“I am tired of the litany
of months, September . . . October . . .
I am tired of the way the seasons
keep changing, mimicking
the seasons of the flesh
which are real and finite.” ~ Linda Pastan, from “In a Northern Country”
Tuesday late. Very windy and stormy, 51 degrees.
We’ve had Olivia since yesterday morning, so I haven’t really had any time to sit here until now, which is, unfortunately, because I cannot sleep. And I cannot sleep because Thanksgiving is in two days, and the house is a wreck, and Thanksgiving just generally becomes one long litany of stress and pain and a terrible ache because my dad died on Thanksgiving morning, and this is the first one without my mother, and can I just please, please, stay in bed for two or three days?
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
I Love Autumn and the Shade of Meanings
I love autumn and the shade of meanings.
Delighted in autumn by a light obscurity,
transparency of handkerchiefs, like poetry just after
birth, dazzled in night-blaze or darkness.
It crawls, and finds no names for anything.
Shy rain, which moistens only distant things,
(In such autumns, marriage procession
and funeral intersect: the living
celebrate with the dead, and the dead
celebrate with the living.)
I delight to see a monarch stoop,
to recover the pearl of the crown from a fish in the lake.
In autumn I delight to see the commonness of colors,
no throne holds the humble gold in the leaves of humble trees
who are equal in the thirst for love.
I delight in the truce between armies,
awaiting the contest between two poets,
who love the season of autumn, yet differ
over the direction of its metaphors.
In autumn I delight in the complicity between
vision and expression.
“Life can be magnificent and overwhelming—that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live.” ~ Albert Camus
Monday afternoon. Rainy and warm, 74 degrees.
I have an appointment with my pain doctor today, am expecting a lot of trigger point injections in my back. Then I have to find a turkey, which I’m hoping isn’t too big of a deal on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Actually, I have to find two smallish turkeys: one for Mike to smoke, and one for Corey to deep fry. We’re trying something different this year. We shall see . . .
Anyway, not a lot of time to put together anything in any way coherent, so I thought I’d marry Camus and Bonnard in a lovely blend of autumn bliss. Enjoy . . .
“For the moment at least, the waves’ endless crashing against the shore came toward me through a space dancing with golden pollen. Sea, landscape, silence, scents of this earth, I would drink my fill of a scent-laden life, sinking my teeth into the world’s fruit, golden already, overwhelmed by the feeling of its strong, sweet juice flowing on my lips. No, it was neither I nor the world that counted, but solely the harmony and silence that gave birth to the love between us. A love I was not foolish enough to claim for myself alone, proudly aware that I shared it with a whole race born in the sun and sea,alive and spirited, drawing greatness from its simplicity, and upright on the beaches, smiling in complicity at the brilliance of its skies.”
“A Corner of Paris” (c1905, oil on cardboard) by Pierre Bonnard
“Autumn 2” (1967) by Fairfield Porter
:Autumn Leaves at Play” (1950-59, watercolor on paper) by Charles Burchfield
“Lighthouse at Westkapelle” (1910, oil on canvas) by Piet Mondrian
“Autumn Painting” (1945, oil on canvas) by Ivon Hitchens
“Love Lies Bleeding” (1939, oil on canvas) by Emil Nolde
“Willows at Sunset” (1888, oil on canvas board) by Vincent van Gogh
“The Ravine” (1913, oil on canvas) by Rik Wouters
“Red and Brown Leaves” (1925, oil on canvas) by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Forest Vision” (1968, oil on canvas) by Violet Tenberg
“The Hisbiskus Tree” (1892, oil on canvas) by Paul Gauguin
“Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, ‘I am falling to the floor crying,’ but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.” ~ Richard Siken
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and a bit warmer, 52 degrees.
I love the above quote by Richard Siken because I an relate to it so completely—the absurd nature of grief, the contradictory ways in which your mind works when it is hurting most. You feel the pain in your chest, the symbolic breaking of your heart, and yet you notice the dust on the television screen. You weep, nay, you keen, and even as you are doing so, you wonder where the cobweb in the corner of the living room came from.
If we know ourselves, truly know ourselves, then we can anticipate the way in which we will react in certain situations. What is really interesting is the mind of a psychopath—they do not feel regular emotions, so they learn to act emotions, as in, “Oh, I should be sad, so I will put on a sad face,” and they do, but sometimes their sad face isn’t quite right because there is the hint of a smile on the corner of one side of their mouth, and that is when so-called normal people notice the mask slip.
What do I mean by all of this? Who the hell knows. Only that I have found myself reacting as I knew I would react to something major, something life-changing, and even as I did so, I split off and wondered if I was getting mud on my hem.
We are such strange beings . . .
More later. Peace.
Music by Nils Lofgren, “Why Me”
Snow and Dirty Rain
Close your eyes. A lover is standing too close
to focus on. Leave me blurry and fall toward me
with your entire body. Lie under the covers, pretending
to sleep, while I’m in the other room. Imagine
my legs crossed, my hair combed, the shine of my boots
in the slatted light. I’m thinking My plant, his chair,
the ashtray that we bought together. I’m thinking This is where
we live. When we were little we made houses out of
cardboard boxes. We can do anything. It’s not because
our hearts are large, they’re not, it’s what we
struggle with. The attempt to say Come over.Bring
your friends. It’s a potluck, I’m making pork chops, I’m making
those long noodles you love so much. My dragonfly,
my black-eyed fire, the knives in the kitchen are singing
for blood, but we are the crossroads, my little outlaw,
and this is the map of my heart, the landscape
after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is
a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it’s getting cold. We have not touched the stars,
nor are we forgiven, which brings us back
to the hero’s shoulders and the gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it. The lawn drowned, the sky on fire,
the gold light falling backward through the glass
of every room. I’ll give you my heart to make a place
for it to happen, evidence of a love that transcends hunger.
Is that too much to expect? That I would name the stars
for you? That I would take you there? The splash
of my tongue melting you like a sugar cube? We’ve read
the back of the book, we know what’s going to happen.
The fields burned, the land destroyed, the lovers left
broken in the brown dirt. And then’s it’s gone.
Makes you sad. All your friends are gone. Goodbye
Goodbye. No more tears. I would like to meet you all
in Heaven. But there’s a litany of dreams that happens
somewhere in the middle. Moonlight spilling
on the bathroom floor. A page of the book where we
transcend the story of our lives, past the taco stands
and record stores. Moonlight making crosses
on your body, and me putting my mouth on every one.
We have been very brave, we have wanted to know
the worst, wanted the curtain to be lifted from our eyes.
This dream going on with all of us in it. Penciling in
the bighearted slob. Penciling in his outstretched arms. Our father who art in Heaven. Our father who art buried
in the yard. Someone is digging your grave right now.
Someone is drawing a bath to wash you clean, he said,
so think of the wind, so happy, so warm. It’s a fairy tale,
the story underneath the story, sliding down the polished
halls, lightning here and gone. We make these
ridiculous idols so we can to what’s behind them,
but what happens after we get up the ladder?
Do we simply stare at what’s horrible and forgive it?
Here is the river, and here is the box, and here are
the monsters we put in the box to test our strength
against. Here is the cake, and here is the fork, and here’s
the desire to put it inside us, and then the question
behind every question: What happens next? The way you slam your body into mine reminds me
I’m alive, but monsters are always hungry, darling,
and they’re only a few steps behind you, finding
the flaw, the poor weld, the place where we weren’t
stitched up quite right, the place they could almost
slip right into through if the skin wasn’t trying to
keep them out, to keep them here, on the other side
of the theater where the curtain keeps rising.
I crawled out the window and ran into the woods.
I had to make up all the words myself. The way
they taste, the way they sound in the air. I passed
through the narrow gate, stumbled in, stumbled
around for a while, and stumbled back out. I made
this place for you. A place for to love me.
If this isn’t a kingdom then I don’t know what is.
So how would you catalog it? Dawn in the fields?
Snow and dirty rain? Light brought in in buckets?
I was trying to describe the kingdom, but the letters
kept smudging as I wrote them: the hunter’s heart,
the hunter’s mouth, the trees and the trees and the
space between the trees, swimming in gold. The words
frozen. The creatures frozen. The plum sauce
leaking out of the bag. Explaining will get us nowhere.
I was away, I don’t know where, lying on the floor,
pretending I was dead. I wanted to hurt you
but the victory is that I could not stomach it. We have
swallowed him up, they said. It’s beautiful. It really is. I had a dream about you. We were in the gold room
where everyone finally gets what they want.
You said Tell me about your books, your visions made
of flesh and light and I said This is the Moon. This is
the Sun. Let me name the stars for you. Let me take you
there. The splash of my tongue melting you like a sugar
cube… We were in the gold room where everyone
finally gets what they want, so I said What do you
want, sweetheart? and you said Kiss me. Here I am
leaving you clues. I am singing now while Rome
burns. We are all just trying to be holy. My applejack,
my silent night, just mash your lips against me.
We are all going forward. None of us are going back.
“View from the Window” (c1940, oil on canvas) by Axel Nilsson
“A View from the Window” (c1014) by Zinaida Serebriakova
“Open Window. Lilacs” (1886, oil on canvas) by Valentin Serov
“A Window” (1912, watercolor) by Anna Ostroumova Lebedeva
“View from a Studio Window, New York” (1931, oil on canvas) by George Oberteuffer
“Interior” (c1940, oil on cardboard) by Grace Cossington Smith
“Open Window, Etretat” (1920, oil on canvas) by Henri Matisse
“Sunny Window” (nd, oil on canvas) by Astrid Munth de Wolfe
“Window, Tiraspol” (1909, oil on canvas) by Mikhail Fyodorovich Larionov
“Woman at her Window” (1895, oil on canvas) by Pierre Bonnard
“Window on the Promenade, Des Anglais, Nice” (1938, oil on canvas) by Raoul Dufy
“View from a Window” (1909, oil on canvas) by Spencer Frederick Gore
“Night Windows” (1928, oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper
“View from the Window” (1939, oil on canvas) by Stanislav Zhukovsky
“From a Hotel Window” (nd, oil on canvas) by William John Leech
“New York Rooftops, My Window” (1943, oil on cardboard) by Mstislav Dubozhinsky
“A View from the Window” (nd, oil on canvas) by Wojciech Weiss
“Through a Cottage Window, Shipley, Sussex” (1930-40, oil on canvas) by Charles Ginner
“View from a Window” (1933, gouache and paper collage) by John Piper
“Strange how we decorate pain. These ribbons, for instance, and the small hard teardrops of blood. Who are they for? Do we think the dead care?” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Morning in the Burned House”
Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and cooler, 76 degrees.
Last night I had a very melancholy dream: I was working for the government contractor again, preparing a major proposal, but for some reason I was doing the writing/editing at home. At one point during the dream, I’m in a coffee bar, and I’m waiting for a male friend of mine to finish his conversation with his lover. While I am waiting, I begin to draw with colored chalk on one of the walls. I don’t ask—I just do. The image that I create is incredible, swooping colors and forms emerging from my fingertips, and I wonder where this talent came from.
While I’m drawing, my friend leaves, so I sit down on a bench and just stare at what I’ve created. I ask for a glass of wine . . .
Return to home and the proposal . . . for some reason, I’m trying to take a shower so that I can go in to work before the deadline, but I can’t quite get the shower to work, and it’s because i have too much on my mind. This idea of being late for work frequently appears in my dreams. I’ve run into a man with whom I used to share a very deep love, and he tells me that he has remarried and has a child, and this is the last thing I am expecting. I ask him why he didn’t tell me before, and he says that he didn’t know how.
I tell him that I still have to finish one whole section of the proposal, and that I cannot deal with what he has said right now. I turn my back on him so that he cannot see how much he has hurt me, and then I get in the shower with all of my clothes on. By the time I get out, he has gone, and I know that I will never see him again. My mother comes in and asks me why I am taking so long.
When I awake, I’m trying to remember the name of the person in the company who prepared the budgets for the proposals. I can only remember his first name: William. He wasn’t in the dream at all, but somehow my mind has carried on with the proposal theme into waking. I begin the day with a heavy heart.
“All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” ~ Miranda July, from It Chooses You
I won’t pretend that I’m doing better. I mean, I was, for a few days at least. But at this moment, the dining room table is covered with everything that I removed from the small, antique bookcase that sits in the corner of the living room. You see, the other day I decided to try to touch up some scratches on the dining room table . . . hours later, and I had touched up the finish on the coffee table, two end tables, the Bentwood rocker, another rocking chair, and the bookcase. I have no idea how any of this came about. I only know that I worked myself into a state of great pain.
