Wednesday, December 10, 2014

More Blesséd: A Christmas Memory





Instead of a steeple, the roof had a sculpted hand with a finger pointing up to God. That was just one reason I found our church creepy, why I dreaded dressing up to go there that Christmas Eve. The old organ wheezed beyond closed doors, cuffed my ears with fearsome groans when ushers admitted us.

I held on to my mother’s hand. Everything was dim, the red carpet under our feet almost invisible. One wrong step might swallow you. My family eased into a pew, my sister and I last, closest to the aisle. Mom had a paper bag; inside were two wrapped boxes, presents for unnamed poor families.

I had to crane my neck to see down the aisle to the tree standing on the altar. It wasn’t a pretty one. Its colored bulbs were sparse. After the pastor had everybody pray and lit the worship candles, things looked warmer. All the Sunday School classes were going to take turns delivering gifts to the Christ child, a swaddled baby doll in a cradle waiting on the altar steps. 

During the second verse of Silent Night I joined the first graders emanating like ghosts from dark pews. We bumbled to the tree, knocking shoulders, where some helpful Mom with a holly corsage took our gifts and arranged them by the cradle. Most of the presents looked the same, down to the wrapping paper that was on sale at the A&P: poinsettia, candy cane, or reindeer print. Among the modest gifts, though, was a large one with a fancy red bow. Its wrapping glittered like tinsel. All of us saw it and pretended we didn’t.

When it was kindergarteners’ turn to go up, they went one by one. Some had to have a parent go with them, some didn’t. We were on the last verse of Little Town of Bethlehem when Marilyn Lynell started up the aisle on her own. She was a round child, big for her age, with a dumpling face and pale eyes. Her looks mirrored her thin-haired, thick bodied father’s. He sang a sonorous bass in the choir. 

Marilyn’s short pinafores always hiked up in the back, showing the creases of her stout pink knees. That night her sash dangled awry as she made her halting way up to baby Jesus. The box she carried must have held a man’s tie: small, flat, easy to carry. Still, not a mother in the congregation wasn’t holding her breath, watching Marilyn’s unsteady progress. The verse ended, and I saw the corsage mom at the altar kneel down to help Marilyn settle her gift among the others. Then the organist fired up O Holy Night.

Underneath the singing I started to hear a sort of twitter. I strained to see. Marilyn was coming back down the aisle and as she went, the people behind her rustled like a sudden wind. Marilyn was not returning to her seat empty-handed. Cheeks crimson, eyes glazed, she carried, in her passionate, plump embrace, a box big as her head: the glittery, red-bowed present. 

(copyright Cathy Larson Sky 2014)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ITHAKA, FOR MARGARET

 
At dawn one August morning in 1966, I stood beside my aunt Margaret on the deck of a small ship called the Elli, entranced by my first glimpse of Mykonos harbor. We would soon enter the harbor's two-armed embrace, sheltered between its long stone jetties. I was a troubled seventeen and Margaret, artist, painter, mentor, offered to bring me to her home in the Cyclades Islands when I decided not to go to college after graduation. Under her tutelage I read Eastern philosophy, practiced Gestalt therapy, read Russian novels, Hesiod, Homer, Beckett, kept a sketchbook, fell in love with Vivaldi and the power of long walks -- when we were not in the sea, or adopting stray cats. In honor of Margaret, who is now 89 and fiercely battling cancer since this May, I want to share this poem, by C.P. Cavafy, tucking some pictures of her between the text. Margaret, the seas are rough just now. I know you will reach Ithaka. Again. (Watercolor above, by me, 1972 home-made calendar.)

ITHAKA


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at
Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

 About the author: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_P._Cavafy

(note: if you ordered my poetry chapbook and haven't received it yet, e-mail me at cathylarsonsky@hotmail.com)








 









Tuesday, April 15, 2014

JOURNAL ART, ETC!

They're calling it a pink moon, then a red moon! At any rate, April's full moon is here. There was a lunar eclipse, and I felt it, did you? Last night I felt like an unstuffed Teddy bear. I read a horoscope that called it a meltdown; not to worry because we would reboot and have fresh energy and ideas in the morning. It happened; here is the result:


 Thanks to computers, scanners, and Adobe Photoshop, I am able to share some of my journal art, dating back as far as the 1970s. I grew up always sketching, using color pens and watercolors, felt tip pens. Lately I've let my visual art skills slide and devoted myself to writing. The picture above is the March picture from a home made calendar I gave my parents for Christmas in 1972.


Here is the April image. I was carrying my daughter Zoe at the time, and these pictures seem so full of the anticipation of new life.

 

This watercolor is from my journal in 1977, when I worked as a preschool teacher at the Narragansett Parents' Cooperative School, in Narragansett, RI. Matthew and David had scurried to the top of a weeping willow tree during a walk, and perched there like birds. How we got them down, I don't recall.




1977 was also a time I was reading works by Rudolph Steiner, especially his theories of curative education for young children. His beliefs about the link between musical notes and colors lead me to this experiment, a free-association with water color, listening to a piano recording of Keith Jarret.

Before I close, here's a real life picture of the back yard weeping cherry tree a few days ago.
Its blossoms have been falling like pink and white snow for the past few days and now it is mostly just pale green. It IS still a beautiful world, isn't it? Despite its troubles.

 (All artwork and photos copyright Cathy Larson Sky, April 15, 2014)

 


Monday, March 31, 2014

ODE TO ITALIAN

It's been a long winter. Pat and I are wearing our Mama and Papa Bear physiques. (A nurse's aide told me "It's a mountain thang.") We have eaten well on these cold nights, and when the snow was at its worst, dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna filled the bill. I thought I would share a poem from my soon-to-be-published chapbook Blue egg, my heart, on the subject of Italian food because (1) It's one of the lighter poems, (2) I still need to drum up a bunch more pre-orders before April 15, and (3) I get to use cool clip art on this blog; most poetry presses frown on illustrations, unless you're A.A. Milne or Doctor Seuss.




Seasoning

a pantoum in honor of the Casa Sorelle (house of the sisters), 1970s Italian eating place in Providence, RI

 

Garlic, you have a bulbous end

like the rumps of the sisters at Casa Sorelle

and your neck is thin as the small skinny chef

who minded their gravy and seasoned it well.



Like the broad hips of ladies at Casa Sorelle,

you are the essence of well-loved cuisine:

Bolognese, marinara, simmering sauces, 

O essential ingredient in every tureen.



You’re the touchstone of memory, well-loved cuisine:

like Chianti, checked table cloths, Hope Street in fall,

where, appetite whetted by fragrances keen,

I waited to savor the thrill of it all --


It was there at the Casa on Hope Street in fall,

that I learned to mop sauce with fresh ciabatta

and drank wine and enchantment at family tables:

Saccocia, Ligouri, Ianucci, Lamotta.




I wiped my plate clean with some crisp ciabatta

far from Wonder Bread, Skippy (those ghosts of my youth).

Alfredo, Al dente, Pomidori, Ricotta --

my rescue from WASP foods, educated my mouth.



Far from Jello molds, hot dogs, and canned lima beans,

a menu of passionate choices is mine,

informed by your wisdom, so ancient and deep,

small cloves in a bundle, seasoning divine.  



 A palette of flavors grows sweeter with thyme

like the sisters and chef at the Casa Sorelle:

robust and steady grace notes in the wine

round at the bottom, sound as a bell.



copyright cathy larson sky, 2014

(Instructions on how to order the chapbook are in the McCotta's Blog entry for last month. Thanks from the bottom of my heart if you have already pre-ordered; it makes all the difference as far as demonstrating a readership to my publisher, Finishing Line Press.) 

HAPPY SPRING!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

BLUE EGG, MY HEART




It has happened! Finishing Line Press "is proud to present" my chapbook, a book of 22 poems. They sent me an e-mail asking to publish it on the eve of my 65th birthday. It is good to be blooming, even if I am a late bloomer. I am over the moon that my artist/fiddler friend Lillie Hardy Morris has permitted me to use one of her paintings for the cover. Some of you may have met Lilly at pipers' gatherings and Irish music camps, or in Ireland at a pub session. Glimpse her beautiful work here: http://www.lilliemorrisfineart.com

 Finishing Line is a small Kentucky press that is a great outlet for emerging poets. I am expected, as a new author, to help advertise advance sales so they can determine Blue egg's press run. (Expected release date is this June.) Below are some nice things that writers I respect and admire have said about the chapbook, and a sample poem, followed by info about how to pre-order a copy of Blue egg, my heart.

From Pat Riviere-Seel, author of The Serial Killer's Daughter and Nothing Below but Air:

Crack open the pages of "Blue egg, my heart," and you will find poems that sing of loss, longing, family, friends, and, ultimately, redemption . . . These poems are full of awe, and yes, they are thrilling. So come, break into these poems, and enjoy the music from a talented poet.

From Earl LeClaire, poet and raconteur, author of Below the Mayonnaise Factory and Epiphanies and Benedictions:

Cathy Larson Sky's poetry, like her music, is by turns stunning, disquieting, melodic, and memorable. It is survival poetry edged with anger and conflict but always steeped in a search for a deeper knowledge of the inner workings of the heart and leads us, finally, to love.




**********



Bunting
for gentleman piper Lt. Col.Edward Riley Harrison

It started with blackbirds in the yard–
a loud flapping crowd. Captive
between two invisible walls,
they fled back and forth.

The sight raked my heart
along with the phone call:
your long suffering, over.

At graveside, rifle shots
jack hammered the air.

Soldiers unfolded the stars
and stripes; its fabric quivered,
new oak leaves stirred.

A sergeant lowered the folded flag
into your widow’s arms, backed
away slowly, holding her gaze.

Bright mornings, grey afternoons
I seldom left the couch, watching hummingbirds’
bold passes at the feeder, their quick retreats.
Fat grey doves pecked at ground-seed,
cardinals lit: crimson lord, dun lady.

The lone bunting was among them one day
and after: indigo-flash, metallic, defiant.
A blue I know from oceans.

He dined humbly with the others,
neither strange nor exotic
except when I close my eyes today
and remember he was there.

**********
About ordering online: Go to www.finishinglinepress.com. On the right you will see a box labeled Categories. You will find the heading: "Preorder Forthcoming Titles." Scroll down, and you will probably recognize the blue cover right away. Click and and pay with credit card.

If you would prefer to pay by check or money order (14$ for the book plus 2.99 postage = 16.99) send it, with your request for Blue egg, my heart to:

Finishing Line Press
PO Box 1626
Georgetown, KY  40324
(for any problems ordering, write to: FLPBookstore@aol.com

Some of you are going to receive post cards from Finishing Line, too. Maybe you'll want to display Lillie's graphic on your fridge gallery. Before I forget, Finishing Line takes orders from the USA only.

Best wishes for a flowering, abundant spring, all the more lovely because of the hard winter we've endured.
With Love, Cathy











Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WEE ALTARS



(Sing to the tune of My Favorite Things)

Bluebirds and seashells from far away beaches

Hearts made of glass and some mythical creatures




 Two little gnomes with their Day-glo coiffures;

Green and blue bottles, of course, de rigeure.


 

Miniature fiddle in miniature case lives

Bright Russian dolls with their painted-on faces





 
Mary and Buddha belong to the crew

There’s really nothing wee altars can’t do.










Tears can loom when

Life goes boom and

Colors fade to grey.

Small kingdoms so near

Chase away doubt and fear

And send all my blues a-way.


This is fun and easy; you make up some verses, too. HAPPY NEW YEAR.

(pix and verse copyright cathy larson sky)


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Meeting Martin Rochford



The Piper's Inn
 Killaloe 1982



He was waiting beside the road. We swerved to pick him up, rain pelting the car windshield. Martin Rochford burst into the back seat, escaping the lashing wet, and drew the door closed with a smart tug. We made our tentative way along the narrow road, Martin clutching the padded back of the front seat with a meaty hand while he called out directions in his throaty Clare voice. Finally we saw the pub lights swimming up ahead.

Through the amber of a pint, I watched the men as they unpacked their instruments, crammed empty cases under table and chairs. They tuned up, rosined bows, adjusted flutes, settled their drinks on the table. Pat wrestled his pipes into place, a complicated process. Quiet chat prevailed. I held my fiddle on my lap with bow resting on my shoulder. After three years playing I hadn’t the ability to keep up in a session, but could join an occasional tune I knew well.


The music began in a rush, driven by a strident banjo. It was a flying but welcome din. Tune after tune erupted. Like me, Martin sat listening, fiddle at rest. The scent of his wet overcoat was an essential part of him, as were his abstracted gaze and the way his eyes rode above his cheeks in two pale crescents. His head was tilted. Strands of white hair escaped his wool cap. Fraught with static electricity, they seemed alive. 


“Give us a tune, Martin,” someone called out.



“My tunes are all gone,” he answered, shrugging. He shook his head.



"Go on. Give us a tune. You will now.”



After an eloquent pause, Martin tucked his fiddle under his chin and lifted his bow. He played alone and I knew why as the tune progressed: no one would want to intrude on such music. I closed my eyes and heard a small owl’s cry in twilit woods, a prayer sung by a silver dragonfly, the funeral lament for a toadstool. I saw spinning motes of light on lake water. The notes turned and twisted, rose and fell. Like rain and wind, they soaked into places in my heart I most conceal, undoing wounds till they oozed colors and tears.



Kevin, a fiddler, leaned close. “He’s playing those fairy tunes,” he whispered.  



(Photo and prose copyright Cathy Larson Sky 2013)