Aldebaran

aldebaran
Minotaur

The first time I landed, I crossed by water. We sailed at night out from the boot of Italy, running east in rain and wind, across the Ionian Sea. Our ferry tickets were deck-class and what scarce shelter the deck afforded was claimed. I pitched my free-standing tent. We wrestled our backpacks inside to weight the tent against the ship. All night the nylon flustered and bucked against the wind. My sister and I tossed in the dark on the groaning deck fearing we would kite overboard in the gale.  A clear dawn broke through the cypress trees of Corfu. I slept finally, dreaming the throbbing ship engines were the heartbeat of a great beast beneath me, cradling me over the waves.

There are not enough words for purple. Most are artifice. Along that inside passage, the purples of sea and land waxed dark at noon entering the Bay of Patras. Great stone breasts of islands lit by the rising sun on the water to port, shapes shaded aubergine and heliotrope diminishing to violet. The diesel exhaust of the ferry smokestacks swept aft with the wind, yet the lingering blow back was rich as earth–earth and the wine-dark sea. Is there power in naming a true name?

Andrew, a fisherman, the Apostle First-Called, was martyred in Patras. The Saint’s Orthodox Cathedral is the largest in Greece. With its high dome ornamented with gilded icons and frescoes, its filigreed windows, it houses precious holy relics. These relics include Andrew’s little finger.

The marble step before the relic shrine is worn by years of pilgrims kneeling to venerate the saint’s finger. We descended into the darkness of the original stone church and filled our water bottles from the holy spring, called Andrew’s, though once it belonged to Demeter. We left the church, the cloud of incense, and climbed the hills covered in new chamomile and wild thyme to lounge among the stones of the Castro.

*****

Europa was a Phoenician princess. She was enchanted by a great white bull, a gentle beast crowned with wreaths of flowers and wild herbs. The bull bent a knee to the princess and she climbed on his back, the lustrous white hide glistening as only a god shines. With the beautiful maiden on his back, the bull charged down to the sea and dove into the waves.

The bull swam away from Tyre, in what is now Lebanon, to the island of Crete. The bull-god Zeus ravished the Phoenician princess and she gave birth to King Minos and his sea empire in Crete. The Greek word phoínio, from whence Phoenician derives, means purple. Tyrians extracted the royal purple dye from local species of sea snails and traded the precious pigment throughout the Mediterranean. That the lovely princess Europa gave her name to the continent is curious: Crete is closer to North Africa than Athens. There are often puzzles in the naming of things, as well as artifice.

*****

As a younger son of the family, with no land to inherit and work, my grandfather walked to Athens and took fourth-class passage for America where gold lay in the streets waiting to be plucked–or shiny foil cigar bands mistaken for gold. He passed through Ellis Island in the early century, a short sinewy man in a jostling crowd of immigrants, all with the very same dreams of gold.

Like other immigrants with difficult names, his own was anglicized by the weary clerk at the processing counter. My grandfather’s given name was reinvented as Augers. An “auger” is a tool for drilling holes, or more arcanely a portent of fate and fortune. Here, perhaps, a new puzzle and artifice concealed in the rechristening.

Once in the city, he darted through the dirty streets gathering gold-foiled cigar bands. He worked. He traveled west. He married. He shot his thieving business partner and hid his family in a cave in the desert. Late one night, the family boarded a train traveling further west and north. “Our family is named for the winter star,” he told my mother, holding her up to the window to point out the bright red star in the head of the Bull, a shared breath fogging the glass as they gaze out into the darkness. They came as far west as there was country to cross to the shores of the Pacific.

*****

Zeus set the great white bull into the winter night sky as the constellation Taurus. The blazing red eye of the bull, high in the flying wedge of stars between Orion and the Pleiades, is named Aldebaran. It is an Arabic word meaning “the Follower.” To the ancient Persians, it was one of the four royal stars: the Watcher in the East.

Ashes

sunrise_frost

I found a grave beside the river.

The dog worried at a fork in the trail and turned to question, a branching we usually avoid that leads to a rise undercut by the current, a path obscured by a fallen tree. Mercy jumped the log. I followed her up the trail to the outcropping over the water.