So two days later, everything remains off the shelves and on the table, and I am no closer to having the house clean for Corey’s homecoming on Saturday. So here I sit, tired and depressed and completely unable to muster even a scintilla of energy. At least I have two more days . . .
At the moment, it’s raining, and thankfully, the temperature has dropped. But my mind is still on the dreams, on the chalk image and the heartbreaking words. I haven’t seen this man in decades. I have no idea as to where he is or what his life is like, so that he makes an appearance in my dreams and leaves me feeling devastated is, shall we say, unwelcome? But more, I am wishing that I actually had the artistic talent that I had in the dream, the ability to blend colors, create shapes, all without hesitation or thought.
I don’t know which part of the dream hurts more, and I wonder if other people dream this way: complete scenarios, emotions, colors, smells, tastes . . .
“But I won’t go there again. We are all and only our distances And when we touch that is what we touch. Our messy shelves. Our sullen privations And overabundance of lemons. Our grief, our mountains and fields And rivers of grief.” ~ Dan Chelotti, from “My Sparrow”
Other things: The air is so heavy, and while there is no mist, it feels that there should be one. Does that make sense? I don’t know . . .
Lately my nights are taking on a strange hue: the color of loneliness and ennui. I sit in bed and watch television. The dogs follow me from room to room, looking at me with anticipation as if I am going to do something incredibly exciting, and then sitting rather resolutely when I do not. Do you know how it feels to know that you have disappointed even your dogs? I am thankful for the company, but this loneliness will not lessen. This small house now has too many rooms.
My mother has been much on my mind, of late, and she pops up in my dreams constantly, even when she doesn’t fit the narrative, and that’s how it was in life as well. There is so much my mother never knew about me because at some point I stopped sharing, feeling that I would only receive scorn and negativity, as in, “why in god’s name would you do that?”—a comment I heard more than once in my life.
My mother would call and ask what I was doing, and I would tell her that I was on the computer. She would ask what I was doing on the computer, and I would use that catch-all word: writing, because to explain blogging would have been just too damned hard, and perhaps I didn’t give her credit, and perhaps she didn’t earn that credit, and perhaps I was too hard on her, and perhaps I learned hardness from her.
I only know that this year will be full of firsts, and I am not looking forward to any more of them: Olivia’s first birthday without her, my kids’ first birthdays without their Oma, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, and truly, I would like nothing more than to be far far away when those dates roll around, having no desire to meet them head on.
“Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls, or at least any understanding of our souls that we are able to attain, that every experience is dyed with its color. This is why, even in moments of joy, part of that joy is the seams of ore that are our sorrow. They burn darkly and beautifully in the midst of joy, and they make joy the complete experience that it is. But they still burn.” ~ Christian Wiman, from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
And it’s funny, but when my father appears in my dreams, he is just the same: quiet, unassuming, and I can deal with this visage of my father because it is so like the reality that was. But now, when my mother appears I do nothing but question. Why was she in that dream? What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Because, you see, she is different in the dreams, somehow. It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly. All I know is that sometimes she is so much more caring in my dreams, more concerned about my welfare, and it makes me wonder, really wonder, if she was this way in real life, and I just didn’t see it.
Too much . . . . . . . too much . . . . I am reminded of the Wordsworth poem, “The world is too much with us”:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Late and soon . . . . . . late and soon . . . . .
My life is on a loop replay of literary quotes from things I read and studied so very many years ago. Funnily enough, I came across an older profile of myself in which I called myself a “Virginia poet,” and that really took me aback. How very pretentious of me. I write poetry so seldom now, having little to no faith in my abilities where verse is concerned. Needless to say, I changed the profile, but coming up with even the barest of descriptions for myself was taxing. I mean . . . . . . what am I?
Gah! I am too old to be doing this who am I crap.
“Some begin to talk, to themselves, as do the mad; some give their hearts to silence.” ~ Stephanie Strickland, from “The Red Virgin: A Poem of Simone Weil”
I have said many times—in jest and not—that this world is purgatory, this here and now—this is the realm in which we are destined/doomed to work through our sins, resolve our issues. Again and again and again and again.
I feel as if I have spent my whole adult life to this point just waiting, waiting for life to begin. I will be able to do x once I have done y. I will be able to leave this area once my mother is no longer alive. I will be able to do to do . . . what??? It’s maddening, I tell you. How have I lived this long, done this much, and still have absolutely no idea as to who or what I am?
I am (was?) a daughter, a mother, a spouse, an ex-spouse. For so many years I wanted to be someone’s sister, but that’s another story . . . I have been an editor, a staff writer for a weekly news insert, a newsroom supervisor, a proposal development specialist, a marketing director, a publications manager, and a sales manager. I have taught college, and I have taught middle school. I have managed staffs of 45, and staffs of 2. I have worked in a steak house and in a donut shop. I have been a nanny, a housekeeper, and a restaurant server. I have coordinated special events and memberships.
I have dated navy pilots, a devout catholic boy, a sociopathic liar, lawyers, and others. I married and divorced my best friend, and I married the man who has tried to make my dreams come true.
I have lost a daughter, a father, a mother, a woman who was like a mother, an uncle who was like a father, and many more.
What is the point of this litany? Well, you would think, wouldn’t you, that after all of this I might have a better idea of who and what I am, but I don’t. I really don’t, and part of me, a small part, envies those people who do one job their entire lives; I mean, for them, it seems that everything is clear cut. You work in factory x or business y. You get up, go to work, come home. You get raises and promotions along the way, and when someone asks you what you do, you have an answer.
“Wherever I turn, the black wave rushes down on me.” ~ Franz Kafka, from “Diaries”
Look. If I am to be honest, and that is what I am attempting to do, I would have to say that I have never been satisfied, even in my dream job of teaching English at ODU. While I was doing that, I kept thinking that I really needed to be in a doctoral program, and perhaps if I had followed through with that, I would still be teaching English at some college somewhere.
Follow through. Key words, those. I’m great at starting, at doing, but continuing? Going all the way to the end? As my dad used to say, “Shee-yit.” (I really miss hearing my dad say that. It was his one- word exclamation for just about anything, good and bad.)
Anyway, the point is . . . there is no point. I have reached and passed that milestone birthday, that one that signifies you are now definitely on the downswing of life, and I used to point out to Mari when we were adrift that May Sarton didn’t publish her first novel until she was in her 50s. Somehow, when you are in your 30s, that seems like all of the time in the world, that you have plenty of time to write your own verse.
When I presented Dead Poets Society to my literature classes, I was so finely attuned to Mr. Keating’s words, his query of the young boys: “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” I thought, then, that I did, indeed, have a verse.
Late and soon . . . . . . late and soon . . . . .
It is very late, and it is too soon, and I am no closer to any answers than when I typed the first word of this post. I am doing nothing more than decorating my pain. Atwood and Wordsworth, two worthy wordsmiths. Thanks for hanging in there with me.
More later. Peace.
Music by Lucius, “Go Home”
Sailing on Lake Superior
Before us now the edge of the earth,
below us the nearly endless cold.
Around us nothing but shimmering
the miles of empty and sparkling blue.
For a few hours, the sail fills on
toward infinity. Shadows of
our delicate bodies ebb and flow
across the deck of our delicate boat.
What if the beautiful days, the good
and pacific temperate moments,
weren’t just lovely, but everything?
What if I could let it fall away
in the wake, that ache to extract
meaning from vastness?
Let this suffice; the ease of thinking
it all goes on, whether we’re here
to see it or not. The splashing waves,
the suntipped gulls arcing across
the radiant world.
“Orchard with Blossoming Trees” (1888, oil on canvas)
by Vincent van Gogh
“Bloomy Apple Garden” (1936)
by Nikolay Bogdanov Belsky
“Fruit Trees in Blossom” (1910-11)
by Edvard Munch
“Apple Trees in Blossom” (1896)
by Isaac Levitan
“Orchard in Bloom. Neskuchnoye” (1908)
by Zinaida Zerebriakova
“Apple Trees in Bloom, Old Lyme”
by Childe Hassam
“Apricot Tree in Blossom” (1942)
by Martiros Saryan
“Cherry Tree in Bloom” (1905, oil on canvas)
by Ferdinand Hodler
“Peach Trees in Blossom” (1888, oil on canvas)
by Vincent van Gogh
“Apple Tree, I” (1912, oil on canvas)
by Gustav Klimt
“Lilacs in the Sun” (1872)
by Claude Monet
“Apple Tree after Rain” (1906)
by Mikhail Larionov
“Bluhende Baume” (1935, oil on canvas)
by Ernst Stocker
“Cottonwood Tree in Spring” (1943)
by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Flowering Plum Tree, Eragny” (1894, oil on canvas)
by Camille Pissarro
“Almond Tree in Flower” (1947)
by Pierre Bonnard
“Apple Trees in Full Bloom at Giverny”
by Claude Monet
“Cherry Tree Blossoms”
by Jozsef Rippl-Ronai
“Apple Tree Blooming aka The Eternal Spring” (1908)
by Maurice Denis
Sunday Afternoon Saudade
Here. Have some spring blossoms, scents of apple, peach, lilac, and plum. Listen to some music. Read a poem.
