Sleeping in a Bed of Incense

Oh someone is breathing down my back again.  Sending icy chills down my spine.   I can feel them even in my stomach, lungs and heart.  What’s left.

This dark dark week when I feel like I’ve already been sent to my coffin.  There I am in the dark with no escape in sight.   The air even, doesn’t matter anymore.

Yet here I am still playing with words, grammar, syntax.  As though that meant something.  Like leather pants in Berlin when my father died.  Fashion, like you, seemed important then.

The water outside is still running, down the half-frozen lawn, in rivulets around the newly planted cypress.. a golden one, shimmering a bit with chartreuse highlights…… that I planted too late.   I wonder if it will survive.  I wonder if I will see it sometime this April or May, when things will either be done or undone.

I am still awake and the coffee cup is on the desk and the coffee is getting cold and what?  I still taste and see and feel and worry.   About your father, my aunt, the last of the dear ones, the happy ones, the great ones… and my fallen friend so far away from me now.

I see her apple trees, her newly planted garden, smell the corn pudding she is making… see her white white teeth, so straight so almost big, so fine. All of them shaped exactly the same, like in that Philip K. Dick novel.    That perfectly red mouth without lipstick…. tiny crinkled nose… always crinkled because she is always smiling…… those big white teeth are like big white stars.. if stars were white.  You might start a new trend my darling.

What do you do when there is a triumvirate of sorrow, who do you mourn, who do you call, whose hand do you clutch, what tears do you turn on and off on and off… I had to look it up that word and this word and that word and this word and realize English is no longer my language.  Nor Spanish… Ukrainian.  I have no language anymore and soon will not speak.   I cannot speak.  I do not know sign language.  I no longer play music– sound bothers me.   I like almost no one.  I love almost no one.  No, nothing.  I like nothing.  I love nothing.  Because there seems to be nothing.  Because I cannot speak and cannot think or feel.

The sounds  are intolerable.  Door bell.   Phone, the one that still rings like a bell.  Iphone.   Knocking.  Tapping.  Buzzing.  Tings. Bings.   Needles zizzling on papers.  Wheels on gravel driveway.  Alarms for fire gas or electricity.  Sirens.  Ovens.  Microwaves.   Neighbors taking in garbage cans.  Garage doors opening and closing.  Mailboxes.  Mailman, when he stops suddenly to read something on the doorstep.  I can almost hear his breath, his sighs, hear his footsteps on the icy steps, the crunchy grass…. Dryer.  Washers.  Furnace.  That thing is humming louder and louder these days and is about to explode.   Fire drills.  They still have them Tuesdays across the street.  Garbage truck.  Banging on the door. Glass storms.  The idiots who don’t think a doorbell is enough.  Sometimes they have a dried little chocolate cake to give me and if I don’t answer the bell, they bang and bang until I open the door.

I saw that little pound cake the other day, still swaddled in the saran wrap. A few days after your funeral.  Oh how I wanted something sweet, luscious and moist and chocolatey.  Very deeply sweetly rich  and, almost, just almost, slightly pudding like just very very slightly mind you… like the sumptuous cakes that cook created in those far away kitchens in Victorian England.  The “Upstairs Downstairs”  kind of cakes like my mother made.  I cut a slice quickly and shoved it into my mouth… dry, powdery, sweetless, saltless, moistless, denseless, sandlike gluten free misery…..made by those cute little girls supervised by a mother who knows nothing about cakes…… oh I hope they never knock on my door again!

And then I called you yesterday, my friend, who I have not seen in a thousand years because really I think I have already lived two.  Wishing you a happy birthday… You said you were cleaning and washing your hair.   Cleaning is good.  I have cleaned this house often lately as though knowing that soon someone would not be here,  strangers will walk through it, and I fear they will not remove their shoes.

Shoes.  Suddenly I no longer want shoes.  I want to feel the icy floors beneath my feet.  I wanted to walk on the river yesterday but it was not yet frozen.  It looked black and dirty.  I thought I might see interesting animals or birds or even a ragged branch with leaves trailing down into the water like last year.

No, even the river is hiding its charms.  Its denizens long gone.  It only sends icy chills up to me, while I stand there on the bridge and I am searching searching… That bicycle is still there.  The one I saw seemingly floating in the water.  A red white and blue bike. What an ugly trio……  I never saw a bike in the water before and wondered how it got there.  There was no person floating along…  Just an old rusty basket with a collection of dead leaves, and the bicycle emerges and disappears depending on the weather. That big American Flag is still flying outside the antique store on the corner and lately when I walk by, I slap it.  It’s so big and wide, hanging so low, down almost to the ground, and often hits me in the face when I walk by. It seems to be taunting me… daring me to walk by.  So I slap it first.

I don’t know how anymore to get through the nights.  The fear of phones ringing doors banging door bells and cell phones and texts and emails running down the screens like ragged tears ragged fears all my anxiety tangled up in languages I don’t speak or read or understand anymore.

I ran out in my summer sandals and moved the sump pump hose further down the lawn, that thing is gushing again pumping out water for days and days and the whole house is shaking again.   What does it want, this house?  What is it finally telling me?  When will the infernal banging and clanging and animals thrashing against the door end?

Why is the night so long now?  Why is the day full of the same?  Why is there no more sleep and why is it so hard to breathe?

Your voice suddenly got all garbled and tangled up like soggy ropes and then it was thick and low, gurgling like a dying monster.  I thought maybe your teeth fell out.   I remember once when we were in college and waiting tables for that animal, your teeth fell out.   Just as you were waiting on that rabble of leering men who always called you their beautiful stallion.  You had to rush to the back covering your mouth and it was a long time before you came back.  Then you resumed taking their orders.  They always wanted that disgusting fake sweet and sour borscht.  It must have had a pound of sugar in it. Made by that bulbous, sweaty, foul-mouthed cook in the dirty t-shirts.  Years later I still smell the stink of him, his face, his mouth, his words….  You kept talking to me as though everything was normal as though I actually heard you, heard a human voice and I kept asking what was wrong with your phone because you sounded like that child in the “Exorcist”.  It was raining you said, and the phone never works in the rain.

I left you to wash your hair and wish I could do something simple like wash clean vacuum sweep cook or sleep.  Oh how I just want to go to sleep sleep sleep.

I tried dreaming of lilacs, meadows,  clean sheets,  spring flowers… the bulbs I planted.. food, all the delicious things we will eat tomorrow when you arrive full of hope and fun and what what what?   I barely know you barely know anyone anymore barely know the day from night the summer from winter from fall.  Don’t recognize the rivers or lakes my street that I walk on what is this?  Why is it so ugly here?

The sea of cars finally have done me in and I want to crush them with my hands seer them with my eyes watch them explode from the face of the earth, the universe… like land mines……

I want to go out into the half-frozen garden and plant a thousand trees and shrubs. Very tall and very wide. Every kind of tree and evergreens pines junipers cedars …the trees that will cover up everything and everyone and then all I have to do is look at the sky…

I feel you there one state away… I feel you there two countries away  I feel you there 2,000 miles away and only if only you could walk with me now on the frozen river feel how nice and cool it feels on your feet how smooth how you can glide  far away far away from all this sorrow.

I can’t sleep I can’ sleep ..  I am so afraid

The last time I was so afraid was when you got lost and missed your plane and we didn’t hear from you for days and then some angels were here, and they held my hands and we prayed and prayed and prayed and then they had to leave to get some rest and I was alone here in these rooms oh where oh where do I go and what do I do?  I was tired of clutching my throat tearing out my hair eating up my eyes and I went upstairs and found that little carved Jesus the one with the heavy lids covering his eyes, just the right size to put in my hand and hold there.  The wood very old and hard and yet, almost supple.  The carver had made the features very carefully so that it was sad but not too sad, old but still young, strong yet frail.   I remember clutching it, that little man from Oaxaca that you gave me my friend, and found there my little saviour my Balm of Gilead my Ambien my morphine my opium my steaming cup of kindness my salve for my tired wide awake burning eyes.

I grabbed that little statue once again,  like I did last year, and held it tight and went to bed and prayed and prayed  for I don’t know what anymore.  Sleep, death, forgetting, vacuum, emptiness, no eyes in the sockets, no head on my feet…..And I woke early in the morning still holding it, noticed something different about the room, a great calming silence filled the air. The light had not come in yet but there was a very faint fragrance like old wood, dried Christmas trees still faintly chiming, the old ornaments slightly moving as though someone breathing lightly somewhere in this room, making the tired needles fall on the old carpet shedding their fragrant tears… sweet smoke, mysterious perfumes of cedar, bergamot and dying leaves, ashes and tears, screams of pain, and sourness the kind that comes from fear and sorrow and the worst kind of anguish…And I looked at the face that I was holding, wondering how I managed to hold it all night long and the fragrance of the room was still floating all around me and the sad and sorrowful wooden face was no longer sad and sorrowful.

I held it in my hands for a long time and lifted it up to my face to capture that sad and sweet elusive fragrance, something so far away and yet very near like the scents still clinging to the bottles of Shalimar, Caleche, Mitsouko… all of them swirling around the room still breathing through the glass and they mingled with the scents of the candle downstairs still burning, the pine centerpiece still exhaling, scents of old forests dying, and I heard my own breath moving in and out of my lungs quietly but surely still exhaling, and still I wonder and wonder and wonder like someone looking up at the far away galaxies and wondering about those stars how high up how strange how beautiful how exciting they all are… how I still want to see them there up high, when I walk out at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., my favorite time now the dead of night, when everything beautiful is awake and breathing and the sky out there even is crying sighing and what what can I do looking here at this face that someone carved for me years, or was it decades ago?  Words again fail me, thoughts, words, desires of saying something… all of it fails and fails and fails and the only thing left at all is to clutch this face look at these almost bulging lids closed in sweet but terrible repose, filling up but holding back so many tears and tears and tears and wait, just wait for the great release the great escape the great final exhalation of air that one day will quiet all of this turmoil this evil this greed this final corruption that is drowning each and everyone one of us, each and every thing of us, until the day we understand, truly understand the meaning of those tears.




























Posted in Bus Stop Stories, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

When Your Mother Had Holes in Her Socks

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. today.  And I don’t know anymore if today is really today.

What is today.  Not even sure it merits a period or a question mark.  Or maybe just a blank space.   All the things that rhyme with it.  Tokay, Hungarian sweet wine. Maybe it does maybe it doesn’t.   I remember that.  Bringing it to someone’s Christmas party.  Or maybe it was a birthday.  It’s a sweet wine and that does not interest me anymore.

There is a bottle of Sauternes in the basement.  From 1989.  I saw it there the other day wrapped in an old rug someone gave me years ago.  The one with the hunter green background and pink hummingbirds.  I read somewhere that I should have opened it about ten years ago, or maybe five.  It is drinkable now and not to hold.  It was drinkable. This bottle will not get better with age. That alcoholic poet/ waiter gave it to me.  Other than this bottle, 1989 was a good year for Sauternes. The year my father died.

Whenever I look for a recipe for some holiday dinner and I go rummaging through my old “Gourmet” magazines, all the good recipes are from 1989.  Odd.  But true.  As though his death made everything taste better.  As though his ashes enriched the soil, made the plants grow taller, stronger.   The recipes full of interesting, complex and rich ingredients.  And I make it and weep a little.  My father would appreciate that Sauternes.   Taste his own ashes in it.

