Anthem

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Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts

You won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march

There is no drum

Every heart, every heart to love will come

But like a refugee

–from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

In the Grape Arbor

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Grape clusters dangle and swell under leaves fanning larger than my hand. Grape tendrils test their boundaries every morning, fondling the neighboring cucumber’s trellis all-so-wistful before seizing the iron frame to claim it again.

The first cucumber is cut for slicing and the grapes nudged back into the confines of their arbor. Green and red grape vines share one rack and reach to the window on the second floor. I cut grape leaves to line the bottom of a platter yet linger awhile inside the arbor. There is shelter. Here is mystery, inside the breathing green sprung from dried roots.

A succession of caretakers and nurses arrive and leave now in a nearly-familiar rotation. They park out on the dead-end road and walk up the neighbor’s driveway to the front door and disappear inside. Shirley is no longer waving from the hospital bed propped up by the picture window when Mercy and I walk home up the hill. I search the glass, squinting under the brim of my hat, but it’s blank.

I dried a long wand of catnip cut before the herb came to bloom, bundled stalks of pungent mint to soothe the squabbling neighborhood cats quarreling among themselves and tormenting the dog when they sashay along the front deck. (It’s usually the same sashaying cat: the lunatic tabby that once charged and tried to take down a grown turkey.)

I took the wand out into the road the other night before dark and called to the cats, whipping the tip in the air and scraping the pavement to entice them. The tabby bounded along parallel with me, keeping a wary eye out for the dog, pacing down the hill. I laid the catnip wand down on the grass for a midsummer revel and went home to cook dinner.

Shoot grows to bud, flower comes to fruit, seeds weave their secrets to unfold in another season. The solstice passes when the sun ebbs south again after hanging stopped in the sky. Eclipses are coming with the next moon.

Rain came to wash away the gold dusted pollen and cottonwood fluff.  Thunder and wind heralded the change of season. Today clouds graze and chew the blue.

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Father’s Day

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Our old green 1954 Ford Tudor sedan sat squat in the driveway. My parents bought it new from a west coast bootleg dealer before I was born. Most Saturdays when I was young, my mother and older sister dressed up to drive downtown in the Triumph and browse department store racks. They ate lunch in the restaurant on the third floor of the Bon Marche, and returned with shopping bags flaunting tissue paper. Dad loaded my younger brother and me into the old green Ford, a shotgun or a rifle, and we drove out of town. Dad joked: Henry VIII was a Tudor; Joan of Arc was a wonder. Barney always came along, our fox-red Labrador, even if, sometimes, he rode in the trunk.

Saturdays I learned to scramble along reeds and brambles bordering the river, pry out  gray stones impressed in the bank to plunk into the current, how to keep moving when the viscous mud fronting the lake sucked to the ankles of my black rubber boots. I studied how to ease through these places, to watch and be still, when to wait, like any wild thing. I learned to trust what the dog told me.

–Excerpt from “Birds the Color of Water”

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Happy Father’s Day Dad.

 

Gold Dust Monsoon

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Dragon Jail

Mercy and I walked down to the river kicking drifts of cottonwood fluff along the trail. In the long thick grass the dog seized sneezing when we crossed a field to strike the southern path to the old boat landing.  She swam after sticks in the green water fresh with snow melt to wash away the pollen. I held a stick underwater for her to dive down to retrieve and rinse the grit from her eyes and nose.  She dashed along the sandbar in loops and didn’t want to be leashed to walk back.

It happens every year, this river of grass seed pollen flowing down from mid-valley, cottonwood tufts like trout swimming south at dusk. Everyone is angry it seems, caught in a riptide gold dust monsoon and flailing out to sea. There’s nothing for it but sleep and showers swimming sideways. Everyone is angry.

I don’t need to buy groceries for the neighbors any more, Shirley said. She’s in hospice care at home. Vic just got released from the hospital after four days. There is traffic up on our hill now with traffic jams when more visitors or the mail truck arrives. Mercy and I still check Vic and Shirley’s gates every morning and I wonder if I can bear it.

Repost – June 2017

This morning my neighbor came out in her nightdress to water flowers in the brick planter fronting her steps. I try not to notice and sit very still. The sun is breaking over the hill and filtering through the birch leaves. I think I am a tabby cat, mottled and camouflaged, in the dappled light. I don’t have a nightdress to wear out into the morning.

It goes to the head, this golden haze of pollen and drifting cottonwood. It’s fairy dust. The trees and grass release their magic as the day grows, to be caught in the wind and blow south. Some afternoons, especially near the river, it seems it’s snowing. My eyes itch with it. People sneeze and scratch. They try antihistamines which only makes them thirsty and angry. It’s easier to try to think in the morning. Later in the afternoon, there’s a full lulling need to sleep, to drift into some new fairy tale, succumb to the spell cast by the gold dust.

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Chowder, Just for the Halibut

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Blackberries are blooming where three months ago the cane was flattened by snow. I admire their resilience while I feel so fragile and take their white blooms as totem.

Yesterday Mercy and I were caught out in a rain storm while walking down in the park and straggled home up the hill soaked, skirting the runoff cascading down the road. Today there are clouds pulling like taffy and hot weather building for the week ahead.  Last call for chowder.

Halibut Chowder

1 Shallot or sweet yellow onion, finely diced
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 russet potato, diced, or several small reds
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons white flour
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock (or vegetable, or fish stock)
Healthy Halibut filet, 1-2 pounds (cod is a good substitute, salmon too oily)
1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk
2 tablespoons tarragon leaf (or substitute mixture of parsley and dill)
Salt & pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in soup kettle or large sauce pan over medium heat.
Add first three ingredients and saute until soft and vegetables sweat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir, allowing the flour to brown until roux is golden. Slowly add white wine, stirring to incorporate flour. Gradually add stock while stirring constantly. Add enough water or stock to equal about 2 quarts of liquid.

Add potatoes and tarragon to pot and cover, simmering until potatoes soften, about 15 minutes.

REDUCE HEAT TO MED-LOW

Cut halibut into bite-size chunks. Slide into pot.

REDUCE HEAT TO LOW

Swirl in cream or coconut milk, stirring gently to avoid breaking fish chunks. Heat through about 3 minutes. Serve with hot crusty bread.

6-8 servings

Note: this basic recipe is very flexible and any combination of vegetables, stock, and herbs can be used. A firm white fish is recommended. Halibut is mild and tarragon is a natural complement. It’s important to barely poach the fish by reducing heat and serving immediately. Enjoy!

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Mercedes Athena Pandora Quesadilla, aka “One-Eyed Mercy” the dread pirate

To the Fairest

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Because June is the bridal month

• Flash fiction inspired by a very very old story •

To the Fairest

 

I adore parties. It pains me I’m never invited. I go anyway.

After hours flirting in the looking glass, draping skirts into waterfalls, stacking silver bangles and bronze, wrestling the serpentine knots of my hair to a pin, how can I stay away? Why not wear black to weddings?

Mama says I never will be invited, not unless I learn to behave. Where is the fun in that? I want to zest things up. I want to give everyone an event to remember. It’s a gift I have. Mama never goes to parties, what does she know? She sits in the dark.

Even a funeral can be teased into an amusing little beehive. One has only to whisper the wicked secrets of the dead where they lay like a buffet. Never neglect the juicy bits the living played, those ones in the parlor tippling sherry glasses, shaking their heads at this woeful loss. Murmur “the dead man diddled neighborhood children while his wife closed the door and tiptoed away.” Or turn to the child and observe such grief appears excessive when the corpse was not, in fact, his biological father. Surprise! If the mother is in attendance, ensure she is able to overhear your whispered confidence.

Timing is an art. Consider stagecraft. Played well, the event will crackle with electricity, ignite mourners stacking sliced beef and scalloped potatoes, kindle the bereaved company resigned to another dull and pious dirge.

The food served at a funeral is always superior to the rubbish served at a wedding. Women totter into the kitchen carrying hot covered dishes and then slip out the back door to sneak a smoke. Men loiter tinkling solemn tumblers of scotch while undressing deviled eggs and fried chicken. Wedding food might as well be paste plated atop ribbons in the bridal color scheme.

Weddings are my favorite parties, though not for the food. When guests arrive, they are already quarrelsome with fully half spoiling to steal the spotlight from the bridal couple. After the special songs, the readings, and candle lighting (always the same special selections), the crowd elbows to the hosted bar to throw down a few shots before endless dinner speeches. All that is needed is a spark. I’ve never been invited to a wedding. I go to them all.

The finest wedding was ages ago. I was not on the guest list. I went anyway. I wasn’t allowed across the threshold. My way was barred by several burly brutes refusing to let me enter the wedding hall. They seized me out back as I tried the secluded garden path to the festivities and marched me out. No matter. I have a gift.

That special day, it was a gift of a dainty apple. It was wrought of gold, most tastefully formed, quite tempting for a goddess. I stole it from the nymphs myself. Through the narrow crack of the doorway, between the legs of the burly brutes, a small matter to roll the little dumpling inside and will it to rest at the feet of the lovelies. Once the prize was noticed, they scrabbled for it like beggars, until one held it aloft and read the inscription to the assembled company: Kallistei–To the Fairest. She claimed it for herself.

Zeus was wise, or cowardly, though these qualities often occur yoked together in a king. He refused to judge the contest. He would not choose which goddess deserved my golden apple. Zeus sent the Messenger to present the dispute to the shepherd boy of Troy, letting Paris decide among the three goddesses. Of course, I followed; of course, I watched.

Hera, with cow-eyes and womanly shoulders, was a favorite to win. Athena, with bronze breasts and sharp chin, was never seriously in contention. Smirking Aphrodite, wheedling her long golden hair around a coy finger, offered the best bribe. It always comes down to the kickback, doesn’t it? Shameless, she promised the boy another man’s wife: Helen, Queen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman ever born, or ever will be. Oh, ships will be launched, I knew.

I longed for this war, swift and hot like summer thunder, more than a thousand weddings. For a stolen apple, a thousand ships; it was a bargain. The bridal couple could never foresee this dark bloom on their wedding day–their son dying on the plains of Troy from an arrow shot by this same shepherd boy. It’s not the apple. It’s stagecraft.

I adore parties.

 

 

Shiny Things I Found in the Gutter

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I found a diamond ring in Las Vegas. It was a man’s thick gold ring set with two diamonds shaped like a signet. I put it in my pocket and flew to San Francisco.

Yesterday, I found a child’s pink hair barrette fixed with a rainbow butterfly studded with tiny gems.

I found a squat green dice rolled to the number two.

The Queen of England, heads, on a one-dollar Canadian coin.

A single earring, the French hook flattened, dangling cats-eyes.

A thick indigo glass bead, heavy as any Spanish olive, which I hung on a silver chain.

A vintage filigree rose-gold ring set with ruby chips.

Many keys.

A tiny lock for a toy suitcase.

Many nickels and dimes, especially under parking meters.

The silver outline of an italicized heart that I hung on the chain with the blue bead.

A brass bracelet dangling with sharp green crystals that chafed my wrist.

A Tiffany’s watch.

Silver charms and trinkets, which I hung on the chain with the slant heart and blue bead.

A kinked gold box chain with a shattered clasp.

A pyrite marble smooth as smoke.

A crystal marble with a frozen breath at its heart.

Magpies foretell the future. The piebald bird, goddaughter of raven, wears harlequin and swears endless oaths. She knows her own reflection. She strides the back of bison big as box cars to groom ticks from shaggy hides. She is a thief, bold and shameless, of biscuits and sandwich wrappers. Tucked in her nest are strands of yellow silk, fairy hair, a jade button, and a doll’s blue glass eye. From these findings, she reads the signs and prophesies. She stores them away, as proof.

Originally published in Tishman Review, July 2018.