chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: February 2012

imagined travels…

Finnair luggage tagThe flight was non-stop, Seattle to Los Angeles, but my suitcase took a different route, traveling to L.A. via Frankfurt. Delivered to my office days later, the bag was undisturbed, still secured with its tiny lock, silent about its journey. I sniffed it and studied it for clues, hoping it might reveal stories of this unplanned itinerary, but it remained mute and I could only imagine.

This was a different time. An innocent time, when an unaccompanied suitcase might twice cross a continent and an ocean, traverse nations and borders and find its way home, with its folded maps and photographs, its depleted bottles of shampoo and lotion, its souvenirs and dirty clothes.

I am grateful to have known that innocence, to have lived in a time before this time, when words and gestures, and suitcases, are so infused with suspicion.

the snows…

Snowy Owl Copyright © 2011, Alan D. WilsonYesterday, the snowy owls. At home, a few snowflakes fall into the partially sunny morning, then stop. We drive north, lunch in a nearly-empty Mexican restaurant. Just across the border, the snow begins in earnest, blowing hard at the car, sticking.

Just as quickly, it’s over, scraps of blue sky, raggedy clouds, storm moving across the wide Delta in dark columns. At Boundary Bay, wind, chaotic sky, but no rain or snow.

We see whitish lumps far out toward the water, but even with binoculars can’t quite distinguish them from bleached logs or plastic bags. Then, glancing down at the tumbled logs just below the trail, round white heads. Two. No, three. Perhaps 40 feet away, watching, unperturbed by the fans, the paparazzi, the dogs, the overflying bald eagles. The spotting scope brings them close. We watch. The doll-like swiveling of their heads, the slow and complicated closing of their eyes, which look like watching eyes even when they’re closed.

We walk on, our own eyes learning the language of owls, now seeing them there, and there, and there. Mostly they sit in the lee of logs, watch, sleep, preen, but some perch on snags and a couple fly on wide white wings, one gliding impossibly, on and on, not more than four inches off the ground. Magnificent.
photo copyright © 2011, Alan D. Wilson

February 26…

birth announcement by Dorothy KTheir Christmas card had pictured Dorothy’s bulging belly.

A couple of months later, this one — hand drawn, hand colored, my mother’s red hair, my dad’s strong chin, and, pink-blanketed, me.



bridge postcardsI used to collect postcards of bridges. It wasn’t an aggressive pursuit, more like opening a door. But over the course of some years, without reason or clear intent, perhaps a thousand of them found their way to me.

In my studio on Madison, in Seattle, I stapled some of them to a wall, the end of one bridge meeting the end of the next in a meandering line. When my parents came to visit me, my father gazed at the postcards for a long time and then said, ‘How long have you been interested in bridges?’ I told him they had fascinated me for years and he shook his head and said he’d always loved bridges and designing a bridge had been one of his earliest projects when he studied civil engineering. It was a connection — a bridge — we had never before discovered. Except for that time, the postcards have never had any purpose beyond fascination with the universal impulse to connect, to reach, to cross the impassable. The box of postcards still languishes in the closet, awaiting some inspiration, some undrawn conclusion.

There are other things that I have many of — books, earrings, maps, purple plates — but none that amount to a collection, none that I lust to own as a body of stuff. These things gather, but also leave, finding their way into other people’s lives. I borrow them; they live with me temporarily, on loan from the universe.

in the morning…

crack in wallIn her dream, a crack appeared in the wall below the window and water first seeped and then trickled and then ran through it into the room. This was anxiety: that she would be somehow defenseless against the oceanic forces of the world.

She recognized the dream, and its message, but in the morning, while her coffee was brewing, she made a careful inspection of each of the windows and walls and examined all the low spots in the ceiling to assure herself that there had been no intrusions of water, or wind, or chaos.

February morning…

Draped across the hilltops, a stuffed animal, fat and fluffy and gray, all roundness, no bones. And above the single cloud: blue. Wide, celebratory blue. And sun, finally, momentarily. Its unfamiliar glare off the house, its quick gloss on rain-scrubbed twigs, its promise of even wan heat on the skin calling us forth from our dens and caves and piles of down comforters.

Recipe for snow…

snow recipe, 1

snow recipe, 2Folded among the recipes in the back of the RECEIPTS box was this little note in my grandmother’s handwriting. My mother’s mother was a wonderful grandma, but a less-wonderful mother, and in those opening words, Take out Electric Mixer, I read a hint of her condescension toward my mother.

I remember Lux flakes, the box under the bathroom sink, the dry, pearly-white, soapy-smelling “tiny diamonds” that slipped and slid in your hand. I can almost hear the radio announcer’s booming introduction of Lux Radio Theatre, and the ads for Lux, a sort of banter between the actors and the announcer.

Teweles (too-lees) was a lifelong friend of my grandfather’s who, some years after my grandfather’s demise at age 52, became my grandmother’s second husband. Though there are photos of us together and I was nearly 4 when he died, I have almost no memory of him.

More lasting is Badger Brand note paper, which served well for a number of my childhood drawings. I like the homemade design, the letters hand-drawn, the squeeze on Milwaukee, the stretched phone number, with its prefix and four digits.

And at the end, that appended note, checking up, in a time — 1940s, I’m guessing — when a mother’s $15 check was extravagant, could buy something, and a daughter might not have been quite grateful enough.



RECEIPTS: my mother's recipe boxMy mother, who was a superb cook and always thin, kept her recipes in a wooden box with RECEIPTS painted on the front. It took me many years to disentangle the two words.

In my parents’ house, the box lived alongside cookbooks and a radio on a shelf above the kitchen table where Dorothy would frequently study recipes from a sprawl of books and cards.

I open the box. It is crammed full with perhaps 250 three-by-five cards, their top edges furred and nicked from handling and more ivory than white. A few printed dividers are jammed together in the very back — Beverages, Soups, Biscuits-Bread — and one handwritten — Candy. But otherwise the cards are packed together without logic or distinction, cocoa roll followed by eggplant followed by pizza followed by lemon pie.

Most are in Dorothy’s loose, untidy handwriting, in black or blue or green fountain pen, or ball point, or pencil. But a few are typed (some with more than one recipe on a card) and a number clipped from magazines or newspapers, no longer stuck where yellowed scotch tape is little more than a stain. Perhaps a quarter of them are written in my grandmother’s similar but neater hand. One is torn from what must have been a longer letter. Another is written in unfamiliar script on a full sheet of paper headed with the words, “Geese must be fat & froze.” On some, the handwriting becomes smaller and smaller to fit all the instructions on one card. A recipe for Gumbo Creole is carefully typed on a sheet of paper. At the bottom of the recipe is typed, Love. There’s a comma after the word, but no signature.

Some of the recipes credit a source — Carmie, Selma, Goldine, Shirley, Ruth, Evelyn, Sally, Bobbie E., Fran, Irma — names that roll over me like an echo. One says Mama, which must refer to my great-grandmother. Some have notes — delish!, (never fails), (Quick), not sweet enuf add more sugar!, rich, make double — and a few don’t even have titles; you’d have to imagine, or make, the recipe to figure it out. Penciled math calculates multiples or divisions of quantities.

But what I love is their scars: splashes and smudges, scratch-outs and amendments. Cup rings. Oil stains. Rips and wrinkles. Torn corners. Places where a favorite recipe has been tried and tweaked and adjusted again and again, missing ingredients or instructions added, bad ideas lined through. Cards on which the writing has blurred and run and faded, the card slid back into the box for another meal.

Nearly a century of kitchen intelligence noted, shared, preserved. I suppose they are receipts, after all.


I don’t remember history. Events are conflated into a bad movie, without acts, only action, and many characters and many scenes. There’s no chronology stitching things in order. Thomas Edison and Mary, Queen of Scots, waltz together across the slippery floor of my memory along with Benjamin Franklin and Anaïs Nin, George Clooney and Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud and RuPaul.

Tuscan memory…

Cinta SineseThe Cinta Sinese pigs at Spannocchia were charcoal gray, black really, with a white belt. They were separated by age and sex and shared a single destiny: the table. Prosciutto on the hoof, they wandered in the woods eating acorns and showed up twice daily for an unappealing-looking mash of watered grain.

Most of the pigs emerged eagerly as soon as the truck pulled up. The young men pounded on empty buckets to draw the dawdlers from the forest. But one group — the young girls, they said — was too busy with acorns and wouldn’t respond to any amount of pounding or calling, so the fresh-faced, muck-booted blond intern with the red cheeks went to fetch them. The oaks were about 50 yards away across a stretch of open meadow. He disappeared into the trees and moments later reappeared, striding back across the narrow hoof-worn path with a line of small pigs trotting eagerly behind him, snout to tail.

They kept their comical cuteness until they got to the pen, when they suddenly erupted into pigs — squealing and snorting, shoving and nipping at whatever bit of pig meat separated them from the trough. Then: slopping noisily, inhaling their meal, snouts wet nearly to the eyes, they gave me a new appreciation for the phrase eats like a pig.
pig photo

string theory…

crafts by the yardUnbidden, the words popular and population came into my head, then, from nowhere, Pop-it beads — the pearly colors, the satisfying pop when they snapped together (or apart), the way a round bead felt in my mouth. How, even knowing that it was not real jewelry, these strings of beads imparted a kind of glamor, a kind of grownup-ness, and introduced us to a grade-school marketplace of admiration and trade.

Then I remembered those paper chains folded from gum wrappers and how I’d slip the yellow wrappers off my father’s stash of Juicy Fruit gum, buy and chew gum just for the colored wrappers and make yard after useless yard of paper chain.

Then I thought of lanyards, plaited with that flat, plasticized cord, by the mile, at camp. I loved the colors, the way a pattern would emerge and wind around the lanyard, the twists and heft of ever-more-complicated plaits. I still have a couple of keychains from those days, sturdy box-stitched rectangles, tough and shiny as ever.

…and that little red wood spool with the nails in the top — how I’d slip the loops over one another and be fascinated at the skinny wool sausage that fed endlessly from the other end.

…and the curtain I made with thousands of beads I’d rolled from long, narrow triangles of magazine paper.

No wonder I had that ah-ha moment when I read the description of the Design department at Berkeley — fiber arts, weaving. With each of these obsessive, repetitive, colorful crafts, I had been searching for ‘my’ medium through much of my childhood…

P.S.: My friend Laura asks if I have read The Lanyard by Billy Collins, which I have not, until now, and which describes the experience so acutely, and which can be found here.


my Valentine…

poetically speaking…

2012-02-13 Bellingham Herald
It’s been a poetic couple of days. First, a reading for Whatcom WRITES! from the new publication, Enemies (including my poem, NMEs Everywhere). Then, SpeakEasy – Love Uncensored, a remarkable demonstration of courage and love as nearly 20 couples read love poetry (their own and/or by others) in front of an audience of about 80 people. (We read our Valentine’s Day poems generated from our 2011 Hugo House workshop with Patricia Smith). And today, more poetry, more love, thanks to Dean Kahn and The Bellingham Herald.

speaking of love…

February hope…

snowdropThe garden still wears its northwest winter shroud — dull gray twigs, bare soil. But here and there, spring fattens under the occasional sun, the hectic rains. This is not a lavish seen-from-afar display, but the small reward of close inspection: a spreading pad of purple hellebore leaves, the first snowdrops, clumps of daffodil greens, tight curls of tulip tops. And on the dry stalks of plum, apple, dogwood, hydrangea, crabapple, minuscule new growth elbowing out to sniff the air.


object lesson…

coin purseYears ago, when I helped my mother move from her house to assisted living, and later, after she was gone, I sifted through each of her possessions. She had good taste, chose thoughtfully and cared well for all she owned.

I read objects as stories, parsed memories from a scarf, a sweater, a pair of gloves, from a hint of fragrance captured in a purse long-closed, a ticket stub tucked into a coin pocket.

As I touched the things that she had touched, examined the things that she had treasured, I could feel her vulnerability in the world, her desire to be desirable. Holding, for a moment, these fragile bits of her history, I discovered that I could forgive her.