Friday, July 31, 2015

Donkey's call

behind a fence in France
leans against the weathered wood
and brays with all his might.
Maybe his kin will hear his call.
He watches all who wander past
and stamps his feet
in the golden grass -
flares his ears to listen well
but hears no reply.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

card catalogs in libraries

In the past, and still today in some locations, libraries had halls or open rooms dedicated to their card catalogs. The large libraries had rows and rows of handsome wood cabinets, the drawers filled with index cards for each book in their system. The smaller libraries, such as that in a high school, might be able to catalog their books into one such cabinet.

There is something visually appealing about the cabinets with the rows and columns of drawers. The experience of using the catalogs is appealing as well. You may look up a book by the author's last name, or by the subject category, or by the book's title. Say that you are interested in finding 'Huckleberry Finn' by Mark Twain. The drawer label might read 'Tr through Un' for information on books by Mark Twain. Or you might look up 'Ma through Mo' looking for books regarding the subject 'Mississippi River'. If the library has that book, there will be a card for it with a code to help you know which part of the library, and on what shelf it is located. The code is called 'The Dewey Decimal System' and categorizes books according to general book type (Fiction, Juvenile, Reference, et cetera) and by author or other relevant information. The code label is usually attached to the spine of every library book.

With the advent of computers into libraries, we can quickly locate a book using the library's catalog computer. The computer has a word search tool into a data base of the library's inventory of books. The library keeps the data up-to-date. You can even discover if the book is present or has been checked out.  

Some libraries have such a computer system, and, for many reasons, also keep their card catalogs active.

Cards referring to Mark Twain might be curled and softened by use across many years. More specialized or unfamiliar books might have cards still in pristine condition. The feel and scent of the old catalogs have a certain romance to it, for you are in touch with thousands of readers before you who have thumbed through the little cards in search of a book.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sometimes you learn something and reject it. Teenagers are infamous for this because they are full of energy with the sense they are on the crest of a new wave and they know everything. Which maybe they do. Still, parents and little brothers and sisters and school teachers offer this and that, and the teenagers barely hear them until some forty years later. A light bulb brightens. Whatever their teachers had pointed out is suddenly relevant. They plug it into their lives somehow and Zap!!! everything is on the right path again.

As a teenager, I shunned the boring music of my parents' era - the crooners, the Big Bands, the Broadway musicals. There were electric guitars, rock and roll, surfer bands, folk music, Motown for us adolescents to explore. There were the Beatles. We were riding the new wave.

But it's some forty years later. Here I am, entranced by Big Band's Glenn Miller and Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. I look for this and that on The blasts and synchrony of the trombones, the amazing dance rhythms, the strange wonders of the drummers as they seem to freeze a beat in mid-air. The lyrics of life before we were born - the music of the 1930s to 1950s survives, full of energy, a treasure of fascinating sound and memories.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Aspirin in its original state was made from the bark of a tree. It's an old stand-by, found in the past on most family medicine shelves and first-aid kits. Centuries ago, people made teas using the bark to help relieve symptoms of illness. A quote from Wikipedia: 'Aspirin is based on salicylin, a chemical found in the bark of the willow tree. The therapeutic properties of willow tree bark have been known for at least 2,400 years, with Hippocrates prescribing it for headaches. Bark containing salicin was used by the Romans and American Indians to treat cold, flu, aches, pains and infections.'  I've heard of animals who chew on the bark when ill or injured.

Bayer was the first company to identify aspirin's chemical formula and synthesize aspirin in the late 1800s. If aspirin were to show up today as the latest medical find, it would be considered a wonder drug. Aspirin is very effective in lowering fevers, thinning the blood (diminishing clotting), and reducing pain. Its side effects are few.

A couple of cautionary notes: You want to be sure the product you purchase is true aspirin. Avoid use of aspirin for ulcers and before surgery because of risks of increased bleeding.

Monday, July 27, 2015

freeze tag

Early in the summer evenings on a small suburban street in 1960, we played freeze tag. One kid was selected to be 'It'. He or she would chase the other players who ran shrieking in the other direction. If 'It' caught up to another player and tapped them on the back or arm, he would call out with authority, 'Freeze!' The other player had to stop and hold in the position in which he was tagged. In other words, the victim stood in place like a statue, frozen with arms and legs askew.

'It' would then run after the other players. If he managed to tag them all, the yard was filled with kids in a kind of pause, a yard full of sweaty statues. 'It' won.

But there was a way to be rescued. As It was busy trying to catch everybody, the other players who were not yet frozen could run back and un-tag a frozen friend. As soon as he or she was touched, the frozen kid would come back to life, say, 'Thanks!' and they both would run again from 'It'.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

When visiting Seattle, Washington on a cloudy day, you might not think about Mount Rainier. When the skies clear, though, it's hard to look away. Mount Rainier's magnificence and huge presence above the city leave one rather stunned.

Rainier is one of a strand of volcanoes that runs north-south through the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Each is a natural wonder that leaves one with a sense of profound grace. Here is a list of some of the largest of those volcanic mountains:

Mount Baker (Washington)
Glacier Peak (Washington)
Mount Rainier (Washington)
Mount Saint Helens (Washington)
Mount Adams (Washington)
Mount Hood (Oregon)
Mount Jefferson (Oregon)
Three Sisters (Oregon)
Mount Mazama (Oregon)
Mount Shasta (California)
Mount Lassen (California)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hobo's Meditation

There are songs about everybody - songs about chimney sweeps and bankers and gamblers, farmers and mothers and fathers, songs about dancing bears and gypsies and kings and queens and sailors. One of my favorite songs is about hobos.

Jimmie Rodgers, the composer, worked for the railroad in the early 1900s, and a number of the songs he created were about life on the rails. 'Hobo's Meditation' is one of them - a simple song, plain spoken, not overly sentimental with a lovely, 3/4 time waltzmelody. Many country singers, including the 'Trio' (Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Rondstadt, and Dolly Parton) and Merle Haggard have performed and recorded versions of the song. Jimmie Rodgers emphasizes neither the hardships not the romance of being a hobo, but just includes them with us all.

The lyrics of Hobo's Meditation by Jimmie Rodgers:

Tonight as I lay on the boxcar
Just waiting for a train to pass by
What will become of the hobo
Whenever his turn comes to die
There's a Master up yonder in Heaven
Got a place that we might call our home
Will we have to work for a living
Or can we continue to roam

Will there be any freight trains in Heaven
Any boxcars in which we might hide         
Will there be any tough cops or brakemen
Will they tell us that we cannot ride
Will the hobo chum with the rich man
Will we always have money to spare
Will they have respect for the hobo
In that land that lies hidden up there

Thursday, July 23, 2015

the Saints

New Orleans started up an NFL (National Football League)team in the 1960s called the Saints. (There was also AFL - an American Football League - at the time). Football had little meaning for me until the Saints showed up. Our dad for the first time stayed pinned in one spot - every Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours - in front of the TV to watch the game. 'Let's see how the Saints are doing!' Sometimes he had a can of Falstaff beer while the game played. We kids played in and out of the room while he watched. Sometimes, we stopped to watch too. What was this that held his attention each week? We asked questions and after awhile, got to understand the refs wore black and white stripes. They threw down yellow flags for rule infractions. We learned about '4th downs' and 'pass interference', 'touchdowns' and 'conversions'.

We learned it snows a lot in the winter in some places like where the Green Bay Packers were from. Most coliseums were open-air back then. It was really fascinating - especially from our TV in Louisiana - to watch the snow falling and whirling while these men huddled, got a plan, threw the ball - hike! hike! hike! - in the freezing weather.

There was a pace to the game. It moved pretty swiftly in the beginning - but the last four minutes on the clock went on forever, and a lot could happen in those four minutes.

The Saints rarely won back in the 1960s, but had as many loyal fans as the teams that made it to the playoffs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Where did lace come from? I don't know when humans first tatted the beautiful patterns that cling to a web of threads. These fine fabrics adorn altars, tablecloths, hair ribbons, bridal veils, and clothing. The inspiration though for the lacemakers' intriguing intricacies can be discovered throughout our existence - leaves caught in icicles, a spider's threaded web, the patterns of stars and planets we see in the night sky, threads of stamen and pistil and petals dangling from flower stems readying for seed, frost on a window pane, veins of a crumbling leaf, foam of the tide dotting the sand where a wave has withdrawn. They arrest the eye, nature's lace, here and there, like God doodling.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

night sail

high notes
low notes
colors and strings

on a tilted harp
of power lines

all sail gently
into the night
a fine cloth of birds,
kites, sounds in flight

Monday, July 20, 2015

taffy pull

As a kid, I read a book dating in the 1800s where the characters participated in an event called a 'taffy pull'. The ingredients for the candy were brought to a boil, cooked, and then cooled. When the candy was still warm and pliable, the children were allowed to pull a manageable mass of the stretchy stuff until it hardened, and cut it into different shapes and sizes. I was curious to see how that was done, and have found references to such parties since, but never have seen or taken part in a taffy pull.

Here is a quote from wikipedia regarding taffy: 'Taffy, or chews, are a type of candy similar to toffee. Taffy is often sold alongside bubblegum and hard candy. Taffy is made by stretching or pulling a sticky mass of boiled sugar, butter or vegetable oil, flavorings, and coloring until it becomes aerated (meaning that tiny air bubbles are produced, resulting in a light, fluffy and chewy candy). When this process is complete, the taffy is rolled, cut into small pastel-coloured pieces and wrapped in wax paper to keep it soft. It usually has a fruity flavor, but other flavors are common as well, including molasses and the classic unflavored taffy.'

Saturday, July 18, 2015

men's voices soar
weaving night chant
floating fishnet
peaceful dream catchers

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dropsy in Wonderland

My fingers dropped a deck of cards
onto a broken step.
I bent to pick it up
and saw
a dozen other decks
They perched like birds about the yard -
my hair
stood up on end
my eyebrows arched in question marks
but I clutched my deck in hand.
I removed the cards
from their compact box
and oops
they all dropped out!
The cards flew down about like flocks

like waves of paper birds.
Not a dozen, now, but
a hundred decks 
of brand new playing cards.
Exploding from their boxes
in the breezes blowing
in the grasses glowing
whirling in circles,
dangling from twigs,
tucked along the curb,
somersaulting across the yard.
Well. What a challenge.
What a sight.
A hundred tens of spades float down
four hundred deuces bow -
a hundred jokers dance before
four hundred kings with crowns - 
But where's my six-of-diamonds?
Will I know
my jack-of-clubs?

how many little threes of hearts
will follow me around?

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I can't say I've had a lot of run-ins with possums in the wild. When I was a youngster in Louisiana, occasionally as our family exited the car in wintery early night, a possum might be seen near the dog's bowl under the entry, or scrambling away from the shelter of the carport. They tended to be active at night, live hidden from us most of the time. We only saw possums when we surprised them, unannounced. Their sweet long faces were appealing, their hairless tails a little unnerving. We did come upon what looked like a dead possum once, only to look again a while later and find that it was gone. I never knew why a maintenance crew at the hospital in Texas where I worked carried off an adult possum in a net early one morning, to be removed and transferred to another location. That possum was hissing and struggling. Possums bare their teeth when they hiss and look scary, but the only time I've seen a possum hiss was when it was afraid, on the defensive. No one has ever mentioned to me getting bit by a possum.

Possums are marsupials, kin to the platypus, the kangaroo, the koala, and the wallaby. They're reported to be the only marsupial native to the American continents. Their alert, curious spirits are a peaceful part of the woods and swamps at night.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

One afternoon along the Snake River in the northwestern United States, far from any towns or neighborhoods, a friend showed us something special he had found on a previous visit. There along the side of a great boulder was a little house made of rocks and sticks. The hut, built against the stone, was no more than two feet high. A path in proportion to the structure's dimensions led to the front door. There was no mortar, glue, or nails - and yet the 'hobbit house' was strong and sturdy and looked welcoming, if only we were 14 inches tall. However, we didn't touch it, as though we respected some invisible boundary and didn't want to trespass.

Monday, July 13, 2015

As a kid and as a young adult, I was largely unaware of anything outside of my small social sphere of school friends. Like being nearsighted, one doesn't see how people and events outside of one's school and home may be influencing what's going on within. Perhaps you only see the people and pets before you, the street you live on, the one grocery store your parents frequent. Growing older, you learn this and that - and how sometimes big events may have been happening around one's clueless young self. The only reason I remark on this now, from the lofty berth of my sixties, is that it's as though somebody earmarked dates in time for me to take note of later. It's as though an angel or auntie said, 'Here's a great song! 'Country Roads' by John Denver. We'll make sure she hears it for the first time today!' A singer's voice or a piece of music and/or a bit of romance secures a marker in what might have been forgotten as an ordinary day among many ordinary days. Music and romance are processed differently than conversations and observations, and perhaps stand out more among one's memories. A song and a kiss are colorful flags in the many black and white pages of the book of one's life.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

My mother's birthday was this week
she would have been 92.
There are some questions I wish I could ask her -
when you grew up along the bayou in New Orleans,
what did you see?
who took care of the horses
that pulled the wagons in town?
and what did the horses eat?
did people keep them at their houses
and did everybody have a horse?
or was it like calling for a taxi?
were the streets and roads already paved?
if somebody had a car, where did they get fuel and what did they use?
did you have any chickens or ducks?
on a hot summer day
how did you stay cool?
did you have frogs in your yard?
were they all alike?
how did you let your friends know they could come and play
before you had telephones?
did everybody have electricity?
how do you bake a cake without electricity?
where did the man
with the block of ice in his wagon
get the ice?
how did they make ice on a hot summer day?
Did the newspaper just have local news?
When and how did they get news from far away,
say Washington, District of Columbia?
Did you ever see anybody
turn cotton to cloth?
What were the candles like,
and who made them?
Where did the artists get their paints
and what were paints made of?
How did you let your aunts in Mississippi know you were coming to visit,
or did you and your family just show up - surprise!?
Were there any wild animals in town
like bears or alligators
wildcats or moles?
Happy birthday, Mama!
When are you coming back?!

Friday, July 10, 2015

morning fresh air

i lived in a boarding house
once upon a time
every morning
no matter what
the landlady opened the kitchen door -
clean fresh air flowed in
sometimes with chilly raindrops
sometimes with sunshine
and a shy neighbor cat.
sometimes a sweet breeze
sighed and lifted the pages
of a newspaper
on the kitchen table

Thursday, July 9, 2015

alignment perfection in the library

six by forty-five
columns and rows
of compact discs
in plastic cases
on shelves before me
with a small wire rack
of digital video discs
perched above.
alignment perfection
of almost 300 rectangles
pleases the eye.

i think of pixels
i think of satellites
and i think of corn kernels
aligned on the cob.
a perfect wall of bricks
a brace of stones along a creek
a marching band
lined up in uniform
before the game begins.

i think of a round of solitaire,
the playing cards
in columns and rows
then think of us
the hermit crabs
with nothing to do
but count the discs
the columns and rows

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

During 2011, I was writing. Every day, I wrote a very short story, either a first chapter, or a last chapter. One collection would be called the book of beginnings. The other, the book of endings.

Within a few days, I learned something. There is little difference between beginnings and endings. Some of the first chapters could have served as endings. Some of the last chapters read a lot like beginnings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Most of us read novels, looking for a good, absorbing story. Sometimes we skip the description of the setting because we're engrossed in the plot, anxious to learn what happens next. Sometimes it's such a good read, we go back and look at those details we may have skipped over at first.

There are quite a few books that I have reread many times. I already know the story from the first read, but I enjoy living in the time period and location and situation the author depicts in the book. It's a way of traveling without leaving town.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri, first published in 1880, contains loving depictions of the Swiss Alps. Much of it takes place in a small mountainside cabin where the child Heidi is cared for by her grandfather. What they eat, how they get around, and how they spend their days offer a fascinating contrast to contemporary life. The description of time spent in the quiet mountains, the air and the grand glaciers above, are absorbing and well written. Little Women takes place in New England, not far from Boston, in the 1860s. Again, you learn of clothing and the manners of the time, how children are reared, what kinds of social events people enjoy, how they travel. Anne of Green Gables describes small town life in eastern-Atlantic Canada. The beauty of the land and farms there make one long to go back in time, to ride in a horse drawn buggy through the apple trees in full bloom in spring.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith introduces the reader to an impoverished family living in a dilapidated, romantic castle in the 1930s. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the life of a poor family of Irish descent creatively surviving in the 1930s and 40s. The details of city life in New York, and how kids spend their days, are informative and enriching. Many of Dick Francis's mystery stories take you to the world of horse racing in England 1960s. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories take you to the life of a single man who lives in London, but whose work takes him to different parts of the country. The plots in such books are great, but you also leave with knowledge of different ways of life, that people are the same across centuries, but they also are different. The Old Testament, which goes back more than two thousand years, contains many interesting details about food, government, shelter, and travel in the Middle East.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Pumpkins keep coming to mind, even though it's nowhere near October. Last fall at a local Walmart here in central Texas, there were bins in the foyer, filled with beautiful orange lumpy spheres. Very big pumpkins. I bought one for Halloween. Instead of carving it then, I saved it. It ornamented my apartment through the holidays and it was still fresh enough to cook in April or May of this year. The pumpkin - a variety of winter squash - was delicious.

The seeds and pulp and outer shell went to a community compost heap, where grackles love to pick and choose their favorite snacks.

Deer, birds, fish, mice, raccoons, possums, pigs and people. Giraffes and monkeys and zebras.

A gift of earth and vines, rain and sunshine, the pumpkins are so large - they could feed a wealth of struggling creatures at little cost. They survive long in storage, available if grazing is hampered by a droughty summer. If I had leftover pumpkins, I might take one, carve a few holes in it, and set it in the shallows of a pond. Any seeds not consumed might take root to produce glorious colorful squash in the years to come.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

neighbor dog's story

the little dog barks
to tell his tale
and we all sit
in our apartments
like bees in a hive
and listen.
the dog's high voice
rises and falls
he yips fast
when conveying
some thrilling concern
and slows
as he draws near
to a close.

the birds sing back and forth
and you can hear
both sides of their story
both the gutter
and the glory

a droning buzz
has no response
the poor cicada
is all alone
and all we hear
is half the song

Friday, July 3, 2015

Antoine de St Exupery's le petit prince
visits the asteroid.

the asteroid
not quite a sphere
tumbles around the sun
at its own pace.
the prince's watch
is out of step.

oh no!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

the wild card

when the chips are down
and the usual strategies
are all for nought
i pick a wild card

sometimes a wild card comes my way
tumbling on a whiff of air
sometimes it's hiding
under my bed.
then there are
my secret sources.
i take a look
at how the trees nod
or i open a book
and go - aha!
if only i listen
the next stranger in my path-
at the cash register
or shelving canned asparagus -
says just the word
i never would have thought -
the wild card

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

the cycle

and destruction
come our way
and the mowers
and steam rollers
bury our remains,
but we have roots.
they reach deep.
rains return
and love
the lands and seas
once again.
we are:
hares and skunks
wallabies and pigeons
mice and butterflies
roadrunners and bluebirds
humans and burros
waterbugs and crows
javelinas, frogs
and hackberry trees

we are.