“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” ~ Audre Lorde, from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
Tuesday late afternoon, cloudy with drizzle, 56 degrees.
Today is the birthday of poet, essayist, novelist, and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934-November 17, 1992). Lorde died in 1992 after years of battling cancer; the illness led to her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she wrote about her struggle to overcome breast cancer and the resultant mastectomy. Her posthumous collection of essays, A Burst of Light (1988), won the National Book Award. Altogether, Lorde wrote 18 books of poems and essays and won numerous awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. A self-termed “poet, warrior, feminist, mother, pioneer, lover, survivor, ” Lorde espoused causes related to feminism, in particular black feminism, racism, and gay rights.
For more, visit The Heroine Collective here, or the New York State Writers’ Institute here.
A Litany for Survival
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
Do not remember me
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
“It bothers me because it’s summer now and sticky—no rain to cool things down; heat like a wound that will not close.” ~ Erin Belieu, from “Rondeau at the Train Stop”
Sunday afternoon. Sunny, hot, and humid, 90’s.
I’m all alone in the house, a rare occurrence. Corey is on watch; Eamonn is at Busch Gardens, and Brett is off with Emilie working on some mural. So just the dogs and me, which is a nice change.
Apparently Corey is going to be in port longer than expected as there is a leak somewhere that has to be fixed. It would be nice of the captain changed their shifts to in-port watches for the duration, which would mean that he would work for eight straight hours instead of on and off around the clock. Yesterday the two of us went to Costco in between his watches, where I had some prints made of Olivia pix, mostly because my mother keeps bitching about how she has no pictures to show anyone.
I’ve decided that it’s so much easier to have the prints made rather than trying to print them at home, and I had a coupon, which made them $.09/print, which was a steal.
I do need to take some new pictures, though, as all of the ones I have are from her first week. It’s so weird to think that this past Friday makes four weeks. I had forgotten how quickly they change in very little time. She has a definite personality, definite likes and dislikes already, and she appears to have a strong will, which is good. The world needs more strong women, as far as I’m concerned. Anyone who contends that infants don’t have personalities has never spent much time with one.
“Hope as a living state that propels us, open-eyed and fearful, into all the battles of our lives. And some of those battles we do not win. And Some we do.” ~ Audre Lorde
So, let’s see . . . what’s new?
Well, I got my eyes examined, not by the person with whom I had scheduled an appointment but by the person at whose office I arrived mistakenly, only to find that he was the person that I thought I had scheduled the appointment with in the first place. Are you with me?
As with so many things in my life, it was quite serendipitous, and I really liked this optometrist (so much more than the one from last year). He listened to me, and he was willing to try different lenses on me right then instead of making me come back three times.
Funny story: Appointment was on Friday. Wore contacts for a few hours on Saturday. Went to put contact in on Sunday, and the right one was missing, not in the case, not stuck to the lid, just gone. Called his office on Monday, he said that he’d give me a replacement, so he left it with the optical department a the Walmart to which he is adjacent since he’s not in on Tuesdays. Picked up the lens . . . Then . . .
I went home and did laundry. Looked in the dryer and noticed a contact case. Thought for a minute that it must be Eamonn’s, but then I noticed a green lid mixed in with the clothes. Now, I hadn’t lost the left lens; it was in the case. The case was in my pocket, the pocket of the khakis that I threw in the wash and then in the dryer. So . . . I have a replacement right lens, but the left lens is somewhere in the ether with all of the lost socks. I’m too embarrassed to call him again and say that I’ve lost the left lens, so here I am, still not able to see too well.
“I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia, by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.” ~ Herman Melville, from “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
I have picked out the new frames or my glasses, but I haven’t yet ordered them. I’m getting the frames at Walmart (if you can believe it) because I really, really like them, and bonus! They’re quite inexpensive. But I’m getting the glasses made at Sam’s Club because they’re cheaper, and they take my insurance. It sounds good, but it involves going places, and quite frankly, it’s too damned hot to go places.
I’m melting in this heat. Of course, I could go float in the pool, which would be both relaxing and refreshing. That is, I could if Eamonn had brought home the chemicals for the pool any day this past week, something I reminded him to do over and over. Then last night he had the nerve to give me a hard time when I reminded him again to take out the kitchen trash. What is it with kids that they pick the strangest battles at the strangest times? I mean really. Emptying the trash is worth taking a stand on? Are you serious?
I’m still spending a few hours each day helping Alexis, and then I come home and do dishes and laundry, and by 8 o’clock in the evening I feel like a dish rag wrung out too tightly, and I probably smell that way, too. The last thing I care to do is explain why doing one’s chores is actually a no-brainer.
Whatever. Yep. I’m ending this thought with whatever.
