Monday, May 21, 2018

Margotlog: What Is So Rare as a Day in May?

Margotlog: What Is So Rare as a Day in May?

Here in North Country Land, we've suffered through a very very long winter. There was a snowfall in early May. I thought I might slit my throat and let a few drops of red blood festoon the white. Suddenly, all has changed, and as Yeats wrote, "a terrible beauty is born." But it's not terrible. "It's wonderful, it's marvelous that you should care for me. It's awful nice, It's paradise, It's what I long to see. You make my life so glamorous." That's Fred Astair singing to Audrey Hepburn in "Funny Face," one of their June/January matings which were as kind and friendly and even a little silly, always ending in "amorous." Note: It was the Gershwin brothers who wrote the song.

The robins in our back yard are strutting about with their red vests puffed out as if they were marshals at the parade. A wren pair has taken up residence in our neighbor's "play" house, where they've raised a brood for three or four years in a row. The noisiest of birds, and some of the smallest. I love their stuck-up tails and chatter in the vines. Even a female grosbeak, not as flaboyantly black and red as her consort, but still a biggish, brown-streaked bird with, as her name suggests, a very large beak, comes every day to the feeder.

Yes, the birds are back, but it's the sudden eruption of green and sweet scents that make me swoon. Years ago, outside the front window, I planted against all caution a sunburst locust --"too small a yard for three large trees" frowned the arborist. Yet the locust has flourished, and now spreads its fluffy, yellow-green fronds (truly more like a fern than a tree) outside my window. Up and down the avenues, as I walk to the drug store, huge lilacs hold their bouquets of light purple and white with such aplomb as to be dancers in a ballet.

Yet, there are already weeds--tree shoots I should have removed last autumn now wave their success in my face. I promise myself tomorrow to go out and whack them to the ground. There are losses: the beautiful azalea that returned for three years with its clusters of pink flowers--a lot like ballerinas dancing "The Sugar Plum Fair"--has succumbed to one of the longest and coldest winters we'd had in a long time. Only one side is in bloom, but the cluster of delicate pink flowers reminds me of home in Charleston, South Carolina, where the true azaleas bloom in April or even March, and the entire neighborhood where I grew up is rich with pink, just as ours is now. Ah, horticultureal success, and global-warming, bring the south to us in the north land. Amen. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Margotlog: Notes from Florence - 2018

Notes from Florence - 2018

     In the part of Azelio, a teacher calls to her children. If we were in the U.S., she's ask them to say
"cheese." But here, where cheese is beloved, she asks for a "soriso," a smile like a sunrise.
 So many of her pupils are Asian, I comment. She answers, "Chinese" Nearby a new mother coos to her baby, encourages, "Say 'Papa,' say 'Mama.'" A merli like our American robin except all black, flies across the path, its chirrup like the robin I left at home, perching on our birdbath filling up with snow.

    Who belongs where anymore? I name one of the few Italian trees I remember, "tilio," much like our North American bassrood with its heart-shaped leaves. Nearby a man with bronze skin leans over his knees as if sick. Should I offer him part of my sandwich? So much known and unknown. A man with pale skin rides a bicycle through the shade, his tailored coattails flapping. As I approach the slumped man, he sits up, pulls a ringing cell phone from his pocket, andputs it to his ear.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Margotlog: Facebook


It's probably what many of us fear--that our electronic contacts to those we treasure (and inevitably to those we don't) will be taken over by an "alien" force who starts writing things that shock, deride, and besmirch us.

Facebook has been in the news laterly because it has been less than cautious about protecting the electronic communications of its "users." Here's how I unpack that statement: First, "face" suggests we know to whom we speak. Second, "book" suggests a book held in front of us, read by one of us at a time. Of course real books are printed in the hundreds of thousands, depending on what their editors/publishers think will sell. But they are "used" by one person or a small number when one voice reads aloud to a class, family, or congregation. Or a teacher assigns a book to students, and most of them do indeed read it, then discuss it.

