Summer Bed

The pine prepares a bed
dropping its needles

long and thin
as angel’s hair

and smooth, each connected
to a partner,

toasted like hay or ochre
anticipating our autumnal bed

though now we lay head to head
watching the summer stars

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Refugees: The Tragedy of Frenemies

Rivesaltes, France

I saw a discrete sign for a Memorial to Internment Camps at Rivesaltes, outside Perpignan, France, and finally decided to visit.  Lacking indication, you’d have to know or have a reason to take the plunge. You’d have to choose right at the roundabouts, take long forlorn stretches along the industrial zones, follow noncommittal arrows to the Memorial.  Even then, you’d have a powerful visceral reaction to the moody remains of barracks that housed a succession of people caught between regimes, history’s thorns, undesirables, worse.  But who were interned, harbored, shipped, killed? 

Even the slab of alienating concrete that seemed to announce inability to speak, to find words for man’s inhumanity to man was a bit of a ploy.  There is hidden information about the Spaniards fleeing Civil War, the doomed Jews, the Gypsies, then the Algerian “Harkis.”  But you’d have to want to go down into the unknown.  You’d want to investigate how these spaces speak to ambivalence and ambiguity of transmigration, of lies, fear and political cowardice that plague us now.  

Shelter is always a two-way street, turning on the hinge of hospitality/prison.  In the ancient world, Greek hospitality served the purpose of putting the wandering stranger under control.  So it was in 1939 when the Spanish and Catalan Republicans fled Franco’s conquest and thought they were coming to a friendly country.  But the country wasn’t friendly.  It treated the wretched refugees whose numbers and socialist ideas were threatening, with lack of food, water and medical help.  So it was with Jews who thought they were fleeing from Germany and other countries to a safe zone, “free France.”  They were housed in Rivesaltes barracks “safely” until Vichy cut a deal with Nazis to keep their territory soldier free and delivered 2,251 Jews to Drancy and eventually to Auschwitz.  (Another half were helped to escape.)  Gypsies were brought from the north of France and detained as undesirables.  

The list goes on with successions of needs of a state’s questionable history – Algerians who fought for the French became hot potatoes, wanted nowhere, not thanked for their help, housed here until society repositioned them. 

Rivesaltes also rings bells as the site of the Perignan airport – a small, Lego-like structure which is the windiest airport in France.  Riversaltes also the name of a wonderful sweet wine.  Oh, the multivalence of words!  Shelter, internment camps, hospitality centers, and all these hedgings speak of the uncertainties, fissures and failures of society to rest, humanely, with the familiar other. 

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Le Plus Ça Change…

As the French take to the barricades to figure out what the country is about, one thing they don’t doubt is food. As Eric Delalande, a brilliant chef who traded Madison Avenue for Place des Marchés in Villèsque, a remote village in the Corbières, says: Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la meme chose. Or “They can’t touch our food or our wine!”
What Americans consider elitist and fetishy – wine-making, fancy cooking – is almost democratic for the French. There are endless stories of a quasi-motorcycle gang having long discussions about a sauce or character of the wine with a maitre d’. Tant mieux! Pleasure is a reality, and reality pleasure in a pleasantly confusing way.
The wine-makers I met during our tour around the Corbières prove that working the earth not for skeptics, not for critics, but for those who connect, all in, body and mind, with what they do. In a certain way, the famous critical thinking of the French turns to deep earnestness, to sharing, to values. You can question the meaning of life endlessly, in circles all you want, but test it against a gaspacho with frozen chèvrę scoop, a grilled magret with a glass of Fitou, and the moment gains a bit of forever.

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Blank Space: Bastille Day

What’s not to love? The first lines of the French chalkboard – “Today we celebrate” have been carefully written once. The last line shows traces of previous fêtes, erased and written over. Today’s humble last line, dashed off, ignoring a grammar mistake, is “Fête Nationale.” Bastille Day. 14 Juillet. A hot still Sunday under the sun in the South. Stretches of vineyards, no one about. It exudes timelessness. Tomorrow there’ll be something else to celebrate in the vacant space. It will be simple. Monday under the sun with fresh bread and croissants.

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Independence EveryDay


Morning wakes hours before its city creatures.
I see light through the shutters:
cool insides while their clapboards communicate color — 
hydrangea pink, hydrangea blue —
to the morning.  Slate gray street, 
a herribone brick sidewalk. 

Couples inside, 
coffee darker than their peignoirs.  
It’s a holiday.
The 4th of the seventh month, almost mid-summer,
almost tipping over. 

I like to think
they’re in their temple of freedom 
in bed talking or kissing,

their call to arms
their own defense 
of our freedom.

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The Poet who mistook a Sunflower for Eve

As the poet must give up control of meaning to the reader, so the abstract painter must let go – rejoice! – in happy (mis)interpretations of her viewers.   After seeing Joan Mitchell’s large canvases (seen here in detail), I offer these animated, poetic (mis) sightings.

JP: Amid the roiling violence of energy, who is always there: the angel.  Everything is doubled, rage and love, despair and endurance.  In modern life, paradoxical Baudelaire is never far from us.  

