Summer Remembered (Haiku)

Today for the first time I toyed with getting out my winter coat. Oh, not until at least November, please.

This seems like a really good time to recall the haiku of summer. (Yes, I’m still doing The Haiku Postcard Project—I write a haiku every day and send it to my friend in Montana. I started in 2013. I never thought I would continue it so long, but I still love it, so why stop?)

Summer haiku:

June

south side of the house
blooming milkweed and cactus
postage stamp Eden

the soul is willing
but the hands will not obey
there’s still no cooking

all night toss and turn
temp still 89 degrees
the fan blows hot air

July

sitting still writing
at the dining room table
with the ceiling fan

reading poetry
on a summer afternoon
cool running water

the oppressive heat
sucks the air out of the room
sweet hotel relief

so many monarchs
sailing around the backyard
induce happiness

a phone scrap with Mom
it felt just like the old days
a little bit fun

four fledging cardinals
flopping around the dogwoods
trying on their wings

August

orchard watering
snaking the hose twixt the trees
weaving in and out

fresh raspberry pie
one of life’s greatest delights
on such a hot day

when cicada sings
the peaches are nearly ripe
siren insect song

across the trash can
the intricate spider web
glistens in the sun

So there you have it. A summer snapshot through haiku.

It’s a very fun and surprisingly gratifying thing to do, a haiku postcard project. Doubly fun if you have a friend who enjoys getting them.

A small way of paying attention to life.

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Life After Animals (Book Themes)

The September reading theme (Animal) was great fun. I read a panther, a horse, a fox, two dogs and a parrot, a cat, a tiger, birds, monkeys, and one generic animal. The Panther and the Lash, poetry by Langston Hughes, was my favorite of the bunch. The essays in B.K. Loren’s Animal Mineral Radical: Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food also stood out.

The October reading theme is Life. I had two animal books that didn’t quite make it into September, but that’s okay because they fit the October theme too (I love when I can do this). The first was Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, by Kyo Maclear—a memoir about urban birding (in Toronto) over the course of a year. As you might imagine, being an urban birder myself, I loved this book. It’s not just all nature, though. It also has an introspective and spiritual aspect as well. A lovely mix.

The other book I’ve finished this month is Lives of the Animals, poetry by Robert Wrigley. I absolutely loved the first part of this book. The last half didn’t resound so much, but I will definitely read more Wrigley. I followed up Wrigley with another poetry book, What the Living Won’t Let Go, by Lorna Crozier. I am a Crozier fan, and the book is not disappointing. Next up in poetry: People Live, They Have Lives, by Hugh Seidman; or, possibly, Like the New Moon, I will Live My Life, by Robert Bly (I love that both the titles have two versions of life in them, and both comprise two phrases; how odd that these exact two floated to the top).

In nonfictionland, I’m reading Life Without a Recipe, by Diana Abu-Jaber. This is her second memoir. I loved her first one, The Language of Baklava. I’m about one-third through Life Without a Recipe, and so far it has focused primarily on the influence her German grandmother (who loved to bake) and her Jordanian father (who loved to cook) had in her early life. I find myself wanting to bake cookies one minute and cook something deliciously spicy the next. (Note: Abu-Jaber also writes fiction. If fiction is more your thing, I highly recommend her book Crescent.)

Also in process (but at a slower pace because, in hindsight, it wasn’t a good idea to follow a book of essays with another book of essays) is Alice Walker’s Living By the Word. These essays are good, but for the interim I’m going with the flow of the memoir. After Abu-Jaber (who completely grabs my attention), I will be able to give Walker the attention she deserves.

Fiction is going a little more slowly. I’ve started off with a graphic novel, Get a Life, by Dupey & Berberian. I’ve been having an off-and-on relationship with fiction for the last year or so. I want to read fiction, but nothing appeals to me. This does not seem to happen with nonfiction. I’m hoping the fiction bug comes back, because I do have a couple of books I’d like to read: Lost Among the Living, by Simone St. James (sort of a gothic mystery/thriller), and The Third Life of Grange Copeland, by Alice Walker (after I finish her book of essays—I really do like Alice Walker, as you may have guessed).

Nonfiction is even more compelling. Top of the pile is The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe, a memoir; Still Life in Harlem, by Eddy L. Harris, also a memoir; and Life Is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry. And if none of those appeal when the time comes, there’s always The Lion in the Living Room.

Truly, Life is a banquet.

Reading Animal

I am loving the September reading theme of Animals. I started out with Langston Hughes’s The Panther and the Lash, which was excellent. Amazingly, I have had this book for 10 years and had always read the title as The Panther and the Leash. On the cover is a drawing of Langston Hughes in a stylish three-piece suit, and whenever I noted the book, I envisioned Langston Hughes, nattily dressed, walking along with a panther on a leash.

Well, no. Not the image he meant to convey. The Panther and the Lash conjures up a much different vision, evoking history, emotions, and oppression. Not a walk through the park, with or without a panther. A few of my favorite (short) poems:

Slum Dreams

Little dreams
Of springtime
Bud in sunny air
With no roots
To nourish them,
Since no stems
Are there—
Detached,
Naïve,
So young,
On air alone
They’re hung.

Justice

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Jim Crow Car

Get out the lunch-box of your dreams
And bite into the sandwich of your heart,
And ride the Jim Crow car until it screams
And, like an atom bomb, bursts apart.

Bible Belt

It would be too bad if Jesus
Were to come back black.
There are so many churches
Where he could not pray
In the U.S.A.,
Where entrance to Negroes,
No matter how sanctified,
Is denied,
Where race, not religion,
Is glorified.
But say it—
You may be
Crucified.

The Panther and the Lash brought me through a range of emotions and feelings: uncomfortable, appalled, despair, compassion, horror, sympathy, hope. Even if you don’t read poetry, I recommend this book and most especially if you are interested in racial issues.

Sticking with poetry, I followed up Langston Hughes with Horse Dance Underwater, by Helena Mesa. It didn’t speak to me. Langston Hughes is a hard act to follow. I’m now reading The Tiger Iris, by Joan Swift. I’m only just beginning, so no opinion yet. The next likely poetry book following Swift: The Girl With Bees in Her Hair, by Eleanor Rand Wilner.

My first fiction book was Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeymi. I totally didn’t get this novel. I’m pretty sure it went right over my head. At the end of the book I was confused, with a primary reaction of “What??” So I went to check out the Amazon reviews, sure they would be bifurcated, heavily weighted to 5 star (those who got it) and 1 star (those who didn’t) reviews.

The internet is a humbling thing. A near majority (45%) loved this book (5 stars) and an additional 20% really liked it (4 stars). A mere 7% gave it one star. Even the people that were confused enjoyed the book. So do not take my word for it on this one. Note: Mr. Fox might make more sense if you know the legend of Bluebeard and/or have a fondness for fables.

After giving my brain such a workout, I was ready for some mind candy and started Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, by Sofie Kelly. The lightest of fluff—a mystery with magical cats. I’m about halfway through, and it’s silly light fun. This is the first in a series, but I haven’t decided if it’s one I want to continue. Maybe a bit too light. Next up in fiction is hard to say, though just now Lamb in Love, by Carrie Brown, is leading the pack.

I’ve finished one nonfiction book, Two Dogs and a Parrot, by Joan Chittister. I didn’t like this as much as I’ve loved some of her other books, though I did rather like the section on the parrot.

I’ve currently got two other nonfiction books going—My Cat Saved My Life, a memoir by Phillip Schreibman; and Animal, Mineral, Radical: Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food, by B.K. Loren. I’m about one-third through each. I’m loving My Cat Saved My Life—it’s one of those magical books that transport you. When I pick this book up, I feel like I am right there with this man and his cat. I’m in the kitchen having the argument, I’m napping in the meadow with the cat, I’m sunning on the rock. A book to keep or a book to gift? That is the question.

Loren’s book is longer and a bit more uneven (as books of essays are wont to be), but I’ve only started Mineral and am particularly looking forward to Radical. I don’t know what will come after. Early days yet, as I’m still immersed in these two. No doubt something will leap off the shelf before too long.

Happy Reading!

Postcard Project 2018

At the beginning of the year, I started a new postcard project. (Reprise: My first postcard project was the haiku project, which is ongoing; last year, I wrote a weekly postcard to our state Senate leader and then added on a high-ranking committee member. The year before that, I sent a weekly postcard to President Obama.)

You never know what to expect from postcard projects. Best not to have expectations, I suppose. I had no expectations from the haiku project except personal satisfaction and meeting a goal (of writing a haiku every day). I’ve gotten much satisfaction, and discipline, structure, and a vast postcard collection to boot.

The political postcard projects brought me mixed satisfaction. The weekly Obama card was going great until I got stuck on a TPP track and couldn’t get off it. I was boring even myself and so I stopped the project. I did hear back from the White House at least twice, though (in that generic we feel your pain way), when I was onto a broader range of things.

The 2017 project with the Minnesota Senate leader started out okay; I thought I was connecting (I Do try to send interesting postcards and not mean ones—funny sometimes, but more often simply local). I heard back a couple times (or maybe only once). But after a few months I wondered if they weren’t going right into the trash. So at the end of 2017, I shifted my political energies in other directions, and decided to bring the postcard project closer to home.

I asked my niece if she might be interested in receiving a weekly postcard. I received an enthusiastic yes, and my new postcard adventure began.

