oh, the irony . . .


Sunday evening, pouring rain and dropping temperatures, 56 degrees.

Taxestaxestaxestaxestaxestaxestaxestaxestaxes………….ad nauseam………….


Foy Vance, “Make it Rain”

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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“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

 

“The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.” ~ V.S. Naipaul, from In a Free State

Clyfford Still, “1957-D No 1,” (1957, oil on canvas)

“I seriously consider the possibility of giving up . . . am I capable of what I dream? If I am not capable of it, what good is it to dream?” ~ Albert Camus, from Notebooks: 1951-1959

Monday (2/11) afternoon, overcast, warmer temperatures, 50 degrees.

I slept well last night; it was a nice change. I’ve been falling asleep before 11 and then waking initially between 7 and 8. I listen to the dogs play for a while as they try to make me get out of bed, and then I feed everyone. This morning, though, I actually fell back asleep while listening to a podcast.

Clyfford Still, “Jamais” (1944, oil on canvas))

I’m enjoying podcasts lately. I realize that I’m late to the game, as usual, but my initial interest was spurred by Rachel Maddow’s podcast on Spiro Agnew. I know a lot about Nixon, but knew virtually nothing about Agnew besides the fact that my 7th grade history teacher had a Spiro Agnew watch, a la Mickey Mouse. So I listened to all of the “Bag Man” podcast, and I was hooked. If you don’t know anything about Agnew, I recommend this particular podcast because even though it was decades ago, the circumstances are all too similar to the current state of the country.

So my latest podcast is “Serial,” which is about the case of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. I saw a promo on HBO for a series about it that’s coming in March, so I wanted some background. It’s an intriguing case, with many people believing that Syed was unjustly convicted. I’m also interested because it has nothing to do with politics, which I am currently in overload on; it’s all just too ridiculous and does nothing for my blood pressure; so a break is definitely needed.

“I’ve been told quite
a lot of things. They hover — some more unbidden than
others — in that part of the mind where mistakes and torn
wishes echo as in a room that’s been newly cathedraled,
so that the echo surprises, though lately it’s less the echo
itself that can still most surprise me about memory —” ~ Carl Phillips, from “Wild is the Wind”

I’m trying to apply the approach that I used yesterday, which was to sit down and just start writing, before tumblr, before messing with my over 100 pre-prepared drafts, before anything. I’m hoping to find my groove again, as it were.

Clyfford Still, “PH-385 ( No 1),” (1949, oil on canvas)

So now it’s Thursday (2/14), and mostly overcast and colder, 39 degrees . . .

Admittedly, I left this post for almost three days ago. I got up to do a few things, and then never came back, and then I forgot where I was. I have such good intentions but such bad habits . . .

I won’t even begin to apologize because truthfully the person I really need to apologize to is myself; not writing here hurts only me. Not writing at all affects me: I feel such disappoint in myself for not keeping my promises to myself, and then all of those feelings about being inadequate come flooding back. It’s such a freaking vicious circle, one that I’ve been caught in since I was a child.

“I should do three things every day, but instead I sit, paralyzed in front of my computer, beating myself up for not doing three things every day like I promised myself I would. I’ve determined this is more time-consuming and stressful than actually doing the three goddamn things a day, and, therefore, I’m entitled to my fury.” ~ Jessica Knoll

The following Monday afternoon (2/18), blue skies for a change but cold, 39 degrees.

Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous that I’m only finishing this post one week later. I have no excuses or explanations; actually, I have a ton, but the only one that matters is that I find myself paralyzed. For weeks now, I sit down at this keyboard in my tiny little workspace in the corner of the living room, and I play Spider Solitaire. I tell myself that it’s a warmup, for my fingers, for my brain.

Clyfford Still, untitled (1945, oil on canvas)

Then, when that doesn’t work, I turn on a podcast (already finished “Serial” and moved on to more), usually about some unsolved crime or particularly weird murder. Again, it’s to get my juices flowing . . . Then about five hours later, I realize that I have not a) eaten b) bathed c) paid any attention to the horses d) gone for a walk (right, not in this cold and mud), and then finally e) written one frigging word.

So as a result, I continue to play Spider Solitaire and click on podcasts. Listen, it’s so bad that most nights lately, I don’t even watch Ari on The Beat (MSNBC), but I do try to fit in Rachel Maddow at 9, only because I’m probably eating a late dinner and getting ready to go to bed, at which time, I will continue to play Spider Solitaire and listen to another episode on my phone as Corey begins to snore softly.

I’m completely disgusted and disappointed in myself at this point. I had such big plans for returning to this blog with so many things to share. But then the self-doubt kicks in, and I think to myself that nothing I have to say could possible interest anyone, and who am I fooling anyway, and I still haven’t gotten my book published, pick one—the one with poems and photographs (which actually does exist in draft form), or the memoir about surviving grief (which exists only in my head), or the mystery (which exists only in snatches written down in various places that I can no longer find).

“Today, mid-February where the wind is full of snow
that will not fall, brown leaves
curled against the blanched grass,
I suspect there are no gardens in you
You suspect I am brimming with vast shadows,
the way the mud and sky are brimming with snow.” ~ Joanna Klink, from “The Wonder of Birds”

Truthfully, I have been doing one other thing to try to jump start my brain: I’ve been looking at things that writers have written about their writing process or writing in general. It helps, and it hurts. Helps because I can see plainly that everyone has periods in which the words simply will not come, but hurts because these people have such good ideas about how to conquer that wall, and I do not . . .

Clyfford Still, untitled (formerly self-portrait) (1945, oil on canvas)

Anyway, I wanted to share just a couple of quotes here: In an 2004 interview with Poets & Writers, poet Adam Zagajewski said the following about the relationship of beauty to being a writer:

I become deaf to beauty for a week or two or three. This coming and going of the inner life—because this is what it is—is a curse and a blessing. I don’t need to explain why it’s a curse. A blessing because it brings about a movement, an energy which, when it peaks, creates a poem. Or a moment of happiness.

And later in the interview, he says,

Remember that the act of writing is a tiny part of a bigger something . . .

They [autobiographical essays] tell you: Look how miserable I was and how well am I doing now. I’m not saying this. For me, not the healing is important, but memory and thinking. And poetry.

Poet and editor Dalton Day said in a 2014 interview with banangolit:

Write because you want to communicate with yourself. Write because you want to communicate with someone else. Write because life is weird and tragic and amazing. Write because talking is difficult. Write because it polishes the heart. Write because you can. Write because you can’t. Write because there is a blackbird outside of my window right now and oh my god isn’t that the best start to the day? Write because you’re trying to figure yourself out. Write because you might not ever figure yourself out. Write because there still aren’t enough love poems in the world.

“I snake toward myself only to discover I have disturbed no one’s nest but my own . . . Darling,  I work by the hourglass. I write songs so that someday you may sing.” ~ Hala Alyan, from “Upstate II”

One other thing that I’ve been doing in the midst of this great nothingness is looking at online literary journals to which I might/could submit my work. This is an exercise in which I participate at least once a year. Having said that, I should now clarify that I have only submitted my work a few times. That’s a few times in many years. In other words, an exercise in futility . . .

Clyfford Still, “PH-950” (1950, oil on canvas)

A poet who once taught in the same English department once told me that I need an assistant to send out my work. She was serious. She also received a grant from the NEA, so she could afford an assistant to send out her work. Those of us who are penniless cannot afford such luxuries, so we have to rely on our own steam, as it were.

I have no steam.

I am steamless.

I am without steam.

There is no steam anywhere in proximity to my brain.

No steam, vis-a-vis, productive time that does not exist in my life.

Yep. Meh.

More later. I hope. Peace.

All images are by first generation abstract expressionist Clyfford Still. I felt that this post deserved abstract images. To read more about him, go here.

Music by Dakota, “Bare Hands”

 


Poem for Nobody

an apprehension for reality, the death of the flower,
the collapse of hope, the crush of
wasted years, the nightmare faces,
the mad armies attacking for no reason at all
and/or
old shoes abandoned in old corners like half-forgotten
voices that once said love but did not mean
love.

see the face in the mirror? the mirror in the
wall? the wall in the house? the house in the
street?

now always the wrong voice on the telephone
and/or
the hungry mouse with beautiful eyes which now lives in
your brain.

the angry, the empty, the lonely, the
tricked.

we are all
museums of fear.

there are
as many killers as flies as
we dream of giant
sea turtles with strange words carved into
their hard backs
and no place for the knife to go in.

Cain was Able,
ask him.
give us this day our daily dread.

the only solace left to us is to hide
alone in the middle of night in some deserted
place.

with each morning less than zero,
humanity is a hammer to the brain,
our lives a bouquet of blood, you can watch
this fool still with his harmonica
playing elegiac tunes while
slouching toward Nirvana
without
expectation or
grace.

~ Charles Bukowski

From “After the Theatre”

“What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?” ~ Ellen Bass, from “If You Knew”

Monday afternoon, partly cloudy, 56 degrees.

Well, Maddy is better, but I’m not certain that she’s out of the woods. She had a good day yesterday, but last night she was really sick again. Today, she’s acting better, and she managed to eat some breakfast. All we can do at this point is continue to watch her closely and hope.

Illustration to Chekhov’s A Dreary Story, by Tatyana Shishmaryova (1953)

Tink seems fine these days, playing and running around with her tail up, so at least there’s that. All of the other animals seem to be okay. The big surprise is that last night Corey came home with chickens. Apparently, Dallas bought a bunch of chickens from someone who he knows, and he decided that we should have some.

We do have a chicken coop, and we had plans for chickens in the spring, but the coop is still kind of torn up so Corey needs to work on that right away. For whatever reason, we just keep having animals dropped on us. I’m not sure how I feel about it all, partially good, partially bad. It just seems like a lot all at once, but as with everything else, we’ll find a way to deal.

At least we’ve had some sun the last few days, and the weather is milder. I had hoped that I had more to say, but I’ve been sitting here for over two hours and I just cannot find the words; I’ll leave you with an apt selection from Anton Chekhov’s novella, A Boring Story: From the Notebook of an Old Man (also translated as A Dreary Story):

I write poorly. That bit of my brain which presides over the faculty of authorship refuses to work. My memory has grown weak; there is a lack of sequence in my ideas, and when I put them on paper it always seems to me that I have lost the instinct for their organic connection; my construction is monotonous; my language is poor and timid. Often I write what I do not mean; I have forgotten the beginning when I am writing the end. Often I forget ordinary words, and I always have to waste a great deal of energy in avoiding superfluous phrases and unnecessary parentheses in my letters, both unmistakable proofs of a decline in mental activity. And it is noteworthy that the simpler the letter the more painful the effort to write it .

. . . As regards my present manner of life, I must give a foremost place to the insomnia from which I have suffered of late. If I were asked what constituted the chief and fundamental feature of my existence now, I should answer, Insomnia.

More later. Peace.

“I wish to write; I wish to write about certain things that cannot be held. I want to create a sea of freely-flowing words of no definite form and shape waves of fluent exactness.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909

A Gaggle of Canada Geese on Parade (FCC)

“Then I sit down at my desk and can’t remember how it’s done. Only now and then the lines attack like birds of prey, any time, any place. And demand to be written.” ~ Anna Kamieńska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook

Wednesday afternoon. Beautifully sunny, 48 degrees.

Hello out there. The sun is blazingly bright today, and not a day too soon. Earlier, when I was outside with the animals, I realized that I could actually hear the horses walking in the pasture, and that just blew me away. I mean, it was quiet enough that I could hear horses walking on the grass . . . no cars, no sirens, no loud obnoxious mopeds roaring through the neighborhood . . . nothing. Just the sky, the sun, the birds, and the animals. It was lovely.

Pot-bellied Thrush with an Apple (FCC)

So enough about me—how was your Christmas? Peaceful? Uneventful? Rowdy? Good food and good friends? However you like it, I hope that you had it just that way.

As for us, well, it was a bit eventful. Corey came home with two puppies that someone had left on our driveway. They could only be about four weeks old. Yes, they are adorable as all get out, and I know that I had said that I planned to rescue dogs once we moved here, but, well, it’s a bit soon, especially as I just stole a puppy from Dallas a few weeks ago. Did I mention that our house is small?

“To be a poet is to surface plainly
from the wound of sleep. To observe how thickly feathered
the heart, how small & bright the planet of human thought.” ~ Kiki Petrosino, from “Cygnus Cygnus”

Nevertheless, Corey couldn’t exactly leave them where he found them, and so now they have a home. We’ll deal with it just as we deal with everything else: as it comes.

Truthfully, him coming home with the puppies is probably the only thing that saved me yesterday. I was doing poorly with the prospect of making it through the whole day. I heard from neither son, and only from my daughter in the evening. And Corey and I had decided to wait a few days before exchanging presents, for various reasons. About the only thing that I had to look forward to yesterday was the ham that I had in the oven.

Vogel in Winter (FCC)

That sounds absolutely pathetic, doesn’t it?

I realize that I’m a bit of a broken record lately, going on and on about my kids. I just never envisioned myself in this place—living each day without hearing a word from any of them. Marking holidays, birthdays without a call, or text, or email. As they were growing up, I took such great joy in watching every aspect of their lives; I believed that my relationship with each of them was inviolable. Until it wasn’t.

I would not wish this kind of pain for anyone, and I’ve wished pain for people before, so that’s quite a statement.

“Everything was a broken line for me in those days. I was slipped into the empty spaces between words.” ~ Betsy Cornwell, from Mechanica

You know how you do something in your youth, and your mother hits you for the first time with the words, “I hope you have a daughter/son/child just like you one day. You’ll see”? (Note on the punctuation: A question mark goes outside the quotation mark when the question is about the entire sentence; just thought that I should point that out, you know, to stay in practice.) And you look at her as if she has taken leave of her senses because you are so certain in your own heart of hearts that you will never make the same missteps that she has made with you, that you will be so much closer with your own children . . .

Male Cardinal in Winter (FCC)

Mothers. Always. Know.

I know that I gave my mother fits when I was around 14 or 15. And 16 and 17 weren’t terribly better. But then I got into college and decided to become a productive adult, and from that point on, I was a model daughter . . . No. Wait. I wasn’t, was I? I wish that I could say that it was true, that I straightened up and never gave my mother another day of heartburn or heartache, but I gave her plenty of both.

I tried so many times to get it right, and now looking back, I see that I probably erred more than I soared. But I never stopped talking to my mom, at least not for months and months at a time. She gave me the silent treatment for weeks at a time because that’s how my mother was: she was vindictive. Where do you think that I learned it? But still, I really tried, honestly tried not to hurt her.

So this is payback, then?

“But you remain with me as a winter sky
shot through with swans of iron, swans of steel.
Let no harm come to the dark you have made.” ~ Kiki Petrosino, from “Cygnus Cygnus”

I would like to say that I never hurt my mother or broke her heart, but I’m trying to be honest here. I know that I did both. More than once.

Cygnus: Lake Ontario Swan (FCC)

I know that I could be surly, and nasty, and darned unpleasant when I was a teen. And later, as a married adult, I was never good with money, and when I lost Caitlin, I spent my way into oblivion rather than drank like my first husband. But they were both escapes, and neither much better than the other once they became an addiction. And unfortunately, my mother had to bail me out more than once.

I wonder if that’s part of how I did my kids wrong, that I bailed them out too many times and made them weak . . . We can love too much, make the landings too soft sometimes, when an abrupt encounter with the cold, hard earth might be better. But that wasn’t how I was raised—for better or worse. I was raised, and in turn I raised with love and a soft cushion, most of the time. Oh, don’t think for a moment that I wasn’t punished (I have vivid memories of a flyswatter on my bare legs), or that I did not punish when called for, but it was never a matter of whether or not there was love. There was always love, and when I used to see Alexis with her own daughter, I saw how tender she could be.

So much love there.

“Motherhood means doing penance not only for your own sins, but for your children’s too . . . Niobe. Niobe—that’s me. That’s every abandoned mother.” ~ Anna Kamieńska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook

I think that this is the loss that I feel most acutely: They are not near me so that I can give them love. Do they still know how much I love them, regardless? Can they possibly believe that I do not care? How do they not realize what their absence costs me every single minute of every single day? How is it possible that they move through their days without me?

Brown-Eared Bulbul (FCC)

So many freaking questions. Absolutely no answers.

It’s now many hours since I first began this post, and the sun is long gone. I apologize, dear reader. I was supposed to be asking after your own holiday, not gazing morosely into the empty glass upon my table. But then, you must have known that I couldn’t go for very many sentences without falling back into old patterns. You see, it’s what I do, and I do it very well: I have supreme confidence in my ability to, or rather, my inability to let go. I just cannot do it, even when I should, even when I have been given every single reason to let go and move on—I simply cannot.

Apparently, I am immune to betrayals of the heart, of any kind. My loyalty tends to be complete, blind, and perhaps dumb. I just never realized from whence such betrayals could come. And perhaps betrayal is not the best word choice, but at the moment, it is the one that seems most apt. Then again, perhaps that is what my sons think about me.

Tomorrow may be different. Who knows? Certainly not I.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Winter Song”

 


The Abundant Little

We have seen the population of Heaven
in frescoes. Dominions and unsmiling saints
crowded together as though the rooms were small.
We think of the grand forests of Pennsylvania,
oaks and maples, when we see the miniatures
of blue Krishna with farm girls awkwardly
beside a pond in a glade of scrub trees.
The Japanese scrolls show mostly Hell.
When we read about the Christian paradise,
it is made of gold and pearls, built on
a foundation of emeralds. Nothing soft
and rarely trees, except in the canvases
of Italians where they slip in bits of Tuscany
and Perugino’s Umbria. All things
are taken away. Indeed, indeed.
But we secretly think of our bodies
in the heart’s storm and just after.
And the sound of careless happiness.
We touch finally only a little.
Like the shy tongue that comes fleetingly
in the dark. The acute little that is there.

~ Jack Gilbert

For the Emperor a young cherry blossom prepared beforehand | Will fall with that fragrance smelling sweet forever ~ Ensign Toshio Furuichi, Death Poem (Trans. Bill Gordon)

Kamikaze pilots posing with a puppy the day before their suicide missions, 1945. The boy holding the puppy was 17.

“In a real sense it is certainly true that a pilot in our special aerial attack force is, as a friend of mine has said . . . nothing more than that part of the machine which holds the plane’s controls—endowed with no personal qualities, no emotions, certainly with no rationality—simply just an iron filament tucked inside a magnet itself designed to be sucked into an enemy air-craft carrier.” ~ Capt. Ryoji Uehara, from “My Thoughts”

Sunday afternoon. Rainy again, 37 degrees.

A new horse showed up in our yard last night, not another present from Dallas, but one from down the ridge. There’s a guy who owns several horses that are always out in the road foraging for food. They all look emaciated every time that I see them, and quite obviously, it bothers the crap out of me, so I have no problem with this errant horse hanging out with us for a few days until its owner comes looking for it. I mean, it’s not like we can put her in the back of the truck and take her home, now is it?

Anyway, two days until Christmas. No, I never put up the tree or decorated a darned thing. No, I haven’t wrapped anything. No, I haven’t addressed cards. I really don’t want to talk about it.

Kamikaze pilots drinking a glass of sake before their attacks during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 12-10-44 (from history.com)

In that vein, I’ve done something different for today’s post. I’m sharing with you something I’ve been reading lately, besides the entire Harry Potter collection.

Recently, I’ve come across several letters from Japanese Kamikaze pilots, letters written to parents, loved ones, on the eve of their suicide missions. The term Kamikaze means “divine wind,” and the pilots in their mostly one-way planes with a bomb on one side and a fuel tank on the other were supposed to be the divine wind that blew away Japan’s enemy from its shores, much like the typhoon that felled the Mongolian invaders in the 13th century, which is where the term originates.

Many of these pilots were very young men who had been conscripted into the military, especially after Japan did away with the exemption for men in college. History tells us that long before 9/11 and Al Qaeda, about 2,800 kamikaze pilots sank dozens of allied ships, damaged hundreds more and killed 4,900 American sailors between 1943-44. Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese pilots who attacked Pearl Harbor were not officially Kamikaze pilots; however, some had vowed to crash rather than surrender or be captured. The use of the Kamikaze did not become the official strategy of the Japanese until 1943.

“When I am in a plane perhaps I am nothing more than just a piece of the machine, but as soon as I am on the ground again I find that I am a complete human being after all, complete with human emotions—and passions too.” ~ Capt. Ryoji Uehara, from “My Thoughts”

In 2015, the city of Minamikyushu, Japan sought for a second time to gain UNESCO World Heritage status like that for Anne Frank’s Diary for hundreds of these letters. According to Mayor Kampei Shimoide, the bid was not to “praise, glorify or justify the kamikaze mission,” but to “help to promote peace by highlighting the horror of war.” However, the bid has not been without its critics, especially China, who claim that the move would “beautify” Japan’s aggression.

Japanese high school girls wave goodbye to a Kamikaze pilot with cherry blossoms

My interest, however, has been in the letters and poems themselves, and the men who penned them. The Japanese have a centuries-old tradition called jisei, which is the creation of a death poem immediately before the moment of death; many of the Kamikaze pilots adopted this tradition before their flights.

Years ago I wrote a poem about bushido, which might seem weird for the daughter of a Filipino veteran who suffered at the hands of the Japanese. I’ve never quite understood my fascination with the Japanese other than the feeling that I might have been one in another life. Don’t laugh.

Anyway . . . One of the most famous of these attack pilot writers was Captain Ryoji Uehara, who wrote several letters, one of which was sent to his parents via military censors. This particular letter mentions his deceased brother, who was killed in the war, and attempts to express his acceptance of death:

At this point, therefore, I gladly give up my life for Japan’s liberty and independence.
While the rise and fall of one’s nation is indeed a matter of immense importance for any human being, the same shift dwindles to relative insignificance when and if that same human being places it within the context of the universe as a whole.

To read the complete letter to his parents, go here.

“. . . Tomorrow one believer in liberty and liberalism will leave this world behind. His withdrawing figure may have a lonely look about it, but I assure you that his heart is filled with contentment.” ~ Capt. Ryoji Uehara, from “My Thoughts”
Captain Ryoji Uehara

Capt. Uehara also wrote a letter called “My Thoughts,” which is a beautiful reflection by a young man who is about to face death, and in it the more traditional Japanese outlook about serving the fatherland is replaced by an impassioned philosophical tone. Uehara passed this letter on to a public affairs officer who kept the letter secret until after the war. Many families who had received letters and cards from sons destroyed them because of a rumor that the US would punish anyone related to the attack forces. Fortunately, the Uehara letter survived:

I believe that the ultimate triumph of liberty is altogether obvious . . . I believe along with him [Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce] that this is a simple fact, a fact so certain that liberty must of necessity continue its underground life even when it appears, on the surface, to be suppressed—it will always win through in the end.
It is equally inevitable that an authoritarian and totalitarian nation, however much it may flourish temporarily, will eventually be defeated . . . we see that all the authoritarian nations are now falling down one by one, exactly like buildings with faulty foundations. All these developments only serve to reveal all over again the universality of the truth that history has so often proven in the past: men’s great love of liberty will live on into the future and into eternity itself.

To see this complete letter, go here. To see a much larger collection of letters and writings from pilots, go here.

Uehara was a student at Keio University, one of Japan’s most prestigious schools, in December 1943 when he was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army. He was killed during the Battle of Okinawa, May 11, 1945. He was only 22 years old. Among his personal effects was a book on philosophy by Croce, in the cover of which he had written:

Goodbye, my beloved Kyoko-chan. I loved you so much; but even then you were already engaged, so it was very painful for me. Thinking only of your happiness, I suppressed the urge to whisper into your ear. That I loved you. I love you still.

More later. Peace.


Death Poem

I do not have a last letter. I do not have a will.
I believe in the permanence of Shinshū.*
I will push forward as my duty.
I live for an eternal cause.

Blossoms on cherry tree
Left to wind
Will fall
My way
Not looking back

~ Flight Petty Officer Tsutomu Fujimura (Trans. Bill Gordon)

*Shinshū means divine land, or Japan itself

“What will you build? Only you know that. What is shame worth? You’ll find out once you start digging in.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Jupiter Swirling Pearl Storm image from NASA’s Juno Spacecraft
“When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it . . . you can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Wednesday late afternoon. Cloudy and still cold, 29 degrees.

Today’s post is a bit different—it’s a direct reaction. I stumbled upon an article in “The Cut,” which is part of New York Magazine. It was a letter to the “Dear Polly” advice column, which is written by Heather Havrilesky (all headers are from this), and the title of the letter was “I’m broke and mostly friendless, and I’ve wasted my whole life.”

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) image of our sun

I cannot begin to tell you how much that title brought me up short—it’s too close to two of my favorite sayings: “I’m fat, ugly, and my mother dresses me funny” (thanks for that, Kathleen), and “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” I actually sat and just stared at the title for a long time before I even began to read the actual article, and what the writer had to say could have been written by me, only a younger me.

In essence, the woman, 35, feels as if she is floundering because she chose to move around a lot; she rationalizes her moves and choices as being, “adventurous, exploratory,” and now she feels that she has nothing to show for it: no lasting relationship, a job that she doesn’t enjoy, and few friends. Additionally, she is now saddled with a lot of debt and few prospects for advancement in her career. Ultimately, the woman says that she now “feels like a ghost.” As a result, she finds that she is drinking too much, and ultimately feels old and past her prime. The woman, who once considered herself creative, now says, “I’m jealous [of artistic people] and don’t understand how I landed this far away from myself.” She signs herself “Haunted.”

Honestly, I could have written that letter with a few adjustments, and I could have written it at several different points in my life, including when I was 35, which was a lifetime ago.

“When you carry around a suspicion that there’s something sort of embarrassing or pathetic about you, you find ways to project that shame onto completely innocuous things . . . to tell yourself that everyone is laughing at you behind your back somewhere . . .”

Obviously, there are some differences. I have had children, while she has not. I have had one previous marriage and am now in my second marriage with a man I’ve been with approaching two decades. In spite of these major differences, I understand this woman much more than I like. I remember having a crisis of faith in myself when I was at the museum. I just felt as if I didn’t know who I was any more.

NASA’s Voyager 1 image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

I hadn’t done the work on my doctorate or my MFA while I was teaching at ODU, and that was part of my plan. I hadn’t really done anything with my writing, other than entering a few contests and sending off a few poems. I felt as if I was suffocating in my own failure.

Let me pause here. Yes, I am well aware that I had a lot to be grateful for at that time: a family, a home, a job, etc. But you cannot know nor understand the kind of suffocation that I felt unless you have been mired in it yourself. My children have always been the great joy in my life, but I have never seen myself as a wife/mother. That was never my chosen identity. My then spouse knew that going in, but once we had children, I found myself relegated to many of the traditional parental roles; for example, I always took the kids to the doctor, never him, yet when we married and discussed everything, we had agreed on 50/50.

