Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Little Lift in the Heart

"Some people make you feel better about living. Some people you meet and you feel this little lift in your heart, this Ah, because there's something in them that's brighter or lighter, something beautiful or better than you, and here's the magic: instead of feeling worse, instead of feeling why am I so odinary?, you feel just the opposite, you feel glad. In a weird way you feel better, because before this you hadn't realised or you'd forgotten human beings could shine so." -- Niall Williams, History of the Rain

I have known only a few such people, and these hands belong to one. I am well pleased she carved out lunch for me during her visit to Sewanee with her Inner Beauty Bar

Julie gifted me with light and serenity and joy. I have missed the generosity of her easy company. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Just My Luck

  1. I sprain my ankle so badly that I have to delay the arrival of the rental camera, arranged weeks in advance.
  2. It arrives in a downpour.
  3. For the week I am renting, every weather prediction calls for rain and clouds every single day.
  4. I check an hour and a half or so in every direction, and the weather sites all predict rain and clouds every single day.
  5. This is frustration writ large.
  6. At least the camera is lovely.

Addendum: the day's weather, filmed by William Yelverton of Sewanee.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What does one say about the gray skies and rain?

Go away. I'm feeling more than a bit rough around the edges.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What Moon?

I've read that it's spectacular -- the first eclipse of a super moon in thirty-three years: a Blood Moon.

And then I look up.

If only the moon would suddenly appear for me. If only . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Welcoming Committee

My own noiseless, patient spider.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Anne Bradstreet Meets Frances Hodgson Burnett

My doctor called, on his day off, to ask about my foot, and in the course of the conversation, he mentioned an X-ray and possible bone chip affecting a ligament. When I reminded him of my misshapen feet (think Buster Browns with metal insteps) and told him about the now knobby protuberances lumping up around the toe joints, he added "It might be gout," and we made another appointment.


I remembered this from Anne Bradstreet, "The knotty Gout doth sadly torture me." Well, that sounds about right.

And then my brother put a humorously positive spin on the possibility with this, "Oh, my: the possibility of gout. How aristocratic. Grandmother would be so pleased. I learned about gout when you were in your mother's womb. That's the truth. She read aloud to D and me, and she read us Little Lord Fauntleroy. The churlish old duke, Little Lord Fauntleroy's grandfather who didn't approve of the child's mother, named Dearest, had gout, and I still remember the Edwardian book illustrations showing him sitting by the fire with his foot on a gout stool. I hope you do *not* have gout. It's an unfriendly disease and a whole string of Medicis actually died of it in the 15th century. Do tell."

A few minutes later, he sent this photograph of the very book he remembers hearing read aloud.

Died? My quick Google search indicates there are modern treatments now.

We shall see. The mystery deepens, along with the bruising.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Color Them Purple

My toes
like this flower
defy description:
seen in one light
they purple,
then redden, 
turn mauve
or raspberry,
even green
at the bases
where bruise
meets bruise.

my toes
are not so
pretty as

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Natural Calendar

when sun
sneaks over
my shoulder
splashes hall
rug & wall
slides slowly
then disappears

I welcome
fall's arrival

Tuesday, September 22, 2015



While the technician prepared the machine and spread the gel on my leg, I asked, "Aren't you going to look at my foot?"

"No," she said. "He wants me to get the veins, thinking maybe there's a clot."

"Oh! That makes sense since my whole leg is swollen, not just the area around the ankle."

I showed her a little bump on the back of my thigh, discovered this morning in the shower. "That's probably just a blood vessel right near the surface. No biggie," she said.

It's a weird thing, lying in a mostly dark room with a machine clicking and whirring at my shoulder, staring at acoustic tiles in the ceiling and reflected in someone else's photographs hung on the wall, while a pleasant stranger is probing into my deep tissue, looking for something out of the ordinary.

Dressing afterwards, I asked, "Mind if I take a picture of that reflection?"

"No, of course not! I thought maybe you wanted to photograph the screen."

"May I?"

"Sure," she said. "After all it's got your name on it and it's your body!"


In the car, I wrapped my ankle, and headed out to grab groceries and wash the car.

I love sitting in my car, inside the dark tunnel, facing a treed corner anchored by the Monteagle Inn's sign, letting the car-encompassing machine track itself down and back, spraying and sudsing, brushing and whooshing, rocking the car slightly, creating designs on windows and mirrors. It's almost like being suspended deep in a womb-like whirlpool, only without getting wet.


My first day of new enclosures in many days of being shut in proved oddly relaxing (even knowing what the test showed).

