Rumors of Water: The Ingredients at Hand

The same image plays in my mind every time I think about writing this post. Pages full of exquisite words bound with the cover that wears a certain girl’s delicate floral designs are mangled beyond recognition by rough, heavy hands in a scene that calls to mind Of Mice and Men.

Like Lennie Small fretting that mice are so easily broken, I ask too many times if she’s really sure she wants to entrust her book to my clumsy hands because I’m just certain she shouldn’t.

Enduring my doubts, L.L. Barkat answers in her best George Milton voice, “You get another mouse that’s fresh and I’ll let you keep it a while.”

She doesn’t really say that. She just says Yes and gives me permission to write it my way. The invitation and trust embolden me. I look at my hands again, holding the exquisite book with the delicate floral designs. The fingernails might be nibbled down, but otherwise, they’re ordinary, slender hands that see regular lotioning.

Still, I wonder if she knows that when I start playing with Rumors of Water, it might come to something like this:

Is it worrisome
to anyone here?
Purple moths
leave out
their dentures
when they feel

I suspect she has at least an inkling. She knows when I write about her work, it won’t be like you would write about her work.

A piece of writing knows what it wants and needs to be, but we get in the way. We want something serious to be funny, because we notice that funny writers are popular. We can write funny, we want to be popular, so we try to foist humor upon the work. It refuses. We want to be urbane; our writing wants to live in the country. We want a three-hundred page treatise; our words want to be a brief offering on the subject. We want to write sophistication; the work reminds us, “You are currently living a life of dirty frying pans and letter F’s that look like B’s.” (p. 18)

The piece of writing may know what it wants to be, but it delays sharing the secret. I leave for a trip with my apprehension, the work not started and words stalling at grubby hands crumpling floral designs. Days pass. I do not write, and I find myself alone in my car on a 600 mile stretch of highway aware that with all the gifts this book will give me, an excuse is not one.

As a writer, I have learned when a job needs to get done, there is little use fussing about the lack of necessary ingredients.  . . . This is the secret of the prolific writer. To agree to use small beans and the ingredients at hand. (p. 34)

In my captivity I consider my options. I have a few ingredients at hand. I’ve lost track of my notebook, but I have fuel receipts in the compartment under the dash. I have a package of brand new pens — easy-fitting with smooth, fast ink. One is even purple, which is not my color. And I have nine hours of open road.

Balancing a slip of paper across the center of the steering wheel, I line up the pen and watch the road, scribbling a list from the first few chapters: beans, water, purple moth, zillion, bad knees, F-word, alien potatoes . . .

And so it begins.

I hide simple beans
in my cupboard. Black,
sometimes pinto — suspicious
of unspellable gypsies who come
and go as they please, one day
adorned with an arbitrary z, the next
casting it off it like
a bitter seed coat, crowing
that the cook set it wrong.
My beans dangle lightheaded
in silver cans, suspended
in dark, formless slip; common
beans who’ve sat a long time
and know only who they are.


We’re talking about the first section of L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water, considering ideas like inspiration, flexibility and letting the writing be. I’m just the warm-up act (or the rodeo clown if you prefer), priming the pump for you to share your thoughts as you read along with us. Next week we’ll look at Voice, chapters 9-13.

I started writing this post with a list of images from chapters 1-8. What if you made your own list — could you find a poem in Bishop’s weed? A plastic flute? Or perhaps a glass of mint-infused ice water? Drop us your lines or thoughts in the comment box, or if you write a post related to Rumors of Water include your link in the comments to share with us.

Or maybe you can create your own writing prompt from these chapters. Would you share that in the comments as well? If we gather up a few, perhaps we can compile a listing at the end of our book club.

Photo by EverJean. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Lyla Lindquist of A Different Story.

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  1. says

    This whole book is a treat, but the section you consider here — about using the ingredients at hand — is my favorite. So, please pass the soynuts. :)

    Nice work, Lyla. This book fits just right in your hands.

  2. says

    Nicely done, Lyla {though I am shuddering just a bit at the thought of you jotting notes on paper splayed across your steering wheel WHILE driving!}.

    I remember once feeling creatively dry, dry, dry. So I took my laptop into the middle of the backyard, plunked onto a patio chair, and wrote what I saw. It turned out really lovely, actually. The ingredients were allthere — I just had to open my eyes (and my heart to the possibility).

  3. says

    Michelle, safe and sound. :) It sounds a little more perilous than it was. I can write one handed without looking down. My handwriting is pretty graffiti-like anyway that one can hardly tell the difference.

    This piece really was a great example of working with what I had. Just pulling out the wonderful and readily-available images from Laura’s words (and the one from my recurring Lennie nightmare) gave me more than enough to work with.

  4. says

    Surely this will be the funnest and best book-club book I’ve ever done thus far. Lyla, your post makes me even more excited.

