Estate Sale


Man and woman pictured with their dog in the garden of a home in Queensland


She will buy your shoes
and he, my blues
albums, the whole set.
It would amuse
you, their quips on our
decor. They cruise
the round two-toned couch—
a vacant ruse
to check out that vase,
softly abuse
my “quite kitschy” taste.
We will lose
what means the least now.
The dark bruise
of life fades gently out.
Our dues are
paid, our burdens light.




Becoming Continental

Byrd Airport terminal

I never thought I’d arrive again
unsure in my black gloves, pigeon-toed,
uncertain: This transition akin to states of grace—
But I have arrived to this terminal,
cross-eyed and wobble-legged—
I tried to brace myself against the truth
of that snapped inner thread, that wicked confusion
of air, sky, planes and landings.

I have learned entire continents this way,
landing hard on black asphalt—
with my empty stomach; a silly souvenir,
to wait out the gate in slumbering cities.
or shift heel to heel, almost dancing,
tired, worn and endlessly hungry.
Baggage mashed. Destined in my wrinkled suit
to board again. I have lived

For those seconds the large wheels turn
the slight bump before the sky appears.
I read Shirley Jackson for the fifth time, sip
water, soothe the sobbing child across from me—
knowing we will land again, her broken toy
mended, but transformed. By distance.

You know how I said last week that I only plan to post poems rarely? Well, I try to keep my words sweet, so that when I have to eat them, I don’t cringe. One more poem is scheduled for this week. What can I say? You all are inspiring me to go from drafts to finished poems at a faster clip than normal, and I thank you for your kindnesses.

Our Sunday Best: Unexpected Beauty

Velvet Painting Girl

Velvet Paintings: The Ne Plus Ultra of Kitsch.

In the spirit
of not wanting to inundate you with even more holiday hoo-ha, I’ve decided to focus on unexpected beauty today. That’s my favorite kind of beauty.

Ready? Here we go!

Earlier this week, I wrote a MASH NOTE about one of my favorite writers/artists Lynda Barry (which you can read here).

Lynda Barry now maintains a Tumblr blog called “The Near-Sighted Monkey” that I highly recommend. It is beautiful and charming, and full of the joie de vivre that all of her work contains.

My mother says that my love of kitsch is not genetic nor environmental. Every time I pick up another bodacious glittery geegaw, she merely sighs and smiles. I am my own woman. But, I am not alone. Kitschy Living is a tumblr blog that provides a feast for the eye and a little kitsch for your heart.

Street fashion blogs have become the norm these days, but some are clearly more evocative than others. StyleLikeU is an unusual blog in that it really looks at a wide variety of people of all ages and backgrounds who happen to share a love of style instead of surly, but beautiful 20-year olds with bottomless wardrobes. StyleLikeU’s closet features especially put a smile on my face.

One of the best expressions of unexpected beauty is language, a subject we’ve been discussing a lot in our household this week. (I confused my husband with a language discussion here.)

In truth, one of our common interests this year is dying and rare languages. We found Omniglot last winter, and it evokes the beauty and the rarity of the spoken, or gestured word.

Natural beauty is generally unexpected in its brilliance. I know both of these bloggers personally, having studied with them while at university and in graduate school.

Gordon Grice discusses the curious and the dangerous in the natural world on his blog Deadly Kingdom, named after his recent bestseller of the same name.

Donald Ewers photographs and writes about a broad, but narrow, scope of the natural world. His current focus is a five-day-a-week blog in which he posts photographs (with writing) from his walks in native South Texas settings. It is called, aptly, While On A Walk.

To put it more plainly, Ewers has posted 2,538 photographs since May 15th of 2011. He is a master photographer, and it is my pleasure to say that he continues to be a mentor, a friend, and one of my greatest inspirations.

At the time of this writing, it is Christmas Day and I would like to wish all of you the happiest gifts of the holiday season.

I hope everything that surrounds you today is both merry and bright, and if it is not, I hope that, like me, you’re near-sighted enough to believe it is beautiful, if a bit out-of-focus. Happy holidays!


Merry. . . Not So Bright



The last one standing wins.

This list/ list-poem is an homage to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Michael Ondaatje.

His poem is called “Elimination Dance,”** and is based on a game (that I think he made up) in which something is called out that could happen, and anyone who has experienced the scenario must sit down.

The last one standing wins.

Anyone who has recently plugged in a set of ancient Christmas lights only to experience an electric shock so bad, it resets your clock.

Anyone that is a family member of the shocked Christmas light-checker who spent the rest of the day reminding your stunned relative that it hasn’t been 1981 for at least ten years.

Anyone who drinks eggnog straight from the carton every year without fail, and who also unwittingly walks around for an afternoon with a creamy mustache that smells like nutmeg.

Anyone who has ever laughed inappropriately at a very sad rendition of a popular Christmas song by Ernest Tubb.

Anyone who has sung a terrible version of this song.

Anyone who, in a fit of pique, roughly Scotch-taped a holiday present into an ugly red and green hobo baggie from the last of the holiday wrapping paper and then immediately regretted it.

Anyone whose last name sounds like a play on a holiday word, such as Merry, Kringle, or Bright.

Anyone whose witty parents thought it would be hilarious to name you something festive to go with your Christmassy last name— (e.g.– Holiday Merry; Christian Kringle; Light Bright).

Anyone who once undercooked or overcooked the Christmas dinner because you were exhausted from dealing with the relative who plugged in the set of crummy Christmas lights, a relative that tried to eat the children’s homemade ornaments, twice the night before, and once, today.

Anyone who has cried over the tree the cat knocked over the night before your family is due to arrive.

Anyone who has yelled at a cat for playing with the Christmas ornaments, and then felt awful about it.

Anyone who isn’t sure whether marzipan is for eating or for caulking.

Anyone who has told an embarrassing holiday story at the dinner table, only to discover that the person being talked about has walked in the room.

Anyone who has walked in the room while a relative is relating your worst childhood blunder.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a Christmas fistfight.

Anyone who started the family Christmas fistfight, but was restrained because your hand-knitted Christmas sweater from Auntie Tony turned out to be perfect for yanking over your head before you managed to really get going.

Anyone who isn’t sure if you mislabeled all the presents, or merely thought you did because you were so tired.

Anyone with an unnatural fear of tinsel.

Anyone who has ever had a terrible Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice or winter holiday, specific or unlisted.

Anyone who has ever experienced incredible joy or extreme pain.
Although this poem has the feel of a list, I have tagged it primarily as poetry.

(Once again, it is an homage, so keep in mind that Michael Ondaatje originated the idea.)

My foundation is in poetry, which I will only be posting periodically, as it takes a long time to craft what I feel is a “real” poem. That said, I have posted one here.

Additional writing about poetic list-making for your reading pleasure: Bluebird Pillow Book List.

To see my last two lists, go here or here.

And one more thing… Happy Holidays. All of them. And I mean that, sincerely.

The Marriage Interpreter (No. 10)


In every marriage, a few bad movies will appear. The Room beats all of them.


[EDITOR’S NOTE:  Normally, I wouldn’t do two Marriage Interpreters in a row, but the ongoing conversation about The Room has been a fertile area for our conversational idiocy.  For more on that subject see The Marriage Interpreter (No. 9)  Thank you.]


Bluebird is sitting on one of two yellow wing back chairs across from The Husband.  It is morning.


Bluebird:  Okay, you know how when someone is learning a language, they eventually get to the point where they stop translating from their native language into their new language when they are conversing with a native speaker?

The Husband:  Um, all right?

Bluebird:  Well, this is what I read anyway.  From accounts of people learning languages as an adult, like a total immersion situation?  You know— serious language learners.  And you know how they always say that the breakthrough point is when they start to dream in their new language?

The Husband:  (Realizing the Bluebird isn’t making sense, but proceeding carefully)   Okay….

Bluebird:  Well, did that happen to you when you were studying new languages?

The Husband:  Which part?

Bluebird:  All of it.  But I wouldn’t know because I don’t have that natural knack for languages.  But that’s what I read from accounts where people learned a new language as an adult.

The Husband:  (Polite, but cautious tone.)   I guess so?  You just… you know, speak it.  That’s it.

Bluebird:  I think I need to go back to bed for a little while.

The Husband:  I think that would be best.

