“I am a collection of dismantled almosts.” ~ Anne Sexton, from A Self-Portrait In Letters

Claude Monet Lilacs in the Sun 1872
“Lilacs in the Sun” (1872)
by Claude Monet

“No word in my ear, no word on the tip of my tongue.
It’s out there, I guess,
Among the flowers and wind-hung and hovering birds,
And I have forgotten it,
dry leaf on a dry creek.
Memory’s nobody’s fool, and keeps close to the ground.” ~ Charles Wright, from “Buffalo Yoga”

Friday afternoon. Cloudy with drizzle, 76 degrees.

The weather has been amazing. Yesterday was perfect—sunny and warm, with a breeze, in the 70’s. Wild weather in June. Today is the first day of summer, and it is cooler than it has been in weeks. When Corey got home, he said that it was warmer in Ohio than here. But I’m sure that in a few days it will be in the 90’s with godawful humidity.

Pyotr Konchalovsky Lilacs 1948 oil on canvas
“Lilacs” (1948, oil on canvas)
by Pyotr Konchalovsky

I had thought about having Olivia today and tonight but decided against it. Neither of us are feeling that great, so it wouldn’t be the best of visits. Can you believe my little bug is going to be a year old next month? Time moves much too quickly.

I’ve learned a new word: tendentious, which means expressing a strong, (biased) partisan point of view. I don’t know why I’ve never come upon this word before. Of course, I now cannot remember where I found this word because it’s been a few days. My brain is like a sieve. More and more I fear that the holes are overtaking the grey matter.

Truly, though, all of the migraines would have to have some effect on the brain, wouldn’t they? I cannot imagine an organ suffering such assaults and coming away completely unscathed. I tell myself that my cognitive impairment comes from the migraines. Laying the blame there keeps me from having to think too much about what is going on.

“Leave. Be like the clouds.
Be like the water. Stand for the thing
that will and will not change
for reasons we will accept and still think bad—
be like words, like vague words
belonging to the whiteout of endless work.” ~ Lawrence Revard, from “Incantations to Snow”

I had wanted to post yesterday, but I kept falling asleep, truly.

Night before last, Corey and I stayed up to watch the last half of Game of Thrones season 3, which wouldn’t have been so bad if the puppy hadn’t wanted to eat at 7 a.m. Her stomach seems to be pretty regular—7, noon, 5 p.m. She has already grown so much. I had meant to post some pictures before now, but they’re on Brett’s phone, and he hasn’t forwarded them to me yet. I suppose that by the time I finally get around to doing so, she’ll already be much bigger.

441002-23
“Still Life with Lilacs” (ca 1920s)
by Aristarkh Lentulov

Anyway, the point was that I paid the price for staying up so late because Bailey insisted that I get up on time. She’s a funny dog, and I’m finally allowing myself to enjoy having her without feeling guilty about Jake.

The night that we watched GoT, Bailey came out to the living room, sat down and whined at me. I followed her, and she wanted to go to bed, but she wanted me to go to bed with her. It’s easy to forget that puppies are just babies. At this moment, she’s having her afternoon nap on the bed. Pictures soon. Promise.

“I wanted to say one thing
so pure, so white, it puts a hole in the air
and I’d pass through . . . ~ Robin Behn, from “Over 102nd Street”

The gardenias are in a bloom, a lovely, fragrant rhapsody of white. I missed the blooming of the lilac bush this year, and the spring storms thrashed my peonies; I was able to cut only a few to bring indoors before they were gone. So I’m harvesting fresh white blossoms each day.

Mary Cassatt Lilacs in a Window oil on canvas 1880
“Lilacs in a Window” (1880, oil on canvas)
by Mary Cassatt

I remember that my Aunt Ronnie in Great Bridge used to love the scent of gardenias. My mother would buy her a cologne called Jungle Gardenia, which might have been a musk. I, too, love the heady scent. It is such full smell, one that floats on the air long after the blooms have been cut.

I associate gardenias with a green scent, which is best described as cool and fresh, not sweet. I don’t have synesthesia like Brett, but I do associate scents with colors. Rosemary and mint are green scents. Peonies are a pink scent, deeper, richer, like roses, regardless of color.

I remember wearing a Jovan musk oil called Grass when I was a teenager. I couldn’t smell it after I had applied it, but other people could. I wonder if they still make it . . . probably not.

“Beneath the rhapsodies of fire and fire,
Where the voice that is in us makes a true response,
Where the voice that is great within us rises up,
As we stand gazing at the rounded moon.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “Evening Without Angels”

When I was a young girl, I remember the first time I found a wild honeysuckle vine. Suzanne showed me how to suck on the blossoms. So much of the neighborhood still had wild growth when we first moved here, the kind of growth that hadn’t yet been impaired by paving and building. Left unchecked, nature is an incomparable perfumer.

Isaac Levitan Spring per White Lilacs 1895
“Spring. White Lilacs” (1895)
by Isaac Levitan

My mother has a bush in her front yard called Daphne Odora (odora L. = fragrant), which produces one of the best smelling flowers of any bush I have ever come across. It blooms in late winter/early spring, and its scent carries into the street so that passersby almost always stop to ask my mother where the smell is coming from.

I have tried at least three times to root this bush, unsuccessfully to date. Called jinchoge in Japan, the blossoms are white and pink, but the fragrance that they produce feels deep red, crimson. Don’t ask me to explain my scent categories as they are completely contrived; I can only say that something feels green or pink or crimson, sometimes yellow. Honeysuckle scent is yellow.

It’s all a lot of falderal, but the idea of color reminds me of a Merwin poem which I have actually been able to find (below).

“the infinite variety of having once been,
of being, of coming to life, right there in the thin air, a debris re-
assembling, a blue transparent bit of paper flapping in also-blue air” ~ Jorie Graham, from “The Swarm”

As an interesting aside, the Ruth Stone in the Merwin poem was a poet who actually taught at ODU while I was in the department. I think that she only stayed for a year, not really being into the whole idea of committed academe; someone once referred to her as the poet vagabond because she taught at so many different colleges and universities.

Valentin Serov Open Window period Lilacs oil on canvas 1886
“Open Window. Lilacs” (1886, oil on canvas)
by Valenin Serov

I remember an older woman with wild hair whose poems were intensely personal, who integrated the natural with her poems about her family, her late husband in particular. Merwin’s poem is an homage to a woman who, though blind, was still writing poems at the age of 96.

As you can imagine, the idea of Ruth Stone the woman, the poet, appeals to me greatly. Admittedly, I did not get to know her while she was in the department, and I really regret that. The timing was bad for me—I was pregnant with Eamonn and very self-absorbed at the time. It’s my loss that I didn’t enter even the periphery of this woman’s life. I could have learned so much from her.

But I can take her example, her complete dedication to her craft until the day she died, take that and imprint it somewhere on my consciousness. Stone serves as an imprimatur of sorts for me: She endured a lifetime of hardship, and was not even widely recognized for her poetry her late 80’s, when she received the National Book award for her book The Next Galaxy. (Click here for an NPR article and some of Stone’s poems)

No, I’m not comparing myself to Stone, only saying that I hope to be even a fraction as dedicated to my craft until the day I die.

More later. Peace.

Music by The Gourds, “Steeple Full of Swallows”

                   

A Letter to Ruth Stone

Now that you have caught sight
of the other side of darkness
the invisible side
so that you can tell
it is rising
first thing in the morning
and know it is there
all through the day

another sky
clear and unseen
has begun to loom
in your words
and another light is growing
out of their shadows
you can hear it

now you will be able
to envisage beyond
any words of mine
the color of these leaves
that you never saw
awake above the still valley
in the small hours
under the moon
three nights past the full

you know there was never
a name for that color

~ W. S. Merwin

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“It’s very important for me to feel like I’m going through life, not accidentally slipping around it. That’s something that can happen very easily to all of us. ” ~ Jorie Graham

Daring to Live in the Details

Jorie Graham interviewed by Timothy Cahill, The Christian Science Monitor (v.88, no.146, June 24, 1996)

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jorie Graham finds her voice somewhere between the intuited and the observed Poet Jorie Graham says she is never far from a sense of herself as a “reporter” and of her writing as “a kind of news.” As a child, the 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winner for poetry grew up in the border country between the realities of journalism and the verities of art.

So while Ms. Graham remembers her father, the Rome bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, leaving home to cover wars in distant and dangerous places, she was also influenced by her artist mother, who introduced her to the frescoes of Giotto, Piero della Francesca, and other Renaissance masters that adorn the Italian capital’s basilicas.

“I understood that news was not only important, it was mortal and critical,” she says of her father’s work. Yet “the stories on the walls of the church are [also] news,” she adds, “crucial news that continues to be news.”

