feeling right now.
Sing a song about three lies you’ve told.
Pick at that scab. Poke at the wound.
Write about how lists are just attempts at control.
Wonder why you are writing at all.
Be enthusiastic and smiley for no reason, and live with how rotten it feels.
Cheat on the personality quiz.
Make a list of ten things that are impossible.
Make a list of six things that bring you joy.
Make a list of three things that are wrong with the world.
Now title your list poem: “The Narrator Is Not Me”
Build a relationship with someone in your mind, cheat on them,
and write about it in one sentence.
What was the aftermath?
What was the why?
Now write about all of it using only one word.
Tell about your life without using any pronouns or the letter s.
Use a semicolon, then apologize for it.
Use a lot of exclamation marks, and don’t apologize.
Make a list of three lies you have told.
What was the best lie you ever told?

What do you wish you had done differently?
Walk around the bottom of a lake and tell us what you see.
Get angry, lava level angrysad, and then bake a loaf of bread.
Everyone is baking, it's better than thinking too much.
Your oven is warm enough now.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Turncoat of Hope

We’ll get through this
perhaps, it’s feasible,
within our reach,
there’s a likelihood,
eventually, some
it’s within the realm,
Deo volente,
well, it's contingent upon,
achievable, actionable,
probably, sure,
it is likely,
it’s a tossup
of imaginable

Thursday, April 09, 2020

This Poem Can't Live Up To The Epigraph

“The Sun is thousands of times bigger than Earth; I block it out with my hand.”
            - William Stafford

Well now I’ve done it,
started a poem with an epigraph
by none other than William Stafford
and now every syllable of this piece
better live up to the giant, the Sun.
And that means, if you follow the logic
of the metaphor? analogy? aphorism?
(she’s unsure, ha, ha!), I block his words
out with my hand, like that redactive
poetry scheme to reveal a fresher
universe of language:

Nope, that’s not me,
not my hand, anymore,

I won’t try to sell you this poem.

My pen across the page
makes a sound that tells
me nothing about where it is headed,
(also a thought of Stafford’s,
a beam directly into my brain).

I never know what to expect,
or when everything is finished,
what I've said or omitted,
if anything has taken root
at all, or even if it matters.

The ideal life for words:
under the Earth (not a star!)
instead of above it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020


Wow. Just wow.
It’s time to clean up your mess.
Do a number on this ghost room,
clear out the salmagundi.

The piles are irreverent —
jumbles of photographs,
gum wrappers, spent matches.
Lift the fragile heft of reminders,
that half a fence post, bent pewter steins,
your father’s commemorative lighter,
and the closet filled with your scribbles.

If you can’t let go, just catalogue
the imbroglios of your life
in ten year increments, write out
the tabs, file all those olla podridas
of humiliations.

What are you going to do about this:

the coffee can full of keys
to unlock doors that no longer
exist, from all your family addresses
that are now outlines
in the air.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Self Portrait As Bitten By Mosquitoes

Nightfall, sundown,
dusk, the gloaming,
(as my husband calls it),
twilight, the time you most
want to be outside, perhaps
waiting for the song
of the ice cream truck,
playing a hijinx of hopscotch,
or enjoying a drink on the patio,
you hear their high whine.

Oh the grey clouds that hover
over the pond, or malinger
in damp grasses, or damnedest of all
they slip into the house through
torn screens. Blood bandits.
I’ve fought them all my life.
They love my 98.6 degrees
of Type A positive.

“All mosquitoes that bite you
have your name,” said
my grandfather one summer
when I was poxed with bites
so badly I got a fever.

Last night I caught one
poised by my face, eye-to-eye,
taking my temperature
as I brewed tea,
and I brought my hands
together in a smack so loud
and sharp my palms rang
out like church bells,
a holy palmers' kiss.

When I opened
the book of my hands
there was this text
you read now
written sanguine,
the poem of me.

Monday, April 06, 2020

A Grocery Story

Pretty soon, you’ll hear the drums
that make up the stark accompaniment
for this fragile bulk of emotion
at our grocery stores,
a theatre of masks
under the thrummy-chummy
fluorescent lights.

A man with a plaid scarf
wrapped around the lower half
of his head sets the stage
for a snowstorm drama.

The young woman with tranquil calico
spread across her mouth and nose
is a prairie romance.

A skulk of bandits in the bakery
aisle eye donuts from under
triangles of bandanas:
a western.

The most vulnerable
character is the elder
in an N-95, a turtle
with a walker pocket
full of cat treats
and a cart piled
with TV dinners.
A bewitching
who has something
important to show
us all if we aren’t
too fearful to see it:

That blue gaff tape
reminds us players
where we must stand
to find our light
at the check-out.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Not a Poem/Letting Go

While everyone else is making masks, or delivering groceries, I've been writing poems. I'm not proud of this. I feel frozen. I'm terrible in a crisis. Introspective, or worse, panicky. When there was a fire here on Thanksgiving, I ran out to the pond, screaming and crying. Very useful. At least I know myself?

I've been outside a lot, as weather will allow it, to help dig an extension to our kitchen garden. Images of this work have come up in a couple of recent poems -- roots, digging, worms. I shared a few photos on Facebook of my gleeful ride on the broadfork. There's circus showmanship in it, but overall, it's work with a capital W. Rocks haven't made it into my recent poems yet, but they have been plentiful.

Yesterday the blades of the broadfork tinged off several rocks as I made attempts to gain ground. I had a hard time gaining any kind of ground. I fought with a long root, got rained on, windblown, heard my shoulder pop, and finally moved the stake that marks the end of the garden because I was too tired to finish the last little wedge.

Yeah, that's right, I cheated. I gave up. My whole body yelped. The space might have held  another cabbage or two. The garden is huge. We'll have plenty of cabbages to share, was my justification.

I have my husband's practicality to thank for this garden. For all the greening here. It was his vision to grow our own food, and his ingenuity and determination have gotten us to a point where we can. We had a shared vision to live in a place like this (years ago we wrote letters to each other describing the details of this house), and the nature is nurturing, especially now, but it was his good sense that brought us to growing lots of vegetables. The greenhouses are filled with growth. The gardens are chilly, but starting to show promise.

My husband is practical. I am not.

While he's been doing the research and work necessary to bring food to tables, I've been perfecting my eight hoop split, writing poetry, and dreaming of being followed by a parade of ducks.


Oh, here's a rock.

A memory of my mother on the floor, with a broken shoulder, the moment that led to her losing everything in her life that brought her joy and purpose -- theatre work, keeping a house, writing letters, snuggling her cat. All of that, gone. Now she's gone.


I feel a little more of what she might have felt. I'm glad she's not here for this pandemic, and I miss her presence in my life. I hear her message of "You have to let go of what you once were," while I'm outside, digging. Even though there's the hope that I may return to the work that gives me purpose and a lift in my step, right now there's no point in pursuing it. No, I do not want to do Zoom classes, or put on a costume to perform to an audience of screens.

I have no sense of purpose now, other than to disturb worms, and I need to be ok with that. I need to be quiet, and listen.

It might be ok to feel frozen right now. To not know what to do. It might be what's best for me.

But today I need to pull out my mother's sewing machine and make masks, because we have to go out and get groceries.


Oh look who it is! Miss Whatever-Her-Name-Was, our home economics teacher in the 8th grade. There she is admonishing me for not paying attention while she showed us how to wind the bobbin. I was daydreaming, of course. Look at that cloud.

Friday, April 03, 2020

For You

Here’s a potato.
That’s it, yes, a potato,
something for you to eat
dug out of the ground
with my hands
which I washed
before digging
and washed again
after (I like dirt under nails)
and then I scrubbed
both the potato and my hands
and now it’s been
out on our porch
for 24 hours
in the sunlight,
so when you’re out
for your walk
you can come
pick it up —
the one potato
that somehow
this winter.

Thursday, April 02, 2020


I wish I could say what I am
or am not going to write about
with some air of authority,
but the days offer up what they will —

Canyons of resistance,
the open beak of a dying bird,
a root taken hold in the garden
like an umbilical cord.

I don’t know what any of it means,
the terrible burble of images
I reach down into my throat for
past ribcage,
and stomach,
into the glistening dark
of sweet, warm blood
that is the me, you, me, you tide
to pull up a handful of what
rich men fear and mock —

Common shells of silence
or moaning weeds of the real,
all the sudden,
spontaneous operas
sung after we hear
the swarming,
wounded pulses
in our own ears.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


Time has stripped the letters
from all the tabs in my dictionary,
gagged the alphabetical order.
Your guess is as good as mine
where the word “prank” hides.
What a gambol definition is now.
Olly olly oxen free!
Ah, there you are, you hotfooter,
just thirteen entries fooling
over “pray.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Can’t You Just Be Nice

We all need the sun today,
yesterday, tomorrow —
all summer in the now,
and I resent being told
to provide it.

Put on your makeup,
you’ll feel better.

Wear a bra.

Be creative.


Be nice,
can’t you just
be nice for once?

For my birthday
this year, I woke
up in tears, fired
up the percolator,
and wrote some
obscure metaphor
that only (maybe)
archers understand.
I’m not sure
I even get it.

Target missed.

The cupcakes
I baked for myself
and my husband
were rocks.

Jack called and we sang
Happy Birthday
to each other
in the key of hysteria.

Outside in the rain,
worms celebrated.

I read something tidy
about how what you write
can never be finished until
you’re embarrassed by it.

What a relief.

Everything I’ve written
can be put to bed,
tucked under the covers,
each word nodding off
on greasy pillows of shame.


My mother
wanted to see
what I’d be like
as an old woman,
and well,
this is it:

I am not nice.

The other night
when I let my hair down,
a stink bug droned out,
pinged its body against
the mirror where I caught
my folded face.

My middle finger
is swollen.

This poem is

Monday, March 30, 2020


You’ll forgive the expression, I hope
for my various nostalgias of early March:
Children on swing sets and slides,
two people sitting on a park bench
sharing a lunch, park lovers
held together by an invisible parenthesis.
I considered attending church
when I saw the first crocus,
then didn’t, and a great song
rose without me anyway,
like wind on waves,
one voice from many.

Breathing the same air,
you took a sip to taste
my coffee, that sweet
ignorance of living
which now leads to
doubt, and deadly,
and doom, your lips
two surfaced sharks.

Here we are today,
souvenirs stapled to a wall,
benign but mad pennants
facing the mirror of history.

Yes my heart slaps,
urges, flashes, spreads,
plies a blistered speech
without anyone else
listening or hearing.

I am held together by a parenthesis,
that absurd embrace of whispered words.

Here is where I drop in
the anticlimactic lapse
of a question mark.


You’ll forgive the expression:
I hope.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Happy Mirthday from Lady Paramount

You’re trying too hard
to laugh, so you can’t.
Target panic.

You must cry first
in order to laugh.
So let us, as a group,
in our separate
but safe spaces,
lay down and laugh

Turn up your volume.
We want it to be contagious.
This is the kind of virus
we need right now,
to hear the primitive,
unconscious mechanism
at play. Uncontrollable.

I’ll guide you through
your epiphanies of shame,
your wah-wah moments
of defeat and lacking,
the failure of being you
in front of an audience
until you’re disoriented
and stumbling, and then
and only then will you
receive my invisible seal
of approval, the holy
gold star for rising
to the paradox,
releasing to minnow
the hollow air.

Friday, March 27, 2020

If I Polyester: A Birthday Anagram

This day is cracked
open like the eggs
I cannot buy or borrow.

I am sorry to report
that your cake
will be a bird fighting
the wind,
crossed scissors,
or a joker.

So instead you get
an anagram.
A star, or rats?
Live or evil?
Mood or doom?

Sovereign of grump
coiled in my brain,
take a nap.

Whorl, whirl
for better words.

Life is poetry
gives us gazelles
of possibility.

