Monday, September 27

The annual willow bash is almost here ...

Click here for all the fun
I am afraid the rendezvous with all of you have been rather sporadic of late. Please bear with me, but work has been hectic and, more pressingly and enjoyably, I have been busy preparing for The Third Annual Willow Manor Ball organised by our dear friend, willow of life at willow manor. The big affair is scheduled for this Thursday, September 30th, and willow is planning lots of fun for all who attend. For more info, click on the caption of the poster to the left.

A cursory look at my short list of talents and skills will reveal what anyone who knows me will readily tell you: ballroom dancing is not one of my, eerrrhhh, strengths. Indeed, I was thinking of sitting this one out. But how could I resist? The big fling, after all, is put together by the very best blog friend anyone could ever have. Indeed, 10 months ago, when I first began blogging, willow was the very first person to visit, first to comment on my blog and first to sign up as a follower after my bashful pitch for blog friends. Indeed, I think I started most of those first blog posts "Dear willow...", but sheepishly dropped the introduction just before hitting the 'publish post' button. She has been a kind and supportive blog friend ever since. And, more to the point, her own blog is consistently engaging, enriching and stimulating. Willow is one of the finest poets to be found in the blogosphere, as you can see by clicking here. And most beautifully, there are so many other bloggers who will eagerly voice these same sentiments, who make a stop at the willow manor a part of every blog day. The first toast of the night will most certainly be for you, dear willow. "You're the best", to use a favorite and generous expression of yours!

As far as I know, I will be the lone guest from Spain, which strikes me as a bit of a responsibility. So rather than polishing off my foxtrotting or lindyhopping steps, I will try to bring some flamenco flair and fire to the festivities. For the occasion, I have asked the incredible Eva Yerbabuena to be my dance partner. Watch and enjoy the video below, and see that I will certainly have my work cut out for me. So wish me luck and wish willow all the best, today, on the 30th and always. See you there ...

I hope you get as much from this video as I do, although I know it is impossible for this medium, as wonderful as it is, to convey the raw power of such performances. Back in the 1980s and early 90s, before my daughters arrived on stage, I was a regular at various flamenco bars, venues, cellar caverns and hovels in Madrid, much as I had haunted jazz clubs in New York for so many years. I became friends with some of these artists and others kindly tolerated my grateful, fascinated presence. It is beyond me to describe the impact some of those all-night sessions had on me as I watched and listened to some of the finest singers, guitarists and dancers perform for each other, after hours, sometimes until 8 or 9 in the morning or whenever.

Some of the dancers, like Eva Yerbabuena in the video, completely knocked me out. Flamenco music is rhythmically very rich and complex and the rhythms that define the various palos (styles) can be highly sophisticated. Yet that artistry is put at the service of something that at moments seems primal, almost atavistic, the stylized outpouring of a savagery and wildness that can really shake one. I hope you feel a bit of that ferocious artistry in the clip.

Through my friendship with some flamenco guitarists, I was fortunate to be able to sit in, literally, on dance classes at the famous Amor de Dios flamenco dance school in Madrid. Since the dancing is so bound up with the guitar playing and singing, they would actually have guitarists and singers there. These were classes, not rehearsals for a show; yet, they would have two guitarists (teacher and advanced student) and a singer participate in all of the classes. Sitting on the floor while all of this was going on, with the dance instructor and as many as 20 students working on their moves, whirling, pounding, clattering steps, with the thrumming guitars and the singer's plaintive call, all in front of a room-length floor-to-ceiling mirror was a privileged experience I will never forget. I can still feel wave upon wave of those driving rhythms surging up my spine from the spot on the wooden floor where I sat in rapt witness two decades ago.

But, I never did learn to dance … and what all of this has to do with willow’s dance this Thursday, I do not know. Oh well, blame it on Eva Yerbabuena. Check her out.

Saturday, September 18

No milk, no poem

Although the morning program was to write
the great poem, there is no milk in the fridge
and coffee is the mother of all metaphors.

