Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Poetry Thursday 5/31/2007: Moon and Peacock

Theme: Rivers

Note: The little old towns I mention in the poem, Paradise and Garberville, are in Northern California. I'm a fourth-generation Californian now displaced, but I remember these towns through the eyes of a child. In those days, they were tiny, pristine, almost abandoned places, laden with gold-mining history and fable, hardly populated, struggling like ghost towns. Nowadays I imagine that they have become overrun by tourism. I'd rather not know, and like them the way they are in my memory.

Also . . . it's kinda funny how lyrics beget lyrics.

Moon & Peacock

for my mother

I scooted across green kitchen linoleum while
Mother ironed my eyelet pinafores
listening to the radio
Mancini’s “Moon River.”
As iron's steam floats ceilingward,
she sings,
. . . wider than a mile.
I’m crossing you in style

our one and only roadtrip
to the pines of Paradise to see my grandmother.
To the car’s static AM, we sing
. . . two drifters, off to see the world
there’s such a lot of world to see.

our second only roadtrip
Garberville, California.
We didn’t see the Lost Coast,
didn’t visit old-growth forests,
didn’t know about the Avenue of the Giants or
bright-yellow banana slugs on the green forest floor
beneath ferns.
Dad wouldn't go anywhere
or see anything.

We didn't have a hotel room
just a car.

We found our dinner
at the Benbow Inn
on the Eel River,
startled by peacocks’ flapping menace in trees and shrubs,
alarmed by their catlike may-awe,
their legs strutting among ours on the terrace and on green ground,
flashing, unfurling
unprecedented, embarrassing
feathered opulence.

We walked a curve along the Eel after sunset.
A searing moon rose through the trees
its light severing a path on water that ended
between our pairs of feet.

our third only roadtrip:
she, marooned on a hospital bed.
We rifled through the cache of jewelry she wanted me to have
when she was terminal.
Spreading them on a green tray
she narrated each piece.
The best:
a gold stickpin,
peacock sitting on the moon.

Her final trip,
not mine,
she said,
You wear it on this side
after I cross the river. I'll be
. . . waitin’ round the bend
my Huckleberry friend.

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Poetry Wednesday

This Tuesday at Poetry Thursday, to which I have become addicted, Dr. Jim encouraged readers/poets to think about a few particular lines of poetry that have stuck with them, and to report them and their significance in his post comments.

This exercise threw me into an absolute tizzy. The lines popped right into my head. Not just "a few lines." Many, many lines. Which to choose? They came from all eras and shrieked at each other in determined voices and blinded me with a surreal mixture of images. The lines kept coming and coming, and started duking it out with each other. Finally I had to make another cup of coffee, sit down and close my eyes and catch the most resonant.

Three sets of clear winners emerged. Some come from Keats' "Eve of St. Agnes"; the second are from Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality." I won't discuss those at this time.

The victors come from Tennyson's "Ulysses." I was kind of surprised that I settled on something so antiquated, and from a poet who often has such a thumpy metrical effect that it's almost comic, but the lines and I have a long history together:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
I first encountered this poem in high school. Not because I was required to read it in class, but because I was a curious kid always snooping into books. I would read anything I got my hands on. One day I was home sick with asthma (an all-too-frequent occurrence), and stationed myself as usual behind my parents' comfy living-room chairs, which were set close to a wall of built-in bookcases. On a low shelf I found some of my two grandmothers' old textbooks. I had just finished wondering why one of my reverent and ladylike grandmothers had defaced an illustration of Nathaniel Hawthorne when I flipped pages and came upon "Ulysses."

From the scratchy comfort of the living room carpet, I had an awesome ride with an idle king from the distant past who could not rest from travel. There could be no personal experience that contrasted more greatly with my own. By the time I read the poem, I had never been outside the boundaries of California. We never so much as went on a family vacation. The farthest we would travel was twenty minutes to my grandparents' house, but that was rare. We did have a decent-sized sailboat, which my parents would race to Catalina Island and to Ensenada, Mexico. But despite the fact that Dad considered me first mate and I was a skilled and avid sailor, I was not permitted to go on these "long" trips. I had to watch from the gangway as the others sailed out of sight.

As I got older, I didn't venture very far from home. But when I got my first job at a small local newspaper doing page layout and typesetting, one of my first learning experiments was making myself some stationery with Tennyson's lines set in a display font accompanied by one of my own nautical drawings.

I took some back with me when I moved into a UCLA dorm. Nightly I chipped away at English Literature, Latin and the classics, sitting at the same carrel in the University Research Library. I encountered my royal friend Ulysses again when I read Homer, and when, inevitably, I took a Victorian prose and poetry course. I reset the same lines for another set of stationery when I worked at The Daily Bruin. I studied the Pre-Raphaelite painters and, encountering Waterhouse, recognized the patient Penelope, her unwanted suitors insinuating themselves upon her as she wove.

In those days I would never have projected that my future would take me well outside California borders or other countries many times. In subsequent years, though not very willingly, I would relocate like a nomad, sometimes staying in a place only six months or a year at a stretch, hardly getting my bearings on the compass before it would all change again. As if Ulysses steered my course, "'Tis not too late to seek a newer world." Each time I pack the boxes, I encounter my 1899 illustrated edition of Tennyson's Poetical Works, and before shoving the book in among hordes of others, open it to the permanent bookmark in English Idylls.

It little profits that an idle king . . .
Each time I pack, I have to remind myself that I can take whatever upcoming adventure in a positive light. Inside I am still the girl on the carpet, safely hiding behind the chairs at home. I have to steel myself with Ulysses' overweening confidence in the promise of the next discovery on the horizon, "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

For the time being, it seems that more than 20 years of moving around, which has been so very draining and made me feel so restless and unrooted and old before my time, is in a lull. Perhaps it has backed off and Ulysses is home with Penelope and Telemachus. Finally, I've been in one place for five years--unprecedented since I left college aeons ago. But I know that like Ulysses' fading "margin," this is but a looming illusion. As it has so often, it could end at any time, and the yet "untravell'd world" beckons unseen.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Returns Are In

This is the sequel post. The next day, Tyke and I went back to the Hs' house to put the garbage barrels back in the garage. I went up to talk to Mr. H to apologize and find out what I could do. He was just in the process of showing Tyke what happened . . . and he locked up the door again!

I win! I screwed up the Hs' garage door lock so well that they were baffled the night before. Of course it was Mr. H who went into the garage through the house. That would have been fine . . . if only Mr. H could see. But, since he can't, he had no idea what was going on with the door.

They called the Overhead Door Company. The door company unlocked the door, and charged this ancient couple, Mr. H (96) and Mrs. H (80-something) $100!

$100 to unlock the door from inside. It probably took the guy five seconds to fix it.

I had an immediate, withering feeling. Mr. H added, "Oh, but the door guy said he could probably arrange a discount."

I told Mr. H whatever they charged him, that I would pay the bill because I had caused the problem in the first place and it wasn't fair for him to get stuck with the bill.

So now Mr. H was frustrated because, in showing Tyke what never to do, he had goofed it up again. I went inside and tried monkeying with the handle for a minute. Then I saw what Mr. H hadn't--a little twist button just above the handle. I flipped the button, and discovered that this is what regulates whether the handle locks or doesn't lock. Sheesh. I twisted it, and the handle went back to its horizontal unlocked position. (Whew! The need for a second visit by greedy Overhead Door was narrowly escaped.)

So I guided Mr. H's hand onto that twist button so that next time he can feel for it and release it himself without the help of a door specialist or locksmith.

I'm still on the hook for whatever Overhead Door decides to charge for that visit. Dumb bunny.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors; or No Good Deed

. . . goes unpunished.

I have just received considerable punishment intention-wise, but it's absolutely not over yet. The votes are not in yet. I am sitting in the family room, looking out the window, waiting for the neighbors--whose "Samaritan" my widely celebrated son supposedly is--to come home and see what a terrible thing I've done on his behalf.

Now, to make a short story unconscionably long . . . and it is long, so set aside some time to get through it, as I did the actual event in real-life time.

We live at the end of a small private street inhabited, except for us, by retired people and industrious professional couples who work hard and do not have kids and are hardly ever home. About three houses down the hill is a very elderly couple--I'll call them Horace and Harriet H [henceforth the Hs]. Horace is 96 and cannot see except for some shadow vision, but he is somewhat ambulatory with a cane, has excellent hearing, is very socially engaging and loves to talk any audience's ears off. Horace fairly lives for an audience. This is one reason many neighbors avoid him. His wife Harriet is a spring chicken in her late 80s who cannot hear and uses a walker, but whose vision is fine. Still plays bridge weekly and even invited me once when one of her ladies was having a medical problem. She loves to wander out of the house and dig in the flower beds to plant impatiens, bending over in a shocking gardening way many spring chickens of 35 no longer consider possible.

Neither of the Hs can do anything without the sensorially complementary mate.

