“It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with.” ~ Stephen Fry, from Moab Is My Washpot

) wv-fall-foliage-mountain-sunrise
Fall Foliage: Mountain Sunrise, West Virginia (Wikimedia Common)

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.” ~ Helen MacDonald, from H is for Hawk

Thursday evening. Partly cloudy, a bit unseasonably warm, and very windy, 67 degrees.

Hello. Very, very long time, no write. I hadn’t realized exactly just how long it had been until I looked at the date of my last real post, you know, one with more than someone else’s words — three and a half years almost. If you’ve stayed with me, I thank you. If you’ve dropped by a time or two, I do so appreciate it. If you’ve despaired of me ever writing another original word, well, that makes several of us.

Mount_Sterling,_North_Carolina_Fall_Foliage
Fall Foliage: Mount Sterling, NC, by Jrmichae (Wikimedia Commons)

So . . . onward, as it were.

Greetings from the mountains of Virginia. The last time we visited, I was still living on the east coast of Virginia. This past summer, after many aborted starts and stops, we (my husband and 2 dogs and 1 cat (relatively new addition)) brought the final truckload to our acres of tree covered land in a small town in southwest Virginia.

Life changes even as we do . . .

I needed my mistakes
in their own order
to get me here ~ W.S. Merwin, from “Wild Oats”

To the matter at hand: Where have I been, and perhaps more importantly, why?

The first is much easier: I have been nowhere. I have been sitting. I have been stewing. I have been composing in my head and putting nothing down permanently. I have been contemplating, and I have been questioning. Between there have been many tears, recriminations, regrets, harsh words, and unbelievable support. And the end result is a whole lot of nothing and a whole lot of . . . well, I’m not exactly sure.

San_Bernardino_Mountains,_Big_Bear,_CA_(5808766463)
San Bernadino Mountains, Big Bear, CA, by inkknife_2000 (Wikimedia Commons)

But as far as my writing, my composing, my creating? Nothing. Not. a. thing.

I never intended to be away this long. It was a dry spell, one that I thought I would conquer as I had before, be away for a few weeks, and then I would return. But weeks turned into months, which morphed into a year, and then another year, until I was embarrassed by the delay. Mortified by the failed declarations of return. And ultimately, I feared that I really had nothing to say nothingtosay nothingtosayyyyyyyyy . . .

So there was the writer’s block, the epic writer’s block, and then there was the election (far too many words for this), and then there was the depression, and then there was . . . well . . . I’ll have to think about that part a bit more.

“Alas, the vices of man, as horrifying as they are presumed to be, contain proof (if only in their infinite expansiveness!) of his bent for the infinite.” ~ Charles Baudelaire, from Artificial Paradises

Fall Foliage in Laurel Mountains
Fall Foliage in Laurel Mountains by Ron Shawley (Wikimedia Commons)

I imagine that I will delve into things much more as I go here. After all, I’m still getting my feet wet here. I need to update my site, get rid of all of the broken links, create a new header, find a new theme, decide if I want to pay to get rid of the WordPress ads . . . Also, I have to say that the whole idea of social media (which I suppose is the category into which blogs still fall) stymies me. I mean, it’s so divisive, so full of venom and vicissitude. The discourse is more often than not, well, coarse. I just don’t understand.

From what I’ve observed in visiting other sites and places, people are not very kind on social media. In fact, this modern form of connecting and communicating seems inhabited by many people who like nothing better than to incite and accuse. It’s not for those who bruise easily, and quite honestly, I don’t know if I currently fall into that category.

“The virtue of angels is that they cannot deteriorate; their flaw is that they cannot improve. Man’s flaw is that he can deteriorate, and his virtue is that he can improve.” ~ The Talmud

I’ve had to look back at previous posts just to try to remember how I used to do things, which doesn’t mean that that’s how I’m going to continue to do things. I still hope to incorporate other’s quotes, selections of images that are free of copyright or for which I have obtained permission, music maybe, but I also hope to do more of my own photography, show some of what I’m looking at these days.

So much to do, so much time in which to do it. That’s a bit different, isn’t it?

Fall-foliage-changing-mountains_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander
Fall Foliage: Virginia Mountains, by Forest Wander (Wikimedia Commons)

I must admit to conflicting feelings: trepidation and excitement. Trepidation — do I really want to do this again? What will it mean? How will it go? Will people still find my words interesting? Is it too late to come back?

Excitement — This feels quite natural. I think that I actually have things to say again. I want this platform, this freedom, this exhilaration that comes from the risk of putting myself out there.

