chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: May 2011

fragments…Gloria ~ 3

…Some nights were like that. When she went into the bathroom to take a drink of water from the glass she’d left there, the water tasted like lavender. Lifting the glass into the dull glow of the night light, she could see that the water was clouded. No doubt as she’d rubbed her hands with lotion before bed, she’d slopped some into the glass. It tasted awful. She took the glass into the kitchen, got another, filled it with filtered water and returned it to the bathroom.

The next time she got up, reaching for a tissue, she knocked over the glass. Awake then, she swabbed up the water with towels. Turning to use the toilet, she hit her foot on the metal wastebasket. Some nights were like that…

Memorial Day…

Los Angeles National Cemetery

For decades before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act turned it into a Monday event, Memorial Day was May 30th, and it was much more than a national holiday. May 30th was my mother’s birthday — a day as fraught with ritual and importance as anything the government could devise. Today she would have been 100.

Our house was perched on a small bluff overlooking the Veteran’s Cemetery. There, on the other side of a chain link fence, tens of thousands of marble headstones stood in quiet rows amidst acres of grass and towering eucalyptus trees.

My mother and father did not visit the graves of their parents. Their own final wishes specified ashes scattered at sea, with no marker or headstone, no “there.” But on Memorial Day, my father would leave my birthday-hungry mother to walk through one vast section or another of the cemetery, studying the worn markings, reflecting on his fallen comrades and, perhaps, the wonder of his own survival. The ritual walk on Memorial Day was his alone. As a child, I accompanied him once or twice, but I was no more capable of the necessary contemplation than he was of cartwheeling and leapfrogging among the headstones.

He wouldn’t talk about the War. It was his war, and its outlines were sketched for me in the vaguest collection of names and faded photographs. The desert. A patched sleeping bag where a field mouse had burrowed to have her babies. An aversion to the taste of lamb. Patton. Gillam. Europe. He had seen too much and lost too much and spent the remaining 40 years of his life guarding against the invasion of his memories.
photo by Robin Z

Sunday drive…

Charlotte twitched. They were fighting again in the back, their legs thumping against the seats, the car vibrating with their bouncing. Jacob had yelled, to little effect, and now the skin was pulled tight across the back of his hands as he gripped the wheel.

She reached into the basket at her feet. Wedged alongside the sandwiches and apples were the sweaters and dry socks, toys and books that would rescue them from the day’s small chaos.

As Charlotte turned in her seat, the three children left off their brawling to watch her. She handed Sam a book on bugs. Lilly and Joshua each got a fat pencil and a drawing pad. Quiet for Papa, she signed. Then, to the twins, her fingers said, cow, horse, barn, draw. They pulled their gaze away from her hands to look out the car windows.

The air was fragrant with apple blossoms and turned earth.


birdsnest spruce
‘It looks like January out there,’ he says,
‘except for the green.’
This false January’s new coat
a thick quilting of every verdant hue
from chartreuse to near-black.

blue roofs…

pastel drawing by D.A. KleinbergThis is what I remember about the place my mother went when the doctor sent her away: the drives up the coast in the ‘49 Dodge, the blue roofs, her stories of the train that sliced through the grounds: how she couldn’t sleep for several nights then never heard it again.

I went back to the place with the blue roofs years later. The roofs were still blue, the night train still noisy. I think I expected it to be familiar, mysterious or romantic, large in the way that all things are large to a three-year-old. But it was by then an ordinary place, a hotel with slightly tired furnishings and children splashing and screeching in the swimming pool. The grounds were manicured around the bungalows, flowers blooming, but I couldn’t find anything, or anyone, I knew. Not my mother. Not my father, opening the car door so I could climb out of the back seat. Not my confused and frightened young self.
pastel drawing by DAK 1951


Dorothy ~ undated self-portraitShe never should have been a mother. She wasn’t suited to the task. She was a party girl, gregarious and funny and fun-loving, always seeking the spotlight. But motherhood caused little things to break in her, and from my earliest memories there was always something wrong.

When I was 3, the doctor sent her away to live in a bungalow on the beach. A bleeding ulcer is what she called it, but perhaps the doctor saw the fury and the disappointment and the danger bleeding out of her as well.

My father and I stayed in the house and visited her on some weekends, driving the two hours along the coast, reciting the names of the little towns we passed, and once even flying the short distance in a great rumbling airplane.

After nine months, she came home. She drank lots of milk, “chewing” it as the doctor had instructed her, and wore pedal-pushers, and cooked healthy food. She turned the den into an art studio. She sketched and painted, which she was good at. But things were never really okay…
undated self-portrait in pencil by DAK

morning light…

Still morning, gray and quiet but for the circus of color on the ground — sprouting, greening, emphatic and alive. The peony, with its impossible pinky-red blooms, fat and faintly fragrant. Rhodies, unthrifty thrift, a pair of white tulips still hanging on long after the others have finished. Tight knots of bearded iris among their celadon swords. Peas and favas reaching toward the hoped-for sun, kale waving its tall yellow flower fronds across a pair of beds to seed the summer. And here and there in the soil, a neat lozenge: the doe’s browsing step.


petroglyphWhen they asked her, What’s your favorite animal? she would say horse, because horse was the closest. But it wasn’t a horse. The creature that had animated her drawings and dreams from childhood was hers alone. A long-bodied, winged being with feathers and fur. Her totem. Her protector. A power that nobody could take from her because nobody else could see it. Together, sharing her side of the modest bedroom, speaking in the silent language, traveling weightless through the apricot dusk. Could there be only one, she asked herself, one as alone as I am? And she would examine the pictures of petroglyphs on the pages of National Geographic, looking for the creature’s kin. Looking, perhaps, for her own origins, her secret and sacred homeland.
petroglyph photo

trying to write…

sunlight through glass

Some mornings I wait.
Some mornings I grow impatient, give up, walk away, come back, argue with myself.
Some mornings I pick through the scrap bin to peer again through a discarded shard of colored glass.
Some mornings I rush in, keyboard held in front of me like a sword, hoping for dragons.
Some mornings I wait.

sunlight through glass photo


radish leaves
If it’s another rainy Saturday, if the fishing trip is cancelled, if the rapture doesn’t materialize, there is still the miracle of minuscule pairs of radish leaves shouldering up through the soil, of raucous red-beaked Caspian terns wheeling overhead, of words finding their way from the fog into the light, of skin and kisses and being loved.

sticky, too

spider silk
The windows snap, adjusting to the warmth of the sun’s first rays. The spiders are back, rainbow glints of silk flung between leaves, across windows. Belayed in a nearly-invisible curtain down the screen door, dozens of tiny spiderlings descend from a nest. A slender thread cast on breeze and trust stitches together the middle of nowhere.

A speck of dirt on the floor walks away.
spider silk photo


butterflyThe butterfly effect — that the movement of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon could influence a tornado in Texas — must happen everywhere, all the time. We decide to turn left instead of right, go into a store or stay out, read this book or that, and in each decision, scores of other possibilities arise — people met, opportunities offered or observed, disaster avoided or encountered. And through our interconnectedness, our sticky society, our movements influence others’ actions, if in just the most minute way, and they in turn affect others, all the way to Texas. We are connected, related, sticky. We are six degrees or two degrees or twenty degrees, but we aren’t far from each other. Yet we find so much to dread, despise, resent. We raise walls and cower in fear, blind to the butterfly.
butterfly photo by Chrisser


When I was a kid, my most fervent fantasy was to be invisible — to be conscious, effective, but unseen. Today, invisibility is much less appealing; the magic carpet is more to my adult pleasure.

I worked hard to be invisible. Tried to keep my life orderly so it wouldn’t disrupt my mother’s, tried to be quiet so she could make the noise. If she didn’t notice me, she wouldn’t hurt me. If I was good, she wouldn’t blame me. I tried to have no needs, to follow the rules, to do what was expected when I was supposed to do it.

The really sickening thing is how successful I was. How long I wore my mask of invisibility. How I carried it out of the house, into school, into my relationships, where I became passive, seemed not to care what happened, professed that it doesn’t matter, whatever it might be. I tried to be perfect, yet there was and is no praise more painful than that word. It’s the acknowledgment of my failure, my invisibility. For in her world, only invisible was perfect.

It’s time to be visible, to see and be seen, to listen and be heard, to imagine and to spark the imagination. Invisible is no longer compelling. Now I just have to figure out how to make visible the parts that are still hidden, to see the things to which I’ve blinded myself.

To have more than a voice: to have something to say.

I’ve been blogged!

Miriam Sagan, poet, writer, artist, instructor and blogger, features concrete poetry by J.I. Kleinberg in her May 15 post on Miriam’s Well. Miriam founded and runs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her recent books are Love & Death: Greatest Hits (Tres Chicas Books), Map of the Lost (University of New Mexico Press) and Tanka from the Edge (MET Press).

chocolate this!

chocolate chips
In honor of National Chocolate Chip Day (May 15), some essential grammar:
infinitive – to chocolate – she has to chocolate
past simple – chocolated – they chocolated each other
past participle – chocolated – we have chocolated the room
present participle – chocolating – I’m chocolating as we speak
present simple, 3rd person singular – chocolates – he chocolates in his sleep
adverb – chocolately – they chanted chocolately
chocolate chips photo

my father’s workshop…2

be careful signPresiding over the workshop was an enameled metal sign that warned, BE CAREFUL. The warning was passed along in my father’s instruction, which emphasized the importance of anchoring your project in a vice and, especially, where — and where not — to put your hands. Though his own hands regularly bore signs of splinters and abrasions, I think he truly enjoyed the company of his young visitors and didn’t want them getting hurt. Beyond that, he wanted them to succeed, to love the process as much as the product.

He insisted that each child replace tools and clean up the work area, but beyond his modest rules and warnings, the kids were free to explore their own imagination. He would provide the materials and tools and help with the engineering if asked, but it was up to the kids to say what they wanted to make. Airplanes and boats were particularly popular, dogs and fish close behind.

After my father died we had, as he requested, an informal gathering at the house. Among the throngs of people that showed up that day, numerous men and women introduced themselves to me with names I had seen crayoned on scraps of wood in the shop, years and years before. My father would have been pleased to know that his young charges remembered him warmly, that his lessons weren’t too harsh and his cautions well attended…

my father’s workshop…

my father's workshopAn engineer by trade and temperament and a woodcarver by hobby, my father believed that there was a tool for every job. If it didn’t exist, he would invent it; if it existed, he would improve it. His workshop was triangular — a wedge of space in the garage where he retreated almost every evening after dinner and passed long hours on the weekends.

His primary workbench stretched along most of the short side of the triangle below a wall of exquisitely-sharp tools; one of the two long sides had a second workbench and more tools, plus shelves stacked with the neatly categorized miscellany of his imagination: scraps of wood, metal, rubber, leather and string; images cut from magazines; sketchbooks; vast stores of sandpaper; unfinished carvings; and a small box of licorice that my mother wouldn’t allow in the house. The third side of the triangle was open to the garage, the car nearest his workbench coated with sawdust and freckled with curls of wood that sprang away from his chisel.

A large box beneath the workbench was filled with the unfinished projects of the young neighbors, friends and cousins who visited his shop; on each one, a name was scrawled in crayon. An open garage door signaled Welcome! and the kids would descend the steep driveway for a lesson in hammering or sanding or carving. My father was friends with neighborhood kids I had never seen, a pied piper of woodcraft, a lover of tools and a believer that, with patience and practice, everyone could master life’s simple skills…

lost laughter…

I listen and try to conjure up the sound of my mother’s laughter, the sound of my father laughing. I can see my father with a big grin, even see him wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, but I cannot hear the sound. I can remember the fits of giggling that would engulf me and my mother, sitting at the table, usually, when some bit of nonsense would consume us, laughing til it hurt, setting one another off again and again.

But I cannot hear the sound.

noticing the light…

At this time of year, the morning seems long underway before the sun rises above the hills, as if, perhaps, the sun might be rolling along a wide plain just on the other side, brightening the sky but not yet ready to hurl itself upward. The evenings, too, stretch long and light, spilling through windows onto sleeping children, the northwestern sky glowing as if a city might have sprung up there since the recent memory of winter’s darkness.


honeymoonThe funny little clear plastic stand on my father’s bureau held a black and white photo of my parents, trimmed in a circle to fit between two small discs of glass. They’re looking into the bright December Death Valley day and their eyes are squinting slightly against the harsh light. Their heads are together, their smiles wide. They’re dressed casually, collars open, leather jackets.

They’re in their mid-30s and they’re honeymooning, though they look older to me, maybe because they’re my parents and, by definition, old. Maybe because my father has lost most of his hair and already looked much like he would for the remaining 51 years of his life. By 1946, he had seen enough to make anyone lose their hair. But he had survived, and returned, and pursued this smiling woman with the curly red hair.

Her hair is smoothed a bit on the top and clipped back at the temples, giving her long face a heart shape. She’s wearing lipstick and the caramel-colored fringed buckskin jacket that she would wear so much it finally fell apart.

His arm is around her, his fingers gripping her and pulling her tight. It’s that gesture that deepens her smile, makes her feel safe, held, wanted, protected, desired. Beautiful. It was only in the reflection of men’s eyes that she could be, momentarily, beautiful.

And here was a man, a good man, a smart, solid, honest, handsome man, who wanted her, and wanted to stay with her, to make a life with her, for better or worse. But, in those early days, who could imagine worse?