chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

Tag Archives: story

found poem: in the house

found poem: what is different?

found poem: the roof

found poem: SKY A STORY

found poem: writing

found poem: I have

found poem: silence

found poem: the immediate

found poem: found



the bushel…

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.

fragments…Roland ~ 2

old newspaperUntil we invoked a closed-door policy on his office, Roland’s desk and shelves and hunched figure were on full view, a collision of neatness and chaos. Every surface was covered with piles of paper, the piles squared and tidy, like with like.

Newspapers towered in stacks along the credenza (those on the floor having been removed when the nighttime cleaning service threatened to quit). Dozens of yellow pads sat in two piles, used and unused, and lined sheets that had escaped their pads made up yet another. Manila folders, filled with papers and borrowed from the department’s master files, claimed one corner of his desk, where the pile rose ever higher, nearly obscuring Rolly from view.

While-You-Were-Out phone message slips, Post-it notes (new and used) and business cards had their own stacks, and then there was the sad but neatly stacked collections of folded paper bags and slightly-used paper napkins Rolly saved from the meals he ate at his desk, in spite of the company’s no-food-at-your-desk policy.

In between the stacks, aligned neatly as timber, were pencils, toothpicks and, for some reason, unused drinking straws still in their paper wrappers.

When the situation became intolerable, Rolly was ordered by his friend the boss to clear out the mess. But he was incapable of parting with his paper, so we sent him away and descended on the office with trash bags and recycling bins. Hoping to find room to put away the few things worth saving, but expecting more crammed paper, we opened the credenza, file cabinets and desk drawers. They were utterly empty.
newspaper image by ShironekoEuro


yellow padRoland was a good man. Heart of gold, we’d say, making excuses for him. He was personable, kind, handsome in his own way. He’d show up at the office scrubbed and slicked, tie knotted tight, two hours late, ready to go. He greeted the day with fresh enthusiasm, as if this would be the lap through the maze that would get him to the prize.

In the accident of employment, with the well-meaning help of people he’d known since high school, Rolly had followed a greased path to the wrong work. He should have been a football coach, a mail carrier, a cop. Instead, he sat at a desk and wrote press releases, each word a labor.

He wrote on yellow legal pads, in pencil, the paper furrowed and ridged with the pressure of the lead. Within an hour, he’d be sagging, his tie loosened, his shirt no longer neat, his face already looking like he had forgotten to shave.

His were the simplest stories: a promotion, a new employee, a remodeled office. The text was rote, first sentence and last nearly identical in every release. He only had to write two or three lines for the middle, no fancy words, no research. But it would take him all day, writing the lines over and over on his yellow pad until they were perfect.

Once a week, he’d fire up the computer and type the story. Leaning in, he’d peer at the monitor over his half-glasses, then look down at the keyboard, to find the next letter, inventing the alphabet.

We put up with him, but the boss loved him. Kept him around like a mascot, a wounded older brother. Used him as a chauffeur, a part-time friend, a human shield for a shy man in a too-public position…

Battling the Blues

The Social Gardener, Spring 2007Battling the Blues
Copyright 2007 by J.I. Kleinberg
Previously published in The Social Gardener, The Journal of the Whatcom Horticultural Society, Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2007

Except for the furious shoveling-up of the front lawn, the heavy lifting in my garden was done by the previous homeowner. Betty went to war with the blackberries and clay and nurtured a lovely sanctuary of apples and plums, rhodies and junipers, hydrangeas and hostas. Although she claimed to have abandoned her passion for bulbs and other seasonal plantings, cheerful clusters of crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths, tulips, asters and lilies still emerge each year.

The grape hyacinths, muscari armeniacum, push up their grassy fronds in mid-winter and by early February are showing their distinctive flower stalks topped with grape-like clusters of tiny blue florets. They form a dense blue understory and offer up a delicate, fruity fragrance.

As the season progresses, the flowers dry, lose their color and turn into flat, tissue-thin seedpods that open to release their payload of tiny black seeds. The greenery looks like overgrown grass until it, too, eventually dies back.

I hate them.

I didn’t start out hating them. I liked their color and fragrance, their early promise of the spring to come. But I wasn’t happy with the grassy mess of their leaves, which gave my entryway a bedraggled, untended look, so I decided to take out some of the grape hyacinths to make way for other plantings. Ha!

Kneeling on my green foam pad, I troweled into the much-amended soil, scooped out the small, white bulbs, dusted off the extra dirt, and tossed them into a bucket. Within ten minutes the bucket was full and I was still kneeling in the same spot. I got a kitchen-size plastic trash bag. Within a half-hour, I had four bags I could barely lift and had advanced only a few feet along the bed.

No stranger to the seduction of nursery catalogs, I knew that for some eager gardener, my noxious bulbs would be blue gold, so I made a sign and set the bags at the curb. They were gone before I was back on my knees.

Once I started, I realized that there were grape hyacinths everywhere. Their little grassy fronds gave them away. Summer seeds were already sending up green sprouts. Mature bulbs were starting the year over again. They had worked their way into the roots of the azaleas and cotoneaster, had crossed the walkway and nestled into the heather, had populated the margins of the vegetable garden, and had even found their way up the long driveway and into the back yard.

Every time I thought I had cleared a part of the bed, I discovered another clump of bulbs beside or beneath the one I had just unearthed. The largest bulbs were the size of Ping-Pong balls, the smallest the size of a poppy seed. Some sprouted right at the surface, but most were burrowed 4 to 8 inches into the soil. There were rogue bulbs off on their own, mother bulbs surrounded by litters of pups, and places where my trowel would unearth dense, nearly soil-less masses of pea-size bulbs that I could barely hold in two hands.

I felt like I was living a science fiction movie. My adversary — a much-beloved garden treasure with a dark side — had taken possession of my garden, multiplying rampantly by bulb and casting seed by the gazillion.

By the time the rains started in earnest, I had given up for adoption nearly 30 large kitchen bags of grape hyacinth bulbs and a good portion of my sanity. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not done. I don’t know how long it took for my garden to become a muscari hot-bed, and I know I’ll never be rid of them, but I’m determined to keep trying. The soggy winter months have allowed me to see and pry out bulbs from beneath deciduous plants and to crawl through the dripping overhang of juniper and spruce, digging as I go, muttering apologies to the plants whose roots I’ve unsettled, whose leaves and berries I pull from my hair at the end of the day.

Recently, as a friend and I were leafing through a gardening catalog, she said, “I can’t believe that people pay money for mint!” Yeah…I know exactly what she means.

%d bloggers like this: