Monday, February 28, 2011

Indiana Gothic

Indiana Gothic ~ by Emily Bunder

You probably don't need me or Wikipedia to tell you that Grant Wood's American Gothic "is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art, and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture. . . . one of the most reproduced – and parodied – images ever. Many artists have replaced the two people with other known couples and replaced the house with well known houses."

In the picture above, my neighbors Katy and Peter got dressed up and posed in front of an historic Indiana frame house in our neighborhood. Then their talented daughter Emily took a photograph and added her own artistic finishing touches.

Grant Wood's American Gothic is also the inspiration behind a number of American poems:

American Gothic
after the painting by Grant Wood, 1930

These two
by now . . .

ought to be
in mortal time
about their businesses

Instead they linger here
within the patient fabric
of the lives they wove

. . . asking the artist silently
how much longer . . .

a few lines from the poem by John Stone (b. 1936 - )
found in Where Water Begins, 1998

Above excerpt is from my
for more, see
"American / British / Indiana Gothic"
on The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

Friday, February 25, 2011

And To Think We Felt Alone

Currently featured on
The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker:

"Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye"

Here's an old favorite:

It is a new day, chill and icy like a cold, sharp, knife.
It is a new day in a long line of new days in a life.


I walk in wonder to watch
The bundled people in the early light returning with nods
A morning hello

And to think we felt alone all night.

Now, I think I might read this second poem somewhat differently than I did back in highschool when I was first such a fan of Naomi Shihab's youthful poetry. More often than not, the "bundled people" do not respond with a nod or a morning hello. No acknowledgement whatsoever of your shared humanity on this planet. Life can seem so harsh, making it through the maze of obligations and errands, dealing with this conflict or that, so many daily unpleasantries. Then, as evening falls, home at last to the inner sanctum of family, friends, and loved ones. Such security!

And to think we felt alone all day!

Home Sweet Home

Coming on Monday, 28 February 2010
"Indiana Gothic"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pew #41

My Nieces, Anna and Sara, Sitting in Pew #41,
where George Washington sat
when he attended services at St. Peter's in the 1790s.

Unique Interior


Snowy Exterior of St. Peter's, Philadelphia
a National Historic Landmark at the corner of 3rd & Pine(photos above and below taken by my friend
Carolyn Rathbun George
during the blizzard of 6 February 2010

Colonial Row House, built in 1805
where we lived, 2001 - 2004
across the street from St. Peter's

Gerry, Ben, Sam and I lived on this historical Philadelphia corner for a few years, when Ben and Sam were choristers at St. Peter's. I used to step out of my front door and think "Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thadeus Kosciosku, George Washington -- they all walked right here -- and not all that long ago!" I could almost reach out and touch them! Two centuries ago, Pew #41 was rented by Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Powel, who lived on 3rd Street, just around the corner from our house on Pine Street. George and Martha Washington were actually regulars at Christ Church, a few blocks north; but they visited St. Peter's often, as guests of the Powels.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wait 'til May

Anne in Doorway (1974)
Portrait of American Poet Anne Porter (b 1911)
painted by her husband
American artist, Fairfield Porter (1907 – 1975)

Another Sarah
for Christopher Smart

When winter was half over
God sent three angels to the apple tree
Who said to her
"Be glad, you little rack
Of empty sticks,
Because you have been chosen.

In May you will become
A wave of living sweetness
A nation of white petals
A dynasty of apples."

poem by American Poet, Anne Porter, b. 1911

from her book Living Things: The Collected Poems (2006)

also author of An Altogether Different Language
National Book Award Finalist (1994)

Apple Branch (1973)
by Fairfield Porter

Background from Genesis:

"Abraham . . . sat in the tent door in the heat of the day . . . and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away . . . Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts . . . And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. . . .

And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And [they] said . . . lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. . . . [and she] laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son"
(Genesis 18: 1 14).

See also:

my previous posts on Christopher Smart:
Little Tigers in the House (February 19, 2010)
My Cat Jeoffry (October 8, 2010)

and another blogger's thoughtful post on Anne Porter

Remember to google carefully, as there appear to be a few websites confusing poet Anne Porter ( 1911 - ) with the short - story writer, Katherine Anne (Callie Russell) Porter (1890 - 1980).