Two branches lashed together forming a rough cross were staked in the ground, a family photograph attached below wilting wildflowers and weeds. Man, woman, boy, girl, posed in some department store studio trying to smile. I called the dog in. Two plastic boxes rested on the narrow end of the tree jutting over the river, lids ajar, white labels on each box “Organ Donor.” There was more, but I didn’t read it. I took hold of Mercy’s collar. Down below us on the river rock under shallow water, white silt sunk and unstirring, ash and bone.

We walked back along the road. My hat felt too tight. Mercy fell in step beside me instead of straining at the leash. I watched her as we walked away. For a quarter mile, more, we saw no one. Fog licked at our heels.

Lines we recite to ourselves walking and waking, stepping between borderlands, the bardo, hoping to find the necessary incantation.

“Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man.” 

Beloved Mercutio, you are the true tragedy come from those stupid star-crossed lovers.

The notes from the violin are always leaving.”

I didn’t write that line, Phil did. He said it was after a Rilke poem, so long ago I don’t remember which, how nothing evaporates, only expands into eternity.

After my wisdom teeth were removed, Phil and Tom came over with quarts of malt liquor hoping I’d share my painkillers. I didn’t want any Colt 45, but gave them each some codeine. When the beer was gone, Phil heated a stove burner to high. He rubbed two butter knives over the stove coil until they were glowing red and then pressed chunks of hash between the blades to raise plumes of blue smoke.

In the morning, after I’d thrown out the poets and gone to bed, I found the blackened knives crossed on the counter in a scattering of ashes.

Sunset

tiger_nasturs_flower

“I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass.”

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Rain rips the red leaves from the dogwood and whips waves of gold down from the birch. A frost last week, though not hard and certain, was enough warning to corral the potted citrus and thorny bougainvillea inside for the season. Crushing acorns underfoot as we walk the trails, a year in the making. The crows pick the meat from the shells and the dog charges the squirrels when we return. Shed.

Houses in the old neighborhood are decorated for Halloween. It seems it’s always been this way, this casting and passing, this litter of leaves.  Dad’s ginger dog Ben and I walk down to the park. We pass lawns decked out with styrofoam tombstones, trees dangling plastic pumpkins lit by violet eyes. These are wards, I know, talismans strung on each threshold to forestall unfriendly spirits, effective even if purchased at a box store. After the cross-quarter, such magic, no longer needed, will be assigned to the trash. But the warding is sincere. Darkness gathering in the north, we walk on.

 

 

Bones

calapooia_rockstacks

There are hollowed dry bones littered through the house I step on barefoot in the dark.

It rained last week, real rain in August, battering the grape leaves and splitting tomato skins. It reached 100 degrees this week. Yesterday there was morning thunder, more rain, and a 6.3 earthquake off the southern coast of Oregon. I walked Mercy down to the park to sweat tears in the steaming field when the cloud cover lifted and the sun came out. I didn’t feel the earthquake although I woke suddenly and got out of bed. I stepped on a bone.

Cagibi published my postcard from the Upper Truckee River this week. I forgot it was coming out so pleased to see it up. I finished the same stubborn essay again, enough to submit. Finishing is the trick. True enough that works of art are never finished, only abandoned. Submitted. Rejected. Revised. I reach the limits of my senses at a certain point. As though born unable to hear, yet aware there is a realm of music beyond my comprehension I scan for but can never translate. I know it’s out there. The challenging is finishing.

Max and Faten are building a cabin on the Calapooia river up the valley. The river was named for the original local tribe, the Kalapuya, a rocky trout run that slides down the Cascades to join the Willamette. Fish skate the granite and quartz rocks and dart away.

feet_in_clouds

 

 

River

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”

–Norman Maclean

Rainmaker

butte_bougainvillea

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 afternoon sky and the crumbs on the tablecloth. Cut the stems severely short. Wipe the small cobalt vase to place on the center of the dining table. Fill the blue bowl with water each morning and sigh.

Water the monster red geranium, the one that survived another winter, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot littering blood-red petals that smear underfoot into jammy stains.

Take Mercy to the river to swim and muck about in the weeds and willows. Bring home a flat smooth river rock that fits when I close my fist around it.

mercy_reeds

Check the Orthodox calendar to confirm the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos is August 15th. I am not Orthodox, but the stores close in Athens and it would be difficult to find a taxi if I was in Greece.

