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Blog break

August 1, 2013

Summer has kicked into full gear here, and I’m quickly falling into my lifelong habit of juggling too many activities as though they where balls of fire. If only that pesky work thing and all the boring activities of daily life didn’t get in the way. Perhaps then I’d have time to sail, practice yoga, enjoy live music, dance, practice my oboe, preserve vegetables, share poetry, and take on even more new fun projects. But at some point, even I have to admit scaling back would be a good idea. So it’s time for a blog break. Thanks for reading and supporting. Keep following The JulieBook, and you’ll be the first to know when I have a new piece to share or am setting off on a new adventure.

Open at nightfall

June 26, 2013

On our recent Australia adventure, part of our time in Sydney coincided with the Sydney Festival, a monthlong celebration of art, music, theater, and other performances scattered throughout the city. Tickets could be pricey, so George awoke at 3:30 am to catch the series of buses that would get him downtown and in line in time to procure “rush” seats. One of the shows we were fortunate enough to see was Cantina in the Famous Spiegeltent, the inspiration for this piece. It’s a work in progress, so be daring and let me know what you think.

Night Circus

“Not for children”
The sign should be posted
definitive no for youngsters
drawn to the curling columns,
cartoonish front panel of the
spiegeltent exterior
eager for acrobats and contortionists
feats of flight and fancy
feasts for eyes and ears

Perhaps simply the hour
acts as height meter indicating
too young to ride
Famous tent stands quietly as toddlers
clamber over nearby monkey bars
only shining its true lights against
soot-black sky
True night circus
open from dusk on

Patrons queue for the unexpected
best seats or standing room only
no one is sure
Gently wrinkled hands curl comfortably around
plastic cups of summer-evening wine
red etching softly along lip line
white sweating coolly against beringed fingers
pour the first refill
velvet ropes cast aside

Inside, ‘20s returned
carved wood columns support striped canvas
tenting cozy banquettes surrounding
cheap chairs crammed against
center stage
everywhere they look they see
reflected from every angle
Most stop too stunned to
check their hair
quietly debate which seats
assure autonomy yet voyeurism
We dare sit so close our knees
brush the platform’s curtained edge
folded arms could press its scuffed wood
too daring, even for us

Music begins
Tom Waits and a pianola
setting the tone
everything the children wanted on
but distorted
as wavy glass on mirror-lined walls
tightrope walker in high heels
acrobat in blindfold
illusionist naked before all
contortionist neither
back bending nor forward but
broken doll tattered
party dress torn

Drop from candy-striped ceiling
gasp in awe
walk across jewel-bright shards
gasp and squirm
throw her as in drunken anger
perhaps too much reality
even for this crowd, this show
dark as soot
bright as sparks

—Julie Laing

Credit where it is due: The final lines and title were inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, a must-read for lovers of magical storytelling of all ages. For other great reads, head over to this week’s open mic at the dVerse Poets Pub.

You say tornado, I say cyclone

June 5, 2013

I listened to two things last night: a friend tell how she was caught in Brooklyn’s 2012 tornado, and Glenn Gould play Bach’s Goldberg Variations—twice, nearly 30 years apart (see below). This poem draws both into its eye, as well as my own recent cyclone-survival tale. So hang on.

Taken by Storm

We both describe the wall of water
ensnared in our cliché like anyone
caught by rain so intense it
erases original thought
Hers raced uphill as she
walked breathlessly down
head bent against rising wind
teasing electrified hair into
a coif enviable in 1985
Mine rolls over flat water
darkening Turner sky leaning over
shoulders of a sunset even
Monet would hesitate to capture
looking port to starboard
like channel-flicking after 10 pm

Her shoes tapped gypsy jazz on concrete
1955 Goldberg from Gould
note-filled flurry drowning in storm’s drone
She abandoned the city’s insecure
maple anchors and brick coves
raced for safe harbor
teacher desperately returning to student
My sandals root to fiberglass as I
turn our bow beyond mainland
harbor to claim 20 vessels’ lives
I dream three miles deep
southern ocean fjord
anchor sunk firmly in generations of mud

Boys taking care of their girls
captain’s lady sheltering us all
anemometer registering 30
35, 40, 48 knots
internal danger meter registering
swaying treetops within view
It’s Gould’s ’81 variations
still all speed and bluster
but outlining every chord in ways
that younger self
that Park Slope storm
never saw the point of
And perhaps she dreamed the
Brooklyn Rain he later wrote for her
flute releasing notes of
spring’s falling raindrops
no cyclone, no tornado
only fat and round
full in timbre
refreshing as new love

—Julie Laing

Let me know what you think—about poems, about sailboats, about Glenn Gould. And then check out some other new work at the dVerse Poets Pub.

Tail tracks

May 8, 2013

GoannaI’ve been fascinated by tail tracks ever since I first encountered marine iguanas on a trip to the Galapagos. Forget the pretty footprints along the ocean’s edge on religious placards; I was drawn to the smooth line curving smoothly between little webbed footprints in a gracefulness that seems unimaginable when you look at a lizard of any size.

On our recent Australia adventure, we encountered wild lizards of impressive size—monitor lizards, or goannas, several feet long that seemed to be as much tail as body. The apotheosis of tail tracks! Our best encounters were on Fraser Island, the world’s second largest sand island and accessible only with a 4WD rig. We jumped at the opportunity to spend several days camping and exploring a place where waves set the schedule and iguanas set the pace.

He stalks through rain-starved grass
four stubby, talon-tipped legs propel
five feet of body and tail
light flecked like shadows across his path
disjointed footprints
swaying tail track in his wake

We approach slowly
softened tires hesitant as we
tread his sandy road
No heat-tacked asphalt here
no dividing yellow line to
us and them
we meet head on
only momentum determines who
veers right and takes the
collapsing high road

This world bears Dali’s stamp
roads churned to soft serve
cliffs melting like slow-motion waterfalls
spilling color onto rip-packed beach
washed clean of intrusion every 12 hours
even where time seems fluid
kept by hand-wound metronome
like the one on childhood’s piano

Western determination doesn’t hold
No fighting through it
Those who push uphill
only find themselves stuck
spinning out as they dig ever deeper traps
wonder why they left their shovels

Adaptation brings surreal power
so we release air from all four tires
slowly learn unexpected tempos that
keep us rolling forward
building speed of confidence until
we hydroplane on dry land
trailer hitch dragging behind
leaving our tail track in the sand

—Julie Laing

Sand so fine it bleeds

I’ve been struggling with this first draft of a poem for several weeks and am still tweaking, so I’d love to hear what you think. While you’re at it, check out some other new work at the dVerse Poets Pub.

Healing rays

March 27, 2013

I’ve been thinking about this poem since we returned home from a four-month journey, which looped us from the U.S. mainland through the South Pacific, Australia, and Hawaii. But until I returned to the daily routine—and watched a friend suffering through a bitter divorce—I was unable to find a counterpoint to the silent, unearthly beauty of watching a quartet of manta rays soar out of the darkness and into the beams of a hundred flashlights.

The Dive
(for CB)

Jam rocks in her pockets
Hunch her back with the final hour of
silver-encased breath
twenty extra pounds
add twenty years of age
She can barely stand
pained by weight of
truculence, betrayal, separation
forced to jump

This girl is made to sink
thirty-four feet
straight through the stop zone
past the thermocline
She must take a breath to
avoid hitting cold rock bottom
but shallow gasps cause panic
widen her eyes
make her feel the weight of water
ocean of pressure

She realizes, with one quick jerk
all could be over

She realizes this is her choice
and breathes

Then they come
Flying through obsidian-black water that
sits heavily on her shoulders
as though parting gauze
Light bleaches smooth bellies
hides tarnished-silver backs in shadows until
they arc upward
roll head over long, thin
innocuous tail

Wings stretch 14 feet
tips fluttering slowly as one
propels toward her
She breathes
and ducks
resisting temptation to reach out in a
tactile reality check
smiling as through a solid water column
it buffets her with backwash
opens a mouth that could
swallow her whole

Instead it sucks in plankton
tiny specks of
memories, worries
every hateful word
broken into single syllables
individual letters
filtered into that tunnel-like mouth
energizing the gentle beast
powering its acrobatic dance

Time stops
Cold cannot penetrate
neoprene-thickened skin
She feels weightless
How will she explain?
“Mantas ate my heartache”
swam it out of this bay of despair
past the barrier reef of harsh years
let me fly
straight through the stop zone
break the night-calmed surface
lie back, float effortlessly
breathing deep and
counting infinite stars

—Julie Laing

Video filmed by Ocean Wings Hawaii; you can see a longer clip of this dive here. You can learn more about the specific mantas we saw and about the Big Island’s manta population in general at the Ocean Wings Hawaii website. And you can read more amazing poems this week at the dVerse Poets Pub.

High seas sunsets

November 20, 2012

I’m quickly learning to love sunrises on the open ocean. All you can see below you is indescribably blue water. The sun rising behind you begins to show the smooth curl of your sails and warm your nightwatch-chilled back and neck. And a sky so thick with stars that you couldn’t identify constellations lightens to reveal the true shapes of clouds.

