{autumnal eau de vie}


when the light leaves early, sun slipping down
behind the beech trees as easily as a spoon
of cherry cough syrup, four deer step delicately
up our path, just at the moment when the colors
shift, to eat fallen apples in the tall grass.
Great grey ghosts. If we steal outside in the dark,
we can hear them chew. A sudden movement,
they’re gone, the whiteness of their tails
a burning afterimage. A hollow pumpkin moon rises,
turns the dried corn to chiaroscuro, shape and shadow;
the breath of the wind draws the leaves and stalks
like melancholy cellos. These days are songs, noon air
that flows like warm honey, the maple trees’ glissando
of fat buttery leaves. The sun goes straight to the gut
like a slug of brandy, an eau-de-vie. Ochre October:
the sky, a blue dazzle, the grand finale of trees,
this spontaneous applause; when darkness falls
like a curtain, the last act, the passage of time,
that blue current; October, and the light leaves early,
our radiant hungers, all these golden losses.

~ copyright © 2005 Barbara Crooker (from Radiance, published by Word Press). All rights reserved.

{into the peace of wild things}

The Peace of Wild Things || Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

{p7 on pf: six line animal poem}

October already… and I’m still holding out on turning on the heat. It’s the West Coast Winter Contest, and there are rules – you can use an electric blanket, but not every day. You can close all the windows, but messing with the thermostat before October 31st means you’ve somehow …lost. You can wear cardigans and wool socks on a breezy day, but a coat… no, that’s just a bridge too far. Somehow, you can gain or lose some sort of psychic points in a West Coast Winter, if you acknowledge that it’s nippy before it gets here. (I hereby acknowledge that this is ridiculous, but we played this game in Glasgow, too. Many Scots are faintly scornful of the whole coat thing, and it can be SNOWING and they’ll wear… a t-shirt. They win, for all time.)

We were introduced to a few rules for our competition this month with the Poetry Seven – Laura set us a challenge that we had a subject – animals; a length limit – six lines, no more; and word specifications – we had to use the words spike, roof, and shadow.

I like rules in poetry. I like structure and limits and boundaries – they can make the writer feel safe, and the creativity feel manageable. Until it doesn’t. I was fine with the rules – I was delighted with everything but the word specifications. I was stymied, thinking of an animal and these words in the same context. What animal with a spike could also be on the roof? Everything has a shadow, but with only six lines to explain and describe, who could come up with anything decent? Also, I was determined not to do anything… normal. I mean, why not, right? But that also meant that the line limit came back to bite me in the bum again.

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I was truly challenged – but also happy to run to the internet for some clues. I started with the line limit. There are quite a few amazing six-line poems, and poem forms. To give myself a place to begin, I decided on a plain hexastich – six lines, unrhymed – and then to play with an Italian sestet, which is iambic tetrameter or pentameter, and rhymed abcabc. My first poem is a Scotland poem.

Stirling Tapestry

pearlescent spike crowns
a force of dream and shadow
Unicorn, captive
quiescent seeming, sitting
quivers poised to raise the roof
fairy tale turned fact

The symbol of Scotland is the unicorn, and with all the chaos of Brexit, more than ever, the unicorn, having sat prettily for a long while, is now poised to do… something about jumping over that fence, perhaps?

This one is because I can never just leave Miss Emily alone, and so, hat tip to her A Narrow Fellow in the Grass (1096).


The heartbeat spikes to see shed skin
On kennel roof, or ‘neath the porch
This friendly fellow cleaves the grass
In shadow, Snake is silent silk.
Herpetophobia your case?
Cold-blooded calm you must embrace!

I admit that I’m most proud of this last one, because Laura likes it. ☺ I thought that six lines was just enough to make a shape poem, and because a narwhal is just all …pointy up top, I was going to begin this with the word “I.” And then I saw this video…:

…and then I wondered how the narwhal… negotiated through the world with so much ahead of it, as it were. How does it never poke any of its friends inadvertently? Those were my thoughts – silly, yes, which lent themselves to a somewhat silly poem:

A Narwhal Never Flosses

splendid spike
this tooth, the roof
of narwhal whale in inky seas
its apex point a shadow spear
which keeps the way ahead all clear

Oh, there’s more poetry. Laura’s first through the gate with her adorable guinea pig. (Oops, she chose to post the owl. I still like the guinea pig.) Sara joins with an autumnally atmospheric piece. Liz hits her stride and Kelly returns sans pangolin. (But her kitty’s still pretty cute.) And Tricia’s here, too, huzzah. Andi and Jax will gambol along shortly – I’m excited that the gang’s all here today.

Tab’s hosting Poetry Friday today @ The Opposite of Indifference (and congrats to her Germany-bound son!). Enjoy your day – may it be filled with mysteriously awesome animals!

{time stamp}

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A change of season brings the urge to move the furniture, change the pictures, hang something new on the front door. We are delving into the massive project of finding photographic art to frame possibly to hang in our home, possibly to give as gifts.

This project is a doozy. There are I don’t know how many thousands of pictures on our Flickr account. Many were transferred onto the site, and were from film, before people commonly took pictures of everything and their food. Mostly, the earliest pictures are of art – painted coffee mugs and gourd birdhouses. The first sprouts in the garden. Later pictures show our little townhouse, and the long and painful process of gutting it from its 1970’s carpet and fittings, and putting it back together. Still later pictures captured our first trip to Europe, the five years we lived in Scotland, and every architectural wonder in the city of Glasgow, twice. Inevitably, the photographs turn to food. Shoes. Travels through Italy, Estonia, England, Puerto Rico, The Netherlands, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and San Francisco. There are thousands of pictures of castles, birds, signs, fish. Flowers. Random strangers who shouted, “Take our picture!” Our daily lives for years, chronicled in HDR.

People often ask, with no small amount of judgment, “Do you ever actually look at all those pictures, after you’ve taken them? As a matter of fact, yes, all the time. My screen savers and laptop background are nothing but pictures, pictures, pictures, which shift every five minutes to a new scene. Most of the castles we visited in our first two years of living in Scotland we never visited again. No matter our reach, despite best intentions, the world spins out of our grasp… and only new adventures remain. I find I am greedy for the past, to hold onto where I’ve been, even as I try to stand firmly in the here-and-now.

It’s important, this here-and-now. It is all too easy to imagine a rosy past, captured solely in perfect poses and carefully cropped and color-corrected.

Sometimes, it is troubling to look back – at beautiful holiday ornaments and a perfectly arranged house, and wonder, “Why wasn’t I happy then?” If only beautiful settings were a guarantee of a beautiful life.

We have only ever printed about twelve of the hundreds of thousands of photographs we have taken. It’s too hard to choose a single image. I love the slant of light on autumn leaves and snow in one picture, but in the other, taken only a moment earlier, there’s King Arthur’s Seat, and me standing in the middle, swathed in scarves. In another, there’s a slightly blurry silhouette of a face, but if we crop it, it’s a gray castle rising up from a slate-colored loch. Each of them represents one beautiful moment – perhaps a weekend, or a string of days. And, every time, I go through the pictures, I find myself thinking, “I want that day again. I want that beach, with that weather, with that group of people.” Never mind that we’re all seven years older and have lost track of various members of the group. Never mind the new additions, the new players we haven’t yet met. It just seems possible, when you look at a photograph, to reach inside, and capture it all.

We always think we can go back.

It’s a simple enough thing, to return. We imagine we can recapture the day, go back and experience it again when we’re thinner, or when the weather is better. When we have more energy for the place, or the people. It was a good day, we think. So beautiful. Let’s try again when this or that happens, when he or she is with us. Let’s try and have that day again.

Alas, even Now is sifting down through our clenched fists like the finest grains of sand, and going back to where we began works only on game boards. Gifts are best savored in the moment they are received… and sometimes, they’re not for tomorrow, but today.

{urgent as a knife}

The 4th Sign of the Zodiac

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

Excerpted from BLUE HORSES, by Mary Oliver, The Penguin Press, New York, © 2014

{a prayer/ a spell}

A Prayer/A Spell

I am feeling better, so I say good morning and mean it. That’s a big deal.