Sauternes is sweet.  But that is an understatement.  It is not sweet like candy.  Sweet like kisses.  But sweet like air, water, soil, somewhere, that magically produced this grape.  It is supposed to have a hint of apricot or peach or honey.  What kind of honey?  The jar of honey that is standing on the kitchen table smells like insecticide.   That Sauternes is to drink with goose or duck livers.  Foie gras.  The food of murdering souls.

I always identified Sauternes with murder.  Rich, lavish, decadent murders. I think I’d rather just eat a real peach or real apricot.  Or a spoonful of unpoisoned honey.

I always thought you and I might drink that Sauternes with a delicate tort or something less evil, something more divine.

Maybe something dry and ascetic like a Carr’s water cracker.  A thin communion wafer.

Maybe we could just sip it in the open air.  Summer is too hot and spring too uncertain.

A nice cool forest would be nice.  Even a snowy field.  The one we crossed once skiing in the dark or was it early morning?

It might be nice to sip it on a mountainside in Switzerland over dinner with cold friends wearing freezing pearls at one of your dinner parties.  And the snow would be falling on their bare skin and the Sauternes might keep them warm until the fires start and they could open up their presents.

My feet are so cold now sitting here in this ugly little room. The one the engineer built in 1939.  What a time to build a house here on this vacant German farm land.  The religion and codes all gone.  The apple orchards gone.  The wheat rotting in the back yard replaced by ragged Viburnums.

I put on some old socks hurriedly to protect my cold feet.  But I feel the icy floors anyway.  But my socks have no holes in them.  If a sock has a hole in it I just throw it away.  Shameful I know, but that is my one extravagance. Throwing old socks away. Because my mother never did.  I remember visiting her one day.  She was sitting on that old silk couch and staring at me and I looked at her and shrieked.  “You have a hole in your sock!”  And she shrugged as though it was alright.

“A hole in your sock, a hole in your lungs….what’s the difference?”

I have no idea why I am thinking now about my mother and the holes in her socks. That she never bothered to mend.  That beautiful evening dress I bought her that she stuck in the back of her closet.   All “schmatas” she said.

My father on the other hand never had holes in his clothes.  Because he never really wore them.  Buy him a shirt he hangs it up in his closet.  Buy him blue silk pajamas he puts them in a drawer.  He wore an ugly red robe day in and day out that terrorized us.   We thought it looked like a devil’s robe.  It was bloody red like the White House Christmas trees.

The animals are trying to get in the house this morning.  I heard something banging against the back door.  A racoon or possum or maybe a great big bear trying to force its way in.  Instead of checking it out I just pulled the blinds tighter.  It stopped then, the noise.  Just stopped like a bear getting bored with you and going fishing.

There are always weird tracks in the back yard.  Tiny claw like ones and big wide ones like snowshoes.  Big and fat ones like pudgy fingers gardening in the dark.

Like stars collapsing on the lawn.  Like ducks falling down.  Like gnomes walking around.  Like my mother coming to peer into the windows and leaving holes in the garden.  Maybe for me to fall into.

That bottle of Sauternes is waiting. Waiting for me and the moon and some light refreshment.  Something you can eat on the run or in the dark. Something light to take with you while feeling the snow the rain the everything of this night.  And maybe catching whoever is pounding at your door.























Posted in Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Moon and I

It’s not too early and not too late.  I walk out into the garden clutching the cup of coffee, that is not too hot and not too cold.  I think of going back to reheat it a little but I might miss something.  The day is quickly approaching and soon the moon will be gone.

It feels almost warm as I open the back door. Almost balmy like a late spring day when all the damp and cold is gone.  When things start coming up out of the ground feeling safe. Feeling like they can come up and grow.   Be something again.

I haven’t written in so long.  It seems I haven’t stepped out into the garden in so long.

What is new?  Nothing.  It has been too hot.  Too cold. Too rainy.  Too dry.  Too windy.  Too damp.  Too humid. There were too many mosquitos. There were too many Japanese beetles.

I went out five or six times a day to pick the evil little things off the plants.  Off the butterfly bush, off the anemones, off the variegated shrub.  That shrub in front that Jan planted for me.  Its long pointed leaves are splashed with white and green and cream. The stems are a bright fuchsia.  And in the fall when most flowering shrubs have stopped blooming, it explodes with tiny delicate white flowers like Babies Breath.  Fragrant, dazzling, sparkling like diamonds in the rain.  A sweet sticky nectar flowed out of those flowers.

The beetles loved that shrub.  Slept in it, sat on it, flew around on it. Mated in it. Sometimes three or four at a time… on top of each other like tiny demon acrobats. “How disgusting!” you screamed the first time you saw that.  But mostly they just devoured it. Sitting there chomping like monsters. Their metallic brown green armor shining in the searing sun. Soon after their ravishing, the shrub turned an ugly brown with holes all over the delicate leaves. Until I came out, a raging garden warrior,  with the jar of foaming water and picked them off one by one and let them die.  Drown. Watching them struggle madly in the sudsy water to their soapy death.  Those things are the only living creatures I did not mind disposing of.  Dispatching.  An ugly thing to do I know.  But a garden can be an ugly thing sometimes.

The worst thing those beetles did.  Yes, I am still obsessed with those beetles. Because I wonder why such ugly disgusting little things exist.  The worst, the ugliest thing to see early in the morning or evening are these creatures in roses.  Like my old beloved  pink-apricot peony roses that ramble over the iron (rusting now) arbor.

I wake up on a sometimes clear, bright, gently warm and fragrant summer day. Fragrant in large part because of these exquisite roses, and then upon closer inspection, see a spot of dark brown and black and see those creatures hiding, sneaking deep inside the roses, eating the centers, ravishing the newly opening bud, gouging them with black holes.  Or on a newly opened rose, totally unfurled, smiling so wide and deep and you suddenly see it’s already dying. The center eaten and the beetles there hiding, in between the petals.  You reach down and they know you are out to get them and they try to wiggle down deeper.  Sometimes they actually manage to fly away.   Other times they are so drunk from the nectar and perfume of the flowers,  you just have to tap the blossom and they fall into the jar of death.

The moon this dawn. So silent.  So present.  So far up and yet it felt like it was whispering in my ear.   Breathing down on the street.  Glowing deep inside my heart. Telling me something.  But once again I do not know what.

Twenty years a wanderer down this driveway, this sidewalk, staring at the house I live in.  The jade green shutters, the jade green door. Scarred from the neon sun these last burning summers.  A little more ragged now.  A little more shabby.  Just like me. Those Junipers in front so big and fat, almost obliterating the shutters and the door.  Looking like big cartoons.  Looking like they will explode.  Looking like they could hide the moon itself.

Those shrubs are home to dozens of birds.  They sleep there. They hide there.  They shelter there in the winter and in the rain and cold and they fly inside when the thunder and lightning comes.  When it’s thirty-five below they huddle there.  And, sometimes during a fine winter storm when the snow is thick and white and powdery… Soft.  Almost like warm snow.  Like feathers.  Like a comforter.  Like warm hands.  Like this porcelain cup of coffee. They sit there and start singing or chirping or sighing.  I hear them sometimes, when I am coming up the path early in the morning or sometimes at dusk or very late at night.  I can hear them breathing dreaming sleeping and sometimes they greet me with voices like silver like gold like sparkling rivers.

I forgot to paint the windows this summer.  I thought I would wait for fall.  But fall is here.  I forgot to clean out the basement.  I didn’t even air it out this summer.  All the vases have not been put away.  All the cookbooks  I was going to give away still line the metal shelves.  All the drafts of old things written filling the bookcases.  All the old calendars with dates of dinners and celebrations appointments interviews and assignations.   That old but beautiful chair with the missing leg.  I still have not fixed it.  I bought it in 1984. The old conference room chairs from that old building on Jackson St.  I paid fourteen dollars for it.

My tennis racket.   My old fireplace tools.  The two bookcases filled with 1,000 photos of the garden.  I never sent them to you.  It may be too late.  You can’t see too much now out of those hazel eyes…..

Arturo came and expanded the flowerbed in front.  All the Hydrangeas and Helleborus and that beautiful almond tree.. the one with the frothy pink flowers.  Oh that alone is worth waiting a thousand years for.  They were all packed in so tight and formed a sort of weird collage of leaves and stems and branches.   They looked claustrophobic, choking, struggling, unruly and unhappy, sad and wild, and a little shabby. They looked like refugees.  Like foreigners.  Poor.   Alienated.  Unwanted.  Unkempt.  Pushed together in a mass of chaotic nothings.

And that small chartreuse shrub the O’Neill’s gave me, as an apology for running over all the marigolds when they drove up the driveway that fall two years ago… That shrub was literally growing underneath the almond tree.  We took it out and planted it at the rounded corner of the new bed.  It looked instantly happy.  One part is dark green and one part chartreuse. The dark green part got no sun as it was growing inside the almond tree. But what a lovely fragrant warm shelter that must have been!  Now it looks happy but a bit startled, growing there by itself, having suddenly all this space and air and sun.   The Helleborus looking dark green and shiny.  Glad to be out from the frizzled hydrangea leaves and flowers.  Suddenly the whole bed got even larger, wider, everything inside it loomed big and happy and I almost heard all the little plants and shrubs and flowers whisper to me…. “Thank You.”

So I walked out this morning to admire the new bed.  I walked around in the almost dark.  Drinking my coffee.  Feeling the moon high above me like an amber halo.   I think it was sighing, singing, breathing, watching me.  The smoky amber clouds floating in and out of the moon face.  No cars no dogs no people out, so I could wander up and down the street, looking at my lovely new flower bed, staring up at my five-year old maple, that really, I have not looked at too closely the last five years.  It is getting tall and wide and finally looks like a tree.  Filling in just a little bit the space left behind by the thirty-foot Elm that had to go.

I see its leaves are turning amber too. Amber and orange and mahogany. The too hot too cold too frosty too rainless too sunless early fall has kept so many leaves green. But here and there you see deep red, startling yellow, lemony and orange and reddish things like something on your kitchen counter, like something jumping out of a bag like something out of a crazy cartoon.

Life is like a cartoon really. The bad guys all around. Beating and screaming and throttling and pounding and punching everything in sight.  Bombs fires floods hailstorms and tsunamis. Guns everywhere. I wonder if today I will get shot.

Tom sent me a book the other day.  It came in a big brown envelope. I heard the UPS driver toss it on the doorstop where it made a big thud.  I went out to look and it was so big and brown and strange-looking.  I don’t get too many parcels.  The first thing I thought.  Was it a bomb?  It had no return address.  It wasn’t my birthday or a holiday.  I didn’t order anything.  It was a while before I opened it.

It was a book.   “Flame”.  Of Leonard Cohen drawings, lyrics and poems.  I wonder where Leonard Cohen is now.  I always wondered where Leonard Cohen was whenever I heard him singing.  Songs like ” Dance me to the End of Love”, “A Thousand Kisses Deep”….. “Blue Raincoat”….. I  wonder where he is now that he’s dead.   I think I would just about follow Leonard Cohen anywhere he went.

The light came too quickly and the soothing darkness fading, the moon wandering off to someplace more interesting.  Time to go in and sweep and dust and air out something.  The temperature is in the 50’s and there is time still to do things before the raging winds come.  The snows.  Maybe.

