Monday, December 30, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

two days before thanksgiving . . .

You know, sometimes yer driving in the cold pouring rain, minding yer own business and you notice the two black lab pups that you've noticed in their fenced in yard on the side of the road for a few months now, only this time they're on the edge of the road and not in their fence and the mobile home that they belong to is dark and no one is home so you go up the road and turn around and you go back, cause people go fast on this road and those pups are gonna get hit and you pull over and the pups chase yer truck and jump all over you when you open the door and they treat you like family and they follow you when you try to find the gate to their big fence and you finally find it and the bungee cords that used to hold the gate closed til they obviously chewed them up and you put the pups in and go back to yer truck to find more bungee cords and this girl comes out of the mobile home next door and asks you if you caught the pups and you say yes and she thanks you and you tell her to tell the owner to get a chain for the gate and she says thank you again and she's skinny and shivering and yer covered in mud but you find a couple of bungee cords in the truck and you go back and fix the gate . . . for now

Saturday, September 14, 2013

a story i'm working on . . .

In the year 2025, Voyager stopped sending signals back to earth from between the stars and everyone in Los Angeles had run out of gas a few years before. Tiny Martinez ran a livery stable of old race horses that he got for free when Del Mar closed in 2018. He rode the last train down there, saddled up one of the horses and the other 25 followed him up the PCH to his tin shed in the hood. They had no choice but to follow him north to live cause going south meant certain death in the abattoirs in Mexico.

Tiny learned to ride at a camp for hoodlums when he was ten. It was a couple of years before the War of the Gasoline and the school bus would pick him up along with a bunch of other hoodlums who are all dead now and they'd ride way out into the hills to this camp where this white lady, who was famous cause she went to the Olympics on a dapple grey horse named Cyanometer, taught them how to sit proper in the saddle and brush the horses and what to feed the horses and what not to feed the horses - "don't feed them cheeseburgers," she said that a lot.

Friday, September 13, 2013


how blue is the sky today?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diplomacy Is Really Hard

cause everyone has to talk to each other . . . oh, and they have to listen too.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Movie Dream 690

Jilted Lover: Elizabeth Taylor

She driving wildly in a 1965 Chrysler with the top down, and she's dripping in furs - a fur hat, and fur coat, but the sun is bright. She's got a gun in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. What is she chasing? A circus caravan and her lover is hiding in the elephant wagon, but she doesn't know that. She's goddamn angry. He said he would let the circus life go on without him, he'd stick around. She was going to leave the doctor and two kids for him. But he left her a Kiss Off note, something about the girl who trained the elephants. The Chrysler is swerving between the wagons, the mules are frightened, Liz is kicking up gravel and honking the horn, and screaming at the top of her lungs. She leaps from the speeding Chrysler with her furs and her gun and the car runs off the road, through a fence and takes a swan dive into a pond. We are under water now, watching the blue car break up into a hundred pieces that settle in the murky depths, the Kiss Off letter drowns in the glove compartment, the ink floats away from the page, they'll never know why Dr. Ryan's wife ran amuck, "She was the prettiest lady in town and he gave her everything a girl could want . . . " Liz is stumbling inside a runaway circus wagon now, the mules heard her shooting, the mule driver is no longer at the reins, she's screaming for the Elephant Girl, where is she?! A little dog in a tutu runs beneath Liz's crazy feet, she falls, she hits her head on a trunk full of clown shoes, the gun slips from her fingers, and the mules keep running and running and running.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dog Bath as told by Pansy

She took Luna first, Luna fell for it, went straight into the bathroom, on the leash, all while the Big Water was getting bigger, and she shut the door and she can't fool me, she's drowning Luna, even though she's saying Good Girl over and over. The Big Water stops and i sit by the door and sniff underneath and then i see Luna's feet, she escaped! Good Girl, Good Girl. The door opens and Luna runs out shaking the Big Water off in the hallway.
Then she comes for me - she says Good Girl, but i get on the sofa and i turn up my belly and she puts on the leash, Good Girl, Good Girl, she rubs my ears and i know she's going to drown me, so i use my magical powers and i make myself so heavy she can't pick me up, but she foils me and gets me on the floor and i hold on to the floor like glue and then i use my secret weapon on her, i release all my fur all over her. There is a cloud of fur so thick she sneezes and she can't see me get back on the sofa. She gets cookies - Good Girl Good Girl - she's not going to drown me for cookies. i give my cookies to Luna. i hear the Big Water getting bigger. She looks at Boogie, he wants cookies. She gives up, gives him the rest of the cookies and leaves. The Big Water goes silent. I win.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

i know . . .

i'll write a story about green beans . . .

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

after work . . .

i got home from bookkeeping and asked, did it rain? he said, no, it hasn't rained all day. i poured a glass of wine and changed out of my disguise and told the dogs i was going out to water the garden, and then, it poured down rain . . .

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, this happened . . .

my husband went to tai chi class
and right before he left we watched the Acorn Stakes and Rosie won
and right after he left, i dumped some charcoal in the grill
lit it
the smell reminded me of Compo Beach on the Fourth of July
i went in the house
got the chicken
told the dogs to be good
and waited for the flames to die down and the coals to glow
i poured some wine
i put the chicken on grill and it made a nice cooking sound
the dogs came over, i told them to be good
the thrasher was in the garden and the birds seemed okay with the end of the day
and then there was a pretty terrible ruckus over in the woods,
near my neighbor's fence, but it wasn't their dogs
it sounded like a rabbit screaming, like when my dog killed a rabbit back in March
but it didn't stop
and then a doe, a really big doe came out of the woods opposite from the screaming
and she ran toward the sound
which i thought was strange
but then i thought oh, no - it's her fawn
she tore toward the neighbor's side of my property
i waited
the sound stopped
but the doe came running out and trotted away
with the exact expression of someone mistaken
the chicken was almost done
my dogs wanted to howl
i told them to be good
the screaming started again, but only for a moment
i took the chicken off the fire
and ran out the front door with all my dogs watching from the deck
i ran through the daisies my husband doesn't mow
i looked in the woods
i went back to the house
i watched another horse race and tested the chicken
my dogs began to bark
i went outside and a raccoon was slinking across the yard,
coming from where the screaming had been
i told my dogs to be quiet, be good
the raccoon disappeared down the driveway
the doe returned to graze

