Category Archives: January

making soup from what we have

photo 1

sit by an open January window
and study the healing
of the half dozen cracks and gashes
the work weekend left behind on my hands

sip lukewarm coffee
and watch a slight wind stirring in the damp boughs
of a cedar tree that is maybe a century old

think about the questions of the day
What Ought We to Do…
about potty training the toddler
about the epidemic of gun violence
and the erosion of abortion rights
How are we to love each other, best
and how long is this stomach virus contagious
when will we finish the bathroom remodel
and catch on to the violence
of American poverty

the issues of the day seem insurmountable
but are soon forgotten
in the thickening pile of months
and years

make soup from what we have
which is collard greens, black beans,
farro grains and summer tomatoes and basil, frozen in blocks
from a warmer time

make playdough
watch him knead the warm, wheat-colored lump
into dogs and sticks and gingerbread men

and continue rowing
through the thick greyness
of the doldrum days

photo 2

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5 AMpThu, 31 Jan 2013 10:47:44 +000047Thursday 2009 · 10:47 am

a dead gull and a map of the world

(orderpad note 1/19)

Driving home from Violet’s 2nd birthday party,
which was sweet in every way imaginable,
Callum and I discussed the colors of the things we passed,
orange backhoes and green trees, yellow cars and blue signs.

I passed a seagull in the righthand lane,
its wings were outstretched,
and it had been run over several times.
And I thought about the colors of the scene,
and about flying
and how sometimes life is wrought
with unpredictable happenings.

Callum chattered in the backseat, showing me his party favors in the rearview
Ahead, I saw a crumpled piece of trash dancing along the shoulder of the highway
I reached one hand into the backseat to receive
the item my son needed help with
and in that moment
the trash lifted up into the wintersky
and was unfurled
by the wind

revealing before me a perfectly unfolded
map of the world

i exited the highway
and drove up the hill to our house
demonstrating
how to blow into a paper whistle party favor
which was yellow
and unfurled with a tweet
at the end of the curl of paper,
much to my two-year old son’s delight.

and that was the end of the poem.

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Filed under basic goodness, doldrums, gathering, gratitude, January, love, meditation, motherhood, on writing, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry

Once, clouds of them filled the city streets.


On the last day of our January visit with our grandfather in Milwaukee, my sister Emma and I go with him to the City Museum downtown.

The wind is bitterly cold. Grandpop wears gloves while he drives, but takes them off once he parks the car. People call him Smoke. He tells us he’s not sure where the nickname came from, but he’s had it since he was a kid. A friend of mine surmised that because his name is Morris, one of his friends must have pulled the “Smoke” from the association with Morris Tobacco. He was the first child in his family born in the United States, a few years after his parents immigrated here from Russia. He grew up in Philadelphia, which is where he met my grandmother Frances, and raised my father, Howard, and his sister Ellen.

The rivers in Milwaukee are frozen, a novelty to us northwestern girls. We find parking, and wander into the museum. Drink coffee and hot chocolate in the cafeteria, then make our way up the stairs, under a giant whale skeleton covered with white lights for the holidays. We are drawn almost immediately to the butterfly room. Stepping through the double glass doors, the warm humidity envelops us. There is piano music playing, and a small waterfall. Plants and trees crowd around, pressing at the walls and brushing our shoulders, and the windows face the street.

Outside, the bitter Wisconsin wind sweeps snow off the sidewalk drifts and swirls it into spirals. A schoolbus stops at a stopsign, then lumbers through the intersection. Pedestrians tug their collars higher around their necks and lean into the wind.

Inside, we begin to shed our scarves and coats. There is an utter absence of wind, only the movement of thousands of luminous butterfly wings.

We walk so slowly we are scarcely moving at all, gazing at the tiny, soft bodies, the shimmering colors and intricate patterns on their wings.
We watch them fly and hover and rest. Some land on us, clinging to hair and bright scarves.

“When I was young,” Grandpop says, “clouds of butterflies would appear in the city. Not just monarchs either, every color. Clouds of them. Of course, you don’t see that anymore.” I see it in my mind: a gang of young Jewish boys playing stickball on a cobbled 1920s Philadelphia street. Women in dresses and hats pass by carrying shopping baskets, and horse-drawn delivery carts make their way up the streets, bearing coal or ice. A sudden swirl of color and movement in the sky, thousands of butterflies, oranges and reds and pinks and purples and blues, hurrying between the buildings. The boys stand still, craning their necks, shielding their eyes against the sun, watching the living cloud pass by.

We stay in the small butterfly room for a long time. They feed on sponges soaked in sugar water and fruit juice, and land on tiny chunks of watermelon and apple. I watch a large one, brown on one side and shimmering blue-purple on the other, fly up against the window, over and over, and wonder if they mourn for their migrations, for larger spaces. I wonder if they remember the stories of the days when clouds of them filled the streets. For now though, they live in a tiny utopia, replete with all of the problems and advantages that come with an engineered habitat.

We glory in them, speaking in soft voices and watching carefully where we step. Emma spots one dying on the pavement, and searches for a twig, which the butterfly weakly clings to. She deposits it in a plant. “I didn’t want it to die on the pavement,” she tells us.

When we leave, we take turns spining slowly in front of three mirrors, to make sure that none of them have hitched a ride to the Big World on our clothing.

I think: I will remember this when I am old.

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Filed under butterflies, Emma, Grandpop, habitat, History, January, migration