Monday, December 29, 2008

December's Black-Veined Blue

December's black-veined blue. The landscape is whittled to its framework.

In the new issue of American Poetry Review, they reprint a passage from Stanley Kunitz's 1994 Commencement Address at St. Mary's College. Within that passage are these wonderful lines:

Poetry, I have insisted, is ultimately mythology, the telling of the stories of the soul. This would seem to be an introverted, even solipsistic, enterprise, if it were not that these stories recount the soul's passage through the valley of this life -- that is to say, its adventure in time, in history.
-- Stanley Kunitz

Where is your soul wandering on this windy December morning? Where is it headed at the end of the year on its "adventure in time?" I wish you a poetic journey in 2009.

Photo taken at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Cross River, NY, December 2008.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December Rose Hips

By December, only a few dots of color quiver in the landscape. Tethered like bouquets of miniature red balloons, rose hips strain against the faded browns and grays.

The photo was taken at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Cross River, NY, on 12/2/08.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Smaller, Paler Version of His Head

I am so delighted with the way this new little chapbook turned out. I had taken some photographs of miniature scenes that I had fun setting up in my living room, the light from the sliding glass doors illuminating the little porcelain heads. Based on those images, a first line floated into my mind, providing a shadowy path into a new prose poem. I got attached to this brief, dreamlike piece and decided to hang on to it rather than submit it for publication. I knew I wanted to do something more with it. Since my older daughter and I had wanted to work on another book project together, this provided the perfect opportunity for collaboration. (She is a fantastic graphic designer, a graduate of Cooper Union in NYC.) We selected two of the photographs for the front and back covers. The inside pages, all five of them, look elegant. And don't you love the rounded corners? Thanks, Thea!

Here's the first line:

The smaller, paler version of his head was outside, whispering something through the open window.

Tempted? Do you need to find out what happens? Don't you want a new and shiny signed copy? (And weren't you searching for a little holiday gift for someone special?) While supplies last, I'm planning to sell signed copies for $10.00 ($10.74 with tax for NY residents), with free shipping and handling. I'll send you two or more for $9.00 each (again adding tax for those in NY). Sorry, US orders only.

If you are intrigued, just write me an e-mail at CBKLU [at] optonline [dot] net, and I'll give you ordering instructions. I know you need at least one copy.

Don't forget to visit Thea's Web site at!

Note: Forgive my absence from the blog -- I've been living through a computer crash. Argh.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Blackest Ink

Alberto Blanco, star poet, sent me "a little gift" by e-mail: a Spanish translation of "The Blackest Ink," one of my poems just out in the new issue of The Bitter Oleander. Thanks, Alberto! It's so thrilling see a piece reborn in another language, even if my Spanish is incredibly rusty. Here are both versions:

The Blackest Ink

Hair still wrapped in a towel,
I rush to my notebook,
urgent words overflowing.

As I write, a drop of water
falls into the stream
of still-damp cursive.

The miniature puddle
swirls with orchid and blue:
a delicate oil slick.

This morning
even my blackest ink
bleeds secret rainbows.

-- Christine Boyka Kluge

La tinta más negra

Con el pelo todavía envuelto en la toalla,
corro hacia mi cuaderno de notas,
las palabras urgentes se desbordan.

Y mientras escribo, una gota de agua
se precipita en la corriente
de letras cursivas todavía frescas.

En el charco en miniatura
se forma un remolino orquídea y azul:
una delicada marea negra.

Esta mañana
hasta mi tinta más negra
sangra arcoiris secretos.

-- Christine Boyka Kluge
Translated by Alberto Blanco

The poem is reprinted here with permission from The Bitter Oleander. The translation is printed with permission from Alberto Blanco. To read a post about one of Alberto's poems from his book, A Cage of Transparent Words, click here: "Life by Halves."
The photograph of the coleus leaf was taken 8/18/08 in Rhinebeck, NY.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yesterday's Light and Shadow

Yesterday, as I stood at the counter cutting spirals with my favorite little scissors, I looked up to see this fantastic show of light and shadow. Sunlight from the windows behind me flowed through a gold vase of hydrangeas on the counter to dance with shadows on the kitchen wall. The heat rising from the radiator below caused a rippling, flickering effect. The picture changed constantly. I couldn’t look away. I couldn't tell if time was softly flowing past or strangely blossoming outward for those minutes.

The photos were taken 11/22/08. Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Miniaturist

Sitting here finishing my Chicken Marsala, I just remembered that I had a poem, "The Miniaturist," that would be so fitting to post on this cold and blustery November night. Then I realized that I also had new photos that I took at a strange little doll museum in Vermont. Synthesis.


Here, in his cellar workshop,
a human sneeze could topple a world.
He confines his vision to the rooms
of the red and blue dollhouse.
Within a cone of golden light,
his hands are steady,
everything perfectly focused.
He balances a poppy seed bead of glue
on the tip of a toothpick,
attaches fringe to a rug
sewn from a scrap of his robe.
For his silent family,
he snips the hair from his head,
paints their eyes and smiling lips
with a single-bristle brush.

At dusk he lights the tiny lamps
and dreams himself inside.
Admit it, you're in there, too --
feet propped on the tapestry footstool,
hands clasped behind your neck.
An Afghan the size of a stamp
cozily rests across your lap.
You've turned your back to the missing wall,
to November's early darkness.
A bulb is ablaze
in the miniature fireplace,
its orange glow mistakable for warmth.

-- Christine Boyka Kluge
From Teaching Bones to Fly (2003)
Bitter Oleander Press

The poem was first published in Tar River Poetry, then in Teaching Bones to Fly. The photograph was taken 11/6/08. For more on things miniature, see the June 30th post entitled "The Poetics of Space," complete with a photo of a dollhouse doll. To enlarge the photos, just click on the images.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cloudy Windows

In the Winter 2007 issue of Tin House, Anthony Doerr wrote a wonderful essay about Alice Munro’s stories entitled “We Are Mapmakers.” (I even enjoyed the description of the essay as “a writer charts his own course through Alice Munro.”) Parallel to his reading of Munro’s fiction, Doerr takes the reader on a trip through his own past. We begin with him as a twenty-two year old, camping on Great Barrier Island off the coast of New Zealand, reading his first Munro story by flashlight in wind and rain. After finishing the story, moved, Doerr falls into a dreamlike trance. When he wakes, “the rain has stopped. I unzip the tent door. The stars are violently bright, electric-blue. The Milky Way is stretched south to north. Orion is upside down.” Later he says that Munro’s stories “cracked open my understanding of what a short-story writer can do with memory and time.”

Doerr feels strongly that stories become a part of the reader, their fiction blending with reality. He says, “I think we build the stories we love into ourselves. I think we digest stories.” Doerr found that Munro’s stories expanded and worked on many deeper levels. The surface aspect “swerved, it inflated: it became about memory and imagination, the urge to know scraping against the inability to know for certain. We peer at the past through cloudy windows; we see shapes, figures. How much is real? And how much is merely threads, tombstones, conjectures?”

I agree. Our individual worlds are hybrids of what we observe and sense, our memories, and our dreams. What we read also takes root inside of us, becomes part of our personal history, like other lives we’ve experienced. As Doerr notes, “A good story flashes around inside, endlessly reflecting.” At the end of the essay he concludes that “… the fictions of a few writers are stamped like rivers into the landscapes, flashing and strong, deep through the channels, with countless forks and filigrees and branches. Alice Munro’s river is one of the brightest.”

The photograph (granted, not a great one, but a match to the topic) was taken in Rhinebeck, NY, on October 7, 2008. Those eerie descending figures / religious statues were much more fascinating and evocative in reality.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pottery and Fine Art Sale Tomorrow

You are invited!
Katonah Art Center Pottery and Fine Art Sale
Pottery, Jewelry, Glass, Sculptures
Sunday, November 9, 2008
10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

31 Bedford Road, Katonah, NY 10536 (opposite the A&P)

My Shrunken Worlds paper sculpture ornaments are already there, just waiting for you ...

The photograph of the ornamental cabbage was taken in Rhinebeck, NY on 10/7/08.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow, Glimmering

After endless months of build-up, suddenly we're on the cusp of Election Day. I feel both incredibly excited and a bit anxious. It looks more and more promising. Possibilities. Vote.

Fittingly, here's the final stanza from the beautiful "Dust from Dying Stars" by Julie Suk:

Like night-eyes in a forest
tomorrow glimmers
without a discernible body.

The full poem can be found in The Dark Takes Aim, published by Autumn House Press in 2003. The photograph was taken on my road on 10/30/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I love the way these two leaves found each other and aligned themselves when they fell from different trees. As I walked past, their perfect shapes and contrasting colors caught my eye. I literally stopped, walked backward a few steps, and reached down to claim them. I had almost kept going, but couldn’t resist gathering them for closer admiration. I relish the way they pop against the gray patterns in the wood.

Rainer Maria Rilke had this to say about falling leaves in the beginning of his poem entitled “Autumn,” from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Robert Bly:

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling. …

There’s something shivery about picturing that, about Rilke’s flesh and blood hand moving through the air, about all of us falling together through time.

Some days everything you read and write falls together, converges on one theme or idea. In a strange volume of photographs and essays by Jonathan Williams called A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude, there are a couple pages on Frederick Sommer. The essay ends with a quote from Sommer that cinches the falling and alignment thoughts:

I have five pebbles, not too different in size and weight, yet a randomness about them. If I drop them on the carpet they will scatter. Now we could run an experiment and we would find that we cannot put these pebbles in shapes that would be as elegant and as nicely related and with as great a variety as every time they fall. It is better than anything we could do. I have great respect for the way I find things. Every time something falls I look. I cannot believe the relationships. The intricacy. You hear a noise and you say “What is that?” Respect for the affirmation of the unexpected.


Off on another shivery tangent, here’s a photo I’ve been specifically saving for you, for Halloween. It’s the scary, mask-like face of a statue discovered on a street corner in Rhinebeck, New York.

The little candy bars are in the house.

Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke was published by Harper & Row in 1981. The full text of "Autumn" can be found on page 89. A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude was published by David R. Godine in 2002. The essay about Sommer, as well as his portrait, can be found on pages 88-89.

The leaves were found on my road and photographed on 10/26/08. The statue was photographed in Rhinebeck on 10/07/08. Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Brittle Snap

When I first read “Life by Halves," a poem by Mexican poet Alberto Blanco, the ending gave me a corresponding brittle snap in the heart. On this rainy day, here it is, from his bilingual collection, A Cage of Transparent Words:


We were in such a rush and it was raining …
a few rays of light filtered through
the dark branches of the trees.

The rusted chain was cold
and the padlock weighed like a heart
in the middle of the night.

You stuck the key into the lock
and began to force it.

A few minutes later
– and after a brittle snap –
you showed me the broken key.

The small stupidities
that seem to happen without warning
concentrated in a gesture of impatience.

Such is life:
a house locked up with chains,
one half of the key in our hand,
the other half in our chest.

– Alberto Blanco
– Translated by Elise Miller

A Cage of Transparent Words was published in 2007 by The Bitter Oleander Press. The pieces appear in both the original Spanish and, on facing pages, in English translations by Judith Infante, Joan Lindgren, Elise Miller, Edgardo Moctezuma, Gustavo V. Segade, Anthony Seidman, John Oliver Siimon, and Kathleen Snodgrass.

W.S. Merwin wrote one of the blurbs:

Alberto Blanco’s poems, over several decades, have revealed with precision and delicacy an original imaginative landscape, in language and imagery that are at once intimate, spacious, and rooted in the rich ground of Mexican poetry. There should certainly be a bilingual selection that represents his full range.

“Life by Halves” is reprinted here with the permission of Alberto Blanco and Bitter Oleander Press. I was honored to have my book, Stirring the Mirror, come out from BOP the same year as Alberto’s.

The photograph of a key that belonged to my grandmother was taken 10/26/08.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wild, Bristled Calligraphy

Who could resist the wild, bristled calligraphy of these poppy stems? Captive in their allotted space at the botanical garden, they claim their original inscription on the world. Intertwined, they embellish the air with unpredictable twists and loops, writing toward purple-black blossoms.

Discussing the domesticated in Walking, Henry David Thoreau writes:

I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native rights, – any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original wild habits and vigor, as when my neighbor’s cow breaks out of her pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray tide, … swollen by the melted snow .… The seeds of instinct are preserved under the thick hides of cattle and horses, like seeds in the bowels of the earth ….

In the same extended essay, Thoreau writes this vivid passage:

He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him, who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them, -- transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half-smothered between two musty leaves in a library ….

That’s the goal of the poet, isn’t it? Let me type -- again -- his description of the real poet: “…who derived his words as often as he used them, – transplanted them to his page with the earth adhering to their roots …”

Unearth that living language, deep and true, already groping for the welcoming page with its fantastic, hungry roots.

The quotes are from a combined volume called Nature Walking (Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walking by Henry David Thoreau) from Beacon Press. Walking was originally published in Atlantic magazine in 1862. The first passage was from page 107, the second from page 104. The photograph was taken at The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, on Mother's Day, 5/11/08.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Speaking of Gold ...

Go out of the house to see the moon, and 't is mere tinsel; it will not please as when its light shines upon your necessary journey. The beauty that shimmers in the yellow afternoons of October, who ever could clutch it? Go forth to find it, and it is gone: ‘t is only a mirage as you look from the windows of diligence.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

The tiny pearl levitating between the branches in the top shot is actually the Hunters’ Moon. Or almost the Full Hunters’ Moon. The official Full Hunters’ Moon, which is the first full moon to follow the Harvest Moon, was on 10/14/08. The photo was taken in Connecticut on 10/15/08. For more full moon information, a list of colorful names and dates for 2008, and a sky calendar, visit Full Worm Moon?!

The bottom photograph was taken while hiking with a friend at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, NY on 10/11/08. Shivery gold. Click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Love Your Blog

Many thanks to Kristen Hovet at Vesper's Escape for nominating my blog for, well, ... "I Love Your Blog!"

Here are the rules, as posted on Vesper's Escape:

1 - Add the logo to your blog.
2 - Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3 - Nominate at least 7 other bloggers.
4 - Add links to their blogs.
5 - Leave a comment for your nominees on their blogs!

Vesper's Escape has obviously already received the award, or I'd enthusiastically nominate it. Here's a list of four (so far) intriguing blogs that I nominate for the honor:

Madam Mayo -- Translator and award-winning writer (as well as my personal literary guiding light!), C. M. Mayo, writes this enlightening and entertaining literary blog. Visit her site for a wealth of book news, writing exercises and tips, guest blogger posts and recommendations, and more fascinating links than you can click on. (And I highly praise her collection, Sky Over El Nido, which won The Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.)

A Walk Around the Lake -- Poet Pamela Hart writes beautifully about poetry and poets, as well as art, nature, books, and ... life. To give you a taste of the deep writing on her blog, here's a tiny sample from a recent post: "I like the grid, the horizon line, the fragment, the shard. I like Rothko's blocks of color. And Diebenkorn's cartographies of blotched and colored land mass. I adore Agnes Martin quilted grids. I don't mind at all if a poem is broken. I can sometimes knit the poet's language together, or not. I prefer it when a poem isn't made neatly, even though I do this myself occasionally. I am not an orderly person." I savor the dialogue between our blogs.

Stu Jenks: Fezziwig Photography -- Multi-talented photographer Stu Jenks sums up the themes for his blog as "Toy, Nocturnal, Digital & Sport Photography; Stories of The Road; Stories of The Land; Stories about Photography and The Process." Check out his gorgeous pictures and lively, heartfelt stories. As I wrote about Stu's work in a 4/1/08 post on my blog, "It's fascinating to read what he writes on his blog about his creative process, to follow his evolving methods, to witness his discoveries about the landscape, the people, and himself. He places himself at the intersection of planned location and beautiful accident. He's open to what arrives and captures it on film."

Will. Love. Logic -- Artist Elin Waterston is making a block print every day in 2008, "on accounta because it's a leap year." She is posting them daily on her blog. After scrolling through them, travel back in time, pre-print project, to discover other visual entertainment, arty anecdotes, family insights and funny stuff.

Thanks again, Vesper's Escape, and congratulations to the first four nominees!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gathering the Glowing World

October. She lets the leaves drift loose from her scalp, surrounding herself with gold. Inside her mind, a perfect silence grows where rustling thoughts had clung. She gathers the glowing world in its thirsty well.

Okay, okay -- I know -- enough already with the Renwal dolls. I can't help myself. I carried her in my pocket late yesterday afternoon while walking with a neighbor on our road. The photo opportunity suddenly materialized at the top of the hill, gold everywhere. Click on image to enlarge.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Abode of Illusion"

withering wind
is the fragrance still attached
to the late-blooming flower


withering wind
has it been colored by
a late-blooming flower

– Matsuo Basho

Imagine people so eager to have a poet stay in the area that they would find him a home or build a special house for him. In the summer of 1690, Basho was treated to that honor and lived in a house on Lake Biwa called “The Abode of Illusion” or “The Unreal Hut.” It had a panoramic view overlooking the lake and the Seta River.

This intriguing biographical fact and a wealth of others appear in Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated by Jane Reichhold, just out in 2008. Tomoe Sumi at Kodansha America sent me a lovely hardcover copy with artwork by Shiro Tsujimura. The book includes Reichhold’s translations of Matsuo Basho’s haiku, literal translations, original Japanese versions, biographical information, a chronology of Matsuo Basho’s life, an appendix of haiku techniques, a glossary of literary terms, and notes to clarify and enhance the work. For instance, beyond the two versions of the above poem, if one refers to it by number (760) in the notes, there is this explanation:

1691 – autumn. The idea behind the first version of this poem is that the cold, strong wind should have blown away something as delicate as the scent of the flower. Nioi can also be translated as “color,” hence the second version of the poem. Traditionally, the cold autumn wind is described as white.

Where I live, the October sky is now pearly gray, dusk approaching. I’ll leave you with another Basho haiku from this extensive and deep collection. He wrote this poem after the Priest Unchiku, a famous calligrapher from Kyoto, showed Basho a portrait (likely his own) with the face looking away. He asked him to write a poem on it. Basho responded, “You are sixty years old and I am almost fifty. Life was like a dream just as Chuang Tzu said. The portrait looks like a dream and now I am adding sleep talk to it.”

turn this way
I am also lonely
this autumn evening

– Matsuo Basho

This last haiku is #681. For more about Basho, go to “Wine Berries,” the July 14th post.

The photograph was taken on a visit to Watkins Glen, New York, with my younger daughter on 9/23/08. We loved the intricate rock formations, the waterfalls, and the teal water collecting in amoeba-shaped pools. Just click on the image to enlarge it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blue Light

"Blue," a poem by Aliki Barnstone, unveils the power, mystery and serenity of the many shades of blue. These few lines from the piece transport the reader to another more vivid, more peaceful world:

Blue light comes from the island in my brain // where sunflowers crook their necks, weary of time. / Sunflowers, your wild fire hair burns in blue.

"Blue" appears in The Shambhala Anthology of Women's Spiritual Poetry, edited by Aliki Barnstone. The photo was taken 10/7/08.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

One-Handed Prayer

I recently discovered wigleaf, an intriguing online magazine of “very short fictions,” all works under 1,000 words. Since I love writing prose poetry and flash fiction, I decided to submit work to the editor, Scott Garson. Today wigleaf posted my accepted story, “One-Handed Prayer,” as well as an author “postcard.” As an extra feature, Scott asks contributors to write a postcard to the readers of the magazine. The entertaining premise is that the readers are the ones who are far away, and the postcard-writing author is writing to them from home. If you feel inspired, do visit the Web site by clicking on wigleaf. There are many stories, postcards, and photographs to explore. Thanks to Scott for the editing suggestions.

Here's the first line of "One-Handed Prayer":

When he lifted the shag rug, he found a hand, palm down, flat as a rose pressed in a bible.

The photo of Renwal dolls was taken 6/30/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska writes poems that keep blossoming, that open new worlds – right up to the last line – for the entranced reader. Just when you feel a Szymborska poem has no more petals to reveal, there you are, at the center of her words, surrounded by red-black perfume. And let’s not forget the waking points of glistening thorns, sometimes softened with grim humor. Winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, she is on my list of favorite poets.

There is a wonderful poem, “I am too close for him…” in her collection, Miracle Fair. In this version, the translation into English was done by Joanna Trzeciak. I found the same piece, title translated to “I Am Too Near,” in an anthology of women’s spiritual poetry. This version was translated by Czeslaw Milosz, another extraordinary Polish poet, also on my list. I prefer the Milosz translation, so will share several final lines from “I Am Too Near” below, to pique your interest in Wislawa Szymborska’s beautiful and startling poetry:

…I am too near
to fall to him from the sky. My scream
could wake him up. Poor thing
I am, limited to my shape,
I who was a birch, who was a lizard,
who would come out of my cocoons
shimmering the colors of my skins. Who possessed
the grace of disappearing from astonished eyes,
which is a wealth of wealths. I am near,
too near for him to dream of me.
I slide my arm from under the sleeper’s head
and it is numb, full of swarming pins,
on the tip of each, waiting to be counted,
the fallen angels sit.

The above lines are from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, edited by Aliki Barnstone, from Shambhala, 2002. “I Am Too Near” first appeared in the 1962 Szymborska collection, Salt, then in Milosz’s anthology, Postwar Polish Poetry, in 1965.

The photograph was taken at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, NY on 8/28/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Be Properly Scared

Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do.
-- Flannery O'Connor

Silly picture, dead serious quote. Flannery O'Connor wrote this line in a letter toward the very end of her short life. I admire her bravery, her darkness, her acceptance of the strange and grotesque in human nature. Her characters are disturbing, colorful, riveting. I just reread her short story, "The Heart of the Park," and still feel an odd combination of uneasy and thrilled. Read this partial paragraph from the second page of the story and see if you can resist the need to find the book to see what happens:

The park was the heart of the city. He had come to the city -- with a knowing in his blood -- he had established himself at the heart of it. Every day he looked at the heart of it; every day; and he was so stunned and awed and overwhelmed that just to think about it made him sweat. There was something, in the center of the park, that he had discovered. It was a mystery, although it was right there in a glass case for everybody to see and there was a typewritten card telling all about it right there. But there was something the card couldn't say and what it couldn't say was inside him, a terrible knowledge like a big nerve growing inside him.

Wow. I love that: "...a terrible knowledge like a big nerve growing inside him." I picture that mysterious knowledge spreading wildly, branching, racing to the periphery of his body, filling him with white hot electricity.

The main character in this story is Enoch Emery, a creepy and manipulative young man who has "wise blood like his daddy." What a name. O'Connor's characters all seem to have fascinating names like Sally Poker Sash, Hazel Motes, Buford Munson, Tom T. Shiftlet, and Lucynell.

What's in the glass case? Be "properly scared"....

"The Heart of the Park" was first published in Partisan Review in 1949. It later became part of Wise Blood. It also appears in Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories, which is where I reread it.

The photograph was taken in my yard on 8/27/08.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall Falling

Mesmerized, I watched this leaf pirouette earthward, slowly, magically. It descended so dreamily that it seemed to levitate. As I got closer, I noticed that it was still tethered to its tree by a strand of spider silk. It swayed back and forth like a tiny camouflage-print kite at the whim of the wind.

Today: autumn.

Photo taken 9/17/08 at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Cross River, NY. Click on image to enlarge.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pac-Man Puffball

This Pac-Man-esque puffball lives in the moss in my backyard. It's surrounded by fellow fungi in various stages of splitting to release spores. Charmingly known as "pigskin poison puffball" or "common earthball," this scaly ochre beauty is scleroderma citrinum. (Not edible!)

The photo was taken 9/15/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Butterfly Tasting

I had no idea that monarch butterflies have “no more flavor than dried toast.” So Dr. Urquhart, an entomologist, learned while eating a number of monarchs in the field. Since monarchs feed on milkweed, which contains “heart poisons similar to digitalis,” birds that feed on the monarchs get ill. In the past, it was assumed that monarchs would taste bitter due to the acrid milkweed. But, no, apparently to the human tongue they taste more like bland breakfast food. (I don’t dare imagine the texture … a parchment-like crunch?)

And speaking of taste, did you know that butterflies taste with their feet?

These facts are nestled in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pp. 244-245 in Three by Annie Dillard, a collection of some of her works.)

I believe that the monarch pictured on a thistle (above) is female, because she doesn’t have the two dots or tiny thickening of black lines on the lower wings that the males have. The photograph was taken late yesterday afternoon at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, New York. The milkweed, beautifully going to seed, is from the same park, same day. Click on images to enlarge.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lost in Looking

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I love the way Annie Dillard describes “stalking” and observing a muskrat: “But he never knew I was there.” “I never knew I was there, either. For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions. My own self-awareness had disappeared; it seems now almost as though, had I been wired with electrodes, my EEG would have been flat.” …. “I have noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves. Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, ‘When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.’”

Later in the same chapter Dillard says that “…at the creek I slow down, center down, empty. I am not excited; my breathing is slow and regular. In my brain I am not saying, Muskrat! Muskrat! There! I am saying nothing.” …. “Instead of going rigid, I go calm. I center down wherever I am; I find a balance and repose. I retreat – not inside myself, but outside myself, so that I am a tissue of senses. Whatever I see is plenty, abundance. I am the skin of water the wind plays over; I am petal, feather, stone.”

I was so excited when I read that last line. I felt a beautiful jolt of recognition, a sweet shock of related language and spirit. Here’s an older poem of mine that voices a similar experience:


Here I witness my own silent slipping
out of skin into pewter water.
At last, this quiet,
this weightless place up the hill from my house:
moss-softened sound, low frog whistle,
slow ripples on the pond.
A breeze combs my hair to seaweed,
soothes my thoughts petal-smooth.
The gold rib of the moon floats by,
swirling gold along my liquid spine.
At last, all alone, at home
among the tongueless stones.
I am the cold current
riding their glistening backs.

The pond up the road from my house really is a “weightless place,” a peaceful place to shed one's human skin, to become only a still eye witnessing the world, lost in Dillard’s “abundance.” Somehow we feel most alive and engaged when we forget ourselves.

“Alone” was first published in Defined Providence many years ago, then became part of my first book, Teaching Bones to Fly. The photograph of the pond / vernal pool at the top of my road was taken 5/7/08. Last I looked, about a week ago, it was gone. It will return…

Monday, September 1, 2008

Duende: Words Both Winged and Quilled

There are dark jewels embedded in certain prized poems, the ones you must return to, to read again and again. These jewels glitter – mesmerizing, faceted, sharp – and a little dangerous. As you walk barefoot through the lines, flickering match held aloft, they invite you closer to their edges and points. Sometimes they pierce the sole of your unwary foot or curious fingertip. Sometimes they work inside that tender flesh to become a part of you. You have discovered either a kindred soul or a soul so different, so full, astonishing and troubling, that you fall in love with the black words, the spiky images, the intoxicating shadows and bottomless caverns of the poem. Your wounds are suddenly beautiful and shared. They heal over their dark treasures, holding them close.

These deep and passionate poems have duende. In The Demon and the Angel, Edward Hirsch defines Federico Garcia Lorca’s use of the word as “a term for the obscure power and penetrating inspiration of art.” For Lorca, duende,“which could never be entirely pinned down or rationalized away, was associated with the spirit of earth, with visible anguish, irrational desire, demonic enthusiasm, and a fascination with death. It is an erotic form of dark inspiration.” “It is both a troublesome spirit and a passionate visitation. It seems to suggest both contact with the depths and access to our higher selves.” (p.10)

At the end of the book, Hirsch writes his own striking, poetic description of duende:

The duende is a wind that breathes through the empty arches over the heads of the dead; it is the wing of a wounded hawk that floats through the crushed grass and flares out of the swollen sidewalks; it is a dream that mocks the bloody mockingbird and flees through the empty subway tunnels and soars out of the broken chest of bridges; it is a joy that burns and a suffering that scalds, like hot ice; it is a cry that rises out of the human body and annunciates ‘the constant baptism of newly created things’ (Lorca, Deep Song).” (The Demon and the Angel, p.230)

Years ago, I wrote a prose poem called “All of Its Words, Both Winged and Quilled.” It defines the type of poetry that pulls me to its chest, poetry that exudes an irresistible dark and shimmering force. It, too, describes the mysterious power of duende:

All of Its Words, Both Winged and Quilled

The best poems have a steady wind blowing through them, a low, haunting howl you can almost hear. The wind threatens to lift the surface world like a rock, releasing the scent of damp soil, exposing the scurrying, chewing things beneath. When I start to read a great poem, I'm at the edge of a dark opening, letting my eyes adjust, curious. Cold air rushes up through my hair. Water from stalactites plinks into a distant underground stream. I'm suddenly alert, skin prickled and shivery.

Entering its cave, I expect to find a pile of gnawed bones, or feel a moist palm on the back of my neck. Musk announces the presence of something alive inside its passages, something stronger and wilder than narrow words can restrain--a leathery, immortal creature, a giant draped in the humid rags of a subterranean realm. What lurks inside the poem, singing to me, is so rare, that, at first, my face lifts with wonderment. I recognize the voice of the beast that dwells there, precious last of its kind.

But on the cusp of delighted laughter, my features twist, puzzled. I sense something clinging to my arm in the dark--affectionate, intimate--but with glistening teeth. I'm poised to bolt, but the spell of its throaty new language is on my own tongue like an elixir. Enchanted, I want it to whisper its life's story in my ear. I long to savor all of its words, both winged and quilled. Trustingly, gently, I run my fingers up and down the black pearls of its spine. Its amber eyes are the only dim lights. I stare into the dilated pupils, unafraid, willing to place my head in its jaws.

“All of Its Words, Both Winged and Quilled” was first published in No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets (Edited by Ray Gonzalez, Tupelo Press, 2003), then in LUNA, then in Stirring the Mirror (Bitter Oleander Press, 2007).

Thrillingly, I read with Edward Hirsch, John Amen, and George Wallace in April, as part of The Pedestal Magazine event, the first Writer's Voice poetry event held in the new Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side YMCA in NYC. Click on "The Pedestal Magazine event" to read about the evening and see a photo of the participants.

The photograph above was taken 8/31/08, withered shadows courtesy of a plant I neglected. Simply click on the image to enlarge it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thank You, Thank You

Many thanks to the generous bloggers at Madam Mayo and Vesper's Escape, who kindly wrote on their blogs about my August 17th post, Questioning the Blog. The reader responses, both by blog comments and separate e-mails, have been intriguing and supportive. I appreciate all of you out there who take the time to visit, read, respond ... and blog. Thanks.

The photo of the little robot holding a black-eyed Susan was taken this afternoon out in my yard. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Nature Does Not Stand Still"

“Nature does not stand still.”
Claude Monet

True. Everything is opening, closing, blossoming, withering … being carried away in a beak or jaw. The wind twists the petals of sunstruck flowers, weaves and unweaves the grass in watery patterns. Creamy cumulus clouds comb themselves into mare’s tail wisps. The human eye darts here and there, hungrily taking in all the movement, marveling at the constant, rippling change.

As I walk on my road, I sample the variety of August perfumes shifting on the warm and humid breeze. Cut grass, sunlight on damp earth -- even, on occasion, the faint skunky scent of fox at the top of the hill. Every night before I give up for the day, I stand in front of the screen doors and sniff. I take a deep breath of night air, inhaling the loose and floating molecules of the world. I imagine the nocturnal creatures digging, soaring and scurrying. (Maybe later, reading in bed, I’ll hear them moving through the woods, cracking twigs and rustling leaves.) Sometimes I step outside one more time, to see if the moon is up, to check on the constellations silently inching across the darkness. My last downstairs act is to slide the glass doors shut. I like the finality of that rolling noise, followed by the emphatic click of the latch. I can still taste the swirling night.

The photographs were taken this afternoon at Silamar Farm in Millerton, NY. Click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Questioning the Blog

No, I’m not interrogating the blog, aiming an unbearably bright light in its twitching eyes. I’m questioning myself. Why do I do this? (Blink-blink.) Even the label, blog, sounds frivolous or unclear, like a cross between “blahblahblah” and fog or bog. Originally, I created the blog (with initial set-up help from my older daughter) so that there was a place where people could find my books and contact me. One of my literary guiding lights, C. M. Mayo, had asked me to guest blog on Madam Mayo after my second book, Stirring the Mirror, came out last August. I needed a site to link to! So, in a way, it forced my hand. On August 13, 2007, the blog was born.

Since the initial days, the blog has evolved into…well, I’m not quite sure what. Essentially, I’ve let it just happen. I don’t want to build a fence around it. I've let it sprawl. To answer my own question why, I’ve come up with the following thoughts:

  1. It places me more fully in my life.

  1. It marks passage through time, engraving mile markers along the route.

  1. It clarifies nebulous thoughts.

  1. It’s a commitment to writing and art.

  1. It’s an openness to the possibilities of art/creativity in the world, a reaching out to reel in those possibilities, to anchor and join them in a specific place.

  1. It’s an exercise in synthesis, a weaving together of threads from reading, poetry , the visual arts, nature, culture, all fleeting experience.

  1. It’s an exploration of both reality and dreams.

  1. It keeps me looking, thinking, witnessing, reading and rereading, listening, feeling and creating – cinching the ragged edges of the universe a bit closer.

  1. I like the casual, rambling style of “essay” (lyric essay?) that I feel free to write here. I like that relaxed autonomy. It lets me experiment with form, with hybrid writing, which I love.

  1. I enjoy the communication, the sharing of ideas and information. I love hearing from those who visit the blog, who have other thoughts to add, who make additional connections, who offer suggestions and expand the posts. I like the idea of a network of blogs.

  1. And, hey, I like the rare free stuff! Recently, after a brief post about Matsuo Basho, I received an e-mail from the publishers of a new collection of his work, Basho: The Complete Haiku, translated by Jane Reichhold, asking if I’d like a copy. Yes. I now have the lovely hardcover, and will focus on it soon. John Glick of Plumtree Pottery also mailed me a surprise: a beautiful, swirling universe of a ceramic tile. Thanks.

  1. Along the same theme, I’ve enjoyed receiving invitations to submit work, or requests to reprint writing and photographs from the blog.

  1. I get a thrill out of taking those photographs, then finding the right words to go with them. I like setting up little scenes, going off on tangents, letting inspiration unspool. This is serious fun.

  1. Okay, and I savor the “search for the sublime.” Those are the insightful words of Annie Dillard, writing about polar explorers: “They went, I say, partly in search of the sublime, and they found it the only way it can be found, here or there – around the edges, tucked into the corners of the days.” (Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 41)

After a year, I’m setting no limits on the blog. I’m allowing it an amoeboid existence, the freedom to expand and contract. I’m here, waiting, meandering, open to the unfurling possibilities. I’ll end here with more of Dillard’s wisdom:

“Wherever we go, there can be only one business at hand – that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.”

The final quote is again from Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 42. The photo of the colorful maple leaf (already?!) was taken –literally – on my road on 8/15/08.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Don't Look Down...

...while tempting fate...

Photo taken on my deck, 8/13/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inhabiting the Story

If you fully inhabit a story, it feels as if you live there, that you’ve shut the door behind you and have entered another world, another life. Looking through the eyes of those who people the pages, you breathe there for a spell. You take on the texture of their skin, their scent, their torn hearts and seething minds. What at first feels like a distant universe, a flat existence, becomes a place you know intimately, where you recognize the wallpaper patterns and the shape of the head pressed in the pillow. The faces in the mirror – not yours – become your own. All of the people in the story have hearts that beat with erratic rhythms, just like yours. When you closed that door, you shocked their hearts into starting.

If you fully live there, you believe everything the characters say. Including their lies. You have to. After all, you invited them there, offered them pieces of your flaws and joys, fed them facets of your own beauty and ugliness. Some seem nothing like you, but they are. They’re human.

Sometimes you become the watcher in the story, silently observing that world, but you’re still there. When you fully inhabit the words, your characters inhabit your body in return, each with a little bit of you nested inside of them. Your body is crowded with stories and poems. They expand your life. You inhabit yourself more fully having written the words.

Charles Baudelaire wrote a prose poem called “Crowds” that touches on the same theme. Here’s an excerpt:

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege that he can, at will, be either himself or another. Like those wandering spirits that seek a body, he enters, when he likes, into the person of any man. For him alone all is vacant; and if certain places seem to be closed to him, it is that, to his eyes, they are not worth the trouble of being visited.

(From Twenty Prose Poems, translated by Michael Hamburger)

The photo was taken 7/26/08. Click on image to enlarge.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Center of the Web

About an hour ago I went outside to check on the spider waiting at the center of her/his web. The web is suspended between the hanging red impatiens and the peach begonias. As soon as I opened the entryway door, the spider raced under the rim of the flower pot and hid. I stood there until she/he emerged and returned to the web's center. I wasn't sure if the picture would turn out in the dark, but the flash illuminated the web's intricate silvery pattern and the bristly legs of the spider. Patience.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Water Lily with Sun in Its Mouth

I don't grow tired of this image. The pollen dusted sun opening at the water lily’s center; its lilac tipped rays like the arms of a gold sea anemone. The delicate black shadow-lace along the leaf’s rim at the lower left. The absolute stillness. If I look long enough, I can float inside the pale cup of opening petals.

Rilke wrote a poem called "Water Lily" (translated here by A. Poulin) that ends with these mind-shivering lines: "...into my body at the bottom of the water / I attract the beyonds of mirrors..."

The photograph was taken 5/11/08 at The New York Botanical Garden. Click on image to enlarge.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

If You Trust in Nature

If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

These are Rainer Maria Rilke’s words from Letters to a Young Poet, a slender but powerful book that I just reread early this morning. Beyond the deep words, an incident sticks in my mind. In his introduction, Stephen Mitchell wrote that “I once showed a psychic friend of mine a late photo of Rilke, and it took her three hours to recover from the glance." I like that.

This photo of a lichen was taken at the top of my hill, at the end of June. I love looking at the details of lichens, at the strange shapes and textures. Wondering what this one was called, I discovered it was difficult to determine. In a search, I came across a fascinating Web site, Lichens of North America. I was sidetracked into a whole other gorgeous and colorful world. Dr. Irwin M. Brodo, lichenologist, and photographers Sylvia Duran Sharnoff and Stephen Sharnoff also created a beautiful, comprehensive book by the same title, Lichens of North America.

I decided to contact Dr. Brodo at the Canadian Museum of Nature to see if he could help me with my lichen. Here’s his response:

Well, if it's really gray, it may be Myelochroa aurulenta (Powdery axil-bristle lichen). The medulla of that species is pale yellow. If the lichen is yellowish green (or "green" according to some people), it may be Flavoparmelia caperata (Greenshield lichen). The latter is much more common on trees along city streets (with clean air). Or, it could be something entirely different.

Thanks, Dr. Brodo. I’m thinking it’s Greenshield lichen, but I’m not sure. Whatever it’s called, it’s beautiful.

The photo was taken 6/29/08. Click on the picture to enlarge the image.