Queen Anne’s Lace

thistle_moth

It feels like August, but it’s June. The cornflowers blow over the long grass bleached white with a sun pressing too close to the earth. It reached 111F in the south valley, 44C, at a time when dew should linger and rain still scatter into July.

Queen Anne’s lace, the flat white flowers of the wild carrot, bows down. I put a small bucket of water out on the hill for the wild things, changed the water each morning, draining the old out slowly over a squash planted outside the fence. There’s a lizard in the greenhouse between the pots of dill.

I give the deer mouse that lives under the deck a pea pod when I finish picking. I leave it the crack between the wall, the place she darts away and dives to safety when surprised during her foraging in the morning.

It’s a different sort of storm.

I stayed in my light lawn pajamas all day and read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet beneath the heat pump register laboring to filter cool air from the wet cotton heat. The dog found it too hot to dig a hole to hide in and crept under the bed.

The book is nearly done. The manuscript is finished. The front matter, back matter, and cover design are final.

Everyone publishes a first novel.

Or not.

Strawberries

strawberries

The first bowl of strawberries from the garden, before the squirrels pick them, or the deer mice sample mouthfuls of several berries for ripeness, daring Mercy to charge out of the house and catch them. The dog lies out in the sun until it’s too hot, waiting for strawberry thieves, but I think the deer mice creep out in the evening or early morning when she’s dreaming.

The first sugar snap peas came on all at once, white blossoms like moth wings folded around their pods.

There’s so much garden to water. There’s so much to learn about publishing a novel.

Ladybird

scarlet_quince

For the second year, dozens of ladybugs hatched inside the house. Somehow a nursery took root in the sunny southwestern room and ladybirds awoke and marched across the windows toward the light. We tipped them one-by-one onto an index card and carried them outside, ever so gently so they wouldn’t take flight, and offered them room in the geranium pots.

I keep a stack of index cards in the sideboard drawer. They are useful in many ways besides saving ladybugs: grocery lists, chore lists, recording vaccine registration codes to hand over at intake, or a bench scrappers if salt spills from the cellar.

When I make a sweet I take a portion over to share with neighbor Vic. I write out an index card to hand over as well because he rarely wears his hearing aids. Perhaps he has no reason to, living alone since Shirley died, perhaps they hurt his ears. When I call to tell him I’m coming over, he knows there’s a sweet coming, but can’t hear what it is nor any other news I have. Last week’s card:

Blank side:

Carrot Cake with Buttermilk Glaze, has Coconut and Pineapple
(written in big bold capital letters)

Lined side:

We will take out your garbage and recycling bins on
Sundays with ours, so look for them in the street if needed.

We take Vic’s empty bins up the steep drive on Monday’s, but after he nearly rode the recycling bin down to the street, it’s better we all agree on the take-out as well. Since his last seizure, he walks with a cane to the mailbox and gathers his mail into a bag hung from his wrist. The heavy blue wheeled bin is a beast.

At the farm and housewares store today there were crowds thronging between the nursery aisles and shelves of seed, pet food, and kitchen gadgets. I wondered if it was because it is a sunny March afternoon and spring break from university, if more travelers venture here, or because more people are vaccinated. Everyone wore a mask, but I could hear my own breath and paid and left.

I’m not eligible for vaccination until May. I’m envious.

Allium

Nightshades – Flash Fiction

pale_nighshades

NIGHTSHADES

Stephen is coming to dinner for the last time. Everything I need is in the garden. Nightshades ripened in late summer into globed dusky eggplant, blushed tomatoes, tart bell peppers. They flower at night and drop fruit calving under cover of darkness. The eggplant, the brinjal, the aubergine shines purple-black like a bruise growing in clustered elongated teardrops from violet blossoms. All members of the nightshade family contain small quantities of capsaicin and solanine, which may explain why they are currently suspect in culinary fashion, or perhaps that is only potatoes.

Yet Stephen wants moussaka, for old time sake and all the good years we shared together. If it isn’t too much trouble, he said, please no lamb in the dish. Lisa Ann is vegetarian and Stephen is giving up meat. Béchamel is fine, he says, but presses on to nearly growling that I should cut back rich foods and finally lose some weight. Stephen will bring a bottle of Pinot Gris and the documents. I ask for a Noir, if it’s not too much trouble.

I begin in the morning, when the light is solemn before dawn and hummingbirds hungry after their overnight fast jab at dewy blooms. This dish must be served cool, as the Greeks do, not loose and hot from the oven. Even an eggplant picked fresh from the garden has a rhino tough skin; its woody flesh is dispiriting to beginners unwilling to take their time and sweat the beast. I carry my basket full of nightshades and herbs inside with a brace of flowers picked for the table. The eggplant is sliced and salted to weep.

I make both sauces: one with lamb and one without. Fresh thyme and oregano bloom in the olive oil before sautéing the shallot, garlic, diced peppers and crushed tomatoes until finally stirring in slices of softened aubergine. While the sauces simmer, I arrange the ruby-red dahlias in an Ikebana vase and snap a crisp white cloth over the table. It is an occasion, after all.

