Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What do quarks and hoodoos have to do with each other?

An Astronomy of Things

An astronomy of things is established by the perfect knowledge

of the space an object should occupy .

—Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Aesthetic, 1919

Some objects are real only to each other.

In that cosmic recipe of stardust and heat,

the tiniest things—strangelets and quarks

spin and crash unseen under Swiss wheat. Yet

the super-collider lives to know. Coiled

far below the earth’s surface, its copper veins

pulse with matter, with a beam of protons

that bends time back to its origin: to

Before Objects, when there was only the space

between—though chances are, that’s an object

too. In order to talk about what we can’t see,

we invent a charmed language: particles

of beauty and truth, dark energy, strange matter.

Dimensions curl up or stretch into strings.

It used to be our reach was shorter,

we told stories to explain the nature

out our front door: hoodoos and rivers,

bugs, seasons, weather. Stars, too, of course,

their habits, features, affairs. Let’s just get it out

on the table, amid the trinkets and dust:

there is nothing in Nature

that isn’t colliding with words.


Winner of the 2009 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award.

Available now ($16, shipping is free!) from Bear Star Press.

Monday, September 28, 2009

at the end, I reveal what I miss from back East...

Lost and Found in the American West

on the Green River, Utah

Objects write the river, its surface a tablet

of leaf, branch, rock, carp, fingers that trail

through the green-brown, all those tiny mirrors

tarnished like saloons. Swallows angle off wind,

their huts blooming from cracked canyons,

and pink brooms of tamarisk tidy the buzz.

The first day, our skins turn to what might be

at the bottom of a puddle. The third day, ritual.

By then, our eyes can’t hold the river long

enough for beauty. It’s where we’ve been.

We blink by red rock, streaking varnish down

its face. Awe proves unsustainable, despite

the eddy’s backpedal, its remnant fin. Off

the river at dark, the Milky Way catches

in cottonwood. Night raises smoke. Objects lost

mean fireflies, that nostalgic flick, which is not

the light of stars.


Winner of the 2009 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Award, the complete collection is available now by clicking on Bear Star Press. $16. Free shipping!

Gearing Up.

click on the image for a larger view...

Official publication date is this Thursday, October 1st. I may become dismally boring in the next few weeks as I self-promote. But I will be posting some teaser-poems.

The book is available for purchase from my publisher now (and eventually, like six months from now, on Amazon) for $16. Free Shipping! : : Bear Star Press Website.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Las Vegas.

Places are hard for me to take in, wholesale. I prefer to think in bits and pieces. Years ago, I realized that if I aimed my camera at details and particulars, using a telephoto lens, I could produce something close to an artsy, admirable photograph. No building facades or street scenes, just a cornice here, a cobblestone there. No landscapes, but rather a stripe of quartz running across a rock, a pattern of treebark, the serrated edge of a leaf. I have a wonderful photo of Notre Dame--it's the magnified ear of a gargoyle.

Travel by extrapolation.

Las Vegas is, by its very nature, hard to take in fully, even by those who enjoy a wide-angle lens. As my husband said as we pulled into town the other day, it defines Massively Overdetermined Signification. And it likes it that way.

But I still take it pixelated.

The warm frisee salad, with the translucent egg, at dinner the first night.

The copper glare off the Wynn windows and the mix of pines and palms in the Wynn golf course. Wynn happened to be in our line of vision.

The unexpected way the sunlight danced on the floor of the dolphin habitat, imposing itself twenty-three feet down.

My daughter letting loose a huge "Wheeeeeeeeee!" when the monorail kicked up to speed, and everyone on board smiling at her enthusiasm.

How much I wanted to be back in Venice as I was walking through the close quarters of the Venetian's faux "streets."

And it was then my husband reminded me: "Who says what's real and what's not?" Besides one's pocketbook, I mean. Which also seems to keep tabs on the places we go in bits and pieces. Mostly 0000s and decimal points, in fact. So I was glad to hear that the calles of the Venetian may be every bit as real as those farther afield.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy, Happy.

Images from my birthday yesterday.

I am clearly raising someone who loves birthdays as much as I do...

I am a sucker for All Things Metal...

