And Words Are All I Have

No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891).

Fireflies in a lampion

Sagan, Sunflower Seeds,

Fireflies and Falcons.

Happy Friday, Faithful Readers.

What must take the lead here is this. I am ecstatic to report that I had my second vaccination yesterday. So far so good on side effects. I have been counting the days for this as I have severe COPD and have always figured that with my beleaguered lungs I wouldn’t stand a chance against the virus. To say this is a huge relief would be to understate it: I am incredibly fortunate that I can be protected against it.

My appreciation and candidly, awe, for the tireless and brilliant scientists responsible for this knows no bounds. How many nights, how many months on end were they hunkered down in quarantined laboratories, gathering and assimilating data, conferring with colleagues around the world, peering into microscopes at slide upon slide until their eyes closed from exhaustion? Their exploration began in entirely unknown waters, before CoVid had even been named. It is impossible to calculate all that scientists have achieved here, through their sheer ability, diligence, self-sacrifice, obstinacy, hopefulness, and more.

These days we don't have to search far for heroes. I look around and I see them everywhere.

On a lighter note I just heard that several online dating sites including Tinder and okCupid have teamed up with the Biden administration to allow users to demonstrate they've been vaccinated. Now there’s romance for ya, right there.

I now give you the updated question template proving to be the latest deal breakers and makers among companion-seekers online.
  • Smarties or M&M's?
  • Tennessee Whiskey by Chris Stapleton or Drunk in Love by Beyonce and Jay Z?
  • Definitely Maybe or The Notebook?
  • Aisle seat or window?
  • Molson Canadian (ice cold) or a chilled Chardonnay?
  • Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon?
  • Vaxxed or Not Vaxxed?
More randomness... you know what I detest? Snobbery about categories of information. Why is knowing chemistry’s Periodic Table of Elements by heart somehow more commendable than being able to list the names of every one of Love Boat’s 250 episodes? Yes, there were 250. Don't judge me. They got me through many a solitary Saturday night.

I’ve always collected morsels of knowledge, tasty bites I call factoids. It’s amazing how handy these nuggets of (ostensibly) useless data can turn out to be. I think they also make life a little more interesting.

Here are just a few you can tuck into your back pocket.
  • Scotland has 421 words for “snow.” Among them: sneesl (to start raining or snowing); feefle (to swirl); flinkdrinkin (a light snow).
  • John Wayne hated horses. Chose his truck whenever he could.
  • Armadillo shells are bulletproof. Completely and utterly bullet proof.
  • Firefighters use "wetting agents" to make water wetter. Yes. These chemicals reduce the surface tension of plain water so it’s easier to spread and soak into objects, which is why it’s known as “wet water.”
  • The intoxicating light show offered up by fireflies? We can thank the oxidation of luciferin - from the Latin lucifer, "light-bearer” - a generic term for the light-emitting compound found in organisms that generate this bioluminescence.
  • When Carl Sagan was asked about evolution versus intelligent paraphrase his response; the likelihood of evolution randomly creating mankind is equal to the likelihood of a tornado hitting a junkyard and creating a fully functioning 747.
  • Dr. Seuss disliked children. He found them unpredictable.
  • When Sri Lanka’s zoos closed to visitors, animal births rose 25 per cent.

CoVid has affected me in curious, unexpected ways – one is that it has turned me into a full-on bird geek.

Since my thoughtful friend Barb sent me a relatively squirrel-proof state of the art birdfeeder last March, along with a generous selection of different seeds, I have become entranced by the feathered flocks that greet me throughout my day.

I have suspended my feeders from the eaves of the house so they hang directly in front of my window where I work. I bought myself a bird dictionary and learned which birds like sunflower seed, which prefer niger, and which ones go straight for the block of suet hanging alongside. Every morning I sip my coffee and watch them come and go, serenading me with their own particular melodies. Among my visitors are the impeccably dressed chickadees, the cheeky and inquisitive woodpeckers, the imperious blue jays. The Baltimore orioles with their unmistakeable high trilling call and brilliant coats of tangerine. The Common Grackle Blackbird that steals the show through its sheer size and bluster.

