The Whether Here



Back to Crestline today, plus NaPoWriMo day 3

Yesterday we drove up to Crestline to work on the cabin that my father-in-law purchased as a family property. We've been doing this now nearly every Saturday since January, with the intention of getting the cabin weekend-stay ready before this summer.

We're nearly there. Yesterday we installed a tire swing over a flattish, leaf-covered area down the embankment near the stream. We've also been working on "excluding" (read: evicting) all of the small creatures that make their home under the house. We have already extracted mountains of raccoon poop, plus we've been covering the holes in the siding created by the flying squirrels that had previously made a home in our attic. Aside from my climbing an extension ladder precariously leaned up next to a tree (and nearly falling down the hillside in the process) I just focused on cleaning up the inside so it looks less like a construction zone. Also, we made another trip into town to stop at the hardware store and to go by the bookstore to check on my consignment. I now have three copies of Seven Floors Up there, and a reading scheduled for August 6 during their monthly Art-Tique Wine Walks. Booths of artists, crafters, and what-nots will be out up and down the main thoroughfare, Lake Drive, the first Saturday of every warm month for the remainder of the year. I'm looking forward to reading there, and to meeting more of the local artist-folk. Crestline doesn't have the same arts vibe that Idyllwild does, but my impression so far is that it's very much there, just not quite as visible.

Taken with my phone looking down from the upper deck. That's Jacob on the tire swing. Bradley is sitting on top of the sewer access (I know, yuck, but it's completely sealed), smashing rocks.

Last night upon returning home, exhausted, we discovered that my hubby had left his wallet and cell phone at the cabin. Crud. But we managed to make a day of it today, forgoing the plant sale at UCR's Botanic Gardens and instead driving back up, me behind the wheel this time. I don't really care for mountain driving, especially during inclement weather, but it was a nice day and I need to get used to the drive. I suspect we'll be spending a lot of time there this summer. Today we had lunch at a cute family restaurant called Billy Bear's that the boys love. We also stopped back by the bookstore where I donated my National Poetry Month poster with Elizabeth Bishop's quote, newly arrived from the Academy of American Poets. They had no idea that it's NaPoMo, nor the trouble that a lot of us are going to to celebrate it. As I had nowhere to hang the poster, I figured it would be a better fit, enlightening patrons at the bookstore, and hopefully encouraging some of them to pick up a book of poetry.

Now that we're home I have been enjoying a Smithwicks ale and attempting to fulfill my NaPoWriMo challenge for the day. Can't say that it's anything amazing, but at least I'm keeping up!

Today's prompt was to write a poem that imagines a world without you in it.

The cats have come
for their dinner
but I am not
here. There is no
bowl to pout over
or hiss at --
there is nothing
frisky about
this silence that
now alights the way
a small bird might,
unseen among
the tinseled green
boughs. Doused by some
strange nuisance, some fist
has closed over
the flame. What was
once has now never
been, & the cats
are crying. But
they don’t know.
They don’t know
what they are crying for.


Happy Day Two of NaPoWriMo

Well, it's day two, and I am on the road to the mountains today, attempting to post from my mobile phone. Before we left my mom and my kids and I were taking inventory of the cats. Thanks for chiming in yesterday - will have to see If this cat theme sticks as the month progresses.

On Poetic Asides, today's prompt is to write a postcard poem.

This will likely need revision as I am writing it on the fly, but here goes:

Dear Momma,

The weather is fine here. The winter trees allow me to see the birds through their knuckled branches, if I look closely enough. I have found a warm spot to lay between the knees of the animal that scooped me up. I do not know how long she will keep me but I wait at the screen, watching for your return, day into night into day. I occasionally catch your scent, mingling with hers. I can hardly remember, though, which is which.

Your little nameless grey one

Big Poetry Book Giveaway!

Yep, I am participating in Kelli Russell Agodon's Big Poetry Book Giveaway again this year. Yay!! Up for grabs, the winner may choose either my chapbook, (al)most delicious, or my full-length book, Seven Floors Up.

(Check out the books tab, above.) Also, I want to share my love of Matthea Harvey. The first book of hers that I read, on the recommendation of a mentor in my MFA program, was Sad Little Breathing Machine.

I absolutely loved it. It sent me off on a journey to explore new ways of tweaking the English language, and I still haven't run out of steam. So if you're into: a.) sci fi poetry b.) surrealist poetry c.) experiment as a form of instructive/constructive play, then Harvey will float your bloat. Her most recent collection, Modern Life, won the Kingsley Tufts award, and I love that one, too, but this is the one that got me started.

So, comment away!

P.S. Also stop by Poemeleon's blog for more chances to win LOTS of books-- by Luisa Igloria, Sarah Maclay, Judith Terzi, Jules Gibbs, and editors Maureen Alsop, Tom C. Hunley, Ren Powell, and Cati Porter!


Happy Day 1 of NaPoWriMo!

I'm trying it again. This whole poem-a-day craziness. Last year I couldn't keep it up, but the year before I wrote one every day, and some days even more than one. That resulted in my chapbook what Desire makes of us.

So, I'm going to try the prompts on the Poetic Asides blog, because they've worked for me before, and I have some rough idea of what I want to accomplish this month: another chapbook-length series, this time on cats.

Yes, cats. No, like Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, but undoubtedly influenced by that, and from watching The Aristocats one-too-many times.

We have three indoor cats, two of which we adopted from the backyard. I've been watching our backyard cats now for several years. We feed a local colony, and it's been fascinating watching their social behavior, which one's have bonded, which don't get along. The litters of kittens that I know are being born that keep disappearing. (So sad, but I am grateful in a bittersweet way.)

So, here is my poem for the day. It's untitled. That will have to come later, as I still have one other post to make today -- about the Poetry Book Giveaway! Yay!

Nothin’ but fur and feline gumption scrapped
this flea-strapped rat-trap backdoor cat.
T’ain’t the first time anyone’s been ‘tracted
to this old hat. I’m gon’ get me a funny-eyed
maiden calico and she gon’ gimme summa that.

He wants to get him ‘some of that’? Forget it,
Lame-O Romeo. You ain’t all that. And I am.
The sun is out and I’m going to lay like a rug
while you strut your mug all over this yard.
You’re not my kind. I haven’t lost my mind.

How many noes does it take it to change
someone’s line? That little girl is mine. Who
knows where the wind goes when it whines
past. She’s a pussycat. How’s that? Change’s
just a breeze away. Then I’ll have my day.

What brings you to the neighborhood, Scat?
I dunno. These four paws. This nose. This n’ that.


Why I collect Brad Keeler

***UPDATE: To try to answer more questions about my grandfather Brad Keeler's work I have built another website devoted entirely to him. It's still in development but please click on over and have a look:***

Brad Keeler is my grandfather. So what, right? Right. I think I went most of my childhood without ever really knowing who my grandfather was. Sure, the roosters and lobsters in the kitchen were fixtures, but not much was said about them. It was only as a young adult that I finally began to ask about him.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not the only grandchild. All three of his children--Bradley, Patrick, and my mom, Heather-- all had children. There are seven of us grandchildren in all, not counting great-grandchildren.

We're not a tight-knit family. To the contrary, I haven't seen any of my Keeler cousins in decades. My Uncle Pat passed away from a heart attack at the age of 36, following the family pattern of dying young from heart failure: Grandpa Brad was only 39 when he died, and his dad, Rufus -- an acclaimed tile maker himself -- passed away at 49. My Uncle Brad, the oldest child, I haven't seen since I was eight years old, but my mom speaks to him regularly. I did have a chance, though, to speak at length with Grandpa Brad's brother, Phil, before he died, and more recently, his sister, Jeanne. They have helped me close the gap in my knowledge, and, someday, I hope to go through a chest my mother has that is filled with old photos and news clippings. Because I never had the chance to know him -- my mom was only five when he died -- I have this drive to learn more about him while I still can, so that I can pass it on. He was a significant figure in the California art pottery movement, but very little information is available to those who might be interested. Though his work and a brief biography are featured in numerous antiques & collectibles guides, they give no sense of who the man was or how hard he worked to bring his vision to fruition.

