“Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”
The murmuring of starlings is foremost in my mind. Their beautiful blackness, the harmony of their dips and sways. To have that ability, to move like that. Untethered. Wheeling to and fro. Sky and air, and nothing in between. Someday, I will see this. Someday.
And as it’s going
And as it’s going often at love’s breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.
~ Anna Akhmatova
Their song is almost painful the way it
penetrates the air—above the haze and
level of the fields a thin line drawn. A
wire. Where the birdcall goes to ground. But I’d
stand anyway under the oaks lining
the road and whistle, tireless with chances,
tossing, by the handful, the crushed stone.
All of them answered, none of them came down.
By evening there’d be hundreds filling the
trees past hearing, black along the branches.
They’d go off with the guns like buckshot, black,
filling the sky, falling. I held my ears.
The holes in the air closed quickly, then healed.
Birds were bloodless, like smoke, wind in a fleld—
But not to be confused with the cowbird,
its brown head, its conical sparrow’s bill,
nor with the red-wing, which is obvious,
even showy, blood or birthmark, nor with
the boat-tailed grackle—though at dusk, when they
gathered from the north, they were all blackbirds.
They were what the night brought, and the blown leaves,
and the cloud come down in the rain. The ease
of it, the way summer could be ending.
When I found one one morning it was the
color of oil in a pool of water,
bronze, blue-green, still shining. The parts that were
missing were throwaway, breast and belly
and the small ink and eye-ring of the eye—
Not to be compared with the last native
wild pigeon, trap shot high in Pike County,
Ohio, the fourth day of spring, nineteen
hundred—thirty years after the harvest
of millions fllled the buffalo trains east.
They were, by report, “the most numerous
bird ever to exist on earth,” what the
Narragansett called Wuskowhan, the blue
dove, the wanderer, whose flight is silent.
Not to be compared with the smaller, wild
mourning dove, which haunted the afternoon,
which you heard all day till dark. They
were the sound in my sleep those long naps home,
the last train calling down the line in time—
Sometimes, at the far end of a pasture,
the burdock and buckwheat thick as the grass
along the hedgework, you could still find nests,
some fallen, some you had to climb to. They
were a kind of evidence, a kind of
science, sticks, straw, and brilliant bits of glass.
My mother had a hat like that, feathered
flawed—she’d bought it used. It was intricate
and jewelled, the feathers scuffed like a jay’s,
and so stiff you could’ve carried water.
The millinery species is over.
Those nests had nothing in them. Still, sometimes
I’d wait until the autumn light was gone,
the sky half eggshell, half a starling’s wing—
Not to be compared with the fluted voice,
the five phrases in different pitches
of the thrush, the one Whitman heard, and Keats.
Stumus vulgaris vulgaris—not to
be confused with the soft talk and music.
the voice that calls the spirit from the wood.
Those that stayed the winter sat the chimney
to keep warm, and cried down the snow to fly
against the cold. They were impossible.
They’d be dead before spring, or disappear
into the white air.—Not to be confused
with the black leaves whirling up the windward
side of the house, caught in the chimney smoke,
the higher the more invisible—
I saw them cover the sky over a
building once, and storm an alley. They were
a gathering, whole. Yet on the window
sill, individual, stealing the grain
I put there, they’d almost look at me through
the glass. Something magical, practical.
They’d even graze the ground for what had dropped.
I wished for one to come into the house,
and left the window open just enough.
None ever did. That was another year.
What is to be feared is emptiness and
nothing to fill it. I threw a stone or
I didn’t throw a stone is one language—
the vowel is a small leaf on the tongue.
What if a sleek, grey-feathered nuthatch
flew from a tree and offered to perch
on your left shoulder, accompany you
on all your journeys? Nowhere fancy,
just the brief everyday walks, from garage
to house, from house to mailbox, from
the store to your car in the parking lot.
The slight pressure of small claws
clasping your skin, a flutter of wings
every so often at the edge of vision.
And what if he never asked you to be
anything? Wouldn’t that be so much
nicer than being alone? So much easier
than trying to think of something to say?
~ Kirsten Dierking
Whenever we noticed her
standing in the stream, still
as a branch in dead air, we
would grab our binoculars,
watch her watching,
her eye fixed on the water
slowly making its own way
around stumps, over a boulder,
under some leaves matted against
a fallen log. She seemed
to appear, stand, peer, then
lift one leg, stretch it, let
a foot quietly settle into the mud
then pull up her other foot, settle
it, and stare again, each step
tendered, an ideogram at the end
of a calligrapher’s brush.
Every time she arrived, we watched
until, as if she had suddenly heard
a call in the sky, she would bend
her knees, raise her wide wings,
and lift into the welcome grace
of the air, her legs extending
back behind her, wings rising
and falling elegant under the clouds:
For more than a week now
we have not seen her. We watch
the sky, hoping to catch her great
feathered cross moving above the trees.
“Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
~ Mary Oliver, from “The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers”
Now you’d be three,
I said to myself,
seeing a child born
the same summer as you.
Now you’d be six,
or seven, or ten.
I watched you grow
in foreign bodies.
Leaping into a pool, all laughter,
or frowning over a keyboard,
but mostly just standing,
taller each time.
How splendid your most
mundane action seemed
in these joyful proxies.
I often held back tears.
Now you are twenty-one.
Finally, it makes sense
that you have moved away
into your own afterlife.
~ Dana Gioia
My Friend Says
When my friend says he’s
Walking closer to sadness
I know he means his own
Yet I also know precisely
What he means & he means
The gods he once admired
Because for so long they
Seemed to admire him
Have emptied their quivers
Into his flesh his very flesh
& he says this to me
Because he knows I too stood
In this exact moonlight
Stripped of every possibility
& divine protection
Except for a silver medallion
Of St. Sebastian hanging
Like a noose around my neck
& if the night that night was
A mirror then I believe so too
Was I the plain reflection
Of the long sadness of my friend
Alfie (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) May 2000 – May 2013 Brother of Shakes (William Shakespeare)
Day of Grief
I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window
where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies
outside just to love him or maybe only
simply a kiss for he was hurrying home
to fight a broom and I was trying to open
a door with one hand while the other was swinging
tomatoes, and you could even smell the corn
for corn travels by wind and there was the first
hint of cold and dark though it was nothing
compared to what would come, and someone should mark
the day, I think it was August 20th, and
that should be the day of grief for grief
begins then and the corn man starts to shiver
and crows too and dogs who hate the wind
though grief would come later and it was a relief
to know I wasn’t alone, but be as it may,
since it was cold and dark I found myself singing
the brilliant love songs of my other religion.
~ Gerald Stern
Music by Anderson East, featuring Jill Andrews, “Say Anything”
“But I know some part of me is always busy with some part of the landscape . . . ” ~ Orhan Pamuk
Friday leftovers: making a path through nature . . .
As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together
and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.
Imperceptibly heaving with the old impatience, it knows
for certain that two horses walk upon it, weary of hay.
The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design
how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence every day.
This is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp,
and they turn from his nuzzling with irritation. Everything
is crying out. Two crows, rising from the hill, fight
and caw-cry in mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass
bewildered by their weight. A dozen wasps drone, tiny prop planes,
sputtering into a field the farmer has not yet plowed,
and what I thought was a phone, turned down and ringing,
is the knock of a woodpecker for food or warning, I can’t say.
I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone.
But in this world, where something is always listening, even
murmuring has meaning, as in the next room you moan
in your sleep, turning into late morning. My love, this might be
all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget
what you are. There will come a day when the meadow will think
suddenly, water, root, blossom, through no fault of its own,
and the horses will lie down in daisies and clover. Bedeviled,
human, your plight, in waking, is to choose from the words
that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled
among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.
~ Marie Howe
Music by The Stevenson Ranch Davidians, “Cosmic Blues”
“Beneath my consciousness I’m sad. And I write these carelessly written lines not to say this and not to say anything, but to give my distraction something to do. I slowly cover, with the soft strokes of a dull pen (I’m not sentimental enough to sharpen it), the white sandwich paper . . . for it suits me just fine, as would any other paper, as long as it was white. And I feel satisfied. I lean back. The afternoon comes to a monotonous and rainless close, in an uncertain and despondent tone of light. And I stop writing because I stop writing.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from chapter 66 “With a Shrug”
Saturday, late afternoon. Cloudy and cold, 44 degrees.
My tumblr dash today was filled with incredible quotes, passages and artwork, which might seem like a good thing, and it is, but it makes it so hard to narrow my choices. I ended up opening a draft post just to paste in about 12 quotes and three poems to use at a later date. I am so glad that I decided to start following people on tumblr as it makes the framing job for my posts much easier, providing me with words and images and inspiration—all at once.
I know that the above quote is a bit long, but I couldn’t really find any part of it that I wanted to leave out, hence, all of it.
I think that I’ve stopped playing with my new theme for now. I got some feedback, and I changed my header image to one taken by Veronica McLaughlin at Titirangi Storyteller, just added my blog name in a new font. All in all, I think that I’m rather pleased with the combination, so I’ll leave everything for now . . . she says not quite believing herself . . .
“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Today”
I’m of two minds about poet Mary Oliver: Some of her work really moves me, and then some of her work seems almost formulaic. But this particular passage is quite apropos as regards my mood today. Part of me really wants to just go back to bed and lie there with a cold pack on my head, but part of me wants to get something done, anything done. I know that I had big plans to take down Christmas today, but the head isn’t cooperating, and eldest son is missing, and I quite need someone’s help for all of the bending and stooping, so no progress on that front.
I’ve had this headache on and off since a few days before New Year’s, and last night I gave in and asked Corey to rub some Blue Emu into my aching shoulders only to wake today with a worse headache and the back pain now firmly planted in the lower quarter. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Blue Emu (or the generic Blu, I think) is a wonderful muscle rub, doesn’t smell like menthol, and goes deep. FYI.
So is the pain from the cold? Is it from the stress, which is different how, exactly? Is it my diet, which has been horrible? Who knows. I suppose I should just go take my meds and hope for the best. I mean after all, what else can I do?
“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.” ~ Natalie Goldberg
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I write in my dreams. Several nights ago I wrote a short poem while I was asleep. Of course when I remembered hours later, I couldn’t remember a single word or even the subject matter. Two nights ago I dreamt that I wrote over 25,000 words in my new novel in one sitting. I was quite pleased with myself in the dream, especially after I did a word count. Now, ask me what it was about. Go on. Ask me.
Last night I had a very strange dream about being with Tom Cruise in Wal-Mart, and I was standing in the checkout line with a basket full of groceries and he disappeared only to reappear with a half-empty package of turkey lunch meat. Seems he had been testing all of the turkey lunch meat and found out it was processed. How could he not know that? But more importantly, why was I in Wal-Mart with Tom Cruise?
I hate dreams like that. Would much rather dream I was writing, as painful as the realization is that nothing is actually there, or better still, dream in French, something I haven’t done in a while. Speaking of French, I had big plans to tackle Proust in the original French this year. Wonder if I’ll get around to that . . .
“Writing down verses, I got a paper cut on my palm. The cut extended my life line by nearly one-fourth.” ~ Vera Pavlova, poem “59”
Vera Pavlova, on the other hand (see above comment about Oliver), has such an economy of words, yet says so much. I think that I have a deep-seated affinity for Russian and Polish female poets, but I could not tell you why that is. Anyway.
So back to today and what I am not accomplishing: Capt. Jack Harkness (the Beta) needs a clean bowl, and somehow I’ve taken on cleaning eldest son’s fish bowl every time I clean Capt. Jack’s bowl, double the work. Have no idea how that happened.
Also, need to change the sheets, and still haven’t tackled the sliding pile on the desk, nor have I found my black nail file. I should just fold right now, give up, give in, and admit that not a whole lot of anything is going to happen. I think that I need some of Corey’s homemade soup to warm me on the inside, and maybe some bread, yes, bread, and butter, and tea, and ginger scones, and . . .
Stop. it. now.
Okay, I’ve reined in the subconscious voice that is obviously ravenous, and I’ll try to focus. That and I’m now munching on a Special K 100-calorie snack bar and trying to pretend that it’s a ginger scone. Not working, but whatever.
“We make our way through Everything like thread passing through fabric: giving shape to images that we ourselves do not know.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters on Life (trans. Ulrich Baer)
I know that once again I am all over the place, but honestly, I’m sitting here kind of hunched over and squinting, and I think that I’m probably just writing down the first thing that comes to mind in a vapid attempt at creating a post that I’m not completely too ashamed to publish. I mean, I have this great collection of quotes and some killer images, so I must create content to go with, mustn’t I?
I have always loved the contractions mustn’t and t’would, and neither are used with much frequency except by people immersed in Renaissance literature, which only serves to remind me that I have let another year pass without applying to any doctoral programs in English. Not really sure where that thought came from except that that particular thought is always there, lurking, hiding and emerging at odd moments, worrying the edges of my brain like a toddler wanting more Cheerios—seemingly content for a time and then suddenly, not at all content and flailing and sobbing because the Cheerios are gone and dammit, I need attention now.
Yes. Like that. Completely like that.
And as Rilke says so eloquently, all of the dragons in my life are in fact princesses or princes just waiting for me to act “with beauty and courage.” I do want it all, the darkness and the light, the falls and the ascents, and I am wasting my life.
More later. Peace.
All images by artist Don Hong-Oai (gallery); good background article on the artist and his technique here.
Music by Bim (another relatively recent discovery), “Raindrops”
Book of Hours: I, 14
You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.
So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.
But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.
“Will I ever write properly, with passion & exactness, of the damned strange demeanours of my flagrant heart?” ~ John Berryman, from “Monkhood”
Saturday, late afternoon. Sunny, humid, mid 80’s.
It’s been a rough week. I started a regular post last Saturday and wiped it. Started another one on Sunday. Wiped that too.
Did manage to go to some great poetry readings, though. This year, I finally convinced Brett to attend a few of the events at ODU’s annual Literary Festival. In its 35th year, it’s one of the longest-running literary festivals in the country. He was only disappointed by one presenter and loved the other three. I went to two, wanted to make it to one on Thursday, but just couldn’t. As a result, though, I have discovered two new poets, both of whom I will be writing more about at another time.
I’ve been mulling over a myriad of things, beginning to think that I’ve reached conclusions, solutions, only to end up more confused and scattered. These are the things occupying my thoughts lately:
Will Alexis ever learn how to accept her role as a mother?
Will Brett go to New Zealand, and if so, will her ever come back? Will such a journey help him to find that which he seeks?
Will we all make it through the next few months?
Will I leave the house in the morning only to return to it hours later to find Shakes dead?
Will Tillie continue to have unexplained seizures?
Will I ever come out of this funk?
Will I ever have just one day in which I am not torn up by guilt, fear, and regret?
This, and so much more . . . A person could go well and truly mad from too much pondering.
“Sometimes melancholy leaves me breathless.” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Sometimes”
My melancholy always deepens in the fall, which is conflicting at best as autumn is my favorite season, but it is also the season of my deep regret and my keenest losses. So many decisions were made in autumn that changed my life forever. You know Frost’s two roads? Well, is it possible to have stood at the fork in the road a hundred times? A thousand? Sometimes, it seems so.
So what characterizes my melancholy? I mean, if I had to describe it, which I have done in the past, just how would I do that? I wonder . . .
Like Søren Kierkegaard, my melancholy is almost like a living part of me: “I have one more intimate confidant-my melancholy. In the midst of my joy, in the midst of my work, she waves to me, calls me to one side, even though physically I stay put. My melancholy is the most faithful mistress I have known, what wonder, then, that I love her in return.”
My melancholy is like . . .
The deepest blues in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”
A slow Alison Krauss song, full of longing
The smell that fills your nostrils when you turn over a pile of wet leaves—earthy and rich
The dregs of a cup of Darjeeling
The way it feels when the credits roll at the end of The English Patient
The haunting sound of the fiddle in the soundtrack to Legends of the Fall
The way sand feels beneath your feet as it is borne back to the sea by the tide
The mother in the Dorothea Lange photograph
The echo of a foghorn across the bay in the still of the night
The sliver of the waning moon in the nigh sky
“and in the end when the shadow from the ground enters the body and remains, in the end, you might say, This is myself still unknown, still a mystery.” ~ Linda Hogan, from “Inside”
You might say that none of those things is particularly sad, and you would be right. My melancholy isn’t sadness. It isn’t depression. It isn’t the bleak dullness of a February morning without snow. Rather, it is an ache, a longing, a yearning, but for what exactly, I still cannot say.
The things on my list individually can be beautiful and haunting. Together, they can be overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why I listed them as opposed to piling them all together in a paragraph. Separated by that forced line break, there can be a pause, a moment in which to collect oneself before venturing on.
Am I blathering? Perhaps. Sorry.
At least I’m supposedly in good company. Famous people known for their melancholy? Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, John Keats, Ernest Hemingway, Søren Kierkegaard. Notice that list is all male? I think that when famous women were (are?) melancholic, they were categorized as depressed, which is actually not the same thing. Depression can be completely debilitating; whereas melancholy is more reflective. The melancholic can be depressed, but the depressed individual is not necessarily melancholic.
I perused a few interwebs articles on melancholy (academic as opposed to cultural), and most assign a few clear characteristics to the melancholic. On the plus side, they are talented, creative, idealistic, and loyal. They like lists (no kidding) and charts, and they pay attention to detail. On the other side, though, they can be perfectionists; they procrastinate, often spending more time planning than doing. They tend to remember the negatives and have a low self-image, and they have a deep need for approval.
Really? No, really? Hmm . . .
“I have in me like a haze Which holds and which is nothing A nostalgia for nothing at all, The desire for something vague.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from “[I have in me like a haze]” (trans. Richard Zenith)
Did you know that melancholy literally means black bile (Greek, melas (black) + khole (bile) = melancholia)? This definition comes from the ancient characterizations of personalities according to the four humours (The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile (Gk. melan chole), yellow bile (Gk. chole), phlegm (Gk. phlegma), and blood (Gk. haima), and each corresponds to one of the traditional four temperaments. A humor is also referred to as a cambium(from Wikipedia and lots of other sources)). Just a bit of history.
Of course, we don’t go around any more telling people they have too much black bile or too much blood in their constitution, but maybe we should. I mean, the corresponding personality traits (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic) are pretty much spot on. The sanguine individual is an impulsive dreamer, the choleric an aggressive leader, the phlegmatic quiet and relaxed, and the melancholic introverted and creative.
All I know is that my black bile makes me not people-oriented and less outgoing. It also makes me withdrawn and vengeful. And I’m still fairly certain that I would have been persecuted as a witch.
“I am light honed To a still point in the incandescent Onrush, a fine ash in the beast’s sudden Dessication when the sun explodes.” ~ Wole Soyinka, from “Around Us, Dawning”
So, this is where I am now: My melancholy defines me in so many ways:
I have so many things that I want to do, but I never seem to do them, just plan them.
I spend an inordinate number of hours contemplating things, the whys and wherefores.
Essentially, I don’t like people. I love humanity and its wonderful diversity, but most people irritate me.
But those I like, I like with a fervor. Those I love, I love with all of my being.
One of the articles said that melancholics can be bad parents because they have such high expectations, and I do, have high expectations, that is. But not for my children to have fame or fortune, rather, that they have happiness and contentment, two things that have eluded me most of my years
I don’t like to be wrong, and it took me years, nay, decades, to learn how to admit when I was wrong, and I am ashamed to say that it took me far too long to learn how to apologize and truly mean it.
Because I live so much inside myself, I am not self-deluded, but I am self-critical and self-deprecating.
I live in a state of guilt. I’m not sure if this is necessarily my melancholic humor, or just my life.
As one particular site pointed out, “One feature that makes melancholy an aesthetic emotion—like that of sublimity—is its dual nature. There are negative and positive aspects in it which alternate, creating contrasts and rhythms of pleasure.” I suppose this duality is what compels me to try to define that which truly cannot be defined.
However, the site that I liked the best had a nice list of positives and negatives about the four kinds of people, and one thing that it listed really kind of made me take notice: the melancholic can be “moved to tears with compassion.” I never knew that was a trait of melancholy. I always thought that because I cried at commercials, wept at others’ misfortune, ached at injustice, that it was just my soft heart betraying me once again.
Oh, and one more: The melancholic seeks the ideal mate. Fortunately for me, I believe that I have found him.
More later. Peace.
In the mood for the moon, the big, beautiful moon.
Music by Grizzly Bear, “Deep Blue Sea” (From Dark Was the Night CD*)
*Dark Was the Night is the twentieth compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. Featuring exclusive recordings by a number of independent artists and production by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, the compilation was released on 16 February 2009 (UK) and 17 February (US) as a double CD, three vinyl LPs, or as a digital download. John Carlin, the founder of the Red Hot Organization, was the executive producer for the album. The title is derived from the Blind Willie Johnson song “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”, which is covered on this collection by the Kronos Quartet (from Wikipedia entry on CD).