“. . . life is always more complicated than the headlines allow; poetry comes in when the news is not enough.” ~ Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong aged two with his mother and aunt at Philippines refugee camp

“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.

Portrait of Ocean Vuong in the playground behind the house where he grew up in Glastonbury, Connecticut on April, 16, 2019 by Mengwen Cao

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)

Telemachus

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.

(Found on Foward Arts Foundation)


Music by Jasmine Thompson, “Mad World” (one of my favorite songs)

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“Northeaster,” by Winslow Homer (1895)

                   

“The dead have no sense of tact, no manners, they enter doors without knocking, but I continue to deal with them . . . They pack their bodies into my dreams, they eat my feelings . . . but I cannot shake them and do not want to. Their story, being part of mine, refuses to reach an end.” ~ Thom Gunn, from “Postscript: The Panel

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and cool.

"Northeaster," by William Beaubre (nd, watercolor on paper)

The first of November, the beginning of my worst month, the onset of my deep melancholy. Remembrance of those gone before me, memories of moments, snippets in time. Longings for what was and will never be again.

November 1st, the bane of my year.

Kathleen’s birthday on November 1st. I fear she is gone from my life for good. Mari’s birthday on October 1st. I fear I have lost her. Alan’s birthday November 23, gone much too young, and I never made that last visit. And then there are the anniversaries of the deaths. It’s all too much.

I saw my father once after he had died. He was sitting in the chair in my mother’s living room. That was the longest sighting. I’ve probably not mentioned that as it seems more than a bit off-kilter. But I have seen him in a few other glimpses since. Not in dreams, but in waking. I wonder about that.

I hate this time of year, and I love it. The dichotomy eats at me. I embrace the colors, the smells, the cool wind on my face. I have always loved autumn more than any other season, since I was young and old enough to remember. Yet I wish that the losses I have suffered were not so acutely present in autumn.

“Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Friday afternoon. Overcast, low 60’s and windy. Storm brewing.

I had wanted to write a full post on Tuesday, to continue on my melancholic journey, but Eamonn had the day off from work, which meant that access to the working computer in his room was limited. It is hard to write about grief and loss when the movie Troy is playing in the background (Brad P.’t buffness kept distracting me). And so I abandoned the post, hoping to return on Wednesday, and then on Thursday, only to find myself now finally sitting here, wondering where I was going with all of this.

"Capul Caliacra pe Furtună" (Cape Kaliakra on the Storm), by Eugen Voinescu (oil on canvas)

On Wednesday, I had to download a presentation program for Eamonn’s project, which led to the computer crashing and freezing. Corey and I took turns deleting unnecessary programs. I say that we took turns because it took so long to delete just one program that the process—which should have taken no more than 30 minutes tops—ended up taking hours. Deleting just one program under 40 MG took a good 20 to 30 minutes. This hard drive is essentially hanging on with a wing and a prayer.

Then Thursday, yesterday, I had two doctor’s appointments, one of which was to get the Botox for my migraines. I was mistaken in thinking that the shots would go into my scalp. Instead, I got shots between my eyebrows. on the top of my forehead, at my temples, behind my ears, and down my neck. Now we are in wait and see mode: wait to see if it takes effect, and see if it actually makes any difference.

So here I am, three days later, trying to remember what I had to say on Monday.

“a wind has blown the rain away & the sky away & all the leaves away, & the trees stand. i think i, too, have known autumn too long.” ~ E.E. Cummings

"L'orage" (The Storm), by Georges Michel (1843)

The house is very quiet. Corey is at work, as is Eamonn. Em and Brett are away for their conference this weekend, so it’s just the dogs and me. I had the saddest dream before I awoke: I was in a children’s hospital ICU, and I was visiting a baby girl who was quite ill. Her mother was also very ill. Somewhere in my dream, the mother had been bitten by a child vampire, so she was dying and had to be isolated from her baby. I told the nurses that I wanted to adopt the baby,who they had named Emma.

The social services people came and started asking me questions, and then they went away. I found out that my mother had sent them away and had told them that I wasn’t interested in adopting the baby. I became furious and tracked down the people who would be deciding and plead my case, and just as they were about to make a decision, I woke up.

Hate, hate, hate dreams like that, especially when a baby girl is just within my reach but not quite.

I remember thinking in the dream that the baby was quite ill and that it was possible that she would die, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to give her a loving home. Of course, she was olive-skinned with dark hair and brown eyes. My soul tortures me even in my sleep.

“Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.” ~ Adelaide Crapsey, from “November Night

So the pain level today? Head about a 2, back about an 8. It’s a trade-off. I consider myself lucky when it’s just one or the other and not both.

"The Wave," by Gustave Courbet (1870, oil on canvas)

Last night I helped Brett with an annotated bibliography for his technical writing class. Hate those things, especially in APA style, which I do not know by heart as I do MLA style. In fact, all styles are quite arbitrary. I mean, index numbers, no index numbers, date order, list of authors using an ampersand or the word and . . . and on and on ad nauseum. Reminded me of one of the aspects of research that I truly hate.

But it also reminded me of how much I miss doing research of my own. Of course, nothing is stopping me from doing research. Only myself. The very nature of research has changed so much in the last decade, with sources available with a few key search terms. It’s possible to find ten or twenty good sources within a half hour if you know what you’re doing.

Anyway, my next school project is to help Eamonn with his Power Point presentation for medical terminology. He chose Parkinson’s Disease as his topic. I was surprised that he did so, but then, not really. All of the kids are grieving their grandmother in their own way. Eamonn internalizes, Brett talks, Alexis cries.

As for me, I truly dread the upcoming holidays. My mind keeps flashing this picture of my m-in-law sitting at the end of the table in her dining room, wearing one of those silly paper hats that come out of a Christmas cracker. I cannot get the image out of my head.

“There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

I read something recently, cannot remember where (sorry), that discussed the downside to having personal blogs, to putting so much personal information out there into the ether where it will remain forever and ever, amen.

"Between the Waves," by Ivan Aivazovsky (1898)

Of course, I have considered this, but quite frankly, I do not care. I try to respect other people’s privacy and not use full names, but what I put out here about myself is my responsibility, no one else’s, and unlike some teenager who is craving social acceptance, I am an adult who has made this decision fully aware of the potential pitfalls. I chose this forum; I use this forum to talk about life, my dreams and desires, and sometimes I venture into other territories, like politics, but I do not sit here at this keyboard expecting my words to be taken as anything more than what I intend: my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I do not claim to be a news blog, but those who do, should abide by the rules.

I mean, I have had people leave really nasty comments when I was posting about politics during the 2008 presidential election; that’s the expected price one pays for opining in an online forum And I have had my stalker, who picks and chooses what he/she wants to use against me, but in spite of this, I do not worry. I mean, I have no employer who is policing what I write to see if I slander the company or my managers. I’ve never written anything deliberately libelous against a former employer.

But I must admit that I am bothered by the very nature of the Internet that allows anyone to say anything about anyone. There exists no type of safe-hold. In some ways, it’s the first amendment run amok. Personal blogs and chat rooms have no managing editor to nix content. So things go out there, and people who are not as discerning as they should be, accept these words whole cloth.

I think that the maxim that just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something should be considered more carefully. But of course, that’s just my two cents. Not sure what took me off on that tangent. Apologies.

“There is starlight drifting on the black water.
There are stones in the sea no one has seen.
There is a shore and people are waiting.
And nothing comes back.
Because it is over.
Because there is silence instead of a name.” ~ Mark Strand, from “Elegy for my Father”

"The Northeaster, Cape Ann," by Ted Kautzky (1945, watercolor on paper)

Outside, the sky is darkening quickly, and the wind is gusting. Sounds like a nor’easter is coming. The various wind chimes surrounding the house are clanging in the background. On days such as this, I wish that I could take a hot bath, soak in the water with the candles lit, a cup of hot Constant Comment, or Typhoo, or Darjeeling on the ledge. But our old tub has a few rust holes in it which prevents it from holding water. Another thing on our list of home repairs needing attending to . . .

I have yet to buy flowers for Caitlin’s grave for the fall and winter.  I have memories of walking the aisles at the big florist wholesale place in downtown Norfolk, looking for just the right combination of silk flowers to place on my daughter’s grave, a bi-annual ritual that I have since abandoned. This year, though, I feel a need to do this again, to look for temporary beauty to take to a place that is both beautiful and horrible, the infant cemetery.

But it is a place that has brought me comfort in an odd sort of way, a place that I used to frequent daily, and then weekly, and then intermittently. It is the place that used to anchor me to this city, this region, the thought of not being nearby was actually impossible to fathom.

She has not come to me in dreams in a very long time. If I had to, I could leave this place now, knowing that she is in my heart and not in that place of parents’ worst nightmare made true. I suppose I have reached some sort of resolution in my own small way.

More later. Peace.

Music by David Gray, “As I’m Leaving”

                   

In November

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

~ Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems