“Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are.” ~ Harper Lee, from Go Set a Watchman

Swingset by Nate Lampa (FCC)

“I am tired like the ancients were tired.” ~ Natalie Lyalin, from “Your Brain is Yours”

Saturday afternoon, overcast and warmer, 57 degrees.

So last night was pure hell. Earlier in the evening, Corey spotted a dog that was not ours beneath the swing-set on the side of the house, and then we heard a bunch of howling. He went to investigate, and at the top of the driveway, and he saw several strange dogs roaming around, apparently chasing something.

Anyway, this went on for hours during the night, and each time that the pack would start barking and yelping, Maddy would sit up and begin to bark. It’s really hard to sleep through all that noise. We both had the hardest time getting back to sleep, and consequently, I ended up dreaming that I couldn’t sleep, which is incredibly tiring. I had very strange dreams involving my mother—who has been in my dreams repeatedly lately—a dessert, a gay couple, and Olivia’s toys.

You know the theory that your dreams are your brain’s method of sifting through the day’s detritus? Well apparently my brain was overflowing with many a non sequitur, that is if indeed my dreams are any kind of barometer of such things.

“Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds, the world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly, and changes nothing.” ~ Philip Levine, from “Let Me Begin Again”

Corey has taken all of the dogs for a long walk to the big pond, which leaves the house blissfully quiet, except for my music and the hum of the washing machine. Ever since the first time he took them there, they now head for it anytime he leaves the house; I think that they’re looking for him, but when they don’t find him, they come back. I shouldn’t worry, but I know that there are coyotes here, and the puppies are still puppies, after all.

I know. I know. I worry too much.

When we left the house on Benjamin, I really looked forward to having a house that wasn’t inherently dusty, which that one was; however, as I knew nothing about the soot that wood stoves produce, I was unprepared for the layers and layers of dust that inhabit this house. I suppose as with the mud, I just need to wait for warmer temperatures when the stove isn’t heating the house, and then I can sweep away the dust and cobwebs and start anew.

Of course, I say that now, but who knows how I’ll feel when it is actually spring, and as Corey reminded me this morning, spring is less than two weeks away. My inability to track time seems to be getting worse the older that I get. I’ve always seemed to skip over November and February, but this feels worse, somehow. Don’t ask me how as I truly don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking forward to warmer temperatures too much that I feel as if once again I’m setting myself up for failure; I mean, I have so many projects that I want to finish. Will I just retreat further inside and get nothing at all accomplished?

Who knows? Certainly not I.

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore

I wonder how other people do it—live their lives, I mean. I don’t remember a time in my life in which I was not living with my depression. It’s a way of life for me, so I truly wonder how people who do not suffer from this crippling disorder manage to make it through their days. I know that some have religion, and some have drugs, and some have money, but what about the rest of them? Are they floating through their lives as seemingly lost as I have always been?

I know that yesterday I mentioned those two incredibly talented people who I knew in high school, and how their lives turned out so differently than anyone ever thought they would or could. But I mean, come on. I know that there are people out there whose days are not filled with self-doubt. Are they sociopaths? Is that how they move through their days, blissfully unaware of pain and anguish? Or are they so completely satisfied with their lots in life that they just move forward and never look back?

How does it work? How does it work for people unlike me who feel everything too much, so much that eventually we become numb, closed off for protection or fear or both? I think again of concentration camp survivors, most of whom are now dead, but how did they get on with their lives after such unimaginable cruelty was visited upon them? How did they have enough strength and faith to raise families, have careers, kindle friendships? As opposed to their great suffering I feel like an ungrateful peon.

“. . . but as you know any
amount of time is an uncertain one.” ~ Dalton Day (source uncertain)

Corey is back from his walk, and he managed to tire all of the dogs thoroughly. Tink came in, jumped on the couch and was immediately asleep. I envy dogs and cats their abilities to fall asleep so quickly. I don’t think that animals ever have insomnia, or at least, they don’t toss and turn all night thinking about bills and utilities and missteps and failures. It seems their dreams are filled with running and chasing and playing, as anyone who has ever watched a dog run in its sleep can attest.

Actually, I envy anyone who sleeps easily. Corey is only troubled occasionally with insomnia. My first husband could fall asleep easily. I know that in my youth I could sleep anywhere at any time. On a school trip to New York, I fell asleep at a Knicks’ game, which still amazes me. I have fond memories of curling up on Yvonne’s wing back chair, much like a cat, and falling fast asleep.

