“Mermaid” (detail, 1953, illustration) by Sulamith Wulfing
“Pearls for Kisses” (nd, oil on canvas) by Fred Appleyard
“The Little Mermaid” (1911, illustration) by Edmund Dulac
“The Lady from the Sea” (aka Mermaid, 1896) by Edvard Munch)
“Little Mermaid” (1953, illustration) by Sulamith Wulfing
“So I Came forth of the Sea” (1948, illustration) by Marc Chagall
“The Forbidden World” (1949, oil on canvas) by Rene Magritte
“A Mermaid” (1900, oil on canvas) by John William Waterhouse
“The Little Mermaid” (1937, illustration) by Ivan Bilibin
“La Sirene” (aka Mermaid, 1896) by Alexandre Séon
“Undine” (1811, illustration) by Arthur Rackham
“Siren”(1941, illustration by Kay Nielsen
“The Little Mermaid”(2011, illustration) by Boris Diodorov
“We spoke of those magic summer nights, looking out over the gulf of Castellammare, when the stars are mirrored in the sleeping sea, and how, lying on your back among the mastic trees, your spirit is lost in the whirling heavens, while the body braces itself, fearing the approach of demons.” ~ Giuseppe di Lampedusa, from “The Professor and the Siren”
Two for Tuesday: Mermaids
Tuesday afternoon. Humid with impending storms, 82 degrees.
A bit of serendipity today: read an essay in The Paris Review by Marina Warner called “The Professor and the Mermaid,” and then came upon a poem by Pablo Neruda that I had never seen before. Love when things like this happen.
Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks
All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.
~ Pablo Neruda
for Aya at fifteen
Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love’s hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
~ Kim Addonizio
Music by Jon Allen, featuring Amy Smith, “When the Morning Comes”
“In this metallic age of barbarians, only a relentless cultivation of our ability to dream, to analyse and to captivate can prevent our personality from degenerating into nothing or else into a personality like all the rest.” ~ Fernando Pessoa
Yes, I know. Once again, I have posted items out of sequence, back-posted as it were. Indulge me, please. I have been unable to get out of bed for three days. It’s times such as these when I long for my old laptop and folding desk. At least I would be able to write while in bed. Alas, alack . . .
I watched the light creep through the blinds this morning as the clock moved toward 6 a.m. For a minute I considered getting up to write and just forgoing sleep altogether, but then my body reminded me that I really needed sleep, so I turned over yet again and tried to find a position that would allow me to be a bit comfortable as Tillie blew warm dog breath into my face while she slept quite peacefully. I looked over, and Corey was snoring quietly; Alfie was above Corey’s head on the pillow, and Shakes was buried deep beneath the covers, scratching intermittently. Meanwhile, a two-foot square of open space seemed to be allotted for me.
Let’s just say that it was not a tableau that invited the deep sleep of Ameles potamos, or Lethe. I would love to have eight uninterrupted hours of mindlessness sleep, a sleep of pure forgetfulness, no interruptions, no distractions, just sleep, and then once rested, awake to a painless new day of possibilities. That it what I would like . . .
“The perception of small things is the secret of clarity; guarding of what is soft and tender is the secret of strength.” ~ Lao-Tzu
Corey has worked four days in a row. Can I get a hallelujah from the chorus? I must say that the duty sergeant has an unenviable job, having to shift people constantly because of the unpredictability of ship movement. At one point, Corey was scheduled to work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then to go back in at 11 p.m. and work 12 hours, and while that would have been great in the hours column, it would have really sucked in the sleeping column. But he’s hanging in, which is more than I can say for myself.
I seem to be in the midst of a grand pity party, one that was not scheduled, as it were. I know exactly what started it, what precipitated this most recent excursion into the poor, poor, pitiful me fray: I went on the Old Dominion University site to look at information for Brett’s orientation, and just for grins, I thought, I went to the English Department’s site. After perusing for a few minutes I realized that I knew a grand total of four people in the department. All of the old guard is gone. Names I’ve never heard of filled the department roster, which really set me back until I realized that it’s been a grand total of 16 years since I left ODU.