Last year, Mr. and Mrs. H asked my younger kid, Tyke, if he would be their official Garbage Boy. So now when he gets home from school on Thursdays, it's his job to run down the hill to the Hs' house, use the key to open the garage, put the garbage barrels and recycling bin on a cart, and tote it down the hilly driveway to the street. Then he rolls the cart back up and locks the garage again. On Friday when he gets home from school, he takes the barrels back in.

This being Thursday, it was Tyke's work day. But because he got into a special inter-school advanced band, this time of year he has to stay for practice late on Thursday. He didn't get home till 5:30; then he had to eat, change his clothes, and head directly off to baseball practice as well as play a game in treacherous weather. Big brother couldn't do the job, either, because he had already left to attend a concert.

We expected another storm this afternoon, and just after Tyke left for his game, the rain began. I realized that Mr. and Mrs. H might go to bed early and would probably be shocked to hear the garage door going up after 9:00 p.m. So I decided I would go down and do the garbage myself. (Let me say that it is never our habit to call first. We would either scare them or get trapped on the phone. It's just understood that regardless of which one of our family members does it, the barrel job simply gets done.) I grabbed the key and rushed down the hill as the rain pummeled harder and harder.

When I got to the correct, "garbage side" of the double garage door, I tried to insert the key, but it did not fit. At all. Hmm. Without thinking to look further, I turned the twist-handle and popped the latch. Just as I began to twist, I realized that these ancient doors are like our ancient doors (only we never use the handle): if you twist the handle, it's only an emergency measure for when automatic door opener isn't working and requires a manual override. Oh, by the way, somewhere in the part of the back of my mind that wasn't operating at the time, I know you only turn that handle from INSIDE the door if and when you have to pull the emergency "rip cord" inside the garage. In addition, I noticed in my mistaken action that the key seemed much too new to work with this ancient lock, and that the REAL, current lock was installed on the door frame on the pillar between the two doors. Too late. Cr@p!

When I then tried the correct lock, the key was hunky-dory and the door started to open automatically. Momentary hope. So Mr. and Mrs. H actually had a lock that worked like an external keypad. You turned that key and the door went up automatically. I'd never seen such a thing. Way more modern than the near-zero access options on my own garage. Too high tech. No wonder I didn't know how to use it.

So immediately I knew I'd bungled big-time. Because I'd turned the manual handle, the automatic unlock activated with the correct key couldn't raise the door; it turned on the motor and the light, but didn't open the door because I'd effectively disabled the chain drive or relocked the inside of the door. Double, unopenable whammy.

Here I was in the rain, trying to do something good for some old people and compensating for my son, the completely reliable little helper whom they lavish love upon. It wasn't his fault I'd blown their garage door. They had probably wondered why Tyke hadn't taken out the trash earlier, and they were, maybe and probably, in the house wondering why the garage door was making kooky noises. They couldn't run out to figure out what was happening. Was it a burglar? If I were 96, that's what I'd think.

I ran to the front door and rang the bell, but no one answered. If I were in my late 80s, I might not hear the doorbell. If I were 96 and blind, I'd be worried if someone rang the bell unexpectedly, too, and going to a window would be no good. I didn't want to scare them. I waited a long time. I figured Mrs. H couldn't hear it. I figured Mr. H couldn't see to get downstairs, and, in any case, neither one could get to the door quickly. I rang and waited. And waited some more.


It could have been that they weren't there, but I know they don't drive anymore, even though they still have a Mercedes that the family rolls out every once in a while to keep it functional. I tried to look in the side garage window to see if there was a car, but the light had timed out. So I ran with wet hair, looking like a bag person, straight across the driveway to the home of Bill, the neighborhood's megamoney IBM early retiree. Bill is the Hs' brief former Garbage Guy. Bill can't do the job anymore because he spends most of his time at a second home on Martha's Vineyard. I figured he'd know if there were any tricks with the doors, or might at least have phone numbers of the Hs' family members.

First, I had to sheepishly endure the inevitable, "You did WHAT? Say that again?" and a further, "You did WHAT??" followed by the wordless but unmistakable "you idiot" facial expression. Very painful.

Bill phoned the H house and got the answering machine. He concluded that Harriet and Horace had been taken out to dinner by their elegant, compassionate and thoughtful local-dwelling daughter, P, who's close to 60. Heck, goin' out past 7:30 p.m., the lot of them party hardier than I ever have at any stage of my life. But I digress.

Bill followed me to the garage door to assess my damage. It was official: the twist-blunder I suspected I'd wreaked had indeed occurred, and there was no way to fix it except to look from inside the garage. We went to the front door again, but as before there was no response.

Bill said, "Well, I do have a key for emergencies, but in this situation I'm not sure that's wise."

I replied, "Right. That's going too far. This doesn't require drastic measures, as it might in a health situation. As when Harriet calls the Fire Department when she has a nose bleed. You know, roughly twice a month."

"Yep. Okay. You run back up to your house, and I'll leave a note about what's going on and stick it on the garage door so that when P rolls up the driveway either she'll see it and know what to do, or Horace will amble out and find it. I'll tell 'em to call you at your number. I'll be in the front room of my house, and I'll notice when a car drives up or the lights go on over there, and after that I'll call you."


As I ran up the hill, I started shivering in my boots. Because two possible things are certain anytime you get talking to either of the Hs on the phone: either he will detain you for two hours talking your ear off about what it was like in our little town in 1950 (and you will never be able to get your point across although you are genuinely enjoying the history and would love to set aside another time to hear about it), or she will ask entirely pertinent, direct questions that you can barely understand but upon understanding earnestly want to answer, but you will never be able to get her to hear the answers. She'll just keep asking and saying, "What? I need you to come to bridge. What? Did you say you can play bridge? What? Did you say you can't play?"

It's devastating, really; any communication encounter with either of them that does not directly involve the written word, the Pony Express, a guiding hand, signing or Braille is an event to be avoided at all cost. Imagine how it was without telephones or incandescent light. We have such high expectations.

but then, as I was writing this--

Oh, excuse me. My phone rang. "Mrs. --? Horace H here. How are you this evening? We have just come up our driveway. We found a note that said to call you."

Oh, God! Now I was going to have to explain what happened, and he would either 1) talk right through me, or 2) not understand my explanation, or 3) start off on a never-ending tangent , or 4) pass the phone to Harriet.

"Yes, Mr. H! I'm so sorry, but Tyke couldn't take out your garbage today. I decided I'd do it myself while it was still light before the big storm, and I believe I accidentally did something bad to your garage door."

As predicted, he is thinking something else while I'm talking and replying to his own idea, and he doesn't comprehend me. I try to explain precisely what I did, but he doesn't buy it. He's a jack of all concepts, master of none.

"It's just the door. Sometimes it does that."

"Mr. H, I'm pretty sure I turned the handle and that disabled it. I locked it up somehow. It's my fault. But I know there's some latch on the inside of the door that will fix it."

In the background, I heard P say, "Daddy, the door's not going up." (Shudder on my end of phone. My fault.)

See. I had done it.

I gave up trying to tell Mr. H what happened. He was beyond hearing about it. Instead, I shifted my focus to the action item.

"Mr. H, someone has to go into the garage from inside the house to fix the door. There's a latch in there. I'm very sorry I screwed it up."

"That's all right, Mrs. --. " I looked out the window and saw that someone had turned on the lights to go through the house. "I think we've got it now. P took the barrels out. It's okay." (Humiliation mine.)

Five minutes later, Bill called.

"Hey, they're home. They put the car in the other side." Not helpful information. I wanted the other shoe to drop. This minimal Bill info did not tell me that the Hs or their resourceful daughter had figured out what happened to the door and fixed it. It just let me know that they'd been able to open the other side, which they always could have done with their remote control anyway. No more than a 50% chance of progress made on the blunder front.

See? No matter what moms do with best intentions, they're wrong.

Now I get to wait and see how my family will ridicule and verbally abuse me when they all get home. No one will thank me for taking out our own family's garbage and recycling (the kids' job which they weren't frigging here to do and haven't done properly despite direct specific instructions for the past five years), or for also trying valiantly to take out the Hs' garbage in the rain in order to save the reputation of the stunning baseball kid who the whole neighborhood thinks is a hero. They will just be universally mean and think it was funny that they got away without doing it and I got soaked and my hair looks idiotic and wild. Ha, ha, ha.

I hate boys. When I'm 80 something and finally decide to get a tattoo, that's what it will be. I hate boys, with a heart turned upside down and protected with a chain-link fence. And you'd better believe I'll carry a big, heavy cane and wear kick-ass boots. To thrash boys with.

On a nearly different subject--and this one's enjoyable--there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of being in cahoots with other neighbors who don't even like you and have never opened their door to you, and whom you don't particularly like, but who are entirely willing to engage in a phone-and-key-and-spying cabal on the brink of breaking in, in order to benefit someone special on your street whom you all commonly respect and care about.

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Poetry Thursday 5/17/07

We lived in England a little longer than a calendar year. My first son was only reception-school age then, and still an only child. We used to take the bus from our suburb into the city centre for adventures. We enjoyed the pedestrian mall in our otherwise wonderfully historic city. He still remembers a specific afternoon, and though he's a teen now, sometimes asks, "Mom, remember that sandwich?"


In Bristol's City Centre,
we made the choice to enter
the Marks & Sparks to purchase prefab lunch.

We found a slatted park bench
beside a refuse bin's stench
and tucked into our soggy noontime munch.

My son sat weepy, moany
(he hates cheese and baloney!)
he raised the bread and earthward flopped the meat.

Before we knew what hit us,
with jerky, daft impetus
a greedy pigeon plucked it from the street.

He strutted, coldcut in beak--
(this feast could last a whole week!)
he gorged a bite, then flipped the ample snack.

He hadn't calculated,
(his hunger still unsated)
that what he'd tossed had landed on his back.

The stupid, flying rodent!
commotion most explodent
ensued among the others of his race;

They tackled mercilessly
they pecked their portions. Left he
confused, deprived, a meal-less disgrace.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Somebody Bob Overhearing

I'm a bit behind in my language-overhearing postings. Frequently I make a note in my little 4.5 in. x 3.25 in. Composition book with marbled green cover and taped spine, but I don't get back to it for a looooooong time. Basically some cataclysm has to disjar it from its entrapment in the bottom folds of my handbag lining.

So it is with great pleasure that I suddenly remembered to find and get these off the docket.

At the end of April we (the two male offspring and I) were in the dumpy little car coming back from the elder's weekend Madrigal Choir rehearsal at the local uni, listening to something funny on National Public Radio, when Tyke wanted to respond (in the immortal words of the recently late Peter Boyle, of Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond fame), "Ho-o-oly Cra-a-ap!" Only he suddenly bit his tongue and instead said,
Ho[ly]! Cr[ap]oowwly Bob!
Well, now every member of our family knows what we need to exclaim in moments of great emotional transport. "Ho! Cr--owly Bob!" It's your all-around general-purpose swear. It falls into the great tradition of, "Well, I swan!" as some of us used to say who were raised in ladylike Southern traditions. You could not say, "Well, I swear," or even permit yourself to think "I swear"; you had to think and say something at least once-removed, as if it were a seldom seen and quite possibly completely unwelcome visiting cousin. Sometimes it was, "Well, I swaaannneeee!" (Twice-removed.)

It's not just a Southern thing. Even my Northeastern father-in-law says the once-removed "Oh, Sugar!" instead of, "Oh, sh**!" I've never heard him say anything worse, although I'm sure he's moved to [often] and has [many times].

So for now, our family has adopted
Ho! Crowly Bob!
You cain't hardly beat an oath like that with a stick, and nobody, but nobody, can take eksepshun to it or be offended by it--yet--unless that person's name is ackxerly Crowly Bob and I hope nobody's is. If he was to come after Tyke, I'd challenge 'im and reckon there'd be fisticuffs, but so far we hasn't run acrosst no takers.

I currently live a couple of blocks away from the Mark Twain house. (Yes! I really do! It's my favorite place in town, because in the most recent renovations they obtained, reconstructed, and displayed the actual Paige Compositor that, for me as a writer and former newspaper typesetter and page compositor, has been like finding the Holy Grail. All my life I wanted to see that thing, and after all my ridiculous nomadic relocation, it came to me! Even worse, I want to just climb into the display and start composing. Don't tell anybody. They won't let me in anymore.) Anyway. Reading all that Sam Clemens litrichur including the Compleat Letturs and Ottobyografy to get yerself sivilized and sophiscated sinks into a person. Sorry;
Ho! Crowly Bob!
there goes my durn langige agin.

During the same car ride, #1 Son, G, having just come from a very formal lesson in Renaissance and Baroque song, read something completely mundane using a cheesy lounge-singer voice. Since I was driving, I could not afford to laugh as much as really I needed to. "Stop it! I'm gonna lose control of the car!" I said.

[Will ask boys to remember what it was G was reading, and will insert here when gleaned.]

Tyke said, "G, read it again in your decorish voice!"


I got the sun in the mornin' and the moon at night

Today's result from the poetry random prompt generator was "eclipse." Odd, I already had one for that wonderful word. It's a cinquain, based on a Cherokee myth.

a great frog jumped
to gobble up the sun.
With greater noise we'll frighten him
back down.

Small Blessings, and Not

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I was planning to post a couple of poems, one that I wrote about being a mother, and another that I wrote about my own mother. But the day got busy and there was franticness and a whole-house aura of gloom-and-doom about the kitchen floor (which has been torn up, and, lucky family! It's all torn up in front of the sink and we can't walk on it now, so washing dishes and running the dishwasher are both inadvisable), and then we got tangled up in the return of Tyke from a sleepover, baseball practice and two baseball games (one of which was an impromptu playdate). All that was followed by trips to the hardware store and Radio Shack for necessary boy-project supplies.

To put it mildly, the day didn't go so well for this mom. I was hoping for some quiet.


On Saturday, when asked what I wanted to do, I announced my Sunday plans: 1) I was not chauffeuring anyone anywhere; 2) I was not attending any events; 3) I was not cleaning anything; 4) I was not doing any favors; 5) I was not doing any dishes; 6) when I came down after sleeping in in the morning I wanted all the washed dishes put away; 7) I was neither cooking nor preparing anything for myself; #8 I wanted to hear the laundry going all day, but none of it would be done by me.

#s 1 and 2 fell apart right away. I chauffeured, and attended a baseball game, and chauffeured again.

#3? I got so disgusted with the kitchen counter that I cleaned it. And I made the bed because its dishevelment gave me the creeps.

Given my decree, #4 fell under the auspices of #s 1, 2 and 3.

#5 was interpreted by the Testosterone League (who outnumber me by three) as, "Neither are we, of course, so that means we'll just do what we always do, leave them there and wait until it's not Mother's Day or your birthday anymore and you'll wind up having to do them anyway."

#6 came at the price that while I wanted to sleep in, I couldn't because they made so much noise putting the dishes (which I had washed) away. Oh, and the birds were making such a racket, and the window was open and the traffic was loud, and despite the "shade" being down the room was a beacon of light, and then the frigging phone rang just to finish it all off for me, and of course no one else answered even though they were up and knew I was still in bed.

#7 Since I wasn't cooking, they foraged for themselves, and I didn't get anything to eat.

#8 didn't happen because either they weren't home or they were doing something else.

So I'll save the planned poetry post for later. Because of yesterday, I have a lot more poetry to write about being a mother, so it's gonna take a while.

Forget breakfast in bed. Unheard of in this domicile. Did someone even think of making a cup of coffee? I had to make it myself, just like every other day of the year. A gift? Don't be silly. At some point while I was sitting on the sofa, a muffled whisper came from the computer corner where #1 Son was IM-ing. "Ha--- m------ d-- M--." What? Did he say something?

I did, however, upon descending the stairs, find a hastily made printer-paper card on the landing. Tyke does not like to draw, as will soon become apparent. In looking at the card, you might think he is in kindergarten. But he's actually rapidly heading toward middle school. If I didn't love him and the card so much, and if he didn't have so many other more promising skills, I'd think it was just sad. I suspected that his father had forced him to do it at the last minute under extreme duress. And, for a kid who always scores 100% on his spelling and punctuation for school, it's downright pathetic.

But many years of neglect by my offspring have left me sniffing for the slightest crumbs of love, so I'll post the crumbs here.

I thought it interesting that he depicted himself as a baby in a high chair saying "Momma." It's true that we both look back on that and remember it being a very happy time. He still occasionally asks me if I remember when we used to have our daily cuddle time before toddling down to the school to get big brother from kindergarten.

Funny, too, that my shoes are so big. I'm wearing Earth shoes lately.

Inside (in his spelling): "You make the best food in the world! Thank you for giving me the cloths on my back and the food in my stumach. You are great!" Picture interpreted: knife to left of plate. Steaming plate. Fork. Even though that is not the order in which he sets the table. Shorts. Tee shirt. Sorry attempt at shoes with laces; at first I thought they were flies. They're kind of Charlie-Brownlike.

"You let me do lots of things like have my friends over ahd help sign me up for baseball. Thanks for that mom!" WHYBL stands for our baseball league. When asked who the "Yo" person was, Tyke replied, "I don't know. It's just some dude."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Poetry Thursday 5/10/07 "June Bug"

This week's assignment was to use the random generator. My word was "static." Lucky me.

It reminded me of my elder child's bright, light, floaty hair when he was a toddler, how he loved to scoot around on the nylon carpet on his back, and of my opening the front door carrying him in my arms. He would always reach out to strike the little wind chime just inside the front door. He thought the sound of it was a special celebration. The chime now hangs outside our current porch door.

Here's the chime as it looks today, weathered, repaired, and as well loved by the whole family as ever:

Here's the poem:

June Bug

small George
juvenile June bug
scuttles his back
bellymound rolling
one side and yon across
gritted carpet

his legs laugh a tune
they knock together
he sings
"The Eatza-Pizza-Pie-der!"
small hair a gold
static clingstack

he plays
wood-and-metal chimes
small ears
tickled by the loud

he shouts,

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Yes, I believe words have flavor. Here I go again, watching the gol-durned corruption-box TV. I just heard a commercial for some sort of fiber product that you stir into a glass of water. They claim it's clear and

I remember the last time we heard that word used in an ad, and all of us laughed. #1 Son said, "How can a product like that be 'tasteless'? It's not kitschy or anything. Don't they mean, 'flavorless'?"

I think it's tasteless to talk about fiber and bowel functions on TV. But consider the source: I was also raised in a family where no one was ever allowed to fart except in the bathroom, and people certainly did not discuss such matters except in hushed tones and in extreme confidence. We were, uh, anal about it all. (Look at that, Mom and Dad and Grandma Sylvia! I said FART and ANAL on the world-wide internet and used them in conjunction with your names!) No, I'm okay. They won't beat me out the screen door with brooms or anything. But that's only because they're all dead.

Although my Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide does list "lacking flavor" as its first definition for the word "tasteless," and the first definition is usually the "preferred" definition, here at Chez Laugh About Language we take exception to that definition. It would be tasteless to poison someone with something flavorless. I don't want to consume anything that's tasteless, unless I bought it on purpose because I was charmed by its tackiness. I have a number of objects that attest to my lack of taste. For instance, I just bought a pair of UCLA Crocs in Bruin colors, bright blue and yellow. They are really ugly, and I just love them. They pamper my heel spur while at the same time looking like football helmets for feet. My son says, "Mom, those are shoes with a message, and the message is, 'trailer trash!'" They were a tasteless choice.

Anyway, my point? I don't like the usage of "tasteless" meaning "flavorless," because in my family it was never used. "Tasteless" always meant "in bad taste." If we meant "without flavor," we said "flavorless." In addition, we had a little rule that if you ran across a usage that resulted in some form of ambiguity or could be easily misconstrued, you simply said what you wanted to say a different way so as to avoid the ambiguity or misconstruction.

On to the next thing. On the local news the other night, "two men were seen to flee the scene." I might save that for a poem I'll write later. But it sounded stupid at the time. It looks better than it sounds, like "He just wants to get you a loan."

Which reminds me of one that has bothered me for years and which I hear on the news all the time:
A [insert age of person or vehicle here] was found (or discovered) missing.

No. It/s/he decidedly was not found or discovered. That's why they're referred to as missing.

Of course I wonder if there's an official linguistic term for such a construction. I guess it's a whole different sort of oxymoron. A verbal oxymoron? Usually oxymorons are modifier-noun constructions: "jumbo shrimp"; "government intelligence." This is a past-present participle construction. I can't think of any other examples of that, and I'm making my own brain tired trying to think. It doesn't get a lot of exercise. (Sometimes I am my own peeve.) "Dried sprinkling" or something like that. Oh, shut up and go do something else, sputnik! End of post.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Blast from the Past

Now and then we have a fabulous unearthing here. It doesn't happen often, because frequent howlings from the local harridan (that would be me) routinely fall on deaf ears, so nobody cleans anything out except me, and Lord I am tired.

But Kid #1 actually cleaned up his room before his grandparents came to visit. And I mean CLEANED as he's never cleaned before. Victory! I went upstairs and found that he'd moved all of the furniture out of the room and put it in the hall. That's how clean. The process was scary, since I've never seen anything like it except when I do it myself.

After some hours (yes! I did say "hours"!), he came downstairs to show me a piece of paper. It was a wonderful sharing. I gave him a big hug, and it was mutual. The paper had come from an early elementary school journal. I believe it might have been something the administrators had him write one of the times he got angry and in trouble, and was required to reflect on and record his thoughts.

We tried to figure out how old he was when he wrote it. I worked it back to second grade. To my regret, I must report that his handwriting has not changed a whit since then. Fortunately, since then, we've also unearthed some large processing problems (not learning disabilities--just problems processing, organizing, and getting things on paper without a computer).

It says [preserving his original spelling]:
  1. Success is a do it yourself project. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big diference.
  2. "If called by a panther don't anther"
  3. I've larnd perents do care about it.
  4. I've learnd when I don't dance alot I get mad esely.
  5. Violence dosn't help your feling.
  6. & to say excuseme.
  7. I saw a poleciman today how had to kill a man with his gun because he stabed his wife 30 times and killd her then tride to kill the polecman and his 4 kids.
  8. today I find out what part in the play I have, I want to be pelvis elvis. he sings shake rattel them bones. I also had fun in math we did muliplication in the trillions it was cool. I hope I got a good grade in spelling, too. We did letters about blank [the rest is illegible, and it's been so long that even he can't decipher it.]
  9. My Mom found a 5 store house with galotn spa [becomes illegible and unintelligible; he says he was just writing because he was told to write and he had to make it appear as though he were writing].
#9 is very weird to me--eerie, in fact--because when a layoff forced us to move from our tiny beloved town (the town where we were living when he wrote this piece), we did indeed find a 5 story house with a spa. (I'm still sorry. I never wanted to leave our wonderful house in tiny town.) The main point is, we didn't have to look for a different house until 2002. That's just weird. How did he know three years ahead of time? Given the date of his writing, we had only moved to [previous town] one month before. At that time were just beginning to enjoy what we considered our "new" house (our previous house), and he already had a prophecy about the next one. The one where we live now. Which is a split level with 5 levels because it is strange and built down a hill. Weird.

And he still has dance by passion, but he switched from modern to ballet and has two different classes a week. With dance, piano, and lots of singing, he is a happy camper now. He's had a pretty good run of years. I hope he'll keep out of the principal's office and never have to write such a thing again. Especially since he got into an arts academy for the rest of high school.

Poetry Thursday 5/3/07

Ten-Minute Spill (full explanation of this apparent "nonsense" exercise follows; if curious before reading the poems, scroll to the text in red below.)


Discretion is the better part of dolor:
Dribbling words of black pitch
down one's chin
a flapping,
doubly unstable cliff
is as wise as licking a needle
that's strung an acre
of blackberry thorn.
Better not to rend
the tender edge of voice.

A foolish consistency
is the panacea of little minds
who'd rather jump off a cliff
than whir through the examined life
spinning under pins and needles.

a cloud of pitch in water,
inks up their days,
their mother of misinvention
scolds with muffled, murky voice.

the night comes brambling
to catch evasions, like blackberry vines.

I really love the book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach (Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, Harper-Collins, 1992). It's broken up into sections that help suggest ideas as well as hone skills: the unconscious as a source of ideas; image and metaphor; aspects of voice; accidents, chance, and the non-rational; structure and organizing principles; sound, rhythm, and the line; and revision and writer's block. Not only do the poets explain what they are unleashing and what you are accomplishing, but examples are also included.

If you use this book as a resource, you will NEVER have "writer's block," and so the final section will not be necessary. You might say the book is like, uh, to be indelicate--a laxative for writer's block. When I want a change or just some good fun, this is my absolute go-to pal.

The "Ladders to the Dark" section (tapping the unconscious) is probably my favorite. You can get some startling and fascinating results. And nonsense. And odd sense.

Today's poem was generated under the influence of Rita Dove's exercise "Ten Minute Spill" (p. 13). A couple of years ago I had the great honor of attending a reading where I got to meet Ms. Dove and thank her personally for the exercise while she signed my copy of American Smooth.

I think it would be really fun to do this in a classroom or with several friends and then read the differences of all your individual results. I haven't done that yet, but wish I had.

It goes like this:
  1. Ten lines.
  2. Include a proverb, adage, or familiar phrase (such as "robbing Peter to pay Paul," or "you can lead a horse to water . . ."). But you have to change the phrase or adage somehow. Mine were "Discretion is the better part of valor" and "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
  3. Use five of the following ten words (this is Rita Dove's list as published in Behn and Twichell's book, but I would suggest making up a list of your own and using at least five of them): cliff, needle, voice, whir, blackberry, cloud, mother, lick.
  4. Do it in ten minutes (that's all that's allowed! Set a timer and quit when it rings, but you'll probably be done before then) and see what you get.

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Teenage Conversation

This is the whole thing.

Phone rings: Ring, ring.

15-year-old boy answers.

Complete silence.

15: Oh. . . . . . . . Hello.
(blabbering on the other end)

15: Yeah. (Clear that he does know the speaker.)
(further blabbering)

15: Yep.
(yet more blabbering)

15: (deadpan) That's good.
(some sort of appeal)

15: Okay.