Monthly Archives: May 2010

Peonies and Poems: Drugs of Choice

I have an embarrassment of peony riches at my home in the Hudson Valley and I am a peony junkie. I have always loved these late spring blooming plants for the showy blossoms which look, for all the world, like party dresses for fairies. I could imagine Tatiana slipping on a tight bodice and then stepping into a skirt of bubble gum pink, although Shakespeare would not have know about bubble gum, but we do. The skirt, like the peony, would have so many layers that it would arch away from the queen of the fairies’ waist, much the way the flower angles graceful from the stem offering itself to us.

I love the opulence of nature providing beauty for beauty’s sake. Let me have an interstitial moment here so I can acknowledge that I am well aware of the role that color and scent play in propagation and the health and wealth of the insect world, which in turn benefits us. That said, come on, the same come hither I am ready, red or pink can be met in some awful looking and rank smelling posies. And I acknowledge that they too do the job very well thank you.

But this is about the pursuit of beauty. I grow these plants all year for a show which lasts at best a month. Yes, I know that they do have lovely, waxy, dark foliage, but I am not tending them for that. Here in the Hudson Valley, zone 5ish for you garden geeks, these plants seem to thrive. My ancient neighbor Charlie lets me taking cuttings from his plants and he says all he does is mow over them in October and they seem happier every year. Wow is it any wonder Charlie is a bachelor.

I now have over 30 plants, which range in color from ice white to a deep pink veering toward red. Some are single blooms, which means they do not have the layers of Tatiana’s ball skirt, but do have acid yellow centers making them resemble fuzzy tennis balls surrounded by glossy maroon petals. Neither a color or texture combination I would have dreamed up, but once you see it waving on the hillside or cut in a vase gracing a table you can’t imagine anything else more perfect.

Accept perhaps the enormous Bowls of Cream. In my next life maybe I will be a flower namer, or a boat moniker maker, or racehorse breeder, who gets to name the foals as they slither out. I love these names. These peonies, these bowls of cream, are perfectly christened. They are round and cupped like bowls and have the heft and density of a white making you believe you have fallen into a bowl of cream. They have tree limb thick stems, all to the good because usually there are three to five blooms per stem. They have a creamy yellowy echo and do not possess a bluish tint and they would never be loved if they were called bowls of skim, or 2% on the stem. Think about it, they had me from CREAM.

But here is an interesting aside; the most beautiful peonies often do not have the most alluring sweet aroma. It is like people. You can’t be a neurosurgeon and the best dancer and have a raucous sense of humor and cook and have blemishless skin and  . .  .  Everyone gets gifts. We all do. Thanks goodness. Not to digress but life’s only work is to find your gifts, appreciate them and put them to good use. And then  do not bitch incessantly about the gifts you missed. So I have noted, for instance, my bowls of cream do not have the aroma, which, what I call my field peonies, exude endlessly. I found these  peony plants dotted over my land. Stuck into hedges, choked by buckthorn or in abandoned apple orchards. They are a smallish blossom, with a crayon light pink color, multiple petals, no showy center, but oh my the aroma is an intoxication.

I wander through my peony patch now in full bloom and I appreciate the colors, sizes and scents of all of them. I know they are only visiting for another week or so. And I am filling my eyes, nostrils and home with everything they have to offer and trekking across the property with my May poem tucked into my dirty little paws, hoping to memorize it by the end of this weekend, the end of the month.

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The Day After The Interview

It is the day after my 15th wedding anniversary and a great job interview. An interview where in the aftermath, I am attempting to find the balance between OH MY GOD THE INTERVIEW WAS AMAZING

And let’s just wait and see who else they are speaking with.

Let’s be calm.

Let’s be measured and say,

it was a great hour of talk and idea and notion exchange and if that is all it is, well then so be it.

Oh are there folks who can really parse and believe that ? I’d like it to be me but I am too much of an emotional pendulum.

And during this day of spinning emotions I toted my poem in my pocket and read it as I waited on the bench outside the university under the linden trees, which were in full aromatic bloom. I was nervous. I was. I had that stomach in my mouth sensation and needed to find a calmer center and so after calling my daughter, who gave me a perfect pep talk, I retreated to my rather pokey May poem.

And I saw that the trees above me were just coming into bloom and that they formed a kind of canopy over me, which provided the cocoon I needed to focus and find myself. I then walked around the block reciting and igniting my brain with the power of memory. And by the time I arrived, I felt centered and I felt like me, not a nervous fidgety version of me.

The interview was a time to meet new people who work in my field. It was a moment to talk about the power or down side of non-profits and how to manage them. And if that is all it was, I have to find a way to be content with that outcome. I invest so quickly in friends, jobs, ideas, and I want to find that more measured approach.

It is funny because with the poems, with activating my memory, I find I cannot speed it up. No extra coffee, or multi-tasking turns up the memory speed button. It is rote, slow over and over work. See the words, understand the words and find the sequence and why one thing follows the next in the poet’s mind and hence in mine.

When I slow down to the pace where my memory works as opposed to how my fingers or mouth or the Internet zooms, I am sated and composed. A welcome state.

A first ever P.S.

A wonderful friend of my daughter’s Janosch Delcker made this video as a part of his series called Urban Observations. Please check it out, as he is so talented.

http://www.vimeo.com/12093983

A Boy Graduates and A Mom Makes a Promise to herself

A lifetime seems to pass in days. This time, the time travel is due largely to my son’s graduation from college. My amazing son Henry, I believe has many of my brain maladies, or learning disabilities, in my house we call them learning differences. I am dyslexic and Henry was diagnosed with visual perceptive disorder, in short he said things would spin in front of his eyes. After second grade Henry could read only the words Pizza and Henry.  The silly principal told me she believe he was “ wired wrong” I told her she was, well I held back, but I wanted to tell her that it was obviously she who was badly wired if she couldn’t see how bright and capable Henry was.

Since I saw his gifts, and knew how to decode my own wacky brain, my wonderful husband suggested I take the summer off from working on Wall Street and teach Henry to read. I did. In fact the first story I sold was to Parents Magazine; it was Henry’s Triumph www.wickiworld.com/henry.htm

Forward fast  13 years and here we are watching tall, wise Henry walk across the stage to collect his cum laude diploma, and History honors. It drained me. I was weeping or leaking tears all Saturday morning. And then there was the bio dad or sperm donor. I saw him for a heartbeat or seven in the parking lot when we returned to pick up the kids and their sweethearts after the planned picnic. I glimpsed him walking to get his car and I said Hello or Hi. I said something. I had the temerity to acknowledge him and he just rolled his eyes at me. Still hateful. Still dismissive.

And I let that take me somewhere else in the midst of the splendor of that moment. But today I had a wonderful wrenching back to being loved, special and sought after. When I completed teaching my class for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council the program director there, a wonderful friend, said she visits my blog when she misses me. It touched me so. She asked how the poetry was going. And she offered that if I wanted another walking buddy, she was all in. She even proffered the idea of us walking for a cause so we could raise funds. This was after I shared that I am better when I think or know I am doing something for someone who is NOT me. But I left class and rode home full of joy, feeling loved and proud to have friends.

I had been contemplating why do I make pronouncements in public, meaning here in the blog and then I am forced, sort of, to live up to them or to fail in full view. But for tonight I want to say, I am trying. I couldn’t sleep last night and I recited poems from John Donne to May’s Philip Larkin with Anne Winter and Subramania Bharati in between. And again I stumbled at the same lumpy memory places, but it did take me off to dreamland.

Tomorrow I promise me, only me, to walk and see if I can find the beauty in the tiny rhymes and unfolding foliage, which is now in full bloom along the Hudson River.

Relegated to Seattle or London and RAIN

My extreme good mood, a rollickingly positive sense that all things are possible, seems to have vanished. It is gone. I am back to feeling dark, unhopeful and downright cranky. My kids are annoying, I am a bother to myself and I want to swear and complain about each raindrop, blossom or cat that unwittingly passes my path.

I walked yesterday a lot. Who cares, really? I on occasion I pass my eyes over Trees, the less than stellar May poem I found in a lack-luster internet search. I seem to care not one wit.

I feel as if I have lost my way. What does that mean? I don’t have the gumption to push things forward. I am reacting and thrashing in my life.

My son graduates from college on Saturday and his biological father, a man I have not seen often, outside of Family Court where I asked for the piddling over due child support. Other than court, I have not seen him in the last 15 years. But he will be attending. Well of course he is, any sane person chimes in. But no. The man inveigled his mother to pay for an expensive lawyer to argue, and win by the by, the right NOT TO PAY a cent, not one red cent for his kid’s college education.

So how does he, the sperm donor, so monikered by our daughter, how does the SD get to come to graduation, to celebrate and fete his son? By dint of kindness. By the power of forgiveness as I envision being able to practice it. As I aspire to embrace it. When in fact I am not nearly close.

Is this what has me so low? I am not enlightened enough to tell. I am feeling depleted from lack of work, from lack of ambition and from a sinking feeling that perhaps it won’t get better.

I have for some time seen the weather as a mirror for my own moods. I know that I normally do not live in a rainy, gray place, but occupy a moderate, temperate climate. So how am I now relegated to London, or Seattle, and can’t seem to find a cheap ticket out of here?

Asking doesn’t help. A nice big assignment, a job, a prospect, someone saying wow I think you are great, all that would be a kick toward the sunshine. I am at a loss. I so loved the wave of positivism, which washed over me and seemed to inoculate me against criticism, crank calls, unfinished business and the general geck and gull of life. I miss that feeling. But like being in love you know when it passes, when the flicker has gone out. And you mourn.

There is no new trip to India on my horizon. There is the happiness of graduation and the potential; I tell myself, that I will find a job, a real job. One with a regular paycheck and lo and behold health insurance, and a coterie of other workers talking and solving problems. But I am aware that employment may not materialize and I will be furloughed here to rainy and gray for quite a while.

I suppose I should walk and learn this poem.Oh the road to good intentions is paved with shoulds.

Do it Until it is Natural

I missed my walking date yesterday.

And so today when my daughter said, “Hey ma, meet me for lunch.” I  vowed to walk from TriBeCa north to SOHO to meet her. No big walk, but I am afraid I am fighting this ambulation as I just do not get it.

As I attemped to joyfully sallie forth, I jealously followed every man and woman who rolled past me on a bike. It was cold, but they seemed properly dressed, and I was miserable. I was hot inside, but cold outside. I had no gloves and I was slow.

I was part of the hoi-polloi. I was a cog moving in the mass with the pedestrian purpose of lunch. I was not set apart, as I usually am. I was one in a crowd, instead of gliding past them. And it was slow. Did I mention how slow it is?

I tried to read my poem. OK I actually memorized the first verse. I don’t love the poem either, but I do see the leaves coming into view Like something almost being said; And I appreciated that idea. I kept looking for the conversation I was missing as the leaves spoke. But this cold May, masquerading as November, chilled me to the bone.

I also overhear so many conversations on the sidewalk: the cell phones buzz, and people make deals or break hearts. On the bike there is ambient word noise, but I never walk in the watery wake of the cell phone motorboats. On the bike I do not trail in other people’s intimate details. I do not have to aggressively attempt to ignore what I didn’t want to hear in the first place.

On the bike I feel as if private places still exist, and they are wherever I take myself. The very public-ness of the streets creates a cocoon of quietude. But walking I am the same as everyone else. I suppose this begs the question: And why princess did you ever come to take on the exalted mantel nominating you as so damn different?

Perhaps it is the decades I spent riding around the city buffeted by my sense of speed, purpose and separateness. It felt as if I was carried aloft by this city and my bike. When I was in India I saw that so many people carried all their work, their huge catch of fish, their entire families and luggage on their bikes and I always thought: those are my people. And now I am on foot and feeling very put upon because of it.

I didn’t turn back in disgust and run to fetch my bike. I kept on walking, learning my poem and turning my attention to the article my daughter ripped out of Psychology Today called Walk This Way. In the short piece, Mina Shaghaghi explains that there is an actual science to walking. Funny, but I fight most things, which I believe are supposed to be natural. I have an aversion to having to learn something, which I believe should have come as factory installed.

But it turns out that walking, like breathing, is not quite as natural as we might think. The article gives things to focus on, think about:

*Keep your eyes forward, trained on a spot in front of you about 20 feet away. Keep your chin parallel to the ground to minimize the strain on your neck and back.

* To get perfect posture, OK as good as it gets, shrug your shoulders and let them fall to a comfortable position.

* It turns out that your arms deserve as much attention so your legs. Who knew? Arm speed determines leg speed. Bend your arms 90 degrees to create a pendulum motion as you speed up your step.

* You have to develop a rolling gate. Strike with the heel, roll through the step, and give a good push off with your back foot. To walk faster, I LOVE THIS, don’t lengthen your stride; rather, increase the number of small steps you take. (my walking guru Ria, swears by this advice, but she ups the ante by combining small steps with a clenched, let’s say tightened butt. She says her legs and behind are oh so much better for this tricky addition. Ria adds she likes doing this better when she can wear a coat which comes to mid-thigh length. Otherwise is in her words, “ It is kinda creepy.”

I want to confess that walking home, after the initial ugly spat in my head on the way over, was much easier. I was rolling, happy and quietly satisfied. I pushed off with my back foot; I reviewed the first verse of Trees and meandered through the second one. Perhaps it was the glass of wine at lunch, but walking home, the misty gray May day wrapping its unseasonable arms around me felt just fine. Sometimes I and I bet others need to stop fighting the inevitable and just do it. And do it until if feels natural.

Finally a New Poem for May: TREES but not the one you think

I have written only once since I have been back from India. It is as though losing the habit; the rhythm of writing regularly has shaken me. I suppose it is the same as not walking, not going to Pilates. I feel as if when I went to India I allowed myself to say, oh forget about anything other than what you want to do in any given moment in the day.

I feel as if I have dropped the ball on writing, on walking, on editing, on doing anything but thinking and existing in a mesmerized state. Oh yes I do on occasion rally to respond to email, or figure out college graduation and cook meals, but really I am a kind of ghost. This is not an unhappy state, but one where I feel very guilty. And who am I letting down?

Myself for not writing more, achieving more. A reader or two. My body for feeling slug-like and loving it.

In truth I have not picked a poem for May and the month is one third finished. I have one on my desktop, which came to me from Googling poems about the month of May, not very original. And up popped this poem,

Trees by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too,

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In fullgrown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

And here I went astray again. I look back and see the wonderful poem on insomnia and I think that is the one, that is the one I want to memorize. And I copy it. I do not copy Trees, which I am afraid makes me think of Joyce Kilmer, you know again third grade, I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree . .  Ok that’s all I have left from decades ago.

I lost my way in part because of choice, an abundance of choice, which often gives me a swelter of frozen inactivity. I become lost when the choices are too great.

And so for April I wanted to learn the first few lines of Elliot and then I shifted to Edna St Vincent Millay and babbling April fools and finally I went away to India for two weeks and was lost in a wave of physical poetry, finally I did memorize the beautiful Jewel of Stars.

All through the trip I kept attempting to replay the troika of poems since the year and project  began. And it is funny because the lines which gave me pause, trouble, stuttering, from the get go, are still the ones, where I trip. I am wondering if I should  take a hiatus in July and review the first six poems. As I fear they are

Trees waving in the unrest of spring

now becoming a jumble in my head.

And as to the walking, it has not gotten better. I am always looking for a way to justify why it is not the moment. Why I have already done enough today. Why do I want to be out on my bike, or yanking weeds out by the gallon but have not interest it slowly or speedily making my way across a landscape?

AS AN ASIDE

Please excuse the clumsy photo insert. I am attempting to integrate new skills into the blog. Photos and perhaps music, video, dancing girls or mewing cats. Who knows?  It is all an attempt to keep modern or at least stay last century.

By Guess and By Golly Gardening begets a purple lawn but no poem for May

This is not about poetry or walking. It is about my springtime obsession: GARDENING. I know I have to find a May poem, but until I do  . . .

I have been away from my garden for three weeks. This sounds like the beginning of confession akin to those I made when I was in grammar school

Father forgive me as it has been three weeks since I tended my garden

It was not because I was neglectful, I was in India, and as excuses go that ranks fairly high. It is not commuting distance The Ganges to Germantown for weeding and lilac trimming. Or Calcutta to the crocus patch. I was on a far-flung trip to see the sites of the subcontinent and to volunteer at amazing schools and hospital programs.

But as soon as I was back, once I could muster staying awake in this time zone, all I wanted was my garden, my dirt, my flowers, my birds. Where had that wonderful Indian sense of calm gone? Oh I felt I had it as far as a great diminution in my anger levels, but my passions were unabated. I wanted to be in my earth, in the crisp still real spring weather. When I left New Delhi is was 109 degrees and I returned to NYC and the Hudson Valley with temperature in the 40’s.  A huge swing, but a welcome one as it meant my flowers would still be blowing on the hillside.

I worked the week, writing and meeting, but sleep walking through much of it due to jet lag, but also the tug I felt from my land. I needed to see what was left of the magnolia trees, did the splints help? Were the lilacs in bloom, did the deer eat all of them? And did any tulips come back after the disastrous early mowing done last spring by a neighbor eager to help with my “messy looking” lawn? In short, three weeks away from a spring garden can be a great scavenger hunt, a wonderful opening of a long awaited gift.

So as we drove north from NYC to the Hudson Valley through two different growing zones I was scanning the roadside and yards to see what was in bloom. I am a color gardener; I can see purples and fuchsia and tiny yellows. I cannot always tell you who is who, and what is what. I am not as bad as my husband who revels I the fact that after five years he knows forsythia.

When we pulled into the drive of our little house there was the crab apple tree in full display, her arms outstretched laden with blossoms. It reminded me of the elegant Bishnois women in the Great Thar Desert who are festooned in color and texture traversing a sandy background. There was my tree waving at me.

And unlike India, the back ground for this beauty was a deep green carpet studded with regal purple patches, huge swaths really of bugle weed which I encourage and move every year. My goal is to finally have a totally purple lawn from mid-April to end May. I don’t mow and it undulates. The lilacs, which ring the porch, reflect a lighter lavender hue and the red maples, with their burgundy foliage mark a poignant place in the midst of this purple sea.

It all happened quite by accident, By Guess and By Golly as my mother used to call her cooking and gardening.

The gardener looks as what is growing and you either rip it out, or you encourage it. It is that simple. Well I noticed that we had bugleweed, dark and light purple spiky flowers growing amidst our grass. And so I stopped doing an early mow of the front lawn and lo and behold we had this intricate carpet of purple and green. There were random shapes and dispersions that would take a painter’s breath away. A sort of Rothko lawn. And now when I dig up the dandelions, I move in a clump of bugleweed. And the carpet spreads and spreads.

Now it is awe-inspiring. In early morning it is a gray green lawn and flatter purple. It morphs by dusk to bright vermillion and lush vestment purple. It is like my children, when I do not see them for a while, I am stunned by how beautiful and radiant they are. How wonderful.

When we first bought this house, five years ago, I had a little extra money, remember those days, and I bought 1000 random daffodil bulbs and tossed them all over my lawn back and front. And now they pop up yellow headed or creamy inside the purple carpet and they sway in the breeze. The fragrance from the lilacs fills the air and sitting on the porch, reading, doing a cross word puzzle, drinking a glass of wine; I can think of no place I would rather be.

When I sat on my private balcony at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, and looked at the acres of manicured bougainvillea I thought of my own small castle and yearned for it. Now I am home and my imagined return is no less dramatic and marvelous than the morning coffee in Rajasthan.

The joy of travel is that is opens one’s mind and pushes out the boundaries we too carefully build in fearful modern times. But a hoped for joy, is that when we return home we are all Dorothy and we click our heels and squeal: There’s no place like home!

Especially if you have a purple lawn.