Tuesday, December 27, 2011

thumbing it . . .

the day after Christmas i waited for the crosswalk light to transform into the green man, the man who crosses the street with no fear of automobiles running him down, but wait, it was the red hand of stop that caught my eye because it had no thumb, it blinked and blinked and then became stationary, like me, and it's thumbless presence made me wonder if all the red hands of stop were thumbless? How could i have missed this? This four fingered hand that tells me not to go, or go if you please, but i won't say i told you so when you lay there on the rain soaked pavement with tire marks across your belly, four fingers are just as adamant about the stop as five, aren't they? The green man, who walks with his elbows and knees bent at the exact same angle pushed away the thumbless halt who goes there? And I crossed, and forgot the slightly handicapped sign as thoughts of my nephew crossed my mind, the boy who is twelve who already has a mustache and is so much like my husband that Nature vs. Nurture arguments are no longer in question to me - genetics make the man . . . ah, another crosswalk, next to the Mexican restaurant which is busy with families tired of Christmas Ham and this hand of stop owns a thumb and i am wondering who will replace the tiny red bulbs back up there at the corner of King, so the thumb can return? Because, no one can really come to a full stop without the full hand can they?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Expat's Christmas

So, I wrote this little story for The Royal Gazette's Christmas Story contest back in 1997 -- I did not win, did not even get an honorable mention - why? well, first off, they probably threw it away the moment they saw it was written by an Expat, and secondly? It's subject was probably a bit too political and dark for them. But nonetheless, here it is, here it is, warts and all:


An Expat's Christmas


    It was Christmas Eve in Bermuda. Night was falling and a northeaster had begun to blow. Hamilton sent her workers early and fast to their bright warm festive homes with their heads filled with thoughts of Christmas hams, time with their families, and a bit of rum to warm their hearts. The streets were deserted and filled with driving rain. Boats in the harbor rose and fell on the grey cold sea. The Christmas lights that lined the streets were twinkling and shivering in the storm. The palms at the Foot of the Lane leaned hard into the sea faring winds that had come from somewhere deep in the snowbound heartland of the America to Bermuda to wish all a Merry Cold Christmas.

    Yet one tiny window overlooking the harbor still remained lit. This was the office of Henry Hall. Henry was desperately trying to repair a line of computer programming code that had crashed his company’s system earlier that day. The problem was which line of code? He would need most of the night to ferret the code out of hiding. The office had gone silent except for the buzz of the overhead lights and the computers.

He heard his boss’ words from earlier that day over and over in his mind, “Henry, do you ever watch nature shows on the tv?”

“Sometimes.” Henry answered as he stared in disbelief at the network that lay dying on the screen before him.

“Well, did you ever notice the way lions rip into the flesh of their prey? And the way there is always another animal waiting out in the wings for that lion to give up?” Henry’s boss was leaning into his ear now.

    “I don’t follow you, sir.” Henry kept staring as his computer screen continued to announce the terrible news; his network was completely trashed. His coworkers were in their offices pulling at their ties and their hair, because they couldn’t get the information they needed. Outside the wind was singing an eerie Christmas carol against Henry’s window.

    Henry’s boss continued, “Well Henry, my man, its very simple. If you don’t get this network back up by Boxing Day, the Hyenas will have their chance, finally, or even worse, the vultures. Oh, look at the time. I need to shove off before this storm gets too bad, what with last minute presents to buy for the family. Merry Christmas, Henry.” Henry’s boss whirled out of the room and minutes later he announced that everyone could go home early, “Its Christmas, you know.” All except Henry dashed for the doors. Henry was used to being left behind, sometimes it was necessary to work on the systems when no one was about.

One person did stop to wish Henry a good Christmas and that was Clarence DeSousa.. Clarence was the young and only Bermudian who worked in Henry’s office. Clarence was the mail clerk who recently had applied for the Assistant Network Technician position and Henry would be his boss if he managed to get the job. Henry knew deep down that Clarence didn’t have the background to get the job and the company would probably bring another expat in to do the job. “Thank you for the interview last week Henry. I really hope you guys give me the chance. See you next week.” Henry waved without turning Clarence’s way. “Fool.” Henry thought, “He’ll never get past the mail room in this place.”

    The hyenas. The vultures. He understood what his boss was driving at and it frightened him enough to stay and work all night. Even on Christmas Eve. He began to work so frantically that he forgot to call his wife to tell her he wouldn’t be coming home. He became so immersed in the code scrolling by on his monitor that he didn’t see the torrent of rain washing down the streets below. He didn’t see the boats in the harbor being tossed about in the black churning waters. He went into a state of oneness with the network that he had worked so closely with for the last year and a half; such a state that he forgot there was a world outside. He forgot that he was on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that was presently besieged by what would be remembered as one of the worst northeasters to hit in over a century. He forgot that it was Christmas.

    Henry became so frenzied that he began to get very tired. He had been working for hours now. The sun had set and the street lights reflected in a wild collidiscopic burst through the rain. Henry had not eaten and most importantly he had not had any coffee. The lack of large amounts of caffeine and sugar had drained him. Henry fought the awful tired feeling that was wrapping him up. He shifted in his seat. He turned up the music on his cd rom. But nothing was going to save him. The code was just within reach, he could taste it. Alas, poor Henry fell asleep.

    He slipped from his chair and curled beneath his desk. His head rested upon that day’s edition of The Royal Gazette which contained another letter condemning expats and their apparent greed; these letters always made Henry so frustrated. From this position, colored Christmas lights that had been strung across his door blinked and shown down on his sleep ridden face. His skin turned the colors of a terrible Christmas card. On and off. On and Off. On and Off.

****

    “Henry? Henry wake up!” Henry could hear a voice. A familiar voice. “Henry wake up right now man.” The voice was closer now and Henry opened his eyes. He was in his office. The sun was shining and a figure was standing over him as he lay on the floor. “Man, you got the nerve fallin’ asleep on the job. You’re lucky its me and not the boss finding you. C’mon get up, it’s a gorgeous Bermuda day, I got something fascinatin’ to show you.” Now Henry knew. It was Premier Gordon. She was dressed in a bright pink suit and shiny patent sandals. Her smile was wide and she held out her hand to Henry to help him up.

    “Ms. Gordon. I mean Premier. I’m sorry you found me asleep on the job. I know how important it is for expats to set a good example for Bermudians. But I was just so tired.”

    “Never mind that now Henry. I must show you something of the greatest importance to you’re future in Bermuda.” She seized his arm and helped him up. Henry was surprised by the strength of this tiny woman who had come to visit him.

    The Premier led Henry through his office door and to his great surprise they entered his old living room in his old house back in the States. They stopped behind the sofa and Henry looked down to see himself and his sweet wife sitting and watching the television.  “You remember this night Henry. It’s the sixth game of the World Series. Its October of last year and it’s the night they called to ask you if you would like to work in Bermuda. You remember Henry?” The Premier was squeezing Henry’s arm just enough to remind him of a kindergarten teacher he once knew.

    “Yes, yes! How could I forget?” With that the phone rang and Henry on the couch let out a huge growl as he got up to answer it. “Who could that be? Its ten o’clock!” His wife was equally annoyed at the interruption. Henry watched as his self left the living room hanging on to the phone. He would be on that phone for an hour and then would return to ask his wife if she had ever thought about living in Bermuda.

    “You know the rest Henry.” The Premier said as she started to turn Henry around and around. Henry became dizzy and then the Premier stopped him. “Look Henry, its Christmas.” Henry rubbed his eyes and before him he saw his living room packed with boxes and his self and his sweet frazzled looking wife were knee deep in newspapers.

    “Can you believe this? Everyone we know is relaxing and drinking eggnog and we’re packing up to move to a rock in the middle of the ocean? I’m tired and I want to sleep.” Henry’s self sat in a pile of paper’s.

    “You can’t stop now. You can sleep on the plane tomorrow. What was your family thinking when they gave us presents?! We’re just going to put them in storage. Henry are we going to survive this?” His sweet tired wife sat down in the paper with him.

    “We’re going to more than survive this. We’re going to make more money than we ever thought we could. We’re going to finally get ahead and out of debt and to top it off we’re going to be living on a tropical island.” Henry kissed his wife.

    “That’s sub-tropical.” The Premier interjects. “C’mon Henry. You’ve seen enough. It’s time for you to go back to your office. Henry is softly weeping. “Premier, ghost. Whoever you are. Why have you shown me this happy past? I was so hopeful then that Bermuda would be the answer to all our dreams.”

    “Now, Henry don’t go mushy on me. Get back to work. You have a lot to do. Merry Christmas.” Henry was now back in his office. He sat down at this computer and started to work, but it was no use, once again he fell asleep.

****

    “Hey mate! Wake up, we got to get you home for Christmas.” Henry was once again woken by a familiar voice. He raised his head from his desk and turned to see his company taxi driver, Cecil Butterfield. “Its too damn windy outside for you to be ridin’ a bike. I’ll give you a lift.” Henry sleepily rose to his feet and followed Cecil out of his office and suddenly he was sitting in Cecil’s warm clean taxi and Cecil began to sing. “Oh de weather outside is frightful, but de…”

    “Cecil, how did you know I was still in the office?” Henry was rubbing his eyes.

    “I have my ways, mate.” Cecil was driving fast through the empty streets, the taxi seemed to have a mind of its own as the winds and rain blew all around them. “El Nino is causin’ dis storm. Dat’s what dey are sayin’ on de radio.”
    “Yeah, well maybe that’s what killed my network today, Cecil.” Henry was staring out the window.

    “Dat all you think about, man? Work? Hey we’re here.” Cecil slammed on the brakes and Henry fell forward off his seat. He crawled back up on his seat and looked out to see that they were not at his house, but at a little pink house somewhere in Somerset. There were bright Christmas lights all over the windows and there was a warm glow in the window. “Henry, I want you to see dis.” Henry followed Cecil out into the rain and cold and they walked up to the glowing warm window and peered in. “You recognize that family? That’s Clarence DeSousa and his sweet wife and their wee one. Dey ain’t got much, but dey are hopin’ de New Year brings dem some luck. You catch my drift, Henry?”

    “Yeah, I’m beginning to see the light. Can we please get back in the taxi and go home? I’m freezing!”

    “Yessir!” Within moments they were at the end of Henry’s driveway and Henry saw that all the lights were off. “Cecil, do think my wife is mad?”

    “Yep. She went to bed two or three hours ago after calling family back home. She ate a frozen dinner and cried a while. Yep. She’s had enough with you and Bermuda, Henry.”

    “Cecil, take me back to my office. I don’t want to wake her up.”

    “Whatever you say, mate.” Cecil turned the taxi around and they sped back into town, but at the Foot of the Lane, the taxi cut out. “Sorry Henry, I seem to be out of gas, you’ll have to walk from here.” Henry got out into the wind and rain and began the long walk up Front Street to his office. He was cold and lonelier than ever.

****

    Through the curtain of the storm, Henry spotted a horse and carriage approaching him. The driver was bent against the rain and the horse stepped lively despite the river that now replaced the road. The horse and carriage stopped in front on Henry and the driver waived Henry up in the seat beside him. Henry peered under the driver’s black hood, but he couldn’t see a face.

    Without warning, the rain stopped, but the clouds and light wind remained. They were driving along the South Shore and Henry looked out to see a suspended highway that surrounded the island, with huge arching bridges crossing the parishes. There was a smell of gasoline in the air and the houses were now high rises. There was garbage washing in with the tide and Henry saw people sleeping along the roadside. They turned back toward town and though it was morning, Johnny Barnes was not there to wave and welcome everyone to town.

    “Oh ghost, what has happened?”

    “The island was abandoned by the foreign companies and workers. They left an over-developed island with natives unable to keep her going.”

    “Ghost, must it be this way?” The unearthly voice remained silent as they drove down an unrecognizable Front Street to come to a stop below the huge dark building that had replaced Henry’s company.

****

    Henry awoke with a start to find himself under his desk. The storm had passed, but the power was out making the island seem eerily quiet. “Have I missed Christmas?” Henry got to his feet and ran out of his building to get on his bike. He sped home and passed a couple walking on Middle Road, he stopped and asked them, “Is it still Christmas?” They nodded yes nervously. He continued to speed home.

    Henry burst into his house and hugged his sweet wife. “ I am so sorry for missing Christmas Eve. But we will have a wonderful day.” She smiled up at him and kissed him. “But first I have to call my boss. I want him to hire Clarence DeSousa as my new tech assistant.”

    “Are you sure? He’ll need so much training.” His wife looked puzzled in her flannel bathrobe.

    “I have never been more sure in my life, mate.”


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eat This . . .

Yesterday, i bought a little fat spruce tree and decorated it with plump Christmas lights and it glowed all evening out on the porch in the blue cold, while we were warmed by a supper of braised chicken, carrots, radishes, and turnips with leftover risotto. Leftover Risotto? Yes, my dear readers from San Jose, there might be only one thing that is better than Risotto, and that is Leftover Risotto. Braised Radishes? I'll talk about them another time, but you can hold me to this, I may never eat a raw radish again.

So who do you turn to for the purest of Risotto recipes? Of course you head straight to Venice's Calle Vallaresso, near the Piazza San Marco, and duck into Harry's Bar, where else? And listen carefully to Arrigo Cipriani when he demands, "This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano." Got that? Don't be cheap with anything in life, especially risotto. And when he advises that the chicken stock be homemade, take him for his word on that, but if you can't, find a good organic, low sodium stock at the store, and no bouillon or may the gods strike you dead.  Once you have mastered this Risotto, then you may spread your wings and dare to make things so delicate as Risotto Alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto), or Risotto Con Asparagi (Risotto with Asparagus), or Risotto Con Porcini (Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms) - one of my favorite ways to enjoy Risotto is to find wild mushrooms at the market (not in the woods, all you will find there is poisonous mushrooms!) and sauté them with a couple of slices of bacon and then add peas. The Harry's Bar Cookbook is rich with Risotto ideas really, let your mind run wild . . . what will i have with my risotto tonight?

RISOTTO PARMIGIANO
Basic Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

(from Arrigo Cipriani's The Harry's Bar Cookbook)

This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide a mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano. Everything has to be perfect. . . Once you have made it a few times, you'll find it comes as second nature. It's a good idea to have some boiling water on the stove, in case you run out of stock before the risotto is finished.

SERVES 6 AS A FIRST COURSE

5 to 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (1.250 to 1.5 ml)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups short-grain Italian rice, preferably Vialone or Carnaroli (about 250 g)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (45 g)
2/5 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (80 g) plus extra to pass at the table
salt
freshly ground pepper


Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it a at bare simmer.


Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart (2 3/4 liter) saucepan and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring until the onion is golden but not brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the rice well with the oil and onion. Turn the heat to medium-high, add about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the simmering stock, and keep the mixture boiling, stirring constantly. As soon as the stock has been absorbed, add another 1/2 cup (125 ml) of stock and stir until it is absorbed. You may have to adjust the heat from time to time--the risotto has to keep boiling, but it must not stick to the pot. If your risotto tends to stick, put the pot on a Flame Tamer (Wolfy has one of these things and she cannot recommend this tool more highly). Continue adding stock about 1/2 cup (125 ml) at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until each portion is absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is creamy and tender on the outside with each grain still distinct and firm. This will take at least 20 minutes, maybe as long as 30 minutes, depending on your pot and your stove. If the rice is still a bit hard in the middle after you have used all but a few tablespoons of the stock, add boiling water 1/4 cup (60 ml) at a time, stirring it in as you did the stock, until each grain of rice is tender but still has the slightest bit of firmness and the mixture is creamy.

Remove the pan from the heat and vigorously stir in the butter and the Parmesan. This stirring will make the risotto even creamier. Taste and season with salt and pepper. While continuing to stir vigorously, add the few remaining tablespoons of hot stock (or boiling water if you've used all the stock) to make the consistency softer and softer. In Italy we call it all'onda--like a wave. Taste carefully for seasoning and serve immediately, passing a small bowl of Parmesan cheese. 

Wolfy Note on Leftover Risotto: i like to put the risotto in a lightly oiled baking dish and bake it at 350 degrees until its slightly golden. But as Arrigo says, there are many ways to make leftover risotto, such as his "pancakes" -- To reheat risotto in a frying pan: Use a nonstick pan. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons (30 g) of butter. When the butter is hot, add rounded tablespoons of risotto and flatten into pancakes with the back of the spoon. Fry the risotto until then are golden brown, then turn them and fry on the other side, adding more butter as needed.

