Sunday, January 31, 2010


...I start to arrive in the instant as never before, standing up in it as if pushed from behind like a wave, for it feels as if I was made - from all the possible shapes a human might take - not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I'm formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others.

-Mary Karr, Lit

Theater Magic

Years ago I visited a friend who wrote and starred in a play at The Dennis Playhouse, on the Cape. He invited me to knock on the stage door after the show so we could make a plan on where to meet. When he opened the door I was shocked! Mike has changed, I said to my husband. He's put on a lot of weight and doesn't look the same at all. We planned to meet at the restaurant across the street. When Mike walked into the dining room he was Mike again. One by one everyone from the play walked in as themselves. The va va voom lady who wore stilettos and teased everyone with her svelte curves and fishnet-stockinged legs was a mousy insecure blonde with disheveled hair. The actors were completely unrecognizable as the characters they had portrayed in the play. That's when it really hit me, the magic of the stage.

Mysterious Straw

I was five years old, and my sister and I were visiting Grandma for the weekend. We took the tiny elevator down into the lobby and walked out into the sun. We walked under the boardwalk, passing through the striped shade on the way to the beach. I looked down and saw a straw poking out of the sand. I reached down and plucked it out. "Don't touch that!" Grandma said, "some dirty old man put that there!" I still wonder what she meant. Was it a fear of germs? Or are there old men who get a kick from licking straws and placing them in the sand each night for little girls to pluck?

Lily's Anniversary

Today, January 31, is Lily's one year adoption anniversary from the humane society. We love her!


What I have is space around me and time...It is harder than it used to be because everything has become speeded up and overcrowded. So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

-May Sarton, Journal Of A Solitude


Last night, at a gathering of musicians, I saw a man with huge bright eyes, worn red skin, and a pointy chin. He looked like an engraving of a man from a different time. He asked me, in a strong accent, if I spoke Russian. I asked him if he was a magician. He kissed my hand and gave me his card and invited me to his house to drink vodka with him and his wife. This man had a hypnotist's face. I will stay home instead and write about his Russian blue eyes. I found his silver tobacco pipe tool under my shoe just as he left. Magic? But I gave it to the hostess for her to return.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Soap Angels

I love to start up a load of wash just as I am going to bed. In winter I add the soap powder to a dayglow orange cup of hot water to dissolve it before adding it to the vat of cold colorful laundry soup. When I wake up the next morning I reach into the washing machine tub, pull out the damp clothes, and pile them into the basket. Then I hang them on the clothesline and wooden racks in the warm, cozy boiler room. The soap angels have done their work.

Divine Bovine

This morning I went to the dairy farm for milk and I went out back to peek into the maternity barn to see if there were any new arrivals. The cows all looked at me with steam rising from their nostrils as they chewed their breakfast hay in the sun. A few icicles hung off their snouts. I'd love to live directly above them, their huge bodies providing warmth. There would be the issue of smell but maybe my bread baking could counter the aroma.

Truman Administration Boiler

Last night our boiler wouldn't turn off. It was 8 degrees outside and the boiler had been working hard. Since we normally keep the heat very low, it was obvious when the house started to really warm up that something was wrong. We called the boiler man at 8:30 PM and he showed up and tried to decipher the problem. Our heating system is so antiquated. He fixed one problem, but by 11:00 PM he was still stumped. He called in his boss who was the only one familiar with our ancient heating system. I said it must be the ghost of my grandparents wanting me to keep warm! Lily was having the time of her life hanging out with the men who were hard at work in our now tropical boiler room. At one point I stepped outside with her and saw the wolf moon shining brightly with Mars beside it. By 1:00 AM the moon was overhead and shone like a theater spotlight, casting shadows over the bluish snow, and the boiler drama was finally over.

Friday, January 29, 2010

To The Library

The sun was out and the wind was whipping. It was 17 degrees! I had to steel myself to get out there with Lily, but the library had just told me a book I ordered has just arrived. Okay I can make it to the library on foot, right? We got to the corner and my fingers were numb and my eyeballs ached and teared with the cold wind. I pulled my turquoise scarf over my mouth and nose which made my breath fog up my sunglasses. I wanted to howl every time the wind came at me! I told myself I could stop in to the Castle Luncheonette or the bank to warm myself for a moment. Just knowing that I could made me feel warmer. I could see the library off in the distance and I thought I only need to get to there. My black fleece hat flew off my head. It rolled under a gigantic rusty yellow construction crane. I chased after it and tumbled in the snow I got to catch it before it rolled out of reach. But sure enough we made it. The momentary warmth of the library and the kindness of the front desk ladies was all I needed to make the trip home.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sleepy Snow

Today the snow came down in large flakes clinging to the trees and bushes and my eyelashes but not the road which remained black. I decided to walk into Oak Hill Cemetery for a change and the trees were magnificent. All the snow was blowing from the south so the trees had what looked like white shadows and outlines on their dark trunks and branches--like a black and white photo negative. I climbed up the hills with Lily but when I saw the caretaker picking up sticks I turned back because I was in a solitary mood. I walked down the hill to the street and walked to the other cemetery. I felt comforted by the open space; snow and stones with a view of the frozen reservoir. Then I decided I was ready to return home. After I got home, I fell asleep sitting with my notebook in my lap, and woke when my pen fell out of my hand.

Søren Kierkegaard

Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.
- Søren Kierkegaard

It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.
- Søren Kierkegaard

Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all.
-Søren Kierkegaard

Once you label me you negate me.
-Søren Kierkegaard

Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.
-Søren Kierkegaard

The thing that cowardice fears most is decision.
-Søren Kierkegaard

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
-Søren Kierkegaard


Recently I taught a bread-baking class in a friend's kitchen. I didn't realize that I had never posted my bread recipe, so here it is.

I use my own leavening. It was originally a San Francisco sourdough starter, but after ten years it has become Woonsocket Rhode Island sourdough starter! Sourdough is flavorful and also a natural preservative. At first I used Fleischmann's yeast with my blob of sourdough because I was too afraid to rely on the sourdough. When the price of yeast skyrocketed to eight dollars a jar, I took the plunge and now I only use my sourdough as leavening! I'm convinced that keeping the starter culture alive and healthy is what keeps me baking.

If you are going to use commercial yeast I recommend using Fleischmann's brand yeast. (Not the quick rise! Not the bread machine yeast, and not Red Star brand yeast!) In my experience dough made with any other yeast doesn't spring back for the multiple risings which are crucial to the flexibility in my baking schedule. Yeast needs to be fresh, so make sure the expiration date is not past.

I use medium-grind whole-wheat flour which I buy in 50 pound bags from JAR Baker's Supply in Lincoln RI. The 50 pound bag is about 12 dollars!

Here's the basic recipe:

6 cups flour
3 cups wrist-temperature water
one tablespoon of kosher salt (less for fine grain salt)
one teaspoon of yeast (or a blob of sourdough starter)

Mix all the ingredients and set the dough aside to rise until doubled in bulk. You don't even need to proof the yeast or knead the dough, just gather the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl or container, and let it sit, covered. Time does the work of kneading and developing flavor! This rising takes 8-20 hours depending on whether you use sourdough starter or yeast, and depending on how cold or warm your rising spot is. Have faith!

Punch the risen dough down and shape the dough into two loaves or boules, then let it rise again on pans under a cloth. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the loaves have risen significantly, slash the tops (so the dough has room to expand in the oven), place them in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes. To check for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Late January Wednesday

Today I walked with Lily through a neighborhood I don't know well. I walked down a street that looped right back to where it started. I didn't mind. It's nice to know I don't know every street in my city. I saw an inside-out yellow umbrella on the frozen pond at Cass Park. It made me laugh. The sun was out. I saw a bunch of guys shooting hoops, I could hear from their voices that they were having fun. I saw a young couple both dressed in bright turquoise pants and shirts. I saw a woman smoking and texting while driving, curving toward me, and I had to wonder if she was an octopus in another life.

When I got home I simmered the kidney beans that had soaked overnight. When they were cooked I decided to add a huge onion I chopped up and a bunch of fresh garlic cloves, and then I added a couple of cans of diced tomatoes. I found some leftover kale stock in the fridge from last week and added it too. Then I threw in some frozen corn. I added more olive oil, salt and pepper, and let it simmer into a delicious soup. Meanwhile my sourdoughs were rising next to the boiler. The first rising took 15 hours, overnight! This is what develops the taste, the slow rising! I let them bake, filling the house with their aroma, while we listened to our President on the radio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Today I was relieved to get out and walk in the sunshine, especially after being house-bound by crazy wind and rain yesterday. When Lily and I got to the park I saw that the snow in the baseball field had melted and become a shallow pond and ducks were swimming in it! The ground was moist and muddy - it nearly pulled my sneakers off my feet as I walked around. Lily ran and worked up so much heat she went wading and running through the gigantic cold puddle to cool off and drink. The splashing was a summery sound I rarely hear in January! Getting wet got her even more excited. She ran like lightning along the fence. When we got home Lily tolerated my hosing all the mud off of her legs, tail, and belly. She is so sweet it breaks my heart. She has been contentedly sleeping like a baby since. I love knowing she has had exactly what she was built to have: long walks and huge runs, people and dogs to greet, and our loving companionship. Even the neighborhood mailman opened his sliding mail truck door while driving by to shout hello to Lily!


