A Life in 100 Words (NYNH RR2)

While standing under the first sunshine of May an announcement crackled, the 11:27 was arriving on another platform. When I saw that the dozen or so other passengers, some Indian, some Asian stayed seated, I repeated the platform change aloud. After a slight reluctance we all climbed the stairs, making allowances for strollers, soft carpetbags and the elderly couple, went across the raised bridge and down the next set of stairs to the other side. It felt as if we’d been traveling for days, obeying crackling announcements, the camping and decamping tracks began to make wary prophets of our clan.

 

A Life in 100 Words (NYNH RR)

Playing it safe, we were early for the 11:27 to Grand Central, not like the day decades ago when Mother pulled open the polished brass doors as though they were made of balsa wood and I slipped on black ice shredding my first pair of stockings and bloodied my knee. It hurt and I wanted to cry but I was twelve and the look in Mother’s soft, brown eyes told me, It’s ok, sweetie, I have a bandaid in my purse. She linked my arm, Get on the train, we’ll have some oatmeal with brown sugar in the Club Car.

more A Life in 100 Words

Our couch faces the fireplace and the TV. We’ve nested with pillows, a coffee table for books, magazines and our feet, and lamps for reading under. In winter I fill pitchers with flowers and light the fire yet we eye each other as pen and ink drawings off a Gorey page. You can tell where he sits by the bits of food on the rug. We’ve had sex on the couch tossing the Times and books to the floor scrambling for the right fit, but that’s not the norm. We mostly eat, drink and watch MSNBC’s political news like zombies.

 

Da Lucca, Italia, 2

Luigi Zingales wrote on the opinion page for the International edition of the NYT and it probably appeared in the US but, if you missed the column most of it appears below and I urge you to read it.

 It seems that Zingales was prescient about Trump's rise to the highest position of power in our country as he puts it,  "having already seen this movie, starring Silvio Berlusconi... and he knew how it could unfold." The country focussed on personally attacking Berlusconi as it, "was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared... we saw this dynamic during the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was so focused on explaining how bad Mr. trump was that she too often didn't promote her own ideas, to make  the positive case for voting for her. The news media was so intent on ridiculing Mr. Trump's behavior that it ended up providing him with free advertising.

"Unfortunately, the dynamic has not ended with the election. Shortly after Mr. Trump gave his acceptance speech, protests sprang up all over America. What are these people protesting against? Whether we like it or not, Mr. Trump won legitimately. Denying that only feeds the perception that there are "legitimate" candidates and "illegitimate" ones, and a small elite decides which is which.

"These protests are also counterproductive. There will be plenty of reasons to complain during the Trump presidency, when really awful decisions are made. Why complain now, when no decision has been made? It delegitimises the future protests and exposes the bias of the opposition.

"Even the petition calling for members of the Electoral College to violate their mandate and not vote for Mr. Trump could play into the president elect's hands. The idea is misguided. What ground would we have then when Mr. Trump tricks the system to obtain what he wants? 

"The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition. Both treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focussed on the issues, not on his character.

"The Democratic Party should learn this lesson. It should not do as the Republicans did after President Obama was elected. Their preconceived opposition to any of his initiatives poisoned the Washington well, feeling the anti-establishment reaction (even if it was a successful electoral strategy for the party). There are plenty of Trump proposals that Democrats can agree with, like the new infrastructure investments... some details might be different but  it will add to the Democratic opposition if it tries to find the points in common, not just the differences.

"And an opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people's leader of the fight against the Washington caste. It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.

"Democrats should also offer Mr. Trump help against the Republican establishment, an offer that would reveal whether his populism is empty language or a real position. For example, with Mr. Trump's encouragement, the Republican platform called for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which would separate investment and commercial banking. The Democrats should declare their support of this separation, a policy that many Republicans oppose. The last thing they should want is for Mr. Trump to use the Republican establishment as a fig leaf for his own failure, dumping on it the responsibility for blocking the popular reforms that he promised during the campaign and probably never intended to pass. That will only enlarge his image as a hero of the people shackled by the elites.

"Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among the young leaders, one outside the party's Brahmnins The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?

 

Da Lucca, Italia

The political view of the US from here mirrors our own. Friends told us independent stories of seeing people on November 8 with tears on their cheeks and just thinking about that image brings them back to my own eyes. 

At the opera La Boheme yesterday both my husband and I were more emotional than usual at Mimi's death even though we've seen and know the ending, after all, all you had to do was watch Cher in Moonstruck!

