“Life might be brief and transient, scrawled in the sand. But death was written in a much harder alphabet.” ~ Stephen Booth, from Dancing with the Virgins


No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, from Invisible Monsters

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and 83 degrees, yes, 83 degrees . . . whatever . . .

It’s supposed to be “Two for Tuesday,” but I’m pushing Tuesday to Wednesday because I was up until almost 6 a.m., thinking about words, words that I wanted to say, but I kept myself away from the keyboard because I knew that once I began, it might be days before I stopped. Days, hours, it matters not.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes 1890 oil on canvas
“Closed Eyes” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

This is what kept me awake: My mother was the one who realized that something was wrong with Caitlin. Not me. She did. She took one look at her and said, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” She said they were bulging. I didn’t really see it, didn’t want to see it, shrugged it off as my mother being overprotective of her granddaughters in the same way that she was overprotective of me.

She was right.

That phone call I received at my very first faculty meeting? That one? It was because my mother had put Caitlin in the car and had taken her to the pediatrician’s office and made them look at her eyes. You see, after the ER doctor had said that she had a virus, I had taken Caitlin to the pediatrician and said that my mother thought her eyes looked funny. The one doctor, the one I never really liked, poo pooed the comment.

My mother was right. I was wrong. The ER resident was wrong. The pediatrician was wrong. It took my mother taking Caitlin to see the other pediatrician in the practice, the gentle one who listened to every word you said—it took that for someone to finally pay attention and send Caitlin to the Children’s Hospital, the hospital that found the brain tumor.

My mother was right.

How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name.
” ~ John Burnside, from “The Hunt in the Forest”

Odilon Redon Ophelia
“Ophelia V” (c1905)
by Odilon Redon

Look, you’re probably wondering why I’m going over this yet again, but all I can say in way of explanation is one word: fall. Autumn is my best and worst of times. I love every natural aspect of the  season, yet the way in which my emotional well-being goes into free fall more often than not leaves me tortured. Nietzsche said it best when he said that autumn was “more the season of the soul than the season of nature.”

Example: Yesterday, after getting my fasting labs done in the early morning, and then having my six-month checkup with my PCP, all I could think about were curly fries. Weird, I know. So I had to maneuver the hell that is a major thoroughfare that it still under construction to get to the nearest Arby’s. My timing was lousy as the nearby grade school was getting out at the same time. Parents in their cars lined both sides of the streets. No one would let me turn into the narrow street. The resultant snafu left me in tears.

Yes, tears, as in crying in the car, which, if you’ve ever been in the car with me, is completely uncharaceristic. Crying over curly fries, crying over curly fries that I couldn’t eat once I had ordered them. Then yesterday evening as I was trying to force myself to post something, I came across the story about a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, and again, I cried.

Bed. Yes, bed would make it better. But bed, not so much. No sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother and Caitlin’s eyes, which leads me to this moment.

“. . . how come sorrow is as heavy, lumpen and impenetrably black as an anvil?” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

November will rear its ugly head in just a few days, and with it I have to confront once again the losses of my daughter, my father, my friend, and yes, even my dog. Isn’t it time to let go, past time, you ask?

Odilon Redon The Yellow Cape 1895 pastel on paper
“The Yellow Cape” (1895, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

Beh. Of course it is. But that’s for normal people, people who do not obsess and obsess and obsess over perceived failings. Example: I did not clean the portal lines that had been inserted into Caitlin’s chest the day that I had taken her in for a follow-up MRI. Why do I remember this? Who knows, but I remember vividly doing a haphazard job of inserting the flushing material in the waiting room at CHKD before they took her into the MRI suite because I wanted to make sure that I had done this one thing for my daughter that I was tasked to do on a daily basis.

Did that failure to use a one-inch square of alcohol on a gauze pad lead to infection? Who knows? Possibly? Probably? Probably not?

The point is that I REMEMBER. I cannot forget. Just as I cannot forget that I did not go back to the hospital that night before my father died even though I had promised his unconscious body that I would come back and spend the night at the hospital. Exhaustion and relief at being away from the white noise of the ICU gave me a false sense of relief, and so I went to bed, and he died in the middle of the night alone.

“How long it takes me to climb into grief!
Fifty years old, and still held in the dark,
in the unfinished, the hopeful, what longs for solution.” ~ Robert Bly, from “A Ramage for the Star Man, Mourning”

Enough, you say. Stop this madness, you say. No, not nearly . . .

