“A nothingness that compounded nothing into being” ~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems

Rwanda Genocide Aftermath by Larry Towell (Magnum Photos)

Two for Tuesday: The Rwanda Genocide, Twenty Years Later

Tuesday morning, sunny, cooler, 64 degrees.

I had this post planned for last week, but then life intervened. I came upon a link on tumblr that led me to this incredible site, and I knew that I had to write a post about it.

100 Days by Wangechi Mutu

A little back story: In 1994, a world away, I found myself horrified by ongoing reporting of the Rwanda genocide because no one anywhere in the world truly intervened in the madness. The images that I saw made me seriously contemplate what genocide means and how some genocides seem to matter more than others based on exactly where in the world they occurred and what peoples were involved, and I have just never understood that.

Over 800,000 people were slaughtered during the 100 days of this ethnic cleansing. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Rwanda genocide, this article provides a good explanation of what happened and how the rest of the world reacted. When it was all over, we heard that pat phrase “never again” once again. Never. Again. Empty words. Small comfort, hollow placation. We even have a month for it:

You hear this solemn pledge a lot every April, since the month commemorates not only Holocaust Remembrance Day but the official anniversaries of both the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Leaders at every level seem to love hearing themselves declare “Never Again.” But those who mean it have no power and those with power never mean it. The record speaks for itself.

I won’t apologize for the politics of this post. I’m tired. I’m tired physically and emotionally. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of things, and I’m so tired of the state of this country and of the world at large and all of hollow promises and untruths that continue to fall from the lips of politicians and world leaders.

As to the following poems I chose for this post, I think that the best way to describe the 100 days project is to use Juliane Okot Bitek’s words

On April 6th, 2014, Wangechi Mutu posted a picture on social media via Facebook and Instagram. It was the photograph of a woman whose somber pose was that of an exhausted spirit. She titled the picture #100Days #Kwibuka20 – and immediately, I knew what I had to do. The photograph provided me an “in” to the conversation that I’ve wanted to be a part of for more than twenty years. I wanted to think about what it means to be a witness, however obliquely, and how to create solidarity with people who have some idea about the experiences of people I know and love. I decided to write and post “100 Days,” a poem for every day from April 6th forward, inspired by Wangechi Mutu’s work . . .

I wrote to Wangechi and suggested that I compose a poetic response to her photos, and she agreed. I have been posting a poem a day, thinking about what it means to engage with such knowledge today, twenty years after. What do commemorations and declarations do for people who are still deeply haunted and scarred by those events that we think of as History? What is it to be in a world that witnessed yet did nothing about your suffering? How do we hold just enough bitterness to keep us focused on what needs our attention? Above all, what does it mean for us to witness the suffering of others? It is so easy to stay hypnotized by the swirl of information that comes at us from the internet, in print and, of course, on television. How much out there does not reflect the reality of our day to day hauntedness?

It was hard to choose just two images and two poems, and if you are at all interested, I suggest you follow the links.

There will be more later. Peace. Please.


Day 78 by Wangechi Mutu

Day 92

We wish for absolution, for a clearing,
for a forgetting, a filling of the heart
& a joyousness once more

We wish for children of innocence
we wish for an instantiation of things
a rationality that resonates with our emotions

We wish for the silence of the moon
the quieting of ghosts
& a peace to rest in

Day 96

What is the essence of beauty?
Why do mists swirl and rise but never completely disappear?
Why should iron gleam through soil?
Why should our dances be graceful, our cloths bright
Our memories long, our language rich and layered?
Why should beauty render us speechless?
What is it to come from a land that swallows its own people?”

~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from “The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems”


Music by Svrcina, “Who are you?”

 

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“But we live on a broken mirror, and fresh cracks appear in its surface every day.” ~ Salman Rushdie, from The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Abandoned Barn in Upstate New York by Lisa (FCC_

“Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell.” ~ Hermann Hesse, from Narcissus and Goldmund

Sunday afternoon, sunny, warm, 78 degrees.

Another mass shooting, this one so close to my old home, so close to my children. The world is so full of madness, and nowhere as much as in this country at this time. I won’t go on about the need for better gun laws. That is only a part of the problem. The bigger part, perhaps, is that people are essentially cruel and entitled: My life isn’t going as I want, so I will punish those I blame. I will pick up a weapon, and I will show them. I will show them how much stronger and better I am than they believe.

Abandoned Barn in DeKalb, Illinois by Earl Shumaker (FCC)

Strength from a gun . . . Right.

In a society so full of misplaced entitlement, one in which people buy their entrance into things—jobs, colleges, elections–it is no small wonder that violence is the method by which we conduct our lives. Violence in word. Violence in deed. The violence we bear in our hearts towards anyone deemed not as good as ourselves.

I am so sick of turning on the television to see more breaking news screaming in red letters at the bottom of the screen. I am so sick of everything. I am tired of wondering if a name that I recognize from my past will be among the list of the slaughtered. I am weary of wondering if those I love are safe. I am long past rending my heart because I can no longer protect my children through word or deed.

It’s all too much.

“Girl, all of sorrow
is this single drop
Of your blood.” ~ Juan Ramón Jiménez, from “Song” (Trans. H. R. Hays)

Truthfully, I don’t know if I have what it takes to make it here. I don’t know if I have the constitution to live on a farm, to see death up close. I just don’t know how to do it.

Yesterday I was unable to save Max from my own dogs, whose nips turned into bites. I walked outside to look for the dogs, only to see them circling Max at the bottom of the pasture. I was alone, of course, and thoughts raced through my head on how best to stop them. You see, the dogs, the pups mostly, have made a game of chasing the goats, but Ruby turns and butts them when she is tired. Max, unfortunately, does not do this. We have always thought that Max a little slow, slow but very sweet.

Abandoned Barn by Isha Mehling (FCC)

Normally, it’s Ruby who is chased, but a few times I have caught the pups chasing Max. Yesterday was different, though. They weren’t dogs playing a game. They were predators with prey, and my heart sank at the very idea. When they didn’t stop when I yelled at them, I thought that I could fire a gun at a tree, and the noise would startle them into inaction. But I couldn’t get the damned gun to fire. Then I got in my car and drove to the bottom of the pasture.

I found Max at the edge of the water, blood coming from his throat, and my heart sank even as I sank into the mud at the edge of the water. I still don’t know how I lifted him and climbed back up the incline, but somehow I got him to the car and put him in the back seat; he was still alive, but barely. I made the instant decision to drive to Dallas’s house to see if I could get help for Max, even though my head knew that it was a futile move. I tried to call Dallas because I knew that Corey was with him, but of course there was no answer, nor was there gas in the car.

I drove anyway, and Corey called as I made my way around what seemed like thousands of curves in the long road. By the time I made it to Dallas’s driveway and stopped the car, Max was dead. I turned around and drove home.

“We are not made whole by pain, no matter what they say. We are broken by it, taught to peel back cushion between us and the world because we have no choice but to rebuild it, again, and, again: ~ Jesse Rice-Evans, from “Argonaut”

Corey arrived home just a few minutes after I did, and between sobs, I explained what had happened. The pajamas that I was still wearing were covered in blood and goat hair, and the situation had caused my body to go into a full-blown asthma attack, none of which I had noticed until I stopped the car and finally made my way inside.

As Corey buried Max where the dogs couldn’t find him, I stood in the shower and sobbed some more, trying to wrap my head around the fact that my dogs had acted ferally, that they now had a taste for blood.

Abandoned in Columbia County, NY by Paul Comstock (FCC)

In trying to reconstruct everything in my mind, I couldn’t quite remember who did what, except that I had a very clear memory of Bailey still trying to attack Max even as I struggled to lift his body from the water. I remember hitting her forcefully to make her stop. The other dogs had already backed off as I am certain that they could feel the fury emanating from my body in forceful waves. But not Bailey. Not my dog, the one I found at the shelter and cradled in my lap as a pup.

Look. I know that dogs come from wolves. I know that certain breeds of dogs have more violence bred into their bloodlines, but I have always believed that it is the owners who determine just how vicious their dogs behave through how much or how little love and attention and training they bestow upon their animals. Am I completely wrong in this belief?

