Ukrainian Christmas Missing

Like a missing person it seems I will never find Ukrainian Christmas again.  It is now  almost gone completely, even from my memory.  How to bring it back again?  I can’t even find a real Ukrainian person to talk to. Like the ones I saw once in Ukraine, so long ago.   Near a brook, in a meadow, in a forest, in the small thatched roof house where we took refuge from the rain, the young family priest playing an accordion… while his braided wife beamed and passed around the cherry wine…. and then the same priest again at the well one morning,… my mother said it was good luck… the scene like something from a Gogol story..I remember still the taste of homemade cherry wine….

Snow?  There is no snow. It is forty degrees today and the irises seem to be rising from the fermenting ground, the daffodils are peeking out, in and out they have peeked now for a month and a half. Several irises bloomed last month in the park across the street.  Large citron colored ones that looked good enough to eat. Everything around them looking almost wintry, because it was late autumn after all, and there they were, like something out of “Alice in Wonderland.”

There is no Christmas tree this year.  Nor last year.  Sad, because I love Christmas trees.  More than people.  They are lovelier to look at, smell better,  make the house cozy and warm, add magic and mystery in a silent way like only deep forests can…..make me happy and transport me to other places, happier places, happier times.  They don’t talk nonsense, yell,  whimper, cry or complain. They just are.   Beautiful, fragrant things that never need a bath.

Every morning I would turn theChristmas tree lights on, before I made the coffee, and later, cup in hand, sit and stare and smell, breathe every single needled pine from every forest on earth in every wild and silent place left, silent like a monastery in the clouds, where they bake good bread and tend their quiet gardens. All the Chartreuse in the world could not give me the exhiliration, the quiet thrill of that tree glowing as though with a thousand hearts, like gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the lights… ruby reds and auburns, magentas, all the shimmering clarets and Bordeauxs in cut glass goblets, all the kissed lips under the crumbling mistletoes, the old and new, the shiny and tarnished golds of ancient Venetian masks, like a painted dowager forgetting what party she was going to.

Ah the smell of the Christmas tree, especially when it started to dry just a little….. slightly sweet, powdery, woodsy and piney like an old sacred forest…. and the antique elf ornaments, the faces impish, slightly wicked,  half-smiling in the dark glinting corners of the tree, their sharply etched features like the Chinese man holding up my red lamp. More alive than me, beating like a throbbing heart, pulse pulse pulse goes the  red flaming room like a fire that doesn’t hurt or scare, just warms you through and through, and scatters rose petals up the stairs that you follow to the dark and dreamy alcoved sanctuary of quiet dreams and peaceful sleep.

I made Ukrainian borscht with mushroom dumplings again. Like my mother did.  But instead of a few hours it took two days.  My only Ukrainian gesture. Because, it is just too hard to make the complete Christmas Eve dinner of twelve courses, or even seven or eight which my family once did.  Too hard to make it right.

I am either too lazy, too unorganized, too Americanized, too materialistic, too lavish, too stupid or too thrifty… that it never works anymore.  Making the hundreds of dumplings with different doughs that often are so stiff I break my back rolling out the sheets.  Then after all that rolling, the dough still so stiff I have to take each individual dumpling square and roll it out three or four times until it is pliable enough to fill and seal with the savory mushroom filling.

Or the varenyky, the dough always works but the shape, the thickness the savoriness of the filling are always off.   Too much salt not enough salt, not enough pepper, not enough cheese, too much dill too little dill, too much oil, not enough oil.  This time it was the egg yolk.   My aunt told me the yolks made the dough tough but I ignored her advice and put it in because the woman in the Ukrainian cookbook said so. It had to be authentic, but now I know it never will be, because I am not. The woman who wrote the cook book could put the yolk in and it would work, it was probably a pure yolk from a happy singing chicken who gladly gave up this yolk to make her Christmas Eve varenyky.

I no longer sing and dance when I cook.  I swear and fume and storm around the kitchen like a whacked out stampeding elephant.   Sometimes I swear so much I feel deeply ashamed, even though I am alone in the kitchen.  I feel someone there watching.  I almost hear her sad breath, see her swollen red puffed eyes….. Can’t you do this one thing this one thing with joy and gladness? Food does not taste delicious if you make it when you are angry or mean or cursing.  Or, if your hands are not manicured and clean, if the floors are dirty or the windows and blinds dusty, if the bathrooms do not sparkle, if the beds are not made if the floors are not gleaming if the house is not flourishing with flowers and the tiny lights of the tree do not sparkle.

I started the kvas late…a mixture of fresh beets, coarse salt and sourdough bread that you start at least a solid week before making the borscht.  It adds a deep bordeaux color and a tart slightly sourish taste.  I made it 8:00 p.m. Sunday night the week before Christmas, so that meant I had to make the borscht on Christmas Eve. I used organic cheesecloth to cover the big punch bowl that I placed in the cold sunroom.

You have to tie the cheesecloth around the fermenting liquid with string.  I had no string and looked up and down the house in every drawer, shelf, pantry and even in the medicine cabinets.  How can a cook have no string?    I finally used a rubber band but trying to get it around the wide punch bowl was hard and it kept snapping almost hitting me in my frowning screwed up face, landing in the red liquid and I had to fish it out.  This organic cheesecloth got very frayed when you cut it, and little strings  of cheesecloth fell into the liquid and I had to fish it out.

Christmas Eve.   The week earlier I had lost my house keys while shoveling a foot of  snow… for some reason I kept them under my gloved hand so as not to lose them.  Dropped them somewhere in the overflowing banks of snow.  I had left the door open so was not locked out, but I worried about the keys lying somewhere in front of the house.  I spent an hour looking for them, retracing my steps, and digging up shovelfuls of snow along each and every path and throwing them up in the air to see if my rattling keys came tumbling down. Nothing.  They may turn up in a squirrel’s mouth in spring. Soaking wet I longed for a hot bath and ran upstairs to find the hot water just tepid stepped inside the bath and took it cold… ran out with wet hair damp clothes and had lunch with friends and drank too much ate too much talked too much complained too much…..worrying about my keys… if only I could find my keys…

I have been sleeping late, am always tired and crabby, and nervous. From what?  Nothing.  I did nothing.  I worried about my family, my job, the new government, (if you can call it that)… sickness and death, murders and mayhem again and again, and the weather always hovering above my head like a helicopter, a noisy, rattling mess of tubes and wires and iron and blades, screeching like some monster from the deep from the depths of heaven or hell something we made that will swallow us all up one day. With pride.  That it got rid of the stupid little beings.  Like those weird jumping spiders in the basement, they look like those flying killing machines in “The Terminator”  or those mechanical Daddy long leg spider things in the B sci-fi flicks. Killer spiders, killer mosquitos, that is what I have flying around in my basement now.  No one can tell me what they are… no one knows…. I know …they are tiny devils to make me insane…..

If only it would snow the trauma would be gone.  Yes it would.  If it snowed forever and buried this sad and sorry earth once and for all.  Make it clean again.

I’m waiting for the handyman to come because I have an outside dripping faucet that won’t stop dripping water.  I forgot to shut off the water supply to the outside faucet and now too late .. icicles forming on the house outside but not as icy white as those forming in my head my heart my soulless soul……. these fingers typing out these slanderous worlds are icicles too.

The borscht took hours to make Saturday, Christmas Eve.  Four different pots of vegetables and stocks to cook and to run through sieves and the sieves are not fine enough so I run them through coffee filters and they drip drip so slowly into the bowls.  The liquid from dried wild mushrooms are the worst.  You have to rinse the mushrooms at least five times  even after they are cooked… the cook book author does not tell you this but you have to do it otherwise there will be lots of sand and grit in every mouthful you take…. I rinsed them five times…. then the wild mushroom stock had to be sieved three times through coffee filters…..

Then, if you are not insane by the time all the liquids are sieved, the beets grated and put into the vegetable stock pot, and then drained gently so as not to cloud the broth, then you pour them all together like a witch like an alchemist like a crazy cook like a screaming vampire.  The kitchen a magenta blur of bloody spots like a murder has just taken place…. and the borscht is in the red pot and it is the deepest darkest most gleaming ruby liquid it scares you… emerging from the dark cave of your culinary treasure troves of memory and lust and greed and dust and sadness and all the mad tears you cried over mom and dad and crazy long dead friends and lovers and cousins and sisters and murdered ones…

The pot is so heavy and the fridge upstairs broke down just in time for the holiday and you have to walk the fourteen steps down into the dank and deep basement filled with decades of books and food and records and CDs and tapes and diaries and notes and recipes and magazines and the Christmas ornaments and decorations and trees you forgot to bring up.

Forgot?   How can you “Forgot”?    Forgot.  I forgot to make the kvas in time I forgot to go to church for midnight mass, I forgot to take the walk to see the hundreds of luminarias on the sidewalk on Christmas Eve I forgot to give to my favorite charity I forgot to make the flourless nut torte with the mocha frosting and I forgot to make the varenyky and I forgot to make the compote and I forgot to clean the house and I forgot to call my friends and I forgot to hold my tongue and I forgot to pray and I forgot to resole my boots and I forgot to shut the water off and I forgot forgot forgot my heart my head my mind my soul.  Soulless.  You can not have Ukrainian Christmas if you have no soul.



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“Into the Mystic”

I don’t know why I am writing about dinosaurs and Van Morrison, kicking his legs on “The Last Waltz”.  These are pictures from a thousand years ago.  He was singing “Caravan”.  He was so chubby, almost busting out of his tight pants, thrusting his legs so fiercely into the air, like a baby who doesn’t want to be born.

All those voices from long ago remind me of snow falling. Dancing, twirling, acrobats of a trillion souls. A snowflake perhaps fell on the squishy green snout of a dinosaur, roaming the world, causing earthquakes with his great trampling feet.  But the air going into those dinosaur lungs was clean, pure and sweet, like these snowflakes falling now from the inky sky.

It’s almost pitch dark and still I shovel piles and piles of snow. It is covering every inch of my house, every corner, windowsill, ledge and eave.   The roof looks like it will collapse from the snow.  Where are the little elves to come and shovel it off for me?  The snow so heavy it obliterates the Christmas greens, the holly, the cedar, the evergreen,  the spruces, the dogwood that I so painstakingly arranged in the window boxes and doorways.  Everything is being pulled down low to the ground, big clumps of snow everywhere, hanging on everything… looking like ice cream for giants…..

Christmas cards will be late again this year, the house disheveled again this year, like my messy half cut hair, my head like a pineapple, a bunch of holly like the Charlie Brown  ragged Christmas tree… my eyes bulging, lids puffed up from too much drink?  food ?  sleep?  There were flowers still in September, October and even November, so many that I gathered all the pots of blooms in late November, put them in the garage thinking I would bring them out again,….they are now tiny pink blue yellow corpses littering the once clean floor….

I just came home from a party, a lovely lavish party for very special beautiful accomplished people… the biggest of the year the biggest I will ever be invited to ever again past or future, it was very big, had the most sumptuous buffet I have ever seen, surpassing even Cinderella’s anguished soot filled dreams…

I ate and ate and almost died at the trifle bowl.  A large cut glass square with mounds of  soft whipped cream slathered with lemon curd above and beneath, the sponge made by angels in heaven…. the layers of sponge and cream studded with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and the tiniest freshest strawberries picked by someone in a  hobbit’s dream…. oh the swishing of the flavors in my mouth, the clouds swirling there with the fruits of paradise, like the house of Vermeer, where only the choicest, the tastiest, the fluffiest most velvet texture in the mouth would do for the man in the silk scarf sitting at the head of the table staring and staring at you……as though he was dressing your lips for heaven….

The luscious food went down the many passages of my throat like silken lozenges of  violets of rose petal jam of apricots kissed by a thousand suns and whipped into froth for Kings and Queens….

I spent so much time at the buffet I missed all the speeches.  I missed the King and the Queen and the distinguished company of tuxedoed men and women standing with their smartphones catching every last piece of breath on every word and then goodbye and there was still the eggnog and brandies and cognacs and more champagnes… there was so much champagne I wanted everyone to go away and I wanted to drink all the champagne and visit each and every bedazzled room with the portraits of the long and the great but not forgotten..Lincoln was there flanked by two gingerbread men and there was even a room full of candy cane dolls about to dance the “Kentucky Waltz”.

My dress started to feel tattered and torn, my lips withering from the fine wines and champagne, and the salty taste of the salmon still on my tongue.  The silky salmon with the cornichons, capers, and lemons, the perfect disks of crunchy golden brown potatoes like the tiniest latkes, bowls of creme fraiche and sour cream.  We missed the jumbo shrimp and the rich claws of crab sitting in the huge crystal bowl.  It was so lavish so rich so extravagant I was afraid to go near it because I wanted to stick my whole face in it and eat all the shrimp and crab I never had…. oh the pristine waters where they spawned…..

I wish all the brocaded, jeweled, and sparkled ones would go away.. oh I wish I was in Isle au Haut, I wish I was in Wales, I wish I was the old aunt who drank the elderberry wine in the corner of Dylan’s house and everyone laughed at her, the lonely wrinkled face and rosy cheeks because she was having a little fun, she ran outside into the snowy cold garden and started to peep and squeak like a full throttled bird….

I wish I was a dinosaur trampling the earth with his gigantic feet roaming the jungles the ice the savannahs or maybe at the bottom of his obliterating feet. I wish I could turn into a six pointed star falling from the sky or floating forever and never having to wave hello or say goodbye.

I wish I was me in another world I wish I didn’t have to hear about all the pain and suffering 10,000 miles away.   I wish I wasn’t afraid to  say “Merry Christmas” or  “Happy New Year”,  I wish there were telephones that still rang and people ran to answer them, the tiny voice coming through the lines always bringing good cheer.

I wish I could go into the Mystic with Van Morrison, I wish I knew the sages of old I wish I knew how to battle this new terror that grips my heart and very soul.   I wish I knew my soul I wish I had a soul I wish I could speak to my soul or that it would just go away.  That it would speak or shout or whisper or just take me save me fell me call me if only for a little while deep in the mystic land of far away.

It’s so cold today and still,  the sun bright neon yellow and it is a cold sun and the park is lovely but frozen, and the paths are full of ice, snow, cracks, crevices and leaves. Where are all the birds, and why do the dogs always bark and bark like banshees without end?  Oh where are the birds, where do they go, how can there be enough leaves, eaves, hollows, and shrubs to hide them all.

The river at the bus stop was clear and flowing, a few large blocks of thin ice like islands seemed to beckon me to go and sit, to lie and float away… it looked cold and clean and underneath I saw what I thought was a long carp a very long carp, or a pole, a young slender tree trunk like an old birch,  a long leather belt, a huge brown bone, a weird midwestern river snake about to jump out and grab me and take me down to the very depths of the cold water.

Oh I wish it would snow now again even after shoveling and shoveling and breathing and working and worrying all Sunday about how to get it all how to get all the white the fluff the frosty freezing six pointed star away from the house so it would not swallow me up.

This is a tundra now and I walk all bundled up like a Baba Yaga, or one of those Russian wooden dolls that go on forever and ever… a babushka all swaddled up going to Siberia… I bought a six-foot long three-foot wide scarf to protect me this winter and walking through the silent frozen park I hear something small and sweet, tinkling, like water somewhere, falling from an outstretched branch, a hand, a foot, and it’s very high in the frozen white blazing neon sky, and it is clear and pointed and fragile like a snowflake like a dinosaur, and it is beyond human understanding beyond human understanding how something so tiny, sweet and slender, made out of nothingness, could fill the park the air the sky as though it too was going into the mystic…..


A Daily Post Prompt

Posted in Bus Stop Stories, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sausage, Eggs, Honey, Maria Callas

I don’t know why I am writing about sausage, eggs and honey, accompanied by Maria Callas singing “The Gypsy Song” from the opera “Carmen”.   I don’t know why the eggs didn’t break this morning as I was holding them above the skillet tapping them with a knife.

There are different ways of breaking an egg and it depends on what you are making with that egg, what you are holding below them.  A mixing bowl a pan a little dish? One chef suggests just tapping it on a flat surface like your counter or table.  He said it works every time.  Not for me, the egg just ends up having starburst tiny lines all over it and then when you try to get the egg to split and spill its contents it is a mushy eggy shelly mess.

When I crack the egg on the side of the bowl sometimes it works and sometimes not.  My favorite way is to tap it with a butter knife along its middle.  It usually works, the egg comes out whole and the shell does not disintegrate.

I have been eating too many eggs. I love eggs.  Over easy, scrambled, poached, soft-boiled like M.F.K Fisher loved:   boil your egg very gently until the white is cooked and the yolk still runny and silky smooth.  The perfect sauce.  Then put it in a small bowl, add a pat of fresh, unsalted butter, a sprinkle of coarse salt, and a few cracks of fresh pepper. Heaven!   Unless you hate soft runny things.

I bought too many eggs over the Thanksgiving holiday, thinking there would be recipes calling for many eggs.  There was just one and now I have two cartons of eggs in the fridge that must be eaten.  By me. What is better than eggs, toast, and bacon or sausage, potatoes maybe, all crusty brown and creamy soft inside!  Jam or marmalade, steaming cups of black coffee with a little cream…especially leftover vanilla infused whipped cream from Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie…… floating on top of your black coffee and then falling down your throat like melted clouds.

Today is a cold, to some bleak morning, most of the leaves gone on the trees except the four across the street by the school, almost intact, still in shades of yellow, red and green, almost complete like persevering humans.  The peach climbing rose in the garden is still clinging to the rose arbor, the leaves green as Irish clover.

The gardener came yesterday to finish fall cleanup… picking up the rest of the leaves, scooping up the wilted mushy piles of hostas, cutting down the last of the snapdragons in the window boxes…  they were not ready to go, still sending out blooms though faded and pale. I wanted to keep them, thinking they would send out a burst of color like snapdragons often do late in fall.  But we cut them down to make room for the Christmas greens.  I should have put the greens in yesterday or the day before when it was prematurely warm.. 50’ it’s in the 30’s. Soon the dirt in the pots will be too hard and I will have to pour hot water over them and then try to stick the branches in, making what should be a wonderful happy chore into a frustrating cursing thing.

Yesterday, walking through the park, I could have stayed there forever….. the Bald Cypress’ scattering their needles in pools of thick brown velvet. I almost wanted to fall down and sleep there … the hybrid oaks like massive sculptures still holding on to their long crinkled leaves … the large yellow irises that sent out premature buds and  bloomed a couple of weeks ago like they do in June… with huge chiffony flowers.. are now lying in yellow puddles like the egg yolks I ate this morning.

The maples, the lindens, the willows in the nun’s garden….. the newly planted trees with their feeding bags like horses in the meadows….  thistly horned prickly fuzzy twigs and branches, seeds and pods of all the flowers and grasses, crinkling rustling singing late autumn songs….. the trees all seemed to be sighing, trying to tell me something. If I listened close enough I might be able to fathom what deep secret they are hiding. Trees have deep secrets, that I know.

The grass still green as summer… the white arbor holding up the last remnants of the autumn clematis, some clusters of purple asters still blooming..  the voluptuous drying hydrangeas everywhere thick and brown like caramel crunch, coffee with too much cream, like crispy browned onions in the pan.

The sky grey, pearly, and distant, the clouds perfumed with the scents rising up from the ground, all the disintegrated flowers and herbs shooting straight up to those golden towers lingering there like night jasmine in a summer garden.  Sometimes you can feel it all waiting. Waiting and sighing. Waiting for us all to behave, to start fresh, or maybe to just end.

I couldn’t rake the leaves this year, the first time in 17 years.  The gardener had to do it.  He was noisy, a bit sloppy and his pants kept sliding down his behind showing his naked skin looking cold and weird in the fading garden, the 35 degree weather.  And that noisy blower and gasoline smell….Then he asked me if he should use a rake.  I said “Yes, please.”

I love raking out the garden even if it takes hours and hours…. the slow sure raking of the jeweled leaves, some matte, some shiny, some leathery, others thin and translucent like the skin of an old lady tucking herself into bed…… this orderly putting away of summer’s charms gives me peace, a sense of direction, of calm, of seasonal balance… putting my mind and body right, at ease.  Just to take a breath of frosty autumn air, tinged with all the faded dying things, yet full of luscious fragrances like apples baking in the oven, exploding with all of nature’s buried charms.   The leaves in every color, the gleaming grass still smelling of summer, showing the imprints of my happy feet… the scent of burning incense, the violet smoke, the ruby sky, the piles of leaves on the curb like my harvest, my grain, my wheat, my barley, corn and lentils to make my very own Ezekiel bread…. the hard tack of sustenance to keep me going. Like eating raw earth, shoving it into your mouth with insatiable desire to stave off hunger, sickness and death, the coming cold and gales of winter.

The eggs I got out of the carton this morning were very small perfectly oval eggs, brown  and “organic” meaning eggs like the ones our grandparents or maybe great great grandparents ate.  I tapped the egg and it didn’t break, not even a tiny hairline crack.    I tapped and tapped.  Nothing.  Then a shiver of fear and loathing came over me, that there was something inside of the egg. Some slimy blood-washed tiny creature who did not want to come out… fearing a beak or a little leg peeping through I almost tossed the egg, then just tapped harder and it came— perfect round yolks surrounded by a firm, pellucid albumen. The shells harder than any I ever saw, almost a double shell, one brown and then another layer like insulation.  Against the cold the ugly, the poison, as though that egg wanted to stay inside.  I looked at its perfect shape and reluctantly threw out the shells, hard as porcelain.

I fried the eggs in butter marveling still at their perfect shape and size.  I made white toast –a sometimes aberration–  put three fat slices of sausages in a cold pan, the kind you use in stuffing for a turkey, almost reeking of sage and loaded with salt… I  drizzled the toast with honey and ate that rich fatty buttery salty breakfast perfumed with the honey of a thousand flowers.

Then suddenly I heard a voice, it was Maria Callas on the radio. A sultry velvety voice full of longing and pain.  Even her happy songs had a little pain. She looked like pain, like beautiful Grecian pain, like a vase found in some archaeological site sill intact but just holding on, fragile, delicate,  and tough yet about to shatter into dust…. her long regal nose, her dark coiling hair falling down her trembling shoulders…those painted Cleopatra eyes… always searching for her Anthony searching and searching.  They said her voice was one of “perfect imperfection”.  Velvety in the middle, steely and almost shrill at the top and the high notes were “shrieks”.  But the drama, the emotion, the passion was unparalleled.  Her voice was life itself.

I remembered  a story I heard about her… this beautiful, famous, rich artist, the companion of Aristotle Onassis, who at the end of her life was so lonely she only wanted  a little dish of ice cream… after walking home with a friend in New York after a dinner party. He was about to go home to his wife and children and she spied a gelateria on the corner and asked him to please go in with her, she didn’t want to go home…. could they just have a little dish of ice cream…. She was so lonely then, already losing her voice…. a dish of ice cream is all she wanted.

And now, listening to her singing the “Gypsy Song” from “Carmen”,  I eat my eggs and toast and honey and I want nothing, nothing at all.


























Posted in Always the Garden, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Uncategorized | 26 Comments

The Scorching Table of Thanks

via Daily Prompt: Scorched

I remember pictures.   That burning child in Vietnam 1972.  All the scorched things in this earth on her little child face.  My front lawn 1995, just back from Ukraine but elated, thinking maybe the war was won.  A hundred mosquito bites on our bodies.  They had no screens and no one ever opened the windows in the summertime.  Such a simple thing to prevent the little vampires from getting you in bed.

I remember the big jars of peaches fermenting underneath the beds, the screeching whine of those things in the night, and getting up thinking there would be one lone mosquito helicoptering around our heads, but there were dozens and dozens and they kept multiplying and attacking us like giant bugs in a sci fi flick, and we whacked them mercilessly with the ragged Kievan towels… while our hosts were sleeping peacefully next door in the stifling heat… we swatted until the early morning light, and the walls were streaked with red and we woke up frightened at the walls but then we laughed.

The burning front lawn seemed to bother me more than anything that year.  I remember the sun and how it would not go away.  My third floor walk up like the Sahara desert.  The sky so blue, baby bedroom blue… bluer than those dreamy water silk drapes that pooled to the floor, that mom wanted so badly.  And I didn’t give them to her, but to the condominium buyer instead, because I wanted to make a few dollars more…  I still see her sad and hurt little face, pining for that bit of blue to dream in.

I opened the door to my condo, you were shocked to see me, and there were birds and feathers flying. Surprised faces and tired, exhausted bodies sighing… tears and slamming doors and I picked up bird feathers for days.  The ensuing cruelty of being tired and sick, wasted from stale airports and people and air, the stained floors, the anxiety of my refuge taken from me, and the horror of lashing out at someone in need.  Twenty years later I’m still embarrased.  I was very tired, but it turned into mean, then just sad like the smell of cauliflower when I was twenty one. Leaving home forever, and mother shouting after me and then crying at the top of the stairs as I was leaving…And now, so many decades later the smell of cauliflower haunts me still, her crying face like a sudden summer storm, the weird scary ones that leave golf balls of hail in the garden.  You open the back door, it was just summer a few seconds ago, but now you see the Ice Age coming….

I came home to burnt lawns and feathers, my own disgrace.  1995 and summers have come and gone, come and gone, but lawns no matter how burnt how scorched they always came back again, sometimes greener than before.  Not this year or next.  The lawns are full of slithering snakes and jumping worms with fat white stripes like maggot waists.

I sit here at my table skimming recipes from “Saveur”, and  “Bon Apetite”, old “Gourmet Magazines”, ah, when America was still dreaming again!  I even looked up  recipes on the food network and got lost in the 133 best side dishes for Thanksgiving, some gluten free.

Just had a fatty delicious breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon, greedily wiping up every last streak of the yellow yolks with warm toasted bread …slathered with butter and jelly made from the fruit of the vine….It felt good for approximately sixty-two seconds.

Chemical burns in Aleppo now, the barrels were flying out of planes like new Beaujolais, ancient monuments smashed in Iraq and Syria, earthquakes in Churchtown and even in Oklahoma.  It’s just the earth saying “Hi it’s me, are you still there?”

Shall it be beets, rutabaga or carrots, green beans, broccoli or parsnips, steamed, scalloped or sautéed, pumpkin pie or apple or pear, crumbles or pandowdies, or maybe  Middle Eastern fare… throw in a little Russian, Chinese, or maybe German, like from Pennsylvania dutch country, or a simple Shaker thing to get your saving graces going…..that bitter Shaker lemon pie was a hit last year…..

Chutney, relish, or red pepper jelly, maybe slather the turkey in Mayo or give them pimento cheese!

I have piles and piles of magazines scattered on the table, still in a daze in my robe, unwashed, uncombed, uninspired, wondering how to do it all. There is a cello concert today at the library, a musician from Ukraine and pianist from Russia,… or I can go to that political meeting in town with concerned citizens afraid of the future— of muskets, spears, and bombs, men in white caps…

The sun is peering into the window, a cold, white, icy light. I am so tired already, and have so many forests, bogs, and orchards of cranberries, mushrooms, and apples to reap…There are two long tapering candles from last month’s dinner party on the dining room table, and I want to light them and let them burn, and scorch maybe, everything in this place, this little cape coddy house with the blue- green shutters that has been telling me for years now, please just go.

I want the fire to take me back to the old rivers, old towns, when a pile of burning leaves was just a pile of burning leaves, stoked by old-fashioned fathers of long ago.

A James Agee town, with James Agee in it, and that little boy and his good father, mother, aunt and uncle, who spread out their blankets on summer evenings and looked up at the stars…..maybe Delaware or Maryland, Virginia,  or good old Plymouth Rock, where fire was only fire to keep warm, to keep safe, to welcome your family and friends,  not this fire burning everything down to ash, scorching the great plains of my heart and soul and face.. think long and hard when you are at the table, before the glasses are raised and clinked in meaningless toasts, be careful how you sip the wine…

“Be of good cheer”,  someone once said to me a long time ago, when after shopping, cleaning, polishing, and washing, chopping, grating, sautéing, steaming and baking, and then lighting fifty candles on every table, counter, sink, and buffet, bookcase and mantel, I suddenly realized that I forgot to pray, get down on my knees and pray hard, fast, and deep, to steady these trembling hands these scathing, chapped, scarred and bleeding hands to try to lead them somewhere cool, calm and clean, before the raging fire that is now inching closer and closer, almost to my aching feet, the tiny bones can hardly make it anymore to the water, the bank of the river, by the curling grasses sighing in the watery breeze, come closer closer closer yet and plunge into me with your hands and feet and body,to the neck dear, yes to the very neck of you, just in time just in time to save your scorching eyes and mouth and face.







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This Savage Place

Almost all the leaves blew off the maple last night. Suddenly Indian summer, the prolonged weird heat just vanished and cold and wind took its place.  My mother used to hate the wind.  She stood at the doorway howling at it sometimes like a wolf to the very end. She hated how it whipped and thrashed all the pretty flowers in her garden in a frenzy, like a mad dog foaming at the mouth.

There were black spots on the yellow leaves on the sidewalk this morning, like some disease, mold or rot. It struck me how black and sinister looking they were, big round spots like some kind of plague or cancer.  I kept my head down all the way to the bus stop.  It was hard to look at anyone’s face.

The cemetery looked peaceful again.  How happy they must be, settled in their neat and tidy graves.

A group of a dozen or so Ginkgo trees in the Mormon church parking lot glowed bright yellow like magic lanterns, like sunny stick people, like curly little Shirley Temple when she was America’s sweetheart.  Such a cute chubby darling.   Their branches looked so human like hands raised in the air, like a crossing guard or someone in a panic.  Yes, the Gingko trees, all hands up as though in supplication. Each one a perfect replica of the other. The Chinese eyes are smiling.

The sun is shattering bright.  I’m having trouble breathing again.  I might be hit by a car today crossing that busy street like a highway.

Poor dear they might say she was distraught again today she had trouble breathing last night but I didn’t know it would end this way.  The other one said it was mildly entertaining watching it all a thousand miles away.

Why isn’t anybody crying?  Why is that rich old white man in that big black car smiling?  The driver asked me if I was cold.  “No” I said but I wanted to hear Bob Dylan screaming “It’s alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding)”. Tim Kaine quoted William Faulkner today in a very nice speech he gave just before she said farewell, adieu, goodbye,  to all of us… she was very brave but her husband was crying…”Well, Kernel they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?” Good for him, that goon bragged that he never read a book in his life……..

I’ve been up all night, I couldn’t even cry like when Ma died or Pa or Aunt Sue.   I bet Jo Ann Darling is glad she’s dead and didn’t have to see what they did to her garden……

I feel so tired I can’t even walk.  I think I lost my shoes….

I threw out that card from the Neptune Society.  The ones who come and clean and sweep and sort out all your stuff for you when you die… Save your relatives the trouble of stepping over your flesh, your trash, your discarded clothes and shoes….

When my father died I remember seeing his single navy blue suit hanging on a lonely hanger in a lonelier empty closet….. the silk pajamas I bought him 30 years ago still wrapped in tissue in the bottom drawer unopened… he never did like to have anything…

I threw out the Neptune card thinking there was time for sadness, sickness, and death and ashes….. Scattered like my father’s in Ukraine in his favorite park near his favorite river under his favorite sky.  Soon I hear they are going to take the country away again.  They are trying to figure out how to rip out the sky and the sun and the clouds.

There is no sky here or sun or park or river….. nowhere even now to put ones ashes. So don’t worry, like he just said.  “Cheerio, the world’s still here.”
























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The Bludgeoning Sky

via Daily Prompt: Bludgeon

Bludgeon.  Sounds like a stew you might eat, or an old-fashioned death.  When savages were savages who didn’t know the art of killing.  Rhymes with dungeon, curmudgeon or maybe even illusion.  Like the one you have that all things were better in the past…

I’m being bludgeoned by this beautiful landscape skimming by–flaming shades of orange, vermillion, honey, gold and sienna, mingling in the fragrant ether of the melting sky.  Why are the trees so red today? Why are the roses so sad? Why are the zinnias and cosmos going on and on as though they will never end… still dancing budding smiling…  Someone has morning glories on the vine still climbing, the color of robin’s eggs.  And even they are turning red.

I have a scarlet Chinese lamp, ox blood walls, a rose colored kilm with vegetable dyes, made on a bloody loom.

My eyes are red from crying. There is a tiny rusted thread crawling out of my throat that seems to be sighing or telling me someone somewhere soon will be dying…

I saw a bird perched against the sky high on a stone above the church today, looking down at me sorrowing at the bus stop, across from the cemetery where a thousand dead souls are lying.  The plastic flowers are all red. The graves from the 1800’s when this was Germantown, and full of fields, meadows, orchards. The fallen apples on the ground like severed heads.

I am being bludgeoned by this landscape, this early fog this morning when I stepped outside.The silence so eerie, so still, the sea of cars no longer sighing like the ocean, and even the birds inside the shrubs seem to be dead.  The air almost asphyxiating, smelling of smoke, patchouli, lavender and fire.  The red lamp the red carpet the red walls my heart beating beating beating like a sheep, a cow, a pig going to slaughter, feeling already the final blow across their broad dumb smiling heads. Thump!  “Looky here” the cowboy said, “I’m dead!”

I am a ruby pear a cherry red plastic apple. I am a red rose blooming with fury this foggy November day.   I am being bludgeoned to death by all this beauty this sadness this madness.

The last thing I remember is Oscar Wilde, “Salome” red lips like pomegranates.  That juice father brought home from that Russian store on Harding Avenue before there was “Pom” and rock star chefs who threw them in salads with escarole…… those lurid plates of middle eastern fun…… pouring out the thick, rich, almost black liquid we tilted back our heads, and drank long, slow, and deep, and immediately had visions of crazy lotus eaters, love, death, and war on a merry go round dancing in our brains, panoramic views of Aztec maidens climbing one thousand steps to their long trembling deaths, waiting waiting waiting, for one more frightening breath …and then it’s over– beauty, sadness, madness.  Looky here!   I’m bludgeoned finally, to death.

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The Infinitesimal of Tiny Dreams

via Daily Prompt: Tiny

I often write the word tiny, little, small, trying to describe certain things.  It litters sometimes the papers I write my words on.  This tiny little desire to catch my breath today, this tiny little bird sitting on the edge of the bird bath today, shoved away by two fat robins and then suddenly they decide to let it stay.

This tiny hurt inside from twenty years ago when you rebuffed me, the insults of a thousand people walking by– sometimes a push a shove a snide remark or glance. The tiny enormity of these hidden sorrows, the stupidity of tiny self-centered emotion, the silliness of the tiny little faces in our mirrors.

The tiny joy of seeing that hummingbird one day in front of my face just a tiny foot away.. hovering there like a tiny helicopter mechanical leaf a grain in the sand a drop in the ocean, that such a tiny thing is so beautiful so small so delicate and can leap and fly a thousand miles a day.

Those tiny little peas I ate when my mother was dying and I didn’t know it, savoring each tiny burst of delicate green popping in my mouth like my desire for a breath of clean air, or England in the spring.

That tiny star I saw yesterday morning outside in the dark in the autumn air and the tiny birds deep in the shrubs near me suddenly awakened from their tiny deep slumbers, the sleep of the last living poetry lovers on earth who soar and sing and chant sometimes deep into the night.   The tiny voices not so tiny but shattering almost the night the sky the clouds and even re arranging the stars……..

The dark sky lightened and the tiny little breeze that lifted the edge of my robe the tiny little whispering a mile away of cars that sounded like a weird ocean and the big pink open mouth suddenly lighting up the sky like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor poolside in sunny LA.  The pink wide mouth just appeared and a very tiny bird flew into it as though flying into heaven– the bird so tiny even tinier than the tiny plane that glided past and tiny bird and plane both the same, but I saw the tiny bird shiver as it sailed by the lipstick sky.

Looking in the mirror I saw something tiny dark green like an emerald in the shade and then lit up suddenly like the ocean by a vertical sun, such a tiny glinting thing on my shoulder and I remember the beautiful girl a decade ago at the Opera and her tiny emeralds dripping down her beautiful neck and back like tiny little stones scrubbed by tiny little droplets from gushing waterfalls, rivers,streams, meandering meandering like the tiny yellow leaves I see floating down the river and vanishing now like the tiny tiny tears falling from my chin.

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