But no, the swing of this angel’s knee is too delicious, and her hair part of the motion in and for itself.  Lo, Eve!  The wind is kicking up.  The pale translucence winding behind her – the pink snaky squirm – is a minor thing.   

Joan Mitchell Title: Sunflowers

JP: How radiant, the zucchini flowers! Light oranging the petal, sluices of stem, the tremble, soft pale follicles.  How does she paint with fine ground dust of pollen? Swallows of light, collapsible wet creases, petal bells, to be smeared, stained, psalmlike.

Joan Mitchell Title: Minnesota.

JP: What did you expect to shower down? That it’s petals and pollen, cream mint, manna – that it sits like Bernini’s mystical St. Teresa of Avila, gold showering from the upper right corner – only means it’s been here before.  

Joan Mitchell Title: Rivière

Joan Mitchell, “I carry my landscapes around with me,” David Zwirner Gallery, New York.

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Genesis, Moonstone Beach

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Cremorne Lights 1872 James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1834-1903 Bequeathed by Arthur Studd 1919

Thanks, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, for publishing this poem in Volume IV !

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What is Mother’s Day without the kids?

Primavera, Senior Year
to Eve

As the languorous calm of winter ends,
enter gardeners, whirling bees–
riotous breakaway

And all the things I wanted to hold onto–
a child’s hand, cool as an oboe;
lamplight; reading
by the window

lying in bed with extra pillows,
talking to my daughter, texture
of voices like patent leather
straps overlapping–

begin to loosen. The velvet ear of
close attention has been lost to racier
attractions. She is all hunger and eye,
I on the sidelines.

Go ahead and throw garlands,
untighten, cultivate the longer hours.
Who, just who taught her
to shake the rafters?

Thanks to Literary Mama for publishing my poem in its March 2019 issue. Thanks to George Lange for the top photo.
Unending love and gratitude to the girls for the circus, the fun, the astonishment and beauty that keeps us so connected.

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Passover, Notre-Dame and the Book Thing

“Golden Haggadah” from medieval Spain

The idea that Notre-Dame might be reduced to a hole in the ground, a collection of rubble terrified me.  When I lived in Paris, or before that, or after, the Cathedral lodged itself deeply in my being. A friend mentioned he just loved the smell – the stone-cellar and incense smell, the millennial smell.  To those who lob the charge that a church is just a building, I’d answer that it embodies a reach towards beauty and a divine; the anonymous artists were launching a message in a bottle to us in the future.  If someone got spacey and was questioning reality, they only had check that  massive stone exemplar of material culture – touch feel it, know its place on earth in the now.

I’m thinking, now of the book I’m going to be reading tonight, the Passover Haggadah.  As a material object, it’s generally minor, though I do love the book as object.  This ritual book collects up narrative of escape, the road, liberation, impermanence made continuous through telling.  Wandering Jews cherish our books which contain worlds.  They’re portable and tell of things that couldn’t be saved, couldn’t be etched or carried or kept in stone. Stone is irrelevant.

Material culture is dissolving into a haze.  We’ll be doing a lot more of the wandering exile narrative thing, it seems. Forests and species will be translated into words by writer, poets, narrators. We’ll be telling each other about glaciers, extinct frogs and birds in books.  We’ll be carrying them with us in our bags, on our backs, taking and transmitting evidence of a world of constant change.

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Headiness of Spring Cleaning

Wolfgang Tillmans

I had a highly complicated scaffolded reaction to a spring cleaning talk that I’m attempting to unravel.  It led to a revelation, and that I’ll try to unravel too.  It took place in a series of metaphors – which made me happy, because I have trouble with stark simplicity.   The metaphors laid out in synagogue yesterday situated the concept of housekeeping to an egg within an egg – fine in itself, as it went from messiness to holiness in a single jump. I delighted in that lofty jump, although I came to a roadblock with the structure that Rabbi Flam sketched out.

How to convey.  Listening to the rabbi’s first mention of housekeeping – this is the season of removing flour, crumbs and junk from the kitchen and cleaning the home for Passover – I felt slightly queasy.  Order = holiness? Here, we part.  If you’re Venus, I’m Mars.  I’m simply compositionally different.  But something spoke to me.  As I was cleaning kitchen shelves this morning, listening to a comedy news show and reflecting on how Jews clean with a feather for Passover, about my mother, about the history of housekeepers, mental hygiene and the like, I came to certain clarities about my own nature. 

I looked at my curated notion of decorating – the piled magazines on a bronze table, books on the wooden antique bench, the stacks of travel pamphlets, the drawings, boxes, etc.  The proliferation of contrasting patterns, the color.  Curious photographs. My structure has its own particular structure. 

This paradigm of my house – all those wandering rooms filled with bright, conversational curiosities – also resembles my mind. Having given up the fiction that I might become a neatnik, or “organized,” I can only thin and balance this thriving chaos, the paradoxes and prisms of thought where voices and objects are somehow part and parcel of each other, part of a metaphor that contained the banal and cosmic, in synagogue and in my mind and hasn’t quite thinned out yet.

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