Sunday, June 28, 2020

Recipe: Banana Cake (from Mamie)

We have two bananas just starting to go brown, so I want to make a banana cake. My mom located her old recipe, which is a bit vague. Recipe first, story after:

Banana Cake (Mamie)

1/2 cup butter (or Crisco)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup mashed bananas
4 teaspoons sour milk (or more)*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt if not using butter

350 degrees (Fahrenheit)

And...that's it. The assumption is that the cake is baked for 35-40 minutes. My mom remembers using vanilla icing, but I remember the icing being a grayish-buff color that matched the cake and might have been made with some mashed bananas. The store-bought banana cakes she has come to love are made with cream cheese icing, so I might try that.**

Mamie was my Cioci Mamie, my grandfather's sister Marie. She was born in 1900 and lived to be 91. She was a spinster great-aunt. She was always old, as long as I can remember, and would have been about 70 when I first took note of her. She was a bit off, loved to drink, and was very generous. Part of our weekend ritual was that after getting up on Sunday, going to church, having a family breakfast of Polish sausage with my aunts and uncles and cousins, and making a visit to the cemetery, my family would come home to settle in for an afternoon meal that my mom had cooked before we went to church. Afterwards, not every Sunday but many of them, Cioci Mamie would stop over with her shopping bags in hand. She wasn't a "bag lady": she was bringing over bags of candy that she had bought for us "kidsies" (and for my cousins, who lived in two houses next to each other a block away.) She would walk over a mile and a half from the hilly part of town where she lived, and then walk back, unless my uncle gave her a ride home. Our chihuahua Chico loved her, and would bark and jump up and down while she sat in a rocking chair until she petted him on the head and called him "nutzie koo-koo" and let him shower her with kisses. She would tell us stories, gossip about her friends, tell us about her latest bus trip to a shrine in Canada. (She was probably the most well-traveled of my entire family.) Other than these visits, I would see her at holiday dinners, weddings, funerals, and on an occasional visit to her house. (She lived about two blocks from my grandmother. One of my cousins bought her house after she died, and still lives there.) She took aspirins for her health long before any official declaration of the health benefits came out, but apparently took too many, casing some gastric bleeding. She spent the last year or so of her life in a nursing home down the street from my house. By then I was back from my stint in Delaware, but I didn't yet own a car, so I saw her from time to time. I am told that she cried out "I want more life!" before she died. By any measure she had had a long life, but that might not have been enough.

This is her recipe. Enjoy it, and buy some candy for the kidsies.

Cioci Mamie is at the bottom row, second from the right, in a white dress, looking askance. My grandfather, her brother, is left of center in the dark suit, holding a cigar and looking delighted. My grandmother is next to him in glasses, looking other-than-amused. 
As a much younger woman, probably in the 1920s

*I suspect this is a typo and should read TABLESPOONS, not teaspoons. When made as directed, the batter was very thick, like a thick cookie dough. I added more soured milk (milk mixed with lemon juice in a 4/1 ratio) to thin it out. The ratio is three teaspoons to a Tablespoon.

**1 box powdered sugar (approx. 4 cups)
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
8 oz. cream cheese
Approx. 1 Tablespoon milk, added by drops

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Dream: The Poetry Festival

This dream was lost, and then recovered with some effort. It was from last night.

The pandemic was over. People were happy to go "back to normal," but for many, that wasn't enough. We were having blowouts, making up for lost time, doing the things we hadn't been able to do during however long the pandemic had lasted, but doing them bigger.

One of those things was a poetry festival. It had started out as a poetry reading, but that wasn't enough. The members of the poetry community of Northeastern Pennsylvania had set aside their differences long enough to create a big community event: poetry readings, poetry open mics, seminars, workshops, q&a sessions, special events for kids, all of it held in the Hoyt Library in Kingston, PA.

I have been to the Hoyt Library in real life exactly once, on November 18, 2013, for a poetry reading (with open mic to follow.) I went there with a friend whose mother was in the hospital - dying of cancer, though we didn't know that yet. We stopped at the hospital so my friend could see her mom before we went out for the night, and so she could drop off some clothes. It was just going to be a quick visit, unlike the long visits we had been making every other afternoon. Parking outside of the hospital was difficult, so I dropped her off and waited in the car. After a reasonable amount of time had passed - maybe 15 minutes - I began to get antsy. After a few more minutes, I realized we were losing our safety margin for getting to the poetry reading early. Several minutes later, I realized we were losing our safety margin for getting there late. I parked the car and went inside.

I found my friend in her mother's room, recovering from a panic attack. I was able to ease her out of the attack, and then out of the room. I confirmed that she still wanted to go to the reading - it was featuring a poet we both liked and admired, even though it was being hosted by someone who had a well-earned reputation for being a dick. She did. The reading would be starting in less than five minutes. It would take at least twenty-five minutes to navigate out of Scranton, get on the highway, and get to Kingston and the Hoyt Library. Then we would need to find parking, figure out where in the library the reading was, and hope to slip in before the reading was over. If there was time, we might even read at the open mic.

I drove there at ludicrous speed, holding her hand the whole way.

We got there twenty minutes late. Poetry readings always start late. We knew the featured poet had a lot of material he could choose from, and we hoped he went long. When we got to the library we were greeted by their amazing second-hand book area, as well-stocked as many bookstores. We found the reading in a side room, where the excited babble of many people talking at once suggested to us that it hadn't yet started.

It was over. The featured poet had completed his set. There was no open mic. This was the after-chatter. 

We met up with the featured poet and apologized for missing his performance. I told his son how his father was one of the only poets who had made me cry. We made small talk with other people we knew. I approached the host and expressed regret at having missed the reading, and surprise that everything had ended so quickly. True to form, he snubbed me, not only refusing to respond, but refusing to acknowledge that he had even heard me.

After a side trip to Wilkes-Barre, I drove my friend home, getting lost along the way. At least I got a poem out of that night.

Back to the dream. The poetry event was being held throughout the library. I wandered through and saw many people I knew. I planned to take part in the open mic, and a workshop run by someone I knew, and a seminar or two. I walked past a room and saw a poet friend I have't seen in real life in over a year, doing a reading for a crowd of children. They sat cross-legged on the floor and looked up at her in rapt attention.

People were all crowded together. Talking, laughing, hugging. Reading poetry out loud, in person, for an audience. No masks. No lingering fear of COVID-19.

Just a dream, for now.

The last poetry event I was to: The final edition of The Writers' Showcase, held in the parking lot of the Old Brick Theatre, Scranton PA, the night of February 22, 2020, under the stars, and in freezing temperatures.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The mask dream

I had a dream last night that left me feeling edgy and stressed. It was in a dreamscape I call "Dream Scranton" - a nightmarish, broken-down (that is, even more broken-down) version of the real place, always under a jet-black sky. Which is odd, because (as I would later recall) the dream wasn't set in Scranton, nor was it initially set at night. I wanted to remember it, to record it, but upon waking, I quickly began to forget details.

Then I saw this:

...and it all came flooding back.

The U.S. is reopening. Stores, restaurants, workplaces...the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over, far from it. It's still burning strong. But people have gotten bored, and restless. They want to ignore this problem and get on with their lives, just like we as a society have ignored so many other problems.

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

In my dream the Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre Township was reopening. This is actually a pretty heartbreaking situation: Two years ago a tornado tore through the Arena Hub Plaza at closing time. No one was killed, but a lot of stores were badly damaged, and some needed to be demolished. Barnes & Noble was salvageable, despite having the tornado clip the store, but it was closed down for seven months while it was rebuilt, reopening at the end of January 2019. In March 2020, it would be closed down again, this time due to the pandemic. It has not reopened yet. But in my dream, it had.

I took a bus there. I'm not sure why. It's been about thirty years since I've taken a bus anywhere. But I took a bus there, and was thrilled to be back in a store. A store full of people. And books! How I had missed being amongst books. I browsed, half-dazed, opening up books at random, looking at the illustrations, reading passages.

And then I realized I had forgotten a mask.

True story.

I felt absolute terror. How could I put everyone else at risk like this? And then I looked around at all the people in the bookstore with me, and noticed that none of them were wearing masks, either.

Oh, fuck, I have to get out of here, I thought. I had to go home. Get my mask.

Only it was late at night, the buses had stopped running,* and I was twelve miles from home with no mask and no way to get home.

Dozens of people responded to that first tweet above with examples of their own mask dreams. The stress is getting to us. Getting into our dreams. Dreams about forgetting to wear a mask. Dreams about other people not wearing theirs.

The U.S. is starting to reopen, and I'm worried things are about to get a lot worse.

Just wear a damned mask, mmmkay?

*In reality, we started late-night bus service in this area a while back. It's almost 3:00 AM and I just heard one go by.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Poem: keeping watch

keeping watch

(written early in the morning of June 1, 2020)

Less than a week ago we watched a video
for the first time, already viral, already everywhere
of a white police office staring into the camera lens as
he kneels on the neck of a black man
over a matter of a fake twenty dollar bill
(SAY HIS NAME: the black man was Floyd George
the kneeling cop was Derek Chauvan)
the man says the familiar words
made famous by another dying man
a man murdered six years ago for the crime of selling loose cigarettes
(Eric Garner, killed by officer Daniel Pantaleo with an illegal chokehold):
"I can't breathe,"
over and over.

We watched as the cop orders him to stand up
while he continues to kneel on him
Floyd George pleads for his life
cries out to his mother
and dies.


We watched as it took days to come,
the rage
the protests
the cries for justice
the opportunists who saw a chance to fuck shit up
the provocateurs who did their jobs in fucking shit up
to create the justification for what would come next

(keep breathing. in, out, through your mask. the trick is to remember to breathe.)
(just don't get the 'vid. wash your hands and say your prayers and stay six feet apart.)

We watched a man knelt upon until he died
and then a few minutes longer for good measure

We watched a reporter arrested for reporting
he told the cops who he was
his camera crew and press badge were hard to miss
"Just following orders," the cops in military gear said
They released him, hours later, after they "confirmed" who he was

We watched local police in full tactical armor
carrying military weapons and driving armored vehicles
no expense spared, as teachers collect box tops for education
try to teach online classes from their own homes
as nurses wear garbage bags and bandannas
and die of COVID-19 anyway

We watched a cop take aim directly at a news crew and fire
rubber bullets, or pepper bullets, no harm done
(just ask Victoria E. Snelgrove
October 29, 1982 - October 21, 2004
she took a pepper bullet to the eye socket and died, horribly,
while celebrating the Red Sox getting into the World Series)

We watched a cop on horseback plow over a protester
another kick a girl in the face as she sat on the ground, weeping
watched cops push down an old man who maybe wasn't moving fast enough for them

We watched a tanker truck barrel down a closed highway
(how did it get on the highway? golly, such a mystery)
aiming for a crowd of protesters
going for the high score
they part before him
his truck stops short of the last few
the cops move in quickly to keep him from harm

We watched marching National Guard fire on
people standing on their own front porch
for the crime of standing on their own front porch

We watched white boys with hammers
white boys smashing the windows of stores
white boys looting them
white boys setting them on fire
black-owned businesses burn in the night

We watched a reporter return to the parking lot where he had left his car
to find that the cops who swarmed the lot had
slashed the tires of his rental
along with the tires of every other car in the lot.

Say you have 99,999 good cops and 1 bad cop.
But the 99,999 good cops close ranks to protect the 1 bad cop.
How may bad cops do you have?

We watched the lights go out in the White House
its occupant hiding in an underground bunker
(So weit ist es also gekommen?)

We watched until we couldn't watch anymore
and even after we turned it off
it's still there
When will it end?
It's been four hundred and one years
perhaps we're at the halfway mark
keep watching