Music by Natalie Walker, “Waking Dream”
What to do with this knowledge
that our living is not guaranteed?
Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
Nothing else matters.
All above us is the touching
of strangers & parrots,
some of them human,
some of them not human.
Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” ~ Iris Murdoch
The Bradford pears and Tulip trees are in full bloom, and I am reminded of the year I made mother’s day cards from photos I had taken of the trees in bloom—I was very pleased with how they had turned out, but my mother looked at hers and said, “What’s this?” Lex later told me that Mom had complained that I was too cheap to buy a card; Lex tried to explain to her that I had shot the photograph, worked with it on Photoshop, and had the print made. I had thought the gesture special. Oh well.
Anyway, I have to admit that when I was clearing out the thousands of cards in my mother’s drawers, I came across almost every card I had given her in the past decade and sometimes beyond, and the flimsy free homemade card I had made her was there.
Here. Have some flowers of spring:
“Poppy Field” by Michael Creese (nd)
“Wannsee Garden” (1923, oil on canvas) by Max Liebermann
“Bloomy Apple Garden” (1936) by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky
“The Poppy FIelds” (c1963) by Anne Redpath
“Flower Garden, Pansies” (1908, oil on canvas) by Emil Nolde
“Poppies and Grasses” (1914, oil on canvas) by Pierre Bonnard
“Yellow Irises” (1901, oil on canvas) by Pablo Picasso
“Black Will-o-the-Wisp” (date unknown, ink and wash) by Takato Yamamoto
“Marsh Marigolds” (1906) by Wladyslaw Slewinski
“Flowers on a Chair” (1958, oil on canvas) by Adrian Ryan
“Sunflowers” (1958-59, oil on board) by Peter Coker
“Magnolien” (1945, oil on canvas) by Cuno Amiet
“Two Austrian Copper Roses III” (1957, oil on canvas laid down on board) by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Still Life with Pansies and Gladiolas” (nd, oil on canvas) by Arthur B. Carles
“Flowers by the Sea” (1965, oil on composition board) by Fairfield Porter
“Les Dahlias” (1921, oil on canvas) by Tsuguhara Foujita
“Glass with Wild Flowers” (1890, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
“Spring Breeze” (1946, oil on canvas) by Otto Torsten Andersson
“Petunias” (1925, oil on hardboard panel) by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Paris Bouquet of Wild Flowers” (1923) by Pierre Bonnard
“Les Roses” (1925-26, oil on canvas) by Claude Monet
“Hyacinth” (1941, oil on board) by Chen Baoyi
“Apple Tree Blooming” aka “The Eternal Spring” (1908) by Maurice Denis
“Poppies and Violet Asters” (nd, watercolor) by Emil Nolde
“L’amandier en fleurs” (1947) by Pierre Bonnard
“The Orchard” (nd, oil on canvas) by Robert William Vonnoh
“Meadow” (1913, oil on canvas) by Mikko Oinonen
“Pink Roses” (1890, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
“Pink and Yellow Tree” (nd, oil on canvas) by Albert Henry Krehbiel
“Orchard with Blossoming Trees” (1888, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
Music by Mussorgsky, “Pictures at an Exhibition” (Promenade), performed by The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
“the soft-aired Tennessee night Gathers it children in its cupped hands. Time has its covenant, and who’s to say that it is unjust. We make our sad arrangements. The sky clears, the sun sets. No matter the words, we never forget our own song. ~ Charles Wright, from “Arrivederci Kingsport”
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cool, 60 degrees.
A very quiet afternoon, alone in the house, just the dogs and me. Sometimes the quiet is too dense, as if it is filling all of the spaces around me, removing the oxygen and replacing it with something unnameable but palatable.
It’s this first week in November that does me in, causes my heart to collapse, makes my mind travel to dark places. This week—it is too much with me. “The world is too much with me” . . . Wordsworth? Yes, Wordsworth. For a moment almost said Eliot, but it is not cynical enough. Wordsworth still had hope, I think.
Don’t worry if you cannot follow along. I cannot either. Heavily immersed in stream of consciousness, easier than linear thought—at times, this is so.
If you want to know how little you matter in the grand scheme, Google your name. Grandeur is quickly extinguished. Who does this?
“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God
In memory, the days from that Halloween until the seventh of November all collapse upon each other, like white-dotted dominoes laid out in a row. Unable to halt the tide, unable to hold at bay the hours. Nothing could have stopped what happened.
Alexis, small and innocent, a fairy princess, a silver magic wand, a plastic crown. Standing on the front porch, posing for her last picture as a sister until years later.
There was a nurse in a clown costume, or was it a rag doll costume(?). I remember only the bright colors, the two red circles on her cheeks. I wondered then how anyone who worked amidst such perpetual sadness could muster the mettle to come to work in costume, to tend the grievously ill for 12 hours dressed as a doll? Who does this?
Now it makes perfect sense. The costumes provided an escape, albeit temporary, from the monitors, the beeps, the sterile white noise that is the backdrop to everything in an intensive care unit.
“If you have endured a great despair, then, you did it alone; getting a transfusion from the fire, picking the scabs off your heart, then wringing it out like a sock.” ~ Anne Sexton, from Courage
From that night forward, it was as if we were propelled by adrenaline and sadness. Ineffable sadness. The six days between were anomalous to the twenty-four-hour cycle, having only two or three hours a day. I’m certain of it. Time was different then. Supernormal with its sunrises and sunsets heaped upon one another, not enough minutes between sleeping and waking, perpetually exhausted.
Did I eat? I don’t remember. I do remember many cups of coffee.
Approximately one hundred and forty-four hours between Alexis’s fairy princess smile and Caitlin’s pale countenance. Everything about the two was opposite: Alexis’s fair skin and hair, and Caitlin’s olive skin and dark dark hair—as if fate sought to heighten the differences between the two.
Of course we will never know what kind of personality Caitlin might have had, whether she would have been a reader, or perhaps a writer, what she would have liked to do with her time, what paths she might have chosen. All such speculation is pointless. How much can you know of a person in seven months? How much of a person can seven months reveal?
“I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones.” ~ Rebecca Stead, from When You Reach Me
Long before Google could tell me of my irrelevance, I met it first-hand on a November afternoon. It only took a few minutes to break my heart irreparably, to harden me with a cold cynicism bred from loss.
I think that I laughed more easily before that day, found more joy in the ordinary nothingness. I know that I smiled more, or at least, I think so. But it would be a lie to say that I knew how to be happy then because I don’t think that I’ve ever quite known how to do that.
I will not lie to you: I do not remember what Caitlin looked like. I mean, I know from the pictures, but I cannot, simply am quite unable to conjure her image in my mind. She has become two-dimensional.
I never thought I would find the day in which I could no longer smell her, so long did I carry her belongings with me wherever I went.
It this all too much for you? Perhaps I should have warned you sooner of my propensity to crash so completely, should have placed a label somewhere to shield you from my carefully guarded obsession with those days in early November, the ones that I hoard like first editions and garage-sale masterpieces.
“But I understand how light works. . . . . . . . . . .
Later I will go out in a leopard-coat of light with you: just me and the trees baring themselves for winter, and the marbled paving stones, and my empty hand shining” ~ Henry Shukman, from “The Call”
I am never quite sure how much to say when my mind and heart conspire against me and take me back to that afternoon and the days immediately preceding. It’s as if I somehow can still be caught unawares, regardless of how many times I have made this journey.
And sometimes I think it would be better if I did not allow myself to acknowledge this tack, pretend it is not just there, on the periphery of my vision, waving its arms madly to get my attention. If I just don’t look . . . perhaps . . . maybe. If I spend enough hours in the bathtub with the lights out, it won’t be able to get a toehold, will fall away.
Who am I kidding? It always wins. Always.
More later. Peace.
Music by Bastille, “Oblivion”
Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don’t let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he’s running
and singing too. He could be happy.