What if you knew you”d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line”s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don”t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They”d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt”s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon”s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
~ Ellen Bass
String of Pearls
The pearls my mother gave me as a bride
Well, not the pearls, but the string.
One day I was putting
them on, about thirty years on,
and they rattled onto the floor, one by one…
I’m still not sure I found them all.
As it happened, I kept a white seashell
on my vanity table. It could serve as a cup
where, after I’d scooped the lost pearls up,
I’d save them, a many-sister
haven in one oyster.
A female’s born with all her eggs,
unfolds her legs,
then does her dance, is lovely, is the past –
is old news as the last
in the grass of the Easter basket.
True? Who was I? Had I unfairly classed
myself as a has-been? In the cloister
of the ovary, when
released by an extra dose of estrogen,
my chances for love dwindled, one by one.
But am I done?
~ Mary Jo Salter
Music by Nathan Barr, “Love Theme from True Blood”
“Once in a while it vanishes—in the sense that I become deaf to beauty for a week or two or three. This coming and going of the inner life—because this is what it is—is a curse and a blessing. I don’t need to explain why it’s a curse. A blessing because it brings about a movement, an energy which, when it peaks, creates a poem. Or a moment of happiness.” ~ Adam Zagajewski, from 2004 interview with Poets & Writers
Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and still relatively cool, 77 degrees.
As I was standing in the middle of the backyard at 6 a.m., several things occurred to me at once:
I only went to bed two hours ago
It’s very, very bright out here
Something, or a lot of somethings are biting my ankles
I really like the fact that the captain on “Grimm” speaks French
My French is dated as I still use the formal vous as opposed to the familiar tu
My brain is working at warp speed
Does this mean that I should forego sleep most of the time so that I can be ultra alert at odd hours?
Perhaps this lull in which I have been mired is finally receding, or perhaps the puppy’s internal alarm clock is going to be the death of me.
“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
Yesterday, quite by accident, I came upon a singer/songwriter I absolutely love—Jimmy LaFave. Years ago, I heard the song “Never is a Moment” on a local radio station. I called the station to find out who the singer was, and the DJ identified LaFave. Of course, that was before YouTube and easy internet searches that allow you to plug in a few words from the lyrics, and presto! Song.
Anyway, I was never able to find a copy of the song . . . until yesterday, when I found it without looking for it. Serendipity. Anyway, as soon as the first few bars played, I was taken back to that day when I first heard it, and I have to say, it still moves me. And then after a little digging I came across another version of the song by Italian singer Zucchero Fornaciari, and I found that I love that version too. Good stuff.
So here’s to discoveries we weren’t looking for. Here’s to memories we had forgotten. Here’s to unpolished gems finding their way to the top of the pile. Here’s to my being way too excited over a song.
“All of us are trapped in our skins and drowning in gravity. Physics is unforgiving. Nature is predatory. We do not walk through a passive landscape.” ~ Richard Siken, in an interview with Legacy Russell
So here are some other random thoughts:
Last night I dreamed that I was again being bullied, this time by some women with whom my ex used to work at the medical school
In real life, they were a biting bunch of harpies, so why are they haunting my dreams
In real life, I was never the victim of bullying, a little name-calling,
I think I actually had these dreams this morning after I was finally able to go to sleep
That burst of energy to which I referred in section one? Gone, completely gone
I would kill for some Oreos
The crack in the bathroom floor tile has expanded. Not good, she remarked, apropos of nothing . . .
I always, always misspell apropos the first time that I type it
“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.” ~ Joan Didion, fromSlouching Towards Bethlehem
I have eaten all of my Chimes Ginger Chews. Considering I had over a pound of them, that’s a lot of Chimes Ginger Chews. Hmm . . . can I make an entire post out of my love for Chimes Ginger Chews? Probably. It it something worth doing? Definitely not.
Other things . . .
I notice things like the expanding crack in the bathroom floor in the middle of the night
In so doing, I engage my mind in things about which I need to worry, thereby making peaceful sleep improbable
Hence, I dream of bullies
Instead of Oreos, I just ate two of my red bean Mochis, at 80 calories each, I suppose that’s not too awfully caloric, definitely less than a sleeve of O-r-e-os.
I happened to look at my reflection as I was walking past the bathroom mirror, and I noticed that my hair is as long as it was in high school, but not by choice
I’ve been debating whether to suck it up and try to go back to my former hairdresser or to take a chance on someone new
I’ve been debating this for well over a year, which is why my hair is way too long and unmanageable
By the time I make a decision, my hair may have reached my bum
“She did not wish to remember; it troubled her when people tried to disturb her loneliness; she wished to be alone. She wished for nothing else in the world.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Voyage Out
So in the wee hours of the morning I took a hot shower in an attempt to calm my body and perhaps wash away whatever was making me itch. It worked for a while, but I just realized that I’m scratching again. I don’t know if this is a nervous tic, a response to medication, or merely fatigue, but it’s annoying. I mean, I’m a picker (not of the nose), but of scabs and wounds. I do not allow my body to heal completely before I start to worry a wound, which is why the bottom of my left foot has yet to heal.
After the doctor excised the corn core, he said that the surrounding hardened tissue should resolve itself, and perhaps it would have if I had left it alone, but I didn’t, and I mention this only because as I was walking back from the kitchen, I hit my foot on something, and now I am blinking back involuntary tears of pain.
In the 90’s when I agreed to be a test patient for a subcutaneous birth control system called Norplant, I would find myself playing with the tiny silicon capsules that lay beneath my skin. I don’t believe they still offer this form of birth control because so many women were affected adversely, but it was a slow-release medication, and the intent was that you wouldn’t have to think about birth control for the entire time Norplant was in your body.
I had all kinds of horrible side effects and had to have the system removed, but while it was there, it presented me with a unique toy: something that felt like toothpicks beneath my skin.
Why do I tell you this? I have no idea. I only know that my foot is throbbing, and my back is itching just beyond my reach, and I have finally reached the absolute nadir of my adrenaline.
More later. Peace.
To appease my heightened senses, I have chosen images by French Fauvist André Derain (1880-1954).
Ever since I found out that this was available in a PDF, I have wanted to share it with you, so here is the first part of Joan Didion’s essay on why she writes. To read the complete essay, click on the link.
Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:
In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it. I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word “intellectual” I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract.
In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor. I would try to read linguistic theory and would find myself wondering instead if the lights were on in the bevatron up the hill. When I say that I was wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron you might immediately suspect, if you deal in ideas at all, that I was registering the bevatron as a political symbol, thinking in shorthand about the military-industrial complex and its role in the university community, but you would be wrong. I was only wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron, and how they looked. A physical fact.
I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to deal with ideas—I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery in The Portrait of a Lady as well as the next person, “imagery” being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention—but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton. I did this. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific’s City of San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.
Which was a writer.
By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?
When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia. This cat had a shimmer around it. You could see the molecular structure breaking down at the very edges of the cat: the cat became the background and the background the cat, everything interacting, exchanging ions. People on hallucinogens describe the same perception of objects. I’m not a schizophrenic, nor do I take hallucinogens, but certain images do shimmer for me. Look hard enough, and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there. You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer. You just lie low and let them develop. You stay quiet. You don’t talk to many people and you keep your nervous system from shorting out and you try to locate the cat in the shimmer, the grammar in the picture.
Just as I meant “shimmer” literally I mean “grammar” literally. Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*
It tells you.
You don’t tell it.
* “Note well”
First published in the New York Times Book Review, 5 December 1976.