Thursday, December 28, 2017

candle studies: bayberry wax (a.k.a. tallow), candlefish, candle nut, soy (in other words, bayberry part 2)

The aroma of natural bayberry wax, or tallow, I can’t decide which to call it, is, in order of impression as I smell raw hunks of it:
- clean
- natural
- subtle
- softly rich
- quietly deep
- old-fashioned
- just like that tea Amy used to bring me. (This was about 15 years ago. Amy and I were co-workers. She got the tea at a store in her neighborhood. We called it the smoky campfire tea in deference to my inability to ever remember its non-English name. It came in a little brown paper bag. Dry, the tea was a mat of leaves and twigs and bark and flowers and I don’t know what all, dark brown and black, thick, spongy, organic. Steeping in my mug it was smoky brown, and to my workday it brought an aroma so wonderfully wild, like the whisper of a campfire surrounded by pines.)
Once made into a candle and lit, the smell of Christmas hit. So somewhere in my youth or childhood, there must have been a Christmastime bayberry candle or two.

Bayberry tallow feels harder than beeswax and the chunks I bought are dusty with bloom. Its color is olive green. Molded into a candle it feels smooth and just ever so slightly greasy.

Like most candles it burns with a marvelous light. Unlike most candles, a clean woodsy scent wafts about. I’m tempted to say the flame is bright and rich—and again, clean—but perhaps I should restrain from hyperbole, or redundancy. After all, what candlelight isn’t lovely?
Quite recently figures have been furnished by an eminent gas expert, showing that candles give the strongest light through gloom and fogs; … (From “A ‘Light’ Industry:—Candle Making,” by F. A. Field, in the January 1902 The Idler.)
I burned a bayberry votive and a beeswax votive in glass cups side by side. For aroma and light, it is a great combination, but, I admit, the bayberry held more intrigue. Although lively, it’s flame was steadier, more even. The top quarter-inch or so of the wax liquefied. I suppose that is due to bayberry’s lower melting point. Beeswax melts around 146 degrees Fahrenheit; bayberry at about 118. But according to Albin H. Warth in The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes, bayberry’s melting point rises as it ages. The example given was four-month-old wax with a melting point near 127 degrees. I haven’t read of this elsewhere. In The Complete Technology Book on Wax and Polishes the melting point for bayberry is given as a range between 102-120 with no explanation provided. Warth points out that no other wax is known to have this quality of a changing melting point, but it made me think of the question I have been asked occasionally about aged beeswax and doesn’t it burn better? But a higher melting point doesn’t necessarily translate to a better burn.

Another bayberry oddity I read about was in Customs and Fashions in Old New England (Earle, 1893). The quote is attributed to a Robert Beverly, 1705:
“ … neither does the snuff of these ever offend the smell, like that of a tallow candle; but, instead of being disagreeable, if an accident puts a candle out, it yields a pleasant fragrancy to all that are in the room; insomuch that nice people often put them out on purpose to have the incense of the expiring snuff.”
Being a nice person, I put out my bayberry candle on purpose, discovering Mr. Beverly was right. What a pleasant after-aroma! And then I did that trick of holding a lit match in the smoke an inch or so above the wick, thus relighting the candle.

Still another oddity is the fact that technically bayberry wax is a tallow. For clarification or muddification (best to be prepared for either) we turn to excerpts from The New World Family Encyclopedia (1954).

WAX, a solid organic substance composed of esters of higher alcohols and fatty acids. Thus, they are similar to fats but contain the alcohol group rather than the glyceryl (see Fats).

TALLOW, the product extracted or rendered from the solid fat, or “suet,” of cattle, sheep, goats, or horses. It is made up largely of olein, stearin, and palmitin oils. … Vegetable tallow is a fat obtained from plants … The fruit and bark of the tallow shrub, the bayberry, yield a fat.

CANDLEBERRY or Bayberry, a small tree native to the eastern part of North America, but most abundant in the southern part of the U.S. … The fruit consists of small berries, which, when ripe, are covered with a greenish-white wax, known as bayberry tallow. Four or five pounds of this product is obtained from a bushel of berries. It is used for candles which burn slowly and emit a pleasant odor …
Curiosity compels us to read the next entry.
CANDLEFISH … A rude light is obtained by drawing a piece of rush pith through the fish …
And then
CANDLE NUT … natives … in some localities burn the kernels as torches …
Under the listing for myrtle, which is the plant group the bayberry shrub (or small tree) belongs to, there is no mention of wax, tallow, candles, or, for that matter, Christmas legends (see Part 1). We do find dysentery and “diarrhoea.”
MYRTLE, a genus of plants which are classed as a suborder of the Myrtaceae. … Most species bear black berries with a pleasant, spicy odor. They are used in the preparation of medicine for dysentery, rheumatism, diarrhoea, and internal ulcers. …
Reading further into the wax entry, we learn that wax may be vegetable, animal, or mineral in origin, and that
synthetic waxes have been obtained in the synthesis of liquid fuels by the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, in which hydrogen and carbon monoxide are reacted over a catalyst. …
This caught my eye because soy wax is a product of hydrogenation, produced by hydrogenating the oil that is squished out of the soybean, and this hydrogenation requires a catalyst, which I understand to be a substance that enables other substances to combine to become a new substance. For soybean oil and hydrogen the most common catalyst I have read of is copper.

For those who enjoy semantics, this makes soy wax interesting. If it must go through a process such as hydrogenation, can it truly be called, as it is, a natural wax? Warth includes it as such, stating: “ … wax from the winterizing of soybean oil … amounts to about 0.002 per cent of the original oil.” So a minute amount of wax does seem to occur naturally in the soybean. But this is not the current-day product we call soy wax.

I have read that soy wax was invented in the 1990s. But apparently folks were experimenting with soybean oil and hydrogenation well before then. Warth refers to a paper written in 1934:
In the high-pressure hydrogenation of soybean oil Shinosaki and Kubo125 found that at 350° an almost entirely wax-like substance was formed. … The catalyst used in the hydrogenation was copper carbonate on infusorial earth … ”
Soy wax is now fairly ubiquitous in the candle market; it is plentiful and inexpensive. The soybean crop in the U.S. is larger than all others but corn, and a July 2017 article on agweb.com leads with “The world’s soybean crop has grown by leaps and bounds since 1990, growing 231%.” A quick search online shows that to the candlemaker many different soy wax formulations are available. (And I have read that the formulas are highly secret!) One formula will work better in containers, another for molded pillars, and another will prove superior for holding your additives, your color, your scent.

By contrast, bayberry wax can be hard to find, is expensive, and it is what it is. It comes with its own essence.

In “Old New England,” Alice Morse Earle writes:

Miss Morse in 1873.
Bayberry wax was a standard farm production wherever bayberries grew, and was advertised in New England papers until this century. I entered within a year a single-storied house a few miles from Plymouth Rock, where an aged descendant of the Pilgrims earns her scanty spending-money by making “bayberry taller,” and bought a cake and candles of the wax, made in precisely the method of her ancestors; and I too can add my evidence as to the pure, spicy perfume of this New England incense.

Maybe someday I will come across some bayberry bushes in a garden, in the wild, in an abandoned farm field. If I do, I hope it is autumn, when the berries are ripe and covered in tallow. I will pick the berries, boil them in water, get me some wax, make me a candle or two.

⦿

For the record, the bayberry votive burned for 12 hours leaving an amazingly clean cup behind. The beeswax votive burned a few hours more, leaving some wax behind. In my experience, sometimes a beeswax votive leaves nothing behind, sometimes something.


Monday, December 25, 2017

a holiday newsletter

The roads in and out are few. If you take the one eastward, you skirt the county seat, a town of 2,000, give or take. On the hem of this skirt you see a hardware store, a manufacturing plant, a creek, railroad tracks, a fast food joint, three gas stations, a car wash, a dollar store, an empty building with a buckling concrete parking lot, a couple of motels and a restaurant or two, a lumber yard, a large discount store, the county hospital, more railroad tracks, a large open-air vegetable and fruit stand open only during the appropriate months, and a few other things, this and that. Over the last few months the empty building—it may once have been a grocery store—was torn down, rebuilt. Now there are two dollar stores.

One day on the island—the island that is not really an island but rather a large hump of sand protruding into the river—I heard a chain saw revving up, winding down. Revving up, winding down. It was coming from across the river. I listened for a while. It was the only sound other than the whisper of the river and the peep of the chickadees. It troubles me that there are noises I sometimes want to quiet but can’t. That I let these noises bother me. But, do I have a choice?


A few days later at the cabin I could hear the noise of something like a bulldozer churning back and forth, the crack of a limb, the fall of a tree, a bulldozer churning back and forth. On snowshoes I walked over to the river, criss-crossing the lacework of deer trails, Josie plowing along behind, in front, then off on his own. Atop the bank I looked across the river at a little yellow ’dozer atop the opposite bank. It looked like some engorged insect or pre-Star Wars critter as it lurched forward, back, its gaping jaw moving up and down, the whole thing spinning ’round, slowly, in jerks, an exotic pre-historic dance, and, in reality, it seemed curious. Wide swaths of that bank drop away most every spring as the river cuts in with a resurgent flow. It is a sandy bank; at its bottom lie the washed remains of trees that have fallen. And now here was this creature, at its edge, felling trees, digging holes.

Back home, at the kitchen sink, looking out the window, I could still see the ’dozer. I got out the binoculars. What for? I put them away. And then I wondered: What if this yellow creature made a misstep, toppled over the bank, down into the river?

Elliott died in November. He had a massive growth, a tumor, in his head. In September I took him to Appleton, Wisconsin, to understand this. We took one of the few roads out, Josie, Elliott, and I. While Elliott stayed at a fancy animal clinic on the edge of town, Josie and I stayed at a motel. Someone I once knew had just died. Another hurricane was threatening the Caribbean. I was worried about a friend who lives on a small island. I watched a string of episodes of a show called “Fixer-Upper.”

The vet took pictures inside Elliott’s head. At the moment the name of this procedure—it is common—escapes me, but the vet’s description remains: Imagine you have a loaf of bread, you cut the loaf into slices, you take a picture of each slice. Upshot: Any way you sliced it, Elliott had this huge thing growing in his head. It was blocking one nostril and encroaching on the other. It had bent a bone near an eye socket, and there was something about a bubble of gas in that eye socket. The more slices of bread the vet showed me, the bigger the loaf became. So Josie, Elliott, and I went home. A few weeks later I took Elliott to the local vet for the last time, just before snow and cold wrapped us in.

Suddenly, there was a break in the weather. Josie and I found a road out and went to stay for a few days in the town where I grew up. We stayed across the street from a shopping center next to an expressway off-ramp. It was never quiet (constant hum of passing cars) and never dark (streetlights, shopping center lights, traffic lights, Christmas lights). It was a comfort. On our daily walks Josie, chasing squirrels, pulled me along at the end of his leash. High up in the leafless trees you could see the squirrels’ nests like huge beehives of sticks and leaves and whatnot, sometimes as many as three in a tree. Josie was sure there was a squirrel behind every tree. He may have been right.

I went to the store where my mom took me every fall to buy new clothes for school. A kilt, maybe, and knee socks, a turtleneck, a sweater. I thought how funny it would be to buy my sisters’ Christmas presents there—knee socks, definitely, what else? As I shopped I told the woman waiting on me all about how my mom shopped for us there so many years ago, and I learned the store is still owned by the same family. She had been working there 35 years.

For days I watched the Thomas Fire while my sisters breathed its smoke, waded through its ashes. The package with their presents of knee socks (and more!) from Lad & Lassie was delivered one day as they were evacuating, or preparing to evacuate, or maybe between evacuations—something, anyway. The situation was fluid, and, at times, frightening. In the end, though, many days later, for them, for us, and with much gratitude, no one and nothing was lost. Everyone went home.



Thursday, December 21, 2017

candle studies: myrtle wax, a.k.a. bayberry & the stuff of legends (& a little advertising)

When reading about myrtle wax, things become contrary. As a natural wax (or tallow, which we will get to in Part 2, if we get to Part 2), this is to be expected, for nature is variable. Among the variables I have read about myrtle wax: it is green, bluish grey, muddied brown; it has a strong scent, it has very little scent; its scent is like spice, fir trees, campfires, Christmas; it burns with a bright light, it burns with a low light; it is too brittle to make a candle that stands on its own, but bayberry candles will burn longer, cleaner, and brighter …

What is the story?

Indeed, bayberry candles are expensive.

And yes, there is this bayberry & good luck Christmas thing.

🎅

Myrtle wax is more commonly known as bayberry wax. But a bayberry candle is not necessarily made of bayberry wax. Rather, and more likely, especially if affordable, a bayberry candle is a so-called bayberry candle made of soy or paraffin or just something else scented to smell like bayberry. Or what we think of as bayberry, such as, I presume, fir trees, campfires, and Christmas. But all bayberry candles—no matter their color or what they are made of or what they smell like—are all about Christmas. Even The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes mentions that myrtle wax makes “Highly decorative candles suited for Christmas and other festive occasions … They are referred to as bayberry candles … ”

A plain bayberry candle arranged festively and decoratively with blocks of myrtle wax.

What one reads is that bayberry candles are a Christmas tradition dating back to Colonial America, and there is a legend that has to do with lighting one bayberry candle on either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve in order to summon good luck for the new year. The more I read about this legend (and the only place I read about it is online), the more it reminded me of that jazz about beeswax and negative ions, meaning: goofy marketing ploy. Which, I hasten to add, should not detract from one’s reverence or enjoyment thereof.

Myrtle wax occurs naturally on the berries of various shrubby plants of the species Myrica, some of which grow in the States, mostly along the east coast in sandy soil. To get at the wax, one gathers the myrtle’s berries and boils them in water. The wax separates and rises to the top. One can filter the liquid wax and/or boil again, it’s now just a matter of refining the wax, and this process is pretty standard for extracting any naturally occurring wax from its host plant and cleaning it of the various things that are not wax. (It is also similar to beeswax refining.)

Bayberry & Beeswax, a couple of old pals.

So what’s the big deal? Myrtle sounds like an ordinary, hard-workin’, no-nonsense (albeit pretty) gal from the country while Bayberry is like some la-di-da fancy-pants debutante living in a mansion on the hill coming out just once a year to bestow upon us all her glory and luck. How did she get so great?

Enter the legend of the Christmas bayberry candle, which is repeated on so many websites that sell bayberry or so-called bayberry candles and repeated once and twice and thrice again on so many websites that just seem to want to explain things without offering any insight into the author’s sources or methods, that I became suspect. Plus, I did not find any mention of a bayberry candle tradition on any site of a historical nature that attempted to describe Colonial America, its traditions, and the ways in which people celebrated Christmas in the 1600s into the 1700s. I did find a great book from 1894 called Customs and Fashions in Old New England, by Alice Morse Earle, a woman of some authority, and although it mentioned candles made of bayberry wax, there was no mention of any Christmas tradition with said candles. Furthermore, her description of light sources in the 1600s leads one to question the part of the legend that has to do with most candles of the time being made of animal fat.


And then there is this:


Here’s the full bayberry candle legend as I have come to understand it.
In Colonial America, times were tough. The only light came from candles, and candles were made from tallow—animal fat—and tallow was messy and stunk and inevitably turned rancid. Then the people discovered bayberry shrubs, which surrounded them in abundance. They picked the berries and boiled them for hours. A wax was gleaned, and the wax was good. It could be made into candles that were brighter, sweeter, and far longer-lasting than tallow candles, and the people were grateful. But, alas, it took so many berries to make so little wax; and candles of bayberry became precious, a luxury to be used just once a year, on Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Eve, or maybe just at the darkest time of year. And the candles came to signify good luck, and the people composed a poem.

(The poem is copied directly from this website.)

Verse 1:
This bayberry candle is a gift from a friend,
on Christmas Eve burn it down to the end.
A bayberry candle burned down to the socket,
brings luck to the home and wealth to the pocket.

Verse 2:
Here's a Bayberry Candle that's meant just for you,
With Holiday Tradition that's tried and true.
When you light this candle on Christmas Eve Day,
Love and Luck come to you when it's burned all the way!

Verse 3:
To bring good luck for a year,
you must burn a Bayberry Candle on Christmas Day.
And if the flame burns bright, and the light shines clear,
then heaven will bless you all the year.
Well, sure, I wasn’t there, but I’m not at all sold on the idea that these pithy little rhymes came out of the mouths or quills and ink of Pilgrims and Puritans, or even that they were exchanging Christmas gifts. Which doesn’t mean they weren’t burning their nice bayberry candles during the dark of the winter solstice, hoping for better luck ahead. But these poems remind me of something on an old-fashioned Victorian postcard, or a particularly verbose gift tag of yore, or some funky and fun advertising from a hundred or so or less years ago. But Colonial America? I’m not buying it.

But I did buy a pound of bayberry wax online from a beekeeper supply company, and there we have Part 2, coming soon.

Best of Bayberry Luck to You and Yours.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

candle studies: the wax within

Who knew wax was so interesting?

I’ve just finished Chapter 3 of The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes, by Albin H. Warth, published in 1947 by Reinhold Publishing Corporation in New York. The chapter began with beeswax, which in many ways is the original wax, and continued through waxes gleaned from so many sources my mind reeled. And rocked. And rolled. Wax is not only secreted by or found in several insects, it is in many animals and plants as well, from mutton birds to dandelion roots. The mutton bird is a somewhat special case. In its stomach you find a liquid wax with “a ruby-red color and a not unpleasant fishy smell.”

Yes, there are liquid waxes.
Liquid waxes are those which are liquid at ordinary room temperature. They are on the boundary line between the vegetable oils and solid waxes in many of their physical and chemical constants, but differ from fatty oils since they are virtually free of triglycerides.
But mostly wax is solid at ordinary room temperature, and it turns up everywhere. Did you know mistletoe berries contain wax? (It makes me a trifle sad that when googling mistletoe wax what Google serves up are links to products concocted from standard types of wax saturated with various so-called holiday scents. Nice products, I suppose, but nothing to do with mistletoe wax.) And did you know that cranberries shed water due to the wax on their skin? How about sugar cane wax?
When made into a taper it burns with a fine white flame like spermaceti.
Sugar cane wax candles made in Natal were mostly used long ago in Russian Orthodox churches before the Russian Revolution. The revolution, it seems, not only killed religion but killed the sugar cane wax candle industry. (Spermaceti, as you may recall, is a wax found inside the head of a necessarily dead sperm whale.)

But by far the most interesting wax was the last discussed.
Adipocere wax is encountered in the decomposition of corpses in cemeteries.
VoilĂ ! Who knew? I turned to my Webster’s New World Dictionary to make sure adipocere was a real thing. And it is. Between adios and adipose in plain English:
a fatty or waxy substance produced in decomposing dead bodies exposed to moisture
I googled adipocere just to see what that would dig up and found out that once—yes!—adipocere, a wax found in decomposing bodies, was made into candles. By mistake, it seems, but still. Imagine! The adipocere in a mummified Egyptian was mistaken for beeswax, and made into candles, and the candles were lit, and the candles burned, and it’s an interesting tale you may read in full here:
Click for an amazing story of when adipocere was mistaken for beeswax and made into candles which illuminated a lecture hall, or, The Case of Augustus’ Mummy
So, is it safe to say we all have a (potential) flame within?


Sunday, December 3, 2017

candle studies: wax from an old book

The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes, by Albin H. Warth, published in 1947 by Reinhold Publishing Corporation in New York, popped up somewhere in one of the several wax research studies that lately I have been perusing online. I became keen to own a copy of the book as originally printed and bound. Amazon offered three options ranging in price from $95 (“used – acceptable”) to $500 (“used – good”). AbeBooks offered modern-day reprints for about $15 to $20, and, lo and behold, one old, original book, used, in good condition, a former library book, $22.

The book arrived in the mail this week. A bookplate informs that it once belonged to the Walter Schroeder Library of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, presented to said library by Fred Portz, Sr. A quick Google search led me to Mr. Portz’s son’s obituary (or so I believe), and I stopped to wonder why I was googling Fred Portz. Better to look up Albin H. Warth, Chemical Director at The Crown Cork and Seal Co., Baltimore, Maryland, but, wait, isn’t it too early for a side trip?


The Table of Contents alone of The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes tells us much. The chapters are organized by type of wax (natural; fossil, earth and lignite paraffins; petroleum; synthetic, etc.) and the list below each heading tells us what to expect. For example, in the chapter on natural waxes we will learn about beeswax, cotton wax, cranberry wax, wool wax, and others. Among the fossil and earth waxes we will discover algae wax and peat wax. There seems to be a regular plethora of waxes.


The book’s “Introductory” (Chapter 1) was short and easy, and I appreciated the etymology.
Wax is as old as man. The English term wax is derived from the Anglo-Saxon weax, which was the name applied to the natural material of the honeycomb of the bee. When a material of similar resemblance was found in plants it also became known as weax or wachs, and later wax.
At the start of Chapter 2, “Chemical Components of Waxes,” my gears stalled and my eyes glazed over.


I spent some time mulling over the word tautomer, then skipped ahead to Chapter 3, “The Natural Waxes,” and found myself understanding perfectly well this bit on page 40.
Coloration of Beeswax. Vansell and Bisson143 of the California Agricultural Experiment Station made a study of the coloration of beeswax. Freshly secreted beeswax is white, but it readily absorbs colors from various sources. Some pollens carry yellow substances, which are liberated to the beeswax in either solid or liquid state. A cell in a new bee comb, as well as the walls of the adjacent cells, becomes very yellow when melted (in glass) with fresh pollens collected from various plants. For example, the color imparted to white beeswax by the golden pollen of the sunflower, Helianthus bolanderi, is a bright orange yellow; that of the golden pollen of the California poppy a brilliant orange yellow; that of the bright yellow dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Weber, a bright yellow; that of the brown pollen of the white clover, Trifolium repens, L., only a trace of yellow; that of the pollens of alfalfa, flax, hollyhock, and many others, none.

Much of the crude beeswax imported from Cuba and other Caribbean countries is distinctly brown. It has a strong beeswax odor, masked to some extent by a tobacco-like smell. The pollen of tobacco plants is said to be responsible for both the off-odor and off-color of this wax.
Before long, though, I was once again at a loss. Here it is, plain as day, the chemical composition of beeswax, and yet to me it appears almost completely meaningless.


The sub-section that ends with this big reveal begins with the claim that “For the past century the chemical composition of beeswax has been a subject of discussion … ”.

I see there’s a long way to go. (Coming up: liquid animal waxes such as mutton bird oil and “Sperm oil from the blubber and the cavities in the head of the sperm whale … ”.) Much mystery lies ahead.

Time for a Side Trip

At the end of the beeswax section in The Chemistry and Technology of Waxes, the National Farm Chemurgic Council is mentioned.
The National Farm Chemurgic Council has reported that beeswax is being used in connection with the manufacture of at least four hundred articles—from ammunition, cosmetics, and medicines, to protective coatings on airplanes.
I insisted on googling “chemurgy” and found an interesting article in the “Journal of Industrial Ecology,” Volume 7, Issue 3-4, Version of record online: 8 Feb 2008. In Old Efforts at New Uses: A Brief History of Chemurgy and the American Search for Biobased Materials, Mark R. Finlay writes:
Basing the name of their movement on the root words for chemistry (chemi) and work (ergon), chemurgists contended that the chemicals found in farm products could provide industry with needed raw materials. … Chemurgists had three principal goals: to develop new, nonfood uses of existing crops; to develop new farm commodities useful to industry to grow in lieu of surplus commodities; and to find profitable uses for various agricultural wastes and residues. Moreover, because most chemurgists were unabashedly economic nationalists, most hoped their programs would drastically reduce U.S. dependence on foreign markets.
Born in Dearborn, Michigan, in the mid-1930s out of a meeting of like minds (including Henry Ford’s, whose company in 1935 “used 1 bushel of soybeans for every car it manufactured”) and directly linked to the experiences of and aftermath of World War I, chemurgy and its emerging councils had an impact which lasted until the Second World War and somewhat beyond, fading throughout the 1950s and 1960s until the councils, if not the ideas behind them, unraveled. As with all movements, I suppose, proponents varied in their intensity of belief. William J. Hale, referred to as “the father of chemurgy” in his New York Times obituary (August 9, 1955) and described in Finlay’s article as a “Michigan chemist linked by marriage to the Dow Chemical Company, and chair of the U.S. National Research Council’s Chemistry and Chemical Technology Committee,” was perhaps on one end of an extreme.
… the chemurgists’ isolationist politics came under increasing scrutiny, and Hale’s writings, which included strong praise for the self-sufficiency schemes of Nazi Germany, became increasingly irrelevant5 (Wright 1995).

Saturday, November 18, 2017

candle studies: a wish, a vapor

“ … a wish that you may, in your generation, be fit to compare to a candle; that you may, like it, shine as lights to those about you; that, in all your actions, you may justify the beauty of the taper by making your deeds honorable and effectual in the discharge of your duty to humankind.”

Michael Faraday
From Michael Faraday’s Christmas lectures of 1860, “The Chemical History of the Candle.”
The original transcript of the lecture (or at least a version thereof found online) uses the words “your fellow-men” rather than “humankind,” the latter appearing in the book “Michael Faraday’s The Chemical History of the Candle with Guides to Lectures, Teaching Guides & Student Activities” by Bill Hammack and Don DeCoste.
Following is an excerpt from the original Lecture I.—A Candle: The Flame—Its Sources—Structure—Mobility—Brightness:

FIG. 56
There is another condition which you must learn as regards the candle, without which you would not be able fully to understand the philosophy of it, and that is the vaporous condition of the fuel. In order that you may understand that, let me show you a very pretty but very commonplace experiment. If you blow a candle out cleverly, you will see the vapor rise from it. You have, I know, often smelt the vapor of a blown-out candle, and a very bad smell it is; but if you blow it out cleverly you will be able to see pretty well the vapor into which this solid matter is transformed. I will blow out one of these candles in such a way as not to disturb the air around it by the continuing action of my breath; and now, if I hold a lighted taper two or three inches from the wick, you will observe a train of fire going through the air till it reaches the candle (FIG. 56). I am obliged to be quick and ready, because if I allow the vapor time to cool, it becomes condensed into a liquid or solid, or the stream of combustible matter gets disturbed.

