“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” ~ Charles Bukowski, “The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship”

Charles Warren Eaton Quiet Shore c1885 oil on canvas

“Quiet Shore” (c1885, oil on canvas)
by Charles Warren Eaton

                    

“the soft-aired Tennessee night
Gathers it children in its cupped hands.
Time has its covenant, and who’s to say that it is unjust.
We make our sad arrangements.
The sky clears, the sun sets.
No matter the words, we never forget our own song. ~ Charles Wright, from “Arrivederci Kingsport”

Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cool, 60 degrees.

A very quiet afternoon, alone in the house, just the dogs and me. Sometimes the quiet is too dense, as if it is filling all of the spaces around me, removing the oxygen and replacing it with something unnameable but palatable.

Robert Vonnoh The Bridge at Grez c1890

“The Bridge at Grez” (c1890, oil on canvas)
by Robert Vonnoh

It’s this first week in November that does me in, causes my heart to collapse, makes my mind travel to dark places. This week—it is too much with me. “The world is too much with me” . . . Wordsworth? Yes, Wordsworth. For a moment almost said Eliot, but it is not cynical enough. Wordsworth still had hope, I think.

Don’t worry if you cannot follow along. I cannot either. Heavily immersed in stream of consciousness, easier than linear thought—at times, this is so.

If you want to know how little you matter in the grand scheme, Google your name. Grandeur is quickly extinguished. Who does this?

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God

In memory, the days from that Halloween until the seventh of November all collapse upon each other, like white-dotted dominoes laid out in a row.  Unable to halt the tide, unable to hold at bay the hours. Nothing could have stopped what happened.

Wojciech Weiss Sunset ca1902

“Sunset” (c1902, oil on canvas)
by Wojciech Weiss

Alexis, small and innocent, a fairy princess, a silver magic wand, a plastic crown. Standing on the front porch, posing for her last picture as a sister until years later.

There was a nurse in a clown costume, or was it a rag doll costume(?). I remember only the bright colors, the two red circles on her cheeks. I wondered then how anyone who worked amidst such perpetual sadness could muster the mettle to come to work in costume, to tend the grievously ill for 12 hours dressed as a doll? Who does this?

Now it makes perfect sense. The costumes provided an escape, albeit temporary, from the monitors, the beeps, the sterile white noise that is the backdrop to everything in an intensive care unit.

“If you have endured a great despair,
then, you did it alone;
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.” ~ Anne Sexton, from Courage

From that night forward, it was as if we were propelled by adrenaline and sadness. Ineffable sadness. The six days between were anomalous to the twenty-four-hour cycle, having only two or three hours a day. I’m certain of it. Time was different then. Supernormal with its sunrises and sunsets heaped upon one another, not enough minutes between sleeping and waking, perpetually exhausted.

Pierre Bonnard Landscape, Pink House, Sunset c1934

“Landscape, Pink House, Sunset” (c1934, oil on canvas)
by Pierre Bonnard

Did I eat? I don’t remember. I do remember many cups of coffee.

Approximately one hundred and forty-four hours between Alexis’s fairy princess smile and Caitlin’s pale countenance. Everything about the two was opposite: Alexis’s fair skin and hair, and Caitlin’s olive skin and dark dark hair—as if fate sought to heighten the differences between the two.

Of course we will never know what kind of personality Caitlin might have had, whether she would have been a reader, or perhaps a writer, what she would have liked to do with her time, what paths she might have chosen. All such speculation is pointless. How much can you know of a person in seven months? How much of a person can seven months reveal?

“I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones.” ~ Rebecca Stead, from When You Reach Me

Long before Google could tell me of my irrelevance, I met it first-hand on a November afternoon. It only took a few minutes to break my heart irreparably, to harden me with a cold cynicism bred from loss.

Pang Xunquin Autumn on Fragrance Hill 1962

“Autumn on Fragrance Hill” (1962, oil on canvas)
by Pan Xunquin

I think that I laughed more easily before that day, found more joy in the ordinary nothingness. I know that I smiled more, or at least, I think so. But it would be a lie to say that I knew how to be happy then because I don’t think that I’ve ever quite known how to do that.

I will not lie to you: I do not remember what Caitlin looked like. I mean, I know from the pictures, but I cannot, simply am quite unable to conjure her image in my mind. She has become two-dimensional.

I never thought I would find the day in which I could no longer smell her, so long did I carry her belongings with me wherever I went.

It this all too much for you? Perhaps I should have warned you sooner of my propensity to crash so completely, should have placed a label somewhere to shield you from my carefully guarded obsession with those days in early November, the ones that I hoard like first editions and garage-sale masterpieces.

“But I understand how light works.
. . . . . . . . . .

Later I will go out in a leopard-coat of light
with you: just me and the trees baring themselves
for winter, and the marbled paving stones,
and my empty hand shining” ~ Henry Shukman, from “The Call”

I am never quite sure how much to say when my mind and heart conspire against me and take me back to that afternoon and the days immediately preceding. It’s as if I somehow can still be caught unawares, regardless of how many times I have made this journey.

Max Slevogt Red Arbor with Dog 1897c

“Red Arbor with Dog” (c1897)
by Max Slevogt

And sometimes I think it would be better if I did not allow myself to acknowledge this tack, pretend it is not just there, on the periphery of my vision, waving its arms madly to get my attention. If I just don’t look . . . perhaps . . . maybe. If I spend enough hours in the bathtub with the lights out, it won’t be able to get a toehold, will fall away.

