Friday, March 9, 2018


*     *     *

He bought me a cheap wedding ring at Walmart even though he was married. I let him do it, even though I called Walmart The Evil Empire.

*     *     *

Once when stuck on a boat with someone I didn't like as much as I thought I would, we passed time answering offbeat questions. "If you had to lose a limb, which one would you let go of first?" I'm right-handed so of course I said "Left arm." I met a guy at a party, born without any arms at all, left his shoes at the door and used his feet for everything. After he put a fork between his toes and ate from the table I became inured, though he got my attention again when he lit up a cigarette. Now I hear he's dying from lung cancer. Nailed, one way or the other.

*     *     *

On the ant hill, the drudgery of hauling dirt upon dirt, the battles, the torn antennae, the marching, marching, the long sigh from heavy hauling, blind to being blind, not one idle leg among thousands. In the end everything kicked over by something unthinkable, survivors building yet another hill.

*     *     *

Short stories. If you relish one, you can't rush into the next, so the whole evening is ruined because you've planned to read yourself into another reality. Gradually, though, like coming down from any high, you begin to feel the hunger, open the book and start another story. Because otherwise there's only life. (For far more eloquence, Claire Bateman's "A Few Things to Know About Reading.")

*     *     *

Friday, December 1, 2017


(Inspired by my painting below, which was inspired by Kim Addonizio's poem Divine)

Oh no, not the dark wood again.
I thought the last time was the last time--
two marriages, two divorces, and the big one,
the heart-stopper, anyone walking by knowing
how we'd love like never before,  
cocooned for more than a year,
my son saying I was the happiest he'd ever seen.
Yet somehow it was fucked all to hell.
Then another year of searing grief,
till finally only embers of anguish
watching all of us become old or dead,
writing, painting, letting my hair blaze white.
And then, god-damn-son-of-a-bitch,
again the dark wood.
Guardian of the Abyss hovering above
like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life, 
showing me a burning hell with skulls of men
who counted and countless men who didn't count.
That path's a hot zone.
The two ghosts on the right? Parents. 
And that sulfurous puddle beneath them?
I've tried to melt those ghouls with every pitch
in the Therapists' Unique & Wonderful Catalog of Cures,
but so far I've only disappeared
my mother up to her knees,
my father to his you-know-what,
their arms still tight across their chests
in the universal posture of NO.
On the left, what remains
of the family tree. Kind of bare.
But there's water and blue sky
where I'm headed,
so no bail-out, here I go
with my firefighting apparatus
to control the burn,
find the opening cones,
disperse seeds, restore the trees.
And fuck yeah, I'm crazy enough
to bump back again.     

Oh hell, here's that dark wood again, by Mary Bast

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Haiku: Things You Should Not Wear Outside Your Clothes*

Political views:
let them drive you to action
or they're wasted wind.

Yesterday's Gnocchi:
a delight, both taste and sound,
don't throw up your din.

Perfume: subtlety
is everything, linger close
to your secret sin.

Though it might intrigue
voyeurs, your navel: it's meant
for a private spin.

Bra's an exception:
when it stands for women's rights,
not if fashion trend.

No heart on your sleeve,
baby: they'll rip you apart --
find the one true friend.

* Thanks to Emily Hipchen for this prompt.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Villain Villanelle

a central casting pantomime
the worst actor center stage
but many others stand behind

myriad compromises signed
merely the face of deep malaise
a central casting pantomime

email hackers, secrets, lies
misogynist's childish rampage
and many others stand behind

the rich who want their pockets lined
cabinet heads, all depraved
a central casting pantomime

lest you and I lose our minds
impeachment fantasies backstage
but many others stand behind

always a cover-up, never the crime
at which villain do we rage
in a central casting pantomime
where many others stand behind

(See: "Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican party shares the blame," Jonathan Freedland, the guardian)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Fall of Cities: Decimation

From a poetry workshop Ekphrasis: Writing in Response to Art with Caylin Capra-Thomas ("The Fall of Cities" my conversation with a collage by Sherry O'Neill; "Decimation" a coda inspired by Salvador Dalí's "The Burning Giraffe")

     The Fall of Cities

You are the memory of a city,
Sherry O'Neill
dark streets below windows
disclosing artificial light,
the minimalist image
of a warm shelter, murky roads
below the seeming glow
of spaces. You are vague,
the way all urban sprawl
ignores the blaze of creativity.
A perfect smoke-dream
of reality, amorphous blank walls
upon which stories flashed
are quiet, neutral, dimming,
all but one orange skylight,
one line illumined upward,
there a small gray square,
opaque, curtained, closed.

