“To hell, to hell with balance! I break glasses; I want to burn, even if I break myself. I want to live only for ecstasy . . . I’m neurotic, perverted, destructive, fiery, dangerous—lava, inflammable, unrestrained.” ~ Anaïs Nin, from a 1933 diary entry

Image result for kate chopin quotes


“Turn on the dream you lived
through the unwavering gaze.
It is as you thought: the living burn.
In the floating days
may you discover grace.” ~ Galway Kinnell, from “Easter”

Wednesday afternoon, overcast, 52 degrees.

It’s not a wordless Wednesday; actually, it’s a Wednesday full of words. I usually check my birthday sites before beginning a post to see if I want to include something about a particular writer or just mention a birthday worth nothing. But as February is almost over—a fact that I’m having a real problem wrapping my head around—and as the month happens to include birthdays of so many authors/poets/essayists whose work I love and admire (for whatever reason), I thought that I’d share a brief list. Each name is linked to a bio for that person. I’ve also included just a few of my favorite quotes and/or selections from works.

So, yeah. Lots of words for what is usually a wordless day . . . Enjoy.


  • Galway Kinnell, Rhode Island-born poet and 1983 Pulitzer prize winner  (February 1, 1927-October 28, 2014). Aside: favorite poem by him is “The Olive Wood Fire”
  • Langston Hugues, African-American poet and translator, leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance (February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967):

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Bare.” ~ Langston Hughes, from “Mother to Son”

  • James Joyce, Irish novelist, poet, and stream-of-consciousness pioneer, author of Ulysses (1922), which was banned in the U.S until 1933 (February 2, 1882-January 13, 1941)
  • Christopher Marlowe, English poet and dramatist (February 6, 1564-May 30, 1593)
  • Charles Dickens, English novelist (February 7, 1812-June 9, 1870)
  • Elizabeth Bishop, Massachusetts-born poet, 1956 Pulitzer Prize winner (February 8, 1911-October 6, 1979):

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn” ~ Elizabeth Bishop, from “At the Fishhouses”

  • Kate Chopin, St. Louis, Missouri-born writer of The Awakening and numerous short stories (February 8, 1850-August 22, 1904)
  • Alice Walker, Georgia-born novelist, poet, and political activist who won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple (February 9, 1944)
  • Boris Pasternak, Russian-born poet and author of Doctor Zhivago; he won the Nobel Prize in literature (1958) but was forced by the Soviet government to decline (February 10, 1890-May 30, 1960)
  • Toni Morrison, Ohio-born African American novelist, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1987 and the first African American woman to be selected for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 (February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019):

“And I am all the things I have ever loved:

scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water,
dream books and number playing. I am the sound of
my own voice singing . . .

I am not complete here; there is much more,

but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I
have journeys to take, ships to name and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket of The Black Book

  • Anaïs Nin, novelist and diarist, ground-breaking The Diary of Anaïs Nin published in 1966 (February 21-1903-January 14, 1977)
  • W. H.  Auden, U.S. poet, winner of 1948 Pulitzer (February 21, 1907-September 28, 1973)
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maine poet and playwright, 1923 Pulitzer prize winner for The Ballad of the Harp Weaver (February 22, 1892-October 19, 1950)
  • Samuel PepysEnglish diarist (February 23, 1633-May 26, 1703)
  • Anthony Burgess, English essayist, novelist, and musician, author of 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange (February 25, 1917-November 22, 1993)
  • John Steinbeck, American novelist and Pulitzer prize winner in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, an award that few, including the author, believed he deserved (February 27, 1902-December 20, 1968):

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Of Mice and Men

Personally, I always liked Steinbeck more than Faulkner, and Fitzgerald more than both, and Carson McCullers more than all of them.

More later. Peace.


Music by Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Goodnight Irene”

“summer’s blood was in it” ~ Seamus Heaney, from “Blackberry-Picking”

Update: Seamus Heaney died on August 30 in Dublin, Ireland (1939-2013)

Andrew Wyeth Blackberry Picker 1943 tempera on masonite
“Blackberry Picker” (1943, tempera on masonite)
by Andrew Wyeth

                   

Two for Tuesday: Irish poets and blackberries . . .

Blackberry-Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

~ Seamus Heaney

                   

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry—eating in late September.

~ Galway Kinnell

                   

Music by Ryan O’Shaughnessy, “No Name”

“What if I told you I’m incapable of tolerating my own heart?” ~ Virginia Woolf, from Night and Day

Eye of Horus
L. Liwag

” . . . and your absence is the strongest scent in the air.” ~ Madison Maheni

Thursday afternoon. Cloudy and chilly, low 50’s.

I have come to detest with a fierce cold hatred the entire month of November. To feel such abhorrence for a month is illogical, I realize, yet knowing does not diminish the antipathy, the execration I bear it.

Night Sky: Moon and Clouds
L. Liwag

So yes, here I am, trying once again to make sense of life, a folly at best, for there is no making sense of life unless one is willing to accept that death is part of life, that we all are dying from the moment we are born, that nature is relentless, that nothing escapes. Nothing.

Certainly there are those of you who will not understand how I allow my grief to define me, who simply cannot understand such a thing. No matter. It is. I am.

Yet because I am human, I will open myself to loss again and again, despite my firmest resolutions to the contrary. But today, this moment, I will sit here and let all of the conflicting emotions run rampant on this page because it is the only thing I can do. Human contact is painful. Any contact is painful. The only thing for me at this moment is this screen, the unfolding of letters, the soft click of the keys. This, here, is all that I can allow myself to touch.

“What if the heart does not pale as the body wanes,
but is like the sun that blazes hotter each day
on these immense, perishing fields? What then?” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Getting Ready”

Yesterday I knew that it was time, that my dog Shakes would not be able to make it through another night as the one before, and so I readied myself as best I could, and I tried to ready the family. I made telephone calls, looking for a place that would allow me to be with him and would allow me to bring him home afterwards because city ordinances forbid the burying of pets in yards, and I knew that I had to get around this. And then, after all of this, after hours of anguished coughing and wheezing, he went to sleep on the bed and slept deeply and seemingly without struggle.

Forced Eclipse
L. Liwag

And then the resolve that I had girded myself with faded, and I thought that perhaps he had more time, that I had moved ahead of him, that he was telling me that it was not yet time.

This is the fate that befalls humans who take animals into their hearts. We make a tacit agreement that we will care for them, feed them, shelter them, assist them if they are hurt or sick, and finally, that we will not let them suffer. This is the agreement that we make, or at least, the one we should make, for far too many who become humans to dogs or cats or fish or whatever, far too many take on this relationship and fall short. That is unkind.

Before last night, I had lived through the intimate deaths of three of my dogs, the last being my lab mix Murphy, who, much like Shakes, was my dog, who followed me from room to room and settled only when and where I settled. In recent weeks, I had mistakenly called Tillie by Murphy’s name several times, and despite what you may think, I knew that it was a sign that Shakes was nearing the end of his days.

“Thus I spoke, more and more softly; for I was afraid of my own thoughts and the thoughts behind my thoughts.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

So after making preparations to help ease Shakes from this life, we decided to wait one more day, and even as that decision was made, everything changed. He began to get restless, and because he was weak, I carried him to the backyard and sat him in the grass. He did not move. I picked him up again and walked to my bedroom and sat down with him in my arms, and he began to fade. I called Corey and the boys and told them that it was time.

A House Divided
L. Liwag

And I held him as his breathing slowed and his heartbeat faded beneath my hands, and then finally, his body went limp. And I did something I have not done in over a decade: I keened, great heaving sobs and wails, the kind that slice through the heart of the night, beyond any other sounds, and the only thing in the world was what I held in my arms—the now small body of one of the best friends I had ever known.

It is at moments such as this that the human heart is truly a burden. Yes, the seat of emotions does not reside in this organ, but in the brain, but why then does the pain radiate from this seat in the chest? Why does the implosion, when it comes, why does it begin in the heart, so far from the brain?

“How do you get so empty? Who takes it out of you?” ~ Ray Bradbury, from Fahrenheit 451

As I held my boy dog in my arms, as he took his last breath, I was so grateful that he had died here, that we were with him, and selfishly, I was so glad that I had not had to take him to someone else, to watch as a needle was inserted, to have to contain my grief in a public space.

Wolf Moon
L. Liwag

And then the guilt comes: Should I not have waited so long? We he suffering? Did I extend his suffering because I was not yet ready?

And with the guilt comes my father. You see, my dad pleaded to come home. I asked my mother if we could not take him home to die. I said that I would take care of him. She refused as I knew that she would. My mother fears death, dying in any form. She would have been unable to stay in a house in which someone had died. I knew this, but still, because I am selfish, I asked, and because I am selfish, I have harbored a resentment that she said no. I wanted to be with my father when he died. I asked the nurses to call me when he was moved to another room so that I could come. They did not call, and I went home and went to sleep. And for years, I have felt guilty.

My father wanted nothing more than to come home. He begged me, again and again, and I? I lied to him and said that he would be coming home soon, and despite the morphine, he knew that I was lying. I could see it in his eyes. And so my father died alone in an empty hospital room, and my dog Shakes died in my arms.

“But I know I live half alive in the world,
Half my life belongs to the wild darkness.” ~ Galway Kinnell, from “Middle of the Way”

So here I sit, pouring my heart onto this page. The place in my chest in which my heart resides burns and aches. My throat constricts each time I try to swallow. The very thought of food makes me ill. I awoke with my head splitting as if it had been cleaved with a battle axe. I feel everything too much. And I feel nothing.

Sailor Moon
L. Liwag

I am unable to offer comfort to my family, even though I know that they need it as much as I do. Human touch is more than I can bear, and so I feel myself closing off, blinking madly as if it will stem the tears. And you know what? I hate everything that I am saying. I hate all of these words. I hate my frailty. I hate my sorrow. I hate my guilt. I hate feeling. But most of all, I hate the empty place at my feet where my boy used to snore comfortably as I sat her and pretended to be some kind of writer.

Dogs offer the purest kind of love. Humans love in this way initially before they begin to become tainted by the world, but dogs? They love this way as it is the only way that they know how. Yes, I know that I am generalizing. Of course I am generalizing. Not every dog is loved or has love, just as far, far too many humans are not gifted love of any kind. But this is not an examination of the cruelties of the world. This is much closer to home, and so I generalize.

Memory: My ex and I lived in an apartment that fronted the Chesapeake Bay. A huge nor’easter blew in and flooded the street. We were evacuated. They would not let us bring our dog Ascot with us, so my ex put on his hip-waders and carried her out. We were told in the shelter that we could not have our pet, and I felt fortunate that we did not have to make the choice between shelter and our pet because we had family in the area, because it would not have been a choice.

“When I speak
My lips feel cold—
The autumn wind.” ~ Matsuo Bashō

I honestly don’t know if this post has said any of the things that I wanted to say or if it has done any of the things that I had hoped to do. These are the things that I know as I sit here on this grey, cold afternoon:

Total Eclipse of the Heart
L. Liwag

The last breath is quiet.

You cannot close a dog’s eyes once he dies in the same way that films always show the eyes of the dead being closed.

It takes time between the last breath and the last heart beat. An interminable amount of time.

My sons’ hearts are bigger than I ever thought possible.

I don’t know how Corey will survive the loss of Tillie.

Our other dogs know that something is wrong.

My dog Shakes is buried beneath my bedroom window; it’s as close as he can be to the place he spent so much time with me, especially in those early days when I first became so ill, and I spent hour upon hour in my bed.

This house, as small as it is, feels desperately empty.

It is well and proper that Shakes was laid to rest beneath a full moon.

Grief is the echo that resonates within the four chambers of the heart, mixing with the salt of our tears and the blood of our loss.

What we lose defines us.

I hate November.

(I had a very hard time figuring out what the images should be for this post. Finally I decided to use some of my own. These are pictures I shot of a full moon with a corona several months ago. Unfortunately, I did not date them.)

Music by Orenda Fink, “Why is the Night Sad?”

                   

Another Birth

My whole being is a dark chant
which will carry you
perpetuating you
to the dawn of eternal growths and blossoming
in this chant I sighed you sighed
in this chant
I grafted you to the tree to the water to the fire.

Life is perhaps
a long street through which a woman holding
a basket passes every day

Life is perhaps
a rope with which a man hangs himself from a branch
life is perhaps a child returning home from school.

Life is perhaps lighting up a cigarette
in the narcotic repose between two love-makings
or the absent gaze of a passerby
who takes off his hat to another passerby
with a meaningless smile and a good morning .

Life is perhaps that enclosed moment
when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes
and it is in the feeling
which I will put into the Moon’s impression
and the Night’s perception.

In a room as big as loneliness
my heart
which is as big as love
looks at the simple pretexts of its happiness
at the beautiful decay of flowers in the vase
at the sapling you planted in our garden
and the song of canaries
which sing to the size of a window.

