“cleansed as baptism leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep— as you instruct him—with the angels, cleaner than he’ll ever be again.” ~ Stuart Dybek, from “Bath”
Tuesday afternoon, storms, 73 degrees.
Today’s Two for Tuesday theme is the bath. I was perusing the Poetry Foundation site yesterday, and I came across the Amy Lowell poem below, which I had never read. Then last night, after being caught in the rain, I decided to take a hot bath, but I made the water too hot, so when I emerged, I was completely spent, and my legs felt like rubber—you know, like how you feel after getting out of a hot tub.
Anyway, my mind focused on baths, I decided to post Lowell and one by D. H. Lawrence, who I don’t use nearly enough.
(Side note: I always had a really hard time with the works by Lawrence in grad school, so one of these days I need to go back to Sons and Lovers, which I only pretended to read once upon a time, one of the few times that I actually did that.)
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.
~ Amy Lowell
Gloire de Dijon
When she rises in the morning
I linger to watch her;
She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
And the sunbeams catch her
Glistening white on the shoulders,
While down her sides the mellow
Golden shadow glows as
She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
Sway like full-blown yellow
Gloire de Dijon roses.
She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
Glisten as silver, they crumple up
Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
In the window full of sunlight
Concentrates her golden shadow
Fold on fold, until it glows as
Mellow as the glory roses.
Well, no sitting outside today. The skies have been mostly overcast, and the temps have dropped 5 degrees since noon.The dogs are restless because they haven’t been able to play out in the fresh air all day. We’re supposed to have falling temperatures and rain through the weekend, but then a nice week following. I’m trying to convince Corey that it would be a good weekend to paint. Here’s hoping.
I do have a good collection for today, so I hope that you enjoy.
More later. Peace.
I love the little things they used to put in daily newspapers:
Cats in bars . . . why not?
I never knew this:
This used to be me every morning when the kids were growing up; now it’s me every time the roosters crow:
I have to give it to this man—I cannot begin to imagine being bitten by a snake even once, let alone 170 times:
Pierre Yves-Petit aka Yvon, Notre Dame Spire from another angle, c1920s
Pierre Yves-Petit aka Yvon, Notre Dame Spire, c1920s
Pierre Yves-Petit, aka Yvon, Ponte Notre-Dame, c1920s
Pierre Yves-Petit aka Yvon, Le Bouquiniste Notre Dame in the mist), c1920s
Pierre Yves-Petit, aka Yvon, Notre-Dame Gargoyle, c1920s
With angel’s wings and brutish-human form, Weathered with centuries of sun and storm, He crouches yonder on the gallery wall, Monstrous, superb, indifferent, cynical: And all the pulse of Paris cannot stir Her one immutable philosopher. ………………..~ Edmund Kemper Broadus, “A Gargoyle on Notre Dame”
Tuesday afternoon, sunny and warmer, 64 degrees.
Did I tell you that it snowed for a few minutes yesterday? Snowflakes in April on tax day. How fitting. It was cold yesterday.
I still have Notre-Dame on the brain, so I thought that I’d share some historic images of the cathedral from the 1800s. Thinking of Notre-Dame reminds me of Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral,” a favorite of mine that I used to teach in American Literature classes. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.
Today is a Two for Tuesday, but the theme is kind of murkier: the mind as a personal cathedral.
More later. Peace.
The man in the yellow hard hat,
the one with the mask
across his nose and mouth,
pulls the lever that turns
the great arm of the crane up
and over and sideways
toward the earth;
then the wrecking ball
so delicately, like a silver fob
loosened from a waistcoat pocket:
shocking to see
the dust fly up and the timber
sail up, then so slowly
down, how the summer air
bristles with a hundred splinters
and the smallest is a splintered flame,
for it takes so many lengthening
erratic movements to tear away
what stands between the sidewalk
and the bell tower,
where the pigeons now rise
in grand indignant waves
at such poor timing, such
a deaf ear toward the music;
in this way the silence
between hand and lever is turned
into a ragged and sorely lifted
wing: the wrecking ball lurches
in a narrowing arc until only
the dust resists—the rest
comes down, story by story,
and is hauled off in flatbed trucks.
Meanwhile the pedestrians come
and go, now and then glancing
at their accurate watches.
Gradually, the dust
becomes the rose light
But one evening a woman
loses her way as she’s
swept into a passing wave
of commuters and she
looks up toward the perfectly
now hanging between
the rutted mud and the sky.
There along the sides
of the adjacent building,
like a set for a simple
elementary school play,
like the gestures of the dead
in her children’s faces,
she sees the flowered paper
of her parents’ bedroom,
the pink stripes leading
up the stairs to the attic,
and the outline of the claw-
footed bathtub, font
of the lost cathedral of childhood.
~ Susan Stewart
Explication of an Imaginary Text
Salt is pity, brooms are fury,
The waterclock stands for primordial harmony.
The spruce forest, which is said to be Like a cathedral
Indicates proliferation of desire.
The real meaning of the beginning
Will not become clear until later, if ever.
Things no longer being what they were,
Artifice poses as process,
The voice is tinged with melancholy.
The teacup, the brass knuckles, and the pearl-handled razor
As if to say
That half the wind is in the mind
And half in the mind of the wind.
Speaking through the character
Who comes to faith on his deathbed,
The author makes apology
For saying things he didn’t mean.
Little girl-cousins with ribbons in their hair
Confuse him with their names and are carried away
By laughter. Thus,
The force of love comes from belief, Hate is from lack of doubt.
Paradox by paradox the narrative proceeds
Until half the stars are absolute tears.
The other half are mirrors.
~ James Galvin
Continue to be in a blues mood. Music by Gary B.B. Coleman, “The Sky is Crying”
“—all are mingled, combined, amalgamated in Notre-Dame. This central mother church is, among the ancient churches of Paris, a sort of chimera; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the haunches of another, something of all.” ~ Victor Hugo
Monday night, clear and cold, 39 degrees.
Rather than a regular post, I feel the need to share some key passages from Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.* The burning of this historical masterpiece just breaks my soul, and as news images around the world depict, countless individuals are mourning the loss. The world has lost far too many architectural wonders—to time, but more so, to the ravages of war and genocidal myopia—far too many to list here.
Fans of the Disney movie and/or the novel may be unaware that Hugo originally wrote his book because he was so dismayed by the state of disrepair in which the great cathedral sat in the 1800’s. Hugo wanted to preserve the Gothic architecture he believed was tied so directly to France’s history, rather than see it succumb to renovation or destruction in favor of Baroque buildings. Quasimodo, the hunchback, represents all of the deformities bestowed upon such architecture by subsequent generations, and Hugo bestowed in Quasimodo a pure love for the cathedral and all of its many statuary: “the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside.”
Hugo and his endearing creation helped to lead to the massive 1844 restoration of Notre-Dame. The following passages are taken from Chapter 1 of the third book:
The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.
On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: Time is a devourer; man, more so.
If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of destruction imprinted upon the old church, time’s share would be the least, the share of men the most . . .
. . . the tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is; prodigious product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch, upon each stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist start forth in a hundred fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,—variety, eternity.
. . . these hybrid constructions are not the least interesting for the artist, for the antiquarian, for the historian. They make one feel to what a degree architecture is a primitive thing, by demonstrating (what is also demonstrated by the cyclopean vestiges, the pyramids of Egypt, the gigantic Hindoo pagodas) that the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius; the deposit left by a whole people; the heaps accumulated by centuries; the residue of successive evaporations of human society,—in a word, species of formations. Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. Thus do the beavers, thus do the bees, thus do men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a hive.
Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.
. . . architecture does what she pleases. Statues, stained glass, rose windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals, bas-reliefs,—she combines all these imaginings according to the arrangement which best suits her. Hence, the prodigious exterior variety of these edifices, at whose foundation dwells so much order and unity. The trunk of a tree is immovable; the foliage is capricious.
*You can find an online copy of the complete novel here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.
Music by Gabriel Fauré, “Pie Jesu Requiem, Op. 48”
“This is how I live Up here and simply” ~ from “I Live Up Here”
I am quite late in acknowledging the passing of a wonderful American poet, so I decided to post this today instead of my usual Friday leftovers.
Poet W. S. Merwin died on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, March 15, 2019. He was 91. U. S. Poet Laureate from 2010 to 2011, Merwin won numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award in 2005. Merwin was an incredibly prolific writer who published almost three dozen volumes of poetry, essays, short fiction, and memoirs. He was also known for his translations of Dante and Pablo Neruda, as well as other poets. Merwin’s poems, which often dealt thematically with moments in time and passing time, were devoid of punctuation and predominantly spare, though still poignant and powerful. I remember that one of my favorite poems was about the grey whale, “For a Coming Extinction.”
A passionate student and admirer of the natural world, Merwin devoted many years to personal conservation efforts on his former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, on which he planted thousands of palms, as well as numerous other natural species of flora.
But perhaps my favorite bit of trivia about the poet is that he refused to answer the telephone. God, I love that and can completely relate. In case you haven’t heard it from me enough, I hate the telephone, and only use it (when it works) to make and cancel appointments. Otherwise, I ignore it.
For a lovely remembrance of Merwin, see poetry editor Kevin Young’s essay in The New Yorker. Also, you may want to visit The Merwin Conservancy here. Below I am including his 2005 poem about fellow poet John Berryman, under whom he studied at Princeton.
I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war
don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity
just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice
he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally
it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop
he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England
as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry
he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention
I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
“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?
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
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
in all sound that means good-bye, good-bye—
the one continuous line
that binds us to each other.