Sometimes Magic is Truly, Well Magical

1 09 2015


Let’s start with a confession.  Sometimes I totally judge a book by its cover.  Or its title. Or some strange connection that only my brain would possibly make.  In the beginning, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby suffered such a fate for me.  So much so that I actually set the book aside for a few months assuming I knew what kind of story it would be.  Thank goodness I got over myself and tried it again.  I actually assumed it was a story about a small town (it is) and their struggles with stereotypes (true) and some dark issue eating away at the place and its people (think the movie Winter’s Bone).  I mean something really dark and sinister (also true).  I’m glad my brain was open enough to read on rather than to roll with the superficial Bone Gap/ Winter’s Bone assumption I concocted, so I didn’t miss the bright clear night sky watching over the people of Bone Gap honoring their hopes, their bonds, and the magic they let transform their lives.

Bone Gap is a small Midwestern town with an unusual cast of characters (like most small towns)–the mean band of brothers, the space cadet teen and his honorable brother whose mother ran off, the man who loves chickens more than people, the beekeeper and her homely daughter; the mysterious Polish girl.  And the connectedness of small town life. Everyone knows everyone’s business, family, stories, faults, and kindnesses and when it counts they stand by each other no matter the history.

The story begins with Finn dealing with the guilt of not helping a friend when she needed him.  The chapters alternate between what’s happening in Bone Gap and the kidnapping story of the friend, Roza.  As the story unfolds, we realize that something magical is at play and it’s not really the unicorn rainbow kind.  It’s deep and dark.  Murky and exhilarating.  And the cornfields hold the passageways between worlds.

I’m not usually one for magical realism, as I have a hard enough time dealing with true reality to handle any magic throwing me off.  But I was all in for this ride.  And it was beautiful, mysterious, exciting, and full of all that we celebrate about life. Sometimes it reminded me of The Scorpio Races. Sometimes Chime.  It even made me stop and look up the myth of Demeter to find the allusions.  I  enjoyed losing myself in this journey.  In feeling the connectedness.  And in coming home safe, whole, and a little more magical.


The Belief in the Possiblity of Each Day: Kids and Poetry

7 05 2015

Last night the sweet girl told me her brain was “working something up.  Maybe a graph”.  Today she told me before I left for work to “make good choices”.  I love this kid and her happy brother too!  He told my husband this week that “he was going to be a superhero today”.  Of course you should totally be a superhero today and let your brain work up something cool like a graph!  We all should! I am so grateful that I get to relive those kid days when you could do or be anything through my kids.  When every day was a blank page and you could draw or write or paint or color it any way you could dream up.  Why don’t we still believe this?  It isn’t exactly magic, really.  It’s just the belief in the possibility of each day.  And this month-long delve back into poetry has reminded me of this.  It’s made me appreciate the daily amazements.

One of my mentors and friends suddenly lost her husband last week.  Totally unexpected and it shook me.  Shook me to my core.  I can’t even begin to know what I would do if I lost my best friend and partner.  And so it becomes even more important to cherish and relish this world and its people, beauty; wonder.  To let your brain work something up. To be a superhero.  To believe in the possiblity of each day.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

Mary Oliver

Happy Earth Day!

22 04 2015

Today is Earth Day.  And while I think it’s nice that we set aside a day to celebrate the earth and all the glory of nature, it seems wrong to have it be just one day.  Really we should honor the earth and be amazed by nature every day.  Having two small kids reminds me of this all the time.  Just yesterday we took a full ten minutes to watch two roly-polys (or doodlebugs if you’re my husband) make their fascinating way down the sidewalk.  And yes we had places to go, but we watched them because they really are pretty amazing aren’t they?  So let’s take a moment to celebrate the earth and all the goodness it brings us.  And who better to celebrate with than Mary Oliver, lover of all things earthy and glorious.

