Saturday, May 30, 2009

Costumes (Part 2)

THURSDAY NIGHT - Our producer joins us for an exciting script reading. We have found a powerful Ragman, poignant Jasmine, and provocative Gypsy to accompany the Pirate, Lily, and Tom. We still need to find actors to play Skeleton and Ghost, but we have three months before serious rehearsals begin. "Who Will You Be?" works well as the new opening song; the ending is very close to satisfying. With a bit more revision and composing for the Overture, "Wenches," and "Don't Let Time Come Between Us," the show will be ready for rehearsal. Maybe this year I'll be able to sleep nights during September and October.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON - Our producer leaves a message on our answering machine. At a 9:00 am staff meeting at the museum, she raved about the show; as of 2:00 pm she is no longer connected to the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium. She has lost her job. She doesn't know what that means for the show.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unlike the Moon

Unlike the moon
born of the collision
between space-time and matter
and instantly flung across
a dark dispassionate void,

I was a child
born of the collision
between a man and a woman
and instantly embraced
by the harsh light of delivery.

The moon and I
were both drawn in time
by forces cosmic and cultural
into orbits where we learned
to reflect another's light.

This went on, in my case,
for many years.

Unlike the moon,
I am ill content to remain
a mere reflection, so I stalk
the dark dispassionate void within,
searching for the source
of my light.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Trash Cans:
An Excavation of Family as Midden Heap
(Part 2 - Aunt Florence)

Aunt Florence’s spinster trash can wore a housedress of violet pansies buttoned to her throat, a cameo pin, and an embroidered hankie tucked in her side pocket. Her lid clanged against the can when I opened it, setting off an echo from deep inside. I peered down into the sparsely furnished core. Three stenographer pads, one Smith-Corona typewriter, two carefully pressed business suits, one slice of burnt toast, one bandaged heart, five quarters for the bus ride to work, one swimsuit, one sweet tooth, a host of blushes, and one dapper young gentleman in seersucker and straw disappearing behind a blizzard of scriptures from Science and Health.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mourning Dove

Coah, cooo, cooo, coo.

The insistent cooing of doves
perched inside our chimney cap
penetrates the not-to-be-disturbed,
can’t-you-tell-I’m-working attitude
I’ve been trying so hard to nurture.

The coos tumble down
through blackened brick and mortar,
all the while overlapping, multiplying,
gaining resonance until they echo
boldly in our hearth and undulate
across the living room carpet.

I lift my bare feet, but not soon enough.
Already I can see the male puffing out
his throat, bobbing his long pointed tail
as he woos his chosen female
with quiet, mournful intimacies.

Coah, cooo, cooo, coo.

Can he be describing the sunrise?
How he evaded hunters on the ridge?
Where lie the tastiest water, seeds, and grain?
Or is he just some four-ounce, sweet-cooing male
overcome with her buff-colored belly,
her iridescent beauty mark?
Does she hear the boasting of a master
twig collector? A faithful partner willing
to help incubate and preen their squabs?
Or is she simply smitten with the bluish ring
of bare skin around his eyes, blinded
by the rose wash on his chest?

The hearth whistles with a burst of flight.
Perhaps the shadow of a red-tailed hawk
interrupted their courtship and now my doves
are sweeping the sky, gliding to safety.
Perhaps now I can get back to work.

Coah, cooo, cooo, coo.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The War Against Clutter (Part 2 - The Cold War)

“If this had been an actual emergency . . .”

I was a yearling when the United States dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and “Fat Boy” on Nagasaki in 1945.

While my sister Alice was falling in love with her handsome cowboy in 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon and I played “up in the air so blue” on my swing. While Alice was choosing her wedding gown in 1950, the North Korean army marched across the 38th Parallel and I played “The Fairies’ Harp” on the piano. In 1951 while Alice was nursing her firstborn son in Colorado, President Truman established CONELRAD and I played a new game at Lyon School called “Duck and Cover.”