I noticed the other day that the park across the street smells like marzipan.  I am not sure where it is coming from.  The goldenrod is gone as are the Black-eyed Susans.  But there are masses of tiny asters in pink and lavender and white and deep purple. The pink anemones in front of the park hung on and on.  Long after mine were gone. The white Honorine Joberts are everywhere  Also masses of pink roses. The small low to the ground shrubby ones with no smell.  The fake ones but they still look pretty.  I noticed the gardeners in the park (if you can call them gardeners)  cut down all the irises… the fall ones that were blooming so beautifully!   So many people go out and cut things down that are still blooming, still growing, still unfurling.  All to make things neat and tidy, short and narrow,  uncluttered and straight.   A garden is not a house and should not be neat and tidy and clipped to pieces.

One major thing happened in my garden this September that made me want to leave again.  The gardeners (butchers) who work for my next door neighbors destroyed my Actinidia Kolomikta vine.  I was out wandering early one morning in September enjoying the newly bought chrysanthemums, the pots of late summer flowers, the still green manicured grass, the leafiness of all the shrubs and trees, but felt a large emptiness even though it was 6:30 am.  And then I saw, or didn’t see… the large beautifully tangled branches of the vine that spilled over to the other side…Gone, cut off ,decimated. All those lush still green variegated leaves gone. They actually shoved their grubby murderous hands over the fence into the top space of my yard and cut that part completely off.  Butchered it.  Leaving one long dangling branch that hung down painfully, mournfully, holding on to nothing.  Swaying there, dangling in mid-air like a dead snake.

Part of the vine was growing gently through the branches of my Serviceberry tree and they butchered that too. They must have leaned way over their ladders to my side of the fence and yanked it out so it would not.. What?  I don’t even know how a gardener could be that stupid.. that insensitive that ….. dull… that unknowing. Torpid.  It feels so… Torpid.

I now see the electric poles and wires, my neighbor’s massively wide and looming brick McMansion, their basketball hoops, their huge plasma TV.   At night when I wander around I can see what program they are watching.  Who wants to watch television in a garden?

That shrub took twenty years to grow that tall and lush. And finally, just a few years ago it started to produce those magic leaves. At first green and white then an almost silver and then rose pink. The colors splashed on like soft and weathered paint. Then the flowers came!  Masses and masses of tiny, white fragrant flowers more enthralling even than Lilies of the Valley.  All gone now.  Some gardeners are butchers and some neighbors are not worth having.

My anger after four weeks is almost gone.  Until I go out in the garden and look up and see no old and gracious gnarly vine.  Twenty years of growth and beauty destroyed.

That’s why it’s best to wander in your robe in the dark under the night sky under the twinkling stars smelling marzipan from across the street.  In the dark when your neighbor’s naked house is covered in mist and it’s just you you you and the moon and the sleeping birds in the big fat bushes someone planted almost a hundred years ago.












Posted in Always the Garden, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Martini Morning

It’s April 9.  There was that thing I was supposed to do about Christmas.  There was that thing I was supposed to do about Easter.   I will get to it.  And then maybe I will understand something.

Christmas has come and gone.  Easter has come and gone ..almost… not quite.  There are still vespers sung on Saturday evenings…. The White Shroud is hanging from the big wooden cross at the church across the street from the bus stop.   Resurrection was not that long ago.

Seeing it there, that white shroud, draped around the big wooden cross in the middle. It was so strange.  It looked a bit like a white scarf thrown casually around someone’s neck. Was a bit jaunty looking, ruffling just a little in the very slight breeze… like Isadora Duncan’s scarf or some elegant dandy’s , who just left it there on a chair or something while he looks out at the sweeping lawn of somewhere… as though he left it there for a moment and is coming back any minute.  Then perhaps I understood something.  Knew deep inside something.  The white.  The pure joy of it.  Leaving it all behind.   That scarf there in front of that massive church .. with one of the highest ceilings in North America… And why in the world even think about dandies.  How archaic how odd how old-fashioned.  But then I would rather live in the world where a few dandies still reigned.

It was like that Japanese couple who owned the sushi restaurant in town… the way they always said “Be Joyful Always”.  I thought it was stupid at the time, saying that.  Having that on their napkins and website, on their menus, seeing it on your check after you paid.   Maybe I never knew what it meant.  I felt it this morning, as soon as I looked at the cross and that white cloth.

Maybe it was the snow.  It was all white this morning when I looked out.  After slowly crawling out of bed. Feeling cold.  Again.  Feeling old and tired and worn out.  I keep saying it because I keep feeling it. So what if this is insanity.  It feels good sometimes just to say.  I am sick and tired and old today.

You might feel extremely depressed looking out at snow on April 9.  When all the daffodils have been growing taller and taller.   Some are blooming already along the yellow brick building in the park across the street.  And the blue hyacinths in my front garden.  What’s left of them after the rabbits gnawing. They are so indigo blue so incredibly spring fat succulent. They’re covered in snow.  The perfume struggling to get out.

You might get depressed and disgusted at the snow.   I was just worn out tired and old.  The coffee though was so good.  My sense of smell came back and I could smell the sharp slightly apricot pit perfumey fragrance of the almond oil in the milk. A little like marzipan coffee.   I had two full cups. The cup is quite large so it may count as four small cups.

It was so cold I had to put on my long underwear underneath the pants.   And the furry black hat, and the red winter coat.  And the gloves. The thin red leather ones Jada got me. Though they turned out to be a bit too thin for this cold.

I walked out to catch the bus for work and there was snow everywhere and it was also falling.  A very fine sugar sprinkle kind of snow but softer.   No snow stuck to the ground.  It melted as soon as it hit.  So walking was easy.  The snow stuck to every little leaf branch twig and pine needle so the world was BEAUTIFUL.   All the trees and shrubs and parts of the roofs and stairs and ornaments on the houses  looked like paintings like etchings like woodcuts like complicated dreams.  There were so many trees and shrubs to see.  Some of the large pines… the snow accumulated at the very tips into tiny balls and they looked like what?  Maybe Alice knows maybe the man who wrote” Winnie the Pooh” knows.   Only a fool could walk out and think it was ugly.  It was beautiful even though I was worn out tired and old today.

I love the cemetery now more and more. The one I pass going to the bus stop.  An old cemetery… for here…. 1843.  When this town was a farming community and the settlers were from Germany mostly and all these streets were farms and orchards.  The park across the street from me is a remnant.  Every now and then there is a new grave freshly dug, every now and then a huge bouquet of flowers… Every now and then a tingle of excitement when I pass as though something is about to turn or speak or spin around for me…. Every now and then I feel like running to the tombstones and throwing myself down and then going to sleep.. or at least hugging them.  A rock now is the most passionate thing I could hug.  That I want to hug.  Solid, strong, and permanent.

I felt so alive walking in the snow.  The air felt so fresh.  It smelled so clean.  Even with all the cars out I didn’t smell the gasoline.   As though the falling snow, each tiny snowflake was an air purifier.  My lungs felt clean.  The air almost liquid.  I wanted to drink it.   I felt so alive it was startling.   I could breathe so easily it was scary. Maybe I was really dead. Sometimes I can’t wait to be dead and wonder when it will finally happen and how.  I won’t miss anything.  But again, I might be dead already.

Underneath is so much depression frustration and anxiety it never ends. The snow today made it somehow irrelevant all that whiteness in April and the air cleaners and that white scarf and feeling dead.

I ran out without eating anything. Except for that coffee with almond milk.

I have been eating a lot of the Easter leftovers.  Huge chunks of salty fresh bone in ham… the beet horseradish relish.  There is no more babka left.  I saved only  a very small babka for myself, and had a very thin slice  almost every day after work.  I spread a large cold pat of sweet butter all over it.  I tasted the fragrant yeast… the life of it.. the whole what of it… the orange peels and the organic slightly brown sugar… the egg yolks   ….. the raisins… It really did taste like the sun.  It tasted like love.

I remember my mother’s babka and how sometimes I did not want it when she gave it to  me in that bag of leftovers.  All those years ago, and then when I took it home, sometimes forgetting it for days, even a couple of weeks, leaving it on the counter only lightly wrapped.  It never went bad ever, and then eating it and tasting, actually tasting the love that went into it. It scares me when I taste love in food.  It’s so pure.

I couldn’t drink on  Easter because I was not well. Everyone else could drink and the wine flowed.  A very nice Gruner Veltiner or something refreshingly similar… and something someone brought called Pontificate.. if a Pope liked it, it must have been tasty…….. I never thought I could live through a family celebratory dinner without drinking… I did… I drank pure cherry juice with sparking water… and sparkling tangerine juices.  They were so refreshing.

Today though, this morning, I was thinking about Martinis.  Martinis as I was walking through the snow… trying to describe to my bus driver why I thought the snow looked beautiful why I thought the world was beautiful even though it’s ugly ugly ugly these days… The snow on all the trees was overwhelming my mind and the air was so fresh I almost died.

I thought of you.  You must be old now.  I should call you to see if you’re still alive.  But then I won’t call because you might not be there or your phone will have that “this phone is disconnected now message”, or your husband will answer your private line and that will really mean you are dead… and that scares me and I don’t want to talk to him.  I remember how you and I used to dress up, sometimes early in the afternoon, barely ll:30 a.m. and we would go to a really nice restaurant,  “swanky” you would say…and order Martinis.  Gin of course, the best in the house.  And we would have them sometimes with oysters and sometimes with fried calamari.  The martinis were icy cold like they should be … light on the vermouth…. anchovy olives and sometimes if they didn’t have them blue cheese.  Oh the gin and the ice and the briny salty juice of the olives…. We sometimes had two martinis.  Once we went to that new place and the martinis were supersized we could hardly lift the glasses… and they were filled to the brim. We both hated that.. how filled to the brim they were. We got really drunk.  After the two supersized martinis we also each had a glass of very chilled very delicious white wine.  Sometimes it was lobster ravioli, sometimes linguine with clams, sometimes a lovely pasta with the new spring vegetables…..  I always ate and drank so much that my lipstick would start to get smeared.  Sometimes the rim of the glass would be rosy with it and I discreetly wiped it off with a kleenex when you weren’t looking.  I also did it for the waiter.. so he wouldn’t have to walk around with a bloody looking glass.  After a while you started to look slightly disheveled, slightly worn out… If the light hit a certain way, especially a ray of sun… you looked a bit old.. old and tired and sick like me now.

The snow thrilled me so much today because  I realized it came from God, it did not make itself, it was prehistorically beautiful and intricate and pure and clean….  I am just going to give it up give it up to God these days to figure things out.  That doesn’t even make sense I know.  In a syntactical sort of way if you care about syntax and I suppose I should  because I am writing this and still spellcheck some days…. you might wonder why I am writing this and I might say hell I don’t know…. the wars the despots in the White House  the greedy banker insurance agent… even the sun just last week I was cursing the sun.  It was so bright no matter where I sat on the bus it was right there in my face. I had to keep changing seats and the bus was empty and the driver knows me so he wasn’t fazed and he also is starting to hate the sun… it seems to expose all the ugliness like dirty streaks on never washed windows.  One day he and I spent the whole bus ride to work discussing how much we hate the sun.

We stopped at a light near the forest preserves and I looked out into the forest and was startled because I saw a bloody hand standing up straight in the middle of the snowy woods. Then I realized it was the reflection of the “Don’t Walk ” sign.

There was a Polish woman on the bus.  I knew she was Polish by a certain look she had. No not a babushka or big bulky cleaning lady work clothes.  She was elegantly coiffed and middle-aged with icy blond highlights in her black or gray or brown hair, but perfectly done.  Actually the back of her head was like a tiny little forest…. She sat in front of me and she had on the most incredible perfume.  At first I thought it was her hair product but it was definitely perfume.  Very slightly sweet like that strange almost licoricey powdery scent certain daffodils have… mixed in with a baby pink rose and maybe a crushed violet.   Whenever I can’t think of what something beautiful smells like I just say “crushed violet.”   Violets actually have no scent.  At least not here.  Somewhere they must because I see those words used to describe quite a few wines quite a few quiet nights quite a few dreams even smoke.

If I could walk somewhere alone and really be alone I might be really happy.  Yesterday walking through the park.  The cold frozen ground but underneath everything waiting and waiting to come up.  I could feel it.   I stopped suddenly because I was surrounded by about 75 robins… they are out and about it is their time now… nonchalantly going about their business.  I almost thought they were saying something… I got distracted then by piles of dog waste here and there, a large pile near that memorial tree with the beautiful tribute to an artist who died and that quote from Rengutu?  I have to look it up but the gist of it was  …..” it is harder for those of us left behind…..”

It’s harder for me to enjoy this park or the streets or the garden when I  also have to look at people’s dog’s poo .  Check these apostrophes will you? Like the people next door.  Sometimes I look out of my guest room window upstairs and I can see their garden… their plain concrete, huge driveway driven plaything riddled, fire pit concrete bench filled garden… and I see them, the little plastic bags of doggie poo they leave there sometimes because they are too lazy or too tired to pick them up and put them in the trash can just two feet away… or maybe even though they love their funny little cute black and white mutt its poo disgusts them too.  It can ruin everything for me.  It has ruined dog love completely for me.  And humans are a close second.   After walking through that park I realized I need at least a hundred acres to be free.  No I need a thousand.. Then I realize it would have to be at least 10,0000 acres.  Just me and trees and farms and orchards and birds lots and lots of birds more birds than anything else…  then come the flowers ….

Or maybe, just a few martinis now after the snow sitting here after the red light the cemetery the poison at work the dog waste the gasoline street and that shroud that white shroud that scarf oh God for a thousand acres somewhere sitting there somewhere with that dandy just the two of us drinking martinis…..

















Posted in Bus Stop Stories, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely

I ran out of butter.  I wondered how I could possibly eat my toast this morning. Because this was a day I had to have eggs, butter and toast.

When I saw there was no butter, I didn’t exactly panic, but felt a very strong disappointment. Like when you realize there is no coffee in the house and you will have to wake up without it, and will end up feeling dull, tired, and unexcited all day long…

Once when I was visiting a friend in Carmel and we sat down to a decadent lunch of lobster, asparagus, white wine and freshly baked bread, a delicate little salad (my welcome lunch to commemorate my first visit to California, then still a truly promised land), her sweet elderly aunt suddenly inquired with a slightly worried look in her crinkled blue eyes: “Chris do we have enough butter?”.  It was butter, and only butter that would make everything at the table sing with flavor, make our mouths water, our tongues wiggle in anticipation like salivating dogs, and our four pairs of hands reach out simultaneously to the pale creamy block of butter on the table like Oliver Twist in front of the steaming porridge pot.

This 20th day of January 2018 where I have already seen another major house-falling -apart problem, more financial problems,  mental physical spiritual health problems…. and on and on….  I barely managed to get up this morning.  And then going to the bathroom to see if I was still there…. I caught my face in the mirror and saw the face of a very old woman.  As though overnight as I slept, someone had taken a very fine paintbrush and drawn tiny lines all over my face.  I look frightening.  Like someone waking up to find their hair had turned white overnight.  Like that woman I read about who ended up sitting in a Ferris wheel… way at the very top by herself all night long… because the employee had left her there accidentally, while in a drunken stupor. When they found her the next day her black hair had turned snow-white.

The thought of a nice buttery breakfast of lightly toasted sourdough bread, two perfect eggs glistening in the delicate fat, thick fruity preserves…. That made me feel slightly better.  Old age, financial ruin, my house falling apart all around me.  Butter could make that fade away for a little while.

There is also the sudden, once again, premature spring, forty-eight degrees on January 20, all the garden snow melting in great pools and the almost warm, misty spring-like air in the garden.  Butter can help with that too.

In a true spring I would run out in the morning, even at 48 degrees with my coffee and start searching excitedly for the signs of a new season.  Start looking for snow drops, or squill or the tiny tips of daffodils. Not now.  I draw the blinds, close the shutters… fear the bright shining sun that this winter has been either too bright, too warm or for two weeks icy cold.  Even the sun doesn’t know what to do, or where to go.

So sometimes breakfast is the only thing to look forward too before the day starts slapping you around again.  Before the strange and constantly unpredictable weather makes you yearn for things that used to be true:  Spring, Fall, Summer, Winter.  I used to know what they meant; they even had a certain color:   Chartreuse Green, Orange/Scarlet/Deep Emerald Green, White/Black/Grey.

I considered the no butter dilemma and realized there is always olive oil or walnut oil (from an adventurous and expensive salad recipe from many Thanksgivings ago before the penny-pinching times arrived).  Or  Crisco.  Corn oil.  Peanut Oil.   Maybe there is some lard somewhere.   Maybe a jar of saved bacon fat, duck or goose fat.  People used to do that, save the fat in little jars they kept in the cupboards or under the sink. Then they used it to dip in pieces of bread, fry potatoes, or fish.  Oh the pleasures of freshly caught trout fried in bacon fat!

I have never tasted that myself, but I read about it and I think I know what that must have been like. I did go fishing once and caught some tiny blue gills or rather a friend did and then he fried up the two or three precious little fish caught way up north in Minnesota. Oh the blue gills!  How sweet and fresh and tasty the mild white meat was!  How pure!  How full of the outdoors and the piney air and the waters where wild black bears still swam.

I remembered once in Spain, ordering eggs for breakfast and almost spitting them out.  They were cooked in olive oil.  There was no butter for the bread.  What a horrible breakfast I thought.  But then I was from America where breakfast often means toast, butter, jam or jelly or preserves, omelets made with three eggs and loaded with cheese, ham, and every vegetable in the garden. Sides of bacon, sausages, or ham. Mountains of hash browns or fried potatoes. Or steak and eggs, pancakes stacked a foot high, or waffles equally tottering on oversized plates.  All smothered with whipping cream, butter, maple syrup or strawberries dyed cherry red.  All gloppy and candy sweet… or neon blueberries smothered in Karo corn syrup…..

One day I was told I ate too much butter. Too many eggs, too much bread, too much cheese and I had to stop.  That was over 20 years ago.  I stopped eating butter and cheese for a while.   Even eggs.  Then over the years I read that eggs were good, eggs were bad, eggs were awfully bad, eggs were awfully good, and now it appears eggs are very very  good again.  They are after all, the perfect food.

Sometimes when I go down to the basement to get the eggs out of the fridge (the upstairs refrigerator broke down) I have to put them in the pockets of my robe in order to walk upstairs again.  And I feel those perfectly oval, smooth, fragile, very cold eggs, a little precarious, moving slightly in my pockets, as though little chicks would be popping out of them, so precious as though they were baubles of gold to hang on a Christmas tree…. and it feels like I am holding the whole world in my pockets, the whole fragile icy world about to crack. I often think what it would be to fall down the stairs with those eggs in my pocket and what a soggy mess I would be at the bottom of the stairs.  A human omelet.

I now still buy butter and slice it into a fat little patty and drop it into a pan and let it foam and crack in an egg or two, and baste them or have them sunny side up or scrambled. Scrambled softly, slowly, like MFK Fisher once advised in her famous collection “The Art of Eating”.  She said to cook eggs in a pat of sweet, unsalted butter on a very low heat and to cook them very slowly, stirring all the time.  And to add a little heavy cream…..and stir and stir… Until you have a mass of soft creamy curds.  I might shave a bit of cheese into it, snip a few chives on top, drop in a few sliced cherry tomatoes.  They taste better if you saute’ them in butter first.

And then the toast. I might pop in two very square pieces of sourdough bread from the Breadsmith or La Brea bakery and toast them just a little, and then spread them with another pat or two of butter. Rush it all to the table and savor every little last creamy fatty soft and slightly bland little bite. Oh, the coffee.  There must be coffee!  Strong, slightly bitter, yet mellow.  Made with icy cold fresh clean water.  If you can find fresh clean water….

So it is today. This prematurely warm January day.  You might say enough enough already of this kind of talk.  But I can’t seem to stop.  The weather now has become such a source of strangeness, of anxiety, of frustration, of complete confusion and discombobulation… and fear lately, mostly fear.. Fear of weather.  Fear of what we have done. Fear of what will happen. Every day the weather is a major player.   All encompassing, all enveloping.  Like a huge sweeping wave of terror.

I dreamt the park across the street erupted in volcanoes.  I dreamt that over twenty years ago when I first moved here. I still remember every single detail of that dream.  Being in the store near my house at the checkout counter… and seeing from the window the park outside and suddenly the huge geyser of dirt and foam and water and debris and suddenly the great noise and the panic in and outside of the store.  And I remember outside as I was running and screaming like the other people not knowing what to do and where to go, knowing it was useless to run home and try to shelter there because the home would not be there, and even if it was safe I couldn’t get there  because I had to cross the park, standing there in a swirl of panic and rushing cars and people and screaming everywhere, and me being completely alone, until suddenly I saw my friend Nerida.

Nerida, from work years ago, a very tall beautiful woman who looked like an African ancient queen. She had befriended me in my very darkest hours, when my mother died suddenly.  One day when I was crying at my desk she walked over to me,  literally grabbed my hands and almost dragged me to an empty conference room, and we both sat down and she said the most beautiful, compassionate, meaningful, heartfelt prayer for me.  It was she Nerida, coming to save me.  She was standing by a car in the chaos and she was motioning me to come to her and be saved.  This, I know is true.

I am not sure why I am thinking now of Nerida and that dream. But then, yes, I do.  Because I think bad things are going to come. Very bad things. Even worse than they already are. And there is nothing that I will be able to do about it.  And, I am not going to worry about it anymore.

I went to the kitchen and I poured olive oil in the pan.  I let it get almost hot and cracked two eggs into the pan and covered it with a glass top.   I took out two pieces of sourdough bread. They felt very heavy in my hand. Full of flour and almost dense as though they were made of dirt.  But they were only bread and had that slight sour tang.

The eggs were almost ready, and the bread was only slightly toasted so that it looked and smelled and felt in the hand almost like freshly baked bread. I cut the two slices of bread into four pieces.   Two into triangles and two into rectangles.  I thought the different shapes might make them taste better.  After all I had no butter to spread on the bread.