Apple Blossoms II (1974)
by Fairfield Porter

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Don't Have A Cold Heart

"Look around you, look up here
Take time to make time, make time to be there
Look around, be a part
Feel for the winter, but don't have a cold heart"

lyrics from "Lady"
by The Little River Band


Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that. . . .

And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. . . .

That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. . . .

from the poem Snow
by Naomi Shihab Nye (b 1952)
Contemporary Palestinian / American Poet
found in her book Fuel

For more Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
see The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
Latest Blog Post: February 14, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Icy Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day: "Come and Sit By My Side if You Love Me"

A wintry love poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

I would be no one.
I would have no head, no hair, no comb.
I would be the thin mist in the air of a cold morning;

I would rise and disappear early, before the sun
and the noisy streets and everyone moving.

I would hum and greet you when you awaken,
with no words, no face, no promise but my love,
like a river.

I would be here, be here, be here invisible, forever --
when all the braver ones have gone to hide --
when all these tears have years and years been dried.

For more Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
see The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
New Blog Post: February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ordinary Objects, Ordinary Time

Clay Sculpture featured in the St. Louis Post Dispatch,
mid - 1970's

Back in highschool, maybe even junior high, I cut this clipping of the crayon sculpture out the "everyday" section of the Post - Dispatch and have saved it all these years without even know the name of the artist or the exhibit / museum it was in. I guess I should have saved the article that went with the picture!


I've always liked the way that this little patch of the year between Christmas and Lent is called Ordinary Time. One ordinary day after the next descends upon us, as the fun times recede first into the recent, then into the distant past. We mark the time. The light changes. What will happen next?

My most recent Fortnightly Blog, January: Forward Vision, Backward Glance is about our ever - changing perspective of what is ordinary, as is the featured blog of my friend Ann de Forest -- the timely and time - conscious Obsolescing: watching technologies as they wane.

If you haven't had a chance yet, why not take a moment now to check out Ann's January response and to look at one of my favorite essays from the "Obsolescing" archives, The Kindly Mirrors of Future Times, which includes this passage from Vladimir Nabokov, so applicable to the goal of my Quotidian blogposts:

"I think that here lies the sense of literary creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times; to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life will become exquisite and festive in its own right: the times when a man who might put on the most ordinary jacket of today will be dressed up for an elegant masquerade."

[Vladimir Nabokov, “A Guide to Berlin”
(first published, in Russian, in 1925;
later translated by Nabokov and his son Dimitri
and included in the 1976 collection,
Details of a Sunset and Other Stories.]

I particularly like Ann's concluding observation: "As a writer, I’m particularly intrigued by what Nabokov seems to be asserting about the writer’s (or any artist’s) task – to be present and alert to the current commonplace, to record it in specific detail, and thus preserve it for a future audience’s enraptured rediscovery."

Her response to Nabokov speaks to my heart as a beautifully succinct summation of the quotations (up above & to the right -> -> ->) that I have chosen to govern the Quotidian Kit:

realizing every minute (Wilder)
spreading the big ideas over the daily bread (Duval)
looking for the beautiful in the small (Kant)
finding significance in the commonplace (Woolf).

"Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab"

Friday, February 11, 2011

With a Stroke of Her Paw

Portrait of Pierri Loti & Cat, 1905 - 06
by French artist, Henri Rousseau (1844 - 1910)

If by chance I seated myself to write,
she very slyly, very tenderly,
seeking protection and caresses,
would softly take her place on my knee
and follow the comings and goings of my pen--
sometimes effacing with an unintentional stroke of her paw,
lines of whose tenor she disapproved.

~ Pierri Loti (1850 - 1923) ~

French novelist and naval officer

Beaumont does this too! Sometimes curling up quietly to sleep in my lap while I type -- but other times inadvertently sending an email, erasing a line of text, or re-configuring my keyboard while pouncing or prancing across the counter-top. What larks!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Paw Prints

Josef (1988 - 2007)

"If a cat did not put a firm paw down now and then,
how could his human remain possessed?"

~ Winifred Carriere ~

American writer, known for her cat quotes

Look at Josef! Such a little genius! One snowy afternoon, the kids decorated this box for him and stuck him inside. (I missed it out in the photograph, but just above his head, it says "Josef's House.") How did he know precisely where to step? Right in the paw prints that they had drawn for him!

Even as I write this, my little cat Beaumont is sitting by the keyboard, reaching out to pat my arm, reminding me to stop typing and give her a treat! She's a genius too! Here she is, just waiting for her chance to write the first word in my new Liberty Print Journal:

"She darts out a paw, and begins plucking it
and inquiring into the matter . . .
What a graceful action of that foot is hers,
between delicacy and petulance!
-- combining something of a thrust out,
a beat and a scratch."

~ Leigh Hunt ~

English essayist and poet

~ Beaumont also drinks water from her own little cup and saucer ~

~ Iced Tea in the Summertime ~

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bridge of Air

Bridge of Concrete
Vintage Postcard of the Henry Avenue Bridge
over the Wissahickon Creek, Philadelphia
Erected in 1932, masonry construction, 915 feet long, 84 feet wide
185 feet above water level in Wissahickon Creek
One of the most beautiful bridges in Philadelphia --
connecting Roxborough and Germantown.

In her comments about poet Czeslaw Milosz (click or scroll down) my friend Beata describes life in the United States after her immigration from Poland as "a different world . . . a different market, a different air," stretching across the vast distance between her two lives. Of her fellow countryman Milosz, she observes that his writing "helped me to build and cross my invisible bridge above the Atlantic Ocean."

Bridge imagery, similar to that in Beata's reminiscence, can also be found in Seamus Heaney's eulogy of Czeslaw Milosz:

"Somewhere, for example, he compares a poem to a bridge built out of air over air, and one of the great delights of his work is a corresponding sensation of invigilating reality from a head-clearing perspective, being liberated into the authentic solitude of one's own being and at the same time being given gratifying spiritual companionship, so that one is ready to say something like 'It is good for us to be here.'

"Milosz was well aware of this aspect of his work and explicit about his wish that poetry in general should be capable of providing such an elevated plane of regard."


I am not entirely sure which work Heaney had in mind, but here are a couple of poems containing memorable bridge imagery:

On Prayer

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word 'is'
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.


You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.
You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one,
Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty,
Blind force with accomplished shape.

Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge
Going into white fog.
Here is a broken city,
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave
When I am talking with you.

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds
To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.
I put this book here for you, who once lived
So that you should visit us no more.

both poems by Czeslaw Milosz
[emphasis added]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Czeslaw Milosz

World - Class Poets:
Czeslaw Milosz and Seamus Heaney

[photo source]

My Polish born friend, Beata, occasionally asks me to help her with her American English, but as you will see from her prose below, she already has a beautiful grasp of the language.

Last summer, I sent Beata a short email after a weekend visit from three of my five siblings, telling her that I was feeling blue because the house felt so empty after their departure.

She wrote back to say: "Kitti, You are so lucky! I don't have any siblings and no one comes to me because we live sooo far away from the family. And it is tooo expensive for them to come. If we meet it is always like walking on the high wire. I wish for just a normal, regular, informal visit."

And I replied: "Thank you so much for reminding me of my good fortune. It made me think of this poem, that you might already know:

My - ness
My parents, my husband, my brother, my sister . . .
I delight in being here on earth
For one more moment, with them, here on earth,
To celebrate our tiny, tiny my-ness.

by Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz"
[see previous post: January 24, 2010]

To which Beata responded:

"Thank you for your email, Kitti. The poet you've mentioned is dear to my heart. At the time of the Solidarity Revolt, he was on the list of prohibited authors. When I was in Poland I used to buy his books on the black market, and they were very, very expensive. Being able to catch them on an illegal sale was delightful and made me feel as if someone had put me on the wave of a breeze of independency. I dreamed about a free world and a free Poland.

