“from what we cannot hold the stars are made” ~ W. S. Merwin, from “Youth”

Joan Snyder Women Make Lists
“Women Make Lists” (nd)
by Joan Snyder

                   

Two for Tuesday: Thinking about getting older

Paul Gauguin two-women-flowered-hair-1902 oil on canvas
“Two Women (Flowered Hair)” (1920, oil on canvas)
by Paul Gauguin

Grandmother

old crow of a woman in bonnet, sifting through the dump
salvaging those parts of the world
neither useless nor useful

she would be hours in the sweatlodge
come out naked and brilliant in the sun
steam rising off her body in winter
like slow explosion of horses

she braided my sister’s hair with hands that smelled of deep
roots buried in the earth
she told me old stories

how time never mattered
when she died
they gave me her clock

~ Sherman Alexie

                   

Augustus John Washing Day 1915
“Washing Day” (1915)
by August John

The good old days at home sweet home

On Monday my mother washed.
It was the way of the world,
all those lines of sheets flapping
in the narrow yards of the neighborhood,
the pulleys stretching out second
and third floor windows.

Down in the dank steamy basement,
wash tubs vast and grey, the wringer
sliding between the washer
and each tub. At least every
year she or I caught
a hand in it.

Tuesday my mother ironed.
One iron was the mangle.
She sat at it feeding in towels,
sheets, pillow cases.
The hand ironing began
with my father’s underwear.

She ironed his shorts.
She ironed his socks.
She ironed his undershirts.
Then came the shirts,
a half hour to each, the starch
boiling on the stove.

I forgot bluing. I forgot
the props that held up the line
clattering down. I forgot
chasing the pigeons that shat
on her billowing housedresses.
I forgot clothespins in the teeth.

Tuesday my mother ironed my
father’s underwear. Wednesday
she mended, darned socks on
a wooden egg. Shined shoes.
Thursday she scrubbed floors.
Put down newspapers to keep

them clean. Friday she
vacuumed, dusted, polished,
scraped, waxed, pummeled.
How did you become a feminist
interviewers always ask,
as if to say, when did this

rare virus attack your brain?
It could have been Sunday
when she washed the windows,
Thursday when she burned
the trash, bought groceries
hauling the heavy bags home.

It could have been any day
she did again and again what
time and dust obliterated
at once until stroke broke
her open. I think it was Tuesday
when she ironed my father’s shorts.

~ Marge Piercy

*****

Rest in Peace Gerald D. Fickel (October 6, 1916 – September 14, 2013)

                   

Music by First Aid Kit, “Ghost Town”

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~ Satchel Paige

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales by Phillip Capper (fotopedia) 

                  

“In a dream you are never eighty.” ~ Anne Sexton

Ash Wednesday. Cloudy and chilly.

Bamburgh Castle by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)

I spent nine hours on Monday in the emergency section of DePaul Hospital. This time it was not my mother; it was my mother-in-law, my ex’s mother.

Some people find it strange that I still refer to this woman as my mother-in-law. I don’t find it strange at all; she’s been in my life since I was a young woman. I find it incredible to be able to have two mothers-in-law, both of whom I admire and love. How many people can stay that truthfully? My m-in-l here has Parkinson’s Disease, a very unforgiving disease that takes away chunks of the mind without warning.

On Sunday night, my sister-in-law Ann came over and spent a good hour crying. She had found her mother on the floor of her bedroom on Sunday morning. When asked why she was on the floor, my m-in-law said that “it felt good.” As the day progressed, she was better, but she was still talking a lot of nonsense. I told Ann that I was afraid she might have had a mini-stroke. We decided that we would take her in the next day if we could convince her to get in the car. Turns out, we didn’t have to.

When we got to her house around 9 a.m., she was on the floor of the playroom, the first room off the hallway. She was lying there, and it was apparent that she had been there for a while because her skin was icy cold. I went into the bathroom to get a warm washcloth to wipe her with, and the floor was soaking wet as was everything under the sink. When I asked her if she knew how the bathroom had gotten wet, she told me that the people who live upstairs had left their bathtub running.

There are no people upstairs.

Ann and I called 911, and she was transported to the ER. The EMTs asked her if she knew where she was, and she said that she was at the hospital. They told her that she wasn’t at the hospital yet. One of the doctors in the ER asked her if she knew the date, and Ann and I looked at each other—neither of us knew the date . . . Turns out that my m-in-law was dehydrated and had a urinary tract infection, but the CT scan did not show any signs of a stroke. The doctor admitted her to get her stabilized, but there were no available rooms, so Ann and I spent the entire afternoon in the little ER cubicle. I’m certain that the ER staff thought that we were both batty as we got the giggles more than once, and at one point, we were singing.

It had been hours without food, anything. Ann needed her insulin. I needed something besides Pepsi.

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.  It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ~ Mark Twain

Castle in the UK by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)

During all of this, my m-in-law was in and out of reality. She would be talking to us about something, and then she would turn to her left and have a conversation with her sister (who was not there). It took a bit of getting used to, but we muddled through. There were times when she was eating imaginary food and sewing invisible clothes.

If I sound as if I’m making fun, I’m not. It was one of those situations in which the pain of the reality could become so acute as to be overwhelming, so the better approach was to just go with the flow and try not to think about anything too much. 

I finally asked Corey to come and get me around 6:30 when I was certain that she was being moved to a ward. I had been wearing my contacts all day (something I am not yet used to), and my eyes hurt as did my back and my head. Ann was able to leave a little after 8.

In between all of this, I texted and phoned people, including my ex as I was acting as an intermediary between him and his sister.  The whole brother/sister thing is very touchy as my ex has been unwilling/unable to pitch in at all with his mother’s care; therefore, it has all fallen on Ann. She makes sure that her mom takes her meds three times a day, that she eats, that she has groceries in the house, that she hasn’t set the house on fire.

I try to do what I can, and I know that it’s not enough. Paul’s reason for not doing more is that “it’s so depressing.” Oh, and I suppose it’s a piece of cake for the rest of us? Yes. I would slap him if I thought that it would do any good.

“The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years.  Your body changes, but you don’t change at all.  And that, of course, causes great confusion.” ~ Doris Lessing

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland by Juan Diego Robles (fotopedia)

Today, Brett and I went to visit with Ann. When we got there we found out that they had to restrain her mom because she was trying to get out of bed. It’s like it was with my mom except that my mom was more coherent during the day.

Brett was not prepared for the state his grandmother was in, and it really upset him. She didn’t know who he was. I wish that I had thought to prepare him better, but the reality is that there probably isn’t any adequate preparation.

After several texts and phone calls, Alexis finally texted me back last night. This is a real sore spot for me, and I am not yet able to go into the full story on why I am so upset with her other than to say that it deals directly with Alexis’s participation in this family.

Last night, Ann and Paul and their respective spouses met for dinner, and Ann said that it went fairly well. Paul has agreed to go along with whatever medical decisions Ann makes, and he and Penny will do research for Ann as needed (big whoop). Ann told him that she isn’t asking for a time commitment but that if he could really try to go have dinner with his mom or spend an hour with her it would take some of the stress of Ann.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how all of this works out.

“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” ~  Henri Frédéric Amiel 

Looking West from Dun Beag Broch, Scotland by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)
For me, the saddest part of this situation is the loss of the woman I used to know, a woman who sang in her church choir (alto), a talented woman who sewed beautiful clothes, read voraciously, listened to classical music, wallpapered and painted every room of her house, and knew how to grow any kind of flower, herb or vegetable.

This person is gone, and there are only small glimpses of her, and those are appearing less and less. And I am left to wonder if she is aware of this loss. How much does she know? How much does she remember? In one instance, she could name the main road that abuts the hospital; in the next, she was talking about a ticket taker on the train. I hope that this logic makes some sense to her and that she doesn’t really perceive how far from reality she has strayed.

To lose a bodily function from disease, arthritis, whatever—it seems that we as humans have an ability to compensate for such a loss. We use the affected limb less, or we don’t lift as much weight as we used to. But to have a keen mind, a mind that hungers for knowledge, a mind that enjoys continually learning about new things—to lose that gradually must be infuriating. And then after a few years of the slips here and there, to begin to lose great chunks of time and memory—how does one cope with that?

Today, Yvonne held out her fingers to me and asked me if I wanted this (invisible thing). I said that I sure did, and I pretended to take it and put it in my pocket.

I have not yet allowed myself to cry, and I’m not entirely certain that I will because the tears would be tainted in a way. Would they be tears for her, for us, for what has gone, for what is going, for having to watch this helplessly, for not knowing whether or not to acknowledge the invisible things she moves around with her fingers, for the papery thickness of her skin that is blotchy with bruises from the blood that they try to take from her veins, for Ann’s burden, for the resentment that I bear towards my ex and my daughter for their unrelenting self-centeredness, for my sons who are visibly hurting.

