Archives for December 2017

Starting the New Year as a Plucked Duck

This post is not about what you might imagine, given the title.

Thinking of starting the New Year with clean bedding, and being mindful of the single digit temperatures predicted for the first week of January, I made the mistake of removing the duvet cover from my big goose down comforter and sending it to the wash.  I bought the comforter some years ago and only used it during the ‘polar vortex’ of a few winters ago.  It’s been in storage ever since.  While probably not really dirty, I was on a roll to start the New Year fresh and clean.

So here I am, now, most of the day gone, covered in feathers and sweat, confounded by the impossibility of getting the cover back on.

I am 5 feet tall.  My arms, from armpit to fingertips, are not 2 feet long.  The duvet and cover are 109 by 60 inches.  The math doesn’t work.

So I consult the Google and there are videos of “How to Put on a Duvet Cover!”  I’m saved!

Or so I thought.  I was seduced right away by the obvious and swift simplicity of the ‘California Roll’ method: lay the cover, inside out on the bed, lay the duvet on top, roll them up together. Stuff one end of the roll into the corner of the cover, followed by the rest of the roll. Button up the open sides of the cover and roll the whole thing out, all right-side out and flat. Easy peasy.


I don’t know if my hands are too small, the comforter too bulky, my conceptual acumen and mechanical smarts on the fritz or what, but in practice it neither made sense, nor could I make it work.  So, two full hours of stuffing and flapping, un-stuffing and re-stuffing, flapping some more and even crawling inside the cover to push and bash the fluff into the corners, I finally achieved some semblance of completion.

I have no doubt I will be warm and toasty, so there is at least that satisfaction.  But I’m feeling completely frustrated and incompetent, here at the end of a year in which there has been more frustration and incompetence to deal with than I can ever remember (you know what I mean).

Plus, I’m left with a sweater I probably can never again wear in polite company unless I’m going to a costume party as a half-plucked duck.

Happy New Year, All!

Christmas Mysteries

There’s a fire and a tree and candles, this Christmas morning – and I’m caught up in the mystery of some childhood memories.

What were your favorite gifts, as a child? And what do you think about them now?  Do you ever wonder why your parents chose that gift, at that moment, for you? And did you ever ask them? For me, two come to mind as I sit here in the quiet dark of this snowfall morning; both surprises at the time and, because I did not have the foresight to ask my parents while they were still with me, these particular gifts remain quite poignant mysteries.

I don’t remember asking for a puppy. I do remember, after church and breakfast and when all the savaged wrapping paper was tossed and ribbons and bows saved, my Dad saying, “One more present.  Get your coat.” as he handed me a bath towel. I don’t remember walking down the long street to Mr. Gilchrist’s house, or even remember my Dad, with his one war-shattered and other wooden leg, walking  with me. I do remember, and can still feel the warm wriggle of the blond, cocker spaniel runt of the litter in my arms as we walked back home.  I was eight, and ‘Drifty’, as I called him – because he was the same color as a satiny driftwood branch Mom had placed on the hearth as a decoration – became my confidant and best friend that year I began to feel the difference between me and all the other kids in school.

The other present called to mind this morning, as Apollo’s Fire’s Celtic Christmas spills into the room through my fancy Sonos wireless speaker, is the small RCA stereo console that appeared on my 14th Christmas. And the Joan Sutherland LP sent by my Godmother, who had taken me to see the colouratura diva in Lucia di Lammermoor when the Metropolitan Opera was in town earlier that year. For years afterward that console played Copland and Mahler, Puccini and Orff. It went with me to art school where I tortured the downstairs apartment dwellers with Nielsen and Bernstein.

We were not a classical music family. Growing up there was a small radio in the kitchen – just for news and weather and school closings. The closest we came was a set of 45 rpm records with all Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music. My Dad must have bought those in the ‘50s when that series was on TV.  He’d always wanted to join the Navy during the war, but was color blind so was rejected and went into the Army instead.

But when I was younger, the basement had an old Victrola and dozens of 78 rpm records; the original cast recordings of Oklahoma! and The Student Prince. And one mysterious, very large vinyl record; Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I played until it was worn out.  I don’t remember what orchestra, but the record jacket was the exact shade of vibrant green of the winter coat I insisted my Mother buy me one year.

No one played these records but me. As a child, I would spend hours marching around the big, octopus-armed Rheem  furnace, conducting and twirling to these recordings. I still know the words to every song in Oklahoma! and I still would give anything to play Ado Annie and sing “I Cain’t Say No.” 

I didn’t know why or how we came to have these wonderful things, or why I got a puppy I didn’t even know I wanted – or needed.  I desperately wish, now, that I had asked.

* * * *

Here’s a poem about Twirling.


In the basement’s blue-heart furnace world
beneath the Atlas-arms of heat
the banner of myself unfurls.

Victrola’s ancient voices turn
the gyroscope within. I meet
myself in basement’s furnace world.

The hem of my skirt, my arms and curls
fly up and out. Centrifugal beat
releases me and I unfurl.

Thready tenors croon and stir
the places where my sex first feels
its blue heat in this twirling world.

Perpetual motion stirs the pearl
of knowing; unselfconscious I’m revealed,
and blue heat rises as I twirl.

I vibrate. I’m a whirling girl;
a dervish, centered and complete.
The basement’s blue-heart furnace world
releases me. And I unfurl.

Kathleen Cerveny © 2013




Corn snake

As a teenager, my first awareness of the power of contemporary poetry came from an encounter with D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake.”  So beautiful, evocative and seductive the language, but so dark the subject.  The darkness did not lie in the image or actions of the poem’s snake, but rather was revealed through the dark heart of a human, acting on irrational or culture-generated fear of what is not understood.  The poem, through the speaker, offered exposition and expiation. The poem, for this reader, opened a wonder-world of depth and meaning through words that has remained my fascination with poetry to this day.

Yesterday I held a snake; a beautiful sienna and gold corn snake – or red rat snake.  His name is Webster, and he is one of the many ‘animal ambassadors’ – creatures in the educational programming division of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where I am a volunteer.  This was my initiation into the opportunity to someday work with the Museum’s animals that I’ve spent more than a year observing and learning about as a Steward (docent) in the Museum’s Perkins Wildlife Center.

Webster was a revelation. As a child growing up in the then-wilds of the ex-urbs, I used to catch snakes; the yellow-striped gartersnake, the blue racer. So I was neither squeamish nor afraid when Wildlife Volunteer Peter brought out Webster and allowed me to hold him. But I had forgotten, or perhaps never paid close enough attention as a child, to how specifically alive these creatures are.  The cool, smooth silk of their skin covers a body that is not just sinuous in its movement, but pulsing in the most subtle but powerful way. It is a long, continuously flexing muscle of a being that eases itself peacefully through the world and transforms itself into a whiplash when threatened.

I’ve thought a lot about why so many humans fear snakes.  Setting aside the devil in the garden myth, I think in part it may be because their mode of transportation and engaging with the environment is so unlike anything else on land that we know – including ourselves.  Most of us – even insects – have legs and arms; appendages used to navigate, investigate and manipulate our shared world.  But a snake seems propelled by magic; an invisible force. And its means of defense, as well as how it uniquely knows the world, is through its mouth and tongue.  (Only venomous snakes have fangs.  Most snakes have teeth – like us.)

Holding Webster yesterday – or, rather, being held by him, since he pretty much took over the job of engaging with me – was a pure delight.  Gentle but insistent contractions and expansions moved his smooth, cool, jeweled body around mine; I found myself festooned with necklaces, bracelets and belts of red and ochre patterned satin.  Feeling and observing his movements I could think of nothing better than it was as if he were swimming; flowing gracefully and with ease through the air, across the surface of my body.  Quite delicious.

As sensuous as the experience may have been, I was also conscious of Webster’s vulnerability. At its thickest point, the snake’s body was thinner than my wrist. His head and neck, the width of a pencil.  I could have done him harm had I not been careful in unwrapping him from the looped tangle he’d arranged of himself through the straps of my backpack and the cord of my Museum credential.  Yesterday’s experience was my first in observing the experienced wildlife education volunteers, and the first step in doing what it will take to become one myself.

For the live animal show in the Museum’s Sears Hall yesterday, Peter also worked with Sweetie, the red-tailed hawk and Lancelot, the porcupine, in addition to Webster the corn snake.  The audience of children and their parents, young couples and older folk had the chance to learn a lot about these important, wild and fascinating creatures that share our world.  As Peter’s lecture and demonstration were coming to a close, everyone in the audience got to touch Webster’s cool, smooth, clean body – but not the hawk or the porcupine.

Perhaps the reality of who were the scarier, more dangerous animals in the room resonated with some in the assembled crowd.

* * * * *

Here’s two favorite poems on the subject, from D. H. Lawrence Snake, and Emily Dickinson A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

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