So what happened?

“Shame creates imaginary worlds inside your head. This haunted house you’re creating is forged from your shame. No one else can see it . . . You find ways to say, ‘You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, aging rapidly, and poor . . .leave me behind.’ You want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what you’ve become.”

What happened was time. Time has a funny way of changing everything, including all of your plans. We never planned to lose a daughter. We never planned to have a third child. We never planned to grow apart.

NASA’s Voyager 2 Image of Neptune

It just became easier to move into roles with which we had become comfortable . . . until it wasn’t.

I didn’t plan to have a major identity crisis. It wasn’t a midlife crisis. It was a true identity crisis, as in I didn’t have the least idea of who in the hell I was. Like Haunted, I just couldn’t figure out who I was, and as a result, I began to push people away. I subconsciously believed that I didn’t deserve to have people who loved and respected me. I wasn’t worthy of any kind of admiration or praise. I felt like a terrible human being.

And I wish that I could say that it was the only time in my life that I felt that way, but it wasn’t.

“My shame is the fuel that keeps me writing . . . What if you just decided that you’re an artist, today, right now? You’re sensitive and erratic, maybe. You’re maudlin and also expansive. What would it look like to own that identity, as a means of making art . . .”

Havrilesky’s advice to Haunted is to let go of her shame, which is all well and good, but oh so very hard to do. Granted, Havrilesky does a mighty job of relating to Haunted, talking about how her own shame shaped her and how she tried to write her way out of it. And maybe Havrilesky’s words genuinely helped haunted. At least, I hope so.

NASA Image of the Gullies of the Matara Crater on Mars

But I know those words wouldn’t have helped me. I read so many books after Caitlin died, trying to find an answer, trying to find a way to assuage my guilt. Nothing helped. The books just made me mad. It’s hard to take advice from words in a book or on a page or a screen, regardless of how much you really want to.

Then later, after I had my sons, I actually felt right for a while, felt as if I truly could move on, let go of the guilt, enjoy life just as it was. And I tried, oh god how I tried. I worked, and I wrote once in a while when I felt moved—which is a terrible approach to writing, just ask any professional writer—and I tried to live on love and hope, and I wish that I could tell you that it succeeded, and it did, until it didn’t.

“You might feel proud of your small creations and you might start to see how every single thing you’ve done, every place you’ve been, every town you’ve lived in and left, every friend you’ve gotten to know and then forgotten, they all add up to a giant pile of treasure.”

I chose to use Havrilesky’s response to Haunted for my headers because it’s a beautiful piece of writing; it’s sincere and compelling. And I know in my heart that she probably did help some individuals who read it. In fact, I would urge you to read both the letter and the response if you have time.

Cascading Post-coronal Loops in the Sun’s Atmosphere

But ultimately, if you carry shame or guilt or any such debilitating feeling around for too many years, it melts beneath your skin and becomes permanent, and all of the homilies and all of the wonderfully written books, or articles, or passages, or quotes—all of those will not penetrate nearly as completely. That is not to say that they cannot be temporary balms because they certainly can.

Whenever I’ve had a particularly thoughtful comment on this blog over the years, it has touched me and delighted me and just maybe made my day better than before. So yes, words can and do help. But my point is that Haunted, who in many ways is a younger me, can only help herself once she is ready, and she may never be ready. But, and this is a big but, Haunted obviously has hit a point at which she is ready for change, otherwise she never would have written the letter, and that’s a very important point, so here’s hoping Haunted has better days.

I do want to close with this wonderful passage from Havrilesky’s response. Do try to read the original:

She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.

~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

More later. Peace.

*All of today’s images were found on NASA’s official image gallery, which you can find here. (I felt like I needed images of swirling storms.)

Music by Cloves, “Don’t Forget About Me”


Lost
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner