“Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Tree”

Neverland by Hannes Flo, (FCC)

“My life is a crystal teardrop. There are snowflakes falling in the teardrop and little figures trudging around in slow motion. If I were to look into the teardrop for the next million years, I might never find out who the people are, and what they are doing.” ~ Joan Baez, as found in Joan Didion’s “Where the Kissing Never Stops”

Friday afternoon, snow and rain, cold, 39 degrees.

During the night when I was letting the dogs out, I looked out to see snow covering the ground, which was a surprise. The weather forecast did not call for snow, only more rain. Corey and I agree that the weather here is actually quite depressing. I can only hope that as the weather gets warmer that we are finally able to dry out around here. The mud is overwhelming, as is the near constant rain.

So we lost internet Wednesday night, right as I was watching that new documentary on HBO about Michael Jackson, Finding Neverland. It’s actually quite disturbing as it features two men who were childhood victims of abuse at Jackson’s hands. Truthfully, I’m surprised that they were able to make it. I know that Jackson’s estate sues people all of the time. Nevertheless, it’s more than time that these victims were able to tell their stories.

Anyway, I can’t believe the nerve of some companies, wanting to be paid for their services as opposed to offering them for free. I remember reading something sometime ago about how Tesla wanted electricity to be free, and someone who wanted the internet to be free. Such radical ideas: actually giving the public something that they can use as opposed to making a profit.

Hmm……..Things that make you go hmm……

“I hear two sibilants—here silk,
the snowstorm outside. Beating soul
and breathing blood. We both got what
we wanted” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, from “Playacting” (Trans. Christopher Whyte)

I decided to be proactive for a change, and rather than wait for the internet to become available again, I decided to go ahead and write some posts on Microsoft Word until we can get it restored on Monday. Then I’ll just post and backdate, which I know is cheating, but hey, when you’re me, and you never know what day it is, does it really matter?

So no podcasts for me for a bit, so I’ve been listening to some of my old music playlists. I made the mistake of putting on an old country playlist while I was taking a bath, and boy, some of those songs are just heartbreaking. For example, there was Blaine Larsen’s, “How Do You Get so Lonely,” which is about a boy who commits suicide, and then there was “Alyssa Lies,” which is about child abuse.

Boy, I know how to put together a playlist that makes you want to cut your wrists with a rusty razor blade—that was a Kathleen saying, or maybe it was a Gail saying. Can’t remember. But those two women were big friends of mine once upon a time.

“I’m tired of my life, my clothes, the things I say. I’m hacking away at the surface, as at some kind of gray ice, trying to break through to what is underneath or I am dead. I can feel the surface trembling—it seems ready to give but it never does..” ~ James Salter, from a letter to Robert Phelps (July 6, 1969-70)

Yesterday, I wrote a letter to another long-time friend of mine, the woman who taught me piano for almost eight years. I always looked up to her, and when she got melanoma years ago, I was so afraid that she would succumb to it, but fortunately, she didn’t, and she went on to have a son by a man who later betrayed her big time.

She was such a classy, talented woman, and oddly enough, she’s the one who made me love Bach, who I had always eschewed before she started teaching me. I was intimidated by Bach—too many notes on the page, as it were, but I learned to master his Two-Part Inventions, and went on to the Three-Part Inventions before I stopped.

I really miss playing, but my piano is in terrible shape. I hope that one day I can find a decent used piano to purchase. Corey’s parents had a beautiful piano in their basement that I always coveted, but then his brother threw out the keys that had come loose, and they got rid of the piano. I miss learning new pieces. I mean, I could teach myself, but there is something special about learning from someone who really knows music. God I loved to play the piano, and I was relatively good at it. I wasn’t one of those naturals who can sit down at a keyboard and just play what they hear in their brains, nor could I ever master changing keys on my own.

I went to school with a couple of people like that, incredibly talented both of them. The one who played the cello died of AIDS during the height of the epidemic, and the other, who played any instrument she touched, ended up having a major tragedy in her life that she never recovered from.

“My wound existed before me;
I was born to embody it.” ~ Joë Bousquet, from “Traduit du silence”

Which just proves that no one is immune from life’s travails, regardless of talent, and here I am still, even when I never imagined being this old, never thought that I would make it this far, and I still feel mediocre every single day of my life. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching for months now, trying to figure out why I can’t be happy. Honestly, I still don’t have an answer, and my inability to find one just makes me madder and madder at myself.

Granted, the last few years have been majorly stressful, and that I even made it out in sort of one piece still amazes me. I remember years ago, after I lost Caitlin, and I went to that first psychiatrist (who I loathed), and he told me that losing a child is ranked as the second or third biggest stressor in life, with being in a concentration camp ranking as first. How did people even survive that when they were finally liberated? How did they not hate everyone and everything?

Anyway, I had a point, which was that other life stressors include moving, starting a new job, and getting married. I got married (the first time), moved to Blacksburg, and started graduate school and teaching composition all within two weeks of each other.
I supposed I’ve never been one to do things half way. It’s all or nothing. Or maybe, it’s everything or nothing. Who knows.

“All I can hear now is the sound of my own heart, opening and closing, opening and closing, opening.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Handmaid’s Tale

But getting back to the idea of being happy: I know that only I can control my happiness. I’m not naïve enough to think that someone else can make me happy. No matter how much Corey loves and cares for me, he cannot control what is inside of me, nor does he try to.

There is such a feeling of deep regret within me, regret, and guilt, and a sense of being incredibly ungrateful.

Let me explain: I have wanted to live in the mountains, on my own property, for as long as I can remember, ever since the first time I drove into Blacksburg to visit Paul. I knew in that instant that my soul belonged in the mountains. So here I am, surrounded by everything I ever wanted, land, an incredible vista, animals, yet somehow, it’s not enough.

No. Let me back that up. It’s not that it’s not enough; it’s that there is such a large hole in my heart that I’m having a hard time allowing myself to be filled with the splendor with which I am surrounded. Aside from the mud, this place is everything. But I don’t have my kids, and I no longer have a home in Norfolk. I wasn’t able to keep my parents’ home in the family, and I know that many people are not able to do this, but I feel like such a failure because of that, and because I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to have it someday. And more than that, I want my kids.

It’s coloring everything, and I hate it more than I can say, so maybe I should stop trying to say anything more at the moment.

More later. Peace.


Music by Ruelle, “Slip Away”

 


Rebus

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

~ Jane Hirshfield (found on Poetry Foundation)

“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

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

From the Infinity Series by L. Liwag©

“Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are.” ~ Gregory Maguire

In the Gloaming II (pointillated) by L. Liwag

I no longer weep on Caitlin’s birthday. That fact does not make me sad. No. That’s not the truth. That fact does make me sad, for does it mean that I have forgotten? In truth, I have not forgotten anything, but I suppose the memory has become so much a part of me that it no longer sits alone by itself, waiting to be taken from its perch, brought to the front, so that it can hold sway over my entire existence. 

That is the fact, the truth, the reality.

We are all collections of our memories—both painful and lovely, luminous and cutting. We file our memories in the small repositories within our brain, move them around over time so that some can be recalled instantaneously, while others are relegated to forgotten corners where they collect dust, withdraw into almost nothingness, only to resurface at inappropriate times. 

“Memory is a tenuous thing, like a rainbow’s end or a camera with a failing lens.”  ~ Ellen Hopkins

Lynnhaven Pier at Twilight (pointillated) by L. Liwag

Some years, the memories of my baby girl breach my consciousness in horrible ways, unrelenting waves that pull me under and leave me gasping for air. But most years, the memories are just there. I can delve into them if I choose, or I can just look at them from afar, keep my distance, choose not to touch them. 

That I have arrived at this point in my life is a good thing, I think. That I can meet March 26 without the fear of complete emotional paralysis means that I no longer feel Caitlin’s presence, her life, her death, so keenly. She is no longer the fresh wound that I bore for so many years, one that I continually tore the scab from so that I could watch it bleed. Rather, she and all that she was has become one of those fine lines on my body, one of the silvery scars that make me who I am. 

I do not believe for a moment that there will not still be days in my life on which I suddenly find myself overcome with grief, but I know that those days will happen with less and less frequency because that is the way of life. We live, we collect, we sift, we hold, we discard. All of the pieces that are precious never fade entirely. That is why we are allowed the gift of memory. Some of the pieces will not go away. That is why we are burdened with the pain of memory. 

“Some things don’t last forever, but some things do. Like a good song, or a good book, or a good memory you can take out and unfold in your darkest times, pressing down on the corners and peering in close, hoping you still recognize the person you see there.” ~ Sarah Dessen

Caitlin and Me

For me, the pain of those days in November has melded with the joy of those days in March and April so that it has all become one. If I pick too much at the threads, it will fray and unravel, but if I just touch it gently, it will remain whole, with all of its swirls and hues. The Pointillists knew that if they created enough colored dots, the eyes would see a whole image. Such is memory: thousands and thousands of disparate dots, a second here, an afternoon there—all coming together to create the one image. 

In my mind’s eye, I see Caitlin with her dark hair and almond eyes, her chubby arms and legs. I see her without the wires, without the machines. I can still hear the machines, but I no longer see them. In truth, I do not remember very much about the day on which she was born. I remember the doctor, and I remember that it was afternoon. I remember taking a shower. Other than those few things, I do not remember.  Unfortunately, too much of what I remember came later. 

Today, though, I remember her arms and her hands. I am not weeping, nor am I overwhelmed with sadness, and that is a good thing. For now. 

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” 

 ~ Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life 

                                                                                                           

Rain Light 

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning 
 

~ W. S. Merwin 

Ray LaMontagne’s “Empty”