Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Eggs

On Easter morning Mabel Watson Payne went across the street to the neighborhood cafe with Grandma and Grandpa. While she was out of the apartment, it was understood that Mamma and Daddy and the Easter Bunny would work together to hide the whole familiar collection of plastic eggs from the yellow basket, but in this case each plastic egg would have a little treat inside. When Mabel came back from the cafe she set about hunting down all the eggs and accumulating them on the floor next to the empty yellow basket.  

After all the plastic eggs were found, present-opening needed to happen. From a basket that looked like a nest Mabel picked a chocolate egg wrapped in blue foil. Grandma helped unwrap it. Later, Mabel was able to help Grandpa unwrap his chocolate egg when he was having difficulties. 

Easter Brunch

Easter brunch at home with Mabel Watson Payne. She learned the word brunch as a scrunched-together form of breakfast and lunch. It pleased Mabel to understand about brunch. Daddy made an abundance of thin delicate pancakes. There were excellent strawberries and deviled eggs and meats and other things. Grandma provided the traditional Easter egg cookies, which always come from the Virginia Bakery in Berkeley and have remained their same excellent unchanged selves for my daughter's entire lifetime. She has rarely known an Easter without their presence.

By Request

When the mid-day Easter festivities were winding down and I was packing up the camera, Mabel Watson Payne leaned against my shoulder and asked me to take a picture of her in just the way she wanted. I said fine, of course, but she would need to go over and stand by the bed so the camera's eye could see her. So far, Mabel has not been able spontaneously to grasp the idea that the camera cannot take her picture when she is standing behind it.  I thought by using the word "eye" for the camera lens, it might help her understand the camera needed to see her. But when Mabel heard that the camera had an eye, she left her position by the bed and came up close again to peer at the lens and see where the eye was. Eventually she went back over and stood next to the bed, putting her hands on top of her head and telling me to take her picture that way. Then she came and looked at the image on the little screen and said it was good.


Ownership of gorgeous and valuable objects must be a desirable state of being for many humans because I cannot think of a culture (from ancient Egypt to 21st century Russia) that did NOT associate status and power with the possession of intricate golden luxuries (as represented by the 18th century English mirror above).

Yet when I see an object like this in a museum or in somebody's expensive apartment, the first thing that occurs to me is how glad I am not to have the responsibility of caring for it and keeping it safe. This is a paradox. Ancient, cloudy, half-degraded mirrors fascinate me, especially those surrounded by gleaming giltwood carving of miraculous grace. Gazing and pondering is an absolute pleasure, but never without the nagging mental caveat that it would be horrifying to discover that I actually owned such a thing.   

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Green Ceramic Birdbath

Above, one of the sample borders laid out to raise ambitions and entice imitation among gardener-visitors to Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (known to all as Berkeley Hort). Friday morning I found myself there, rather than in my office at the library – since the  campus where my library is located shuts down every year for Good Friday. We were choosing the first wave of new spring flowers for the East Bay garden of Mabel's grandma. And I particularly admired the chartreuse ceramic birdbath in the picture immediately above – but then reflected that at this point in her life my granddaughter would inevitably pull it over on top of herself – it looked to be just about her height – and intense as its charms might be, they could not justify the risk.

I thought about taking pictures of the several sets of different seedlings we planted from their six-packs – some into borders and some into pots – but all were too small to look like anything yet. Most of the annuals at the nursery looked like they had just arrived, full of juice and healthy potential. However, the calla lily border along one side of the garden was flourishing, and I did take a couple of pictures of it – pictures that prompted me to look back at the day in January 2010 when my son-in-law dug up the single unsatisfactory clump of calla lilies that existed then, redistributing them and spacing them out so they could flourish, as now they do.    

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lovely Scraps

There were more spring playground pictures last week than I had time or cleverness to organize. There were, in fact, so many that when I thought all the good ones had already appeared here (for the world's rightful admiration) it turned out I still had oodles in reserve. And these refused to rest quietly in storage on some silly data plug, insisting instead on displaying themselves here in a disconnected jumble that nevertheless turned out to appear sufficiently united by two things – 1) the enchanting, slanting San Francisco light of early spring in the late afternoon, and 2) the bright figure of a new small human being filled just-about to bursting with sap and appetite.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nine-Line Stanza

Holding Court

Retreating from the world, all I can do
Is build a new world, one demanding less
Acute assessments. Too deaf to keep pace
With conversation, I don't try to guess
At meanings, or unpack a stroke of wit,
But just send silent signals with my face
That claim I've not succumbed to loneliness
And might be ready to come in on cue.
People still turn towards me where I sit.

I used to notice everything, and spoke
A language full of details that I'd seen,
And people were amused; but now I see
Only a little way. What can they mean,
My phrases? They come drifting like the mist
I look through if someone appears to be
Smiling in my direction. Have they been?
This was  the time when I most liked to smoke.
My watch-band feels too loose around my wrist.

My body, sensitive in every way
Save one, can still proceed from chair to chair,
But in my mind the fires are dying fast.
Breathe through a scarf. Steer clear of the cold air.
Think less of love and all that you have lost.
You have no future so forget the past.
Let this be no occasion for despair.
Cherish the prison of your waning day.
Remember liberty, and what it cost.

Be pleased that things are simple now, at least,
As certitude succeeds bewilderment.
The storm blew out and this is the dead calm.
The pain is going  where the passion went.
Few things will move you now to lose your head
And you can cause, or be caused, little harm.
Tonight you leave your audience content:
You were the ghost they wanted at the feast,
Though none of them recalls a word you said.

Clive James (published earlier this month in the TLS)

When all my faculties are burning as low as those described here, I wonder if I also will find myself able (like Clive James, pictured above) to invent a new and rigorous verse-form. The actual message purports to be about aging – about the relentless increase of frailty and isolation – yet that message is delivered to readers in a container of such ironic beauty and strength that its sad truth seems somehow to be miraculously contradicted even as it is uttered.