Monday, October 22, 2007

San Francisco: The Cardboard Truck

It's part of the Geary Street drama, the cardboard recyclers.

Accordion on wheels
the cardboard truck
turns on Anza and moves up 21st

Flying fingers of cardboard man
and brittle brown wife weave dry stacks
in horizontal layers–their mesa
grows skyward as seamless day ascends

and light slants --

and soft fog bellows from Ocean Beach.
The load groans toward Geary,
hovers at the crosswalk,

bent woman, piercings, baby backpack
a short processional moves by

he watches, flint-faced, then leans,
strikes blindly toward the seat beside him
celebrates sunset
by lighting up.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

San Francisco: At Stern Grove

We made camp
among redwood trees
Puccini and pasta
on the slope

while below
golden hatless heads, quilts,
a hundred paper fans

like butterfly wings.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

San Francisco: How to Taste Edamame

How to Taste Edamame

Erase that Kentucky field
sunshot August morning
clay cracking, shaded by hearty green just

tackle the here and now

and holding by tail
pop salted pod into mouth
draw through teeth
as you would the artichoke then

close eyes and let the pearls delight you
breathe deeply hear first foghorns
held at Bay

then go back.

South Columbus
at margin of the long field
reaching toward September twist the stem
roll dirt-colored husk with thumb it

you taste the little pebbles. If they give way just
toss the pod--

not ready for harvest yet.

Friday, October 19, 2007

San Francisco: View from Cabrillo

ink and watercolor on silk

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pressing the Buttons of the Universe

Sims is the seasoned writer in this home, and his comment on Northern Kentucky's Creation Museum compels me to step back and let him speak.

As a native Kentuckian, any news about the Creation Museum fills me with a bizarre combination of amusement, embarrassment and contempt. Of course the Creation Museum isn't about science. It's about a personal longing for certainty and a societal escape from fear. It's about people using religion as a talisman, for protection. The Creation Museum is a palladium. It's a monument that safeguards a substantial part of contemporary American culture. It provides comfort for millions who want to believe in a personal God pressing the buttons of the universe. The idea of religion as something internal is less compelling to these people. The awesome sweep of evolution, the legacy of trial and error and adaptation worked out over eons, doesn't begin to satisfy their longing.

I don't think there are simple answers to the phenomenon that the Creation Museum represents. I try to respond with the empathetic recognition that most people on some level are searching for meaning, and that this search works out in many different ways, some of which appear sophisticated and others that appear laughable, and that all of this is subject to cultural perspectives and prejudices, and that perhaps a kind of intellectual evolution is also at work.

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman statesman Pompey became curious about the Jewish god he had heard so much about. Rome was a city of a thousand gods, of course, the more the merrier. Like most Romans, Pompey was impressed by the antiquity of Judaism, by the fact that it had been around for so long. On the other hand, as great organizers, monotheism made no sense to the Romans. How could one god take care of the whole world? To get maximum efficiency, gods needed to specialize. Passing through Jerusalem, Pompey decided to check it out for himself. He strode into the temple, right into the inner sactum, which as a non-Jew wasn't supposed to enter. Pompey expected to find a huge, garish idol, but the room was empty except for some scrolls. That blew his Roman mind. The beliefs of this tiny minority in a dusty corner of the empire seemed absurd.

Today monotheism seems less strange. So maybe we should give the Creation Museum a few thousand years. Come back when it's a ruin studied by scholars from unknown places who speak unborn languages. Maybe then truth will provide more comfort than myth, or at least the proportion of relative comfort will have shifted a bit. Maybe then science won't be the enemy.

Drawings: from the "Hours" series

Monday, July 30, 2007

No, It's a Whippet

When we leave San Francisco, Cleo stays there. This is one of the few kinks in our otherwise manageable lifestyle.

We've thought of bringing her on board disguised as an ugly baby. We have, in fact, debated every way to get her to Kentucky...other than stashing her in the cargo hold of our plane. Our lives aren't quite right without her.

Whippets are indeed the best kept secrets of the dog world. When I decided to get a dog, I began with a dog search engine. Sims and I entered all the significant adjectives: medium-sized, short-haired, quiet, gentle. No yappy dogs need apply. The answer came back the same each time: Whippet, Whippet, Whippet. I couldn't remember what a whippet looked like. Sims vaguely remembered the lanky hounds from reading the encyclopedia as a child.

Though her moods are mercurial, she's never disappointed us. We start the morning before Cleo does, particularly during San Francisco's foggy season. At daybreak she's usually sleeping soundly between us, having migrated there when we're in our deepest sleep. Later she'll lope to her chair and curl there like a brindle doughnut. With no padding whatsoever, she's always hunting a warm spot.

Heat-seeking, yes. A heat-seeking missile. The sound of leash-janglings transform her. In a flash she's at the door, ready for a sprint. As she loops in circles at Marx Meadow we continually explain: No, she's a whippet. this is our mantra as again and again passers by comment on her greyhound-ness. Whippets, in fact, were bred from runty greyhounds. Their lines stretch back to Egypt, and in Wales they were considered the poor man's greyhound--chasing rabbits for food and competing in spontaneous speed-matches.

When she's off-leash at Ocean Beach, she becomes Miss Congeniality. She flirts with small dogs, big dogs and occasionally meany dogs. When black labs bound into the surf she follows, the fabric of her dog-limbs translucent and kite-like. My heart stopped once when she racead away from me and sprinted alongside two horse-drawn sulkies trotting at low tide. It was like a scene from The Iliad, our graceful sight hound bounding beside the chariot racers. I was terrified for her, but transfixed by the timelessness of these graceful moving forms backlit by the sun.

When I'm in Kentucky I miss her amber eyes, too light to qualify for breed standard; I miss her occasional (and intentional) vocalizations--too speechlike to be considered barks. Most of all I miss her gentle spirit and ethereal nature--she enters the room as quietly as a shaft of light.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You Say Felicia

When I least expect it, my southern accent leaps forth with energetic twangs, drawls, and foiled pronunciations. The conversations and speech patterns I hear in Kentucky keep me rooted in my past; those in San Francisco amuse and delight me in new ways. On the Fulton/Ocean Beach bus, the entire front section raised eyebrows at this exchange between a male bus driver and a female passenger--apparently an old friend.

Driver: Did you know I'm gettin' married?!

Friend: No! Who to?

Driver: Felicia!

Friend: Policeman? A San Francisco Policeman??!

Driver: NO, FeLEEsha!

Friend: Felicia WHO?

Driver: I don't know. She short.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kentucky: night sounds

I'm learning to love the two-note foghorns in San Francisco, but they can't compare with the night sounds in the South. An antidote to the daytime humidity, catydids charm the night air and lull me into a sound sleep.

Watercolor and ink: flying things

Friday, July 13, 2007

Back in Kentucky

I've spent this afternoon hunting for our roofer, whose name is Pep.

In cleaning Mom's house we discovered a major leak on the back porch, so I'm on a mission to find him. I've been to the hardware store and the senior citizens center, but Pep's not either place.

Mom usually tracked down his truck and put a note under the windshield wiper. She did this in a matter-of-fact manner, as if everyone located their roofer this way.

I found several helpful locals at the pool room--finally one who described, in great detail, where Pep lives: on highway 51, across from where Piper's Drive-In used to be, behind the house in another house, beside the brown flatbed truck.

I found the house, the house annex, the truck, and I left a note under the windshield wiper.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kentucky: From Mom's Memorial Service

Through clouds of cotton
Checkered green fields speak of home
But my ship jets on.

Virginia Honchell Jewell, February 2006

Mom would have enjoyed writing her own obituary. She would have plunged in, fingers flying across the keyboard. She would have researched, confirmed, redrafted. She would have spell-checked with a vengeance.

The traffic pattern in our house flowed from Mom’s chair to the dictionary. The family joked that we couldn’t get through a meal without Mom leaving the table to confer with the Unabridged. As a child I was her proofreader--chanting features, weddings, and obits back to her before they were mailed or phoned in to The Gazette, The Paducah Sun, The Memphis Commercial Appeal or The Cairo Evening Citizen.

Mom’s childhood was spent in the coal fields of West Virginia and East Kentucky . Her father and Burt Combs were cousins and it was one of her few points of pride that the whole clan understood the value of education.

Barlow, in Ballard County, was home to Mom’s maternal grandparents. When she was twelve, the family moved there – Crystal and Ben, Frank, Virginia, and baby Evelyn. Mom was a spelling bee champ and found her niche in a high school history class taught by Ira Simmons, Sr. She left her journalism studies at Murray State College for a year--drafted by Harry Lee Waterfield as interim editor of The Gazette in Clinton.

This uncharacteristic decision led Mom to the man she married, Ramer Jewell Jr. It also led to her other great love–the history of her adopted county. Her books, Lick Skillet and The Cat in the Pillowslip, are collections drawn from a lifetime of writing. They document the architecture, archeology, oral history and revised , most of all, the social history of the county. Without editorializing, her message was clear: This place and its people have value.

In establishing the Hickman County Museum, she created a place for the things the people of Hickman County leave behind. With over 5500 individually described and numbered items, the museum is a living, evolving monument to the history of the county. Just before her death she wrote what she called “The Playlet.” It was a short historical drama about citizens of Columbus who were banished to Canada during the Civil War. As usual, Mom multi-tasked – she was writer and researcher, cast consultant and costume assistant, elocution coach and cheerleader. When asked how the play went, she ignored the fact that she was the author. Instead she talked about the team of actors. “They were wonderful,” she said. “They were all just wonderful.”

She loved puns and poetry. She enjoyed good conversation and the sound of voices raised in song. One of the few things that “got her goat” was when her email was down and she couldn’t write notes to family and friends. Hearing "Fiddle!" from the computer desk meant something was seriously wrong. Meetings of her poetry group were bright spots on the calendar. For a half-century, she played the organ at church. Her walks through town, down Beeler Hill to the cemetery and back, were punctuated by waves and chats. “I used to just walk,” she said, “but now I like to stop and talk.” There were always old friends and new families. She and her dear friend Frances Warren formed an unofficial bread-baking welcoming committee for every Methodist minister who moved to town..

Talk and poetry; the woods blooming with wildflowers; picnics with family at Hailwell Farm; surprised laughter and new words to look up—for Mom, there was always something to learn, and life was never complete, never finished, always a draft.”

Last winter when she visited me in San Francisco we made a project of writing haiku together. The spare, controlled stanzas seemed to expand with her philosophy: an abiding sense of the spiritual, a reverence for nature, a knowledge that every moment is precious. During the last day of that visit we exchanged our verses at a table overlooking the breakers of Ocean Beach. We edited and polished our writings, surprised at our own insights. Mom was in her element as she counted syllables and debated the correctness of each word. “Let’s remember this day, “ she said.

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