Who am I kidding? It always wins. Always.

More later. Peace.

Music by Bastille, “Oblivion”

                    

Any Night

Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don’t let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he’s running
and singing too. He could be happy.

~ Philip Levine

“I am a jumble of passions, misgivings, and wants. It seems that I am always in a state of wishing and rarely in a state of contentment.” ~ Libba Bray, from The Sweet Far Thing

Three Seascapes circa 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

“Three Seascapes” (ca 1827)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

                   

“So I fill my hands with the shards of infinite ardors.
A generous cargo of ohs and oh wells.
And a strange half-wish to be a ghost.

It is the thing I wish for most.” ~  Jill Alexander Essbaum, from The Devastation

Monday afternoon. Partly cloudy and warmer, 70 degrees.

I had a full-blown Caitlin dream last night. I haven’t had one of those in a very long time. By full-blown, I mean, I saw her, held her, fed her, talked to her, called her by name. I cannot begin to express how much this hurts my heart. And to compound the ache, my father was also in the dream in a very active way: we talked about something, he smiled, I kissed his cheek.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Setting Sun and the Sea not sure, watercolor

“Setting Sun and the Sea” (title questionable, nd, watercolor)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

In the first part of the dream I was in a medical center with Caitlin. Our nurse was very nice, and she was trying to get us a private room so that I could breast feed Caitlin. There was a lot of noise in the hall, and I peeked out and saw soldiers and people running. The medical center was being stormed by someone, I don’t know who. I looked around the hallway to see if there was a way out, and there wasn’t.

I went back into the room and closed the door quietly. I told our nurse what was going on. Other people came into the room with their babies. Everyone was scared. People were looking to me. I fed Caitlin and ignored everything else. My ex wanted to know how I could have fed her. I told him I breastfed her; he wanted to know where the milk came from. I told him that it was just there again, like it had always been. Then I went to the windows and said that we could try jumping to safety.

“Sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure.” ~ Assia Djebar,  from “Assia Djebar: The Tireless Walker of Memory,” trans. Erin E. Brady and Guillaume Basset

In another part of the dream I was having an affair with my second cousin at Great Bridge. Everyone knew, but no one said anything. I was still married to my ex. I had four children, and one of them looked like my cousin. My ex wanted to know if he was the father or if my cousin was the father. I lied.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Lonship Lighthouse, Lands End, c1834-5 watercolor

“Longship Lighthouse, Lands End” (ca 1834-5, watercolor)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Then, I was talking to all of my cousins about the cars I had when I was a teenager, and I remembered when I spun my VW Beetle into a ditch (this really happened). My cousin said that he remembered, but the ditch was in front of my mother’s house. I said that there were no ditches there, only in Great Bridge.

Then we were singing karaoke. I signed up to do a duet of a country song, but when the music started, I realized that I couldn’t read the screen with my contacts in, so I didn’t know the words. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were part of the group I was with, and they wanted to do a sing-off. I said that I couldn’t because I couldn’t see the words. They said that I was just making an excuse. Then two of the women in the group said they would sing with me.

At some point in this sequence, I was sitting outside with my dad. He may have been working on a fishing rod. I told him that I was really glad that he was my father. He smiled.

I awoke with a pain in my heart and a completely empty feeling.

“Because the body is so ephemeral and corrupt,
what is beautiful today may not be so ten years hence,
I give you words.
Because my thoughts are strange and dreamlike
and not to be trusted to icon or art,
I put them into words for you” ~ Shaindel Beers, from “I Give You Words

Today has been completely out of whack. My doctor’s office called to say that they had to cancel my appointment today because they hadn’t gotten approval for my shots, not the Botox for my migraines, but the cortisone for both of my wrists. Unbelievable. The Botox has finally been approved, but not the cortisone? What gives? I really need shots in both of my hands because they hurt all of the time.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Storm Clouds colon Sunset with a Pink Sky 1825

“Storm Clouds: Sunset with a Pink Sky” (1825, watercolor)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Then my dermatologist’s office called and wanted to know if I could come in at 8 in the morning instead of 2 in the afternoon. Really? No. I made these appointments to work around Brett’s school schedule. He has an exam tomorrow. And besides, I’m not even conscious at 8 in the morning. Of course, I didn’t tell them that.

In between, Brett found out that an exam he thought was on Wednesday is actually today. Yep, major freaking out ensued.

Then I paid some bills, and I tried to create an online account for my life insurance, and the site kept saying that there was no policy in existence. I called customer service. Policy is in existence. Associate took all of my information and said to give it a bit and try again. He had a hard time with my e-mail address. I bet he put it in wrong because I still can’t log in to the site.

So much fun. Love days like these. Just want to do nothing, but no. I’m a responsible adult with responsible adult obligations………….. whatever……………

“In one way, causeless emotion reminds me of melancholy: when we have sorrows without a name.” ~ Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey

For Mother’s Day, I ordered myself a couple of books and a one-pound bag of Chimes Mango Ginger chews. These things are addictive, and the ginger is very good for your heart and digestion, or so I tell myself, but they’re impossible to find in grocery stores. So yesterday, Brett went with me to T. J. Maxx, mostly to get out of the house, and I tried on clothes, which always makes me feel fat and ugly, and there on the shelves in the gourmet section were Chimes Chews, plain ginger, mango ginger, orange ginger. Unbelievable.

The Scarlet Sunset circa 1830-40 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

“The Scarlet Sunset,” detail (ca 1830-40, watercolor)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

I’m trying not to think about it too much because I already justified to myself ordering the one-pound bag. I’m also trying not to think about the shirt that I tried on that was too tight in the—wait for it—ARMS. I have fat arms. How does that happen? Why does that happen? Why do women lose tone in weird bodily appendages and men don’t?

So the trip out of the house to lift our spirits ended up making me feel fat and ugly and inefficient. Now here’s the real rub: I can’t stop thinking about how I paid x amount to order this one-pound bag, when I could have paid y and gotten them at T. J. Maxx. My never pay retail mantra is kind of stuck, like LP’s? Remember that, how they would stick in a spot and play the same sound over and over again, and sometimes, this would happen at night when you would put on an album to fall asleep by, and then you’d fall asleep, and something would nudge you in your sleep, and you’d wake up to the sound of the record stuck on a scratch or groove? Am I the only one that happened to?

“This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath . . .” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Shapechangers in Winter”

So, no relief in the wrists, no sassy red capris with white polka dots because they looked stupid on me, no cute lavender denim shorts because, well, the stupid thing. I did come away with two pair of really gauzy yoga pants and a new bra, so I’ll just stay at home and wear my yoga pants and hide my arms.

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Beacon Light, oil on canvas

“The Beacon Light” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ack. What am I going on about, anyway. That my arms are flabby is no surprise. That I didn’t look all chic in the red capris is no surprise. That I found Chimes locally is a surprise. I think that I’m just trying to keep my mind from dwelling on my dreams last night. I did so many things, saw so many people, touched on so many memories. I think part of what caused such emotional dreams were two things I saw yesterday: the movie Boy A, which is heartbreaking, and then a short film on Tumblr about a wolf looking for her cub. Ack. Set myself up, I suppose.

The reality is that the dream of breastfeeding Caitlin was so perfect and so very, very painful. That is something that will never happen again. That baby that I held in my arms with the dark hair, the one who looked up at me in contentment—it’s not real. What is real is that I feel like I picked and picked and picked at a scab, and now it is raw again.

The scar that had faded to a pale grey line is red and aching, and it’s going to take me months to heal from this, and why can’t I be better about this? Why does the pain caused by a dream have to be so immediate and so real? Once again, I am among the walking wounded, and no matter how many of these damned Chimes I chew, I fear it is going to get better later rather than sooner.

More later. Peace.

Images by Joseph Mallord William Turner, English Romantic artist (1775-1851)

Music by Sleeping At Last, “Uneven Odds,” absolutely breathtaking

And speaking of  Tim McGraw (really miss you, Corey), “I Need You”


                   

Turner, Late Painting

This almost empty
canvas
is sister
to an empty page
just as a poem
enters: white

with all
its possibilities
emerging from the brush—
smoke or cloud
or beach foam—

and there in the corner
a patch
of burnt orange
where the sun will
eventually
come up.

~ Linda Pastan

“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.” ~ Steve Martin

Play on Words
Tristan Bates Theatre, UK

                   

“I like good strong words that mean something…” ~ Louisa May Alcott, from Little Women

Thursday afternoon. Sunny, 80’s.

I found the following on my Tumblr dash (where else?) a few days ago, and decided that it would make a great prompt for a post. Hope you like it.

11 More Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

Words, words, words

I remember sitting in a Starbucks for hours one time just writing in my journal and kind of daydreaming. I only had enough money for a coffee, but I felt no guilt at squatting at prime real estate for as long as I needed, despite the evil looks from people who wanted my table. I also used to do this at the Starbucks inside the Barnes & Noble that I frequented. I would get a stack of possible books, find a table, and sit there as I went through the books to decide which ones I wanted to buy. One time I read William Styron’s Darkness Visible in its entirety, and another time I read A Boy Called It, which made me decide to buy the sequel. And yes, I purchased both books that I read.

Ya’arburnee (Arabic)
This word is the hopeful declaration that you will die before someone you love deeply, because you cannot stand to live without them. Literally, may you bury me.

In my romantic mind, I would never want to die before my beloved as I am uncertain if I have any grief left within me after losing those I most loved. This one is a tough one, but a beautiful word.

“I’m apt to get drunk on words . . . Ontology: the word about the essence of things; the word about being.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, from A Circle of Quiet

Schlimazel (Yiddish)
Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it’s spilled.

Words
by Ben Schott (New York Times)

Is it possible to be both a schlemiel and a schlimazel? I am quite adept at spilling things, especially my food and drink, and especially if I am wearing the most inappropriate clothes for a spill, say white silk. And as for being a schlimazel, perhaps less so unless it concerns something coming out of a baby. For the first year of Eamonn’s life, he threw up on me regularly, so much so that it was not uncommon for me to have to change nightgowns mid-night. He had severe stomach problems and had an operation when he was just three weeks old. But of the two, definitely the spiller as opposed to the spillee.

One other interesting memory: When I worked in Northern Virginia, a pack of us went out on a Friday after work, and we went dancing. My boss was there, and since I was relatively new, he offered to dance with me. I was wearing scarlet lipstick, and I tripped and fell into his starched white shirt, leaving a huge lipstick stain on the sleeve. I asked him the next day what he said to his wife as the truth seemed so unbelievable. He said that he threw away the shirt because she would never believe how it really happened. I felt horrible.

