Category: USA

This Little Piggy and Other Superstitions

pig

Fontana del Porcellino pavilion with projections on the cement

In Florence, there is a bronze boar.

Rumor has it, if you rub the piggy’s proboscis, you are certain to return to the fair city.

Another superstition particular to this porcine effigy involves putting a coin into the piglet’s mouth; as it falls into the grate, you can make a wish.

Some believe that rubbing the hog’s snout will bring a male son.

Because of the threat of fertility, I was uncertain whether I should rub for the promise of a return. In fact, I waited until the last day of our visit to finally approach the swine statue.

I am intrigued by superstitions. Here are five ways of looking at Florence through superstition:

  1. A neighbor will warn you not to bother knocking on wood. Instead, touch iron (or one’s own testicles, or one’s own breasts, if female).
  2. The wild taxi driver will ardently suggest you watch out for black cats. Even while driving, pull over and wait, however long it takes, for another driver to cross these felines’ paths.
  3. An intoxicated man at a bar might insist that posing the pinkie and index finger like devil horns can: 1. Defend against the evil eye. 2. Curse an enemy. 3. Signify infidelity. (You will not know how to translate his meaning when he uses this sign minutes later.)
  4. In a tall building, you are likely to learn the Italian seventeen is like the American thirteen: unlucky.
  5. A waiter is certain to inform you in certain terms that thirteen is lucky, unless you sit down to a table with twelve other people (as in the Last Supper); then one of the diners is certain to betray you. (The Real Housewives of Anywhere should take this into consideration.

Consider the following lines from the beginning of Malcolm Glass’s poem “Superstitions:”

I write these words on the twenty-seventh

page of my notebook, ensuring my words

safe passage and ready readers. In my lapel

I wear bloodroot to ward away broken

mirrors and my image splintered on tile.

Fire by Heather Hutcheson

Background photo: Url Duke /Pixabay, CC0.Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark A professor of English at Cosumnes River College, in Sacramento, Heather Hutcheson is the founding editor of the Cosumnes River Journal (crc-ljsubmit@crc.losrios.edu). She organizes an annual senior and student memoir conference, “Our Life Stories.” During…

What This Year Will Be Like

Photos from March in Sacramento, January 21, 2017

I have a poem-a-day book; it is named 365 Poems for Every Occasion. When I am looking for a fortune or a horoscope—some forecast—I search for meaning in the poem for the day. Yesterday’s poem was William Stafford’s “Once in the 40s.” Before reading the piece, I wonder whether 40s refers to temperature, the 1940s, or middle age. After reading, I know it aptly fits all of these possibilities.

We were alone one night on a long road in Montana.

This was in winter, a big night, far to the stars.

We had hitched, my wife and I, and left our ride at

a crossing to go on. Tired and cold—but

brave—we trudged along. This, we said,

was our life, watched over, allowed to go

where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time

when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find

a night like this, whatever we had to give,

and no matter how far, to be so happy again.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/once-40s

I mosey through the book as if it is a bustling farmers’ market, noticing what is in season. I meet each page as a tourist rapt in her adventure. January’s themes center on new starts and cold and dreams and hard-won joy. I quietly wonder how the editors could have known what this month would be like.

When I receive a calendar, I look first for the emblem depicting July, my birth month. My 2017 calendar: Goats in Trees features three goats and the legs of two others in stick of a tree. The part of me craving prescience, some prediction for what to expect for the month makes me compare my month’s ungenerous number of goats to, for example, January’s single specimen or June’s ample display of a tree appointed with more than nine billies and nannies and a herd of nearly twenty (eighteen) below. But who’s counting? And does their color matter?

My jealous heart still weighing my fortunes, I note that the July chapter of my poem-a-day collection is equally relevant to this January’s presidential inauguration and the Women’s March (on Washington, on Sacramento, and more). Independence Day yields half dozen poems with America in their titles.

My travels in Europe over winter break, in the looming shadow of a Trump presidency, yielded more questions, comments, and criticism about America than other travels have. I have no answers. I look to tomorrow’s poem: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Dream within a Dream.”

There is little as unpredictable as being a tourist. Poe ends the poem with the relevant question: Is all that we see or seem/But a dream within a dream?

2016 Watershed Changes

Definition of watershed – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/watershed

1a:  divide

b:  a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

2:  a crucial dividing point, line, or factor: Turning Point

No matter where I travel, from the classroom to the Home Depot language exchange to family in Northern Ireland for Christmas, people ask what a Trump presidency will mean for our nation and the rest of the world. I have no answers, no hypotheses. I just know, as the rest of us, this feels like a watershed moment.

The following exquisite lines from Simon Armitage’s frightening 1963 poem “Gooseberry Season” capture an alarming sense of landmark change.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.

(Read more of the poem at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/gooseberry-season)

Speaking of watersheds, I have three poems appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of Watershed Review http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed: “Recipe for Peach Salsa,” Dancing a Little, and “Jesús Wants to learn to use the internet.” (http://www.csuchico.edu/watershed/2016-fall/poetry/hutcheson-heather.shtml)

Many thanks to the editors for including my work in this knockout publication.

  • Armitage’s poem is a mini horror story. Confide an equally sinister confession.

Mariposa

mariposa.jpg

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_thesummerday.html

Some of my plans for my wild and precious life:

  1. On the days I must work, as well as those dedicated to leisure, I will commit myself to absorbing the golden tips of daylight into dusk, of lingering with the cats into the cooling of the day—and season.
  2. I will hold the boundless freedom and joy of summer within me to help me as I strive to be fair and frank and kind to those I encounter on my path. I will leave no strangers in my wake.
  3. After traveling widely in new lands, I will open myself to learning from thousands of grasshoppers and butterflies. And, I will return with new seeds to sow and nurture.
  4. I will generously share the harvest and gratefully receive the bounty of others.

Speaking of bounty, fall semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:

https://literarytrailmix.wordpress.com/

https://d8lyrantsandreviews.wordpress.com/

https://buddingwritersdaytoday.wordpress.com/

https://socialhawkwardness.wordpress.com/

https://thedailyhassle.wordpress.com/

Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. They may, as I, have more questions than answers, but they will take you with them as they celebrate our world.

Rain Like a Stranger and Lightning Like a Tiger

nosunset

I grew up in Desert Hot Springs; I repeat the word desert to emphasize how little I know about rain. Rain was a stranger  most of my childhood. I wore cowboy boots and a blue down vest to keep me warm. We had wind (boy did we have wind!), but I didn’t own an umbrella until I went away for university. Instead of raincoats, at the rare appearance of rain, my sister and I donned black plastic garbage bags.

I spend part of most summers as a stranger in a city in southern Mexico where it rains as reliably as high tide. It is undeniably more insistent on Mondays and Wednesdays when I have to travel some distance to teach classes on an outdoor patio in one of the smallest towns on the planet.

It rains its warning against English or English teachers who failed to pack a tarp or at least a couple of garbage bags.

Summer Rain

What could be lovelier than to hear the summer rain
Cutting across the heat, as scythes cutting across grain?
Falling upon the steaming roof with sweet uproar,
Tapping and rapping wildly at the door?
No, do not lift the latch, but through the pane
We’ll stand and watch the circus pageant
Of the rain,
And see the lightning, like a tiger, striped and dread,
And hear the thunder cross the shaken sky
With elephant tread.

– Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986).

  • Write a memory about rain featuring several metaphors.
  • OR write a poem with an extended metaphor about the rain. Below is another Coatsworth piece:

 

Rain Poem

The rain was like a little mouse,
Quiet, small, and gray,
It pattered all around the house
And then it went away.
It did not come, I understand,
Indoors at all, until,
It found an open window and
Left tracks across the sill.

– Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986).