Saturday, November 28, 2009

Odds and Ends

It's been a day of contrasts. Bright and dark. The morning began with drizzling rain; the sky cleared, and for a few hours it was orangey bright. I've just turned on the bubble-light bouquet,
the liquid in the stems surges: yellow, violet, and blue.

Anyone who comes to see us will have to pass through the moths that cling in hearts and half-heart shapes to the glass and clapboards. The camera's flash drew more, confusing them.

It's soup weather. I've more or less followed Julia Child's recipe for lentil soup but used the orange and brown lentils I had in the pantry rather than running out to buy French lentils, though I will do the French thing: puree some of the thick mash in the blender. J. came home from his walk-in-the-dark around Fresh Pond, and a stop at the market for a baguette. I just broke off the small crusty tip--can't call it a heel; it's too small; OK, an infant's heel. I love the crusty bits and do not understand why some people do not eat the crust.

Earlier today, driving home from the Bagel Bards, a group of poets who meet every Saturday morning at Au Bon Pain in Davis Square, and a trip afterwards to the Good Will with Ms. M., Ms. S. and Mr. B. I thought of a way to begin a poem I've been mulling over. I wasn't thinking about poetry as I drove, just watching the road, and the line came. It might work.

PS: At Goodwill, M. looked at me intently and said, "You're happy." Yes, I love to grub in thrift shops. She does not and had the good sense to leave me and Ms. S. to our romping, discriminating, greedy, grubbing, while she went back to Au Bon Pain for something to eat. Mr. B. was downstairs, so I can't say anything about his shopping habits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Description Hall of Fame

The Description Hall of Fame welcomes Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert. He joins Willa Cather, Colette, M.F.K Fisher and other masters of the art of description.

Our readers group will be talking about Herbert's collection of essays, "Still Life with a Bridle," in which he describes paintings that have moved and astonished him, among them, Torrentius's "Still Life with a Bridle." Herbert describes his first glimpse of the work: "How to describe this inner state? A suddenly awakened intense curiosity, sharp concentration with the senses alarmed, hope for an adventure and consent to be dazzled."

For the experience of surrendering to art, I like "consent to be dazzled" better than Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief."

Herbert is best on the background: "black, deep as a precipice and at the same time flat as a mirror, palpable and disappearing in perspectives of infinity. A transparent cover over an abyss."

Herbert is also very good on weather: "The sky was clear. The wind stopped. Faraway lights went on and off, and all of a sudden without warning, without a breeze or anticipation, a huge cloud the color of ash appeared, a cloud in the shape of a god torn apart.

Yet for all his descriptive power, Herbert in his poem, "I Would Like to Describe," wishes he could write without dramatic effects. (Comparing a cloud to a god torn apart is certainly a dramatic metaphor.)

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say—I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shadow Self Portrait

I'm not sure why this photo gives me so much pleasure: shadow silhouette on a lichen encrusted rock, perhaps because it corresponds to the ephemeral state of life. Oh, no, that's too ponderous. I love the shape, the little tail of my scarf, the peak of my hat, the absence of most color. Not that I mind seeing myself in a mirror, colored in, so to speak.

I once heard Jean Rhys say, 'Nature does not care for us?' But it must sense us, the lichen quiver imperceptibly when covered in shadow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Labels and Signs

It seems everything comes with a warning label or an advertisement, every banana, every apple with a sticker, every box of strawberries with a website printed on its tag. The other day I noticed a cart for the disabled in Whole Foods onto which was bolted a sign that said in effect: 'We provide this because we value our customers.' But nothing beats the warning label on the Pyrex storage containers I just bought, which are addressed to people with no experience with glass, the plastic generation.

Among other things, the manufacturers warn us not to drop glass. Is there anyone who has not dropped something made of glass! "It's legal," you may say. Pyrex protects itself against lawsuits, but the result in fine print reads like the anxieties of someone insanely terrified of glass. It's enough to make me drink a glass of wine and fling the empty glass against a hard surface. I bought these glass containers because of the threat of bisphenol A, which coats most plastics and the insides of tin cans. Canada has already banned this chemical which may cause dreadful mutations, but I hadn't realized what a dangerous thing I had done.

Here is my favorite section of the detailed warning:

Be careful when handling broken glass because pieces may be extremely sharp and difficult to locate. Handling your glassware without an appropriate degree of care could result in breakage, chipping, cracking or severe scratching. DO NOT use or repair any glassware that is chipped, cracked or severely scratched. DO NOT drop or hit glassware against a hard object or strike utensils against it.

