Tuesday, November 12, 2013

red and all red

red and all red
stairs not going anywhere
only the people

Behind a white door, a red staircase connects lower and upper floors in an old building on the town square. The staircase stays put, not going anywhere, but hundreds of feet over the years have gone up and down, down and up, wearing the risers swayback. 

This must have been a dark passageway when it was Gobbles Clothiers, a men's clothing store owned by fourth generation Iowan, Lee Gobble, for 50 years. You can still see the old bricks peeking from behind the thick plaster.

Now the building houses ICON Art Gallery, and in the hands of artist Bill Teeple the dark stairway has been transformed into a study in color, light and texture.

A place of magic where the way up is also the way down, or neither up nor down, but a place halfway to everywhere and everywhen. It's easy to get there. Just lie upside down on the crenelated steps, stare at the stairs and dream red and all red dreams.

Monday, November 11, 2013

first snow, fat flakes

first snow, fat wet flakes
falling on the square through flags
honoring veterans

Always, it's moving to see hundreds of American flags standing at attention in rows all around the town square. They appear like magic on national holidays -- Veteran's Day and Independence Day. This year on the 11th day of November the flags really are moving, blown about by a wind bringing the first snow of winter. Two young women and a toddler, sensibly dressed in parkas, are strolling along the flag-bordered walks. They are greeted with wide arms by a man not so sensibly dressed -- shorts, no socks, no hat -- but their effusive group hug is enough to warm everyone.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

rain wet window holds

rain wet window holds
red maple leaves, reflection
of a bare black tree

Cold autumn rain, the kind that makes you hurry to get home. As I rush along the rain-slick street, a mile-long coal train trundling east blocks my way. Without slowing down, I detour to the railroad underpass, then turn back on a different street. What does stop me is a white van, festooned with orange and yellow maple leaves. It's not blocking my way, but I pull over anyway, to stare at the spectacle of the fallen leaves, arrested in their descent by the same rain that blew them down. From the dark side window, the reflection of a "boo tree" stares back at me, its bare black limbs reaching out as if to recapture its bright treasures.
          Without the coal train I would not have taken a different route home. Without the rain the autumn leaves would have simply fallen to the ground. And without a sense of wonder I would not have stopped to marvel at the beauty of dead leaves and be surprised by a dark reflection.

Friday, November 1, 2013

on the night of the dead

on the night of the dead
a red-eyed ghoul with gaping mouth
on a white pumpkin

At the end of September, suddenly the supermarkets are full of pumpkins lined up in rows outside. I search the stands for the most unusual pumpkins, passing up the traditional orange pumpkins, varying only in size and girth, as well as the green ones and those covered with warts. Finally, I choose a a small white one with a lovely curved stem and a black ghoulish face on one side where it lay on the ground, a blemish with character. And also a low, wide red pumpkin with a yellow and green cape on the top.
          These two will not become Jack-o-lanterns, destined to rot and be thrown into the garbage after Halloween. Instead, after serving as table decor for a month, I carve them into slices for drying, to be added to soups and stews all winter long. The big one goes first. Sliced in half and resting upside down, it looks like the face of an owl with two big eyes and a beak. I scoop out the pulp and extract the seeds, saving a few for planting and roasting the rest for snacks. Then I slice up the thick orange flesh and arrange the pieces on a bamboo tray for drying. When the slices are dry, this gigantic pumpkin fits inside a quart jar, where another face with a long nose gazes back at me.
          We who have faces see faces everywhere. The first thing human babies focus their eyes on is their mother's face, with obvious survival benefits. But why we see faces in clouds, tree bark, stones, buildings with windows and doors, car hoods, clocks, and pumpkins is amusing, isn't it?