Sunset is another matter. It also always comes toward the end of watch, but somehow it’s a more tiring one than the 2:30 to 5 a.m. stint at the wheel. And it looks so different from the Hollywood vision of boat silhouetted against glowing sky. When you’re in the frame instead of watching it in the darkened theater, all you see is the sun in your eyes.


Facts of the Fiction
No wide-eyed romance in
sailing into the sunset
heroine’s hair streaming smoothly above
statuesque neck and shoulders
backlit silhouette
On the Coral Sea
wind whips dried, brown strands
across a ceased forehead
greasy with layers salt spray

Eyes squint
look starboard to avoid
regal lame`
carpeting the plasticy gloss of
choppy, rolling waves
Loosely bundled clouds
too swift to steer by
mimic distant land
sole relief from
sharp deliniation of
sea and sky

Gaze drawn into the compass
like to a Magic 8 Ball
mesmerized in its tilting, twirling
lines and numbers
forced to steady its spin with
precise pressure on the wheel

Apollo breaks Halley’s hold
laser beam of light
hits the curved dome
refracting its ray into half-closed eyes
Then the sun god demands subservience
perfect spotlight
unshaded by sail
slowly descends between
bimini corner and genoa leech

Only after the sun has set
solitude shifts to companionship
a warm hip slips along mine
silent watchers of a dying glow
Sky darkens, clouds redden
pale and fade
revealing night’s first star
Wide eyed, I find romance in
sailing into twilight

–Julie Laing

My boyfriend George and I are currently sailing across the South Pacific to Australia (see our travel blog, Ditch the Dog), so my poetry posts are even more infrequent than usual. Fortunately, the the dVerse Poets Pub gives you lots of other fabulous poetry to read. If you’ve come here from Open Link Night, please forgive my slowness in returning your visit and/or responding to you’re comment; I’ll make it around when I’m next in port.

Feeling wobbly

November 7, 2012

My boyfriend George and I are currently sailing across the South Pacific to Australia (see our travel blog, Ditch the Dog), so my poetry posts are even more infrequent than usual. But I’m finding lots of inspiration–even in the rare bad things, such as seasickness.


This is my first blue water passage, and I knew the threat of regularly dangling my head over the life lines loomed large. But I was still unprepared for the first wave of uncontrollable nausea. Fortunately for me, it seems to last only a few hours on the first day of a crossing and to disappear completely by day 2. Fortunately for you, this poem is more beautiful than the experience. Enjoy.

Ocean Motion
I struggle for rhythm in this
new lapis world
swing dancer in a
Latin nightclub
always right foot forward on
one instead of two
As I curl flat-backed on the
narrow salt-sprayed bench
my ocean becomes topaz
white-capped with clouds
I listen to unfamiliar music
determined not to gyroscope
through each free spin
My breathing slowly shifts
adjusts from the upright
trad jazz tempo of land
to this foreign rock
bounce and roll
Just another dance
another lead to follow
all I need to find my center
is time
–Julie Laing

If you’ve read this far, then you should continue on to check out some of the other amazing poetry at the dVerse Poets Pub. If you’ve come here from Open Link Night, please forgive my slowness in returning your visit and/or responding to you’re comment; we’re off the Noumea dock tomorrow and my Internet connection will be spotty.

Everybody eats…

October 7, 2012

..when they come to my house. —Cab Calloway

I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it into Poetics today, and I’m certainly in just under the wire. But it would be such a shame if I couldn’t come up with a food poem, as Claudia challenged us at the dVerse Poets Pub. I spent most of the day preparing my garden for winter; bags of tomatoes sit along my bookshelf, closed tight around apples to ripen them for the last batch of chipotle salsa; and this recipe was on my mind for dinner. After one bite, George called it a poem. So I decided I had better write it.

Chilled Sun Gold Soup

No one wants chilled soup
when night has fallen by seven
thermometers read two score
even if summer’s last sweetness
pops through sun gold and yellow pear
tomatoes pulled just before
frost buried into their skins
turning them translucent

So as I reach for Local Flavors
I hope Deborah Madison
won’t be offended as
I ignore her instruction
chill well
gloss over the note
serves 6 as an appetizer
turn the page to discover
primary flavors
missing from her initial recipe

In my kitchen
recipes turn to jazz riffs
basic chord structures
expanding with a bite of this
pinch of that
disbelief that any soup
could be complete without garlic
just like you need a flat fifth
to call it the blues

So as I stand over the kettle
chilled sun gold soup evolves
starting with one onion
silky saffron threads
one army-green bay leaf
last of my sister’s dried thyme
irreplaceable sweet smoked paprika
sizzling in olive oil until
joined by spoonfuls of garlic
fresh pepper of unknown heat
quick wrist flicks releasing salt
all subdued by August’s veggie stock