Sixteen years. The boys were toddlers. I was still plugging away at my marriage to Paul. The dogs were two black labs. The house was in most respects, the same, and I owned my favorite car, the black Oldsmobile Calais. My father was still alive. I knew people, lots of interesting, engaging people, and Mari was still a part of my life.
Might I just say that it is a bitter pill to have shoved down one’s throat—the realization that time has continued, inexorably, whilst I have not.
“But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.” ~ Lawrence Binyon, Last two stanzas of “For the Fallen”
Which brings me to the now, the present, the time after the past, and the question. Yes. There is most definitely a question: What in the hell have I done with my life? I am having a crisis of faith of the personal kind. I wonder what it is I have accomplished in all of these years of trying. I wonder if I have really done anything at all. I mean, what am I playing at here? I write. I opine. I open my veins and bleed onto this page, or rather, this virtual page. But to what end?
In looking at all of the unknown names in the English Department, I realized that my dreams of getting my Ph.D. in English are just that—dreams only. I have been left behind, or I have stayed behind while the canon has continued to develop at an amazing pace, largely in part because of the Internet. What these people are teaching and researching goes so far beyond what I know. So I don’t know if I could catch up to them, but perhaps more importantly, I don’t know if I should.
These people have three and four books, pages and pages of publications. They have evolved as the material has evolved, as the very institution of teaching has evolved: distance education, virtual classrooms. I don’t know if I can do that.
And so I sit here and wonder if I’ve ever really been good at anything, anything that matters, that is. When I die, how will I be remembered? As the woman who didn’t leave the house for years? As a woman whose self-image was so skewed that her mantra was “I’m fat and ugly and my mother dresses me funny”? As someone with an acerbic wit? Or as just a woman who was here and then who wasn’t . . .
“Heedless or willfully ignorant of this
procession of changes, we dream of prosperity
all through life and, without understanding
the nature of transience, hope for longevity.” ~ Hōnen
And these thoughts paralyze me, cause me to look about me as if in an unfamiliar place, a place in which the things themselves are different, the atmosphere different, the lighting slightly shifted, and the only thing that is the same is me. I think of the days when I walked around in power suits and leather pumps, so self-important, so engrossed in my own little world, my circle of power. A person to be watched, emulated, respected. Was it all in my mind?
Days from my past pass before this windowpane of memory, and I am hard-pressed to find anything significant. Has it all been an act? Was I so good at deception that I deceived myself more than anyone?
I’m not talking about the consistency of my belly button lint. These are real, hard questions, ones that I need to find the answers to lest I go mad with the thinking. This morning, as I was rolling from side to side, watching night move into morning, I suddenly wondered if one could go mad from thinking too much. And I think that yes, one probably could go mad from too many thoughts, from being unable to stop the flow of thoughts as they engulf everything, unabated, uncensored.
a fading mountain echo
void and unreal.” ~ Ryokan
Kay Nielsen, “Such a Terrible Dream”
Yet another thing came to me during my wakefulness, the song from Jesus Christ Superstar, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Don’t really know why that song at that moment, except for the very telling lines here and there: “In these past few days/When I’ve seen myself/I seem like someone else” . . . or “I never thought I’d come to this/What’s it all about?”
Is that clichéd, that I’m thinking in old songs? Probably.
See this is what happens when I don’t write for three days, but I have all of these things running through my head, non-stop, full-speed. Without the ability to exorcise the moment of disillusion, it leeches energy from everything around it and grows until it takes on corporeal form—something very real that needs to be confronted, to be battled, to be handled and then filed away in the completed drawer, a drawer that does not, in fact, exist.
It’s like those old science fiction movies in which the hero meets the dark self, and the two fight with one another in some dark alley with a rain-soaked pavement, drops of water falling from the fire escape above their heads, the sound of empty cans and cats a backdrop to the violence taking place. And the hero always wins, well, most of the time, but not without losing something of himself along the way.
Yes. That’s exactly how it is. I think.
I am reminded of James Wright’s poem, “Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy’s Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends with this line: “I have wasted my life.”