(The Bluebird rises and walks out of the room, muddled more than usual.)

The Husband:  (Shouting lines from The Room to Bluebird as she retreats down the hallway)  “Oh, haylo, Dhoog!  Ai trit u lhike eh prenzess, Lissa! ”

Bluebird:  (From the bedroom)  I heard that!  You need to stop watching clips from that movie!  It’s gonna damage your brain!  And then you’re not even gonna speak one language!

The Husband:  “Ur tehrring me ehpart, Lissa!”

Bluebird:  (Groans.  It is the universal language for annoyance.)


Unpacking the breath

Annoyed looking boy in horn-rim glasses studying in late 1950s.

You may have noticed these last two weeks that my essays and drawings have been a little on the sparse side.  Well, I’ve missed you all.  In my brief absence, I’ve been busy working on a thing that needed doing.  I’ve been trying to set up my office— the operative word being “trying.”  And while I’ve been trying to set up my office, and doing a few other chores betwixt and between, I’ve been thinking a great deal about expectation and boxes and breathing.

See, here’s the thing— I’ve been living in this house for a year.  Prior to this house, I lived in my last house for nine years.  Nine.  Years.  Even with rigorous editing and donating, I managed to accumulate eight lifetimes worth of stuff.  Weird sweaters that don’t fit anyone.  A wooden fertility doll with realistic hair.  Chairs that go flurp when you sit down on them.  It took my entire family to sort out the contents of the last house, shake it into boxes, and cram it into this house.  (Did I mention I come from a nice family?  Did I mention they read Bluebird Blvd.?)


For over a year now, I have lived in a house full of boxes, boxes with Sharpie labels scrawled in my own mysterious shorthand.  Every day is a twisted guessing game.  Is this the box that contains all of the photography supplies?  Is this the box of ‘50s Chinoserie? Is this the box that contains the head of Nefertiti painted in sad scribbly acrylic that my husband altered to make cross-eyed?  Did I really label that box Xxliizx?  And why does it contain sponges?

I still can’t find more than six pairs of matching socks.  Half of my lamps are in storage, so I wander in and out of pools of insufficient light.  The walls, while painted lovely colors, remain blank of art and strangely silent.  Each room is a refugee room— loved and wanted, but disoriented and unfixed in time and place.


Two weeks ago, I finally had enough of smacking my shins through boxes in my office to get to my desk.  As I’ve made my living as a writer for the better part of my life, even writing that sentence sounds foreign.  But, due to personal circumstances, I need to move a little bit slower when I’m working, and frankly, my brain has no idea what to do with that concept.  It fries me a little thinking about it.

I want it done righthtisminute.  I want the room finished.  I want the custom curtains to fly out of my unskilled fingers and the shelves to be painted by highly skilled elves.  That’s not going to happen.  What is going to happen is that I’m going to slowly put each and every thing in a place, and make it functional, and doing that, with love and patience, will take time.  And, while I’m doing it, I’m probably going to curse a little bit.


That’s the future.  Here’s the now:

At the moment, I am sitting at a desk with my two Foo Dogs that have sat on every desk I’ve ever had, Mr. Koko Mojo the raven puppet, two hideous Hollywood Regency lamps with the cherubs that look as though they’re kicking invisible people in the kneecaps, and thoughts of mystery boxes and patience.  Especially patience.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of what is—and what is not—important.  My experience this weekend was a good reminder of what a great teacher patience can be.


Over the weekend, I tutored the child of a family friend, a young twelve-year-old, who is applying to a magnet school.  M. needed direction and instruction on the basic tenets of essay writing.  We sat down on that rainy Saturday morning at the banquette in my living room.  She was stressed about writing and worried about finishing her application.  After we settled in, and had our notebooks in front of us, this is what I had to say to the young M.:

“The first thing you want to do when you are writing an essay is to take a breath.  A nice, deep breath.  I know this (application) may seem big now, but we’re going to break it down into little parts.

“We’re going to do one thing at a time.  And we’re going to take breaks.  You can do this.  You are smart and capable.  And I’m going to be right here to help you along.

Are you ready to get started?  Okay.  Close your eyes.  Take a nice slow breath.  Now.  Let’s begin.”