Black coffee is fine for the ostinato
in my veins, but too bitter on the tongue
today for the merlot roots of rose taste buds,

so off to the store for milk and sidewalk
negotiations with apparitions
not written into my grand scheme of things.

A dog harasses his bored tail and barks barks
at his echo in the empty lot lot.
As I step carefully over his shadow

there comes a woman, child in hand, her eyes
meet mine at the corner of glance and pine
as her perfumed hair sails past my silence.

The low sun burns a maple silhouette
onto the bleary screens of my pained eyes;
bleated voices, hidden, call a blurred name.

At the store, a drowsy car coughs and farts.
I discover the shop is locked behind bars,
jailed for some holiday by gleaming grating.

No milk, no morning program, no grand scheme
in the dream of things, just a short walk home
stepping through the yapping shadows of a poem.
   © Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow

Photo: Leaf — © BogdanBoev at

Sunday, September 12

Graphite drool

Dream shavings
I read myself to sleep
in the hope of dreaming
myself to life.

I lay in bed with the nightly tome
perched on my chest,
pencil clenched in my teeth,
or clasped between murmuring lips,
always at the ready
to scribble my life’s story
in the margins.

Last night, while I was somewhere
on the swaying gangplank
between nod and slumber,
the tombstone toppled over
onto my brow and startled me
awake and back to life,
the round pencil point
jabbing to within a mere thin lash
of my unbelieving eye.

Thank the gods,
for the dullness of pencils!
For overpopulated margins
of graphite drool!
For the blunt forgiveness of sleep …

This morning, I stand
face to face with the mirror,
hold the razor blade
to my throat
and celebrate
with a smile.

Life is such a close shave.
     © Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow

Friday, September 10

Morning ...

Mary Oliver and Percy — photo by Rachel Giese Brown
Today is the birthday of the cherished poetess Mary Oliver (born September 10, 1935). More than a poet, she strikes me as a language of her own, a way of being in this world, a type of Rosetta Stone that can help us see and translate the hieroglyphics nature writes in us and grasp the endless flow of bountiful gifts we receive from her. We need only look and feel and be open to being perpetually amazed. Below I am posting her Morning Poem.

For this birthday banquet, I have teamed her up with Yusef Lateef, the 'gentle giant', and his soulful rendering of his composition Morning. Click on play to listen while reading Morning Poem below.

Enjoy and happy birthday, Mary...

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

      from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
      © Mary Oliver
I also recommend a New York Times article from July of last year titled "The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown".

A special added treat in that article is the slideshow of beautiful photos of Mary Oliver's beloved Cape Cod with the audio of Mary reading two of her own poems: At Blackwater Pond and The Sun. What could be finer? I suggest you view the full screen version to luxuriate in the images as you listen to her guide us by the hand into the lake and the setting and rising sun.

Monday, September 6

Cicada dirge ...

This weekend the trails in El Griego (see past post on my sierra hideaway) that I normally hike and mountain bike on were given over to a different type of trek. It is fiesta time in the sierra, and in this part of Spain fiesta means encierros, the running of bulls through the windy road and streets of the nearby mountain town of Ayna.

Here is a panoramic view of Ayna on a normal non-fiesta summer day ...

As with all photos, click to enlarge.

On September 1, the bulls leave the grange where they have been bred as toros de lidia, fighting bulls, and travel on foot to Ayna in the company of mansos or cabestros, as the tamer steer or bullocks are known. On the fourth and last day of the trek, and next to last day of their life, they pass through El Griego, a stone's throw or cicada's chant from my house.

The bulls (dark colored) and steer (lighter) grazing in El Griego.
Around 9:30 am, but the sun is already starting to burn and
stirring the cicada choir into their daylong songfest.

Although caution is always in order, when making the journey in the
company of the tamer steer, the bulls are relatively non-aggressive.

I much prefer the privilege of walking in the company of these noble creatures through these hills and woods than participating in the frenzied harassment that tends to happen when they are run through the town.

