Funny Duchess

Blog of artist and poet, Michelle Seaman

June 21, 2017

Brendan and Julie Plus One!

I am in love.

My latest crush has a quick smile, sweet brown eyes, and the best, expressive eyebrows in the world. He sings, loves the sound of buzzing bees, and when he wiggles his toes, well, I can’t get enough. I melt.

Don’t worry. Benjamin is not jealous. He’s in love with him too. Our little love is eleven months old, and he’s the newest member of the Brendan and Julie family.

I’ve written about our dear friends before. We met Brendan and Julie in Berlin. They were our Fruhstuck, dinner, and cocktail partners. They made us laugh and think. They were touchstones in our expat world.

As fate would have it, we all ended up back in New York. As love would make it, they had their sweet baby boy last year, and we met him a few weekends ago.*

The family trio strolled into the cafe, and we exchanged quiet hugs as little one was napping. It’s always good to see Brendan and Julie, and this time, I swear, they looked radiant. Yeah, yeah, I’m biased when it comes to my friends. I do think all of them are beautiful, but there was an extra glow to J&B. Because they are humble, they would most likely say that the glow is actually well-earned sweat for what it takes to be a good parent, but regardless, parenthood looked good on them. And their son looked so sweet! Yeah, yeah, all babies look sweet when they sleep, but again, I’m bragging specifically about my friends here.

Baby boy woke up calmly, which later prompted Benjamin to say, “He was so cute! He woke up like a human!”

It’s true that we don’t have a lot of contact with babies, so I did have to remind Benjamin that our friends’ baby was indeed human. He retorted, “You know what I mean. He woke up in a new place, with new people, new sights and sounds, and he was chill about it. I thought all babies woke up crying.”

“Well,” I said, “consider the sources. He does have two of the nicest people we know as parents, so it’s in his genes.”

Truthfully, I was amazed too, not only by how happy he woke up, but by how happy he stayed, even though he was teething, and even when the fire horn from next door jolted everyone else in the cafe. At the sound the horn, little one raised his eyebrows in wonder, looked at his Dad, who looked back at him and shrugged, and deciding that this cue meant it was no big deal, went back to smiling and hanging out. Most adaptable kid ever.

It was a pleasure to meet Baby BrendanJulie. It was beautiful to see Julie touch his head while he sipped his drink and ate his Cheerios. It was endearing to see Brendan read Dr. Suess to him and watch his little face respond to different sounds. And I loved it when he giggled at me and mimicked my tongue as we sang “la la la” to each other.

Oh, I will miss my little boyfriend! But speaking as an auntie who has witnessed her niece and nephew grow into pretty cool young adults, I know I will enjoy his changes too. Until we see each other again!

 

*I am withholding baby’s name out of privacy. Someday this kid will be famous, and I’ll be able to say I knew him when he gripped my fingers with his little toes and giggled.

 

June 14, 2017

Japanese Pancakes

Okonomiyaki is one of the cutest words I’ve ever heard.

Japanese has a lot of beautiful words, but this is my new favorite, because it means something delicious! An okonomiyaki is a Japanese, savory pancake. Benjamin and I were lucky enough to taste these when our friend, Yusuke, prepared them for us.

What a perfect night!

We stepped out of our car, and we could hear classical music coming from Miko and Yusuke’s apartment. Our friend was playing his piano to welcome us. How nice!

Miko greeted us at the door and escorted us to our seats where our glasses were filled with Asahi, a lovely, bright Japanese beer. Along with our first sips, we were treated to an appetizer of egg-tofu and crunchy vegetables. Miko, Benjamin, and I chatted, while chef Yusuke was busy heating up the grill. When it was piping hot, he spread the batter into two giant cakes.

The batter had the consistency of German kugel or potato pancakes, but the main ingredients here were cabbage and pork.
We watched and licked our lips as the cakes began to turn golden brown. Yusuke sprinkled some fish flakes on them and then ‘decorated’ them with two sauces, first a darker, soy based sauce, and then a creamy layer of Japanese mayonnaise.

They looked beautiful and everything smelled so good!

Our chef gathered our plates and evenly distributed the pancakes. Oh my god, they were delicious! According to Japanese tradition, our glasses had to remain full, so this was extra fun! AND the beer was a perfect compliment to the okonomiyaki.

Satisfied, content, and delightfully buzzy, we moved to the living room. Once again, I felt grateful to be with our dear friends sharing conversation and laughing.

Miko showed me some of her favorite books. I opened them like precious artifacts. She showed me how they would be read in Japanese, vertically, from the left side of the page inward towards the right. Whenever I hear a language I don’t understand, it sounds like music, and whenever I look at a language I can’t read, it looks like art. Beautiful, beautiful art!

Yusuke was so sweet too. He helped Miko and me with one of our Calyx and Parlance projects. I was having trouble making our Cricut cut a poem correctly, and I showed this half finished piece to Yuskue. With infinite patience, he used some of his leather tools to successfully cut out the delicate poem. I felt grateful, happy, and inspired!

The whole evening was happy and inspiring. I love my friends, and I can’t wait for our next adventure! Thank you, Yusuke and Miko. Here’s to more dinners and drinks to come!

June 13, 2017

Hannah and Colby’s Wedding Weekend

Hannah and Colby’s wedding was lovely. It was the perfect combination of an elegant, loving ceremony, a delicious dinner, and a rockin’ good time of a reception!

My niece was a beautiful bride as she walked down the aisle to “Falling Slowly.” Before this moment, I was holding it together, but that song did it. I cried. I saw my niece in all her grace, her charming, contagious positivity, and her strength. I saw her smiling at Colby, so in love. She was perfect. She was floating.

My new nephew-in-law looked handsome and so in love. He lit up when he saw Hannah, and he was smiling and teary the whole time she walked toward him. A perfect groom.  AND Colby totally scored points with me by promising to support Hannah’s creativity. I already knew he was cool, but his vows sealed it!

I love it when couples write their own vows. It’s such a nice touch. Hannah and Colby also did a sand ceremony. I wasn’t familiar with this, so I looked it up. According to www.celebrateintimateweddings.com:

“The ‘Blending of the Sands’ ceremony can be a beautiful and meaningful alternative to the “Unity Candle” ceremony…the pouring of two different colored sands together is used to symbolize the joining of the bride and groom or the joining of their families.”

Nice! Because Colby and Hannah were married at The Rusty Pelican, with a view of the Gulf as their backdrop, the sand ceremony was not only pretty but thematic too.

After they were announced as husband and wife, the wedding party stayed in the main ballroom for pictures, as the guests made their way to the lounge for cocktails. Yay!

I know weddings are meant to bring people together. Hannah and Colby succeeded in this aspect too. Throughout the weekend, I talked and laughed with my parents, my brothers, my nephew and his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and my Mom and Dad’s friends. AND I danced like crazy with my Mom, my Aunt Margie, my cousin Susan, and my Mom’s friend, Mary. So much fun!

Thank you, Hannah and Colby, for giving Benjamin and me an opportunity to connect with people and a chance to have such a memorable weekend in Florida. Thank you for sharing yourselves and your day with us. We love you! Many, many happy years to both of you! XOXOXO

 

June 11, 2017

Fringes of Beauty

The notion of the infinite variety of detail and the multiplicity of forms is a pleasing one; in complexity are the fringes of beauty, and in variety are generosity and exuberance.
-Annie Dillard

The details, that’s what the world is made of.
-Wes Anderson

I just scurried down an internet rabbit hole, searching for quotes from artists I respect on the subject of the importance of details. I did this, because while I was in Florida, I observed something about a lovely woman in my family.

My sister-in-law, Charleen, pays attention to details.

Of course, I’ve always known this about her, but having spent a longer amount of time in Florida for this last visit, I was able to appreciate this attribute even more.

Charleen has been a part of my life since she and my brother were married in 1987. Thirty years. It goes without saying that she is an awesome partner for my brother and an amazing mom, but I’d like to focus on another aspect of my sister-in-law for a moment.

Charleen knows how to throw a party.

Two of my favorite memories include her party for Pampered Chef products and her scrapbooking fiesta.

