Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sisters of Perpetual Disorder: How to Make an Egg Roll

Put 16 women (and several bottles of plum wine) in one room, and a strange kind of music happens. It’s the sound of a half-dozen simultaneous conversations and a chorus of responsive interjections—Oh no…Really?...Oh my lord…You’ve GOT to be kidding—all punctuated with bursts of laughter, coughing jags, even snorts. Women drift easily, effortlessly between conversations, ducking out of one, joining another, returning to the first, adding a single note to a third. If you step back, close your eyes and just listen, you’ll hear a lilting, rolling song.

That’s what I noticed at a recent installment of the Sisters of Perpetual Disorder potluck movable feast. Sixteen of us (see totally candid shot of our feet) cooked up an oriental storm for the dinner’s Asian
theme. The food, as usual, was incredible and included rice, spring rolls, bean curd, curried shrimp, two chicken dishes, Asian ribs, a tartlet tower, lemon tart, coconut pie and much more. No fortune cookies—we make our own fortunes, thank you very much. Potluck leftovers for all. But those songs, that music women make when they’re together, that’s the real sustenance of the Sisters dinners. SPD “greatest hits” moment: one woman, after finishing a bite-sized white chocolate tartlet, rolled her eyes, sat back, and said, “Mmm…I think I need a cigarette.” And she’s a non-smoker.

The dinners so far have been mostly women over 50, but we’re hoping some of our younger women friends will come next time. The Sisters could use a few young recruits to keep the Order going and to add some thrilling spiky crescendos to our song. The novices could learn a thing or two from our sage femme life experience. Plus, they could give us an elbow jab before we doze off face-first in our mu gu gai pan.

How to make an egg roll? Give it a little shove.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


In South Dakota, there’s really no autumn. There’s only
W I N T E R, spring, summer, and a brief interim from the end of summer to the beginning of full-on winter that I call Octever, a combination of October and whatever. September is still mostly summer. We’re still harvesting, canning, cutting flowers. And we haven’t turned on the heat yet. But from October on, it’s a different story. (One Halloween—no kidding—most South Dakota towns postponed trick-or-treating for several days to wait out a blinding blizzard.) So from October until Jack Blizzard settles down over us for the long haul, it could be in the 70’s one day, in the 30’s that night, in the mid-40’s and snowing the next day, and a balmy 55 that night. It could be pouring rain, or we could have sustained winds that blow laundry off the line. Octever keeps plains people on their toes.

At Uncannery Row, we got the last of the tomatoes cooked up into pasta sauce, got the last of t
he cukes salted & dressed, and brought in the houseplants that summered in the yard. And, in homage to our Mother Earth News roots, we finally put in a wood stove. I can hear my grandma’s mumbled, under-her-breath comment in my ear: Why on earth would you WANT something we couldn’t wait to get rid of? But seriously, Grandma, there’s nothing as cozy as a warm wood fire, the smell of burning wood, and a mug of Sumatran coffee warming on the iron stovetop. In my 20’s—my previous wood-stove life—our safety precautions included love and idiot optimism. Now they include a firebrick surround, a regulation fire extinguisher, chimney brush extensions, and two smoke alarms. Funny how age can make one so cautious in some ways and absolutely reckless in others (like eating dark chocolate truffles for breakfast or spending perfectly good money on glass finials).

We had a brief snow about a week ago. Then we had a week of steady drizzle and cloudy skie
s. Oh, Octever. By the time the sun peeked out yesterday, Ray and I were about ready to climb up on the barn roof and jump—a person can only take so much gloom. On the other hand, it’s decent of Jack to give us a little pre-winter taste; it forced us to drag ourselves around in the sleyn (sleet + grey + rain) preparing for the inevitable—shovels out, parkas aired, down quilt at the ready, snow boots by the door. We’ve stocked the larder (does anybody say larder anymore?) with half a lamb and a deer our friend found already neatly packaged out in his field (I have to believe that to ward off bad Bambi flashbacks), and our summer’s garden bounty is put up in jars or in one of two freezers.

I’d put the spinning wheel by the wood stove, don my flannel cap, and work on my stash of merino and camel hair, but I’m afraid the whole prairie life scene would cause a rift in the fabric of time…

Friday, October 9, 2009

Road Trip Reverie Rewind

Whenever I take a road trip by myself I think, “Self, this would be a good chance to do some centering, to meditate, to reintegrate body, mind & spirit.” And this is always my intention. But Ram Das, 70’s guru of be-here-now-ness would be horrified at the way my mind skitters off and dances from one bizarrely random thought to another—little vignettes of mindlessness. So as the prairie rolls past and my mouth is chanting ohm nama shivaya ohm, here’s what’s going on in my brain…

Those sunflowers look like tired soldiers. Or dug-up Chinese imperial guards. Or puff pastries on sticks.

Mmmm…I’m hungry.

If Dave Matthews had come to dinner back when I invited him, we’d totally be best friends now, and he’d be stopping by once in a while for coffee and a game of cribbage. Bet he’s sorry.

Supermodels walk like Lipizzaner stallions.

I shoulda stopped to take a picture of that. I shoulda stopped to take a picture of that. I shoulda stopped to take a picture of that.

How did I miss Laura Nyro back in the 70’s? Donavan…hmm…I still don't know what to make of him.

I could live in Kennebec. Wait, no I couldn’t.

We should turn our place into a B & B. Every outbuilding could be a guest room, with names like “Barn Room,” “Grain Shed Room,” “Loafing Shed Room,” “Chicken House Room.” Ray would have to paint “don’t harass the peacocks” signs.

Deep-fried tofu: delicacy or oxymoron…

If I had it to do over again, I’d try out for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. Or be a Shindig dancer. Or be “best grip” on the set of Man from U.N.C.L.E.

What’s a “best grip”?

Samsara. All life is suffering, leading to cycles of birth, death, rebirth. This is a day or a lifetime or a thousand lifetimes.

Who named Pukwana? Were they just goofing around but the name stuck?

Cool. If I tilt my head and squint, that foggy bean field looks like the ocean. I shouldn’t do this while I’m driving. Cool.

Prairie dogs have feelings, too.

Jesse Winchester sings like an angel-boy. Keb Mo is hot. Bonnie Raitt is hot. Mexico is hot. I'm hot. Those mudflaps are hot. 

I don’t care what she names the new baby. I’m calling him/her Viggo/Violet.

Are we there yet?

Cormac McCarthy isn’t writing books fast enough to suit me. I should email him.

In a truly just world, pear hips & big thighs would be en vogue.

Mmmm…I’m hungry.

Are we there yet?

Monday, October 5, 2009

West Meets Beach [Party]

I just got back from the Western Literature Association annual conference in Spearfish, SD. I was one of four women poets reading on a panel. Our friend, Kathleen Breem went too, to read an honest-to-gosh scholarly paper she’d written. You can see us in the pic, L to R: Lori Roarpaff, Linda Orbatch, Peg Pearlman, me (Marlene) and Kathleen.

We had an awesome time. For one thing, the Black Hills all dressed up in their autumn frills
make me cry like a little girl. For another thing, the four-day combo of western literature and good friend silliness was delightfully surreal—imagine Willa Cather and Cormack McCarthy co-starring in Annette Funicello’s “Pajama Party,” where the crazy kids make a campfire, drink whiskey shots, and yak about western literary archetypes. And boys. And girls. AWE-some.

In addition to literary goodness, I got to meet up with friends Bob and Deardre, who live in the Hills. I got to cruise Spearfish Canyon, stick my head in Spearfish Creek at the traditional baptism rocks (Ray and I have been blessing ourselves in the creek for about 20 years now, whenever we’re in the Hills), buy truffles at Chubby Chipmunk in Deadwood (mmm…crème brule truffles), throw peanut shells on the floor at the Chop House, hear a great band & dance out a few kinks. If you wanna know what a room full of English majors (including me) looks like dancing, check this out:

As much as I love the Hills, I was glad to get back to the flatland. I’m strangely soothed being able to see to the horizon, under a sky dappled with clouds and so vast that I remember my smallness.

So now I’m back, further behind than ever, multitasking to the point of implosion, trying to freeze a mental picture of golden aspen in my mind’s icebox, and trying to figure out how I can make a living rambling around the country reading poems, laughing with friends, and working on my dance moves. There must be a government bailout program for that, right?