Level and Plumb

  

When the leaves blow

and coffee spills, cup atilt,

slosh goggle floored, splayed 

legs out wide like a downed 

ballerina, stunningly embarrassed, 

pictures hang askew, traffic piles

up, coincidental clash meetings

arise, and all goes awry, topsy

spinning turvy, electrified.
 

But if you plant your feet firmly,

tilt your head just so, right the

angle (forget the level and the 

plumb), bend to slanting, twist 

around dead center, steady and

strong, new perspective threatens

comfort yet tickles a notion clear–

if you let the turning in–

that all you held confirmed,

earth bound solid, statically 

removed, churns, burns and grinds

a new plateau, status quo evenly

spread, awaiting dissipation and 

drip-lye transformation. 

Change. 

The Last Night Shift?

  
It’s a Thursday night at the sugar shack, quiet 

for the 5 to 7 hours, slow enough for me to 

inventory, tidy and re-stock. 

The day shift rarely covers all.

Like a morsel left for Elijah, the day shift–

my daughter, in fact–left me chores to do

like cutting up strawberries, cleaning up

counters coated sticky caramel or fudge, cherry

juice or chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups

dust, among the other jobs of smiling, wiping,

re-filling, lifting, swiping, shifting, and money-

tending, motions threaded into my days and

nights lo these past two years, 20 to 40 hours

a week, after the class room or with the lap top.
 

Thursday night, like most other nights of the

week brings in the small, smartly dressed 

woman who does not like people, especially small

ones, their cackles and laughter reverberating

madly from tile floor to painted wood ceiling;

nor does she deign sanitary all those dotted

dried yogurt drips on the scale upon which

she weighs her nightly yogurt, always the same,

the half dozen or so rainbow pareils atop chocolate 

obsession (her froyo choice and aptly so)

a lid and a bag. I get it all ready for her once

I spy her entry. Anxiety riddles her face so 

that her smile forced comfort in my familiar 

face transforms her, cracking ice panes.

She warms to me; I know her tics and peeves.
 

Following nervous Nelly, affectionately dubbed,

enter the Thursday night family four just out of 

church (there are three nearby churches) who

each ask in turn, “Is there whipped cream tonight?”

We make it fresh here, liquid cream and the nitrous

oxide I am often tempted to inhale on especially

dreary nights of “what am I doing here and how 

will I bear another menial, meaningless night?”

Until mop dancing, when all seems to flow, tears

and motion, two-stepping and sludgery, the end

near, a night almost over, near complete.
 

When then arrives the female version of 

SpongeBob who plops down 16 dollars of

yogurt and toppings while complaining of 

stomach pains, a gone gallbladder and 

a boyfriend who does not even deserve the

two chocolate chip cookies she adds to her order.

“He’s so mean,” she says, shaking her head 

so that the just-put-it-up-any-which-way bun

flops side to side, loose and threatening to fall.
 

Her appearance sparks a laugh and a text to 

my day shift counterpart–my daughter–

who earlier remarked that she hadn’t seen quart-lady

lately and wondered if she was all right.

Quart lady once complained the tart machine freezes

up, protested so fervently about its unavailability

since tart was the only flavor she could eat, 

given her gall bladder problems, prompting me

to move tart two machines down, thinking of her ire,

and when I proudly showed her on her next visit

the new location, which she herself suggested, she

smiled and promptly filled her cup with dulce de leche.
 

“Remember that lady made such a stink and then 

didn’t even get tart after all?” my daughter laughed

just today, this afternoon, at our passing of the baton,

shift change. She too has loved and hated the job.
 

And just yesterday, the young, energetic blonde with

savings, ready to own something (his girlfriend aside),

with his queries and interrogations–“What is your favorite

flavor? And how do you like working here? And which is 

the most popular items in the store? And which machines

are your favorite?”–may be, perhaps, looks like, and so if

he really does want to buy the store, what then?
 

 This job, a helping hand and gift after a bad life trip and fall,

a stop on recovery’s road, for which I thank cousins and sweets

and sweet cousins, father and son, and daughters,

and all who seek comfort in colorful swirls and turrets, 

gems and decor, sugar coated and sugar free, reward and 

punishment for all those bodies small, square, squat, thin,

lanky, lean, old, young and in between that have passed

through and paved my practiced presence, order, patience 

and humility these last couple years, sometimes failing at all 

or some, sometimes succeeding at all, some or none.

These sentimental seeds I sprinkle like rainbow and chocolate

on a quiet Thursday night’s spurring these 

final thoughts, final words and future memories.

Bee Heists

 
 
It is not enough that bees are vanishing: sick, stressed, overworked or poisoned. No one source of colony collapse and disappearing bees can be pinpointed by consensus. Now, due to vanishing supply but unrelenting demand, bee hives are the latest coveted commodities to steal. 

The Washington Post reports in As bees vanish, bee heists multiply the following:

The bee economy in California is immense. Eighty-two percent of the world’s almonds are produced within a 400-mile stretch in the state. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of un-gated almond orchards in California, all of which need to be pollinated in the span of a few weeks in February — by an ever-dwindling bee population. Beekeepers come in from across the country to fulfill contracts with farmers and brokers, moving hives to and fro on forklifts and flatbed trucks. And they come with a steep price that’s getting steeper every year.

At the start of pollination season in 2010, the average hive cost $130 to rent. Rental fees are $200 this year, and will continue going up as hives continue to die off. The industry is becoming increasingly volatile, increasingly expensive and thus, increasingly criminalized.
 
Bee keepers forego income most of the year, banking on readying themselves for payday when the season arrives. When their hives are stolen, they cannot recoup their losses and despite the article’s keen detective (a beekeeper himself) on the trail of these thieves, few of these crimes get solved. This business runs on slim profit margins, so keepers are unlikely to break tradition and invest a whole lot on gps and other tracking, stamping and registering technologies. 

The answer lies in saving the bees, not in tracking and imprisoning the criminals (though that too should happen). Finding the cause(s) of the bee scarcity to eliminate roots out the entire chain of victims and perpetrators. Banning known pesticides that weaken, confuse and/or blind (mutes sense of smell) bees, breaking down colonies and affecting bee populations seems like a logical start–globally. 

Investment in and cultivation of local beekeeping so that a variety of bee species thrive rather than feeding traditional worker bees like honey bees on intense single crop diets, i.e., all almonds or fruit trees, is another solution. Keeping local native bees to pollinate a variety of local crops has been known to grow bee populations

Bees are responsible for over 75% of our food supply. I am baffled why more attention, funding and efforts are not thrown at their plight. The bees’ lament is our own: industrialized agricultural production is killing us. We are too far from nature, mother and human.

Two Years


 

Two years ago, life was as different as it was the same as it is now. While so much has changed, not much has either:

Two years ago, my mother could speak and recognize me fairly often. She does neither now, or rarely. But she is still here.

And both daughters were in high school then, the older just having turned 18, a senior and the younger a freshman. They both played soccer for their school, which took up much of our time between playing, attending and enjoying games, volunteering and fundraising, etc. Now neither does. One left home and came back. The other continues on without and now with her sister. We spend time doing other things now, like talking in coffee shops, shopping, bookstore browsing and eating. Sisters are still sisters, daughters, daughters.

And about that same time, I was teaching six classes and running–and not just exercising. Too busy to think about anything. Two years later, I teach two classes and refuse to run.

People have moved in and out of my life yet somehow all still remain, though the live connections grow more tenuous and infrequent. 

Stronger, thinner, and lighter then but calmer, wiser, and slower now, I am, all for the better and worse, in just a matter of days, weeks and two years.

Two years ago I started this blog with no other intention than to write, no expectations. That has not changed. And though WordPress reports hundreds and thousands of posts and views and followers attributed to this blog, which has grown in words, mine, yours, and others’, the daily writing discipline over the months has not changed–I write. 

I am still happy then as now to have shared words for all eyes who have cared to read–and am grateful for any morsel of insight, amusement, pleasure or education I may have bestowed upon a passerby here; touching another is the aim and hope. 

Peace and blessings.

Thank you,

Gaze    

Dayenu

  
Just like any other mother, naturally I did not want to make even minor let alone crippling mistakes in child rearing. So when it came down to the uncomfortable decisions that arose daily as my children grew, I examined my own childhood to weed out the unwanted inheritances. 

While I had an unremarkable childhood, pleasantly healthy and largely uneventful (a good thing), there are certain cultural traditions I would have eliminated. In hindsight, I wish I was mollified less and respected more as a child. I had a great need to be seen, not for attention (though that too probably) as much as for recognition of what I was capable. As the middle child of five, that was my specific plight–invisibility. I did not feel unloved, just unrecognized.

