Monday, March 29, 2021

Self-Portrait at 52

Hex of snow I pluck,
lattice of lines I live with,
and this body, Saturnalian,
still rises at 5 a.m.
A quick jerk, upright
each minute the last minute
in this hollow hour.
Bees spark inside me,
and stones moss over,
the entrance shaded.
There’s less to say now.
I see.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Romayne's Game

 My grandmother fans a deck of cards across the table and back again. She plays with the standard Hoyle Pinochle deck. The back of each card is printed in red ink with images of Neptune emerging from a shell. She cuts the deck in half, taps it against the table, then brings each stack to touch at the corners, her thumbs guiding the flipping cards to sift together. Cobalt veins bulge in my grandmother’s hands, map up the length of her bare forearm. After sliding all of the cards back in line, she taps a perfect, frosted fingernail of pointer finger on the top of the deck.

It is summer. A small glass of pale beer waits for my grandmother’s sip. The door to the apartment is open to the shouts of the landlords kids who are playing a lazy game of two-kid football on the lawn outside. Their little dog, Tannie, yips, leashed to her doghouse in the wooded grove by the salon. It is warm and humid. I can feel my hair expand. The waistband of my shorts cuts into my belly as I peel off the top layer of a licorice Allsort with my bottom teeth.

I am finally learning how to play pinochle. Romayne’s game. This is it. I’ll be an adult. No longer relegated to games of Uno or Go Fish, or simply watching from my spot on the floor as cold cuts are passed, and laughter fills the room above me.

Romayne cuts the deck, snaps the edges down hard, sifts them together. She lights a Parliament, dragging deeply through pursed lips, then on the exhale begins to explain the two-player rules.

I hear a lot of words that are new to me: trump, meld, trick. There are classes of suits, and assignations of points for certain cards. I don’t write anything down. If my grandmother gets this, so will I. We are soulmates.

I suck the nonpareil off of a jellied Allsort as she deals. The cards brush onto the table like waves against sand. My grandmother has become Neptune, welding her trident of cigarette, describing “melding the dix” and “declaring out.” My brain buzzes with sugar. Numbers blur with hearts, and I mistake a club for a spade.

It’s not time yet. I’m still too young, but she doesn’t say so. She simply rises out of the waters of the game and we shift to Uno, or Skip-Bo, or Go Fish. Games where I live for the giddy power of Reverse.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Take Off Your Glasses Game

I took off my glasses and invited Dan to a sexy, middle aged game, "What do you see when you take off your glasses?" When mine come off, the world is coated in a film. All lines blur. Definition disappears. 

"I can still read that Farms and Food sticker on the fridge, and I know that says Fridgedaire," he said. 

For me, the sticker is a green rectangle. Words erase. Dan's face becomes a thief in a pantyhose mask.

I'm not sure who gets the most points. Do you win for being able to read and discern detail, or gain points for impressionism?

If survival were key here, Dan would win. I'd be eaten by the skulking leopard I mistook for an ottoman.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Fingers Raked Across the Chalkboard

Outside my window, branches touching the surface of the glass, is a quince tree. When the wind blows, it rakes back and forth like a bow against strings. The resulting screeches are those of a beginner violinist. It's a reminder of the elementary school spring concert and all its excitement and enthusiasms.

The other day I was out in the barn, hooping all my steroid angst out, when a friend texted me the phrase, "when the pandemic is over," and I wrote back, "That's the title of my collection of essays, written in invisible ink on the inside of my ribcage."

That afternoon, grey and rainy, I retreated under a blanket to read Dario Fo's Mysterio Buffo. I laughed, and sort of felt sad at the same time. How am I almost 52 and I never knew of this play? My father would have loved it. I've been watching clips of Fo's performances on YouTube, in Italian, and then reading the English translation of the play, much in the same way I read poetry by my favorite Spanish poets, a delighted flipping back and forth between the original language and the translation.

I'm glad to be off of steroids now. My energy level was high at first, and then that tapered into a sweet, sweet rage for absolutely everything. The other night as I watched Dan put seasoning salt on his food I yelled, "Enjoy your early death!" What patience I have normally (which isn't much, I have to say) was whittled to a shard of a toothpick that I'd be inclined to stab into someone's eye if given the chance. It was ugly.

I feel ugly, all around. This would have been the perfect time to take that Bouffon class I had scheduled that was canceled. I'm ready to work with my rage, to sing out the tones of what is written in invisible ink on the inside of my ribcage.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Kind Regards for the Banana

I'm trying to befriend the banana, a portable and amicable fruit. I've spent my life disdaining their texture, the little stringy pieces, the black spots, their rubbery skins, the banana-y flavor. I described them to Dan the other day as "the person you don't really like, but you know they are smart and funny and you'll learn from them, so you stick around."

So every morning, I eat half a banana for the easy source of potassium. Dan showed me how to peel a banana the way monkeys do, from the bottom, rather than the stem. And he explained the other marvelous way you can split it into its three natural sections. 

Baking it into things like bread or cake seems like asking it to wear a mask. The theatrics are tempting, but I'm trying to love it for its very nature.  For now, we're at least respectful acquaintances.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Delight in Clearing

It's been a delight to be outside again, uncovering what's been quietly growing all around us these past few months. Including, of course, our favorite pal, Toxicodenron Radicans, poison ivy. Helen and I got a good case of our systemic rash a little over a week ago when we went wild by the Beatrix Garden and the fence by the road, which has some vines.  I call it the Beatrix Garden for Helen Beatrix Potter, and the Helen who lived here before us, and our Helen who lives here with us now on a part-time basis. 

I have seedlings in the greenhouse to plant in that garden, and I'm excited to see what takes there with all the other beautiful perennials that bloom. Seedlings that are sprouting are Foxglove, Forget-Me-Nots, Delphinium, Stock, and a quiet, cold loving bunch of seeds of English Lavender that rest in the fridge by Dan's beer.

Rashes and rounds of steroids aside, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in clearing. A couple of weeks ago, Helen and I put our focus on the kitchen garden by the farmstand, which will be a family-friendly "Pick Your Own," space this summer. We broadforked, hoed, and fed the goats what was left of beets.

We stirred up the contents of the compost bin like it was a cauldron, and pulled the nutrient rich dirt out from the bottom layer to add to the soil. I stored away a lot of the tools, posts, and items that flotsammed their way by the fence. Dan and I put away every coil of old fencing that had come to rest there too, and it is much improved.

Dan cleared the space between the trees by the driveway, which opened up the view to the fields, and now there's a lovely tree to take shade under in the summer. There will also be much less poison ivy, since we can mow there.

Yesterday after doing some performance work (filming myself, a nightmare), I suited up to join Dan outside. He was clearing away the fencing that used to be a dog kennel between the barn and the greenhouses. I swept the birdseed and last bits of firewood from the kitchen porch, then raked my way around the path past my writing room (the quince is budding!), and toward the front of the house by the Secret Garden Path. It's not that secret, really. I just call it that because it is cozy and enveloping, the kind of space you want to stoop in so you can hear the ants.

It wasn't long before I was on my hands and knees, pulling up whole "carpet rolls" of grass, revealing new-to-me stones in the path. I had chosen the perfect day for this task. The shade of the space and rain we had the other day made all conditions right for path clearing.


What a delight to find the artifacts of the family who lived here before us. Their handprints, snail icons, dog prints, and a footprint with a hand. I slid my hand into the largest handprint, was surprised that it fit, and felt connected to those who took care of this land before us.

When I stood up, I heard the bees working in the Leatherleaf Mahonia. Its spires of tiny yellow blooms are opening (the bees do good work),  releasing a honeysuckle scent when the breeze is just right. A thrill.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

First Bees of the Season

At my feet the star-shot hum —
drunken reveling, intrigue.
Focused in crocus, wild aplomb —
at my feet the star-shot hum
as tiny legs build income.
Honeyed soon, prestige!
At my feet the star-shot hum —
drunken reveling, intrigue.


A triolet.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Clowning and Goat Muck

While mucking out the goat shed, and peeling the fence out of its deep blanket of ice and snow today I thought:

The purpose of clowning is to make others feel. Like a good poem, clowning shows us what connects us as humans, what makes us human. That includes sadness, anger, boredom, belligerence, fear, weariness, humor, joy, lightness, disgust, judgement ...



Monday, March 08, 2021

Motivation, Play, and the Role of the Inner Critic

Sit down. Stop wriggling around. All of your ideas are nothing unless they are written down. It's useless for them to float around out there, or just live in your head. Stop moving. Sit down! Get it on paper. Who do you think you are, a dancer? Sit. Write. Sit and write it. It's up in your head, but that's not enough. Write. It. Down.

Words from my inner critic surprised me yesterday, and I want to give them some credence, because as harsh as the inner critics (mine are a consortium) can be, their words come from a place of caring. They are the great protectors. They are, in their own warped way, making sure I don't screw up. They want some say in my creative life. I'm learning to listen to them. To hear their side(s).

The inner critic who showed up yesterday during a clown exercise really wanted me to sit, and stop "juking about," and really believes strongly about the power of print. So do I. I love words. I'm here, sitting, writing some at the end of a busy day. I wrote several pages this morning, by hand, while it was still dark outside. I sat for that, too. I'm not all wriggly, all of the time. See? I write!

Something highlighted for me during this year of staying at home is that I have no motivation for anything at all unless I move. I need to move early in the day, and then and only then do I feel enough lightness to move forward with what needs to be done, or even what I want to do. It's been difficult to drum up enthusiasm lately, but playful movement helps me to keep going. It isn't "juking about." It's serious business. It generates energy, and gets my neurons connecting. I get some of my best ideas during my  movement practice. Functional movement outdoors, like stacking firewood or taking care of livestock also makes me feel lighter, unless the goats escape and then I swear a lot.

I'm listening to this inner critic, and considering some projects, and reflecting on what needs to be written. It's making me powerfully antsy, to be honest, sitting here and writing about it all, to essentially no one other than myself. Am I trying to just shine this inner critic on, and convince them I'm doing something when I'm not? I'm tired of sitting and thinking about it, and feeling like I need to justify my need to move everyday to feel motivation, even if it's true.

Am I losing my mind? Perhaps. This seems like a perfectly fine segue into a broken vacuum cleaner being used as a puppet.

A few weeks ago our vacuum broke. Instead of throwing away the broken part, I hung onto it. A found puppet was born, and Helen and I took it around the house for some experimenting. We did a lot of laughing. It felt good just to play without any intention of a finished product. It was energizing. It made me feel lighter. Play first, write later.

 If you can't view the video below, please click on "web view" from your phone to view it.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Jumblies

The wind is pushing us through March's runcible early days, thrashing our hair, frisking the chimes, knocking the branches from dead trees. It is waking us up out of a long winter sluggery.

Helen and I spent a jovial afternoon pushing a wheelbarrow full of moldy, decaying fruit through the snow to the Rot Spot, an area of ground we are filling in and enriching with compost. In the fall I chucked pumpkins there, our neighbors dumped their chicken coop compost into it, we buried a dead and quite frozen feral cat nearby a couple months ago, the giant sunflowers we harvested in the fall were piled on, and ecetera. It's an area of ground making swift work of what is shared there. The earth is quiet and efficient.

We had to share pushing the wheelbarrow, each of us taking one handle and forging ahead, avoiding (not quite) frozen footprints from previous walks. There were many near misses of toppling over, sending our icky fruit basket rolling onto the snow. We made it, laughing the whole way.

While out there, in the lower fields, we tackled the mess of dried out cosmos, and plants yielded easily from the soft ground. It was good timing. I was hot in my three sweaters, and robot gloves. Hints of summer, memories of flop sweat while weeding, played through my mind.

Our neighbors toy goat was on the outside of her fence. I told Dan to text her. Their goats are the tiny, demure version of our big, meaty dunderheads. They sound like dog toys, and are about half the size of Boer goats. Pygmys, I think? The sweet escapee was happy to just be on the other side of the fence, and didn't wander at all. 

After several trips to the Rot Spot with the cosmos plants, we pushed the wheelbarrow back up the hill together, and went inside for tea and seaweed.

Then it was time to move the goats from the barn to the outside paddock, which required a good hour or more with rearranging the fence while being whipped in the face with thorny underbrush. We made the mistake of leaving the stanchion inside the paddock, so while the fence was charged and all was well, they figured out they could leap from the stanchion over the fence, clearing it without shock. 

When I went outside to put the ducks in for the night, the goats were at the duck run, and then they followed me to the kitchen porch where I called for Dan's help.

Later, I read a poem by Edward Lear aloud to Helen, who was working on memorizing Latin plant names. I'd never read this poem before, and I really love the playfulness, the nonsense words that make some sense, and the rhyme and meter. The title. "The Jumblies," made me think of the day we'd had, and how many of my days now seem like I'm riding a sieve out to sea.

Monday, March 01, 2021

The Sunday Morning Variety Show on Kutztown Road

Yesterday morning before getting dressed I decided to clean out the duck run, since the thaw of snow was revealing an archeological treasure of sludge-filled containers. The coop needed some fresh shavings, too. I was trying to beat a forecast of rain. A bright green front loomed on the radar.

I refreshed the coop with shavings, then dug into the mess exposed by the thaw. I keep the duck feeder on top of a snow shovel head. It works as a tray to keep the feed from getting all over the ground. This needed cleaning, and there was a second feeder, a red plastic one, from the early days of the new ducks being introduced to the group. I'd forgotten about an egg carton filled with corn, which resurfaced. The water container needed a cleaning. Ducks are adorable, but very messy creatures.

The sludge filled items I carried over to the compost heap in the kitchen garden, where I began to scrape the fetid gunk off with the end of a leek. I'm never prepared with a tool, even though I know I'm doing this work, so I just use whatever is handy from the heap. The uppermost layer of the compost heap right now is an array of onions and deflated, moldy oranges, useless tools for scraping, so the leek was a sign of good fortune. I began the work of cleaning the shovel head, and the plastic feeder, as the propane delivery guy was parked on the road, blocking the lane. 

A sporty car from the 90s, something white and sleek with tinted windows, pulled up behind the truck, and paused there with a full view of my plaid-clad, scrunchie ponytailed, pajama-pantsed self, holding a leek in one hand, and a broken shovel head in the other. I waved with the leek end.

Littleface, seeing an opportunity to add to the show since he had an audience on both sides of the paddock, leapt from the barn stall. He sailed through the split in the tree, and caught his leg on a poison ivy vine, which trailed behind him like a fuzzy shooting star (good goat!). Not one for curtain calls, he walked a few steps on the rock pile and munched on a thorny rose. 

An applause of quacks issued from the pond.