Sunday, December 18, 2022


I love the whole idea of Iceland's "book flood" on Christmas Eve, Jólabókaflóð, where everybody stays in and hunkers down with books and chocolate. Is it enough to get me to move to Iceland? Hmmm. I also love the articles on Best Books of 2022 that crop up this time of year, as well as people's blog posts on their reading. I don't have a best books list, as I wouldn't presume to judge these books, but I did cull from my year's reading 10 books that stood out for me for various reasons.

In Love, by Amy Bloom, is on my list and on this cover of BookPage. Subtitled A Memoir of Love and Loss, this is her account of her husband's accompanied suicide in Switzerland. It hits home for many reasons.

I read several memoirs this year, and another that stood out was Shy, by Mary Rodgers. Funny, theatre-related, and enlightening, with a background family connection.

On Tyranny, the graphic novel version by Timothy Snyder and Nora Krug, a Christmas gift, was exactly what I needed to be reading last January, and I recommended it to my sister, along with passports and magazine subscriptions (Snyder's advice, which I am also following, not with a passport but with a Real ID).

My book group read and loved The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.

I read and loved Horse, by Geraldine Brooks.

And also Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney.

A book I'd often heard about but never read, I finally read and loved: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. Wow!

King Dork by Frank Portman led me to Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. More wow! I was struck by how the unlikable main character is moved to tears by music.

I re-read and loved all over again The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and recommend it any time it seems appopriate. The Devil comes to Moscow + Yeshua and Pontius Pilate converse.

I also re-read Heidi by Johanna Spyri and wept as my childhood rolled over me.

Wait! Is that already 10? er, 11? (See math-challenged Friday in the blog.) But what about my favorite of all, the non-fiction The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson?

Happy Jólabókaflóð!!

Friday, December 16, 2022

Anniversary in Dressember

I'm still wearing dresses for Dressember. Really, to raise awareness and protest human trafficking, I should be posting pictures of myself in dresses and starting a campaign page to encourage donations, but I am not good at those things. I am better at supporting people and causes through words, human contact, and moral support. I am pretty good at wearing dresses, too. They have patiently waited for me in the closet, and tolerate my winter layering--long sweaters, scarves, multiple slips, tights, boots--so I can wear them (the dresses) to work. Today I am wearing a sort of fancy black-and-white floral dress, three-quarter length sleeves, not really a summer dress but for an indeterminate season, with a white sweater and a black pashmina, so I can go out to dinner with my husband (and a friend in town from Chicago) for our 33rd (legal) wedding anniversary. Forty-one years of togetherness, but who's counting (correctly)?*

*math-challenged me

This afternoon, and yesterday afternoon, too, I have been reading and revising poems I wrote in spring. (I'm in a dress! How could I do housework after regular work? OK, I did go down into a cobwebby basement to retrieve boxes of Christmas ornaments for my mom and dad.) I fiddle, I make notes to self, I set them (the poems) aside (electronically...the files are open in various windows, even now). Yesterday, I actually managed a submission. There are December deadlines... When, if ever, will I bake the pumpkin bread?!

That's Ada Lovelace, mathematician, in a dress (not me). She was also, like Emily Dickinson, born on December 10! So it's a Random Coinciday in the blog!

Sunday, December 11, 2022


Speaking of Human Rights Day (yesterday), today I learned about Dressember, an organization working against human trafficking. One of the ways to raise awareness is to wear a dress (or a tie) every day for the 31 days of December. I was glad I was wearing a dress--actually, a skirt & top--when I heard about it. I see from their website that they are celebrating their 10-year anniversary, so it took me a while to hear about it. My bad. Going forward, I will try to arrange my (tidied up) wardrobe so I can wear more dresses in December! I hadn't planned to pack any dresses for a hiking/yoga trip we are taking, so I am glad about the tie option, and will have to get creative re: ties. It has also been delightful to find photos of men being Dressember advocates in dresses! But the blurry photo I share here is one of my favorite diaries, with a dress on it!

I do feel a little blurry these days, despite my new glasses (trifocals) and updated prescription. There were days of dense fog here, and then rain, and then After Rain, that melancholy book of short stories by William Trevor, also mentioned yesterday, and then I stared and stared at poems I've been writing, wondering 1) how to revise and/or 2) where to submit. Often there was a foggy feeling of, "I wrote that?" or "When did I write that?" but it was easy to track down, as I had included dates and prompts, etc. I began to feel great empathy, in ways I hadn't before, for people who don't send out their work, or dawdle at it. I am foggily dawdling at it this Dressember. Now I will go stare at my closet.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Emily & Eleanor

It's Emily Dickinson's birthday! And it's Human Rights Day, thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt, who spearheaded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am celebrating by resuming A.M. Yoga with Rodney Yee, something I do regularly, a little like Groundhog Day, the movie, never progressing beyond Beginner status in yoga, and never getting it right (or ending up with Andie MacDowell). I like remaining a Beginner, and found myself as limber as ever, if a little stiffer in the usual spots, not having resumed A.M. Yoga sooner. In summer, I swim. In three seasons, during good weather, I walk to work. And the rest of the time, I do yoga, or should. It feels so right, and so good. Almost as good as the fabulous head massage I got at Jenni's Salon, right before Stephanie chopped off all my hair. I feel so light and free, also good for the morning yoga!

