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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A blue Palace

I’m bitter cold despite the wonderfully blue sky and traveling clouds;
I started the day wrong by washing the floppy blue cat at 7:00 a. m.;
I drudged and did ridiculous amounts of laundry (some blue);
I am busy ferrying children and am not here;
I have not written a word of burning and sparkling truth all day.

I want a mandevilla blossom and a maidenhair fern in the cobalt vase;
I want to shell lady peas in a metal bowl on the back porch;
I want to stand in a scuppernong arbor where the sun is hot;
I want to see the moon floating in my grandmother’s well;
I want to pick okra in my mother’s garden;
I want to pick a tiny ripe fig and eat it;
I want to see sunflowers in my sun;
I want to pick a peach from a tree;
I want summer (or at least April).

Those are some of the things I desire (the others are secret)
and also the reason I cannot scribble in the public square
or in the Palace at 2:00 a.m. just now
or even at 2:00 a.m. (that’s past, isn’t it?)
or any time today.

I wonder what you want,
and whether you will tell
the reasons why you simply cannot, cannot
leave a comment.

Illustration credits: Creative Commons License.
Those sunflowers are from the notebooks of Laura at Laurelines,
If you were not elsewhere, hanging out clothes
or doing some other vastly important Martha-drudgery,
you could go there and see today's pictures--
petits fours glacés in the shapes of fish and chick,
and some goats who live near my old house in the Carolinas.
There is not enough okra, but there is enough sun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Synaesthesia at 7:00 a.m.

Who needs to read the absurdities of "Overheard in New York"? Just crawl out of bed...

Scene: The Breakfast Table
Time: Before the Hour of Sense

N, age 8: I know what the last number of the alphabet is.

Me, groggy, drinking tea: I should hope so.

N: 60.

Me: How do you get that?

N: Because there are 60 seconds in a minute, and there are 60 minutes in an hour.


Mtm: There are 24 letters in the alphabet--

N: There are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. There are 26 letters in the alphabet.

Mtm: Oh, you're right. There are 24 in the runic alphabet. In the Nordic [Elder] Futhark.

[Various exchanges, possibly fabulous, about the nature of the Spanish alphabet, between N and Mtm.]

N, intense: What color do you think the letter Y is?

Me, groggy but firm, an enormous yellow Y blossoming in my mind: Yellow!

N, with pleasure: That's right.

* * * * * * *
Me: How do you spell Futhark?

Image source: royalty free photograph by wasaby, "Vacuum,"

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A celebration for the International Arts Movement

. . . Consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
--William Shakespeare

Today some of our fellow human beings burned churches, looted Christian shops, and attacked Christians. They raced through the streets with iron rods, makeshift clubs, and machetes, murdering a priest, children, men, and women. One man, doused with gasoline, burned like a candle in his hoop of tire.

It seems like a good moment to remind lovers of art and humanity about the upcoming conference, "Artists as Reconcilers."

Next weekend is the 15th-anniversary conference of the International Arts Movement, founded by Makoto Fujimura. "International Arts Movement, Inc. (IAM) is a catalyst arts organization committed to cultural and spiritual renewal. Its programs support individual artists in their work and embrace the entire arts community. IAM is active in Tokyo and New York City, with affiliations in Orlando, Los Angeles, and London. Its vision: a fusion of creativity and faith that expresses and illustrates God's intimate and merciful identity in the world."

Mako is a friend and a fascinating painter who works in the tradition of Nihonga, crushing precious substances like azurite and malachite and cinnabar to suspend in unguent, using gold and silver. "The artist is a first generation Japanese-American, born in the United States, and has deep artistic roots in the West, with a particular affinity for the more metaphysical aspects of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting." Critic David Gelertner wrote in A Faithful Art: Makoto Fujimura and the redemption of abstract expressionism: "Makoto Fujimura's paintings are a joyful gusher from a well that had long run dry. . . [he is a] superb artist who does honor to the Japanese traditions he uses, and helps fan life back into several magnificent western traditions--traditions as new as abstract expressionism, as old as Christian art."

This year's conference at Cooper Union, "Artists as Reconcilers," presents artists in many fields of endeavor, a juried art exhibit, and much else. Keynote speakers include Dana Gioia, poet and critic and NEA Director, theologian Miroslav Volf, producer David Hunt, actress Patricia Heaton, and more.

Image: "Golden Pine" by Makoto Fujimura
198" x 270" gold leaf, silver leaf, and mineral pigments
with sumi ink on mulberry-gampi paper over canvas
Oxford House building (CNN Asia, Time-Warner), Taikoo Palace, Hong Kong

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Animal Dreams

On Sunday night I felt chilled and heaped a comforter on the bed—an enormous billow of down. I finally got warm, snuggled against my husband and under that warm snowdrift. About three in the morning, N. woke up and came running into the room and hurled himself onto the bed. By the time he wriggled under the covers, I was quite warm and woke up enough to thrust the comforter lower on the bed.

Later I woke up sweating, with N. clamped around my neck. I'd been dreaming that a strange, ugly animal had gotten into the house. It had attacked our chocolate lab; her severed head was lying on the kitchen floor. It went on to kill Theodora, the calico, and Lady Azure. In keeping with her utter sweetness and lack of personality, the blue Persian was only a tiny handful of fluff and so was destroyed by a single bite. My children were standing around, all three looking younger and smaller and wholly vulnerable; I cornered the beast—it seemed to be some sort of wild dog—and forced it into the oven. My husband appeared and helped me at some point during the awful struggle. And then we held the glass door shut and turned the knob to “broil.”

All of that makes a kind of sense: the bed was an “oven”; mother dreams run easily enough to fears about the fragility of children. I leaped out of bed about 6:45, feeling sand-bagged but glad to be released from sleep, and started prodding my children to progress toward being clean and shiny for school.

As I was bending over my youngest, who was putting on his socks, he looked up at me and said, very slowly, “Is there another animal in the house?”

“No,” I said, the hairs at my nape prickling.

I changed the subject but came back to it in a few minutes. “Why did you think so?”

He didn’t have an answer, but I still retained a sense of the uncanny long afterward, and I jumped in surprise when I found Hanna-the-lab just behind the basement door. I didn't talk about the dream, because it bothered me. Yet it managed to linger. At dinner, when N. was trying to decide if a dozen was a lot or a little, R. told him that 12 bites from a wild dog would be a lot...

In the back yard, the gigantic limb-dropping ash tree tossed its limbs and threatened fall. The ice-flecked wind thrust itself against my children’s bodies, hurling their scarves in the air. Gleaming, the rows of fruit-filled canning jars in the pantry met my eye, saying I never met a bacterium and Eat Me. There’s always, always, always another animal in the house, waiting in the walls and slavering in anticipation of a coming day and biding the sweet, sweet time.

Photo credit: royalty free photograph,
"Blue night sky,"
by D. Carlton at

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tristan Smith, at it again--

Dear Tristan Smith,

While I find it somewhat interesting that someone bearing the name of a tiny, imaginary, malformed dwarf with translucent skin should invade my private e-mailbox with semi-erotic Valentine wishes, I regret to inform you that I regard the sacred obligations of St. Valentine as demanding decorum and faithfulness. The unfortunate saint wasn’t put to death for arranging love affairs but for offering the bonds of marriage, my wee novel friend, and I am married. L-o-n-g married, with three children who need their mother to ferry them about and to comb their hair and so on, not to go tearing after a translucent fictional dwarf.

Don’t you think that you had quite enough shenanigans while serving time as the main character in Peter Carey’s The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith? Can’t you just lie in peace on your shelf without signing up for a hotmail account and bothering married novelist-poets with your impertinent desires?

I ask you, is it seemly? Is it right?

