Monday, May 31, 2010

Cold, dirty water

Holidays remind me of what every day should be.

Today, we woke up as early as ever, but instead of rushing and grouching at one another, we idled around sleepily and smiled dopily at one another. We walked outside and took deep swallows of morning air, full of the scents of electric violet butterfly bushes and pink and white carnations. I let Fain water the squash and zinnia and tomato plants and the compost, and I didn't scold him for not doing it the way that I would. I just enjoyed the breeze and the blueberry cobbler coffee and the exuberant playfulness of a little boy with a water hose.

I didn't start straight away in the overgrown flower beds. Instead, I went inside and took the time to cut up a sweet golden pineapple and to fry eggs and bacon and butter the toast and spread the grape jelly to the crust, and then we sat down together and ate with a view of the day through the window. We drank cold milk and talked about nothing, Legos and Transformers and spies and butterflies.

I threw the patchwork quilt across the clothesline for a tent because I prefer the lovely Indian patterns and the rich cornflower blues and currant reds to the drab green of a real tent, and I love to watch the wind shiver the loose edges. I tied either edge to the ground with Christmas ribbons that I found in a box and spread a baby blanket beneath the canopy, filling it with books about birds and spiders and lizards, chips and cookies and juice, binoculars and Transformers, and crayons and a sketch pad, and then I gave Fain the opportunity to establish himself there while I went to work on the weeds.

I hacked and strained against the wire grass that has overtaken the rose campion and daylilies, clearing away a little patch at a time, occasionally chatting across the street to my neighbor who was also working in his yard. And when I was tired of that, I planted the morning glory and moon flower seeds that had been soaking in cool water all night. The water felt so good to my fingers when I dipped them in to fish out seeds that I felt desperate suddenly for cold water, and so I asked Ms. Victoria, my other neighbor, if we could borrow her wading pool, which we set up beneath Fain's slide so that he could splash down into the immediately pine straw littered water.

Just the first three hours of the day were so beautiful and peaceful, without spending money, without rushing about to meet people or do things or run errands, without television or computer or car, just working in the soil, playing in the cold, dirty water.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mourning doves and mockingbirds

Today, when I began to feel overwhelmed by responsibilities, I stopped what I was doing in favor of venturing out doors to sit beneath the dogwood, the shady spot. I asked Fain if he would join me, and he agreed to if he could take Transformers. He brought Bumblebee and Optimus and Starscream and another whose name I can't recall, and I brought his fuzzy, old baby blanket, the one that his aunt found in her yard one day and gave to us.

I spread out the blanket and lay down, sunny side up, looking through the luminescent leaves at a clear blue sky, and he sat beside the garden fence, orchestrating battles between good and evil very quietly. I could make out the whooo oh whooo of a mourning dove and the scolding squeaks of the wren whose made her nest in my bluebird box, the artful and never-ceasing crooning of a mockingbird leaping up and down in his spot on the telephone wire, and dozens of other songs that I don't know by name.

The breeze was silky and cool like sheets when you first fall into bed at night, and it rustled the leaves and stirred the grass.

It was the most beautiful hour that I've had in months.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Golden Asters

I have a constellation of golden asters, more commonly known as golden ragwort, bursting from a flowerpot bequeathed to me by my neighbor Denise. A name change occurred at some point in their history; I imagine it happened when they became weeds instead of wild flowers. Ragwort sounds far more reprehensible than aster. I've taken to calling them by their original name, golden aster, because they do look like little golden stars sprouting up out of a sworl of feathery green frills.

I remember years ago visiting a gardener in New Orleans who lived on Eden Street. He preferred green plants to flowery plants. The simplicity of green, especially when it is sparked with dew in the early morning, is somehow more serene and breath-taking to me as well.

This older gentleman showed me his collection of plants, including a miniature jungle of bonsai trees. He had cultivated them all from local trees, including knobby-kneed cypress. He also had a variety of carrion flowers, plants that smell and even sometimes resemble, rotting flesh. I had never heard of such a thing, but I like to impress people now with my knowledge of putrid plants.

We talked for a while about gardening in general and weeds in particular. I've struggled with the weed question for several years. The struggle has become more intense now that I have my own yard. Even dandelions are beautiful to me, especially when they are large and puffed up like yellow pom poms. Who decides which flowers are weeds and which are flowers? Was there someone once upon a time who was just fed up with golden asters and began to mockingly call them little ragworts? What a horrible name! I've kept mine in their pot. They look meek and humble there, but beautiful and full of hope.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I have too much going on in my head. Too many goals that I'd like to accomplish. Too many thoughts. Sometimes it's hard for me to focus. Sometimes I forget what I want to do. Sometimes I forget ideas that I had two minutes earlier.

Right now I can't quiet my mind. It's running around itself like a rat in an M.C. Escher maze. I'm not even sure what I'm thinking about. Or maybe I'm thinking too many things.

Fence. Garden. Water. Table. Poem. Story. Eye. Write. Walk. Heartbeat. Breathe. Weeds. Flowers. Kitchen. Curtain. Paint. Workshop. Journal. Class. Article. Car. Oil change. Oil spill. Morning glory seeds. Marigolds. Pinestraw. Laundry. Grad school. Education.

Really it's this wildly overgrown to do list. Or a list of worries. Fears. Hopes. I'm not sure exactly. But it's something that keeps me awake. It makes me chest tight and my breath hard to come by.

And then I get angry because I remember times - even some recent times - when I read long books about atoms and anthropologists, when I appreciated poems by Pacheco and Neruda, when I listened to Waits and Fitzgerald, when I made pizza dough from scratch and thought about the origins of music, and it makes me feel more frustrated with where I am now.

Even this. I hate writing this kind of thing. I'd much rather write about daffodils and grandmother's pincushions, but I can't get past this cataract in my head. My mind feels lost in this whirlpool of thoughts...mostly unimportant ones. Trivial, stupid thoughts.

Well, this probably isn't the best time to write, but I vowed that regardless of anything else, I'd write every day from now on. And I can't write dishonestly, despite the fact that I can make up huge whoppers to tell my students, like the one about the teacher who died in my classroom 28 years ago and still haunts it or like how we hire elephants and giraffes for teachers to ride when the circus is in town on work days.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


First, I am typing blind, so please ignore typos. I am actually quite a skilled typist. My kids (at school) marvel at my ability to watch them while typing. I've been having trouble with my eyes for a month or so, and yesterday it seemed to get worse.

Driving home in the direction of the graveyard, it looked as thought the tombstones had made their way into the street. I could see them quite clearly lined up neat and tidy across the road.

This morning on my way to Fain's Kindergarten graduation, everything suddenly became blurry. No more driving today.

However, that is not what I feel like writing about. Today, I feel like analyzing why I never complete anything that I start. Never may be a strong word. Let's say that I start many projects that I take to some halfway point before becoming distracted by some other project.

Thus, my vegetable garden is half covered in pine straw and half fenced. My dining room table is half painted. My kitchen cabinets are half renovated. Kitchen curtain are half sewn. Farmer's Market application has been filled out for two months but has yet to make it halfway to the drop off point. Dozens of novels and non-fiction tomes are half read. House is nearly half clean. It's really quite a state. What could that mean?

I want to do so many things. I want to paint realistic illustrations of tomato plants and sundrops with watercolors, and I also want to paint rich thick abstract paintings of the same leaves with acrylics. I want to embroider honeybees and bluebirds onto scraps of fabric, and I want to raise honeybees and house bluebirds in my backyard. I want to write several novels and a slew of poems and learn to play guitar and write my own songs. I want to take Fain for long walks and practice Tae Kwan Do moves in the backyard with him and make pizza dough and smother it with green peppers and red onions from our garden, bake french bread and biscuits and pies. I want to paint the walls turquoise. I'm overwhelmed by the things that I want to do, and so I never seem capable of doing anything.

I am a character from an absurdist play.

"Yes, let's go." They do not move.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do or Do Not Do

I've been imagining for several days sitting in the pinestraw pathway of my garden and painting the emerald and jade leaves of my pepper plants and tomato plants. The upward thrusting curling leaves of collards, laced with patterns left by hungry cabbage worms. However, I have yet to actually pull out the flat plastic watercolor container. I have watercolor paper and brushes at the ready, but instead I walk through the paths admiring the sprouting seedlings of radishes, carrots, pumpkins, and watermelons imagining painting. Why? Why don't I paint?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Mirror, A Summer, A Street

I can't describe it quite,
but there's something in time
that has sailed away forever.
There are faces now I'll never
see in my mind again;
and perhaps there's a mirror, a summer, a street
that already go under the echo of one more futile shade.

from "Boundaries" by Jose Emilio Pacheco

Once, long ago, when I was preparing to leave New Orleans with my sixteen month old son, a friend suggested that I keep a weblog so that those I left behind could stay in touch with me. I was opposed to the idea initially because it seemed very self-absorbed to write a journal for everyone to read as though everyone cared about my little daily trials and triumphs. However, I did keep the weblog for over a year before I abandoned it, and I enjoyed it during that time.

Because I suspected that someone might stumble upon it and read it, I tried to write about subjects more philosophical and poetic than my daily consumption of honey buns, though I did address that once. I grew as a writer during that time because I anticipated an audience. I grew as a thinker because I weeded through an overgrown garden of thoughts for the those that might interest someone other than me.

I'm not sure why I quit posting, but when I did, for all means and purposes, I quit writing. I dabble now, but I don't write in earnest. I don't practice. I think that I think less also or less clearly or less imaginatively or less selectively. I would like to rectify that. Something has gone awry in my life. Something is slightly off. I'd like to know what it is. To know if it is mendable.

And so I'm writing again.

The title of this weblog comes from the poem "Boundaries" by Jose Emilio Pacheco. My first weblog "The Sound the World Makes" also received its title from Pacheco's poem. I still love it. It still speaks to me. I chose to start with a fresh title because my life is different now. However, I am essentially the same. I am still awed by the variety of birdsong on a May morning, inspired by the round green leaves of pumpkin seedlings, amazed by the way sounds travel on invisible currents. And so I plan to take those as my subjects.
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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.