Summer Night With Books

June 27, 2010 § 4 Comments


Wretched heat. The cat growling. Back pain. Anxiety. But it’s still June! Solstice month, out-of-school month, that tag end of days before real summer when as I kid I was laziest, released from the social prison of school to the pleasure of books, staying in my room to read all day before we went wherever we went.

My mother has recently confessed that when we were all packed off to school, she wouldn’t do housework or any of that; she’d pick up a book and read. Her activity in the afternoons and evenings were all we saw: the second half of her day. She had four children, a big house, a husband, a social life. She made herself dresses from pictures in Vogue—sewing late into the night—and went to a lot of parties, theaters and restaurants. But mostly she read.

Mostly, I read. I don’t do any of that other stuff very often, except restaurants, which are to NYC living what cars are to everyone else. There were children once, part-time; now I have cats. The husband is part-time. The big house I don’t even dream about anymore because it feels like having that much house—what I grew up with—would be like gaining 100 pounds and how would I climb the subway stairs?

I read and sing to the cats and wander the streets that throb with energy—wild torrents of screaming youth I move through, barely noticing; I write in the mornings and the evenings; I eat and do the dishes and read; I wait, which is wrong, but I’ve always waited, so I might as well let it be. I read some more.

This moment has so many layers. Under the anxiety is watchfulness. Under that are little bubbles of bliss: time is so startling and beautiful, look at it, you couldn’t make up anything like that, could you? Given a raw universe?

Here’s a piece of it: a black oval hairbrush, tangled long brown hair, the child running off, the woman in her own life, the hair still being untangled, strand by strand, the copper glint…what story am I telling? Why am I alone tonight?

One Train May Hide Another

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)
In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line–
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple–this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

–Kenneth Koch

Greens & Dragons

June 19, 2010 § 1 Comment


Very hot out. I bought collard greens and strawberries at the farmers’ market. I’m not sure I’ll actually eat the collard greens, even though I’m going to try. I was going to buy kale because my mother always tells me to eat it and she’s the poster oldster for greens-eating benefits, but I’ve tried kale recently (it’s the vegetable du jour in NYC $25+ entree restaurants) and I still don’t like it. But collard greens…I don’t remember when I last had those. And the many voices from books and plays about the downhome delights of collards can’t be all wrong though to achieve the desired effect might require cooking them in bacon grease.

I intended to spent the walking time from the market and back thinking about the characters in my novel but instead calculated how many calories I’d save switching from whole milk to low fat and not putting honey in my tea. Then remembered the NY Times article about how tiny cuts like that make no difference because the body wants stasis and will make up the difference. Then I tried to remember how I looked at each weight (in 2 lb increments); what clothes fit me then; what difference a few years might make re whether the fat appears/disappears from face, breast and hip; and so on. I was home without ever figuring out how Niles was going to decide to leave the uncle who beat him but would die without his help. I’ve already established Niles as exceptionally forgiving and don’t want to change that. It’s hard enough that he can’t have cinnamon colored hair because it’s just not cinnamon country; cedar’s close enough in shade but I like the associations of cinnamon…cinnamon toast, cinnamon buns, boys made of snips and snails and puppy dogs tails but also having a pinch of sugar, spice and everything nice…the first boy who kissed me: Chris Schultz. I was five. His hair was cinnamon brown. Niles isn’t like him, other than the kindness—but I wanted the hair, too.

I didn’t intend the uncle to be lame or widowed. It just came out that way. I’m not one of those writers who pretend my characters are in control; I can fix Uncle’s foot or haul Auntie out of her grave, and you, the reader, would never know it had been otherwise. But the pleasure in fiction is following the imagination as it romps. It’s what makes it not seem like work. I’m willing to work to keep that not-working feeling, especially if by “work” I mean lying in bed with a cup of coffee thinking about how why what if…

Also, I need to get clear about what’s wrong with the dragon.

When I Met My Muse 



I glanced at her and took my glasses 

off—they were still singing. They buzzed 

like a locust on the coffee table and then 

ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the 

sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and 

knew that nails up there took a new grip 

on whatever they touched. “I am your own 

way of looking at things,” she said. “When 

you allow me to live with you, every 

glance at the world around you will be 

a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand. 



–William Stafford 




Muse or Dragon?

Smiles of a Summer Night

July 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Denniston, Big Woods Bent Trillium and Trout Lily, IMG_0190(picture has nothing to do with post, except I’d like to be here)

I went out looking for the full moon and found it in the usual place, although the sky can be harder to see in Manhattan than I would like. Tonight it was the trees in the park obscuring my vision, so I cleverly found a spot where I could see the moon clearly, magic rolling off it like the daydreams roll off my tongue (backwards).

There were lots of people, in groups and alone, sitting on the rim of the fountain and on the stone benches. The cool summer air, strangers and moonlight plus streetlights gave it the feel of both crowded stage and lively forest, or maybe a lively forest on Shakespeare’s stage.

I was remembering how when I berate myself for all the failures of my life I have to admit that it wasn’t only depression and fear that stole opportunity but books and nights and this kind of solitary joy that wants as much time as it can get, that scorns society and appointments. I’ve had more than my share of this sweetness, though never enough.

I’m back now (in case the typing didn’t give it away) and sleek little Mouchette is lying beside my desk, a new step in our careful courtship of each other. We’re taking it slowly because the orange lordling gets so jealous, chasing and biting her when I show her favor, and because she’s naturally cautious, and because I give The One so much love I get somewhat cat-bored before it’s her turn. But she’s a kitty who knows how to play alone.

As do I. I’ve been alone since Friday. It becomes narcotic after awhile. Especially with cats and the city and the Internet—sending Charles pictures from my iphone, browsing Facebook—and knowing that if I want to, I can turn on the TV and find Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin, Obama and the Russians, Iranian and Chinese dissidents…

No. I’m not doing that tonight. The cats are starting crazy time: it’s near the stroke of midnight. I like to lie in bed and feel like a benevolent witch as they thunder through the apartment, pounding over my body as if it were furniture, just as my stepchildren did many years ago (though the kids were better at not sinking a foot into my belly).

I used to always make wishes under the full moon, and sometimes they came true, as will happen if you wish 12 times a year for gifts life is profligate with in any case. Tonight I asked for joy in myself and what wildness I can find, inside and out:  to be, just a little, like Artemis, Mistress of Animals, virgin goddess of the hunt.

TempleOfArtemisTemple of Artemis, Ephesus

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