Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
~Norman Vincent Peale

Happy Christmas... I hope it finds you warm and well-loved!

I don't plan to blog much or at all in the next week or so... instead I'll enjoy the time off work and away from the computer.

Be well!

Monday, December 21, 2009

64 steps

Standing at the bottom of the
circular staircase, there are just 64 steps to the top and a couple of landings in between where you can look out. Sandy Hook and Manhattan lie to the far left, that maze of a new bridge crosses the river down below and leads to the sea, home is somewhere in the estuary to the right. Medieval in its feel, the brownstone building is eight-sided; not a perfect twin to its square southern sister who's never been open to climb. I remember kissing a red-haired boy with my hands on the top railing during a class trip in the 7th grade. The teacher sent a note home to my dad the next day. It's all at the bottom landing that I remember this, that cramped space that gives no hint of the view 64 steps up. There's a restaurant at the bottom of the hill, under the old bridge, where you can eat steamed clams and mussels, tho I never did. I used to take the bus to Sandy Hook, hitchhike on the long road out with a friend to our favorite beach and come home with the sea in my hair. The salt from an afternoon swim still on my skin. The waves against my body, the caress of the sea, the embrace... that stayed with me back at home. I worked in a restaurant on the bay for a while and ate clam broth every night that tasted of the sea. I liked the potatoes but the clams slid down rough. I haven't yet learned to like the texture of clams. There are 11 steps to go. This could be any place, this circle of stairs, but as soon as I think it, I know it's not true. Nowhere feels quite like this. It stays with me and rises on the wings of a gray and white gull. It follows the boats through the green-marked channel below. Sea Bright isn't far... where I would go to watch fishermen and plovers. Stand in the dunes and tall grass at the end of Surf Street. Watch the tide rush and the flow of the moon, let go to the arms of the sea. When I climb back down I'll run for the sea, eager for its lick on my legs. I'll wait for dark, maybe, look up from the sand to the moon on my skin, to the beam from this clamshell-shaped lens as it circles the sea and finds me, lost in remembering.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Luka's predicament

I don't guess Bear ever has this problem...

So yeah, we got a lot of snow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review: A Walk Through the Memory Palace

Poetry is something, I think, that just happens.

(and this isn't properly a review... more just some personal reactions to a bunch of poems)

A moment that moves or inspires; a shared experience or perception gifted between poet and reader.

I'm always slightly on my guard whenever reading a new poet... sizing up the words before me to assess what, exactly, I'm getting myself into.

Do you approach poetry that way, too?  Still?  Like a poem is something you need to puzzle over in order to pass 8th-grade English?


A certain amount of ambiguity will lure me into the poet's hand, but I've no need of sitting for a half hour sweating over the meaning of any particular poem to try and understand it or enjoy it.

If a poem works for me, I'll know it pretty quickly.

On my first reading of the ten poems in Pamela Johnson Parker's A Walk Through the Memory Palace, I was most taken by the first:

-- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - --

78 RPM

Dusk and three minutes
Of fading light,
Pale as moonflowers,

Muted trumpets now,
Drawn up tight as those
Parasols propped in

The corner of your aunt’s
Screened-in side porch, which
She calls veranda, where

White wicker bites
Through your white cotton
Shift, as she lifts a disk

Of black scratchy “wax,”
Places it on the Victrola,
Says, I’ll be back in

A shake, you two, and
Disappears inside.
As the heavy arm angles

From left to right, as
The stylus traces
Its sapphire finger

Down the record’s groove,
As he skates a single
Finger along the sun-

Bleached down of your
Arm, and as you
Start to shake,

Heart rising and
Falling like Billie’s
Song, cool water poured

To the top, brimming,
Then spilling silver
Notes, and his lips

On yours for —
The stylus bumps
Its paste-paper

Center; you hear
The screen door’s
Thump against its

Frame, hear Aunt’s
High heels tick
Across the porch.

