“When I look from my window at night, And the welkin above is all white, All throbbing and panting with stars” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from ”Sandalphon”
In the choir of the Église St Martin,
just beneath the light-blasted gothic vaults –
are a number of small holes,
the openings of large ceramic pots
placed in the walls
to improve the acoustic.
Lucius Mummius, who destroyed
the theatre at Corinth,
transported its resonating bronze vessels to Rome
and dedicated them
at the temple of Luna.
In cottages in Co. Clare,
an iron pot or horse’s skull
was buried under the hearthstone
to give resonance to a dancer’s step,
to contain the necessary emptiness
for though we wish to live
utterly alive, within our skins,
there lives in us another yearning –
that whatever harmonic is awakened in us,
through our voice, our step,
“Being a somewhat dark person myself, I fell in love with the idea that the mysterious thing you look for your whole life will eventually eat you alive.” ~ Laurie Anderson, Notes on Melville’s Moby Dick
Monday late afternoon. Party cloudy and cool. Lovely
I had the most horrendous nightmare this morning, and of course, I awoke with a migraine. Actually, what I awoke with was spots, a harbinger of a migraine. I took my medication, and at the moment, the pain is in my left eye.
I dreamed about this crazy man named Viktor (I don’t know why I know that it’s spelled like that, but it is). I was in a beauty supply store looking at combs and nail polish. I remember that I was looking for a particular shade of Revlon lipstick, and I was pondering the purchase of a yellow comb (?). The bad guy came in with two women and one other man, and apparently, I offended him by something that I said. He started to rant at me. Other things happened that I cannot remember. Something about a former Navy Seal tackling him so that he couldn’t kill everyone in the store.
Cut to new scene: I ran into a grocery store to get away from him. When I came out, I noticed a fracas in the parking lot, so I walked over. He was lying there with one of his legs cut off. The leg was about 20 feet from him. Somehow I knew that I had to keep him from getting to his leg or he would be able to put himself back together and come after me again.
More fuzzy details. I awoke panting. Really hate dreams like that.
Later Corey told me about his dreams, and there were men with knives in his dream too. Weird, huh?
“. . . the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.” ~ Robert Frost, from “Acquainted with the Night”
Wednesday afternoon. Absolutely beautiful blue skies, low 70’s.
Monday just wasn’t cutting it as far as having something worthwhile to say plus I had things around the house that I needed to take care of, and then yesterday, we had electrical problems, so here I am, 48 hours later.
When I drove Brett and Em to school this morning, it felt more like a spring morning than a fall one. I had the sunroof open, and I kept hearing birdsong each time I stopped. The long pants and hoodies that were on campus just a few days ago were replaced by shorts. I know that a lot of students from up north come to ODU because it’s considered a beach school, what a hoot. Well, it is definitely warmer that upstate New York, but I used to love the kids who came to class in shorts and sandals all winter long, as if to say, “Winter? This is not winter.”
Today reminded me of that.
This week the annual literary festival is going on at ODU. I looked at the schedule, and I have to say that it was pretty unimpressive. The lit festival used to be such a big deal, drawing names from all over the country. I remember seeing Mary Oliver one year before she changed her style drastically and got much more mainstream. Then there was the year that Carolyn Forché read. She had a big impact on me.
The great thing about being on faculty was being able to meet all of these writers, talking to them in a casual setting after the readings. I really miss that. The bad thing about the literary festival was that I could pretty much count on its timing to coincide with my fall cold. It never failed to happen.
“Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person.” ~ Haruki Murakami
Yesterday I read a book by Ian Rankin, one of my favorite authors. his Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) is such a finely crafted character, the kind of character that aspiring writers envy. He is complex and multilayered, irreverent and serious. I haven’t read all of the Dalziel and Pascoe books in the series, and one day I hope to get my hands on the ones I haven’t read and read them through chronologically. That would be lovely.
I fear that this computer is truly on its last legs, which is painful for me as its demise means the end of computer access for me until I can get my new hard drive installed on my computer. But each time I begin to write on this one, I never know if the damned thing is going to lock up on me or give me a blue screen or a black screen. There is definitely too much junk on the hard drive, but that comes from having three different people share the computer.
I’m on the third or fourth day of this particular migraine, can’t remember. It’s settled mostly into my right eye, which means that the afternoon sunshine that streams through Eamonn’s window that I usually love is causing me great discomfort at the moment. I’ve adapted by typing with my eyes partially closed. It sort of works.
I really want to call that nurse at the neurologist’s office and say “Hey! I’m on the third day of this particular migraine. Does this count?” But I’m not going to. Instead I’ve decided to see if any other neurologist’s in the area treat migraineurs (such a cool name for such a horrid thing) with Botox.
“This is the poem of the air, Slowly in silent syllables recorded; This is the secret of despair, Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded, Now whispered and revealed To wood and field.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,Snow-Flakes
When I was a child, Longfellow was one of the first poets I read, him and Robert Louis Stevenson. My dad bought me A Child’s Garden of Verses, and I carried that book with me everywhere. I wonder whatever became of it . . .
Then, believe it or not, I got my hands on some poetry compilation with a yellow cover. Odd the details you remember. My favorite poem in the book was by Shakespeare:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
I memorized it and recited it to myself in kind of a sing-song. Who knew that it was from The Tempest? Who cared? I remember singing this to myself when we were in the Philippines. I didn’t really have any friends, so I would go out in the tiny front yard of our apartment and sit under the mango tree and sing to myself.
These memories just came to me, not really certain as to why.
“This pain, this dying, this is just normal. This is how life is. In fact, I realize, there never was an earthquake. Life is just this way, broken, and I am crazy for dreaming of something else.” ~ Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You
When my dad retired from the Navy, he took us to the Philippines. Of course, my mother did not want to go. I remember huge rows over what we were going to do, and I remember my mother threatening to take me away. God the fights they had were nasty.
Anyway, we did go to the Philippines, where we lived for about six months or so. We started out in my dad’s village of Gapan, which is on the island of Luzon. It really was a village, dirt roads, water from wells, ice from ice trucks. Then we got an apartment in Quezon City. I hated the apartment because at least in Gapan I had cousins that I could play with.
I remember that during the rainy season, it began to flood, and my mom and the two relatives who lived with us had to open the back and front doors and just let the water run through the apartment. In the meantime, my dad had gone back to the village for someone’s funeral. He was on a bus with one of my uncle’s, I think, and the bus got stuck on a bridge and began to fill with water. My dad got a cramp in his leg, and his brother helped to get him off the bus.
Scary stuff, but for me it was a grand adventure, sitting on the staircase (we had two floors) and watching the furniture float out the door. Soon after, we came back to the states. My grand adventure resulted in pneumonia in both of my lungs and hospitalization, which, for my mother, was the last straw. I’ve never been back.
I really don’t know where these memories are coming from, the part about my dad getting a leg cramp? I had completely forgotten about that.
“I wanted to feel the blood running back into my veins, even at the cost of annihilation.” ~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn
My mother called me the other day. She wants me to go to the funeral home with her so that she can plan her funeral. Her logic? That she doesn’t want us to have to go through that when she dies. She doesn’t want a viewing. She doesn’t want a service. I don’t even know if she’ll let us have a graveside service.
My mother is really quite morbid. At the same time, she has this great fear of death and the dead. I know that a lot of this stems from her being so young when her own mother died, eight, I think. In those days, the dead person’s body was kept at home. She still remembers seeing her death mother. I think that it scarred her; actually, I know it.
She hates funerals, refuses to go. I’m amazed that she did the whole viewing and service thing for my dad. Probably because I was with her when she made the plans. I was equally amazed that she went to my m-in-law’s service, but I know that she did it because there was no body there, just ashes.
The whole concept that funerals and memorial services are for those left behind doesn’t mean anything to my mother because she doesn’t think that way. She’s thinking about how she feels about death, so those of us who might want to attend a memorial service for her are basically SOL.
So I told her I would go with her to this place to make the arrangements that she wants. I so hate this. She got really, really morbid right after my dad died, looking for containers to put her ashes in because she wanted to be cremated. Now the cremation’s out, and she’s back to being consumed with making preparations for her own death. Is everyone in my family insane? Probably.
Is it any wonder that I keep a constant headache?
More later. Peace.
Music by The Cure, “Something More than This”
October, An Elegy
The whole month of October
is an elegy, a used book store
getting rained on. This weather
makes me read endings first. Partings
and farewells, the way we’re baffled, startled
when happiness falls. Let me tell you something about darkness, though,
because there’s been enough about light. But first
about the handwritten poem copied out in the back
of a Rilke translation. It begins with beloved,
I’m tempted to tell you, or with rest,
and is written in the kind of couplets that are made
for each other, lines with stories of how they first met,
and I’m tempted to say that after I read it, light didn’t matter,
nor darkness, that poetry somehow gathers
them both into one word. O, how often we are baffled,
startled by our own happiness. I read the poem
and kept its last three unresolved lines: our
line break hearts. There is a pause always around the word heart, the history
of leaving, the small right-angled scars of loss. Another line break
then into, a space, then the words: like small trees. We are made up
of small trees, limbs that reach for each other, forest
of longing, root systems of light, small blossoms of darkness
and there is a poem handwritten after pages of Rilke and, after Rilke,
how can our hearts be anything but small trees. The book was used. The lines
unresolved. It was raining so I sat in the store and read
the ending first. Here happiness falls, sometimes
the only difference between our
and hearts is a line break after a long elegy. This is the season that begins
by ending. The space between light
and darkness is unresolved
as the space between our hearts
and small trees. Beloved, rest. It’s true. I read the ending first
but I kept reading it until I got all the way back
to the beginning.
“Tree Shadows in the Park Wall, Roundhay, Leeds” by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1872)
“Life goes on grinding up glass, wearing out clothes making fragments breaking down forms and what lasts through time is like an island on a ship in the sea, perishable surrounded by dangerous fragility by merciless waters and threats.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to Broken Things”
Saturday afternoon in my mother’s living room.
Another entire week has passed between posts, and the only thing that I wanted to do this week was to write. In the small interludes between television and other things, I have had no signal, so I sit here and play Spider Solitaire for a few minutes, hoping that the small icon in the bottom right of my screen will change from a big red X to a globe.
So this is the latest: My mother is much better; she is bitching at everyone about everything, so I know that she is feeling close to normal. She is even thinking about going to bingo. Therefore, I will begin gathering my possessions and making the physical and mental move two miles to my own home where my exceedingly patient spouse, son, and not-so-patient dogs are awaiting me.
The time is right for everyone. My back is pretty much fried from sleeping on couches and attempting to lift things that I should not lift. Each time a knot makes its way into the small of my back, I cannot help but flash on the face of the judge who ruled that I’m just fine, that I could go back to a job similar to one I previously held. Need I say my hankering to accost him verbally simmers close to the surface frequently these days . . .
“Meaning is not in things but in between them.” ~ Norman O. Brown
Instead of measuring my days in coffee spoons, I find myself measuring the day by what my mother has on the tv: If it’s “The Price is Right,” it must be 11 a.m. I know that I have been here too long as I find myself shouting out answers to game show questions on the television, and immediately afterward I think, “who is this person?”
Today, though, I am taking advantage of this small break in predictability, hoping against hope that I can at least finish the written part of this post before my mother wakes from her nap and/or before I lose the signal I am pirating.
Truthfully, the past four or five days I have really felt the totality of what the past two months have brought. Not only is my back killing me all of the time, but I spent three days on the precipice of a tearful meltdown. The only thing standing between me and incipient darkness was the realization that I did not have the time or the luxury to wallow. That is not to say that I was pleasant, though, as I know that I was as prickly as a wasp.
I must say that this Oreo generation crap is more tiresome than people might think but for reasons that are not obvious: If I cough, my mother immediately says that I am getting a cold. I get out of the shower, and she relentlessly harps that I must dry my hair immediately lest I die of consumption (okay, a bit of an exaggeration, there). I made the mistake of grabbing my head in pain when a migraine seized me suddenly while I was in the living room, so now she is looking for migraine remedies on television medical shows.
I have not lived in my parents’ house for many, many years, so this return to parent/child communication in which I am the latter and not the former is quite grating. But I bite my tongue as much as possible. Speaking of which, the stress has found yet another route in my body: my mouth. I have ulcers in my mouth, and this current bout of thrush does no seem willing to abate anytime soon. Both conditions make food taste odd. No big loss there.
“So comes to us at times, from the unknown And inaccessible solitudes of being, The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul; And inspirations, that we deem our own, Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing Of things beyond our reason or control.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Sound of the Sea”
I can identify at least one source of my continuing melancholy: Everywhere I look, I see things that remind me of the past, of my father, of my childhood, of days that were good and days that were bitter. I mean, it’s different from visiting your parents and coming across something from the past, and recalling a memory here or there.
Having all of my past infused into every waking hour has definitely culminated in oversaturation. For example, I have taken to hiding in the den, which is more removed from the living room and the television than my old bedroom. The den was actually not added to my parents’ house until the year that I married my ex, so that means eons ago. But the den has always been one of my favorite places in this house, and it was the room in which my father would take his long afternoon naps after his back prevented him from lying on the floor in the warm rays of the afternoon sun that seeps into my parents’ living room (a habit that I used to emulate).
Anyway, in the den is one of those tables that is made from an actual tree, knots and all. This table was brought over from the Philippines many years ago. On this table is a keep-all box that is also made from a tree; the outer edges are varnished bark. I was sitting in the den one evening, and these two objects caught my eye. I ran my hands over the gnarls of the table, and a shiver went down my spine. It’s that tactile influence on memory.
“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” ~ Lou Reed
This house is so full of memory—memory of anger and raised voices, discontent and disquietude. Most of the happiness that resides within these walls comes from the years in which my children were young and spent so much time here with my mom and dad while I was working full-time. Only with their grandchildren did my parents reach a kind of stasis in the long battle that was their uneasy marriage.
The memories from my own childhood in this house are a confused jumble of both joy and sadness. It probably would not surprise you at all to know that I was a solitary child, not just an only child but a solitary one—a child quite content to spend long periods of time alone. I did have close friends with whom I would spend hours and hours on a Saturday just doing the things that kids do, but I also had many hours alone, and I don’t remember being particularly bothered by that, save for the few times in which I longed for a sibling.
But I remember months on end during which my father was at sea, and it was just my mother and myself. I remember going to the movies with her, before the days of multiplexes, and occasionally we would travel to North Carolina to visit one of her sisters and my cousins. Mostly, though, I remember being alone, reading.
Do not misunderstand, I was neither abused nor neglected, but I sought my own escapes from the constant thread of tension that existed in any situation involving prolonged interaction between my parents. Having spent nearly two months here as an adult, far removed from those days, I still sense that tension. Perhaps I bring it with me as it is permanently interwoven into memory. I really don’t know. I only know that I have reached the point at which I sense its omnipresence, and I long for freedom, much in the same way that I did as a young woman.
Thomas Wolfe was, of course, correct: You cannot go home again.
More later. Peace.
Music by Sarah McLachlan, “My Skin”
Ode To Broken Things
Things get broken
like they were pushed
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.
It’s not my hands
It wasn’t the girls
with their hard fingernails
or the motion of the planet.
It wasn’t anything or anybody
It wasn’t the wind
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime
Or night over the earth
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow
Or the hips getting bigger
or the ankle
or the air.
The plate broke, the lamp fell
All the flower pots tumbled over
one by one. That pot
which overflowed with scarlet
in the middle of October,
it got tired from all the violets
and another empty one
rolled round and round and round
all through winter
until it was only the powder
of a flowerpot,
a broken memory, shining dust.
And that clock
the voice of our lives,
thread of our weeks,
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
and its delicate blue guts
among the broken glass
its wide heart
Life goes on grinding up
glass, wearing out clothes
and what lasts through time
is like an island on a ship in the sea,
surrounded by dangerous fragility
by merciless waters and threats.
Let’s put all our treasures together
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —
into a sack and carry them
to the sea
and let our possessions sink
into one alarming breaker
that sounds like a river.
May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.
So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway