Heaps of Words

I’m a fan of words. I used to spend time browsing the dictionary. Indeed, I don’t know what happened to that habit, though I suppose the convenience of an online version had something to do with it. Well, that and the fact the Ex took the humongous dictionary and I’ve yet to procure for myself a big, honking dictionary that weighs 50 lbs.

Someday I hope to own a complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s looking less likely – the publishers are suggesting they’re going to quit offering a print version. I suppose it’s possible to browse an electronic copy, but the aesthetics are going to be compromised. Of course, I have no idea where I’d find room to put the twenty volumes of the complete set, but I’m quite sure I’d have fun figuring it out. Less fun would be the process of trying to justify spending $995 (plus shipping).

Truly, yea verily, I do love words.

I can’t remember the first time I encountered magnetic poetry; nor can I remember if I actually squealed with delight or just remember it that way. I do remember delight turning to dismay when I looked at the price tag. A pittance in comparison to the OED, they hit the market about the time buying a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s was a major budget decision. The sets were expensive. If comparison shopping and looking at the price per word, magnetic poetry is far more expensive ($12 for 200 words) than the OED ($995 for 59,000,000 words). The magnets are sold in sets with themes – Shakespeare, haiku, erotica, food, etc. Choosing just one set was beyond my ability. After all, and is my favorite word. I wouldn’t consider owning just one or two volumes of the OED – when I want something, I want it all. It’s not likely there are enough themes to come close to 59 million words. It would be quite a feat to spend nearly a grand on magnets. While I do want it all, all does not include the Guiness Book of Records for most magnetic poetry sets.

Magnetic poetry stayed in vogue long enough for the budget to ease up. I was able to partake. In fact, the sets are still available although I’m not likely to find them in convenience stores like I could at the height of their popularity.

While I wasn’t an early adopter, I embraced the trend with fervor making up for lost time. As usual, I didn’t just wade in – I swan dived. I have hundreds of tiny magnetic pieces in stark black and white to jump start my creative engine. While I didn’t procure each and every word printed on a flexible magnet, I’m no dilettante either.

As did most folks, I placed my single-word magnets on the refrigerator. I’d wander by and move words into phrases, phrases into lines, lines skewing to Scrabble-like configurations. Eventually, I decided it would be more fun and far more comfortable to recline while wallowing in words. Ever mindful of my needs, the magnetic poetry folks manufactured a spiffy board to allow me to do just that. The refrigerator was denuded, words were arranged on a black metallic sheet and an old, pseudo-Chinese tin was used to store the excess pieces. All these accoutrements of my Inner Poet now reside on the étagère in the guestroom.

[I’m thinking of moving them back to the refrigerator. I spend more time near the refrigerator (as my hips will attest) than I do the guestroom. I miss sliding words around while waiting for water to boil or, too often these days, cherry pie to cool.]

Like every moody teenage girl (is that redundant?), I wrote poetry. With one exception it was all the purest of pure dreck. The one exception wasn’t all that good, but I labored for days to successfully fit my thoughts into the singsong, rhyming cadence I thought defined poetry. And I did so without it sounding like Dr. Seuss. It was a success of sorts and the subject meant a lot to me.

With enough reading, most former teenage poets figure out their poems were awful. The realization sometimes provokes cringing embarrassment and secretive literary bonfires. In my case, I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would carefully press them into a scrapbook to prove I was once young. I would also pull them out when I needed a good laugh. We’re talking bad – very bad. My poetry was maudlin, giddy, wistful, angry, lovesick, sentimental and jaded – sometimes all of that in just one line. Bad. Very bad.

The overriding charm of magnetic poetry is the end result isn’t supposed to be good as much as it’s supposed to be quirky. Moreover, unlike writing “real poetry”, composition is fun precisely because one doesn’t have 59 million words to sift through in search of the exact perfect word to capture the thought. Even for me, 59 million magnetic pieces is way too much to embrace. (The OED Magnetic Poetry Kit? Can you imagine? Do you think the publishers considered such a beast? Should they? Personally, I’m having a ball imagining the size of that refrigerator. Scaffolding to retrieve the ice cream?)

There’s also the Mmmmm Factor of selecting a few pieces at random and finding a word combination that doesn’t exist in nature, but should. Is that not one of the features of great poetry?

At times, times like today, I find myself wanting to sit down and write. During some of those times, including today, I find that desire be damned, I can’t render a single thought to put down on paper or in pixels. When such occurs, I dip into the Chinese tin and pull out 13 words. I don’t know why I select 13, but I do.

Today’s 13 are:

  • Universe
  • Change
  • Know
  • They
  • Those
  • Trust
  • When
  • Champagne
  • Rhythm
  • Pick
  • Question
  • Yesterday
  • Laugh

[Mmmmmm…champagne rhythm]

Champagne Rhythm

Would you laugh at the question?

When tomorrow knows
yesterday’s tango love
must trust the universe
not to change the tempo
to the sharp, sticky staccato
of jack and coke.

Spurred two-step missteps
impaling tender cherries
on a midnight plastic pick.
Sweet strawberries wafting
at the bottom of a hollow flute.

Waiting for violins.
Not knowing there’s
a shot glass for every state,
a rhythm for every beat,
a crystal ice bucket littered with
souvenir corks of The Widow.

Dance with me?

And now you know why I gave up poetry.  Leonard Cohen, however, is very good at what he does.

Comin’ Home

Feel so good.
Feel so good.

The Comin’ Home

I thinks
one reason
I be leavin’
alla time
is ’cause
the comin’ home
so good

–Kirk Judd

After all these years, I still get a rush when I drive up the hill and see my home waiting for me.  It’s especially sweet after a week or two away, but I still get that same rush just coming home from work.

The rougher the day, the sweeter it is to see the barn sitting there like a monolith waiting for me.

Kirk Judd’s poem (above) has resonated with me since the very first time I heard him recite it.  I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about how I love West Virginia, but if I’ve left any doubt, I love this pile of wood just as much.  (Some would say in defiance of all reason.)

Last night, coming home from work, I was tired and cranky.  Just seeing the barn lit up like a Thomas Kincaid painting lifted my spirts.  Even the fact that the door had blown open didn’t dampen my spirits.  The comin home feel so good.

Where is that place that you go to that provides the sense of peace and comfort?  The cocoon that shelters you from Real Life?

Cherish your humble and silky life

Dw on the peony.

Dew on the peony.


This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open –
pools of lace,
white and pink –
and all the day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities –
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again –
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

— Mary Oliver

White Antherium and The Lady of Shalott

White Antherium and John William Waterhouse Print

White Antherium and John William Waterhouse Print

I like Tennyson ‘s poem The Lady of Shalott and, consequently, I like John William Waterhouse’s painting inspired (I think) by the poem.  At great expense, I framed a cheap print and hung it over my faux fireplace.   The glass of the framing is reflecting the atrium door and the lushness of my private forest that all this damn rain has provoked.   (There are blessings even in the annoyances of life.)  The Waterhouse painting and the Tennyson poem have significance for me.  I’m particularly struck by the line “I am half-sick of shadows.” 

It’s been a rough time for those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and/or Clinical Depression.  That line resonates because whenever I bottom out the sentiment hauls me back up.  I am heartily sick of shadows.  All this rain isn’t helping, but I’m on my way back up.  Here’s Tennyson’s poem:  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road run by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower’d Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, ” ‘Tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott.”

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance —
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right —
The leaves upon her falling light —
Thro’ the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”


Pear Blossoms


The pear tree is blossoming.

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,
he gazes forward to the city in the distance—always

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.
Why don’t I share his one-minded happiness?
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia

and yearning. He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs
and notes, my desire to make them pause.
Is that the lesson? That stasis, this holding on,

is not life? Now I’m smiling, too—the late cherry,
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.

Ted Kooser – Poet Laureate (2004-2006)

2009 Gardenpalooza

The before picture.  (No after photo expected anytime soon.)

The before picture. (No after photo expected soon.)

All of the cool kids seem to be blogging about their gardens and landscaping plans for this coming growing season and many of them profess to have hideous eyesores of yards wherein Something Must Be Done. Janis has gone so far as to propose a competition for the ugliest before picture. I’ve warned them that I will win hands down.

I suspect they think I’m exaggerating. I’m trying to suppress my shame and summon courage to post a recent photo to be used as a “before” – but besides the horrific embarrassment of such, I’m concerned there will be so little difference between the “before” and “after” shots that I’ll have to move out-of-state to cope with the social snubbing that will surely result if I manage to survive the “before” shot. As I said in a comments section somewhere, I already feel like the geeky girl in off-brand jeans and Payless tennis shoes sitting in the back corner of the cafeteria. While I have often been decidedly uncool, I have never felt particularly uncool. It’s really uncomfortable as well as a conundrum.

I know what to do. I mostly know how to do it. The problem is one of cash flow, time and memories. For years, I ranted about how I never seemed to have money and time at the same time with the implication being I did have one or the other. Right now, I have neither.

I am plotting and planning my 2009 Gardenpalooza, but my methodology is significantly different. There are no seed catalogs, landscaping companies, or brawny men involved. There is me, a wheelbarrow with a flat tire, an aging lawnmower, and a fair amount of determination.

I blame my parents. I was not adequately prepared as a child for the perils of my genetic makeup.

My parents garden. My grandparents gardened. My great-grandparents had a huge commercial farm and apple orchard. I, so I said, couldn’t see the fun of mucking around in the dirt. But genes will tell in the long run. Scientists don’t rightly know what flips genes in the “off” position into the “on” position but they’re grant writing up a storm to figure it out.

I have quite a bit of land in bad need of landscaping. Years ago, when the world was still new, I surveyed the gravel, clay, fallen tree branches, construction debris, and broken lawn mower from my kitchen window.  I decided This Will Not Do.

How hard can it be? (Veteran gardeners will recognize this as famous last words. Poverty-stricken gardeners will cover their eyes in memory of the horror. I’m sorry, but I have a tale to tell. Don’t read if you’re fearful your PTSD will kick in.)

I raked. I threw stuff away. I burned brush. I got a shovel and tried to dig in wet clay.

This, I said, is hard work.


You just can't call this soil. You can't.

My dad ambled up the hill and said, “What are you doing?”

I told him. He scuffed his boot in my clay/grave/bedrock and said, “Good luck.” 

I borrowed his wheelbarrow and dumped tons of chopped up leaves (which I did with the lawnmover I had to fix first) to mix with the clay. I bought Rodale’s Organic Gardening. I tossed in bags of lime.

No good.

Even I could tell nothing was going to grow in that mess.

The husband asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I told him I wanted a load of topsoil.

Do y’all have any idea how much dirt there is in 10 tons of topsoil? Do you also know that you will win Mother of the Year if you have a small child and you have 10 tons of topsoil dumped in a heap in your yard? I had urchins in towel capes scrambling up and down the mountain of dirt playing King of the Hill. I lost Mother of the Year when it dawned on Chef Boy ‘R Mine the hill was disappearing for “mama’s flowers”.

One wheelbarrow at a time, I moved that dirt – by myself. The ex made it clear this was my stupid idea and not his which was kind of fair. I didn’t help him with his stupid ideas either.

Being A Poor Person of Considerable Financial Plight, we popped our wad on topsoil so there wasn’t any money for landscape timbers and whatnot. So I dragged deadfall small trees out of the woods to use in lieu. After the grueling work of leveling a 30x 50 plot, I returned to mixing in the chopped leaves. I read some books and talked to the County Extension Agent and realized this still wasn’t going to do.

I heard through the grapevine about a horse farm that would give me all the manure I wanted, but I had to go get it. I borrowed Dad’s truck and went to the farm with a shovel. (The wreck on the way is another story that I may or may not recount at a later date.)

Do you have any idea how much crap you can put in the bed of a full sized pick up? A lot.

I dug in manure and leaves.

Finally, well past planting time, I was ready to go.

I stood out there one morning, exhausted and poor, and scattered zinnia seeds I’d found priced at 10 packages for a buck with an expiration date years gone by. I also tossed in some grass seed in the middle of the plot.

In spite of all this work, I still had a plot of garden space that was not plant friendly. The guy who originally built this place did so after blasting the top of the hill, trucking in tons of gravel so he could park semitrucks up here. I sit on bedrock. What little soil formation that occurred during normal geologic processes was compacted by big rigs. At most, I had provided any future plants a total of 6 inches for root development.

Those zinnias germinated and grew and bloomed their fool heads off. So did the grass. I had never been so awed by the miracle of life since my son’s birth in 1985. I remember standing at the kitchen window that started it all gaping in astonishment at the riot of color made even more colorful by a misty rain and clouds settled into the holler. I about died of the beauty.

The mania was on.

Chef Boy 'R Mine

Chef Boy 'R Mine

Over the years, I dug and worked, poor for most of it, on the kitchen garden – developing it into a not unimpressive (though not worthy of Southern Living) cottage garden. It was my meditation, my exercise, my hobby, my stress relief, my what-do-you-do-for-fun answer. I clocked hours in the garden. Eventually, lawn furniture appeared and the entire family lost hours sitting there for morning coffee or sitting there at dusk with a cold beer and blues wafting from the stereo through that same kitchen window. As the garden became Truly A Thing Of Beauty, we spent more time in the garden than we did in the house.

For a lot of reasons, too complicated to explain, the kitchen garden has gone wild. In the period that I had money, but no time I would frown a lot when I stood at the window. The past few years, I’ve attempted to tame it, but the wild raspberry and wild rose that have invaded it have teamed up with poison ivy to make working in it a Bad Thing.

I am resolved that this year, even if I end up in the ER with severe thorn wounds and poison ivy, I will reclaim the garden. I will do so if I have to do it by flashlight. It’s not going to be easy or even mildly difficult. It’s going to be a righteous bitch. A sane person would burn it and start over. But it’s an heirloom garden so to speak – my great-grandmother’s irises are in there as are my best friend’s daylilies. My mom and I dug the irises out of Mother’s garden the day we took her to the nursing home. I dug the daylilies out of my best friend’s garden the day we buried her.

The roses were gifts. The creeping juniper came from a friend and my son and I dug the dogwood out of the forest one unseasonably cold fall day. My grocery store clerk gave me some stuff as did my drycleaner. Students at the university brought in “extra plants” from their parents’ gardens. I can’t remember what year it was, but I planted 100s of daffodils that multiplied until they were so crowded they didn’t bloom well.

So. I can’t just burn it to ground level and start over. Garden reclamation is going to be ugly. Expect whining.

While I’m doing that, I also have the patio garden to finish. It was the same bedrock mess. I’ve got one small area that still needs topsoil. I’m hoping to put vegetables in there. Or at least tomatoes. And the garlic – an ex-boss of mine gave me some heirloom garlic that her neighbors’ great-grandmother brought from Italy when they immigrated here. I’m told it’s the best garlic on the planet. Besides finishing the patio garden, I may have to re-do a lot of it. Annie, the rescue Labrador retriever, had a severe psychosis about plants and wreaked her havoc during drought. Coupled with that, this winter has been very harsh. I suspect I’ve lost most of the plantings I’ve put in the past 3 years. I will be very sad. I actually spent big money on some of this stuff.

I am now, once again, a Poverty Stricken Person, so all of this has to be done very cheap. Expect not just whining, but Major Whining.