A Different Kind of Friday . . .

William Stanley Merwin (1927-2019)


“This is how I live
Up here and simply” ~ from “I Live Up Here”
 

I am quite late in acknowledging the passing of a wonderful American poet, so I decided to post this today instead of my usual Friday leftovers.

Poet W. S. Merwin died on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, March 15, 2019. He was 91. U. S. Poet Laureate from 2010 to 2011, Merwin won numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award in 2005. Merwin was an incredibly prolific writer who published almost three dozen volumes of poetry, essays, short fiction, and memoirs. He was also known for his translations of Dante and Pablo Neruda, as well as other poets. Merwin’s poems, which often dealt thematically with moments in time and passing time, were devoid of punctuation and predominantly spare, though still poignant and powerful. I remember that one of my favorite poems was about the grey whale, “For a Coming Extinction.”

A passionate student and admirer of the natural world, Merwin devoted many years to personal conservation efforts on his former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, on which he planted thousands of palms, as well as numerous other natural species of flora.

But perhaps my favorite bit of trivia about the poet is that he refused to answer the telephone. God, I love that and can completely relate. In case you haven’t heard it from me enough, I hate the telephone, and only use it (when it works) to make and cancel appointments. Otherwise, I ignore it.

For a lovely remembrance of Merwin, see poetry editor Kevin Young’s essay in The New Yorker. Also, you may want to visit The Merwin Conservancy here. Below I am including his 2005 poem about fellow poet John Berryman, under whom he studied at Princeton.


Berryman

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don’t lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you’re older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

(Found on Poetry Foundation)


Music by Fleurie, “Gloria Regali”

“Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Tree”

Neverland by Hannes Flo, (FCC)

“My life is a crystal teardrop. There are snowflakes falling in the teardrop and little figures trudging around in slow motion. If I were to look into the teardrop for the next million years, I might never find out who the people are, and what they are doing.” ~ Joan Baez, as found in Joan Didion’s “Where the Kissing Never Stops”

Friday afternoon, snow and rain, cold, 39 degrees.

During the night when I was letting the dogs out, I looked out to see snow covering the ground, which was a surprise. The weather forecast did not call for snow, only more rain. Corey and I agree that the weather here is actually quite depressing. I can only hope that as the weather gets warmer that we are finally able to dry out around here. The mud is overwhelming, as is the near constant rain.

So we lost internet Wednesday night, right as I was watching that new documentary on HBO about Michael Jackson, Finding Neverland. It’s actually quite disturbing as it features two men who were childhood victims of abuse at Jackson’s hands. Truthfully, I’m surprised that they were able to make it. I know that Jackson’s estate sues people all of the time. Nevertheless, it’s more than time that these victims were able to tell their stories.

Anyway, I can’t believe the nerve of some companies, wanting to be paid for their services as opposed to offering them for free. I remember reading something sometime ago about how Tesla wanted electricity to be free, and someone who wanted the internet to be free. Such radical ideas: actually giving the public something that they can use as opposed to making a profit.

Hmm……..Things that make you go hmm……

“I hear two sibilants—here silk,
the snowstorm outside. Beating soul
and breathing blood. We both got what
we wanted” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva, from “Playacting” (Trans. Christopher Whyte)

I decided to be proactive for a change, and rather than wait for the internet to become available again, I decided to go ahead and write some posts on Microsoft Word until we can get it restored on Monday. Then I’ll just post and backdate, which I know is cheating, but hey, when you’re me, and you never know what day it is, does it really matter?

So no podcasts for me for a bit, so I’ve been listening to some of my old music playlists. I made the mistake of putting on an old country playlist while I was taking a bath, and boy, some of those songs are just heartbreaking. For example, there was Blaine Larsen’s, “How Do You Get so Lonely,” which is about a boy who commits suicide, and then there was “Alyssa Lies,” which is about child abuse.

Boy, I know how to put together a playlist that makes you want to cut your wrists with a rusty razor blade—that was a Kathleen saying, or maybe it was a Gail saying. Can’t remember. But those two women were big friends of mine once upon a time.

“I’m tired of my life, my clothes, the things I say. I’m hacking away at the surface, as at some kind of gray ice, trying to break through to what is underneath or I am dead. I can feel the surface trembling—it seems ready to give but it never does..” ~ James Salter, from a letter to Robert Phelps (July 6, 1969-70)

Yesterday, I wrote a letter to another long-time friend of mine, the woman who taught me piano for almost eight years. I always looked up to her, and when she got melanoma years ago, I was so afraid that she would succumb to it, but fortunately, she didn’t, and she went on to have a son by a man who later betrayed her big time.

She was such a classy, talented woman, and oddly enough, she’s the one who made me love Bach, who I had always eschewed before she started teaching me. I was intimidated by Bach—too many notes on the page, as it were, but I learned to master his Two-Part Inventions, and went on to the Three-Part Inventions before I stopped.

I really miss playing, but my piano is in terrible shape. I hope that one day I can find a decent used piano to purchase. Corey’s parents had a beautiful piano in their basement that I always coveted, but then his brother threw out the keys that had come loose, and they got rid of the piano. I miss learning new pieces. I mean, I could teach myself, but there is something special about learning from someone who really knows music. God I loved to play the piano, and I was relatively good at it. I wasn’t one of those naturals who can sit down at a keyboard and just play what they hear in their brains, nor could I ever master changing keys on my own.

I went to school with a couple of people like that, incredibly talented both of them. The one who played the cello died of AIDS during the height of the epidemic, and the other, who played any instrument she touched, ended up having a major tragedy in her life that she never recovered from.

“My wound existed before me;
I was born to embody it.” ~ Joë Bousquet, from “Traduit du silence”

Which just proves that no one is immune from life’s travails, regardless of talent, and here I am still, even when I never imagined being this old, never thought that I would make it this far, and I still feel mediocre every single day of my life. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching for months now, trying to figure out why I can’t be happy. Honestly, I still don’t have an answer, and my inability to find one just makes me madder and madder at myself.

Granted, the last few years have been majorly stressful, and that I even made it out in sort of one piece still amazes me. I remember years ago, after I lost Caitlin, and I went to that first psychiatrist (who I loathed), and he told me that losing a child is ranked as the second or third biggest stressor in life, with being in a concentration camp ranking as first. How did people even survive that when they were finally liberated? How did they not hate everyone and everything?

Anyway, I had a point, which was that other life stressors include moving, starting a new job, and getting married. I got married (the first time), moved to Blacksburg, and started graduate school and teaching composition all within two weeks of each other.
I supposed I’ve never been one to do things half way. It’s all or nothing. Or maybe, it’s everything or nothing. Who knows.

“All I can hear now is the sound of my own heart, opening and closing, opening and closing, opening.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Handmaid’s Tale

But getting back to the idea of being happy: I know that only I can control my happiness. I’m not naïve enough to think that someone else can make me happy. No matter how much Corey loves and cares for me, he cannot control what is inside of me, nor does he try to.

There is such a feeling of deep regret within me, regret, and guilt, and a sense of being incredibly ungrateful.

Let me explain: I have wanted to live in the mountains, on my own property, for as long as I can remember, ever since the first time I drove into Blacksburg to visit Paul. I knew in that instant that my soul belonged in the mountains. So here I am, surrounded by everything I ever wanted, land, an incredible vista, animals, yet somehow, it’s not enough.

No. Let me back that up. It’s not that it’s not enough; it’s that there is such a large hole in my heart that I’m having a hard time allowing myself to be filled with the splendor with which I am surrounded. Aside from the mud, this place is everything. But I don’t have my kids, and I no longer have a home in Norfolk. I wasn’t able to keep my parents’ home in the family, and I know that many people are not able to do this, but I feel like such a failure because of that, and because I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to have it someday. And more than that, I want my kids.

It’s coloring everything, and I hate it more than I can say, so maybe I should stop trying to say anything more at the moment.

More later. Peace.


Music by Ruelle, “Slip Away”

 


Rebus

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

~ Jane Hirshfield (found on Poetry Foundation)

“. . . I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.” ~ Gov. Rick Scott, Candidate for Senate

Recounting Ballots by Hand in Minnesota 2008 by Jonathunder (Wikimedia Commons)
Recounting Ballots by Hand in Minnesota 2008 by Jonathunder (Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday afternoon, sunny and cold, 39 degrees.

That Polar blast is definitely here.

As of just a short while ago, Florida is headed for a mandatory statewide recount in not one, but three races: governor and senator, as well as agricultural commissioner (the recount includes two state house seats in dispute). According to The New York Times:

As of noon on Saturday, the deadline for the state’s counties to hand in unofficial results, three statewide races remained under the 0.5 percentage point margin for a legally required machine recount: the Senate race between Mr. Scott, a Republican, and Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat; the governor’s race between Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, and the commissioner of agriculture race between Nikki Fried, a Democrat, and Matt Caldwell, a Republican.

The statewide recount is unusual, even for a state known for contested races, most particularly the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.. Political consultant Matthew Dowd, who worked on Bush’s campaign, tweeted, “Not counting all the votes in Florida in 2000 was a grave injustice and caused many to question the legitimacy of Bush election. Let us not repeat that injustice in FL and AZ this year. Count all the votes.”

The machine recounts must be completed by Thursday. Of course Trump had nothing but positive things to say today regarding the supposed fraud: “As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes.”

In the gubernatorial race, Republican Ron DeSantis has seen his lead over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum narrow to .41 percentage points. The gap in the senatorial race between Republican Rick Scott and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson has narrowed to .15 percentage points; by law, a margin of .25 percent or less mandates a hand recount. Those results will be due by noon on November 18.

Just a note to any of you who don’t know my blog very well, I do not write solely about politics. This just happens to be a very important political week in our country’s history. I’ll be back to more of my usual fodder very soon.

More later. Peace.


Politics

Tonight Hazard’s father and stepmother are having
jazz for McGovern. In the old game-room
the old liberals listen as the quintet builds
crazy houses out of skin and brass, crumbling
the house of decorum, everybody likes that.

For decades they have paid for the refurbishing
of America and they have not got their money’s worth.
Now they listen, hopeful,
to the hard rock for McGovern.

The ceiling in this palace needs fixing,
the chalky blue paint is like an old heaven
but there are holes and flaking.
They had movies here when grandpa was solvent.

Hazard desires his wife, the way people
on the trains to the death camps were seized
by irrational lust. She is the youngest woman
in the room, he would like to be in bed
with her now, he would like to be president.

He has not been to his studio
in four days, he asks the bartender,
a college boy with a ponytail, for more gin.
He stands in the doorway. Forsythia and lilac
have overgrown the porch, there is the rich
smell of wood-rot. What twenty years will do
to untended shrubbery and America and Hazard.

~ William Meredith (as found on Poetry Foundation)