Your birth 
life is poetry
charcoal eyes 
feister ploy
all past, present,
and future verse 
eerily if stop

Today you are 28,
a hawthorn wreath.
Plant each black pansy
seed we sent
free soil pity
and imagine us
laughing together
at yeti profiles,
I frostily pee,
riot if sleepy,
refile it posy,
feel spirit, yo.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Journal of American Poetry

For beautiful pressed flowers
gather those free of spots or blemishes.
Sunny days are best for gathering.
Pluck off damaged petals,
Cull wilted leaves,
pull seeds that look as if
they might damage the pages.

You’ll need a telephone book
or some weighty tome —
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,
the Dictionary of Symbolism,
the Oxford English Dictionary volume A-O,
The Holy Bible.

Some prefer the Dictionary of Miracles:
Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic.

Whatever you have
that is heavy will do.

Pull a length of parchment paper
and lay down your
Enchanter’s nightshade,
apple blossom
spiderwort —

Fold the paper over it,
and squash
somewhere in the middle
of your book.

Forget every detail
of its life
and let it wilt
between the pages.

It will eventually dry,

In a few decades
someone looking up
the origin of the word
will find your poem,
now a brown stain
across the word

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


I think it’s the silent e
in the word humane
that gets under the skin
of my eyelid the most.

Sometime during the 17th century
we decided that human
was different from humane.

You can be “of or related to
the family of human beings,”
or you can be “compassionate,
civil, gentle, inflicting
the minimum of pain.”

Shake any hand now
and receive a dollop
of hand sanitizer
and a lecture
from a total stranger.

Get within six feet of me
and you can hear the muscles
in my neck and shoulders stiffen.

Right now, being human is an error.
There’s a bad bit of code
in the loop, a glitch.

Humane. We don’t know
what that is, other than
the silent e as a wall,
a border that helps us
console ourselves.

It’s a foil blanket
covering the words
that always follow:

Say it. Humane.
Feel how the silent e contorts
your face into a terrible grin
with the elongated a.

Say human and you feel
the tip of your tongue
touch the roof of your mouth
and your lips close
to a place of being

Monday, March 23, 2020

Distance Greetings

Sunday, and I overturn dirt,
disrupt the wormy darkness
of this spring isolation,
when a stranger bicycles past
carrying a candelabra
of hello, how are you,
I’m just fine,
thank you.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Here’s the news for today:
Some seeds stick to your gloves.

The clouds, clods of dirt, that stream
that cuts through the woods —
they are not just within our grasp,
they are our hands, eyes,
and mouths.

Clouds as hands, you say?
Tut tut.
Eyes of dirt?
Mouth of stream water?
Must be fake news.

We think of that as “someday,”
you know, six feet under.
A few hundred worms, some time,
grab of roots at the ribcage.

The Big Takeover.

It took falling in love,
having a child,
and almost losing my life
to know my heart as
a mountain, feet as the tides,
my hair, each strand
connected to a river birch
that is rotted on the inside.

I still forget what I am made of
if I spend too much time
in the car, or find myself
inside a grocery store,
or staring at the screen
of my screw-this-thing phone
looking for anything
more interesting than
my own mind, which,
I realize I am reporting,
is mostly moss on a rock.

Right now I look out this window
(sand and fire)
with my glasses on
(sand and fire)
my eyes
(sand and fire)
at the field
where we broadcast
wildflower seeds yesterday,
the littlest ones
holding onto my hands
like kindergarteners.
They wouldn’t let go.

They whispered this news:
Sand and fire,
water and wind.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What I Miss About Being Near You


We are near each other, sitting side by side on the somewhat punishing cushion of our kitchen banquette. You notice the little hair coming out of my chin that catches the sunlight. I see the fleck of amber in your left iris. You notice how the skin around my eyes fans out when I smile.


Here, have you tried this cinnamon turmeric tea? It's supposed to cure being human. I think it makes you immortal or something. Let me pour you a cup. Bitter? A little. We can cut it with these oatmeal cookies I just made, and the cranberries, sour. Bitter, sour, and lumpy. Welcome to teatime at Jenny's!


