Summer Solstice Poetry Jam…and Clowns
Happy Summer Solstice! I’ve been celebrating summer for a few days already by picking my ripe black raspberries and making jam. I wanted to share a delicious mix with you, as well as a taste of what I did last night.
I suppose the title of this blog should be Summer Solstice, Poetry, Jam…and Clowns, since they are separately occurring entities, but I think you’ll agree the former is more intriguing and frankly, I get bored with punctuation ;-). ß The preceding statement (and all parenthetical remarks and punctuation marks in today’s blog) in honor of Jim Daniels and his story, “CLOWN, DROWN” from Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City.
Now I know a blog is no place for a full-blown double-portrait, Lopate-style, but I hope I can give you a sampling of these colliding dreams…
As I was making my latest batch of jam (a concoction I’ve named Blue Str-Apple-Berry), I couldn’t concentrate. I had little sleep after driving an hour home from last night’s literary readings at Hemingway’s Café. I was awake early to meet a friend, so there wasn’t much time for encoding, decoding and otherwise interpreting the previous day’s information. As I stirred the cooking berries, I found myself drifting into thoughts about clowns and cups, rabbits and rabbis, whether my cousin’s name was Tanoma or Talona (and wasn’t that an Indian name, either way?) and the flower woman on Craig Street. I also found myself wondering just where I belong in that pot of pectin, fruit and sugar known as the Pittsburgh Literary Scene.
1½ cups Blueberries. 1½ cups Raspberries. 1 cup Strawberries. 1 cup Apples (juiced).
Stir. Stir in the low-sugar pectin. Stir.
Sometimes I think of myself as clinging to the edges—lurking at readings and launches, signings and workshops, waiting for someone to stir me into the mix. I think we all feel that way from time to time though. Aren’t we all outsiders, any time our minds feel we’re apart from everyone else around us? Last night, for example, I couldn’t bring myself to sign up for Open Mic after the featured readers. That’s usually one of my comfort zones, but sometimes (often when I’ve been living out of town) I can’t get into the rhythm without a little time, a little talking, or maybe a little scraping at the sides. (What? Sorry. Go with it. I need metaphor today, or at least a Smile. 🙂 )
Stir. Stir. Boil. Rolling. Roiling. Boiling. Boil.
Shock it with sugar.
Stir. Stir. Boil. Rolling. Roiling. Boiling. Boil.
Other times my literary self feels like the big chunks of strawberry in this pot. I’m in the mixture, plump and delicious, hoping I’ll make some person happy who gets a taste of my quirky and casual writing style…unless he’s allergic to strawberries.
So here I am, stirring the pot (did you roll your eyes yet?) and thinking about last night. The first reader was Rosaly Roffman, my former writing professor, my mentor, my friend. Everything she writes moves me. There is compassion, depth and raw honesty in each piece. She read “A Story of Cups: With Appended Prayer,” which is one of my favorites. She also read “The Professor Watches the Male Nurse,” which I invite you to read for yourself. (I already own her new book, I Want to Thank my Eyes and I hope you have the time to get to know it for yourself.) (You can also listen to a bit at Word Patriots.)
Remove from heat.
Scrape the foam.
I want to meet the flower woman on Craig Street. Rosaly talked about her in her poem. Now I’m stuck on flowers and I wonder how lavender would taste in this jam. Flowers are edible. Once I bought a package of them from Giant Eagle’s herb section and dumped them into my salad. I about gagged. I don’t know if they aren’t all meant to be blended together, or if my body can’t handle fresh or healthful ingredients. It’s kind of like what Judith Gallagher said last night. Judith runs the Ligonier Valley Writers’ Conference. She said about herself “I eat like a twelve-year old.” She was telling me this as I was biting into the first of my order of fried chicken fingers. “Mmhmm. Uhhunnwhatchumean” I replied with my mouth full, wiping away the honey mustard from my chin.
Ladle. Ladle. Ladle.
Three ladles full.
A quarter inch headspace.
When Rosaly talked about the miners of Tanoma in a poem, I wandered to my dad’s side of the family. Wasn’t Tanoma the name of one of my dad’s first cousins? But it wasn’t Tanoma. It was Talona. Even prettier. Talona. I remember being jealous. Why couldn’t I have been named Talona. I bet that was an Indian name and we are 3/64 Seneca. I have no card. All my features are watered down and wasp-y. At least an Indian name would prove something, wouldn’t it? What is there to prove? Three drops of red in a pool of white does not an Indian girl make. Heck, I couldn’t even pass for a frontierswoman.
Clean the rim…perfectly. Perfectly clean:
cloth dipped in simmering water;
It took me four days to pick just three cups of black raspberries. I fought the birds and bunnies for berries high and low. I fought the sun as it shriveled ripe ones overlooked. I fought the briars and frightened a fawn in the name of three cups of black raspberries to make jam. I imagine living on my black raspberries, my mint, my sweet clover and bergamot. This is the grazing as I wander our property. How the heck did hunter gatherers survive anyway? And why do I keep thinking about Indians?
Swear like a fluffer when your fingers burn—
against the boiling hot jam in the jar, against the rim as you slide the wet cloth;
flat lid on clean surface;
swear like a fluffer; swear some more.
Aha! It’s Philip Terman’s fault.
