“the soft-aired Tennessee night
Gathers it children in its cupped hands.
Time has its covenant, and who’s to say that it is unjust.
We make our sad arrangements.
The sky clears, the sun sets.
No matter the words, we never forget our own song. ~ Charles Wright, from “Arrivederci Kingsport”
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cool, 60 degrees.
A very quiet afternoon, alone in the house, just the dogs and me. Sometimes the quiet is too dense, as if it is filling all of the spaces around me, removing the oxygen and replacing it with something unnameable but palatable.
It’s this first week in November that does me in, causes my heart to collapse, makes my mind travel to dark places. This week—it is too much with me. “The world is too much with me” . . . Wordsworth? Yes, Wordsworth. For a moment almost said Eliot, but it is not cynical enough. Wordsworth still had hope, I think.
Don’t worry if you cannot follow along. I cannot either. Heavily immersed in stream of consciousness, easier than linear thought—at times, this is so.
If you want to know how little you matter in the grand scheme, Google your name. Grandeur is quickly extinguished. Who does this?
“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God
In memory, the days from that Halloween until the seventh of November all collapse upon each other, like white-dotted dominoes laid out in a row. Unable to halt the tide, unable to hold at bay the hours. Nothing could have stopped what happened.
Alexis, small and innocent, a fairy princess, a silver magic wand, a plastic crown. Standing on the front porch, posing for her last picture as a sister until years later.
There was a nurse in a clown costume, or was it a rag doll costume(?). I remember only the bright colors, the two red circles on her cheeks. I wondered then how anyone who worked amidst such perpetual sadness could muster the mettle to come to work in costume, to tend the grievously ill for 12 hours dressed as a doll? Who does this?
Now it makes perfect sense. The costumes provided an escape, albeit temporary, from the monitors, the beeps, the sterile white noise that is the backdrop to everything in an intensive care unit.
“If you have endured a great despair,
then, you did it alone;
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.” ~ Anne Sexton, from Courage
From that night forward, it was as if we were propelled by adrenaline and sadness. Ineffable sadness. The six days between were anomalous to the twenty-four-hour cycle, having only two or three hours a day. I’m certain of it. Time was different then. Supernormal with its sunrises and sunsets heaped upon one another, not enough minutes between sleeping and waking, perpetually exhausted.
Did I eat? I don’t remember. I do remember many cups of coffee.
Approximately one hundred and forty-four hours between Alexis’s fairy princess smile and Caitlin’s pale countenance. Everything about the two was opposite: Alexis’s fair skin and hair, and Caitlin’s olive skin and dark dark hair—as if fate sought to heighten the differences between the two.
Of course we will never know what kind of personality Caitlin might have had, whether she would have been a reader, or perhaps a writer, what she would have liked to do with her time, what paths she might have chosen. All such speculation is pointless. How much can you know of a person in seven months? How much of a person can seven months reveal?
“I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones.” ~ Rebecca Stead, from When You Reach Me
Long before Google could tell me of my irrelevance, I met it first-hand on a November afternoon. It only took a few minutes to break my heart irreparably, to harden me with a cold cynicism bred from loss.
I think that I laughed more easily before that day, found more joy in the ordinary nothingness. I know that I smiled more, or at least, I think so. But it would be a lie to say that I knew how to be happy then because I don’t think that I’ve ever quite known how to do that.
I will not lie to you: I do not remember what Caitlin looked like. I mean, I know from the pictures, but I cannot, simply am quite unable to conjure her image in my mind. She has become two-dimensional.
I never thought I would find the day in which I could no longer smell her, so long did I carry her belongings with me wherever I went.
It this all too much for you? Perhaps I should have warned you sooner of my propensity to crash so completely, should have placed a label somewhere to shield you from my carefully guarded obsession with those days in early November, the ones that I hoard like first editions and garage-sale masterpieces.
“But I understand how light works.
. . . . . . . . . .
Later I will go out in a leopard-coat of light
with you: just me and the trees baring themselves
for winter, and the marbled paving stones,
and my empty hand shining” ~ Henry Shukman, from “The Call”
I am never quite sure how much to say when my mind and heart conspire against me and take me back to that afternoon and the days immediately preceding. It’s as if I somehow can still be caught unawares, regardless of how many times I have made this journey.
And sometimes I think it would be better if I did not allow myself to acknowledge this tack, pretend it is not just there, on the periphery of my vision, waving its arms madly to get my attention. If I just don’t look . . . perhaps . . . maybe. If I spend enough hours in the bathtub with the lights out, it won’t be able to get a toehold, will fall away.
Who am I kidding? It always wins. Always.
More later. Peace.
Music by Bastille, “Oblivion”
Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don’t let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he’s running
and singing too. He could be happy.
~ Philip Levine