Sunday, November 27, 2016

art of ice & glass

I see the world is beautiful.

As always.

When a certain temperature meets the river, lingers, rises, falls, just a bit. Maybe add a little wind, a little this, a little that. Magic.


The art of ice.

Not to be confused with artifice.

I go to the river and every day this walk to the river and along its bank unleashes in Josie unbridled joy. Have I ever felt the same? This absolute burst of anticipation and enjoyment that has him hurtling each day down the path, down the bank, through the trees, along the shore, onto the log, off the log, into the river, out of the river, up the bank, down the bank, through the leaves, stirring up leaves, stopping still, staring up a tree, a massive cedar, moving on, nose under leaves, nose to sand, nose to snow, nose to scent, following, being led, forging ahead. A dog’s sense of the world—to have that magic. That reality.

I scoured resale shops for glass.

On a new kick, needing color, thinking if we are going to that place in a handbasket, I want my handbasket full of color and light.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

snippets of november, or, why let the song of another distract from the beat in your heart

I was behind a big shiny pick-up truck that sported a bumper sticker on its back window:
Press One for English
Press Two to be Deported
I followed the truck for a while wanting to ask the driver a few questions. I imagined the driver to be white, male, unaccountably stupid, slightly dangerous, completely ordinary.
What is your heritage?
When your grandparents or great-grandparents or however far back it goes came from wherever they came from, where did they come from?
What language did they speak?
How long was it before they learned English?
How did they learn English?
How did you learn English?
Or, maybe you are Native American? Your ancestors’ tongue cut from their mouth?
Eventually, the truck went up a driveway, behind some trees, and I chickened out. I followed the road I was on—we had turned off M-28 a while back—and I should’ve known. It went nowhere. And now in my mind leading nowhere I go back to that road and think how language is not only a way of speaking but a way of thinking; how we think in words we learn from our mothers, our fathers, our family, our teachers, our community, our culture; we think in the language we first learn; and I think how I wish I knew Yiddish, its sound, its meaning, its cadence not from a book or a course but from deep within, where heritage lies, where our souls lie; and the English of my Cornish ancestors. What was that like? Would I have understood their banter or yearned for subtitles?

Why do people drive around with such stupid stuff on their vehicles?

Questions flood.

Back home, a bottle of champagne on the porch railing. Four swigs, maybe three maybe five, that’s all I could handle the night the Cubs won the World Series. I left the bottle on the railing, later noticing it was catching flies, flies my usual autumn nemesis, so there it sits, dead flies and ladybugs floating in flat champagne. An apt description, methinks, of November, 2016, so far.

For many nights I couldn’t sleep, then poetry kicked in. Little mantras, short sequences of words, words with order, and, with trying to memorize, to jot down in the morning, words that brought back sleep. Hours and hours of sleep. In the morning I would look at the words and think, hmmm. The process is worthwhile, but the result? These poems? The words, they just shrugged: Who cares?
traveling with a dog star
jostling with a cat moon

sinking into wildflowers
floating on a river wild
The musical show “Damn Yankees.” In 1996 my father and I saw “Damn Yankees” at the Shubert Theater in Chicago. Jerry Lewis played Mr. Applegate. In the show a bargain is made with the devil and it has to do with a losing baseball team. I can never remember exactly what the bargain is or how it all turns out. But, as a musical comedy, no doubt all turns out well. Mostly, I remember the songs, such as Heart.

But life is not a musical comedy, not yet, and increasingly throughout my life, as life progressed, moments and moments and more moments piling up, I have wondered: If the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, would that be the end of the world? The end of the world as we know it. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Then the other night making dinner watching a deer nibbling grass at the edge of the lawn. A deer on the smaller side once in a while looking in at me while I gaze out at her. I must be nonchalant lest Josie catch on for right now I do want him chasing deer and if he thinks there are deer out there he will go nuts. I’ll have to let him out, he’ll chase the deer, and deer hunters are about, very near, as near as neighboring fields. So very casually I watch this deer as she pulls food from deep in the grass and looks up, tufts of green sprouting from the side of her mouth.

There is another deer out in the field. She is larger. She is reaching up, pulling her food down from the tops of dried goldenrod—maybe? Or maybe it is something else she eats. She is out there a ways and it is all brown and but for the curve of her neck and the sway of vegetation I might not see her. As I am standing at the counter, Josie is simply more interested in his next bit of food. Will it be a spoonful of chick peas or a piece of rotini? He likes raw rotini.

Lately these two deer have been about, and I appreciate their presence. I think maybe they are too small for anyone to shoot, but then again, I do not know, and certainly I do not know what anyone will do. Someone might shoot one or the other of these deer, maybe today or tomorrow or next Tuesday, or maybe one or the other of these deer will cross the road at a fatal time, or maybe a hundred other things. So I take my time, watch slowly. Josie waits.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

clouds lined in pink / we don’t need no stinkin’ respect / and a link to part two

Quiet again. A mild November. Nights are cold. Frosty in the morning. Thirty degrees. Clouds lined in pink.

What a team!

I fling the mouse into the field, and the mouse twirls through the air like a wheel, like a kite, like a cartoon.

Elliott caught him, leaping onto the counter to do so. It is early one morning before the sun is up and we are supposed to be quiet, easing into our day, sipping tea, musing about the tasks ahead. But there is this mouse about. And Elliott was the one to see. He was on and off the counter so quick. When I saw what he had in his mouth I did a hairpin turn from strict admonishment to soft, loving praise.

No wonder he gets confused.

I open the door thinking that Elliott will walk outside, dispose of the mouse, properly.

Silly me.

I close the door, return to the sofa. Elliott has moved with Mouse to a hidden corner of the kitchen.

Then Josie gets a notion: something’s up. He wiggles out from under the blanket, hops off the sofa, trots into the kitchen, heads toward the bathroom, stops, veers over toward Elliott.

I see a wagging tail.

The mouse darts into view, the middle of the kitchen, Josie right behind. With his mouth, Josie picks up the mouse, drops him, picks up the mouse, drops him. It looks like Mouse is trying to get under the stove. I put on gloves, go into the kitchen, pick up Mouse by his poor long tail. His fur is a sodden mess. I carry him outside, fling him into the field.

What a team!

All week reading a challenging book, a novel, that seems to be about madness, but whose madness? Early on I read this sentence and go back and read it again, and again, a few times:
Sometimes in a fit of a certain indefinable something, I ask myself: Since there’s such a connection between solitude and madness, how can one know whether human beings, in their opaqueness and pettiness, didn’t succeed in driving mad all of Creation, saturated and disgusted with their stupidity?
– Elie Wiesel, A Mad Desire to Dance
But what I want to get back to is the prickly pickle pods.

A black day, such a black day, despite sunshine, breezes. A dread that I was dreading has arrived. Six days of the nicest, most satisfying, thought-provoking, marvel-making happiness did I know and now this: sorrow. I did not know that sorrow is what it would be. But right now sorrow is what it is and it curbs every other emotion that sneaks in, rises up, including dread. Dread is fear, and fear—irrational fear—is so dangerous. It is part of what brought us here. I prefer my sorrow to dread and will wear it on my sleeve.

I finally realize: what a joke is our presidency.

So quiet, again.

And those prickly pickle pods.

But I don’t know if I will be able to concentrate today, be able to get any work done. I will have to try. It is not that big of a shock, is it, the power of disrespect? Or—I don’t know what to call it. Growing up I learned to be respectful of others not by doctrine or religious teaching, not through my public school education, but by my parents’ example. That is the best I can come up with, with how I know that respect for others is valuable. And I remember while still fairly young being surprised whenever a grown-up—a relative or maybe a friend of my parents—spoke disrespectfully of others. Perhaps it was just an offhand comment or a racist joke, but I noticed, and I questioned, internally, and at least once I questioned openly. And that is not really like me, to speak up, to open myself to potential conflict, but perhaps at that time I was still too young to know how ill-equipped I am to handle the barbs and jibes and disrespect of others. The mocking. The bullying. Well, are we to be respectful of others or not? I think yes—I can see the benefit. But I know, especially today, there are few in this country and among my neighbors who feel the same way. And that I am questioning the value of being respectful—I mean, why the fuck be respectful of openly misanthropic people who use belittlement of others to puff themselves up?—I mean, should it worry me? Or is it time to kick this respect bullshit in its ass because I don’t think I could ever respect a man like donald john trump who spoke his mind month after month, showing us in no uncertain terms exactly who he is and the deep lack of respect he has for so many, and now he wants me to respect him? He wants to be my president? Tell me—what has he done to earn it? What has he done to earn it? It seems to me he has done everything possible to earn my disrespect. But there’s this, the greater problem. How to live in this place that so richly rewards those who so deeply and openly disrespect others?

There are so many strands of prickly pickle pods that I was not seeing until all the leaves fell from the dogwood. Now I see them. A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article that explains what the heck these things are. The scientific name, Echinocystis lobata, can be translated to “lobed hedgehog bladder.” Now, there. That’s kind of fun.