Here’s something
For this heat
She says, handing you

Each iced tea: beaded
Glass, mint and a
Paper umbrella

Blooming, a drink he
Grasps quickly and gulps.
You’ll have to keep your

Knees pressed tight together.
As the light dims.
As the record changes.

-- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - --

I loved the way those opening lines invited me in and left me waiting for whatever might happen... waiting for the knowing smile I came to by the poem's end.

Did you smile there too, at the very end?

There are other poems in the chapbook that touched me, through subsequent readings, but I don't want to give them all away. I would suggest only that you find a friend who's willing to read them aloud to you... poems are better shared that way.

(That's how I best enjoyed them anyway.)

Incongruous as it is, this poem will always recall for me a sweet chili set at a slow simmer, a practised voice pausing in all the right places while I cooked, and the *necessary* translation of the German phrases (cause, you know, my mother's maiden name wasn't Von Oesen or anything similar.)


-- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - --

Some Yellow Tulips

Old Mrs. Sonnenkratz, there in her yard
Bent over like a bulb herself, works hard

To edge her sidewalks, salt the slugs, and spray
The aphids from her roses. Every day

She’s pruning, pulling, plucking, weeding out
The strays that might be festering. No doubt

She loves her lawn, loves order, symmetry
Of seedlings, herbal borders; she would be

Ruthless to seeds gone volunteer, to Queen
Anne’s livid bruise, half-hidden in its green-

White froth of lace. Today, her turban slants
Askew over her blue-rinsed hair; her plants,

Once straight as soldiers on her patio,
Are blitzkrieged out of order, the yellow

Tulips (three days blossoming in a vase
Atop her wrought-iron table) don’t erase

Her frown, her sloppy slippers, or the brown
Age spots (about the size of dimes around)

She often hides with gloves. A jagged scar
Runs up her forearm, where the numbers are.

The tulips, like her, blowsy, need to go;
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’s on her radio.

She thinks, Acht nicht, acht nicht, nacht musik…
Their leaves are lances, and they slant, oblique.

The tulips stems outlast their showy flowers;
For years she plants by day and, at night, cowers.

The yellow of the petals starts to burn;
Perhaps the worst of absence is return.

She smokes and shakes and smokes. Each flowerbed’s
As neat as graves. She stubs out ash. The heads

Of these tulips wore bright turbans, tight-wrapped
And now unwrapping. In Berlin, she was slapped:

Sie ist ein Jude… Dry-eyed in Dachau, how
She’s crying over bulbs bloomed too far now.

In a world of absence, presence leaves a scar.
Each tulip’s ravelled to a six-point star.

(for Lilo Mueller)

-- - -- - -- - -- - -- - -- - --

"Now that's a good poem!"


Many thanks to Dave and qarrtsiluni for the opportunity to review this, their first-ever, chapbook contest winner.  The book is available for purchase at the Walk Through the Memory Palace website, but you can also read the poems or hear them read by the author at that link. Do have a listen... especially to this one... Engendering: For Two Voices... another favorite read by the poet and her husband.

Let me know what you think? Any *work* for you, too?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A hero for the coast

Dery Bennett passed away yesterday.

If you know Sandy Hook, you most certainly knew Dery.

The American Littoral Society, a coastal preservation organization which he directed for some 35 years, is located next to the bird observatory on Sandy Hook Bay. It lobbies on coastal land use, development and water quality issues; works to protect water quality, habitat and wildlife, and runs educational and research programs, including the largest volunteer fish-tagging program in the country.

Bennett most recently was the organization's director of special projects, after relinquishing the directorship a couple years back. But for many, me included, he WAS the American Littoral Society - its conscience and guiding light. Dery was probably one of the best advocates the coast and ocean has ever known... he fought for public beach access and against developers and lobbyists. He edited the society's newsletter and led beach walks on New Year's Day. He was a fisherman and a wisecracker and a genuinely good guy.

I'll miss crossing paths with him at North Beach... miss that shock of white hair and his friendly wave across the dunes.