A couple of the bulls line me up in their sights. Believe me,
the chill I felt was not from the slim shade of the lone tree
standing between me and them.

Grazing and resting on the way to the corral where they will spend their last night.
The dry rasping cicada dirge was in full throb by this time.

Off to the corral, and past me hopefully ...

Good, thanks.

The next day, the town of Ayna bustles with activity and excitement as people pick out their preferred craggy perches for viewing, and not running in, the dash down the mountain road and into town...

In this next shot, the "falling rocks" sign should probably alert to the danger of "falling rocks, bulls and gawkers".

My good friend Manolo braving falling rocks and revelers.
Note the people atop the rock spike behind him, the same ones
as in the previous image, from a different angle.

The bulls speed by in a matter of seconds ...

But one stops and charges a young man. Perhaps the red shirt was
not the best attire for today. Don't know if he was badly gorged.

The mansos trot down a few minutes later to herd the recalcitrant bull toward the plaza, where he will be locked up until the afternoon bullfight.

Mansos to the rescue

One intrepid impromptu matador using a Spanish flag for a cape.
The worst thing that can happen in these encierros is when the bull turns around and decides to run back uphill into the swarms of people...

... which is what happened here and for the next 45 minutes or so.

After that it was all a bit of a blur ...

Cell phones to take a shot of a centuries-old tradition. Somehow high tech
and atavistic rituals still seem slightly out of sync.

Classic portrait of
Miguel Hernández
I'll close by introducing you to Miguel Hernández. I say 'introduce' somewhat hesitantly, and perhaps wrongly (he may be familiar to you); but though one of the country's major 20th century poets, he is not as well known outside of Spain as are his contemporaries, Federico García Lorca and Antonio Machado. Like them he was a victim of the Spanish civil war. Born in 1910 to a humble peasant family, Miguel Hernández was a poor and relatively uneducated goatherd and self-taught poet. The story of the obstacles he overcame to pursue his passion and talent for versifying his love of nature is exceptionally moving. And his distressing death perhaps exemplifies like no other the hideous tragedy of that war. This unique poet died in prison in 1942; his death sentence for past support for the Spanish Republic and anti-fascist activities had been commuted to 30 years in prison, but the horrid prison conditions and malign neglect led to his death of tuberculosis at the age of 31.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth on October 30, 1910. I will try to post more on him and his poems over the next few weeks. For more information and some of his poems, in English, visit the Poetry Foundation's web pages on Miguel Hernández. There, if you can bear the heartbreak, you may read "Lullaby of the Onion". He wrote that stunning verse not long before his death, upon having learned that his wife Josefina, who was breastfeeding their newborn son at the time, had nothing to eat but bread and onions. For the Spanish originals, one good site is the A Media Voz site.

Josefina typing up Miguel's poems

I'll leave you with his Como el toro, he nacido para el luto — "Like the bull, I was born for doom and pain". First in Spanish and then my humble (and entirely indequate) and very loose translation.

Como el toro he nacido para el luto
y el dolor, como el toro estoy marcado
por un hierro infernal en el costado
y por varón en la ingle con un fruto.

Como el toro lo encuentra diminuto
todo mi corazón desmesurado,
y del rostro del beso enamorado,
como el toro a tu amor se lo disputo.

Como el toro me crezco en el castigo,
la lengua en corazón tengo bañada
y llevo al cuello un vendaval sonoro.

Como el toro te sigo y te persigo,
y dejas mi deseo en una espada,
como el toro burlado, como el toro.

*  * *

Like the bull, I was born for grief
and pain, like the bull I am branded
by hell’s iron rod in my side
and the fruit of man in my loin.

Like the bull, my heart swells and heaves
dwarfing all around and in me,
and like the bull I haunt and stalk
the kissed semblance of your love.

Like the bull, I feed and grow on my punishment,
my tongue drowning in my own heart
as the shrill wind stabs at my throat.

Like the bull, I circle and charge you
and you leave my desire impaled on a sword,
like the bull, mocked and foiled, like the bull.