Saturday, October 30, 2010

Left too Long

Yesterday I looked at my calendar for the first week of November and saw to my dismay that the commentary on Torah I was to give early in the month is THIS COMING Friday, and I had done nothing to prepare for it as yet.
It is a short commentary on the parashah (section of the Torah) Toldat, the portion about Jacob and Esau. That is a really interesting section, complex, especially when one begins to read the commentary of the Rabbis on this passage. What seems a story about a tricky guy, Jacob, expert deceiver, who steals his dim-witted brother's birthright and blessing (two different things--another wrinkle!), turns out to be just the opposite. The physical laborer, "man of the fields," Esau, becomes a regular snake-oil salesman, master of slick speech, a liar and worshipper of idols, while his brother, who "dwells in tents," becomes a learned man, who contends with his brother even in utero to emerge in order to enter the house of prayer and study Torah.
This apparent reversal is what I will focus on in my commentary. The Torah is stylistically so tacit and cryptic, leaving so many things unsaid, that it begs readers to project entire worlds of commentary in the interstices, and so the volume of commentary proliferates.

Something Odd About the Book

I've had strange experiences with the manuscripts I've been working on. First, with the yoga chapbook... I sent it out to some people, only to have them ignore it completely. Since I think it's some of my best work, that puzzled me. For example, I sent it to an Iyengar yoga teacher who is also a writer and English professor. He didn't say a word. Later, someone told me he was very fussy about his writing, but I thought that at least he could have made some comments. It isn't so far beyond the pale that it deserved to be ignored.
Now I have sent out my manuscript, which is hardly as smooth and finished as the chapbook, but nonetheless has promise, in my view at least. And no one I've sent it to except an old college friend from poetry workshop will say a word, not even the people at the online poetry workshop I've joined, to which I just sent the first section (4 poems).
I have a tendency to be paranoid, which is an unfortunate thing for a writer because there is plenty of opportunity sometimes to exercise those irrational feelings. I just have to send it and forget it I guess, and grow a thicker skin.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tinker Day!

I just got an email from my alma mater, Hollins College, that it's Tinker Day! One day a year, just after the first frost, usually late October, the chapel bells ring and announce that there will be no classes that day. Instead, the women at Hollins and their professors and the college's staff make the climb up Tinker mountain. At the top, a feast of fried chicken and Tinker cake await them! Traditionally, people come to breakfast in their p.j.s. What wonderful memories!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Morning Dreams

My cats are still waking me up in the wee hours to feed them, unable to make it the couple more hours until the alarm rings. I spend 5 minutes or so squatting on the dingy carpet, waiting for them to finish eating, and when I go back to bed, cannot, for a long time, get back to sleep. But when I do, I have novelistic, narrative-rich dreams that seem to go on and on, until the cats, impatient for breakfast, swat me in the face at 6:00 or so. Sometimes I drift back off till 6:15, but the flow is broken. I only in patches remember these dreams, which have multiple characters, lurid costumes, blood and gore, and whatever other cheap thrills you can imagine. Perhaps it is because I have not been reading much except student papers and an occasional yoga book and emails, lots of emails, that I am having these dreams? I don't know. But I sort of like them, and they make me feel rested, so that's good.

