Monday, December 30, 2013

Fragile

Mother's Hand-Antonas Sutkus


This is the yard where babies cry, where kites fly

where a warmly tended vegetable garden grows year after every perfect year

where my three children dug their holes to China (how deep is the world, Mom?)

where they crawled on their bellies in fresh dewy grass, and

glided down the driveway on steel runner sleds, where

they held book sales and set up lemonade stands and saved their money

in pink ceramic piggy banks, where they

fought each other with water balloons and squirt guns and found a way

to climb up to the roof and

then fall down (the first broken bone) and

as my magical powers of triage (both physical and imagined) faded in time

and as I was busy growing deaf (today is my 64th birthday)

they borne their own stars, children of the waterfalls, children of the glitter

children of the elms and the bumblebees.

After the chicken casserole and watermelon and cake, I

lie back in the hammock under a sparkling sun that will never stop shining

so says Amanda, the third of my cherished and adored.

Today is your birthday, Grandma

she kisses my cheek. I curve my arm and pull her closer.

how old are you, again?

64

that's old, she says, drawing out the "o". Then quiet.

her little brain is thinking, figuring...like the sound of a spinning hamster wheel

her parents are 32. she is four. I am 64.

Grandma?

I think I just want to be 30. Instead of four.

why's that? I ask.

because I don't want to be little when you die.








*I built this poem around the last line (from an unknown author), with thanks.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ring In the Bells With Menu


Apple Gorgonzola Salad
*
Caribou Tenderloin
*
Chili-Spiced Roasted Acorn Squash
*
Almond-Chocolate Blondies with Spirited Irish Coffee

It's almost Christmas; heavy blankets of snow are lounging on the trees outside my window (another six inches during the night), and I'm thinking of what to serve for dinner. The plan is to dine early, around one-ish, strap on snowshoes for the  traditional river walk where we break open "light sticks" and hang them on spruce trees. When our cheeks are notably reddened, we hike back home and break open a bottle of wine to redden the cheeks a tad bit more. As daylight fades, from above on our little mountain, we can see the faint yellow and orange glow on the trees in the distance.  

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Ah, yes. J.R.R. Tolkien surely had it right. While thinking of my dinner menu, I came across vintage menu covers, works of art from decades ago when the only people who "ate out" at restaurants were the eccentric and wealthy, well before hot food served on silver platters became, in a sense, democratized, or inexpensive enough for everyone to enjoy. It was in the 1940's and 50's when the American economy, right after the war, was chugging along super well. With the building of interstate highways and a new mobility, plus increased income to spend, independent restaurants began popping up all over the country. To gain a sense of identity, a good deal of money was invested in the design of restaurant menus by artists of the day.


I'm not so sure hamburgers and french fries are all that good for your health (as they claim), but I'm told by a friend in California how her parents found it a treat to take the family to McDonnell's in Los Angeles. Sort of a pre-cursor to the McDonald's empire of today. They reportedly served some of the state's best and freshest fried chicken in the land; their poultry raised right down the road on a 200-acre ranch.





















I wish I would have been around to dine at A-Sabella's Fish Grotto in San Francisco. I am a great lover of fresh seafood: stuffed sole with scallops, coconut shrimp with apricot mango sauce. Yum! A-Sabella's also advertised "Italian Style Spaghetti", meaning perhaps, before the average American household used garlic and olive oil in their kitchens, A-Sabella's did, and at their tables, you were getting the authenticity of a real Italian red sauce to cover your choice of pasta.

My, oh my. How about the Ritz? This one was located in Moscow, Pennsylvania which today boasts a population of a lick above 2,000. How did it serve up such a lively "night out on the town" with so few people, well before census takers knocked on our doors?

Was the Ritz a well-kept secret in its day?

I love the 1940's cover.

It reads: "Stop and spend a social hour in harmless mirth and fun.

Let friendship reign. Be just and kind and evil speak of none.

And in the interest of providing clients the best in entertainment, food and drinks, this super-classy club is requesting that each person spend at least $1 for the evening."

Wow! A buck for the whole night? Wonder what that got you besides dancing, naked ladies?

Merriment is indeed, harmless.


Could you imagine dining at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1939?

Here's what they served the Steinways (the famous piano people):

Petite Marmite Henri IV (huh?)

Hearts of Celery (do they beat somewhere in the stalk?)

