“Do you ever feel words have gone dry and dull in your mind? Your mind like a sponge in the dust? You squeeze it and nothing comes?” ~Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West, The letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3

Frank Dicksee, “The Funeral of a Viking” (1893)

“Those words had gone deep into her eyes, deep into her nerves, deep into her brain, far into the blackness of her brain behind that white face. They had made a gash back there, a match streak of memory, a flare she would carry to the grave, an impression.” ~ John Fante, from The Road to Los Angeles

Thursday afternoon. Overcast again and rainy, 46 degrees.

I haven’t been walking on the property in weeks. It’s a mosh pit out there in the driveway. And each day that I wake up and look out the window and see nothing but clouds, my heart becomes heavy. It does rain a lot here, definitely more than in Norfolk. But it’s the clouds. They just seem to cover the ridge and cloak all of the beauty.

Anne Burgess, “The Burning Galley” (Wikimedia Commons)

Between that and trying to house train the puppy—unsuccessfully at the moment, I might add—I’m feeling a bit lost in the fog. Yes, I finally took my puppy from Dallas because it was the only way that I could get her as he is so attached to his dogs, but he had promised me one, and I had taken a shine to the runt. Her name is Maddie, for Madeleine L’Engle, and she’s black with hound ears. She won’t be nearly as big as Tillie or Bailey, both of whom act as if she’s an alien, and the cats are definitely not taken with her.

Don’t ask me why a puppy now, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, and she’s adorable. It doesn’t take any kind of Freudian to tell me that I substitute the animals for my kids, so whatever . . .

“We walk
and walk towards meaning
and don’t arrive” ~  Mahmoud Darwish, from “How far is far?”
Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus gets a viking funeral from his GWAR bandmates, by D. Randall Blythe

So it’s December 20, five days until Christmas. Corey and I are having a very small Christmas this year, which is fine. It’s not about the presents for me, ever. It’s about the pageantry: the tree, the wrappings, the centerpieces, the dishes—just the way that I can make the house look. One year Corey’s mom finally got to see our house decorated, and she commented that everywhere she looked, she saw something. That’s what I strive for when I decorate—creating an experience.

So I’m going to suck it up today and put up the tree. I know that it will be a lot of work to make it look the way that I want it to look, and no, I can’t just put on a few ornaments, so there’s no point in suggesting that approach, but thank you anyway. I know that once it’s up, I’ll feel better. So maybe I won’t have the snowmen and the Santas, and all of the rest, but at least there will be a tree.

I need that, and the only way that  I’m going to get that is if I do it. So, ‘nuf said.

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.” ~ Raymond Carver, from Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose

The other major thing that I need to accomplish is to write some people and send cards. I still cannot find my Christmas card box with addresses and all of the rest, but I’m hoping that Corey can find it for me. If nothing else, I’ll just send the letters. It’s important, and I really want to communicate with my sister-in-law in Germany. She has gone out of her way to write to both of us, and as usual, I have been lax in replying, so that’s a must do, maybe later today or tomorrow.

Bálför Viking Funeral Card

It’s the words, you see. I just don’t have the words to say how life is, how we’re doing. I need to lie, to say that things are good, that I’m fine, that we’re both doing well. Making pleasant conversation used to not be so hard for me. I suppose I’m making too much out of it, that it will be fine once I start, which is how things usually are, or at least I hope so.

Being a self-imposed recluse can become problematic when moving beyond the safety of my environs enters into the equation. The irony, of course, is that writing this blog is taking me out of my safety zone, but now that I’m back into it, it seems to be working, at least most of the time. Granted, some days are harder than others, but my goal is to try to write at least a little each day, to get back into the practice of using words, so that I can try to get myself going and maybe, just maybe, begin to polish my manuscript.

Who knows? Certainly not I.

“It’s a losing battle:
my words have no chance against time.
Sometimes,
unable to catch up with imagination,
I leave the battle,
candle in hand,
in complete darkness.” ~ Jalal Barzanji, from “Trying Again to Stop Time”

I had a very disturbing dream last night, featuring someone from my past, a gay man with whom I used to be very close. I had met him at the museum, and we developed a very fast friendship, for lack of a better word. We used to do all kinds of things together. I know that he filled the gap that I had in my first marriage as far as doing things with my spouse.

Viking Funeral, Created by yoguy108

By the time this person came on the scene, my spouse and I had developed a separate set of friends and weren’t doing much of anything together. I don’t blame him. That’s just what happens when neither of you work on your marriage. Of course, there were many other factors at play that I just would rather not go into. It’s still a tender wound all of these years later, although, not quite as tender.

Anyway, in this dream, this person had photographs of me at a lake that I just couldn’t remember visiting. I was very bothered that he had proof that I’d been somewhere that I could not recall. It was disconcerting. The dream happened at my parent’s house, and in the end, both of my parents made an appearance; overall, one of those dreams that leaves you gasping when you awaken because they are so disturbing. Well, at least, that’s how I awaken from them.

“I go to meet my words and feel I bring them back to the surface, unaware that I lead them to their death.
But this is an illusion.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop)

So, I have plans for today, and perhaps putting them out there isn’t the best thing, especially if I have to come back tomorrow and say, “never mind.” But it’s raining, and I’m really trying to accomplish a goal that I’ve set for myself. It might seem silly, that my goal is to put up a tree and to write letters. Maybe normal people can do all of that in the span of a few hours in the morning with their first cup of coffee. And once, I would have done all of that and more by December 5.

My friend Kathleen used to give me a hard time for being so type A over Christmas. I used to vow to have my shopping done and my cards in the mail by the beginning of December. My tree was up and the house decorated by December 15 at the latest. That was another time. Another life. One in which I had boundless energy and a very different outlook on life. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss that version of me. Well, at least the more positive aspects of that person. Some aspects I’d just as soon convey to the ash heap of time

Viking Boat Funeral, via the Good Funeral Guide

That ash heap is very, very tall, and I am reminded of it whenever that stupid commercial comes on that shows a woman climbing a mountain of cigarettes. I understand the symbology, but it’s disgusting, nevertheless (this, of course, from someone who used to smoke occasionally). My ash heap is composed of old letters, bad poems, broken hearts, scents I can no longer recall, and many, many, many regrets.

In some ways, it reminds me of the funeral pyres in India, except that once the body burns, onlookers are left with a sense of freedom and peace that the departed has gone on to a new life. My ash heap has a slow burn, and absolutely nothing is resolved, so maybe not so much like the cleansing cremation fires of the Hindus. Maybe more like the supposed Viking funerals that happen in movies: a slow-moving vessel floating out to sea, the flaming arrows shot and hitting home, and no one really knows if the person makes it to Valhalla or just disappears into the flowing waters.

Sorry. Morbid? Then you’ll love the Lorca poem below . . .

More later. Peace. 


Music by Fever Ray, “If I Had a Heart” (still miss Ragnar)


Gacela of Dark Death

I want to sleep the sleep of apples,
far from the tumult of cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

I don’t wish to hear that the dead lose no blood;
that the shattered mouth still begs for water.
don’t wish to know of torments granted by grass,
nor of the moon with the serpent’s mouth
that goes to work before dawn.

I want to sleep for a while,
a while, a minute, a century;
as long as all know I am not dead;
that in my lips is a golden manger;
that I’m the slight friend of the West Wind;
that I’m the immense shadow of tears.

Cover me, at dawn, with a veil
since she’ll hurl at me fistfuls of ants;
and wet my shoes with harsh water,
so her scorpion’s sting will slide by.

For I want to sleep the sleep of apples
learn a lament that will cleanse me of earth;
for I want to live with that hidden child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

~ Federico García Lorca

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“Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx.” ~ Claudia Rankine, from Citizen: An American Lyric

French apartment of a Mrs. DeFlorian, found unchanged for 70 years.*

“The wind of longing blows to your right, from the orange groves, and to your left, from the sea salt. A fog, approaching the chambers of your heart from the north, makes it difficult for memory to distinguish what is private from what is public ” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Saturday afternoon, cloudy and cold, 34 degrees, winter storm warning.

I spent the entire day yesterday alone, just the animals and me. It’s the first full day into evening that I’ve been entirely alone. I didn’t mind it. It made me think of how originally the plan was that Corey would go to sea for a few months, and I would be here alone with the animals. I was fully prepared to embrace that, although I’m not sure if Corey believed that.

Marthe DeFlorian painting by Giovanni Boldini found in apartment

Before moving here permanently, I wrestled with the idea of loneliness versus being alone, and truthfully being alone does not make me feel lonely. I know, though, that if I had been in a better place with both of my sons before I left, that it might be different, that the loneliness might be more present. I mean, the person I miss the most is Alexis. I miss seeing her and talking to her, however briefly our encounters might have been. I miss my sons constantly, but it’s not so immediate as the lack of my daughter, if that makes sense. The way in which I miss them is an internal ache that is always there, but I have become accustomed to it.

I never thought that I would be saying something like that.

But as far as being lonely? No, not so much. I miss fast access to any kind of food and easy access to my physicians. I miss the idea of living in Norfolk and being able to see my parents’ house anytime I needed to, or being able to ride over to where my other mother used to live just to see the house for a few minutes. I miss those ideas of things.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Hollow Men”

I have always known that I don’t need a lot of people around me. My friends have been few but fast. And as an only child, you become comfortable with the idea of yourself. You have to. No matter how much I told my parents that I wanted siblings when I was a child, I always kind of knew that I’d never have any.

Being an only can be very lonely, but it can also make you able to withstand things that people with siblings might not be able to withstand alone—like death. I never had siblings to lean on during tough times. It was just me, the dogs, and to some extent, my parents. Whenever we lost a dog when I was a child, I grieved alone. I would go into myself and just deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I learned to build walls and had a harder time taking them down. Who knows . . .

Look. I know that for a lot of people siblings are a burden. Not everyone loves, let alone gets along with their siblings. Brothers and/or sisters can be an incredible pain, especially if there is a big age difference, and brothers/sisters who grew up very close can grow apart as years pass. That’s what I saw happen to my sons, who were the best of friends when they were young but who became one another’s nemeses as they got older. That bothered me, but you cannot control your children’s emotions. A hard reality.

Still, I always wanted a sister.

You fear for the present stifled by the hegemony of the past and fear for the past from the absurdity of the present. You do not know where to stand at this crossroads.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Perhaps if I had a sister, this alone thing would be different. I’ll never know now. The person most like a sister to me for so many years is now in a different city, living a different life, and liking me not at all, for a variety of reasons, some of which I will never even know or understand.

But getting back to the idea of loneliness—I do not claim to be immune from the emotion. There have been times when I have been so lonely that I just wanted to find a dark closet and hide. I remember being very lonely in my first marriage. In fact, I remember one day standing at the bedroom window and watching my then spouse drive away, going to work, and just holding my hand to the windowpane and weeping. I don’t remember the why, only the what. It’s not a good memory.

And when our marriage fell apart, I would spend many weekends alone while the kids visited with their father, and the house seemed too big to hold me. In fact, I went to my boss at the time and told him to schedule me for every Saturday because I didn’t have a life. The arrangement worked well for both of us. If I was working, I didn’t have to think about the state of my life, so I worked a lot.

“Rising from the past, my shadow
Is running in silence to meet me.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “The souls of those I love are on high stars” (trans. A. S. Kline)

My job, my career was always important to me, always an extension of my self, but never my total identity once my children were born. But before that, I relished the self-importance of my career, the power, the seeming limitless ways in which I could grow and prosper. The thing is that it was only years later that I realized that while I considered myself a groundbreaking female in a mostly man’s world, my ability to grow and prosper was always hampered by the positions I held simply because I was a woman. Funny, that.

I once had to make the case for being paid more than certain males because I had more education and experience, and they were just out of college. That shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I did win that argument, by the way, but that’s the kind of thing I faced regularly. I know that things have gotten better for women in the workplace, but that’s not to say that sexism does not still exist. We all know that it does . . .

Ah, but that was then, as they say.

Now? Now, I have no job, no career, no profession, unless I own up to the fact that writing is a profession, well, maybe for other people. It’s just that I’ve never made money with my writing, never even tried, even though I’ve had probably hundreds of ideas for books. So I refrain from calling myself a writer because it’s not like I’ve ever done anything with it.

Are you what you were, or what you are now? You fear you will forget tomorrow while mired in the question: In which time do I live?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Which brings me to the Darwish quotes, which are from one longer passage that I broke up for the purposes of this post. It’s this last part really: “Are you what you were, or what you are now?”

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Who am I? Who do I want to be? Is that the same person I wanted to be before or different? In which time do I live?

I live in all of them, really. My past is so intricately woven into my present that it’s impossible to separate them. But my present self is so very different from my past self that sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the two. I care little for money, or fame, or things, or what anyone else has. In fact, more and more, I am genuinely put off by the excesses of life today.

Will I always want to buy and to own books? Of course. But do I need a big house with a separate library just for my books? No. Maybe my answer would be different if I still owned the hundreds and hundreds of books that I once had, but I lost those when we lost the storage unit, so there’s that. Losing a collection like that, over 1,000 books, changes you, definitely.

But possessions? Thousand dollar purses or shoes? What good would they do me? My house is old. My furniture is old. My clothes, for the most part, are old. And you know what? I like old things. It’s another thing that my mother never understood, my love for things with history. If you showed me a brand new chair that was the perfect color of red, and placed an old Queen Anne covered in faded red brocade beside it, there’s no questions to which I would be drawn. History over new. Worn over pristine.

So ultimately, standing at the crossroads between past and present, more than likely I just wouldn’t move, I think, which is why I find myself always wondering in which time I really live.

More later. Peace.

*All images are taken from the former apartment of Mrs. DeFlorian, a Parisian woman who fled before the German occupation of WWII. The apartment was found to be exactly as she left it when it was opened in 2010. For an article on this beautiful artifact, go here.

Music by Julia Brennan, “Inner Demons”


A Person Protests to Fate

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

~ Jane Hirshfield, as found on poets.org

“There is a sense in which we are all each other’s consequences.” ~ Wallace Stegner, from All the Little Live Things

Web Droplets by Martyn Wright FCC
Web Droplets by Martyn Wright (FCC)

 “Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning.” ~ Arundhati Roy, from The God of Small Things

Sunday early evening. Sunny and cooler, 57 degrees.

Drips by Ricardo Camacho FCC
Drips by Ricardo Camacho (FCC)

So much going through my brain, thoughts coming at me, bombarding my senses, leaving me feeling bruised and broken.

Last night as I lay in bed, sleep elusive once again, I began to wonder when it was, exactly, that I lost my strength, my fortitude, as it were. I used to consider myself such a strong person, a person able to weather storms, a person who could take the worst that life heaped on my plate and still, somehow, survive.

But now? Now I cannot find that strength. I search and search, and I only find weakness, and weakness is to be pitied, and pity? Pity is to be scorned. Who wants pity? At least if someone hates you, that hatred encapsulates a strong emotion. Pity bears nothing. It is hollow and useless.

“My mind is blank, as indifferent as the
noonday heat. But images of memories descend from afar and land in
the bowl of water, neutral memories, neither painful nor joyful, such as
a walk in a pine forest, or waiting for a bus in the rain, and I wash them
as intently as if I had a literary crystal vase in my hands.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from “A coloured cloud”

My heart feels old. My soul feels rent. My mind feels spent. And I have to wonder who decided that life should always be hard, that the good days should always have a shadow cast upon them. I have to wonder how other people survive in this world, this world so full of heartbreak and sorrow. How do the strong survive? How do the weak find the strength to try once again?

Rain on a Window Gabriele Diwald FCC
Rain on a Window by Gabrielle Diwald (FCC)

It’s all such a mystery to me. I can discern no patterns. Perhaps all of the patterns I once saw were only an illusion. It’s all too much like a fogged pane of glass, a window that steam has cloaked, and then that steam devolves into rivulets that run down the pane so quickly to nothing.

We sleep. We wake. We love, and we hate. We eat, and we cry, and we make love as if it were the last time. We lie and we steal, and we move against one another. We forge alliances and then just as easily break them. We speak decisively, and we wonder what we speak. We cling and we rend, and we scream until sound fails us. We fall and fall again. We turn and turn again.

“To be left with only the trace of a memory is to gaze at an armchair that’s still molded to the form of a love who has left never to return: it is to grieve, it is to weep.” ~ Orhan Pamuk, from The Black Book

At different points in my life, I have felt as if I knew exactly what fate had in store for me. So clear was the way ahead. So determined was the heart beating in my breast. And then at other times I have felt as if the roads that I took were actually part of one large labyrinth, seeming to move in one direction, when in actuality, every path reached a dead end.

Water Drops by Jo Naylor FCC
Water Drops by Jo Naylor (FCC)

The people around me search for answers and find none. The man on the corner, holding the tattered piece of cardboard declaring his humble wishes, talks to me of kittens. The woman moving so sure-footed down the hallway stops in her forward progress to ask if I need help. The son walks past me as if he does not see me until I call his name.

And you there, on the bed you have made, how does it feel? Was it everything you ever wanted? Or was it full of briars and thorns, hidden amidst the down?

“you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.” ~ Louise Glück, from “The Sensual World”

I speak in riddles because that it the only way I know through. Perhaps if I meander enough, I will once more find my way. Or perhaps if I meander too much, I will find myself completely lost.

Peony in Rain by James Mann FCC
Peony in Rain by James Mann (FCC)

The shore is not calm, and the moon is not high, and all of the stars in the universe are hidden from me because they contain truth. And this truth they have scattered here and there, placed a grain here in this broken shell, and another one there, in the knothole of that oak. I know this because I once found truth in the discarded hull of a walnut, and when I looked closely, I saw that its center was shaped like a heart. And I thought to myself, “At last. Here it is, at last.”

And I thought to place that small wooden heart safely under my pillow, where it would conjure restful nights of sleep and dreams, but when my fingers sought beneath my pillow, it was gone.

Truth is like that.

“There’s no understanding fate;” ~ Albert Camus, from “Caligula”

One day, I may actually find my place in this world, but more than likely not. I have no more right to peace of mind than the woman in line behind me at the grocery store, even though she seems to have found her calm place through Dr. Pepper and potato chips.

Rainy Day by Keshav Mukund Kandhadai FCC
Rainy Day by Keshav Mukund Kandhadai (FCC)

Can it be bought, this peace of mind? Can I find it amid the words I finger on the screen, as if prying them loose would free them to become realities? Is it hidden in the pages of sonnets an old lover once gifted me, or is it there, among the cornflowers growing absently in the cracked pavement of the parking lot?

Milton lost paradise, and I have yet to find it, but I came close once, so very close . . . but too soon I found that it had only been my imagination, running rampant once again. And so I stand at the shore, tempering my pulse to beat with the outgoing tide—its fierce syncopation ultimately forcing air into my lungs, even as I try to cease the sweep of time’s second hand none too well, if not at all.

More later. Peace.

Music by Angus and Julia Stone, “Draw Your Swords”

                   

It Rains

It rains
over the sand, over the roof
the theme
of the rain:
the long l s of rain fall slowly
over the pages
of my everlasting love,
this salt of every day:
rain, return to your old nest,
return with your needles to the past:
today I long for the whitest space,
winter’s whiteness for a branch
of green rosebush and golden roses:
something of infinite spring
that today was waiting, under a cloudless sky
and whiteness was waiting,
when the rain returned
to sadly drum
against the window,
then to dance with unmeasured fury
over my heart and over the roof,
reclaiming
its place,
asking me for a cup
to fill once more with needles,
with transparent time,
with tears.

~ Pablo Neruda

“Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter’s evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from Night and Day

Ferdynand Ruszczyc Bajka zimowa 1904
“Bajka zimowa (Winter Fairytale)” (1904)
by Ferdynand Ruszczyc

“Go down to the place in you where fire and silence dwell—the place of power . . .” ~ Anne Powell, from Going Deeper

Saturday late afternoon. Sunny and cold, 34 degrees.

Hello. Once again, a bit of a break between posts. I can only say that for some reason, my cough has returned, and for the past two days, I have been little more than a blob. It could be the drastically falling temperatures, or it could be anything. I hate so much to be sick while Corey is home because it seems like such a waste of our measured time together. Having said that, there is little than I can do when my body rebels.

Ferdynand Ruszczyc  Młyn w zimie  1902
“Młyn w zimie (Mill in Winter)” (1902, oil on canvas)
by Ferdynand Ruszczyc

The Botox injections that I was supposed to get earlier in the week did not happen, and I cannot say that I am surprised. Yet another glitch on the provider’s end, and now to complicate matters, since it is the new year, my old insurance with my former employer is going away, and Corey’s insurance is now my primary, at least until my Medicare kicks in in conjunction with my SS disability.

It’s all just to much folderol. The nurse at my pain management practice has been working tirelessly since October to get my Botox approved, and now she has to start all over with a new insurance. I feel terrible about putting her through this, but I am also less than happy with my former insurance as I paid for that Botox already, and they are not sending it.

Of course, the ensuing migraine was predictable . . .

“Words or wax, no end
to our self-shaping, our forlorn
awareness at the end of which
is only more awareness.
Was ever truth so malleable?
Arid, inadhesive bits of matter.” ~ C. K. Williams, from “Lost Wax”

So it is January 10, ten days into the new year, and I already find myself in that time loop in which I seem to exist most of the time. Ever since my mother’s death last January, all of 2014 was a blur, and I never quite knew what day it was, let alone what month. And then finishing the year with a truly brutal bout of bronchitis left me floundering so much that I now find myself in the second week of January, and I have yet to write 2015 on anything.

Ferdynand Ruszczyc Pejzaż ze stogami Ok 1897 oil on canvas
“Pejzaż ze stogami Ok (Landscape with Stacks)” (1897, oil on canvas)
by Ferdynand Ruszczyc

I did get many, many trigger point injections in lieu of the Botox, and I was left with lumps in weird places where the muscles had seized. The best thing for it, though, is a hot bath, which, in my view, is one of the best things for just about anything that ails one.

So each night, I force my body into a bath as hot as I can bear, and then I soak until the water begins to cool. It’s that whole affinity for water that Aquarians have. It has always been there. I have pleasant memories of soaking in the tub in my mother’s house while my friend Sarah sat and talked to me. It never struck me as a strange way to have a conversation.

Have no idea where that memory came from.

“I can remember looking at the stars in the summertime, for instance, and feeling a tremendous sorrow from simply knowing that they are not permanent; the stars can blow up, can crumple, go away. And somehow that idea of the end of things, the changeability of things entered my mind, and my psyche, and my imagination at a very early stage. It was connected with a kind of universal sorrow that I perceived in nature everywhere, and in human nature everywhere.” ~ Anna Kamienska, from “In That Great River,” trans. Clare Cavanagh

Last night I dreamed of the department store and doing massive markdowns, the bane of any manager’s existence in retail, and one of the other managers with whom I had a shaky relationship at best kept showing up in the dream, making the whole sequence yet another painful reminder of another close chapter in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to reopen that particular chapter of my life as the entire thing was a pure accident in the first place.

Ferdynand Ruszczyc Most zimą most winter 1901 oil on canvas
“Most zimą (Most Winter) (1901, oil on canvas)
by Ferdynand RUszczyc

Alexis was out of school with a very bad case of mono and a secondary virus, and once she went back to school, I decided to pick up an interim job until I could find something in my field. So I applied at the new big mall downtown, and landed a retail job, something I never wanted. Anyway, I ended up overstaying my time there, and the entire situation became riddled with bad memories, with the sole good thing to arise from that period being finding Corey.

Looking at it philosophically, I suppose that was the whole reason I was there as had I never accepted the position, we would never have crossed paths, and that, in my estimation, would have been tragic.

“Nights have a habit of mysterious gifts and refusals,
of things half given away, half withheld,
of joys with a dark hemisphere. Nights act
that way, I tell you.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, from “Two English Poems”

So we have spent our fourteenth Christmas together. The first one we spent in Ohio, and boy was that a scary proposition—meeting his family, in particular, his father, who I was quite certain would not like me at all. I remember just about every aspect of that visit, but what stands out in my memory the most, and you’ll pardon me if this sounds strange, is New Year’s Eve, which Corey and I spent in his brother’s hot tub.

Ferdynand Ruszczyc Krzyż w śniegu 1902
“Krzyż w śniegu (The Cross in the Snow)” (1902, oil on canvas)
by Ferdynand Ruszczyc

The air was cold, and the water was hot, and it was a lovely night, and ever since, I have yearned to have a hot tub that we could sit in and look at the night sky together. Perhaps one day if we do finally make it to the mountains and build our house. I can hope . . .

Anyway, our years together have ebbed and flowed as with any relationship, yet I still adore the man I married, still have a strong desire to have him all to myself when he is home for his three weeks, and I suppose that’s a good thing, albeit selfish, yet my feelings have only strengthened through the years, and sometimes I have to stop and remind myself of just how much time has actually passed.

I’m not exactly certain how I ended up on this tangent. Perhaps it’s that whole memory time loop thing I was trying to describe in the first section.

“With the silky hands of longing you tame distance as you make borrowed stars the roof of your sky . . . .” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from “In the Presence of Absence,” trans. Sinan Antoon

So anyway, I’m hoping that since I feel better today that I am not relapsing. Would that I could get back to some kind of rhythm with this blog and with my tumblr and not least of which, with writing poems again.

I haven’t had any words come to me in several weeks, and that is quite disheartening as I was so beginning to enjoy the creative spurts that have eluded me for years. With any luck, once I have kicked this illness-generated ennui, I might be able to make a foray into 2015 with a little more creativity.

Ferdynand Ruszczyc Młyn zimą 1897
“Młyn zimą (Mill in Winter) (1897, oil on canvas)
by FerdynandRuszczyc

Wishing and hoping . . . wasn’t that a song?

So Corey leave on Monday, a day earlier than usual because he came home a day early because of Christmas. I’ll have to try to get back into some kind of routine in helping out with Olivia and helping out with ferrying Em to campus and just generally muddling through the next 21 days. It’s not as if there aren’t hundreds of little things that need to be taken care of around here, not the last of which are taxes . . . insert audible groan here. Not even going to expound on that for now.

But chances are good that instead of taking care of things, I’ll spend at least half of my time immersed in more books and more binge-watching of the backlog on the cable DVR. And you know what? I don’t feel guilty about that because it’s what keeps me somewhat sane.

Here’s hoping your year has begun with more productivity than mine.

More later. Peace.

All images are by Polish painter and printmaker Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870–1936), because, well, snow. It should snow . . .

Music by Mecca Kalani, “Feel Me”

                   

Snowshoe to Otter Creek

love lasts by not lasting
~ Jack Gilbert

I’m mapping this new year’s vanishings:
lover, yellow house, the knowledge of surfaces.
This is not a story of return.
There are times I wish I could erase
the mind’s lucidity, the difficulty of Sundays,
my fervor to be touched
by a woman two Februarys gone. What brings the body
back, grieved and cloven, tromping these woods
with nothing to confide in? New snow reassumes
the circleting trees, the bridge above the creek
where I stand like a stranger to my life.
There is no single moment of loss, there is
an amassing. The disbeliever sleeps at an angle
in the bed. The orchard is a graveyard.
Is this the real end? Someone shoveling her way out
with cold intention? Someone naming her missing?

~ Stacie Cassarino

 

“Memory swells our reflections.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from ” Mural”

Hovsep Pushman Reflections 2, oil on board 1920s
“Reflections 2” (1920s, oil on board)
by Hovsep Pushman

 “I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those who have a memory are able live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none don’t live anywhere.” ~ Patricio Guzmán, from Nostalgia for the Light

Sunday afternoon. Sunny and not so cold, 50 degrees.

So late last night I wrote another poem. I’ve had the first line in my head for about a week, mulling it over, and then it came to me. It’s about my mom, so I really can’t tell if it’s any good. But I like the title . . .

Anyway, I’m hoping to put up the tree today, but I’m at the mercy of my sons, so I’m not counting on it. You see, Corey took all of the Christmas stuff—decorations, wrapping paper, tree—and put it in my mom’s garage, which is huge. I need all of it to come back over here. Alexis still has Corey’s truck, although I found out that Mike’s been driving it, which doesn’t make sense because it costs a fortune to fill up, but the Lex saga continues unabated, and I don’t want to talk about that right now.

Hovsep Pushman The Violets of Yesterday
“The Violets of Yesterday” (1920s-30s, oil)
by Hovsep Pushman

But because I don’t have the truck, I need Eamonn’s SUV. Unfortunately, on Friday, one of Eamonn’s closest friends died. I don’t know the circumstances yet, but I’m really hoping it wasn’t a suicide. So Eamonn is pretty devastated, and I don’t want to push him to bring over everything, even though he said earlier that he would help.

Brett and Em are coming over to do the outside lights, and they are bringing some stuff with them, but he can’t fit a lot into that old Honda, so I have no idea what I’m going to have here and what’s going to still be in the garage, and so once again, everything is much more complicated than it should be, and stressing over it and everything else is not helping me to get in the holiday spirit, as it were.

“Longing is not memory, but rather what is selected from memory’s museum. Longing is selective, like an adept gardener. It is the replaying of a memory after its blemishes have been removed.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish

So perhaps I shall turn the rest of this into a random thoughts post . . . yes . . . why not?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Harmony in Silver and Green” (nd, oil on panel, detail)
by Hovsep Pushman
  • I have read that a movie is on the horizon called Big Eyes, or something like that; it is based on those pictures of children with huge eyes, popular in the 60s, I think.
  • I have never understood the attraction of those images, but I remember that one of the grocery stores that my mom frequented gave away reproductions.
  • That was when you could actually get encyclopedias and such for coupons earned on purchases. (Remember green stamps? I do, vaguely) . . .
  • Apparently the artist (Keane) who became famous for painting those images did not actually paint them. His wife did.
  • Another woman shafted by the system.
  • Those pictures always freaked me out as a kid.
  • The irony is that today, most cartoons and comics (especially Asian anime) feature characters with over-sized eyes.
  • I still find that kind of characterization creepy.

“Memory belongs to the imagination.” ~ Alain Robbe-Grillet, from The Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction, No. 91”

So since this post is kind of about memory, here are a few more random ones:

Hovsep Pushman Statue, Vase and Bowl color lithograph
“Still Life: Vase and Bowl” (nd, oil)
by Hovsep Pushman
  • The first bit of verse that I memorized: “Where the bee sucks, there suck I: /In a cowslip’s bell I lie;”
  • It was by Shakespeare; I was seven or eight.
  • The first book of poetry that I ever owned: A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • I think that it was given to me right before we moved to the Philippines after my father retired from the Navy.
  • I once thought about memorizing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Just to see if I could.
  • I was 11.
  • I remember the first line of a truly dreadful poem that I wrote in the 9th grade: “I, am nothing, without you”
  • I thought that putting the commas in would give me pauses.

“Nothing is left of that time beyond memories, only a faint remembering.” ~ Cesare Pavese

Hovsep Pushman Reflections oil on panel
“Reflections” (nd, oil on panel)
by Hovsep Pushman

Do you want to know something ironic? I think my memories of my early life are more easily accessible than my memories of the last ten years.

  • My mother once put me up to engaging my father in conversation in a very proper British accent while Dad was talking to someone else.
  • I did it. I remember I began with, “Father, dear. Mummy has . . .”
  • That’s all I remember of that, but can you imagine how strange that man must have thought I was, how strange our family was?
  • I once spent about four weeks speaking in nothing but a Cockney accent
  • It became so much of a habit that I actually answered the phone by saying, “‘Ello, luv.”
  • I really should have been on the stage.
  • Speaking of which, I gave serious thought to moving to New York right after high school graduation, but I’m pretty sure my mother talked me out of it.
  • As someone who loved to pretend and act, how did I end up with three kids who are all afraid to be on a stage?

“I was going to be a memory when I grew up.” ~ Alejandro Zambra, from Ways of Going Home

Let’s bring this full circle:

Hovsep Pushman Silence Oil on canvas
“Silence” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Hovsep Pushman
  • When I was about 8 or 9, my mother told me that I could marry the Prince of Wales.
  • Where did my mother get her airs from?
  • She never got over leaving London and coming back to the states.
  • I wish she had gone back to London for a visit, yet I’m glad that she didn’t because the London of today is nothing like the London of my childhood.
  • I just had a flash of a wild memory: My dad shipped his convertible to London when he was transferred there. We used to go on country drives on Sunday, you know, family, friends, picnics . . . I had seen in some movie how this glamorous woman sat up on the back seat of the convertible and let the wind blow through her hair. You guessed it, while no one was paying any attention to me, I got up on the back seat (on the part that housed the folded soft top) and sat there for a good part of the drive until my mother turned around and saw me.
  • I still wonder if my dad saw me in the rear view mirror and didn’t do anything because he thought it was funny.
  • No seat belts for us.
  • I guess I got my airs from my mother and movies.

My new poem is below. I’ve also included a particularly beautiful poem by Philip Shultz, not because I’m comparing mine to his, but because I love how it ties in to the idea of memory.

More later. Peace.

All images are by Armenian artist Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966).

Music by Memoryhouse, “Old Haunts (Aurora Remix)”

                   

Shopping at Wal-Mart the Week before Christmas

It all began with the Almond Rocha, you see,
the richly colored pink and gold tin
I took from the shelf without thinking,
one of my mother’s favorites, even though
each time I gifted her this sweet,
I was sure to hear a weary sigh
followed by the words,
I have diabetes, you know,
even as she dug into the can
for one of the gold, foil-wrapped
butter crunch toffees, as if somehow
the knowledge of her condition
had slipped my mind
sometime since the last time
she had reminded me
of the circumstance she herself
ignored so judiciously,
but every Christmas
I would give her a large tin
because it was the only present
I was sure she wouldn’t hate, the only one
that wouldn’t have to go back to the store
for one reason or another,
and I’ll let you in
on another little secret—
I didn’t find a single empty tin
when I spent those long winter days
erasing her from the home
in which she had spent almost
a half century, not one
nestled among the endless packs
of charity greeting cards
with their insipid messages,
not a single one
hidden among the baskets
filled with long-dried bingo markers
in red and green and blue,
not even one left neglected
in the old bar, where funnily enough,
I found an almost empty bottle of tequila
and a very dusty liqueur bottle
shaped like a monk.
So I replaced the new tin on the shelf,
among all the other holidays confections,
left my half-filled cart
of soaps, nail polish,
and lemons, and promptly
walked out into the night
before the memory of her voice
could catch me.

L. Liwag
December 14, 2014

                   

Talking to Ourselves

A woman in my doctor’s office last week
couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,
the difference between dog and deer ticks,
how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie
with her at night in the summer grass, singing
Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only
the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.

Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,
stopped under our lopsided maple to explain
how his wife of sixty years died last month
of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to
his longing reach across the darkness with
each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.

This morning my five-year-old asked himself
why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood
he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,
but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.

When my father’s vending business was failing,
he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips
silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.
He didn’t care that I was there, listening,
what he was saying was too important.

“Too important,” I hear myself saying
in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,
and my wife looks up from her reading
and asks, “What’s that you said?”

~ Philip Schultz

“Time has frozen. It sits on me, choking me.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from Memory for Forgetfulness

Balthus Window, Cour de Rohan 1951 oil on canvas
“Window, Cour de Rohan” (1951, oil on canvas)
by Balthus

“She was looking at the window. The words sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves. She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside herself, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her mind while she said different things.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from To The Lighthouse

Saturday evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 41 degrees.

Pablo Picasso View of Riera de Sant Joan from the Window 1900 oil on wood
“View of Riera de Sant Joan from the Window” (1900, oil on wood)
by Pablo Picasso

I have spent most of the day on the computer, dabbling, as it were, and in between, another poem, another few lines. I am more grateful for this wellspring than I let on, too afraid of the day on which no words come, too afraid that that day will be the beginning of many more days, the beginning of years before more poems come again, if they come at all.

So I pretend on here that it’s really no big deal that I am again writing poems, downplay their appearance as mere happenstance. But you, dear reader, see through it all. Don’t you?

All the Silences I’ve Been Inclined To

“Story inclines to moment.
Moment inclines to silence.” ~ Source unknown

Within the steady beat of the metronome
lies the fiction of appearances:
real time is never so evenly spaced.
It moves slowly, like a rush hour freeway,
or skips entire days in a leap,
leaving Tuesday afternoon
only to move headlong into Friday night

Four-four time is a falsehood,
a myth about common time
based on countable seconds,
but I have yet to come upon
a single late afternoon
without struggling for air
somewhere around 2 pm.

And though I might contemplate
the silences of the minutes
between midnight and dawn,
I don’t think I’ll ever really understand
how so much nothingness
can claim us abruptly
like New Year’s eve fireworks
ablaze too soon.

L. Liwag
November 15, 2014

                   

Music by Rosi Golan, “Everything is Brilliant”

“If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish

e. e. cummings Bench in Oregon by Tony the Misfit (FCC)


“Often what I need is even a darker darkness.” ~ Valzhyna Mort, from “Mocking Bird Hotel

Thursday evening. Low 70’s, humid.

Brighton Beach Bench by Elsie esq. (FCC)

I have not been writing, not only because of my emotional state, but also because my left hand seems to have frozen or something. It’s not carpal tunnel, but it may be a recurrence of De Quervain’s tynosynovitis, or what used to be known as washer woman’s hand. It’s a syndrome that is akin to carpal tunnel, but is focused on the thumb.

All I know is that I’ve been wearing an immobilizing brace on both my wrists, but my left wrist is definitely much worse. I have an appointment with the pain doctor on Tuesday. When I called to see if I could get in this week, they told me that everyone, everyone was on vacation. Glad it’s not an emergency.

So keyboarding is quite painful, as is anything else involving my wrist, which is . . . just about everything. I’ve been swallowing ibuprofen like they are Sweet Tarts, and it gives me a bit of relief, which I am taking advantage of at this moment to try to put together a post.

Earlier today my mother called and scared the crap out of me. I thought that she had had a stroke, and of course, no vehicle. I called Alexis, who eventually got here and drove me over. I didn’t call 911 because I had mom do the basic tests for a stroke while I was on the phone with her. If you don’t know what these are, you should. The acronym to remember is FAST:

  • FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side droop downwards?
  • ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms above the head. Does one arm drift downward?
  • SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange (nonsensical)?
  • TIME: If you observe any of these symptoms, call 911

Fortunately, she did not exhibit any of the above. She had been sick to her stomach and dizzy. I reminded her that she had some nausea medicine. When I got to her house, I had her do the tests again, and she was fine. Her blood pressure was fine as was her blood sugar. My blood pressure, however, was way above normal.

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer . . . and everything collapses.” ~ Colette

Empty Bench by lovstromp (FCC)

So other than that bit of excitement, I’ve been trying to stay busy, but it’s not really working. I have so much paperwork that I need to do. I started it during the hurricane while we didn’t have electricity. I thought that mundane tasks were as good as anything else to do to pass the time. Of course, I didn’t finish it, and everything is in a neat pile on the dining room table (which I cleaned, also during the hurricane).

I found out that my lifelong friend Sarah suffered severe damage from Irene. Unfortunately, she suffered severe damage from the last hurricane to hit this area, and once again, she is without a livable abode. Thankfully, her mother still lives in the area, just down the street from my mom.

The top of the oak tree from the backyard is over the fence and into the bush hedge that separates the park from the houses in this neighborhood. Corey hasn’t tried his chainsaw yet to see if it works. Here’s hoping that it will work because a chainsaw is the only thing that’s going to work.

I hadn’t realized that so much of the tree had fallen. In my mind, I thought that it was just a piece of the tree, so Corey kept giving me funny looks when I suggested he just use his grappling hook to move the branch. Later, when I actually saw the damage, I realized that there is no grappling hook big enough to move that tree top. We’re talking about twelve or so feet of tree trunk with branches.

I need to call our homeowner’s policy holder as I learned that we can still get flood insurance, but it won’t be valid until 30 days after we sign up. Still, we really need to get it, and we just never seem to think about it until it’s too late. I think that we’ll be able to get a policy for under $400, but don’t ask me why that particular number is in my head. I could be imagining things again.

“The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.” ~ Isak Dinesen

Old Wooden Bench Overlooking the Aegean Sea by horia varlan (FCC)

Ann saw the lawyer yesterday to clarify disposition of the house. She/we want to make sure the evil stepmother cannot lay any claims on it. It’s the type of thing that she would do, too, stick her unwanted nose into family business of which she is not a part. I’m more family than she is.

As it turns out, the divorce agreement could be interpreted in one of two ways, so the lawyer suggested that Ann and Paul go talk to their father to clarify what his wishes are. I have no doubts that he will do the right thing as long as his wife does not butt in.

Can you tell that she just burns me? Yes, I dislike her that intensely, for numerous reasons.

I’ve written my eulogy for the memorial service, which is on September 10. I also have written a poem, which I may or may not post here, still not sure. Ann and I have decided that after the service, we’re going back to her mom’s house and drink wine, perhaps for hours and hours. That is how I feel at the moment: I don’t want to feel.

Nothing is real to me yet. I still have yet to grieve, still have not cried. I just can’t.

All that I feel is a continuous dull pain in my chest. I recognize this pain, know it for what it is: the wall between then and now. It is taking every bit of my fortitude to hold up that wall.

Please do not tell me that I need to let myself cry. I remember running into Caitlin’s doctors in the hospital away from her room, and the two of them said (her two female neurosurgeons with whom I had developed a relationship of sorts) that I should just let myself cry. I remember looking at them and saying that once I started I wasn’t sure that I could stop.

It sounds stupid, not thinking that you will be able to stop crying, but it’s a very real feeling—that taking that one step into the void will be irreversible, because it will. Trust me. I know.

“He wanted to cry quietly, but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.” ~ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Bench in Mobile, AL, Botanical Garden by Alwright1 (FCC)

I’m going to put together a collage of family pictures to put on display at the memorial. I told Ann that I would do it. Of course, I haven’t started it. That would be the responsible thing to do.

I’m just kind of treading water here. I get up from the bed, walk into the kitchen and look around, walk back into the bedroom, look around, completely forget what I was going to do. I sit down to this keyboard and then nothing . . .  absolutely nothing. Whatever I was thinking of doing or reading or writing is gone within seconds.

To be perfectly honest, I just zoned. I took my eyes from the screen for two seconds, and when I looked back, I couldn’t remember my train of thought.

It’s a state of perpetual hold, like being on hold with a utility company and hearing bad music over and over again until the best solution seems to be to bang your head against the wall, any wall, to make the stupid, inane songs stop, and then, just when you think the interminable wait is over, and that someone is going to respond to your needs, there is a click, and the soundtrack starts over again.

I think that I understand why people actually pull out their hair. Anything is better than this nothing.

Sorry to be so morose. It simply can’t be helped.

More later. Peace.

Music by Jets Overhead, “Where Did You Go?”

                   

Meaning

When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
—And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
—Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.

~ Czeslaw Milosz