No, Tristan Smith, it is not.

Besides, one book per character is quite enough. You are not Rabbit Angstrom, to go running about and multiplying the world.

Further, if you are a person of sound limbs impersonating a translucent fictional dwarf, the Ghost of Attorney Chenoweth Blithers—a resident of the northwest tower of the Palace--tells me that this is an act in gross violation of our local regulations, particularly as found in the Act against Cruelty to Little People, Imaginary Moving Figures Division, Section 3, Article 72. That’s the chapter just after Cruelty to Little People, Stationary Figures Division, ending with Garden Gnomes. However, if you simply did not realize that your nom-de-plume would cause a malformed translucent dwarf to spring up in this writer’s mind, I suggest that you visit your nearest bookstore and purchase the book of the same name, published by our friends at Vintage Paperbacks.

Thank you.

* * * * * * *
Persons and fictional personages wishing to contact me for bookish reasons may still reach me by using the name "camellia" [at] the domain name of my main web site (see sidebar.) Yes, that is a circuitous mode of giving one's address, but I am just a wee bit tired of spam...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

St. Valentine's Day at 2:00 a.m.

Here's my Valentine to you, whoever you are:
Adrienne Segur's Prince about to wake Beauty
in the Palace where it is always 2:00 a.m.,
while all the sleepers stand around like a rosy dream.
With a poem from the beautiful dreamer, Yeats...

Aedh Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

And what good Valentine love-wish does one send to the mysterious e-stranger who slips by the Palace--what is right for such a ghostly figure, someone who will may never meet or exchange a word with me except in this e-aetherial chamber? What can a beggar queen give to the foolish Hans or the goose girl or the warrior, the wandering priest or magician or witch? I'll just be willing the best--whatever that means, and that's a thing more than you or I can know--for you, whoever you are, whoever you are, whoever you are . . .

Friday, February 10, 2006

from the Forest of Blue Leaves

These magnolia pods made me feel homesick. It’s bright enough outside, and snow and shadows are lovely, but I want to go home and be warm and see flowers and eat my mother’s cooking. If you aren’t bred for this place, it’s hard to survive January and February without falling into the realm of snow-shadows and being covered over by their strange blue leaves.

A penpal of mine from Athens—Georgia—is going to quit the teaching of creative writing and to stop his blog, at least for now. (That’s Phil, who was tagged and wrote his response to the Five Weirdnesses as a "comment" to the previous post.) I’ve always felt that deliberately putting a stop to things is one of the essential acts of life—and especially putting a stop to things that appear very important to other people. I imagine that Phil will write more books and more music and do some carving in alabaster—all sorts of fruitfulness—with the time he gains. Sometimes it’s good to be a hermit and retreat a little, in order to find other satisfactions.

So now I am wondering about my own blog… It’s a strange little missive to the world, or to whatever pieces of it are attracted like filings to a stray magnet. I get occasional letters about it that are pleasing, but often I feel that I’ve simply tossed a bottle (green, with a high punt and lots of bubbles) into the ocean of e-aether. Then I check my stats and wonder who these people are—who you are—someone fell from a great height into the ocean and grazed my green glass bottle and hurtled on through the sea of aether?

I’ll have to think about it. To blog, or not to blog… That does seem in question these days.

Another writer penpal of mine wrote yesterday and confessed the various barbs and hurts she had felt lately, many of them courtesy of the web. It's strange what the aether contains and what it unleashes, good and bad. Every Jack is a reviewer now--and writers need that word-of-mouth reporting when so very few books are "pushed." Yet every Jackass is also anointed and given a cap and bells to shake in the public square. (It's confusing, because the writer in me is curious about them both.) So I wrote back and reported on my own humiliations, just to cheer her up... To be a writer, one must keep a soul that's tender but wrap it in hardness, so that glass hammers strike against a mine of diamonds.

To my astonishment, I just saw a book by a third penpal of mine at The Great American in Cooperstown. Buried in a mass of dreck discount books was the hardcover of Howard’s The Year of Jubilo, shining like an emerald in a trash heap. I picked it up and was going to buy it, then decided that I’d rather someone else find and read it, since I have a copy and a new reader is always desirable. So I left it there for somebody else to pluck up a treasure and took home chocolate, oxydol, and a pair of pink and red Valentine huggy monkeys for my youngest, who is sentimental about cute things and is always setting up zoos and pet stores in the center hall. I wonder who will take home Howard’s book? I’ll have to check and see if it’s there, next time I pass by. If a book makes it to a village of a mere 2000, it’s a signal event. It's about as strange as if a book comes to mooring in a village on the other side of the world.

Credits: The magnolia pods are from Laurelines
a site by Laura, an altogether interesting person
who is pursuing the lovely will o’ the wisp of art
to gain "the silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."
Creative Commons License.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tagged, tags, & other weirdnesses

All right, here’s my confession of weirdnesses, since I have been ‘tagged’ by the interestingly weird Ms. Jarvenpa of outside the windows. I’m going to focus on childhood oddities. These strike me as fairly weird, and yet many people have told me that I’m an astonishingly “normal” writer. And I delight in my very normal-though-double life as mother of three and writer. These days, who doesn’t live a double life?

1--For much of my childhood, I ate only or mostly raw (and preferably green) food—green beans, potatoes, black eye peas, lady peas, crowders, okra, bell peppers, celery,cabbage, turnips, squash, cucumbers, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, peaches, plums, etc. In fact, I ate so many carrots that my skin had a beautiful persimmony flush to it from carotene. You may suspect that I was a gassy little brat, but in truth children have iron bellies and can pass even pennies, olive pits, toy tags, and other unattractive and inedible items with only infrequent ill effects.

2--I was one of the Princess and the Pea sort. I couldn’t bear tags in clothing, and I still cut them entirely off or else round off the edges and stitching with scissors. I didn’t even like seams.

3--But when I was little, somebody else had to trim the tags. Because I had a scissors phobia! More weirdness. Nobody would cut my hair because they were afraid of finding my blue and later green (all those veggies!) eyes impaled on their scissor-points. So my hair eventually tickled the backs of my knees. At last the enemies of hair finally chopped off my long, ripply tresses and gave me a permament, and I looked the perfect idiot in those squirmy curls and my little blue cat-eye glasses.

4--I used to hear voices murmuring when I was waking up. Well, still do sometimes, although now I erupt out of bed and rush off to wake children—no time to listen. I suppose that's related to my childhood's infrequent hypnogogic/hypnopompic dreams. Spooky ones, sometimes.

5--I spoke in complete sentences and small paragraphs before the age of one, yet I did not take my first step until seventeen months old. That means that I rode about quite happily and volubly, calling for my desires to come to me instead of stumbling about trying to reach them on my own. It was, I imagine, rather hard on my mother by the seventeenth month.

Perhaps the real oddity of my childhood was excessive, passionate reading. That's the route I took toward a more intense life. Maybe it also helped me come to grips with this beautiful, terrible world where some are called to fall from burning buildings and others to rise toward them in sacrifice, where some are taken by waves or cracks in the earth, and where nobody gets to walk free and naked in the garden forever...

That’s enough zaniness, isn’t it? I don’t have to admit the ecstatic weirdness of my inner adult life… I’m a perfectly normal sample of the adult writer and mother. So there.

royalty free photograph,
"horn of plenty,"
taken at the Floralies in Ghent by livinus,

The Palace Pot Boy & General Factotum: You didn't say you always break chain letters, did you? That's weird. Who you gonna wanna tag? What 5?

The Beggar Queen: So who promoted you to General Factotum? I'm a chain breaker--fine. Scram! Maybe I'll tag Phil at Turtle Creek, anyway...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Rainbow days

Tomorrow's upcoming tagged confession: my weirdnesses. Or the first five that spring to mind.

Today is a good day in the winter-hard village of Templeton. Woke up to three children who didn't want to go to school but went without too much protest anyway, plus another request for a story in my email box.

And it's not all that brutal and Yankee-cold, considering. The turn of the year has been strangely warm, and this is the first winter without a completely frozen-over lake in more than a hundred years. Or so I hear. Fenimore Cooper would be astonished to see his Glimmerglass without its pack of ice and sprinkling of hardy fishers with bourbon in their pockets. Or maybe that's the Southerner in me. They probably don't take either moonshine or bourbon...

This week has been bright enough to make the solar rainbow-caster hurl rainbows about the playroom and confuse Theodora the calico. Her head twitches as though in a frenzy of cat-chiropracty. The rainbowy peacock heart-eye is in her honor, as she desires a drooping feather as much as she does rainbows. She has eaten most of the once-bountiful peacock feathers. But she hasn't yet figured out how to eat a rainbow. Any moment now I expect to see her racing out of the room with a small patch of prismatic light held between her pearly teeth.

Maybe I'll stick Theodora in the next story, rainbow in mouth.

Photo credit:
royalty free, by Neza,
"heart in peacock feather: peacock loves peahen,"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Poems in StorySouth

StorySouth has a feature on 'Southern women poets' that includes four of my poems: In Extremis, Southern to the Bone, The Exile's Track, and The Black Flower. There's a introduction by poet Tara Powell, who has created an anthology of poems by six writers. I'm glad that she found and included me. Although I generally feel that I don't know any poets personally and don't particularly bother with the politics of what is going on in the world of poetry--I divorced myself from the kingdom of academia long ago, and that's where most poets find their bread and jam--I do know several of the other poets.

There's Cathryn Hankla, somebody I first knew about as Susan Hankla's sister, "Cathy." Susan and I knew each other pretty well in college and grad school, and even shared a tiny apartment one summer. Since then, she has continued to write poetry and create fiber collages. I haven't seen her since 2002, when she was nice enough to show up at a reading that I did in Richmond. I remember reading her little sister's poems back when I was a sophomore in college. Eventually I met Cathy at Hollins, and saw her last at a reading in Roanoke. As I didn't have much of a Virginia audience plus was touring with my book that arrived just after 9-11, I was grateful for a Hankla turn-out...

And there's Kathryn Stripling Byer. I knew her as "Kay Stripling" when I was a girl in Cullowhee. She worked for some years in Hunter Library, where my mother was head of serials. I hung out at the library in afternoons and was a maniacal reader, to the detriment of all else. Sometimes I would run into Kay in the library or on the sidewalk outside, and we'd have a poetry chat. She later astonished me by reading my poems in magazines. I tended to feel that they had vanished into black holes and would be seen no more. Now Kathryn Stripling Byer is poet laureate of North Carolina.

While it's always pleasant to be in good company, it's especially pleasant to be in good company linked to one's childhood...

storySouth: a journal of literature from the New South

Special Feature: Six Southern Women Poets,
selected, edited, and introduced by Tara Powell
Poets Who Are Women and Southern by Tara Powell
Four Poemsby Kathryn Stripling Byer
Four Poemsby Wendy Carlisle
Four Poemsby Kate Daniels
Four Poemsby Cathryn Hankla
Four Poemsby Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Four Poemsby Marly Youmans

I've been getting a lot of story commissions and acceptances so far this month: an anthology commission; an anthology acceptance; another story acceptance; and a commission for a web site. Now I need to send out a few poems. I've always found the record-keeping and the sending out of many little envelopes of poetry to be bothersome. Since Claire, I've almost entirely relied on requests--a rather lazy and slow way of proceeding.

Picture credit:
"Magnolia centre" (Magnolia grandiflora)
by melodi2, royalty free photograph,
download source: www.stock.xchng