I noticed how I focused on Rodney's voice and the background ocean and music sounds, even as my mind wandered to tasks and/or to words, and my body did all the things it was supposed to do. That sounds like a detachment of mind and body, rather than a union, but I don't care. Everything came back together well enough and as needed. Happy Birthday, Emily! Thank you, Eleanor! And, as ever, thank you, Rodney Yee, who never ages on the beach in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, I've been reading lovely and melancholy books: After Rain, a collection of short stories by William Trevor, and In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, by Amy Bloom, which I snatched up from the new non-fiction shelf and read in two days. It's about setting up accompanied suicided with Dignitas in Switzerland for Bloom's husband with early-onset Alzheimer's. What a difficult and beautiful thing to do. It feels like preparation, as Alzheimer's runs in my family. And we are "after rain" right now, where I live.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

One Book Leads to Another

Because I am apparently obsessed with reading...I will always tell you about what I am reading. And, in this case, how one book leads to another. King Dork, by Frank Portman, mentions Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene, as the best novel ever. So I ordered that through interlibrary loan, and now I am hooked. And sort of scared, as this is how it opens: "Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him." Has this been made into a movie yet? (Um, yes, but I haven't seen it, and I am not going to until I have read the book!) There are various covers, but this simple "Collected Edition" is the one that came to me from Bushnell Public Library in Bushnell, Illinois. Thank you, Bushnell. And I do love Graham Greene.

There is a kind of scary face book cover, too. In colors resembling the King Dork book cover, making this a Random Coinciday in the blog. But it is also a Slattern Day, meaning I did no housework, instead walking in the annual Christmas Parade, in the bitter, bitter cold. I knew, however, to wear layers, having walked in several parades over the past few years. Double socks. Undershirt, t-shirt (for Heartland Theatre Company), down vest, long sweater, red coat, blacked knitted Santa-esque boots, black gloves covered by Grinch-green fingerless gloves, a hat with a brim to protect my eyes from the lovely sunshine, and gingerbread man earrings, as the parade theme was "Season's Eatings, a Gingerbread Affair." I ended up toasty warm. We gave out candy canes to the kids, and postcards about the next theatre event to the grownups.

In Living with a Wild God, Barbara Ehrenreich mentions Valis, by Philip K. Dick, and I thought, "I have that, in a bag of paperback science fiction novels, mostly by Philip K. Dick, down in the basement, waiting to be put out in the Little Free Library after the winter." (I do think in details and with commas.) So I went down and got it. I love this pattern book cover, but mine is a small paperback with a different cover. If this blog entry gets long enough, I will show you that, too!

Oh, it will, it will. Because I need to mention (or re-mention) that the Little Free Library needs to be re-mounted on its own stand, because it used to be mounted on a tree trunk. That tree was a pine tree snapped off in a bad storm one November. We used the top of it as our Christmas tree that year, and chopped up the rest. But, as happens, the remaining trunk rotted this year, we detached the Little Free Library, and toppled the trunk. Sad. Also sad: the lack of a Christmas tree this year, as we will be traveling. Sigh... But I do love my little red butterfly tree in a pot, pictured here, a blog entry about another book! And about leaves and leaf-sucking. All the leaves are gone.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Day Without Art

Today is December 1, World AIDS Day, commemorated in the beginning as a Day Without Art, to acknowledge all the artists, of all kinds, that we lost in that pandemic, alas! art today in the blog.

It's a day I pause to remember theatre artists Mitch Webb, actor, and Scott McPherson, actor and playwright, both lost to AIDS. We worked together in Chicago, and I also went to college with Mitch. These two, and so many others. It is terrible to recall. 

It's a day of turning the calendar page, and, in my case, on one calendar, two pages. Sigh... I have many calendars, some portable, some on doors or desks or walls. One is in a project bin beside my computer. I lose track of some of them.

It was 16 degrees this morning! But sunny. I went with Ken Kashian, a photographer, to Chenoa, to do a live radio broadcast with Kent Casson, for his show Route 24. Ken Kashian has created a new artist book, Fugue, and I have written the tiny poems for it. He took photos of the native plants and tombstones in the Weston Cemetery Prairie Nature Reserve. Not showing you any. It's a day without art.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Books in Progress + Facebook Birthdays

I love Facebook telling me whose birthday it is daily, so I can say "Happy Birthday!" but sometimes I pause and wince and think, "Is that person dead?" which is terrible to confess, but you get me, right? So many people died over the last couple of years, and we were isolated a lot, plus Facebook algorithms probably hide a lot of people from me, and vice versa, and, well, sometimes I click over to that person's page to see if they seem to be alive before I say, "Happy Birthday!" Eerily, I do sometimes see other people saying "Happy Birthday" to people still on Facebook whom I know to be dead. Sometimes I post "thinking of you" sentiments on those pages... But, Happy Birthday if I missed you on Facebook. I hope you're still alive! So far, I am, too!

I'm reading two books at the moment: Living with a Wild God, by Barbara Ehrenreich, in preparation for the December Adult Reading Challenge at the library, a grown up book, and King Dork, by Frank Portman, a young adult book. I found the latter on our bookshelf, with an inscription from his grandparents, Christmas 2006. He remembers it as hilarious, and I was laughing out loud in bed with it last night, reading a conversation in French class, transcribed into awkward English. This may be my go-to book for laughing myself into utter relaxation and perfect health, and therefore keeping myself alive until my next Facebook Birthday.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Leaves, But No Leavings...

We have raked our leaves toward the street--but not into it, which is bad for the storm drains, etc.--and they await the second coming of the great leaf-sucking machine. We've had glorious warm sunny weather for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I took long walks, alone and with friends. I took a notebook with me on the long walk alone and was grateful to have poems tumble out. I stopped at various benches to write them down. At one I found a key and a dog leash in the leaves underneath, attached the one to the other, hung it over the bench, and moved on to the next. A woman came by, looking at her feet. "I'm looking for my keys," she said. "I found it," I said, "a single key, and a dog leash." "That's it!" she said. Yay! 

We had no leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner this year. I cooked for my parents, a crockpot meal, low salt. No turkey, no stuffing, no ham, no mashed potatoes, no green bean casserole, no pumpkin bread, no orange jello pretzel salad. It makes me a little sad. But I was pleased to see these dishes turn up on other tables in Instagram photos...! Christmas will be a little different this year, too, but fine by me. For instance, this is our tree. Surely, I will still bake pumpkin bread.

I read this haunting book of short stories, Under the Moon in Illinois, by Kipling Knox. Really charming, and funny, and poignant, and, yes, sometimes scary. I liked how any ghosts yearned to do good. Then I re-read The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, in preparation for a progressive discussion, by Zoom, in January. It is also funny, scary, and poignant, and begins with this epigraph from Goethe's Faust:

     ...and so who are you, after all?

     --I am part of the power which forever wills evil and forever works good.

Thank goodness.

Oh, but I forgot to tell you that on my long, poetry-tumbling walk, I discovered a Monarch Butterfly sanctuary, with an entrance from the trail! Apparently, monarchs--orange and black--were named for  King William III of England, Prince of Orange! My Christmas-tree monarchs are an impossible but beautiful red! I love them.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Yellow Butterfly

There's a yellow butterfly in the house. It blew in on the big wind a few warm days ago, when various doors were open, and is now alive among the houseplants and plants I brought in from the patio back when frost was predicted. It went down to the twenties last night, and we had a real first snow yesterday. Or first tiny iceball fall. It stuck a while, though not in flake form, and is gone in today's sunshine.

I have been tidying again, and now have 5 empty shoeboxes to re-purpose. More shoes I had forgotten are now visible on the rack, and beloved shoes I wore out but was keeping...are gone. As are pants I wore till the seams were giving. And unraveling sweaters. During the process, I did a little decorating and re-organizing of the holiday closet and re-arranging of the wedding garlands, some of which now festoon the glass patio doors, where the yellow butterfly hovers between real and fake greenery. Pale pink appleblossom impatiens are still blooming in a pot that once hung from the eaves, now from a curtain rod.

I finished some books in progress so I could 1) put them away on bookshelves 2) pass one along to my book group. We are reading Annette Vallon, by James Tipton, about a real woman who helped resist the awful violence of (and after) the French Revolution. She was the lover of poet William Wordsworth, and the mother of his child, Caroline! I don't think I knew that, and the author in his notes explains how England protected the reputation of their great poet, and Wordsworth "hid" her in his writings, as poets often do, but clearly loved her and cared about his child! We chose it from the library display table for The Revolutionists, by Lauren Gunderson, now playing at Heartland Theatre. Funny, moving, devastating play!

Poetry submissions continue, but my record-keeping process has changed due to printer (or printer cartridge?) problems. It's probably best that I use less paper and ink, but I am so technology challenged, I dread relying on electronic tracking. So I still write things down, now on empty folders, recycled from teaching days. And that, along with 10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse, by Karl Shaw, which I found on the bookshelf in the middle of a sleepless night, and which had some icky violence by tryants in it, makes it a Random Coinciday as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog!

Friday, November 4, 2022

Ladder of Years

As if to balance the recent rejection, I had a recent acceptance! Of 4 out of the 5 poems I sent to a magazine I had been meaning to send to for a long time, missing its deadline again and again. Because time keeps getting away from me. This batch was a sad one, but it had a ladder in it, leaning on a peach tree, and that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog. Because I just read--or possibly re-read?--Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, a sort of sweet, sad novel about a woman who walks away from her family one day... I could picture myself doing it as she did it, much as I love and would never leave my family, other than that time in Chicago when I walked out the back door and down to the streetlight while my toddler crawled around on the dining room floor at the feet of my husband and father, who were talking about politics and real estate. Really, this was not meant to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. That was years ago. My kids are grown. I'm still married to the same man, and today, early in the morning, I looked all through the house for him and then saw the ladder on the patio, leaning against the house, and found him on the roof, sitting cross-legged at the edge, scooping leaves from the gutter into a plastic bag, during a Wind Advisory. It was a little like the time I was down in the church basement during a tornado, and the rain was horizontal, and the neighbor from across the street had come out to tell my husband, scooping leaves on the roof, that he should go inside. But not as windy, and I was there smiling and talking to him, waiting till he was done before going back inside...

I may have read it before...but I didn't know what was going to happen. Books are often different the second time you read them, especially if a lot of life has happened in between. I have walked along many a beach since then, but not at the ocean for a long time now, and the annual summer lake vacation is done... Yes, time keeps getting away from me. But this version of the cover, the one I read, a copy I picked up at the ongoing library sale, is warmer, sort of peachy in a way, and has a hat with a brim, which I need to protect my eyes.

