I’m sharing this e-mail I received from Knopf reminding me of Poetry Month in April. If any of you are lucky enough to be near the NYC reading, it’s a great lineup.
Join us again this April for our poem-a-day celebration! As a subscriber on this list, you’ll be receiving a poem from Knopf in your inbox each day.
Now is a great time to share the poem-a-day experience with friends! To do so, pass along this link >>
Also, come out for a Knopf Poetry Reading in NYC next week, featuring Edward Hirsch, Sharon Olds, and Patrick Phillips, 6:30 pm on Tuesday the 17th. Details here.
For our friends in San Francisco, attend the Mechanics’ Institute Library Poetry Month kick-off event on April 1, where Knopf poet Jane Hirshfield will read from her work. Details here.
And to whet your appetite for Poem-a-Day, a poem by Jane Hirshfield, from The Beauty, published this month by Knopf:
Quartz ClockThe ideas of a physicist
can be turned into useful objects:
a rocket, a quartz clock,
a microwave oven for cooking.
The ideas of poems turn into only themselves,
as the hands of the clock do,
or the face of a person.
It changes, but only more into the person.
“She was desperate and she was choosey at the same time and, in a way, beautiful, but she didn’t have quite enough going for her to become what she imagined herself to be.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from Factotum
Sunday afternoon. Cloudy and 68 degrees.
I still don’t feel that I can string together sentences in any meaningful way, especially since I am struggling for each and every word. I find myself staring at the screen until my eyes completely lose focus, and then I don’t remember where I was going with a train of thought. These phases are nothing new and I know that my inability to find the right words will be a reality that I will have to face again and again without every knowing why.
So, with that in mind, I think that I will just do a random thoughts post, well, because it seems to make the most sense right now . . .
I dreamed last night that the feral cats that live in the park bushes all came out at the same time and sat in a group in the entrance drive to the park. They were all black.
Brett finally got the radical hair cut he’s been pining for: shaved on the sides and longer on top. Now he’s going to bleach the tips and color them pink. It should be pretty wild once he’s finished. I can’t wait to hear what my mother has to say about it.
Actually, I can wait.
The spring pollen is wicked at the moment. Everything has a nasty yellow sheen.
So far, I am disappointed in this new season of “Dr. Who.” Just saying . . .
“How fragile we are, between the few good moments.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Vinegar and Oil”
A few days ago, I experienced something that I haven’t experienced in a very, very long time: I felt pretty. Not vapid pretty, not glossy print pretty, but pretty all over, inside and out.
It must have been obvious because my PCP with whom I had my six-month check-up said to me a couple of time that I looked good, really good, better than she had seen me in a while.
Does that mean I look horrible the rest of the time?
What causes days like that? Is it an alignment of the stars?
The “I Feel Pretty” song from West Side Story kept running through my head, particularly the line “It’s a pity not every girl can feel this way.”
To be honest, I can’t recall a time in recent memory that I had this feeling, and that’s sad because it was a wonderful feeling.
“We are what suns and winds and waters make us.” ~ Walter Savage Lindor, from “An Invocation”
I finally went to a dermatologist to have the mole on my face looked at. It’s completely benign, on the surface of the skin. The doctor was pretty funny, using euphemisms for age and old, i.e. “wisdom,” “knowledge.” He said that it was what used to be called a beauty mark and that it brought out my eyes. What a character.
I like doctors who don’t take themselves so seriously. That whole god-complex attitude really breeds antipathy rather quickly.
My mother’s doctor said that the shadow that was on her kidneys has almost disappeared; apparently, the heavy-duty antibiotic they prescribed for the diverticulitis has taken care of everything, which makes me wonder why she was told that there was a “mass” on her kidneys.
So why am I so consumed lately with an intense yearning to have my flabby arms fixed? she asked, apropos of nothing.
The dermatologist remarked that I didn’t have crow’s feet, and I thought to myself that you have to smile and laugh a lot to get crow’s feet.
I go back in two weeks to get the bump on the sole of my left foot removed. It’s been there for years and years, and it, too, is benign, but I’m really tired of it.
“One got the impression that she was following phantoms; she was consumed by shivering sensations of eternally pursuing something unattainable. Something about her was tear-streaming; she existed in the midst of unconsciousness. And she could only be seen not by those who ceased lookingbut rather by those who absolutely exhausted it.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Stories Of Katherine Mansfield
I finally got the paperwork back from the living will registry, and guess what? They misspelled my last name. People always put a y where the g goes, which makes no sense to me.
If my name is misspelled on my living will, does that mean that it is applicable to someone other than me?
If your name is misspelled on your birth certificate, does that mean that you don’t exist?
I had students in my 6th grade class who couldn’t spell their names. What does that tell you?
My last name has the same number of letters as Smith or Jones, so how do people manage to screw it up so badly?
“Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Man, Nabokov made even the pronunciation of my first name sound sexual.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that my first name is associated with young girls, with jailbait, with dirty old men? It is a short poem, but society has turned it into a blasphemy.
“She walked roads no one else could see, and it made her music wild and strange and free.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, from The Wise Man’s Fear
I am so glad that Brett’s spring semester is almost over because I’m exhausted.
I really am, exhausted, that is. Bone-weary. I don’t know if the lack of energy is allergy-related, tied in with my fibromyalgia, a reflection of my dour mood, or a combination. I just know that I’m damned tired.
A couple of days ago I pulled all of my purses out of my closet—not intentionally, but I couldn’t find the one that I wanted to use. Then my bedroom flood was covered with purses, and I was too tired to put them away, so I stepped over them for two days. Pathetic.
When I finish this sham of a post, I have two baskets of clothes to put away. I may read instead.
I love having Olivia over here, but I’m so tired when she goes home, especially if she spends the night.
Corey is supposed to be home around May 10, just in time for our anniversary. He’s probably getting off the ship at that time because they are going deep-sea for 45 days after that, and he doesn’t want to do that. I’m glad, but of course, I’m worried.
The dermatologist said that I have worry lines. I refrained from retorting, “No. Really?”
More later. Peace.
All images are by British artist Norman Smith.
Music by Adaline, “Keep Me High”
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
“One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.” ~ G. K. Chesterton
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.
Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat’s yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.
A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.
Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping—
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin’s smoothness,
The maple’s green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.
A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.
Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.
“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real.” ~ Libba Bray, from A Great and Terrible Beauty
Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and cold, low 40’s.
Things I believe in:
the Oxford comma
friendship on a daily basis
dreams (as in sleeping) as reflections of our lives
the inestimable power of music to move
the unmistakable humanity of dogs
the existence of true good and real evil in the world
there is always hope
“We all walk in mysteries. We are surrounded by an atmosphere about which we still know nothing at all.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, letter dated 23 July 1820
Things I know for certain:
Turning 40 changes your life in ways you cannot fathom for years to come
Melancholy is a way of life
Being different is both hard and easy
Revenge is counterproductive, which doesn’t lessen its desirability
I belong in front of a college classroom
I will always miss Caitlin, my father, and Mari
I have lived through momentous points in history but have failed to notice
The mirror is not my friend
I have surprised myself with the quality of some of the things I have written
I did not win the lottery
“There are so many lives of which I know nothing. Even my own.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Unnameable Heart”
Things I don’t know well enough—yet:
How to choose a friend wisely
How rain sounds on a tin roof
My own soul
How to believe in myself
How to be still, really still
How to be comfortable in my own skin
How to make and apply fondant on a fancy cake
How to renovate a house from top to bottom
How to find a literary agent
Where to find my place in the sun
“. . . the compulsion to repeat what one has experienced is like gravity, and it takes special equipment to break away from it.” ~ Edward St. Aubyn, from The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind
Things I will never do:
Parachute out of a plane (used to be on my bucket list)
Have my picture taken while a snake is wrapped about my shoulders (I would die of fright first)
Go back on a promise (as long as it is within my power)
Race in the Tour de France (well, duh)
Dye my hair blond
Dance on a table (again)
Ride a big wave
Be sorted into a house at Hogwarts
Travel in a TARDIS
Not have a dog in my life
“We all want to take our lives in our own hands and hurl them out among the stars.” ~ David Bottoms, from “Coasting Toward Midnight at the Southeastern Fair”
Things on my bucket list I may actually achieve some day:
Photograph a feeding hummingbird
Photograph a hawk in flight
See the New Year’s Eve fireworks show in Sydney
Fly a glider (yep, still want to do this)
Go to Ireland
Retile a room, walls and floor
Relax in a natural hot spring
Go to the Louvre
Go back to London and visit the places I knew as a child
Read everything Virginia Woolf ever wrote, including diaries
Have floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves filled to the brim with books of poetry, fiction, and some science and history
See the Northern lights and the Great Barrier Reef
See Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge and all of the stone circles across Europe
Publish a real book that people will want to read
“The heart is forever inexperienced.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Things I will love until the day I die:
A mockingbird’s song
The smells of fresh lavender, lilac, and rosemary
A cup of hot tea
Fresh bread still hot enough to melt butter
Black leather boots
A long, hot bath scented with bath salts
A neck massage
The smell of the air after a spring rain
The feel of fine, soft, squishy leather purses and jackets
Paper in all colors and weights
Handwritten letters and notes
Books, books, books
The certainties of cemeteries and waterfalls, mountains and oceans, and the moon in the night sky
“Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes
The smell of 4711 cologne
Music by Bruno Mars (feat. Lindsey Stirling, Alex Boye’, & the Salt Lake Pops), “Grenade”
All images are mine, my concept of chiaroscuro.
As I Grew Older
It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
And then the wall rose,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
“I am subject to wind, the perambulations of the moon, the constellations, and anxiety.” ~ Rikki Ducornet, from The Complete Butcher’s Tales
Monday, late afternoon. Partly cloudy and warm, low 70’s.
Well, here we are, fifteen days until Christmas. We got back from vacation Saturday night. I spent all day yesterday unpacking, organizing and doing tons of laundry. Alexis and Eamonn both denied agreeing to pick us up at the airport on Saturday, much in the same way they both denied agreeing to take us to the airport last Sunday. Neither of us were surprised; we took a taxi the few miles home.
Vacation was absolutely heaven, just the two of us, warm temperatures, blue water, sunny skies (except for one day). My lungs cleared; my cough disappeared; I had no headaches. I’ve been home two days and the nastiness in my chest is back; I awoke with a migraine, and the cough is making a full comeback. Mind over matter? The air? The temperature changes? Who knows . . .
Corey and I gave each other our vacation to the Bahamas as our Christmas present for the last five years. Actually, it’s been almost seven years since we went anywhere together, a very long time. We did a whole lot of nothing besides eating, relaxing, and being tourists. I cannot begin to tell you how much my mind and body needed the recharge before embarking upon another new year.
“How many years have slipped through our hands? At least as many as the constellations we still can identify. The quarter moon, like a light skiff, floats out of the mist-remnants Of last night’s hard rain. It, too, will slip through our fingers with no ripple, without us in it.” ~ Charles Wright
I will admit, though, that it took me a full 48 hours before I began to relax, well and truly relax. I kept thinking about things that needed to be done, bills, money, you name it. I kept feeling guilty for allowing us to do this. That old Puritan guilt that has shaped my life in oh so many ways. Now that we’re back, I still feel a bit guilty, but not nearly as much. Corey and I do and do and do for everyone else, mostly the kids, but we never do for ourselves. This past year was filled with family obligations, and I’m not complaining, but it’s nice to remember that we’re a couple who truly enjoys one another’s company, far away from the daily demands of family and life.
Unfortunately, I got a telephone call once we were back letting me know that my brother-in-law Patrick died on Wednesday. Patrick is my ex’s brother, but I have always been close to him; we’ve had a special relationship. Patrick is the one who was in a car accident years ago that left him a paraplegic who could not speak. He kept his mental faculties and his exceptional mind, but he was trapped in a body that no longer functioned on its own. Patrick was married to my German sis-in-law Helma.
He contracted bronchitis and went downhill quickly. Ann says that he went peacefully in his sleep, and for that I am so thankful.
To be honest, Patrick lived a much, much longer life than any of us ever thought that he would. After the accident, because he was so susceptible to illness and because he has had a couple of life-threatening bouts, we (the family) weren’t so sure he would even last a decade. The accident was in 1983. He lived almost three decades after.
“Light is meaningful only in relation to darkness, and truth presupposes error. It is these mingled opposites which people our life, which make it pungent, intoxicating.” ~ Louis Aragon, from Paris Peasant
So our homecoming was bittersweet. My ex and Ann will be flying to Germany for the memorial. I would like to go, but that’s not possible.
Some of you may find my continued relationship with my ex’s family a bit strange, but truthfully, I was probably much closer to his mom and siblings than he was, and in my mind, I divorced him, not his family. Anyway, I feel fortunate to have such an extended family, the losses of the past 15 months notwithstanding.
So I am moving into this Christmas season filled with mixed emotions—not all that different from any other year, I suppose.
Last night my dreams included my dad, who was dressed up to go to some big government function, and I was a visitor staying at someone’s home, but the teenaged girls who lived in the home resented all of the company. I tried to talk to one of the young girls, to ask her who her heroes were, but she told me that she didn’t have any. I told her that everyone needs heroes. And in the dream, I was doing laundry . . .
“I go through phases. Somedays I feel like the person I’m supposed to be, and then somedays, I turn into no one at all. There is both me and my silhouette. I hope that on the days you find me and all I am are darkened lines, you still are willing to be near me.” ~ Mary Kate Teske
I will finish 2012 short of my reading goal of 60 books, even though in the past month I’ve read quite a few, and I will finish well short of my writing goal. I did not work on my stories at all while we were gone, even though I had plans to do so. I did finish two books, and I worked on my tan, obviously not as artistically productive, but hey, I didn’t get any sun this past summer.
While we were on the ship, we did a little bit of karaoke, and boy, did I find out how out of shape my vocal chords are. Yikes. It was fun, and one night, I even sang with a band, but my performances were, shall we say, tepid at best. Who cares? I’m never going to see anyone on that ship again (although we did meet some people from the area). Singing again did make me hanker to get my voice back in shape We shall see, I suppose.
Let’s see, what else? A book I really want to read comes out tomorrow, and Peter Jackson’s new movie The Hobbit releases this week. I am anticipating the first and absolutely quivering with anticipation over the second. I still contend that I would be Peter Jackson’s gopher given the chance.
This week I hope to do holiday cards and perhaps to begin to decorate the house, although the warm temperatures do not exactly make me feel all wintery wonderland inside. Lex and Mike leave this weekend to visit his family in Mississippi for the holidays, which means that I will not see Olivia for 12 days. I have missed her tremendously in the past week and a half; I had hoped that Alexis would come by before we left, but alas, no.
“This morning, waking to unaccustomed calmness, I write these words to stay in that silent, unfevered existence, to delay the other words that are waiting.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “I Write These Words to Delay”
Before we left, I was looking through photographs for some reason, and I came across a photo of Shakes that we took before the family vacation in 2007. My suitcase was on the couch, and Shakes crawled inside and went to sleep. Obviously, he wanted to go with us. It was weird coming home to just the two dogs, no smelly fat boy to curl up against me my first night home.
I did not take a lot of photographs while we were gone. In truth, there just wasn’t that much to shoot. We didn’t venture beyond the ports. Our afternoon on the private Half Moon Cay was delightful, though, and I got some nice shots of Corey and the water. Speaking of water, it was so clear that I watched schools of fish swim around me. It was heavenly just spending some leisurely moments doing nothing but idly paddling as the sun beat down. The air was clean and there were no sounds of traffic or sirens or whatever. I was able to shut out pretty much everything and just chill. I did kind of wish that I could go parasailing, though.
I think I had forgotten how to do that. Chilling is an art form that comes naturally to some people, and then for people like me who are wrapped too tightly most of the time, it is an acquired state of being. I wonder if I could live like that all of the time . . .
More later. Peace.
Music by Julie Roberts, “Wake Up Older”
A Momentary Creed
I believe in the ordinary day
that is here at this moment and is me
I do not see it going its own way
but I never saw how it came to me
it extends beyond whatever I may
think I know and all that is real to me
it is the present that it bears away
where has it gone when it has gone from me
there is no place I know outside today
except for the unknown all around me
the only presence that appears to stay
everything that I call mine it lent me
even the way that I believe the day
for as long as it is here and is me
“The ear can detect a whole apocalypse in the starry night of the human body.” ~ Jean Cocteau, from “Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure”
Sunday, late afternoon. Stormy and cool, high 50’s.
I make telephone calls to strangers at 3 a.m. (line from unfinished poem).
In the shower I realized that I do not use the word sardonic enough. Great word.
I am wearing socks with penguins on them.
One pitfall to cooler weather is that my bones ache, especially the bones in my back and the base of my neck.
Remembered line, possibly from another unfinished poem: I am not your faithless remembrance.
Tillie the Lab does not understand why we cannot play outside in the rain and mud.
Jif peanut butter is like crack cocaine for my dogs. They know when I unscrew the lid.
I ran out of hot water in the shower today, which is particularly ironic as I told myself that I was going to take the hottest shower possible to try to help my back. Figures.
I ache—literally and figuratively—to take a long hot bath that smells of lavender or verbena.
Why did I not know about the television show “Haven” on the Sci Fy channel?
There was another line that came to me in the shower, but I waited too long to put it down, and now it has escaped into the ether, probably forever.
I have realized that I use the pause comma quite a lot.
“I’ve stepped onto the front porch to see the stars perforating the milky black clouds
and the moon staring coldly through the trees, but this negative I’m carrying inside me.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “More than Halfway”
My dog Shakes is getting worse, but he still has an appetite. When he stops eating, I’ll know, and I hope that I won’t be alone.
In my dreams, I am visited by my father and my uncle, but not by Caitlin.
I worry that I am becoming obsessive in my love for Olivia.
In retrospect, I wish that my wedding bouquet had been a small spray of fresh lavender and herbs rather than the humongous white rose thing that I carried. That this still bothers me is problematic, for me only.
I feel Mari’s distance too keenly in October; her birthday was the 1st of the month; we did not speak.
Mari was the one person to whom I could say absolutely anything, or so I thought.
I miss friendship on a daily basis, comforting, like a mug of hot tea.
Am I too old now to still do the things that I long to do? When is it too late? When are we too old? When do we accept the halfway mark?
“hushed, hushed, the mountain hidden deer, distant, calling leaves falling, falling I have no friend to see and my heart grows cold” ~ Sugawara no Michizane, rewriting an anonymous Japanese tanka
The Eagles’ song “Wasted Time” hits too close to home.
I do not speak to my mother enough. I find it taxing, especially in this state of mind. Another check in the guilt column.
I do not want to spend my entire life in this house in this city in this state, but I’m afraid that I may do so.
My life has become a series of milestones, good and bad, in other people’s lives, and that I have no control over this hangs heavy about my heart.
I am positive that when I spoke the the former chair of my department at the reading the other day, he had no idea as to who I was. I could see his eyes darting back and forth as if to try to grasp that thread, but it never came.
Am I the kind of person that is easily forgotten, and if so, why didn’t I know that before now?
I do not want to become bitter. I really, really do not want to become bitter, and I know that this is one reason that I do not spend more time with my mother.
I wonder sometime if anyone will leave stones at my grave, and then I remember that I want to be cremated.
“Tenderness does not choose its own uses. It goes out to everything equally, circling rabbit and hawk. Look: in the iron bucket, a single nail, a single ruby— all the heavens and hells. They rattle in the heart and make one sound.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, “Late Prayer”
I do not make these lists because I am lazy. That’s just how my mind works on some days—linear progression, one step at a time—and then in prose on other days.
I learned to cook spaghetti when I was 14 from a recipe on a tomato sauce can. It’s gotten better since then.
I remember the name of the first boy on whom I had a crush, the name of the first boy I kissed, the name of my first love, but not their faces, well, except one, and he will forever be young and that summer color of milky coffee in my mind.
For a time I kept my journal on yellow legal pads. I have no idea what happened to them.
I have had an obsession with writing implements ever since I worked at the newspaper, a lifetime ago. I ordered the office supplies, and I kept a secret stash of pens in my bottom drawer.
Why did I remember that?
I once set out in the rain to walk to the cemetery from my house. I found a dog and brought him home. The other dogs were not amused.
“How invisibly it changes color in this world, the flower of the human heart.” ~ Ono no Komachi (trans. Jane Hirshfield)
The theme in today’s quotes happened quite by accident.
On a show that I was watching on Discover ID, a woman was talking about how, when she learned that her sister had been murdered, how she felt her heart break. She said that she had heard this term many times, but never really knew that it was a physical thing. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
The human heart is such a powerful organ and such a tender vessel, a working muscle, yet the imagined seat of the soul. And in the middle of the night sometimes, I like to place my hand on Corey’s chest to feel the strong beats of his heart as he sleeps.
For some reason, I always think of two places when it rains: the mountains and London.
This is a very telling memory: Out of all of the songs in Mary Poppins, my favorite, even as a young girl, was “Feed the Birds.” It still makes me cry.
I’m thinking that I have no more thoughts.
More later. Peace.
*I probably spent more time looking for images than I did writing today. I just couldn’t pinpoint what I was trying to achieve with the images, went from paintings to black and white photography, finally landed on a combination of color and water, found everything on the National Geographic photography site.
Incredibly beautiful music by Martha Wainwright, “Prosperina” (her mother’s last song, can’t believe I’ve never heard of her)
Tear It Down
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.