Valentine / If You Knew

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs, 
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen, 
reckless, pinned against time?

Ellen Bass

A Year in Little Pudding 2017

This year I’ve created a second, entirely different calendar in addition to the more “grown-up” still-life calendar. It features the inhabitants of the village of Little Pudding, about whom I’ve been inventing stories since my daughter was in kindergarten.


Unless you prefer to be surprised, you can scroll down to see the twelve scenes of village life featured within. (Click twice to see the image larger.) The calendar is 8-1/2” x 11” and printed on sturdy satin stock, substantial enough so the images can be saved as prints.


A single calendar is $20; a set of two is $36. Shipping is 3-day Priority Mail, domestic US.

If you are in my area, you can obtain a calendar from me directly without shipping—just let me know.

Single calendar:

Set of two calendars:


SetsuBunnyTwo celebrations fall on February 3rd in 2011: Setsubun, the Japanese demon-expelling festival; and Chinese New Year, the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. Today’s title was suggested by my brilliant husband.

The Rabbit is supposed to be the luckiest of all the signs. If you were born in the Year of the Rabbit, you are gentle, sensitive, modest, sincere, and affectionate yet shy. Rabbits enjoy being at home, surrounded by family and friends. They seek peace throughout their lives, and are sometimes seen as pushovers because they like to avoid conflict. Although the Rabbit above looks like a pretty tough character, he is, after all, defending his peaceful home from demons.

We have decided to celebrate the two events simultaneously, which will be a challenge. Setsubun involves eating as many beans as you are years old for luck, and hanging garlic or a fish head on your door and throwing beans while chanting the verse above (“Demons Out! Happiness In!”)—both useful practices for repelling demons. Chinese New Year means plenty of red decorations, writing good-fortune verses, and shooting off fireworks. For both events there is special clothing (kimonos, or anything red, or a bunny hat are all acceptable in our house) and of course special foods (like friend Mary’s world-famous Bunny Cake). And, although it’s not traditional, we are including Chinese horoscopes, fortune cookies, origami bunny-folding, and an impressive gathering in the dining room of all our children’s stuffed rabbits.

BTW, for our door we are choosing garlic instead of a fish head.

For another sketch of Setsubun, please see Demons Out! Happiness In!

For another sketch of Chinese New Year, please see Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.

New Year’s Resolution: Garden


Every year I plan to be organized enough to start our vegetables INDOORS instead of succumbing to the purchase of seedlings at the garden center. I’ve managed it only twice, but I remain hopeful. The beautiful High Mowing Organic Seeds catalogue just arrived in the mail, with its tempting photographs of artichokes, fennel, and ornamental gourds… items I know will never be seen in our tiny, semi-shaded Mid-Atlantic garden unless they fall out of the grocery bag on the way to the house. However, those Japanese greens and Red Russian kale look pretty interesting.

I still have time. (And so do you!)

For another resolution, please see Library.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1775 that Benjamin Franklin was appointed First Postmaster by the Continental Congress of the thirteen colonies. If you do not already know the history of the United States Post Office from the trial scene in the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the fabulous original 1947 version, not the flimsy imitation made in 1994), read on.


This method (above) of delivering mail no longer exists in the United States, except in remote outposts of Delaware, where descendants of 17th-century Swedish settlers cling to time-honored traditions.

Message delivery services have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese had one, as did the Mayans, and the Aztecs. The efficient postal system of Persia inspired Herodotus to write in the 5th century B.C., “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Except he said it in ancient Greek.

When English colonists arrived on these shores in the 1600s, they were probably familiar with the recently developed London Penny Post. Send a letter anywhere in London for a penny! or elsewhere for additional fees (seems rather expensive given the era, though). The cost could be paid by either party, which occasionally discouraged someone from picking up a delivery. (“Who, me? Must be some other Frederick Forecastle.”)

In the New World, letters were delivered by any available means. They might be entrusted to a friend or family member going in the same general direction as the letter. They were carried by traveling merchants, ships’ captains, local Native American tribal members, or servants or slaves running errands—in other words, pretty much anyone who was on the road and headed in the general direction of one’s addressee. If they couldn’t be hand-delivered, they were often left at the closest tavern, to be picked up by a visitor who might know the recipient.

The first “official” post office was Fairbanks’ Tavern in Boston, named in 1639 by the British Crown as a collection site for mail between the colonies and England. William Penn set up a service for Pennsylvania in 1692. By the 1700s, several other locations had been designated throughout the colonies, as well as postal carriers who delivered mail among them. Roads were few, and pretty terrible. Some were existing American Indian trails. (The monthly post rider’s trail between New York and Boston, the Old Boston Post Road, is part of today’s U.S. Route 1.) People didn’t receive mail often, but it’s surprising that so many letters made it.

In 1737, Benjamin Franklin was named postmaster of Philadelphia by the British Crown, and in 1753 one of two postmasters-general for the colonies. As you might imagine, Franklin jumped in and made improvements, setting out on a post office inspection tour, surveying and shortening routes, and installing milestones. He also established a penny-post, streamlined accounting methods, and instituted night riders. The Crown dismissed Franklin in 1774, however, for his ornery revolutionary ideas. By that time, the postal service was operating from Maine to Florida and New York to Canada, on a regular schedule, and for the first time was making a profit. (The British government ought to have known they were in for trouble.)

As early as 1775, postal carriers operating under the Continental Congress were hired as persons of good reputation, sworn to lock and secure the mail they carried (which might sometimes have included inflammatory anti-British sentiments). After the war, the Continental Congress re-hired Franklin, making him the first official Postmaster General of the new United States.

The development of the Postal Service has followed that of the nation, expanding in area served as new states were added. Mail has been carried by horseman, stagecoach, railroad, steamboat, truck, and pneumatic tube. (My mother, who grew up on a sheep ranch in Mendocino County, California, had the responsibility of going to “meet the stage” and fetch the family mail. Although it was by that time a truck, the family still automatically called it “the stage” because in her grandparents’ day it had been a horse-drawn stagecoach.) In 1918 the first airmail routes were established. How exciting, to receive mail that had actually FLOWN in an AIRPLANE, which very few citizens had ever experienced themselves.

Today I can email messages and photos to family and friends living across the country and on other continents, and hear back from them within seconds. When our son studied abroad in Japan, we could sit in front of our respective screens and unwrap our Christmas presents together. This definitely has an Amazement Factor. However, praiseworthy though it may be, these are only ELECTRONIC IMPULSES and PIXELS, folks.

Picture this: your friend, who lives on the other side of the world, wraps a lovely gift and attaches a heartfelt handwritten note decorated with little stars and hearts. He/she (probably a she) takes it to the local post office, and in a few days your Friendly Neighborhood Postal Carrier, who trudges faithfully to your home day after day, year after year, through snow, rain, heat, and all the aforementioned, delivers it Personally into your Hands. Along with heaps of other real stuff too, like offers for credit cards, and Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Wow! Now that is what I call amazing. Think of this, and remember your postal carrier at the holidays. And take a moment to smile and thank your postal carrier, today and every day.