chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: March 2012

sky play…

crow nutYesterday afternoon, in between storms, scraps of blue showing through slashes in the clouds, I decided to run some errands. In my car, I got no farther than the driveway before my attention was drawn to a trio of crows overhead. They were playing — chasing, diving, tumbling and turning — without sound or direction.

When something fell from the grasp of one of the birds, I saw that there was a toy involved in the play: a peanut, I think. It dropped perhaps a foot before the crow grabbed it out of the air, banked and swooped away, the other two in pursuit.

Over the course of about five minutes, as I craned my neck to watch them stitch and flap their way across the sky, the crow in possession passed that peanut from claw to beak to claw again, the switch noticeable only in the slight redrawing of his silhouette against the cloud-strewn sky.
nutty crow

found poem…

measuring spring…

29 March 2012 - plum blossomsYou must get tired of hearing about the plums, she said. There was no reply. I could, instead, tell you about how green knots split into tight fists of velvet-wallpaper red on the first rhododendron. Or describe the sturdy rust-washed stalks of the peonies, now half a foot tall. Over here, the daffodils, bent and discouraged by the wind, have nonetheless begun to lift their cheery faces. And the daphne, a sensitive and fussy plant, I was told, is thriving, glossy and covered with modest pale green flowers that should smell like the front door of heaven, but have absolutely no scent at all.

But it’s the plums that greet me when I lift the blinds each morning; they are the yardstick by which I measure the retreat of winter, the advance of spring. The picture that recalls the juicy purple fruit of summer. Will the blossoms, now fading and shriveling, hold on through another night and day of gusts and rain and charcoal clouds, bees dozing wherever it is that bees doze? Or will I have to buzz around the blooms myself to nudge and urge and pollinate?

White petals freckle the ground between green spikes of iris. I stoop beneath low-slung branches and whisper to the plums, hang on, hang on.


Lise MeitnermeitneriumI’m very pleased to report that my poem, Element 109, has been selected for inclusion in Vol. 1, Issue 7, of Anatomy & Etymology, an online literary journal that features works of poetry that blur the lines separating the arts and science.

The story in the poem is true.

Click to read Element 109 by J.I. Kleinberg. Read it out loud.

—–image credits
meitnerium on periodic table
download the periodic table of elements in PDF (April 2010 version)
Lise Meitner photo

Why do I read the newspaper?

candle flameMy father used to say that people didn’t change, that one generation was made of the same stuff as the last, and the next. But when I suck in the daily dose of anger and greed and violence and intolerance, it’s hard for me to believe that my father would have recognized these people or their behavior. I know there are people out there doing good, making art, inspiring laughter, but their efforts seem the dimmest candle flame against the engulfing darkness of despair.

trying to write…

DAK etch and stitchThis morning’s post seems like it won’t happen. It won’t settle, like I’m following a butterfly through a forest. My thoughts keeps changing direction, the phone rings, an urgent work matter has to be handled, the neighbors show up at the door with their dogs to say hello…

It was this small piece of my mother’s artwork that started it. I don’t know whether Dorothy considered this a sketch or a finished piece (she wouldn’t have minded the splotch). It was never signed or framed, but she kept it, and although I got rid of a lot of her work, I kept it, too.

The paper, soft with a slight tooth, is 7 1/4″ x 10 5/8″ and the image began as an etching — an irregular patchwork substrate of very fine black lines and cross-hatching. She worked over that with ink, accentuating the shapes suggested by the etched lines, and then ‘drew’ on top of the inked image with her sewing machine, stitching through the paper and a backing sheet of fine white linen.
DAK etch and stitch back(Bottom photo shows reverse side.)

The result is abstract, whimsical, filled with almost-recognizable figures and shapes — an image that is her own, but certainly reminiscent of Klee, Kandinsky, Miró, even Picasso.

Dorothy took art classes, mostly painting, for many years, and the influences of art history and her instructors are readily visible in her work. I haven’t thought of Howard Warshaw for decades, but as I write, his name suddenly pops into my head. He was one of Dorothy’s teachers, a man whose work she admired and whose approval she craved.

I’m not sure if I ever actually met him, but she spoke of him so often that he felt known, like a cousin, or a neighbor, or a priest. This was when I was quite young, perhaps under 10, and I wasn’t attuned to my father’s reaction to the omnipresent Howard. But I do remember that years later Dorothy went into therapy and her (male) therapist was so often spoken of and quoted, was so often an invisible and uninvited guest at the table, that it nearly undermined the stability of my parents’ marriage.

While I’ve long recognized my mother’s hunger for male approval and protection, I had never seen this parallel before.