While Alice and her family were continuing their struggle as ranchers along the Front Range in 1956, the United States continued its testing of hydrogen bombs in the Nevada Test Sites, its production of plutonium at the Rocky Flats Plant northwest of Denver, its processing of uranium and vanadium ores at the Old Rifle Mill southwest of Denver. That was the year I fell in love with Elvis Presley. But no matter how hard I leaned against the high fidelity speaker while he crooned “Love Me Tender,” he could never be mine, so I set my sights instead on the tinsel-toothed boys in junior high. From then on, every week when the air raid sirens blew, every time WJJD paused for a test of the emergency broadcast system, I wondered what the point was of being “good” in a world that was going to end at any split second. I wanted to live long enough to kiss a boy.

In 1971 while I was shopping in the vacuum department of a Sears Roebuck store in Illinois, an air raid siren screamed through the building. The long-awaited nuclear attack had come at last! I clutched my two-year-old son and mourned that I would never again see my husband and parents. I saw all of us facing the mushroom cloud alone. When I opened my eyes to gaze at my child, I saw everyone mindlessly going about their business buying and selling vacuum cleaners. Was it already 10:30 on a Tuesday morning?

Yesterday the air raid siren blew as I walked across the Target parking lot on a cloudless Wednesday noon in Tulsa OK. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the siren blow for approaching tornadoes, but just like Pavlov’s dog, I still and always react with my conditioned response. While the enemies we face in 2009 don’t play by the old thermonuclear world rules, I am a product of the Cold War fallout that continues to contaminate my life. I’d like to let it go, but then again I’m not sure if I can or want to. It’s one of the strongest threads that weaves me in and out of Alice’s life.

Alice died in 1961 from leukemia.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cave Painting

Dark and dank, alive with beasts
that whistle and hiss as they doze,
this is the cave I choose to paint with my life
for you to recompose.

Red ocher have I for the fires of passion
burning unchecked in my heart;
charcoal have I for the dread of nothingness,
for galaxies spinning apart.

Goldenrod I mix with elbow grease
to picture affairs of the day;
and blueberries I crush to stain the rock
with dreams you can’t rinse away.

I paint with branches, sticks and twigs,
fingers, moss and bone,
I stencil my own primitive hand,
incise the rock with stone.

The pigments bleed off every wall
and stories streak the floor
as in a fevered pitch I draft and smear
my life in metaphor.

The beasts awaken when I’m through,
their throaty murmurs rise;
I flee the cave and let them wait
for you to theorize.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trash Cans:
An Excavation of Family as Midden Heap
(Part 1 - Father)

Father's galvanized steel trash can presides over the dining table in his gray pin-striped suit, monogrammed white shirt with opal cufflinks, and Art Deco tie. I open his heavy lid and recoil from the aroma of half-chewed Coronas, lunchtime martinis, and secret shots of Old Crow. Inside are his black patent leather dress shoes, Hawaiian shirts, Mittenwald viola, red trap-door underwear, Martin ukulele, applause and laughter, slices of rare roast beef, reels and reels of Celluloid, curly sharp copper shavings from his metal lathe in the basement, sketches of Vargas girls, long-buried dreams of Hollywood, and architectural drawings. I hear the whistle of commuter trains as he hops aboard, taste the sweaty brow of the city he inhabits by day, and smell the elm leaves blazing in our drainage ditch out by the road where he stands every October at dusk, cigar and leaf smoke curling up toward Orion.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Costumes (Part 1)

October seemed a long way off when I agreed last January to produce my Hallowe'en musical COSTUMES at the Tulsa Planetarium this year, my first opportunity to have a show Off-33rd Place. Now suddenly it's May and I realize I need to get serious about revising the script and composing music for the new songs I've added since 2006 when we last produced it at home.

Agonizing for weeks over dialogue that didn't work, I was finally ready to hear the truth two days ago from characters who have been, up until now, reluctant to speak from the heart. When I printed off the revised script and set it on my desk, I experienced a moment of intense loss. I would no longer be privy to their innermost feelings. I had been cast aside, the door shut.

Yesterday two actors joined Bill and me to read through the script. I felt encouraged by what I heard, but after a restless night, I woke up understanding at last what my show is really about and realizing my opening song is all wrong. I walked out into the morning light and with each step around the neighborhood a new song began to sing itself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bog Woman

I am bog woman
richly tanned from the acid waters of my sleep,
stretched out on a bed of sphagnum moss
beneath a compact quilt of peat,
waiting to walk into your nightmares.

I feel your weight
upon this sacred grove of Thor
which claimed me for its mistress, a sacrificial lover
with an empty womb, forevermore,
buried in these marshy depths.

I know you’re near
gathering fuel to feed the fires burning on your hearth.
You crush the scrub of mountain ash and thorn
and cut the peat above my heart,
exposing my watery berth.

I remember you—
you thought the bog would drain my memory,
slowly leach out in time the pain of betrayal
but instead it festered, like knotweed inside me
trapped in a cauldron swamp.

I hear your voice cry out.
You stagger from the sight of my umber toes,
you who would not let me live or die,
not fossilize, not decompose,
you, clamoring now in dread.

I am bog woman.
Touch my leathery cheeks and comb my hair.
Go on, open my eyes while you excavate.
Your nightmare walks about everywhere,
determined to seek revenge.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Initially attracted by the iris along my walk this morning,I can't stop thinking about Michelangelo Antonioni's first English language film Blowup from 1966. I have no interest in being accidentally or incidentally involved in a murder, as was the photographer played by David Hemmings, but the shadows are what attract me now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Curious how you come to mind suddenly
amid the flotsam and jetsam of ordinary days.
You, a wild, unexpected plunge out of nowhere,
a gannet strike swift and sure into waters still
turbid in the aftermath of your leaving.

And me, a creature grown comfortable in the murk,
taken again by surprise, humbled and scared to be
reminded just how much our lives flowed along together
amid the flotsam and jetsam of ordinary days.
Curious how you come to mind suddenly.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The War Against Clutter (Part 1 - The Lana Effect)

If you don't know it exists, can it be clutter?

Seven years before I was born, Lana Turner sat at the counter of the Top Hat Cafe on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and McCadden Place and ordered a Coca-Cola. She was a 16-year-old skipping her typing class at Hollywood High. Thanks to the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter who liked what he saw sitting at the counter, she was discovered and cast in her first film within the year. So began her journey to stardom. It was the kind of Hollywood lore repeated often in my childhood, the fairytale magic that feeds fantasies and caused my mother to urge me never to appear in public without looking my very best. You never know who might be out there, she'd say before I walked out the door.

During the 1950's, I frequently sat at the fountain of Huerbinger's Drugstore on the northwest corner of Glenview Road and Waukegan Road and ordered a Coca-Cola. I watched the soda jerk in his white bib apron and paper hat fill my glass with syrup and soda while every cell in my body tingled with anticipation. Someone might be out there. But if the publisher of The Glenview Announcements was sitting in a booth admiring me from afar, he never came forward with an offer I couldn't refuse. Like Lana, I too took a typing class, but not knowing how to skip class in a suburban high school so far from town, I learned to type. It came in handy when I had no other marketable skills after graduating with a liberal arts degree in anthropology.

I was out for my usual early morning walk last Sunday, musing on how it felt to shake the hands of aspiring actors after a local production of The Fantasticks, how it felt to look them in the eye and say a few encouraging words, how it feels to be onstage myself and have audience members congratulate me after a show. Someone might be out there. That's when Lana Turner wrestled her way up out of my unconscious and, no fairy godmother, confronted me until I admitted to myself that I was still waiting to be discovered, whether as an actor or writer or simply someone out in public looking her very best. I was still waiting, as if my journey to stardom had yet to begin. Sixty-five years old and my psyche was still paying ransom to the Lana Effect.

If you don't know it exists, it can still be clutter. Once you see an outworn message for what it is, though, you can let it go. Adios, amiga.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leaving Home

For the better part of 53 years,
I called a single house home.
I had the same address, same phone number,
and watched streaks of sunlight
move in and out of south-facing windows
with the same slow precision from
one equinox to the next.

Three times the 17-year cicadas returned
while I grew up, argued with a brother,
lost a sister, fell in love, married,
birthed a son, lost a father, birthed a
daughter, earned a master’s degree, divorced,
discovered the wilderness, fell in love,
kept company with cancer, and cared
for a mother until she died.
And then I left.

Whenever I return, memories
dash across the lawn to greet me.
They chat in the front hall,
play duets on the piano and viola
in the living room, dance,
bake apricot upside down cakes.
They jump out of cupboards when
I look for what I once knew was there,
laugh in the basement over martinis
and a rousing match of ping pong,
hide under blankets in the coat
closet and set off smoke alarms
with their cigars.
They are quite unwilling
to leave me alone.

These days I call a new house home.
I have a new address and phone number,
but still I watch streaks of sunlight
move in and out of south-facing windows
with the same slow precision from
one equinox to the next.

The 17-year cicadas returned to Illinois,
but here in Oklahoma, we count time
with wind and tornado, fire and ice.
We hold parties in safe closets,
go to sleep by candlelight, rake acorns
until we go nuts and the next year,
worry there are no acorns.
And in the meantime,
I gained a daughter-in-law and two
grandchildren, lost a brother,
broke a foot, started my own theatre
company, married, shattered my right knee,
and fell in love
with new memories.

It took a while after I left home
to make a new home, but now that I have,
the old memories have found me.
I greet them with affection,
baggage and all.

Mother, Alice, and Elliott years before I was born.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No Handsome Cowboys Yet (Part 1)

Alice was already fifteen years old when I was born in 1944. A baby sister was not on her teenage agenda. She was busy dreaming of horses and cowboys and the Wild West, of living her life somewhere other than in the comfortable northern suburbs of Chicago. She couldn’t wait to get out of the house. I’d like to think of my presence in said house as not so much of an annoyance as a dream catalyst.

Not long after my arrival, Alice talked Dad into buying her a horse that she kept at a stable nearby in Harms Woods. Family lore has it that when she was sixteen, she announced she was going to marry Harry, the stable boy. This news apparently didn’t sit well with Mother and Dad, so they whisked her off with them to a film convention in Hollywood and on down to Mexico City to broaden her horizons. She spent all her time in hotel rooms writing lovesick letters to Harry who reciprocated by having a new girl friend when she arrived home. That’s probably why she was so mad when I hid her lipstick in the clothes hamper. How was I to know?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Walking in the rain this afternoon, I hear through my rain gear the swishing of each step I take, the water swirling down the streets and into sewer drains, the soft pelt of raindrops on fresh green spring leaves not yet ravaged by insects and the summer heat to come. The rain is capricious, but there is no wind. Down at 34th and Atlanta, a gangly duckling is running back and forth across a bridge over the sewer drain, up and down a sloping lawn, in and out of the euonymus under an oak tree, back to the drain. His little peeps are as poignant as those of any lost child. I stop to watch him. He stops to watch me, then continues his frantic search. My heart aches. At 34th and Lewis, I turn around to thunder and lightning. My pace quickens. I don't relish the idea of being struck down by lightning. I remember reading THE ICE QUEEN by Alice Hoffman, learning about Gretel Ehrlich being struck by lightning out on the range in Wyoming, hearing many versions of the afternoon my cowboy brother-in-law was out checking his irrigation ditches in Colorado during a summer storm until he was felled by a secondary ground strike. My nephews found him crawling back to the ranch house, his clothes torn and singed.

Sestina for a Hawk

A hawk silhouettes on a barren limb,
his eyes keen into the glum sullen sky.
Common, Cooper, Ferruginous, or Gray
I can't say--my eyes not so keen as his--
but I do know the cottontail below
on the lawn might want to forgo clover

and, leaping side to side past the clover,
race to safer places under scrubby limb
or even to his warren warmth below.
Death before breakfast, a dive from the sky,
a mortal struggle appeals not to his
hare taste or mine on this April day gray.

But what of the hawk? He studies in gray.
His rapt appetite includes no clover
green or tulips red and pink beneath his
lookout perch on a crow's nest oaken limb.
He hungers for songbirds sweet in a sky
slow lowering down to the ground below.

At least that's how it feels, standing below
Common, Cooper, Ferruginous, or Gray
this heavy-pressed morning of somber sky.
Why can't I consider fresh spring clover
instead of being drawn out on a limb
by this bold hawkish intention of his?

All around me grows silent still as his
clever sharp burnished eyes--if from below
I could see them--calculate lift from limb,
arc, acceleration, pursuit on gray
streaks of decision. With reckless clover
luck, he will seize and surprise from the sky

songs to feed the gnawing glum-hungry sky
that seeps onto his shoulders, drips off his
tail, nourishes white-flowered clover
where cottontails in season mate below.
I blink, recoil from stiff wings of blue-gray
beating within feet of my head and limb.

The hawk hunts the raw sky for prey below.
I'm not his songstress, just poetess gray.
That hare in clover keeps his lucky limb.