…“My birthday began with the water- …..Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name ……..Above the farms and the white horses …………….And I rose ………….In rainy autumn ….And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from “Poem in October”
Sunday evening, cloudy, 66 degrees.
Today is the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953). The Poetry Foundation has a good biography and selection of his poems, or you can visit the official website, Discover Dylan Thomas, here.
I still remember the circumstances in which I read my first Thomas poem: I was an undergraduate, working in the newsroom, and one of the editors brought me a handwritten copy of his most famous poem (below) and asked me to type it as she wanted to give it to her father. I realize now what I was unable to fathom at that time, that her father must have been ill.
I remember being moved by the words as I typed them, so moved that in the ignorance of my youth I decided to write my own version. I know, right? Ah, the unfounded arrogance that only the young possess.
I showed that version to one of my writing professors, and she very kindly pointed out that perhaps there were some poems that should not be rewritten, or updated, or mangled by an overwrought young writer (she didn’t say the last part).
Yeh. It was that bad, but I digress . . .
Anyway, listening to Thomas’s deep, melodious voice read his own work enhances the impact of the words and phrasing of his poems. The wonder is that Thomas was able to retain his mellifluous speaking voice in spite of how much he drank and smoked, as opposed to, say, Charles Bukowski. whose voice was scratchy from booze and cigarettes.
More later. Peace.
Today is also the birthday of poet and writer Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963), who I have featured here several times before.
Dylan Thomas reading his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”
Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God hep us to be men.” ~ Cesar Chavez
I found myself thinking about Cesar Chavez today, mostly because of the continued assaults on immigrants and migrants being perpetuated by this administration, the most recent of which is the abolition of the medical deferred action program (more on that later). Chavez was an American labor leader and a civil rights activist who firmly believed in the efficacy of non-violent protest. And yes, his quotes are dated in that they use men/them, man/him, etc., but he was a product of his times, so I don’t read him as being sexist.
Anyway, Chavez is actually one of the first civil rights activists whose name I learned in my youth (aside from King, Kennedy, etc). I remember reading about his hunger strikes in 1968 and 1972, and the last of which was in 1988. That last fast was big in the news as several famous individuals took up the fast once Chavez completed his 36-day Fast for Life on August 21, 1988: The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Martin Sheen, the Reverend J. Lowery (President SCLC), Edward James Olmos, Emilio Estevez, Kerry Kennedy, legislator Peter Chacon, Julie Carmen, Danny Glover, Carly Simon, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Chavez regarded fasting as both a personal and public protest. Of fasting, he said,
A fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes.
Not sure why Chavez popped up on my internal radar today, but I’m going with it. If you want to learn more about him and the American Farm Workers union, go here.
(Note: I couldn’t decide on a poem for today’s post. Most of the ones that I liked are still under copyright, and I couldn’t find a poem that was specifically about Chavez.)
Inspiration: Fields and rivers; pigs and cows; object relations theory; Texas Hill Country; silence and solitude; Carl Jung; farming manuals; mystic traditions; conversations with my sister; dreams.
Writer’s block remedy: I remind myself that language isn’t my job. Writing a poem isn’t my job. My job is the human job of waiting and listening, and language is just what poets use—like wind chimes—to catch the sound of the larger, more essential thing. Wind chimes themselves are not the point. The point is the wind.”
~ Jenny George, from “Wilder Forms: Our Fourteenth Annual Look at Debut Poets” in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
“Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell.” ~ Hermann Hesse, from Narcissus and Goldmund
Sunday afternoon, sunny, warm, 78 degrees.
Another mass shooting, this one so close to my old home, so close to my children. The world is so full of madness, and nowhere as much as in this country at this time. I won’t go on about the need for better gun laws. That is only a part of the problem. The bigger part, perhaps, is that people are essentially cruel and entitled: My life isn’t going as I want, so I will punish those I blame. I will pick up a weapon, and I will show them. I will show them how much stronger and better I am than they believe.
Strength from a gun . . . Right.
In a society so full of misplaced entitlement, one in which people buy their entrance into things—jobs, colleges, elections–it is no small wonder that violence is the method by which we conduct our lives. Violence in word. Violence in deed. The violence we bear in our hearts towards anyone deemed not as good as ourselves.
I am so sick of turning on the television to see more breaking news screaming in red letters at the bottom of the screen. I am so sick of everything. I am tired of wondering if a name that I recognize from my past will be among the list of the slaughtered. I am weary of wondering if those I love are safe. I am long past rending my heart because I can no longer protect my children through word or deed.
It’s all too much.
“Girl, all of sorrow is this single drop Of your blood.” ~ Juan Ramón Jiménez, from “Song” (Trans. H. R. Hays)
Truthfully, I don’t know if I have what it takes to make it here. I don’t know if I have the constitution to live on a farm, to see death up close. I just don’t know how to do it.
Yesterday I was unable to save Max from my own dogs, whose nips turned into bites. I walked outside to look for the dogs, only to see them circling Max at the bottom of the pasture. I was alone, of course, and thoughts raced through my head on how best to stop them. You see, the dogs, the pups mostly, have made a game of chasing the goats, but Ruby turns and butts them when she is tired. Max, unfortunately, does not do this. We have always thought that Max a little slow, slow but very sweet.
Normally, it’s Ruby who is chased, but a few times I have caught the pups chasing Max. Yesterday was different, though. They weren’t dogs playing a game. They were predators with prey, and my heart sank at the very idea. When they didn’t stop when I yelled at them, I thought that I could fire a gun at a tree, and the noise would startle them into inaction. But I couldn’t get the damned gun to fire. Then I got in my car and drove to the bottom of the pasture.
I found Max at the edge of the water, blood coming from his throat, and my heart sank even as I sank into the mud at the edge of the water. I still don’t know how I lifted him and climbed back up the incline, but somehow I got him to the car and put him in the back seat; he was still alive, but barely. I made the instant decision to drive to Dallas’s house to see if I could get help for Max, even though my head knew that it was a futile move. I tried to call Dallas because I knew that Corey was with him, but of course there was no answer, nor was there gas in the car.
I drove anyway, and Corey called as I made my way around what seemed like thousands of curves in the long road. By the time I made it to Dallas’s driveway and stopped the car, Max was dead. I turned around and drove home.
“We are not made whole by pain, no matter what they say. We are broken by it, taught to peel back cushion between us and the world because we have no choice but to rebuild it, again, and, again: ~ Jesse Rice-Evans, from “Argonaut”
Corey arrived home just a few minutes after I did, and between sobs, I explained what had happened. The pajamas that I was still wearing were covered in blood and goat hair, and the situation had caused my body to go into a full-blown asthma attack, none of which I had noticed until I stopped the car and finally made my way inside.
As Corey buried Max where the dogs couldn’t find him, I stood in the shower and sobbed some more, trying to wrap my head around the fact that my dogs had acted ferally, that they now had a taste for blood.
In trying to reconstruct everything in my mind, I couldn’t quite remember who did what, except that I had a very clear memory of Bailey still trying to attack Max even as I struggled to lift his body from the water. I remember hitting her forcefully to make her stop. The other dogs had already backed off as I am certain that they could feel the fury emanating from my body in forceful waves. But not Bailey. Not my dog, the one I found at the shelter and cradled in my lap as a pup.
Look. I know that dogs come from wolves. I know that certain breeds of dogs have more violence bred into their bloodlines, but I have always believed that it is the owners who determine just how vicious their dogs behave through how much or how little love and attention and training they bestow upon their animals. Am I completely wrong in this belief?
“this is the map of my heart, the landscape after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it’s getting cold. We have not touched the stars, nor are we forgiven” ~ Richard Siken, from “Snow and Dirty Rain”
And now things are fraught. Corey would very much like to give Maddy back to Dallas, take Tink to a shelter, and put down Bailey as he fears there will be a repeat with the other goats, especially the kids to come.
I cannot fathom such a thing, and that he has seriously contemplated this breaks my heart all over again. I must now deal with reconciling myself that I could not save Max, and now my spouse no longer wants some of the dogs. I contend that the dogs can be broken of this habit of chasing, but he is so full of rage over what happened that he will not hear it.
I know that he will do nothing to do the dogs if don’t agree, and I don’t, but the very idea that he harbors such feelings is tearing at my soul. Bailey is 7; she has only known us. Tink is very much my dog. To give Maddy back to Dallas would ensure that she would not be fed or cared for properly.
Can I retrain them? Can Corey forgive them? Can I forgive myself? The dogs are all cowed at the moment as they sense a change. Of course they do; how could they not?
“I want the truth of things. But there’s nowhere to find it.” ~ William Golding, from The Pyramid
I have no answers, none at all. Friday night left me reeling after the news about the shooting, and then yesterday afternoon broke me. This morning, my breathing is still hard and phlegmy, and my soul is fractured. So I am back at my original question to myself: Do I have the constitution to live this kind of life?
In your mind’s eye, achieving your dream seems so filled with possibilities. That I’ve always wanted to own land in the mountains, and then to get that land—it has been as if the fates finally aligned after so many years of hardship and loss. But the reality is that there are things you never consider, things that you will encounter that never neared the idyll that filled your dreams.
I had wanted a few goats for milk, and then Corey decided that he wanted to raise goats for an income. It seemed like a fairly straightforward move. It never occurred to me that there would be an issue with the dogs; after all, all of the dogs had been around cats and horses, and there had never been any problems. How could I foresee what would happen? Why did I not?
And now the atmosphere is filled with anger and regret and loss and pain, and I question how Corey could even contemplate such actions. It is not within me to be cruel to any creature, even when angry, and my dogs have always been part of my family. I am hoping against hope that his is just a reaction to what happened, even though he claims that it is not, that what he says is said from anger and grief and not what he truly feels.
Everything has changed, and I am wholly uncertain as to if it can be changed back.
Music by Gregory Alan Isakov, “If I Go, I’m Going”
I eye the driver of the Chevrolet
pulsing beside me at a traffic light
the chrome-haired woman in the checkout line
chatting up the acned clerk
the clot of kids smoking on the sly
in the Mile-Hi Pizza parking lot
the meter reader, the roofer at work
next door, a senior citizen
stabbing the sidewalk with his three-pronged cane:
which one of you discarded in a bag
—sealed with duct tape—in the middle of the road
three puppies four or five weeks old,
who flung two kittens from a moving car
at midnight into a snowbank where
the person trailing you observed the leg
& tail of the calico one that lived,
and if not you, someone flossing her teeth
or watering his lawn across the street.
“The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed suddenly into magnificent sense.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from a letter to Ilse Erdmann, 21 December 1913
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, from The Name of the Wind
It was cold yesterday, so cold that we actually had to turn on a few space heaters. In fact, the forecast actually called for snow flurries. All I can say is that the weather in this locale is well and truly whhackkk. Yes, that’s a word.
I’ve been on a “Game of Thrones” binge lately, watching all of the back seasons before this final season. I’ve done this before, but what I always find phenomenal about this show is how much you can miss on a first viewing, especially all of the foreshadowing. The writers are very, very good in maintaining continuity from season to season.
I came to the show after reading the first three books, so I was fully prepared to be disappointed because the move from novel to screen is haphazard at best. Stephen King is said to be disappointed with almost every screen adaptation of his work, and George R. R. Martin’s writing is particularly dense with characters, locations, languages, plots and subplots. However, the HBO series has become its own phenomenon: It’s one of those rare shows in which the casting and the execution have melded well, and in that sense, it reminds me of “The Sopranos” and “Orphan Black.”
And as most people know, the show ends with this season, but the novels continue . . . at least that’s what everyone thinks. Martin is a methodical writer, and readers are still impatiently awaiting the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter. No publication date has been set yet as Martin has admitted that the writing has been hard.
I can sympathize, George, and I only shoot for about 1200 words a day.
“you know how deceptive memory is and how coarse the real world. Nostalgia amplifies things. The memory preserves tastes and smells and images that are of its own making, or that are not as they were in reality.” ~ Amjad Nasser, from Land of No Rain
I actually enjoyed doing Thursday’s update; it was a good writing exercise. I’m still floundering, though, attempting to find that rhythm that I’ve lost as it continues to elude me. It’s hard to explain this to people who do not like to write or for whom words are not foremost in their lives.
That’s not a slur in any way, only an attempt to explain why my recent posts seem to be preponderantly superficial. I have so much roiling inside, so many things that I want to say, but when I start, the words sound hollow, so I stop and try to find other way to keep this blog going.
Consider: If you were an expert at landscaping, and you took your tools to a piece of land, fully prepared to create something beautiful, but once you arrived, you couldn’t remember the purpose of any tool. Or let’s say that you were a proficient bookkeeper, and you sat down with some raw data, and your computer, and you couldn’t remember how to reconcile a spreadsheet. Or what if you were a wonderful tailor, and you had a bolt of cloth and measurements, but you suddenly forgot how to pattern.
I deliberately didn’t choose painting or sculpting or composing music or any of the other traditional categories of art as anyone who dabbles in those or for whom those are a way of life already is all too familiar with the terrible periods of being unable to create. Rather, I am attempting to explain my problem to those of you for whom life is more structure and traditional, but I don’t know if my explanation only adds to the confusion.
“The years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels but cannot express, the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving . . . are known only to him who has experienced them himself.” ~ Albert Einstein, from the Gibson Foundation Lecture, 1933
One of the reasons that I do not sleep well is that I have a very hard time turning off my brain. It’s not just mulling over the day or worrying about bills or money or the house or whatever. It’s also that I start to think about things that I want to say. More times than I can count I think that I should just get out of bed and sit down and write, but then I tell myself that if I did so, I would be useless the next day.
But would being useless the next day really matter in the grand scheme of things? I feel as if I’m doing myself a disservice by not writing when the so-called spirit moves me. Yet at the same time I feel guilty for wanting to eschew traditional sleep and approaches to time because there is so much of daily life with which to contend. Honestly, though, my days are still not productive in that all of my to-do list goes unattended, so the guilt and feelings of worthlessness are there no matter which path I choose.
Consider: Parkinson’s law commonly states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. But Asimov’s corollary to Parkinson states that in ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day. A la Parkinson, I manage to fill my days with mostly nonproductive actions, and a la Asimov’s corollary, I fall twice as far behind.
“Everything about me is unfinished, insufficient.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from a letter to Lou Salomé written c. December 1905
In doing a big of reading about eponymous laws, I came across the intriguing idea of the centipede principle, which I chose deliberately because of my great fear of those multi-legged creatures; in essence, this principle addresses overthinking, as in if a person thinks too much about something that comes naturally, then that action can be impaired.
The centipede principle or effect supposedly is based on a short poem written in 1871 by the Katherine Craster (go here to see the original poem), in which the centipede is asked which leg moves first and then next when he walks, and then because he is asked, he cannot walk.
English psychologist George Humphrey propounded his eponymous law about hyper-reflection in 1923, referencing the centipede tale. I also came across another reference to this centipede effect in the work of Karl Popper, who states that “if we have learnt certain movements so that they have sunk below the level of conscious control, then if we try to follow them consciously we very often interfere with them so badly that we stop them.”
In other words, do I set myself up to be unable to write because I think too much about being unable to write? Am I unable to begin the projects that I have set for myself because I think too much about whether or not I can actually accomplish these projects? I was once told that I live my life as a self-fulfilling prophecy: my behavior directly causes my predicted outcome; i.e., I don’t send my work out for publication, so I am never published.
“People who are burdened by acute misgivings about their coping capabilities suffer much distress and expend much effort in defensive action . . . they cannot get themselves to do things they find subjectively threatening even though they are objectively safe. ” ~ Albert Bandura, from Social Foundations of Thought and Action
I realize that this post took a turn towards psychoanalysis, but what of it? Years of therapy have conditioned me to ponder such questions about the self. That, and I have a particular penchant for eponymous laws; I find them fascinating. (If you happen to be interested in such things, Wikipedia happens to have a good listing of them from A to Z here.)
Anyway, I think that most people could do with more introspection about their thoughts and actions. Too few people today actually give deep thought to things beyond the surface (how many likes did my picture get? was I reblogged? etc.). Yet I know that I am the opposite: I think too much. I consider too much. And in so doing, I paralyze myself. I wish that I could say that I am motivated by strength, but the truth is that I am motivated by fear. And truly, I hate that most about myself.
But unlike many who are motivated by fear, I do not cloak that fear with bombast or sanctimony, only to project that fear outward and punish those who seem weaker or more vulnerable. Instead, I project inward, causing harm mostly to my psyche. Regardless, someone is always damaged in the end.
More later. Peace.
Music by Sarah McLachlan, “Hold On”
A Secret Life
Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don’t say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you’ve just made love
and feel you’d rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you’re brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that’s unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you’d most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it’s like a small fire
in a clearing, it’s what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who’ll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.