“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut by craigfinlay fcc

Abandoned Mansion, Beirut by craigfinlay (FCC)


“APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

Sunday evening, the 19th of April. Cool.

Seems I spend more time lately apologizing for not being here than actually being here. I have posts sitting in my draft box for the first week of April, never going from draft to publish. Too much involved, too much thinking necessary to finesse and push all of the right buttons.

My health? Not the best. In addition to the usual pain, I may or may not have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder, the pain of which has prevented much in the way of my discourse on this computer. Then there were the nights of chills and sweat, awaking freezing in soaking wet clothes. Changing my shirt four times in as many hours.

It has not been pretty.

Not that I have not thought of all of the words I could say here, all of the words backlogged and stuck in my craw, all of the words that have been unable to move past this . . . this what? This fugue state? This state of being completely at odds with the world, with everyone, with myself? What does one call being completely lost in so many ways, but just too tired to even begin to mull over the ways in which to extract the self from a general sense of malaise?

So what do I have for you today, my far away companions in the ether? Not much, other than a feeble attempt to raise my head for a few moments and let you know that I am still here.

“Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Waste Land: I. The Burial of the Dead”

So here, as I am, I offer you this compendium, three words that at times can mean everything, nothing and something . . .

  • It won’t hurt
  • I’m so sorry
  • You should stop
  • What is happening
  • Don’t worry so
  • Calm down now
  • Take a breath
  • It wasn’t me
  • I didn’t know
  • I don’t know
  • I couldn’t know
  • I should’ve known
  • Please tell me
  • Don’t tell lies
  • I’m really sorry
  • No you’re not
  • I don’t remember
  • It doesn’t matter
  • It all matters
  • It’s all good
  • Nothing is good
  • You should go
  • Let go now
  • Is he okay
  • Is she okay
  • Are they okay
  • Are we okay
  • Nothing is okay
  • Speak to me
  • Talk to me
  • Don’t say anything
  • You’ve said enough
  • Believe the lie

“My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
I never know what you are thinking. Think.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from The Wast Land: II. A Game of Chess

Yes, April is cruel indeed, but then, so are the other months and days of the year. In cruelty, I somehow always go back to Eliot, whose words seem to have been written by a ghost of me, so close to home are they.

I apologize if this post seems lost somewhere far beyond the pale, as it were. But my life, my lines, my words are in fragments alone. I cannot connect all of the varying lines and make a whole. I have neither the strength nor the wherewithal. Forgive the seeming self-pity; it is more of a muted self-examination, one conducted with exigence in the hopes of finding something “not loud nor long” to hold dear.

As old Tom said, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

“Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from The Wast Land: II. A Game of Chess

                    

For the complete text of “The Wast Land,” click here.

Leah in NC, are you out there?

                     

Music by William Fitzsimmons, “After Afterall”

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.

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #4

Backpost

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

We are excited to announce that Patrick Phillips, the author of two previous poetry collections, joins the Knopf list this spring with his Elegy For A Broken Machine. That machine is, of course, the body, betraying us as we age. As the poet comes to terms with this process, he catalogues enduring sorrows and unexpected joys, and elegizes people, places, and even practices we’ve had to leave behind.

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

                   

Elegy for Smoking

It’s not the drug I miss
but all those minutes
we used to steal
outside the library,
under restaurant awnings,
out on porches, by the quiet fields.

And how kind
it used to make us
when we’d laugh
and throw our heads back
and watch the dragon’s breath
float from our mouths,
all ravenous and doomed.

Which is why I quit, of course,
like almost everyone,
and stay inside these days
staring at my phone,
chewing toothpicks
and figuring the bill,

while out the window
the smokers gather
in their same old constellations,
like memories of ourselves.

Or like the remnants
of some decimated tribe,
come down out of the hills
to tell their stories
in the lightly falling rain —

to be, for a moment, simply there
and nowhere else,
faces glowing
each time they lift to their lips
the little flame.

~ Patrick Phillips

April is Poetry Month: Poem a Day #3

Backpost

Taken from the Knopf site; direct link below.

Poem-a-Day

Dinner in the twenty-first century, from Marge Piercy, whose poetic kitchen has produced well-spiced recipes and vital human conversation for nearly half a century now.

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

                   

Let’s meet in a restaurant

Is food the enemy?
Giving a dinner party has become
an ordeal. I lie awake the night
before figuring how to produce

a feast that is vegan, gluten free,
macrobiotic, avoiding all acidic
fruit and tomatoes, wine, all nuts,
low carb and still edible.

Are beetles okay for vegans?
Probably not. Forget chocolate
ants or fried grasshoppers.
Now my brains are cooked.

Finally seven o’clock arrives
and I produce the perfect meal.
At each plate for supper, a bowl
of cleanly washed pebbles. Enjoy!

~ Marge Piercy

“Get used to the bear behind you.” ~ Werner Herzog, from 24 pieces of life advice

Ferdinand Hodler Portrait of Giulia Leonardi 1910

“Portrait of Guilia Leonardi” (1910)
by Ferdinand Hodler*


“I fear I will be ripped open and found unsightly.” ~ Anne Sexton, from A Self Portrait In Letters

Sunday afternoon. Sunny and chilly, 51 degrees.

Well, long time, no write, hmm?

Let’s see. Where were we? When last I posted, I was in the midst of a never ending migraine, one that wouldn’t abate with shots, meds, what have you. Finally, I went on an aggressive two-week regimen with upped doses of my pain meds, and it seemed to break, at least for a while. Good news on that front, yes, but don’t worry. Things continued to be interesting.

Ferdinand Hodler Portrait of Berthe Jacques 1894 oil on canvas

“Portrait of Berthe Jacques” (1894, oil on canvas)

It seems I’ve developed akathisia from my seroquel, one of the meds I was on for sleep and anxiety. What is akathisia, you might ask? Well, it’s this wonderful condition in which you cannot stop your body from moving: tapping feet, rocking from side to side, and all kinds of variations. Mine appeared as an ability to keep my feet from moving while lying in bed at night, but I didn’t really think anything of it. I have no idea when it started, exactly, but it’s been going on for a while.

So at my last check-in with my prescribing psychiatrist, she noticed that I was fidgety. She asked me how long I had been that way. Who knows, I said. I’m quite anxious at the moment with everything that’s going on in my life. Could be that, I said. She gave me a look, suggested we switch up meds, try an extended release seroquel. Great.

Well that particular medicine landed me in bed, unable to wake up for more than a few hours. Not so good. I mentioned the fidgeting to my neurologist at that checkup. He gave me that look. Said, look I don’t want to worry you, but I want you to look up extra-pyramidal syndrome and akathisia.

So I did.

Crap.

“As for myself, I am splintered by great waves. I am coloured glass from a church window long since shattered. I find pieces of myself everywhere, and I cut myself handling them.” ~ Jeanette Winterson, from Lighthousekeeping

So ny prescribing psych and I agreed to stop the seroquel completely. Only problem is that at night, I cannot get comfortable. My feet won’t stop, and my legs feel terrible, and everything sucks. Yes, yes. RLS, or restless leg syndrome, which I supposedly do have, but which can be mistaken for akathisia, or vice versa. Add to that that our mattress is worn and it makes my back hurt, and on and on and on . . . ad infinitum. So it’s back to the doctor(s) to try to tweak the meds.

Ferdinand Hodler Portrait study to Look into the Infinity 1916 oil on canvas

“Portrait study to ‘Look into the Infinity'” (1916, oil on canvas)

Look. Enough already. I am so fricking tired of not feeling good that I’m ready to bang my head against a wall, except for that whole headache thing. I need some energy. I need to feel like myself. And I especially need to be able to sit down at this computer and do stuff instead of looking at it across the bedroom as if it were some time bomb getting ready to go off.

I literally have not sat in this chair and plied these keys in weeks. I’ve even taken to glancing at my e-mail on my phone, of all things. Oh the joys of having a smart phone. I look up medical terms like akathisia. I look up the weather. I look up whatever, anything to avoid coming back here.

Don’t ask me why being here, on this computer, on this forum is paralyzing me, but it is. I suppose its my unspoken pact with myself that I will continue to keep this blog going, that I will make it a place in which people who love quotes and art and minutiae will enjoy visiting, and because I have not done that for months now, I feel like such a failure—once again

“It’s never the changes we want that change everything.” ~ Junot Diaz, from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Ferdinand Hodler Empfindung 1901 tempera on canvas

“Empfindung” (1901, tempera on canvas)

Things are precarious at the moment. One son is completely heartbroken over a relationship that he ended and has decided that former girlfriend is now the love of his life. Ah to be 23 . . . not. Another son has been off his meds and is trying to cope, but I don’t think it’s working. And my daughter? Geez, I can’t begin to figure out what is going on in her mind, what possesses her to continue to do the stupid things that she does. I just want to grab her and shake her and say, “What the hell are you doing with your life?”

Then the whole oil/shipping thing has us over a barrel (no pun intended). We never thought we’d be facing down a repeat of those black years of 2008-2010, but it appears we are. Is it horrible that I want gas prices to go back up? Ah yes, it’s wonderful to be able to fill the tank for under $40, but given a choice, I’d rather spend more at the tank and have jobs come back in the industry.

And out of respect for Corey’s wishes I haven’t written about the situation before, but his family knows now, and the kids know, so what does it matter that I’m throwing it all out there again?

“I would like. I would like anything at all, but fast. I would like to get out of here. I would like to be rid of all this. I would like to start all over again. I would like to leave all this. Not to leave through an exit. I would like a multiple leaving, a whole spread of them. An endless leaving, an ideal leaving so that once I’ve left I begin leaving again right away.” ~ Henri Michaux, from “With Mescaline,” trans. David Ball

So is it any wonder that I have retreated from everything?

I haven’t been on my tumblr in a month. My inbox is completely overflowing. Mail lies unopened on the table by the front door. Furniture goes unpolished. Dust has gathered in corners, forming tumbleweeds. And I walk through the house seeing, but unable to act.

