Hands

A glass holds one rose on the kitchen shelf.
It begins to grow soft and yet I keep it.
A girl carrying two gave it on impulse
to me, an oldish woman on a bench
with only an ice cream in my hand.

She knew, I’m guessing,
that one rose was enough for her,
one hand in her lover’s hand,
and that perhaps
I could use a single flower
kissed by young blood,
young dreams of how life will be.

I buried my face in its scent
and took the hand of my husband,
procurer of deep chocolate in a waffle cone.

From the Wharf I Watch a Cormorant

CormorantCormorant

Some call them snake birds
the way they swim with their heads up,
a long twisty neck just visible beneath.

But when they become birds again
drying outstretched wings
I call them something else—
dark angels maybe.

Yesterday when one stood like that
on a piling barely submerged
it seemed to stand on water,
like Jesus, and with those
angel wings fluttering like fingers.

I stand like that, I thought,
to dry my underarms,
flapping and cooling myself
as Jesus must have done, too,
in that hot middle-eastern land.

The Christ in me, the One
in a cormorant: we greet each other,
one tick, all of us, from a reptile

Elemental

a swimming hole, a fishing pole...ahhh.

a swimming hole,
a fishing pole…ahhh.

ELEMENTAL

 Near Flint Hill, Virginia, which is to say also near Little Washington and Sperryville, in Rappahannock County

 Indigo mountains scallop the horizon, green meadows undulating here to there, mountain creeks ripple and wind among stones with a music nearly as loud as the fevered crickets, the tree frogs, all the crazy, drunk insects. Tiger Swallowtails with their great flappy wings are in love with the purple flounces of butterfly bushes—as we all must be.

Maria Montessori said that a person will never feel so at home as when in her native place. Northwestern Virginia is not my birthplace or my old homeplace, but its thick green, its vine-laden August woods of poplar, beech, and maple, sumac and walnut, its Queen Ann’s lace and bachelor’s buttons, hawkweed, and black-eyed Susans, its swat of gnats and hover of morning dew-rise–all welcomed me into its element this past weekend, and I recognized in my bones a familiarity and I slept like a baby born in these arms.

In addition to Middle-Tennessee-like terrain, those blue mountains etching the distance reminded me of my old love of trails and the rich gifts of panoramas they offer, the thrill of being witness to something grand and gifted. I felt away on vacation as well as very much at home, and that is a very particular satisfaction. Four fanciful yellow metal yard chairs circled a fire pit. I could almost hear the children playing tag and chasing lightning bugs around them while their parents talked and stared at flames and let their weekday bustle dissolve into the night. Blessings on these adult children of our hosts for letting us be in this place!

We walked down the road and across a pasture through a curious herd of Angus cows and their young, on over thin soil and rock-strewn paths to the swimming hole. The large fish-stocked pond teased with warmth the first two inches, then startled with cold spots beneath. Perfect. Sunlight on our faces. Frogs calling. Floating on a summer Saturday afternoon. The creek that feeds it rippled nearby, gurgling through child-built dams and falls.

How hungry I must have been for this element after almost a year of bricks, stones, and concrete. I am enjoying the city, my bold negotiation of its driving culture and its one-ways and arteries, its alleys and highways. I like the city’s neighborhoods, its people and their particular ways of being and seeing, its hardness, its heart and heartiness, its art culture. Few negatives come to mind about our year here on this historic harbor and our own zone of eighteenth century homes and old warehouses repurposed, its cobblestones and stories of town founders and their industries around ships and fishing and trade. I sense a different energy here—not New York, not Nashville, not San Francisco—but uniquely a Baltimore vibe. It is not my element, but it’s an element that infuses me with a new attentiveness, a stimulus to explore places and people in my sphere of walks and shopping and visiting historic sites, galleries, markets, museums, festivals, and harbor activities. I’ve gained something new under the skin I was born in. I’ll take that home in November, where I’ll slide back into the Middle-Tennessee soul of me.

 

 

Baltimore and Home

HomeBaltimore and Home

It’s the clang and flap of halyards

and flip of lines in the morning’s stir

and their present silence at night

on dark water where the lighted shore

shimmies on silk waves

I’ll miss

when I return inland.

Now I bring to mind

the green shaft of slanted lawn,

sun tickling still damp trees

towering like these masts, rustling

above firm ground.

 

It’s the cheer and clutter of these colored streets

spilling masses of beer-soaked

voices and the stories I overhear bits of

corner to corner I’ll miss:

young men working on sidewalks in spattered aprons

and cracking colored glass to make art

and shopkeepers, tavern workers, and loiterers

and young girls with skimpy tops

talking about boys and guys talking

about Orioles and Ravens, their tee shirts

speaking the news of sports or beer,

politics or anatomy, eyes darting.

 

I’ll miss the age: cobblestones and rowhouses

with their improbable vertical arrangement

of space, with their flowerboxes spilling

petunias and potato vines and their doors

bright and alleyways intriguing—our dog

peeks down every narrow gated space between them,

where sometimes a cat crouches, sometimes

the back garden is visible or maybe

just imaginable and enticing to us both—

 

and all the shouting history along wharves

where brackish water joins the salt,

then all the world. The tugs, the giant ships

gray like enormous specters,

coming and going in the night.

