journal jl

Sensory Index

Are you a list maker? Is it a compulsion? A passion? A way to keep track of all those pesky tasks that have to be done, sooner or later?

Whatever the motivation, rows of words have a way of capturing information in a very compact way. A lineup of ingredients. An agenda of appointment times. Short-hand cataloging can be pragmatic and to the point. Compiling a table of pros and cons can be exhausting and yet weirdly revealing

Narrative strings

As a inveterate list maker I find that quickly penned columns distill and clarify. When I fall off the edge of a paragraph I’m writing and can’t seem to continue on, I make a tally of characteristics or impressions. When I commuted to work and had a good fifteen minutes on a ferry each way I wrote poems that I called strings. Those poems were essentially an enumeration of words rendered hastily and furiously because that was all I had time for.

                                                                                                            family album





                                                                                                                        family album

Notes on the  fly

In my on-going revision work this old habit has found a new application. Here are some lists that are tied to Lou Keats and the town of Fireweed Crossing:

List B – School (elementary)

  • chalk dust
  • damp asphalt
  • threatening sounding bell
  • linoleum squeaking under shoes
  • desks that wobble
  • sweat
  • corn chips
  • eraser crumbs
  • oil
  • blood
  • despair
  • names etched with sharp points – illegible
  • warm metal
  • wood veneer
  • notebook cruft: balled up, notched edges of lined paper
  • an old candy wrapper – liquified jawbreaker
  • nobs of snot
  • scent of talc
  • the bumpy rinds of skin-pink recess balls
  • the clang of flag-pole cables
  • the sheen of windows that gaze like lidless eyes over the playground
  • chili, cinnamon rolls, warm milk



the vocabulary of a time and place

List F

  • View Master – techno color image
  • Barbie in a pillbox hat with tiny red lips
  • Silly putty – pressed onto newsprint to pick up images
  • marbles – cat’s eyes, steelies, agates, devil’s eye, oxblood, shooter
  • Pick-Up-Sticks – vibrantly colored, as sharp as pins
  • Monopoly – little game pieces that take on a life of their own
  • Scholastic books – that new book smell of scotch tape and vanilla
  • tiny plastic babies – a handful for a dollar
  • Etch-A-Sketch – like drawing in a secret code
  • Troll dolls with wisps of orange hair
  • Comics: Incredible Hulk, Strange Tales, Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider Man


                                                                                                                        from Olio notebook

Character traits

List E

  • Independent (quietly defiant, listens to others but will wait to decide for herself)
  • Wary (doesn’t believe what people tell her to believe – especially if they say it’s obvious)
  • Lonely (misses her mother, grieves for Shakespeare, wishes her father was reliable)
  • Imaginative – problem solver
  • Argumentative – unwilling not to call BS, especially with friends
  • Curious (avidly, dangerously, acutely)
  • Stubborn – determined – the more frightened she is the more determined she becomes
  • Attuned to the natural world – animals, the forest, the seasons
  • Adept tracker
  • Careful observer
  • Private (does not appreciate pity or others who know better)
  • Uncertain (who to trust? how to grow up? What is an imagined threat,
    what is a real danger?)
  • Fiercely loyal to friends even when really pissed off at them
  • Protective of small animals, old people, misfits
  • Angry at gossips, bullies, loud visitors, any one who spends a lot of time thinking up insults to hurl at anyone who won’t or can’t hurl them back
  • Tired of being herself when other people wish that she was more like them (and   sometimes she wishes the same thing)


Igniting a scene


List G (sensory record of Fireweed Crossing)

  • Fresh bread, yeast and warmth
  • Wood smoke, coiled and tang
  • Dog shit
  • Snow melt and mud
  • Tar, engine oil, Aviation gas
  • Fish guts coiled on river gravel
  • Fog as thick as clotted cream in narrow mountain valleys, along the river margin, rising up in the ravine
  • Split wood, damp willow bark, musty cottonwoods
  • Mud puddles filled with mosquito larva
  • Moon rise halos in bare branches
  • Deep ruts and blue shadows over snow
  • Cigar smoke, dense enough to make you feel light headed
  • Cigarette smoke, sharper and thinner
  • Strong coffee gone cold
  • Rain typing a hard story on tin roofs
  • Mosquito repellent, numbing lips and making eyes water
  • A screen door thumping closed
  • A laugh echoing over the water
  • Loons on the high lake, chortling
  • Damp canvas
  • Sharp scents of skunk cabbage
  • A creak of floor boards
  • A rasp in the dark – words impossible to decipher

                                                                                                                   family album

Every list leads to another. Each compilation of words suggests a new scene or takes me deeper into a forest I thought I knew, landing me on a path I never realized was there.

                                                                                                                             family album




2 comments on “A – Rhythmi (the rhythms of word lists)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *