“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.
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.
Tax day. Taxes have been slaying me, which hasn’t helped with the whole issue of life in general. I had planned to stop backposting these Knopf Poem-A-Day entries, but this particular one by Tracy K. Smith is too, too beautiful to forego, and I need a permanent record of sorts somewhere, at least until I can buy the book.
Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.
The poet Tracy K. Smith (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 collection Life on Mars) tells a rich coming-of-age story in her new memoir and first book of prose, Ordinary Light. The youngest of five children, raised in suburban California by Alabama-born, African-American parents, Smith in this book looks back at herself as a growing girl: at her dawning understanding of her parents’ youth, so different from her own, during the Civil Rights movement; at her mother’s devout Christianity, which allows her to accept her cancer diagnosis as part of God’s plan; at the pain of losing her mother too early; at her first moments of independence at Harvard and her desire to become a writer. In this passage, we meet Smith in the college library, where she makes a connection between her mother’s faith and language, and her development as a poet.
My mother’s language was always the language of the soul. But it grew clearer, more telegraphic, once the cancer began to accelerate her sense that she was on her way elsewhere. So much of the time, living with such knowledge, her mind must have been tuned to the idea of what awaited her: I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, I would have told you. In some strange way, the return to the soul state might simply be the answer to the prayer that sits behind every prayer: Deliver me. Is there another dialect of the soul, a way it speaks in those who don’t possess the vocabulary of belief? A way it stirs and surges as if to say Here I am, something we don’t hear but that we feel and, feeling, know.
I liked to sit in the leather armchairs facing the tall windows in Lamont Library. The windows looked out onto Mass Ave. at the intersection of Quincy Street, and when I’d glance up from my page, I’d see people I knew and people I didn’t know moving back and forth along the axes of their lives. The reading room silence would obliterate all the outside traffic noises, and the daylight would baptize the pedestrians, it seemed to me, in a kind of transparent splendor, as if for the few moments they appeared in frame, they were resplendent in the inviolable promise we were all of us born into. It didn’t matter if they were in a rush or a daze, if they coughed into their fists or if smoke streamed from their mouths. Each wore, for an instant if not more, a mantle of eminent belonging, as if the moment that held them was not a mistake, as if they were not lost or alone or under a heap of insurmountable dread. Here I am, something in them seemed to be saying to the pavement, the fallen leaves, to no one in particular.
I was taking a poetry workshop, my third so far at Harvard. In it, I had discovered that sitting down with an idea and letting it unfold in words and sounds offered me not just pleasure but an indescribable comfort. I wanted to write the kind of poetry that people read and remembered, that they lived by — the kinds of lines that I carried with me from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to. Back out of all this now too much for us, said Robert Frost, and when I heard his words in my ears, they gave weight and purpose to my footsteps, to the breath going in and out of my lungs; they gave me terms with which to consider bits and pieces of the things I otherwise didn’t know how to acknowledge. Frost’s voice telling me to retreat (at least that’s part of what I heard in that line, hovering in space on its own, apart from the rest of the poem or even the rest of its sentence) emboldened me to admit that, yes, I was overwhelmed. My mother’s cancer overwhelmed me. Her death, waiting out there in the distance, overwhelmed me. So did the loneliness I still sometimes felt, even amid the chatter and bustle of friends and classes.
Perhaps without realizing it, I, like my mother long before she belonged to me, had been seeking something. I was searching. Not for any one thing in particular, and not as a result of a single glaring lack, but seeking — searching — nonetheless.
Poetry met my particular sense of need. Writing a poem, I sometimes felt like I was building a house from scratch, raising the walls, hanging the doors, laying out the rooms. It felt at times like backbreaking work. Other times, it seemed that what I was trying to evoke or encounter in a poem was already alive somewhere and that my job was merely to listen. The language of each of the poetry workshops I’d taken was built upon the assumption that there really was something else at play. My teachers talked about our poems as if they were sentient beings with plans and wishes of their own, wishes it was up to us to carry into language. “Your poem seems to be leading you in one direction, but you insist upon going in another.” Or, “Try and cut out all this noise so you can hear what the poem is trying to tell you.” It sounded quite nearly mystical, like we were playing at divination, but it also rang true. Wasn’t it strange that a poem, written in my vocabulary and as a result of my own thoughts or observations, could, when it was finished, manage to show me something I hadn’t already known? Sometimes, when I tried very hard to listen to what the poem I was writing was trying to tell me, I felt the way I imagined godly people felt when they were trying to discern God’s will. “Write this,” the poem would sometimes consent to say, and I’d revel in a joy to rival the saints’ that Poetry — this mysterious presence I talked about and professed belief in — might truly be real.
Often, that spring, I found myself sitting in a reading room window with a book I ought to have been reading for class, but I also always had a black sketchbook into which I’d begun writing lines of my own. Sometimes, I wrote the same stanza over and over until something was unlocked and I could move forward. Once or twice, I’d stopped mid-poem, altogether stumped, and started a letter to myself in which I’d describe whatever it was I was having trouble getting into language: What does it mean to slog through the weight of the everyday, to wake to anxiety, to spend the day straining to hear what they must be saying now that you’re out of earshot, to have to put on the boots, though you’re tired, always tired, and just keep going? Sometimes all of the watching and listening and waiting finally gave way to a poem:
The Ordinary Life
To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,
dress. Another day of what we bring to it-
matters unfinished from days before,
regret over matters we’ve finished poorly.
Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone
but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,
no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.
I ran across this incredible article on my tumblr dash a few days ago, and I really want to share it. It’s too long to post in its entirey, so I’m giving a link. It’s a good read, but I have to include a trigger warning.
In the aftermath of rape, and throughout the two-year-long rape trial, I was obsessed with dangerous animals. This is how I went from prey to predator.
My obsession with animals preexisted any trauma in my life. As a five-year-old I wrote a fully illustrated book titled Tigger Maskkir about circus animals that revolt and eat the clowns. My teachers thought I was becoming deranged but my mom explained that it had been going on since before the divorce. I interviewed neighbours about their dogs. I put my teddy bears and stuffed lions to bed every night under blankets of washcloths—I couldn’t fall asleep until they were safely arranged like Tetris pieces on the floor, covering every inch of carpet. I once stood for an hour with my face against the glass at Sea World, trying to make meaningful eye contact with a manatee.
My ritualistic obsessions are no longer limited to animals (currently, they include Diane Sawyer, The Slender Man Stabbings, and eating bacon every day for lunch). I never look for things to grab me. They just do, and once they do, the obsessions usually continue until I’m so sick of them—or of myself for enacting them—that suddenly, and with a sense of great relief, I’m repulsed.
On other occasions, it’s as if I can’t stop. Like on my 18th birthday.
The night was raucously fun—I must have stolen the karaoke microphone 11 times—but as dawn broke, my friend asked if I could please stop singing Limp Bizkit. She needed to sleep.
“Believe me, I’d love to, but I physically cannot.” I was tired, too. I’d sung “Faith” twice, but five was my number and I was halfway there.
And sometimes I worry that telling the story I’m about to tell you is a compulsion, like counting. Giving testimony under oath was supposed to bring closure. But here I am, so sick of my own voice. The urge persists.
“Where the Road Turns” (1939, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Red Chimneys” (1918, watercolor and graphite pencil) by Charles Demuth
“August Night, Russell’s Corners” (1948, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“View of Central Park” (1932, conté crayon) by Charles Sheeler
“View from Brooklyn” (1927, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Black Night at Russell’s Corners” (1943, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Winter, Hillside, NJ (1920, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“View of New York” (1931, oil on canvas) by Charles Sheeler
“Red Barn and Trees” (1946, gouache on paper) by Charles Sheeler
“Old House, New Moon” (1943, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Interior with Stove” (1932, conté crayon on wove paper) by Charles Sheeler
“Landscape” (1928, watercolor on paper) by Charles Sheeler
“Bright Light at Russell’s Corners” (1945, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Shaker Barn” (1934, tempera on panel) by Charles Sheeler
“Brook in the Mountains” (1945, oil on canvas) by George Ault
“Perhaps our deepest love is already inscribed within us, so its object doesn’t create a new word but instead allows us to read the one written.” ~ Anthony Marra, from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Monday afternoon. Sunny and temperate, 52 degrees.
Well hello. Long time, no write . . .
I have to admit that this latest round of bronchitis left me quite pitiful for much longer than I would have anticipated. In between, I’d have a good day or two, and then the coughing would come back stronger than ever, and I would spend most of the night alternating between hacking up my lungs and giving myself nebulizer treatments.
It seems that the worst has finally passed, and last night was probably the first night during which I did not awaken with a coughing fit. Needless to say, I didn’t much feel like sitting here at the keyboard and trying to come up with something witty to say, especially since my wit seemed to vanish sometime around Christmas day. Let’s just say that it’s been a strange holiday season, for a myriad of reasons.
Anyway, I thought I’d make the time today to try to get something down here, even if it’s not much of anything. I just hate that I’m five days into 2015, and I haven’t written or posted anything, not even pictures of the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
“But no life is a line, and hers was an uneven orbit around a dark star, a moth circling a dead bulb, searching for the light it once held.” ~ Anthony Marra, from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
I did manage to read a few books since my last missive: Help for the Haunted, by John Searles; Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Deep Water, by Patricia Highsmith, all Christmas presents from Corey. I had added all three to my Amazon wishlist at some point.
I liked all three, the Ishiguro the most, and the Highsmith the least. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or a phase I’m in, but I’ve been disappointed in the endings of several of the last few books I’ve read. For example, in a book that I read a couple of weeks ago, The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney, the ending was too abrupt. James Joyce was famous for his open-ended stories, especially in Dubliners. The stories were meant to be a slice of life, and after the ending, it was implied that life continued, and I suppose, since that’s what I expected of Joyce, the open-ended nature didn’t bother me so much. But in Penney’s book, I still had questions.
It’s hard to explain, really, only that I didn’t feel satisfied after turning the last page, and this feeling of dissatisfaction has happened more this past year. Perhaps I am reading with a more critical eye? Who knows. Anyway, reading is pretty much the only thing I’ve accomplished while I’ve been sick, that and binge-watching movies and “Downton Abbey.”
“We twist our souls around each other’s miseries.” ~ Anthony Marra, from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Alexis, Mike, and Olivia got back from Mississippi last week, so this weekend we had our family Christmas dinner with all Filipino food, and then after, they opened their presents. Olivia really liked her drawing easel, so that was a good pick. I know that it will just seem like bragging, but she is scary smart. I mean, she’s two and a half, barely, and she knows her ABCs, numbers to 20, and shapes. She speaks in polysyllabic words, and she’s starting to recognize words when we read.
She’s also very intuitive, and can sense when something is wrong, which is why I’m so worried about her at the moment. Things at her house are quite tense because my daughter is acting up again, and it just slays me that I cannot protect Olivia from this. It’s the elephant in the room that we have all been creeping around so carefully, but things are going to have to be confronted eventually.
I cannot be too detailed because I must respect their privacy. I can only say that far too often, people assume that young children do not pick up on things when it is quite obvious that they do.
Ah, me . . .
“As someone whose days were defined by the ten thousand ways a human can hurt, she needed, now and then, to remember that the nervous system didn’t exist exclusively to feel pain.” ~ Anthony Marra, from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Moving right along . . .
Because I was so sick, I never made it to the cemeteries before Christmas to take the poinsettias I had bought for all three graves. The guilt over this is weighing heavily on me, so much so that one time when I opened the sliding door to let the dogs out, and I saw the box of flowers on the steps, I yelled, “I am not a bad daughter, mom.”
I’m not sure how much not having my mom around for the holidays has affected my kids, but it has really taken its toll on me. There is just so much guilt—guilt over being relieved that she wasn’t sitting at the table criticizing me throughout Thanksgiving dinner, guilt over not having to fret over my Christmas presents not being right. And then there is the immense sadness for which I was unprepared—sadness that she wasn’t sitting there at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner complaining, sadness over her not being around to see Olivia at Christmas.
Let’s face it: my feelings about my mother remain highly conflicted, and I doubt that that will ever change. But I could just hear her voice bitching at me because I hadn’t taken the time to put flowers on their graves, because I don’t visit the cemetery enough. And truthfully, I don’t visit enough, but how much is enough?
I know that all of this is self-imposed; still, it does not lessen it in any way.
“How often is immense sadness mistaken for courage?” ~ Anthony Marra, from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
You see, that same day that I yelled at my mother’s ghost, I had picked up David Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is a pseudo-memoir dealing with the loss of both of his parents within a year. It’s a hard book, mostly because Eggers has continual asides in the form of long notes and explanations, and I can relate to it because it is very similar to my own writing style. I had only made it through the introduction when I decided that I still wasn’t ready to go further, mostly because I knew that delving any further into it would only provoke more strong feelings about my mother.
Did that make any sense?
So I found myself yelling at my mother that I wasn’t a bad daughter, and then I immediately retreated to my bed, in much the same way I did as a teenager when I felt overwhelmed. And all of this is probably boring you to tears if you’ve managed to stay with me thus far, but I can only say that I had a feeling that I didn’t have much of any import to say when I began this post, and only guilt over not posting forced me to carry on because guilt is once and forever my driving emotion.
Enough. Perhaps I’ll be able to come up with a new direction soon. With any luck, that is.
More later. Peace.
……forgot to hit post this afternoon……….
All quotes are from the Anthony Marra work, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which is on my to-read list.
Images are by Precisionist painters Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, and George Ault. I love all of the barn variations. For more on these artists, click here.
Music by Lord Huron, “Ghost on the Shore”
I am the one standing in the rain,
invisible beside you. I am the one in the dirt
which is now turning to mud around my feet.
I am the one weighed down by each of our partings
and the one lifted up by each meeting,
reachings that could not be completed, that
nevertheless held up the force of their hunger.
And, yes, you were always a seeking, an unknown,
a mystery to me. And not less that I to myself—
beginner that I have become all over again
on the paths and mountain slopes of this journey.
