“It’s only in the autumn where I can take breaths that make me want to take more breaths . . . But I will always enjoy the grey solemn solitude of this season that grows darker and colder, day by day.” ~ Henry Rollins, from Solipsist

Gustav Klimt The Birch Wood 1903 oil on canvas
“The Birch Wood” (1903, oil on canvas)
by Gustav Klimt

“a dream of creatures
with autumn coloured faces
their bodies vent to earth
falling under the spell
of the spinning world” ~ Anja Huwe, from “Autumn”

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy and cooler, 58 degrees.

Last night I had a Harry Potter dream, sort of. I was going back to school, but I wasn’t on any of the rolls because I had failed two classes the semester before. I was hoping to fake my way through. Then suddenly, spells and wand work were required, and I was performing abysmally, unable to remember even basic spells, and Hermione was actually one of my main nemeses from high school, and she was aligned with someone else, and I was left to my own devices, trying to remember things besides accio and stuff, and I had boils on my chest, and I created an itching powder (directly related, I’m sure, to the fact that yesterday I had to take two baths (am and pm) and soak in colloidal oatmeal for nervous itching) and smeared it across everyone’s lockers so that everyone was affected, and then I realized too late that I had also affected allies, and I had that recurring dream part in which one of my classes was never finished because the professor just stopped teaching four weeks before the end and called it a day, and we were wondering if we were responsible for what wasn’t covered, and I realized, too, that I had none of my special grid notebooks for class, nor any of my preferred pens, and I awoke with, you guessed it, a headache . . .

TomThomson-Moonlight-and-Birches-1916-17
“Moonlight and Birches” (1916-17)
by Tom Thomson

And yesterday I had this moment in which I paused to consider whether or not I had truly read To Kill a Mockingbird, or if it was one of those titles that I had read so much about that I imagined actually reading the book.

This is what happens when I have to spend too much time on the phone arguing with people over basic things like health insurance coverage. My mind reverts to a pseudo-fugue state in an attempt to shut down, not deal with too much.

“This October like November,
That August like a hundred thousand hours,
And that September,
A hundred thousand dragging sunlit days,
And half October like a thousand years . . .” ~ Ford Madox Ford, from “In October 1914 [Antwerp]”

I wrote another poem earlier today. I don’t know where these poems are coming from, only that they are coming. I don’t claim to be a prolific or particularly wonderful poet, though at one time in my life that was all that I ever wanted to be: a published poet, a name associated with poetry, a person known for her words as poems.

Antonín Slavíček - Birch Wood 1897 oil on canvas
“Birch Wood” (1897, oil on canvas)
Antonín Slavíček

As with many things in my life, I did not do what I needed to do to make this happen. I did not believe in myself enough, something I am well aware I have done throughout most of the days of my life. Believing takes effort. Doing takes effort. Effort takes effort.

Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had followed your very first dream, the dream of your life that first spoke to you, the dream that made you sit up and recognize that you were in fact a person, with dreams and desires, and yes, possibilities? My first dream was to be a poet, and truthfully, I remember the exact moment I said to myself that this was what I wanted to be when I grew up: I was in the first grade in London, and I had just won my first poetry contest for a rather short and sweet poem about the seasons.

And then I ran into that English teacher in the seventh grade who took one look at what I had written and told me that it was not a poem because it did not go da-duh, da-duh, da-duh, and I believed him even though I knew better. And then I had that American literature professor as an undergraduate who told me that the only female poet of worth was Emily Dickinson, and I did not believe him because I had read other women, but I let him silence me.

“Mute Autumn odors. The
starflower, unbroken, passed
between home and chasm through
your memory.
A strange lostness was
palpably present, almost
you would
have lived.” ~ Paul Celan, from “Die Niemandsrose,” (No one’s rose), trans. Michael Hamburger

The dreams of lives I thought I might have:

  • Journalist for a large city paper (this I did not pursue because of love, not that he did not want me to but because I forgot to care)
  • Photojournalist traveling the world (never even tried)
  • State politician (at the time, this seemed like a great goal to have, and then, not)
  • Editor for a large corporation (I came close, but then I decided that my daughter needed her grandparents, and so I moved)
  • English professor at a liberal arts college (Where is the MFA or the PhD that would have allowed me to try for this?)
  • Published author of criminal mysteries (I have no excuses)
A Golovin Birches 1908-10
“Birches” (1908-10)
by Antonin Golovin

And then these, lesser things, that I have imagined I could do if I just took the time:

  • Sew a large quilt, one that could be handed down generation after generation
  • Have a large rose garden, filled with many varieties and scents
  • Learn to bake a wedding cake
  • Make my own soaps and salves and scrubs

My life of what-ifs is one long list of should and might, and my biggest hindrance has only ever been myself.

“oh it is the autumn light
that brings everything back in one hand
the light again of beginnings
the amber appearing as amber” ~ W. S. Merwin, from “September Plowing”

Isaac Levitan Autumn period Birches 1899 oil on cardboard
“Autumn. Birches” (1899, oil on cardboard)
by Isaac Levitan

I offer no excuses, no explanations. I am far too tired to make the effort.

And yet the poems, the sequences of words keep coming, too fast to be finessed well, a tumble of words and thoughts, and I am unused to this creative wellspring, not having seen its likes in years, decades, and I wonder why, why now, why when I gave up on the poems years ago.

Anyway, I wrote another poem today, and once again, I’m sharing, even though it is a first draft, even though it is rough, because the need to put this out here is stronger than my need to hide, so here is today’s:


 

In the bedroom

smells of my husband’s homemade soup
drift down the hall from the kitchen
he is cooking this for me,
his personal salve for my wounds
his quiet prayer for my wellness
in a few hours I will blow steam across the surface of the deep bowl
across the sunken bodies of the fulsome vegetables
let the liquid slip across my tongue
taste him in the broth:

hot enough to scorch my soul,
strong enough to feed my heart
thick enough to bind my rent spirit
copious enough to recall my father’s love
bitter enough to remind me of death
with just a dusting of grace

L. Liwag (November 9, 2014)

                   

Music by Lewis Watson, “Stay”

                   

Afterwards

Suddenly
everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.
Suddenly
it’s evening and the lights up and
down the street appear hopeful,
even magnanimous,
swollen as they are with ancient grievances
and souring schemes. The sky,
however,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering.
Speaking of suffering,
the houses—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.
Meanwhile,
our loneliness,
upon which so many laws are based,
continues to consume everything.
Suddenly,
regardless of what the gods say,
the present remains uninhabitable,
the past unforgiving of the harm it’s seen,
while
the future remains translucent
and unambiguous
in its desire to elude us.

~ Philip Schultz

“I’m a ghost that everyone can see;” ~ Franz Wright, from “Empty Stage”


“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

 Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Still incredibly hot and humid, 91 degrees.

I’m going to try to do this again. No distractions. With any luck, I’ll get past the first few sentences.

This is my immediate problem: my children. As you know, I have three grown children, but their stages of grown do not match their calendar status of grown. My eldest child, my daughter, will be having one of those major milestone birthdays on the 7th of this month, but the reality is that I think she is probably the youngest of my children. And for the moment, I choose to focus on my eldest/youngest child.

Max Beckmann Beach Landscape 1904 oil on cardboard
“Beach Landscape” (1904, oil on cardboard)
by Max Beckmann

To be fair, Alexis has gone through a lot in her short life, and the loss of her sister, something her brothers do not share as an immediate memory, affected her greatly. Alexis has never been full of self-confidence; in fact, the exact opposite is true: If one person could be so completely uncertain of her selfhood, I would have to say that it is my daughter. Please understand, I’m not criticizing, only commenting; after all, I, too, am very insecure about certain aspects of my self.

I don’t know how much of my daughter’s problems are a result of nurturing, but I do know that I have been the primary nurturer in her life, which is why I probably have a tendency to blame myself for so many of her woes. But at what point do I draw the line and acknowledge that she has very real problems that are completely separate from my relationship with my daughter?

You see, while I love my daughter beyond words, I am not entirely sure that I like certain key aspects of her personality. Does that make sense?

“there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “Mergers and Acquisitions”

Again, let me say that I probably should not be writing this, but I need to work through some of this tonight as it is pressing on me much too acutely, and I know that I will have no peace unless I do something. I had to cancel my therapy appointment this week because of the chest cold that I have. Too much talking makes me cough, and coughing is, well, painful. Hence, the writing my way through . . .

I so wish that I had the ability to make things right for my children all of the time, but then again, don’t most parents? But I don’t have this ability, and talking to Alexis is futile, at best, and an invitation to a verbal fray, at worst. My daughter, like my sons, unfortunately inherited the family predisposition to clinical depression and anxiety. We all suffer in our own various ways, to lesser and greater extents, depending upon, well upon a lot of things. But Alexis is alone in one thing: she sleeps far too much for any human being. She can go to bed on Friday night and not wake fully until Monday morning.

(c) DACS/Anne Morrison; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Summer Sea” (1961, oil on paperboard)
by Joan Eardley

When she was a teenager, she would sleep forever, but I really didn’t worry about it because I did the same thing as a teenager. However, she is an adult with her own child, and this sleeping sickness, for lack of a better term, has not abated. Corey and I have had several conversations in which we have tossed about this problem, mostly in relation to Olivia, as in, does my daughter’s sleeping sickness impede/impair her ability to care for her own daughter?

I can’t tell you how guilty I feel just for giving this concern words, but there. It’s been said. Now what?

I mean, this is more than my concern that she has absolutely no ambition, that she doesn’t seem to have any sort of life goals, which granted, is a real concern. But this particular issue has such larger implications as it affects everyone.

“I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones.” ~ Neil Gaiman, from Signal to Noise

I’m so conflicted.

If you were to ask me if my daughter is a good mother, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Yes. Absolutely.”

Copyright York Museums Trust / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“The Wave” (1898)
by Roderick O’Conor

But then, I must pause. Does she love her daughter? Without question. Does she want what is best for her daughter? Again, yes.

But what makes a good mother? Love, concern, respect, patience, empathy, sympathy . . . cobbled together with a willingness to teach, to share, to laugh, to cry . . . Like it or not, motherhood is an endless procession of decisions, and if we are lucky, most of them are right, and if we are smart, we learn from the wrong ones, but first, we must be able to identify the wrong ones.

Look, being a mother is a thankless job. Your children resent you a lot of the time. They don’t like you some of the time. They wish you would be quiet a lot of the time. They appreciate you only some of the time, and to them, you are never a person with feelings and wants and needs. And no one can teach you how to be a mother; it’s purely on-the-job training, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get good advice along the way, and if you’re smart, you’ll realize which advice is good and which is bad.

So what’s my point?

Damned if I know . . .

“Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one would find it
And now you can’t remember where.” ~ John Ashbery, from “Vaucanson”

You know shaken baby syndrome? Well obviously that’s something that must never be done, but what about shaken adult child syndrome? Is it acceptable to want to grasp said child by the shoulders and shake him/her until the eyes come into focus and you think that perhaps some semblance of sense has entered said child’s brain?

William Henry Johnson Untitled c1930-35
Untitled Seascape (c1930-35)
by William Henry Johnson

I know that I’m making light, but trust me, I am so close to tears much of the time that to laugh would be nothing short of achieving a state of grace.

But back to the problem. Did you know that there is an actual illness called Sleeping Beauty Syndrome? It’s actually called Klein-Levin Syndrome:

Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by recurring periods of excessive amounts of sleep, altered behavior, and a reduced understanding of the world. The disorder strikes adolescents primarily but can occur in younger children and adults. At the onset of an episode the patient becomes progressively drowsy and sleeps for most of the day and night (hypersomnolence), sometimes waking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction. KLS episodes may continue for 10 years or more. KLS is sometimes referred to in the media as “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome.

Seriously, I think my daughter has this. Some people think that Alexis is just lazy. I honestly don’t think that’s it. If I did, I would say so. Laziness can be fixed; well, at least, I think it can be fixed. Alexis is too OCD to be lazy. I just don’t know if she has any control over these sleep episodes. And the brutal reality is that it’s gotten to the point that it is having a serious impact on every single relationship she has.

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” ~ Umberto Eco, from Foucault’s Pendulum

So what to do, what to do? I can do nothing. Not yet. And even if the time were right for me to do something, I have absolutely no idea as to what course of action I should take, if any.

