Saturday, July 28, 2007

Found one

I found a photo we took of my night-blooming cereus back in Houston in--yikes--1989. Should have dusted off the snapshot before I scanned it. Still purty, tho.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Going back for the plants

Well I've moved the books and papers, cleaned out all the file drawers (except for the pencils and staplers and stuff that was there when I moved in) (I have my own stapler, a beautiful sleek vintage model that I really ought to photograph, just to show you what a classic stapler can look like), recycled another armload of magazines, and it's down to one final box of take-home books and a few office plants. We'll swing by with the truck on Saturday to pick them up.

I'm trying to decide about Bob's chair: a big, blocky green armchair that swallows you so completely it practically belches. It was in Bob Taylor's office for years, a space I was glad to inherit for a while; when I gave it up last spring and moved to O'Leary, I had the green chair sent over. It looks like a great reading chair. I've never had time to relax in it. Maybe one final try: I'll see if it fits next to my file cabinet. I may have to swap it out for a proper bookcase. Though now that I consider this option, I realize I'd rather have a good, comfy chair than an extra bookcase: after all, I'm only going to use this office two days a week, and only for the fall semester. I should be bringing more books home, not stacking them in a cozy but temporary office.
* * * * *

Woke with a headache and the realization that R was right: I should have filled my new headache prescription so I'd have it on hand at the earliest onset of symptoms. Still, the medication (once I went over and got it) seems to be putting up a valiant battle (the war imagery is a total bleedover from reading HP7, and don't tell me, dammit, I've less than 80 pages to go!)
* * * * *

One of the plants I did bring home from my office a few weeks ago is a night-blooming cereus. It had grown topheavy in its plastic (faux terra cotta) pot and had taken to tipping over whenever the soil got a bit dry--this was, like, last year--so I plopped a nice fist-sized river stone (granite I think, nicely egg-shaped) in there to counterbalance the tippiness. The whole thing needed repotting. I put it out on the patio table for a couple weeks, figuring it needed light but not too much sun (patio umbrella), and this evening I repotted it into a heavy white glazed planter. Looks great. Hope it blooms; it's been years (back in Houston, in fact) since I've had one that bloomed (that plant died the next winter when I forgot to put it in the garage; the one I have now has grown from a tiny leaf cutting).

I should have taken a photo of this plant to show you what I'm talking about. Long, flat, straplike leaves; kind of a messy, haphhazard groing habit; absolutely stunning flowers when it finally decides to bloom: they start out as tiny buds and grow and grow until they are nearly the size of a fist, kind of shaggy looking. The flower opens at night (back in Houston, I would go out with a flashlight to watch) and you can literally watch the needlelike white petals tremble and part as it swells open. Next morning, it's spent, collapsed: a one-night-only affair.
* * * * *

R gave me a haircut. (Thanks, hon.) Reason #99 why I'm glad I married him. (Reason #98 was the incredible chicken bulgogi he cooked the other night.)
* * * * *

[photo: Worlds End Falls, July 2006--can't believe it's been a year]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New keys

Well the attic office remodel wasn't showing any signs of progress, so yesterday I received keys to a basement office in Taylor Hall, sorta halfway downstairs from the Bucknell Press offices. Nice space--big desk--filing cabinet--no windows and hmm, no bookcases. I'd been loading my books into copy paper boxes (having saved a few all semester); did you know (I didn't until yesterday) that five boxes full of poetry books will fit into three filing cabinet drawers?

We had an extra bookshelf at home, one of those nifty fold-down numbers, stored under the bed, so I took that in today. It will do until I can see about getting a proper bookcase.

Tomorrow: moving the last of my files and backing up the computer. I'll be using my laptop at the new office until the PC is relocated . . .
! ! !

I think those 5 are supposed to be spiders. I'm still reading HP7, late at night before falling asleep, which means I am staying up much too late to read in bed. I'm about 500 pages in. I'm terribly excited to see who dies next.
* * *

Just read a beautiful chapbook of prose poems, Give Up by Andrew Michael Roberts. Go to the Tarpulin Sky website and buy this book.
* * *

Three weeks left until the Keystone Chapbook competition closes. Submissions are coming in almost daily now. Thanks to everyone who's spreading the word.
* * *


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oh, hindsight

[Several months ago, while R & I were browsing a flea market, I found a January 1945 copy of Reader's Digest and bought it for the following article. For all the times you might have wondered "What were they thinking?" with regard to kudzu (and other invasive species), well, here's what they were thinking.]

A Japanese ornamental vine is making exciting news in the South:

Kudzu- Another Agricultural Miracle

Condensed from Country Book Magazine

Russell Lord*

It was a hill farm in Alabama. If ever a farm were visibly dying, this one was. All of the topsoil had gone to the creeks and the sea. The field on which we stood was so gullied you had to keep jumping to get across it. The land was worn and bare, the sagging house was empty. But if you looked closely, here and there in the gullies you could see ropelike vines crawling, hugging the ground, beginning to net it down. It was the first planting of kudzu, the new cover crop, that I had ever seen.

"A man hanged himself in that house, and the bank took over the place. Now this field will heal soon and make fine pasture. It will be green next spring," my companion, R. Y. Bailey said. "Kudzu" Bailey, they called him. It was in December of 1936. Only a few shared Bailey's faith in this Japanese vine as a field crop, and not a few were afraid that it would be a more menacing pest than honeysuckle, spreading to take over the entire countryside.

Bailey and a few other believers replied that when a plant grows like honeysuckle yet feeds like clover or alfalfa, with approximately the same protein and carotene content, there was no point in being cautious. They showed that kudzu not only wove a mat of protective cover but worked as a legume to draw free nitrogen from the air and store it for plant use in the soil. So kudzu plantings kept marching on to heal slashed land and great gullies.

Last June I spent a week-end at the Georgia farm of Channing Cope, an influential kudzu grower. Cope says kudzu was brought in from Japan as an ornamental vine. He planted his first field of it in 1927, when he acquired 700 acres of run-down land near Covington, 30 miles from Atlanta. Yellow River Farm, it was called, for the river that drained it was yellow with topsoil.

Today the whole place stands out as a green oasis amid gray-brown cottoned-down country. "Cotton isn't king here any more," Channing Cope says happily. "Kudzu is king!" Livestock multiply in the meadows; the soil is held secure; the place is making money.

We stood that blazing hot Sunday at the edge of a marvelous vineland. The kudzu had made a riotous growth, hip deep, all over the hill.

"Reach down," said Channing. The ground was as damp and cool as that of a deeply shaded forest floor. "They took some temperatures over at the Experiment Station on a day like this," said Channing. "Bare ground was 140 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface. Under kudzu the ground temperature was only 89 degrees. That's something to consider. Many soil men here in the South wonder if the fierce heat on the tilled fields doesn't hurt the soil and hinder humidification.

"And just look at this kudzu duff!" He scooped up a handful. Those big, delicate leaves, shed from last year's crop, make a flaky mold that covers the ground completely and enters as organic matter to lighten topsoil fast. The cover on that field felt like a deep mattress under your feet.

Kudzu stands drought well. Some roots go 12 feet deep. Each crown puts out from one to four vines, and new crowns form in the joints and nodes. Five hundred crowns will plant an acre--about one crown to every 85 square feet. On rich soil the vines may grow 12 inches a day at the peak of the growing season, and 100 feet of growth in a year is not unknown. Even the first year's yield may be considerable, but it usually takes three years for the crop to take full possession of the acreage. Kudzu may be pastured or cut with a mower and taken as hay. "This 35 acres will make at least 3 1/2 tons of hay to the acre this year, drought or not," Cope told me.

I do not think that I ever saw a more erosible soil anywhere than on this farm. It washes like sugar. Even a cart track through new grassland will start a gully. But once Kudzu has taken hold thoroughly, the trouble ends. That solid mat holds the soil.

Hugh H. Bennett, Chief of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, said recently: "What, short of a miracle, can you call this plant? Kudzu has forced our Service to revise our appraisal of a lot of severely eroded land as having been ruined for further agricultural use. And it is not only a crop for gouged-out land; it is a splendid crop fro good land, too. It will cover a cornfield in one year; the next spring or early summer it can be plowed and that land planted to corn; then after the last cultivation of the corn it will again spread over the field, stop the erosion, store more nitrogen, and at the first hard frost lay down a carpet of rich leaf litter at least the equal of forest litter. All this in one year!"

Northern farmers are beginning to envy the South in having this marvel. Geneticists are now working to develop hardier strains that will push the kudzu belt northward. The general range of the crop is south of the Potomac River, although in my home county of Harford, Maryland, I have seen a growth as luxuriant as any.

In a part of the country farmed almost to death under the old crop-and-chop system, kudzu is lively, hopeful, exciting. "A strange ecstasy," Cope says, "lifts southern growers' hearts and exalts their language when they get together to praise kudzu." At a meeting of the Kudzu Club of America in Atlanta last spring one man told me how he raised eggs for three cents a dozen on kudzu hen pasture; others testified that corn yields had risen from fourfold to sevenfold on fields that had been in kudzu. One man told of his progress in dehydrating kudzu for stock feed and human use. It makes fine breakfast food, he said.

The Kudzu Club has set as its goal a million acres of kudzu in Georgia by 1950 and eight million acres for the South as a whole. "That wouldn't be a bit too much to support the livestock economy we need, and help make our agriculture permanent," Channing Cope says.

*RUSSELL LORD has written about farming for more than 20 years and is a consultant to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Even as a boy of 13, he found agriculture on a Maryland farm so exciting that he began to report farmers' doings for a country weekly. At Cornell University he specialized in agriculture, and later he became a contributing editor of The Country Home, Country Life and The Progressive Farmer. He edits The Land, published by Friends of the Land, a nonprofit society formed four years ago to combat the alarming waste of our natural resources, and is author of Behold Our Land, The Agrarian Revival, and To Hold This Soil.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Saying too much: private moments in public poems

I've been thinking about this subject since I first started writing the poems that eventually were published in Survivable World: how much narrative detail is too much? After the book came out--after, in fact, I'd read one poem in particular in DC--, I realized that I'd gone too far with one line.

The poem is about the trips that I made to and from the hospital in D's last days, with and without his family. The phrase "everyone strained, polite" pushes right at the edge (I think now) of what's publicly acceptable: these are his family; they were under terrible stress, and I was only able to see them through my own lens of grief.

Which is acceptable in such circumstances, but for the fact that I wrote it down, fully intending to use it. I published it, thinking I had written an honest narrative of the experience. The thing I said next, and how I strained against the boundaries of privacy and propriety in order to accomplish the telling, is what shames me still. I want to say that I didn't mean it ("after ten years you'd think we'd know whether we liked one another"), that of course I liked them ("But you're just like any other married couple!" his mother said to D in her kitchen on one of our early visits), but they unnerved me, too.

The Pod People, I called them, that Christmas holiday our Honda's transmission failed on the long drive home to Houston. We were trying to push the car in terrible snow, and a beat-up white truck full of ominously quiet men picked us up, took us to a gas station miles down the road, where we phoned D's parents. Oh, the men were fine; it was just D's prissiness at the dirty truck--or maybe that they'd caught on that we were queers--or some undefined sense of difference that I'll never figure out which caused them to grow silent as we bumped along, but I couldn't help feeling that D was betraying a sense of disdain. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was a palpable shift in the cab of that truck (why did I blame D for it?) and I remember thinking They could kill us, shove us down an embankment, go back for the car (absolutely loaded with gifts and camera equipment). It was days later, when D hadn't yet phoned to have the Honda towed, that I lost my patience with our extended visit, with living among his too-polite, blandly nice family, and launched into that explosive argument. I wanted to go home: I needed space to write, to read. I didn't trust their goodness and felt it had to be a facade; worse, I was sure they secretly disapproved of me.

And so the poem contains a kind of lie, though even as I write this I am back in that awkward shuttling to the hospital, the oppressibly religious funeral which I permitted because I knew it would comfort his parents. And yet, when his father, back at the house, said what a nice service it had been, didn't F murmur I thought it was awful, and didn't I realize that she, too, was somehow an outsider?

* * * * *

I made a fiction of my love,
and fell in love with that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Randy and I walked up to the local wee bookshop a few minutes before midnight; there were maybe 25 people already lined up to buy the new Harry Potter. I waited outside, watched folks arrive (several kids in costume) and depart, gleefully clutching their copies.

I just finished Chapter 5. Let us not speak of it.

Happy reading, everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Okay, I'll play. Nels tagged me for the eight things meme, and though I'm panicked about which eight people to send this on to (flashbacks of dodgeball team selection back in high school gym class) (oh wait, *I* get to pick?), I'll try just about anything once. Here goes--


(We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.)
-Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
-People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
-At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. (Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.)


1) I used to collect porcelain wall pockets, though I've since gotten rid of all but three. One of the three I can't part with looks like a teapot-shaped clock. It's light blue, and the hands are set at 7:20.
1A) (significance of the fact:) My late partner, David, passed at exactly 7:20 PM, about six years after we bought this wall pocket.
2) I have never broken a bone, though I do have an interesting scar on my scalp, left by a deep gash caused by a childhood fall against a case of Pepsi bottles.
2A) (I'm not going to do this for each one, but...) My mother worked in a general store when I was a child (she also worked as a waitress). Soda, back in the day, came in tall 16-oz. bottles and was delivered by the hunky Pepsi Man in painted wooden crates . . . This particular scar is so deep that it still freaks me out when I touch it with my fingertip.
3) I once shot my brother in the back of the head with a bow and arrow. Accidentally.
4) I am one of six children, but I only speak to three of my siblings. I got fed up with the crazy shit the other two kept pulling, took my toys and stomped out of that sandbox for good.
5) I was voted Most Likely to Succeed by my high school class, but I have never had the nerve to go to a reunion and tell them that I'm not tenured.
6) I was taught to read and write by a family friend (the owner of the general store referenced in 2A) long before I ever started public school. Because of this, everyone treated me as if I were a super-bright kid, and I believed them, despite later evidence to the contrary. (I'm maybe medium-bright, but I have a terrible memory for details.)
7) I have had three body piercings, not counting the ones in my ears.
8) I have no interest in getting a PhD, but I would love to go back and get an MFA in Book Arts.


1) Randy

2) Amanda
3) Eduardo
4) Collin
5) Peter
6) Dustin
7) I really have to stop here. I feel like a telemarketer. I don't really even *know* some of these people (though I'd like to). Apologies for wrenching the system. . .

[photo: wall pocket]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm not a designer, but . . .

What do you think of this pattern? It's a piece of fabric that dates back to the mid-1870s. I want to use it in a cover design for a chapbook.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I'm packing books in earnest now, and stopped to re-read this poem, which I'd tagged with a Post-It note and read last year to my students. When Jason (Schneiderman) and Michael (Broder) had me out to read at the Ear Inn a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of reading with Wayne Koestenbaum. I thoroughly enjoy his work. This poem's a little quieter; of course in class we talk about the lovely haunting imagery as well as the formal structure:

The Ornate and Lovely Corner House

Oldsmobiles up and down the canals all night:
how they drive on water
is a mystery beautiful as it is absolute.
I ask the waiter

the origin of the automobile riding
by the fishmonger’s,
idling on the water’s surface, and he is surprised
to see me linger

over a question that to him is obvious.
When I finish my coffee
the night-prowling cars have vanished,
but from my balcony

tonight, in the ornate and lovely corner
house, with envy
I will watch the slow procession of the cars
that are too heavy

to float. And yet they float, a formation
not reflected
in tomorrow’s papers, my generation’s
tone, the tormented

air I am used to hearing in the daily speeches.
The sublime
visits me so rarely that when it approaches
there is no time

to regret my lack of preparation
for its luminous
arrival, its liquid organization.
This life is formless

and I do not understand most of it:
why no children
gather in my cool garden when the heat
grows violent.

- Wayne Koestenbaum, Ode to Anna Moffo

[photo: mini violet blooming on my desk]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thinking of a friend

Thinking of a friend, and the difficult passages we dread but can't avoid. This poem by Jody Gladding has been on my mind all weekend, and goes out to Nels:

When Nijinsky died, they cut open his feet
to find the secret of his dance. His bones,

it turns out, were like anyone’s.
With each step, our heels sink that much

deeper into earth. We have
nowhere else to go. Once my mother

crossed and recrossed an entire field
to find my sandal. Now she’s gone;

she left her darning.

: Jody Gladding, Stone Crop

[photo: seedhead, 6/23/07]

Saturday, July 14, 2007

New blue mini

Here's the new mini quilt. I finished binding it last night, washed it in the kitchen sink, and hung it up to dry. Tried taking photos this afternoon by pinning the quilt to a towel on the clothesline, but it was pretty breezy, so it may look a bit off square.

My mother hand-pieced the triangle squares and handed it off to me; I machine-pieced the border and hand-quilted the whole thing, then applied a very narrow binding made from the same border fabric. The quilt measures 14.5 inches tall x 18 inches wide.
* * * * *

We saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this afternoon at the Campus Theatre: I loved it. That's all I'm gonna say.
* * * * *

Friday, July 13, 2007

Uhh, I don't think so

So I'm supposed to be packing up to move from my office and into a newly-renovated space on the third floor of Carnegie, where I had an office before I schlepped everything over to this building last summer. Are ya with me? On Monday, I walked over to check out the new digs. The photo pretty much says it all. Fortunately, the department manager in Geology is being super nice and has extended my stay until August 1, but I don't see how they're going to have the new space ready by then. Do you? So I'll have to move somewhere for the interim, then again when the office is finally ready. It's appalling.
* * * * *

The headache turned out to be a migraine, and eventually went away. My doc prescribed Midrin. We'll see how it fends off the next one (which hopefully won't occur anytime soon).
* * * * *

We need a nice slow rain.
* * * * *

Interest in the Keystone Chapbook Prize has been steady. (Thanks to Steve Herb at the PA Center for the Book for posting the CFS there!) The deadline is one month away (August 17), so if you're eligible, get that manuscript together!
* * * * *
Sorting through papers in my office (and at home). I've recycled pounds and pounds of paper. I must learn to be more efficient, especially given how often I've had to move offices. . .

Monday, July 02, 2007

New bars top

I have a rotten headache. This is the second day. I feel like someone has beaten me with a two-by-four.
* * * * *
Yesterday I pieced a new quilt top. This "Bars" top is made from reproductions of 19th century fabrics: the "poison green" original that the above is based on dates to 1850 and is commonly found in central PA quilts from the mid- to late 1800s. The double pink is one of my favorites, and the chrome yellow really brings out the yellow flowers in the green fabric. This top measures approximately 21 x 24 inches and is a smaller version of a wall quilt I pieced that Randy quilted last year. I've been wanting to make a smaller version, and even with my crummy headache, this was a pretty straightforward assembly (though I did sew several strips backward and had to take them apart to redo). Though I shuffled around gingerly most of the day, I'm glad I managed to accomplish something over the weekend. [The first photo looks wonky: it's not; the edges are straight and square.]
* * * * *
Yesterday afternoon as we talked out on the patio (I was quilting on the triangle mini and Randy was reclining back, looking up at the gorgeous sky), Randy spotted a bald eagle circling high over the back yard. We yelled to the neighbors to come see--someone grabbed binoculars and I tried to focus a shot with my digital cam (with no luck)--and we all craned our necks to watch this magnificent bird wheel and soar lazily toward the river, the sun flashing off its white head and tail. Quite wonderful. I have not seen a bald eagle since David and I were in Alaska in I think '93.
* * * * *
My gay summer reading arrived today: Andrew Holleran's Grief and Armistead Maupin's Michael Tolliver Lives. Looking forward to both.
* * * * *
Somewhere last week, I crossed the 1,000 mark: 1,022 profile views as of today. Thanks to all who've stopped by to read and enjoy my photos.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fields of gold

As we were headed home, Randy stopped so I could snap off these two photos of the wheat field from the truck window.