"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in family (18)




         "Things that are distressing to see"
              --The Pillow Book
 by Sei Sh┼Źnagon


The look on his mouth

wreathed in berries

a smiling sleepy cat

body turned in his chair

leaning into his teenage daughter

curly-haired, lapping it up


shutting out the mother

bitter look around her mouth

father/husband's two faces--

sensual for the daughter

blank for her mother--

a terrible thing to watch.


As if the mother gave birth

to her own younger self

('Rarus,' 'an abortive child,' or 'a womb,'

the womb of the Corn-mother

from which the corn sprang)

or the secret feminine soul

of her mate,


and he loves only her young, fresh flesh

or perhaps only himself in her, his own inner girl,

and abandons the soul of his wife.

I try to engage her in talk, about the taste of the cider,

she smiles but cannot rise

out of hell.


Kore in the poppy fields

picking the scarlet soporifics,

his chariot drawn by black horses

roaring down the chasm that opens

daughter snatched from mother, de meter,

down into his dark kingdom.


She grieves

and the earth is barren;

apples do not grow,

cider does not flow.

Pomegranate, grenade:

the food of the dead.


Lord of the Underworld

knows only his own desire,

and they are both--

Kore who cries out

Demeter who rages--

his victims.


The father unfolds his length, leaves

the restaurant, daughter close, they stroll

side by side along the rue Vieille du Temple.

Drained, hollow, the mother

can barely rise from her seat

and follows far behind.


I want to cry out to him.

I want to embrace her.

Who will send a message to Hades?

Who will offer the mother blessing?

Who will deliver the daughter from hell

and make the earth fruitful again?






Companions in Flight


Paris to Chicago

A mother and her young daughter sit in the seats in front of me. The mother sends clear signals to the girl: Don’t bother me. Leave me alone.



The carpet of green and gold covering la belle France.

The sheen on the sheet of sea below.

The girl migrates to an unoccupied center seat to my right to watch the in-flight movie. She is blonde with deep brown eyes, solemn and anxious, perhaps eight years old. When the film is over, the girl turns to her journal, writes a few words, then draws for a few pages. She keeps glancing up to see if her mother might be looking back at her. Throughout the flight, she moves back and forth between her mother’s side and her solitary seat. The mother seems to be awake, but unwilling to give her daughter any sign of warmth or reassurance.



Street Art by Fred le Chevalier

Each time the girl returns to the seat across the aisle from me, she looks dejected. I lean over and say, “I think you’re going to be a writer when you grow up.”

She looks startled. Am I talking to her? Someone has noticed her? She’s really visible? I see by the swift changes of expression on her face that she is shy, is not sure what to say—have I observed her secret, that she fears that she is unloved and unlovable? After a full minute, she says, “An artist. I want to be an artist.”

She shows me photos of her dog, Athena.

Strange synchronicity. I had just been thinking about Athena, the goddess of temperate measure. In the flurry of getting ready to fly out of town, I was reminded once again that my tendency towards expansiveness needs tempering with Athena measure.



Zeus is loose, but Athena is meanuh.

Keeping a home in order? Easy. But keeping papers organized? That’s my challenge. I decide that on returning to Paris, I’ll spend one day a week putting files, papers, writing in order.

Right after this, I walked to the back of the plane where a flight attendant was reading “Stealing Athena.” Now, within the space of fifteen minutes, here is a third reference to Athena. What do you call that? It seems to me more than coincidence, like some sort of indication that something’s trying to get through to you from the realm of the invisible.

The young girl and I talk about her dog and her two cats and her mouse and her chicken.

Before we disembark, I say to her mother, “Your daughter is enchanting.”

She looks surprised. This little pest? her expression seems to say.



Denver to Phoenix

Beside me, two young sisters discuss the play they’ve just seen, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The 15-year-old: “Shakespeare was a playwright who lived in the 1600s.”

