Monday, May 31, 2010

"defensible" space

Beautiful late afternoon. I'm sitting on one of the Wave Hill chairs in front of the "woodland" border at the northwest ell of the house. I'm beneath a maple, and a breeze is blowing, rustling the leaves. Penelope is keeping me company, her black-and-whiteness contemplating the groundcover patchwork of lamium and sweet woodruff.

D has hit on a wonderful solution to our lawn mowing Troubles this summer. Much of our near-three-quarter acre has become overgrown because the mower broke. The grass is tall and waves in the breeze. Mowing the entire lawn had become too much, anyway. Too much for me physically; D's much too busy; we're loathe to hire anyone, etc. Plus we would like to get away from the very idea of having to mow, though planting the area out otherwise is too much to contemplate as well. So D's solution is à la (and inspired by) the treatment at the conservation area. He's mowed a green path ("just wide enough for two who love" as E.D. described the intimately scaled path between The Homestead and The Evergreens), along with discrete mowed areas near garden features such as where I am sitting now. I am just loving it. Where I sit feels like a peaceful oasis as opposed to an exposed, undefined corner of the yard. I feel pleasantly enclosed with a pretty meadow behind buffering me. If I (or a cat) wishes to take a stroll, one can take the narrow, inviting path that D's mowed alongside the bed of daylilies. In another area of the garden one can take a romantic stroll to the lovely and melancholy weeping willow. At the moment it's a work in progress - D has it in mind to connect up the entire property in a designed walk... very soon, it will be a delightful circuit.

The garden has become instantly more intimate. There's an idea of rooms and paths separated by undulating seas of meadow that bees and butterflies enjoy. The grasses are flowering ornamentally and there are wildflowers too. I am very happy for this civilized and "green" solution, which works for me on so many levels. This is a well-designed space now, and I feel calm and sheltered for it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Perfect day today, hot, sunny, and dry. Who would believe it's snowing I quip to the familiar gentleman with his dog. We cross paths at the bottom of the meadow, a point near which various paths curve and meet. White wisps swirl in the air, fall on the ground, collect - seeds from the...

And so my post grinds to a halt. I want to say from the honey locusts, but having googled it now I'm not so sure. Can I cheat and poetically say that they're the white rose petals from the abundant rosa multifloras? But they're not, the stuff flying in the air is silken wisps. It reminds me of the gossamer white that Penelope leaves all over the place to mark her spots - so that she can always find her way home?

My blog has received yet more page loads connected to Da Vinci's Madonna of the Carnation. I've been getting them off and on for a couple of months but the frequency has stepped up in recent days. Since last night I've received hits from Germantown, Maryland; London, U.K.; Drammen, Buskerud, Norway; Lahti, Southern Finland, Finland; Everett, Mass; and Thessaloniki, Greece. Why the interest? Do I need to read Dan Brown to figure this out? Will it be enough to Netflix the Tom Hanks movie?

Oh darling, I don't have much to say at the moment. I feel tired. I'm up in the aerie. It's sunny and peaceful, radio's on. I'm trying to muse, click on various sites, or be still and think.

We stopped by the Sycamore nursery this afternoon. D told me that since he had purchased vegetable plants there yesterday we had a free perennial coming to us, and Randy suggested to him that I might want to be along for that. So I checked out the perennial border on the side of the house, scrutinized gaps that I'd like to fill with a bit more of the same that we purchased from him last year, that is, a lovely salvia reminiscent of lilac blooms, a rose-purple echinacea, and a very tall (near 6 foot) back-of-the-border yellow cutleaf coneflower. Randy is such a nice guy and great plantsman that he actually remembered from last year that I was frustrated with a rose-blossomed spirea (purchased not from him). He had suggested perennials to complement it - was I happy? Well - yes! Why I was there for more of the very same. I should totally link to his nursery but I don't want people hitting on my blog because they're looking for him. (As you know, it's not that kind of blog.) But if they do - he's great. I've been delighted with anything I ever bought from him especially once it gets established - in which case it exceeds my original expections. I'm certainly far more pleased than with most plants that I've ever bought from a big-box store. (There have been a few happy exceptions - such as heavily marked-down astilbes from Home D. last year that are beautiful, elegant, and about to come back into robust bloom just now.)

To continue in this vein, the first winter we moved here (5 years ago) we planted a tiny Colorado spruce on sale from a great nursery (not Sycamore - I don't think he was around back then). "Thumbelina" is graceful in form & color, thriving and absolutely beautiful in every respect. You have to pay for aesthetics, is a lesson I draw. Yes, we bought the tree on sale - but it was from a high quality place to begin with. As opposed to, a couple of years later, two other spruces that we bought from Home D. - and I don't like them. They simply lack the grace and elegance of Thumbelina. I tolerate them. But I am kicking myself (hindsight 20/20) that we didn't hold out for higher quality trees when it comes to those two (though we have for most other trees we've planted on the property, I should add).

Actually, that's one of the big lies about the big-box store culture our nation became mired in. I remember a conversation with my aunt - she said what a pleasure it is to find something on sale - when it's from a really good store. There is a lot to be said for that, as opposed to buying low-price junk from an indifferent store. I'm not able to follow it through in all respects in my life, though I try. I'd like to be able to pay full-price more often, what things are worth, what they cost to produce - such as, I would really like to have a subscription to a CSA here that I've had the privilege to enjoy when our next-door neighbors are out of town and ask us to pick up their "share." I'm hoping our finances are getting in better order. Maybe they are. D seems in a very good mood these days. I'm completely worthless in the marketable department these days. "Penniless rich woman," I heard Jerome Charyn say of E.D., as I re-listened to his WAMC radio interview and jotted down notes. But you know - I'm not beating myself up over it. How can I possibly? I see, for example, two brilliant women - Ruth Reichl and Dominique Browning - who were discarded by the corporate culture, and it seems to me that they're not having such an easy time of it (they write about it). And these are two great, strong, artistic, professional, achieving, highpowered women - and they're struggling. So I'm struggling too - hanging in there - but there it is. I find it interesting. I've been re-inventing myself, doing all I feel that I can do.

D was planting in the perennials and I came out with a glass of wine (mine). I told him that I see how hard he works and that I don't take it for granted. He was cheerful but couldn't help but mutter some "worker ant" remark, and I said, look, I used to work super-hard for many years, including physically - you know I did, you know it (I made him acknowledge that and he did) - and now I simply can't anymore, or not in the "old way" anymore, anyway.

Where do I go from here? I don't know exactly. But this - loving you, and writing ("blogging my muse" as L.R. perfectly described) - is what I'm up for these days, and I feel very fortunate, penniless yet rich, free up in the aerie, writing whatever I like. Leftover delicious pasta with broccoli rabe tonight for dinner. Oh good, no one has to cook. We'll grill tomorrow.

Cremorne Gardens

Dream last night... You and I are at the waterfront, an open space, to see fireworks that are about to begin. It's very dark, after nightfall. Others are there too. We are all standing. You have put your arms around me. Black sky, tumultuous moonlit clouds. Fireworks rumble in the distance, across the expanse of water, but we don't see them. It's not that they are obscured by clouds so much as that they’re too far away, although we can hear them.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights, 1872, Tate Gallery, London

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1875, Detroit Institute of Art

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Fire Wheel, 1875, Tate Gallery, London
From Tate Collection display caption: This is one of the nocturnes that Whistler painted of Cremorne Gardens, at the west end of Chelsea beside the river Thames. The gardens were popular as a place of amusement, offering concerts, dancing and, as in this painting, a nightly display of fireworks. Cremorne was closed in 1877 due to repeated complaints from the neighbourhood about the noise and rowdiness. Whistler’s nocturnes provide a sense of the tranquility of the Thames at night, and are far removed from the teeming waterfront of the day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a light on

Dearest love, after I hit send I went outside and while watering one of the flower borders spotted a bee having its way with the cranesbill geranium. Many are lovely, but you exceed all - the bee certainly seemed to think so. I ran in for the camera, regretting that the epiphany was belated, because it would have made the perfect final image to the last post. By all means read all manner of ardent, insatiable meaning into the image now, my dear bee, or flower, whichever you like, we can switch off.

