Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel Food Cake
I remember a time when my mother, then in her sixties, made a cake and it flopped. "I just can't seem to cook anymore," she sighed and I thought to myself, "Sure you can. Just get a mix and bake that." Mama would have thought it poor advice. She'd never used a mix for anything. She'd been brought up making everything from scratch. Well, it's my turn now and I can belatedly relate to how she felt.

First it was the brownies. And they were made from a mix. I followed the directions on the back of the box, baked them for the requisite amount of time, and still they had to be eaten with a spoon. My neighbor, J, with whom I shared both story and a spoon, commiserated with a story of her own. She'd whipped up a batch of waffles, heated the waffle iron, opened the lid, spooned in the batter, closed the lid, and when the steaming stopped, opened the waffle maker to discover it was the sandwich maker instead. "We called them wafliches and ate them anyway," she said.

Though we laugh at each other, there runs an undercurrent of sober worry beneath our hilarity. Is this the beginning, we wonder? It isn't just cooking failures. We mis-button our clothes, find ourselves mid-trip wondering just where our cars are taking us, waken everyone in the household at night with the crash occasioned by catching our pj bottoms on the toilet seat, and lock our keys in the car, sometimes with the car still running. (See Laughing on the Way Out, my other blog, for details.)

"Who's going to take care of us?" we often ask each other.

The latest fiasco occurred this afternoon. I'd been shopping and angel food cake mixes had been on sale. I love angel food cake, especially with fresh berries and whipped cream. I picked up some of those, too. While the cake was baking, I called J and said, "Come over in about an hour and have dessert and tea with me." She never says no.

I whistled while I whipped the cream and hulled the strawberries. The oven timer chimed. I grabbed two potholders and whisked the cake out of the oven. It hadn't risen as much as angel cakes usually do but I attributed that to the weather - it was rainy and damp. I tipped the pan to rest upside down, the way you do with angel food cake pans, when to my surprise the cake began dropping onto the counter in great chunks. I grabbed a plate to catch the rest. Meanwhile the crust of the cake hung like an empty skin from the bottom of the pan insert. I peeled it off and draped it over the chunks. By this time I was gasping for breath. All alone in my little kitchen I hooted and howled, hoping I'd have control of myself before J got there.

When she opened the door, she paused. On her face was a mixture of surprise, dismay, amusement and... recognition. Then, "OMG! Who's going to take care of us?"

We fell about laughing. And of course, we had to try the cake. After all, there were berries and whipped cream. They'd help disguise what looked and felt like a pile of blanched silly putty. While we ate, we traded stories of food failures when we were young wives - the well-pricked but unbaked pie crust that let all the custard seep to the bottom of the pan while the crust rose sluggishly to the top, the tuna noodle casserole without the tuna, the minute steaks cooked for the same length of time as the boiled potatoes. J looked at me. "Do you suppose," she asked, "that we've been failures all along and we're only now realizing it?"

I sure hope so!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Offering

Outside my door grows a lilac
planted 86 years ago,
a venerable tree, gnarled with age,
leaning so close to the ground
that it would lie flat
if it were not propped up by sticks.
Every year it blooms.
It puts out leaves and blossoms,
fewer and fewer each spring
but still, there they are,
green and purple, soft and scented,
and I cannot bear the thought,
a thought that comes each time I
look at it, that I must cut down the old tree,
give the new young shoots
that have sprung up from the mother root
a chance of their own to grow up
and out and old.

Maybe next year, I think. Or maybe
in ten years, when I will be 80.
Maybe then the tree and I will
accept the changes age demands.
Now, in the pale spring sunshine,
the new leaves unfurl, the tight buds
set last autumn expand.
Like an old woman who once was
lush and ripe and beautiful,
the tree, remembering, offers

what remains—

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday morning prompt - write to this quote:

"Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.
He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.
He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk."   ~N. Scott Momaday

I spent my childhood
in love with home—
with the gold/emerald grasses that knelt under my feet
and stood again after I passed,
with the spring flowers in my mother’s garden,
violets, lily of the valley, daffodils,
their breath sweet, their faces washed in sunshine,
and later, the fairy roses that climbed the fence
and hobnobbed with the first cut hay;

with the rough rocks that lined the banks
of the small brook that cut a path
through barbed and tangled berry bushes,
ripe with bee-spun fruit;
with the bent branches of an old apple tree
I climbed on, pretending I was astride a unicorn;
with the dirt road that, once tarred over,
led me past neighboring farmland, past deep woods
where I would prowl, looking for signs of bear
or wild Indians, half Indian myself, walking toe first
through the crackling underbrush;

with the staccato tap of rain on leaves
the warm, green-brown scent of wet earth
and great equinoctial storms
that presaged the change of seasons;
with my small, cross-legged self,
small among the cornstalks,
watching a chipmunk forage for kernals,
and once, a stately antlered buck watching me;

with the drift and spin of painted leaves,
touched by the brush of frost
and the tented webs that glimmered
red and blue and glittering silver on September lawns;
with the first snowflakes whispering on a chill wind
with knee-deep drifts, and sleds,
and green Christmas mittens, up-turned collars
and scratchy scarves, snowpants that swished,
galoshes with frozen buckles that finally yielded
to small, determined, snow-frozen fingers;
with March winds that rattled the old wooden shutters,
blew snow that piled in small drifts
on the window sills and etched icy ferns on the panes;

with the return of robins, blue eggs huddled in a nest
I could spy on from the upstairs window,
finding great comfort in the way
the parent birds looked after their young
until, at last, the babies flew.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

This has been a fairly snow-less winter so far. One Sunday morning writing prompt, however, dealt with the white stuff. Here's the result.

Write 12 ways of looking at snow.

an arbitrator between autumn and spring
keeping storm scores and stats on plummeting temperatures

a cat burglar sneaking in on a passing cold front,
stealing color, hiding the tricycle and the dog’s dish,
disguising the starkness of trees with fluff,
covering its tracks as it leaves

a bully, sweeping in on a fierce wind,
a white fury casting cold spells,
spinning and dancing like a colorless gypsy
tapping its tambourine fingers against the window panes

A blanket of silence covering sky and earth,
flung out and floating down silently
in heaps and wrinkles

an ice challenge, wicked, cold, and inhospitable,
hard as rock, unyielding even to the distant sun

a nightmare like a thief in the night
stealing the familiar, leaving an expanse of
nothingness where light was

a gossamer dream, a fairy tale, a story of
eternal cold dressed in ermine, of diamond faceted jewels
that glitter under a pale moon

a blustery uncle, all noise and fake promises
who rushes in, pulls out his watch, and says, “I must hurry,”
as he dashes off

a lingering guest, one who arrives unexpectedly, expects a
room and food, languishes on the sofa with a hand to her head,
her scarf trailing across the roads and fields and tangling
in the branches of the trees

an artist with a monochromatic palette, painting with broad strokes

an eraser, an impenetrable veil, a swirl of opaque white, a myriad of genies
escaped and coalesced, their arms and bodies so entwined that no light
pierces their white shadows

a silence so profound one can hear only his own heartbeat counting the seconds,
his own blood swishing to the same tempo of snowflakes falling on his sleeve

Monday, December 07, 2015

Morning Report From My Western Window

There is a window in my bedroom wall that faces west through which, when I am inside looking out, I can see the rise of a mountain, its flanks like bits of blue paint splashed between the trees that grow close to the house. At this time of year, late autumn, the ground is papered brown with fallen leaves and every branch and twig is gilded by the early morning sunlight. Through bare branches I can even glimpse the pond across the road where geese are gathering by the hundreds to plan their journey south. A gray squirrel scampers in the leaves, a cardinal flaunts its jeweled feathers, a chickadee pipes a morning tune. All that I see is natural – birds, water, trees, mountain, sky. I’ve made none of these, own none of them. They frame my day, I move among them. They are what’s outside that window. They don’t come in.

Ah, but I can go out. I can gaze into my house from the other side of that window and see what the trees, the squirrel, the birds might see if they cared to look in. Should it be a surprise that the first thing I notice in that window is me, looking back at me? There I stand, reflected, surrounded by sunlit trunks, gazing into my own eyes. Only when I change my focus can I see the room I’ve left, the walls beyond reflection, the window in the east wall, my computer where I’ll record all this, the wall of book-crowded shelves, the ceramic turkey I’ve forgotten to replace with something more Christmasy. I notice that from the outside my window looks dark, the result of all that’s reflected in the glass while from the inside, the window looks quite clear and bright. I can see out far better than I can see in, but when I step close to the window and shade my eyes with my hands there is my room, my things, what I’ve made and what I own, what I am, really, reflected in things.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

When the Geese Go

Written on a blue paper sky,
late autumn sentences are spelled out with twigs,
punctuated by small, black birds.

A sketch of leafless trees,
colored-pencil straight,
line up in shades of gray and brown.

Tales of a winter hillside,
an ice-skimmed pond,
geese listening for their cue

to close the book,
leaving silence and snow