Sunday, April 29, 2012

Old and Sad Memories

A hospital emergency room is not a good way to spend a Sunday, or any day, for that matter. But I had to do that, again, like in the old days with my parents, because my son, Jeremy, has contracted some noxious bug that began, a few weeks ago, with a high fever and coughing that I thought would never go away. Then, a brief quiescence, and now, for the past few days, a terrible sore throat. I quelled the pain yesterday with a warm drink my parents used to make for me when I was a small child. It is a Russian drink, muggle guggle, made with milk, a touch of vanilla, and a splash of brandy or whisky. I don't remember whether my parents put an egg in the drink too, but I didn't. Also, I used soymilk because that's what I keep in the house. Jeremy found that it really helped him, so drank an entire carton of soymilk! Generally the thing lasts for a month. There was very little alcohol in the drink, so I didn't worry too much. After all, my parents made it for me when I was a wee tot of 2 or 3. But today, the pain was worse, and he didn't sleep all night because of it. In his desperation, he took at least double the dose of cold medicine, and that does contain some drugs that could be dangerous, so I worried a lot about that. So when he got up out of bed early this morning looking rather like a version of the living dead, I fed him what breakfast he could get past that sore throat, told him to get dressed, and set off for the urgent care. R and I belong to an HMO a few towns north of here that doesn't make us wait long for medical care, and it is generally good and reliable. I tried a couple of years ago to transfer Jeremy from another HMO we used to use when he was a small child. But I could never get him to go to the doctor and see the new provider, so, without my knowing it, the insurance was switched back to the old place. That means when we got to the Urgent Care, which was pretty empty, perhaps because it was a lovely day, and people had taken themselves elsewhere and had things other than sickness on their minds, we had to stand in line with only one other person. But the people at the registration desk said that he would have to pay full price, which could be up to $500., for using the service, since his medical card said he belonged to the old HMO and not this one... this after I had been told the week before that he was registered at this one. So after going off the rails a little and yelling at the person at the desk, I put the kid back in the car and headed for the emergency room, where I had spent so many hours with my parents. That place was relatively empty, and when they hustled Jeremy back into the bowels of the E.R., I nourished hopes of a quick exit, but it was not to be. It took about 4 hours to get back the results. No, he did not have strep throat. And thus, no medication or other assistance would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, I had been reading every scrap of printed matter in the waiting room. When I set off this morning, I never intended to end up in the E.R., so I didn't bring the paper (and there were piles of it waiting for me when I came home) or Marly's new novel either. Instead, I conversed with a older woman, a retired professor, as her husband also was, who had come there this morning with their schizophrenic son. Partway through Yale, he had suddenly lost his mind, and refused to take medication. He was both suicidal and, occasionally, homicidal, and apparently blames his parents for his misery. Periodically he spends time in various hospitals, but is always released in 10 days to the care of his parents, who miserably take up the apparently hopeless case once more. I felt bad just being there, worse seeing Jeremy suffer without help for another 10-14 days, according to the docs, but worse still contemplating this poor couple's fate. Plus, I had missed yoga for the day, when generally, I attend more than one yoga class on Sunday. I have in fact missed a few days this week, and that contributed to my low mood as well. Another week is coming up, one in which I hope I will not be returning to the ER.

Spreading the Word

This past week I've had some good news about bookstores that are selling my book. It was already for sale at the Red Room bookstore, at least theoretically. A friend who tried to order one there said he didn't get any response. Perhaps they aren't really set up to do print-on-demand books. Also of course, I sell the book on this blog. Besides Amazon, where I don't see any of the proceeds, the book is also available at U.C.I. Bookstore (though they have unfortunately ordered through Amazon) and Small World Books, which has ordered through me. I may also be selling it via a new online zine, Elvia. So these are good things. Speaking of which, I need to order some more books.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Next week, the synagogue will host its first writer's night. There are many people who write, most quite casually, as a sideline to their ordinary gigs. But there are also a few, a very few, like me, who are writers who write and publish and are serious about the whole affair. Friday nights are few, and most are already scheduled long before they roll around, as much as a year ahead of time. But I guess there was a spare one, and the Rabbi decided to fill it with writers. At first he said to give him 4 poems or a short piece of prose that was related to Judaism or spirituality. I did. But he had also read my yoga book, and wanted me to read one of those too. Soon there were 12 people on the schedule. Having been to my share of open readings, I could have told him that wouldn't work too well. Too many people; too many pieces. Today I got a note that we were down to one piece each. Well that's okay. Though of course I'd love to be the featured reader,or at least to read the 4 pieces I chose for the occasion, I'll just sit tight till the open readings I take part in remind people that I exist, and they'll give me a feature. Hope so.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poem in My Pocket Day

I never learned Spanish, although I have lived in Southern California for over 30 years. However, I have come to love Neruda's food odes, though I have seen them only in translation. For Poem in My Pocket Day, today, I have chosen one of these to share, taken from my virtual pocket: Here is the link: home pablo Neruda/ POETRY/ THEATRE/ NOVELS/ Literature Main art and food Pablo Neruda The Great Tablecloth film and food music and food photography and food Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair - THE GREAT TABLECLOTH A Corner of Wheat When they were called to the table, the tyrants came rushing with their temporary ladies, it was fine to watch the women pass like wasps with big bosoms followed by those pale and unfortunate public tigers. The peasant in the field ate his poor quota of bread, he was alone, it was late, he was surrounded by wheat, but he had no more bread; he ate it with grim teeth, looking at it with hard eyes. In the blue hour of eating, the infinite hour of the roast, the poet abandons his lyre, takes up his knife and fork, puts his glass on the table, and the fishermen attend the little sea of the soup bowl. Burning potatoes protest among the tongues of oil. The lamb is gold on its coals and the onion undresses. It is sad to eat in dinner clothes, like eating in a coffin, but eating in convents is like eating underground. Eating alone is a disappointment, but not eating matters more, is hollow and green, has thorns like a child of fish-hooks trailing from the heart, clawing at your insides. Hunger feels like pincers, like the bite of crabs, it burns and has no fire. Hunger is a cold fire. Let us sit down to eat with all those who haven't eaten; let us spread great tablecloths, put salt in the lakes of the world, set up planetary bakeries, tables with strawberries in snow, and a plate like the moon itself from which we can all eat. For now I ask no more than the justice of eating. Translated by Alastair Reid - Wuthering (1988) Pablo Neruda is unquestionably South America's most significant poet and a writer with universal appeal. Poetry was his passion, his vocation throughout his long life. Inexhaustibly various, he left behind an enormous volume of work - including poems of love, praise, politics, nature, myth and history. Neruda's favourite translator Alastair Reid celebrates the achievement

Back to Ugly Mug

Last night, despite warnings of a storm and threats of waterspouts by the northern shoreline, I headed north a ways to downtown Orange, a block from Chapman University, to the Ugly Mug for their weekly poetry fest and open reading. This is such a well-run affair, with two genial hosts, game for almost anything that comes up, real lovers of poetry who know how to craft a welcoming evening. On the schedule for last night, there was a cryptic phrase "explaining" the featured reading for the night--it used the acronym "OPP." It turned out to mean "Other People's Poetry." While sometimes open readings can be dreary affairs, this reading, with its guarantee of various, generally very accomplished, mostly published work by "other poets," famous and non-famous, led to a fascinating and fun evening of comedy and drama. Scarcely a clunker in the group. Not knowing till I got there what "OPP" meant, I read three of my own insect/animal poems, and I think they went over very well. One fellow said he had written a spin off inspired by one of my poems as I was reading it, and wanted to send it to me. This place truly is like Cheers... after being there once, everyone knows my name, and one person bought a book. Everyone is so friendly and warm and helpful. A wonderful community. It was great too to be accompanied by my friend and fellow-poet, Robin Hudachek, and her husband Manny. I am just waiting for her to step up to the podium and share some of her own work, which, I can assure her, will be received warmly.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

