Sunday, May 29, 2016

when days pass with a past now forgotten and a soul feels the sorrow of that, there’s bad poetry, like it or not

awaiting a storm
I had hoped for the storm half-promised
but woke to half-light, light rain,
bad dream.
Warm and muggy, windows cracked,
a search for night air, but it’s
dawn and stillness, flecked
with song, a sprinkling
of bird song, nothing
raucous, rather
quiet, still,
ominous,
green,
folds of grey.

Mosquitoes swagger
through heavy air.

I hope for a storm
(now eighty percent promised),
a clamor and crash,
a rumble and break,
a flash and a sweep of wind.
I think to watch from my front
porch that powerful gust of hope,
to watch it sweeping through like a marching
band of crashing cymbals, baton flashing, ascending
high then hurtling low to be caught and waved, I think
if I were to see that, it would be as if victory mine.

And maybe bad dreams,
blow away.


the next day
rain without storm leaves
world lush and lyrical –
birds sing –
a carousel –
but bad dreams –
remain.




but hey! it’s apple blossom time
Taking the garbage down the drive
in the peeling red wagon
I notice:
It’s apple blossom time.
Along the drive, along the road, in the fields.
So I think:
I must visit the old apple tree, the oldest I know.
It’s in the overgrown thicket where
maybe an orchard used to be.
Remember? We’ve been there before.
Take a right at the old boot.


Follow a faint trail.


See the trunk?
Riddled with holes.
Now look up.



the thing about poetry is
and the thing about poetry is,
you don’t have to say it all,
at all.


listening to the band
Waking up last night
to a drum of rain,
all sorrow beat
back to the ground
to grow again
another day,
cheating
non-remembrance.
(Though there is nonsuch word
as “non-remembrance,”
though there is nonillion –
which entails many zeros, the
exact number of which depends, it
seems, on which country you are in. Who
knew when traveling from here to there,
from to to fro, that your nonillion was
gaining or losing masses of zeroes –
who knew –
and then there is non possumus
which one might think has to somehow
be something about possums and keeping them
out of the yard – I can see Josie now hurtling
off the porch with a bark to beat the band:

NON POSSUMUS, YOU LOUSY POSSUM!
NON POSSUMUS, I SAY!

but that’s not it, not at all –
it means we cannot –
[tolerate possums?]
and then there is always –
nonsense.
But, non-remembrance? No.)


impatience
can hardly wait to wake up,
to write another poem,
to sketch another poem,
of lonely life so lonesome.


moose
Oh my. I saw my first moose.
Out there, off the road, in a wood
now a field as some years back it burned
over, or so it looks—kind of eerie, a lot
of stubble, and there is this moose, munching on stuff.
Lucky that this stretch of road has
passing lanes so cars slowing down and
pulling over, people standing along the
highway gawking, at a moose,
taking pictures, of a moose,
no big deal.
More people slow down, pull over.
Because seeing a moose—big deal.

“All these years coming up here and
this is my first moose,” someone says.
“It’s my first moose, too,” I say.

Humid and heavy all day. Now, sprinkling, lightly.
The moose lumbers this way and that, munching.
He looks up now and again. People take pictures,
get back in their cars, drive away.

“That’s a big moose,” I say.
The eyes of the guy next to me widen.
“Yes,” he says.
“And ugly,” I say.

My first moose. By the side of the road.
Memorial Day Weekend, 2016.





Sunday, May 22, 2016

season 7: episode 1 but will they eat french fries?

I was half-listening to a radio program and I can’t get out of my head its presumption that intelligent life exists on this planet and we are it.

Egad.

The program was about searching for intelligent life on other planets, “intelligent life” meaning any life that resembles us, or that reminds us of who we once were, or that portends who we might one day be. But I wonder. Should humans be the standard for intelligence? Is that what we are? Intelligent? How do we know? Do we have proof? Or is it that we need no proof?*

Josie would like to know: When do we get to the good part?

Remember when Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin searched for signs of intelligent life in the universe?

But seriously, when and by whom was it proved that beyond a reasonable doubt ye olde Homo sapiens is the one and only intelligent species creeping about this planet? Isn’t it simply assumed that we are? And every day we prove it by doing whatever it is that we do. And what, exactly, is that? I have been hearing this stuff about human intelligence all my life. How we are the intelligent, superior beings. Suddenly it all sounds so absurd. And then to ask: Are we alone? In this vast universe, our one planet itself teeming with creatures, are we alone in our intelligence?

I say, step back.

This little guy is growing on me. I call him Smirky.

I could start a list of stuff that would seem to offer proof against us being intelligent beings—anyone could. But why start? It might never stop. On the flip side, where is the list that offers proof that we are? Is that the one with the Sistine Chapel on it? E = mc2? “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”?**

If something we recognize as life is found on another planet, by what measure will we determine its intelligence? By how that life measures up to ours? Isn’t that rather … limiting? So I started wondering what if cockroaches were the most intelligent being on the planet and they undertook measuring human intelligence. How would we measure up?

Oi, then. My brain feels soggy and bloated. It wants to flop over, flop back, rest.

When is it coming?

Market Day #1, Season 7, approaches and passes.

On the drive in, the sun rose.


On the drive in, I listened to the CD of Yiddish lullabies and love songs. Wild klezmer played; sunshine flashed through the pines.

On the drive in, I listened to the radio and heard a song that I thought was The Marshall Tucker Band and it made me think how I hadn’t listened to Marshall Tucker in a long time and wouldn’t it be fun to crank up “This Ol’ Cowboy” and dance, but then it turned out the song I was listening to was by The Outlaws. Still, I wished I had my Marshall Tucker CD, was listening to “Can’t You See,” and then John Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses” came on and that was fine, very good, I even sent up a little thanks, and ain’t that America ...
intelligence ... 1. a) the ability to learn or understand from experience; ability to acquire and retain knowledge; mental ability b) the ability to respond quickly and successfully to a new situation; use of the faculty of reason in solving problems, directing conduct, etc. effectively ... (from Webster’s New World Dictionary, the one that Elliott peed on)
Who knew it would last this long? This thing of making beeswax candles and selling them at the farmers market in Marquette, Michigan. My life, sometimes, yet surprises me. Imagine a perfect weather day. That was Farmers Market Season 7: Episode 1.


I had a customer from England—her accent gave her away—and I was only mildly disappointed that she was not from Cornwall.

Another guy came by and made some sweeping statement about how my candles reminded him of his old hometown, Wilmette, Illinois. I thought he must be joking because that is my hometown, too. Turns out we had a grade school, a junior high school, and a high school in common, with only a few years separating us. My candles reminded him of a candle factory that was once on the south end of town, near its border with Evanston. It sparked a vague memory—I could picture the street where I thought the candle factory might have been, could feel the atmosphere of that spot, that point where Green Bay Road dipped and curved slightly to merge into Ridge Avenue which at that point was rising up to merge with Green Bay Road. There was a cross street just prior to the merge, and that street ducked under some railroad tracks, crossing Ridge Avenue underneath those tracks just as Ridge was rising up. It was always exciting passing through that juncture because there was so much going on, roads coming and going and crossing and dipping, some obscured by those tracks, just a lot to look out for and choices to make, and no matter which way you were going or which road you were on, once you made it through you were in a new place. A new neighborhood. But that spot is in Evanston, just south of Wilmette.

On the way home from the farmers market, Josie and I stopped at The Drive-In. In the van we ate ice cream. We brought home French fries to eat on the porch, with Elliott. But Elliott didn’t want French fries, so Josie got his.

The good part.

---

* I refrain here from saying We don’t need no stinkin’ badges ...

** According to Wikipedia, this song was written in 1910.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

from the notebook of chief investigator joe beans (interspersed with random notes & thoughts from others)

I think I’ll dig up these little bushes and move them over here.

Half a brown trout, dead, coated in sand.

Turtle tracks.

Bloodroot.

Beneath the cedars, a scattered pile of feathers, black with white spots.

Spring flowers the prettiest. Always a surprise. One day there on the woodland floor. Trout lilies, bloodroot, violets, Dutchman’s breeches (Buckle Down, Winsocki!), and I spot the leaves of trillium and meadow rue, prickly raspberry canes, all yet to bloom.

Tick check! thump thump thump

That sun feels good.

A massive prickly rock moving through the yard. I let loose an immediate alert. Her response time: slow. Then, mind games at the door. “Sit.” “Stay.” “Calm down.” Say what? I provide a cogent urgency: Massive. Thing. Yard. Now. She seems not to get it. Sigh. Exit allowed. Attack. All clear.

Dutchman’s breeches.

One evening I let Josie out. He bounds off the porch heading south. To the east, I see a porcupine crawling up the opposite bank of the creek. To the west, two deer in the field. Josie stops, eventually sees the deer. They are watching him. He runs at them. They don’t move. Josie circles back. A dance of curiosity, nonchalance, and what now? begins.

Don’t these spindle-legs know what’s good for them?

About those white-spotted feathers I question Elliott. He claims innocence. Or, feigns innocence. Difference?

Chipmunk activity in the gully. Elliott climbs a tree. Whoa!

Trout lily.

I spotted him in the gully, that massive prickly thing. Just as I thought. Porcupine. Went up a tree. I stood below, sent up an alert. Ha! Now her response time: pronto! But who is she talking to? “Hello, Mr. Porkie. So sorry to disturb you.” Say what? I make it clear what needs to be done, and when she reaches down to pick me up I think finally she gets it. As she lifts me up, I help by reaching for the tree, my front paws now nearly on the branch that if only I could get to I could scramble up the tree and get that old Porkie! But wait! What now? Walking away from the tree, me tucked under her arm.

As I lug Josie out of the gully I notice that in just a few hours the short-neck fiddlehead ferns have grown into long-neck fiddlehead ferns.

Serviceberries in bloom.

Verisimilitude. Why this word, every day, in my head?”

Ferns.

I spend an afternoon digging in the garden, yanking things out, moving things around.

I spend an afternoon at my lookout, surveying the gully.

I watch as she digs. I dig; she yells. I watch as he sits, watching. I dash over, climb a tree. He hops. Up and down. Around and around.

What if life were like a musical and all the Dutchman’s breeches et al. pulled themselves up by their roots and did a little song and dance down there in the gully? Perhaps a little soft-shoe and swirl to Whispering Jack Smith’s Sunshine.


The fire sure feels nice.

Oh. Snow.

At least it is today, not a week from today. Forecast for Saturday next: 71 degrees, sunny.

No explanation for those feathers.

What did the fish have to do with it?

Snow.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

when it was good to be back in illinois

I took a trip to Peoria.

Josie came along. We crossed the Illinois River.

I played dominoes.

Random gravestone serves as train/dominoes reference.

Found my grandmother’s grave.

Right there, where we left it.

And one morning like panning for gold old photos spread out on a table and there it was: a studio photograph of Great Uncle Ben and … his family? Could it be? Ben I could recognize, but the woman next to him? And the two children? Who could they be but Ben’s wife and children? I took a picture of the picture and sent the image to be verified. Yes, I now know a person who can verify these things, who can say, Yes, that is my grandfather. He is, of course, Ben’s grandson. I am just amazed to have found—and to have been found by—Ben’s grandson. He is a real person. A second cousin. Recently he sent me a mug.

What’s with the two Tsades?

Then there was an album of pictures, snapshots from the 1920s and 1930s. Beneath each photo a short description written in fuzzy white. The pages black heavy paper. The photos glued on. My aunt put together this book, my mother’s younger sister, and as I turn each page the photos go from town to farm, from farm to town, the farm in Iowa where the family started out and the town in Illinois where they ended up. There was a farm photo with the description: “Mother – Grandma / Our house before the porches were built on.” I wondered which grandma. Daisy and her mother? Daisy and Homer’s mother? Both lived nearby. Or could it be … Daisy and her mother. The one from Cincinnati. The one who Daisy, then known as Fannie, came to America with. The one she was separated from when nine years old. The one who settled in Cincinnati in a Jewish enclave with a man named White, who raised a family there, who did not know that her eldest daughter had been put on a train, shuttled west, raised in a world of Iowa and Christmas. But, I just couldn’t tell from the picture …

Then I saw the next page. Photos labeled “Aunt Jean,” “1924.” So. This is it. This is when Grandma White, as my mother called her, and Aunt Jean visited the farm. Here are photos to match the only memory my mother has of Grandma White, Daisy’s “real mother.” A memory most often expressed as something like: “I remember her as being kind.”

Daisy Morris Treloar and Hinda Leah White.
Daughter and Mother.
Iowa, 1924.

In the photo, Daisy and her mother have their arms around each other. And Aunt Jean, Daisy’s half-sister (though I am tempted to drop the “half-”), smiles big in every photo. She wears overalls and high heels. She sits on a horse. She smiles. She would have been about 25 at the time, and I think married, living in Cincinnati where she was raised. I wonder what she felt there on the farm, with her sister Daisy, with these nieces and nephews in overalls, straw hats, dusty feet.


Also in the box loose snapshots from the 1950s and 1960s. There are my sisters. There’s a dog I remember. The dog stands in a tree. Now wedding photos and a cousin I have no recollection of. He’s getting married. It’s a funny family, I think. But I get it. Maybe. Kind of. We all know, so why talk about it? Some pictures of my grandmother from that wedding—What a smile! Look at those glasses! That hat!

Daisy, 1964.

Yes, we found my grandmother’s grave. It’s right there in the cemetery, up the hill a bit from my uncles. Yes, families are funny. At times I laughed so hard playing dominoes it delayed the game. But that’s an aside. We, my first cousins and I, also walked through our grandmother’s house, “the old Treloar house” is what the guy called it, the guy out in front whom we talked to, who invited us in, who remembered Charlie, our uncle, sure, he sold cars, and the garage is still there, boarded up now, across the street from the Tastee-Freeze. So we eat lunch. We drive around. We listen to the Cubs game, and do you know the Cubs haven’t lost since I took that detour through DeKalb to the Jewel-Osco and got my RizzOs, the Magic Cereal? We comment on the corn, just coming up, on the blackness of the earth, of the fields. It’s Illinois. It’s spring. Full green, full leaf, sweet scent. Black, spindly-legged calves in fields of green and corrals of mud. Roads flat, straight, horizons far-flung.

The Tastee-Freez.

We visit another cemetery near the Mississippi River. Here is my father’s family. A whole ’nother story or two. This cemetery has gravestones dating back to the mid-1800s. Even though they are strangers, unrelated, I take pictures.

I visit my aunt, my mother’s younger sister, the one who kept the photo book, and in her I see my mother, my grandmother, my uncle. I learn things about her I never knew. A bit of who she is, who she was. She was a chemist. There was a research lab in Peoria that once played a big part in the production of penicillin. She worked there, and I had not known this. Now I do.

My Aunt Vada and her Aunt Jean, 1924.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

on daffodils and obituaries, on being a treloar, and on the b side: bolshevism

I wake up. Josie is staring at me and thump thump thump with his tail. He asks: “Were you chasing rabbits?”

Spring has been on the longest pause in history raising this question: How long can a bud hold its bloom?

Daffodils on April 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.

Every evening sounds of spring: peepers. Froggies gone a’courtin’. In the morning, birds. A flurry of song, an a cappella serenade, a peep a chirp a twee twee twee. A harmonic Let’s get to it! As if there is something to be got if one gets to it. Chickadees, juncos, sparrows, hawks, woodpeckers, flickers, a-rat-a-tat-tat, mergansers on the river, gulls overhead (a bit off course?), geese blowing horns, eagles, robins, and one day a pair of goldfinches, like lemon drops on wing.

Daffodils—same daffodils—April 26.

I stay mired in obituaries. Obituaries of time. Specifically obituaries of one Treloar or another, clipped from a local paper, perhaps the Argus, Times-Record, or Grant County Herald, folded then, sent through the mail to be unfolded, read, stuck in a drawer. Or was it a file? How were they kept, these obituaries from 1919, 1939, 1914, 1950? Perhaps in a drawer of my grandmother’s desk, the one that sat dark and heavy in a corner of her dining room, or maybe, first, it was my grandfather’s desk and he kept the obituaries until one day in 1950 his joined the others and all became my grandmother’s, until one day in the 1970s my mother took possession and put them in her desk. Now I have them, but not in a desk. In a filing cabinet. One rainy day I pull them out. Alongside comes a dead mouse. It gives me a turn. Now how did she get there? How long ago did she die? What is her story? But I must get on with it, so I toss her away thinking that rather than asking Why was this kept? the question might be Why was this not thrown away?

April 27. Same daffodils.

I organize the obituaries under my father’s influence. He left an example: an obituary from 1980 affixed by rubber cement to a piece of plain 8½ by 11 paper. (Rubber cement was my father’s favorite adhesive, although at times he used mucilage.) Typed at the top of the page is the name and date of the newspaper. I rebel just a bit, do it somewhat differently. I do not have the names and dates of the newspapers, so at the top of each page I type the name of the deceased, date of birth, date of death, and the relationship to my grandfather, he being the one introducing Treloar blood. And through this process of carefully unfolding feeble yellowed paper that threatens to disintegrate with any errant touch, flattening and securing each to new white paper, seeing how crumbled pieces can be fit together, inhaling the fumes of the rubber cement and then reading and learning how one person suffered from facial neuralgia, another from attacks of quinsy (and “quinsy” I have to look up), and how one suffered his first heart attack at the funeral of the other, I feel the beginnings of maybe knowing this family. I notice the interplay of birth dates and dates of death; I see who was named for whom.

Daffodils, April 28.

From another file folder I take drafts of family trees my father constructed in black pen and blue pen and pencil, and these charts help it to come together in my mind, these people who are my mother’s father’s family. I knew none of them, of course, not even my grandfather, who died seven years before I was born, but it seems I have always known the vague story of the Treloars, the long history of their begattings and migrations, which need not be vague at all. There is an immense document—now online—that a Wyoming Treloar put together many years ago. I have a letter he sent to my mother in 1948 asking for information. He was in the early stages of his project, of constructing the “tree of Treloar,” and many years later when the project was done (done until the next babe was born, that is) and this tome became available, well, I was a kid, then a teen-ager, a young adult, I had no interest in any of it. It seemed fuddy-duddy and burdensome. The Past! But now, as the much more mature person that I am, I am fascinated.

Thank you, Orson Lee Treloar, for all the work, for all you have given.

The Treloar faction that eventually begat me left the parish of Wendron in Cornwall, England, in 1848. Millers and tin miners they seem to have been, fallen on hard times, feeling a need to cross the ocean to sustain themselves, to make their way. I find Wendron on a map, just north of Helston, and think someday I would like to go, visit the Lizard Peninsula, as long as it is nowhere near Midsomer, where all those murders happen. My great-great-grandfather and family settled in Lancaster, Wisconsin, became farmers. In 1904 my great-grandfather, then in his mid-forties, pushed his brood westward across the Mississippi, to Iowa, the good north-central farmland. Soon thereafter a son of Treloar met Daisy, the country schoolteacher, the one who came to Iowa via orphan train. I see “Daisy Morris” forever nestled there, in the tree of Treloar, page 46.

By marrying a Treloar, Daisy could look forward to receiving fun postcards
from Lancaster. This one is from Aunt Elfie. See the dog? Her name is Fuzzy.

I realize that by affixing these obituaries to sheets of paper I am losing the backside of each, the B side, as it were, which is sometimes better than the A side, and, if nothing else, a scrap of context. On the B side of my great-grandmother Abbie’s obit, from April 10, 1919, there is a piece of a political cartoon and part of a report on the North Russia Intervention. In order to call it that—the North Russia Intervention—I have to look it up.

History. 1919.

According to the obit, around 1910 Abbie “became afflicted with facial neuralgia, but bore her intense suffering with that Christian fortitude which characterized her life.” By the summer of 1914 she was in bed much of the time with “symptoms of paralysis.” In September Abbie’s oldest child, a daughter, the one who suffered from attacks of quinsy, underwent an operation and died, leaving behind a daughter, barely one year old, who Abbie, despite her maladies and grief, helped care for. But her paralysis spread, “ … and after October 1917 she never walked again.”

April 29, 7:15 p.m.

I first saw photos of Abbie, a Treloar by marriage, just two years ago when I met Tom, a third cousin, online as I was searching there for my grandmother Daisy’s grave after the actual search in the graveyard left me befuddled. Tom and I are related through Abbie (maiden name Gardner), and I can’t explain it any further except to say that Aunt Elfie (the one in the buggy with Fuzzy) is Tom’s great-grandmother and Abbie is my great-grandmother and Elfie and Abbie are sisters, so, voilá, Tom and I are third cousins. And Tom, by the way, is a professional genealogist, which I tend to forget. Mostly I think of him as a third cousin out there somewhere who has nicely sent to me, along with other items, this photo of my great-grandmother, her siblings and mother.

Abbie stands left, Elfie right. Lovilla is the one staring straight at the camera.
Was she rebellious or just hard of hearing?

Tom also sent the only photo I have of Abbie’s daughter, Alice. The handsome fellow standing behind Alice is Homer, my grandfather. I have a few photos of him and his brothers; it is nice now to see Alice, too.

Ellsworth, Homer, Bert, and Alice Treloar.

It seems when not chasing rabbits, I stay mired in the past. I can’t seem to help it. I think I am discovering something—but what? It unfolds so slowly, I think by necessity, like peeling the skin of an onion, taking off the flaky old layers to get to the sweet juicy food—but it’s not like that at all, is it. More like putting layers back, retrieving them, fishing them out of some dustbin to make something whole again, but maybe—after all—it is nothing. Maybe I am just passing time, waiting for something to bloom.

April 30.