“I allowed myself to suffer how jarringly destructive the present feels and how fragile the past. The present is over quickly, you might say, and it is, but man it goes like a wrecking ball.” ~ Ann Brashares, from My Name is Memory

Ivan Aivazovsky, “The Ninth Wave” (1850, oil on canvas)
Aivazovsky is considered the most influential seascape painter in 19th Russian art

“I thought, possibly, that what I really needed was to go where nobody knew me and start over again, with none of my previous decisions, conversations, or expectations coming with me.” ~ Maggie Stiefvater, from Forever

Friday afternoon. Rainy again, 44 degrees.

It’s funny, but when I think about Norfolk, I still get a pang. I don’t miss the house, the nosy judgmental neighbors, or even the neighborhood. But I miss the things that happened there: the two Jack Russells who used to escape regularly, and the nice neighbors who would holler at us to let us know where they had gone; walking across the field in the afternoons to pick up the boys from the local elementary school; even mowing the yard on the lawn tractor that my dad bought me once upon a time. Those things are part of that life, that place.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sea View by Moonlight” (1878, oil on canvas)

My kids were raised in that small ranch house with one bathroom. Their friends all lived within a few miles. And now that house is gone. Who knows who will buy it and make all of the repairs that we never got around to making. It’s hard to take care of a house that you hate, which is how it came to be for us the last few years that we were still there. It was as if the house knew that there existed an antipathy and went out of its way to break down piece by piece.

We redid the bathroom a few years ago, from the studs up. We had plans to redo the kitchen and the hardwood floors, but that never happened, and in the end, we left it as a mess, things all over the backyard, a pool that had fish in it, a shed that had old tools in it, an attic that probably still had kids toys in it. It was like shedding a carapace and leaving it where it lay.

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” ~ Azar Nafisi, from Reading Lolita in Tehran

It’s hard not to think of the things that neighbors must have thought about the way that we left things, but at the same time, there is no way that they could possibly understand the stress and pressure that we were under when we left. If they snooped, which I’m certain that some of them did, they would have seen the hole in the ceiling, the broken back door, the tools that lay in the yard, and their worst impressions would have been confirmed.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Yalta” (1899)

Listen, not all of our neighbors were assholes. The guy across the street helped Corey and me countless times, especially when Corey was at sea. He gave me a jump when my battery was dead, repaired things, helped when the yard was overgrown and my back wouldn’t let me mow. He was a great guy, and because he was always hurting for money, we always tried to pay him whenever he did anything. But he was a minority in that neighborhood. There used to be a really nice woman who lived on the other side across the street, but she died; her kids were always friendly, though. Still, I know that we didn’t make as much of an effort as we could have, but there was a history there that made it hard.

And the fact is that I really shouldn’t care any more about what any of them think or thought, but a part of me still does. I still feel as if that house is mine, even though it isn’t. I lived there for so long, and there are so many good memories from there, probably more good than bad. But there are painful memories from there, and it was definitely time to move away, and now here we are, living in a completely different kind of place, with a different pace of life, and different kinds of neighbors.

“I don’t know. You know the mind, how it comes on the scene again
and makes tiny histories of things. And the imagination
how it wants everything back one more time, how it detests
all progress but its own . . . ” ~ Richard Hugo, from “Letter to Matthews from Barton Street Flats”

We had told ourselves that when we finally moved, that we were going to make a true effort to get to know our neighbors, and we have. Of course, it’s different here. Neighbors are curious as to who bought the ridge. They show up and ask questions, introduce themselves, offer to help. And of course, Dallas knows every last person, so there’s that as well.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sea View” (1841)

When we were moving in, Corey was driving the box truck and I was driving the rental Ryder truck, which I was very proud of handling the entire seven-hour trip, but then I came down the driveway crooked and ended up driving the front part of the truck off the drive and getting it stuck. We were so worried about how much it would cost us to get someone to come out and unstick it. But instead, two of our neighbors spent hours helping Corey to get it free. I was simultaneously amazed and grateful. We didn’t even know these people, yet there they were, working their butts off for two people who they didn’t know from Adam’s off ox.

And since that day, Dallas has graded the driveway, made it straight and wider, so that coming down isn’t a problem. That’s what I mean about things being different here. No one asks you for anything, yet of course, there is the expectation that you will repay them in kind somehow when the need arises, and so we will. It was never like that in Norfolk. Perhaps the city was too big, the neighborhood too set in its ways. Who knows?

I seem to be asking that question quite a lot lately . . .

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” ~ Stephen Chobsky, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

So the Chobsky quote above is probably the most fitting one that I could choose today. I am both happy and sad, but the difference is that I’m fairly certain as to why. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m still missing one of my antidepressants, and I still haven’t found a good neurologist, and I still don’t have a phone that works—other than those things . . .