Born in New York City in 1950, Graham grew up entirely in Rome, where she attended the French lycee (secondary school) there. She was fluent in Italian and French when she arrived at New York University (NYU) in 1969, but spoke only “broken English.” A film student at the time, Graham had no aspirations toward poetry the day she was called to her vocation.

Raised, as she puts it, at “an intersection of secular and sacred versions of reality,” Graham’s own art presents a view that “trills or slurs” between opposing forces – public and private, observed and intuited, evanescent and eternal.

Graham won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for “The Dream of the Unified Field” (The Ecco Press, 1995), a selection of poems spanning 20 years and five previous books. The winner of a 1990 MacArthur Foundation grant, she lives with her husband and daughter in Iowa City, where she teaches at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

She spoke recently with Monitor contributor Timothy Cahill by phone from her home. Excerpts follow

Timothy Cahill: How did you become a poet? 

Jorie Graham I got lost one day in the corridors at NYU, and heard the words, “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me” floating out of a doorway. I was so taken that I went into the classroom for a minute and sank into a seat in the back row. It was M.L. Rosenthal reading [T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred] Prufrock.” I sat there for the whole semester.

He spent most of the time reading poems out loud. Sometimes I think I actually learned English by listening to Rosenthal read those poems, that my transition into English – into thinking in English, feeling in English – came almost entirely through Yeats and Blake and Eliot.

What was it about poetry that drew you away from film? 

I began to feel that film wasn’t giving me a context large enough to understand how I was supposed to live my life. I was turning at night to [poetry] and finding a complexity and an ambiguity in which easy decisions were not possible. It was much more satisfying. It’s very important for me to feel like I’m going through life, not accidentally slipping around it. That’s something that can happen very easily to all of us. Through poems, I’ve struggled to make sure I’m in life, as opposed to merely understanding it.

One of the problems with having a strong conceptual intellect is that one can very quickly convert experience into idea.

How does poetry keep you “in life?” 

Poetry has always seemed to me not so much a record of a life lived [than] as a way – through the act of composition – of experiencing an event I missed [by] just living it. Poetry’s a way of thinking that only enacts itself in the moment of composition. Things hurt more when I’m about to write. It’s like a lens aperture You suddenly decide you’re going to open it up and feel things at a level you didn’t feel when you were just living through them.

It’s always very important, as I’m moving through a situation, to make sure I’m using all my senses, not just my eyes.

As poets, we tend to use our eyes first. Even if the material doesn’t end up staying in the poem, I always ask myself, what did it smell like, did you report texture, did you hear anything when you were there? There’s that constant sense of “Anything else? Are you sure you’ve been in this scene deeply enough?”

It’s like being a reporter, wondering, “Did I ask all the questions?” 

It is. It’s bringing back news. When you’re in the middle of writing a poem, you have to be there all the time. In life, with that aperture more closed, you shut down in order to survive.

The biggest problem I see with young writers is that their senses are occluded, and the reason [for that] is that to survive reality in America, they’ve had to shut down and numb themselves enough to not let grief flood their [hearts] They develop an ironic distance, a certain amount of humor, in order to go through their environment. But if they’re going to write poems, they precisely have to dismantle that numbness, they have to undo that ironic stance.

How is that accomplished? 

Through practice. I start out by teaching them something simple like the haiku, in which I try to get them to practice collecting sense-data and getting it across in language for example, to write a sound in terms of a smell, a sound in terms of a color. It’s literally like calisthenics, to open up your senses so you can pick up the detail.

Thinking deeply is feeling deeply. They’re interchangeable.

And [they’re] connected to having enough resources in language to allow you access to those complex feelings that allow for complex thought. If you’ve got only two adjectives to describe a thing, you’re going to write something that’s very blurred. If all you can come up with is the color green for what you see, you’re going to get a feeling that is one-dimensional, and an idea that… is probably a platitude.

So poetry is discovery? 

Yes. Writing a poem is thrilling because you’re changed by the act of writing it. You make discoveries that will sustain you, make you a better parent, make you a better citizen. If they happen to end up as adequate discoveries on the page, that’s a blessing. But you’re definitely making discoveries that you take back into your life.

What does winning the Pulitzer Prize mean to you? 

