Author Archives: deemallon

Offspring: a poem, a lament

Speaking of offspring, here’s a lament written during the summer writing retreat.* I can’t remember what the prompt was — maybe something about emptying your mind?


Golden rod tug slightly in a breeze. Higher up, the rustle of maples. And everywhere: insects. Bees and flies and stinging pests. How sweet it’d be to merely lament the season coming to a close and not the earth herself melting, collapsing, churning, with the Ring of Fire activating quakes up and down the coasts on either side of the Pacific. Which one will open up under Brentwood, Pasadena, Korea Town, and Studio City and gobble up great edifices of society not to mention, people: Brother, Son? I could never have been the mother who said, ‘No. Do not go.’ And even if I had been, he’d not have listened which is how it should be, but still — a bigger worry added to the usual worries.

And then there’s the plains of Nebraska, the river banks along the Mississippi, the lower reaches of Missouri — should so much land be under water?

And how can the potential destruction of, say, one American Western city compare to all of Greenland’s ice melting, Paris and London frying under a merciless sun? Or colony collapse, the bees giving up the ghost, along with whole caveloads of bats, unable to fight the poisonous fight any longer, tongues and nails, slab and tourniquet. What place, then after?

When we look at the data, we also look away, preferring to note how a grasshopper landing not five feet away says something about summer ending and the memory of other summers ending — times when bikes, hoses, pools, bare feet were the signifiers. Our poor brood when little watched nature show after nature show offering up news of habitat decline and species extinction and people wonder why millennials are anxious?

We wonder why the young refuse heirlooms of any kind, but especially have no interest in the Rosenthal china, the Royal Doulton, the Strawberry Wedgewood. ‘Will we have a home or air?’ they wonder — the inability to afford the former a trifling but inescapable concern compared to the latter.

‘We have ten years,’ they keep saying, trying and failing to sound the alarm. ‘Ten years’ means something different to the young than it does to my aging ears. Gone are the days when insects present as cute and annoying pests. Not when closer scrutiny might reveal how numbered their days are. How connected they are to everything else.

Even if we all rowed in the same direction, what a monumental challenge! But with lies the prevalent currency and corporations granted all ascendancy, we first have to clean house and by then — I’m sorry, the thought is there — mightn’t it be too late?

How many monarchs migrated to the milkweeds, those perennials standing proud and erect, proper in their heliotropic course, casting lozenge-shaped shadows, offering praise to sun and nourishment to caterpillars? How many? Less than last year? A tenth of the year before?

It’s easy to shrug at the extinction of some two-toed sloth or a miniature lizard with nocturnal habits literally never seeing the light of day, but what about ALL of the passerines? Polar bears and reindeer? What about us? If we’d cared more about the two-toed sloth all those years ago, would we be better situated today — able to enter the “Wild Kingdom” programming, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha and hosted by some hokey and corny know-nothing, instead of learning about floating islands of plastic the size of Delaware and about Colorado burning for half a season?

 

* It turns out that the response to the prompt mentioned yesterday became a chapter in the book (working title: •Blood and Indigo•). That means I’m precluded from ‘publishing’ here (seriously, with 100 hits a day?) What would happen if I ‘published’ it, left it up for ten days, and then tagged it private? SShhh

Sharon Olds poem, published in Atlantic Magazine.

Assisi flashback

Was the Cathedral of San Rufino haunted? Almost every time I went in there and took pictures, some percentage came out blurred.

And since I only posted a fraction of the wall photos I took, here are a few more.

Just so you know: the first bird (below) was applied by Romans something like 2,000 years ago! It’s under the city on a wall featuring 90+ distinct birds.

Sentinel trees

Oooh boy, am I in for a treat with the novel, “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers! Abandoned another piece of fiction in order to begin. Since that disqualifies me from airing any opinion about said abandoned book: My Lips are Sealed (but maybe I don’t like farce all that much?)

“The Overstory” is already blowing the top of my head off, in much the way that “Lincoln in the Bardo” did. Grace, Mo, Alden, Maureen, and Deb have all led me to it.

One of the prompts at the AWA writing retreat in August came from the opening page. I think you’ll swoon to read the lines, too:

The tree is saying things, in words before words.
It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

When I find what I wrote, I’ll post it, even though as I recall it was a bit opaque. In the meantime, scroll down for a response to another prompt that mentions the 250+ year old copper beech that dwells next door.

I’ve probably photographed this tree more than any other feature of our built or natural landscape. It towers over the houses with a reach nothing short of spectacular. The trunk, muscular and sturdy, mediates between sky and earth, while beneath the soil? A downward fractalling mirror of the canopy, unseen and necessary.

A story I’m submitting to literary magazines describes it. My son featured it in a third grade project.

My neighbors steward the being with utmost care: cables strung for support, twice annual feedings.

Can you imagine all that this beech has witnessed? The household secrets, the stirring of war and war again, the native people who may have honored it and perhaps also drank at the spring which once (supposedly) offered cool respite nearby. People with pox, barn fires (our house and its charred beams), orphans and the enslaved, tavern owners and farmers (the Bartletts at the corner).

The Jacksons who built the house in the 1700’s witnessed the early, young days of the tree’s life. Maybe it was the tree that inspired one owner to bequeath the house to an illegitimate daughter. Such things were not done!

Ghosts have been noted. A smithy and a soldier hanging in a closet. Not here but next door.

This little untitled poem by me mentions the tree.

She flipped the french toast,
vanilla fumed, and twisted to
a morning made of thread
and diary, made of weeds along the
road — dandelion and chickweed —
and a sun that glared
hot mystery
through the copper beech.

This time of year leafery,
cotillion, cockswaddle, and
steak. We could be made
of spores and engineered
lumber, but find ache
and patchwork inside instead.

How his back moves
down the road. She, off
with the dog down another.
Was there no plan to map
the distances, to cloud
handshakes and rollovers
with sleep or with taking
out the trash?

And how about Yellow?
Primroses flat, then yarrow, regal.
Soon the pansies made of
sugar and sunlight bought by
the flat will land while the dog pulls
away, scents of cow dung
and denim rot irresistible.

She left the dowels at the store.
The quilt unhung for another
week. Made of forgetfulness,
inclined toward suspense, turning away
not gathering up, and a scold
or two.

If only the oceans lingered
near the driveway, instead
of maple tree detritus
and scum bubbles of tar.

Meanwhile, an unintended consequence of a rheumatologist’s advice last week to “be active like you were ten years ago,” led to bravado in the garden and a back with more pain than I’ve ever experienced. Chiropractor at three. PT beginning within the week. K even stayed home today because yesterday I could barely get up the stairs or into bed. I’m much better now.

In other news: it looks like I have enough people for my first writing class. I’m so excited!

What do you think of my name: “Page by Page?” It’s a little bit like Annie Lamont’s “Bird by Bird,” but not critically enough to foreclose my usage.

 

 

What’s the story?

It’s done. Sky indigo-dunked by me. Foreground silk, I don’t remember (arlee barr?) Pink linen: Deb Lacativa. Plaid house window: a shirt of my husband’s. There is blue-grey linen from Montreal, dark blue linen purchased in NYC in another lifetime, and scraps of a skirt that I wore to my last (and loathsome) job.

I keep asking myself — what is this little piece about?

Sometimes the story of the cloth can be found in the fabrics. The clock print would be the obvious narrative (the relentless march of time, etc.) but for me it’s all about that red plaid window. It’s warmth. It’s comfort. K wore it for years and years: camping, mowing the lawn, walking around the North Shore, fixing stuff in the house.

Somewhere I read that when quilters place a red fabric in the center of a log cabin patchwork square, it is to represent the hearth of home.

Yes. That.

A recent experience offers something akin to permission to think about this a little differently. The experience? — this season’s Project Runway (yes, it survived Tim Gunn’s departure!)

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll know how often the judges insist on ‘story,’ which is something a little different and apart from the designer’s ‘voice.’ Each collection needs a story, the judges insist, a unifying theme. Sometimes what the designers say is laughably far-fetched, seemingly uttered just to satisfy the judges. Other times, you can see how the designer’s story directed construction and textile choices in a meaningful way.

Near the end of this season, the contestants were tasked with creating an installation, and the man who ultimately won simply could not find a narrative for his collection. He painted his cubicle an awful color and slapped up some floral cut-outs. It was dopey. It clashed with his exquisite garments. He flailed, openly complaining that he couldn’t find the story.

And yet, he won. The woven strips of leather, the craftsmanship, the authority of his designs were story enough, it turns out.

I’m still not sure what to think about this. Is the play of color and shape story enough? Maybe, maybe not. Listening (very part-time, I’m afraid) to Jude’s recent class, has me reviving old pieces. One side benefit to watching her create is this reconsidering of older work. IS this piece finished? Is that piece? Could something be added that would enliven it (i.e. tell a story)?

I’m quite certain that the reason making a gift for a particular person is gratifying, is because the recipient supplies the story. It’s built in. You start with this bib and that bob, and you’re off, all the while considering the person who will ultimately receive it. I know that this is an energetic matter, too, because as recently mentioned on Dana’s blog, after making a satisfying gift, I’ve tried to trick myself into thinking a subsequent piece was also a gift, to no avail.

Thoughts, please?

Pasta, piecing, and puzzling

Rabe, red onion, and peppers sautéed in bacon fat and garlic-infused olive oil served on gluten-free pasta with Asagio cheese. Not shown: a few crumbles of bacon to finish. Soooo delicious!

Meanwhile, piecing and puzzling. Both a little mindless. Reviewed a short story to submit around. It would be ideal to have SOMETHING published before manuscript is looked at. I took yesterday off from it completely and today: avoid, avoid, avoid. This happens. It’s one reason why I’m pretty convinced it’s better to work every day, even if only a little.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I came downstairs and read. This is Mark Helprin’s newest book and given that he is one of my favorite novelists of all time, I’ve been surprised at how slow my engagement’s been. But now I’m in! It’s set in modern day Paris, no surprise, given the title.

Purpose, habit

Today I made gazpacho, rice/corn salad, and a blueberry cake. Sometimes, that’s enough. I don’t mean enough to satisfy hunger but enough to create a container wherein purpose and comfort can dwell.

After the post about trump-fatigue, I had to ask: why do I do this? It’s not to afford others hope. It’s not to teach. I guess I don’t really know, but I’m pretty sure I do it for myself –perhaps with the hope that a few others find value?

Novel update: Conversion of font from Corbel to New Times Roman continues apace (industry standards). Some editing. Since I’m still not used to the modern convention of inserting only a single space between sentences, I’m closing ’em up where I catch an extra space.

Today, a few chronology issues needed sorting. And, the thing is too long.

Angel Oak, Johns Island, SC

But, I have momentum. Also, an unexpected (and pretty marvelous) thing is happening: I am in the story. Really in it. I don’t think I have been before.

So, even though the more I read about agents, the weaker I get in the knees, I don’t think fear will stop me.

When I found out I was pregnant with C, I was working in a women’s prison advocating for mothers. To calm my nerves about giving birth, I occasionally reminded myself that every single one of my clients had given birth. All of them. Surely, I could, too?

That’s not meant to be uncharitable, although the literary corollary is. The corollary says: There are a lot of bad books in the world and THEY somehow got published. Maybe I can be, too.

Drayton Hall, on the Ashley River outside of Charleston

Old map of Charleston

Magnolia Plantation, on the Ashley River outside of Charleston, SC

Have a wonderful Sunday!