{time stamp}

Culzean 014

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.

{rocks. paper. scissors.}

I have been playing with a specfic story for a long time with this title, and when I found this poem, it made me smile.

Song of the Powers

Mine, said the stone,
mine is the hour.
I crush the scissors,
such is my power.
Stronger than wishes,
my power, alone.

Mine, said the paper,
mine are the words
that smother the stone
with imagined birds,
reams of them, flown
from the mind of the shaper.

Mine, said the scissors,
mine all the knives
gashing through paper’s
ethereal lives;
nothing’s so proper
as tattering wishes.

Read the rest of this poem by David Mason at Poetry Out Loud.

{p7 on pf: a patchwork of a cento}

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”

Greetings and salutations: It’s Poetry Friday, and is anyone else mildly bewildered that it’s September? While no one can say this summer has gone by quickly – no one who was has been wilting in the heat or sucking down smoke – that we’re officially motoring towards Autumn is a bit surprising… ah, well, on with the dance.

How I did it: While found poetry is typically difficult for me, this month’s cento challenge was a doozy. After TEN YEARS (this past April) of making poetry together with these ladies, I would not have wasted time whining about how difficult this was, except if we’re too quiet, it makes Sara leery, so WOW, THIS WAS HARD, UGH, GOSH, CENTOS, ARGH. Better, Sara? Onward:

From the Latin word for “patchwork” a cento is a collage poem made up of lines from poems by other poets. For our poetic quilt, the Poetry Sisters chose a single stanza from “I See Chile In My Rearview Mirrow by New Delhi poet Agha Shahid Ali. From this poem, we then chose a single word from a selected stanza around which to build our collage.

Finding poems for centos can be challenging, but a quick shortcut is to put your chosen word into the search engine at Poets.org and proceed from there. Out of the plethora of interesting choices, I chose like, which was common enough to give me too many options for poems, so I limited myself to only five pages of results from Poets.org, and twenty-seven poems, which I whittled down to a mere seventeen. Happily, this choice also opened my poem up to myriad cultural and ethnic diversities as well, as we move from the past to the present, through myriad continents and genders and faiths.

Making Meaning: It’s challenging to make meaningful poetry out of patchwork, however – having to leave the words of the poems in the order in which they were within their individual works made this even more difficult. However, because I have still been reflecting on my recent foray into harpy-ism, I found myself with ample fodder for the whirling emotions in the lines which presented themselves. Reflecting on how I had felt in the moment just after an insult, I found a backing for the swirling patchwork, and I pinned my individual bits in various places and orders until they felt true.

ozone & petrichor (after lightning)

I would like to describe the simplest of emotions

it was like this:
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
like brooms of steel.
like sunlight, in fog
breaking like oil. the night
smelled like a dead frog.
a rose like a screw
drawn out of my breast like a rib.

I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment…
I have never been anything like pink
& lord knows, I have been called by what I look like.
Just like that, I’m a flung open door.
I run around like mad –
Like them, I wanted — only to die, moon-dark. Blessed,
unnoticed. now they look suspended, like heroes
a dream still clinging like light to the dark,
as the mist disappeared. like a curtain, open,
maybe. its flaws, like cracks
leaking in and out in all directions

mistress, eyes are nothing. like the sun
like a million dollar god with a two-cent
rim-shot, history, like a shadow, passes.

Closing Credits: And there’s even more cento-y goodness from the Sisterhood. Laura meets this month’s challenge through glass, Tricia found a truly envy-producing title, Sara, who set our challenge this month, sees all that is before us, while Liz breaks down breaking/brokenness. From their cushy chairs on the sidelines, Andi and Kelly meanwhile wave their pom-poms in our general direction, cheering us onward.

The true gift of a cento is the impetus to read widely – and wildly – a number of different types of poems one might not have otherwise attempted. To best appreciate the rich cloth from which each piece of patchwork is cut, you are invited to find a line you feel is especially intriguing, and read its antecedent poem.

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Beyond Literacy Link. Here’s to corralling the various whirling emotions that we might have and pinning them down into poetry. A cento style might not make it as easy to impose order onto your world as, say, a sonnet, but there is something to be said for using whatever feelings you have – however you feel – to make an orderly mind out of chaos.

” We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, where the power of touching & meeting another woman’s difference & wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.” Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 124-133

Hat tip to Tech Boy who made my little table in ten minutes, when I would have had to work carefully, with a lot of scowling and muttering, for an hour or more.