Ivan Aivazovsky,”Sunset at Sea” (1853, oil on canvas)

But in honesty, those are relatively minor things—other than the pain, which, like it or not, I’m used to—what makes me sad is that in spite of the beauty and life that surrounds me, there is no water, and there are no children, grown or otherwise.The water? That’s just a part of me. I’m an Aquarius, and even though I’m not a strong swimmer, I have always loved water, in all forms. That, and I lived so very near the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean for most of my life that it’s odd not to smell the saltwater, or to see the violence of the waves during a storm.

And yet, to put that down here makes me feel so very ungrateful. I used to say that my ideal place to live would be on a mountaintop overlooking the ocean; the reality is that such a place would cost a fortune. But here, I have the mountaintop, the horses, the deer, the dogs. And god how I love it all. I truly do. I cannot imagine going back to where we were. So why can I not be satisfied?

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.” ~ Daniel Keyes, from Flowers for Algernon

Will I ever be satisfied? I really don’t know. I do know that I can be happy—happy for me. It may sound as if I’m trying to convince myself, but that’s really not the case. I have a lot to be happy about, a lot to be grateful for in this new life. The caveat, for me, is not said lightly. It’s too complicated, and yet maddeningly simple: I am just too aware of my chemical makeup the way that my brain and heart work. I can be absolutely ecstatic about how my life is going, and yet there will always be this still small voice within that doubts, doubts my worthiness to be happy.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sunset a Lone Sailboat” (1853, oil on canvas)

How to explain to someone who has never met this voice? I don’t know if that is even possible. However, that state of being satisfied is not tied to my ability to be happy. Satisfaction, for me, is something entirely different, dependent upon reconciliation with my sons—in other words, I don’t believe that I can ever be completely satisfied until I am able to know that they are an active part of my life again, and since I don’t have any way of making that happen at this point, I just have to live with things as they are for now.

Look, that’s life. You know it, dear reader, and so do I. The basket will never be completely full of unbroken eggs. The day will never be without a cloud somewhere on the horizon. Yet there is always a horn-a-plenty if we but recognize it. What I’m trying to say is that life is complicated. I’m complicated. Every human is a mixture of good and bad, happy and sad; I’m no different, but I am trying very hard to be this person here, the one who is present in her life as it is. I may not be entirely succeeding, but at least I am aware, and for me, that is more than you can ever know.

More later. Peace.

Music by Adele, “Hello”

 

 


She Loved Mozart

There’s a sadness to it, of course, my becoming more
and more isolated from the world. I remember, years ago,
when I was living at the motel, there was this woman who
used to come and go, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Every so often I’d go over to her room, sit around, and talk with her.
The room would smell from clove cigarettes and dirty wash.
Over the lampshades pieces of clothing were draped, to bring
the light down to the most remarkable dimness. This light
never failed to charm and attract me, as a moth would be
attracted to a bright light (although, I suppose moths are
drawn to dim light also). Anyway, I find myself steadily
becoming increasingly like this woman, and it’s not always
the most comfortable realization. Although, I cannot say
that I am living with dirty wash. No, this I cannot admit to.
If anything, I’m fanatical about washing clothes. My
clothing has worn thin, not from my wearing it but from
the continuous washings. But, my god, like this woman
I’m letting the house go dark. She died at the motel, from cancer.
Some nights I’d see her crossing the parking lot, meager flesh
on her bones, and she’d knock on my door and she’d ask me
to play Mozart on my stereo set. She loved Mozart.
In her youth she had been a very promising violist, but
injury and shock from a fire had made her a ghost
of her old talent, her old self. I used to feed her also,
the miniscule amount she was capable of eating.
She loved sharing a thin sandwich as much as
she loved Mozart. I told her it takes
a lot of solitude to write a poem.
She told me it takes a lot of solitude
to die.

~ Marge Piercy

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“Do you ever feel words have gone dry and dull in your mind? Your mind like a sponge in the dust? You squeeze it and nothing comes?” ~Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West, The letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3

Frank Dicksee, “The Funeral of a Viking” (1893)

“Those words had gone deep into her eyes, deep into her nerves, deep into her brain, far into the blackness of her brain behind that white face. They had made a gash back there, a match streak of memory, a flare she would carry to the grave, an impression.” ~ John Fante, from The Road to Los Angeles

Thursday afternoon. Overcast again and rainy, 46 degrees.

I haven’t been walking on the property in weeks. It’s a mosh pit out there in the driveway. And each day that I wake up and look out the window and see nothing but clouds, my heart becomes heavy. It does rain a lot here, definitely more than in Norfolk. But it’s the clouds. They just seem to cover the ridge and cloak all of the beauty.

Anne Burgess, “The Burning Galley” (Wikimedia Commons)

Between that and trying to house train the puppy—unsuccessfully at the moment, I might add—I’m feeling a bit lost in the fog. Yes, I finally took my puppy from Dallas because it was the only way that I could get her as he is so attached to his dogs, but he had promised me one, and I had taken a shine to the runt. Her name is Maddie, for Madeleine L’Engle, and she’s black with hound ears. She won’t be nearly as big as Tillie or Bailey, both of whom act as if she’s an alien, and the cats are definitely not taken with her.

Don’t ask me why a puppy now, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, and she’s adorable. It doesn’t take any kind of Freudian to tell me that I substitute the animals for my kids, so whatever . . .

“We walk
and walk towards meaning
and don’t arrive” ~  Mahmoud Darwish, from “How far is far?”
Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus gets a viking funeral from his GWAR bandmates, by D. Randall Blythe

So it’s December 20, five days until Christmas. Corey and I are having a very small Christmas this year, which is fine. It’s not about the presents for me, ever. It’s about the pageantry: the tree, the wrappings, the centerpieces, the dishes—just the way that I can make the house look. One year Corey’s mom finally got to see our house decorated, and she commented that everywhere she looked, she saw something. That’s what I strive for when I decorate—creating an experience.

So I’m going to suck it up today and put up the tree. I know that it will be a lot of work to make it look the way that I want it to look, and no, I can’t just put on a few ornaments, so there’s no point in suggesting that approach, but thank you anyway. I know that once it’s up, I’ll feel better. So maybe I won’t have the snowmen and the Santas, and all of the rest, but at least there will be a tree.

I need that, and the only way that  I’m going to get that is if I do it. So, ‘nuf said.

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.” ~ Raymond Carver, from Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose

The other major thing that I need to accomplish is to write some people and send cards. I still cannot find my Christmas card box with addresses and all of the rest, but I’m hoping that Corey can find it for me. If nothing else, I’ll just send the letters. It’s important, and I really want to communicate with my sister-in-law in Germany. She has gone out of her way to write to both of us, and as usual, I have been lax in replying, so that’s a must do, maybe later today or tomorrow.

Bálför Viking Funeral Card

It’s the words, you see. I just don’t have the words to say how life is, how we’re doing. I need to lie, to say that things are good, that I’m fine, that we’re both doing well. Making pleasant conversation used to not be so hard for me. I suppose I’m making too much out of it, that it will be fine once I start, which is how things usually are, or at least I hope so.

Being a self-imposed recluse can become problematic when moving beyond the safety of my environs enters into the equation. The irony, of course, is that writing this blog is taking me out of my safety zone, but now that I’m back into it, it seems to be working, at least most of the time. Granted, some days are harder than others, but my goal is to try to write at least a little each day, to get back into the practice of using words, so that I can try to get myself going and maybe, just maybe, begin to polish my manuscript.

Who knows? Certainly not I.

“It’s a losing battle:
my words have no chance against time.
Sometimes,
unable to catch up with imagination,
I leave the battle,
candle in hand,
in complete darkness.” ~ Jalal Barzanji, from “Trying Again to Stop Time”

I had a very disturbing dream last night, featuring someone from my past, a gay man with whom I used to be very close. I had met him at the museum, and we developed a very fast friendship, for lack of a better word. We used to do all kinds of things together. I know that he filled the gap that I had in my first marriage as far as doing things with my spouse.

Viking Funeral, Created by yoguy108

By the time this person came on the scene, my spouse and I had developed a separate set of friends and weren’t doing much of anything together. I don’t blame him. That’s just what happens when neither of you work on your marriage. Of course, there were many other factors at play that I just would rather not go into. It’s still a tender wound all of these years later, although, not quite as tender.

Anyway, in this dream, this person had photographs of me at a lake that I just couldn’t remember visiting. I was very bothered that he had proof that I’d been somewhere that I could not recall. It was disconcerting. The dream happened at my parent’s house, and in the end, both of my parents made an appearance; overall, one of those dreams that leaves you gasping when you awaken because they are so disturbing. Well, at least, that’s how I awaken from them.

“I go to meet my words and feel I bring them back to the surface, unaware that I lead them to their death.
But this is an illusion.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop)

So, I have plans for today, and perhaps putting them out there isn’t the best thing, especially if I have to come back tomorrow and say, “never mind.” But it’s raining, and I’m really trying to accomplish a goal that I’ve set for myself. It might seem silly, that my goal is to put up a tree and to write letters. Maybe normal people can do all of that in the span of a few hours in the morning with their first cup of coffee. And once, I would have done all of that and more by December 5.

My friend Kathleen used to give me a hard time for being so type A over Christmas. I used to vow to have my shopping done and my cards in the mail by the beginning of December. My tree was up and the house decorated by December 15 at the latest. That was another time. Another life. One in which I had boundless energy and a very different outlook on life. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss that version of me. Well, at least the more positive aspects of that person. Some aspects I’d just as soon convey to the ash heap of time

Viking Boat Funeral, via the Good Funeral Guide

That ash heap is very, very tall, and I am reminded of it whenever that stupid commercial comes on that shows a woman climbing a mountain of cigarettes. I understand the symbology, but it’s disgusting, nevertheless (this, of course, from someone who used to smoke occasionally). My ash heap is composed of old letters, bad poems, broken hearts, scents I can no longer recall, and many, many, many regrets.

