“No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” ~ Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper Rooms by the Sea 1951 oil on canvas

“Rooms by the Sea” (1951, oil on canvas)
by Edward Hopper

                   

Feels like a Hopper day.

Whenever I see an image by artist Edward Hopper, I am reminded of two things: Mari and the museum, which had one of my favorite Hopper paintings on display (“New York Pavements”). The people in Hopper’s paintings always seem to be alone, even when with someone else, which appeals to my love of solitude.

For more information about the artist, click here. Wikipaintings has a nice collection of work by Hopper.

Here are some of my favorites:

My Edward Hopper Eye, My Claude Monet

I walk the streets at night
shutting first one eye, then the other.

The left eye is Hopper, its lens
too clear for comfort, the hard lines
of a town you’re stuck in, always
August, noon or midnight.

The right eye haloes each street lamp.
Threads of light dissolve each tree into
the next in Paris, spring,
dusk.

In Monet’s garden of well-tended horizons
I sleep three nights, then someone delivers
a newspaper. In the damp green air
events rub off on my hands.

In every storm
one eye watches bare light
shock the land, split a tree;
the other sees each gutter
alive with wings and the rain rinsing.

And so the eyes argue:
one strips, one clothes. One cauterizes,
one salves. And I
walk on.

~ Veronica Patterson

                   

Music by Helios, “Halving the Compass”

 

“I have a sense of melancholy isolation, life rapidly vanishing, all the usual things. It’s very strange how often strong feelings don’t seem to carry any message of action.” ~ Philip Larkin

Arrowtown Mist
by Veronica McLaughlin (Titirangi Storyteller)

                   

“How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?” ~ Albert Garcia, from “August Morning

Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and cool, no humidity, 71°.

I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to say. I just don’t know. Part of me wants to write nonsense, cover subjects that require little thought, and truthfully, little active participation on the part of my little grey cells. But another part of me is quite introspective today, but I’m not entirely sure that I can go there.

Blackbird’s Nest in the Folded Hands of a Graveyard Statue
Berlin, Germany (National Archives, 1932)

Two choices. Two paths. The one less traveled by, and all of that, but I don’t know if I want to go down either. I feel a bit like Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which path to take. He doesn’t really answer her, just tells her that she’ll arrive somewhere.

Today when I was outside with Tillie I found a fallen bird’s nest, and it made me inexplicably sad. I mean, I looked it over, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. I had to hope that the nestlings were already long gone, that the feral cats that live in the bushes in the park next door didn’t find the nest and its inhabitants.  Yes, it’s in a cat’s true nature to hunt, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

Each year a bird builds a nest in our mailbox. The mail carrier and I have a tacit agreement: I don’t remove the nest, and he puts the mail off to the side away from the nest. But one year we had a substitute carrier, and when I went out to get the mail, I found the nest removed from the mailbox.

“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

My love of songbirds comes from Mari, from whom I learned which birds like which seeds. In the house that she used to share with her ex-husband there was a picture of Mari standing in a rubber rain coat and galoshes in a downpour. She was filling her bird feeders. Nothing deterred her from this daily routine.

Bird Feeder by Trebz (FCC)

Because her house was situated a bit off the beaten path and near water, she had phenomenal luck with hummingbirds. I put up hummingbird feeders but was only successful in creating a habitat for fire ants. I’ve never been able to attract any hummers to my yard; although now that I have so much more shade, perhaps I’d have better luck in growing hardy fuchsia plants, which are like beacons for hummingbirds. They don’t like really hot, humid weather, and every year I would hang several baskets only to have them wilt and die by mid summer.

I used to do so much more in the yard when Mari was around. Her love of gardening and birding was infectious, and we would spend hours roaming around garden centers buying pants and feeders.  Even though I had planned to fill my planters this year with colorful annuals, I never got around to doing so.

My relationship with Mari enriched my life in countless ways. I miss that kind of friendship.

“Today in my heart
a vague trembling of stars
and all roses are
as white as my pain.” ~ Federico García Lorca

You know what else I miss terribly? Teaching literature. It’s been so very long since I stood in front of a class filled with people who were eager to discuss a new poem, a new short story. I feel as if my mind is atrophying from a lack of outside stimulation. The creative mind is emboldened, nurtured by like minds. I remember one student in a section of American literature who began the class very quietly. Within a few weeks, he was volunteering to read poems aloud, and I could always count on him to add something meaningful to the discussion. In my mind, I can still see his face over a decade later.