The Kingfisher

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world–so long as you don’t mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn’t have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn’t born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water–hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don’t say he’s right. Neither
do I say he’s wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn’t rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

You (yes even you) Should Read Poetry

21 04 2015

One of the things I love most about poetry is that it makes you look again at things.  It forces you to be more reflective, to pay attention, and to be amazed by the every day.  It makes life just a little more rich.  And if you’ve forgotten this or don’t realize the power of poetry, Stephen Dunn is happy to remind you.

Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry

Relax. This won’t last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there’s a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he’ll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you’re busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it’s sex you’ve always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party’s unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don’t know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it’s needed. For it’s apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I’ll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don’t give anything for this poem.
It doesn’t expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you’re not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here’s what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.

Happy (late) Birthday Lady Day!

9 04 2015

I’m a day late but I had to mention that yesterday Billy Holiday would have been 100.  And if ever there was a poem that fully captures the sad loss of Holiday (really the loss of anyone special) it is Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”. It’s poetry perfection.  And such a good example of the power of words to convey emotion and to connect us by giving such poignant weight to the loss of those who help us really feel and understand what it means to live.  So thank you Lady Day and Frank O’Hara for stopping our breath.

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days

                                                  I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

And here’s a wonderful tribute to Billy Holiday aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.

National Poetry Month!

2 04 2015

I love April for many reasons–blooming daffodils, spring-like breezes, only two months left of classes, and my mother’s birthday.  But I really love April because I get to push poetry!  And since I’m pushing poetry why not read it also?  I admit I got this idea from Victoria Stapleton who got the idea from Daniel Handler.  And it’s a great idea!  For the month of April all of my pleasure reading will be poetry.  Plus I plan on including poetry into the wee ones’ bedtime reading routine.  So to get it started, here’s one of my absolute favorite poems by the sometimes overlooked, brilliant Elizabeth Bishop.

Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

And my favorite Shel Silverstein poem that I often recite for my kids.

My Beard

My beard grows down to my toes,
I never wears no clothes,
I wraps my hair
Around my bare,
And down the road I goes.

Go read some poetry already!! It’s April after all!

And We’re Back…

1 04 2015

I had no idea almost three years ago that my life might get a little too complicated and blogging just wouldn’t make it on the To Do list. I blissfully believed that I had things well under control. Enter a new baby, a new job, and a new house. Plus some important family time, some reflection, and some regrouping. Now is the time for sharing my love of books again. I have been reading! Just not expressing and it is time.

I’d been meaning to pick up Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts pre baby number two. Baby number two is now two-and-a-half, so it’s pretty obvious how off track things have been. Eh, off track may be the wrong phrase. Let’s just say I had a major priority shift that kinda rocked the order (well actually everything) in my world. My kids haven’t created quite as big of a mess as these cuties but you can see how free time just slips away…


Never leave a kid with markers!

Now I’ve grown more accustomed to the hullabaloo that is my life. Spring break with my parents to entertain the kids was the perfect time to tackle a little nonfiction. Enter Erik Larson. If you haven’t read Larson’s Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America just stop now and go read it. So good. Larson crisscrosses the story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and a serial killer who takes advantage of the many visitors to the area to create a hotel equip with a gas chamber and a crematorium. Creepy!


It’s an understatement to say that Larson has a knack for writing narrative nonfiction. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin does not disappoint. In 1933 Professor William E. Dodd is appointed as America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. Professor Dodd is practical, frugal, mild-mannered, and not Roosevelt’s first choice for the job.  He brings along his wife, son, and daughter, Martha. Martha is intrigued by the parties, the enthusiastic young men of the Third Reich, and the promise to bring Germany back to its glory days. She is a flirt who engages in several affairs and dismisses the rumors of violence and brutality about the Nazi party. Dodd attempts to warn the State Department back home about Hitler’s ambition and penchant for violence. They seem only concerned about the fact that Germany has yet to pay back its debt to America. As the Dodds become more involved in the complexities of the German government and Hitler’s rise to power, they become acquainted with Goring, Goebbels, and Hitler himself. They also begin to better understand the horror and persecution mounting around them. This book reveals how Hitler was able to rise to such violent power without the world fully understanding the terror he would unleash. A dramatic, eye-opening read.