Happy Father’s Day

Don Hong-Oai Spring, Bamboo Boat
“Spring, Bamboo Boat”
by Don Hong-Oai

“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it
Gathering light as glass does,
As glass does when the sundown is on it
and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”

My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.

Don Hong-Oai Lanters Light the Way, Guilin
“Lanterns Light the Way”
by Don Hong-Oai

I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.

And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.

Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.

Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.

I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.

My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.

Don Hong-Oai Fishing Journey
“Fishing Journey”
by Don Hong-Oai

I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.

In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.

In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.

All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.

Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”

                    

Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five

I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.

I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.

All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.

So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.

~ David Budbill

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“Aren’t we all waiting to be read by someone, praying that they’ll tell us that we make sense?” ~ Rudy Francisco

Don Hong-Oai, Untitled
Untitled
by Don Hong-Oai

                   

“Beneath my consciousness I’m sad. And I write these carelessly written lines not to say this and not to say anything, but to give my distraction something to do.  I slowly cover, with the soft strokes of a dull pen (I’m not sentimental enough to sharpen it), the white sandwich paper . . . for it suits me just fine, as would any other paper, as long as it was white.  And I feel satisfied.  I lean back.  The afternoon comes to a monotonous and rainless close, in an uncertain and despondent tone of light.  And I stop writing because I stop writing.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from chapter 66 “With a Shrug”

Saturday, late afternoon. Cloudy and cold, 44 degrees.

My tumblr dash today was filled with incredible quotes, passages and artwork, which might seem like a good thing, and it is, but it makes it so hard to narrow my choices. I ended up opening a draft post just to paste in about 12 quotes and three poems to use at a later date. I am so glad that I decided to start following people on tumblr as it makes the framing job for my posts much easier, providing me with words and images and inspiration—all at once.

Don Hong-Oai, Solitary Wooden Boat
“Solitary Wooden Boat”
by Don Hong-Oai

I know that the above quote is a bit long, but I couldn’t really find any part of it that I wanted to leave out, hence, all of it.

I think that I’ve stopped playing with my new theme for now. I got some feedback, and I changed my header image to one taken by Veronica McLaughlin at Titirangi Storyteller, just added my blog name in a new font. All in all, I think that I’m rather pleased with the combination, so I’ll leave everything for now . . . she says not quite believing herself . . .

“Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Today”

I’m of two minds about poet Mary Oliver: Some of her work really moves me, and then some of her work seems almost formulaic. But this particular passage is quite apropos as regards my mood today. Part of me really wants to just go back to bed and lie there with a cold pack on my head, but part of me wants to get something done, anything done. I know that I had big plans to take down Christmas today, but the head isn’t cooperating, and eldest son is missing, and I quite need someone’s help for all of the bending and stooping, so no progress on that front.

Don Hong-Oai, Drying Cloth, Vietnam 1970
“Drying Cloth, Vietnam, 1970”
by Don Hong-Oai

I’ve had this headache on and off since a few days before New Year’s, and last night I gave in and asked Corey to rub some Blue Emu into my aching shoulders only to wake today with a worse headache and the back pain now firmly planted in the lower quarter. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Blue Emu (or the generic Blu, I think) is a wonderful muscle rub, doesn’t smell like menthol, and goes deep. FYI.

So is the pain from the cold? Is it from the stress, which is different how, exactly? Is it my diet, which has been horrible? Who knows. I suppose I should just go take my meds and hope for the best. I mean after all, what else can I do?

“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I write in my dreams. Several nights ago I wrote a short poem while I was asleep. Of course when I remembered hours later, I couldn’t remember a single word or even the subject matter. Two nights ago I dreamt that I wrote over 25,000 words in my new novel in one sitting. I was quite pleased with myself in the dream, especially after I did a word count. Now, ask me what it was about. Go on. Ask me.

Don Hong-Oai, To the Market
“To the Market”
by Don Hong-Oai

Yep. Gone.

Last night I had a very strange dream about being with Tom Cruise in Wal-Mart, and I was standing in the checkout line with a basket full of groceries and he disappeared only to reappear with a half-empty package of turkey lunch meat. Seems he had been testing all of the turkey lunch meat and found out it was processed. How could he not know that? But more importantly, why was I in Wal-Mart with Tom Cruise?

I hate dreams like that. Would much rather dream I was writing, as painful as the realization is that nothing is actually there, or better still, dream in French, something I haven’t done in a while. Speaking of French, I had big plans to tackle Proust in the original French this year. Wonder if I’ll get around to that . . .

“Writing down verses, I got
a paper cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one-fourth.” ~ Vera Pavlova, poem “59”

Vera Pavlova, on the other hand (see above comment about Oliver), has such an economy of words, yet says so much. I think that I have a deep-seated affinity for Russian and Polish female poets, but I could not tell you why that is. Anyway.

"Winter Fog"by Don Hong-Oai
“Winter Fog”
by Don Hong-Oai

So back to today and what I am not accomplishing: Capt. Jack Harkness (the Beta) needs a clean bowl, and somehow I’ve taken on cleaning eldest son’s fish bowl every time I clean Capt. Jack’s bowl, double the work. Have no idea how that happened.

Also, need to change the sheets, and still haven’t tackled the sliding pile on the desk, nor have I found my black nail file. I should just fold right now, give up, give in, and admit that not a whole lot of anything is going to happen. I think that I need some of Corey’s homemade soup to warm me on the inside, and maybe some bread, yes, bread, and butter, and tea, and ginger scones, and . . .

Stop. it. now.

Okay, I’ve reined in the subconscious voice that is obviously ravenous, and I’ll try to focus. That and I’m now munching on a Special K 100-calorie snack bar and trying to pretend that it’s a ginger scone. Not working, but whatever.

“We make our way through Everything like thread passing through fabric: giving shape to images that we ourselves do not know.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters on Life (trans. Ulrich Baer)

I know that once again I am all over the place, but honestly, I’m sitting here kind of hunched over and squinting, and I think that I’m probably just writing down the first thing that comes to mind in a vapid attempt at creating a post that I’m not completely too ashamed to publish. I mean, I have this great collection of quotes and some killer images, so I must create content to go with, mustn’t I?

Don Hong-Oai untitled
Untitled
by Don Hong-Oai

I have always loved the contractions mustn’t and t’would, and neither are used with much frequency except by people immersed in Renaissance literature, which only serves to remind me that I have let another year pass without applying to any doctoral programs in English. Not really sure where that thought came from except that that particular thought is always there, lurking, hiding and emerging at odd moments, worrying the edges of my brain like a toddler wanting more Cheerios—seemingly content for a time and then suddenly, not at all content and flailing and sobbing because the Cheerios are gone and dammit, I need attention now.

Yes. Like that. Completely like that.

And as Rilke says so eloquently,  all of the dragons in my life are in fact princesses or princes just waiting for me to act “with beauty and courage.” I do want it all, the darkness and the light, the falls and the ascents, and I am wasting my life.

Gads.

More later. Peace.

All images by artist Don Hong-Oai (gallery); good background article on the artist and his technique here.

Music by Bim (another relatively recent discovery), “Raindrops”

                   

Book of Hours: I, 14

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.
So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.
But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke