chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: March 2011

opening day…

home plate

home plate detail

home plate © j.i. kleinberg 1974
crochet ~ regulation-size home plate with 22 stuffed and stitched green baseballs/peas and bat/fork
collection of Leonard Beerman family


After I left home, at 17, my parents turned my bedroom into an office. Floor to ceiling industrial shelving covered an entire wall, filled with the overstock of our eclectic lives. A pair of desks formed a large peninsula jutting from one wall, and my childhood bed served as a couch, later as my father’s bed, and yet later as his deathbed.

In the months following my father’s death, I sorted and sifted the contents of the drawers on his side of the desk – folders stuffed with cards and letters and poems I had written, copies of his own impassioned correspondence, articles about a famous relative clipped from scientific journals, Torah studies he had prepared for a class, and the abundant thank yous and commendations of a life generously lived.

Finally the desk was mostly empty, save for a few treasures in the pencil drawer – his college slide rule, a polished rock, a collection of name tags and ID badges accumulated in his 25 years as a post-retirement volunteer, and a snapshot. It’s the three of us – my mother grinning stiffly at the right, already disappointed, my father seated on the left with me on his lap, perhaps 12 months old, fat and round, a wisp of hair curling on top of my head. My father and I are looking at each other and we radiate joy.

signs of life…

daphneSpring seems to breathe: a day of sun, a morning of rain, a night of wind. A single daffodil pops up amidst a drift of grassy allium. A scattering of twin-leafed hellebore seedlings appear around their blooming mother. The daphne, glossy again after winter’s blackening frost, shelters scores of tiny florets. Clutches of tulips, buds tight as nuts, unfold the soft green paddles of their wide leaves. The peonies pray. The irises stretch upward, straight as blades. A teasing of warm rain barely wets the soil. Spring takes another breath.

trying to write…

the wooden box…

the wooden boxAmong my mother’s prized possessions was a wooden box. The sides of the box are roughly carved with relief panels of historic, mythic and biblical scenes – Daniel in the lion’s den, sword-bearing knights on horseback, the king’s son standing before the tumbled cascade of Rapunzel’s hair. The hinged top, a solid block of wood that tapers upward to a peak, is polished silky smooth. The box is lined with unevenly-cut tan suede, and the tiny metal clasp and keyhole suggest there was once a matching key.

On the bottom of the box, deeply etched in pencil, are the words “Carved by Frederick Todd” and while my mother never said (or perhaps I’ve forgotten) where she got the box, she always maintained that Mr. Todd was blind.

As Dorothy told it, she was in her 30s, recovering from the tragic end of an intense love affair when a friend fixed her up on a blind date with the man who would become my father. The first few times Les called, she refused his request for a date. But at last she accepted and he came to pick her up at her apartment.

He walked in, greeted her, and went straight for the box on the mantel, picking it up and rubbing the smooth top against his cheek.

That was the moment, she said, when she knew he was The One.

trying to write…

I have tested the limits of my attention, leaving my journal open for the rest of the day, hoping to return with insights, with memories or inspirations. But I seldom write another word, the reflective pond of morning tracked through by noisy throngs of gun-toting hunters, by speedboats and chainsaws, and clots of fast-food packaging slung out of car windows.

So I am a morning writer, hoping to find the spider’s silk thread of words. No weight, no color, no sound, no assurance that it’s really there. A glint, perhaps, when the light is just so. But then the single strand tugged across the forehead and you know you’ve walked right into it, already snagged it, disturbed its suspended grace. And all you can do is slow down, take a step back, breathe gently, and follow the silken thread into the web.

peony prayers…

peony leaf buds
The peonies, barely an inch above the soil, look like so many praying hands. And certainly there’s much to pray about. Disaster and despotism, intolerance and greed, our essential human need to believe in — and convince others of — our own rightness.

But what does a peony pray? To grow protected from ruinous teeth and feet, free of blight and blotch, wilt and scale, thrip and gall, to bloom full under warm sun and gentle breezes then to hunker down beneath the winter’s chilling and wake again in spring.

A modest enough prayer for anyone, I suppose.

morning light…

bee shadowThe spring sun pours straight into the window, not for him the sidelong glances of winter and summer. The blinds, lowered a bit and canted against the glare, show a few darting shadows of bees.
bee on calla photo

fragments…Edward ~ 5

broomEdward continues, “Mom had this huge rubber tree plant. Once she’d moved the dining table, she stuck the plant in the middle of the room and set the bird cages all the way around it on their tables and crates. She told us she wanted the birds to feel at home, like they were in the jungle. I don’t know about that, but the birds would chew on the plant and there would always be little green leathery pieces of chewed leaf scattered around the cages and the floor.

“On warm days, Mom would carry the smaller cages outside and set them on the back lawn. She’d turn on the hose to a real fine mist and spray the birds. They loved it. They’d close their eyes and squawk and flap, and then they’d preen their feathers for about an hour.

“The floor was my job. Every day, after school, or after lunch on the weekends, I had to sweep the dining room. I had to get all the little bits of stuff from around the plant and under the tables and sweep the whole room, all the way out to the corners, where I’d find seeds and bits of gravel and downy little feathers. The feathers were tricky; they’d blow away just from the broom coming toward them. But I’d sweep everything into a pile, then into a dust pan and into the wastebasket.

“At first — like the first five years or so — it was a chore. But at some point I realized that it had changed from a chore to a habit, though I might not have been able to explain the difference. And then I realized that I liked it, I liked sweeping. After I left home, it was pretty handy. When the housework was being divided up, wherever I happened to be living, I’d volunteer to sweep, and my roommates usually seemed pretty happy with that arrangement.

“There’s always something to sweep, if not inside then out. The leaves, the little maple pods that airplane down, the drifts of papery elm seeds. I enjoy it. I like the motion, and the sound of the broom swishing across the floor or the sidewalk. It gives me time to think, gives me a feeling that my life is in order, that chaos can be controlled. It’s a meditation. My sweeping meditation.”
broom photo


Waking in the night to the unfamiliar ache of shoulders, knees, body rattled from its somnolence by the first earnest day of gardening after this long, wet and very cold winter. A day of sun and birdsong, spading compost into still-sodden beds where only a few earthworms have ventured upward from their winter sleep. Two mason bees combing the stickiness of first flight from their wings as they soak up the sun’s warmth on the south wall. A few tiny wasps tending the plum blossoms, which are already spreading their white petal-fall on the ground. As I tumble back into sleep, the rain returns to water the fava beans and peas, the new-mown patch of mossy lawn, the rolled-tight daffodils leaning toward morning.

fragments…Edward ~ 4

cockatiels“The birds pretty much owned the dining room,” Edward told me. “At first it was sort of a novelty, having a birdcage in the dining room. When my little friends would come over for dinner, they loved it, and Mom would tease them by putting a tiny little dish of birdseed and a little bowl of water in front of my friend at his place at the table. Those birds probably kept me from being a total outcast during the worst parts of my geeky childhood.

“Having one bird in the dining room wasn’t too bad, but when Mom got the second one, it was impossible to have a conversation, or even hear someone say, ‘Please pass the potatoes.’ She tried covering the cage during dinner, but the birds just wanted to be the life of the party and they wouldn’t shut up. Finally Dad put his foot down. Said if she wanted to eat with the birds, that was fine, he’d take his dinner out into the living room and sit in front of the television. But if she wanted to eat with him, the birds would have to go.

“It didn’t quite work out that way. One day we came home from school and Mom had moved the dining room table into a corner of the living room. It was nice eating out there, even if it did mean carrying the dishes a few extra steps back and forth from the kitchen.

“But as soon as the table was out of the way, the dining room turned into the bird room. Mom got another cockatiel, and then another one, and the cages got bigger and more elaborate. Sometimes she would close both doors and have all the birds flapping around in the room with her, but usually she wouldn’t bother with the doors and there would be birds pacing along the back of the sofa, or sleeping on the curtain rod, or sitting on top of the refrigerator…”
cockatiels photo

“Seat and Read”

Seat and Read

Paper Cha(i)se

Seat and Read opening
Seat and Read was a July 1979 exhibition of seating and accompanying reading material at and/or gallery in Seattle. Curators: Joyce Moty and Buster Simpson.
Paper Cha(i)se – A Disposable Crocheted Paper Sofa © j.i. kleinberg 1979
Newsprint donated by the Seattle Times
Color photo by Cathy Hillenbrand; black and white photos from exhibit catalog by Buster Simpson.

my mother’s hands…

my mother's handsHer hands were cool and slender, with narrow fingertips, tapered nails, and knuckles that were slightly enlarged. The skin on the back of her hands was freckled, and then spotted with age, and always delicate. It covered a tender architecture of fine bones, and snaking blue veins that seemed to have been added as an afterthought, on the surface instead of within. As a child, the barest pressure of my finger on one of those veins would cause it to slither left or right beneath her skin — a sort of mystery, magic, that never failed to fascinate me.


hourglassI’m thinking about my grandmother’s hourglass – a three-minute glass, actually. As a child, I was forever trying to slow the sand’s fall, turning and tilting it to see if I could make just a single grain slip through, but it was not susceptible to the meddling of young girls. I loved the sinking whirlpool of sand in the top of the glass, the perfect rising cone in the bottom, the weight of the thing in my hand, the serious instrumentality of its metal frame and real glass, the dark bead of metal around its narrow waist, the handsome profile of its three legs, sculpted like newel posts.

I take it out of a box at the bottom of the closet. On the flat plate at each end it says ENDAST EN DROPPE I TIDENS HAV and on one end it also says ENY MADE IN SWEDEN. (Google Translate tells me the Swedish means Only a drop in the future sea. Hmmm.) Seeing this, I think it might have been my great-grandfather’s before it was my grandmother’s, proving again his appreciation for fine timekeeping. It’s probably brass, but darkened and dulled to an even brown, only the hemispherical feet – round-headed screws that hold the legs in place – slightly burnished.

The fall of sand is no longer perfect, its aim off-center, some internal friction holding a few grains against the glass when the three minutes are up. Most curiously, the flat plate at one end is dented downward at its edge, as if the thumb of a giant had pulled it. Hard to imagine what might have damaged it in this way without destroying the whole thing, the glass protected in its metal cage, the grains of sand dry and glistening.

I walk away, come back and set my cup of coffee on the desk in the spot where the hourglass has been sitting. The sound is distinct: sand. Time’s a wastin’.

prayer for Japan…

signs of spring…

peony buds The extravagant peony, with her rosy fragrance and lavish magenta flowers the size of cantaloupes, begins as a modest furl pushing through the sodden earth, the tumbled bark, the sere sheared stalks of last year’s leaves.

Dorothy’s legs…

Dorothy's legs (before)She blamed me for her varicose veins. Her legs had been lovely, shapely, unmarred by scars or stripes of red or blue. Then the pregnancy — I — caused her veins to bulge and writhe and throb in fat blue snakes across the pale perfection of her legs. My first offense, in utero, shattering her vision of herself as a woman who might be admired reclining on a chaise, she tallied on her scorecard of motherhood.

Eventually, she had the veins ‘stripped,’ and that made some of them go away, but left her with a line of one-inch horizontal scars, like sealed button holes, running up each leg.

By then the aching had settled in for good, and the blaming had become a habit that could not be excised with mere surgery.

signs of spring…

Dorothy’s avocado…

avocado tree My mother, who was never much of a gardener, planted an avocado tree in the middle of a square of ivy at the end of our front yard. She loved avocados and tended to the tree encouraged by her visions of the large, green, glossy fruit she often brought home from Safeway.

She had been told that it would take seven years for the tree to bear fruit. So she waited, keeping an eye on the yard from the kitchen window, shooing away the dogs and children that ventured too close.

At last, the tree, which was still quite small, began to bear flowers. At dinner, my mother would breathlessly report the appearance of each tiny white bloom, then, a day or two later, the sad news that the flower was gone, fallen to the ground. This went on for some time – seasons, I think.

Then, remarkably, at the center of the flowers, tiny green avocados would appear, each one smaller than a pea. The back door opened and closed dozens of times each day as Dorothy made her tours of inspection, stepping carefully through the surrounding ivy, leaning in close to measure, with her artist’s eye, the health of her minuscule crop.

But they, too, dropped, and my mother became discouraged. For quite a while we heard nothing about the avocado tree, its cycles of blooming and fruiting unremarked.

Then one day, as my father and I sat at the kitchen table, my mother went out the back door and screamed. An avocado! A real avocado! How could she have missed it? But there it was, green and glossy, just like the ones from Safeway. On her tree.

We gathered around the miracle fruit, up to our ankles in ivy, shaking our heads in wonder. That’s when we noticed the string. The avocado was tied onto the tree, a neighbor’s joke.

Not long after that, the avocado tree was dug up and the ivy allowed to grow over the bare spot where the tree had stood. My mother told me that the tree had been moved to a more favorable location, but I always suspected that, like sick dogs that were sent away to a mythical “better home, in the country,” the tree’s fate was sealed, its collusion in the neighbor’s joke never forgiven.
avocado photo

word play…