Writing at Rohs Street

September 23, 2014 / Haiku exercise

Haiku #1

River curves away
Blue sky sweeps above, cloudless
iphone memory

I am trying not to feel like I have to pin beauty down, like a butterfly to a board. But I can’t seem to stop.

Another haiku?

Haiku #2

Captured river, caught
Pinned down, like a butterfly
iphone memory

I’m thinking so much lately about what is precious, and how scraps of precious things live in my phone, collected there like when Hermione Granger charmed her beaded bottomless bag in the last Harry Potter book, so it could hold everything that was essential to battle Lord Voldemort: a tent the size of a house, books, food, clothes to take the chill off, life-saving medical supplies, anything she needed to move the story ahead—what magic, that story.

Magic like iphones are magic, in their way. My iphone: I resisted getting one for so long, after reading in horror about the Chinese workers who made them—probably still make them, who am I and Apple’s PR machine kidding? The workers housed in gray dormitories in smoggy cities where poison air stings throats and eyes, workers—flesh and blood people—harnessed like plow horses to relentless time clocks.

Down another time-ladder, I slip to another century, another magical book, Little Women—the March sisters and Marmee refusing to wear silk dresses because of the child labor that went into making them. No, the March women wore plain Poplin, unfashionable, virtuous. Except for Amy. Selfish, vain Amy — and guess what? I’ve become Amy, haven’t I?

To assuage my guilt, I use my iphone to collect tiny bits of the world, to fashion a beautiful mosaic of songs I love, of my two daughter’s text messages, of hundreds of photos snapped when the light! THE LIGHT! Stuns me, as if maybe I might someday be trapped in a windowless dormitory, a joyless world where my pictures of nature and cryptic messages from the past will be the only things that sustain me?

Maybe that’s the fear. That if I don’t somehow bottle it, it will all vanish? Is that why I’ve recorded the songs of crickets and cicadas? So in some deep cold winter moment, I can hear summer again? All those notes I make, poem fragments and angry rants and ideas and books I should read, want to read, all the flotsam and jetsam of life flowing past like the mighty Ohio did this morning, when I captured it in my iphone. Snap!

Pinning it all down, like a butterfly, pinned. A picture Lydia texted me, of her, smiling, hugging that pretty Border Collie in her college apartment, if I save it there, and look at her smile, will that keep her smiling, always?

I pour over my collection sometimes, find beauty, pain, insights and treasure: those notes I when I wake and can’t find my journal, tip-tip-typing instead of scrawling, frantically recording those recurring dreams of ice and glaciers and endless winters, mixed in with sunshiny sunflowers in a vacant lot.

It’s all in there.

Ohio River photo
Ohio River, September 23, 2014

Nowhere to go

deer in yard


Yesterday morning at seven-thirty, I went for a walk. The sun was streaming down Evanswood, turning the street into a golden river of light. Across that river, in the neighbor’s front yard, a trio of deer placidly munched hostas, unbothered by the dog walkers and the pack of school children milling at the bus stop at the corner.

I snapped an iPhone shot of the deer, a slender chesnut doe, and her twin fawns, still wearing their star-speckled coats. I felt sad and happy all at once.

I love deer. As a child, I obsessively drew pictures of deer. Bambi was my favorite book. Deer were shy and quiet, like I was, yet they were also swift and mysterious and tapered. I still think they are the most elegant creatures, with their long legs and big dark eyes—the Audrey Hepburns of the animal kingdom.

Yet standing there, watching them devour what was left of the Shapiro’s lilies, I felt sad, too. Because seeing deer in the neighborhood is no longer a novelty. They are everywhere. Their numbers are growing and there’s nowhere for them to go.

My gardening friends mourn the loss of their hostas, and I get that. But: the deer. They have nowhere to go, and whose fault is that, exactly?

A couple hours later, I drove off on an errand.

At the intersection of Martin Luther King and Central Parkway, a young woman stood, holding a sign that read “hungry & homeless.” She was tall, thin, sun-browned, her face already a little leathery though she couldn’t have been much past thirty. I thought of that famous photo, you know the one I mean? That one of the sad-eyed depression-era migrant mother, her face a map of her worries?

I’m famous for never having cash on me, but earlier I’d found a ten dollar bill while loading the washer, and I’d shoved it in my pocket, feeling pleased.

I looked at her, motioned, rolled the passenger window down.

“Thank you,” she said, taking the crumpled bill. And then, as she realized it was a ten and not just a dollar, her whole face lit up. “Bless you,” she said, joy transforming her face, stripping away years, until I could imagine her in high school, dreaming of her future.

Maybe she’ll drink it or shoot it up or something. Or maybe she’ll get to eat a good meal. Not my call. One thing I know for sure, she didn’t grow up dreaming she’d be standing in the hot September sun next to an interstate and a White Castle, begging.

There are so many in this world, with nowhere to go.

I drove away, wishing I’d found a twenty, or maybe two twenties, folded carelessly together and left in the pocket of my walking shorts. That happens sometimes, when you have as much as I do. I wondered if I’d have handed it over, had it been twenty dollars, or forty, and I hoped that I would have.

Ghost Ranch Notes/July 31, 2014

ghost-ranch-pedernalIf you’re from the Midwest, it’s hard to imagine the colors at Ghost Ranch. Even if you’ve seen Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings and dozens of beautiful photographs.

My Ohio home, lush as it is, looks faded in comparison, dully monochromatic. I feel like I’ve been colorblind until now, and am suddenly cured. New Mexico is red-orange and bright sienna and a million greens— dark pine, gray sage, springy alfalfa and the soft green cottonwood clouds seaming the arroyo behind Staff House and the dining hall.

And blues: robin’s egg morning skies that burst into turquoise afternoons that deepen to cobalt above far-off mountains that range from wet denim to teal to slate. Blues so deep you want to dive in and float. Blues that make me forget for a moment my love of oceans.

Perched on the Welcome Center porch, I have a clear view of Pedernal, the mountain Georgia O’Keefe claimed from God for her very own.

Cerro Pedernal is his full name —I’ve decided this mountain must be male— which in Spanish means Flint Hill. Like everything here, Pedernal changes by the hour, but right now he is crowned with clouds and scrimmed by rain, a looming, watery, flat-topped shadow in the near distance.

Closer in, the sandstone and gypsum cliffs form a backdrop to kids on bikes and the changing kaleidoscope of residents and workers that zigzag between the buildings. The cliffs are a multi-toned tapestry of gold, peach and terracotta red dotted with dark juniper knots and etched with shadows forming a thousand faces.

There are spirits here, in the shadowy mountains and cliffs. I feel them, silently watching those of us who come and go, seducing people like me from flatter, grayer places.

Ghost Ranch, part 1




“It is all very beautiful and magical here–a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let the sun bake it into you. The skies and land are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are isolated in a glowing world between the macro and micro, where everything is sidewise under you and over you, and the clocks stopped long ago.”
Ansel Adams, describing Ghost Ranch, in a letter to Alfred Steiglitz ,1937


On Dreams


Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

–Edgar Allen Poe

In 1849, Poe wrote, “It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” Dreams, in other words, could be viewed as endless echoing of stories, our own stories. Rippling through time, like waves breaking, again and again. The same waves, the same stories, but different each time.

I love (and yet find a bit creepy) the idea of my present life surfacing as a dream in a future life. I wonder sometimes whose reality I’m channeling in dreams. It doesn’t always seem to be my own.

A few weeks ago, I reclined on a chaise in a once grand Parisian apartment, as a young woman arranged her tools, preparing to tattoo the soles of my feet, which worried me a bit, but apparently I’d agreed to let her practice on me, and it seemed unfair to weasel out.

But the apartment, wow—that’s what I was focused on, with its two-story-high windows thrown open, sheer curtains blowing in the breeze; raised-panel walls, battered, yet elegant; deep coffered ceilings, and, best of all— a postcard-worthy cerulean view of the sea from those huge windows (Yes. I know. Paris is not on the ocean. It was a dream.) The apartment rambled on endlessly, one cavernous room to the next. One room differed markedly from the others. It was paneled in mahogany and lined with built-in curio cabinets, each cubby displaying a different specimen of sea sponge. I hated to leave.

Every night I hope to dip back into that grand dreamscape, minus the tattoo needles aimed at my feet. Maybe in a past, unknowable life, I once lived in Paris, or by the sea. Is dreaming just a crazy nocturnal adventure? Or does it serve a purpose?

The question of what purpose dreams serve is as old as time. What I keep coming back to is the notion that dreams are the stories that we create ourselves, night after night.

There are scientists who believe dreams are a meaningless side effect of sleep. A sunset is just a side effect of the angle of light through atmosphere and dust; also ‘meaningless’ to humans except for the immeasurable joy and beauty sunsets bring, and the thousands of years when sunsets helped forecast weather and trigger an end to the day’s tasks. If dreams are side effects, they certainly aren’t ‘meaningless,’ as anyone who has collected and analyzed dreams can tell you. Just as the light at sunset renders the world a glowy, more beautiful place, perhaps dreams also filter reality into a more fantastical form.

If we reflect on the dreamworld, if we study our dreams and record them, does that shed a bright light on our hidden thoughts and desires? In science, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation makes on a phenomenon being observed. When observer cameras were added to an experiment using electrons, the electrons acted as particles. When the camera was absent, the electrons acted as both wave and particle simultaneously. Does the practice of recording our dreams have a similar effect on our dreams? Do my dreams play out differently when they ‘know’ I am recording them? I wonder, sometimes.

Carl Jung was convinced of the importance of dreams to mental health and growth; that the unconscious mind speaks directly to the conscious mind through the medium of dreams, using symbols to communicate important information that the dreamer is not yet consciously aware of, but needs to know to foster healthy growth. He believed in the collective unconscious, too, meaning that he felt a dreamer has access to a great pool of knowledge and wisdom, which could explain how sometimes, great ideas come to people as they sleep.

The amazing-idea-in-your-sleep is the dream equivalent of winning the lottery, but we all dream.

Whether we remember our dreams or not, science reveals that everyone weaves stories in the night. Since dreaming survived evolution, I’m pretty sure it’s an indicator that people require dreams as much as they require food and love.

Maybe dreams do for our souls what air does for our lungs?