March 31, 2006

The Light-Bearers

After age upon age, he crawled back from hell to heaven and prostrated himself before the throne and asked, “Lord, when can you forgive me? I don’t ask to be allowed back here, to be your angel of light again. I’ll go back happily if I just know I’m forgiven.”

The Lord pondered for a long time. He had been waiting for this from the beginning. It was the crossroads of the whole journey. If he welcomed back this rebel, this prodigal son, there would be joy throughout heaven, all differences would be unified, the light would be unbearable to human eyes. The whole earthly show would have to close. That kind of existence would be over, and some new kind would have to be created.

But that was the trouble: he would miss this world he’d made. All those half-lit humans stumbling against each other, searching in the dark for the road to him, missing it by miles or inches, and in the process stirring their poor clay into such shapes, such unexpected, unprecedented works. What would they do next? He wanted to see all the acts of their play, and only the first one or two had been staged yet. Would it be right to send the rebel back just to keep that going?

Of course there was no question of sending him back forgiven. It would not only be unjust, it would turn the whole thing into a charade.

In a flash the idea came: “I will forgive you, yes, if you will forgive me.”

The rebel staggered back in terror. “I, forgive you? No, how can I -- how can you ask one of your creatures -- “

“Who else deserves to forgive me? Look at what I’ve done to them. Just to have made them in the first place, loaded down with death, and all the pain that comes from fearing it. You are the only one who can speak for them. Of all my creatures, only you and they know what it is to be cast away from me. Do it, and then go back and do what you can with them.”

Lucifer brought himself full upright and took a deep breath. “Lord, I forgive you, we all forgive you.”

On Earth, a flash of new light crossed the sky, for less time than anything else had ever taken, and people looked up and asked, “Did you see that? Was there something or not?”

The two reunited forces waited to see what would happen.


March 30, 2006

During the Enlightenment

Two of the great sages of Hasidism in the Eastern Europe of the late 1700s were a pair of brothers, united in life and legend but opposite in personality. The younger, Elimelekh, was the worldly leader, who founded a school, held court, and attracted followers, inspiring loyalty and intimidating his disciples with his severe intellect. His elder brother, Zusia, was innocent and humble, a bit of a holy fool, who preferred to praise God by singing and dancing in the forests. Listening to his master, the great Maggid of Mezeritch, Zusia would miss the point of the discourse because he fell into ecstasy at the first sound of the Maggid’s voice. Plagued by ailments throughout his life, Zusia lived in a state of joy. When asked how he could thank God amid all his suffering, Zusia hardly understood the question, so happy was he to be alive in the world God made. Once, Zusia discussed the problem of good and evil:

“True, suffering exists. Like everything else, it too comes from God. Why does it exist? I’ll tell you: man is too weak to accept or absorb divine charity, which is absolute. For that reason, and that reason alone, does God cover it with the veil that is pain.”

Once, before they became well known, they were traveling and stopped at a village inn where a noisy wedding party was in progress. Some wise guys decided to have fun with the two uninvited guests, who were huddled in a corner trying to be inconspicuous. Instinctively they grabbed Zusia. They spun him till he was dizzy, and punched him. After a while they let him go, but an hour later they began again – and an hour after that, and an hour after that, throughout the night.

“Why does it always have to be you?” asked Elimelekh.

“Such is the will of God,” Zusia groaned weakly.

“I have an idea. Let’s change places. They’re too drunk to notice. Next time, they’ll take me.”

But when the time came, one of the attackers cried out, “There are two of them – why do we always take the same one? Let’s try the other for a change.”

And Zusia told his brother, “You see, it’s not up to us. Everything is written.”

Years later, when Zusia was dying, he said: “When I face the celestial tribunal, I will not be asked why I was not Abraham, Jacob, or Moses. I will be asked why I was not Zusia.”

Elimelekh envisioned the scene this way: “They will ask me if I was just; I will say no. They will ask me if I was charitable; I will say no. Did I devote my life to study, to prayer? No. And then the Supreme Judge will smile and say, ‘Elimelekh, you speak the truth – and for this alone you may enter paradise.’”

Adapted from Elie Wiesel, SOULS ON FIRE: PORTRAITS AND LEGENDS OF HASIDIC MASTERS, Summit Books, 1972.

March 29, 2006

Two from Chuang Tzu

While the batteries keep recharging, today’s little tales will be from Chuang Tzu (c. 369–c.286 BC), the greatest Taoist writer after the quasi-mythical Lao Tzu.

Owl and Phoenix
Hui Tzu was prime minister of Liang province. He had heard that Chuang Tzu wanted his job and was plotting to usurp him. When Chuan Tzu came to visit Liang, Hui Tzu sent police to arrest him. The police searched unsuccessfully for three days and nights, but in the meantime Chuang Tzu presented himself at the palace voluntarily. He said to Hui Tzu:

“Have you heard about the bird that lives in the south, the phoenix? It never grows old. It drinks only from the clearest springs. It rises out of the South Sea and flies to the North Sea without touching land or water, except to alight on sacred trees from which it takes its only food, the most exquisite rare fruit.

“Once, an owl, chewing a dead, half-decayed rat, saw the phoenix fly overhead. The owl looked up and screeched with alarm, frantically clutching the rat to protect his kill.

“Why are you frantically clutching your ministry and screeching at me with alarm?”

The Fighting Cock
Chi Hsing Tzu trained fighting cocks for the king. Once, when he was training an especially fine bird, the king asked if it was ready for the ring.

“Not yet, Your Majesty,” said Chi Hsing Tzu. “He’s full of fire. He’s ready to pick a fight with every other bird. He’s vain and confident of his own strength.”

After ten days, the king repeated his question, and Chi Hsing Tzu said, “Not yet. He still flares up when he hears another cock crowing.”

After ten more days, he said, “Not yet. He still gets that angry look and ruffles his feathers.”

Ten more days: “Now he’s ready. When another bird crows, his eyes don’t even flicker. He stands immobile like a wooden statue of a bird. He is a mature fighter. Other birds will take one look at him and run.”

Adapted from Thomas Merton, THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU, Shambhala Editions, 2004.

Tomorrow’s religion: Judaism!

March 28, 2006

A Story That's Been Going Around

I feel myself hitting a little dry patch after last week's fertile bunch of stories and posts, so I'll tell you a story that's one of my favorites in the world. It's especially for you meditation freaks out there. It's not new, it's not timely, the MSM are not buzzing with it, the blogs aren't linking to it, and it's shorter than this introduction, so there's hope it might be worth thinking about. It doesn't have a title: in the book where I read it, it's called "LXXII."

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation, and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?


March 27, 2006

Who Are These People?

This might not mean much to anyone but me -- a too-extreme inwardness -- but what the heck, this is my online journal and I’m the sole owner and proprietor. I’m thinking aloud about a story I recently posted here and the characters in it: a guy who drives a delivery van in remote West Texas, a female artist he gives a flowering cactus to when he make a delivery.

I don’t know those people. I don’t know where they came from. I’ve seen delivery drivers before, I’ve known artists, but why these, and why out there?

I always assume that a work of fiction is an emanation of the writer’s psyche, just the way a dream is, except that the story is edited for form, shaped by the conscious mind – for better or worse. I interpret stories as if they were dreams and dreams as if they were stories. So if that story is a dream, what is the interpretation?

The basic Freudian approach is to treat the main character as a stand-in for me and to find the wish that the dream expresses. I’m the delivery guy, I’m wishing for the wide open spaces, for freedom, but also for the security of a known route, and for sexual adventure. The flowering cactus is the gift of my sexuality, which she accepts symbolically even though we don’t get involved. I’m wishing for romance without entanglement. Very cut and dried – so much so that I don’t see what the point is in developing a whole dream to express it. Don’t I have more in my mind than that? Well, I could dig deeper into these symbols: the dream is about rejection, but who’s rejecting who? Overtly she’s rejecting him, but covertly I’m rejecting her by staging a drama in which she ends up alone. An element of sexual revenge there.

Still not enough, though: it doesn’t escape the old Freudian sexual cauldron. A more broad-minded view – more Jungian, perhaps – says that I am everything in the dream. Every person, every object, every symbol, is a part of my psyche. I’m the female artist as well as the male delivery guy. (In real life I am an artist, and though I haven’t retreated to the hills, I have a strongly solitary nature.)

The cactus is some kind of flowering, ripening, that I’m hoping for in myself. (In conscious life the cactus is a plant I identify with.) One part of me is giving a gift of creative flowering to another part. The empty sky, the open roads: this dream takes place in a clear part of my mind, or says that I wish for a clear mind. The delivery truck going back and forth over long distances: it could be a sense of the repetitiousness of life, the banality even of freedom and open space, or it could be a desire to break out of known routes. The Airstream trailer with its climbing roses: another symbol of myself, a hard, cold, metallic part of me, compact and self-contained, but growing into softness through time and effort. And the delivery letters and packages: wishes for success, but maybe something more subtle than that: messages from one part of my psyche to another, supplies of self-nurturing, but the contents still unglimpsed.

Still, this all seems too reductive. I’m reading the landscape for symbols; this equals that, as if dream life gained meaning by being reduced to an abstraction. As if a dream or a story were a passage in code and once you cracked the code you understood everything about it – it had nothing else to offer. This view makes dreams thin.

Surely it’s the opposite: the dream gains meaning the more it feels like a lived experience with all the texture, sensation, and emotion of life. Maybe the way to understand a dream is to feel what it was like, to enter it as if it were a memory rather than a fantasy. What does it feel like to be in that story? What does the wind feel like through the open door of the speeding delivery van? What do the tiny prickles of the cactus feel like when the dabs them with a fingertip? What are the expressions on their faces when they part? If I could talk to them, what would they tell me? These are questions you can ask a work of art, but you can’t ask a cryptogram.

All these things are happening inside me. Where does that road come from, where is it going? Where can I find those hills? Are they still inside me, and how can I call them back? And what is the mixture of joy and desolation, of comfort and anxiety, that the dream makes me feel: is that feeling, all by itself, the real message of the dream?

God, it felt good to be in that dream: good to be driving that van across those flat straight roads in the sagebrush land, and good to give her the flowering cactus and good to receive the cactus from him, good to court and good to say goodbye and then to become friends, and good to be that white-petaled, red-darted flower and that aluminum trailer with roses climbing over me. Maybe the wish of every dreamer is to live in his dream: a wish that never, and always, comes true.

March 24, 2006

Whan that Aprill with His Blogges Soote

Who’s the most prestigious writer to have a blog? Neil Gaiman? William Gibson? No way, it’s Geoffrey Chaucer – that’s right, author of The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Cressida, leading light of Middle English, soldier, diplomat, and customs-house official, and most recently host of “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.” Mr. Chaucer channels his amiably tart voice through an unknown present-day parodist of genius: writing an advice column, “Aske Chaucere, parte the firste”; giving counsel such as, “And thus, take two pintes of hagen dasz dulce de leche, a ful seson of buffie the vampyre slayre, and calle me in the morninge”; assembling a list of medieval online abbreviations (WTF = Whatte the swyve?”), and relating a Brokeback Mountain-like tale concerning himself and the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: ““I WOLDE I KNEWE HOW OF THEE I MIGHT BE QUITTEN!”

This will make you want to master the old tongue. Read it all, all you English majors, it’s a lot funnier than “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”

And besides, this morning I’m going to be spending 2-1/2 hours in an outdoor line to register my kids for day camp – and it froze last night, by far the latest freeze I’ve ever seen in these here parts.

March 23, 2006


He drives an overnight delivery van in West Texas, where 50 miles is a short way between stops. When he took the job he didn’t give it a thought -- he’s from there, you get in your car and go all day, it doesn’t matter -- but after a while he began to notice how restful it was, what a welcome time to clear his mind or resolve his questions. The corporation loses money on his route, but it fulfills their promise of delivering to every place in the U.S., so in the larger sense it contributes to their dominance, and his package load is so light it makes him feel almost retired.

There’s a woman about his age he delivers to periodically. She’s an artist, she bought an old shack with some acreage in the sagebrush hills, redid the shack as a studio and parked an aluminum Airstream trailer there to live in. The Airstream on cinderblocks with antique roses growing on stakes all around it. She gets overnight letters from a gallery in Santa Fe and boxes of supplies from a company in Chicago. When he brings her something, they chat for a minute about how beautiful the desert is and when it might rain.