What exactly? I have no answers, and that pisses me off more than anything, having no answers. That’s’ the part that really, really sucks.

More later. Peace.

Music by Bird York, “In the Deep” (I know that this is a repeat, but it felt right).

                   

Memory’s Voice
For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina

‘What do you see, on the wall, dimly alive,
at the hour when the sunset eats the sky?

A seagull, on a blue cloth of waters,
or perhaps it’s those Florentine gardens?

Or is it Tsarskoye Seloe’s vast view,
where terror stepped out before you?

Or that one who left your captivity,
and walked into white death, freely?’

No, I see only the wall—that shows
reflections of heaven’s dying glow.

~ Anna Akhmatova
 

“She’s got the whole dark forest living inside of her.” ~ Tom Waits

 

Ruins of 19th Century Manor House by alterallensteiner (flckr creative commons)
                   

“Life is either a dream or a frenzy, inside an enclosure.” ~ D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Thursday evening. Rapidly dropping temperatures after a lovely high of 70 degrees.

Hidden Abandoned House

First let me say that there will be no ranting tonight. Just thought I should let you know right upfront since the past two days have been pretty vitriolic, even for me.

Today I finally set up my Avon representative e-site. I thought that I would give this a whirl just to see if I can make a bit of money from it. Who knows. If anyone is interested in checking it out, click here.  I did send an e-mail to a few people in my mailbox, but it was automatically generated, so I have no idea what it said . . .

So at the moment, I’m listening to some tunes and munching on saltines. I saw my PCP on Tuesday, and most of my blood work was fine. Only problem was that for some reason, the lab didn’t do my lipid profile or my thyroid, which meant that I had to fast again and go back on Wednesday. Those are probably the two most important tests for me: my triglycerides and my thyroid.  One troubling thing: I seem to have adult onset diabetes (just barely). The reality is that if I start exercising again and cut down on the carbs (no rice?), I should be fine without any additional medication, which suits me just fine.

Tomorrow is the eye doctor. I don’t think that I’ve looked forward to an eye appointment so eagerly since my very first appointment which I had when I was 12. I had put off telling my mother that I thought that I needed glasses until I could no longer see the blackboard. For a while, I borrowed Kim Reese’s glasses (funny, the things you remember). I was so eager to have glasses so that I could see things clearly again, but getting used to glasses was hard as I didn’t wear them all of the time; hence, I lost my first pair fairly quickly.

The reason I didn’t wear my glasses all of the time? Because of something my mother said to me (and yes, you will probably be horrified): “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” What the hell? And you people wonder why I have such low self-esteem. That was fairly typical for the kinds of things my mother said to me, and at the time, it was a pretty stupid thing to say as I wasn’t even really interested in boys yet.

Whatever.

“With the daggers I
pilfered from an angel
I build my dwelling.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from “Slumber Inn”

Abandoned Building by Scallop Holden

(Just an aside: If you’ve never heard Eva Cassidy’s version of Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” you should give it a listen. Beautiful.)

Isn’t the above just a bone-jolting quote? “Daggers I pilfered from an angel”—wow. I mean, just think about it, someone writing about stealing daggers from an angel, the juxtaposition of the hard g-sound in daggers with the fluidity of pilfered and dwelling. Bold. Beautiful. Mystical. I love it.

I have come to Edmond Jabès late in life, but at least I have finally found him. Jabès was born an Egyptian Jew but was forced to relocate to France during the Suez Crisis in 1956, where he become one of the most famous post-war French poets. I haven’t read any of his books yet, but as is often the case in life, I keep running across quotes from his work in the strangest places, and the more I read, the more that I want to read.  I suppose that I shall begin with The Book of Questions, Vol. I.

Paul Aster in the New York Review of Books said this about the book: “Neither novel nor poem, neither essay nor play, The Book of Questions is a combination of all these forms, a mosaic of fragments, aphorisms, dialogues, songs, and commentaries that endlessly move around the central question of the book: how to speak what cannot be spoken.” I find the description very appealing, that Jabès’ work is an amalgamation of writing forms.

“I have followed a book in its persistence, a book which is the story of a thousand stories as night and day are the prow of a thousand poems. I have followed it where day succeeds the night and night the day, where the seasons are four times two hundred and fifty seasons” ~ The Book of Questions, p. 325

“Mystery is truth’s dancing partner.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Abandoned Building Alcove

My tumblr dash continues to be a sustaining source of inspiration for me. I find that I open it each day with an emotion akin to giddiness (truthfully, I just don’t do giddy) at what new, beautiful things I will see and read there. The dash is where I first saw words by Jabès, where each day I see incredible photographs of abandoned castles, old writing desks, empty performance houses.

I’m not sure where my love of abandoned buildings comes from. I’ve only been in a few, but I love to see pictures of them. I’m certain that if I were younger and still able to do such things, I would be one of those urban adventurers who seeks out abandoned buildings, the ruins of castles and manor opens, old opera houses, empty hospitals that still house rusty gurneys in hollow exam rooms. I think that such places are filled with a singular mystery and beauty because they are abandoned. And once so, they assume a presence of their own.

The emptiness allows the imagination to run free: What kind of soprano stood in the middle of that stage? Was she wearing a red velvet dress? Who sat in this alcove and looked out the lake and the gazebo and the trees? How many people climbed this staircase? Why did they leave just the shell of a grand piano here and nothing else?

These are the kinds of things that I ponder if I just let my mind wander, and it only stokes within me more of a desire to visit these places, to walk through the crumbling entrance to an abandoned manor. It’s like Harry Potter returning to Sirius Black’s family home and looking beneath the dusty bed, finding part of a letter written in his mother’s handwriting. Those forgotten pieces of the past that most people see as trash and junk—what secrets do they hold?

I remember walking to school when we lived in London. Part of the route took us past the iron fence to an old hospital. One day, I noticed a woman’s black clutch purse shoved behind a bush. I thought about that purse for weeks: Who did it belong to? Who put it there? Why? I wanted to look inside that purse so badly that I almost became obsessed. I didn’t care about finding money; I wanted to see what the purse revealed about its owner. I still remember exactly what that purse looked like. I was six, seven at the most.

“When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Abandoned Building Blue Doors by kentfagerdotcom

Last night, in keeping with our newest addiction, Corey and I watched a particularly good episode of  “Dr. Who” called “Vincent and the Doctor.” It was the episode in which the doctor and Amy Pond went back in time to Provence to see Vincent van Gogh (played by Tony Curran, a great likeness for the self-portrait). I had already seen this episode, but Corey hadn’t, and I really wanted to see it again because it was poignant.

When the doctor and Amy encounter the artist, he is the subject of public ridicule, being thrown out of cafes for not paying his bills, his works of art seen as garish depictions in which no one is interested. The appearance of the charming doctor and his companion provide a nice distraction for van Gogh (as an American, I am so used to Gogh being pronounced as go, so it was unsettling to hear the British pronunciation rhyme with cough, as in goff), who happens to be seeing invisible monsters.

Turns out, the monster, a Krafayis, is just as real as the other things that torture the artist. In the ensuing battle with the monster, Vincent accidentally kills the Krafayis while defending himself. But as the doctor, who realizes that the creature is blind, comforts the dying creature, the visibly stricken Vincent comments that the creature was only afraid and frustrated, feelings with which the artist can empathize.

But the part of the episode that I really liked the best was when the doctor and Amy took Vincent into the future so that he could see his paintings hanging in the Musée d’Orsay  (I will go there one day) and to hear an art scholar (Dr. Black, played by the wonderful Bill Nighy) praise the artist by referring to him as “the greatest painter of them all” and “one of the greatest men who ever lived.” A stunned Vincent cries tears of joy and hugs and kisses the confused scholar.

The doctor and Amy had hoped that by affirming Vincent’s talent, that they might be able to keep him from the despair that drives him to take his own life a few months later. Of course, it doesn’t work. But during the episode, to hear the Vincent character speak about beauty and color so passionately is incredibly moving. I know: I’m a sap.

I have always loved van Gogh’s paintings, the vibrancy of the colors, his choices of subjects. But it has always been the brush strokes that have always fascinated me: they are almost ferocious, as if he couldn’t put the paint to the canvas fast enough or hard enough. What is must have taken out of him each time he created a canvas awash in color and a beauty that he saw, and how it must have devastated him that no one else saw it.

A tortured mind and a tortured soul who produced such immense beauty.

More later. Peace.

Music by Don McLean “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)”

                   

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of
sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days
with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

~ Claude McKay