When each of my children were babies, I used to lay on the big hammock in my in-laws’ backyard with them, and we would sleep companionably under the shade until someone would wake us. I was never so at peace as the moments I spent with my babes in my arms, asleep, inviolable. Life was so different then, seemingly, but probably not. Whenever we look back, our memories are colored by whatever we wish to wash them wish. I’m not so much a fool that I don’t know that to be true.

“Time is not a solid, like wood, but a fluid, like water or the wind. It doesn’t come neatly cut into even-sized length, into decades and centuries. Nevertheless, for our purposes we have to pretend it does. The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Robber Bride

There are memories that I can snatch at will, and then there are memories that I can only find the edges of, as if I know that something is there, but I can never quite uncloak it completely in order to take it out and examine it. I am reminded of Oriental puzzle boxes, with all of the false drawers and interlocking pieces; once taken apart, they are so hard to piece together properly, that is, until you find the secret. I think that memories are like that—that there is a secret to the ones stored deeply, and only when you come upon the answer are you allowed to touch them again.

I once thought that I would never forget the way that Caitlin smelled or how soft the skin was on her chubby arms, but I was wrong. I can remember neither. I can only remember the memory of what that was like, but I cannot recall the exact smell or the incredible velvet of her skin. Yet there have been times over the years in which something from some unknown place has assailed my senses, and I am once again in that hospital room, holding her close and inhaling deeply the very essence of her in order to imprint it upon my very cells, the core of my being.

The recall of such memories is both a boon and a curse. I want them more than anything, but once they come upon me, the pain is so acute that I want nothing more than to feel nothing again. And the truly sad part—in my mind—is that I find myself doing that now with memories of each of my children, no longer just Caitlin: the early spring afternoon Alexis and I lay in the hammock in my back yard, and she fell asleep in my arms even though she was six; the time that Eamonn asked me so earnestly when he could tell Corey that he loved him; the many, many times that Brett and I lay in my big bed and watched movies together when no one else was home.

It’s all a deep soul pain t hat never abates, mingled with a spark of contentment that can never be replaced.

Pure love. Irreparable loss.

The heart would have it all again, regardless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Rosie Golan, “Been a Long Day”


End of Winter

Over the still world, a bird calls
waking solitary among black boughs.

You wanted to be born; I let you be born.
When has my grief ever gotten
in the way of your pleasure?

Plunging ahead
into the dark and light at the same time
eager for sensation

as though you were some new thing, wanting
to express yourselves

all brilliance, all vivacity

never thinking
this would cost you anything,
never imagining the sound of my voice
as anything but part of you—

you won’t hear it in the other world,
not clearly again,
not in birdcall or human cry,

not the clear sound, only
persistent echoing
in all sound that means good-bye, good-bye—

the one continuous line
that binds us to each other.

~ Louise Glück

 

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Two for Tuesday: Kate Daniels

Old Abandoned House by sallads on deviantART cc
Old Abandoned House
by sallads (deviantART cc)

                   

“I am
a witness of living storm—
someone who sees shadows” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, from “On a Red Horse”

Abandoned House Daniel STL FCC
Abandoned House
by danielSTL (FCC)

Crowns

for Philip Levine

Around the time I first read the poetry of Philip Levine,
my teeth were fixed. Two or three hundred bucks
(I’ve forgotten now) purchased a brand new me,
two porcelain crowns. In the dentist’s chair, my midget
canines were filed down to sharp, bright points
hardly larger than the bronzed end of a Bic
pen, then crammed in the black-backed caps
of two hardened, china fakes. No more
covering my mouth to obscure the evidence
of faulty genes. No more tears at images
embezzled from graduation picnics
when Darrell Dodson picked me up and slung me
in the pool, and someone took a picture
of my lips slacking back to reveal my gums
in what appeared to be a scream. No more breezes
winding through the gappy pickets of my ill-grown
teeth and down my throat. No more worrying
some boy would snag his tongue in the zigzagged bulkhead
of my upper row, and bring us both to blood.

I’ll love Levine forever for confessing his own struggles
with orthodontia, his rot-plagued “Depression mouth,”
a dentist called it, his cavities and root canals, his occipital pain,
for his photograph in Antaeus, the summer of ’78,
the stained and crooked slabs parked compellingly
behind his grin. Our teeth connected us before the poetry,
he, from the immigrant onion-eaters and temperate tipplers
of Manischiewtz. I, from a long line of tannin-stained
Irish Catholics who smoked themselves to fragile
states of calcium depletion, and a recent run of Carolina
gritballs, too poor to brush, too ignorant to care their teeth
retired in early middle age. I can see them now, perplexed
before an apple’s crispy rind, frustrated by a succulent, stringy rack
of pork ribs barbequed in the side lot of Earlene Worsham’s
gas station south of town. Levine would have understood my uncles,
enthroned on plastic-covered kitchen chairs patched with tape,
their work boots kicking up mucky clouds of chiggery dirt,
their pick ups parked nearby, shotguns in the rack,
sucking on cheap beers and harsh cigarettes,
their nails starved by nicotine to yellow curls, the car grease
embedded permanently in the creases of their hands.