The 8-year-old: “I may not know who Shakespeare is, but I’m not dumb!”

The 15-year-old: “I know, you liked Puck best.”

I confirm that the two are sisters, and their ages. I’ve guessed the older’s, but the younger is actually nine years old. They both seem French somehow, the understated style of their clothes. And yes, their family lived in Bordeaux for four years, and now they live in Phoenix.



Phoenix to Denver

The man coming up the aisle is young and muscular, with an open face, and a T-shirt featuring a skull. He sees me lifting my suitcase overhead, and offers to help—gladly accepted—then indicates the middle seat beside me.

We talk about the Colorado fires. He’s hoping to get home in time to get a few hours sleep before a job that begins at dawn.

I ask him about the skull tattoos up and down his arms.

“Oh,” he says, looking embarrassed. “I got those when I was 14. Ran wild for a while. Not much supervision from my family. But I guess I turned out all right. Wife and kids and a house, and I just turned 30.”

As we land in Denver, he turns on his cell phone. His phone plays a recording of demented children’s laughter, echo of his earlier days as a wild child.



Denver to Chicago

He is big-bellied, stocky, with the ruddy face of someone who works outdoors. He looks like a shorter Ernest Hemingway.

I write two letters, to my mother and brother, before asking him what the current U.S. postage is.

44 cents, he says.

I’m glad that I finished the letters first, because this man needs to talk.

“I been cowboyin’ all my life,” he says, and tells me a story about the widow on whose ranch he works. “She’s rich and mean. She pays everyone who works for her minimum wage.”

She questioned his wages once. He told her, “‘I charge you what I charge everyone. Go ahead and hire someone else.’ That shut her up.”

He tells me today has been the worst day of his life. His flight was cancelled and changed four times. “I got up at 6 to get ready for the flight and found my favorite mule, Miss Cassie, dead. We got animals buried all over the property, but I didn’t have time to dig her a grave. By the time I get back, the coyotes and vultures will have picked her clean.”

His eyes brim. “Guy I know said she was the best mule he ever met. She was.”

He doesn’t try to hide his tears. I say, “I think the spirits of everything we’ve ever loved remain.”

He tells me that when they moved into their house, his daughter saw a cowboy sitting on her bed, chewing a wad of tobacco. “We found out he’d died in the house. She’s seen him a bunch of times. Talks with him. He doesn’t cause no trouble, but he used to live there. My daughter’s the only one who can see him.”

I tell him about the ghost of Ronald Colman in our former Playa del Rey house. We felt him on the stairs. He was a benevolent spirit. He and his wife loved each other, and they entertained a lot in the house.

But once when my niece and her boyfriend, Eric, were housesitting, he felt Ronald sit down on the bed in our bedroom. “He was cold, so cold,” he said, “and he tried to drag me West into the sea.”



Chicago to Paris

She has thick brown hair past her waist, large blue eyes, a beautiful face. She’s a wholesome American girl about 16.

She tells me she’s on her way to Kenya on a mission.

“You’re Christian?”

“Baptist,” she says. She’s with a group of young people from her church in Kentucky. They are returning to Nairobi, where they’ll travel to Kenyan villages, bringing wheelchairs and medical and food supplies, as well as the word of Christ.

“When I go into someone’s hut, the families are so full of joy, grateful for what they have. They show us their chairs. They love what they have, they’re proud of their huts and chairs.

“You come back to the U.S., and you feel like a spoiled brat. The only reason I think I need an iPhone is because I see them advertised, and I see my friends with them. If I never saw ads, I would be perfectly happy with what I have.

“We travel with a backpack and six blouses and one skirt for three weeks. My mom had to help me pack. At home, I have closets full of clothes. In Kenya, we have to dress modestly, and wear long skirts.”

We talk about my high school, the uniforms we wore.

“I wish I went to a school where you wear uniforms. Then I wouldn’t spend so much time every morning trying to decide what to wear.

