Archive for October, 2002

Thirty-Seven . . . The Dangerous Year

Today a cold drizzle of rain that trickles down in soft, plangent icy drops and seeps down low into the bones.

The Tree in the Front Yard whose leaves have turned bright lime green and phosphorescent yellow shimmers wetly, branches weighted with damp.

Cats mashed together in a warm furry pile on the futon . . . the season of heat-leeching has begun. Earlier this morning, each flung across the comforter like limp dishrags, heated from below by the quiet, patient ticking of the electric blanket . . . swooning in pleasure from the opiate warmth, sleeping with eyes halfway open, limbs melting into pliable honey from the heat. When I poke them, they merely grunt in acquiescence.

I should wash the dishes, I should step shiveringly into the cold, drafty porcelain of the shower, I should water the plants, I should read literary journal submissions, I should prep for tomorrow’s class, I should, I should, I should . . .

I miss the evanescent company of my insects: the violet-bodied, glittering-eyed dragonflies; the clumsy bumbling rattle of cicadas striking the windowpane; the mint-leaf winged, space-alien katydids.

A squirrel, fur standing up in moist spikes along his back, complains down at me from his tree branch with chuttering coughs — whipping his tail about in frenetic aggressive circles like plumed numchucks.

Four words: ephemera, lamentation, samovar, willow.

Strike them one by one like lit matches and cup their glow inside your hand for one moment. Feel their soft blaze, their orange heat, then blow them out.

Thirty-seven, the year Lady Murasaki called the dangerous year, approaching.

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More Fragments of Phone Conversations With My Japanese Mother

Regarding Use of the Secret Code

JM: What’s matter? Something wrong?

AH: Nothing’s wrong. You wanted me to call you when I got back into town, but I decided to stay another day . . . I’m just letting you know so you don’t get worried.

JM: Yeah . . . we been so worry. Watching watching Weather Channel for bad weather and saying if you smart you not try to drive anywhere in October. Then hear phone ringing, ringing, ringing so I thought “Uh oh . . . must be Artichoke Heart got in trouble.”

AH: No, no trouble. And sorry about letting the phone ring like that. I hoped if I let it ring long enough you’d finally figure out it was me.

JM: Nobody else going to let so crazy ring and ring like that! What’s matter with you? You forgot how to use the Secret Code again? You only supposed to ring twice then hang up so we know it’s you, then going to call you right back.

AH: That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m not at home, so if you tried to call me back I wouldn’t be there. I decided to stay another day.

JM: You not home?

AH: No.

JM: Gosh, you stay another day isn’t P. going to get sick of you? Anyway, you get home you call us use Secret Code. Ring twice then hang up so we know it’s you, then going to call you right back. We don’t like to answer phone because of Telemarketer.

AH: You’ve never liked to answer the phone the entire time I’ve known you.

JM: Yeah . . . but Telemarketer got so bad now we don’t want answer phone ever again. So make sure you use Secret Code. You remember how to use this time?

None of My Business

JM: Was that you who just call?

AH: No . . . was somebody calling you?

JM: Yeah . . . somebody ring twice then hang up, so I thought you trying to call me. Are you sure you not trying to call?

AH: I’m sure. How are you?

JM: Oh. We fine. Hang on. Maybe your father have something want to say to you.

[My mother then clamps her hand over the phone receiver for a minute or so, and I can hear her talking to my father, but it’s of course too muffled with her hand over the receiver to make out what they’re saying.]

AH: Hey . . . are you going to talk to me, or talk to each other while I’m on the phone?

JM: What?

AH: I hate it when you do that. What are you two talking about?

JM: None you business.

Regarding My Cats

JM: [In a jokey mood.] When I come visit you I going wait until you go teaching, then I’m going take all you mongrel cats and give to pound.

Regarding Death of a Friend’s Cat

JM: Why anybody need to be sad? You just give away one of your mongrel cat to E. Then all fix.

On Professional Attire

JM: I been so worry you going to go teaching when dress like hippy. You know, nobody going to tell you when you look like hippy. They just going to talk about you behind back. So when we went to Crazy Days Sidewalk Sale I find such nice dress and I think “this dress be such good dress for Artichoke Heart to wear when teaching.” Use to be very expensive dress. I never can afford. But way mark down and I have to fight other ladies to grab it first. I try on and your father say look so good on me I should keep for myself, but instead I going to send to send you in mail so you wear for teaching.

[Note to reader: The dress in question will be either one of two things: (1) a horrifyingly girly-girl dress in unremitting pastels with shoulder pads and puffy sleeves; or (2) a somewhat matronly affair in polyester with shoulder pads and mongo-enormous gold buttons.]

AH: Mom, that’s really nice. But I’ve got plenty of clothes. Really. And we’ve talked about this before . . . that I prefer to pick out my own clothes, remember? You should definitely keep it for yourself.

JM: Yeah . . . but you don’t know anything about good fashion. You have bad taste clothing. So even though I hate to let go, I going to send to you. Make sure you wear with nice pump, and carry nice handbag. And no funny color pantyhose.

AH: Mom, please . . . don’t send it. I don’t even wear dresses anymore, I don’t own a pair of pumps, I don’t carry handbags, and I have no plans whatsoever to wear pantyhose at any time in my foreseeable future.

JM: So you don’t care people talking behind your back saying you look like hippy?

AH: [Laughing.] What people? Where? I’m sure my colleagues could give a shit what I’m wearing.

JM: See? That’s what I mean. You never know what people because they talking behind your back. Doesn’t bother you?

AH: Not particularly.

JM: [Huffily] Well don’t come crying to me if don’t get tenure. [Then, brightening.] But anyways, I tell you what. I going to send to you so you can try on and see how nice you look. You wear. You see. But if not like you make sure send back to me because your father say I look so nice that dress and shouldn’t waste time send you. But that’s okay. I send it anyway.

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Eat, Sleep, and Jeep

On my way into campus yesterday — in my typical on-the-verge-of-being-late-and-feeling-incredibly-frazzled-and-tomorrow-I-swear-I’m-going-to-leave-the-house-a-full-half-hour-earlier state of mind — I passed a Jeep with a window sticker that read Eat, Sleep, and Jeep, which made me stop for a moment and grin. Granted, it was a Jeep Cherokee, which, to my mind, does not even remotely compare to the authenticity and intrinsic Jeep-ness of my own Jeep Wrangler, but nonetheless, it got me going in terms of musing fondly over my Jeep, and before long I was mentally waxing rhapsodic over the superior qualities of the Jeep Wrangler.

Admittedly, I may be somewhat unhealthily obsessed with my Jeep and perhaps I am rather excessively fond of it. (Think Janeane Garofalo in The Truth About Cats and Dogs — “You can love your pets, just don’t luuuuhve your pets” — and insert “Jeep” in lieu of “pets.”) Admittedly, the Jeep Wrangler is a bit of a bone-crunchingly bouncy ride at times (particularly if one has a pre-1997, non-quadra-coil suspension model, such as I have). Admittedly, if one is driving on the interstate, even with a hard top, it’s one loud motherfucker. Admittedly, it is a vehicle that’s popular among college-age frat boys, much to my mortification. (And did I mention that it’s really, really loud on the interstate?) And admittedly, there is no power steering, air conditioning, or automatic transmission.

But hey . . . I love gruntily manhandling the steering wheel and having a big knobby stick-shift to manipulate . . . otherwise I don’t feel like I’m really driving. I love the fact that one can simply remove all of the floor mats and hose the interior of that sucker down, if need be. I love the clever little sliding windows, like patio doors, that come with the hard top. I love that jaunty spare tire mounted on the back, and the fact that the gas tank entrance is hidden inside the rear license plate, which neatly flops down when one needs to fuel up. I love my black, shiny sidebars, my big chunky tires, and the springy black tension hooks that hold down the hood. I love the fact that Jeep Wrangler owners have the special secret “Jeep Wrangler Owner Wave” that’s exchanged whenever passing each other on the road. And goddamn, but I do love the Fire Engine Red color of my Jeep!

In addition to being a Roller Derby Queen (see below), my other major childhood aspiration was to be a Fireman. Or, perhaps, more accurately, to get to drive a Fire Truck. Much to my chagrin, I eventually realized that one doesn’t just get to drive the fire truck and hang out upstairs reading books and playing with the dalmatian in between fires, but that one is required to regularly run up and down multiple flights of stairs with hundreds of pounds of fire hose slung over one shoulder in full fire-fighting regalia, which realistically was just a bit too . . . uh . . . energetic . . . for me, if I was going to be brutally honest with myself about it. So although I was forced to relinquish that particular fantasy as a viable career option, I nonetheless frequently think about driving a fire truck with wistful longing. And while it’s not the same thing, I have to say that driving a Fire Engine Red Jeep Wrangler perhaps comes a little bit close to driving a fire truck (okay, maybe only in my head . . . but it’s my delusion and I’m sticking to it), thus further underscoring its special place within my heart.

