Culling the flock

hamburgAs a farmer, I have to treat my hens without sentiment; when they pass their peak laying year, they have to go. This week I took the oldest hens, the beautiful Black Australorps, and gave them to my Ethiopian friend, who eats them. I’ve made one exception so far, the Hamburg hen we call Houdini for her ability to find a way out of the chicken run. She’s a small hen, and although she’s almost three years old, she still lays well. Continue reading

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Dull subjects

In a humorous essay about poetry, William Matthews suggested there are only four subjects for poems:

1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.

2. We’re not getting any younger.

3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.

4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not what.

lauxSo I looked for a poem today about something outside these categories and here is one by Dorianne Laux:

Finding What’s Lost

In the middle of the poem my daughter reminds me
that I promised to drive her to the bus stop.
She waits a few beats then calls out the time.
Repeats that I’ve promised.
I keep the line in my head, repeat it under my breath
as I look for my keys, rummage through my purse,
my jacket pockets. When we’re in the car, I search
the floor for a Jack-in-the-Box bag, a ticket stub,
a bridge toll dollar, anything to write on.
I’m still repeating my line when she points
out the window and says “look, there’s the poppy
I told you about,” and as I turn the corner I see it, Continue reading

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Randy Neuman

randynewman_bw2A few years ago, we heard Randy Neuman live at the San Francisco Opera House. Although his voice isn’t what it once was, his showmanship is brilliant. When the children were small we taught them “Political Science,” and it would be fun to hear their angelic voices chirping “Drop the big one now…” Continue reading

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An  Elegy

elephantsA friend leant me Inventions of Farewell, A Book of Elegies, by Sandra Gilbert. This is a wonderful collection and in the introduction she references a passage on “elephant grief” from Fragments on the Deathwatch, by Louise Harmon, which in turn cites a National Geographic article about the mourning behavior of a herd of elephants after the death of an old bull. The elephants “approached his body by twos and threes, ‘sweeping their trunks slowly over him, not touching him for the most part but maintaining an inch of distance between his skin and the moist tips of their trunks. The ritual was more impressive for its silence.’ ’’  Continue reading

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A slight departure

AndrewMarvelI realized today that I have avoided putting older poems here–Marvell, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, for example. I’ve selected contemporary poems not only to avoid poems that everyone probably read in high school, but also because they seem more accessible, more alive.

But today I felt like reading Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” written in the 1650s. You’ll certainly recognize phrases from this poem, even if you didn’t read it in high school. They’ve made their way into daily speech. And though written in strict rhyme and meter, Marvell’s language and syntax (except for the occasional thou and thy and shouldst) seem almost as fresh as a contemporary poem.

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime. Continue reading

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Deep Litter

Deep litterI have been raising my chickens in a large run covered in layers of various hay, straw, grass, etc.  This is called the “deep litter” method, that I read about in Juliette de Baïracli Levi’s Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable, a book I referred to often when we had a real farm. Levi was one of those intrepid Englishwomen of the early 1900s, who studied and traveled and made her own way in the world. Continue reading

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The exemplary sentence

Sentence Diagram

I’ve been reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, or rather skimming much of it. It’s long and rather overwritten, though Eliot can write!

It seems to me a book that would make a wonderful period movie. The plot involves many twists, including a lenghty and interesting perspective on how Jews were seen in 1800s. One focal point of the novel is the evolution of  a heedless, impoverished, but well-intentioned beauty who marries a cold, mean-spirited man named Grandcourt for his money and position.

This little sentence captures Grandcourt’s character perfectly:

It is true that Grandcourt went about with the sense that he did not care a languid curse for any one’s admiration, but this state of not-caring, just as much as desire, required its related object—namely, a world of admiring or envying spectators: for if you are fond of looking stonily at smiling persons, the persons must be there and they must smile…

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Lobster on Monday

nemerovHoward Nemerov seems almost forgotten as a poet–he died almost 25 years ago. He was not only US Poet Laureate twice, but was also the brother of Diane Arbus. This poem is fairly representative of his style.

The Lobster

Here at the Super Duper, in a glass tank
Supplied by a rill of cold fresh water
Running down a glass washboard at one end
And siphoned off at the other, and so
Perpetually renewed, a herd of lobster
Is made available to the customer
Who may choose whichever one he wants
To carry home and drop into boiling water
And serve with a sauce of melted butter. Continue reading

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Drought Poem

This is one of the poems I’ll be reading this Saturday for the event at the North Berkeley Library, Poems of Berkeley.  Details here.

oldsGabriel and the Water Shortage

When the water shortage comes along
he’s been waiting all his life for it,
all nine years for something to need him as
the water needs him now. He becomes
its protector–he stops washing, till dirt
shines on the bones behind his ears
over his brain, and his hands blaze like
dark blades of love. He will not
flush the toilet, putting the life of the
water first, until the bowl
crusts with gold like the heart’s riches and his
room stinks, and when I sneak in and
flush he almost weeps, holds his
hands a foot apart in the air and
says do I know there is only about
this much water left! He befriends it, he Continue reading

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New kids on the block

eggsOnce you have chickens (or at least once I do), it becomes tempting to want more exotic varieties. Four years ago I started out with six Ameraucanas, the friendly, puffy cheeked hens that lay pale green or olive eggs.

Now I have a wide variety, and often know which hen laid which egg by its size and color. Still, I wanted a couple of Cukoo Marans (rich, dark brown eggs) and Cream Legbars (turquioise eggs). When my Silkie (a small white puffball with feathered feet) got broody (sitting on eggs to hatch them), I arranged with a small breeder in Redding to ship a few baby chicks.   Continue reading

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