IMG_7361The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.

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The History of Palermo in Eggplant and Gold Mosaic

You could write the history of Palermo in gold mosaic, in eggplant and raisins, in 14th century palaces whose doors stand alongside a tangle of rubble, of blood.  You could stand looking at scooters wheeling down a medieval alleyway and wonder about that history, how it fits coherently, those glittering domes and walls of gold-leaf tessesrae of world treasures mastered by Roger II, that great unsung Norman whom we can thank for red Arab domes and art brilliance. 

You move out of the way as an egg-shaped car comes towards you, take a seat at the storefront bar.   Order a glass of local village wine.  Think about how caponata, its silky sweetened eggplant, raisins, olives couldn’t exist without Arab markings.  It was day when you started putting together this history; now a half moon has risen over the palm trees.  The piazza with an abandoned convent is packed tight with stools, people drinking.  Cars are leaning on horns trying to get somewhere, but where, a notch ahead, it moves like the ocean’s surf, waves of energy roaring forward, then pull back. Some people drink from their cars in traffic.

This is a land clawed back from the Mafia. Playgrounds post plaques that they say we don’t pay. All around town you see attempts at this other mythology. It is a city that’s back and a city beyond, worthy of its mystery.

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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…Travel Again

Stop doing something, then start again to incur wonder. I.e., travel! You give your suitcase to strangers and pick it up on a Mediterranean island? You fly in the belly of a mechanical bird? Suddenly you’re above the clouds where the sun streaks pink, you look out the window again and you’re in darkness. You fly over a sepia city, small beads sewn into a warm fabric, a ground. There is a sinuous line dividing dark ocean from coast, dark wash of the Atlantic to urbanscape. This is night, do they never turn off the lights? It could be any city, but this is Lisbon, the first stop out of three. It’s 5am. Men shine in their fluorescent green vests, joking as they unload bags from the belly of the bird.Up and away to Rome, descending towards Rome. How stunned the ships, becalmed toys in the Mediterranean. What is that jagged shark…if not our plane’s trailing shadow. Flying over land, that cluster of reddish structures has the brush of the antique. Get closer, there’s a Roman amphitheater in the middle of weeds and industrial blocks. Made it to stop three. Welcome to Palermo, Sicily!

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In the Beginning, the Slug

Alexander Calder

In the Beginning, the Slug

From confusion and darkness

over the deep, this —

divine days of early fall, glitter

of high blue, lush watered grass. 

Something shimmers, the length of a necklace, 

flecks of silver, of pink, of blue almost tinsel

on the lawn like living breathing Mylar 

delicately held by every blade of grass.

What could be more humble than the slug?

A snail without home on its back.

Secreting a minuscule rainbow

to grease its wayward path.

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With barely a whisper, the cicadas

With barely a whisper the cicadas
bid adieu and disappear 

last week, we were drowning in tomatoes
fringing with scissors the basil
stirred by their rising symphony 
like rowdy children they were heard but not seen
the electric body, the buzz on the ear’s horizon

the last guests to leave the wedding 
trance-drunk on their own exhilaration
they drop from the circle dance 
or crawl out on all fours
little death then death death

their curved line suspended
by the dry cough of trees
the schism of sun warmth and breeze
pure fidelity goes underground
the open earth breathes deep

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Games of Shadow and Being

I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass.  The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green.  The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and  cypress needles, massive oak and holly.  I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game. 

This week has already been dizzying.  The Jewish High Holy Days come with a plunge into memory and reflection, games and deflections of self-awareness.  Yom Kippur, in particular, often opens me to timelessness, a slice of nonlinear time.  At moments, I have flashes of everyone who has ever blown or heard a ram’s horn, which is a lot!  Put another way, the shofar cuts a rift through time and the fabric of particulars.  

With the shofar, you can journey down deep, following a journey through wilderness to howling nothingness.  But all is not lost – in the well you still have breathing equipment, and deep in the darkness you acquire translucent vision. I came up with a gasp of breath and some “bendies.” I returned with an appreciation of the shadow that accompanies being, keen to watch the two of them stride along.

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That Crystalline 9/11 Sky

People have fixated on the New York sky of 9/11, as if such a perfect, crystalline sky could not have produced such horror.  I love that September blue that I might find in the Mediterranean or faraway islands: deep and saturated of color, yet transparent, both a well of feeling and container of emptiness.  It’s like peering deep into a jewel, a sapphire, only to spin in its possibility, its sparkle of life.  That Henri Matisse anointed the North American atmosphere as special — “so dry, so crystalline, like no other” — seals it. It’s a verifiable wonder.

And yet, the skyscrapers that Matisse saw tapering upward until they assumed the quality of light crumbled in that sky, severed by hijacked planes in that sky.  

As we look upward with our confusion, the sky will be clear, light shimmering as it catches little particles.  It has blinked and renewed itself.  

Matisse looked up and saw, in his 1944 cut-out, Icarus falling from the sky with a shattered red heart.  It was World War II, a pilot was falling from the lumunious blue sky.  The sky then renewed itself. 

Simone Weil said of the sea: ships are wrecked and sailors are drowned.  The sea causes grief. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

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The Closing Rituals of Summer

We did it, we celebrated summer, in spite of it all.  We fulfilled the ritual, as we had to; the body needs its sense of itself, to immerse in water and shifting light and in joy.  It needs to entertain its thought experiments — what if we don’t worry? – by digging toes into wet sand and by scaling mountain peaks.  It needs to create stage sets where it can play, live and come to deeply believe in the “here and now,” not as decoration but in all its vibrant seriousness. 

The summer, that defiant romp against despair, is closing with the opening of a book.  I’m not thinking about September teaching or classes, though that’s happening around me, but about Rosh Hashanah.  As a bookish kid, I was always delighted that the Jewish Holidays included God cracking open his BRook — it was the book that mattered.

In that Book of Life names are written, then sealed. The concept carries serious weight, but this year I’m giving it a different spin.  The turning that we do, teshuvah, turning over a new leaf, returning to true and better selves is like turning or stitching of material that poets indulge in.  We thread one thing against and into another. Bursts of strong emotion or image might end a line to be met with contradiction on the next.  All paradox, all voices welcome!  I can understand our contemporary turbulence as voices breaking in on each other.  Beauty is stitched with grief, and against the tragic bursts the intimate.  Dark absurdity is patched with innocence. And personal failings open onto something bigger, a collective standing together.  That stitching, that turning to the whole is the next ritual I’m falling into. 

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The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

To be hot and uncomfortable; to be cool, a slight shiver from the shower, body meets air with friction.  

To feel free, unfettered, released from questions that seem to dissolve themselves; to find those questions pulling down your head. 

To have revelation, something suddenly click alongside the high-octane drone of insects; to rage at the power drill, fork lift, big digger and ever-present mower. 

To dwell in the scent of trees — pine, eucalyptus, thyme; to dwell, then flee the essential oils that will spontaneously burst into flame.  

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

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Wars, Metaphor, Headless in Red

We’ve been here before, when a swath of color — a flawless blue sky, a ribbon-smooth sea  — rides alongside an event of horror.   Both in immediacy and memory, the high sapphire sky of September 11 marked and continue to mark me.  The beauty was somehow inconceivable yet perfectly part of the reality of that day.  

Today, August 15.  The swift brutal fall of Afghanistan in high summer.  On one screen, horror, on another a rare glittering day, transparent blue shimmer on a local bay.   A flock of swans have gathered in the shallow waters near shore — young swans, cygnets or teenagers gliding in the waters as if poking around at the mall. 

At a loss for characterizing the debacle of Afghanistan, I go personal, come across a photo I’d idly titled, “Headless Against Red.” Doesn’t it seem like us — at once elegant, posing in the suppleness of our draped clothing, yet not whole?  Us the civilized, the severed, somehow standing though not in charge.  We appear against carmine and scarlet, the pulse and passion of life so beyond our grasp.  Red wounds with its beauty and wildness; we border it with an elegant stance, never containing it, but reverberating against its life.  The bloodiness of severing might have a much more gruesome reality in Kandahar and Kabul.  The photo probably caught my eye because my unconscious made the association. It takes a metaphor, with distance, to begin to process.

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The Thinginess of Summer

An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subsurvient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

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