Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ginkgo Biloba

Autumn View With Ginkgo Leaves, Still Mostly Green

The Consent
Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time,
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.

by Howard Nemerov (1920 - 1991)
American Poet
1978 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Update November 2013
11 - 11 - 13

Late Monday afternoon, I photographed the Golden Ginkgoes;
when I walked by again on Tuesday, less than 24 hours later,
all the leaves had fallen! All gone in one night . . . just like the poem!

11 - 12 - 13

See also: "Capturing the Ginkgo Light"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Letting Go

Philadelphia: Ginkgo Branch & View From Third Floor Window

In The Little Book of Letting Go, Hugh Prather questions why we wear the seams of our socks against the skin, so that they look smooth on the outside but feel bad on the inside. Wouldn't inside out make more sense? Interior vs Exterior.

Circumstances vs State of Mind. Which matters more? Prather says don't let circumstances become more important than your mental state: "If it were possible to summarize all mystical teachings in a single sentence, this one would come close: Make your state of mind more important that what you are doing" (7, 76).

Prather explains that we have two minds -- one that is whole and peaceful; another that is always conflicted, fragmented and busy. Susan Jeffers calls these two minds The Higher Self and the Lower Self. The Higher Self holds inner peace, strength, wisdom and spiritual dimension, whereas the Lower Self is a "place of struggle, lack, fear, and pain" (The Little Book of Peace of Mind, 4).

According to Prather, progress matters more than achievement, direction more than perfection. We can choose, we can decide. In the best interest of inner peace, we can wear our socks inside out.



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Thoughts

Hurrah For The Raspberry Pie!

"Our lives are filled with people who provoke us, especially people we love. They help us figure out our own shit and why we are here. And why are we here again? . . . We don't know. . . . We only sort of know. . . . To live, love, help -- to decorate. To sweep our huts and find some food."

from Grace (Eventually) Thoughts on Faith (p 135)
by Anne Lamott

to decorate: check out those sugared leaves atop the pie!
to sweep our huts: thanks Oreck, thanks Swiffer, thanks Sam!
to find food: raspberries & cabbage from the garden, thanks Ger !


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ah, broken garden, frost on the melons and on the beans!
Frozen are the ripe tomatoes, the red fruit and the hairy golden stem;
Frozen are the grapes, and the vine above them frozen, and the peppers are frozen!
And I walk among them smiling, -- for what of them?

I can live on the woody fibres of the overgrown
Kohl - rabi, on the spongy radish coarse and hot,
I can live on what the squirrels may have left of the beech - nuts and the acorns . . .

I will cook for my love a banquet of beets and cabbages,
Leeks, potatoes, turnips, all such fruits . . .
For my clever love, who has returned from further than the far east;
We will laugh like spring above the steaming, stolid winter roots.

A Few Late November Raspberries

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Save Your Own Life

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
--Anais Nin (1903– 1977)
French / Cuban author, journal writer

Twenty - five years ago, I copied a couple of poems -- "She leaves" and "The Journey" -- into one of my special notebooks. The timely message of these poems spoke to my past experiences with painful accuracy. It was a big breakthrough for me to realize that I had to save my own life, that no one else could to do it for me. I have long admired the wisdom of these two authors and have tried to hold their insights in my heart. Re-reading the poems slowly and carefully has shown me how applicable they are to making any kind of life - changing transition, to cutting free from any kind of overly binding connection, bad romantic liaison or otherwise.

Strangely, however, I neglected to include the author's name on my photocopy of "She leaves," then also failed to write it in by hand. No, it's not like me to lose track of a source like this, but somehow it happened. So for the past two decades, I've been trying to recall who wrote this poem and what book I found it in. I have searched through every poetry book I own and typed in every google search I can think of, but no luck yet. If anyone can think of any way to track it down -- or better yet, if you recognize this poem and know who wrote it -- please advise. It must be out there somewhere!

POEM ONE: She leaves

Someone you fell in love with
when you were virgin and succulent,
soft and sticky in strong hands.

