Is It a Date? Will There Be Cupcakes?

Is it a date, a friendly get-together, or an interview? The femme is zaftig and pale with dark auburn hair, a violet orchid behind her ear that matches her dress. So I’m guessing it’s a date. Because my own femme-dar tells me this woman might be wearing that fabulous dress, but not the orchid if she didn’t have a reason to. Why else would a femme and a butch — or is ze a transman — be sitting together on an October afternoon at Fiore’s Bakery, in Jamaica Plain, the the Ground Zero of our tribe? Why else would they be asking and answering all those getting-to-know-you questions? Are all queer women so matter-of-fact witht their first-date questions? Or is it an interview? Are they sniffing each other out as they consider collaborating on some performance art piece, or some vaguely charitable business plan, maybe a cupcake store that sources all its chocolate from a women’s coca collective in Ghana?

[Adapted from an October 2012 journal entry]

In Memoriam: Trayvon Martin

I’ve been largely silent regarding the issue of Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal. As a white woman living in Boston, I don’t see the ongoing effects of racism in the same way that I did when I was living on the north side of Poughkeepsie, or growing up in a housing project in Stamford. But racism still affects me and those I love. I’d like to take a moment to honor the friends and loved ones whom I know deal with racism on a daily basis — and the friends and loved ones I never met or never got to know well because of the racist and segregated society in which I live.

From a New York Times editorial published July 14, 2013:

While Mr. Zimmerman’s conviction might have provided an emotional catharsis, we would still be a country plagued by racism, which persists in ever more insidious forms despite the Supreme Court’s sanguine assessment that “things have changed dramatically,” as it said in last month’s ruling striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

Spring and All, in the Aftermath

When I was 13 and knew everything, when I was jaundiced as only the very young can be jaundiced, I loved T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I loved its ennui. I loved the flowing, imaginative, and so very, very bored voice of the speaker, fiddling with peaches and coffee spoons, scattering couplets about for charm.

Now that I am 39 and know very little, I kind of want to punch T.S. Eliot in the face. But tonight, on a night in late April when horrific things have happened in the city where I live, when very little seems to make sense in the world — and yet, when I know I am simply experiencing for the first time what many other people live with every day — I find solace in the bare modernism of one of Eliot’s contemporaries.

William Carlos Williams was a country doctor in a small New Jersey town. He hung out with the avant-garde in New York City, back when it was still possible to drive 20 miles outside of New York City and be in a small town. I don’t know a tremendous amount about his personal life, and perhaps that is for the best. After all, I admired Eliot’s work for years without learning about his anti-semitism. All poets are flawed in some way; in the modern age, it’s usually the flaws that drive us to such an unrewarding medium of self-expression.

Tonight M and I walked the spiral path to the top of a hill in the Arboretum. Boston springtimes are very uncertain; I never stop bracing for another round of sleet until Memorial Day is over. But this week, while the city reeled from the force of two homemade bombs that exploded in a crowd of civilians, the trees began to unfurl their blossoms.

Springtime flowers in this city are tough. With some vegetable intelligence, some faith I cannot comprehend,

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Williams speaks in an unflinching way of cold and modern realities — realities that another poet might try to soften with rhyme and metaphors. And without the window dressing, he manages to drill down to the beauty of the thing itself.

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the scourge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast–a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish,
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines–

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches–

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined–
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance–Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

— William Carlos Williams, Spring and All, William Carlos Williams: Selected Poems, ed. Charles Tomlinson. New York: New Directions, 1985. Page 39.

A Few Notes About April, National Poetry Month, and Related Topics

A few notes about April, National Poetry Month, and related or tangential topics:

  1. April is the cruelest month because it is neither one thing nor another. Especially in Boston, it is neither the callused braw of midwinter, nor the soft (and — thanks to climate change — rainy) flower-fest of spring. In February we laugh at freezing weather, we don our extra layers and our vaselined lips as a matter of course. In April, lulled into a sense of false security, we open our petals into the sunny breezes, decide to take out the summer dresses and the short-sleeved shirts. And then freeze and shiver in temperatures that felt warm to us in February.
  2. T.S. Eliot is a fussy little busybody who thought that shirtsleeves were sordid.
  3. This April, I want the fields to lay fallow. I walk the wavering line between abandonment and overpruning of my poetic garden.
  4. The sap rises up and I write, write, write, accumulating pages and pages of white, letter-sized writing pad, the blue lines running undercurrent beneath my  handwriting, sometimes scrawl and sometimes legible.
  5. The sap rises up and I want to run through the bogs screaming, expounding. The sap rises up and I rise with it, and then I return to the couch, or the breakfast table, looking at the birds who congregate at the feeder outside, along with the squirrels.
  6. How much longer can I keep both the squirrels and the woodpeckers — two downy, two red-bellied, none red-headed, in spite of the red head of the red-bellied woodpecker — in suet?
  7. The worst thing to do with the seedling is disturb it. Let it lay there, half in and half out of the ground. But when they start to crowd thick and green (because you never obey the seed-packet’s instructions, always spacing them too far or too close), then you must pluck and choose, which one will stay and which will go. Otherwise, they all die out, competing for the same scant patch of dirt and sun and rain.
  8. The squirrels and the chipmunks — and your own damn cats — will likely devour many of the flowers, even in their bloom. Look at the crocus, who finally bloomed only to become scattered-pink the next day, scattered and tragic petals among their white-and-green-striped arrow-leaves.
  9. Plant them anyway.
  10. Trust the wisdom of the numbered list.
  11. Stay in touch, whether casual, constant, or connubial, with those who understand the importance of a turn of phrase, the difference between Joe Green and Guiseppe Verde.
  12. Take it moment by moment.
  13. Remember to be of service — in both the meaningful work and the work that pays the bills.

Gratitude Day 19: Flow, the Morning Walk, Thanksgiving Shopping, the Luxury of Obscurity

I’ve heard tell that something happens when you just start typing (or writing, as I still prefer composing in longhand) and keep writing. Something begins to flow in your brain. I’ve experienced the most pleasing sensation of flow, so I know that it’s true. The experience of success in the face of adversity makes it easier to overcome all kinds of obstacles.

I’m also very fond of the artificial structure imposed by lists. It often creates the most delightful poems (I would link to one but Google and my memory both fail me at the moment). Of course, one must be willing to discard what doesn’t work upon rewrite — but in one’s own time.

The thing about gratitude lists is that if I make the list long enough, a kind of comfortable warm joy begins to open in my mind and in my body (around the vicinity of the heart but sometimes the stomach). And it becomes easier and easier to find things to be grateful.

So enough talking and let’s get to the list. The public, public list:

  1. I woke up this morning feeling mostly rested.
  2. My partner is a Nurse Practitioner, and when I complained of extra dizziness he gave me the standard neurological tests that confirmed there was nothing wrong with my balance.
  3. In spite of my inner critic’s whisperings I suited up this morning for a brisk November morning walk, through woods that I’ve walked a million times before but in which I always find new things to marvel at.
  4. The happy accident of the leaf-obscured paths, difficult to make out, led me to the top of the rocks that look out over the VFW Parkway.
  5. On the bare even sidewalk I began to run, inspired by the Foo Fighters.
  6. I have more than enough to eat, more than enough nice clothing to wear.
  7. Heat is included in our rent, so when the furnace is on the fritz and wants to keep warming the house past the thermostat temperature we just open the windows and smile.
  8. The morning walk made it that much easier to suit up and show up to work.
  9. I have a nice easy list of things to accomplish today.
  10. They had beets at the salad bar, which I love in combination with the other tasty offerings.
  11. I know that beans contain enough grain/carb  (not just protein) to keep me well sated and don’t have to resort to the stale roles or croutons on order.
  12. We have finished 90% of our Thanksgiving shopping and won’t have to stand in line with a dump truck of food this Wednesday.
  13. There appear to be more of you reading this blog than there used to be. I still have no idea how most of you got there.
  14. I’m especially extra grateful that I can write about whatever I want on here and am not tied to the slave-chain of encouraging American consumerism.
  15. If the Internet has gotten crowded with stupid people, it’s still possible to create smaller versions of it.
  16. Community building happens, online and off-line.
  17. If I look back on this entry in a year or two, I can always delete it.
  18. I am a private citizen, toiling away in obscurity.
  19. I am loved — and I love.

Gratitude Day 15: Moment in the Sun

This morning on my daily walk, the woods were bare, barren, still in disarray after Sandy. Branches and whole trees strewn across the trails, the trails themselves obscured under a carpet of rust-colored oak and beech leaves. I’m fortunate enough to live next to not one but two different pieces of conservation land. On the opposite end of our townhouse complex, past a grove of eastern hemlock, is a circuit through a wetlands, boardwalk in spots, bare earth, rock, and mud in others. Closer to our house are the woods. Maintained by a different municipality, they’re the local stomping grounds of all the discontented youth in the area. We regularly come across the vestiges of bonfires and parties: carcasses of beer cases, crushed and empty cans, glass sparkling among the mica on the granite outcroppings. Once, an entire couch, or rather what remained after most of it was consumed by flame.

This morning, the woods were fully Novembered, bare branches and trunks rising over that russet-brown carpet, and the sky above marshallowed with clouds. The cold nipped along the edges of my fleece and I was glad I’d thought to bring gloves. Underneath though, legs swinging through the empty crunch of the bare woods, I felt myself opening, enlivening, made vital in the way that only the cold air can make one vital. Sweat ran down my stomach, cooled when I stopped to stretch against a boulder at the top of the hill, drove me on to greater exertion to bring my body temperature up again.

On the way back, I picked around the edges of a red oak, its entire crown fallen over a pathway as wide as a street. Someone had already visited the swamp’s pathway, taken a chainsaw to the trunks that had fallen. Who will come to tidy these woods, one small island of wildness in the city of Boston?

Later today, I drove from an off-site meeting to my office under skies still glowering and chill, skies that seemed to promise snow. Instead, at 11:00am, just as I pulled up to parking spot, the sun came slanting through my sun roof. I opened it, and basked for a moment in the November sun.