“sometimes a man must fight so hard for life that he doesn’t have time to live it.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Flower Horse”


“I was returning to my musty court and madness but my kind of madness.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”

Monday afternoon, rainy and much cooler, 72 degrees.

Book cover

It’s a Charles Bukowski kind of day; by that I mean that it’s ordinary, but depressing in its ordinariness. I’m of two minds about Bukowski: I like some of his poetry, but his short stories sometimes get on my nerves because they are so filled with misogyny. I was just perusing the 1983 collection Tales of Ordinary Madness (originally published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1972). Bukowski had a seeming antipathy towards women that I have a hard time getting past. Yet at the same time, he wrote some lines that were real pearls. For example, take the closing line of one of his short stories, “A .45 to Pay the Rent”:

then the beautiful child was asleep and the moon was full.

It’s such a peaceful line, closing a story with such violent undertones.

The truth is, though, that Bukowski was a true curmudgeon: he just didn’t get along with most people, and he found ordinary life hard, taxing. So he drank and smoked and did drugs, none of which I really do; nevertheless, I sometimes feel a real affinity for the man, the writer, and the intense creative force that compelled him.

“‘Would you suggest writing as a career?’ one of the young students asked me.
‘Are you trying to be funny?’ I asked him.
‘No, no, I’m serious. Would you advise writing as a career?’
‘Writing chooses you, you don’t choose it.’” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”

I was reminded of the collection when I was prowling the ether looking for quotes that fit my mood for today. I may have over 100 draft posts filled with quotes and poems and songs, but none of them seemed to fit today’s mood. Then I found the quote for this section, which I have always loved, which led me to search for an online copy of the short stories. I found one here as a PDF, if you are so inclined. I actually found a site that has nothing but quotes from the collection. You can find it here if you’re interested.

Anyway, the drastic switch in temperatures and dropping barometric pressure has caused a combination sinus/migraine, which probably accounts for my weird mood. No real surprise there. Intense pressure and pain do not make for a pleasant afternoon under any circumstances, as I am sure you can agree.

One good thing on the horizon, though: Corey was able to borrow a small horse trailer that works with a standard hitch. We should be able to bring Napoleon home today or tomorrow, depending on weather. I am so relieved.

“I like to prowl ordinary places
and taste the people—
from a distance.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from”59 Cents a Pound”

This section quote comes from a poem contained in the book (epub here) Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. I mean, how can you not love something with that title? It’s as if Bukowski was at times two different people. The crass woman-hater in the short stories, and the astute observer of humanity and life in the poems. I mean, he wrote poems about the souls of dead animals and dreaming of injured cats; there’s a remembered section from some poem, “It’s so easy to be a poet | and so hard to be | a man.”

Book cover

Truthfully, though I have never read a biography on him, so I probably should do so before attempting to analyze the man in any kind of cogent way.

There was actually a point here. The title of the collection reminds me so much of my friend Gail Kelly from the medical school. She came to me one afternoon so excited because she had found the Tom Waits’ song called “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” It was a classic Gail moment. She was a wild woman, and like so many of my friends, I lost touch with her, and that’s really a shame because we had a real connection.

But back to me and my headache.

It hurts. My eyes are throbbing and I’m typing without really focusing on the screen, not just because of the head but also because the pair of glasses that I use during the day is an old pair of prescription sunglasses, and I lost a nose piece the other day. I haven’t pursued getting a new pair of glasses because of the whole cataract thing. I’m hoping to have an eye exam in August, and perhaps then I can get a referral to an eye surgeon; although, I would really prefer to have the operation done in Norfolk, but who even knows if I can swing that.

Allow me to apologize. I know that this post has been all over the place. Like I said in the beginning: a Bukowski kind of day.

That’s about all for now. More later. Peace.

Music by Tom Waits, “The Piano has been Drinking,” what else? I picked one with the lyrics. For Gail.


59 cents a pound

I like to prowl ordinary places
and taste the people—
from a distance.
I don’t want them too near
because that’s when attrition
starts..
but in supermarkets
laundromats
cafes
street corners
bus stops
eating places
drug stores
I can look at their bodies
and their faces
and their clothing—
watch the way they walk
or stand
or what they are doing.
I’m like an x-ray machine
I like them like that:
on view.
I imagine the best things
about them.
I imagine them brave and crazy
I imagine them beautiful.

I like to prowl ordinary places.
I feel sorry for us all or glad for us
all
caught alive together
and awkward in that way.

there’s nothing better than the joke
of us
the seriousness of us
the dullness of us

buying stockings and carrots and gum
and magazines
buying birth control
candy
hair spray
and toilet paper.

we should build a great bonfire
we should congratulate ourselves on our
endurance

we stand in long lines
we walk about
we wait.

I like to prowl ordinary places
the people explain themselves to me
and I to them

a woman at 3:35 p.m.
weighing purple grapes on a scale
looking at that scale very
seriously
she is dressed in a simple green dress
with a pattern of white flowers
she takes the grapes
puts them carefully into a white paper
bag

that’s lightning enough

the generals and the doctors may kill us
but we have
won.

~ Charles Bukowski

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“Everything we care about lies somewhere in the middle, where pattern and randomness interlace.” ~ James Gleick, from The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood


“Anxious, we keep longing for a foothold-
we, at times too young for what is old
and too old for what has never been;
doing justice only where we praise,
because we are the branch, the iron blade,
and sweet danger, ripening from within.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Sonnets to Orpheus: XXIII” (Trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Monday afternoon, storms and dropping temps, 84 degrees.

About half an hour ago, a line of thunderstorms whipped through here, and it was pretty wild. The girl goats and Sassy (the horse) were all clustered on the porch for shelter from the fierce wind, and Tillie was hiding in the bathroom. Fortunately, it was a quick storm, but more are looming on the horizon.

Speaking of the bathroom, last night I had a major scare: I was switching out laundry when I heard a rattle. A large (in my mind) black snake was hanging out on the corner of the work table on which I stack the folded laundry. I made some kind of weird noise and hightailed it out of there. Corey was standing in the hall when this happened, and as he’s asking me, “What? What?” I’m trying to say the word snake, but honestly, I’m not sure if any real words came out of my mouth.

My deep, abiding phobia about snakes has not lessened with time. If anything I think that it might be worse.

So Corey goes on snake patrol only to tell me that everything is fine because the snake had gone back under the house. I did not find this statement nearly as comforting as he would have thought because my first thought was how in the hell did it go back under the house from the bathroom?

Apparently, there is a hole beneath the pipes. Great. Just g-r-e-a-t……..

“Today my grief abated like water soaking
underground, its scar a little path
of twigs and needles winding ahead of me
downhill to the next bend. Today I let
the rain soak through my shirt and was unharmed.” ~ David Mason, from “In the Mushroom Summer”

When I told Corey that I was afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night because of what might be lurking (I don’t usually turn on the light), he laughed, but I reminded him that I knew of a real incident in which a snake was in the toilet: one of my parents’ neighbors across the back fence once found out the hard way that a snake was in his toilet.

I will never forget that story. Is it any wonder that I am terrified of snakes?

I realized that moving to the country meant that I would encounter more wildlife, and I’m okay with that—mostly—but that doesn’t mean that I’m okay with snakes in the house. I remember when Brett’s partner lived in our house, and she had a pet snake; I could only go in their room if I kept my eyes averted. Granted it was a small snake, but it was still a snake, in the house, in my house.

Full body shudders.

(Note: I had to leave this post on Monday so that we could go see Dallas. Ended up being caught in a downpour. More on this later)

“A burning sense of injustice, sobs, sorrow: desire to fight back, and no time or energy to do so,” ~ Sylvia Plath, from a journal entry, April 22, 1958

Wednesday afternoon, more storms, warm and humid, 84 degrees.

Corey and I made the trip to see Dallas because we had a proposition: We would trade him Beric the goat to get Napoleon back; however, when we got to his house, he was nowhere to be found. He’s taken to hiding in his house because animal control has been called on him. So we searched everywhere, and then a big storm hit. As we were waiting for the storm to pass, Dallas’s nephew drove up with Dallas in the truck.

The attempts at conversation were futile as Dallas was drunk, and there’s just no talking to him when he’s like that. I don’t particularly want Dallas to have Beric, but I’m desperate to get Napoleon back over here. The long and short of it, though, is that I don’t think that he’s ever going to bring Napoleon back, and truly, that breaks my heart. Dallas is known for giving and then taking back when he gets mad. We’ve heard stories of such from several people and from Dallas himself. I really wish that I had known this before he ever brought the horses over here, before I became too attached.

You just shouldn’t tell a person that you’re giving them something, when in fact you don’t mean give at all. Quite frankly, I’m sick to death of the man and his constant stream of lies and tall tales. So I just need to resign myself to this reality. If only I had the money to offer to buy Napoleon and bring him home.

“We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.” ~ Tony Hoagland, from “Jet”

So more snake news: last night I started to go into the bathroom only to find Ash staring intently at something near the toilet. I backed out, and Corey went in and wrangled the snake again. He’s fairly certain that it’s the same snake. I did not look closely enough to notice. Thank god Ash was on high alert as I probably wouldn’t have noticed or been able to see the damned thing as my eyesight is getting worse.

Funnily enough, earlier in the day Corey had pointed out that a snake was wrapped around one of the fence posts, and he thought that it was probably the same snake. He asked me if he should kill it, and even though I hate, hate, hate it, there’s no good reason for killing a black snake as they are harmless. Well, almost harmless. A couple of weeks ago Corey found a black snake in the chicken coop, and it was trying to eat one of the chickens. So there’s that . . .

Enough on my ophidiaphobia; I wouldn’t say herpetophobia as I’m not afraid of all reptiles, only snakes.

“I know I am restless and make others so,
I know my words are weapons full of danger, full of death ~ Walt Whitman, from “As I Lay with My Head in Your Lap Camerado”

I had originally planned to post pictures of all the goats for Wordless Wednesday, but I really wanted to finish this post as the longer that it remains unfinished, the more I stress over it, and one of the main reasons I keep this blog is to write away my stress, not compound it.

Anyway, here’s the current goat status: four females, three males. The Nubians are Sylvia,  Bobby, Roland, and the new baby Zeke. Ruby is a Miniature Nubian. Daisy is a pygmy, and Beric is a Nigerian Dwarf. Corey’s plan is to breed and sell registered Nubians and Miniature Nubians. Bobby gave birth to Zeke a week ago, but she had no interest in nursing him, so both he and Roland are currently in the house being bottle fed, but Roland is almost ready to be weaned (even though he probably doesn’t think so).

I find it more than a little amusing that Corey has managed to spoil the two goat babies in the same way that I spoil dogs and cats. It’s so bad that Roland cries at night if Corey leaves the kitchen, which is where we have the crates for both of them. Corey puts Roland in his crate for the night, and then he has to wait for Roland to fall asleep; otherwise, his cries get progressively louder and more anxious, and I swear that it’s as unnerving as listening to a baby cry.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. More later. Peace.


Music by Wafia (featuring Finneas), “The Ending”


[from the sustaining air]
from the sustaining air
fresh air
There is the clarity of a shore
And shadow,   mostly,   brilliance
summer
                the billows of August
When, wandering, I look from my page
I say nothing
      when asked
I am, finally, an incompetent, after all
~ Larry Eigner (found on Poetry Foundation)

 

 

“The heavenly solitude, the pacifying trees, the blue night that was a good counsellor, the peace of wild animals—” ~ Colette, from Claudine and Annie

Orage vu de Petit-Croix by Thomas Bresson (FCC)

But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence . . .” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, from The Little Prince

Monday afternoon, partly sunny, 82 degrees.

Well yesterday was interesting. Temperatures in Roanoke were hotter, and the AC in the truck doesn’t work; by the time we got home, my eyes were dry and hurting from the wind coming in the windows. We picked up the two female Nubian goats. They already have names: Sylvia and Roberta. Sylvia I can handle, but Roberta? Never liked that name. She’s young enough that maybe we can switch her name to Bobby. We’ll see.

Unfortunately, Sylvia had her babies prematurely, and neither survived. One died on Saturday, and the other died before we got there yesterday. Bobby is still pregnant, so we’re hoping that everything goes okay with her. The woman from whom we bought them says that she thinks it may have been a mineral deficiency. As Bobby is Sylvia’s daughter, we know that Sylvia can have successful pregnancies, so at least there’s that.

All of the animals were worked up by the time we got home. Tillie and Bailey went for each other, but luckily, Corey and I were both on hand to break it up. Roland is hoarse today, so he must have been bleating for hours, which makes me feel guilty, but we couldn’t take him with us because we thought we’d be bringing a baby goat home. At the moment, Roland thinks that he’s one of the dogs; it will be interesting once he’s bigger to see if he still acts the same way—i.e., wanting to take an afternoon nap on the couch.

“Not only rational and irrational, but even inanimate creatures have a voice, and speak loudly to men, and it is our duty to learn their language, and hearken to them.” ~ Ralph Austen, from The Spiritual Use of an Orchard or Garden of Fruit Trees

We’ve learned that the temperatures here on the ridge tend to be a bit cooler than surrounding areas. I think that it’s because we’re pretty much situated in a bowl, so we always have a good breeze. The downside is that breeze can really be a fierce wind at times. We’ve been discussing shelter issues for the outside animals, and we had talked about one of those metal buildings, but I’m afraid that if it isn’t fixed properly, the wind will just pick it up and drop it.

Thunderstorm in Victoria by Ryk Neethling (FCC)

More than once we’ve wished that we could have a barn building like the Amish. Remember that beautiful scene from the Harrison Ford movie Witness? But we’re missing one or two of the key components for such a thing: people and lumber.

Ah me . . .

Yesterday, just as we were getting ready to leave for Roanoke, Dallas showed up. I knew that he would because Corey had slipped and told him that we were going to Roanoke. I was afraid that he’d come while we were gone to try to take Sassy back, but he didn’t bring the horse trailer. Instead, he said that he was coming to fish in the ponds, which is fine, as long as he doesn’t try to take back the last horse that we have.

“I must wash myself clean with abstract thoughts, transparent as water.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre, from Nausea

I took the opportunity of having him in front of me to confront Dallas about still having Napoleon, but he claims that he still needs him for stud. Originally, he had told me that he’d only have Napoleon for two weeks, but I should know by now that he just tells you what he thinks you want to hear and that the truth rarely escapes his lips. I did tell him that Sassy is lonely as horses need the company of other horses, and I pointed out how overgrown the pasture is getting, so he ultimately agreed to bring over some more horses. We’ll just have to see, I suppose.

Storm over Cayuga by Adam Baker (FCC)

Look, I know that technically, the horses belong to him; I’m not unaware of the reality. But we take much better care of the animals that are here than he ever could, not to mention the fact that when he first brought the horses here, he said that he was giving them to me. But again, it’s the matter of him saying one thing while meaning something completely different. We’ve learned that he has a habit of taking things back when he gets mad at someone; he’s done it repeatedly with different people—he giveth and then he taketh away.

Dallas is a prime example of being both a boon and a curse. And quite frankly, we’ve had way to many curses in the last few years. I tire of them. I tire of never getting ahead, never making forward progress.

“Animals, at least, don’t experience fear until it’s upon them, immediately. But our nerve reactions can convey worry about the future, until the fear insinuates itself into the present, into everything.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from a letter to Eddie Cohen, September 11, 1950

We hit rain on the way home even though the forecast had not called for any, and then as we neared the ridge, it was apparent that there had been a big storm while we were gone. I think that’s part of the reason the dogs were so riled when we got home. Tillie is very afraid of storms, especially if no one is around to comfort her, and I think that Bailey senses that unease.

Storm by Jim Sorbie (FCC)

As we came down the drive, the trees were heavy with rain. So everything was close to the sides of the drive, almost as it was the first time that we came to the ridge, and everything was so overgrown. At least the gas company fixed the part of the drive that had washed out, but they just cut into the side of the mountain, which is essentially compacted soil, so it’s a temporary fix at best. The next big wind and rain storm will undoubtedly wash out more. It would be nice if they’d build up the embankment with rock, but unfortunately, we have no control over what they do with the drive.

I saw the big excavator that the company had parked on the side after carving more of the mountain side on the drive, and I told Corey that it’s too bad that we don’t know how to hot wire it and use it for a few days. We could scoop up some of the loose gravel that’s around the wells and dump it on the drive. Or we could dig out a hole for an in-ground pool. I’ve always wanted to drive something like an excavator—how awesome would that be? It’s an interesting fantasy.

“The sky is lowering and black, a strange blue-blackness, which makes red houses pink, and green leaves purple. Over the blowing purple trees, the sky is an iron-blue, split with forks of straw-yellow. The thunder breaks out of the sky with a crash, and rumbles away in a long, hoarse drag of sound.” ~ Amy Lowell, from “Before the Storm (III)”

This morning the dogs were doing their fierce, alert barks, and Corey looked out the window to see a bear in the pasture again. Oddly enough, Sassy didn’t seem to be afraid of it. She was at the trough and took a few steps towards the bear. I’m hoping that it’s the same bear and not another one. Knowing that one bear is nearby is unnerving enough; I’d hate to have to wonder about several.

I do wonder, though, where he or she was hibernating; I’m hoping the bear is male because a female with cubs can be very vicious when in protection mode. We haven’t really come upon any caves in our walks, but I would imagine that there have to be some around here. Here’s hoping the dogs will be enough to keep the bear from coming too close. Corey says that Llamas and Alpacas are good to have for herd protection. That’s something to think about for the future.

Thunderstorm over Nevada by Stuart Seeger (FCC)

The future is something I don’t really want to think about at the moment. We find ourselves in a precarious position yet again, and truthfully, I’m really tired of living this way, never really knowing how we’re going to survive, pay the bills. The fear of losing everything yet again never seems to be far away, and the really weird aspect of all of this is that I know that we make more money than many people around here, and trust me when I say that living on my disability is not making a lot of money.

Again, I know that if we can survive the year, that things will change, that getting started on a farm is precarious at best, but damn I’m tired of precarious. I’m tired of always worrying. I suppose I’m just tired, but who isn’t any more?

More later. Peace.


Music by Welshly Arms, “Legendary”


The Trees are Down

—and he cried with a loud voice:
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees—
(Revelation)

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas,’ the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.
I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.
The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
   On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
             Green and high
             And lonely against the sky.
                   (Down now!—)
             And but for that,
             If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.
It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.
It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
             In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
             There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
             They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying—
             But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
             ‘Hurt not the trees.’

~ Charlotte Mew

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” ~ Joseph Heller, from Catch-22

Andrew Graystone outside his local mosque in Levenshulme. Photograph: @AndrewGraystone/Twitter

“This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.” ~ Camille T. Dungy, from “Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another”

Monday evening, drizzle, 55 degrees.

Doctor’s appointment today, so sharing this story found on The Guardian in light of Sunday’s arson attack on a California mosque:

Choosing love over hate: In response to the March 15 mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, NZ, a Manchester, UK man stood outside a local mosque with a sign that read, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” Andrew Graystone from Levenshulme, Manchester stood outside the Madina mosque holding the sign.

When I heard about this man’s gentle protest, it almost made me cry—one person’s unbelievable humanity in the face of yet another instance of man’s inhumanity to man. We—people, humans, sentient beings worldwide—need more of these small acts of kindness more than most of us even realize. They make us better bit by bit.


Music by Michael Kiwanuka, “Cold Little Heart”


Evidence

Helix of pain,

then dull haze,

a dozen or so soft black t-shirts

Distrust of the night, muscled voices,

dark SUVS, the unknown. Sheets

of paper work, faxes, phone numbers,

account statements, business cards,

to-do lists: feed yourself–

for a month of his last meal.

Break down when the bowl

empties. Break bowl, skin to get at

the hunger–an arterial pull that thrums

and thrums through the spine.

Bills–Write Deceased,

write it until you think

you are writing Diseased.

Start to imagine this your truth.

A few striped collard shirts,

Never, or

barely worn.

Size 13 shoes.

One pigtailed crying child,

one infant,

one boy

who wants to be a man,

and refuses to cry.

~ Casandra López (author of Brother Bullet, poem found on Literary Orphans)

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.

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #15

Backpost.

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.

Poem-a-Day

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.

To share the Poem-a-Day experience, pass along this link.

                   

From Ordinary Light:

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.

“Drowning. Strychnine. Self-cannibalism. Scabs. Scarab beetles. Soul-abortion. God-divorce. Apostasy. Voice box autopsy. Hydrogen peroxide. Why can’t I scour below the pores? Possible cracked scapula. I didn’t dare go to the doctor. The X-ray would show no bones like the mirror confesses no reflection. Broken camera. Slow shutter speed; same photo over and over. Alchemy. Blood. Heart pumping mud. Black magic. Skin turned to stone. Slaughterhouse. Should have known better. Should have known better. Inadequate gravity. The earth cast off its axis; I’m fighting for an atmosphere somewhere in Andromeda.” ~ Deanna Larsen, from “What Rape Is Like”

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.

Prey

By Kathleen Hale

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.