Thursday, December 28, 2006

Whole cloth (1)

Here's a photo I took in September of the whole-cloth quilt Randy had just started. This is the center medallion: you can see the pencil-marked design (the lower right side shows the grid has not yet been quilted). More photos to follow.

* * * * *
Last night I dreamed I had a conversation with Anne Sexton. She wore a black turtleneck and looked fabulous, and her voice was somehow a cross between Judy Garland (slightly quavering, hopeful) and Lauren Bacall (husky survivor). I don't remember what she had to say.

* * * * *
The other night I finished reading Send Me, a novel by
Patrick Ryan: a thoroughly engaging book from start to finish. I highly recommend it. You can read a (tepid) review by David Thomson for the New York Review here (Thomson carps about how young-looking Ryan's jacket photo makes him appear, and compares him unfavorably--and endlessly--to Faulkner).

Not so happy with A Scarecrow's Bible (by
Martin Hyatt): for starters, it's riddled with typos, one on nearly every page. I actually got out my red pen and started marking corrections, thinking I would just send the whole book back to Suspect Thoughts Press and recommend they hire a better proofreader. (It's a shame, really, because I love what they're doing for queer publishing--I just wish the books were better edited.) But I couldn't get interested in the story, and in the end it felt like proofing someone's endless creative thesis. I gave up. Free copy here to anyone who'll pay the postage.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No camera--

--when I need it: walking to campus yesterday, I saw a white squirrel. It scampered unhurriedly across the lawn, onto a hemlock branch, and then up an oak. Not pure white, but rather a pale gray shading to white (darker at "the roots"). Almost thirty years ago, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I was at a conference at Western Kentucky University. My second day there, I got up early for my walk, and saw two pure white squirrels among the boulders and trees. When I mentioned them, some folks from the university said the squirrels were campus legends (something about a genetics professor having accidentally released them years before).

* * * * *
I need to photograph the mini quilt top I made over the weekend: a simple paper-pieced pattern, my first attempt at foundation piecing. I stuck it on the flannel wall upstairs on Sunday and forgot to take photos on Monday. When I happened to see it on the wall on Monday night, it was a pleasant surprise: there's nothing like walking away from a project for a while to gain a fresh perspective. It doesn't look half-bad.

Tonight, Randy completed his first commissioned quilt, a cute blue-and-yellow boy's quilt. I cut strips, joined them, folded and pressed them into binding fabric. Just got started putting it on. Hope to have it done by Saturday so we can take the finished quilt to Verna's in Mifflinburg. (Verna was showing off Randy's last quilt--a whole-cloth quilt--in November, when a woman in the store asked Randy if he'd quilt her blue-and-yellow one.) I'm very proud of him.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Quiet Saturday, unusually warm. I'm not through grading yet, but I'm taking at least half the day off: doing laundry, catching up with a few blogs (nice beard, Charlie!) . . .

Highlight of the afternoon: I'm going to try foundation piecing (paper piecing) a miniature quilt. I'm an idiot with technical instructions and can't easily visualize a two-dimensional decription into three dimensions, but I've read through the process (like, fifteen times over the past month) and I think I have it figured out.
* * * * *
Virgil Goode is a jackass. And Virginia scares me more than Texas.

* * * * *
[photo: storm over Bucknell, 12/1/06]

Friday, December 22, 2006

late hydrangea

Just a photo I took in mid-November: though spotted and clearly not long for this world, the hydrangea seemed to glow from within.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Solstice Blessings--

--to all, as we turn into the winter months. I've been waking from difficult dreams, dreams of conflict and trauma: an administrative figure who challenges my teaching and threatens to fire me, a mall robbery somewhere in Asia (?) during which someone literally shoots my head off. I know this is all about transformation, one stage of which may involve the physical tearing apart of the body (at least symbolically). I lean into it, into this period of loss & adjustment, hoping it opens space for some kind of gain.
* * * * *

Poignant visit with my parents in Cincinnati. The weather, peculiarly warm, allowed me the chance to prune Mom's roses (I planted a row of assorted roses along their driveway fence a few years ago and some have grown rather huge) and a wisteria on the back fence. Shopping with Mom at the fabric store (whee!) and Half Price Books (which I truly miss), and canasta games in the kitchen (I lost $26; we checked the score sheets and I haven't won a game since I think 2003).
* * * * *

Randy got bad news while I was away: his sister died in Louisiana. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but that's hardly a comfort when such things come to pass.
* * * * *

Back home: grading final portfolios and catching up with West Branch. This is the time to send me work, folks. Query me [ron dot mohring at gmail dot com] if you have any questions about that.
* * * * *

[photo taken at Dale's Ridge near Lewisburg]

Monday, December 11, 2006

Off to Cincinnati--

--for a long-awaited visit with my family. I'll be without Internet access all week, and will return home on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Last gasp

Student conferences all week: folks are coming out of the woodwork to request last-gasp meetings to review a clutch of poems before turning them in on Monday in their final portfolios. Next semester I am going to require two conferences--one before midterm, one after--so that I see everyone face-to-face, but I'm also going to limit each conference to 25 minutes. (No, we can't look at everything today. Yes, we can schedule another short meeting.)

Maybe I need to re-think the whole notion of a final portfolio, and instead grade revisions as we move through the semester. But I love the portfolio, the chance for students to polish and present the best of what they've written, and the self-assessment (which I used to have them write three times--week one, midterm, and again at the end). I always have visions of the students collaborating on a chapbook-type anthology, but I've never taken the leap to implement this project. Maybe this next semester is my chance to really push the envelope and take even more risks with my teaching.

* * * * *

I deleted some recent posts. I hated taking them down, but academia is not, alas, the land of the free (speech).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is tomorrow, and here on campus we're reading poems through the noon hour, a more-or-less annual event now (three times since 2003). This year the reading's held in the Samek Gallery, up in the student center, where all week there's a display of panels from the NAMES Project, including, I anticipate, the one I made for David back in 1995.

Can it be ten years? Eleven? Twenty-five now since it all started?

This year's reading is all Tory Dent: 24 poems from her long sequence "Black Milk." I wish we had time to read the whole set.

There's a reading of the names going on all week as well, interrupted tomorrow by an hour of poems, then back into the litany of the fallen.

* * * * *

High wind advisory for tomorrow, and possible snow in the evening. Damp and mild today, more April than November. Walking to class this morning, I stopped to pick up a large caterpillar from the wet sidewalk: putty-colored with a slight yellow-green cast and a double ridge of small triangular markings down its back. Hairless caterpillars always seem ready to burst: I can't not think of the goo inside. This one was over two inches long and resembled a cutworm, except that every cutworm I've ever picked up instantly coils into a defensive spiral. This one lay stretched out, rigid, barely moving.

[photo: natural (?) indentations in limestone, Bald Eagle State Park]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hello, I must be going

Last week of classes: we finish on Tuesday. I have numerous individual conferences scheduled, and can barely keep up at this point. Up at six, home at six, quick dinner and spazzfest during Jeopardy!, then back upstairs to write more feedback on more poems, tweak lesson plans, grade journals, respond to e-mails. As usual, I regret not having done a better job; as usual, I'm already planning ahead to the next time I'll teach these courses (should I be so lucky).

In bed by ten tonight if I can help it: yesterday I came home for a three-hour nap, then went back in for a few hours.

I'd love to chat but duty calls. Maybe in a week or so.

[photo: my favorite Bear Paw quilt, circa 1865 (detail)]

Monday, November 13, 2006


Some good local readings to attend this week (see my PA Poetry blog for full details): Junot Díaz on the 15th (Bloomsburg), C.K. Williams on the 16th (Williamsport), and Daniel Blasi here at Bucknell on the 17th. I want to go hear Díaz, but may have to skip the next night. I'll definitely make the Friday session--which was, I'd heard, to have included Blas Falconer as well. Pity that, because I've heard good things about his poems and was looking forward to meeting him.

* * * * *

Randy finished his whole-cloth quilt last week (over a week ago, in fact) and I bound it this weekend. It looks wonderful. He does such good work. Pictures soon.

* * * * *

My intro CW course (for spring) is already full, and I've started receiving requests to "add in" over the quota. There are several "undecideds" in the roster, but--as far as I can tell--only one student who's declaring a CW concentration. Lots of science majors. Could be fun.

* * * * *

Trying to figure out when I might get back to Cincinnati over the winter holiday. I'm eyeing the week of December 11--a few days after classes end, but plenty of time to get back before final grades are due. To fly? Or drive? The roads in December can be so iffy, especially heading through the mountains. But I'd rather have a car.

[photo: rex begonia leaf]

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Last Saturday morning, I overslept: Randy woke me at 6:30, asking what time did I need to get on the Philly bus. "6:45," I moaned, "I'll never make it." He insisted that I try, and somehow I managed to shower and dress (I'd set out my clothes and packed a bookbag the night before) in record time; Randy drove me over to campus and I was on the bus before our scheduled 7:00 departure.

Our first stop was the Philadelphia Art Museum, which I enjoyed immensely, and then we hopped back on the bus to catch "Pillow Man" at the Wilma Theatre Project. A really fine performance. I miss going to plays (Houston was a great theatre town, with both the Alley and Stages Repertory Theatre, not to mention the campus productions at the University of Houston, where Edward Albee still teaches).

The rest of the evening--about four hours--we were left on our own. I wandered the South Street area, where we'd been dropped after the show, waiting for a call back from a Philly acquaintance we've only met online, but he never showed up. Found a pretty decent Thai place for dinner (eating dinner alone in a strange city always makes me feel pathetic, invisible; I project attachments onto every cute waiter and then silently chastise myself--it's a ridiculously predictable internal melodrama) and, later, a great diner with awesome carrot cake and very good coffee (which I've pretty much given up, but this was good enough to tempt me into reconsidering).

Nothing terribly exciting, but it's the first city I've been to since I think March. Even the bus ride was interesting: listening to my little MP3 player, the song tracks overlaying the slanted reflections of lit buildings in the bus window as they seemed to slide past, glancing up occasionally at the too-orange projection of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" on the DVD player--a movie I haven't seen yet, so the random image sampling added a nicely surreal element to my mood.

[photo: stained glass panel from the 15th (?) century]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

happy feet!

George Allen is giving his concession speech in less than an hour. The Democrats have retaken the Senate. Locally, we threw out Rick Santorum and Don Sherwood.

Happy, happy feet.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Advising Week

It's advising week, which shouldn't faze me (because I'm on a one-year contract), but actually does--because anyone who teaches a Foundation Seminar is automatically assigned those students as advisees. So every year that I've taught my "Poetry, Identity, Community" course, I've gained a small band of advisees-- who almost immediately need to be handed over to someone else (because I've been, at best, on a one-year contract).

One might imagine that I know nothing--and care less--about advising my temporary charges. But I love these sessions: we talk about course options and curriculum requirements, yes, but also about how they're doing: in their other classes, in the dorms, in central Pennsylvania as compared to New York or Pittsburgh or California. And though it's understandable that some students have a bit of anxiety over which courses to take (Will this be a waste of time? Is this the wrong thing to do?), and though our particular university is pretty strict about scooting folks out on schedule (no lazy semesters of sampling electives), I'm always struck by the truly vast expanse of time that lies before them. So many possibilities wait ahead. (Of course, I keep this sentiment to myself: no eighteen-year-old wants an old guy urging "Relax, relax, you've got your whole life ahead of you.")

* * * * *
Just found an e-mail from Rachel Newcomb, who was a fellow "June Poet" back in 1994 and is now an assistant professor of anthropology! Rachel has new fiction forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly. I owe her an e-mail, but I have poems to grade and a meeting to dash off to. Soon. Soon. It's wonderful to hear from folks this way: I remember Rachel well. (And no, I'm not gonna tell any stories on her.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What Bears Talk About When They Aren't Talking About Love

[note: for some reason, this entry never posted when I tried to put it up, so I'm re-posting it]

Part of a morning conversation with Randy this weekend went something like this:

R: Do you remember that Mexican place in the Heights?
me: In the Heights? Not in Montrose?
R: No, not Montrose.
me: Not La Jalisciense?
R: No, that was in Montrose. This place had big arched windows.
me: Oh, that was on Montrose and--what's that street, down from the leather bar. But that window looked out onto a fence.
R: No, this was up near the Heights.
me: Not in the Heights? Did we ever eat in the Heights? There was that sandwich place; they had open mic nights, wasn't that connected to an antique shop?
R: No, this was a Mexican restaurant. You went there all the time. When David's family came, remember they wanted to go there because you had gone there before.
me: That's the place in Montrose. With the big window. I remember their margaritas.
R: Maybe it's not in the Heights. Remember where those five roads come together?
me: Five Points, yeah.
R: It was close to that.
me: I remember LaJa. And that place on the corner,what was it, La Mexicana? And the blue-painted place by your apartment where we'd get tacos de carne guisada. Oh wait, do you mean Ninfa's?
R: No, not Ninfa's, Ninfa's was on Bissonnet.
me: Well there was an "old" Ninfa's, David and I ate there maybe once, I remember the murals on the wall, it was small. . . I don't think that was in the Heights. Was it on West Gray maybe?
R: Okay it wasn't really the Heights. You drove over like you were going to the Heights, and then you made a left, it was down that way. They had a really slow waiter. You could sit outside. And David's family wanted to eat there.
me: I remember El Pavo Real. . .
R: What?
me: They changed the name--just down Irvington--
R: --to Teotihuacan.
me: --to Teotihuacan, yeah. And the place just down the street from that, with the blue margaritas.
R: And Taco Cabana.
me: Wait, you turned left at Five Points?
R: Yes, and--
me: and then straight down, and it was close to Whataburger where that cop car almost smashed into us late that night--
R: --doing like a hundred miles an hour, yeah--
me: Spanish Flower!
R: That's it.
me: We ate there all the time. They installed a tortilla machine in the corner.
R: That's it. Spanish Flower.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Just heard from my old pal Brent Goodman in Wisconsin: he has a blog and you can find it here. Brent's fine chapbook, Wrong Horoscope, won the Frank O'Hara Prize in 1999. It's gonna be so good to catch up. Next week. After I meet a huge Monday deadline.

* * * * *
Philip Roth Resident Beth Martinelli is giving a Writers-at-Work talk tomorrow, October 20, at 12 noon here at the Writing Center. I don't know Beth's poetry, but that's what's so sweet about her gig: she's here all semester to write, write, write. The Roth Rez alternates each year between poets and fiction writers. The next deadline is February 24; get application info here.

* * * * *
Nels Highberg, a friend from waaaaaay back (we were undergrads together in Houston), is coming for the weekend; he'll be presenting at the Patient Symposium here at Bucknell. Nels blogs here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Fall break

Fall break starts today: an odd, but much-appreciated, four-day weekend, and the weather concurred: breezy and cold today--leaves flying everywhere. We're not going anywhere special, but I totally plan to sleep late every day.

* * * * *
One of my students used the word narcissistically in a poem yesterday: it just looked wrong. Spelled wrong. Too many s's. We were looking at some poems on her laptop, and she backspaced the -ally off the word: narcissistic. Which is a word, of course, and which, oddly, looks fine. Later (tonight) I looked it up in the dictionary, and the book opened to monorchid. Which I should have figured out, because I do know what orchis means in Greek.

No, I'm not telling you. Go look it up. In an actual dictionary. With pages. And let me know what word catches your attention along the way.

* * * * *
Oh--and another student (different class) this week used the word filching in a poem to describe the grasping gesture made by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Which prompted another student to ask if she knew that it referred to a sexual practice. Of course he meant felching. Ahem. And we moved quickly on.

* * * * *
In last night's "common hour," we had a hatha yoga instructor who lead us through stretching, breath exercises, a few specific positions, and a guided meditation. I felt absolutely wonderful walking home after. Told Randy that we need to find a yoga class.

* * * * *
Local temps dropped below 30 last night. I was delighted to see this morning that the pineapple sage was still intact. It's covered with buds: they dip in a kind of tight braid, and then lift as the larger buds open: tubular red blossoms, extraordinarily sweet (yes, you can eat them). I'm hoping that we can avoid frost damage for a couple more weeks; it's a race every fall to see whether this plant will have time to bloom.

* * * * *
Oh--just noticed that Ben Grossberg has a poem on
Verse Daily today: "Stepping on the Dog." Which I just mentioned to Randy, who quipped: "I knew that dog wasn't right."


Monday, October 09, 2006

Condee backs out

Got a campus-wide e-mail this morning: she's canceled her campus visit. I'm lowering the Hair Alert to Level Yellow: pit crew, go home, but keep those brushes and styling products handy. . .

* * * * *
I just uncapped a bottle of water (that's been on my desk for about a week) and glugged down half of it before getting the distinct sensation that I was swallowing a teensy piece of plastic. A fleck of something that just did not feel right. So I washed it down with the rest of the bottle.

* * * * *
It's midterm week. I'm not as fried as I expected to be.

* * * * *
The incomparable Cornelius Eady comes to campus tomorrow: he's reading at Bucknell Hall tomorrow night at seven, and givinga Q-&-A at noon Wednesday in the Smith Library (English building). Can't wait. Here's a fun poem from The Gathering of My Name (Carnegie Mellon, 1991):

Living with Genius

It’s sundown, and we
Find Gertrude Stein sitting
In her parlor at the
Piano. She’s about
To give Alice B. Toklas
The night off. Gertrude
Wants to see if
A piano
Can imitate a violet. Gertrude
Wants to be alone
When she does this, suspecting
That what she wants to do

Is insane. The sun
Sets and Alice
Starts to worry
About her boss; what is
This shit about violets,
Violets, violets,
Anyway? Gertrude
Demands a glass of whiskey,
The shade drawn and all
The lights turned off. With
Pleasure, you old
Coot, Alice thinks
To herself. She does
As she’s told and
Goes to bed.

Sits in the dark
All night.

In the morning
She starts thinking
About roses.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Falling Bush cracks me up

Oh god, this is more fun than making your own voodoo dolls: fallingbush.

Last of the basil

Yesterday was sunny and gorgeous, so I decided to harvest the basil and make a mega-batch of pesto. We filled a huge basket--clipping the plants roughly in half, so there's even more to harvest, but I ran low on garlic and olive oil and had to stop after one basketful. Picked off the leaves, washed them in the salad spinner, then tossed them into a cotton pillow case to blot them dry--it worked! I made several batches, spooning each one into a separate ziplock bag, pressing out all the air, smoothing each bag flat in the bottom of the freezer. Once frozen, they stack neatly in the door.

And I saved a big batch for dinner--chicken with pasta & fresh pesto. Delicious.

I wish I had room to grow basil indoors over the winter. Should have started some "spicy globe" plants in pots last month. I wonder how they'd fare on a sunny windowsill?

Clipped cuttings this morning from several coleus plants: these root in jars of water on the kitchen windowsill, and with any luck I can keep them alive all winter to have a head start next spring--some of the coleus in our garden has been propagated this way for three or four years now--same plant, new cuttings, year after year.

And this is the time of year when I filch coleus cuttings from the neighborhood. Temperature has been dropping into the low 40s, maybe upper 30s the other night, so the plants won't last much longer outdoors. I mentioned this once to a visiting poet as I drove her back to her B&B--it was late September and I had noticed a beautiful leafy coleus plant in the window box--and she exclaimed: "But that's green theft!" Very affronted, she was. (Yes, dear, it is, but in two days it will be frozen mush, and this way a small bit of that lovely plant gets a chance at making it through the winter.)

I could ask permission, I guess. --Nahhh.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Re-reading Amy Gerstler's The True Bride, and falling in love with her poems all over again. I've been donating more books to the poetry library--a good way to really decide which poets I "need" to have on hand. Gerstler stays on the island.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I've been busy. It's no excuse for avoiding my public. Do I have a public? How many persons do I need to constitute a public?

* * * * *
Condoleezza Rice is coming to Bucknell next week. On Friday the 13th, no less. One must register online to receive an admission ticket, one per person; members of the public need to register in lottery fashion to be eligible for a limited number of randomly-drawn tickets. The event will be simulcast in the chemistry auditorium. . .

I am thinking about getting a ticket. I am thinking about rushing the stage and giving our Secretary of State a decent haircut.

Okay, I don't really know how to cut hair. But if I did. . .

* * * * *
When Deirdre was in Macedonia for the Struga Festival (surreal gig), she met an interesting Macedonian poet and encouraged him to send her some work. Which I eagerly asked to see. Which excited me very much when I read it. Which excited all the editors at last week's meeting. I'm truly delighted to say we're going to publish five poems by Nikola Madzirov in our 30th anniversary issue.

* * * * *
My sister was in a coworker's car the other day--this was somewhere in Ohio or Indiana, I didn't ask--when they noticed a big gob of black limos taking up half the freeway, trailed by a helicopter. It was Dubya's motorcade. Sis, thinking fast, yells to her friend Get in the fast lane! (I didn't even know you could do this with The Motorcade). As their car pulls alongside Dubya's limo, my sister leans halfway out the window, arm extended, waving an emphatic single-finger salute in a circular motion at the Big Cheesy. She fucking flipped the bird at the President.

You go, Sis.

Here in central PA, when Dick (Cheney, but he'll always be just Dick to me) came to town, the Secret Service hauled off a woman (a white-haired sixty-something-year-old woman) and interrogated her for hours, simply because she had held up a protest sign.

As the old bumper sticker goes, I love my country but I fear my government.

* * * * *
We cleaned up the terrarium this weekend and got Randy a couple of pitcher plants--wee ones--to see how they go. He wants to find some sundews as well.

We put the laundry room storm windows back in, always a sign that fall is definitely here. I've been taking cuttings, repotting some plants to bring inside, giving others away. I'm hoping that we won't have frost for a few more weeks: the pineapple sage is covered with buds, but needs at least two weeks before it will bloom. I plant one every year--they're not hardy this far north--and if we're lucky, they're completely covered by mid-October with bright red tubular blossoms. I've even seen late-season hummingbirds checking them out. So neat.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


So I decided to give my students a break from our usual write-a-poem-a-week routine, partly because we have a visiting writer in class next week & won't be workshopping, and partly because it's fall, and to welcome fall, I thought we'd do something more celebratory & communal. I asked my poetry seminar students to type out one poem that serves as a kind of touchstone--one poem that they each return to again and again, or have memorized so they carry it always, one poem that still gives them goosebumps or some kind of visceral response. And to write a paragraph about why they've made their particular selections. We'll read them around the table & talk about them on Monday. I'm hopeful that we'll make some interesting connections, cross-connections.

But this morning, in my foundation seminar, in our warm-up table talk, I realized that several of the students hadn't read much poetry outside of whatever had been assigned to them in high school, and were less likely to have favorite poems in mind (much less in their journals or iPods). So I amended the assignment & asked them to browse both Poetry Daily and Verse Daily to find one poem that grabbed their attention (and then to type it out, write the same paragraph as in Group One).

Does anyone carry poems in their iPods? How awesome to randomly shuffle from Sharon Olds to Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez to Robert Lowell to Alberto Rios and everywhere in between. . .

* * * * *
In the Stadler Center, a series of black-and-white portraits line the hall: photographs of each of the poets-in-residence since 1981, from Carolyn Kizer to Marilyn Chin. We're in the midst of selecting poems to accompany each portrait. (I wish we had the budget to print nice broadsides of each poem!) I get to pick poems by Kizer and Betsy Sholl. Betsy got William Matthews and Jean Valentine. It would be hard for me to pick a Jean Valentine poem: so many feel like part of the same dream language. . .

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


For some reason--well, for obvious reasons--I'm pondering the physicality of the cold: how it physically occupies the body, and, when it leaves, how it does so reluctantly. In difficult, recalcitrant globs that want to remain stuck, gluelike, inside my skull. Out with you. Out with all of you.

* * * * *
I typed up five or so poems from Matthew Zapruder's The Pajamaist yesterday to share with my students & give them some sense of what he's writing. I didn't enjoy the task: these poems make me feel excluded, irrelevant. I feel like I'm spying on Uncle Orson in his attic while he babbles. Other books that take a similar aesthetic approach seem, to me, more engaging; they give more to the reader: examples are Ben Lerner's The Lichtenberg Figures or Dan Beachy-Quick's Spell. This one? --Sorry, not so much.

Somebody out there educate me. Give me a reason to like this stuff.

* * * * *

Monday, September 18, 2006

Onward (through the fog)

--was the favorite phrase of a man I dated briefly in my twenties, just as I came out to my parents. Bruce was older (which meant, to me then, that he was over 30), an ex-Marine, who called me his puppy and wanted me to move with him to a farm he owned in upstate New York. We didn't last long: puppy wanted to sniff around some more.

My cold is waning, though I didn't get much accomplished these past three days. But at least the brunt of the misery occurred over the weekend: it would have sucked to teach my morning classes with constant nose-dribble. Now that I'm up and about, Randy is taking his turn with it. He slept downstairs last night so his coughing wouldn't wake me, and came up to bed at six.

* * * * *
Organizing my teaching notes. Playing the Indigo Girls--All That We Let In--my favorite songs are "Cordova" and "Come On Home."

* * * * *
Teaching Ben Grossberg's chapbook, The Auctioneer Bangs His Gavel, in both my classes this week. Next week he's making a campus visit; I'm really looking forward to that.

* * * * *
I'll be reading a few poems this Saturday, 9/23, with a few local Common Wealth poets at the Susquehanna River Basin Conference here at Bucknell.

* * * * *
Matthew Zapruder is giving a Writers at Work talk here on campus this Friday, 9/22, from 12-1 at the Writing Center, hot on the heels of the Wave Books Poetry Bus Tour stopover.

* * * * *
Off to teach--

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A little help

Passing this along for Scott Hightower:

"A very nice small bi-lingual (Arabic/English) journal in New Orleans which is a single publication with two issues out has contacted me about wanting a lead to anyone at AWP-Atlanta who would be willing to share their table with another small organization/publication: Meena."

"The director/editor of the journal is Andy Young, a poet, teacher, organizer who began this project out of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. Andy is still living in the French Quarter and working diligently to keep thiswonderful publication afloat. We originally met at AWP New Orleans back when. She took me out to see her lovely city; we walked along Frenchmen Street and took in local live jazz at the 'Spotted Cat!' :-)

"Meena is a high quality publication. It uniquely arranges translations of all of its poems and publishes them in both English and Arabic... and joins the sister ports of Alexandria and New Orleans in a unique cultural dialog. If you can suggest anything, please send it my way or her way."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Interview's up!

I was interviewed this summer by Dan Jaffe for his "Talking Across the Table" series; the interview is up now and you can read it here. The blog is mentioned at the end, but the URL isn't provided. Of course, if you're heading there from here, that's not a problem. I'll see about getting that fixed.

* * * * *
I'm still leading off each class session by reading a "daily poem" (though I forget every now and then). Here's the list so far, including this week's scheduled poems:
  • Thomas Lux, "Virgule" (Split Horizon)
  • Tess Gallagher, "I Stop Writing the Poem" (Moon Crossing Bridge)
  • David Groff, "Birthing" (Theory of Devolution)
  • Tony Hoagland, "Fred Had Watched a Lot of Kung Fu Episodes" (Donkey Gospel)
  • Linda Bierds, "Seizure" (The Ghost Trio)
  • Ron Koertge, "The History of Poetry" (Making Love to Roget's Wife)
  • Betsy Sholl, "Back with the Quakers" (Late Psalm)
  • Robert Pinsky, "Poem of Disconnected Parts" (Poetry, Feb 2006)
  • Tony Hoagland, "Self-Improvement" (Donkey Gospel)
  • Mary Ruefle, "Glory" (Cold Pluto)
  • Terry Ehret, "At the End of the Season the Apples" (Lost Body)

* * * * *
I have eaten three tomatoes from my windowsill plants. They're exquisitely tart, almost citrusy. Such a treat.

* * * * *
In my foundation seminar, I like to save time for a short writing prompt: usually a brief phrase with some kind of fill-in-the-blank element, something that arises from my expectation of where the day's discussion might lead. We start with the prompt and write like hell for about five minutes, and then the brave among us read what we've written. This morning's prompt was My parents looked _____. Just for the hell of it, here's mine:

My parents looked unhappy. They looked like they were waiting at the dentist's office. My parents looked at the table, looked at their hands. My parents looked out the window. They did not look at me. My parents looked tired, battle-weary. She looked beaten. He, he looked guilty. My parents looked like they were about to speak. My parents chewed their potatoes and peas. The sound sticky and loud in the dining room, where my sister sat goggly-eyed in her high chair, trying to put her whole hand into her mouth. My parents looked like someone else's. Her green eyes--none of us had those. His yellowed fingers, the black wiry hairs on his knuckles. My hands were scabbed, my nails bitten to the quick; sometimes I'd pick at the skin until it bled. I had weak hands and I punished them. My parents' argument felt like a hover of gnats that wanted to morph into hornets, break the window, sting us all to death. My parents were danger.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I was telling someone about one of my undergrad professors the other day, and found that I couldn't remember her name. Her name was Lorraine, and I kept referring to her as Lorraine in the telling of this story--which I have since forgotten--but as I was talking about her, I could not recall her last name. It's Stock. Lorraine Stock. I took her Women's Narrative course. And now I remember the story:

This was about the same year that the movie Steel Magnolias came out, and one day Lorraine was going on in class about how it was such a strong woman's narrative. I remember thinking to myself, "but it's such a queer narrative." And lacking the nerve to say so in class.

But was this Lorraine Stock? If so, then who taught my medieval lit course? Is this the next signpost of my middle age, that I can't recall the names of some of my favorite professors?

* * * * *
Poets who complain in their blogs about other poets who complain in their blogs should shut the hell up and go write some poetry.

* * * * *
Working through the proofs of WB #59, which includes excellent poems by Paul Guest, Betsy Sholl, A.V. Christie, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and (leading off the issue) Jason Myers. There's a great story by Josh Weil, and a truly wonderful short piece by Emily Wortman-Wunder. I'm not name-dropping. I'm mentioning the work that genuinely moves me. There are some other (read: "big") names in this issue, and it's all fine work. I love this stage: reading each page one line at a time with the help of a ruler; tagging anything that seems questionable (is it fifty cents worth of change, or fifty cents' worth?); digging through the dictionary and Chicago Manual of Style to track down the right usage and punctuation. Galleys are scheduled to go out on 9/24, and we go to press two weeks after that.

* * * * *
I'm helping to coordinate a campus reading again this year for World AIDS Day. This time, we'll hold it in conjunction with a showing of panels from the NAMES Project. And again this year, the panel that I made for David will be included. It's been two years since I've seen it.

* * * * *
The WAVE BOOKS Bus Tour hits campus next Thursday night, September 21. See my *other* blog (PA Poetry) for details.

* * * * *

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Great day

Heavy fog this morning: I kept stopping on my walk to campus to photograph spider webs. I love to wander through a landscape made unfamiliar in this way.

[photo: web on fence of Lewisburg Cemetery, 9/07]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cave Canem shakes the house

Erica Doyle, Yona Harvey, and Tyehimba Jess presented a stunning reading tonight at Bucknell Hall. I had fucking goosebumps for most of the hour, and for a good twenty minutes afterward talking with some of my students who'd attended. What a kick-ass start to the fall reading series. The bar's been set, y'all. If you get the chance to hear any of these poets, go.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Thinking lately about shadows, and noticing them everywhere. Today at work, the sunlight through the miniblinds crossed a leaf axil of my schefflera tree, and the shadow it cast on a lower leaf was a perfect eight-spoked wheel. You don't have to be pagan to read a sign in that one.

In the garden, about a month ago, we noticed a gorgeous black-and-yellow argiope spider. I have been hoping for three years that one would show up. I check in on it every afternoon and have resisted the urge to try to feed it. Until today: moved the hose bucket (the big plastic bucket where we keep the water hose coiled) and caught a fat black cricket. Carried it quickly to Madame's web, my resolve eroding: aren't crickets good luck? Isn't it wrong (in so many ways) to interfere like this? Mehhh, I flung it at the web. It passed right through, landing on a sandpapery leaf of echinacea. Madame Spider bobbed on her vertical trampoline. Miz Cricket calmly preened. I'll probably dream of creeping bugs tonight.

We ate a late dinner of sushi rice, kim chee, and mung bean pancakes. It was spectacular. I am the luckiest queer in Pennsylvania, to have a husband who can cook like this. Yuu-uuum.

[photo: R & R at Harrisburg train station, 2004]

Sunday, September 03, 2006

School night

Ehh, it's hard to get to bed early on "school nights." I'm not complaining, just reluctant to fold up my tent. Upstairs on the laptop, tinkering with a bad poem draft and shoring up my resolve to carve out time this week to write.

Sadie has nosed and pawed the quilt into a pile in the middle of the bed; she twitches and whimpers in sleep. This afternoon, the public television station aired a program about Alaska, and Sadie woke from her nap to ear-perked attention during the segment on sled dogs, which were barking. We can never get her to look at the TV when there's a squirrel (as in the Geico commercial), though to say the word is enough to rev her up. So I sat and watched as she watched, rapt, focused on those sled dogs. What were they saying?

Randy is working on a new project, a "whole cloth" quilt: plain white fabric, dense quilting throughout. He's already got the center medallion almost finished, and his stitches are even better than usual. It's looking good.

On Tuesday night, three Cave Canem poets are reading at the Stadler Center: Erica Doyle, Yona Harvey, and Tyehimba Jess. I'm really looking forward to this event; I've only read a bit of Yona's work.

Another full week looms. Time for bed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Should a man go childless

Home this morning, reading through my share of WB submissions: though I read mainly fiction for the mag, I find myself lingering over the poetry. (I get roughly two poetry mss for every ten stories.) The title of this entry is a line by Andrew Sage, from a poem I loved but WB rejected, a poem that will (I'm happy to hear) be published in Natural Bridge. Andrew's sent more poems--I asked him to--and I'm savoring these, too, especially two that I think I'll recommend at our next editorial meeting.

Our meetings are public: we hold them in the campus coffee house, amid the traffic of students and the noise of the espresso machine. Sometimes I glance up to notice students (or faculty) listening to our (sometimes heated) discussions. Each semester, we hire two new interns, undergrads who log in all the mss and who read the work we (the editorial staff)select for the editorial packet: we encourage them to jump right into the fray but I'm sure it's a shock at first, the way we wade in, gloves off, to defend (or dismiss) each piece. It's nothing like even the most shark-infested workshop session they've attended. The author is nowhere present, and therein lies the difficulty, because sometimes, for at least one of us, the author is very much in our minds:

  • It's hard to like someone's work, invite the writer to send more, and like the new work less.
  • It's hard to like the new work just as much--or even more--but see it shot down in the meeting.
  • It's hard to write a rejection note in either case, but harder in the second scenario, because it's hard to resist the easy route of placing the blame on others ("I'm sorry we couldn't agree on this one") ("Some of us just couldn't be brought on board") (meaning, you're still the tops in my book but some people just can't see how good you are).
  • It's weird how, at my particular journal, we're simultaneously public but also secretive about the process: while a ms. is moving through the pipeline, we rarely contact the author, unless a lot (read: too much) time has passed (it happens) and we want them to know we're still considering the work.

If I had time--say, if I were paid a living wage to do this for 40-50 hours a week--I would be tempted to write a personal note on every rejection slip, just to let each writer know that someone really did read their work attentively. The problem with this notion is that some work really sucks: it's sloppy, leaden, dull, or suffers from any number of fatal flaws. If I had the nerve, and if this were my magazine, I sometimes fantasize that I would be truthful in every rejection note:

  • "I liked one of these but the rest bored me."
  • "You should stop wasting Priority Mail postage and save your money instead toward a writing class."
  • "Why must you barrage us with submission after submission, one hot on the heels of the other, like fists upon our door (which, based on your work to date, shall always be closed against you)?"
  • "I loved these--loved them--but was outvoted at our meeting."
  • "Seek out a writing group, or one good mentor, to help you develop your work, and try us again in five years."

What we say instead--what most journals say--is nothing. We did spend quite a lot of time developing a series of rejection slips with quotes from Rotten Rejections. The intended message: "Hey, you're not alone; even some really great writers were panned by editors, so maybe we're wrong and you're right." I've grown to loathe our rejection slip: it's just a mask that we, the editors, hide behind. Its implicit message is often nowhere near the truth. I usually send one of our postcards instead, with a minimum “Sorry” and my initials, or (as often as I can) a quick but honest note.

But who has time to tell the truth? It's like teaching composition, or more specifically, the dreaded heart of teaching composition, which is grading the essays. When I taught second-year composition one fall at another campus, one of the fellow adjuncts boasted that he'd worked his grading down to "four minutes per essay." I was horrified. Even if the writing's terrible, even if you know the student doesn't give a fuck, how can you reduce their work to this level? Four minutes, tops. For everyone?

I linger too long on bad stories, stories I know we will never publish. By "too long," I mean that I sometimes catch myself on page three when I knew on page one that the cause was lost. I want to say that I'm getting "better" about this, but it still distresses me that "better" in this case means "ruthless.” If I’m ever going to get to the good stuff during the hours I set aside for reading slush, I have to mow through the bad stuff like a hot knife through butter, like Sherman through Atlanta, like every bad simile that has ever caused me to grimace and toss another envelope into the “no way” bin.

Here’s something, though: the last time I could afford to go to AWP (Chicago), someone came up to our table specifically to meet me. Another one of “our” writers! I thought. But no. She said “I just wanted to thank you for writing the nicest rejection note I’ve ever received.”

Well, okay then.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tiny luscious

No, it's not my drag name--nor anyone else's that I know of, though now that I ponder, it wouldn't be a bad one. I'm referring to my windowsill tomatoes, two of which are nearly ripe. The smaller has a prominent nipple and is about the diameter of a nickel. The larger is a day or two behind in ripeness, and the diameter of a quarter.

I will eat them very slowly, using the tiniest sterling dollhouse-scale cutlery. No. Though I would if I had some. What is the proper way to eat a miniature tomato you've grown from mail-ordered heirloom seed on your office windowsill? That sounded boastful. Like a tomato. Full of robust braggadocio. Blaring about its own luscious gifts, its juicy contents, skin so ready to pop. If this plant could talk, it would bark like a dog in a Brooklyn window: "HEY!"

Or ding like a bell: tomato's done.

Shivering with antici--


[photo: "Micro Tom," 8/30]

Monday, August 28, 2006


Just a quick hey, y'all before I crash for the night. Mondays are hard because I have trouble falling asleep on Sunday nights. Maybe if I hadn't stayed up to watch the Emmys? (Which were terrrribly produced, he queened.)

And--and--am I the only one who thought Barry Manilow looked exactly like Liza Minnelli? (And kinda sang like her, too?)

Thanks to Charlie and to Steve for the unexpected pick-me-ups. The best kind.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's in the cards, dummy

So I have been trying to get into the habit of drawing a random card from my Tarot deck every day: a snapshot, if you will, a heads-up barometer of how things are (or how they're about to be). And the results have been truly uncanny. I mentioned one card in passing about a week ago, but didn't really say much more about it, and hadn't planned to. Until today.

One of the poetry books I'm teaching this fall was written by a friend. And I thought it would be great if he could perhaps visit my class, so I invited him. I couldn't invite him to give a proper reading--these things are scheduled at least a year in advance, we're a small campus, coordinating among several departments is mind-numbing--but a class visit, and an informal lunch talk, yeah, that I figured I could manage.

I realized that I needed to tap into some of the money that's available for this sort of thing, so I did some research, talked to colleagues, downloaded the proper forms. And it turns out that I need a sponsoring department before I can go to anyone else as a cosponsor. Okay, no problem, but time is running short, and classes are starting, and though I've talked informally with someone from my potential sponsoring department--and then followed up with an e-mail--I haven't heard back. Days pass. I send a follow-up e-mail, forwarding and amplifying my initial request. And there's still no response. I'm teaching, I'm running from meeting to meeting, there's course materials to load on Blackboard, the projection monitor doesn't work in my 8:30 class and I have to schedule a tech appointment--those of you who teach know exactly the myriad ways that one's time gets fractured and pummeled during any given day (and then the next, and so on). So I'm waiting to hear back, because I need Sponsor #1 before requesting any moolah from #2, and I'm starting to realize that I have absolutely no idea how to coordinate a simple campus visit, like do I need to keep track of five or six account numbers? assuming I get co-sponsorship from that many departments and organizations? And so I talk with another colleague, who explains that the sponsoring department pays for everything from their budget, and all the other donors just transfer their allotted funds into that budget at the appropriate time.

Okay, okay, that makes sense, but I still haven't heard back from #1. So I e-mail again, something polite but you know, kind of desperate, like "I'm still waiting, he-he, and could ya just say yes or nay b/c time's running short and all?"

And I hear back, immediately, that #1 has not only okayed this gig, but okayed it twice. It's embarrassing, yes, but I'm also scratching my head: WTF??

Turns out my Junk Mail Filter is randomly sucking in e-mails. They never make it to my In Box. I contacted someone at the Tech Desk who said oh yeah, her junk filter was acting up too.

So I unjunked my "real" e-mails, sent a thank you/apology to #1, and then I sent another e-mail: a general "hey guys, sorry if I've been slow to respond to anything, but my mail filter is junking your e-mails and I just found out." Now I'm not STUPID, I did not send this second e-mail to, like, FIFTY people or anything, only to the handful whose e-mails I un-junked an hour ago.

So I get a reply, a very helpful reply, from a colleague, with a very helpful tech-suggestion, and as I'm reading his message I realize that MY message--like a long strand of toilet paper stuck unbeknownst to my shoe--MY message has an earlier message attached to it. It's not, fortunately, the panicky desperate one from today. It's the initial message, asking #1 to help sponsor the campus visit. So now a bunch of people who have no need to know about this project (not that it hurts at all that they do) can--and probably have--read the whole length of that piece of toilet paper.

It's no big deal. It could have been worse. It could have been AWFUL.

Which brings us to today's card, the card I turned this morning, before my 8:00 class, the one I puzzled over, not seeing how it might relate to my day. Not heeding its warning.

You've probably guessed: it's The Fool.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Classes begin

Classes begin tomorrow: my poetry seminar meets at 8:30, and I'm totally looking forward to it. I was still tweaking the syllabus this evening, and decided to change the reading order: we're going to start with The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go.

* * * * *
Totally incapacitating headache this morning: I had to call Randy to come take me home a little after nine. Several hours and various medications later, it's still there--lurking in my skull like a nasty centipede.

Go away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I will never be hip

I will never be hip. Nor young again. Nor do I wish to be. So it didn't sting all that much to receive an e-mail today from Reb Livingston, rejecting my poems for the new Bedside Guide to No-Tell Motel anthology.

But it's very weird that just the other day, as I was chatting with my friend Betsy, she asked if I knew Reb (I don't). And that Reb was staying overnight at Betsy's apartment. Which used to be my apartment. And did I know where to get a good brunch in Lewisburg?

A glancing near-acquaintance. What if I'd been invited to brunch? Or had run into the two of them on the street? We're a verrrry small town. How nearly did I just avoid an awkward moment?

Today's random tarot card: the Six of Wands. I like this one; it feels very Leonine. Lots of work to do, but if I apply myself, my efforts will be well-received. Or that's what it's saying to me, anyway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

As before a journey

Can't sleep tonight: it's the kind of sleeplessness that usually precedes a trip, or the first day of the semester. Woke at 2:30 and tapped a note into my PDA, the light from its little screen bright against my face. Gave myself Reiki. Thought about an essay that Third Coast rejected almost two years ago. Tried to remember all the words to "Famous Blue Raincoat."

The dog was circling the bed. 3:20 AM. Got up to let her out. Found my shorts in the dark. She was in disbelief: I'm usually the snoring bear who can't be roused.

Downstairs, in the laundry room, watching Sadie through the window: faint white blur slipping behind the hedge to pee, only slightly more distinct than my own reflection in the glass. It's been raining gently. Hope it lasts. Sadie steps back onto the patio, checks to see I'm at the door, heads down the brick walk to the back yard. Number Two. I go into the kitchen, pour a half-glass of water. When I check back, she's amorphous, moving toward the door. I think of the title of Mary Ruefle's new book: A Little White Shadow.

Quiet. A few crickets and the hum of someone's air conditioner down the street. Sadie's on the futon, licking the rain off her paws. I'm trying to remember the color pattern on the webworm caterpillars that used to invade our yard when I was small: a series of tiny grids, sort of blue-green, unexpected among the darker stripes. Almost the blue of a jewelweed seed, the astonishing robin's egg blue revealed when I would scrape the seed coat with my thumbnail. But I think I'm confusing the colors; I'm certain about the jewelweed--touch-me-not--and less sure that the caterpillar had any blue at all.

[photo: Night View #8 ]

Thursday, August 10, 2006


It's the transmission, not the clutch (what do I know?), and will cost us a tight thousand bucks to have it replaced. We may have the truck back by Monday.


* * * * *
Here's a job posting for all you fiction writers out there who wouldn't mind living in Kentucky. [ tenure-track; starts Aug 2007; apps due by 12/1/06 ]

* * * * *
Randy just fixed our toilet with a universal flapper he bought at the local hardware store. The plastic mechanism is bright yellow and the brand name is Hornet. I'm in love with the term "universal flapper." Say it with me. Don't you feel like smiling?

* * * * *
Does anyone have hands-on experience working with CLMP's submission manager program? They're pushing it right now, and though I've managed to streamline and tailor our own submission database (the database and the tracking procedures) over the past few years, I'm always open to a new time-saving program. Anyone?

* * * * *
The cicadas are in full orchestration. Last year, the mega-brood didn't make it this far north, though it got as close as DC--lots of poems from that area about cicadas. I'm guilty as well of using cicada imagery in at least one poem. I've also thought that the empty husks would make great (read: macabre) Halloween jewelry.

* * * * *
Lily and Janie were just at the back door: our "Sweet 100" tomatoes, which we've allowed to range through the flower bed (and somewhat over the fence that separates our yard from the Kellys'), were apparently loaded with ripe tomatoes. The girls spied them through the fence, and their mom helped them pick a nice little bagful. Good neighbors are such a--I started to write "blessing" here, but it sounds so Pollyanna--I should check with Charlie and see what term he'd use (tee hee).

[photo: viola face]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dove request

Does anyone have a copy of Rita Dove's poem "American Smooth"--just the poem, not the book--that they can e-mail me? Soon? --Thanks much.

* * * * *
Tinkering with the syllabus for my Tuesday/Thursday class: which order do I want to set for the chapbooks? We're reading six this fall:
  • Michael Sowder, A Calendar of Crows [New Michigan Press]
  • J. Gabriel Scala, Twenty Questions for Robbie Dunkle *
  • Benjamin Scott Grossberg, The Auctioneer Bangs His Gavel *
  • Betsy Sholl, Coastal Bop [Oyster River Press]
  • Kent Maynard, Sunk Like God Behind the House *
  • Catherine Pierce, Animals of Habit *

*- Kent State

I am looking forward to catching up with a bunch of new chaps this fall. I've taught some of these a couple of times now, and I wanna clear the slate and play with a new batch. Any suggestions?

Oh, and I have some copies of my own to trade, if anyone's interested.


Just for fun, I've started a new blog: WTF is This? Submissions welcome. Enjoy.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Just walked to the office, schlepping a bunch of hanging file folders: I'm trying to sort & organize old files and to take advantage of the two roomy file cabinets in my new office. So much paper ends up in boxes. Less these days--I'd say I achieved a major shift about a year ago, after working toward it for a while: a combination of requiring my students to turn in 90% of their work online and of finally becoming more efficient with (and trusting of) my computer and laptop (and those handy USB jumpdrive thingies).

* * * * *
We were treated to a nice dinner last night by Steve & Kathryn, who picked us up. Three orders of blackened salmon with mango salsa, two orders of watermelon gazpacho (yummy, but could have been more picante for my taste--can't wait to make some!), one order of basil chicken over couscous. I wanted coffee after, but refrained.

* * * * *
Nice to see Robin Becker featured on Poetry Daily today. I love her work and can't see why she's not, well, bigger. Looking forward to reading the new book, Domain of Perfect Affection.

* * * * *
New fun word: planemos. They're planets that orbit each other rather than circling a star. Several have been found over the years, but apparently this new pair is causing a buzz.
One quote from this BBC article made me grin: "They appear to have been forged from a contracting gas cloud, in a similar way to stars, but are much too cool to be true stars."

* * * * *
Just got a call from HR: time to schedule my benefits meeting. Sweet words: health insurance. After three years without. (Happy feet!)

* * * * *
Still working on the new story. It's coming through slowly, about a page a day, but still feels much larger than I initially thought. This is a good thing; it means I'm letting it be what it wants to be instead of clamping down and prodding it into some safe form/length/shape. Here's an excerpt from what I wrote Thursday morning:

Charlie leaned closer, examining the mask: a papier mache Green Man composed of individual leaves, each hand-layered onto a paper pulp base form. I tried to construct the mask based on photos I’d made of Nelson sleeping on the sofa—hands folded across his chest, exhaustion tugging his features like gravity itself, he always looked like he was practicing—but in the end, I asked him to model for it.

“A death mask?” he mused, arching his eyebrows.

“I’m thinking more of a Green Man.”

“What, again?” he groaned, and I remembered the afternoon I’d posed him endlessly amid the branches of a bushy camphor tree on the lawn near the Menil Museum. The tree had been cut to the ground at some point, but multiple trunks had arisen to ring the central stump, a platform I coaxed Nelson to stand upon. Shooting roll after roll of film in the late afternoon light, I coached as he peered dutifully from the glossy thick leaves—a little more covering the forehead, now just the left side—while his patient expression turned weary, then stoic, then openly curious: had I captured the essence I was asking him to provide? Were we through yet?

* * * * *

[photo: gourd vine climbing past our (second-story) bathroom window, 8/2/06]

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Farewell to the Fishers

All right. I am officially lifting my ban against any discussion of the Six Feet Under final season. We watched the last episode tonight, open-mouthed and leaning forward during the end sequence, which was, I think, in the heady minutes after, simply perfect. The final shot of Claire--the eyes! Wow.

[photo: crow leaving maple, 8/3/06]

Update: click here to watch the final sequence on YouTube.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The squeaky wheel...

...precedes the emphatic clunk. Or it did this afternoon, anyway. On our way back from State College, where we had a rapturous birthday lunch at Say Sushi, the truck started making squealy noises. A loose belt? I wondered, itching to loosen my own after so much exquisite food. And so affordable. So worth the wait (we make the pilgrimage to Say Sushi maybe twice a year). Anyway, in the middle of our journey, in a dark wood (literally, the road passes through Bald Eagle State Forest, and we were following two wide-hipped RV campers) the squealing escalated to a grating crescendo, and Randy couldn't get the truck back into gear. "Let's coast," I suggested brightly, as we slalomed down the mountain road. Meaning: please don't let the fun end here. Meaning: think of the towing charges. And we coasted a bit, and the truck slipped back into 4th. Fourth was fine with me. Fifth gear? Ehh, overrated, who really needs it, we're two queers in a pickup truck, we don't need to go over 45 mph on a rural mountain road.

And so we tooled along, holding our breath. "If we make it to town, should we just drop the truck directly at Buck's?" asked Randy. (They know our truck at Buck's. They just fixed the starter two weeks ago. In fact, they had to re-fix the clutch two summers ago, after it went out on my trip to New York--another story, but the damn clutch went out on the George Washington Bridge! As Cher said in her farewell concert after riding a sequined elephant onto the stage, "Top that, you bitches." But I digress.) Sounded like a good idea to me.

Out of the woods. Passing Cowan, which meant maybe eight miles to go. At this point I'm thinking, we need groceries. "If it still sounds okay when we get home, maybe we can use it to run errands this weekend and take it over to Buck's on Monday," I suggested hopefully.

Three miles to go. KERRRRRR-R-R-GRRR-R-THWOK-UNK-UNK! Or something like that. A loud, grinding, heavy sound of something mechanical popping out of place and emphatically not going back in. "Can we coast?" I asked (meekly). Not into town of course--I'm not a complete frothing idiot--but maybe a few hundred yards, say to that gravelly patch up yonder? And we did. And at that point, I realized (again) why we carried cell phones.

Thanks to Deirdre and Bill, for driving out to pick us up.

[photo: cast-off lawn mower flywheel (or something mechanical from a lawn mower; what do I know, I'm no rocket scientist), 3/1/06]

Thursday, August 03, 2006


... tomorrow. I don't feel a day over 45.

[photo: bicycle sprocket in store window, 7/22]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Okay, I know I said I would never complain about the heat again after leaving Houston, but...

... this is ridiculous. I got lightheaded just walking home this afternoon.

* * * * *
Reading Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood this week: I've only read her stories and letters before. I was hooked immediately into the world of Haze Motes; my god, O'Connor can establish a voice in one deft sentence.

* * * * *
Also picked up a new (for me) book by Allan Gurganus from the library--The Practical Heart (I think) (it's upstairs; I am not moving from this spot for a simple fact-check). . . I love his work. Looking forward to this one.

* * * * *
We picked our first cucumber this afternoon: it's outrageously huge. The vines are loaded; I wish our tomatoes were doing as well (alas).

* * * * *
I am ditching the ball game in the 9th inning (Philadelphia vs. St Louis) and heading upstairs where it's air conditioned. Though with all the southern fiction I'm reading this week, maybe I should read some John Haines or something to draw a cool northern breeze?

[photo: miniature rose in our garden, July (digitally torqued)]

Friday, July 28, 2006

New quilt layout

So I decided to piece a new quilt this week--not too large, something roughly 36 x 36 or so. I'm posting these photos in reverse order so you can see the pattern develop from the initial block, which is called a "broken dishes" pattern. Scroll down for the rest of the photos. This evening I will "square up" all the blocks (trim them to a uniform size and squared-off shape) and piece them together; tomorrow I will add borders to complete the top. Randy is planning to start quilting on it before the weekend is out, while I put the binding on the small quilt he is just finishing up.

New quilt layout (2)

Here, then, are the initial blocks, arranged on my flannel wall as they will appear in the quilt.

(A flannel wall, by the way, is simply a large sheet of flannel that's tacked to a wall: when you place and lightly press fabric pieces against it, they stay in place. This is great for figuring out block arrangements.)

New quilt layout (3)

Continuing in reverse order, here is the second block pattern--a simple four-patch--arranged on the flannel wall.

New quilt layout (4)

And here is photo #4, which shows what happens when you merge the two separate block patterns. It may be immediately apparent to some of you that there would have been an easier way to create this quilt pattern, but since I didn't know where I wanted to go with the broken dishes blocks at the start, I am happy to have arrived by this route.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fly united

A few years ago, the Monarch butterfly population was devastated by a killing frost in Mexico; researchers waded through the bodies like dead leaves. In the summers since, I noticed very few local Monarchs, though last year there were a few. This summer, hardly a day goes by that I don't see one. On our drives up into the mountains last weekend, Monarchs were everywhere (and, given the choice, who wouldn't prefer the spectacular views, rather than risk a windshield-squashing?), although according to experts their numbers are still in a precipitous decline.

This past fall, I meant to gather some milkweed seeds: we have a small sunny area that could be set aside to grow them. I like the pinkish flowers anyway--similar in color to Joe-Pye weed, which is starting to bloom everywhere in the roadside ditches and fields, though its relatively immense height (5 to 6 feet or more) makes it an unsuitable candidate for our small back yard.

So I was delighted to capture this photo last Saturday, on an overlook of the North White Deer Ridge of Bald Eagle Mountain. Three or four Monarchs were feeding on a stand of milkweed--which also drew a hummingbird--and then we spied these two. When they eventually lifted off they were still conjoined.

[photo: mating Monarchs, 7/22/06]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hammock time

Reading, writing and quilting. My e-mail is set to vacation mode (sort of like screening my calls--I still check messages but only answer the most interesting ones).

Stopped by the office to water plants--my Tom-Toms have 4 tomatoes!--and there was a little ant trap thingy in the hall outside my door, completely swarmed by teeny black ants. Are these sugar ants? As kids, we always called them piss ants.

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Great visit with my sis Sandy, who had business in Hershey & came on up afterward for the weekend. Bearing a box of Busken butter cookies. They're already gone. I'm still moaning. Busken's is one of the five things I miss about Cincinnati (1-4: my parents & siblings). Oh yeah, #6:Half Price Books. How I miss Half Price Books.

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Congratulations to Paul Guest: his manuscript, Notes for My Body Double, has won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize! And congrats to runner-up Stacey Waite: a thousand bucks makes second place look pretty sweet.

[photo: heirloom morning glory on our cucumber trellis]