Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blue Sky!

Today I woke again to grey cloud obscuring the whole sky. But two hours later, the sun has burned through the film of cloud, and broken it into fluffy chunks. For the first time in days, I can see the sun! I can see the sky! It is gorgeously blue despite all those little grey clouds. Thank God.

I hope I never live to see an ice age. How incredibly depressed I would be.

P.S. O. got lost online researching climate change yesterday, and emerged from the data to declare that Hurricane Sandy happened because of global warming. So... let's slow the carbon emissions down. Way down. Two hurricanes in New Jersey in two years is two too many.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Power stayed on all last night and we woke up to a cozy warm house in the midst of a grey, grey day. I hope no one goes trick-or-treating tomorrow. I feel so incredibly grateful to have come through this hurricane with zero damage and really not even any inconvenience. Yeah, O. won't be commuting into Manhattan for several days (trains are down), but hey, that's actually kind of a plus.

Flooded Hoboken and darkened Manhattan
We took a walk this afternoon and saw a lot of trees down, a few wires dangling haplessly, many people wandering the city in pairs or small groups, discussing the damage and taking photos. A short walk from our house is the cliff that overlooks Hoboken and the Manhattan skyline. We stood at its edge with a couple dozen others, staring at the city that never sleeps. No light, no movement. Closer by, Hoboken lay drowning, a hockey rink turned into a swimming pool that no one should swim in, a pickup truck floating like a motorboat in a flooded street.

Welcome to Hoboken, Birthplace of Frank Sinatra and Baseball.
 Apparently the whole city is flooded and powerless. If we hadn't moved here in January, that would have been us. So grateful we moved, and so grateful that this is where we moved to.

My thoughts and prayers to those less fortunate in this disaster.

Monday, October 29, 2012


The sirens return every few minutes. The wind chimes down the block are still going strong, a persistent jangle. The wind drowns them out in a roar, on and off, wildly swinging the telephone wires and power lines and myriad other cables. The street lights are on for the moment, as is the power inside, and with it internet. But down the block the stoplights are blinking red. Stop, go; stop, go. Jangle jangle go the wind chimes.

Inside the lights are on, we just ran the microwave, the heat is still working, we have hot water. On the table are oatmeal raisin cookies with a generous dose of cinnamon--three dozen, less however many we ate. In the refrigerator are two casseroles of pumpkin soup, cooked in the pumpkin itself, which seeped out into the broiler pan and overflowed onto the bottom of the oven. On the counter, the glass pitcher and the soup-pot and all the large bottles stand, filled with drinking water. We have not so much prepared, as hoarded, making all the use we can of these necessary conveniences (power, water, gas), while we can.

The wind picks up again, wheezing between the houses and terrorizing the trees. The wind chimes jangle. I consider again whether we should move our bed away from the window. Is it inevitable that the tree I stare at every morning from my bed should fall tonight, and hit the house? The storm is passing. . .

The wind chimes jangle again as my husband runs water (it still runs!) in the kitchen sink, and opens the refrigerator (still cold!) for something. I consider, and decide in favor of caution, as I always do.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Once upon a time, and far, far away [Turkey, pt. 2]

Once upon a time, it was summer, and sunny.

We traveled, O. and I and my parents and his parents and my sister, to a far away land: Turkey. The first night, we lost my parents very temporarily, and I yelled at O.'s father. The second night, we prepared to leave Istanbul. The second morning, we rose at dawn and piled suitcase upon suitcase into two taxis, dividing the Turks between the two cars so that no one would get cheated. The taxis swerved through cobble-stone alleys and across lane-markers, and deposited us, slightly out of breath, at the ferry terminal on the Sea of Marmora. Confused and staggering under our luggage and passports, we found our way onto the ferry that would take us to another continent in a short hour.

On the ferry, we ate cake and sesame-encrusted simit, and O. drank whole milk from an aseptic carton. I stole sips from his paper cup. It was warm and creamy. A weather forecaster on TV chattered on, and I tried in vain to decode her incantations.

Once docked in Bursa, we deboarded in chaos, some squeezing into an elevator. I refused and sought the stairs, suitcase in hand. My sister followed, and my father. On land our party of seven was reunited to stand, looking lost, in the shade of the bus terminal, awaiting a van that would take us into the city.

The van came, and its driver arranged our bags like Jenga blocks in the back. Some roads were closed, there were delays. We wound through the hills and for the first time I saw the Turkish countryside--sun-colored hills rolling away from the road, and olive trees standing in silver rows. It was oddly familiar, evoking California and the south of France, the countryside I stayed in when I was fifteen.

Arriving, after a winding journey, the van pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of an open garage on a busy street: the car rental agency. There the Turks haggled about the insurance portion of the rental contract, and the Americans sat around, bemused and uncomfortable at blocking traffic for so long, and having no idea of the proceedings but noting the increasing loudness of the incomprehensible conversation happening twenty feet away.

Eventually, an agreement was reached and the contract was signed. Having arranged our suitcases in another jigsaw puzzle tower in the rear of the van we were actually renting, we now arranged ourselves inside it, and got on the road in our big black van.

The journey across the Anatolian peninsula began.

* * *

Now it is cloudy, and the leaves are turning red and yellow, and carpeting the sidewalk. We are back in New Jersey, and I am longing for summer (so recently past), for sunshine, for California. O. is talking about quitting his job in a week, and I am thinking: I will never get home to my garden.

But surely this is the start of another journey. Job or not, there will be another road trip across this continent in June. My exile far from the golden state will conclude. In California, even if we can't buy a garden, the hills will be there, rolling and golden, tall grass the color of summer. The oaks will be there. The sea will be there. The sky and the sun will be there, and I will be there with them.

This is a journey, and there will be many arrivals.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ginger Gold

Suddenly the pear-like flavor of the apple strikes me. Yellow skin, brown freckles, the scar-star of brown bursting from around a long, slender stem--have disappeared down my throat. My teeth and thirsty tongue subtract apple from apple. A sculpture remains, yellows in the swarm of air. I remember--its name.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry and Intuition

I was surprised to discover this week that I actually like Gertrude Stein, the modern poet/essayist notorious for throwing off conventions of narrative and grammar. I remember sitting with my mother long ago, trying to read a Stein essay, and being unable to extract any meaning from it. My mother told me Stein practiced writing in stream-of-consciousness. Neither of us was impressed.

Now I'm five or ten years older and I've read hundreds more poems than I had read when I had my first taste of Stein. Perhaps more important, thanks to O., I've been learning about intuition, which seems more and more essential to me for enjoying (not understanding, but experiencing) poems. I used to feel uneasy with a poem until I had grasped it, decoded it, analyzed it. Like the students Billy Collins complains about in this gem.

Or, well, no, it wasn't that bad. More like: I used to think I couldn't derive meaning from a poem without first understanding it, being able to speak about it. Lately I have learned to be at peace with reading a poem and only feeling it, hearing it, seeing its images: not thinking about it.

My mother and I heard Li Young Lee read some of his poems at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in April. We both loved it, and each bought a volume of his poetry. I devoured mine: the first time I finished an entire book of poems for the sake of the poems rather than for the sake of finishing. His poems feel like the voice of my soul, the images in them like memories dusty from disuse.

My mother started reading her book of Li Young Lee and pronounced it incomprehensible. She asked me to explain a few of the poems to her, the ones I liked best. "Sure!" I said.

But I couldn't. I love the poems, but I can't say what they mean or how they mean it. I only know that they mean. I understand them through intuition, and I don't hunger for more than that. "You'll have to find your own / pictures, whoever you are, / whatever your need," the poet writes in "A Table in the Wilderness." He shows us his pictures, though, and they speak in a language that my bones know, though not my tongue. To speak, I need my own pictures.

Li Young Lee's poems have something of the fragment about them, something otherworldly, something best understood when they are heard on the breath, spoken aloud. Still, their images are coherent and their grammar is sound. Gertrude Stein's writing doesn't offer those comforts. Reading it aloud helps, but doesn't make its assertions any more sensical. Take a look at even one line from "Tender Buttons" and you'll see what I mean. The connections between words are tenuous; my mind can't construct the relationships they stand in. Is there a structure here, or is it a haphazard pile of ideas?

The structure present is the structure of water, flowing over stones, or the shape of clouds: meaningful, determined by uncountable factors, each simple and measurable but too numerous to calculate. Chaos results, when you try to fit reality into formulas. The clouds drift away into a new configuration and the sunset changes to a new hue before you can explain the old.

Still, I see the shape, a shape nameless but meaningful. A shape I could learn to name, if I listened to it long enough. Intuition lets me touch it, and I am grateful for the unexpected gift.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This is how I know our love
This is when I feel its power
Here in the absence of it
This is my darkest hour
--Sara Groves, "Roll to the Middle"

Friday, October 12, 2012


My new favorite meal: white beans, dark greens, and good pork sausage. I remember hating all those dark cooking greens when I was a kid--kale, collard, mustard, turnip. We also got Chinese broccoli and other vegetables that made my father nostalgic for his island home. I hated those, too. Then I grew up and went off to school, started shopping and cooking for myself, bought kale every week because you have to eat vegetables. Kale is the cheapest and doesn't go bad fast. It was 79 cents a pound at the grocery store, and it was friendlier than the other equally cheap leaves, the collards and turnip greens. Also the dandelion greens, which I would not even consider.

Two years later, I have tried the dandelion greens, braised with goat cheese and nectarines. They were delicious. The kale, I have learned to cook easily, sauteed with onions and garlic and sherry; it is a standby, and I am tired of it.

Finally I have dared to buy the turnip greens, my old enemy. Insecure, I consulted recipes. (Broccoli rabe defeated me once, until I learned its secrets from old spells: blanch it, and the bitterness dissolves.) The recipes gave me confidence, and I turned my back to them and began to cook. Onions, turnip greens, chopped fine. Most important, the pork sausage, already frying in the pan. Last, the white beans.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall, Dusk

Winter is coming, and the green and gold of summer that have not yet faded are all the more precious and beautiful because they are passing away. They will be gone, tomorrow or the day or week after. They will be gone, and the trees will be bare and the world barren. Winter is coming and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

But for now the trees are green in the park. The sky is clear blue and the sun was warm today. It is setting over the mountains and sending its golden light into my living room, and this is more precious to me than diamonds or gold. Today in the park, I looked up and saw the light streaming golden through the trees and falling on the sweet-smelling grass, and my heart was light as I had forgotten it could be. I smiled, and it felt unfamiliar, as if I had not smiled with a light heart, and seen the beauty of the world, in months.

Which is not true--I rejoiced on the road to the beach two weeks ago, when O. and I wound through the California hills at dusk, and the grass was golden and the shadows of the oak trees lengthened. And I rejoiced by the Sound last weekend, at sunset again. The clouds blushed and bruised, lavender and marigold and coral on a darkening sky. On the little beach, two swans prodded the coarse sand with great black beaks, and hissed at us when we came too close. One was dirty gray, the color of the sand almost: between cygnet and swan.

We are between seasons, and I am torn between mourning summer's departure, and celebrating its lingering presence. We are between, and someday we will be one or the other, but for now I want to be at peace with being both, or neither.