I am the image of the fall
of cities, no growth
here, no upward thrust.
I am the eyes and voice
Sherry O'Neill
of terror, knowing how
sequential blinking lights will
signal tragedy, impending storms,
devastation. Moving quickly,
mid-rise shadows flash by,
rapid slide show out of synch,
the faint idea of a living world.
What was, now disappearing,
openings becoming small
and smaller, the dark, deep
mass below already poisons
orange light of sun's reflection.

Salvador Dalí: The Burning Giraffe

They shriek a dance of grief,
all bounty now empty drawers,
sharp knives draining energy
from backbone, strength,
hands reaching in despair.

Like prehistoric animals we are
destroyed, our meteors now
politics and war, the Mother Dance
grown skeletal, depleted.
Civilization gone.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


According to Mona Van Duyn, in Firefall, the Duc d'Orleans held a contest for poets in the 15th century where each was to use the line "Je meurs de soif auprès de la fontaine," ("I die of thirst here at the fountain-side.")  

I left my cat for two weeks,
the sitter arriving sometimes,
distracted, as more time told,
by tempting strokes: a rock
band, his flame-haired girl,
three days on the road, smokes.

Thus abandoned, my furry
lap-muff, my plump breast-pillow,
bereft of spooning hopes, 
whiff of armpit, kneading inner arm,
looked long, then walked away
from water bowl and food.

His eyes, his skin, his bones
all spoke on my return:
I hungered for your presence,
Je meurs de soif auprès de la fontaine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sestina: Berserk for Barack

I cannot deify The Man                        
who makes jokes,                                 
negates a deeper pain,                         
hides behind a hollow                          
laugh. He should be, friends,               
the first to weep.                                   

How can he but weep,                          
hold out for humanity?                        
Climate deniers, no friends                
of earth, deny the joke's              
on them, souls too hollow                   
to sense our planet's pain.                   

The Pres should feel such pain
he can do nothing but weep.
Instead he hides behind a halo
while radicalized young white men
advance like a fatal joke.
His Hollywood and Washington friends,

his White House correspondent friends,
rather than mirror our certain pain,
retweet satirical political jokes,
while every one of them should weep
for gays, blacks, Muslims, women
going down the alt-right rabbit hole. 

This dark ground we tread is hollow
where our Standing Rock Sioux friends,
seeking the mythic Medicine Man,
suffer rubber bullets, cold water, pain
of ignored treaties instead. So weep
for them, too, while Barackobama jokes

with Jerry Seinfeld: You have to joke
about all the stupid stuff. Is this All Hallow's
Eve, world leaders tripping out of their minds? I weep
that Tuesdays he picks from a kill list. And friends,
his admin built more nuclear everything. A painful
question: where is our Nobel humanitarian?

In the coming sweepstakes our dealer's The Joker,
a man whose choices would make Allen Ginsberg howl,*
whose global warming skeptic friends will rewrite psalms to render pain.

*I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness... Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of   Moloch...  Congress of sorrows!... Moloch whose blood is running money!... Moloch the vast stone of war... Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone!...

Moloch: the ancient pagan god of child sacrifice.
My President was Black by Ta-Nahisi Coates: " last conversation with the president. I asked him how his optimism was holding up, given Trump's victory... he said his general optimism about the shape of American history remained unchanged. 'To be optimistic about the long-term trends of the United States doesn't mean that everything is going to go in a smooth, direct, straight line,' he said."
Why on Earth is Obama Smiling? (The Washington Post): "This has been Obama's pattern. At times when passion is called for, he's cerebral and philosophical and taking the long view--so long that it frustrates those living in the present."
Keegan-Michael Key: A Farewell Address From Obama's Anger Translator

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Requiem aeternam

From my Autobiography Passed Through the Sieve of Maya:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

The plane was late and I arrived only minutes before the service was to start. My son and daughter had left the music up to the funeral director, who was not pleased with my insistence on Verdi.

Lacrymosa dies illa.

The scene: an unctuous mortician who speaks too softly and keeps his hands folded in front at all times, a funeral parlor filled with the sickening, overpowering scent of flowers, the deceased in the open casket resembling someone we used to know, but waxy and strangely colored. Dear God, they've gotten his nose wrong. It's much bigger than I remember.

Ah, that day of tears and mourning.

I learned that funeral music is meant to be white noise, to keep people hushed, emotions tethered, everyone miming the embalmer, eyes down, looking properly respectful. The Verdi was a mistake, an intrusion, far too beautiful, drawing our attention away from memories of a life. But it was too late, the service had started. The Requiem's urgent soprano and eerie choral murmurs seemed to admonish me for this choice, for all my choices.

Libera me, Domine.

Relentlessly the music soared, competing with the low murmurs, barely perceptive, discordant notes: "Was it really his heart?" "Why no autopsy?" "They say it might have been suicide."

Deliver me, O Lord. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lucy Out On a Limb

How she walked, how
the ground felt firm beneath
her feet, so tired of swinging,
she searched for home,
hips swaying on the trails.
She had bone, she had heart,
she was The Mother.

Her curved fingers gripped
arboreal limbs, years
of serious training made her
capable of flipping, she was
grounded, a gymnast, her
legs running every distance
with a mighty rumble,

yet she hesitated, took her rest
in trees, and died, falling.

[Limb Bone Structural Proportions and Locomotor Behavior in A.L. 288-1 ("Lucy")]

back then

backing away from
memories of you backslash
me, your backstab love

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Triolet: Hearts Mesh

Your skin sang a song of flesh,
first known sorrow of hearts' mesh
too soon torn by ego's quest.
Your skin sang a song of flesh
not now lost by shades of death,
my memory still is fresh.
Your skin sang a song of flesh,
first known sorrow of hearts' mesh.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

what my dust says about me

dander, drool
sloughed-off skin

crumbs, grit

skinny mites
chubby arachnids
tiny cousins
of spiders, ticks

forensic data
microbial squatters
ecological niche

Monday, January 25, 2016

from the Greek πλαγκτός (plangtOss), for drifter

My years still hold the girl
who smiled quietly, followed,
said yes, and yes, and yes

to the dying boy with one leg,
her moody pirate, her buccaneer.

Hijacked, she leaned against the rails
halfway between Paris and New York,

tuned to the rocking, even as she slept,
of deep sea fields and flickering diatoms,
luminescent glitter in the dark blooms. 

Did he? did he? others ask.
I tell of oceanic love letters, sparkling

neon blue, of being sea-healed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


From my collection Time Warp:

To the Poet's ascerbic 
wit I gave my sour look,
our astringent discourse
a jawbreaker, spoiled.

When he said of my 
extremities You don't 
dance like a girl,
I floundered, clogging.

Now I stumble, you kiss
my long Texas digits,
prehensile foreparts,
and I toe out, a hoofer.  


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Out of Bounds

"Have you ever seen someone eaten alive?" asks Jerry.

"Good God, no!" Amie is sick at the thought.

"Well, that could happen. What is it with you and Tim? Aren't you worried about the bears?"

"He knows what he's doing. He's been studying them for years."

"Yeah, right! Suicidal. That's what I think. Stay with me, Honey. I'll just munch on you a little." Jerry leans toward her, nuzzles her neck.

"Not funny, Jerry. I told you. I'm in love with Timothy. He makes me laugh. And he's adventurous. Look at these photos."