Cardinals make the occasional appearance, the males stealing the spotlight like upstart understudies with their fire engine red coats. You may already know this showoff is the male and not the female of the species. I didn’t! It turns out that male cardinals are bright and loud for the same reason: to advertise what good mates they’d make. According to my trusty reference guide, brighter males have higher reproductive success, hold better territories, and offer more parental care. Don't you love that someone actually spent the time finding out on our behalf that the brighter red the cardinal, the better parent they are?

Females pick the male partner based on his courtship skills, coloring, and singing abilities. (I have always liked a man who could croon me a tune.) They also want a male with a dark, large face mask. Nothing to do with CoVid: It is believed that these males are better defenders of the nest.

The palette of the delicate and inpressively well-mannered goldfinch is also gender determined. Spring males, if assigned a paint color, could best be described as Citrus Punch, a deeply saturated yellow compared to the subdued tones of the females' Banana Brulee.

Hummingbirds visit rarely and captivate me most. For starters they migrate annually at distances of up to 6000 kilometres. They are the only birds that can fly in four different modes: forward, backward, and on both sides. Their tiny hearts beat as fast as 1,260 beats per minute when in full flight; ours beat a paltry 60 to 100 beats per minute. And they don’t use their feet for walking, only for perching and preening… Oh, and occasionally, itching.

By the way, and not so randomly, did you know a group of penguins in the water is called a raft? On land they become a waddle. There may be more perfect descriptors but I for one am coming up empty.

I share with you now Birdbrained, one of my love poems to birds. (From hereon in I hope you'll never think of that expression as anything but a wonderful compliment.) The poem is written for all the creatures that fly, even the annoying ones that shriek outside my bedroom window at seven a.m. and the alien-like turkey vultures who circle ominously above in the fields out back. They freak me out just a titch when they hover too close but I mean they have to eat too, don’t they?

Just steer clear of my wee Westie terriers, Buzzard Boy, or I will take you down.


Apart from being unkind
it’s a misnomer.
Crows in New Caledonia craft tools
so they can extract inaccessible grubs.
Blue jays count. They count.
African gray parrots converse with humans.
Not just parroting. Conversing.

They exhibit intelligence from musical to spatial.
Swans mate for life,
often dying soon after their partner does.
perhaps the world’s last true bastion of pure love.
Mockingbirds can meow like a cat or mimic a telephone ring.
Owls can swivel their heads almost 360 degrees.

The homing pigeon, Cher Ami, lost an eye and a leg
while carrying a message across enemy lines in World War One.
They fitted him with a little wooden leg
and sent him skyward again.

Picture him,
on his solo missions
in the unknowable skies high above,
the valiant Cher Ami
and his tiny wooden leg.

Although I've yet to sight a peregrine falcon here, I did once spend an afternoon with a few of them in Ireland. (chronicled in verse below.) First, some scintillating factoids: these birds of prey are known for their site fidelity. I read that this will be the twenty-seventh year a group of them has used the same nest site on the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel. And they mate for life. Not just in the wild where the pickings are, shall we say, slim. A recent study of 25 pairs of peregrines living in the heart of downtown Chicago found that after prolonged observation only one pair had strayed from their partner. And that was because there was an injury involved.

I’m not crying. You are.

While Visiting a School of Falconry in Ireland

Large birds of prey are quite malodorous
close up like this,
bits of still-warm sinew and flesh wedged
deeply inside their fearsome hooked talons,
lodged within the recesses
of their dense coats.

The lesson is in progress.
Responding to the familiar whistle
the peregrine falcon appears suddenly
from the treetops,
looming, wings spread,
its grace incongruous
as it sweeps downward
by rote
toward accustomed rewards,
slowing the beat of its wings on approach,
the frenetic wap wap, wap, becoming the subdued
whoo, whoo, whoo,
its outsized yellow plasticine-like feet
coming to rest on the student’s leather-clad arm
producing always the same look of sudden terror,
then simple astonishment,
as the raptor’s full weight, its other-worldliness,
settles, completely,
onto its perch.