Monday, September 21, 2015

All Because of a Book

Because I can't put out the garbage till early Tuesday morning, about an hour before the truck crew arrives (think raccoons; it's not a pretty picture), I waddled out, grabbed a can, rolled it back to the steps, prepping for tomorrow.

Then I saw the snail.

Elizabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating leapt to mind.

I knew I couldn't put my garbage in the can. What would happen to the snail, whose life is spent in a tiny universe (hers lived in a terrarium), so I dragged it back to the trees, grabbed another, rolled it to the steps, and went inside, foot-fore but happy.

When I finish the book I'm reading now, I know what I will re-read next.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Ate the Frog

I confess that my sweet craving got the better of me.

Over three days, I ate the Harry Potter Chocolate Frog.

(It looked much better than it tasted.)

But the real reward lay inside that beautiful little box, under the frog: a Helga Hufflepuff 3-D card.

Suddenly, my childhood fascination with such cardboard panels rushed back. I studied the card, slanting it this way and that, in light and out, up close and far away, and while I know the trick has something to do with the coating and the ridges and the pigment, I am as enchanted as I was at four or five when I saw the first of these magical visual tricks.

Please: don't tell me how it's done. I considered searching online and decided against it. I still need to believe in magic.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fall's Footprints

These days, I see fall only on my deck or front porch or deliberate walk to the mailbox. Usually, I spend hours outside, walking, camera in hand, to capture autumn's slow arrival. Now I see only fall's footprints, without making any of my own.

Fall has never seemed more like the prelude to a death.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Much Too Early

translated by Renata Gorcyzynski

Autumn is always too early.
The peonies are still blooming, bees   
are still working out ideal states,
and the cold bayonets of autumn   
suddenly glint in the fields and the wind

What is its origin? Why should it destroy   
dreams, arbors, memories?
The alien enters the hushed woods,   
anger advancing, insinuating plague;   
woodsmoke, the raucous howls
of Tatars.

Autumn rips away leaves, names,   
fruit, it covers the borders and paths,   
extinguishes lamps and tapers; young   
autumn, lips purpled, embraces   
mortal creatures, stealing
their existence.

Sap flows, sacrificed blood,
wine, oil, wild rivers,
yellow rivers swollen with corpses,
the curse flowing on: mud, lava, avalanche,   

Breathless autumn, racing, blue
knives glinting in her glance.
She scythes names like herbs with her keen   
sickle, merciless in her blaze
and her breath. Anonymous letter, terror,

Red Army.

(My severely sprained left ankle might as well be the Red Army.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In a Fog

I had to look it up: ankle sprain. And what I read provided neither comfort nor ease.

So I surrender to pain and lose focus.

There is nothing else to do.

But wait.

And I grow impatient.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Care Packages

Just when my sprained ankle/foot began to get the best of me, I enjoyed three lovely surprises:

1. an unexpected gift of real New Orleans coffee, wrapped beautifully as always by my friend S in a kitchen tea towel and ribbon, which also serves to secure the ice pack to my foot;

2. a Gryffyndor scarf and chocolate frog from Harry Potter World;

3. hand-delivered by my one and only blood nephew, whom I had not seen since early December.

Even my swollen toes were well pleased, although you can't tell from their sad bruising.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monteagle Royalty

two favorite shopping stops 
married momentarily:
The Pig as Queen, 
   Head of Commonwealth, 
      Defender of Faith, 
& Village Wine as Lord High Steward

Sunday, September 13, 2015

When a student asked me to explain Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"

I wish I could have referred her to this video.

Wait for it...
Posted by Mike Jacobs on Thursday, September 10, 2015

This child is brilliant. Witness: the birth of philosophy!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Because of This . . .


at least I have learned something new:
a severe sprain hurts.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Birthday Wish for E at Twelve

At 12, I thought I was ready to be 13. When I turned 13, I hated pretty much everything and wanted to be 16, when I thought I'd be free. (Of what, I'm not sure.) At 16, I wanted to be 18 so I could go to college, but at 18 and at college, I was bored and wanted . . . .

And so it goes.

Always wanting something else.

Even today: I want to be outside rather than in, lying down, elevating, icing my foot, and watching Netflix. 

At least I know that when I walk in the kitchen, "my" hummingbird, where he/she has been since I put the feeder out months ago, will still be there, always alert, always watching, always active, till evening when he/she disappears overnight, and where I'll find him/her again the next morning.

My great-niece E turns 12 today. May she, like my hummingbird, always be as much in the now as she was at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and may both have safe travels ahead.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Feeling Prickly

Sprained ankle.



Gray skies.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Their Light


My parents' friends' oldest son, a quiet and tall teenager, loved stars. When we visited their house once, I talked to him, some seven years older, and he showed me his books filled with cosmic history and constellations and stars. Then, I followed him to the front yard, not so overgrown with trees as it is today, where he set up his telescope, explained it to me, and showed where to look. I was enthralled by what I saw then and determined that I should learn what he knew, do what he did.

I never did.


But I am still an armchair star traveler. I remember my elementary school's principal using the intercom to announce Sputnik's flight; the subsequent launch of NASA's Pioneer I; John Glenn's Friendship 7 flight; Kennedy's speech announcing, "We choose to go to the moon"; the first moon landing, which I watched late into the night and morning with theatre friends in Boston; the Hubble and Chandra missions and space shuttle flights and Mars explorations and beyond.


In school, I loved mathematics, especially geometry, that most beautiful of systems, and somewhere along the way picked up the notion of the "music of the spheres." I loved sky globes, lamps that cast stars on the ceiling, literary references to natural harmonies. And I played the piano, returning again and again to play Bach's inventions, entranced by pattern-making, of music and numbers and stars.


Astronomy Lesson

The two boys lean out on the railing   
of the front porch, looking up.
Behind them they can hear their mother   
in one room watching “Name That Tune,”   
their father in another watching   
a Walter Cronkite Special, the TVs   
turned up high and higher till they   
each can’t hear the other’s show.   
The older boy is saying that no matter   
how many stars you counted there were   
always more stars beyond them   
and beyond the stars black space   
going on forever in all directions,   
so that even if you flew up
millions and millions of years   
you’d be no closer to the end   
of it than they were now
here on the porch on Tuesday night   
in the middle of summer.
The younger boy can think somehow   
only of his mother’s closet,   
how he likes to crawl in back   
behind the heavy drapery
of shirts, nightgowns and dresses,   
into the sheer black where
no matter how close he holds   
his hand up to his face
there’s no hand ever, no
face to hold it to.

A woman from another street
is calling to her stray cat or dog,   
clapping and whistling it in,
and farther away deep in the city   
sirens now and again
veer in and out of hearing.

The boys edge closer, shoulder   
to shoulder now, sad Ptolemies,
the older looking up, the younger
as he thinks back straight ahead
into the black leaves of the maple
where the street lights flicker
like another watery skein of stars.
“Name That Tune” and Walter Cronkite
struggle like rough water
to rise above each other.
And the woman now comes walking
in a nightgown down the middle
of the street, clapping and
whistling, while the older boy
goes on about what light years
are, and solar winds, black holes,
and how the sun is cooling
and what will happen to
them all when it is cold.


And now, Solar Beat by Whitevinyl Design.

I cannot stop listening.

I cannot stop looking.

I cannot stop thinking.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Leave it to me

to drive out to the Cross to admire the blueblueblue sky, lose interest, and spot a stick bug way up the base.


Good thing no one else was there.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Where the Wild Things Are

Sometimes, all I have to do is start turning off lights.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Missing Pictures

Today, I watched CBS Sunday Morning for the first time in a long time. I'm glad I did because I saw this segment on home movies.

II. More than seven months ago, I blogged about one of my favorite poems, "This Is a Photograph of Me" by Margaret Atwood, a haunting poem about what isn't visible: her drowned self.

More recently, a Facebook friend posted a trove of old family photographs, going back generations, showing her ancestors and herself at different ages, in different marriages, in different places.

I envy her.

Much of my life, to which I once had access, simply disappeared when my father's wife (my mother died when I was 16) took him, or sold them, or threw them away, without asking if any of his adult children might want them.

As a child, I remember often lingering in the long private hall leading into my parents' bedroom. My mother had hung a series of framed black-and-white photos, ranging from youthful photos of both parents to her piloting my brother's aquaplane (just before sinking it) and Daddy sporting one of the wooden family runabouts always named Hoodlum (insert number here).

In a hall closet, hundreds more photographs lay stacked in boxes; the attic held 16mm films (two I remember especially, one starring Mr. Casey, whom my mother dated before my father) featuring horror scripts penned, acted in, and filmed by Mother and Daddy and their circle of friends in the early 1930s and two stop-motion films of my oldest brother celebrating a first Christmas.

Not a drowned child, perhaps.

But a loss as deeply felt: the record of my parents' childhoods and young adult years, of my initial nuclear family now blown apart by negligence, death, and time, and location, and life experience.

I am rarely lonely in real time now.

But I am often lonely because of the loss of time's record then.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Little Gizzard Creek

Wind, Water, Stone
translated by Eliot Weinberger

for Roger Caillois

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone's a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:

water, stone, wind.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Looking into Others' Eyes

I have often been unable to look: as a child, I couldn't watch The Twilight Zone, as a teenager it was the images of the Holocaust, now it's the endless videos of human cruelty.

However the image enters
its force remains within
my eyes
rockstrewn caves where dragonfish evolve   
wild for life, relentless and acquisitive   
learning to survive
where there is no food
my eyes are always hungry
and remembering
however the image enters
its force remains.
A white woman stands bereft and empty
a black boy hacked into a murderous lesson   
recalled in me forever
like a lurch of earth on the edge of sleep   
etched into my visions
food for dragonfish that learn
to live upon whatever they must eat
fused images beneath my pain.

The Pearl River floods through the streets of Jackson   
A Mississippi summer televised.
Trapped houses kneel like sinners in the rain
a white woman climbs from her roof to a passing boat   
her fingers tarry for a moment on the chimney   
now awash
tearless and no longer young, she holds   
a tattered baby's blanket in her arms.
In a flickering afterimage of the nightmare rain   
a microphone
thrust up against her flat bewildered words
          “we jest come from the bank yestiddy   
                   borrowing money to pay the income tax   
                   now everything's gone. I never knew   
                   it could be so hard.”
Despair weighs down her voice like Pearl River mud   
caked around the edges
her pale eyes scanning the camera for help or explanation
she shifts her search across the watered street, dry-eyed   
                   “hard, but not this hard.”
Two tow-headed children hurl themselves against her   
hanging upon her coat like mirrors
until a man with ham-like hands pulls her aside   
snarling “She ain't got nothing more to say!”
and that lie hangs in his mouth
like a shred of rotting meat.

I inherited Jackson, Mississippi.
For my majority it gave me Emmett Till   
his 15 years puffed out like bruises   
on plump boy-cheeks
his only Mississippi summer
whistling a 21 gun salute to Dixie
as a white girl passed him in the street   
and he was baptized my son forever   
in the midnight waters of the Pearl.

His broken body is the afterimage of my 21st year
when I walked through a northern summer
my eyes averted
from each corner's photographies   
newspapers protest posters magazines   
Police Story, Confidential, True   
the avid insistence of detail
pretending insight or information
the length of gash across the dead boy's loins
his grieving mother's lamentation   
the severed lips, how many burns   
his gouged out eyes
sewed shut upon the screaming covers   
louder than life
all over
the veiled warning, the secret relish   
of a black child's mutilated body   
fingered by street-corner eyes   
bruise upon livid bruise
and wherever I looked that summer
I learned to be at home with children's blood
with savored violence
with pictures of black broken flesh   
used, crumpled, and discarded   
lying amid the sidewalk refuse   
like a raped woman's face.

A black boy from Chicago
whistled on the streets of Jackson, Mississippi
testing what he'd been taught was a manly thing to do
his teachers
ripped his eyes out his sex his tongue
and flung him to the Pearl weighted with stone
in the name of white womanhood
they took their aroused honor
back to Jackson
and celebrated in a whorehouse
the double ritual of white manhood

    “If earth and air and water do not judge them who are
      we to refuse a crust of bread?”
Emmett Till rides the crest of the Pearl, whistling
24 years his ghost lay like the shade of a raped woman   
and a white girl has grown older in costly honor   
(what did she pay to never know its price?)
now the Pearl River speaks its muddy judgment   
and I can withhold my pity and my bread.

            “Hard, but not this hard.”
Her face is flat with resignation and despair   
with ancient and familiar sorrows
a woman surveying her crumpled future
as the white girl besmirched by Emmett's whistle   
never allowed her own tongue
without power or conclusion
she stands adrift in the ruins of her honor   
and a man with an executioner's face
pulls her away.

Within my eyes
the flickering afterimages of a nightmare rain
a woman wrings her hands
beneath the weight of agonies remembered
I wade through summer ghosts   
betrayed by vision
hers and my own
becoming dragonfish to survive   
the horrors we are living
with tortured lungs
adapting to breathe blood.

A woman measures her life's damage
my eyes are caves, chunks of etched rock
tied to the ghost of a black boy   
crying and frightened
her tow-headed children cluster   
like little mirrors of despair   
their father's hands upon them   
and soundlessly
a woman begins to weep. 

Sometimes, as happened today, I have difficulty looking into a friend's eyes, because of pain, and sadness, and anger, and disappointment residing there, surfacing like a still sea becoming stormy.

Show me instead an odonate's eyes: always curious, never other than simply present and alert.