Beginning again!

I’ve been thinking of you, my friends, but haven’t been active on these pages since we returned from Baltimore, as we settled back in Nashville, moved to our new home in Green Hills in a neighborhood filled with friends and rich in the wonderful, kind support that comes from living in a close community. I’ve had my hands deep into the novel I started writing in Baltimore, then rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, as one must. I love this work!

We walk our beautiful streets with the old lady, Carly, our Irish setter. We welcome the finches and white-crowned sparrows, the black-capped chickadees, and the cardinals to our feeders, and a junco came to the seeds I threw on the snowy patio this morning, and then Mr. Towhee, dressed in his colorful tux. We garden on a patio with bright pots and border plantings in summer, and as many herbs as we can. We cook together. We keep working.

I’ll be posting poems, observations, stories, essays that might smack sometimes of memoir. Short stories are a challenge I’m wading into, and I’ll throw some short-shorts your way. The novel? Still have faith in it. Your recommendations are welcome.

Since I’m just now setting up again, it will take me a while to update. I hope you’ll visit often. —Georganne

Stay well. Wear masks. Be strict with protocols. Let’s beat this pandemic. And let’s keep spirits up in the way that works for each of us! —

From Fell Street Footnotes, Poems

Poems From Baltimore, 2014–2015

 from Fell Street Footnotes
See, also, the essays under this title

Poems on the Early Days in Baltimore  

Morning  

21 degrees when we stepped outside, dogs on leash.   
A soft light pastelled the horizon and the sky grew 
bright and clean-lined, the buildings took on 
their defining forms and blinked into their rising colors. 
The hunkered boats moved not a muscle,  
still as a painting while the city clicked awake,  
window by window, footstep by footstep,
the clattery delivery truck on a brick street,  
a dog-squabble, the beginnings of language. 

Night 

Late night a fisherman 
the tone of water 
sits hunched on the walkway 
that rims the harbor, 
his feet dangling. 
If he has seen us
with our eager dogs
or senses our nearness,
he doesn’t mark the moment 
by flinch or turn; 
he is the wharf and the water 
and the rising fog where
he will disappear 
from our sight
into memory or imagination.  

Lost  

Oh, my sense of direction is poor, 
two rights making a wrong, 
and the doors on the row houses  
turn from walnut to faded green 
or maybe hopeful blue 
slapped on old wood, 
and the markets announce their tired
businesses in languages 
I sometimes understand  
and sometime not. 

The sun shines on these streets 
as on mine, puzzle pieces  
of living’s colors playing out.  
Ageless women and old men 
carry home their straining plastic bags. 
I know how those handles crease 
against the weight of milk 
and flour and jars of beans. 
When Siri sets me back on track, 
all the turns to my temporary home
seem mistaken. North seems East  
and West seems South; yet I trust 
the voice, and it delivers me.  

With the release of held breath,
I remember with a little yearning 
the bar in Paris many years ago 
where I interrupted the after-work ritual 
of a brace of men debating life’s wrongs
because I couldn’t find the ramp  
to the Périphérique 
that would steer me South.  
Two of them, bright-faced,  
with daughters likely near my age, 
came out to the sidewalk, 
thumbs on suspenders,  
and pointed and conferred 
and then one drew a map  
with a stub pencil, helped 
me figure out my rental car’s  
reverse, and sent me on my way.  
I am a wealth of images richer 
for their sheltering and care, 
they, richer for the flattery  
of my young smile, my hand in theirs.
Finders, keepers.

Dennis

The large man, 
his great bald head
reflecting the sun,
sits on a chair 
everyday 
on the sidewalk 
in front of a pub
and spreads around 
his ripe optimism
like butter. 
He smiles white teeth
and chuckles at my setter 
lunging at pigeons. 
We chat a moment,
her red coat, 
her fruitless game, 
my trouble reeling her in,
and off I go 
with a nod to him, 
his nod to me, 
with my treasure 
of light.

Saying Much About Learning Not to Say Too Much  –for Jeff Hardin

We slid along the rails of Amtrak
to visit our old friends.
Through a taxi’s filmy windows
I memorized the way 
from Union Station 
up Massachusetts Ave., 
Cathedral, New Mexico 
to Klingle St. NW. 
I was leaving breadcrumbs
along the labyrinth of changing views.
Our greetings: happy and brief,
because we’re just continuing
conversations begun and ongoing
no matter the distance of time.
A fine soup warms us 
in the kitchen they have made 
from the scraps of a ruined house, 
the whole place now
new and modern and full of hope. 
High and broad-reaching,
these rooms make nests
you can swing your arms in,
splashed with windows and color 
like the only right words 
for a poem: white space
shouting light. 
“Windows”: An exhibit at the National Gallery,
where Andrew Wyeth’s paintings 
reveal the stages of looking.
And beyond looking, how to gather the silence,
how to leave out for seeing more
than is there.
William C. Williams and Ezra Pound,
Marianne Moore. Black umbrellas,
a couple of chickens, real toads
in a garden. Keats, “That is all
ye need to know.”
Mary and Bob and their architect son
have crafted, in their house,
something spare from the nothing 
of clutter. Haiku, a window
on what can be.
This poem, I know, has too much 
shoving and pushing in it. 
I am off to clean house.
Open windows.
Air out.
Art should be as
generous as that.
Should quiet its tongue
and wait.

We Will Have Ghosts

A rotation of poems from this chapbook…

Geometry, Lost Cove

The ridge across this cove
is straight as a ruled line,
its bend as pure as an angle
on a student’s quadrilled page.
Beyond it another ridge lies
straight-backed, as well,
drawn off by its touch with sky. 
Such perfection is a subject
I’d like to think about
here on this thin shelf of land:
the earth, for instance, seen
from an orbiting craft, 
is smooth and round–
an eyeball, a gem on black cloth.
Where is the rough, rooty skin of it
we know, the jagged heights of pine,
poplar, sycamore, oak?
Where are our lumpy villages,
the brutish smoke of wars, 
the unsmooth teem 
of antlife in its scurry?
At a distance, surface is easy truth:
latitudes and longitudes, altitudes,
and lines acute, obtuse. 
A mountain trail is straight as shot,
a slight incline from the east, 
a thirty-degree descent 
on the other face.
A hurricane is a cotton swirled disturbance
on a blue plate; yet underneath it
secreted on another plane, 
pain rises red and anger-pussed.
This limpid, lustrous earth.
With this design 
I make up my face 
for someone combed
and groomed into the angled,
elegrant shape of vee, 
leaning in an easy obtuse 
against the far wall.

​ By Desire
the Caney Fork River at 6:00 a.m.

The water’s words sleep muffled under an eider fog, 
only a inconstant lap drinking the shore-rocks, 
only a whir and spit of flyline-cast, 
only the caw-caw waker of the wooded bank,
only the dip and step of a great blue heron 
murmur a definition. 
Summoned by desire into the gray stream
I cannot see, the water licks cold 
through my waders, the stones round and slippery 
underfoot. I am both alone and accompanied, 
though all I know of my companions is a fishtail 
swat, the water sliced by fly-tipped line.

My rod at my side in its case, I move downstream
to a spot remembered—but more like dream or hope. 
It’s been so long since I’ve been here. 
In the river I too am swallowed
until I disappear from sight. 
I lose my bearings as I knew I would
and stand, unbalanced, no known thing
to spread a wing to, and wait out time.
A glittered point, a hint of gold, then burst
of sun—all in the moment it takes to breathe
a prayer. The world returns to line and face
and point, and I to know, but not at once,
geometry again: of the ordered river
on its limestone run, the gear I’ve packed,
and where each wakened fisher in the ripple stands.

