2.09.2014

Book Review - Flora Segunda

It has been awfully long time since this blog had a book review, but then its been an awfully long time since this blog had writing often at all, and one must have words, mustn't one, eventually? At least this one.

Flora Segunda was publish in 2007, and given that there are many blogs covering YA that are wonderful and very authoritative (far more than this blogger, who reads YA the way that a walrus must eat beef - awfully rarely and with pleasant and recurring surprise that such a thing exists), the fact that the title has not come up before was a bit stunning, because its a beautiful book, that has only been more present emotionally since the reading of it. Perhaps, in part it's that simply it's been a very long time since simply reading a book. There has been squeezing in some in the corners, but not really reading, not REALLY reading in an awfully long time, and January was not the most delightful of months, so this was a wonderful book to have as a friend.

Flora, if you, gentle reader, have never heard of it either, is a book about a young girl, the heir to an old great family of the land of Calif, who is approaching the date of her Catorcena. Perhaps gentle reader you are already clever enough to have spotted something that I am boggled to say it took me about a quarter of the book to recognize - that the book is set in a fantastical version of Southern California. This was one of the great charms of the book for me, that the flavor of the magic and world building is wonderfully different from others I've read - the enemy kingdom is based around Aztec and Maya culture, the wizards are, in many ways, sort of a cross between Zorro and a gallivanting 19th century cavalry officer, though both genders (if that whets your appetite, I positively demand you read this book, and then make long emails back and forth with me and we shall make up grand stories about the inheritors of Nini Mo's ranger legacy).

The tone of this book, even apart from the setting and feel of a young magical California, is unique, I literally cannot think of another book to compare it to. At first I was concerned I would not enjoy it. With the first few sentences there was a mention of the word 'potty' in a humorous setting - in the end though, what the book did was make me realize why I DON'T usually like 'low' humor in a book aimed at children: because usually it feels like an adult condescending to the child, going 'well, I know you're too stupid to get subtler humor, so I'll throw a fart in here.' Only, the thing is, when you're thirteen (catorcena is your fourteenth birthday, a playful and clever life of the quinceanera tradition common in the parts of the US that are influenced by Mexican-American culture, which if you're not familiar with it, I recommend a google image search), well, frankly for most of us a bit of that humor IS a PART of our sense of humor. I know, I have a thirteen year old, now, and I was one once, a long time ago.

What was wonderful about this book was that the little bits of the lowbrow that came out were simply... human. Simply believable parts of the way this very human girl thinks. This came as a wonderful revelation to me, to where I could enjoy her, the same way I enjoy my own sons. Flora came across as precocious, but attractively, believably precocious instead of simply being an adult in the clothes of a child. Those parts of my heart that are pre-adolescent sympathized with her. And, this made the process of her growing up in the book - for its very much a bildungsroman in all the best ways - much more poignant and familiar and honest. In a sense watching her grow reminded me of the boys growing up in 'Finding Neverland', another book with a very wise command of what the difference between adulthood and childhood, the relative strengths and weaknesses of both.

And that was what really made the book something I will remember - the book so honestly and sympathetically observes growing up ( a process, after all, that isn't something one succeeds or fails at, so much as just happens to do whether one likes it or not, in so many ways), that what in other writer's hands might have been little more than fluff and farce carries a force and poignancy that trickles into the heart and rests there. The books delicacy of touch grants the reader, perhaps, the right, to be, once again, a child, a right that we as adults, so seldom are given access to. My oldest son read it too, and I wish now I'd read it at his age, because I'd love to understand the difference in the way I might have felt it back then.

The mind boggling thing about the book is that, with all the deftness and sympathy and gentleness, how much serious ground the book truly does cover. Living with mental illness, the traumatic effects of war, the dark power of patriotism, racism, and so much of the disillusioning sorrow of late childhood. At the end of the book, absolutely none in Flora's life, no matter how well-meaning, really seems to be terribly virtuous, or even really fully capable of loving Flora completely, in the way that a child needs to be loved, completely, by someone. There is, in the end, absolutely none entirely trustworthy in her life by the final page. But the beauty of it is that, this doesn't make it a tragedy - it simply smiles gently at you and says 'You see? That's what you'll learn when you grow up,' and then proceeds to delicately guide you into loving every one of those deficient, imperfect, untrustworthy people, in spite of it all.

I could go on - I could write a whole other reverent post about the sheer beauty of the senses in the novel - there are sensations in this novel that I swear Ms Wilce snitched from the inside of my dreams. But the poetry of this novel is so deeply integrated into the power of the plot, that I'd just start repeating myself.

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2.06.2014

"The God of the Bitter-Black Wood", or, "Seven Glass Eyes"


Once there was a wicked man, who lived far too long, and on his belt was a leather sack, and in the sack were seven glass eyes. And each day he would open his sack, and the eyes would turn and look at him, until one day, they would not look away, and he could no longer live in the city of men. So he left, and went into the empty lands.

And on his belt he had another leather sack, and in this sack were seven berries, bitter-black and dry, with the seeds rattling in the heart of them. But the empty lands were so empty! So he took from the sack the seven berries, bitter-black and dry, and buried them in little mounds, and waited for the rain. The rain took a long time in coming, but he waited, for he had already lived far too long, and he had time. And then the rain came, and the little berries sprouted thickets, bitter-black and thick with thorns.

Then the man went round to the seven bitter-black hedges, and opened up his other sack, and in the nook just above the roots, he nestled, in each hedge a single glass eye. And then he trimmed the low branches, so that the hedge grew high and broad into seven trees, and the gnarled thorns wrapped round themselves into a trunk, and in the wrapping, wrapped around the eyes, and closed them in tight. And the growing took a long time in coming, but he waited, for he had already lived far too long, and he had time.

And then he waited, for the trees to bear their fruits, for the winter was coming on, and the flowers were fallen, and the buds displaced. And the fruit too was slow in coming, but it came, too, rich black-violet, and heady with its own smooth bitterness. And the birds came down and gnawed their beaks against the bitter-black skins, until each thousand-fruit split broad, and in the center of each fruit was a pink and mournful tongue. And all the tongues cried out against the man.

And though the growing had been slow, the song was quick, and the hearing quicker, and a great storm came down, and it tore and fought, and heaved and wept, and buckled and drank, and vomited all that it drank down. And when the storm was gone, the man came out from under a brake of ferns, and six trees lay before him, snapped off at the trunks, just above the ground. And in the jagged stumps, laid clean and clear and watchful, there were six glass eyes. And the man rejoiced and took the eyes, and put them in his leather sack. And the tree that still remained stood quiet in the empty-lands, and said nothing.

But God came down then, and sat by the man and watched him as he tied the sack up tight. And he watched as the man went to the lone remaining tree, and from it plucked seven berries, closed up and shriveled, dry and rattling, and he put them in the other sack. And then, the wicked man, turned and he looked at God, and God was what he always had been - not God, but just the God of the Bitter-Black Wood. And the wicked man reached out his hand, and the God of the Bitter-Black Wood plucked out his glass eye, and set it in the open palm of the wicked man. And the wicked man put the eye in the little leather sack, and turned to walk back toward the city of men.

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1.23.2014

Exile's Song



Old Mother East Wind,
Blow on down.
Old Mother East Wind,
Blow on down.
Gonna chase my torn boot soles,
As I run from this town. 
Old Mother East Wind,
Blow on down.

Old Mother North Wind,
Hush-a-bye.
Old Mother North Wind,
Hush-a-bye.
Don’t say where I’m goin'
If you can’t tell a lie:
Old Mother North Wind,
Hush-a-bye.

I got nothin’ left now, baby,
But the blues in my sack,
I got nothin’ left now, baby,
Keep your lips on my neck.

Old Mother South Wind,
Dry my Eyes.
Old Mother South Wind,
Dry my Eyes.
Make m fair as a pearl 
For the day I die
Old Mother South Wind,
Dry my Eyes.

Young Lover West Wind,
Hold my hand.
Young Lover West Wind,
Hold my hand.
Ain’t no other true lover 
In the whole damn land,
Young Lover West Wind,
Hold my hand.

I got nothin’ left now, baby,
But the blues in my sack,
I got nothin’ left now, baby,
Cept the dress on my back.
I got nothin’ left now:
Keep your lips on my neck.
Let the cool wind blow over
These scars in my back.

(I made this up this evening and was singing it. No reason to sing it for anyone, so I’ll likely forget the tune, but at least, the words)

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1.18.2014

Comfort Food

Yes, that is indeed a gigantic Kraft Dinner noodle. Thank you, America
I really, really love Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.

No, you're smiling right now, I know. You're thinking, "Haha, yeah, me too, PBJ's, that's the life."

Stop that.

