Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week in Seven Words #12

Outside the bookstore an academic journal lies half-propped against the curb, its cover grazing the tires of a parked car. The pages are swollen with rain, and certain words glisten in deep black.

Candles, silver, grapes, iced cakes, jellybeans, and chickpeas. We pack into the dining room and pass around drinks ("l'chaim, l'chaim"). As the newborn sleeps upstairs, his great-uncle talks to the guests about the tremendous potential we each have in life to do good.

Her email is a golden droplet. "Hi" is the only word she writes, and I understand the tentative hopeful tone (the question mark that follows); the last time I heard from her was two years ago. But for the moment nothing else needs to be said.

Different ways to dig in one's heels against demands, responsibilities, the press of time. One person watches clips from Beatles concerts, marvels at the music and how wild the crowds were. Another oversleeps, and at dinner takes pleasure slowly eating slices of beet from a plastic cup. A third slips into computer games as a warrior with esoteric skills.

On top of the pink-frosted cupcake sits a strawberry that was dipped in dark chocolate. As I peel the strawberry off, some frosting clings to it in small pink splodges. My first bite is a burst of fruit, bittersweet chocolate, and hyper-sugary pink.

Dark stairwells lead down to doors we can't see. Windows are boarded, black plastic bags slither along the sidewalk, and at the street corner in a warehouse some bright lights flicker and machines hum. Of the houses, one front stoop seems welcoming, with fairy lights, wind chimes, and a fold-out chair (we wonder who lives in that house, and if they ever sit out on the stoop this late, when the street is eerie and nearly deserted).

We're jigsaw puzzle pieces, curiously shaped, and we prefer not to lock ourselves rigidly in place; once a jigsaw puzzle is put together there's no room for any new pieces. What we like is to laugh and talk and scuffle in the box, and welcome anyone who wants to hop in.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blog-world appreciation

This is an exciting find:

At Crystal Calliope, another version of a week in seven words (and some kind words about my blog - thanks!). I especially like her characterization of "words" and her reflection on "unrest".

Also a few weeks ago I received a "Sunshine Award" from a writer whose blog, Platypuss-in-Boots, I recommend you all visit. There's nothing quite like it - it's imaginative, thought-provoking, funny, and full of wonder (and wonderful writing).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week in Seven Words #11

After a night of little sleep and a few days in a slump, I don't think I can be inspired that afternoon. I'm mistaken. Her lecture thrums with intelligence and possibility.

These are days spent counting different things. I don't want to think about how many more afternoons like this I'll have in their company, these people with whom I've found such a shared language. Of course I plan to see them in the future, but it won't be quite the same.

Walking home I spot a lovely white carnation in a garbage can. It remains upright among discarded newspapers and food cartons. A few blocks later, while crossing a courtyard, I see a squirrel sitting in a large shrubbery pot and tearing through a bun. He probably snatched it up from the garbage can three feet away, where someone had tossed it away nearly whole.

Expect to be continually surprised. What I say may cause a young man to snort wine from his nose. A young woman who pops in and out of my life will stand with me in the entranceway of an apartment building for close to an hour pouring out her doubts and feelings and hopes about some of life's most personal matters. Other people will sometimes be there and sometimes won't be there; every moment they're present is to be savored, for however long it may last.

While quickly translating text, the sensation of running up against gates tightly shut. We send out our hands and fumble for keyholes or crevices; hopefully the means will occur to us - the root, the context, the sensation of I saw that word ten verses ago, didn't I?

The urn beneath the drainpipe is flooded. In the froth of rain drops and run-off, long green leaves churn listlessly.

From ground level it looks like the tree has shed all its blossoms. But from the second floor window, I spy some flowers peeping from the uppermost branches; pink and white, they're surrounded by blowzy brilliant green.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Week in Seven Words #10

I've never found the sound of bees pleasant or cheerful. I wish they could stay silent as they descend on the daffodils or poke around window frames and doors. One bee I spot is especially bold. It hovers right over the center of a footpath. People duck to either side to avoid walking into it; one young man on a skateboard makes a last-minute swerve that nearly lands him in the mulch.

Petals, fallen from the trees and crushed underfoot, are slippery on the pavement. They release a smell of sticky sweetish rot.

I'm touched that he'd turn to me for advice on a personal matter. But even as I do my best to talk out the situation with him and discuss different options, I'm nagged by the feeling that my words aren't enough. I wish there were more time to consider the issue properly.

Music moves him deeply; it always has, and it still does. When I sing to him on the phone, it's as if I'm singing with him, because his intense yearning to sing is audible; sometimes I think I can hear his voice as it used to be, accompanying mine.

I'm content when I settle into the present moment - as when I walk in the warm sun and cold wind with a man who sees things quite well, even though his eyes don't show him anything. When I'm clustered with good friends on armchairs, and I focus only on their talk and laughter, and for the moment there are no worries.

Her small circular Spiderman cushion doesn't remain a cushion for long. It transforms into many things - primarily a shield to go with her imaginary sword, but also a hat worn at a tilt on her head. It also changes into a bird's nest cradling a clutch of eggs, and at one point takes the shape of a shallow flower pot that she carries proudly at her elbow. When she's faced with a large crack in the sidewalk, the cushion becomes a handy bridge that saves her toes from plummeting.

The delight of studying something serious and complex when it's past two in the morning; we're making our points with arm-waving, loud proclamations, and giggle-yawns. Somehow everything sounds extraordinarily sensible and clear.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chocolate-colored lipstick

Magpie Tales blog posts a photo each week that's meant to serve as inspiration for a poem, vignette, or other short piece of writing. Have a look via the link - this week the photo shows a tube of chocolate-colored lipstick (at least, the color looks chocolate to me). And so I wrote:

Reasons to wear chocolate-colored lipstick

When I speak the words emerge in a slow lingual melt.

My lips are no longer chapped and worry-bitten, but creamy and smooth.

I transform into the gypsy Theobroma, who paints chocolate on her lips and burnt umber round her eyes.

When the lipstick gets on my teeth people wonder what kind of chocolate I've eaten, and if I still have some to share.

I taste sweetness and bitterness both when I bite down on my lip.

I'm a child for a little while, chocolate-smeared and smiling.

Whatever I kiss turns into cocoa.

Where (and how) do you do your best work?

Artists' Working Methods

In varying states of undress, like John Cheever and Victor Hugo? In a spirit of spitefulness, like Ibsen? Or, like Emily Dickinson, while carrying out the housework?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week in Seven Words #9

One game after another, on tables pushed close to sunny windows. The afternoon drifts by to the sharp click of letter tiles, laughter and friendly teasing, and the magic of the mental lexicon.

charoset (חרוסת)
Apples, bananas, walnuts, and wine; dashes of cinnamon. A recipe from home, lovingly made and spread thickly on matzah.

A dozen or so turtles, sunning on rocks and logs. For several minutes they don't move; they could very well be fixtures in this man-made pond, statues carved of pale stone. But then one begins to inch up a log, its legs delicately testing out the wood. Another, who seemed as content as any of the others, suddenly lets itself drop. With a quiet splash it hits the water, where it bobs for a while in one place - as if it's stunned, and needs to get used to the stark difference between rock and water.

Wisecracks are acceptable, so are sarcasm, irony, and flippancy. Let's not talk about important things as if they're important; let's express our passions and opinions with a smirk, a wink, a shrug as if to say these things don't matter much. It's startling when someone speaks or writes with directness and feeling. It shakes us up to hear or read something passionately worded, carefully thought out, with no sly and apologetic half-smile afterwards ("Whatever, I was just kidding...") I treasure an hour spent in that armchair taking in words that are unabashedly full of purpose and poetry, words of praise, words grappling with some of life's most important matters.

In the midst of foolish worries I get distracted. Because of my distraction, I'm careless. Because of my carelessness I commit significant blunders that I did not at all anticipate; they weren't a part of my original worries. I think about these blunders and their consequences; fresh worries gnaw at me. Again, I'm distracted. Again, I slip towards carelessness. Somehow I catch myself this time, give myself a pat on the figurative shoulder ("Settle down, you've learned something, and it's not the end of the world so do please focus...") and with that the evening continues.

A couple of quiet days with only the occasional squabble. There's rain at the windows, and we're gathered in one room, which feels warmer and more homey than usual. A game of Scrabble, paging through books in the yellow light, napping on the daybed, lunching on salads and cold meats. It's a good visit all around, ending with warm words and kisses to the cheeks and forehead. For a short while I feel like I'm lifted up above the many tasks I need to complete in a month's time. These are days that restore and renew; I wish for their peace to spill over into other days.

What do I love about each Seder? There's the singing, so many beautiful songs, somehow even more beautiful because we don't all match in key, tempo, or even melody; there are some songs that also speed up towards the end, and after a few cups of wine part of the fun is feeling your tongue flail around as you try to get the words out at an acceptable pace. Then there are the stories - the main one in the Haggadah, but also others told around the table along with questions that we don't usually stop to ask on other days and jokes that are more than a few lines long and are themselves beautifully crafted tales with clever conclusions. There's also the mix of people; individuals who normally wouldn't plan to eat together are all at the same table now and discovering interesting things about each other.