Crown of Bass Newburg (do they mean just the head?)

Breast of Chicken Montmorency (huh? again)

Black Cherries (I got this one)

New Green Peas (as opposed to old?)

I bet it was the superlative of delicious.


Allow me to ring in the bells with menu as we eat a healthy meal at home. No restaurants to drive to; no traffic, no noise, except the cheesy Christmas tunes we love to play, like Alvin and the Chipmunks:

"Want a plane that loops-de-loop. Me, I want a Hula-Hoop. We can hardly stand the wait. Please, Christmas, don't be late!"


As of this writing, I remember my immediate family of seven, my parents who have passed on, my brothers and sister who live a day's plane ride from my home in Alaska.

And I chuckle, thinking of them.

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years, she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."    -calvin trillin

We never went hungry, though.
There was always good food to share.

Who needs a menu, really?

Sit down with your friends and family and break bread.
And have yourself a very, Merry Christmas.







Monday, December 16, 2013

Snowshoe


Eighteen inches of new evidence, snow

Come, walk with me said the river

Walk into my world of monochrome black and white, slow

the day is short and deep

black water strikes below, remember

skating for hours, playing out in the cold?

rocks and sand far under where water used to flow?

Take small steps while the light bends close


smell the dream of distance where water

stops its flow

Sister Winter calls my name

I listen:  oh, exuberant earth 

how sweet the pines, the silent snow 

we walk far off,  far off and away before

darkness, again, strikes down the day.



Quinn doggy on the Eagle River







Monday, December 9, 2013

Knot Tying


Knot Tying

Do you know how to start an avocado plant from a pit?

Treat and prevent food poisoning?

Can you build a successful campfire?

Do you know how to graft fruit, plant an apple tree?

Have you ever canned your own vegetables?
Do you know how to cook and store eggs?

Could you, at this moment, mount and safely ride a horse?

Have you ever used a chain hoist?
How about testing and replacing an electric switch?

If you had to, could you rewire a lamp?

How about design a solar greenhouse?

Have you ever administered pet medication?

I never learned necktie tying or how to needlepoint.

But I can change an oil filter, grow orchids and treat a nosebleed.

Do you know the way things work? 
Do you know about levers and cams and springs and belts?

Are you capable of expertly bleeding a hot-water heater?

Have you ever collected rainwater, got rid of pesky rodents, built a retaining wall?

Are you master at weaving baskets?

Do you know how to eliminate leaks in a faucet? Test and replace a wall switch?

How about the universal calls for help?

If you had to, right now, could you clear a blocked airway, stop heavy bleeding, 
treat a dangerous spider bite?

Do you know how to use gasoline safely, eat with chopsticks, skilfully use a soldering gun?

How about maintaining a car battery? Or darning socks?

Could you survive if snowbound in a car at ten below?

Did you know that laziness can kill you and circumspection could mean your death?

Have you ever read of the way Eskimos used to treat their young 
so they wouldn’t become lazy?

Did you know that monks take a cold shower every morning to 
thoroughly wake themselves up?

Are you aware that things die out by attrition when they are, supposedly, no longer needed?

Could you exist in a different world if your one predictable world

were to disappear?


*art: collage, colored pencils


Monday, December 2, 2013

Freddezza



She served the supper guests, Falsetto's Italiano working 
long hours on her feet, ice flagging the windows

a full house of wine-warmed faces, by midnight

she smelled like warm aromatic bread Bolognese 
seeping from her slim black wait-dress 

with rugged eyes, the chef thrust a plate her way eyed
her legs, watched her fluid spin unravel:

hips shoulders head flowed like an eddy-driven leaf

and when she spoke
a resonant voice, cheap, the bittersweet...when would she leave?
where would she go?

far away from the thick purl of blue ice, snow
perhaps a curl of green ocean, a day job

a place where she could undress in front of a sheer white curtain
that rises up on the breeze of a summer screen door. 

she would miss only this: his handsome language, a language

that sounded uppity and thin, uttered in front of the palate when she spoke it
but his "la bella linqua" rolled slow and low in the back of his throat

and strong
from the cave of his heart

she would go home with him one more night.

her long brown hair would fall all around him and
everything she ever wanted to purge, ambiguous seeds untold

would blow 
away in the cold 

and somewhere else on warm beach sands 

another lover would hold her sore
feet in his trembling hands 

and cradle them softly, like new-sprung birds.





*art: mixed media

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dedication


sweetly she sang for a swarm of us
tucked into the dimly lit room
sleeping snow outside, she grew still
closed her eyes.

when speaking softly is heard with a roar
when admirers sit up in their chairs
intoxicated with the hush and lilt of her
voice, only 23

she long ago chose sacramental 
colors white, violet, red
writing songs, underlining moods




she spoke of lonely hotel rooms, life
on the road
something missing
lost, then found
drag queens, bars
sisters, guitars and, of course
love, effortless

her music both wild and sweet
dark and happy

celebratory, though not music for the dance floor or
barroom, not songs for the mind


but a graceful force perfumed for the heart.

when the quiet first hits you, you
know and understand

what it means for a woman
to be passionate, to stand

deeply in love
with her he(art).



*I first heard Seattle based singer-songwriter, Courtney Marie Andrews play a few songs at Anchorage's Arctic Entries, a storytelling venue that creates community, "one story at a time." Her voice was so soft yet packed a lot of power and made me take notice. Her tone is alluring, poetic. She'd been playing shows in house concerts around town, and we ventured out to a small venue (20-30 people) at the Super Saturated String band's studio.

She tuned her guitar many times during the show, going in and out of an open tuning format. Her music is enchanting; she has a gentle lilting voice with a full range that has been likened by a few to match that of Joni Mitchell's...though that's a mighty tall order for me, I can't argue. Her lyrics are hauntingly beautiful...about love, loss, lonely hotel rooms, home, relationships...life in all its fantastic glories, disappointments and contradictions.

Courtney is a woman who feels and knows full well how to translate her perceptive experiences to her audience. She sings with ferocious depth and emotion, exposing a vulnerability that is a trademark of her performance. Great show.

See photos of her Anchorage, Alaska tour on Tumbler and listen to 
Woman of Many Colors


Monday, November 18, 2013

Arctic

Eklutna Lake


Back in the old days when there were no streetlamps

we played outside after school under a bright moon.




We were just kids then and we did not consider it dark

we did not know that anyone else had the sun

while we had just the day-moon.



Does not everyone everywhere share the same moon?

On the playground and all through the village when a bitter wind blew

we did not consider it too cold or too windy or too this or too that



how the rivers froze and how the earth turned cold did not matter to us.

Often our sun was cold like a penny hiding behind the moon but

we did not consider it bad.



The earth glistened in the pitch black night

the sky hollowed in the clear light day

and our vision spread far off, away.


As a man, I read about

a place so still you could hear wax melting

down a lit candle.

They must have been talking about

my village, where on the coldest nights


the silence is so deep and vacant

each breath stands still as fractured stars.




How this poem originated: Eklutna Lake is the largest lake in Chugach State Park and provides the water for the city of Anchorage. The above picture of the lake was taken last April, before break-up. Eklutna is a native village (near my hometown of Eagle River), population 70. First settled more than 800 years ago, Eklutna is a Dena'ina Athabascan village, the oldest inhabited location in our area. 

I got to thinking about the darkness that descends upon us now, come winter, and how the villages above the Arctic Circle exist in the extreme weather. I remembered the date Nov. 27, clearly now, because I was an itinerant therapist working in the hospital in Barrow, and on that day, many employees went to the windows and doors to take a "last look." This would be the last day they would see the sun until the end of February. 

The sun rides low now. I live in a valley, with mountains arching up on three sides. The sun peeks through notches, but in Dec. and Jan. the sun will be too low to clear the notches. It is then we leave town and go tropical.


Monday, November 11, 2013

The Whale Decides



The Whale Decides

Rocky took me out on the pack ice
by way of the captain, who granted us permission

Like being on the moon.
spring ice, blue snow
white birds over head

Rocky wasn't carrying a rifle like most do.

Three miles out we reached the camp tents
white canvas facing a black sea

When a north wind blows, a lead will open.

We spotted three whales, twenty-ton giants
they say a-ton-a-foot
flukes rising, blow holes spouting

Rocky said the hunters couldn't take them.

Not until the first one is butchered
and there's nothing left of it but

bones for the polar bears.

Not taking too much is a way of gratitude.

You should not be on the ice, with baby
a hunter scolds me.

Ice floes split in the sun, snow machines
gun up, and we jump the gap as

dense fog closes in.

It's not a baby, under my
parka, it's a long lens, hidden

from the cold

So I can take pictures of a 100-year 
old bowhead cut up in slabs 

stacked on freight sleds, bouncing 
on the burnished trail

racing back to town.



Today I woke to two feet of new snow on the ground, and being a lover of the lacy white stuff (excitedly digging out my cross-country skis), I thought of my time on the ice with whalers in Pt. Hope, Alaska and a poem I had written from that experience. 

Indigenous cultures of Alaska still hunt and fish as a way of life, melding the conveniences of the modern world with their old ways and traditions. It was in the early 90's I traveled to Barrow and Pt. Hope for the spring whale hunts. Using a film camera, and not fully practiced on shooting in the glare of ice and snow, the above photo was taken. I actually like the graininess and dirt spots on the lens, giving it the feel of a time long past.

The whale decides is a common phrase used by hunters to indicate it is not their explicit taking of the animal for sustenance that counts; rather more importantly, it is the animal deciding to give itself to the hunter. Living and dying, giving and taking are a part of the great circle of life, a fact that, in our modern world, we so easily forget.

Monday, November 4, 2013

BECOMING


You look at your bewildered face in the mirror, knowing

or, maybe not knowing

you are powerless to decide the day, to

find your keys and lock the door behind you

to drive to the store for a quart of milk


I took your keys away, remember?

angry and confused you said, "damn it

so you're one of them now too, huh?"

You shook your cane at the doctor, though

I don't blame you; he talked of

your condition as if you weren't in the room, as if

old men everywhere weren't already shelved with

their curling blank pages, yellowed

and much too brittle to touch


But we exist outside the circle of drooling incognizant men

Dad, don't we?



You empty your closet,

piling all your clothes and shoes on the living room floor

and with a grandiose gesture and eyes peeled skyward

you announce in your best voice "I  am  coming  home."


You would have thought it funny how

my little boy, he tried to die once

He lay down on the sofa and shut his eyes

every twitch and flinch controlled

stiff as he could make it, but

his sweet breath kept rising and falling and rising


Mom, I can't do it

I can't be dead he said


The way you looked at me at the lake

when I was ten, hair in a long braid down my back

following a trail through gold colored beach grass, heads

tipped back and laughing, watching

the seamless flow of clouds

my hand so small in yours



Where will I be?


Where will you be

after your body turns cold

slack-jawed, tangled in the bluebird sheets I

gave you last Christmas, dentures

in a cup by the bed, your tattered green robe dangling

on a hook behind the bathroom door


Exactly what is the next grand becoming

shuffling across our blood-fired paths?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Molly

She is done with spreading,
spreading her legs
spreading brie on dry crackers, drinking
wine from waxed paper cups


It is true her life took shape as meandering clouds, thinly and soft with
private meaning, until
they sculpted her nose and
blew artificial wind through her hair


If you mapped her face, it would be like this--
provocative and turbulent: of sexual congress,


a blue mole in the crosshairs just below her lips
eyes bright as the moon though
circled in a storm ring, light
airy hair, dull as tin


She sweeps dust from little altars
in the corners of her apartment                           squares her shoulders, leans down
to smell a vase of lilies


anxious energies rise up
another late-night photo spread
buy me   buy this   buy more




There are so many angles she must consider, blurred lines of penetration: chin in, hips out, knees bent, legs spread.


it is her mortal undertaking to sell,
to understand selling as dissonance,
to do nothing but look beautiful
with grace under pressure and


tend carefully the rising
pile of black leaves,
                 
gathering beneath her feet.





*photos taken on the street in Florence, Italy



Monday, October 21, 2013

Words As Play


No, this is not a post about religion. This is a post about WORDS.

I have a box in my studio where I collect found objects that one day may be used in a mixed media piece. I often keep colorful birthday and Christmas greeting cards for later use in creating collages. And by way of Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, I also collect words.

In her book, poem crazy; freeing your life with words, Susan suggests this exercise to free the writer's mind when it has become stale or stalled out:

Collect words and phrases from magazines, the internet, advertisements, instruction manuals (like this example from a Ford pickup repair manual: luminosity probe and choke hinge pin!), cookbooks, manifestos, field guides...any media source close at hand. Jot down the words and throw them into a box or folder. Nouns like blood, sweat and tears and verbs like slink, churn, and lure will help loosen things up in your mind. 

