I love you yellow

By Catherine Keefe

Seven weeks ago, my kind and funny next door neighbor died, leaving behind his wife of more than 50 years. A few days after his funeral, two small green plant shoots burst through the dirt of an empty flower pot lining their driveway. “I don’t know what’s growing there,” his widow, Anne, told me when I pointed them out. “I’ll just let them grow and find out.” My neighbors were citrus and avocado ranchers, raising their family on an orchard. They had a reverence and delight for growing things.

sunfl

Today, two sunflowers face the sky, bobbing on stalks rising more than six feet high, petals carressing each other in the light morning breeze. “Now I know who planted them,” Anne says. And with a quiet smile she turns her face toward the sun.

Surprise someone today. Leave a small note or gift to be discovered when you’re not there.
~Catherine

For more “Yellow” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

Question: The edge

By Catherine Keefe

hopper

“This one appeared to me
in a dream…”

A grey bird grasshopper rests on my deck and I remember the opening lines of Lawson Fusao Inada’s poem, “This One, That One.”

This one appeared to me
in a dream, was forgotten,
only to reveal itself
on the shower wall
this morning.
It must have been the water.

That one was on the full moon
last night, clear as a bell.
Someone projected it there.

I find the grasshopper and I wonder, where do you draw the line between this thing and that?

By color?

One grey grasshopper rests between two grey wooden boards.  All is grey. There is no color edge.

By whether or not it lives?

One living Schistocerca nitens pauses on a now-dead Tabebuia ipê hewn into lumber planks for a deck. Yet both grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens) and tree (Tabebuia ipê) had a moment of birth. Both are listed in the Catalogue of Life, “the most comprehensive and authoritative global index of species… essential information on the names, relationships and distributions of over 1.6 million species…information is compiled from diverse sources around the world.” There is no edge between things that live.

By borders?

This grey bird grasshopper is also known as a vagrant grasshopper and can be found, among other places in most of the Southwest US, Hawaii, and parts of Central America. The ipê is indigenous to many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Both ended up in my backyard.

How do we name the edge, the line between this thing and that?

That one speaks to me
of space, and negative space,
of open and filled spaces,
and the among
that comes between.

Today I want to dwell in the “among that comes between. If you’re inspired to consider liminal edges today, read the entire poem that this grasshopper moment called to mind. “This One, That One” by Lawson Fusao Inada is printed in its entirety on the Poetry Foundation website here. The poem seems especially right for this conversation when you know that Lawson Fusao Inada was one of the youngest Japanese Americans sent to live in internment camps during WWII.

Here’s to trying to lose our edge
~Catherine

For more “Edge” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community project curated by Susannah Conway, a photographer, author and teacher we greatly admire over here at Backyard Sisters. You can follow the month-long photo challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

Book notes

By Catherine Keefe

Thankfully I’ve never been a rule follower. “Don’t write in books” means nothing to me when reading rattles a new thought. I read with book in one hand, pencil in the other.

bookI go to books to the way a diver explores the shipwreck: to swim out of my element into something deep and unknown. The very best encounters leaves me breathless.

I mine for words I don’t yet know, like mendacious (Hour of the Star pg. 36).
I note new questions like, “Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?”(pg. 15).
I retrace lines that reaffirm something I always secretly thought but rarely read, “…for we are all one and the same person,” (pg. 12).

This photo captures the inside of my copy of Clarice Lispector’s classic novel, Hour of the StarIf you’re not familiar with Lispector’s literature, maybe reading “Why You Should Know Clarice Lispector” by Benjamin Moser will entice you to seek out her work and create your own book notes.

“This great figure is duly celebrated in Brazil and throughout Latin America. Her arresting face adorns postage stamps. Her name lends class to luxury condominiums. Her works are sold in subway vending machines. One Spanish admirer wrote that educated Brazilians of a certain age all knew her, had been to her house and have some anecdote to tell about her, much in the way Argentines do with Borges. At the very least they went to her funeral in 1977…readers might, as I did, find in her expressive genius a mirror of their own souls.”

Although Clarice died in 1977, her work is enjoying a recent renaissance. Complete Stories was just released August 1, 2015. You can read the Publisher’s Weekly review of it here. Turns out, according to the Slate Book Review by Jeff VanderMeer, Clarice and I have something in common.

Sometimes when you don’t care about how many writing rules you break, you wind up somewhere sublime and subversive and original. Reading Lispector, you see this happen with startling regularity.

Isn’t to be alive to learn something new every day? Maybe that happens when you break a few rules. What do you do to inspire new perspectives? Make note. Take note.
~Catherine

For more “notebook” images and interpretations from The August Break project, search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

 

 

Citrus and Sizzle

Today’s August Break 2015 prompt is “citrus” and the photo comes courtesy of Susan Greene, the other original Backyard Sisters. _MG_0380One stifling afternoon, Susan’s daughter wondered what would happen if you added jalapeño to lemonade. Her kitchen curiousity inspired this refreshing and slightly spicy, hot yet cold, beverage. It’s a wonderful anomaly, so delicious it earned a spot in the Backyard Sisters family cookbook. 

For the complete recipe, check out Susan’s post: The Weekend Dish, Jalapeño Lemonade.  For more “citrus” images from The August Break project, search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

Cheers!

“I like the generosity of numbers…”

By Catherine Keefe

I always hated numbers, despised their precision, their insistence on creating a definitive right answer or wrong guess. How many jellybeans in the jar? How much money in the bank? How many hours in a day?

I’d rather live in the ‘ish, a realm my body understand better than calculators.

DSC00296A clatter of red lacquer shutters.
Firework bursts of flower petals.
A cacophony of tilted bicycles.
This means more to me than the single number 4 plastered onto one black lamppost in Delft.

I hated the constriction of numbers until I reconsidered them through poetry. When I started The August Break project I didn’t define the number of hours I’d spend on the project, or establish the number of posts I’d participate in. Rather I promised myself fluid time to investigate concepts through images and poetry.

Today that exploration led me to discover poet Mary Cornish, a poet whose words I never would have met if I hadn’t ignored the definitive number of days left in summer before I must return to teaching with a prepared syllabus. According to Mary Cornish’s official biography at Poetry Foundation, she “came to poetry late in life.” (There’s that number thinking again.) Her poetry is, “Known for its thoughtful investigations of domestic scenes…explores the relationships between art, artifice, and the past.” Here’s an excerpt:

Numbers

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition—
add two cups of milk and stir—
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

Today, I reconsider my relationship to numbers. Maybe you’ll open yourself up to a new possibility too as you remember to count your blessings and number your gifts.

You can read the entire text of Mary Cornish’s “Numbers” poem here, or take a 2-minute video break and watch the poem here:


For more “Numbers” images from The August Break project, search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

~Catherine

Slip me some skin

By Catherine Keefe

Skin is the sole
thin veil between
where I stop
and you begin

baby

This sole thin skin is all
that keeps me
from melting into you

Slip me some –
Give me some –
You are under
my skin.

Be soft today.

My grandchild’s face is the inspiration for Day #3 of The August Break photography challenge prompt, “Skin.” Follow #augustbreak15 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr for more images.

~ Catherine

 

 

“…out of doors is made up of air…”

gulls By Catherine Keefe

“…and a painting is always a flat surface, a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.” Gertrude Stein was rather firm in her opinion about the artistic effort of rendering air in her book, Paris France.  What bravado then, for me to attempt to photograph “air,” the Day 2 prompt for The August Break.

But then, I always like a challenge. I try the seemingly impossible in photography, “capture air,” or in writing when I take on Helen of Troy’s persona in my poetry manuscript.  Undertaking the difficult thing is the call of an artist. Gertrude Stein also wrote, “One of the pleasantest things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.”

We seek that exhilarating moment when we capture the flash of life as art in momentary perfection. Usually the daily miracle comes by showing up and paying attention.

What you can’t see in my image of California Gulls on Laguna Beach is the little boy, just out of left frame, running down the beach in bright red trunks, flapping his arms in agitation at this flock that moments earlier descended on his towel and pilfered his bag of Cheetos. As the boy began running, I pulled out my camera to focus on the gulls.

Every day gives up its sparks if we show up to pay attention. One certain miracle of a summer Sunday is having enough time to spend outside. Put down your device, and go outside now! Chase birds, or chase your daily miracle. Chase your dream, or your lover, or your child.

Breathe.

Gulp great mouthfuls of air.

You are alive.
~Catherine

ps. If you want to hear one sound of California summer, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology California Gull Call audio here. For more “Air” images search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

I could give a fig

figs

By Catherine Keefe

Breakfast.

California figs.

Figs are technically flowers, not fruit.

I eat flowers for breakfast.

California grows 90% of the world’s figs. This year there was enough water to grow these delicacies. Endangered by drought? Maybe. But today, there are figs. Rejoice!

And read a morsel of fig poetry by the indominatable Edna St. Vincent Millay.

First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

For more “Breakfast” images, check out The August Break, 2015 project inspired by Susannah Conway, a photographer we greatly admire over here at Backyard Sisters.  You can follow the month-long photo challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

Happy August! ~Catherine