Monday, August 31, 2015

Extra-species Visitors

Northern Pearly Eye

I have learned the name of this annual visitor, whose arrival presages fall, always alighting on window or screen, front or back entrance windows, as if greeting me intentionally.

Red Dog

I need only head to the Day Lake Road ponds, and she will find me, trotting down Caldwell Road or down the path or through the woods, as she did today, tail wagging, swimming, wading, avoiding my camera station, waiting patiently for me till leaving, together; then standing at the end of the road, watching me, till I take the curve uphill.


Just as I stepped onto the spongy moss of pond verge, they appeared, coupled, here, then gone, then there, then gone, me following left and then right, then back and forth, then waiting, till finally, after many wrong pictures, at least one right snap showed what I hoped: Sweetflag! the pair. I had hoped Sweetflag, but as it turns out, they're Southern. See the sad story unfold below.

(Oh, please, let it be Sweetflag.)


(August 31): A second photograph (and others) have me reconsidering. Maybe that dadgum pair are Spotted. Maybe Southern. Ugh. Photo below.)

(September 1): The expert has spoken. Ed Lam says Southern (he doesn't see two spots and the ovipositor isn't big enough). 

The hunt and frustration continue.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

If I Could Live Anywhere

Oxford would suit me just fine.

hyperlapse created by Brendan Riley

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Today's Solo Act at Lake O'Donnell

I do not know
and do not think
the killdeer
means to signal distress

but I do think this

this single killdeer's
infrequent bobbing
standing (not skittering)
staring out not down
constant calling

which gives the bird
its name
I now know

but I think today
not distress
as if this one bird
awaits a mate

Friday, August 28, 2015

Something Slight and Beautiful

For the South

I hate your hills white with dogwood
or pink with redbud in spring
as if you invented hope, as if
in the middle of red clay,
limestone outcroppings,
and oak trees dead with fungus
something slight and beautiful
should make us smile.

I hate the way honeysuckle drapes
fences, blooms in the ditch   
where everyone dumps garbage;
the evening air sweet with cedar
and fields of burley;
the way irises and buttercups
mark the old dimensions of a house
destroyed a hundred years ago;
how a span of Queen Anne’s lace
rocks the whole moon, and the sumac
runs dark against the hill.

I hate the drawl, the lazy voice
saying I’ve been away so long
I sound like I’m from nowhere;
the old hand gathering snowballs or peonies
or forking up an extra dish of greens,
bitter, just the way I like them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pursued by Odonates

I walked out of the Pig, loaded the groceries in the car, wheeled the cart to the rack, looked up at the cloud-studded sky, and saw Black Saddlebags.

Two of them.


Flying above the parking lot, over the store, and back.

What must have the cashiers thought, standing by their registers, staring -- as they do -- through the plate glass windows, or the shoppers have thought, just arriving, parking, getting out.

What is that woman doing?

I would answer, Admiring the view!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Here's Something You Don't See Every Day!

It's just Bob, out walking his donkey Catalana,
down Florida Avenue by the football stadium,
to have a beer with a neighbor.

At times like this,
you gotta love Sewanee.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hurricane Season

Cool last night, cold almost. 55 degrees on waking and wind, as if autumn has already arrived. But August hasn't ended even though the foliage suggests it has.

The end of the month is yet to come, as everyone who lives in or is from or once lived in New Orleans and towns scattered west and east, know. Saturday marks a terrible ten-year anniversary: the disastrous Hurricane Katrina.

As happened after 9.11, artists have responded to the events, and in the case of Lolis Eric Elie, who wrote this essay, have responded to the aftermath, making the terrible beautiful and immediate.

Lolis Eric Elie's THE WHYS (The Reasons New Orleanians Came Home) was published in The Bitter Southerner.

Some of us came back because we lived in the old city — the Vieux Carre, Faubourg Treme, the Irish Channel, Niggertown, the Marigny, the Garden District, the Warehouse District — the 20 percent of the city that didn’t flood.

Some of us came back because we had a cousin or auntie and they said we could stay by them until we got it figured out.

Some of us came back because we knew they didn’t want us back.

Some of us came back because we got tired of having to fight just because we were from New Orleans.

Some of us came back because we didn’t think it would take that long or cost that much or require so many tears and so many pained laughs to fix just one house.

Some of us came back because we thought we knew for sure we had enough insurance to fix everything.

Some of us came back because we didn’t believe that the insurance company that we’d dutifully paid for decades would cheat us in our hour of gravest need.

(If Dante Alighieri had endured the inferno of our flood, he would have kindled a special fire for insurance companies!)
Some of us came back because we know what it means.

Some of us came back because we didn’t want to keep saying Hoover or Pittsburgh or Sugarland when somebody asked, “Where y’at?”

Some of us came back because, have you ever been to Kalamazoo?

Some us came back because it didn’t flood on our second story and we could live there while they fixed the first.

Some of us came back because we had rebuilding skills.

Some of us came back because Richard Baker, the Baton Rouge Congressman, was right: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did.”

Some of us came back to fight for our homes in the Lafitte, in the Magnolia, in the B.W. Cooper, in the Melpomene, in those timeworn fortresses, those unflooded, moldless bricks.

Some of us came back because the traffic in Baton Rouge was one reason too many to hate that place.

Some of us came back because we had sharpened our clippers and smoothened our tongues and poised ourselves to fleece the sheep, the desperate homeowners begging for help.

Some of us came back because we felt a moral obligation to rebuild our city.

Some of us came back because the arrow of our moral compass points permanently in the direction of steal.

Some of us came back because Yemaya, the orisha of the waters, was true to Her word and protected New Orleans from the brunt of the storm (though it would have been nice if She had told us that the federal levees were not in Her purview).

Some of us came back because we believed Him when He said to us, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Some of us came back because G-d said, “For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.”

Some of us came back because the Prophet (peace be upon Him) promised us in Surah 2:215, “They ask you, [O Muhammad], what they should spend. Say, ‘Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler. And whatever you do of good - indeed, Allah is knowing of it.’"

Some of us were inspired to come back by Rep. Dennis Hastert (may his sentence be a long one). He said our city was seven feet below sea level, and we wished to visit this twisted Atlantis of his dreams.

Some of us came back because, as Pastafarians, we thought the Flying Spaghetti Monster would want us to help in the rebuilding.

Some of us came back because, as bad as things were, we didn’t believe the ancestors would ever forgive us for being buried in Texas.

Some of us came back because, if they didn’t have enough police to arrest the murderers, they certainly didn’t have enough to arrest the fraudsters.

Some of us came back because, even after Bush’s boys took their cut, and Cheney’s boys took their cut, and the Shaw Group took its cut, there was still enough piss trickling down the leg of the disaster capitalism for us to make us a couple of dollars putting blue tarps on damaged roofs.

Some of us came back because every year, at Carnival time, we make a new suit.

Some of us came back because we’re Prince of Wales and we knew if we paraded, even two months late, it would be as a healing balm unto the people.

Some of us came back because, when we saw Prince of Wales Social Aid & Pleasure Club, we knew God was in his heaven and New Orleans was still New Orleans.

Some us came back because of the feeling we got visiting home that first Carnival after Katrina when we saw the people, our people, in the street, being us the way we be us when we gather like we do.

Some of us came back because if we heard one more person pronounce it N’awlins ...

Some of us came back because we’d rather be doing bad in New Orleans than doing good somewhere else.

Some of us came back because we had promised ourselves, Everything I Do Gon Be Funky From Now On, and that shit didn’t even much sound right coming out of your mouth in Topeka.

Some of us came back because we didn't want those lazy Mexicans taking all our jobs.

Some of us came back to prove that we were willing and able to work as hard as any Mexican.

Some of us came back because, just like the Mexicans and the Brazilians and the Hondurans we had to make that rebuilding money to send home to our wives and husbands and children and friends because they were depending on us for their beans and rice.  

Some of us came back because there was plenty of copper in those flooded homes, ripe for the stealing.

Some of us came back because we were second story men by profession and there was plenty to steal on unflooded second stories.

Some of us came back because we thought the Saints would never win a Super Bowl if we weren’t personally in New Orleans our own self.

Some of us came back because seeing the city depopulated and dirty, desperate and quiet, awakened a patriotism in us.

Some of us came back because we wanted to end our high school career at the same place we’d started it.

Some of us came back because after kicking the French in the ass, and kicking the Americans in the ass, and escaping the sea-born treacheries of the Thai fisherman, rebuilding A Village Called Versailles was a pretty much a piece of mung-bean cake.

Some of us came back because we declined to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Some of us came back because we felt the crusts of bread and such from our rich relations would not long continue.

Some of us came back to give lie to the stereotypes about us.

Some of us came back because the stereotypes about us were true.

Some of us came back because we were angry that a massive federal effort was rebuilding foreign cities laid waste by American ingenuity while an American city laid waste by faulty American engineering was left foundering.

Some of us came back because Sweet Home New Orleans helped us find affordable housing.

Some of us came back because the Foundation for Louisiana helped us re-open our business.

Some of us came back because Seedco Financial helped us reopen our business.

Some of us came back because we got money from Jazz at LincolnCenter’s Higher Ground benefit.

Some of us came back because neither the food in Lafayette nor the music in Lafayette could make up for the Lafayette in Lafayette.

Some of us came back because we thought, maybe if we scrubbed hard enough, we could wipe that smirk off of George Bush’s face.

Some of us came back because, when we left, we left in a hurry and didn’t have time to heed Fran Lebowitz’s advice that if you're going to America, you should bring your own food.

(Oh, Mr. Aligheri! If only there had been even a little salt taste in those other men’s bread!)

Some of us came back because the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic sponsored gigs for us to play and to pay our bills and support our families.

Some of us came back because we won’t bow down. We don’t know how.

Some us came back to collect the addresses of the displaced so that we could apply for their federal assistance checks before they knew what time it was.

Some of us came back courtesy of grants from the Soros OpenSociety Foundation.

Some of us came back because, unlike the Iraqi Americans, we were not allowed to vote long distance in our local elections if we lived outside our home state.

Some of us came back to help re-elect our mayor.

Some of us came back because the only way we could move the city forward was to elect a new mayor.

Some of us came back because the Tipitina’s Foundation got us horns for our marching band.

Some of us came back to bear witness.
Some of us came back because our grandfather built this house.

Some of us came back because, I’ll be got damn if I’m gonna let my cousins just take this house my grandfather built right from under my nose.

Some of us came back to prevent a land grab.

Some of us came back to grab us some land.

Some of us came back because we got a really good deal on some Stone Age marble.

Some of us came back because you’re my piece of the rock and I love you C.C.

All of us came back — like the people of New York after 9-11, like the people of Chile after 9-11, like the people of Vietnam after the American War, like the people of Mississippi after the 1927 flood, like the people of Lisbon after the great earthquake, like the people of Harlan County during the 1931 coal strike, like the people of Indonesia after the great tsunami, like the people of Los Angeles after the Northridge earthquake, like the people of Haiti after paying reparations to the French, like the people of Chicago after the great fire, like the people of Rwanda after the genocide, like the people of Iran after the Eisenhower coup, like the Cherokee after Andrew Jackson, like the people of the Dominican Republic after the American invasion, like the people of Russia after World War II, like the people of Guatemala after the CIA coup, like the people of Cambodia after the Kissinger carpet bombings — because rebuilding our homes and ourselves was our response to Camus’ one really serious philosophical question, the question of suicide.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sign of a New Season Coming

The Dependencies
by Howard Nemerov

This morning, between two branches of a tree   
Beside the door, epeira once again
Has spun and signed his tapestry and trap.   
I test his early-warning system and
It works, he scrambles forth in sable with   
The yellow hieroglyph that no one knows   
The meaning of. And I remember now
How yesterday at dusk the nighthawks came   
Back as they do about this time each year,
Grey squadrons with the slashes white on wings   
Cruising for bugs beneath the bellied cloud.   
Now soon the monarchs will be drifting south,   
And then the geese will go, and then one day   
The little garden birds will not be here.   
See how many leaves already have
Withered and turned; a few have fallen, too.   
Change is continuous on the seamless web,   
Yet moments come like this one, when you feel   
Upon your heart a signal to attend
The definite announcement of an end
Where one thing ceases and another starts;   
When like the spider waiting on the web   
You know the intricate dependencies   
Spreading in secret through the fabric vast   
Of heaven and earth, sending their messages   
Ciphered in chemistry to all the kinds,
The whisper down the bloodstream: it is time.

garden spider

Sunday, August 23, 2015

And So It Begins . . . Again

Make no mistake: it's still summer.

Despite the unusually cool temperatures. (Who's complaining? Not I. The air conditioning turned off for the first time in ages. Even the cats, cold last night due to open windows, cuddled me, willingly.)

Despite the pouring rain. (Usually we're still in something like a drought. Who's complaining? Not I. No watering of the newish shrubs for a while now. No need.)


The odonates are not fans of the cool temps and rain.

And I, free to admit since I am not employed by the college, am not celebrating the return of students to an otherwise quiet community.

Today, after waiting more than five minutes just to get onto University Avenue, after nearly hitting two students who walked right out in front of my moving without ever looking, after weaving through hordes of them Friday night, I felt an urge to push that button.


I didn't.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Distractions While Reading Outside

The unexpected appearance of familiar companions.

The mouth-watering smell of soup simmering, wafting through the kitchen door.

The hummingbird that has taken up residence, reminding me of my deceased friend Betsy, who enjoyed them from this same summer vantage point.

Missing Betsy.

Friday, August 21, 2015

At Walmart

Customer A:  Is this price per pound? Or for the whole bag? (holding a bag of green grapes)

Customer B:  Hmm. (bending down to read the sticker on the shelf) This says 1.09 a pound. But the package is marked for a lot more.

Customer A:  So . . . this is confusing.

Customer B:  I'll say. There’s a scale over there if you need it. I was hoping to find cherries. But it looks like they’re done.

