Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seventh Grade Blues



In 7th grade I was all arms and legs-
Knocking into things, my socks slipped down
Into my shoes, my blouse untucked
My hair declaring independence from any sense of place –
I wore the clothes my mother liked.
I didn’t think I fit, so sure was I
That everybody noticed what I wore
And each dumb thing I said.

I went to church last Sunday, just a little late
The congregation watched as we walked down
To sit in front. The other seats were taken
By better folk whose lives are organized
And neat. I sang the hymns my best, a bit off key,
My husband said, but loud.

We stayed for coffee after church.
I stood alone with coffee in my hand
The black stockings I had worn looked very blue.
Should not have worn a skirt!
My hair is standing quite on end today
Great white wires going every way.
If someone comes to chat, what will I say?
The cookie that I’m holding’s shedding crumbs.

Helen came, removed a cat hair from my sleeve
And asked me how I was. I’m fine, I said,
And so is Fred. We talked of her and me and church
Til Judy joined us, and Sue, and Natalie
Who had surgery a week ago. It turned out well.

I’m all grown up from 7th grade, I think
Until the next time when I stand alone, with Styrofoam
Of coffee in my hand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


My walking buddy’s gone to Spain
So now I walk alone – Except
Except for geese, and dogs,
chipmunks and squirrels
And kids who rush to catch their bus –
And people driving by in cars.
I notice people wave at me
And I wave back – but I can’t see
Inside their car or who they are.

I’m forced to walk alone – because
My walking buddy’s gone to Spain – Except
I have my thoughts. I ask myself
Whatever happened to the pair
Who used to live in that house there –
She used to go to Curves, perhaps
Still does. I don’t.

Who does that lawn. What artistry.
Who would have thought to put that rock
Right there, and black tanbark beneath the tree
Spread out beneath its canopy
No sprinklers needed near that oak
I wonder could we do the same?
My walking buddy’s gone to Spain.

So maybe if we cleared the ground
And got black tanbark spread around
Beneath our oaks and planted rocks
Instead of flocks we wouldn’t need to spend so much
On fixing sprinklers here and there –
They never work or seem to spread
Their grains of water far enough
To keep our landscape green and fed.

My walking buddy’s gone to Spain
So now I walk alone except
For geese and dogs, chipmunks and squirrels,
Kids, cars, and wandering thoughts.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I have a black cat name of Blue
And what he likes to do the best
(Aside from rest) is creep along the window sill
And leap on unsuspecting bugs.
He looks at birds beyond his reach.
If he had speech – could say the words,
He'd say those birds are easy prey -
Were he without and not within..

Wednesday, September 16, 2009



Today I’m suffering from writer’s block
My head is empty, no thoughts to think –
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Could it be I’ve run amuck?
Sanity teetering on the brink?
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.

My head is heavy, filled with rock –
My eyes are staring – Can’t even blink
I only sit and listen to the clock.

I am confused. I’m in a fog.
Cleverness gone – I’m on the blink!
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.

One deep breath, then I’ll take stock -
I know I must have thoughts to think –
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Where’s the key for my brain’s lock?
Where’s the fuel to help me think?
Today I’m suffering from writer’s block.
I only sit and listen to the clock.

Villanelle is a poetic form which entered English-language poetry in the 1800s from the imitation of French models. The word derives from the Italian villanella from Latin villanus (rustic). A villanelle has only two rhyme sounds. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. A villanelle is nineteen lines long, consisting of five tercets and one concluding quatrain.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Antelope Run

Silvery city, with the new city shine
Streets laced with aspen
New houses abound
No antelope here, downtown Antelope Run
Boutiques and cafes
All the newest of new
Once Antelope Run was only a plan
An idea for building on difficult land
Too rocky for growing much other than grass
A commutable distance, and easy to sell
Half acre ranchettes, with golfing nearby.

Now there’s Starbucks and Peets
Only two blocks apart
With tables outside, and bicycles parked.
Velcro clad riders drink extravagant drinks
Frappachino’s and lattes, Espresso drinks, too

They’ve escaped from the city,
They’ve followed a dream
Country living this is, with the chicest of chic
Mothers with children all carefully strapped
In strollers for jogging, now how cool is that!

Antelope Run isn’t sure what it is –
No one has grown up here, the schools are new,
No swings in the playgrounds – they simply aren’t safe
Antelope Run is a city untested
A sugar confection, as yet undigested.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A tokonoma is an alcove meant to rest the eye.
It is the sole adornment of the room in which it stands.
The tokonoma is  looked upon,
But never entered.

The floor is raised,
carpeted with tatami mats.
To the left the eyes perceive a flawless beam, unvarnished,
cut and planted so the moisture of the house can be absorbed –
a beam that breathes.

A simple flower, an arrangement of a single branch,
is on the left as you look into the tokonoma -
a solitary greeting from your host.
Straight ahead there is a scroll hung high upon the wall,
with oriental lettering.

The scroll could be a poem or an ancient landscape,
it doesn’t matter what it says or shows.
To the right there is another,object,
perhaps an incense burner,
 but no matching beam or plant to cause distraction.

 tokonoma seems to flow from left to right
into a seamless space of solitude.
The tokonoma is designed to bring forgetfulness,
 to still the senses, to remove complexities.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Teaching Company: Senior Education

Some years ago a co-worker lent me tapes of lectures given by a history professor in Oregon. Her sister was taking the class and was fascinated by his take on American History. He was wonderful, informative, funny. When he talked about the exams coming up, I knew I wouldn’t be taking them.

That experience planted a seed with me. I don’t have a long commute, and now that I’m retired, I don’t commute at all. When I was working I loved the books on tape. When books on CD came out it was even better, because I didn’t have to worry about the tape breaking and tangling. One of the first books I took from the library was the first volume of the Balkan Trilogy, by Olivia Manning. The second and third volumes were harder to find, but by the time I did I was thoroughly hooked on the idea that even short commutes were opportunities to listen and learn.

By the time I retired from my city job and gone to work (you guessed it!) at the library, I had learned that books on tape or CD could be brought indoors – I did not have to drive around just to hear what was going to happen next.

Then a misaddressed catalogue arrived from “The Teaching Company” ( Remembering those history tapes, I spent an afternoon studying the catalogue before I put it in the right mailbox. The catalogue announced a special sale on certain courses, if I ordered right away. (There are always some courses on sale, but I didn’t know that then). I was hooked. The courses ranged from Biblical History to Physics for the Non-Physicist, to the Symphonies of Beethoven (and so much more!). Now I am addicted. I have studied the Divine Comedy by Dante and the History of the Supreme Court. I have watched videos on the History of the Universe and the History of Western Art. I have been, through these courses, in the lecture halls of colleges and universities all over the country.

At the moment I have two courses going – the History of American Literature, and a History of Great Western Literature. I am experiencing the American Civil War and the Trojan War all at the same time, driving back and forth from the grocery store, or from the Bay Area visiting the children and grandchildren.

The opportunities for learning are endless and exciting now that it isn’t just about required courses or earning a living. For me, the Teaching Company has been a fantastic resource.

Friday, September 4, 2009


It was spring. The war was over, rationing gone, people were once again buying new cars. The Muskegon (Michigan) Lassies (part of the All-American Girls Baseball League) were having a winning season. The “New Look” was in and hemlines were down.

Mrs. Sheridan arrived at our house to show off her brand new 1948 Oldsmobile with Hydromatic transmission. We were all going to a Lassie’s baseball game that night. She offered to drive me, with Mother and Dad coming later.

Mrs. Sheridan was a widow the same age as my mother, but much more glamorous. She wore spike heels, red lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and had a fox fur biting its tail draped around her shoulders. Her nails were painted and she smoked using a holder.

“See, look,” Mrs. Sheridan crowed. “It doesn’t even have a clutch! You don’t have to shift gears. Why, it’s so easy, even Kay could drive it.” I was 12. My parents peered into the windows, opened the doors, sat on the seats, and admired the gadgets.

Shifting gears, stepping on and releasing the clutch at just the right moment, had always seemed to me to be the most challenging part of driving a car. Of course, I’d never driven anything. I had only tried sitting in stationary vehicles, turning the wheel vigorously, pretending I was steering. Imagine a car where you didn’t have to engage a clutch.

I got in beside her. I heard the smooth purr as she turned on the ignition.
“Do you really think I could drive this?”

“Sure you could. All you have to do is steer.”

She drove around the corner onto Fifth Street and parked. Fifth Street was a straight shot down four or five blocks before it curved.

“All you have to do is keep the wheel steady, don’t turn it too much, and just press lightly on the gas.” She indicated the gas pedal, the brake right beside it. “If you need to stop, you press on the brake, here. Not with your left foot, with your right.” She demonstrated.

“Can I try?”

“You drive to the end of Fifth Street. Then I’ll take over.”

I sat in the drivers’ seat. Mrs. Sheridan showed me how to release the brake and put the car in drive. Off I went. The car jerked, moved, jerked, a few feet at a time.

“Press a little harder on the gas, just lightly, but evenly,” said Mrs. Sheridan. I did.

The car took off, careening down Fifth Street, moving back and forth from curb to curb, with Mrs. Sheridan screaming in my ear, “The brakes! The brakes!”

“Where are they?” I cried.

Fifth Street turned. Mrs. Sheridan’s brand new Oldsmobile did not. There was the scream of crunching metal as the car hit a tree. Shaken but intact, we crept out. People began to gather. Steam rose from the front of the painfully crumpled, wounded new car.

“It wasn’t your fault,” my mother said later. “Nell should never have allowed you to drive that car!”

“Her insurance will cover it,” my father said. My father and I both knew, though the words weren't spoken, that it wasn't only Mrs. Sheridan lacking in good sense that day, and we were lucky that only the car was wounded.
The insurance did cover the damage.  Mrs. Sheridan did not offer me a second chance at driving her car.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

49 Fire: Auburn, CA

A rapidly moving fire devastated a commercial and residential area in the town of Auburn, CA, just east of where we live. Jack, along with 60 other homeowners, lost his house and everything in it. The following morning, still probably in shock, he showed up at the meeting where he always shows up on Monday mornings. Other people there were wearing the clothes they had on when the evacuation order came to them the day before. Their houses were spared, but they weren’t allowed back into the neighborhood.

We always read about fires; right now we’re hearing about the fire storm raging almost unabated in Southern California. This fire felt very different. It was just up the road, affecting friends and for some people, relatives. Jack was able to save his dog, but not his cat. I found myself being particularly affectionate to our cat, Blue, and wondering if we could catch him in time to put him in a cat carrier, if there were a fire. He tends to hide when he’s frightened.

Although 60 houses were destroyed, as far as is known, there was no loss of life – or at least human life. How many memories, wedding pictures, souvenirs of good times, were lost? How can insurance policies cover the track trophies, golf trophies, favorite toys or stuffed animals of children? The quilt handed down? The quilt just made?

How long will it take people to recover from the fear of not knowing if their children, parents, friends had gotten out safely?

I came home from the meeting, and looked around my house. What would I save if an evacuation order came? Blue, the cat, of course. What about the pictures on the walls – painted by Lisa, or Linda, or Fred, or Ron who died in 2006? What about the computer which holds every bit of our life stories, as well as all the pictures we’ve taken in recent years with our digital cameras? What about my mother’s silver?

The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are accepting donations for victims of the fire. They are especially in need of money donations.

The Salvation Army is also asking for nonperishable food and hydration items, clothes and unopened toiletries. You can donate money to the Salvation Army at the community center at 286 Sutter Street in Auburn from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mon-Fri, or mailed to P.O. Box 4088, Auburn, CA 95604.

The Red Cross is only accepting monetary donations. Their Auburn office is located at 457 Grass Valley Hwy. Suite 8, Auburn, CA 95603.

To designate cash donations to victims of the fire, write "49 Fire" on the memo line of checks.