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Category Archives: musings

Clementine Unbound

and another!

Gratitude.

thanks

Somehow, another year has gone by. Although 2016 was full of creativity, love, and meaningful experiences, much of what lingers is a sense of loss and uncertainty.

I hope 2017 will be better than we expect. Certainly, like every year, it will contain surprises, triumphs, and disappointments, profound sadness and immeasurable joy.

For the moments we are here, it is extremely gratifying to have you as companions on this journey. I am deeply grateful for your views, likes, subscriptions, comments, and shares, for your friendships close and far, and for your steadfast and honorable witnessing. Thank you.

J.I. Kleinberg
post #1956, 31 December 2016

breakfast on Boxing Day

“Be thou my wife”

LRK-DAK honeymoonIt is December 20. Seventy years ago today my grandfather, a rabbi, officiated at the wedding of my parents. In the scrapbook, two small documents mark the event, one a California Certificate of Marriage and the other a Jewish Covenant of Marriage.

There is no photo of the occasion. No gown. No towering wedding cake. No picture of the smiling bride and groom. For my mother, it was her second marriage and she would have considered it “unseemly” to make a show of it. My father was still finding his way home from a long war, and anyway would have shunned the fanfare of an elaborate wedding.

I’m not sure where the ceremony took place — in my grandparents’ home, perhaps — or who attended, though it was likely a very small, close gathering of family. The witnesses were the sisters-in-law, Helen and Charlotte, the wives of my mother’s brother and my father’s brother.

There was probably food, a toast, many mazeltovs, and then Les and Dorothy (she would have been Dottie, or Red, at the time) drove off to honeymoon in Death Valley, where this photo was taken.

I wonder what Dorothy was thinking that day. I know she was thrilled to be marrying Les, but did she miss the lace and tulle? Was she intimidated by the religious trappings of the ceremony? Did she feel welcomed by my father’s family or was she already constructing reasons to divide herself from them? How did she picture her future?

She spoke to me of many things, but she never talked about that day.

the day after

2016-12-09 snow feetBellingham, Washington, isn’t known for snow. Memorable storms are rare enough that residents recall them by year. More typically we get a couple of doses each year accompanied by an icy blast of Arctic chill.

After a region-stalling storm prediction in October (the storm never materialized), the weather-callers have been reluctant to over-promise this week except to say that driving could be hazardous. While higher elevations received a snow-angel-worthy dumping, low-lying Bellingham got a scant half-inch overnight. The temperature is creeping up over freezing, rain is predicted, and life will soon return to winter-normal: wet.

But this morning, a wonderful quiet surrounds the house, and the locals — juncos, sparrows, chickadees — are busy with their flitting and foraging, exploring the sheltered margins of the yard and the places where fronds of spruce, juniper, or pine offer a moment’s respite from wind and cats.

Veterans Day

LRK tags and bronze star certificate

My father was a smart and honest man, quiet and hardworking, with a fine sense of humor, genuine warmth, and a profound love of family. He was a deep thinker and an avid reader. He approached problems with the orderly sensibility of an engineer. He fought for his country in a terrible war and, like most soldiers, saw too much that was unbearable. Whatever was broken inside him as a result of that experience remained — through strength of character, habit, luck, training, fear, or sheer stubbornness — contained and silent for the rest of his long life. I salute him and I miss him.

Tonight!

Mount Baker TheatreIt would be an honor and a pleasure to see you in the audience this evening, Saturday, October 22, 2016, at the award ceremony for the 2016 Ken Warfel Fellowship. The doors open at 6:45pm and events get underway at 7:00pm. Please join me at the Mount Baker Theatre, Encore Room, 104 North Commercial Street, Bellingham, Washington. (Use the Champion Street door to enter the Encore Room.)
Okay. Now I can start getting nervous.

an in-between

Dorothy and foalI’ve written before about this time in my mother’s life — the war years, when she was single, a draftsperson at Lockheed, and part-owner of a horse, Easy Does It. She had friends and independence, and if she yearned for something else, the longing didn’t show on her face — either in the photos, or later, when she talked about those in-between years.

Easy Does It foaled, and in this picture Dorothy happily nuzzles the young horse, her pleasure transparent.

The photograph is damaged, a dark blotch at the top and a streak scarring the horse’s shoulder and leg. But what intrigues me is the complexity of shadows. In the foreground is the blurred shadow of Carmie, Dorothy’s friend, co-worker, and horse co-owner. But while the shadows of Dorothy and the pony are further away, they are crisply focused in a band of light that looks like a reflection from a window. Mysterious.

It makes me think of those tests where you’re asked to manipulate a shape mentally to match it to another shape. I keep rotating the figures and the light source in my mind to try to make sense of them, but I can’t quite figure it out.

We often take shadows for granted, giving our attention to whatever’s in the light. But shadows make visible the position of things, their depth and distance, their contours and density. These family photos and their small stories are simply my way of deciphering shadows.

beginning

DAK - Death ValleyWho was this Dorothy? This boot-clad woman in the sweater I’ve never seen? What rough camp is this, with its big tables and bright windows? She isn’t posing, might be in the middle of saying something, in the middle of relaxing from a hike in the chilly afternoon.

The undated photo is likely from my parents’ honeymoon, December in Death Valley. They would have driven east and north from Los Angeles, across mountains and desert, filled with their own heat and promise, to reach this place of ghost towns and abandoned mines, this not-yet-a-resort. She was from a life of fur coats and Oysters Rockefeller, he the rabbi’s son with too many war years in the Army.

They would find their way, starting in this parched landscape of a zillion stars, set aside the familiar, the comfortable, to begin what might then have seemed the perfect union.

again

hydrangea
Haven’t we died enough?
Haven’t our hearts been wrenched from our chests?
Must we learn every day anew to grieve, to trust, to breathe?

May 30

1954 - DAK-LRKUntil 1971, when national holidays began to wander the calendar in search of Monday, my parents each had a claim on May 30th: it was Memorial Day and it was my mother’s birthday.

By the time they met, the war was over; none of our family photos show them together with Les in uniform. The remnants of my father’s war were few: dog tags, Zippo, foot locker, sleeping bag, photos, and a slim folder of paperwork. His scars were not physical and, like others of his generation, he bore them with stoicism and little comment.

If my mother’s war had been a time of personal strength and freedom, she seemed equally willing to set it aside in favor of her new life with my father.

Each year on Memorial Day my father honored his memories, his lost family and friends, with a quiet walk among the headstones at the Veteran’s Cemetery. While my mother claimed to be unsentimental about her birthday, she never accompanied him on those walks, his brief abandonment of her like a small stone in the birthday cake.

But my father would return, soothed and soothing, and, wounds attended, the birthday would resume.

Each of my parents owned a part of the day, and a part of me. It seems we still celebrate together.
. . . . .
photo: Dorothy and Les, 1954

Mother’s Day

jik to DAK undatedHacked from an envelope and illustrated, figure and ground, with colored pencils of many hues, this is probably a picture of my mother. Though without words (except for my name on the reverse side signed with a backwards J), her red hair is a giveaway.
And the dress? Well, what can be said about the dress, except that Dorothy would have worn it if it existed. However old I was when I drew it, and however conventionally she put herself together on the outside, I already understood that within her there was a zany being aching for expression.
Happy Mother’s Day.

slow day

tortoise by jik

Some days are just slow. Or maybe it’s me — a slow creature caught up in the day’s chaos.
. . . . .
art by jik, undated
more tortoise

13 years

DAK announcement cardSo much time. So little time. The date, April 15, not a stab but a gentle shake. The green line of my emotions on the oscilloscope no longer sharp peaks and plummets, but low swells.
Those last 72 hours a play enacted between two phone calls. The first from the assisted living, “Your mother…” and the second, late at night, from the hospital, “Your mother…”
And in between, keeping her company in her silence, trying to decipher the map on this last unplanned journey until the nurses said Go home, get some sleep. I never slept. Howled into the night for her release. Then the call and the drive back through the empty streets and the long walk down empty corridors and into the silent room where the lights were dimmed and Dorothy was there but not there.
And after we had spent some time together in that new stillness, I went home again and sat up for the remainder of the night scanning photos, printing and labeling and stamping the cards that would go in the mail at first light. And after that so many things changed.

a Sunday in spring

jik - Easter ValentineAt age 6, things didn’t get much better than hearts and bunnies. A girl could be forgiven if the excesses of Valentine’s Day overtook Easter. All these decades later, I can’t account for the red cross, but the bunny has everything a bunny needs on a spring Sunday — a fat, chocolatey body, baskets over each arm, exceedingly long whiskers, a pink blush inside each ear and love radiating in all directions. Happy Easter.

Before we smiled

1940s Tobias et alThe photo is not dated, but my mother’s hair style, her cigarette and her voluminous fox jacket suggest that it’s mid-1940s. This is Dorothy’s family: her father’s brother, Uncle Tobias, her cousin Goldine, my grandmother Elsie, Aunt Sally, and Sally’s sister, Evelyn. My mother’s brother, Bob, is probably behind the camera. No one is smiling. Maybe they all smiled for the next picture, but in this one they’re not quite posed, still talking, brushing the lint off the coat, waiting.

I’m glad for the dust-up regarding the candidate’s smile. It’s something I’ve thought about. Perhaps the epidemic of smiling can be directly traced to the popularity and portability of cameras. A century ago, a photograph was as serious and rare as a painted portrait, something that might happen only once in a lifetime. It meant sitting very still for quite a long time. No one smiled. But move closer to the present and more and more people are saying cheese.

Some people are smilers. My mother was one. I am too. I probably learned it from her. Smiles are a social lubricant, an encouraging mirror. What bothers me is the command to smile, regardless. The “you’re so pretty when you smile” that barely conceals its opposite message. What bothers me is photos of children with their pasted-on grins, knowing that an adult is demanding a smile from a child who might be uncomfortable, tired, angry, shy, unhappy. As if that unhappiness is unimportant, impossible, as long as there’s a smile.

We’ve learned to smile. Perhaps we need to relearn what it means.

March

2016-03-04 plum

Oh, bees,
let the miasma of winter
slip from your wings
so long crimped in sleep.
The birds have been rehearsing
each morning in the shower —
fly into the random air,
listen to their chorus,
they understand the wind.

symbol

LRK Pisces sculptureAn engineer by training and trade, my father had a firm grasp on reality. He was practical and believed that problems had solutions. He had a fierce work ethic and great determination. At the same time, he was willing to entertain — on an intellectual level — all manner of thought. He was a voracious and eclectic reader and enjoyed pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Among the mysteries that intrigued him were symbols of all sorts. He studied them, sketched them and, eventually, carved them. He had little use for astrology, but its symbols were among those that interested him and when he was about 60 he began sculpting his way through the zodiac.

On my 22nd birthday, he gave me this Pisces sculpture. Balanced on a steel strap above a marble base, the piece stands about 21 inches high. The pair of sanded-to-a-gloss fishes — lemon and orange wood, according to his notes — leap from a teak sea.

Though years, and my father, have passed, and the wood has darkened slightly, the sculpture remains to remind me of his engineer’s precision, his wide-ranging mind…and his love.

One!

Jacar Press

What an honor to have my poem “The Familiar” selected for publication in the online journal One. The Jacar Press publication considers just one submission from each poet (most publications request three or more). My poem is just below the Contents list for One Issue 8.

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