Wine Notes:
Italian: Arneis "Blange" - Ceretto
American: Chardonnay - Mt. Veeder

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Man and the Cockapoo

While waiting for the light to turn green on Monday afternoon, I watched a man holding a cockapoo in his arms at the corner of King and Margaret. The man of sixty or so was slight and neatly dressed in a tweed coat, wool pants, and dark leather shoes. The cockapoo was full grown, but had the dark naive eyes of a puppy, his popcorn tresses ruffled in the early December wind and he hung alert in the mans’ grip. The dog wore a collar and a leash and this baffled me as I wondered if the man was holding the cockapoo because it was the only way to restrain the dog, but this wasn’t necessarily so. The dog was calm, and had an air about him of complete comfort. The man was equally calm as though this were a normal thing, to carry his cockapoo, but I could see him shift the dog slightly back and forth to redistribute his weight - it could not have been easy for him to hold the dog, who looked to be at least fifty pounds, maybe more. The cockapoo didn’t seem to be handicapped in any way, nor was he a dog who looked panicked. I wanted to roll down the window and inquire if they needed assistance, but as I watched them, there didn’t seem to be anything I could help them with. Perhaps the cockapoo was unruly on the leash and the man preferred to carry him when navigating town? But then again, perhaps the dog was in distress? Postictal from a seizure? Perhaps the man simply liked to carry his cockapoo -- a relief to some deep anxiety. The light turned, the man crossed the street, the cockapoo rested quietly in the man’s arms and moved to the rhythm of his confident stride and they disappeared from view near the courthouse as I drove away.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Five



New Year's Calling

the snow stopped just after we fed the horses tonight
did you see the clouds speed away over the fields?
and the stars rang on as we walked up to the house
no, i don't suppose you did
you're too occupied with what happened
and how the horse made you a fool
i told you not to take him out on Boxing Day
too many damn fools and you insisted
and now you sit there wriggling in your cumberbund
which couldn't possibly feel right
three broken ribs and a black eye
and here we go to the Von Tooten's New Year's Party
and yet, just this once, i wish we had stayed home
there's a perfectly fine bottle of champagne in the ice box
and plenty of duck for sandwiches
Sylvia will be the first one you know
she'll tell you to sell the horse
for cheap
and she'll be the first one to make the offer
because she knows he's game
too game for you
and it will be veiled in concern
but next year he'll win the Maryland Hunt Cup
and she'll send us the notices from The Chronicle
don't eat the Merry Tomatoes by the way
they're soaked in vodka
Tommy damn near broke his neck
on the icy steps last year . . . do you remember?
of course not

II

i love you
i can't tell you how much
the snow betrays me
just look at the headlights
across the fields
i know i dreamed this night
when i was a little girl

III

if Tommy even looks at you
i'll punch him in the mouth
i won't hesitate
i'll do it
i'll drag him through the parlor
out the french doors
into the snow
and beat him bloody
like a christmas pig

IV

Do you remember the Merry Tomatoes?
Yes . . .
I won't make that mistake again
Oh, do, you were so funny . . .
I was?
You were darling . . .
They were delicious
Of course they were . . .
Like little bloody mary bombs
you almost broke your neck . . .
How many Maryland Hunt Cups?
8, no 9 . . .
And I've never come out of the tack
But the Merry Tomatoes . . .
Were my match
I'm going to make you a lovely cocktail plate . . .
I dare you
I'll do it . . .
And I'll devour them all

V

the puppies will come tonight
i just know they will
she'll have 8 or 9 or
ten!
and we'll be here
in the snow
in the ruffle
let's just have one drink
and slip home?
i don't want her to be alone
in the welping box
like a common foxhound

VI

is the President coming?
no . . .
but you said he was coming
well, she called and said that the snow
the snow?
the snow would keep them . . .
oh, well, i suppose, this will make things simpler
yes, simpler . . .
Sylvia will be broken-hearted
Sylvia will live . . .
Sylvia always lives

VII

there's a Great Dane in the driveway
that's Hester's dog . . .
why isn't it put up for the night?
Hester lets the dog do whatever it likes . . .
i heard the President is coming
well, then the President will meet the Great Dane . . .
M'am . . .
what is it?
M'am, there's a big dog in the driveway and it won't move
just drive around it Skeet . . .
but, M'am, i don't want to get stuck in the snow
it's okay Skeet, just drive around the dog . . .
why didn't you tell me the President was going to be here?
well, no one knew, until the hunt breakfast  . . .
on Boxing Day?
yes, where were you?
i was in the emergency room with Carroll, three broken ribs
oh!
that's a damn nice horse, he has no business. . .
Carroll has no business riding a mule
if i'd known the President was coming I would have worn my little elephant . . .
M'am?
What is it Skeet?
M'am, i've run aground of something . . .
Just hit the gas Skeet, but don't run over the dog
you know, my little gold elephant . . .
yes, with the pearl tusk and the ruby eye
all the same, the President is doing a fine job
i wonder if she'll hunt with us in the morning?
well, if she does, let's hope they give her a nice horse . . .
Carroll's horse?
oh!

VII

. . . "Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow."  . . .

there's never a poet
never
just once
i'd like to come to this thing
and be surprised by a poet
there i'd be,
standing on one foot
filling the other with champagne
juggling Merry Tomatoes
and up comes a poet
and recites to me
something a flame
something baudy
something
anything
to make me forget
another year has gone by
another goddamn year
but instead
Sylvia will whisper in my ear
something about volunteering
for the Hunt Ball committee
and i'll just die
just die of boredom

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Four

Skewbald

i am sensational
the hounds were not impressed
the huntsman was appalled
when i appeared with her
the morning of the Boxing Day Hunt
Mrs. Whooseyshoes asked,
"did he run away from the circus?"
and she answered, "yes -
do you know he used to run with elephants?"
and Mrs. Whooseyshoes sniffed,
"but can he run with hounds, dear?"

i heard the horn
i heard the the fields rise up
cold beneath my round spotted belly
she fed me ginger snaps
from her pockets
and told me, "Ware hound"
and this funny three-legged
lemon colored bitch
ran between my legs
and i wondered to myself
what is an elephant?

i wait for her
on these summer nights
and she takes me
for long walks on the roads
she sings and talks to herself
and once she asked me,
"did you smell it? the fox?"
and i heard the fox
go to ground
before the first star trembled

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shhhhhhhhhhhh

wolfy is cooking . . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Three


Mushroom Picker

i don’t care for mushrooms myself
they smell like cellars
but i was talkin’ to Calvin
at the feed store
and he told me his brother quit
workin’ in the mines
and started growing mushrooms
in their old sheep shed
all kinds too
the kinds that people,
mushroom aficionados, so to speak,
pay a lot for
so i got to thinkin’
about Calvin’s brother
breathin’ the soft damp
air of mushrooms
instead of coal dust
and how accustomed
he is to gettin’ around in the dark
with nothin’ but a lamp on his head
must be a relief for him
knowin’ the roof ain’t gonna cave in
and he probably has lunch up at the house
with his wife now
where they can look out the window
at that old pony with the one blue eye


 Island Library

the librarian’s afternoon began with a quandary
and ended with an embarrassment
only four attended the carefully publicized
Travel Writer’s reading
and one of the four
an impressionable nine year old
who refused to sit in a chair
and instead lay in the grass
in an ill fitting gingham dress
with one sock up and one sock down
blowing enormous bubbles
of her gum
as the Travel Writer read stories
of his summer in Sicily
in 1972 or was it 1962?
the librarian was in such a state
the year of his jaunt hardly mattered
it was difficult enough when he spoke
of the blustery red-faced Englishman who came to his villa
asking for matches when
a light for his Cuban cigar
wasn’t really what he wanted at all
sordid enough was that tale
but then to speak of the fantasies brought on
as he ate pastries;
minne di Sant’Agata,
she hoped while he paused
that a translation would not follow
but it did
the breasts of Saint Agatha,
he held the candied cherry nipples
on his tongue . . .
and well,
the nine year old
let the pink bubble deflate
and the gum descended over her lips and chin
and her mother looked far out to the sea
where a sailboat appeared and disappeared
in the waves of a distant storm

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Two

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson

what i remember
is the clock
over the doors
mechanized by a series of weights
strung on wire cables
descending into beautiful round holes
cut into the foyer floors
and the revolving door
that led into the dining room
slaves on one side
placing silver trays of food
and spinning the door
so state secrets
stayed on the table 
like bread crumbs
and most of all,
his bed
it was lilliputian
and built into the wall 
of his chambers
he slept like a book
upon a shelf
i could imagine him curled
in velvet and lambs wool
reading by the sparks of a fire
until a slave woman
doused the lamp


Portrait of Andy Warhol

who was the pale man?
which one?
the one i sat next to,
he looked like a vampire . . . 
that was Andy Warhol's boyfriend
but how?
did you like your hamburger?
yes, but how?
Peter owns many of his paintings
yes, Marilyn is in the living room
or is that Liz Taylor?
there's a little soup can in the bathroom
but how?
what?
I don't think he liked me
who?
Mr. Warhol's boyfriend
he doesn't like anyone
not even Andy


Portrait of a Lady

i follow my sisters
foolishly up these hills
they speak of chestnuts
but all i've found 
is old barbed wire
and the bones of a dog
a bell rings
in the valley
he's gone to church
where he'll strike a deal
for winter hay
all for sweaters
his wife makes of us
on the loom 
near the chimney

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part One

Winter Pig

one doesn’t go to sleep
expecting such a sight
as this
in the morning
where is my field?
where is the sky?
where is my breakfast
of last night’s cabbage and
bread and rutabagas?
this is most extraordinary
indeed


Runaway Pig

if this is my only moment
let it be the fleetest
my belly is full
of half risen dough
and the last of the beets
from the garden
i spent most of the night
digging them up
under her window
as the moon glittered
in the hemlocks
certainly she will find
my house dark and quiet
and empty of me
will she drop the bucket
of celery roots
and boiled rice?
who will she call?
or will she ride the pony
alone in these woods
to find me
finally asleep
near the cliffs?
then
yes
i will follow her home
and the pony
will shake his tail
at the thought
of capturing pig


Pig And The Train

first time
it went by
i was a suckling
now i am
near slaughter
and the fields
are full of
dried golden rod
i know it’s coming now
the horn in the distance
and the steam
mixing with the grey sky
the birds tell me
it’s full of rutabagas
but i know better
it’s full of coal



Little Fox Hunters . . .

Autumn Menagerie

Friday, November 11, 2011

Immortality

A literature teacher asked me last night if i was worried that that someone might steal my stories off my blog . . . the thought had occurred to me, but then again, at this juncture, in my lack luster writing career, i believe i would be flattered if someone stole a story.

seriously though, there are all sorts of writers out there sharing their work on blogs for free and i think the chances of someone plagiarizing are low - unless a desperate creative writing student in Nebraska just happens to need a story for class the next day.

i do wonder what all those hits from Russia and Poland are about some times, perhaps my stories will show up in a collection written by some Moscow hack who will be touted as the next Dostoyevsky. And because it will be years and years before it's translated back to English (as it was stolen from me and originally in English) - then well, i will never know about it. But someone, some literary blog historian of the future will make the discovery, will see that this Russian's prose are actually the work of Wolfy, and he will be exposed and his bronze statue will be toppled in Red Square. That kinda thing could lead to my immortality. So having a story stolen from my blog wouldn't be so bad after all.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Repatriation








Last night I dreamed we were moving back to Bermuda. My husband didn’t have a job there yet, but we were packing boxes and in a rush to make a plane. I looked around our house and realized that we couldn’t possibly pack everything in the time we had. The last thing I remember about the dream is asking, “Why? Why are we going back there?”

This morning I realized I never finished telling my story of Bermuda. There are many chapters I haven’t written for you and perhaps the dream was my brain’s way of saying, “Finish the story.”

We were repatriated -- if you flip through the pages of my passport, you will find a stamp dated August 1, 1998 declaring Involuntary Repatriation. It’s an awfully nice way of saying we were required to leave the country. We weren’t exactly deported, we were just no longer expats. Repatriation rings of some sort of chemical process, as though we were pasteurized, reconstituted, hydrated, and reanimated. We were powdered patriots, they added skim milk and we were full on flavorful patriots of the United States again. But at the same time it’s sounds as though we did something outrageous, as though we scoffed the law and the powers of Bermuda tracked us down on a remote reef and airlifted us back to the States - as though we were extradited and locked up in the Hague, oh, wait a minute, that’s what happened to Goldfinger only a few years after we were excommunicated from paradise, but that’s another chapter in this complicated little yarn.

A month before everything went to pieces, we were watching the BBC evening news - it was May, the beginning of the High Season in Bermuda, the time when all the tourists would begin streaming in. The waters were warm and sapphire, but we felt an unease, not for any particular reason, just that we had been on the island long enough to know a storm was coming, even if one could not be detected on the empty sea horizon. But on this particular night, the BBC was telling the story of an African country that had plunged into war practically overnight and a violent coup d'état had made the situation so unsafe for expats that they had been ordered to leave as soon as possible. There were harrowing scenes of American and European aid workers dashing across broken tarmac and climbing desperately into planes with nothing but the clothes on their backs furiously waving their passports. My husband commented to me, “I would like to be in that situation just once, you know? To have only a few hours to get out of a place incredibly dangerous and to experience the fear and then the thrill of the plane lifting off the ground whisking you home.” I laughed, and said, “Yeah, like Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in The Year of Living Dangerously . . . ” The thought of being loosed from all your possessions, of dodging bullets, of being a refugee has it's allure I suppose, but only for a moment.

It would come by way of Houdini, the news that is. Every day Houdini brought my husband and his two coworkers lunch at the small converted farm house where they would be programming away, writing code to make Goldfinger richer. It was odd that they were cloistered away in the farm house near Goldfinger’s horse stable, while just a few miles away, down in Flatts Village, the traders who played with Goldfinger’s money worked all day on his private trading floor. The farm house was quiet and on the surface it seemed logical to have the engineers work in isolation from the daily hubub of the futures and bonds traders who made alot of racket on the phone all day. But there was a territorial element, the engineers were building an automated trading system that if completed would render the human traders redundant. We were always kept slightly on the outside of everything for fear that hostilities would replace the usual good manners everyone used with one another. And to keep the engineers fueled and coding away, elaborate lunches were delivered by Goldfinger’s driver Houdini. But it wasn’t just food that Houdini brought on that day in the end of June. Houdini came to the door somewhat stricken by what he had seen while delivering lunch to the trading floor. Goldfinger had fired everyone in a fit of rage over what he perceived as an inexcusable loss of his money over the past several months. He cleared the decks, even firing his longtime partner and friend, The Egyptian - a man who had worked for him since the days of selling cars in Holland and then orchestrated singlehandedly the cornering of the world oil market a decade before, shocking the international trading community. The Egyptian had been through the fire bombings in South Africa and Holland with Goldfinger, his firing sounded like pigs flying over hell.

Houdini warned my husband and the other boys in the farmhouse that Goldfinger was on his way to fire them too. Py didn’t wait around, he got on his motorbike and came straight back to Casa Verde where I was eating my own lunch after working at the Aquarium all morning. Jack the dog barked the bark that told me Py was headed up Lolly’s Well Road and I knew something wasn’t right. He wasn’t supposed to be home til cocktail hour. I went out on the veranda and saw him round the corner past the quarry and the sound of the bike was even wrong. Jack and I met Py out in the driveway, “It’s over, everyone’s been fired. Even the Egyptian. We’ve got 30 days to get home.”

Now 30 days might seem like alot to you. But when you’re living on a rock in the middle of the ocean and you have very little savings because living on the rock has drained your account, it’s a damn short time to plan re-entry. We had no jobs, no home, we had to sell a right-hand drive mini car, a motorbike, and a few pieces of furniture that we couldn’t take back to the States. And we had two cats and a dog. We were adrift.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hey Jerry Bailey, I'm Talking to You . . .

I'm the daughter of one of the first women to earn a New York Racing Association Trainer's License - she paid her dues in sweat and hard labor and keeping her head high when men on the track tried to take advantage of her. She arrived on the track with practically nothing back in 1969 and by 1970 she was galloping horses for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkins. And in 1975 she struck out on her own with a trainer's license and a handful of owners. My mother was a pioneer and it's women like her who have paved the way for Girls on the backstretch and without those efforts jockeys like Chantal Sutherland wouldn't be where they are today.

But it seems that nothing has changed.

Imagine my mother's reaction, not to mention mine, while watching ABC/ESPN's coverage of The Breeder's Cup, when you, Mr. Bailey, said that Sutherland is "known more for her activities off the track than on." Now some might say you were referring to her Vogue coverage or her role in HBO's upcoming series Luck, but to some viewers the implications of this statement are pretty torrid -- you might as well have said Sutherland was just another pretty face who has slept her way to the top of racing. As I listened to you and your fellow commentators discuss Sutherland's career, I had a hard time believing that you were discussing a professional jockey. The next thing I expected you to quip was if Sutherland was lucky enough to pull off a victory in her upcoming race, she might just get a date with Bobby Flay.

Men like you are perpetuating chauvinism in racing -- a sport that dearly needs to examine the successes and contributions of it's woman workforce -- and I'm not talking about the wealthy owners and breeders, but the women who work seven days a week on the backstretch in all kinds of weather with low pay and minimal protection if they get hurt.

I'm sure you and the TV executives have all sorts of excuses for why you blurted out such an irresponsible thing, but it would be just that: excuses and jabs at someone who might be taking all that you say too seriously. And others might say Sutherland is "prostituting' herself through the media, but a Girl's Gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do and bottom line, Bob Baffert wouldn't have put her up on Game On Dude if she couldn't ride. Somewhere out there young women riders are watching your coverage of racing and wondering if it might be the career path for them -- I just hope they got steelier and more determined when they heard you make a mole hill out of the mountain that Sutherland and other women who work on the track have had to climb. And then of course, Chantal's stunning second place finish in the Classic might just have wiped your comment off the their mind's completely.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Question of the Day

Overheard in the produce section, one senior citizen to another: Don't they have any normal bananas?

Their Own Electricity . . .

On this barely sunny morning i was dazzled by a spear of light from a black man’s gold tooth as he smiled and strided up Churton Street against the traffic . . .

After the sun came, it went, and the sky filled with wet asphalt clouds and in the woods we couldn’t quite believe our eyes -- the river was filled with rushing water once again after months of drought and the trees with their remaining leaves glowed in the weirdest lime green . . . the scarlet maples and the ochre poplars were put to shame by the leaves that had remained green into this first week of November, it was as though they were injected with phosphorescence and they blinded us with this light that seemed to have been saved from the brightest summer day for this stormy morning.

Following two yellow school buses, i rounded the corner near the water treatment plant and was caught up in the slightly hysterical gate of a skinny man in his navy pajamas with white horizontal stripes . . . he was barefooted and looked as though he had escaped from somewhere, but i saw him stop to open a mailbox and finding it empty, he left the little door ajar and he dashed wildly back under a deep green cedar toward a crooked mobile home with a grey door.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Slides into November

the autumn woods were a green-eyed calico cat in the late afternoon sun . . .

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Bear

“I’m going to try the Souvlaki  . . .”

“What? Nobody eats that stuff, have something normal like a grilled cheese.”

“But it’s on the menu. It’s always been on the menu. It’s a Greek diner, why not have something authentic?”

“Because nobody has ever ordered it, I guarantee you. They have some souvlaki back there in the freezer. It’s been there since 1972 because nobody has ever ordered it. You want 40 year old eggplant?”

“I guess not . . . ”

She shifted in her seat, the bear suit was getting warm under the artificial Tiffany chandelier in the booth. She took off the bear paws and laid them on top of the little juke box. The waitress came and leaned over the table to straighten the little bowl of candy corns, “Hi honey, nice bear suit. I wouldn't eat those candy corns, they're just for decoration ya know.”

“Thanks . . . ”

“What are you two in the mood for tonight?” The waitress smoothed her red hair, and brought the end of her long pony tail over her shoulder. She readied her pumpkin topped pen at the top of her order pad.

“Well, not the Souvlaki,” he said and winked at his bear.

“No? I just had some in the kitchen on my break, good stuff, but no one ever orders it.”

“The bear and I will have the grilled cheese plate - and can you put a slice of ham in mine?”

“Sure honey. I’ll be back with your drinks, Coke right? You two always get Cokes.”

The waitress returned to set the Cokes down and put two straws on the table, “So she’s a bear, but what are you dressed as?” she asked.

“I don’t wear Halloween costumes.” He said this while carefully tearing the paper away from the straw, he pushed the straw through the ice at the top of his glass and simultaneously handed the other straw to the bear, who waved it away and just started drinking her Coke from the glass through her bear muzzle, “You should use a straw you know,” he said to her.

“Oh, so your costume is The Serious Guy, right?” Said the waitress.

“What?” he looked slightly pained at the waitress.

“It was just joke honey, right little bear?” The waitress winked at the bear and spun away to take more orders.

The two of them sat there quietly for a while, and she could hear Billy Joel softly singing she’s always a woman to me in the next booth. She liked what the waitress said, she thought it was funny, The Serious Guy and the Bear go out to the diner for Halloween. What kind of Serious Guy takes a bear to a Greek diner anyway she thought. A diner where no one orders the Souvlaki. And why shouldn’t she drink her Coke straight from the glass? She felt beads of sweat running down her rib cage, it wasn’t so hot at the party, but the party was outside, in the dark, and near the beach, there was a breeze. It was a nice place to be a bear, under the weeping willows with the pumpkins all aglow and the silly crowd of friends who she hadn’t seen since graduation. Most of them went to college, but she stayed behind to work in the seafood restaurant with her father. Some day, some day she would go to college, but right now her father needed her to make clams on the half shell.

“So Samantha, I’ve been thinking . . . ”

“Yeah Sam?”

“I wanted to ask you why you dressed up as a bear tonight.”

“It’s my homage to John Irving, I thought you knew that.”

“Oh yeah, you mean Natasha Kinski.”

“Yeah, in Hotel New Hampshire. . . she’s the bear.”

"You mean the lesbian bear.”

“Yes, if that’s how you want to think of her, the lesbian bear.”

“But you could have dressed up as Jodie Foster you know . . . in the school uniform, with the short kilt and the knee socks.”

“But nobody would have known it was Jodie Foster. They would have just thought I was wearing a Greens Farms Academy uniform.”

“Yeah, but it would have been sexier. Oh wait, I know, you could have dressed up as Natasha Kinski in a snake.”

“That was a Vanity Fair photo silly, it had nothing to do with John Irving. And anyway, where am I going to find a snake that big?”

“It’s just . . .”

“I know Sam, you wanted me to dress like the other girls do on Halloween - like a French Maid, or Cat Woman, or Marilyn Monroe. Something so sexy that you want to rip off my costume at the end of the night right?”

“Samantha!”

“Well?”

“This is almost as bad as last year. You went too far you know, you cut off all your hair and went as Joan of Arc Burning at the Stake.”

“Hey! That was my best costume ever.”

“You looked ridiculous tied to that post all night.”

“But I thought men wanted their girls all tied up?”

“Samantha!”

“Sam!”

The red headed waitress returned with grilled cheeses, “Grilled cheese with ham for the Serious Guy and a plain grilled cheese for the bear, with a little sample of Souvlaki on the side honey, maybe you’ll like it.”

“Thank you so much,” Samantha picked up her fork and her big hairy elbow knocked her Coke over and it spilled across Sam’s plate dousing his grilled cheese in ice and soda.

“That’s it! Samantha you’re just too weird for me.”

“Wait -- one night a year I don’t dress the way you like and that’s it?”

“No it’s not just Halloween, it’s everything. You know what your problem is?”

“Gosh Sam, what is my problem?”

“You don’t want to be like anyone else, you go straight out of your way to be infuriatingly counter clockwise. And besides, you always smell slightly like your father’s fish house” The redheaded waitress stooped with a small towel to stop the ice and soda from running off the table and into Sam’s lap.

“Honey, I don’t mean to butt in here, but you two been coming here since junior high and well . . . ”

“Would you PLEASE leave me alone!” Sam stood up and tore his overcoat from the coat hook on the side of the booth, “I’m sorry, I gotta get outta here.”

“It was the nurse wasn’t it?” Samantha grabbed the waitress’ arm, “Please stay, I want you to hear him answer me.”

“Okay honey, I’m right here for you.”

“What nurse?”

“The nurse at the party, the one who told you to listen to her heart with the pink stethoscope. She gave you her number. You’re going back there to pick her up. And you’re going to leave me here to walk home in a bear suit.”

“It’s not that far of a walk, you live on Long Lots Road.” Sam put his coat over his shoulders, “I’ll pay the check. Don’t call me anymore.” Sam spun around and walked straight into the little Hungarian hostess with the silver bee hive teetering on high heels, she was carrying two Manhattans on a tray and the tray flew from her hands, the amber liquor drenching her little blue grey Chanel knockoff. The diner froze and Sam never stopped, didn't even pay the cashier.

The redheaded waitress sat down in the booth with Samantha, “Honey, do you need a ride home?”

"You know what? I don't think he even knows that Jodie Foster's a lesbian . . . "

"What's that honey?"


"Oh nothing . . . don't worry, I can walk home.”

“Really? In a bear suit?”

“Yes, in a bear suit, who’s going to bother a bear on Long Lots Road on Halloween?”

“Nobody I guess. But eat the souvlaki before you go, that way it don't go to waste.”

More From Project Vacate Facebook

Ultimately, Facebook is like being stuck in a traffic jam. The long road trip began with such promise. You were on your way to a land of old friends and maybe some family. The highway was wide and there were so few cars the miles zipped by. The vistas were filled with bright sky. But the lanes narrowed and became more numerous. The cars seemed to be coming at you from every direction. You made a wrong turn and suddenly you were on a one-way toll road to Montreal with no exits. Finally you get to an exit, near the Canadian border, and the toll lady sees your panic, she tells you, “Take a right and a right and another right, and that might you get back to where you want to be . . .  deary.” And so you do as she told you and next thing you know you’re in four maybe fives lanes of headlight to tail traffic and you decide the only thing you can do is roll down the window and change the cd in the player -- maybe listen to some Neil Young for a change. But then you are drawn to listen to the music coming the car next to you and before you know it you are reading all the bumper stickers - so many bumper stickers . . . inspirational, angry, political, and then there are ones that make no sense at all. You look to your right and watch a copper colored minivan roll by - it’s packed with a family. Father is driving. Mother is making peanut butter crackers for her hypnotized children in the back - they are all staring up at individual flashing blue tv screens and they do not blink. Father answers his cell phone. Mother puts down the crackers and knife covered in peanut butter and begins to text.  Then they are gone and you see a woman in a convertible . . . is that a red Thunderbird? And she’s in a bikini and her hair is blowing in the wind although she is only going two miles an hour and she is steering the little sports car with her perfectly manicured painted bare toes while she sells vitamins on her Blackberry. It begins to drizzle, and then snow, and you are running low on gas and then? A man leers at you from his Wonder Bread Truck. You roll up your windows and change the cd again, now you decide is a good time to listen to something from Bob Dylan and you stop reading the bumper stickers and instead decide to clean out your glove compartment. You’re hungry. You miss home. You’re running low on gas. The engine is making a noise. What would happen if you got out of the car and walked? Would anyone care? Just beyond the big Dairy Queen sign, someone hits you from behind. It’s quite a jolt. You sit for a minute and try to take in the implications of this. If there’s damage, then it’s going to be a big complicated mess - what with being out of state and all. But it’s their fault you tell yourself, it’s always the one who comes from behind who’s to blame . . . right? You catch sight of a tweed coated figure stomping toward your door in the rear view mirror and you see the sparkle of broken glass on the wet pavement . . . you take a deep breath and reach for your registration because you know exactly where it is now that you cleaned out your glove compartment, and you roll down the window. The tweed man leans in and smiles, “You should have been paying more attention!” Night is falling, the distinct glow of GPS units seems to come from every car as you near the Tappan Zee, like little stars. Ice fog is rising from the Hudson and a train horn blows in the distance and then you see the train just like a toy in a Park Avenue window at Christmas time making it’s way along the big river from the City into the suburbs where it will deposit commuters like coins in their little towns - they will go home and eat reheated pizza and watch bad movies while they text their lovers.  The exits are numerous now, the parkway has no tolls, you pick a familiar place and decide to stay there for the night . . .

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sea Horse . . . Fragment One Revisited

He'd been alone on the island for three years now. Or maybe four, he couldn't keep track anymore. Why keep track? He was inclined to getting depressed if he knew it was Tuesday, a day of the week with terrible associations, so this is what he did. He watched the stars and the phases of the moon, and he noticed when it was getting cold -- he knew the seasons by their presence, not by some calendar. 
The island was three square miles, he had flown over it once in the government helicopter, during a military survey and it struck him strange that the island was shaped like a trophy he'd won as a schoolboy for running a cross country race, some sort of overgrown pewter bonbon dish. He smiled every time he thought of it, that he lived in a bonbon dish in the North Sea. His wife would have smiled too.
The government gave him an out after the accident. They'd set him up on the continent for life; they even sent a psychologist to talk to him, to explore the tears in his armor, to reason with him -- did he understand isolation? Yes was the answer, yes . . . 
There was the lighthouse to attend, the weather station, and now experimental gardening plots. The supply tug came the third Saturday of every month and with it a month's worth of mail -- memos from the government updating him on the Dispute and letters from his father in Vancouver -- wouldn't he visit please? No was the answer, no . . . The Dispute was three hundred years old and the government was always reassurring that the Opponents' claim was fallow. He read the memos always with a glass of whiskey and sometimes late at night mused at the idea of being overrun by the Opponents - he saw them coming by many small fishing boats covered in seaweed and carrying hand made swords and chanting in Portuguese. They'd slit his throat at dawn and burn his thatch roof -- all that would remain is the stonewalls of his home at the base of the lighthouse. The government would send exactly three military helicopters, but the pilots would retreat at the sight of the practically prehistoric Opponents -- they'd bear away from the island, radio in, and say Let them have the godforsaken place.
*****
It was a good day for fishing. There had been a horrendous storm two nights ago that beat the sea to a black froth and kept him at the lighthouse post for thirty hours. The radio was full of voices and static and word of a freighter that had gone down some sixty nautical miles from his cliffs. This was the sea to him, the water took prisoners occasionally just as the moon drove some mad and the sun burned men who were foolish enough to cross the desert. But when the skies cleared, when the sea's belly was satiated, he always crossed himself, and thought of the ship's men, of their bones whitening with the salt of the sea, of their wives left behind . . . sea widows were his sisters. 
And the sea always was happiest and at its most beautiful after a rage, after a kill, and these were the days he felt fine enough to sail and fish -- the sea wouldn't want him or his little green skiff and he could leave the lighthouse and the green house and the puffins. He'd had terribly good luck finding sailfish and dolphin on a southwestern current last time he'd gone out and he decided to take the same tack this time, pushing off from what Adelle used to call Tern Rock.
One mile out, he dropped his sail. He watched the surface of the water as he prepared his rod, pushing bait, mussels he'd pulled the night before, and two hawksbill turtle heads bobbed momentarily, snorted softly, so that only he could hear them, and then they dove. Indeed, it was a good morning. He cast his line and settled in with no expectations -- his father taught him as a boy that expectation rang down the line and tinged off the end of the hook making for nervous fish. His mind drifted to the dream he'd had the night before -- she came to him often in dreams, sometimes it was just an afternoon in the lighthouse, and up the stairs she'd come with tea and a piece of cake, but other times, such as on this night, she crawled between the sheets with him. It was unbearably good to have her straddle over him, her hands pressed on his shoulders, her thighs holding his hips together. And waking was always horrible, because all that was left was the air. He wondered if his longing for her would bring the fish to the hook.
But something came with the green current that wasn't a fish at all. It heaved with struggle, was it a hammerhead? It wasn't. It was something not of the water, this he knew. It was black and monstrous as it made its way toward the skiff. He reeled his line in, empty and light, still laden with mussel meat and tossed the rod back on the deck. The dark apparition came closer and closer, and he caught sight of the white of an eye, and then the horrifying realization came over him that this was nothing but a horse! It blew water from its nostrils as a whale might blow water from its spout.  He absentmindedly reached for the one life jacket he kept aboard the skiff, but realized this was a ridiculous effort, and went instead to raise his sail as the panicked horse pounded the currents at his hull. He called out, "Horse!" and the horse rolled one eye up at him as if to say "Man!" and the wind filled the sail, as the skiff lurched back toward the island, so did the horse. He held the skiff as straight and fine as he could, but his eyes kept falling on the horse who rose and sank with every stride, for she wasn't swimming, she was galloping beneath the currents -- her broad back, her hind quarters machined in a weirdly watery way, as though she was born of the fishes.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Crash In The Night

it's Halloween, and i live in the woods at the end of a long wooded driveway - nobody comes here to Trick or Treat and if they did, well, i wouldn't answer the door, because a sure sign that someone isn't right in the head is to go Trickertreatin' in lonely places.
My sweet husband has gone to town for Tai Chi class, his first in a few weeks, since he's had the Epizoudic as my grandfather used to call it - the cough has kept us up for nights now, and usually i'm the lung case here, but this time it was him.

So i'm here alone, with the fire going, and a slate blue sky that is the afterthought of a rainy afternoon that gave up. If there's a moon, my hounds will have to find it for me. The pines are black and thick against the western sky.

i'm making Julia Child's Potage Veloute Aux Champignons - that's Fancy for Cream of Mushroom Soup and you can find it on page 40 of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I wouldn't normally make such a thing, but i bought a chicken and roasted it a few days ago, because i had a dream about attending a banquet where little roasted birds were served on pearl white plates and well, after a dream like that, you must make a roasted chicken, and then make a lovely stock of it's remnants a day or so later. Well, I used half the stock on a risotto with asparagus and white wine, and now i'm using the remainder to make this Potage Veloute . . . i have failed to mention here that i bought far too many crimini mushrooms at the market today because i was listening to a nearby conversation and in order to stay put i kept putting handfuls of the cool round fungus in the bag and besides, there is something rich about mushrooms isn't there? Oh the smell of dark dirt they carry.

so there i am in the kitchen, just a while ago and i have fed the hounds their dinner and have tended the fire . . . have i mentioned i can build a hell of a good fire? It comes from years of visiting my mother in her unheated house where the only source of warmth was her fireplace - they made me sleep on the sofa near the fire, warm indeed, but it came with a heavy responsibility, stoke the fire all night, or we all freeze by morning . . . i understand the Three Log Rule, and if you know about fire, you know what i'm talking about.

so anyway, there i am, i've brought the stock to a boil and i've carefully sauteed the onions in butter and added the flour and i'm getting ready to add the stock and chopped mushroom stems from a pound of mushrooms, along with the bay leaf and the thyme and the parsley, to the stock, when i hear a Crash.

No ordinary crash, it's the distinct sound of breaking glass.

you know that sound, it's a sharp shrill and then a tinkling like Tinkerbell just arrived, am i right?

Well, i was torn - i was at a critical point with the stock and i hear my hounds running through the house. This was quite a challenge for one such as me - i'm not only afraid of the dark, but am quite prone to Madam Panic -- yeah? Oh shuttup.

i decided to do what Julia wanted me to do and i combined the boiling stock with the other ingredients and i forged on and my hound Boogie showed up in the kitchen, repelled by the steam, but drawn by the chicken essence in the air, with a boding look in his eyes, "They broke something . . . " Boogie never busts things up around here, the girls do, my girl hounds are simply unable to control themselves, and so i looked at Boogie, "they have and well, i can't come right now, because i have to bring this back up to a simmer and make certain the flour doesn't clump, got me?"

But then i had visions in my head of one of the girls with bloody paws, so i left my fungus stock and began the search through the house for the source of the Crash in the Night.

You know, the night before my grandmother died, there was a terrible bump in the wee hours of the night. It woke my grandfather and my grandmother's Polish nurse who was very Catholic and heavens-to-Betsy more superstitious than my grandfather, and this so frightened her that she ran to Pop's bedroom and woke him and said the sound meant Death was near. My grandfather told her to go back to bed, but knowing him, he was completely undone by her declaration. She insisted he walk the house with her to find the source of the sound, but they found nothing. My grandfather deposited her back in her bed next to my grandmother's bed, my grandmother who had been out of her mind for over a year at that point. The next night my grandmother died, choking on her medication after dinner - it was middle March and there was sleet falling and the Polish nurse ran from the house and waited in the dark cold driveway for her sister to pick her up and take her to the train station. Pop told her she could wait in the house, but she refused, Mr. Death was too close for her comfort.

So, i hated to leave my soup, but i ran down the hall and found one Hound Girl in my office with a very guilty look on her face - she had my loofah from the shower and was getting ready to tear into it. There was nothing broken in the room - no shards of glass anywhere. I took the loofah from her and she followed me down the hall. I found my other Hound Girl standing in the hallway with that Veronica Lake smile, "What did you two break? I heard breaking glass . . . where is it?" They took off down the hall and asked to go outside. I let them out and proceeded to turn every light in the house on and found NOTHING. I returned to my soup and told myself that perhaps I was hearing things. Perhaps it was in the music i had been listening to. My heart began to pound. No. No. I heard glass breaking. Nothing else sounds like glass breaking.

I looked at the clock. My husband was a half hour into his Tai Chi class by now, but something frightened me,  i had found no source of the terrible sound. I went back to the soup. I lit the burner again, and like Julia prompted on page 41, I brought the stock to a simmer and set the timer for 20 minutes. The windows went black and thoughts of my husband's car in a ditch somewhere between here and there came to mind. I texted him, "Are you okay?" I asked. No reply - of course not, he's in Tai Chi class, i tell myself, or or or or, dead . . . the stock began to steam slightly and the hounds stared at me through the glass doors, "Yes, yes, come in." They wanted cookies and then it occurred to me i had not checked  the office downstairs, my husband's office, and i went down there, and it was terribly dark, and the dogs came with me, "Whatcha doin? Whatcha doin?" They always want to know, don't they? And I turned on the lights and I stared at his empty chair, and some weird sadness came over me and i burst into tears at the sight of all his computer monitors . . . there are so many, and they were dark, usually they are lit with terrible amounts of information on them, and then i moved his chair, and i heard a clank . . . a ting tang of glass . . . yes! his green banker's lamp was laying on the floor under the blinking lights of our servers, it was in a million pieces on the tile floor. I exhaled. And then my phone made that high pitched "the Quiche is done" signal . . . and it was him, my good husband texting me, "I'm on my way home."

The dogs stood in a small battalion at the foot of the stairs, "Well?" I asked them.

"Trick or Treat!"

Project Vacate Facebook . . .

Jamie Wyeth's 
Pumpkinhead, Self-Portrait
(1972)
Happy Halloween my dear imaginary readers of San Jose! After a successful trial run in September, I am once again vacating the land of social networking and returning here to a place I feel most comfortable - I will endeavor to remain a loyal Pumpkinhead servant until at least the New Year, if not beyond, unless something stupendous happens and I have to share it with my 230 friends . . . or was it 229? But I doubt earth shattering news will befall me anytime soon, and so I will hunker down and try to wrestle some stories into shape for you.
Have I ever mentioned my obsession with the Wyeths? All of them? N.C., Andrew, and Jamie? What men! What artists! True testament to what living in bleak landscapes can do for creativity - really. The bleaker the better - empty fields, bare trees, weird reclusive neighbors, and only crows and pigs to observe. I keep this in mind all the time as I look for inspiration on the lonely soybean field horizons.
So it's just us now, let's see if it's a Trick . . . or a Treat.

Skateboards Not Guns

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Faster, Faster!




so this morning, this was on the tube - this amazing weird tale of  revenge with Lionel Barrymore. What the trailer doesn't show you is my favorite scene, perhaps one of the most wonderful scenes I have ever witnessed in a film, really. Barrymore, disguised as an old toy-making woman, enters the office of one of her victims and lays a toy circus pony on the man's desk. But this is no ordinary toy pony, Barrymore urges the man to ask the pony to do something, anything he wishes, and all the man has to do is think that he would like the pony to stand, and the little painted pinto circus pony comes to life on his desk and begins to walk in a circle on one corner of the blotter, next to the leather pen holder and not far from the telephone. The man asks the pony to go, "Faster, faster, " and the pony obliges with a trot, and lovely perfect trot in the same space on his desk. Round and round the delightful pony goes. Barrymore picks the pony up and begins his ruse with the man and the pony is never seen again in the film. I sat there all morning waiting for that pony to come back. And when he didn't I searched google and youtube and vimeo in vain for a clip of the magical lilliputian pony. I want THAT pony . . . sorry, but it was one of those cinematic moments that I will never ever get over.

Roasted Acorn Squash ala Wolfy

So I made this the other night as a practice run for Thanksgiving, and a few folks asked me for the recipe when I told them about it. Here it is, but know that I made this thing by "feel" and I have tried to apply measurements here, but you may want to add or delete ingredients or put more or less of some things in -- it really is a cornucopia, so have fun with it. And btw, you can make several of these in a large roasting pan, that's my plan for Turkey Day at least.

1 medium sized acorn squash
olive oil
6 strips of bacon, cut into one inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup diced apples
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
fresh rosemary to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
salt to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup feta cheese
5 or so tablespoons of apricot preserves or plum chutney or chutney/marmalade of your liking

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the acorn squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and now cut the halves in half again, and place the four squash pieces meat side down in a baking dish that’s been smeared with two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Put in the oven for 30 minutes.

While the squash is cooking, in a saute pan cook the bacon til it’s soft and has rendered some fat, now add the onions, the raisins, the apples, the walnuts , the green pepper and the rosemary, and season with red pepper and salt. When everything is sauteed to a nice softness, take off the heat. If you want to be really decadent, add a tablespoon or two of butter.

Pull the squash out of the oven and turn them over so the meat faces up. Take your sauteed filling and spoon over the squash, do your best to fill the squash, but it’s okay the just smother the squash in the all the filling. Now crumble the feta cheese over the top and dollop (what a word!) the preserves or chutney over the top. Put the dish back in the oven and cook for about a half hour or til everything is bubbly and carmelized.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From The Department of Observations . . . Near Halloween

The light on King Street turned green and the wind blew poplar leaves across the courthouse lawn and a small crowd, not the lunchtime crowd, but the midday Trick or Treater crowd anxiously crossed the street - Princess Leah's pale hands let go of her son, Darth Vader, all of eight years old perhaps, and 75 pounds of nervous energy, gangly and spider like in black pants, black long-sleeve t-shirt, and a cape that lifted him over the curb, he turned his masked Vader visage to me for just a moment before he ran a Jerry Lewis sprint to the next candy stop.

My Halloween fright came in the form of a turkey vulture lighting heavily, like death i suppose, from the low limb of a pin oak on the edge of the road my dog and i were walking -- the vulture came hauntingly close, noisy with his feathers, upset by our nearness, he swooped up into a pine, and sat satisfied, as though he'd been sent . . .

The wine colored leaves are coming down and the air is still warm enough to smell the remnants of last night's rain . . . a sense memory of a boy walking to my house to borrow a book overwhelmed me to tears, but i swept it away, because although i felt it, as though it was the present, it never really happened.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chores

So there we are at the Dump, me in the back of the truck tossing stuff in the dumpster and Boogie at his station, the driver's seat with his big old head out the window, and a man with a white beard and full camo coveralls backs up his truck next to us and starts unloading his trash, when he stops and looks over at Boogie and says to me, "That's a big hound, you must live in the country!"

Yessir . . . and then we discussed blood hounds and coon hounds and red bones like we were having coffee together, but the trash ran out so we parted ways.

And on the way home, the early autumn morning light all kinda golden like came through the foggy windshield and lit up Boogie's muzzle which I noticed for the first time has turned completely grey. Don't you just hate it when your dog gets old?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pictures of the Day

the world seems to be on fire today . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Blast From The Past . . . God Drove A 1965 Mustang

so this is the only story i have ever had published - it's really old, and i'm still happy with it, even though i wrote it when i was 20 years old, which is so many many years ago - it was published in The Greensboro Review (number 40, Summer 1986) and i suppose if i tried much much harder, i could get another story published, or my book published (but my agent is working on that), but how much harder can i try? i mean, really . . .

God Drove A 1965 Mustang

    God drove a 1965 Mustang...I was sure of it. His hair was almost black, almost blue-black like the car and it flew wildly as he drove. The first time I saw him I was walking to school and the flash of his sunglasses in the sun made me melt. After school I stopped at Henry’s for a Coke. I was sitting with Bernadette by the window and God drove in the Exxon across the street. Bernadette was talking about her Pop and how he wanted her to go to beauty school or something when we graduated next spring. I was watching God. I kept wishing he’d get out of the car so I could see how tall he was. Bernadette got awful mad at me cause I wasn’t listening, but I pointed to God and she about died. “What a fab car,” she said. Yeah, what a fab car.

    You know when you’ve got an infatuation and you’re looking all over for the guy, but you don’t see him? You forget what he really looks like...he’s just pieces in your head like those crazy Picasso paintings, some sunglasses, some hair, a fire-bright flashing chrome bumper. Well, I kept expecting God to appear at school or at least his car in the parking lot, but he was nowhere.

    Every Friday night Bernadette and I used to go to the movies. It didn’t matter what movie it was, we just went to see who was there. You couldn’t even hear the movie for all the yelling. We always sat in the very back row so no one could spit in our hair or snap our bra straps. Well, on this night, Mr. Bronson, the manager of the theater, got really mad and turned off the movie. All of a sudden it was dark except for the red exit signs and the one thin white line of light that comes through the crack of the swinging doors and travels down the aisle. We thought the movie broke, so we were yelling at Mr. Bronson to fix it, and three minutes later the swinging doors opened, and Mr. Bronson was standing there all black and square like Frankenstein. He told everyone to shut up and you know what? You couldn’t hear popcorn crunching. “I’m going to shut all you brats here and let you all kill each other.” “Hey, man! Don’t oppress us.” It was God. He was all white in the light. I didn’t know what he was saying, but it sounded good.

    “What’s your name, boy?” Bronson asked.
    “I ain’t got a name.”
    “Don’t play games with me, son.” Bronson wasn’t breaking, but God just turned and walked out the exit door. Bernadette grabbed my arm. “What a fab guy,” she said. I didn’t say anything, I was numb.

    We all left and headed for Henry’s. Bernadette parked her car and asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I lit it and we went around the front of the diner. At the door I knelt down to fix my sock. I turned my head and saw the silver hubcap, the symbol of the Mustang’s stretched stride in flashing light. In it I saw my face reflected and all screwed up. The car was ticking with heat. I stood up and looked at the car, every inch of it. He was there, he was at Henry’s the same time as me.

    Bernadette and I took a booth by the door. The diner was smoky and green white with flourescent light. There was talk, loud mottled voices all about the movies and a rebel. While Bernie was ordering a Coke, I spotted God, sitting in a booth alone in the back. He was staring out the window. His face reflected bright in the blue lit window full of stars and headlights off the highway. He was thinking hard.

    “Bernadette, don’t look but he’s in the back.”
    “Smile at him,” she said, intent on her cigarette. God, she’s stupid sometimes.
    “Shut up, Bernie! That isn’t the way to do this.” But I looked over at him by accident and he looked back. We didn’t smile, just electrified each other...or at least me.

    Then Sam and Ely had to come and throw themselves into our booth. Bernie liked Sam, but I thought he was a real jerk. And Ely, he always wore the same plaid shirt and told me how pretty I looked. His nose was stuffed up that night and it made him uglier. Bernie would say, “Be nice to him, Marina, he’s Sam’s friend.” I would say didn’t that tell her what a jerk Sam was? But she was blinded by love and the fluorescent lights off of Sam’s greased hair.

    Sam and Bernie were giggling and talking with their faces real close. I sank down, I didn’t want God to see me with this nerd Ely. I tried to get my mind off it and looked at Bernie’s pink dress. It was tight and the material was sort of old and nubby, she looked fat in it. The dress was falling off one shoulder and I kept thinking she should pull it up or let her red hair hang down over it.. “You have hair like Elizabeth Taylor,” Ely said. He’d moved closer to me when I wasn’t looking. I told him his nose was running. He turned white and ran all spindly legged with his face down, out the door. Boy, was Bernie mad cause Sam followed Ely. “Sometimes Marina I...I...hate you!” Then she left, I saw her catch up to Sam outside. He put his arm around her and they disappeared among the cars and darkness.

    I looked at God, he’d finished his Coke and was getting up to leave. I decided to finish my cigarette and walk home. “Where’d your friends go?” Geez! He was talking to me.

    “Oh, I don’t know, they all got mad about something and took off. Now I’ve got to walk home.” Honestly, I didn’t mean that as a hint.

    “Wanna go look at the universe?” he asked. I almost died, right there.

    He opened the car door for me without a word and I got in. The interior was black and leather and clean. God right in and started the car. I threw my head back and closed my eyes, all I could see was him. Tall and lean, he wore tattered, almost white blue jeans and a black t-shirt. His black hair hung straight and shiny into a sharp bony face with quick eyes, almost like a bird.

    “What’s your name, girl?” he asked.
    “Marina,” I said.
    “That French?”
    “Yeah,” I said. His face suddenly go dark as we moved out away from the neon of Henry’s sign. “My name’s Gunther, call me Gun if you care to.”

    “How come I’ve never seen you at school, Gun?” We drove out in the flat fields and the wind flipped our hair about as to almost pull it out. I felt a rushing in my body all hot, all cold. Gunther-Gun-God. What a fab name. “I don’t go to school, I’m a poet. I’m here to learn.”

    “Learn what? There ain’t anything to learn around here,” I said.
    “Yeah there is. There’s the corn and sky and the diner,” he said.
    “Where do you live?”
    “Nowhere, I guess. In my car.” I had a hard time believing that, it seemed too clean. I felt I’d found something in my mother’s drawer that I wasn’t supposed to. We kept silent and Gun pulled off the road onto the edge of a cornfield. The corn was high and spoke when the wind asked it to. Gun closed his eyes and took my hand. “Marina, water, harbor, fish. You make me think of the beach with a name like that.” I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the purple night. The universe, bigger than any of us, bigger that our town. It was all lit up with fiery stars like a bunch of hubcaps. “Where have you been?”
   
    “Lotsa places, girl. The last place I was in was Coney Island. At least it was the last place I stayed for more than a week. I ran the Ferris wheel. Carrying souls round and round, high and low. I used to stop it and hold people transfixed in states of high or low. Then I got sick of controlling lives and came here to see the flatness.”
    “How long are you going to stay?” I wished forever.
    “I’m splitting tomorrow. Gotta find me something new.” I felt something fall from the top of my body to the bottom. But he leaned over and wrapped his arms around me and made me fell like I’d touched something for a while that nobody ever had. We sat there till the sun was striping the sky, watching the universe move.

    When Gun dropped me off I stood in the road and watched him turn into nothing but a black pinpoint with flashing red taillights. I turned and I saw my Pop standing at the screen door. All blue in the face, he screamed that I wasn’t going to anymore Friday night movies. I told him, “Don’t oppress me.” I didn’t know what it meant, but it sure did make him shut up.