chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: November 2011

night sounds…

The trains are busy at night. Lying in bed, I can feel their vibrating rumble, their night poetry, even all these blocks away. Their warning horns blow a solo into the darkness, some hoarse and rude, heavy-handed, some lyrical. One, I discover, is Q, the Morse code dah dah dit dah audible from one end of the bay to the other. Q, it says, I’m the Q train. Coal train, quatrain, Coltrane, Q train…

trying to write…

advent calendar by Ali EdwardsThis daily bit of writing is a sort of advent calendar. Nothing to do with Christmas, but a kind of reveal overlaid on the seamless panorama of my life and imagination. Each day, I open the little window, the buttoned pouch, the jewel box, to discover, to describe, the memories, secrets, images and stories that lie within.

night dive…

Ocean Day 2011 - bat ray…dropping over the side of the boat on a rainy summer night, clutching my flashlight, clutching the weighted line, descending through the inky cold, and there in the light’s first sweep discovering, perhaps 8 or 10 feet below, a bat ray, in slow and stately flight, with three baby rays clinging to her wide winged back.
photo: 560 students celebrate Ocean Day 2011

the color line…

detail ~ the force that through the green fuse drives the flower ~ j.i. kleinberg 1968Sometime after I had left home, my mother discovered a minimalist aesthetic within herself. She stripped down the large space that was the living-dining room and the long hall that led to the front door, removing anything with color — upholstery, pillows, paintings and other objects — and replacing everything with tones of white, principally featuring some very abstract canvas constructions of her own.

If my father brought up a beautiful polished agate from his workshop and set it on the coffee table, Dorothy would move it to another room; if I brought home a sample of my weaving and draped it across the back of the sofa for viewing, without a word she would move it to my bed.

The all-white aesthetic was imposed upon only these ‘public’ areas of the house; the kitchen and our bedrooms and especially Dorothy’s studio were still heaped with stuff and splashed with color. But it meant that visitors were embraced by a kind of iciness from the moment they stepped in the front door. Granted, there was something calming about the monochromatic lightness. But there was also something obsessive and disagreeable about it, as if we ourselves were too colorful to merit attention. As if color itself could wound us mortally.

Over time, as color found its way back into her artwork, Dorothy eased her enforcement and gradually the house lost its art-gallery-on-opening-night feeling and softened back into a place to live.

I’m older now than Dorothy was then and though I keep a watchful eye for symptoms of minimalism in myself, my life continues to be a feast of color, texture and stuff.


the back steps in happier timesDuring the time my mother was away, when I was about 4 (before the photo), a woman named Henny came to the house to take care of me while my father was at work. She had short, pale hair and seemed very old. I don’t recall how we spent our days. We didn’t have a television, so probably there was coloring and books and playing outside, whatever that might entail.

Our house was built on a slope, the front door at street level, the back of the house perched above a full basement. A door from the living room led to a narrow deck and a flight of stairs down to the patio. One day I fell down the steps, the sharp wood knocking at every part of me all the way to the bottom.

I wasn’t seriously hurt, but when my father came home from work that evening, I was waiting eagerly to tell him about my fall. He laughed. This was not the response I expected or wanted, or, even long after, understood.

It’s one of the things I would ask him about if I had another chance.


cooked turkeyMy mother was a good cook. She loved recipes, which she read like salacious novels, but understood ingredients and was creative with them to positive effect.

A couple of times a year, Thanksgiving or otherwise, she would cook a turkey, which, except for the one that memorably fell on the kitchen floor on the way to the table, would be handsome as well as delicious: crisp and golden on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside, just the way a cooked turkey should be.

She packed the bird with her homemade stuffing, which was later mounded into a bowl as part of the feast, but it was her stuffing balls that incited riots. Finding, always, as if by accident, that she had made more than the turkey would hold, she would shape this ‘extra’ stuffing into tennis-ball-size globes, which she then placed in the pan beneath the turkey in its rack. There, for three or four or five hours, they would be extravagantly marinated in turkey drippings until they achieved a dark, chewy crust.

These little pucks of fat-drenched stuffing would vanish as fast as they were served — delectable, dangerous, divine.

Gobble gobble, indeed!
turkey photo

Elsie’s gloves…

Elsie's glovesElsie was born in 1886 into a family of top hats and tails, gowns and gloves, fans and frills. She wore gorgeous clothes, married twice, traveled widely and lived long enough to be the only grandparent I remember.

From a drawer, I lift out her gloves, softest kid, ivory and fawn and black and near-black chocolate, beaded or embroidered or ruched or seamed or plain.

I pull on a long glove, an opera glove known as a mousquetaire. It clings, black and weightless, above my elbow, the fingers slender and snug. At the wrist, a narrow three-button opening offers a seductive glimpse of pale skin, pulse.

I turn my hand this way and that, then shake myself back to jeans and sweats, pull off the glove, which is too small anyway, and fold it away, a bit of Elsie’s softness still palpable in the fading scrapbook of my memory.


found poem by j.i. kleinbergNovember’s wind whips and flaps, billows and blows. Every anchored thing protests, slamming and popping on the verge of taking flight. Enormous trees bend at the hips. Cartons and water jugs turn into kites, newspapers into birds.

found poem by j.i. kleinberg

I make lists. Always have.

George Catlin list, Amusements…Most are on the computer, but last night, when I was lying awake in the middle of the night, I was shuffling my work list in my head, trying to figure out who most needed the attention, where I could make some headway. I could see the names and moved them visually, as if they were refrigerator magnets. If I figured it out, I don’t recall; the players resumed their places and the list looks the same this morning as it did when I turned off the light last night.

My schedule is a list,
work projects a list.
Publication deadlines,
garden projects,
house projects,
movies, books,
dinner party guests,
travel destinations
(aurora borealis; eclipse; Outback; Greek isles; British Isles; Yellowstone in winter; Bali; Hawaii; migrations: cranes, caribou; New Zealand; train Canada / drive British Columbia; Spain; Newfoundland, Nova Scotia).
Not surprisingly, I maintain the family tree — really just an elaborate list.

(I used to work with a list maker. On lined yellow pads, in pencil, he would write, and rewrite, and rewrite, his dated, numbered lists in small, neat script. He kept the lists private and old ones went into a folder in a file drawer and, much later, into storage. He was an astute businessperson and in spite of his listmaking, or perhaps because of it, managed to make millions.)

Not sentimental about my lists,
I don’t keep them,
don’t copy them over by hand
unless, like shopping lists,
the old one is illegible
with crossings-out,
arrows, circled words,
and sub-lists.
In my writing,
I often string together
series of things,
with commas or ands,
small lists
to abbreviate the story:
a pointing flashlight to say
look here, now here, and here.
Many of my poems contain lists.
But (mostly) not ends in themselves,
the lists herd and corral the clutter
and let my imagination range free.

This is not a poem.
George Catlin list, Amusements

Among the leaves…

leaves and friend
My jacket should be emblazoned with a warning: I stop for leaves. The day is clear, the sun turning the last of the red and orange trees into stained glass. I bend to pick up shards of maple and oak, turn them in my fingers, let them sink back to the littered ground.

Ahead of the wind, the day’s ambitious raking demarcates yards. But enormous drifts of color pool through the neighborhood. In one, perhaps 30 feet from the nearest house, a tiny pumpkin shines in its failed camouflage.

From the dozens of leaves I’ve picked up and dropped, I keep two huge, glossy maples, carry them with me and set them, curious centerpieces far from trees, on the metal table anchored to the sidewalk outside the museum.

—–Today is the one-year anniversary of the beginning of chocolate is a verb, and the 300th post. If you are a subscriber, thank you. If you’re not, this would be an excellent time to subscribe!


Prairie Fire crabappleAfter the shakedown — high wind, torrential rain — the maple trees on the back slope are mostly bare and the squirrel highway is back in view. For half the year, there’s just a shimmy and bounce as they zip along the branches from tree to tree. But now, in the frosty morning sunshine, the squirrels dash and dart, pause to flick their tails and bark their warning, then scramble and soar into the dense cover of the cedar or Doug fir.

A moment later, a squirrel appears on the fence and makes a quick jump to the pecan tree and then the crabapple. There, in a wintry ruff of fur and in the company of fluffed-up chickadees and juncos, it sits on its haunches and consumes the bitter, hard, cranberry-sized fruits that decorate the tree for the season.


eucalyptus seedpodsThere was one house on our block that was perpetually broken. Something had probably been done wrong in the construction, but the house looked normal and so one family after another moved in and undertook major repairs until they couldn’t stand it any longer and moved out.

The house, at one point, began to slip down the hill, foundation and all. Or the basement flooded. Or the driveway split. The small brick wall that contained the front yard one day left its job and fell over onto the sidewalk. Equipment would arrive, holes would appear — in the lawn or the roof or the foundation — and hammering was a constant. Hoses sprang from the house’s orifices and draped across the yard into the street to drain its watery innards.

But life went on, various families of three or four children tossing their bicycles and roller skates and skateboards and surfboards into the open garage where there was never enough space for a car. The eucalyptus trees grew tall and dropped their leaves and seedpods and messy flakes of bark around the back door. Dogs came and went.

Maybe the house should have been torn down, excised like a bad tooth. But it was attractive and comfortable, except for its aches and pains, and it always seemed that the next little repair would fix it once and for all.

I’ve known cars like that. And people.

eucalyptus photo by Barbara Aldiss on flickr

a riff on leaves…

November leavesClouds clotted in the east, scraps of clear sky above, rain gathering itself for another drenching. In the cool air, the wan November sun does its best to warm my back as I pick up leaves and more leaves, as if this leaf thing, like the dishes thing, could be done, could be counted as an accomplishment. The yard is freckled, then blanketed with leaves, mushrooms sprouting, cyclamen sending out their curled tendrils.

I read the leaves, like runes, their color and curl, their angle and order, their drift from the source. Some saturated and already well into decay, others leathery, with fat rain drops standing on their tanned skin. Tiptoeing between the shrubs, kneeling to reach across the top of a mounded cedar, I pick the leaves from the feathery green fronds of a twisted cypress, drop them into a bucket, reach and drop, over and over.

Silly, I tell myself, glancing over my shoulder at the still-leafy maples in the next block. The trees aren’t finished, and neither are the dishes, but I persist, today as yesterday, this year as last, in this autumn dance, this moist meditation.

across the street…

newspaper deliveredI’ve stepped outside to fetch the newspaper in the first gray light of chilly pre-dawn. Across the street, a runner and a dog. The dog is very small, maybe a chihuahua, with perky ears and long white hair and legs that move so fast they’re a blur. The person, slender and fit and moving at a good clip, is dressed in a dark jogging suit and a white knit cap.

In this light, it’s impossible to tell from appearance or footfall or gait whether it is a woman or a man. Either way, the runner makes a quite-audible plastic swishing/squishing sound, as if, under the jogging suit, s/he is swaddled in dry cleaner bags.

I pick up the paper and slip quietly back inside.
photo by =Tom= on flickr


hands on the wheelShe was not without her moods, without her moments of darkness. But yesterday he had watched it come over her like the moon’s shadow racing across the earth before the eclipse. Suddenly she turned angular, electric with some internal force field that narrowed her eyes and caused things to spill from her hands.

He should have let her leave right then, but she didn’t leave, and he watched her turn, hoped she might turn all the way through it, whatever it was, and come all the way round to equilibrium, to him, without bruising or breaks. He reached toward her, but his gentlest touch, his words, his good cheer scraped at her like a rasp. These wounds bled into her forced smile, her turned-away eyes, her clenched fists.

For an hour or two she tied on the half-mask that allowed her to get through dinner, get to class, punch at the spinning mound of clay on the wheel. He tried not to watch her, not to splash her with his own clumsy efforts, to stay out of her way.

But what he wanted was to lift her up, their hands slimy with clay, and draw her in against his chest, still, warm, quiet, until the storm passed.

November dance

Bellingham Repertory DanceIn the darkened room, as the dancers reached and glided and leaped through columns of light in the moves of their silent dance, the air whispered, shushed, erupted with the sound of hail pounding the metal roof.

Two more performances. Hail or no hail, go see them. Bellingham Repertory Dance.
BRD photo from the Cascadia Weekly

Veterans Day

LRK - Desert Center - 1942

LRK ~ Desert Center, California ~ June 1942 ~ 161st Signal Photo Co.

My father (1910-1997) served in the U.S. Army from January 1942 through January 1946. As a Captain at Desert Center, California, first under General George S. Patton, Jr., then under General Alvan C. Gillem, Jr., he was a test officer on the armored force board and desert warfare board.

As Major, Armor, in the U.S. Army XIII Corps under General Gillem, he served as operations and training staff officer and assistant G-3 in a Corps headquarters. In 180 days, beginning in Hoensbroek, Holland, in November 1944, the XIII Corps, defending the flank of the Ninth Army, pierced the Siegfried Line, reaching the Elbe River in April, 1945, a push of more than 300 miles.

He was awarded the Bronze Star medal for “distinguishing himself by meritorious service in connection with military operations against the enemy in Holland and Germany from 8 November 1944 to 7 May 1945.”

For the many remaining decades of his life, he maintained contact with a number of his Army buddies and spoke warmly and with good humor of the shenanigans and personalities of those times. But, even under pointed questioning, he refused to speak of any other aspect of his military service.


their second ChristmasTheir first Christmas together was spent on their honeymoon and by the second, they were ready to sign the card Red & Les & 7/9. (The 7/9 is me.) The hand-colored card is drawn in my mom’s characteristic line, her red hair showing in the candle flame, the angles and postures capturing something distinctive about each of them.

Though unimaginable in my father’s home, Christmas was a lively feature of Dorothy’s secular Jewish upbringing. If my rabbi’s-son father tried to dissuade her from sending Christmas cards, there’s scant evidence of his efforts — or his success.

the beckoning…

whistleEach evening, sometime between 4:30 and 5, the beckoning would start. Usually it was Mrs. Jennewick, who would take three steps out to the carport and call, “Carrr-leee.” Two notes, low-high — a hog call — and you never heard the first syllable unless you were within a few feet of Mrs. J’s aproned torso.

Larry’s mom wore a silver whistle on a piece of string around her neck and would give it a long blast from wherever she happened to be — the kitchen, the backyard, the garage. Larry’s aunt claimed that she was hard of hearing because of the time that Larry’s mom blew the whistle when they were talking on the phone.

My mother had a single call-to-attention that she used for all purposes — getting us to come to wherever she was in the house, saying hello to a neighbor who was walking by, or retrieving me from the neighing bliss of galloping down the street on my invisible horse. Her strident, high-low “hoo-hoo” was an irresistible lure to teasers and mimics. There were kids at school who didn’t know my name, but called me Hoo-Hoo, and one time, for reasons I don’t recall, a teacher came up to me in the hall and said, “You’re Hoo-Hoo, aren’t you?”

I never had any special affection for Carly, but she came in for the same teasing and we were allied in our humiliation — a call and response of “Carrr-leee” and “Hoo-Hoo” threading back and forth across the center aisle of the lumbering yellow school bus.


geodeLast night I was thinking about prayer. I don’t pray. It’s not a habit I ever acquired or a practice that ever felt absent from my life. I understand the motions, know how to bow my head, become still. I feel the joyful uplift of spirit in the gospel choir, the tears inside the words of the Kaddish.

But in my mind, prayer is about asking, and it is the asking that turns me away from prayer — the idea that one must ask of, or ask for.

So last night I wondered what else prayer might be and very quickly I found opening. Then diving, turning and lifting. I felt and saw the motion in these words. Felt and saw my hands, my heart, moving in these ways. Saw that I could learn, would like to learn, to be more open, to dive more deeply, to turn more fully and lift more generously, with greater strength.

Prayer, I saw, might simply be a name for a way of engaging with the world.