"When I arrived in the United States, I saw these same books on the shelves of a Slavic bookstore in Palo Alto. No one was rushing to have them; there was no elbow pushing to get to them or neck stretching to see if some copies were left. I asked myself: 'Where is the breeze of independency? Where are the people who want to read the works of Czeslaw Milosz? Why are people are not forming a line to buy his books?'

"And then it came to me that I was now INSIDE of independency! I did not need to rush or look around suspiciously for somebody who wanted to catch me red - handed buying illegal, independent books. I had these books NEXT to me, available, ready. I was free to read them in a free world . . . I had only to stretch my arm and reach my wallet.

"I realized that I was in not only a different world but also a different market, a different air. I felt a strange happiness to be in America but also a great distance. That air separated my spirit, like a wounded soldier taken by his fellows from the battlefield, blessed to be saved but longing to return for another fight, or a legless invalid who could hear church bells calling him to pray for a miracle . . . but there was no way to get there. Still, I could hear the sweet sound of bells ringing in afternoon sunshine, falling peacefully, on a quiet town.

"I was also very lucky to see Czeslaw Milosz in person. He went to the same church in Berkeley. He looked serious, composed, and I never saw him talking to other people. He liked to sit in the middle of the pew, not far from the altar, and usually stayed there alone. He rarely looked around, and usually disappeared quickly after the mass was over while the other people socialized and exchanged greetings.

"I remember hearing that his wife had died not long before and that he preferred to stay very private. I think perhaps he wanted to stay iconic, historical, and in the shadow. Many times I thought about approaching to ask for his autograph (I planned to leave the service earlier and wait for him) but we moved to Massachusetts before I worked up the nerve, and the opportunity was lost. Still, I think he helped me to build and cross my invisible bridge above the Atlantic Ocean."

[Thanks to Beata
for sharing these amazing thoughts and memories.]

Gravestone of Czeslaw Milosz, 1911 -2004
Polish Poet and Essayist
Became an American Citizen, 1970
Won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1980

Click for more good poems by Czelaw Milosz


To believe you are magnificent.
And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent.
Enough labor for one human life.

Calm down.
Both your sins and your good deeds will be lost in oblivion.

I was left behind with the immensity of existing things.
A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself;
a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees
are not clouds and trees.

Click for more good quotations by Czeslaw Milosz

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Prognosticator's Dilemma

Cute Kids' Book, Available on Amazon

It's not easy being a Groundhog on February 2nd . . . or a School Superintendent the night before a Snow Day! With his usual veritas and hilaritas, Brian Andreas captures the dilemma of the prognosticator:

"I'm best at predicting the old year,
she said, & you'd be surprised how many
people are even skeptical about that"*


*One StoryPeople reader shares this from Peanuts:

"I guess it's wrong always to be worrying about tomorrow.
Maybe we should think only about today."

Charlie Brown:
"No, that's giving up. I'm still hoping that yesterday will get better."

So irrational, yet, so hard to stop hoping for that better past . . .

Wise Lily Tomlin says:
"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."

And Anne Lamott's version, just slightly different:
"Forgiveness means giving up all hope of having had a better past."

One more from Charlie Brown:
Charlie Brown:
"I keep having these tiny self doubts . . . do you think this is wrong?"

"Of course it's wrong, Charlie Brown . . . "

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fun Quotes For A Cold Day

"The wind was blowing, but not too hard,
and everyone was so happy and gay
for it was only twenty degrees below zero
and the sun shone."

~ Laura Ingalls Wilder ~
American author, 1967 - 1957
from These Happy Golden Years,
# 8 in the Little House series, p 25

One morning we ran into a neighbor at the store
and she asked brightly:
"What was it at your house?"
"Fourteen below," we replied.
Her face fell. "We had minus twelve," she said,
and you could see that her day was ruined.

~ Richard Ketchum ~
[Lacking bio info on this author; if anyone has, please supply. Thanks!]

Above: Backyard ~ January Sunrise, 2005
Top: Front Yard ~ The Big Snow, February 2007

P.S. Why is backyard one word and front yard two words?

P.P.S. Another mighty chillyLittle House winter episode!