Archive for the ‘prose’ Category


July 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Growing up, a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich was one of my lunchtime favorites.

I don’t know why, and I don’t even remember when, but somewhere between my teenage years and my 50’s, I stopped having jelly in my peanut butter sandwiches. Once every long while, I would even buy a jar of jelly, but then never actually open the fridge to get it when making a sandwich.

Then one day recently, and again I can’t explain why, I went ahead and added jelly to my lunchtime peanut butter sandwich. It tasted so good, I actually said aloud, “Why did I ever stop doing this??”

last day of staycation

July 1, 2018 Leave a comment

One final “home project” for this last day of our staycation week: weeding the driveway.  It’s pretty hard-packed pebbles, good for absorbing the winter rains, but over the years plenty of tiny weeds, clumps of grass, etc have taken root. It’s warm but not hot today, so I put on a sunhat, start the poetry podcast playlist on my iPod, grab a bucket, sit down on a short stool, and start picking.

Every few minutes, having pulled every weed in reach, I shift the stool a couple of feet and continue. It becomes a rhythm, practically a meditation.

Some oregano from the herb garden in the corner by the sidewalk has started to put out new sprouts into the driveway. I decide to leave them alone, and let it continue to spread where it can — I’ve noticed a pleasant Mediterranean crushed-herb scent lately whenever I get out of the car, which seems like a good thing. The white and purple clovers as well, I leave alone. The bees like them, and I use the green strips as a target in the rear view mirror when backing into the driveway.

book review: m train

May 12, 2018 Leave a comment


I read Patti Smith’s “M Train” after it was mentioned approvingly by my friend Irene, but I knew basically nothing about it before I started. As I read it, I never knew what was coming next, other than each chapter made the ones before it even deeper and more meaningful. Even the cover image took on multiple meanings from the first chapter to the last.

“M Train” is a very thoughtful and moving series of sketches on memory, travel (physical and mental), coffee, people, culture, reading, writing, photography, dreams, and time. The primary timeframe covers roughly two years, before and after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but this is a memoir told in non-linear threads and retrospective fragments, almost “unstuck in time”, tied by themes that are sometimes only clear in retrospect. In space, it journeys through Pennsylvania, Detroit, Tokyo, Surinam and French Guiana, Paris, Tangier, Spain, Mexico, Berlin, Iceland, and London.

It also provided me a reading list, from the many authors she mentions who are important to her: Isabelle Eberhardt, Mohammed Mrabet, Jean Genet, Max Sebald, Dinah Mulock, Haruki Murakami, Anna Kavan, Paul Bowles, just to start.

This is the first book that ever made me read each chapter at least twice, and go back to reread from the start every few chapters. It is so well-written — sometimes melancholy, often humorous, always well observed, self-aware, and honest — and full of meaning and interlocking thematic callbacks, I wanted to stay immersed in her words at every step. And even then, at the very end the smallest revelation made me reassess the opening pages, and eagerly reread the whole book again with an even deeper level of understanding.

To my mind, the unspoken but ever-present core of the memoir is loss — what you lose and what you retain after loss. For Patti Smith, her many losses include a black coat, a child’s toy, a spouse, a favorite book, a literary hero, parents, a coffee shop, a house, an envelope of treasured photographs, a beloved brother, a “regular” table, a neighborhood, a rare opportunity, a tree, a boat, and a camera.

But loss is not an end. Loss is not all there is to life, but life will always include loss, so we need to learn how to lose. Not with denial, not with avoidance, nor despair. As Smith recalls all she’s loved and lost, she makes connections, appreciates the experiences, mourns deeply, cherishes memories and keepsakes, and begins to build the future after loss. Continue to “do” and make and create and live, even knowing that loss will follow.

Describing Haruki Murakami’s book “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, Patti Smith says it is the kind of masterpiece

“where the writer seems to infuse living energy into words as the reader is spun, wrung, and hung out to dry. Devastating books. I finished it and was immediately obliged to reread it. I did not wish to exit its atmosphere.”

That’s how I feel about M Train.

M Train, by Patti Smith. Published by Alfred A. Knopf (2015).

mary poppins – a modern mythology

May 8, 2018 Leave a comment

marypoppins1 marypoppins2
Nancy and I recently re-watched the 1964 Disney “Mary Poppins” movie, which we love (though it does get a little hyperactively frenetic at times). The disc included a trailer for the  2013 movie “Saving Mr. Banks” (also good!), which loosely tells the story of the adaptation of P.L. Travers’ original books into the Disney movie. Together, they got me interested in reading the original source books.