When I left my mother’s room that Thursday afternoon, I secretly congratulated myself on making such a speedy getaway, leaving my mother to talk the ear off the social worker. I had work to do. I needed to get her house ready for her to come home. There was snow to be removed. And so I had a brief visit, long enough for her to bitch at me, and then I left, and then she died the next morning, sometime, they are guessing around 9, alone.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes c1894 oil on canvas
“Closed Eyes” (c1894, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

And did I mention that that best friend I lovingly wrote about years ago in my Vale et Memini series, the one who had a brain tumor and survived? Her? Did I mention that she died and I didn’t find out until a few years later, that I never even went to the funeral because I didn’t know that there was a funeral, and the other night it suddenly came to me that hell, I was her eldest daughter’s godmother, a sacred honor that I had completely washed from my memory.

And that other anamchara friend, the one who I always thought I’d be bonded to in perpetuity? I haven’t corresponded with her in years, other than an obligatory Christmas card. Yes, I am a careless friend, the kind of person who withdraws so completely that the only interactions I still have with friends occur in the midst of troubled sleep.

And then there is the nagging curse I imposed upon myself when Corey and I first got together: I had been so certain that he wouldn’t have to be burdened with me for years and years because I never wanted him to see me get old, and so I had this feeling, this sense, that I would die when I was 56. And you hear of people who have feelings that they will die young, in their teens, who do, and people who have a feeling that they will not live to be old, and they do not, and so what have I done to myself.

“Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.” ~ Anne Carson, from “TV Men: The Sleeper”

Listen, if you recently subscribed to this blog because you found it amusing and slightly entertaining, or if you enjoyed the art or the poetry or the music, if that was your reason? Well I’m sorry. Because this post is really what this blog is about. This endless cacophony of doubt, and blame, and grief, and sorrow, and pain.

That other person, the one who offers up stuff from Takei’s tumblr or other such sites? She’s a phony. She is neither glib nor witty. She masks all of the pain behind little ditties about animals and absurd abuses of the English language because to do otherwise would be peering far too keenly in Nietzsche’s abyss, and we all know what happens when you do that.

Odilon Redon GIrl with Chrysanthemums c1905 pastel on paper
“Girl with Chrysanthemums” (c1905, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

The only good thing about this post is that I did not get out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin it. Had I done so, I am completely certain that the maudlin factor would have been  even worse, if you can imagine that.

I always, always know when the words are going to come fast and furious, when there is no stemming of the onslaught. It has always been this way, since I was but a child, hiding in my room, trying not to let my mother see that yet another book had reduced me to tears and heartache because her solution, of course, was to think happy thoughts, and for a soul such as mine, one might as well say something along the line of “you could be happy if you just tried.”

Oh, but if you only knew the truth of my esse, my life force, that tortured, tormented, and torrid do not begin to encompass the four corners of my heart.

More later. Peace.

All images by French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). I am intrigued by how many of the subjects in his paintings have closed eyes or eyes narrowly opened, to which I can relate: going through life with eyes closed, surrounded by beauty . . .

Music by Will Hoge, “When I Get My Wings”

                    

Consider the Space Between Stars 

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

~ Linda Pastan

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“She wore flowers in her hair and carried magic secrets in her eyes. She spoke to no one. She spent hours on the riverbank. She smoked cigarettes and had midnight swims . . .” ~ Arundhati Roy, from The God of Small Things

Emil Nolde Sunflowers c1925-30 watercolor on paper
“Sunflowers” (c1925-30, watercolor on paper)
by Emil Nolde

                   

“Here was a flower (the daisy reflected) strangely like itself and yet utterly unlike itself too. Such a paradox has often been the basis for the most impassioned love.” ~ Thomas M. Disch, from The Brave Little Toaster

Emil Nolde Flower Still Life with Orchids c1923-24 watercolor
“Flower Still Lifew tih Orchids” (c1923-24, watercolor)
by Emil Nolde

Questions from Flowers (found on tumblr):

  • Daisy: How old were you when you had your first kiss? I was 12.
  • Carnation: If I handed you a concert ticket right now, who would you want to be the performer? Believe it or not I would like it to be country singer Luke Bryan; I think he’d be great in concert. Second choice would be Alison Krauss.
  • Jasmine: What color looks best on you? Red. Then black. Then purple.
  • Foxglove: Name three facts about your family? First, we have Filipino blood. Second, my father was a guerilla during the second world war. Third, there is a strong strain of military service throughout.
  • Allium: What’s the best thing you can cook? Brunswick Stew.
  • Orange Blossom: If you could pick the gender and appearance of your child, would you? No. Are you crazy?  Life should be full of happy surprises, your children most of all.

“Creating is living doubly. The groping, anxious quest of a Proust, his meticulous collecting of flowers, of wallpapers, and of anxieties, signifies nothing else.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

  • Calla Lily: If you died right now, what song would you want to play at your funeral? “Where the River Meets the Sea,” and of course, “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.

    Pierre Bonnard Daffodils in a Green Pot 1887
    “Daffodils in a Green Pot” (c1887, oil on canvas)
    by Pierre Bonnard
  • Poinsettia: Favorite holiday dish? Cranberry Relish followed by Pecan Pie.
  • Oxlip: Would you ever get into a long distance relationship? I have. They’re very hard.
  • Primrose: Favorite kind of soup? Homemade beef vegetable soup.
  • Daffodil: What’s the most thoughtful present you’ve ever received? Anytime I am given a book or a gift card to buy books, but thoughtful is not romantic, and the most romantic present I’ve ever received was a string of pearls from my husband when we were dating.
  • Rose: Are you currently in love with someone? Yes, very much so.

“Yes, just like those flowers. There’s something strained, but there’s beauty in that. Something like that” ~ Koushun Takami, from Battle Royale

  •   Amsonia: Would you ever become a vegan? Probably not even though it would be better for me in some many ways.

    Emil Nolde Red Hawthorns with Green an dYellow Leaves and Brown Grass c1930
    “Red Hawthorns with Green and Yellow Leaves and Brown Grass” (c1930, watercolor on paper)
    by Emil Nolde
  • Peony: What’s your favorite hot beverage? It’s a tie between Hot Tea (preferably Darjeeling) and Southern Comfort served warm with honey and lemon.
  • Tulip: For your birthday, what kind of cake do you ask for? I like apple pie, or if not, homemade cheesecake.
  • Myrtle: Do you like going on airplanes? I used to, but lately I find them so cramped.
  • Hibiscus: Did you ever play an instrument? If so what? Piano, classically trained for 14 years.
  • Zinnia: Who was your best friend when you were six years old? Creighton Firth.

He knew the plants by name and took a few minutes with each of them: ageratum, coreopsis, echinacea, rudbeckia. The yarrow, he said, had rose-red flowers on two-foot stems. Achillea millefolium, the plant Achilles used to heal wounds.” ~ Frederick Weisel, from Teller

  • Poppy: What color was your childhood home? Brick.

    Only One by Georgia O'Keeffe 1959
    “Only One” (1959, oil on canvas)
    by Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Hydrangea: Starbucks order? Venti latte (no bells or whistles)
  • Violet: Do you like where you’re from? Do you mean where I was born (yes), or my heritage (yes), or where I’m currently living? The answer to the last is probably sometimes. It’s a nice area, but it’s not where I want to spend my life.
  • Locust: What was your favorite book as a child? A Secret Garden
  • Rhododendron: What’s the scariest dream you’ve ever had? I have lots of scary dreams, usually involving some kind of killing.
  • Queen Anne’s Lace: Would you rather carve pumpkins or wrap presents? Wrap presents.

Flowers are so inconsistent! But I was too young to know how to love her . . .” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from The Little Prince

  • Magnolia: Favorite kind of candy? It varies. Right now it’s Starburst berries. Last year it was gummi bears. A few years ago it was Twizzlers . . . so chewy stuff.

    Odilon Redon Three Vases of Flowers  1908-1910 oil
    “Three Vases of Flowers” (1908-10, oil on canvas?)
    by Odilon Redon
  • Aster: Would you rather be cold or hot? Cold. You can always add more clothes or blankets.
  • Marigold: Do you listen to what’s on the radio? Not usually.
  • Heliconia: Do you like when it rains? Yes, if it’s storming with lightning. Just cold rain, not so much.
  • Azalea: What’s a movie you cried while watching? So many: Return of the King is the first one that comes to mind. But I remember I wept during The English Patient.
  • Dandelion: Do you think you’re important? Not nearly as important as I think I am.