“We know nothing. Absolutely nothing.” ~ Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter
So Brett finishes his second section of pre-Calculus this week, and he’s fairly certain that he’s going to make an A. He showed me one of his answers to a test question—one page filled with numbers and symbols. Need I say that I was suitably impressed? Numbers mystify me. Some people look at calculations and see beauty, but I look and see squiggles and a headache. Brett sees beauty in numbers, but the really cool thing (in my opinion) is that he is also keenly attuned to language, so he’ll probably be one of those physicists who writes books that people can actually read. That and he has his art as well. My son, the renaissance man.
Actually, I loved math until my second year of algebra. Then, not so much.
I remember watching the movie Good Will Hunting, and one of the premises was this mathematical problem that was supposedly unsolvable (or something like that. My attitude towards an unsolvable math problem is something like this: Can’t solve it? Okay. Walks away completely content.
That’s how my brain works. On the other hand, I ponder over and over again things like what really happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or Amelia Earhart? What if Hitler had been killed—would the madness have ended then, or would someone else have just stepped into his place? Who came up with the format for a sestina, and why? Why do people claim that their short poems are Haiku when they don’t fit the 5/7/5 format? You know, the important things.
These things bother me, not an unsolvable math problem, which is why I will never find the cure for anything or ever solve the problem of cold fusion. I can probably live with that.
“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” ~ Roland Barthes
That pretty much catches me up, not that the throngs are out there madly beating the drums requesting an update, although I do like to pretend that they are. Clamoring madly, that is.
I had hoped to give the dogs baths today, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s just too frigging hot. Of course, try telling Tillie that, who is at this moment sitting next to me looking up at me with big puppy eyes as if to say, “What? No running around outside? What’s up with that?
So no dog baths, no floor cleaning, not much of anything once I finish this post. Perhaps I’ll immerse myself in one of the books on my stack of things to read. It’s always nice to have once of those stacks. I tend to feel very deprived if I don’t have at least three or four books waiting in the wings, probably much like a heroin addict jonesing for his next fix.
Granted I don’t have the whole hollow-cheeked non-bathing thing going on, but I’m talking about the incessant need, the hunger, the feeling that if I don’t get a book/fix soon I may have to commit petty larceny or something. I’m thinking that my coffee may have been a bit too strong today.
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
Nobody could count all of them—
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
“I am the sun and moon and forever hungry the sharpened edge where day and night shall meet and not be one.” ~ Audre Lorde, from “The House of Yemanjá”
Sunday evening, rainy.
(“House of Yemanja” was one of my favorite poems to teach in my American lit class.)
6:54 a.m., the time I last glanced at the clock on the computer. Heard the clock in the living room chime 7 a.m. Looked outside at a pearly white sky, the kind of morning sky when no sun pierces through the clouds, the kind of sky that follows a night of rain. The white sky most associated with winter. Luminous white, without color, or is white all color? I always forget that basic color principle, black, white, all color, absence of color.
I thought about beginning this post then but knew that if I did, I would probably never go to bed, and my body simply cannot tolerate such things any more.
This insomnia is killing me.
And my sinuses are in revolt. It was in the 80’s this past week; tonight they are calling for rain and snow with temps in the low 30’s. By mid-week, it’s supposed to be back in the 60’s. I feel like banging my head against a wall. It might actually make me feel better, between the no-sleep, the sinus headaches, and the ongoing computer lockups and snafus (ARGH) . . .
Diy-um, as they say in the south.
“That’s who you really like. The people you can think out loud in front of.” ~ John Green
Anyway, when I couldn’t sleep, I went out into the dining room and played with Tumblr on Corey’s computer until my body felt heavy. Unfortunately, while Corey and I were watching the backlog of “Bones” on the DVR, I ate Fritos, the honey BBQ swirls, which I used to eat all of the time when I was going to GW. Not so much any more. They left this coating on my tongue that I felt like scraping off with a blunt edge, even after brushing and using mouthwash. The coating stayed after chewing Tums and drinking water. Then I felt them in my chest.
I’ve been out of my Dexilant for about a week, and consequently, the GERD is acting up. Apparently, Fritos at 3 in the morning are not a good diet choice. Who knew?
After sitting up in the dining room chair for an hour or so the heaviness in my chest was gone, and I decided to try sleeping again. Grabbed an eye pillow out of the ziplock bag in the freezer and headed back to bed, only to find that all of the dogs had migrated to my side of the bed. Luckily, Corey has become quite proficient in moving Tillie in his sleep if I give him a nudge; otherwise, I am left to try to reposition the dead weight of a sleeping labrador. Not an easy task. I made myself get up this afternoon even though I really could have kept sleeping.
I so hate this—inching back the hours until I’m going to bed at a reasonable time for a night owl, only to lose traction and wind up staying up past dawn. Who lives like this?
“Is suffering really necessary? Yes and no. If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you as a human being, no humility, no compassion.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
I have so much to do that sitting here writing this post is probably irresponsible. I went through the mail basket a couple of nights ago and sorted the unopened bills, junk mail, and flyers, shredded what needed to be destroyed and put the rest in recycling. Now I really need to get back to organizing the family records. Our label maker died a while ago, and I need to set up new files. Add this to the pending taxes and FAFSAs . . . crap.
Earlier this week Corey received a departure date—today. Obviously, it didn’t happen. New date is sometime at the end of this week. I don’t even know if I should put that out there as the fates might find it too tempting and switch us up yet again. The bad thing (for me) is that when he gets actual travel orders, I start to get really down and withdraw, initially, and then I compose myself and remind myself that this is a good thing. So by the time I adjust my thinking to him actually boarding a plan and leaving, everything gets put on hold, again.
The bad thing for him is that he moves into near-panic mode only to be put on pause, which leads to more pacing and heavy sighs. When we think that we have a date, we plan the few days before, decide on the things that we really need to take care of, which is a good thing, but then when the plans change, we toss everything by the wayside, as if we’ve moved a pile of dirt from one place to another, and then instead of doing something productive with it, we just leave it in the new place where it can erode and get muddy and whatever.
“The imperfect is our paradise. Note that, in this bitterness, delight, since the imperfect is so hot in us, lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “The Poems of Our Climate”
Anyway, that’s where we are. My body thinks that it’s afternoon, and the clock says that it’s 7:34 pm.
“Flawed words and stubborn sounds”—some of the quotes that I’ve been coming across seem to be thrown into my lap propitiously in that they are so very appropriate in reflecting what I’m feeling. One of the bloggers who I visit made a comment about how she finds some people’s blogs so hard to follow, as if there is no real point, and it made me pause . . . Was she talking about me? Not being paranoid, more like reflective and analytical. Are my words too flawed to be worth anything to anyone else? Are my posts too full of stubborn sounds so as to be enigmatic, didactic, problematic?
Should I change up? Should I stay or should I go (old song lyrics)? Should I . . .
The section of the Joan Didion essay that I posted a couple of days ago has had me thinking quite a bit. Why do I write? It’s a topic that I’ve covered several times from different angles, but I’ve been mulling over the whole process for me, its origins, its evolution. I know that it’s a post-in-waiting, and perhaps after some sleep I’ll be able to tackle it. Didion stole the title from George Orwell, and I’ll steal the title from her. After all, stealing in writing is high praise—supposedly.
But the point? I’ve quite forgotten at the moment. I only know that I’ve got an idea rolling around in my brain. Cogitating as it were.
“Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings.” ~ John Updike,A Month Of Sundays
I had an interesting comment on my A to Z bucket list post regarding my classification of the French as xenophobes. Of course, I was generalizing, something that I do when I’m not being careful. Nevertheless, I apologize for any offense. As I responded, I know that all French people are not xenophobes, just as I know that all Irish people do not drink Guiness, and all Australians don’t throw shrimp on the barbie.
But the point is that when we write these posts, when we put things out there for public consumption, unless we are intentionally attempting to be controversial (which I know I can be), or we are trying to be bigoted (which I really try not to be), we need to be mindful of our words.
To be honest, the word xenophobe crept into my subconscious as it is one of the few words beginning with the letter x that I really like, not the definition, but the sound of it. X is such a problematic letter, sounding like z in the English language, and sh in many Asian languages, etc. So in the back of my mind when I was thinking about possible entries for X (which I know I copped out on), xenophobe planted itself firmly in my subconscious data file. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
Sorry this has been such a fluff post, but I’m on auto-pilot. Not an excuse, just an explanation.
More later. Peace.
Music by Cass McCombs, “Broken”
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Girl Grasping Blooms of Thorny Shrub in Snow Covered Landscape by Kay Nielsen
“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their song instead.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I received a very interesting comment to yesterday’s post. The writer took exception to the quote, “And in the end the words won’t matter/‘Cause in the end nothing stays the same/And in the end dreams just scatter and fall like rain.” The lines were taken from Matt Nathanson’s song, “All We Are,” and I thought that they were appropriate to my section on dreams.
But the writer contended that words do matter because “they are the bricks of the imprint which gets built.” He went on to say that we should speak “as if you are seeing dawn.” What a wonderful comment and such a beautiful sentiment: to speak as if you are “seeing dawn.”
If we all spoke as if we were seeing dawn, how beautiful language would be. I realize that we cannot always speak as if we are seeing the miracle of dawn or great beauty, but I do agree completely: words do matter. That being said, I chose that particular section of the song to use for my section quote because I also agree with the statement that in the end, words won’t matter. Am I of two minds? Of course, but let me explain.