I do like the Disney movie, with its message of parental priorities, its memorable music, and its magical fun. It is (not surprisingly) straightforward and relatively light — or let’s say, not very complex. But the original books are more ambiguous and mysterious, showing glimpses of a deeper world hidden from normal adults.

J.R.R. Tolkien has said that he was looking for an English mythology in building Middle-Earth, since England did not have a “native” mythology of its own, like the Norse gods for example. I think that in writing Mary Poppins, P.L Travers has provided another proposal for an English mythology. Mary Poppins can easily be seen as a Nature Spirit, the Trickster, benevolent but with shades of gray (and sometimes even dark). In the chapter “Miss Andrew’s Lark”, Mary does a Trick worthy of Coyote or Raven, with a keen sense of poetic justice. In the London Zoo, Mary’s birthday is the Birthday, and according to the Brown Bear, the Hamadryad, King of the Animals, is Mary’s “cousin once removed on the mother’s side.” We also meet strange characters like Nellie-Rubina and Uncle Dodger, the Dancing Cow, Robertson Ay and The Dirty Rascal, Mrs. Corry and her daughters, pasting stars to the sky at the top of a ladder. When Mary tells a fairy tale to the children, we’re not sure if it’s a children’s tale, or family history!

When reading this bit from the chapter “The Day Out”, keep in mind that Tolkien, who was writing The Hobbit in the same era, used “Fairyland” to refer to the magical world:

When she came back from her Day Out, Jane and Michael came running to meet her. “Where have you been?” they asked her.
“In Fairyland,” said Mary Poppins.
“Did you see Cinderella?” said Jane.
“Huh, Cinderella? Not me,” said Mary Poppins, contemptuously. “Cinderella, indeed!”
“Then how could you have been there? It couldn’t have been our Fairyland!”
Mary Poppins gave a superior sniff. “Don’t you know,” she said pityingly, “that everybody’s got a Fairyland of their own?” And with another sniff she went upstairs to take off her white gloves and put the umbrella away.

The Starling calls Mary Poppins “the Great Exception”, and says “she’s Different, she’s the Oddity, she’s the Misfit.” For P.L. Travers, Fairyland is all around us, always available, but we’ve all (except for Mary Poppins) forgotten how to see and hear it. That’s especially true in my favorite chapters, the touching “John and Barbara’s Story”, and the nearly heartbreaking “The New One”.

Even apart from mythological aspects, I also like these books for their honesty about childhood; for example in the chapter “Bad Tuesday”, sometimes you do just get up from “the wrong side of the bed”, or in “Bad Wednesday”, some days you really just don’t want to be the responsible one — and honesty about adults; Mary Poppins is not snuggly and cuddly, she is vain and can be dismissive and judgmental. But all these qualities of real people are visible to real children anyway, so why not show them in books together with the magic of Fairyland?

Mary Poppins (1934) and Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935), by P.L. Travers

(ps: it’s probably best to get one of the 1981 or later editions of Mary Poppins, where P.L. Travers laudably goes back to replace some unfortunate ethnic stereotypes in the original “Bad Tuesday”.)

book review: 20/30

April 30, 2018 Leave a comment


I love this book. The author has given us a first collection of short poems with a lovely mix of vulnerability and awareness of the world (both internal and external). They show one person’s search for meaning, not telling us some “final” answers. Much like haiku, these poems invite us to spend time thinking with compassion (and occasional humor) about the larger unseen world around each one.

A few examples of the attentive imagery:

suddenly spring
and the trees are late to the game


we are made of stars
but mine are dim
and on this still night
the fog casts shadows


it’s all one big stand-up routine
and some nights you’re on top of the world
catching laughs one after another.

but other nights you stumble over the delivery
and the crowd is thin
and the heater’s broken
and suddenly the room is full of frozen people
dying for a laugh

Here’s the author’s own description:

20/30 is the first fruit a year-long effort to write one poem per day. Here, the poet has compiled twenty-two short free verse poems, most of which were written between December 2017 and April 2018. These selected poems are an intimate scope of the poet’s most vulnerable moments. May this ragtag collection of words mean something or nothing to you.

As of this writing, the book is available on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

20/30, by h. sealock, Independently published (2018).