SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Pot Boy Gets the Boot

The taxes are done!
Ring, ye dratted bells! The witch is dead!
Angels are whirling the crystal shells of the spheres--
The dead may rise shortly, and
the meek play baseball in the village square,
And the Glimmerglass Opera hover over Doubleday Field--
The ghost of Fenimore Cooper is dancing
on the pinnacle of Christ Church.

The Pot Boy has been booted in the rear
—I’d fire him, but he’s awfully keen on the scrubbing—
Not to mention good-looking and entertainingly vain.

The snow has melted early and engendered is the fleur!
(Yes, I am addicted to Geoffrey Chaucer’s House of Fame,
as are Attorney Clendon and the scullery maids and the Pot Boy.
Probably why he wants to be an Advice Columnist.)

Favorite overheard response of the week—
Leading question by an adult: “Why were 352
(a bit swollen, that number, I hear)
people marching down Main St. the other day?”
My little N: “Because of the Crayon Carnival.”

Regarding the date--
Okay, so it’s not Friday yet. It will be…
And I’ll be too busy frolicking to post. So there!

Pot Boy questions--
He might come back for another round, maybe, mayhap...
If you have a doubt, a wonder, a niggling small question,
drop it by the March 25th post.

Photo credits—
This royalty free picture was taken by Edwin P
of the Netherlands—Noordwijk.
Source: http:/

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ask the Pot Boy, contd.

blog queen said...

Hello Pot Boy,

I am the Blog Queen of the Grove Palace. I met the Queen of the palace at 2:00 am at a workshop. I was one of her lowly students. Wonderful lady she. Which of her estemed offspring are you? The eldest perchance? So Pot Boy, I have three questions for you. How does one manage to quit one’s job and become a full time writer? And, can one make a living writing?


So the Blog Queen …wants to ditch it all and do something else. Anything else. Actually if you need a scullery maid, let me know. The last question. What is the hierarchy of your palace?
9:11 AM, March 25, 2006

Dear Blog Queen,

The Pot Boy advises you to tread carefully; many unfortunate souls have lost their positions in the workaday world outside the Palace by indiscrete blogging—luckily you have committed misdirection by not saying that you live in South Dakota or Idaho or wherever it is. Right?

Just now, for example, I am running some small degree of danger. When the Beggar Queen finishes whistling with fury and blowing tax steam out her ears, she may come rampaging back to the palace and take a dislike to my friendly bloggibles. I saw her rush by yesterday, eyes spinning and hair on fire! Wonderful lady she may be, but who can maintain the eternally sweet temper when faced with the Miscellaneous Wildly Numbered Forms of the Federal Government?

I hate to tell you that the three offspring—you honor the Pot Boy!—of the Beggar Queen are profoundly unfamiliar with the sponges, the scrubbing brush, the implements of the Pot Boy trade. You have heard of untouchables? I have tried, but they are the unteachables! They might as well be planting their bottoms on velvet tuffets at Windsor Castle and waiting for someone to bring an egg cream on a silver tray. As for your impertinent but amusing questions about my identity, I am merely one of the Beggar Queen’s myriads—perhaps one of the more notable ones. In the Palace, a good-looking and intelligent (and somewhat vain) Pot Boy may be more powerful than a vizier or a king.

There is a very simple answer to how one quits the job and becomes a full-time writer: marry rich. You say that you like your current husband and are no 'Wife of Bath'? Well, you may console yourself with the sentiment that if you did live off your writing—as do an incredibly tiny number of writers—you would lose your freedom to write exactly what you want to write.

That’s called sour grapes.

But they’re true grapes, all the same. And they are the sort of grapes that are trampled and served up in wine glasses at the Palace at 2:00 a.m. In an effort to be trendy and ‘with’ the political times, some choose to call them “freedom grapes.”

Alas, thank you for your interest, but I’m afraid that all our scullery maid positions are occupied by attractive young women who do not appear at all likely to retire. I am sorry for your disappointment.


That’s a tough one. Since one or more palace doors open onto the internet, the place appears to be infinite. I’m always stumbling through an unexpected passageway, or discovering some entirely new person—a cross-eyed scribe, a thief, an Irish opera singer, a governess, a string of little brats pulling another child in a wagon, a chemist or alchemist, an Akhwesasne boy smuggling cigarettes between the billiards room and the third-best parlor, a boy painted with purple stripes, an old speechless man, etc. You’d think that the Beggar Queen had some sort of power over them all, and perhaps she does. But hierarchy? She’ll come down, hoick up her skirts, and warm her feet by the fire—laughing and telling stories to the scullery maids…

In the course of writing you, Blog Queen, I have discovered the wonders of spell check, a thing that I have little use for in the kitchen and environs. It wants, very badly, for me to change the line, “They might as well be planting their bottoms on velvet tuffets at Windsor Castle and waiting for someone to bring an egg cream on a silver tray.” Clearly this computer was not brought up on Little Miss Muffet. It would like the line to read, “They might as well be planting their bottoms on velvet buffets at Windsor Castle and waiting for someone to bring an egg cream on a silver tray.” Alternatively, it desires the royal bottoms to be applied to “velvet toughest” or “velvet taffetas” or “velvet toffees.”

Velvet toffees! What weirdnesses do I miss, lounging in the scullery with the maids?

Sincerely yours,
the Leviathan of Pot Boys

megan said...

Oh, most wise Pot Boy, I have a problem. My mind has gone completely and not even left a forwarding address. I watched part of a Star Wars movie with my brother, and now, think, I can't. I mean I can't think. What can I do to get out of this non-creative state?

Dear Megan,

Answer 1: Find a nice sturdy cloth, and a bit of steel wool, and a scrubbing brush with a long wand of a handle.

Go find some dirty, mucky, nasty pots and pans, some copper and some aluminum and some cast iron. Begin making mystic symbols on the pots with the appropriate instrument.

Let your mind drift on the floating bubbles in the sink.

Soon your parents will be extremely fond of you, if they are not already—no doubt they are, but clean dishes never hurt the maternal and paternal affections—and strange thoughts will come swirling into the empty spaces of your brain.

It works for me. I get very creative in the kitchen. But perhaps it’s the presence of all those quick, lithe scullery maids.

Answer 2: Just don’t get too fussy about being muse-struck. Remember Faulkner’s famous advice, “I write only when I'm inspired. Fortunately I'm inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." This, too, applies to Pot Boys and to the shining of pots.

But Megan, you are a clever girl. I like your deliberate stumble into “now, think, I can’t.” So your assertion of the non-creative is really just a flourish of the creative…

Respectfully yours,
the Pot Boy

Photo credit: royalty free image, "dragon castle" by kizkiz (Kieran Harvey of Australia) from Taken at Manly Beach. Castle by a sandman from Byron Bay!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ask the Pot Boy

To the Esteemed Boy, Patron of Pots and Sheikh of Spatulas,

I find myself faced with a difficult problem. I myself am quite one for the kitchen--my appetite for Indian food is endless. My sister, Wren, despairs of my breath ever smelling of anything other than onions and yogurt, and tells me she is sick of eating lentils. What can I do to cure myself of this unfortunate habit? I simply can't make myself eat any other kind of food--it is so delicious! Please help me, or my sister will turn me out of the house.

--Taith Degao

Dear Mr. Degao,

A one for the kitchen—you are a kindred soul of mine! If you have seen our menu for
New Year’s Eve, you may have noticed that some in the Palace are quite fond of Indian food. Perhaps that is precisely why you wrote…

I believe your problem may be a gustatory problem of less-than-subtle nature. Perhaps you may hold off on the lentils and breath-tinting onions—I do not see my way to denying you yogurt—and appease your unfortunate sister. Or perhaps this is a matter of your tarka (chhownk or baghaar, you may say.) Perhaps you are relying too often on the bullies among the spices and sprinkling kalonji or asafetida or fenugreek a little too freely about your kitchen.

On the other hand, your problem may be with the hot-tempered sibling. I know what it is like to have a sister of fire, my friend! Woman can be a demon. I have been frizzled in the fires of female indignation more than once, after a bout of ill-conceived romance. I have skewered--well, enough of me. Let us get back to the incendiary sister. I suspect that you may be leaning on the spices that kitchen-wise Indians recommend for heating up the body. There is no hotter spice than the cinnamon! I recommend a healthy dose of cumin, famous for cooling. Your sister, however graceful and pretty, may well be as hot and piping as a cinnamon tree! Since she appears apt to turn her beloved brother out of the house, I think it quite likely.

Since she may be accustomed to the flame, I recommend that you begin by leaving bowls of the addictive talu caju lying about the house. These spicy cashews will appease her fire-eating desires with cayenne and fresh-ground pepper, while you soothe her inner demon with roasted cumin seeds.

(Myself, I quite like a cinnamon girl. Did you say that she is pretty? Smart, funny, and clean as well? Perhaps I could distract her from this irritating focus on a brother... Write to me "in care of" the Beggar Queen's private address.)

Pax tecum, my pakora-loving friend--
the Pot Boy

Photo credit: This is a royalty free picture by Marta Rostek of Poland,
obtained via

Other replies will soon be posted.

Have a question for the Pot Boy? Please deposit at

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Pot Boy Tells All

The Pot Boy has captured the castle. The Beggar Queen is out, and mice will jig.

I have wanted to be more than a Pot Boy. In fact, I have a yen to be Palace Advice Columnist. Send me your questions, doubts, and uncertainties, and I will, with a whisk of my kitchen wand tipped with the old scrubbing brush, clean away the grime and oil and display an answer--the battered old silver of a pot shining like the moon.

Why not? If the Beggar Queen is also a Laundrywoman, why not the Pot Boy a P. A. C.? So bring me your dirty pots of grief, your pans jostling with questionmarks, your tired saucepans, your poor spatulas, your wire meshes yearning to spring free, etc.

I set myself up to answer questions on:
proper attire for festive events in the kitchen;
what you should do next;
arts and letters;
your good and bad fortune;
reticence and confession;
advice to the lovelorn;
the Beggar Queen and retinue;
dinner at the Palace;
the meaning of life;
priests, kings, fools, and wastrels;
what we sing in the kitchen while laboring at the fire;
the Great Chain of Being;
the best way to pare your nails;
the music of the Spheres;
joy, laughter, and grief;
the keeping of peacocks, etc.

In short, all.
Except politics.

* * * * * * *

Photo credit: Well, I'm not sure about this one. I might have saved it off a commerical site but failed to note where... If anybody knows the source, please tell me. But I think it's an American tin kitchen, not a German or French one. I like the way the bigger doll is about to play with the smaller one.


Second thoughts about the wee matter of politics: Nevertheless, I'm very tempted to rant about exactly why Yale thought it wisdom to accept former Taliban spokesman Ramatullah Hashemi as a student but refused to take part in the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women...

P-BUEAG! Pot Boys United for the Education of Afghan girls!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fish hair net

One thing that I continue to find interesting about playing on the irrealist side of the (tennis? fish? inter? hair?) net is that people who read speculative magazine and anthology publications often go on to chat and discuss them—I’ve published in many literary magazines and rarely had that sense of audience or received much feedback from strangers. But the first time I ever published a story in a genre/literary magazine—Argosy—I received notes from readers. From writers, even. What an idea! Later the story was reprinted in Northwest Passages. Now Tangent has reviewed the anthology, and I’m tickled to see that the reviewer found “An Incident at Agate Beach” to be her favorite of the 25 stories. That anthology may be a bit hard to find, but the story will be reprinted again in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 19 (2006).

* * * * * * *
B had a strange dream on the vernal equinox. He went to bed early, not long after R had begun painting a large World War II fighter as part of a class project, and the dream ended with my late father (a teenage tailgunner in the war) chasing away a band of Nazi marauders from my children and our village. But the curious thing is that on the vernal equinox B should dream an elaborate story about Herne and the forces of chaos: how odd that Herne the Hunter and his Wild Hunt should burst forth in a boy's unconscious. B had never heard of Herne or Cern or Cernunnos, but the sleeping Celt in him dreamed a Herne crowned with towering antlers all the same--in a triple manifestation, and in shape-shifting sizes varying from 8-foot to sky-high.

* * * * * * *
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
--Shakespeare, the great dreamer, in The Merry Wives of Windsor

* * * * * * *
Horrors! I looked at my archives and discovered that I have been keeping my blog, my glob, my bloggie thing--my semi-personal Palace of whatever it is--for one year and three days. How can that be? That takes me from the eve of the vernal equinox of 2005 to just past this year's date.

Time is a-wasting...

* * * * * * *
Would you like to do something useful instead of wasting that time? Pester George Bush to help save the life of Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan, "guilty" of attempting religious freedom by converting from Islam to Christianity. Put your mighty voting bug in the president's ear at:

People all over the world suffer and die for faith and ideals and the freedom of the soul while your average American sits on his dadgum tuffet, jaded with meaning and sucking down too much fat from the local Walmart bakery. So while you're noodling about the internet, fire off a word of flame to the White House, will you? Scorch a few hairs off the presidential ear!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Susquehanna fire

There is something touching about the old-fashioned hokiness of a homemade ceremony. At 6:00 on last Thursday evening a “crossing-over” ceremony for Scouts took place on the old stone bridge that the Clark family built close to the mouth of the Susquehanna. I’ve grown fond of these events. One of my favorites was a cold summer’s day—a wild, windy ceremony atop Star Field, with scudding clouds and grand views of the lake and hills, with the tethered meadow flowers and grasses running like mad from the gusts.

Mother Nature made sure that this event rivaled the Star Field ceremony in breeze and cold and beauty. It was already dark under the trees, though the ground was luminous with snow; above us could be glimpsed roofs and walls from the Clark houses—a sight tinged with a sort of melancholy end-of-things feeling, since the last Clark is childless. I was also thinking about a relative who was, even then, drawing close to death--about all sorts of crossings. In the near distance, I could see the old hanging ground and light spilling from my friend Gail’s kitchen window. The landscape contained a microcosm of long-ago but still apt possibilities for young men: the hanging ground; the mansion; the well-built arches of a bridge constructed by local stonemasons.

It was too windy for the candles set along the bridge to stay lit. Only the flaming arrows, shot as each of the oldest boys “crossed over,” burned like comets through the night and were extinguished in the slow-moving river. Mike played narrator, hoisting a lantern at the crest of the bridge. The younger boys stayed in their little packs, listening to the ceremony and jostling among themselves. I had a sweet and slightly sorrowful sense of them as children growing up, and remembered how some of them looked years back.

The ceremony had a strange poetry in that landscape and at that hour. It held a devotion to honor, ideals, and ethics that seemed to spring like alien fire from a lost realm into our own darkening world. The seven virtues, the Indian with his animals from whom he learns, the clean white blaze of purity and aspiration, the arrow of light: all these things were essentially “literary” devices, only tenuously rooted to a mythology. And yet there was a potency to the event, and something strangely lovely about hearing the names and stories of the virtues--about listening to the voices of the four winds speaking into the windy air.

*** *** ***
The image of the fire arrow was found at Regia Anglorum, “They Didn’t Have Bows, Did They?”: Not simply pillaged in good Anglo-Saxon fashion but used by permission of Jon-the-webmaster. Our archer used a compound bow.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Palace in Black

All the mirrors are turned to the wall, the knocker is tied up in black ribbon, and a sheaf of lilies is tied to the door. In my absence, please walk in and amuse yourself as you please--leave secret messages, bother the Pot Boy, visit long-disused chambers. Next post: Wednesday.

Update: I fibbed. The next post was not Wednesday. I have a very large extended family, mostly in the deep South. And so it's often that somebody is born, and somebody else is dying...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The writing room broom

In the midst of sneezing and hacking and the displeasing ripple of chills and heat, I became possessed by a mania to clean up my writing room. In part, this must have been a reaction to my weekly cleaning lady, who does not like towers of books and believes that I should put my books into cardboard boxes and affix labels to them. That would be tidy, wouldn't it?

My writing room used to be a girl's bedroom, and it has a wallpaper of small flowers. I prefer paint. I'd like a green room. But I am not sufficiently annoyed--not enough to go to the bother of taking the paper down, despite the fact that she (I do not know her name) treated the walls rather as one treats a pincushion. I'm never at a loss for a nail. To some lazy degree, I've attempted to obliterate the wallpaper with bookcases and pictures and bulletin board and so on . . . I have four huge bookcases, one that must have once been a giant cupboard in a nineteenth-century shop or house--a green approaching Lincoln green on the outside, mustard on the inside. I also have a long low reddish bookcase that was a shop counter with shelves that belonged to the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Evidently he purchased the counter at the Hancock Shaker Village. Those two cases are so large that they will probably stay in the room forever--the green one was taken apart in order to fit it inside, and the other demanded much wrestling.

My little room is rather chopped up. I have one window, with a view of the backside of a big-shot magnate mansion beyond the alley, plus a patch of lake with Kingfisher Tower. The window has a lace curtain, but underneath there is a serious Yankee insulated shade. (Yes, it's snowing outside, and the wind is weirding about the corners of the house.) I have two doors, one to the back stairs, the other to the cat bathroom (how very elegant) and the laundry (wouldn't you know it.) I hung a curtain over the laundry-and-cat door so that I wouldn't have to think about how my life is made of laundry.

On the wall are a hodgepodge of pictures--prints of Renato Alarcao drawings, a centaur lady with roses for breasts and two tiny centaur children drawn by my daughter in kindergarten, the oil painting that Steve Cieslawski did for The Curse of the Raven Mocker, an intricate print that James A. Owen (illustrator, writer, projector, editor of Argosy, etc.) sent me, and lots more. Objects made by my children litter the place, and the whole thing has a pleasantly cluttered feel--at least, I think it pleasantly cluttered. I suppose it is really quite jammed. I have several cases holding lots of tiny Wade Red Rose Tea figurines. I started with fairy tale figures, and then accrued more, somehow or other. Books are in jolly heaps. Manuscript versions are in messy heaps.

Here's the lost stuff that I found while sorting and ordering:

1. A chicken.

There seems to be a heavy wing motif in the writing room. I found a scattering of blue and red glass ladybugs. Seven worn-out cock-and-hen salt and pepper shakers stand on the windowsill, and there is a small glass chicken and a tiny plastic one from a playset. A somewhat abstracted (in all possible ways) raven of carved wood stands on a old round box, and a pair of carved doves cuddle on a branch extending from the tall bookcase. The raven and doves were gifts in honor of two of my books--you can figure that one out!

2. Seven sea urchins of various sizes, pink and green and purple with horns.

3. Books that I didn't know that I owned.

Siegfried Lenz, The Selected Stories.
Eugenio Montale, Satura.
An Everyman Library version of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. I have two copies, it seems. I love that book. If I could read both copies at once, I would.
Somerset Maugham, The Collected Stories.
Willis Barnstone's translation of the four gospels, The New Covenant. Well, I guess I knew that I owned that one. But I hadn't seen it in an awfully long time.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems (McClatchy edition)

4. Books that got lost in the mess while I was reading them.

I refuse to admit how often this happens. But I will admit that I'm constantly losing and finding Yeats and Shakespeare. That happens on a nigh-weekly basis, except when one of them goes AWOL and cannot be hunted up for an extended time.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Now that is shameful. How could one lose such a big and such a red book?
Steve Stern, The Angel of Forgetfulness. How very appropriate. And I'll finally get to read the end.

5. Dust bunnies under the Shaker bookcase.

6. Soft gray dust lawns for the dust bunnies in the space between the two rows of books that line the shelves of the Shaker case.

7. A soot sprite. Well. Might've been.

Okay, probably not, so how about an alternate:

7. A note from N. in my green cloth box with the three mice puppets.

The upshot of all this is that my room is cleaner and many more books are on the shelves (fiction and poetry in alphabetical order, starting with "Y"--I'm tired of being in the bottom right-hand corner, next to the passing feet and the bookstore cats), but it still doesn't look tidy. There are still what my cleaning lady will see as too many books and too many papers.

And here I am, soon to be making my bright messes, and leaving more peelings and cast-offs everywhere.


Illustration: at Get your own Kingfisher Tower! The t-shirt picture seems rather fabulous to me, as Kingfisher Tower is on the wrong side of the lake--at least as seen from my writing room window. And what are those creatures (sailor rabbits? levitating angelfish?) approaching on the surface of the water?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Blue acanthus

Acanthus leaves are those you see on Corinthian columns—or, often called “bear’s breeches,” spreading their leaves in warmer climes than the one where I now am. They came to symbolize art, beautiful and intricate as they are. Though Acanthus mollis is spineless, the wild Acanthus spinosus has thorns.

On Sunday I read Naomi Wolf’s Times article; she wrote about the debased desires and goals in many books marketed to “young adults,” books that sell in the millions. A friend wrote me recently about how difficult it has been to help in the wake of that eye-opening lady, Katrina, and to keep steady in his art--to chase the ideal in words, when it seems no longer desired. Another wrote me about what I find a very typical rejection letter these days: her manuscript has “the proportions of tragedy” and “is beautiful,” yet her old publisher and editor do not see how to make it into something they would define as “a success.”

Each era crowns art with a different set of thorns. Ours are thorns that devalue art and substitute merchandise, that prick the heart. One must be strong, so strong, when an institution values sales more than the honor of its calling—when it tells the world that magpie trash and pornographic glitter are more important than the eternal realities, a rose-colored light bulb more than a star.

What does one say to the acquaintance or friend, enduring a pang?

It is hard, very hard, but I say this: Toss your head and go on your way, rejoicing--

Illustration of William Morris’ wallpaper design of “Blue Acanthus” was originally found at

Monday, March 13, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Marly: On Friday I watched Hayao Miyazaki's variation on Diana Wynne Jones' magical book, Howl's Moving Castle. R. had wanted to see it ever since word filtered out about the project, and it arrived just in time to console her for being miserable and fevery.

After I mentioned this on Friday in the "comments," Megan--a bright middle schooler somewhere in the Carolinas-- wrote to ask about movie versus book. She likes the book. So do I. Would she like the movie?

It is definitely a different narrative with somewhat different characters, and I did miss the Porthaven fight between Howl and the Witch of the Waste--particularly the mermaids, with Howl staring at them when he should have been watching the Witch. And I wished that the 7-league boots had been there. But none of that mattered, as it is a flawed but perfectly delicious movie.

Megan wasn't so interested in what she called a "cartoon": in this case, Japanese anime by the master of such things, Hayao Miyazaki of Ghibli Studios. And yes, his created figures adhere to the visual conventions of anime people. But Miyazaki's painterly technique may not be much like what Megan may have imagined when she thought about a "cartoon."

One ends up feeling, as always with Miyazaki, that he invests our world with magic--the least little washing of a wave in the shallows, disclosing and half-hiding some pebbles, is beautiful. Some of the charm and whimsy of the tiny is attached to creatures, as in the fat dog's struggle to roll and stand, the mouse with a mouse baby on its back, the most diminished versions of Calcifer. The tiniest glimpses can be quite fantastic, and the sweeping vistas of mountain, meadow, and cloud are satisfying stares at a paradise of saturated color. The "secret" garden, where water and clouds are confused, reminds me of Miyazaki's love for floating islands and magical reflections.

Clendon, the P. P. C. (Pompous Palace Critic), horning in: Despite the fact that there are things to criticize--the war moral seems heavy-handed, Howl's non-participation doesn't fully make sense (as he does seem to be already a part), and Howl is a bit too feminine and lacks the edge of the book--it is a pleasure to watch. One has to be fairly analytical about Sophie's physical changes, blurring from be-spelled old lady to middle age to girl, in order to grasp why she changes at certain moments, losing herself in beauty or drama or concern for another. But it's not wholly clear who sees and understands these moments of change. One assumes that Howl does, as he has already seen her alternate from waking to sleeping, old to young, and has eyes to see many things. When or where Sophie grasps the alteration, and whether anyone else sees her as young is murky. But that could've been a translation issue. The scarecrow is very diminished from the book, though his whirling dances and his toting-about of the Witch of the Waste are amusing.

Marly: Clendon, do I care about any of these things? No!

Clendon, P. P. C.: I am also not sure how much sense the whole thing would have made had I not been familiar with the book--still vivid in my mind. Much that seems cloudy can be "read" by the light of the book. Not too important in the book, the war is essential to the movie. Yet it does not quite manage to evoke fear except when the globby henchmen are rattling the door. Likewise, Sophie's own powers are never acknowledged much in the script; it's not clear whether, say, she puts life into the turnip-headed scarecrow as she does in the book. The same problem is at issue elsewhere, and could again be a question of needing more delicacy in the translation. Does everybody see that she really has powers of her own and is a fit match for Howl, or don't they? It's never clarified, so that one ends up thinking that a number of things that occur might just be coincidence or have a different cause than Sophie's powers.

Marly: Lucky for me, I'm not a 'critic' and don't care about any of these things, because I found it scrumptious, a ravishing feast for the eye. Nice to see you, Clendon--shut the door on your way out, will you? I'll call you next time I need a high-functioning Pompousibelle at my elbow, all right?

Clendon, P. P. C. departs in a large vehicular Huff, accompanied by a small pink donkey, a violet dancing girl, and a transparent rabbit.

Marly: Good huffing! Just the change of air that I needed. Metamorphosis, transformation . . . was that what I was talking about? As always, Miyazaki's characters suffer magical changes. Sophie the mouse grows strong through the 'weakness' of imposed old age and finds that a curse is her salvation, opening up the dull gray of her life to hope, magic, wonder, and beauty. Wizard Howl a.k.a. Pendragon a.k.a. Jenkins finds that protecting and striving is better than running (although he had a pretty odd definition of running away), and even the Witch of the Waste gives up greed and hands over what she desires to someone else. The Castle, itself a character, is reborn. Cleverly, Miyazaki reveals that the first called-up "shadow of darkness" springs from Howl's own bent shadow, and the movie is a long, moving chiaroscuro that closes with a prayer, a risk taken, and a sun-washed, re-made world populated by the transformed.

Time-twisting and half-forgotten encounters in childhood come into play, as they do in other Miyazaki movies: the young woman who is Sophie grown meets the child Howl in his "secret garden" as he catches a star, and cries out that he should look for her in the future because she realizes how to save him now. The knot of time thus allows Howl to recognize and search for a young woman who is linked to his own fate. And it allows Sophie to be the one to name Calcifer, because she already knows his name in the future. This sort of salvation by time-tangling is suitable to both Miyazaki's past accomplishments and to many books by Diana Wynne Jones. The labyrinthine mesh of time is the underpinning of a book like Aunt Maria--constructed on an elaborate time-plot that J. K. Rowling seems to have borrowed for The Prisoner of Azkaban.

The movie is, like all the other Miyazaki movies, wondrous-looking. The bird-legged, fin-tailed, bagpipe-topped castle reminds me of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python "cutout" animation. It also brings to mind the paintings of James Christensen. The Witch of the Waste in her degradation also reminded me of Christensen--the hat, the cane, the compacted shape of the body and the long clothes, the act of being carried about helplessly by the scarecrow (although the helpless among Christensen's medieval-appearing people tend to end up as backpacks, carried out of charity and love.) The bedroom of the wizard, with its peacock feathers, mandrake, and surfaces encrusted with moving and bright objects is like a wonderful jewel box. Even a string of garlic is rich with purple and green, because the things of this world are really fabulous, fabulous: even the world without magic turns out to be a world with magic. The drama of small kineticism or large--smoke from a cigar, feathers blowing away (like the dragon's scales flying from Haku or "Kohaku River" in another Miyazaki dream), a firestorm--is rapid and sweeping.

In the end, I'm 'spirited away' by the movie's beauty, and I see but don't care about its faults.

Postscript to Megan: When my children were very little, they adored Totoro--in fact, I love Totoro because it's so sweet and joyful in the face of adversity--and still like to visit that world. Now we have each of the Miyazaki movies released in the U. S. , and I can say that there is enough of the child in me to have enjoyed them all.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Death of a Fox

Picture a red fox, bruised and cut, slipping across a landscape—black stems of trees, mist rising from melting snow like a white dream, reserved green of winter firs. Or dashing along the sea, the waves wetting his paws. Or over dunes, his brushy tail flecked with sand. Imagine his rollicking freedom. Imagine that on his tongue is an infinitely precious disk of white fire: the peace of the world. He is flying around the world with peace flowing from his mouth like white breath in the cold. His feet go pattering past the dead of the world, thrown like bundles in the street. How quick they are, the small, silent feet. They dart past the boots of men. Listen! The crack of shots. The infinitely small noise of blood feeling its way over the earth.

Tom Fox, rest in the peace that clearly passes all of our human understanding.

Friday, March 10, 2006

World, my Oyster

Thoughts after reading James Woods’ essay, “Realism rules (still),” in Prospect

The reason that Realism is “now” assumed to be “'a genre' rather than a central impulse in fiction” is in great part for the very simple reason that “kinds” or genres have become more fluid of late. The impermeable membrane between kinds and kinds-of-authors has become permeable. As a result, the old piece of news that writers of genre fiction have long thought “literary fiction” a “genre” has finally seeped through the membrane and into the realm of “literary realism.”

As somebody who has published a book of poems and five novels without paying much attention to “movements” and trends—as one who has had the (dubious, no doubt!) freedom of obscurity—I find the struggle to articulate the “impulse” called realism and what is “deepest and most enduring” in it to be: a.) very interesting to consider for the length of the essay and some moments afterward; b.) irrelevant to following the footsteps of a joyful muse. I suppose that my Godine novella and my two FSG adult division novels would be called “literary realism.” The other two FSG novels—the ones sold to the YA market—are something quite other. Perhaps they are “literary fantasy.” But their roots are in Southern Appalachian history, something that befuddles some gate-keepers, accustomed to fanciful pseudo-European and particularly pseudo-English fantasy…

Yet I don’t really find any essential difference between a book like Catherwood and one like Ingledove. The pearls that I’m always diving after are always the same. Among them are a certain gusto, a freedom of language, and an evoking of heart-mind-soul that will cause black marks on a page to live.

Image source: royalty free photo, “No book was hurt in the making of this photo,” by mauro simonato, italy, at

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wisdom of Wiggles

N. has been home with strep throat and the general puddleglum nasties. He's watching the BBC production of The Silver Chair, and I just caught this sterling Marsh Wiggle advice for those of us with or without or soon to have strep throat: "Life isn't all fricasseed frogs and eel pie."


Illustration of Puddleglum in his marsh
by Pauline Baynes,
from The Complete Chronicles of Narnia
(50th Anniversary Edition) by C. S. Lewis

The Small Angry Castle

Persons posing as Zoroastrians have been spamming my blog unmercifully. These so-called Zoroastrians are named ridiculously usual things like Austin and Emily, Bob O' Brian and Brian, Rosemary and Norma, Georgina Black and Thomas and Patrick. The really curious thing is that they are (thus far) 17-in-1 and do not add a morsel, jot, or iota of weight to the visitor counter. It must be some sort of special Zoroastrian trick...

Dear Zoroastrians, I have announced your presence and hailed your names. Now please go away. Thank you.

This includes even you, Christina Estenopolis of the more interesting name and the invisible web site, who just popped up.

Dear Reader, should you find that comment approval is enabled, you will know that the Zoroastrian pillagers have poured over the curtain wall and into the Palace. Please proceed down the page in the usual fashion, keeping a sharp lookout.

Illustration: royalty free photograph, "Gothic Horror" by SteveFE
(Leamaneh Castle, near Kilfenora, County Clare)

What I dreamed near the moon

I was floating near the moon in a rose-colored nightgown, and dreamed that I could see the lovely ball of earth in great detail--could see my own house, the streets, the intricacies of cities. In my dream, the fine, fine silt of political correctness dusted over the towers and libraries of our academies. It covered over the great books of the past, it covered the lips of all Christendom, it blotted out the faces of our literal and spiritual ancestors who lifted the West into the light.

"Now," I wondered, "what will they speak about, in the high towers? Who can tell? Who can penetrate their arcane words, wrapped with many threads like a multitude of fine, dust-covered serpents, around the ephemerals of our day?"

The academic faculty members were stuffing into tiny, tiny boxes the words that they would not need any more—they would not need the word “patriot,” or the word “God,” or “honor,” or “tyranny,” or “freedom.” Thousands of already packed containers littered the floor. English professors were tying pack thread around ring boxes, and inside were phrases no longer needed: “immortal longing,” “the pantheon of poets,” “the canon,” “poetry, the Queen of the arts,” and so on.

In a tall ivory shaft pierced by tiny windows, the academic feminists sat on ancient laurels, each wreath encased in Plexiglas to keep it new and fresh. Burbling fell from their lips and was encoded in a pre-dusted convolution called an "article.”

Through a telescope at the highest window, one of them could have seen the blackened corpses left after dowry burnings, the mutilated girls, the trafficked children, those crying out for help in forced marriages. But the feminist did not place her eye against the eye-piece; the telescope was, after all, a shaft, symbol of male domination.

Out in the courtyard, a figure in a robe and a staff was shouting. His voice beat like the ocean surf against the walls. He ranted on and on about what the human soul needs to live. Boxes lay flung around his feet—they were ripped, their strings broken. He quoted Socrates. He quoted Charlotte Brontë and Isaac Bashevis Singer and Homer. Unfashionably, he quoted Jesus Christ three times, and he quoted a story by Flannery O’Connor and something that I thought might have been from the final pages of Middlemarch. It came to me, in the mysterious way things come to one in dreams, that I knew the man.


There was no doubt in my dreaming mind that the man was the very last of Athens' three great tragic dramatists--symbol and close of an age. And when I heard him say that “Love is all we have, the only way that each one can help the other,” I was quite sure of the identity of the tragic artist, because the words were all, all Greek to me, and no one was listening.

Illustration: royalty free photograph, "Castle Ruins" by Mateusz w,

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ambergris by the radiant O of moon

Last month I met Jeff Vandermeer at KGB Bar in New York, where we did a reading together. Now the paperback of his City of Saints and Madmen is coming out from Bantam.

If you click on the banner, you can find all sorts of zany things the likes of which my publishers have never dreamed up for the likes of me: click on the author's head, and get koalas and Jeff drinking absinthe from a skull and his wife, Ann; soundtrack; screen savers; a quiz, a trailer for the movie (okay, it's just a trailer for the book, but it's highly suggestive of movies to come, isn't it?), grey caps, squid, etc. Click on the moon to hear strange sounds. Click on the spire that points the way to Ambergris...

Jeff also has a blog with smoking bunnies and mushroom dwellers and other wonders (

Now I want a trailer, too!

I'll take a tiny silver one, suitable for use as a hovel in the Southern mountains.

Just set it down in a patch of cardinal flower, with a view of mist and ridge, and give me some iced tea and okra and crowders and a tomato from my mother's garden. I'll need an ear trumpet to be able to hear my children who are clambering down the mountainside (or maybe they don't work for distant sounds--a magic ear will do), a sufficiency of sun, and a low tech pencil and a pad of paper.

You come, too--and bring your own fantastical trailer...