Art Makes Family: A Book of Love

Every year for Daz’s birthday, I try to make something original that expresses the way he makes me feel.  I made this little book for him, but I want to share it with everyone.

Art has become the catalyst for me – whether it is drawing or painting or writing or cooking or singing. It is my WD40 AND my duct tape. It smooths the edges and keeps us together. I have typed the wordss out under each picture, Please enjoy!

 

Art1

Art: noun, The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.  But what if ART is more than what we make? What if ART is what we are? What if WE are the medium – pulled together in a cohesive torrent of creative LOVE?

art2

ART brings us together in a masterpiece of the human tapestry. Our history in every language.  Our skin in every color. Our truth in every version. Our story whether small or epic.

art3

Our perspective at every angle.  Our memories at every age. Our love in every expression.

art4

We see ourselves woven and folded and part of beauty and the living tableau of ART.  We see with our eyes and mind and heart.  We feel color.  We hear texture.

art5

ART makes beauty and life and love and home. ART makes FAMILY.  Thank You for being my family, my partner and helping me create this life everyday!

Love, H.

No Love in Things

So this is a ghost story about how we are haunted by things.

In the mid-1980’s, my mother was a cross-stitch artisan. She made some absolutely flawless work. We had even tested out several design software packages to create our own patterns for images. I also created some pieces, but nothing as intricate or challenging as the pieces she made.  For my grandmother’s birthday, she had a brilliant idea of making an entire cross-stitch quilt.

quilt3

The quilt design was 25 squares, each with a different rose picture. My grandmother LOVED roses. I was to make 12 and my mother would make 13.  Once they were completed, we would have it sashed with green ivy fabric and quilted by the ladies at The Neighborhood House for a donation.

quilt1

Whatever else was going on, we made that happen. It was a beautiful quilt.

And this was a big deal to us.  My grandmother, the quilt’s recipient, had made a masterpiece of her own that had hung in a couple different fabric/quilt shows and museums.  She had make a double-embroidered quilt of all the birds and flowers from all 50 states in alphabetical order.  It was enormous! Five years of work, countless episodes of All My Children, holding her mouth just right while threading the needle.  She had a bent fingernail because of the constant pressure against the fabric to get the stitch just right.

My grandmother loved our gift. And being from the generation who lived through the Great Depression, she wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping. I would not see it again for 30 years.

quilt 2

When my grandmother died, my mother moved into her house. She quietly gave the quilt to a childhood friend of hers. The quilt was still new – wrapped up and folded neatly in plastic. And in exchange, he gave her a lamp.

lamp2

It was no ordinary lamp. He had lovingly made a Tiffany-style pink and white lampshade just for her and attached it to an ornate metal base. It was a table-lamp and it suited my mother and all her pastel belongings to a tee.

Now these were two specific, unique and priceless things.  A great deal of feeling and sentiment were attached.  A great deal of creative work (including my own) transpired to bring them into being. The trade between my mother and her friend was one of equality and mutual admiration. And yet, they were THINGS.  Not people. Not loved ones.  Things.

When my mother passed in 2010, it was a chaotic time.  I am an only child and there was no will. I did my absolute best to put the nuts and bolts of her life in order and try to honor her in a way that would suit her. I did not allow myself to grieve in public or at all for at least another two months. I had help.  My mother’s friend Shirley and her close neighbors, Sonya and Emilio helped me immensely.  We sold as much as we could to take care of funeral expenses and set up a memorial service.

I held my breath for two months. I dealt with releasing her house to the bank and sending out death certificates to creditors. I felt loved and supported by people who just showed up and pitched in. Because we all loved her.

 

I held my breath and when I exhaled, I was alone. One night at 2 a.m. I just sat up in bed.  Her dog Doc, who became my dog, laying on the end of my bed staring at the closet.  Her ashes were on my top shelf. They had handed me her remains in a green velvet bag. I awoke and began to really feel the empty space in my life where she had been. We had talked daily often more than once. She made me laugh. She was the best grandma to my son. She was gone.