Thumb-sized tomatoes hit bottom
skins bursting open to release juices
canned fruits could never imitate
Soup simmers as I follow
instructions for garnish
to the letter
combining scallions pulled this evening
splashes of champagne vinegar
summer’s last fresh basil
and since I am in Montana
the only store-bought produce
one avocado

I blend the soup into a uniform gold
Moroccan button makers would envy
pour in white wine not called for
by either Madison recipe
ladle it into two bowls
slide on garnish and
take it straight to the table
piping hot

People watching

September 30, 2012

It may be nearly October, but warm, dry days and above-freezing temperatures at night have kept leaves clinging to trees and tourists clinging to their last days away from jobs and routine. Meanwhile, the locals who have been avoiding town all summer are ready to park right in front of their destination, walk into a restaurant without a reservation, and recognize every face at the bar. Part of me always loves seeing the two groups overlap; it makes for some entertaining people watching.

Second Glance

Bright sunlight
pours through clerestory windows
as steady as the waitress’s hand
releasing those first
twelve ounces of coffee
Summer may have ended
locals reclaimed favorite haunts
but tourists refuse to depart
They flow into the narrow corridor
wait to be ushered to still-warm seats
clutch guidebooks like security blankets
lay maps alongside white ceramic
striped with first and last sips
Motorcycle jackets engulf chair backs
still reflective beneath layers of road dust
Hiking boots peek from beneath
expensive khaki zip-off pants
Daypacks tucked against creamy walls
hold everything from cameras to
dry flies to golf balls
They plan the week’s, day’s, hour’s adventure
at volumes that make Muzak pointless
all but a solo diner
braced against the breakfast bar
broad back to the room
splayed legs crossed at the ankles
coffee mug pushed to the end of his reach
leaving room for paper and pen
Dressed for church perhaps
short-sleeve button down
checked in the pastel blues and browns
my father always favored for June Sundays
His hand fills page after page
perhaps thoughts about the day’s sermon
or maybe it’s all business
no day of rest for this modern cowboy
cell phone holstered on his belt
man enough not to hide
smooth bare skin encircled by
neatly trimmed graying fringe
But as the only other diner
letting eggs grow cold
distracted by words spilling from my head
I glance his way again
wondering if I’m watching
just another poet

This poem was written for the dVerse Poets Pub Poetics topic: People watching. Thanks, Brian!

Sail away

September 23, 2012

This week’s Poetics challenge at the dVerse Poets Pub was to “Write a poem that you did not expect to write today.” I never expect to write the poems instigated by this group, because I challenge myself to come up with a new piece based on the given prompt within the 48-hour window. Perhaps what is unexpected about this poem, then, is that I am (hopefully) not the last poet to submit! But just to cover my bases, I focused on the unexpected in this piece.

In July 2011, my sister, brother-in-law, and then 3-month-old nephew moved from the U.S. to Australia for two years. I’ve never traveled Down Under, but I knew I would be as soon as she told me they would be moving there shortly after the baby was born. And after hearing tale upon tale about George’s blue-water experience in the South Pacific, it quickly became clear that this would be a typical Julie adventure. As in, why book a guided tour across Siberia when you can spend nearly a year in Russia learning the language and board a Trans-Siberian train on your own? As in, why follow a guidebook through Morocco when Peace Corps volunteers will happily take you in and point the way to towns that have never seen an American tourist? As in, why do the typical postgraduation European backpacking tour when you can live and work in London for six months first?

As in, why fly to Australia when you can crew on a sailboat from Hawaii and across the South Pacific? So that became the dream. And now it’s going to happen: departure set for late October. Here’s the first in what will be a series of poems about our next adventure.

Next Adventure
Two years
knowing the destination
emerald city of sunburnt country
nicknamed for Dorothy’s wizard land
Just weeks later
wisps of dreams, tickles of plans
could we, what if, why not?
envisioning taunt white wings of cloth
rather than today’s usual aluminum
flying us over miles of ocean
Six months
searching for the perfect match
scroll through posts
send blind daters’ resumes
know excitement of initial contact
only to see marriages fail
courses change
damage and empty wallets
redraft best-laid plans
Twenty-three days ago
another likely connection
but human, with imperfections
perhaps too much commitment to
travel too far
maybe too late to be
on the same road less traveled
So we form alternative plans
prepare to stop searching
become comfortable with going solo
welcoming tastes of independence
projecting strength
which is why the yes
like our own story
is unexpected

—Julie Laing

Thanks, Karin, for the fabulous prompt–I will be reading your 1 Mississippi book to my nephew by Christmas.