Another Day, Another Year

Last night a small group of us braved the wilds of the rush hour freeway to go out to dinner in Westminister at a tiny Vietnamese restaurant, truly a mom and pop joint, called Dat Thanh. The place has only about 10 tables, and we occupied three of these with our 6 people. This is the kind of place that serves only the few hard-core traditionally Vietnamese dishes that I often do not eat because I am trying to avoid pork. Despite not being Kosher (I wouldn't be eating out at all if I were), I still try not to eat pork because I feel uncomfortable with it and it isn't healthy anyway. I eat shrimp, though it is just as verboten, but somehow, pork feels more so. It is true that many times, I operate on a "don't ask don't tell" system in Asian restaurants, knowing pork is in the dishes, which I want to eat anyway, but hunks of pork? Never. So this was an unusual exception.
This restaurant specializes in spring rolls. They are not vegetable or tofu spring rolls, but made out of homemade Vietnamese pork sausage and shrimp sausage. I have to say that they were beautiful to behold, gorgeous tight cylinders of burnished gold and tan, greens, mint, crowned with a tuft of green onion, protruding from the taut skin. We ate and ate, wrapping each morsel in generously wide leaves of romaine, layered with dark red Asian basil, more mint, cilantro, and slathered with an amazing special sauce like no other Vietnamese dipping sauce I have ever had.
The young proprietor hovered over us, telling us the story of the food, and of his parents, who could be seen cooking in the tiny kitchen. He said that the family had tried hiring out, but no one they trained could make the food to their specifications, so the family does it all themselves.
When we finished with the rolls, we ordered meat dishes. I got the barbequed chicken and broken rice, dainty pieces of tender, perfectly spiced meat that seemed to be of an entirely different order than any I had ever had before, especially over that amazing rice, which was so soft, pillowy and tender, that one had to taste it to believe. I have had broken rice and bbq chicken before, but until that moment, I don't think I have ever truly tasted them, especially drizzled with a special fish sauce the color of rose wine. And the price? Cheap! Very cheap! Less than $80. for 6 people who ate like longshoremen.
So if you eat meat, and don't mind the ride and the lack of atmosphere, go on over, and tell them I sent you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birthday Present

Today is my actual birthday, and it turns out the ticket won $4.00, not $54. or $304. I read the directions wrong. Boo!
I also heard a good Halloween story at choir practice last night. You have no doubt heard the story about the woman in Costa Mesa who was driving around a mummified body in the car? It turns out that the choir director, Shannon, lives next door to a person who had that individual (the driver, not the mummy) as a neighbor. Actually, the neighbor had taken in a homeless woman who used to be wealthy but was a bit insane and had fallen on hard times. That person was the one who had been driving around with a corpse in her car for 3-6 months. Because she kept all the windows closed, it became mummified, and she covered it up with a coat. The police didn't arrest her because it turned out to be another homeless person had fallen asleep in the car and died, and she was too afraid to tell anyone or dispose of the body. Very sad, but macabre. Suitable for the season.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Every once in a while, I buy a lottery ticket. My dad used to ask me to do it, when he had a feeling it might win, and it most always won something-- a free ticket, three dollars, something small. But today, I was thinking of my parents because I was out in Orange near the bbq place where I got the turkey last Thanksgiving, the one that brought mom temporarily back from starvation. It was delicious, and she ate and ate and ate the smoked bird, the two kinds of stuffing, the cornbread, the gravy, and the pie. When I turned the corner to my street, I stopped at the market and bought a ticket, in honor of them, and what do you know? It won $50.!


Today I had my annual mammogram. I don't mind so much being squeezed like a grapefruit, and after the long long wait in the waiting room, it went very fast. I am good at taking instruction on how to place my body. Yoga has done that for me. And thank goodness, all was well. Tomorrow is my birthday and then the next day I have a bone density test, my first. I don't take in much calcium because I was told and am not sure it was true that people with anxiety have more than the normal levels of calcium already. The doctor says it isn't true, but she also wanted me to take aspirin, and it made my gums bleed so I stopped. Hard to tell. Since I stopped believing doctors and everything they say, life is more complicated.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Theatergoing

Last night, inspired by our foray to Peter Pan, Liz, Richard, and I went to see Bell, Book, and Candle at the Mysterium, affiliated loosely with Cal State Fullerton's theater department. Tickets for their shows are available cheap cheap! on Goldstar, and the theater has moved quite close to home for us, right across the street from Foothill High School, where it shares digs with a church.
Despite a gas leak that gave me, always paranoid, a bit of a start, we settled in to the church/little theater, seated comfortably on pews, and wondering at the circular holders in the book-holders beneath the seats. I guess they're for candles. Synagogues are set up quite differently, of course, so I'm not sure.
I know and love the film with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart, so I was looking forward to this show. It didn't disappoint, though the guy playing Shep, the male lead, played originally by Jimmy Stewart, did shake his jowls and pop his eyes a bit too much, in an effort to imitate Stewart. But the woman who played Gillian was terrific, despite, or perhaps because, she was nothing like Novak, but rather a flaming redhead. The costumes were wonderful, and the cat, Nitro, in the part of Pyewacket, was amazing! I was wondering how they got a cat to have such a wonderfully wise expression, as if he really did know plenty we mere mortals didn't, and how he could be so calm. My cats would have been halfway up the aisle and climbing the curtains before the first act was up, or chasing bits of fluff around the stage. This fellow sat like a king in the actress's arms, with only a lead needed to restrain him.
Earlier in the evening, we ate a magnificent meal at Naan and Kabob, in Tustin, and so we lacked for nothing. Great evening!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Old old friends