Ferdinand Hodler The Truth 1903

“The Truth” (1903)

When Olivia is here, it is a brief respite, a welcome distraction, but it also exhausts me. I leave the house to go to doctors’ appointments and for little else. Corey and I pass one another silently. He keeps to the dining room, looking out the back door, and I stay in here, a self-imposed prisoner to my bed. We don’t seem to be able to help one another.

What kind of life is this?

The only good thing is that I have been devouring books, that is up until this past week, when I suddenly found it impossible to concentrate on the words before me. Before that, I went through almost a dozen books, but books can only sustain for so long before the brain begins to shut down. And beneath all of this runs the undercurrent of my mother.

“The present is already too much for me. I can’t cope with the future as well.” ~ Salman Rushdie, from Shalimar the Clown

You see, I still haven’t made it to the cemetery to put on the silk flowers I bought ages ago. I still haven’t paid to have the dates put on her gravestone, and now I don’t have the money to do so. And so I have failed her once again.

Ferdinand Hodler The Dream 1897 watercolor on cardboard

“The Dream” (1897, watercolor on cardboard)

Will I ever arrive at a day on which I do not think of my mother and close my eyes in shame and regret for all of the ways in which I failed to make a difference in her life? Do you know the number of times in my life that I can remember my mother telling me she was proud of me? One. The number of times in my life I can remember her telling me she loved me? A handful.

How could this woman who so many found helpful and friendly have had such a completely different demeanor when it came to her only daughter, her only child? I will never have the answer to that question. Not ever, and so I continue to be haunted in the backdrop of each day by what a complete and utter failure our relationship was, how we failed one another, how I never quite measured up.

And you know what? That really and truly sucks.

More later (I truly hope to keep this promise). Peace.

*All images are by Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1817), one of the leading symbolist painters of the late 19th century. I love his paintings of women.

Music by Beth Orton, “Mystery”

                    

The Sensual World

I call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.

Earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.

I was not prepared: I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots–

the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
And the water added, patiently, in small increments,

the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition–

aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,

more light passing through it.
Delight, then solace. My grandmother waiting,

to see if more was wanted. Solace, then deep immersion.
I loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,

the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs

fully exposed, awakened, fully alive–
Deep immersion, and with it

mysterious safety. Far away, the fruit glowing it its glass bowls.
Outside the kitchen, the sun setting.

I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,

not a suspension: the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth–

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.

~

Two for Tuesday: Personal Histories

Gertrude Hermes The Cuckoo 1958 woodblock and linocut

“The Cuckoo” (1958, woodblock and linocut)
by Gertrude Hermes


“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford, as found on Writer’s Almanac

Tuesday evening. Clear and cold, 24 degrees.

Yes, I’m still here. Let’s just call February a wash, shall we? It was a horrible month for so many reasons, and yet this surprises me not at all because my Februaries are almost always horrible; this one just happened to be a record for physical and mental pain. My rebound migraine finally seems to be breaking—after four weeks. It’s a good thing Corey and I didn’t try to fit in a trip to Ohio in the past few weeks, as I would have been miserable company.

The headache is still here, just not nearly as acute as before. The snow is supposed to melt tomorrow as the temperatures are supposed to hit the 60s. Of course on Thursday, we’re supposed to have freezing rain again. I have left the house twice in the past two weeks, once for the doctor, and once to make a trip to campus with Brett.

Cabin fever anyone?

                   

“Pine Branch” (1951)
by Eyvind Earle

The Phone Call

She calls Chicago, but no one
is home. The operator asks
for another number but still
no one answers. Together
they try twenty-one numbers,
and at each no one is ever home.
“Can I call Baltimore?” she asks.
She can, but she knows no one
in Baltimore, no one in
St Louis, Boston, Washington.
She imagines herself standing
before the glass wall high
over Lake Shore Drive, the cars
below fanning into the city.
East she can see all the way
to Gary and the great gray clouds
of exhaustion rolling over
the lake where her vision ends.
This is where her brother lives.
At such height there’s nothing,
no birds, no growing, no noise.
She leans her sweating forehead
against the cold glass, shudders,
and puts down the receiver.

~ William Stafford

                   

Igor Grabar Winter Rooks Nest 1904

“Winter Rook’s Nest” (1904)
by Igor Grabar

Solstice

Remember how the city looked from the harbor
in early evening: its brutal gaze
averted, its poised and certain countenance
wavering with lights?

Remember how we sat in swaybacked chairs
and marvelled at the brush fires
of dusk clear in the distance, the flames
scrawled across the skyline

like a signature while currents shifted
inside us? Ecstasy of fire—
works rising in midsummer, of fulvous sails
flashing in the heat

And orange life buoys bobbing on the water;
ecstasy of flares and secrets
and two bodies held aloft by desire…
judge us as you will,

but remember that we, too, lived once
in the fullness of a moment
before the darkness took its turn with us
and the night clamped shut.

~ Edward Hirsch

                   

Music by Dustin Kensrue, “This Good Night Is Still Everywhere”