I tried Facebook years ago. For a few months it was rather fun. I have no idea now what I "posted" or what "mail" I received, but mostly I wrote little nothings, little squibs about real books, movies, plays --reviews, so to speak. I did not "communicate" with my readers as if we were face to face or speaking on the phone. Something about the privacy of writing on a computer seemed alien to speaking immediately and directly to a single person or a horde.

Then, all of a sudden, I began finding I had "posted" stuff that didn't sound like me. These posts were too jocular or snide; they implied things I would never speak about in public. Or even to my most intimate friends except in a low voice, in absolute privacy.

Within a week or so, it was clear that some alien force had assumed my voice. Putting words in my mouth, and worst of all, portraying me as someone I was not. Even here, I refuse to reveal the nastiness I was credited with promulgating. It took me a while to grasp what was happening. Once I did, I had to search around for help in having my "entity" removed from the organization. 

Now I read about hundreds of thousands of people who use Facebook several times a day. They write about everyday things, they express opinions, they rant and rave, they proclaim politically; they act as if they sat across a table from the person (s)  they communicate with.

I find it disturbing and very very dangerous. These "users" are placing elements of their opinions, experiences, attitudes, loves, hates before anonymous groups. It's far more "public" than standing on one's own front steps and shouting what you believe to the neighborhood. Or making a "sandwich board" with a message on it, which also includes your private information, easy for the world to read but rather hard to appropriate as you walk up and down a busy street.

We are often incredibly naive. I was, until that naivete began to get me in trouble.

Just for the record, as I write this on the blog format, I find myself reluctant to "post" it. I don't want to stir up those malign creatures who enjoy creating anguish, and coming off scott-free. Is this entry for an archive labeled "never sent?" No, I guess not. Let me know what you think. Or not. This is a blog, not necessarily an interactive entity. I value your privacy just like mine.

All best, M.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Missionary Couple in 1912 China

Margotlog: A Missionary Couple in 1912 China

This couple, Altie and Elmer Galt, were my husband's Iowa grandparents who came as Protestant missionaries to China in 1912. I would know almost nothing about them except that Altie kept a diary which I've been reading. The small brown book is stamped with this title: "The Missionaries Anglo-Chinese Diary, 1912."

Her name was Altie Cummings and she had married Elmer Galt. Each page of the diary is identified by a page number, the day of whatever moon of the year it was (for example the 25th of 6th Moon), the day of the week, and above that, the month and year--all this in English. Then to the right is a message in Chinese, which, of course, I can't read. Each small page has room for two entries.

On August 12, 1912Wednesday, she writes, "I wash up and put away the last of Arthur's dear little clothes." Arthur was their first child. "Such a strange lonesome day," she writes on Sunday, August 4th. "Went to church again first time for three weeks"

Baby Arthur had celebrated his first birthday on July 28th, a Sunday.  "The dear laddie's birthday," she wrote. 'Such a precious treasure all year. If he only could be well today..just about the same, but every day no better; of course is really worse."

Her honesty and forthrightness astonish me. There is sadness and unclouded observation at the same time. "In the night baby had very hard time--vomiting and gagging. Sent for Dr. Love. They both [she means the doctor and his wife] came at 2:30 a.m. and stayed most of time until 2:30 p.m. Forenoon he seemed no worse than Sunday in spite of hard night, took new food, beef extract. By three o'clock began to get worse again--so hard. Dr. and Mrs. Love came at 8:00 p.m. to spend night. I go to bed at 11:00 but do not sleep - very hard night."

They tried many things to rouse and comfort the baby. "At 8:30 a.m.," she writes, "he finally drops into a natural sleep, and at 9:30 he quietly passed away--My baby!"

Journal writing, like letter writing, opens doors to everyday life. Altie's straight-forward, tender style, touches on sadness and joy with the same gentle frankness. Reading it gives me as much pleasure as fiction. But the experience is different. She is writing for herself (and perhaps her husband, even the future, though she shows no sign in her style of such awareness). Everything is lively and sincere, unclouded by uncertainty. She does not imagine that anyone could question her right to speak on the page. Perhaps this comes from whatever "calling" brought the couple to mission work. But her accounts are not strickly religious. Instead, they recount the pleasure of visitors--and there are many. Some are Chinese, many with Anglo names whom I suspect are single women from the United States who answered a "call" to carry God's word to foreign shores.

Yet, there's little "religiousity" in her accounts. She writes of visitors, of church services and the people she enjoys encountering there. She identifies her Chinese servants. I sense that she does not treat them as equals, which does not at all mean that she is harsh or insensitive to them. Rather, that they belong to another society, and social class within her world. This reminds me also of Eudora Welty's characters in her charming novel Delta Wedding. The year is not that different from Alti's 1912. The household in the state of Mississippi's Yazoo Delta teams with children and Negro servants, almost all referred to by their first names or nicknames--Bitsy, Howard, Roxie. Altie mentions the names of her Chinese servants, but I can't tell if they are what we'd call "first names," or something else. This is perhaps the only time my lack of knowledge about Chinese society inpedes my appreciation of her writing.

For the most part, Alti's life centers around her house and baby, this first year of his life, She is bolstered and encouraged by many enjoyable encounters with other women--ministers' wives, women missionaries, and travelers who stop to visit. It is a society segregated by gender, at least in her diary. The greatest pleasure in reading the diary comes from the amazing transparency and liveliness of her style. She is an unaffected writer who can create with a few strokes of the pen a scene, a mood, an assessment.

On Saturday, the 25th of May, she wrote: "Strawberry Shortcake! a few berries with ice cream two or three times before--from now on plentiful. Chiang NaiNai here fitting a new cover on my parasol. I also have gotten my blue grasscloth dress fitted." There is so much vivid description and intense pleasure conveyed in six handwritten lines.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Margotlog: Screen Time Eats Us Alive

Margotlog: Screen Time Eats Us Alive

     It's been a shattering handful of days for those of us who love order, quiet, a safe and secure future. Not only have 17 students been shot in a Tallahhassee school by a gunman with a weapon powerful enough to rain bullets, but the report from special prosecutor Mueller has identified 13 Russian inviduals as well as 3 Russian "entities" that wormed their way into U.S. "social media."

Note: a few other developments bear on this too, though not so obviously: the State of Minnesota has plans to outlaw the use of "handheld devices," aka smart phones, by anyone driving an automobile. Yes, the smarty phone can be fixed on a dashboard, but the driver's hands must rest on the wheel. This leaves unacknowledged what will happen when the driver's eyes flit to identify the latest caller. I anticipate crashes, fender benders, veering out of lanes--things already damaging the rest of us. As long as smart phones are allowed to be displayed while a driver maneuvers a car, there will still be crashes and deaths of drivers desperately keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

     FLASH: The one time I tried using my less-than-smart phone while I was driving, I found it so distracting that within three minutes I pulled over and shut the damn thing off.

     This country, with its hightest standard of living in the world (I'll let that pass for now) and the most advanced technology (a huge part of the problem), is slowly unraveling. I'm here to tell you that in many ways, most of us are aiding and abbetting. (Just in case you don't do much with cloth, to unravel means that the warp and woof separate, revealing NOTHING, aka, a VOID.)

      We already have evidence of VOIDIDITY in its most blatant form: Facebook has refused to bend to appeals for those hoping to protect children from becoming chained to a screen, and will soon inaugurate a FACEFULL FOR CHILDREN.

     It seems that with the recent evidence of tampering, FACEFOOL Biggies have acknowledged there simply haven't been protections enough. Just at Mueller's investigation discovered, the Russian YUCKS have been drooling all over FACEFOOL, and prejudicing viewers who can't help themselves, we will how be educating our children, not just young adults, full adults, and senesant adults to work the stupidity of FACEFOOL.

     Why, you ask, am I so against the FOOL of a FACE? Maybe six or seven years ago, my Facebook account was hacked. How did I figure this out? Some Troll posted junk that didn't originate with me. As quick as I could, I sent that FACE FALL into the dustbin of history. But there are far more dangerous infiltrations to a FACE FULL account: messages masquerading as coming from real people, messages that tilt certain truths far from what should be self-evident.

     WE ALL NEED TO BECOME MUCH, MUCH SMARTER. We need QUIET TIME to absorb what we see and hear; to think about implications and ramifications. We need NOT TO BE SO BUSY LOOKING INTO A SCREEN'S VOID.

     So now, I can ask, with a rather clear conscience, WHY do we need FACE FOOL? If we have any sense at all, we will get our news from reliable sources--like the Minneapols/St Paul Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post. One way we can tell if a local paper is rather reliable is whether it publishes wire news and commentary from the two best newspapers in the U.S.: The NY Times and the Washington Post. We can also read the local commentaries for the logic of their arguments, the kinds of sources (like Minnesota's Senator Amy Klobuchar) they cite, and the rather sensible conclusions they reach.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Winter Solstice - The Cathedral, a poem from my chapbook

Winter Solstice - The Cathedral

It is the year's dark, when memories
arrive, opening to swarms
of swallows above ancient fields,
vines strung among the corn, sheep
belling an ancient Roman bath.

Dry sun anoints a pear tree,
my father's last denizen
which new owners soon will fell.

It is the year's dark.

From the dome, a turquoise
eye regards us. Our famil's spire
has crumpled, heaving up
ghosts who flit here like shy bats.

There's my uncle, impish and cancer-ridden.
Our tiny aunt in blue pillbox--her daughters
soon will join her, sending spirals
of laughter to incite the higher-ups.

My mother's dog who stopped
her demented barking--
poor beast, she went gladly
to the earth, mound

of collar and bone,
reminder of the exoskeletons
we once were.

My two grandmothers, with tiny wings,
flutter eagerly toward higher warmth,
while their husbands, below, still swirl
in necessary lubricant,

becoming ready to glide
toward the celestial realm,
this haven for lost souls,
half-living, half-returned

through the shill,
darkening air.

(From The Heart Beat of Wings, copyright 2017, Red Bird Chapbooks)

Monday, January 15, 2018

This is the cover of my beautiful new chapbook of poems, published by Red Bird Chapbooks in St. Paul. The book has been in the world for about six months. Slowly it's found readers or I've read from it to various audiences. Now, a poet friend, Margaret Hasse, has written a stunning review. I am dazzled and deeply grateful.

Margaret begins: "I am writing a fan letter to you for The Heart Beat of Wings. It is a very beautiful book with astonishing connections, images, turns of phrase.

"The voice in the poems is reflective, grateful, curious, and quiet. Each of the poems grows large, like a small bird that opens its great wings of flight.

"The book's tone, like life, is a mingling of somberness and bright new awareness and understanding. I liked the contrast between the black blood of the inner body and the red blood when air finds it. The raspberry poem is sensuous and hinted in both a quick reference and the color of the berry toward other poems in the book where the subject of heart-health is more direct.

"The way the 22 poems in the chapbook work together is extremely satisfying. The themes intertwine as in a piece of classical music: homing, where the heart is and how the heart is hurt (literally and figuratively), spirits that fly, birds that fly, a narrator at home and with her ancestors in Italy. The holiness of happy and sad occasions in the cathedral. Death and presence after death of the father, the mother.

"The style is beautiful--airy, yet concrete, rich with images and unusual turns. I liked the slim shift many of the poems are dressed in. The short lines showed off the spare beauty of the language. In the epithalamium, "o my dears," was a perfect call to those being wed, but also to us, the readers. I felt, as a reader, dear to Margot's intimate, confiding voice throughout the book.

"Some of the many delightful things and lines: birds! and more birds! Snow geese, pigeons, redwings, doves, finch, jay; the mother swimming away in water and in death; the hand of the father like a hand broken off a Roman sculpture; the unc fly; "it takes only one hillside/turning its muscled/side to gold," "its spill of joy"; gold and golden--and many more."

What author wouldn't love such a rich panoply of references and appreciation. Thank you a thousand times, dear Margaret Hasse.

To order a copy of the book directly from the publisher use this link: