Dear Professor Graham

I never was one for changing

names, or facts –

You may remember me,

Another mediocre poet who ambled

Through four years, never quite rising

Much above where I began.

 

I am writing to say that

After years of fits and starts

Pounds gained, children birthed,

Loved ones lost and also found –

That haggard muse has returned and

I am writing again

 

To say

I am trying harder,

Waking earlier, reading more

Is all I wanted you to know.

 

Without a guide,

Limping along,

As if chased by my shadow

In ridiculous noir fashion,

chased by years of

Clamoring words and

Poems that never happened,

Except to me.

 

 

 

Stammtisch

Stammtisch: (German for “regulars’ table”,[1] [ˈʃtamtɪʃ]) is an informal group meeting held on a regular basis, and also the usually large table around which the group meets. 

For sale, giant linoleum table.
Shiny chrome legs with sexy kitchen curves.
Five chairs come with it, well worn but still stable
And able to support asses and backs of all sizes.

Two leaves extend the table to generous lengths,
Stretch it to infinite hospitality.
What cornucopias of kindness and Jell-o molds it has known!
What tears and lasagna?
Late nights of tequila and
mornings with endless cups of coffee.

Mornings alone before the rest of the house wakes
The table is alive with the chaos of inanimate ephemera,
Tottering piles of mail, throw-away toys
Reading material unread, waiting
Permission slips, bills, hair ties and crumbs.
Methodically excavate and allocate,
Delegate to trashcans, drawers and the gaping
mouths of children’s backpacks.
Clean the slate, push it aside, make room for a new day.

Evenings the table collects dishes and glassware at alarming rates.
Set the table, clear the table, wipe the table, repeat.

The table seats six, comfortably
but it has hosted hundreds
The table is happiest when surrounded by friends and family
It is most at ease when elbows rest on it
with glasses in hand or
Mugs drawn to pursed lips,
eyebrows knit in concentration while poems are read,
stories unwound, and people gather to solve problems
personal or political — almost always both.

The table loves children,
even with their filthy hands and skittering crayons,
spilled milk and sugar.
And children love the table too,
for there is always room for them there
and it is tall enough to hide underneath comfortably,
just in case, you ever know.

Table comes with karma in tact.
No one has been harmed, deliberately, here.
Hearts have broken,
Mourning has lay upon it.
Unyielding and stalwart,
the table accepted the depths of our grief.

This table is for sale,
up for adoption
to a good home
in need of a stammtisch.
It will be missed.

 

Chasing Wires

Here’s some T.S. Eliot, from The Wasteland: 

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock.
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock).
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding beside you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Prime Real Estate

Shhh. The office suite was empty, the door was open, so I went in. Later, I was gently reprimanded for taking a photo in the lobby. See, I might have been taking pictures of where the security cameras were located. Security cameras? Whoops. Ah well. It was a splendid panoramic view and just the kind of place that begs to be photographed.

Oh, California

Oh, California. Caaaaaaaalifornia I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man? California I’m coming home. 

-Joni Mitchell 

Woke in a San Francisco airport hotel, after an evening of travel that verged on Kafkaesque. Managed to make my way back to the airport, commandeer a rental car, and head north towards Point Reyes. I made a brief stop in San Rafael for an organic single-pour coffee, and browsed both a bookstore and record store while the caffeine . In short, a perfect day had before noon.

From San Rafael, made my way to the coast through Samuel Taylor State Park. The drive was so beautiful I laughed out loud. Who am I to be so lucky to drive this road, free of all traffic, through enchanted forests winding through the hills, and the forests that give way to the rolling gold California hills that lead, finally, to the coast. I’m laughing all the way, and sometimes crying, because everything is too beautiful, and I wish my eyes were cameras because I can’t trust my feeble mind to record and store the passing scenery with any accuracy. I’m a midwestern girl, all the way, I know this by the way my stomach drops hugging the turns up, and then down to the coast at Point Reyes. I’m a flatlander but dammit if California doesn’t lay claim to a little piece of my heart every time I go there.

The last time I stopped on the coast was a night I slept along the PCH after a Jerry Garcia band show at Shoreline. Jerry Garcia was alive then – so it’s been a long time. Does everything increase exponentially in beauty and gravitas as you age? Was I so consumed with romantic politics or rolling joints that I didn’t even notice the stupendous, ridiculous stupid beauty of this place? But I did love it. I remember the crouching oak trees and the hills like ripples on some great wavering tablecloth hovering over the mantle of the earth. But we never lingered in Marin, or on the coast for that matter. We were headed for Humboldt, or bust. This time I’m headed only to Limantour Beach, and then on to Napa for the night.

The beach was, as promised by the Australian ranger at the visitor’s center, “a bit blowy” but perfectly, wildly, awesomely beautiful. I walked some length of it, and waded in far enough to feel that terrifying pull of the Pacific around my ankles (again, I’m from Wisconsin). On the drive from the beach, out of the canyon and towards Napa, I listened to Lucinda Williams and sang all the way. At around four I made it to Sonoma and thought it might be time for some wine, as I’d begin to dip into valleys crisscrossed with vineyards, and let’s face it, that makes you thirsty.

I passed the first sign for the Robledo’s Family Winery without slowing, but at the second sign, turned in and followed the winding road back past the rows of vines to a dusty parking lot next to a small outbuilding and a larger, barn-like tasting room. Children chased around the parking lot, and American and Mexican flags flapped in the wind. As I opened the door to the tasting room, laughter and the smell of wine enveloped me. I made my way to the bar and cozied up for a tasting.

The Robledo’s Winery is the ‘first tasting room in the United States established by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker and his family.” I befriended a couple, the male half of which kept going on about his half-Mexican heritage. By way of proving this he dotted his speech ‘my madre’ this and ‘mi abuela’ that. The man pouring our wine was the founder’s son. He kept the wine coming, the couple were regulars, had wine memberships. They assured me the wine was consistently delicious and I can confirm that in my experience, it is. I had a full tasting of five wines, and a white port, because come on, white port?  When it came time to settle up, they offered to give me their club discount, and the server suggested I be their complimentary guest for the month. They were drunk, so sure! So everything is coming up Jennifer, free Sonoma wine! Off I go, making the remaining 15 miles to Napa in no time, and a room at the (wait for it) Chardonnay Lodge.

It was nearly dark by the time I checked in, and I called Adam flush with wine, with the country-side and with the freedom afforded one with a rental car, a hotel room and very few plans. I spent a quiet evening in Napa, at a place called City Winery, because it seemed like a good place to drink Pinot, eat a burger and listen to a duo play guitar and violin. They did an inspired versions of Little Wing, so I ordered a second glass. After dinner I walked the length of the small downtown, contemplating a drink, but the solitude of my hotel room beckoned. I couldn’t think of another thing that might better my day, so I called it. It was a very good one.

Fog Heaven – November 23, 2014

Foggy November morning hike with Crystal. We rushed out to shoot before the fog lifted, were done before Adam woke to notice I was gone. Messing with focus, contending with steamy glasses and water on the lens, all the while wandering around in a riverbed raincloud. A quick stop at a Building For Lease, because buildings.

Oh, and for the record, thanks to the Quotidian Diarist who inspired me to blur my vision on purpose.

Crosby Farm Preserve – October 26, 2014

Ivan’s friend Charles joined us for a hike at the perennially satisfying Crosby Farm Preserve along the Mississippi River. How could one not feel a lightness of heart watching them amble along the beaches, skipping stones, climbing the great fallen tree trunks and seeking out “huge weird giant fish” beneath the boardwalks that jut through the marshes.

Adam found this poem by Raymond Carver that captures their spirit.

Happiness

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

 

Strolling Around the Divorce Ranch in Las Vegas – August 30, 2014

While staying with my cousin James and his lovely family, we declared that since it was Sunday, we had to go for a hike. It was the last day of our vacation, we were meant to fly out that night and it was predicted to hover near 100 or above all day. For these reasons we decided not to go to Red Rocks just outside of town, but rather for a more leisurely stroll around Tule Springs Ranch, a park constructed around a former “Divorce Ranch.”

Fro the 30’s until the 1950’s you could only get quick and easy divorces in certain states, and the ever enterprising Nevada was one of them. But, of-course, you had to establish residency, which took six weks. During that time, women would sometimes stay at a Divorce Ranch. You can read all about the craziness in this article at Slate, but the gist was: “… a typical day at a divorce ranch might have looked like this: horseback riding in the morning, an after-lunch trip into town for shopping or a visit with a lawyer, and then, in the evening, cocktails, communal dinner, and another car trip to a bar or a casino, where the ladies would dance and drink and gamble.”

People, I have gotten a divorce and I say “hells yes!” to the divorce ranch. Six weeks to cool my heels, ride horses, drink, gamble, and perhaps have a dalliance with a handsome cowboy, that would have really eased the transition I think.

In any case, the grounds were lovely, Ivan chased Peacocks and collected feathers, the kids played with their kid-cousins and we all got pretty hot under the Nevada sun. We followed it up with a walk around a bird and animal sanctuary, and then quickly sought out air conditioning and shade.

 

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