Two for Tuesday: Kate Daniels

Old Abandoned House by sallads on deviantART cc

Old Abandoned House
by sallads (deviantART cc)

                   

“I am
a witness of living storm—
someone who sees shadows” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, from “On a Red Horse”

Abandoned House Daniel STL FCC

Abandoned House
by danielSTL (FCC)

Crowns

for Philip Levine

Around the time I first read the poetry of Philip Levine,
my teeth were fixed. Two or three hundred bucks
(I’ve forgotten now) purchased a brand new me,
two porcelain crowns. In the dentist’s chair, my midget
canines were filed down to sharp, bright points
hardly larger than the bronzed end of a Bic
pen, then crammed in the black-backed caps
of two hardened, china fakes. No more
covering my mouth to obscure the evidence
of faulty genes. No more tears at images
embezzled from graduation picnics
when Darrell Dodson picked me up and slung me
in the pool, and someone took a picture
of my lips slacking back to reveal my gums
in what appeared to be a scream. No more breezes
winding through the gappy pickets of my ill-grown
teeth and down my throat. No more worrying
some boy would snag his tongue in the zigzagged bulkhead
of my upper row, and bring us both to blood.

I’ll love Levine forever for confessing his own struggles
with orthodontia, his rot-plagued “Depression mouth,”
a dentist called it, his cavities and root canals, his occipital pain,
for his photograph in Antaeus, the summer of ’78,
the stained and crooked slabs parked compellingly
behind his grin. Our teeth connected us before the poetry,
he, from the immigrant onion-eaters and temperate tipplers
of Manischiewtz. I, from a long line of tannin-stained
Irish Catholics who smoked themselves to fragile
states of calcium depletion, and a recent run of Carolina
gritballs, too poor to brush, too ignorant to care their teeth
retired in early middle age. I can see them now, perplexed
before an apple’s crispy rind, frustrated by a succulent, stringy rack
of pork ribs barbequed in the side lot of Earlene Worsham’s
gas station south of town. Levine would have understood my uncles,
enthroned on plastic-covered kitchen chairs patched with tape,
their work boots kicking up mucky clouds of chiggery dirt,
their pick ups parked nearby, shotguns in the rack,
sucking on cheap beers and harsh cigarettes,
their nails starved by nicotine to yellow curls, the car grease
embedded permanently in the creases of their hands.

When I met him, he was such a mensch, massive
in my mind, but in the flesh, something touching
about his shoulders in the worn tweed jacket, something
vulnerable in his feet in an ordinary pair of soiled, white sneakers.
He opened his mouth to laugh, one side rising up
like it does, in that derisive gesture that seems, at first, a sneer,
and I remembered my mother flexing back her lips to remove
delicately, with two stained fingers, just so, a fleck of tobacco
lodged between her teeth, and saw again my father flossing at the table
with the torn off cover of a paper book of matches,
then stubbing out his butt in the yellowed, oily pod of broken yolk
that was hemorrhaging across his breakfast plate.

I can face those images now without the shame
I carried in the days before the poetry of Phil Levine
liberated me. I can look at anything now, because I keep
his picture in my mind and his poems in my pocket.
I can stand my life because I wear the crown he constructed
for people like me — grocery checkers, lube jobbers, truck drivers,
waitresses — all of us crowned with the junkyard diadems
of shattered windshields and rusty chains, old pots
with spit tobacco congealing inside, torn screen doors
and gravestones in the front yard, just five short steps from life to death…

So there is my family with their broken beer bottles
and patched shoes, their mutts chained in a back yard
carved from a stingy pine woods, on cheap land
out near the county dump where the air swells with the perfume
of trash, a circle of them playing poker in a trailer somewhere
in the woods, or razoring the state decal from the windowshield
of a ransacked wreck to transfer to my brother’s car.
Or cleaning fish on the back porch and throwing the guts
to the tick-clogged dogs, or frying venison in a cast-iron pan
and stinking up the house with that heavy smell, showing
the buck’s big balls in a plastic cannister that once held salt.
Or burning tires in a field some autumn, scumming
the sky with a smoky, cursive black they can’t even read
but inhale poisonously again and again.

And there I am, walking along tolerantly now, with Phil Levine,
his poems in my pocket, his good rage gathered in my heart
and I can love them again, the way I did in the years before
I saw what they were and how the world would use them
and accepted the fact they were incapable of change.
We’re in a field I used to love, a redbone coonhound running ahead
her ears dragging the edges of the goldenrod till they are tipped
in pollen, like twin paintbrushes dipped in gilt. And the world
is hunting dogs and country music and unschooled voices
bending vowels and modest kitchen gardens where late tomatoes
are tied up with brownish streamers of old nylon hose.
The vast way your chest expands when the sun gradually sets
in mid-fall in central Virginia. The tobacco barns glimmering
in last light, the chinks darkening now, the slats solidifying at the close of day
and your mind opening up like the pine forest swishing fragrantly overhead
way up in the dark that is coming, but remains, for the moment, beautifully at bay.

                   

Chemainus House by molajen FCC

Chemainus House
by molajen (FCC)

                   

Photo by William Christenberry

Akron, Alabama, circa 1960

This is what it was like to grow up
down there, then. A pretty place
but desolate. The signs that are supposed
to tell you what to do, or be, or buy
are faded to the point of inarticulation.
You surmise people used to talk
about everything you need to know
but have grown silent for some reason.
A black man sat down in a soda shop
to eat a bite, and terrified, it seemed, the patrons.
I was there in that tense silence,
licking my strawberry cone, and it was
just like this picture of kudzu in winter,
the prettiness all covered over
with something growing too fast,
enshrouding the landscape with a sinewy
fabric that lives off the lives of others.
Or this next one of the house and car
in Akron, Alabama. The house is beat-up
and rusty, but habitable. You could live there
fine until something happens – a cross
flaming on the uncut lawn, or your housegirl’s husband
with his foot shot off. That blue car’s
been in the yard forever just waiting
for you to need it, and now you do.
So you head out, past the washer on the porch
and down the walk. You get in and realize
you’re not going anywhere: it’s up on blocks,
overrun by families of mice and birds. Why
did you never notice that before? How stuck here
you are with the blank sky and the fallen fences, the awful
unexplained silences of the South.

                    

Music by The Heavy, “Long Way from Home”

“Most people are on the world, not in it—have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them—undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching, but separate.” ~ John Muir

Canyon of Sumidero, Chiapa de Corzo, by Sectur

“A kiss on the forehead—erases misery.
I kiss your forehead.” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, (trans. Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine)

Sunday early evening. Mild, 60°.

So it’s been two days since Corey boarded the plane that took him to Dulles, and then on to Copenhagen, then to Lithuania. Apparently he was late arriving in Lithuania because of fog. The plan made three attempts to land and then had to return to Copenhagen to refuel. Thankfully, he slept through most of it, and also thankfully, I did not know about it until it was over, and he was safe on the ground.

Kravice Waterfalls, Trebižat in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Wikimedia Commons)

Tomorrow I have to send him an express package with the things that he forgot, two of which are essential, and I don’t know how—between the two of us—we forgot to pack them: his merchant mariner document and his USB for his laptop.

We don’t know how long he will be in Lithuania yet, still waiting for a decision on where the rest of the repairs will be made. He said that there is a crew of about 16 on board for now.

The last two nights have been as restless as expected. Friday, Tillie was obviously upset and wouldn’t eat. I pulled a dirty t-shirt from the hamper and put it with her, and she settled a bit. Yesterday and today I’ve tried to play with her outside for a bit, and my plan it to begin walking with her tomorrow. I hope that between the physical activity and the extra attention, she won’t go into full grieving mode, leaving me with one less thing to contend with so that I can get about the business of being miserable.

“And this is one of the mysteries, that the mind can speak, and knows nothing;
and the heart knows everything, and cannot speak.” ~ Osho

The other two dogs are fine; the fat one never leaves my side long enough to pay attention to anyone else, and while Alfie knows that something is up, he seems fine as long as I let him nuzzle and sleep at my feet.

Irenggolo Waterfall, Indonesia (Wikimedia Commons)

It really hasn’t hit me yet. I mean, right now it’s just as if he’s away for a transport. We’ll revisit the issue in a week and see how I’m doing.

I took the time yesterday to catch up on my blog reading, something I have been remiss in doing. One of my blogger compatriots gave me a suggestion for a post that I think I’ll tackle soon: the virtual hoarding that I do on Tumblr. I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, but I realize that Tumblr lets me amass lots and lots of things, but in a good way: I don’t have to dust, and I don’t have to make room. Anyway, I’m pondering that for now . . .

Last night, this morning, really, the moon was still big and bright in the sky at 6 a.m. or so. This whole spring forward thing on the time always screws me up; although, I’m not really certain as to why since my nights are my days and vice versa. I mean, I don’t even know the date unless I look at my cell phone or one of the calendars hanging throughout the house.

“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” ~ George Eliot

Anyway, I’ve been trying to stay busy the past few days, catching up on reading blogs and Tumblr, and starting the Game of Thrones series of books. It’s hard reading, and I can’t do my usual speed reading as there are so many new names of places and characters, something inherent in fantasies. But I read until 4 this morning, and then made myself stop so that I could attempt to sleep.

Right. That really worked.

Triberg Waterfalls on Gutach River, Black Forest, Germany (Wikimedia Commons)

Before Corey left, the boys sat down with us, and we came up with a family game plan for chores and tasks. Not too many changes really, just reminders that I can do laundry, but I cannot lift the baskets. I can do the shopping, but I need someone to come with me to carry. Eamonn is taking on the yard mowing, which is good as I can’t do it, and Brett hates to do it.

But we have a plan, and my hope is that I don’t get too much grief when I do eventually ask for help and that I don’t have to be in constant mom-reminder-mode. Such a pain, especially with grown/almost grown offspring. But we’re hoping that the plan will help the three of us settle into a somewhat comfortable existence in Corey’s absence. We’re shooting for a new kind of normalcy.

I remember when Corey worked on tugs and was two weeks on/one week off—it was hard going in a lot of ways. I was still working full time, and the boys were in high school, and Eamonn was at the height of his difficult years and Brett was having so many problems. Some days, I just wanted to hide in my bedroom with the dogs. But there were dishes to do, and laundry, and all of the rest, not to mention I was going to school in DC two nights a week. I really don’t know how I survived that, but I did. I suppose we all do what we have to do when we have to do it.

It’s better if you don’t think too much about things, I suppose.

“The blue river is gray at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.” ~ Jack Gilbert, “Waking at Night”

In this most recent mode of no-sleep, I find myself attuned to every little noise. More birds are starting their morning song, so the middle of the night is actually not very quiet.

Kjerag Waterfalls, Rogaland County, Norway (Wikimedia Commons)

I remember that when I lived in the mountains the sounds of sirens were rarely heard in the middle of the night. When I lived in northern Virginia, it was the opposite, city sounds all night long. I don’t think that I really notice the sirens around here unless I’m trying to quiet my thoughts, but sometimes in the still of the night I can still hear the train whistle, and when there’s fog, I can hear the foghorns on the bay.

I know that I would be able to quiet my thoughts better if I had the sound of waves or rippling water within earshot. Perhaps, once I get my computer fixed and set up on my new desk, I’ll go back to my old habit of listening to my Sounds of Nature CD collection: thunderstorms, waves, whale songs, even rainforests. It’s a toss up between thunderstorms and waves, pretty much.

Last summer, we didn’t have much tree frog action, and I missed that. Just as I miss the pond outside the bedroom window with the frogs singing. Anyway, with water on the brain, you can see why I chose today’s images.

“That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

So that’s what life has been like in the past few days. I had toyed with writing an analysis of the Kony 2012 fray, even composed some of it in my brain, but then  I just didn’t have it in me to delve into such deep political waters. It would take maximal brain cells and concentration.

Waterfall, Location Unknown (?)

I suppose I’m keeping my brain on a short-leash at the moment. Subsuming the need to think too much or ponder too deeply. Introspection poses too many problems. It’s that nagging awareness that I’m holding things at bay, not allowing any tears in front of Corey before he left, for example. If I don’t allow myself to think past the surface, if I don’t move past the dust bunnies and the dirty clothes, if I don’t sit alone with my thoughts, then perhaps this ache that is creeping into my heart can be assuaged.

I’m okay, really. I mean, more okay than I expected to be, which is what worries me. I have this tendency to build walls inside without realizing it. I mean, I admit that I exist in a constant state of grief and loss. I would be lying if I claimed anything else. That loss exists in the background of my reality—a thin membrane that cloaks everything without suffocating it. If I allow it to come to the forefront, it can be all-consuming, which is why I usually just feel the subtle vibrations of its existence.

I have taught myself postpone my confrontations with that aspect of myself, to walk carefully on the surface. At least, that is what I tell myself, and sometimes saying things silently over and over does make it so. Sometimes.

More later. Peace.

Music by Shuyler Fisk, “Waking Life”

                   

You Reading This: Stop

Don’t just stay tangled up in your life.
Out there in some river or cave where you
could have been, some absolute, lonely
dawn may arrive and begin the story
that means what everything is about.

So don’t just look, either:
let your whole self drift like a breath and learn
its way down through the trees.  Let that fine
waterfall-smoke filter its gone, magnified presence
all through the forest.  Stand here till all that
you were can wander away and come back slowly,
carrying a strange new flavor into your life.
Feel it?  That’s what we mean.  So don’t just
read this—rub your thought over it.

Now you can go on.

~ William Stafford, from The Methow River Poems in Even in Quiet Places