New Year’s Eve Poetry

The Letter

It is December in the garden,
an early winter here, with snow
already hiding my worst offenses —
the places I disturbed your moss
with my heavy boots; the corner
where I planted in too deep a hole
the now stricken hawthorne: crystals
hanging from its icy branches
are the only flowers it will know.

When did solitude become
mere loneliness and the sounds
of birds at the feeder seem
not like a calibrated music
but the discordant dialects
of strangers simply flying through?
I have tried to construct a life
alone here — coffee at dawn; a jog
through the chilling air

counting my heartbeats,
as if the doctor were my only muse;
books and bread and firewood —
those usual stepping-stones from month
to freezing month. But the constricted light,
the year closing down on itself with all
the vacancies of January ahead, leave me
unreconciled even to beauty.
When will you be coming back?

~ Linda Pastan

“Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears.” ~ Albert Camus

Hadrian’s Wall (from northumbria-byways.com)

                   

“I have walked much to the sea, not knowing what I seek.” ~ Loren Eiseley, “The Inner Galaxy,” from The Unexpected Universe

Friday early evening. Partly cloudy and mild, low 60′s.

Hadrian's Wall, Northumbria, by Diego's sideburns (FCC)

Still not feeling great. I suppose that I’ll have to go back to the doctor next week. I keep putting it off in the hopes that this blasted cough will finally subside, but instead, it seems to be getting worse again. So tired of coughing and coughing.

It looks as if Corey is on track to leave sometime soon after the New Year. I have very mixed feelings about all of this, as I’ve said, but in the past few days, the reality has really begun to settle into the forefront of my consciousness, and I’m not liking the reality. There’s nothing to be done, of course. This is the way that it has to be, at least for the next three months.

He’s both excited and apprehensive—I’m not sure which feeling is dominant, probably a vacillation between the two.

His current boss gave him a stellar recommendation, saying that he was the hardest worker that he had and that he wished that he had a whole crew of Coreys. High praise indeed.

Anyway, he’s gotten out his big suitcase, and has begun the search for his flannel lined work pants and such. So there’s no more denying that it’s happening, no matter how much I try to move it to the background.

“You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.” ~ Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Last night I had a very strange dream in which I was going to some kind of holiday party with my friend Jammi, who lives in Texas. I had this really beautiful outfit and access to antique jewelry and accessories, but the outfit was quite tiresome to put on as it had closures in odd places and a long scarf, and each time I went out of the room, Jammi would change into another dress. It was most strange. And then the person who was lending me the jewelry said, “Don’t forget the choice of weapons.” Someone opened a cabinet, and there were things like small daggers and such, and they gave me a ring that had an antidote in case someone drugged my drink.

Hadrian's Wall by Stuandsam (FCC)

How very strange.

In the middle of all of this, my mother reminded me that I owed her $86 (where did this number come from?), and she wanted payment before I left the house. To pay her I gave her a necklace that still bore the original price tag ($80), and a pair of earrings. She seemed satisfied. The necklace was turquoise and very unattractive . . .

There was a lot more to the dream, but those are the weirdest parts. There was another dream that involved some of our German relatives, a glass of half-finished milk, and mixed nuts. Make of that what you will.

“God, give us a long winter
and quiet music, and patient mouths,
and a little pride—before
our age ends.
Give us astonishment
and a flame, high, bright.” ~ Adam Zagajewski, from “A Flame”

I have a feeling that I’ve used this particular Zagajewski quote before, but that’s okay. It’s beautiful enough to be worth repeating.

I’m not entirely certain what it is about winter that I love. I mean, perhaps it’s the idea of winter that appeals to me. I love snow, the emptiness of a snowy path that has yet to bear footprints, human or otherwise. I love the starkness of the trees. But since I have never lived in a really cold region, one that is frigid and icy and has unmelted snow for extended periods, I’m not certain that I would like it so much if it were my reality.

Hadrian's Wall (bbc.co.uk gallery)

Does that make sense?

I mean, I love azure seas, so clear that what lies beneath is visible. I love white sand. But I don’t think that I’d like to live in very hot weather all year long. The heat would probably be much better for my bone pain, but I really don’t like to be hot. I like heat if I’m in the water. Then I can bear it. But I can remember being in heat that was so unbearable that it was hard to breathe. Perhaps it’s a memory from when I was in the Philippines. I don’t know.

Corey has no desire to live in a very cold climate, and I understand that because he spent a big chunk of time on a Coast Guard ice breaker in the Great Lakes—definitely cold, but I think that I do want to live in such a climate, that I do harbor this desire, and I will probably not be able to rid myself of this longing until I have experienced it. Just as I say that I would love to live in Ireland, but people tell me that it’s rainy more often than not . . . again, I don’t know. I only know what my dreams and desires are made of, what seems to me to be the perfect environs.

I know that when I was in my 20′s, and a friend of mine moved across country to live in Washington state, I was appalled. I mean, who would leave living by the ocean to live in a place that is misty and rainy? But now? Now the idea of living in Oregon or Washington state does not seem in the least farfetched.

“I carry from my mother’s womb
A fanatic heart.” ~ William Butler Yeats, from “Remorse For Intemperate Speech

Last night/this morning around 4 a.m. I caught the end of Tom and Viv on one of the movie channels. It’s a movie about T. S. Eliot and his long-suffering wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot. The marriage was not a happy one, and for the last decade of her life, Viv was committed to Northumberland House mental hospital. The movie stars Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson, and I’ve wanted to see it forever, but never think about it, so of course, it’s not scheduled to repeat anytime soon.

Hadrian's Wall at Sycamore Gap (featured in 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) by stevemonty (FCC)

The problem with finding out too much about the personal lives of writers that I love is that it’s hard to think of them in the same way after learning too much. I mean, Eliot was really horrible to Viv, but I love Eliot’s poems, as witnessed by my frequent use of quotes from his work, and I believe that he’s probably one of the first true poetic influences on my writing style, or rather, poetic style. Eliot uses a lot of internal rhyme with his vowel sounds, and is partial to alliteration, as am I.

And then of course, there’s my love affair with Yeats. After seeing a picture of him years ago, it only cemented my love for his work.

Don’t call me shallow. I loved his words before his face. In fact, Yeats penned my all-time favorite lines from a poem (from “When You Are Old”):

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

When I first read those lines in college, I longed to find someone who would love the pilgrim soul in me and the sorrows of my changing face . . . Years later, I did.

“What is the water in a lake? A blank page. The ripples are its wrinkles. And every one is a wound.” ~ Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions II, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop

Anyway, not really sure what took me off on that poetic tangent, probably indicative of the way that my mind if flitting from subject to subject without  any long pauses for any one thing in particular to take hold.

Hadrian's Wall: Housestead Fort Looking East (smithsonian.com)

Today’s post features images of Hadrian’s Wall. As a passing fancy, I thought that I would see how many different perspectives I could find of this ancient edifice.

For those of you who may not know, Hadrian’s Wall was built between 122 and 128 AD and remains one of the finest example of ancient Roman architecture in Britain. Built of stone and sod by Roman troops under the orders of Emperor Hadrian, the wall was approximately 15-feet high and 8 to 10-feet wide, and it extends approximately 73 miles (80 Roman miles) across open country. Forts were built at seven-mile intervals, and milecastles, or guard posts, were built at one-mile intervals. Two turrets were placed between pair of milecastles. A ditch fronted the wall, and in the three locations in which the wall crossed rivers, bridges were built.

Hadrian’s Wall was built to help keep the Picts of the north (Scotland) out. It stretches from the North Sea to the Irish Sea (from the Tyne to the Solway). The wall remained the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire until the Romans abandoned Britain in the early 5th century (around 410 AD).

Hadrian's Wall from illuminatinghadrianswall.com

The Wall is now a World Heritage Site. You may have seen it featured in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (above), and a representation of the wall with garrisons in King Arthur, starring Clive Owen.

For your edification. As I said, I’m all over the place today.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sia, “I’m In Here”

                   

Fork with Two Tines Pushed Together

It’s fast and cool as running water, the way we forget

the names of friends with whom we talked and talked

the long drives up and down the coast.

I say I love and I love and I love. However, the window

will not close. However, the hawk searches

for its nest after a storm. However, the discarded

nail longs to hide its nakedness inside the tire.

Somewhere in Cleveland or Tempe, a pillow

still smells like M_____’s hair.

In a bus station, a child is staring

at L____’s rabbit tattoo. I’ve bartered everything

to keep from doing my soul’s paperwork.

Here is a partial list of artifacts:

mirror, belt, half-finished 1040 form (married, filing jointly), mateless walkie-talkie, two blonde eyelashes, set of acrylic paints with all the red and yellow used up, buck knife, dog collar, camping tent (sleeps two), slivers of cut-up credit cards, ashtray in the shape of a naked woman, pen with teeth marks, bottom half of two-piece bathing suit, pill bottles containing unfinished courses of antibiotics, bank statements with the account number blacked out, maps of London, maps of Dubuque, sweatshirts with the mascots of colleges I didn’t attend, flash cards for Spanish verbs (querer, perder, olvidar), Canadian pocket change, fork with two tines pushed together.

Forgetfulness means to be full

of forgetting, like a glass

overflowing with cool water, though I’d always

thought of it as the empty pocket

where the hand finds

nothing: no keys, no ticket, no change.

One night, riding the train home from the city,

will I see a familiar face across from me? How many times

will I ask Is it you? before I realize

it’s my own reflection in the window?

~ Nick Lantz

“I feel as though I have lived many lives, experienced the heights and depths of each and like the waves of the ocean, never known rest. Throughout the years, I looked always for the unusual, for the wonderful, for the mysteries at the heart of life.” ~ Leni Riefenstahl

Maria Mikhalskaya, Children’s Book Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

                   

“I’m tired of facts, I’m tired of speculations, I want to be consumed by unreason.” ~ Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers

Wednesday afternoon. Partly cloudy and mild, mid 50′s.

Well I hope that everyone who celebrates it had a very Merry Christmas. My family had a lovely one. Everyone seemed to get that one special gift, and so far, only Alexis needs to exchange sizes. Many thanks to those of you who sent good wishes.

Maria Mikhalskaya, Children's Book Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

Christmas dinner was, shall we say, interesting. My mother was in true form, which means that she wasn’t nearly as nice as she was at Thanksgiving. She started eating before everyone was seated at the table, and justified it by saying that we should have begun dinner an hour earlier. Lovely. It was that kind of night.

Several drama scenes, one of which involved my s-in-law Ann, who was quite touchy, but as I reminded everyone, this was her first Christmas without her mother, and that first holiday season after losing a parent or child is pure hell. Ann left but then came back and sat around with us for a few more hours, so everything was smoothed over on that front.

Other drama involved my mother and her tactless comments, none of which are really worth repeating here. What I am amazed by is that I really wasn’t bothered by her comments as I usually am. They just rolled off my back, and I was (thankfully) able to help smooth the ruffled feathers of those who actually took her comments to heart.

That I was unaffected this time is unusual, and that I can write about it without being the least bit upset is also unusual, but good, good for me, at least.

“The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.” ~ Anne Coray, The Art of Being

My in-laws in Ohio sent gift cards to everyone for Christmas, and I got one for Barnes and Noble and one for Amazon. I am so excited because it means that I can order some of the books that have been on my wish list. For me, that’s the absolute perfect gift. Eamonn already used his gift card to Vans to buy a pair of shoes. Alexis and Mike got a gift card to Olive Garden, one of Lex’s favorite places to eat, and Brett got a gift card to Best Buy, one of his favorite places to shop.

Maria Mikhalskaya, The Red House Book Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

Corey got two new fleece shirts from his parents. I wrapped them and put them under the tree for them, so he opened them on Christmas morning and had a little piece of Ohio in his morning.

By the way, Tillie got a new squeaky toy from Santa (23 squeakers total), and she’s already operated on it and removed two of the squeakers. She is such a funny dog. All of the dogs always get excited on Christmas morning because so much is going on, but this year I noticed that Shakes slept through most of it. I guess my fluffy guy is getting old, which makes me sad.

Speaking of sad, I really could have gone the entire holiday season without Sarah McLachlan’s gut-wrenching commercial for the ASPCA—all of those images of starving and abused cats and dogs, and even a horse, all with her haunting voice singing “Silent Night” in the background. I mean please. I carry around enough guilt for fifty people, I really don’t need more guilt about animal suffering . . . of course, I still watch and tear-up because hey, it’s better than self-flagellation or a hair shirt, I suppose.

“Perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

So Corey is waiting for the call telling him when he will fly out. I’m hoping that we get more than just a couple of days warning before he has to go. I’d really like to have one night out with him, maybe sushi and a movie. I guess it’s all up in the air right now.

Maria Mikhalskaya, Children's Magazine Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

The guy across the street finished the work on the truck, but there’s a twist: the truck won’t start. We’re not sure exactly what the problem is other than no power is going to the coil or the spark plug wires. I’m really hoping that it’s not some kind of major computer problem. So even though the major repair has been finished, the truck is still not on the road yet.

And to further complicate matters, the starter on the Rodeo finally died. Corey spent yesterday afternoon changing that; unfortunately, it was raining, so he ended up soaked to the bone by the time he was finished. I’m just glad that it was a repair that he could do and a part that we could afford. I mean, we knew that the starter was going, which meant that each time we got into the Rodeo, we were driving on a wing and a prayer. That it lasted until after Christmas was good.

We know that we have other repairs pending on the rodeo: the brakes, the O2 sensors, and we need new tires. If everything can just hang on for another month, we might be okay, but the thought that we would be without either vehicle was so depressing. I must say.

“ . . . spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks . . .” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “Ash Wednesday

Anyway, now that we’ve made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas, the only big thing pending on my schedule is taking down the decorations, which I never do before the New Year. I know that some people take everything down the day after Christmas, and some people do it on New Year’s Day, but I like to wait a few days after, no particular reason other than I like to look at everything.

Maria Mikhalskaya, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King Book Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

Other than that, the other big thing is that my Botox has stopped working, and it’s as if it effectiveness stopped all at once. I’ve had three massive migraines in the past four days, the kind in which the pain is so intense that it wakes me up. On Monday, I was just sitting on the side of the bed holding ice to my forehead and rocking back and forth. I even had to ask Corey to take off Tillie’s jingle bell collar as the sound was killing me.

You know how people say that you never remember the pain of childbirth, that if you actually remembered it, you’d never have another child? Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that I had kind of put out of my memory the pain of a really bad migraine, wishful thinking I suppose, and then when that first one hit, I felt as if someone had hit me in the head with an iron skillet. No lie.

So now I have to make an appointment with the neurologist who gave me the Botox shots, but first I have to find out if I’m going to have to pay $650 out of pocket since it’s the beginning of the year, and my co-pay kicks in. I can’t get the shots until the end of January because it has to be three months in between shots.

When I get migraines like these, I always think about that stupid, stupid Social Security judge who said that I could work with my migraines. What an idiot. Obviously, he’s never had a migraine. Oh well, that’s an entirely different saga, one that I’ll probably be facing sometime in 2012.

“For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge,

Maria Mikhalskaya. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King Book Illustration (Behance Network CC license)

Anyway, I’ve spent the last 48 hours, give or take, in bed with ice on my head. I’ve used to much ice that the automatic ice maker hasn’t been able to keep pace. Sad really.

But the migraines have kept me from posting, from putting away the silver we used for Christmas dinner, from doing laundry. Consequently, I’m behind in everything. But since the house was cleaned before Christmas, it doesn’t look terribly messy, unless you look at the piles of clothes in the garage.

Oh yes. That’s another thing: our washer is dying. It sometimes doesn’t agitate during the wash cycle, and sometimes doesn’t spin during the spin cycle, so finishing one load of laundry may take twice as long depending on whether or not I’m babysitting the washer. Oh what fun . . .

Enough for now. I’m starting to see lots of spots in my eyes, which is a sure sign that I need to stop.

More later. Peace.

Today’s post features the illustrations of Maria Mikhalskaya, a Russian illustrator and designer. I don’t remember how I came across her work, but it was probably on tumblr. Mikhalskaya attended the Moscow University of Printing Arts, and her illustrations to The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which were published by Arbor Publishers in 2007, seemed perfect for a holiday post.

Music by Barlow Girl, “Never Alone”

                   

First Chaldaic Oracle

There is something you should know.
And the right way to know it
is by a cherrying of your mind.

Because if you press your mind towards it
and try to know
that thing

as you know a thing,
you will not know it.
It comes out of red

with kills on both sides,
it is scrap, it is nightly,
it kings your mind.

No. Scorch is not the way
to know
that thing you must know.

But use the hum
of your wound
and flamepit out everything

right to the edge
of that thing you should know.
The way to know it

is not by staring hard.
But keep chiselled,
keeping Praguing the eye

of your soul and reach—
mind empty
towards that thing you should know

until you get it.
that thing you should know.
Because it is out there (orchid) outside your and, it is

~ Anne Carson