Yes, today is a good morning to exhale, to feel joy with the release of a breath I no longer need to be holding.

I am NOT alone because I feel alone.

I am NOT alone because I feel alone.

I am NOT alone because I feel alone with company.

When I look in the mirror, I will find a reflection of the gifts I am withholding from myself.

Light hits everything at a different angle. I will make a habit of tilting my head.

When the sadness water falls, I will let the salt cleanse the wounds I cannot see. I will let dance parties be the hospitals I heal in.

If I need more help, I will let the people offering help me.

If I need more help, I will let the medication help me.

I forgive my body for being a machine after all.

I forgive my memory for being the cupboard door that will continue to pop ajar no matter how many times I push it shut.

I forgive myself even if I am the last person I want to forgive.

Wherever I have come from, wherever I am going, I will remember the present as the only place to start.

Today is a good day to wake up and be great and have gratitude for the restless pump of a heart, for the way it does not know how to hold back.

I will exhale and I will begin to do the same.

– by Sabrina Benaim, from Depression & Other Magic Tricks


I could find the Big Dipper. The Little Dipper, after some struggle, was barely identifiable. As for bears, major or minor? Horns of a bull? A horse’s head? Surely, you jest. As a kid, I only barely scraped through getting my star badge. I have only ever found Orion’s belt – the man himself – god? – had apparently dropped his accessories and gone.

Stars are the pins which outline the shapes of beings larger-than-life, those gods and warriors who shine through the universe. Madea was such a woman, she lit up the small skies of a tiny Louisiana town, larger than life. And every child of hers who falls blurs the outline of her shape, and someday, her constellation may only be a memory. Strange, how losing Uncle Sly makes me think of my grandmother, and doubles the loss. For my grandmother, the DNR on her chart meant a quiet passage, but today, my mother’s arms ache from CPR, tried for long, long, long minutes, fruitlessly.

Cancer is an unworthy, unrighteous, rapacious, voracious, cunning, vicious, bastard. If only we could halt its pernicious poison which seeps into bones and breath, perhaps we could then cease to rage against the dying of the light, and let the stars fall softly.

{penultimate summer days}

Glue & Glitter

You know it’s beginning to look a lot like Autumn when you find a stray pile of coffee filters in the cabinet and your first thought is, “What can I use these for?” Yes, it’s true – while other people suffer from pumpkin spiced blight, my autumn ailment is the belief that I can surely go mano a mano with any crafty project that I see on the internet, or in stores, or on other people’s houses, and succeed beyond my wildest dreams. Never mind that they probably bought them, and the stores certainly did – I’m positive that I can do them myself – and make them look even better. (Now that I think of it, this may not be just an autumnal ailment…).

Today’s project was making a chalk sign on slate. Mind you, I only have fat sidewalk chalk and pastels – neither of which are ideal for real (READ: unpolished) Scottish slate – and mind you, I can’t really draw all that well. I made a WELCOME sign, and it looks… probably like you ought to stay away from my house.

Fine, whatever. It’s autumn in a few weeks, and there will be garlands of leaves and coffee filter wreaths and grapevines and scarecrows and I WILL BE READY.

BDastard Diseases

I’m grateful I have something fun to focus on, because my scleromyositis is being a beast. My doctor has named it Predator. “You know that one part in the movie, where it just bursts out of that guy’s chest?” Well, not really, but I’ve seen the clips, and yeah – that’s what this disorder feels like – something which gnaws on my innards and erupts out of my chest periodically. Mostly, I’m dealing with it. Having something sucking down your energy and brainpower like an invisible leech is not fun, but it’s been …manageable. Mostly. Lately, though, it’s started affecting my digestion, which is difficult. When you’re a vegetarian, and eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg, being told you need to lower your fat, fresh, and fibrous intake or what’s in your gut will just sit there and rot because it can’t absorb into your system… is hard. I am… resentful. And cranky. And having to haul out a whole new way of eating that includes applesauce instead of apples and cooked instead of fresh. Soft foods are apparently the trick. At least the summer is ending; one doesn’t worry so much about lacking salads when it’s cold, and soup ought to be okay. I think. Ugh. At least yogurt and I don’t have to break up. And chocolate pudding. And chocolate mousse…

To the Bookshelf!

Really, whenever there is anything unpleasant going on, I take to the books. (Yes, in fact I have been reading like mad this past year. How did you know?) Now that I can read again – and there was a scary period a week ago when I was too tired even to comprehend while listening to an audio book (TOO TIRED!? How can that even happen?!) I’ve been enjoying Deanna Raybourne’s newest mystery series A CURIOUS BEGINNING. In children’s books, I’m enjoying Robin Stevens’ MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE series — and I do order the British ones, because the titles and covers of the American ones give me a headache. (Murder Is Bad Manners?? Seriously, American publishers??) I’m looking forward to losing myself in more adventurous novels, including Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, which is sitting on my nightstand, and Jacqueline Woodson’s two newest, THE DAY YOU BEGIN, and for older readers, HARBOR ME.

On the Keyboard

Because people so often ask how the writing is going, I’ll say… slowly. It’s new ground I’m breaking, trying to make a conscious decision to write something utterly new for me, something out of my usual family-oriented main character. It’s tougher still with Predator as a roommate in my brain who won’t conveniently go to sleep when I need a break. It’s tough, but to be a writer, I grit my teeth and remind myself that the gig means I have to write. Yesterday I finished a scene which had eluded me for a couple of days, and even though I had to lie down afterward, the feeling of triumph was real. Every letter counts, friends.

As hurricane season unspools, clouds hover on the horizon, I hope you are glorying in the final days of an unconventional summer, and wringing from them all the joy that you can.

{the shrill, shrieking harpy within}

Kelvingrove Museum D 522

The harpy? It me.

Behold, I have won for myself the Hideous Hostess Award. I have delved deep within – or, rather, I have scratched a claw across a very thin veneer, not having to go very deep at all, and lo, I have discovered that within is housed the housefrau of unhingedness, the vixen of vexedness, and the harpy of hatefulness.

Five days of company might do this for you.

And, it’s been nearly seven days since it happened, and I’m just now blogging it, so you know the shame level is still pretty high.

My sisters are still laughing at me — fully belly laughs, not smirks and giggles. “Oh, you get mad like Mom does,” they tell me. “You ‘scream’ like Mom does,” they say, and their “scream” comes with air quotes. Maybe. But, it felt like I was moments from clawing someone across the face.

My head got hot.

My face flushed – to where I could feel it. I broke into a sweat. And my voice went up to a hectoring, screamy pitch I haven’t heard since I was a child. I was THIS close from getting up and hurling myself headlong at this person.

Honestly? I didn’t know I had it in me.

The problem with lying to yourself is that you might believe it.

Self-deception is mainly a problem when dealing with your emotions. The thing about feelings is that… they’re there. They’re still there even when you’ve shoved them down past your line of sight. They’re not something you ever truly control. You feel how you feel; you can only control acknowledgment and action.

Kelvingrove Museum D 523

Though I know that, for most of my life, and for much of the lives of many people of the female persuasion, being angry is something that was delegated to the male of the species. They yelled, we jumped. They barked, we acted… at least, that’s how it was in my family. My mother never appeared to be angry – never does appear, to this day. She glided with serenity through my childhood, and only wept when we disappointed her. Now, there were a very few times when she broke something… but that was considered anomaly based on how much we had truly vexed her. She didn’t scream and shake us, she cried. And that was the only polite way for women to be angry, maybe.

After decades of trying, I find I am not my mother. I know I get angry. After twenty-odd years of keeping company with Tech Boy, he knows I get angry, too. I have evolved past the need to call it annoyed, vexed, irritated, cross, or ill-tempered. He has gotten a kick out of telling me, through the years, that I’m really working my thesaurus, all to avoid saying I am angry enough to bash his brains out with a loaf of bread. I try not to allow self-deception to cloud my mind and tell me that I’m only allowed to be “disappointed” or to sob quietly when I want to legitimately strangle someone.

Significantly, I was nowhere near weeping the other night. Still — this just caught me off guard and swept my feet out from beneath me. This… towering rage.

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Theoretically, we all know better now than to talk about politics.

Politics claw out our hearts and reveal our spleen. Politics are so broken and jagged that they’re not fit for indoor use, only for storage out back with all the other broken, rusted things. We know better than to let politics in, just as we know better than to let in a rambunctious or rabid beast… Especially over dinner. Especially with near-strangers. Especially in mixed company – not everyone likes animals, and some people fear them. It is ironic that none of the Emily Post-style strictures with which we, in polite company, otherwise surround ourselves came into play the other night. If they had, I could have saved myself a little chagrin.

I already knew that the people visiting did not share my ethics and beliefs. I had already explained – possibly with an edge in my voice – the significance of the Legacy Award in the American Library Association pantheon of awards, and what it means to have a lasting legacy of the sort one would wish to keep as opposed to the unfortunate legacy of blackface and racial slurs toward Native people that some books have. (Could people otherwise not at all invested, interested, or involved in children’s lit please kindly step RIGHT out of that whole discussion? Kthx.) I had already taken a breath and let go rather snide remarks about religion by rationalizing to myself that I didn’t believe in an -ism either; I believed in an -ist, full stop, and so I could fail to be piqued by the jibe about that. I already knew that some people take pride in feeling smug that they are better than other people, better educated, more savvy, more secure in their intelligence, and they have a snide little laugh at those lesser beings — even very nice people who believe themselves to be otherwise open-hearted and sympathetic. It can be a habit that becomes ingrained and I of all people can cut individuals some slack for that.

But not, apparently, for complaining about the NRA, and how it’s not fair that they no longer have a voice, and “those g-d kids don’t know s-t about anything.”

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Cry havoc, and let loose the sins of wrath.

Probably it was the French thing that did me in.

I love to know the etymology of everything because that’s who I am, and the whole “pardon my French” thing seems especially false, seeing as the French would not likely be bothered with the speaker, and more importantly, that the speaker cannot actually speak French at all, not even a tiny little bit. The phrase comes from the myriad switches during English history after the Norman Invasion of “we hate them, no we think they’re okay now; wait, we hate them again,” as people who spoke French or used French words excused themselves because others would either not understand, or they would look down upon them. Of course, these attitudes came right across the pond to the Colonies, and then we had French letters – condoms – French pox – syphilis – and French novels – pornography – that were in common usage during the 19th century. (Thanks, otherwise useless 19th Century British & American Lit English degree!) To hear people excuse profanity and blame the French is a big eye-roller for me. Hello? Own up to your own vulgarity, you sniveling weasel. Leave the French alone; they’re surely ignoring you anyway.

So, when this comment about the NRA was prefaced with “excuse my French” I wanted to point out that there is no right to bear arms in France, and that country has some of the strongest gun laws in Europe. I wanted to allow that if a high school in France had been shot up — years after an elementary school – that no one would be arguing that a non-governmental body who receives money from gun manufacturers, an organization which clearly has conflicts of interest riddling their judgment, had the right to petition the government. No one would be insiting that such ethically compromised people had the RIGHT and the NECESSITY to be on hand to shape their government’s decisions.

But, this is not France. And, neither France, nor the NRA is the point, to be honest. The point is that I forgot when I watched activists and protestors go toe-to-toe with strangers, raising their voices and their signs, that there is a human element involved. I have made such space in my life for peaceful compromise, for attentive understanding of my privileged belief systems and positions – Christian, Protestant, cis-het – that I neglected to make allowance for the role conviction plays in the bedrock of our belief when we are not trying to make room at the table for what others hold dear. I forgot that when we truly believe, we’re all in, throwing our hearts and our minds after our teeth and our claws.

I forgot that we’re all really little beasts, and only pretend to be more than that, and that it all comes out when we think – when we KNOW – that someone else is wrong.

It is a curious sensation.