Lay a plate upon the table, light the candle,
Slice the star out of the apple
Every Journey Begins in the Dark
I packed this blue moon in my suitcase. I bought it at a dusty little shop in a town overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
It is thick, but light, a crescent of wood. The face is covered with hammered silver milagros, tiny votive charms offered at shrines at the feet of saints. Here is an arm, and there a leg, hearts and horses, a tiny metal child. I hung it on a wall in my kitchen.
Milagro means “miracle.”
I think of the bedeviled refugees fleeing north through Mexico toward the armed soldiers we are sending to greet them. I do not think these are enough milagros.
I am empire now.
Relinguish = to leave, intensely.
Romanesco is a flowering vegetable, something like a cauliflower yet nothing like it. The head is spiked and spiraling, a natural fractal, each row a Fibonacci number. The weather must be cool, but not cold, damp, yet not wet, for the buds to thrive. I roasted the head whole, doused in olive oil and garlic, finished with an over-exuberant shower of bread crumbs. This is a vegetable.
The gourds and squashes on display at the farmer’s market are dismaying. There are ghost pumpkins and Cinderellas, butternuts, spaghettis, delicatas, and acorns. I’m not a fan. (No, that’s not strong enough. Since being forced to eat pureed squash as a child before being excused from the dinner table, I detest them all.) Every morning I drink a few ounces of carrot juice spiked with ginger and tumeric for my dose of orange vegetable. Last week I baked pumpkin bread studded with raisins plumped in cassis liqueur and ate a slice. Enough.
The tomato plants are withered haystacks with a last few hard green fruits. I’ll pick the stragglers in the next few days and spread them on a tray to see if they’ll ripen inside. I’m dubious; I doubt there is enough light left to muster a blush. I’ll use them as one would tomatillos, chopped and stewed for chili verde.
October is winding into the dark. There is morning frost on the roof and brilliant afternoon sunshine, but the days are leaping short. The honey locust relinquishes tiny fluttering leaves and the nastursiums shed their pea-size seeds. The season is over. What is not claimed, is left in the fields to the wind.
It was a summer of subtraction: a thousand roots torn up, hundreds of branches cut and chipped, trees topped or felled, bone white holly wood stacked to dry for new year fire. Sammy, the dancing black cat, passed over at solstice. She, who skittered over the roof after squirrels, caught lizards, chipmunks, snakes, and grown jays to bring inside the house unharmed and release for play, grew old. Shore up fences against the winter wind and clear the gutter drains. I will keep the shoe box used to save Sammy’s prey on top the bookcase a while longer.
October starts a new count; the rain year began on the 1st. Soon after, a winter storm blew in from the northwest and took the leaves off the dogwood and shook the oaks. The fir sway and whisper together.
There is no moon tonight, it’s drained away and returned to darkness approaching the sun. A mirror, a pool, a puddle, seeking reflection, a black moon. Each month is a moon, with some added sprinkles, a seed, a struggle, fruit or frustration, an unwinding, a letting go. This new moon marks the end of all the late summer sorting. The season of weighing gold and grain after casting away the chaff is here.
Summer evenings I sat on the back porch and watched the planet Venus slip lower in the western horizon at twilight. Now she disappears from sight, fallen under the earth from the night sky, until joining the sun on October 25th. She rises as the morning star at the end of the month, a slim crescent, on All Hallows.
Crossroads and thresholds, liminal spaces we’ve arrived at or stumbled upon, another outcast stepchild in a fairy tale trying to solve the riddle of the Sphinx.
A note on “rain year:”
U.S.Geological Survey “water year” […] is defined as the 12-month period October 1, for any given year through September 30, of the following year.
The equinox arrives Saturday evening, 6:55 Pacific time. Days and nights will balance, light and dark equal for a moment. Folklore says one might balance an egg on end during an equinox, but I’ve never done it. The moment passes while I’m distracted slicing a pear and the egg swivels and topples. Persephone descends to the underworld, the cloaked seed sleeping a seeming death. Six months ago, at the spring equinox, the light strengthened and grew. Seed pods burst and pushed into the air, leaves unfurled with Persephone rising. Now comes the time to let go. The harvest moon is nearly full.
I have wandered and worked in the sun. In the dark and rain is the best season to write. Then I prop the door closed with a cast-bronze winged pig, enough to keep the heat from the oil radiator inside, yet wide enough for the dog to push her head through and, if she’s inclined, shove back the doorstop to shoulder through and lie down at my feet.
I have a small chandelier in the corner of my studio with battery-powered tea lights that still flicker without dripping wax. (Or threaten fire, if I forget them. An amazing feat of technology, this.) I brew a thermos of strong chai and stir in a spoonful of honey. In the dark and the rain, there’s less to see out the window other than the stony shades of sky and bare branches. The eye is released to turn inward, awaiting the shy wild shape of the work.
“What is over, I can never finish.
The angel of work is sweat.”
I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head this morning when I took my coffee outside. It was cool on the west side, with the sun breaking on the trees across the creek valley, yet not clearing the eastern hill across the road. Taste the first bite of turning, with the temperature dipped into the 40’s. Feel the urge to buy a three-ring binder and a wooden ruler, dust off my field hockey stick for afternoon practice.
The rufous hummingbirds will migrate south. They are slight and coppery, deviling the year-round Anna’s hummingbird when they appear in the spring. I wonder at such a fragile creature flying thousands of miles, like Monarch butterflies traveling to Mexico. I wonder how they navigate the Siskiyou range to cross into California. They will disappear soon, suddenly, with the cooler weather, take flight and no longer duel the Anna’s for sugar water and flower nectar.
The basil bloomed and, finally, I couldn’t pinch fast enough to forestall it. I made pesto. Grinding the herb with garlic and pecans, cups of olive oil, I forego adding parmesan and stack the containers like firewood in the freezer. The cheese does not freeze well. It will be added later, in winter when I cook, when I’ve forgotten the scent of summer.
The cantaloupe is trellised. Mercy nibbles at the leaves while I water and eyes the melons. Soon.
The chimney is swept. No mummified squirrels were discovered, unlike in other years.
My contributor copies of Cutbank #88, University of Montana’s literary journal, arrived in the mail. I looked at the cover illustration of corn and lobster and thought it odd. Maybe it’s a crawdad, which makes more sense for a landlocked state, except the title of the image is “Beach Snack.”
The work of the summer season is ebbing, so the crowd at the Labor Day sale at the hardware store gathers up nails and paint, deck stain and waterproof tarps. We’re racing the rains now.
“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.”
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 over-winter, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot to litter rubied petals on the deck that look like jam stains.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. She’s still wary of loading in the car.
Thread together eight thousand words of assorted prose to submit to USC’s Goldline Press chapbook competition. (Not quite at the last minute, though the deadline was extended two weeks; I submitted one day prior to the deadline. That’s August.)
Rip open the cardboard packaging to reveal my contributor copy of The Tishman Review arrived and see my piece nestled next to an illustration on page 92.
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.
Always dogs. His name is Ben. He’s a Brittany Spaniel, one-year old. My father adopted him, but he was a hurricane.
He’s not my dog. Sometimes I take him down to the park. The city waters the grass early in the morning enough to seep down past the roots. It’s still dewy and soft along the field when we walk through and circle for another pass. I coach him to follow, to sit when I stop, to come when I call. It’s so hot, August hot, that he stretches out in the clover to cool off when we pass under the shade of the walnut tree.
He’s not my dog. Sometimes I take him out to let him see ducks floating along the canal. He wades in and practices his dog paddle. Two canoes come upon us, in the shade of the lower canal, and he swims out to investigate. The women offer him tennis balls that were floating by, but he’s only interested in the canoes and the paddles. I thank them and slip the wet balls into the game pocket of my vest for later. There is pheasant scent and squirrel, vole and snake, much to be studied on for a young dog. Fall is coming.
August is an adjective, as well as a noun.
The sun turns and slants south, a rising late summer light heavy with dust, a sultry white sky rimmed with smoke. Ferocious maws of flame chew through dry tinder mountains near Redding, California: fire gnawing forest, suburban lawns, homes and bones. Ash rises in mushroom clouds.
Birch leaves turn gold and drop, skittering and rattling across the road; the first leaves to green in the spring, the first to let go. The trees clatter. The blackberries are early this year. In the evenings, a doe leads her twin spotted fawns to the berm across the road to feed on the ripe berries.
In the full height and completion of summer, we arrive at the cross-quarter, here between the promise of the summer solstice and the inevitable falling away at the equinox. It’s in my bones, this season, the time of ripeness and venom. My mother broke a tooth chewing ice the night I was born.
When I walk out on the hill with the dog, hat brim low over my eyes against the morning sun, the ground is cracked and sparse with weeds. The grass withered and died. Wasps skim over the sereness. I watch my feet. Yellow jackets hover at the hose nozzle. They are early this year, angry.
I set up the trap on the top deck where they menace and hunt. It’s a simple jar filled with water and a drop of soap. The jar is intersected by a funnel fixed with bit of chicken for bait. The wasps are drawn in by the scent, but cannot find their way out again. They drown, their own nature betraying them, like most clever traps.