And there was not a THING that I wished to hold on to. None of it contained her heart, her soul, her spirit, her light. I didn’t need any of it because I carried the best of her with me. Always.

I had neither the quilt nor the lamp. And I was grieving and healing.

And it slowly got better. I miss her now, today, this moment. So does everyone else. And we live on connected by that.

So this is the haunting part, the life lesson:

A few months ago, my mother’s childhood friend showed up and found me.  He had the quilt. Honestly, I didn’t know it still existed.  But there it was, still folded immaculately in pristine plastic. He wanted to give it back to me. And, just for kicks, he wanted to know if I had the lamp. Because in his eyes, I had not been a good steward of my mother’s THINGS.  Because at some time while I was holding my breath and THINGS were being sold, I let the lamp get sold too.  Because when I was dealing with the tidal wave, I did not happen to grab his lamp and anchor it to myself while I withstood the storm.

aladdin

I was polite. I understood his point of view. I told him honestly that I did not know here it was or whom had it.  He talked on in a very heavy-handed way about disrespect.

“I’m giving this back to you because I know where things go.”

He was trying passively to shame me for not possessing HIS lamp. A lamp that was his then my mom’s, but never mine in the first place. A lamp that was so important to him still, that six years after my mother’s death, he found me just to emphasize its loss.

I remained polite. I much prefer people who speak plainly if they have an issue with me. But it was apparently that HIS lamp and HIS loss were not MY lamp nor MY loss.

I never wanted the lamp.  I never wanted the quilt back. It was given as a gift.  And my understanding of a gift is that once it is given, you do not take it back.

His attempt to hang six years of guilt on me for a lost THING didn’t work. In fact, it made me very sure that I will never charge another person with curating or keeping my THINGS.

marley
Jacob Marley wearing his chains of THINGS

I have the quilt, but I am donating it. The quilting is still crisp.  The stitches still look fresh.  In its 30 year existence, this quilt has never warmed anyone. It has never been loved. Its beauty has been made bitter by those who buried it away, suffocated it in plastic in the back of a closet. I am hoping that donating it allows the magic to finally grow. So much care and love went into it.

quilt4

My real hope is that whomever ended up with the lamp truly finds joy in it. Maybe it’s a beacon for a little girl reading stories. Maybe it’s the perfect source of light and comfort for someone who is alone. It could not be any of those things for me.

It was never my lamp.

Poetry: In the Midnight Garden – The Power of Dreams

One August night three years ago, I woke up blind sobbing.  I could not snap myself awake because this dream held on to me.
I dreamed of the man I love being called by Death.
Death is not a stranger to me.  My grandparents, parents – all no longer in this life. It is an honor to be truly present when someone passes.  I was there for my maternal grandparents and my mother. I held my grandfather’s small, blue hand and felt all of his memories pass through him; his life in rural Kentucky as a child, his mother’s face, his dogs, his children when they were small, his continued strength and determination and I knew firsthand the blessing it left on me.
mort
T-shirt design by Daz L’asrtist
Aside from my wonderful son, I have no immediate family. I have built one with friends and specifically with this man. This man who is fearless and kind and creative and magic and steady and real.
So when she came to collect, in this dream, in her guise – I made a deal.
Please enjoy the poem below:
In The Midnight Garden
She stole in through indigo bough under the weight and glory of
a full, gold moon
A ghost of a girl moving like breeze through gaudy forsythia
Her limbs birch white and eye pale grey blue like the pulsing
vein of a wild dove
Her ebon hair whipping savage and smile curving down
She sang her rain crow song, weaving through phantom
wisteria
She called to me with a lover’s voice by my secret name and
brought me out under the darkling stars
“I know you by your eye and your song.” She croaked softly
and offered me her cold hand as if gifting me a lily.
Her cool breath stole across my shoulders and slowed my blood. The
Death crow had coming to steal away my love.
Steal him from his life and waken in him another. A birth into
fretless abyss and humming oblivion.
To waken in me endless
empty hours and stillness without peace,
To tear him from his life and so from mine.
“How will you keep him with flesh that alters and weakens?
How will he love the finite and imperfect? When art and beauty
are timeless?
How can he stay with you? When I am Evolution and Omega.”
“I know you by your cold and illusion.” I sang softly and placed
my warming hand on her icy brow as if feeling a child’s face
for fever.
She wavered a bit but stood frozen, defiant. The Death crow demanded her treasure.
“I know you will take him. Into the desert darkness
where life is only a covetous idea.
I know he will love the journey and waken from the dream of
this life.And you may have him when my heart stops and me
too for the bargain.
But first listen…”
She smiled a curving downward crescent and let her head fall to
one side.
Her raven mane falling over the shifting planes of her
silver face altering into pain.
She heard
Loud and hard and hot and fierce the insistent beating of my heart.
The Death crow’s eyes grew wide as the moon. “I’ll be back.”
I smiled. “Take your time. We will be a while yet.”

Poetry: The Wolf Girl-Room Enough

So as my mother would tell the story, I was three. I was fascinated with “Little Red Riding Hood.”  I had the 45 RPM single narrated by Paul Patterson.  The cover showed the little blonde girl (and I was a little blonde girl) traipsing through the black trees with a dark purple sky.  And in the foreground, lying in wait, a black wolf with shifty red eyes.   He was meant to be sinister. I was meant to fear him. But I did not.
In my short time on this planet, much of it immersed in a fairy world of my own imagnation, I had already discovered that things are not always as they seem. I decided that wolves are friends. Dogs are friends. Forest creatures are friends.  I also decided NOT to be the little blonde girl.  I  wanted instead to be the wolf.  The wolf is easily the smartest character in the story.
When I was three, I traveled on all fours into the neighbor’s yard. I took off all my clothes and underwear. I proceeded to do what a wolf would do and pooped square in the middle of my neighbor’s front lawn. My mother charged across the street, red-faced and absolutely shocked.
“Holly Anne! What are you doing?!”
“I’m a wolf. Wolves poop outside, Mom.” I said logically.
She could not argue. She DID inform me that I was NOT a wolf. I needed to put my clothes on and go wash up.  She sent me home and knocked on the neighbor’s door to both explain and apologize.  I also had a visit to my pediatrician who assured her there was nothing wrong with me except a giant imagination.
Even now though, forty-five years later into this life, I love the story. I love the wolf. He shows up in my dreams – never as a threat – but as a guide, as a totem of family. Wolves care for their own.
12821572_10209412361048967_3313570549609828487_n
My first collage, posted above was in an art show last year.  It’s a 3′ x 2′ collage with natural objects, fabric and clay. The wolf is VERY furry.  I put a sign next to it in the gallery that said, “PLEASE TOUCH THE WOLF. DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  Because we are told in any art gallery to look and not touch.  But he is very soft and velvety and he is accepting a lovely friendship rose from our little blonde girl.
People – especially children – DID touch the wolf.  I sat at a little table and watched them.  I wanted to foster understanding instead of fear. Connection instead of separation.
The collage found a permanent home in the Lit. On Fire Bookstore. I am happy so many people see it.
So I decided to retell the story in the poem posted below. I hope you like it. If I have to be the little blonde girl, I would rather be one who trusts her heart.  I hope you enjoy this.
Room Enough…
I was so used to looking for wolves along the path,
I began to see everything as a wolf
Every shape or shadow shifting in the night,
Every light fair breeze rustling the bedcurtain,
Every man who might just be out to gather wood
And warm himself…
But that particular day, the daisies were grown tall and bright
And whispered that they would keep their chartreuse
Cyclops eyes peeled for any sign of lupine misadventure.
So I wandered among them, picking rabbit candy clover
And forging ships from billowy clouds and hummed
Little rhymes I knew as a child and
cast the net of my heart
Wide about the world
.
But daisies are liars or at the very least have short attention spans,
And wolves must be very fast because asudden, your fur brushed my arm.
I thought somehow I should be more scared, but my heart was open
And my mouth was still forming little rhymes.
I didn’t run and I did not scream. I did look you in the face for real.
For the endless second it took for your bottomless amber eye
To blink.
The door to my heart hung open, and all my fear of you and your legend
Became dust.
So I put out my hand and you put out your paw.
The better to love you with.
And I was sure in my bones that there was room enough
At Grandmother’s house for both of us.

Pre-Writing: The Three Sisters of the Sky

Decades ago, I crossed paths with three sisters. Each unique and full of courage and the kind of beauty that springs from deep connection and authenticity. One of them became my son’s godmother. And athough we do not see her often, I chose wisely.  They remind me that every woman is part of a web and yet we spin our own stories. We all move through tides of loss and glory and joy. I am grateful for my freinds, my siSTARS.

I began work last week on a children’s book. In all the conflict of late between science and religion, I choose mythos. Mythos is the perfect dance between the two. Mythos finds that place within us that connects us to our own story and our own explanations for things.  In this case, it is as easy as night and day.

Daz (the perfect artist for this) has been giving the following description:

The Three Sisters of the Sky.

Celeste, Selene and Soleil

Celeste, the vigilant the keeper of the balance of night and day.  She keeps the peace between her two sisters Selene – the moon and Soleil – the sun.

Celeste is the oldest of the sisters.  She dresses in multicolor stars and black cloaks, misty grey veils, colors of twilight and dawn.  She is about beginnings and endings.  She wakes her sisters and pulls back the veil of stars between dark and light. The morning glory and jackrabbits are her friends. Fireflies are her messengers. Night is coming. All will be well.  Dawn is coming. Today will be glorious.

Soleil is the middle sister, she dresses is reds, oranges, yellows, blazing colors and gold. She visits the farmers to grow crops, she shines she shimmers. She waves to animals who bask. She warms. She strides across the bright fields. Sunflowers always turn their faces toward her. Coyote, Songbirds and deer are her familiars.

The youngest sister is Selene – she dresses is blues and indigos and silver. She visits the children to bring dreams.  She glows and gleams and her hair is silver-blue beams. She follows travelers to brighten their path. She cools and comforts.  She strolls silent through shadowed lands. The moonflower and jasmine bloom to greet her. Her friends are bats and foxes.

Poetry: Found Art, Trifle & Tart

Is is still okay to say “Boyfriend” when you are both dancing on the precipice of 50? So what do I call him?  Life partner?  My old man? Significant other? There are MANY significant people in my life. The gorgeous Italian “inamorato“? I usually call him the best human being I ever met.  Anyway, this man is an artist,  And I, in my complementary role, am a visual learner and arranger of things.

Sometimes my love and arranging shows up in the food I make. Last night, I made one of his favorite desserts, Trifle – lemon pound cake with lemon custard, whipped cream, strawberries and raspberries. No cooking, just arranging. . You could soak the pound cake in liqueur in you like. The concept is to make a deep well of summery joyfulness.  It doesn’t matter if you just buy the pound cake, the artistry is in the assembly.

Dinner?  Pesto and goat cheese tart with heirloom tomatoes. Bake it for 8 minutes at 425 degrees. If you want it crispier, broil for 1 minute after that.  It’s a par-baked pizza crust, 2 tbsp. basil pesto, 4 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 cup goat cheese, top with mozzarella and arrange your cherry toms.  The heat does something magical to the goat cheese.  It’s tangy, soft and sweet all at the same time, a perfect match for the acidity of the tomatoes. Tear up some fresh basil leaves to nestle between the cream cheese and mozzarella layers.

tart

When our mutual friend introduced us back in October 2013, I don’t know if was I felt was love. He was too familiar. Not in any of his actions or words, but in the way my entire inner workings reacted to him just being. I had hit a spot in life when I did not believe in romantic love. When I was very sure dying alone would be just fine and dandy. I’d make sure it was dandy, because I would leave thorough instructions on my memorial service. I was THAT bored. I was THAT stuck. I was THAT set on memorializing myself as a loner.

Whatever I felt – passion, revulsion, the immediate need to protect my heart and my solitary way of life – it was powerful. After the most perfect day-long date in the world, in which he painted and I made shepherd’s pie and we talked and kissed randomly, I actually said. “Let’s pretend we never met.”

We did not speak for a few weeks. Then in late November, on a Thanksgiving day when I was completely alone and bereft of plans and people, I asked him to dinner. And he said yes.  During those two dark weeks, I wrote “Found Art”.  It’s not specifically about love. It’s about a specific moment in our lives when invisible lightning hits us. All our glib platitudes from Rumi and “Keep Calm” posters fail us. All the Silly Love Songs become dire warnings with the forceful insistence that you ARE going to feel this.  Stupid me clinging with a deathgrip to the notion that I am a self-contained work robot. So here is the poem.

Found Art
I had seen it before somewhere in a dream
A fleeting mix of ideas and color and imagination
Too true to be believed
I may have walked past it a hundred times
Images captured by the mind’s eye moving in outer circles
Barely concentric to my life
I was afraid to look at it
Because it might just tell the story of my childhood
Or list reasons for my darkness
It was an abstract
The vein and bone and brain of a human being
So magnified and precise that the pixilated cells
Seemed to move
I was afrai
d to look at it
And when I did I could not look away
I stared until the cones of my eyes ached
And my brain bled and black words dripped heavy from my pen
And the noise all around stopped because it whispered my name
Like a familiar
Like a river
Like a lo
ver
Like a devil
Like a desert
Like the West wind
Like a lover
Like home
Transfixed, I watched it move
I reached out and could not help running my hands
Over the curve, over fibonnaci spirals
Over sinew and skin and scar
And sweetness and painless light
It was a living map
A breathing mirror of all I fear
And worse, all I hope
Split in the exact center
Between the brain hemispheres
Deep down to the heart
In a Fissure of dark and tranquil and quiet
That knew my name and called to me quite clearly
I could
not close my eyes or fill my lungs
Although my mouth hung open
Waiting in awe for that kiss
Waiting for the wet, secret dark
To enfold me and invade me and
Fill me up with beautiful words
But it knew my name and was already adept
At shredding my fear and
hope
And ripping expectation to oblivion
I moved away slowly
Unwrapping myself from pleasure incarnate
Unsticking skin from skin
Untwining myself from this masterpiece
And I am still shaken, still swept up
Still aching
Still aware that it knows my name
Still needing a baptismal to wash away
The burning swirl of fingerprint and tongue

 

Poetry: The Decade of Impossible Love Between Frederic Chopin & George Sand

Celebrity couplings and breakups are fame fodder in the modern world. But in the early 1800’s it was not so common. Chopin the composer and Sand (writer Amantin Lucille Dupin who found it easier to publish under the male name George) shared nearly ten years of passion, creativity and connection.  The story goes that she would lie naked under his piano, smoking cigars and scribbling away while he composed his nocturnes.

It ended badly between them, spurring her to write Lucrezia Florioni in which the villain is a dead ringer for Chopin. He would die two years later at the age of 39, still a prolific composer. In fact, his last posthumous publication was “Devil’s Trill” in 2001.

The couple were painted by their mutual friend, artist Eugène Delacroix. It hung in Delacroix’s studio until his death. His estate curator split the portrait in half in the belief that two paintings would sell better than one.

And so they are now forever separated. Sand’s half hangs in the Ordruppgaard Museum in Copenhagen.  Chopin’s half is in the Louvre.

 

I wanted to bring them back together. To imagine the heady frangrance of her cigar smoke, the uncertain touch of piano keys, the sweetness. So I wrote this:

Poor Fred

It is too much sometimes in the nocturne,
Too personal. She
Lies beneath his piano in her own
World. Making her own
Wanton heroes and villains. Unaware,
Untouchable and
Unbearably close. So he sits above
Her banging on his
Instrument. He lets his hand find their own deft caress.
Body rigid, his
Heart beats secrets into the stricken keys.
White keys are pearl planes
Of her body, her skeleton, the curve
Of her neck when she
Dozes, arc of her hip when she dances.
Black keys are the blaze
Of her eyes, the dark of her lashes. Her
Fathomless, boundless
Imagination where he cannot quite
Follow, the endless
Sorrow he can never quite possess her.
Major chords are tight
Clear resonant words. Her lovely words drive
Him, her willing arms.
Encircling
him, her laughter and sly wit.
Minor chords are deep
Violent, frustrated echoes, swallowed by
Her written page, her
Beautiful naked peach shell body just
Out of his reach. Her mind and
Spirit utterly lost in the world of
Her own dark scribbling.
7th chords are maybes…
9th chords are what-ifs…
The Nocturne is now–tonight–here–with her.
Inches apart with
The world between them. The same music and love
Will survive them both…
When Lucrezia Florioni is
Written and he has
Become her villain. When hisPreludes
have become interludes,
And he has abandoned her. When they fade
To shadow and dust.
For ev’ry lover in divine passion,
Suspended between
Desire and art, between true love and its
Pale written ghost, on
The sheerest edge of desolation, in
His dying heartbreak
Transgression of shattering her perfect
Reverie to Live
The romance she writes,
To break her dream and take her beyond pages,
Beyond her story,
To his aching bed and into history.

Poetry: The Decade of Impossible Love Between Frederic Chopin & George Sand

Celebrity couplings and breakups are fame fodder in the modern world. But in the early 1800’s it was not so common. Chopin the composer and Sand (writer Amantin Lucille Dupin who found it easier to publish under the male name George) shared nearly ten years of passion, creativity and connection.  The story goes that she would lie naked under his piano, smoking cigars and scribbling away while he composed his nocturnes.

It ended badly between them, spurring her to write Lucrezia Florioni in which the villain is a dead ringer for Chopin. He would die two years later at the age of 39, still a prolific composer. In fact, his last posthumous publication was “Devil’s Trill” in 2001.

The couple were painted by their mutual friend, artist Eugène Delacroix. It hung in Delacroix’s studio until his death. His estate curator split the portrait in half in the belief that two paintings would sell better than one.

And so they are now forever separated. Sand’s half hangs in the Ordruppgaard Museum in Copenhagen.  Chopin’s half is in the Louvre.

 

I wanted to bring them back together. To imagine the heady frangrance of her cigar smoke, the uncertain touch of piano keys, the sweetness. So I wrote this:

Poor Fred

It is too much sometimes in the nocturne,
Too personal. She
Lies beneath his piano in her own
World. Making her own
Wanton heroes and villains. Unaware,
Untouchable and
Unbearably close. So he sits above
Her banging on his
Instrument. He lets his hand find their own deft caress.
Body rigid, his
Heart beats secrets into the stricken keys.
White keys are pearl planes
Of her body, her skeleton, the curve
Of her neck when she
Dozes, arc of her hip when she dances.
Black keys are the blaze
Of her eyes, the dark of her lashes. Her
Fathomless, boundless
Imagination where he cannot quite
Follow, the endless
Sorrow he can never quite possess her.
Major chords are tight
Clear resonant words. Her lovely words drive
Him, her willing arms.
Encircling
him, her laughter and sly wit.
Minor chords are deep
Violent, frustrated echoes, swallowed by
Her written page, her
Beautiful naked peach shell body just
Out of his reach. Her mind and
Spirit utterly lost in the world of
Her own dark scribbling.
7th chords are maybes…
9th chords are what-ifs…
The Nocturne is now–tonight–here–with her.
Inches apart with
The world between them. The same music and love
Will survive them both…
When Lucrezia Florioni is
Written and he has
Become her villain. When hisPreludes
have become interludes,
And he has abandoned her. When they fade
To shadow and dust.
For ev’ry lover in divine passion,
Suspended between
Desire and art, between true love and its
Pale written ghost, on
The sheerest edge of desolation, in
His dying heartbreak
Transgression of shattering her perfect
Reverie to Live
The romance she writes,
To break her dream and take her beyond pages,
Beyond her story,
To his aching bed and into history.

Everyone Likes Hot Dogs

My stepdad John was a Hungarian trucker. His CB handle was “The Happy Hunky” and he was a pretty amazing guy. He loved my mom. She did not have to work so he encouraged her to make friends and be artsy. She pursued ceramics and macramé and painting. When we moved into his house, he asked her to make it a showplace and redecorate. And she did! She reupholstered sofas and stained cabinets and laid new flooring. She thrived and she was happy.

People came to our house for dinner parties featuring his stuffed veal pocket and her lasagna. Red wine, good coffee, a little weed, Fleetwood Mac and Leo Sayer. Insane marshmallow fruit ambrosia, homemade cheeseballs with walnuts, highball cocktails, floating conversations about Stephen King, Jimmy Hoffa, Dennis Kucinich, Steve Martin and some lawyer named Mr. Hickey.

The dynamic of my relationship with John was not easy to define. I thought he was funny and I respected him. He thought I was funny and smart and marveled at how serious I could be about minutiae.  He was a good 15 years older than my mom and had already raised a daughter. He only really got angry when I disrespected my mom.  Other than that, he had me figured out.

My room would be a mess the entire week he was on the road. My mom would beg and cajole and threaten so I would clean it. John would come home on the weekend and simply say, “Wow! Who dropped the bomb?” It would be clean within 10 minutes.

I was still stuck in Spaghettio mode and had developed a nasty habit of wiping my mouth on my sleeve. Nearly every shirt I owned had an orange stain. My friend Dawn had also picked up this habit from me. Both of our mothers were frustrated. One night she, Dawn was over for dinner. It was Saturday so John was home and made “real” spaghetti.  It was real because it was made with dry noodles and Ragu.

During dinner, John took a big sloppy bite and wiped half his mouth on my sleeve and half his mouth on Dawn’s.  We were horrified.

John shrugged and said, “I thought it was okay to do that.  After all, you two were doing it.”  I could hear my mom through the saloon style kitchen doors laughing. I never wiped my mouth on my sleeve again.

John’s signature recipe was Stuffed Veal Pocket. I had no idea what veal was. I had reasoned that if it had a pocket, it was cousin to the kangaroo family but bigger. As an isolated kid who had been living out of tin cans, I was about to discover a new world.

Early Saturday mornings, John would drive out to the Cleveland West Side Market on 25th street. I wanted to go.  I mean why not go to the store? You grab a cart, listen to elevator music, check off your list, say please and thank you.  I had been to the store with my grandparents every Thursday in my life. What was so mysterious about West Side Market? Did they not allow kids?  I begged, I cajoled and threatened. Finally, John took me to West Side Market.

Yelling – not always in English. Smells – FISH, meat, flowers, baking breads. Colors – Vibrant palettes of fruits and vegetables. People shoving and crowding and knocking into me with their bags. Old women in babushkas buying parsnips, gorgeous dark eyed young men stacking fish, enough cut flowers to make me feel like I landed in Oz. Noise and bustle and haggling, the chaos of making a deal in hunter-gatherer heaven and above all this the atmosphere of shared passion for nourishment of the senses.

Each element by itself would have been enough to scare a shy child. The noise and confusion and unfamiliar faces and fish that looked back at you. But this special cloud of mayhem was driven by the cohesive purpose of trade. The food here was not just food. Jewels from the earth and sea harvested with intention and love. Buyers understanding the ritual negotiations and intrinsic magic within each carrot or peach.

There’s a place in the far corner of the Market on the Loraine Avenue side called Johnny Hot Dog. It was opened in 1912 by Mary Trisco and still open today. There is no better hot dog in Cleveland or maybe the whole Midwest. They even make a hot dog breakfast sandwich.  When John went to the Market alone, he would bring home a big brown bag of them with chili, diced onions and bright yellow mustard.

This particular morning, I held his John’s hand as we waited in line. The air hung heavy with smoke of grilled meat and sweet, fluffy steamed buns. I noticed there was a man in the back corner staring at me. His skin had a moist gray sheen like wet cement. His scent cut through the hot dog heaven and I felt real fear blooming in the back of my brain. I was pretty sure he was dead.  He had left this world and now returned to haunt Johnny Hot Dog. Because they had the best hot dogs on Earth. And we had to pass him on the way out and he might kill us for ours.

“John, I want to go home.”

“What’s wrong? C’mon, we’ll bring your mom a bag and make her day.”

“That guy. He’ll kill us for our hot dogs when we get ‘em.”

“What guy?”  So John couldn’t see him. Definitely a ghost, definitely dead.

“THAT GUY!”  I pointed and was loud. The man dropped his eyes. People’s heads snapped toward us.

“THAT guy?  Oh no. No, that’s just Clarence the Fire Bug. He don’t kill people. He just likes hot dogs like we do.”

It was the perfect answer. It established that he knew Clarence, that Clarence was neither dead nor murderous, that Clarence loved hot dogs like a normal not-dead person. Also Clarence was gainfully employed as a Fire Bug, which had to be a really cool job.  I was suddenly not afraid.  Staring people smiled at us. We bought a dozen chili combo dogs and headed home. On the way out the door, I made a point of saying goodbye to Clarence.

It took me decades to arrive at John’s sheer brilliance. To any child, the unfamiliar can seem terrifying. Even more so if that child has a gigantic, rampant imagination. Stranger Danger aside, we are taught that anyone not like us could be a threat or not a good person. Society uses markers like race or income class to measure differences and create separation.

What John did was phenomenal.  He did not really know Clarence – in fact he came up with his name on the fly. It didn’t matter. He destroyed everything different or scary about him in the simple statement, “He just likes hot dogs like we do.”

 

Poetry & Recipe: Sweet Summer Treasures

Today was my first trip to the local farmer’s market. The jewels of summer laid out in heady glory, each vegetable or fruit courting attention. Today I sought treasure and the feeling of home. The essence of love in pie form. Blueberries and nectarines without hesitation.

Tomorrow is June 11th. On June 11th, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh was conversing with Emile Bernard. “There can be no blue without yellow and orange.” 

And there it is: Dark, limpid globes of blueberries set against the tart sunshine of nectarines. And it has to be an oat and honey crumble. No false sugar or bland crust to hide the beauty. Honey to bring in flower nuances, Oats to deliver the earthy, solid texture of warmth and home.

The picture above is the end result.

Peel 3-4 nectarines and arrange in the bottom of the pan. Add 1 cup of blueberries. Drizzle with honey.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a pan and stir 1 cup gluten-free quick oats and 2 tbsps. more honey.  Top fruit with crumble. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.  Let cool a bit, enjoy and share with people you love.

I wrote the poem below on a night like tonight, full strawberry moon rising above the peach-lavendar sunset. When summer is opening up in every color, in every breeze, in every flower, in all its bright affirmation of love and life.

The Other World of You

I know there is a secret part of you the world cannot touch
That glow beneath the skin, incandescent purple just at sunset when you
Are certain it is your will alone that melts winters into ripe summer blaze.
That part of you I glimpse in flashes through your eyes in the
honey-blue
crescent of your iris, the eclipse of soul dancing around the full
moon of your field of vision.
In my light, the half-light cascading chiaroscuro, I can read your secret map,
follow the nerve and vein of you, chart indigo rivers to your heart, find
my location by the pulse of your blood, the longitude of your
half-dreams unborn to the light of day.
The carbon-star of you burning through my heart simple and singular as a
fingerprint, I trace my lips across your cheek and suddenly
I am home.