For those who might wonder why the niece, it’s because she of everyone in the family sends me the most mail. Never misses a birthday, sends the thank-you through the snail mail. She seemed the natural choice. We see each other several times a year, at family get-togethers, but not often, and I thought this might be a different kind of way to give her some insights into my life and share some fun postcards.

I have to say, the results have been beyond gratifying. It is unbelievably super fun!

First off, within the first few weeks, she emailed me saying how much she and her husband enjoy sitting and reading the postcards together (!!) and the husband especially wants to know where do I get all these postcards that so reflect what I’m writing in the text? Such a level of interest! Be still my heart!

And I kept writing and writing, and now my “weekly” postcard total to my niece is over 50 (for 2018). I had made it clear from the start that no response was expected. But she did respond, usually via email, and the responses started to get longer. And then we went off on a long snail mail/email exchange (I switched to cards at this point over postcards) discussing things like déjà vu, reincarnation, quantum physics, and the intersection of science and religion.

Is that cool or what?

We’ve also been encouraging each other to write, mostly in the essay/memoir arena. Turns out I suggest my niece write about having a grandfather, father, and brother who are morticians, while she suggests to me writing about growing up in a funeral home. At this confluence, she mentioned a collaboration. Not sure if she’s kidding around, but it sure would be fun to give it a try. I’ve always thought there might be an audience for a story about growing up in a funeral home (note—it was mostly fun). Another point of view from another generation—well, even I want to hear that one.

Total speculation.

What’s not speculation: This postcard project with my niece has been a smashing success, and we’re starting to get to know each other personally (outside our family function roles). I never even remotely expected such a positive outcome from a bunch of postcards. The advantage of no expectations!

Take a chance. Pick a relative you don’t know well. A friend you’ve sort of lost touch with or want to be closer to. Or a politician. Start a postcard project. Be honest. Be funny. Pour out your heart. And do it again the next week, and the next, and do it for a year. Don’t do it for what it will give to your friend or relative. Do it for yourself. Connecting and communicating—it’s kind of an art.

And you never know—you might be surprised at how much fun you have.

Reading Themes Update: July, August, September

Gate, Dolphins, Stitches, Museum, Crosstalk, Irresistible, Oubliette, Kaleidoscope. What do all these books have in common? I read them for the July reading theme of one-word titles—5 were poetry, 2 nonfiction, 1 fiction.

My favorite of the bunch was Stitches, by Anne Lamott. She always kicks me in the pants and gives me a wake-up call or two. Irresistible (The Rise of Addictive Technology), by Adam Alter was a close runner-up. A bit more focused on video games and gaming than I’m interested in, I still pulled a few things out of it and it’s well-referenced (rare).

August’s theme is music. Here are the books I’ve read or have in progress:

  • The Singer’s Gun, Emily St. John Mandel
  • Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott
  • Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz, Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird
  • The Singing, C.K. Williams
  • Salute—to Singing, Aygi Gennady
  • Coming Late to Rachmaninoff, Richard Terrill
  • Lullaby for One Fist, Andrea Werblin

It’s a fun theme that got thrown off a bit by travel at the beginning of the month. Only 8 more days in August, with all these potential musical experiences awaiting me: a trumpet, chime, orchestra, cantata, sonata, ballad, Dvorak, even Grace Notes and Blues Lessons. (I also have Whistling in the Dark, but I thought that might be stretching music a bit much.)

The upcoming theme (September) is animals. This could be a wild ride. Just in poetry I have dog, horse, lion, tiger, snake, butterfly, bee, maggot, slug, box elder bug, Hoodlum Birds, kingfisher, cardinal, and Phoenix. Also fauna and animals (3).

While poetry has a fun span in the animal kingdom, there are also several fiction and nonfiction books that have jumped to the top of my August reading pile:

  • Come, Thou Tortoise, Jessica Grant (2011)*
  • Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi (2012)
  • The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide (2015)
  • A Little Yellow Dog, Walter Mosley (not marked)
  • Scratching the Woodchuck, David Kline (2010)
  • Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt (1989)
  • Animal, Mineral, Radical, B.K. Loren (2013)

*Note: Dates in parentheses above are the dates I purchased the book, not dates of publication. Occasionally I forget to mark a book. See comments below.

The monthly reading theme is a fun way to play with books (and if you happen to be one of those people who have many bookcases filled with books patiently waiting to be read, it’s a way to look at those forgotten books in a new way). I’d already picked the books to highlight here before I took this unintended side road of talking up the fun sides of the reading theme.

The most recent book was purchased 3 years ago. Not bad. In the old days, I mostly read what I had just bought, and if you buy more than you can read (which I did then on a regular basis, and thank god because it’s my retirement reading library), the “old” books pile up pretty quickly. I’m finally starting to make a dent in that backlog.

It has been a hot and humid summer here in Minnesota. Cool weather is on the way, and I am looking forward to it.

Happy reading!

 June to July: Reading Themes

June has been a great month for reading. I read three green books (The Green House, The Great Green Okayness, and Now the Green Blade Rises). I’ve also read several green things, including trees, a meadow, nettles, leaves, and perhaps Appalachia.

Poetry has captured a lot of my attention in June—already I’ve finished six poetry books. The standouts so far: The Green House, by Joyce Sutphen (a favorite poet); Now the Green Blade Rises, by Elizabeth Spires (how have I not discovered her before now?); and Listening to the Leaves Form, by James Grabill. I may yet finish another book of poetry this month, possibly two. We have a couple of hot days ahead of us, and what better than to sit under the ceiling fan and read poetry?

Other books I have in progress: Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. These two nonfiction books are both beautiful reads that I don’t want to rush, and I think I will stretch them out over the summer. Also, unrelated to any theme, I am reading the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods. Early days yet, but I think I am going to like this third book best.

I’m already excited about July’s theme: one-word titles. I only have two books in my fiction pile, but they are both over 500 pages, and I’m really excited about both of them:

  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Crosstalk, by Connie Willis

To be sure, I do have more one-word fiction titles. But I am content with these two long books that I am quite looking forward to.

Nonfiction is a different story. So much to choose from, I hardly know where to start. A sampling (I am going to include subtitles, even though it detracts from the oneness of the theme, to give you a better idea of what the book is about):

  • Irresistible (The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked), by Adam Alter
  • Janesville (An American Story), by Amy Goldstein
  • Mnemonic (A Book of Trees), by Theresa Kishkan
  • Stitches (A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair), by Anne Lamott
  • Oneness (Great Principles Shared by All Religions), by Jeffrey Moses
  • Limber (Essays), by Angela Pelster
  • Domesticity (A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love), by Bob Shaccohis

Poetry is a banquet. And since it is so rich, and I am in such a poetry place, I’ll include several that particularly appeal:

  • Gate, by Ilze Klavina Mueller
  • Dolphins, by Stephen Spender
  • Oubliette, by Peter Richards
  • Swithering, by Robin Robertson
  • Shiner, by Maggie Nelson
  • Carousel, by George Murray
  • Heredities, by J. Michael Martinez
  • Curios, by Judith Taylor
  • Meteorology, by Alpay Ulku
  • Kaleidoscope, by Sweta Srivastava Vikram
  • Barter, Monica Youn

Every one of these books appeals to me, and I have only gone through half of my poetry! (I have decided to stop looking, as I already have more than I’m sure I will read.)

I am not particularly fond of hot weather. However, it does seem to lead me to sit back and read more poetry. The perfect thing for a hot summer day. All it lacks is iced tea.

Happy Summer, Happy Reading!

May-June Book Themes

May has gotten away from me, as it often does. So much going on, what with spring and all. For most of May I’m either outside or looking outside unless it’s raining or nighttime. You just never know when an ovenbird might show up in your yard. (It’s been back twice since. Maybe it will nest!)

Back to books. The May theme is architectural elements. So far I have read a staircase, a kingdom (perhaps a stretch), medicine chest, bridge, and fountain. In process are a picture window, stairway, and corridor. May is not one of my stronger reading months. I just don’t care so much about books. The birds are migrating, the catnip is coming up, the cactus is singing. I may still love books, but I can’t seem to focus on them.

June gets a little more down to earth. Still plenty to see and discover, but a bit more time for books as well. The theme for June is “green.” This includes any book with the word “green” in the title, and also green things (e.g., grass, trees, plants, parks, leaves, salads, envy).

I’ve not yet done a scouring of the shelves. Even so, I’ve likely found more than I can read. So far for fiction:

  • Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
  • Sunset Park, Paul Auster
  • The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy
  • Tallgrass, Sandra Dallas
  • Murder on Sagebrush Lane, Patricia Smith Wood
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

For nonfiction:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Memory of Trees: A Daughter’s Story of a Family Farm, Gayla Marty
  • The Green Boat, Mary Pipher
  • Claiming Earth as Common Ground, Andrea Cohen-Kiener (a bit iffy on direct theme fit, but the greenest book of them all, and I really want to read it, subtitled: “The ecological crisis through the lens of faith.”)

Poetry often adds fun variations on the theme:

  • Goodbye to the Orchard, Steven Cramer
  • Green Soldiers, John Bensko
  • Nettles, Betty Adcock
  • Flower Wreath Hill, Kenneth Rexroth
  • Now the Green Blade Rises, Elizabeth Spires
  • You Speak to Me in Trees, Elana Wolff
  • The Long Meadow, Vijay Seshadri

With luck I will read five or six of these. You just never know what you’ll be in the mood for. And I’ll probably find half as many again before June even starts!

Happy reading to you, and happy summer as well!