Florentine Violin Maker

violin-maker

My father was a woodworker. He could make cabinets, furniture, and fine designs with his hands. He would sand and stain and sand some more long into midnight.

He would deliberately discover a piece of art in the trunk of a tamarisk tree or a common two-by-four.

On a side street in Florence, M and I watch a craftswoman producing a violin. Peering through her workshop window. Though I often joke that my hands are made only for typing and should not be counted on to sew, to whittle, or even to cook, I can’t help thinking about how her work is similar to drafting a piece of creative writing, how the end product requires the effort to shape a piece into a beautiful sound as well as story.

Speaking of beautiful sounds and stories, spring semester means students are collaborating on blogs again:

Daily Bread 400: https://dailybread400.wordpress.com/

Blissful Binge: https://blissfulbinge.wordpress.com/

Passions of 8: https://passionsof8.wordpress.com/

World of Actions & Reactions: https://creativeblogforclass.wordpress.com/

All Things Dreamy: https://allthingsdreamyblog.wordpress.com/

Please follow them, like them, and tell your friends about these diligent and creative writers.

“Time as Memory as Story”

sheep

On the drive from Dublin to Belfast, from the passenger’s seat, I drift into a deep sleep; I fail to distinguish this landscape from California’s rolling hills. I could be nearly anywhere.  The rain, the radio, my jet lag, and the driving monotony of kilometers of sheep fill me, drag me to dreams of lands radiant with sunshine and warmth.

I do not discern that I have arrived in Belfast until the car abruptly stops. Instantly I understand why people suggest counting sheep to summon sleep. In fact, I do not know where I am or that I am on a pilgrimage to learn where M’s father grew up, where his gran used to live, until M brings me into the cold afternoon to pose with him before a narrow door with the number 193.

It is as if I’ve been snoozing in a time machine; M’s eight again, visiting Ireland on summer break, heading to the candy store around the corner, searching for the spot in the alley where his father carved his name. Though I’m shivering and disoriented in his immense ocean of memories, I want to dive deeper with him into this past and startling tales he has hauled within him his whole life.

However, we must drive, because as Simon J. Ortiz reminds, in his poem “Time as Memory as Story,” “Time has no mercy. It’s there. It stays still or it moves./And you’re there with it. Staying still or moving with it./I think it moves. And we move with it. And keep moving.” We also keep moving because it is Christmas Eve and we are expected in Newry, the countryside, to meet M’s cousins for supper, to settle with them in their cozy home surrounded by a Mary Kay convention of sheep.

At breakfast Christmas morning, I am nearly lulled back to bed by a window full of livestock until I realize one of the conventioneers is stuck in dense brambles. I’m captivated by her efforts to break free, how another gets caught, and then how the others (sheep and people) join me in counting sheep.

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?

Rushing into the Music

belfast-castle

In Belfast, we took the Hop On and Hop Off sightseeing bus to get a cursory glimpse of the city still decorated for Christmas, on the verge of the New Year. From the Titanic museum, to the Belfast Peace Wall, to Belfast Castle (photo above), we were immersed in the setting of huge history lessons, including our own family’s history, including news of how one of the cousins was married in a ceremony at the sprawling Castle.

When I was a high school student, my history teacher once criticized me for reading history too fancifully, of thinking of castles as having dragons, of conflating fact and fiction. I don’t know how my teacher recognized it, but it was a keen assessment. He did not prescribe it at the time, but I have found travel to be an excellent antidote to irreverence and ignorance.

The tour guide was well-educated, thoughtful, and engaging. Even better, he brought a friend along for the ride. And the friend brought a guitar to entertain on stretches of motorway where there wasn’t much narration to be done.

One of the tunes, “Big Strong Man (My Brother Sylveste),” required audience participation.

Stanza two goes: That was my brother Sylvest’ (What’s he got?)
A row of forty medals on his chest (big chest!)
He killed fifty bad men in the west; he knows no rest.
Think of a man, hells’ fire, don’t push, just shove,
Plenty of room for you and me.
He’s got an arm like a leg (a ladies’ leg!)
And a punch that would sink a battleship (big ship!)
It takes all of the Army and the Navy to put the wind up Sylvest’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7yiUxCmqrI

The words in parenthesis, we quickly learned, needed to be hooted out when cued by the first part of the line. Each run-through of the song picked up speed; thus, by the end, a busload of strangers were breathlessly laughing, smiling, singing together.

Traveling always reminds me of what I am missing in my day-to-day life. More music is essential.

Speaking of music, I am sincerely grateful to have a poem, “Rushing into the Music, published by Postcard Poems and Prose: https://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/rushing-into-the-music-by-heather-hutcheson/

  • Listen to a type of music you don’t usually listen to, like “Big Strong Man,” and see where it takes you.

(Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Castle)

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.

“That Honey You Carry in Your Mouth”

tunas

I am delighted to see the Tuna, a male musical group, much like mariachis, whose members play musical instruments and sing Spanish folk songs. The group members are typically university students and are dressed in short pants that are both wide and tight at the knee, tights/long socks (green for apprentices), a blouse, a jacket, and a cloak decorated with colorful ribbons and patches. They perform to keep the tradition alive. However, the groups originated as a way for university students to perform in exchange for small amounts of money or food.

The tambourine and guitar are key to the joyful and playful serenades that engage this audience enjoying nightfall on the plaza outside of Santo Domingo church. As they sing the traditional “Clavelitos,” I realize that I learned the word carnation (the title of the song) this summer, and I smile at the part that refers to a carnation a woman wears in her hair.

In the dark this evening and caught up in the crowd clapping and singing along, I realize the connection between playing music and playfulness–the pure pleasure of these merry singers as well as what they stir in us.

Clavelitos

Mocita, dame el clavel, dame el clavel de tu boca
Para eso no hay que tener mucha vergüenza ni poca
Yo te daré un cascabel, te lo prometo, mocita
Si tu me das esa miel que llevas en la boquita

Clavelitos, clavelitos, clavelitos de mi corazón
Yo te traigo clavelitos colorados igual que un tizón
Si algún día clavelitos no lograra poderte traer
No te creas que ya no te quiero, es que no te los pude coger

La otra tarde a media luz vi tu boquita de guinda
Yo no he visto en Santa Cruz una boquita más linda
Y luego, al ver el clavel que llevabas en el pelo
Mirándolo creí ver un pedacito de cielo.

http://www.e-spanyol.hu/en/lyrics.php

Little Carnations

Girl, give me the carnation, give me the carnation from your mouth

For that, don’t be ashamed

I will give you a little bell, I promise you, girl

if you give me that honey you carry in your mouth

Little carnations, little carnations, little carnations of my heart
I bring you little carnations colored like a firebrand
If someday I am unable to bring you little carnations
Do not think I do not love you, it is that I could not pick them for you

The other evening in the half-light I saw your cherry mouth

I have not seen in Santa Cruz such a pretty mouth
And then, seeing the carnation you wore in your hair,
Looking at it, I thought I saw a bit of heaven.

  • Listen to Tuna perform “Clavelitos;” let yourself get carried away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6TRYfSyYwQ.

 

Art

painter.jpg

Though my first instinct is to label the artist in the park a con artist, I admit there are far worse ways to trick or swindle the public. And, I wonder, what’s the real harm?

I am not a naturally cynical creature, but I spied him affably permitting a young boy to add strokes to this same portrait.

Maybe I just don’t understand his art.  Maybe what he is doing is more like collage. Or sampling. Perhaps it is teaching. Or sales.

In the poem below, Elizabeth Bishop uses her art, poetry, to address the art of losing. Still trying to figure out what his art form is exactly, I try to imagine what he might be thinking: When they ask whether I painted her, if she’s my greatest muse, if I still love her, I whisper yes, yes. (This is largely true.) She is mine—for now, but she might be yours, could deliver you the radiant joy I discovered as I encountered her (at a yard sale).

When you first inquire how much I might want for her, I listen for how desperate your voice becomes as I confess fear of being without her, of giving her up—without a fight.

His art is embellishment.

One Art

–Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

  • Bishop’s poem is a villanelle. Whether you enjoy using form, the advantages to experimenting with form are worth the effort, particularly in the invention stages of the writing process. Form is not only for poets. You can set limits: word, syllable, etc. Make up some rules and make something from them. Here’s more about the villanelle: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/villanelle-poetic-form