“I dream of lost | vocabularies that might express some of what | we no longer can.” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart”

Aleksandr Golovin Birch Trees oil on canvas

“Birch Trees” (oil on canvas)
by Aleksandr Golovin


Jan Mankes Maanacht 1914

“Maanacht” (1914)
by Jan Mankes

 Two for Tuesday: Jack Gilbert

Horses at Midnight without a Moon

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

                   

Umberto Moggioli Sera di Primavera aka Spring Evening, Venezia 1914

“Sera di Primavera, Venezia” (1914)
by Umberto Moggioli

Bring in the Gods

Bring in the gods, I say, and he goes out. When he comes
back and I know they are with him, I say, Put tables in front
of them so they may be seated, and food upon the tables
so they may eat. When they have eaten, I ask which of them
will question me. Let him hold up his hand, I say.
The one on the left raises his hand. I tell him to ask.
Where are you now, he says. I stand on top of myself, I hear
myself answer. I stand on myself like a hilltop and my life
is spread before me. Does it surprise you, he asks. I explain
that in our youth and for a long time after our youth we cannot
see our lives. Because we are inside of that. Because we can
see no shape to it, since we have nothing to compare it to.
We have not seen it grow and change because we are too close.
We don’t know the names of things that would bind them to us,
so we cannot feed on them. One near the middle asks why not.
Because we don’t have the knack for eating what we are living.
Why is that? she asks. Because we are too much in a hurry.
Where are you now? the one one left says. With the ghosts.
I am with Gianna those two years in Perugia. Meeting secretly
in the thirteenth-century alleys of stone. Walking in the fields
through the spring light, she well dressed and walking in heels
over the plowed land. We are just outside the city walls
hidden under the thorny blackberry bushes and her breasts naked.
I am with her those many twilights in the olive orchards,
holding the heart of her as she whimpers. Now where are you?
he says. I am with Linda those years and years. In American
cities, in Copenhagen, on Greek islands season after season.
Lindos and Monolithos and the other places. I am with Michiko
for eleven years, East and West, holding her clear in my mind
the way a native can hold all of his village at one moment.
Where are you now? he says. I am standing on myself the way
a bird sits in her nest, with the babies half asleep underneath
and the world all leaves and morning air. What do you want?
a blonde one asks. To keep what I already have, I say. You ask
too much, he says sternly. Then you are at peace, she says.
I am not at peace, I tell her. I want to fail. I am hungry
for what I am becoming. What will you do? she asks. I will
continue north, carrying the past in my arms, flying into winter.

                   

Music by Plumb, “Cut”

Sunday afternoon saudade

Ben Shahn Wheat Field c1958 lithograph with hand-coloring

“Wheat Field” (c1958, lithograph with hand-coloring)
by Ben Shahn


 

“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I had a very, very strange dream last night: my spouse (not Corey in this dream, but no one I recognize) was spending an inordinate amount of time at someone else’s house. The house was in a really bad part of town, and one of its inhabitants was a young woman of, shall we say, questionable repute. I could see that this woman was manipulating my spouse, getting him to come whenever she called, but my spouse couldn’t understand why I was so upset at his actions. Both my mom and dad were in this dream. My dad went to the bank to see if he had enough money in savings to give this woman so that she would go away. He didn’t.

I was in this room in my parents’ house, and I was gathering stuff into shopping bags; the stuff belonged to my spouse. I was giving him an ultimatum. But he still didn’t see anything wrong with his actions, even when it got down to our marriage being over. At some point, I was going down one of the main streets in my mom’s neighborhood, and I passed my friend Sarah’s house, or what was her parents’ house. There was one of those storks out in the yard, you know, the kind that announces a new baby.

I couldn’t figure out who had had the baby. Someone from the porch called to me, but I kept walking as I needed to get home to pack more stuff to throw into the street. I was so frustrated because he just didn’t get it.

Next dream: There are three fire-breathing dragons, and the characters from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were fighting together against these dragons. The Eye of Sauron appeared, but I wasn’t worried because Harry Potter knew how to defeat him.

What did I eat last night?

Music by Poets of the Fall, “Sleep”

                  

In the Middle

of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don’t ring. One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail is a metronome, 3/4 time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

~ Barbara Crooker

“We break so we can take in aliveness and we dissolve so we can be taken in.” ~ Mark Nepo, from “Hearing the Cries of the World”

Two Good Reads:

via: parabola-magazine

“That we go numb along the way is to be expected. Even the bravest among us, who give their lives to care for others, go numb with fatigue, when the heart can take in no more, when we need time to digest all we meet. Overloaded and overwhelmed, we start to pull back from the world, so we can internalize what the world keeps giving us. Perhaps the noblest private act is the unheralded effort to return: to open our hearts once they’ve closed, to open our souls once they’ve shied away, to soften our minds once they’ve been hardened by the storms of our day.”

~ Mark Nepo, from “Hearing the Cries of the World”

Read Nepo’s essay here.

Photography Credit: Fernando Lemos


via The Atlantic:

“I know my obsession with Lea is partly selfish. Her story is like a hologram. Tilt it, let the light hit it from a different angle, and the dead girl we’re talking about is me. We’d both gotten cited by police at 14 for drinking beer on the beach. At the height of our friendship I matched her drink for drink, inhale for inhale. If I’d had a little less luck, or she’d had a little more—how would this story go? In my memory, yes, I’m the sidekick, yes, she was the one always egging us to take one more step into the shadows, where we could really get hurt. But wasn’t I holding her hand, encouraging her with my willingness to follow? One night, while we laid outside in the field, a little tipsy, she grabbed my arm and made me promise her I’d never let her turn out like a druggie girl who lived in the rundown apartment complex behind my house. I promise, I told her. I promise.”

~ Julie Buntin, “She’s Still Dying on Facebook”

Read Buntin’s article here.

“It began as research. I wrote of silences, of nights, I scribbled the indescribable. I tied down the vertigo.” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, from “Alchemy of the Word”

Still Life under the Sea 1960 by Mary Kessell 1914-1977

“Still Life under the Sea” (1960, oil and pastel on canvas)
by Mary Kessell


“a taste which I have in my soul depresses me.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “Dream Horse” 

Sunday afternoon. Sunny and not too hot, 83 degrees.

I am in a very, very strange place today. Partially depressed, partially heartbroken, partially agitated. I simply cannot pinpoint it, and I hate it. It’s one of those episodes in which so many conflicting emotions are hitting my brain and my heart, leaving me drained and bereft.

Theodore Earl Butler The Epte, Giverny 1908 oil on canvas

“The Epte, Giverny” (1908, oil on canvas)
Theodore Earl Butler

My heart aches for Corey; just his nearness helps, even a bit. I’m sitting here, and I really need to go pick up my prescriptions (which might be part of the problem), but I truly don’t have enough energy to put on clothes and get in the car. Look, I don’t even have enough energy to change into a bathing suit and float in the pool, even though today would be the perfect day to do something like that. I just can’t.

Sitting at the party yesterday, surrounded by so many people, some of whom I know and others I should know and some I’ve never met before—it’s the kind of situation that always makes me anxious. I cannot help but feel that people are judging me. Don’t ask me why I feel this way, but I do. The truth of the matter is that everyone is so wrapped up in their own lives, their children, their next beer, whatever, that I know that I don’t even enter their peripheries, yet I allow myself to feel insecure.

“And isn’t it true, sorrow, I know you;
you are the longing for the good life,
the loneliness of the dark heart,
of the ship drifting beyond disaster or star.” ~ Antonio Machado, from “It is an ashen and musty evening”

What happens is this: I look around at all of the people who seem to be having so much fun, and I think to myself, “why can’t I be like that?” And then I think to myself, “who are you? You never used to be like this.”

Georgia O'Keeffe Blue, Black, and Grey 1960

“Blue, Black, and Grey” (1960, oil on canvas)
by Georgia O’Keeffe

I know. I just don’t get out enough, and that’s mostly by choice and partially because of physical conditions, and to some extent because, well, life.

Lately, because of circumstances, I feel my loneliness too keenly. Alone and lonely are two separate things—I know this. But the truth is that it has morphed into acute loneliness.

I have considered going to the karaoke bar that Corey and I used to frequent, just sit there and have my cup of tea and write in my journal like I used to. I was more comfortable in my skin then, I think. No, I know. But I also know that going someplace alone at night is simply not the safest thing for a female, regardless of age, to do anymore.

Last night I dreamed that Corey and I went there, and we knew no one. The entire staff had changed; all of the people we used to know by name were long gone, and the whole place felt foreign, uncomfortable. Then later in the same dream, I fell asleep on the front porch, but it was my mother’s front porch, and when I woke up, the bricks in the steps had started to come loose, like the mortar holding them together was dissolving, so that the very ground beneath me was dissolving, and I couldn’t explain to anyone why I had slept on the porch, and then when I went to make coffee for everyone, the carafe was dirty and stained, so I left the kitchen and walked towards my mother’s bedroom, and the door opened and one of Eamonn’s friends came out, and I didn’t know why he was there or why I was in my mother’s house in the first place.

I don’t need psychoanalysis to know that the ground is shifting beneath my feet, and I’m not where I need to be . . .

“I am working out the vocabulary of my silence.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser, from “The Speed Of Darkness”

For so long I told myself that once the kids were gone and I had all of this free time, I would use it to be productive. I would write and write and write, and yet, I write nothing at all.

My heart is so heavy with the burdens of motherhood, and they feel like burdens because I am so asea as to how to fix anything for anyone. I look at my daughter, and I know that she is not happy, that it’s all an act. I look at one of my sons and I know that he is lonely and searching for his place in this world, and I look at my other son and know that he is lost within himself and has no idea as to how to break through the waves.

Gustav Klimt Moonlight by the Mediterranean 1892

“Moonlight by the Mediterranean” (1892)
by Edvard Munch

How did I get to such a place, a place in which I find myself to be so wanting as a mother? How did they get to where they are? I talk to their friends and I hear the same stories, different versions. They all seem to be lost and wanting something they cannot find. I don’t remember being so lost in my 20’s. I didn’t have all of the answers, certainly, but I knew exactly what I wanted, or at least, I think that I did. I had goals, and I had dreams.

Time muddles the memories, changes their hues, makes us remember people and situations in ways that may have never existed. Within the chambers of our memory palaces, we pluck days, weeks, in which we remember perfect skies, glorious sunsets, true loves, long embraces, but did any of it really happen?

After having a long talk with one of my son’s friends in which he bemoaned his ability to find the right person to be with, I felt bad that I had no true words of wisdom for him, that he would only learn by doing and by losing and by trying again and again. I wouldn’t want my 20s again for anything, yet so much of what I did to become the person I am now happened then. How do I reconcile that?

“And how do I know what you are to me?
Our theories are untested. You must not laugh.
We thought there were other ways.
Probably there are, but they are hidden
and we shall never find them.” ~ Paul Bowles, from “Next to Nothing”

As I sit here and parse the words and syllables, try to reconcile the immense feelings of loss, I realize that I know next to nothing, truly. I offer these young people advice, but what do I know, really . . . nothing, nothing at all. I am living a life filled with holes, and I know that so much of that comes from not working at all after working my entire life, working at some job or another since I was 14. I hate these circumstances. I peruse the ads on LinkedIn, read the qualifications they are seeking, say to myself, “Oh, I could definitely do that,” and then I close the window because I know that applying is futile. How could I possibly work for anyone when some days I cannot even summon the energy to walk to the kitchen, when some days I must stop and rest after folding laundry.

Emil Nolde Starry Sky 1938-45

“Starry Sky” (1938-45, watercolor)
by Emil Nolde

I hate this more than anyone could possibly know, and I know that I sound like a broken record, but sometimes it just has to come out: all  of the frustrations, all of the losses, all of the days wasted, and I have no one to blame but myself. And I know that I’m in a particularly sensitive spot right now because of things that are going on beyond my control, and perhaps that is what bothers me the most: the lack of control, mostly because I feel that I should be able to control these things, or at least be able to fix them. If not me, then who?

And I walk through the house and notice the mess on the dining room table, notice the cushions on the couch askew, notice the tumbleweeds of Tillie’s hair in the corners of the rooms, I must face that today I can do absolutely nothing about it. I just don’t have the energy. Look, I seriously contemplated skipping the family party yesterday, but I didn’t have enough energy to come up with a convincing excuse, so instead I arrived late, but it took every ounce of wherewithal to put on clothes and leave the house.

“I wrote down silences, nights, I noted the inexpressible. I fixed vertigos.” ~ Arthur Rimbaud cited in Delmore Schwartz’s Rimbaud in Our Time

Listen, I know that I have a good life; I have a spouse who truly loves me, a comfortable but slightly rundown house in a relatively nice neighborhood, two dogs, thousands of books, three children. I know that I have absolutely no right to complain about my life. I know all of these things.

Yet I also know that I ache, a deep abiding ache. I ache for someone to come to my door and say I will be your friend. I will visit you and I will understand your quirks and I will not make you feel less for having them. And I know that I have friends out there who feel this way. I would only have to write or to call. I do know this. But knowledge sometimes is not nearly enough to overcome great sadness. If it were, then I would have no problems at all.

Edvard Munch Starry Night 1893 oil on canvas

“Starry Night” (1893, oil on canvas)
by Edvard Munch

To be able to retreat inside my mind is something I have always been able to do. But sometimes, once inside, all that I truly want is a long, hard hug, a soft whisper in my ear, a gentle touch of my hair. I’m not talking about passion; I’m talking about compassion.

Most of the time I try not to write about these things, mostly so that Corey does not read them and worry about me. I want him to be able to focus on his job when he is away, so I try not to say anything, but sometimes my voice betrays me, and I feel absolutely wretched that he can tell. He reads me so well.

But today, it is all too much, and I am too tired and too lonely, and my heart feels akin to breaking, and not even the soft warmth of my dogs’ bodies lying next to me is enough to calm the pounding in my heart.

I wish for better days. I wish that I knew how to make those better days. I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish…………………………………………

Enough. More later. Peace.

I cannot get this song out of my head today: “My Salvation,” by Gabrielle Aplin

                     

Es Verdad (It’s True)

Ai, what work it costs me,
wanting you like I want you!

All on account of your love
the air
hurts me —
my heart,
even my hat.

Who will buy it for me,
this hatband I’m holding,
and this sorrow of linen,
white to make handkerchiefs?

Ai! what work it costs me,
wanting you like I want you.

~ Federico García Lorca

“I’m a ghost that everyone can see;” ~ Franz Wright, from “Empty Stage”


“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

 Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Still incredibly hot and humid, 91 degrees.

I’m going to try to do this again. No distractions. With any luck, I’ll get past the first few sentences.

This is my immediate problem: my children. As you know, I have three grown children, but their stages of grown do not match their calendar status of grown. My eldest child, my daughter, will be having one of those major milestone birthdays on the 7th of this month, but the reality is that I think she is probably the youngest of my children. And for the moment, I choose to focus on my eldest/youngest child.

Max Beckmann Beach Landscape 1904 oil on cardboard

“Beach Landscape” (1904, oil on cardboard)
by Max Beckmann

To be fair, Alexis has gone through a lot in her short life, and the loss of her sister, something her brothers do not share as an immediate memory, affected her greatly. Alexis has never been full of self-confidence; in fact, the exact opposite is true: If one person could be so completely uncertain of her selfhood, I would have to say that it is my daughter. Please understand, I’m not criticizing, only commenting; after all, I, too, am very insecure about certain aspects of my self.

I don’t know how much of my daughter’s problems are a result of nurturing, but I do know that I have been the primary nurturer in her life, which is why I probably have a tendency to blame myself for so many of her woes. But at what point do I draw the line and acknowledge that she has very real problems that are completely separate from my relationship with my daughter?

You see, while I love my daughter beyond words, I am not entirely sure that I like certain key aspects of her personality. Does that make sense?

“there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “Mergers and Acquisitions”

Again, let me say that I probably should not be writing this, but I need to work through some of this tonight as it is pressing on me much too acutely, and I know that I will have no peace unless I do something. I had to cancel my therapy appointment this week because of the chest cold that I have. Too much talking makes me cough, and coughing is, well, painful. Hence, the writing my way through . . .

I so wish that I had the ability to make things right for my children all of the time, but then again, don’t most parents? But I don’t have this ability, and talking to Alexis is futile, at best, and an invitation to a verbal fray, at worst. My daughter, like my sons, unfortunately inherited the family predisposition to clinical depression and anxiety. We all suffer in our own various ways, to lesser and greater extents, depending upon, well upon a lot of things. But Alexis is alone in one thing: she sleeps far too much for any human being. She can go to bed on Friday night and not wake fully until Monday morning.

(c) DACS/Anne Morrison; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Summer Sea” (1961, oil on paperboard)
by Joan Eardley

When she was a teenager, she would sleep forever, but I really didn’t worry about it because I did the same thing as a teenager. However, she is an adult with her own child, and this sleeping sickness, for lack of a better term, has not abated. Corey and I have had several conversations in which we have tossed about this problem, mostly in relation to Olivia, as in, does my daughter’s sleeping sickness impede/impair her ability to care for her own daughter?

I can’t tell you how guilty I feel just for giving this concern words, but there. It’s been said. Now what?

I mean, this is more than my concern that she has absolutely no ambition, that she doesn’t seem to have any sort of life goals, which granted, is a real concern. But this particular issue has such larger implications as it affects everyone.

“I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones.” ~ Neil Gaiman, from Signal to Noise

I’m so conflicted.

If you were to ask me if my daughter is a good mother, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Yes. Absolutely.”

Copyright York Museums Trust / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“The Wave” (1898)
by Roderick O’Conor

But then, I must pause. Does she love her daughter? Without question. Does she want what is best for her daughter? Again, yes.

But what makes a good mother? Love, concern, respect, patience, empathy, sympathy . . . cobbled together with a willingness to teach, to share, to laugh, to cry . . . Like it or not, motherhood is an endless procession of decisions, and if we are lucky, most of them are right, and if we are smart, we learn from the wrong ones, but first, we must be able to identify the wrong ones.

Look, being a mother is a thankless job. Your children resent you a lot of the time. They don’t like you some of the time. They wish you would be quiet a lot of the time. They appreciate you only some of the time, and to them, you are never a person with feelings and wants and needs. And no one can teach you how to be a mother; it’s purely on-the-job training, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get good advice along the way, and if you’re smart, you’ll realize which advice is good and which is bad.

So what’s my point?

Damned if I know . . .

“Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one would find it
And now you can’t remember where.” ~ John Ashbery, from “Vaucanson”

You know shaken baby syndrome? Well obviously that’s something that must never be done, but what about shaken adult child syndrome? Is it acceptable to want to grasp said child by the shoulders and shake him/her until the eyes come into focus and you think that perhaps some semblance of sense has entered said child’s brain?

William Henry Johnson Untitled c1930-35

Untitled Seascape (c1930-35)
by William Henry Johnson

I know that I’m making light, but trust me, I am so close to tears much of the time that to laugh would be nothing short of achieving a state of grace.

But back to the problem. Did you know that there is an actual illness called Sleeping Beauty Syndrome? It’s actually called Klein-Levin Syndrome:

Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by recurring periods of excessive amounts of sleep, altered behavior, and a reduced understanding of the world. The disorder strikes adolescents primarily but can occur in younger children and adults. At the onset of an episode the patient becomes progressively drowsy and sleeps for most of the day and night (hypersomnolence), sometimes waking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction. KLS episodes may continue for 10 years or more. KLS is sometimes referred to in the media as “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome.

Seriously, I think my daughter has this. Some people think that Alexis is just lazy. I honestly don’t think that’s it. If I did, I would say so. Laziness can be fixed; well, at least, I think it can be fixed. Alexis is too OCD to be lazy. I just don’t know if she has any control over these sleep episodes. And the brutal reality is that it’s gotten to the point that it is having a serious impact on every single relationship she has.

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” ~ Umberto Eco, from Foucault’s Pendulum

So what to do, what to do? I can do nothing. Not yet. And even if the time were right for me to do something, I have absolutely no idea as to what course of action I should take, if any.

Wassily Kandinsky Stormy Day 1906

“Stormy Day” (1906)
by Wassily Kandinsky

Familial relationships are so damned draining. Awash in a sea of eggshells, and trying to find just the right way to cross without breaking anything, without breaking any . . . one.

You know when you are young, in your early 20’s, and you think about life, think about the future as I always did, I would bet that most of the realities of later life never enter the realm of possibility. I mean, how could they, really? Real life is so far from what you think will happen to you when you’re young and trying to decide whether or not to drop a huge chunk of change on some toy or the other. Real life is so filled with pitfalls and trenches so deep that few of us would ever contemplate that such horrible things might actually happen.

Nothing in my 20’s prepared me for real life, even though I was so certain at the time that I had all of the answers. I was so sure of my certainty then. It takes being slapped in the face by fate to make you realize just how little you actually know.

So here I am, finally able to admit how little I know and knowing how little I am able to effect any kind of meaningful change in the lives of my children. Is it any wonder I walk around in a constant state of pain-filled angst?

Probably shouldn’t have written any of this . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by I Will, I Swear, “Long Days”


                   

Mind

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity’s
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

~ Jorie Graham

 

 

Happy Father’s Day

Don Hong-Oai Spring, Bamboo Boat

“Spring, Bamboo Boat”
by Don Hong-Oai


“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it
Gathering light as glass does,
As glass does when the sundown is on it
and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”

My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.

Don Hong-Oai Lanters Light the Way, Guilin

“Lanterns Light the Way”
by Don Hong-Oai

I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.

And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.

Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.

Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.

I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.

My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.

Don Hong-Oai Fishing Journey

“Fishing Journey”
by Don Hong-Oai

I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.

In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.

In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.

All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.

Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”

                    

Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five

I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.

I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.

All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.

So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.

~ David Budbill