Twice in my quickly disappearing forties
someone called while someone I loved and I were
making love to tell me another woman had died of cancer.
Seven years apart, and two different lovers:
underneath the numbers, how lives are braided,
how those women’s death and lives, lived and died, were
Does lip touch on lip a memento mori?
Does the blood-thrust nipple against its eager
mate recall, through lust, a breast’s transformations
sometimes are lethal?
Now or later, what’s the enormous difference?
If one day is good, is a day sufficient?
Is it fear of death with which I’m so eager
to live my life out
now and in its possible permutations
with the one I love? (Only four days later,
she was on a plane headed west across the
Men and women, mortally wounded where we
love and nourish, dying at thirty, forty,
fifty, not on barricades, but in beds of
tell me, senators, what you call abnormal?
Each day’s obits read as if there’s a war on.
Fifty-eight-year-old poet dead of cancer:
laid down with the other warrior women.
Both times when the telephone rang, I answered,
wanting not to, knowing I had to answer,
go from two bodies’
infinite approach to a crest of pleasure
through the disembodied voice from a distance
saying one loved body was clay, one wave of
mind burst and broken.
Each time we went back to each other’s hands and
mouths as to a requiem where the chorus
sings death with irrelevant and amazing
~ Marilyn Hacker
A Morning in April
I meet my mother at the lawyer’s office in town.
We thought it best to talk about my being given
health care proxy and power of attorney for
my father without him initially being present.
The lawyer’s on Main Street. He has new shoes.
He is a very quiet and accommodating man with overly
bushy eyebrows that might crawl off
his forehead at any second. His secretary, the older one,
performs all the small talk about the weather.
The younger is obsessed with eating a bowl of frosted flakes.
We are in there for a very long half an hour,
charged one hundred dollars which I find cheap. Afterwards,
I suggest to my mother that we have coffee together,
but she says she should get back to the house as soon
as possible since my father is being looked after by a neighbor.
So, crossing the street, I walk her to her car. She holds
onto my hand. Her hand is the hand of a woman in her eighties.
It is diminished and bony but still capable of being firm.
She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Still is. I was always
so proud of the fact, when I was a kid, of just how beautiful
my mother was. Naturally enough, I could never understand how
my father had managed to actually have this woman in his life.
I lived with the suspicions that he could read such thoughts in
my eyes. But, I’m well aware of the fact that their love endures
on a level I may never know. I feel like weeping right here
in the street. I help her into her car. She makes a u-turn and
drives off in the direction rain is coming from. I stand there,
rooted in front of a closed movie theater in a decaying town
that lies between a river and a creek. It is a morning in April.
At some point Alzheimer’s could force us to put my father in
a nursing home. I don’t talk to my mother about this too much.
We know the possibility exists. I dread the day when
I’ll be responsible for separating them. It will be like
tearing the wings off a bird and throwing them up in the air and
expecting them to fly.
“A kiss on the forehead—erases misery. I kiss your forehead.” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, (trans. Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine)
Sunday early evening. Mild, 60°.
So it’s been two days since Corey boarded the plane that took him to Dulles, and then on to Copenhagen, then to Lithuania. Apparently he was late arriving in Lithuania because of fog. The plan made three attempts to land and then had to return to Copenhagen to refuel. Thankfully, he slept through most of it, and also thankfully, I did not know about it until it was over, and he was safe on the ground.
Tomorrow I have to send him an express package with the things that he forgot, two of which are essential, and I don’t know how—between the two of us—we forgot to pack them: his merchant mariner document and his USB for his laptop.
We don’t know how long he will be in Lithuania yet, still waiting for a decision on where the rest of the repairs will be made. He said that there is a crew of about 16 on board for now.
The last two nights have been as restless as expected. Friday, Tillie was obviously upset and wouldn’t eat. I pulled a dirty t-shirt from the hamper and put it with her, and she settled a bit. Yesterday and today I’ve tried to play with her outside for a bit, and my plan it to begin walking with her tomorrow. I hope that between the physical activity and the extra attention, she won’t go into full grieving mode, leaving me with one less thing to contend with so that I can get about the business of being miserable.
“And this is one of the mysteries, that the mind can speak, and knows nothing; and the heart knows everything, and cannot speak.” ~ Osho
The other two dogs are fine; the fat one never leaves my side long enough to pay attention to anyone else, and while Alfie knows that something is up, he seems fine as long as I let him nuzzle and sleep at my feet.
It really hasn’t hit me yet. I mean, right now it’s just as if he’s away for a transport. We’ll revisit the issue in a week and see how I’m doing.
I took the time yesterday to catch up on my blog reading, something I have been remiss in doing. One of my blogger compatriots gave me a suggestion for a post that I think I’ll tackle soon: the virtual hoarding that I do on Tumblr. I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, but I realize that Tumblr lets me amass lots and lots of things, but in a good way: I don’t have to dust, and I don’t have to make room. Anyway, I’m pondering that for now . . .
Last night, this morning, really, the moon was still big and bright in the sky at 6 a.m. or so. This whole spring forward thing on the time always screws me up; although, I’m not really certain as to why since my nights are my days and vice versa. I mean, I don’t even know the date unless I look at my cell phone or one of the calendars hanging throughout the house.
“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” ~ George Eliot
Anyway, I’ve been trying to stay busy the past few days, catching up on reading blogs and Tumblr, and starting the Game of Thrones series of books. It’s hard reading, and I can’t do my usual speed reading as there are so many new names of places and characters, something inherent in fantasies. But I read until 4 this morning, and then made myself stop so that I could attempt to sleep.
Right. That really worked.
Before Corey left, the boys sat down with us, and we came up with a family game plan for chores and tasks. Not too many changes really, just reminders that I can do laundry, but I cannot lift the baskets. I can do the shopping, but I need someone to come with me to carry. Eamonn is taking on the yard mowing, which is good as I can’t do it, and Brett hates to do it.
But we have a plan, and my hope is that I don’t get too much grief when I do eventually ask for help and that I don’t have to be in constant mom-reminder-mode. Such a pain, especially with grown/almost grown offspring. But we’re hoping that the plan will help the three of us settle into a somewhat comfortable existence in Corey’s absence. We’re shooting for a new kind of normalcy.
I remember when Corey worked on tugs and was two weeks on/one week off—it was hard going in a lot of ways. I was still working full time, and the boys were in high school, and Eamonn was at the height of his difficult years and Brett was having so many problems. Some days, I just wanted to hide in my bedroom with the dogs. But there were dishes to do, and laundry, and all of the rest, not to mention I was going to school in DC two nights a week. I really don’t know how I survived that, but I did. I suppose we all do what we have to do when we have to do it.
It’s better if you don’t think too much about things, I suppose.
“The blue river is gray at morning and evening. There is twilight at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark wondering if this quiet in me now is a beginning or an end.” ~ Jack Gilbert, “Waking at Night”
In this most recent mode of no-sleep, I find myself attuned to every little noise. More birds are starting their morning song, so the middle of the night is actually not very quiet.
I remember that when I lived in the mountains the sounds of sirens were rarely heard in the middle of the night. When I lived in northern Virginia, it was the opposite, city sounds all night long. I don’t think that I really notice the sirens around here unless I’m trying to quiet my thoughts, but sometimes in the still of the night I can still hear the train whistle, and when there’s fog, I can hear the foghorns on the bay.
I know that I would be able to quiet my thoughts better if I had the sound of waves or rippling water within earshot. Perhaps, once I get my computer fixed and set up on my new desk, I’ll go back to my old habit of listening to my Sounds of Nature CD collection: thunderstorms, waves, whale songs, even rainforests. It’s a toss up between thunderstorms and waves, pretty much.
Last summer, we didn’t have much tree frog action, and I missed that. Just as I miss the pond outside the bedroom window with the frogs singing. Anyway, with water on the brain, you can see why I chose today’s images.
“That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
So that’s what life has been like in the past few days. I had toyed with writing an analysis of the Kony 2012 fray, even composed some of it in my brain, but then I just didn’t have it in me to delve into such deep political waters. It would take maximal brain cells and concentration.
I suppose I’m keeping my brain on a short-leash at the moment. Subsuming the need to think too much or ponder too deeply. Introspection poses too many problems. It’s that nagging awareness that I’m holding things at bay, not allowing any tears in front of Corey before he left, for example. If I don’t allow myself to think past the surface, if I don’t move past the dust bunnies and the dirty clothes, if I don’t sit alone with my thoughts, then perhaps this ache that is creeping into my heart can be assuaged.
I’m okay, really. I mean, more okay than I expected to be, which is what worries me. I have this tendency to build walls inside without realizing it. I mean, I admit that I exist in a constant state of grief and loss. I would be lying if I claimed anything else. That loss exists in the background of my reality—a thin membrane that cloaks everything without suffocating it. If I allow it to come to the forefront, it can be all-consuming, which is why I usually just feel the subtle vibrations of its existence.
I have taught myself postpone my confrontations with that aspect of myself, to walk carefully on the surface. At least, that is what I tell myself, and sometimes saying things silently over and over does make it so. Sometimes.
More later. Peace.
Music by Shuyler Fisk, “Waking Life”
You Reading This: Stop
Don’t just stay tangled up in your life.
Out there in some river or cave where you
could have been, some absolute, lonely
dawn may arrive and begin the story
that means what everything is about.
So don’t just look, either:
let your whole self drift like a breath and learn
its way down through the trees. Let that fine
waterfall-smoke filter its gone, magnified presence
all through the forest. Stand here till all that
you were can wander away and come back slowly,
carrying a strange new flavor into your life.
Feel it? That’s what we mean. So don’t just
read this—rub your thought over it.
Now you can go on.
~ William Stafford, from The Methow River Poems in Even in Quiet Places
“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic . . . Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” ~ John Steinbeck,East of Eden
Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and cooler, high 40’s.
Ann called early this morning to tell me that her father, my kids’ grandfather, had died. She’s lost both parents within five months.
I was never as close to my ex-father-in-law as I was to my m-in-law, mostly because he wasn’t an easy person to be close to. He was a very quiet man who spent most of his time watching sports and old war movies, or sitting in his study looking through his stamp and coin collections. He was a Navy seal before they were called Seals (UDT), and our friends used to joke that he would probably die one day sitting on the couch, drinking a soda and watching a game.
After he retired from the Navy, he became a middle school shop teacher, and it was at the middle school that he met the woman he would leave my m-in-law for after almost four decades of marriage.
Once he left my m-in-law for the evil step-m-in-law, I saw little of him. My ex used to take the boys over to his house to fish when they were younger, but as the years passed, my kids mostly saw their grandfather at Christmas and possibly once during the summer. That is until his health started to decline. Then there were the visits to the hospital.
The man smoked way too much, and his body finally caught up with the smoking—emphysema, COPD, and finally, cancer.
I think that I will miss the idea of him more than the actuality of him, if that makes sense. It’s hard to quantify my feelings as I felt for a long time that he completely abandoned his family. He left before the boys were old enough to know him, but Alexis was the grandchild who was closest to him for the longest time. She loved her Grandpa, and she is feeling the loss keenly.
“I am haunting your dreams, conducting these fevers from a distance, a distance that leaves me weeping, and storming, and bereft.” ~ Katie Donovan, “Yearn On”
It’s very strange, this losing people in your life. I acknowledge that this is the natural order, that people inevitably get older and die; this does not make the process easier to bear.
I find that as I type these words I am more numb than anything. There have been no tears, and I’m not at all certain that I will go to the services as I am unsure of my welcome there. There was never any question with my m-in-law, but this is different. The evil step-m-in-law made it quite clear after my ex and I separated that she was cutting me out of that side of the family.
Perhaps I’ll go and sit in the back. I just don’t know. I suppose that I will take my cues from Ann and the ex. In this, I am only a bit player.
I keep getting flashes of memories, just glimpses, really. Nothing concrete: him sitting on the end of the couch, an RC Cola in front of him. His biggest physical exertion came through golf. Although, I know that he did take up growing roses in later years, which is odd as he never spent any time at all in the yard or the gardens of my m-in-law’s house when they were still together. She did all of the yard work, kept the house, did all of the cooking. The house was her domain, the garage his.
He sat. A lot.
I remember that she told me that he never took care of the kids when they were babies, no bottles, no diapers. I suppose it’s one of those generational things. Instead, he usually showed his feelings through the things that he made. He was a master woodworker, and he built all kinds of things through the years, everything from small Christmas ornaments to blanket chests and coffee tables. He built a set of Adirondack chairs for the evil step-m-in-law that I coveted.
“before I am lost, hell must open like a red rose for the dead to pass.” ~ H.D., from “Eurydice”
Years ago he had promised to build built-in bookcases in the living room for me. It never happened.
Strange the thing one remembers in the midst of trying to remember more significant things. When I was writing about my m-in-law, the memories and thoughts came like a flood, one upon another, unabated. Now, it’s more like staccato, intermittent, jerky.
On reflection, it must sound terrible, like I have no feelings whatsoever about the man, his life, or his death, which is not true. Perhaps it’s more that I loved him as he required love: with more reserve, less open emotion.
I wonder how much guilt he bore in later years, how much he thought about his long marriage, his relationship with my my-in-law, if he realized how much he hurt her, how much disappointment his actions bred. I wonder if it ever even occurred to him. I do not know, yet I do not believe that he was a man prone to serious introspection. I could, of course, be completely wrong about all of this.
“‘Who are you really, wanderer?’ and the answer you have to give no matter how dark and cold the world around you is: ‘Maybe I’m a king.’” ~ William Stafford, from “A Story That Could Be True”
This post isn’t at all what I had in mind when I sat down here, although what I had planned I really couldn’t say for certain.
The pageant of people who travel through our lives is part of what defines us. Some of those people we choose, and others are chosen by fate. Some of them become part of our lives for just a moment, and their departures barely register in significance. Those in whom we place the most significance, those we open our entire hearts to—they are the ones who leave deep indentations in the tapestries of our lives.
The longer they stay with us, the more that they contribute and require, the richer the pattern of the relationship.
My personal tapestry is many-colored, and the fabric is both rough and smooth. At its center are the richest colors and the tightest weaves. Everything radiates from the center. In my mind’s eye, it is crimson and purple and gold; it is as smooth as velvet and as rough as burlap. The stitching is as fine as it is irregular. There are rips and tears that have been mended again and again.
But it holds.
At the center are Caitlin and my father. The births of my children. My marriage to Corey. There you will find the embellishments of first loves and the tears from first heartbreak. Everything radiates from this place of love and loss, truth and lies, poetry and prose.
Somewhere in the bottom right corner is where you will find my father-in-law. Here the fabric is a heavy twill, sufficiently strong to last, without glamor or added decoration. This is not a place of dishonor or disregard, but it is not the center. He is there, firmly enmeshed in that part of my life that is the permanent periphery.
As the song says, “We’re older now and still running against the wind.”
Peace be with you and yours.
(I had a heckuva time figuring out what kind of pictures I wanted to include with this post. I finally found some lovely pictures of mists at sunrise from different places in the UK.)
Music by Bob Seger, an oldie that I heard on the car radio this morning that felt strangely appropriate: “Against the Wind”
It needn’t be tinder, this juncture of the year,
a cigarette second guessed from car to brush.
The woods’ parchment is given
to cracking asunder the first puff of wind.
Yesterday a big sycamore came across First
and Hawthorne and is there yet.
The papers say it has to happen,
if just as dribs and drabs on the asbestos siding.
But tonight is buckets of stars as hard and dry as dimes.
A month’s supper things stacks in the sink.
Tea brews from water stoppered in the bath
and any thirst carried forward is quenched thinking you,