    This really caught my attention: “The invitation and trust embolden me.” Yes. Yes, to invite and to trust is one way to embolden another.

    (Um, and by the way, my post will likely be a day (or a few) late.) :}

  5. says

    Forgot to mention—
    Did you just call my favorite beans GYPSIES?! They are fabulous! My favorite things to make with azuki are desserts (ice cream, sweet bean paste filling for manju,…).

  6. says

    I loved that, Monica. To think to call a bean a gypsy! (And I have a running gypsy imagery in some of my private poetry, which made it all the more fun. As if Lyla had peeked into my journals :)

    I also simply love this post, Lyla. The juxtapositions are marvelous. And maybe that’s part of what you do best: chiaroscuro of a sort… juxtaposition… an artist, to be sure.

  7. says

    Lyla, there are no more capable hands than yours to attempt this task–LL has the singular gift, I would imagine, of seeing the potential in people and she just called it out….I love this intro.

    Myself? The piece in ‘Momentum’ that spoke to me the most and set my mind at such ease was the phrases on p. 38 re: writing and not finishing something. “She (her older daughter) has not stopped writing. She has just stopped writing a zillion pieces that did not work out.”
    I have FOLDERS of thoughts, scraps, notes, metaphors, pictures, poems that are still just scraps. I thought they’d all TURN INTO SOMETHING, know what I mean? And maybe some day they will –but for now, I’m blessed to just look at all as good practice.

    that is a comforting thought.

    Excellent discussion!

  8. says

    Thanks, Monica. The invitation is indeed empowering to me in a way I’m not sure I’ve realized before. But it is one of the best gifts of both the book (though I might not mind an excuse here or there) and the author. :) And yes, I called them gypsies. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    Megan, I thought a lot about how the beans plump full, when one brings them from dry to a suitable meal. And how I have no idea how one works with the dry beans. I only know the ones in silver cans. (Just shake your head, that’s all that’s needed.) There’s a bit of that thought process on the floor in my office that didn’t make it into the post.

    Add to your superpowers, L.L., finding words I have to look up. Intrigues me that those contrasts are what you see here, and I need to think on that a while. I’ve not been in those private journals (I can’t keep track of the passwords, see), but I have had my gypsy encounters. Like the one that looked me in the eye and put a curse on me. A story I’ll have to tell sometime if I haven’t already.

    And Jody, you’re too kind. L.L. has such a gift and uses it well. (Consider me the anomaly. 😉 ) Keep those unfinished bits and scraps though. You never know when you need to call one back, when its time finally comes.

  9. says

    Scourge of the Bishop’s Weed

    A rodeo clown with bad knees
    don’t count for beans on the circuit,

    is likely as not to swear a zillion
    F-words every time some cowboy,

    in a slow and easy drawl, commands
    mint-infused ice water — and not in some

    plastic flute all the sissies use for sipping,
    but in a gallon jug with the big man’s

    name on it — a little somethin’ to take
    the edge off that no-good Bishop’s weed

    the doc ordered for delirium tremens.
    St. Gerard cured gout with it; the Greeks

    pictured it as “little foot”, and the guys
    that stir the pots full of alien potatoes

    pretend it’s just parsley fit to dress up
    a supper that always ends round a campfire

    with songs about some gal who carried on
    at all hours with a purple moth in her mouth.

  10. says

    Well, yeah. That’s the poem I meant to write, Maureen! I keep reading and rereading it — it’s so full…

    Thank you for that. You just made my day. :-)

  11. L. L. Barkat says

    Now, Lyla. You wrote the poem you meant to write. In fact, the poem even says so…

    “who’ve sat a long time
    and know only who they are”

    I loved that. I keep reading and rereading it :)

    Maureen, wow. *Love* that poem. You always do what Lyla says I did… make a person go look things up. Not out of compulsion, but out of pure and happy curiosity! :)

  12. says

    Well, yes. I meant to write that one, I can see that. But it’s not what I set out to do…

    Which did you have to look up? I had to thumb for delirium tremens. Must have overhead a conversation about morning beer somewhere…

  13. L. L. Barkat says

    Yes, Lyla, the very same. Who knew? (Maureen knew. Always, that woman knows intricate, unusual things :)

  14. says

    Not that I have ever had the DTs myself, mind you.

    (Thank you for correcting the typo.)

    I learned today just how many different words are used for Bishop’s weeds; some, technically, are cousins of the plant. Ain’t Google wonderful?!

    And Lyla, excuse my poor manners in not saying here, publicly, instead of just on Twitter, how much I think of your wonderful post. . . and your poem, which evokes beautifully that wonderful book that LL once claimed, if memory serves, that she wasn’t writing. It was from LL I learned about Adzuki, which might be a musical instrument if it were not a bean.

    Beans might make for an interesting prompt, btw.

  15. says

    Maureen, no poor manners observed. I heard everything I needed to hear in those lines you wrote. When the rodeo clown can slip behind the bright colored barrel and let things unfold — that tells me I accomplished my mission.

    It could be a musical instrument — or something sissies sip their water from, I suppose. ;-0

    Bean prompt: duly noted. Thank you so much, Maureen. You’ve truly made my day.

  16. says

    I read this book a month or so ago and was inspired to pick up my writing that I started last May. Yet, life somehow got in the way, my own fears of not getting the story right, got in the way…and then I went on a trip with my parents, something I have not done since childhood. Watching them, experiencing them, made me realize I can no longer put this off, writing this book, or this article or my blog…just write, is what I got from the first section…just write in your own authentic voice…

  17. L. L. Barkat says

    Elizabeth, you are reminding me of a simple poem I wrote…

    Find a single
    tree, find
    the moon.
    It doesn’t
    take much.
    Just begin.

    I bet you have a single tree somewhere, and I know the moon is out there behind your house. :)

  18. says

    Rodeo clowns, cowboys, and dirty fingernails. Heya, sounds like my place. We’ve had a blizzard all day and the internet didn’t play nice. I reckon I’ll do some thinking time in my barrel (cause that’s where the clowns duck for cover) and come back later.

    Miss Lyla…does your insurance agent know about your writing-n-driving tendencies? Carry a voice activated tape recorder. Or dictate to a chimp in the backseat with a lipstick so’s that he can write on the windows.


  19. says

    Lyla, I loved your post. Stop worrying: you’re not Lenny, and L.L.’s book is not a mouse. :) You’re a writer who reads; it’s a book about writing. A perfect pairing.

    I took you up on your invitation to write a list poem from images in the first section and wrote a little found poem of sorts from the chapter on inspiration: I loved all the images and the word lists there.

    Then I came here and read the comments and, specifically, Maureen’s poem, which is real and beautiful and bears re-reading (rather like this book we’re discussing), and now I feel even more shy about offering mine, which really is just a list, but like I said, I liked all the images and words L.L. used and thought I could make them a bit my own by turning them into verse, and I’m going to stop apologizing and explaining now and just include my offering anyway. Here goes…

    On Inspiration

    Cobalt, crimson, copper
    kettles hang from a teapot
    tree that shelters a greyed
    table offering mint and lemon
    ice water, stirred with a
    raw-honeyed spoon.

    Beyond, inside, duck eggs nest
    in a cooler that rests on worn wooden
    planks. Baskets bear porcelain and
    kale and greens with pink
    rose petals, purple
    clover and marigolds, sugar
    snap peas. Creamy lavender
    soaps, handmade, sit atop
    a tiny counter piled with speckled notebooks.

    Outside is a black steed fit for a knight.
    Might he ride through the fields of parsley,
    sage, rosemary, and the red-hot
    chili peppers that grow amid the
    aubergines and garden air?

  20. says

    Did you also have the book propped on your dashboard while you scribbled words on fuel receipts balanced on your steering wheel?

    So here’s my short little ditty for chapters 7 and 8.

    I wrote posts earlier on earlier chapters in this section.

  21. says

    Darlene, that was my goal. Slip behind the barrel and watch the fun unfold in the arena. And look! By the way, I did try that chimp thing once. Caused an accident. 😉

    Monica, I feel that way most of the time — what comes out doesn’t appear to be where I thought I was going.

    Kimberlee, no, Laura’s book is no mouse. And I’m so glad you decided not to be shy and dropped your lines here. There was so much to play with in that chapter. Well, in all of them, but, you know. And I want “a tiny counter piled with speckled notebooks.”

  22. says

    Chimpanzees, it turns out, take
    terrible dictation
    She kept saying “i’m an excellent
    driver, an excellent driver”
    but it seems only from the backseat
    wrapping hairy monkey fingers
    over my eyes, she yanked on my earlobes
    smeared lipstick (purple) across my cheek
    because, she said, she couldn’t see
    through the rearview. The chimpanzee gave
    terrible navigation,
    Got me lost around Salina.
    I knew I had to stop
    when she pulled out the mascara.
    The package said voice-activated
    but I couldn’t find the off-switch
    so I tried the F-word and wound up
    face down on the off-ramp and
    figured next time I would just
    write it down.

  23. L. L. Barkat says

    I am so loving that subtle rhyme between Salina and mascara.

    And the purple lipstick. Does Jennifer Dukes Lee know about this? 😉

  24. says

    Lyla, next
    time hire a
    in a gorilla

    spell better.
    And smell like Old
    Spice and old

    but they know
    change a

    But buyer beware:
    what you say
    ’cause gorillas
    more apt
    to use soap
    on a
    rope to wash
    the potty words
    off yer
    sharp tongue.

    They’ve been known
    to scrape the Ivory
    scum on
    the teeth
    for an all-day

    PS for miss Laura L:

    my chimp didn’t
    the lipstick,
    she simply
    ate it
    and complained
    bubblegum flavor.

    guess she wanted
    like the sweet
    she devoured
    under the picnic

    our lunch was
    a frenzy
    cause the rodeo
    had come to town
    and the wily
    clowns were a lookin’
    around for
    barrel diver

    so we hopped
    into the Dodge
    and she sat beside
    and yelled
    “Drive! Throw it
    in gear
    and get us
    outta here!”

  25. says

    i know my rhymes
    are childish
    in comparison
    to your alls
    who know
    bigger words
    ‘n paint purtier
    with things mightier
    than assorted jelly

    it’s sorta
    like when the Clampetts
    bumped (& burped) into
    to town
    and met that dude
    at the gas
    hall o’

  26. says

    My chimp don’t wear lipstick.

    Darlene, I can’t stop laughing long enough to respond. Can I just tell you how much I love this? These? Both of them. All of them.

    I don’t know how to rhyme on purpose, just fyi. I have to use the rhyming dictionary.

    I need to run down to the gas station hall of fame now.

  27. L. L. Barkat says


    Omg, this is hilarious. Nobody does ‘hilarious’ quite like you. And that is what makes you a writer. You’ve let yourself come through. And we are rolling on the floor (with laughter and gratitude :)

  28. says

    and the gorilla, is he on the floor with ya?

    hope so.

    or maybe he only goes for Twister at my house.

    Either way, thanks for the kudos. I’m a bit off my nut most days.

  29. Paul Willingham says

    Re: the Chimps

    Bob Newhart years ago (in the 60s) did a routine on monkeys. The premise was that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room and give them a typewriter, that eventually they would type something of merit. It was hilarious. I wish I had the LP.


  30. Paul Willingham says


    I should have noted in the previous comment that the chimps got as far as “Four score and…


    The challenge raised,
    the gauntlet grabbed,
    f-words abound,
    led by vowels and cultural

    The Germans love their auf,
    while Kiping loved his if
    and the Norse delight in uff
    but the Mafia misuse off,

    but the lazy and the crude
    give in to shouting, mumbling,
    gesturing ef though Webster
    offers fudge or flurf, fizzle
    and fiddlesticks

    I love Kipling’s poem

    The first line:
    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

    And the last line:

    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son! 


  31. says

    I am just now realizing after hearing my dad say, “Flurf!” all these years, it’s been a substitutionary thing.

    That word will never sound the same again.

  32. says

    Who knew what would ensue after a simple chimp comment?

    Frankly, I wrote that chimp comment b/c this summer as the kiddo and I drove countless times back-n-forth to my mom’s (for showers and the washing machine) I was inspired to write, but couldn’t, due to the driving. So, I would holler to the kiddo (reading Hank the Cowdog or Swiss Family Robinson) to “jot this down for mamma!” He can read the KJV Bible, but hasn’t mastered full force spelling on his own quite yet. Sometimes when we got to where we were going and I read his napkin scratch, I had no idea what he’d written, or what I’d said.

    So shhhhhh, but my kid was the basis for the chimp in the backseat. Please note:

    He sure don’t wear lipstick.
    And his knuckles are nowhere close to being hairy.

    (Miss Lyla, is that really your dad commenting? Ahhh)


  33. Charity Singleton says

    This is the best post and comment thread I’ve ever read! You guys are really too much! Ill be back with a post next week. For now, I am just enjoying the hilarity!

  34. L. L. Barkat says

    Oh, Charity, can you do me a favor and go tell Nancy Franson that? She’s at Lyla’s blog thinking that the poetry tribe is all serious and mysterious. [hi, Nancy, I just know you’ll read this at some point, so I’m saying hi 😉 ]

  35. says

    I think Nancy stopped by before it got all chimp-#$%@ crazy over here. I think it might be sufficient to change her mind now. I told her to bring her pink boa. It’ll look lovely with the limo.

    And I’m not sure what’s going to happen here next week. I believe I might be looking for my falsetto voice or something.

  36. says

    Of course I’m following this thread. Hi L.L

    No, I don’t think the poetry tribe is all serious and mysterious. It just scares me a little . Kind of like art studios do.

    But I’m having fun reading along. More fun than I think I should where poets are concerned.

    Resume metrical banter!

  37. Charity Singleton says

    Nancy – Don’t let the poets acting serious and mysterious fool you. Poets are the craziest, most fun people I know. They just play with words, throwing them around like a juggler. Just give in to it; that’s what I say!

  38. L. L. Barkat says

    I am interested in the scary part. I think you are not alone, Nancy, and the big question is… what scares, and who started it, and who can ease the anxiety?

    Charity, I love that. Just give in to it. It can be our Nike-like slogan for poetry.

    Just give in. Just give in. Just give in. :)