I did a good 40 minutes of weeding, which hardly made a dent though I hauled quite a bit to the back weed pile. I might have weeded more but it began to rain, thankfully, because it was reason to stop and also because the garden could use it. The rain is coming down hard now, and the cats are on the protected porch, enjoying it like seasoned campers. They are a funny crew. I leave the back door open for them all day, and they waltz in and out as they please, hanging on the porch listening to the radio, or in the woodland garden too, because with windows open you can hear the music there, as I know from dragging the hose there today and finding Penelope ensconced by a Wave Hill chair.

Thunder now. I picked a few wildflowers this afternoon and put them in a glass. They get lost in the garden but are a revelation close up. I didn't know the names so I asked D a favor (you can say no) to run up to the nursery to ask the owner. (He's very friendly and though we're not his flushest customers, D came back with wildflower ID's, plus tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc. that he'll plant in the vegetable beds tomorrow.) The nurseryman identified deadly nightshade (oh!), buttercup, and what as a child he had known as Indian paintbrush. I think these are the very sorts of flowers that ED grooved on. They have such a rare delicacy, botanical drawings without the colored pencil, the thing itself, yet miniature works of art. I suppose flowers to her were as butterflies to Nabokov.

Bring the Bringdown is on now. Love that song. So langorous and seductive. I just start moving and swaying to it. Do you listen to music much, I wonder? I wish you could hear the songs I love best - maybe you'd like them too. Or even if you're indifferent you'd smile abstractedly (though not insincerely) simply because I like them. Do you have a good station where you are? (It's hard to ask for more than one.) NYC was mostly a radio wasteland except for WNYC (NPR) and WFUV, a Fordham University station, which plays great indie music unless they're broadcasting a Catholic mass, football game, or Celtic. But we couldn't get it at in our apartment in Brooklyn - so I learned about new songs only when we were in the car outside the borough. Up here radio's not bad - there are oases - an NPR station, a station out of Woodstock that plays decent music although a little too "rock" for me, and KZE, which hands down is the best radio station I've ever heard in my life. So I'm wondering if you have a comparable station. Maybe you are familiar with the "musical diversity" that I'm enjoying. Maybe you listen to it in the car (or new truck?) when you drive down lonesome highways, composing your book.

What a ramble, dearest, but I just want to feel close to you, so to keep typing is a way to do that. Sun's back out now and the rain is gone - all in a matter of 20 minutes. Oh great, Penelope just came upstairs only to throw up on the little rug in front of the bathroom. There was no way to leap from my seat in time to get her to do it on the floor where I could at least easily wipe it up.

I have paused to wonder - why am I feeling especially anxiously wanting to feel close? I've been getting an elevated number of page hits the last couple of days, which is nice (though not something I'm really looking for), but then yours gets bumped down the page which makes you feel further away. I like it when you're right on top. I really appreciate the page hits from the E.D./Charyn connection. But I am also getting a number of mysterious page hits with regard to the image of a Da Vinci painting that I included with a post back in December. This afternoon alone I received three page hits based on it, from Norway; Leicester, U.K.; and [just checked] Israel. Not just Europe. Very strange. Those page hits aren't necessarily so welcome since there seems to be some agenda (?) afoot that I can't figure out.

But then sometimes there are utterly delightful page hits, via offbeat google searches. Here's one from Phoenix, AZ the other day - "Jane Austen writes of placing a lantern in her window to tell her friends that there is a message in the tree." I just love that. That's what a page hit from you is like for me - a lantern you've put in your window, that I can see. Oh darling.

Why does that sound so familiar? Emily Dickinson did something similar. Here's a relevant bit from an NPR piece:
She wrote most of her poetry sitting at a small desk... she would go out to visit her brother and sister-in-law next door, come back, and then light a lamp in the window to let them know she had returned...
I think of you. You think of me. I am here, darling. Very many kisses. I love you. Have a wonderful evening.

Friday, May 28, 2010

bouquet, deconstructed

Iris - I have a message for you

Rosebud - Thou hast stolen my affections

Peony - ostentation

Daisy - innocence

Veronica - fidelity

Salvia - domestic virtues
Cranesbill geranium - Many are lovely, but you exceed all

Good morning darling. The garden is overgrown. The grass has gotten tall in the places we didn't get to before the mower broke down, and weeds have overwhelmed the borders. I may make a bit of an effort this afternoon since it's overcast and on the cool side. This is not the "way to garden." Nevertheless beauty abounds, as you can see from the perennials that are in bloom despite neglect. And there is something lovely in an unmowed lawn - grasses are flowering along with a variety of wildflowers.

Dandelion - smiling on all

(Flower meanings via a floral index to which Emily Dickinson had access)

par avion

epistolary exchange from this afternoon, via emails

Dear Mr. Charyn, I wanted to drop you a line to tell you that I greatly enjoyed your novel. I've been enjoying your facebook page too. I don't have an account (I'm hesitant to sign up) or would leave this message there.

I recently listened to your great interview on WAMC's Booktalk with Joe Donahue. I don't see it linked on your facebook page - so here it is in case you're not aware that it's available online.

Also, evidently this morning NPR ran a piece on the NYBG Emily Dickinson garden exhibit. I enclose that link since you will be there next weekend.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago Lenore R. linked to a blogpost of
mine that touched on your novel. She left a comment, and I replied to it though I don't know that she ever saw it. So (FYI) here's that link, too.

Again, I greatly enjoyed your novel, the way you channeled E.D., seemed to enter into her mind, or a very credible (because imaginally truthful) variation of her mind. It's Memorial Day weekend and this morning a local radio host [Rick on WKZE] made unusually interesting comments along the lines of how so many artists toil their entire lives and never achieve fame or fortune - but when they die, they are discovered and it's at that point the worth of their artifacts skyrockets. He suggested that on this holiday we remember not only fallen soldiers, but all who have come before us and left their marks, their legacy. I think of Emily Dickinson in this regard. She seems to me to have achieved an unusually vivid posthumous immortality (of which she herself seemed both patient and prescient). I personally feel a growing connection with her - somehow by getting more insight into her I have been gaining a better understanding and acceptance of myself (as a woman of divided mind who for a long time unwittingly fought against artistic aspects of myself). What a very interesting intertwining and mingling of like minds - all of us who are so touched by her Muse. It seems to suggest something to me too about the nature of consciousness - that there is something so capacious ultimately about the compelling and living idea of E.D. that we are all drawn to her and inspired. I'm finding my own sense of theology, of the most profound personal beliefs, challenged and deepened in considering her. I am formally starting to think of myself as a latter day transcendentalist!

Thanks again, Mr. Charyn, for being a Muse yourself in all this. Have a great Memorial Day weekend and (if you haven't made it already) a safe and pleasant leap across the pond. Yours, Belle

Dear Belle, thanks so much for your very kind note! Yes, Emily was "a fallen soldier." But I think she was able to find a great deal of pleasure by traveling inside her own head.
Best, Jerome Charyn

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I guess my post was a little over the top yesterday, but those were awfully good strawberries and they instantly reminded of your kisses as I ate them in the car. That wasn't some writerly thing. That said, it's not easy to write something semi-original every day, so it's a gift when something isn't the thing itself but can stand for something else. That the strawberries (cultivated, local) should presume to aspire to the level of your kisses says as much about the berries as of your wild, organic kisses. I am going to have to get busy and start coding ordinary objects, or somehow other invent strong metaphors, because how many times can I tell you that I made taboulleh salad? Which I did today. Which perhaps this post might remind you of a mash of ripe tomato, crisp cucumber, parsley from the garden, mint from the windowsill, red onion, crumbled feta, bulgur wheat soaked in hot water and lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. No sorry, I am just not seeing the metaphorical possibilities there, though it is still quite warm today - not like yesterday, only 80 now, but humid. Thunderstorms loom. I've turned on the weather. A big green splotch with a fiery orange center is headed right this way. I guess an hour for the orange to arrive.

Nothing new to report here, my dearest. Missed you yesterday, unless that was you in KS, which I assumed it was. Let's say it was you. I looked it up in the atlas. Over 500 miles from where you live. I imagined that you had driven all day and might now be having a wild night. Or maybe not, after such a long drive, too exhausting. I figured you were there for a gig today. So perhaps this evening I might get another hit from that Kansan burg. Then I thought, that's pretty far for a gig, maybe he's just completed one leg of x-country trip, maybe to see his son. In which case I predicted that I might get a hit tonight from (consulted atlas again, judged distances with fingers) Indianapolis or Cincinnati. I was very happy to learn that you're (back?) home this afternoon, but it threw off my original analyses. So now I'm thinking you flew to KS yesterday, did your gig, spent the night, and flew back this morning. They twisted your arm, they needed your services so badly. You made them pay for a plane ticket and room. I trust that on top of that you are being paid very handsomely.

Would I trade this idle domestic idyll for one of Purnima's death glares? I might wish for things to be a bit more interesting around here - but, no. Thus like ED I am going to have to continue to be as inventive as I can, endeavoring to stop short of near-psychotic breaks which I wonder how close I came over the winter - hard to say though, I got up every day, showered, dressed, did M.D.R.s of chores, etc. - in other words, was functional. Now songs on the radio are just songs (well, not all the time - even D picks up on the songs that seem to feature yo-la sounds, and jokingly sings them at me up the stairs).

I haven't heard Stella the Artist in a while. Can I put in the request?

I've been meaning to tell you a little more about the Marina Abramović exhibit, but I feel tired whenever I start thinking about writing it up. Still processing, I guess. Turns out my next-door neighbor with whom I've been on strange mostly-not-speaking-to-each-other terms the last several years saw the exhibit the other day too. So as I watered and she battled the "mothership" (as she put it) of poison ivy on our side of the fence (I couldn't even begin to help her, the garden is such a mess - it's too much for me physically) we chatted about the exhibit. But as usual communications broke down. She asked me what sounded like an interesting question but I only caught a few words ("what was she contemplating?" but it was more involved than that) and then her toddlers started to wander over, a baby cried, I said "what?", wanting to hear the question.... anyway - moment gone.

But when I was there last Sunday, I did take a few notes of my observations of Abramović as she presided over a gallery space at MOMA.

[Here also are images via Mr. North Fifth Street; click on his link, too, of Lady Gaga's visitation - though it's impossible to upstage Abramović, I think.]
M.A. looks like a cat
looks older than I expected
mirroring hand gestures
like E.D. poem I read on the train
[in Judith Farr's The Passion of Emily Dickinson, p. 161]
Like Eyes that look on Wastes -
Incredulous of Ought
But Blank - and steady Wilderness -
Diversified by Night

Just Infinites of Nought -
As far as it could see -
So looked the face I looked upon -
So looked itself - on Me -

I offered it no Help -
Because the Cause was Mine -
The Misery a Compact
As hopeless - as divine -

Neither - would be absolved -
Neither would be a Queen
Without the Other - Therefore -
We perish - tho' We reign -


M.A.'s wearing an ivory gown, not red [what I had seen in press images]

I overhear someone say that M.A. is impressed that the same girl comes back all the time - this may be her [I see a young woman takes the seat across from M.A.]
the young woman has wavy brown-blond hair, nice smile - angelic
M.A.'s ivory dress puddles on floor
her hair is in a long braid at her left shoulder

it's like a low stakes (?) stare-down
within the sacred space of a large square
Glenda the White Witch
and young protegé in black jersey, navy mini,
black tights & brown boots

woman drops head - then MA -

[MA is alone now]
MA seems to weep
gathers herself in a handkerchief
a grieving aspect

I leave and come back later. I see a wonderful exhibit of Picasso lithographs. It is a cliché that Picasso was endlessly inventive, protean, etc., etc., but truly, viewing this exhibit (a collection of diverse, assured, free, at once mythic & personal images, flawlessly executed) I am viscerally struck by his particular preternatural, exhibitionistic genius, really feeling it for the first time in my life, what is meant by genius in that grandly generative way, which I have mainly felt before with, say, DaVinci.]
[Back to the Abramović exhibit - a man takes the seat across from her]
he looks like Proust or George Stambolian
M.A. has a lot of focus & intensity
intent gaze
all so very serious

sign handpainted on wall [repainted daily, I assume] says she's been sitting there for 716 hrs/30 mins
(but who would believe that I sat in a cubicle for many years)

I expected a table - but there was no table
[I later read that MA deemed it an unnecessary barrier so had it removed]
The end, for now darling, with many kisses for you. Update: green and dark orange storm has taken a turn southeast, bypassing Hudson. Blue skies - now -

OMG, David Gray now - not Stella, art always comes slant - Fugitive I think -

love you

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hot sultry day, 94 in Hudson. Inside the house, window shades are strategically tilted and drawn, ceiling fans are going. I have a tall glass of ice water. I made sure to water the planting beds and hanging baskets and let the hose run into the frog pond to cool it down a bit.

Took a walk at the conservation area this morning and went back later to take pictures of the beautiful flowers and grasses in bloom. Fragrant rosa multiflora is clambering over everything, even up into trees, though I don't believe destructively. Pink and white clover are mixed with - buttercups? I don't know the name. This morning, too, I saw at least two varieties of beautiful tiny songbirds that I haven't seen before and can't name. I would like to make a point of going there one day soon armed with my Sibley's, a library book on northeastern wildflowers, paper and pen, and note precise names of species.

Stopped by a farmstand for spinach, but it seems that it's done for the season - we're on to strawberries. So fragrant and beautiful. As I drove I kept my left hand on the wheel and reached with my right to the quart that sat in the passenger seat. Eyes on the road, mind elsewhere, I consumed berries one by one, placing each whole in my mouth, biting at the stem, savoring full tart fruit, sweet swallows, desiring more, reaching for another - compensations for kisses.

image: Strawberries in a bowl, along with vase of flowers I cut from the garden. Let's see, peonies, veronica, campanula (I think), geranium 'Johnson's blue'...

It's a number of hours later now, after five. Dinner will be last night's grilled chicken and a salad with colorful lettuces from the garden. Strawberries are in the fridge. I'm sipping berry rosé. I'm wearing my favorite tee, dark berry color, soft. I'm not up enough on buttercups and scarlet tanagers, but I'm a connoisseur of cottons, berry shades, rosés, roses, and kisses, yours darling, your rosy lips and mine, ash roses in our cheeks, our berried bodies flushed with pink...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

stand clear

Peaceful morning. I'm at the computer, thinking about what to write, savoring breakfast of warm spinach pie, listening to birdsong outside the open windows. Back from a beautiful early morning walk. Today, before eight, the conservation area is shrouded in mist, adrift in pearl. Colors soften and mute, bright meadow greens to sage, wildflowers to barely yellowed gray. Billowing white wild roses perfume the air. Brown rabbits linger on the mown paths, turning (white-tailed like deer) to jump back in the thickets as I near. I'm wary of coyotes, more for the rabbits' sake than mine. Robins hop ahead on the path. I spot a few cobwebs in the undergrowth, not perfect dartboards but small, furiously knit tangles. Maybe they're cocoons? My shoes are shiny from dew. I'm enjoying moving my body. I stand straight, pull in my gut, pick up the pace. I stop at the overlook. The river and mountains appear through sheer white haze. I see the demarcating curve between light and dark of the landscape, curved like an eye, the way I myself, amblyopic, see things. Downriver, to the left, the river and mountains are obliterated by gray.

