Bref Double and a Break

Not that I want to but I need to float off for a bit from here. Please come back! I’ll likely continue to post on Instagram, but less often. It’s time to FOCUS.

I’ll leave you with two responses to a prompt from the retreat, both using a poetic structure listed below. I paid attention to the rhyme scheme, you’ll see, but not the line lengths.

Bref Double, One

The mist rolls, sheer scalloped grace.
Curls floating past trees
echoing the canopy’s curve,
hurrying somewhere I want to go.

The hills rise sturdy and silent.
Clouds come and go and leave no trace.
Mountains like a tolerant mother meeting
a toddler’s antics, squatting low

to grin and meet him, where he is, face
to face, nose to nose, abiding
in connection, eschewing haste.
Such moments seem more than we deserve.

Sturdy love. Isn’t it a disgrace
to reject what’s here, adopt strictures,
go quiet and lose our heart, our verve?

Bref Double, Two

Tardiva points, a flurry
of misdirection, while clouds
creep and float, aligned with
the mountains. Purpose.

Or is it conspiracy? Ridges hold blue,
their stillness a contrast to sliding
mist, while gauze clouds above
wander, roll, tell secrets unheard of

by us. Crickets act as jury
to the crime of vacancy
while low-lying lichen, furry
almost, in ruffled patterns, gifts

the eye. Yellowed leaves, the color of curry
hint at how soon the season’ll leave us bereft.

Western Mass is good for the soul. So is writing.

img_5811I expressed interest late and was told the workshop was full. Facilitator, Maureen Jones, would put me on a waiting list just in case. I discussed Dog care with husband and confirmed that he wouldn’t be in Russia or China that week. Then I forgot about it.

Imagine my happy surprise to learn that a space had opened up! My writing teacher and her sister were going. We would make the trip west on Route 2 together. There was an ease and a flow to it all.

(Except for Finn, maybe, who according to K spent an awful lot of time at the side door, waiting for me).

img_5849Every morning I wake with unnameable dread. “What’s so awful, again?” I wonder. It’s how I felt after each of my parent’s deaths. It was how I felt when my sister was hospitalized in 2009. It’s how I feel most mornings now.

‘Oh, yeah, Trump. The whole awful mess.’ Which is why is was so good to get away. Not that I didn’t look at news, I did, but with rolling ancient hills stretching out in the distance in unbelievable beauty and the quiet, it was hard not to feel restored. Also, having been born not far from there and lived in the Berkshires or the Connecticut River Valley for 15 years, this is the landscape that most feels like home to me.We stopped at a funky place near Charlemont for ice cream. I passed on the sugar — it being Day 8 of my new regime.

It was hot. Really hot. There was no AC and the fan/outlet/screen situation was far from ideal. It was a big presence, the heat. It made all of us go more slowly. Some of us took regular cold showers, including me. Not tepid or body temp showers, but bursting cold showers. There was an outdoor faucet equipped with what they called a “fog nozzle” (sounds like a sex act) which delivered a delicious mist of cool water. I stood naked under it, but some enjoyed its spray fully clothed. Just to cool off. One woman had to quit early. We all understood.


img_5817We were thirteen, counting facilitator — all women (remind you of anything? Just kidding). Half the group was trained as teachers themselves but came to write as participants. Maureen Jones, pictured in closest Adirondack chair below, was lovely. She knew how to open up to the imagination AND keep time. She was thoughtful in her responses to EVERYONE and shared her own work. She helped all of us cope with the oppressive air by here and there adapting the schedule. If she judged anyone, it didn’t show.


There she is again, on the right.

The couple who ran the place produced one delicious meal after another, often featuring produce from the garden. Because I was neither procuring nor preparing food and because I was vigilantly excluding sugar (and gluten) from my diet, I DID NOT THINK ABOUT FOOD EXCEPT WHEN I WAS EATING IT. I cannot tell you how unusual and liberating this was.

I woke up in time to see the sunrise one morning. One evening, a lightening bug flew into my room and made a flashing circle around me before exiting. One afternoon there was rain and a double rainbow. Nothing like my day to day, in other words.

Next post: something about the writing part of the getaway.

Exercise in imitation of Colum McCann

Water Was

Water was refreshment. A bringer of fish. An instrument of light. A place to strip and ease the skin during blasting afternoon heat. Water was a knee baby’s source of joy. A place to gather and launder cloth.

Now, water was a shark bath, an endless stretch of grey, a bobbing, rocking, and storming transport. The repetitive slap of waves on the boat’s planks during the quieter days, delicate as it was compared to the pounding impact during torrential rain and wind, nevertheless tormented the kidnapped. The holds pulsed with the throbs of welts that puffed and stung where iron cut and abraded.  Joints vibrated in fiery ribbons of pain. Slap. Slap. Slap. Skin went sour with infection. Sick guts released over and over. Lips puffing to cracks. No wonder a slaver could be smelled two leagues off.

River-fresh water was something both less and more than memory.

The rocking made some of them sick. More seaworthy souls were sickened by the sliding puddles of vomit.  The defecation corner lasted all of one day and then it was the defecation hold, entire. In a short week and a half, dysentery would cause its floral notes to be squirted into the stew.

How could any man, tall, short, Portuguese, Dutch, English, with or without stripes, turn an entire ocean of water into such a vast jug of indignity?

Jemma vowed to appease his ancestors with blood.  Water might serve evil with its trans-Atlantic currents, but he would stand and rise on terra firma. He would stand and rise no matter the contour of the land drawing closer by the sick and sorry day.

Maghalah would be renamed “Maggie”.  The auctioneers couldn’t hear Yoruba in the syllables and the buyers didn’t care. By some stroke of weird fortune, an overseer haloed in red hair atop a face littered with freckles, such a strange sight to many of them, would buy both Maghalah and her mother, Saffron, but it would be hard to consider either the girl or her mother lucky by any other measure. Maghalah’s tiny frame would sweat and tremble all the way across the Atlantic to Sullivan’s Island. And after. The torment of the Captain’s violent privilege would not be remembered, but nor would it be forgotten. Trauma gone underground.

When the Passage and quarantine on the barrier isle were finally over, and after their sale and relocation, and during their ‘seasoning’, Saffron would comb her daughter’s hair in the pre-dawn hour and rattle on in a low voice about the acacia trees that ringed their village, about the clay along the Niger River, and ask in Yoruban, did her dear sweet girl remember the sound of women pounding cloth clean at the river, the thumps and the laughter?  Saffron worked memory like a defiant muscle. Saffron needed to speak her own tongue. Saffron wanted her daughter to remember, but wasn’t sure it helped. She no longer recognized what was balm to the soul and what constituted ongoing torture.

Home was not free of suffering, of course, but a natural order prevailed, more or less. Death might strike suddenly and heartlessly, imparting grief and ruin, but there was no one collection of people — not even competing and raiding tribes taking slaves – no one collection of people who had ever so thoroughly robbed another group of people of power and spirit and dignity, and then enforced that lowly status, savagely perpetuating it forward for twelve generations, based solely on skin color.

Though silence would become their primary language when in and among their captors, sometimes the native tongue of one or another of them would convey something immediate and raw. Such a conveyance might save a life – if the life wanted saving.  Or it might express a lyrical sentiment or nuanced observation that their broken English could not. And it mattered, even if only one other bondman in the field understood. Keening in their native language gave comfort in those early years.  Even if it was a voice of one or two, instead of the whole assembly, even if three or four languages rose in chorus, even if it was in the dark, fields and fields away from the Big House, where they were consigned to the dank, low spots of the woods, away. Small comfort as those echoes of home were, they would soon be transmuted, blended, and adapted to their new world, and faster than you might think possible.

This style exercise was written a few years ago and edited this morning, done in imitation of the opening section of “Dancer” by Colum McCann.

Though there’s some risk in publishing a couple of pages from my novel-in-progress, “Blood and Indigo,” I’m doing it anyway, partly because these pages have been rejected from the manuscript. Four of the novel’s characters show up — mother/daughter, the red-haired overseer, and Jemma. Only Jemma is based on a historic figure. He’s one of two figures consistently named in accounts of the Stono Rebellion (9/1739). The other is Cato.

All photos taken by me on an iPhone. In order: coffee pot from slave quarters at the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston; window opening and door and final house view from McLeod Plantation on James Island, sweetgrass basket was made by local African-American artisan and purchased at Charleston City Market.

Scraps and surprises

What happens when you turn it sideways and you like the subtle form visible there more than the intended (and obvious) one?

And while spritzing, pulling and pinning will correct bumps on this one, it won’t turn an unhappy experiment into something worthy of my time.

That’s how it goes sometimes.

I have no recollection of taking this picture. Should I be worried? I don’t even know where this house is.

I like all the lines and recesses and the walkway coming straight at you.

What if the photo inspires the next small cloth? It might be a fun challenge to try and capture shadow, railings, and rooflines.

What if we don’t know the purpose of our lives — not out of superficial disregard for what matters but because it is unknowable? Would that change anything? Would it strip away some layer of reflection and free those thoughts for other things?

We had rain yesterday. It’s still grey and humid and blessedly quiet. After days of porch construction next door and “Carnival Week” at the camp out back, how welcome the quiet is! The whir of fans. A dripping faucet.

Hope you all are having a good weekend! Much to share about writing retreat. It was productive. Interesting. And mostly — wonderful to be out in the rolling hills of my birth (not to be too dramatic!)

Skip the lettuce

Every now and then I like a salad without lettuce. Here’s tonight’s version:

Diced base of green pepper / Small chunks of half a tomato / two celery stalks, chopped / 3 Tbs diced red onion / small handful of chopped endive / half a chopped avocado / one small cuke, peeled and chopped / chopped herb (cilantro or parsley).

Tasty with all kinds of dressings but my favorite is a tangy vinaigrette.

This is a single serving.

* * *

Great opportunity opened up last night: got a space at a writing retreat. I had moved on it late. It was full. Forgot about it. And then: ta da! I was first on the waiting list and a spot is mine!

Not only is it being held in my old stomping grounds just outside of Northampton in central Mass., it’ll be DAYS dedicated to writing and feedback. The timing couldn’t be better!

Brutally hot here again. Finn and I started our day in the lake!

I’ll be taking about a week-long break here.

Shovel and sweat

Just worked up a sweat putting a few plants in the ground (hyssop) and transplanting a few others (the rudbeckia that is asserting itself in the front bed). I’m done in! Not even as hot as it’s been.

Fortunately, I have reserves left to pick up a pen AND GO. And, to read.

PS. The full fat compensatory strategy to help eliminate sugar is, not over, but going to be subject to scrutiny now. Just joined Weight Watchers online (again). This morning while merrily munching away found out that half a cup of cashews is almost half my day’s allotment of points. See? Better to know these things.

Critters only — studio tour

I went looking for the gift of wooden African beads from Sage Ann Hawk and could not find them. Arg! But here are congeries of critters just dying to say hello.


Well, not everyone. This guy wants you to skedaddle and fast. Perhaps he’s witnessed some worrisome antics — or maybe, he was just born with a suspicious nature. Increasingly, I’m inclined to the latter view.


Panda bears and tuxedo cats have an obvious affinity for one another! Dopey and sublime seem to like to keep company, too.Mr. Moose has taken on the thankless task of paperwork. I hope he’s up to it!

Can you find all four kinds of critters, above?
Speaking of butterflies, the top WIP was inspired by Hazel‘s word quilt and the indigo scrap was made during one of Jude’s classes – both from some years back.

Shifting layers around in the studio equals personal archeology.

There’s my beloved cat, Cindy, who lived to be 20 years old and died while I was in Dublin (having just turned 20 myself). She graciously came to me in a dream before the letter bearing the sad news arrived (although as I recall, she bore a trident and issued a warning with a very deep voice, not unlike the movie dragon Saphira from Eragon).

Aside: this pet and her years of affectionate company are why, for a spell, I resisted Hazel’s name change.

Another aside: Vineyard on the left, orthodontist’s office on the right.

Everything is a collage, really, not least of all, life itself. Bulletin boards evidence collage by their very nature, with variations afforded by cropping. “Live beautifully” might well have served as my mother’s motto (she stands in a dark sweater next to her sister). Had I snapped the picture a little to the right, I’d have captured my father, too, with each of the trio spouting a palm tree out of their heads.

I have a long and silly history with rhinos dating back to middle school, something my sister references often in a way that never feels quite neutral, but forget that. Just know — this rhino hasn’t got the time of day for you. He’s a taskmaster. Honking and snorting, “wind the goddamned bobbin, already!” (Confession:  I often stop a sewing session when the bobbin runs out. Just walk away. Often).

Oh, the things I’ve learned about alligators! Did you know that they kill their victims by pulling their limbs off and not by biting them the way sharks would?Well, even though I couldn’t find the African beads, here’s a woven belt that Sage Ann Hawk also gave me. Look how it keeps the pedestrian tape measures company, and dare I say, lends a little dignity?

* * *

P.S. Four days sugar-free and my feet were pain-free this morning. Four days!

P.P.S. Did anyone else read the New York Times magazine story about Gwyneth Paltrow? Even though I ascribe to many of the “kooky” things she peddles, I can’t stand her whole brand. The only thing that made me warm to her even a little was the mention of how awful it was to work with Harvey Weinstein — made me wonder if she might still be acting if it weren’t for him.