There's more:

SAFETY AND USAGE INSTRUCTIONS AND WARRANTIES. Read these instructions and Save them for Future Reference. For more information, visit or call the World Kitchen Help Center . . . . As with all glass products, you must exercise an appropriate degree of care, especially when cooking food at high temperatures. There are three primary risks associated with using glassware for cooking: (1) breakage due to a sudden temperature change applied to the glassware; (2) breakage due to impact if the glassware is dropped or knocked against a hard object; and (3) burning when handling hot bakeware. ! FAILURE TO FOLLOW THE WARNINGS BELOW MAY RESULT IN PERSONAL INJURY OR PROPERTY DAMAGE, OR MAY CAUSE YOUR GLASSWARE TO BREAK OR SHATTER IMMEDIATELY OR LATER. Avoid sudden temperature changes to glassware. DO NOT: add liquid to hot glassware; place hot glassware on a wet or cool surface, directly on countertop or metal surface, or in sink; or handle hot glassware with wet cloth. Allow hot glassware to cool on a cooling rack, potholder or dry cloth. Be sure to allow hot glassware to cool as provided above before washing, refrigerating or freezing. Oven must be preheated before inserting glassware. DO NOT use on or under a flame or other direct heat source, including on a stovetop, under a broiler, on a grill or in a toaster over. Add a small amount of liquid sufficient to cover the bottom of the dish prior to cooking foods that may release liquid. Avoid handling hot glassware (including ware with silicone gripping surfaces) without dry potholders. Avoid microwave misuse. DO NOT ue glassware to microwave popcorn or foods wrapped in heat-concentrating materal (such as special browning wrappers), heat empty or nearly empty glassware in microwave or overheat oil or butter in microwave (use minimum amount of cooking time.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Elegant Insults

Catullus the poet is a great insulter. He names names: "Egnatius aping class with your thick black beard and/ flashing teeth scrubbed white with Spanish urine . . . " Reading Catullus has emboldened me. If he can write "prick,"--that's the mildest of his insults--I can begin a poem with "Shit for Brains, don't tell me . . . "

I'll never achieve Catullus's polish but I hope to find language as vulgar as his. But that's not all I've learned from Catullus. He wrote a love poem to a place, "Of all near-islands, Sirmio, and of islands/ the jewel . . . " Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque/ ocelle . . . ." So musical in Latin. And he talks to himself, "Miserable, Catullus" one poem begins.

I've now begun a poem with, "Poor, sorry Mim." If I'm lucky I will be able to write a love poem to a place.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Through the kitchen door I can see the moths gathering in the light. The temperature has dropped to forty degrees. There will probably be a frost. The moths have found the back door light, which gives off a little heat.

We are surrounded and inhabited by living things but mostly look at each other. When I suddenly see moths cluster I'm shocked and delighted.

The Beard

J. had just left Whole Foods on Alton Road in South Beach when a woman pulled up in a shiny black SUV, which looked as if it had never been driven on anything but a paved road lined with palm trees. She was tanned, blond, blue-eyed. "Are you Russian?" she called out. Her accent was Russian. "I'm Irish," J. answered. He admired her face. "You carry your age very well," she answered, and drove off.

When J. told me the story, he said, "It must be the beard."

Years ago when his black black hair was turning gray J. grew a beard. I told him he looked like Gabby Hayes. Eventually he shaved off the beard.

I associated beards with Rasputin, Santa Claus and Monty Woolley.

But now I find J's beard attractive. He's wearing a sweater that must be forty years old. The reliably warm, dense wool sheds water.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holidays and Liquor

I've been enjoying this sign at the Sav-Mor in Medford and playing with punctuation: Holidays? Mean family? We sell liquor. But really the sign is better without my heavy-handed insertion of question marks. A slogan and a sales statement linked in brash caps: the Sav-Mor sells liquor and the family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Act Up: Carpenter Center, Harvard

"ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993" is now on view at Harvard's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts on Quincy Street in Cambridge. I was there this afternoon for co-curator Helen Molesworth's lively, intelligent gallery talk, which focused on both the aesthetic quality of the movement's artwork and its political message. Many of the members of ACT UP (The Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) were artists and graphic designers. Some of their work for ACT UP appeared in store windows and billboards. I wonder whether that would be possible in these tame times.

The posters are provocative and well designed.

This one urges the use of condoms, the "scumbags" that save lives.

Here's a new take on the senior George Bush's tough-guy words:

Helen Molesworth said we can still call the White House. She joked about the timeless quality of art: the number of the White House is the same as when this artwork was made.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


What is the cache of such dull designs as a Burberry plaid or a Vuitton bag? Conforming designs for the rich or those who want to appear rich. Shades of brown and beige predominate along with a safe stupefying repetition.

You'd never catch Iris Apfel with a Vuitton bag. She's no conformist--let's bring back that word!--whether she's toning down colors or amping them up.