On my walk I think about the museum exhibit the other day. I think of the bare naked beautiful bodies I did not brush past. The young woman had a beautiful physique. She was petite, shapely and toned, and her high youthful breasts were round and pert. I admired her perfect body. (Was mine ever like that? Perhaps.) I wanted to look. I wanted to look more than I did. When does one get to see the naked body of a beautiful young woman in a public setting? Of course I looked. It occurs to me that though I saw the naked young man who stood across from her (they stared into each other's eyes), I didn't see him from the front. I wish I had. I should have come closer and looked (it didn't occur to me - I wanted to look at them but at the same time to be nowhere near; the last thing I wanted to do was to pass between them, the thought was vaguely horrifying to me, very discomfiting, out of the question for me to dare the plunge) but the doorway where they stood was at the far end of the room, by a wall. The young man stood opposite the wall, while the young woman (I first wrote girl), far more exposed, faced the open room. As usual (conventional, for example, in movies), it's more okay to gaze at a woman's naked body than to glimpse a man's. The man was relatively sheltered, unless someone did choose to pass between them. I witnessed only one person do so, a man who popped into the room near where I stood. I realized what he had just done, and considering the circumstances his expression amused me. He was in his own zone, oblivious, not as though he had just sideways run the gauntlet between a pair of beautiful motionless nudes within a narrow doorway, but as if, more mundanely (at least in NYC), he had managed to jump into a subway car just as the doors were closing and now that he was in was all that mattered.

Monday, May 24, 2010

lost in reverie, you are close to me like a symphony raining down on me

Hello darling. Just a quick post to say hi. Feeling tired & a little physically out of it, spacey. Took a long walk at the conservation area in mid-morning, with weights, in sun, building heat, humidity. May have overdone it a bit. I'm fine - just saying. I've been meaning to write down that the last several days I come to a certain wooded glade where the air is suddenly beautifully fragrant, it just surrounds me. I don't see what's in bloom, not at that spot, but in many places elsewhere a fragrant wild brambling rose is beginning to flower. I should have written that Anderson Cooper wasn't "in" a ballcap so much as wearing one. All these tiny copy edits - unfortunately I don't mostly catch them until I've "published" a post, and then I break all sorts of unwritten (or perhaps they're written, and I break them) rules of the blogosphere because I will shamelessly go back to a post and amend, amend, and amend, numerous times. The typeface of a published post looks different from the "preview" form - and my own words read back differently to me, plus formatting issues. Ah well. I know you know all about that, in your patient, scrupulous way. How I marvel at your ability to set your sights on writing a whole book, and then going for it. Apples & oranges of course, I don't mean to compare. And my darling, I meant to remark to you - my goodness your summer sounds intense - that's a very long camping trip, from the sound of it. You mentioned once that you might have liked to be a film director - perhaps the 'Normandy invasion' is a culmination of that aspect of you? I think of an image I sent you once, balloons landing on a beach in Dover (?). (Will have to come back another day to factcheck image & cite proper credit.)

The Miss Dior has entirely worn off, but for my shower this morning I broke open the beautiful verbena soap. So clean and refreshing. I have no idea what sorts of conditions you will face this summer, but if I were to have a wish for you, my beautiful friend, it would be that every morning you may enjoy wonderful hot showers with pure, cleansing, fragrant soap. Ah, frivolous mind of a poetic blogger. I am now picturing not so much Anthropology - as a forthcoming Anthropologie catalogue. Science and Art (and Commerce) meeting indeed. Oh my dearest. Have a wonderful evening. Hitting send - Willie Nile is on - Her Love Falls Like Rain. I love you.

Two illuminations of Emily

Here is an excerpt from the essay I read at the New York Public Library yesterday, by poet Ted Hughes. It is the most beautiful and precise illumination of Emily Dickinson's poetry that I have ever read - an astonishing piece of writing in itself.
... she was able to manage such a vast subject matter, and make it so important to us, purely because of the strengths and ingenuities of her poetic style.

There is the slow, small metre, a device for bringing each syllable into close-up, as under a microscope; there is the deep, steady focus, where all the words lie in precise and yet somehow free relationships so that the individual syllables seem to be on the point of slipping into utterly new meanings, all pressing to be uncovered; there is the mosaic, pictogram concentration of ideas into which she codes a volcanic elemental imagination, a lava flood of passions, an apocalyptic vision; there is the tranced suspense and deliberation in her punctuation of dashes, and the riddling, oblique artistic strategies, the Shakespearian texture of the language, solid with metaphor, saturated with the homeliest imagery and experience; the freakish blood-and-nerve paradoxical vitality of her latinisms, the musical games -- of opposites, parallels, mirrors, chinese puzzles, harmonizing and counterpointing whole worlds of reference; and everywhere there is the teeming carnival of world-life. It is difficult to exhaust the unique art and pleasures of her poetic talent. With the hymn and the riddle, those two small domestic implements, she grasped the 'centre' and the 'circumference' of things - to use two of her favourite expressions - as surely as human imagination ever has.
Ted Hughes, "Emily Dickinson," Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (London: Faber and Faber, 1994) (first published as the introduction to A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse, London: Faber and Faber, 1968)

At the MOMA bookshop, where I stopped in to look for an art catalog on Rothko, another book, Maira Kalman's Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), caught my eye. I rifled through the pages and came upon a familiar-looking image. Then I propped the book open, stepped back, and took a picture.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Notes from my journal (with embellishments)

8:40 a.m. Good morning, my darling love. I'm on the 8:25 Amtrak train to NY. The mountains are in the clouds, or the clouds are in the mountains, a beautiful effect across the pewter river.

10:20 a.m. Fogbound Palisades. Like a Rothko. Long horizontal bands, dark wooded cliffside covered with cloud. Atmospheric abstract.

10:50 a.m. Train scheduled to arrive at Penn at 10:35. Emergency brake blows at roughly 10:30. We screech to a halt and the lights go out. Sit in darkness. Conductor says tests have been run and we're good to go. We proceed. We had broken down perhaps 2 minutes from the station platform. I'm here. Somehow I manage to find my way to the city streets. Not easy from Penn. (I hate Penn. So glad my return will be via GCT.)

11:05 a.m. Anderson Cooper crosses 6th Avenue at 38th Street, headed west. In ballcap but his face is unmistakable. He is small-framed, fit, like a dancer. Not bad, a celebrity sighting within a few minutes of arriving in the city.

11:15 - around 2. At MOMA. See the Marina Abromavic show, on both the 2nd floor and 6th. More on this tomorrow, perhaps. Interesting experience.

1:30. Look around MOMA's 3rd floor for Rothkos. Were the Palisades like a Rothko or was I thinking of another painter? Yes - Rothko! Snap pictures (surprised am allowed, but they don't come out). Reflect that glimpsing the Palisades as I passed by on the train in the fog, and seeing the Rothkos - these, especially paired, have been the exquisite moments of my day.

1:45. Leave MOMA and begin to walk down Fifth Avenue. Big parade of youth going on, which I find obnoxious (groupthink) and ironic given article I had begun to read this very morning in the current NYRB. Manage to escape creepy parade, which seems thankfully to be headed up Fifth Avenue.

1:50. I stop at Saks Fifth Avenue and spritz on a bit of Miss Dior. I ask one of the ladies at the counter if by chance there might be a sample. Oh no, she replies kindly, they never give us any. I thank her, leave the emporium, lift my wrist to inhale - and get a big noseful of grilled souvlaki from the truck I've just passed by. A block or two further down, though, I recapture the fragrance, which I haven't experienced since Christmas week...

2 - 3 p.m. I have an hour to kill before the 3:52 to PKPSE so stop at the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, whose venerable facade is encased & obscured by boarded scaffolding. Back in the day I used to do some research here quite often so still have a library card and vaguely remember the drill. Look up Emily Dickinson on their system and remember about a wonderful essay of Ted Hughes' an excerpt of which I'd read (back in Xmas week, in a footnote to an Adrienne Rich essay on Emily Dickinson), that the Mid-Hudson Library System doesn't possess. Here's my chance to read it. I go through the ritual of filling out the slip, handing it in, waiting... I receive the volume, and read the essay. It is so great! (More on this another time perhaps.) It seems so odd to have come all the way down to the city just to sit in a public library and read, but I have a very great sense, in my atmospheric mist of Miss Dior, of Rothkoesque peace & contentment.

3:10 p.m. Head to Grand Central, feeling so pleased & happy with my daytrip. Splurge on a bar of wonderful verbena soap at L'Occitane. The clerk wishes dearly to anoint me with verbena handcream but I say no, he musn't, because I'm savoring the romantic associations of a perfume I've put on and it has to last. He asks, what perfume? Miss Dior, I say, a trip down memory lane.

