“How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 85 degrees.
It’s a lazy kind of day, but when isn’t it? I’m currently surrounded by sleeping dogs, and both horses are waiting by the front door for treats. Last night in one of my dreams the front porch was wondrously clean, something that isn’t going to happen until the pasture fence is finished. The night before I had couple of dreams in which I was hiding from a bear, same bear in both dreams, but hiding with different people in each. Weird.
Today I’m featuring a SoundCloud from poet/writer Ocean Vuong. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1988; two years later he immigrated to Hartford, CT with six relatives after spending a year in a Philippine refugee camp. Vuong, the first person in his family to read, currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Guardian ran a detailed article on Vuong and his work in 2017.
Vuong’s debut book of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, won the coveted T. S. Eliot prize in 2017; he is only the second debut poet to win the T. S. Eliot prize (Sarah Howe was the first in 2016). The poems in this book deal with the war and the fall of Saigon with a mixture of myth and harsh reality.
Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019), was an instant New York Times bestseller, and has been hailed as, “a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break” (Los Angeles Times). The book’s title comes from a poem included in Night Sky, a section of which I’m including here:
In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.
Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.
~ from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
I still remember the first time that I came across a snippet from one of Vuong’s poems—I was immediately mesmerized and spent hours searching for his poems on the web and then added his book to my wish list. His is the kind of writing to which people can only aspire. It is absolutely luminous.
(Today is the birthday of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792– July 8, 1822)
Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair
through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city
beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed
cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far
I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer
is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think
he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear
at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch
his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral
in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear
to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips
with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.
“We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.” ~ Milan Kundera, from Laughable Loves
Wednesday afternoon. Snow on the ground, 30 degrees.
Today is my father’s birthday. It’s strange, isn’t it, the dates that you continue to mark on your calendar? Dates that no longer have any connection to a living person, and dates that are still connected to a person, but that person is no longer in your life. For example, every year on October 1, I remember Mari’s birthday, and on November 1, Kathleen’s. Perhaps that is because of the synchronicity of their prime number. Who knows. Regardless, I still mark so many things on my calendars at the beginnings of each year, even though no celebrations or commemorations will be had.
Today, I’m thinking a lot about my days at the Museum. I loved that place. And I hated that place. Wait. I loved the place, hated some of the people. That’s more accurate.
I still remember using my swipe card to enter through back doors within the galleries—that simple movement seemingly conveyed so much power to me. Any time I felt nervous or anxious, I would wander through the galleries, just drinking in the colors and textures. A museum is truly a wonderful place to work, as long as you don’t have to deal with the board of directors, that is.
But I miss those days even though my tenure ended badly when the museum had sweeping budget cuts, and I was deemed unnecessary. The days that followed my departure were dark in so many ways, and in reflecting on them, I realize that they contributed directly to the end of my first marriage, not that there weren’t already problems. I spent a great deal of time away from home, just trying to lose myself, and eventually, I lost my marriage.
Not regrets. Just facts.
“We create what we remember to survive all we never had. In a hall, darkened by exterior glitter, my father scolds me for anticipating his gift more than his return. I am small but I slide an immense distance . . . ” ~ Marlève Rugo, “On Not Being Able to Write”
Of course there are regrets. I mean, I cast by the wayside two, no three friendships from the museum that had been very important to me. I cannot tell you why, now, only that at the time, I wanted to cut so many ties because I was in so much pain, wanted to be free of everyone and everything , which, of course, you simply cannot do. Not unless you are 6 years old.
So those people who I cast off in my attempts to recapture something that I thought that I had lost? I don’t know where they are now or how they are doing, but I think of them often and wish that I had been a better friend.
Actually, friendship has always been difficult for me. There have been times when I have have had brutal arguments with a friend and then immediately severed all ties. Who does that? Well, I suppose, I do, or rather, I did. But were those truly friends, or just acquaintances? It’s both hard and easy for me to make friends. I make instant connections with people, and sometimes, those connections prove to be less than healthy, and sometimes they prove to be powerful forces in my life.
My oldest and dearest friend from my youth died a few years ago from lung cancer. I did not see her before she died, just as I did not see Allan before he died. Yes, regrets, major regrets. Do I set myself up for regrets? Perhaps.
“There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.” ~ George Eliot
I’ve been listening to some newer artists and some old favorite artists in an attempt to populate my posts with new tunes to accompany my words. I’ve found quite a few already. Let me know, dear reader, what you think of those I’ve included recently, or if you have any suggestions.The weird thing is that when I stopped writing, I also stopped listening to music all of the time. I couldn’t possibly explain why that is, especially as music has always been a very important part of my life.
I’m particularly partial to the Sara Bareilles’ tune “She Used to be Mine.” It hits very close to home. I feel as if I’ve been so many people over the years, none of them traditional or expected or normal, whatever that is. I truly wonder if everyone feels like that. I mean, it’s more than having certain attitudes in your teens, and then different attitudes in your 40s. I would expect that such things happen to everyone.
It’s more that when I look back on my life, I see different people. I see someone who was fiercely aggressive in her career while working for the government contractor. I see someone who loved to be at the front of the classroom, making wisecracks and listening to students while at the university. I see a woman who refused to compromise and then one who compromised too much.
Are they all the same me? No. Yes. I don’t know.
Damn. Shouldn’t I know who I am, by now? People think that I’m joking when I say that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. But truly, I still don’t know, and chances are good that I won’t know when I close my eyes for the last time.
“There are men who carry dreams over mountains, the dead on their backs. But only mothers can walk with the weight of a second beating heart.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “My Mother Remembers Her Mother”
I’ll tell you something else that’s strange, even though I’ve said it before in different ways: I miss being pregnant. My body responded well to being pregnant, mostly. Perhaps my body, not so much, but more my spirit. When I was pregnant, I felt completely at home in myself. There have been no other times in my life when I have felt that way.
Fore more years than I can remember, I have wanted to have another daughter, another girl child to birth and to care for, but that never happened, and now, it’s much too late. And is that fate? Karma? What? God knows millions of women who want children are never able to have them, so am I being selfish in wishing that I could have had just one more? Maybe I am, but wishing never made it so, and so the point is moot, is it not? Regardless (once upon a time, I thought the word was irregardless), I still feel the desire keenly, and I find that strange as I always believed that the older I became, that the wiser I would be, and I truly believed that I would not still have yearnings that were impossible. Odd, that . . .
And now Olivia lives hundreds of miles away, and every day I wonder if she remembers me. I never understood before how a grandchild could affect me in so many ways, but it is completely unlike your own child, a different kind of love, a love that is somehow less selfish because in a grandchild, you do not invest your own future so much. Am I confusing you, dear reader? If so, I do apologize, but it’s not something you can really understand until it happens to you, and then it’s not something that you can understand losing until it happens to you.
“I would listen to my heartbeat. I couldn’t imagine that this sound which had been with me for so long could ever stop.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger
The afternoon wears on, and the sky seems to be darker than when I started, and it’s definitely colder. I worry that the horses are cold, even though all of the reading that I have done says that as long as they are eating well, they will not be cold. They definitely have plenty on which to graze. But still, I want to put blankets on them. I shall resist. For now.
I just had a strange memory: I remember being 15 and sitting in my boyfriend’s den and just weeping and weeping. My father was at sea, as usual, and I missed him desperately. My boyfriend’s mother was not a particularly nice woman, or maybe she was just plain-spoken, and I was too young to appreciate it. Anyway, she told me that it was just growing pains. I left in such a huff.
I mean, growing pains? Could anything be more insulting? or more accurate? I do not look back on my teens fondly. Everything was too intense. All of the new feelings and emotions, the new ways in which my body did what it wanted without my having any power over it. It was all just too much. I was so very certain that my first love would be my love for the rest of my life. Gawd. Thankfully, that proved to be very wrong.
But there really was a point to this reminiscence, a non sequitur though it be: I have always had a strong affinity with animals, and I have always anthropomorphized them, had ongoing conversations with them, given them human personalities, likes and dislikes, so the feelings about the horses are not unexpected. Nevertheless, I realize that if I’m going to survive on this farm that I’ve going to have to toughen my outlook somewhat. Still, I think the horses need blankets.
More later. Peace.
Music by Finneas, “Break My Heart Again”
When we’re driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.
The wing says, “I am the space behind you,
a dent in the fender, hands you remember
for the way they touched you. You can look
back and song will still throb. I am air
moving ahead, the outermost edge of desire,
the ripple of departure and arrival. But
I will speak more plainly: you think you are
the middle of your life, your own fulcrum,
your years poised like reckonings in the balance.
This is not so: dismiss the grocer of your soul.
Nothing important can be weighed, which is why
I am the silver river of your mornings and
the silver lake curled around your dark dreams.
I am not wax nor tricks stolen from birds.
I know you despair at noon, when sky overflows
with the present tense, and at night as you lie
among those you have wronged; I know you have failed
in what matters most, and use your groin to forget.
Does the future move in only one direction?
Think how roots find their way, how hair spreads
on the pillow, how watercolors give birth to light.
Think how dangerous I am, because of what I offer you.”