Category Archives: Poetry

Wildflowers and a Verse

A mile-long park runs along the Hudson River bank at Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where you can walk the path as dusk descends and see the sun set hazily, just for you.

sunset hudson

The town took an underused industrial area and rehabbed it about ten years ago with the help of the Open Space Institute so that everyone who wants to came come down and praise the beauty of the wide, placid Hudson. Well, not always placid. It seems every small dog in Westchester County is being trotted along at that hour, yapping and sniffing.

The smell of flowers pervades the air.

wild white roses

Along the railroad tracks you’ll find the multiflora rose, which came to the U.S. in the late 19th century as rootstock for ornamental varieties and was then pressed into use as a “living fence” to corral livestock. Its lovely petals float on the air for just about two weeks every June, then it reverts to its less-beautiful identity as a sticker-bush. Other wild roses bloom here too, some with better manners.

wild pink rose

Almost as fragrant as the white ones when you stick your nose into a bloom. And honeysuckle – when was the last time you sucked the fragrant dew from one of its blossoms? Put it on your to-do list for today.

honeysuckle 2

Vivid spires come up, having materialized after our rains came, finally, and jump started all the plants.

purple spires

And the wild iris, down by the shore, its proud head, its feet in the mud.

iris

The great poet Louise Gluck writes in a poem named for a flower, “Snowdrops,” in her Pulitzer-winning collection The Wild Iris:

I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring—

 

afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy

 

in the raw wind of the new world.

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Emily in the Garden

The heat feels good. All ninety-nine degrees of it.

The pole beans twist themselves around the bamboo supports, under the arcing sun.

pole beans

The pansies on the front porch of the Cabin salute.

pansies

Even Oliver likes to move his luxuriating form outdoors, having decided that sun-warmed gravel is a choice nap mat. Along the lines of ancient cultures whose people slept comfortably with their heads on carved blocks of wood or stone.

Oliver gravel prone

All the quiet and heat and a sense of the plants feverishly growing brings to mind the work and life of Emily Dickinson, she who was, according to one scholar, “known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet” during her time. Dickinson conscientiously tended the flower garden at the Homestead in Amherst, Massachusettes, where she spent her whole life, assembling. a collection of pressed plants in a sixty-six page leather-bound book which contained 424 pressed flower specimens organized according to the Linnaean system.

Dickinson is usually thought of the way she appears in the iconic photo taken when she was about eighteen.

Emily_Dickinson_daguerreotype-e1346874482904

Recently another portrait materialized in an archive, with the poet on the left and her friend Kate Scott Turner on the right.

Emily Dickinson

She would have been well into her genius years, both in terms of writing and gardening.

The Homestead garden was famous in its time, at least among the neighbors. Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, remembered “carpets of lily-of-the-valley and pansies, platoons of sweetpeas, hyacinths, enough in May to give all the bees of summer dyspepsia. There were ribbons of peony hedges and drifts of daffodils in season, marigolds to distraction—-a butterfly utopia.” Dickinson loved scented exotic flowers, writing that she “could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets.” She liked to send friends bunches of blooms with verses attached, but complained mildly that “they valued the posy more than the poetry.”

Dickinson went everywhere, apparently, with her brown Newfoundland Carlo, a gift from her father in the fall of 1849. “My shaggy ally” she called him in a letter.

A lovely animation gives the perfect flavor of the poem “I started early—took my dog.”

Emily was so mysterious, endlessly elliptical.

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn

Indicative that suns go down;

The notice to the startled grass

That darkness is about to pass.

Less than a dozen of Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published in her lifetime. Among the rest were 40 pieced-together and hand-sewn books she had assembled in the years before her death.

Wild Nights

That’s the fascicle-bound manuscript page for the passionate, rhapsodic poem Wild Nights!:

Wild nights! Wild nights! 
Were I with thee, 
Wild nights should be 
Our luxury!

Futile the winds 
To a heart in port, 
Done with the compass, 
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden! 
Ah! the sea! 
Might I but moor 
To-night in thee!

In her final years Dickinson also wrote on scraps of paper, chocolate wrappers, the margins of books, and even envelopes she received in the mail. A book documenting these envelope poems is due out this coming October, to be titled Gorgeous Nothings. A related appreciation and performance can be enjoyed even before the book is published.

Emily

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Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Poetry, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Boxcar Boy

Mike Brodie is not making pictures any more. He left that behind along with a life on the rails, wind in his hair, the dirt of the road.

girl's hair

But for almost five years, since he was 17, he used a Polaroid and then a 1980s 35mm camera to document the world of young freight-train hoppers, his peers, in some searing and sweet images.

two figures on train

As I was cleaning my house today I thought, What if I didn’t have a house to clean? What if I didn’t have a counter to scrub, a coffee table to dust? I love home, the idea and the reality. But what if it was all suddenly swept away and I could just fly.

boy on train

Drift.

kids w map

Brodie traveled 50,000 miles through 46 states, catching a lift on more than 170 long-haul freight trains, and capturing the tiny details of life that usually don’t mean anything to anyone outside the people themselves. He had no experience as a photographer, he first picked up a discarded camera left behind in a car and just started to shoot his friends. One of his cronies took this portrait of him along the way.

mike-brodie-self

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” So wrote Kerouac. His words have never felt less dated.

train

Brodie’s photos are romantic, edgy, authentic, and might make someone uncomfortable.

stain

All right. You’re shocked. I’m shocked. Youth shocks, it demands attention. Brodie documents arrests and injuries, squats, disheveled car interiors (trains are only part of this story). Dirt. I love this one.

bathtub

Some photos are grim. One reviewer described the work as “stolen glances.” There’s some truth to that. These are raw depictions of a ramshackle but exhilarating life.

boy sleeping

Whitman’s Song of the Open Road, another chestnut that begs to accompany these pictures:

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune,

I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.

The result of Brodie’s adventure is a photo book called A Period of Juvenile Prosperity, published by Twin Palms, with coinciding exhibits in art galleries on both coasts. He and his friends apparently have mixed emotions seeing his intimate work appear in the mainstream. “You have a lot of worlds colliding right there,” Brodie told The Guardian.

A Period 2

This is not Never Never Land. Whitman knew the truth. Some of my favorite lines in literature, also from Song of the Open Road:

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,

I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,

I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,

I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

People in the recovery business talk about the uselessness of the “geographical cure” by which you try to escape your problems by changing your location. But still, some lucky people are flying, mostly by choice, rolling under the stars, true angels with dirty faces, thrilling to the open road.

Can you imagine how sweet these berries tasted?

fruit

Cormac McCarthy, in his work of apocalyptic genius, The Road: “Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

sleepers

Mike Brodie has said the inspiration for his work was “from the folks I was hangin’ out with in Pensacola. The punk scene, like radical anarchists and all these feminist girls, at the time, their ideas and way of life were really interesting and inspiring to me and really gave me the push to think for myself and, well, hit the road.” It was a tight tribe, he says, and nobody was “actually homeless.” Instead, “We took what we could get to make it through one more day or to get to the next town.” He reminisced to the Los Angeles Times about the “sound of a high-priority Z train whizzing by you at 70 mph in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska, zooom zooom, zooom…”

In an essay for his book, he writes that “I don’t want to be famous, but I hope this book is remembered forever.” He has announced that he will not take any more photographs. He has graduated from the Nashville Auto-Diesel College and now works as a mobile diesel mechanic out of his silver ’93 Dodge Ram.

Mike. Please pick up a camera. Maybe show us the secret world of auto mechanics. Or any secret world you choose.

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It Makes Perfect Sense

About to be Mother’s Day. The night before, Saturday night, we go into Manhattan just as the thunder starts to roll. Fissures of lightning streak the sky.

As is my mother’s prerogative, I let Gil do the driving.

We check out a movie not for the weak of stomach.

Then take dinner at Katz’s, founded in 1888 on Houston Street, its threshold long worn-out.

katz's door jamb

There is really no reason to go anywhere in New York for dinner except Katz’s.

gil sandwich

You wait on line for your carver to finish your sandwich and he pushes a hot little slice of pastrami across the counter at you. It makes perfect sense. A morsel to whet your appetite.

carving

David has worked his station since ’02.

The pickles are luscious. Green tomato, sour dill and new.

pickles

But they can’t match the pastrami. As Sinead O’Connor sang, Nothing compares to you.

pastrami

Anyone can sit at the Where Harry Met Sally table. We did. It makes sense to do it if you can.

where harry met sally

Outside I was surprised to see a sign on the side of the building that read WURST FABRIC.

wurst fabric

Was Katz once in the textile business?
 Michael Stern, the road food genius, schooled me.
 Fabric is an Americanization of the Yiddish term meaning home-made.

Our pre-mom’s day Gastro-crawl continued on 23rd St. right next door to the Chelsea Hotel, scene of so much poetry and debauch over the years.