3:20 p.m. At pricey but great & worth it Grand Central Market, purchase a crusty baguette and a ripe French camembert.

3:52 p.m. Train pulls out of station, and I have been trying to be good and not snack on the bread & cheese til I'm in view of the river, but I'm starving, and the camembert is so ripe that its odor is palpable in the air around me (fragrance mixed with Miss Dior). Break off end of baguette and use as rough handtool to scoop runny cheese. Dear God. This is one of the best camemberts I have ever had and I am near swooning as the train lurches through the dark subterranean caverns before emerging to the light at Park Avenue and what? we're at one-two-five already? That is how unbelievably great that perfect cheese was... I am not a binger at all, never have been, but honestly, thoughts along those lines were coming to me as I regarded the shrinking length of thin baguette, and the small runny wheel of cheese. I finally sealed the remaining cheese in a clear plastic bag that contained a sliced sourdough loaf. Like Proust, at that point I needed protection, a layer between me and that cheese, plus, I didn't want to annoy my fellow passengers on the sunny afternoon train....

That's it for now, my dearest. In lieu of an apt Rothko image at the moment - kisses. I hope all is well with you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

sweet hereafter

Hello dearest. You have been much on my mind all day. You are a star in my sky and I would miss you if you weren't there. (Where does this thought come from? A lovely post today by Dominique Browning, which led me to look up a W. H. Auden poem.)

It's the peaceful five o'clock hour. The radio's on, an orange cake is cooling on the kitchen table. I wanted to arrange a charming message on it to photograph for you, but it didn't work out. I don't have stencils, but spent a few minutes trying to make one. I wrote in script "je t'aime" and started to cut the lettering out. But it was coming out all lopsided and I could tell that the blunt medium of confectioners sugar sprinkled in the blank spaces wasn't likely to have the delightful effect I desired. So in a nod to sanity, I abandoned the mad project. But that was my sentiment. Besides, it was - is - also frustrating to think that even if my decoration had worked out perfectly, the mere image of it is so inadequate. I'd like for you to experience the sweet fragrant cake - to inhale it, take a fork to the orange crumb or eat it with your hands, wash down bites with really good coffee, at whichever hour you like.

I was going to post a photo of the cake but as beautiful as it looks in the here-and-now it's not photographing well. I don't have a fine sieve through which to sift the confectioners. I used the strainer part of a lemon juicer. Way too coarse. In the photographs the sugar looks not powdered but like construction rubble.

Oh dearest, why am I forced always to try to put things into words? Why can't I just stare at you across a table?

Which reminds me that I'm contemplating a trip to the city tomorrow. At the moment it seems like too much. But there's a MOMA exhibit that I feel I should see, that ends soon. We'll see.

I hope all is well with you, my dearest love. Very many kisses.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stockport Week in Review

Up in the aerie with clean wood blinds tilted shut against still blazing sun now arced west. Hot day, but relaxing. Yesterday I got a surge of energy and resolved to clean the house thoroughly from top to bottom, including things I rarely get to such as the blinds and living room drapes (dust bombs). Not much to report at the moment. (Missing you.) I felt very tired on Monday but chipper the rest of the week and did a lot of cooking. We have since polished off the braised lamb shanks (scored four packages in one go, marked down 35 percent, which covered the $6-7 of red that goes into the recipe). I turned out two more spinach pies of which we've been heating slices for breakfast. I bought three more large bags of farmstand spinach today, but am almost out of phyllo from Sahadi's in Brooklyn. I suppose I can find it at the supermarket here, though it might be an "international" item and thus overpriced. Right now I have a faux-shepherds pie ready to go in the oven. I took advantage of a couple of half-price (beginning to spot) cauliflowers, which I steamed to stabilize when I got home. Googled cauliflower ground turkey; found recipe; mashed cooked cauliflower with yogurt, which will be the low-carb "mashed potato" topping on sauce of (35% off) ground turkey (interesting effect, one package white meat, the other dark - combined, turkey Trix); a mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrot; soft (marked down) plum tomatoes; homemade stock; and carbs in the form of storebrand frozen peas.

Honestly, between farmstand produce and marked-down supermarket items - that's how I do menu planning. It's a game for me. As much as I like to cook and to eat I'm pretty haphazard about it - I'm better with "found" ingredients than starting with a recipe and shopping for it. We eat very well, and hey - rosé doesn't grow on trees, and whether or not one has a resentful spouse recently expressive of Marxist marital analyses à la Swept Away, one has to contribute to the household economy as one can. So spinach pies, no gingerbread, and housecleaning it is.

Oh dear, the starling is plaintively squawking. This has been a day of free-range animals. First, this morning, marching up the driveway were two large dogs, unfamiliar to me, who stopped by long enough to pee on the lilac and scare the cats. They looked thirsty so I went inside and filled a large bowl with water. I took it to the end of our driveway - but by then they were way down the road. So I brought the bowl back in and learned from D that they're a neighbor's dogs, though I've never seen them before and wonder why they're running around unleashed.

Then D heard squawking, in what seemed to be inside the house. But it turned out to be out in the garden. One of my next door neighbor's chickens had managed to escape under the fence. Neighbor came over and collected it. But not long after D thought he heard squawking again indoors. Just as he was pulling out of the driveway to go to work I heard it too, and managed to flag him down just in time. But the bird (we assume it's a bird, a starling) had fallen silent. D and I tried to defend ourselves against mutual unspoken self-accusations of craziness. Perhaps it was a KZE song, I allowed. Indeed there was one on at that moment with joyful noises, trill, yells, yodels - yeah, maybe a squawk. D left the house and I realized I had survived mystery squawker this long and was okay with it as long as it didn't decide to fly around the house. I went upstairs and set about to writing. Then, an hour or so later, the Wild Called again - AWK... AWK . I went downstairs to investigate. It was coming from the open ceiling of the laundry room (yet another raw space in this fixer upper). I wanted to get back to writing but felt sorry for the creature so I filled a dinner plate with water and left it on the washing machine in case it got thirsty. Then I went upstairs and when I lost the dialup connection (it disconnects of its own accord every afternoon around three) I took the opportunity to dial D's cell and tell him the bird was still in the house.

"I gave it a plate of water," I said.

"You're determined to give some animal some water today, aren't you," said D.

"Yes, that's right. I'm determined to give some animal some water today." I felt like Gwyneth Paltrow, absurdly repeating those words. But it was true.

D came home soon after even though I told him it was cool, he didn't have to. He climbed the stepladder and tried to find the bird in the ceiling. Then he opened the laundry room window from the top. He left again for work and I lost myself again in writing. Then the bird squawked again. Louder, somehow, than outside, louder than a housecat's most indignant meow.

I went downstairs and pointed out to the bird, which had fallen silent, as it was apt to do, but which I assumed was listening, that the window was open. I suggested that it fly out. Perhaps it's waiting for darkness but if I were that starling I wouldn't count on that because we may wish to close the window before a bat flies in.

So here I am, as gloaming falls - oh no, it's just a bit unnaturally dark with the tilted blinds, I should open them again.

On my way back from my walk this morning I stopped the car and snapped a picture of phlox growing wild on the roadsides here just now. Our souls are united. Kisses, my love.

Update #1 - not a starling in the ceiling, but a "tree frog." I don't even know what a tree frog looks like, but boy it's loud.

Update #2: frog is under washing machine.

Update #3, the captured creature, as viewed under drinking glass:

Update #4: frog is released, back into the wild folds of the garden, with wishes for its peace & contentment.

Who needs terrorists?

