The Maven

Once upon a time, a few days before Halloween, my friend EM called and said, “There are thirteen men under my house. They’re leveling it. For the second time in five years.” She then asked whether David and I would go with her and her husband to see the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, on the University of Texas campus. The next day, I presented EM, via email, the following verse. Mr. Poe would probably be horrified, but since EM is my Muse, the end product is bound to be a bit quirky.

Lithograph of a nine-banded armadillo from the...
Lithograph of a nine-banded armadillo from the 1918 National Geographic Small Mammal series (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Jerry Segraves (en:User:Jsegraves99) ( [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted.


To G and EM, in celebration of their tenth trimester of home improvement, with gratitude and affection
Forgive me for making mirth of melancholy


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping,

As of someone gently tapping, tapping at my chamber floor.

“‘Tis some armadillo,” said I, “tapping at my chamber floor,

Only this, and nothing more.”


Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the dry September,

And my house was sinking southward, lower than my bowling score,

Pier and beam and blocks of concrete, quiet as Deuteron’my’s cat feet,

Drooping like an unstarched bedsheet toward the planet’s molten core.

“That poor armadillo,” thought I, “choosing my house to explore.

He’ll squash like an accordion door.”


“Tuck,” I cried, “and Abby, come here! If my sanity you hold dear,

Go and get that armadillo, on him all your rancor pour.

While he’s bumping and a-thumping, give his rear a royal whumping,

Send him hence with head a-lumping, for this noise do I abhor.

Dasypus novemcinctus is not a beast I can ignore,

Clumping ‘neath my chamber floor.”


While they stood there prancing, fretting, I imparted one last petting,

Loosed their leashes and cried “Havoc!” then let slip the dogs of war.

As they flew out, charged with venom, I pulled close my robe of denim.

“They will find him at a minimum,” I said, “and surely more,

Give him such a mighty whacking he’ll renounce forevermore

Lumbering ‘neath my chamber floor.”


But to my surprise and wonder, dogs came flying back like thunder.

“That’s no armadillo milling underneath your chamber floor.

Just a man with rule and level, seems engaged in mindless revel,

Crawling ’round. The wretched devil is someone we’ve seen before,

Measuring once and measuring twice and measuring thrice. We said, ‘Senor,

Get thee out or thee’s done for.’”


“Zounds!” I shouted, turning scarlet. “What is this, some vill’nous varlet

Who has come to torment me with mem’ries of my tilting floor?”

Fixing myself at my station by my floundering foundation,

Held I up a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

“Out, you cad!” I said, “or else prepare to sleep beneath my floor,

Nameless there forever more.”


Ere my words had ceased resounding, with their echo still surrounding,

Crawled he out, saluted, and spoke words that chilled my very core.

“I been down there with my level, and those piers got quite a bevel.

It’s a case of major evolution: totter, tilt galore.

Gotta fix it right away, ma’am, ‘less you want your chamber floor

At a slant forevermore.”


At his words there came a pounding and a dozen men came bounding

From his pickup, and they dropped and disappeared beneath my floor.

And they carried beam and hammer and observed no rules of grammar,

And the air was filled with clamor and a clanging I deplore.

“Take thy beam and take thy level and thy failing Apgar score

And begone forevermore.”


But they would not heed my prayer, and their braying filled the air,

And it filled me with despair, this brouhaha that I deplore.

“Fiend!” I said. “If you had breeding, you would listen to my pleading,

For I feel my mind seceding from its sane and sober core,

And my house shall fall like Usher.” Said the leader of the corps,

“Lady, you got no rapport.”


“How long,” shrieked I then in horror, “like an ominous elm borer,

Like a squirrely acorn storer will you lurk beneath my floor?

Prophesy!” I cried, undaunted by the chutzpah that he flaunted,

And the expertise he vaunted. “Tell me, tell me, how much more?”

But he strutted and he swaggered like a man who knows the score.

Quoth the maven, “Evermore.”


He went off to join his legion in my house’s nether region

While my dogs looked on in sorrow at that dubious guarantor.

Then withdrawing from this vassal with his temperament so facile

I went back into my castle and I locked my chamber door.

“On the morrow, they’ll not leave me, but will lodge beneath my floor

Winter, spring, forevermore.


So the hammering and the clamoring and the yapping, yawping yammering

And the shrieking, squawking stammering still are sounding ‘neath my floor.

And I sit here sullen, slumping in my chair and dream the thumping

And the armadillo’s bumping is a sound I could adore.

For those soles of boots from out the crawlspace ‘neath my chamber floor

Shall be lifted—Nevermore!

Detail of the statue of a raven on the grounds...
Detail of the statue of a raven on the grounds of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Midnightdreary (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Reposted from Whiskertips.

Blatant Self-Promotion


Did I mention my story “And Justice for All”
appears in the Fall 2012/Winter 2013 issue of

English: Sparkler Polski: Zimny ogień
English: “Sparkler Polski: Zimny ogień” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) By Krzysztof Maria Różański, (Upior polnocy) (Own work) is licensed under CC BY 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons


Poof! Happened and So Did Phooey!

Mr. Frank Churchill did not come. ~ Jane Austen, Emma


Emma was not at this time in a state of spirits to care really

about Mr. Frank Churchill’s not coming… ~ Jane Austen, Emma


Remember what I said about the furniture and assorted stuff in my living room maybe going Poof! and disappearing?

A couple of things did.

The recliner, for one. David, who normally sits beside it, got a long look at it head-on and asked whether we should dispose of it immediately, before getting a replacement.

Oh, my, yes.

Poof! It disappeared.

The chair was a good and faithful servant, but it should have departed about the same time George W. Bush did.

The search for adequate lumbar support that followed lasted the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday,  and it wasn’t pretty. I despaired of being able to get out of bed the next day without a forklift. But I could and did. And the living room looked better. And that was a good thing.

Tuesday night, after listening to considerable moaning and groaning on my part, David asked whether we should shop for a chair Wednesday instead of waiting until Friday, and we did, and bought the one I’d coveted ever since I first tried it out, about four years ago, and he assembled it and the accompanying footstool, and, after I’d tried to poison us all by spraying the cushions with Scotchgard (I’m waiting for people who know me well to say, “Why did you get beige?”), in an inadequately ventilated space (It was raining), things turned out pretty well. I stopped moaning and groaning and concentrated on keeping Ernest from making biscuits on the nubbly fabric.

So far he hasn’t expressed much interest in sitting there. He’s tried it only once. After about fifteen seconds he moved to the nearby rocking chair. Relocation was possibly due to the rocker’s new green seat cushion, purchased during our shopping trip–it matches his eyes–but I like to think he responded to my schoolteacher glare.

William, who does not respond to schoolteacher glares, in the new IKEA bathtub
William, who does not respond to schoolteacher glares, enjoying the lumbar support of the new IKEA bathtub

As to the other item that went Poof!–it didn’t exactly disappear, because it was never here in the first place.

Like Mr. Frank Churchill, the carpet cleaner, who was scheduled for “sometime after 9:00 a.m.,” did not come.

Unlike Emma, I did care really that the carpet cleaner did not come. I waited for him almost as long as Emma waited for Mr. Frank Churchill.

And I waited with a backache.

Well. It seems the carpet cleaner canceled because of the rain. That was sensible.

But somehow, through no fault of his, I didn’t get word until my ability to extend immediate forgiveness had passed the point of no return. Too little sleep compounded by the mother of all backaches propelled me in the direction of the most convenient scapegoat, and the carpet cleaner was first in line.

So file that part of the day under Phooey!

As soon as my new chair was ready for occupancy, however, sanity returned and unconditional forgiveness reigned supreme. I am once again a veritable Pollyanna, spreading gladness to all I meet.

Which is another good thing, because the carpet cleaner is scheduled to come next Monday “sometime after 9:00 a.m.”

William resting on an old blanket covering the new IKEA footstool
William resting on an old blanket covering the new IKEA footstool


Waiting for Poof!

Tomorrow morning, or, to be exact, later this morning, the nice man with the loud motor and all the hoses and the soap will arrive to clean our carpet.

There is nothing we need more. There is nothing I desire less.

Because before the nice man comes, I have to move all the living room furniture into the dining room, which is already filled with a table, chairs, a sideboard stuffed with china, and a stationary bike. Some of the furniture will spill into the kitchen. If I’m not careful, I won’t be able to get to the cabinet for a glass, the sink for water, or the refrigerator for whatever is in there.

Worse yet, before the nice man comes, I have to pick up everything else that is on the floor. The furniture is nothing. I’ll drag three chairs, two tables, and two lamps onto the tile and tell the nice man to work around the piano, the electronics, the couch, and possibly the bookcases, depending on how hard I want to work.

The tables are a bit of a challenge because I have to move their marble tops separately, and marble is heavy. One of the lamps is old, an oil lamp wired for electricity, that I’ve always loved. It’s a challenge, too, because I’m obsessed with its fragility. My mother bought it in Maryland in 1946. We coexisted peacefully for my first forty years, but since I inherited it twenty years ago, I’ve been afraid I would break it. Someday I’ll post a picture of it, but first I have to remove the cobwebs. In case of breakage, I’m counting on cobwebs to hold the shards together.

But, as I said, all those things are really nothing. David will help. He’s home for Columbus’ Day. He might even be looking forward to the experience. He was furloughed–or, as I prefer to call it, shut down–two weeks ago. He doesn’t appear to be growing restive, but cooking breakfast every day is bound to get boring. Variety is a good thing.

The big deal is that I have to pick up all the books and papers previously stacked and now collapsed all around my chair. Books I need to read, books I have read but need to read again, books that were on shelves until I had the impulse to put them where I could reach them. Notebooks of every shape and size and color, a different one for each purpose, and all now multipurpose because I can never find the right one when I need it. Paper paper paper comprising manuscripts of, it seems, everything I’ve ever written. And other stuff. I suspect there’s more other stuff than anything else. I expect to find several items already given up for lost. Especially another pair of socks. They have to be around here somewhere.

Remember the piece Fancy Fairchild posted on the 15 Minutes of Fame blog, about the cloth-covered boxes stacked behind her couch that she’s trying to pass off as an end table? I have some of those too. But without the cloth or the boxes.

So why, you ask, am I writing about getting ready for the carpet cleaner when I should be getting ready.

Denial, that’s why. Just plain denial. If I look at the monitor rather than at the–stuff–it might tippy-toe over to the kitchen all by itself. It might disappear. Vanish. Atomize. Poof!

Stranger things have happened.


The dining room pictured above is not mine, more’s the pity.

Spine Chillers to Make Your Kindle Quake

Have to share this one, too: Kate Shrewsday, Andra Watkins, Angela Amman, Cameron D. Garriepy, Elizabeth Yon, Kameko Murakami, and Mandy Dawson share seven ghost stories “to chill you to the bone”–and just in time for Halloween.

Kate Shrewsday

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 21.18.28

The Italians create a lavish meal: a feast fit for their loved ones. And you know how those Italians love to cook.

And then, they leave it for the ghosts of the ones they have lost, and will never see again. They walk out of the door, and down the road to the church, leaving the meal steaming – for whom? Is it just a game, a fantasy, a fierce longing for those wraiths to be wholly present just once more?

It is the very essence of Hallowe’en.

In parts of Britain, on October 31st, the Reformation soldiers stamped on the tradition of leaving a candle burning in the window of every window to guide long lost loved souls home to the place their clay feet once trod. Soul Lights. The French would take the direct route, kneeling next to graves and praying, leaving bowls of milk for the departed.

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Larger than life

I just have to share this post from Russel Ray Photos–a story of the San Diego statue based on the iconic photograph taken on August 14, 1945–V-J Day–the end of World War II.

Russel Ray Photos

Out & About

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Some things are larger than life, such as this statue titled “Unconditional Surrender” (aka “The Kiss”) in downtown San Diego:

Unconditional Surrender statue in San Diego in April 2013

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That picture was taken in April 2013, just a few days after the statue had been installed. The statue was a replacement for one created by Seward Johnson that was originally installed in March 2007. Johnson’s original statue was on loan to San Diego and was to be removed in August 2010.

Initially, the public was aghast: It was too large for its location on the harbor, it was copyright infringement of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph titled V–J day in Times Square which was published in Life magazine in 1945. I can’t show you Eisenstaedt’s photograph since he died in 1995; thus, it is still protected by copyright law.

Johnson has stated that he was familiar with the copyright law regarding Eisenstaedt’s photograph so instead he used a different photograph…

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Well, Shut My Mouth


October 7, 2013

You don’t have to give every thought that drifts through your head
a voice.

Unless you are standing for something that is essential to who you are, it won’t be necessary to offer a judgment.

~Holiday Mathis, “Horoscope”


Above is today’s horoscope.

So far, I’ve followed its advice reasonably well.

Even on Facebook.

Paris, Day 2: Starving and Art

The breakfast room off the lobby is spacious, airy, earth-toned: oak paneling and hardwood floors, sconce lighting, a view of the garden. While David pours coffee, I forage.

In the corner, canisters of cereal line the wall above the breakfast bar: cornflakes, bran flakes, raisin bran, O’s, plain and fruited and frosted, reflect the room’s tones of wood and light. Trays of breads, bagels, rolls, pastries, gold and brown and white, sit side-by-side on the counter below.

They are beautiful. They are carbohydrates.

I’m sensitive to carbohydrates. One taste of sugar before evening and both body and brain cease to function. One spoonful of cereal and I will not see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees. I will sit, lead-bottomed, in the lobby, staring at nothing and making the concierge nervous.

Looking past the pastries, I see a bowl of hard-boiled eggs hiding, probably in humiliation, behind a pile of little plastic tubs of butter and cream cheese.

I don’t care for un-deviled hard-boiled eggs, especially for breakfast, but I set one on my plate. Beside it I place a bagel. I add three containers each of butter and cream cheese. At the table I peel the egg and eat small, dry bites, alternating with bites of cream cheese- and butter-slathered bagel. I pray protein and fat will cancel out refined white flour.

David sits beside me, drinking coffee and staring down at a puffy, powdery confection.

“We’re supposed to get breakfast,” he says. “The travel agent said our plan includes breakfast.”

“This is breakfast,” I say. “A Continental breakfast.” He says nothing. “We’re on the Continent.”

He looks up from the pastry.

“It’s what they eat,” I say.

He looks back at the pastry, his brown eyes sad, anticipating starvation.

I see the irony: one carbohydrate addict and one carnivore, turned loose in the country for which bread was named. Water, water everywhere, etc.

I understand David’s concern, but, determined to be positive, I smile. “Would you get me some more butter and cream cheese?”

I watch him cross the room. He is tall, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. When my best friend saw him wearing his brand new wedding suit, she gushed, “He is just built to wear clothes.” When my raft of cousins met him for the first time, they pulled me aside one by one and whispered, “Does he eat?”

He returns with a handful of plastic tubs for me and a cinnamon roll and a croissant for himself. As I pull back the foil from the butter—one hundred calories per tablespoon—I try to feel sorry for him.


By mid-morning, we’re on the upper deck of the tour bus, attempting to keep pace with the guide on the English tape recording. I can’t help gawking.

“Ahead to your left…” “Ahead to your right…”

The bus inches through traffic, but by the time I realize where I’m supposed to be looking, “ahead” is always “behind.” David and I pass the disposable Kodak back and forth, taking snapshots that will make the buildings look as if they need leveling.

When we pass Eglise de la Madeleine, I stop trying to follow the tape. I will later look on-line for detail: Corinthian columns, a relief of the Last Judgment on the pediment, bronze doors bearing a relief representing the Ten Commandments. All I will remember is the heavy, massive, dark expanse of stone. Standing outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I felt uplifted. Here, I feel claustrophobic. I see no windows.


The bus stops in front of the Louvre. I jump up and scramble off. David follows me across the courtyard. When he calls my name, I turn and hear the shutter click. In the photo, my purple shirt and blue passport pouch fade into the red tee-shirts and yellow caps of pre-teens sprawled on the low, curved side of the pool in the background. I get a shot of David against one of the three glass pyramids erected in the ’80s. Through the view-finder, his twelve-day-old beard, which I’ve been privately thinking of as scraggly, looks distinguished, dark on upper lip and chin, grizzled on cheeks and jaw.

“You should keep the beard,” I tell him. He grins and rolls his eyes.


We stay in the Louvre four hours. I snap some photos, but the camera obscures my view. I ask David to put it in his pocket.

I marvel at the perfect fingernail on the hand of Vermeer’s Astronomer; feel breathless, almost afraid, in the presence of the Winged Victory of Samothrace; hear shutters swishing in the crowd pressing toward the Mona Lisa, and watch her eyes watch me as I walk back and forth seeking the best view.

I have no words.


Mid-afternoon, we board the bus. The next stop—the next one I’m sure I can identify—is the Eiffel Tower. As we pull up alongside the curb, I stop myself from blurting out, “It’s so big!” My fellow passengers don’t need to know I was expecting a gilt figurine.

Waiting for the aisle to clear, I crane my neck at contradiction of steel and lace. Its base is as heavy and earthbound as Eglise de la Madeleine; yet, rising, it seems so fragile that a touch would snap it in two.

I’m surprised by sudden memory of a line I wish I’d written: “Poetry is geometry exploded.”


When the aisle is clear, I stand. David remains seated. “Do you see that line?” he says.

I do. Except it isn’t a line. It’s a horde. I also note that for the first time since we left Austin, I’m perspiring.

“Is my face turning pink?”

He nods. He looks tired. He’s probably hungry. I am.

We stay on the bus. When we pass the Arc de Triomphe, people are standing on top. I didn’t know you could get up there.


The temperature is still warmer than we find comfortable—we didn’t come all the way from Texas in July to enjoy the heat—so we find a cafe and take a corner table inside, where it’s cool and dark. We want something substantial, so we order a pizza. Since we’re in Paris, we order red wine.

The pizza arrives. It’s a French pizza. The crust is round and flat and covered with tomato sauce. Meat and cheese and other pizza-ish things may be present, but they don’t announce themselves.

In England and Scotland, we ate only two meals a day. Beginning with eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, toast, juice, milk, tea, and/or coffee (and, no, I didn’t eat all that), and ending with venison pie and haggis, we considered a third meal redundant.

Things are different now. It occurs to me that when William the Conqueror crossed the Channel, he might have been looking for more than just a change of scenery.

We eat the pizza. We drink the wine.

They’re delicious.


Before we ask for the check, David makes a trip to the restroom. Back at the table, he sits down, picks up his wine glass, cuts his eyes toward me, and murmurs.

“Strangest restroom I’ve ever seen.”

“Strange how?”

He pauses. “I can’t explain. You’ll have to see it yourself.”

I’ve been inside a men’s room only once, at a Texas Library Association annual convention at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio. Someone with a grain of sense had looked at the demographics and stuck paper signs reading Women over half of the door plates reading Men. Someone with sensitivity and good taste had put potted ferns in front of the urinals. So in effect, I’ve never really been inside a men’s room, and I’m not prepared to invade a foreign one.

“I wonder whether the ladies’ room is the same,” I say.

“It’s bisexual,” he says, using his term for all things androgynous. “You can go look.”

I go look. He’s right. It’s strange.

David hands the waiter some euros. We leave.


The air is cooler now, but dark is a long time off. We walk. We sit at a sidewalk cafe and drink coffee. We people-watch.

I’m fascinated by the brown-skinned women wearing dresses of bright yellow, blue, and orange, with matching headdresses. They stand straight, heads up, shoulders back, regal.

After a time, David breaks the silence.

“Let’s have dinner again.”


At the north corner of rue Cadet, there are two restaurants. Casual observation from the sidewalk suggests the one on the left side of the street is serving hardier fare. The host seats us inside by the window and hands us menus.

Suddenly conscious of my posture, I sit up straight. I want to make a good impression. I’ve heard about French waiters. The ones we’ve met so far have been pleasant, but here the stakes are higher. Here there are tablecloths.

When we close our menus, a white-coated waiter approaches. He is short, with olive skin, neatly clipped black hair, and black eyes. He stands erect. He does not smile.

In a mixture of English, French, Spanish, and pointing, David tells him what we will have. In a mixture of French and hand-waving, the waiter tells us we’re not going to get it.

When he disappears into the kitchen, I ask for a translation. David thinks only one serving of whatever we ordered remains in existence, and therefore the waiter has strongly suggested a substitution. David thinks we are going to receive the poulet.

We receive the poulet, all right, like no other I’ve ever smelled or tasted. Poulet stew, for lack of the proper term, an enormous bowl of chicken, carrots, celery, herbs, spices, who-knows-what, and, to top it off, saffron potatoes, swimming in the broth. When I see those potatoes, any chance of moderation vaporizes. I devour every scrap I can stab with the fork, and itch to take a piece of bread and mop up the rest.

Sated, I look across at David’s bowl and see it’s as empty as mine. We sit for a while, pretending to drink coffee and staring at each other with expressions denoting simultaneous misery and contentment.

When we think we can stand, David pulls out his wallet, gestures to the waiter, and hands over a credit card. The waiter withdraws to the counter on the opposite side of the room. David and I resume staring at each other. Moments later, shouts of “Dah-VEED! Dah-VEED!” pierce our mutual reverie.

We look up. Behind the counter, the waiter is jumping up and down, waving his arms and shouting. “Dah-VEED!”

Dah-VEED manages a tentative smile and waves back.

When he brings the receipt, Abrahim—that’s the waiter’s name—explains that he has a cousin Dah-VEED who owns a restaurant. Abrahim works there when he’s not working here. He gives the American Dah-VEED his cousin’s card. By the time we leave the restaurant, the language barrier has been shattered and we have a new friend.


To be continued: Ordering a soccer ball, getting lost, mangling more French, invading a men’s room on foreign soil