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Archive for October, 2002

Pithy Nuggets Of Wisdom From My Japanese Mother

On Frugality

Best way is you have to be a little bit stingy. Not like you. You buy presents for everybody, go eat in restaurant, go rent movie, and buy cat food all time. Who you think you are? A Rockefeller?

Look at you. Already middle age and you don’t have own house. E. have own house. P. have own house. Why you don’t have own house yet? Aren’t you embarrass? You need to save at least two year’s salary to keep in bank and also save to make down payment on house. Otherwise you going to end up bag lady.

You need to know how to shop smart. Your father and I always shop in Dead Meat Section, and when something on sale we stock up. [Editors Note: Accounting for the fact that the basement looks like my parents are preparing for nuclear holocaust and that they are fully stocked with, for example, twenty bottles or so of vintage Breck shampoo from the 1970’s, and other sundry items. I’m figuring they both must have had simultaneous multiple orgasms the day Sam’s Club came to my home town.] Also, when they have good coupon sale say only one per household, I send your father with second coupon through different checkout line and say to him we pretend don’t know each other. So you should make friend go to grocery store when that happen where you at.

Regarding Personal Health Issues

Never take Nyquil and Tylenol same time because then get double dose Tylenol. We been so worry you going to forget when sick and take Nyquil and Tylenol same time.

How you get mono at your age? That supposed to be teenage kissing disease. Who you kissing? You must have the different kind, then. You must have the Middle Age Mono.

If you don’t eat enough fresh vegetable you going to get all plug up.

If you don’t chew food carefully going to go down the wrong hole and make you choke to death.

I been so worry you going to catch cold. Make sure not to leave house with head uncover and don’t let feet get wet. You need to wear those nice expensive boots we sent. Even though we on social security now we send anyway. But don’t wear boots all day. Otherwise you going to get the Athlete Foot Fungus.

On Death and Dying

When we die, all going to go to you. . . . If you been good. Otherwise I going to decide to give to somebody else.

All nice things I have I don’t even use for myself. Instead I put away and save for you for when I die. [Editors Note: This would apparently also include the legacy of Breck shampoo, every single gift of nice perfume I’ve ever purchased for her decades ago, and a veritable tonnage of little hotel soaps whose vintage can be calculated by the fact that a number of them are from the era when Cashmere Bouquet was the tiny hotel soap of choice.]

We been so worry that when we die you not going to know which things valuable and maybe you give to Goodwill. And we hide all expensive thing so nobody can find it. I not tell you where because none your business.

When we die don’t tell anybody that we dead. Otherwise your Aunt D. find out and come down and try to trick you and take all expensive thing and keep for herself. Your Aunt D. a bitch. So don’t tell anybody when we dead.

I so worry what going to happen to you when I die. Nobody going to want to take care of you and maybe you end up bag lady.

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Snow That Sounds Like Rain

Today the snow looks like snow . . .

but sounds like rain.

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THINGS THAT I ADORE

Things That I Adore About Some Of The Women I Know

I love the way C. walks down the street, oblivious, reading a book. I love the way it feels to bask in her warm, soothing glow — how she makes me feel calm and good, like a cup of Chamomile Tea. I love her wonderfully modulated voice, and her quiet intelligence. I love how she always calmly proceeds at her own pace. I love her fabulous eclecticism, and the way she constantly seems to be exploring, discovering, learning, and growing. I love the way that she can decide to bike across the entire freaking state of Iowa, and will then actually do it. I love the way my cats were all immediately infatuated with her on first sight. I love her beautiful earrings. I love all of her freckles. I think that lots of gingery freckles are exceedingly marvelous.

I love how C.H. is like a sister to me, and how she perfectly understands some of the peculiar refinements of communication and cultural habit that we occasionally feel locked into by virtue of having first-generation Asian parents. I love her elegance. I love the fact that I can tell her when I’ve gone and done the most bone-curdingly, humiliating, mortifying thing and that she’ll tell me something kooky she’s done, and somehow manage to get me to laugh about it. I love the fact that if I’m neurotically obsessing over something such as wanting to get back in the pool but not wanting to have to change my clothes in the locker room she’ll give me a patient series of pep talks until I get over it. I love it when she careens down the street in her car with one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding down the brim of an enormous floppy straw hat to protect her skin, with an open bag of Cheetos clutched between her thighs. I love the fact that she’ll whisk into a gas station in an Ann Taylor suit talking a mile a minute on her cell phone, which she has to hold up in the air with one hand in order to not lose reception, and buy herself a 4-pack of Lynchburg Lemonades, seemingly unaware of any incongruities. C.H. is a concert pianist and mostly, I love how passionatelly, brilliantly, and sensitively she plays the piano. She plays the piano the way that I always wished I could.