I spied a jar of honey on the far kitchen counter, not clear and liquidy but thick and opaque almost like quince paste.  I have only been using the honey for tea.   I spread the honey on two pieces of the bread and I put the eggs on the plate and sprinkled them with a bit of salt and a lot of pepper. And then I saw my butter dish on the lower shelf of the kitchen cart.  I must have put it there sometime last month after Christmas Eve dinner….. I noticed (with some excitement) that it had a tiny tiny  bit of butter on it.. the size of a dime…the kind of a smidge that warranted nothing, that you would put in the sink to wash…. and I took a knife and I spread that tiny smidge of butter on my remaining plain toasted bread, and I took it all into the dining room that still had remnants of Christmas Eve dinner … pale candles in old red votives, dark green brocade tablecloth, jade napkins,  coppery gold and frosted leaves in an old Victorian urn….  a glass vase of gold, red and amber glittering baubles…. and I sat there and I ate my breakfast, happy as a fish swimming in the everlasting waters of another spring.


PostScript:   Oh, whoever you are who may be reading this… or not…. I feel I owe some explanation… perhaps only to the little fish swimming in the seas or the cold little eggs in my pocket… I am still playing Dmitri Hvorostovsky on the CD player.   This story started out with Dmitri Hvorostovsky still on my mind, as his CD (“Russian Romances”) is still in the boom box in the kitchen, and this post is also filed under his own separate category.  I am still feeling very sad and shocked at his premature death last November,  as though he was someone I knew very well…. And when I am not listening to WFMT radio I press the CD button and there he is in my kitchen. And his voice still makes me almost delirious with happiness and also delirious with sadness.  And he seems to be, for me, right now some sort of symbol, for what, yet, I do not know.   And when I started out this morning in search of butter and eggs and toast I thought about him, and his funeral, and final burial in that cemetery in Moscow, that very cold and wintry day, and all the people standing there tired and unhappy, tearful and bereft and exhausted, weeping for their silver-haired lion.  And, it was just easier for me to write about butter and eggs. Even though I was trying to write about Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the snow.

Posted in Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Food for the Sick the Tired and the Lonely, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Chrysanthemums, The Beautiful, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Today is November 23, the day before Thanksgiving, that great American holiday for giving thanks, for being with family, for cooking, baking and cleaning until your house sparkles.  And exudes the smells of roast turkey, sweet potatoes, maple syrup…apple and pumpkin or mince pies and tarts…. whatever tasty morsels are steaming or boiling or roasting in your now gleaming palace of delights.

It’s cold.  It is November after all.  But just back in October it was almost 90 and the flowers were blooming and people were jogging by in shorts and tank tops.  Today it is cold and frosty.  I have not adjusted.  My mind is on flowers and fragrance and dew on the grass and the pink clouds at 5:30 a.m. when I still was happy and the world felt new or like it might begin again.   My sump pump is still churning out water from the rain storm last week, and now it flows down the driveway and onto the street, freezing into a narrow river in front of my house only.  The river of water comes more and more often these days.  It feels sometimes like it’s just going to take everything away.

I left all the chrysanthemums out in the garden last night.  It was starting to be tiring to take them into the garage every evening so they would not freeze, and then bring them out again in the morning.  The weather, once again, is so erratic so strange so like a schizophrenic human being.  One does not know what to do what to wear what to think what to feel or how to breathe anymore.

So much I want to preserve these flowers, these colors, that sharp, elusive, slightly weird earthy scent, that sometimes still makes me feel alive and happy even when I’m freezing.  Oh let it rain flowers! Let each and every petal live as long as possible before the winter comes.  And that big pot of pink mums, that looks like a giant cloud about to float up into the stratosphere.  Let it stay awhile.

There was ice on the streets but looking out the window early this morning, I see they made it. The flowers.  A little duller in color, a little frozen, but now, in the strengthening sun they are almost perking up, almost brightening, almost coloring again.

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table.  I had all these things to do today.  But suddenly I can’t even move.

When I turned on the radio this morning the announcer said that Dmitri Hvorostovsky  had died.  In London at 3:20 a.m..

There are some people, when they die, whether you know them personally or not, when they die someone digs a deep hole in your heart.  Makes you feel dizzy like all the blood just drained out, like all the evil vampires just got you.  Makes you cold and frightened, uncertain of where your hands or feet or face are.

I’m glad I am not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year because I would just stop, as soon as I heard the news that Dmitri H died…. it would just stop.  All the sweet potatoes, cranberries, gravies, pies, and tarts, all the flowers to be put in vases.  All of it would stand there shock still in the pantry, on the counters, in the jars, and boxes and bags, all the food in the fridge would freeze even more until it turned into powdery dust.  All the interesting recipes sitting on the table, to thrill my dinner guests, they too would shrivel up like winter flies on the windowsill and die.

I feel a great noise like an old rattling carriage plunging down a steep slope and the horses shrieking as they break free, and running wild over the rocky hills, and the old guy at the top falling onto the ground hitting his head on a big rock. My head is split open now and I am flat like a cartoon.  I cannot pick up a fork or knife or spoon.

The big news headlines are about the highest paid models, the death of a serial killer, the latest sexual predator, another sitcom star is dead, the Victoria Secret models will soon be parading their stuff, the White House is still a circus and next year 100 earthquakes will come.

The sun is coming out and the chrysanthemums are turning deeper and bolder and it almost looks like a nice autumn day.

But Dmitri Hvorostovsky is dead at 55 of brain cancer.  Placido Domingo said  that he felt “anguish”  at the announcement of his passing and that  “The heavenly choir may add a marvelous voice and soul to her prestigious angels.” And Renee Fleming that ” … there have been many beautiful voices, but none in my opinion, more beautiful than Dmitri’s.”

I’m listening to him now as I sit here unbelievably bereaved for someone I did not know in the flesh.   He was so beautiful.   It’s hard to separate the beautiful man from the beautiful voice.   That white hair flowing down like snow, like ice, sometimes like silver.   I’ve been listening all morning to a recording of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff romances and he’s singing   “Oh! this is the eternally weeping ocean devoted to the silent shore.”  And  “Let me not hear you sing my beauty, you with your songs of sad Georgia; they remind me of another life and of a distant shore.”  You have to hear them in his native Russian to know, really know what a true love song is, what a true broken heart is, what a truly desolate place the heart can be. How you wait and wait for someone who never comes home.  Even if you do not understand Russian you will understand every word he sings.

He’s a baritone, but sounds sometimes, almost like a tenor.  He can sound like a deep roaring ocean, and other times his voice is drenched with honey.  Each Russian vowel and consonant perfectly enunciated and lengthened, widened until the whole language pours over you like.   Like what?  Music critics the world over have described his voice and all the shadings and nuances far better than I can.   I can’t.  It’s overwhelming.    Words fail me in describing his voice.  I only know how to describe the absence of he who was that voice.  How desolate it feels that he’s gone.

I wish I had some drug to make this sad feeling go away.  Like when my father died, and then my mother.  You just want to get away from that aching heart.  Actually a heart can’t ache, we call it an ache I suppose, but it is worse.  It has no sharp, actual pain, no raw, excruciating, nerve ripping, torture.  It’s just dull, endless, sightless, colorless, textureless, yet it’s there, the emptiness of emptiness.  Beyond empty.  When you can’t sit or stand or see or think or feel and you do it anyway but all you experience is emptiness, nonsense, meaninglessness, but still you have to wander, move around, and flee because sitting still is excruciating, but there’s nowhere to go.  Emptiness is all around you.  Waking up one day you go to the bathroom to brush your teeth, and you wonder.  How many times have I brushed my teeth now and how many more times will I brush them…  And, you might drop the toothbrush in the sink and leave it there.

It feels like all the beauty, all the really beautiful ones, all the good ones, all the gentle ones are falling off the face of the earth, slowly one by one and those of us left behind, well we are simply left behind and it feels sad, so sad that you don’t even know what sad is and you can’t even describe your own state of mind because words suddenly don’t even have a meaning and without meaning you are in a state of limbo.

He was so physically beautiful and I wonder if that’s it.  He really did look like snow.  He was like a whole snowy country!  They called him a lion, the Elvis of opera, the “Siberian Express.”  He was young.  He was sexy.  He was charismatic.  Youth and sex always sell.   Looking at him in some photos he’s so strong, muscular, almost bulging out of tea shirts in those early publicity photos.  But listen to him sing and you can hear the love he had for his country, for his family, for beauty.  You can almost see his Babushka.

Even when he was a very young singer, and sang about old age or death or sickness or war you believed everything he said.  I see and hear my own parents when he sings.  My grandparents and theirs.   The country that I never knew but heard about whenever they were too sad or too happy or had too many drinks or listened to old Ukrainian songs on the radio or record player.

I’m wandering around the house now listening to the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff romances and don’t know what to do with myself.   All I can think of is to go somewhere, a bar, a club, a Russian restaurant.  And I want it to be filled with weeping Russians.

I want to run to that Russian tea house now and see Clara again and my mother and my father, my whole crazy family, especially the dead ones.  The wild ones, the unruly ones, the weepy emotional ones, the distorted twisted ones, who felt all the rage and pain and emptiness of war and ravaged homelands.  The ones who never found a place to be home again. Those are the only ones I want to see now.  Because I think they are the only ones who would understand, now, how I feel.

I want to drink a dozen tall icy glasses of coriander vodka with all of them, and listen to Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing all night long about nightingales and lilacs and poplars in the moonlight.  I want to sit with my drunken broken down father now and listen to him sing “Dark Night.”    I want to hear Moscow nights over and over and over again .. “Oh it’s hard to speak and yet not speak of the longing in my heart….”

I researched all over the internet for the English lyrics to this song and there are dozens of versions and I scribbled them down and they’re all over my desk in bits and pieces and I can’t read them now, and then I would go back on the internet and listen to a YouTube recording of him at that concert in Moscow Square from 2014…. and it doesn’t matter really if I know the words or not anymore.  It’s the way he sang each word, the way he put his hand on his heart repeatedly.  He did that a lot, put his hand on his heart when he sang.  When he received applause.  He also blew kisses at his audiences and those kisses seemed so heartfelt and natural.  I never saw anyone blow better kisses.

He received dozens and dozens of bouquets at his concerts, masses of them, from people in the audience who walked down the long aisles with their flowers and offered them to him.  Often white roses, that when he picked them up and clutched them against his black satiny and jeweled lapels, and then against his hair… it was such a sight.  At the end of concerts he often distributed all of his many bouquets to the women musicians in the orchestra.  I saw him do that after a concert in October of last year while he was very ill, but where he sang beautifully, and powerfully.  He must have been so tired, handing out all those flowers.

The vodka must be icy icy cold, the glass slightly frosted and the liquid clear and clean and fresh like water.  Running through your mouth and trickling down your throat that is choking on tears.  The coriander slightly bitter and bracing, slightly medicinal, slightly life-giving slightly fortifying to make you stronger so you can drink again and again and again and again.

I just sat all morning and listened to Dmitri Hvorostovsky on YouTube.  Singing in Italian in Russian and in French.  Singing opera, singing Russian and Ukrainian folk songs, singing French pop songs.   Looking more and more handsome and more and more white-haired and more and more like winter.  Did any one look better in black? Could anyone stand as ramrod straight and still look as supple as a reed?

He sang with the most beautiful women in the world– Anna Netrebko, Aida Garifullina,  Elina Garanca and whenever they were on stage they were dazzling they were beautiful they sang gorgeously but you only saw him, the Snow Prince.  They had eyes and lips and skin and arms and shoulders and hair and dazzling smiles. They wore dresses of silk and satin and brocade and diamonds.  But he eclipsed them.  He was the sun and the moon and the stars and the black night all in one.

He sang a song called “Toi et Moi” with someone called Lara Fabian.  A beautiful woman as golden-haired as he was snowy white. And I noticed his skin and teeth, his glowing face, more soft and velvety smooth than any model on TV advertising miracle creams.  Then he sang “Cranes” the song about Russian soldiers not coming home from bloody battles and turning into cranes.  Beautiful white cranes flying home again to the skies and it sounded like he was singing about himself, soon to turn into a white crane and fly away.

He smiles a lot when he sings. Big, genuine, wide and sunny smiles with very strong white teeth.  Everything about him looks strong.  His face his arms his torso his legs.  His face, if it were not so beautiful it could be somewhat brutish because of the large head set on a thick strong neck, but it’s that skin again, almost with a slight pinkish pearly sheen like a baby’s.   But that smile, it’s almost shocking.  It’s like the sun and the moon and the stars.  Truly.  I keep going back to the sun and the moon and the stars.  Because those really are the most beautiful, the most enthralling, the most eternal things and no matter how often you see them you wonder, you gasp, you’re amazed that they exist and you are there staring up at them.  His smile and dazzling looks had a little bit of all of them.   Just be in a dark room and the door opens and he walks in.

His face sometimes looks like a baby and toddler and teenager and young man and young woman and almost old man but not an old woman.  The older he gets the more beautiful he looks the better the hair looks.  In his last concerts he had shadows under his eyes.   A concert he gave about six months before he died.  The shadows are dark and slightly purplish and make him look not sick and close to death but just more beautiful like the moon in a violet sky.

Oh what a sadly deafening street there is somewhere in London town oh what tear-stained children and wives and mother and father.  Oh how that old Russian town must be weeping now at their white-haired lion gone, leaving them with dreamless sleep as he dreams peacefully on his own.

“Let me not hear you sing, my beauty, you with your songs of sad Georgia; they remind me of another life and of a distant shore,…”. One can say that of Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  Let us not hear him sing again because at least for now it’s too sad too emotional too painful. Oh what songs he could have sang for twenty more years!

I came home late last night from a concert by Dhaka Braha the Ukrainian quartet from Kiev and was still full of the excitement of  the evening.  The music, the four strong voices, the beautiful harmonies, the gorgeous costumes, the high energy of the drummers…  At the end of the concert they always unfurl a Ukrainian flag to riotous applause…It was a truly wonderful concert but through it all I thought about another singer the whole time.

Getting out of the cab the night took my breath away.  The sky was dark violet and there were immense whole mountains of pink clouds that looked like they were raked into a huge V shape and in between the clouds tiny stars twinkled.. the moon was a perfect crescent, blazing yellow, almost cartoon like and it was so far away from this earth so far and yet so close.  I  stood there not wanting to go inside just stood there in the silence with those tiny stars flickering in and out of the pink clouds.  The air was fresh and cold.

Renee Fleming said that there were many beautiful voices but in her opinion none more beautiful than Dmitri’s.   None more deep, more sorrowful, more glorious, and soaring like some eagle to the forgotten skies, none more lush and velvety.  None more missed then now looking up at the violet and pink and inky sky with that moon so bright, so sharp like a scythe.   I wanted it to stab me so I could have some peace.

The voice as it soars then falls like the softest flake of snow and then even softer and silkier as it melts into a puddle of our tears  “Only those who long to see someone know how I have suffered……”  he sings as only a Russian can sing and weeps as only a Russian weeps.  I never thought I would say that as a Ukrainian, knowing all the sad and violent history of our two countries.   But he transcended all that and it was that voice and that longing for truth and beauty and love that he sang about that matters most.  Oh how he sings in Russian.  I never wanted to learn Russian more then when I hear him sing.   So I can understand every single word every little smile every little tear every little frown every little hand gesture to his heart.

I’m living in a world where a top news story is who the highest paid model in the world is.  More important than the ending of wars.  More important than the hunger and torture and death of thousands.   Someone’s sexual misconduct more important than life than beauty than art.. more important than the death of one of the most beautiful voices we have known.

I hardly have any heart left and I feel cold, old, and alone, as wintry as it gets in what we call our soul.

I am glad I am not cooking a big fat turkey this year and scrubbing and cleaning and dusting and fussing with flowers and placements and maple souffle’s and madeira gravies. And trying to make brussels sprouts more interesting by shaving them and mixing them with crushed hazelnuts and topping them with pomegranate seeds…..

I am going to sit here instead and listen to Dmitri and I may go out and buy a big bottle of  real Vodka like they make in Sweden or Russia or Poland or Ukraine, and I might put it in a freezer for awhile until it is so cold it is almost hot.  Icy icy cold like my heart feels now.

And I will pour it into my most beautiful most precious vodka glass and I will drink the entire bottle and listen to Dmitri sing of broken hearts and ice and snow and empty shores and Kings and Queens of gladness Kings and Queens of madness.

I feel so sad I can smell the ink in my pen as I write this down.   I smell the ink like sweat and tears and shrieking drops of some liquid coming from some dying little broken down animal… some wailing thing that is still eeking out small sighs thin as a thread, like in  “A Hundred Years of Solitude”… the little girl, it comes out of her poor chest as she walks down the road with the rattling bones of her dead parents…

Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  Look at him.  Look at that face wide as some Siberian landscape. Endlessly beautiful endlessly fascinating and that white hair, yes that white hair that was white and silver and it was the whitest and most beautiful hair anyone had, that could make someone so beautiful even more beautiful.  He was both young and old simultaneously.  He was winter fall and summer simultaneously.  Sometimes walking across the stage in his long and elegant, slightly sparkly tuxedos, when the hair was longer, it swayed just a little, sashayed like a new kind of fabric, looked like moonbeams walking by, probably smelled like a thousand Siberian winters…

His voice can rip your very heart in two and he had a face and breathtaking smile to match… Let it rip.  It feels good to have it ripped in two, to have it ripped out completely from your breast so it won’t ache anymore.























Posted in Always the Garden, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Eating, Drinking, Cooking, Ukrainian stories, Uncategorized | Tagged | 37 Comments

Rain, White Candles and a Flock of Finches

It’s still raining.  It’s still cold.  The garden is still there and the garden still calls.

It is still hard to get up these days.  October suddenly is slapping everyone in the face (actually it is already November 13).

I feel so tired in the mornings!  It was dark and the rain was pouring and there was no fresh coffee in the pot.  There was too much rain today to go out with my hot cup of coffee and look for the gems in the garden.  Because you have to seek them out now.  The one or two morning glories growing up an old tomato vine, a tiny dwarf snapdragon growing in the gravel. But it’s so deep dark red.   Like wine in a glass.  And then there is the squash some bird planted, the two tiny squashes growing to grace some Thumbelina’s porch.

The pink vincas are starting to shrivel up but some are still smiling.  The euphorbia still has that lacy gauzy look like the veils on Victorian hats of long ago……. the ring of white Impatiens…. the rabbits are gnawing at them…. But there in the middle part of the garden in two high planters at the sides, are the frothy bowls of pink chrysanthemums.  Just those two bowls of flowers, their color and many petaled blooms, create a sort of magic that takes my breath away.

They are pink with touches of coral, apricot, and a kind of rhubarb glow. They are clouds, huge roses that would fit in the palm of Gulliver’s hand.   I can see him like a big baby smiling… the grass so green and lush.  Greener and lusher than all summer long, while everything around it is fading, crinkling, subduing….But those mums are like musical notes,  a small chorus of sprites in the garden, the last blast of sugary  summer lollipop happiness..  the startling magical beginning of the dusky sky….  and you might bend down your little head to smell the last of these flowers, into the dark and now cold  flower pots you go, there it is, the smell of autumn, wet dirt and fading grapes, the gold and red and green of leaves, the breathing in and out of trees, as though you smell the last of the breath the last of the sighs the last of the laughs mingling with the green grass and creating a new and strange perfume all its own, a chrysanthemum perhaps is autumn breath….

So walking through the park.  In and out of this park is the in and out of my days.  The tunnel, the Segway, the bridge. The other side is sometimes jarring, dreary, sad or lonely.  Sometimes there on the other side I see my little white house with the green shutters. All the things that happened there.  Will still happen. And as I walk down the path I sometimes feel like a stranger, a ghost walking into my own front door.

It was cold, colder than cold.   But then when the weather is not so fine, is when you see things, hear things, smell things, if you just stop for a while.  I felt sick and scared and so alone, not knowing what the doctor would find later that week.  I prayed so much my head hurt.  I prayed so much I felt my heart would burst.

Walking through the park, the deeply green lush park, I wondered why it was still there, why the trees didn’t just walk away from it all.  Why here and there I still saw autumn clematis why the Joe Pye weed looked dead and brown but still beautiful, why the six-foot high asters were still blooming in shades of periwinkle blue.  Why the sky didn’t crash down, why there was a vast twitter, that vast twittering as though the sky was singing some song.  I didn’t know the sky could sing.  And that white candle, the white candle was still there and I don’t know why it was or who put it there.

I smell things in that park that shouldn’t be there.  I don’t know where they are coming from. I smell my mother’s perfume, I smell my tears, I smell the stones on the memorial trees.   I smell whisky on someone’s breath.

There underneath one of the last weeping willow trees I saw something, like a dozen big balloons— blue, white, beige, and looking closer I see it is that old fat man with the long white hair and beard who I saw earlier in the morning. He moved to the other side of the park to catch the afternoon sun.  The “balloons” were the dozens of plastic bags he saved to keep warm at night.  He sat there and thought he was far away, that he was safe.  I could feel his fear and cold and loneliness…  wondering and wondering if someone will discover him and make him go away, or worse, call the police.

Earlier in the day, walking to the bus stop to work, I saw him sitting on the bench near the dip of land.. the one they fill with water and freeze for ice-skating in the winter.  He was sitting there like a stone. He startled me so early in the morning.  You don’t see many homeless people here.  He looked like a big fat Santa without the rich red robes… Santa fallen on hard times… Santa all pooped out… Santa sad and lonely in this troubled world…. His hair was very long and his beard wide… it all had a yellow tinge like linen sitting in a drawer for too long.  He was sitting there poor soul, in the park, in this town of rich people who have big warm houses and food in their bellies..  his face tilted towards the sun which was still cold.  Rushing to catch the bus to work I silently hoped that he would be allowed to sit there without fear and that the sun would hurry up and get warm. And then what?  Where would he go? You can’t eat the sun you can’t curl up with it at night and sleep…..

I’m thinking about the man now as I’m sitting in my sunroom that is slightly cold, and wonder where he is and why didn’t  I go home and make something to eat and bring it to him there under the willows…

I realize more and more that I mostly love the park, my garden, the streets, the everything when no one is there, selfishly, wickedly, my own particular greed that lately seems to consume me.  And that cold and lonely homeless man was there to remind me right in front of my stupid face, what real sadness is, real loneliness, real hunger, and real despair.

That white candle, I wonder still who put it there, not far from mom’s memorial tree. I walked over to the tree  and it looks green and lush and young again after all the rain that fell all weekend long.  My own little house almost washing away and the sump pump churning out water furiously and spilling out all this useless water on the lawn and the side and the street…. the birds then discovered it, and drink and bathe and hop around in it as though they are in Baden Baden.

