Friday, December 31, 2010

Foodstuff Friday: confetti v. Jigglers & Dana Gioia

Jigglers are among my all-time favorite foods which I don't eat. Have I even been in proximity to a Jiggler or a Jiggler to me in many years? Recent memory is jello-&-Jiggler-free, yet olde Jiggler memories are happy ones.

Jigglers are one of the prettiest, shiniest two-ingredient foodstuffs around, requiring two boxes of jello and 2-1/2 cups boiling water. The sole cooking accoutrement is a 13x9-inch pan, and when the jello is firmly set, as if it were your father's mind after he said, "No, and that's final," it gets poured, probably by you, into said pan.

If you want more than one color of Jiggler, do it all over again.  Then the cookie cutters.  Look at the photo. Aren't you feeling happy?

While larger than confetti by a bunch, Jiggers and confetti are neck-in-neck in the happy pretty category. Differences are, however, notable. Confetti isn't edible and has no place in Foodstuff Friday.  (Sue me.) If Jigglers are thrown about at the stroke of midnight and left on the floor or Times Square, they will be lots less Jiggly in the morning, while confetti will retain at least of of its confetti-ness, granted same will be considerably sullied.

Cookin' up a batch a Jigglers might be a bit much for tonight's celebration and so we here at Foodstuff Friday, me, my staff (me), suggest you serve your Jigglers tomorrow and throw your confetti tonight.

Addendum: You know. As I was writing this I kept thinking, Who is the genius to invent Jigglers. So I googled. A poet! A poet was part of the team to invent, create, Jigglers. Dana Gioia, when he was at General Foods. He rather famously left the corporate world, headed the NEA, wrote Can Poetry Matter--the title essay was published in Harper's and provided conversational fodder for a while--and books of poetry.

So just when I think I'm off-campus it turns out I'm at the blackboard. Here's a poem by Gioia, published in Poetry 2010. If he wrote a poem about Jigglers, please tell me.

The Present

The present that you gave me months ago
is still unopened by our bed,
sealed in its rich blue paper and bright bow.
I’ve even left the card unread
and kept the ribbon knotted tight.
Why needlessly unfold and bring to light
the elegant contrivances that hide
the costly secret waiting still inside?
Dana Gioia, Poetry, September 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wisława Szymborska, boundary, psalm, the fog's reprehensible drifting

Table Mountain, Cape Town
New Years is both arbitrary and meaningful. Boundaries are also arbitrary but with far greater consequence.  A Wisława Szymborska poem on the subject. Her native Poland has been brutalized by governments' decisions.

Psalm (1976)

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant
between the border guard's left and right boots
blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn't that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?
And how can we talk of order overall?
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog's reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn't been partitioned!
And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.


Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
& posted here.

Wisława Szymborska, 1976 (Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wringing Out the Old: in preparation for 2011

I'm emptying out in anticipation of the new year.  It's an odd feeling, not new, but I've never been so aware of this of my too-many phases.  The week before my birthday I traditionally cry and feel depressed (what a grand tradition!) which I accept as preparation.

Don't ask me for what.

This end-of-year emptiness, however, is deceptive. I am writing--finishing up--making nice--one of my 2010 short stories. It's been a boon year for fiction writing for me and may 2011 be a boon year for fiction publishing. For me.

The boon was half earned, if boon's can be earned, before 1989. My mom had saved every story I'd written up until then. I have already written about this. I found the stash earlier this month and have already sent out (submitted) at least four of the Lost Stories of Sarah Sarai.

There are one or two more I'm going to take a look a  tomorrow. Those may need some work. I'll have to decide if they are worth the effort.

This year I figured out a way, a sort of device so I could include family experiences in my fiction without plunging myself into pain or doubt, worry or grief. Maybe even looking back with joy? Nah! When at least one of the New Stories of Sarah Sarai is published, I'll explain more what the device is.

Have to go.  No promises but I probably should write something tomorrow and Friday, shouldn't I, given the year is about to end.   It was a hard one but a grand one.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Friends & their opinions; explanation of why we are here (on the globe); policy statement

Between now and the end of the year I am not including an image of any type—graven, engraven or mineral—with these postings. [12.30.10 Note:  I couldn't take responsible for such a drab blog and am adding illustrations. Left is a Rosicrucian war machine. Why? It looks like it could double as a housecleaning appliance.]

I am also not going to say much. How much is there to say, really? Sure I am opinionated but how many of my opinions let alone phrasings of same are needed out there, among you-all, and without poetic or fictional coloration, to boot?

My 3,000 Loving Arms have been loving you since 2009—deeply loving and embracing you, but until this summer weren't doing so with much regularity. What made the difference? This July, two friends who had never seen my blog or read a word I'd written—not poem, story or mineral—apparently held, nonetheless, decided opinions about this blog and expressed (to me) said opinions. Both friends! On the same evening!

Opinion 1—I should get up at the same hour every morning, prepare my hot beverage and, at the same time every morning, write my blog, or my blog posting. I estimated an hour a day and have pretty much held to that.

Opinion 2—I should use this blog to promote my writing and should therefore discuss the process of writing. I was already doing that, when I had something to say on the subject. Some writers are better than I am at discussing process. I mercilessly promote my scant publications, however, so stand back.

My friends annoyed me, but they were right. One of the two has since seen my blog and offered no comment. Talk about annoying.

The Moral of the Posting—If it's good advice, follow it.  Follow the advice, not the source. Trust your instincts to know what's what. I did. My friends do not all or always read me. My readers are not always friends. The great interconnectedness is a mystery. There are piles of snow outside.

And oddly and somehow or another we are here to help and love one other in odd and mysterious ways. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Henry Miller, Krishnamurti: YOU must acknowledge YOUR rights

My first resolution of the new year which is soon to be upon us: read The Books in My Life by Henry Miller (December 26, 1891–June 7, 1980). I stumbled across this today.

Men are reluctant to accept what is easy to grasp. Out of a perversity deeper than all Satan’s wiles, man refuses to acknowledge his own God-given rights: he demands deliverance or salvation by and though an intermediary; he seeks guides, counselors, leaders, systems, rituals. He looks for solutions which are in his own breast. He puts learning above wisdom, power above the art of discrimination. But above all, he refuses to work for his own liberation, pretending that first “the world” must be liberated. Yet, as Krishnamurti has pointed out time and again, the world problem is bound up with the problem of the individual. Truth is ever present, Eternity is here and now. And salvation? What is it, O man, that you wish to save? Your petty ego? Your soul? Your identity? Lose it and you will find yourself. Do not worry about God—God knows how to take care of Himself. Cultivate your doubts, embrace every kind of experience, keep on desiring, strive neither to forget nor to remember, but assimilate and integrate what you have experienced.

— Henry Miller discussing Krishnamurti in The Books in My Life (New Directions)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Poem: Christmas in Norway; Nora, Sacajawea; *I'd* like to slam a door

Last year, walking uptown from the Village, those small lakes curbside as snow melts. That woman and I laughed at our efforts. If it were her and me, our silly kind, finding our way to Oregon, would western expansion mean decimation? Too heavy for Christmas Day?  Take what you want. Be joyous. Slam a door. Change the world. (And though I know you know this, Torvald was Nora's husband in Ibsen's A Doll's House.) Thanks to the gang at Delirious Hem for their advent calendar o' poems.

