German French Toast

A recipe qua love letter.

When I first moved to Berlin—or rather, came on a one-way, first-class train ticket to visit my new love some two-and-a-half years ago, and never left—I vaguely recognized “Danke” from multi-lingual thank-you notes. You know the ones, decorated with the word “Thanks” in seven languages, different sizes and fonts scattered across the page like hands waving in a group—all saying the same thing, all the better for their blithe redundancy. I had learned French in high school, which was of no use to me now—except in fostering the hope that I could learn German, too. This in spite of having lived in Holland for three months, interrupted in the middle by one glorious month in Lisbon, without picking up even the ability to recognize Dutch or Portuguese. (Now I know: Dutch sounds like German without being German, and there are no other common European languages like that. Portuguese sounds Slavic without being Slavic, and there are seven other common European languages like that.)

Mark Twain once wrote of “The Awful German Language” that “Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp.” Twain’s beef aside, learning German isn’t all that different from learning French. You have to soak in it for a while, getting soggy in the batter of your stupidity before the lattices of the brain loosen. Then you can jump in the frying pan of real conversation, browning and firming up what seeped in there somehow. If you can learn French, you can learn German. Except perhaps in Berlin.

Berlin to me is a city of love and sweetness. Probably in the first case because I came here for love. But also because it has this vibe of kindness, silliness, celebration, and having time for life. It’s not unusual to see musicians busking in Mauerpark on Sunday, just far enough away so you can make out the different tunes. Or someone wearing gold lamé pants on the subway—or a man wearing lipstick, or a gorgeous young woman in (weather permitting) a summery dress and no bra. I threw away the only bra I came to Europe with years ago; no one has ever catcalled me here, regardless.

The culture of safe self-expression extends even to the corporate world. Local ads for public transit announce that the buses and trains are good here, “Weil wir lieben dich“—because we love you. To be sure, the love doesn’t extend to every grumpy, middle-aged grocery store clerk glaring and double-checking your cart for attempted shoplifting because you seem foreign. But it spreads pretty far and wide in Berlin. So much so that this is the first place that feels like home.

Forgive me for I have been born American: Home is English-speaking. It’s bad, but it’s a good problem to have. My German is coming along slowly, because in Berlin, I can usually get away with feeble attempts and switching to English.

And home is love and sweetness. So not everyday—not even every week in the era of keto-paleo-low-FODMAP-low-carb goody-goodness—but every once in a while, home requires the decadent sweetness of French toast. Not real, American French toast—the kind made with gluten, stale imitation-French bread, and childhood disappointment. But German French toast, modifying the classic recipe of love and sweetness to suit the times and our tastes.

If you can make French toast, you can make German French toast. Start with gluten-free sandwich bread, freshly freed from its airtight seal. Toast the bread slices two by two while mixing five eggs, two extra egg yolks, half a cup of milk or rice milk, one dash of salt per egg, and a similar sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. Soak the toasted slices two by two while readying the toppings on the table: maple syrup, cinnamon sugar, cherry preserves, 100% dark chocolate broken into bits for toast-top melting, white miso paste, and rainbow sprinkles. Then cook the soaked toast with extra egg batter spooned over the top and sides to spilling, letting the pairs of pieces brown on medium-high heat in a non-stick pan with a small bit of light cooking oil.

It helps to have at least two and preferably three extra lovely people on hand for good company and quality control. That way, it doesn’t matter that you have to keep toasting, soaking, cooking, and flipping the rest of the batches while the first one, two, three pairs of French toast are done, and need to be eaten while they’re hot. I actually enjoy keeping on cooking while people are eating. I have to explain every time, but I’m happy to keep saying it and feeling that it’s true: There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than cooking good food for good people.

What is the opposite of YOLO (you only live once)? This is not a rhetorical question. I am still actively looking for a better way to say: You only eat too much sugar on rare occasions, so it’s less poisonous than if you did it all the time. Carpe the occasional glucose dump? Eat, drink, and be merry today, for tomorrow we may diet? I don’t know and, by the time I sit down with the last two pieces and cooked leftover egg batter, to show how to melt unsweetened chocolate on top, smother it with miso paste, pour maple syrup over, and enjoy being myself in front of my dear ones, no matter how weird I am—I don’t care.

German French toast tastes like sustainable indulgence. Aber ich muss noch Deutsch lernen.

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Road like Fire

Oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas, 2014-5, Boston. From a series of five in which the best one was in the stolen batch, and another I just gave away. I guess I should have a go at the “road like fire” concept anew one of these days.

What is it about the road that is so like fire?
Staring into it, watching the landscapes flicker,
I fall into the trance of night
like a cat’s liquid pounce into a lap.
Like a hunter caught in a larger cat’s trap—
happy, hot, swaying lap.

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Newsletter Change

“These are your privacy settings. Blink to accept,” oils on 100 x 80 cm stretched canvas, 2017-18. 

As I mentioned in my newsletter last week… Due to changes in European data law (GDPR, taking effect this week)—and my impression that social media is crap—I’m leaving MailChimp.

I’ll just email people who want to continue receiving infrequent updates about my art, writing, and other goings-on. What that means for my website is that now the newsletter sign-up on the side-bar is gone. So, like it says on my About page, just email me (if you haven’t already) if you would like to receive infrequent updates on my art, writing, research, etc.

Either way, I’m deleting my MailChimp account and all the data it holds this week. I’m so much happier off Facebook and Twitter.  And I don’t want / use / even know all the data MailChimp collects on email marketing… So I know it’s going to feel better to not have that lying around, either.

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Stones

“Stones”

“some sorrows are like stones, and they never melt, though our tears rain and groove them… “—Derek Walcott

Yes, I have carried many heavy stones.
Sometimes the weight has made me stronger.
Sometimes I could not walk any longer.
What is it to you if I cannot put them down?

Meanwhile the man who loves me sleeps.
I cannot injure what he owns.
I would like to lie like water in his ridges,
grooving so softly the canyon of his chest.

What I love best
is the bridges
that over water and stones
stretch solid, straight, and kind.
They are beautiful without rains and troubled water.
They are also beautiful when spring storms blind.

When the storms have passed,
sometimes the high waters have swept away
stones that seemed they couldn’t be moved,
and the bridges themselves may be grooved
like stones
that last
and last.

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Home and Home Again

A rewrite of and new riff on an older draft of a poem about being happy at home with my love. These are the sorts of things I’m not sure are original enough to leave in the book; but I’m so glad I could write them, I’ll probably let them stay nonetheless…

“Home”

Sweet, soft, clean, and hot—
too tired to remember what I’ve washed,
too happy to care. This is how we get there.
Home, into each other, every night.
Home, still inside you, you still inside me,
every sweet morning in the early light.

I want to live where this peace flows
over you from inside me
and over me from within,
over and around us like rushing water,
the impossible stream gushing from the stone.

Sleeping and waking in the rhythms of your breath,
in the rhythms of my breath,
in the flow of our dreams,
never bursting the seams of time with rush and such.
Free to be at home together
free to follow the sun, making our own weather.
You feed my gentleness, and my fire
with a love so listening, my savage squire.

***

“Home Again”

Your chest holds my face
like a glass of wine—sweet, calming, and craved
like a hot shower—warming my wearied wake
and like a favorite poem,
the cadence of your breath saying again and again
how beautiful the world is and how it is my home.