We should all speak to one another as if the words matter because words do stay—they reside in memory; they creep into the locked corners of our brain and take up residence, sometimes to be brought back out at inconvenient moments. They insinuate themselves into the very fabric of our souls, the sweetest ones part of the most beautiful patterns. But I am reminded of something that I read somewhere long ago about how people should not wait until the ones they love are dead to tell when how they feel. Words spoken over a grave are for the speaker. That is what I mean when I say that in the end, once someone we love is gone, all that we have to say, should have said, wanted to say—all of that comes to nothing, and the words unsaid become dust on our tongues.
I know this too well.
So yes, Manish, words do matter, but in the end, words cannot change the life we have led, how we have treated our friends and our enemies, the things we have said in anger, and the things we have said in love. The end is too late.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
After my bout with violent dreams and vivid dreams, I’m back to not being able to sleep. This morning, after hearing the clock chime 6 a.m., I got out of our bed (Corey’s, mine, and the dogs’) and went into Eamonn’s room and laid upon his futon. His room is dark and cool, and I thought that maybe I would be able to sleep better without the dogs, who were pressed up against all sides of my body, so I lay there in the dark and looked up at Eamonn’s ceiling, where he had put stars that glow in the dark. I thought about when he was dating this one girl with whom he was truly smitten, and he had labeled one star “the first star to the left.” For awhile, he was consumed with Peter Pan, the adult version, not the Disney version.
I laid there in the dark and realized just how much I miss eldest son. Yes, he drives me crazy, and yes, he is so much like my ex that it is beyond annoying, but he is also my first son, and I remember him sleeping on my chest when he was an infant. He had a stomach disorder that made his sleep fitful, and he used to sleep best on my chest. I would lay there with my hand gently on his back and watch him breathe. I was still so plagued by the loss of Caitlin that I could not rest peacefully unless Eamonn was nearby. When he wasn’t asleep on my chest, he slept in the cradle at the foot of my bed. Our old lab Mokie would sleep under the cradle in protective mode.
Those were days of great joy for me. Our family seemed to have recovered from the unrecoverable, and we were making our way into life again. That Eamonn did not sleep through the night until he was one year old did not bother me, although I would get curious looks from people who asked if he was sleeping through the night, one of those judgemental parenting questions. After the stomach operation he had when he was only three weeks old, Eamonn had to take several medicines, including a dose during the night, so sleeping all the way through was impossible.
I would feed him, give him his medicine and then rock him back to sleep in the Bentwood Rocker. Often, I would sing to him softly; he loved “Unchained Melody,” and it never failed to put him back to sleep.
That is what I was thinking about as I lay there on his very uncomfortable futon, looking up at the stars on his ceiling that were fading as the morning light began to creep into the window. And I finally fell asleep.
“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” ~ Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
“The Star Lovers” by Warwick Goble
Words. Words of love. Words of hate. Words spoken in anger. Words spoken in frustration. Words uttered in helplessness. Words whispered in sorrow. Words are my bane and my lifeblood. They make me whole and allow me to share my innermost thoughts, and they cleave my heart when I allow them to fall from my lips angrily. Words join us as families, communities, societies. And they separate us from the others, those who do not speak the same words. And sometimes, the unspoken words, the gestures—the hands clasped in prayer, the hands crossed over the heart, the clenched hand, the wringing hands, the open hand against the lips—those unspoken words can be comprehended by any onlooker, and we are joined, whether or not we desire it.
I am my words, all of the words that I have said to my children, to my love, to my parents, my friends, and yes, even my enemies. All of the words that I have put down on paper, have typed with my keyboard. All of those words are the sum of my life, myself, my esse, and my soul. There are words that I regret but cannot take back, and there are words that I should have said, yet I remained silent. Those utterances and those silences also comprise my being. If I am very lucky, when I reach the end of my journey, some of my words will be remembered, and I will have said all of the words I needed to say to all of the people who mattered.
More words later. Peace be unto you and yours.
From “A Tree Within”
The landscape opens its eyes and sits up,
sets out walking followed by its shadow,
it is a stela of dark murmurs
that are the languages of fallen matter,
the wind stops and hears the clamor of the elements,
sand and water talking in low voices,
the howl of pilings as they battle the salt,
the rash confidence of fire,
the soliloquy of ashes,
the interminable conversation of the universe.
Talking with the things and with ourselves
the universe talks to itself:
we are its tongue and ears, its words and silences.
The wind hears what the universe says
and we hear what the wind says,
rustling the submarine foliage of language,
the secret vegetation of the underworld and the undersky:
man dreams the dream of things,
time thinks the dream of men.
~ Octavio Paz
Matt Kearney’s “All I Need”
*Images are book illustrations from the Golden Age of Illustration (early 20th C.), including works by Kay Nielsen (Danish), Warwick Goble (British), Edmund Dulac (French), and Arthur Rackham (British).