Saturday, July 24, 2010


Joyce has always been the most remarkable woman. I met her when Krissy was six or seven, when her children were enough older so that Orson could take her after school and Roma would be around, too. (That's over thirty-five years ago.) When I picked Krissy up, Joyce would tell me stories as we sat in the narrow living room. She was working as a teacher's aid, often catering for events at the church and taking care of a few kids after school. And she had a clear inclination to help anyone, especially immigrant friends from Guyana and the other islands. 

She always had a suggestion of some way of solving a problem. And a story about who she'd just met, what so-and-so said, what some child had needed that day and the way she'd attended to that need, how much this cost or that cost, meaning the incredible bargain she found. She had stark white hair, pulled up in a bun and the most incredible face, intimidating and beautiful. I was always slightly afraid of her since she was so much more sure of herself. I didn't know that she was almost twenty years older, but even if I'd been closer to her age, I have never had enough temperament to  match the boldness of Joycie. 

Now she's almost ninety, still living in her tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, helped by some very good folks that Orson has arranged to come in for her care. Both Roma and Orson have done a remarkable job of providing support to their determined mother, someone who always supported everyone else and didn't need any help, thank you very much. And people still stop by to see her, to tell her what's been happening in their lives, to get advice. When I first met her, the apartment door was always open. It still is. 

I hadn't known that she was in the hospital recently, since I'm not good at following the facebook feeds! So here I was complaining about how long it's taken me to get back to some sense of myself, not knowing anything about the problems Joyce had just had. But, even though she's not been out of the hospital that long, she was very much her self -- giving me advice about something or other, laughing at a wonderful, harrowing, exhausting, hair-raising story that Jim's dinner guest told, enjoying the dinner that Orson, one of the best cooks in the world, made since her appetite has come back now that she's here, happily reading the New York Post that the guy who lives in the upstairs apartment gave her when he got back from work. (The additional bit of flavor was that Roma was visiting, also. Though she's also beautiful and imposing, she doesn't have that touch of the aboriginal indian in her face that Joyce inherited and is far more mellow than her mother was at the same age.)

Joyce truly is remarkable. 

And so was the branch of leaves that I found on the ground when Krissy and I were walking the dogs near Starbucks.

And so is JoJo (it could be JoeJoe, that seems a little more fitting), this Palimino that I spotted on the walking machine
last summer and fell in love with. He's the only horse I've ever taken a fancy to, for sheer beauty. During this meet, Monica has her horse in stalls near JoeJoe's owners so I've gotten to look at  him up close and ask questions. 

You can't tell from the photograph that he's the color of butterscotch when he's not wet, with an elegant pale mane and tail. And that he works as a pony, so it's possible to see him leading a Thoroughbred out onto the track before a race.

So.... I learned that he's ten, that his owner got him after her other pony, who she'd had for sixteen years, had to be put down.  JoeJoe was bought at auction because, she thinks,  he must have worked out poorly (to high spirited, perhaps dumping someone off) as a dressage horse (I don't remember the exact name of the type of work he did before, but it involved carting folks around on top of him and performing in some way that she thought he didn't like), but he's excellent as long he's working. If he doesn't go out, pony some horses for training in the morning and on the four afternoons that the Thoroughbreds race, he gets a bit antsy. (I thought she meant annoyed and cranky...)  As long as he's working, his energy is getting burned up and he has a decent disposition. 

Anyway, how could I be so lucky as to get close to JoeJoe? My heart throb.
Whatever he's like, he's gorgeous.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Men," by Bert Stern


Kenny's bad boy's across the street,
washing his car, a black Camarro
with V8 engine, white letter
tires, and Holly carbs,
just like his dad's.
Sundays, they both drive out
to car shows, but my show's
just out the window, where the cars
lie dreaming like black cats.

Around here, people are
their cars, even the heap
another father and son lie under
in their driveway chop shop
next door to Kenny's.

As for Angie, the kid
washing his Camarro, I know
his dirty little secrets. I saw him
on the avenue yesterday, outside
his car, laid back against the burnished
hood, telling a brown-skinned girl
to get in. Instead, she tossed
her black hair and walked away,
he still yelling as she moved
fast down the street, already
half a block away. For a moment
he froze in wrathful astonishment,
then, like a flash, his u-turn
trails stink of burnt rubber.
I saw him catch her, drag her in
almost before she could scream,
and they're off to where I don't
want to think about.

I know there's karma somewhere,
but across the street, as Angie wipes
a chamois over the car's flanks, his face
is open and innocent as a child's.
Watching him, I shake my head.
Maybe he'll get better as years
press down on him. Or maybe,
just now, he's touched as I am
by the clear sky of Mary's blue
hanging over us, as if to soothe
our frayed angers and heal
the bruised heart of the girl,
naked, defenseless against us.

by Bert Stern
from his book, Steerage
published by Ibbetson Street Press

Bert is Milligan Professor Emeritus at Wabash College and chief editor, retired, at Hilton Publishing. He and his wife, Tam Lin Neville, co-edit a small press that publishes books by poets over sixty. He also teaches at a program in Boston for people on probation.

He has a long list of credits, reviews and poems which have been published. His critical study, Wallace Stevens: Art of Uncertainty, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 1965.

Steerage, his first book of poems, may be purchased from Ibbetson Press.

In my most vague and peculiar way, I've been trying, without doing much of anything, to get in contact with Bert Stern. Of course, a friend had left his e-mail in my e-mail box a month ago, but I didn't notice. Finally, I did it and he's given me permission to use his work which I will do for the next few weeks on Tuesday Poem.

Bert is a most charming and gregarious man, often to be found at the Bagel Bard's meeting place at Au Bon Pain in Somerville on Saturday mornings. I hope to see him there this week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I was Queen of the Maypole

A hundred years ago, I used to watch the Sid Caesar Show with my father. Once Imogen Coca (is that the correct spelling?) had a skit in which she was Queen of the Maypole, but the Maypole walked away from her. It was wonderfully funny in the way that she could be, wandering off by herself, looking around in surprise that no one had followed her, mugging slightly in bewilderment.

A week and I half ago, I went to the first Thursday night drumming session. There's the rock on which two men sat, drumming. Three of us sat on chairs, drumming. I had borrowed Don's drum since it was actually my first time -- if  you don't count the ten minutes that I tried and got enthusiastic about a new adventure during the Chelsea Art Walk. 

And it was quite wonderful. Don keeps time in a very clear way, quite easy to follow if you don't start thinking of anything else. It is definitely a test of staying in the moment. Hit the center with your palm, the sides with your fingers. The two hours went quickly as the water turned to silver, the sky grew dark. There were no mosquitoes. 

I went back this week, somewhat reluctantly because it's been enervatingly hot. But no one was there. Maybe next week.

For the past two nights I've gone for a walk with Chris and the dogs, the first time in four months that I've gone back to that nice area near Starbucks. Tulip (who should be called Turnip) chases the subway as it races along the track behind a fence. As soon as she sees it, she takes off.

Bogie likes to swim as an excuse for drinking water, paddling around a bit with his mouth open, swallowing. 

Happy, whose portrait is not here, chases squirrels, staring up into the tree in wonderment that it yet again got away from her.

I'm exhausted after the walks, take aspirin and wonder why my body hurts so much. But it's either noodling around in the water (too hard to park near Revere on weekends) or the new adventure of going back to old walks. Onward....

looking for the Maypole.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tongue Tied

I've been tongue tied recently, and have hardly remembered this blog that I loved writing on. I don't use that word love casually because it was such a pleasure to have no sense of pressure, little self-censorship, while writing it. I was just happy with story-telling.

I'm now like a bug on her back, unable to turn herself over. Maybe I'm just back to my normal self after having been so sick and just glad to be alive. (But my normal self 'loved' writing on the blog.) Maybe it's a dip of depression after getting off Prednisone. And definitely the mood is increased because it's been so dreadfully hot, day-after-day, with 90 degrees and high humidity. Yesterday was the one day when it's been below 80, but another heat wave is expected for the next four days. 

When Krissy was little, she spent the summers with her grandparents, Bob and Mari, in Nova Scotia. The hottest day might have been seventy, much cooler in the shade. My father considered it a perfect place to live except for June when the black flies struck. A man hardly given to complain about anything, he hated those black flies whose bites gave him large, painful welts, and grumbled his way to the car, well covered by clothing, or stayed inside until the infestation subsided. 

Their house overlooked St. Margaret's Bay and the beach was just a short walk away. When Krissy played at the edge of the water, she quickly turned blue. My father never minded the cold, since his goal was to swim slowly, placidly, assumedly happily, a long time along the shore. That was his favored form of exercise, though he often took walks. I never saw Mari swim in that cold water which took me at least half an hour to creep into, slowly accustoming myself.

One year Krissy found a dilapidated dolly on the beach that she took back to the house and fussed with, bandaging it, putting it to bed under blankets. I got yet another notion for a project -- photographing the recreation of this event to make a childrens' book (I honestly don't know whether there's an apostrophe there. Am I imagining many children possessing it?) And they dutifully enacted the story while I hopped around, taking pictures. As was/is my usual way I forgot about having made this grand plan (that I had no idea how to carry out) and did nothing with the photographs until a few years ago when I scanned them and put them into a short video with an overlapping, differing voice-over of Krissy and I talking about her grandparents. (That's sort of interesting and is on my website. I actually like it, though I haven't lifted my fingers to get it shown anywhere.)

I used to swim a mile and a half a week at the YMCA in Melrose until I sprained my ankle after the freak April 1st snowstorm. Since then I've thought about joining the Y again and swimming in  the summer, something I've never managed to do.

But this year I went paddling in the small outdoor pool in a friend's apartment complex. And it was so wonderful to be in there, my body felt so pleasant to be in, that it gave me the energy to take myself to Revere Beach which is hardly any drive at all. I even bought a blue noodle, 99 cents, Christmas Tree Shop, and beach chairs. I just paddling around in there, floating and watching families play with their children near me, not yet really swimming, but perfectly cheerful with a great sense of freedom. 

Yesterday I heard a PBS program, scientists talking, suggesting that it's possible that the extended heat wave on the east coast will become normal weather in the future. I happen to think that the theory of global warming is correct, though I'm uncertain whether this is a symptom of it. Our carelessness with natural resources on this planet seem unimaginable and some consequence seems predictable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tuesday Poem, LITTLE MIRACLE IN LAKELAND, Melissa Green


Clouds and mist enshroud Lake Morton,
shawling cypresses knee-deep in shallows,
leaving a silver beaded net in the palm trees' hair.
We sit on a dewy bench, my sister and I,
immobilized by five excitable ibis
wading near us. A Little Blue Heron
hunches and shakes itself.
A lone pelican stares and looks away.
Black and white Muscovy ducks are laughing,
wattle-red wens mottling their faces.
A homely wood stork with its punk cut
can't look at us at all. A Great White Heron
tweezes a spiny fish, holds it, snaps
its pincer beak, holds it, snaps it
to a final soft swallow. Cruciform,
an anhinga stands on a rock to dry its wings.
Out on the water, two white swans gossip
and a black swan hurries its cygnets to school.
We barely breathe. After twenty-five years,
we sit calmly, without guilt or envy or injury.

Suddenly from the First United Methodist Church
behind us, a joyous carillon begins. The larger birds
hunker awkwardly and fly out of the left-hand frame.
The surface of the lake is all commotion and bright wings:
the smaller startled birds are paddling into a flotilla
led by the swans, and even the water is coming in
in rhyming pinions. The ducks are bobbing their rumps
in time to the bells, and ruffling wings keep landing,
swimming into place, filling the water in a vee formation,
and migrating birds keep swimming for the other shore
as though they'd been called.
                                  I wondered then which
was  more astonishing -- the way the clouds rolled up
the scrim of mist from the proscenium and the birds
pulled down the sun, uncurling to the rhythm of the bells
its brightening watered silk behind them -- or my sister and I,
our holding hands, as though we'd always done it.

by Melissa Green

I'm sorry that I was so slow in responding to Mary McCallum's wonderful request for a poem from Melissa Green. Our time differences were about half an hour off....but here, at least, is the poem.........from her book, Daphne in Mourning, soon to be published by the Pen & Anvil Press. 

Her first book of poems, The Squanicook Eclogues, won the Norma Farber Award from the Poetry Society of America 1989 and the Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Recently it was reissued by the Pen & Anvil Press. A second book of poems, Fifty-Two, was published by Arrowsmith Press in 2007. Color is the Suffering of Light: A Memoir was published by W.W. Norton & Co, 1995.

(I'm glad to have had a chance to present this particular poem about reconciliation (and perhaps forgiveness.) For me, typing it was a way of moving more deeply into the images, a privilege for me that unfortunately offers the chance that I haven't caught all my inevitable mistakes. They are mine, not Melissa Green's.)

Friday, July 2, 2010


Mim understood perfectly, perhaps instinctively, that I was bewildered by all the possibilities of sandwiches that we might order in the little take-out shop that she likes so much. I almost ordered what she had, but she was intent on making at least a few of the chalk-board choices clear to me, reading the ingredients in the turkey sandwich, mentioning the chicken, tomato, lettuce, mozzarella and spicy mayonnaise that was listed near the top on the right side, too difficult to read myself. I had fastened my hope on a vegetable something that was printed in larger letters, closer to the bottom, easier to read.

But the chicken sandwich she described sounded good. And it was. And so was talking with her.

It hadn't dawned on me that since I'm capable of driving to Davis Square in Somerville, a very big step in this wretched process called convalescence, that I'd be a bit vague about other demands of going out to lunch with a friend. But I didn't have to cover that up or be embarrassed about how long it's taking to be returned to something like the self I was four months ago. 

What maxims, those wretched sets of words that come unwanted into your mind at odd moments, had she learned as a child, I wondered. Was her mind cluttered with - a stitch in time saves nine; you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear; if it was a snake, it would have bit you; if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride; it's a long row to hoe? My list is mid-western, most of them born of farm work. There are others -- keep your chin up along with that inevitable stiff upper lip and carrying the world on your shoulders. I even concocted some Biblical notion of hiding one's light under a barrel from something I must have overheard. 


In the last couple of days, Bogie and I went out to Revere Beach for a rice pudding, the only item I find edible on the menu at Santorini's where Krissy, Chris and I had gone for dinner the night before.

That wouldn't have been my choice of restaurants, though I'd been there with  my friend, Joe, the last meal we had together. He particularly liked it because the owners once rented small apartments to folks come from the track and he'd lived in everyone of them, enjoying the breeze from the beach. He'd wanted to take me there so that I could tell his son that he wanted his ashes scattered across from the restaurant since it meant so much to him, a task that I was never able to accomplish since it would have been intrusive in the sad circumstances after his death last fall.

So, I knew that there wasn't really any food that I like on their very complicated menu -- fried this, fried that. But Krissy and Chris had eaten calimari (sp?) there when a friend visited from L.A. and so it seemed like a good idea -- hot night, beach across the street. 

I couldn't figure out what to order, so I depended on advice from the counter lady who swore that the hot turkey with green peppers and onions was to die for. She didn't exactly say 'to die for,' but that's what it tasted like before it had the decency to take itself off into the garbage and I ate a little of Krissy's rice pudding, which convinced me that there was something edible on the menu.

When I first joined the Community Garden in Chelsea, I wasn't well enough to do any of the work, so Krissy took over, planted everything from seed. After two or three weeks, I realized that we could get a second plot that I had enough energy to fuss with. It happens to be booby trapped with an insistent weed that sprouts from the tiniest bit of root left in the soil when you try to dig it out. It wraps itself around them, clinging onto the tomato plants and the zucchini that I planted from seeds that Parker sent. 

Krissy is totally possessive about the garden she started and resists my suggestions. Even if I bring out the fact that my beloved grandfather gave me various important gardening hints and that I got my girl scout garden badge (just before my mother died), she wants to learn it all by herself. She's delighted that all the carrot seeds she planted grew, content with a line of green fringe. The concept of 'thinning' them out is not something that she'll consider. 

I think we are both surprised by the green beans on the bush beans (she doesn't like green beans and I don't care for them all that much, but they grow quickly and produce nicely!!!). She's delighted that cilantro from seed actually grew. We don't know when onions and garlic are ready to be picked. The lettuce I chose must have been chickory, terrible. The peas were planted too late, but it's fun to watch them reach for the next level of string.