We went to the Palazzo Ducale to the World Press Photography Exhibit which is shown worldwide in 100 cities and 45 countries and for some crazy reason this includes Lucca. These are award winning photos not by staff photojournalists but by independents who "follow the story" and then pitch them to news outlets. The exhibit includes the first, second and third place photos and then l'ultimo photo of all. These are very powerful images of conflict, hope and daily life.

This year the photos seemed and were exceptionally moving as so many involved the refugees in the harrowing circumstances we have become accustomed to seeing most mornings in the paper or online. I was afraid that we were becoming inured to suffering but this is our world and the photos force us to face much of what we have brought on ourselves.

A Life in 100 Words

In the kitchen of my childhood home, I’m grown-up enough to sit

on a chair at the blond maple table. My brother Peter is next to me

in the highchair. When the stove buzzer goes off I call to Mommy’s

back, “My eggy winged.” She smiles hearing my pronouncement

and begins to peel our soft-boiled eggs. Peter’s little legs begin

pumping in anticipation of the “soldiers,” toast cut into sticks for

poking the yolks. I grab a fistful and give him two. “He might choke

if he gets more,” is my rationale while I host a battalion on my lap.

 

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Photo courtesy of Priscilla Martel

The poems under the title A Life in 100 Words is a new manuscript that I have been working on and plan to post when I feel they are at least draft-ready.

 

David and Eileen

In the middle of his performance at the New Haven Shubert Theater last week, David Sedaris paused to pass along a book title that John Waters had suggested to him. The book is Eileen written by Odessal Moshfegh and both Waters and Sedaris praised it as the best book they have recently read. This PEN/Hemingway winner for debut fiction has been described as dark, not a surprise that Waters in particular praised it, unsettling, shocking and unnerving. Oh, and from John Banville, "blacker than black and cold as an ice. It's also brilliantly realised and horribly funny." Sedaris was selling the book along with his own in the lobby but I was too afraid to buy it.

Overheard in a deli in Lucca, Italy

MORTADELLA: Sal, look at me, I’m busting out of

the cellophane. I’m fat and ugly. I hate myself.

SALICCIA: I know Mort. We don’t know why you

have to be such a hog. We’re still aging here but

you don’t help, blocking our view for one; and two,

our having to look at those disgusting flecks of

lardo isn’t easy on the eyes, you know. To tell the

truth Mort, I get you confused with head cheese

sometimes, not so much the breadth or width of

you but . . . you know what I mean. Does that

help?

OLIVA: Trying to stay in my own brine here but

what does Mortadella even mean? Dead of her?

The mother killed him, cut him up and stuffed him

into sausage casing? Slice, anyone? No thanks!

PECORINO: Our smelly cheese wedges over here

aren’t much to look at either: one is paler and

runnier than the next. What do you say Focaccia,

you perfectly-toasted-brushed-with-salt-and-olive

oil-prince of breads?

FOCACCIA: Grazie, Pec. Pile in my friends, I’m

your cover.

Political Mayhem

Folks, I fear that Trump will bash Hillary over and over and over again on how untrustworthy she is and her huge foreign policy mistakes until her supporters cry uncle and begin to question her for themselves, and he has a trail of road kill to prove it.

She is terribly vulnerable and the media is too limp to refuse Trump’s only by phone interviews, or, to call him on anything. They allow him to spew the same bullshit every morning rather than press him to answer the fucking questions.

To my mind, by far the weakest panderers are Mika and Joe. She’s an empty head in a sleeveless dress and he, in his food stained tee shirts and fleece jackets, is such old news, primarily about himself. (see my book, Haberdasher’s Daughter, for the sartorial qualifications, lol)

Eating Alef

 

Hungry to learn, a grandchild singsongs the alphabet

while eating a sandwich without crusts and drinking

from a cup with a safety lid. In the photograph

 

of my father’s father, shtetl boys in a wooden wagon

hold honey-laced cookies shaped into letters, alef

to zayin. Some wear bits of knitted scarves and fingerless

 

mittens, others shrunken skullcaps stretched to their ears.

Leftover snow darkens the foreground but the threat

of a blizzard hovers like destiny against the cheer I imagine

 

as their morning lessons tumble into sugary crumbs caught

in mouths, pockets and the troughs of woolen trousers.

Presidential Primary Day

Voting is a privilege and voting in a primary can sometimes make a real difference.

If the Independents had a name other than independent, i.e. Nationals, would there be as many people interested in signing on? I think not.

I fear that many Independents don’t fully understand that they, as all of us, are free to vote for whomever we want to vote for. Registered Independents very often lose their vote because they aren’t aware of the rules that prohibit them from voting unless they have registered as a Dem or Republican before the deadline which can vary state by state.