L.A. Times Festival of Books Today I had an adventure. I rode up on the Amtrak train to L.A. to attend the L.A. Festival of Books. Although it has been going on for years and years, this is the first time I have managed to get there. This is because I have a fear of driving on freeways, and Richard doesn't like to drive to L.A. either. Can't really blame him. The freeways are mobbed, and once you get to L.A., the streets are worse. Parking is obscenely expensive too. But luckily, the Festival folks offered a free shuttle from Union Station, so I hopped on the train, and took the shuttle to the U.S.C. campus! The schedule of panel discussions, readings, and exhibits was listed online, as well as in a program published in last week's Sunday paper, so I was able to buy my tickets (only $1.00 per session) before I left and check in easily at each session. The first session started at 10, almost as soon as I arrived on the campus. It was a panel including three fantasy/science fiction writers, including Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians and The Magician Kings, among other books. You may recall that I wrote a review of his novels that was published in The Hollins Critic. I couldn't carry his novels up there to be signed, so I took a copy of that, since it was just a little pamphlet, easy to carry, and he signed it after the session. The other two guys were interesting too, and I want to read their books. They were John Scalz1 and Frank Beddor, author of The Looking Glass War. The discussion was about the provocative issue of "world-making" and whether all fiction was essentially world-making or just this particular genre of fantasy and science fiction. I think they came to the conclusion ultimately that all reading was world making too since we all make or remake the book out of our own experience and inclinations. Then I went to a poetry reading by Carol Muske-Dukes, which I liked very much. She told stories before all her poems that were much longer than the poems were. And after that I headed over to the food tents in order to eat, and ran into a woman who lived near me. When I told her my name, she said she knew that name from somewhere. It turned out that she had heard about the time I won runner up in Worst First Line of the Novel, many years ago (at least 27 years ago), and there was an article about it in the paper. The line was for an imagined western. This is it: "A cowboy should know his horse, but the podners down at Triple Q Ranch thought that Vernon McChew had gotten too close." She asked me whether I had ever been in the paper, and I told her about this. She immediately said that a friend of hers had recently quoted that line to her, and that it had made her day! I was stunned. It seems that when we put things out there, even something as long ago and casual as this, they may touch others in ways we cannot imagine. I had a good day, and am feeling quite positive as I write these words about the small world we all live in, made even smaller by the community of writing and reading that so many of us belong to.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I have been avoiding the "new" format at Blogger for some time. Now it has, of its own accord, forced itself upon me and I have to figure out how to get to my dashboard, now that there is no longer an option by that name. I have been told in the past how to find unmoderated comments, but I'd be much obliged if someone could tell me again how I might find them. Though I all too seldom write an entry for this blog these days, I wrote one for my friend and former Philadelphia neighbor's blog, Hot Flashes, about Balance and my practice of yoga. You can visit it at . As I said, I plugged the book, but I also mused about how unlikely it might seem to people who knew me back then, when I was an awkward, skinny kid in Philadelphia, to find that I had turned into a regular practitioner of yoga. Though I was constantly racing around on roller skates (the old kind, with the key that looked like a pop top for a can of peas) or on my bike or chasing the dog, I was always the last one chosen for any team sport, who never paid attention to the action and inevitably flubbed the play. I'm sure no one would be surprised that I became a poet and writer, but a yoga practitioner might (yuk yuk) seem a stretch... .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Smelling the Past

This morning I went to yoga class in Laguna. The studio is across the street from the lovely Mirage resort, overlooking a gorgeous stretch of ocean. But generally the air doesn't smell particularly beachy.
Today though, as I got out of the car and also as I came out of the studio and got back into the car, my olfactory sense plunged me back into the past as surely as Proust's madeleine sent him back to his childhood. Though the beach was different and the ocean a different one (the Atlantic to today's Pacific), I was there, a momentary visit to another world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New/Old Publication

The thing about poems is that they don't generally have a "sell-by" date. Unlike baked goods, like the cinnamon raisin bread I toasted this morning to eat with my yogurt, they keep quite well.
Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate riding the Frankford El in to college in Camden NJ (Rutgers Camden), I wrote a poem with a section for each stop between the start of the line and where I got off in town. This is in Philadelphia,PA, where I was born and grew up, but left at about age 20.
I polished this poem up and put it in my MA thesis and perhaps my MFA one too. Now it has been polished some more and published in a new Philadelphia journal, Northern Liberties Review. Here it is:

The Frankford Elevated Train

Robbi Nester

“I realized intuitively that the subway
was a harbinger of an entirely new
space-time relationship of the individual
and his environment.” Buckminster Fuller

Boarding, I am
full of voices,
turning in my seat
to watch the river,
the Delaware’s brown flow.

Two dull-lipped women
find a seat. They speak,
something muted
with movement.
Their hands
are spoked with veins.
At the river’s edge,
garbage trucks grind.

Dark labyrinths of windows,
one still face.
Courtyards, a church
and a school. Outside,
the sky closes,
a circular wave.

Tarred roofs.
Spires and antennae
rise in narrow rows.
Close enough to touch,
a fretwork of windows,
open or broken open,
the hum of someone
singing an old song.

York and Dauphin
The wires stretch like swimmers,
speak a secret tongue, black
and flat, crackling leaves.
Though it is summer,
the pool waits, an empty mouth.

Here a man boards, without eyes.
His face holds light.
Rain falls in flat wet drops.

The name I always
read wrong—Summering,
Somerfield, Something.

Banks on both sides.
I sit on the edge of my seat,
reading “Dr. Cool #1” on all the walls.
Someone beside me slips out.

Ginkos’ frilled leaves,
a thousand luna moths.

The day the train fell
it was here.
People clutched at legs,
falling poles.
One second before the ground,
the last smoke.

Now when I pass here,
the train shifts and slows.
On the track ahead, workers
wave us past.

Broken windows, stained
with soot. A steeple
with no bell. The train
screams by.

Margaret and Orthodox
I turn once more, eying
faces pressed like wings.

No wheels now.
The circling slatted door,
the stairs, then the street’s
long spiral, a track.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Showers

As mild (or even boring) as the weather generally is here in Southern California, when it decides to take a turn for the worse, it can be extreme, like much else in this place of earthquake and mudslide. We sit precariously on the continent's edge, oblivious as lizards doing pushups in the sunshine much of the time, but when the rain pours down all at once, loosening the rocks on the furrowed hillsides like molars, or when piers shake loose in sustained gusts of wind, rain, and fist-hard hail, or when water spouts join the earth and sky like Melvillian cetaceans out for revenge, then we know truly this place we inhabit.
I was supposed to attend a wildflower event in Casper Wilderness Park today. Even though it is not raining now and the event is still going forward, I do not want to go. For one thing, the sky looks somewhat doubtful, and it is cold. The ground must be soupy from yesterday's storms. Regretfully, I will sit out this dance, though it has been some time since I ventured out onto the trail.
Summer is coming soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


There have now been two reviews of Balance... one on Dave Bonta's blog Via Negativa
and the other at Rachel B's blog The Velveteen Rabbi--
It is great to see that people are enjoying the book, even if do not do yoga, and want to tell others about it.
I am so happy about that, and hope that more people find out about and read it. Of course, I also hope they buy it from me! But I'm just happy they are reading it.
I have tried to put in the links here correctly, but they don't seem to have worked. Suggestions would be gratefully accepted.

Lucky 7

My friend and fellow writer Marly Youmans, who so frequently comments on these pages, tagged me to play a little Internet game of the sort she so frequently engages in. I was to go to my current manuscript, go to the 7th or 77th page, count down 7 lines, and post what I found there. Since my manuscript of poems, A Likely Story, has not got 77 pages, I went to the 7th, still unnumbered, and counted down. I cheated a little, not counting the title or the number 1, for the first part of the poem, because seven from the top allowed me to finish a sentence.
Now I am supposed to come up with 7 writer friends to torment in this exact same way. Let's see if I can manage it.
Here are my lines:

She lay in bed not sleeping, though the moon
had risen and stars burned clear.
The room seemed wrong—too close
for autumn, and her arms were stiff.
Awake, she pried her fingers from the quilt’s
hard edge, and realized her anaconda,
Sam, was loose and she was in his mouth.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 Choir Seder

Last night was the annual University Synagogue Choir Seder, an event we have held for the past three or four years. The choir is a tight-knit group that parties together and shares major life events. In other words, it is a haverah, a group of like-minded people who meet on a regular basis around our membership in the synagogue. We do events related to holidays, but also to personal triumphs or just plain fun, going to dinner, having parties, etc.
We are lucky to have a wonderful organizer, Wilma Nishball, who generously gives her time to set things like this up. She is so kind, visiting people in the hospital, organizing caravans to cheer people up when they are ill, and setting up weekly dinners before practice. She sets up the caterer for this event as well, and even saves the plasticware for use in the future.
A seder can be a really long event. When I was a child, my uncle, who was modern Orthodox and lived next door to the shul in Philadelphia, would hold marathon seders all in Hebrew (which I didn't understand). They lasted till midnight. I would invariably be asleep under the table, especially after the 4 thimblesful of wine I had to drink as part of the ritual. Even now the sweet Manishevitz (sp?) stuff goes straight to my head.
But I have been to and held myself many kinds of seders, from Jewish Palestinian gatherings to anti-modern slavery ones, to feminist ones, and even helped the Catholic Worker organize a seder. They didn't quite get the concept, but they were enthusiastic, at least.
Passover is my favorite holiday, particularly when it is open and accessible and doesn't last all night, like the choir seders, which are unrivaled for speed and good fellowship.
Like all gatherings, this one is a good time to catch up with people you only see in passing the rest of the year. Wilma had put name tags at the table, so we were placed next to and opposite people we hadn't necessarily sat down with in a while, and that led to some interesting discussions about 12 string guitars and how they are different from regular ones, urban planning of the local community, harmonica playing, poetry, and French cookery. A various sort of discussion, in other words.
Everyone had a super time, and then we all packed in for our group photo and dispersed. I even sold a book! Hoorah!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fortuitous Omission

Yesterday, searching for something to cook for a Passover evening, I bought some lovely sole. I love fish, but besides the inevitable fish and chips, R doesn't care for the way I fix it. Since I didn't want to fry it (with matzo meal crust, as always), I went online, thinking I could make a tasty Spanish sauce I had years ago, made with vinegar and tomatoes, escabeche. I looked up some recipes, and thought about using them, except that the fish was supposed to be coated with flour, which wasn't possible, and fried. So I scouted around some more, and found a very plain recipe for fish in white wine and vegetable sauce.
The dish called for a diced and sauteed melange of celery, onions, carrots, a cup of white wine, a cup of tomato sauce. I didn't have any tomato sauce, but I did have Trader Joe's bruchetta. Bruchetta is just garlic, tomatoes, and basil, chopped fine. So I thought it would make a tasty replacement for tomato sauce, which tends to be one note, in comparison.
It worked perfectly! I dug out a shallow oven-proof casserole, put 1/4 of the sauce into the pan, put the fish on top, and covered it with the rest of the sauce. Then I put it into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Even R. loved it!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

National Poetry Month

It's National Poetry Month, the one time of year there is a common recognition that the stuff exists, it seems. Every day in my email box I am getting various and sundry poems by poets from all periods on all subjects, and I am, as usual, enjoying it. It goes along with my new attendance at open mics and readings, one a week, so far. But I have not been able to settle down and turn out one poem a day, like so many of the people at the readings I've attended. Or maybe they are only saying they are doing that... I should sit down and see what happens! It just doesn't seem to work that way with me most of the time. I need to get something--a word, a metaphor, a story, an image, stuck in my head, in my ear, and that starts me off. Without that, it's pointless. Prompts do work for me though. Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ugly Mug

I've been trying to visit as many of the open mic/poetry reading venues as I can without driving on the freeway. Last night I went to The Ugly Mug, a place I've been hearing about for some time, since a student in my creative writing class several years ago wrote a poem about reading at their open mic.
It's a cheerful little place in downtown Orange, ensconced in one of the lovely old Victorian houses that still fill the streets of this town, which has been used to represent 40s or 50s Americana for decades and probably still is.
Run by a grouchy, paranoid character who nonetheless is kind enough to allow his cafe to be overrun by hordes of poets for a $3.00 cover charge every Weds. night, this is a welcoming room, with excellent sound equipment and sufficient seating.
The directors of the series, two poets who bill themselves as "two idiots peddling poetry," are interesting writers who have built a community in what is otherwise an isolating suburban wasteland of Orange County, CA.
The featured reader last night was Riverside poet Judy Kronenfeld, a landsman, being a Jewish poet from the east coast (New York).This milieu frequently comes up in her work, which is subtle, varied, sophisticated, and very moving. You can visit her blog at
She is clearly a kind and generous mentor as well, and my friend from graduate school, Lavina Blossom, is lucky to have her close by in Riverside. Lavina and one other poet will share a reading with her at Beyond Baroque on May 13. I would love to go, but it is not somewhere I can drive to myself, since it is located in Venice, CA, and I don't drive on freeways, particularly not in the L.A. area.
I spoke with many of the people in the room, most of whom had come to read their work and many of whom were regulars there. I know this is a place I will return to soon, though I will not be going every Weds. . I look forward to becoming a regular part of this new (for me) community.

Next week, Alta coffee house in Laguna!

Monday, April 2, 2012


One thing I admire about Pynchon's gigantic doorstop of a novel, Gravity's Rainbow, is the theme of the thin thin line between pathological paranoia and a perceptive grasp of a narrative thread in life and in history. Of course, history is already a narrative someone has picked out and parsed in life, so it isn't surprising that the line there would be fuzzy, but in one's everyday existence, it is tempting to see reiterated themes, characters, etc. Whether this is a function of some compulsive urge to revisit past patterns or an actual glimpse of some underlying watermark, I don't know (or pathological paranoia).
I don't suppose I ever will know either, but it's interesting to ponder, isn't it, when one sees the years trailing behind her like a cycle of repeated themes and experiences. Maybe that's why people think age brings wisdom. But it probably isn't true. Just because one sees the patterns doesn't mean s/he knows what to do about them.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

No Joke

Happy April Fool's Day! I actually hate this holiday. Though I love to laugh, most of the pranks people play on this day, in my estimation, are cruel, not funny. Perhaps that is one way people affirm the notion that April is indeed "the cruelest month."
I don't plan to play any such pranks, though puns, jokes, rib ticklers, and such are always welcome, 365 days a year!