In some ways, it reminds me of the funeral pyres in India, except that once the body burns, onlookers are left with a sense of freedom and peace that the departed has gone on to a new life. My ash heap has a slow burn, and absolutely nothing is resolved, so maybe not so much like the cleansing cremation fires of the Hindus. Maybe more like the supposed Viking funerals that happen in movies: a slow-moving vessel floating out to sea, the flaming arrows shot and hitting home, and no one really knows if the person makes it to Valhalla or just disappears into the flowing waters.

Sorry. Morbid? Then you’ll love the Lorca poem below . . .

More later. Peace. 


Music by Fever Ray, “If I Had a Heart” (still miss Ragnar)


Gacela of Dark Death

I want to sleep the sleep of apples,
far from the tumult of cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

I don’t wish to hear that the dead lose no blood;
that the shattered mouth still begs for water.
don’t wish to know of torments granted by grass,
nor of the moon with the serpent’s mouth
that goes to work before dawn.

I want to sleep for a while,
a while, a minute, a century;
as long as all know I am not dead;
that in my lips is a golden manger;
that I’m the slight friend of the West Wind;
that I’m the immense shadow of tears.

Cover me, at dawn, with a veil
since she’ll hurl at me fistfuls of ants;
and wet my shoes with harsh water,
so her scorpion’s sting will slide by.

For I want to sleep the sleep of apples
learn a lament that will cleanse me of earth;
for I want to live with that hidden child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

~ Federico García Lorca

“We work in our own darkness a great deal with little real knowledge of what we are doing.” ~ John Steinbeck

“After the Snowfall,” by Jonas Lie (1908, oil on canvas)

“We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.” ~ Milan Kundera, from Laughable Loves

Wednesday afternoon. Snow on the ground, 30 degrees.

Today is my father’s birthday. It’s strange, isn’t it, the dates that you continue to mark on your calendar? Dates that no longer have any connection to a living person, and dates that are still connected to a person, but that person is no longer in your life. For example, every year on October 1, I remember Mari’s birthday, and on November 1, Kathleen’s. Perhaps that is because of the synchronicity of their prime number. Who knows. Regardless, I still mark so many things on my calendars at the beginnings of each year, even though no celebrations or commemorations will be had.

“Barge in the Snow,” by William Degouve Nuncques (1911, oil on canvas)

Today, I’m thinking a lot about my days at the Museum. I loved that place. And I hated that place. Wait. I loved the place, hated some of the people. That’s more accurate.

I still remember using my swipe card to enter through back doors within the galleries—that simple movement seemingly conveyed so much power to me. Any time I felt nervous or anxious, I would wander through the galleries, just drinking in the colors and textures. A museum is truly a wonderful place to work, as long as you don’t have to deal with the board of directors, that is.

But I miss those days even though my tenure ended badly when the museum had sweeping budget cuts, and I was deemed unnecessary. The days that followed my departure were dark in so many ways, and in reflecting on them, I realize that they contributed directly to the end of my first marriage, not that there weren’t already problems. I spent a great deal of time away from home, just trying to lose myself, and eventually, I lost my marriage.

Not regrets. Just facts.

“We create what we remember
to survive all we never had.
In a hall, darkened by exterior glitter,
my father scolds me
for anticipating his gift more than his return.
I am small but I slide an immense distance . . . ” ~ Marlève Rugo, “On Not Being Able to Write”

Of course there are regrets. I mean, I cast by the wayside two, no three friendships from the museum that had been very important to me. I cannot tell you why, now, only that at the time, I wanted to cut so many ties because I was in so much pain, wanted to be free of everyone and everything , which, of course, you simply cannot do. Not unless you are 6 years old.

So those people who I cast off in my attempts to recapture something that I thought that I had lost? I don’t know where they are now or how they are doing, but I think of them often and wish that I had been a better friend.

“Early Snow,” by Walter Launt Palmer (nd, oil on canvas)

Actually, friendship has always been difficult for me. There have been times when I have have had brutal arguments with a friend and then immediately severed all ties. Who does that? Well, I suppose, I do, or rather, I did. But were those truly friends, or just acquaintances? It’s both hard and easy for me to make friends. I make instant connections with people, and sometimes, those connections prove to be less than healthy, and sometimes they prove to be powerful forces in my life.

My oldest and dearest friend from my youth died a few years ago from lung cancer. I did not see her before she died, just as I did not see Allan before he died. Yes, regrets, major regrets. Do I set myself up for regrets? Perhaps.

“There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.” ~ George Eliot

I’ve been listening to some newer artists and some old favorite artists in an attempt to populate my posts with new tunes to accompany my words. I’ve found quite a few already. Let me know, dear reader, what you think of those I’ve included recently, or if you have any suggestions.The weird thing is that when I stopped writing, I also stopped listening to music all of the time. I couldn’t possibly explain why that is, especially as music has always been a very important part of my life.

I’m particularly partial to the Sara Bareilles’ tune “She Used to be Mine.” It hits very close to home. I feel as if I’ve been so many people over the years, none of them traditional or expected or normal, whatever that is. I truly wonder if everyone feels like that. I mean, it’s more than having certain attitudes in your teens, and then different attitudes in your 40s. I would expect that such things happen to everyone.

“Albany in the Snow,” by Walter Launt Palmer (1871, oil on canvas)

It’s more that when I look back on my life, I see different people. I see someone who was fiercely aggressive in her career while working for the government contractor. I see someone who loved to be at the front of the classroom, making wisecracks and listening to students while at the university. I see a woman who refused to compromise and then one who compromised too much.

Are they all the same me? No. Yes. I don’t know.

Damn. Shouldn’t I know who I am, by now? People think that I’m joking when I say that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. But truly, I still don’t know, and chances are good that I won’t know when I close my eyes for the last time.

C’est vrai.

“There are men who carry dreams
over mountains, the dead
on their backs.
But only mothers
can walk with the weight
of a second beating heart.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “My Mother Remembers Her Mother”

I’ll tell you something else that’s strange, even though I’ve said it before in different ways: I miss being pregnant. My body responded well to being pregnant, mostly. Perhaps my body, not so much, but more my spirit. When I was pregnant, I felt completely at home in myself. There have been no other times in my life when I have felt that way.

“Approaching Snow,” by Tom Thomson (1915, oil on board)

Fore more years than I can remember, I have wanted to have another daughter, another girl child to birth and to care for, but that never happened, and now, it’s much too late. And is that fate? Karma? What? God knows millions of women who want children are never able to have them, so am I being selfish in wishing that I could have had just one more? Maybe I am, but wishing never made it so, and so the point is moot, is it not? Regardless (once upon a time, I thought the word was irregardless), I still feel the desire keenly, and I find that strange as I always believed that the older I became, that the wiser I would be, and I truly believed that I would not still have yearnings that were impossible. Odd, that . . .

And now Olivia lives hundreds of miles away, and every day I wonder if she remembers me. I never understood before how a grandchild could affect me in so many ways, but it is completely unlike your own child, a different kind of love, a love that is somehow less selfish because in a grandchild, you do not invest your own future so much. Am I confusing you, dear reader? If so, I do apologize, but it’s not something you can really understand until it happens to you, and then it’s not something that you can understand losing until it happens to you.

“I would listen to my heartbeat. I couldn’t imagine that this sound which had been with me for so long could ever stop.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger

The afternoon wears on, and the sky seems to be darker than when I started, and it’s definitely colder. I worry that the horses are cold, even though all of the reading that I have done says that as long as they are eating well, they will not be cold. They definitely have plenty on which to graze. But still, I want to put blankets on them. I shall resist. For now.

I just had a strange memory: I remember being 15 and sitting in my boyfriend’s den and just weeping and weeping. My father was at sea, as usual, and I missed him desperately. My boyfriend’s mother was not a particularly nice woman, or maybe she was just plain-spoken, and I was too young to appreciate it. Anyway, she told me that it was just growing pains. I left in such a huff.

“After the Snow on the Field,” by Gustave Loiseau (1899, oil on canvas)

I mean, growing pains? Could anything be more insulting? or more accurate? I do not look back on my teens fondly. Everything was too intense. All of the new feelings and emotions, the new ways in which my body did what it wanted without my having any power over it. It was all just too much. I was so very certain that my first love would be my love for the rest of my life. Gawd. Thankfully, that proved to be very wrong.

But there really was a point to this reminiscence, a non sequitur though it be: I have always had a strong affinity with animals, and I have always anthropomorphized them, had ongoing conversations with them, given them human personalities, likes and dislikes, so the feelings about the horses are not unexpected. Nevertheless, I realize that if I’m going to survive on this farm that I’ve going to have to toughen my outlook somewhat. Still, I think the horses need blankets.

More later. Peace.


Music by Finneas, “Break My Heart Again”

Coming Home

When we’re driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

~ Mary Oliver

“See, the darkness is leaking from the cracks. | I cannot contain it. I cannot contain my life.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

“Portrait of Ted Hughes” by Sylvia Plath*
“There is an emptiness.
I am so vulnerable suddenly. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice

It’s been almost two years since my life was upended into total chaos. Two years since my idea of normalcy faded into a new normal that is anything but. Two years since I felt like my life and those within it might be moving back into some semblance of everyday existence.

I was so very wrong.

“Boats off Rock Harbour, Cape Cod”

Any approach to normalcy that we may have been nearing exploded into shards of glass in one afternoon, and there was no chance of normalcy after that. Not one second passes when I don’t ask myself what if . . . what if I had done this or hadn’t done that . . . what if I had never, or if only I had . . .

“What if” is a phrase that will kill you, you know. My ability to blame myself for everything is a long-standing state of being, as long-standing as my love affair with guilt. I honestly don’t know where it all started, if I was just a child and felt such profound guilt that my parents’ marriage wasn’t the storybook kind, that somehow it was my fault. Kids take on a lot more guilt than adults give them credit for. But it started long ago, and it has never abated, this consuming sense that I am the one who could have prevented this or that tragedy, that I am the one who should have seen the signs before this or that happened.

It’s pretty frigging arrogant, right? This sense of omnipotence and omniscience with which I feel I should be imbued. Only children are great at seeming arrogance. It hides their insecurities well.

“I have had my chances. I have tried and tried.
I have stitched life into me like a rare organ,
And walked carefully, precariously, like something rare.
I have tried not to think too hard. I have tried to be natural. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

If left alone with my thoughts for too long, I inevitably begin a deep dive. It matters not how well I know exactly where I will land nor how badly I will fall. That never even factors into it. The truth is that I really have very little control over these dives.

“Citronnade Stand in Tuileries”

My mother never understood this, nor did my first husband. They were both of the school of think happy thoughts to fix whatever ails you. He saw my depressions as self-absorbed; she saw them as completely perplexing. What did I have to be depressed about? What, indeed. I lived in a nice house in a nice suburb. I had friends, family, seeming popularity in school. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t really matter.

Ask a person suffering from debilitating depression why, and the chances are very good that they cannot answer you; just as if you begin to list for them all of the things for which they should be grateful and happy, you will only push them farther down. Trust me. We know what we should be grateful for, but we can negate your list and add 50 more things before you take a breath.

“What is it I miss?
Shall I ever find it, whatever it is? ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice

The irony of the moment is that I am not within the full throes of a debilitating depression; rather, it’s just more of a commonplace, ordinary depression. You know, a run of the mill kind of thing in which no one specific thing is wrong. Nothing has really happened. It’s just there. On the fringes, as it were.

“Cambridge: A view of gables and chimney-pots”

So how do I know that the deeper fall is incipient? How do I know that night will be followed by day, and so on? Years of experience, my dear. Years. For instance, there was that song that came up in my YouTube playlist, the one that made me teary-eyed, and then there was that thing that reminded me of that time, and the smell that hearkened back to that day.

I cannot explain it to you. It’s like trying to catch rain in a colander. You can’t, and we’ll both end up wet. (The glibness is affected, and it hurts my heart, yet I provide it for you, don’t you see?) Shall I call you listener, or reader, or friend? No? Should you call me wanderer, sojourner or wayward one? Perhaps.

“The voices of loneliness, the voices of sorrow
Lap at my back ineluctably. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice

It’s strange, you see, in that the way I feel about my life at the moment hearkens back so clearly to exactly how I felt after I lost Caitlin. Then, I had no control over anything, no power to make anything better or right or good. Now, it is the same, but not. This time, the losses are not from death, but they feel as if they are. They feel just as permanent, and sometimes I feel as if I have been rent, from stem to stern, as it were, and there is no clear path to healing.

I could pause here and say, “oh, don’t listen to me. I’ll be fine in the morning.” And there is a distinct possibility that it may be so. And there is also a possibility that it may not be so. It all depends on how far my mind races with these thoughts before I am able to call a halt, if I am able to call a halt, that is. I keep thinking that I could have fixed all of this, that I could have done something to make everyone  and everything okay in the end.

“Tabac Opposite Palais de Justice”

Isn’t that what mothers are for? To offer a salve for the hurts? To be the one that brings everyone back together after a rift? If not for that, then what? That’s a real question, dear reader. I don’t know what my role as mother means, any more. I realize that there are all kinds of mothers out there, and plenty of them are perfectly happy not to have constant contact with their offspring. Everyone moves along on their individual life trails, rarely crossing or interacting. Weird.

What you have to understand is that I was raised in a household with a decidedly Filipino approach to family, in spite of my North Carolinian mother. In a Filipino household, generations live together, and there are often cousins, too, first, second, no matter. The terms uncle and aunt do not necessitate blood kin. They are honorifics. The point is that children are rarely very far away from their parents in these kinds of households. It’s completely alien to me, and it’s also another source of pain: to realize that if either of my parents were still alive that this state of affairs would absolutely kill them.

Perfect. Now I’ve added the parental guilt (mine for them, not theirs for me) to this particular dive.

“I am calm. I am calm. It is the calm before something awful:
The yellow minute before the wind walks, when the leaves
Turn up their hands, their pallors. It is so quiet here. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice

I deliberately left the last parts of this post unfinished last night, thinking that if I came back to it later, that I would no longer feel the need to finish, that I would be calmer, more fixed. I am neither, and the constant thrum of a migraine sits somewhere just behind my eyes; this does not engender any sense of well being, only adds to the unease . . . dis-ease? Disease?

Hmm . . . never approached that word in that way before. Curious.