I bristled at statements like, “Oh you’ll understand when you’re older” to my exasperation at illogical or unfair reasons or causes, for example, why my father was allowed to call my mother mean names while she served him hand and foot. She was right. I would not understand then the subtleties of relationships, but I wanted someone to try me nevertheless, see if I could grasp complexities. I wanted honesty and direct explanation. Still do.

So when it came to decisions my husband and I made about imaginary beings like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, I was adamant that we not build a relationship of lies at the outset. I did give in, however, to the argument that kids thrive on fun, and these fantasies were fun. Also, I did get to explain to my now mostly adult children what I wanted for them and the reasons for our decision to build their reality in the way we did.

So much in childhood goes unexplained and we blindly carry pieces of childhood with us, never examining them, never even looking at them, just wearing them like skin. Memories, information, habits and beliefs are all carried without notice. One battle I won is the one for deferring religion until a time the children grew old enough to choose. Religion is inherited for most of us. My children have since thanked me for giving them that option to decide for themselves.

I was raised Jewish, a culture more than a religion. Seder songs and Chanukah rituals patterned my days and years, just as a sliver of them pattern my own children’s life. While I did not pass down ritual, I did my part for the economy by indoctrinating them in the gift-giving commercial holidays like Chanukah with its alluring candle-lit solemnity and awe, and Christmas with its bright celebratory colors and good will. They knew when the getting was going to be good, counting the days to a secular consumption feast.

One song I know from my own childhood as well as candle-lit menorahs, Chanukah gifts and chicken soup was Dayenu, the passover song. Passover was not a fun holiday until after the ceremony, requiring young children to sit for far too long at a table where unintelligible words and actions played out, mystifying and boring. Until the singing of dayenu, a catchy tune that signaled eating and then running off with cousins to play.

Forty-five some odd years later, on this very day, I learned the meaning of this Hebrew word. Not that I was curious and looked it up out of the blue. No, it happened by chance. Last night I enjoyed a Valentine’s Day dinner on a stool at a local bar around the corner. I had a long day slinging sweets at the shop and craved a beer. So, while in the throes of feel-good satiety (seafood soup and roasted artichoke) and a slight buzz, I looked to the words written over the entry to the establishment, which read,  “if you are lucky enough to drink wine by the sea, you are lucky enough.”

I raised my glass to the thought and the written words and did what anyone would do: I posted a bastardized version of it to fit my current circumstances–drinking an IPA–on Facebook: “Drinking an IPA by the sea. It is enough.” The next morning’s comment from a friend was “dayenu.” After lamely asking if the word was the name of a beer as well as a song, I googled the word before receiving a response only to find the word means something like “it is enough.” 

Who knew? I obviously did not. While this may be a case of syncronicity, kismet or mere coincidence (no major planetary alignment), it should remind and caution all of us of an interesting psychological and cultural phenomenon: we are products of much we do not understand or even think about. 

And this I have often argued is how racists and bigots form most often: through mindless heredity, unthinking but powerfully instilled. This is how a culture perpetuates–unknowing, unheard, and undetected. We do not know why we know what we know or do what we do, unless we make the effort to understand, observe and mind. How else do we make changes local and global?

It is obvious from the wacky state of U.S. politics this election season that Americans hunger for drastic change and reject the mindless status quo business as usual, regardless of the wisdom or catalyst of that change: Trump the savior or Sanders the socialist, if you believe campaign rhetoric and vitriol. But this hunger is good. Feeding automatic feel-good responses, age-old prejudices and knee-jerk reactions dredged in a rotten history of exclusion, bigotry and fearmongering is not. We must examine where our frustrations and reactions derive. Are they mere mimicry? inborn? calculated? truth? Riotous urges to shout and defy are necessary sometimes but not without mindfulness. Otherwise, we are mere primates.

Being vigorously and mindfully curious, now that is enough.
 

There is no Word 

  

A word run rough shod over

centuries long rendering it

nearly vacuous, the emotion

contained within reduced to 

pithy sayings and pathetic poems,

some I have penned myself,

and pretty memes inspiring

less than more by over exposure,

how can this word be explained,

described and painted accurately?

Perhaps a paragraph filled with

affectionate acts is enough:

a driver slamming the brakes

screeching at a near miss cat kill, or

the 80 year old’s collapse at his sixty

year marriage’s cease upon awakening

to his wife’s motionless body, or

the wide open daddy arms anticipating

embrace at the first steps’ trail’s end?