When I met him, he was such a mensch, massive
in my mind, but in the flesh, something touching
about his shoulders in the worn tweed jacket, something
vulnerable in his feet in an ordinary pair of soiled, white sneakers.
He opened his mouth to laugh, one side rising up
like it does, in that derisive gesture that seems, at first, a sneer,
and I remembered my mother flexing back her lips to remove
delicately, with two stained fingers, just so, a fleck of tobacco
lodged between her teeth, and saw again my father flossing at the table
with the torn off cover of a paper book of matches,
then stubbing out his butt in the yellowed, oily pod of broken yolk
that was hemorrhaging across his breakfast plate.

I can face those images now without the shame
I carried in the days before the poetry of Phil Levine
liberated me. I can look at anything now, because I keep
his picture in my mind and his poems in my pocket.
I can stand my life because I wear the crown he constructed
for people like me — grocery checkers, lube jobbers, truck drivers,
waitresses — all of us crowned with the junkyard diadems
of shattered windshields and rusty chains, old pots
with spit tobacco congealing inside, torn screen doors
and gravestones in the front yard, just five short steps from life to death…

So there is my family with their broken beer bottles
and patched shoes, their mutts chained in a back yard
carved from a stingy pine woods, on cheap land
out near the county dump where the air swells with the perfume
of trash, a circle of them playing poker in a trailer somewhere
in the woods, or razoring the state decal from the windowshield
of a ransacked wreck to transfer to my brother’s car.
Or cleaning fish on the back porch and throwing the guts
to the tick-clogged dogs, or frying venison in a cast-iron pan
and stinking up the house with that heavy smell, showing
the buck’s big balls in a plastic cannister that once held salt.
Or burning tires in a field some autumn, scumming
the sky with a smoky, cursive black they can’t even read
but inhale poisonously again and again.

And there I am, walking along tolerantly now, with Phil Levine,
his poems in my pocket, his good rage gathered in my heart
and I can love them again, the way I did in the years before
I saw what they were and how the world would use them
and accepted the fact they were incapable of change.
We’re in a field I used to love, a redbone coonhound running ahead
her ears dragging the edges of the goldenrod till they are tipped
in pollen, like twin paintbrushes dipped in gilt. And the world
is hunting dogs and country music and unschooled voices
bending vowels and modest kitchen gardens where late tomatoes
are tied up with brownish streamers of old nylon hose.
The vast way your chest expands when the sun gradually sets
in mid-fall in central Virginia. The tobacco barns glimmering
in last light, the chinks darkening now, the slats solidifying at the close of day
and your mind opening up like the pine forest swishing fragrantly overhead
way up in the dark that is coming, but remains, for the moment, beautifully at bay.

                   

Chemainus House by molajen FCC
Chemainus House
by molajen (FCC)

                   

Photo by William Christenberry

Akron, Alabama, circa 1960

This is what it was like to grow up
down there, then. A pretty place
but desolate. The signs that are supposed
to tell you what to do, or be, or buy
are faded to the point of inarticulation.
You surmise people used to talk
about everything you need to know
but have grown silent for some reason.
A black man sat down in a soda shop
to eat a bite, and terrified, it seemed, the patrons.
I was there in that tense silence,
licking my strawberry cone, and it was
just like this picture of kudzu in winter,
the prettiness all covered over
with something growing too fast,
enshrouding the landscape with a sinewy
fabric that lives off the lives of others.
Or this next one of the house and car
in Akron, Alabama. The house is beat-up
and rusty, but habitable. You could live there
fine until something happens – a cross
flaming on the uncut lawn, or your housegirl’s husband
with his foot shot off. That blue car’s
been in the yard forever just waiting
for you to need it, and now you do.
So you head out, past the washer on the porch
and down the walk. You get in and realize
you’re not going anywhere: it’s up on blocks,
overrun by families of mice and birds. Why
did you never notice that before? How stuck here
you are with the blank sky and the fallen fences, the awful
unexplained silences of the South.

                    

Music by The Heavy, “Long Way from Home”