chocolate is a verb

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Monthly Archives: October 2011

ART/LIFE Volume 4, Number 10

jik ~ ART/LIFE November 1984

cover ~ ART/LIFE ~ November 1984Another page from the eminent but erstwhile ART/LIFE, this one in honor of Halloween. Dress ’em up: print, cut, color. Boo.

Page by jik in a numbered edition of 160.

ART/LIFE Volume 4, Number 1

jik ~ ART/LIFE February 1984

cover - ART/LIFE Vol 4, No 1ART/LIFE was an amazing and widely collected monthly publication, hand-assembled from limited-edition multiples submitted by contributors from all over the planet. Starting with the postcard pictured here, I discovered the words-within-the-words, pasted down a line of tape between a word and its source, copied the whole thing (as illustrated above) and then, with a length of cotton cord, tied an actual postcard to the printed copy. Each of 160 copies was numbered by hand and the copies sent off to Santa Barbara for inclusion in ART/LIFE Volume 4, Number 1.

More about ART/LIFE here and on Facebook.

after the wind…

after the windThe palette of morning:
pale blue wash, pink streaks, sponged charcoal, feathery greens…and autumn. Clots of sodden leaves burrow in every hollow of the garden, snagged in branches, tucked impossibly beneath stones, a lavish tapestry awaiting my obsessive unweaving…

toy season…

toys by LRKIn addition to his woodcarving, my father made toys. From a furniture manufacturer and the local hardwood lumber yard (if you live in a big enough city, there is a hardwood lumber yard!) he would collect scraps of wood and bring them to his shop, a car-trunkful at a time.

With a minimum of fuss — a drilled eye, a slice of smile, a quick bit of sanding to knock off the splinters — the scraps turned into beings. These, at the rate of a thousand or more a year (mostly around the holidays), he would pile into cartons and deliver to children’s wards in hospitals all over Los Angeles.

He also gave them away to friends and family, often “discovering” that he had one or two tucked into a jacket pocket. At the front door, on Halloween, instead of candy, he let the princesses and goblins choose a toy of their own from a big bowl.

After he was gone, when there would be no more toys, years later, and in another city, I filled a big basket with most of those remaining and gave them away one Halloween. It was surprising to watch the reactions, and poignant to feel myself costumed in his persona. I’ve never really wanted to celebrate Halloween since.

sky traffic…

crows by Tom MerrimanWhere were the crows going when I saw them? Late afternoon, perhaps a hundred or more, spread out across the equivalent of four or five blocks, ragtag, quiet, flying north. Perhaps they roost in the county, blackening de-leafed cottonwoods with their numbers, a birds-eye view over shorn fields and gray highways offering fare more delectable for plumping feathers against the season’s chill. Perhaps they discuss their plans for winter vacations, share stories of annoying eagles, recount tales of raccoons and guns. And maybe their conversations are semantic, parsing the bad taste of eating crow, as the crow flies, crow’s feet or the very wrongness of crowds and crowns and crowbars.
photo by Tom Merriman and much fascinating crow lore by Kate St. John


he leaves me this way:
plunging into the sports section
driving away from the back door
ascending the mountain
dropping into sleep

he returns to me this way:
dreams recalled
sips from my cup
lingering kisses
powerful hugs

he leaves me this way:
a crinkle of oak and aspen
collected along his way

he returns to me this way:
eyes heart arms
gratitude warmth love

he leaves me
he returns to me
: we are together

fragments…Howard ~ 9

Before he became a middle school teacher, Howard had for a while been a lab assistant for Dr. Carting. Mouse Boy, his friends had called him. Four rows, ten cages per row, one mouse per cage. He had liked the mice, their twitching pink noses and bright whiskers, but the work became tiresome and he suspected he carried around a faint aroma of mouse. So when Dr. Carting said her boyfriend needed a clerk to help him finish his book on the anthropology of circumpolar peoples, Howard took the job.

He proof-read the index and checked the spelling of the unpronounceable names, making innumerable trips to the copier and the library. He studied the soapstone carvings that sat on the shelf above Dr. Alexdrovich’s desk, comparing the information on the tiny labels on their bases to the captions under the photographs in the book. It was tedious, but at least no one called him Mouse Boy, and when the book was published, Howard’s name appeared in the acknowledgments.

After his stint with Dr. A., he went back to school to get his teaching credential. He thought he’d probably teach high school, but soon realized that middle school was where he belonged. He thought of Mr. Turner, who had been such a powerful influence on him when he was in junior high. Don Turner had helped Howard see round his pudginess and glasses to the boy who could wrestle and understand trigonometry. He had urged him to read Shakespeare and Vonnegut, Kesey and Harper Lee. He had guided him through the terrible letter of condolence to Portland’s parents. Mr. Turner had been something solid and parent-like when his own parents seemed not to notice Howard, seemed preoccupied with the twins.

Even now Howard could feel the agony of being 13. Sometimes when he looked at himself in the mirror in the morning, he was surprised to see the face of a grown man looking back at him…

the voice of the house…

jik ~ cut color and scotch tapeTook a poetry workshop* yesterday and what emerged was less poetry and more a random gush of words about place. Here, bits of several lightly connected, timed writings in the voice of a house:

…Before I settled here, before the graves were dug at my feet, before the eucalyptus trees were planted in that stark row, before all that, mine was a simple hill rising from the desiccated river bottom that seldom saw water, a few scrubby sage and manzanita shrubs clinging to my slope. But of course eventually the soldiers arrived with their guns and their shovels and their coffins. And they sprawled the dead around my feet and sliced roads between the corpses and blew into their trumpets the mournful blasts of memory.

…But of course eventually as they tell it the crocodiles came lumbering through the river beds looking for water, gulping round stones, eating the skinny coyotes that prowled the banks. That changed everything, you know. What was supposed to be a house became a swamp and that’s where I grew up, among the caimans and ocelots, behind the orange slough and its cabbage moths.

The place was sunburned and starched, empty on Wednesdays and crowded with arrowheads as the Chumash markets spread. The round scars of campfires pocked the basins and hillsides, charred sticks littered the river bed. Bones and bowls populated the branches as if to escape the predatory crocodiles. But we kept coming back here, kept calling the place home, kept building roads and burying our dead and hammering together houses.

The mystery outside the door was always the sound of sunset, which rang in peals against the blacktop and above the roofs and treetops. It was impossible to record the sound. We tried again and again. We recited it to one another as if we might remember it then. But like our dreams, it was lost…
*Special thanks to the Sue Boynton Poetry Contest and Sheila Nickerson


Pouring rain, the greens darkened to nearly black, the sky an undifferentiated thickness of gray. The newspaper remains on the front walk curled into its rubber-banded plastic bag. Newly painted, the siding is somber, lifted directly from the palette of rain. The coffee pot ticks as it cools. The rain sounds like an industrial fan as it drenches the roof. Leaves drip, droop, drop. Autumn.

post post…

wordhash ~ postcard ~ © j.i. kleinberg

One cupboard in my studio is crammed with boxes of postcards. I love postcards, and back in the 20th century, long before computers would do everything and a couple of clicks would turn words into wordle, I designed a bunch of them and had them printed.

Abandoning my earlier efforts with ransom-note-style words clipped from magazines, I moved into the (then, to me) fantastically high-tech world of dry-transfer lettering. Writing is (almost) always done one letter at a time. But this work gave new meaning to the process, searching for the right font and the right letter from scores of Letraset sheets (damn! all the k’s are gone), carefully rubbing each letter onto blue-grid paper, hoping the letter wouldn’t crack or deform the paper or lift off part of another word…

The resulting postcards, printed on creamy paper, sold here and there, and got posted to family, friends and mail-art correspondents around the world. But a thousand is a lot of postcards and there are still some left in the cupboard, waiting to find a loving home, a stamp, a place on a bulletin board…

an ache of words…

messy desk (not mine!)I sit down to write first thing each morning, often before dawn. Fresh, I tell myself, unsullied by news or e-mail. Only what’s in my head, what can get from there to my fingers.

But what spills off the top of the messy desk of my mind is this random bunch of words: every which way, everlasting, formula, lavage, Montpelier, enema, dramaturge, caravansary, weep. Are these words from dreams I can’t remember? Some of them I’ve never said aloud or used in a sentence.

On the sea of words in my brain, these are drifting on the surface this morning. Floaters. Trying to write themselves. Looking for a story.
messy desk photo


fogYesterday, they were out there, the two of them in their 80s, hunched over the plants that line the south side of their house. His plaid wool shirt a little too big now. Her scarf tied snug under her chin.

They pluck the last of the tomatoes, some still green, some wanly reddish, a few fully ripe, and when the plants are bare of fruit, he shovels them up, tosses them in the wheelbarrow, wheels them off somewhere. And she, bending deep from the waist, scoops soil back into the holes, digging and patting with her wrinkled fingers, repairing the bed for next year’s planting.

Today they’re gone, their house is gone, the trees, the grass, the carefully tended beds, the street between us, gone, in thick, enveloping fog.

seeing morning…

The perfect watercolor wash, pastel dawn spreads across the sketchpad of morning, boundaries impossible to define: does the blue end here or here? the apricot begin here or here? Silhouettes of trees shiver a bit, dampened by the night’s fog, and hold their breath. A wedge of moon hovers above yet-silent dawnscape, the birds too waiting to warm.

A silent silhouette, I sip coffee, watch, hold my shivering hands over this small campfire of words.

A Bowl of Words…fragment

“What ever happened to Brian?”
“Richie’s friend Brian?”
“Oh Mom, you must remember. Remember he used to race sailboats? In the summers, during college, he sort of hitchhiked around the world, crewing on sailing yachts. Then in the summer of his junior year, Brian and a friend and the friend’s sister were sailing off of Hawaii and the boat just vanished. Remember?”
“Oh, yes, now it’s sort of coming back.”
“After the search was called off, his parents wouldn’t give up. They took a second mortgage on their house and kept looking. They continued to believe the boat was blown up in some kind of weapons test. They tried to get satellite photos, but the feds weren’t very helpful. Brian was such a great sailor and a really strong swimmer, and there was no weather of any consequence the day they disappeared. It was very suspicious, but ultimately, it’s been what, 20-some years now, and Brian and his friends and the boat are still gone without a trace.”
“Those poor parents.”
“You and Dad weren’t really friends with them, were you? How come? Richie and Brian were such good friends.”
“I don’t really remember. There was something between Mason and Brian’s father, I think. Some male line-in-the-sand kind of thing. Maybe your dad will remember.”
“Didn’t I hear that Brian’s father died a year or two ago?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, honey.”
“I know Rich said Brian’s parents wouldn’t both leave the house at the same time for about ten years, in case someone called with news, or Brian walked through the door one day.”
“God. What an awful story.”

drawing inspiration…

DAK and Twombley

In the last years of her life, her sensibilities diminished, Dorothy continued to draw, occasionally and, with her impaired vision, awkwardly. She drew with thick pencils, crayons or black Sharpies on blank sheets of fine paper, or on the back of used sheets, or on top of other drawings, or sometimes, like a child, in the pages of her art books.

A large book of drawings and paintings by Cy Twombly often sat open on her table and became a veritable sketchpad, Twombly’s scratchings and scrawlings and loopings inspiring her own. Maybe she even believed they were hers. It’s only where her crayon or pen strays outside the printed painting, or a wash of watercolor has left the book page slightly deformed, that these emendations become apparent.

She also spent hours of every day sorting things, a small pile of drawings, both old and new, providing her with endless possibility. She turned from one to the next, studying the runes of each image, sometimes lingering, or stalling, or falling asleep. She eagerly showed the drawings to visitors, turning four or five sheets, then replacing them on the pile and starting again. With painful and poignant simplicity, she seemed content in these modest pursuits, her recollections shortened to the moment, each image a discovery: fresh, surprising, delightful.

morning light…

Morning wears a soft and sloppy gray wool sweater, fabric buckled from many washings.
Where it’s worn thin, between frayed threads, a tantalizing bit of pink teases the day.

it’s Jerry Davis’s birthday…

More things I didn’t know I was missing…

the file cabinet…

tan file cabinetThe office-surplus delivery truck had backed into the driveway with a series of loud beeps, the driver emerging to lower the file cabinet on the tail gate and wheel it to the door, where she was waiting. A tattoo swirled above the collar of his denim shirt up toward his ear and another was just visible on his left arm, below his rolled-up sleeve.

She led him through the hall and the dining room to her office, where she’d cleared a space amidst cardboard boxes filled with file folders. After he’d shoved the cabinet against the wall and she’d signed the delivery manifest and watched the truck pull away, she returned to the office with a damp rag and wiped the top, sides and four drawer-fronts.

Second-hand but without dents or scratches, the file cabinet was the color of chocolate milk. Starting at the bottom, she opened each drawer. The heavy drawers pulled open easily and snapped shut with a satisfying thunk. In each one, a few dark green bits of paper — chips of hanging folders — had collected in the back corners. She picked them out, then wiped the inside of each drawer.

She knew the cleaning was obsessive, but, she told herself, it was just part of claiming the thing as her own.

Reaching beneath the drawers, she wiped the undersides. The cloth snagged on the bottom of the third drawer, so she kneeled on the rug and bent over to examine the drawer more carefully.

A folded square of white paper had been taped to the bottom of the drawer, the tape along three edges still stuck, but the fourth curled slightly to catch the rag. She looked at the paper for a long time before beginning to peel away the tape…

file cabinet photo

Things I didn’t know I was missing

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