chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Tag Archives: beginnings

found poem: The work

found poem: this sense


trumpeter swans photo by Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

From here the northern days will fatten, each day sipping moments of light through the chilly straw of winter,
imperceptibly lengthening to show us more of the bare trees, the white birds,
the blue-snowed crags of distant peaks.
I welcome every second.
. . . . .
trumpeter swans photo by Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

what I forget to do…

hinokiThis morning I am surprised to discover that in the throes of many other distractions and temptations and satisfactions I have set aside the morning practice of light, this noticing and noting.

This is a loss. In this process of speaking to myself I put my toes into the day’s first icy water of words.

These views from my window aren’t new; this is a round, a chorus, an annual refrain of light: bright pewter, green, the still-furled knots of hibiscus-like rose-of-sharon peeking pink from behind the bulging spruce, squirrels and jays squalling in the trees, the still-lemony-green tracings of new growth on the hinoki.

The hidden sun teases out a glint of spider silk just before I step through it, into the frigid sea.

Concordance of the unknown…I ~ 6, much earlier…

Sometimes, when her father was traveling and her mother and Frieda were napping on Frieda’s narrow bed and all the boys were busy with the horses or mill work, Irene would set down her towel and steal silently to her father’s bureau to peer into the narrow mirror that hung there above the basin and pitcher. In its walnut frame, the mirror had a faintly brassy cast and showed black lines in the reflective surface. It was her father’s shaving glass and it was the only mirror in the house.

The face that looked back at her was wide and plain, the thin hair pulled back from her brow, fuzzy wisps curling where they escaped. She had none of her mother’s concentrated beauty — not her coffee-dark eyes or her thick, chestnut hair — and Irene knew that when her father called her “my lovely,” he was wanting of her some favor, some task, teasing her out from the crowded field of her brothers.

She had many things to occupy her hands and mind and time, but, at 16, she found herself wondering whether anyone might ever find her truly lovely. Standing before the mirror, one finger tracing the narrow contours of her lips, the darkened circles beneath her eyes, she thought perhaps not.


the Italian lightShe took socks from the drawer and shoes from beneath a chair. There was no closet in the room, just the bureau. Her blouses and jackets and scarves were a bazaar of color where they hung from a row of hooks behind the door. The bureau was covered with paper: books, sketchpads, journals, maps, envelopes and a blizzard of scraps scrawled with her handwriting. A few had drifted onto the floor and she turned her head to see what she had written on one, a deposit slip. Why had she brought her checkbook to Italy, she wondered? She had written a single line of dialogue on the small piece of paper:

‘Buona sera, Senor,’ she said, ‘may I take your clothes?’
She did.


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…


hotel hallwayThey have never met, will never meet, but the threads of their lives knit together row upon row. The accident of conferences, interviews, exhibitions, brings them from their distant homes to this place, or another, yet keeps them strangers to each other. This once, by chance, they occupy adjoining rooms in the hotel.

In his, daytime TV flashes its soundless images and his laptop sits open on the small desk. His clothes, just enough for the meeting, the dinner, the night and the trip home, are hung in the closet or placed neatly in the large drawer below the television. His small carry-on suitcase stands in the closet between a single pair of shoes and an ironing board. The curtains are closed. The bed is untouched, the little card with instructions about saving water still propped against the pillow. He sits in the single chair talking on his cell phone.

In hers, every light is on, the curtains are open, and her enormous suitcase yawns empty on the bed. Its contents — clothes, yarn, strips of leather, fabrics, thread, lace, tied packets of letters, rice paper, paste and innumerable cloth envelopes of buttons, shells, words clipped from magazines, doll-house-size furniture, antique bottle caps and garage sale jewelry — she has gathered in her arms and dropped in a heap on the floor. Struggling with the window, which opens only about two inches, she lights a cigarette, blows smoke through the gap and surveys the pile…
photo by Ian Bogost

mi torero…

In her dream, the ground shook beneath the thundering hooves of the bull. The crowd’s voice rose and fell as one. The air vibrated. The cape flashed crimson. Her fingers traced the memory of sequins and embroidered satin. The bull stopped. Turned. Breath was drawn in. Held. The air stilled. Into the silence she whispered, Mi torero.

Her dream shifted. Her fingers traced the scar embroidered in his warm flesh. A warning, he had told her. A close call. The bull was young, and so was I.

The thundering, the roaring, the heat, the vibration, the crimson is in her blood, on her skin. Mi torero, she breathed, mi torero.

the shoes…

black shoesDouglas could not recall shopping for shoes. The shoes had lived at the foot of his bed for as long as he could remember, the two identical pairs side by side, black oxfords, polished to a deep gloss. He supposed his mother must have bought them, must have measured his foot with a glance, replaced each pair when it became hopelessly worn and would no longer take a shine. He always knew which ones to wear, the pair on the left reserved for the holy days.

A man needed only two pairs of shoes. His mother had been firm on this subject and many others. A man must not be concerned with haberdashery, she would say, using that curious word.

But today, as Douglas looked at the two pairs of shoes, even he could see that something was wrong. One shoe was lying on its side, bits of grass stuck to the sole, the toe of its mate crusted with mud. He stood confused at the foot of his bed, looking down, and then over at the door of his bedroom, which stood open as it had last night and every other night of his 33 years…
black shoes

the beckoning…

whistleEach evening, sometime between 4:30 and 5, the beckoning would start. Usually it was Mrs. Jennewick, who would take three steps out to the carport and call, “Carrr-leee.” Two notes, low-high — a hog call — and you never heard the first syllable unless you were within a few feet of Mrs. J’s aproned torso.

Larry’s mom wore a silver whistle on a piece of string around her neck and would give it a long blast from wherever she happened to be — the kitchen, the backyard, the garage. Larry’s aunt claimed that she was hard of hearing because of the time that Larry’s mom blew the whistle when they were talking on the phone.

My mother had a single call-to-attention that she used for all purposes — getting us to come to wherever she was in the house, saying hello to a neighbor who was walking by, or retrieving me from the neighing bliss of galloping down the street on my invisible horse. Her strident, high-low “hoo-hoo” was an irresistible lure to teasers and mimics. There were kids at school who didn’t know my name, but called me Hoo-Hoo, and one time, for reasons I don’t recall, a teacher came up to me in the hall and said, “You’re Hoo-Hoo, aren’t you?”

I never had any special affection for Carly, but she came in for the same teasing and we were allied in our humiliation — a call and response of “Carrr-leee” and “Hoo-Hoo” threading back and forth across the center aisle of the lumbering yellow school bus.

trying to write…

cyclamenMy mornings begin this way: wading through dawn’s soft sand, waves of words swirling around my ankles… poplar, cumulus, alfalfa, roundelay, violin, timorous, elephantine, obstacle, pianissimo, cormorant, porous, bubble, ruminant, evidence, armament, pastry, opulent, marmoset, lavatory, follicle, mordant, emplacement, mussel, petroglyph, lavender, serendipitous, levitate, porcupine, marine, confluence, obfuscate, cyclamen.

Here, I say to myself. Take these words. Make something with them. Reconstitute the carousel. Entertain the pangolin. Indemnify the minotaur.


erased blackboardSomeone had erased the blackboard. Now it was a blur of chalky streaks, the tails of a few letters emerging from the blankness here and there. They hadn’t bothered to clean the eraser first, and a sprinkle of fine white dust littered the chalk tray below the board and the few broken stubs of chalk that populated its length.

She sat in the oak chair, back to the classroom, back to the desk, and considered the gray expanse. The notes carefully taped to the far end, near the door, would offer no clue. She had sought their wisdom before.

The room was still. No whispers or giggles, no shuffling of papers or feet. Only the click click click click of the clock, the second hand erasing time as it crept past each black number.
erased blackboard

the voice of the house…

jik ~ cut color and scotch tapeTook a poetry workshop* yesterday and what emerged was less poetry and more a random gush of words about place. Here, bits of several lightly connected, timed writings in the voice of a house:

…Before I settled here, before the graves were dug at my feet, before the eucalyptus trees were planted in that stark row, before all that, mine was a simple hill rising from the desiccated river bottom that seldom saw water, a few scrubby sage and manzanita shrubs clinging to my slope. But of course eventually the soldiers arrived with their guns and their shovels and their coffins. And they sprawled the dead around my feet and sliced roads between the corpses and blew into their trumpets the mournful blasts of memory.

…But of course eventually as they tell it the crocodiles came lumbering through the river beds looking for water, gulping round stones, eating the skinny coyotes that prowled the banks. That changed everything, you know. What was supposed to be a house became a swamp and that’s where I grew up, among the caimans and ocelots, behind the orange slough and its cabbage moths.

The place was sunburned and starched, empty on Wednesdays and crowded with arrowheads as the Chumash markets spread. The round scars of campfires pocked the basins and hillsides, charred sticks littered the river bed. Bones and bowls populated the branches as if to escape the predatory crocodiles. But we kept coming back here, kept calling the place home, kept building roads and burying our dead and hammering together houses.

The mystery outside the door was always the sound of sunset, which rang in peals against the blacktop and above the roofs and treetops. It was impossible to record the sound. We tried again and again. We recited it to one another as if we might remember it then. But like our dreams, it was lost…
*Special thanks to the Sue Boynton Poetry Contest and Sheila Nickerson


paperworks - detailAfter many years of making fiber art, I felt the absence of words. First I tried to incorporate the words into my work, gridding out elaborate stitch patterns or writing on ribbon that I crocheted into an object.

Then I moved to another kind of fiber — paper. On a roll of brown kraft paper, I’d hand-write long, unedited musings, just writing and writing until my hand was done. Sometimes I’d do the same on a typewriter, writing margin to margin, without correction and without even re-reading what I’d written.

This word-covered paper became the medium, folded in on itself, twisted and tucked, torn and layered and stitched tight.

Each piece, all words, was an overheard conversation, a letter ripped in half, a book with the last chapter missing…

how to write a recipe, part 1…

in the dark…

vintage Econolite Mother Goose night lightMy father sat reading in his big chair in the living room, enveloped by the warm glow of the lamp, feet up on the ottoman, library books stacked at his side. I kissed him goodnight.

“Close your curtains,” my mother would say. “Be sure to close your curtains.” From the clumped gather of cotton fabric at the right side of the wide window, I drew the curtain across the lower rod to the center, peering over the top at what might be outside concealed by the darkness. Then the left side. Then the top, left side and right.

Turning off the glaring overhead light, I changed into my pajamas in the darkness, felt my way to the bed and crept under the covers. On the chest of drawers next to the bed was a nightlight — my “diddle” — with a top like a little circus tent and a celluloid barrel painted with a cat and a fiddle and a cow and a moon that would revolve with the heat of the bulb inside. I turned it on and waited for the monsters.

After a while, my mother would come into my room and inspect the curtains for gaps, casually rearranging the fabric where the gathered panels met — at the center, at the edges — as if this was a matter of design, aesthetics, beauty, rather than a mantra against unseen terror.

She kissed my cheek, pulled the little chain to extinguish the nightlight, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Eyes wide, I stared at the perfectly-draped window, certain that I was visible to the grasping creatures outside. She had told me about them: kidnappers, men who would offer me candy, who would touch my body. I couldn’t be too careful. They were everywhere. Especially outside my bedroom window.

I listened for a telltale footfall on the long flight of wooden steps that led from the back patio to the porch outside my room. At every creak and scratch I stopped breathing. At every sigh of the settling floorboards I waited, willing myself invisible.

I pictured them: hunched and twisted, grotesque and gap-toothed, reaching and staring.

I dreamed of wolves…
vintage night light photo

waking from…

…a busy dreaming night, the sand of sleep still warm but unmarked by memory’s footsteps…

She wants to solve the problem, untie the knot, untangle the twisted threads that catch her up and hold her fast.

Love alone, she realized, was not an end in itself, not a permanent reprieve from depression and ordinariness. The drug of it wore off, leaving her unprotected from her familiar old self. Leaving her groping for words, for the light that seemed, for a while, to emanate from every pore, every surface. Surprised to find it gone, to realize how much effort and intent she needed to exert on every single thing.

Sad, she saw now, sad as if the puppy had died and her days pooled listlessly around the vacancy it left behind.

But this wasn’t the end, or even an end. It was a beginning. A new chapter in which they together would enrich the language of habit, of routine, with a new vocabulary of deeper trust, of unexpected possibility, of reinvigorated desire, with a new kind of asking and telling and knowing.

Waking from her busy night, unwinding the soft blanket of her dreams, she tastes the dawn on her tongue and steps naked and vulnerable into the silvery morning…

fragments…Henry ~ 1

Henry scraped a few burned specks of onion from the bottom of the pan and tipped them onto his plate. It was the same brown-gray mound of food that faced him every morning: beef and onions and peppers and potatoes chopped fine and fried together, simple enough. He poured coffee, then carried plate, cup and fork out to the porch, where he’d eat as he waited for first light.

Solomon was curled by Henry’s chair, a desultory flick of his stumped tail the only indication that he was paying attention, his warm breath condensing in a small white cloud with each exhalation.

There was a single light showing low on the slope across the valley. Foster’s up early, Henry thought, wondering, not for the first time, whether Foster could see the dim light that glowed over the stove in Henry’s kitchen, whether Foster looked out across the fields at this hour or merely shuffled, head down, eyes watching the ground, out to the barn and the waiting cows.


crocusThis morning, the ground is crusted with frost, but yesterday, for a few hours, winter relented. Every corner of the garden called for attention. The sounds of raking and mowing drifted through the neighborhood on the afternoon air and the sun warmed my back as I crawled among the weeds.

Spring is still a promise, a well-kept secret. But there are hints where life seems determined to begin again: tiny red knots where the crabapple will leaf out, a barely discernible feathering along the cotoneaster’s withered wood, a blur of squirrels chasing each other through the trees, the chickadee’s come-hither song…and the crocus.

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