Ah
this is my lot
this is my lot
my lot is
a sky which is taken away at the drop of a curtain
my lot is going down a flight of disused stairs
a regain something amid putrefaction and nostalgia
my lot is a sad promenade in the garden of memories
and dying in the grief of a voice which tells me
I love
your hands.

I will plant my hands in the garden
I will grow I know I know I know
and swallows will lay eggs
in the hollow of my ink-stained hands.

I shall wear
a pair of twin cherries as ear-rings
and I shall put dahlia petals on my finger-nails
there is an alley
where the boys who were in love with me
still loiter with the same unkempt hair
thin necks and bony legs
and think of the innocent smiles of a little girl
who was blown away by the wind one night.

There is an alley
which my heart has stolen
from the streets of my childhood.

The journey of a form along the line of time
inseminating the line of time with the form
a form conscious of an image
coming back from a feast in a mirror

And it is in this way
that someone dies
and someone lives on.

No fisherman shall ever find a pearl in a small brook
which empties into a pool.

I know a sad little fairy
who lives in an ocean
and ever so softly
plays her heart into a magic flute
a sad little fairy
who dies with one kiss each night
and is reborn with one kiss each dawn.

~ Forugh Farrokhzad

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.” ~ Edith Wharton, “Vesalius in Zante (1564)”

Hgnging Bridge Hussaini, Borit Lake, Pakistan

                   

“Let me be, was all I wanted. Be what I am, no matter how I am.” ~ Henry Miller, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Friday afternoon. Partly cloudy and very warm, 80s. Impending storms.

So where do I begin?

Corey arrived home on Wednesday night. The company chose not to wait for his documents to arrive, instead sending him home. I couldn’t reach him on Wednesday because his cell phone battery died, but he managed to call me once he made it to La Guardia after having one leg of his flight cancelled, being rerouted to Toronto, having his luggage lost, having a plane held, and having another plane arrive late.

Hanging Bridge at Trift Glacier, Switzerland

If this sounds exhausting, trust me when I say that it was. He slept fourteen hours straight into Thursday afternoon, and who could blame him?

The good news, though—or at least the news that makes all of this bearable is that while he was on the ship for those four days, he found out a lot of information about the company, and most of it wasn’t good. It seems that they’ve lost a major contract because their ships keep breaking down, which means that they aren’t able to fulfill the runs between countries. One of the guys in charge on the ship said that in the first two hitches that he served, he was sent home after four days the first time, and after two weeks the second time.

Another guy said that the company is not above telling the crew one thing and telling the Coast Guard another, in attempts to get the ships back at sea. As it turns out now, everyone who was sent to crew the ship along with Corey will be sent home sometime in the next few weeks because that particular ship has a blown engine, which means one to three months in the yard. The Coast Guard is reluctant to pass on the inspections because the company has made half-attempts at fixing problems before, which, obviously, is unsafe.

“If you go to the window, perhaps you’ll still catch
the dying of the last light.

Madness. The madness of March.” ~ Eugénio de Andrade, from “White on White” (translated by Alexis Levitin)

So the long and short of it is that Corey would have been coming home anyway, but not this soon, but definitely not after three months. He has worked for a really dysfunctional shipping company before, and it made life very tenuous. That particular company routinely did patch jobs on their boats, and the boats were always breaking down as a result. I told Corey that I think that in the end it’s probably better that he didn’t invest too much time in this company only to be jerked around constantly.

Loboc Hanging Bridge, Philippines

The management at the security company was glad to have him back, and he plans to contact several other companies that were interested in him before, but he didn’t have his paperwork updated at the time. I think that things will work out for the better; at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

In the meantime, I’m in an ongoing battle with UPS, having recently learned that the package was not held up by customs but rather because the store didn’t sent out the package until yesterday, this after being assured that everything that could have been done to get the package there within the two days for which I paid handsomely had, in fact, been done. I really hate people who lie to my face, well over the phone.

You can bet that someone, somewhere in the UPS food chain is going to refund me that money.

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened.” ~ T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” from Four Quartets

Yesterday, I waited on campus for Brett as he only had two classes, and I didn’t want to waste the gas making four trips. I spent the time reading more of Game of Thrones. It was a beautiful day, and I was quite relaxed. I had big plans to walk Tillie when I got home, but by the time I did get home, I found that I was just exhausted. I know that it was the after-effects of the past four days finally catching up with me. I may try to take her for a walk when I finish this post, though, as I felt really good after she took me for a walk the other day, although, she did jump in the pool when we got home. She’s such a funny dog.

Hanging Bridge in Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Anyway, yesterday was my mother’s birthday; she’s 80. She would absolutely kill me for telling people how old she is. Corey and I gave her one of his beautiful sunflower pictures, and she actually seemed to like it, rare thing when my mother likes a gift.

Today is Eamonn’s 21st birthday. We don’t have his actual gift yet as it’s going to be Rosetta Stone for French, and the plan was to pay for that with Corey’s first big check . . . yep, well, that’s how that goes, for now at least. He has big plans to go out with his friends tonight. Here’s hoping that he’s careful and has a designated driver.

It’s really strange in some ways to see your children grow into adults. I still have the most vivid memories of Eamonn as a small boy, and boy was he cute. Even then he was quite a flirt, shades of things to come. But it’s funny that when I have dreams that involve a young child, it’s almost always Brett as a baby or toddler. I suppose that’s because he’s still the baby in my mind. By the way, Brett corrected me: It wasn’t a toss up between New Zealand and Australia, rather between New Zealand and Canada or Sweden. My mistake.

“we bury the ashes
of our wording
and sift
the silences.” ~ Joy Kogawa, from Offerings

Had to take a break while Brett removed that strange adware program called Text Enhance from the computer. It seems that I’m not the only person that had the appearance of strange underlining and links to suddenly appear on their copy. Brett said that it’s adware/spyware, and he recommended that I download Ghostery, an application the prevents scripts from detecting your presence online, which stops the scripts from running on your computer.

Carricki-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland

The following is from my tech savvy son: The program installs itself onto the computer and creates ads in relation to the text that is on screen. Enhance’s website removal instructions only harm the computer further. Do not go to the website as it will install Enhance to your computer without your knowledge or consent. To delete it, simply uninstall it from the add/remove program menu in the control panel, or scan for it with an anti spyware program.

Thanks for the assistance, Brett.

That’s one less thing to worry about today, and trust me when I say that today has been one for the records as far as dealing with things. In between writing this post, I’ve been back and forth with UPS in six separate telephone calls, cut off once after holding for almost eight minutes, and told three different things as far as getting a reimbursement. Oh, and did I mention that one woman said that they had no idea as to when the package might be sent back from Germany; funny thing is that it wasn’t sent until 10:20 this morning, two hours after I talked to the UPS store manager, who assured me that she would see that it was returned to sender—but it hadn’t even left the country at that point!

Argh. I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that damned football.

“Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.” ~ Galway Kinnell from “Wait”

Since I began this post over four hours ago, the temperature has dropped 21 degrees, and rumbles of thunder can be heard in the distance. The rain is coming down hard now. There will be no walk today, for obvious reasons. The headache that was dull is back full force, and Eamonn came home from work to find green streamers all over his bedroom (I didn’t have balloons, so the streamers are almost as obnoxious).

Oh, and to add to the growing miasma of unmitigated crap that comprises our lives over the past six days, Corey got his paycheck from the Lithuania trip, and of course, because nothing is going right at the moment, it’s short. Can I just say that this whole week would be better if erased with permanent white-out from the book of life, auto-corrected and eliminated, as it were.

I plan to spend the rest of this evening watching Investigation ID on cable, get my fill of psychopaths and people who kill for revenge. As Aristotle said, tragedy allows the audience to purge itself of pity and fear and other negative emotions. I firmly believe that watching real-life stories of murder and mayhem and watching dramatic stories of the same ilk, as in “Law & Order,” allows me to release all of these pent up feelings of needing to throttle someone because of their incompetence and stupidity.

Purging the emotions without actually taking action. That’s a good thing. If only it really worked.

Okay, enough already. Between the telephone calls, computer malware, computer freezes, and all of the other bull, it’s now 9:10 p.m. I began this post half a day ago . . .

More later. Peace.

*I can think of no better image to represent how I feel than today’s selection of hanging bridges . . .

Music by Alex Clare, “Relax My Beloved” (Corey found this one for me)

                   

Rachmaninoff on the Mass Pike

It calls the heart, this music, to a place
more intimate than home, than self, that face
aging in the hall mirror. This is not
music to age by—no sprightly gavotte
or orderly pavane, counting each beat,
confining motion to the pointed feet
and sagely nodding head; not Chopin, wise
enough to keep some distance in his eyes
between perceiver and the thing perceived.
No, this is song that means to be believed,
that quite believes itself, each rising wave
of passionate crescendo wild and brave.
The silly girl who lived inside my skin
once loved this music; its melodic din
was like the voice she dreamed in, sad, intense.
She didn’t know a thing, she had no sense;
she scorned—and needed—calendar and clock,
the rules, the steps, the lines, Sebastian Bach;
she wanted life to break her like a tide,
but not too painfully. On either side
the turnpike trundles by, nurseries, farms,
small towns with schools and markets in their arms,
small industry, green spaces now and then.
All the heart wants is to be called again.

~ Rhina P. Espaillat

Work in Progress

Sometimes Time is the Best Editor

After posting Galway Kinnell’s poem “The Olive-Wood Fire,” I went back into my files. I remember that I had written a poem in third person about a mother and her baby. At the time, I didn’t often try third person perspectives, but this particular poem really seemed to fit third as opposed to first person. I don’t think that I would have been able to write it in first because the subject matter would have been to hard.

By moving into third person, it allowed me to distance myself somewhat from the situation and try to think of it in this mother’s terms, not in my terms. I have revised this poem at least ten times. One of the elements that I was trying to achieve was the correct rhythm, which I still don’t think that I have achieved. The other key thing that I worked on were the line breaks. For example, at one time the first two lines were one line:

Her grandfather had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees 

I changed it back and forth because I just wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until looking at the poem today that I finally realized that if I broke the line at grandfather, then the short a sound in grandfather would play off crafted and hardwood more emphatically. I also realized in rereading the poem that I needed to break the first long stanza into two shorter stanzas: one for the beginning of the ritual and one for the end of the ritual. I pared some superfluous words, which helped to tighten the rhythm.

I’m including the final version (first), and the version which was my last edit preceding this version. I believe more than anything, time and distance have helped me to shape this poem into something tighter and closer to my original intent, and sometimes that is the best way to deal with something that you’ve written that never seems to be a final version.

 I’ll let you decide.

The Poem: Most Recent Version and Version from Two Years Ago

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather 

had crafted the bed from the hardwood trees

in the dense woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Years later, spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a soft blanket,

and soothe her with hushed lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

 

With her hand on the knotted wood

worn smooth by time and love,

the woman would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

The tranquility of this evening ritual

became the woman’s talisman for her babe

against the dark and unknown.

Until the day arrived

when the girl-child became ill,

and was taken away

to be succored by strangers.

never to return to the enfolding arms

of the woman or the idle cradle.

 

After that,

the woman would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

She wrapped it in white tissue and placed it in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a faded red bow she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

Lolita Liwag

January 11, 2009

 

                                                                                                                              

 

Earlier Version:

 

Cradle Song

 

Her grandfather had crafted the bed

from the hardwood trees

that grew in the woods behind the house.

Her mother had lain securely in its curves,

and she, too, had been comforted by its gentle sway.

Then one spring brought her own girl child.

Each night, carefully,

she would lay the baby in the cradle,

cover her with a blanket knit from soft white yarn,

and soothe her with lullabies

whispered in the summer twilight.

With her hand on the knotted wood worn smooth

by other hands from times past,

she would rock the bed gently,

and guide her babe into untroubled slumber.

She did this every night

until the time that the baby became ill

and then did not come home again to sleep.

 

After that, she would stand by the cradle in the evening,

and sing quiet songs to the air made silent by her loss.

Alone in the terrible stillness,

she would gather the blanket in her arms,

and inhale deeply–searching for the essence

that might still cling to the barren cloth.

Sometimes, she would stroke the sheets,

her hands seeking warmth

from the hollow where the baby’s head had lain.

Once, she found a single, dark hair,

which she wrapped in white tissue and placed in a box,

along with a small, cloth doll

and a red bow that she had tied in her daughter’s hair

one fall morning.

 

Her husband never understood

her need to find solace from things no longer used.

He wanted to remove the cradle,

the source of her pain.

But she asked him to leave it

until the trees were heavy again with spring blooms,

until she could imprint all that the child had been,

before time began to fade the image,

and she would be left alone,

with nothing but remembrance, an empty cradle

and echoes of soft night songs of love.

 

February 25, 2007

 

More later. Peace.