Packesel (German)
The packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, a burro.

My ex and I used to go hiking and camping in the Virginia foothills. One time we took along a couple with whom we had been friends for years. The female of the couple wore penny loafers (which has nothing to do with this word), but the male of the pair was so whiny that on the hike back, I took his pack just so I wouldn’t have to hear him. Yes, my back used to be quite strong . . .

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient

L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

Oh how I wish that I had known that there was an actual term for this years ago. I am famous for coming up with the biting retort—well after the other person has left the room. So much so that I sometimes wanted to run them down in the hall just so that I could fling my words at them, but of course, that would have been childish.

Awesomely Untranslatable Words from around the World

Hygge (Danish)
Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

We have a fireplace in our house, a real, working fireplace. The last time we used it was a couple of winters ago when we didn’t have heat. However, years ago, when my ex lived here, we used to build fires frequently in the winter, back when we were unaware of the pollution links. I love the smell of a wood fire. There is something inherently comforting in that smell, something that makes me feel very relaxed. The same with a campfire—that smell. I remember in high school we used to have bonfires before big football games. I’m sure they don’t do that any more, at least not in cities. Too many possibilities for things to go wrong.

Sad, really. Will we have generations who never know the smell of woodsmoke?

One of our goals for the house is to install a gas fire in the fireplace, so that we can have the heat and appearance of a fire, but it’s just not the same.

Spesenritter (German)
Literally, an expense knight. You’ve probably dined with a spesenritter before, the type who shows off by paying the bill on the company’s expense account.

I’ve known a few of these, but I’ve never been one, never had an expense account, never had enough power to have one. One of my very dear friends at the government services firm where I worked used to take me to dinner on his expense account. And then because I was on the staff for the big guys, I was frequently taken to lunch on expense accounts, back in the 80’s when money flowed freely. I remember that the staff would always go out to celebrate after the completion of a big proposal effort or if a contract was won, both of which happened often.

As a publications manager, I was courted by all kinds of print houses, and I’ll never forget this one lunch at an Italian restaurant, the best pasta I’ve ever had. Going out on someone else’s account is wonderful as price never seems to matter, and dessert is always an option. Of course, those days are long gone.

“All I’m writing is just what I feel, that’s all. I just keep it almost naked. And probably the words are so bland.” ~ Jimi Hendrix

Cavoli Riscaldati (Italian)
The result of attempting to revive an unworkable relationship. Literally, reheated cabbage.

Hmm . . . my ex, ‘nuf said, except that reheated cabbage describes it perfectly: old, wilted, smelly, but still you try to make a meal of it until you realize that it’s totally inedible.

Words that Don’t Exist in the English Language

Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing, pleasant dream. Not just a “good” dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

As many of you already know, I don’t tend to dream on the good side, so when I have an amazingly good dream, it kind of stands out. That said, I’m having a really hard time remembering the details of any. I know that one featured Jimmy Smits, and I had that one about ten years ago (so sad, really).

I can say that most of the dreams that I really enjoy involve falling/flying, as in I leap off something and float through the air. It isn’t at all scary. On the contrary, it’s the most wonderful feeling. An alternative is when I’m flying some kind of airplane. It’s the act of moving through the air unimpeded, under my own steam. I think that this is probably the key reason as to why I still want to go up in a glider some day. I don’t care how old I get, I still want to do this.

Parachuting doesn’t appeal to me because it’s over too soon. In a glider, you move through the air for miles. There is no sound but the wind. It’s just you, in the air, as close to being winged as possible.

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, from The Name of the Wind

Litost (Czech)
Milan Kundera described the emotion as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”

I have encountered this emotion far too many times that sometimes I feel as if I’ve gotten other people’s share as well as my own. It’s a brutal feeling, realizing that you are miserable. It’s the exact opposite of the feeling I would imagine comes from gliding through the air. Instead, it’s being completely weighted down, leaden, held down by such intense gravity that even standing seems impossible.

More Words that Don’t Exist in the English Language

Litost. It’s both a beautiful word and a sad word, and that it is Czech in origin seems perfect, somehow.

Murr-ma (Waigman, language of Australia)
To walk alongside the water while searching for something with your feet.

I’m glad that this word is last as I have the best story to go along with it.

About a year after Caitlin died, we were at the beach in Nags Head, North Carolina. I was walking through the shore on my own, and I was moving my feet through the sand. I suddenly stopped, and within my head I pleaded to whatever gods that be to give me a sign, any sign, that things could get better. In the next second, my toes encountered something hard. I reached down and picked up the most beautiful perfect seashell. It was small, but it was there, and my heart suddenly felt hope again.

I’ve enjoyed this. I hope that you have as well.

More later. Peace.

Music by Colin Smith, “Organ in Your Chest”

                   

The Words Under the Words

for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

I had that dream last night, You know?

Tylenol (Kekulé Diagram)

The one in which everything ends? That one.

I was in that room again, but it wasn’t the same. The baby in the crib was mine, but she wasn’t, it wasn’t her. The power went out, and the nurses and technicians were all giving the patients oxygen manually, squeezing that large ball, forcing air into that mask, but it wasn’t enough. The doctor who came in was outmatched but wouldn’t admit it. I pulled back her nightgown and a dark red spot was growing on her chest under the skin, and I thought, that’s not right, that’s not what happened. House came into the room. I had sent for him. He was real, not the character on the television show. He limped over to the crib and looked down at her and then looked at me, and then I knew. There was a lot of noise, monitors, the whoosh click of the machines. I had given her Tylenol when I put her down for her nap. Teething, I thought; that’s why she’s been so grouchy. Why didn’t I remember about the teething? The children’s Tylenol will work, but is children’s Tylenol and Infant Tylenol the same? No, I remember, it’s not, so which one? Only Tylenol doesn’t have much effect when there’s something growing in your brain. I didn’t know. How could I know? She fell asleep on her side almost as soon as I put her down, she had been in the high chair, and I gave her a Ritz cracker, only she didn’t want it, and Cheerios were chocolate chip flavored, and I thought that wasn’t a very good snack for a baby, so I pulled up the side of the crib, and then we were in the room, the hospital room, and it was happening all over. House couldn’t help her, and he couldn’t help the young boy who was seeing symbols, the one that the mean nurse had tried to turn away, but a different nurse admitted him. The mean nurse said that he had been to the ER three times with this same problem, and he couldn’t come back any more, but the boy was bleeding from his nose, and his father was frantic, so the nice nurse wheeled the boy into a room and called for House because the boy was seeing symbols in the air. This was all in the dream, and it was happening simultaneously, not linearly. And a woman who came into the room, the room that I was in, with House said that she needed to get back to her job, and I stopped her and said no. If you leave, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. She looked at me and said that I was going to try to make her feel guilty the way that House did, and House remarked that she didn’t know what guilt was. And I said to her, she was Kirsty Alley for some reason, I said, “If you leave, she’ll die, and you won’t be here, and you’ll have to live with that guilt forever, you won’t have been here when she took her last breath, you won’t remember any of this,” so she stayed in the room. So there was me and House and Kirsty Alley and the first doctor, who still didn’t know what to do. And there was the baby in the crib, and she was dying, in the same way that she dies every single time that I go into that room, and the nurses outside the room were moving very quickly because the electricity had come back on, and patients everywhere needed help, but in the room, in that room that is hell and every awful, terrible place that has ever existed, in that room, it was the five of us, and one of us was dying. And the whoosh-click kept going and going, and the only good part was that I woke up before she died this time, and when I did, I felt pain all over my body, but especially my head, and I remembered the teething, and wondered why I didn’t think of the teething when she first started to get fussy, and then I remembered that all of the Infant Tylenol in the world can’t help with that kind of pain.

Tomorrow would have been Caitlin’s 24th birthday.

This song was playing in the background of my dream: Butthole Surfers, “Whatever (I Had a Dream Last Night)”

“Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold.” ~ W. Eugene Smith

A perigee moon rises above the Almudena Cathedral (Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images)

                            

“It shocks me how I wish for . . . what is lost and cannot come back.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story

Sunday afternoon. Cold and cloudy. Below normal temperatures.

Super Moon in Pembroke, NY by jimsanders52

I finished the taxes; we owe for state, but we’ll be getting a federal return, which will immediately go towards getting a new back door. Now I need to do the FAFSA’s for Eamonn and Brett; of course, I am past deadline. I had such good intentions about getting those done in a timely way, but my health hasn’t been cooperating for a few months now.

I had wanted to post yesterday so badly, but just sitting here for an extended period was too painful. At such times, I long for my old laptop, the one that crashed and burned when I finished grad school. Maybe one day, but too many other pressing things for now.

Yesterday was Caitlin’s birthday. I didn’t even make it to the cemetery, didn’t make it out of sweats, actually. I have bought new flowers, spring colors.

 Were she still alive, she would be 23. It pains me to think of what kind of young woman she might have been. Would she have gone to college? Would she have been as driven as I was at that age? What would she have looked like; who in the family would she have resembled with her dark hair and almond eyes?

These are the things that I contemplate as each year takes me farther and farther from that painful point in my history. Yes, I know. Such extended grief is not normal, but it has been a part of me for so long that I would not know how to live without it. Truth be told, I have no desire to live without it. I mean, I am no longer consumed by my grief, but it remains with me like an old sweater that I notice occasionally when I open the drawer, and sometimes, I am so chilled to the bone that I must take out this well-worn sweater and put it on. I believe that this is a comfortable place in which to reside. It may not work for someone else, but it works for me.

“Grace is what matters in anything, especially life; especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. About people, that’s what matters. That’s a quality I admire quite greatly. It keeps you from reaching for the gun too quickly, keeps you from destroying things too foolishly. It keeps you alive and it keeps you open for more understanding.” ~ Jeff Buckley 

Super Moon behind St Michaels Tower on Glastonbury Tor Hill (Ben Birchall/PA/AP)

We do have good news in our house, though. Corey got a call from Precon, one of the two companies that he had been counting on. This was his second choice, but it’s still good. He starts work on Monday as a deck hand, working locally, daily.

I told him that I think that it’s actually good that he got this job first as it will allow him to readjust to being back on a boat, get his sea legs, if you will. The pay is just a bit more than his maritime security job, but he will definitely be working 40 hours a week, with probably overtime. So we can count on a regular base pay each week, something we haven’t had for three years.