I stood before mom’s memorial tree and talked to her, cried shamelessly in front of her, asking her to ask God to help me, pleading, begging and not caring if the dog walkers or children or teenagers walking by saw me, this pitiful mess of a woman prostrating herself in front of a plant with a big stone in front. It is growing bigger and bigger now, this Korean white star flower tree.  It is about fifteen feet tall and five feet wide.  The “berries”  those red walnut sized berries with the long reddish hairs trailing down… one of the reasons I selected the tree, they are almost gone, just one or two left.  The animals ate them all.   They’re always gone as soon as they come up.  There is another smaller version of this shrub in the park and it’s studded with the red berries. There is freshly shredded bark all around the roots courtesy of the Park District… all neat and clean and tidy.

I don’t know anymore why I write anymore about this park, my walks, the candles in the park, the flowers that come and go and ……. oh last week a big yellow iris was in full bloom in a corner of the park…. like in June…. I attributed it to global warming but then found out there are some fall blooming irises. But this one was too big too yellow and too late.

Then as I wandered on home I heard a rustling in the trees, a swooshing, a great stirring, and suddenly a chorus of finches flew out of the bushes, tiny, tiny, and very fast, almost like exclamation points, and they swooped in and out of the park, and finally flew far away into the pale sky……




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The Scent of Rain Walking Home Through the Park and Green Tomato Pasta Sauce

What a rainy day.  And cold. And dark.  The kind of cold rainy day that goes right through the bones as they say.

I still get up early.  Because, even though it’s October, I still must have my first cup of coffee walking through the garden.  One cup to wake up in and the other to see the beauty in.

Sometimes I walk in the garden and the moon is still out. Sometimes a few stars.  Sometimes a frightened possum or raccoon or squirrel or sleepy bird is there and  I probably startle them… or maybe they know already… who it is and what it is I am doing there…. Wandering.. A nomad in my little suburban town.

Today it was rain early in the morning.  Not just a light drizzle but a steady rain.  I went out anyway. In my warm green robe that a very thoughtful friend bought me years ago when she saw me shivering in that white and navy silk polka dot robe that you bought me.  It’s so pretty. So elegant.  Like something Myrna Loy would wear in “The Thin Man”. But it doesn’t work in my old and drafty house.  I would put it on in the morning and walked around the house shaking and shivering but I looked good.  But, my friend, she saw I was freezing.   Those were the days I even put on my makeup in the morning, especially the red lipstick. In case a neighbor came by or the postman rang or it was time to die and then when the ambulance came at least I wouldn’t be a mess.  It’s so silly I know.  But some of us still do this.  A friend of mine cut her arm badly, blood spurting everywhere, but she ended up taking a shower and getting dressed and most of all, put on her lipstick before she went to the hospital.

Now it’s the fleecy green robe. For years I didn’t really like it because it’s not quite the right shade of green and it didn’t go with the colors in the house.  It didn’t look good while I was standing on the living room rug.   Even more silly, I know, maybe insane.  It’s one thing to have an aesthetic but worrying about whether or not you match your furniture…. and the lipstick thing…. But that robe, the good one…  It’s still warm and in one piece.

I still have the silky white and polka dot one.  Because it reminds me of those days long ago and the absolutely thoughtful sentiment that went into giving me this robe.  Because then it worked, then it fit, then it kept me warm and calm and I moved through the rooms in that lovely condo with ease and joy.   There was order, there was money, there was hope.  There were many dinner parties and friends and even a secret lover or two.  That robe looked really good while I was drinking martinis.

I don’t know why I am writing about these robes.   I was really wanting to write about roses in the rain a few weeks ago at the Botanic Garden.  I took maybe fifty pictures of roses in the rain.   It would take a thousand years to write, really, exactly, descriptively, about roses and what they do to you.

My old green robe is perfectly suited to walk around the October garden. In the cold and the rain.  It’s so plush that the rain just falls and stays lightly on the top. It’s thick enough that I can stay fairly warm while I walk in the rain.  It keeps me dry down the long walk on the gravel driveway.. there are still a few tomatoes lingering in the pots… the small green ones… still green.  And the big beefy red ones that never got big or beefy or red.  Just a sort of dull greenish rose.  When I picked one in August it was half rotten and I ate the other half.    It was mellow and slightly tart, even a little salty.  The skin was.  What?  I don’t know.  I don’t know how to describe the skin.  All I know is this tomato that looked old and half rotten had a delicious mild flavor.  And the skin I think, just melted in my mouth like butter.  There are three or four hanging on the vine and I will pick them in a day or two and make green tomato pasta sauce.   I will use up all the other green ones dangling like marbles from the tired vines, and I may even pick up some that have fallen on the gravel. I might even see ones that the squirrels bit into and then threw away.  Should I eat them too? The squirrels sometimes, they seem cleaner to me than people.   Even though I started out writing about the park,  I am now only thinking about tomatoes and:

Recipe for green tomato sauce:

lots of garlic— two or three cloves or six or eight for real garlic lovers, or a hundred

medium yellow or white onion (or a small one)

olive oil  (you decide– a tablespoon or two or three or ….)

a pile of green tomatoes (whatever you have left on the vines– if you only have 3 or 4 med sized tomatoes this will work, throw in some tiny ones too)

crushed red pepper flakes (half a teaspoon or maybe a full one)

parsley– a chopped handful if you have some

chop up the onions and garlic and saute in oil until soft, add crushed peppers

add the tomatoes (coarsely chopped) and cook until soft, season with salt/ freshly ground pepper, or if you don’t have any fresh pepper, the old powdery pepper in the dusty bottle will do

ladle over freshly cooked spaghetti or linguine or angel hair pasta

grate freshly grated parmesan on the whole thing or romano or pecorino

A few capers might be good too.  A tiny bit of anchovy paste might work.

So I’m feeling a bit strange and I wonder and wonder why things are taking such a strange turn. The weather.   It must be the weather.  It was too much. Too much weather.  And it didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

I did not get bright sunny blue sky days.  I did not get gentle rain.  I did not get balmy breezes.   I did not get roses.  I did not get everlasting white lilacs.  I remember seeing them out there one morning while I was rushing off somewhere and thought you must smell the lilacs you must smell the lilacs… and then they were gone….

I did not get warm and balmy nights sitting with friends in the dark savoring the last of the bread and the cheese… the ripe figs in September, the melons, the strawberries that were tiny and sweet, the raspberries that you could eat forever…. I did not make that tomato pie, I never made that strawberry whipped cream cake,  I never did go to the beach with you like we used to…. and then coming home, the table in the garden waiting for us, the tablecloth with the purple and gold grapes trailing down onto the grass, the crystal vase full of phlox and lilies and roses… the wine glasses with those very very long stems like roses….

And the wine.  The wine we drank all day and afternoon long into the night… it would take a thousand years to describe the wine and what it did to us…

I’m hungry and have to go and make lunch now. But…. I wanted to describe the morning today trying to walk out into the garden with my coffee. What it was like…The Rain!  Like a child I thought oh no!  The rain why must it rain now when I have to walk in the garden! I have to see the coral chrysanthemums that we finally bought just this Saturday to decorate our fading gardens,.. I have to see them standing there like forgotten golden girls in ballerina dresses waiting at both sides like sentinels of pleasure and joy, I have to see the tiny verbena and magenta lobelia trailing down the  black antique urns… the leaves turning… that one stubborn constant Queen Anne’s lace hanging on hanging on like some dowager at a ball. There is still so much beauty there and it is hiding hiding hiding….

Walking through the rainy cold park today oh what joy.   All alone in the park and the grass almost squishy.. I walked onto the grass instead of staying on the paths…. the grass I wanted to run and play and sleep in just yesterday…. I walked past the little grotto where the statue of St. Francis of Assisi was years ago and someone snatched it away and the grotto is empty.. sometimes someone puts in flowers.. they stick them in the crevices.. like the blue irises I saw there years ago, and once there was a tiny angel… then someone else who does not want any religiosity in the park snatches it away…..oh what can a tiny angel do to you ……. as I was walking past the empty grotto I noticed a tall narrow white vase tucked in at the side.. and then realized it was a glass vase holding a long white candle … walking away then down the path just before I came to my mother’s memorial tree the air filled with fragrance. A gorgeous powdery baby soft slightly vanilla jasmine lilac scent.  A scent of clouds and swans and feather pillows, a scent of clean sheets hanging in the wind, a scent of rain and rain washed roses, white ones white ones white ones…..

















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Gyros chickpeas cold coffee, autumn sun and runaway mind…..

I have just gotten through three things on my to do list today:

  1.  lunch  2.  call Elene  3.  call Dave

I did all of the above but it took three hours instead of the allotted 1.5

There is still:  change clothes, air out basement (I have a very old house with a very old-fashioned basement that still needs airing out, it might keep me safe when the next tornado hits), look through bills, pay bills, mail bills (I still write out bills put them in an envelope, stick on a stamp and walk four blocks through the green and manicured rich part of town, to the little post office with the bored and sometimes rude post office lady who would rather be somewhere else), write for two hours, email Bill, call Jose, call handyman to put up storms,  make dinner, do the laundry………. that’s just the top part.

While I was on the phone with Elene I was walking around the garden, the gravel driveway (with morning glories,  verbena and bordeaux dwarf snapdragons here and there–growing through the small jagged stones), the front and the back.  The trees just won’t turn colors this year, at least not mine.  The tall serviceberry which is usually a fiery orange scarlet, the leaves are still green and oval, almost looks like summer except it’s a little worn a little old a little tired like me….. the lack of rain and then the constant heat of 90’s for seven straight days and then the sudden cold and then the heat again and then the drought again and more cold  ……. the tree just doesn’t know what to do… just like me so it stands there waiting and waiting for something to happen…

The Ash that I let grow in the corner right outside my back door is quite large and is dropping long and slender leaves in banana gold.. some in triplets some in sevens and eights and some in singles like big sloppy tears…

They are all over the lawn and earlier when I was still sitting in my chair outside eating breakfast (at 12:30 p.m.) one triplet fell on my shoulder and scared me and then I heard it laughing as it gently fell to the rich green grass below….after all the hot dry days… mostly a dry summer, it rained and rained last weekend and now it’s emerald green again everywhere.. the park across the street today as I was walking home, exuded green,  green smell green breath green teeth and lips, and it was like a shiny new animal just born….I was lugging two bags of groceries from the store and I wanted to just drop them there and lie down on that green grass and lick it up like some happy dog… but there were dogs and too many people there and I was feeling very greedy and wanted that whole 14 acre park to myself…… then I decided 14 acres is not that much…. I need 140 acres… maybe 1, 400 acres,   maybe 14,000 acres… oh how I could roam forever there and be truly happy….maybe 40,000 acres….

I must settle for my garden.  Eating two perfectly cooked basted eggs, the sunny yolks  smiling at me, the whites not gluey or hard but silky and creamy yet solid, and the eggs not full of cholesterol but protein for shiny hair and skin and teeth. And the toast… and that cherry butter jam Nat bought me from Michigan tasted… like they say…. a summer day in a jar. A day of sun and heat and those cherries on some tree getting bigger and riper and juicier and someone picking them and pitting them and mashing them into this velvety jam that made my mouth almost scream with joy… scream away like the blue jays in the bird bath… blue jays seem to come here lately in the fall… why is that?  They are incredibly beautiful even though they have a bad reputation…… they leave me alone…

Oh the sun in that garden as I was eating those eggs and eating that toast with creamery butter and that tart sweet velvety cherry butter…. cherry butter regular butter rosemary butter garlic butter you can never have enough butter…oh and the coffee… I love coffee so much there was a little left in my cup from this morning that I didn’t finish because I was running late..I could not throw it down the sink…. I left it there on the counter… coffee… my fragrant fresh ground deep rich bitter cup of happiness was there on the counter when I got home and it was cold and flat but I took it out and drank it cold anyway right there in the garden with the golden sun warming my back….

I am rambling now and I hear this rambling and it is a pitter patter of short term happiness in my brain because my brain is not happy because my brain my heart and eyes are seeing feeling knowing more evil and depression and degradation and humiliation and fires and hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes and shootings and murders and harassing here and there then I believe I have ever known.

This is why I thank God for my garden and for the leaves falling and the flowers even that are saying goodbye goodbye goodbye. The grass is still green and the light, the light is shining through the trees onto the tiles that I set down in the back bed creating two small paths in the garden.  And it makes the stone tiles shimmer like water move like water and the path is going here, there, everywhere and nowhere.

This sun should not be so warm so gold this October that has decided to stay and stay.   But let it stay.  I turn around to look at it still from time to time as I write this and I don’t even know what to say about it.. How it makes me feel how just sitting in that golden sun warms my bones my skin my very brain shakes it up just a little coddles it like some poaching egg….. I do have eggs on my mind and have forgotten to write about the chickpeas.   I love eggs and am always amazed when I crack them open at the miracle inside not to mention the breads and muffins and cookies and cakes and tortes and sauces and souffles and mousses and crackers and all sorts of other things you can make with them……… you can even poke a hole in them and suck them out with a straw…. some people did that long ago….That Italian woman who lived to be 114, Elena Morena? and died recently in Italy, said that she ate two raw eggs a day. She said that kept her alive and well.  Those eggs and no husband.

Chickpeas were on sale today 4 cans for $3.00.  I bought them.   I love chickpeas! With tomatoes and onions, with tomatoes and garlic, onions and tuna.  In soup, in curries with spinach and garlic and ginger, in humus.  Straight from the can.   With salt.

I love salt! Oh how I love salt.  Salt makes everything better.  I love salt like I love the sun and my garden… even though it is dying…. I realize it is not dying it is transcending, transmogrifying, transporting, elevating, reinventing…. it is giving itself up to the sun and the moon and the stars it is being littered with leaves and seeds and pieces of the gravel driveway… and the birds have decided to poop everywhere… and the raccoons and the squirrels and the possums or something decided to use the roof for a bathroom. Looking out the other day from the guest room I spied a terrible pile of poop and had to put that on my to do list and it just didn’t get there…. thankfully the rain washed it all away….

Eventually the sun and the rain  wash everything away…

Whoever you are who may be reading this, you may think this person has finally lost their marbles and yes it is true I have or will soon and will be like my garden letting it all hit and shit and spit and whack and thrack away and then the sun will come again or the rain or some scowling wind….. and it will be fine…..

I have not gotten to the gyros yet…. I have discovered gyros!  Years ago I lived in Chicago near dozens of Greek restaurants that had gyros. But, seeing that massive hunk of brown meat on a spit in the big windows facing the street, did not appeal to me, and the dark-haired mustachioed macho men slicing it with long thin knives did not appeal to me. Then I worked in a grocery store that had a gyros night and I saw that big hunk of meat again on a spit and ignored it again and again and the poor woman who had to wheel out the big spit and put it together and stick on the big hunk of meat and then spend an hour slicing the gyros meat and packaging it …. just looking at her tired sweaty worn out face…. I wanted nothing to do with gyros meat….

There is a little cafe here in my town with six stools… the whole place the size of a big master closet.  I have walked by this place for years, heard about it, it read about it and never wanted to walk in. They have burgers and hot dogs (oh I love hot dogs!  fries!   snappy hot dogs piping hot in a steamy poppy seed bun with sport peppers and mustard and chopped onions …. and long med sized cut fires with crisp skin)… But not too crisp!   Creamy hot inside almost like a baked potato… and perhaps that hotdog was sitting next to the steaming bun and got a little bit soft and moist and a touch oily…

A sign said “Best gyros 2017.”

One day tired from work from life from cars and buses and streets and construction…. from rain and sun and even clouds.. from Everything!….. I walked into the cozy shop and felt all eyes on me (they know everyone who comes in ) and I ordered a Gyros and fries and root beer. Root beer! sarsaparilla cowboys herby natural sodas to quench your thirst and tickle your nose!   I sat there a little self-consciously next to the construction guys and the delivery guys and the little uncertain six year olds whose blonde yoga moms send them in to order…. the beautiful aspiring actors from the theater down the street …

My gyros was placed before me.  The pita bread was soft and fluffy and slighty warm and steamy from the meat and there were slices and slices piled high into the bread maybe a pound of meat….there were thinly sliced white onions and wedges of tomatoes…. and there was tzatsiki almost melting like custard sauce all over it.. it was too big to bite into yet (I was wearing lipstick and you can’t eat big sandwiches when you are wearing lipstick ) so I picked at the meat delicately with my fork first, trying hard not to stuff that whole big pita sandwich in my quivering mouth…. well dear reader I don’t know how to describe this gyros…. spicy, dense and meaty savory and mouth-watering, the flavors dancing all over my tongue and roof of mouth and even lips……salt and pepper meat that didn’t taste like meat at least to me…..I am still basically a vegetarian and don’t like the taste of real blood and fat and marrow……I love cartoony meats like hot dogs and meatballs, Popeye’s’ (remember him?) burgers, the ones flying in the air on the TV screen…… when I go to the store and see raw meat I get sick at the sight of the blood and cartilage and fat and I can’t help but see the eyes and snout and feet and body of the poor animal and see it frolicking in fields and meadows… (I would like to think they frolic)… this gyros did not taste like meat it was like a gyros tree had grown and these gyros were growing moist and spicy and salty and peppery and dense and chewy like a clean, blood free clot free tree meat, and the sauce was all creamy and chock full of cucumbers and the onions and tomatoes the fries the root beer.    I sat there in that little shop and I ate every crumb and every drop and drank that cold frothy root beer and felt like I was ten again…. and  I walked all the way home and felt that gyros in my happy stomach all day long……

On the way out I noticed a mandevilla vine in a small pot and the gyros guy planted it and it has grown about 15 feet tall with huge showy pink flowers and its trained around a gutter pipe…..

Yesterday after work I did not want to go home and I took the bus to the center of town and I wanted a gyros again so badly I could taste it smell it feel it deep in my gut.  My vegetarian self rebelled and said no, and trying to decide I found myself walking back and forth in front of the place like a madwoman, and they must have seen me through the window…..I stood in front of that bubblegum pink mandevilla plant and tasted those long ribbons of spicy meat and I felt like someone just burst my balloon, stole my ice cream, put a grasshopper down my shirt, took away my lollipops…..then I left abruptly to go instead to the little cafe run by the French nuns where they have mushroom cheese pizzas and ham and cheese crepes and herbal teas and apricot tarts and coffee eclairs and strawberry moussess… but that is another story…








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What I Saw This Morning

It stays dark for a long time now in the mornings.    You can’t just walk out with your coffee at 5:00 a.m. and wander around the garden looking at the roses, the lilies, the zinnias.  Even though you planted the zinnias a month too late.  They’re there.  In pinks, reds, and oranges, magentas and yellows, white and every pale bubble gum color in between.

You can’t see them because it’s dark. But in the dark you sometimes begin to see….and hear and smell and feel the garden once again.  No matter what is happening in life, sickness, death or poverty, or any other human anxious dire thing.  The garden always calls.  Lifts me up.   Makes me forget.   Gives me hope.  Tells me it is another day.  Let’s me see how fragile, delicate, evanescent, transcendent, beautiful, ugly (sometimes) tired, hopeless and endlessly fascinating it is.    Because even in the dark it calls and in the dark you have the Stars.

The garden at night.  When it’s almost shimmering like dark water,  in indigo blues, inky blues, shadowy black blues, charcoals and purples that turn into blood red before your very eyes.

A heart is beating, some tiny cricket still is peeping in silver or in gold.

I woke up like someone being called, being raised from my temporary death like Ebenezer Scrooge, with his ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. I woke from my sleep in my dark room and wandered down into the kitchen and made the coffee like I did in the long and bright summer mornings, when things are pink and blushing before the yellow sun rises… but I was my own ghost barely aware that I was even there not knowing how I climbed down the long steep stairs… I turned on the outside light and some of the lights in the house to illuminate very slightly the garden to keep the skunks,  possums,  raccoons, or any unwanted humans away… and I stepped out into the darkness of my garden…

You don’t see the brown crinkled leaves, the yellowing grass, the trees that refuse to bring you autumn’s jeweled colors, the white guinea Impatiens that will not grow lush and wide like puffy clouds to rim the tired trees, you don’t notice the Euphorbia that stopped suddenly as surprised as you to be abruptly stilled, and those deep velvety black petunias that you tried all summer long to grow in the pot of wild trailing white flowers…they said no too …but it doesn’t matter…. in the dark it doesn’t matter that they disappeared forever from your once enchanted garden…

Now as I was walking in the dark, the contours of the place I call my garden has completely been transformed as though some plastic surgeon on a human face, the garden once again has curves and pink plump skin and beautiful bones, as though it was just born with soft baby cheeks and dimpled smiles, and long lush borders like swans whose necks are stretching out on endless blue lagoons, trees that look primordial, paths that twist and turn, the hostas even look like something from Brazil in this dark, the trees are solid mahogany and you could swing wild beasts from the branches…. the wild-eyed monkeys can eat bananas from the spindly hydrangeas whose flowers are no longer white but something whiter and dark and fuller and more fragrant than any night blooming jasmine, and they even sing…..the huge and boxy ugly house behind me has become a mountain like the one you used to climb or at least a big soft grassy hill, and the stars oh the stars looking up as though being called to them, being beckoned, being blessed, being christened again in dark baptismal waters, the screams and silences, the fear and anxiety of all these days and nights just one long starry ladder one long winding path of silver one long breath of air one long whisper one long heartbeat one long pause one long pause that will go on and on and on until the stars fade away into the morning watery sky and then tomorrow perhaps I will awake again in the dark room and climb down the long stairs to the dark kitchen to fill my cup again and wander out again into the garden black as night but lit up by a thousand flaming candles.

I see so many stars I see the Knight in Shining Armor, I see the Flame Thrower I see the Ladies in Waiting, I see the Beggars, I see the Sleepers, I see the Keeper of the Flames, I see the White Goddess, I see the Benign Ruler I see the Swans and the Birds Floating and Flying and the Hunter hunting for roses not blood, I see I see I see the night in all its glorious thrilling magnanimous beauty, the night that let me sleep the night that let me rest and now the night that calls me that calls me back into the garden to wander now peacefully, serenely, and I think I even see my mother there, my father, my grandparents, and all those souls from long ago as though they were breathing still, as though they have become a part of the nebulae part of the amber landscape the sepia drawing the night the night the night becomes dawn and the purple morning glories still peek out on the gravel driveway and I see them now rich and dark and purple underneath the fading grapevines….. and I remember them even in the dark, the silent way, the almost shocking, wild and gaudy way they say good morning… and maybe just maybe.  Hello.  It’s time to start again.


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