This morning I dreamt I fed a red apple to a white horse. I had never dreamed of horses until I adopted my big white dog who wakes me up in the morning by planting her huge head on my side of the bed. In my early morning dreams she becomes a horse.


I love opera. In fact I admire anyone who can sing. The other night our band had me sing a song on stage and I was not completely certain that furniture wouldn't fly out of my mouth instead of notes.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Joey's puppy is named Bobo and I ask him "How's Bobo?" every time I see him. One day I was in the park and I could see off in the distance Joey's father leaning way out of the 5th floor tenement window bellowing to the puppy below. The man was trying to walk his dog from the sky.

Last week Joey told me his missing cat, named Coffee, was finally found, dead. He said "Now it's buried in the park under a shirt. Do you want to see it?" "No thanks," I said. "It's frozen in the snow," his buddy told me. Yesterday walking Lily I couldn't pass through the path behind the park - it was blocked by a huge muddy snow pile. So I went around and ducked through a hole in the tall evergreen shrubs. There I saw the dead cream-colored cat curled up on the ground, its spirit in the sky.


That night I empty the washer,
throw the damp clothes in the dryer.
For half an hour my wife's blouses
wrestle with my shirts
in a hot and whirling ecstasy,

- from Whirlpool, by George Bilgere

Poet George Bilgere


My mother stands in this black
And white arrangement of shadows
In the sunny backyard of her marriage,
Struggling to pin the white ghosts
Of her family on the line.
I watch from my blanket on the grass
As my mother's blouses lift and billow,
Bursting with the day.
My father's white work shirts
Wave their empty sleeves at me,
And my own little shirts and pants
Flap and exult like flags
In the immaculate light.

It is mid-century, and the future lies
Just beyond the white borders
Of this snapshot; soon that wind
Will get the better of her
And her marriage. Soon the future
I live in will break
Through those borders and make
A photograph of her - but

For now the shirts and blouses
Are joyous with her in the yard
As she stands with a wooden clothespin
In her mouth, struggling to keep
The bed sheets from blowing away.

-George Bilgere from The Good Kiss.

Unwise Purchases

Unwise Purchases

They sit around the house
not doing much of anything: the boxed set
of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
The complete Proust, unread:

The French-cut silk shirts
which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet
and make me look exactly
like the kind of middle-aged man
who would wear a French-cut silk shirt:

The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
the mysteries of the heavens
but which I only used once or twice
to try to find something heavenly
in the windows of the high-rise down the road,
and which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
when it could be examining the Crab Nebula:

The 30-day course in Spanish
whose text I never opened,
whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,

save for Tape One, where I never learned
whether the suave American
conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
at a Madrid hotel about the possibility
of obtaining a room
actually managed to check in.

I like to think
that one thing led to another between them
and that by Tape Six or so
they're happily married
and raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terra Haute.

But I'll never know.
Suddenly I realize
I have constructed the perfect home
for a sexy, Spanish-speaking astronomer
who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,

and I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
there lives a woman with, say,
a fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
near her unused easel, a rainbow of oil paints
drying in their tubes

on the table where the violin
she bought on a whim
lies entombed in the permanent darkness
of its locked case
next to the abandoned chess set,

a woman who has always dreamed of becoming
the kind of woman the man I've always dreamed of becoming
has always dreamed of meeting.

And while the two of them discuss star clusters
and Cézanne, while they fence delicately
in Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,

she and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
fixing up a little risotto,
enjoying a modest cabernet,
while talking over a day so ordinary
as to seem miraculous.

-George Bilgere

Painting Thoughts

When painting, I like to be working on multiple pictures at once. I fear that I will run out of ideas although mostly what I fear is running out of courage. With regular painting sessions and different pieces going I'll suddenly have a solution for one, or the courage to make sweeping changes or new commitments in another. Multiple paintings begin to speak to each other!

I had given up on one of my paintings that actually made me feel vertigo when I looked at it. I had made three figures and a checkered floor that was at a weird angle. I had struggled with it a while back and decided to turn it against the wall for many months. This week I looked at it and was not precious about any of it and painted over the nausea-inducing checkered floor and I muted the irritating colors, taking it back down to bare bones. Surprisingly I turned it around. It wanted to be a stark painting!

This week I painted over nearly everything in another painting, trying to make it go in a particular direction. What a depressing mess! But I had to try to stay engaged and fluid to keep my courage. Then the next day, still terrified, I dove into one that was an old tentative sketch on canvas that I had never developed, and now it has me very excited. My painting week was full of drama which is probably why I try to maintain a stable and calm life. I had to keep the radio news off too because it was making me so upset.

Too often I fall in love with the drawing stage on a painting and lose courage for the painting part. There's an energy in the drawing stage that is exciting, and I fear that I can't carry it over into the finish. But if I can chip away, the courage follows me in like a loyal cat. Sometimes I'll leave the painting as an alive and breathing underpainting for a while. It is good to have a few underpaintings that you are in love with kicking around.

Many times making a painting feels like a game of chess.

I love to see any artistic work in progress (including musical and theatrical rehearsals). I find it refreshing and inspiring to see the sketchbooks or underpaintings of an artist I admire. When looking at photographs of artists at work in their studios I am always peeking to catch a glimpse of their paintings-in-progress.

I find that painting for me elicits a myriad of quirky mental and physical energies. I can sometimes have laser-beam focus for 90 minutes. Sometimes I am completely exhausted and fall asleep on my studio couch. I try not to judge myself too harshly and try to show up and make things happen. I want my painting studio to be an approachable place even though it is terrifying at times.

Writing Dream

In my dream this morning I was looking for a pencil to write these lines:
I imagined walking back into the house where I had once lived and finding my poetry book, my wool shoulder bag, and my orange teacup exactly where I had left them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frank O'Hara Poem

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

-Frank O'Hara

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blue Spaghetti

I dreamt I was in a pet store asking if they sold blue spaghetti. No we don't, they said. I wanted to buy blue spaghetti so my supper would match the blue chew toy my dog enjoys.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Precious Paws

I walked Lily to Precious Blood Cemetery today. The mild weather has brought out all the smells, and I could see she was excited, and eager to run, especially since yesterday we missed out on our big walk. I decided to continue to Turbesi Park so she could have her run. When we got into the fenced-in baseball field she tucked her tail down and bolted like a rocket, sprinting across the icy slushy snow. She ran and ran. It was rewarding to see her so happy to run.

I noticed a red spot in one of her paw prints, and I tried to corral her to check her paws but she kept running. She stopped to lick something disgusting in the leaves along the fence and ran off as I approached. Then I saw a splotch of bright red blood about the size of a quarter in the paw print along the fence. I panicked. She must have sliced herself on the ice. I kept calling and following her, looking down at her paw prints and seeing tiny dots of blood. When I finally caught up to her I examined her paws. Her front left paw pad had been punctured. I felt around to see if I could gauge the size of it, getting blood on my fingers. I wiped my hands on the snow - I felt like I was at a crime scene. It looked like a small cut, though. I thought if we were lucky and careful maybe it would clot on the long walk home, and thankfully that is exactly what happened.

Monday, January 18, 2010


In the summer of 1973, when I was 12, I was sent to a wilderness camp for girls in Vermont. We were encouraged to swim in the nude. On the first day of swim class I was surprised that the teacher was also stark naked. She was standing on the dock in front of us gesturing the back stroke with her very skinny arms, tiny dark-nippled breasts, and bright orange pubic hair which matched the hair on her head. I was a bit distracted. I had no idea pubic hair came in different colors! Or that teaching in the nude was considered perfectly normal.

Lifetime Subscription

My grandfather loved to tell us he had a lifetime subscription to National Geographic. It did make me worry about one thing: if Grandpa lived a long time, would the magazine decide to come to his door and shoot him so they wouldn't lose money?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I have posted three new paintings on my painting blog. Have a peek!

Click here to go to Emily Lisker Paintings.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Magic Ball

Today on my walk with Lily I saw a smashed up acoustic guitar in the snow in front of Savini's restaurant. What was the story? Was it a disgruntled performer or audience member? I walked through the snowy cemetery admiring the bare trees in the distance outlined by the snow and the expanse of stones catching the sunshine. I kept on walking to the reservoir. When I got there I spotted an adult and small child way out on the ice walking across the frozen surface. They looked like they were only a few inches tall. On the way home Lily and I stopped at the baseball field for a free run in the snow. Lily found something against the fence and was digging like mad to get it. I went to pull her away, assuming it was something disgusting she was getting her mouth on, and I saw a frozen baseball stuck under the chain link fence. I was able to free it by pushing it out to the other side. Then Lily and I had a few rounds of fetch. She was so delighted she pranced like a pony with the ball in her mouth. After enough runs I decided to pocket the magic ball for another day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hardware Stores

This morning I woke thinking about how much I love hardware stores with their green coiled hoses, leather work gloves, rakes, racks of spring seed packets, pillows of fertilizer, shiny shovels, short spades, nuts, bolts, buckets, mops, mowers, mildew cleaners, mulch, bird feeders, and bird seed. There's a lot of faith in what they carry; they are churches of the Earth.

Signs of Life

Today Lily and I walked to the reservoir, it's been a while since I walked out there. I noticed behind one house snow had been shoveled off the frozen pond in a big rectangle, for skating. Further out on the ice I saw a round hole that was probably made for ice fishing. I saw a man in his yard chopping wood with an axe, and he told me he had a splitter but loved to do it by hand. I told him I loved the sound of the axe hitting the wood. The sun was out and the air was fresh. I took the long way home, stopping at Turbesi Park so Lily could run in big circles in the fenced-in baseball field. When I got home I had hot cereal and a hot cup of tea.

Paper Dress

When I was seven my parents had an outdoor party one summer evening on their terrace. My mother wore an orange-and-shocking-pink mini-dress. You couldn't tell, but it was made of paper. The plan was that my parents would stage a fight, and my father would rip her dress off in front of all of their guests. Maybe that's why they called it shocking pink.

Red Scarf

One day, when I was in fifth grade, I was riding my bicycle home after school wearing an extra long red scarf my Grandma knitted especially for me. As I was coasting down the hill my scarf got caught and tangled in the back wheel of my bike, choking me. The bike skidded to a halt and I tried to pull the scarf away from my throat. Two twelve-year-old boys were walking on the sidewalk nearby, and they helped me. Then they walked me home with my frozen-up bicycle.

That night someone told me the story of Isadora Duncan. I'm not sure I remember the story correctly, but I have a vivid picture of the dancer with a very long white scarf stepping into a yellow taxi cab. Her scarf gets caught in the door, enough trailing into the street to wind around the back wheel.

The next morning I went into the garage and looked at my red scarf wrapped around the back wheel of my turquoise bicycle. I couldn't believe how lucky I was that those boys freed me at that moment. Thank you, boys who saved my life, wherever you are today. I won't tell Grandma what happened.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mysterious Olympian

When I was seven Mark Spitz won the Olympic gold medal for being the fastest swimmer in the world. I wondered at the time if there might be faster swimmers nobody knew about. Maybe Mrs Ross the old lady next door was a faster swimmer, undiscovered. It's true that she was never seen except on Halloween when she came to the door with red apples on a silver tray. We were too scared to take them fearing razor blades hidden inside. One year, as we walked away, Joey DeMarco from the neighborhood shouted she's a witch! We believed it. One day when Mrs Ross' LIFE magazine was accidentally delivered to our house, my mother asked me to take it over to her. I knew my mother was too scared to do it. I was too, and the magazine rotted in our garage. Mrs. Ross' house was surrounded by tall thick evergreen bushes and a six-foot chain link fence. We never saw lights on in her house at night except one yellow light that shone through a diamond-paned window. Our neighbor the doctor said that in the thirty years his family lived opposite her, she never threw out any trash. I remember she always phoned the police and complained of noise when she heard us playing with our friends in the doctor's swimming pool. I guess the sound of kids having fun was just too much for her to bear. Years later after she died they found her cellar full of empty wine bottles. Poor Mrs Ross. She was an Olympian swimming in wine.

Dog's Dream

This morning I was walking Lily to Cass Park and when I got to the top of the hill on Elm Street I looked down and saw a fully cooked chicken in the snow on the side of the road. I spotted it just before my dog got her mouth on it. Did a couple have an argument and toss their dinner out the window? For a moment I felt that I was living in my dog's fantasy: a fully cooked chicken sitting in the street, a dream come true!