Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ballad of Darlahood


The great hope, from old numbers,
is that I will be able to pick out my own tanker boots,
toe-nail polish,
and those in power will kiss my ass,
whose laws I spit
and dawdle.

Dingle me with laughing sandwiches.
Fear not the rape,
the masturbate.
Nothing is more powerful, lovable,
as tanker boots and toe-nail polish.

Such passions quibble around my heart.
Your rings and clams make no difference now.
Stones and tyrants,
the same thing.
The same dynasty exactly!
I'm famous now; I've joined the groups of gods
(in my flip flops and painted fingers).
Ha Ha! I was caught red handed,
a noose slipped over my neck,
a stag on my shoulder and a penny in my pocket.


Seven hearses in a row,
a cloaked frog in the gunpowder box.
I reached my hand in the velvet bag for my set of orange pearls.
I rev up the engine to the speed of a few angry Achaeans.

And we roll onward to sunset west,
and wait for the next space light to hit tombstones
across the South,
navigating through the sea.

We are blessed with red,
red, red, red,
and deep blue waters
and crystal doorknobs
and necklaces.

No more furies for the oldest of warriors.
The mansions are brimming with great grandchildren.
A painting casts shadows on the wall.
A bare foot steps on the marble stair.
A hand touches my cheek, my lips.
Pink lace drawers,
and pink lace crinolines.
I sit on the bed alone, and wait for my blessings to start.


I walked through valleys of rosebushes,
"I'll never see that house again.
I'll never see that house again."
Even though doors and windows were left open for me to crawl through.
"I could still be in the palace, even now".
I'll never see that house again.
So, do I damn my own good fortune?
Wrap my feet in binding slippers,
cut my fingers and prickle my breasts,
for the sake of trunk rooms and secret closets?
This is the Narnian descent.
The Narnian intent.

Kill all those palace usurpers.
Kill them first,
then toss the virgins out the window into cold, hollow seas.
Fiends and villains will swoop upon them,
pick them up
and carry them home,
to boughs in trees
with moss for sheets and leaves for pillows.

Old Man Oak, why do you want her so?
She holds the whole band of house pirates in her pockets.


If the prophet refers to one man that will come down upon her,
powerful he must be,
and callous
or kind,
depending upon the situation.

Apollo only knows what will happen once they fall asleep.
"Pray my champion, Godspeed inside me."
Frogs crept along the alleyways.
My yellow fog has turned to pink.

I come with prayers and offerings.

"O sweet Athene, I beseech thee to give me Apocalyptic daggers, swift and true,
and bullet proof vehicles with dark windows that can speed upon vacant highways
faster than sixty miles an hour.

I leave you with gazpacho color #51 red polish and Blue Lagoon #33.
Give me and my kinsmen best Armageddon wishes and set all good hoods free!~"

"This is the palace, stranger. She's inside.
But here is her king, her husband, and the father of her children.
What will you say to the man who found Darlahood in her overgrown tower and desolate city? What will you say to the one who uprooted her from one palace to set her gently in another?"

The Ballad of Darlahood, is a Gothic cautionary tale by Darla Nunnery.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chasing Death Part I - Karmann Ghia

Tina Harwell Waterson was my mama's very best friend all her life up to and there on the day mama died. They grew up together, worked together at the Big Orange Drive-In as car hops in shorts, jaunty caps, and roller skates during WW Two as teenagers.

It's customary for Southern children to address a dear, close family friend as Auntie or Uncle. We're trained to be polite, honor elders, and use Ma'am and Sir when addressing adults to show respect. That bent of courtesy, charm and thoughtfulness sometimes gets us pegged as "slow".

Aunt T knew the power of a buck so she cut me a break and let me start young. I got some of my appreciation for hard work, independence and owning your own business from working for Aunt T. I watched and learned from her shrewdness in dealing with the vendors she bought from, and the way she handled recalcitrant customers who had the audacity to not pay their bills or give her a bad check. She drilled the sense of pride in ownership into me many times saying, "You never get ahead or find total joy in making a living until you work for yourself in something that you love doing". I took that to heart.

Christmas was always a busy season at my Aunt Tina's Waterwell Florist in Gibsonton, Florida. I had worked for her weekends and summers since I was fourteen, running errands, putting up the window displays, culling out less-than-perfect flowers, cleaning, selling the dry goods and cutting the cloth she also carried in the store. When I was older, I drove the big, white van with her logo on the doors to deliver flowers to hospitals and funeral homes.

I've never been scared of dead folks. I love hanging out in cemeteries. It's a family thing I'll tell you about another time. I learned early that it was the live folks that could mess you up. The dead just mind their own business in a solemn, quiet way. I didn't mind arranging the wreaths, floral casket blankets and sprays around the dead in the coffins. What DID bother me was funerals of children and infants. They always looked like waxen dolls in sleepy-bye mode, always false, always wrong no matter how much rouge you put on their pale cheeks.

There is something very disturbing with children dying - as if you'd pinched green rose buds off the bush before they'd even had a chance to open and show you their stuff. An adult usually has had some time to attend a few parties, have a passionate love affair, performed a task they really hate, hurt someone they cared about, and have Life kick the shit out of them a bit. So I dreaded delivery of funeral flowers to children's rites.

My first husband, Bobby was just home a month from the Vietnam War and decided that we should have a beige 1958 Type 14 Karmann Ghia with a black convertible top that he fell in love with. Cars are having an impact on my thoughts and dreams these days. Can you tell? Having owned two Porches - a Cadillac Gold 1958 Speedster Convertible with all the charm of a rolling bathtub and tiny windows, and a red 1962 coupe, Bobby thought the Karmann Ghia was the next logical step in trying to own every exotic vehicle still rolling on the tarmac. He bought it just before Christmas, 1968 to make up for lost time spent in the Army killing people in another country in the last generation's version of War on Terror. That one made as much sense as this one.

The Karmann Ghia was the car I drove to work. Bobby was still looking for a job with not very much luck. But I was working full time for Aunt T that Christmas Eve. I woke up very late, panicked, called Aunt T and told her I was on the way.

After loading my Christmas gifts for T and the folks I knew in Gibsonton on the back seat, I spent about 30 minutes digging out the seat belt from under the front seat runners of the car. They were installed after-market sometimes as most cars back then didn't have to have them until 1966 when Congress finally got behind seat belts with the Automobile Safety Act. They were mostly just a strap across your lap. The fancy shoulder part came about later.

Our seat belts had been bolted to the floor before the car rolled off the dealer's lot. The guys in the shop left them under the seat sliders after re-installing the seats in their haste to get 'er done. I don't know why I decided to put on a seat belt for the first time in my life - ever. I don't know why I chose that day to start being conscientious about auto safety and digging them out, but I remember the day and date vividly. It never struck me as really silly at the time to spend time pulling out seat belts when I was already an hour or more late for work. But I did.

Seat belt finally on and happily tooling down the road, I'm thinking of how pleased Aunt T will be with her gift from me - White Shoulders perfume. It was the only thing she ever wore. I am also thinking of the flower delivery to Stowers Funeral Home in Brandon for a little girl of about three who drowned right before Christmas we had scheduled for that day.

On 56th Street just after the curve, a pink Cadillac pulled out of old myrtle Hill Cemetery and headed north to my south. Now. A pink car is something that catches your attention - especially in the 1960s before the days of Mary Kay cosmetic doyennes rolling down the road in their signature pink reward cars. The Cadillac pulling out of the cemetery posed a problem because she was in the inside lane - mine - on the wrong side of the four-lane. School bus on the right of me full of children, beer truck (big) right on my tail, I could not brake or move over. So I pulled the car to the left onto the grassy median. The only option left for me .

My front wheels and bumper caught the concrete curb of a turn around first and flipped end on end several times, hit another concrete curb at the next turn around and flipped sideways several more times. All in slo-mo, I watched dirt fly through the cab of the car, the roof peel back taking the canvas top and metal armature with it, the rear view mirror being lifted off the windshield and taken up and away right before the windshield disintegrated. I put up my hands in front of my face, which left perfectly smooth skin outlined in bloody pockmarks where the glass shards peppered my face and backs of my hands. I also felt the Karmann Ghia perfectly balanced on the top of my head with a crunch when I flipped over the concrete turn around. I kept saying "STOP! STOP IT" with each spin and roll as if words alone could make it so. When the Karmann Ghia finally stopped, I had an audience. The rolling had been lengthy enough so that the guy in the beer truck and several others were already stopped, parked and running towards the last roll that blessedly landed the car upright on what was left of the wheels on the other side of the road from where I'd started.

My left arm protruded at an awkward angle, my vision was blurry, looked like I was seeing the world through a fun house mirror, and obscured by something sticky, my feet and legs had pushed the brake pedal through the floorboard of the car where I had stood on them just to make it stop, and I had an enormous, horrible headache -the worst I've ever had. That was the only real pain at that moment. That was because my chin was resting on my chest, also at a very odd angle. The beer guy pulled me out of the car and was crying as he pulled a clot of dirt and grass and blood out of my mouth. I kept telling him that I was fine. He took off his shirt and put it over me since the sweater and bra I put on that morning was pretty much gone having unraveled into shreds exposing most of my torso. The good news was that I smelled divine as Aunt T's White Shoulders bottle had burst and coated me and the remains of the car carriage.

The woman who was driving the pink Cadillac continued on her way ignoring the fact that she'd just caused major catastrophe and put a really big hole in my day. Some boys from USF chased her down and forced her off the road before she could repeat the performance.

I don't like riding in ambulances. They came really fast. I guess the rollover took longer than I thought. The sirens blast above you and you sway and bob on the gurney. To this day, if I hear them close by I cover my ears.

When I got to Tampa General Hospital, I was told I had a broken neck and a concussion which was why I felt no pain from there down, several broken ribs, a broken leg and arm and my left eye had been forced out of the socket a bit when the skin was cut open and the bone rattled. Everything was bruised up inside and jumbled around like scrambled eggs. Outside was a dirty, bloody mess. I lost teeth where some metal pushed through my left cheek and broke them off at the gum line. After I'd been in the hospital a while, my mother found a piece of chrome antenna sticking out of the top of my head. They cut it off rather than pull it out of my scull and it's there picking up Cuban radio stations to this day. And alien radio signals via the SETI program.

And you know how your mama tells you to wear clean underwear because you never know when you're going to be in an accident? Well. Listen to her. I had on a pair of lime green see-through panties with black elastic and a spider on a web strategically embroidered that I acquired at my bridal shower. It was the day before laundry and they were the only clean pair left in the drawer. They had also shredded into silly little, lime green strings suspended by two strands of elastic. I asked the nurse to cut them off and throw them away so when the State Trooper who was in the waiting room came in to question me wouldn't see. Thank the Divine for nurses.

It took months of recuperation being strapped into a metal harness that gave my ramrod straight posture yet another notch higher up. Early in my recovery, I tried to take a bath one foot in the tub and the other one connected to an electric heater. I'm convinced to this day that the body and spine straightening jolt I received is the reason my neck healed without huge packages of excess calcium deposits.

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC tonight featured a new test method to measure the stability of vehicles in accidents with rollovers. This is where a vehicle flips over onto the roof once or more. I learned that rollovers in car crashes, while in the minority of all accidents, contribute the majority of deaths in all accidents by some 80%. That is, if you roll over in an accident, you have only a 20% probability of walking away alive. If the vehicle is a convertible without a rollbar, your chances are akin to a handslap stopping a bull elephant - i.e., almost none.

So. I feel that Death made a drive-by then for me. I knew I must have something important to do because I didn't jump on the back of his horse. Now, I don't mind a struggle to get myself together to leave, having to deal with an annoying, can't-get-away-from phone call, wake up late or procrastinate when the clock is running low on batteries and seems to give me all the time in the world. I feel it's someone looking out for my end run.

I ended up having a really good excuse for being late to Aunt T's shop that day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

'56 Buick

I dreamed I was a 1956 two-toned Buick convertible last night, all chrome and lines and weight and portholes down the gills. I was hard to steer and a train to stop. Both are metaphors for me and my life. From one location to another, I gathered up wads and rolls of money and stash them in my car.

Steering one direction or another is not an easy task to get me to do. Neither is stopping. These are functions I must decide to do on my own. I am intractable.

We had a 1956 two toned Buick hard top when I was growing up. It was red and black. My sister Lynda and I would climb out of the bedroom window after my parents went to sleep and put it in neutral, pushing it from the carport down our shale driveway to go for a ride. I was 14 and knew how to drive. Donna Jean taught me in the 1952 Chevy stick-on-the-column daddy had souped up for my mom. He and mama would stand at the kitchen window and laugh as the Chevy lurched and bumped up and down the road while DJ tried to show me the finesse of using a clutch. And daddy had let me drive the Chevy all over the palmetto stumped back acre of our land before that. Lynn was 3 years younger than me and was always up for a good time.

Sometimes, Lynn and I would go to Harold's Drive-In on East Broadway in our part of town and buy just one cherry coke and share it. Those were the days when the cherry syrup had to be added by squirting it out of a deep metal soda well. Sometimes, we just drove around the roads in front of and around the house. Once, we heard of a party that was way too old and dicey for us and went anyway. It was over at the lake by the old Agricultural Fairgrounds off of Orient Road and Buffalo -- all woods then. I got the rear tire of the Buick sunk in a deep ravine which threatened to dump all the Buick's tonnage into the lake. Some really big highschool boys came over, lifted the car out of the ravine and sent us home. We were already headed that way since we saw that this party was way out of our league.

Daddy must have caught on after several of these late night cruises because our old fashioned windows were replaced with crank open Miama (sic) windows soon after the car lifting ceremony.

Me and Lynn had other rides as kids. Bobby and Billy Tilly purloined an old mule from the Cattleman's stock yard auction lot and hid him in the white sands that were behind our property. We -- all the neighborhood kids -- had spent the day fetching and toting grass and other edibles by the handsfuls to make him at home and gave him enough little red apples out of a sack in the refrigerator to give him a good case of the fruit-shits. We were delighted with the company of the mule.

That night, after bedtime, we snuck out of the window. This was BEFORE the Buick episodes by some years, so it really did take daddy a while to catch onto our adventuring. Daddy came in to check on us and picks up the story from here:

"I called for Diane and Lynda, looked all over the yard, and am about to run up the path to the neighbor's house when I see these two heads bobbing up and down over the tops of the palmettos in the moonlight. I get closer and could hear Diane singing 'Tennessee Stud' to the top of her lungs and Lynda joining the chorus.

Here they were, riding a mule that looked like it was a runaway from the soap factory."

Daddy sent us home after paddling our asses and tied the mule up in the yard. The Sheriff came and got the mule the next day along with rounding up Bobby and Billy.

When I was a little older, me and mama were headed out to the clothesline with baskets when here came the Sheriff with Bobby and Billy pushing a long race car across the back lot to the road. Bobby and Billy grinned at us and said 'Hey', and the Sheriff tipped his hat to mama, "Mornin', Miz Von". We didn't get to ride in the racer before the Sheriff found it hiding in the palmettos. The Tilly boys weren't very imaginative about their hiding places for pilfered goods. You could find just about anything missing from our end of town in the palmettos behind our property. And one of the Tilly boys were usually involved.

In my dream symbols, cars are always ME, my vehicle, my path, my next adventure. So I guess that I'm about to be set up stubborn on something in my life again. I don't know what it could be because I am currently filled with that inordinate bliss, cheerfulness, and contentment that is my normal state of being when not dealing with death, destruction, illness, or other aggravations of that ilk. Until I find out what I'm getting ready to ride on that requires hard steering and two feet on the break pedal, I'll bob along with the mule.

Monday, November 27, 2006










Demetria Wilson, 1999

(Painting is "Ophelia" by Arthur Hughes)


My muse is a house older
than liniment and icebergs.
Covered in cobwebs, someone distant hands me some drink.
And I read some book.
And wait for the boy in the paisley shirt to come rushing back,

"I never should have left."
"You never did actually leave", I say.

Stop torturing me, muse!
(I retrace a little, after all, the muse has been mostly kind;
It is Eros who remains distinctly anonymous).
My own house is my prison,
A flagship of apathy.

Dammit. I can't think straight anymore.
I remember when I first heard about the place.
My Mother described how the old woman kept
two grand pianos in her living room.
It isn't frivolity to want,
to need
two of the best things.

Darla Nunnery 1999
(The painting is "Mariana", by John Everett Millais

Monday, November 20, 2006

Daddy's Coal Lessons

I am a coal miner’s daughter. Like Loretta Lynn, I started my life in the sooty shadow of a coalmine. I lived farther up river from Loretta’s Carolina home. It was at the northern head of the Appalachian Mountains in the Shenandoah River Valley where my parents spawned my sister and me.

An aunt tells me there were three of us but my mother refuses or forgets to acknowledge the loss of an infant boy before me. I am the oldest by succession then.

Daddy met mama at the Sweethearts Skating Rink on East Broadway when he was stationed at Macdill Air Force Base in Florida during the War. He married her two weeks later in the frenzy of joy and enthusiasm that often follows conflict once the Germans were defeated. Sweethearts is on the east side of Tampa, but we always called our part of town Six Mile Creek.

Mama was skate instructor and official peacekeeper for Uncle Benny, the affable Italian who owned the rink. It didn’t have anything to do with kung fu. She was simply fearless. She would tackle anything and anybody. Mama went after the bullies with her mouth and the toughs with an RC Cola bottle. Both got results. Like the rest of the women in my bloodline, I have inherited this mouth and arm response when the thugs in the world beset me.

I often imagine my parents meeting each other for the first time. I see pictures of them as they looked then. They were beauties. Mama smiles at the camera looking like a young Ava Gardner. My dad looks like a dark and rakish Clark Gable. His teeth glisten from under the stylish moustache he was to keep all of his life. They were movie star handsome.

Mama swears I was conceived on Southern soil, but they moved back to daddy’s home town in Pennsylvania after the war so he could go back to work in the mines. The post-war boom was slow to start up in our part of Florida. When we moved back to Florida, he became a fisherman. But that’s another story. There was water for daddy to fish in Pennsylvania, too.

We lived right on the banks of the Monongahela River in Fredericktown. I watched the paddle wheelers pushing the groaning barges loaded with coal and riding low in the water up river. They hauled them down river empty and spent. The paddle wheelers looked like giant mechanized toys. You know those ducks where the wooden feet go round and round as you pull it along on a string? They were like that except they shalooshed instead of quacked. I can hear the sound of the big wheels sluicing the water even now if I shut my eyes. It echoed off of the hills across from our house.

I dragged a big metal tub to the steps leading to the water once. My sister Lynda and I wanted to float out to the paddle wheelers to get a closer look. Mama caught us so we didn’t get to go out very far.

We lived in a two story duplex with a basement built into a hill on our side of the river. The Bartoshes owned it. They were the Ukrainian family who lived in one half of the house. They rented us the other half.

I see very little color in these memories. They are sepia-toned photos and grainy black and white home movies someone has taken colored pencils to in my mind. You know the ones where everyone’s lips are the color of brandied cherries no matter how pale their skin is? The color is never quite right.

My mother labored with me for sixty hours. It was touch and go. I fought her insistence I be born by kicking and pushing back at every contraction. Mama often reminded me of how horrible her labor was with me so I should be grateful. My punishment is these skinny arms and legs that refuse to put on much weight no matter how much the rest of me gains. The excess clings in odd clumps and packages of flesh wherever they can. It looks like they’re forever threatening to fall off as I bounce over the rough roads of life.

My other birthmark is a spine that is crooked and misshapen. It is curled in upon itself as if wishing to hide in the fetal position of my womb self. My spine is shaped like a sideways question mark; the ess of a burrowing snake trying always to twist away from the rigors of life and asking major questions as it goes. My spine gives me good posture by default. I stand sort of defiant, militant. My chest leads. My head and shoulders are ramrod straight and squared, my face pointed straight on and chin up to the world.

Daddy’s spine was like that. He must have fought his birth, too. His body reflected his Siberian ancestry by remaining true to the ground. His spine was only slightly more crooked than mine. He didn’t blame it on his birth fight. He said it was from the Great Depression days of digging through the garbage behind the A & P in Fredericktown when he was a kid.

The neighborhood children would go back there to find the edible parts of the fruit heir parents couldn’t afford on coal wages. The market casually threw away the fruit that sat rotten in the bins rather than lower their prices to the miners’ families. Don’t let politicians fool you. This is what they really mean by ‘market economy’.

Daddy’s crooked spine could also have come from bending over to climb the steep Pennsylvania hillsides in search of wild garlic. His mother would crush and rub the cloves on lard she spread their homemade bread with. It gives the grease some flavor. Her folklore told her it would keep her children from getting worms. It suppose it worked because my Dad never looked wormy.

Daddy also bent down when he looked along the railroad tracks for anthracite coal. Anthracite coal is better for heating than the softer bituminous coal. Both were formed in peat bogs like the Dismal Swamp that doesn’t pay any attention to state lines and government jurisdictions. The Dismal straddles Virginia and South Carolina.

Mud and sand and mountains fell over the peat bogs way back in the Devonian and Carboniferous ages. That slowly put the squeeze to the partly decomposed peat, which converted it to combustible coal. The mud and sand became shale and sandstone.

The mountains remained for the miners to have something to dig down through to get to the coal. Anthracite coal has most of the impurities driven out so it burns better after you manage to get it lit. Some of the choice chunks fell off the trains that hauled the coal cars to and from the mines.

My dad and all my uncles and aunts would scour the railroad berm for lumps of coal to heat their row house with. It doesn’t make sense. The miners back then often didn’t have the money to buy enough coal to stay warm with even though they were the ones who dug it out of the ground with a pick and shovel in the first place.

Maybe the bend in his spine was because daddy lied about his age and went into the mines to work beside his pap when he was fourteen and his bones where still trying to grow. Miners forever duck their heads even when they’re not down in the Hole. It’s a learned response to keep from being beaned on the low ceilings of the rooms they gouge in the coal. This is their penitence for digging around in the body of the Earth like boys going through their mother’s pockets looking for loose change.

Daddy showed me their peculiar bobbing and hunched over walk. It took him a long time to straighten up when he walked, but his shoulders humbled over whenever he forgot to pay attention to his step.

The miners have to dig because there are bigger boys who own the mines. Those Owner Boys never have to dig the coal out themselves. They demand the black treasure from the Earth they lay claim on. It is blasted out of the synclines where the miners work miles below the Earth’s surface and the sun. The Owner Boys will trade the coal dug out for them by others for coins and bills. The coins and bills will carry the Owner Boys far, far away from the hills they strip bare and scatter with their middens of overburden and inferior lignite coal and pollution to the streams and groundwater around the mines where the miners live.

So the Eath beans the heads of the miners they hire for low wages because they are the ones most handy to Her touch. She’ll squash them like ants on occasion when She’s really had enough of the gouging. Daddy told me that this usually happens when the miners are back-mining the supporting columns of the rooms they’ve stripped of coal.

Now. THERE is a swat for you! Coal dust blowing everywhere as the Earth’s body collapses over the miner’s heads to mash them flat in their boring tunnels. Since the mine shafts are so deep beneath the surface of the ground, you can feel the shake and hear the rumble for a long time before coal dust blows out of the mine entry like a whale blowing water as it surfaces. The dust is the backdrop for the vigil kept at the mine entrance by the families of unaccounted for miners until they’re found alive. Or otherwise.

The Owner Boys never show up at these vigils. It’s just a glitch in the flow of money from the coal for them - an inconvenience in the production schedule that will mean a few less stock purchases and a bottle less of champagne for the day or until the insurance pays off. Usually, there is some Suit who acts as the public face of the Owner Boys standing in front of the reporters and radio mikes trying to convince the public that theirs was a safe mine and all precautions are always taken. Times haven't changed much.

I remember daddy coming off shift from the mines. He was totally black except for his teeth and the whites of his eyes. Daddy was dark skinned to begin with. Not the rich coffee and tea of Africa, but the swarthy, dark ocher and olive of Siberian stock.

My sister inherited his straight blue-black hair and black eyes with their picanthropic fold. It gave them an odd, Oriental look. Lynn was dark skinned too, but the admix of one or another of my mother’s more colorful relatives blended the best of all worlds on her palette. I guess coal was in daddy’s blood since anthropologists have found evidence of ancient coal mining operations where his ancestors hailed from. Maybe the coal helped stain the skin of his people dark in that part of the world.

I inherited my mama’s sea green and turquoise eyes and just enough of her auburn highlights to keep my thin hair from being a nondescript mousy brown. I have olive skin. Not olive enough to look truly exotic even though I am euphemistically called 'Eurasian.' I’m neither East nor West but stuck somewhere in between like avacado in a sandwich. My coloring makes me look like the outside of a hard-boiled egg yolk when the white comes away with the shell. You can really tell it when I dare to wear yellow.

I’ve taken to fading as I age like an old rose that’s kept around in water too long. I see pictures of me in the seventh grade class of Ben Franklin Junior High, Section Seven. I’m the dark little being who would look more at home on the streets of Bangalore instead of the Six Mile Creek girl I am. I was the darkest one in my seventh grade class, but not as dark as daddy.

One time daddy came home after sunset while I was at the window waiting for him. I could see him walking down the lane, a darker shadow in the gloom swinging his lunch pail. He saw me looking at him through the window and grinned at me. The effect was not unlike the Cheshire Cat that appeared in the Wonderland tree above Alice’s head. Maybe mama anticipated this scene when she gave me my middle name. I’m called Alice, too.

I could also smell the coal dust on daddy when he came home from the mines. I wanted to hug him. He made me wait until he’d had a bath. The coal on daddy smelled like rock and earth and something a step down from sulphur. Kind of like when the teacher used to put your nose on the chalkboard ring when you were a bad kid in school.

I always got my nose in the chalk-drawn ring because I was a daydreamer. I didn’t mean to. I just forgot and got caught because I couldn’t help myself from following the stories that would just appear in my head. The teacher said it was daydreaming and daydreaming was NOT allowed for little girls in grade school. So the teacher drew a circle high up on the blackboard so I had to stand on my toes to reach it and stretch to put my nose in the circle. That’s how I know that the blackboard smells like. Daddy told me that the blackboard is slate and slate is a close step to coal.

Daddy earned good money working in the mines. The Almanac says these were boom years after World War II and a good miner could take home good wages for the day. Daddy was the best. He could easily load several boxcars of coal with just a pick and shovel and a mule. He held the record of loads at Bailey Mine for a long time.

Daddy bought one of the hard to come by post war cars that were rationed out with some of his mine money. There’s a picture of toddler me standing at the back bumper of a shiny new, coal black 1950 Oldsmobile squinting up through the sunlight at the camera. I’m squinting because the directions on the Kodak Brownie camera said the subject should always face into the sun. There’s another one of me in the same pose at the bumper of an old Model “A” Ford. I don’t know if coal money bought that but it was my mama’s car. I remember waking up once in the back seat of the old Model “A” with mama and Aunt Betsy singing, ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’ as they drove into the night. I added the dog’s part and they laughed.

My other dog story concerns Baba Bartoshes’ dog, Lady. Remember, the Bartoshes owned the duplex we lived in? I used to love to pet Lady’s soft, gray muzzle and long ears. She was always so slow and gentle with me and wagged her tail when I would pop around the corner squealing with delight when I saw her. One morning when I was three or four, Daddy put Lady in the back seat of the shiny new Oldsmobile for Baba. Baba cried as she shut the door and went back inside her part of the house. Lady just lay there with her head down on the seat. We drove out to the country with her and stopped at this shallow stream where it ran over some rocks. Lady used to come with us to wash the cars out there sometimes and she loved splashing in the water and chasing the drops.

Daddy carried Lady out and laid her next to the stream because she wouldn’t walk. She looked very sleepy. Daddy sat next to her talking to her and petting her ears and head like I did. He even sang this lullaby to her in his deep voice.

Go to sleep, Lady girl,
There are angels around you,
Go to sleep, Lady girl,
You’ve been a good friend, too.

I thought that was real nice the way he made the words for Lady. I played by the stream with the rocks. We left a long time later without Lady. I asked daddy why we were leaving her and he said because she was very, very tired and had to go to sleep. She must have been really sleepy because she didn’t jump up or even move when we got her out of the car like she usually did when she saw me and was all wiggles.

When I got a little older, I remembered daddy singing to Lady. I thought that he had sung her into the long sleep. It is natural for me to think that the woods are some place you go when you are very tired and need a long sleep yourself.

I have other memories of Fredericktown. I remember winning a silver dollar for my Little Red Riding Hood costume one Halloween. My sister was a clown and she won a silver dollar, too. Mama made our costumes. My love of thread comes from her. I used to sled down the hill by the Moose Hall. One time, Ina Rae and I danced the polka. Everyone cleared the floor. They thought we were cute but I got really self-conscious because I just wanted to dance the Polka with Ina Rae.

My grandmother bought a clown doll for my third birthday. I wouldn’t pick it up and love it because she wouldn’t let me touch the beautiful Victorian doll she had on her bed that was all green and blue satin. She must not have thought much of the clown doll because she tossed it to me from across the kitchen when she came in. I couldn’t catch it and it landed on the floor. I guess I didn’t think much of it either after that because I went back to toting around my ratty little rag dog mama made me while the clown doll stayed on my bed. Mama said Grandma Kerik didn’t know how to give things to people because she had grown up hard and had to help raise her eight brothers and sisters and didn’t have time to learn such things as tenderness.

I was in the hospital once for malnutrition or pneumonia – I don’t know which is fact. The room was green and the bed was made out of iron. My dad was not there.

My parents won the first television set in Fredericktown at a raffle. The screen was round and it didn’t have color. I talked to the television screen when Howdy Doody asked which toothpaste us kids used. I thought that he lived in the back of the television set.

I also remember eating green grapes that made me sick from the coal shed next to the driveway and red cherries from the tree out front by the river. They were sweet until you got to the pit. Then they were a little tart. I have good memories of the little log cabin daddy built us to play in. He cut the logs from the forest along the river and dragged them home one by one until he had enough. He put a swing in the tree for us, too. Most of all, I remember how hard daddy worked.

My grand pap taught daddy about the ways of the mines. He called my dad ‘Yonco’ even though daddy’s name was really John. Pap would ‘blow the hole’ like a crazy man. Preparations were always the same.

Daddy and pap would bore a hole into the coal vein and then they would tamp dynamite sticks down in there. Pap attached the fuse and sent daddy back down the tunnel to wait. Instead of regulation lengths of the gunpowder-permeated line, pap gave new meaning to the term “short fuse”. He lit the fuse and ran like hell laughing like a madman back to where daddy waited. Pap always timed it so the concussion wave lifted him and threw him flying out in front of the blast. Most of the time, he would land at daddy’s feet. I guess he missed the excitement of bear baiting, riding horses, and fleeing the Pogrom in Russia and needed the edge of danger to make him feel alive in the darkness and monotony of the mines.

I once heard daddy say that the only time that his pap showed him affection was when he was drunk on vodka. Since this was also the time that pap chose to belt them around, daddy, his brothers and sisters, and my grandmother had to lay low until they saw which way the wind was blowing.

Papa took a bottle of homemade vodka in his lunch pail to wash down the hard bread and meat he and daddy brought for lunch. The doctors told him he’d have to give up the hand rolled cigarettes with Turkish tobacco he favored and the daily bottle of vodka if he wanted to best the black lung and live a long life. Pap said, “The hell with you!” and kept drinking his vodka. He lived until he was nine-two. I guess he was willing to give up the long life for some quality time.

When pap made his own vodka down in their basement, he flavored it with cherry pits or fennel seeds. He also baked his own bread. Both my parents have passed that catechism of diverse talents on to me, a ‘Renaissance Woman’ as a white haired storyteller once called me.

Daddy could tell a good story. He told me about his sister, Lara who was born with a veil of embryonic skin over her face. According to daddy’s people, that gave her the gift of seeing the future. She foretold her own death under the wheels of a hit-and-run driver when she was a tender six years old. Daddy told me of being sent to find her with his brothers and discovering her crumpled body and little wagon on the railroad tracks below the road. He would find himself laying on the same tracks for two days in a twilight sleep after being hit by a car close to the same spot where they found Lara. They put a steel plate in Daddy’s head. He was forever sensitive to the heat of the sun on it after that. His sister was beyond steel patches and help when they found her along the tracks lying like the coal they scavenged for to heat their house.

I guess kids were expendable then because the two men who hit daddy and his sister had something or other to do with Owner Boys mine management and weren’t any help with the hospital or the undertaker.

I also think the plate in daddy’s head helped him tell me such good stories. It was hot in the mines because it was deep in the earth. But at least the sun wasn’t shining on the top of his head to distract him so he could remember what he heard and saw.

Daddy worked the mines until he was sixteen. He lied about his age again and joined the C.C.C. Camps set up by President Roosevelt under the New Deal. The conservation camps were set up to deliver some relief to poor people in the way of jobs and to keep groups of hungry young men from attacking and eating the wealthy and the government. They built dams and cleared brush from the roads for room and board and a small wage.

At the Company Store, things did not come cheap even though the mine wages were, so all daddy’s brothers and sisters had to contribute in some way. Daddy gave his mine check and C.C.C. wages to grandma Kerik to feed his brothers and sisters so they never went looking for politicians to eat.

Daddy explained to me the difference between anthracite and lignite coal. And I loved hearing about pap and the dynamite. I even liked the stories about the company row houses that he grew up in that were covered with tarpaper that blistered in the summer heat. Most of all, I liked daddy’s rich, baritone voice that he sang Lady into the long sleep with. He taught me another song he learned from the other miners. He said they would sing it while they worked the coal down in the mines.

Come all you young fellas
So young and so fine
And seek not you fortune
Way down in the mines.

It will form as a habit
And seep in you soul,
‘Til the streams of your blood are,
As black as the coal.

For it’s dark as a dungeon
And damp as the dew,
Where the dangers are doubled,
And the pleasures are few.

Where the rain never falls
And the sun never shines,
It’s dark as a dungeon
Way down in the mines.

When my life it is spent and the ages shall roll
My body will blacken and turn into coal
When I look from the doors of my heavenly home,
I’ll pity the miner that’s digging my bones.

Daddy died in 1984, his mustache still as dapper as it had been as when he was a young man. He’s forming coal of his own.

Dina Kerik, 1999

Friday, November 17, 2006

Not Your Mother's Disiderata

I shamelessly stole this off of Lesly Finn's Art Blog because I almost peed myself when I read it. Anything that gets a rise of emotion from me these days deserves to be tucked under the arm and absconded with like a fat goose before Christmas. Enjoy. - Love, Dina


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
And remember what peace there may be in silence.
Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead,
Do not walk in front, for I may not follow
Go over there somewhere.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly.
Be open minded,
but do not lean forward or your brain may fall out.

Know that there will be good days and bad days
And this is one of them.

Always dismantle and clean the dog before going to bed,
But avoid the use of spot remover or you may never see him again.

You are a child of the universe.
It is only a small world if you don't have to paint it,
So do not wish for everything unless you have a really big cupboard.

Do not worry about the pace of life,
concern yourself only with its sudden ending.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons.
Sleep well.
If you cannot sleep well, practice more often.

Borrow from pessimists, they don’t expect it back.

Remember, if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day,
Teach him to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink himself stupid.

It is always darkest before the dawn.
That is the time to steal your neighbour's newspapers.

Be gentle with yourself.
Bear in mind that depression is anger without enthusiasm
And good health merely the slowest way to die.

Never argue with a fool for he is doing the same.

Know that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not a good idea
And that timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

Always remember that all is not lost, though I haven’t seen it for some time.

Be yourself.
If you cannot become wiser, try to be older.
Aim as I do, to live forever;
so far I am doing all right.

Never stand between a dog and a lamp post
And never hit a man with glasses, always use something larger and heavier.

Remember that some people are only alive because it is illegal to kill them,
A closed mouth gathers no feet and nature abhors a vacuum cleaner.

Be cheerful, strive to be happy
And remember that your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.

Go far ...... and start as soon as possible.
For the original see Max Ehrmann

Saturday, November 04, 2006


we struggle to
find the balance between
fault lines and forgiveness

by C. Robin Janning

Monday, October 16, 2006

Silk Scarves

she ties back her hair
and leaning over the table
cuts ribbons of color, of pattern
making silk scarves
to flutter like flags
above a landscape
of hopeful hearts

she thinks
she believes
she will change
the world with beauty
by C. Robin Janning, 2006

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lost In The Sky

by C. Robin Janning

this evening
my meditation is
lost in the sky

Thursday, September 07, 2006


A bluesy wind is blowing through my life tonight. I felt it coming off the smooth waters of the huge canal I live on when I let the cat out for her evening patrol. There was exactly twelve blissful seconds of absolute pure night sounds - wind soughing through huge oaks around the house and just the crickets - before the incessant thrum of traffic pounding up and down I-4 up river and the sounds of arguments from the trailer park across the defensive spanse of water came back as the drone of background white noise particular to my house.

It started me thinking about the days and nights of absolute pure night sounds that I lived with at the ranch in Indianola Valley, Utah. The closest neighbor was a mile and a half down the grade that snaked through the valley. You had to drive 4.58 miles to see black top and 13.7 miles to see a town. The closest one was Fairview. This is where we went for groceries, to mail a package, get molasses coated oats when we ran low.

Willie Nelson owned a ranch on US highway 6. The highway ran to Fairview from what used to be the town of Thistle, which is now underwater from a huge land slide courtesy of the mountain the Denver and Rio Grande railway tunnel went through. We went to watch local kids practice their ranching skills via the venerable art of goat roping at Willie's. Yes. There is such a thing as a goat roping. The goats were good sports about it with most of the hoary veterans simply running across the indoor arena and laying down for the efforts of a lip-biting 8 to 10 year old dressed in miniature Midnight Cowboy garb.

Legs splayed out to the side well above the normal level for stirrups, rope lasso twirling furiously, if not quite in a perfect oval, the youngsters would pelt across the arena after said goat, slide their pony up to the supine form in a mixture of hay chaff and dust, and fling a tangle of rope and knots in the general direction of the animal. Jumping off the pony, the young cowboy would throw themselves on the unprotesting goat, whip a few loops around the horns and hold up a hand, fingers clenched in a fist - cowboy catcher to pitcher parlance for a done deal - to the applause of the crowd hanging on the fences.

I learned the nuances of the Cowgirl Barrel Wave here - a short, choppy slashing of the air with an open free hand as she came pell-mell out of the shute to weave the karick knot in the ground around barrels spaced just so to the rythym of the horse's hooves pounding the ground. The Cowgirl Barrel Wave is very different than the Cowgirl Parade Wave.

Many of the competitors in the local rodeos were expected to try their hand at competition for local beauty queens and rode the circuit of parades for whatever needed celebrating: Fourth of July, Labor Day, Harvest, Hog Days. There is a corresponding beauty title and pageant to go with each celebration, of course and you have to know the Cowgirl Parade Wave if you want to be taken as a serious competitor. This would be the obligatory signal from atop a crepe paper decorated float if you won a spot in the court.

The Cowgirl Parade (and Beauty Queen) wave is a cupped hand affair that nods back and forth from a stiff elbow held aloft like one of those bobble heads on the dash board of pick up trucks. With it should come a smile, genuine if you espy someone you know out in the crowd standing two deep on the side of the road, pasted on but gracious if a rival's cousins or friends were shouting uglies at you in good natured side taking.

Those were some of the social noises to be had in town. The noises I ate, slept and worked with daily at home involved the whinering and chuffing of horses as they restlessly paced a corral waiting for a daily coffee can sized ration of sweet feed on hay, gathering thunder coming over the mountains from Spanish Fork, snow falling off of overloaded cedar branches to pol-lop onto the pile of snow below, the low of cows, blatting of sheep, and at night, bracketed by the busy click of crickets, the mellifluous harmony of coyotes or wolves under a moon bright night sky . It ain't nothing like the canned sound of it coming out of your t.v. or the movie screen. Believe me. It gets in your bones and travels up to your inner ear through your spine and sets off harmonics in your soul when you're THERE.

Other sounds were the chunk of logs that were stacked up in the silo for winter (and summer) burning. You see. I lived without running water and electric for over five years out there. I'd like to say it was because I chose to but the fact was that the economics of running electrical wire out from the main road five miles was cost prohibitive. You learn to cope just like our ancestors did. I cooked on wood, both baking and top stove, learned to bank a fire under a pot of stew simmering in a big kettle on the back of a wood-burning stove to be ready at dinner time late in the day, and could turn out a fair stream-caught trout over an open camp fire with just a spit or a skillet.

Much of the year was spent gathering dead wood and snaking it off the side of the mountains tied with a rope to the pommel of your saddle. The horses loved this work and vied with one another to see who could step proud with the prettiest curl in their neck as they traveled sideways with just the right amount of tension to keep the logs from rolling ramshod down the grade. Down on the road, the logs were cut into handleable portions and loaded onto a stone boat - the flat, low sled with curved ironshod runners that we used to haul anything behind the horses.

Back at the house, the logs were cut into neat lengths to the accompanying chur and brupt-buzz of the chain saws and we began the arduous chore of splitting the wood with an awl and mallet. I got quite good at this, too. There's a particular 'schunk' when you've placed the wedge just right and applied just the right amount of swing with the sledge hammer. Wood was stacked with a satisfying thunk in sorted piles in which it would be used: in a box with small chips and twigs to start one, resinous kindling sticks once you got a little spark and smoke, next size up sticks for building a hot fire, split wood for a sustained burn and big round logs for a slow burn. That took care of fire.

For water,we went up to the big corral and waited patiently for the two 100 gallon tanks on the back of the old 1966 Dodge truck filled up, carted one load up to the corral to replenish the water tanks greeted by the hoof sounds and nickers of between 22 and 30 something head of mares in various stages of gestation for the Wyoming racing and show circuit, or with their colts and foals running hip to shoulder to us and went back for a second load. This one snaked it's way up the hill chugging in second gear past the log house I lived in and fed a cement tank for the gravity flow water system we used to water our own horses, bathe, flush the toilets, and wash our asses and our dishes. We made this trek every three days, rain or shine. I used the time listening to the crickle and pollup of water splashing and gurgling into and out of the metal tanks to read, work on some needle project that was current or to write.

I worked in Pleasant Grove just north of American Fork five days a week keeping the books for a big truck parts store and driveline service. Those sounds were clunking, screeding, the huffing of big diesel tractors as they pulled into the lot next door at the trucking company with their 40 foot trailer loads of potatoes for Thunder Bay, Canada and paper or cardboard bound for Corvalis and Redding, California. My husband drove a truck for them.

I sometimes went along on runs learning how to drive a five and a four, brownie and a main - the two gearshifts used to coerce a fleshy old Kenworth conventional tractor pulling a loaded trailer down the road. You have to learn to listen for the gears in the dog box to chortle at about the same speed to slip the gears into place with the spining flywheel of the manual transmission, around 18 rpms. You also listen for the baugh-uck-uck-uck-ah of the jake brake slowing down the engine until the last 'uck' told you to shift to a lower gear. I got okay at backing in to a loading dock and pulled the toggle to the accompanying shush of the airbrake.

There were also the dropped tool sounds followed by mechanic's colorful curses, the ringing of phones and the bell on the shop door. Those were the job sounds, half my life. Getting from half one to half two involved an hours drive to and from each day. I used that time to meditate, think, sing, plan, listen to the whir of the car's engine and look out for deer that inevitably need to gallop across the road on a mission, no matter who's coming.

I liked my home half noises better than my work half life noises. I love hearing the saddle leather creeched as it shifted and the way horse's hooves chumped on the rock and dirt of the paths we rode over the mountains on our way past Horse Dick Canyon to get breakfast next morning just under the Uinta mountain range at a little restaurant there. It was our destination and soul reason for the all day ride. A bedroll, skillet, coffee pot containing coffee, some salt and pepper and a dab of lard to cook whatever we had for dinner in camp that night were unloaded while a fire was being built next to a little creek. The horses were always nosey. We would wake up with them standing over us in our blankets, velvety noses with their noisy breathing and teeth grinding in our face. This was to remind us to bring out their sweet feed while we made coffee with the water from the creek.

There were the sharp claps of concussion from the bullets I made when we went target practicing our quick draw and when I was forced to put down someone's small dog who had argued with a cougar and was beyond the ministrations of any vet. I hated those noises from the little dogs and the gun that ended it then. I was the understood sheriff of Hideaway Valley - the name of the settlement in the valley behind Indianola. This was one of the chores I had besides keeping eyes out for stupid hunters who shot at horses during season unless we painted day-glo X's or wrote 'HORSE' on their sides.

We had this huge line-back dun with size 2 shoes and feathered feet named Loco Poco. He was pretty close to being a Percheron in size. He was a dough-ball, scared of almost anything and fearsome as leader of our small stable. When it would rain or hail, he'd heard the rest of the horses up under the roof next to the barn and huddle against them mostly exposed and taking the brunt of the storm on his flanks as the hail rattled against the steel roof. But a garbage bag on the side of the road would set him off in paroxisms of a horse's rendition of the high step dance as if it had been a rattler. He finally conquered his fear of plastic garbage bags and delighted in dumpster diving into the recyle trash barrel next to the barn to haul them out. He would hold them in his mouth, shake them and then run from the noise, repeat this a few times, drop the bag and stomp it furiously. He was boss!

Every morning for quite awhile, we heard this loud scra-da-dap, scra-da-da-dap, scra-da-dap that would wake us up. If you went outside, all you could see was a line of horses standing at the fence looking at you. Couldn't figure out what it was so we'd just get up earlier than the alarm, go out, feed the horses and get ready for the rest of our chores. One morning, I happen to get up a bit earlier and was in the kitchen making sheepherders coffee (handful of coffee grounds in a pot of boiling water, grounds settled with cold water or eggshells), when the scra-da-dap starts up. I look out at the window and here's Poco dragging his hoof across the ribs of a piece of corrugated tin used to cover old fence posts. The other horses look expectantly from Poco's music to the house. Sure enough, when I walk out, there they are standing innocently at the fence nickering for their morning feed, end result attained.

The horses loved swimming. On the very hottest days when there wasn't a breath of air blowing, we would ride the horses up to the big corral and unsadle them. Bareback, we'd ride into the big pond to the horse's delight. We played a form of splashy water polo with a beachball and the horses loved it! Lightfoots had a mustang that one of their daughter's rode who's spiked mane reminded me of Cindy Lauper. The little mustang loved snorkeling under water and then spraying the results on whoever was closest. I ended up with gallons of water and horse snot on my leg from her. No one got out of the water until we were cold and teeth chattered. Then we would loll around the bank drying off before saddling up and riding back home. Pond sounds were: Nicker, whinny, splash-sploosh, schuck-cha, snortle, giggle, laugh, plop.

Horses like snow, too. Christmas time, we would hook up the stone boat to a pair of horses in their winter blankets, bundle ourselves up and make the rounds of the valley carrolling. Horses hooves in snow sound like a muffle plup-clup and the iron skids on the ice sounds almost like metal being rubbed together.

We had chickens. They're obligatory on any ranch or farm and their cluck and pick-pick-pick words blend in with ranch music. One day, we're standing out by the corral where our horses stayed when we hear this garble-garble-scree coming from deep in the pines above the house. It gets closer and closer, then this guinea hen barrels out of the woods in a flurry of feathers and dust and charges down on us. Now. A guinea is ugly. It looks like the after pictures of a turkey someone has taken a hammer and tongs to. He stops short of us, quarrels at us a bit and then and begins herding those chickens together. He fussed over them, watched after the chicks and went after a rooster he thought was too big for his britches. At dusk, he would herd them into the trees so they were safe from coyotes and foxes. If he set up a racket, you came out of the house in your unders with a shotgun and flashlight. We never knew where he came from so far away from civilization. And no one was reporting him missing.

One night, there was the sound of about 100 drunk cowboys and their women in the sweetest, harmonic accapella rendition of Amazing Grace you've ever heard. We were up at Baker's ranch at a fireside - our rendition of Saturday Night Out socializing up in the valley. Each family would take turns hosting it every few weeks until we made the rounds of the valley. Then we started the rounds again. A fireside takes place around a big bonfire at your ranch. The host usually provides the main course - turkey, ham, deer, beef, fish - and everyone brings a dish and a bottle or six-pack of whatever. You play music, talk the latest valley news, dance, laugh and then leave.

I was the entertainment at Rick and Jane Baker's that night. I brought my 12-string and led the troops in various 50s and 60s rock and roll and country tunes throughout the evening. It was a beautiful full moon in the first fringe of Autumn. Baker had this huge native flagstone patio down some stairs from the house surrounding an equally impressive iron ringed fireplace. He'd built flat seats atop the rails surrounding the patio that kept drunks from stumbling off the edge and rolling the rest of the way down the hill through the sage scrub to the gravel road.
It was getting very late/early and I set my guitar back in the case. Someone called out for 'one more for the road' having wowed every one with his Phil to my Don Everly 'Dream'. So. I let everyone get settled and started out in silence, 'Ah-may-zing Grace! How sw-eet the sounds, that saved a wretch like me-eee..."

As if directed by a master conductor, every throat took up the next line and sang along. We rivaled the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that night. I don't know where those perfect voices came from because they were all around us, each one swearing later that there was an angel singing next to them. We sang the words, miraculously remembering all the lyrics.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares...
we have already come.
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...
and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me...
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be...
as long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Then. Silence. For long, long moments, no one spoke. No noise except the crackle of the fire. The chirp of crickets started up some minutes into the silence signalling that it was a good time to good night. Then everyone drifted off to jeeps, pickups, cars and some on horseback to head home. It was a long time until the next fireside. No one seemed willing to break that magic.

I eventually moved from the valley at the urging of an Indian in full battle regalia. I also left Utah to come home to Florida for healing. But that's another story for another time.

We are bombarded with noises, sounds every minute. As I write this, I hear the fan blowing on me, the tick of my Lara Croft Tombraider wall clock and the clicking of the keyboard. There is one persistant cricket who remains the key note to all my life noises chirping merrily outside my 3:00 a.m. bedroom window. In the Orient, crickets are a symbol of good luck. He has been with me from childhood, calling out to that special someone by rubbing his wings together just so. Makes me wonder if he ever finds her listening back at him.

I don't know if the grace I find when I listen to the cricket's song is luck so much as good fortune to have lived the life and seen the sights and heard the sounds that I have been blessed with. All of it has been wondrous - the good, bad and hurtful. And througout my life's orchestral arrangement, there has been a cricket up in the string section.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I love etymology - the study of the history of words - because it tracks our progress as a species with many side trips into history with curious asides about culture. You can click on the etymology link if you're interested. Musing on this, I left Tary and Karole Peace a 'Happy Labia Day' message when I reached out to touch their answering machine this past holiday weekend.

The word Labor gives a nod to the Frenchified word shift that occured when the Normans conquered England in 1086. I was 'there' because I can trace my maternal genetic material and lineage directly back to Sir Drieu of Normandy, a knight in the service of Robert Malet, a top commander in William the Conqueror's army. It pleases me that my ancestral family had something to do with a major language shift and all those lovely words that came through because of King Harold's foolery.

I'm sure that part of my warrior proclivities and stupid fearlessness are hanging somewhere on an allele passed on by Sir Drieu to me over a thousand years ago. You can see Drieu, also known as Drogo in the Roll of Battle Abbey and embroidered running around on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Our family name, Drury, shortened from the French de Rouvray, has played a part in England's history and culture, including run-ins with service to the illustrious Queen Elizabeth I and a theatre named for the family on Drury Lane - which may also explain my love of the dramatic and costume.

This genealogical snobbery has served me well when I've been looked down the long side of someone's nose, lo, those many times. I chortled gleefully to myself that while So-and-so thought themselves vastly superior for whatever reason, their ancestors were probably chasing sheep across some unnamed hillock burning sheep shit for fuel somewhere while mine rode blue. That and the results of a test in the happy hospital that diganosed me in the 99 percentile as part and parcel cause for my madness. It meant I could look at them dressing me down and know that there was only a 1 percent chance that they were smarter than me. Present circumstances told me where the odds were. Cold comfort at times, but still comfort. You have to cling onto twigs sometimes for whatever dab of sanity you can get while clutching the edge of a cliff or Celie stirring a secret ingredient into the lemonade in 'The Color Purple'.

Back to Labor. It comes from the Latin word for hard work - laborum with a side trip through a French coffee filter, labourer: to work, toil, pain, fatigue. Women coined the word labor way back in time with our travails (also another French word for 'work' or 'labor' - travalier). As in LABOR, childbirth, the trip through the Mouth of Creation or labia. Lab-yrinthine, lab-rus, lab-ia, Lab-or. Virginia Sapiro chronicles in 'Women In American Society' that the bulk of the world's entire work mass, something like 70 to 80 percent of it, is performed daily by women cross-culturally and pan-continental. Any gal who's tried to wrestle a man off a couch and pry the remote from his hands to take out the trash can attest to that, no matter how much her dude talks about his hard work compared to her 18 hour days at home and at 'work'. Think about lions if you're prone to argue.

So. It was appropriate that I left the Peace Women a 'Happy Labia Day' message. You did know that I was going somewhere with all this, didn't you? I left it after spending the night at Martha and Jim Marshall's home where I'd gone for pasta Bolognaise. We drank up the remnants of 3 very good bottles of wine and groaned as we pushed ourselves away from the table. I brought hand work to do with me to labor over (I should insert a smiley face here) to justify my night away from doing work at home.

I finished the beading on a reversible corset belt I am making after they went to bed, three dogs and two cats in tow. It must be like Wild Kingdom in there. Martha had tried like a trouper to stay awake to watch the end of an English whodunit with me but finally gave up. I farted about on Martha's computer, checked my image in the hall bathroom and wondered if there were some way to airbrush out the deepening downturn around my mouth and what looks like the beginings of a goiter on my neck (It's fat. And aging). Having sufficiently dinked, I went to bed in the guest room.

A visit to Martha's is like a trip to the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry). She takes you on tour of her online world, shows you emails from a gallery in England that has sought her out, teaches you some bit of arcane computer technique, and clues you in on progress with the commissioned Project From Hell, or PFH (pu-fuh when said with a LABIAL fricative). This is a large canvas propped up behind the couch. She cusses the dogs for peeing on the new living room rugs then comforts them because of the scolding. She cooks scrambled eggs and cheese with oat toast for me and Jim after having cooked and eaten earlier. This is served with her muscadine jelly preserves (where in the HELL she found time to make jelly amidst the thrum of her life is mysterious!) Then she answered seventy two emails and other online correspondence, put together the last bit of a proposal to a designer and read the paper. All of this happens before my well fed arse saunters out of the guest digs. Martha is Mach 10, hair afire. And it looks it now with the coppery red-gold stripes her stylist just put in. You can almost see the smoke rising off of her.

Now. What were you going to say to question that women do 80 % of the world's work? Martha did it ALL. Before breakfast.

( Image: "Farm Women at Work," Georges Seurat, the Guggenheim Collection)

Monday, September 04, 2006


From the Shadows - Acrylic on Canvas, Martha Marshall

by Tary Peace

Again the Dark Man beckons me
To lay with him a while.
He calls me to come to the cool darkness
And rest
There in the pitch of eternal night
With him who holds the mirror of all my sin.
He promises peace and forgiveness.
I fear I will only find the relentless gnawing
Of the tail-eating snake,
but stay and stay.

It’s the Bearer of Light that keeps me here.
She offers the golden day
And dew.
She calls to me with bird-songs shouting,
“Rise up! Be with me!
Come see the ibis and the stork.
Come see the sea-cow on the shore.
I am your breath and the marrow of your bones.
Be bathed in the beauty of this fine day,
And stay and stay!”

(Editor's note: A poem by Tari Peace, pulled From the Shadows of the comments page from the previous post and illustrated wonderfully by Martha's painting.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Jane Mansfield blows me a kiss followed by a hair toss and moue from Marilyn Monroe. Coats and bags in hand, they are leaving the show bar next to the store in the dicey part of town with a gaggle of tipsy admirers. Transvestites hold court both on stage and off during show hours but it has long since closed with the last of the audience and performers drifting out onto rain soaked early morning streets to find cars parked in the alley and behind the club. One stoplight set to a perpetual wink at this hour paints the slicked pavement lurid red like nail polish poured out of a bottle. I am forewarned.

As I unlock the decrepit old door of the store, a beat up black Dodge van pulls up to the curb. The windows are smudged and darkened hiding a mysterious interior. A tall, thin man dressed in a coal colored wool coat, turtleneck and jeans gets out, greets me with a leather-gloved hand. Pale blue, almost white eyes encased in craggy and ominous features are softened by the lopsided smile he flashes me. Shaking back a fringe of shoulder-length dirty blond hair showing streaks of silver, he pulls a rickety wooden chair from the alley and places an upturned white plastic bucket next to it below the grimy store windows.

I return from the dark interior with two longneck Millers and we sit silently, watching the stragglers from the club totter out on size 12 high heels with sycophants in tow. The club owner is last. Locking up behind him, he executes a tired salute our way and walks off.

My visitor is quiet and I follow suit. It is an easy silence, much different than his other forays into my life where he chases me down dark passages as I try to run from him all the while encased in an invisible marshmallow, my slow-mo steps just a nick away from the hatchet or dagger he threatens me with. But tonight we’re at peace with each other. Half way through the beers we start talking about George, my cowboy lover from Montana in decades past. Jim, the Marlboro man who taught me how to rope, quick draw a Rueger Security 6, and make my own bullets is also on the bill tonight as we discuss my archetypes – the ones who desert me at every rough spot in the road and my penchant for attracting beautiful, interesting but very dangerous and rowdy men throughout my life.

Who better to hash this out with me than my very own Dark Man? He is anathema for all fears and unsettled business unnamed, still powerful. But tonight, he is my advocate as he has been on other nights, other occasions. We talk about how I still dream of Jim running off to another woman or worse yet, just leaving and not telling me. Jim leaves me in some pretty unrespectable sitches, facing imminent disasters of one stripe or another. Worse yet, embarrassing me by choosing some bimbo with boobs instead of brains. In real life, infidelity infrequently happened to me as it has in one form or another to almost every woman. But it is more the specter of being abandoned at my most needful times that we hash out along with hidden meanings for my dreams, my archetypes and their significance. Why can't I get over this?

Pretty slick having a dreamtime therapy session to work out issues with archetypes and my mental boo-boos with the Big Daddy Nasty archetype of all. We all have a Dark Man in our dreamscape. You know yours, don't you? I’m told that my dreams are more vivid and richer than most. I agree. Three D, Panavision and Technicolor with emotions, sounds and smells. Jeez.

The Dark Man beer and chat session happened between dreams that would make any creative blocked Hollywood screenwriter green with envy for storyline. One involved Croatian expatriates returning to their capitol with vital information involving an assassination attempt on a high-level government visitor from the United States. The three men are a journalist, professor of history, and a former military officer. Beset on every side and pursued by Croat terrorists, they hang precariously from rocks above the Black Sea, exchange gunfire, hide under bracken and freezing water to escape detection as they make their way from one safe house to another. Car chases, witness to brutal crimes, unexpected aid from a rebel in a dingy old motorboat, separation from the coffee colored ex-commando threatens their mission leave me gasping for breath, heart pounding.

The next dream involves a train chase with dump trucks rigged as rolling bombs. Counter agents, specialty forces, cops and innocent bystanders battle it out at high speeds by automatic weapons, high tech gadgetry -- all on trains. The mission: Bad guy elements from the current administration are going to blow up a depot used to temporarily store transported chemical and nuclear waste.

Instilling fear in a public rattled since 9/11, they will be able to use this latest staged terrorist act to implement an even more restrictive regime installing a defacto dictatorship who will not leave power when their temporary visit is up. Agents, both good and bad are dressed in white making it impossible to tell which side they’re on. One particularly vicious woman orders a rival agent dangled over the side of a boxcar so that he is smeared and dismembered along the side of another car in a train yard. Another gory segment involves a woman being burned alive as a bomb goes off in a dump truck she is locked into. This is all very realistic down to the crisping flesh, horrible screams and terribly toasty. They’ll need to get Industrial Light and Sound Studio to do the special effects.

Parts of this scenario are being filmed from a helicopter for media propaganda to cover the crime. Nasty Girl, who looks suspiciously like Condalezza Rice makes some of her goons redo a part where a dump truck drags a utility vehicle in front of the runaway train because the cab ends up too far from the tracks to be believable by a gullible public.

This takes place while an incendiary device on the train is ticking away in its last seconds. Does she care that they will be right THERE when it goes boom? Nah.

I wake up drenched and heart pounding from this one.

This is my typical sleep cycle. Fall asleep, dream, get up, pee, drink water, pet George the cat who has joined me in bed, go back to sleep, dream some more. Sometimes, I have several of these action adventure dreams. Other nights, I have serials or sequences where a dream takes off from a point I awoke from like a mini-series.

My dreams are unlike the soporific morphine induced dreams of pain. Yes. I've used. Legally. Given copious amounts of the drug during hospitalizations for accidents injuries and my one lone surgery, I can tell you that morphine dreams and the accompanying hallucinations are nothing to chase. Mine involved very Bosch-like amorphic beings with body parts that just ain't right which morph and slither against a very twisted landscape. Morphine dreams were ominous and all dark - Toto and Dorothy in an Oz gone very, very wrong. I have my share of symbolic dreams, of course. And I work out much of the hidden messages encoded there. But I much prefer nights in my private screening room.

Vampire wars, invasions by aliens from outer space (and Mexico), harrowing spy plots, international intrigue, bodice rippers from the 1700s, even comedy – all find a screening in my brain. I’ll always have plenty of ideas and entertainment. Sometimes, after a particularly active night I wake up exhausted. I guess I shouldn’t bitch.

Who can beat having your very own in-house psychotherapist to hash out past romantic blunders with no $175.00 an hour bills, no long discovery process to develop the analysand/analyst relationship, trust and rapport - it's all built in. But sometimes I ask, can’t a girl just sleep?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Putting the 'Win' in Spin

(Eds. Note: This was sent to me by my friend, Joan Rosen in Tallahassee, Florida. It's a topic close to my heart having studied linguistics at University and knowing how language changes culture, and NOT the other way around. Pay particular attention to the 'dumbing down of America' charges. It's something that I will touch on in future posts. - Dina)

This essay is a great bit of insight, and it explains an awful lot about the decline of almost every aspect of US society. I would go a little deeper, though, and suggest that the problem is not just a lack of language skills: more fundamentally, it's a massive -- and growing -- deficit in the area of cognitive skills generally. As we dumb down our public schools, our civic dialog, our media, and our parenting, we end up increasingly ineffective at both communicating and understanding information that is necessary for arriving at a desired outcome. We see the pervasive effects of this decline in everything we do, from ordering a pizza to mitigating international conflict.