This is bigger than camaraderie. I love them. Love. Like, the actual emotion. Like, I have an intense, fraught, passionate relationship with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Look at it. Tell me this doesn't look beautiful.
Macaroni and Cheese is another one. I like the cheap Kraft kind even (though I LOVE it when its gussied up). Macaroni and Cheese, I... oh god. If I could  wake tomorrow, and have a thick, gooey PBJ for lunch and be able to play around with throwing different things in macaroni for dinner, every day, for the rest of my life, I would reconsider my ongoing feud with God.

*weeps, like a passionate art student at the Louvre*
Unquestionably, if I were to describe my affection for these two foods, it would be that they are 'comfort foods'.  Neither of these are the haute cuisine dandies that one is supposed to dream about. Macaroni is not my foie gras. It is, in the film by the same name, my ratatouille, precious because it makes me feel small and safe and simple, in a way adulthood does not.

I loved these foods as a child and I certainly took comfort in them. but it was of a different sort. Having a peanut butter sandwich, on the one hand was simply delicious, but in terms of comfort... well, I don't really remember. I remember desiring them when I was upset, or when I wished to be brave. If I were to guess, I vaguely remember them giving me a feeling of the general predictability of the world. Some things, in a child's world, must be anchors, they must not move. My mother must love me and want the best for me. My mind must be dependable. The trees must always stay there, and there must always be a bed that is mine. And peanut butter sandwiches must always taste and feel just so.
You think Mothers always love you? You sad little fool!
It is different now. Now, I now none of those things are altogether true. I live, adulthood tells me, in a world where there are no anchors (where one moors, if you will, at sea).


Everything in life is the possible subject of catastrophic change. Love can end, children can die, trees can fall, or worse, rot in place, and heaven could very well just be the wishful thinking of someone very long ago. The sea batters at the ship of maturity, and you must sail, though your charts are lost and your compass swings wild.

But.

Peanut butter sandwiches are still the same. And when you eat one, for just a moment, you can curl up inside of it and say, "Yes, I know, I must be a grownup now, and it frightens me, and I don't recognize this thing I've become. But... I AM the same person. I still have a little heart that sat at the diamond-cut wood table that mother bought from the gypsies ( I miss that table) and ate a sandwich that tasted just like this. Just precisely like this. And it is a little less hopeless, a little less frightening.

Thanks macaroni.

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1.02.2014

Running out of Gas

I am the consummate runner-out-of-gas (that is... one who runs out of gas, not, one who runs, who is out of gas, or... one who runs while lacking gas. Or... one who runs to exit some tank of gasoline? Don't you love English?). Oh, chuckledy, you my friend, believe this to be a mere humorous aside, but I assure you - there are souls in this world for whom the gods have given the thorn of gauge blindness. I thank holy things that I, at least am not blind to the speedometer (though my vision for it is not precisely perfect...). I run out all the time.

Karma, oh gentle reader is patient, kind and gentle mother, ever ready to extend us JUST a touch more credit, just a LITTLE more time. Until, she can't anymore, until she must take a debit from someone of her own account, and... its you. So, I respect old Mother Karma enough to not put her in that, I'm sure, very painful position if I can help it (though admittedly, I frequently fail to help it, nonetheless). As such, I TRY to stop when people are on the side of the road. Even without Karma, well, when you've been there stumping up the shoulder of a mid-city interstate between cars going 90 who could really care less if you live or die... you develop a pang of immediate sympathy when you see some other poor soul in the same predicament.

So, today, I exited from the highway - its been a most eventful week in my little, glass ball of a world, anyway, and not entirely one I am completely happy with my behavior in (when I am happy with my behavior, I shall return to the bottom, assuming I have now grown arrogant -- thank the Salvation by Grace Treadmill I understood in my youth, these things never entirely lose their echoes in one's mind). And then old Mother, she saw me exiting, and said, "Oh, well, now here's what I'll do!"

What should do if someone you love inadvertently image searches the words 'devious goddess'


And I found myself waiting at the light behind a suburban. Then... the door opened. And a man... got out. And I confess, my first instinct was the selfish one, wondering how I could pull around. BUT! I did not! For once! I popped my hazards, hopped out, and walked to the man, an African American gentleman approximately my own age with the flushed, defensive face of one who has done something humiliating, but would like to communicate to you forcefully, that he's perhaps not ready to find it funny. So, I just smiled. HE was disconsolately pushing the green suburban, singlehandedly. I had no real idea WHERE he thought he'd push it. I mean... he was at the light. And... its a suburban. They're real-real big. I think it was mostly for show, a way to signal to whoever was irritated being stuck behind him that 'hey, look, I'm trying ok?'

So I asked, "Need a hand, you trying to get it on the shoulder?'

This is the introduction that both parties know is simply a polite ruse. Clearly you need a hand, but simply going and helping without checking feels like an assumption of incompetence. In the given situation, the needy one ALREADY has a very humiliating weight of incompetence. I know. I've run out of gas once at this stop sign, and then I've also gotten in a car accident at this stop sign, that totaled my car while both cars were stopped, and without ever touching the gas pedal, or exceeding five miles per hour. I am a very talented individual.

Holly:  "Do you think she's talented, deeply and importantly talented?"Paul:  "No.  Amusingly and superficially talented, yes.  But deeply and importantly, no."
The man, of course informed me in response, "Mmmffnppp."

To which I smiled and responded 'Ah, I see!' Of course I didn't. I then offered, "Hey I think I have a gas can, in my trunk, let me check!"

At which point I did not wait for answer, though if I HAD I would likely have had the man offer, "No, I don't need a... hell... never mind, I'll tell him when he comes back."

And I DID come back. With no gas can. I hadn't one. So I was sort of embarrassed.

This is both not at ALL the picture I was looking for and yet, somehow, poetically apt.
But he then figured I guess "Well, he's dopey, maybe that at least means he's not a threat."

Oh, you silly fool...

Is this a pony? Are there moustachio-twirling pony villains?
No, actually, he just said, "Hey, would you mind going over and picking up my girlfriend at the gas station across the highway?"

"Sure, no problem!"

"She's got a gas can, she's wearing pink.... she a white girl?" That last part really DID come across as a sort of tentative question mark. I'm not sure if it meant 'is it okay, she's a white girl'? Or, 'Did you get all that'? Or 'don't worry its not a scary black person'? (which kind of makes me sad, that I think that might be what people assume I'd want to be sure of, but I think it wasn't, so I'm assuming the best) or what.

At any rate it wasn't a necessary description any way. Madame Jeuneblanc (sp?) was a white girl, sure. So were most of the people there. She was also carrying a gas can approximately the size of Providence Rhode Island, (I've never been to Providence, but I stand firmly by that statistic) and a sweat suit that I believe may have doubled as a non fuel-consuming pink safety flare. I really expected her to give me the 'Dude, you're a weird dude in a  crappy car pull pulling up to a strange lady and asking her to get in' look. But she was actually quite glad I came, and we crossed the bridge chattering pleasantly, and I dropped her off at the corner. Yay!

"What's your Karma level today?"

WEll. Maybe not OVER 9000. But still. I love people. I hope they had a wonderful afternoon.

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12.17.2013

Swan Song



This is my swan song,
Oh, my sweetling, whom I have taken to breast,
Whom I have kissed and petted -
This is my swan song.

I have made it sweet for you,
Soothing and soft,
A lullaby tone.
I want you still, to sleep,
And seldom sleep alone.

Do you know? I never met your father -
Though he did try!
A thousand times he came
To introduce himself,
Each time I would step backwards,
And put marbles in my eyes,
Extend prosthetic flesh,
And let the creeping lipsmile come.

But no, my darling,
I will make it sweet for you,
So gentle it will make you smile in your dreams.
I want you still, to sleep,
And seldom sleep alone.

But, you came of it.
You poured forth from me
In a storm of rose,
You fell from me 
In a hail of gobbets.
I vomited you forth,
And we wept together,
The tears of the empty 
And tears of the suddenly full.

And oh, I shiver to remember! 
You were so warm against me.
I was Adamic:
My true love ripped forth and laid beside me.
What is loneliness when 
There are other lonely eyes to look upon?

But no, my darling,
Do not leave, now, I need you to hear,
I will make my song like honey on your tongue,
I want you still, to sleep,
And seldom sleep alone.

This is my swan song,
Oh, my sweetling, whom I have taken to breast,
Whom I have held to the very last breath -
This is my swan song.

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12.16.2013

Fire-bright

The soul demands constriction --
  The knotted cord
Biting epiphanies into the tender flesh.

Kind-eyed angels holding irons
  Fire-bright --
  From the depths of God's own bosom --
Press close to us---

Teresa did not mention how
The golden dart
Had flickers licking from a slender head.

The spirit is willing.
But the flesh? Perhaps--
Too strong.

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