                   

Music by Dum Dum Girls, “Coming Down”

                   

Findings

Found what I think are the breast feathers
of a flicker lying in the melting snow
in front of the house. Found a crow feather
in Bozeman one spring and have kept it
in a vase on top of the dresser. Yarrow grows
where my son planted a root last summer,
and hyssop seeds have sprouted
with the wildflowers. Found spearmint
growing under the outside faucet
and tiny blue snails in the fallen apples
and black and white hornets stumbling drunk
around the rotting apples in August. The columbine
had eight inches of new growth in January,
and two summers ago found a red-shafted flicker
lying in the alley behind my house
with grass in its throat and wasps
crawling in and out of its mouth.
Its wing feathers were dazzling
and I took them, buried its body
in tall weeds, saved the feathers
in checkbook boxes in the dresser
beside a Norwegian pewter cake server,
a twenty dollar bill, some old ribbons
and a flat rock from the Marias.
His mate remained in the neighborhood until fall,
and this February a pair or flickers returned
to eat last year’s sunflower seeds
at the side of the garage.
One spring, hundreds of crows filled a single tree,
their black wings shifting against dense bodies
and air, their voices calling across leaves
then reeling into space.
Saw flickers in the park last spring,
a male calling with such racket
my son covered his ears, and
from across the park, through twigs
and leaves pushing out from resinous shells,
a female approached, blended into bark
and clouds, and for an instant, opened to the sound.

~ Tami Haaland

Friday leftovers . . .

Odilon Redon Orpheus pastel on paper
“Orpheus” (nd, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

                   

“Yet the story of Orpheus, it occurs to me, is not just about the desire of the living to resuscitate the dead but about the ways in which the dead drag us along into their shadowy realm because we cannot let them go. So we follow them into the Underworld, descending, descending, until one day we turn and make our way back.” ~ Meghan O’Rourke

Thinking about Orpheus and Eurydice for some reason . . .

Orpheus in Hell

When he first brought his music into hell
He was absurdly confident. Even over the noise of the
shapeless fires
And the jukebox groaning of the damned
Some of them would hear him. In the upper world
He had forced the stones to listen.
It wasn’t quite the same. And the people he remembered
Weren’t quite the same either. He began looking at faces
Wondering if all of hell were without music.
He tried an old song but pain
Was screaming on the jukebox and the bright fire
Was pelting away the faces and he heard a voice saying,
“Orpheus!”
He was at the entrance again
And a little three-headed dog was barking at him.
Later he would remember all those dead voices
And call them Eurydice.

~ Jack Spicer

                   

Music by Otis Taylor, “The Wind Comes In”

 

“You are about to begin the hero’s journey. Travel well on the quest. A life of More is your birthright. Know the vast resource that reside in you and are provided for you in the world. You have raised the battle cry of There Must Be More Than This.” ~ Judith Wright

“L’albero” (1875)
by Odilon Redon

                  

Two for Tuesday:

Grace

Living is dailiness, a simple bread
that’s worth the eating. But I have known a wine,
a drunkenness that can’t be spoken or sung
without betraying it. Far past Yours or Mine,
even past Ours, it has nothing at all to say;
it slants a sudden laser through common day.

It seems to have nothing to do with things at all,
requires another element or dimension.
Not contemplation brings it; it merely happens,
past expectation and beyond intention;
takes over the depth of flesh, the inward eye,
is there, then vanishes. Does not live or die,

because it occurs beyond the here and now,
positives, negatives, what we hope and are.
Not even being in love, or making love,
brings it. It plunges a sword from a dark star.

Maybe there was once a word for it. Call it grace.
I have seen it, once or twice, through a human face.

~ Judith Wright

                   

Space Between

Space between lip and lip
and space between
living and long-dead flesh
can sometimes seem the same.

We strive across, we strain
to those who breathe the air,
to those in memory;
but Here is never There.

What is the space between,
enclosing us in one
united person, yet
dividing each alone?

Frail bridges cross from eye
to eye, from flesh to flesh,
from word to word; the net
is gapped at every mesh,

and this each human knows:
however close our touch
or intimate our speech,
silences, spaces reach
most deep, and will not close.

~ Judith Wright