“When I stand upright in the wind, | My bones turn to dark emeralds.” ~ James Wright, from “The Jewel”

American Poet James Wright

Two for Tuesday: James Wright

Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and cool, 71 degrees.

It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.

Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.

I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.

Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?

Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.

Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.

To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Northern Pike

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.


Laura Marling, “What He Wrote”

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“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

Image representing Creative Commons as depicte...

So this showed up in my e-mail today regarding this post:

Hello,

I noticed on your blog that you state: “Please don’t appropriate my words or pictures without contacting me first. This blog may be linked to other blogs or websites.”

I hope that you will extend the same courtesy to me, since the images on your Blackwing pencils post are from my website, blackwingpages.com. And the quote with which you begin your post was first posted on my site as well.

Sincerely,
Sean Malone

It appears I have erred again. Here is my response to Mr. Malone:

Dear Sean Malone,
Please let me clarify one thing: I did not find that image on your blog. I found it while doing a search on Google Images with the qualifier “creative commons.” If you do the same search, you will find the image. Unfortunately, your image is associated with several articles on the web, and it is from those articles that I gleaned my information for my post: The Hollywood Reporter, Dangerous Minds, and The Daily News (and of course, the Blackwing site). What spawned my interest in Blackwings was a post on tumblr; unfortunately, I do not remember which post.

The quote originates from The Paris Review, one of its “The Art of” series. I may have found the quote on your site. I honestly do not know. I quote from The Paris Review frequently.

I’m not trying to be pedantic here, only to explain. Yes, the image is yours, but I did not take it from your site, as I have explained. I use the creative commons tag when doing image searches. That I found the image on several sites without attribution led me to believe–erroneously, obviously–that it was an image that could be used under fair use. I am truly sorry that your image has been appropriated, and I will remove it from the post if that is what you would prefer, or I could reference it, link it, and name you as its creator. I will abide by whatever you wish.

Please know that I try very hard to do my due diligence. When I find the same general information on many sites, that indicates that the information is in the public domain. However, the big caveat here is that because we are now a digital world, public domain is a term that is wracked with inaccuracies, as is shown by the number of people on the web who used your image without attribution. It is a double-edged sword that we work under in our desire to share our interests with those out there in the ether, never knowing what tack that information will take on its journey.

This has been an overlong explanation and apology. I do want to say that I just spent a good amount of time perusing your site, and it is a wonderful harbinger of information on the Blackwing.

Again, my apologies. Please let me know how you wish me to proceed.

                   

So this is my question to you: Do I sound bitchy (because I really wasn’t trying to be)?

“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Dance Dance Dance

Chang Dai-chien Splasher Color no title2
Splashed Color (nd, no title, color and ink on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

                   

“Almost impossible to sleep; plagued by dreams, as if they were being scratched on me, on a stubborn material.” ~ Franz Kafka, from Diaries

Wednesday early evening. Partly cloudy, 83 degrees.

Lots of drizzle the past few days mixed in with scattered thunderstorms. My body has reflected the weather: I feel dampened, pending somehow, as if something is incipient. Yesterday, I wasn’t able to get out of bed for most of the day. Hate days like that, but there was nothing for it. I just wasn’t able.

Chang Dai-chien Splashed Color no title
Splashed Color (nd, no title, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

I’ve spent days and days calculating square footage, calculating how much insulation, how many tiles, how much backerboard, etcetera. I am nothing if not a stickler for precision. I know that this is not what Corey had planned when he said he was going to tear out the bathroom, but there was no point in doing it halfway only to have to do more before we sold it.

Tile board (which he had planned to use) looks cheap, but it serves its purpose in a rental property. We’re going with ceramic and mosaic tile. Essentially, we’re gutting down to the studs and starting over. I keep waking in the middle of the night and going to the computer to check something, to make absolutely sure that I have allowed for this or that. Corey says he’ll just be glad when we start to that I will quit obsessing. I concur.

Tomorrow we go to the big box stores to get what I couldn’t get online. Luckily, because it’s the 4th, Corey gets credit for his military service, and we get a 10 percent discount. Any discount is better than no discount.

“I need the shade of blue that rips your heart out. You don’t see that type of blue around here.” ~ Cath Crowley, from Graffiti Moon

Aside from preparing for the bathroom reno, there isn’t much going on. We’re still struggling with puppy training. Still lots of hit or miss. I told Corey that not every dog can be as intelligent as Tillie who seemed to train herself that first week. Bailey makes up for the mistakes in cuteness, though. Would that all of life were so . . .

Chang Dai-chien Snow Storm, Switzerland
“Snow Storm, Switzerland” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Ever since my last post about that memory, I have been melancholy. I couldn’t put a name to why, exactly, but it’s here. I know that when I have these health relapses it always throws me, makes me afraid that I’m regressing to those first months after going out on disability when I was so dependent on everyone else, when I could do so very little on my own. That kind of dependence is frightening, perhaps because it may be a precursor to how life will be in the latter years, when so much of life is beyond your control.

I think of Corey’s grandfather, my own mother, how the years are not friendly to the elderly. I watch my mother diminish little by little, unable to finish sentences, repeating things she’s already told me five times. It’s painful. I can do little but watch and try not to add the phrase “I already told you this” to my sentences when we talk.

“I do not want my voice to go out into the air while my heart is sinking.” ~ E. M. Forster, from The Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction”

What am I afraid of, really? Dying without ever doing anything? Without accomplishing a damned thing?

Chang Dai-chien Snowy Mountain
“Snowy Mountain” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Yes.

I am mightily fearful that my life will have meant nothing when I am gone, that I will have left my children with little, not monetarily, but in the ways that mean the most—in the kinds of memories that they will share with their children, the remembrance of small moments that might still conjure a smile.

I am afraid that I will reach my last days and that I will still be sitting here wondering when I’m going to get around to writing that book, trying to decided whether or not I should get a doctorate. I don’t want to be that person, that lost soul who never quite found her way. I don’t want people to remember me as the woman who never did anything, who never lived up to her potential.

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spake Zarathustra

God that sounds so narcissistic, as if I have so much to give, so much to contribute. What makes me any different from the next woman, from the woman in the car next to me at the stoplight, the one who is keeping time on her steering wheel, all the while wondering if she remembered to thaw anything for dinner . . .

Chang Dai-chien Mist at Dawn ink and wash 1974
“Mist at Dawn” (1974, ink and wash on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

It’s ridiculous, I know, but I still fancy myself that mysterious woman, the one who people wondered about, the one who a professor referred to as a woman of mystery. I like to pretend that’s still me, even though the mystery has faded, and I am just another person trying to get along, trying to survive without going mad.

Can I tell you a secret? Of course, it isn’t much of a secret considering where I am at the moment, but anyway—I always relished my differentness. Not a word, I know, but difference isn’t quite accurate. I have liked being different, not being able to fit into any predetermined niche. I have liked that very much. I have liked that I do not have blond hair and blue eyes, that my name is not ordinary, that my lineage is not easily identifiable.

And yet, there were days when I would have given anything to be like everyone else. Granted, I was still but a child, but to be different when you are a child is a very hard thing.

“He carries stars in his pockets because he knows she fears the dark. Whenever sadness pays her a visit, he paints galaxies on the back of her hands.” ~ Alaska Gold

There was a scene recently in a show that I follow in which the detective goes inside a closet and looks up; she sees stars, the kind of luminous plastic stars that you can stick to the ceiling in a child’s room. I have those stars above my bed. They used to be in the shape of a few constellations. I took great care in the placement, but in the years since, some have fallen down, and the constellations are incomplete. It wouldn’t have taken much to replace the ones that fell, but I chose not to because somehow the incompleteness of what I had created seemed to make more sense.

Chang Dai-chien Diety Trees 1970 ink and color on paper
“Diety Trees” (1970, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

And that, my friends, is the true story of my life.

I gravitate towards the incomplete, the imperfect, the jagged and the broken, the lost, the wandering. It’s a harder road, one that fits squarely inside Frost’s maxim about the less traveled path. I remember I came upon that poem in high school, and it made perfect sense to me.

Why choose the road that everyone else has already taken? Discoveries cannot be made on such roads. Everything new under the sun, if there is still such a thing, will not be on a well-trod path. This I know, but I also admit that I probably could have avoided many falls and scrapes had I chosen differently.

“Look at how beautiful this ink is. Now do you understand why I needed clear water? Water is the brightness of the day and the whiteness of the paper. Black is the velvet of night and the satiny ink of the paintbrush. If you know how to make ink correctly, you will never again be afraid of nightmares.” ~ Françoise Place, from Hokusai (The Old Man Mad About Drawing)

Chang Dai-chien Earth
“Earth” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I once wrote a poem about my ex called “For My Husband, Returning to His Lover” in the style of Anne Sexton’s “For My Lover Returning to his Wife.” I mention this now because I remember a particular passage of my poem in which I refer to my stretch marks:

Look closely, these faint gray lines
at the tops of both my thighs, surely
she has not acquired anything
quite as exquisite.  Mine are badges,
earned by keeping pace with him
for decades–the many treks
we made across life’s arduous terrain.

Each scar on my body is a story. And had I gone the easy way, I would not have these stories to tell. I don’t regret any of it.

Chang Dai-chien Spring Clouds 1965 ink and color on paper
“Spring Clouds” (1965, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Look, I once refused to go on antidepressants because I wouldn’t be able to write. I told that particular doctor—who was a misogynistic quack—that he just didn’t understand, that I was nothing without my extreme highs and lows. Later, a doctor who I respected convinced me otherwise, but there is a part of me that still remembers the intensity of living without medication, and I would be lying if I said that I don’t wish that I had that, had those intense emotions all of the time, but the truth is that living day-to-day with such emotions will kill you, sometimes quickly, and sometimes slowly.

This post has taken on a life of its own, which is what happens when I suddenly unleash the floodgates.

Enough.

More later. Peace.

(I am late in discovering Chinese artist Chang Dai-chien, also known as Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). In 2012, “Lotus and Mandarin Ducks (1947), a  painting by the artist fetched $191 million (Hong Kong) at auction. The price was more than nine times Sotheby’s estimate of HK$20 million.)

Music by Gretchen Peters, “On a Bus to St. Cloud”

We Should Be

We should be born old,
Come wise into the world
Already able to choose our destiny,
Already knowing the pathways that lead from the crossroads of the origin.
Then, it would only be irresponsible to yearn to go ahead.
Afterwards, we’d gradually grow younger,
Come to the gateway of creation mature and strong,
Pass through, and enter into love as adolescents,
Then be children when our children are born.
They’d immediately be older than we are.
They’d teach us to talk; they’d rock us to sleep in a cradle,
And then we’d disappear, getting smaller and smaller,
Like a grape, like a pea, like a grain of wheat …

~ Ana Blandiana