Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Comforts of Home

Outside, black sky evidences the tornado watch with threats of high winds and quarter-size hail.
Inside, the comforts of home glow: three paintings by a loved folk artist; lipstick-red walls; rag rug in a coat-of-many-colors palette; tin-punched Mexican lamp; bookbags, coats, tripod, camera bag; honeyed pine table I designed and my father made in the basement of the house where I grew up. 

Welcome, the room says.  Welcome home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Sticks

Teachers don't always know what will spark a student's thinking and grow, becoming -- like pine needles in moss -- inseparable from the stuff of personhood.  I re-learned this lesson today when a Chinese student whom I tutor told me about his in-class essay assignment for religion. 

"How do I answer this question?" he asked.  "Does or does not Christianity work for me?  I can't answer that."


He explained that he doesn't believe.

I reminded him that the question is a personal one.  "You can answer it 'no' if that's how you feel," I said.

Slowly then, hesitantly, he talked about St. Augustine.  "He shows that you are never too old to become a better person in your . . . is it . . . soul?"

"Yes," I said. 

"He did bad things when he was young, but he did good when he was old," my student added.  "And I think all people the same.  All people face hard things and all can learn from them.  All people the same.  All should be treated good."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"So, you see?  You can answer that question!  You don't have to say you believe in God or the divinity of Jesus.  You can write about the values of Christianity you believe in."

"Oh.  Yes," he said, and smiled.

When I asked if he talks like this with the priest who is his teacher, he laughed and said no.  I so wish he would, and I told him that.  I think his teacher would see him differently and know that despite the language difference, he is learning in the way that matters most.

What my student has difficulty expressing in his writing he made clear to me today: he is a serious thinker for whom one course has opened his mind -- and heart.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Some years ago, I saw paintings by Darrell Loy Scott at a friend's now-defunct gallery in New Orleans.  Already a collector of folk art, much of it by African American painters, I asked about the artist.  "Oh, he's white," my friend said.  "A carpenter who paints.  He says he paints characters with black skin because he likes the way the color looks."  I liked the way the color looked, too, and after some thinking and much ogling over weeks, I finally bought one for myself: The Dollmaker.

 Saturday, I saw a show by Jonathan Green at Sewanee's new archives building.  Green is a well known and highly respected African American artist from South Carolina, raised in the Gullah community.  His wildly colorful images are so blindingly hypnotic that they seem to dance and sing a call-and-response.  These are lithographs I cannot afford, but ones I wish I could.

How, I wonder, did two men -- one white and one black, one a native Californian and one a South Carolinian, one a decade older than the other -- come to make such complementary pictures?  Coincidence?  I don't know.

I know only that the Green paintings I saw Saturday and the Scott painting hanging behind me now both make me wanna jump and shout.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Somebody Loves Us All

The filling station in Elizabeth Bishop's poem is a bit more traditional than this homemade one hanging near Lake Cheston's metal bridge, but it's living proof of her poem's last line: "somebody loves us all."

Oh, the kindness of strangers!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Light as a Feather

The wind.  Everyone talked about the wind yesterday and again today.  A mighty wind, whipping and whining, bending trees and tumbling garbage cans, and knifing through clothes and flesh.  A cold and bitter wind.

Yet this downy feather clung somehow in needles, and when the wind lifted and turned it in a green embrace, the sun spun it silver.

Friday, February 24, 2012

And The Sky Finally Opened

Up there on bare
branches of wintering trees
turkey buzzards
alight at close of day,
spread their wings
toward last sun.
Wheeling in, some miss,
blown aslant mid-turn
by gusting wind.
Buzzards and clouds
part a shuttered sky,
revealing a brilliant
blue scrim flown
in, ending Act III.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Will Say It's Not Art

The metal mantid faces All Saints' up the hill, a joke I bet some Sewanee residents find inappropriate, but not the folks who bought the creature from a folk artist down in the Crow Creek Valley and set it out in their front yard.

Inside the Chapel, sacred art breaks light up into prismatic color that snakes across the walls as the sun moves.  In this yard, profane art lights me up every time I drive by.

Who's to say which has more value?  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

At Dusk

The Lenten Rose nods after rain, as if bashful or ashamed. 

Sometimes a person needs to kneel in the dirt, if only for a moment, and look into the face of astonishing beauty.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Writer Barry Lane describes writing process as a fluid dance between the Mountain of Perception (on which we create and organize patterns of meaning) and the Sea of Experience (in which we engage with the world through minute-by-minute sensory living).  It's a clever metaphor that proves useful in teaching and learning composition, especially when coupled with his other terms -- thoughtshot and snapshot

My blogging practice dances, too, between sensing and understanding, in the taking of photographs during the day and in the posting of one or a few and in discovering something to say.  Sometimes I let pictures speak for themselves.  Sometimes I find a picture to complement what I mean to say.

At the beginning of a long walk today, I heard loosened, leaning trees creak and squeak, groan and grind, balanced precariously on neighbors.  Scattered along the trail were others that had finally uprooted, making me nervous.  I started thinking about the laws of physics and probability.  The trees would give up the ghost at some point, but probably not with me under them.  Nevertheless, my pace quickened each time I approached a leaner.

At the end of my walk, I sat on a rock to look through my snaps and then took two final ones -- at a distance and at a greater distance still.  Even I had trouble finding the true subject within the frame -- the circus-striped purple-and-white crocus -- until I narrowed my focus.  Closer, and closer, and closer till I could see grains of pollen dusting one petal and a tiny bug resting on another.

Later still, at home, writing this post, I am at an ever greater distance from the groaning trees and crocus blossoms, finding that there is no mountain I want to climb today.  I want only to revel in the sea.  May it continue its profligate rolling.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cali Ponders Brushy Lake

A walk with a friend and his dog offers pleasure for a person who lives with a cat.  I had forgotten how cheerful a dog is in the presence of mud, water, animal odors, and people.  Cali is an open book: what you see is just what you get -- friendly companionship.

In her eyes, even I look good!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Beyond the glass squares, silver fog masks the pine branches, whipping in sudden wind. Inside, coming down the stairs, I notice the glass as if for the first time and remember my obsessive coloring of graph paper as a child.  What is it about the small, controlled blocks of color that so mesmerized the child I was and so charms the adult I am? 

Something like a poem or musical composition, lilting and rhythmic, the window sings even when I don't hear it. 

Today, I did.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

This Time Last Year

I couldn't have taken this picture. 

Or this one.

I have taken several pictures in the last two months that have surprised me.  I finally feel as if I am beginning to know how to capture what I see in my mind.

That, and the fact that I take numerous snaps, hoping that one "draft" will be worth a little "revision."

The taking is a pleasure, and, on occasion, the taken as well. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inviting Wonder

This morning, coming home from Lake Cheston, I thought about idleness, a virtue I have adopted over the last three years.  Don't get me wrong: I value work, and I work hard.  But each day I also enter another realm of activity -- that of not-work or idleness -- in which I write poems and make books, walk the woods or lake and take pictures, blog and read. 

Then, after coming home from work, I found this on David's blog.  At the end of the trailer, he says, "There are all these sensory details that if you just give them attention chase boredom away and invite this great rush of wonder into your life."

These quiet hours of idleness feed me more than work ever has.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Cuppa

A potta is more like it.

Living in the country means one loose tea choice: Lipton's.  Not bad, but not great either.  But Amazon delivers, and today the postman brought my special delivery: six 8.8-ounce packages of P G Tips.

And just like that, the day got a whole lotta betta!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Light Within

Today, I read a poem about winter being the best time for learning the landscape within.  We haven't had much winter weather, but there has been plenty of winter darkness for self-study and insularity.  My own landscape has grown predictably dreary, thank you.

I have longed for sun and color, for fliers (even the no-see-ums that attacked me today while I hunkered in mouldy leaves) and flowers.

Crocus (trite though they may be) are welcome companions for a morning stolen from work.  Whether wet and beaten down or dew-dotted and upright, crocus glow from within.

I shall be happy to study the landscape of crocus-light for a change.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Seeing Red

on a foggy day:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Committee Meeting

Twice daily, nearly every day, they convene behind a biology professor's house.  They gather in the morning to spread their wings and warm the blood, and they meet again in late afternoon before lifting off to parts unknown for the night.  "They arrived about November 8," he told me yesterday, adding, "I've been here nineteen years, and I've never seen them in my yard before."  Some ask why he doesn't chase them off, assuming he and his family object to the droppings and flappings.  But he doesn't mind.  He's a biology professor and like me, he'd just as soon let nature do what nature does.

Curiously, the committee of Black Vultures -- unlike some academic departments -- holds a silent meeting, agreeably giving way on a crowded limb and adjourning without fuss, their wings flapping like academic gowns on a windy day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Early Valentine

Today I write a love letter.
Oh sky
dead leaf
living reed
wave --
how do I breathe,
crouched on the bank,
leaning into your embrace?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

House Companions

They nest under my azaleas, the wrens -- all spunky roller-coaster chirrup and upturned tail -- and when they split through branch to perch on my bird tree sculpture or claim seed, I feel kinship, pleased they make themselves so at home.

Friday, February 10, 2012


A wintry blast is coming, and the birds know it.  The bluebirds arrived earlier than usual; downy and pileated woodpeckers have joined the smaller songbirds at the seed bell; a friend gathers old sheets for her garden.  And I sit at a screen and then stand at a window looking out, looking in, ruminating about motion and stillness.

I don't smile much, not because I'm unhappy (I am mostly happy) or because I'm stand-offish (though I am an introvert), but because my face and I just don't smile.  We never have much.  Stillness is something I value, and a certain insularity. 

In "Sketch the Shadows," blogger and poet Benjamin Vogt wrote yesterday, "There are places for silence, moments in our days that we require, not that we want, but that we absolutely need.  And the more we have them, the closer we get to ourselves and the world."  And yesterday, biologist and blogger David Haskell ended his post titled "Robert Pinsky on movement and grunting" with this: "At a time when our lives often revolve around uploads and downloads to 'the cloud,' with physicality reduced so often in our culture to tasteless gluttony and tawdry lust, his emphasis on artful embodiment was refreshing.  Occupy: your body.  I wonder how much of this embodiment can be captured in online videos?  So asks the blogger through his Ethernet cable, coming to your Android (aye, language is telling).  Homo sapiens, let's be the lightning that connects cloud to ground."

This morning, I viewed a New York Times slide show featuring a cantilevered home above a Pittsburgh glass factory, its wall of glass facing busy city, river, bridge, and I watched an animated Van Gogh Starry Night, the swirling forms of the canvas activated by the touch of a finger, and I find myself now thinking about screens, and silence, and movement.

My house is silent, but pileated woodpeckers drum outside, and fragments of call and response answer in my mind as I wander through morning reading and wonder: what is the bridge that moves me so from momentary glimpse to momentary glimpse, flashing like lightning before storm, and then stillness?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five-Minute Magic

Leger - de - main:
light of hand.
Winter is up
to its old tricks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

About Spring

Renewal and promise of growth to come, yes, but also this: unpredictable yo-yo weather (60-something yesterday with sun and 40 today with clouds) and a squirrely messiness that makes my own somewhat more bearable.

And, of course, there are daffodils, especially the scrambled-egg wildish ones growing through fallen trees and leaves, sprouting up through rotting leaves and deer feces, buttering the brown landscape with a twist of lime insouciance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On the Move

This morning, everything races:

the dew evaporating from the moss stuffing tree toes at Morgan Steep;

the water tumbling over rocks below;

the deer leaping across the street;

the family of hawks calling in the back yard;

the crocus bud breaking into sun.

Slow down, I want to say to it all, but because they can't,
I remind myself that I can.

Monday, February 6, 2012


there are no words.

The Lenten Rose has rendered me mute.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Everything Is Satisfactual!

Mr. Bluebird may not be on my shoulder, but his and his mate's return make me happy nevertheless.  Now if I could just stop worrying about whether he'll hurt himself when he pecks my house windows and car windows and mirrors.

Never mind the "gifts" he leaves behind.  Rain is on the way and "there's plenty of sunshine heading my way"!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Van Gogh on My Mind

Two days ago, I read the New York Times review of "Van Gogh Up Close," an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Since then, I have had the painter and his paintings on my mind, or to be more accurate, I have had his brush strokes in my eyes.  Everywhere I look, slathered colors undulate in and out of shimmering surfaces, rising like the wake of a wandering boat.

 Once, I worked with a Dutch woman, who taught me how to say how to say Van Gogh and "God damn" (godverdomme) in her own language.  The guttural g and k sounds undulate, too, from throat, waving across tongue, to teeth, and exploding through lips.

This morning, coming upon a tiny iris in Abbo's Alley -- the first I've seen open this year -- with its billowing petals brimming with dew, I exclaimed my little Dutch, hoping that no one could hear me.

Thank you, Vincent, and thank you, spring, for the beauty you both bring. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

One Reason Why My Cat Stays Inside

Last year, a pileated woodpecker tried to hammer through my neighbors' playset.  Yesterday and today, a hawk has used it as a launching pad for hunting.  I watched this beautiful bird swoop down from the set, onto the grass, and then up to this tree, where for just a few moments it waited long enough for me to snap four pictures.

Today, the bird appeared at about 8:30 a.m.  I know where I will be in the morning, and I know where my cat will be, too.