When I spill the tea all over the table, we both reach for the nearest napkins, and press them into the spreading pool. What a klutz I have always been. Forgive me. Our hands touch, and we play that pile up game where the hand on the bottom slides out and goes to the top, until we're a mess of hands and napkins. We laugh.


Oh, your laugh! God, I love laughing. It's all I want to do. When I am near you, I hear your breath. That's the poetry of the body, the inhale, exhale, langorous sigh, bubbling laughter. Your voice is a syncopation that reminds me of watching the insides of a piano when it is being played.


When you stand up to get another splash of milk for the tea, I smell the laundry detergent you used this week coming off your clothing from the heat of your body. You detect the hint of my unwashed hair, and we both catch, through the open window, the scent of spring air. You say, "It's a long time coming." I agree. That lift of life scent is a long time coming, every single year we get to experience it.


Hip hitch when you stand (aging), the slightest lean forward from the chest (your heart leads you), and then a glide that is somewhere between sailboat and assuring door latch. Your hands puppet the words you speak, bring them to life. And when something strikes you as really funny, you put your hand over your heart and your head tilts back so I can see right up your nostrils, almost right into your brain. An invitation into what you're thinking.


Our bodies are not a boundary between us and the rest of the world.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Your Friday Briefing

During this time of constant change
we understand that this is a difficult
and complex time.

Surreal time.
Crazy time.

Through this time of great challenge,
in these unprecedented times,
with this uncertain time.

During this challenging
and unpredictable time,
this critical time,
we are taking some time
with this bizarre
and ever-changing time.

These are serious times
in this time of crisis.
What an atypical time,
a supremely challenging time.

In these strange times
for certain
we are aware
of time.

In times like these
for the time being —
what a time
to be alive.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Face Times

Everything is closed now.
We can’t touch each other.

Yesterday I saw my daughter’s face
in the rectangular room of my phone.
She told me how she spent
the morning at work making meals
for a woman and her daughter
who are living out of a car
in a local park.

I wanted to hug
everyone in the story.
My daughter, her boss,
the woman, her daughter,
whoever delivered the meals.

Everything is closed now.
We can’t touch each other.

This is as close as we can get.
You are reading  these words
made up of letters
I just typed, each letter
a pattern of pixels.

Everything is pixels now.
Keep your molecules to yourself.

A Brooklyn friend, using
Facebook Live, gives daily tours
of Greenwood Cemetery.
He showed us the statue of Minerva,
a Roman goddess with her upraised hand
forever waving at the Statue of Liberty
a few miles to the west.

What a strange friendship
between the goddess of wisdom
and the symbol of freedom,
they never really touch,
just wave politely,
with too much distance
between them
for any real conversation.

Everything is closed now.
But waving is acceptable.

I’ll bet both of them
are hungry, poor, and tired
of the living talking of freedom
on one side of the river
and all the dead
on the other, so silent.

Didn’t Achilles’ mother
dip him in the river Styx
while holding him by the ankle
and so his heel became
his most assailable place?

We try so hard to protect.
Everything is closed.

Oh, we are all so vulnerable,
and we don’t like to be reminded.

I owe a huge debt in this world,
and this is some of what I have now
to pay anything back before I go:
these words
in this space
between us.
Take them
as you would
my hand.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Strong Measures

It’s five in the morning
and the moon is public property,
so enjoy its impression
of a child’s construction paper cutout.
Subscribe to its channel.

We are all relieved the sun
hasn’t been cancelled today.
We need the light to fill
our stunned-to-darkness places.

Please remember the sun
is for others, too. Pick up
after yourself when you’ve
spent time in the clouds.
There are no restrictions
on contemplation,
no shuttering
of deep thought.

The daisies in the park
will not be punished
for raising their faces
to yours. Planting seeds
is permitted, encouraged.

We realize these are
strong measures to take,
so, please, please, obey
the flourish of dandelions
and grow where you can.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


How is this even a thing,

Up to our twilight knees.
Up to the loaf of our bellies.
Up to our solar plexuses.

Green, how I love you.

Birds, how you sing anyway,
not knowing our shadow headlines.

Daffodils send their blades
up through the earth.

It’s quiet inside

The hellebore
bows, facing a sunset
filled with shade.

We have a hard time
living here, in this
empty speech bubble.

Up to our armpits.
Up to the penumbra of our hearts.
Up to our necks.

The south wind
(pay attention to direction)
is swelling.

I dreamed the song
I’ll never lift,
a cloud lullaby,
lyrical haunt.

Up to our twitching noses.
Up to our half-closed eyes.
Up to the disorganized rain in our minds.

Stash of silence.
Hoard of solitude.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Panic Corner in the Language Center

There’s a part of the language center in my brain that I imagine as a large filing cabinet — one of the metal ones with drawers that stick. Tucked inside dog-eared folders are the words I never use, but which pop up like song lyrics. I spent an entire day wondering where spanghew came from and why I was thinking of it, and it never got used in anything I wrote or said. It was just my mantra for the day. Ah, but here it is now, sparkling in its obscurity, begging for you to look up its definition.

My sister and I share a general abhorrence for any food that is slimy in texture. At a restaurant together, with a set meal, we were served a dish that is similar to potato, which gets blended into a viscous soup. It is served over rice. The entire time I was in Japan I was careful not to offend anyone, but I was pretty sure I was not going to like this dish, and didn’t want to leave any untouched. As Naomi served it up for everyone, I said, “sukoshi,” and made a little gesture with my thumb and index finger to indicate “small.” She understood and spooned out a tiny bit.

Sukoshi is the word for “a little bit” in Japanese that I learned 20 years ago when I studied some “get around words” for my first trip to Japan.  Like most of what I used that trip, which included "Otearai wa doko desu ka?”, the word was relegated to that filing cabinet. When I needed it most, in that critical moment of being served a food I might not finish, there it was, like a superhero in a bright red cape.

I probably could have finished the dish. The entire meal was delicious. Oishii. That’s a word I’ll use often.

Yesterday I decided I’d like to have prints made of the photos I took on our trip. I uploaded them all to Google Drive, thinking that would connect to the drugstore’s photo center kiosk. It did not. Google Photos was available, that celestial super-cloud of data I never think about, or I could use Facebook, Instagram, or connect my phone directly to the kiosk with my power cord. Who takes their power cord with them everywhere? I went to another drug store, which had no photo center. Then I ended up at the store of the Living Dead: Wal-Mart.

I thought I’d just breeze through the aisles of zoned-out shoppers by taking the superhighway lane in the middle of the store, straight to the back. My goal was electronics, where the photo kiosks were. A young man at a booth chirped, “Ma’am, may I ask you a quick question?” and I replied, “Nope, I’m on the run.”

“On the run?” From what, exactly? I have never used that phrase before, but the panic center, the part that hates dealing with nonsense, called it up and without thinking, spanghewed it out of my mouth. It worked. The guy backed off whatever his sales pitch was. I didn’t have to talk with anyone who called me “Ma’am.” I wouldn’t feel obligated to buy The Thing I Didn’t Need or Want.

When you’re in a pinch, facing an awkward social situation, the words may just come to you,  unbidden. These are the words you didn’t know you knew, the ones waiting inside untouched folders, the ones whose definitions might need to be researched, but oh, they’ll do the trick as you make your great escape.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Watching Me Watch Myself: A Meditation on Meditation

A quiet mind has never been my hallmark. It reels with proclamations, self-judgements, to-do list items, conversation reviews, philosophical meanderings about time, diatribes on appliance repair, scraps of poetry and song, floating dream images, and survival thoughts — like what might be for dinner. I should go to the grocery store.

When my sister suggested a “Movement Meditation” class at the Satoyama Design Factory during our visit in Kamogawa, I said “Yes! I can do that if there’s movement!” She said she thought it might be about a half hour of dance followed by a half hour of quiet. I wasn’t sure about the quiet, but thought I’d try.

I’ve never done any kind of long meditation before, but I once attended a yoga class that had a guided visualization the end. “Imagine a boat at the shoreline,” the soft-voiced instructor intoned. Lavender misted out of a diffuser in the corner of the room. The set-up was lovely. Instead of relaxing into the image, I argued with myself over which color the boat should be. Blue? No, too on the nose. Red? Too alarming, this is supposed to de-stress. Wait, what is that over there by the cattails? A dead fish? I never got out on the boat. I ended up poking at all the fish that were belly up in my mind.

The idea of combining movement and meditation, where flinching might be allowed, perhaps even flailing, appealed to me.

Our instructor explained in Japanese that there were five stages to this type of meditation, all of which were to be performed with our eyes closed. Kristen translated for those of us who didn’t understand. This class was actually Dynamic Meditation, a registered trademark meditation in a series of offerings from Osho, who was an Indian godman and founder of the Rajneesh movement. During his lifetime he was viewed as a controversial new religious movement leader and mystic. There was a little color photo of him in a frame on the shelf facing the open space where we’d practice.

The first stage of the meditation consisted of ten minutes of breathing through the nose while keeping your knees slightly bent and movement natural. I made short, staccato like breaths, with a focus on the exhalation. Osho’s website describes it as “chaotic.” We were instructed to blow our noses beforehand, but my experience with this stage got messy anyway. I had to wipe my nose on my sleeve a couple of times.

Stage two was “blasting off like a rocket” or “exploding like a volcano.” Ten minutes of vocalizing from the depths, holding nothing back. Wail, scream, cry, sing ... anything goes. Your mind isn’t supposed to get in the way, but I found myself on the floor at one point, recalling a movement theatre class where we were all monsters.

Stage three was jumping with arms up in the air for ten minutes with a mantra of ”hoo” on each landing. You are supposed to let your flat-footed landing “Hammer deep into your sex center.” I think that was lost in translation for me, or I was zoned out when it was mentioned. I just got exhausted here. You’re supposed to “be total.” I felt about half, maybe two thirds, worrying about the blood flow to my arms, and wondering if my ankles would swell up from all the jumping.

Stage four was standing still for 15 minutes in whatever posture you found yourself in when the bell rang at the end of stage three. My arms were up in the air. You are not supposed to move. No coughing, fidgeting, anything. My arms began to sag at about the five minute mark, and were left halfway up my torso, palms facing out, like I was being held up in a robbery. However, this is the stage where I saw color, and felt a really strong energy flow, and my brain finally shut off for a moment. I cried. Then my brain was back on.

The fifth stage was 15 minutes of dance. A celebration. An ecstatic end to exit with.

It turned out flailing was encouraged in this meditation. The stage where I saw color left an impression on me, although I’m not sure what to do with it. Let it flow through me. Observe.

Osho said of this meditation, “… bring your total energy to it, but still remain a witness. Observe what is happening as if you are just a spectator, as if the whole thing is happening to somebody else, as if the whole thing is happening in the body and the consciousness is just centered and looking. This witnessing has to be carried in all the three steps. And when everything stops, and in the fourth step you have become completely inactive, frozen, then this alertness will come to its peak.”

Tod and Dan arrived at the door at the end of our meditation, dressed and ready to go to the onsen. I was glad the next thing on our agenda was a trip to the public bath, where the water would be steamy and melt my muscles. I was ready to relax after all that meditation. Maybe I’d even imagine an invisible boat on some unnamed shoreline.

Oh Noh

There is no cure for a case of the giggles. You try to stifle, and the “funny thing” just becomes funnier. Your sides hurt from the quaking. Your eyes water. Maybe they’ll think you’re crying, maybe no one will notice, maybe they won’t send the usher over to politely whisk you out of the theatre.

Browsing shop stalls at the Temple of Asakusa, I saw some Kyōgen masks, the characters for the comedic interludes during Noh theatrical pieces. The two that caught my eye were Oji, the old man, and Usobuki, a face with surprised eyes and a pinched mouth, a character who can only whistle. I was reminded of my wish to see some theatre while we were in Japan, and turned to my sister. “Do you think there are any Noh productions happening while we’re in Tokyo?” She did some research. The National Noh Theatre had a Fukyu-Koen (Dissemination Performance (Introduction to Noh) on the 11th. Perfect. She got us tickets.

The National Noh Theatre entrance is an open space, with sculpted trees in front of a low building that has a center courtyard. While we waited for the doors to open to the performance, we explored an exhibit of scrolls that depicted scenes from Noh plays from the Edo period, on loan from the Kobe Women’s University Library. There was also a small series of chant books that the actors used for rehearsing.

The theatre seats 200 people, and each seat back is outfitted with a screen for translation. A relief. I’d need that. The National Noh stage looks like a small temple, with some trees painted against the upstage wall, and a long stage right entrance that leads onto the main stage. Actors glided in from behind a curtain and made their way to the mainstage like they were floating on clouds.

Before the production began a professor from Kobe University stood in the center of the stage in his white socks and dark suit and discussed the historical context of the plays. This wasn’t translated. Kristen leaned in occasionally to whisper — “He’s talking about the sea, and the geography of a battle. Now he’s explaining some kind of helmet collar that gets pulled.”

The first play, a Kyōgen titled, “Suhajikami,” was about two farmers going to market. One is a seller of ginger, and the other a seller of vinegar. The entire play is a series of puns, various plays on the words “su” for vinegar, and “hajikami,” which means ginger, as the two sellers vie for space at the market. The twenty minutes of wordplay ends on a boisterous laugh between the two. There were chuckles from audience members throughout, but if you are not a proficient in Japanese, some of the puns are lost, even with translations. My sister seemed to understand most of it. I enjoyed the slow movements of the actors, and the spirited tonality of their voices, which was song-like and made the chant books in the exhibit make more sense to me.

The actors didn’t wear masks. Their action was a slow float, glide, and turn. In many ways, it resembled martial arts, loaded with intention and meaning. The costumes were elaborate, and I felt I was missing something here as well, not understanding what the patterns and textile choices might mean. It felt a bit like reading Chekov — I got the gist, but I wasn’t experiencing the richness for an ignorance of cultural and historical background.

The main Noh play, which came after the Kyōgen, was “Akogi,” a story in which a monk encounters an old fisherman on the beach and discusses an old poem describing Akogi-ga-ura beach. The monk asks why the beach is called Akogi-ga-ura,and the old man tells the story of a fisherman named Akogi who was discovered poaching fish in the sanctuary, and was executed by drowning off the shore of the beach. He encourages the monk to console the spirit of Akogi, who is still suffering in hell.

In the first half, we hear the old fisherman tell the story of Akogi to the monk. It is nearly sung, with little movement, with the addition of some drumming and chanting. Reciters add to the text in a way that felt echoic. After intermission, when the fisherman (who we now suspect is the spirit of Akogi) disappears, we are introduced to a traveler returning home who sees the monk resting in his hut. The monk explains that he was just regaled with a story by an old fisherman, and he thought the hut belonged to him.

This is getting long, isn’t it?

I peeped down the row of audience to my left.  All asleep. The man who was seated late in the middle aisle was sleeping. Four people in our row were nodding off.

The owner of the hut begins to tell the tale of the fisherman … again. Another long, poetic retelling of poaching on the high seas, with drums, echoing words, and slow movement. I wasn’t prepared for the retelling. Kristen leaned in as we read the translation of the traveler’s monologue together. “Maybe he doesn’t know the whole story.” And then he began, “In the year …” and she whispered, “Nope, looks like he knows it.”

That set me off in giggles. It was a release from intense storytelling, but I was in the National Noh Theatre. I should have reverence for a craft that has been around since the 14th century. My laughter felt worse than poaching fish. I was in a state of helplessness, like Akogi, unable to find my way back to the shores of propriety. When I couldn’t stop, Kristen and I slipped out of our seats (luckily they were in the back on the aisle) like two schoolgirls skipping class.

The drama ends with us disappearing into the ocean of Tokyo’s winding streets to meet everyone at the Akita Festival —a festival devoted to dogs so devoted they wait for their masters who have been dead for years to return from work. I wonder if Akogi had an Akita still waiting for him to return from his damnation. I wonder if there will be one waiting for me — hee hee hee.