Their large, liquid, alien eyes,
their bobbing heads,
never still.
They hit our marks because it suits them.
The one in there carried off a Yorkshire terrier
from the high street once.
Peregrinus, meaning to wander.
They cannot,
they will not
be known.

~ tm ~

The Great Confinement
Sandy Solomon

Year of sighs, year of planning ahead—
how to acquire food or meet friends
for afternoon talks in the outdoor air.
Of planning nothing. Whole days washed clean
in the round of known rooms, known chores.

I followed forecasts to calculate when
to walk down the alley, around the block,
the same dogs barking, recycling bins
bursting with cardboard. I envied people stuck
in the country amid trees, beside a lake
that took in sky. And people, I presume,
envied us, with our covered front porch
and back garden, its sloping tangle of leaves.
We’d thrown ourselves down wherever the music
stopped, in a place we planned to stay a season
at most, until a hidden hand could hit the volume.

Year of stories—of books, recorded voices
through the night, faces on screens: familiars
holding cocktail glasses, jam jars
into view to toast . . . what precisely?
happy hours? Of meetings, of classes: click
to speak, click to mute, click to leave.

Year of household tasks. Mold that grew
because we used the kitchen so hard:
the endless sponge-down—meal after meal,
day after day. Dust that gathered
like thoughts of Somewhere Else, Another Time,
Other People. When I set two plates for dinner,
I could imagine my mother on her daily walk—
careful, stiff-hipped, alone—to the mailbox,
silence at each elbow, around her throat.
When I searched for new ways to cook kale
or tried baking bread, as oven warmth
and savory smells revised the room in stews
or casseroles, I could imagine mothers
trying to stretch their kids’ milk between
food-bank trips. Year of feeling lucky.

Year of forgetting in the days’ drift. Then
abruptly remembering: sadness sensed
in a jolt, the way when I opened the kitchen bin—
just emptied, just cleaned, it seemed—
a rotten smell hit me, knocked me back.

Year of sighs, year of sighs, names
of the ones gone away, their faces appearing.
For months, as afternoon light grew long,
I thought, Must call Mom. Even after.

I thought of Hélène—years ago,
when we stood, she and I, before
a painting she’d made, its colors shifting
as the oil she’d rigged behind the canvas
face shifted inside its frame,
and I thought, I like your art, your stories:
her story’s end in plastic tubes,
white edges, machine thrums
and bleeps, room mostly bleached
of color against the blue hospital
gowns that hovered then disappeared,
Hélène, inside her great struggle,
the suffocating, persistent,
solitary smell of alcohol.
Year of distance upon distance. I thought
of candles in the Hall of Mirrors when, one night,
I’d walked its length after a concert—light
echoing as lights regressed from sconce
to mirror to mirror and back in Versailles, the flames’
flicker—presence, movement—enclosed in infinite
space, each candle point insisting, here,
here, smaller and smaller, left and right,
as I passed through, passed among them.
What is the point? Here is the point. What
is the point? Here. Thrilling, a privileged sight
as I moved down the Hall, as down the year,
toward the night air, the dear dead
ones receding, drifting further back,
in reflected, refracted, lovely multitudes,
and then, at the end, no point, no point at all.

With a sharpened pencil or similar tool
crack open the rusted hinges on the lid of the metal box,
scrape down to the very bottom
through the silt and sinew,
down to where it's clear,
so bright in the sun it hurts,

~ tm ~

I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
pencil drawing red heart
tricia handwritten signature

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Others' lives are on full display here. Through the late afternoon The light makes its way through motes of dust Onto collection after collection. The shrewd pickers look right past the string of musty pearls That catch my eye, Honing in instead on a pair of tiny opal earrings With an eye to resale. They know how this is done. …
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