Once, on a morning when he saw a letter for her in his cart, he stopped beforehand at a little nursery in town and bought a tiny lace-spine cactus in flower, with a red dart down the center of each white petal. He gave her the letter from Santa Fe, and in his upturned palm he gave her the cactus.

She looked surprised and quiet. He could tell she was adjusting her reaction just so. “Thank you,” she said,” as if to say, “I don’t know where this comes from.”

The following week he tried once more, mentioning going over to the observatory on star-gazing night. “There’s no better stars than out here.”

“Oh, I can never see anything through a telescope.”

It made him feel like he ought to quit his job and find something he didn’t like, rather than ever deliver her another thing. But he liked the driving too much, and next time he had something in his cart for her he just handed it to her and she said thank you without any of the stuff about the desert or the rain.

Gradually, over months and months, they got to the point where they exchanged pleasantries again, and it was what he looked forward to most in all his work day. He felt that, hardly saying a word, never touching each other, they had been through a whole love affair, just as you can drive a whole day and barely see another car. They had come through everything, and now were old friends.


March 22, 2006

I Cry More Than I Used To

I cry more than I used to, and I think it’s a good thing. I cry when I think of people I love, or have loved, and of books I treasured as a young man but would probably not enjoy as much today. My eyelids sting at the sound of certain songs from my youth, and get blurry when I see photos of my wife before I met her. I cry when I think of my children, and, though I don’t let it show, my eyes fill at the sight of them. I weep inwardly at the thought of certain artists who have filled my life – my adopted fathers and mothers, though they don’t know it – who will inevitably die in the next few years. Ray Bradbury and J. D. Salinger, even foolish Norman Mailer though I’m not a fan of his, and Lauren Bacall though I haven’t seen that many of her movies, and Kim Novak, who’ll one day pop up in an obituary and people will shake their heads fondly: “I haven’t thought of her in years!” And a little later, when old age starts hitting the rock stars — when frail, tottering Dylan leaves us in mid-tour and we lose our great national artist, it will be the biggest news all week, and I’ll choke up whenever I hear about it. I cry at movies now, something I’ve scorned others for doing: when Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are finally united in Pride and Prejudice, I cry not only for them but for Jane Austen and how much that plain, impossibly brilliant woman must have wished for some noble heir, or even some impoverished navy officer, to recognize her worth and take her away – I cry because I can’t take her away -- and for England, the way it must have looked once, which I’ll never see. And I cry for the thousands of people I don’t know by name, in the news because they have lost their lives or their limbs or their loved ones, their homes or their homelands.

I think it’s a good thing to be like this. I don’t want to hold anything in anymore. I’m tired of it. My goal is to be undefended, my soul transparent, clear as tears. I will have to become much more confident before I can reach that state.

One nagging question, then: why haven’t I cried for my parents?


March 21, 2006


“But will they cry for me, you think?” she asked her personal assistant, who was helping with the bandages.

“Rivers,” the girl said. “There’ll be tears flowing in the streets. There’ll be a line blocks long for a last glimpse of you.”

“Because, you know, that’s why I think I really got into the whole thing. To be remembered after my death. It sounds morbid, but what else do we have?’

The girl applied fresh, clean bandages where the pouches under the eyes had been.

“You think I should have made more movies? You think it, don’t you? You can tell me.”

“No, you made just the right amount. You quit at the perfect time, they all say that.”

Yes, she had left Hollywood in her thirties, after a string of effervescent ingénue roles that couldn’t possibly be extended further, and married that multimillionaire who had conveniently died a decade later, and then, barely into middle age, she’d made her grand comeback on Broadway and reprised the part in her Oscar-winning film. From then on she’d picked her roles with increasing care and canniness: cameos that upstaged the young sex kittens and turned her into a grande dame, and guest-star turns on the most prestigious television dramatic plays, and the one-woman show, a wry and celebratory look back at her life and loves, featuring songs in her famous throaty alto and a finale that had her carried offstage, in a tight-fitting full-length red gown, by a troop of muscular tuxedoed young men. Now, in old age, her voice on commercials sold more product than the products themselves did, and her trembly but doughty narrations at classical concerts brought showers of roses and backstage proposals from wealthy codgers.

She was preparing for what she knew would be her swan song, the strong-willed but kind-hearted matriarch of a clan of American aristocrats. The latest writhing twenty-year-old, and a fortyish award-winner who was herself facing the inevitable dilemmas of age, would play her younger selves, and she knew that the better they were, the more they would be mere appetizers for the rich main course of her crowning performance. To have outlived competitiveness, that was a fine thing too, amid so many fine things.

On the first day of shooting, she drove slowly along Park Avenue in her black limousine, stepped carefully out to wave regally at the small but fanatical crowd, strode confidently into the townhouse that had been rented as the set, played her first scene perfectly to the admiration of cast and crew alike, and then fell to a heart attack in her trailer, which was parked on a side street that had been cordoned off for her.

A few weeks too soon! Another actress was hired to play her role: someone who’d come into the business several years after her and had always been sold as the new version of her. No swan song, no final Oscar, no crowning achievement for the American Film Institute to preserve. But still, there were thousands at her funeral, and they cried in the streets.


March 20, 2006

Trouble with Form

Her favorite reclusive poet: she wrote him so many letters that finally he invited her to his haven in the woods. A cottage straight out of a folk tale, with ivy softening away the walls, and snow and rain and bird feet crumbling the chimney mortar. Inside, though, the place was a disaster, only getting half-straightened once a month when an old woman from the village came to clean.

Dinner came from the same stewpot night after night, lunch from week-old roasted meat, and the poet drank two bottles of wine with every meal, following by distilled spirits through the evening. He belched, he coughed without covering his mouth, he dribbled gravy down his chin, he laughed chokingly at his own vulgar jokes and hawked spit into the fire to punctuate them. He sat spread-legged in a hole-ridden old motley robe, he stumbled the narrow lanes of the parlor drunkenly cursing his competitors, and from his bedroom – where after one look she refused to enter – he snored loudly enough to wake her in the hall.

She wrote in her diary: “He’s impossible! Crude, uncouth – if I didn’t know he was a great poet, I’d think he was a bum out of the gutter.”

Next day at breakfast, after spilling oatmeal down his front, he looked up unashamedly and said, “Bum out of the gutter is a bit too strong, I think.” Which puzzled her, because she always kept her diary locked under her pillow. “Well, we’ve all had our troubles with form. Shakespeare chasing after his grimy little drag queen, Coleridge with his opium, Pindar mooning after those naked athletes, Rimbaud – Rimbaud for just about everything. Perhaps I should show you a more civilized face.”

And before her eyes, in a cloud of smoke with the sweet cherry scent of good tobacco, the soiled-robed poet changed into a plump, sedate, silver-caparisoned, quietly smiling green dragon with deep-seeing, vertically slit red eyes, and a wrinkled mouth which, though razor-toothed, conveyed the wry satisfaction of one who, while telling much, knew a great deal more than he would ever deign to share. With calm, self-assured hisses he exhaled long, thin streams of the cherry-scented smoke which, thinning as they reached her nose, filled her with a sense of wellbeing.

“Now this is what a poet should look like, don’t you think?” he said, and, excusing himself politely, slithered off to work on his sonnets.


March 17, 2006

Just Like a Russian Novel

A novelist, who had been nominated for awards but had never won one, decided to seize his chance to rise into the big time. What he needed was a subject, something timeless and simple and grand—something Russian, if you will; and reading all the books he could find with timeless, simple, grand subjects, he decided that his subject would be first love. There was only one problem: he had never had a first love, nor a second nor a third. So he fell back on what he knew best: he did research.

He read all the books on the psychology of love. He sat in bars and eavesdropped on young couples gazing foolishly at each other and squeezing hands. He placed an ad in a literary magazine asking to interview readers about their first loves. In the end he had a thousand pages of notes, which he expertly winnowed down to three hundred after adding a plot and dialogue.

The book was published and it made a sensation. “The quintessential love story for our age.” “Reaches depths of passion and insight that other so-called great love stories barely touch.” “A deeply knowledgeable analysis of human attachment that is also a thrilling tale of romance.” It stayed on the bestseller list for a more than respectable number of weeks, and won the prize for the year’s best novel.

When the paperback came out, he took to the road once more to promote the thing. He traveled up and down the college towns of the land, and to the big cities too. One day he was sitting in the waiting room of a TV studio when an associate producer popped her head through the doorway and asked how he was doing. He knew immediately that he had to keep her there, with him, for as long as possible. She was a little too old to be a mere associate producer, and he knew she must have a story: she must have gone through numerous crises and derailments before someone, a friend, a cousin in the business, found this safe haven for her, preparing guests for interviews. He must learn all about her — it was the absolute imperative of his life. He asked her to dinner before he knew her name.

They were married in the spring, and she left her job and opened a catering service in the beach town where they spent the summer. In the evenings, he waited for her to bicycle home along the sandy road to their secluded house. In the falling light, the fine band of perspiration below her sunhat shone like the Milky Way. It was his favorite hour.

One day, when she had phoned to say she’d be a little late, he picked up his prizewinning novel to pass the time. He began reading from the first page, and as he flipped through, faster and faster, his eyes widened and his pulse raced and his mouth went dry.

“It’s all wrong!” he cried out loud. “Every line, every scene, it was the best I could do and it’s all completely wrong!”


March 16, 2006

Signs of Freedom

Sign in the window of a feminist bookstore: “Hate-Free Zone.”

Handwritten sign on the door of a New Age gift shop: “Please respect that this is a cell-phone-free zone.”

Bedsheet sign hanging from the balcony of an apartment building: “What Does Freedom Really Mean?”

Hm, I think. “Hate-Free Zone.” A laudable ideal. But how are you going to compel it in practice? Are you going to check all customers’ emotions before they walk into the store? What if a man with a gripe against feminism walked in looking for a book for his daughter, or to educate himself about views he opposed? How do you decide who has hatred, anyway? How do you decide if you yourselves have any hatred in you? Will women who hate patriarchy be turned away from your store? What if you could install a hateometer at the door and turn away anyone whose heart contained hate? Would that practice increase freedom or make this a better world? What if your hateometer could change their emotions, freezing the specific neurons that carried hate? Would that increase freedom?

“Freedom” there doesn’t means freedom to do what you want; it means freedom not to be confronted by those who make you uncomfortable or those to whom you feel superior.

The cell-phone-free zone carries this to an extreme: the freedom to forbid others anything that rubs you the wrong way. The freedom to deprive others of their freedom reigns even when the others are people who have freely decided to enter your area of commerce. In this case, the thing forbidden is a symbol of unenlightened living, of impoliteness, of belonging to the coarse masses; and the prohibition pretends to be a symbol of the management’s enlightened progressivism. Notice how coyly it’s worded: the forbidding party acts from high-minded motives, using a gentle style. But do any of the store’s employees or managers or owners possess ever use cell phones? What if a customer saw an item in the store that she knew her friend would love, and wanted to call the friend on her cell phone and say, “You have to come here right away and buy this”? Would that be permitted? Or would the customer have to step out onto the sidewalk to recommend that someone else enter the store? And what if the cell was so disturbing to so many people that it started losing you business? Would you take it down

“What does freedom really mean?” My immediate response is: “It means that you are free to hang this sign from your balcony. You can express any view you like, and you need not fear arrest.” But somehow I don’t think that’s what the signmaker meant by freedom. I don’t have any evidence for this, of course, but I’m free to speculate. I’m speculating on the basis of the sign’s anarchist visual style -- big messy black letters on a ripped bedsheet – and provenance – the balcony of a studenty apartment building. I speculate that the signmaker would laugh derisively at the idea that “freedom” means what ordinary people in this society have meant for the past two hundred years. (Otherwise, why hang the sign?) We are dupes, the sign implies, if we think freedom means freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of religion. These are sham freedoms: the sign wants us to think about what real freedom is. And the answer, I speculate, is that there is something called “true freedom” that is not found in commercialistic representative democracies with large economies, overwhelming military power, and dominant mass media. This true freedom is spiritual. It can be experienced in any environment, even in a tyranny, even in jail where one is serving time for a political protest. That is where one finds true freedom: protesting within unfreedom.

That kind of “true freedom” was characteristically touted by Soviet-style and other fascistic dictatorships for decades during the twentieth century. Oh, you Americans! You think you have freedom with your elections and your newspapers, but we have true freedom! We are free to read the right things; we are free from the temptation of reading the wrong things. We are free from the delusions of the free market; we are free to rely on the decisions of our leaders. And we have freedom to dissent, too: it’s just that we’ve put our dissenters in a region where decent people are free of them.

In the case of the first two signs, freedom is not positive freedom to do something. It’s freedom not to be impinged upon by the inconvenient, the unseemly, the uncouth, or the low-status. (The bedsheet sign could be a protest against an infringement of freedom – but what?) There is an important place for this kind of “freedom from” in American society: freedom from discrimination, and the last two of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: freedom from want and freedom from fear. But where is there a place in these signmakers’ worlds for the positive freedom to do as one likes? Does it only apply to people who wish to do what the signmakers approve of?

I’m waiting to see a sign, “Free Zone.”


March 14, 2006

Turning Again

It seems this blog reaches a turning point every month or so. It hit one yesterday, one that surprised and frustrated me at first, and still does actually, but that feels inescapable as I think about it.

I wrote a post that told private details about the life of someone very dear to me who did not have the chance to consent beforehand, and in fact legally is too young to consent. Although the intent of the piece was to express my love for him, my writerly confessional impulse led me to make statements that could have been seen as stigmatizing. After the post came out, other people very close to me protested. They told me I had no right to use the life and personality of a real person that way.

This is an issue that has come up for centuries in writers’ careers, and different people solve it according to their consciences. But now, on the Internet, the implications of writing about real people go far beyond hurting their feelings. We face an era when privacy will soon have disappeared, when anything anyone has written about anyone else will be instantly findable through search technology that will far outstrip the Google that we have today. It will become standard procedure (and has become so in some spheres) for prospective employers and admissions officers, prospective friends and enemies, to dig up all available data about the people who come before them. And nothing will be safe from scrutiny. Deleted materials will still exist in cyberspace for those who care to look for them. Someone told me that if I had written the post in a printed book it would have been more acceptable, but actually he was wrong in an age when all digitized books are, or soon will be, completely searchable. I may be especially vulnerable because I use my full real name, but in fact most bloggers’ identities are easily discoverable and will become more so with advancing technology.

So by sharing with a relatively small group of trusted readers an experience that meant a lot to me and my loved ones, I inadvertently put one of those loved ones at risk in the future. I have received requests, too, from other people in my close circle, not to write about them anymore. Of course I will comply with their requests.

It seems ironic to me, in an age when writers make millions of dollars telling all, and sometimes passing off invention as truth, that I come up against this roadblock, but I suppose that people who lack consciences do have the best chance in life. In any event I can’t concern myself with them; I can only consider what I must do.

So I’m going to have to change the slant of this blog somewhat. One important strand of its subject matter will fall away. How fundamental a change that will be remains to be seen. I didn’t start this blog intending to write familial gossip. I meant it to be for fiction and for philosophical and literary observations. The practical fact turned out to be that fiction and philosophical/literary observations don’t come to hand as often as cute or moving vignettes of family life. The family stuff was entertaining, and lots of bloggers write about their families, and I naively thought I was preserving lore for appreciative future descendants who would want to know what their ancestors had been like, how we had lived. Now this renunciation will tell them something about how we live.

My impulse in writing has always been to reveal myself. One could theorize about why, but I’ve put a lot of things on this site that could be held against me, and I don’t really care. If it’s just about me, I don’t care if people think I’m crazy or hostile or self-serving or smarmy or hypocritical. The whole enterprise is self-promotional anyway: my mind is all I have to put on the market. I’ve been living on smart remarks for a long time; they’re how I hope to earn remembrance, they’re why I get invited to the party. And I’m self-employed; I have no boss to answer to, and the people who rent my services judge me by my work, rarely even meeting me in person. But when my loved ones are involved, it becomes a whole different situation.

The first change I’ve made is to delete a comment of mine that earned particularly strong, and justified, criticism. I’m also going to edit one or more comments in which potentially damaging details from my post were repeated: I apologize to the much-valued online friends who wrote those comments, and I hope you understand that the deletion is not a reflection on you.

Someone wondered yesterday what the guidelines for writing about real people should be, and said that she had seen a set of such guidelines online but couldn’t remember the source. If anyone knows the location of those guidelines, I’d like to find them. A basic rule of thumb, I would imagine, is not to write anything that puts a private person in a dubious light; nothing that could later be used against him or her. And not to make real people identifiable, other than public figures.

At this point I have to think about what to do next, what to write next, what direction to take this blog. Maybe the questions will answer themselves: maybe when I give up one kind of subject matter, others will flow in to take its place. Or maybe I’ll struggle and not come up with an easy answer, and have to write less than I have done for the past year.

One thing I do know: I will value your thoughts about it.


March 12, 2006

First Rejection

The middle schools in Austin tend to be mediocre, but there are two magnet schools – one in science and math, the other in humanities and government – that draw smart, motivated kids from all over the city, with admission based on grades, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, and the student’s application letter. Earlier this year we went to their joint open house, and Agent 95, our fifth-grader, was thrilled at the displays from the many elective courses at the science school. For months he’s been excited about that school. He’s classified as gifted and talented in science and math – one of the only three GT math students in his grade at his elementary school – and his standardized test scores are excellent, so we told him he had an excellent chance to get in. On the drawback side, his grades are only medium-good, not stellar, because his work is often careless; he sometimes turns in assignments late or incomplete, and usually messy; he’s a clown and a fantasizer and hypersensitive to boot, and sometimes gets in trouble for acting out those traits. One of his problems, for example, is that he sometimes sneaks a book out of his desk and reads independently during a lesson – a problem of loving to read too much.

Yesterday the long-awaited letter from the middle school arrived, and Agent 95, who likes to be the one who takes the mail out of the box, insisted on opening and reading it himself. When he did, he burst into tears.

He ran into the bedroom where I was taking a nap to recover from the flu (I’m all better this morning). He told me what had happened and began sobbing. I put my arms around him and tried to say comforting things. More than that, the passage of time helped settle him down a little. But all through the evening, mixed with the usual jokes and verbal flights and roughhousing with his brother, there were episodes of weeping and of wondering Why, why, why? What was wrong with him, he asked? Why had they done it? He played a game of Go with his younger brother and lost decisively, and began sobbing again, calling himself stupid, stupid, stupid. And he kept saying that the rejection was “crushing.” I told him that any fifth-grader who chose a word like that had to be smart; and I promised that even though it felt crushing, he would not be crushed. I told him that his older brothers had had early problems in school and had done just fine later. These assurances didn’t seem to work last night, but he’s such a smart kid that I believe he’ll absorb them over time.

It’s so terrible to witness this and not be able to do anything to change it. It makes me want to wrench apart the laws of time and space. It makes me want to tear open the curtain of the world and accuse whoever is behind it. I too have felt like crying since we got this news. One reason I’m not crying is that, like all adults, I’m inured to disappointment. Agent 95 has now taken his first step on that mined road, and it’s agonizing to see.

Imagine being ten years old and opening that letter.

The sages – or some of the sages, anyway – tell us it’s an error to be too attached to our children. That’s an error I have no intention of correcting in this lifetime.

Agent 95 will be doing sixth grade at his elementary school next year: fortunately it’s one of the few remaining elementary schools in Austin that offers sixth grade. He can apply to the same middle school again next year, for entry in seventh grade rather than sixth. The odds of admission that way are statistically lower. We’re going to work with him, of course, to make him a more serious, hardworking student: I’ve told him repeatedly than in order to get all A’s, he doesn’t have to be one drop smarter than he already is, only more diligent. We, and his teachers and counselors, have spent years trying to get him to believe that it would be good to change his work habits. And we’ve seen him try in that direction and improve in some ways. Maybe now he’ll be shaken up enough to make a real commitment.

As an educational writer, I often receive pedagogical materials from publishers to help me write the textbooks they assign me. This year I happen to be working on grades 11 and 12 of a big literature series for a major publisher. One of the categories of students I need to write activities for is the “advanced learner.” The guidelines say, “Advanced learners are a diverse group that includes the ‘honors’ students, the bright-but-at-risk learners, and the high achievers.” The layman’s response is probably, “Who? Could you repeat that, please?”, but cutting through the politically correct euphemisms, my interpretation is:

• honor students: the perfect kids, usually from affluent white families, who have been trained from the cradle that they must get the highest grades and get into Harvard
• bright-but-at-risk: the brilliant but erratic kids whose work habits and grades and behavior don’t always match up to their intellect
• the high achievers: the kids who don’t seem outwardly brilliant but who work so hard that they get A’s – often kids from working-class backgrounds

There’s no question which category Agent 95 falls into, and if I were running a school, I’d seek out kids like that (and the high achievers, too, the ones who often are the first in their families to go to college). But kids like that make extra work for teachers and guidance counselors; they need some correcting, they don’t sail smoothly through academic life as if it were second, or first, nature.

There’s a lot of competition to get into this magnet school – more each year, as word gets around among parents. The cutoff point is getting increasingly high. At some point it gets so high that only the “honors students” are admitted; there’s no room for anything but perfection. The “diverse group” of advanced learners is whittled down to one subtype.

The thing is, as my wife, an educator, points out, every child deserves the kind of education that is offered only at magnet schools and other exceptional schools in this country. If that were provided across our society, imagine where we’d be.

March 10, 2006

The Age of Appointments

When my mother was in her last years – which we didn’t know were going to be her last years, but how could they have been much otherwise? – my brothers and I used to make fun of her for being obsessed with medical appointments, for treating them as social events. She had a podiatrist for her bunions, a neurologist for her balance problem, a retinologist for the little spots on her retina, a physical therapist for her range of motion, and an internist for most everything else-- plus the dentist and the endodontist, of course. The word “retinologist” especially tickled us: it seemed to express Mom’s touchingly provincial desire for sophistication, a product of her education in New York City’s public colleges when they were the way up for the children of immigrants (as I suppose, in fact, they still are). She didn’t just have an ophthalmologist, she had a retinologist! Her phone conversations to us were weighed down with details of which one she was going to see, and which ones were “very nice” or “lovely.” Days before an appointment, she would worry if she would get there on time, and often she’d clear her schedule, such as it was when living in a retirement complex, so she could be sure of getting there.

Well, now I’m starting to get a glimpse of what it might be like someday, or even closer than someday. In the first three days of this week, I had four appointments: first with my kids’ orthodontist, then with the doctor who prescribes the little pills I’ve started to take for my recently diagnosed, mild bipolar disorder – a short, sweet conversation, everything’s on track, he went down his list of questions just as a computerized doctor would have, or, for that matter, just as I would have on the basis of reading a home medical care manual -- then with a woman I talk to for forty-five minutes every week to help clear the brush on my path, and finally – the most troubling one – with a urologist.

I’d never been to a urologist before, but a couple of weeks ago I was lying awake at four in the morning, minding my own business, when I happened up a little nodule in a place I usually don’t examine much. My family doctor had me take an ultrasound, and while the nodule turned out to be a harmless cyst, the radiologist discovered a questionable area, a patch of fuzzy discontinuity, in another part of the forest, so to speak.

The waiting rooms of urologists, it turns out, have their own special culture. Gray-haired, paunchy men with heavy Texas accents kept getting up to tell the receptionist they were going to use the restroom. A young man wearing a mechanic’s blue jumper looked sorrowful while his perky wife, sitting next to him, kept explaining out loud that they were anxious and that he had to go urgently. An excessively made-up lady of about eighty, blue insurance card in hand, crossed herself, the card hitting all four points with a light click of plastic on wool. And I? I kept getting up and taking drinks of water from the fountain outside, because I had peed before arriving and hadn’t known they would want a sample.

The urologist was reassuring – he didn’t feel anything anomalous on physical examination – and I left happily, silently wishing everyone in the waiting room well, and pleased with myself for being younger than most of them.

It was a peek down a long corridor of time. I step gingerly over the threshold; I glance this way and that, looking to see who’s ahead of me and who’s just behind me in line.

I’m already booked for more appointments next week.


March 09, 2006

Lost in Plato's Cave

We’re coughing away at breakfast time under the influence of our colds and talking about what makes horror movies scary -- is it the building of suspense by the writer and director and editor, is it special effects, is it the audience’s preconceptions about what scares them – when Agent 97 makes a turn in the conversation:

“Did you ever notice that the actor who plays Jack on Lost looks just like Jack?”

“Huh? What do you mean? He is Jack. There’s no one else who is Jack. He looks like himself.”

We tried to think of times when that isn’t true: when the actor is playing an alien, such as a Klingon, or when the actor is playing a historical person. We can say that Henry Fonda does and doesn’t look like Lincoln, that Spencer Tracy does and doesn’t look like Edison. But can there be a case when the character is a fictitious human being and the actor doesn’t look like the character?

That’s where casting comes in, I told them. The actor who plays Jack is perfectly cast as that type of person: a regular guy, a skilled doctor with human flaws and doubts, handsome enough but scruffy and not a matinee idol type, strong but a little soft-looking. He looks like a man who has too wear a suit professionally but always looks a little shlumpy in it. The actor who plays the snivelly British rock star is perfect too. Some of the others on that show aren’t as perfect: they’re too goodlooking. Sawyer and Sayid would be perfect if they were a bit less handsome.

This problem affects the casting of female roles especially. The actress who plays Kate is too beautiful for what Kate would be in real life. The real one would be sexy, of course, in order to pull her cons on men; she might be a facsimile of a girl next door, convincing to the easily gulled; but there’s an element of tawdriness missing from the actress’ persona. The real Erin Brockovich, who plays a waitress in the movie Erin Brockovich, is perfectly cast for the role of Erin Brockovich, while Julia Roberts is just the Hollywood version.

Can we be imperfect versions of ourselves? Are there Platonic ideals of ourselves, whom we in real life fail to realize fully? Am I perfectly cast to be Richard, and what could I do to fit the role better — or should the reverse be true, should the ideal be adjusted to match the reality? What would the world look like in which we were all the Platonic ideals of ourselves?

Most important: does the ideal me have to sit here all day typing his brains out?


March 08, 2006

A Slightly Fevered Miscellany

1. I hope to return to normal blogging soon, probably tomorrow, but I want to shake this debilitating cold first. It came over me yesterday evening: cough, slight sore throat, runny nose, mild fever and chills, mild headache and body aches, preceded by a day or two of dry, scratchy coughing. No one big overpowering symptom, but an overall weakened feeling and a compelling desire to stay in bed with the covers up. My wife has it worse than I do, and I'm expecting the kids to come down with it any day now.

2. I forgot to mention that my book is also available as an e-book for six bucks, from the publisher.

3. I'm considering making those blurbs a permanent feature on my sidebar. It never occurred to me to do it before, even though I know of several prominent bloggers who do, but now that I'm promoting a book it seems appropriate. At least they'll give me a friendly wave from afar. I once knew a poet-professor who was extremely prolific, with a vita miles long from all the poems he'd placed in little magazines, although he was mediocre and everyone knew it. He used to read his ever-expanding vita once a week to cheer himself up.

4. Hey, if any of you feel moved to write a review of my book for Amazon or B&N, please feel free. Or create an Amazon Listmanias list that includes the book -- perhaps a list of bloggers' books, or of microfiction books. Lists draw customers who've been browsing elsewhere.

And now back to bed for an hour until I have to wake the kids.

March 05, 2006

Buy This Book Immediately!

My new book, ONLY WHAT IS, is now available! It's a collection of my 89 best posts — mostly fiction, with some personal essays and even some haiku — from the first year of this blog.

You can buy ONLY WHAT IS from Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Booksamillion online, and from the publisher, iUniverse. You can also buy a signed copy directly from me at the cover price ($13.95) plus my shipping costs (approximately $4 in the US, depending on shipping method). See the info and the permanent links near the top of my sidebar (that way ---->).

To further entice you, here's some of the front and back matter from the book.

The jacket copy -- written by your intrepid author himself:

A man falls in love with a woman who exists only in his dreams.

A young couple walks the same street day after day, the husband always talking and the wife – doing what?

An artist sits sketching in the cemetery of a mental hospital, and wishes he’ll someday be buried there.

A hopeful businessman opens a shop in a location that is doomed.

A vampire craves, not his victims’ blood, but their personalities.

Eighty–nine blog posts, the best of the author’s first year in the blogosphere.

Eighty–nine glimpses of life imagined, experienced, felt, cherished, and above all, clearly seen. Here are stories of people yearning for companionship, parables of the unwittingly enlightened and the unknowingly benighted, landscapes of desolate beauty, moments of everyday tenderness and of sudden comic recognition, transcending the line between fiction and nonfiction.

As up–to–date as the blogosphere, yet reaching back for its roots to ancient Taoist tales and medieval Japanese pillow books.

Another step forward in the evolution of “a spectacular writer, a distinctive voice to be heard” (The Detroit News).

The review quotes:

About Richard Lawrence Cohen’s fiction:

Domestic Tranquility:

“It is a beautiful first novel — built on observations so minutely and constantly intelligent that one feels as intellectually engaged by it as emotionally seized.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A devastatingly convincing anatomy of a family.… Cohen reaches deeply into the hearts of his three characters, illuminating with clarity the foibles, flaws, dark sides, and resilience of us all.”
Best Sellers

“A deliberative, painstaking, yet warmly empathic first novel which explores the artifices of domestic tranquility and the fearful isolation, hostility, and anguished love beneath.”
Kirkus Reviews

“He writes about loving and caring and hurting with wisdom and wit.… Cohen’s book is a tragicomedy with a message of hope, not despair.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Cohen is a skillful writer, as well as audacious.… The book is intense, frequently sad, sometimes sexual, and disturbingly accurate.”
Rocky Mountain News

“A masterpiece. The book is an original and knowing tribute to family life.… He grasps the power of daily experience and perceives the value of all emotions, from love to hate, panic to freedom, and humiliation to respect. Cohen showers the reader with penetrating insights.”
Church and Self

Say You Want Me:

“A poignantly imagined, perfectly realized novel of two–career family life in the 1980s.… The book explodes in beauty and pain when things that must change mix and ignite with the things that can’t.… I started reading it one night and read it straight through until 4 a.m.”
Jack Miles, The Los Angeles Times

“Out of a quiet story about ordinary people, Cohen has created a haunting and beautifully written novel.… Cohen sidesteps sentimentality in discussing a devoted father’s intricate relationship with his young son, and there is a rare clarity and energy to his prose. His ear for dialogue is superb.… The story is powerful and sad, the writing exhilarating.”
Publishers Weekly

“Cohen is a writer as intuitive as he is stylish.… Cohen also has an uncanny ear for the ways in which men and women try, with varying degrees of success, to talk to one another.”
Chicago Tribune Books

“A dazzling new novel.… Couldn’t be more up–to–the–moment.”
New Woman

“An absolutely gorgeous and haunting novel.… What is amazing about Richard Cohen’s handling of a marriage on the downslide, a new love affair, and the complexities of parenthood is that his voice always rings true, without fail.… He’s a spectacular writer, a distinctive voice to be heard.”
The Detroit News

Pronoun Music:

“Richard Cohen’s wonderful collection is flawless: full of strong, beautifully built and felt stories.”
Lorrie Moore, author of Birds of America

“With this book of stories Richard Cohen has reached into life deeply, wisely, and — for us readers — pleasurably. He is working with relationships that are the most difficult and touching: grown children with their aging parents or aunts or uncles, parents or step–parents with teenagers. I was entertained, instructed (and I come from a huge family), and frequently profoundly moved.”
John Casey, National Book Award-winning author of Spartina

“Marvelous stories, memorable and deeply moving and sometimes mercilessly funny! Richard Cohen’s characters inhabit the world fully, enlarging our awareness of reality. This is fiction we need to read now.”
Kelly Cherry, author of My Life and Dr. Joyce Brothers

“With wit and insight the twelve stories in Richard Cohen’s first short fiction collection explore family dynamics, childhood angst, and the inevitable, lifelong conflicts between parent and child.… Cohen provides memorable portraits of childhood, while indicating that child/parent relationships remain basically the same, even as the parties drift into middle and old age.”
Publishers Weekly

And most importantly, the photo:

So what are you waiting for? The very latest in ordering technology lies at your fingertips, and our fulltime staff of trained email recipients is eager to serve you.

Oh, one more thing, blogfriends: the book is dedicated to you.

UPDATE: Broken links on the sidebar have been fixed. Let me know if you ever have trouble reaching them.

ONLY WHAT IS: Table of Contents

Hey, I just got author's copies of my new book, ONLY WHAT IS, the "blook" based on this very blog. It looks good, and I'm pleased that the posts, placed one after another in a nice typeface on good paper, form a unity that makes them still more meaningful: a literary self-portrait in several forms, covering the course of a year.

In a second post today I'll tell give you some further glimpses, but in this one I just want to offer you the table of contents (which is very long because the book contains 89 posts). Those of you who are familiar with my work can go back to any of the listed posts if you wish, and remind yourselves of what you liked in them. Those of you who haven't read certain posts before -- ones from months ago, perhaps -- can dip into them as previews of the book.

The posts are arranged in chronological order, except for the last one listed. An author's preface introduces the book.

To find a post on this blog, type or cut-and-paste the title into the white search bar at the top of this page. Then click "Search This Blog". Click on the link provided by the search results.


The Allegory of Sitting
Flocking Behavior
Her Moment
The Doomed Location
Burnt Popcorn
Passing of Local Laureate, 73
Lao Tzu’s Christmas
It’s on the Tip of My Tongue
God the Father
The Fall
Two Beauties
Love Stories
The Strange Young Couple
Let’s Visit Dad
Reproachful Trees
The Man Who Praised
How Do You Want to Be Remembered?
My Heavens
The Sting of No Sting
The Favorite
The Unpeopled Graveyard
Modern Types, Parts 1–7
Mystery Versus Mystification
The Tragedy of No Tragedy
John Paul II
The Birthmark
Triumphant Return
Actors at their Craft
The Hundredth Day
The Personality Vampire
The Reviewer’s Dilemma
The Quick ‘N Easy Route to Poetry
The Best Blade
Talking About Women
Travel Notes: San Angelo, Texas
Travel Notes: Big Bend
Horses in the World
Man Sitting Under a Tree
Old Longing
Only Small Mysteries Get Solved
After Rain
Self–Reliance: A Dialogue
The Dire Stravecchio
The Death Watch Channel
Life with an Asterisk
Too Old to Die Young
The Dream Store
The Dream Giver
Sliding Door Moments: The Dead on the Corner
Matzoh Sandwich, World’s Fair 1965
The Sleep Lover
845 Third Avenue
Ten Things About Me
A Virtual Tour of Bialystok, Poland
One Thing About Me in Ten Parts
Danger Boy
The Believer in Mottos
Kerrville, Texas: It Can’t Be Like This Always
The Necessities
The Place
Evening Ritual
Literary Rivalry
The Preacher’s Comeback
Divinity School
The Witch of Shallow Stream
First Drugs
We Are Prey
Creative Writing Class
Notes from Graveside
Costa Rica: Baby Dolphin Down
New Orleans, 2025
Return from the Land of Story
Drawing a Line
The One Great Matter
Author’s Photo
Hopscotch Girl
Rain Haiku
The Ghouls All Came from their Humble Abodes
Too Much to Set Aside
Lost Package
Dusk, November, Central Texas
Acorn Characters
Seven Suburban Haiku
Things a Few People Know About Me

March 02, 2006

Bag and Bird

A white plastic bag stuck in a tree, grabbed by the witch-fingers of a bare black oak on the grounds of the state hospital, which I sometimes pass on my walk. I stop and think, “Who the hell – what crazy idiot let a plastic bag loose so it went into a tree.” Then there’s something else unmoving in the corner of my eye: twenty feet above the bag there’s a perching falcon, full-breasted and small-headed, with a tan body and barred wings of white and dark gray. Big, well-fed, flawless, a type specimen. Motionless, ever-patient , idol-cold, with hypnotic little killer eyes. I wouldn’t have seen it if not for the plastic bag.

I walk for an hour, but I’m thinking of that falcon. I want to see it again, I want it to last out this journey down human streets with their parking lots and garbage cans and signs, I want it to be waiting for me. When I reach the hospital fence again, I’m speeding up, straining forward in case I can see it a few seconds sooner. No, I tell myself – stop thinking magically, it’s not going to stay here just for you…

I have trouble finding the right tree at first, there are several of them in a row. But then I find the white bag. It guides my eyes upward to the same place twenty feet above, and yes, there’s the same falcon — no, there are two falcons now, the one and its mate, both equally splendid, perched motionless, ever-patient, idol-cold, waiting for me — no, not for me.


March 01, 2006

Early Spring: Two Poems

on the old wooden shed
with the sagging door
and the broken lock
and the peeling green paint
and the warping wall planks
and the rusty steel roof
and the raccoon holes
and the tomcat smell
and the climbing thorn bush:
the first pale pink rose


sunlit flower
in the cornice of the house:
orchid in the hair
of Lady Day