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.

 

Thistledown

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“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.

 

 

Virtue in Herbs

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“Much virtue in herbs, little in men.”

–Benjamin Franklin

A train whistle walks in the middle air, longing in the distance, winding north along the river into the mountains. A solitary motorcycle travels the street below the hill before the commerce of another week begins.

I’m waiting. There is an hour when the dew lifts while the sun is still low: handfuls of Greek oregano to cut and hang for drying, wary of winter just as summer begins for all too soon comes flowering and seed. An herb’s essence remains locked in the leaf before the sun coaxes the oil to the surface, yet dew might molder a bouquet from the core. Thyme. Mint. Savory. Rosemary. It’s May.

Greek oregano is voracious and tenacious, leaping into the strawberry bed, seeding secretly into flower pots, bickering with the catnip. It responds well to rough handling like wrestling an adolescent dog.

Thyme lies low and sidles crablike, spreading rumors and telling tales.

Mint sings arias of sleek pirates and adventure, though the blueberries criticize the key.

Savory is prone and lazy, languishing over visions of love and summer romance.

Rosemary is willful and wild. She scorns containment and flourishes in bleak rocky soil exposed to heat and rain. (I do not dry her leaf, but only cut fresh stems when needed. Rosemary simmered in clean water clears ghosts and cobwebs as well–or better–than burning sage.)

A scrub jay charges a quail perched unaware on the fence rail to knock it down into the yard. I wonder where the dog is. The quail scoots beneath a rhododendron for cover.

It’s time.

What Rises, Never Returns

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Pushing Upward means successful progress. Have no anxiety about meeting with the great man. An advance to the south is fortunate.

Trees grow from earth; this is Ascension. Thus the Jun zi diligently cultivates his virtues little by little to become tall and large like trees growing.

–The Book of Changes, Hexagram 46

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Parsley and Pine Nuts

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The kitchen is buttery with pine nuts, pignolia, seeds shaken from pine cone. As they toasted I stooped to watch through the little oven window, yet finally judged them brown from scent rather than sight. These are not the longer oval nuts from the Mediterranean which are even more expensive and difficult to find. These are round and squat, from Asia. They will do. I mostly use pecans now, except for this.

Last night the neighbors celebrated Passover Sedar with the children playing on the hill and out in the street before sunset. Today is Easter.

Orthodox Easter, Pascha, is another week away, as the date must fall after Passover. Easter eggs are dyed blood-red in Greece with dye derived from onion skins. People play a game knocking eggs together, as they knock they say “Christos Anesti,” and the response comes “Alithos Anesti.” The person with the last uncracked egg receives blessings and luck for the coming year.

The pine nuts cool on the counter. I bloom the Greek oregano and thyme in olive oil for a minute before adding the chopped onion to the pan. Mom didn’t make spanakopita, though Toula did. She’d bring over a basket of the pastries filled with spinach and feta on holidays. Mom made baklava and kreatopita, tucking the filo sleeve under a damp dishtowel as she brushed the leaves and stacked them, pushing the hair back from her forehead with a wrist. I julienne a gallon of spinach leaves and two handfuls of parsley to wilt with the onion and temper the greens with nutmeg.

Eostre was an Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility. Once she healed a wounded bird by changing it into a hare. The grateful rabbit brought her eggs that she still laid despite her metamorphosis.

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Joyas Voladoras

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“It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

–Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras,” The American Scholar

Brian Doyle was an essayist, novelist and editor of Portland Magazine. Some dozen years ago while working as a software analyst and project manager, I submitted a piece to the Oregon Quarterly‘s annual essay contest. My essay was selected as one of ten finalists with Doyle as the final judge. Finalists were invited to an afternoon’s conversation at the University of Oregon campus followed by a public reading that evening.

I accepted the invitation. Doyle reviewed each essay during that afternoon. When he came to mine, he looked up over his glasses across the table. “What can I say. This is a mess. It’s beautiful, but it’s a mess. Maybe you’re a poet.” He moved on to the next essay in the stack. I didn’t attend the public reading.

Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017. The Oregon Quarterly no longer holds an essay contest, reinventing itself as an arm of the university’s marketing department. I went back to writing project plans and business cases for ten years until I wrote them all.

“A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas.”

–ibid

The moon is full tonight, again. The dog inside barking at the moon sinking in the west early this morning. Moon-keeping time signals spring Easter and Passover holidays when she waxes full after equinox, marking Ramadan and Asian New Year when she is dark and new. The first red dogwood bracts unfurl outside the window.

I rediscovered new black ballet slippers I bought on sale in October and tucked away for now, this spring moment. I forgot them in the snow. I washed the fleece sweats and folded them (I considered giving it all away as though I’d never need fleece again.) When I brought the neighbors their groceries, they showed me a tiny Calliope hummingbird at the feeder outside the kitchen, the smallest bird in North America. It weighs as much as a ping-pong ball.

Time curves upward and hangs a heartbeat before descending. There a comes a place, recognized only in retrospect, where the arc plays out to fall, when thoughts bend toward memory over hope, wistfulness over desire.

“You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you.

 

 

Pineapple Express

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Ben

Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics. These columns of vapor move with the weather carrying an amount of water equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

https://www.noaa.gov/stories/what-are-atmospheric-rivers

The Pineapple Express blew into northern California and Oregon seven inches ago, tepid and drenched, rain dropping like coconuts, a whiff of the tropical between shower curtains, precursor to that dank cannabis strain smacking of fresh apple and mango, with a taste of pineapple, pine, and cedar, namesake of the river in the sky. It’s tepid rain, night and day, relentless. Mercy doesn’t mind venturing out to roll in the puddles so much as I swelter in a zipped rain jacket while rain from the islands streams over my lips. Flood warnings are in effect for the Siuslaw, coast fork of the Willamette, and the Mohawk.

Ben, the crazy copper Brittany Dad rescued a year ago, lived to see his second birthday only by sheer red chance of mischief and puckish soul, for such are the whims of the dog daemons favoring the foolhardy.

Ben climbs ten feet into a tree following squirrel scent and bails out again when the trail plays out, straight down, diving like a sockeye. He escapes through a breath between wooden planks to parade through the old neighborhood, weaving across streets oblivious as a carnival reveler to cars, cops, and guns. For blessed are the ginger and the rufous, ragged cheerful children of Pan, to see another spring.

Knock on wood.

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Storm Selfie