Customer A:  Were the cherries good this summer?

Customer B:  Dee-li-cious.

Customer A:  Are you buying grapes?

Customer B:  No. But look at these beautiful raspberries! Only 3.99 for the whole package!

Customer A:  I can’t eat them. Diverticulitis.

Customer B:  Really? What a shame!

Customer A:  Yes, and I have a knee that doesn’t really work. But I just keep a’goin’. I had the other one fixed, but as long as this works, I'm ok. I’m just thankful I’m still here.

Customer B:  Yes, I know what you mean. I just came from a funeral.

Customer A:  Oh, I’m sorry. I lost my daughter at 26, my sister just a few years ago, my husband. But I’m still here! And I just had a big birthday!

Customer B:  Really? It couldn’t have been that big!

Customer A:  80! And I’m still goin’!

Customer B:  Seriously? 80? You don’t look more than 60!

Customer A:  Well, I’m 80 and my knee feels 80!

Customer B: But you’re here, and you’re walking, and driving, and shopping!

Customer A:  Yes, I just keep on movin’, thank God.

(both putting fruit in their baskets)

Customer B:  Good luck with those grapes!

Customer A:  It was great talking with you today. Thank tou!

Customer B:  Yes, it was. This has made driving down to Walmart worth it!

(they part.)

Coda: Customer B has enjoyed her raspberries, but not nearly as much as the conversation with a stranger.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Everything Can Be Beautiful, in the Just-right Light

The Odd Last Thing She did

A car is idling on the cliff.
Its top is down. Its headlights throw
A faint, bright ghost-shadow glow
On the pale air. On the shore, so far
Below that the waves' push and drag
Is dwindled to a hush—a kind
Of oceanic idle—the sea
Among the boulders plays a blind-
Fold game of hide and seek,
Or capture the flag. The flag
Swells and sways. The car
Is empty. A Friday, the first week
Of June. Nineteen fifty-three.

A car's idling on the cliff,
But surely it won't be long before
Somebody stops to investigate
And things begin to happen fast:
Men, troops of men will come,
Arrive with blazing lights, a blast
Of sirens, followed by still more
Men. Though not a soul's in sight,
The peace of the end of the late
Afternoon—the sun down, but enough light
Even so to bathe the heavens from
Horizon to shore in a deep
And delicate blue—will not keep.

Confronted with such an overload
Of questions (most beginning, Why would she...
So gifted, bright, and only twenty-three),
Attention will come to fix upon
This odd last thing she did: leaving
The car running, the headlights on.
She stopped—it will transpire—to fill
The tank a mere two miles down the road.
(Just sixteen, the kid at the station will
Quote her as saying, "What a pity
You have to work today! It's not right...
What weather! Goodness, what a night
It'll be!" He'll add: "She sure was pretty.")

Was there a change of plan?
Why the stop for gas? Possibly
She'd not yet made up her mind? Or
Had made it up but not yet settled
On a place? Or could it be she knew
Where she was headed, what she would do—
And wanted to make sure the car ran
For hours afterward? Might the car not be,
Then, a sort of beacon, a lighthouse-
In-reverse, meant to direct one not
Away from but toward the shore
And its broken boulders, there to spot
The bobbing white flag of a blouse?

Her brief note, which will appear
In the local Leader, contains a phrase
("She chanted snatches of old lands")
That will muddle the town for three days,
Until a Professor E. H. Wade
Pins it to Ophelia—and reprimands
The police, who, this but goes to show,
Have not the barest knowledge of Shakespeare,
Else would never have misread "lauds"
As "lands." A Detective Gregg Messing
Will answer, tersely, "Afraid
It's not our bailiwick. Missing
Persons, yes; missing poems, no."

(What's truly tragic's never allowed
To stand alone for long, of course.
At each moment there's a crowd
Of clowns pressing in: the booming ass
At every wake who, angling a loud
Necktie in the chip dip,
Airs his problems with intestinal gas,
Or the blow-dried bonehead out to sell
Siding to the grieving mother . . . . Well,
Wade sent the Leader another briefword:
"Decades of service to the Bard now force
Me to amend the girl's little slip.
'Chaunted' not 'chanted' is the preferred . . .")

Yet none of her unshakeable entourage
—Pedants, pundits, cops without a clue,
And a yearning young grease-monkey—are
Alerted yet. Still the empty car
Idles, idles on the cliff, and night
Isn't falling so much as day
Is floating out to sea . . . . Soon, whether
She's found or not, her lights will draw
Moths and tiny dark-winged things that might
Be dirt-clumps, ashes. Come what may,
The night will be lovely, as she foresaw,
The first stars easing through the blue,
Engine and ocean breathing together.