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Weiter

“Weiter” is “further”or “continue” in German. Our camper van’s name is a play on this…

“Weiter”

From the undulating Elba
to the port-pocked Rhine,
we ferry our camper
down to the sea
in no time.

We find the dunes
just as we left them,
swirling softly under the moon.
And lie down in summer grasses,
and float on soon.

Where we’ll be next time we wake,
neither of us knows.
Free in love and place and time,
to go where the wind blows.

So soft the curling dunes at night,
so sweet your pillow-chest.
I’ve never played so long and hard,
or gotten so much rest.

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So I Have Been Blogging Some Poems

“Fox and Friends,” 2017, oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (sold).

After saying that I might a few months back, I have indeed been blogging some poems. To paraphrase the Stones, it’s only poetry but I like it. And it’s going well.

I’m working on my second poetry book manuscript, Vagabonding. (My first poetry book is illustrated here.) I might restructure it completely in a next editing phase, hopefully before finishing it in August. But so far I have just rejiggered it slightly in two main rounds this year of editing, cutting around 50 pages and rewriting a bunch. So now it looks like this—

New Arriving, Europe (9—done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 9 poems from London to Lisbon and Amsterdam, where I lived when I first immigrated to Europe in 2015. I’ve edited and blogged all of them, although there are a few that I haven’t re-blogged since substantial editing and a few that I know still need good writing or to be cut.

Finding Berlin, Germany (7—done, e.g., here). Was 12, now is 7 poems, about making my home in Berlin. Again all are edited and blogged; again I still know a few that want more attention or to be cut. 

High Art (2 remaining, 6 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 8 poems on art. A few remaining to be edited into a form that I want to blog them, or cut if it can’t be done. 

Back in the Colonies (7 done, e.g., here). Was 11, now is 7 poems on goings-on back in the colonies, mostly America. All edited and blogged; still a few needing another good edit or to be cut.

Back for Forwards (9 done, e.g., here). Was 19, and then I broke this section into two parts—this section and the next. Now this section is on looking back…

One Step Forward (10 done, e.g., here)… And this section is on going forward… And all are edited and blogged. 

Relations (5 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 5 poems on family. Kill your darlings…

Nuremberg, 2027 (13 done, e.g., here). Was 10, now is 13 (mostly from re-ordering the manuscript). Envisioning future war crimes trials. All edited and blogged (in fact many more blogged than made the cut; so it goes. Forgive me for being drafty on the Internet…)

Vagabonding Anew (7 done, 2 remaining; e.g., here). Was 10, now is 9 poems on seeing my new Continent, mostly with my love in a camper van. I had blogged none back in January when I posted my draft Table of Contents, and now have edited and blogged seven; there are two remaining. 

Newly Arriving Every Time (7; to be done). Was 10, now is 7 poems on happiness and home with my love in Berlin. I’ve still only blogged just this one early version.

Others (4; to be done). Was 15, now is 4 poems on sexuality, still all needing to be edited into a form that I want to blog them, or cut. 

Sweet Home (4 remaining, 2 done; e.g., here). Was 12, now is 6 poems on being happy at home with my love again. Might combine well with the section before last. Yes, yes, that happens now. Now we’re back down to 12 sections. Good. And I can combine them so it’s 10 instead of 13, and then that might help me rewrite as well, the regrouping… Thank you, Internet, this helps.

Sweet Roam (2 remaining). Was 5, now is 2 long trip sequence poems. With many parts. That I’m still not sure what to do with, in whole or in part. 

I guess I’ll wrap up the obvious—editing and blogging what stays from the last five sections—before re-printing the manuscript physically and/or re-structuring the whole. I’m such a Luddite when it comes to editing, especially larger projects. I really have to hold it and see it, to see it. But it’s good. I’m making good headway, and I like my work.

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Yearning for the Birth of Athena

A rewrite of an earlier draft of a much older story. Probably goes at the end of the Nuremberg 2027 section of Vagabonding (my next poetry book). If it makes the cut…

This is a poem about those times you have been crouching under a worktable re-reading The Odyssey (Emily Wilson translation), trying to ignore the bad upon worse news while yearning for some mother-fucking eagles to swoop down and tear out some mother-fucking faces, pre-journey Telemachus-style—but you know much of art and religion is just one, long imagining of unattainable justice in (and beyond) an unjust world, and a blinding one that promotes false faith at that. It’s useful when it gets you out of a bad situation (trust in God and get on a plane). But then you put it away like a security blanket and face facts.

There will be no eagles. Only books and tables, and coming back out from under them to vagabond, relax, see so many gorgeous palaces and cathedrals that you’re all cathedralled out for a while, and accidentally discover Virgo Lactans—paintings of Mother Mary squirting milk on baby Jesus, [your favorite monk or benefactor here], and the flames on the poor souls in purgatory. With the help of baby Jesus, who aims.

So at least not all art is fantasy about over-coming powerlessness. Some art is fantasy about magical breast-milk. Which I guess is a male fantasy about over-coming the powerlessness of not being able to lactate, by getting to direct the lactation. Hmm.

In any case, I guess you could say this is a poem about not waiting for a hero, even one who defies normal gender roles to the extent that she’s born war-ready from the wrong end of the wrong gender. Athena has it all; but we don’t have Athena.

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas, 2016 or so, web store.

“Yearning for the Birth of Athena”

You know how it is when
you lay with the goddess
of lulz and wisdom,
and have second thoughts.

So you swallow the bitch—
the available plan B.
But instead of dying,
she’s splitting your skull.

Or it feels that way.
So you have your closest friends
open your head with an axe.
We’ve all been there.

The fully armored, battle-crying
goddess leaping out. The mind of god
becoming woman
with a shout.

***

Now where’s pregnant Zeus,
when we need him most?
Why are the fighting, fucking, meddling gods
waiting to jump in and save the coast?

Did they get distracted
by their social media stats?
Are they working their second jobs?
Are they busy watching cats?

Or did we anger them so much
that they left for good this time?
Never again to grant a foolish wish for golden touch?
Nor to settle injustice itself—instead of crime?

Stop waiting for your hero
to pop out of some pompous dude.
Or the chances will be zero
that we’re anything but screwed.

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Painting Itsukushima

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

This is a rewrite of a poem I linked to yesterday in the “empires fall” vein. It’s still not as tight after rewriting as this one that says much the same thing, but that came out whole. That’s ideas for you… Sometimes when you hold out your hands you can catch them. Anyway, literally this is a poem about the shrine that survived the nuclear blast in Hiroshima.

 

“Painting Itsukushima”

Bring me your despair—but only a bit.
Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pour out what you must and I’ll sweeten it.

Every day I pour myself out—sometimes by pouring in.
Every day the great works of the ages wear a little thin.
Time ravages everything. No one knows what will happen.

Except in the big picture we’re all doomed, and that’s alright.
Everyone dies. Empires fall. Experts imagine they know what’s right.
Our brains tell us stories, day and night.

If you had seen Rome crumbling, what would you have done?
Written a friend, retired to think, sent away your only son?
Toward the end, it must have been clear to everyone.

Maybe fiddling on the roof is all there is to be done.
A fireball—the phallic missiles’ burst—the arms race finally won.
Madmen have ruled the world before.

Yet we’ve avoided nuclear war.
The blasts thus far have been contained. But not the fear—
the blanking mind, making threats; the will to fight, flee, and follow.

It hits us all—soft skins, soft cells, soft atoms, mostly hollow.
Maybe that’s how the shrine in the water not so far out
from Hiroshima survived the bomb.

Too much substance in its spirits for its matter to go wrong.

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Pula, Istria—Croatia

This is a poem in my happy vagabonding series (e.g., 1, 2, 3…) in my Vagabonding poetry book (in manuscript) about exploring my new Continent in good company. It’s about admiring the Roman ruins in Pula, Istria (Croatia) with my love last summer. It also resonates with some other poetry I’ve written/blogged/illustrated, on how empires fall.

“Pula, Istria”
Croatia

Here is pink!
and there is purple!
Begonia bound
and gate crepe myrtle.
Olive upon olive tree
to cook and lather you and me.
Vineyards for the sweetest wine—
and of the ending, not a sign
but these stone ruins on the hill.
(No reason, either, crossing this
pagan blue sky they touch and kiss.)
This morning, we can build them still.
The Roman bridge, the Gothic arch,
and its devout and sure démarche.

But we had better write it down
in some form other than a town,
before that old collective rot
starts in
and we forget again
how it had been
to build
(and be fulfilled
by) what they built
(with trig, not guilt),
after we lose
the muse
of what
we got.

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What Loves a Wall


From the stacks of gouache, pencils, ink, and mixed media on paper I made last spring-summer, largely illustrating poems in my next book, and still haven’t photographed to properly put online. 

For a long time I’ve struggled to situate Robert Frost’s brilliant poem “Mending Wall” in the context of Trump’s America—responding to harsh anger and intentional ugliness with this beautiful, rambling softness of a story. In spite of its limitations there is something powerful and human about arguing this way—as a creative human being rather than a fighter or a machine. Something worth the work.

So I made some poem-paintings riffing on it, recorded the poem, tried setting it in my own lyrics riffing on it on top of my favorite Chopin Nocturne, apologized to Chopin, used the music to edit my poem anyway, and continued to feel there is a song here but I haven’t sung it. Frost’s most haunting line here has innate melody.

But the rest has yet to spin out for me, if it ever does. Often music is like this for me. I feel I have a job to show up to, but I show up and the flow gets stuck. The same thing happens with speaking sometimes, but I manage. Someday I hope to get through a few Berklee music theory and practice books that have been sitting on top of my beloved piano forever, to retrain my 20+ year old rusty classical music mind to compose and play more pop-y stuff, so that I can finally write, learn, and perform proper accompaniment for the poems that have melodies.

Poems have always had melodies in my mind—to the extent that I used to assume they do to everyone. It still seems strange to me when it’s this pronounced, that it’s only me. Can’t you hear it? “The thing with feathers” that doesn’t love a wall…

Your Daughter’s Voice (U.Va. Serpentine Wall),” oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas, 2014 (sold).


“What Loves a Wall”

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”—Robert Frost

Faith doesn’t love a wall,
but releases its wings
to the winds in a sprawl,
letting go of direction-like things.

Hope doesn’t love a wall,
loves looking up and around in thrall,
wants to see the neighbors and all,
likes to be seen by one and all.

Love can’t not love—yet with walls,
stays to herself, silenced, feeling the cold
creep into her gardens and halls.
Love within walls doesn’t live to grow old at all.

Peace might seem at first to love a wall—
to be left alone, quiet at home, with no visitors.
But people are animals—need contributors,
friends and fellow-travelers, and inquisitors.

Trust doesn’t love a wall at all.
Nor understanding, its cozy nest and catchall.
Trust and understanding don’t love a wall.
And what loves a wall, doesn’t love them at all.

What loves a wall is fear.
What loves a wall is degradation.
What loves a wall is panic and its blindness that makes more blindness.
What loves a wall, loves the shame of a nation.

What loves a wall is wrongdoing.
What loves a wall is wealth that has no mercy on the suffering.
What loves a wall is shame.
What loves a wall, loves pain.

But what loves a wall most of all is the sea,
making modern sea walls crumble
with post-modern holes and speed.
Or maybe it’s the falling-apart of the plates’ shifting rumble.
Or the new life—trees and bushes, animals, mosses, and things—
the new life that follows destruction so quickly,
it can seem like rotting makes a bird sing
when it’s only the rising sun,
only the unwalled wordly one,
only the same, impossible will to keep on
that drives on everyone.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That something is a part of us all.

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We were paradise

“feeding the well”—pouring inspiration/goodness/newness in without expecting anything out; Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. 

Recently I was feeding the well in Málaga, where I saw and reviewed a lovely Mediterranean art exhibit. And this is a poem about feeding the well, as an activist as well as an artist, last summer in Croatia with my love and another member of our tribe (h/t GP).

“We were paradise”

We were olive trees
we were stark blue seas
we were nearer to Greece than I’ve ever been
and you tasted the olives and said it’s a sin
how empires have changed so much since then.

We were rosemary breeze
we were soft pink flowers
we were walking on blisters and talking for hours.
And I bought you apricots like you had at your aunt’s,
and no one on the beach was bothered with pants.

What was the world while we were paradise?
What glaciers melted while we were fresh ice?
What forests burned down while we played nice?
What cities flooded, what droughts drilled what dirt?

Though we missed many train-wrecks—
failed to feel all the hurt—
we were trees and seas and needed breeze.
We were flowers and hours and apricots on the beach.
When we meet again, in peacetime or in breach,
I’ll call up this you if you call up this me.

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Roast Chicken at McSweeney’s

When my devices didn’t reliably display websites’ actual content, my accounts apparently engaged in activity not of my doing, my phone didn’t reliably complete calls as dialed, a buncha my files disappeared, and other crazy shit happened in Boston in 2015, one of the funniest things was how a website that looked like mine but wasn’t had recipes alongside sex toy reviews. What’s more embarrassing: that, or the fact that at the time, I hadn’t ever touched a sex toy? Unless you count Barbies, which have many uses… (Clearly my embarrassment threshold has grown three sizes since then.)

But I used to love writing recipes, including some that were published years ago as Reviews of New Food for McSweeney’s—Coconut Borscht, Chocolate Love Vegan Cupcakes, Shepherds-Who-Want-You-To-Be-Healthy Pie, Herbal Supplements, and Hot Chai Malk. Which reminds me of how, at one time before the current era of bliss—and before the immediately preceding era, in which I only stopped working to apply calories to body to avoid problems—I also enjoyed cooking. A lot. 

In fact, as a little girl I enjoyed it so much that I tried various cooking-centered businesses, like selling brownies (or giving them away) to the neighbors (age 8?) and Christmas pralines to local businesses (age 20). That was when I wasn’t selling (or giving away) art cards and paintings. It should have told me something that my early cooking and art-centered business ventures generally involved losing money and/or giving the best stuff away. But I like what I like.

And as this new recipe at McSweeney’s today suggests, I like roast chicken. Also Germany. Germany is nice. I would like to become German as soon as possible, but the citizenship road is about 7 years long and I’ve only been here about 2.5 years. So like any good American, I’m brainstorming how to achieve my dreams through careful planning, hard work, and unfair shortcuts.