Friday, October 28, 2022

A Glass of Blessings

Well, it's the title of a Barbara Pym book, a phrase from a George Herbert poem, and, for me, a fancy way of saying TGIF! I am glad that it's Friday! I'm exhausted and, indeed, grateful. Grateful, in part, that I will raise a glass (of blessings) at book group tonight, discussing Notes from a Young Black Chef, by Kwame Onwuachi. Grateful that 1) both parents are getting better, little by little and 2) my dad will have a follow-up appointment tomorrow, to relieve (I hope) some ongoing discomforts. Grateful for the support of hubby and siblings during this trying time.

Grateful that I had dessert first--if not ice cream for dinner--earlier this week at the history museum, a thank-you celebration for those of us who worked on the annual cemetery walk. It was an ice cream social, with excellent ice cream, mix-ins, and both caramel and chocolate syrups! We got to color--with markers--little wooden Halloween pins. Our table had ghosts saying, "Boo!" Other tables had pumpkins and bats. Grateful that my little pin turned up, which I thought I had (immediately) lost!

Grateful that I got to see a Halloween parade of little ones in costume at the library! I hope I remember to wear my lacy white witch's hat with a white owl on top to the library on Monday! Grateful to have seen Batman walking down the sidewalk as I emerged from the parking garage today in beautiful Uptown Normal! 


OK, I did label this post a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog, but I am not now cranky, not at all. There was a lingering crankiness earlier this week, from various things, but it has lifted! I am even grateful for the latest poetry rejection because it was a nice no, wanting to see more, from a major publication! I have gotten their standard rejection before, so I know they mean it. Wooee! Yes to no!

Grateful that I finally got to train our new Artist Watch editor at EIL via phone call and simultaneous work at the site. Both of us have already busy lives with extra stuff going on right now. Grateful that I made further progress on a book review before the next interruption. Grateful that I can run errands for my parents! Grateful (and amazed) that both my kids bought houses this month! That a local friend found her dream house. That another friend is slowly getting better after a fall.... That blogger friends who were sad are beginning to come back to joy.

Did I mention that I saw Batman?!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

10,000 Steps

It's been a stressful three weeks, but things have settled down a bit with my parents' health worries, and we had a return of warm weather, so, whew! Wishing you all relief from your own worries, and joy in the changing season. I took a lovely walk with friends yesterday, full of light and color, as the leaves drifted down on the hiking-biking trail. Mary, with the fitbit among us, said, "10,000 steps." 

Reading helped during the stress, a way to step aside, as did doing crossword puzzles in old New Yorkers, passed along to me by my mom, for me to read and recycle. "Watch out," she said, "you can get hooked." I did. Going to and from the hospital in Peoria, we had lunch twice, and pie once, at Busy Corner, a popular eating place at, yes, a busy corner. And saw the colors of the changing leaves by the side of the road. A joy to my mom. Less so to my colorblind dad, but his joy was getting out of the hospital!

Reading books with colorful covers, too. Balladz by Sharon Olds and Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney, the latter in my stack of books to review for Escape Into Life. I need to 1) read slowly and repeatedly for a review 2) have a clear mind, ability to I am behind in this task. But I got the laundry done! Plus, these two books look great on my coffee table.

My own poetry waits patiently for me to get back to it. I have a composition book at hand for bits of inspiration. I flip back through the pages and see lots of actual poems there, awaiting revision and assembly. I have sent out a few things, received a few rejections, and one wonderful acceptance. A nice surprise. 

I'll keep on. Many more steps.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets

Well, I had just fallen asleep on the couch, having finished Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier, a dark but strangely "cleans[ing]" tale (to almost quote from its final sentence), when my husband woke me to summon me to the latest emergency. So: 2 ER trips by ambulance in the same week, one for each parent. Both involving the nose, and blood, to make it a Random Coinciday in the blog. But we are getting through, with a little help from our friends, support from family, and polite and patient health care professionals. Thank you, OSF! Thank you, Devon, for the apple butter, Ellen, for the extra coffee maker, and Kim, for ongoing support and friendship. Thanks to siblings & their spouses and my own hubby, too! My dad got a lowdown ride in his Miata at one point. Talk about random!

I think I need a walk in the chilly sunshine. I will go mail letters at the P.O. and walk through the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, instead of the nightwoods. I will catch up on work and sleep when I can. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets, by Margaret Kimball, is a fascinating memoir & graphic novel I read for the yearround Adult Reading Challenge at the Normal Public Library. October is graphic novel month. I have had a pretty graphic October so far.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Some Tame Gazelle which Barbara Pym anticipates Marie Kondo

I recently re-read Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym, after I read a new biography of Pym, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, by Paula Byrne. It was fun to re-encounter the sisters Belinda and Harriet (middle-aged "spinsters") knowing that Pym as a young woman had imagined a life similar to the one she later lived, roommates with her own middle-aged sister!

And imagine my delight, after having read the Marie Kondo book on tidying up (as both a physical and spiritual activity), on finding this passage in Some Tame Gazelle:

"'It's no use being sentimental about things,' said Harriet. 'You shouldn't keep a clutter of clothes you never wear just because you once liked them.'

"Belinda made no comment on this, for she was thinking that Harriet's words might be applied to more serious things than clothes. If only one could clear out one's mind and heart as ruthlessly as one did one's wardrobe..."

I'm glad I got rid of clothes and books this summer, but not my goofy little Pym paperbacks! With weirder covers than anything shown here. And I'm working hard, but I hope generously not ruthlessly, on clearing out my mind and heart!

It's been an exhausting couple of weeks. Partly because of the annual cemetery walk last week, a lovely community event, for which we had excellent weather, and partly because this week my mom had a fall. She is fine now, amazingly healthy overall, but it was stressful and scary for everyone, especially her. She is so glad to be home. 

Me, too, and so glad it's Friday. Chilly. It will be the coldest year ever for the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, moved from July to October to avoid the heat...but now folks had better be bundled up in layers! Art in the streets!! And maybe funnel cakes and elephant ears! And kettle corn! Hoping my mom stays home this year. But we have found her cane! And maybe I could find a few more at the arts festival! To leave here and there around the house...

Hey, there are actually gazelles on this last sample book cover! Wait! Is it possible that Marie Kondo used Barbara Pym as an epigraph to her own book, and I had already encountered this random coincidence?! I don't know! I gave the book away! Twice!!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Cemetery Season

It's cemetery season for me, coming up on the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk. I've been a longtime writer of scripts and scenes for this walk through Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, where community members and schoolkids can meet the people who are buried there, and, in the past, I played many characters and this year will do so again. It's an exhausting but rewarding experience! As actors, we do two rounds of six performances each on the weekends, and three rounds on schooldays for field trips during the week, in all kinds of weather. It used to fall in October, and now it's bumped up to September and the first weekend of October, because the schoolkids were not wearing jackets and appropriate attire in the cold or rainy weather! My character is Helen Clark McCurdy (1866-1962), who ran for office. 

It's also spider season, and all the webs are up!

Other things on my mind:

Second blooming of a lilac bush that touches the sidewalk on my walk to work.

The mulberry bush wrapping a purple smokebush in the same yard.

The glorious breezy, sunny weather this Sunday afternoon.

Barbara Pym, as I am reading a vignette-style biography of her, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, by Paula Byrne. I discovered her when I was working at DePaul University as an assistant to the secretrary of the English Department, before I got my graduate degree there, and had submitted a story to the student creative writing magazine, that was accepted and published, and one of the woman professors compared me to Barbara Pym. So I had to find out about her. I hope it was my quirky, comic style in that particular story!

The coincidence of Pym at Oxford + visiting Germany around the time of the Hitler and Chamberlain, etc. agreement to give Sudetenland back to Germany from Czechoslovakia, who was not consulted nor at the talks or signing, and the film we watched last night, Munich: The Edge of War, based on the novel Munich, by Robert Harris, which I guess I will now not have to read...

Rejections, which are now rolling in, from a batch of submissions. Pym got a lot of rejections, too!

Monday, September 5, 2022


I did double duty in the Labor Day Parade again this year, walking first with the McLean County Democrats (blue shirt) and then with Moms Demand Action (red shirt, underneath my blue shirt, on a day cool enough to wear two and take one off!)! What a great turnout of both participants and parade viewers! So many laborers! All the unions were out, as we have a workers' rights referendum on the ballot on November 8. (Vote Yes!) So many candidates! So much candy.

August exhausted me, and not just with all the Sealey Challenge poetry reading, which also enlightened and energized me. Lots of brain energy of other sorts these days. Plus...termites. Yup. Sigh. So they are gone, we hope for good, as we got the whole treatment, burned any wood or cardboard from shed or garage that might have tiny critters, and dumped even more in Marie Kondo fashion! It's like the house fire a few years back. Anything left in the attic, that might have been damaged by smoke or water, I dumped, without much perusal. This time, anything left stacked in the basement near the termite wall...went.

But the joy and comic relief came with the book Shy, by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green, subtitled The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers. It was hilarious and very informative. Mary Rodgers wrote Once Upon a Mattress (sometimes I burst into song with "The Swamps of Home") and Freaky Friday. Plus, my parents' lives crossed with hers, sort of. Mom and Dad met her sister, Linda, then married to Dan Melnick, in the army. Apparently, they hung out together at Fort Sill army base in Lawton, Oklahoma. Dorothy Rodgers, mother of Mary and Linda, invented the Johnny Mop, a toilet-cleaning tool, a version of which I use today! Well, not today! It's the Labor Day holiday, so I cleaned my toilets and did my laundry earlier in the weekend!

And here's a Labor Day poetry feature for you at Escape Into Life. For today! [Pink gloves from The Clean House, by Sarah Ruhl, at Heartland Theatre.]

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Swan Song

The last book this August is Swan Song, by Armen Davoudian (Bull City Press, 2020), which seems a perfect way to end this Sealey Challenge, with a sad, gentle, glorious burst of song at the end. And I read the whole bundle from Bull City Press, and its Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A fine gathering!

The poet grew up in Iran, and it was lovely to find that the title poem is a ghazal. Subtle yet tight rhyme ripples through the book. Ah, but the sad irony of the closing lines of "Persian Poetry": "Yet I study English poetry / because Persian would have been too obvious."

Swans drift through, or paddleboats in the shape of swans, as in "The Yellow Swan" and "Swan Boats." I found the coincidence of blue in "Swan Boats": "Time out of mind, this was our turquoise blue

     mind out of time, watching white thoughts come, go
     across a mirror which, unchanged by them,
     itself was change and could reverse the down-
     ward wish of light, the headlong wash of stone
     skipped on its current.

Lovely language, lovely reversals there.

This morning I woke early, found a wishing star on the horizon in a dip of trees, and wished what I always wish. I hope it comes true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Séance in Daylight


August is fading, we've had a little rain, and Séance in Daylight byYuki Tanaka (Bull City Press, 2018) was the perfect and mysterious book to read for today in the Sealey Challenge. Look at that lovely, strange cover image by Kansuke Yamamoto, A Chronicle of Drifting (1949, gelatin silver print collage). There are several Japanese sources and inspirations in the book, plus Joseph Cornell, and an erasure of Tanaka's own dissertation, with echoes of The Waves (Virginia Woolf) and Nightwood (Djuna Barnes). All amazing and creating its own new drifting experience in reading...!

In another sad connection to What is the What, my simultaneous reading, I found a landmine on p. 5 of Séance in Daylight, in the poem "Death in Parentheses." I found ghosts and butterflies and the color blue in other resonances with the month's poetry reading. So much beauty, mixed with sadness, as in this couplet from "The Empire of Light":

     Soon I am going home. Changed, forgotten--
     a girl in a barren field, pressing twilight to her throat.

And this, from "Discourse on Vanishing,": "She tries / to capture a blue flower as it vanishes / in a garden."

My purple coneflowers are vanishing, except for the seedheads, left for the birds. But the sweet peas, planted from seed along the back fence, are finally blooming.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Blue Hour

You already know the coincidence of blue here, from the title and color of the book cover, which is a photograph from the series "My Ghost" by Adam Fuss. But here is the August coincidence from Blue Hour, by Carolyn Forche (HarperCollins, 2003): "Our windows faced east, and on August evenings, the sky was a blue no longer spoken." And it's also a Blue Monday in the blog.

The "blue hour," as the helpful Notes at the end explain, is "the light the French call l'heure bleue, between darkness and day, between the night of a soul and its redemption, an hour associated with pure hovering." It is the hour she would wake with her baby son. From the title poem: "When my son was an infant we woke for his early feeding at l'heure bleue--cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvence. What were also the milk hours."

Other favorite lines and phrases, some blue: 

"In the blue silo of dawn, in earth-smoke and birch copse / where the river of hands meets the Elbe."

"a confusion of birds and fishes"

"a memory through which one hasn't lived"

"a moment of bluesmoke"

"l'heure bleue, hour of doorsteps lit by milk"

"pinning their intentions to a saint's dress"

"meaning did not survive that loss of sequence"

"something broken and personal, a memory"

"the stories nested, each opening to the next"

I should have anticipated this, as Forche is a poet of witness, but I didn't expect how strongly Blue Hour, especially its long abecedarian poem "On Earth," would connect to the other book I am currently reading, What is the What, by Dave Eggers, a novel based on the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He and other orphans walked from Southern Sudan to Ethiopa, hoping for aid and relief, witnessing terrible things, including the murder of parents, siblings, and friends, beatings, death from hunger and fatigue. Some of Forche's lines stuck out as something one of these boys might see: "in this camp, so many refugees" or "the little notebook of poems in the pocket of a corpse." "On Earth" has beautiful things in it, but also terrible things, a litany of everything that can and does occur. This couplet in it even matches the novel's title in a way:

     the what is? gives the wrong answer
     the what is? has ruined thought

as does the litany of "what" in the W section of the poem. And the ending, of the poem, since the beginning of the novel recounts a robbery:

     your things have been taken
     your things have been taken away

Sunday, August 28, 2022


My copy of Saints, by Reginald Gibbons (Persea Books, 1986), with its faint scent of damp, belonged to someone else, is signed and inscribed, somebody local, now gone. I am reading layers of lines in it, what's written, how this book's previous reader may have received it, and my usual and ongoing connections to other poetry books I've read this August. As I mentioned yesterday, this title seemed like it might be good Sunday reading, and I turned first to a poem called "Sermon of the New Preacher," which is exactly that, a sermon, in prose. 

The preacher is exhorting his listeners not to make excuses for their crimes of the heart:

But Brother, you say. Brother, I have needs, I'm in trouble, or I'm in pain, or I have sorrows and worries and wounds! I'm in debt, and my son won't straighten out, and my wife doesn't love me the way she once did, Brother, I'm talking about me!

The marriage lament reminds me of lines in Corinne Lee's Pyx, and there is a similar loving wish for childen in Gibbons's "Elsewhere Children" but now for everyone's children, and the lost children of the homeless woman in a doorway: "As for wishing you always free of ordinary pain

     like a father's or a mother's, I might
     as well wish food into dead refrigerators
     and the warmth to come out of these store-windows
     into the street and do some good.

Gibbons's own tender domestic poems alternate with poems of public concern, several in Chicago settings I recognize, having lived there, and poems in other voices. "The Vanishing Point" shows us a man drawing "a severely rectilinear highway scene" in the subway station at Chicago and State. (Been there.) "American Trains" resonates with the train-riding poems in Dynamite, except Gibbons is mostly writing about passenger trains and Carlson-Wee was riding the rails via freight trains. Right up until the end, where the train also becomes metaphorical, I think:

     and there's the one you and I got on,
          that started downhill with the weight
          of what we felt and is still a plummet,
          always and always faster till it has us shaking,
          out of breath, scared... "A freight train,"
          I said when you asked me, "What is this?"

The section/long poem called "Saints" begins with an epigraph by Allen Tate: All violent people secretly desire to be be curbed by something they respect, so that they may become known to themselves. Gibbons incorporates the epigraph in the section called "In the Violent Ward," adding his own wisdom in the voice of the violent, or once violent:

     we can't be sure we want to get well---
     once you go out, time starts again
     your wounds may heal
     and you'll want to wound someone.

That does seem to be the way of it, so often. And Gibbons has also described and anticipated the current state of the political world in America in this stanza from his sad but rollicking "The Snarling Dog (A Song, Loud & Rough)":

     Have you heard people tell of the danger to us all
     when this one's elected or that one breaks jail?
     It's twice what you heard anyone tell
     and they got the snarling dog on a chain at heel.

Well, the dog days of August are officially, almanacally over, I guess, but I'll be out there today, forecast to be hot and humid, for the local Sweet Corn Circus, with circus gymnasts and steamed sweet corn in the streets, right after church.

Saturday, August 27, 2022


Finding the next book to read each day, here in the August Sealey Challenge, is sometimes entirely random, sometimes speculative or intuitive. As the weekend approached, I saw that Pyx, by Corinne Lee, and Saints, by Reginald Gibbons, books in my stacks in baskets (both coincidentally in the National Poetry Series) had titles tending toward potential Sunday reading. "Pyx" is a container for the Eucharist. When I opened Pyx to the first poem, "Lysistrata Motley," I found an immediate coincidence, since yesterday's poet, Jessy Randall, references Lysistrata in Mathematics for Ladies: "Oh, ladies, you hear what I'm saying loud and clear. / Have you read Lysistrata?" So Pyx it is!

But for today, Saturday, aka Slattern Day in the blog, not Sunday. (Though, truthfully, I have already done some housework.)

From "Lysistrata Motley," in Pyx, I learned: "The Egyptians jettisoned

     a mummy's cerebrum, knowing
     the heart should do
     all thinking.

Good to know, in all the ways. More coincidence: "Conveniently, the fabulous hat / appears // on the bed." Lines that bring back all the fabulous hats I saw last night in a production of Crowns, by Regina Taylor, with the Coalescence Theatre Project. And here's another: "Going over the falls / in a barrel / with the dreamed of, but born awry." Out of its context, but wonderful on its own, and evoking, for me, the cover of The Niagara River!

Everything connects, and a month of poetry confirms it!

The once again helpful notes at the end of Pyx alerted me to how the poem "After the Caves" connects to Helen Frankenthaler's Before the Caves and Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Humningbird. The latter also connects with Lee's poem "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklet and Crow," which begins, "Loneliness / of coral. But beyond yonder window, a spoon bends," showing you the simultaneity of emotion and surreal images in Pyx. These lines from "After the Caves" hurt in themselves and made me seek out the painters and paintings:

          If born with plenary,

     the infant
     daughter might have had

     a rib like mine.
     Instead, this portrait

     of woman as table.
     Carved by opener

     of the body.

The next poem, "Our Lady of the Divine Sacrum," made me look up the word "picador," also the name of a publisher I like. A picador is a kind of horseman in a bullfight, like other figures (matador, toreador), one who lances the bull to keep his head down. I looked it up in an actual book dictionary in the middle of the night, sleep still awry (to use a word from one of the poems!). Will there now be nightmares?

Indeed, this book has its own logic, like a dream. I celebrate each time I connect, as if I might be interpreting the dream correctly. Having written a Bigfoot poem myself, I delight to read "As Bigfoot, I Interpret Our Heyday," even though it's a lament about a bad time in a marriage. I connect to "Excavation" in its relentless need to protect children, their vulnerability. These children have gone on a mock archeological dig:

          Like my shoveling toddlers, I want
     the world to be pristine,
     of my design--playground wounds like zippers, raptors
     that only kiss dumpling hands.

I do love the more "domestic" poems in Pyx, the tumbling love of children, as well as the overall love of language in it. I love how philosophy slips in gently, relentlessly, alongside the quotidien: "Since we reside in a garden, / there is no purpose / but pollen." And to see, or assume, that the marriage survives, there is continued family life! Or does it slip away?

          There was the night

     we wed, you feeding me marzipan pawpaws
     with your teeth. Our love

     not yet shrouded
     by time's daft--but accurate--disguises.

And, though not named as August, there is an August feel to the opening of "Substratum":

     Setting paper cups
     of Shiraz

     at yarrow's edges
     for the elves. The cicadas throbbing.

The cicadas are still throbbing here, where I am, in August.



Friday, August 26, 2022

Mathematics for Ladies

Yesterday I got a package in the mail from England! With a book in it: Mathematics for Ladies, by Jessy Randall (Goldsmiths Press, 2022)! I'll be reviewing it for Escape Into Life, as Jessy Randall is an EIL poet, and you can find several of the book's poems here (Women in Math and Science), here (Three by Jessy Randall), here (Work Poems), and here (Dog Days), but this Sealey Challenge reading in August will be my first quick, holistic read-through, and I'll peruse more closely in subsequent readings. For now, I will point out the coincidence of Mary Anning and ammonite in two of these poetry books this August, this one and The Genesis Machine! (In my notes: Have Jessy Randall and Jeanne Wagner found/met each other yet?!)

This book has cool illustrations by Kristin DiVona and cover art by Ilyanna Kerr! Woo, also, I am thanked in the front of this book! Neato! The book has helpful notes at the end, a works-cited list, and a foreword, which sounds scholarly, and is, but the book and notes are also often quite funny, as is Jessy Randall. You'll see! Ah, but I am schooled on this in the poem "Rachel Bodley (1831-1888)":

     Stop requiring women
     to be charming and delightful!
     Just let us do our work.
     Thank you.

But, see, even that's funny, due to the comic timing of the last line. And, to quote "Honor Fell (1900-1986)," which is partly a poem about a ferret at a wedding, "Let's agree to laugh about it while we do our work." All these women did their work, often not laughing, diligently and with obstacles, as you can imagine. The titles are their names and birth and death dates, spanning centuries. Pippa Goldschmidt's foreword tells us the word "scientist" was coined in the 1830s to describe a woman--Mary Somerville--"because the standard phrase 'man of science' was now clearly out of date." I did not know that! Racism as well as sexism impeded the careers of many of the women scientists and mathematicians in the book, but they get their say, through the voice and imagination of Jessy Randall, in fierce poems after the fact.

Also, the title, Mathematics for Ladies, which sounds dismissive, and was, actually pertains to "a new kind of math, // descriptive math, something more like / philosophy" that women practiced more in the past and men love today--abstract math, rather than applied math.

I love the caterpillars in "Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)," a poem that reveals, I think, the moral superiority of Merian ("She learned art just so she could draw them") over Audubon, the painter of birds.

     She drew her caterpillars from life,
     never pinning them to a board.
     It did not occur to her to kill them
     to hold them still. They stayed still
     in her mind, where it mattered.

Audubon killed his birds. And, oh, the amazingly huge jellyfish described in "Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz (1822-1907)"! And the authority in the voice of spider-loving "Mary Treat (1830-1923)":

     When I found the lily
     I knew it was something.
     I schooled Darwin on bugs.
     I'm steady. I'm plain. I write
     like a woman and invite readers in.

I bet you'll feel invited in by Jessy Randall's steady, plain voice in these poems, too. Every one made me want to know more about the woman and her work!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Break the Glass

I'm tired, physically and mentally--a lot on my mind these days--and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing...with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I'd find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.

The watery feel is there in "The Japanese garden":

     It might be under water,
     the birds be fish, colored in.     And you,

     maksed reader:          the glance
     of your underwater lamp,

     your blackwater embrace---
     not bought or sold.

I also found the coincidence of elephants in "Ghost Elephants" and a novel I read for narrative escape, The Elephant's Journey, by Jose Saramago. "In the elephant field / tall green ghost elephants / with your cargo of summer leaves"

True, Valentine's elephants appear to be plants. 

The coincidence of blue in the remarkable "Then Abraham," combining the Abraham/Isaac story with a Vermeer painting:

     Still, all the history of the world
     happens at once: In the rain, a young man

     holds out a blue cloth
     to caress her head...

And the coincidence of reading the phrase "in a rainstorm" in a rainstorm this morning, one we needed, though it weighed down the branch of Rose of Sharon with its last lavender blooms.

Lucy is also known as "'Dinkenesh,' an Amharic language term meaning 'You are beautiful.'" And arouses our empathy. "No one is so tender in her scream." And connection:

               when my scraped-out child died Lucy
     you hold her, all the time.

And when I read, "The nine wild turkeys come up calmly to the porch / to see you, Lucy," I recalled our neighborhood flock of wild turkeys, their calm visits to us all, driveway by driveway, yard by yard.

I loved "Outsider Art" for itself, for the artist it celebrates, Martin Ramirez, and for its astonishing end to writer's block:

    When writing came back to me
     I prayed with lipstick
     on the windshield
     as I drove.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


Today's book for the Sealey Challenge is Dynamite, by Anders Carlson-Wee (Bull City Press, 2015).This one is, for real, hard-hitting, as they say, beginning, with the title poem, "Dynamite":

     My brother hits me hard with a stick
     so I whip a choke-chain

     across his face. We're playing
     a game called Dynamite

     where everyting you throw 
     is a stick of dynamite

     unless it's pine.

Imagination or reality, dream or dumpster dive, it all hurts. There's more fighting later, and a "Polaroid" to prove it. The brothers ride the rails, and one brother rides alone. Even so, and over time

     You have learned very little.
     But that little is what you are throwing
     in the furnace. That little is stoking the dust-
     coals of last year and burning something. 
     Burning blue.

There are owls, train-related (glossary in back) or avian. There is fishing, in "The Raft," and I'm sure there was fishing earlier in this August of poetry.  And riding the train. There are guns and dust and mold, wisdom, tenderness, and "Life out of nothing." In "County 19," the speaker/poet hitchhikes by the old folks home his grandmother lived, lingers a while, then says he'll go "as far as you can take me." In another poem, he honors "Moorcroft": "You gave me a ride when I was lost in Wyoming."

Lost, but maybe found. "I've heard it said that the kingdom of heaven / surrounds us though we fail to see."