Monday, May 6, 2013

So You've Written A Book

My mother riding champion Peace Corps at Hialeah in the winter of 1970.
Five summers ago I wrote a book. It was a long hot summer, the kind that makes people run for the shade. In the mornings I would ride my horse and after lunch I would close the door on the world and work til dinner time on my book; a memoir about my mother who trained racehorses. You meet a lot of people who say they have written a book. Some have been published, some not. If you tell people that you have written a book, be prepared, they won’t ask you about the book you have written, they will tell you about the book they have written. Some are fiction, some are fantasy, some, like mine, are memoirs. The discussion will turn to self-publishing and writers’ retreats and how to sell yourself and your words. I remain quiet, I listen, I nod my head. If I tell them I have an agent, a surprised look comes over their face, but then I tell them the book is not published, we’re still trying. That’s all I say, I don’t tell them the whole story, if I did, they might burn their book.

That summer was what every writer dreams of I suppose. I was struck by the lightning of an idea with the help of a box of letters and photographs I had inherited from my grandmother. Letters from my mother to my grandparents written in the late 1950s and early 60s. Letters from a girl living her dream fox hunting and riding great show horses for the best horsemen in America. There was romance too. My beautiful young mother meets my steeplechasing father at a dance and thus begins the merging of two families of horse people. And then I had to face the tragedy of my parents’ divorce, my going to live with my grandparents, and my mother’s flight to work on the New York race tracks like a refugee from her own life. Thing is, my mother was a pioneer on the race track, she’s a member of a small group of brave women who stood up to the men and worked her way to a New York Racing Association Trainer’s license in 1975. She made history really. I sat on the floor of my garret on those summer afternoons and arranged and re-arranged the photographs - pictures of my mother jumping over and over, pictures of my entire family, three generations riding and jumping horses, and then there were the race track photos of a world that barely exists anymore. The pictures spoke to me, they were telling me the story. I was just the messenger. But something else was happening, something much more personal - I was getting to know my mother’s story, something I had wanted all my life.

When I finished the book I was a fool for my talent. I was sure that nobody had ever written so wonderful a book. I sent the book to my mother, she bashfully approved. I sent the book to close friends and family and they were kind. I began sending letters to agents in New York certain they would be fighting over the privilege to represent me. I’d be the toast of the book tour train. NPR would want me. Oprah too. The book had a great and unusual gimmick to boot - a pictorial memoir, a photo on every page and the hook? Horses. Nobody can resist a Horse Book. My father wrote the best selling Secretariat back in 1975 and it was on The New York Times Best Seller List for ages and even now his book is in its 7th edition. That is staying power. My memoir about a family of horse people and most especially about my mother’s journey from the horse show ring to the man’s world of horse racing had all the elements necessary to go straight to Hollywood. And then the rejections began to trickle in from the agents, “The pictures are so cute . . . ” I was an overnight flop.

But a small miracle occurred; I met my agent. An old friend, who is a writer and well-published, came to town for a dinner and she invited me. We hadn’t seen each other in years. She had read my book and was gracious about it - all she said was it needed more of my story. There were several local literati at this dinner and at one point, my friend called across our crowded table, “Katharine, I want you to meet Shannon - she’s written a book!” At the end of the evening we exchanged numbers and within a day or two I gave Katharine my manuscript. A month or so went by, I didn’t dare call her. I was reaching the one year anniversary of completing the book, I wanted things to go faster, but I needed to be patient. Finally she called and asked to meet with me. Across a small table in the crowded local organic market Katharine held my manuscript in her hands and said to me, “I want to sell your book for you.” I almost cried. “But we have a lot of work to do, a lot of editing. I know why nobody in New York took it on, the book and you need a lot of baby sitting - they don’t have time for that up there. ” I was humbled by this first life lesson of writing a book - and I was ready to do whatever she wanted me to do. We agreed to edit 20 pages a week. She would read and edit, we would meet and discuss her changes and ideas, and I would spend the next week applying them. It was an incredible learning experience. It was like gardening in some ways. And I almost felt as though I was cheating, having someone with so much knowledge show me the way. I found out my grammar, my punctuation, and my spelling were really appalling. Me, an English major! But there it was, it was a mess. I was embarrassed I had sent it to so many people in such an awful state. I would call my mother and ask more questions, we had to dig a bit deeper. I gave her writing assignments. We spent hours on the phone talking about the family.  All along we agreed that this book would not be a blood letting like so many memoirs on the market - there was no reason to reveal all the ugly, we wanted to inspire not gossip.

Nine months later we had a manuscript to be proud of - it was ready to start its tour of the Big Houses in New York. I was doing all the things that seemed writerly. I had started a blog and was filling it daily with stories. I was submitting stories and poems to contests. I was promoting myself on Facebook. I was on the edge of greatness, or was I?

The rejections began to trickle in again. The editor at Penguin loved the book, she really went to bat for it, but her boss told her "Penguin doesn’t do picture books." The editor at Ferrar, Strauss, and Giraux said there wasn't enough angst. Another editor wanted more “Horse Porn” whatever the hell that means. And Black Sparrow Press said, “If only it had been about Sailing or Gardening . . . ” to which my mother quipped, we'll change the title to My Mother Growing Tomatoes or My Mother Falling Off The Boat. But the complaint that we heard time and again was that there were just too many photographs, and photographs cost money. Katharine and I steeled ourselves and tweaked the manuscript, we promised flexibility, we weren’t married to all those photographs. The submissions went on for two years and in the meantime I didn’t try reading or editing the book anymore - I couldn’t. I had read it so many times and worked so hard on it that the sentences no longer made any sense to me. I couldn’t tell if it was good or bad anymore. I set it aside and built a vegetable garden.

I met with Katharine late last summer in a little restaurant in Chapel Hill. The street outside was teeming with new students arriving for the fall semester at UNC. She had the manuscript with her and she put it on the table. Oh the tales that manuscript could tell now, it had been to the big city where editors never sleep. It was world weary and ready to come home. Katharine had some ideas about where to go next, I stopped her. I said I think I need to take it back and read it again, it needs more work. I didn’t let on to Katharine how sad I had been, and then something unexpected happened, Katharine broke down in tears, she was so disappointed and so sure that the book was going to make it. She had worked so hard, it wasn't just my book, it was her book too. There I was on a bright August afternoon telling my agent that everything was okay, there was a good reason why the book hadn’t made it, we just didn't exactly know what it was yet. We both agreed the introduction was awful, so that was the first thing to go. Next? I was going to edit the pictures, brutally. And I wanted to work on the story itself. I drove home with the manuscript sitting quietly in the passenger seat next to me. I was taking it home for some R and R.

I opened it two nights later and began to read, and I could understand it again, and it wasn’t half bad, but I stopped breathing. I couldn’t get past the third page. I put it on a shelf and said I would look at it next week. Well next week turned into next year, and in late February I resolved to edit the book. I emailed Katharine and promised I would have it all spiffed up and ready to go the races by the end of March. I began to dig in. I opened all the huge files on my Mac and started tearing into the manuscript. I took the advice of a dear friend who said, "Why don’t you remove all the photos and just see what you’ve got left, then add photos back as you need them to punctuate the story." As I deleted the photos I began to cry, it was as though I was destroying the garden I had planted. But I forged on with the text-only manuscript. My husband saw me struggling and told me something I hadn’t thought of, “You know, you’re not the same person you were five years ago, you’ve changed, your mother’s changed, you might have to re-write the whole thing or just let it go.” He was right. And as I looked at the book a gaping hole appeared. One that I had never noticed before. And I am certain the editors, all of them, saw it; a flaw that could not be glossed over. My mother’s story was incomplete. I wrote this big build up to her career on the race track, and when she gets to the race track, you only get part of the story. I called my mother, I told her I was having a terrible time editing the book, that it seemed like something was missing. She was quiet. Maybe she could write some more material for me? She said she would consider it, but I didn’t pressure her. She’s painting these days, she’s got a farm still to take care of. Maybe it was time to put the book away. All those helpful hints from well-meaning friends and family came rushing back: Maybe you should fictionalize it. Change the title. Write another book just about you. Self publish it. Write some more poetry. Work on your vegetable garden.

March came and I hadn’t made any progress. I was stuck. I tried to think about starting on this great novella idea I had, but My Mother Jumping brooded in the corner of my garret. It began throwing little temper tantrums, it wanted my attention and I was completely out of ideas. I decided to take a trip, get out of town for a couple of days, to go to my favorite place on earth, my mother’s farm in South Carolina. There in the backwaters of the Wateree River I could contemplate my navel and sit up late listening to stories told by my mother and my stepfather. When I arrived my stepfather announced that my mother and I were going to spend a day in Charleston together, and he would stay behind, paint a new painting of a horse he had been thinking about and take care of the dogs and horses. He insisted that I must be bored when I come to the farm, that Charleston would be good for me and my mother. I tried to tell him that being bored at the farm is exactly why I like to go there, but he handed me twenty-five bucks to buy lunch for my mother in Charleston town, so I couldn’t refuse.

At this point I realized there was another hole in the book; my stepfather’s story. He and my mother met in Saratoga in 1970. He had been a stunt man in Hollywood and he had trained race horses from California to Mexico to New York. In some ways he has been in the shadows of my mother’s racing career from the very start, and I always assumed it was because she was the people person and he was the type who preferred the company of the horses. His ability with horses is magical, he knows all the old tricks to cure horses, he’s what they call in the business a Leg Man. My grandparents disagreed on my stepfather’s influence on my mother’s career. My grandfather honestly thought my mother was tangled up with a guy who was cantankerous and holding her back from the greater things in life.  My grandmother adored my stepfather, maybe she just fell for his charm and handsome face. Whatever they felt, as a kid, I certainly never knew the real story.

Morning came and my mom and I dressed and piled in the car to head for Charleston. It would be a two-hour drive through the wilds of South Carolina. What would we talk about for two hours? We talked about the landscape in the beginning and then we talked about the paintings she was working on for the Horse Expo coming up in May, which led to us talking about an interview she did with a magazine back in the fall and how my stepfather was mad at her about it. He felt like she had left out his part of the story on the track, but she insisted the writer left it out. The door opened suddenly and I said to her, “That’s it, that’s what’s wrong with my book about you, I don’t know the part about Ed and well, really, it seems like there’s four years there that you just skip over.” I was grabbing for something I had never grabbed for before, I didn’t even know if there was something there, maybe the story really was just what I had, nothing more, that she went to the track, worked for Allen Jerkins, overcame the grooms not speaking to her because she was a woman, and bam, four years later she got her license, end of tale. The road opened up ahead of us, there were marshes and flat flat fields, South Carolina was giving us all she knew how to give of her rural views and then my mother began to tell me stories. These were not the stories of horse show people or the simple funny stories of the track, like the night Woody Stevens left his hat at her apartment after a party and when she returned it innocently to him the next day at the races, everyone got the wrong idea! No, the stories she began to tell me were of the Hard Times. How in '71 Ed was about to get a barn full of horses for Mrs. DuPont through his friend Garth who managed the DuPont’s horses on the farm in Delaware, but then Garth got sick and died and well the DuPonts sent the horses somewhere else. And then Ed got a barn full of horses from this rich South American owner and within a month he runs a horse to be third in the Illinois Derby and so they think they’ve got a shot at the Kentucky Derby and the South American owner dies and some lawyer comes and takes all the horses away to sell.  The bad luck abounded. And then she tells me about the trainers she worked for and why she had to leave one of them, how she lost her nerve at one point and had to just leave all together to get it back, and the words are flying around the car and I’m without a pad and a pencil and I have to just listen and store it all in my head, because she was never going to be brave enough to tell me all this stuff again. And it was as though she finally thought I was old enough and trustworthy enough to hear it all, to hear what her life was like back then, on the track. And how bad some people were and how wonderful my stepfather was to be at her side the whole time - he watched over her, he protected her. I was sitting there in the car thinking, is this my mother telling me all this? Wow.

She told me that a year before she got her trainer’s license, she almost became a jockey. She was breezing 12 horses a day and fit as she had ever been in her life. She had become fearless because all she was doing was breezing horses and the horses were doing anything she asked, she said to me, “one day they just start running for you, it’s an out of body experience - if you try too hard they won’t run for you, but then something takes over, you just ride the speed.” She was galloping one horse for an older gentleman named Blackburn early in the mornings before she went to her regular job with trainer George Poole. Nobody knew she was galloping this horse for Blackburn and they were galloping him in the dark so the clockers couldn’t record his works. My mother said Mr. Blackburn and his wife were the reason she never wanted to grow old on the track, she said they were the nicest people in the world and they had everything they owned invested in the two or three horses they had at Belmont Park. But she said that horse was always perfectly groomed and tacked up and ready for her to ride when she would get there at 4 in the morning, tied up in his stall with his blinkers on. After she had been breezing the horse for a few weeks, my mom was walking down the aisle of Mr. Poole’s barn at the end of one morning and the jockey room valet comes around the corner and says, “Hey Sandy, I been looking for you! I got your colors all ready for you, Blackburn has named you for Saturday.” She had no idea what he was talking about. Blackwell had named my mother to ride his colt in a race on that coming Saturday afternoon at Belmont. My mother had never had any intention of being a jockey. Robin Smith was making all the big headlines that year being the girl jockey, she was going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but my mother liked her job working horses in the morning. She was in her thirties, and she didn’t want to get hurt. Everyone heard through the grapevine that she was going to ride Blackburn’s colt in a race. She told everyone she wouldn’t do it - she was too old to get her “bug weight” and she didn’t want to ride against people like Angel Cordero. There was just too much risk in her mind. Everyone tried to change her mind, Allen Jerkins called her and said he’d give her rides, all the trainers she had worked for said they would ride her on their horses in the races. My stepfather wanted her to do it, he told her it could lead to so many things. But she called Mr. Blackburn and said she was sorry, she didn’t want to do it. Mr. Blackburn stopped speaking to her.

My heart raced when my mother told me this story - there was a part of me that wished she had ridden Mr. Blackburn’s horse that Saturday long ago, but I understood, after everything she had been through, I could see why she didn’t want to take her career that far. She got her trainer’s license not long after that and that’s where she was happiest, on the backstretch and not in the spotlight.

 By the time we got to Charleston I was so exhausted I just wanted to go home and write it all down. But we walked all around Charleston and looked at bad art in expensive galleries and ate lunch and marveled at the fat tourists in the horse carts and felt sorry for the horses having to pull these people and their shopping bags around the city during Flower Week. And as we walked around she told me more stories and then we got in the car and she told me even more. She told me everything - the most private of things that happened to her and it was dynamite and it made my heart ache that she went through all that. And when we were almost home, she was finished and I said, “Wow, I guess we can’t publish all that . . . ”

“Well, not until everyone is dead. ” She laughed and I laughed.

And that night after a few glasses of wine and some dinner with Ed, they went to sleep and I tried to stay up and write notes at least in my iPhone. And the next morning I drove back to North Carolina and I cried part of the way, because I couldn’t believe that writing the book had led to this. That night I called to say I had gotten home safely and my stepdad answered the phone and I told him thank you and he asked for what? “She told me what you did for her, all those years ago on the track, and I want to thank you because I suspected it, but I never really knew.”
“Oh that,” he said, “That was a million years ago. And by the way do you know that damn South American told me a week before he died he was going to be measured for his casket?”
“Did he know he was going to die?”
“No, not at all, apparently it was just what he thought he should do. So let that be a lesson to you.”

A good friend who I grew up with and who designs book covers for Grove Press in the city once told me, “You know publishing your book doesn’t change your life. People think it’s going to, but it doesn’t.” It turns out after all, for me, that not publishing my book changed my life forever.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

movie dream #865

where:   a street corner in Hoboken, a two story brick building with a pizzeria downstairs and a walk-up apartment upstairs.

when: the early 1990s

who: me, Aidan Quinn, some firemen, the pizza man

i was late, i took the subway, but i was still late, but i had remembered to wear a pretty dress because he said we were going to go out for dinner instead of going downstairs for pizza again and as i was making my way up the stairs to the street i heard sirens, which i didn't think much about, but somebody up on the street yelled down to a guy that was just getting through the turnstile that Danny's was on fire.

so, i started running and when i got there everything was black smoke and the fireman were telling him to jump and there were flames shooting from all the windows of his apartment and some cop told me to stay back, "that's my boyfriend up there," i said.

"i don't care if it's the Pope lady, stay back!"

and so i watched as he crawled out the window over the D in Danny's that was usually lit up in blue neon but it was sort of hanging and busted and everything was covered in black soot including him and he had nothing on but a pair of shorts and the fireman got him to the sidewalk and he was coughing up all this black stuff and the pizza man who was never named Danny kept yelling, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Jesus Mary and Joseph, Jesus Mary and Joseph!"

The firemen took him across the street and deposited him on a bench and that's when I went over and I thought the cascades of water from the firetrucks over the black thick clouds of smoke was pretty nice, but it hit me that he was going to have to come live with me now, "Hey! you're here!" he said and he coughed and i sat down on the bench real close to him and put my face against his wet sooty face, "they didn't even give you a blanket," i said.
"you're going to have to live with me now, aren't you?"
"for a while, yeah." and he flipped something back a forth in his hand and it was a big ziplock bag covered in soot and filled with small toy trains.
"your trains!"
"yeah, they're all gone . . . "

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

a goose standing on one leg . . .

sometimes i feel like a goose standing on one leg by the side of the road, but near enough to a pond that i could swim if i chose to, but i would have to cross the railroad tracks to get there, and that seems like an awful lot of work, so i might as well stay here, by the road and if a car ruffles my feathers, so be it, and maybe, just maybe someone will toss a half eaten cheese sandwich out the window and what a bit of luck that would be, white bread and yellow cheese and a schmear of Miracle Whip, i would have to put my foot down for that kind of fortune, but here i am in the meantime, stretching and unstretching my neck, unbudged by the cloud that momentarily blocks the sun.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Movie Dream #932

where: Del Mar on a rainy day

who: me and Tony Curtis

so i got to the races late, but before i went to the windows, i decided i needed a coke, with ice, so i run up the silver stairs to the Jimmy Durante Diner, and there he is, spinning on his stool, in a new shark skin suit that sets off the white of his teeth and the pomade in his hair, "c'mere, c'mere," and i go to him, and he puts a hand on my hip, and i see the half eaten cheese sandwich, he never eats the whole thing, and the empty glass with the ice melted in the bottom, and the cigarette balanced on the edge of the sandwich plate not smoking, but there's a red spark buried deep in the ash and i'm drawn to that spark, "you gotta horse for me today?"
"i dunno, i needa coke . . . "

and then we're in the grandstand and the rain is coming down hard, so hard it's making all the horses look the same, just wet and miserable, with their heads down, their chins to their chests, their ears flat, but one horse breaks away from his pony, and there's all this commotion and Tony says, "look at this, look at this!" and the loose horse savages another horse, the 10 horse, my horse, and he kicks the loose horse, and the railbirds go wild, everybody's fighting in the rain.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Fall of Troy

this won’t do at all
to lose the poet
on the day the red buds bloomed
with the dogwoods only halfway here
the bluets tremble in the cemetery
and the river rose beneath the first thunderstorm
no, this won’t do at all

for Hillsborough's Poet Laureate Mike Troy . . .

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

it's the little things . . .

i'm reading Amanda C. Gamble's sweet novel The Confederate General Rides North and loving every bit of it and was tickled pink last night when i discovered that midway through, a chapter began with mention of Do You Know The Way To San Jose playing on the car radio . . . oh the cosmos has its ways.


moody toaster . . .

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Car Yard

Carl didn't want to fix that carburetor, his head hurt, instead he decided to shoot squirrels. Leon wouldn't be back for a while, something about his sister falling out the kitchen door last night? Anyway, it was cold, and too early to drink the last of the beer from that case he bought last night, so he got the shotgun and sat on the bumper of Leon's prize possession, a 1981 F250 up on blocks since 1991, and he started shooting at the squirrels that always sat on that pile of old windows behind the shed, but he didn't hit the squirrels, they ran, and he broke the windows instead, shattered glass flew everywhere and the chickens ran into the road, and Carl turned and saw this lady drive by and she slowed down and then she looked sorta, well, scared and she hit the gas, and she disappeared and Carl put the shotgun down. He decided if Leon asked about the broken windows he'd lie and say there was a rabid fox in the car yard and it was chasing the chickens, but then he changed his mind and decided he wouldn't say anything at all, that was always best when it came to Leon and questions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the one eyed crow

once upon a time, there was a little black steer and he liked to stand in the daffodil patch, although he didn't know it was the daffodil patch, because it was winter still and the sky was oh so grey and the daffodils had yet to poke through the cold mud and the short grass. The little steer spent most of his day watching the other steers wrestle and bump and eat hay from the big round bales left by the farmer who drove the red truck with the very bad muffler. One day, a crow, a one eyed crow, landed in the daffodil patch and the little steer was quite startled because no one ever approached him and he was even more surprised when the crow spoke to him, "if you stay skinny you'll live a long life little one" said the crow.
"I will?" said the little steer.
"Trust me, stay here and away from the hay, and you'll live to see Christmas." and with that the one eyed crow flew off, threading his way between the power lines and practically splitting a crowd of starlings before he faded into the here-comes-more-rain-sky. The little steer watched the crow disappear and laid himself down like all the other cows when it rains and he wondered and wondered.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Boston Baked Beans & Southern Lit

The drama this week was never ending for me and I collapsed in a heap last night vowing to make something delicious to eat for the weekend and to just be really quiet for a few days. The weather cooperated with my desire to hibernate -- it never got over 35 degrees today and something akin to half melted ice fell from the sky. I watched a cooking video on the NY Times website earlier this week about simmering beans in a red wine sauce and while it appealed to me, it only made me want to make baked beans, and to further this baked bean destiny, I partook in some damn good baked beans of a Southern Style at the local BBQ joint a week or so ago - tangy with just enough molasses and more tomato than a Yankee might add, but most intriguing was the use of a variety of beans, at least four I counted, including butter beans . . . most unusual. My husband ordered the macaroni and cheese as his side dish and we laughed, just a little, because there was a time when neither of us would have ordered baked beans and macaroni and cheese, in tandem or solo, due to the fact, that in the early nineties, we were living on my meager salary and barely making it, and all we ate was canned baked beans and Kraft macaroni and cheese for, well, about two years. I would dress the canned baked beans up with black strap molasses and mustard, just like my grandmother, a true Yankee herself, and well, to say the least, the dish became pretty tasteless to us - we associated it with Hard Times. But I think back, way back, to winter nights when my grandmother served Boston baked beans and canned brown bread (yes, that's bread in a can) and ham and I smile when I think of that meal, because although my grandmother and grandfather fought like the Prussians and the French, this meal was an homage to my grandfather's Boston Irish heritage. And what does this have to do with Southern Lit? Not very much, except I completed reading my first contest book last week for the Crook's Corner Book Prize, of which I am a reader assisting with the judging for the prize, and I didn't care for the book, and said so in my evaluation form, and to reward myself for studiously reading a 300+ page book that didn't turn my wheels in less than 14 days, I began reading another Southern novel that I am enjoying quite a bit.

But what of the baked beans? Well, when the weather forecast appeared so foul yesterday, I did what any self-respecting Yankee-Turned-Southern-Housewife does the day before inclement weather arrives, I went to the grocery store and I bought too much food, including the basic ingredients for Boston Baked Beans, as I remembered them and today, as the slush fell from the sky, I didn't search the internet for a recipe, no, I went through my collection of cookbooks to see if I could find the traditional recipe that my grandmother made, and only one book, no, not The Joy of Cooking, had the recipe - that's right, Vincent Price, that old thespian, came through for me, so here, from A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price is the classic recipe - so go soak your beans:

Boston Baked Beans

Frankfurters and baked beans were made for each other. Sometimes in the West and Southwest you'll find chili and hot dogs mated, but I prefer Boston Baked Beans with my franks. This is an authentic Boston recipe for the genuine article. But canned baked beans doctored with brown sugar, catsup, mustard, onions, and bacon and baked slowly for an hour are not a bad substitute. For those of you who want to know what the real thing taste like, here is the recipe for Boston's traditional Saturday evening baked beans.

California Pea Beans
baking soda
salt pork
dry mustard
salt, pepper 

1. Wash: 1 pound California pea beans. Cover the beans with cold water and soak overnight. (Boston housewives start this on Friday.)
2. In the morning, drain beans, place in saucepan with cold water to cover, and add: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Boil for 10 minutes.
3. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water.
4. Preheat oven to very slow (280° F.).
5. Cut the rind from: 1/2 pound salt pork. Cut rind into 1-inch squares. Cut salt pork in half.
6. Place in a 1-quart casserole or bean pot half of the pork and rind, the drained beans, and 1/2 onion, peeled. Top with the rest of the salt pork.
7. Combine: 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup molasses, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup hot water. Mix thoroughly and pour about one-fourth of this mixture over beans.
8. Place beans in the very slow oven and bake, covered for 5 hours. About every 1 1/2 hours add another bit of the basting mixture.
9. When beans have cooked for 5 hours, remove cover and let them bake one more hour or so top gets browned.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


if i went to Morocco, i wouldn't stay in a resort - she said i should stay in a resort - no i would ride a horse all day and sleep in the desert at night . . .

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From The Dept. of Cute Old Men

So there I am at the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Chapel Hill in Meadowmont, where the wonderful old Yankees frequent, and the pharmacist tells me that once again they've screwed up my prescription, so could I come back in a few minutes? And I say, yeah, I'll go shop for some things for supper and I turn, and this terrific little old man says in a Queens accent, "That's a good idea honey . . ." I laugh and walk off, do my shopping - a bottle of chianti, a steak, and some broccolini, and I return and get in line behind a woman who seems to be having the same troubles as me with the pharmacist, and I hear someone clear their throat, and I turn, and it's him, the little old man, and he says, "WAT, I'm behind you again?!" And I say, "WAT, you had your chance." And then he holds up his grocery bag to show me, "I just bought plantains, I thought they were bananas! You ever had a plantain?"
"Yeah," I say.
"Are they any good? Do they taste like bananas?"
"Well, yeah," I say, "but greener, stronger, they're good if you fry them."
"Fry them? I gotta fry them?"
"Well, you can eat them raw I guess . . . "
The pharmacist reached over the counter and handed me my little paper bag, and I turned and told the old man, "It's your turn."
"Well it's about time." he said, "Don't get in my way again!"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nothing Strange About Loving Spaghetti

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, Barbara Stanwyck only meant one thing to me - she was that mean old bitch in the gauchos on Big Valley - I wanted nothing to do with her. But Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve changed my relationship with Stanwyck forever, once I saw those movies and just about every movie Stanwyck ever made, well I was a changed woman.

Have you ever seen The Strange Love of Martha Ivers? Good and Evil couldn't have a better fight than this one - Stanwyck is conniving and calculated and brimming with sexual energy that you just don't get in the movies these days. But I don't want to talk about her, or Kirk Douglas' first major film performance, or Lisbeth Scott's throaty voice and adorable smile, or Van Heflin's Bad-Boy-Turned-Good-Guy, no, right now I want to talk about the spaghetti scene.  Food rarely catches my attention in film noirs, but lately I've been looking a little harder because of the restaurant scene in this movie. About half way in, Van Heflin takes Lisbeth Scott to the Italian restaurant in town, and she's nervous as a cat cause she's handed him over to the Bad Guys, and Heflin is just mad about her, he's never been so in love with a girl, and there's a bottle of chianti on the table, the kind that's wrapped in wicker, the kind I can get off the shelf at the Food Lion here sometimes, and the girl at the register always says, "Oh I love these bottles, I want to decorate my kitchen with these bottles, but I don't drink wine . . . " anyway - the waiter arrives, a big guy in a clean white jacket and little black bow tie and he puts two huge beautiful plates of spaghetti with meat sauce down and Van Heflin says, "Mmmm that looks wonderful," and he picks up a spoon and a fork and digs in and poor Lisbeth Scott is having an anxiety attack because she's betrayed Heflin and he pours her some wine and she just can't eat, she wants to tell him how awful jail was and she's trying to apologize in advance for the beating he's going to get in the alley and Heflin wants nothing of her story, he wants the little bowl of parmesan cheese across the table. And the whole time I'm watching the scene, I'm torn between continuing to watch the movie and running into the kitchen to make spaghetti.

So for Christmas last year, not this year, this year I got a Cossack hat and new sunglasses to replace the ones I lost when I tripped in the grocery store parking lot, oh never mind - last last year my sweet husband gave me an amazing cookbook - my husband who cooked spaghetti for me on our first date - Vincent Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes, published by Doubleday in the year of my birth, 1965. Vincent Price, the one and only thespian of celluloid and stage, had a thing for art collecting and cooking and food and restaurants. And his treasury is bound in leather and gold and has silk page markers and it's one of my most treasured possessions now. Vincent and his wife Mary recount all their favorite restaurants around the world and they give you the original menus and the recipes for their favorite items on the menus. Technicolor photos find Vincent and Mary dining at Luchow's in New York and Rivoli in Mexico City. See Vincent tasting crepes suzette at Chicago's Whitehall Club and best of all Mary and Vincent in their own fabulous Moroccan style kitchen in California. But before I go on and on about Vincent and Mary hosting the Queen of England and the President of the United States at a special dinner in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond or veer off on a tangent about The Raquet Club in Palm Springs where my stepfather had drinks with William Powell once, well before I go all wild about that photo of Vincent in Antoine's wine cellar in New Orleans, I shall give you Spaghetti Alla Bolognese from Ristorante Tre Scalini in Rome. Straight from Vincent Price himself:

     One of the happiest times we ever spent in Rome was on a quick visit we made there one December. The city had thrown off its summer torpor and it bustled with Christmas animation. We arrived in the early evening after two weeks in Greece and Turkey, and we were starved for Italian food, having had our fill of lamb and rice and vine leaves stuffed with Zeus knows what.
     With one mind we decided that the only place for us that night was Tre Scalini, on the Piazza Navona, where we could  dine to the music of Bernini's fountains. In the summertime, Tre Scalini has tables on the piazza under a flapping awning. There, cooled by the fountain-conditioned air, you can eat the superb Italian ices and ice creams for which Tre Scalini is renowned. Their specialty is an ice cream made with white Italian truffles, the recipe for which is such a jealously guarded secret that we didn't dare even hint that we might be interested in it. (It's not my favorite ice cream, anyhow.)
     But that December night, surfeited with Turkish delight, we craved good, old-fashioned Italian cooking with no nonsense. And so we ordered spaghetti with meat sauce, of all things! And it was fabulous, as only Italian pasta can be. That recipe, so much less exotic than truffled ice cream, the chef imparted to us gladly, plus several good tips on how to boil spaghetti. I suppose you could dine in Rome for a-thousand-and-one night without exhausting the marvelous variety of foods and restaurants there. But somehow on your first night revisiting the city you return to a favorite place and a favorite dish, and are never disappointed.

SPAGHETTI ALL BOLOGNESE (Spaghetti with Meat Sauce)
Serves 4
The best known and best loved pasta dish in all Italy is probably this one. The city of Bologna has a gastronomic fame for more than the sausage that bears its name, and the Ragu alla Bolognese, this rich meat and tomato sauce, is used on many other pasta dishes throughout Italy. Every chef varies it a bit to suit himself, and this recipe has evolved slightly from the Tre Scalini original since we have have been using it. Try this sauce on conchiglie, the little shells sometime. They hold more of the sauce because of their shape, and you might prefer it that way.

tomato puree
bay leaf
chicken livers
dry white wine
beef stock
Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper
olive oil

1  In a heavy skillet heat: 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add: 1 onion, finely chopped, and cook until soft. Add: 3 rashers lean bacon, cut into small pieces, 1 carrot chopped, and 1 stalk celery, chopped. Sauté over medium heat until lightly browned.

2  Add: 1/2 pound beef, coarsely ground, and stir until meat is coated with fat. Add: 2 chicken livers, minced. Stir until meat browns evenly.

3  Add: 2 tablespoons tomato puree, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 1 cup beef stock, 1 bay leaf, and 1 strip lemon peel (thin yellow skin only). Season with: salt, freshly ground pepper, and 1 clove garlic, crushed.

4  Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf and lemon peel and allow to simmer uncovered until sauce thickens slightly. Just before serving stir in: 1/4 cup cream and reheat sauce. (Makes 1 pint.)

1  In a large pot pour: 3 quarts of water. Rub a little olive oil or butter around the sides of the pot above the water line. This will prevent the water from boiling over when you cook the spaghetti.

2  Add: 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a rapid boil. When the water has been boiling briskly, take 1 pound spaghetti and feed by handfuls into the boiling water. Dip one end of the spaghetti sticks into the water, and as they get soft let them coil into the pot. Never break them. Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally.

3  If you are using packaged spaghetti, cook for about 12 minutes, or according to directions on the package. It should be soft but firm when you bite it. (The Italians call this al dente, or "to the tooth.") Homemade pasta will need less time to cook--only 5 to 7 minutes. Drain cooked spaghetti in a colander. You can keep it warm by placing the colander over a pan of boiling water and covering it with a towel wrung out in warm water.


Place spaghetti on a warm platter and dot with: 4 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle with: 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with meat sauce on the side, or in the center of the platter with the spaghetti around it. Pass a bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese with the platter. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dress Shop

He followed the girl into a dress shop - he almost stepped on her heels exiting the revolving doors of the Apple store, his mind was reeling with spending $1700 to recover his laptop . . . but his novel was worth it, wasn't it? He thought about the Olivetti his grandmother gave him when he was in high school, he wished he still could write like that, banging on those mechanical keys, but he was ruined and now this. But the girl in grey led him past the water fountain and made him forget it was cold and now he was in a dress shop, and he decided to behave as though he were shopping for his niece even though he had no niece. The grey girl whisked through wracks of dresses, disapproving in the kindest way, he could see she had an occasion she was shopping for. He fingered silk blouses as though he really was considering them, but he kept one eye on the grey girl - she selected a pair of wide legged sailor pants, navy and heavy - ah, he thought, Hepburn and she rounded the corner and pulled a grey chemise off another sale wrack . . . he found a geometric bright thing and suddenly imagined the grey girl in it, she needed color in her life, didn't she realize? She was so business like in her grey car coat, and her black paddock boots. He spied mud on her heel, she was genuine he thought, genuinely horsey, although he'd never known a horsewoman in his entire life. She headed for the dressing room but paused to take a hat off a shelf, a felt thing with a sequin decoration and his heart jumped at the thought of her beneath the brim, "can I help you sir? Something special for your wife?"
"My niece . . ."
"How old is she?" He was in deep now . . .
"I have just the thing . . . " The shop girl beckoned him toward an armoire brimming with angora and glitter and he hesitated, the grey girl swooped into the dressing room and now he was presented with a handful of sweaters, "the girls are all wearing these this year, you'll be a favorite uncle if you send her this for Christmas . . . "
"a Monkey's uncle you mean  . . ."
"excuse me?"
"oh nothing . . . fine, I'll take one of those"
"do you know her size?"
"she's fourteen."
"yes but is she small? medium? large?"
"oh, she's very small, like her mother, lilliputian."
"lilli . . . "
"ah, nobody knows Lilliput anymore."
"shall i wrap it for you?"
"yes, yes, that would be fine . . . " the shop girl spun away with the angora handful and he spotted the grey girl putting the felt hat back on the shelf, and heading for the counter to pay. He crossed the shop and took the hat off the shelf and took his place behind her in the checkout line . . . she glanced back at him and he smiled, "Oh, you're buying the hat?"
"Yes, for my niece . . . "
"lucky girl, it was too big for me."
"Really? I imagine it would be just right for you" and suddenly he felt flush.
"Oh no, I look . . . "
"Try it on again, " he handed her the hat and to his surprise she put it on.
"See? it's too big." She smiled at him and it was a delightful crooked smile and he thought she and the hat were the most perfect thing he'd seen in years.
"Oh no, no it's lovely, far too lovely on you to buy it for my niece . . ."
"But I can't, you've got nothing for your niece now."
The shop girl called to him, "Would you like a greeting card to go with the wrapping for the sweater sir?"
"Yes, yes, that would be fine . . . see? you take the hat, my niece will never know, the sweater will be enough for her."
"If you insist," she twirled the hat on her fingers the grey girl did, and for a moment he wanted to ask her if she'd like to have coffee, but he only followed her because he needed a sketch of a girl for his new story, he didn't need a girl, he had a boyfriend at home already and now a sweater for a niece that didn't exist.
"I insist, but you must promise to wear it with something colorful . . . "
The grey girl smiled and turned away, the shop girl called him to her register and before he signed the receipt she was gone through the glass doors out into the snow that had just begun to fall.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the turnip . . .

the radish queen is tired of home improvement
so she goes to the garden
and wheels the wheelbarrow around
in the rain
and rakes and pulls bright green weeds
under the bright grey 9 am sky
and there are sirens in the distance
so the hounds all start singing
but then everyone goes quiet
and the queen goes back and forth
to the compost pile and thinks about spring
and can she get all this cleaned up by then?
and right on time a turnip comes up
white as the sky against wet soil
promising as hell

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Master's Truck

On New Year’s morning i swerved into an almost empty parking lot at the Food Lion and i parked my red truck next to an older red truck an F150 of somewhat spectacular character -- two tone, quietly screaming with chrome and a raised grill practically lifted from Rolls Royce himself - the red bench seat made me think of the four teenagers killed just a few nights before, up the road, they had all been sitting side by side in a pickup truck, i thought maybe this was the sort of truck the boy had, something he’d worked on all summer in his father’s garage, but turned out wrong . . . i jolted myself from the terrible dream of their mothers and went in the store for my cooking oil, and stood for some time behind an 80-something year old black lady in a maroon beret paying for her few groceries from the seat of the electric shopping go-cart - pennies came from her change purse purposely as though a penny still meant something, but New Year’s day was grey and cold and empty and slow, and i enjoyed standing quietly in the empty grocery store listening to the clerks negotiate first breaks.

i caught up with the old girl outside, she was opening the door of the F-150 and putting her groceries up on that scarlet bench seat and before i opened my red truck door, i said, “Hey, is that your truck?” and she peeled a smile and said, “Oh yes, it’s my truck.”
“That’s a fantastic truck, ” i say and she says, “Everybody loves my truck. Everybody. I dedicate my truck to the Master, so it’s not my truck, it’s OUR truck.”
“That’s beautiful, ” i say, “You have a happy new year.”
And she put her cane in the truck and the smile went serious, “I don’t celebrate New Year’s but you have a blessed day.”
I thanked her and got in my red truck and patted the dashboard and hoped that the Master’s Truck had rubbed off a little while they were parked together, because i like to think that red Ford trucks are all connected somehow . . .

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day Beagle

From the Department of the Best Thing I Saw Today: while sitting at the light Hwy. 70 and Hwy. 86, a 4-door circa 1980s black Mercedes sedan with tinted windows and a nice detail job, all the windows are up except for the passenger side rear window, from which an elderly tri-colored beagle sits, his chin on the window sill with the expression that he his being transported to a very serious and important destination on this rainy New Year's Day . . .