Admittedly, I was hesitant to go to the Pampered Chef gathering at first. At the time, in the early 90’s, I wasn’t into cooking. I didn’t find it creative. I thought of it more as a chore, something I had to do. Also, while I like parties, I am much more of an observer, or I prefer to be passive in most social situations, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to actively participate. I’d never been to a product party. It turned out to be a lot of fun! I was impressed by the products, and I bought stuff, stuff that has lasted to this day. Without my Pampered Chef garlic press, measuring spoons, and especially my baking stones, I would not enjoy being in the kitchen as much as I do. I owe this joy to my sister-in-law and being invited to her party. It was about the right tools. It was about the details. It was about Charleen.

It did not take any convincing at all for me to say yes to the scrapbook party. I still have a scrapbook from when I was little. I saved things like greeting cards, movie tickets, and brochures from my sixth grade field trip to D.C. Every now and then, I open it. I get a little teary when I see the newspaper photo that inspired our family to get our first dog. Seeing Duke as a puppy makes me remember what it felt like to scoop him up and take him home. Whenever I want to, I can look at his eyes. I can also laugh at myself and my obsession with Erik Estrada. An entire page is devoted to him. So when Charleen invited me to the scrapbook party, I was excited. I love the collage aspect of the craft itself, and getting together with people to do a creative activity is always a good time. Her party had wine, so it was definitely a good time! I was impressed and inspired by how elaborate scrapbooking had become. We used glitter and stickers, and we bedazzled many pages with shiny beads. Totally girly. Totally fun. Totally my sister-in-law.

Planning for Hannah’s wedding was also a job totally perfect for Charleen. Obviously, my niece had a lot to do with the details of her wedding, but I am highlighting my sister-in-law’s efforts in this post. Planning this event was particularly emotional for Charleen. She and Hannah are very close. They have a relationship I admire, and any time a relationship changes, even a little bit, it’s hard. All the hours and stress of planning were coupled with the fact that her little girl was about to experience a rite of passage, a ceremony that would mean Hannah would be moving out and starting a marriage of her own. Not a small deal.

So, sister-in-law, this page is for you. I want you to know that I appreciated the details… like Hannah and Colby’s portraits on the M&M’s, the photos of Cooper and Penny, the embossed, glittered, and handwritten place cards, and most of all, the scrapbook pages. Thank you, Charleen, for giving Benjamin and me (and many other loved ones in Hannah’s life) the opportunity to write to her and to collage photos of her. Not only was this heartfelt and inclusive, it was creative and fun and totally YOU!

Thank you for your consistent love and generosity, for caring about the details, the beauty you make, and for once again, hosting a lovely, memorable gathering. Go to the beach now and relax! You deserve it!

 

 

June 5, 2017

Stalking the Elusive Rhubarb

It’s no secret.

I love pie.

Some people may love the fluffy, creamy varieties of coconut cream or lemon meringue, but for me, it’s the combination of buttery crust and fruit that I find most addictive. I love apple pie in autumn and any kind of berry pie in summer, especially strawberry rhubarb.

Our family had rhubarb in our garden in Wisconsin. I loved how the giant leaves. My brothers and I used to stand under them and pretend they were fans. I loved how tongue-numbingly sour those stalks were when I bit into them, and I loved how the sweetness of strawberries and sugar countered that sour, balanced it perfectly.

Benjamin also remembers rhubarb from his family garden in Colorado, and he loves this summer pie too. Both of us thought that rhubarb grew all summer long. We’ve since learned, however, that here in the Northeast, rhubarb is a short-lived crop that’s picked in late spring. For the past three summers, our timing has been off, and we’ve always missed the harvest. Not this year. We spotted the stalks at the Farmer’s Market and brought our bundle home.

I was determined to bake something. Like I’ve written in earlier posts, my mom always made the most delicious fruit pies with perfect crusts, and no matter how confident I try to be in my baking, I really don’t have the same touch. I have made one successful pie, but this was only because my sweet friend Nicholas was by my side in the kitchen helping me. He and my Mom have the baking gift. I do not.

A gift I do have is thinking of creative ways to use things I already have stocked. I didn’t want to try to make pie crust. I was out of eggs and felt too lazy to go to the store, so a strawberry rhubarb bread was crossed off the list, but I did have an entire box of Trefoils, those buttery shortbread cookies from the Girl Scouts. Ding! There was my idea. I could make something with the fruit and pour it over the cookies like a short cake. Brilliant!

I went online and found this recipe:

https://food52.com/recipes/27868-rye-shortcakes-with-roasted-strawberries-and-rhubarb

I didn’t have a vanilla bean pod handy (who does?), but I knew I could substitute a drop of liquid vanilla, and I had everything else for the roasting. My house smelled so good! Thanks to the Scouts, I didn’t need to make the rye cakes, and when we poured the gingery, citrusy, honeyed fruit over those cookies, it was delicious! It wasn’t pie, but it was close, and I found a use for one of my favorite garden plants. Yay!

June 4, 2017

Latest Backyard Friend

I live on the second floor. My studio faces the backyard lawn which borders a small woods. Consequently, as I write, and look upon this vista, I have had the pleasure of seeing a variety of lovely creatures.

I have seen white tail deer, a mama groundhog and her baby, countless birds, from cardinals to ospreys, my favorite roaming black-and-white kitty whom I have named Tux, a Siberian Husky named Koda, and now, a turtle.

Yes, a turtle.

It’s been raining a lot, so I imagine my guy (or could have been my gal; I was too shy to ask) was seeking some dry land and an abundance of grass to eat. Maybe he was lost or simply wanted to stretch his legs. Whatever the reason for the appearance, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for not tucking your head in too much and letting me take your picture. I hope I didn’t freak you out.

Thank you, Turtle. You made my day.

May 31, 2017

Fish

I have a brother who understands how I crave fish.

When I was in Florida for the month of March, my brother Micheal took my sister-in-law Charleen and me to a place in Dunedin called Frenchy’s Outpost. This lovely restaurant was biking distance from Caledesi State Park, one of my favorite places on the planet. I have hiked the nature trail many times, looking up at the ospreys in their nests, watching them tear meat from the bones of fish to feed it to their hungry, fuzzy babies. I love this park, so I was excited to finally visit the nearby seafood joint.

Frenchy’s is an open air restaurant, so although technically we sat inside, the ceiling fans were cranking, and the sea breeze flowed through the restaurant. I love eating al fresco, and there is nothing more relaxing than warm, salty air.

I opened the menu and saw that Frenchy’s offered not one, but four different kinds of grouper sandwiches- a regular grouper, a super grouper, a buffalo grouper, and my very favorite, a grouper rueben.

Nothing says I’m from Florida (and of Polish-German heritage) than a filet of fish with sauerkraut. This sandwich was superb, and I felt grateful.

I was home.

Florida is half of me. My other half is Midwestern. When I was a kid, my brothers and Dad fished the fresh water lakes and rivers of Wisconsin. I grew up eating perch, blue gills, catfish, and bass. The boys also ice fished, so we did eat fish all year long. Still, I associate this protein with some of my favorite spring and summer vegetables like asparagus, zucchini, and tomatoes right off the vine, so fish is warm weather food for me. It’s always fresh. (Well, almost always. As an honest side note, there are two other forms of not-so-healthy pesca that I ate as a kid—fish sticks from the school cafeteria and McDonald’s fish sandwiches. I am not ashamed to say I still eat these sometimes).

Our family took a trip to Florida in the 1970’s, and during this vacation, my cousin Michael made the most delicious crab enchiladas. I remember eating this meal as we sat beneath palm trees on the intercostal at my Aunt Margie and Uncle Angel’s house in Indian Rocks Beach. I remember feeling like we were eating the most exotic food in a most exotic setting.

I was hooked. Oh, pun intended!

Then, when we moved to Florida in the 1980’s, my family really got into salt water fish and seafood. My brothers and I worked at the same Cuban-Italian restaurant washing dishes. While we scrubbed burnt cheese and red sauce from cast iron pans, we also experienced certain rites of passage. We learned how to make Cuban sandwiches and Fra Diablo sauce, and we were introduced to things like deviled crabs and breaded fried scallops. I can barely type those two last dishes without salivating.

During my young adulthood, Florida continued to be good for my fish addiction. In college, whenever I went on a date, I always ordered steamed crab legs. My college roommate and I skipped our Sociology Class to partake in seafood buffets. I had the most delicious shrimp scampi in Tarpon Springs. I had my very first raw oysters and grouper rueben sandwich at Skipper’s Smokehouse, an iconic Tampa joint and live music venue. I’ve written about Skippie’s before. This was the place where I danced to live reggae music, the place where I won a bottle of champagne in a limbo contest. So many stories!

After college, I left Florida (and returned and left again several times). In each place that I’ve lived, I’ve tried the fish, but with a few exceptions, it’s never the same as eating it in the Sunshine State. I do try maintain a glass-half-full attitude for this blog, however, so I’ll briefly list the positive fish experiences outside of Florida:

In Chicago, I liked an imported fish from Hawaii called Butterfish, and I also enjoyed some coconut shrimp.

In North Carolina, there was a man who worked at the fish counter at Whole Foods. He made his own tarter sauce and consistently recommended whatever was freshest that day. Most of the time, it was tilapia that he had prepared himself. He made a great coconut macadamia tilapia. Benjamin and I also drove out to the beach to a place called William’s where we had the best snowy grouper.

In DC, we walked to the Sunday farmer’s market to get fresh crab cakes. These were delicious! We pan fried them in olive oil and ate them with salad. I never tried rockfish while I lived in DC, and I regret it. Someday I’ll remedy this.

In Berlin, I was proud of myself whenever I shopped because I had to do it in a different language. There was a Saturday market near our apartment where the patient German man understood me and kindly measured the .45 kilograms of Jakobsmuschel (scallops) or Kabeljau (cod) for our meals. Benjamin and I also frequented a couple of fish joints in the city—Fischfabrik and Der Fischladen. Both places offered generous portions for reasonable prices.

Here in New York, I like the salmon and cod, and the mussels are excellent. The place to dine out for fish is our favorite pub, The Bridge View Tavern. The menu changes at BVT, because Chef Chris likes to keep it fresh and interesting. My favorite dishes have been the fried catfish sandwich, the fish and chips, fish tacos, and grilled shrimp or salmon on the Harvest Salad. I have yet to try Bronzino in the many Italian restaurants here, but I plan to, as soon as I learn how to properly and safely eat a whole fish. Michael told me that when I do this, to make sure I keep bread nearby. “If you feel like you might have a bone in your throat, eat a piece of bread quickly, and it should stick to it and help you swallow it safely.” Good tip!

No matter where I roam, I know I will always find my way back to the Gulf of Mexico, to Tampa, my family, and especially to a brother who willingly carts his sister around in search of the best grouper sandwiches. Thank you, Micheal!

May 28, 2017

My Florida

I was in Florida, one of my former homes, for the month of March. Like all of my homes, this is a place that partially defines me. Here’s how…

Near my alma mater, the University of South Florida, there is a county park called Flatwoods. It has a 7-mile, paved trail that loops through swampland. I am in love with Flatwoods. I have written poetry about this place, biked this path for years, breathing in the pines, honoring the old growth cypress, noting the palms and palmettos that make me know… I am in Florida.

While biking, I have seen armadillos, gopher tortoises, sand cranes, hawks, ospreys, black racer snakes, and cotton mouth snakes, just to make of few species. I have heard alligators croaking from the water in the center of the park. My nephew and niece have seen a bobcat cross the path, and I watched a friend jump over some baby wild boars (on roller blades) during one of the park’s full moon skates. Yes, this is Florida, and this is a part of who I am.

The sky defines this park as the sky defines me. It likes to be open and clear, bright blue in the day, and full of shine at night. As a writer who lives much of the time inside her brain, this sky gives me a break, lightens any heavy a feel. For the $2 entry fee, I experience a most effective therapy. I don’t analyze anything. I just breathe.

I travel through Flatwoods slowly, taking it in, and this pace is me. There is too much fast traffic in Florida, like everywhere, but in Flatwoods, I am out of the car (or bus or train or plane). It is only my legs, my muscles, my heart, my lungs, the shifting of gears, and two bicycle tires. I can measure this speed. I understand it. I don’t have to hike and hurt my hip. I can glide in Flatwoods.

On this latest visit, my nephew, one of the magic nature boys in my family, took me to my favorite park. Blake saw the red-tail hawk first and showed me where he was perched in a pine. We watched the beautiful raptor take off into the cypress with those big wings, and I exhaled.

Florida…

He and I joked and told stories along the trail, and I knew he was family, because we were at home, in nature, just watching, talking light and laughing. Thank you, sweet nephew. You rule. Thank you Flatwoods for what you always give.

May 9, 2017

Fire

I have a brother who understands my love of fire.

When I was in Florida in March, I woke up one morning to the smell of burning wood. I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. Matthew had started a fire for me! Better yet, he had set up my special chair, “Spicey,” a red folding chair we found at Home Depot, next to a big ol’ pile of kindling, so I could keep feeding my morning pyre. Oh yeah!

I’m not sure when my love affair started. Maybe it was the first time I went camping. I remember wearing my favorite jean jacket and loving how the smoke attached to the denim, how it wove into my hair. I loved that smell. I had heard that there was a chant you were supposed to do to prevent the smoke from following you around the campfire. You were supposed to say, “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.” I never chanted. I loved my fire. I wanted that smoke.

Throughout my adult years, whenever I have had a chance to be with fire, I have savored watching it change colors, shift the positions of logs as a powerful, moving sculpture, breaking everything down into ash. I’ve listened to wind meet fire, making it applaud softly. I’ve relished the sound of twigs snapping, the deep hum of oak, the crackle of pine. Fire has always soothed me.

When the sun isn’t out, I feel cold and I hate it. I light candles, and for a moment, I am ok. The snap of the match is satisfying, the sulfur, a breath I need, and those little baby flames are so cute dancing like they do, but alas, candles don’t usually do the trick. No. I want more. I want a bigger fire.

I think about how I have too many papers, journals, magazines, newspaper articles, bills. I think about the neighbor’s fire pit. I consider asking if I can sit with them, maybe throw some things in, but I know myself. Papers wouldn’t be enough. Soon, I’d be asking if I could add unwanted knick knacks, maybe even furniture. This wouldn’t be neighborly, and backyard bonfires probably aren’t legal.

Still, with my dreams of fire, I am dangerous person all winter long and on any grey day.

This is why I have to go to Florida, to be under the big fire of the sun, to bike in the swamps where the scent of the purposeful burns wafts onto the trail. I have to go to Florida to be with a brother who understands, a brother who will encourage me to sit by a fire until I’ve burned all my kindling down.

Thank you, Matthew.

March 12, 2017

Poets and Wolves

Sometimes, all I have to do is pay attention and ideas for poems present themselves to me.

It was Thursday, and I wanted Chopin. I wanted my favorite Polish potato vodka, and I expressed this to my friend, Mercedes. She reminded me that there was a liquor store in Tarrytown, where conveniently, I would be having lunch with another friend. Proximity bonus!

I strolled in and began to scan the shelves. A tall, handsome man asked if I needed help. I recognized his accent immediately, and I did what I always do whenever I hear English enhanced by a lovely accent… I relaxed. He spoke German. I just knew it.

“Yes, please,“ I said smiling, “I’m looking for Chopin vodka.”

“Ah, yes, the potato vodka,” he answered, “Let me see.”

At first, neither of us recognized the bottle. We were used to seeing it with the composer’s portrait on it, but this one simply had the label, and it was bright pink.

“I think this is for breast cancer awareness,” he said.

“Perfect! I’ll take it,” I said, and then I had to ask, “Where are you from? Your accent is beautiful.”

“Austria,” he said, and it was his turn to smile.

I knew it! From there, we talked about the challenges of speaking German, the beauty of Europe, the necessity for affordable health care, and how increased immigration is posing challenges for the continent. He wasn’t afraid to talk politics. Talk. Not argue. I really miss this about Europeans. When we were in Germany, talking politics was a natural part of the cultural fabric. Here in the States, it still seems like we either dance around anything controversial or we yell at each other. No happy medium. No civil discourse. Personally, I am curious about other people’s views, and I wish to discuss topics respectfully. My friend Wolfgang understood this.

In Austria, he was in the military as a border guard, and he interacted a little with Polish soldiers. He told me this was in the days of the wall, so things were “different then because of communism,” but he “learned a little Polish and it was a decent salary.” He also told me that he had his degree in Psychology, which he thought was essential to service in the military. “People think it’s about carrying a big gun and impressing people,” he said, “but it’s not. It’s about understanding human behavior.” Lastly, he expressed that he didn’t like what he was hearing from Trump’s mouth. “I’ve heard talk like this before,” he said, “and it’s no good.”

Wolf and I have had different life experiences, but there we were in the liquor store, talking about things that concerned us, learning from and listening to each other. This is my point. It can be done.

But back to my story of finding magic poetry.

I went from the liquor store to meet Loretta for lunch.

I’ve written about my friend in earlier posts. She is a fellow poet, a therapist, and co-owner of one of my favorite coffee shops in this area, Muddy Water Cafe. She and I have met several times to share our poems and give each other feedback. She has offered Muddy’s as a venue for Born in Snow gigs and Calyx and Parlance workshops. In January, she and I worked together with our friend, Heather Reid, to host a political salon. Loretta is a bright light, a sparkle face. Everyone who meets her sees her generous spirit, and I am grateful for her friendship.

For lunch that day, we talked like poets do, considering topics for poems that serve us better as we get older, and discussing punctuation as both function and visual design within a poem.

“I think I’m done writing about personal relationships. I want to write about bigger things,” she said. I agreed and added that nature kept coming up as the most compelling topic for me. I wanted to write about what nature means to me without sounding flowery or preachy. She also wanted to focus on the environment and human rights. We talked about how tricky it can be to fuse poetry and socio-political topics, how some poets can get pin-holed, and their work can get stuck in a moment in time, losing the sense of the universal.

Then, we transitioned to the practical, business side of writing. Loretta mentioned that she has a friend who is a well-connected literary agent, and that once I had completed my book, she’d introduce us. My stomach did cartwheels as she spoke. Again, I felt grateful for my friend’s giving nature, but I also felt the weight of making this thing I’ve been doing for the past few years, this writing a novel, real. Deep breath, in and out, in and out…

It was motivating to talk with my friend like this. It was a perfect lunch.

As a third sign post in my quest for new poetry, my story skips ahead to that Saturday, when Benjamin and I drove up to the New York Wolf Conservation Center. We have wanted to visit the wolves for some time, and there was finally a break in the weather. I was so excited!

The center has four ambassador wolves that the public is allowed to see- Alawa, Zephyr, Nikai, and Atka. The first three are litter mates (Alawa is the only female), and they are a mix of gray wolf species. Atka is an Arctic gray wolf and the eldest in the group. There are also twenty grey and red wolves that are part of the Species Survival Plan program. While the ambassadors will remain in captivity, the other wolves will hopefully be released and reintroduced into their natural habitats. Hopefully.

The educational program began with instructor Alex giving an overview of the center and teaching the humans about how important it is not to demonize wolves. He asked the children if they really thought the wolf in Red Riding Hood would dress in grandmother’s clothes and try to eat her. They responded with a resounding “No!”

After the slide presentation, we stepped outside and howled to “let the wolves know we were coming.” They did not howl back. Nevertheless, we hiked up the little hill to the ambassador’s enclosure, and when I saw them, I wanted to stay with them all day. I wanted to be with them under the stars. I wanted to hear them howl on their own. Beautiful as an adjective does not even come close to describing the wolves. They were rhythmic, graceful, and dignified.

What struck me most was how they moved along the fence line. Alawa took the lead, pacing, keeping her eyes fixed on the humans who were admiring her. She glided back and forth along that chain link, and Zephyr followed. He was so in sync with her that he anticipated when she was about to turn, and he turned, just a slight second before her. This went on and on, this back and forth, this music. Meanwhile, Nikai leapt three feet into the air, from a stand still position!

I had never seen canine behavior quite like this. I knew they were hungry, waiting for the treats that came as part of the presentation for the humans, but it looked like they were dancing. Something about this movement made me teary. I wanted to open the gate and let them out. I wanted them safe inside. I know how wolves have been treated. I know about ignorant, idiot humans hunting them for sport, but standing there, I chose to be grateful for places like the NYWCC, grateful for humans who give a damn about predators.

Still there was that fence…and something about the slow amble of Atka, the eldest wolf, outside of his Arctic element, pawing at the last of the snow in his enclosure…

So I thought about borders and a Wislawa Zymborska poem called ‘Psalm’ came to me. It begins:

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another; how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil in provocative leaps!

I thought about Wolfgang and his gate with Polish soldiers…

And a poem of my own, or maybe a song, started in my brain…

A poem to honor those wolves and wolves everywhere, perhaps noting a connection with a man also named Wolf and dedicated to a poet named Loretta.

Yes, somewhere in there was a poem or a song, and I will write it into my journal until it jumps like a canine at a fence trying to get out. Alleluia.

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