Amie shows him pictures of Tim with Boobie, Mr. Chocolate, Molly, Aunt Melissa. "These bears know him. He loves them. We're not going to do anything dangerous. Anyway, now I have to go. I've sold the house, given huge bags of stuff to Goodwill. I have my tickets to King Salmon and from there we'll go by boat to Brooks Camp. Then we'll hike to the bear trails at Katmai, camp there all summer. Think of it! I'll help collect data for the documentary. Isn't it exciting?"

"Go with God," says Jerry. He seems to mean it, though he's a bit sappy from smoking dope--brows furrowed, mouth inclined downward into a tsk.

Amie refuses to admit she's scared. A park ranger had warned Tim to keep a boundary between himself and the bears, to build an electric fence around the campsite, to carry a gun or at least pepper spray. Tim had been insulted, told the ranger if anyone was that fearful they had no place out in the brush, and he wouldn't do anything to bring these beautiful animals pain.

"You're star-struck," Jerry says to Amie. "It isn't just that you're leaving me, all our friends. You only see your golden-haired boy who was interviewed on Dateline NBC. Tim's naive--it's real out there. Male grizzlies can weigh 800 pounds."

"He's not naive. He's cautious. He knows what they can do." But Amie remembers Tim's widely quoted retort to an Alaska bear authority that he'd be honored to end up in bear scat.

I don't want to be the last thing a grizzly leaves behind.

Later, reading about bears in an Alaskan guidebook Tim gave her, Amie underlines these words: Brown bears eat mainly vegetation. Grasses, sedges, bulbs, roots. They also eat insects such as ants, fish, and small mammals. She reads on, suddenly stops. In some areas they have become significant predators of large animals such as moose, caribou, and elk.

Holy shit! A moose weighs a thousand pounds. Amie shifts her 120-pound frame uneasily.

The phone rings. It's Tim. "Hey, Sweetie. Are you packed? I can't wait to see you. I've got new video equipment, funded by Werner. This is going to be the best trip ever."

"Good to go!" Amie laughs.

"During August," she reads later in the evening, "when the bears are fattening up on Buffalo Berries, their scat takes on a blackish-red appearance with plenty of Buffalo Berry seeds visible."

Heck, people make jam out of Buffalo Berries. The bears just want something sweet. I wouldn't miss this for anything.

*     *     *
(Note: The above is fiction. The facts: on October 5th, 2003, Tim Treadwell and Amie Huguenard were killed by a brown bear in Katmai National Park. Their remains were found in what is known as a "food cache.")

Saturday, December 12, 2015


A tropical island made real
by stars, Andros afterglow.
Air and water, breath and tears
became names we gave our selves.

Star Nine and I held a twinned view,
ancient salt washing wounded eyes.
Ego danced with Shadow while
tears outreached the Loved Ones.

The Ancestor came, too, breeding
laments like a keening wind from Hell,
the twins shaking with its force,
asking How much farther, home?

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I hugged a stocker at the Millhopper Publix
standing next to the Woolite.
Smelling like fresh-cut lemons,
eyes big O's in a scrawny face,
he hugged me back fierce, the way
you would a stray dog.

A near hug, the young blond
in the office, his left foot in a cast,
eyes that made me blink, pointed
his crutch toward the storage room.
"Follow me," he said, and turning,
lost his balance.

My friend pulled on the shawl
I knitted her for Christmas,
fluffy wool of varied blue hues.
It took wing when we hugged,
enfolded us -- I kissed her
lips, soft as cygnet down.

Six foot two, my brother grows over
me by four years and seven inches.
He hugged me at the 43rd St. Deli,
my head skimming his skinny shoulder,
hanging onto his "Love you, Sis"
embrace until his dimples showed.

Saturday, my son called,
his voice a hug. Thirty years ago
he walked alone to preschool,
face held up for air, a swimmer
sinking, holding back
the words, "I'm not afraid."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


(An enchanted creature who at certain times
can doff
her skin, accept a human mate.)

I had thought by some grave

misdemeanor to be doomed,
live as a selkie alone:
gentle shape-shifting,
uncanny eyes,

sometimes woman,
always mammal and lithe,
from my seal-skin crying
May no harm go with you:
Nar gabh olc ar bith agat.

Every seventh stream
I bask upon the shore,
yours the face I dream
when looking to the sun.

They say if you shed
seven tears at high tide
I will come to you
from Suleskerry,
and you have wept
a wave of poems.

If you coax me to your land,
if I slip off my coat,
will you hold it sweetly?
You, the pulse of my heart:
Ta tusa an chuisle mo chroi.

Published in Young Ravens Literary Review Fall, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Au Contraire - Bilingual Ode to "W"

        i - L'histoire

I used to fancy  
the tabloids    chacun à son goût
when they featured
two-headed babies,
often sired by an alien;   c’est autre chose
or spontaneous human
combustion: a small room,
a man turned to flame
while lighting a butt;   pièce de résistance
a woman walking on the beach,
suddenly reduced to ashes,
having broken no apparent rules
of good form or taste.   à la mode
Over time the stories
changed to peccadilloes:   enfants terrible
a woman of good form
but questionable taste
shot with a well-known preacher;   faux pas
a politician, presidential
prospects trashed.   rapprochement
It was a joke among my friends    entre nous
that I could never run for President:
a misconception.

I wish The Man
had been my daddy.   dénoûement
I could have whored,
drugged and boozed
south of the border,   fait accompli
done coke at Camp David
and got off with a stint
of youth counseling,
a little cheerleading   à bon marché
on my way
to the white house.   noblesse oblige

     ii - Traduction du Français

chacun à son goût:     My own taste 
c'est autre chose:       leans to the left 
pièce de résistance:   so I'm dishing 
à la mode:                 about the fashion
enfants terrible:        for bad boys
faux pas:                   to step in it
rapprochement:         and still get the vote.
entre nous:                Between you and me,
dénoûement:             the plot is apparent:
fait accompli:            deny facts
à bon marché:           and strike the bargain
noblesse oblige:        that oils big wheels.

Mary Bast

Father Watches

(*imagined while gazing at Mary Cassatt's "Child with Red Hat")

the rosebud lips
he says   match them
and thus the hat

is not her head askew
turned right
her body    straining
to stay straight?

her rosy nose    cheeks
follow those
deep lagoons    those eyes

she does not look
at Father.

*Ekphrasis is relating one art medium to another...A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film or even a photograph may... enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Everywhere That Mary Goes

Ten little hoofed soldiers march
like human kids, catch my eye,
play King of the Mount atop
a stump grand enough to hold
two; the others leap aside.

I walk past. One leaves the mob,
runs close, bleats, then breaks away:
a brave, though slant-wise scoot,
his mother's deeper call a sweet pursuit.  

In late spring, I'm told, the lambs
will go to slaughter, bawling terror
and surprise: "Where are my mates
who slept so close, who gamboled
under skies of timber gray?" they'll cry,
their mothers keening through the night,
though I will hear what sounds like "Baa-aa!

Monday, October 26, 2015


Like many discreet professionals, Chausie's career path was oblique. She'd dreamed  of devoting her life to animals and waited anxiously for news of her acceptance to veterinary school. When the letter came, she climbed up the white oak in her back yard to savor it alone, absently licking the dried glue at the torn edge of the envelope as her future rolled out before her. She pictured being surrounded by soft creatures who gave no backtalk.

That vision was clouded when she observed her first surgery. She'd studied the textbooks where all the colors, layers, and organs were in place, and easily memorized the necessary implements and procedures, but shortly after the first slice of the knife she fainted and never went back. All that blood and glistening viscera, such impersonal and shifting interior anatomy!

Her given name was Charlene. Cat breeder parents had chuckled with tender amusement at their agile child who liked to jump on things, and nicknamed her Chausie after the new hybrid cat whose ruddy color matched their daughter's thick, auburn hair.

While still in vet school, Chausie had rented a carriage house on the large estate of an elderly woman with the single name Geneviève, an au courante sculptor whose statues resembled obese Giacomettis. Geneviève shared a taste for luxury with Zula, her Red Abyssinian catsilk sheets, the finest meats, organic wild-crafted catnip.

Geneviève's only worry was Zula's fate if orphaned. She spoke of this in the garden with Chausie, savoring the scent of cosmos and lilac, zinnia and verbena, while Chausie's cats, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, conducted their own analyses of the breeze. "Charlene, dear, I would like to will Zula to you, with a small stipend, if you agree."

A pedigreed cat! The first scent of greed dilated Chausie's nostrils. Ribbons from New York, a board membership with the Abyssinian Cat Club, mine to stroke: that golden goddess whose coat glows like a flame. "Of course," she said.

When Geneviève showed her the will, Chausie was stunned to learn she could live at the mansion with a monthly income of $8000 for as long as Zula lived. She told her boyfriend Max, "Just think. I could make this into a profession: ten cats, twenty cats. I could afford to have the carpets replaced every three months. Come over tonight and help me celebrate. Bring Claude. It's time he got to know the felines."

Not as species-biased as Chausie, Max had tamed a wild parrot he named Claude whose eyes, circled by white, gave it the appearance of a jaunty academic. Max played to this, teaching the bird Elizabethan curses. When they arrived at the carriage house that night, Claude cast leery glances at Carl and Sigmund: "Mewling, idle-headed ratsbanes!"

Chausie became a swanky cat sitter. She sought out wealthy people with elegant cats and gained their trust by showing her sure hand with their pets. But no matter how she ingratiated herself, none of them offered  her an inheritance.

To sate her lust for pedigree, she became a cat burglar. Her targets were prominent figures who failed to treat their pets with proper respect. She would grow close to the cats, quietly observe their owners' movements and habits, even be given her own key.

She never burgled while officially pet sitting, and thus she was the last person suspected when cats disappearedperhaps while their owners were hosting a large party. Chausie would sneak into the house through the kitchen door, grab some gourmet hors-d'oeuvres, and glide unseen up the back stairs carrying Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, or Shrimp Ceviche.

A Maine Coon would look wide-eyed when she picked it up, then purr against the familiar cheek as Chausie tiptoed to the window, quietly opened it with one hand, and dropped lightly to the ground. A Persian might hold its ears back, unsure of what to do until Chausie chirped its name, called it to her, cradling it gently as she slipped away. 

By this time Geneviève had met with an untimely accident, leaving Zula and her home to Chausie, who now had plenty of room for more. She renamed all the cats after famous people. Carl and Siggie had set the tone. Zula was now Goldie Meir.

The two Ragdolls she had whisked away from a well-known Republican were particularly rare, mitted with black toes. Male and female siblings, she'd named them Snoop Catty Cat and Madonna. Snoop and Maddie would rideone draped over each shoulderas Chausie went about her chores, hardly time now for anything beyond formal cat sitting and informal sitting with her catsfeeding them, changing their litter boxes. An entire afternoon might pass in the enclosed garden while she brushed the longhairs one by one, and the shorthairs chased butterflies and beetles.

About the time that Chausie snatched her fifteenth prize, Max said, "Enough!" and slouched away, Claude swaying in a dither at his wrist. Max's departure was not due to moral outrage (he rather admired Chausie's prowess as a cat burglar), nor to the increasingly strong scents and invisible clouds of dander. No. Jealous of the time and attention she gave the cats instead of him, Max felt neutered.

As they left, Claude cried triumphantly, his spectacled eyes wide upon Chausie through the narrow aperture of the closing door: "Saucy, spur-galled miscreant!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

say it a thousand times

the child's game
a word repeated
over and over
until meaning goes

dish, dish, dish, dish
dihhh shhhh sssshhh
language of millennia

the word life leaves
with each descending
breath, a tone,
a loss
of flesh

flhhh shhhh sssshhh

Thursday, October 1, 2015


As truly as God is our Father,
so truly God is our Mother.
- Julian of Norwich
A haunting, near-death vision:
walled in a tiny cell, dressed
only in a kirtle and hood,

I am sane though difficult
to discipline, eremitic,
feeding on solitude,

singing Wiccan songs
with others dedicated
to a female savior.

Some of us are martyred,
go crazy, sleep away desire,
throw ourselves from high rocks.

All will be well, all will be well
in a world with room enough
for androgynous God.


I understand your Witch.
She stirs the cauldron:
bits of snails, sharp things
fill her brew.

I estimate her call: she feeds
your fear, she wants
your faint heart, craves it
living from your breast.

You seek her belly,
need her nipple, want
to turn into the Earth
of her, be guarded

as she lulls you, rocks you,
croons, and eats your soft heart.

Mary Bast, Revelations: Personal Poems by Cincinnati Poets, 1998

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Her dreams are all of flying. Lambros, in a baleful mood, again reminds her this is a symbol of escape. "You're being irresponsible," he complains.

Miriam believes her inability to write is tethered to the maddeningly predictable pendulum of their marriage, the distracting social obligations of his tenured professorship. "I cannot listen to one more pompous speech," she says. Her notes, laptop, and portable printer are already on the the back seat of the Volvo. "Besides," she adds, "If I'm not in town you'll have an excuse for my absence at the ceremonies."

Lambros looks dispirited but says nothing. As Miriam finishes packing sweatpants and lightweight sweaters, he stands with one elbow on the bedroom door frame, arrested by the mirror's reflection of her short, graying hair, her spreading middle.

His final comment as she leaves their house in Bangor seems particularly unkind: "You'd like to dig a hole, climb in, and pull the sides in after you." She ignores him, accelerates onto the street, and drives away without looking back.

It is the first warm day of spring, and Miriam indulges her secret habit of whistling as she drives the two hours to their remote country home near Woodland. I won't have to wear make-up or a bra.

The slightly uneven stones in the pathway make walking to the front door a conscious effort. She has designed the oak house herself, insisting it be built in the traditional New England way, a simple two-story design with mortise-and-tenon-pegged joint frames, gabled roof, dormer windows.

Miriam has often felt the timbered scent of the house drawing her in, so she is not surprised to see a woodpecker's new doorway, a small hole on the west side just below the inverted V of the roof. At a distance the downy creature's tiny chalet resembles the entrance to a cuckoo clock.

After she's been there three weeks, the late May weather tempts Miriam away from her desk near the south window where her novel is taking shape. She sits in the cedar Adirondack chair under a large spruce, among the wildflowers at the edge of the small lawn: hyacinth, lady's slipper, meadow lily, buttercup, clover. Pulling a frayed green cotton blanket over her legs, she carefully balances a mug of tea -- her own decoction of roots, seeds, and berries.

Suddenly she hears a chick-like peep-peep-peep-peep-ddddddrillllllll followed by an irregular but rhythmic knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock. Miriam looks up to see the woodpecker grasping the edges of his round threshold, drumming a territorial hip-hop. Then he flies away, the vertical white stripe against his black back reminding her of a prison uniform, though cockier, the jaunty red tuft on his head like a baseball cap turned backwards. She imagines the little bird is making a break into the spacious sky.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Type O

The whole subject of vampires is sexy, especially for the virginal. Someone gives you a giant hickey, sucking till your legs buckle. Faintly Victorian, a prettier image than sexual congress. As needs go, thirst is next to breath, deeper than hunger.

I have a genetic link to nosferati. Bram Stoker was my great-grandfather, and we carry family secrets that would stun our friends. Google our surname and you get "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Not just any vampire. Our very own.

Historically, the name Dracula is not creepy. In Romanian history Vlad Dracula was an honored warrior. He did draw Turkish blood on the battlefield, but that's not sexy, except to girlfriends of recruits still muscling out the sleeves of their uniforms, showing off their shiny boots.
No, it's the personal touch that thrills, thriving on someone else's life-force. Bram Stoker, "Bramps" to the family, had been a civil servant whose sole literary effort was the Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland. You get the symbolism - civil service, bloodletting.
Then he became sycophant to a tall, sardonic actor with long hair named Henry Irving, the first British actor to be knighted. Newspapers of the late 1890s lauded Irving's talent and intimidating presence, with only one line about "his long-serving manager, Bram Stoker."
Bramps wrote Dracula in his off hours. So he knew about giving blood. He was a universal donor.