Hot and sunny today, summery. I went out this morning for a walk at the conservation area, sun already blazing at 7:30. Stopped at the overlook and observed a hawk gliding over the wetlands and river, the very image of peace and contentment. The wetlands may not even be so pristine but at least they are enough so for the hawk to enjoy itself. Then I thought of the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, the Keys, and ultimately many places else, both deep sea and coastal areas. I feel very bad for all the diverse species of wildlife that will not be able to cope with the degradation, won't know what hit them, won't be able to escape or adapt, their ability to survive let alone enjoy a sense of wildlife peace and contentment destroyed. And then I got to thinking, what's the difference between the BP oil rig explosion and a terrorist attack? The violent effects are the same. In fact, the BP incident will potentially have as great or greater destructive force than any terrorist attack to date, over a very extensive geographic area, and with a matrix of adverse economic and other impacts that will be felt for a long time to come. BP, it seems, has a long history of willful negligence as to how it runs its operations. Add to that a longstanding climate in Washington where oil & gas industry lobbyists fight against environmental regulation, oversight, rule enforcement, and other measures that would serve as safeguards to protect the public trust. BP's position, of course, is that it didn't intend for the oil rig to explode, that the incident and unleashed aftermath are an "accident." But there is an air of inevitability about such a disaster occurring - and it did in fact occur - when by deliberate omission there aren't sufficient checks to prevent it. The disaster seems to me to be neither accidental, nor sudden and unexpected. If an unsupervised child is given matches to play with and sets a house on fire - is that an accident?

Imagine if terrorists had blown up the oil rig, with the same result of oil leaking uncontrollably into the ocean. The rhetoric from the right would be different I'm sure (though I don't kid myself - they would use it as a chest-thumping rallying cry to push for more ocean drilling and rigs.) I am starting to view wantonly irresponsible corporate entities such as BP as tantamount to terrorist actors. (Add Goldman Sachs to the list, for its serene and remorseless role in bringing down the financial system.)

The Republican Party has come to be the party of wantonly self-serving corporate interests which (with the aid of Republicans in government, including most disturbingly the transparently corporatist activists of the U. S. Supreme Court) do everything in their power to remain unfettered and unaccountable under the cover of a radical ideology whose core tenet can be summarized without irony as "Greed is Good." In either case, whether the actions of a terrorist group acting in the name of one ideology, or of an irresponsible corporation acting in the guise of another, the consequences - whether intended or collateral - can be identical: devastation, ruin, and suffering on an unimaginable scale.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Hello darling. Cool overcast morning, back from my walk at the conservation area. Now sitting at my desk paging through the facsimile edition of Emily Dickinson's Herbarium. I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to borrow it from the library - it was on the order of $138 at the NYBG shop (wow). It is a beautiful book. I wish I could show it to you. Dickinson's compositions of plant matter on each page are so beautiful. It's more than Nature's beauty - the forms, structures, shapes, colors and complexities of each floral species itself. It's the way she arranges them, tucks the stem of each into a paper slot labeled in her careful script. Each of the 65 pages is different.

Emily Dickinson put the herbarium together when she was 14 years old. To me (not only me) they are visual metaphors for poetry, harbingers of her poetry to come. Spare, economical, perfectly chosen, masterfully arranged statements, all subtly relating to one another, within a page and within the album as a whole. I'm really quite blown away by it.

Taken together, it suggests a musical composition to me, a piece of chamber music perhaps. There is movement - patterns shift and the number of objects varies on each page, suggesting an abstract narrative as I go through the book, or the reflection of the order of a higher plane. (It would make an amazing slide show or film, accompanied by a musical score.) Page 1 (as numbered in the facsimile edition) is an image of the front cover of the stationery store-bought album. ED's composition begins on page 2.
It seems to me to start with a strong chord: a large specimen at the center of the page surrounded by four smaller specimens, one in each corner (a total of five on the page). The composition proceeds in a measured slow movement; the following six pages have three specimens per page, except for one which has four. Page 8 introduces another movement, becoming increasingly complex. Later there is a sustained, rapturous series of pages that leap to 6, 7 and as many as 9 or 10 unique elements in exciting juxtapositions on a page. The final plates lead back down to a stately finish: 7, 5, a dramatic 2, 4, and a final chord of 5. Throughout the book there's discussion, an attempt to show, to convince, argument, truth to be expressed, to lead you to an overwhelming question, do ask what is it and make the visit.

A piece of chamber music comes to mind as I turn the pages. What is it? It takes me a few moments of whistling (which attracts Gwynnie who comes running up to rub against my legs) to remember what it is. A Brahms sextet. I find the CD and put it on. A wonderful recording with Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. I put it on, the String Sextet in B-flat major, Op. 18, for two violins, two violas, and two cellos, composed (according to liner notes) in 1860.

So Emily wasn't thinking of this piece when she composed her herbarium in 1844-45. But I wonder what music she might have been aware of at her young age - besides hymns that is - Beethoven perhaps? Perhaps her own melody, what she had already glimmered of the music of the spheres. Very mysterious how the music comes to you, says Jerome Charyn in a video that I watched the other day. Indeed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Say it with Posies

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts...
There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue
for you; and here's some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o' Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There's a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,--
For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.

Ophelia, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, Wm. Shakespeare
If I were to give you flowers which would they be?

It's not just an idle thought. It's prompted by my visit to the Emily Dickinson's Garden: The Poetry of Flowers exhibit at the New York Botanic Garden. A theme played up in various aspects of the show is the idea that flowers held metaphoric meanings that were common knowledge in Victorian day.

I went about the slightly surreal (if one knows anything about gardening) recreated Dickinson border. Daffodils bloomed with hydrangeas - which simply doesn't occur in nature. Smiling, heavily made-up damsels in pastel period costumes milled about charmingly. They were to be, as I soon gathered, stars of the afternoon's ballet performances. The recreated floral borders and mock facade of Emily Dickinson's house lay within the enclosed walls of the giant conservatory. Truly I felt like a creature under glass myself!

Another instance of Alice-in-Wonderland-like perspective shifting occurred for me upon entering the crystal-palace conservatory. There, in its large central space lies an enormous still pool. The surface of the water is smooth and black and it's gorgeously interplanted from below the mirror surface of water up to domed sky with a jungle of foliage and flowers. I stood and regarded it, and it reminded me of my own houseplants arranged on a tiered stand and on the floor in a corner beneath a small fountain hung on the wall, in what we grandly refer to as the solarium. Standing in the truly grand-scaled conservatory I simultaneously imagined that I was standing at greatly reduced size on the ledge of my wall fountain amidst my collection of tropical plants.

But I digress. Signage along the lovely mixed garden border identified not only the names and types of plants, but also interpretive signage as to what each type of flower signified "in Dickinson's day." On display at the NYBG gallery were copies of several nineteenth century books devoted to the meanings and language of flowers. In the beautiful and informative souvenir catalogue to the exhibition, Judith Farr writes, "Most Victorians knew 'the language of flowers,'" that is the metaphoric significance of each floral species.

And what I started to reflect about is that I myself don't know the "language of flowers," and I daresay that most people in our era don't (save, perhaps, professional floral designers).

Naturally enough the garden exhibit emphasized the meanings of flowers "in Dickinson's day." I'm not certain when flowers began to take on specific allusions (in very ancient times) but I am certain that throughout a very long course of human history people collectively understood meanings that came to be associated with them. And now -- and when did it start to occur? -- those common associations have been lost. I would have to write down that the columbine means ______, and the dandelion ____________. And I didn't take notes from or photograph the signage I glimpsed so now I've forgotten (though I have since found an index to flower meanings in Dickinson's day on the NYBG blog). The flowers were symbols. In our day they don't seem as symbolic. Something's been lost.

I gather that in Victorian day the giving and receiving of nosegays reached a sophisticated level, the delightful game of working out a floral puzzle. It would be hard for me to put together a bouquet in which I select a particular flower or flowers to convey a nuanced message, and that my recipient could be expected to decipher, unless I included an explanatory card.

It might be nice to bring back that charming tradition. Or perhaps it became too rarified and sentimentalized.

In the souvenir catalogue Judith Farr writes that Emily Dickinson "preferred scented flowers and compared poetry itself to their perfume. When she made artistically arranged bouquets for those who were ill or grieving or missed by her tender heart, she would tuck a sprightly lyric into the center of the arrangement. Thus, she emphasized the sensitive connection between her 'posies' (often a Victorian synonym for 'poems') and her verse."

I am not certain if Emily Dickinson herself used commonly understood associations in her poems. I think that perhaps often she didn't. She was original and invested species with associations of her own. But still, she was aware of the floral lingua franca - and took off from there.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello dearest. Up in the aerie, with another fresh spinach pie in the oven. I have felt unusually tired and achy today, perhaps from spending several hours in the car yesterday. Also feel unpleasantly scattered. For example, I assembled the pie using several sheets of phyllo. I carefully re-rolled and bagged the remainder and put it away. Where? Minutes afterward I cannot find it anywhere, not in the fridge, freezer, etc. What on earth could I have done with it? This is how it's been for me unfortunately all day. I took a walk and didn't have the energy to go at my usual brisk pace and do handweight exercises. Still, I did get out there, and it was nice to stroll around the park, watch swifts flit, glimpse a bluebird, hear a trill and say back - hey there bluejay.

Reflecting on an aspect of the Emily Dickinson show, a scholarly exhibit at NYBG library gallery. The exhibit was small and compact, ranged mostly in glass display cases around a small, hushed and softlit room. There was also a very cool computerized facsimile of ED's childhood herbarium in which you could turn the pages of her pressed-flower scrapbook simply by passing a hand across the screen. I would have lingered over her beautifully composed pages but - lucky me! - a facsimile hard copy of her herbarium is waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library. I can hardly wait to get it home, peruse and consider it at my leisure. I am fascinated with the idea that ED (artistically, all of a piece) had a graphic sense as well.

Anyway, back to the gallery exhibit. In the room was a pleasant guard. He was unobtrusive and he struck me as intelligent, actually engaged in his gig, enjoying it even. After I stepped away from the computerized herbarium (not because I wasn't interested) he himself turned a couple of pages. It was nice to see a guard who - without for a moment neglecting his primary duties - evinced a genuine regard for the art he's guarding. (You know, the more I think about that idea, the more profound it strikes me.) There was also a friendly and, as I discovered, unusually knowledgeable guide, an older woman who while balancing herself on crutches (such was her dedication) valiantly announced her availability to answer questions gallery visitors might have.

More tomorrow, must now go downstairs to put flame under leftover broccoli-rabe pasta and feed meandering quartet of cats. Very many kisses - your Viola.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

For Emily Wherever I May Find Her

Just a quick post tonight, back from a daytrip to the New York Botanic Garden to see the Emily Dickinson's Garden exhibition. It was a glorious day for such an excursion, and fun to fly down the Taconic. This sort of staged recreation isn't strictly speaking my thing, but I seem to be on such an Emily Dickinson roll these days that I felt that I would regret if I didn't see it (the exhibit runs to June 13). And I decided to be very magnanimous-spirited about it. After all I keep imagining ED, and just read Jerome Charyn's novel where he did - so why not imagine & recreate her garden as an homage? I wonder what she herself would have made of all the fanfare in her name. D and I joked around as we waited in a long line of cars to get into the parking lot. ED would write a brief, incredulous poem with the line, "Say What?" We imagined Charlie Rose saying reverentially, "Emily Dickinson - for the hour." We imagined a Hollywood biopic, ED played by Julia Roberts, and then I thought Lily Taylor, and D thought, no the actress who was in Million Dollar Baby, and we couldn't think of her name until hours later, on the drive back, when Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC played a torch song sung by Hillary Cole. Except that we both could have sworn he'd said Hillary Clinton - which was funny to think of her singing a song along the lines of Why the Hell Did I Have to Fall For You You Big Cheatin' Liar (the lyrics & stylings were very elegant but that was the gist). And then D said: "Hillary Swank." Of course!

Another offbeat little piece of ED reimagining: on the lawn was a staging of excerpts of a ballet based on her life. Yes, ballet (!) with original music based on sheet music found in the Dickinson homestead, voiceovers of excerpts from her letters, and dancing performed by willowy young teens. It was really very sweet. Not normally anywhere near my cup of tea... but when in Rome. It was nice to sit in an audience on the lawn in the sun and regard maidens dressed in frocks the colors of jordan almonds wave their arms about in unison, pretend to pick posies, put graceful arms around one another, not steal a kiss... Oddly relaxing, this chaste pantomime. Too much for some of the cellphone set and we too left before the end (not that it mattered, the crowd milled about, coming & going). I noticed that little children were absolutely enthralled by the performance - the spirit of the thing. What a muse Emily Dickinson has turned out to be, inspiring others' creative imaginings and eliciting engaged responses.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Set me as a seal

Brilliant morning, the air is crisp. Saplings in the front yard whip in the breeze. The privet is in robust leaf, screening the road. Some of its branches are still bent and misshapen from the ice storm that flattened it in March, so the hedge doesn't look Hamptons perfect but rather tumultuous and wild. In the shaded woodland border Solomon's Seal is in elegant bloom, draped with single strands of seed pearls (I would love a necklace like that). There's also pink flowered rhododendron, astilbes forming panicles, and oakleaf hydrangeas, no longer mere deer-gnawed twigs of vertical kindling, lighting green from the bottom with emergent soft leaves.

Woke up this morning feeling sideswiped by despair but am feeling better as I have gone about my day. An unexpected comfort was discovering that a favorite writer of mine, Dominique Browning, has published a new memoir. She suddenly found herself out of her job - as editor-in-chief of House and Garden - when Condé Nast summarily shuttered the magazine. She had to rethink assumptions and reinvent herself, and at the same time be there for other aspects of her life, such as being mother to two adult sons, and also experiencing a love affair which was (or is) excruciating for her in a way that feels familiar to me. Reading her is like being with a close friend, even if I (like Emily, remaining in my room even if she should come to call!) never meet her. Actually, I have no desire to meet her - she is the perfect friend of my imagination.

The aroma of chicken roasting with lemon, garlic and thyme, fills the house, a treat for lunch along with green salad. The windows are open and a breeze is blowing. A soft song plays on the radio, outside chimes ring, a dog is barking, in the distance a mower whines, and various birds sing. In the woodland border, amidst sweet woodruff, held high above lanceolate glabrous foliage, diamonds ride.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dearest, up in the aerie at the end of the day, it's suddenly warm and sultry out despite hoverings near frost the past several nights. Quiet day, not much to report. Feeling reflective today, thoughts meandering, the boat of my mind beating ceaselessly against the dock. I took a walk early this morning in fine mist that obscured the mountains, and one in late afternoon, in bright sun. Sparkling lime foliage was all lit up and I welcomed shade along the road from the mature tree canopy.

Oh what thoughts can I recover? I saw Vanessa Redgrave on The View this morning and was very moved. She has a very honest and poetical way about her, very rare. In the past year she has lost her daughter, Natasha Richardson; her brother; and her sister Lynn. The losses are very fresh. The one year memorial mass for her daughter and her sister's funeral both took place this week, she said. The Ladies expressed their condolences and asked how she's doing. She replied, eyes glistening - openly, undisguisedly feeling - that she's "grieving and glorying." That she is mourning the losses of her deeply loved ones while at the same time keeping alive the most vivid, precious, joyous memories she has of them.

It's a rare quality, the ability to be so closely in touch with the most deeply felt emotions and to find an elegant way to express them. I rarely see it. I wonder if that's what sets Vanessa Redgrave apart as a great artist. Glorying and grieving - so much of what Emily Dickinson is about I think can be summed up by that. I find it to be very true.

Some scholars are understandably fatigued by the overwhelming interest in possible romances that has always attended (and often obscured) Dickinson study. Robert Weisbuch, for example, eschews the biographical; announces that the Master letters were fictions; and says that even if they are not, the identity of the addressee is unimportant. In strained efforts to avoid the obvious, other critics regard such poems as "Ourselves were wed one summer - dear" (631), with its tone of bitter and familiar intimacy, as written for the celebrated and distant Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In both instances, effort has been made to remove the poet's art from the immediate circumstances of her life. "Master" becomes an imitative persona, dependent for his shape on the books she knew. The woman of the hot, anguished love poems must be the wife of the famous Robert Browning rather than a woman Dickinson lived with or knew. In this way, fantasy and inaccuracy are presumably avoided. But another fantasy is substituted: that great artists write without directly experiencing what is called "life." The addressees of Emily Dickinson were her intimates, and the possible subjects of her work must be considered: their nature directed her choice of language.
Judith Farr, The Passion of Emily Dickinson, p. 111.
I don't mean to bash anyone (here I go) but I heard Jenny Sanford (Governor Mark Sanford's ex-wife) in a radio interview this morning. It's been less than a year since the crazy story broke (where's the Governor? the Appalachian trail? No, Argentina), but she's already got a book out on the subject which she's promoting. The narrative is just so carefully crafted - she's the wronged dutiful wife of the hapless husband and unlike him - was the subtext - she's devoting herself to their four schoolage sons. Bare bones of the story? Perhaps my sympathies should lie with her. And yet I find her so lacking in warmth, compassion, and imagination. She declares that she lives by "Christian Rules" - paraphrasing what she said - and that her husband was trying to live by "his own Moral Code and that just doesn't work."

Moral Codes. Oh count me in with ED. She felt that it would be quite enough for her to see "Master" in heaven, which is about the state of my theology - hoping to see you later - though I do count myself as a latter day transcendentalist and think that early mornings, with sun breaking through salmon clouds, are the best moments to experience God's divinity on earth. That is, if I understood Ruth Reichl's tweet this morning correctly. "Outside. Finally. Bright sun shines through thinly sliced salmon. Bagels, cream cheese, onions. Cat prances through long green grass. Happy."

Good lord. You know? I started out this morning thinking of images of Winslow Homer paintings, rowboats tossed on windswept seas. Now here I am, run aground. Ah, but here you are, on a rock on the coast of Maine, with a beautiful hamper for us. Let us have a glass of cool wine together, darling, and watch as the sun sinks beneath the waves.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the islandmountainglacier I love

Sitting on the porch steps in the sun and have just had a small piece of the delicious lemon cake. Reading Passion of Emily Dickinson. There's a connection with the Hudson River School artist, Frederic Church. Judith Farr argues that ED had very likely seen a reproduced image of Church's epic panorama, The Heart of the Andes, which caused a national sensation when it was exhibited in New York City April-May 1859. The painting depicts, in the upper left, the highest peak in Ecuador, an inactive volcano called Chimborazo. Dickinson alludes to it in a poem (#453, c. 1862):
Love - thou art high -
I cannot climb thee -
But, were it Two -
Who knows but we -
Taking turns - at the Chimborazo -
Ducal - at last - stand up by thee -

Love - thou art deep -
I cannot cross thee -
But, were there Two -
Instead of One -
Rower, and Yacht - some sovreign Summer -
Who knows - but we'd reach the Sun?

Love - thou art Vailed -
A few - behold thee -
Smile - and alter - and prattle - and die -
Bliss - were an Oddity - without thee -
Nicknamed by God -
Eternity -
Dickinson didn't travel to New York to see the painting, though Samuel Bowles (ED's beloved "Master," according to Farr) may have seen some of Church's works on a visit to the city in November 1859.

To come full circle, I myself saw the wall-size painting when it was exhibited at the Met (in 1993) as part of an exposition of American art and culture. All I remember now of that interesting if overstuffed show (it had an inevitably miscellaneous nature, as I recall) is Heart of the Andes, and - opposite end of the telescope - a handful of tiny Civil War era daguerrotypes, whose images of people long since deceased were haunting, clear, and immediate.

And of course, Frederic Church built his magnificent home in the Sky here, in Hudson, at Olana.

Ah, I should look up the name of the Icelandic volcano which is causing so much havoc these days. I might encode it in a poetic line for you - how I don't wish volcanos to melt glaciers - save for one. Eyjafjallajökull, darling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gray day, soft rain, goldfinches in trees. Walked through the cemetery and down the woodland path. Picked up fresh pine branches that lay on the ground. Placed them in the fountain in the solarium where they lend a Japanese touch against the wall. Have felt tired much of the day, perhaps due to the weather. Went to lie down for a bit with my book and realized that I had to change clothes - the bottoms of my jeans were wet from walking through the churchyard.

Have been reading more of Judith Farr's The Passion of Emily Dickinson, the chapter that analyzes three powerful love letters that ED wrote (along with a number of related poems) addressed to an unnamed "Master." There is forever a central, unknowable mystery to ED, she is so elliptical, a reason - but by no means the only one - that she is continually fascinating. Becoming more so, I think, if that's possible, the more that time goes on.

One of ED's biographers, Cynthia Griffin Bell, dismissed the idea that Samuel Bowles was "Master." Bowles was an intimate of the Dickinson circle - he spent social evenings, in which ED was in attendance, at the home of ED's brother Austin and Austin's wife Susan - a woman who captivated both Bowles and ED. Bowles was physically and intellectually vigorous. He enjoyed the company of lively women, and they in turn felt a sense of freedom in their relations with him. Judith Farr lays out a very persuasive case that ED was well acquainted with Bowles and that he was indeed her beloved ideal, the "Master" she addresses in the letters.

It's just so strange reading all this, it's like reading about myself, or looking in a mirror. It's 2010. The Master letters were written - when? (paging through the book) - one of them anyway, around 1861. ED was in a completely different time from me. I think of her as truly modern, in the way that I think of form-breaking 20th century art forms as modern - she was out of time herself. Yet she was very much in and of her time (1830-1886), steeped in the Amherst world of transcendentalism and Victorianism, and contemporaneous cultural inputs that she was acquainted with. For example, she loved Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Judith Farr discusses how allusions from that novel find their way - rewoven, reworked, reimagined, incorporated, made her own - into ED's letters and poems. (Shades of Louise Erdrich and her "Nests" I think. We're always weaving in strands that are already there, that we find...)

Anyway. I'm a 50 year old woman in the year 2010. I'm well-educated. I came up in an era of feminism. I consider myself a feminist on some level, although the meaning of the term gets lost to me sometimes. I just want the freedom for individuals, including myself, to be themselves.

Learning more about ED, sometimes it feels as though the intervening 150 years between ED and me never happened. I am or was as hopelessly in love with a "Master" as ED, and tried to express it, to persuade. Samuel Bowles described ED as "half angel, half demon." (I think - Master/Emissary, divided brain.) That is what I see in the mirror. It is written on my face. I do not have the face of Athena. I have all these suppressed passions. I express them to "Master" and am firmly held back at more than arm's length (coffee in NYC deemed too much). I express them inappropriately elsewhere and of course it's just laughable.

ED feels very modern to me, and I feel very Victorian. That about sums it up at the moment.

Oh my sun, once the duties of your day are done I look forward to your appearance...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When the Time Comes

Hi darling again. Between 4 & 6 did all the cooking I set out to do. It's a good thing I published my ambitious cooking plans - I had to keep my word, and indeed I did. Lentil soup, for tomorrow, is resting on the stove - always better the day after.

Must run downstairs to get spinach pie out of oven. Back. It looks amazing, like lemon meringue pie, lightly browned phyllo dough layers gathered on top. I made it in a favorite French ceramic pie dish. I made it carefully, letting the phyllo dough defrost all day. It unfolded from the package beautifully. Patience is a virtue. I wasn't in a hurry. It wasn't even a matter of patience. Just letting things, the day, unfold.

The lemon cake? A revelation. So delicious! I had a few crumbs. I took care making it, too. Buttered and floured the ins and outs of the fluted pan so that the cake would invert perfectly when the time came. Which it did. I sent D over to the neighbor's with a peace-sign third. D came back upstairs to report that she loved it, immediately ate it with her hands, offered hunks to her beautiful young children. It is that good, if I say so myself. Why I sent him over with it.

I enjoyed the cooking & kitchen aftermath. The radio was on, with Will interviewing the awesome Jess Klein (an example of my offhand top ten list missing a major one - her song about being ready when the time comes, with the big guns). I made three different dishes, one at a time. I kept things organized, washing things up in the sink and wiping the counter before starting the next recipe. I enjoy cooking - but not every day. And with cooking comes cleanup. So that's the thing about a home cook - there is a strategy I'd say, keeping it together, being ready when the time comes.