What excited me about getting the Pulitzer, besides it being an honor, was that it’s the only award that addresses so many different uses of language dramatic, novelistic, journalistic, poetic, biographical. All of them seem to be searching for versions of what one would call “the truth.” It made me very happy that the language of my medium, poetry, is situated among these other languages.

But the piece of paper is just as blank tomorrow as it was yesterday, and what I’ve not written is still much more important to me than what I have written.

That sounds like something you should put over the door to your classroom. 

The advice I would put over the doorway is that wonderful quote from [Ezra] Pound, where he says something like, “It really matters that great poems get written, but it doesn’t matter a whit who writes them.”

“I feel scribbled-in. Something inattentive has barely written me in.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “High Tide”

Was going to post, and then, well . . . didn’t. Feeling kind of closed off. Here’s an offering instead:

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Sassy Waterstones worker, I love you,

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And well this is true:

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Sometimes I do worry about their psyche though:

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They make up cool new words;

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They’re a sassy little shit.

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And best of all, the Holden debacle;

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And one more for good luck:

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“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited

“Autumn, Rowan Tree and Birches” (1906, oil on canvas)
by Igor Grabar

                   

“Remembered landscapes are left in me
The way a bee leaves its sting,
hopelessly, passion-placed,
Untranslatable language.” ~ Charles Wright, from “All Landscape Is Abstract, and Tends to Repeat Itself”

Sunday night. Rainy and cool, blessedly cool.

Outside my door, the low October sky looms. I would like to say looms largely, but it seems to contrived, somehow. But it’s true. It’s low. It’s looming, and it’s large.

“Autumn Landscape” (1903, oil on canvas)
by Henri Edmond Cross

Heavy. Gravid.

It is gravid in its heaviness.

I’m not trying to be coy. That’s just how it is, how it seems: low, looming, large, heavy, gravid—as if expectant.

Expectant for what, I do not know. But if I peer into the clouds long enough, I can feel the air gathering around my face, the descent of minute particles of moisture collecting in my brows. And I must say, it is heavenly. A respite from the thick humidity, more like August than October. And so I delight in this evening, despite the unending wall of clouds the color of pale rust.

You see. I have not forgotten how to live in the moment upon occasion. I can still summon that still, small voice that says to the universe in its infinite wonder, thank you.

“Ah, it is here now, the here.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “The Covenant

“Poplars, Row in Autumn” (1891)
by Claude Monet

You might find it strange that I can delight in such dismal weather, but I have spent too much of recent days wiping sweat from my face, feeling as if my skin is covered in a thin coat of oil, the kind that sprays from a can, as if I have been misted, not with mineral water, but soul-clogging oleo.

So even though it is raining, even though the cover for the grill is completely soaked and lying on the ground instead of protecting the gas grill we bought for Corey, even though the dogs will not venture outside, I am delighted, delighted that it is almost 30 degrees cooler than yesterday, that the air conditioners are off, and the ceiling fans are still. Fall is finally here. Autumn has arrived.

I can feel it. But more importantly, I can smell it, smell the beginnings of loam from the fallen leaves that have collected in piles across the grass. There is no other smell quite like it unless it is the smell of freshly fallen snow on a plot of land far away from the city.

Fall. The season of poets and painters. The time for words and golden washes.

Too much? Perhaps, but I think not.

“The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.” ~ Brigit Pegeen Kelly, from “Song”

“October Morning” (nd)
by Guy Rose

My best October?

To tell you would be to reveal too much, but I can say that it was the year I began graduate school in the mountains of Virginia, a place where Autumn is a rite of passage, where people stop and pay attention to leaves changing color. It was a season filled with change, exciting discussions about literature, Brunswick stew cooked over a fire in an iron pot, a gathering of graduate students drunk on cheap wine and heady conversation.

My worst October?

Oh. The autumn of great loss. Caitlin. Felt hats and rain coats. New friends and old. Heartbreak before the intense pain and anguish.

My most memorable October?

The year Corey and I sailed around the Caribbean, played tourist in far-away places, saw waters so blue I wanted to weep.

“overtaken
by color, crowned
with the hammered gold
of leaves.” ~ Linda Pastan, from “The Months

What is it exactly that I love about autumn (aside from the incipient melancholy)? Nostalgia? Oh yes, the melancholic gets very nostalgic indeed.

But what specifically? Another list?

  • It’s finally cold enough for Christmas socks and sweaters
  • The color burgundy isn’t too dark to wear.

    “October Gold” (1922)
    by Franklin Carmichael
  • Velvet. I don’t know why, but I associate the softness of velvet with autumn
  • Dark nail polish. Do you know how many shades of dark red there are?
  • Classical music. My taste in music is seasonal, and cool weather heralds Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart.
  • Books. There is nothing that I like to do more than read on a cold, rainy afternoon.
  • Poetry. I write more poetry in the fall.
  • Black yoga pants and white cotton sweaters. I am nothing if not a creature of habit.
  • Beef stew, homemade vegetable soup and Brunswick stew in the crock pot simmering all afternoon. And corn bread.
  • The piano. I am drawn to play again, even though doing so locks up my back and wrists for days.

I know that everything isn’t golden in the way it is depicted in art, but somehow, it seems that way. Even if I don’t make it to Skyline Drive, something I haven’t done in too many years, the golds and deep reds of the changing leaves are firmly imprinted in memory.

As I draw to a close, the sky is no longer visible. The air is cool and damp, and everything smells a little bit like bread and wet dog, and it’s a strangely comforting combination.

More later. Peace.

Music by Darius Rucker, “It Won’t Be Like This Forever”

                   

Du siehst, ich will viel (You see, I want a lot)

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.

You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Robert Bly)

“And don’t play the hero, there is no past or future.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Spoken from the Hedgerows”

Soldier at the Vietnam Memorial (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

“Beg mercy, beg darkness for obscurity—
We do not comprehend the awe, it comprehends us—” ~ Dan Beachy-Quick, from “Heroisms, 4, 5”

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

~ Yusef Komunyakaa

“There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Heading Towards Darkness by russell.tomlin (flickr)

                   

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Mysteries, Yes

Saturday early evening. Another beautiful blue day, low 70’s.

Abstract Realism: Trees Below Water as Though Inked Washed Drawing by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Seem to be having a reprieve from the five-day-long migraine. I don’t want to say yet that it’s over because that will surely bring at least three more days of pain.

Last night I watched three different exorcism movies. Don’t ask me why I do this to myself, especially when Corey is working the night shift. Perhaps I hope that if I watch enough scary movies, then the current mire of my existence will seem to pale in comparison. Anyway, after this horror marathon, I found myself at 3 a.m. wide awake.

One of the movies that I watched was Exorcist III: Legion. The movie is quite dated in the clothes and the acting as George C. Scott overacts every scene in which he appears. That being said, there is one memorable scene that takes place in a heavenly train station. There is a pseudo big band a la Tommy Dorsey, and weird appearances by Fabio of the long hair and basketball player Patrick Ewing. Okay, so it’s a cheezy, make that very cheezy movie, but it has Ed Flanders and a young Brad Dourif, as well as an appearance by Samuel L. Jackson.

The book Legion is so much better than the movie, but the movie is still entertaining in its own overblown way, not remotely scary, though.

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”~ Anaïs Nin

Water Lily Pads on the Oregon Coast by russell.tomlin (flickr)

So it’s fairly quiet here, well quieter now that Eamonn has left the building. He came home from work and took the house quite by storm. He’s just such a ham, always singing at the top of his lungs, running commentaries about everything—a younger version of his father. I used to hate it, really hate it, when his dad sang in the morning. How do people do that, wake up immediately and begin their days with exuberant singing and talking?

Not me, that’s for sure. I wake up very slowly, allowing consciousness to creep in rather than embracing it wholly and immediately.

Anyway, not sure if I’ll be able to finish this post today as I fully expect Internet service to be interrupted at almost any second. Pesky thing called a bill. Besides, I really should be doing some cleaning around the house, but just not feeling up to it. While the headache has subsided, thel knot at the base of my neck is pulsating as I type.

Nevertheless, the floors need to be swept and mopped, and laundry is piling up. More of that housewifery stuff . . .

I’d much rather sit her and write in between visiting tumblr and playing a few games of Spider Solitaire. Doing all three at once is pretty much my standard approach to getting a post written. I find that if I don’t try to write everything at once, I stay a bit more focused, that is unless I’m having a real creative spurt, which I am obviously not doing today.

“Here. You are at the beginning of something. At the exact
beginning.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Dawn Day One (Dec 21 ‘03)”

Water Color Edges by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Well, almost two hours have passed since I put down my first words. The sky is a dark grey, and the temperature has barely dropped. Laundry is going. I’ve eaten some Twizzlers and had a caffeine-free Pepsi. I still need to do the floors, but don’t know if I’ll be getting to that today or tomorrow. I would hate to think that I measure my days by how many chores I accomplish.

But really, how do I measure my days? By what I’ve read? By any new poets I’ve come across? By what images I’ve seen? By which television shows I’ve watched? By how many times I’ve stopped to throw the tennis ball for Tillie? By how many muscle relaxers I’ve had to take just to make the pain tolerable? By whether or not I’ve peeled off my nail polish by evening? By the quality of the sky? By the songs that I’ve heard?

I suppose this train of thought is just a continuation of yesterday’s pondering. But how do we measure our days really? What makes one day better or worse than another? What makes a day intolerable as opposed to being so-so?

If I were working, my measurement would be different, would definitely encompass what I had accomplished, which tasks I had completed, whether or not I had made the requisite telephone calls and answered the pending correspondence. If I were still in school, I would measure my days according to my schedule of assignments, whether or not they had been completed, or whether or not I had procrastinated until the last minute.

And what happens when we procrastinate? We put off doing something, but are the minutes we use to postpone just wasted time?

I know that there is a school of thought that all of the minutes of all of the hours should be spent in thoughtful contemplation and achievement. There is also the school of thought that we should spend a portion of our time in silence so as to allow ourselves to commune with . . . nature? God? The self?

“I don’t know what they are called, the spaces between seconds—but I think of you always in those intervals.” ~ Salvador Plascencia

Shore Acres Botanical Garden (10 August 2011), by russell.tomlin (flickr)

I do believe in meditation, in its healing effects, in its ability to quell the troubled waters of the soul. But that I believe in it does not mean that I am able to do it.

I know that I have achieved a state of meditation—a state in which I was able to clear my mind of all of the swirling thoughts—maybe four or five times in my life. By that I mean that I was truly able to set aside the external and just be.

One time that I distinctly remember was when Corey and I were in the Mediterranean, and we were on a large catamaran being sailed to a bay that was rich with rays. On the way to the spot, I sad on the tarp in lotus position with my eyes closed and just allowed myself to truly be in the moment. I was able to drown out sounds of conversations, the music that was playing. All that I heard was the water and the wind. All that I felt was the sun and the spray.

Being able to achieve that state before communing with the rays made the entire experience so much richer. I don’t know if I’m doing an adequate job of explaining the state that I was able to achieve, and perhaps you might not understand if you have never achieved such a state yourself. I only know that it was a perfect day.

“L’automne est pour moi le signe le plus sûr des recommencements. Depuis l’enfance on appelle cela la rentrée. Quelque chose décline, et quelque chose commence. Je me présente toujours devant l’automne : neuf, prêt, dispos. Quelque chose va se passer, va m’arriver. Je vais apprendre, je vais changer.” (Autumn is for me the surest sign of new beginnings. Since childhood it is called re-entry. Something is declining, and something begins. I always before this fall: new, ready, willing. Something will happen, will happen to me. I will learn, I’ll change.) ~ Pierre Péju

Dream Deepens in Autumn Gloaming, by russell.tomlin (flickr)

I think that during such times, time becomes suspended, not literally, of course. I mean that in clearing the mind, all of the troubles of the day, no matter how serious or how trivial, are set aside temporarily.

I envy those individuals who so easily achieve this state of meditation, who are able to do so regularly, even daily.  I think that if I could do so, I might not feel as if I am wasting so much of my time here, or worse, just biding time.

To live here, in the moment, to feel acutely, to appreciate what life has to offer—these are things that belong to the contented, not to the tumultuous souls. Contentment is that placid body of water, smooth like glass. Whereas for me, there are almost always waves crashing down all around me. There is almost always that sense of being propelled along the water by the wind without a sense of control.

Instead of the one sonorous bell, there is the clanging of many bells being rung at once, each one fighting to be heard. Instead of the graceful arc of a flock in synchronized flight, there is the rush, the onslaught of all of the birds taking to the air at once, the beating of many wings battling for space.

“In the midst of all your memories there is one
Faded away beyond recovering;
Neither the yellow moon nor the white sun
Will ever see you drinking from that spring.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, from “Limits

Shore Acres Botanical Garden2 (10 August 2011), by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Pay me no heed. I believe that my mind is on some track that I have yet to identify, that to get there, I must first make many missteps, dropping my foot into potholes filled with cold rain.

