“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.” ~ Anne Sexton, from a letter to unnamed Benedictine monk
Monday afternoon, partly cloudy, 59 degrees.
Corey is on his way home from Ohio after taking his mother back after her visit. I’m still having major problems in trying to write, technical issues coupled with brain focusing issues. Sorry . . .
Birthdays of Note . . .
With all of the computer problems and other stuff, I’ve fallen woefully behind in my authors’ birthday notices, so I thought that I’d post a few here for now:
November 6 (this was a bad day for me):
Michael Cunningham (1952), author of The Hours, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. Also, a great movie (2002) with Meryl Streep, Julianna More, and Nicole Kidman, who won a best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928-October 4, 1974), one of my favorite poets. More information here on The Poetry Foundation, and an interesting article entitled “The Poet and the Monk: An Anne Sexton Love Story,” found here on Lit Hub.
Nail Gaiman (1960), English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, audio theater, and films. He has a very cool website here.
Music by Mazzy Star, “Into Dust” (featured previously in a 2012 post)
The Ambition Bird
So it has come to this —
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine
like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.
The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
the warm brown mama.
I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.
It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.
The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.
He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.
He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.
He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.
He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.
He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.
He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.
He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.
He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough just to drink cocoa?
I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.
Caitlin died 31 years ago on Monday, November 7 at 2:42 pm. I still remember the exact time. I still remember how sound suddenly came back and assaulted my senses after not being able to hear anything except for my heart and the beep of monitor to which she was still connected. I still remember walking to the car and running into two of her doctors in the hallway, Petra and Jaime.
Weird the details that your mind stores away, only to bring to the forefront without warning.
I heard this song in an episode of Bosch, which I’ve been binging. Bittersweet serendipity.
…“My birthday began with the water- …..Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name ……..Above the farms and the white horses …………….And I rose ………….In rainy autumn ….And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from “Poem in October”
Sunday evening, cloudy, 66 degrees.
Today is the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953). The Poetry Foundation has a good biography and selection of his poems, or you can visit the official website, Discover Dylan Thomas, here.
I still remember the circumstances in which I read my first Thomas poem: I was an undergraduate, working in the newsroom, and one of the editors brought me a handwritten copy of his most famous poem (below) and asked me to type it as she wanted to give it to her father. I realize now what I was unable to fathom at that time, that her father must have been ill.
I remember being moved by the words as I typed them, so moved that in the ignorance of my youth I decided to write my own version. I know, right? Ah, the unfounded arrogance that only the young possess.
I showed that version to one of my writing professors, and she very kindly pointed out that perhaps there were some poems that should not be rewritten, or updated, or mangled by an overwrought young writer (she didn’t say the last part).
Yeh. It was that bad, but I digress . . .
Anyway, listening to Thomas’s deep, melodious voice read his own work enhances the impact of the words and phrasing of his poems. The wonder is that Thomas was able to retain his mellifluous speaking voice in spite of how much he drank and smoked, as opposed to, say, Charles Bukowski. whose voice was scratchy from booze and cigarettes.
More later. Peace.
Today is also the birthday of poet and writer Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963), who I have featured here several times before.
Dylan Thomas reading his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”
Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess
Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.
I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.
The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that workingfor implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:
Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.
. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.
“If ever I lose my memory of you, walk beside me like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences
Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.
These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.
When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.
“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”
Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.
We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.
That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad. Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.
“Stare at the monster: remark How difficult it is to define just what Amounts to monstrosity in that Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”
What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.
Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.
But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.
Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).
Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”
“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited
Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.
We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.
My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.
If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.
That’s just not how it works. Is it?
Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.
“It was compelling, it was impactful, it was powerful and I just feel grateful for the opportunity to have received that information.” ~ Democratic Rep. Denny Heck commenting after Marie Yovanovitch’s 9 Hours of Testimony to Congress
Saturday afternoon, overcast with drizzle, 54 degrees.
I decided that before I try to clean this house, I would share the entire opening statement that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch made to Congress. It’s an incredible, informative read, and I hope that eventually her entire testimony will be released. I am so impressed by this woman’s courage and fortitude. She is precisely the kind of person this country needs right now to help navigate these very troubled waters. Her statement is both restrained and powerful, a piece of discourse akin to The Federalist Papers, in particular, No. 51.
Opening Statement of Marie L. Yovanovitch to the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Committee on Oversight and Reform
October 11, 2019
Thank you for the opportunity to start with this statement today.
For the last 33 years, it has been my great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service Officer, over six Administrations—four Republican, and two Democratic. I have served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times—twice by a Republican President, and once by a Democrat. Throughout my career, I have stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service Officers take and observe every day: “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Like all foreign service officers with whom I have been privileged to serve, I have understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent President, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests.
I come by these beliefs honestly and through personal experience. My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, first hand, the war, poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. represents. And they raised me to cherish these values as well. Their sacrifices allowed me to attend Princeton University, where I focused my studies on the Soviet Union. Given my upbringing, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service Officer.
From August 2016 until May 2019, I served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Our policy, fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, with a market economy integrated into Europe.
Recent Ukrainian History Ukraine is a sovereign country, whose borders are inviolate and whose people have the right to determine their own destiny. These are the bedrock principles of our policy. Because of Ukraine’s geostrategic position bordering Russia on its east, the warm waters of the oil-rich Black Sea to its south, and four NATO allies to its west, it is critical to the security of the United States that Ukraine remain free and democratic and that it continue to resist Russian expansionism.
Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and its de facto control over the Sea of Azov, make clear Russia’s malign intentions towards Ukraine. If we allow Russia’s actions to stand, we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come.
Supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored US policy since the Ukrainian people protested on the Maidan in 2014 and demanded to be a part of Europe and live according to the rule of law. That was US policy when I was appointed Ambassador in August 2016, and it was reaffirmed as the policy of the current administration in early 2017.
“. . . it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check . . . a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law”
The Fight Against Corruption
The Revolution of Dignity, and the Ukrainian people’s demand to end corruption, forced the new Ukrainian government to take measures to fight the rampant corruption that long permeated that country’s political and economic systems. We have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that.
Why is this important? Put simply: anti-corruption efforts serve Ukraine’s interests. They serve ours as well. Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while an honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a U.S.-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to the U.S. A level playing field in this strategically located country—one with a European landmass exceeded only by Russia and with one of the largest populations in Europe—creates an environment in which U.S. business can more easily trade, invest and profit. Corruption is a security issue as well, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow. In short, it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check.
But change takes time, and the aspiration to instill rule-of-law values has still not been fulfilled. Since 2014, Ukraine has been at war, not just with Russia, but within itself, as political and economic forces compete to determine what kind of country Ukraine will become: the same old, oligarch-dominated Ukraine where corruption is not just prevalent, but is the system? Or the country that Ukrainians demanded in the Revolution of Dignity—a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law?
During the 2019 presidential elections, the Ukrainian people answered that question once again. Angered by insufficient progress in the fight against corruption, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly elected a man who said that ending corruption would be his number one priority. The transition, however, created fear among the political elite, setting the stage for some of the issues I expect we will be discussing today.
Understanding Ukraine’s recent history, including the significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways, is of critical importance to understanding the events you asked me here today to describe. Many of those events—and the false narratives that emerged from them—resulted from an unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it.
It seems obvious, but bears stating, that when dealing with officials from any country—or those claiming connections to officialdom—one must understand their background, their personal interests, and what they hope to get out of a particular interaction before deciding how to evaluate their description of events or acting on their information.
So I sat at this computer for hours yesterday and produced absolutely nothing, not a single word. It’s not that I have writer’s block as I can think of at least four different things that I want to write about; it’s more that I can’t get my mind to focus enough to get started. I decided today that I’d just start and let it takes me wherever it takes me.
On Wednesday I had an appointment with my pain management group to find out the results of Monday’s MRI. So it turns out that I have a couple of bulging discs at the top of my spine, and they’re bulging towards my spine. Now I get to see a neurosurgeon for follow up. I told the NP that I’m not going to have another back surgery, not ever again. At least it kind of explains how doing these least little physical activity causes me to hurt like crazy by nightfall.
Too bad, though, as I had to dismiss the entire house staff for failing to keep my shoes polished and buffed satisfactorily. No wait. Sorry. That’s my Downton Abbey life rearing its head again. Damn. I guess that means that the laundry and housecleaning situation isn’t going to miraculously resolve itself. Corey and I had hoped to work on the whole bedroom situation once the weather cools more.
Hmm . . . things that make you go hmm . . .
Have some leftovers. More later. Peace.
I miss having an intelligent, patriotic president who isn’t driven by pettiness and believes in the Constitution . . .
The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same . . .