Rose of my heart

jersey roses

Best e-mail I’ve received all day had this photo, with a note saying simply “Roses still in bloom!” I’ve had a great time during my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and I’m going to hate leaving — it’s a beautiful place, and I’ve made great progress on a new novel — but I’m also looking forward to returning to New Jersey and my gardening correspondent.

Years before Bill Haley became a mediocre and unlikely rock-and-roll pioneer he billed himself as Yodelin’ Bill Haley, performing country swing with his band The Saddlemen. Here’s Yodelin’ Bill singin’ “Rose of My Heart” —

Even better, here’s the late, lamented Eva Cassidy doing a beautiful rendition of a song based on Robert Burns’ “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” —

When you’re young at heart…

No rice was tossed. No music played. That’s because they weren’t in a church or a wedding chapel. They were in the library of a small town in northeastern Massachusetts. I looked up from my writing and research — and lo and behold, there they were, an older couple, I’d guess late 60s, maybe early 70s, both dressed in their Sunday best, the bride carrying a bouquet of spring flowers. They stood together in front of a fireplace and the town clerk began to read the wedding vows.

The soon-to-be-husband was serious and steady and composed as he repeated the words being read by the clerk. The about-to-be-bride looked so sweet, so happy, so nervous — and, when she had to repeat that she would take this man to be her friend and lover forever, she began to cry, love in her voice, tears of joy.

At the clerk’s behest, they both said “I do.” And when the clerk told the new husband that he could kiss his bride, he did — and then handed the clerk his small camera, so she could snap their first picture as husband and wife. And then they walked out of the library together, amid congratulations and applause from the two pleasantly surprised people working at tables in the reading room.

I wish them happiness and peace. I hope they will find contentment and comfort in the warmth of their companionship. I hope the bride always cries tears of joy when she thinks of their love.

Some love seems sure to last forever. But love can die, sometimes by accident, sometimes from natural causes, sometimes from neglect or lack of  care.

Love can  be like alchemy,  a magical alloy, a miracle for the ages, which all seek but few find. But  gold’s glitter can turn suddenly  leaden, dull and gray, too heavy to lift, precious jewel turned into sad and precious dreams.

And love can be steady and clear-eyed and hopeful, an unexpected blessing, a sweet surprise, yin and yang, passionate but also calm, past but also present, heart but also spirit and mind and soul.

I hope the library newlyweds find the true alchemy, the real secret to eternal love. I pray that they may know the comfort and strength of two hearts beating as one.

May God bless and keep you always/May your wishes all come true….May you build a ladder to the stars/And climb on every rung/May you stay forever young. Bob Dylan

And remember:

Fairy tales can come true/They can happen to you/If you’re young at heart. Riley B. King



Claire de lune

We’re talking about apogees and perigees. We’re talking about a taunting headline. We’re talking about Nat King Cole. We’re talking about Kurt Vonnegut (just for the heck of it….because his “Sirens of Titan” is underated and overlooked…and because Titan is one of the moons of Saturn). And, yes, we’re talking about the moon, which means it’s likely that we’re also talking about love.

Tomorrow night the moon will be closer to us than it’s been since 1992. The full moon will be brighter than usual — and will appear to be nearly 15 percent larger and about 30 percent brighter than your plain old full moon. That’s because Earth’s cosmic tag-along will be at perigree — its closest approach to the Earth, and more than 30,000 miles nearer to Earth than it is at apogee, the most distant part of its orbit. The moon’s orbit — and its apogee and perigree — varies from year to year, and this year it happens (personally, it feels like fate) that it will be nearer than it’s been in nearly two decades.


Nat King Cole and Kurt Vonnegut and love songs sung ‘neath the perigee moon? Listen. A red-winged blackbird asks the moon: “Po-to-weet? And so it goes:


Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

It feels like you’re buried beneath the rubble of your own ground zero. It feels like you’ll never get out. It feels like if you breathe too deeply or even twitch a muscle, even blink, that the rubble may shift and crush you.

You are aware of heroic rescue attempts. You appreciate the effort. Now you think they should go home to their families and friends, save themselves before they themselves get hurt.

From the rented second-floor apartment in the wilds of New Jersey you can hear the Turnpike’s endless hum and the mournful horns of trains speeding down the NJ Transit tracks….The woeful horns and droning hum are a mocking fanfare trumpeting the arrival of love…the finale is discordant and flat and empty and unbearable…like the pain of remembering great love that suddenly vanished — but not without a trace.

Shall you tell of when hope floated on the horizon, when love whispered “Hey, I’m still possible,” when tenderness and affection and two souls recognizing each other were not a fantasy or wishful thinking and these things were suddenly recognizable again even when they seemed beyond recognition, whenthe universe once again revealed its great secret — that a loving embrace and two hearts beating in close proximity hold all the answers to life’s mystery, that the answer might be revealed in a kiss.

Shall you say whether this was decades ago? Or just months ago? Or just last weekend? Or next weekend? Just months from now? Decades into the future? All of the above?

You are tired of hearing your sad laments filling the airwaves every time a passing car zips by with windows down and music blaring…
Here are the songs you keep hearing:

Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain…Ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes…Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer…It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…
My love for you is like a sinking ship/My heart is on that ship out in mid-ocean…

Mix in “Girl From the North Country,” Van Morrison’s “Someone Like You” and Andy Williams singing “Moon River” and you’ve got something to listen to when you’re in that late-night mood and there’s a brilliant half moon in the starless sky and a truck horn blares and it’s three in the morning and two riders are approaching and the wind begins to howl and it makes the lights flicker and you hear a door open and footsteps on the stairs and you wonder if it’s someone coming for you and you hope someone’s coming for you but you suspect there’s no one here for you and you finally stop listening and finally stop hoping and finally fall into the sleep of the sleepers, which is a restless farewell but also a great escape.

There’s a glimmer of light through the rubble — perhaps the light from a rescuer’s lamp — but now the light’s gone dim…let the lighted lamp pass…you’re tired of calling for help and saying “Here I am…come back…I’m over here…” Either you’ll dig your own way out of the debris. Either the one you hope will search for you will pull you from the rubble. Or perhaps you’ll abide and reside amid the rubble for the rest of your rubble-strewn days.

The bridge

Here’s something I wrote last week, inspired by a span in the Massachusetts Berkshires called the French King Bridge. Somehow a couple of glasses of cheap merlot told my mind and memory that it was called the King Philip Bridge…Anyway…the poem’s not good…it may be awful…but I want to post it anyway…it’s sort of a historical document. N.B. One reader of the poem speculated that the narrator (and hence, perhaps, the writer) was contemplating “taking the plunge” and my answer was no, not literally, for both the speaker of the poem and its writer have a terrible fear of heights…so, not literally, but maybe symbolically and maybe figuratively…do not be afraid…

The Bridge
I believe
it might be called
King Philip Bridge
although the name
doesn’t matter
except it’s got a name
that’s regal
and she told me
she had stopped there once
when police were searching
for two people
who had jumped
to their future off
this majestic bridge
and now she had stopped
on her way here
and had taken such photos
such beautiful photos
that she cited Ansel Adams
and I thought not nearly so
but told her yes
I could see it
could see what she meant
and it was no lie
and I’m thinking amid the beauty
and the karma and the zen
where did those poor souls go
there was irony that day and night
that day I’d asked her to let me know
if she had arrived safely
and she’d said no
but then she did
she let me know
that she was alright
and more irony that night
on the night when night
became the darkest night
that young girl came with me
to Zen and to Karma
and one human being
was kept alive thereby
for at least one more day
and perhaps one night

or was this in my mind
i think it was in my mind
perhaps it’s only
in my mind

the bridge was named I believe
after an Native American chief
that sort of king
a redskinned king
not a paleface king
a king with no castle
without a home
a real king

such beauty yes I saw it
in her photographs
but also
as I drove two weekends past
to Boston on the pretence
of seeing old friends
but really to see her
and I thought of her as I drove
along the Mohawk trail
and over that bridge of beauty
that bridge of sorrow too
with its white granite towers

and i think that perhaps
her photos and the driving
and the talk of poor people
who took the plunge
to who knows where

the talk of how she stood
so high and on slippery walks
in order to snap and snare
such beauty that Ansel
would answer YES this is it
that somehow this YES
that this witnessed
form these words

So today I’ll seek
that haunted span
and overcome my fear of heights
and plumb the depths of sorrow
and look way down
and look far up
because love gasps
and love grasps
and love drowns
in that place where current
runs deep
where current runs strong
and helicopters hover
and wait at the gate
for when the next knave
knocks upon love’s
topaz door
and seeks
from love’s

They still haven’t found a cure….

Leonard Cohen confirms that the scientists and the doctors still haven’t found a cure for love…not that it’s an ailment that necessarily demands a remedy…Trivia fans take note: the church he refers to is way down at the south end of Main Street in a small town in the western Massachusetts Berkshires..