What if I get a quick online degree in nuclear physics? What if I marry a Dutchman who speaks really good German? What if my great-grandmother was a starving Jewish girl sent by her Romanian parents from Iași to live with relatives in illustrious Stanisławów, Austria-Poland-Ukraine, but luckily she GTFO before they killed all the Jews in all the places and none of my relatives on that side had any citizenship to restore to me now anyway because they were all, as I may have mentioned, Jews? GIVE ME CITIZENSHIP AND I WILL BAKE YOU BROWNIES.

Wait, is quid pro quo for citizenship illegal? Look, all I’m saying is, Make Vera European Again.

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Seafood Bisque

Recently a dear friend asked for my chicken recipe. As I only keep secrets that need keeping, I wrote it out for her. But I got a little carried away and wrote it like I used to write Reviews of New Food for McSweeney’s—which is to say, snarkily. Then I submitted it to McSwy’s, even though I hadn’t written for them in years. And they took it!

I was so excited that I wrote another review immediately, which the editor kindly pointed out was lovely but longer than what they normally publish. So I cut it by half, and the editor kindly pointed out it was more of a straight-up recipe than what they normally publish. That was when I realized I had forgotten to review in my reviews. Here’s the longer-still rewrite, which remedies that error.

I do, however, really like writing straight-up recipes and wonder if people might want them, too. After finishing my second poetry book, I’d really like to write something with more of an audience. So I wonder if that sort of a (gluten-free, oddball) cookbook project might be it. 

This is mirepoix. It goes in (almost) everything. 

“Seafood Bisque”

When I was a little girl, before my parents divorced, my abusive alcoholic father abandoned the family, and my mom got sicker and sicker—in short, before everything fell apart—we drove from the white-flight suburbs an hour and a half outside Birmingham, Alabama to the Atlantic coast of Florida, all the way to the paradisiacal beaches of Ponte Vedra near my parents’ hometown of Jacksonville, every summer I can remember. The drive would take a few days, in which my older brother and I would make shaky backseat peaces with Pez and Tchaikovsky’s life story would replay on cassettes so hot the smell of melting plastic still reminds me of Swan Lake.

All happy families, Tolstoy wrote, are happy in the same way. But all unhappy families develop their own reward systems for surviving each other on summer vacation. There in paradise, my dad would get as drunk as possible as often as possible, my mom would walk the pristine white beaches trying not to cry, and I would collect dozens upon dozens of purple shells that looked like painted half-moon fingernails. No one could ever tell me what they were called, so I named them pestañas, the Spanish word for eyelashes, because it’s pretty and sounds purple. (Google says they’re called tellins.) I don’t know what my brother did there, since he didn’t like playing or talking with me, a preference I used to think of as cold but now understand as Aspergiac.

Then we would all reconvene for a special dinner at a special club over a Japanese bridge over a man-made pond with snapping turtles that my dad joked would be in my soup, and eat luscious seafood bisque (cream soup) with diabetical Southern sweet tea. That soup tasted like butter, milk and honey, crab meat, better booze than I got sips of in my dad’s orange juice, and, quite possibly, turtle.

Times have changed. Now we know what to call my brother’s strangeness (high-functioning autism), and possibly my own; as well as our mother’s long and difficult illness (lupus). But of other people one says little, except that they have managed heroically to leave the shared muddle of our past and be whole, although it has required becoming wholly different and wholly apart. My brother and I independently changed our names during one of the stretches of months or years when we were not speaking. (I think I was first, but he wouldn’t give me a date the last time he would speak to me, which was already some time ago.)

For myself, I have managed this appearance of starting anew with no small number of aids—a brilliant and loving partner’s support in a new career on a new Continent under my new name, for example. It is sometimes said that a son grows up and leaves you, while a daughter is forever; so I spent a long time being a good daughter, after which I became a happier son. I am a pre-op trans-Continental. As a hip bastion of radical artsy sciencey LGBTQIAOHNOES, my household intermittently nerds out about ketosis, keeping sugar in the forbidden cabinet originally designated for glutenous fare, cold medication, and God. And as I moved about as far away from the U.S. South, culturally speaking, as you can get without learning Norwegian, I have learned to make my own soup—my way.

This learning did not start with old recipes, or other things I carried. The things I did not leave at first fit in a backpack. I did not miss anything else. But eventually, with the help of a very few and dear friends, I sent for more: the tapes of interviews I had conducted as a curious artist and early grad student, before turning my PhD research focus to their topic—polygraphs, or “lie detectors”; the oil paintings that I hadn’t given up, sold, or had stolen by the man who agreed to take them from the storage unit I could no longer afford to display in his AirBNBs, as a favor to us both; and at last the better flavors of my childhood—cajun spices, blackened meat, and seafood bisque.

I had hoped to turn up but never did, and still don’t know what happened to, my 500+ tellins, although I now suspect they must have been lost a decade earlier, in the emergency one-way ticket to Alabama move of ’04, when my mom’s lease was up and she was too sick to manage, so I brought her up to college with me. She slept on the sofa with mysterious bruises and rages—a different person than the mom I knew. I missed her too much to love her. No one said lupus never presents without neuropsych problems. No one said it was lupus; we figured it out. (She credits me, and I credit Isabel; but it’s patients who have the answers.) My flatmate moved out. The flirtatious older professor saw his opportunity. And there went my 20s.

Leaving everything behind was something I tried to do many times, and finally managed only under that great expatriating duress that turned out to be much more blessing than curse. Also curse. But more blessing.

Similarly, the long-undiagnosed gluten allergy that kept me accidentally skinny into my late 20s seems to have also damaged my esophagus permanently, so that I am physiologically incapable of burping—when I drink too much fizzy stuff, my throat growls all night like a bullfrog in heat—and have had to learn to cook anew several times. This was not fun when back in grad school, I was crying from intense, hyperthyroid hunger at 2:30 a.m., having lost 15 pounds and half my hair in a month, and did not know what to feed myself to keep the hunger pain at bay because everything I used to cook had gluten.

But now that my arsenal of quick snacks and full meals is fleshed out again, I can enjoy the fluidity of cooking favorites on automatic—that Zen of flow in doing something I know how to do and like doing. As well as the challenge of trying something new and complicated—like cobbling together fifteen recipes while improvising to make this soup. And making it gluten-free like I make everything, as well as low-carb like I make most things. The blessing of learning to cook and eat healthier from the curse of medically having to. That is the newness of the food here, although it is an old childhood memory I’m remaking, recipe-constructing, and reviewing at last.

***

All good seafood soups start with a strong fish fumet, or fresh stock (clear bouillon) made from boiling an enormous pot of bones and/or shells. The bones, and the fish flesh you’ll need later, must be from non-oily fish, like cod. And you cannot walk into the grocery store and ask the butcher to sell you his seafood throwaways for thirty cents, like you could when—oh my God, it’s happening—I was a little girl. I’m only 33! I think.

Anyway, grocery stores these days—oh my God, it’s really happening!—don’t sell you fish bones and shrimp or crab shells for soup. At least not anywhere I could find in Berlin, Germany. For that, I discovered after striking out four times and asking a local, you have to go to a Fischladen (fishmonger), like the aptly named Der Fischladen. And you have to call to order your kilo of carcasses a day ahead, since not many people do this. And you shouldn’t do it on a Friday or weekend, because they’re busy.