It’s also good that he doesn’t have to travel as the truck is not yet working. Ford still has not come through with their buyout of the Windstar. They have paid so much more in rental fees than they owe us for the recall, but we have no control over the situation. As long as they are providing Corey with a vehicle, we are good.

Anyway, I know that Corey is quite anxious about going back on a boat. I have assured him that it will all come back to him once he is in the midst of things. Then, if and when the second company calls, he’ll be ready. Since company-hopping is pretty much standard in the industry, he shouldn’t feel any qualms about taking the much better-paying position should it be offered to him.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose providence dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of events, but some of us feel it always.” ~ William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Super moon over Prague by Benjine

I know that Corey is also carrying around a sense of loss these days. He has been thinking quite seriously about taking guitar lessons. It’s something that he has wanted to do ever since I met him, take guitar, piano, and/or voice lessons. He has a wonderful voice, and he wants to improve his range, just for personal satisfaction, which I think it lovely. He had wanted me to teach him how to play the piano, but I had to disappoint him because I know that I would not be a good teacher to someone with whom I have a personal relationship. My standards are incredibly high, and my patience is incredibly bad.

So Corey found a woman in Suffolk who teaches music with whom he made an appointment several weeks ago. We’re going Tuesday night to meet her before making any commitments.

What has Corey so disappointed is that his father had a 1960 Gibson Les Paul electric guitar that his father gave to him when he was a teenager. I have heard about this guitar for years; Corey has spoken of it in such loving terms, has told me the family history of how it was passed around, of how his older brother tried to sell it for $50 to make a quick buck. A few years ago, both of Corey’s brothers tried to convince his father to sell the guitar on E-Bay. Corey talked his father out of it—or so he thought.

Turns out, his dad sold the guitar three years ago to someone to use for parts. Seriously, I thought that Corey was going to cry. That guitar was the one thing that he has always talked about wanting to keep in the family, and I know that he was working up the nerve to ask his dad if he could have the guitar to take lessons. To find out that the guitar is gone, that it’s been gone for years, was such a blow.

He’s been heartbroken, and to tell him that we’ll find him a vintage guitar sometime in the future doesn’t quite ease the sting. It won’t be his father’s guitar. It won’t be the one his grandfather bought.

I really do understand because my mother is always threatening to sell things in her house that I cherish. My mother has never been the sentimental type, as I’ve said before, but some of those things are part of my history, just as this guitar was part of Corey’s history.

We are all products of the soil from which we were grown. Sometimes that soil is rich and nourishing; sometimes it is fallow. Sometimes it’s better to leave that soil behind, and sometimes we want to take some of that soil with us when we put down new roots. What happens when that choice is taken from us?

“Who am I, in fact, as I sit here at this table, but my own past?” ~ Katherine Mansfield

Supermoon over Upper Makefield, Pennsylvania by Mark Setash

Ah well, onto other things. I went to see my other mother-in-law at the rehab center this past week. It was terrible. She would only open her eyes once in a while; she mumbled; she couldn’t feed herself. All of these things have happened in just the last week.

I didn’t go see her on her birthday because my ex was going to be there for the family get together, but Ann, my sister-in-law told me that she was jolly and singing the Montana state song. That was on St. Patrick’s Day. Two days later, she was completely changed.

In between the mumbling, she would say something audible, and at one point, she said, quite clearly, “I’m at the end of my rope.”

I did not allow myself to cry while I was there. She didn’t need to see my tears. And as heartless as it sounds, I sort of understand why people stop going to see family members when they are in those places: It’s damn depressing. But then I think about the individual who is there, in and out of moments of lucidity, and they must wonder why they are there; they must wonder where their family is.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to go at least a few times a week and read to her. She used to love to read, and we used to exchange books. Since Corey will be gone throughout the day with his new schedule, I’m thinking that I can drop off Brett at school and then just go the few miles down Hampton Boulevard and stop in and read for a bit.

I don’t know if it will help, but it certainly can do no harm. I know that her decline is really getting to my own mother who is only one year younger, but my mom won’t say anything.  But I can tell you this, after seeing this vital woman being reduced to a shell of herself, I vow that there is no way that I will go through the same thing. I don’t want my family to see it, and I don’t want to be trapped inside my own mind.

Perhaps you may think this a cowardly decision, but I do not. Sometimes, it’s better not to overstay. But don’t listen to me. I’m a tumble of emotions at the moment, and I know it. I think that I’ll stop now.

More later. Peace.

(All pictures are from the super perigree moon on March 19. This perigree or supermoon is visible when the moon’s orbit position is at its closest point to Earth during a full moon phase. The perigree moon, which occurs approximately every 18 years, appears 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter. Unfortunately, it was not clear here, but people all over the world got some wonderful pictures.)

Music by Jonathan Czerwik,  “Tears and Laughter”

                   

Resurrection

Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver into a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead
through a lake infinite as Loch Ness
or tragic and turbid as Lake Balatón.
Consider it from below:
a diver
innocent
covered in feathers
of will.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who’s dead
in the eyes of God.

~ Roberto Bolaño, from The Romantic Dogs, trans. Laura Healy

” . . . When light spreads over the pastures like wings, and fans a secret color into everything, and beats the trees senseless with beauty, so that you can’t tell whether the beauty is in the trees—dazzling in cells like yellow sparks or green flashing waters—or on them . . .” ~ Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

 

Night by Burlacu Lurie (Pixdaus)

                

“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related . . . We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fall (Pixdaus)

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday . . . no wait . . . that’s a song. It’s eleven o’clock on Saturday, no crowd rushing in. My mother’s house is finally, thankfully, quiet. Earlier today when the television was actually turned off, I managed to sit down and actually get a signal. I turned on the music, opened a new page, and just as I prepared to write, my mother awoke on the couch and said, “You don’t mind if I turn on the television, do you?”

What could I say?

She is much better, though. Much more mobile, even took a shower on her own today. I think that we may have conquered the stomach problems (hope beyond hope), and I am preparing to make the gradual move back to my own home. Tonight after I finish this post, I am going to go home to sleep. Corey has a shift, and Brett is away at a conference, so it seems to be perfect timing as far as going home to my own bed.

I know that I am hesitating, and I realize why: Each time I have thought that things may be getting better, getting well enough that I could go home—at least at night—something has happened, so I am reluctant to think that the situation may actually be stable enough for the transition, that, and I would feel horribly guilty should something happen if I were not here.

It’s actually the same logic that kept me at the hospital for 20 hours out of each day when Caitlin was ill. Oddly enough, it was one of the times when I had actually gone home for a nap and a shower when the hospital actually called to ask me to come back as soon as possible.

Such has always been my luck.

“Not yesterday I learned to know
   The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow
But it were vain to tell her so,
   And they are better for her praise.” ~ Robert Frost, “My November Guest”

Autumn in Chairi Lake (Pixdaus)

Many thanks to those of you who have sent well wishes and have asked about my mother. Thanks also for the reminders to take care of myself as I do tend to ignore my own signals when someone close to me is in need.

Sleeping on the couch hasn’t been too bad for my back, but lately I have awoken with a very sore neck. I could sleep in my old bedroom, but it just doesn’t seem right somehow. Since my mother has come home from the rehab facility, she makes her way to the living room couch by 8 a.m., and the television goes on shortly after, so I head to my old bedroom to try to catch a few hours of morning sleep, this after making her coffee, getting her breakfast and meds, and feeding the cat and dog.

I have planned to set the alarm at home so that I can get here in the morning to take care of things and then perhaps play the rest of the day as it comes. As tomorrow is November 7, a particularly painful day of the year for me, I don’t want to set any kind of schedule for myself.

To be honest, the melancholy crept up on me this year. Being so prepossessed with my mother’s health issues, I have had little time for great introspection. Then I found another envelope of photographs containing pictures of all of my children when they were quite young. Within these was a picture of me in the hospital holding a newborn, and I had to think for a moment to identify which birth it was. The telltale sign was the gown that I was wearing—sleeveless, white cotton. Brett was born during a record heat wave, but for just a moment, my heart had tricked my memory into believing that I was holding Caitlin.

That was all that it took: a photograph, one second in time, recovered accidentally while dusting a box on a shelf.

“Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.” ~ Dorianne Laux, “For the Sake of Strangers”

Autumn Leaves (Pixdaus)

Truthfully, I don’t really know what to call this state of being, how to classify it, how to give it a name. Is something real if it is unnamable? Does something truly exist if it cannot be molded and shaped to fit into a specific niche?

Perhaps, then, this state is the actual grey area, or twilight zone—the fictive terminator between night and day. This state of existence does not bear scrutiny since it does not in fact exist, or it exists only in that nanosecond the comprises the movement from night into day.

Do I even know what I’m saying here?

I only know that a few days ago my mind was wholly unoccupied of anything of consequence, and then today I woke with weight on my chest so heavy that I felt as if rocks were being piled onto my body, like the “wedge-shaped core of darkness” that Virginia Woolf spoke of in To the Lighthouse. It is invisible to everyone else, but it is there, nonetheless.

“Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.” ~ Philip Larkin, “Best Society”

Solitary Swan on Lake in Autumn (Pixdaus)

I want only solitude and quiet, to be alone and to be left alone, to have no demands made of me so that I do not have to force to the surface the persona of a normal person, do not have to cloak this ache with the mask of normalcy.

I want mountains and trees and the sweet, sweet smell of cold, fresh spring water running over mossy rocks. I want to feel the chill of air on my face and to smell the earth, to inhale the natural descent into decay that is autumn and to walk beneath a tarpaulin of the burnished reds and golds that precede the naked limbs of winter.

I crave a retreat from sound, a respite from the everyday clicks and hums that fill my immediate environs. At this very moment, this is what I hear: the ticking of the living room clock, the annoying click of an anti-bug device in the kitchen, my mother coughing, the gunfire rapidity of the keys on the keyboard, and an insistent, low hum from somewhere indiscernible.

These things I want; these things I need; these things I crave like a balm for my soul. These things will continue to elude me for now.

More later. Peace.

Music by Starsailor, “Some of Us”

 

“Remembrance and reflection how allied. What thin partitions divides sense from thought.” ~ Alexander Pope

Antique Grandfather’s Clock Face

    

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Remembrance, reflection, recrimination, and finally, regret. 

Once upon a time, I had four coffee mugs, each with a different quote by Shakespeare. My favorite mug, the one that I used at work for several different jobs, was the one inscribed with the quote above. That mug is gone now, and I have never been able to find another set of mugs like the first one. 

Odd the things you remember when you least expect it. 