Yet side by side the missing,

I find ahead

 

the comfort of quiet that waits

where deer graze on the yard

and ground softens underfoot,

where soil spins the miracle

of flowers and herbs

and a piliated comes to feed.

The dog will be unleashed to chase

the wind and all its scents.

 

There’s where we will kneel and plant

for the tens of years of sun allotted:

those loves of children and friends

and our own stars guiding

our private translocations.

 

From each I will open windows

to sight across the distances,

and, as now, reach from here to there,

and gather from there to where I bide.

 

 

 

ARTSCAPE AND THOUGHTS ON IMAGINATION, DRINK, AND TRASH

Lobo'sYoung drumsArt TrashWe headed out to the Charles Theater for a Sunday afternoon movie. We had forgotten that the ambitious Artscape Festival had been going on all weekend, and cursed mildly when we hit a traffic jam and realized that a large section of road had been blocked off for the event, reportedly attended by 350,000 people over three days. People swarmed everywhere, and not a parking space was available on the street. It pained us to pay $10.00 to the guy in khaki shorts, beer can in hand, and wondered later if we’d paid the right person for a spot in a sort-of lot between two buildings. A sign clearly stated, “Pay at Pay Station, not to anyone else,” but we didn’t notice it until too late.

In the restroom, after the movie, I washed my hands next to a young woman wearing a long red tutu with sequins and rhinestones all over it. Ah, the festival, I thought. We blinked our way into the street behind her, and she joined a group of other sparkly girls and disappeared. The festival was winding down, galleries now closed, but music still drifted up the street, people gathered around tents to watch painters of Baltimore scenes, colorful abstractions, faces, and tee shirts; around food vendors selling every represented nation’s variety of hotdog—burritos, falafals, spanakopita, chicken-on-a-stick…; around games of some sort; interactive musical displays; cars painted and collaged with pompoms, pictures, musical instruments, and images. Making art on cars seems to be a Baltimore thing. Children beat impressive rhythm on a drum kit made of cans and wheels and such, and a man sang to their background music played by a band in a nearby tent, and then another sang; anyone could try.

And drinking. Lots of beer flowed. Pink drinks in plastic cups and clear unidentifiable drinks. Drinking: it is to my, albeit limited, view more a part of Baltimore culture than any place I’ve ever been. It comes across as a featured source of pride. Maybe it’s strongly in the youth (and young adult) culture countrywide, and I’m just not very aware of it. Maybe if I hung out in The Gulch or Twelfth South in hometown Nashville, or a couple of other trendy places there, I would feel the same vibe. Nevertheless, in Baltimore, drinking seems to be a way of entertaining (and sustaining) oneself, no matter the age.

At Fells Point, the harbor-front neighborhood where we happen to live, there are more bars per capita and per square mile than anywhere in the U.S. Therefore, weekends fill up with partygoers trying out all the pubs. Here at the old port and shipyards, rough and tumble has been the way for over two hundred years, and it must feel like “anything goes” with so much musical cacophony, so many eateries and pubs, buck-a-shuck oysters on the sidewalk, old Dennis with his hand out for a dollar or a sandwich and his payment of cheer. Trash and bottles land in the bay for the water-sweeper boat to gargle up in the morning and I think, maybe these folks recycle at home when they’re sober. But a place like this is a venue for being lawless, somehow, as though the whole neighborhood is a big hotel or a big concert and part of the price of being here, of dinner and drinks, is that somebody’s job is to clean up after you. Baltimore City does a darn good job of it, too. Every morning City sanitation workers sweep and collect trash before the day reaches full swing. Every morning the water-sweeper boat makes its rounds. Big rubber barriers catch the trash from up-river before it can reach the harbor proper.

I like even better the method the Artscape Festival employed. Not only did they provide an artwork-in-progress for the collection of plastic and tin drink containers—a long snake of a trough that glittered in the sun with the multiple colors of bottles and cans—but also young uniformed workers with brooms and tall-handled dustpans were sweeping everywhere. I firmly believe that when cleaning is ongoing and visible, people tend to clean up as they go, that is, throw the trash in a bin, add to the trash art, avoid being the one who throws down debris on a clean street.

Meanwhile, I applaud the fact that crowds arrive in our own neighborhood, Baltimore crowds and the ones who come as tourists to see this historic port and enjoy its history as well as its libations and port cuisine. Their presence supports the preservation of the area’s historic buildings and streets even as it threatens them, and their thirst and hunger sustain old atmospheric establishments like Lobo’s, a favorite pub of ours on, of course, Wolffe Street, Rip-Tide, The Thames Street Oyster House (arguably the best food at the Point), Duda’s, One-Eyed Mike’s, The Point, The Red Star, The Cat’s Eye Pub, The Wharf Rat, Hail Mary’s, and The Horse You Came In On, just to name a few.

Efforts to return the Chesapeake to cleanliness are underway and focused. In twenty-five years, they say, it will be accomplished. On shore, attitudes must align with those of the ecologists and concerned citizens behind this effort. As always, it’s a matter of education. In addition, policing and punishing—perhaps it’s almost as important to future generations as policing behavior in the heart of a city that can produce a grand festival devoted to the highest human achievements: Artscape, Baltimore.

Our car was in place and intact when we returned to the sort-of lot where we’d left it, though not a soul was around to guard comings and goings. We weren’t sorry we’d contributed to whoever’s pocket we’d given our ten dollars to. We’d gotten our money’s worth.