Not that I care, but two of Trump’s kids couldn’t vote in the New York primary because they were unaware of the rules and missed the deadline.

So, just a suggestion, think seriously before registering outside of our two party system
so you won’t miss out on filling in the bubble on the ballot and having your say.

I am always so proud wearing my I VOTED sticker.

Hitler’s First Photograph by Wislawa Szymborska

And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy!
Will he grow up to be an LL.D.?
Or a tenor in Vienna’s Opera House?
Whose teensy hand is this, whose little ear and eye and nose?
Whose tummy full of milk, we just don’t know:
printer’s, doctor’s, merchant’s, priest’s?
Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander?
To garden, to school, to an office, to a bride,
maybe to the Burgermeister’s daughter?

Precious little angel, mommy’s sunshine, honeybun,
while he was being born a year ago,
there was no dearth of signs on the earth and in the sky:
spring sun, geraniums in windows,
the organ-grinder’s music in the yard,
a lucky fortune wrapped in rosy paper,
then just before the labor his mother’s fateful dream:
a dove seen in dream means joyful news,
if it is caught, a long-awaited guest will come.
Knock knock, who’s there, it’s Adolf’s heartchen knocking.

A little pacifier, diaper, rattle, bib,
our bouncing boy, thank God and knock on wood, is well,
looks just like his folks, like a kitten in a basket,
like the tots in every other family album.
Shush, let’s not start crying, sugar,
the camera will click from under that black hood.

The Klinger Atelier, Grabenstrasse, Braunau,
and Braunau is small but worthy town,
honest businesses, obliging neighbors,
smell of yeast dough, of gray soap.
No one hears howling dogs, or fate’s footsteps.
A history teacher loosens his collar
and yawns over homework.

Queen Elizabeth II

 

Happy 90th to ER II.
As a child I read every book in the West Hartford library about Lilibet and her sister, Margaret Rose. I was fascinated by the Royals, their gold carriages, jeweled crowns and, as a child myself, the amazing dollhouse the princesses played with.
I saw it for myself in my early twenties on a trip to England and once again fell in thrall.
On that same trip, while meeting family members for lunch at Claridges’ Hotel, we practically walked in together with the Queen and Prince Philip as they were also having lunch at the Hotel.
They arrived w/o any fanfare, unlike the chaos our presidents create by closing streets, setting up barricades, police sirens and endless motorcades.
The few of us outside the hotel stood by the doors under the canopy quietly clapping as they passed by. Again, no in the face photographers or news’ people shoving mics, just us and a few others showing respect to the the Queen and Prince Philip.
She was a tiny woman dressed as she always did in a dowdy fashion with the prerequisite hat and empty handbag.
I will never forget the moment she turned and I saw her full face. Her skin was the ultimate definition of peaches and cream and I thought she was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen.

Bearing Witness

I wanted to put a name to how I am feeling today but could only summon that I was having a cris de coeur which was a bit too melodramatic even for me, so forget that.

A year ago, while packing to move to New Haven, I needed to tackle the photograph albums and endless Kodak envelopes of loose photos and put them in some sort of order.

That task quickly fell to the wayside as I was in a “who are these people, anyway” mood and tossed a lot of them. Then came the albums, baby albums and baby’s first tooth books to be filled out presumedly by me. This mother didn’t get very far as I was certain that I’d actually remember the date every one of my children’s teeth fell out. These days, just trying to remember the years of their birth takes a lot of concentration. lol, kind of.

Naturally there were many black and white pictures with pinked edges of grandparents, great grands, aunties, and others I never was certain of from the beginning. I always adored the baby pictures of my beloved mother especially the one where her mother “sat” her in a little wicker chair at two months to have her photo taken. My grandmother did not have a maternal instinct. The baby’s chair was to be sat in. Period. Thus, there is mother, tilting to the left and sliding down the woven seat as the picture was taken.

I wasn’t sure that my kids would know, in fact I was sure they would not know, that the picture was of my mother and so I wrote her name on the back. There were many many others photos, quite a few of people that I didn’t really know either but their images had woven into my childhood memory and become important in some way.

Next I tried to decide which pictures of my kids were my favorites and that I could not live without. I did the same with my grandchildren and packed them in boxes marked either for the bedroom where I would either hang them or place on my bureau or desk or bookcase or basement where most of the albums will stay.

Before I packed them up I put photos of myself on the dining room table. One was a photo of me in kindergarten at the Spring Street School in Suffield on St. Patrick’s day. My teacher had brought in a cake and we had sung Happy Birthday but I cried to my father that night because St. “Paterick”wasn’t there. It was very sad.

The photos looked back at me and after a moment I understood that they were the sum of my life and it kind of freaked me out. I kept them on the table for days hoping the trauma would lessen. It did until today when I decided that it was time to hang those pictures up in our new home.

One good thing about waiting so long to hang them was that I’d basically forgotten the original agony of making the choices. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Placing the kids and grandchildren around and hanging some others didn’t take long but when it came time to building the shrine to myself (that’s what I call it when I hang more than one picture) I couldn’t stop staring at my young self. All black and white, there are no smiling pictures, only full frame, smoldering stares into the camera. There’s no artifice, but I’m bewildered and a bit frightened by the intensity of this eighteen year old. That’s when I began to cry.

A Writer’s Schedule

I get out of bed at the crack of 8:30. I wake up a lot earlier but nouns and verbs and occasional adjectives need to be rearranged in my head, the ones that keep me up at night. I separate the whites from the darks in the basement and the first load begins to slosh. Breakfast is something like oatmeal with fruit and yogurt, a cup of coffee then I read the Times or whatever else might be on the kitchen table while a red pepper roasts on the gas range for lunch or something else bubbles into another meal. Check emails and fb until the first load needs more separating like the clothes that can’t go into the dryer and need to be hung. The ones I call hand-washed. Load next load wondering, is this how Lydia Davis does it before running back upstairs to jot down more irony? W.C. Williams between patients with a stethoscope around his neck? I type a few lines on the computer when my husband shows up with a bushel of tomato seconds, those with slight decay or deformity and because I think that I want to make a lasagna for Sunday supper, I get a sauce started so that it can cook for the next three hours when we have to leave for an appointment to schedule a teaching job. I’m hungry and drink a delicious leftover cold beet soup straight from the mason jar. The beginning of a poem starts to crack across the screen. I can’t stop and think I’m so fucking smart to have gotten onto something this original but I’m in sweats and a moth eaten maroon sweater that belonged to my ex and need to get lunch ready now in order to have time to bring up the last of the clothes to fold and get to the appointment. Also I haven’t washed a dish from breakfast. Yes, he helps but he helps his way. Over lunch he reads what I wrote in the morning, slim as it is and makes some suggestions I’ll mull over later. Dishes go in the sink because I want to spend the last few minutes before leaving to get this into some kind of shape, to at least get it on paper so I can carry it with me. We arrange to lead two eight-week writing classes for next spring and fall, stop for an ice cream on the way home and sit outside where the charity of September isn’t lost on us. Like all writers, we’re stealthy observers. I begin to wonder if the two seventh or eighth grade girls on another bench might have changed their clothes in the middle school bathroom before coming here because, beside the smoky eyes and kewpie-doll-pink lip gloss, I don’t think their mothers would approve of the cutoffs or cropped tee shirts, or the chandelier earrings grazing their bony shoulders. A cell phone rings and the large breasted girl talks with her mom, the heavily mascaraed eyes roll wearily at her friend whose face begins to tell the story.

Drunken Boat #18

Press Release

Danger lurks in the soft thudding of chipmunk against tire, a chipmunk

I never saw coming but pay for, nonetheless. Floaters slip in the viscous

and there is no swatting them away like the new house, looking

like it was delivered to the wrong address distorts the landscape.

like the intruder that floats in my right eye freely redacts imagery. Looking

for answers on ophthalmology sites, unbidden FAQS

pulse to the side of the screen.                   What is

 

Justin Bieber’s Cell Number 2011? What is

 

the Role of Youth in realizing the Dream

 

of Dr. Kalam? What is WWWSEX? What is

 

ZENDAYA COLEMAN NATIONALITY? What is

 

FICA TIER 1? What is Justin

 

                           Bieber’s cell number, FOR REAL?    

 

Trending outward, bound for knocking at repairs and service,

and with all of the aboves unknown, I check each exit

for evidence before opening the door.

 

only the tightening of my jaw in resolve against parts

wearing thin, juxtaposed to the slow exhale of understanding.

 

 

 

Tidbits from Bleak House I couldn’t keep to my self.

The man writes like the Dickens.

Each action permeates character and scene leaving the reader full but not overstuffed and burping adjectives. Dickens has the right words and the genius to play them in the right order, one of the Sisyphean tasks for writers.

“He retired into the sanctuary of his blue coat.”

“Such a fine woman as her, so handsome and so elegant, is like a fresh lemon on a dinner table, ornamental wherever she goes.”

“… down the hall, a few steps ahead of Mercury.”

“He came back like a recollection.”

“The ghosts of trees and houses, clothes lines…”