Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Cliff View Cemetery

This is one of my favorite cemeteries. It's located in The Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan. On our first visit to this abandoned place the Finlander and I found a set of footprints in the myrtle and a fresh lemon and lime. It took us years to unravel the mystery, but eventually I found the 76-year-old great grandson of the deceased. He lives in Arizona and has an orchard of lemons and limes. In the '50s he came back from serving a tour of duty in Alaska and searched out the swampy bit of land his great grandfather was buried on. He hacked a path through the woods with a machete and planted the myrtle that now grows in abundance there. The last burials in this cemetery were in the 1890s.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Our Teacher

Our teacher, the poet,
lets us lean
over his shoulders
and watch him draw
on the cave.
In the firelight
he conjures
birds, women,
the sound of pain.
Then he places
the charcoal
between our fingers
and wills us to play.

Feed Me

Out in the tomato fields
the babies born with
no arms or legs
have grown to three

I put the produce
back on the grocery
shelf and kiss my
flailing limbs.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What He Means

The neuroradiologist explained to the jury the baby’s brain injury, detailing the gray matter, the white matter, the valleys, the hills. Atrophy makes the hills smaller and the valleys bigger, and the white matter, the stuff that runs the communication routes, thins.

My mind began to wander through northern Indiana, the land of the unending valley, the big, flat plain. Am I living in the land of atrophied brains? Probably not. Well, maybe. I see signs of hills everywhere. It’s just that the glaciers scraped so much stuff away.

Brains weigh heavy on my mind. I spend a lot of time fussing about body things, but brains are always hovering in the background, whispering in my ear. My California brother is constantly fighting with his brain. A stroke shuffled all his files around. All the information is still there, but the retrieval system, in his words, sucks. “Sucks” stays on the top of his word pile. It’s essential.

In the days after my brother’s stroke, I found out exactly where I was filed in his brain. He introduced me to his doctors as mother and wife. I was thankful to be elevated above the family pet box. Now, most of his words have found their way into a retrieval system. We still play word charades (It’s like clear glass, but it doesn’t break. Plexiglas? Yeah, Plexiglas.) I still hear “Happy Birthday” when I call on Christmas.

My poet friends go to their word closets and dress up their ideas in audacious clothes. When they can’t find the outfit they want, they sew something new. My brother just wants to find something to cover his ass. His ideas are presented without subtlety or nuance. When he’s able to locate the words, he says exactly what he means. He has no edit function left to soften his blows. What happened to you, he asks me. You used to be good.

So I’m exercising more now, trying to get back in shape. It’s not really that I want to look good again, I just want to protect my brain. If I stroke out I might start telling people exactly what I mean.

Friday, August 25, 2006


A beautiful yellow and black orb-weaving spider has taken up residence in the tangle of tomatoes and irises off my back porch. She’s stayed long enough and has grown large enough that I’ve given her a name: Louise. The picture doesn't do her justice. She's about the size of my thumb. She’s been very busy catching and tying up grasshoppers. I’m a little sad that she’ll kick the bucket in the fall. I visit her every morning. The Finlander says I’m like Eve, always wandering around in the garden and talking to creatures I have no business talking to; however, I haven’t named the snake yet. For further details, read Samuel Clemens’ The Diary of Adam and Eve.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Arrivals and Departures

All these threads. Where to begin?

A counterpoint: God knows who you love.

I drove to Chicago Sunday night and pulled my California brother and his family out of the sky. We had trouble with the pickup. His cell phone wasn’t working. Finally my sister-in-law used a pay phone. I should have just parked and searched for them.

God knows how we ever connect, who we’re going to love. But then the curtain parts and we glimpse it: My friend holding his grandchild. The child will never know what the man gave up for that moment to arrive. John, the lover, knew.

My missionary friends flew across the ocean on Monday, leaving the kids and grandkids behind for the next five years or so. God knows who you will love.

Mostly we don’t know how deep things go, who will pull us out of this life, who will compel us to remain. Mostly we stand listening, waiting for the arrivals and departures to be announced and the luggage to be claimed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bipolar Remains

Bipolar parent disorder has descended upon our household. In the slosh of April, our man-child turned 18. Now, as August drips down our backs, he’s preparing to leave. The piles of his departure litter every room. We can’t stand to see him go; we can’t wait for him to leave.