We had a lovely picnic in the park and then watched a performance of Midsummer Night's Dream, where Nick Bottom's Pyramus stole the show. Later, the girl told me her favorite part was "the goat." At first, I thought she meant Bottom as the donkey, but then I realized she liked Puck. The naughty fairy. Ah, what fools these mortals be.

Fairies were hanging from the trees as we walked the paths to the amphitheater. The girl was enchanted. It was her first Shakespeare play. I'm so proud.

And, of course, later there were candles.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Six-Week Recovery Plan.

When I was a kid in elementary school back east in the early 70s, we were part of an educational experiment that was testing innovative design in the classroom setting. The physical space of the school consisted of a large square, with a so-called "pod" in every corner. Each pod was a very large, square room without interior walls, with four "classrooms," one in each corner of the pod. You could look over across the way and see what any other teacher was doing with his or her kids at any time. The open design was supposed to encourage the free-flow of information and imagination, was supposed to be a way to ensure that interactive learning occurred. Each of the four open pods was named after an area in Disneyland (although I didn't realize this at the time, having never been to Disney). The little kids had Fantasyland; the next grades were in the Frontierland pod; the third-fourth graders in Adventureland; the fourth-fifth graders in Tomorrowland.

I remember that it was very loud.

That's about the extent of innovation in my early learning experience. By seventh grade, I was attending a post-war-era middle school, with traditional classrooms whose heavy, wooden doors lined up along maze-like corridors. All very civilized, if predictable. But, then again, I'm the type of person who prefers her windows open and her doors shut.

When I became an educator myself, I was trained in and sought out all sorts of alternative classroom practices, based mainly on student-centered learning philosophies, where my role as professor was understood as "coach" or "facilitator," rather than the egghead autocrat permanently ensconced at the podium. Some of those pedagogies worked better than others, but the days when the student passively notated while the professor droned on at the front of the room were well over. Student evaluations, if nothing else, saw to that.

My daughter is now a preschooler at a Montessori school. I'm familiar enough with several of the alternative European models of early-childhood educational philosophies--Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia--that emphasize child-centered learning, but I am no expert in the practice of early childhood education. And, although I'm probably going to inflame someone's ire for saying it, I'm not sure I'm the definitive expert on All Things Daughter. I know it's popular to claim that no one else knows your kid like you do, as Her Mother, but, ya know, I don't diagnose my daughter's health conditions. A medical professional does. I don't teach her to walk across a high beam or play the piano; I pay experts who can help her do these things. So, why would I think I can teach her (despite the evidence that I am, in fact, a trained teacher)?

I guess I'm just wary of the ways we've devalued education in our culture, partly by refusing to recognize it as a very specialized area of study. Which is, of course, why women are by and large the elementary educators in this country. We don't pay much to those whom we think of as as qualified as the next guy.

Yet, my daughter has been out of school for a month now, recovering from a major surgery, and she misses her "work." So, despite my long-standing reservations on this subject, I decided we should undertake a period of homeschoo---, uh, no. Not that. Let's call it something--anything--else. Homelearning. Homeworking. Homeclass. You get the idea. In point of fact, it's only six weeks, so I am thankfully off the hook about having to justify, or even identify, what it is to anyone else.

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So, she and I have been working at home. We have a workbook that teaches letters and numbers and concepts such as "less" and "more" and covers some other abstract thinking. She adores her workbook, begs me to do more and more pages with her. I also converted an area of our living room into an "art center" where she can have easy access to her paints and papers and easel and fabric and thread. We've been learning embroidery with a large dull needle and a square of burlap and a large hoop. We are sewing a little bit, drawing with fabric markers on muslin and then sewing the edges round and stuffing it to make a pillow critter. We joined a "young musicians" class at the local conservatory and have incorporated music and rhythm and movement into our days working at the table in the art center. We have been taking family field trips--to the aquarium; to the low desert; to Disneyland; to Dodger Stadium; to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at the local Shakespeare in the Park event (that's tomorrow night, actually). She's been making ice cream in the new machine (which we gave Daddy for Father's Day) every night.

It feels good to be able to offer her some sort of alternative to what she's missing at school, although I can't simulate her friends for her. But I have to say I'm exhausted. And that bothersome muse keeps knocking at my door, without receiving any satisfaction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Fishy Things.

My favorite thing at the Aquarium of the Pacific is this ray. It looks like the night sky, like constellations plotted against these black wings. It's rare a metaphor is so darn literalized for you. But there it is.

And then there are the show-offs:

These corals were so magnificent, so technicolored, that I thought I might still be at Disney. But they are challenging, too. The only thing I can think to compare them to are the riotous bloom of flowers, but they're decidedly not plants. They're animals. So, I guess bright feathers are a more apt reference point. But to think about these underwater gardens as creatures, rather than vegetation, is hard. It takes re-training of the way our eye inputs information to our brain. Breaking off a branch to display on our coffee tables (which is of course illegal) is akin to taxidermy, rather than floral arranging.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Love and Marriage. Preschooler Style.

In the car, on a recent outing, the following words were exchanged with my four-year-old:

HER: Mom, are you and Dad married?

ME: Uh, yes.

HER: Are Miya's parents married?

ME: Yep. Most of the parents you know are married. Someday, maybe you'll get married if you want to.

HER: I want to!

ME (inciting revolution wherever I can): But not until you're older. You can marry a boy or, by that time, hopefully you'll be able to marry a girl in California, if you want to.

HER: I want to! No, no, no, no! I mean I want to marry Thomas. I'm going to be his engine.

ME: (!) Wow, his engine, huh?

HER: No! NO! I mean, I'm going to be his DRIVER.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Hit a low point this week. I can usually pull myself out of a funk and am not generally given to paranoia; I believe things turn out, and we typically call whatever that is the best, and that's just fine with me.

But this week, this summer, I am beginning to take things personally.

Case in point:

My family is homebound right now, with a four-year-old who is recovering from major surgery. She is doing well, but it has been frustrating for all concerned in its departure from routine. She is missing her first six weeks of pre-school this year, and I am putting off poetry until then. She is eating only soup. We are eating only soup.


Then there are the fires. You may have heard. L.A. is burning, and it happens to be directly out our window. We are not in imminent danger, but the air has been determined to be at a hazardous level for toxins, and more falling ash covers the fig tree and basil plants every morning. Not that we were going out anyway (see point one above). And there are, of course, people all around us who are much more directly affected than we are, not the least of whom are the firefighters, to whom we all are in deep debt.

Check. Check.

And then there is the little matter of the flu. On Sunday night, I started to have the chills. Serious. Cold. Shakes. Should I mention at this juncture that it is 100-106 degrees out this week? As in, what in the hay is going on? By Tuesday morning, it was clear that what was going on was some serious viral business. I am dressed in my winter flannels, several layers, woolen socks, huddled outside in the 106 degree heat, in the direct sun, trying to get warm.

Check. Check. Check.

Did I mention it was 106 degrees?

Check. Check. Check. Check.

But none of that did me in. I was cranky but still sought causes for these effects, as if there were rational explanations for such a confluence of ick.

No, what did me in was the serpent in the garden. As I'm curled up in the direct sun, in my woolies, on the chaise longue, shaking with cold in the 106-degree heat, in the falling ash, my homebound daughter comes over and sits next to me on the cushion. I glance down and see a rather aggravated, brown-widow spider wiggling out of the cushion onto her leg.

That was a low point.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Go look at this article. I'll wait.

Isn't that beautiful? The programmer crafted a view of the surrounding landscape, including the sacred peak of Mt. Fuji, into his HTML code. Only through serious unpacking do the rest of us come to realize the aesthetics of what we would otherwise presume to be a rather soulless, completely functional job.

Back in the Renaissance, there were a group of poets who crafted emblems--basically, secret and purportedly mystical riddles embedded in concrete, visual verse. No stream-of-consciousness involved. No tapping into the emotional seas of self. But a painstaking encoding into poetic "hieroglyphic" of what the poet believed to be a spiritual, metaphysical truth. In fact, the emblematic package was thought to create meaning, to imbue greater significance to the idea coded within. You could make it magic.

Maybe poets today should exchange emblems rather than business cards.