The Parental Units pretty much despise the Jeep (i.e., “Certain death by rollover on highway”), my Colleagues occasionally regard me pityingly (i.e., “Poor Artichoke Heart, we’re clearly not paying our junior faculty enough to buy a grown-up car”), and the Ladies can occasionally be induced to respond favorably to its red glossy sheen (until we’re out on the interstate, that is, when they usually lean over and shout, “Geez, it’s really, really loud!). To which my future response will now officially be a Mona Lisa smile, and to murmur, “Eat, Sleep, and Jeep.”

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Support the Cavort

Do you ever feel as if there is simply not enough frolicking in your life? A paucity of play? A dearth of divertissement? Unending stretches of bleh with no hope of a rollicking good time in sight? Do you ever catch yourself wistfully wondering, “Where’s all the frippery, buffoonery and tomfoolery gone to?” Do you just want to let loose sometimes and gambol a bit? Go on a fandango? Indulge in a bit of skylarking? Set forth on a clambake, a jamboree, or a saturnalia? Get up to some high jinks? Have yourself an escapade? If so, what you really need is a good cavort. So kick up your virtual heels, jump onto the e-bandwagon, and support International Cavorting Day! Go for it . . . support the cavort!

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On the Road

Wet chilly rain all Friday morning as I loaded up my Jeep Wrangler . . . soggy leaves splayed up against the windshield like wet scraps of yellow silk . . . the eery moments of blindness on the interstate each time trucks passed and everything turned to silver spritz and mist.

Outside Sioux Falls an astonishingly chunky bright rainbow . . . it looked as if it had been drawn onto the backdrop of charcoal-gray nimbus storm clouds . . . childishly, with bold wide sweeps of sidewalk chalk.

An hour north of Sioux Falls, the rain gradually succumbing to skies blue as Wedgewood China, and endless filigreed puffs of cumulus clouds stretching into the horizon. Supple brown ripple of wheat fields; scattered clusters of trees in bursts of school-bus orange and taxi-cab yellow; clumps of burnt sienna, yellow, and gold grasses. All of it rather glorious, like an Andrew Wyeth painting, and almost too ridiculously beautiful . . . as if it were more representation than real.

The turtle I see lugubriously ambling out onto the highway outside Brookings. I’m worried that it might get run over, and I want to stop, back up, and rescue it, because I’ve always wanted to have a turtle. I’ve been told that they prefer red foods . . . red peppers, watermelon, persimmons, pimentos, and azaleas. I would love to have a turtle to keep in the garden. I would feed it red things to its heart’s content. But I’m running late (the 9:00 a.m. departure time having been wildly optimistic on my part), and am not crazy about the idea of getting rear-ended on the interstate. Am also unsure of what P. will think if I arrive at her place with an unexpected turtle in tow.

On Highway 12 West approaching Aberdeen, running alongside the route of the Burlington Northern, the unexpected lakes and fish hatcheries in quicksilver, glittering stretches along the two-lane. Mirror-bright in the afternoon sun, and frothy with chop in the persistent, South Dakota wind . . . the water tossing and bouncing . . . all the motion and shine making me slightly dizzy. The unexpected seagulls. Wet, naked tree trunks and tree limbs poking up out of the little lakes . . . one of them named Blue Dog Lake, another one named Enemy Swim. I think that I would like to stay in the 1950’s-style Circle Pines Hotel in Waubay sometime, alongside the Blue Dog Lake . . . not during the summer fishing season, but maybe late fall, during the off-season . . . just stay there by myself and write for a few days.

In Aberdeen, the bright, airy rooms of P.’s cozy upstairs apartment . . . intriguing, geometric dormer shapes in each room . . . the warm, bright splashes of all her favorite colors, and her favorite objects now transplanted to this new abode. It feels clean, and sunny, and comfortable

Pre-reading jitters . . . worries about the new poems . . . worries about the old poems . . . worries about the in-between poems . . . the three cappuccinos I drank on the road starting to funnel ominously down through my lower intestines like a cyclone. Or maybe more like Draino. But it’s such a nice audience. Feel shy and geeky when signing books.

Meeting all of P.’s new friends . . . thinking how empowering it is to sit in a circle in a room full of strong, smart, interesting women . . . how good it feels to laugh with them. More and more beer. We all get a bit raucous. And the next day a dinner party to continue the conversations. And they’re all so wonderful. J. with her freckles and wildly blushing pink cheeks who gives us good beer, and makes us all sweet potato quesadillas and a fucking awesome cream cheese/cilantro/cream cheese dip (note to self: must get recipe); L. who is so sweetly, adorably gracious . . . a little bit shy, perhaps, but endearingly so; M. with her spider tattoo and marvelous, impish wit; how wonderful L. and M. are together; and K. who has that steady, intelligent, soft warm glow . . . she is like C. and S.R. in that regard . . . one wants to just seek her out and curl up under the focus of that glow like a cat under a lamp.

Later that same night, P. brushing my hair for an entire half-hour until all the wildness becomes domesticated and silky under her hands and I feel very calm, and sleepy, and happy.

A trip to Story Land in Aberdeen’s Wylie Park . . . recreations of scenes from the Wizard of Oz, in honor of L. Frank Baum, who lived in Aberdeen (replete with Yellow Brick Road, and talking trees, and Auntie Em’s Kansas farmhouse, etc. as well as turkeys and colorful, exotic chickens which I think might have been Hamburgs, which Baum used to raise). There were also other storybook characters . . . a carousel, train, castles with moats, etc. Astonishingly, horrifyingly, marvelously, and most satisfyingly kitschy.

Lovely weather for the drive home today, feeling pensive, and well-rested.

Although I still wish that I had gotten that turtle.

Nice to be home again, relaxing in my pajamas. The cats, jostling each other for space on the futon, purring and talkative . . . happy to see me and interrupting each other to tell me all their news.

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Fragments of Phone Conversation With My Japanese Mother

Regarding Voice Mail

JM: Where you been? I been calling, calling, calling. All week long, we been calling. And why you set answer machine so no ring? Answer machine pick up right away and then we have to pay for long distance. Make me so mad! You need set answer machine different so don’t pick up right away.

AH: Mom, I keep telling you it’s voice-mail, not an answering machine. When it goes straight to voice-mail it means I’m either on the phone already or on the computer. Just leave me a message and I’ll know you’ve been trying to get a hold of me . . . I mean, think of it this way, you’ve already paid for the first minute of long distance anyway at that point, so you might as well leave a message instead of just hanging up.

JM: Yeah . . . we get so worry, we finally have to leave message yesterday. But see, you never call us back.

AH: I’m calling you back now. When I got the message yesterday it was too late to telephone.

JM: Well . . . it’s too late now. Your father already gone sage grouse hunting so he not here. You call again tomorrow when he come back. Make sure use secret code and only ring twice so we know it’s you.

Regarding Sexual Orientation

AH: Mom, I’m a lesbian.

JM: No you not

Regarding Sexual Orientation . . . Six Months Later

JM: [During conversation regarding a male friend]. Is there some monkey business going on between you two?

AH: Mom . . . I’m a lesbian.

JM: No you not.

AH: Yes . . . I am. I’ve been telling you this for awhile now.

JM: You mean . . . you one of . . . them?

AH: Well, the official paperwork and secret decoder ring haven’t come in the mail yet, but my sponsor already got the free toaster oven for signing me up.

JM: No . . . you wait until you have tenure!

Regarding Sexual Orientation . . . One Year Later . . . In Which My Japanese Mother Actually Says the Words “You” and “Lesbian” Out Loud in the Same Sentence

JM: [In a jokey mood.] Maybe I send you video on how to marry Millionaire Man.

AH: Mom! I’m a dyke!

JM: Well, you must make sure to never ever tell anyone about way you are. You don’t need to advertise to anybody that you lesbian.

On Eating At Restaurants

JM: If you eating at restaurant and you start get full, make sure you pick out all expensive bits and eat first.

On West Nile Virus

JM: We been so worry I can’t sleep at night. News say West Nile Virus coming straight to you. You have to promise you not going to go outside at night. And if somebody invite you on picnic, just say no. And make sure wear long sleeve and long pants and tie scarf on head, then spray all over with mosquito spray if you go out. Best thing not to go out though. Just stay inside house.

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