Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter & another poem

It's a beautiful Easter morning, a perfect spring day on which the world does indeed seem reborn. I'm feeling nostalgic for Easters past, for the annual fluffy pastel dresses and new patent leather shoes, baskets full of candy and eggs we colored the day before.
We didn't buy an Easter lily--they're beautiful but when I've tried to transplant them into the garden, they couldn't take the heat that will soon arrive--but we do have cactus flowers.  The red ones bloomed last year but this is the first time for the one with the purple blossom below, and there's another bud on it yet to come.
 I didn't think this coreopsis would ever amount to anything. I'd moved it into the herb bed from another bed where I wanted to put something else and it sat for a year as a tiny clump of green leaves, healthy enough but it didn't look like it would ever grow, let alone bloom. However, it wasn't taking up much space so I left it alone, and a couple of weeks ago it suddenly began to take off. This is its first blossom with several more buds about to pop out. Once again I'm reminded of the virtue of patience (and perhaps of benign neglect).
 And here's another nasturtium, this on one of the few plants that survived the February frosts. We've been enjoying them in the garden and in our salads; I love the sweet, peppery zing they add.

Last night I took this shot of the jasmine by the front door; it climbs on wires painted to match the wall so they're fairly invisible, and especially at night, the fragrance is positively intoxicating. I love to bury my face in the blossoms and inhale deeply. If only I could truly breathe it in and carry it away with me to draw on for the rest of the day! But alas! such pleasures are truly only of the moment.
And this is Cosmo (again), the furry muse who keeps us company for our morning writing. He is a
lovely golden blossom who blooms all year long.

And now for the poem I promised in the title. As I said at the beginning, it's a morning for nostalgia, so I was thinking way back to when I was a kid and my mom bought Barbra Streisand's first album, and yes, it really is her birthday today:

Today is Barbra Streisand’s birthday
and I sincerely wish her well.
She sang a little song, “Sweet Zoo,” 
on her first album, recorded 
a long long time ago, about dreaming 
of being a series of animals--
fairly evenly divided between
carnivores and herbivores—
I would have said omnivores,
but the polar bear is most definitely
a carnivore. The song ends,
"I enjoy being an oyster."
I love that song and still sing it
with my grandsons. and every time
a child in our family turns five,
we all sing the “I’m Five” song,
which belongs to that child for that year.
And so, dear Barbra,
you have enriched my life
And the lives of those I love,
not so much with your love songs,
although they're very nice,
but with small inspired bits of gentle silliness.
I’m so glad you recorded them.
I’m so glad you were born.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring (Tra-La!)

Yes, it is true. I love Gilbert and Sullivan, especially The Mikado, which my mom bought on a couple of 78 rpm vinyl records when I was preschool age. I learned all the songs, even if I didn't know what all the words meant, and they still make me smile, just like the beautiful flowers this time of year.  Japan and Washington DC have gorgeous cherry blossoms, but the palo verde trees of the Sonoran desert, currently in spectacular, passionate bloom here, can hold their own quite nicely.  I took this picture looking up into the gigantic, that is, much bigger than average, palo verde on the east side of our back yard.
Springtime makes the whole world young again, and tipping my head back to look up into those millions of blossoms I remembered another much-loved part of my childhood, my grandmother's beautifully bound 1906 copy of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I still have that book, with its wonderful illustrations (overlaid with thin sheets of tissue paper) and, unfortunately, a few crayon scribbles put there by my brother, or maybe it was me (to my shame, since I was taught early and well to respect and take care of books), with a beat-up cover and pages that have come loose from their binding. But it is still indescribably precious.
The best part, for me, was the way Hiawatha's grandmother, Nokomis, taught him about the world, about the origins and meanings of things in nature. This is how she explained the rainbow:

     'Tis the heaven of flowers you see there; all the wildflowers of the forest,
     All the lilies of the prairie, when on earth they fade and perish,
     Blossom in that heaven above us. . . .

That's what I think of when I look up into that glorious golden canopy, and I don't even mind the carpet of fallen blossoms on the patio and in the vegetable and flower beds.

     The roses are doing well, too, both the miniature ones in the flower bed by the front door and the bigger ones in the back yard, the climber whose blossoms change color as they age and the JFK rose my friend Charlene gave me when she had to move away. The blossoms on the JFK are the best they've been in the three springs I've had it.
     I harvested the last of the winter's kale last weekend.  The frosts improved the flavor and I wish it could last longer, but better to pick it now before the aphids get to it, as they always do sometime in April. The lacy leaves are as lovely as many flowers, I think.