Friday, September 15, 2017

death brings a poem

sometimes i wonder who we are
walking around in garb
that shapes us, defines us, protects us
walking around naked

and sometimes i wonder who we are
that we stay, linger, never budge
or flit, flee, fly off in a snap –

& sometimes i wonder who can we be
that others may keep us, buy us, sell us, steal us
(we don’t know)
and i wonder who we are
that we wrap ourselves
in flags and totems and rainbow displays
demanding that we be seen
– for who we are –

who are we?
plasma and bone, dust to dust?
psyche and ego and soul?
miasma of heavens, dregs of hell?
the strength of nations?
lonely victims of wind and rain
raging seas, islands of emotion
do we die at the hands of others
do we die at the hands of ourselves
do we die by the whims of gods

sometimes i wonder who we are
that we don’t even know
who we are
yet we know all this
we know all that
we know you, me
right, wrong
what should be, what shouldn’t be
and we know
what is

& we know today
you wear
a new cloak


Friday, August 18, 2017

there is no president

evening
august 16, 2017
and beyond
somewhere in america


i feel there is no government
                        no president

protecting
  - preserving -
     standing up for
         all that is precious
             - my country -

FREEDOM
to inhabit our cities our towns our homes our markets our fields
pursuing sustenance
happiness
without threat      (visible, hooded, cloaked)
EQUALITY
that all are created equal
no matter the circumstances wide, varied
no matter the gross frequency of failing to live out
this ideal
still we honor the ideal
we protect the ideal
we defend the ideal
liberty

and now     we see
no president to care about this
                  no president respecting, even
land
water
deserts
fields
woods
trees
mountains
rivers
lakes
birds
streams
oceans
men
women
animals
fish
children
streets
lives
air
people
liberty
laughter
freedom
masses (huddled)
diversity
education
history
compassion
– our selves –
– our children –
– our dignity –
the list
the list
the list
is endless
the depth of feeling
                      endless

and so this is the way
i understand now
so many americans have always felt
– been made to feel –
hey ! no one gives a damn,
no one gave a damn,
about their lives, about your lives, about our lives –
so i
          now, in a very small way
know the same

there is no president

there is, though, us
– we the people –
to defend, protect
the truth self-evident
created equal
you and i
me and you
my god
nazis march up and down streets
carrying guns
assault rifles
calling out
these streets our streets
How ridiculous.
They look so ridiculous
their panties must be in such a twist,
pulled so tight,
hasn’t anyone ever told them:
wear boxers
don’t they know - ?
they could walk these streets
these very same streets
these american streets
without their guns
without their chants
without their slogans
and emblems and flags
without hate
and for instance, buy an ice cream,
have a seat,
wherever you like,
chill out,
talk with stranger or friend
or just take in the sights
No!
Me guns I must carry!
My right! My right!
Look at me! Look at me!
I am Su-per-i-or-i-tee!
I shoot! I shoot!
I am a big stupid galoot!
… with tiki torch

Maybe … should there have been an offering?
garlands of flowers,
tropical drinks in coconut shells,
poi,
a ukulele band,
Hawaiian shirts,
          hey ! welcome to america, guys!
hula dancers
Would hula dancers have done the trick?
Made them look sideways,
trip,
fall.
So, correct me if I’m wrong:
Nazis walk through America
with assault rifles to rile people up
and they have permission,
they are allowed, and
they are openly, repeatedly,
protected and defended
- complimented? -
by a president
who is there          – for some –
abandoning all others,
the dead, the living,
abandoning this country

amen

Sunday, July 2, 2017

the turtle and the duck and the eternal question

I was driving home from the corner store, about five miles up the road, when I saw a turtle ahead in the middle of my lane. I slowed down and swerved left, just a bit, in order to place the turtle more precisely between the wheels of my car rather than underneath one. It was just a middlin’ size turtle heading east, going from one large chunk of woods and farmland, creeks and rivers, to another. His head was out, his neck stretched its full length. I passed over him. When I looked in the rearview mirror I could see his head was retracted and the truck behind me was slowing down, swerving slightly to the left. The truck behind that? I could not tell. I can only hope that the turtle survived, got where it wanted to go.

I have been known to stop for turtles to help them cross the road, but last night with two trucks behind me and an ice cream cone in my right hand that turtle was on its own. The only reason I had gone to the corner store was for the ice cream. They started serving cones this spring. The first time I saw the sign—Now serving Jilbert’s hand-dipped … —I came near to braking, swerving into the store’s gravel parking lot right then and there. I should have a bumper sticker: I stop for turtles and ice cream. But I don’t.

Yesterday had been a good day. On the way home from the market, as I was passing the turn for The Drive-In, I thought about turning and stopping at The Drive-In for a fish sandwich, French fries and root beer float, but I had it in my head that I had to get home and now I don’t remember why. I couldn’t remember why yesterday, either, once home, and the thought of the taste and smell and grease of those French fries lingered, eventually morphing into the reality of a Mackinac Island Fudge waffle cone at the corner store that dripped a bit as a turtle crossed the road directly in front of me halfway between here and there. It made me think of the ducks.

That morning, on the way to the market, on US41/M28 alongside Teal Lake, a mother duck waddled across the road followed by her ducklings. There were six or seven of them. I caught them out of the corner of my eye. The road is undergoing construction, the two Marquette-bound lanes reduced to one, the speed limit reduced, I was listening to Hamilton, Act I, and the ducks were nearing the lane I was in but not quite there yet, they were heading for the lake, single file, one right behind the other, waddling along, cute as could be, I was leading a pack of cars, I saw the ducks, I slowed down, I could not stop. I watched in the rearview mirror as the car behind me slowed, did not stop. I kept looking, could no longer see the ducks, but I did see that the truck that was behind the car slowed down, stopped.

Up ahead was a stoplight. It was red. I crept toward it while continuing to look in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t see but felt sure the ducks were crossing safely in front of the truck that had stopped, were waddling by single file, still cute as could be, looking as if they owned the joint. But there were more lanes to cross, oncoming traffic—one lane? two? with construction, I don’t remember—but the light was red. All oncoming traffic was back there, on the other side of the red light, waiting. Could it be? Could it really be that life was this orderly? This kind? This aware? So thoughtful? People waiting at red lights? People in trucks waiting for ducks? Could there truly be on one early morning enough time and good happenstance for a mother duck and her string of ducklings to cross what is normally a four-lane highway with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour without losing a step, a web, a feather, a bill? As I had passed that mother duck she had not paused and pulled her head in like a turtle, no, as far as I could see she had continued heading straight to the lake, no stopping, no turning back, no matter what, waddling on. Did that really happen? Did she have time to get across? Did her ducklings have time? And why do ducks and other animals do this crazy stuff? Why do they cross the road?

Somehow, I think it’s on Facebook somewhere. There’s a picture of a mother duck (I’m guessing a mallard) leading her ducklings across US41/M28 at Teal Lake. Traffic is stopped. Someone takes a picture. Someone tells the story. Someone tells a joke about ducks crossing the road to get to the other side, and there’s a happy ending. And if there’s not a happy ending, I’d rather not know.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

every button tells a story don’t it

here is my maternal grandmother, her mother, her brother
they crossed an ocean
came to america
went to work
went to school
worked hard
raised families
on & on


here is my father
saw the great depression
served in WWII
raised a family
worked hard
had fun
he was a journalist
he was an editor
a love for words
respect for words
on & on


here is my mother
you bet she persisted
thank god
women do


and here is my home
the ground i walk on
the air i breathe
the water i drink
more than a home
my world


& here is my humor
sorely tested, overworked, given so much fodder, too much fodder.
but the others.
he has demeaned, insulted, endangered them all
now, then
will do so again
on & on
yes
life goes on

i am a person
an american citizen
looking for
fellow citizens

for kindred spirits
for kindred souls
for kinder hearts

for intellect
unbound

& the world i find
is full

Many thanks for an Etsy shop called Buttons for the People, where all these buttons I bought came from.


By the way, when’s the last time you heard someone complain: Boy, this net neutrality jazz really sucks! Anyone? Well, the head of the FCC, duly appointed by our president, Donald Trump, who dubs the free press an enemy, who demands loyalty or else: YOU’RE FIRED!, thinks net neutrality sucks. So he’s going to fix it. He is going to get rid of it. Perhaps you’ve heard it called a “regulation” so Hoo boy! That’s gotta go! Wrong. Net neutrality is what you enjoy every time you go online—it’s the freedom to mosey around unrestricted by your internet service provider. A lot of people and businesses like net neutrality, including Etsy, where I have a shop. Etsy has been encouraging me to write to the FCC chairman asking him not to repeal Title II of the Communications Act, in essence to plead for my continued ability to compete on the Internet, and it reminds me of how I have always been amazed that anyone ever found my small candle shop—let alone this unbeholden blog—in the first place. But, don’t worry, Trump will fix that. And this is totally unrelated, I’m sure, but did you know that 86% of Etsy shop owners are women?


So thanks again, Buttons for the People! Glad I found you. It was fun.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

words matter: as inspired by the news

the Word of the Week is, of course, “covfefe,”
uttered first through the dry failing fingers of
an old man as he lay struggling against
sleep
typing
incoherent thoughts,
thoughts – and we use the word loosely,
unwisely,
for it has not been determined
that this old man thinks, the jury is out,
the doctors are studying,
the people are scratching their heads,
the fools are applauding his new regal robes – but, anyway –
incoherent thoughts,
thoughts usually doused
with vehement spit but now,
with “covfefe,”
a “thought” – aha! –
a so-called thought! –
dribbled through
weak sagging lips
dragged down
by too many frowns
(too little sleep)
just a spool of white spittle
slithering along
a thought, by god!
sent out into the world.
… covfefe ...
Our Presidential Word of the Week.

The Hero* of the Week is a Poet.
     *and no, he does not want to be thought of as a hero –
         his reasoning thoughtful
He stood on a train in Portland.
He stood on the front lines in Portland.
He transformed words – his words(could I do the same?)
into action, and he survived.
         Others did not.
No, others did not.

It all happens so fast,
it happens so fast.
A word.
The blade of a knife.
The instant of sleep.

Mercy.
In a cruel world – just a word.
In a cruel world – just a thought.
But by god, just think.
Monuments to slavery tumbling down.

Men standing up against mad men.
And all the while a president sleeps …
or is that – tweets?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

morning

Laced with skunk miasma: it was that kind of morning. On the porch, late spring, that long, slow promise of dawn. That vague, uncertain light. The sky an array of greys like suede brushed this way, that way, melting orange sherbet, pastel pink. I inhaled. Somewhere out there on the road nearby a dead skunk. Or somewhere out there in the woods nearby an animal caught in a net of cologne, shot out of fear, clinging like a halo of black flies.

A few hundred yards out the driveway, down the road, near the farm a half-mile south, a brown figure swiftly moves across the road, disappears, a field of fog. A dog, a coyote, a wolf, an other, an unknown, but, slowing down, I see deer. To the right, one deer in a swirl of ground fog looking toward the road. To the left, two deer in a swirl of ground fog looking toward the road.

Another half-mile, now through “town,” now south of “town.” Approaching a crossroads, a deer flashes across my headlights. I proceed slowly. To the right, standing in the middle of the crossroad, a deer, facing east. To the left, standing in the middle of the crossroad, two deer, facing west.

Over the river, past the churches, past the graveyard, onto the highway, moving eastward toward another town, a real town. We crest a low rolling hill and a deer leaps across the road, into the woods, away. Slowing down, watching it disappear, looking left to see if there are more to come. Standing on the edge of the highway two deer. I travel on. A car passes moving in the opposite direction and I watch in the rearview mirror to see … brake lights come on. Another car passes heading in that direction but I lose sight, round a slight bend.

In town the highway ends at US 41. I turn left, heading to the cheap gas station a mile north. I think briefly if I floored it, headed straight, maybe I would end up in the bay, but there are ditches and brush and perhaps too much land—I would not make it so far. Gas is $2.24 a gallon and when I turn around, pass by the gas stations in town, I see prices there are $2.38.

Add nine-tenths of a cent to each gallon.

Rounding the head of the bay, sun rising, a hot orange ball blazing through stillness, still grey, I head east, the sun is north, to my left, across the bay, the bay like glass, a mirror of sky scratched with two dark lines, parallel, cut by geese.

Winding up and away from the bay, between the ceiling tile plant and its mounds of sawdust and the dirt road that leads to the four-thousand-pound copper statue of a Jesuit priest and his snowshoes, a deer lies dead in the middle of the road. We slow down, we move on, we travel an hour or more, see no deer, no other cars, just alongside the road white flowers, trillium, perhaps, blooming in jaunty waves. I wonder if before being slaughtered by a car a skunk sprays its scent.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

off we go

The deer are here!
A whole herd I see,
browsing through grass.
Wait—I’ve nattered on before
                                          about that.

The river’s risen!
All melting snow, not too much rain.
We watch it flow.
But that you know.

Birds flit and fly,
crows raise a ruckus.
The air feels alive,
same old jive.

Spring in its glory,
mud, bud and dead grass.
Nothing too gory.
But you know the story.

Life springs from death,
on and on it goes.
When we’ll be back,
nobody knows.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

there’s no need for a big production

So one evening Josie, Elliott, and I are sitting around musing, commenting, looking back on the day, looking ahead, you know how it is, a day wanes, it feels nice to pause, reflect, unwind, share thoughts, and all of a sudden, out of the blue, Josie says:

What do you call it when a misanthrope anthropomorphizes?

Later, we sang and danced to “Suppertime.”


Sunday, March 19, 2017

lettin’ turkeys dance

Sittin’ on the broad front porch,
hell fire danglin’ from hand,
I know the beauty of life at last,
of life at last unmanned.

I’d done my time a’grapplin’ with a gun,
shootin’ goop in thin straight lines,
bullets goin’ astray of course but
I took it as no sign.

The foam a different matter, squirtin’
– some might say released –
then growin’ twice its size in hollers
and before my eyes – increased.

I had tackled a job now five years old
– now cold long enough –
self-punishment? I do not know,
I just hate all this caulkin’ stuff.

But it’s part of the grander project, you see,
on which I prefer to muse,
while sittin’ on the broad front porch
and guess what? There is no other news.

No wait! There goes Josie –
chasin’ a trail of wild turkey.
A flock passed through a day ago,
gave a show slightly quirky.

First two then three then five then nine
atop the frozen marsh gathered.
They circled and scurried and gobbled and cooed,
one puffed his feathers in a lather.

Then of a sudden they trotted away,
left me wonderin’: Did they get it worked out?
For they had pow-wowed and parleyed, discussed and talked.
Hey, what are these turkeys about?

Just leavin’ behind a trail and a tale
for Josie to chase and explore.
And me I watch from the broad front porch
not a’wantin’ too much more.

Sittin’ on the broad front porch
a hell-fire a’danglin’ from hand,
lettin’ music and sunshine and turkeys dance
across this crazy free land.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

diary picklin’: turkeys, a gale of wind, star wars, a dash of weird al, and ¡viva italia! it’s the world baseball classic

We discussed everything we knew, during the first fifteen or twenty minutes, that morning, and then branched out into the glad, free, boundless realm of the things we were not certain about.
Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad

Monday.
So many turkey tracks around the cabin, down by the river, I wonder if I am living at the White House or on the grounds of Mar-a-Lago.

Plates of ice edge the river, edges lacy thin, snowflake patterns, and where the river rounds a bend one thick, opaque plate juts out over the water, the river flowing below and occasionally up against the underside of the ice. The color of the ice changes. Images rise and fall. Flowing patterns, varying shapes, fluid images, the river rises up, touches the ice, makes it dark, brown, grey then falls back making it light, white, grey, unpredictable, shapes passing by, random, but I wonder. Is there predictability? A scientific formula that if applied … I watch as dark amoeba spidery shapes form, flatten, fatten, recede, reduce to skeletons, disappear, reappear, flow, again, anew, and I appreciate the fluidity of pattern on that which is immobile but fragile, liable to break, cast off, drift away, any time, soon, random shapes, outside pattern—

The hillocks wear caps of snow two to three feet thick. Like top hats, bowlers, or something I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie but again—

Tuesday.
A grey morning with shirring clouds, a battering wind, spits of rain, delicious and mild. Elliott, unaware of the virulent forecast, spent the night out. I woke to the thrumming noise of wind against metal punctuated by an occasional riff of rain against glass. I pushed Josie away from the curl of my belly to stumble through the dark to the door, opened the door to a gust of wind and rain, called for Elliott. Once. Twice. Turned on the outside light, waited, went back to bed, curling around Josie. Meow. Meow meow. I got up, stumbled through the dark, opened the door to a gust of wind and rain and a jumpy, soggy Elliott. Wrapped him in a towel. Dried him off. Went back to bed curling around Josie.

I am curious about this World Baseball Classic.

Wednesday.
Windbound—wind remains so strong with gusts so powerful we stay in lest we blow around and away like kites. Yesterday a full bucket of beeswax water flew 500 yards across the yard, down the drive. Now even heavy things are battened down, and this morning the wind whips around with highlights—teeny tiny spikes of snow. We crank up the fire, shut it down, a beautiful glow.

I watch the World Baseball Classic.

I make plans for a Cubs game. I learn it is Star Wars Day. One thing leads to another.


Thursday.
icy windswept snow
wandering fields


light on past through present changes
present light by history changed

Friday.
Sub-zero wind chill watching Mexico v. Italy in the WBC. First game for both. I had already planned to root for Mexico, overall, just because, but now I wonder if I should have picked Italy, in honor of my Italy-loving sister, but, too late. Israel is my second favorite—they’ve got the mensch on a bench. (Mexico leads off with a home run.) And I like the Netherlands. “The Netherlands” has always confused me. Netherlands, Holland, the Dutch—all one and the same? I see no connection in the words. Shouldn’t people from Holland be “Hollanders”? And if they live in the Netherlands, why not “Netherlanders”? What does “Dutch” derive from? I should look this up. (Italy’s second batter hits a home run.) Differences between this game being played in Jalisco, Mexico and the ones I watched played in Seoul and Tokyo are 1) there is a crowd, and 2) they are outdoors, no dome. There are some odd rules for these games, including the Early Termination Rule, which I like because it sounds slightly sinister, exciting: Who will be terminated early? Mercy. Also, Italy is just Italy. Cuba just Cuba. No Cubs, Giants, Indians, Spaghetti Kings.

And just as I am befuddled by the Dutch being from Holland and, or maybe or, The Netherlands, what is the relationship between WikiLeaks and Wikipedia? None.

While on Wikipedia I might as well delve into this Holland thing. Aha! It begins to clear. Then they introduce Belgium, Flemish, the pot muddies. Perhaps it is complicated because it is complicated. But, the Dutch Caribbean (Caribbean Netherlands, BES islands, Isles of Holland, etc.) explains a lot when you look at the Netherlands roster.

¡Oye oye! ¡Otra vez carrera! ¡Viva MĂ©xico!

Italy answers: Fuori campo! Fuori campo!

El juego está knotted quatro a quattro in il quarto.

The top of the fifth and I’m making breakfast so it takes a while to realize Italy has brought in a two-handed pitcher. I mean, the guy throws right-handed and the guy throws left-handed and he’s got a special two-thumbed glove he can wear on whichever hand is not pitching. He switches which side he pitches from according to the batter’s handedness. Just like a switch-hitter. But I’ve never heard of a switch-pitcher. So what happens when a switch-hitter faces a switch-pitcher? Is that the definition of infinity? Perpetuity? Are there rules for this thing? (Of course, this is not new news.) Pitching left-handed, this guy strikes out Adrian González. But, overall, he gives up three runs, which is unfortunate, because by this time I’m rooting for Italy.

Later
In the bottom on the ninth, down 9-5, Italy leads off with three quick doubles. Score, 9-7. Then: A bobbled grounder at short, man on first and third. Maggi at bat. Palla foul, palla foul, full count, palla foul, palla foul, (potential perpetuity?), palla foul … Camminare! Bases loaded! Nobody out … pitching change. -respiro profondo- Then: Line drive to right-center—caught?—no! 9-8! Then: A sharp grounder … it shoots off the second baseman’s glove … one run scores … another … Maggi slides across home plate body surfing over chalk-lined dirt … run scores! … Italia vincere!

¿Or should I say Vincere Italia!?

Oh Day What a.

Saturday.
The world she will blow
or so I’ve been told
but please wait a minute
I’ve a ballgame to finish.

Sunday.
Moonlight on frosted trees.
Morning so cold
there is no temperature.

Yesterday a six-hour, ten-inning marathon that started in the afternoon, stretched on into the evening, Josie took a break to bark, and bark and bark, and bark and bark and bark at full moon rising; in the end, Italy lost to Venezuela 11-10. Italy plays again today against Puerto Rico, a must-win to advance to the next round, continue this madness, and now I must catch up on last night’s other games—Puerto Rico v. Mexico, Cuba v. Israel—and this morning it’s Japan v. Netherlands.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

spring does not arrive in february

At fifty-five degrees old snow shrivels like old soap in the sun we leave the door open going and coming, coming and going as we please sitting in the sun replenishing Vitamin D the sky, blue again, seems immense its lid off and drips large and small from the roofs of snow entertain, mesmerize, refract the light, plop plop plop and plink-a-plink inside Josie gets a bath, winter fur curling, waving, smelling sweet – does he feel new? washed clean? – locks released glowing in the sun blowing in the breeze and that night Elliott sneaks a dead mouse into the kitchen and I listen to the crunch crunch crunch and a slow motion fly
circles
         the
light.

Lunchtime and an ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE shows up in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
“OMG”

“Awesome!!!


I see I’ve been indoctrinated since I was a youth.

A New York Times obituary tells me of a dancer who plopped down for life in the Mojave creating a theater and something you can’t quite name and in an interview somewhere this dancer who lived in this desert town population two, maybe three, was asked, well, don’t you ever get lonely? and she says something like no, I have my imagination.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE
Extended family informs new music as always now listening to those old familiar tunes and melodies and words familiar and in them sometimes hearing something new / I like to believe that / but here now true new
and perhaps you see: good drivin’ tune.

now
seems to me

When a member of That Group There shoots ’em up, bombs ’em down, claims the same: We must delete All of Them All of Them quit being bleedingheart goody2shoos open your eyes
get them outta here!

But when a member of This Group Here shoots ’em up, bombs ’em down, claims the same: Well, you know, He was just an Extremist, He was just a Nut.
Duh.

I am glad my heart is full of blood and yes bleeds sometimes because hearts are blood not stone not turnips and for sufferin’ shufflin’ feet two good shoes are a must
⟳⟲
Nice to see grass again, the green and the mud and the slime and the mold that heralds spring, tracks of turkey and rabbit and weasel across the thin old snow, Josie studies each track with staccato snorts but it is false fake spring, we learn to discern, wind resumes bitter North howling spewing ice chips, pillow down. Spring does not arrive in February. Not yet, anyway.
Give it time.

And as my ancestors head west in a covered wagon Spring 1837 Sheldon, Fidelia, and baby boy James relying on horsepower and taverns and whiteness to get to their future, a bob-bob-bobbin’ along free and unfettered paving the way over those in chains and those who lay bleeding and mostly those who are just plain gone and praise the lord for small favors: food for the belly, water for the thirst, the beast for the burden, safe travel and a clean board for a travellers’s rest, pleasant visages all around, rivers and lakes and prairies dehabited, occasional congregations
for prayer.

But what if – those who had settled before in these roads and along these roads and despite these roads had not been savaged, dismissed, gathered up, labelled up, tied up, lied to, cheated, deleted, removed? What if – the people had not been forcibly
violently
removed?

Where would I be?

We keep removing people 
as if we are a plague

                        this child never chained but for those quirky social mores, expectations, of a white 1960s semi-religious intact suburban household where Dick Van Dyke played on the idiot box and never ever really moved by much except
emotion.

Would I be swaying gently covered wagon moving forward pious temperance, prayer, I listen to the plop plop plop plink-a-plink of winter softening just a bit and notice this false fake spring bringing forth clusters of catnip in the garden it invades.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

flurry of flowers & the potato has eyes

Flurry of Flowers
The other morning
I was reading
the weather forecast
to Josie and Elliott
because this is how
we get on with our day
that begins with a flurry
of fun
as they eat, they poop,
they jostle for position
in front of the fire –
cats and dogs being this way –
and me, I just drink tea
and the sun rises
I read the forecast aloud.
blah blah blah snow flowers.
– pause –
I mean, snow flurries.



For those yet befuddled by Donald Trump’s presidency, I suggest reading the first few chapters, more if you like, of A People’s History of the United States 1492 – Present, by Howard Zinn.




Potato Poetry
with gratitude for a press conference
that explained everything
He said:
The news
is fake
because
so much of
the news
is fake.

I thought:
The sky
is blue
because
so much of
the sky
is blue.

The grass
is green
because
so much of
the grass
is green.

The world
is round
because
so much of
the world
is round.

The truth
is hard
because
so much of
the truth
is hard.

The world
is flat
because
so much of
the world
is flat.

And I thought:
Winter
is cold
because
so much of
winter
is cold.

The lie
is easy
because
so much of
the lie
is easy.

Life
is intolerable
because
so much of
life
is intolerable.

Life
is a gas
because
so much of
life
is a gas.

Reality
is false
because
so much of
reality
is false.

Later I thought:
The light
is bright
because
so much of
the light
is bright.

The way
is long
because
so much of
the way
is long.

The poetry
is madness
because
so much of
the madness
is poetry.

The day
is glorious
because
so much of
the day
is glorious.

I had an idea:
The idea
is great
because
so much of
the idea
is great.

The news
is real
because
so much of
the news
is real.

The man
is crazy
because
so much of
the man
is crazy.

The woman
is beautiful
because
so much of
the beautiful
is woman.

Killing
is wrong
because
so much of
killing
is wrong.

War
is deadly
because
so much of
war
is deadly.

I could not stop:
The speech
is hilarious
because
so much of
the speech
is hilarious.

The person
is alien
because
so much of
the person
is alien.

The sorrow
is sad
because
so much of
the sad
is sorrow.

Shouldn’t it stop?
The hair
is fake
because
so much of
the hair
is fake.

The gun
is blameless
because
so much of
the gun
is blameless.

The woman
is man
because
so much of
the woman
is man.

The man
is woman
because
so much of
the man
is woman.

The man
is woman
because
so much of
the woman
is man.

The heart
is heartless
because
so much of
the heart
is heartless.

The bald guy
is bald
because
the bald guy
has no hair.

The baby
is fat
because
so much of
the baby
is fat.

The truth
is the truth
because
so much of
the truth
is the truth.

The poem
is rhymeless
because
so much of
the rhymeless
is poem.

And the orange
is orange
because
so much of
the orange
is orange.

The potato,
however,
has eyes.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

eave of construction

was it picasso who rang?
sat on the roof
made me a woman


was it walt
who fell from the sky?
quick! duck!


was it zero?
fiddling around
switching up letters


or aazhawigiizhigokwe
drawing on
power of snake


ah ginger,
i recognize you:
wild rhythm / woman / within 


you move through
this impoverished land