Some recipes call for pouring a half bottle of white wine over the carcasses before boiling away, but this is a waste as adding a smaller amount of wine to the soup later retains more of the flavor (and leaves more wine for drinking). The same goes for the oft-advised addition of “aromatics” (veggies and spices) to the bone broth. It’s more flavorful if you wait and, after the full pot has boiled down to a stock (which takes a few hours in a four-liter pot), separately sauté the veggies and spices. I use a modified mirepoix (French diced and sautéed veggie flavoring) of garlic, onions, fennel, carrots, celery, and parsley (in order of cook time), with 3-5 bay leaves and cajun spices—here, a mixture of vegan bouillon in place of salt, plus freshly ground black pepper, paprika, cayenne, thyme, and oregano, to taste.

When a fork mashes through the carrots easily enough, put the mirepoix in a blender (sans bay leaves). Then strain the fumet into a smaller pot. Add some of it to the veggies in the blender. Blending the veggies thickens the soup without adding flour. You can use this trick in most soup and casserole recipes. It takes half an hour or so, but adds a lot of flavor (and probably some nutrition) along with its thickness. In theory, you can make a huge batch of mirepoix ahead of time to add to different dishes bit by bit. But I’m lucky enough to be able to spend time relaxing in the kitchen; there is something incomparably peaceful for me about making fresh food in smaller batches.

The last time I made (or attempted to make) this bisque, I had forgotten to get shrimp because I was too distracted flirting with the cute, sweet Italian guys at Der Fischladen (hi Angelo, hi Daniele) after a wonderful dinner date with my hot, sweet boyfriend (and a bathtub-sized glass of wine). (Or maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful… Omg, it’s happening.) Made this way, it’s still a lovely soup, but lacks the full flavor of my childhood memory. It really needs both fish bones and shells in the broth, and fish meat and shell meat in the soup. Four out of five friends who have never heard of Ponte Vedra agree, but only after a bathtub-sized glass of wine. The fifth one thinks it needs turtle.

Sauté the meats while the fumet and vegetables blend. Then combine some of the remaining fumet with the blended fumet-vegetable mixture—as much as you need to get the consistency almost right, but still too thick for soup. Then add about a cup of cream, half a cup of white wine, and four or five ounces of cooking sherry. Every other recipe you can find will say to use 1-2.5 ounces, but these recipes are empirically wrong. It is also important to test the sherry while cooking, to be sure it has not turned communist while living in Europe.

When the fish is cooked so that it falls apart, take it off the heat long enough to crumble it into the soup, removing any remaining bones with your fingers. Chop the shrimp or crab meat and add it, too. Squeeze in a few lemon slices at the last minute. Let cool before chilling, reheating for lunch the next day, and taking some in Tupperware to share with the nice fishlads and other friends. Most seafood is best fresh, but this bisque gets better every day for the few days it lasts, the flavors seeping together like a new lover getting comfortable. It tastes like that lasting pleasure of connection not everyone experiences with birth family, but if we’re lucky we find later in good company and in bed, maybe even at the same time.

But first thing after serving the first night’s soup: Take out the trash. Yesterday’s boiled bones and fishheads stink. There is nothing left to do with them. There will always be people who think you still need to catalog them or something, just because you’ve made some soups in your day. They will demand details, or suggest treatments and mantras, all focused on doing more with the used-up bits you’ve already picked clean and then boiled for soup. Forgive them; which is to say, forget them. They didn’t have what you had, and they haven’t made what you made of it. They don’t know that’s just not how cooking works, that’s not how bones work, that’s not what feeding people is all about. Just smile and tell them you’ve already made that soup. And you already gave away the last bowl.

This is Fred. He makes soup. 

 

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Walking along the Amstel

This is a poem in my Amsterdam series (1, 2) inspired by my time living there in 2015 as a still-fresh expat in a world full of people reorienting in various ways. Sometimes you go looking for the promised land (resistance, a free world, trade routes made of gold) and discover other searchers instead—and that home in other searchers is the best reorientation you could wish for.

“Walking along the Amstel”

Bicycles, babies, and boats bob along the Amstel—
the Rival, the Tramp, and the Res Nova exhaling in gentle troughs.
Amsterdam after L.A. is practical and gray.
Here, bits of blue sky make no Technicolor promise.

Clouds come and go quietly, leading by example.
Mothers laugh and trail behind babies on bicycles,
Dutch stomachs effortlessly tight as they juggle
groceries, phones, and younger babes. (Look, Moms! no hands!)

I am counting butterfly bushes instead of losses,
no longer counting colors to keep from staring at oncoming trains.
Rustling reeds remind me the summers are short,
but my season here is ample—time cool and long.

My new life is like a length of boat sailing across the horizon,
with the slowness of scale but the smoothness of a cat
comfortably at home. I am a stranger here, and illegal.
But there’s no where to return—I will never go home.

All the world’s reset on roam.
This vagabonding is our Res Nova.
Home in the world is the new home.
Banging along for Yucatán, discovering Cordova.

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Outside the Closed Church Door

This is a poem in my Lisbon series (1, 2, 3…) about longing for my monogamous Christian husband, and finding damn good company instead.

“Outside the Closed Church Door”
Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora das Mercês (Parish Church of Our Lady of Mercy)—Lisboa

Disused door doves
say sacred sensations
wait willing and wanted.
Fleeing (feminine phantom)
closer cooing, crumbling
in need not unknown,
I look at the locked-out lingerers
and pray for pairing perfect.
What would also work
would be wanted oneness,
so needed necessary and now.

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Finding Praça do Comércio

Like some others, this poem was inspired by my time in Lisbon in 2015. Most of us have spent the decade following the last financial crisis observing outcomes worsen for a lot of people in a lot of places as inequality and corruption increased… Without having the power to either stop the forces of history driving that march, or not feel them.

“Finding Praça do Comércio”

The water calls you even if your feet are as stupid as mine,
not knowing direction in your own country,
much less finding your way wandering, except
there is no more way to find, but you know what I mean.
Every time I’d wander out, I’d find myself at the water
and so the city center where the Tejo meets the Atlantic,
or nearly enough that the water tastes of salt
and the cruise ships look embarrassing.

Juan wants to sell me weed.
Nicolás wants my number.
And a tiny, unbent butterfly of an ancient, burnt sienna woman
dressed in a doll-pink dress and backpack, long white pants and orthopedic shoes,
red hair barrette, gold hoop earrings, silver cane,
and imperial frown lets me walk beside her in the protest against the failed bank,
showing me her statement with her money she can never have—
her life savings, stolen by bankers who will get away.
I ask if I can take her picture, and she has me snap
her paper with my cellphone, too, as if believing
in my ability to see, or know who to show.

But I never know who to tell anymore.
So much is going wrong.
Someone give Lucilia Santos Cruz her 106.56 euros back.
Or was that all she had left after the theft?
I am trying to understand the world and failing,
because the world does not make sense.

Still the water pulls me, away from the shouting of protestors
who would like to but will not attack the bankers’ police in their new riot gear,
away from the wider everyday bustle of Baixa,
away from the litter and mosaics of Lisboa,
to the smooth stones and mossy rocks by the gently rocking water.

One circle of stones not too far out looks like a wreath underwater,
or a nest the fish-birds are flying over, skipping stoney kisses
across the bright and cloudy surface of their sky.
A young boy’s melody of question laces a father’s answer
as a migrant’s bench-beat hugs the farther coast,
and there is so much music in all this longing.
The water pulls us—its force without logic, demand without reason,
peace without words.

 

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Art Reviews from Cologne to Marrakesh

Dug this up from MACAAL. Generally I avoid selfies, but their bathroom was irresistible… 

Lately I’ve been traveling and reviewing art at Delicious Line. Here are my latest:

Eckart Hahn: The Black Dog Dresses Brightly, at Haus am Lützowplatz (Berlin),

James Rosenquist: Painting as Immersion, at Museum Ludwig (Cologne),

Black Power – Flower Power: Photographs by Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch, also at Museum Ludwig (Cologne),

Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from the National Gallery of Australia, at me Collectors Room (Berlin),

Wolfgang Tillmans: Fest (Firmly), at Galerie Buchholz (Cologne),

Africa Is No Island, at Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL/Marrakesh)

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Kokopelli

“Kokopelli,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

I must have painted this a year ago, and forgotten to blog it. It’s so nice and thick and bright. I’m down to a partial tube of white and have gorgeous cherry blossom photos to paint from at last—but couldn’t get to the art store all week. Web maintenance is happening now, as my shop appears to be slightly out of order after a software update. So I see this among the accidental uncategorized—the god of fertility conjuring a flower with his lute, the flames coming off his back, the flames coming off the petals, his hair flying like wild birds, and it could almost be a cherry blossom, but look again and it’s a rose, or at least it has a flow about it, I like it, I should give this one away. And get some new paintings up in my web store. And get equipment to flatten and photograph all the paper work from last spring/summer, e.g., in the Nuremberg 2027 series.

But for now I’ll content myself with clearing dozens of paintings out of the entry-way where I inexplicably stacked them after photographing in the beautiful light. Spring cleaning!

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Wandering Cemitério dos Prazeres

Like a previous poem, this was inspired by my time in Lisbon in 2015. It’s about feeling peaceful in a cemetery after being terrified.

“Wandering Cemitério dos Prazeres”

Something splendid about being surrounded by stone and natural death—
a peace, a slowness, a feeling of family and of rest.
The job that must be done matters less now, again,
than this togetherness with stones, bones, sun, kingfishers, and former men.
There is no job. There is no “I” who must and must. There is not one recorded line
echoing the violence that breaks the eternal mirror, tricking us into time.

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Make Tea Not Lists

“Make Tea Not Lists”

This appears to be a poem whose protagonist has suffered attentional problems, and that will (appropriately) not cooperate in becoming more dense and poem-like. I’m laughing at myself trying to edit it yet again while this week re-trying all sorts of list-making, mindful meditating, journaling, task-reorienting, yoga-procrastinating, mantra refraining-from-mocking, autogenic something things, and enjoying a really good book on organization called The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. And a really good Guardian interview with physicist Carlo Rovelli on the nature of time. While currently on a poetry book manuscript editing timer. God help me. Is this a poem or not? If I don’t know, then I guess it’s got to go… But I like it enough to blog it before taking it out of the book.

When I went in for shot attention to Mrs. Which and Whose, and Not-It, Frau Doktor asked why I couldn’t Just Do It—whether I kept stopping to have cups of tea. Now when I read Eliot, the tea is all I see.

When I told my office about the very important man’s very important hands and how I couldn’t sit still—they said to do nothing, if you will. Then my files were trashed, and it saved my ass—that needing to move, run, dance. That dashing far enough away at last.

And when I slept in our big red bed under the big blue sky in France, sleeping as much as I needed, eating and loving the same—I knew I needed this animal luxury, being my scatter-brained poet self, living in the wild in my rhythms, listening without acting through effect-minded prisms.

Then I don’t need to be invisible. Breathing is allowed, unmeasured—and dreaming.

Usually I don’t remember my dreams, and wonder whether they are civilized. Not in the sense of denying my most basic needs, for sleep and love more than money or a good life above. But in the sense of making more of my animal—cuisine of her hunger, love and sex from sex and love, delicious rest into some art, or the search for it. This feeds me. Feeding others sets me free.

***

If you could replace your unremembered dreams with prayers, in the Middle Ages, you probably would. If you could replace them with podcasts or books on tape today, you probably would. We always forget Luther, and intend to save ourselves—mostly with other people’s good works and none of our own faith. Faith in the brain, in the self, in the unseen rhythms poets and physicists point to quietly all our lives. Quietly because we are soft animals. We are not priests and presenters, though we may try on the robes and seem sometimes to sing out. Feels better to do without. Remember what happened to Galileo, and who knows why not to Copernicus. They don’t like us.

We know something now about how drinking three cups of tea a day cuts your depression risk. And coffee—diabetes. Miso—breast cancer. Or so we think. We see the substance and not the sigh, sit, drink.

What do we know about listening to birds and looking without seeing out the window? What do we know still about sleep, about our own lives when we let go? About the brain washing itself at night delicately, like a kitten, going over and over what has and has not been done, and what cannot be said or done, but must be imagined in secret and in silence? About the half-gone washings in-between, when we are doing nothing—and everything?

We know without it, our hands are drunken, our minds are dull, we start to hear things in the lull. What we call nothing and waste is sanity. And like sanity, sleep is not what we used to think—is not either-or. You can be part awake, and part on a different shore. Memory systems out. Attention and doubt in a drought. Sleep is a thief that takes what it can get. You don’t know it, because you forget.

***

Last spring, when my love bought me a full-sized electric piano, that feels and sounds like the real thing with its great wooden soul—I asked my first teacher for a few pieces, and learned new Bach and Chopin after twenty years. The headphones helped assuage my fears—that I would suck, or bother people. And my own brain and fingers clicked in ways I had forgotten, but they had not. I could do this, full stop. Then, when I napped, they kept playing Bach.

How lovely, dark, and deep the woods of our minds that when we play again, we play also in our sleep. I’ve never had such delicious rest.

I used to beat the others out for money as a kid. But then I quit and now I’m not on par with all the rest. Would it be better than my play and replay to be like Mozart, dreaming his own symphonies instead? Or Harry Potter waltzing into J.K. Rowling’s empty head? I never feel that I receive my own ideas, but something or someone else’s— the great creative self-deprecating moue. But when you’re in the flow, it’s true. Often I am not. I am in the way. It’s just what I’ve got.

Listen, I don’t know if there’s a force like God or the collective unconscious. I don’t like religion, homeopathy, or other frauds, though they have their uses—and yes, sure, abuses I have seen and known. I have a trippy artist brain wired for ecstasy, and it’s often lead, misled, deuced, and helped me. I just know Bach, being left alone by big fat chiefs, and drinking tea will do for me—and when I interfere, to enforce discipline and plans, it doesn’t work as well. I am not Mozart, and will never be a Potter. I come here into the blank space to see what happens. It is not impressive as a life. It is just what I need. I hope that in time, more work of worth will bleed from the leaves; but I need steeping still. When I can let myself make tea not lists. When I can rub the beads of a meaning that matters like this. Sometimes it boils down on its own. Maybe this one is not full-grown.

And if you let yourself do the same, we might meet here. Or nay. Neither invisible nor strident, unnecessary by necessity. That’s civilization. Playing the same old tune with new feeling. Sipping like old friends, knowing the time and not the leaves are revealing. This is where ideas pour into and not from you, without searching, out of the blue. This is where you are welcome, my dear, to find me. Although I am most me when I am here, which is to say, when I am not here. It’s on the tip of my tongue, so near. Yet entirely unclear.

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Doubting Tom

Two more poems relevant to #MeToo (previous ones here and here). That’s a section in my second poetry book that keeps growing and shrinking, because there’s always a new reason to write more about it. Now I’m fantasizing about writing a short story set in a dystopia where there is so much surveillance that abuse allegations can be more easily verified—and abusive men get branded on the face. So at least you know who has behaved badly toward other women in the past, since that’s probably the most useful heuristic for predicting future abuse… (Not that more surveillance results in better outcomes for crime victims, or that “believe victims” makes sense in the context of due process, or or or…)

“Doubting Tom”

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”—John, 20:29, NIV

Bagladykiller, shopping cart caddy, glad he
feels so sure that he can shuffle me out like that—
I am currently mentally homeless.

Shuffling along in my tattered thoughts,
replying to things long said or unsaid but present,
I would abide by conversations more pleasant.

But all the streets
and all the houses
are empty when one turns to enter.

The doors don’t open
and the intersections stop
at ends of the world.

If there were others here,
but there are not even cats,
we could find a way
out of the stranded fray.

Ways do not exist here.
What you want is rest
what you want is chaos
what you want—who knows?

What you want is to have known
before he showed you
that he was one of those.

***

“Men”

There are some tribes of men
who show themselves when
they have a chance to do
what they want to you.
And they do.

It is not all of them.
Their tribe may not be very many.
I have not counted.
This realm is always unaccounted.
Forgive, forget his moment’s whim.

But if there are any
left who are pretending to be a friend,
let’s skip the violation
and make our timely end.
Even rainbows run out of ways to bend.

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Walking to Mauerpark

Never finished, always relevant. I must have started writing this poem last fall on the way to Mauerpark here in Berlin—a now-vibrant park that on warm Sundays bursts with relaxing young people and families, busking musicians (some really amazing), graffiti artists, slackliners and slackers, food vendors and flowers, that was once part of the Berlin Wall and its Death Strip. Spring is almost here…

“Walking to Mauerpark”

Steel supports like blades of grass
stretch up to crane-cut clouds
on the old school’s rooftop. They look
like easel spines between paintings
like giraffes pointing noses at a changing sky
and like the steel supports in the field near Mauerpark
nearby, stretching up and back into history,
marking where the concrete chunks
were carried off, for resale or for memory.

Also along the way and easier to miss,
small bronze tiles break sidewalks
with names, dates taken, dates killed.
This one was the doctor who built the orphanage.
That one, his infant daughter.
His wife, her mother. His son, her brother.

Elsewhere, such steel spokes and small marked stones
silently sit and do not stir in walls and under dirt.
But here they are bare in the biting air
as if the past were present,
as if the Wall and Die Wende had been a dream,
and as if all rewritten stories are not what they seem.

Layers of trauma sift like this,
from the German traüme—to dream
and not know how to remember different times.
The steel spokes in the brain stand up,
lattices of memories we must make fiction to tell
and so cannot clear up with words—
are yet filled in. Marked stones filed and misfiled
scatter, cannot be secured on crumbling walls.
In this deconstruction, landmarks can comfort or alarm.

For some the spokes and stones are solace.
Remembered deaths were not in vain.
Remembering helps us rise again
toward something better—
the idea of freedom,
the possibility of better dreams,
the melting of old into new.
Not leaving the past to be true.

For others, sadness:
touching the cold plaques
caressing the bent shoulder of the past
with nothing whole there to retrieve
yet impossible to leave
as its distance closes in
as the empire cries sin
and as we wonder how long their warning will last.

For its part, all this steel and stone
wishes us neither solace nor sadness.
Our mementos will be another’s clues
as to our fatal madness.

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Compreensão

This poem is about staring out into the water in Lisbon with a dear friend around the time I first moved to the Continent a few years ago, wishing I could create more understanding through art.

“Compreensão”
Porto de Lisboa

The shoreline shunts contemporalis—
realist rocks rolling out to impressionist waves
before pointillist glints disintegrate into disjunct houses.

This is how the stories that can’t be passed on
get caught, snarled between their bearing minds and times, and beyond.
Buoyed away in bits from the farther shores of others’ hearts.

This is the port where artists work, in the not knowing
how to, with the, and then, although, perhaps.
What voice, which strokes, whose ship can carry care home to port?

The water points, laughs, holds; forgives, forgets, laps.
It is always, my love, the ship you tried to keep from open sea
that sails because it must, farther and freer than before—

carrying with it currency as well as cargo,
ready at last to spend the penny you have heard singing
all this time at the bottom of your own well,

but not yet flung up and tossed out to the world, to us, to me.

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Waiting for Wind and Trains

This is a poem about being in a liminal place and waiting for your instincts to guide you.

“Waiting for Wind and Trains”
Amsterdam

My hope is a kite.
Its string goes limp.
Still I can feel for the wind.
Wait for its turning.
Turn.

Late in the day, in the calm afternoon’s climax,
when the sky’s cerulean blue cools to cobalt
and many trains have come, some of them our own—
you can rappel instead of flying,
walking down the clouds like so many paths
to unlocked doors. The air warms as you descend,
the world welcoming you. Do you know what I mean?

I mean to wait
until things are
effortless,
lift is in force,
and taking off
just happens on its own.
You will know
when to go
because it is
a not doing.
To float not fly
is the greatest high.
We watch the birds
to know from their arrows
when it’s time to go.
They do it
every year,
without sensors
without degrees
without calculation,
knowing more in bones than books,
never getting trapped in clouds
or tripping from looking up
after a taste of sky.

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Lockpicking

Tech Inc.

Be a lily, don’t toil or spin—
that’s the way hackers break in.

The clicking you feel
when one piece gives way
is like the thought on a walk
when you know what to say.
Words you weren’t searching for flow.
The solution to the problem you weren’t solving,
when you stop hacking at it, can come and go.

The lock is never picked.
The cylinder does not know open
does not know closed.
Locks never lock
never unlock
don’t open
don’t close.

Only doors
and only when you make
an in and out
only when you fall alone
in the forest of a wall.

The problem does not know solved
does not know stuck.
A spinning coin does not know its last flip
does not change its luck.

And I know it’s easier for some
like relaxing into feeling the cylinder’s way
but speaking to me is sometimes like
a cylinder in a door
never the right words
never the wrong words
only the speaker opening and closing
finding out as she goes what for her is locked
checking door by door
feeling click by click
listening to hear if the pin has dropped
if the spinning has stopped
trying not to try so hard
to unlock
not the lock
not the door
but her own entrance
and exit.

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Painting on Southbank

This is a poem from the time I had left the U.S. with a backpack and was Couchsurfing London. Medically underweight from eating one meal a day on dwindling credit and not able to legally work or apply for public funds abroad, I went to paint by the Thames one day and got to have an interesting conversation.

“Painting on Southbank”

“Those are nice paintings. Do you sell them?”
A stranger with his friend asks with a grin.
It’s cold but beautiful under the bridge.
I’m hungry but I’m happy, and my smile lets them in.

“Well thanks, I guess I’d like to”—my unarmed reply.
“That would be a crime and we’d boot you,”
plainclothes security’s gold-toothed reply.
“What’s the threat that responds to?”

I can’t help but want to know.
“It’s the damn Gyps running cons here,”
says the one scratching below.
“So you kick out artists for fear of thieves?”

Quietly packing up my things
as the argument’s shaking begins.
London loves barbed wire and guards—
the England of my dreams in shards.

But while the Parliament burned over the Thames,
Turner sketched and painted gems.
When his specimen grew old,
Fleming paid heed to the mold.

Ours is a time of fire and of rot.
Time when the weird ones are needed,
get to use what we’ve got.
No time to mourn what it’s not.

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Is It Allowed

to be so happy without working for it?
I am not suffering anymore.
I made no great success, settled no great score.
I am just me at last, without performance.

You get it, who have struggled with conformance.
If you can keep the yoke, you can have some prizes.
But they all require you keep up disguises.
Father, if masks free men to tell the truth,
why did they cage me in my youth?

I hardly knew myself when I was acting,
replacing every wretched role with new refracting.
All one wants at that age is to see,
to speak and move invisibly,
observing, not unnerving—to become deserving.

It’s shocking when I hear younger friends now,
how much their insecurities were mine. They don’t allow,
without insistence, that this too is age,
the role you can’t leave though you move about the stage.

That it is always the case
we think we are lost
and must pay a heavy cost
just to live
until Time fluffs his feathers, taps with an olive
on the screen-door of the soul
saying “You must let me in now. You are whole.”

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Thoughts and Poems on #MeToo

This fall I blogged a Mary Oliver poem, “The Fire,” that is germane to #MeToo. I mentioned that  I couldn’t get behind the moment despite being in it along with everyone else. That remains true for several reasons.

One of the reasons #MeToo concerns me is that we are living in a global surveillance state, “social media” companies are surveillance companies, and a lot of people, especially vulnerable young people, gave up a lot of intimate information thinking it was to “friends” when it was really to these state-allied corporations. Taboo-smashing: good. Kompromat: bad. No Institutional Review Board worth its paper would have ever approved research asking the things people routinely disclosed, under the terms and conditions that these companies tend to handle this data. Facebook especially knew this, had an ethical duty to inform users of relevant risks, and was silent. Their legal duties in this context are an open question. (As mentioned in a previous post, I recently deleted my Facebook account.)

The longer poem in this set is about a completely different reason #MeToo concerned me. Namely, that there is no win. There is no winning a sexual harassment complaint in academia or in most workplaces, where complaining usually results in retaliation. There is no win in criminal justice. There is no win in restorative justice. There is no win in any conception of justice I can conceive. So #MeToo directs limited attentional resources toward an area where there is no win, putting the #MeToo speaker in a victim role with no obvious, empowered exit. This role can have significant psychological, social, and professional costs. One could argue the speaker was already there; but only privately, not publicly, and that matters.

Of course it is brave to face one’s vulnerability for greater good. Of course we must deal with the past so we are less likely to repeat its mistakes and patterns. Of course we must talk about sex and power. But I think in addition to very real and political privacy concerns—as well as due process concerns others have covered—something that has been missing from this conversation is a recognition that humanity must live with (most of) its monsters. We are incapable of solving the problem of evil, without becoming what we hate. So we have to love, if we want to nurture what makes us human social and political animals instead. And that has been missing in the pain and anger of the outcry, as it usually is, for completely understandable reasons. But people who heal get past that—once they are in the black cognitively and emotionally. And I hope society will, too.

“In the Black,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

 

“They Too”

1.

Not by pain
and not by pleasure
but by reliving
at your leisure.

So harsh at first,
and then more gently,
feel the thirst
to understand—
the agony,
to take no stand.

There is no win
in crying sin
to blue bishops with guns
who murder black sons.
They rarely believe you.
More rarely prove what’s true
for the value of proof
that for us too remains aloof.

Nor in asking a friend
to bring things to a talking end.
Monsters rarely apologize,
can’t look you in the eyes,
and are only men after all.
You might make them feel small.

If they were to apologize,
do you imagine the pain dies?
Words don’t undo deeds.
Pain creates needs.
From simple cruelty, complex misery.
But weren’t you always jittery?
No one wants to pay
for a pre-existing condition,
or has much to say
when he knows damn well
he didn’t have permission.

In a perfect world except for this,
where you are a rich princess
and he is a bum,
it would be dumb
to go after him for damages (savages).
So it is that only you have the gold
to fix your own cracks.
A powerlessness tax. Old.
Get out your kintsugi glue.
Forget him. Do you.

2.

All you can do
is reinvent the wheel,
puzzling out what you think,
how you feel,
until you know what’s true—
and then you know what you have to do.

You are not performing surgery on that scar.
You are only ripping your own skin ajar.
You don’t have to do it.
Scars don’t make you unfit
to live among others—
our scarred sisters, mothers, brothers.
They too are going to need someday
to simply put the past away,
and fail, and try again.
And fail better, worse, and better again.

There is no other way to live
and no point in dying young.
My love, that is the saddest mistake under the sun.
Wait awhile, whatever it takes.
Time does heal. Put on the breaks.

There is no better way to forgive
than accepting there is no win,
accepting the ones who sin
share this world and we can’t change that.
We too do wrong;
that is a different song.

We are not gods, nor should we wish
to wipe the earth of those who miss
some steps in how to live
among others
without always having their druthers.
It is no harder than that
although it is not easy.
Easier if you can love.
No one demands that, below or above.

3.

So wipe your face on the snotty matt,
leave your crossed and snarly old black cat,
don’t beat yourself up for looking back.
It happened and it happens.
We walk on when we can,
and choose to fight when we might win—
choose to take a different stand.

Last night I wrote more in my dream
that disappeared with morning light.
I see you. I hear you. Me too.
These defeats are bigger than they seem, I know.
It is because your body has this sacred gleam.
Its simple needs and joys can be most you
can be most used
can cause such fright
when so abused.
But the same might
can help you let it go.

There is no other way
to say no
than saying yes.
It is not said.
But you must find a place
where it feels right
to lift up your dress.
Run fast and far
until you can run no more
and at last rest,
quite accidentally,
on the right chest.
Stop hiding in shame
your beautiful hair, your face, your breast.

4.

It is not popular to say,
but they too need a way
forward to live.
It is not a gift
you must give.
Nor one you can withhold.
You don’t have to see him as a child
to feel part of the same wild.
Look at the crazed animal’s tired eyes.
Maybe being evil’s getting old.
There is no mending what was done.
We will wake under the same sun.
Look away. Breathe. Move on.


Don’t Think of a Pink Elephant,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

 

“Start from Starving”

I want to start from starving—
clean, with no touch of man.
Foraging for oysters and berries,
rising with the light,
drinking lake water and night.
My skin and bones will shine
with no softness and no shame.
And you won’t ever touch me again.

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The Reverse Antigone

This is a poem about paying the price for prioritizing justice over rule of law—dislocation by truth-telling.

“The Reverse Antigone”

Given a choice between law and family,
she chose family and death. What loyalty.
But I have done the reverse Antigone.

Tho you could say I wanted only
what she wanted. Lonely birds,
not leading but leaving our herds.

Everyone must break away.
Under enough strain, no stone can stay.
The spirit spits, startles its demands.

Breathing justice, not a book of rules.
Messy story, not spouting stands.
Faithless lovers, not faultless fools.

Sure, I’d rather have a standing city.
I’d rather have a standing army.
Not this choice between truth and home.

But I, too, know the king’s decree.
And I’m going to bury
who I’m going to bury.

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