Christmas in Norway

Nora the door-slammer
knows every ridge of
Torvald's thumb.
A regular Sacajawea
is she, tracking
her way from out under.

Ahead a few steps,
a thoroughly nice woman,
thoroughly my age
calls watch outs for cars
and slush. Thank you, Sacajawea.
She laughs. How many years
since I heard Sacajawea,
Lewis and Clark, Torvald.
I'm not well-researched.

I'm lazy.

What I know for sure is old.
Ibsen wrote a great scene
and I have a decent hold on
western culture against
much of which
I'd like to slam a door.

Little's known of
Sacajawea's life after Lewis and
Clark opened up the west,
so rich in natural assets.

Sarah Sarai, published in Delirious Hem's 2010 Advent Calendar, December 24 Poem 'Plosion

Friday, December 24, 2010

Foodstuff Friday: Don't Eat Cats

On a lovely spring day five years ago I bought a skewer of grilled chicken ("chicken") at a street fair, took one bite and spit it out.

"Taste like cat?" a wise Greenwich Villager asked.

Cat?  Who knew what cat tasted like. I assume it would be weird and awful and this meat was weird and awful; the cat suggestion was feasible.  I spit some more and then again, and have never eaten street fair meat again.  I've had pineapple on a skewer, crepes, waffles, large plastic cups of sweet, fresh watermelon--none of it shocking, I know. No meat.

Today is Christmas Eve. The animals will talk at midnight, cats, dogs, farm animals.  I am not clear about animals in the wild.  Lions, wolves, anteaters, gazelles may speak tonight, I just don't know. It may be that only animals in Sweden and the Swedish diaspora (hah!) talk, but since I am of the Swedish diaspora in part, I've been hearing the conversations since I was a kid.

I'm not sure where we're going in this posting. I am:  a) extremely tired; b) catsitting; c) needing to get on with my evening. And committed to Foodstuff Friday.  Spending time with Willow (white cat who likes me to leave the bathroom faucet trickling the same way kids in summer like sprinklers or hydrants left flowing) and Squirrel (orange cat who has so much fur I think she she was a puffball fish in a previous incarnation) inclines me to Think Cat in the same way Jimmy Stewart, on his way to the Plaza Hotel for drinks and to meet his fate in North by Northwest, instructed his secretary to leave him a note to Think Thin.

Willow has chosen to sit on my lap. She was Queen Victoria in a previous life. There are many rules of decorum and protocol to having an audience with Willow (on my lap). I am allowed her presence but, when she sits on my lap, I am not allowed to pet her.  Once she's ashore, petting is again permitted, when it is permitted. You just never know.

Squirrel is inside the couch.  The cats scratched at its underlining and now hide in their couchy treehouse. I will investigate on the chance they have stored a journal or love letters I could, Nicholas Sparks-like, turn into a bestseller and blockbuster. They are both rescue cats with a past.

In the meantime, my only advise on the culinary this week is to suggest avoidance of cat.

Merry Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New poem herein inscribed: love is, there, not, you tell me

But It Is [Working Title]

Every so often a blogger should write a poem right into her blog.
If the blogger is a “poet” pressure’s on.
It better be a good poem.
A good poem offers a moody rumination on life.
And wears white gloves.
I used to on Easter Sundays.
Palm Sundays too.
They were quite white, my little gloves.
I would tamp them at each “V” between fingers.
Later I would tamp cigarettes.
Am I a good person?
Compared to Stalin who is responsible for a minimum of
60 million deaths or Hitler
who organized 10 million deaths not to mention
causing millions of his countrymen and women’s
demise in battle, compared to those two,
I should be beatified.
Alas, the world does not stand me against a wall,
mark my goodness and compare it with
Stalin’s or Hitler’s.
The world thinks I’m a regular person who once had
a chance of being good in that way religions claim
we all did until we got free willy nilly with our time.
What are you going to do;
destiny is destiny.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.
I’m thinking today I’m exempt
from itemizing Commandment-breakage.
Tomorrow night my mom will lay runners on the big table
my father built and set out the Smörgåsbord.
Neither of them are alive.
I don’t want to go back in time.
It would be nice to meet up with them, now we’ve all had
a chance to reconsider.
They already know I have learned to love.
They are two people I have learned to love.
Everyone in my family is a saint, really.
Beatify us.  Even if you don't,
Merry Christmas.

[only] Sarah Sarai dares lay claim to this poem

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BachFest 2010 & my theory

Georges Braque's "Homage to Bach"
  I have a theory, untested but nonetheless valid, that you--anyone--could hear Ella Fitzgerald 24/7 and no one would complain. She's that good.

My theory evolved in the days when there were battles in the office over control of the radio. Radio! And Lawrence Welk-like tunes and rhythms were forced on the unsuspecting tasteful.

Today I add one name to that theory: J.S. Bach.  I'm less confident no one would complain--not because Bach isn't 24/7 brilliant and entertaining, but because some people are blockheads--but what the heck. Who's going to arrest me, the blog police? I will work on 24/7 Ella.  In the meantime. . .

WKCR, 89.9 FM, the station affiliated with Columbia University, has launched its annual BachFest, extending to (or through, not sure) New Year's Day. J.S. Bach, all seven wonders of the world as musical score. J.S. Bach, the first jazz musician. J.S. Bach, love. J.S. Bach, joy.

I found the following statement on a web site I suggest you check out.  Musician John Stone posts analysis, insight, links and a poem he wrote which sets Bach in the historical musical context, "Introduction to J.S. Bach in his Library." Milan Kundera, a Czech, is, of course, the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

I often imagine him in the year of his death, in the exact middle of the eighteenth century, bending with clouding eyes over The Art of Fugue, a composition whose aesthetic orientation represents the most archaic tendency in Bach's oeuvre (which contains many orientations), a tendency alien to its time, which had already turned completely away from polyphony toward a simple, even simplistic, style that often verged on frivolity or laziness.

                                                                  Milan Kundera

Monday, December 20, 2010

In Memoriam: Luke

photo: Jonathan Morse*
 I received a card on Saturday, not happy but not unexpected. A kid I'd known on the west coast had passed. Adopted and special needs, his parents knew his time here was limited, though they had hopes. He lived to twenty-two, so I suppose he was no longer a kid. Once I moved to New York I saw him when he was brought to Columbia-Presbyterian Children's Hosp. for a consult with specialists.

Luke's bit of light was wholly original and our connection oddly intuitive and full of laughs.  I worked my hardest to beat him at gin rummy. He beat me at bowling--not hard to do. Once we hung out on Bainbridge Island, WA, while his parents were in the process of moving stuff to a new house. Our interplay is where "Kind of Wild" comes from.

"Kind of Wild" has never been sure what it wanted to be--poem, narrative, prose poem.  It is what it is.  And so. . .


I swear to you when his parents leave to get the truck and Luke and I sit by the broke VCR the kid vows I know how to make it work. The room is bare except for the TV and one mover’s box, hard light, small winter air, so it's pretty intimate, me and Luke, him turning to me, pledging I know how to make it work. Because until that moment he’s heavy on kinesis; kid does bodywork two days a week and a special educator lays claim to his verbal skills. But soon as his parents are gone he turns to me nice as you please and swears what I have yet to believe from anyone, I know how to make it work. He slips in the tape easy as a knife through butter left out in July, adjusts, presses a black knob and bingo, we cheer for Barbra and Walter Matthau and dance to Hello Dolly. Luke's dance is weeds tumbling in air until they light – invisible. I’m all that Luke is but all that I am too – different weeds growing. He hopes if he keeps me dancing, Winnie the Pooh will eclipse Barbra, singing Hello Eeyore it's so nice to have you back where you belong. He’s scheming and jumpy and I declare statues to be the game so I have time out, moments to pretend we’re back where we started by the VCR, for there to be no music no sound except Luke, tired and kind of wild, turning to me, promising to make it work.

*Jonathan Morse blogs at The Art Part

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Movie Issue: Hollywood is run by white supremacists

Look at today's New York Times Year in Film section, Top Films and Trends or, 14 Actors on Acting. It reflects what's on the screens. Almost exclusively white actors.

If it weren't for Wayans Brothers' comedies; the occasional Denzel Washington or Will Smith movie; or if Hallie Berry who is easy easy easy on the eyes weren't given a role now and then it would be pretty easy for a movie goer (or Netflix watcher) to forget black people existed.

Except as background, thugs, props.

Considering "left" Hollywood's backing of Obama, it is especially odd, ugly, weird, duplicitous, sad, engraging. True colors showing? Back to normal? Same old same old?

The exception (Don Cheadle et al.) won't prove the rule (white, white, white). But you can try. Feel free to respond. And if you can come up with movies featuring black women (or Asian, Chicano, Hispanic) even better.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fiction: Vows; the jabber in a psychiatric halfway house

When "Vows" was published a poet I knew got mad. She said she should have written this story, she'd been in (a mental hospital) and I hadn't.

She was right. I only worked, part-time at that, at a psychiatric halfway house, as Reagan destroyed California's public agencies. I was thinking of going back to school in psychology and figured I should do a test run. Not for me.

My halfway house was in L.A. in the nebulous Beverly Blvd./La Brea area (not pictured). This photo is of a nicer neighborhood a few miles away. But it's L.A.


It is no secret that there is a lot of jabber in the world coming from everywhere including the streets and the houses with their people and telephones and radios and TVs, all of them blasting at you day and night so there is no peace. I know none of these things, these inventions or these people, are really saying anything to anyone, let alone to you or me. This is a fact. Some of the people who live here claim otherwise. They slink up to me real nefarious, ask me if I’ve heard the message and then slink off. I walked into the communism room last night, with all these empty chairs but one and the TV going real loud and this guy sitting but kind of jerking towards the TV. He looked at me like I was an emissary of the third coming**the second coming is past tense to most of the people around here**and pointed like we had this shared secret knowledge, at the tube, then directed his eyes right into mine as if there was anything in his stupid mind to communicate. I said, “Shut up,” and walked out. I said it loud to make sure he heard me because if you don’t stick up for yourself it isn’t my problem.

The doctor comes here one day a week and prescribes meds and talks to our counselors and then leads this afternoon group I get to be in where he hears dreams. He knows what the dream symbols are for the week in L.A. I was telling him how before Isaac Newton invented the cat door, he probably let his cats meow in the backyard**he should have been more careful because the Egyptians would have thought twice about such an action. The doctor looked at me and said, “You know, you’re pretty damn crazy.” He’s right but maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this so soon because you will make some kind of decision about me and this will effect how you read this and I guess there is really nothing I can do about it, but I must be blunt.

Those words formerly mentioned, damn crazy, just don’t mean much. I can remember that before the hospitals and before this place, which isn’t so bad because we can walk in the facility or off and there is a Baskin Robbins five blocks away, I would have thought about those words. Back then I would have felt a certain way. But you know, as I said, it just doesn’t mean anything. I don’t say this because I am damn crazy, although of course I am. I just know that if I could sit down with you and come across, which to say make sense, communicate, I would understand you and you would be highly surprised to realize the glowing hub contained within me**my nonreactive core. So maybe the body would put you off more than the crazy. My mother is always sending me housecoats with short sleeves and snaps, of material like kitchen curtains in a mobile home. I like to wear slipper slip-ons**I have terry and the acrylic fur. I know here too that I would have thought twice about such garb in previous years and that you might back off from it, but again I need to say, none of this matters. So what if I am casual? This is L.A. Just look outside my window. Is that a palm tree? You better say yes or you’ll be crazy yourself. Pretty scary, huh? Huh?

So I thought about the jabber, how incessant it is and there is no escape because of the rampant subtlety. I did OK with school and school did OK with me even in twelfth grade, when I left. I used to want to be a lawyer, a woman one, because I know I would have been a whiz in the courtroom wearing spiked heels and with my present train of thought it is providence that refrained me from such dallying pursuits. Where is the jabber worse than in a courtroom? My sisters went big time and who cares.

The thing about the jabber, and I feel we are here talking insidious, is that IT CAN HAPPEN WITHOUT A SOUND. What about the guy who was watching TV? He didn’t say a word and he was shrieking at me. Stand in line some morning for meds. Pretend you are an oscilloscope or Geiger counter. Your needle will be going boing boing. These loonies are shuffling and pacing and you know their damn spines are creaking because half of their heads hang so low they look more like street lamps than humans. You would possibly say caged animals and I will be tolerant although let’s be honest**what do you think is hanging around out there with you? Everyone’s complaining is what I hear.

The drugs did me in and then my parents didn’t love me which I say without sadness because that is a fact. I would be dishonest if I said otherwise. And then there are my sisters, they’re famous, the Harpies. If you have sisters you need not pretend to be offended. Who needs them, picking and clawing when all I want is my fair share and I don’t mean of material goods although the terms translate in that way these days.

I did all this reading when I came down enough to walk to the library at Cam and got books from my friends, sort of like a jailed prisoner becomes his or her own defense attorney through reading, but it was more jabber. I could build a case any way I wanted, to wit: the drugs did me in or didn’t, my parents did or didn’t, or I could have been a super person overcoming all of this or maybe my being around to write this is just shows you what a super person I am. None of it is important if you don’t react to the term damn crazy because then the distinctions fall to the ground, like jeans, not too quickly or smoothly, but when they get there they stay and you can step out of them and get on with your life.

Cotto used to agree with me until he got hit by a car and died. He lived here, too, but he spent a lot of time on Sunset, reliving the memories of his youth but mostly making up episodes of the cool people. Cotto is not his real name, but he identified with the salami**you know salamis. He got me with it a few times, too. We can leave or keep sleeping here although it is easier to pick up our checks if we stay, so no one minded if Cotto hitched around or walked. We all tend towards great stamina walking all over L.A. And vice versa. My mother took me out once for a vacation but I ended up going to the doctor. She had arranged for two abortions and I guess got weary so there won’t be any more. I don’t care although I will tell you and you would never know if I didn’t, that I just went into the can-can’t room and cried like I did for weeks after I came back. What would be so wrong about a little me? No one seems to realize that although the machinations of the universe worked it out that I was not going to be smothered with affection in this lifetime, I still had a full supply to offer someone else. Most people say it doesn’t work like that. No one ever asked me. I was never asked and so even though I’d vote in favor of choice if I voted, I didn’t get a choice. So I stopped crying and snapped the judgment I wasn’t put here to wear an apron. OK. What next. You talking to the TV, shut up.

To stop the jabber I think of this painting I saw when I went to a museum. The painting is huge and was done in pencil so, OK, it’s not a painting. When you first blink at it, you think it’s the ocean, but then you comment, “There’s no give to those waves and no sound,” and your mind responds, “Sand’s quiet.” You imagine putting a foot down and you’re sure it’s sand, desert sand, high desert, low desert, but desert unless it is mountain top soil. I imagine myself walking on sand firm in the hot sun, the sun of way back when, of prophets ranting, zealots screaming, crazy enough to live here but working it out to their own satisfaction, yammering, “Damn these sandals!” And:

“I’ve seen eternity!”

“The Lord’s mighty strap is broken.”

“Eternity’s an island!”

“Keep it under your tongue.”

“It’s floating, you don’t**need**sandals.”

“Strap’s broken!”

“You won’t need sandals!”

“Cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes.”

I know eternity, because I was there at my beginning. I’ve been alive when others have ended and I’ve gone on so I know something keeps going on. Eternity’s a sun in amber, held steady in resin, making you feel comfortable with your own lunacy. I get that picture in my head of the sand and the sound of my footsteps. Sandals, no sandals, island, no island, it doesn’t matter, because if I can walk, crazy, sane, jabber, no-jabber, I’m not really stuck.
Sarah Sarai, The Written Arts. King County Arts Commission, Seattle. April 1989.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Foodstuff Friday: green cauliflower; Laa Laa and Po spitting on my taste buds

Every so often I am obliged to issue a public service bulletin. Today is such a day. This bulletin's fueled by disappointment, revulsion and seasonal outrage. And depending on how long it takes to get out of the system, green cauliflower.

At the Union Square Farmer's Market I'd been intrigued bins of the other-worldly, green and mossy cauliflower-like vegetables . . if only I'd trusted my instincts. As I was to discover, dear reader, they were the feared anti-sea of golden daffodils.

Green cauliflowers--there were two varieties according to my anecdotal research at one seller's booth--were in hues of lime and sort of mossy but not moldy; shaped like whimsical live grenades. Sinister as Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po. And that's sinister (thank you, ladies and germs).

Of the two varieties, one is aggressively mutated and hybridized for the hothouse. Humanly engineered food is something I avoid so I purchased the allegedly more naturally created green cauliflower. I was told both were slightly sweet.

Sweetness of cauliflower was no selling point, really.

I use cauliflower in soups at least once a week. The flowerettes break down so the soup appears creamy; it's high in fiber, folate, Vitamins C, K, B6, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Phosphorus, Potassium,  Pantothenic Acid and Manganese.

That aside, I like regular old cauliflower. If I want green cauliflower I can buy broccoli. I want "sweet" in a soup or stew I can add an apple or sweet potato. As can you.

Fact being the Soup With Green Cauliflower had an unpleasant taste. Not quite real, not quite hardy and reliable like cauliflower but not delicate (mind you). It isn't chemical, I understand that, but whatever human contrivance goes into making, say, a Hostess Cupcake a good memory, equally makes of a cauliflower grown green something icky, maybe metallic or as if a spatula had melted in the pot.

Eat the pine branches of your tree if you want green. The wrapping paper. The fast-disappearing dollars in your wallet. Eat green M&M's. Eat lettuces and peppers. But avoid green cauliflower unless you want the spirit of Laa Laa and Po spitting on your taste buds.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: The Diary of Emily Dickinson (1993)

From 1993. This was my first book review for The Seattle Times. (I freelanced for them my last years in Seattle.) Why now?

There is no expiration date on the written word.  (photo info below)


The Diary Of Emily Dickinson

By Sarah Sarai
"The Diary of Emily Dickinson" by Jamie Fuller Mercury House, $18 (also in paper)

Believe you have a flame burning inside you; it fuels your love of hiking, writing, helping. Now imagine a flame in someone even greater than yourself.

That act of imagining is what Jamie Fuller has done in this fictional 1867-68 diary of the brilliant American poet, Emily Dickinson. Fuller has fashioned entries that easily could have drifted from Emily's hand. From the sloping typeface to the line drawings of the daily events of Emily's life - house, flowers, pen and ink - the entire book is a lovely re-creation of a volume that never existed.

The entries are annotated with biographical information, and fiction and fact cooperate: The reader is offered a gentle opportunity to learn more about the life, times and thoughts of Emily.

But most of all it is a chance to witness an artist privately discussing her work, with Emily explaining, usually plausibly, some of the mysteries of her life. Why did she wear only white? Whom did she love? Why was she so reclusive? In this fine historical fiction, Emily Dickinson nestles into the reader's thoughts, stoking the imagination's fires for some time to come.
Sarah Sarai, first published in The Seattle Times
The Diary of Emily Dickinson is in hardback or paper on Amazon and elsewhere.

photo by Jonathan Morse. See more or contact Jonathan through The Art Part.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quaff Quaff: does Emily have a cold?

Yeah, I'm shameless but what can you do?  Bon vivant poet, scholar, photograph and friend Jonathan Morse, who annoyingly lives in Hawaii--come on, Morse, suffer with the rest of us!--sent me a belated birthday tribute to Emily Dickinson. It's the above photo (Attachment0.jpg to its friends) with appropriate reference and caption, "Quaff   Quaff."

I fell into the photo and of course am already blissfully mired in the honey (mired in the honey?) of Emily. More of Morse's photography and can be located through his blog The Art Part.

We -- Bee and I -- live by the quaffing --

'Tisn't all Hock -- with us --

Life has its Ale --

But it's many a lay of the Dim Burgundy --

We chant -- for cheer -- when the Wines -- fail --

Do we "get drunk"?

Ask the jolly Clovers!

Do we "beat" our "Wife"?

I -- never wed --

Bee -- pledges his -- in minute flagons --

Dainty -- as the trees -- on our deft Head --

While runs the Rhine --

He and I -- revel --

First -- at the vat -- and latest at the Vine --

Noon -- our last Cup --

"Found dead" -- "of Nectar" --

By a humming Coroner --

In a By-Thyme!
Fr244, Emily Dickinson, (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886), The "She" of American poetry

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I flip-flopped for a day over Wikileaks's most recent and massive posting. By flip-flop I mean something frozen and primal, self-protective, scared, took over my thoughts as government documents spilled out.

Were Wikileaks and Julien Assange endangering me, a humble citizen; were they guilty of treason or expressing a useless teen-age-style anger--or were they doing something necessary and useful for democracy and the interaction between democracy and commerce?

I got over my fear. Quickly. It was fear and the type that tells me to be quiet and not get in trouble. To let lies be told. Play it safe.

Wikileaks is furthering the cause of democracy; organizing the information as much as showing it light of day.  Some judge Assange and believe Wikileaks has no right to make public behind-the-scene machinations and documents, when in fact these same people seek transparency--honesty--in government.  That's what Wikleaks offers.
For instance, doing the job of investigative journalism, Wikileaks revealed that DynCorp, a U.S. company, entertained Afghan clients with sex slaves, something they'd also done in Bosnia.  I wrote about this last Foodstuff Friday, December 10.

Julien Assange may be foolhardy. He may be annoying. I suspect lack of perfection. I also suspect as do many, the orchestrated set-up to get him in jail.

Thomas "These are the times that try men's soul's" Paine, one of the U.S.'s Forefathers of Independence, was read by many Chinese involved in Tiananmen Square, the demonstration throughout China but most famous for what happened in Beijing in 1989. They were impressed with democracy. Common Sense. The Rights of Man. Age of Reason.

Wikileaks and other documents are democracy in action; lay bare the lies of governmen;t are the way to return to the spirit, possibility and fact of democracy.

The hunger for honesty, decency and fairness, felt by so many globally and nationally, is strong but being filled. If we stand a chance of survival it is through this kind of transparency. I am inspired by Assange and Wikileaks. I am relieved someone speaks up.  I admire the bravery.

I am less worried about survival of the human race than I am survival of the human race's humanity. Wikileaks is pro-humanity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fiction: the missing paragraph

Napoleon, after I edited out
The Paragraph
My mother was so complicated and so sweet; so strong an energy blocking any normal trajectory of a life (my life, specifically) and yet so supportive in other ways.

She loved my short stories. I know that alone makes friends, some writers, gape at me with envy. Let me have something, already.

As I've mentioned, I didn't start writing poetry until I was in my forties and by then my mother was well into her self-inflicted thirty-year march to death (a Christian Scientist's preventable death).

But I began fiction in my thirties, after I started teaching (thus ending ne-er-do-well-dom, at least for a time). My novel The To-Do List Manifesto, which I've rewritten enough times it really could be published, is dedicated to her. Today I thank her. She saved every story of mine up to about 1989, all of them typed. 

My sister sent me the batch after Mom died in 2001. I'd forgotten, and just chanced on the box yesterday. (I'm debating whether or not to hold onto two scrapbooks and that box was under the two scrapbooks.) I thought I'd lost work and now, ta da. I also thought I'd lost a paragraph that haunted one of my stories, first titled "Problems," finally titled, in 2010, "Napoleon on the N-page" and published in (Nov-Dec 2010).

A friend used to call it "The Paragraph:"

It was a big deal when I finally dropped or edited out The Paragraph. I now see it begs for a few deletions, periods or at the very least, semis.  But it is a tumbling leaf in autumn, something to admire, in my mind. The world seems to have managed, the fiction world, the greater world. Would Julien Assange not be facing trumped-up prosecution if I'd published this paragraph?  Would the common cold be, by now, a thing of the past?  Would infinitives split like geodes to reveal gleam and glitter?

We'll never know but at least the paragraph gets a little life on the shelf of today's posting.
It is the uncertainties, perplexities and difficulties of life that haul our spirits to the depths, that cause us to wallow in mire at the merest of disasters, and the removal of these leaden weights, these dark transmuters of our native golden selves, is the aim, the desired success of many people, each of whom employs a means, perhaps unbeknownst to them, and this search for an elixir of inner peace, this methodology of the psyche's self-purification, if you will, is what Vina was trying to discover, to isolate as would a scientist seeking a remedy, and her initial approach was to observe her milieu, to look at her friends' problems.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fiction: Lost & Found ***Three Quicks Tales of Loss & Yearning***

"Lost & Found ***Three Quick Tales of Love and Yearning*** was published in The Antigonish Review in 1992.



In college. Wasn’t really frat. Into parties. I’d crawl out of bed each day, grump from the last night’s carousal, go to classes. Looked towards graduation with fear and relief. Only one non-student friend. This was Claudette, the sort of woman I’d have liked to marry. She was about 35. Used to be a grad student. She was blond and sturdy. “Dwight Dalton + Claudette Carr” is what I’d write in the margins of my notes.

Claudette’s boyfriend Houston, a dope, called her at one party. She murmured into the receiver, “It’s okay, I don’t mind, no, don’t worry about it,” then turned to us. “Houston’s staying in Philadelphia another week. He’ll miss my birthday.” We had big plans for her birthday which Houston knew. He was a jerk; evolved from Law into Administration. Wore silk vests. Claudette deserved better. I bit my tongue when she hung up. Had to. Unapproachable—cool, big eyes and big bones. But Sam Pink spoke out because he was a drunk then and a fool like Houston. Me and a few heard what Sam said although most were either sprawled on the living room couch watching a video or playing poker in the wood-paneled den. Sam and Claudette stood in the yellow kitchen by the salmon dip.

“I don’t like the guy,” Sam said.

“Sam Pink,” Claudette faced Sam. “Houston is just who he is. He’s an important man.”

“You gotta be desperate to stick with him. You one of those women who likes difficult men? You could probably find someone else. The guy’s a prick.”

Claudette slumped, then patted Sam’s hand, which should have been broken. You could see Claudette’s attraction to Houston wasn’t what I called love, and wasn’t what I called lust, but that was her business. I wanted a duel; I’d have fought for her, I would. I went up to her and said, “Tell Sam it’s none of his business.”

That woman smiled at me. “Don’t worry, Dwight,” she said. She put a hand on my arm. My body jolted towards Sam but she tightened her grip. “Don’t,” she pressed. “Please don’t.”

By the next day, everyone had heard what Sam said and agreed he was a jerk but everyone forgot or forgave or both. I didn’t. I wished Claudette would tell Sam off. She didn’t. Birthday party okay. Then one more party before summer. Everyone was there, including Houston and Sam. Claudette had placed lilacs in every room, along with pretzels in different shapes.

I was constantly at Sam’s side that night. “My faithful sidekick,” he joked. He didn’t know why I was following him. “Don’t tell me you’re that kind of guy, Dwight D.,” he sneered. A smile. The stereo blared on as a video ended. At a pause between tapes Sam jumped up and danced on the green shag. When the music stopped, he stopped. Finally, he was at the door with a woman on his arm. Other guests were getting ready to leave. An audience. I took a bottle of brew, shook it and let the beer spray onto Sam.

“What the goddam hell,” he said.

“What’s wrong with you?” everyone asked me.

Claudette covered. “Just too much to drink,” she announced. She gently pulled Sam into the bathroom and toweled him dry and said God knows what, because he laughed about it. He knew I’d be a foil for him for years, if he wanted. Fortunately, he forgot about it by the next day.

I was so in love with Claudette. Did she know? She led me into her bedroom; told me to stay until everyone, even Houston, left.

“He knows nothing’s going to happen,” she explained when she returned.

She meant what she said. Too bad.

Claudette told me about her life that night.

“Dwight, I wanted revenge once,” she confessed.
Waiting, eager to hear anything from her peach lips.

“This one time I wanted it with all my heart,” she continued. “I lost my great love and my great friend at the same time.”

She laid back on the ivory comforter, pulling a lacy pillow under her shining head, bending her knees up to lock her hands around her ankles. Her round ankles. Her round wrists and moving hands, beckoned to me. Nothing to do about it.

“When I was 18 I thrilled everyone, including myself, by falling in love with the heir of the other wealthy family in my small town. He was the banker’s son and I was the judge’s daughter.”

Words so soft.

“After two years of romance during college vacations we announced our engagement, and he told me the awful truth one year later.”

Wanting to hold Claudette, to stroke her curls of silk.

“He told me he was in love with someone elsea man.” She pulled herself eye level with me. Her eyes were a deep lagoon. I dove.

“My pride was hurt,” Claudette continued. “My heart was crushed. I was a little disgusted, too. But I stuck to him. I begged him to change or at least marry me. I offered him anything and everything. But no. He didn’t tell anyone else in our town. I covered.”

Who could turn her down? Her fingertips shone like the rosy dawn.

“He came home after graduation with another woman on his arm. She was stunning. To hell with that; she was alive. She was his wife. He’d married her. She came from real money. Washington, D.C. connections. She was a prize. He dumped me cold. He never explained or contacted me. She knew he was gay. He leads a double life. But what grates on me, is that he acts like he doesn’t care. He doesn’t love me.”

Not love Claudette? The dimpled crease of her downy arm called for my lips. Which could not respond.

“So here I stand. Lay.” She giggled. “That man is the villain of my life. I’ve wanted revenge all these years.” She kissed my cheek.

Hating this man.

*The End of Dwight’s Yearning for Claudette* I stopped going to Claudette’s parties. Ashamed? For her or me? No one knew what I knew. I’ve never seen her since then, and didn’t talk about her until two years later. First the end of her story, then the end of mine.

Two years later. I’m in a tavern after our Thursday night softball game with Betty Bailey, the pitcher. The hand of Fate loosens a valve in my mind: The waitress reminds me of Claudette. Maybe it’s the way eyes shine. Maybe it’s the pretzels. I mention to Betty that the waitress resembles Claudette Carr. Turns out Betty knew her.

“You bet. She was going with my cousin years and years ago, back in our home town, and it busted. I heard he was gay. I always thought he was.”

“You knew Claudette Carr?”

“Sure. She was pretty. A little tense. Years older than I am.”

“Is she dead?”

“No. She’s married. I went to her wedding a few months ago. Her husband’s name is Hank. They looked okay to me. For an older couple.”

I wait to hear more.

“My sister helped with the plans,” Betty offered. “Claudette told her everything.”

Now. *The End of Claudette’s Yearning for Her Lost Love* Claudette goes to Washington, D.C. Show down. First thing, runs into her home town love at restaurant. Sees him at the salad bar. Funny stuff. The arch enemy of her life, the man who turned her down, dumped her cold, turned his back on her, made her ache with the agony of lost love made more cruel by his not caring: at a salad bar! Like every other poor schmuck who’s out for lunch. So Claudette forgives him. Goes to his table to tell him. Minute he sees her, grief in his eyes. Then cool again. Enough for Claudette. Back home, dumps Houston the Texas oiler, meets Hank. *Claudette Finds a New Love*. Happy. For a time.

Finally: *Dwight Finds a Love* I talk to this waitress who looks like Claudette. I say, “Hey.” She tells me she’s pre-med. I say, “Great.” I ask, “Name?” “Rosie Pink,” she responds. “Sam Pink’s sister?” I ask. “That I am,” she tells me, “You know him?” “I squirted beer on him,” I admit. “Lots of people have,” she says. Not impressed. I take her home. Date her. This and that. Now putting her through med school. Sam Pink and I talk sometimes. Family gatherings. I have to apologize, don’t I? So, I do. He squints.

“I guess I remember,” he says. I wait. Don’t hear anything, don’t feel bad vibes. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t bother him. What the hell, I think. After all, Claudette’s no longer in my life, I sigh to myself. I get a brew for Sam and myself.


A few years later, in the same dark tavern where Dwight found Rosie Pink, Rosie (now married to Dwight) sits talking with her brother Sam. Sam and Betty Bailey, the pitcher, are lovers. Claudette, along with her found and lost love, will be in final quick tale #3.

“No one should have to suffer,” Sam Pink insists. “But what gets me, is that Betty likes to.”

“I don’t think she likes to suffer.” Rosie takes quick sip of wine. “She’s dramatic and she likes gossip.”

“What do you mean?”

“Which? Drama or gossip?”

“Drama, I already know. She should have gone into acting.” Sam scrapes the salt off a pretzel with his thumbnail. “Of course lately she’s mad because I said I wouldn’t commit.”

“You don’t commit to anything.” Rosie blurts. “It’s true, Sam. I’m your sister. I can say it.”

Sam’s face is blank. “I can understand her being upset. But all this being depressed and crying. Isn’t there anything else she can do with her feelings?”

“You’ve got to sweat it out.”

“You have to suffer and you have to bleed? Is that your medical opinion?”

“Lay off. When Dwight and I have troubles, I go to the movies and cry in the dark.”

“That’s not what Betty said.”

Rosie looks at her curly-haired older brother, wishing she could learn to anticipate his moves. “Sam.”

“Skip it.”

“Sam, finish what you started.”

“Listen. I don’t know. Okay. So Betty said you and Dwight fought, she said it was about the amount of time you spend at the hospital, and you got mad and stepped out on him.”


“With the Medical Director.”

Sam half grins.

“Sam, I don’t cheat, you should know that. I hope you told that to Betty.”

“I did. I know she was lying.”

“So that’s how Betty gets through hard times.” Rosie smirks.

“Well, what does Dwight do when he’s upset?”

Rosie shrugs her slight shoulders. “Escapes. He daydreams. I think he dreams about Claudette, the woman from your college days.”

Sam lights up. “Claudette.”

“What was she like, Sam?”

“Not of this world, Rosie, soft, like a Southern Belle.”

“Well, that’s where Dwight escapes to, to life with his Southern Belle.”

Sam’s eyes are dancing.

“Sam, it’s time to go.” Rosie reaches for her sweater and purse.

“I wonder how she is. She got married, I heard that. I bet it’s wonderful.” Sam sits, transfixed.

Rosie leaves a dollar for the tip.

*She Finds that Life Goes On*

“I’m calling the police!”

“Go ahead!”

Hank walked away from the locked sliding glass doors with their view of Claudette, his wife, on the lawn.

“That’s it, run away! You wimp! Hide in the bedroom! I’m not scared of you! You’re scared of me!”

Hank didn’t leave the living room. He took his hand off the phone.

“Dammit, you know you’re just trying to hurt me!” Hank screamed.

“You bet I am!”

Claudette started crying. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She sobbed.

Hank unlocked the patio door and raced to Claudette. They were anchored in embrace for a long time, anchored; not allowed to float away.

They moved to the rocker and sat, holding hands. “This’ll just keep happening for a while,” Claudette said. “It gets better. We haven’t talked for a week. No talking and no fighting.”

“Couples break up without all this fighting. Not everyone fights, Claudette.”

“I’m in pain. Don’t you feel anything? Or do you use your new woman to talk to?”

Hank swallowed and gripped her hand. They stayed like that for an hour. Then Hank went to bed and Claudette went to the den. She slumped onto the floor, by her bookcase. She needed inspiration, knew it and sought it. Poetry and drama reminded her that to feel deeply was more human, than being cool. Look at Medea. Agreed, she killed her kids when jilted, but Jason was a louse. Okay, she killed her kids. Not good. But passionate.

Claudette pulled out a paperback Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, and read the lines about Portia’s suitors. To win Portia’s hand, they had to guess which box held a ring. The Prince of Aragon guessed wrong. Claudette always wondered how he could bear to comply with Portia’s father’s rules for the losers. He had to leave Venice, not discuss his guess, and never marry. Claudette poured a glass of wine, found an half-used notebook in a desk drawer, and wrote a:

Journal for the Prince of Aragon *Who Yearned for Love*

I lost Portia. Instead, I got a triumvirate of a booby prize - exile, the single life and silence about this riddle. She hooked me like a toggle bolt of bright and shining metals that will remain in me. Well, I accept this new life. Patiently, I walk in the desert.

Claudette thought of Hank in the big bed, alone, and she imagined him with a beautiful woman. She remembered Houston, and then her first love residing in Washington, D.C. and wrote more of the prince’s thoughts:

My fantasies of loving her great body are mere fantasies, still my love for Portia endures. I can’t send this letter I write, so I’ll think it. Intense feelings reach their target along cosmic trajectories.
Dear Portia: When I sat next to you on the bench in your father’s garden, I felt a rush of love for you. My love didn’t need body, beauty, or pleasure to survive. I felt you could leave, turn away, love another, and I’d still love you always. You’ve been loved, dear Portia, and you don’t even know it. You don’t care.

I ache for Portia.

Again, Claudette laid down her pen to stare at emptying memories with a shadowy heart. She continued writing.

I yearn for something I never had. I have seen many things but I remember the small ones. A black crow on cypress. A cat walking in life and dreams. My love grinding itself in me until I am hollowed to receive God/Goddess. This is what I have. This is my life - in a desert always walking toward a forest.

“God damn, I’m mad.” Claudette was suddenly sputtering. “God damn, I’m furious. This is my life—in a desert always walking towards a forest. And now I’m even thinking like some hyper romantic character.”

Claudette stopped, wrote this addition to the prince’s journal, as a footnote:

Portia found her love. She doesn’t much remember the me, Prince of Aragon. She lives in a small and happy circle. The suffering prince lives in a larger circle, concentric to Portia’s, containing hers. We are in parallel worlds, sometimes overlapping, more often far apart.

Claudette’s notes: I think that when we love we are ripped apart and eaten alive, like Prometheus. We also get to heal, but only after scarring. Some of us ache more than others. Life isn’t always fair. I’ll bear my rage and hurt and remember what good I can, have fun when I can, and continue in my faith that life—a mystery in its structure—will comfort me in it the simple living of it, and that learning is one of life’s solaces.

“God damn, I’m mad. God damn, I’m hurt.”

Still, life in itself is solace.

Claudette put down her pen, adjusting its position several times so it didn’t roll off the table. She ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass. “What next?” she asked. Claudette asked this of herself. She was alone in the room. She cried, dabbed at her tears with a Kleenex, then shuffled through a stack of library books: mysteries and suspense novels. She finally selected a John LeCarre she’d never gotten around to reading. Claudette settled in for the rest of the night, turning pages of The Little Drummer Girl with sadness and some anticipation. She anticipated finishing the book over the next few days. And then what, she wondered. Was life in itself a solace? She anticipated she’d find out.
Sarah Sarai, The Antigonish Review. St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia. Summer 1992.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Foodstuff Friday: the rich

While the poor are, as we learned last Friday, an abundant source of food to be be dressed up or down for any number of recipes, there is, in truth, nothing more succulent than the rich.

Pampered and well-fed on finest meats, fishes and vegetables, flowing with cold-pressed virgin olive oil, they make for one tasty meal. Yes, they are hard to digest while they live, but, ironically they go down real easy. 

Be they millionaire or billionaire, the rich can only improve with cooking. There's something about lack of compassion and unrestrained greed that makes for a finger-lickin' meal. Don't worry, a few good apples, George Soros or Warren Buffet, won't spoil the rotten barrel.

Sarah, do you have any suggestions on which rich people to eat? I do! Did you see the article about human trafficking in Afghanistan? DynCorp, an American corporation the United States government contracts with, entertained Afghan clients with child sex slaves. Read the rest or as much as you can stomach at's article: End Human Trafficking.

Don't know about you but I would to see DynCorp's leadership grilled, fried, barbecued or, for the diet conscious, boiled alive. Sarah, what are their names? Steven F. Gaffney, William T. Kansky,  William T. Kansky, Gregory Nixon and Ashley Vanarsdall Burke.

Just click on DynCorp's "leadership" page and marinate.

I filed an RFR (Request for Recipe) on their Ethics Page. Took a few minutes but felt satisfying as roast beef and mashed belly. DynCorp pulled the same trick in Bosnia, as reported in Salon. Rich people? A classic.

Photo is street art by Banksy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Future Is Happy: an unabashed assault on despair (G.E. Schwartz)

Sarah Sarai unabashedly assaulting despair.
 As spokeswoman for The Future Is Happy, I am pleased to inform you that all 83 pages of Sarah Sarai's first collection of poetry are made quietly ecstatic and vociferously humble with its latest review, this by one G.E. Schwartz's (Gerald Schwartz).

In online journal of obvious mythic consequence, Galatea Resurrects #15, edited by Eileen Tabios, Schwartz nails it.

Sarai "has made an unabashed assault on despair." Get help with your despair because as Schwartz maintains, Sarai is working "against OUR despair." And by OUR he means YOUR. Sarah Sarai is very instructional.

The review begins thusly and can be read in totality by clicking.

Contemporary "innovative" poetry is not often willing to open a window on the passions that under gird or animate it, if indeed there be any such passions. In Sarah Sarai's new collection, The Future Is Happy, however, the confrontation and interactions with an emotional life gives the author's poems a nervy, discomfiting vitality. Their very rawness and urgency bring these poems to a kind of transcendence. The result is a poetry that is not comfortable to read, but necessary just the same.
 Cover photo by
Susan Tammany; design
by Geoffrey Gatza
For other reviews head to the The Future Is Happy tab above or go to Small Press Distribution's page for The Future Is Happy.

image of Sarah Sarai unabashedly assaulting despair from:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hafiz: a ghazal; Andromeda as "A Little Cloud" [Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi]

from al-Sufi's The Book of Fixed Stars
My keen mental preparation for yesterday's posting about Hafiz was spurred by D., who'd told me it was Hafiz's birthday.

Keen mental preparation in my world consists of, more or less, me thinking, Huh; Hafiz; can't wait.

It turns out D.'d seen this in a Parabola Magazine newsletter:

Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (December 7, 903 – May 25, 986) was a Persian astronomer. . . [who] published his famous Book of Fixed Stars in 964, describing much of his work, both in textual descriptions and pictures.
Hafiz the poet was a Sufi (a Sufi of Sufis of Sufis among Sufis) and Persian. I would think Al-Sufi was a Sufi by his name, but that conclusion could merely highlight my western ignorance. He was Persian, wrote in Arabic and according to synthesized the work of earlier astronomers (Ptolemy) in his Book of Fixed Stars, complete with exquisite illustrations, as above. He called the Andromeda Galaxy "A Little Cloud;" sounds like poetry to me.

In another lifetime I studied Ptolemy, and retain vestigial interest. But I'm posting more of the great lover, Hafiz, again translated by Elizabeth T. Gray Jr in The Green Sea of Heaven, an amazing collection of ghazals.

Ghazal 22

Remember the day of union with the friends.
Remember those times, remember.

From bitter sorrow my mouth became like poison.
Remember the revelers’ cry of “Drink!”

The friends are free of the memory of me
although I remember them a thousand times.

I was overtaken in these bonds of calamity.
Remember the efforts of those who serve the truth.

Although there are always a hundred rivers in my eye
remember the Zindehrud, and those who plant gardens.

After this Hafiz’s secret will remain unspoken.
Alas, remember those who keep the secrets.

I found the illustration at Galileo: Images of the Universe from Antiquity to the Telescope

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hafiz: authenticity and boldness . . . as good as the world [Emerson]

{see below*}
Did I mess up, or not? D. told me today was Hafiz's birthday. I believe her but see no back-up on the web. Well, every day is Hafiz day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson chanced on a book of Hafiz translations--at a bookstore--ahem--and knew that in spite of awkward renderings from the Persian he was reading someone who, like another of his greats, Swedenborg, "achieved genius through authenticity and boldness." Whose poetry had "the insight of a mystic. . ." A mystic.

"He accosts all topics with an easy audacity." Further, "That hardihood and self-equality of every sound nature, which result from the feeling that the spirit in him is entire and as good as the world, which entitle the poet to speak with authority, and make him an object of interest, and his every phrase and syllable significant."

That's rapture. Emerson knew rapture when reading Hafiz.  The "authority" of Hafiz's poems and being "abundantly fortify and ennoble his tone." {See below.}

I admit, ennoble is not necessarily a Sarah Sarai word. I grew up in the age of the diffident teen. I wore zories--a predecessor of rubber flips flips; we bought them at the drug store. My great ambition was to wear zories into retirement, a climate-dependent ambition. Noble? 

I think of the noble as on the mark, too honest to be dishonest. Honesty is a trap, oddly. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Jimmy Carter, Dorothy Day, Charles Rangel, Dag Hammarskjold, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks.

That may be why Hafiz is, on many days, my favorite poet. He has and is a direct channel. He teaches us to sing; is expansive; a peacock like an eagle like a hawk like a Belladonna Delphinium, Heliotrope or Cloth of Gold calling songbirds to feed.

Here is one poem by of Hafiz of Shiraz, Hafez-e-Shirazi, Khajeh Shamseddin Mohammad Hafiz Shirazi (or Khwajeh Shams al-Din Muhammad Hafez Shirazi), or Shams and a few relevant links. 

Ghazal 14

The sea of love is a sea that has no shore.
There, you can only give up your soul.

Each time you give your heart to love is a joyous moment.
For auspicious deeds there is no need for divination.

Avail yourself of the rend's way, for this mark,
like the road to buried treasure, is not plain to everyone.

Don't frighten us with reason's prohibitions, and bring wine,
for that watchman has no authority in our province.

One can see him with a pure eye, like the new moon.
Not every eye can hold that crescent's beauty.

Ask your own eyes who is killing us. 0 soul,
it is not the sin of ascendants and the crime of stars.

You are unaffected by the cry of Hafiz.
I am perplexed at that heart, hard as granite.

Hafiz, tr. Elizabeth T. Gray, in The Green Sea Of Heaven, Wild Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon, 1995.

**Emerson's "Persian Poetry" from The Complete Works of RWE -- VIII -- Letters and Social Aims.

*Exquisite calligraphy from:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wish I Could Go Fishing: back tomorrow for a poet's birthday

One of a series of a series of 21 active, mud-spewing undersea
 volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, created by ... [a] violent,
undersea collision between two plates of the earth’s crust.
Wish I could go fishing. Back tomorrow with the birthday of a poet of poets.

Found this, in the meantime,  while researching "ocean vents" which I hadn't heard of until a story in the NYT about arsenic-eating organisms. "Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about."

From there to ocean vents to the Marianas Trench. From the National Resources Defense Council:  "Alongside the trench runs a series of 21 active, mud-spewing undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, created by the same violent, undersea collision between two plates of the earth’s crust."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Charles Rangel: a true hero censured by America's elected petit-bourgeois

I had to stop listening to the news this past week. The hypocritical idiots of the House who called out Rangel's misdeeds and censured him depressed me. Charles Rangel, Representative from the Fifteenth District in Harlem, is not guilty of lining his pockets with graft or lying to his constituency. What did he do? He messed up on his taxes.

It's not that Rangel deserves a medal for not fully reporting his assets, okay. But that is the very least of who he is.

How many bankers and brokers from Lehman, AIG, Goldman Sachs have have received this kind of national attention for bringing the nation to a standstill? Three? Rangel messed up on his taxes.

He earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, where he led a group of soldiers out of a deadly Chinese Army encirclement during the Battle of Kunu-ri in 1950. [Wikipedia] I'm impressed.

Representative Rangel graduated from New York University in 1957, and St. John's University School of Law in 1960. I'm impressed.

He beat out incumbent Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in a primary challenge when elected to the House of Representatives. I'm very impressed. Also?

He helped oust Nixon; has been a power in the fight against illegal drugs, which is, in truth, a fight against a big business. He fought for Harlem's greater empowerment. He spoke out against the war. I'm always impressed by people of conscience.

From a Daily News article:

The House cited him for failing to pay taxes on a vacation villa, filing misleading disclosure forms and improperly soliciting funds for a college from companies with business in front of his committee.

"I didn't go to bed with any kids. I didn't curse out the speaker. I didn't start a revolution against the United States of America," said Rangel. "I did not self deal. I did not take any money."

As Rangel walked into Harlem Hospital's Herbert Cave Auditorium, a woman hugged him, saying: "It's over now. It's over."
His struggle is, I suppose, over. And the duplicitous, questionably ethical censurers, the petty bureaucrats, America's elected petit-bourgeois can congratulate themselves and each other on condemning a genuine hero who must have dealt with a fair amount racism, then and now, ahem, and in spite of it, allowed his intellect and gifts of management and political savvy to serve him and his constituency.

He also has that classy, old-school gentleman look to him. Gotta love it.

I keep meeting person after person, white people, black people, Asian people...get the picture?...and not of them censures Representative Rangel. Not one of them has lost respect for him, though we may grieve the fact that he--did I mention?--messed up on his taxes.

The moral here is to either become a member of the petty bourgeois and live a safe and mediocre life which you believe entitles you to censure someone who has given much of his life to the country, the city, his district. Or speak out. Be brave. Be ultimately honest of heart. Act like Charles Rangel. I'm going to try it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Poem: Flesh Divine; wilderness years, burst peaches, a soprano

What I love about this poem is its synthesis of images. Baseball cards. (Overhead: A co-worker enthusing and reminiscing about about his collection.  Remembering: Shiny photographs of Maury Wills or Don Drysdale or Sandy Kaufax (Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers) and the stats which meant nothing to me but their presence was an indication of transcendence.

Cadged peek:  Into a nursery in a friend's house. The mobile above the crib revealed a firmament of ceiling stars, a mock universe of glittering plasma, mock plasma.

A belief:  In wilderness years. Simon of the Desert.  The Desert Fathers.  The Prophets.  I witnessed myself in a wilderness in younger days, not a barren scape, not at all; a place to roam and choose. I pretend I'm no longer in the wilderness but doubt that's true. Enough. A different style of poetry which sprang out a few years ago {different from what I'm writing these days}:

Flesh Divine

Let any place paw on flesh divine, monkey bread
female nudged and godly, this thing like pears dewed
and burst peaches, heaped splashy in containers
brightly strange weird as first voyage, one of two.
Don’t trade looks like baseball cards, each with its
value private, graven image and boasts. Remember
our years wilderness encaved, snake in one life-flash,
pumping hard her wings, angel next, and again friend
serpent twisting, digesting life slow-like as he mute
wriggles without grip of the plan’s nod to anarchic
inclusion of the random, which—if we’d accepted
before a wilderness of frozen constellations, not like
charts but mobiles in a nursery when the switch is off
and parents peek at blessed babes like us nodding out
to stenciled reality—we would disallow Teddy’s
nonallergenic love a safer source than each other.
All sweetie words ring rare true as soloist sopranos.
It’s not the heard mattering. Expecting little, receive,
grateful someone, where, there, hating not, killing not.
Every day is a sacred blessed day is your day is this.

Sarah Sarai, pub. in Issue 1 of Numinous Spiritual Poetry, 2008