Next ransack the house and garage, attaching your words to objects. Be spontaneous. 


Don't think too much. Just play with it.

       
Pin your labels to objects and see where the words take you.


 My husband is a pack rat, so I could see how this exercise can easily get out of hand. He has so much "stuff" (most of which I'd label "throw-away"), I hardly know where to focus my gaze when I step into his workshop. But he fixes, cuts, welds, slumps, carves, and saws all manner of things, so who am I to judge?


I stayed out of his space, and attached my words to common objects around our home, and suddenly it seemed as though the label, in a small albeit interesting way, changed the way I viewed the object. New connections were born; fresh metaphors came to mind. I actually felt a little compassion for those tomatoes (soon to be eaten or rotted); saw my guitar as a Star Child, or the center of my universe (which she most certainly is), and felt the whimsy of a hobo, a solo flower child perhaps? kicking the leaves as she walked. 



As Carl Jung said: The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. 

So today I let my hair down and got wildly enthusiastic with words, as play. 

And now I think I'm ready to get back to work.

Monday, October 14, 2013

All Nature?


You know people live there: but they're not visible
a bar sign blinks open
soiled lacy curtains droop
in a cafe' window & 
melancholy burns up from the asphalt
smelling rank, like ignorance.

What is visible: just the stink of their lives, dead formulations
just the junk of their lives, acres & acres
of stuff & stuff & stuff lying in heaps on the brown ground
rusted cordage, severed machine parts
second-hand  throw-outs  
deep-sixed  for-eternity.

And yet daisies grow up through towers of scrapped tires
seed pods spool on a breeze of honeysuckle & float
above rusty dented fenders.



Is it all nature? the junk, funk, clunk
of shucked off & discarded stuff? is a
braided horse mane and a pretty girl the same
as an upturned rusty bucket lying in the weeds?

Hug the debris
hug all the hard places
hug the mountain road
speed the steep
slide & swerve.

Scud the gravel shoulder & with 
a celebrated hoorah, "pull" a
Thelma & Louise.

Leap to the other side
cross over & join the heaps of old iron, glass & paper below
be disposed of & cast away.

Abandon the body without ceremony
like refuse among wildflowers.







Monday, October 7, 2013

Coming Home, The Let Down


Wendell Berry, noted Kentucky author and poet, has made the observation that after a long plane trip, he allows three days for his soul to catch up with his body, and re-enter it. Three days of waiting and watching before delving back into work.

The late American Indian, Jose Hobday, once wrote that Indian mothers send their children out early in the morning, after they just wake up…to go for a walk, while humming their spirits back inside their bodies.

Today is day three for me. After being gone from home for five weeks, the re-adjustment phase appears to be nearing completion. This is not the first time I've experienced the "let down" upon arriving back home after a trip. Even after a short vacation, there is a period of time where I'm sort of fumbling through a fog and waiting for equilibrium to hit. Re-orienting. Trying to cheerfully fall back into a regular routine. 

Though my body is back on solid home ground, my heart seems to be dragging behind like a dead weight, lost in space without a compass. 



There's the unpacking, the laundry, the stacks of mail to peruse, the feeling like you want to eat at midnight because jet lag has fully kicked in, but there's nothing that hasn't spoiled in the fridge. The running around on day two to stock the cupboards and return unanswered phone calls. 

A change in environment is so refreshing and uplifting to the wanderlust soul. I don't miss sleeping in my own bed. I don't miss the familiarity of my own kitchen, the structure of a planned day, the pragmatics and rhythm of the daily domesticity of my home, which by the way, I love deeply. I can only liken it to a reverse culture shock in which everything back home is familiar and unchanging, while something inside of me has shifted and changed. I don't quite feel like getting back to reality.

Or facing the unspoken resistance to falling back into a regular routine.

"Of all the adventures and challenges that wait on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home." -Rolf Potts


So on day three, I went for a nine-mile hike with friends, breathing in the cold clear air, charging up and down trails and rocks and riverbeds while admiring the golden turn of autumn. Turns out all I needed was a good tromp in the woods to comfortably feel my way back to old familiar patterns and get the productive work routine humming again.

Peaceful and ready to tackle the world, I'm re-discovering my groove, and in the fullness of time, am happy to be back home.