This is not where I intended to go when I began writing… Sometimes we just have to follow along as the lesson writes itself, stitches itself on the dense fabric of memory and understanding.

my father’s hands…

LRK ~ Desert Center ~ 1942In the yet-dark dawn, I rub my hands to warm them at the glowing hearth of the computer screen. Feeling my hands in my hands, I think of my father’s hands, solid and square, like the rest of him.

His ring finger was shorter than the others, the knuckle not aligned with its neighbors, but bending from deeper on the back of his hand. As a child, I would press that errant knuckle and he would explain, again, that his mother had forbidden him to play football — saving his hands for the violin, perhaps. But he played anyway, and one day he caught a hard throw directly on the end of that finger, driving it deep into his hand. Of course he couldn’t tell his mother.

I never understood how he could conceal it — certainly it must have been painful and swollen — but by the time the damage was revealed, the knuckle was out of place for good and the finger forever shortened. It worked alongside the others and if it hurt or bothered him, he never mentioned it, his hands hard-working and warm. He never was much of a complainer.

But as he grew older, he would sometimes come to the dinner table and prop his forearms on its edge, his hands held out like mitts, immobilized with arthritis. Unable to lift the fork and knife in front of him, he would be angry, not at the pain, but at the betrayal of these, his most reliable tools.

After a few days, the pain would subside and he could resume the things that brought pleasure and order to his life — carving, writing, turning the pages of a book, even shaving.

Sometimes I would notice him, in a quiet moment, rubbing his hands together, one massaging the other, warming them, waking them, readying them, and himself, for the work he was about to begin.

As I do, here, in the yet-dark dawn.

Saturday begins…

Luminous morning…sparkle of frost, glowing slashes of contrails are filled with dawn’s brilliance even before the sun has crept above the hilltops.

found poem…

morning light…

pencil shadowRaise the blinds and
morning pours in low,
snagging itself
on pools of dust,
on spider silk,
smudges, smears,
winter windows,
flecks of food
— spray of salt, an oat —
a boot print on
the glossy floor.
Welcome, spring.
Welcome spring

wedding dress…

plum bridethrough howling dark
and gnashing gale
the plum tree
— bride —
clings to her skirts

in morning’s light
her veil tossed
her slippers slopped
with mud and weeds
she twirls her gown
to lure her flighty
— the bees.


on the cusp of daffodils…

on the cusp of daffodilsThis morning, my mind is a gray blank, reflecting the sky. But outside, the birds dash and dart, swoop in and out of the crabapple tree in chittering pairs — chickadees, juncos, bushtits. Fat robins forage in the sodden beds. A woodpecker, perhaps a block away, offers urgent bursts of percussion. A deep hoof print, a torn tulip leaf, a bulb yanked from the ground, attest to the night’s visitors.

There is an eagerness, a readiness, but also a holding — the purple crocus clenched tight against the assault of rain — as if the plums, the daffodils, the apples, the bees, have slowed to await the luscious warmth of a clear, dry day.

Or maybe that’s just me…


talk…in a roadside restaurant, a long time ago…

“One lie is as good as another.”

“They’re not worried about us little guys.”

“My mother said what about locking the doors and windows.”

talk“Somebody stole the [unclear].”

“He has alarm switches in every room and flips them on and off as he goes from one room to another. He doesn’t feel safe on the toilet without the alarm system on.”

“Whose crime is that?”

the suggestion box…

suggestion boxShe turned the key and flicked open the ridiculous padlock, raised the lid. As if someone might want to steal the contents. As if it said Money on the outside. She leaned over to peer inside. She always did this now, after the one time with the frog. But there was little to see. A couple of pieces of paper, a paper clip, a — what was that? — piece of gum? She reached into the box, gathered the meager contents, glanced in again, then lowered the lid and locked it up.

It had been part of the employee-empowerment mandate and nearly all that was left to show of the company’s lavish investment in the Consultant. Oh at first it had been great: the box stuffed with suggestions, some pure fantasy, of course, but some really practical, sensible, simple. She was emptying the box every other day back then. Smoothing out the folded papers, slipping them into plastic sleeves in the special, consultant-stocked three-ring binder that sat on the credenza in the CEO’s office.

But it didn’t take long for people to realize that Management was averse to suggestions, incapable of change. The consultant was window dressing, the expense resented as salaries stagnated and layoffs loomed. Then the box became a joke, and she, somehow, the messenger, caught between employees and executive in this distasteful ritual.

She trashed the gum, washed her hands and carried the rest to her desk. Three little notes. It had become a bit of a game, deciding which one to open first, trying to figure out which of the nearly 200 employees had deposited the note in the box on the wall outside the lunchroom door. She unfolded one: “Need brighter light over the back door. Can’t see the keypad.” That was a good idea, easy enough. She’d take care of it.

The second one was piece of copier paper that had been folded and re-folded until it was a little square about an inch on a side. It felt like a clenched jaw, seemed to vibrate with frustration. She smoothed it flat. Printed in pencil, in the middle of the sheet, were the words, “Im pregnent.” She set the note aside. She’d have to think about it, about who might have written it, whether she could help.

The third note was a piece of ivory letterhead folded twice. She unfolded it. It was the personal stationery of the executive VP, whose office was in the other facility. She saw him rarely, but they had chatted a few times in the lunchroom. She recognized his signature at the bottom. It was a letter — typed, formal, addressed to her. “Dear Ms. _____,” it began, “This is a bit awkward and I hope you will not take offense at my roundabout approach. But I know you carry the suggestion box key on your key ring and I know you will be the one to open this note. As you may have heard, I will be leaving the company soon. I’ve accepted a position with another firm and will start there after a short vacation. I am writing this note, after much deliberation, to tell you that in the seven years I have worked here, you have been the one bright light of my employment. I wonder whether, once we are no longer co-workers, you would consider going out to dinner with me?”

She touched her mouth, as if to keep the surprise, the pleasure, the smile, from leaping out. Bright light, she thought, noticing the parallel.


coffee beansI couldn’t name all the aromas I love — coffee beans, orange peel, orange blossoms, bacon or onions or garlic cooking, gardenias, the list goes on — smells that offer a consistent and generalized pleasure. But there other scents that are inextricably stitched to times and places and people with dazzling precision. My grandmother’s talcum powder. A friend’s shampoo that I tried for years to find or replicate. The combination of wood and oil in my father’s workshop, turpentine and oil paint and paper in my mother’s studio.

I remember the smell of the next door neighbors’ house. It was not a food smell, not easily identifiable, but perhaps the cumulative odor of cooking and cleaning and wet wood and bodies. It was intense, slightly acrid and so distinct that the few times I’ve smelled it since, I’ve been transported immediately back to their kitchen. I wonder if, wherever they are now, their house still smells like that?
coffee beans

morning illuminations…

red LEDHere at my desk, a haiku of LEDs — small red, blue and green lights visible within arm’s reach in the darkness: here! here! they reply to the morning roll call.

Shower, heater and coffee begin to unwind the threads of night, which I would call unrestful, but which spell-check advises was ungraceful, unfruitful, ungrateful, or perhaps untruthful.

never cats…

no catsThere were dogs. There was a parakeet, a rabbit, a hamster and a tiny turtle. There were fish, including Oscar the oscar, and the plecostomus, whose suctioning of the aquarium glass was endlessly fascinating to me. But never cats.

My mother’s face would wrinkle up at the word and she would repeat her childhood tale of the family cat and the refrigerator door — a story that was short on details but sufficiently traumatic to fuel a lifelong aversion. Or who knows, maybe she hated cats from the get-go and just used this as an excuse. My father had no part in this conversation and never expressed an opinion either way; if there were cats in his past, he wisely didn’t mention them, though he spoke affectionately of a dog and a horse that had been part of his family’s two-year sojourn on the farm in Unionville, Ohio. If there were cats living among our friends or relatives, they were kept well out of sight when we visited.

There were dog people and cat people and Dorothy made clear where we stood, offering little sympathy for those on the other side of the line, including, perhaps, her own parents. In this, as in most things, she was a harsh judge. Cats were another integer in her calculus of We versus They and she drummed out the cat people along with the cats.

I was a kid who loved all things soft and furry, but Dorothy made the rules and her hand was firm; we were not cat people and there would be no cats.
no cats


the increments of plums…

plum tree ~ 11 March 2012In my memory, the plum tree buds one day and blasts into bloom another. But no. These trees are wise to the moods of late winter, the frolics of wily spring.

When frost still coats the soil, the first sign of budding bulges from the twigs, hardly more than a fattening. Then these bumps separate from the wood, assume a roundness, tiny as mustard seeds.

Gradually, imperceptibly, over many weeks, they expand, and twigs freshen, the color of the tree taking on a pale green that plumps and lightens with each passing day.

Now, in the drenched and windblown not-yet-spring, green buds have cracked to show the white petals still knotted beneath, and two or three, their throats filled with rain, have spread their white skirts, released their delicate must, to invite the yet-slumbering bees.