Stephen is late, of course, but it doesn’t matter. The moussaka is set and cooling with the vegetarian pan and the lamb side-by-side on the counter. Stephen knocks with one knuckle and opens the door.

“Smells good in here,” he hands me the bottle of Pinot Noir. I look at the label.

“Perfect,” I wave Stephen to sit while I rummage for the corkscrew.

“I’ll put this here,” he lays a manila envelope next to my seat. “We can go over it while we eat.”

I dish up moussaka and turn for the salad bowl.

“Let’s enjoy the food first,” I raise a dark glass, “we can talk after.”

Stephen sniffs his plate.

“Is there lamb in this?”

“No,” I shake my head, “there’s lamb in mine,”

 “Ah, good, Lisa Ann hates meat on my breath,”

Stephen stabs through the thick layer of béchamel and scrapes half aside. He chews mechanically, eyes fixed on the vase, and I know he’s counting each bite. When he returns to the kitchen for another serving, I refill our glasses and offer more salad.

After wiping the sauce from my lips and smoothing the napkin on the tablecloth, I open the envelope and take out the document containing Stephan’s proposed separation agreement. I rifle through the pages. Stephen drains his glass and smacks his lips.

“Is it warm in here?”

I look over my reading glasses. A shine has come to Stephen’s forehead; there is a glisten on his rapidly receding hairline. His palms are splayed and pressed on the tablecloth; I see his wedding ring is gone.

“Maybe it’s the wine,” I turn my attention back to the page defining how proceeds from sale of the house will be split.

“Maybe,” Stephen sways as he struggles to stand. I peer over my glasses. His pupils are dilated.

“Leave these,” I shuffle the papers back in the envelope, “I’ll look at them tomorrow.”

“Okay…wow, must be the wine…I better get going, while I can still drive,”

I pack a generous portion of moussaka in tupperware and snap the lid.

“For Lisa Ann,” I hand the tub to him at the door and wave as he backs his Jeep out of the driveway.

When I return to the kitchen, I cover the lamb dish and put it in the fridge. I shovel the last of the vegetarian version down the garbage disposal, humming with the faucet over the growling sink. Everything I need is in the garden, everything, especially the dark sweet berries of my beautiful lady, belladonna.

Amulets, Fetishes, Lucky Charms

amulets_labradorite

A shallow copper bowl rests on a white birch stump left behind after the ice storm killed the tree. It was a crow tree, where princelings came to find food and water, watched clouds gather over the butte, and bickered from the branches. From the birch outpost, the crows defended their rookery from red-tailed hawks and falcons, while providing cover to the neighborhood doves and chickadees.

During the August moon, young crows audition before their elders stationed at the top of nearby oaks to compete for their place in the tribe: scout, gleaner, nanny, or warrior. Some rare years convocation arrives, a great gathering of the entire clan called together. Perhaps they are summoned to mourn the passing of their Queen and anoint a new one, perhaps to draw new boundaries, affirm alliances, or arrange marriages. When the full August moon sets the morning after the assembly, the raucous cawing chorus across the valley falls silent. The ritual ends.

The copper bowl weathered to a green patina. It balances aslant on the thumbprint-ringed stump tipping down the hill. It is dry by morning, the bottom scattered with tiny locust leaves, wind-blown fluff. The basin catches plunked rain drops, arcs of water raised over blown snapdragons, misty rainbows shed from dark rhododendron leaves. The water-filled bowl reflects the waxing moon when she is nearly full and Venus when she sets as evening star.

The surface is still, yet to gaze beneath is to read ripples stirring under water just as old glass moves and flows in thickened panes set in ancient window frames. Under water, through the glass, there is harlequin and halfling, spokes of ever-turning wheels and swords set in stone; there is blood for certain bled from both birth and murder, Kraken storms at sea and high castrato hymns, ribbon streamers dyed with elixir distilled from violets and roses, endless seasons of windfall fruit from heirloom apple. To scry is to watch as a windowpane, seeing both forward and backward, time ever present and ever spiraling, but it is not a threshold to walk. There is no door.

In August

roses2

For August, a checklist:

Buy roses, an odd number as the French do, rather than an American dozen–white roses, with a blush, to suit the bleached sky in the afternoon and the crumbs on the tablecloth. Cut the stems very short. Wipe the dark cobalt vase to place on the dining table. Fill the bowl with water each morning and sigh.

Water the monster red geranium, the one that managed to survive three winters, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot to litter petals on the deck that look like jam-stained rubies.

Check the Orthodox calendar to confirm the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos. I am not Orthodox, but the stores close in Athens and it would be difficult to find a taxi if I was there. It was yesterday.

Count the cantaloupes swelling on the vine. I tickled the yellow-starred blossoms with a twig because I didn’t trust the bees. They seemed distracted.

