Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

March 8th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

I recently took a poetry course on line from Great Britain.  It was a great way to combat the winter blues. The poetry form is tanka, a form of Japanese poetry.

Tanka is a short five line poem with over 1,300 years of history behind it, and still popular today.  People submit several thousand poems a week to tanka editors for mainstream newspapers in Japan.

Tanka poems can move the reader by creating a panorama usually associated with sonnets or much longer poetry.

Tanka are well-grounded in concrete images yet infused with lyric intensity, with an intimacy from direct expression of emotions tempered with implication, suggestion, and nuance. You can cover almost any subject, explicitly expressing your direct thoughts and feelings. They are written in plain (but not unskilful) language.  Poetic devices such as similes are not overtly used.  An example of my work:

leaving Dad
the last time at the home
his Carl Jung beard
and sad look in his eye
the elevator door closes

you went through the motions
I was lost in the chill
our baby never was
but I know her face
in my dreams

safely single, I see
your blue eyes and
paint splashed smile –
I’m back
on boogie street

where are
the dead ones?
today when I
opened my mouth,
you spoke

cardinal on cedar
whistles his song
this winter morning –
dog runs to the garden gate
looking for spring

black and white
like our love
I play Chopin
in spite of you
because of you

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March 7th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

Martinis and Massenet

by Leslie Bamford

As I sit down to write on the last day of January 2014, I recall that it has been a month of bitter cold, howling wind, ice and snow, and I have begun to feel like I live in an igloo in the frozen north, with no way out.  If I didn’t have a dog, I would have stayed indoors the whole month, lying on the couch eating potato chips, or cherry blossoms if my mother had a say in my choice of junk food. Which means it is a damn good thing that I have a dog.  Not that I appreciate that when I have to pull on my long johns, bundle up in my puffy, non-flattering coat, stuff hand warmers in my down-filled mitts, wrap my face in a scarf to keep my nose from freezing, pull on my hat-head producing tuque and head for the dog park in a gale force wind.

There must be other ways to keep fit in January – oh yes, there’s the gym – how could I forget?  I joined Good Life again in December, full of good intentions. It is January 31st now, and I haven’t been yet. My stubborn side is refusing to let my good intentions be constellated.  And I’m proud of it.  Why be a gym rat when you can walk your dog under swaying old trees in a death-defying attempt to commune with nature on the Bechtel Park trails. I figure if I tree falls on me, who cares at this point? Oh yes, Bob and Merlin would care. I walk for awhile lost in the thought of their grief at losing wonderful me, and for a moment I feel better about myself and then I feel terrible for wishing that upon them.  So I shake off these maudlin thoughts and walk along faster now, listening to the groaning trees and watching Merlin sniffing along the trail. The park is littered with fallen limbs.  It is minefield of branches lying helter-skelter, both on the trail and off, any one of them large enough to do us in. I send my request to the gods of wind to not send a big gust our way and when we make it back to the car, I breathe a sigh of relief. Only then do I realize that my thumbs have frozen in my expensive mitts, one more time (where are those damn hand warmers?). Operating the car with thumbs that feel like they are made of heavy-duty cardboard is difficult but the real trick is seeing through my glasses, which fog up as soon as I get into my little Nissan, every time.  So I take them off as I drive, hoping that nothing smaller than a grizzly bear walks out in front of me because I might not see it otherwise. (more…)

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March 6th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

These Mitts Climbed Mount Mansfield

By Leslie Bamford

Remember in the 50s and 60s, when people went on vacation and put bumper stickers on their cars and vans?  Often they said something like “This car climbed Mount Washington” or “This van visited Ausable Canyon”.  I remember wishing I had a sticker like that, until I finally put one on my car and could never get it off when it no longer seemed trendy to announce to the world that my car had climbed Toll Road on the mountain at Stowe, Vermont.  Still the message lingers in my head, and I find it going round and round today as I prepare to retire my Kombi Gortex ski mitts.  Not sure what their retirement destination is yet, but not to the Goodwill or the garbage, as I just can’t bring myself to discard them.  They are old now, not sure how old in mitten years, but old enough to have lost their youthful insulation as I discovered at the dog park the other day, when frostbite nearly set into both my thumbs in the freezing temperatures while my new dog, Merlin, roared around happily with a huge Bull Mastiff, oblivious to the fact that his mistress was about to need a visit to Emerg if he didn’t do just that – emerge from the park and return to the warmth of the car.