“Harbor Cornucopia, Wiscosin”

Today is grayer and colder than yesterday when I began, and even though I slept for most of the night with only 3 awakenings (few, for me), I still began the day unsettled, which is how I began this post. Dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, I apologize for this self-indulgence. Better are the days in which I skate just along the surface of everything, as it is on those days that I can actually breathe most freely, feel less in order to feel better.

Forgive me for that last bit—it made complete sense in my head. I suppose that my point is that on the days in which I am able to block many of my thoughts, on those days I can find a calming peace in the simplicity of my life now, here, on this land, surrounded by trees, wildlife, and no sounds of traffic or people or cities. But I must admit that when I do finally allow my thoughts to brook my consciousness at some point, I always feel just a tad guilty for trying to shut everything out.

Yes, I know, that makes little to no sense. Alas, alack, as it were.

“Again, this is a death. Is it the air,
The particles of destruction I suck up? Am I a pulse
That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel?
Is this my lover then? This death, this death?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

In my attempts to respect the privacy of others, I find that I am frequently talking in a coded language that only I can understand, which tends to defeat the purpose of sharing, does it not? It’s like collecting shells on a beach after a storm: There is always so much detritus at hand, but finding unbroken shells always requires a careful search and much sifting out of the unnecessary.

“The Pleasure of Odds and Ends”

Nevertheless, share I will. I will toss these scattered thoughts out into the ether in the hopes that in so doing, I might be able to purchase a little peace for myself, or if not peace, exactly, at least a few hours in which the widening gyre that Yeats so often spoke of does not continue to spin. Of course, he was alluding to the constant movement of history towards chaos. I speak only of my personal history and my attempts to stop its spinning towards entropy.

Enough. There will be more later. Peace.

*All images are pen and ink drawings by Sylvia Plath, who was originally an art major before switching to English. In 2011, a collection of 44 drawings by the poet went on display at the Mayor Gallery in London. According to an article in The Independent, “the sketches were given to Plath’s daughter, the artist Frieda Hughes, by her poet father and Plath’s former husband Ted Hughes before he died . . .The drawings date from 1955, the year Plath graduated from Smith College, Massachusetts and won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, where she was to meet and marry Hughes. In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery of The Smithsonian Institute hosted a retrospective of Plath’s art and memorabilia.

No poem today as I think that I covered that aspect well enough with all of the Plath quotes.


Music by Larkin Poe, “Mad as a Hatter”

 

 

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.

Two for Tuesday: Snow

Rudolf Koppitz In Weiner Wald 1910
“Im Wiernerwald” (c1910)
by Rudolf Koppitz

 


“For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “The Snow Man”

Tuesday afternoon. Clear and cold, 31 degrees.

We were hit with snow, sleet, and freezing rain yesterday and into the night, so of course the whole area is shut down. It’s quiet, though. Funny how you don’t notice the quiet until it’s there.

I always love waking up after snow because there is a blue light hovering outside the windows and a dampening of all of the grating sounds of cars and trucks and noise in general. But I was reminded of my father last night as Corey was complaining of being cold: My father, who hated winter, hated snow, hated the cold . . . my father who would rather stay on a ship thousands of miles away for months at a time rather than be in a city blanketed with winter.

                   

Valerius de Saedeleer, Sneeuwlandschap in Etikhove 1924
“Sneeuwlandschap in Etikhove” (1924)
by Valerius de Saedeleer

Too Much Snow

Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It’s the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes “Don’t send so much. I’m all alone now. I’ll never be able to use so much.” To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.

~ Louis Jenkins

                   

Graham Noble Norwell Landscape oil on board
Winter Landscape (oil on board)
by Graham Noble Norwell

Smelling the Snow

I’ve heard it said
there are those on such
close terms with night
they can smell the very light.

Not only does the moon,
they say, give off a scent
nothing like the sun’s,
but old moon smells

sweeter than slivered new.
Monks of old claimed sin
took the breath away, while
God was wild onion, lilac, pine.

I know a carpenter who
boasts he can sniff out a maple
in a woodlot of ash and oak.
A stalking cat knows

the unsinging sparrow
from the finch. This day
as it returns to Ohio, like
some feathery creature

seeking the very moon and tree
where it was born,
I can smell the snow,
which seems to me,

against the dark trees
moving in slow procession,
a few birds stark and silent,
an essence close to love.

But any old fool can smell love.

~ David Citino

                     

Music by Joan as Police Woman, “To Survive”

“For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero


“We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The Cat’s Table

Saturday afternoon. Rainy and cold, 41 degrees.

Female diseases and piles
Cure those female weaknesses

Well, I survived my birthday. Brett and Em and I went thrifting, and we found some great buys. Our favorite thrift store is Good Mojo’s; their prices are really great, and they have happy hours. I can always find something good in their book section, and I actually found a few volumes of poetry. The best part is that you can buy a bag of books for five bucks—as many as you can fit in the bag. So in addition to the poetry, I got some plant books for Brett, a pictorial book on New Zealand, a book for Olivia, and some others. Talk about cheap thrills.

Anyway, it was enough to keep my mind off the fact that it was my birthday, and I was alone, and all of that.

I did have a nice surprise on my birthday, though. Leah in NC sent me a care package with some delicious chocolate and a book I’ve had on my to read list, so that was just lovely. I immediately tore into one of the chocolate bars. Delish.

“Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The Cat’s Table

Corey will be home a week early, which is nice but not good. His company is continuing furloughs, and we aren’t really sure if this early week means he won’t be going back in three weeks. First they took him off his regular boat, and then they put him on another boat, and then they said he would be on this new boat until the 4th or the 11th, and then they sent everyone on this new boat home, supposedly to reboot their cycle from 28/14 to 21/21.

Female Pills
Never suffer from the painful diseases of advanced life . . .

It’s all very disconcerting, and neither of us can handle even the idea that he might be out of work again. It’s just too much to fathom. I mean, he had just over a year with this new job, good company, good salary and benefits, and then all of a sudden, everything changes. It’s not just his company; the number three company in the industry may be selling.

It’s the suddenness of everything. We had plans, big plans for this year, and now? Who the hell knows. Even the trip to Ohio is up in the air. I’m trying to keep my worrying to myself for the time being. Corey is so very, very stressed that I can’t see adding to that in any way. I guess it’s a matter of waiting and hoping.

“I’ve met many who remain haunted by the persistent ghost of an earlier place.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The Cat’s Table

Good tidings?
Good tidings?

So I’ve been spending a lot of time recently getting the house back in order. We finally have what was the junk room cleaned out. Before he left Corey set up the single bed for Olivia, and I had ordered one of those safety rails. I remember the one that my mother had for Alexis—it was so flimsy in comparison to the newer ones, which go under the mattress the full width of the box spring. There is no way that Olivia can fall out. So far she seems to be liking her transition from the portable crib to the bed, and she’s very happy to have a room that is her own.

Now I need to get the room that was Brett’s cleaned out and set up as a guest room. I have requested that the kids come over and go through the stuff that they’ve left here. Who knows when or if that will happen, but if not, I’ll start cleaning things out myself, and woe to anyone who complains.

I have drawers and shelves full of stuff that is theirs, and they have plenty of storage in my mom’s house, so I plan to do a serious decluttering, which will make Corey very happy.

“Yet where had it come from? And was it a pleasure or a sadness, this life inside me? It was as if with its existence I was lacking something essential, like water.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The Cat’s Table

Yesterday I bought some silk tulips for my parents’ graves. I remembered that when my Dad was doing his European run, he brought home a bunch of tulip bulbs from Holland. Both of my parents loved tulips. The plan is for me to make two arrangements before next Saturday, which is the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death.

body brace
Darn that female weakness

Don’t think that I’m not aware that this looming anniversary is also wreaking havoc on my state of mind. Couple that with my birthday, and it’s no wonder that I am feeling very, very unsettled. And too, I am going on day three of this particular migraine.

The irony is that just a few days ago I was actually thinking to myself that it was so nice how my migraines weren’t quite as intense as they used to be. I told myself that my new drug regimen must be having some kind of effect as the migraines weren’t as painful and weren’t lasting as long . . . well, this one put the lie to that theory. A couple of days ago I started to feel tight, and then yesterday early I awoke with a really bad one. I took some medicine and woke up a few hours later with just as much pain.

Today, the pain is radiating down my nose—not the inside of my nose, not my sinuses, but a line straight down my nose. Very, very strange.

“Writing this, I do not want it to end until I can understand it better, in a way that would calm me even now, all these years later.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The Cat’s Table

Anyway, I’m trying to stay busy, trying not to think too much—that whole concept of busy work. It reminds me of the whole Victorian attitude towards women being idle, how they were supposed to spend hours on their needlework, a truly feminine pastime. Women who concentrated on plying their needles would not spend time foolishly gallivanting (my mother’s word) about:

Female Weakness chicago_tribute_-_7_dec_1902
“It’s your kidneys!”

Sewing was, in many ways, the ultimate sign of femininity. It was sedentary and passive, and it was traditionally done by women only for the care and maintenance of the family and home. In the literature of the period the needle itself often stood for women’s “natural” place in the home, and carried powerful associations of domestic bliss and maternal devotion. ~ Beth Harris, from “Slaves of the Needle”

Can you imagine spending hour after hour on needlepoint? Not denigrating needlepoint, just denigrating it as one of the only acceptable pastimes for a woman. I mean, consider the whole idea of hysteria (look up the etymology of the word—only a female can truly be hysterical) and how women who thought too much could harm themselves, even move their internal organs out of whack. French physician Pierre Briquet claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria.

Really? One quarter? I won’t even get into that era’s treatment of female conditions as that is a topic worthy of its own post (hint: The Victorians loved their vibrators, but hated sex. Click here for an article on the history).

Rambling . . . Where was I? Oh yes, busy work . . . But I digress . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by One Two, “Bitter and Sick”

                   

Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
~  John Berryman