Lately, on the cusp of my 57th year, I have been contacted by and am contacting people I knew during the happiest portion of my life, my years at Hollins College, between 1973-76. Those were only three years, but they were packed with vivid people, memories, growth, and love that never quit, enough to make a life on.
Most of these people I have had no contact with since that time, though some, like Marly, and my friend and mentor, RHW Dillard, I have kept touch with and tabs on all along, particularly since I have gone back to the area of Roanoke every few years visiting R's family.
Yesterday, having joined an online membership workshop so I can get readers for my manuscript, I was talking to a writer named Holly Petitt, and asked her if she was related to Michael Petitt, who I knew at Hollins. She said no, but she was a fan. So I looked him up and saw that he, like so many at Hollins during that time, had become fairly well known as a writer.
I wrote him a note. Of course, I had already learned a bit about him talking to Dara Wier, who used to be married to him and has two children with him. She was a friend and teacher during those times too, and contacted me recently on Facebook.
It was another interesting and, for me, moving encounter, to reconstitute the past in that way.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I like this version a little better.

Here it is, October,
and the sun slips
between two hills
like a worn coin
someone stuck
between the tracks
hoping to raise a spark.
The sky squats
on its haunches
sipping a cup of cloud.
Lights blazing on a
black, black ground
the Nightsky
Limited steams in.
Here it is, October:
the strength to last
another year

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Train Trip

I enjoy riding trains, but I did not particularly find Fullerton an interesting destination. For one thing, I got thoroughly lost, and found that out of about 6 people I asked for directions to the University, three didn't know what I was talking about (and these were college age kids) and two sent me to Fullerton College, not the University, which is much farther away from the station and in a different direction.
So I was lost, and learned that the walk (especially the way I was going) was a whole lot further than I remembered. I ended up taking the bus after about half an hour of walking, at the recommendation of a Fullerton College student standing at the bus stop. On the way back, the guy who I met with drove me to the station. He had never taken the train himself, and apparently didn't know anyone else who had either.
The discussion was a bit fruitless too because the promised section for next semester didn't, at the moment, seem to exist, but at the last minute, one might come up, and, as a person with anxiety, I don't particularly relish that sort of assignment. Yet I continued with the process, in the interests of getting into the system. It may go nowhere, or it may go somewhere. I guess I will see. I made a resolution in any case not to shut more doors than I open.

Skeleton Yoga

Yesterday at Yoga Works in Laguna someone had posted the most wonderful photoshopped animation of x-ray yoga poses. I didn't ask for a copy, though I plan to, but I found this drawing I am posting... .


Today I will take the train up to Fullerton after class to talk to Jim Hoffman, who runs the Liberal Studies program at CSUF. The class is a lot like Writing 2, and next semester, I will probably be teaching a section of the same class I'll be teaching at the college at their Irvine campus, which is very near my house. I'm hoping that in this way, I will someday have a chance to teach other kinds of classes at the University, such as poetry workshops and literature. It's always good to have one in the side pocket just in case.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Side Effect

Another side effect of not having a computer for a few days is that I had time to think of a poem. In fact, this one haunted me for a few days, turning into dreams. It's my birthday next Tuesday--57 years old. It's hard to believe. This is my response.
I'm still working on it. The version below is new, as of Weds. night.


Here it is, October,
and the sun slips
between two hills
like a worn coin
someone stuck upright
between the tracks
hoping to raise a spark.
The sky squats
on its haunches
sipping a cup of cloud
and egrets stalk
like wraiths
around the lake.
The Nightsky
Limited steams in
lights blazing on
a black black ground.
Here it is, October:
the strength to last
another year

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Computer is Back!

I just got my computer back. While it was away, I realized just how much time is taken up by me fooling around with it, as well as working on it. If I didn't do that quite so much, I would have plenty of time to exercise, talk to people, read, and just sit around, as well as to practice yoga. Therefore, I am going to try to resist the lure of spending quite so much time online. It will be hard, I am sure, but I'm going to give it a try. That will not mean I won't be blogging; I will just try not to futz around as much elsewhere.
The computer now sports a brand new hard drive 500 times as capacious as the old one. It also has an external hard drive, a compact little sports car of a silver box, that automatically backs up everything I put onto the computer every time I use it. Moreover, I can unplug and take it with me wherever I go so I can continue working on whatever I'm doing even if I am not at home. I don't plan to carry it to school, but if I go out of town, it might be useful.
Thursday I go to speak to the director of the Liberal Studies writing class at CSUF, and will probably teach a class for him next semester. I am doing that mostly to get a foot in the door at CSU, hoping to pick up other kinds of classes besides composition--notably a poetry workshop sometime. Getting to Fullerton isn't easy for me, but next semester, at least, I won't need to. The class is here in town, at the old marine base, which is now a CSUF campus. It will be nice to have access to another library.


This morning we had a rare event: a thunderstorm with lots of (close) lightning. Luckily, I did not have to be out in the worst of it this morning, but now I am on campus, wondering whether I dare use my umbrella as the dark sky rumbles in a threatening way.
In a temperate climate, I became used to heavy thunderstorms, usually in late summer, but here they are unusual and threatening because of their potential to start fires and floods. People say there is no weather out here, but there is. Like everything else about this place, it is extreme--either extremely calm (most of the time) or over the top. When it rains, it often floods, for example. Hillsides slide down into the highway, bringing down houses. When it doesn't rain for a long time (which is much of the year), dry Santa Ana winds from the desert create havoc by creating the conditions for enormous fires.
So I appreciated staying in this morning with my cats, cuddled up on the couch drinking tea or peering out at the rain. I wasn't at the computer because it isn't back yet.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Out of the loop

My hard disk crashed on Saturday, so I have not, as you have no doubt noticed, been online for a couple of days. It is very very hard to get used to not being able to go on line. I felt like someone undergoing a drug withdrawal!
I decided just to have the hard disk replaced and to get an external hard disk. Stupidly, and I ought to know better, I didn't back up my docs. Luckily, this blog contains most of my recent poems, and the rest are in hard copy. My school documents are being retrieved as we speak by a wonderful student who has been helping me with the computer for the past year.
I am supposed to get it back sometime tomorrow; looking forward to it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Peter Pan

A month or so ago, Liz enthusiastically related a PBS tidbit she had seen, a documentary about the making of the new stage version of Peter Pan, a non-musical version of the play done under a big top with CGI effects and Cirque de Soleil pyrotechnics. Though usually I do not go in for stage extravaganzas, particularly since the tickets are so so pricey, I relented on this one because I too had caught part of this documentary and had been impressed and because Goldstar, the discount ticket outfit whose announcements I regularly get by email, was offering a deal.
It would have been more fun if our sons had been little kids, like the wide-eyed boy next to us, but still, since I love well-made children's movies, shows, and books, and have been moved by the story of Peter Pan, with its deep psychological resonance, I agreed we should go.
The big white tent loomed before us, like an oyster mushroom, perhaps an outgrowth of the enormous glass structures around it, the performing arts complex of Orange County. There were the usual money-making souvenirs--tee shorts, expensive snacks, tutus for the neo-Tinkerbell, but we weren't biting. We found our seats, rather like the set up at a ball park with its alphabetized and numbered sections, and the show began.
The CGI flying effects were quite amazing. Like a ride at Disneyland, which it is bound to become, the flying took us over the night skies of London and out to sea, where a tiny green asterisk--Neverland--floated serenely. The young man who played Peter Pan perfectly captured the paradox that is this character, both tender and tough, a pre/post sexual overgrown child. Tinkerbell, I think, was the best of the portrayals. Instead of the miniature cheesecake Disney gave us, she played the part like a nasty little four year old urchin, which was both funny and convincing. With her Mexican accent and frazzled tutu, sparked with internal lights and bespattered with artificial dirt, she made the perfect match for this Peter.
The Darling children, even Wendy, who always nauseated with her preciousness and prissiness, almost escaped that by being childlike in the ways you would have wished. The puppet animals (not just Nana, the dog, but a couple of fantastic birds fashioned from drapery and footballs) were lovely and fanciful, and the versatile props and Chinese dragon crocodile were whimsical delights.
We were struck by the sad state of maleness, as portrayed in this show, which announces frequently that men are both helpless and useless without women, and ciphers with them. When they escape, as Peter does, they are only half human, incapable of connection. This is what is most valuable about that story, pondering this commentary of emotional disconnectedness.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

class today

Today's class was another intriguing one. We watched a video about the Stanford Prison experiment, that famous experiment about abuse of authority done by Philip Zimbardo at Stanford in the early 70s. I have not studied this myself, but know of it, and decided it fit into our topic, so am asking the students to apply Foucault's idea of the Panopticon to that experiment. They could also choose to apply it to the film A Clockwork Orange or Migram's obedience experiment, which preceded this one by a decade.
The discussion was impassioned. The majority of students, I am sure, will write about the Stanford Experiment. They were interested in the whole power dynamic, how the prisoners so soon turned against each other and granted the abusive guards full allegiance, denigrating each other and themselves; how the guards escalated their abusive behavior, encouraged by the fact that their authority was evidently so highly regarded, believing in the power they held; and, perhaps most interestingly, how the scientist in charge forgot that this was an experiment and bought into the role of prison guard he had adopted for the occasion.
Though I am not a psychologist, and not in a position to put this into a neat context and categorize it, it does relate clearly to the model of the panopticon, the all-seeing system of power Foucault discusses in his book Discipline and Punish, in that the prisoners were essentially prisoners of their own minds. For that matter, the other parties in the system were also held captive by the dynamic the system set up. They stopped seeing themselves as human beings and became the roles they were playing. Shades of Orwell!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Apply or Not?

I am pondering whether I should apply for a poetry job at UC San Diego. While I don't truly believe I have much of a chance, something tells me (notably, my therapist) that I ought to try anyhow. What do I have to lose, except for some time? I will have to ask friends, such as Lou and Reb, to write me recommendations. I hate to bother them, and hope that they don't mind. It is odd because San Diego is one of those places I have always thought it might be nice to live. I love the zoo, and I could spend more time there if I lived close by. Well it's worth a try.


Marly sent me 4 comments on my various posts, and I told the blogger to publish them, but they disappeared. Sorry Marly! Sometimes that happens.
Yesterday I had a few interesting experiences. One was a Facebook experience. Even though what I have seen and heard about Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, does not give me confidence that my personal information is safe with him, I have had some priceless connections there.
Recently, several old friends from Hollins have asked that I friend them. I realized when I saw them how much I missed them, and immediately complied. Yesterday, another old friend, who represents one of a couple that was very close to us when we got married, appeared. They got married a few weeks after we did, and it was quite a do because her parents were millionaires. Her dad had been one of the inventors of the bomb. I never saw such an elaborate wedding before or since.
These old ex-friends are still married, have two kids (one Jeremy's age)and I think they vacation in Orange County CA, though they still live near Washington D.C., his lifelong home. They haven't even changed that much. I still recognize them.
They stopped talking to us because when they came to stay with us once, they kind of overstayed their welcome, and we were a bit untactful about it. They were always broke back then, despite the family money. I was sorry they took it so badly though, as I felt real affection for them, but they did not accept apologies.
Also yesterday, I went to one of those poetry readings in the fall Chapman U series, the one I want to read in, but can't till I have a published book. It is impressive; on that campus, there is still lots of money for things like reading series that the state Universities and colleges haven't had for a very long time. I'd love to do that reading one day.
Finally, I bought some goat steaks at Wholesome Choice, and, on the advice of the guy at the meat counter, marinated them and made tacos, with black beans and guacamole. A bit tough, but tasty.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Going Home

Last night I had a dream I was visiting my parents' house in Philadelphia with Richard and Jeremy. It was the old days, when they were still relatively healthy and mobile. The dream was so realistic I could feel the sweat trickling down my body in that heat (they had no air conditioning), and I was biting so hard into the dream-steak sandwich that I almost broke my real life mouthguard. It's odd because I was feeling they were so totally gone the night before.
For a while after their death I felt they were very close by, in the other room, where their stuff was, in the car next to me, all around. Lately though, I have not had that feeling, so this was a reassuring sort of dream.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I was too busy to think about it yesterday, but the date was 10/10/10. Hmm. No one said much about it; maybe people were nervous that someone would decide it was a red-letter day, and therefore should be used as a time to attack people in large public spaces. No one wants to go looking for trouble, I guess.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day in LA

This afternoon I went to a workshop that the Iyengar Institute in L.A., where my teacher Denise was teaching a Members' Class of the Iyengar Society. She was clearly nervous and excited, playing the big time in this way, and behaved in a way that was far more self-conscious than her usual. But slowly, she settled in, and soon we were immersed in a fascinating workshop designed to make us see the poses we had taken for granted, done every day in the same way, making the same errors every time. By morphing one pose into another, she made us see the ordinary anew. It was a lesson one could apply in any sphere, and one well taken and valuable.
The fellow I rode up with was a quiet, smiling fellow, who frequently haunts the yoga classes I attend. He is probably a few years older than I am, but seldom speaks. I knew nothing about him. Riding in the car up to L.A., I began to question him about his life, his job, his family, and learned that he is has lost his wife of 40 years, who was about 13 years older than he. His step-children are men only about 6 and 8 years younger than himself.
He took me to dinner at his favorite joint at a part of town I didn't know existed. The place is one of those monuments of Googie architecture that has been there for 50 years. It is called Dinah. They serve breakfast all day. I had chicken and waffles, a combination I had heard of, but never had the opportunity to try. Though this is not something I will ever eat again, most likely, it was delicious. Those were the best waffles I have ever had; ditto the chicken.

Unlikely Topic For A Film

Last night I went to see a film about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The Social Network was a fascinating study of a person without any ability at all to communicate or empathize with others. Of course, it is more than a little ironic that a person like this would understand so well how other people might like to connect.
Like many people in the computer and engineering field, this fellow was more than a little autistic, but no one seemed to recognize it or get him any sort of help because of his brilliance and the way he was entirely prickly and unpleasant to be around. I am sure he would rebuff anyone who dared to suggest there was something wrong with him. The film focuses in on this guy who is totally obsessed with his work on the computer for its own sake. For him, it isn't about money, but about the challenge he takes on. And despite his cutting tongue, invariably homing in on the worst possible way of hurting each of the people he encounters, he doesn't seem capable of understanding what he has done wrong.
His isolation and his run ins with other people make a very interesting subject, a sad and tragic one,and you agree with the guy's young lawyer at the end of the film that although he is not such a bad guy, "[he is] trying very hard to be an asshole."
It is a wonder to me that the guy hasn't sued for libel, which tells me that the charges levied against him in the film of stealing the idea for Facebook brazenly from fellow Harvard students and screwing over everyone who ever tried to befriend and help him must be essentially true, even if the rest is fictional.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Time Will Change

Along with the turn of the season comes the time change. Before it was moved, this change always coincided with my birthday, or at least within the next few days of my birthday, at the end of October. Now I'm not sure when it will be.
By the sky seems to know when the change ought to be. It darkens earlier, much earlier it seems, and is light a bit later. Only the cats don't seem to know it, and keep insisting that I get up at 5 or earlier to feed them. More and more I have been resisting it, despite the scratching and yowling that ensues. Pretty soon, I hope, Whistler will give it up and go back to sleep, or at least run up the cat tree and sulk silently rather than interfering with my sweet morning repose.
Last night I was up late because we decided to go to a jazz concert on campus. It is delightful to be able to go to such events with so little effort and they are so cheap it's less than going to a movie, much less, actually.
When we got home, and began to unlock the door, Jeremy pulled it open and greeted us. He had been there cooking bacon again, and we chatted for a while. It's almost like old times when he was living here!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why I Feel That Way

Lately I have been impatient to get my poetry manuscript out to contests that tantalizingly hang just above me, so close I can almost reach them. It's been so many years of accumulating poems, culling them, weeding the patch, that I want to get them out there, now that there are enough of them to make a book.
I could just enter them in contests. But for some reason I can't fathom, I have been feeling deeply that someone not me has to read them first, approve, make suggestions.
I realize, thinking about this, since no one can do this task for me, that I feel this way because this is how I became a writer. I did it for the people I knew. It was the only way I knew how to communicate with them.
It always seemed as if there was a bottomless chasm between me and those others. I had no role in the community of the schoolyard or the playground. I only knew I didn't belong there, only felt comfortable in the company of the librarian and the old blind man who walked his dog at the park every morning. We would talk about books, swap stories.
The role I cobbled up for myself with my peers was as a sort of tumler, the comedians who haunted the fringes of shtetl society in eastern Europe of the 19th century. They were the fools, the jugglers, the storytellers, who were tolerated as long as they amused the crowds. I used to write stories and poems to order, and hand them around. That was what I did.
I have never gotten over the feeling that I am still playing that role.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Revised poem

I have taken most of Marly's suggestions seriously. Here is the result.

The Offering
She came with a paper sack
half bursting with sweetness—
yellow pears and plums
from local trees, filling the air
with their perfume till the bees
reel, giddy, around the tree
and the wasps forget to sting.

On an October morning,
the boy, straddling
the branches with a canvas
bag slung over one shoulder,
hands them down and then
she takes them to a friend
because what else can she offer
but a bit of the hillside
and the short sweetness?

Her friend takes this bag
full of autumn, the golden
pears, smooth and heavy,
the blushing plums, and puts
some in a leaf-shaped bowl,
cuts some, sprinkled with brown
sugar, and the wisp-thin man
spoons them up and smiles
at the sweetness of canyon
pears in their brief season.

Turn, Turn

In Torah Group we have taken a break from reading the Torah proper, and are reading the book of Ecclesiastes. It is the proper season for reading this book because it is generally supposed to be read during harvest time, the holiday of Sukkot, which was a couple of weeks ago.
This book, as everyone knows, is famous for its mature wisdom and philosophical take on life. However, it seems that when studies it, it sort of unravels into a grab-bag of contradictions, as critical theorists of yore would have had it.
The book is part of an ancient tradition parallel to the philosophy of Greece that was sort of opposed to rabbinical Judaism. So by subsuming selected pieces of this tradition into the canon, the rabbinical tradition was declaring its victory, just as when one ancient civilization conquered another, it would build its temple upon the ruins of the old culture's place of worship.
In small pieces, the mellow perspective of the aging philosopher seems comfortable, but up close, it is pinched and blinkered. Others exist only for the pleasure or profit of this individual, as far as he is concerned. Women are beneath contempt. Even study and wisdom are mere wind. One grows tired of this persona and longs to throw open the windows. Perhaps that was what the rabbis hoped for when they put this book into the tradition?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More poems inspired by blogs

Reading my blog-sister Lou's post this morning about the pears and plums Reb brought to her, I was so touched that I knew I had to steal this experience for a poem. I hope they don't mind it. It seems to be emblematic of all the things we want to do for each other as human beings, and which I feel I do not do as well as I might, caught up in the web of my own individual existence so thoroughly. Obviously, I am still working on this, but I think it will be good.

The Offering
She came with a paper sack
half bursting with sweetness—
yellow pears and plums
from local trees, filling the air
with their perfume, till the bees
reel, giddy, around the tree,
and the ill-tempered wasps
forget to sting in this abundance.

On an October morning, someone,
perhaps it was she, or the boy,
straddling the branches, with a canvas
bag slung over one shoulder,
hand them down, and then
she takes them to a friend
because what else can she offer
but a bit of the hillside
and the short sweetness?

Her friend takes this bag
full of autumn, the golden
pears, smooth and heavy,
the blushing plums, and puts
some in a leaf-shaped bowl,
cuts some, gilded with brown
sugar, and the wisp-thin man
spoons them up and smiles
at the sweetness of canyon
pears, in their brief season.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Floyd Poem

The poem I wrote about Richard's grandfather ("Will's Ridge") and sent to Floyd County Moonshine on his request was accepted. That is, they asked me for a biography, so I assume it was accepted. They didn't bother to say they were taking it, but I assumed so. I didn't tell them I went to Hollins, a relatively local school, though it passed through my mind. At 56, I figured it made more sense to talk about what I was doing NOW, as well as to say I was married to Richard, since has published in that journal too, and has a wide following among the locals for his poetry and his harmonica playing at the Jamboree when he blows into town. He's probably seen out on the golf course with his parents also.
I just sent that piece I wrote last winter, "The Tell," to an anthology of revenge writing. The blurb said they would take things that didn't necessary feature stories about revenge, but were written out of a sort of revenge, so that one qualified, I think. I hope they take it, but I'm sure they'll be flooded with spectacular pieces about revenge that will elbow it out.
I don't write poems about revenge because I don't even fantasize about it. I never wanted to go to my old high school, where I was told I was too stupid to go to college, and tell them I have a PhD and two Masters degrees. What's the use? They're too stupid to care anyhow.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom

Today would have been my mother's 94th birthday. Though I too often mocked her accent and her sometimes imperious manners, with the underlying racism and classicism she imbibed as a girl growing up in a colonial state (South Africa under apartheid), I now salute her ability to behave civilly under difficult circumstances, to show compassion and empathy for others when she was shown little to none herself. She taught me correct use of language, my bread and butter, manners, kindness, and respect for others. She bore up under the impossible conditions living with my mentally ill father presented her with for many years by preserving a golden image of her childhood happiness and her beautiful home across the ocean. I hope she forgave me for making fun of her and realized that beneath it all, I loved her very much.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


People who live elsewhere may not be able to fathom the amazing ability to renew that the first soaking rain of the season can have here. It rains so seldom, and not at all in the summer, as a rule, that rain itself becomes odd. Drivers have a terrible time dealing with it, and the roads are so full of slipping and sliding cars, all trying to keep up their usual fast speeds on the slippery streets, that it becomes an occasion for consternation if not wonder when it rains heavily out here. The ground is far less capable of soaking in an abundance of water, and what rain falls tends to fall at once, in large amounts.
I have been in huge flash floods that sweep everything before them. One minute, the ground is dry; the next, water is pouring both out of the sky and over the ground too. Cars, animals, unwary people can be helplessly taken by its power, as the usual empty river channels fill, much like in a scene from the movie Chinatown.
Today, while I was in yoga class this morning, it rained heavily, very heavily, syncopating the movements of body and breath we all did during class. I don't hear well, but even I heard it. I was glad, even smug, because I had thought to wear a raincoat and bring my umbrella, for once, and because my car badly needed washing. Now it is clean.
When I got home, R said that it hadn't rained here it all. That's how it is out here.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I didn't go to the Farmer's Market today, as I often like to do after yoga class. Instead, I did some errands, went to buy horribly exorbitant cat food for my poor allergic kitties (rabbit, with no chicken or eggs), bought some new clothes on sale at Steinmart with a 40% off coupon (always fun), and went to lunch with Liz. We haven't seen each other in a while, our lives taking us off in different directions and to different yoga classes, so it was nice hanging out. She went to the Farmer's Market, but the papers were calling me, so I went home.