From the website "Art Knowledge News":

Elements of Style According to Iris Apfel:
  1. Never take yourself or an outfit too seriously.
  2. Visit the animal kingdom.
  3. Consider the clergy.
  4. Travel widely.
  5. Go high and low.
  6. Don’t fret about your age.
  7. Don’t be afraid to stop traffic.

Consider the clergy? Does she mean we should dress like the pope?

Saturday, November 7, 2009


J. and I have been together for almost fifty years, but I'm still surprised when I'm reminded of how different we are. The other day I was shocked when I opened the trunk of the car we are sharing and found what a friend would call a "vignette." All of the trunk's contents belong to J.: ice poles for winter trekking, water bottles, rope, heavy shoes, a maul, an old pill bottle full of dry strike-anywhere matches; inside the gray case are all sorts of gizmos for starting fires without matches, including lint, which catches easily. Does he soak it some fuel? I said "maul," but I don't really know if that's the correct term for the tool with the long yellow handle. I can hardly lift it. There's a hammer and two bags of fire wood. J. likes to go into the woods by himself. He doesn't carry a gun, but there must be a knife in the kit somewhere. If I shifted the bags I would probably find a hatchet.

I wouldn't dream of going into the woods by myself. I might with J. In an emergency he could save my life; in the wild, I doubt I could be useful to him.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friend, Champagne, Purse, Wallet

V. and I met at Flora's and ordered champagne. When the bartender told me the price, I hesitated for only a few seconds, and we went ahead. The champagne was delicious, not the least bit sour or heavy. The bartender asked if this was a special occasion. I said, "Yes, we haven't seen each other for a long time."

V. and I fell into the old, bright rhythm of our usual conversations. I was glad to see him. We covered a lot of ground--the end of a romance, his family's house burning, illnesses of those we loved, my old teaching job, his current one--the two of us smartly dressed--well, he was, all in black--taking our time with the champagne and laughing.

The bartender brought water, a good thing to sip between swallows of the potent champagne. Nothing surges into my bloodstream faster than champagne.

V. said he wished he were writing more, and I, in my irritatingly positive way, told him it was possible to write about anything. I took out my purse and said I had written a poem about how, after picking over dozens and dozens of purses, I had walked away, afraid of spending money--we're talking about a lousy thirty dollars here--even though the stingy wallet I had been using pinched my fingers when I tried to pull out a card. As I had reached the door of the store, I had said to myself, "Is this the way you want to be remembered, walking away from something you like, something that does the job perfectly?" I went back and bought the purse. Isn't it garish? I love it. The designer, Ed Hardy, worked for many years as a tattoo artist and has decorated the purse with orchids, a butterfly, a heart, ribbons, a chrysanthemum into which he's stuck a big diamond. I liked putting him into the poem.

V. took out his modest, charming green wallet with a drawing of a delicate white plant "Let's think of my purse and your wallet as metaphors," I said. Of our personalities? V. can't be summed up as easily as that. As for me . . .

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jason Bateman

I watched "State of Play" because I have a weakness for Russell Crowe, but the star of this muddled film is Jason Bateman in the role of Dominic Foy, a publicist in the employ of a corrupt company with influence in Washington. They own congressmen.

Bateman has not been ruined by TV. He is known for his roles in "Arrested Development" and "Little House on the Prairie." But he has developed into a brilliant actor. As Dominic Foy, he is slick, craven, weakly handsome. His expression disintegrates from a sneer to a sickening look of fear, as the reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) threatens him in order to force him to reveal the company's secrets. In the end the only thing that holds Foy up is his well-tailored, natty clothes.

Jason Bateman should be playing leading roles.

PS: Russell Crowe's performance is flabby.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I've worn a hole in the sole of my shoe. This is news? you might ask. It is. I like to wear holes in my sweaters before the moths get to them, wear shirts until the collars are threadbare, reduce my scarves to shreds, rub buttons down to nubs, wear silver off the plate, gold off the rims, break shoelaces, burst hat brims, walk the finish off the floors, leave grooves in the cabinet doors. The kettle is battered, the threshold dips. Evidence: I was here. There's not a drop left in the bottle.

Monday, November 2, 2009


It was fine to walk out the back door and wander. I remembered a physical therapist telling me, as she worked on my back, "You're a goal-directed person, aren't you?" as if that were not such a good thing. When I think of word "goal," I see a football fly between the posts or a ball hit the net. Without a goal, I went up to Hills Pond and let my eye latch on for a moment to whatever gave me pleasure, like these cattails, intricate, fading, lush.

The air was mellow with the smell of fallen leaves just beginning to rot. The smell of fall. The Japanese maples were winey red; a black dog strained on the leash, and though there's a leash law in this town, I wanted the owner to unhook the leash as I've unhooked mine.