Dove Flight​

For weeks I didn’t water Mother’s fern 
that paled beneath the eaves. Among the wilting
fronds two doves sat still in solid watch,
ceramic thieves, eyes round and dark and stern. 
One day the male was gone, the mother crouched
beside two downy young, necks thin with spring.
I ached at their beginning, fed from her mouth,
and watched for flight. I didn’t see their wings–
one day the nest was empty, just in time
to drench the fern and coax it back to life.
All this coming and going such a fragile rhythm:
water and sun, withhold and give, nurse and free .
My mother in a darkened room had packed for flight.
Her face like polished marble, set past sight.

Turtle

 To Grandmother
From under the thick shell
that holds your papery life
and closes around your dying days,
every so often you emerge.

Out comes your craning neck,
listening for an old song
of rendez-vous, A Bicycle
Built for Two. Your blue

eyes find me, and know.
An arm slides out, a hand
craped as reptile skin
grasps mine and holds.

You hold mine against
the cool of your cheek.
Your mouth empty as a cave
finds an opening, a craggy

smile. Each day a nurse
stretches all your limbs,
you, splayed under sheets
like a terrapin overturned.
“You’ve got the best legs

in the clan,” we always said.
Still it’s true, all splotched 
and crazed with these last years.
And though you said

again and again,
you were not smart or good,
(“No, siree!”) I see, now
(you all drawn-in except

that tiny head, the light
expectant tremor 
on your lipless mouth),

a kind of glow, or maybe 
it’s a strain of song from
I can’t imagine what
ever tunneled ever-place

and a reaching in your face—
does a turtle smell a cool creek
not far away, or autumn
loam, and turn to it? Do we? —

and I know that smart or good
could not count for much
after a hundred years.
Only the hymn-singers like you

would worry so, only
the tenders of the poor, like you,
and you were smart enough,
Good enough. 

Go, go I tell you,
to your burrow in the widening 
dusk, and in the spring
I’ll crane my neck to hear you sing.

Poems from the book

This collection is my first, pulling together poems written prior to 2010 and published by me under the Weedy Editions mark. My brother, Paul Harmon, provided the cover art, the image a large canvas entitled “Renaissance.”  I think we are re-birthed in a way each time we write a poem. A few poems in a lifetime  will have that Renaissance effect on a reader. 

The book is available at Amazon.com or by contacting me.

Excerpt From Abbey Livingstone, A Novel

Winter, 1967

Nelson County, Kentucky

A raw cry pierced the silent woods, black and blanketed with snow. Gutteral moans, a scatter-shot of despair, alerted an owl. Its take-off a shudder, a wing-sweep, cued Abbey to follow the terrible sounds. On her way home, she’d been thinking only that the hour was late and she would have to endure her mother’s questions, her older sister’s rebukes. She’d have to tell where she’d been, a secret she’d kept for years, but not a serious secret. Rather, a possessive one. Snow weighed down her boots, her pulse quickening as a kind of keening rose now through the trees.  

Instinct, or memory, told her the animal distress was not a deer, not a calf. When she reached the bank and looked upstream at the swollen river, she half-recognized the shape she saw standing in silhouette. 

A gray weight seized her, stopped her. She sensed that what she’d always known to be normal in her seventeen years was about to collapse around her: the hierarchy of roles, the family home and its loosely ordered ways, her own rituals for navigating life up to now.. For a millisecond she sought some escape. It seemed right not to intrude on that strict sister who brooked no intrusion into her affairs, ever. 

But of course she had to stay. She had to try. “Jeanne!” she shouted, and the wailing changed—anger cross-hatched with despair. Abbey clinched her hands, stiffened her body, as though she could, in this way, hold herself together. But now there was no going back.

Blue Kayak on a Silver Truck

Can You Make Friends with Someone you’ve Never Met?

I finally met a friend of mine—whose truck I’ve been photographing for a year. A blue kayak sits bound to the roof of his silver Tahoe. Sometimes I find it in front of a blue door, sometimes across the cobblestone street in front of the red door, usually on Fell Street, occasionally on South Ann or even Wolfe, depending upon traffic so near Thames where tourists and tavern-hoppers cruise for a parking spot. But he’s clearly a resident, and I’ve bet on the blue door, deeper blue than the hopeful sky –blue kayak—deeper, more anchored for the spirit of a man who still keeps a wild-river rapid in a safe place in his mind.

I have snapped it in snow, in the steely sun of winter, in the season that at last brought out geraniums potted with potato vine spilling over rowhouse railings, although his house—I’ve thought it was his house—has no railing, only two steps to raise its main room above the level of land and harbor—just an honest door, a step up to enter, against an old harbor home rising three or four floors. Honest like the truck with tis kayak on its sleeve, like love and hope and yearning and keeping. 

His name is Van, a vagabond’s name, in a way, I thought, smiling when he told me. Children ready for a birthday party were spilling out of the silver truck; they had crazy hats on their heads, some having become pirates, some firemen, some outright princesses. He was corralling them, a little flustered, and I parted the sea of them and stuck out my hand and told him I’d known him for a year, though he didn’t know me, and that my affection for his truck and his kayak (transferred of course to the ghost-owner of these) had led to a series of photographs at every season. 

He seemed not to mind, seemed shifted a little, there in the midst of his duties with the small children, and we exchanged first names, and I crossed the street in front of his truck and blue kayak and wandered home on down Fell Street toward the sun and wind of the harbor’s rim.

Fell Street Footnotes, Ongoing, 2015

Critters

A week after my first visit to the National Aquarium, I sat waiting on a bench across from the staff entrance. I had a 10:00 invitation issued by Ken Howell, curator of the Tropical Rainforest, to “see behind the scenes.” I sat in the shadow of this imposing glass building and felt the weight of the World War II submarine Torsk, with its frightening toothy grimace, and The Chesapeake, an historic bay ship, behind me. The sign, “Amazing Things Happen” flapped above on a banner and another, on a fixed sign, signaled “Immersion Tours.” How could a day begin more propitiously?

Gifts: I figure I must open to them if I am to have a rich life and attend to them if I am to have a deliberate life and pass them on if I am to live a gracious life. I don’t, always, but this gift landed graciously in my lap and now I’m compelled to try to deliver it forward, ignorant as I am in the field of biologyI enjoy imagining that that is the message of the Motmot, the bird I’ve pictured here, a name always repeating and unforgettable: come back again and again and see something new every time; and in the call of the Screaming Piha: live every juicy morsel of this life and at the absolute top of your lungs.

Those poison dart frogs had intrigued me, so Ken took me first to the tanks where the team is nurturing them. I’d been confused that the frogs I’d thought I’d seen earlier didn’t match the pictures I found online. It turns out that these guys come in many colors: greens and reds and yellows stripe their bodies like a schoolyard of children. They show curiosity when I come close, then go about their business on twigs and leaves. Their tanks are labeled so that the nurturers know who is who, dates of birth, types, names. I learned that the mothers take their tiny hatchlings way high to a bromeliad where its leaves hold rainwater that will be the tadpoles’ home until they grow their limbs. She feeds them her unfertilized eggs everyday until they grow large enough to climb out on the leaf’s edge and begin their adult lives. In other, smaller, tanks live the groceries: tiny crickets that serve as food for the family. I watched a woman sorting and managing in whatever way that serves the cricket breeding and keeping. A volunteer, she comes twice each day to serve the critters in this area. Devotion, for frog and human, it seems, requires twice a day attention and plenty of work.

I was struck again and again by the labels on all the pens and tanks back in the workings of the aquarium. Each one, a name, a history. Birds, frogs, fish. A female piha peered down from a limb in a big wire cage. “She’s been annoying her husband,” Ken said. “She’s been attacking him, in fact. We thought we’d give him a few days of rest from her.” He seemed to be gossiping about his neighbor.

We talked about the way we think about the animal kingdom, as individuals or as groups. Should we name the calf? Should we attach ourselves to the apparent affection of the ray? Many biologists believe firmly that we should not think of animals as we think of humans. They are their own kind. Yet, we see connections and similarities everywhere we come in contact with animals, no matter how exotic, slithery, ferocious, or adorable. We hunger. We need mates. We fear. We desire comfort and shelter. We live only a little while, with jobs to do while we live. And now and then, we connect with a species not our own. Now and then a line is breached and we touch. Not unlike, on another plane, we connect with grace people we’ve always thought were exotic, slithery, ferocious, or simply adorable. We find that they are more.

When Ken sent out a notice a while back that Joe, the two-toed sloth, who had been at the aquarium for some thirty years, had died, notes of grief arrived from staff members by the numbers; grown adults cried.

We stepped through heavy doors and across shallow puddles and around cylindrical tanks to observe the clown fish and the spikey back and white ones that are endangered and the yellow ones. I will search their names. We went another way and spoke to puffins, up close and personal from our place behind the scenes. At the South Pacific coral reef, the calciferous matter that binds a reef spread even to the pipes and floors behind the tank. Nature and its critters will have its way—if we connect, care, and help them. If we realize that if they are endangered, We are endangered. Each individual of us.

Fell Street Footnotes, January 1, 2015

Keeping On

Thank God I am still keeping on! I like what I am doing, what yearnings push me from within, what experiences and observations inspire new words and stories and enrich perceptions and stimulate growth from without. I love each new day and its possibilities, each new night and its serenity or mystery or challenge. 

I do not like the trouble of argument and miscommunication, defensive reactions that mark territory: my responses or those of others. There is much that can crease the harmony of a day, a moment, an event. Alas, in myself there is much I don’t like and can’t seem to correct permanently. There’s my disclaimer.

And then, there’s this: The world I live in has perhaps more shallowness than truth, more deceit than honesty, more laziness than alacrity, more complacency than inquiry and passion. Humans are indolent, by and large, and when they have been raised with hopelessness or anger or a gray tone of acceptance, when oppression or inheritance of habit has blocked curiosity, nothing remains but selfishness. I see why many stay stuck as toddlers wanting to be picked up and fed and indulged and sometimes throw large, dangerous or disruptive tantrums when they are ignored. I don’t like the self-righteousness that can arise out of religion or culture, or the excuses they provide for fights over power and territory that destroy human lives and break what I dare to consider the contracts of community. But despite all the chaos and anger on the planet, I still find life delectable in my little spot here, privileged and largely protected in my bower. What can such as I do, with my limited understanding? 

The resolution that heads my list is this: to put words that matter into the stream, to do it with a passion and attention that will serve to shift the balance of egocentrism to an expansive holding of hands and engagement with the spirit of humanity. I resolve to drink more deeply from that stream, myself, each day. 

Work: it’s the best thing for being sad. It’s the best thing for liking this life. Through work, I am always learning. Thank you, Merlin. Thank you, T.H. White, whom I am altering slightly for my own devices.

Here’s the whole quote from The Once and Future King:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind cannever exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

Fell Street Footnotes, December 31, 2014

Time

Someday someone will see this date as an old date, early century, and here I am, seeing it as brand-new. Christmas, the season of brightness and burden, has passed, and then the lazy week-end, and although the New Year’s holiday will call for a celebratory, culinary, and social pause, this morning presents a return to order and to work. And perhaps these rhythms will seem quaint to those dipping into the past that is my present. John took a bus to his office at the medical school. I put a pen to paper. We live with dogs and divide our day with taking them out, bringing them in on leashes that cross and tangle, scrubbing them down with rough towels, offering treats shaped like soylent. Fresh fruits grace my work table: apples and lemons and one lime in a blue bowl. Three candles. Three smooth stones. Ah, the comfort of “three.” The comfort of a blue bowl, of this paper, this pen. These anchor. They are the door into and out of the labyrinth of each day. These are the details of today, the containers of our early century’s intimate history on this point of land.