Now we have the Donut Plant. Gourmet donuts done right. 
Proctology cushions  covered with fabric (home-made in yiddish) covered the wall.

donut walls

Perfect coffee, Mother’s Day specials.

donut sign

Rose petals in donuts. Could it be a joke?
 Yes, but it made a weird kind of sense.

rose donut

There were in fact petals baked into the dough. I was transported to the Middle Ages. Or the middle of India and its rosewater delicacies.
 I don’t know if biting into one made me feel more maternal or just trendy. Anyway, I liked it.

Right across the street, the historic home of the Communist Party in America, 235 west 23 street,
was hosting a musical extravaganza. 
A group called Legacy Women performed Afro Dominican palo and Afro Puerto Rican bomba for a rapt,  folky audience that shushed us numerous times.

legacy-women

These women rocked. One song they announced was for mothers, and they belted out the chorus, mama-ah. 
Another sounded like they were singing put your pants on in some native dialect.

Hitting the street again, the rain had all cleared away, leaving things new.

I looked across the street to the Chelsea Hotel, 
now sadly being modernized, made into condos, its art collection all sold off. 
I thought of Alejandro Escovedo’s song about the Chelsea, Chelsea Hotel ’78.

It makes no sense, he sings, it makes perfect sense.

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How to Be a Couple of Writers

Today is our wedding anniversary. Gil and I have been married 26 years. It’s a lot of  time since our engagement party, at a Russian bar in Brighton Beach, New York!

April 1987

People always ask, How can you possibly stay married to another writer? It’s not something everyone does, and in fact the matrimonial union of two inkstained wretches is almost as rare as the Javan rhino, of whom less than 60 now exist.

Javan-Rhino

Some other writer-couples make it work. Novelists Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt are a famous example. Well, they live in Brooklyn, and perhaps that artsy atmosphere gives them sustenance. Also consider the Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, together from 1954 until Ginsberg’s death in 1977. They chanted. They stayed loose. They were happily hip.

ginsberg

Once upon a time there was Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,/like wrecks of a dissolving dream). It was wildly romantic, she running off with him when he was married to another woman and she was 16. Anais Nin and Henry Miller also managed to have both a torrid love affair and a meeting of the literary minds.

Anais_Nin_y_Henry_Miller

Yes, there were couples that were cursed, like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. One dead by her own hand, one forever tortured by her demise. A similar dark story in Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He stole well-turned phrases from her journals, and things turned out badly (him dying of drink, her in a mental hospital fire).

fitzgerald:zelda

So what makes a writerly marriage work? Gil and I have been writing our own stuff and collaborating with each other ever since we got together. We actually met in a poetry writing workshop in New York City, led by the wonderful Sharon Olds (she won the Pulitzer for poetry this year). In the early days we didn’t have much space. I remember a tiny studio in Los Angeles with a single surface, a kitchen counter, where we set up our computers across from each other. And we produced books there. Today in the Cabin we have a bit more room, two separate offices (mine in the living room!), but we seem to often end up working side by side. Somehow our literary life together succeeds.

desk

So I will offer you my suggestions about sharing your life as a writer with another writer.

Accept debate. Disagree, argue, even fight over language. Just don’t come to blows. Try not to be hardheaded over a word or phrase or plot point. Be willing to kill your darlings, as they say, if your partner advises it. (Also praise each other’s work to the skies).

Celebrate the milestones. Little as well as large – the nice, toss-off comments of an acquaintance or the brilliant review. The copyedit as well as the first pristine hardback book copy. Raise a toast together, no matter which of you got the kudo, the contract, even the mot juste.

Ride the ups and downs. And there will be downs.Publishing is a fickle business and you can’t let the market ruin your mood or your relationship.

Embrace change. When we were married, I was an aspiring poet and Gil wrote plays that were produced off-off-Broadway. We made ends meet with editorial jobs. We grew, we branched out. We were the same people, but we became different sorts of writers. Between us, articles, screenplays, nonfiction, memoirs, fiction, even this blog…

We don’t know what will happen in the future. What writer does? Just be prepared to be perpetually surprised by your writerly mate, as you are surprised by yourself. Said Andre Maurois: In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.

Jean and Gil copy

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Witika or Wendigo, I’m Scary

I am the voice of the Witika. Sometimes I am called the Wendigo, sometimes the Weetigo or Wetiko or other variants. It all depends on the region you’re from and the belief system you share. I roam the frozen north especially, northern Minnesota, the wastes of Canada, and New York State in the snowy winters.

wendigo7

The Wendigo, the Wendigo

I saw it just a friend ago

Last night it lurked in Canada

Tonight on your veranada!

So wrote none other than Ogden Nash.

I make an appearance in The Orphanmaster as the vicious monster the European settlers find themselves terrorized by when children start to go missing from the colony.

Howl_of_the_Wendigo_by_Moonshadow01

As everyone in New Amsterdam knows, I stand around nine feet tall, with greenish, putrid skin, long fangs, and a voracious appetite for human flesh. The Algonquins made me part of their belief system. The name is thought to mean “the evil spirit that devours mankind.”

Wendigo_by_artstain

I’ve been the subject of fantasy in literature, movies, video games, anime and comic books. Artists have had a field day with me.

wendigo_char_C1

In Marvel comics, I have faced off against the Hulk and other superheros.

comic

The Dark Horse Comic Series has a different portrayal.

dark horse

In Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, I haunt the path leading to the Indian burial ground.

215px-Pet_sematary_poster

I had a whole movie to myself in the 2001 Wendigo.

wenpos

Even literati Louise Erdrich wrote a poem, “Windigo,” about melting my frozen heart.

I star in the fantasies of countless gamers.

gamers

Read your newspapers after reading The Orphanmaster, and you’ll see more cannibal stories than you’d expect.

I’m not the only monster. “Wendigo psychosis” is a mental disorder which has actually been observed among several Algonquian peoples. It describes cases where people kill and eat humans (often relatives) indiscriminately, when there’s no famine whatsoever. They do it because my spirit infests them.

These people take on the characteristics of the monster Witika. Me.

Like a Big Foot or a Loch Ness monster, I may be what mythologists call a cryptid. Or I may be real.

Biologists think the urge to cannibalize has roots in Kuru, Kreuzfeldt-Jakob or other brain diseases, which can show themselves as a form of psychosis.

But really, it’s all about the power of suggestion.

wendigo

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Gil’s Best French Fry Recipe

Today I planted my potatoes.

planting potatoes

Their eyes are all sprouted, ready to go.

Unearthing them at the end of the season – and here in the northeast, it’s a long season – is one of my favorite things. You get to reach into the dark, crumbly loam and pull out the hard little orbs, detaching them delicately from the stem. You get dirt under your nails.

You get to say loam.

It’s of a kin to reaching under a hen, feeling around through the softest feathers imaginable to pull out her just laid, still-warm, golden eggs.

Once, around thirty years ago, I wrote a play called One Potato. The things I recall about it: there was a protagonist named Esmerelda, it took place in Europe during the Middle Ages, and it was actually about the invention of the dinner fork. I loved the fact that it was hard to find information on my subject (pre-web!), I had to dig (like digging potatoes) and even embroider on what I found to create a story. Barbara Tuchman, the great historian of the middle ages in A Distant Mirror, once said, “The unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.”

This was when I was young and poetical.

jz young

The pic was taken about that time, on a downtown rooftop in the meatpacking district, when Manhattan still had a thriving meat market that  left a slick of blood across the cobblestones  every morning. My photographer friend Jonathan Pite produced my likeness for the American Poetry Review.

I always thought he captured the yearning inside me and the grit of 1980s Manhattan in the air. It was a strange place, but great.

potato-23242

You are lucky to be invited to our house nowadays if Gil is making french fries – he takes the potato to a new level.

Gil’s Best French Fry Recipe

Take a bunch of spuds. No need to peel. “I like russet potatoes, myself.”

Wash thoroughly.

Cut in half the long way. Cut into thin strips. Cut crosswise three times. Should yield long thin french fries.

Soak in a big bowl of water with 3 T salt and ¼ tsp sugar. Make sure salt and sugar dissolve.

“Soak for as long as you have…5 minutes, 10…”

What to listen to as you work? “Always the blues, all the Slim blues players, Magic Slim…”

slim-bio

Spin potatoes dry in a salad spinner.

Heat a large pot of canola oil to smoking, enough to cover the potatoes. Fry until brown. Lift out with a wok ladle or slotted spoon.

Drain fries on brown paper bags.

Dust with salt, and/or cumin, chili powder, whatever you like.

Serve with malt vinegar, aeoli or tomato ketchup.

Says Gil: “There are five levels of how to judge the fanciness of a restaurant.

Level One: They give you ketchup in packets.

Level Two: The ketchup is in a bottle on the table.

Level Three: You ask for ketchup and they bring it in a bottle.

Level Four: You ask for ketchup and they bring in in a little silver bowl.

Level Five: You ask and they come to the tableside and make the ketchup for you.”

We generally do the Heinz. Oh, and if you’re on a diet, this year we’ll be offering spinach, too.

young spinach

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Of Blooms and Brooches

When the old magnolia by the Cabin blooms, I am rendered speechless.

magnolias

Here is an exquisite poem for an exquisite spring day, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I Will Make You Brooches

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight

Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.

I will make a palace fit for you and me

Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

 

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,

Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,

And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white

In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

 

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,

The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!

That only I remember, that only you admire,

Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire

 

(Thanks to Beth Levin, who seeks out and shares many wonderful things.)

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The Algorithm of Curvy Passion

Whale bone doll. Greyhound vs. great dane.

dane pup

WTF?

I get a regular report from WordPress, the outfit that hosts this blog, which tells me the search terms used every day to find my site.

I love to read these oddly linked words and imagine the people that typed them into a search box and, even more, wonder about how those phrases got to me. It’s a little of what’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, as Hamlet says (and you haven’t heard the plaintive, flummoxed quality of these lines unless you’ve experienced Paul Giametti’s turn with Hamlet at Yale Repertory Theater, as I did recently). What is the algorithm? Where do they come from,  these disjointed, nonsensical idioms, and what do they have to do with yours truly?

Curvy passion. Another search that landed someone on my site.

Anna karenina dresses.

Anna Karenina  Race Dress 2

 

Well, okay, that is conceivably something you’d find in my blog. But:

Alligator tails?

Knock knock. I’m at your door. Do you have anything on your site that can respond to that?

Horse gilding furry porn.

Embroidery on plywood.

ColonialBoston

Kids in grass winter.

They’re interesting, but as far as I know, I haven’t yet filed a post related to these phrases.

Peacock one to one correspondence.

Sorry.

Now, there are some crazy-sounding terms that beat an understandable trail to jeanzimmerman.com.

Wooden cowboy roadside, for instance. Recently, from Arizona, I described a series of handmade wooden signs posted mysteriously along a highway in Scottsdale, one of them featuring, yes, a cowboy. I like hand-painted signs, and this was one of the finest.

Cowboy sign

Sweet old world meaning. Last month, I tried to get at the feeling Lucinda William’s rhapsodic song gave me, when Gil’s mother lay in the cocoon of her dying, and it struck a chord in some readers.

More music. Sweet milk and peaches tuning. I’m no musician, I barely even sing in the car, but I watched a fiddler play country songs from the rural south circa the beginning of the 20th century, and it carried me off in a square dance time machine.

I want to do to you what spring does to the cherry trees. Someone actually typed that in a search box. The achingly erotic verse of Pablo Neruda, who I profiled the other day when word emerged that his remains were being disinterred (to the strains of a string quartet) so the authorities could check if he had been poisoned.

Tiny silver spoons. Well, yes, that would be my mother’s collection of family cutlery.

Prickly pear babies. My quest to find the infant spawn of the saguaro.

desert gardener

Mark Wyse 17 parked cars. I talked about Wyse’s book 17 Parked Cars in my review of Ed Ruscha’s exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan.

Faviken. A rave-up of the brilliant Scandinavian chef/restauranteur Magnus Nilsson, who likes more than anything to cook with lichen.

But perhaps the searches I get most of all have to do with witika or wendigo or native american monsters, which all point to the beast in The Orphanmaster, nine feet tall with putrid green skin, razor-sharp fangs and claws good for slashing.

wendigo

P.S. The witika finds human beings pretty tasty. Apparently there’s a healthy coterie of witika enthusiasts out there, and on this site I have an essay with some fantastic pictures about the monster.

So I’m not seeing any searches for Lindsay Lohan here. Nor anyone leaning in to find Sheryl Sandberg. Nor to find the dope on Louis CK,  though I plan to write something about the genius comic one of these days.

One of these days…Some of these days… Sophie Tucker, my favorite jazz era nightclub singer, known to her fans as The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, did a hit song called “Some of these days.” I wrote about her and Etta James in the same post – two singers who wow me.

sophie-tuckerNow go do some searching, and we’ll see if you circle back my way. And if there’s something you’d like to see me write about that I haven’t already — or even if I have — just leave me a comment and let me know. We aim to please.

 

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Pruning Links

Damn. My cup runneth over with links. My computer wouldn’t let me save another bookmark, it was so stopped up, so I had to prune. Throw out and organize. Floss. Figure out what I really needed to save, what I might need – need being a relative term – and what could be relegated to the virtual trash heap. So I’d have room for new, extra important links!

It was enlightening, actually. In embarking on this task, I found that there were three big categories that had held special importance for me in the past few years.

One was wonderful me and my wonderful work . My log cabin got its due . Even a movie (just a glimmer, but a Hollywood glimmer) had found its way into my bookmark file.

When I was a middle schooler making covers for my little hand-crafted books by binding pages into cardboard and calico with ironed wax paper, I think I would have been amazed that some day someone in the world would be interested in what I had to say. I still remember the smell of the hot wax paper as it was pressed, and the excitement that Miss Henny Penny’s Travels was going to be “published.”

young Jean

Edith Wharton tells a story in her autobiography, A Backward Glance, about going in to a book store in London when her first book, The Greater Inclination, came out in 1899 and asking the manager innocently if there was any new and interesting book she could look at. “In reply Mr. Bain handed me my own little volume, with the remark: ‘This is what everybody in London is talking about just now.’” He had no ideas who he was talking to.

Then, second, I have the category of Gertrude and Sylvia  and Simone   and the rest of the ladies who launch. And more of Stein.

U1889231

I couldn’t believe how many iterations I had of critiques, praise, profiles, pictures of the women who inspired me over the years and still fascinate me.

The third whopper of a group: scarves. Knit patterns for scarves. Especially circle scarves. Yes, cooking and knitting do take up some of my time, I admit it, unintellectual as that might make me. I’m itching to make Paula Deen’s gooey butter cake. But the scarves have it. I made seven this winter. Plus a sock.

knit

Then there is everything else. Before they go into the Older Bookmarks file, I’ll highlight a few that have grabbed my interest along the way. A self audit, as it were. And a little gift to anyone looking for something new to chew up their time.

I obviously made a serious trip into Victorian America in recent months. Many times over DanceDressGetting aroundMansions, mansions, mansions. Does my time machine have an exit onto Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in the 1870s? You bet.

James Tissot 1836-1902 - French Plein Air painter - Tutt'Art@ (8) copy

Even (or especially?) Victorian headless portraits interest me. So much of this nineteenth century arcana found its way into Savage Girl, my new novel that will be published in early 2014, which officially made it work, but it still felt like a guilty pleasure.

More research, this time for The Orphanmaster, unearthed this incredibly absorbing digital redraft of the Castello Plan. You can hover over the first street plan of New York, a drawn-to-scale view of seventeenth century New Amsterdam, and investigate what it was actually like.

I had the idea at one point that we should explore Oliver’s genetic background and see what part of him was actually pit and which part was hound. So I looked into DNA testing for dogs.

Oliver

I wondered what you’d see if you opened the refrigerator door in Bangkok or Jerusalem. I found out at Fridgewatcher.

I always find it useful to keep a library on file in case my disheveled bookshelves won’t yield it up. And so, here they are, minding their own business, various books in their entirety, like George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, one of my favorites,  and the Diary of Samuel Pepys. And it’s always good to be able to access an exhibit based on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

iwhitmw001p1

Gil and I ventured to Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. For a while afterward we didn’t get our cholesterol levels checked. The menu  includes such delicacies as Tarragon Bison Tongue and Foie Gras Poutine (foie gras is their speciality, along with everything pig-related), all of it drenched in butter. It was here that I had the famous “duck in a can,” consisting of a duck breast, a lobe of foie gras, half a head of garlic and some kind of spectacular gravy packed into a metal can, like a soup can, and boiled.

duck in a can

Afterwards, when you’ve been sitting at your table for a while marveling at the number of trendy people there are in Montreal, the waiter opens the can at the table and dumps the whole stew onto your plate. Fabulous.

If you like menus as much as I do, you’ll go to The New York Public Library’s historic menu collection.

American House

Something I don’t want to file too far way is The Top Ten Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable into English, assembled by a serious linguist, and including such gems as Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Probably the most delightful site I’m back-burnering. For now. Or, on the other hand, I think I’ll leave it out for a while in case I want to take it with me as a reference when I next tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Nipples at the Met(“updated regularly”).

nipples

All links welcome; leave them in a comment.

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Filed under Art, Cooking, Dogs, Fashion, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Poetry, Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Writing

A Lion, a Pit-Hound, a Bud

The warmth has hit. The sun pours down. The day reminded me of the scene on a Mexican plate from the early 1800s that I saw recently at the Hispanic Society.

Mexican plate

Except I was sporting a ball cap rather than a parasol and my companion was a pit-hound rather than a lion.

Gil and I took some time outside to rake the pachysandra beds and clear away crumbled leaves from a set of rather magical stone steps that lead to a sunset ridge near the front porch. There’s a wood bench at the top. I plan to colonize it this summer, mint iced tea in one hand, Emily Dickinson in the other.

steps

We sat on the patio late in the day. It faces east, over the marsh. A hawk soared, its breast glinting white. The peepers were even less polite than usual. This spring has been so long to come, but the about-to-bloom magnolia knows when the time is right.

magnolia budJust when you couldn’t wait any longer.

 

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Neruda Poisoned?

Did General Augusto Pinochet murder the great poet? To me the question is not whether but how. Neruda’s remains, interred for 40 years in his garden, have now been exhumed. Will toxins be found that prove he was killed by the fascist regime on the 23rd of September 1973, just 12 days after Pinochet’s military coup?

pablo neruda:road

It would be a level of political venality the political animal Neruda would appreciate. Among numerous political posts, he served as the President Allende’s ambassador to France in the early ‘70s.

Neruda penned love poems, beginning with his first book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, when he was a 20-year-old prodigy.

young pablo-neruda

The language was lyrical, passionate, penetrating, fiery.

I want

To do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

He wrote in “La Poesia” of his being swept away by poetry: I was fourteen years old, proudly obscure.

You can hear him read the poem here.

It was at that age

that poetry came in search of me.

Twenty-Love-Poems-and-a-Song-of-Despair-9780142437704

Madonna, of all people, has given a thoughtful reading of the masterful “If You Forget Me” in a video.

Mostly he wrote about love. From “100 Love Sonnets”:

so I wait for you like a lonely house

till you will see me again and live in me.

Till then my windows ache.

But sorrow was also his domain. Wild, bursting nature.

tree

Introspection. His words:

Someday, somewhere – anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.

Alienation. My favorite of his poems, “Walking Around,” has nothing to do with love, really.

It so happens I am sick of being a man.

And it happens that I walk into tailorshops 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.

The poem goes on from there and only gets more powerful, especially in the masterful translation of Robert Bly, who did a book-length Neruda and Vallejo.

He came from a backwoods background in southern Chile, born in 1904, Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto, a name he changed when he reached his teens in homage to the Czech poet Jan Neruda.

neruda_signature

He favored green ink, using it as his symbol for desire and hope.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez called him “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” He filled stadiums with awed fans.

He shared his romantic passion with his wife and muse, the singer Matilde Urrutia, in the beach idyll of Isla Negra, off Chile’s southern coast.

Pablo-Neruda outdoors

All his poems can be had on line, for free, which I think he would have liked.

Now the possibility of his poisoning. Supposedly Neruda had prostate cancer. But he never had cancer, says one of his closest survivors, his driver Manuel Arraya. Supposedly he went into the hospital for treatment, just 12 days after Pinochet’s coup, and there he died of a heart attack. It was just days before he was to travel to Mexico to lead the global opposition to the new regime. Neruda’s assistant says he got a call from the hospital. Pablo, saying they had come in the night and given him a mysterious shot in the stomach. “They didn’t want Neruda to leave the country so they killed him,” says Arraya. The poet was 69.

A week before, soldiers had searched his house.  He reportedly told them: “There is only one thing here that poses a danger to you: poetry.”

To quote another monumental poet, W.H. Auden, about the death of yet another great poet, W.B. Yeats, What instruments we have agree/ The day of his death was a dark cold day.

All of Chile wept.

There is a poem Neruda wrote titled “The Me Bird.”

I am the Pablo Bird,

bird of a single feather,

a flier in the clear shadow

and obscure clarity,

my wings are unseen,

my ears resound

when I walk among the trees


or beneath the tombstones


like an unlucky umbrella

or a naked sword,

stretched like a bow


or round like a grape,

I fly on and on not knowing,


wounded in the dark night,

who is waiting for me,

who does not want my song,

who desires my death,

who will not know I’m arriving

and will not come to subdue me,

to bleed me, to twist me,


or to kiss my clothes,

torn by the shrieking wind.

That’s why I come and go,

fly and don’t fly but sing:


I am the furious bird

of the calm storm.

It’s been interpreted in an animation that shows a dancer, imprisoned, flightless, as the walls close in.

oldneruda

Ambushed by death, singing all the while.

 

 

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Some Neruda for Now

Today I stood by a graveside and listened to a priest speaking over his heavy book, watched the people carefully place their cut roses and carnations atop the casket, and wondered. Why do the words we say when someone dies seem so slight, so irrelevant to the task at hand. Why is there so little inspiration, usually, in the ceremonies of death? The one who dies, whatever happens to their body, wherever their soul flies, surely deserves more poetry.

To me these lines of Neruda’s, from the poem “Too Many Names,” would fit the bill, somehow, perfectly. It doesn’t precisely talk about death, but I think the awareness of our finite lives informs it.

This means that we have barely

disembarked into life,

that we’ve only just now been born,

let’s not fill our mouths 
with so many uncertain names,

with so many sad labels,

with so many pompous letters,

with so much yours and mine,

with so much signing of papers.

 

I intend to confuse things,

to unite them, make them new-born

intermingle them, undress them,

until the light of the world

has the unity of the ocean,

a generous wholeness,

a fragrance alive and crackling.

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Softcover Orphanmaster – First Copies

I was grumping around the Cabin in my chenille socks. I had a couple of bad things troubling my mind, ranging from awful (my close friend’s mother’s demise) to just stupid (bills overdue) and issues in between. It occurred to me, too, that I was no longer on vacation. Poor me.

Oliver began to sound his bassett-style bellow, smearing his nose against the little window overlooking the driveway as though he saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse charging his way.

O at Window

But with him, you never know. It could be a sadistic chipmunk or just a change in the direction of the wind.

Anyway, the UPS truck dumped off its cargo. Inside the padded envelope, an agreeable surprise: the first two copies of The Orphanmaster’s paperback edition had rolled off the printing press and into my hands.

O-Master P-Back Cover

I had seen the jacket before, of course, in correspondence, but I had never run my fingers across the white raised type of the title. I hadn’t met the gray, gleaming, innocent eye of the little girl who stares out from the cover, seen her flushed cheek close up.

eye

Never seen the validating pull quote across the top of the cover:

“The ideal historical mystery for readers who value the history as much as the mystery.” – The New York Times

I hadn’t taken note of the other quotes Penguin put in to entice readers as soon as they opened the book. The words raced now through my still somewhat sluggish-from-grumpiness mind:

“Immersive first novel.” – USA Today

“A rip-roaring read.” – National Public Radio

“Teems with enough intrigue, lust, and madness to give our twenty-first-century Big Apple a run for its money.” –Sheri Holman

“A breathtaking achievement.” – Joanna Scott

“As riveting and nightmare–inducing as any Grimm’s fairy tale.” – curledup.com

And my personal favorite:

“Compulsively readable.”—Booklist

Etc., etc.

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” wrote Auden, in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” likely the most mournfully beautiful poem in the English language. Getting this wonderful version of my book in the mail can’t push back the shadows, pay the bills, restore life. I’m still trudging around in my socks.

But it’s a good thing. April 30th, the pub date, is not far away. Then we’ll celebrate.

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The Invisible Game

“Hey, are you invisible?”

gamers

That gets my attention. Here I am, humdrum paper-cup coffee and bland NYT magazine in hand, waiting for yoga class to start at the gym. A half hour to kill amid chrome and plastic, the café.

Across from me sit two teenagers, talking over their devices.

“Yeah I’m invisible!” responds the second kid.

I think of Emily Dickinson.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you—Nobody—too?

Two fifteen-year-old boys, with their thatched fifteen-year-old boy hair, regulation jeans and sweatshirts, a shot of individuality in one’s neon red shoelaces.

“Do you like my piggies? I have piggies!”

Dickinson, who knew a little about being invisible:

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!

Red Shoelaces: “I have a saw!”

Invisible Boy: “The worst is getting lightning over and over again.”

I know how that can be. Sip of boring coffee. Bite of workaday bran muffin.

The two focus intently on their phones. I can barely see them, they are so far off, paddling around in a crystalline universe populated by pigs, saws, lightning and who knows what else. “I’m just stating a fact,” says Red Shoelaces. “Just a fact, that’s all.” A fact in fantasy.

I didn’t go to yoga. I flew up into the air, away from coffee, newspaper, away from self, and disappeared.

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog – 

To tell one’s name – the livelong June – 

To an admiring Bog!

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