There is a sense of anticipation and apprehension—simultaneously, as if I am ready for this change but am afraid of it. And who even knows if it is change that awaits me.

I only know that I feel as if I am at the beginning of a long journey, one that I am not certain that I am ready to take. Perhaps my heightened sense of my surroundings is a harbinger of some sort. Or perhaps I am just reading entirely too much into nothing at all. It just feels so much like those moments immediately before the storm when the air hangs so still that even the buzzing of a fly seems too loud. When the moisture on the front of the storm first touches your face, and you have an inkling of what is to come but cannot be certain of just how wet you will get. When the leaves of the trees turn around, showing their backs to the sky. When the stickiness of the air thickens just before the first drop falls.

This is what I feel. This is what awaits me. Undefinable, unrelenting, formless and frayed.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sophie Milman, “La Vie en Rose”

                   

After Us

One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoe box
where we hoard pajama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.

~ Nikola Madzirov (Trans. Peggy and Graham W. Reid, Magdalena Horvat and Adam Reed)

(All images in this post taken from Russell Tomlin’s Flickr photostream)

“The world breaks us all. Afterward, some are stronger at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, Farewell To Arms

Where does this road lead? (photographer unknown, Pixdaus)

                   

“I speak to you over cities
I speak to you over plains
My mouth is against your ear
The two sides of the walls face
my voice which acknowledges you.
I speak to you of eternity.” ~ Paul Éluard from “Absence”

Kusugawa Trail, Yakushima Island by caseyyee (Flckr Creative Commons)

Thursday, late afternoon. Thunder storms approaching.

I want to write, but then when I sit down at these keys, nothing happens. So much to say but seemingly unsayable, as if rooting around in my head trying to find words that I know, words that I know I know, but words that have become lost or have taken to hiding in the small creases in my brain.

Here is what I know:

The warmer temperatures are muddling my brain, making me dream of buying air conditioners with my mother and ex-father-in-law. But I become distracted in the dream, and look at plants instead—purple and pink plants in black pots. And I fill my cart with plants and Christmas place mats that are on clearance. This is better than the dream before of a killer chasing me down a yellow stairwell.

I awake sweaty and tired, feeling as if I have slept much too long, and I have, but I cannot get out of my bed. For days now, I cannot get out of the damned bed. Yesterday, I had another medical test done, then came home and went back to bed. I barely remembered the drive to and from the facility. Out-of-body driving?

My body feels spent and heavy with heat, and I long for tall glasses of umbrella drinks with rivulets of sweat running down the side of the glass. Not the alcohol, just the idea of the tall glass, the fruit, the paper umbrella—as the collection of these things would mean that I am not at home. I am somewhere else, anywhere but here.

It seems that the coming storm has taken days to get here. The air has been still, and yesterday evening thunder rumbled in the distance for hours, but nothing materialized. Then suddenly, just a few moments ago, rain began to fall, hard rain, hard enough to drive out the ants that have laid claim to the dirt mounds in the garden, the mounds that have been taken over as ant castles, forbidding the shoots of flowers and vegetables from breaking through. Now the mounds are mud puddles, and I can see green.

A tornado warning south of here. More tornadoes encroaching on this area of hurricanes. More proof that the earth is in turmoil.

“If you can read and understand this poem
send something back: a burning strand of hair
a still-warm, still-liquid drop of blood
a shell
thickened from being battered year on year
send something back.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from “Coast to Coast”

Tree Tunnel, Shirebrook, UK, by James Hill (Wikimedia Commons)

I slip through virtual pages on this screen, looking for the source of a line I cannot get out of my head. “Jesus Love You” pops up right above a line advertising Mexican food and good prices on gold.

The Interwebs have a warped sense of humor.

My body is still in recovery from the preparation needed for Wednesday’s test. A purge, if you will. I find myself craving fresh fruit: peaches and red pears. The orange juice Corey bought me is not enough. My body wants vitamins from the source. I feel as if everything has been leached from my system, not just impurities, but the good cells as well, the ones that make me who I am.

I think constantly of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. I have no idea why.

Speaking of the Fitzgeralds, I read an article that said that the mansion that may have been his inspiration for The Great Gatsby had been demolished to make way for several mcmansions on the same plot of waterfront land in Long Island. I shudder to think about the former grandeur being reduced to rubble so that some developer can erect those paeans to conspicuous consumption that I abhorred even when I was in real estate.

Progress is not always better.

I remember the dark enclosure in my grandmother’s house in the Philippines. In the kitchen. Water from the well in the backyard. Coffee tins filled with this water, and how this was the only space in the house in which to find relief from the heat. I think of my father. I do not want to think of my father, not right now. The loss is acute today.

“I sing the wind around
 And hear myself return
To nothingness, alone.
The loneliest thing I know
 Is my own mind at play.” ~ Theodore Roethke, from “His Foreboding”

The Gate To . . . UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I read other people’s words, wonder how it is they are so talented, wonder where my words have gone, wonder if there are any new poems left to write, any new stories left to tell.

I have been collecting phrases as possible book titles. I don’t know why. I think I have six or seven. This is a recent event in my life; it means that I am acknowledging that the book is there. I think. Maybe not. But why need a title? I love book titles, book jackets. Clever book designs remind me of studying for my publishing degree. I still owe the university a fee. They are holding my diploma hostage until I pay this fee. I wonder if I will ever bother to pay the ransom.

In all of the medical tests that I have had done in the past six weeks or so, this is what I have learned: I do not have sleep apnea. I have a digestive system that does not work at the top or the bottom, and is sluggish in the middle. To learn these things, my body has been assaulted with tubes in various orifices. I think I already knew all of these things about my body and probably could have saved myself the insult of the tubes and the associated costs which will soon begin to turn up in the mail.

I have stopped reading about politics again. It has become too weighty and unbearable once more, and my minds needs a break from the madness, not just in this country, but all over the world. I prefer to live in ignorance for a bit, that is until I begin to seethe in righteous indignation over some maligning phrase out of some politician’s mouth. Then I fear it will be once more into the fray for me.

The wind outside is whipping the trees about as if they are being tugged on by giants. I like that image.

“The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking
into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Mind”

Lane by Derek Harper (Wikimedia Commons)

As the moveable slab upon which I lay slides into the scanner, I look up and am surprised to see the image of cherry blossoms on branches reaching across the faux-skylight above me—a vertical trompe l’oeil, and the technician tells me to hold my breath, and I do and do and do, and wait for her to say breathe, but the word does not come, and my lungs fill to bursting, and then she says breathe, and I do, and I realize that it has been mere seconds, and I think to myself that I have absolutely no stamina left.

I’ve been trying to learn Adele’s “Someone Like You,” but her voice is so powerful and the song so complicated, that it’s just not working. As with almost everything else, my voice is not what it used to be.

But the cherry blossom branches make me think of how wonderful it would be to have a real skylight, preferably above a bathtub, so that I could soak beneath the stars and ponder words, only to forget them as I dry myself with a towel.

I remember when I was about to graduate with my bachelor’s, and I had an interview with a small local paper in Maryland. An editor at the paper for which I worked arranged the interview for me. I stayed with a nice couple who owned a large old house that they were refurbishing. In one bathroom, they had built a wooden bathtub directly beneath a skylight. I had forgotten about that until just this minute.

I turned down the job, or more accurately, withdrew my name from consideration as I was in love, could not bear to continue my long-distance relationship with my ex. I wonder where life would have taken me if I had opened myself to that possibility.

Possibilities . . .

Studying abroad, visiting Greece, seeing the Great Wall, taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs of verdant Ireland and windswept Wales. Drinking wine at a small restaurant in Basque country.

Walking on a beach in Queensland with my flannel trousers rolled. Eating a peach. T. S. Eliot wondered if he dared, as do I.

Will I ever hear the mermaids singing, each to each? And how should I presume?

More later. Peace.

Music by Lanterns on the Lake, “You Need Better”

                   

My Life by Someone Else

I have done what I could but you avoid me.
I left a bowl of milk on the desk to tempt you.
Nothing happened. I left my wallet there, full of money.
You must have hated me for that. You never came.

I sat at my typewriter naked, hoping you would wrestle me
to the floor. I played with myself just to arouse you.
Boredom drove me to sleep. I offered you my wife.
I sat her on the desk and spread her legs. I waited.

The days drag on. The exhausted light falls like a bandage
over my eyes. Is it because I am ugly? Was anyone
ever so sad? It is pointless to slash my wrists. My hands
would fall off. And then what hope would I have?

Why do you never come? Must I have you by being
somebody else? Must I write My Life by somebody else?
My Death by somebody else? Are you listening?
Somebody else has arrived. Somebody else is writing.

~ Mark Strand