Count the cantaloupes swelling on the vine. There is only one. I tickled the yellow-starred blossoms with a twig because I didn’t trust the bees. They seemed distracted. It’s too late.

Move the hanging fuchsia to the backyard; deer crept up on the front porch early one morning and ate two-thirds of it. The dog warned me, but I stayed in bed. Check whether the gladiolas were devoured as well.

Resist reading any news, avoid all media sites, including Reddit. Pace the length of the upstairs deck, turn, pace again as though the house plunged in open water and call “Avast,” to the pots lining the forecastle, exhorting the geraniums and bay laurel to hold fast.

Bundle up the wool Flokati rugs and lug them down to the local laundromat next door to the cannabis dispensary. (Laundromats are damp and dismal places even with all the 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 flowers out of the way, the trailing petunia managed to be crushed underfoot.

Avoid the headlines. Return to the root.

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

Pick zucchini. Pick sun-gold cherry tomatoes. Pick pea pods. Pick cucumbers. Squeeze a grape, not yet. Wash my hair and comb through the spiral curls with my fingers before they completely dread.

Grate zucchini, salt it and and wait for the shreaded squash to sweat in the colander. Squeeze the water out and stir into muffin batter with the last of the blueberries. Freeze a few.

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

Write another poem.

Think of washing the front windows, but sit on the edge of the front porch dangling my feet and roll tiny white blooms of summer savory between my fingers instead.

Most things hang by a thread.

Ariel Set Free

orchard_cicada
Orchard Cicada in the garden –  a solitary species with a four-year life cycle.

“Where the bee sucks. there suck I:

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I couch when owls do cry.

On the bat’s back I do fly

After summer merrily.

Merrily, merrily shall I live now

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”

–Ariel’s Song, The Tempest

 

Unraveling

red_currant

Most things hang by a thread.

I don’t remember why I wanted red currants. I bought two plants as bare-root stock and planted them in deep black pots. When I moved, they came along, as well as the twisted hazel in its half-barrel. Here we dwell still, the shrubs and tree and me, on the dead-end verging hillside these many years. Heavy snow in early March topped the hazel. I sawed the split trunk down and rubbed bee’s wax on the exposed wood to protect it from infestation. I cleared the broken mantle, rubbed it with wax, and set it to season in the dark.

Devoured by the dragon’s head, lashed by the dragon tail. 

The red currants, tiny gems related to gooseberries, ripen in July. The fruit dangles from a thread called a peduncle (a word I just learned and probably will never use again, but sounds bawdy when I say it aloud, so maybe I’ll remember and work it into conversations.) It’s useless to try to pick individual berries as they simply tear and bleed ruby juice. I use a pair of scissors to cut the peduncle from the branch and catch the streaming beads into a chipped porcelain bowl. It’s slow work that I don’t want to end.

In eclipse, what is hidden reveals itself through shadow.

Half the currants are crushed and mixed with apple cider vinegar to make shrub. This mash melds in a sealed bowl for three days, with fruit and vinegar transmuting into a third thing. While the mash ferments, I cut sprigs of fresh thyme to seal in a jar with white sugar. I strain the mash and press the juice through a sieve. The infused sugar is dissolved in water, a simple syrup such as hummingbirds drink, and mixed while hot with the juice. The strings (penduncles) and seeds are dumped out in the brambles on the hillside and the beverage is corked and stored.

Latency is the cold stone rolled, bone-thrown runes cast by a toothless goddess. 

Shirley died two weeks ago on a gray morning before dawn. It started to rain. All the visiting family, caregivers, and hospice nurses drove away. The hillside is empty of cars again. Vic is alone in his house across the road. He puts on his hat to come out to the road and check the mailbox. Thursday evening, after I finished with the currants, he came to the front door and knocked. I drove him to the emergency room.

Shadows fall.

Half of the currant crop I worked at the kitchen table, spreading strings of fruit in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Pan by pan, I set currants in the freezer for half an hour and wander from room to room to gaze out windows. Once the fruit is slightly frozen, the tines of a fork run down the string separates the berries to fall into a bowl. Until there are no more.

Ground. Clear. Cleanse. Ward. Offer.

raven_rock

Anthem

hazelnut_grove2

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