“this is the map of my heart, the landscape
after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is
a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it’s getting cold.
We have not touched the stars,

nor are we forgiven” ~ Richard Siken, from “Snow and Dirty Rain”

And now things are fraught. Corey would very much like to give Maddy back to Dallas, take Tink to a shelter, and put down Bailey as he fears there will be a repeat with the other goats, especially the kids to come.

Abandoned Barn in Virginia by Forsaken Fotos (FCC)

I cannot fathom such a thing, and that he has seriously contemplated this breaks my heart all over again. I must now deal with reconciling myself that I could not save Max, and now my spouse no longer wants some of the dogs. I contend that the dogs can be broken of this habit of chasing, but he is so full of rage over what happened that he will not hear it.

I know that he will do nothing to do the dogs if don’t agree, and I don’t, but the very idea that he harbors such feelings is tearing at my soul. Bailey is 7; she has only known us. Tink is very much my dog. To give Maddy back to Dallas would ensure that she would not be fed or cared for properly.

Can I retrain them? Can Corey forgive them? Can I forgive myself? The dogs are all cowed at the moment as they sense a change. Of course they do; how could they not?

“I want the truth of things. But there’s nowhere to find it.” ~ William Golding, from The Pyramid  

I have no answers, none at all. Friday night left me reeling after the news about the shooting, and then yesterday afternoon broke me. This morning, my breathing is still hard and phlegmy, and my soul is fractured. So I am back at my original question to myself: Do I have the constitution to live this kind of life?

In your mind’s eye, achieving your dream seems so filled with possibilities. That I’ve always wanted to own land in the mountains, and then to get that land—it has been as if the fates finally aligned after so many years of hardship and loss. But the reality is that there are things you never consider, things that you will encounter that never neared the idyll that filled your dreams.

Abandoned Barn in Rib Mountain, Vermont by William Garrett (FCC)

I had wanted a few goats for milk, and then Corey decided that he wanted to raise goats for an income. It seemed like a fairly straightforward move. It never occurred to me that there would be an issue with the dogs; after all, all of the dogs had been around cats and horses, and there had never been any problems. How could I foresee what would happen? Why did I not?

And now the atmosphere is filled with anger and regret and loss and pain, and I question how Corey could even contemplate such actions. It is not within me to be cruel to any creature, even when angry, and my dogs have always been part of my family. I am hoping against hope that his is just a reaction to what happened, even though he claims that it is not, that what he says is said from anger and grief and not what he truly feels.

Everything has changed, and I am wholly uncertain as to if it can be changed back.


Music by Gregory Alan Isakov, “If I Go, I’m Going”


Which One

I eye the driver of the Chevrolet
pulsing beside me at a traffic light

the chrome-haired woman in the checkout line
chatting up the acned clerk

the clot of kids smoking on the sly
in the Mile-Hi Pizza parking lot

the meter reader, the roofer at work
next door, a senior citizen

stabbing the sidewalk with his three-pronged cane:
which one of you discarded in a bag

—sealed with duct tape—in the middle of the road
three puppies four or five weeks old,

who flung two kittens from a moving car
at midnight into a snowbank where

the person trailing you observed the leg
& tail of the calico one that lived,

and if not you, someone flossing her teeth
or watering his lawn across the street.

I look for you wherever I go.

~ Maxine Kumin (found on Poetry Foundation)

 

“A story is not compulsory, just a life, that’s the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.” ~ Samuel Beckett, from “Texts for Nothing #4”

Saturday afternoon, sunny and quite warm and breezy, 84 degrees.

I should be sitting outside, but my entire body is covered with bites, so I need to wait a bit. My right hand was bitten by something a few nights ago, and as a result, my hand and arm up to elbow were both quite swollen. The fact that Corey does not get bitten or stung is probably because his blood tastes of nicotine, which almost makes me want to smoke.

Almost . . . but not quite . . .

More later. Peace.


Personal Message, Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber

Wordless Wednesdays . . .

The Battle of Winterfell:

Source


Music from “Game of Thrones: Winter is Here,” by Ramin Djawadi

 

“Each face, each stone of the venerable monument, is a page not only of the history of the country, but of the history of science and art as well.” ~ Victor Hugo, from Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The steeple of the Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris collapses on April 15, 2019
(AFP/ Getty Images)

“—all are mingled, combined, amalgamated in Notre-Dame. This central mother church is, among the ancient churches of Paris, a sort of chimera; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the haunches of another, something of all.” ~ Victor Hugo

Monday night, clear and cold, 39 degrees.

Rather than a regular post, I feel the need to share some key passages from Victor Hugo’s
Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.* The burning of this historical masterpiece just breaks my soul, and as news images around the world depict, countless individuals are mourning the loss. The world has lost far too many architectural wonders—to time, but more so, to the ravages of war and genocidal myopia—far too many to list here.

Fans of the Disney movie and/or the novel may be unaware that Hugo originally wrote his book because he was so dismayed by the state of disrepair in which the great cathedral sat in the 1800’s. Hugo wanted to preserve the Gothic architecture he believed was tied so directly to France’s history, rather than see it succumb to renovation or destruction in favor of Baroque buildings. Quasimodo, the hunchback, represents all of the deformities bestowed upon such architecture by subsequent generations, and Hugo bestowed in Quasimodo a pure love for the cathedral and all of its many statuary: “the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside.”

Hugo and his endearing creation helped to lead to the massive 1844 restoration of Notre-Dame. The following passages are taken from Chapter 1 of the third book:

The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.

On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: Time is a devourer; man, more so.

If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of destruction imprinted upon the old church, time’s share would be the least, the share of men the most . . .

. . . the tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is; prodigious product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch, upon each stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist start forth in a hundred fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,—variety, eternity.

. . . these hybrid constructions are not the least interesting for the artist, for the antiquarian, for the historian. They make one feel to what a degree architecture is a primitive thing, by demonstrating (what is also demonstrated by the cyclopean vestiges, the pyramids of Egypt, the gigantic Hindoo pagodas) that the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius; the deposit left by a whole people; the heaps accumulated by centuries; the residue of successive evaporations of human society,—in a word, species of formations. Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. Thus do the beavers, thus do the bees, thus do men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a hive.

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

. . . architecture does what she pleases. Statues, stained glass, rose windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals, bas-reliefs,—she combines all these imaginings according to the arrangement which best suits her. Hence, the prodigious exterior variety of these edifices, at whose foundation dwells so much order and unity. The trunk of a tree is immovable; the foliage is capricious.

*You can find an online copy of the complete novel here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.


Music by Gabriel Fauré, “Pie Jesu Requiem, Op. 48”

 

“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are.” ~ Harper Lee, from Go Set a Watchman

Swingset by Nate Lampa (FCC)

“I am tired like the ancients were tired.” ~ Natalie Lyalin, from “Your Brain is Yours”

Saturday afternoon, overcast and warmer, 57 degrees.

So last night was pure hell. Earlier in the evening, Corey spotted a dog that was not ours beneath the swing-set on the side of the house, and then we heard a bunch of howling. He went to investigate, and at the top of the driveway, and he saw several strange dogs roaming around, apparently chasing something.

Anyway, this went on for hours during the night, and each time that the pack would start barking and yelping, Maddy would sit up and begin to bark. It’s really hard to sleep through all that noise. We both had the hardest time getting back to sleep, and consequently, I ended up dreaming that I couldn’t sleep, which is incredibly tiring. I had very strange dreams involving my mother—who has been in my dreams repeatedly lately—a dessert, a gay couple, and Olivia’s toys.

You know the theory that your dreams are your brain’s method of sifting through the day’s detritus? Well apparently my brain was overflowing with many a non sequitur, that is if indeed my dreams are any kind of barometer of such things.

“Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds, the world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly, and changes nothing.” ~ Philip Levine, from “Let Me Begin Again”

Corey has taken all of the dogs for a long walk to the big pond, which leaves the house blissfully quiet, except for my music and the hum of the washing machine. Ever since the first time he took them there, they now head for it anytime he leaves the house; I think that they’re looking for him, but when they don’t find him, they come back. I shouldn’t worry, but I know that there are coyotes here, and the puppies are still puppies, after all.

I know. I know. I worry too much.

When we left the house on Benjamin, I really looked forward to having a house that wasn’t inherently dusty, which that one was; however, as I knew nothing about the soot that wood stoves produce, I was unprepared for the layers and layers of dust that inhabit this house. I suppose as with the mud, I just need to wait for warmer temperatures when the stove isn’t heating the house, and then I can sweep away the dust and cobwebs and start anew.

Of course, I say that now, but who knows how I’ll feel when it is actually spring, and as Corey reminded me this morning, spring is less than two weeks away. My inability to track time seems to be getting worse the older that I get. I’ve always seemed to skip over November and February, but this feels worse, somehow. Don’t ask me how as I truly don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking forward to warmer temperatures too much that I feel as if once again I’m setting myself up for failure; I mean, I have so many projects that I want to finish. Will I just retreat further inside and get nothing at all accomplished?

Who knows? Certainly not I.

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore

I wonder how other people do it—live their lives, I mean. I don’t remember a time in my life in which I was not living with my depression. It’s a way of life for me, so I truly wonder how people who do not suffer from this crippling disorder manage to make it through their days. I know that some have religion, and some have drugs, and some have money, but what about the rest of them? Are they floating through their lives as seemingly lost as I have always been?

I know that yesterday I mentioned those two incredibly talented people who I knew in high school, and how their lives turned out so differently than anyone ever thought they would or could. But I mean, come on. I know that there are people out there whose days are not filled with self-doubt. Are they sociopaths? Is that how they move through their days, blissfully unaware of pain and anguish? Or are they so completely satisfied with their lots in life that they just move forward and never look back?

How does it work? How does it work for people unlike me who feel everything too much, so much that eventually we become numb, closed off for protection or fear or both? I think again of concentration camp survivors, most of whom are now dead, but how did they get on with their lives after such unimaginable cruelty was visited upon them? How did they have enough strength and faith to raise families, have careers, kindle friendships? As opposed to their great suffering I feel like an ungrateful peon.

“. . . but as you know any
amount of time is an uncertain one.” ~ Dalton Day (source uncertain)

Corey is back from his walk, and he managed to tire all of the dogs thoroughly. Tink came in, jumped on the couch and was immediately asleep. I envy dogs and cats their abilities to fall asleep so quickly. I don’t think that animals ever have insomnia, or at least, they don’t toss and turn all night thinking about bills and utilities and missteps and failures. It seems their dreams are filled with running and chasing and playing, as anyone who has ever watched a dog run in its sleep can attest.

Actually, I envy anyone who sleeps easily. Corey is only troubled occasionally with insomnia. My first husband could fall asleep easily. I know that in my youth I could sleep anywhere at any time. On a school trip to New York, I fell asleep at a Knicks’ game, which still amazes me. I have fond memories of curling up on Yvonne’s wing back chair, much like a cat, and falling fast asleep.

When each of my children were babies, I used to lay on the big hammock in my in-laws’ backyard with them, and we would sleep companionably under the shade until someone would wake us. I was never so at peace as the moments I spent with my babes in my arms, asleep, inviolable. Life was so different then, seemingly, but probably not. Whenever we look back, our memories are colored by whatever we wish to wash them wish. I’m not so much a fool that I don’t know that to be true.

“Time is not a solid, like wood, but a fluid, like water or the wind. It doesn’t come neatly cut into even-sized length, into decades and centuries. Nevertheless, for our purposes we have to pretend it does. The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Robber Bride

There are memories that I can snatch at will, and then there are memories that I can only find the edges of, as if I know that something is there, but I can never quite uncloak it completely in order to take it out and examine it. I am reminded of Oriental puzzle boxes, with all of the false drawers and interlocking pieces; once taken apart, they are so hard to piece together properly, that is, until you find the secret. I think that memories are like that—that there is a secret to the ones stored deeply, and only when you come upon the answer are you allowed to touch them again.

I once thought that I would never forget the way that Caitlin smelled or how soft the skin was on her chubby arms, but I was wrong. I can remember neither. I can only remember the memory of what that was like, but I cannot recall the exact smell or the incredible velvet of her skin. Yet there have been times over the years in which something from some unknown place has assailed my senses, and I am once again in that hospital room, holding her close and inhaling deeply the very essence of her in order to imprint it upon my very cells, the core of my being.

The recall of such memories is both a boon and a curse. I want them more than anything, but once they come upon me, the pain is so acute that I want nothing more than to feel nothing again. And the truly sad part—in my mind—is that I find myself doing that now with memories of each of my children, no longer just Caitlin: the early spring afternoon Alexis and I lay in the hammock in my back yard, and she fell asleep in my arms even though she was six; the time that Eamonn asked me so earnestly when he could tell Corey that he loved him; the many, many times that Brett and I lay in my big bed and watched movies together when no one else was home.

It’s all a deep soul pain t hat never abates, mingled with a spark of contentment that can never be replaced.

Pure love. Irreparable loss.

The heart would have it all again, regardless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Rosie Golan, “Been a Long Day”


End of Winter

Over the still world, a bird calls
waking solitary among black boughs.

You wanted to be born; I let you be born.
When has my grief ever gotten
in the way of your pleasure?

Plunging ahead
into the dark and light at the same time
eager for sensation

as though you were some new thing, wanting
to express yourselves

all brilliance, all vivacity

never thinking
this would cost you anything,
never imagining the sound of my voice
as anything but part of you—

you won’t hear it in the other world,
not clearly again,
not in birdcall or human cry,

not the clear sound, only
persistent echoing
in all sound that means good-bye, good-bye—

the one continuous line
that binds us to each other.

~ Louise Glück

 

“Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Tree”

Neverland by Hannes Flo, (FCC)

“My life is a crystal teardrop. There are snowflakes falling in the teardrop and little figures trudging around in slow motion. If I were to look into the teardrop for the next million years, I might never find out who the people are, and what they are doing.” ~ Joan Baez, as found in Joan Didion’s “Where the Kissing Never Stops”

Friday afternoon, snow and rain, cold, 39 degrees.

During the night when I was letting the dogs out, I looked out to see snow covering the ground, which was a surprise. The weather forecast did not call for snow, only more rain. Corey and I agree that the weather here is actually quite depressing. I can only hope that as the weather gets warmer that we are finally able to dry out around here. The mud is overwhelming, as is the near constant rain.

So we lost internet Wednesday night, right as I was watching that new documentary on HBO about Michael Jackson, Finding Neverland. It’s actually quite disturbing as it features two men who were childhood victims of abuse at Jackson’s hands. Truthfully, I’m surprised that they were able to make it. I know that Jackson’s estate sues people all of the time. Nevertheless, it’s more than time that these victims were able to tell their stories.

Anyway, I can’t believe the nerve of some companies, wanting to be paid for their services as opposed to offering them for free. I remember reading something sometime ago about how Tesla wanted electricity to be free, and someone who wanted the internet to be free. Such radical ideas: actually giving the public something that they can use as opposed to making a profit.

Hmm……..Things that make you go hmm……

“I hear two sibilants—here silk,
the snowstorm outside. Beating soul
and breathing blood. We both got what
we wanted” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, from “Playacting” (Trans. Christopher Whyte)

I decided to be proactive for a change, and rather than wait for the internet to become available again, I decided to go ahead and write some posts on Microsoft Word until we can get it restored on Monday. Then I’ll just post and backdate, which I know is cheating, but hey, when you’re me, and you never know what day it is, does it really matter?

So no podcasts for me for a bit, so I’ve been listening to some of my old music playlists. I made the mistake of putting on an old country playlist while I was taking a bath, and boy, some of those songs are just heartbreaking. For example, there was Blaine Larsen’s, “How Do You Get so Lonely,” which is about a boy who commits suicide, and then there was “Alyssa Lies,” which is about child abuse.

Boy, I know how to put together a playlist that makes you want to cut your wrists with a rusty razor blade—that was a Kathleen saying, or maybe it was a Gail saying. Can’t remember. But those two women were big friends of mine once upon a time.

“I’m tired of my life, my clothes, the things I say. I’m hacking away at the surface, as at some kind of gray ice, trying to break through to what is underneath or I am dead. I can feel the surface trembling—it seems ready to give but it never does..” ~ James Salter, from a letter to Robert Phelps (July 6, 1969-70)

Yesterday, I wrote a letter to another long-time friend of mine, the woman who taught me piano for almost eight years. I always looked up to her, and when she got melanoma years ago, I was so afraid that she would succumb to it, but fortunately, she didn’t, and she went on to have a son by a man who later betrayed her big time.

She was such a classy, talented woman, and oddly enough, she’s the one who made me love Bach, who I had always eschewed before she started teaching me. I was intimidated by Bach—too many notes on the page, as it were, but I learned to master his Two-Part Inventions, and went on to the Three-Part Inventions before I stopped.

I really miss playing, but my piano is in terrible shape. I hope that one day I can find a decent used piano to purchase. Corey’s parents had a beautiful piano in their basement that I always coveted, but then his brother threw out the keys that had come loose, and they got rid of the piano. I miss learning new pieces. I mean, I could teach myself, but there is something special about learning from someone who really knows music. God I loved to play the piano, and I was relatively good at it. I wasn’t one of those naturals who can sit down at a keyboard and just play what they hear in their brains, nor could I ever master changing keys on my own.

I went to school with a couple of people like that, incredibly talented both of them. The one who played the cello died of AIDS during the height of the epidemic, and the other, who played any instrument she touched, ended up having a major tragedy in her life that she never recovered from.

“My wound existed before me;
I was born to embody it.” ~ Joë Bousquet, from “Traduit du silence”

Which just proves that no one is immune from life’s travails, regardless of talent, and here I am still, even when I never imagined being this old, never thought that I would make it this far, and I still feel mediocre every single day of my life. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching for months now, trying to figure out why I can’t be happy. Honestly, I still don’t have an answer, and my inability to find one just makes me madder and madder at myself.

Granted, the last few years have been majorly stressful, and that I even made it out in sort of one piece still amazes me. I remember years ago, after I lost Caitlin, and I went to that first psychiatrist (who I loathed), and he told me that losing a child is ranked as the second or third biggest stressor in life, with being in a concentration camp ranking as first. How did people even survive that when they were finally liberated? How did they not hate everyone and everything?

Anyway, I had a point, which was that other life stressors include moving, starting a new job, and getting married. I got married (the first time), moved to Blacksburg, and started graduate school and teaching composition all within two weeks of each other.
I supposed I’ve never been one to do things half way. It’s all or nothing. Or maybe, it’s everything or nothing. Who knows.

“All I can hear now is the sound of my own heart, opening and closing, opening and closing, opening.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Handmaid’s Tale

But getting back to the idea of being happy: I know that only I can control my happiness. I’m not naïve enough to think that someone else can make me happy. No matter how much Corey loves and cares for me, he cannot control what is inside of me, nor does he try to.

There is such a feeling of deep regret within me, regret, and guilt, and a sense of being incredibly ungrateful.

Let me explain: I have wanted to live in the mountains, on my own property, for as long as I can remember, ever since the first time I drove into Blacksburg to visit Paul. I knew in that instant that my soul belonged in the mountains. So here I am, surrounded by everything I ever wanted, land, an incredible vista, animals, yet somehow, it’s not enough.

No. Let me back that up. It’s not that it’s not enough; it’s that there is such a large hole in my heart that I’m having a hard time allowing myself to be filled with the splendor with which I am surrounded. Aside from the mud, this place is everything. But I don’t have my kids, and I no longer have a home in Norfolk. I wasn’t able to keep my parents’ home in the family, and I know that many people are not able to do this, but I feel like such a failure because of that, and because I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to have it someday. And more than that, I want my kids.

It’s coloring everything, and I hate it more than I can say, so maybe I should stop trying to say anything more at the moment.

More later. Peace.


Music by Ruelle, “Slip Away”

 


Rebus

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

~ Jane Hirshfield (found on Poetry Foundation)