Too Hallmark, Facebook sentimental?

What about soldiers or police officers

arm in arm in solidarity, peril-pals

undying, or prom dates in wide grins,

shy shoulder-slumped and side glance

photos or sunset hand-holding clips

or tears and aching hearts and darkness

as corollary preceded by its inverse,

heart-pounding, heady ecstasy-like

near nausea and enervating hysterical

joy found only in the scent, touch and

sound of the key to a lock match tight,

the yes to the life-long approval sought?

Too banal, trite, common, overblown?

Try this:

What is the square root of a 24-hour

day that begins in darkness with a howl,

signaling the death knell to the dying wish

of a martyr–just one more hour’s peaceful

sleep–a howl that electrocutes nerve

endings everwhere, that only patient 

tender care will quiet a defenseless being

suckling, emitting the sweet aromas of

new warmth baking mother’s milk like 

raisin toast popping sweet and savory,

and a once eyes-for-only lover cum

zombie escaping grey-eyed and sallow

briefcase in hand out the door shut-grunt

leaving only wispy cool air in a dim den’s

stale morning stuffy exhausted eye-burn,

bone-weary sympathy for the life made

and lived now, nostalgia and hope stew 

simmering on the stove daily, all repeat,

all gone now the glimmering show in 

new leather pumps price-tag clicking 

and tailored skirts tucking in silk blouses

hanging dusty in closed closets blear-eyes

catatonically fix on blindly automatonic as

day ends where it began, only now the 

briefcase rests against the chair close

to the snores emitted from the dead man’s

sleep craved more than the man who

made this life leaked out exhaled in the

other’s breath and yours, theirs, ours hourly,

daily, yearly and ever so in smiles and frowns,

razored sight and heart, grim boredom and

coffee steam morning’s quiet contentment

and grasping an idea finally that endings

and beginnings are the same and conclusions

are illusions and passion is stillness while 

death has always meant living, the chaos of

it the only order ever it was, patterning 

a day-long life? The square root of it.

That, my dear, generates, defines and

encapsulates the engine and caboose.
 

Happy pledge, notice and honor to what makes us, us.

 

 

  

Mornings

Morning quiet, 

the children and their father 

 are visiting far family 

–the other coast kin.

Silence woke me at 5,

in nature’s alarm,

floored by fleeting time’s passing.

So I padded through a dark kitchen

out the French doors opening

to trees, wall-ivy and cement.

Fog painted my yard early or 

late last night.

  
My morning treasure hunt,

gathering fruit like ancients before me,

I pluck a near ripe tangerine.

  
Dew muffles the circle’s slow awakening.

Only the witness and I ruffle the thick, cool air, 

she inside, me out–both dark of day denizens.

 

Inside, the brewed elixir–arisen–awaits 

the heat of my lips, warm breath

chicory and oily coffee bean permeates.

  

Drawn along softly in my wake, 

unprepossessing, anticipating

every  step and saunter, click

and rushing air precipitated by

daylight’s motion in muted tones,

she watches–just in case.

I feel her eyes and cast mine downward.

   
  

Patience–she sits center in wait,

eyes beaming a steady pinpoint plea:

Notice me. Give me hand.

And I do, bent over her supplication

until the toaster pops and

the noise straightens my knees 

and takes my face away.

  

 

A bite of breakfast timed to her arrival,

stirrings from rooms behind, 

the caretaker wheels her in,

the ritual rousing now complete.

   
  
My first meal companion–

brain-shut in stifled words

uttered inside an airy maze,

once an ordered, meter-mind    

sounding poetry and song, love

and laughter, the mothering kind.

“Good morning, Mom.

Another unpromised day greets us,

so let’s play the lottery with our luck.”

Her inward stare toward the window

flickers only hair trigger slightly.

And the powerful sun, 

still swallowed in mist 

nods assent.

   

Edvard Munch’s ‘Separation’

  
Painting: “Separation” by Edvard Munch 1898, oil on canvas.
 

A smoldering heart weakens,

hunkers him down gut deep

inside separation’s burn.

When distance collects between

a lover’s love and loving hand,

the road span widened, dear doves,

a brooding beat blackens fear,

rends aortic drums split sideways,

burst blood pooled and anchoring.

Longing’s weight drowns victims,

pins their boots to muddy bog,

only sludge and sink might free

the ache, loosed from bony cages

as echo moans sorrow’s sympathy.

Severance maims this lover’s heart, 

rendering touch crumpled amputee:

grip-shattered, shivering despair. 
 

The Measure of the Times

  

Rousseau walks on trumpet paths. Joni Mitchell, “The Jungle Line” in Hissing of Summer Lawns.

I always wondered what Joni meant in that line from the “Jungle Line.” At first I thought she meant Jean-Jaques Rousseau, the philosopher of Confessions and The Social Contract fame. In college I read the former and only remember the book as a journal of the man’s affairs, extra marital and political, and wondered why he ranked as an important philsopher since the content seemed trivial. I later revised my opinion after reading The Social Contract, the underpinning of early social justice and democratic government theories. 

I once searched for a Rousseau painting with trumpet paths when I realized she referenced the painter not the philosopher/author. I had never seen nor recalled seeing a Rousseau painting and the internet was not at my disposal then. The Hissing of Summer Lawns album came out in 1975. I checked books and found Rousseau’s work, which I found pleasing, colorful and fun. The man appeared to have a sense of humor, squeezed joy from days. Unfortunately, I broke the limited art world I knew then at the ripe old age of 16 as serious and unserious art, Rousseau deemed too childlike to be serious.

Today I read the following:

With a kind of perverse timing, the child’s paradigm emerged in art at just the moment when Newton’s mechanical view of reality was most triumphant. The Chinese yin and yang symbol is a graphic representation of this relationship between opposing principles. The rival viewpoint makes its first tentative appearance at the height of the power of its complementary obverse.

How very appropriate that just before Einstein’s discovery, a naïve artist like Rousseau, whose paintings could be the settings for fairy tales and who routinely distorted forms, would be hailed as one whose view of the world was a valuable contribution! It is an amusing exercise for anyone to specualate upon the reception Rousseau’s work would have received at the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Then the Humanists were proclaiming that man was the measure of all things. For a long time, children were not to be trusted to measure anything. Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics

At the tender young age of 55, I understand Rousseau with his child-vision. The world he paints for his audience is important to see, again and again, not just as counterbalance to the cynical, practical world of the adult in politics, technology, science and economics, for instance. But to remember the special conception of space and time that children hold. They experience lengthened time and unconfined space compared to their parents’ lived time-space. Children know the science of happiness instinctively.

Earlier in class, before I read the above Shlain excerpt, I reminded students about child time vs. adult time, temporal elasticity, and technology’s time effects. Hopefully, my stories illustrated time’s illusion, for example experiencing child time as a dragged-along, unwilling captive of Mom’s department store shopping as a 7 year old or an 18 year old sitting in a two-hour lecture course at 7:20 a.m. (mine) as opposed to sleeping or playing/partying with friends for the equivalent time. Time slows or speeds accordingly even as time ticks unceasingly in even increments.

I was not much younger than my students now when I first heard Joni’s lyric and then went searching for Rousseau. And it was only a matter of hours between narrating child-like time visions in the classroom and reading Shlain’s commentary on Rousseau’s yin to Newton’s yang or vice versa, the innocent artist and sophisticated astronomer, ending with the situationally ironic children as the measure of nothing.

I love that the world and mine are round.

  
credit: wikiart.org

Today I lost a Teenager

  
She’s 20.

No more kid stuff.

Taking hold of the reigns now

or soon;

she’s doing the best she can.

Life’s a dare to this one.

The pink princess 

in full length satinate gown

and high hennin 

who paraded the deli 

and bakery aisles at 5,

unfazed by stares and 

critical remarks, judgment,

now browses thrift stores

along drizzly Seattle store

fronts; her pink fingernails 

tap store front windows

reflecting a pink rain parka.

She, ever the reserved

rebel, attention-seeking 

hermit and lover of the

ironic, twisted and fair,

bristles at injustice

and believes in rescue,

animals, people and causes.

Her creative bent 

will carry her to lands

exotic and disturbing, 

she with the peace corps

heart and that childish

pampered primpery,

but her practical wit and

earthy reason will ground 

the journey into decades,

the twenties’ bent up

crazy pinnacle of strength,

stamina, speed, purpose-

less with purpose and youth

in all its media-cracked-up

to be supercharged, idolized

and adored, culturally induced

figural, figurative and free beauty.

**************************

Enjoy the run, my princess.

The best is yet to come.