Archive for June, 2007

Savannah River Near Augusta, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 

Savannah River from the Bridge, Augusta, Georgia, June 8th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

“It seems I have always lived near rivers and trains.”

The day we went to Eve Street, I remembered I hadn’t taken any photographs of the Savannah. I had zipped off a couple of shots of the 5th Street Bridge, a landmark in disrepair. My grandfather helped build that bridge. It was strange to go back to a place where my family had so much history. I’m used to living in towns and cities where I have no immediate blood kin.

It stands to follow that in those places, I have to forge my own bits of history. But spending time in a city where family members are woven through architecture, church, field, and stream, made me feel connected. Close. The water there plays a big part in my childhood.

The Savannah River is about 350 miles long and its source is in eastern Georgia at a confluence of the Seneca and Tugaloo Rivers. The headwaters originate in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia near Ellicott Rock, the point where the borders of those three states meet. The river flows from a cool, clear stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains and empties through tidal plains into the Atlantic.

Savannah and Augusta are the largest cities on the Savannah River and most of their history evolved from commerce and trade on her waters. Savannah is on the Atlantic, Augusta on the fall line.

Lake Hartwell is a 56,000 acre manmade lake built in 1963 by the Army Corp of Engineers on the headwaters of the Savannah. The 71,535 acre Clarks Hill Reservoir was built by the Corp in 1954 and is 22 miles north of Augusta. Clarks Hill is where my mother wants her ashes to be scattered. She says she spent some of the happiest times of her life waterskiing and swimming in Clarks Hill.

The Savannah River’s history goes back some 12,000 years to the Ice Age. That makes my 400-year-old family history look paltry. Human history along her banks includes Hernando de Soto, James Edward Oglethorpe, the Westo Indians, and a wandering tribe called the Savannah Indians, armed by a group of Carolinians, who drove out the Westos in the Westo War of 1680 and gave their name to the river.

Part of my ancestry can be traced back to Oglethorpe. But the memories I have are of Grandmama Elise picking me up from Belvedere Circle in her black, 40’s Pontiac and singing The Good Ship Lollipop to me as we crossed the 5th Street Bridge. (My great grandfather told them they would run into quicksand when they built it, but they didn’t listen.) When we drove across the river border between South Carolina and Georgia, the wind from the rolled down passenger window roared through my hair; the smell of the paper mill on the river is something a child never forgets.

The memories I have are of rolling over the river to Reynolds Street and my Granddaddy’s shop where my step-dad worked part-time as a mechanic (in addition to his full-time job). I remember the girly calendar on the wall, the smell of grease and Gojo, and pulling an ice cold Coke out of a shiny, red vending machine that gripped the blue-glass bottles like a vice. Then we’d drop salted peanuts from a bag of Planter’s into the lip and alternate swigs of Coke with the soggy crunch of peanuts between our teeth.

My memories are from four years ago, scooting along the Riverwalk in Augusta with my sister and her family when we drove down to visit relatives. We were fresh and tan after body surfing in the Atlantic at Ocean City, Maryland, and spent the day ambling around the Riverwalk museum where we stuffed ourselves into a photo booth for a couple of crazy, animated snapshots. 

My memories are from a week ago, driving back and forth across the Savannah River, photographing landmarks, recording conversations, creating new memories with my step-dad and mother, laughing and conjuring up times long past. My memories are of breaking and mending, of leaving and of coming home.

Here they are, details on the page, the beginning of something much bigger, a creative force spawned from the bowels of rivers and oceans and mountains and trees. Bones. Here are the memories of last week’s water wings, and the flowing, dry humidity of the Savannah.

But I sit on a gray deck near the banks of the wide and rambling Mississippi whose mouth bubbles out not far from the Canadian border in a lake called Itasca.

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

-from Topic post, Water Wings

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By Beth Bro Howard

One day, when my husband was 40 years old, he came home from work, looking surprised and said, “I learned the most amazing thing today. When you smile at people, they smile back!”

Apparently, he had conducted his own little experiment while walking down the street. He would make eye contact and smile at people as they walked past him and he was delighted when they smiled back, which he noted, they usually did.

When he shared his discovery with me, I laughed and said, “I am so happy that you’ve learned this when you are 40. You could have lived your whole life and never known this.” At the same time, I realized that this was something I had always known. I’d learned it growing up with my father. My father had a wonderful, easy smile. His teeth were not perfect. He had an overbite, which accentuated the front teeth showing in his smile, offering a bigger grin.

My father didn’t just smile with his mouth, though. His whole face lit up. My father’s friend Paul Newman (not the actor) described my dad best in his memoir, when he wrote, “Kenny was a powerful and joyous force of nature that could not be stopped.” He was exactly that.

I grew up seeing my father bring that smile with him into every situation: from the breakfast table to a formal dinner; from greeting family and old friends to meeting total strangers. He used his smile liberally and especially when thanking someone for their help or for service rendered to him…even bad service.

Later in life, after heart by-pass surgery, the nurses at Evanston Hospital gifted my father a “Best Patient Award” and ribbon. I have no doubt that he won it with his smile, which may have been a rare sight for nurses in a post-surgical hospital setting.

I witnessed over and over again how my father’s smile put people at ease. I watched their faces brighten and felt its effect on my own face, too.

Even at the end of my father’s life, when he was very ill with leukemia and could not get out of bed, he would greet the day and me with a smile. The last thing he said to me was, “I hope to see you again.”

I said, “I hope so, too, Dad,” and we left each other with a smile.

After he died, the most frequent comment written in sympathy notes to our family was, “I will miss his smile.” We do, too.

Now, when someone mentions that they enjoy my smile, I sometimes say, but always think, “Thank you. It was a gift from my father.”

My Father’s Smile, photo © 2007 Beth Bro Howard, all rights reserved

    My Father’s Smile, photo © 2007 by Beth Bro Howard. All rights reserved.

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Moveable Feast Practice, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedI remember the first time I thought about writing with other people. A friend at work had asked me to join a writing group that was meeting once a week in my neck of the woods. The invitation was tempting, but I turned it down.

I was a new mother and as much as I longed to write, I had an even greater need for the kinship and validation that came from getting together with other new mothers. So rather than joining the writing group, I spent my social time in a mother-and-infant group. But I held on to the idea that I would someday write with others.

That day came once Dee turned two. By then I’d stopped getting together with moms and toddlers and decided it was time to feed my soul in a new way. I can still picture Jim standing on the porch with Dee on his hip, the two of them waving good-bye as I drove away to my first weekly writing group session. I felt like I was heading off on a roadtrip.

Which it was, in many respects. I was a member of that particular group for five years. There were about four of us who were hard-core and another two or three who attended occasionally. Most the time we met at the sprawling adobe home of my friend Teresa, whose wonderfully creative writing you can find on a blog called Cuentos. Our group loosely followed the rules of Writing Practice, but with more experimentation. We were open to everything, and everything we wrote we did with complete abandonment.

We used all sorts of prompts: topics written on strips of paper we carried around in a worn baggy. Sculptures. Images cut out of magazines. Free association of words. One of my favorite things we did was a “moveable feast” type of practice where each person wrote for two or three minutes then passed our notebook to the person on our right, wrote for two more minutes, passed, wrote, passed, and so on for a couple of rounds. The resulting collaborative pieces often had us rolling on the floor, and once in a while we’d turn out something brilliant, in an avante garde sort of way.

Goonaday And Other Mysterious Words, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reservedWe also mixed drawing and writing practice. One person in our group loved the concept of keeping the hand moving yet she preferred pastels to the pen. Just like the rest of us, she took off on whatever prompt we threw out, and when time was up and we all read our pieces, she showed us hers.

Another favorite prompt was to take a book off the shelf, open it to a page and read the first line, then write. Or we’d pick out phrases instead of full sentences. I still have some of these phrases written on a piece of paper: listen to me; Winifred on her hip; their spears upright with heads of shining steel; Why so angry with me, friend?

One time we wrote syllables onto strips of paper then randomly connected the syllables together to make new words, which we used in a timed practice. I even wrote definitions for my words. Here, one of them:

Goonaday: In some parts of Northern NM, “goona” is used to refer to “god’s goodness.” Goonaday is synonymous with Sunday.

This fall it will ten years since I began writing with other writers. Nowadays I write with an online writing group that just formed recently and with a local group that meets about twice a month. And through this blog, I write with a growing community of folks who live all over the place, people I know intimately and people I’ve barely begun to know through the Internet. I’m even writing with friends who I never knew were writers.

Teresa, who still has her writing group, is hosting her annual half-day-long writing retreat one Sunday in July. I’m invited, and I plan to be there, to show up for myself and for the other writers. I think it would be a fine way to spend a Goonaday.

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Rainbow In My Tree, photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Rainbow In My Tree, not touched upRainbow In My Tree, not touched upRainbow In My Tree, not touched up

Rainbow In The Sky, photo © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Rainbow In The Sky, not touched upRainbow In The Sky, not touched upRainbow In The Sky, not touched up

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By mimbresman


Kayak Beach, photo © 2007 by mimbresman. All rights reserved.

Winter 1977/78Mimbres River, NM:
I wanted to explore the Cook’s Range with my Jeep CJ-5. I get to the lower Mimbres River which was flooding due to warm rain melting snow in the mountains. On the far bank of the river was a sign that read “If you’re fool enough to cross this…it’ll cost you $20.00 to get pulled out!” I got out of the idling Jeep and looked in my wallet: $8.00. (I was just 17-years old.) I looked at the river, looked at the sign, and decided to go for it. Locked the hubs, put the CJ in 4-wheel drive, low-range and start across. Meanwhile a guy across the river was starting up his tractor, ready to take advantage of the situation. No problem until I was 3/4th the way across the river…water was coming in through the bottom edge of the doors and bubbling up through drain holes, and the current was starting to push the Jeep down stream. I steer upstream, mash the accelerator and hit the opposite bank, front wheels clawing their way on to dry ground. I made it! The first vehicle to do so!

Summer 1978Gila River, NM:
Nearly drowned in a riffle due to panic. I calmed myself, stood up and found myself in knee deep water.

Spring Break 1982 – Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Rio Grande, TX/MX:
A friend and I hiked Telephone Canyon to the river while two other Range Bum buddies rafted down it in a small yellow raft. There was only room for two people on the raft so we had to take turns. The hike was hot, but the river was refreshing. We were treated to the sound of canyon wrens and mysterious flute music. We hiked out, shuttled to get the guys at the La Linda Bridge, then it was our turn to paddle Boquillas Canyon.

Spring Break 1983 – Mariscal Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Rio Grande, TX/MX:
A follow-up to the previous year’s excursion. We had a bigger raft, which proved to be a dog on the water. We ended up slogging through low water, dragging the raft for miles through the meanders before reaching the canyon.

Spring Break 1984 Death Valley National Monument, CA:
Without water here, you die. We Range Bums found ourselves hanging out at the Furnace Creek Resort swimming pool more than we wanted to. It was unbearably hot! Determined to escape the crowds, we headed to the back country and were not disappointed. We saw all sorts of interesting formations due to water erosion or because of the lack of water. The most interesting place was “The Race Track,” a dry lake bed where rocks move on their own. How exactly they move is still a mystery but it is an awesome place indeed!

June 1994 Arkansas River, CO:
A weekend whitewater retreat with two friends (ybonesy was one of them). Fun time on the water, and ended with us watching the OJ Simpson slow-speed car chase at the bar/restaurant in Buena Vista.

June 2001 Pouder Cache River, CO:
Nearly drowned in a Class IV rapid when the inflatable kayak I was in hit a raft that was pinned on a rock, and rolled. I was forced underwater by the hydraulic pressure and was held there for several seconds before I could reach the surface, where I then had to deal with bouncing down the Class IV rapid with my body. I was exhausted when I reached the shore.

July 2001 Puget Sound, WA:
Had a bad experience paddling big open water. Tide rips, strong tidal currents, waves, a weird and strange companion who I found I didn’t like too much, plus my inexperience as a paddler, all added to a very bad trip on the water.

March 2002 – Playa Mansa to Isla Borracha and back, Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast:
My wife was out of town and so I paddled the double kayak, solo, from the beach near our apartment to Isla Borracha 7 miles off shore. I was ill prepared for such an excursion; no food, only small mint candies and some water. When I got to Isla Borracha, I found there was not much there. I eventually had to paddle back to the mainland without eating. My only source of calories was “Mintitas,” small mint candies. I found that I could paddle for about 5 minutes per Mintita.

Summer 2002 – Playa Mansa, Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast:
Nearly drowned less than 20 meters from shore when I was practicing in my single kayak. I accidentally rolled the kayak, and was pinned inside the boat by the spray skirt. I tried reaching for the release toggle several times and I kept missing it. Finally, calming myself, I remembered the drill; rub my hand along the combing of the kayak until I reached the toggle. I was then able to pull and release the skirting and make a wet exit from the kayak.

New Year’s 2005/2006 – Cumana to Lechería, Venezuela:
A coastal kayak expedition with Douglas and Matt, a gay couple from San Francisco. They came to Venezuela to paddle, but had several bad experiences with police harassment. When they reached Cumana, they called me and I met them there. It was a good 5-day paddle of about 60 miles total. Very fun and interesting times. Matt was a diva, and Douglas did what he could to keep Matt from going into his “fits” (as Douglas called them). Douglas taught me how to surf my kayak on the big, following waves.

About this writing practice, mimbresman says: I wanted to write on this topic but got bogged down each time I started. Finally I decided to make a chronology of memorable experiences I’ve had with water. I guess that’s what this is all about: experimentation and writing.


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I feel like I’m starting over. I feel like I don’t know anything about anything. The journey to Pennsylvania and Georgia for research and writing walked the thin line between past and present. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I would discover. It was sometimes disorienting. Each day I had to open to what was there.

Upon my return, I find myself needing rest and ground. I have gathered so much information; I’m not sure where to start. And I feel like I am at a new beginning in my writing. Perhaps in the whole way I look at my life.

The way we measure our lives tends to be in relationship to everything around us. In the interview in More About The Monkey, Natalie Goldberg talks about the distraction of Monkey Mind. But that’s not the way this feels.

What if we are not stuck in writer’s block or distracted by the monkey, but simply beginners, remembering what it felt like to ride a bike for the first time, visiting the old from a new perspective.

Beginner’s Mind.

There are many teachings on the beginner’s state of mind. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki-roshi lays out how important it is not to lose the freshness of beginner’s mind. On days I feel lost and new, and like I am starting all over, I find comfort in his words.

A piece I recently found inspiring was a post on running through rain about beginner’s body called,  starting bonus. running through rain is an excellent blog for inspiration and growth. If you are stuck on writing ideas, check out the site.

The last line of starting bonus (Beginner’s Mind is an asset. Beginner’s Body is a bonus!) links to a lecture by Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman on Beginner’s Mind. The last paragraph of the lecture sums it up:

So please, cultivate your beginner’s mind. Be willing to not be an expert. Be willing to not know. Not knowing is nearest. Not knowing is most intimate. Fayan was going on pilgrimage. Dizang said, “Where are you going?” Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?” Fayan said: “I don’t know.” Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

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I just caught from last week in The New York Observer a book review of Meryle Secrest’s Shoot The Widow: Adventures Of A Biographer In Search Of Her Subject. Secrest has published biographies on Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, Joseph Duveen, and Salvador Dali, among others. Which got me thinking, if I were to write a biography about someone, who would it be?

So, here now, in no particular order and without any concern as to whether biographies already exist about them, my Top Five Pretty Darned Interesting (But Not The Most Interesting Because I Wouldn’t Disclose On The Internet My Ideas For The Most Interesting) Subjects For A Biography:

  1. Rodney Fox, Australian “miracle survivor of one of the world’s worst shark attacks”
  2. Robbie Robertson
  3. Angelina Jolie
  4. Mary Phelps Jacob, New York socialite and recipient of the first patent in 1903 for a brassiere
  5. Antoni Gaudí, Spanish architect best known for his unfinished masterpiece Sagrada Família in Barcelona

Who would you write about if you were to write a biography?

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Time at St James, June 6th, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 -Time at St. James, by the Madison Clock Company, 1847, on the wall at St. James United Methodist Church, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Home Haiku

the thing about home
home hangs its weathered straw hat
on what used to be you

After we circled twice, the landing gear whirred and dropped with a thunk. I saw the top of Minneapolis clearly from the air. Hot, humid haze. I could not feel it. Liz said it rained and rained while I was gone. And then summer came.

I slept most of the flight, Northwest 150 from Baltimore. There was an empty seat between me and the 82-year-old man from a place 47 miles west of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

He asked me where I was going. I pointed down and said, “Here.” He asked what I did. I said, “I’m a writer.”

“What?” he said, cupping his right ear. “I’m a writer,” I repeated, a little more loudly.

He said, “I’ve written two books. I started a boarding school in South Dakota many years ago. The first book’s about that. The second is about, uhh, my family and my kids. My wife and I have held each other together for 56 years.”

“That’s a long time,” I said.

The man had cauliflower ears, a wide-brimmed straw hat, round Buddha belly that rolled over his belt, faded jeans with one of those western buckles, big-framed glasses, navy T-shirt, and a large, beige hearing aid. I smiled at him when I could muster it. But mostly I stared at the diminishing feet between me and the ground.

My mind rambled over the last few weeks. Then we landed.

Liz threw me the biggest kiss when she scooped me up at baggage. She’s glad I’m home. I’m glad to be home. And there is a sadness about it, too. All the connections I made, the bridges I walked.

Doors have opened to me, people from the past who remember who I was. Now I find myself missing them.

Twenty, thirty, forty years. There are not many people left who knew the girl I used to be.

Which home is home?

The answer to the riddle: every home is home.

For the time that it is home.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

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This Wednesday is our dramatic reading of Pablo Neruda poetry. All day I walk around the house reciting the poems, stumbling over words in Spanish. I have to say them over and over, first to learn to enunciate each word, then to hear the rhythm of the words together, finally to understand their meaning.

Our performance follows the chronology of Neruda’s life in poems. We start with his early love poems, published in 1923 (when Neruda was only 20 years old!) in a collection called Veinte Poemas de Amor. Many years later, Neruda said this:

Veinte Poemas de Amor make a painful book of pastoral poems filled with my most tormented adolescent passions. It is a book I love because, in spite of its acute melancholy, the joyfulness of being alive is present in it…I wrote in a long, slender-bodied abandoned lifeboat left over from some shipwreck. The sky overhead was the most violent blue I have ever seen. I don’t think I have ever again been so exalted.

Next we cover poems Neruda wrote while serving a series of honorary consulships that took him to East Asia, Europe, and throughout South America. Neruda wrote Solo La Muerte during this time. Of all the poems we’ll be covering on Wednesday, Solo La Muerte is my favorite. 

The first time I read it in rehearsal, I couldn’t get the emphasis right on certain syllables in the many words I rarely used. The director told me to practice, to say the poem 17 times out loud if I had to. Now the verses roll out in a deep, ethereal voice. I wonder how could Neruda at such a young age have known death so well? Then I read this quote and everything makes sense.

I had only solitude open to me. That time was the loneliest in my life. Yet I also recall it as the most luminous, as if a lightning flash of extraordinary brightness had stopped at my window to throw light on my destiny. My work progressed very slowly. Distance and a deep silence separated me from my world, and I could not bring myself to enter wholeheartedly into the alien world around me. If the very air he breathes does not enter into the poet, his poem is dead: dead because it has not had a chance to breathe.

I read somewhere recently that Neruda is often thought of as either a poet of love or a poet of politics. I thought I knew him as both, but I realize now I never really knew him. What I know now is his political poems transform me. I nearly spit the names of dictators (“the dictatorship of flies”) he ticks off in his poem La United Fruit Co.:

          Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
          Carías flies, Martínez flies,
          Ubico flies, damp flies
          of humble blood and marmelade,
          drunken flies that buzz over the common graves,
          circus flies, clever flies
          well versed in tyranny.

Neruda’s political fire, it’s said, was started with the Spanish Civil War and the murder of García Lorca. Neruda operated inside and outside the political system. He was elected senator of the Republic, he joined the Communist party of Chile, he protested on behalf of striking miners and for a time lived in exile. I read the following quote and it ignites in me this question: Who are today’s “Pablo Nerudas”?

Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. Arsonists, warmongers, wolves hunt down the poet to burn, kill, sink their teeth into him. The Spanish Fascists started off the war in Spain by assassinating its greatest poet. But poetry has not died; it has a cat’s nine lives. They harass it, they drag it through the street, they spit on it and make it the butt of their jokes, they try to strangle it, throw it into prison, and it survives every attempt with a clear face and a smile as bright as grains of rice.

As the first bullets ripped into the guitars of Spain, when blood instead of music gushed out of them, my poetry stopped dead like a ghost in the streets. From then on, my road met everyman’s road. And suddenly I saw that from the south of solitude I had moved to the north, which is el pueblo, the people, whose sword, whose handkerchief my humble poetry wants to be, to dry the sweat of its vast sorrows and give it a weapon in the struggle for bread.

I have no answers. I’m touched by this poet in a way I never was before. I don’t pretend to know much about him still. Yet somehow, he’s getting through.

Try it. Pick a poem by someone you know is great but whose greatness, perhaps, you’ve never truly known. Read that poem out loud 17 times. Read it in an empty house. Read it until you shout it, you drone it, you channel it. Read it until it starts to become yours.

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Death Dancing Drunk, detail from retablo by folk artist and santero Claudio Jimenez, photo © 2007 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
Solo La Muerte

Hay cementerios solos, 
tumbas llenas de huesos sin sonido,
el corazón pasando un túnel
oscuro, oscuro, oscuro,
como un naufragio hacia adentro nos morimos,
como ahogarnos en el corazón,
como irnos cayendo desde la piel al alma.

Hay cadáveres,
hay pies de pegajosa losa fría,
hay la muerte en los huesos,
como un sonido puro,
como un ladrido sin perro,
saliendo de ciertas campanas, de ciertas tumbas,
creciendo en la humedad como el llanto o la lluvia.

Yo veo, solo, a veces,
ataúdes a vela
zarpar con difuntos pálidos, con mujeres de trenzas muertas,
con panaderos blancos como ángeles,
con niñas pensativas casadas con notarios,
ataúdes subiendo el río vertical de los muertos,
el río morado,
hacia arriba, con las velas hinchadas por el sonido
        de la muerte,
hinchadas por el sonido silencioso de la muerte.

A lo sonoro llega la muerte
como un zapato sin pie, como un traje sin hombre,
llega a golpear con un anillo sin piedras y sin dedo,
llega a gritar sin boca, sin lengua,
       sin garganta.
Sin embargo sus pasos suenan
y su vestido suena, callado como un árbol.

Yo no sé, yo conozco poco, yo apenas veo,
pero creo que su canto tiene color de violetas húmedas,
de violetas acostumbradas a la tierra,
porque la cara de la muerte es verde,
y la mirada de la muerte es verde,
con la aguda humedad de una hoja de voileta
y su grave color de invierno exasperado.

Pero la muerte va también por el mundo vestida de escoba,
lame el suelo buscando difuntos,
la muerte está en la escoba,
es la lengua de la muerte buscando muertos,
es la aguja de la muerte buscando hilo.

La muerte está en los catres:
en los colchones lentos, en las frazadas negras
vive tendida, y de repente sopla:
sopla un sonido oscuro que hincha sábanas,
y hay camas navegando a un puerto
en donde está esperando, vestida de almirante.

Only Death

There are lone cemeteries,
tombs filled with soundless bones,
the heart passing through a tunnel
dark, dark, dark;
like a shipwreck we die inward
like smothering in our hearts,
like slowly falling from our skin to our soul.

There are corpses,
there are feet of sticky, cold gravestone,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
like a bark without a dog,
coming from certain bells, from certain tombs,
growing in the dampness like teardrops or raindrops.

I see alone, at times,
coffins with sails
weighing anchor with pale corpses, with dead-tressed women,
with bakers white as angels,
with pensive girls married to notaries;
coffins going up the vertical river of the dead,
the dark purple river,
upward, with the sails swollen by the sound
        of death,
swollen by the silent sound of death.

To resonance comes death
like a shoe without a foot, like a suit without a man,
she comes to knock with a stoneless and fingerless ring,
she comes to shout without mouth, without tongue,
        without throat.
Yet her steps sound
and her dress sounds, silent as a tree.

I know little, I am not well acquainted, I can scarcely see,
but I think that her song has the color of moist violets,
of violets accustomed to the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death is green,
with the sharp dampness of a violet
and its dark color of exasperated winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
she licks the ground looking for corpses,
death is in the broom,
it is death’s tongue looking for dead bodies,
it is death’s needle looking for thread.

Death is in the cots:
in the slow mattresses, in the black blankets
she lives stretched out, and she suddenly blows:
she blows a dark sound that puffs out the sheets,
and there are beds sailing to a port
where she is waiting, dressed as an admiral.
Solo la muerte was first published in Residencia de la Tierra (1933); Translation from Neruda: Selected Poems, Ed. Nathaniel Tarn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.

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The Last Magnolia, June 9th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Last Magnolia, June 9th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Found on the grounds of Richmond Academy in Augusta, Georgia. My mother went to high school there. School had long been out. And we were taking one last drive around Augusta before leaving for home. I picked up this giant magnolia leaf on the way back to the car after photographing the exterior of the building. The driveway into the school was deserted except for the huge magnolia trees lining the road. The leaves rattled in the wind and crunched under my feet. One lone man sat against a brick pilar as we drove away.

Monday, June 11th, 2007

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Sweet William, June 10th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sweet William, Sunday, June 10, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

We completed the 11 hour drive from Georgia to Pennsylvania at midnight last night. We took our time driving, soaking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, whizzing under the green sign for Virginia Tech, stopping at the Waffle House and Cracker Barrel for slow, relaxing meals.

My mother and I were both exhausted this morning. We slept late and I woke up to a pot of French Roast. “Let’s sit on the breezeway and drink our coffee,” Mom said. “I’m exhausted.” I knew exactly how she felt. It was something I had not bargained for.

I wonder what color exhaustion is?

It is something to consider when planning to research a memoir. Note to self – next time plan in down days, days of silence, writing, and processing. If you go, go, go you are bound to hit a wall. I’ve been away from the routines of home for 15 days. I’m longing for time to myself. To process. Write. To sit with everything.

For now, I’m heading over the river to see my brother’s new place. This time the Susquehanna. The color of exhaustion is not the Sweet William from my mother’s backyard. But their vibrancy gives me hope that I will feel electric and rested again.

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

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I run after certain words… I catch them in mid-air, as they buzz past; I trap them, clean them, peel them, I set myself in front of the dish, they have a crystalline texture to me, vibrant, ivory, vegetable, oily, like fruit, like algae, like agates, like olives… And I stir them; I shake them; I drink them; I gulp them down; I mash them; I garnish them; I let them go…

               –Pablo Neruda, date unknown, translated by C. MacCullum.

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Holding My Breath, watercolor and ink painting, ybonesy 2007, all rights reserved
Holding My Breath, watercolor and ink painting, © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

  1. Holding my breath when I drive by a cemetery, else spirits of the dead will invade my lungs. (Present. Given to me by my husband. Something he did as a child. Now it belongs to our family.)
  2. Checking all the locks on doors and windows in the house at night before bed. (Present. New, ever since we moved into the big house. Before that we lived for 16 years without ever locking our doors.)
  3. Making a sign of the cross right before my flight takes off. (Present. Limited mostly to international flights.)
  4. Making a sign of the cross any time I drive by a church. (Past. Picked up from my sister who’s six years older than me. She still does it and so do her daughters. The other day I pulled up to a red light at the corner where an old Catholic church sits. A man in a big service truck made the sign of the cross, and it reminded me of my sister.)
  5. Turning all the pennies so Abe Lincoln is staring at the dealer in games of Black Jack or Poker. (Present, although I don’t play much anymore. Given to me by my grandma. We played cards almost every day when we visited. Dealer almost always goes bust when this ritual is used.)
  6. Not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk lest I break my mother’s back. (Present but sporadic. I did catch myself last week doing it on the walk from my car to my work building.)
  7. When putting the girls to bed, saying Good-night (me), sleep tight (them), don’t (me) let (them) the bedbugs (me) bite (them). (Present. We even do it over the phone if I’m traveling.)
  8. Scratching the roof of the car while driving through a yellow light. (Past. Again, my sister. I wonder if she still does it.)
  9. Picking up my feet while driving over railroad tracks. (Past. Her again. I realize her rituals were a big part of why I loved her so much. I should tell her that.)

-from Topic post, Rich In Ritual.

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 Edges, Thursday, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Edges, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, all photos © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

It was 96 degrees at 5pm. Mom and I did a quick geocache in Martinez, Georgia, right off of Columbia Road and Buckboard Drive. Geobrother, who has logged more than 1000 caches, gave us a few tips. I have barely learned to use a GPSr. Mostly I depend on Liz who easily navigates geocache land with stealth and grace.

When we got to the cache site, Church of Our Savior stood in the middle of a drive around circle. Cars were parked on theLabyrinth, center detail, Martinez, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. grass, edging their front bumpers up to the hedge. We spotted a cool resting place next to the path and grabbed a pen, handwritten directions, GPSr, and Canon gear. When we turned the corner past the hedge, there it was, a beautiful brick paved labyrinth. Mom knew it was there because she had been talking to my brother earlier. But I had not been clued in. I was gleefully surprised.

I told Mom about walking the labyrinth at Carondelet as part of my practice during the writing Intensive last year. The pattern at Church of Our Savior drew a familiar map – a medieval replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. I couldn’t have been happier. Mom immediately spotted the high resting cache, Inward Peace, from the edge of the labyrinth. Liz will be ecstatic. It’s our first cache in Georgia.

Geobrother’s map of found caches goes all the way up and down the East Coast. Liz’s goes from East to West – Maryland all the way out to Wyoming. And now we can add Georgia. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll grab a cache in South Carolina before we leave for the far north on Saturday.

Oleander, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.For those who love labyrinths, there is a great tool out there called World-Wide Labyrinth Locator. You can type in a zip code, city, country, or state and up pops a list of addresses and descriptions of labyrinths in the area. Some have photographs and there are details of the architect and model, and whether the labyrinth is grass, brick, dirt, concrete, painted, mowed, or buffed.

We didn’t have a chance to walk the whole labyrinth this afternoon. Though I did take a few photographs of Mom winding toward center. The brick red against summer green created high-contrast beauty. The surrounding inner path was lined in oleander. Only the evergreen leaves were present but I was taken by their shape and beauty. Oleanders are also poisonous and loaded with myth and history. My mother knows all the plants down here, most which bloom in stunning and fragrant color. I have spent much of the trip asking her detail names of plants and trees.

Magnolias, miniature gardenias , crepe myrtle, mimosa, yucca, and lantana to attract the butterflies and bees, are only a Lantana, Augusta, Georgia, June 6th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.few. We saw a brilliant lantana yesterday when we stopped to see a home that had been in my family. The same woman Mom met last year when she brought my youngest brother down was standing outside the house, tending her plants.

“Remember me,” Mom laughed. And the woman said, “Yes, sure I do,” as she walked toward the car for a chat. She said she used to visit her own grandmother in the same house.

I asked her if I could take a photograph and she graciously agreed. When I stepped behind the chain-link fence, the squat, bushy lantana was to the left, covered in dipping butterflies and darting, fat bees. And that’s when my step-dad and mom piped up about the nickname, Ham and Eggs. I kept being amazed at their knowledge of the plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers surrounding them. It reminded me of what Natalie said about knowing the trees in her neighborhood, about paying attention to the details of our environment. It’s important to know what surrounds us in earth, sky, and water.

I felt glad my parents were in tune with the history of the land around them. And I knew they had passed that down to me. I felt joy at spending that kind of time with them. As an adult, I have come to appreciate the unpredictable and solid makings of a family. For the hundreds of times in my youth when I wanted to run the other way, there are only moments left to discover what I might have missed.

Brick by Brick, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Brick by Brick, labyrinth in Martinez, Georgia, June 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 8th, 2007

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Cassi’e’s Porch 1876, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Great, Great Grandfather & Grandmother on Cassie’s Porch 1876, copy shot June 5th, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cassie's House 1876, Augusta, Georgia, June 5, 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cassie’s House 1876, copy shot June 5, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

We spent the day driving around Augusta, looking for landmarks, visiting cemeteries and churches. The synchronicities continue to happen, right down to the prime parking spaces on Broad Street. When we arrived at the 150-year-old St. James church where my mother had gone as a child, there just happened to be a woman there who had attended Sunday School with my Aunt Evelyn. She knew the whole history of St. James church and gave us a long tour.

Then we travelled out to a cemetery where my great grandmother Elizabeth is buried. Three of us scoured nearly every row on foot in the heat and humidity and could not find the gravestone. We were sweaty and tired and about to give up. But not until after one more pass. The last time was the winner. My step-dad stopped the truck on a hunch, stepped out and walked over to the exact spot where my great grandmother is buried, then pointed down, and smiled. It was one of those Kodak moments.

I wonder if it was the blue moon last week or the stars aligning in Taurus? Wait, are we still in Taurus? Maybe the tide has turned.

But what I want to say is that in the photos above my great, great grandfather Moses is in the foreground and my great, great grandmother Martha stands behind him on the porch of their 1876 home. My great Aunt Cassie was probably one of the children in the photograph. We used to visit her when I was a child. I have memories of her there, greeting us at the door.

The photos below were taken of the house yesterday. I stepped along the same brick sidewalk my ancestors walked a century ago on hot and dusty summer days. Details like this urge me on down into the deeper family history.

I scoured the photos to see what had changed, what had stayed the same. I remember the gray picket fence was there when I was a child in the 60’s. It’s not there now. I imagine the post in front of the tree might have been for hitching a horse. It was gone but we did see quite few cement hitching posts as we drove around downtown Augusta. That’s got to be a different tree growing in front of the house. But I find the overall structure to be generally unchanged.

How all this will play out in the memoir, I don’t yet know. I’m in the thick of it now. Full scale gathering. I need time to sit with all the pieces. What about place makes it home? The history here in the South is rich and controversial. But it’s simplistic and naive to think history is anything but gray.  You can’t lump everyone into broad, polarized categories. History is about individual people’s lives.

There was cactus growing on some of the cemetery plots, rooted deep in the sandy, dry soil. The thunderstorms of the last few days were greatly needed. Later, all of this will flow through me like rain and sink down on to the page. Living twice. Through writing I can experience everything twice. Each time I come here, I leave with more details. And a few more pieces of how place becomes home.
Cassie’s House 2007, June 6, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cassie’s House 2007, June 6, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Cassie’s Porch, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.     

-Cassie’s Porch 2007, June 6, 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

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Island of Pine and Clay, Clarks Hill Dam, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Island of Pine and Clay, Clarks Hill Dam, June 3, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Have you ever made love under a rustic waterfall or on the sand at Cannon Beach, Oregon (it doesn’t feel as romantic as it looks in the movies). Have you soaked in a natural hot springs in New Mexico or dipped in a sulphur pool on a canoe trip along the Nahanni River in southern Canada? Have you ever flown in a  seaplane?

Tell me everything you know about water. Here are 20 useful water facts to get you started. Did you know your brain is made up of 70% water, the lungs weigh in at 90%, the body can be all the way up to 60%. How many times a day do you shower? What’s the longest you’ve gone without brushing your teeth? Have you ever heard of the human squeegee?

Would you rather live in the desert or along a lake, river, or stream? Did you honeymoon at Niagara Falls? When’s the last time you walked slowly in the rain? When did you learn to swim, who taught you, were you wearing water wings? How long can you hold your breath underwater? What are your first memories of water.

Do a writing practice on everything you know about water. Then choose a memory and write it down adding as many details as you can.

 Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

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