"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Lamb's Tail

When Daddy left for work every day, he'd give Mama a peck on the lips and she'd always say, "Be careful, and don't work too hard!"

And he'd say, "I'll be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail!"

I guessed that meant quickly, as, in a flash. Hmmm.

This one is short, so you can read it quickly, in two shakes of a lamb's tail, and go on about your business.

Don't You Forget it!

"Epamanondas, you don't have the sense you were born with. But I love you just the same, and don't you forget it."

And he never did.


I learned, from the age of two or three, to love books. Epamanondas was the first. Epamanondas, who carried the butter home as he had carried the cake, "wrapped up in leaves and put in his hat as he came along...." And, of course, the butter melted and ran everyplace.... Later, his Auntie told him, "I've got six pies cooling on the doorstep--you be careful how you step on those pies!" The pies sat cooling in a row on the doorstep. As soon as his Auntie left, Epamanondas went out, and he was good and careful. He stepped right--in--the--middle--of--each one! When his Auntie came back, she said "Epamanondas, you don't have the sense you were born with. But I love you just the same, and don't you forget it!" And he never did.

I can't remember a time when I was not in love with books. At Christmas, Santa Claus would often bring me a book. There was The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, a real women's lib story first published in 1939, about a lady bunny who attains the exalted position of Easter Bunny in spite of her responsibilities as the mother of 21 children. In the end, this "brave, kind, and swift" bunny must fly to a snowy mountaintop to delived a beautiful egg to a sleeping boy before she can return home to hide eggs for all 21 of her own children. The sight of the sleeping boy with that beautiful, fragile egg in the palm of his hand sent waves of dread through me. I knew the boy would wake up with no idea of the egg in his hand--and it would fall--and that would be the end of that!

I loved the Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr books. by Maj Lindman. Babar the Elephant was another favorite. My Nanny gave me A. A. Milne'sNow We Are Six on my sixth birthday, and inscribed it: To a Nice Little Girl. I memorized it.

Then there was the comics page in the newspaper: The Teenie Weenies were tiny people who lived among the birds, chipmunks, mice, squirrels and rabbits in Teeny Weenie Town. and the Katzenjammer Kids, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, Dick Tracy,Red Ryder and Little Beaver. The list could go on and on.

Once we got a set of encyclopedias, filled with volumes of information and pictures--a mother testing a baby's bathwater with her elbow, a story of gypies who
dyed a stolen child's skin brown with walnut juice. The set was red, with gold-leaf that said: COMPTON'S PICTURED ENCYCLOPEDIA on the front of each book. We also had a set of medical encyclopedias I loved to look at, in which various people suffered with unspeakably horrid illnesses which cracked their lips and spotted their skins. There were other pictures in which broken arms were expertly set in slings elaborately folded and tied.

In school we read of Dick and Jane, Spot, Puff, and Baby Sally. I loved the weight, and feel, and the smell of books! So, I became a bookworm. I don't remember ever learning to read. It seemed as if I always knew how, and I could never understand people who didn't love to read.

Songs My Mother Taught Me


Who's that knocking at my door?
Who's that knocking at my door?
Who's that knocking at my door?
Cried the fair young maiden.

It's only me, Im home from the sea,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

Are you young and handsome, sir?
Are you young and handsome, sir?
Are you young and handsome, sir?
cried the fair young maiden.

I'm old and rough and dirty and tough,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
I drink my gin and I dip my snuff,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

I'll come down and let you in,
I'll come down and let you in,
I'll come down and let you in,
cried the fair young maiden.

Well, hurry before I bust down the door!
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
I'll rare and tare, and rant and roar!
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

I'll spin you yarns and tell you lies,
I'll drink your wine and eat your pies,
I'll kiss your cheeks and black your eyes,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

If you love me, say it's I,
If you love me, say it's I,
If you love me, say it;s I,
cried the fair young maiden.

Aye, aye! said he, It's certainly me!
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
Aye, aye! said he, And now we agree!
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

Tell me that we soon shall wed,
Tell me that we soon shall wed,
Tell me that we soon shall wed,
cried the fair young maiden.

Never again, I'll come no more!
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
And if you wait for me to come
You'll sit and wait and suck your thumb,
said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

(These were lyrics from an old 1930 Betty Boop movie, but there are other, raunchy lyrics. She only sang me the clean version, although I do remember a line that went: To hell with the dance, and down with your pants, said Barnacle Bill the Sailor!)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Self Portrait...

Who said you can't go home again! Here am I rocking on the front porch of Thomas Wolfe's home in Asheville, NC. I went back once to look for my old home in the California Mojave desert one summer, with my mother. We laughed all the way to the airport, ate peanuts and drank Cokes on the jet. The day we drove out there the desert was hot. Most of the wildflowers were gone. The town is still there, but our house was gone. Vanished. Where it should have been was a small square foundation, a lizard, a few weeds. Vanished. Like Grandpa and Nannie, and Nannie's yellow cat called "Pinky." Like my brother's black dog Sparky. Like Daddy. And Mama. Daddy was a miner. Mama said my father was always one shovelful away from the glory hole that would've made us rich.

OK. So, maybe you can't go home again. But words are magic! In 1939, Mother's Day came on a Sunday, May 14th. I was born the day after. They said Daddy leaped the fence like an Olympic hurdler to tell my Nannie and Grandpa, "It's a girl!" The newspaper headlines that day announced that Premier Mussolini gave his views on the question of war in Europe: "There are not enough problems big enough...to justify a war," he said. So, he was wrong. That day Bob Feller, pitching for the Cleveland Indians, saw his mother in the stands hit by a stray ball. Sophie Tucker, Katherine Cornell, Tallulah Bankhead, and Katherine Hepburn played on Broadway the night I was born. I was a shy kid. I told my husband I spent my childhood reading Plato and Aristotle. I lied. I wasted a lot of time under the fig tree in our back yard floating ants on boats made of leaves. I practiced flying off the swings, sure that if I wished hard enough and kept practicing, one day I would take off like a bird, and never come back.

I decided I'd be an artist. I majored in art all thru High School. Then I decided I'd be a great actress (like Katherine Hepburn), and went to the Pasadena Playhouse. I spent about a year travelling with a road repertory company, and we played seven different shows across the U.S. and Canada. I did mostly little girls and old ladies. I got tired of living in hotels and suitcases, so I left the road and enrolled at the University of Utah. My dearest friend Janet decided I was going to wind up an old maid because I hardly ever went out. I spent much of my time in the music library listening to Palestrina Masses. At any rate, I graduated in '64 with BFA in Theatre Arts and got married a couple of weeks later. And had five sons. And no money. I survived that. I survived melanoma, and wrote a book about it, called CHRYSALIS (out-of-print now, but several copies are still floating around on Amazon.com). I taught writing for several years, had a poetry textbook and a book of poetry published, IN WILLY'S HOUSE. I love to write, but have kind of gotten out of the habit. Maybe this will inspire me again.

Now that I am--almost--sixty-seven, and closing in on an ending that may be a beginning, or a continuation, I know that it's all about change. Susan Griffin, in "A Chorus of Stones," says: The body remembers who we are supposed to be. And in this there is grief.

I think sometimes I am supposed to be about four, read to, sung to, rocked to sleep in the wicker rocker on our vanished front porch, wearing my small thin body, without this unfamiliar heaviness, these strange wrinkles, this loose flesh. Last night I dreamed I was in my Grandmother's house. My mother was there. I was ecstatic. My father came past the window and looked in, and then came into the room where we were all gathered. I threw my arms around him and gave him a kiss. Then the dog woke me up wanting to go outside.

H.G. Wells said that "Man must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind him to the fact that each moment of his life is a miracle and a mystery." My life so far has been a miracle and a mystery. As all of our lives are. Isn't it grand! Almost like going home.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Daddy in the mine, "a penny's-worth of carbide" lit in his headlight "like a star."

Rough and Ready

"In 1918," writes Jack McGinnis in his little book called RANDSBURG-Southern California's Greatest Gold Camp, "a big silver strike was discovered." And the Kelly mine, where Daddy worked, "was on its way to fame. It was almost unbelievable how rich it was." Other silver mines, the Silver King, Big Four, Silver Glance, Red Warrior, and the Yellow Aster were also booming. A post office was established in 1922. "The miners were calling the town Gin City, and Sin City, and the postal department soon got tired of the confusion, so they settled the name by calling the town 'Red Mountain.'

"Red Mountain was a rough and ready town. Saloons were everywhere and this was during prohibition, too. Authorities didn't seem to care and looked the other way. If a raid was planned on Red Mountain, somebody was always tipped off. Girls and liquor were plenty everywhere you went, up and down the main street. Gambling was everywhere. This was really a last frontier town in the west. There were places named the Northern, the Silver Dollar, the Owl, the Shamrock, the Palace, the Stag, and many more. The girls were all young and beautiful. Everybody had fun," he writes. My brother says, "Red Mountain was an interesting place in which to grow up. I lived there the first fifteen years of my life, and still retain many fond memories of it." He delivered newspapers to the "girls," the prostitutes down on the main street. "They were always nice to me," he remembers. He says, "My dad was the foreman at the Santa Fe mine. He had studied mining engineering through a correspondence course, and I believe he knew more than most engineers. We used to sneak to the edge of the Santa Fe and spit down it until a piece of spit hit one of the miners after gaining several hundred feet of momentum. We got chewed out plenty."

All the mines, Daddy said, were full of Tommyknockers, gremlins who caused cave-ins, who loved to trap miners, and I thought, would surely eat a child whole if one wandered too close to one of the mine shafts. I was interested in Tommyknockers, apparently more than my big brother was! On occasion I did take Daddy's lunch to him, and was lowered down the shaft in a bucket, carrying the food in my lap. The Kelly had a 1400 foot vertical shaft, a head-frame with a large wheel pulley at the top and a hoist house below where a long cable with the bucket extended down into the shaft. I never saw a Tommyknocker, but I loved going down into the mines where it was cool and damp, and smelled of rocks and carbide and old timbers that shored up the tunnel walls and ceilings. Daddy would spit in the lamp on the front of his hard hat and the carbide gave off a gas he lit with a match. The little fire barely lit the rocks walls and the tunnels were shadowey. The fires in the miners headlamps were like little stars.

Daddy came to California from Utah as a young man barely eighteen years old. His father came, too, bringing his fiddle (which, years later and restored, my oldest son would learn to play). Grandpa could make slip-bark whistles, and tie a button over a string so that, wound up, it would hum as the string was pulled tight, then loosened, and pulled tight again, an endless delight to me.

Mama taught me to play "cat's cradle" with a piece of string pulled in patterns from one set of fingers to another. Back and forth. Mama came from Colorado when she was thirteen, a green-eyed little girl with a head full of wild red hair and freckles (which she hated). She had picked cotton all the way across central California, had lived in a cave with her father, her red-haired mother, a red-haired sister named Josie, and a brother named Ray, and she had walked to school in Red Mountain along the very rim of the hill in back of our house, afraid of the wild donkeys that roamed and brayed there, leftovers from the old miner's camps before Red Mountain, Jo'burg, and Randsburg were boom towns. In time, Mama and Daddy met and married, and Mama didn't learn until they'd been married for 50 years that my father had given up what was a promising career as a professional baseball player for love. He LOVED baseball! He once pitched a no-hitter against the famous Satchel Paige, and might've pitched for the Los Angeles Angels, but for love of Mama, and mining. They didn't have much, but they had that. He built the house for her out of railroad ties. They loved each other, and they made beautiful music together, playing for dances at the White House in Randsburg, Daddy on the saxophone, slurring out sweet songs--Mexicali Rose was his favorite--while Mama played the piano. And after my brother was born he went along with them. When he got big enough, 2-years-old or so, he sat up on stage with the band on an upturned Folger's Coffee can, chewed on a make-believe cigar, and drummed alongside the cigar-smoking drummer. (Years later my second son would learn to play his grandfather's sax, and sometimes used it in his own band.)

My brother was an imaginative little boy who liked to dress up as a cowboy, making corrals with sticks and catching horned toads to use as his "horses," or as the "Masked Marvel." He was almost eleven when I was born, and was often recruited to hang out long lines of diapers when Mama needed help. He was a good boy, and a good brother. He went away to High School in Barstow when I was only three or four, and so I only saw him on week-ends and summers. He learned to play the trumpet and took piano lessons and loved model airplanes. He glued together balsa-wood frames, covered them with silk and hung them in the kitchen, and flew them across the desert, airplanes with one set of wings, or with two sets, and propellers, airplanes that smelled of balsa and model glue. And those with real gasoline engines were like birds, alive in his hands.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Today is my sixty-seventh birthday! Go backward sixty-three years to the day of my 4th birthday party. Find my cousin Jerry to my right, and my friends Vivian and Billy to my left. My friend Diane cried, and so is not in the picture. I was very concerned. (Inside, I am still four-years-old. Still concerned. Where are you now, Diane?)

Now I know that it's ALL about change. Susan Griffin, in A Chorus of Stones said "The body remembers who we are supposed to be. And in this there is grief." I think sometimes I am supposed to be about four, read to, sung to, rocked to sleep in the wicker rocker on the front porch to the crossing of searchlights, wearing my small, thin body, without this unfamiliar heaviness, these strange wrinkles, this loose flesh.

There Was A Little Girl...

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good
She was very very good
And when she was bad she was...horrid!

(About three years old. I remember I loved that little ring.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pictures 1

Me, my first photo. Mama and me. Grandpa and me. I really loved him. I loved to sit on his lap and watch him roll his own cigarettes, from tobacco in a little white bag with a golden drawstring. He was Sheriff, and he was also a miner. He finally died of black-lung and is buried in San Bernardino, CA.

Red Mountain

In May of 1939, a man could buy a Plymouth Roadking for $645, or a tin of Bond Street Tobacco for 15c. The World's Fair was in full swing in New York City. Mrs. Roosevelt had greeted more than 20,000 Brooklyn women the morning I was born. The New York Times reported that two pickpockets and an umbrella mender "in possession of a screwdriver, pliers, and a flashlight" had been arrested the night before and were repenting in jail. James Joyce's first new work in 17 years, Finnegan's Wake was heralded in the Wall Street Journal as "The most unusual literary event of our time."

So it was. On the night of my birth, the sun, on the other side of the world, was in Taurus. The moon, on my side, was in Aries. Our house was on the side of the hill. In spring, the hillside was covered with flowering creosote, yellow asters, and pink-eyes, which, it seems to me, was another name for Indian Paintbrushes. Clumps of pink and white wild primroses bloomed everywhere (the pollen was thick and golden, and brushed under your chin would tell whether or not you liked butter, or boys, I can't remember which). Thick, waxy desert lilies decorated the roadsides. The smell of spring on the desert was incredible. By mid-May, most of the flowers had been ravaged by the herds of sheep that came through like locusts and ate everything green right down to the dirt.

Our house was yellow. Daddy built it himself from railroad ties, and a locust tree grew in the side yard. There was a screened front porch that let the cool evening breezes blow through, and an outhouse, which I rarely used, being lucky enough to have my own potty-chair beside the ice-box in the kitchen. The wars flourished in Europe, but our front porch was a safe place to be. By 1943, the Wehrmacht was in retreat, Lucky Strike Green had gone to war, and people were singing "Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition." Rocking on our front porch in the evening then, Mama sang to me. She sang, Pony Boy, Pony Boy, won't you be my Pony Boy? Don't say no, here we go, off across the plains. Marry me, carry me right away with you.... There were occasional blackouts; more often searchlights criss-crossed in the dark while she sang of the Fox in the Log: Naaa, naaa, naaa said the little fox, naaa, naaa, you can't catch me!... Or Brahm's Lullaby.
Often she sang about the Poor Babes in the Woods, two children who went for a walk one day, got lost, died, and the robins so red brought strawberry leaves and over them spread.... It was the saddest thing in the world, and I cried and cried for those lost children.

A corral to the north of the house was home for old April, the brown Jersey cow who once kicked Grandpa in the head. Mama always said April was stubborn and mean and stingy, but I liked sitting on her back, my skinny legs splayed straight out, while Daddy milked her. Later, Mama heated the milk in a great silver pan to bring the cream to the top, a thin, wrinkled, pale layer she skimmed off the top with a spoon, while she complained that the cow owned by my Uncle Frank and Aunt Lauree gave milk with yellow cream that rolled off the top like a thick jellyroll.

Old April was uncooperative in more ways that this. When my twelve-year old brother helped Daddy bring her into the corral on the evening she first became a member of the family, she bolted as if she were being led to slaughter, and took off up the hillside, scattering primroses and pollen to the wind, with Brother and Daddy close behind her. They hollared and waved their arms and tried to head her off, each trying to outguess the direction she'd take next. For a cow, she'd have made a good race horse, galloping first to the north, then up the west hill, skirting bushes and galloping across gullies before heading toward town. Dad hollared for Mama to get the car, and as the sun dropped behind the hill, and it was beginning to get dark, to keep the cow in the headlights. Mama grabbed me up, and she cranked up the old green Model A, and off we went, without a word, without a road, up and down the mountain, through ditches, the Model A's headlights shooting out two thin beams of light to illuminate the first truly exciting adventure of my life!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

By A Departing Light

My Uncle Ray named the bar the Hut. Inside the Hut it was always cool and dim and beery. Usually country music was playing. Cowboy tunes. Lost love.
Your cheating heart will make you weep, you'll cry and cry, and try to sleep...
The bar was next door to the post office where my mother's sister, Aunt Josie, worked. Our mailbox was number 297. Why do I remember such an inconsequential fact when most days now I can't even remember what I had for breakfast? If I remembered to eat breakfast. I also remember our telephone number was 741, which as Inyokern grew, became 7741, and then 72741. Mama was a telephone operator. The telephone office was next door to the bar on the other side of the street, right across from the Hut. There was a Shell gas station with a big yellow seashell in front on the south side of the street, and a Mobile station with a red flying horse on the other side. There was a market where a nice lady named Cooksie rang up groceries, a barbershop run by Jack the Barber, and a store, which my daddy owned. He bought the store from Mr. Clarence Ives back when the town was only a store and a gas station, called Bentham's Corner. Now the sign in front of the store said: HATTON & HATTON Dry Goods and General Merchandise.

When I was about eight, and baptised, and accountable for all my own sins, I began to wonder how it all started, everything, the world, and time, and stars, and people. EVERYTHING, eternally rushing outrageously in both directions, backward as well as forward. Well, they said, God. Then who made God? I said. What was before the beginning?

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. Today I sat with a lump in my throat, listening to Fresh Aire Interludes, the same music my mother loved, the same music I played over and over for her the night before the morning she died. The last music she heard, songs called Velvet, Amber, and Mist, played on a tape recorder until she fell asleep. She timed her breathing to it. Now, hearing it again, I relive that terrible night, and other, sweeter nights when I stayed over and slept with her in bed.

By a departing light
we see acuter, quite,
than by a wick that stays.
There's something is the flight
that clarifies the sight
and decks the rays.

--Emily Dickinson

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Before the Beginning

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

--Leonard Cohen

A requiem is a mass sung for the dead, usually in Latin. Requiem aeternam dona eis, et lux perpetua luceat eis, which means "Rest eternal grant them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them." I have loved primarily four requiem masses that make my heart beat faster and my hair stand on end. First, of course, is Mozart's Requiem Mass in D-Minor; then Faure's, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's, which they did on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Requiem aeternam dona eis, they all say.

I was five when my paternal grandpa died. His funeral was held in a picturesque little chapel in Randsburg, now a historical site. It was the best place they could find for a lot of people to attend. Grandpa had been the Sheriff, and wore a silver star over his heart. He rolled his own cigarettes and kept a little bag of tobacco tied with a gold string in his pocket under the star. When they held me up to look in the coffin and say goodbye, I thought he was sleeping in a bank of flowers. Since then, so many have gone: all the grandfathers and grandmothers, all the aunts and uncles, some of the cousins... Daddy and Mama--all of them without the fanfare of a requiem mass. I loved them all, still do. Requiem aeternam dona eis.

I remember they hung a black wreath with black flowers and ribbons on the front door of the bar on the south side of the main street that ran through Inyokern. It was 1945, a year after Grandpa died. Gold letters across the front of the ribbon said OUR CHARLENE. Charlene was the two-year-old daughter of the bar's owner and his wife. Until that day I didn't know that children could die. Until that day childhood was a safe place to be. Even so, I knew that there remained three things I knew for sure. I was loved. I was still safe. And I would forever be "little" while the rest of the world would forever be "big." Time was nonexistent. The world was unchanging. I used to take Charlene for rides on the back of my tricycle. She died of some undisclosed illness I would never learn the particulars of. Her parent's sold the bar to my mother's brother, Uncle Ray, and they moved away. I made myself sick trying to cry from a sadness I could not feel. "Stop that," my mother said at my noisy attempts at grief. I stopped, after awhile, and put Charlene to rest somewhere in the back of my mind. Every now and again she stirs, and I remember a black wreath on a door. But for the remainder of my childhood those three things held fast: I was loved. I was safe. And the world was basically unchangable. Blessed be childhood.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

In My Life

There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

--JOHN LENNON lyrics - "In My Life"

About Me

My photo
1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.