"He talks about the ocean as if it is more important than the economic viability of the state."
-- Hal Bozarth, a lobbyist for the Chemistry Council of New Jersey

Photo of Dery, in a wetsuit and presumably on a surfboard, from The Newark Star Ledger. He was 79.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


*Somebunny's* first Christmas near a tree...

Am I in for it, or what?


Can I see yours, please?

Saturday, December 12, 2009


tenderly again
by this light I imagine
birds floating asleep

A late entry for this week's One Single Impression.

Friday, December 11, 2009


This is Will. I don't know much about him, but we met that day among the photographers at Conowingo. He has a couple galleries on SmugMug... some nice pics there.

I anticipated being able to take a fair number of *easy* stranger pics that day, but found the prospect of approaching other photographers much more daunting than I'd expected it to be. At some point during the day, with a false sense of bravado, I set out to find the guy with the most intimidating camera gear and the least approachable face. I walked up and down the line of people spread out along the shore below the dam and just couldn't make myself do it.


Will didn't have a very big lens, but he also isn't very friendly-looking... until you get to his eyes... there's the faintest hint of a smile brewing there, I think. I like that it's obvious on his face... in those wrinkles... that he spends a lot of time outdoors.

This photo is #3 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at Flickr 100 Strangers or

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Father's Day

I create my father each time I think of him.

I mix mud with straw, invent a life of woven twigs, plaster it all together with fragments of memory; their edges sharp, the colors vivid.

This night, I assembled him from fractured recollections of years spent in the company of a brotherhood; this ritual that represented so much of what he used to be.

The white apron bordered in blue and the hollow sound of a gavel calling me to my feet, the mere mention of his name in this room bringing surprised tears to my eyes; the imagined pride in his sons on this special night as biting as the dawn on the November day that he died five years ago.

Sometimes I conjure him from thin air and a whiff of cigarette smoke, summon his memory from the sound of hard-soled footsteps on a wooden floor, see him in the glance of other men looking long over their noses and eyeglasses.

This is the gift in his death.

I have to try hard to remember him as he was in those last couple months before he died. Grown old and frail and vulnerable, he weighed nothing, asked for nothing, his face like an owl relief carved in worn rock.

I watch his head drop, his arm slide off the arm of the couch, a book slip from his lap. I wonder at this man who once held me aloft, in sky and sun, to look down on him. I feel sorrow and fear.

He was a changed man by that point. A flimsy quiet shell of himself.

I can not remember a time when he said that he loved me.

There's an odd comfort in knowing my brother wanted for those words, too.

In my father's world, the edges of things were hard and straight. His way was to focus on the small things, the details. My way is different; I loved always to explore the sharp edges of his world with the soft fingertips of mine.

My brothers didn't understand that about me, about us, I don't think.

I carry this part of him with me: whole parts of myself locked away for safekeeping; an emotional reticence that I like to think hard to see, but which others sometimes catch glimpses of. Stoicism disguised as strength. Nothing but space and sharp light, the sound of footsteps echoing off hard surfaces, endless empty corridors lined with locked doors.

I see him alive in my brothers now, alive in his hopes for them.

This is the gift in his death.

"It is the same for all men. None of us can escape this shadow of the father, even if that shadow fills us with fear, even if it has no name or face. To be worthy of that man, to prove something to that man, to exorcise the memory of that man from every corner of our life - however it affects us, the shadow of that man cannot be denied." --Kent Nerburn

The pic is of my two brothers... Brian in the funny hat on the left... Kevin on the right... on the occasion of Brian's installation as Master of Philo Lodge #243... the first time in Philo's history that a father and his sons all served in that capacity. Congrats Bri!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

If this reads as disjointed... well, I've been playing with it for months, since Father's Day actually, and was finally moved to finish it, almost, by my brother's post on the 5th anniversary of my dad's death.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

39 by 40

Maybe you remember last year's list. Maybe you noticed that I hadn't shared this year's.


Today's the halfway mark to 40 and I hope it's safe to share... there's been progress, but I need, really, to get busy. I carried a couple things from last year, things that still feel fun or meaningful to me:

1 Try blue nail polish or purple... anything besides boring.

2 Go iceskating.

3 See a really rare bird.

4 Dip my toes in that other ocean.

5 Hike a mountain without complaining too loudly.

6 Stay up all night to watch the sunrise. Stay in bed the rest of the day. Do not feel guilty.

7 Try a photography project.

8 Buy a bicycle. With a basket. For flowers.

9 Wander aimlessly.

10 Get the nerve up to submit something to qarrtsiluni.

11 Cross paths with a moose.

12 Buy the perfect magic dress.

13 Finally tackle shorebirds.

14 Have my palm read on the boardwalk.

15 Learn to like flash.

16 Ride a train.

17 Perfect a fake accent.

18 Smile in a bikini.

19 Surprise someone.

20 Surprise myself.

21 Renew my passport.

22 Ask forgiveness.

23 Go maple-syruping.

24 Try out a new recipe.

25 Fly a kite at the beach.

26 Sleep outside under the stars.

27 Read five new authors.

28 Build a sandcastle.

29 Let it go.

30 Learn how to wolf-whistle.

31 Find an old person to teach me how to play canasta.

32 Get a good Pine Barrens map.

33 Find a photobooth. Make funny faces at the camera.

34 Learn the names of 5 constellations in the winter sky.

35 Read a novel in Spanish.

36 Explore a National Park.

37 Do that one thing I've been putting off.

38 Do that other thing I've been putting off.

39 Walk barefoot on the beach as often as possible.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Winter color

"The color, we say, is gone, remembering vivid October and verdant May. What we really mean is that the spectacular color has passed and we now have the quiet tones of Winter around us, the browns, the tans, a narrower range of greens, with only an occasional accent in the lingering Winter berries. But the color isn't really gone.

The meadow is sere tan, but that is a tan of a dozen different shades from gold to russet. The fallen leaves have been leached of their reds and yellows, but theirs is no monotone by any means. The bronze curve of the goldenrod stem emphasizes the ruddy exclamation point of the cattail. The rough brown bark of the oak makes the trunk of the sugar maple appear armored in rusty iron. The thorny stalk of the thistle stands beside the cinnamon seed head of the pungent bee balm. Dark eyes stare from the white parentheses of the stark birches, bronze tufts of one-winged seeds tassel the box elder, miniature "cones" adorn the black-brown alders at the swamp's edge.

In the woods, the insistent green of Christmas fern and partridgeberry leaf compete with the creeping ancients, ground cedar and running pine. Hemlock, spruce and pine trees cling to their own shades of green, individual as the trees themselves. And on their trunks are paint patches of the ancient lichen, tan and red and blue and green, like faint reflections of vanished floral color.

The color is still there, though its spectrum has somewhat narrowed. Perhaps it takes a Winter eye to see it, an eye that can forget October and not yearn for May too soon."

-Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons
(still my favorite book in the world!)

I love the way this author makes me stop to notice or puts a name to the things that grab my attention. Always there's something to learn from Borland's observations.


Anyone recognize the flower in this pic?

IATB #114

The latest I and the Bird is up at The Life of a Bird Tour Leader.  Have a peek!

I'll be hosting in February of 2010... so you all better start dreaming up some interesting bird-related posts in the meantime.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

World AIDS Day/The Mask Project

In an effort to raise awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, housing, poverty and justice, clients and supporters of The Center in Asbury Park participated in a mask-making project that resulted in an amazing array of one-of-a-kind works of art.

During the face casting process, each *face donor* was asked a series of self-reflective questions; the answers were then used by the artists to depict the face of the person. Found objects were used to decorate the masks as a way of mirroring the experience of homeless persons who make do with the resources available to them in their daily travels.

The masks were auctioned off tonight as part of the local commemoration of World AIDS Day and I stopped by to see the exhibit. I'd been hearing about the project for months through a couple of my clients... some of whom *donated* their face for a mask... of the 60 masks, this was the only one I thought looked familiar.


Were you aware of anything happening in your community today to commemorate World AIDS Day?

A video about the project is available on YouTube by clicking here.