I watch my mind watch each moment in its passage,
it fades into, blends, with what came before.
Nothing remains as it was in the mind
after the path has been seen and walked upon,
there is always the next thing arriving
as if from behind, catching up with one’s sight,
surrounding. And all the while the snows of memory
are falling, covering the roads of the present.
The past overflows this moment without meaning to,
just as your face is more real in my remembering
than this present one sitting next to me,
just as each of us hurt the other without
intending it. And after a time we thought
experience might bring us to calm, and we see
we are standing in the river of passing,
each waiting for the warmth of the other’s face,
unable to understand why they are not with us,
startled by their absence, traveler and traveler
distant as two dots unconnected in a yellow field.
Here. Have a really good poem in place of my inane ramblings:
I have seen nothing that hasn’t already been
lost from its birth
so many times the avenues have a sheen—
as a car passed through a car wash glows
from happening in the now, which isn’t talking
in this city of snowmen
who lose their heads
and then their torsos
and even their nakedness.
And these same doors to needs
and to these shoppers
wheeling carts around,
and almost every time the same bagger
who shall remain nameless
pushing my groceries into the backseat,
as if to push his own
existence out of his hands and shut the door,
speaks in a voice fatigued by its own formality
the words for just how tedious it is
to buy this night and many like it,
we shoppers with sacks of perishable goodness
our heads moon above
with the borrowed light
of the streetlights and the car lights
spread across our features
carved at times as out of sheer inertia.
That light is changing like the money
we try to make all day and into night
provision our lives
while our children roll another evening away
until it snowballs
to people with nothing but weather on their minds
shaped out of this snow,
still wearing handprints,
looking more and more like the mess
one life is not enough to face.
Landscape of demand and demand
and little lights of comprehension,
supply of saving graces,
the sacks of groceries in back
death cannot celebrate
and famine cannot touch,
as each engine turns over
like a sleeper and is gunned alive,
I look up from my hands on the wheel.
Behind each pair of car lights
there is a person or two, families
whole or broken,
workers all alone
warming their hands with their breath
in distances you must travel to believe,
merging with the bound—
this road, this wilderness—
“Life can be magnificent and overwhelming—that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live.” ~ Albert Camus
Monday afternoon. Rainy and warm, 74 degrees.
I have an appointment with my pain doctor today, am expecting a lot of trigger point injections in my back. Then I have to find a turkey, which I’m hoping isn’t too big of a deal on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Actually, I have to find two smallish turkeys: one for Mike to smoke, and one for Corey to deep fry. We’re trying something different this year. We shall see . . .
Anyway, not a lot of time to put together anything in any way coherent, so I thought I’d marry Camus and Bonnard in a lovely blend of autumn bliss. Enjoy . . .
“For the moment at least, the waves’ endless crashing against the shore came toward me through a space dancing with golden pollen. Sea, landscape, silence, scents of this earth, I would drink my fill of a scent-laden life, sinking my teeth into the world’s fruit, golden already, overwhelmed by the feeling of its strong, sweet juice flowing on my lips. No, it was neither I nor the world that counted, but solely the harmony and silence that gave birth to the love between us. A love I was not foolish enough to claim for myself alone, proudly aware that I shared it with a whole race born in the sun and sea,alive and spirited, drawing greatness from its simplicity, and upright on the beaches, smiling in complicity at the brilliance of its skies.”
Listen. . With faint dry sound, Like steps of passing ghosts, The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees And fall. ~ Adelaide Crapsey, “November Night”
Monday night. Windy and scattered showers, 74 degrees.
Did not have Olivia today. Instead, I took Alexis and Olivia to Lex’s doctor’s appointment in Virginia Beach. It was a brief but nice visit. Olivia is such a chatterbug, and she doesn’t miss anything. I’ve taught her two new things: the word terrible, and the sound that crows make “caw.” She has also discovered the deliciousness of soft pretzels, thanks to me.
I do what I can . . .
Anyway, I took them home and then came home and collapsed. Not really sure what’s going on, maybe my sugar levels, but I was quite dizzy. The same thing happened when I was out with Brett the other day; I actually had to find a place to sit down before I fell on my face. I’m not even going to bother to call my PCP. I mean, what’s the point? I’m dizzy . . . I’m not dizzy. Whatever.
But as a result, no productivity today—no post, no poem lurking somewhere in the recesses of my brain. Just this wonderful passage by Ray Bradbury and these ink drawings by Victor Hugo, both of which I’ve been holding, waiting for an opportune moment, like now for instance. By the way, the periods in the Crapsey short poem above are in the original as posted.
More later. Peace.
“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.” ~ Ray Bradbury, from Something Wicked This Way Comes