In its place I planted eggplant, one of the crops that does well here in the summer (I also planted okra, pumpkins, and summer squash; the tepary beans can wait a couple of months yet). And so we plan ahead for the hot time, while taking time to enjoy what we have today.
     I haven't posted all my "poem a day for April" efforts, but here's what I wrote this morning in response to a prompt on Poetic Asides, , to write a poem in ten lines, each of ten syllables, which was a bit more challenging than I expected, especially as I got near the end.

I thought it would be easy, just to write
ten syllables, ten times, to capture a
moment perfectly in such a nice round
number, but getting caught in abstraction,
I found no image, only the yellow
cat curled up beside me, only the quail
calling outside my window to its mate,
only a potted plant needing water
and repotting, and the unforgiving
clock, saying that special moment was past.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reproductive fitness

We live out on the far west side of town. The ride home almost gives the illusion of living in the country; we pass through a sort of buffer zone of open space, part of which belongs to the local community college and is crisscrossed with trails on which we and our neighbors walk and run (as does the school's crosscountry team). Then there's Greasewood Park, belonging to the city or county, I forget which, also with numerous trails and a fine place to get some exercise. Behind the houses across the street from us the land drops down into a wide wash, one of many that interconnect and provide wildlife corridors, for coyotes like the one whose picture I posted a while back, bobcats, javelinas, and the quail, rabbits, and other small prey the predators thrive on. The desert is not empty or barren, it is a rich and diverse environment, and the reproductive fitness of those smaller creatures is essential to its health.  Even the reproductive fitness of the ants in the picture below--hundreds of them busily harvesting thousands of leaves which are somehow essential to their community's survival--matters to the larger natural world of which we are a part. All of which is my roundabout way of getting to today's April poem, based on a concept I learned about in a physical anthropology course a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Reproductive fitness, the professor called it,
meaning not that the parents were necessarily healthy,
but only that they produced large numbers of offspring,
many of whom would survive and do the same.
We see it in rabbits and mice, starlings and doves.

Joe bought a new stepladder, shiny metal,
yellow plastic on the steps and a shelf
of yellow plastic, left it set up in the garage
where last year the doves tried to build a nest
on the motor of the garage door opener.

One built a nest on the stepladder shelf,
a very tidy nest for a dove, of straw
stolen from the mulch around my snow peas,
and laid one perfect white egg in it.
I’m sure she would have laid more, given the chance.

Four nights ago, while I was in my study,
we heard a commotion I thought was outside
but Joe saw, through the bathroom window,
the neighbors’ white cat with the dove in its mouth,
strolling lazily toward the open gate.

Next morning the garage floor around the ladder
was littered with silver feathers, some
with black and white tips. Everything looked
astonishingly clean. There was no blood.
The ladder was unshaken, though we’d heard it shake.

I climbed up, looked in the nest, found the egg
undisturbed in its Rumpelstiltskin cradle. 
I climbed back down and left it there.

We will have to move the ladder soon, I suppose,
fold up the legs and shelf and throw away
nest and egg. It hadn’t been there long,
would have been just a yolk sac and small dot of chick,
and now it will be nothing.

Besides, there are lots more doves.
They define reproductive fitness, in spite
of cats and hawks and kids with BB guns.
We hear them every morning, 
gently waking the world with their sweet round voices,
soft music to lure us into the violent day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

another poem for April

I'm a day behind on my poem a day for April but here's what I just wrote, illustrated with one of last winter's lemons - you'll see why.

You left the sorbetto on the counter too long. It melted.
You put it back in the freezer. It almost tasted
better, refrozen and settled into ice.

I dumped it onto the cutting board and sliced it in half.
The alcohol in it, limoncello, our favorite,
kept it from freezing too hard. Easy to slice.

Slivers of lemon zest had settled to the bottom.
A few caught in my throat. I choked, coughed, 
coughed some more. You brought me water.

This is the way the world should be, I think. 
We make mistakes. We make the best of them. 
One of us chokes. Another brings her water.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Today's poem

Wednesday morning, taking out the garbage

A small whisper of rain
spots the concrete.
Tiny wet broken tiles
evaporate into memory.

Water is so precious everywhere, but here in the desert it assumes a sacredness I would never have thought of when I lived on the north coast of California and kept umbrellas stashed everywhere, in the house, the car, the office. 

There, the morning fog rolled in from the ocean over the fields and my ancient rented farmhouse, across the highway and uphill to the redwood forests, and some days the sun never came out. Here, I stop to marvel at a dark cloud topping the first red stripe of sunrise, shaped like something out of a children's book or a child's imagination, a huge, soft creature with a great gaping mouth and a funny bump on its head.  Look away to dump the recycling into the barrel, look back, and it's gone. 

Maybe, the weatherman said yesterday, maybe we'll get some rain. And we did, for a couple of minutes. Now the patio is dry again, the lovely mosaic of raindrops, like the cloud that announced their possible brief arrival, gone. I listen to water pouring through the hose to the driplines that supply the garden. All the roses are in bud now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another Poem for April

The Bus Driver

Everybody wanted to ride Charlie’s bus.
Little and yellow, it was first in line,
first to leave the junior high
and climb the hill to the high school.
We called it the crackerbox.
The boys cracked jokes with Charlie,
who always one-upped them
in his exotic Oklahoma accent
while winking at the girls.
The same lock of curly black hair
always escaped from under his cowboy hat
to tickle one eyebrow.

I knew his daughter fairly well,
went out once or twice with his son,
but never knew—none of us knew—
that he had a wife who never left the house
and that he drove the bus
(to supplement his army pension)
because it left him free most of the day
for her.

He loved that woman and she
loved only him and her dogs.
When he died she retreated into one room
with the dogs.

Some hippies bought the crackerbox,
painted it purple and drove it to the coast.

His wife moved back to Oklahoma.
She has beautiful long silver hair now,
cascading down her back,
and she never speaks to anyone
but the dogs.

This prompt was one from Poetic Asides (see previous post), to "pick a type of person and write a poem about him or her. To help set the scene, you may want to title your poem as who the type of person is. For instance, you could write a poem titled "Firefighter," "Cynic," "Optimist," "Teacher," "2-year-old," etc. The list is endless."  I chose "bus driver."

A Poem a Day for April

April is National Poetry Month and my friend Vince Gotera (see his very cool blog at ) turned me on to Robert Lee Brewer's blog "Poetic Asides,", where Brewer is posting a prompt each day so that those of us who choose to (and I think it's a great idea) can get some help warming up and flexing our literary muscles. This is my poem for yesterday, April 3;  the prompt was to imagine a world without you.

A World without Me

In a world where I was never born,
for starters, my parents would not have needed a babysitter,
my father, who would not be my father after all,
untempted by her sweet pink Barbiedoll flesh,
might have stayed married to
my mother, who was not my mother but might have been,

The world would be missing a few more people too,
not just the babysitter’s child, my unacknowledged sister.

If I hadn’t been I would never have been sixteen,
or had a boyfriend, so the I who did not exist
would not have seen him drive past the picnic area at the lake
with another girl, on their way to a wedding where he was an usher
and she a bridesmaid, and that non-existent girl who didn’t see them
would not have thrown his class ring into the lake
--or had it to throw--

or flipped him off and thrown the ring in his face when he came back
(her best friend’s little brother having dived in and recovered it),
he would not have sought comfort in the arms of the minister’s
daughter, and she would not have gotten pregnant,
not just then, anyway, and
they would not have gotten married and had four children altogether.
He would not have left her after the second one to try going back
to the me who never was and, failing that,
returned to her and had two more.

Later they who were not they
but strangers who perhaps would never meet
would not have bought the market where he worked
or introduced natural foods and better wine
to that corner of Idaho, and so it would have remained
a far less civilized place without me,
as would some other places, perhaps,
though by then I, even if I had existed,
would have been long gone. 

There are undoubtedly many other sites that offer writing prompts. Here are just a couple more:
from Poets and Writers Magazine will send you an email every week with a new poetry prompt and a new fiction prompt;
Toasted Cheese online literary journal and writing community,, offers exercises, daily writing prompts, quarterly writing contests, and more.

As the KIngston Trio (I think) sang long ago, 
     You've got to prime the pump, 
     You must have faith and believe,
     You've got to give of yourself 
      'fore you're worthy to receive.
     Drink all the water you can hold, 
     wash your face to your feet.
     Leave the bottle full for others.
     Thank you kindly, Desert Pete

Maybe some of the prompts offered by the generous folks at these sites will offer what you need in order to prime your pump. Happy April!