I love E.’s crisp matter-of-factness — the way being around her is clarifying, invigorating, and yet comfortable too, like sleeping in soft, impeccably clean sheets scented with just a whisper of lavendar. I love the fact that she is wicked smart without ever being pedantic, and I love her sense of principles. (And that they’re good principles, too.) I love that when her principles have been offended (i.e., a school song being Colonialist propaganda, which . . . well, it is) that she has a way of drawing herself up rather like a dainty and dignified Siamese cat who can radiate displeasure/annoyance from the very tips of its fur without any visible change of facial expression or body language. I love her aristocratic Syrian nose, and the fact that she’s rather stunningly beautiful and undoubtedly oblivious of that fact. I love the way she is with her students, and I love the way she is with her obviously remarkable children . . . and the way she makes it all look so easy, even though I know it can’t be. I love that she understands the importance of food, and that she feeds me wonderful Arabic dishes, and that when I think of comfort food I sometimes now think of things I’ve eaten at her house. (And although J.E. is not a woman, and therefore technically not within the parameters of this list, it should nonetheless be noted that he is a fabulously good egg.)

I love J.’s infinite capacity for taking in the lost wounded puppies of this world (the Wrongways and other disenfranchised beings — canine-wise, feline-wise, duck-wise, or human-wise) and tending to them with untold patience and tenderness. If I were reincarnated, I think that I would like to come back as one of her dogs, cats, or ducks. I love how she always seems to walk her own, distinct path in life. I love her intelligence and wit, and that she appreciates whimsy. I love the fact that one night at the Video Saloon, when some Poor Soul had passed out and pissed himself, she went up to the bar, commandeered a towel, and matter-of-factly rigged up a diaper of sorts for him. I love all of the hours she doggedly spent rescuing tree frogs out of the swimming pool and hauling them down to the creek that summer she lived in the country. I love the fact that she once drove eight hours, back and forth, to come and fetch me for Thanksgiving. I love that she throws a really mean game of darts. I miss our long, long talks over coffee and cigarettes stretching out all afternoon into the night.

I love how L. loves her friends and family with such a lovely generosity of spirit and unswerving loyalty. I love her hilarious sense of humor, and the way she always seems to know how to whip up a big mess of fun. I love how huggable she is. I love how she started the annual Thanksgiving Bacchanal, or the way she could take over Events Planning for Slackers so that we’d all find ourselves going to Lollapalooza in a van rigged up with a portable fridge stuffed full of beer hooked up to a generator, having a really, really great time. I love the fact that she got married at a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. I love the fact that she and J.P. (another fabulously good egg) drove all the way to South Dakota on their vacation to come and visit me. I love the way she always says to me, “When are you going to come home for a visit?”

I love the fact that P. sleeps, turtle-like, with the covers over her head . . . the way she announces “Goodnight,” and then pulls up the blankets and disappears. I love her hilarious non-sequiturs (regarding Scandinavians in South Dakota . . . “It’s whatcha are“), and her self-deprecating humor. I love her penchant for lexicography and how her favorite color is orange. I love the fact that she has been known to weep while watching Wimbledon, and how she can spot when someone’s heading toward a lover who’s undoubtedly going to turn out to be a bad egg a mile away, but never says “I told you so” later on. I love that she considers Good-n-Plenties a major food group and that she recognizes the important distinctions and appropriate applications between good beer and swill beer. I love that she knows the right way to pound down a beer when so inclined. I am unspeakably moved by the way in which she mourns her dead cat. I love that she’s smart as a whip, and I love her marvelous poems.

I love S.’s laugh . . . how loud it is, and how you can hear it all the way down the hall, and how absolutely contagious it can be. I love how S. can always make me laugh, even if I’m in one of my got-a-big-stick-up-my-ass moods, and how good it feels to laugh with her. I love how unpretentiously brilliant she is, and how brilliantly unpretentious, as well. I love how she’s an an extroverted introvert, and I love how she can be irreverant and brash, but when it really counts is absolutely, perceptively sensitive. I love how beautifully she can explicate a poem, and the dead-on skill with which she gives a lecture. I love how she and C. are together. She has beautiful hands and very crisply-ironed shirts. I’m a sucker for a woman in a crisply-ironed shirt.

I love the fact that it’s kind of a cliche to adore S.R. because everyone adores her. I love the way she pays attention to people, and the way she makes one want to bask in the warmth of her regard like a goofy, purring cat in a sunspot. I love her exquisite taste, her humor, and her sensitivity. I love the way that she’s outrageously gorgeous — like a young Anne Sexton — yet seems to walk around completely oblivious to this fact. I love the way her former and current students come to me and tell me what an amazing teacher she is. I love her perfect, copacetic understanding of solitude.

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FIRST SNOW

First Snow

On and off, for the past two days, the first snowfall of the year. Small dry, crisp flakes gently sprinkling down from the sky as if hundreds of salt shakers were being rhythmically shaken over the Missouri River Valley. The flakes make a soft whispery sound brushing the dry leaves of the trees, like the rustling of tafetta skirts. Now there is a delicate, shivery dusting of white lightly coating the sidewalks and lawns, the hoods and roofs of cars. Like confectioner’s sugar, except for the cold blue undertone of sparkle glinting up in hard bright points underneath the yellow haloes of streetlamps and in the headlights of passing cars.

The furnace keeps firing up in a deafeningly thunderous roar — the iron floor grates rattling and clattering, hot air spewing up into my living room in loud burps and belches emanating from the very bowels of the house. It makes such an industrial racket that I have to shout a little bit in order to make myself heard on the phone. The cacophony is such that my Cat With the Neurasthenically Fussy Sensibilities goes into an apoplexy of disapproval each time the furnace comes on.

It is a good night to drink large steaming mugs of pungent ginger tea. It is a good night to eat hot and sour soup and black pepper chicken at the local China Trough. It is a good night to daydream over the dictionary, turning over the deliciously thin pages one by one, the soft rustle of turning paper not unlike the sound of the snow outside — turning over the sounds of the words in one’s mouth like round, sweet grapes. It is a good night to wear a Lapland-ish type of hat, with flappy ear flaps and dangling pom-poms, and a soft fleece lining. It is a good night to imagine a herd of reindeer to drive while wearing one’s Lapland-ish type of hat. It is a good night for a cinnamon candle. And later, in the dark, it will be a good night to dream up an imaginary lover to pull into the spooned curve of one’s body — to stroke the white tender flesh of her belly, finger the delicate ridge of her navel, to smell the wispy hairs at the nape of her neck, and whisper one’s secrets into her ear. Did you know . . . ? I wish . . . And then . . .

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Indoor/Outdoor Humans

It’s difficult to conceptualize the degree to which one is dependent on indoor plumbing until one is forced to do without it for even a relatively short period of time.

Now don’t get me wrong. I grew up in Wyoming. It’s a large, square state with lots and lots of empty space between towns and very few rest stops. I grew up in Wyoming with public-bathroom-phobic parents who would rather suffer a case of hemorrhoids than actually have to initiate any flesh-to-porcelain contact with a non-domestic commode. Suffice it to say, I’ve logged in my fair share of time copping a squat behind scraggly clumps of sagebrush along remote stretches of I-80, fighting off windburn and clutching a roll of toilet paper in one hand.

But the situation becomes decidedly more complex when the plumbing in one’s own habitat is being worked on, thus rendering the toilet in one’s apartment Out of Order for a solid, eight-hour stretch. I mean, it’s not like being a cat, for example, who has the flexibility of going from being an Indoor Cat to being an Indoor/Outdoor Cat, if you catch my drift. And, while the species of Indoor/Outdoor Humans can be spotted in larger urban areas (or in the privacy of the country), I live in a very small town where one can’t get away with diddly without invariably being spotted by, say, one’s Dean, or one’s Departmental Secretary, or (worst-case scenario) one’s Former Students.

As case in point, one night I had to make an emergency, post-midnight run to the grocery store. (Emergency, by the way, meaning that I’d run out of one or more of the following: Diet Coke, Tampax, cigarettes, chocolate). Feeling a bit cocky, I actually had the audacity to think I could just zip over to the Hy-Vee sans bra and in a pair of plaid flannel pajama pants (which, okay, I was deludedly attempting to pass off as leisure pants) without actually being seen by anyone I knew. But go figure, I ended up running into not one, but two Former Students — one of whom was the checkout clerk. In my chagrin, I immediately entered a very Deep State of Denial in which I (once again deludedly) thought that if I somehow skulked about in in cognito mode with enough determination I might actually get away without being recognized (or, at the very least, said Former Students might graciously pretend that they didn’t recognize me). But no . . . there were rousing cries of “Hey, Teach!” and “Hey, Professor Artichoke Heart!” Yeah . . . it was a proud, proud moment.

So when the landlord stopped by this morning to tell me that Disconcerting Things which had been transpiring with the plumbing were going to require the services of Pete the Plumber, I knew that vexations regarding personal bodily functions lay ahead. (And yes . . . he really is called Pete the Plumber. Furthermore, the locksmith is called the Lock Doc, and there’s also a Stan the Handyman as well. You’d think I was living in Mr. Fucking Rogers’ Neighborhood, wouldn’t you?) Pete the Plumber arrived just as I was finishing my second cup of coffee and declared an immediate and non-negotiable moratorium on all toilet-flushing activities until further notice. (I tactfully tried to hint that perhaps residents (meaning myself) might like a “Last Call” of sorts before he actually commenced plumbing activities, but Pete the Plumber was a surly motherfucker and wouldn’t budge).

Thankfully, I live a block away from campus, so my solution was to walk over to my office to use the facilities on an as-needed basis. On the first trip, I took care of some paperwork and other sundry miscellanea, so I don’t think anyone realized that my primary reason for being in the office (Monday’s a non-teaching day for me) was to pee. However, as the day wore on, and I kept popping in to trot into the restroom and then trot right back out, I’m sure some of my colleagues must have become at least momentarily baffled before probably shrugging it off as Eccentric Poet Shenanigans. Particularly as I kept getting caught up in my work at home . . . grading, class-prepping, writing . . . obliviously sucking down additional quantities of coffee, tea, and water (I am all about the beverages when I work at home) until I would suddenly realize that I rather desperately required a bathroom break . . . and I’d have to scurry over to the office again, beads of sweat dotting my forehead as I jogged up the stairs and burst through the doors of the women’s restroom.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure how I ended up so deeply entrenched in this semi-squalid narration, and damned if I know where I think I’m going to go with this. But apparently, there was a complex of tree roots interfering with the delicate and rather antique plumbing system of the house. Pete the Plumber, despite being a bit of a Toilet Tyrant, did manage to get things up and running again by the latter part of the afternoon. I’m an Indoor Human again, and life is good.

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MYSTERIOUS PUMPKINS

Mysterious Pumpkins

Ladybugs are everywhere now. I find them clinging to the curtains, inching across the linoleum of the kitchen floor, hunched in odd crevices and corners here and there. There is something oddly fluid about the way they slowly creep along . . . even though their legs are scurrying down below in jerky, mechanical synchronicity, all one sees moving are the shiny polished domes of their orange and black-spotted armours smoothly rolling forward across the floor. When I pick them up to take them outside, they seem like perfectly-halved, glittering lacquerware beans. Yesterday, I found a pair of them — one glossy orange and the other more of a deep rust — sexing each other up, flagrante delicto, on the arm of my Adirondack chair on the front porch. Afterwards, one of them split open the candy-shell coating of its back (smooth, Lamborghini-like hydraulics of upraised wings . . . the shocking glimpse of delicate, black-tissue-paper underwings) and flew away.

Last night, smoky roll of gray-black marbled clouds obscuring the stars. They were backlit by a hot, yellow spotlight of a moon, giving a bright, creamy butter-colored cast to their tender underbellies and wispy nebulaed edges as they slid across the sky. If you are a coldly twisting complex mass of cloud on the lam, does it mean that you can get burnt by the moon?

A fragrant mug of Cinnamon Hazelnut coffee warm in the hands and smooth across the tongue . . . splash of spice across the palate. The cats lined up like Peas in a Pod, each absorbed in their own, private cat meditations.

The moths that appear at night now are darker — sooty black or charcoal-grey wings — and their bodies and wings are stockier, more heavily furred. As if they are bundled in ermine, or other soft fuzzy wrappings.

I stepped outside shortly after midnight last night for a cigarette, and found that someone had left me a present of pumpkins on my front porch! A large, left-leaning skinny pumpkin, and a round, squat pumpkin splashed and mottled in zucchini greens. Mysterious, anonymously-gifted pumpkins. Did they know it was my birthday? Did they have any idea how much the solid pumpkin weight, the dusty orange creases, this quintessential pumpkin-ness would fill me with intense pleasure?

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ARIAKE

Ariake – Poems of Longing by Anonymous Woman Courtiers from Heian-Period Japan

Am I to go on,

Forever yearning, my thoughts

Tangled as seaweed

Swaying with the waves, neither

Drifting out nor coming in?

* * *

As night succeeds night,

I seek in vain to decide

Where my pillow should go.

How did I sleep on the night

When you appeared in my dream?

* * *

All too soon, I fear,

Wild sobs will expose my love,

As wind-driven waves,

Crashing onto the beaches,

Laying bare the roots of the pines.

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