Nature holds no prisoners. Offspring must eventually depart. After three years the mother moose drives the young calf away, forever to live on its own. Mother bears leave their cubs clinging to a tree, where they cry and call for mama for days on end. Mother eagles abandon the young in the nest, where eventually they get hungry enough to venture out and fly and hunt – or die.

All right. He’s not going to starve – or die. He’s only going to Kalamazoo. He’s on the meal plan. He hits enough good notes on the bass to keep the wolves at bay. And he’s the one abandoning the nest; we’re the ones staying, the ones learning to fly and hunt all over again.

Someone once told me that every few years he reinvents himself. He might be on to something. What else can you do when you’ve outgrown your skin? Or found someone else living inside your muscles and bones? The question is: who in the world is that person and how do they want to live?
The Finlander feels it, too. He looks at motorcycles and thinks about going back to school full time.

Is this middle age? Is the field as wide open as when we were 18? Are the dreams just as big? Can you really reinvent yourself again and again?

Perhaps it’s not bipolar disorder we suffer from, but schizophrenia instead. Maybe there’s a host of people living inside our skin: writers, gardeners, hikers, a motorcycle mama clinging to the Finlander’s leather skin. Some pictures are more amusing than others, but still there’s that desire to hit the road and go, further than we’ve gone before, before old age and reality set in.

Some people outfit their house with handicap ramps for the inevitability of caring for their crumbling remains. We’re planning for a heavy dose of mental illness; we’re blogging and buying camping gear. But schizophrenia is going to have to wait a little longer. Our man-child is leaving, but we have three more years until our woman-child turns 18.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Solar Wind

(Warning – the views expressed here have not been scientifically tested.)

A change is predicted in the solar wind. Something about a backward sunspot, a change in polarity, 11-year cycles, and spectacular Aurora Borealis displays. explains it all in nice, neat scientific terms. Nathan Roberts would appreciate that the sun has its cycles, too.

It’s tempting to fly on the solar wind. It’s so romantic sounding it could melt the tail feathers right off your ass, in which case you’d crash and burn or at least get cited by the FAA for flying around bare-assed, and too, everyone would be able to see that you have a large brown mole on your right butt cheek. So it’s better to use caution when approaching the solar wind.

Roberts has already mapped out polarity issues and cycles, so I won’t go there. Which leaves the Aurora Borealis displays.

Sometime in the next 11 years, make it a point to head to the northern latitudes when the solar wind is blowing strong. Probably waiting a few years until the sun is really whipped up into a frenzy wouldn’t hurt. Stay up all night with a blanket and a lover and pot of coffee. Don’t try this with wine, you’ll get distracted or fall asleep, which would be embarrassing, or you’ll see aliens and will never be taken seriously again. If you don’t have a lover, remember, you have an 11-year window. Don’t bring cheese and crackers. They attract the skunks and bears.

Lay on your back and wait. Remember, this isn’t about flying. Your buttocks should be firmly on the ground. By two or three in the morning, when your toes and buttocks are numb, the northern lights might appear. Lay still and enjoy the show. Resist the urge to talk about flying. When it’s over, make sure you bring those darn cheese and crackers I told you not to bring back into the house. They really do attract the skunks and bears.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Land of Milk and Honey

I would have liked to write a poem about this, but I haven't refined the skill (or the patience. )

The war of who God loves best and who will claim the inheritance wages on.

Meanwhile, in the land of milk and honey, the dutiful mother, naked, save the white dress coat and gloves, prepares to sacrifice her first-born son.

The child dives under the ocean and through spirit and water is born again a Navy seal.

Not exactly a suicide bomber, his limbs are tattooed with dog tag numbers to bear witness to his remains.


If there’s any sort of equilibrium, I believe the word cells are robbing the number cells inside my brain. They started out fairly equal, but the more I exercised the word cells the more the number cells withdrew.

All that is a vague way of saying my online physics course is going badly. My instructor informs me that my midterm exam grade (9 out of 24) reflects that I am not grasping the material. I guess I’m going to have to withdraw and allow a flesh and blood instructor to show me the error of my ways.

Admitting defeat is a bit liberating, though. I was in danger of graduating in the next year or so.


This lovely creature is Bud, daughter of the dearly departed Rose, chewing her hay. She's an up and coming player in the organic fertilizer business. She trims trees and prunes shubbery on the side.

Garden Living

if Jesus comes back tomorrow
restoring all things
am I going to be naked
Should I go to the gym

I’m not hip on City living
But I like the Garden theme
We’d have to talk about the trees

Life is good, delicious
dripping off my lips
But Knowledge makes
Life sweeter
What’s the deal with knowing
being known?

Monday, August 14, 2006


The storm
a lumbering behemoth
approaches now

The thunder rolls in the distance
or perhaps it’s just the marching band

During those last days
did Noah kneel beside the boat
praying the skies would open to
soak his dry skin

Did the gathering clouds
breathe the vapor of what was to come
into his lungs
along with the dust of what had been?

Will these dry bones ever rise again?

Ancestoral Feet

I wonder about those African feet dragging themselves off the continent 50 or 100,000 years ago. Or maybe they were running. God knows. It just seems that they couldn’t stay.

Those ancestors’ feet, my kin, were they forging ahead, or maybe running away? Did they suffer from a mutant gene that compelled them to explore new worlds, or were their feet shaped so differently that they were forced to leave? Did they miss the soil of the continent slipping through their toes?

Were those feet faster than their hunters or will we find many of them in a pile in the back of some ancient animal cave? Did they ever turn back, only to find the waters rising behind them, blocking their path of return? Would the continent’s soil burn their soles if ever they made their way home again? Would they still call that place home?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Witness Sweet Tea

The beat goes on
the Musician brews great-grandma’s sweet tea
with a twist, he adds mint leaves

the ones running rampant through my garden
without regard for mice or men

These generational layers, they comfort me
My words mostly miss the mark
but the bodies rarely lie

Dog Days

Although I’ve lost my copy of The Little Prince, the images of the boy taming the fox (under the fox’s direction) remain. Canines. Today we’re still debating the dog-human connection. We’re not sure who chose whom.

At Isle Royale the foxes actively engage in taming the human crew. They hang out at the campgrounds, sometimes sit still for pictures, often steal campers’ shoes. Their blueberry-stained scat litters every hiking trail. The taming process is addictive. I kept my distance, but I’ll return. I’ve got to see the foxes again.

It makes me wonder about bigger things, like do we ever really choose?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cicada Nights

Blame it on the humidity, or something.

Tibicen canicularis (dog-day cicada)

I get the point
You’re desperate
to mate

your essence into
some young
green thing

translucent wings
will blow
you away

I can’t sleep
with your tymbals

I’m compelled
to listen
for the train.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Teenage Chic on the bow of the Isle Royale Queen. If only the seas were always that calm.

Water and Wine

Things keep popping up. Like Jefferson’s bible. I mean, who knew? 5,010,000 web sites according to Google. This fourth decade of college has been wasted money. Google everything. Human contact be damned.

Anyway, Jefferson’s bible. (Thanks, Mark.) In the wake of the July yimmer yammering about our Christian forefathers, 4th of July, Great Experiment, ordained by God, bring democracy to the underprivileged, go team, blah, blah, blah, I find out Thomas Jefferson is cutting up his bible. Just excising the supernatural stuff like the miracles of Jesus, the virgin birth...

No big deal – except for the poetry and the beauty of it all. I mean, it moves me, all those images. The Gospel of John starts out, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Damn. And when the Word becomes flesh, oh my God! Chills run down my spine. And Jefferson cuts it all out. The morals and ethical teachings remain, but the poetry is all gone.

I blame the bible literalists for the scissor incident: Jesus can turn the water into wine – but you sure as hell better not drink it. I could go further with this, but I don’t get invited to that many dinner parties as it is. Of course, there’s no wine at many of those dinner parties anyway.

Despite cutting out the poetry, I admire Jefferson for his courage. No one would accuse you of being a Christian if you did that today. I wonder how many dinner parties Jefferson got invited to, but he probably didn’t really care. He was busy farming grapes and hemp and a few other things. Meanwhile, on the fringes of polite society, the poets keep turning water into wine. But no one notices.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On the Path to Three Mile Campground - Isle Royale


It’s ironic, really, that I find myself here. I’m not complaining. I’m sure Darwin had no idea what his trip on the Beagle would mean. Still…it’s a little embarrassing. But the truth will out.

A man I knew died of cancer, after they had cut off half his jaw. His friend said it was because he swallowed ideas that were poisonous; he couldn’t spit them out.

How can you tell what’s in the bottle when they paint it blue?