How you twined over him, rampant
and flowing, a trumpet vine.
How you flourished in the warm weather
and died down to your roots
in the cold, when that regularly came.

Then slowly you began to discover
you might grown on your own spine.
You might dare to make wood.

What a damp persistent guilt come down
from ceasing to need.
Every day you fight free,
every morning you wake tied
with that gossamer web,
bound to him sleeping with open
vulnerable face and closed eyes
stuck to your side.

You meet others open while awake:
you leap to them. The pain
in his face trips you.
You serve him platters of cold gratitude.
They poison you and he thrives.

What a long soft dying this is between you.
Drown that whining guilt
in laughter and polemics. You were trained
like a dog in obedience school
and you served for years in bed, kitchen, laundry room.
You loved him as his mother always told him
he deserved to be loved.
Now love yourself.


POEM TWO: The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Poem found in Dream Work, 38 - 39
By Mary Oliver (b 1935)
Contemporary American Poet
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1984

Along the same lines as the poems above, Germaine Greer writes, "Such counsel [to break free from the "million Lilliputian threads" of a bad relationship] will be called encouragement of irresponsibility, but the woman who accepts a way of life which she has not knowingly chosen, acting out a series of contingencies falsely presented as destiny, is truly irresponsible. To abdicate one's own moral understanding, to tolerate crimes against humanity, to leave everything to someone else . . . is the only irresponsibility. To deny that a mistake has been made when its results are chaos visible and tangible on all sides, that is irresponsibility. What oppression lays upon us is not responsibility but guilt."

from The Female Eunuch (1970), 9 - 10
by Germaine Greer (born 29 January 1939)
Australian - born feminist writer and scholar

Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Publishing a volume of verse
is like dropping a rose petal
down the Grand Canyon
and waiting for the echo."

-- Don Marquis
(1878 - 1937)
American humorist and poet, best known for creating
the characters "Archy" and "Mehitabel (of whom, more anon)

Above painting:
Horse's Skull with White Rose (1931)
by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986)
American Artist

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Act of Faith:
David Sedaris On Learning French

My all - time favorite Sedaris essay has to be "Jesus Shaves," in which he describes his enrollment and participation in a French class for adult beginners. One memorable day, in a vocabulary exercise featuring French holidays, Sedaris learns that in France it is not the Easter Bunny who brings the chocolate eggs; it is the Easter Bell!

Trust me, you will not be able to stop laughing as you read his beginning French dialogue, translated back into English:

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb."

"One too may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, "The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate. . . . He come in the night when one sleep on bed. Which a hand he have a basket and foods."

The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a a big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes."

And so forth.

This hilarious essay contains everything that I like most about Sedaris. He is so earnest yet so whimsical and unbelievably funny. So cynical yet so hopeful. Nothing slips past him. As he says of his French class:

"In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six-year-old if each of us didn't believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I told myself that despite her past behavior, my teacher was a kind and loving person who had only my best interests at heart. I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and countless miracles -- my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.

A bell, though . . . ."

You'll just have to read the book yourself to see Sedaris's final observation concerning this cultural oddity!

(I can't say it here!)



[all passages quoted above are from the essay "Jesus Shaves"
found in Me Talk Pretty One Day, 177 - 180]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Too Funny

David Sedaris is another author (like Bill Bryson) that I look forward to reading, book after book. The first one I read was Me Talk Pretty One Day, back in the summer of 2001. You know how some movies or books have such great and funny and apt lines that they just don't go away and you keep incorporating them into your life and conversation and laughing over and over? Well, that's Me Talk Pretty One Day! When I had this book open, I could not stop laughing - even while sitting all by myself on a public park bench. I may have looked a bit on the crazy side, but I couldn't help myself. He is that hilarious!

A couple of summers later, I was reading his book Naked while traveling, and the same thing happened again, yet another bout of suppressed (as best I could) snickers and snorts. Coincidentally, this is exactly the kind of thing that Sedaris loves to write about, i.e., what to do when you find yourself seated beside a nutcase on an airplane.

If you're into books on tape (CD, IPOD, whatever) it is especially fun to listen to Sedaris read his own works. He is very funny, of course, and so sincerely modest and unassuming; there's a touching sweetness in his tone that I wasn't really expecting.

For additional listening fun, try Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!). Colbert, like Sedaris, has a built-in shit detector (see column to your right hand) and he's not afraid to use it! You can plug these books in, do a few miles on the treadmill, and let everyone else at the gym wonder what the heck it is that you're chortling about!



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Screen of Purest Sky

"People forget that it is the eye which makes the horizon."

You will not remember . . .
(Formby Beach, Merseyside, England)

Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness God draws down an impenetrable screen of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. "You will not remember," God seems to say, "and you will not expect."

from the essay "Experience"
by Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882)
American Transcendentalist, essayist, philosopher and poet

You will not expect . . .
(Tulum, On The Mayan Riviera)


"Through a Glass Brightly"

(A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th] literary blog of
connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Through A Glass Brightly

"A very very very fine house . . .

Such a cozy room,

the windows are illuminated

by the evening sunshine through them,

fiery gems for you . . ."

~ Graham Nash

In a section sadly omitted from the final version of his novel, Gustave Flaubert pictures Madame Bovary standing before the colored windows at Vaubyessard. She looks out at the countryside through variously colored window panes in a passage strangely reminiscent of Emerson's colored beads and lenses. Moving as from dream to dream, Emma Bovary looks at the illusion offered by each pane.

Through the blue pane, all seems sad; through the yellow pane everything grows smaller, lighter, and warmer; through the green pane everything she sees appears leaden and frozen. She remains longest in front of the red glass, looking at a landscape that frightens her, until she averts her eyes to the ordinary daylight of a transparent pane.



Stained Glass Design in Fireman's Hall Museum, Philadelphia

[Above: Custom - made front door, Society Hill, Philadelpha]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gathering Leaves

. . . Next to nothing for weight;

. . . Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop.
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?

from the poem "Gathering Leaves"
by Robert Frost, American Poet (1874 - 1963)

*above & below, grade school art by a grownup! ha!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Rough draft of Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est,"
one of the best known poems of the First World War,
composed between October 1917 - March 1918.
The earliest surviving manuscript is dated 8 October 1917
and addressed to his mother, Susan Owen, with the message
"Here is a gas poem done yesterday, (which is not private, but not final)."

Not only do I remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day, I can also recall when all of my elders referred to Veterans Day as Armistice Day. Did you know that the Federal government decided that we need no apostrophe in Veterans Day? I like that, don't you? Something to make life easier! I wish they would do the same for Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and Valentines Day!

Here is a bit of irony to mark the occasion: in the UK, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence traditionally observed in honor of the Armistice, at 11 a.m. on 11 November, was moved to the Sunday nearest 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday . . . so as not to let Commemoration of the War To End All Wars stand in the way of Preparation for Yet Another War.

And the irony continues with a couple of items that you may have come across . . .

. . . already if you're a fan of The Onion:

"The meeting stretched from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and included a short lunch break during which several writers were asked to brainstorm individually on a broad idea — the enduring war in Afghanistan — that was proving to be a challenge. In the end “U.S. Continues Quagmire-Building Effort in Afghanistan” won out over “Quick and Painless Overthrow of Taliban Enters Eighth Year” and “Afghanistan Rapidly Replacing Iraq as Replacement for Vietnam as Replacement for Quagmire.”


. . . earlier this month if you follow A.Word.A.Day:

"The truth is that every morning war is declared afresh. And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not foresee all its horrors." --Marcel Proust, French novelist (1871-1922)

What occurs to me with some sense of dispiriting coincidence is that the two observations -- the first delivered mockingly, the second in contemplation -- are, in fact, really one & the same message. Why persist in throwing good after bad -- money, time, lives? Instead, why not wake up one morning and decline to declare war?

I hate waste. Remember Rhett Butler's assessment of the Civil War, in Gone With The Wind : "I'm angry. Waste always makes me angry, and that's what all this is, sheer waste."

" . . . the old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est*
Pro patria mori."

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English / Welsh poet and soldier, regarded by many as one of the leading poets of the First World War. He was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre just a week before the war ended. Sadly, news of his death was delivered to his parents, even as the town's church bells were ringing out in peace.

*Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace (Ode III.2.13); the line translates into English: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mind the Gap!

Taking the Tube at Covent Garden, Spring Break 2000

No matter what country he is writing about, Bill Bryson has a knack for tracking down all the best place names -- the most absurd, quaint, funny, lewd, charming -- you name it! I think you will enjoy his pastoral description of riding the London Underground:

"The best part of Underground travel is that you never actually see the places above you. You have to imagine them. In other cities, station names are drearily mundane: Lexington Avenue, Potsdamer Platz, Third Street South. In London, by contrast, the names nearly always sound sylvan and beckoning: Stamford Brook, Turnham Green, Bromley-by-Bow, Maida Vale, Drayton Park. That isn't a city up there, it's a Jane Austen novel . . . a semimythic city from some golden pre-industrial age."
(from Notes From A Small Island, 41 - 42)

And you might want to try Anna Quindlen's humorously helpful map - storage system:

" . . . the maps in the glove compartment are all folded the wrong way . . . If you live in New York, the maps will generally be of New Mexico, Alabama, and downtown Houston. If you live in Seattle, the maps will be of Maine and the Florida Panhandle. In your datebook, however, will be the map you are never without, that all-important map of the London Underground."
(from "Putting Up a Good Front" Living Out Loud, 48 - 49)

All - Important Map!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quotidian Cat

Beautiful Princess Beaumont

I first discovered the poems of Naomi Shihab back in 1975, in a pubication called Power: Personal Reflections by Youth for Youth. My friends and I enjoyed subscribing to this little St. Louis - based poetry magazine and ordering gift subscriptions for each other every Christmas. Although Naomi didn't know it, I was her groupie in those days and copied all of her work into a notebook that I kept in highschool and college. Here are a couple more of my favorites:

My Cat

My cat is sitting on the floor
in the middle of the kitchen
during rush hour.

He is sitting directly between
the refrigerator and the sink.

In mean moments I kick him gently
and tell him to hit the road.

In other moments he acts as a kind
of reminder. I stop.

Why are you sitting there? I ask him.
He smiles.

He is sitting on the floor
in the center of everything
being peaceful.

Because I have forgotten something,
he gets in my way.

Feeding the Cat

Once I woke up early
and contemplated a coffee bean
in all its potent, brown mystery
and that was the day
nothing was empty,
the day a simple act
like feeding the cat
was reason enough
to be alive.

both poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (b 1952)
Contemporary Palestinian / American Poet

Our Tigress Pine at the Window

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Intellectual Cup of Lyrics

The card above was designed and sent to me by my friend Cate (Remember: A Yarn Over* The Falls Knitting Blog). Can you read what she has written: "Put a handle on that heart and drink up!" What a treat to get such a card in the mail -- so cleverly assembled and captioned, not to mention hand - made just for me. Thank you Cate!

And speaking of drinking tea out of a heart, how about this heart - warming compliment that I received from another wonderful friend after I posted some favorite song lyrics (Jacques Brel's "Les Vieux") a few months back:

"When I read your blog I suddenly had this nice, warm flow of feelings, that you have -- imagine the moment -- when you finally take a seat on the sunny porch, tired after completing boring house chores, and at last you play some soft music, prepare a cup of fragrant tea for yourself, and immerse yourself in the beautiful meaning of a song. Thanks for sharing your intellectual cup of lyrics."

Now, that touched my heart. Thank you Beata!

*Cate explains: A "yarn over" is a term in knitting, meaning to add a hole or what gives lace its laciness!

I know what gives life it's laciness: friends, music, tea, and poetry! Here's a poem that I've been hanging onto for thirty -five years, written by one of my long - time favorite poets who is better than any other writer I know when it comes to capturing the quotidian:


Now is like a cup of hot tea.
Drink it down and all of a sudden
you feel warm inside.

Many people I know
seem to be waiting
for their cups of hot tea
to get hotter or sweeter.

Inadvertently they don't get
anything but cold.

Hold your life close in your hands
and be close to these
beautifully brewed days.

by Naomi Shihab Nye (b 1952)
Contemporary Palestinian / American Poet

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day of the Dead

Sunnyside Cemetery on Thanksgiving Day 2007
Caney, Kansas

In Barbara Kingsolver's sad but magical novel Animal Dreams, the narrator, Codi Noline, joins the people of Grace, Arizona, for "the town's biggest holiday, the Day of All Souls." They walk together to the cemetery to weed and tend the family graves, decorate with marigolds, and enjoy the traditional skull-shaped candies with the children:

"It was the bittersweet Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, democratic follow-up to the Catholic celebration of All Hallows. Some people had business with the saints on November 1, and so went to mass, but on November 2, everybody had business at the graveyard." (158 - 59)

Whenever November 2nd and May 30th roll around, I always wish I lived nearer to the cemeteries where most of my loved ones and ancestors are buried so that I too could pay a visit and decorate the graves in the time - honored fashion. When I was growing up, months and months might pass between visits to our grandparents, but we never missed Thanksgiving or Memorial Day weekend.

No matter what the weather, on Memorial Day we spent a good part of the day at the cemetery, attending various ceremonies and speeches in honor of the Veterans and the War Dead; placing wreathes and potted plants; sometimes even planting flowers that would bloom throughout the summer. Nobody really says "Decoration Day" anymore, but that's what I remember calling it when I was small -- because we decorated! If I was lucky enough to spend a week or two of summer vacation with my grandparents, we spent the evenings one of two ways -- sitting on the porch or taking a walk to Sunnyside Cemetery. Those were happy times for me, tagging along, picking stray flowers, and listening to the old stories about those at rest there.

At Thanksgiving, when the cemetery was bare and empty -- no parades, podiums or bands; very few visitors, very few flowers -- even then we didn't miss the opportunity to wander from grave to grave, paying our respects. I guess that was our Midwestern way of observing All Souls -- just three or four weeks late.

These days, I live only a few blocks from the nearest local cemetery and can spend a reflective hour there anytime, thinking of the old days, reading the names of strangers, but it's not quite the same. As Codi says:

"More than anything else I wished I belonged to one of these living, celebrated families, lush as plants, with bones in the ground for roots. I wanted pollen on my cheeks and one of those calcium ancestors to decorate as my own." (165)


And this from Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree: "It's both happy and sad. It's all firecrackers and skeleton toys down here in the plaza and up in that graveyard now are all the Mexican dead folks with the families visiting and flowers and candles and singing and candy. I mean it's almost like Thanksgiving, huh? And everyone set down to dinner, but only half the people able to eat, but that's no mind, they're THERE. It's like holding hands at a séance with your friends, but some of the friends gone."
(118 - 19)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Up, Always Up!

Gilded Bronze Statue by French Sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet
Created in Paris, 1874; erected in Philadelphia, 1890

Many Halloweens ago, a dear friend sent me the following passage, and every year around this time (All Hallows, All Saints, All Souls) I like to get it out and pass it around. Not to accidentally set off some endless discourse on virginity or angels or witchcraft (!) but in celebration of creativity and daring and emancipation:

". . . in the early days of what we called then the 'emancipation of woman' . . . Many strange things took place . . . the young women of the highest intelligence, and the most daring and ingenious of them, coming out of the chiaroscuro of a thousand years, blinking at the sun and wild with desire to try their wings.

"I believe that some of them put on the armor and the halo of St. Joan of Arc, who was herself an emancipated virgin, and became like white - hot angels. But most women, when they feel free to experiment with life, will go straight to the witches' Sabbath. I myself respect them for it, and do not think that I could ever really love a woman who had not, at some time or other, been up on a broomstick."

from "The Old Chevalier"
a short story found in Seven Gothic Tales
by Danish author Isak Dinesen (1885 - 1962)

Thanks goodness / goddess for our broomsticks! I know I'm always up on mine. Thanks for loving me just the same. xoxo