chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Monthly Archives: September 2012


a dozen…

to explore…


the wall across from the closetMy mother’s art studio was toward the front of the house, with a large window facing west. In 1950, when the house was built, the room’s function was left vague. With double doors opening onto the hall and one knotty-pine wall, it was a den; with its adjoining bathroom and huge closet, it was a bedroom. In any case, it was always her studio.

The left half of the closet had been outfitted, by my father, with many shelves. Set perhaps six inches above one another, the shelves receded into the dark recesses of the closet and seemed impossibly weighted with treasure. There were trays and shallow boxes of paints, pastels and chalks. Sheets of paper of every size and description. Old copies of LIFE magazine. Scraps of wrapping paper, wallpaper, bark, leaves, string and other debris she saved for collage. A shoebox held some small toys — finger-puller, squirt gun, rattle — that could be grabbed for last-minute gifts. There were weightless bits of gold leaf. And of course there were innumerable drawings, prints and small paintings in every medium, framed and unframed.

Except when, under her watchful eye, Dorothy asked me to hand her something from one of its shelves, the closet — and in fact the whole studio — was off limits. Yet there were times, when she was away from the house, when I would be seduced by the bulging abundance of the shelves. Entering the studio, opening the closet, I would peer into its depths, inhale its many fragrances, handle the forbidden riches, ever careful to return each object to its original place.

The closet never lost that allure. When, years later, we sorted everything for Dorothy’s move to assisted living, the closet performed the magic I knew it held all along: removed from the shelves piece by piece, stack by stack, its contents billowed and multiplied to fill the entire studio.



DAK self-portraitIn the long division of schoolgirl popularity, I never came out even. I had the wrong face, the wrong hair, the wrong personality and the wrong shoes. For all of these deficits I faulted my parents, whose rules and one-off lifestyle seemed increasingly onerous the closer I got to adolescence.

I was incapable of appreciating my mother’s arty ways. I wanted a mother out of The Saturday Evening Post. A mother who was pretty and wore twin-sets and who blended in at the grocery store and the assemblies and the mother-daughter Girl Scout meetings. I wanted every irregular thing about myself to vanish, including her.

Perhaps it is true of all girls, that no matter our attributes, at some point we want nothing more than to fit in. Perhaps not.

My mother painted this self-portrait when I was 15. As she explained at the time, she’s the one on the left — the outsider, the one who’s alone and small and boyish, turned away from the group, the beautiful, the womanly, by that extended hand that says Keep Out.

It was an exclusion she reinforced in many ways and never really outgrew. Whatever her hopes for me — and I’m not sure she expressed them in any concrete way — this painting was what she modeled. It was her perspective on the world.

It took me a very long time to figure out it didn’t have to be mine.


Switched-on GutenbergSwitched-on Gutenberg, Issue 18, on the theme Corpus: the Body and Its Boundaries, is now online.

Poets in this issue:
Judith Arcana, Peggy Aylsworth, Janet Barry, Janée J. Baugher, Lori Becherer, Tara Shea Burke, James Cihlar, Antonia Clark, Barbara Crooker, J.P. Dancing Bear, Mark DeCarteret, Roberta Feins, Kelly Fordon, Judy French, Casey Fuller, Lois Marie Harrod, Kyle Hemmings, Jennifer Highland, J.I. Kleinberg, W.F. Lantry, Ted Lord, Jacob Oet, Cyan Orr, Megan Schardt, Nikki Schulak, Oedipa Smith, Laura Snyder, Jennifer Stella, George Such, Molly Sutton Kiefer, Ken Turner, Ed Werstein, Alexis White, Pam Winters and Mishon A. Wooldridge.

Also featuring illustrations from Gray’s Anatomy and underwater photographs by Mary Pearson.



early morning traffic…

crow crossing

crow in the crosswalk
waddling to my side
of the street
watching listening
we both hear the car
he’s halfway across
lifts his shoulders
to take off
and begins to hop


liquid razzle-dazzle…

frame of reference…

the view from my deskTwice a year, for about a week or two near the equinox, the earth wobbles into position and, if clouds don’t intervene, the sun shines straight into my window as it rises. So bright I must half-lower the shade, the light bounces off my cluttered bulletin board and back onto the glass. The rest of the time, in our wide northern swing, the sun rises somewhere else — on another side of the house, through the neighbor’s trees, down the block behind the church — and my eyes measure the angled light, take the temperature of its color.

This is the view from my desk, what I see for the many hours I work and write. Before I sit down here, which is before almost everything except coffee, I raise the blinds on this pair of windows. In deep dark or dawn or the sharp hard brightness of the sun, every morning is different — the seasonal faces of the spruce and juniper and plum trees as familiar as my hands, the angled telephone pole, the peek-a-boo view of the top of Mt. Baker, the clouds and birds, the bees tapping their hard bodies against the glass. As I work, I gaze out there, seeing or not, waiting for the right word.

I trust this. In the chaotic and often untrustworthy world, this view is something contained, its hour-by-hour, month-by-month change something manageable. It is a reality I observe, describe, treasure. A gift I open every day. With gratitude.

stripped down…

to the right…


D in barrelWe’d be sitting at the kitchen table, the three of us — my parents, me — eating dinner, talking about our day, whatever it was we talked about, and something would trigger us — a word, a bit of nonsense, something said in seriousness that struck us as absurd. Suddenly my mother and I would be giggling. Helpless to stop, nearly calming then setting each other off again, we’d hold our stomachs and wipe our eyes, try not to look at each other, ride the waves of giggles one after another until we were spent.

My father would settle back and watch the two of us, knowing that, for the moment, any hope of conversation was lost. Mostly, he wouldn’t interfere. But sometimes we might glance over at him and though he was sitting there looking perfectly normal, watching us, one of his eyes would be completely closed without any other disruption to his face, or his tongue would be stuck out, touching the end of his nose, and we’d dissolve into another round of giggles.

At those moments, which happened perhaps a half-dozen times a year, maybe more, the tension and judgments and expectations and disappointments would dispel and my mother and I would be, for a few minutes, girlfriends.
photo: my funny mother before I knew her



Wednesday Before Dawn

Orion leans over the neighbor’s tree
to whisper into the ear of the crescent moon.
I love your hat, he says, waving toward
Venus with the point of his dagger.
The moon holds still, pretends not to hear,
says nothing. Orion goes away.

. . . . .

Today at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, the fifth in a series of six weekly wordages by j.i. kleinberg: seashells.

the mountains…


Sunday choir…

S card by j.i. kleinbergOutside, in the gray quiet of pre-dawn, there’s a light wind and I listen to the chorus of trees. The huge firs on the hillside sing bass, constant as the ocean heard from afar, waves blending into one. From every side, the other trees, still thick with leaves, whisper a bright soprano shhhhhh. A dried leaf bounces along the street, crisp percussion; a bamboo wind chime sounds a single low note. The neighbor’s cat, a pale ghost, steps from the garden and walks silent up the path toward home.