Nuance isn't just some esoteric part of the creative writer's craft. Meaning matters. For example, when the TV "news" covers a motor vehicle crash (which they euphemistically call an "accident," as if it somehow "just happened" absent human intervention), they typically say that the driver "lost control" of the car. But hey, I guess we all know how it is: one moment you're driving along, everything proceeding normally, when out of the blue, *poof* -- "Hey, where did my driving skills go?!? Oh nooooo..." In reality, the driver *relinquished* control by consciously deciding to drive too fast for conditions or to divert their attention to another activity (e.g., applying makeup or making a phone call); they certainly didn't just "lose" control as the media would have us believe. This is a calculated strategy to appeal to the me-centric, no-responsibility, hyper-sensitive, feel-good baby-boomer sensibility, which categorically precludes hurting anyone's tender wittle feewings by making them appear responsible for their actions. Think about it...if we are manipulated to feel sympathy toward the driver's situation -- poor Driver! -- we feel all warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves, which makes us want to watch more of the news broadcast and warms us to the products displayed in the ads. If, on the other hand, the reporter says "this idiot switched lanes recklessly, overcompensated, and ended up spinning off the road into the canal," we might transfer some of that mean ol' critical negativity onto their precious advertisers, and that could end up hurting some shareholder's bottom line -- and we can't have that, now, can we?

That was a fairly innocuous example. But try this on: you've probably never noticed that the administration shills always say that "the terrorists" are out to git us -- not just "terrorists" or "a terrorist." This is a relatively amateurish (yet, when used on the mostly-dim American public, highly effective) attempt to convey an image of an organized, unitary, arbitrarily eee-vill adversarial force (of which we must, of course, be very afraid) rather than the dynamic, complex situation that actually exists. After all, demonizing Armies of Rabid Evildoers Bent on Chaos as if the real world were a comic book storyline helps whip up the fear better than objectivity ever could. And fear is what keeps getting SAIC, Northrop Grumman, Booz-Allen, and all the other "homeland security industrial complex" beltway bandits those fat corporate welfare contracts. The spinmeisters wouldn't dare refer to the actual problem by its real name, religious extremists, because that would alienate "the base" (you know, our own Taliban) and shed light on the growing deficiencies of the American intellect -- and we can't have that, now, can we?

So, why did so many people vote for Bush in 04? I'm afraid that a big part of the answer is that (in addition to relinquishing all interest in actually understanding current affairs -- dereliction of our citizenly duties, if you will), Americans have become utterly helpless in terms of their ability to critically parse even the most simplistic language, rendering us vulnerable to spin and propaganda on the grandest of scales.

Thank you Jesus for Fox News... Now. To the essay.

Kathleen Reardon

Why We Can't "Win" Any War
If you've read my previous blogs, you know that I explore beneath the surface of what people say and do in politics. Purposeful deceit does emerge, but more common are unexamined patterns of thinking. Socrates disparaged the unexamined life and spent much of his helping people discover their own limiting habits of thought.I'm putting on my blog philosopher hat for a few moments to endeavor to do the same.

If we're not alert to how language is used, how it shapes our thinking and thus our decisions, we make ourselves predictable, manageable and often wrong. We limit our options and close down any hope of creativity. Words are not harmless and using them as if they are is, at best, naive. They are shaped by thinking and shape thinking.

Words that work well in one context can also be borrowed for use in another where they actually do not belong (what modern philosopher Stephen Toulmin refers to in his book Return to Reason as language being "desituated" or "disembedded"). And that is what happens when the term "win' is applied without adequate forethought or for political advantage to the war in Iraq.

Consider this -- In the past, winning a war meant annihilating or in some fashion destroying by force an enemy's leadership and major forces. The defeated enemy's beleaguered followers were largely content to go home even if they harbored anger and disdain for the victors. That facilitated what could reasonably be called a "win." In short, a "win" was possible then. Many thousands of lives may have been lost, but a "win" of sorts could nevertheless be called, especially as the other side usually surrendered.

The enemies America has now, many in Iraq, most elsewhere, are bred from near infancy to hate. They are as committed to their cause as those who lead them. Terminate their leaders and others emerge to take their places. Living to go home is not high among their priorities - beleaguered or not. Dying a martyr is. We've seen how those who hate America and Israel (soon to more evidently hate Europe, Australia and other countries, many lying low in the false hope of being spared) are emboldened by both failures and successes of their enemies. Both can be used to foster recruitment to the cause.

Today's terrorist enemies also don't seek to win a war; they seek to change the world. Losses along the way are expected when the goal is so substantial. They come as no surprise and are planned for in advance. This is an enemy that might be contained, outmaneuvered, driven back, controlled, and managed, but not one against which it's even sensible to seek, especially in the short term, a definitive, final "win."

Yet, thousands of lives, countless dollars, and valuable resources have been diverted from increasing and improving national security and the development of much needed intelligence operations in order to achieve such a "win" in Iraq. Ingenious people who are capable of coming up with counterintuitive strategies of the "Greeks-bearing-gifts" type should be gathering in Washington, D.C. right now as guests of the White House, no matter their political leanings, working day and night to outsmart this enemy. But, instead, the Bush Administration and many members of Congress cling to a win scenario they can't even define, let alone achieve. Predictability is the kiss of death in negotiation, politics and war, and yet we're extremely predictable in our need for a "win." Once predictable, we're manageable. And that can't be good. A much more clever means of succeeding will be needed. But it won't be found until simple, limiting constructions (win or lose) no longer shape the thinking of those who could make a difference.

While most of us think that ideas shape language, we are inadequately trained to notice how language shapes ideas and therefore decisions. And as we've seen, it can be used to excuse inexcusable actions.

If we don't, as a country, pay closer attention to how this works to our disadvantage and locate the fallacies hidden in our unquestioned assumptions, there is good reason to believe that the road we take will have one very unacceptable result: a place in the history books for a president and vice president who supposedly "won" a war but lost everything else that mattered.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And Out Again

Many thanks to the Deepwater Journal women for postings while I grieve. All of us need backup when our shoes are untied and there's wolves lurking on the grounds.

I'm actually up a bit. I had a 'visit' from Zebo last night. I heard him barking at the back door. It was the plaintive one he does that said, "Oh, please, please just open the door and let me in! I'm a good boy and I don't chew on your shoes and shop through the garbage can!"

I did manage to get SOME work done the past few weeks, albeit a bit close to the wire. I felt like a calf roper on a timer! Finished an Edwardian costume for Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan Friday night with a whole 30 minutes to spare before show-time. I've never let an actor down in over 40 years, even if I have to stitch them in at curtain! I'm rather proud of the costume - a teal peau de soie skirt with a pleated back held out with a bustle pad and black soutache trim at the hem, a silk blouse with a vintage applique at the squared neckline, pintucks down the front, 8" long lace cuffs, and tassled points. Then I made a shawl from Italian suiting in shades of teal, black, dull gold with long fringe for a scene change appearance. Took no pictures as usual so you'll just have to believe me.

For those of you who clicked on the Peter Pan link above, you have already spent some time with a character I met online years back who relieve believes he is Peter Pan. Enjoy his fashion pages. And before you write him off as a complete nut, read his life philosophy and mission statement. Now. Those of you who didn't click on the link will be just a little bit more curious.

All of us have a little Peter Pan in us. In me, it's the voice that wants to escape when I hear about wars, and crimes against women and children, and disease, and graft, and pollution, and Global Warming and the real life that blows up at my door like flotsam and jetsam. I usually come back after a bit, but escape to Neverland is always an option when faced with the spector of stark, hard reality.

My Neverland is often the Computer where I live a Virtual Life while waiting for realities to subside into a handleable level. Sometimes, Neverland is in a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz. Focusing on 'should haves' and 'could haves' in the past is another trip to Neverland. Escape with friends is the more pleasant of all my Neverland trips. There, I can be someone important and meaningful and interesting because my posse sees me that way, bless them.

I'm right here in Neverland this minute as you read this. Ernesto is knocking on the back door of Florida and my Gulf Coast home outside Tampa. We do this thing in Hurricane Country where we collectively mind meld and try to send the destruction anywhere but here. This is my guilt over Katrina, ya'll. The crazy part of my bent psyche said that I had a part in turning that horror over to those poor people in NOLA and Alabama and Mississippi. That's very Napoleanic of me, but survives as a shard of the guilt I was brought up with. My little child's mind believed that every calamity that befell my family and my small world was due to some shortcoming of mine.

Is all this confession too much information? I have a tendency to do that. Doris Weatherford said I didn't have a presumptuous bone in my body and was truly guileless. I can read that either way and contemplate that proclamation often. I had professors in University that told me on the Q.T. that I shouldn't be SO truthful and forthcoming. I still wonder exactly what the ramifications of that meant.

It all falls into part of Neverland, however. So now that you know how Peter Pan has touched my life. Now that Peter has flew in and back out the window, I'm going to focus on Peter's quintessential promoter and usurer, Disney. I have pirate skirts and bodices to make for my beautiful little Pirate Jenny in California. She and her Captain Sebastion can be seen cavorting around the Burbank Disney lot in pictures on my Deepwater Trading Company website gallery .

Thanks once more to beautiful Martha and Robin who took up the slack for me on this particular trip to Neverland.