Fall'17 Workshop Series

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The Cheese...

The Cheese Man

In my youth, Fridays were an important day. My dad got paid, grandma made her trip upstate for the weekend, and the cheese man came.
I cannot recall how the cheese man came into our lives, but come he did, slowly and stealthily at first, and then with a dependable frequency that couldn’t be denied.
I vaguely recall his first visit. We had two driveways from which one could enter our property. The driveway that the cheese man chose to use was a pot hole- filled- with- dust and gravel kind of driveway. He was driving a 1961 black Chrysler Saratoga with wide whitewalls and chrome headlights. He drove slowly as not to kick up dust on that hot, dry August day, and out of the corner of her eye as she took clothes off of the line, my mother saw him well before she heard those whitewalls crunching down.
She  stopped with my brother’s diapers in one hand and the wooden clothespins in the other. She never took her eyes off the cheese man as she bent down to put the diapers in the basket and the clothespins in their bag.
“Can I help you?” she lightly called from her stance.
The cheese man walked to the back of his car and opened the trunk.
I suppose that it was more curiosity than fear which gave my mom the courage to walk towards the man and his car. A pungent, but not necessarily undesirable, smell wafted the air as she approached.
The cheese man stood alongside the opened trunk and with his hands gestured for her to come closer and peek inside. With the smell now undeniably coming from within, she peered inside.
All sizes and shapes of cheese lined the trunk. The hard cheeses were squares and rectangles wrapped in brown paper, where they lay at the bottom. Softer cheeses wrapped in cloth were on top of them. Balls of cheese cradled in hammock-like rope hung from the top of the trunk’s insides. A metal scale , impaled by a hook joined the roped cheeses, so that when the trunk opened it would be ready for business. Towards the anterior, salamis were tucked away in empty corners.
“I can cut anything you like” he said matter- of- factly.
My mother’s eyes were wide open in wonder. She became transported to the cheese markets of her youth, and she marveled at the compactness and completeness of this store on wheels.
She looked up at the roped balls.
“How much for one of those?”
The cheese man took one down and placed it, rope and all, onto the scale. The scale number said 2.
“Give it to you for three.”
Mom’s eyebrows went up.
“I’ll take it.”
As he handed her the cheese on a rope, she reached into her apron and pulled out a five dollar bill. I knew from listening to my parents that five dollars was half a day’s pay for my father. Why my mother had that large amount of money in her apron I didn’t know, but I knew that my father would be furious that she spent three dollars for cheese on a rope.
The cheese man took the bill from her and put it into a metal box which was also in the trunk. He extracted two dollar bills from it and handed them to my mother.
“I’ll come by every Friday.” And with that, as my mother and I stood along the pot-holed, graveled driveway, she holding a cheese on a rope, and me shading my eyes with my hands from the sun, he closed the trunk, got into his car, and drove away.
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Featured

Birding with a two-year-old in San Francisco

Melissa Fischer, Artist


I scan the ochre-colored sandy path closely as Paul and I walk beside the canal, he sometimes riding, sometimes pushing his tricycle. I'm intrigued by the houseboats lining the canal. Who lives in them? What are their lives like? I've been fascinated with houseboats ever since having a childhood friend who had lived for a time on a houseboat. The path is lined with pines and other trees I can't identify– the flora here in California is so different from that of the Northeast. There are birds, many species new to me, in these trees, and I have binoculars in my pocket.

The binoculars remain in my pocket, though, and I barely glance at the birds, much as I am drawn to them. I continue to closely watch the path ahead, making sure my active grandson doesn't step in the wrong place anywhere along the path. There's actually surprisingly little dog waste given the tremendous number and fascinating variety of dogs to be seen anywhere one goes around here– from tiny Chihuahuas to towering Great Danes, from a diminutive nine-week-old Shiba Inu that looks like a bright-eyed teddy bear to two lumbering Newfoundlands who look like real bears. The vast majority of dogs here are social and well-behaved, and I'm guessing that the vast majority of dog owners are considerate and responsible about cleaning up.

Apparently not everyone takes advantage of the conveniently placed poop clean-up bag dispensers and attached garbage cans, though. What I'm most concerned about Paul stepping in is human waste. I know from an earlier walk with Paul that there is some along this path, thankfully covered with a little paper, but obviously something to keep my quicksilver grandson from inadvertently running in. I also want to be sure Paul doesn't jump on the navy blue sleeping bag, unzipped and spread out right beside the path, that I'm pretty sure is sheltering a sleeping person. That would be an unwelcome surprise and rude awakening for the sleeper.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see a movement above me and I look up and see a very small, fairly nondescript, drab-colored bird fly from the pine branches above me as another alights in the same low branches, then immediately disappears! I glance ahead along the path, then tell Paul there's a bird in the tree even though I can't see it. I've been teaching him some basic bird species and he's been quite interested, though he's generally ready to move on pretty quickly. The branches are low and not particularly dense. Where could the bird have gone?

The binoculars still heavy in my pocket, I glance back and forth from Paul to the branches overhead. And then I see it: a beautifully fashioned, perfectly camouflaged, narrow tube-shaped nest with a small opening near the top, hanging from one of the branches, partially obscured by the needles of another branch. It appears to be made of moss, the same color as the surrounding pine needles. I never would have noticed it if I hadn't been alerted by the quick movement of the parent birds.

At that moment Paul spots a rock on the path a little way ahead– round and white with small black speckles, about the size of his fist. Running to it in delight, he picks up the rock, looks at it closely, then adds it to the treasures he's already collected in the compartment on the back of his tricycle, and we continue on our way.

The next day, my last before returning home, I once again take Paul out on his tricycle for a walk along the canal, hoping to look more closely at the hanging moss nest and the birds whose home it is. We don't get any farther than the sleeping bag that's still beside the path, however, because just at that spot, without any warning, Paul's tricycle suddenly collapses and falls apart into three separate pieces! Thankfully he's been walking, not riding the tricycle, so though startled, he's not hurt.

As quickly as I can, which isn't very quick due to my lack of tricycle assembly experience, I reassemble the tricycle, only to have it immediately collapse once more in a heap in the sandy path. All the while Paul is providing shrill two-year-old commentary, and soon the sleeping bag stirs, revealing a sleepy older woman's face. I apologize for disturbing her rest and tell her we'll be on our way as soon as possible. After a short time that seems long, probably to all three of us, I finally get the tricycle precariously assembled and we head home where Nathaniel will do what dads do– repair broken toys.

I never do get back to see the hanging moss nest, but I have a clear enough memory of it and the birds to look them up and identify them as Bushtits– a new species to add to my life list of birds I've identified! I also have memories of a delighted boy holding a round white rock with small black speckles, a tricycle collapsing into pieces on a sandy path beside house boats, and a sleepy older woman patiently watching a baffled young boy trying loudly to grasp what had just happened to his hitherto unquestionably reliable tricycle.

Birding in a city neighborhood with a curious two-year old is nothing like strolling quietly, binoculars in hand, through the dense woods and open fields I'm accustomed to, but it, too, is rich with moments of delight and wonder.

"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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What I have learned so far....

What I have learned so far…

How cows make milk.


How dogs became woman's best friend.


How kids tell the truth more often than lies

(We just have to want to hear it).


How families can survive cold nights and empty stomachs

because they have faith in the goodness of life

and the beauty of each other

(and because their mother's taught them how).


How we can live alone or together and still

need to remember to see the apples and not just the orchards.


How becoming a mother is more fraught with more danger

than being a firefighter trapped in a forest fire

how fathers can find grace in scavenged vegetables.


How sometimes looking backwards is more fun

than looking forward, and other times looking backwards

just gives us another chance to try again

(or lets us imagine breathing sultry songs into the microphone

instead of picking up the dirty clothes or paying the bills).


How someone can discover the universe

by picking up a tiny book, one so small it might not be noticed

by anyone else and then the space it took up on the shelf

suddenly expands into light and voice and air

like the equations of time.


How our histories are made from myth as well as

families arguing at the dinner table or laughing out loud

at Granny's funny accent or Auntie's tales of lost love.


How we need to listen to each other

if we ever hope to survive

so we can recite our tales of wonders and lost lovers

and learn something new,

like I imagine two eagles might do looking out at a sun-filled

reservoir on a chilled December morning,

blessing the day.

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Lilacs Lord







I

After months or even lifetimes of doubting the beneficence

of the existence

of Dominus Benedictus

I rejoice this Sunday

feel smell see His goodness

golden green purple blue.


But today I can't comprehend anything Eternal except

death.


If indeed You are good

spawning spring streaming sun soothing souls

please Lord give me one sprig of lilac

from the pastel paradise of this reborning day.


Give me lilac wine potent

drown me

drop the purple curtain over

life's losses injuries injustices betrayals.


Give me lilacs Lord in a hundred crystal vases.


II

Lilacs Lord don't reek of death

like powered hands and polished fingernails

in a shiny mahogany coffin draped with a hundred roses.


Give me lilacs of life soft messages of life

if You love me if You exist

Dominus Benedictus.


Or is this enenchanted springday soft Mayday no more than

a token message of sympathy?


Promise me God

that this day will be an intimation

of promising flowering grace soon to come

and when I am full-bloomed fruit-filled flowing over,


then lilacs Lord place lilacs Lord

only lilacs on my grave.

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