chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: May 2012



snake skinThe snake was always in the same spot, in the back yard, in a little cleft of soil near the lawn between two mounds of grassy Armeria (thrift). We would surprise each other there — he sunning on the warm grass, I crawling along on my kneepads pulling weeds. We met there perhaps three times, he slipping away before I had a chance to study him carefully, a whisper of glossy striped darkness disappearing under the heather.

But yesterday, having forgotten about him again, I was surprised instead by a pale ghost-snake on the dark soil. A remnant. A gift. A neat trick if you can do it.

I glance at yesterday’s post… “slide through the inner turmoil” …and see the snake’s neat instruction: this is how it’s done.

found instructions…

Memorial Day…


come in…

finding Friday…


televisionThere was never more than one television in our house and the first one didn’t arrive until I was 12, long after most of my friends were spending their evenings with American Bandstand, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Ozzie and Harriet, Sea Hunt and the Ed Sullivan Show.

The television, black-and-white, rabbit-eared, was installed on a rolling cart in the corner of my bedroom — not that it ever rolled anywhere — and was strictly rationed: no TV on school nights; one hour a night on weekends. I don’t recall this as a privation; at 12, this was just one of many ways in which I felt myself strange and different.

I remember little about actually watching the television, but, oddly, I recall its smell — a kind of sweetness, almost like cookies baking.

When I was perhaps 15, my parents went out one night, leaving me alone. The TV was off and I was sitting on my bed reading when suddenly the screen shattered, spewing glass onto the floor. I was terrified, my first thought being that someone had shot a gun from the front of the house and the bullet had ripped straight up the long hallway into the television (a trajectory that was possible, no matter how unlikely). Once I determined there was no matching bullet hole in the front window, I had the presence of mind to unplug the thing, but no satisfactory explanation was ever found.

After I left home (when I was 17), the TV was rarely watched; my parents had better things to do. But decades later, they found themselves enjoying the occasional program, so they upgraded to color and a new, larger but still “portable” TV took up residence in my mother’s bedroom on an even larger rolling cart.

There they would sit together for an hour or two in the evening and watch public television — music or dance or history or science — one of them as likely as not dozing off for part of the program. It was on one of those evenings, both of them in their 80s, Dorothy already well into her mental decline, when she turned to my father and said, “Didn’t we use to have a color TV?”

Groping among the tiny knobs behind the TV’s front panel to adjust the image, my father had accidentally turned off the color. Who knows how long they had been watching it that way?

Except for a few months when I rented a furnished apartment, I’ve never had a television since I left my parents’ home. Somehow, through privilege or privation, I’m an addict, yielding myself without a grain of resistance or discrimination to its cheap seduction. Put me in a hotel room and the first thing I do is turn on the TV; unchallenged, I’ll watch it until 3 in the morning, scrolling through movies, CSI, Family Guy and reruns of Starsky and Hutch until I can no longer operate the remote…


deslugged (deluged)

slugAfter a day and a night of rain, the slugs are out in full slip and slime. Removing the newspaper from its pale green bag, I slide the bag onto my hand like a glove and begin my day picking slugs off the sidewalk and out of the garden beds.

The slugs in their bag deposited into the trash, I sit down with my coffee to write. Beginning where the day began, I write about the slugs, reflecting, optimistically, that each slug picked is a leaf unchewed. But spell-check asserts itself. Unchewed is unacceptable. In its place, I am offered unthawed, unscrewed, eschewed, unheeded. I try again; spell-check counters. I see a pattern…a sort of poem:
unchewed [unthawed, unscrewed, eschewed, unheeded]
ungnawed [unnamed, unglazed, ungraded]
ungnashed [unnoted]
unmunched [unmatched, unquenched]
unslugged [unplugged, unclogged, unlogged]

This is not the first time I’ve been waylaid by this distraction; I’ve written about it before. But now I see its true character, a slither of red-squiggle-slugs besmirching the Word doc in which I write, proliferating here under the watchful eye of WordPress, which seems to have an even lower tolerance for my writing, even rejecting some of the alternates offered up by Word. This interference has a name: slugism…would that be sluggish? syllogism? No, that’s not what I intended. Slugism.

Ignoring this irksome-in-the-guise-of-helpful warden, reclaiming my vocabulations, I take another slug of coffee.

Monday morning…


opening the doorThat morning, when she opened her bedroom door, she saw that the hall — its length pierced by other doors, its floor a long tongue of honey-colored oak — had disappeared. Standing on the threshold, her hand still clutching the door knob, she glanced quickly over her shoulder. But the bedroom was morning-ordinary: rumpled bedcovers, last night’s clothes draped over the chair, a hint of sun skimming the curtains…


deciphering Dorothy…

onion drawing by Dorothy, 1941My mother had no boundaries, told me things I was too young to know, intimate things another, wiser, woman might not tell her daughter. Now that I’m old enough, strong enough, to want to understand and untangle her story, I wish she had told me more, that I had listened more carefully.

Because her boundaries were so permeable, or absent altogether, the missing pieces are especially frustrating — the eyes in the jigsaw portrait.

This is what she told me, when I was perhaps 6 or 7: Before she met the man who would become my father, my mother was married to another man for four years. She took his name. (It’s that name, her new name, her other name, that’s written on the worn cover of the sketchpad in which she drew an onion in 1941.) He was abusive. She had an abortion. They divorced.

Without a single sketch or photograph to go on, I try to imagine him, to see more of her by seeing him. He is handsome, most certainly, because she allied herself with handsome men. He is, perhaps, somewhat taciturn, attracted to her gregarious opposite-ness. But now I am guessing: How soon he knew the marriage was a mistake. How quickly he tired of her neediness, her hunger, her self-doubting. How certain he was that a child would cement him to her, impossibly, forever.

Because she said so much, relied on my empathy, I see I have trusted my mother’s explanations. But perhaps she was not a reliable reporter. Perhaps she colored outside the lines, air-brushed her memories, turned them into stories that hardened into truth as they spilled into the air.

I want to know, but there is no one who can tell me, so I have to chisel into the stories, looking for ore, for the germ, for the clue to who she was. And who I am.

found advice…

when the neighbor leaves home…

leafblowerWe went for a walk yesterday, in the early evening. A snazzy painted gardening-company truck was parked in front of a house up the block and two men were cleaning up after themselves with leaf blowers, though there were almost no leaves to be seen.

We grumbled to each other about the noise, the grass and pollen blown around.

One of the men blew grass clippings and bits of dirt from the sidewalk into the street, then moved off the curb to blow the pile out from under a car. He continued, the leaf blower herding everything away from the customer’s house, pushing along a billowing, grassy dust-cloud.

He turned, then, angling the mess up the next-door neighbor’s driveway, and dispersed it, dust, into the neighbor’s empty carport.

leafblower photo

a Tuesday…


the green of May...The morning still and bright, every inch of garden clotted with green.

She fidgeted, impatient, her mind anywhere but on this work of writing, turning again and again to gaze out the window, but hardly seeing, as if the fecund green might inseminate her dozing mind, the bristly spruce tips tickle her imagination.

Mother’s Day…

Mother's Day tree peony

My mother’s birthday was at the end of May. One year, in honor of the date, a cousin gave her a cymbidium orchid plant. Thereafter, year after year, for decades, the plant would send out a long dull green flower stalk that would bloom, unfailingly, gorgeously, on Mother’s Day.

In my back yard, looking like a twisted stick for half the year, the tree peony never seems like it’s going to do much. Yet, except for last year, when it was too winter-battered to bloom, two small buds reliably unfurl into blowsy blooms just in time for Mother’s Day, pale pink paper-thin petals cupping a jeweled center to dazzle daughters, bees and hummingbirds for a brief May day, then droop and drop, to begin the long preparation for next year’s holiday.

Happy Mother’s Day.

finding Saturday…