I was very close to his wife, my grandmother Catherine, my namesake. After her passing my mom gave me some of the figurines that her mother had held on to for so many years: a trio of birds and a trio of "moonshiners" as we have come to call them. I treasured those figurines. I put them up on my bookshelf, carefully gluing a wing back on when it fell, then, again, gluing the other wing back on after some later accident. I didn't know anything about them, except that they belonged to her.

That's her in the polaroid, standing in front of wooden shelf nearly identical to one I purchased to house the demitasse set and birds. I hadn't remembered that shelf until my mom produced the polaroid!

These are the moonshiners, appropriately housed with the brandy glasses.

When I was twenty-two another grandmother, Violet (my dad's mom, completely unrelated to the Keelers), was moving from her home into a senior apartment and I was moving from her home where I had lived for a short while into the home where I currently live with my husband. When she was cleaning out a closet she came across one of Brad Keeler's lobster dishes, which had belonged to her mother and which she had been saving to give to me. That was my first lobster dish.

I think it was around this time that I started asking my mom more questions about her dad. We made a trip out to their home in Laguna Beach, the home where he died. She showed me old news clippings and photos. I began to scour antiques stores for his work, occasionally picking something up. Then, of course, I found eBay. Today I own twenty-seven individual pieces plus a seventeen piece demitasse set.

But I'm not a professional collector. I don't care if a piece is cracked or chipped. A professional collector would probably eschew pieces like that, but to me, they're all a part of my history, including their imperfections.

Several dozen people have found this blog because they are Brad Keeler collectors, family members, and even relatives of former employees. Just last week, Deborah Lipp, who writes for the Mad Men Blog: Basket of Kisses, contacted me. I had no idea that the series had used one of my grandfather's tomato dishes (the infamous "chip and dip") for one of their episodes, titled "Red in the Face". We don't watch a lot of television in my house, and had only caught snippets of the Mad Men show from time to time, but I did download the episode from iTunes and watched it, just to see Pete return the 1940s tomato dish/chip and dip to a 1960s department store.

Today on Basket of Kisses Deborah Lipp writes about how she came to own a couple or three tomato dishes of her own, and how that led her to me. So, if you're a fan of Mad Men and/or Brad Keeler, you might find her post pretty interesting. I enjoyed corresponding with her, and found myself yet again digging through my archives to recall biographical details for her to include. It has renewed my drive to create a website and forum dedicated entirely to the man and his work, for collectors and former employees and family to come together and share information, swap stories, and maybe even swap some of his work. I've talked for years about writing a book about him, but the more engaged with the internet I become, the more I want the information to be freely accessible, so that those who want to know more can learn more in just a few clicks. (For collectors, there is at least one site available. It is still in progress, but does have some information:

In the meantime, here is a poem from my first book, Seven Floors Up, that explains in far fewer words my own  complicated relationship with my grandfather and his work.

* * *


This piece, representing a green cabbage or lettuce leaf, has a bright red lobster claw to provide interest… There are no chips, cracks, dings, scratches, etc. There is the usual amount of crazing… The backside is marked Brad Keeler… This super piece… may fill that void in your lobsterware collection.

– ad found on E-Bay.

Glazed eyes gaze into the infinite distance
on the open shelving in my kitchen.
Earthen elements molded into lobsters and leaves form
a frieze of my dead grandfather's work.

On the open shelving in my kitchen
I've arranged his platters, casseroles, and bowls.
A frieze of my dead grandfather's work,
these crazed green-garnished, blood-threaded dishes.

I've arranged his platters, casseroles, and bowls.
Imperfections longed for: cracks, dings and scratches.
These crazed green-and-garnet glazed dishes
have found a home amid my homely kitchen's

imperfection. Longing for cracks, dings and scratches,
I order imperfect pieces. The damaged
find a home in my home's kitchen.
Crazed collection elevating the forgotten,

I order imperfect pieces– the damaged,
disregarded, fill a void in this
collection, elevating the forgotten
yellowed news-clips, dust-covered photographs.

The discarded fill a void in this
kitchen, remember what I’ve never known.
Yellowed news-clips, dust-covered photographs,
reveal my mother's father. In this

kitchen remember what I have never known:
earthen elements. Molded into lobsters and leaves, form
reveals my mother's father. In these
glazed eyes the infinite distance gazes back.
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