I am trying to remember when I bought my ski mitts, but being at the age of forgetfulness, I can’t recall exactly. I can estimate that it was in the mid-80s, when I took up skiing again after the divorce from my non-skiing first husband came through.  I was determined to make up for lost time on the slopes – seventeen years of prime skiing time lost, to be exact, due to my philosophy that in a good marriage, couples do things together.  We did, but it didn’t work anyway.  So I headed back to the slopes, complete with new skis, new boots and new clothes.  The mitts came along at the same time.  Making them at least 28 years old now.  I guess they can be forgiven for not keeping me warm like they used to do. (more…)

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March 5th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

Getting out of Dodge

By Leslie Bamford

(written before retirement)

Summer vacation.  Also known as R and R, breathing space, furlough, holiday, intermission, leave, liberty, respite, sabbatical, time off.  In boating circles, sometimes called Shore Leave. In military circles, AWOL if you don’t have permission.  According to a jet-setting friend of mine, it’s also called Getting Out of Dodge.

Official definition of vacation:  leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure.

Yah right.

They clearly didn’t take holidays with my husband, Captain Bob.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s got the pleasure part covered as he is lots of fun to hang out with, if only I could keep up with him.  It’s the restful part that is missing.

My first marriage was quiet and intellectual. Plenty of great conversations and ideas discussed over delicious restaurant meals, but not a lot of adventure. Perhaps I didn’t want adventure back then. But when I was approaching my mid-forties, I changed. I was attracted to Bob’s get-up-and-go nature right from the start. Now I am exhausted, covered with bruises and stiff and sore in muscles that I didn’t know I had – like Leonard Cohen, I “ache in the places where I used to play”. And this is a good thing.

But I am confused.

Every morning for the past eighteen days (not that I was counting), I have awoken to a mystery.

Which of Bob’s many personalities will I spend my day with today? (more…)

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March 5th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

Trust the Dog, Not the Man, by Leslie Bamford

I don’t trust authority. Not blindly, anyway. Might be from listening to years of weather reports that were inaccurate, given by meteorologists who are supposed to know something. Or the bad calls made by medical personnel like “He’ll be gone by morning” when my father-in-law is thankfully still thriving three years later at the age of 98. Or politicians who promise the moon and renege on delivery later (the moon has yet to show up). But some things I still do trust, like expiration dates on the food products that I buy. I read them faithfully, adhere to them dutifully, never serve food that has gone beyond the declared date.

And yet, last week, I almost poisoned my husband.

Dinner that night included salad in a bag. Pre-washed. Expiration date five days hence. I shook the lettuce onto our plates, topped it up with tomatoes and carrots and a hearty dollop of Balsamic dressing. Down to the the rec-room we went, to eat while watching the latest NFL game on TV. As I was chewing, something seemed a little odd. A strange earthy taste. No, maybe it was more like mould. Or how I imagine eating mould would be. After picking away at half my serving, I put mine aside. Bob gobbled his up and left his empty plate on the coffee table. When I went back to the kitchen with the dirty dishes, something niggled at me. I got the salad bag out of the fridge again, and stuck my nose in it. The stench was appalling. The salad was rotten.  How could this be? The bag swore in large black numbers that its contents were good for five more days.

Later I asked Bob if he’d smelled or tasted anything odd.

“Nope,” he said. “Great salad.” Apparently his taste buds took the night off, and he had missed the rotten salad smell despite that big honker of his.

I decided not to tell him. Why should both of us worry about dying of some food-borne illness that could have been lurking in that bag? Thankfully we did not get sick. So far, anyway. But if you can’t trust a bag of salad, who can you trust?

Later that same week, I almost poisoned my dog.

Merlin is a year-old labradoodle and a picky eater for a dog. He likes variety and topping on his dog food. Cottage cheese is his favorite kibble-enhancer. But sometimes he won’t eat his kibble even with cottage cheese on it. Occasionally I have to change the topping to yogurt. Lately I have been trying to encourage Merlin to eat like a normal dog, not like Little Lord Fauntleroy. So I have been sticking to cottage cheese as his enticement, going the tough love route with the little darling. But it has not been working.

For two days last week, every time I put down his food bowl with cottage cheese on the kibble, he took a sniff, looked at me with those baleful brown eyes of his and literally backed away from the bowl. Each time, I would pick up the bowl and bring it to him again. Eventually he hid from his food dish, lying low behind the coffee table where I couldn’t get at him.

I said to Bob: “Look how picky Merlin is being. He looks at me like I am trying to poison him.”

On the third day, as I was attempting to feed him more cottage cheese from the same container, the one which said it was good until two weeks hence, I got a whiff of something. I put my nose closer. What a stench of rotten cheese. Oh dear. I actually had been trying to poison the dog. When I opened a fresh container of cottage cheese and served him his usual kibble with topping, he gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow. Poor Merlin. I apologized to him for the rest of the day. Gave him treats behind the coffee table where he had decided to take up residence, just in case I tried to poison him again. Each time he looked at me with those eyes again, as if to say, you are just nuts, lady.

Perhaps the fridge was malfunctioning. I checked. No, it was fine.

Perhaps the power had been off for two days and we hadn’t noticed? No, that wasn’t it either.

Perhaps supermarket coolers broke down? But no, the products came from two different stores. It was beyond the odds that they would both have equipment failures and I would buy products from two faulty coolers, even with my luck.

There was no other explanation. It was the authority figures, lying again.

I should have known.

This time, my ability to trust has been seriously damaged. From now on, my nose is going to be smelling all food before serving anything. No matter what the date. If in doubt, I will offer it to the dog first. Because the dog has the best nose in the house. Mine is second. And Bob’s is last. Even though it is biggest.

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March 5th, 2014  Posted at   Writing

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding”

(the last of his Four Quartets)

Listening for Ravens by Leslie Bamford

Heraclitus said: “It is impossible to step into the same river twice.”  Maybe T.S. Eliot knew the quote.  I shall add my observation to this consideration.  You can never walk the same mountain trail twice either.  You can only re-discover it, if your heart and your feet are drawn back there – each climb a new effort, each rock a new wonder to discover, the babbling mountain stream talking a new language every time.

It has been nine years since my feet left the relatively level ground of Waterloo County and ascended the Green Mountain trails in Vermont.  Much water has passed under my metaphorical bridge in that time –  I feel as though the entire river that Heraclitus speaks of has washed through my being in those years, and changed me, like water polishes rocks as it passes over them.  I should be smooth as a pebble now, serene as an agate, but I am not.  There are still sharp parts of my psyche, sections of me that are jagged and splintered.  More polishing is required.  Perhaps ten days in the mountains will address my inner turmoil in a way that I cannot predict, but can only experience through exploration, both inner and outer. (more…)

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May 25th, 2012  Posted at   Writing

“I found the perfect vacation,” says Bob, waving the travel section of the paper. “With scuba diving included.”

“I don’t know how to scuba dive.” I speak slowly and deliberately because of my husband’s uncanny ability to tune me out when I am talking to him.

“You could take a course this spring at the pool,” he says. “They teach you to use a snorkel and overcome your animal fear of breathing underwater.” (more…)

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May 3rd, 2010  Posted at   Writing

I squint, typing against the glare of the sun sparkling off the water. Bob reads a book opposite me, his wavy hair almost white in the brightness.  I have never used Bob’s laptop on the boat, though he offers me free access to it. As I look at the screen, I feel the visceral stirrings of a complex. Use the laptop if you must, but don’t write that woman stuff on it, says a stern voice in my head. I continue typing. My breath gets shallow, my legs squirm under the cockpit table. I think of practical things I could be doing, accomplishments that would be tangible and praiseworthy. The dinghy needs a good wash. Bob would be pleased. But I continue typing, putting one word after another – bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say – all the while thinking that it isn’t just a complex that kept me from writing on board these three years that we have owned Whalesong, our thirty-four foot sloop.  It’s logistics, too. For example, it has taken me half an hour to type the first paragraph of this essay, not because I am slow of wit or fingers, nor am I, at this moment, plagued by writer’s block. If you think practical things get in the way of writing at home, try it on a sailboat. (more…)

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May 3rd, 2010  Posted at   Writing

The first part of any mountain climb is always torture.  Your thighs ache, your heart thumps, your lungs heave. That ten pounds you gained feels like thirty. You gaze up at the towering cliff and the trail snaking with treacherous roots, and know you’ll never drag your sorry butt to the top.   (more…)

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