Wassily Kandinsky Stormy Day 1906
“Stormy Day” (1906)
by Wassily Kandinsky

Familial relationships are so damned draining. Awash in a sea of eggshells, and trying to find just the right way to cross without breaking anything, without breaking any . . . one.

You know when you are young, in your early 20’s, and you think about life, think about the future as I always did, I would bet that most of the realities of later life never enter the realm of possibility. I mean, how could they, really? Real life is so far from what you think will happen to you when you’re young and trying to decide whether or not to drop a huge chunk of change on some toy or the other. Real life is so filled with pitfalls and trenches so deep that few of us would ever contemplate that such horrible things might actually happen.

Nothing in my 20’s prepared me for real life, even though I was so certain at the time that I had all of the answers. I was so sure of my certainty then. It takes being slapped in the face by fate to make you realize just how little you actually know.

So here I am, finally able to admit how little I know and knowing how little I am able to effect any kind of meaningful change in the lives of my children. Is it any wonder I walk around in a constant state of pain-filled angst?

Probably shouldn’t have written any of this . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by I Will, I Swear, “Long Days”


                   

Mind

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity’s
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

~ Jorie Graham

 

 

“No one ever asks if you had a good winter.” ~ Douglas Haynes, from “Corn Moon”

Fairfield Porter Late Afternoon Snow 1972
“Late Afternoon Snow” (1972, oil on paper on panel)
by Fairfield Porter

                   

Two for Tuesday: Douglas Haynes

When I chose these poems about the poet’s mother, my mom wasn’t in the hospital. Weird coincidence? Twisted turn of fate?

Tom Thomson In Algonquin Park 1914 oil on canvas
“In Algonquin Park” (1914, oil on canvas)
by Tom Thomson

Last Word

She ate a piece of tuna and a piece of salmon, raw on my fingers
passing her blue, faintly-upturned lips. The chef spent half an hour
of her final day arraying the fish in tiny bites and festooning them
with saw-toothed plastic. I ate what she couldn’t the day after she died,

when her last everythings became decoration: the book Swimming to Antarctica
she always wanted on her bed but never finished; her smile in the picture
donning her pink wig; the bendable, red straw she sipped coffee through
before slipping unconscious. When the rasp and moan of her death rattle

hushed, I was reading about ceviche in a magazine I’d bought too late
for her to read. I reached her bed just in time to see her eyes roll
and fix a dilated void, to hear her shallow, penultimate breaths
more like preparation for stillness than actual gasps of air.

The wood frog chorus went on outside for no other reason than to persist.
If someone you love is dying, decide whether you believe in ghosts.
Without the map of belief, train whistles in the night that I used to hear
beside her became bearers of someone I couldn’t touch.  Wind rushing

through a window screen sounded like a whisper. Do you say hello
to the dead? Or just start with what you wish you had said, since
the liminal space between words and a world without them
won’t survive your sleepless night in the room beside her body?

The next morning arrived like houselights after a tragedy’s curtain falls,
like the crowd’s transformation that isn’t fulfillment in the face
of someone else’s misfortune, but gratitude that the heroine believed
stubbornly in redemption. Her last word was water.

                   

Walter Elmer Schofield Winter Stream c1925 oil on canvas
“Winter Stream” (c1925, oil on canvas)
by Walter Elmer Schofield

Natural Medicine

The doctor tells her to lift her johnny way up over her head,
puts a cold stethoscope on her back, and says Breathe deeply. Again.

I stop breathing. I imagine her lungs burbling like a pot of boiling water.
The doctor says Let’s take a look. She and I don’t look.

Looks good he says, which means that though one breast is a rift
of scars, the other seems fine. But you’re not out of the woods yet,

which means death lurks like a toothy beast behind every tree
but the forest ends just beyond the horizon, means that the doctor

doesn’t want to say that no medicine from a rainforest fern
or social-climbing bacterium can rubber-stamp her saved.

He says Here’s what we’ll do because he gets paid to do something
despite knowing the body’s mysteries haven’t faded as fast

as the family farm, as the rainforest, as the path outward closing
behind her with no moon or stars lighting the way and where—

if she lies down to sleep—nature won’t wake her in the morning.

                   

Music by The Cure, “To Wish Impossible Things”