Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rolls of Faith

The torpedo rolls and hamburger buns I stroll by every morning outside the Castle Luncheonette on Social Street are stacked in clear bags. They are always on the fifth barn-red picnic table, the one closest to the dining room entrance. They're delivered early in the morning, before the luncheonette is open. The bakery order is always scrawled in pencil on a turquoise waitress receipt taped to the kitchen window, facing out, so the bread man knows just what to leave. It is a great comfort to me to see the bread sitting there each morning, undisturbed, and it makes me think for a moment that we live in a trusting and cozy world.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Quotes of the Day

Whoever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can't go hand in hand, I don't want to go.

     - Hazel Scott

Losing also is ours and even forgetting has a shape in the permanent realm of mutation. Things we've let go of circle and though we are rarely a center of these circles, they trace around us the unbroken figure.

     - Rainer Maria Rilke

Bee Hive

Someday I want to build a traditional outdoor beehive oven and have a neighborhood bread-baking fest! Bread and poetry . . . and chicken soup! I have mused about this for years and people love the idea. The return to bread! Teaching kids how to incubate their own yogurt!

As a child I loved the Sunday table. It was about food and eating and talking all day. My Jewish grandparents would drive up in their beige Buick from Brighton Beach with bagels and honeycake and potato knishes. The trunk would be filled with Grandpa's latest: cases of Wrigley's spearmint gum, or boxes of brand-new sneakers. My grandparents smelled good, reeking of Canoe cologne. My Sicilian step-father would put out plates of smoked whitefish and bright orange lox, a mountain of cream cheese, and a basket of fresh biales. There would be a percolator of hot coffee and a pitcher of orange juice on the buffet. I would sit at the dining room table all day listening to their stories and eating. Food was sacred and our table was the altar.

When I was in college my drawing class would run from one till six p.m. By two-thirty I would have snuck out and bicycled home to my little third-floor kitchen. I would cook and bake for the rest of the night; chicken soup, onion soup, chili, chilies rellenos, wheat bread, and hummus. I required solitude and nest building on a daily basis. I loved not having a roommate! Just me and my dog. I would sit and write letters during my solitary supper meal.

Being a restaurant prep-chef taught me more than art school possibly could have. And it was a ton more fun! For the first time in my life I was in a room full of people who actually listened to things I said and even laughed at my jokes. I once named and labeled all the salad dressings after erotic movies. I sometimes changed recipes for things, and sometimes got in trouble for it. I flirted with the bartender each time I had to run for milk and coffee for making the chocolate pudding trays! On the major holidays the chef encouraged me to drink beer that had been hidden in one of those gigantic aluminum flour measures in the fridge. I learned to love the voice of Dolly Parton, who seemed to be always on the radio. Chef Bruce was a tall pony-tailed history major who was perfect as my new older brother. Most nights I showed up to work after crying my eyes out at home for no particular reason. Life just hurt! I was hooked up with a perpetually on-the-road philandering musician who would check up on me, calling long distance from Chicago or somewhere. I discovered that I looked good dressed up in 1940's suits I'd find in the thrift stores along with, for instance, imitation-alligator pumps. So every night after my seven-hour kitchen shift, I would strip out of my jeans and dirty apron and hiking boots, and dress up in nylons, suit, and pumps! Lois Lane would emerge from the kitchen. This is where I met my beloved husband. He was celebrating his birthday out front at one of the tables and I joined the party, all dressed up.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

     - Leonard Cohen

Queen of the Blues

Last night a tall thin wrinkly hunched old lady was at the blues jam. I had never seen her before but others acted like they knew her. She was drinking a martini, smoking, yacking, laughing, having a grand old time. When she got up she walked slowly, with a cane. She came over to us while we were on stage and gave Bill a silver dress pin of a piano. When she walked away I said to Bill she's right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales! We examined the silver pin closely and it was ugly, a totally distorted rendering of a grand piano. I told him it's magic, you better wear it!

Prison Literacy

I am involved in a big Prison Literacy Project. So far it has been a lot of organizing work. I have invited 160 people by e-mail to participate and now I am tracking down the few who have written back and agreed to give it a try. I am also tracking down others who may have overlooked my invitation! Each person requires letters of encouragement and explanation to be involved, and so far I have been finding the energy and courage to do it. I also have to coordinate my wrangling with an editor (in Saskatchewan!) Bill says I am passionate about prison literacy because in a sense I was an illiterate prisoner in my mother's house. I'm hurrying on this project. It is my zoomy squirrelly season and I know I will eventually turn into a gray winter squash for three months and not have the patience, optimism, or stamina. But for now I am a bright orange pumpkin!

Odds and Ends

I can't be so busy in my life that staring at a wall and writing letters isn't part of my job description.

I love to hang my laundry in the sun. It's like making a marinade; "the work" is happening while you are doing something important, like napping!

In my family nobody listened. They just shouted louder over me, with their mouths full, while I was talking. I think this is why I developed a passion for writing letters - when I had something to say, it was my only way to have people listen.

I Love Cauliflower

I love cauliflower
more than whipped cream!

Poor abandoned misunderstood
vegetables, always being upstaged
by other foods.

I'd love to lay down
on a bed of shiny black

I'd gladly walk down the aisle
with a bouquet of purple kale.

I'd wear a bodice
made of cabbage leaves,
and toss bean sprouts to the crowd.

-Emily Lisker 1/5/06

Hound Dog Blues

I am distracted today because I smell like somebody else! I smell like shredded soap. The generic deodorant I usually buy changed their regular scent to "Irish Spring" - blechhh! I feel like my dog who needs to go roll in the leaves and mud after her bath. I'm all nose - a Russian Jewish hound dog.

Last night I blew my heart out at the News Cafe blues jam. Sometimes I get lucky and there is no fear, just breathing. Last night was one of those nights. I love using my body to push air. I would love to try a sousaphone because I love the way it wraps around like a serpent. But I'll admit I am partial to reeds.

City Life

The city has lit the bocce courts on Elbow Street so people can play bocce at night, while the baseball games are happening! I will have to give it a try. I have authentic Italian bocce balls I got from an Italian-American hardware store in Providence twenty years ago. Italian hardware: bocce balls and pasta machines.

I think the city needs a dog park, but my husband reminds me 99 percent of the dogs in this city are pit bulls! So maybe we should have a community garden instead. The Lao families grow amazing peppers and vegetables on their porches - they would have more space in a community garden. We could learn more about what they grow and how to cook it!

I saw Donat this morning while walking by the Castle Luncheonette. He was lookin' sharp in gray slacks, leather belt, blue ribbed polo shirt, and brown penny loafers. I said "Hi how are you?" He said "Beautiful day for a walk!" It was 85 degrees and the trees have been turning orange. He said, "I have heartburn. I can't complain at my age, but I think it goes with you." I laughed and said I would hate to think of having heartburn while I'm in the grave! He then told me he has a stuffed tiger he got fifteen years ago propped on his bed. When the landlord comes to check his apartment he says, "Watch out for the tiger in my bed!"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Advice to Myself

Your energy and time on earth is limited, so put energy into the light. Don't let the bad guys drain you. You're creative, be clever! Don't hang yourself up! Don't fall for fear wearing the mask of excuses.

Poem for the Blue Shirt Boys

I am subversive
and clever like Houdini,
I know the best weapon is pencil and paper.
I was given that;
I fought the scariest woman in the world
And I won.
I won!
I won't be put off by the stiflers
and the game players.
To be creative
is to outsmart them all
with pen and paper.

Quote of the Day

I don't know what poetry should do, but I know what it can do. It makes people feel better and it's liberating. Poetry has been used as an empowering tool because of its healing agencies. It liberated me mentally and physically from jail, and it made me feel good about myself. So, that's how I put it out there. I don't know if that's my theory or my prescription, but that’s what I have found.

     - Raul Salinas

Kitchen Dream

Today is overcast, but it didn't start out this way. When I woke I saw Venus in the sky, a bright light in the cobalt sky. The cloud cover rolled in and it's soothing. I have to go to the Woonsocket Police Station to get fingerprinted for a criminal background check so I can teach my poetry + art class at the YMCA. Times sure have changed from when I was a kid. But I am so excited about my class. I wish the YMCA had a kitchen because then I would make the class be the poetry and art of bread-making! Maybe we can get a grant or perhaps a local philanthropist will build us a YMCA kitchen. We could have seasonal favorites like an apple pie class in autumn and a winter breads and soups class. I'm drooling just thinking about it. Home economics is important and seems to be a dying art these days.

Dry Goods

Bill and I just went to JAR wholesale bakers supply in Lincoln RI. We got 2 pounds of dry yeast for the price of those tiny jars in the supermarket! We also got 50 pounds of fresh King Arthur bread flour and 50 pounds of old fashioned rolled oats and 50 pounds of medium grind whole wheat flour, all for half the supermarket price. The supermarket flour tastes like a supermarket; nobody bakes except at holidays, so the flour is stale! Of course you need a place to safely store these quantities. Once a cute little mouse ate a hole though our bag of oats and ate until it died. Now we put our flour and grain into huge food tins originally intended for dry dog food (free from Eukanuba!) and keep them all in a cold cellar room. We also got a gallon jug of molasses and ten pounds of hulled raw sunflower seeds. The seeds will get stored in the chest freezer downstairs. We're thinking of getting the wholesale raisins, but 30 pounds might be too much even for us.

Pauper or Millionaire

I have problems getting money for what I do, and part of the problem is I don't like to chase people. I am ambitious but I don't chase people; I chase my art. Currently a local collector has agreed to buy one of my more expensive paintings, but he seems to require my chasing him for every penny including the down payment. This drives me nuts! Meanwhile I am doing everything I want to do as if money didn't matter; playing music, writing, painting, swimming, dancing. Pauper or millionaire, my goal is the same.

New Head

A friend gave me a Dr. Kevorkian gift certificate as a joke. It was a piece of paper that said one free visit with Dr. K or something like that. It was the size and look of a dollar bill. In those times when I think life is a bad deal and I want out, I keep this around to make me laugh. Right now, though, everything is visible, sensory, and lush to me. My skin is singing to dance and swim and wear leotards. I walk my dog and write a lot. Small things have a big effect. Sometimes it is the very everyday things "coming in" that I can hardly keep up with. I race to jot it all down. I say to Bill, "I have a new head," or "First day with the new head!" I think I could write a group of bipolar jokes!


Our doctor is fabulous as ever. He invited us to a dinner recently at his old farmhouse. Before the meal we ventured into the jungle behind his house to pick wild Concord grapes. We stood on tiptoes and pulled at the vines to reach the clusters of grapes. You could smell the grapes in the air even before we picked them. We filled two big round wicker baskets. Later I dove into icy water and swam, and we ate colorful summer food and then we gathered around his enamel kitchen table drinking coffee and telling stories until well after midnight. When we left, the stars were so bright and the air was cool. I popped awake at 5:30 the next morning and took Honey into the yard. Life is amazing and everything is lush and humming when I'm in transmit mode. A natural high. My ears are perky and I'm taking notes. The days seem ten minutes long, but I know this too will pass.

Good Vibrations

My ten-year-old neighbor said "I hear you playing your tuba!!" I asked, "Does my saxophone playing bother you?" She said no. Her bedroom window faces the alley between our buildings and my saxophone sound must zoom right up into her window. All my neighbors tell me they can hear it but they like it. I am very lucky. I try not to play at crazy hours (heh heh heh). Well when I play crazy hours I play in the living room (which has no windows) so the sound won't wake anyone outside. One day Bill came down for breakfast and said I heard you playing your sax very early. The house apparently vibrated with the low notes.

Walking Around

It so happens I am sick of being a man.
It so happens that I walk into tailor shops and movie houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.
The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.
It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.
Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go throught the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the frost.
I don't want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.
I don't want so much misery.
I don't want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the gound, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.
That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.
And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.
There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords.
I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.

     - Pablo Neruda

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quotes of the Day

Without suffering, happiness cannot be understood. The ideal passes through suffering like gold through fire.

     - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.

     - Wendell Berry

You can write a song anywhere, in a railroad compartment, on a boat, on horseback - it helps to keep moving. Sometimes people who have the greatest talent for writing songs never write any because they are not moving.

     - Bob Dylan

Toaster Love

Another toaster died. They get a workout in this house of bread! Bill has rebuilt our current toaster three times, but this time it's done for. We have a graveyard of buried toasters in the backyard. (Just joking, they're actually in the cellar.) I will try to find a new one that is built like a tank, like the ones in diners. When I was young, I did a series of photo postcards called Toaster Love. They were black-and-white photos of me in my grandmother's flapper dress kissing my art deco 1930's toaster. I took them using the camera's self-timer, printed them up on pink card stock, and mailed them to my friends.

Tibetan Proverb

For one with faith,
Even a dog's tooth radiates light.

Mos gus yod na,
khyi yi so yang 'od bton pa.

A Joke from a Friend in Dublin

A woman in her fifties is at home happily jumping, unclothed, on her bed and squealing with delight. Her husband watches her for a while and asks, "Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look? What's the matter with you?"

The woman continues to bounce on the bed and says, "I don't care what you think, I just came from having a mammogram, and the doctor says that not only am I healthy, but I have the breasts of an 18-year-old."

The husband replies, "What did he say about your 55-year-old arse?"

"Your name never came up," she says.

The Blue Shirt Boys

I went with Angel last week to the Training School, which is what they call the juvenile prison. A few other teachers from AS220 met us there for the voluntary after-school classes. It was my first time there, and coincidentally the first classes of the semester. I was amazed at the faces of these young boys, a mix of Aztec princes and West Side Story gents. Sad, lively, and forgotten boys. I was hypnotized watching them in their cobalt blue shirts, some with collars and some without. I was soaking them up.

When I got home I ate cold left-over sesame noodles with lots of hot sauce. I went to bed very early and fell asleep in minutes. I woke at 4:30 a.m. thinking, where are the boys right now? I hope they are asleep. I got up and let my dog out and looked around my neighborhood. I spotted Michael, who lives across the street. He was nine in 1988 when we moved to Woonsocket, in a different neighborhood. He would knock on our door and ask to play with our two big dogs. Sometimes I turned him away. Now he's 29, a full-grown, handsome, angry, young man. Now he's a father, sometimes riding a motorcycle with his seven-year-old daughter on the back wearing a helmet, clutching his waist. Now he's dealing drugs and shouting curses at the neighbors. When he moved here we both recognized each other. We always wave hello. I hope he stays safe. I thought of the blue-shirted boys' faces again.

There was only one boy in the writing class I sat in on. He talked about getting married in prison, and seeing his daughter, who was born six months ago. We wrote poems, and he read his from his black-and-white composition notebook. I talked about the pitfalls of waiting for inspiration or stirring up drama as a way to get writing, and the importance of looking deeper to find the door behind the door. We laughed about the irony of all the clocks in the building being caged! He talked about books he liked. I said that I loved memoirs. He and I had both begun the same book! We had both read the opening pages of Blindness. I would like to visit again, and bring poetry.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Red Light

I almost ended up with another dog. I was in the passenger seat, at a red light, and the vehicle next to me had a droopy-faced long-eared Basset hound in the back seat and I was cooing at him through the window. The owner said, You want him? You can have him. I said ahhhh . . . yes! But at that very moment the light changed and Bill took his foot off the brake and gave me a little kick. And we drove off. I would've named him Red Light.

Quote of the Day

The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.

     - Gretel Ehrlich, from The Solace of Open Spaces

Early Morning Tea Poem

Waking up at six feels like oversleeping when
I know the sky brightens at 4:30 am.
The loud neighbors are sound asleep.
Early morning tea in the backyard is a delight.
I am off to swim
while the park rangers scoop goose poop.

I'm In the Mood to Adopt Fifty Pugs

My aunt gave me a collection of little brightly-colored plastic slide-viewers that contain photos of my grandparents. I was reminded once again how much I look like my grandfather (blue bright eyes) and my sister looks like my grandmother (smile, head gestures).

A neighborhood girl told me she found a half-sister she had never known, aged 20 and pregnant, on

I'm enjoying coffee-mousse-filled chocolate dipped in peanut butter.

Ray, the New Man, got a brand new top layer of teeth, which he proudly showed me when Honey and I walked by the Castle Luncheonette the other morning. He wanted to buy me a coffee, and I accepted. I told passers-by, "We're celebrating Ray's upper deck!"

When I was five, I thought monkeys talked. Now, knowing what I know about people, I realize they do.

One morning I walked by a huge bright yellow tow truck that had red script outlined with blue across the back of the cab. It said, "We don't want your arms and legs we just want your tows."

One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough.

     - Brendan Behan

Doing the twist at the Brave Combo concert split open the soles of my shoes. They looked like smiling hand puppets. The shoe repair man on the bridge said he'd fix'em for five bucks! They'll be ready in a few days.

Sentiments & Heirlooms

I have never been given a truly valuable heirloom but there are things I have that I call my heirlooms and they are in my everyday life to remind me of my beloved grandparents. For instance, the pink Lady Ace comb from Grandma that is now missing half of its teeth, and my blue terry-cloth robe that was Grandpa's. My aunt and uncle have graciously sent me a coverlet that Grandma crocheted, and my grandparents' fancy stemware. I found a dish at a junk store that I use now to put teabags in. I love it because it's made of the same iridescent ceramic that Grandma's tea mugs were made of. I guess this makes me sentimental.

Cilantro Pesto

I had never heard of cilantro pesto until my sister suggested I make this, and it is fabulous. This is great news because I buy a bouquet of cilantro at the Asian store for a buck and tend to only use a sprig or two on our beans and tortillas before the rest goes bad. Now we can make use of all of it! I used one bouquet of cilantro, rinsed and chopped, olive oil, salt, toasted pine nuts, and garlic cloves. I buzzed everything in my antique Waring blender using a chop stick to mash things down. It made a mighty green goo. I put it on whole-wheat angel-hair pasta and shared it with ten people.

Poem of the Day

Carry me away seeds
is what I like
to call them.
When I examine one closely
it looks like a gondola
for a flea.

Moon Walk

Last night we saw the moon, huge and yellow, while we walked Honey in the dark. We sat on the bottom step of the Pothier monument in the Cimetière du Précieux-Sang (Precious Blood Cemetery) and watched wisps of long thin gray clouds wander over the face of the moon. Afterward, I went to bed at nine o'clock with a good book that my friend Phoebe had told me about: The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich. I'm loving it.

Doctor Poets

We pay our past little honor by pretending we can shed it easily.

     - Robert May

Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has.

     - William Osler, as paraphrased by Oliver Sacks

I am fascinated by and love to read about mental and neurological quirks. I am reading a quote from a favorite book today; Hypochondria by Susan Baur, a psychologist. She writes like a poet. Just like my other favorite doctor writer Oliver Sacks, she is a pleasure to read. Poets pop up in many guises. When I read Sacks and Bauer I wish they'd come over for supper and break bread with me at my picnic table in the backyard.

Dog Joy

Dogs are our link to paradise.

     - Milan Kundera

Yesterday I brought a tennis ball in the canvas bag while walking Honey and when we got to the park I tossed it in the pond. She swam after it, and a blond-haired girl with blue lips who looked like she had been swimming all morning in her green cut-offs was all excited to throw the ball for Honey. Her older brother came over. He had a washboard stomach. They were having a blast throwing the ball for Honey. I just enjoyed them all enjoying. Today Honey is clean and content. This is what mothers must feel after taking their children swimming.

The Poets Way

I leave no trace of wings in the air, but I am glad I had my flight.

     - Rabindranath Tagore

So long ago my father led me to
The dark and impounded orders of this canyon,
I have confused these rocks and waters with
My life, but not unclearly, for I know
What will be here when I am here no more.

     - Thomas Hornsby Ferril

My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.

     - Henry D Thoreau

I visited the poet,
Precisely at noon. Sunday.
It was quiet in the spacious room,
And beyond the windows, intense cold.

     - Anna Akhmatova

The Elders have waited for the young people to ask such things.

     - Wawatay Eninew

I regard the Poet as a sentinel warning us against the approach of enemies called Bigotry, Lethargy, Intolerance, Ignorance, Inertia, and other members of that brood.

     - Gandhi

More about The Poets Way at the Boulder CO Public Library can be found here and here.

Music and Mars

We are playing at a library fundraiser for the Chester CT Library, performing on Saturday, September 15th. It will be a tribute to Leonard Cohen. Bill and I are learning ten new songs on bari sax and keyboards. We are rehearsing tomorrow with a bunch of people we've never met. I am packing my jaw harps and accordion along with the bari, and sourdough bread and gazpacho for the pot-luck dinner! Seems like it's all magic this week. Even mars is big and bright in the sky.

How It Is

My friendly neighbors next door on the first floor are moving to the Coventry exurbs because they are so sick of the prostitutes and drugs in our neighborhood. The mom grew up in the neighborhood, and I can see she is disappointed with how things have changed. And the family upstairs in the same building has decided to keep their ten-year-old daughter from going back to school because the kids tease her about being fat! She is smart and special and loves her teachers. Staying home with nine cats in a smoky third-floor apartment with a sick mother, a grandmother, and a grandfather working three jobs is not good. She lives a half-block from the school. School is important and the child's weight problem should be tackled rather than run from. I brought her to the YMCA with me one Monday night and she loved swimming laps. I gave the family the scholarship application, hoping they might join the Y, but I'm not holding my breath.