Autumn Is Beckoning

I think autumn is beckoning.  I can see its witchy fingers lengthening, the dark and daring shades.  They leave shadowy scars across summer’s honey-colored skin and I welcome that fleshy damage.  It is a stinging reminder that soon it will be time to leave.  It was a heady three months, but the equinox of bronze harvests is coming and the dog days of August must now slip back into their collars.

Cats, which for weeks lay like silk carpets of muscle and bone on baking sidewalks, became emboldened by the muzzled days.  They basked like soft icons in the long afternoons; in shadows stretching like Nosferatu, they clenched their eyes and listened for the onset of the hunting season.

I too listened for the harvest-colored season – the fields and orchards in the sky.  I smelled the wheat, the cherries, and the corn that rejoiced above my head.  I heard the hunter’s moon rise through their rustling acres.  And I so wished I could taste the atmospheric bounty that ripened above me.

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It’s possible that I soon will.  When the days are no longer heavy; steaming under a layer of captured heat and moisture – a boiling, constricted mist.  When the nights are clear and the planets glitter like sequins in a diamante veil.   And the moon, swathed in her stark and chilly shroud will roam at will, dressed for the harvest, bearing her starry scythe.

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But there is some waiting to be done.  Still, occasionally, a cold and sly wind will slip through the dense weather.   Or I will see a leaf or two – tinted with ginger or caramel – at my feet.  It isn’t much.

But it is enough for me to know.

That autumn is beckoning.

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Wakefulness

I don’t sleep well

With a sleeper’s nostalgia I stare

Through the window

Waiting for the progression

Of color

Through Dulac’s whimsical palette

From twilight to turquoise

Over lavender lawns

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I wade through the silence

That lies still and dark

Suffocating velvet

And listen for the dawn of birds

The clear songs

Balanced on the cusp of the sun

Heralding their children

With their bright and pretty courage

I listen to the world

As it uncoils each morning

Horizons stretching

Like a panther waking from its sleep

Night is vanquished

And fragments of light rattle in the air

Trapped in currents that rise and fall

Like a beating heart

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I Hate Summer

I hate summer.

With the onset of its equinox boiling in the sky, insects begin to bloom like teeming gardens. From wood, curtains, carpets one wanders through a seething soup of unwelcome life for three unwelcome months.

I hate summer colors. In the sky they are blank and innocuous, with none of the sculptural intensity of clouds, save for the occasional low cirrus ceilings loaded with moisture – so low I could reach up and pull them towards me, trying to shake some sense into them.

On clothes summer colors are loud and foolish. They lack subtlety and wit. Summer clothes lack style – their only objective is to display bodies and limbs made taut through a spring of diet and torture.

I hate summer foods. They are light and lack interest. They are delicate. They labor under the misapprehension that just because one is enduring the inexcusable summer heat, one can only consume edibles whose only advantage is that they are cold and/or simple. Recipes are designed to keep one out of the kitchen – but has no one ever heard of delivery? Some say that ice cream is a summer food – I will say that if you consider ice cream a one-season food, then I can only pity you.

Foods spoil in the heat. Stomachs are in an uproar with flus and viruses – whether for 24 hours or for a week. I should know – I’m just getting over some sort of bug-bout myself.

I hate the summer heat – it builds and builds inside me like a sealed cauldron: a mushroom cloud waiting inside my torso. It sickens my blood. It saddens my heart. I hate the summer heat at night – it makes the darkness fidgety and nervous, like a jungle that is blistered with impatience.

I hate the summer air. It is thick and lifeless. It stuns the flowers and trees, turning their DNA sere and feverish – shocking them into losing their color. The viscous atmosphere smothers all breath and stills the wind. From each of their four corners of the map they turn their faces away, sullen and quiet.

And most of all, I hate summer in Southern California.

Because I know that things are so much worse everywhere else…and so I shouldn’t be complaining at all.

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Weather Vane

The dolphin curved and bounded with great joy within the confines of its blue home – a generous playground.  It billowed like a ship through the maritime air with a prow that rode the winds with a smiling, salty grace.  It mocked and teased the still, morning air which expanded into a pelagic horizon cursive with waves:  rolling and breaking at its bidding.

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Air currents rubbed against the dolphin’s metallic skin with the insistency of the purring sea.  Sparrows and mockingbirds turned into seagulls; the stoic houses beneath it whales; and the lawns became ocean floors, littered with shells and jewels.  A tiny corner of my neighborhood transformed by the presence of a spinning statuette held high above a singular roof, a winsome silhouette held in the grip of the weather’s caprice.

The happy, airborne creature had paused in its gambols over the four winds:  their full cheeks and blowing curls building a cherubic compass.  It breached over a quadrant of arrows that pointed towards the vast corners of an earthly mansion, defining the map that sailed across the sky.  It laughed at the free-wheeling cartography that floated like stars, wrapping it in constellations and the trails of planets – the latitudes and longitudes of its joyful home.

Sanctuary

In many ways, buildings are like people.  As they grow older, they wrinkle, creak and groan.  They become weak.  With age, other people lose interest in them.  They move away, taking away all care and affection with them.

But like people who have become more and more antique, buildings of a certain age become mysterious and eccentric.  They harbor odd secrets; hidden twists and kinks that defy explanation.  Or if there is an explanation, it sometimes lingers close to the unbelievable.  One walks timidly towards its shore, as if it were a lake made of fire.

During these contemporary times we quake with fear.  And in our anxiety we turn to technology to protect our homes.  They are monitored with wires, alarms and machinery; they are locked, bolted and secured with fences and gripped with steel.  We see our threats in the night; we hear the footsteps – the hand on the door, the nails on the window.

But before all the modern devices, the gears and utilities, the engines and the tools, during a vague, historical time, the enemy was more nebulous.  It was part of an obscure and ethereal population, one which cast no shadow and possessed no dimension. It was born from the elements, lived in the shadows and huddled in spectral corners.

So the weaponry that people resorted to was odd, symbolic.  They were designed to pierce the haunting spirits that cast no reflection; the invisible wraiths that gathered outside, their breath collecting on the windows like troubled clouds.  They hid them in the depths of their homes, in the comforting places:  inside hearths, below beds, nestled in the frameworks and timbers of doorways.

Witch bottles, filled with an assortment of curiosities and charms that represented the earth, the body and the home, would be buried deep in the structure of a building.  Witch bottles could contain sea water, earth, sand, feathers, flowers, salt, oil, vinegar or wine:  fragrant, worldly and safe.  Sometimes urine, hair, nail clippings, bone and blood would be added – the remnants of humanity.  Each bottle had its own complex recipe to counteract the nefarious magical schemes of all evil spirits.

The dried bodies of cats have also been found within a home’s walls – posed courant, fleshless and feral.  Their desiccated muscles are still tense – prepared to attack whatever malevolence that would dare permeate the wood and brick of their arid coffin.

Entire skeletal menageries reclined deep inside a building’s heart, like benign parasites.  Rats and horses’ skulls kept their strange and silent vigil, waiting for the inevitable, invisible invasions.

A 14th century English saint once claimed that he had trapped the devil in a boot – the monster’s acrid breath coiling between leathers and singeing the laces.  Ever since then shoes have been closeted in chimneys, under floors, above ceilings, around doors and windows, in the roof – homely icons symbolic of humanity born of the earth.  These waiting collections were the scuffed charms used against the evil machinations surrounding the home trapped inside dark perimeters.

The only outward sign that a house was under spiritual protection were the “witch marks” that were tattooed across rafters and the wooden frameworks of fireplaces and bed chambers.

An assortment of circles, triangles and crosses invoking the Virgin Mary, vague geometric shapes knitted together to create cat’s-cradle-like “demon traps”, they have been found in buildings such as Knole House, the Fleece Inn and Sevenoaks.

Marks have been found scorched and scratched into the dense oak beams beneath the floors of 17th century Knole, in particular near the fireplace, a common entrance for witches and demons with no fear of flame and ember.

Originally built during the 1400’s, the Fleece Inn is laid equally thick with such traps – they have also been found by the door, to keep inopportune devilish visitors out.

In the early 17th century, the great house at Sevenoaks was being prepared for the anticipated visit of James I.  It was shortly after the failed Gunpowder Plot of November 1605 and was a time of national paranoia:  it was not enough that the conspirators were condemned to a traitor’s dreadful tripartite death, or that the new tradition of the effigies of Guy Fawkes burning merrily had been born.  The carpenters working to construct the new state rooms of Sevenoaks took no chances, carving witch marks and demon traps in the bed chambers that had been prepared for James.

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday November 5 A view of the 17th century 'witch marks' hidden beneath floorboards of National Trust property Knole in Sevenoaks, Kent, which were discovered during a major repair and conservation programme currently underway at the property. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 4, 2014. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

They are scattered across countrysides and crooked streets – the old, whispering houses, with their mysteries rattling deep inside them or scored across their fragrant skin.  It is said that some are haunted, and perhaps they are – by owners or patrons not ready to vacate the comforting buildings with their walls of patterned woods.  Or maybe they are troubled by the spirits and familiars that still struggle in the demon traps that were set for them long ago.

Wishes

My father was a jazz disc jockey.  From the early to mid-50’s he was the host of  “Nick’s Musical Nitecap” – his surname robbed of a syllable and a couple of letters in order to put a listening public squeamish at the sound of a full-fledged Italianate  name at ease.

He has a smudged and mimeographed program from the station – KCSB-FM, San Bernardino.

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His photograph is just visible:  dark-haired and pompadoured, sitting behind a Western Electric microphone.

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When he left, he took his favorite records with him:  Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Lennie Niehaus, Dave Brubeck, Lee Konitz.  Some were Fantasy Record releases, printed on gem-colored vinyl.  And now they are mine.  They are still playable and are quite priceless to me, eBay’s opinions be damned.

Now it’s very rare for me to wish I was an older person.  However, I do wish I was an adult in 1953, living in San Bernardino, rather than the nameless hope of a nation that did not know what it was in for.

I’d then be able to listen to my father’s DJ voice, which would have been…articulate?  Mellifluous?  Spare?  Expansive?  How I wish I knew.  How I wish I’d been there; listening to dad wax poetic – perhaps – on West Coast jazz and then hearing Mulligan’s most eloquent alto sax.

I do have photographs.  Bu I wish I had more.  More in number certainly; but also I wish they could communicate more…more about a part of my father’s life that surely rises him to a plateau of Awesome.

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It has been my privilege and great good luck to have heard my father’s voice for many years – but may I allow myself to be greedy and wish for just a few more?  I can’t believe it would be unreasonable.

My father has done, achieved so much to make me proud of him, to make me love him:  from Emmy awards to tomato gardens, from taking us fishing to taking us to Vegas.  So a stint as DJ makes him even more of an accomplishment, and makes a daughter wish she was with him for longer than would be considered realistic.

On this Father’s Day I do wish my father will know these things – my pride, my love, my deep sentimentality, my envy at all of those fans of his that listened to his Musical Nitecap.

I love you dad, and all that jazz.

My Birthday, My Way

My gift:

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My cake:

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My right to look on any birthday gift or cake with all the predatory and possessive joy of a hyena discovering the freshly killed and untouched carcass of a zebra.

So, as tomorrow is the birthday whose age Dares-Not-Speak-Its-Name (they all have been for some time now), my mind does tend to stray.  It strays because I’m old.  But it also strays because I would like to take the time to thank you, my pretty blog friends, for all of your attentions, and to wish all of your own birthdays to be happy and buoyant and to likewise be liberally scattered with many welcome carcasses.

Lillie’s Apologia

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‘I resent Mrs Langtry, she has no right to be intelligent, daring and independent, as well as lovely’.

  • George Bernard Shaw

‘I would rather have discovered Lillie Langtry than America.’

  • Oscar Wilde

Lillie Langtry was a great and unique beauty.  She was considered such a one, in fact, that it became her career.  She was a professional beauty – a profession that could only have been devised during her heyday, the gilded, steely 1880’s. It was a subtle democracy:  a way for society to feast on demure helpings of scandal, and for the tiny rivulets of respectability to trickle into the demimonde.

The PB’s face and form were her invitation – the key to unlock any door, to gain entrance to any party.  Her image was seen daily, on the postcards and photographs that were displayed in shop windows:  desire pressed under glass.  She decorated any room – she gave it cache, and was that new acquisition required by the clever and discerning hostess.

Yet to our eyes, Lillie seems strange, almost coarse-looking.  Her face is broad, with a bone structure that is unsubtle and a profile that is strong and indelicate.  Her eyes are pale and distant.  Her torso is powerful and buxom, disappearing into a waist that is as cinched and twisted as a bound foot.  She seems to our modern sensibilities, graceless and unfeminine.

But we are only looking at a photograph.  Lillie Langtry’s beauty dates to an earlier time – her profile and build were considered classical Greek – ‘Praxitelean’ – her followers likened her to a goddess.  Oscar Wilde proclaimed her “The New Helen of Troy”.  Her Amazonian physicality alienated her from her dainty contemporaries.

Photographs do not share with us her famous coloring; we can only envy those who witnessed it first-hand: the blue eyes; rich, milky skin and auburn hair that set around her neck like bronzed sunlight.

In addition, Lillie’s intelligence set her apart – it set a fine balance, crossing a vast ocean of wit to journey from ribald, to masculine, to a winking modesty.  She was daring, sly and feral.  No photograph would dare show that.

All things considered, she was irresistible.

It is common knowledge – among those who make it a point to know such things – that Lillie Langtry was the first officially recognized mistress of King Edward VII:  an admirer of lovely and witty women.  She became good and lasting friends with his modest but pretty wife, Alexandria.

But Lillie herself had many lovers, as is the wont of a lovely and witty woman.  For her wanderings she has – then as now – been labeled infamous, immodest, a courtesan, a jeweled whore.  But I find this wild labeling, however, to be unfair.

I believe that Lillie was a romantic; she fell in love often, and with great generosity:  as if her latest love would be her last and greatest.  Would we not do the same?  What would we do, what would we give, if we thought we had reached our final love, our final day?

Why, everything.

The Splintered Target

Morning arrived like a javelin

From a dawn that coiled like muscles

Hurled down from the Olympian sun

Crouching like Helios

Behind his blazing chariot

Pulled by horses raw with fire

It pierced the shadows

And they shattered like glass

Into shards of dusky prisms

They were sliced like diamonds

Into a multi-faceted dawn

With one perfect throw

But in twelve hours the splintered target would become whole again

And the haloed god with a crown blistered with dragons

Would raise his mighty arm once more

The Varied Shadows

We Compliment Each Other

During the course of her life, my extraordinary mother has received many compliments.  They followed her then as they still do now – a pleasant enough shadow, certainly.

This is not a surprise.  With her coloring; her clear and sculpted profile; her pretty, dainty mannerisms; her charming wit and subtle observations and her undisputed style…she is in all ways enviable to all people.  They cannot help but burst with envy – couched of course within the framework of the most discreet and modest etiquette.  In other words, they try not to stare.

As for myself, I am not very open with my compliments.  In most cases I offer them up, silent as a waiter, and only if I am in a particularly good mood – if it’s the first day of autumn or if I’m entering a restaurant and there is something more than egg whites on the horizon.

But I am describing situations where I am interacting with strangers.  I hardly ever compliment my loved ones:  I always believe that such observations are assumed, and that they are all mind readers.

And I have never complimented my rare and beautiful mother.

How great a sin is this?  How terrific an error?  Compliments are often considered shallow things; shallow swipes of a needle – an artful tattoo:  symbolic to the skin, useless to the heart or mind.  But a compliment also gives pleasure; it indicates respect and recognition…all the things that my mother deserves.

And here is where I must tell you about the greatest compliment that I have ever received – and how swaddled it is with irony.  Ironic in that it comes from my mother, with her history of admiration, and that it is given to her daughter who has chosen to express nothing.

I was told this twice, in two variants – twin charms that I will wear to the end of my days.

Once she told me once that I was her greatest achievement.  Also, equally memorably, she told me that she believed she was put on this earth to have me.

Now, these things surely go further, deeper than comments on clothing and jewelry – as vital as those things are.  These comments come from a place that is fundamental and parental – a nurturing place of love and pride:  a fierce, mothering territory.  And I have never received anything so moving, or so grand.

And so I said nothing.

What I did instead was bask – in the generosity, in the beauty, in the honesty – my ego purred in the light of her comments like the laziest of cats.  I was too busy absorbing, to offer anything in return.  Which is unfortunate, as I could have said many things – necessary ones; things that made my fundamentally shy and selfish nature squirm in discomfort.

It comes down to this.  That for as long as I could remember my mother has been an indispensable, crucial, and inspiring part of my life.    She shares a light with the stars that I watch every night and long to wear in my hair as a reminder of a beauty so exquisite yet so steadfast.  From the time that I was young and nebulous to when I was adolescent and stupid to my current years when I am just as unformed and stupid I knew that there was no one like her.  It is terrifying how much I do depend on her.

I know that my mother has her times of doubt and sadness – possibly my low self-esteem has been inherited – and I wish I could do more…say more.  A child has few duties, but chief among them is to try to give back all that his or her parents have given them.

So I am trying to, but my hands and heart are so full.  I am laden with a lifetime of gratitude unspoken and unshared.

So Mother, I will begin by wishing you Happy Mother’s Day.  And also to say how much I truly love you.

Beauty And The Brat

Beauty And The Brat