Make more refrigerator pickles, grate zucchini and salt it, squeeze out the water in a clean cotton rag. Bake muffins. Bake pastitsio. Grind handfuls of herbs from the garden with garlic, olive oil, anchovy, fresh lemon and blend in creme fraiche to drizzle on watermelon.

Listen for distant thunder.

Move the hanging fuchsia to the backyard; a doe crept up on the front porch early one morning and ate two-thirds of it. The dog warned me, but I stayed in bed.

Bundle up the wool Flokati rugs and lug them down to the local laundromat. (Laundromats are damp and dismal places, even with all the supposedly hopeful scents of detergent and fabric softener.)  Load a bag of quarters in three industrial-size machines, cold water only, and work the crossword puzzle in the free weekly newspaper while the machines spin. Lug the wet wool home again and flatten the rugs to dry in the sun for several days, turning as needed.

Let the young repair men inside to replace the tattered canvas of the awning. Though I tugged the monster geranium and its fellow potted roses and nastursiums  out of the way, the trailing petunia managed to be crushed underfoot.

Walk Ben to the park and loop down Walnut Lane to see the enormous house under construction. Let the workers pet Ben, but avoid the nice woman with the yellow Lab, because Ben is sketchy sometimes. Throw sticks for Mercy on the hill and let her greet the neighbor’s landscapers who arrive every Wednesday.

Wash the grime, the dust, the layers of cedar off my old pony because it’s hard to see out the windows when Mercy and I head down to the river. The car is 22 years old and I paid much more to have her rebuilt than her resale value, but she’s a trusty manual transmission and survived my son learning to drive and his powerslides into curbs, although she is missing two hubcaps and the right side mirror.

Strain the red currents that soaked in apple cider vinegar for a week and blend the juice with a thyme-infused simple syrup. Bottle the fruit shrub and tuck it away, satisfied with sampling the overfill.

Think of calling the chimney sweep, but sit on edge of the front porch and roll the white blossoms of summer savory between my fingers instead.

[A revised repost from August 2018]

Elegy

Pea vines gone to paper, I pulled them this morning and sorted through the last snaps: supple green steamed for supper, coarse corky pods spread to dry for seed.

Four head of lettuce pulled before bolting, leaves stripped, washed, waiting ready for the bowl.

In March there was only wanting, only walking, planting seed and trusting because there was nothing else to believe.

Elegy

What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
Nothing else matters.
All above us is the touching
of strangers & parrots,
some of them human,
some of them not human.
Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.
–Aracelis Girmay

 

Cross Quarter

top_deck_sunset

The corner of the top deck leads south-southwest, a prow of an old sailing ship leaning into harbor. I drink morning coffee under the awning, even in the winter,  even with my down coat zipped and a slippery mug gripped by fingerless gloves. Unless there is typhoon, when even the crows and jays are grounded, and instead I pace at the window.

Barefoot on soft cotton July mornings, the plants that wintered the darkness flower and tiny seeds planted in April now sprout fruit. A chorus of black-eyed susans lean and nod as I tell them secrets learned during the night. Outside the kitchen door are pots of dill, parsley, tarragon, thyme, mint, and oregano. Rosemary is wild and refuses to be bound. She grows in the ground, tosses her hair against typhoon.

In March there was nothing but bones.

black_eyed_susans

Perhaps we are only the reflected magic of what we cultivate, a passing breath blown on a silver mirror. Cross Quarter Day comes, a reef to bank and tack against, halfway between solstice and equinox, the feast of first fruits. In other years there would be fairs, music and contests, and young couples hand-fasting, but not this year. This year we offer up the grain on a solitary alter after Lugh of the long hand.

hydrangea

Days grow shorter. Light leaks away more spilling sand.

mercy_july_river

It’s nearly my birthday

Descry

ben_as_angel

My father still lives in the house I grew up in, lives alone since my mother died twenty years ago. For twenty years, Dad kept the last Mother’s Day fuchsia I gave her alive until the old knot of roots finally failed. I repotted it twice, each time doubtful. He brought it inside each winter, placing a plastic yellow bucket underneath to catch the watering runoff. I cut stems before it faltered, grew new roots, grew two new plants. It’s not the same, I know. It’s something.

We might save our lives but not our flagrancy.

Dad finds dogs on sale with varying outcomes, lost causes in need of rescue and rehabilitation, German Shorthair or Brittany Spaniels. Emmy is the prize. He found Ben up the valley on a farm, a food- jealous, resource-guarding bright Puck unable to make eye contact.

I started him on a leash around the little block of the old neighborhood using Mercy’s hefty retractable that we run through fields after pheasant scent, though Ben is half her size. (You can never be a bigger asshole than from the beginning.) I landed him like a Chinook at the end of the line when he bolted. Then we talked.

For two years Ben and I walked the old neighborhood, under old trees with leaves and without, in rain and fog and steaming July heat.

A woman we met walking told him he carries Buddha’s thumbprint on his forehead.

Another woman gave him a plaid bandana to wear around his neck.

Ben catches my scent out back when I tend Dad’s garden and calls for me to come, it’s time to walk.

Solvitur ambulando