Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Poem about Names

Last weekend, my friend Rachel and I wrote poems and drank chai and talked about wool and sewing and the beautiful loose ends of our lives at a little cafe in Oakland. She describes the whole event so well, with such grace, that you really just need to go over to Gate City Gardener this minute and read the post titled Real Names and Drop Spindles." There you will find her version of the following poem, and a description of the writing prompt we used, which had to do with names, and used words pulled from a pile in the middle of our table, inscribed and shredded, little strange surprises. Here's to contemporaries and to good friends, to seed-packets full of words on torn paper, to sudden May rains.
Here's my version:

My real name is Starfish.
There is a mandolin somewhere
in me, near the pelvis
it strums and plucks, it
reaches out its starfish hands,
sucking up salt crystals, aching for waves.
Swallowing the world into its heart,
salt-cut and bright.

Yesterday my name was Catch-All.
Star-follicles fell down
at night, near the moon’s growing
belly. They fell into my
clavicle, that small dip, they smelled like
metal and fresh bread. 
The cries of
young scrub jays, hungry, rooting
in the vetch, fell all over me. I
caught the rush of Amtrak down by
the bay in my hands, the wind and
what it blew in the window. The places
you kissed me.

Today my name is Bicycle.
My wheels are twirling, I can go
anywhere I want on my twirling
wheels. My wheels have spokes
and they look like passionflowers
when they open, and they feel like
that opening, sexual and unfurled,
completely mysterious,
capable of fruit.

Today my name is Bicycle.
My wheels are made of Hope and
Dream. Hope has dirt on her hands.
She is a little sunburnt.  She knows where
she is going but it doesn’t have a name.
Dream is covered in the young leaves
of indigo plants. When she twirls the air
fills up with the smell of jasmine and blue dust.
The wind is perfect in my hair. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Bobcat Tree

The bobcat wrote on the trunk of the alder tree as she climbed, a quick exuberant shimmy up and down, claws in soft bark, at dusk. Getting out that almost boundless red energy cats sometimes fill up with. The neater scratch-marks, four alongside each other, are from her back feet pushing her up the tree. The longer slashes, almost desperate, are her front claws, hugging the tree, pulling her upward as she danced along that slightly curved trunk, just the right size to get her arms around. Then she scooted down again, backwards, and carried along her way.

Cats like to play, said one of my tracking teachers (of the Marin Tracking Club). They have quick metabolisms. Sometimes they just need to let off steam at the end or beginning of the day. In the crepuscular hours.
 I put my hands in the places she had etched. They looked a little bit like Ogham letters, those ancient runic marks used to write out the Old Irish alphabet, often on small sticks, in wood. The letters are shaped like branches, but also like a cat’s paw, evenly scraping bark. Maybe early inspiration for the shapes of letters, and the medium for writing them on, grew from the sight of wildcat scrapes and climbs up trees. Their marks of passage, play and hiding.
I put my fingers in the grooves. The alder was starting to heal up the edges, callous them over with silvery bark. I tried to imagine where the bobcat was now, like a teacher told me to do— put your hand in the track, feel it with your fingers, read it with your fingers. Imagine yourself into that mind. Humans have been doing this for hundreds of millions of years. It feels like magic, to let your mind fold and expand in this way.
Maybe she went along her way and fished a chestnut-coated gopher out of his hole. Maybe she cleaned the points of her tapered ears. Maybe listened for the great-horned owl, sniffed at the messy marks left by people, crept through the nettles, keeping to the shadows, staying out of the moonlight, listening for voles in their tunnels of grass. 

Nearby lush patch of nettles. Maybe she hid under these, assuming cats don't get stung like people do.

Adjacent meadow, Bear Valley, full of vole runs. 

Friday, May 25, 2012


I've posted the beginning of my novel-length manuscript, Tomales Point: Creation Stories, on its own page, to keep such long writings separate and easy to access and read. It is listed to the right under "The Creations." If you are into it, let me know and I will continue to add more pieces of it for your reading pleasure.

Just as a little introduction-- the manuscript tells the stories of a certain bit of the Point Reyes Peninsula from geological, cultural and mythic perspectives. It is about creation and destruction and rebirth, in the worlds of granite rocks and humans and mountain lions, prairie grasslands, old dairy ranch buildings, and a woman old as rifts who rides a dark blue heron. Though it is ultimately fictional, due to some of the historical tales I created and mythic crone-women I invented, it is about a real place, one incredibly dear to my heart. These are some photos of that place (in two different seasons).

Tomales Bay, from Tomales Point. A beautiful blue ribbon, San Andreas Fault beneath.

A sudden sea-fog descended during this walk. The Monterey Cypress trees emerge from it, wind-bent. They were planted by Solomon Pierce in the 1860's to protect the dairy ranch complex from the wild ocean winds. 

Sweet Cows.

I believe this is where the pigs used to live.

The fence, the footpath.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Red Poppies and a Hand-Spun Sweater

Red poppies fill me up with joy. Just pure, rich, deep joy. The color fills up your whole body so you can't think about anything except beauty, and sun. When I was a little girl, my best friend Elsinore and I drew pictures of dresses made from poppy petals. We imagined wearing long skirts, red as blood, with black at the waist, all silk. I don't think it was just the skirts we longed for; it was to be part of a poppy, to know something of that furry stem, that strange green pod with it's sculpted nub, so tough for something so satiny and transient to emerge from. These photos are from the Greek island Kefalonia, of the species papaver rhoeas. I was visiting a couple weeks ago for my boyfriend's brother's wedding. The whole time was just like a red poppy— so beautiful it almost ached. Too beautiful to possibly try to cut and put in a vase and preserve that way. It has to live in the heart.

This is the first piece I've knit for myself in years. It's taken since last summer, on and off, because I spun the wool too, from local alpaca roving, thanks to Ken and Julie Rosenfeld of Renaissance Ridge Alpacas. There are so many stories nestled into this sweater, from all the hours I sat at the wheel daydreaming out the glass doors of our Berkeley apartment, listening to the birds or to Radiolab or thinking of nothing at all except the click and hum of the wheel, my hands feeding the wool just so, gently, maintaining an equilibrium so that really the alpaca wool, like fog, spun itself. I knitted the sweater in our living room, on BART, on a cliff above Muir Beach, in the sun, while it rained, at work on my lunch break, by the fire in my childhood home across the Bay while having dinner with my parents, in the garden under the little Japanese maple tree. When I wear it all of these places are present, and the strength of knowing the potential of my own hands (and all of our hands), and the miracle of ungulates with soft wool that can be easily spun. Where would we be without them?

Deer-Mouse Tracks

These are the paw-prints of a bounding deer-mouse on the dunes at Kehoe Beach, in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Each print a rune, a story of a life in sand, the darting bounds between clumps of sea-heather and dune grass. The shadows of passing ravens and hawks, the soft prowling of bobcats. I love to remember that each set of tracks, like this specific set, belongs to one individual, a single, unique deermouse, maybe a female heavy with babies in this springtime season, maybe a lone young male with a blind blue eye. This is not a general, anonymous "mouse." These are someone's footprints in the sand, like yours or mine. What was she seeking? Her leaps look like gentle letters, ink marks. Words, come alive, become embodied.

A coyote encounters the tracks of raccoon, which passed earlier in the morning, as the tide went out. He paused, putting weight in his front paws, then carried on through the mist and crash of waves in a regular side trot, maybe nosing for crabs in the tideline, maybe chasing after a pretty female coyote as the spring sun rose. His prints, the signs he etched to tell his story. 

Coyote again, this time at McClure's Beach, the sand a little darker. Those are my footprints alongside, following, wanting to read the runes in the sand, wishing I knew who she was, touching that dip where the metacarpal pads press their bulk into the ground, sending my warm thoughts, wherever she is now. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Making Indigo Dye Out of Words

Welcome to The Indigo Vat, where words and tales and dreams are fermented and transformed into sturdy creations that are green as they emerge and turn blue as they hit the air. 

A colorfast blue dye made from plant matter has always been very rare and therefore very precious. Indigo cakes, wrapped up in string and cloth, a condensed and processed form of the plant genus indigofera were traded along the Silk Road. There’s a reason blue was considered royal, for pharaohs, for kings.

The most mysterious and unfathomable things in the world to us are blue: the sea and the sky. These are places of magic, of power, or of something terrifying: the home of Rilke’s Angels, perched between beauty and terror.

The process of making and writing a story, a poem, a novel, an essay, is like dyeing with indigo. You start with a seed.  You tend it like your own blood. You harvest leaves in the heat of summer. You ferment them in a big vat, mixed up with such things as wheat bran, madder root and wood ash. The lid is on, so nothing else can get in or out. The magic of yeast takes over. The whole mass bubbles and rots and melds, letting the blue pigment out. This is the only way to let out the blue. It starts to stink. That’s when you open it up, stir in your skeins of yarn, your silks, your old white pillowcases. You leave them in as long as you want, letting them get bluer and bluer. Then you lift them out with a stick. When they hit the air, they are green. Then the oxygen begins to act. Breathe. The green turns to blue in front of your eyes. Blue for magic, for the deep mystery of the world, for the source of all creation, for stories told in the dark of night. For our blood, before it hits air.

Stories ferment, oxidize and come alive like this.

I’m growing nine starts from seed of polygonum tinctorium, Japanese Indigo. They began by the heater, then moved to the window, and finally outside, where the sun filled them up and they grew sturdy stems and big leaves. They are still young, only in one-gallon pots. I tend them like babies. The first tiny seedling popped its head above the soil on my birthday. I was taken by surprise at the depth of my excitement. It felt like a holy experience. I’d never tended seeds so closely, with such purpose. The sudden miracle of life itself was upon me, how a seed might become a perfect green leaf and a neck pushing up through dirt, completely and utterly new. The only constant on earth is creation.

So, this is a long way of saying that here on The Indigo Vat I will post my newly “dyed“ stories, as it were, for others to read. They need air to turn from green to blue. Stories and poems need eyes and hearts to consume them before they come alive, before they turn rich and blue as indigo robes.

You may also find here, from time to time, forays into the literal fiber arts— my adventures with natural dyeing, felting and spinning. I believe in a deep and creative reclamation of these traditionally female crafts. So, expect both literal and figurative yarns being spun, cloth woven and dyed with local materials.

Finally, I believe that all writing is rooted in place, like indigo roots in soil. Like the indigo plants growing in my Berkeley backyard, I am not native to this land, but it is my home, and has been since I was born (save a few years on the east coast for college). I think that as writers, as creators, we have a duty to the land we live on, its wild creatures, its redwoods, oak trees, thistles. We have a duty to their stories and languages as well as our own—after all, our earliest letters were based up the tracks made by animals in sand and snow.

These are the Indigo-Seedlings, my magical and mysterious charges. I'll show you more photos as they grow and are processed into dye.