Tuesday, February 28, 2006

what's black and white and...

A spring or two ago I was invited to read a poem of mine at a college up north, as part of a poets and writers event. The organizer, a nice academic in the English department, took the event so seriously that he wanted the readers--some 5 or so poets, and an equal number of short story writers--to rehearse the week before, so that there would not be unforeseen problems with microphones or stage fright or sudden needs for imported water.

All very well and good, except I live in an area in which there is no public transportation from the south end of our county to the urban north. And I do not drive.

So I contacted the organizer, cheerily, and asked if amongst the group there might be someone else from the south county with whom I might cadge a ride. He gave me a name and a phone number and an email address of a guy who would also be reading a poem.

I contacted my fellow poet--let's call him Steve. He kindly agreed to come by the bookstore before the rehearsal and wisk me up with him.

His name rang no bells for me, which was odd, since I thought I knew all the aspiring poets in my area, from the dear writers of "The redwood tree is big and good/God made it, I knew he could" verse to the few serious writers. Our email exchange gave me no clues to his age, or status.

In the week before the rehearsal I made up various lives and appearances for Steve my poet driver. Perhaps, I thought, he was a retiring elder, finally coming out as a writer after a lifetime as a civil engineer. Or, maybe he was very new to the area, which would explain why I didn't know him. Perhaps, given the college sponsorship, a young undergraduate just now finding his voice.

On the day of the rehearsal Steve walked into my shop as I was talking with my woman in black friend Sara. Sara gave him a keen and slightly disapproving glance. I gave him a thorough once over--o dear, he was so attractive. And yes, probably young enough to be my son. He stood in the doorway in his tight jeans and white teeshirt, his dark hair cropped pretty close to his head, and I tried to decorously contain the spontaneous combustion of unseemly lust.

I'm sure he hadn't a clue--nice midlife poet lady at bookstore, oh, how charming.

The ride to the college takes about an hour and a half, so we chatted about writing and life and history--his, mine, the region's. He said he wasn't really a poet, but a would be novelist, the black sheep of his family (they were all lawyers). He was married, with two little girls. He had attended the same university I had, about a century or two later, studying Arabic and English literature. We shared memories of the dear old alma mater (we'd both writen for the university newspaper and been troublemakers). He said his job kept him on the road a lot, but this gave him time to think about his writing, and often he'd just pull over and scribble down an idea or a stanza of a poem.

It is bad form in my region to inquire further about people's jobs, if they do not volunteer the information. I suspected my attractive writer might well be running drugs between here and the city; that would explain, I thought, all the time on the road, and also his tough-kid demeanor.

He told me he wrote every morning, immediately on rising, for two hours. Every day, without fail. He put on his favorite music, put on his earphones, and typed away, the household blurred behind a wall of heavy rock music, his troubles evaporating. He said his novel was nearly finished.

And he said he thought Thomas Pynchon had been living close to where he lives for a year or so, a while back. We speculated on the mysterious writer.

And we got through the rehearsal, had some coffee, chatted more on the way back.

At the actual reading he arrived with his pretty wife and girls; my partner and two of my kids came as well (we'd managed to get our car running for another week or so). Steve's poem was about my little town, and included a couple lines about the bookstore, which had made me laugh when I first heard it. He read with intensity and a certain awkwardness; I read my work, everyone milled about and had cookies and burnt coffee and wandered home again.

The story might have ended there, except for a conversation with a school board member a couple days later. The elementary school in one of our towns was facing cuts, and the parents there were coming together. My board friend was telling me about the latest meeting. "Oh" said I, "I just met a guy who probably has at least one of his girls in that school" And I described him, the reading, etc.

Right, said she, the highway patrol officer.

No, I said, this guy is a writer. But she insisted--in fact, she'd just been given a ticket by him.

And I laughed, and laughed. A job with a lot of driving....right.

These days I still look closely as the black and white highway patrol cars pass, wondering if my writer is driving. And I savor the thought that sometimes, if you pass a highway patrol car pulled over on the roadside, and the driver is busy scribbling something down, it's not a report he's making, or a ticket--but a poem, or the next chapter of his novel.

I wonder how Steve's novel is doing? He might even be hard at work on his second one by now.
It was a lovely lesson in the assumptions I make, and the stereotypes I cherish, this discovery of the poet cop.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chairs and star people

My partner & I used to listen to Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone radio shows, and still upon occassion turn to one another with a sigh and "it's been a quiet week here in....".
But it's been a jumbled week here at the forest's edge, and, as I knew would happen, our false spring is giving way, with snow expected tomorrow. Yes, the brave plum and cherry trees have innocently burst forth into bloom, and the bees are hopefully buzzing about still, but we have had frosty nights again.

The week began with a chair. But perhaps I tuned the universe to chair frequency a couple weeks ago, when my partner unwisely left me alone in a junk/antique/you guess what it is and you can have it/ sort of shop up north. He thought I'd confine my browsing to the bookshelves there, which were full of mouldering volumes and reader's digest condensed books and tattered romance novels. I did pick up a nice, worn book on Cromwell for him (partner loves history), but strayed to the other cold rooms, which were piled with plates and tools and boxes of torn lace and family photos and enormous, expensive, strange furniture. Giant dressers with elephants supporting them (carved elephants pretending to be dresser legs, that is). A swan embellished mirror. An old maple desk, with little compartments for stamps, and love letters, and pens.
And lots of chairs. Chairs in dining room sets. Chairs leaning crookedly against other chairs. And the chair, or, perhaps, The Chair. It was quite alone at the end of a long hall created by dressers and tables and boxes of stained damask. A small chair, in some dark wood, with graceful lines and a rose carved into its back. It had a faded, needlepoint seat, black having faded to green black, with faded pink and cream and lavender roses stitched on it. It was light. It was, curiously, inexpensive.

Did I need a chair? Probably not, I thought, and continued browsing while my heart mulled over that pretty, delicate bit of furniture. "It's lonely" I thought. "Probably it was part of a set or something, and is all alone now." I therefore convinced myself that the stray chair was in need of a bookstore home, and bought it quickly, along with that Cromwell book.
To my partner's everlasting credit he did not gasp as I showed up with a bit of furniture. And yes, we did need it; it looks very pretty near our gardening book section.
So, that was chair number one. And perhaps it was lonely, because last weekend some dear friends suddenly emailed me. We have this chair, said they, that we think needs to come be at your bookstore. It's brown. It is stuffed with down. It is in good shape.
I asked, hestitatingly, "is it really huge?" Oh no, said they. And then, cleverly, they added "It has quite a history. It belonged to a silent film star, a great beauty. And we just figured you need it now."
So this week began with a chair. The soft brown armchair sits near the metaphysics corner. Destiny the cat immediately figured it was a kind provision for her comfort, but she will let worthy browsers and readers settle in with her. Champ the pitbull also thinks it is a good thing, but Destiny doesn't share very well with him.

Katie chose that chair to sit in as she told me of my veteran friend Bobbie's last days. Bob was the veteran who had challenged me with tears in his eyes as I started my women in black vigils years back; the one who had confronted me with anger and anguish and eventually come to stand beside me, until his weakened condition made it impossible. He died, said Katie, in the same hospital in which he was born. Bob and Katie met during his homeless period, and eventually inherited my friend Red's camper, after Red's death last summer. They moved it to a friend's land, near a creek, where Katie put in a vegetable garden. She'll stay there, she says. Bob's ashes are in a veteran's cemetary down south now. "Hey, I really love you!" he used to shout out in the mornings, as he said nursing a beer and feeding the black birds "And the Lord loves you too, I know that!". Katie asked me to help her write the obituary; lately it has been an area in which my writing skills have been in far too great a demand.
Sara, my faithful women in black companion, cried when I told her; she didn't know him well but found him a loving street presence. "How's my vet these days?" she would anxiously ask, once Bob was off the streets. Sara doesn't cry easily either; her clear eyes have seen a lot of suffering in this world. But she's authentic, and I love that in her.

My silver haired friend May, wearing her cape and her sandals and her expression of urgency swirled in this morning early. "I didn't know who else to come to" she said. It is an opening statement I hear a lot through the months; it can precede a request for material help, or for information, or even for books. But May had had a vision, a premonition, a psychic moment, and felt impelled to share it safely. She began by telling me she sometimes has premonitions, and psychic understandings, and she never quite knows where to go with them. I'm afraid my selfish heart was sinking at this point, fearful she was going to tell me something dire about my family or my community, some terrible warning that might work into my dreams and nightmares. I settled to listen.
She had been sitting in her house when the vision came on. She was, she said, quite awake. Waking visions are rare for her, so she pays attention to them. There was, said she, a hole. And in the hole, a woman in a black garment. At first she thought she was seeing an Iraqi woman, or someone perhaps in Afghanistan or thereabouts, but the woman lifted her head, and she recognized her as Jill Carroll. She asked where she was, and the words "famous bluffs" came to her, as well as latitude and longitude. Looking at a map later she felt it was in the north west of Iraq, and not in Baghdad.
She felt fully convinced she had contacted Jill, or viceversa.
So we talked. Now, I don't discount visions or psychic things at all; I believe we live in a multifaceted universe and have only the slightest idea of the scope of everything. But dear May has also come to me with stories about how so and so in the community is one of the lizard people, or how the universe is imploding yesterday.
I asked "are your visions literal? because, you know, sometimes I have strong dreams but often words are hints, and pictures are like riddles in them". She agreed, and we talked about the dimensions of "bluffs" in this context. And she said "you know, I grieve hard for all the people in prisons, whoever they are, it's not that I think only this one person should be helped--but I needed to share this with someone who wouldn't laugh at me". She asked, is there any way you can send this out a bit further, maybe anonymously, out into the world.
I told her I'd think about it.
How did she look? I asked.
"She was fine, not dehydrated. Her face was shining, actually. You know, on a spiritual plane I'm not concerned--all will be well there. But I get stuck in a human place. I don't want to read the news tomorrow and discover my vision was correct and I never shared it first".

And then, my friend Ben showed up. Champ was in the brown chair. Perhaps he is the reincarnation of a beautiful silent film star. Ben took the heavy wooden captain's chair and I perched on my delicate chair with the carved roses to hear his stories. Ben knows more than anyone I have met about the lore of the hills, the Indian connections, the old settlers, the nooks and crannies of this small universe. He has made friends with some of the healers and medicine men of the various dispersed tribes; he has attended ceremonies rarely witnessed by outsiders; he has gathered, over many decades, a storehouse of unique information. He also loves plants with the passion I do, and on one spring day some years ago descended upon the store to take me away to the mountains to the far east of our territory, where I had never ventured, but where one of the surviving members of one of the tribes wandered as a girl with her mother and her baby brother, fleeing the soldiers who had destroyed her village. The girl survived and lived a long, long life-long enough to be interviewed by some of the anthropologists in the 1930's. Ben had found the lost interviews, and had traced her family--there are still people carrying her genes. Because it was spring, and the rare flowers were in bloom, and because he felt I needed to see with my own eyes the area that girl had walked, we went. His wife came too (my one sucessful venture in matchmaking) but wasn't so keen on clambering the rock strewn mountain slopes to peer at flowers.
At any rate, Ben had just found one of his own forgotten notebooks, full of language notes. There were a number of distinct languages spoken in our hills, by the various people here. He told me that the highest mountain, visible from everywhere in my region, was known by a name that means "the stars rested here", by a people whose name means "we came from the stars".
But the best thing he told me was of the resurgence of language studies amonst a tribe a bit to the north, where he has spent a lot of time listening to the elders, learning words and cautions. This group now and then dances to keep the world together, an admirable task,I think.
The thing that so delighted me, however, that felt so perfect, was that the elders of that tribe cautioned him "This language, our true language, must not be spoken anywhere beyond this valley".
I think I gasped and clapped my hands. "That's so wonderful!"
Imagine a language so true, so sweet, so connected to the rocks and trees and hills that it must not be breathed outside. The truest of mothertongues.

Maybe it's just that I like secrets; secret gardens, secret drawers, secret rooms--and secret languages.
Or the balance--to share a lot, but to keep a kernel sweet and hidden.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

visit, if you will, my other blog as well

An alert reader (& excellent writer) has pointed out sensibly enough that I ought to tell readers I have another blog, jarvenpa's notebooks. You will see the link at the right side of this page, and if you click there, you will be in another corner of my universe.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

a thousand daffodils

Well, perhaps only 900 or so. The daffodils have started their bloom early this year, in a burst of false springtime that is fooling us all into believing that the winter is over and the voice of the turtle is about to be heard in our land.
I've lived here long enough to know that, come March or April, we may get snow. We will certainly get hail as soon as the tender blossoms of the cherries open wide and the hapless bees come buzzing. And the ground, now starting to warm up in a rush of hope, will get cold again.
Today, I don't care. I can stare out the window and pretend it is May, delighting in the return of the daffs. A couple autumns ago my eldest son gave me a gift certificate to a massive online corporate place, cautioning me not to spend all the money on books. The dear child has reminded me of my father since the day he was born: a true hearted, deliberate, sweet guy, mystified by the more whimsical amongst us.
Searching through the corporate site I came across the house-and-garden section, and then the plants, bulbs, and seeds.
There was a special on a huge number of daffodil and narcissus bulbs. I could not resist, and navigated the strange click and order world, and waited.
And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally I searched for the status of the shipment--by now it was getting late in the season for planting, though the ground never freezes here, allowing a bit of leeway.
The shipping place noted the bulbs had been delivered and signed for.
Then began my extensive correspondence with Jeff the agriculture commissioner. He'd caught the shipment as it entered the county, and found it was without all the official certification that let everyone know it wasn't carrying the floral equivalent of birdflu. He assured me that he hadn't yet destroyed the bulbs, pending communication from the place of origin.
As week after week passed, I contacted the corporate site, the nursery, and dear Jeff. I sent Jeff quotes from Wordsworth. I sent him pleas to keep the bulbs cool. He assured me they were fine, and chillingly added "I have not yet sent them to the landfill".
I woke those days with visions of palely sprouting bulbs, yearning for sunlight, wishing to bloom and be free.
The nursery meanwhile sent on another shipment of bulbs, with apologies, and the corporate place issued a refund, which made me cry, because it was apparent they were not going to come up with certificates and health statements, and surely the bulbs were doomed.
And then, perhaps persuaded by the Wordsworth, Jeff released the hundreds of bulbs to my loving care, so that I could plant them (and their twins) along the streets of this little town.
This year is their second year of bloom, allaying my fears that they were placed in soil too harsh for them, or too wet. I planted another huge batch this autumn, and then had a friend come laden with a bushel more--not of daffodils, but of homeless, yearning tulips and squills, and hyacinths--cast off by their retailer, with the hope that they might brighten some rural roads. They got tucked in in due time--late, but with a chance to bloom.
And perhaps a lot of things in life, as I think of it, may come at not quite the right moment--but still with a glimmer of hope and a chance to bloom.
Meanwhile, in this almost springtime moment, an old friend returned from Europe the other night. He rushed into the bookstore looking distressed, noting my daughter at the computer, my partner at the desk...
I was sitting with Champ towards the back, reading.
"Oh, I am so glad to see you!" he cried, and embraced me. Now, I've known this guy for perhaps 30 years, through three of his marriages, through the births of his sons, through his first novel and his attempts at poetry, but ours has never been a very physical friendship. And here he was, weeping with joy. I was a bit--startled. He said he'd had a vivid dream of my death, while he was in Switzerland, and he was so very saddened by it. He talked of all the sorrow he'd felt, for my family, for the dogs--but, said he, "the thing that made me cry the most was thinking of your flowers and gardens--who would take care of them now?"
My partner laughed. "Look, Jarvenpa, said he (using of course my own less florid name)--you can be a saint now without being dead yet!"
Well, I assured my friend I was glad his dream wasn't a true one--at least not yet--and that the flowers should be safe through another springtime.
And privately, I'm glad saints on the whole are very difficult people, really.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tagged--I figure it out

Livewire has just tagged me. As I told her, I am so cyber naive I wasn't certain what a tag was, but then I figured it out, checking her blog...(whether I will be able to post links to the lucky folks I choose to tag myself is another question indeed).
The task posed is to reveal 5 weird things about myself (not including the fact I always have had much difficulty spelling the word weird).

1. In this cyber world I would much rather be writing with my fountain pen. But I do much enjoy the wild connections.
2. I learned to walk by instruction or assistance of my grandmother's dog, Butch. This explains, perhaps, why I did not put my heels down on the earth until I was something like 3 or 4, preferring to walk tiptoe everywhere. Butch had patiently let me cling to his fur and stagger about, gaining balance, but I was a very small person and he was a big dog. You would think with early experience walking tiptoe I'd be able to wear high heels well, but I can't.
3. Growing up I heard voices. I assumed everyone did. The voices did not say anything memorable or directive, like "St. Joan, go save France", but were like listening in on a party line (for those not old enough to know what a party line was, it was many households sharing the same telephone line). Boring, common sentences "did you buy the cabbage" "and then I told her", rushing one over the other. And now and then my name, when I was out playing in the woods. I learned, however, not to mention the voices to my schoolmates, after some interesting reactions. I do still now and then experience this, as well as what others would term visual hallucinations
4. For instance, people where people are not. And sometimes animals. Upon talking with my mother after some particularly strong sightings, when I was a teenager, she said "oh, I wondered if that would happen to you". She, and her mom before her, had sightings of a darkhaired guy in oldfashioned clothes, blue tunic, sweet face. My daughter, upon reaching her teen years, also experienced this (I had not mentioned this to her previously, but told her when she came to me with "the strangest thing happend the other day..." No, I haven't the faintest idea what this means.
5. I talk to everything. Outloud. Dogs, cats, birds, stones, trees. Drove my brothers crazy, amuses and annoys my daughter ("You don't HAVE to say hello to the sparrow, you know" Much less the telephone pole...)
And I shall send this tag along to Dr. O2 http://sweethallucinations.blogspot.com/
because he has a very interesting mind
and to Marly, who is one of the most intriguing writers around http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.com/
and to David http://constructivecreativity.blogspot.com/
and to Chittychittybangbang http://ridingtheslipstream.blogspot.com/
and to MellowOrange, because she is new to the book business and I want to nudge her into posting more: http://polaroid-diaries.blogspot.com/

Goodness. I hope I figured out those links.