“The heart is a foreign country whose language none | of us is good at” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Meanwhile”

                   

“It turned out that being together
at twilight in the olive groves of Umbria
did, indeed, measure everything after that.” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Living Hungry After”

Some poems from Jack Gilbert’s book The Dance Most of All: Poems

Winter in the Night Fields

I was getting water tonight
off guard when I saw the moon
in my bucket and was tempted
by those Chinese poets
and their immaculate pain.


After Love

He is watching the music with his eyes closed.
Hearing the piano like a man moving
through the woods thinking by feeling.
The orchestra up in the trees, the heart below,
step by step. The music hurrying sometimes,
but always returning to quiet, like the man
remembering and hoping. It is a thing in us,
mostly unnoticed. There is somehow a pleasure
in the loss. In the yearning. The pain
going this way and that. Never again.
Never bodied again. Again the never.
Slowly. No undergrowth. Almost leaving.
A humming beauty in the silence.
To having been. Having had. And the man
knowing all of him will come to the end.


Going Home

Mother was the daughter of sharecroppers.
And my father the black sheep of rich Virginia
merchants. She went barefoot until twelve.
He ran away with the circus at fourteen.
Neither one got through grammar school.
And here I am in the faculty toilet
trying to remember the dates of Emperor Vespasian.

                   

Music by Black Lab, “Weightless”

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“Its our actions that define us. What we choose. What we resist. What we’re willing to die for.” ~ Karen Marie Moning

John Singer Sargent Home Fields c1885 oil on canvas
“Home Fields” (c1885, oil on canvas)
by John Singer Sargent

                   

Two for Tuesday (on a Wednesday): The Past is Always Present

Apologies for switching things around, but I had these for yesterday but wrote instead, and today I don’t have enough time to write as I’m in pre-holiday panic mode. Enjoy.

John Koch Across the Park 1954 oil on canvas
“Across the Park” (1954, oil on canvas)
by John Koch

Spring Evening on Blind Mountain

I won’t drink wine tonight
I want to hear what is going on
not in my own head
but all around me.
I sit for hours
outside our house on Blind Mountain.
Below this scrap of yard
across the ragged old pasture,
two horses move
pulling grass into their mouths, tearing up
wildflowers by the roots.
They graze shoulder to shoulder.
Every night they lean together in sleep.
Up here, there is no one
for me to fail.
You are gone.
Our children are sleeping.
I don’t even have to write this down.

~ Louise Erdrich

                   

Georgia O'Keeffe Winter Tree III 1953 oil on canvas
“Winter Tree III” (1953, oil on canvas)
by Georgia O’Keeffe

The Testing-Tree

1
On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world’s fastest human.

2
Around the bend
that tried to loop me home
dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
riddled with rabbit-life
where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
and a stringy old lilac
more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
remembered a door in the
long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
brushing the stickseed off,
wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
spotting the print of the deer
and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
soundlessly heel-and-toe
practicing my Indian walk.

3
Past the abandoned quarry
where the pale sun bobbed
in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
where the ferns gave foothold,
I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
with the stones in my pocket
changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
at fifty measured paces,
of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
Jehovah of acorns,
watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
in its annulated core
under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
I have only three throws
bless my good right arm.

In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps—
for love, for poetry,
and for eternal life—
after the trials of summer.

4
In the recurring dream
my mother stands
in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
she is wearing an owl’s face
and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway
askew in the field
and peer down a well
where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
staining the water yellow,
why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
That single Model A
sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
where the tanks maneuver,
revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree?
Give me back my stones!

~ Stanley Kunitz

Not today . . . bad case of the blahs . . .

“Repose,” by John Singer Sargent

This is me today, just kind of wrapped up, staying warm, not very productive as I hurt all over. More later, I hope.

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

JS Sargent Repose_Nonchaloire

John Singer Sargent’s “Repose” (Nonchaloir), oil on canvas, 1911: This is how I felt yesterday 

“Sadness is always the legacy of the past; regrets are pains of the memory.” ~ Author Unknown

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ” ~ The Wonder Years

Well, yesterday was an eventful day, so to speak. We found out that one of the avenues of employment that Corey was pursuing is unavailable. Big disappointment there. I really thought that that part of the plan was going to work. Perhaps that’s why I shouldn’t be optimistic: It always ends up smacking me in the head.

Speaking of being smacked in the head, have to say that so far, the massive doses of magnesium are not helping with the usual morning headache. Each morning when I awaken, I have a headache, not a migraine, just a tightness. I don’t know if I am grinding my teeth, but I don’t think so. Corey would have told me by now if I am grinding. So each morning I get up and take 800 mg of ibuprofen and two Sudafed. This usually helps somewhat as I think that part of the reason is my fall allergies kicking in and causing sinus pressure. Oh well.

Another interesting not good thing that happened yesterday is that I had a minor breakdown. Let me explain.

hampelmann
Hand-painted Bear Hampelmann from Germany

I was looking for something for Alexis that I had been keeping for her. I had thought that it was in the small lockbox in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, etc., but it wasn’t there. Then I thought that I might have put it with her stuff from when she was a baby. I pulled down everything in the top left of my closet as that is where I store the things from the kids’ earlier days.

For example, I have a huge Raggedy Ann that Alexis’s Aunt Ann made Alexis for Christmas one year. The handwork on this doll is amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all of the grandkids, nieces and nephews who came along after Alexis. Everyone was tired of making handmade presents by then. I mean, for the first five years of her life, Alexis was it in the family, so she received handmade Christmas ornaments, dolls, cross-stitched pictures, you name it.

Anyway, Raggedy Ann and a much smaller Raggedy Andy are stored in that part of the closet, waiting for the day if/when Alexis has her own children. I also have a bag of puppets from Germany. They are called hampelmann, which are hand-painted puppets of sorts. Alexis had about seven in all, and they used to hang over her changing table. I would use them to entertain her, and then later, her siblings.

(Aside: Today when I got home from picking Brett up from school, the Pluto hampelmann had been eviscerated, torn limb from limb. I’m pretty sure that Tillie did it as she was the only dog that was hiding from me.)

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” ~ Willa Cather

Sock Doll
Example of a handmade sock doll

Back to the closet. I have kept just a few pieces of clothes from each child, favorite shirts, etc., and I have a bag for each one. There is also a plastic cubed storage container in which I have put several things that belonged to Caitlin. Well, in pulling everything down from the closet, this container also came down.

I made the mistake of opening the container and opening the box that was on top inside of the container. This box holds several things from that hospital, including a sock doll that slept with Caitlin the entire time she was in the hospital.

Let me back up. I’m not a craftsperson. Never have been. But while I was teaching at ODU during that semester in which Caitlin was in the hospital, several of my students brought in things for her. My most cherished gift is a sock doll that one of my student’s mothers made especially for Caitlin. These sock dolls have been around for centuries. They have been called hush-a-bye dolls because mothers used to give them to their babies to keep them quiet in church.

Anyway, I took the doll in my hands, and that was pretty much as far as I got for the next hour. Corey walked in, took a look at the things spread on the bed, and immediately knew what had happened.

“Love lost is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food our tousle their hair . . .But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” ~ Mitch Albon

I came across an article about two weeks ago on a syndrome that some psychiatrists and mental health care researchers are trying to have approved for insertion into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). The disorder is called prolonged grief disorder, or something like that. PGD is a disorder in which the individual simply cannot get over the loss of a loved one within the “normal” time periods.

PGD is different from depressive disorder, and currently grief is not included in the DSM. In one article, researchers contend “that PGD meets DSM criteria for inclusion as a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability.”

Apparently, PGD occurs when grief following lingers and become a serious health problem.

I wish someone would have asked me. I could have told them that years ago. I know that my grief is not normal. I have known that forever. It manifests itself unexpectedly, sometimes mildly, sometimes to the point at which I am completely paralyzed. Granted, I do not have these hour-long crying jags everyday or even every month. But I can count on having at least one Caitlin/Dad related episode in a year.

I really don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that my bereavement periods are longer than most people. I do not need confirmation that the pain should not be as acute as it still it. And I will freely admit that even I am astounded by just how severely I am affected when it happens.

I also know that a lot of the reason that my grief has hung around for so long is directly attributable to my feelings of guilt over both of their deaths. I had to make the decision on whether or not it was time for Caitlin, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to view that as not being questionable: Was it time? Should I have waited? With my dad, the guilt arises over the fact that I wasn’t with him when he died, even though I had promised him that I would be there.

“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” ~ Cicero

Logically, you don’t have to tell me that I should have let go a long time ago, or point out my inability to let go. I know all of this. But holding that small, soft doll I could swear that it still smelled of her essence. I know that that is not possible, but grief and despair do funny things to a psyche.

I did look a little more in the storage case: I found the blue smocked dress that I have talked about, which was a real surprise as I have believed for many years that that particular dress is with Kathleen, along with the other dresses that I sent her. I also found the dress that Caitlin was wearing when she had her one and only portrait taken.

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes
Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Eventually, I was able to put everything away, and Corey put the box back in the top left of the closet. The rest of the things that I pulled down are still in a pile in front of the closet. My accidental encounter with the past left me depleted, bereft, numb.

Too much at once. I’ll get to the rest soon. I think that I am saving it until I can actually enjoy the contents of these bags and boxes. After all, they are filled with items that recall good memories—like Alexis’s tiny Virginia Tech t-shirt. That made me smile.

So I’ll go through the rest, probably tomorrow, refold, repack, and replace on the shelf. I’ll take the time to bring to mind some of the good memories that are associated with these things: Brett’s baby blankets, the various humpelmann, Eamonn’s little cap from the National Zoo, Alexis’s Mary Janes. I find myself smiling inwardly even now as I type about these things. And that’s a good thing.

At times, I can balance with unbearable with the wonderful, the heart-wrenching with the endearing, which only proves that I am human after all. And even if it’s a lie, I will try to believe that it will be all right.

 

More later. Peace.

 

“Pain is never permanent.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

st_teresa_of_avila-by-john-singer-sargent

St. Teresa of Avila by John Singer Sargent

 “Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again” ~ Tori Amos

ecstasy-of-st-teresa-of-avila-by-bernini
Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Just a short post tonight, short for me that is. I had an appointment with my pain management doctor today. During these appointments, I usually get trigger shots in the parts of my back that are knotted. I’ve mentioned these trigger shots before.

Now, my tolerance for pain is actually quite high, which is how I continued to work for four years before having back surgery to try to remedy the problem. Of course, the surgery did not remedy the problem. No, it exacerbated it, but that’s another story, one that I have already told.

Moving right along . . . So these trigger shots do not usually bother me. I have had up to 12 in one day, and the shots themselves have only, on occasion, caused me a bit of pain.

May I just say that today was a first as far as the pain level? When the doctor came in, I greeted him by telling him my story of how I fell down the stairs and landed on the cement floor with my foot turned under me. I told him that I thought that the shape that my back was currently in was probably attributable somewhat to the fall.

I ended up having 10 shots in total. Each and every one felt as if he were sticking the needle into a solid mass in my back, neck, shoulders, and even derrière. Probably too much information there, but you need to appreciate how much of my body was involved in this situation. By the time he was finished, my jaw hurt from clenching.

Now some of you may think that I am exaggerating here, that  no one gets that many trigger shots in one visit. Trust me, I did, and I have. It’s just that this time my back was so tight (this after taking muscle relaxers before going to my doctor), that it rebelled against the insertion of these tiny needles.

“The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” ~ Arthur Shopenhauer 

st-teresa-of-avila-as-a-young-woman-detail-by-francois-gerard-1827
St. Teresa of Avila as a Young Woman (detail) by François Gerard

So anyway, I’m supposed to go home and put heat on my back after these shots. Did I? Of course not. Don’t be silly. While I was out, I wanted to get some things done, like getting the nose piece put back on my glasses. Afterwards, I was amazed by how well I could see again. Without the nose piece, my glasses were not fitting my face correctly, and I was looking through the wrong part. This may account for my trying to work on the computer without my glasses. The big screen helps, but I’m pretty sure that I was squinting at times (which may have contributed to my recent stress headaches).

Then, while I had Corey in the mood to go places (ha), we went to Bed, Bath & Beyond (Beyond what, exactly? The horizon? The budget? Reality?). I had a 20 percent off coupon that was burning a hole in my wallet, and I had seen a tablecloth that was on sale. Need I say more?

Suffice it to say that we made the entire circuit of the store; however, we did not spend a great deal of money. We got the tablecloth, which I want to put on the dining room table to protect it from the people in my family who fail to use coasters with sweating glasses. I know that if I walk in and see glass rings on my new dining room table, I will blow a gasket or have heart failure, so in an effort to avoid that, I thought that a nice, inexpensive tablecloth would be the perfect solution.

While we were there, I had to look at everything though; otherwise, how would I be able to enjoy the whole Beyond experience? I found a very reasonably priced black canvas basket to put my books in, that is, the books that I have not yet read.  Corey’s response was incredulity: “Another basket? Don’t you already have a book basket?” I replied that yes, I do have a basket, but it does not have corners as it is an oval basket. Consequently, my books are being mistreated by having to adapt to a curved surface. We bought the basket.

Then I remembered that I still don’t have a picture insert for my wallet. All of my family pictures (except my beloved picture of Caitlin and me) were taken with my wallet, and I’m sure, immediately tossed (Why would a thief want pictures of my family?). I like to have pictures of all of my honeys with me just in case someone I haven’t seen in a while says, “Do you have any pictures?” If I have to answer in the negative, I give the impression that I don’t really care about my family, including the dogs, so I really needed the photo insert. Which resulted in a trip to Dollar Tree, where everything is one dollar (such a deal)!

We were supposed to run in and out as it was getting late, and Corey hadn’t cooked dinner yet. But then I saw the silk flowers, and since tomorrow is Caitlin’s birthday, I realized that I needed to make a new arrangement for the urn at the cemetery. And then there was all of that Easter stuff, and I wanted to make a basket for Alexis. Yes, I realize that she is a grown woman. So? She still gets a kick out of Easter baskets just as I do. I found a very nice square, pink cloth basket that she can use for accessories afterwards.

As a result, the in-and-out trip to Dollar Tree turned into another half an hour before we made it home, which is why I am posting so late. We arrived home four hours after I got my shots. Imagine how my back feels . . .

I have my regular doctor’s follow-up appointment tomorrow morning at 11 at which time I will find out the results of my lab work. I’m not at all sure that I want to know. I’ll just hope for the best.

“Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people’s, if we are always criticizing trivial actions . . .” ~ St. Teresa of Avila 

light-upon-st-teresa-of-vila-by-chris-steele
Light Upon St. Teresa of Vila by Chris Steele

So I’ll just end of this note for now: Teresa of Avila may have been a saint, but I don’t agree with her assessment of pain, and I’m not sure that given the circumstances of her life, she should agree with her assessment. After all, during her illnesses she experienced religious ecstasy, which led some to accuse her of being one with the devil. As a result, Avila was a proponent of self-flagellation. Avila’s most well-known quote is  “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.”

I know. I know. I’m horrible for making fun of a saint. But I’m not making fun of Saint Teresa. I’m merely contesting the validity of her quote. So before anyone gets torqued out of shape at how disrespectful I’m being of a revered saint, just remember, I’m irreverent about everything. I’m an equal opportunity cynic.

Now that I’ve cleared that up . . .

Lyrics from Joan Osborne’s St. Teresa

Oh, St. Teresa, higher than the moon

You called up in the sky
You called up in the clouds
Is there something you forgot to tell me…
tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me

Show me my Teresa, feel it rise in me
Every stone a story, like a rosary

We all have our quirks and beliefs, but I draw the line at mortification of the flesh. But then again, I’m not a saint.

And yes, I know. This post wasn’t any shorter. I’m a blonger; what can I say?

As usual, more later. Peace.