Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mitochondrial DNA and Momma.

This has been one of my favorite news stories- about mitochondrial DNA traced along the female lineage. Years ago I wrote a poem about it which was published in The Fossil Record.  Here it is:

Momma of an Ancient Time

    Mitochondrial DNA is only inherited through the mother.  we could trace ourselves back to one woman in Africa.

Momma of an ancient time,
fur-covered, huddled in darkness,
warmed me with her breath,
in the indiscernable shadows
of a cave,
her breast spoke comfort, calm
every syllable in silence.

The time when fathers had no word,
warmth, darkness, love prevaded,
Now they invent
frantically, furiously
-a rope and pulley pull us up.
We dangle experimentally.
Nodes attached, measure the care
they can't create.

And when she returns
in union with riverbeds
and mountain air,
blood clots
on node after node.

I want to thank Iara Lee, filmmaker and activist for posting the DNA story and reminding me about the poem. Check out her work on Facebook or here:
She has been in some of the most incredible places in the world at eventful moments.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

North Country

How close do you live to nature?  I just returned from my relative's cottage up at Little Whitefish Lake up in Canada.  Thom Thompson  painted very similar landscapes almost a centure ago, setting off with his paints in a canoe which is how he mysteriously died while on a canoing trip.
In these northern landscapes, birch trees abound in their white and black zebra like presence.  Rocks stick out of the hills that descend to the lakes reminisent of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  But here the light is northern, giving the color of wildflowers a special intensity. 
Canadian wildlife is fearless.  Chipmunks shared the cottage, stealing chocolate off the table (truffles, no less) and a deer stood and watched us just as we watched him- a young buck with budding antlers.  A loon made sounds like mourning cries and then it sounded like wood clacking as it took off to fly away.  And the beavers- 5 acres of land under water because of their meticulously constructed dams and lodges.
The visit finished with a trip to a Toronto baking in 97 degrees.  Travel often makes you see your home in a different light.  As I pushed along with the rush hour crowds on the subway I realized- I never have to do that.  I walk to work!
My friend Pat is working on a fundraiser project of haikus.  Check out her link:

And for fun:

Step into deep mud,
beaver dam silt and branches-
unplug, let life flow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Art and Place

This Saturday I attended an Art Fair in Buffalo.  The organizers have hopes to put Buffalo art on the map right along with Basel and Miami.  It took place in the city's old train station, a magnificent building of 15 stories, in a state of decay in a difficult neighborhood.  Walking through the exhibits, especially those of the photographers I noticed a common theme- pictures of Buffalo's past architectural wonders which are now in various stages of ruin.  I myself have many photos of the grain elevators lining the lake and I recognized a shot of the old Bethlehem steel plant. 
Which leads me to the question- how much does the place you live affect your art?  If I used the art fair as an indicator, I'd say quite a bit.  My own poetry has taken on shades of anger at the economic decline around me and a tinge of despair.  If I were in the bright sun of the Mediterranean, I suspect my themes would be different but perhaps the industrial decline suits my temperament.  When I close my eyes, I can still see the icy edged sidewalks of winter and we're almost in the middle of a hot July.  I remember the line of an old poem I wrote about a town in Mexico I'd visited - "with no future, but a fruitful past."  Of course, there is a future here but will it ever compare to the early 1900's? 
   Tomorrow I have the priviledge to participate in a poetry reading with John Roche.  Please check out his new book- "Road Ghosts".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Unexamined Life

I'm about to plunge into the unexamined world of memoir writing with a workshop I'm taking.  What I do know is that what you don't say is as important as what you say.  I recently read Patti Smith's "Just Kids" which like its title implies, reflects innocence despite the struggles of poverty in NY and Robert's hustling.  What it doesn't tell is what is it like loving someone who is gay and how it could feel to be one of the only two people at the Chelsea Hotel who went off to work every day.
  What are the themes of your life story?  What will you carefully omit? 

   Here's a poem from my chapbook which is from the long lost days of my life in the country with its Latvian twist.

                                  THAT LIFE

No strangers appear in that life
and we are the crazy Russians
on the hill,
enough to deliver us
from the rural town-
gas station, hotel, store in pairs.
Here in safety
golden fruit,
perfectly formed,
droops in bounty.
Blossoms brush my window,
daylight hypnotizes a hawk
hiding in the branches.
Apple trees provide
pink blush, green, all flavors of red.
And goldfish last
slumbering through long winters
in the pond,
where today
my uncle reflects sunlight,
imagining his cold gray sea.
The children of angels now,
my mother wears a dark blue suit,
instead of apron and headscarf.
We fly over the mountaintops of Crete
and lunch on city walkways
My father reappears as general
and still brings shivers.

There on the hill we tangoed
to the record player
after clearing fields of rocks.