“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” ~ St. Augustine

Antique Clock Face

I’m in a melancholy place. I realize that this state is due in part to Jennifer’s situation and my inability to separate completely what is happening to her from what happened to Caitlin. Last night when Alexis called me to give me an update, she said that she was afraid to call me because I always seemed to get upset. I told her that I wanted her to call, that I needed to know what was going on. 

Jennifer isn’t Caitlin. I know that. I also know that I harbor knowledge that no one should have to have imprinted on memory but unfortunately, too many people do: the names and categories of brain tumors, what a shunt is and how it works, the questions to ask a neurosurgeon and an oncologist. It’s the kind of knowledge that I wish I did not own, never had to incorporate into my life. 

I also know fear, real, palpable fear, the kind of fear that takes over life and makes every second a study in emotional torture: Fear of the unknown and the known, fear of the uncontrollable, fear of that which is in our control, fear of time passing too quickly, and fear of not having enough time. It is the kind of fear that you can know intimately but be unable to articulate, and it certainly cannot be described adequately to inform someone who is in the midst of it. 

“There are places in the heart that do not yet exist; suffering has to enter in for them to come to be.” ~ Léon Bloy

Antique Grandfather's Clock in Antique Store

So many decisions still need to be made, decisions about who will care for Reilly permanently should Jennifer not recover. I remember being Jennifer’s age, remember my own fallibilities at that time, and cannot imagine having to make these decisions with my younger sense of self. 

This is part of the unfairness of fate: only having the knowledge to face the worst when the need for that knowledge no longer exists. I do not believe in that saying that a person is never given more to bear than he or she can handle. These onerous loads are almost always placed upon the people who are most unprepared. That is because most people live life forwards, hoping for the best and guarding against the worst. 

Only people who have touched the face of relentless pain and despair realize that the future is dependent upon the past, that normalcy is a myth. When the impossible becomes reality, it is almost always more than any individual is prepared or able to bear.  Survivors, those left behind, almost always wish not to be. Those who survive are forever changed and not necessarily for the better. Survivors muddle along after the life-cleaving event, never again complacent, some small part always thinking about the worst that can happen. 

The truth is that two kinds of people exist in this world: the whole and the broken. And the whole become broken after sharing intimacy with tragedy. 

“Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.” ~ Pearl S. Buck

Late 19th Century Pocket Watch (Swiss)

As sentient beings we make thousands of choices during our lifetimes. Sometimes the choices are easy, requiring little thought or reflection. Other times, the choices that we make ultimately change the courses of our lives. 

I have made too many choices that I regret, choices about Caitlin, choices about my father, but the decision that I made 12 years ago is the one haunting me today. When I found out that Alan had cancer, I called his sister and asked if I could visit him. I set a date, but on that day, I stayed at school late; I don’t remember why. By the time I was supposed to drive to Alan’s house, I was exhausted. I did not go. 

Alan died before I saw him. At his funeral, his sister told me that he had gotten dressed and had come downstairs on the day that I was supposed to visit. He waited for me. It was one of his lucid days. I know that she did not tell me this to shame me; she was trying to let me know how much Alan still cared about our friendship. 

My reasons for not going that day are worthless. Some of you may wonder why I still think about something I did not do 12 years ago. I can only tell you that I am haunted by my bad decisions, particularly those that directly affected someone else important to me. 

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Old Watches

I’m really not certain as to why this post took this turn. I can only say that after talking with Alexis last night, I was overcome with feelings of regret—the insufferable what-if of life. 

And then last night I did sleep, but it was fitful and filled with disturbing dreams: I had a baby, a girl, and I was amazed that she was talking so soon. Then the girl child turned into a boy child. I was sitting in a waiting room while Corey was in a class. Someone said, “Does anyone know whose baby this is?” 

I said that he belonged to me, but he was supposed to be with his father. The boy came running to me, and I swooped him into my arms. Throughout the dream, my ex kept appearing, and I thought it odd that he would want to spend time with me now that he is living with his girlfriend. Corey was not happy to see him. 

Brett, Alexis and Eamonn were helping their father to drag bags of empty cans into a place for recycling. My ex asked if we would help. The baby disappeared. Corey and I turned away and began walking down a sidewalk. 

I woke up with another headache. 

“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real.” ~ Libba Bray

Time with Shadows and Light

Chiaroscuro ((k-är-skr): The practice of using the contrast of light and dark pictorially; also called clair-obscur. What a great word and also the perfect description of my life. 

Sometimes I think of life in photographic terms: light and dark, what is seen versus what is shadowed. The images that are crystal clear from a distance can become unfathomable when looked at too closely. And some images that are easily interpreted upon first glance later morph into something that cannot be comprehended when revisited. 

Perhaps this accounts for my preoccupation with the sky: my love for blue skies is matched only by my love for night skies. I am a study in contradictions:  I am comforted by the mountains as well as the sea. What wounds me also nourishes me.

Would that I could be the kind of person who accepts things at face value, who moves through life unfettered by the need to question, to analyze, to disseminate, to cull. Would that allow me to move past the past, to bury all of the speculation and regret? Or perhaps it is just as Oscar Wilde once said: “One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.” 

More later. Peace. 

Music by One Eskimo, “Kandi” 

                                                                                                                                         

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint 

Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue-like eyes, or the accent
the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek at night. 

I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair. 

If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross, my dampened pain,
if I am a dog, and you alone my master, 

never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.

~ Federico Garcia Lorca