Train Language

In the summer, as soon as the nights are warm, we crank open the bedroom windows and listen to the trains. In the winter, when the furnace is quiet, we hear the braying whistles and sometimes the rumble as they pass by, but in the summer with the windows cranked wide we can hear the trains being hooked together. The brakes screech and whine and then there is a loud clunk and another loud clunk and finally a groan. This goes on all night long in the background of our lives. After the first couple of days we don’t notice them anymore. The trains rumble past, get hooked together, unhooked, they clunk and screech. They pulse under the surface. But on those first nights of summer the sounds of the trains penetrate everything we do. We hear the trains rumbling and groaning when we’re making love, until the point where we hear nothing at all. When we slide back to earth again the train is still rumbling by. Or sometimes a new train is blowing its whistle and that makes us laugh. Does the train know? We wonder how people make love without the undercurrent of the trains.

The trains are a seductive challenge. Sometimes the undercurrent pulls the uninitiated in. They can’t resist getting too close. The raw force of the trains mocks them. One of my nephews, when he was a round 13-year-old, rolled under a slow train as it was ambling by. He came out again on the other side, drenched with sweat. He has abandoned the trains now. I wonder if they still permeate his dreams. I have stood under the trains myself where the tracks cross the Baugo Creek. There is an old train trestle there, hanging 40 feet above the muddy water, and you can stand right under the train as it passes overhead. The trestle shakes under the weight of the train, but the sound is what totally engulfs you. If the whistle happens to blow while you’re standing beneath it your body will shake and your ears will ring for an hour. My dogs have better sense than I do. They don’t stop there and wait to be consumed. They hurry down the path and dive into the creek, a safe distance from the sound. I follow them and wade into the creek and watch the train. Silver minnows scatter in all directions. The whistle moans and fades as the train ambles on. We forget about it and start chasing the minnows.

Another nephew, who grew up away from the trains, visits and wonders at all the musical people that surround our house. On our street alone there are four good musicians, the kind that keep time in a pocket and get paid to do what they love. I don’t know if they got their rhythm from the trains, but I’m suspicious. In the summer they sit on the back porch with Cokes and beer and jam together. I don’t think they notice the trains whistle and creak as they go by. In the winter they jam inside, away from the trains, late into the night. The musicians’ rhythms take over the house, but still there is the undercurrent of the trains pulsing away. We shut the bedroom door and let all the sounds drift away until the summer comes again and we can crank the windows wide.

All in a Day's Work

The drama queen threw herself into the oil pit at the quick-change place. It was either that or marry some rich guy. The quick-change place was more convenient. Afterwards, she entered a restraining order against her boyfriend. Bottom line is: they were not good together.

Meanwhile, the baby of the migrant worker wet with pesticide has no arms or legs. No one knows what happened there.

My fingers claw through the remains.


Okay, don't get excited. It needs some work. Writing poetry is a bit of a mystery to me, like everything else in life. So why should I start letting ignorance stand in my way at this late date?

the Captain said
the itinerary is
the water rings bluer
west of the bow

her torn maps
came marked up
beyond the illusion
of true

the death of
the Green Frog
the flowers win
the day

tracing Jefferson
Franklin and Paine
breathes reason
beneath the stern

Monday, August 07, 2006

Green Frogs

Two Green Frogs showed up in my tiny pond this spring, a dominant male and a satellite male. They stuck around for a while, hanging on the lily pads that never want to bloom. I kept hoping they would attract a female, get some action going. But alas, my pond didn’t seem to be good enough for a Green Frog woman to move in. They pick their mates based on the desirability of the territory they’re able to defend. And then I stopped seeing the males. I thought perhaps they were in search of better digs to attract the girls. And then this week the lilies began to bloom, first one blossom and then another, yellow splashes against the duckweed green. Things were looking up – even without the frogs. They must have fertilized the lilies enough to encourage the blooms.

But tragedy is never far away. This afternoon I heard the lawn mower stop, the screen door bang, and sobs come wailing in my direction. I am ashamed to say I was grateful it was just the dominant Green Frog, sliced down its side by the teenage chic. So I think that’s the end of the mowing for this week. I laid the still-breathing frog under the hostas beneath the walnut tree where the garden snake had slithered while I examined the scene. I hope the rest of the Green Frogs won’t hold this against us. I really like their company. But maybe the female Green Frogs were right. My pond has some safety issues.

As I heard quoted this week, “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?”

The Shoe Tree

It keeps slipping my mind, so I'm writing about it now before I forget. On the way to the U.P., about five miles north of Kalkaska on the west side of 131 there's a large tree covered with shoes. Does anyone know this tree and what the shoes are all about?

Isle Royale Part 1

In July we boarded the Isle Royale Queen and churned slowly out of Copper Harbor, past the Harbor Haus and the lighthouse, into the open water of Lake Superior toward Isle Royale. It was just the two of us, the teenage chic and me. The Finn stayed behind with the dogs, fishing for trout in the Keweenaw, roasting green Nicaraguan coffee beans in the garage.

The chic forgot her hat, so the Finn tossed her his. “You better only try it for a few days,” he warned me. “There’s your back, your knee. It might rain.” The hat thing worries him. “Take care of the chic and put your Seabands on. We’ll eat trout when you come home.” He’s spent the weekend tutoring us on the water filter, the camp stove, weighing which knife we should carry, stuffing our packs with plenty of bug dope. My pack is 35 pounds; the chic is carrying 30. We protest any addition, but bug dope has gotta come.

The Seabands turn out to be overkill. Lake Superior is calm, resting up for September, perhaps. The three-hour trip is long, uneventful, except for the diversion of an obnoxious father whining continuously at his child, “David, stop that. Please sit up.” They won’t be littering the trail. They’re staying at the lodge. We slide away from the family and dig out the map, burying ourselves in its details, tracing our route again and again while the Keweenaw melts from view.

An hour out from Rock Harbor, we pack up the map and head for the cool air of the bow and the first hazy views of the 45-mile island. The bow fills as we near the shore. The Captain gives us each our instructions, day trippers, lodge guests, backpackers, canoeists. I’m hoping the Finn has told me all I need to know.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Unplanned Faith

There’s a certain faith in allowing things to slide. Yesterday, for instance, we ate fresh potatoes from a volunteer crop, their parents left unharvested last fall. Rotting cherry tomatoes gave birth to this year’s crop, which might mature this fall. They’ve surrounded a purple hibiscus, co-opting her flowers for their hat. Hundreds of orange poppies clash with more sophisticated pink peonies. This is not my grandparents’ garden, planned out in January and kept tame with a hoe. I won’t be pickling 150 jars of cucumbers. I might find a cucumber or two in my daily rounds. I’ll pick them and eat them right there.

In the beginning I had a semi-plan. Nothing serious. Plant things and watch them grow. Do things naturally. Wait and see what happens. Now volunteer morning glory tendrils are fingering their way up decrepit fence posts and plants I’ve never seen before have wandered into my raised beds. I never planted fennel, but somehow it’s found its way into my backyard. A catalpa tree planted itself off the back porch and now I have not only extra shade, but catalpa-tree worms for fishing. I know that friends and relatives have fun sneaking things in, like the drive-by hollyhock planting that happened a few years ago, but sometimes no one takes credit for the surprises I find. Occasionally it gets a little too crowed and I haul shovelfuls of plants out into the woods. Everything deserves a chance, after all.

I keep thinking I might someday plant a respectable garden, tend it all year, keep all the weeds down, move the poppies away from the peonies, but I’m afraid it would be a lack of faith. Besides, someday a palynologist will have a field day figuring out what was going on in my yard.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


They’re sequencing some Neanderthal DNA, I understand, to see just how alike and how different we are. The article said Neanderthals never crossed a body of water they couldn’t see across. Does this mean they couldn’t imagine things they couldn’t see, like dry land, or just that they only imagined horrible, catastrophic things that would prevent them from sailing farther than they could see?

These Neanderthals buried their dead. Does that mean they could imagine an afterlife or had a sort of faith? I don’t know. As far as I know, atheists still bury their dead.

I’ve left dry land, continents, at least, behind. I’m settling for islands right now. And a good boat. The world is too schizophrenic to hope for anything more. That’s not always bad. I saw a traffic jam in Shipshewana yesterday. An Amish horse and buggy was holding up a modular home and a long line of cars.

The cicadas are thrumming a drum roll underneath the Indiana heat, not at all like the bugs in the U.P. They’re quiet but vicious. Still, I might trade the drum roll for a cool dip in Lake Superior, even if it costs me some blood.

These islands, they threaten to pull me to pieces. How is one to know where to land?

Bee Balm with Dill

Honey Pie with a Former Boyfriend