Conductor Frrederik Magle by magle.dk (FCC)

Should I go back to school? I know. You’re wondering where that came from? To be honest, it has never left. It is always there, right next to the haunting knowledge that I will never have another child. The two things have carved out niches of emptiness in my soul that will never be filled. I can subsume them, and very often I can make it through a few days without thinking of one or the other or both, but never for very long.

It’s my ongoing inability to separate, to forsake that which is no longer a part of my life. I do not carry my heart on my sleeve—I carry my entire soul there, the esse that is me, omnipresent, looming just within reach, a tether that will never be long enough for complete separation.

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I warned you from the outset that this post could go either way, and now it’s obvious as to which path I chose.

In a symphony, the whole truly is the sum of its parts. A viola chord slightly off, or a cymbal a millisecond to soon—this things bear weight. Nothing is innocuous. Consider Mozart or Beethoven, who heard the sounds of these individual instruments within their minds, who heard the collective and the individual, who translated these imaginings into sounds of such pure beauty.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Sheet Music
(source: wikiversity.org)

Now, consider Clarence Clemons and his impeccable saxophone solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” The sound is raw and deep and it cuts straight to the soul.

The sounds are antithetical, yet not. Clemons’s rendering when he played was filled with the same kind of passion that is often associated with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. So, too, the individual. We are capable of such beauty, and we are capable of such destruction. We can be rough and raw in our dealings with others, and completely tender in our interactions with a small child. Both the darkness and the light exist, and both carry weight.

“When I think I see clearly and, therefore, think about thinking about,
let me be in the dark, measure and strain . . .
And when I think it’s okay to sleep
or that memory’s a comfort less malicious than
happiness, give me the courage
to deal these cards to the wind
and keep walking.” ~ Ralph Angel, from “At the Seams”

Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and still fewer dwell at either extreme, but some of us move back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter.

I can only tell you this: If I do not speak about these things, I will break. No, I am not a prodigy like Mozart who heard fully realized pieces of such immense splendor that they needed little rearrangement. But I do bear within myself a constant stream of thoughts and words, and sometimes the weight of these things threatens to drown me.

Tree Still Life in Black & White by dok1 (FCC)

It’s as if somewhere an instrument is slightly out of tune, and I can sense this discord, and when this happens, the melody is simply impossible to realize, but time and life are fickle, always conspiring to steal bits and pieces from our lives unless we grasp what matters most firmly and refuse to relent.

As I sit here with the waning rays of the late afternoon sun bathing my face, I will leave you with this final metaphor, as this post has been rife with bad ones, so why not one more? Wood, specifically a newly felled tree. At first glance something of such mass would appear to bear so much weight that sinking beneath the water seems the only possible action. But when these logs are pushed into the water, they float. They are filled with air pockets. Borne by the current, they travel to their destination. Water, wood, and air come together in a perfect symbiosis.

Yes? See? Well, of course that’s ignoring that the log used to be a tree hanging out with a bunch of other trees before someone with a chainsaw decided its fate. And that bird’s nest used to sit in a tree before a predator knocked it to the ground.

More later. Peace.

Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Amelia,” just beautiful


                   

I Like the Wind

We are at or near that approximate line
where a stiff breeze becomes
or lapses from a considerable wind,
and I like it here, the chimney smokes
right-angled from west to east but still
for brief intact stretches
the plush animal tails of their fires.
I like how the stiffness rouses the birds
right up until what’s considerable sends them
to shelter. I like how the morning’s rain,
having wakened the soil’s raw materials, sends
a root smell into the air around us,
which the pine trees sway stately within.
I like how the sun strains not
to go down, how the horizon tugs gently at it,
and how the distant grain elevator’s shadow
ripples over the stubble of the field.
I like the bird feeder’s slant
and the dribble of its seeds. I like the cat’s
sleepiness as the breeze then the wind
then the breeze keeps combing her fur.
I like the body of the mouse at her feet.
I like the way the apple core I tossed away
has browned so quickly. It is much to be admired,
as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck
in its direction, and the workings of her
black nostrils, too.
I like the sound of the southbound truck
blowing by headed east. I like the fact
that the dog is not barking. I like the ark
of the house afloat on the sea of March,
and the swells of the crop hills bedizened
with cedillas of old snow. I like old snow.
I like my lungs and their conversions
to the gospel of spring. I like the wing
of the magpie outheld as he probes beneath it
for fleas or lice. That’s especially nice,
the last sun pinkening his underfeathers
as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes,
which I like to do, in the face of it,
this stiff breeze that was,
when I closed them, a considerable wind.

~ Robert Wrigley

“We are little flames poorly sheltered by frail walls against the storm of dissolution and madness, in which we flicker and sometimes almost go out.” ~ Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Morning in the Forest by Paulo FLOP (35photo.ru)

                   

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday evening. Gradually clearing, low 70’s.

Beginning by bachkatov (35photo.ru)

A slow day. I stayed up quite late and got up quite late, so I’m feeling more than a bit discombobulated, that, and the omnipresent headache that is thrumming in my temples.

I should mention off the bat that this post’s images all come from 35photo.ru, a site that I found through tumblr. I apologize if I have inadvertently infringed on someone’s copyright, but I looked carefully at the images that I downloaded and did not see a copyright, part of the problem of using a foreign site.

Last night (early this morning?) Corey and I had a heart-to-heart talk about what we are facing. He has very mixed feelings about the job with the sheriff’s office, which has caught him off-guard, and he is considering trying to pick up a hitch with the shipping company that approached him right after he had enrolled in school. If he does a few hitches with them next year, he can make as much money as he would make in a year with the other job, and he can still go to school.

I really don’t want him to have to postpone school for two years because he has already waited so long on this particular dream—a dream deferred, if you will—and, truth be told, I am not to keen on the idea of him having to work in the city jail, just too many possible bad scenarios there. But ultimately, I will leave it up to him.

The downside of going back to sea is that we have to come up with the money to renew his licenses, and he would probably not be able to go out until the beginning of 2012, so a few more months of this.

“You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.” ~ Philip Levine, “Our Valley”

Into the Mist by kicik (35photo.ru)

He also admitted that he does not think the idea of me giving up my disability coverage is the best idea. When he asked if I wanted to go back to work because of the money or because I wanted to go back to work, I immediately said that it was the money, and that’s the truth.

I have agreed to postpone submitting my application package a few days (as the deadline is not for another five days) until I can give the issue some more thought. Of course, having said that, I must admit that today I feel worse than I’ve felt in weeks, what with my back and my head, and I realize that the stress is probably a factor in that. So the question is, how would I do with the stress of a full-time job?

I have no idea.

Any type of job that I would take would be a high stress situation as that is the nature of marketing and publishing—constant deadlines and budgetary factors. Client whims and needs. All of that. I must approach this with my mind fully aware of all of the mitigating factors, not the least of which is the disputation of my graduate school loans. If I stay on disability, my loans are phased out. If I go back to work, they are reinstated, as they should be, but that’s a big chunk of change. Getting a graduate degree from a private university, even one for which you work, is not inexpensive.

More to consider.

“This body, which has become a sarcophagus with stone handles, lies perfectly motionless; the dreamer rises out of it, like a vapor, to circumnavigate the world . . . he tries on one body after another, but they are all misfits. Finally he is obliged to return to his own body, to reassume the leaden mold, to become a prisoner of the flesh, to carry on in torpor, pain and ennui.” ~ Henry Miller in Sexus

Untitled by Philip Peynerdjiev (35photo.ru)

I want to pause to acknowledge that some beautiful verse has been showing up on my tumblr dash lately. As I’ve mentioned before, I garner most of my quotes and poems from my tumblr, which I find to be an inspiring resource. I had never heard of Matthew Harvey or Lucian Blaga, both of which I have included in this post.

Corey had a chat with Eamonn today in which he reminded eldest son that missing classes is unacceptable as we footed the bill for his last ditch effort to do something with his college career. The proposition was that he would work his hardest and make A’s, B’s at the very least, so that he can bring up his GPA and possibly be accepted into the radiation technology program.

In the last week, Eamonn missed one session of each class, and he is carrying a low B in his biology class. He admitted to me that he did not study for his recent test.

Why doesn’t he get it? Why doesn’t he understand that we invested this money in him (money that we could ill afford) because we want him to succeed, because we want him to have a career and not to have to work in some low-paying job for the rest of his life?

Corey told him that he (Eamonn) is acting like this is still high school, which is exactly what the problem is. I could go on ad nauseum about how this isn’t how he was brought up, how my family has a strong work ethic and a deep belief in higher education, but the truth is that Eamonn is spoiled, and that fact lands squarely back in my lap.

It’s hard to be a single parent. The desire to give your children everything, to be everything, to make things seem as normal as possible—these things can cause a sense of unbelievable guilt, and Eamonn is good for piling on the guilt, telling me more than once that he blames me for the divorce. It’s an argument that I cannot win and have long since abandoned trying to gain any ground with, so admittedly, I spoiled my children as much as I could.

Still, this sense of entitlement makes me want to scream.

Same old song and dance, I suppose . . .

“If there is no fog on the day you come home I will build a bonfire
So the smoke will make the cedars look the way you like them” ~ Matthea Harvey, from “In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden

Foggy Night 3 by dimitri bogachuk (35photo.ru)

In other news . . . Brett is still sick today, so he’s been quiet and resting. Em went shopping with her aunt, which is always a good distraction for her. She has developed a nice relationship with both her aunt and uncle in the past few months, and I know that fact means a lot to her.

Alexis has spent the fast week or so in Maryland with Mike, who is due to finish his hitch there soon. He makes good money while he’s there, and I think that the time that she spends up there with him is good for their relationship. Plus it means that she’s not just staying in her apartment alone sleeping. I know that she’s been incredibly depressed since losing her grandmother.

Yesterday was Ann’s birthday. I called and texted but never got to speak to her, so I left a voice mail in which I sang “Happy Birthday Mr. President” á la Marilyn Monroe. I’m hoping that she wasn’t too depressed. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries after losing a parent are so hard. It still bothers me to be on the card aisle before Father’s Day. I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas without my m-in-law, which is probably why I dreamed that she was decorating for Christmas. It will be so strange for her not to be here.

I’ve been borrowing my m-in-law’s car to drive back and forth to ODU when Corey is working. We’re hoping that our neighbor who is supposed to be working on Corey’s truck will finish the job soon. He’s been paid in full, and we have the parts. We’re just waiting on the labor now. I still need to make arrangements to have my uncle’s Explorer shipped from Florida. And Brett still needs to get off his butt and take his DMV test to get his learner’s permit, which he has to keep for 30 days before getting his license now that he’s over 19.

Always something.

“Such a deep silence surrounds me, that I think I hear
moonbeams striking on the windows.

In my chest,
a strange voice awakens
and a song plays inside me
a longing that is not mine.” ~ Lucian Blaga, from “Silence” (trans. by MariGoes)

Cape Fiolet by Dimitry Tokar (35photo.ru)

Yesterday, while I was on my way to ODU to pick up Brett and Em, I had the local classical station on, and some symphony was playing. Forgive me, but I did not get the name. It was not one with which I was already familiar. But I turned up the tinny car radio, and listened to the beautiful music, which ended perfectly just as I pulled up.

I remember when I was teaching at ODU, fall would always be the time that I would switch my car stereo to classical, and one day Mari walked in and said, “Geez, how many times are they going to play “The Emperor’s Concerto” (Beethoven’s fifth concerto)? I had to laugh because I had just been thinking the same thing as I walked into the office.

It’s funny how Mari and I were so synchronized in our likes and dislikes, how we changed with the seasons, how our moods were affected by the weather and by what we wore. I remember one day when we were out, and I made her go to what was then Hecht’s department store so that I could buy a blouse to change into because what I was wearing made me feel so ugly. She completely understood.

God I miss having that in a female friend. But mostly, I still miss Mari. When I was going through my files before updating my resume, I came across a resume that I had put together for Mari back in 2005 when she was trying to get a job down here. I hadn’t realized that it had been that long. We were both working so hard to get her down here, but it never happened. That’s over six years ago.

It seems like last year. Does time pass faster the older that you are? Or does it just seem to fly away on the wind when you are running so fast to catch up?

More later. Peace.

Music by Jeff Beal, “Waltz for Mary,” perfect day for some keyboard

                   

Fall

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

~ Edward Hirsch