Now I remember. It was the drumming. It was the pow-wowing of his “Summer Solstice” poem from Book of Unbroken Days. Today is the solstice. I feel like I should have a celebratory streak through the meadow behind the house. I can do that. Overgrown bushes and years of cultivated weeds give privacy. Yeah, why not? I’ve done it before. When I was younger…But I think about the ticks—two pulled from the cat already this year, three from the dog. And I’d have to wear shoes, of course. I hate getting thorns on the bottoms of my feet. And sunscreen. I have a lot of places the sun hasn’t shined in awhile. And I just waxed. My skin’s a little raw.
That can’t be right.
No. Not enough common use.
Some Indian I would make. Squaw Marla Whines-too-Much. Terman would make a better Indian. Ooh. A Jewish-Indian. Awesome! I always thought it would be cool to be Jewish too. They seem to have that enviable sense of belonging, of community. And I already have a thing for noses. Once, I wrote a poem, an ode to the nose. It was trite, but oh. Oh goodness I love me a strong nose. I married a man with a wondrous nose. Apropos of nothing but aquiline airs and manly magnificence.
What was I talking about?
If you weren’t swearing already,
screw-caps will have you mother-fluffing
so loud your dog will hide,
so loud your 80-year-old neighbor, Verna, will call to see if you’re okay.
Magnet the screw-cap from simmering water.
Yes – rabbits. No, rabbis. He has a beautiful book titled Rabbis of the Air (which he said once was mistaken for “rabbits” in an anthology bio)(which tonight was pronounced not like rabbis, the holymen, but like Barabbas, the dude freed instead of Jesus by Pontius Pilate)(which is a train of thought that feels off in many, many ways.) I am kind of in love with Rabbis of the Air. It has nothing to do with noses. (Is a positive stereotype just as wrong as a negative one?) It is the strength of grief, the hope of faith, the belief in one, perfect phrase.
Try to fit it…
Try to fit the screw-cap around the flat-lid…
Screw it down.
Shake out your fingers.
Throw out one more mother-fluffer.
I forgot to get pictures until the last reader, so please forgive my use of stock photo from Terman’s site. I want you to get an idea for this cool guy. He reads the way an orchestra conductor conducts. There is a slight bobblehead movement, side to side, and a rhythmic flicking of the wrist as he takes us to his lyric refuge.
Set the timer.
Flip each screw-capped jar upside down.
Hope for a good seal.
I’ve heard Jim Daniels read before. It’s been poetry though. He’s somewhat of a Pittsburgh hero in the poetry scene. He’s got working class moxy to his prose, but the presence of a modest gentleman. It’s a striking combination, actually. He’s the third and final featured reader. He doesn’t make me think of Indians or rabbits, my cousin Talona or cups. He certainly doesn’t make me think of flowers. Sugar, maybe. Sugar or frosting like the color of his hair. Can guys have hair the color of sugar or frosting? That sounds girly. He is not girly.
Instead, he makes me think of clowns. He reads his clown story from the awesome Trigger Man book I already told you about. It’s funny, and sad, and insightful, and annoying.
Why does he have to be so good? Why do they all? I love good writers for the same reason I can’t stand them. They are inspirational and intimidating in the kind of pleasure-pain scenario of wriggling a loose baby tooth; the kind of pleasure-pain scenario of making jam and swearing like a mother-fluffer when you burn your fingers. I want to do it that way. I want to make people hate me and love me and want to write that way.
Flip rightside up.
Store out of reach of your long-bodied Labrador.
And Jim’s damn drowning clown is stuck in my head. I imagine water-slogged clothes and boots too big for my feet—boots that would probably really keep those thorns out of my feet when I run streaking to celebrate the solstice. Oh dear, I just spoiled it for you? C’mon. It’s in the name after all. But you don’t know why he was on the water, or who saw him drown, or why (as my husband who hates clowns would wonder) you should care.
I don’t mind clowns, but I guess I never think of them one way or another. Certainly I don’t think about clowns as much as I go into reverie about Indians, or rabbits, or a gorgeous nose. But sometimes when I’m making the jam, I do end up at clowns, don’t I? Every time I make jam, I imagine making it with a child, a child we do not have. I think about the way my mother taught me—a panicked rush to beat the clock, before particles of mold, or dust or any airborne microbe land on the surface of the glossy, red liquid.
Sit down to write your blog.
The first lid pops within a few minutes.
Keyboard tapping combines for a new composition:
Plink. Tap. Tap. Tappity. Plink. Plink. Tappity. Tap.
I imagine telling Simon (that’s his name. It’s always his name) stories about watching my mother’s panicked movements between pot and jar, jar and screw-cap. I imagine doing the lids and screw-caps so for him, so he doesn’t know that pain until years after he’s had the pleasure. There he is, eating toast and jam having made it himself. I imagine him bragging to his friends. I see him getting beaten up for being a Momma’s boy. And then we host a party so he can get cool with his friends again, and maybe we have that clown.
There is no Simon. But I remember why I bother making the jam. I remember all my other children who enjoy it—my nephews, nieces, cousins, children of friends, brother, sister, friends and my 80-year-old neighbor, Verna. Maybe I do have my own community: the jam-eaters; the extended family, my surrogate children who belong to my friends, the readers of my long-winded blogs.
Summer Solstice. Poetry. Jam. Clowns. Spread it over bread and chase it with bourbon. Tomorrow we’ll make something different.