But I know I will keep my faith, as will others. And there will be some consolation that, in fact, millions more people voted for some candidate other than donald john trump. I guess the system was rigged in his favor. Yes, I will keep my faith and so will others. And, if nothing else, for a little while we may be spared the blaming and whining we’ve heard so much of of late. Wah wah wah. Nobody pays attention to me. We’ll sue their ass! Unfortunately, I imagine the fear-mongering will continue. There is so much to fear. For one, all those people you have no respect for.

I want to know why it is OK to be openly racist. I want to know why it is OK to denigrate women. I want to know—and this, especially, I want to know—why is it OK to grab the crotch of a woman you don’t know, give it a squeeze, boast of it, be proud of it? Because the last time I checked, more than 59 million people in this country—
in this country—were OK with that. Our president-elect is OK with that. And you’re afraid of the rest of the world?

part two: a walk along the river

part two: a walk along the river

For the past several days I’ve been thinking of a walk I once took along the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was 19 or so, a university student. I was smitten with small-town Appleton and its close-in wild places. The university’s small, picturesque campus was nestled along the river. The student union was atop a hill that led down to the river. At the union we gathered to study and eat and drink beer, to play Foosball and pool, to attend the occasional dance. When it was snowy, we took trays from the cafeteria and whooped and hollered as we sat on them to slide helter-skelter down Union Hill, toward the river.

The school’s gymnasium was set apart from campus, also along the river but on its other side, up maybe a mile or so, and most often one took a bus—we called it The Bluebird—to get there and back. Sometimes I walked, either along College Avenue or along the river. As I remember it, the walk back along the river was through a wooded area and then a field of sorts, somewhat wild, I picture something like abandoned rail lines, weeds and stubble, perhaps some trash, and the paper mill was nearby. At Lawe Street, cross over the river and you’re on campus, at the foot of Union Hill. Perhaps I should not have made this river walk on my own, but if this is not a free country, then what? And this particular day was lovely, a sunny and mild autumn afternoon. I wore, as usual, jeans and a T-shirt.

I wasn’t far from Lawe Street when I noticed a group of teenagers walking toward me. They were boys, maybe four or five of them, and they didn’t seem that old, maybe 13 or 14, 15? As we drew near to one another I smiled, said hello, and one of them grabbed my left breast, squeezed, let go. I remember hearing chatter and laughter as they walked on and I walked on stunned, angry, humiliated, ashamed, angry, scared, dumbfounded, ashamed, angry, humiliated—every emotion I can still feel now as I think about this moment I have not thought about in so, so long.

Thank you, donald trump, for refreshing my memory.

How I wish I could punch every one of those skinny wimps hard in the face, break their noses, make them bleed, make them cry.

And how glad I am that I did not try to do that because if one of those boys felt free to reach out and grab me, what more might they all have felt free to do? In their group, emboldened. And of course, it’s OK—this is what boys, even men, do. It’s acceptable. Grab a breast, move on, giggle.

Thank you, donald trump, for reminding me of that.

Oh, if only I had been quick enough! How great if I had grabbed that kid’s arm, wrenched it hard up behind his back, broken it, made him cry.

Walk on.

I don’t remember that I ever told anyone of this incident. So maybe this is this first time I am allowing that once this random person walked by, reached out, squeezed my breast, laughed, and I did nothing. The whole thing pisses the hell out of me.

Thank you, donald trump.

I mean, what was the point of telling anyone? Such a minor incident. Maybe some would have commiserated, but others, well, who knew how others might react? And the last thing I wanted was to be surprised and humiliated again.

It still surprises me that so-called normal men—certain men, certain boys, certain people—feel they have a right to women’s bodies. To another person’s body. And it saddens me immensely that so many women support this idea, support these men, these boys, these people, or, at least, it sure seems they do.

Didn’t I hear our president-elect say something about it not only being acceptable for men to grab at random female body parts, but that it is to be expected? So all men are sexual molesters? And all women victims? Oh no wait a minute. It’s only pretty women who will be grabbed. Because to be sexually molested is to be complimented.

Can you imagine living in this man’s world? Do you live in this man’s world?

It makes one feel it is a losing battle.

But oh my gosh, I know, don’t I. Battles and losing can go on for what seems like forever and it can feel so hopeless, winning always just out of reach, and you get used to sitting on the bench, watching others celebrate. You get used to being pawed and mocked and marginalized. But then, there’s this, always this: That you know in your heart that you are better and can be better and will be better because you will not give up. You know, simply, in your heart, what is right.

So I’ve been wondering about that boy who was walking along the Fox River that day. Who did he grow up to be? How long did he boast about what he had done? How did it affect his status among his friends? Was he a leader or a follower? Did he do it on a dare? Did he do it just that once or many times? And when he did it to me was he surprised, caught off guard, humiliated, ashamed, angry, afraid, or was he on top of the world? Did he feel in control and on top of the world? And after, did he ever feel that he could be better than that? A better person. Or has he remained just this stupid kid grabbing at breasts?

Thank you, Mr. President-To-Be, thank you so very much for reminding me so very much of this very stupid kid.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

let it reign: cubs win the world series

Late Saturday afternoon sunny near 80 tons of little bugs flying around and the only ones I can name are the big ones, the flies, the wasps, the ladybugs, and I’m thinking if it weren’t for Steve Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go” …

… what would I be singing?

With this song I am embraced.

I wore my Cubs cap and Cubs sweatshirt to the farmers market in hopes of reining in passing Cub fans and there were a few and it was great to smile and talk and say Hey, can’t wait ’til next year!

And out there in the field with the flies and the deer is the cork that like buckshot cracked the night air and not unusual to hear the pop of firearms here in Pelkie but I can guarantee you this was the first time anyone ever heard a cork shooting out of a champagne bottle in the middle of the night here in Pelkie because the Cubs had just won the World Series.

I said: Because the Cubs had just won the World Series.

The Best World Series Ever. History, drama, intensity, mistakes and misplays and great plays and grand slams and youngsters and grandpas and more and more for the record books and damn, I mean damn, nobody ever gave up. Nobody. Though somewhere there in the bottom of the eighth I was just about ready …

All day I’d been thinking of how in the bleachers we used to change that one lyric in the song we sang during the seventh inning stretch:
… if they don’t win it’s the same …
I sang it that way so often it’s hard to sing it any other way and only with conscious effort do I sing:
… if they don’t win it’s a shame …
And when Chapman gives up that homer in the bottom of the eighth and the game is tied in my mind’s eye I zoom out until the moment is seen like through the bottom of an old glass Coke bottle, taking its place in Cubs history and I am looking back and there it is: another on the roster of Great Hopes Dashed.

Should I keep listening? Turn it off? Do this again? Or just believe: This time can be different. With four outs to go, this here now can be different. Seriously? Expect a different outcome after 108 years of the same?

Do we ever learn and what do we learn?

Of course a lot of talk and thoughts about my dad. That’s what he gets for being dead—we get to remember and talk about him as much as we like. My sisters and I claim he started it all, all this, any of this, this Cubness. He as a kid with his damn radio out there in western Illinois picking up WGN in the 1920s, 1930s. The last World Series for the Cubs, in 1945, he was in the army, in the Philippines. In 1908, the last World Series the Cubs won, he was not yet born. But between those two he did see, or could listen to, anyway, four World Series with the Cubs and only now does it register that between 1929 and 1938 the Cubs were in four World Series and my dad was 10, 13, 16, 19, and in those four World Series the Cubs won a total of three games. I don’t remember he ever much talked about that.

Oh my god! Just what we need! A rain delay and it’s something like four hours in, nine innings played, game tied, last game of this World Series no matter what happens and I’m exhausted. Elliott’s outside. Josie’s asleep. I let the radio play and play resumes. And not until later do we learn how crucial that rain delay was, how mythical, how very much like … divine intervention.
Clawing their way back, the momentum was with Cleveland. Then, a 17-minute rain delay. The Chicago players huddled, came together, put aside the past and remembered exactly what they, as a team, were capable of and what they were here for and how they would let no one person carry it all. Together, they would do it all.

Or something like that.

So tenth inning and no, nobody is giving up, and with the covers pulled way up over my head I finally hear it: Cubs win the World Series.

To Whom It May Concern:
Thank you.
To the Chicago Cubs of 2016:
Thank you.

Steve Goodman was 36 when he died in 1984. As I remember it, his more famous song about the Cubs at that time was “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” “Go Cubs Go” may be a catchier tune and a lot more fun to sing, but let’s not forget this other song nor all those years we gaily spent on the futility that sure, broke us down, but that also, somehow, sustained us, maybe even built us up, brought us here. It really was great fun.

And so to Steve Goodman:
Thank you.

And thanks to Jennifer for forwarding all the
go cubs go tweets and stuff!