“Do you believe in Christ?” she asks, eyes huge, pupils dilated.



“I believe Christ lived. And so did the Buddha. And many other prophets and sages and divinities.”

She looks uneasy with this response.

“I think Christ had a transformative effect on Western culture,” I add.

She nods. “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?”

“I believe—no, I’ve experienced—that life doesn’t end with death, that something in the spirits of people we’ve loved survives.”

“And everyone is saved. People confuse the Baptists with the Southern Baptists. We believe that everyone is saved.”

She tells me that she’s trying to get on Kenya time, and that she’ll sleep with her head on a pillow on her food tray.

Minutes after our take off, she is asleep. I decide that I, too, will try to get in synch with Paris time. And for the first time ever, I fall asleep on a plane.

But my flight companion is as jumpy as water on a hot skillet. She flails in her sleep, with elbows, knees and feet knocking me in the knees and arms, until I finally give up on getting any sleep myself.

I watch the soundless drama overhead. It's an American film about the search for a mysterious island, and features a teenager who clearly knows more about everything on earth than his clueless parents.

I open my French novel, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” In the same building in Paris live a lonely concierge named Renée who devours literature and chocolate, and a young girl named Paloma who is trying to save her own life by keeping a journal of words and images. And then a Japanese man named Kakuro moves into their building...





A great green dragon lies to the West, watching over the town. I look up at her ruffled spine, the green and gold of her flanks, and see her dragon breath drifting down from above. It looks like the mist above Chinese mountain peaks.

But no, it’s smoke from the Colorado fires, beyond the Rocky Mountains at the edge of town.

I’m standing outside the Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street in Boulder. What has brought me here, so far from Richard and our Paris home?

Love and health. Health and love.

On July 4, 2012, great news came from physicists at CERN in Geneva about the Higgs boson particle: the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. It is responsible for life on earth, human beings, the stars—everything in the universe, and the forces that work between them. Without this miracle, we would have no weight, would be ricocheting around at the speed of light.



This energy field that physicists have been predicting since 1964 can be seen from other perspectives, too. The perspective of love, for instance. The power of love to transform someone’s health, for instance, my sister, Jane’s.


Here are a few of the elements in Jane’s energy field:

Her daughter, Rachel, helping her to get to medical appointments and being vigilantly protective of her health.

Her daughter, Bayu, flying in from Wellington, New Zealand for a month and planning to return this fall when she has completed her art and design studies.

Her mother and four siblings ready to help in whatever ways we can.



A caring, expert Western medical team.

A brilliant acupuncturist and sage, Dr. Maoshing Ni, prescribing Chinese herbal teas and Eastern healing.

A gifted local acupuncturist.

A friend, Liza, flying in for several days.

Friends in Boulder and beyond.


Friend, Susan, connecting Jane to a healing group who are meditating on her health.

Jane’s own excellent health habits: yoga, walking and eating well.

A town where, for an entire month, I didn’t encounter a single surly or obstructive attitude (although the motorcyclist who honked at me as I fumbled for my ringing phone while driving was entirely justified).


A town that’s so wholesome—5,430 feet high (great for the lungs and heart), with clean air, open protected space, cycling, hiking, mountain climbing, free yoga classes, healthy food, people drunk on endorphins—that it might be the healthiest town in the U. S.

A town where the restaurant food is astonishingly good: the scallops and truffles at Riffs, the paella at the Mediterranean, the chicken salad at Brasserie Ten Ten, the vegetable omelette at Tangerine, the Coquilles St.-Jacques at Arugula, the vegetable tempura and beer at Hapa Sushi Grill, the guacamole and enchiladas Veracruz at Cantina Laredo. I haven’t had a bad meal yet. Even the gourmet cheeseburger at Salt the Bistro I ate with Rachel and Brandon (the first such meal I’ve had in some twenty years, making me feel like a real American again) was delicious.



Jane seems healthier by the day, surrounded as she is by an energy field of healing and love.

All this in a larger context that’s frightening: the fires in Colorado were so extreme this year that half the fire fighters in the nation were brought in to fight them. They have resulted in the loss of 346 homes, 32,000 people evacuated from their homes, and are the most destructive in Colorado history. When I last checked on July 13, they were still not contained.

A map of weather conditions across the U. S. showed an alarming degree of heat, dryness, high winds and out-of-control fires in western states.



We know there is an energy field all around us which affects us and which we affect.

Can we extend this force of love and healing beyond our families and friends, and offer it to the whole planet?


How can we do this?





Empty Nest

Around here, it's not just a syndrome.

The baby doves we've been watching in our neighbors' window box successfully fledged, and are gone from the nest, along with their parents, although we spotted the scissor-billed mom yesterday wandering around on the zinc roof a couple of floors above the nest, as if she was visiting an old homestead from a discreet distance.



This was one of their many feedings on August 1st.  Note that both have full juvenile plumage (putting a wing around mom just to try it out), and are slowly losing all of their golden down.



And this is the last picture we have, on August 3rd, just before they took off to be adult Parisians.  We had asked them when they were born what we should name them, and they replied that they didn't want to be named, because having names would only increase the grief when they left.




Wedding in Elounda Beach, Crete


This weekend we attended the three-day wedding celebration of two friends in the Loire Valley. Marriage ceremony in an eleventh century church, reception at a restored chateau, two parties at family homes. More on that in a later Paris Play, but it set us thinking about weddings. Here's how we were married three times in Elounda Beach, Crete:


Holed up in the Mirabello Bay hotel

the night before our wedding, we ask the gods,

What shall we do for our wedding vows?

When you summon them, how swiftly they speak!


We wake at three a.m., envision

a circle of gods and goddesses around us,

twelve of them, played by our guests

speaking our vows, which we will repeat.



We run to Ayios Nikolaos, find playing cards

with images of the twelve, dash home to write

and paste the words of the vows over the numbers,

diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts.


Crete is the shape of a woman with bare breasts,

belled dress—Ariadne, the Cretan Aphrodite.

We gather in the crook of her neck at the Elounda Beach hotel

at the edge of the Aegean sea.


My parents’ wedding gift: five days in white casitas

with curved walls, woven Greek bedspreads,

rooms open to sapphire water, June sky,

a horseshoe of mountains beyond.


Father, mother, sister, brother, sister, sister.

two nieces, and brother's fiancée.

Married friends of 30 years, their daughter.

Twelve guests are here.


Sister Ann brings the boxes with wedding rings

we’d given them to take from Arizona.

“We lost the gold ones,” she says,

“so we replaced them.”



I open the box. A smaller ring

with a yellow plastic duck, a larger one

with a red and black ladybug,

both lucky charms. We slip them on.


An hour before the ceremony

I sit with arms and feet outstretched

in white lace nightgown, with

lovely young attendants, nieces


who paint my nails, give me

my first pedicure. I feel like a queen.

“Now I must dress,” I say like a queen.

They laugh, “Isn’t this your wedding dress?”


My father comes to the casita, in striped peppermint shirt,

walks me to the chapel. My sandals are delicate,

earth-gold, worthy of Aphrodite, and hurt my feet.

I think of Yeats’s line about women, “we must labour to be beautiful.”


Through purple bougainvillea, shimmering heat,

we walk the path. My father says, “This man

is a treasure, a jewel. Treat him like one.”

I will, Dad. I will.



My father and I stop across the Dionysus courtyard

from Richard. He stands with radiant face

outside the east door of the chapel,

as Greek grooms do.


The hotel pianist noodles romantic tunes.

My father’s face is shining.

We wait. And wait. My brother snaps photos.

Two men dash across the grounds,


one with patriarchal beard and long black robe,

the other in the last madras shirt in the Western world.

Richard consults with them.

The hotel manager translates.


“What is your religion?” asks the priest,

“Catholic or Orthodox?”

“Neither,” says the groom; “we honor

the ancient Greek gods and goddesses.”


Father Ted looks confused.

The manager tries to translate.

“Which of the two are you?” he insists.

Again Richard states our beliefs.



Father Ted slaps his forehead.

Pagans!” he cries. And then,

“I can’t take money for this—

it won’t be a real wedding.”


“That’s okay,” says Richard.

“We were already married legally at city hall.

We simply sought the blessing of a local holy man.”

The good priest grudgingly agrees.



The piano man begins the wedding march.

My father escorts me into the Orthodox chapel.

Saints and angels and whirling circles

are painted along the walls.                                            


My mother wears shell-pink linen,

and a necklace of many-colored beads.

Her face is tender and open. My father

places my hand in my beloved’s.


We tremble before the sermon

Father Ted bellows in Greek.

His madras-shirted cantor translates:

“You were born in sin, and will burn in hell!”


Is this a special Bible treat

especially for pagans? We float out of the chapel 

amazed, shocked by the spiritual violence,

gather in the Dionysus courtyard.


“Where did you find this jacket?” asks Suki,

stroking my sleeve. It is white silk ribbon with a labyrinth

design. “On Mykonos,” I say, remembering

my joy at finding it in the maze of shops. 



“The bride talks too much,”

the hotel manager says.

A proper Greek bride 

should be Orthodox and silent.


We walk to the stone jetty

that juts out into the Aegean sea.

It ends in a circle with canvas wicker chairs,

several hotel guests at the open bar.


A white sail forms a roof,

open to cobalt sea and sky,

and mountains like Arizona beyond.

Our guests form a circle around us.



The gods of water, Poseidon, Dionysus and Artemis to the North;

the gods of air, Hermes, Daedalus and Athena to the East;

the gods of earth, Hestia, Aphrodite and Demeter to the South;

the gods of fire, Ares, Apollo and Zeus to the West.


My mother, Betty, Artemis, opens her envelope, and reads:

I will protect and nurture you.

My niece, Bayu, as Hermes, is next:

I will strive to deeply understand you.


After each, we echo the vows.

My brother, Jon, as Daedalus, says,

I will guard your creative solitude.

 The gods and goddesses weep.



Jon’s fiancée, Leatrice, Athena, says,

All my resources are yours.

I will build a home with you, says Steve,

representing Hestia.


Aphrodite speaks through his daughter, Robin, 

I will walk in beauty with you.

Her mother, Rain, is Demeter:

I will nourish you and protect your health.


I will travel the world with you, says Ares sister, Ann.

Sister Suki, Apollo, says, I will live with you in harmony

and celebration. Sister Jane, as Zeus says:

I will be grateful every day for the gift of you.


Her daughter, Rachel, Poseidon, says,

I will protect your sleep and honor your dreams.

My father, Sam, as Dionysus, ends with:

You are the mate of my soul in life and in death.



Everyone cries except my mother, Artemis,

who dry-eyed says, “This should be a film.”

A young Greek woman approaches from the bar, asks,

“What is this beautiful religion?” “Yours,” we say.


We sit on the banquettes,

gazing around at the mountains and sea.

This is where we wanted to be married,

Ariadne’s island of beauty and love.



We walk in a procession to the Dionysus courtyard

for the feast. Long white-clothed tables form a T.

Red roses in glass vases. A menu of

Aphrodite’s Appetizers. Fillet of Fresh Fish Poseidon.


Lemon Sorbet Artemis. Rack of Lamb Ares.

Fresh Fruit from Demetra’s garden.

Hestia’s homemade chocolate cake.

Coffee a la Hermes. Dionyssos’s digestives.


The air is warm. We sit under the umbrellas of olive trees.

The sculpted white chapel where we were hectored

in sin is behind us. We sit with family and friends,

ablaze with love.