Ultimately, only you can tell me, and I don’t even know if you’re still out there. Let me know, won’t you?

More later. Promise. Peace.

Music by Lady Gaga, “I’ll Never Love Again” (love, love, love this song)

 

“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

“He spoke of human solitude, about the intrinsic loneliness of a sophisticated mind, one that is capable of reason and poetry but which grasps at straws when it comes to understanding another, a mind aware of the impossibility of absolute understanding. The difficulty of having a mind that understands that it will always be misunderstood.” ~ Nicole Krauss, from Man Walks into a Room

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Frozen Lake Shore 1964 oil on canvas
“Frozen Lake Shore” (1964 oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

                   

“And you refuse to cry. Smart move, you hear a voice say quite distinctly. You might need those tears someday. And you have been telling yourself the same thing all your life.” ~ Franz Wright, from “The Lesson”

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and cold, 41 degrees.

Two weeks. Two weeks since I’ve done more than played spider solitaire and shopped my way through grief via online shopping for makeup, nail polish, and books. I won’t apologize. It has worked for me before, and until yesterday, I had managed to hold in all but the smallest of tears.

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Winter Landscape oil on canvas
“Winter Landscape” (nd, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

But yesterday was the killer. Alexis and I were doing more cleaning out at my mom’s house. I was going through mountains of paperwork, some from as far back as 2000, when I came across an advanced directive form that my mother had filled out at some point. It was undated, but it was a shock.

You see, I had told the doctors that my mom wanted a no code, a DNR, that she did not want to be kept alive on machines. Well on this form she had checked that she did want CPR. I have no idea when she filled out this form, and it didn’t quite jibe with what she had said to me, but still. Had I made the wrong decision? Did I do the wrong thing?

It was all too much, and I finally broke down, irrevocably, loudly, lost it, in front of my daughter and granddaughter, and I couldn’t stop it, as much as I tried. The ugly, snotty, loud keening.

What if I did the wrong thing? I will never know, and once again, I have been placed in the position of making THE decision for someone I love, and once again, I have no idea if I did the wrong thing at the wrong time.

It is quite literally tearing my heart into small pieces.

“I gave you sorrow to hang on your wall
Like a calendar in one color.” ~ W. S. Merwin, from “The Nails”

Last night I had a dream that I have during periods of great sadness and stress. My former high school/college Catholic boyfriend has come back, and I have to tell him that I do not love him any more, that I love Corey. And the pain that I see on his face just kills me because I know that I have caused it. Many more things happened, like a ship takeover, and people removing their skin, but his face is what haunts me. I haven’t seen this person since Caitlin’s funeral, but he represents a different period in my life, when I was a different person.

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela  April oil on canvas 1966
“April” (1966, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

So I forced myself to stay in bed for hours, tried to sleep more, tried to sleep away the memory of the dream. It did not work.

So here I am finally, on the day that I had decided that I would try to come back to this forum, this place of confession and reflection, that I would try to resume my relationship with words and images in attempt to creep back into some kind of normalcy. Perhaps I chose the wrong day.

What I am about to tell you might better be left unsaid, or kept to myself. Who knows. I only know that these words must come out else I go back into that place of complete lost control, back into the moment of sheer terror at feeling too much.

For those of you who chose to subscribe in the past few weeks, if you do not really know what I do here, I apologize in advance.

“I live with regrets—the bittersweet loss of innocence—the red track of the moon upon the lake—the inability to return and do it again” ~ John Geddes, from A Familiar Rain

No one prepares you for how it will feel when you lose your second parent. Most people live with a kind of trepidation as their parents age or become ill, live with a sense of dread at how it will play out in those final days. But how many people tell you how to prepare for that second loss, for the moment you enter the classification of orphan?

Okay, I know. Not really an orphan in the true sense of it, but orphan, no parents, nevertheless.

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Autumn Landscape oil on canvas 1957
“Autumn Landscape” (1957, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

Let me back up a few paces. I had the same two parents my entire life. Today that is a rarity of sorts. No divorce, no steps. None of that. And even though my parents’ marriage was troubled in so very many ways, they were my parents, my touchstone to family, and when I lost my father, I was cast adrift in a way that I cannot even begin to explain.

I’m an only child. Sorry. I was an only child. The loss of my father wounded me, tore at me, left me feeling not only sad, but scared. Now I had to take care of my mother, and I knew that I would never be able to do it in the way that she needed, and honestly, I failed her in so many ways. But back to the original point: When you lose that second parent, and you are an only child, there is no one else left to tell embarrassing stories about you at family dinners. There is no one else to remind you of things that happened in your childhood. There is no one else left to brag about you, about the things that you did, about how you participated in the Dances of Asia as a young child before the Queen Mother (found the original program in her closet), about how you wrote for the Norfolk Compass (found an old copy also in her closet) or did that thing or whatever.

There is no one else.

“Tighter and tighter, the beautiful snow
holds the land in its fierce embrace.
It is like death, but it is not death; lovelier.
Cold, inconvenienced, late, what will you do now
with the gift of your left life?” ~ Carol Ann Duffy, from “Snow”

What I found out after my mother died is that she talked about me all of the time, said wonderful things about me to neighbors, friends, whoever would listen. I had done this and this and that.

And I know that I have complained, lamented that she did not share this sense of pride with me, that I had it come to me second hand, but does that diminish it? I cannot tell you as I honestly do not know.

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Snow-covered Telephone Wires oil on canvas 1960
“Snow-covered Telephone Wire” (1960, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

I can only tell you that after my father died, my mother become my albatross, which is a terrible thing to say, but I am trying to be honest here. Listen, this is the woman who said to me on the phone one time that she wouldn’t help me any more if I was dying. I am not making that up. She really said that to me. This is the woman who would get mad at me or one of us and would stop calling for months. The longest time was four months. I waited to see how long it would be.

When I was in a bind and I went to my cousin for help, I begged him not to tell my mother. He couldn’t understand why I was so afraid. I realize now that he never saw the woman that I knew, the one who could be absolutely unforgiving. He knew the funny woman, the one who was sweet and caring, and I’m not saying that she wasn’t, just not so much with me. I’m only saying that if she knew I had borrowed money from someone because I was in a complete bind, she never would have forgiven me, one for doing it in the first place, and two, for embarrassing her.

“The disturbed mind and affections, like the tossed sea, seldom calm without an intervening time of confusion and trouble.” ~ Charles Dickens on grief and how to heal a mourning heart in a letter to his younger sister

My mother reminded me frequently that my credit was shot, that I had run up a bunch of debt after Caitlin died and shopped my way through my loss for three years. She never forgot, and she never forgave. She said to me more than once that she just knew that the bank had closed my account (they hadn’t), that the city was coming after me (they weren’t). She really believed these things of me.

Einer Reuter H Ahtela no title oil on canvas 1946
No Title (1946, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

But this is also the same woman who would drive up in my driveway, honk the horn three times, and give me bags of Russell Stover candy eggs for Easter, or bags of Riesen because she had bought too many, or pork chops. Whatever . . . The same woman who used to take me to lunch when the boys were young and I worked at ODU and had a schedule that allowed me to go to lunch with my family. The same woman who bought me a purple Coach purse.

My mother loved through her gifts. It is a trait that she passed on to me, but I told myself early that I would always say I love you to my children, to my spouse, frequently, and without hesitation. That a gift was good, but a hug was better.

I don’t know if my mother’s inability to hug and to say “I love” you stemmed from her childhood, from days of not having a mother, from the times when her father drank away the family money. I don’t know. She never told me, and I never asked. It’s not the kind of thing that we could talk about.

“But to write is to dignify memory
[…] revives the unremembered” ~ Allan Peterson, from “Footnotes”

Let me pause here. People in general loved my mother. The guy at the Honda dealer who sold her her car told me that she used to call just to talk to him, and the woman in the finance office said that my mother was “so sweet.” Relative strangers loved her.

I suppose I reached a point at sometime in my life at which I no longer expected hugs or declarations of love, but that does not mean that there was not a hole there. She was better with my kids. Sometimes when they said, “I love you Oma,” she would say it back. Sometimes.

Einer Reuter paren H Ahtela The River Freezes oil on canvas
“The River Freezes” (nd, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

As I’ve been working on her house several neighbors have stopped by to tell me how sad they are at her death, to tell me how wonderful she was, how she would do anything for them. I know that they are not just saying this to make me feel better.

Do I sound heartless or just petty? I don’t know. Perhaps I am both. Perhaps I am neither.

In the last few years I knew that my mother’s mind was declining, that she couldn’t remember names of things, that she was becoming more confused, and Corey and I had had the discussion more than once about what we were going to do. My mother would have hated being in any kind of assisted living. About five years ago, maybe a few more, I had an ongoing conversation with her in which I mentioned that I thought it would be a good idea for us to sell both of our houses and to buy one with room enough for all of us.

I was willing, but I don’t think that she trusted me enough to try, so it never came to naught.

“What did Time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what Time sounded like, it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain. And, going further, what did Time look like? Time looked like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing.” ~ Ray Bradbury, from The Martian Chronicles

As I was going through the papers, I would come across things on which she had written notes to me, things like “Call them as soon as I die to let them know so that they don’t send a check.” That stops you short, I have to say. I came across a note in which she wrote just her name and her telephone number. Was it to remind her? I came across a card she had written to someone saying something along the lines of “I don’t know you. Don’t send me anything like this again.”

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Wintry Source 1962 oil on canvas
“Wintry Source” (1962, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

In the last couple of years my mother, who had been in an ongoing feud with her last living sister, would say that Hilda was hateful, that she was mean. And then my mom would declare that she (my mother) was nothing like that.

I don’t know if my mom remembered that she had told me she wouldn’t help me if I was dying or if she conveniently forgot it. I know that for a while I conveniently forgot it because it was just easier. I was her only child, and like it or not, I had to be the one to take care of things.

So now I’m doing that in the best way I know how, and I have to tell you that at the end of each day for the past four weeks, I have closed my eyes with a sense of failure looming large. I should have . . . I didn’t . . . I wasn’t . . .

“but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, from “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”

I know what I’m doing. I am aware of the pain I am causing myself. It’s how I operate. I run full steam on a full load of guilt. It began with Caitlin, continued with my father, and now it is here with my mother.

Honestly, I spend so much time these days trying not to let myself think, which is how I come to be spending hours playing spider solitaire and looking for the perfect dark circle concealer. At least I don’t have to leave the house except to feed the cat.

Einar Reuter Pine in Winter Haze oil on canvas 1961
“Pine in Winter Haze” (1961, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

But in those moments in which I allow my heart free reign, I feel more than a bit lost, as in what do I do now? It still hasn’t quite hit me, that my mother is really and truly gone. The other day I was in Wal Mart and I came upon the Rusell Stover Easter candy display, and I stopped short. You have to understand that this was a ritual with my mother, the bags of Easter candy, the coconut chocolate birds’ nests. And there was no one to do that this year, so I grabbed every nest they had and put them in my cart.

And then I turned around and saw the displays for St. Patrick’s Day cards, and for a minute I was brought up short again: My other mother-in-law’s birthday was St. Patrick’s Day, and my mother’s was March 15, and for just a fleeting second I thought about buying birthday cards, and then I had to try not to break down in the card aisle in the middle of Wal Mart.

“I tore a sheet of paper out of a notebook, found a pencil, and decided that this, too, would be a day not to remember.” ~ Laurie Halse Anderson, from The Impossible Knife of Memory

For me, my mother was bags of chocolate Riesen, leftover Chinese food, pancit that she used to make better than anyone I knew, reruns of “Bonanza” on the television, enough of an addiction to QVC that she had a line of credit with them, continual complaints about a water bill that was less than half of my normal one, forgotten birthdays (the calendar in her hall has my birthday circled and the word “Oops” written on it; I haven’t taken that down yet), her firm belief that her cat would only eat certain kinds of food, her love of her yard  . . .

Einar Reuter paren H Ahtela Light on the Northern Hills 1960 oil on canvas
“Light on the Northern Hills” (1960, oil on canvas)
by H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter)

And yet she was also this short woman who seemed to get smaller each time I saw her. She was visibly fading, and there was not a damn thing that I could do about it.

I have to say, for the record, this really, really sucks.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks. The words came so fast, and truthfully, I could probably write another thousand without pausing, but it’s getting late in the afternoon, and I have to drive to my mother’s house to take care of her cat, yet another thing that is breaking my heart each day that I close the door and hear his pitiful meows.

All images are by Finnish artist H. Ahtela (also known as Einar Reuter) 1881-1968.

Music by Joe Cocker, “Heart Full of Rain”


Cathedral

The ugliest thing in the world
is the truth.

Who doesn’t want to die
like May rain over the lilacs,
like wild carrots in a ditch?

Only fanatics don’t know
that they know this.

I fly through the January night,
low over a snow-covered Europe,
cathedral after cathedral
casting its light out onto the snow:

Never have I seen
never so clearly.

~ Henrik Nordbrandt, trans. Patrick Phillips

“Notice that Autumn is more the season of the soul than of Nature.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

TomThomson-Moonlight-and-Birches-1916-17
“Moonlight and Birches” (1916-17?, oil on wood panel)
by Tom Thomson

                   

“We’re all, all of us in this world soon to spoil.
Copper leaves are tumbling coyly from the maples . . .
World-weary drifter, be forever grateful
To have faded fast, in early petalfall.” ~ Sergei Esenin, from “No crying, calling out, complaining . . .” (trans. James Stotts)

Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy, and cool, 53 degrees.

So Thanksgiving is over, and it has taken me three days to recover. On Friday I awoke feeling as if my entire body had been slammed against a wall repeatedly. My fingers were so swollen that I feared I may have to have my wedding band cut off, and just walking was painful and tiring. I spent a lot of time in bed feeling sorry for myself and hoping that I wasn’t in the beginning of some kind of flu or virus.

Tom Thomson Autumn Foliage 1916 oil on wood
“Autumn Foliage” (1916, oil on wood)
by Tom Thomson

Saturday was a bit better only in that the swelling was gone, but it still hurt to walk, and I had a vicious sore throat. Really?

I find this turn of events completely exasperating and uncalled for . . .

Corey made me homemade chicken soup last night, which was delicious as always. Today I’m not planning to try to accomplish much of anything other than this post, and possibly writing another chapter to Mari.

“The old grieving autumn goes on calling to its summer
the valley is calling to other valleys beyond the ridge
each star is roaring alone into darkness
there is not a sound in the whole night” ~ W.S. Merwin, from “Lights Out”

I signed up for a Christmas card exchange on tumblr, something I have never done. I’ve received the names of five individuals from all over, and I’m supposed to send cards with the idea being that I’ll receive some cards as well. I thought that it was a fairly easy way to extend holiday greetings, and it fills my need to receive cards at Christmas, especially since so few people actually take the time to send cards any more, a trend that I find completely vexing.

Tom Thomson The Jack Pine 1916
“The Jack Pine” (1916-17, oil on canvas)
by Tom Thomson

Last night I had troubling dreams about Alexis, Mike and Olivia, but I know it’s because they are driving back from Mississippi, and in the back of my mind I am anxious. Holiday travel is always iffy; two different people in my family have been involved in holiday-related accidents, both serious, and it’s one of the reasons I really don’t like to travel during the holidays, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Anyway, they are due back this afternoon, so fingers crossed.

” . . . from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn—that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness—that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” ~ Jane Austen, from Persuasion

Corey got the results from his blood work that was done for his work physical. His levels are just a bit high in four places, but not with his albumin levels, so that was a false positive. His white blood cells are a bit elevated, but it’s well within 5 percent of the normal range, which, from everything I’ve read, is fine. If they were very low, or very high, I would be concerned. I’m hoping that it all means nothing and that it’s not enough to keep him from getting the job.

Tom Thomson In the Northland oil on canvas 1922
“In the Northland” (1915, oil on canvas)
by Tom Thomson

I know that he’s stressing out, and we’re both hoping that nothing interferes with this job. Although it does us no good to worry about such things, that doesn’t stop the worrying. Although I can say that because I’ve had unusual reading on my blood panels before in different areas, I’m hoping that it’s a whole lot of nothing.

Does that make sense?

“He says a word,
and I say a word—autumn
is deepening.
” ~ Kyoshi Takahama

By the way, Happy December—it’s snowing on my blog!

I know that it’s officially not winter until the 21st of December (winter solstice), but why does it always feel as if it’s winter when November disappears and we turn the calendar page to December? Perhaps it’s because the beauty that is fall has pretty much passed by December? I mean, most of the trees that bore beautiful cloaks of amber and gold are moving towards being bare by December. Is that why we rush the seasons alone?

Tom Thomson The Pine Tree 1915 oil on board
“The Pine Tree” (1915, oil on board)
by Tom Thomson

I just know that once November is gone, and all of the bad anniversaries have passed, I start to feel different somehow, a little less depressed, a bit more able to move from the past to the present. Although admittedly, I never quite make the leap completely.

I have been trying to tell myself over and over again to live in the moment because it all goes so very quickly, you see? The days move down to dust far faster than we realize . . . what was I saying about being less depressed? Oh well, you know what I mean.

“I’m watching the last of summer
as the leaves begin to curl
in invisible fire
and I want to tell you
just one thing, it is not urgent,
over and over again.” ~ Paul Guest, from “Practice”

Between feeling ill and not having any money we were unable to take advantage of any of the holiday sales to buy Christmas presents, something we try to do each year. Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to venture out to stores in December, something I’m not terribly fond of doing. People are insane in December, have you noticed?

TomThomson-The-Pool-c1915
“The Pool” (1915-16, oil on canvas)
by Tom Thomson

I watched some clip of Black Friday in a Wal-Mart, and it was idiotic. What was particularly weird was that the guy who filmed the fray was asked to leave the store, but not the people who were pushing and grabbing. You can stay in our store if it means you will spend money no matter how you manage to do it, but you have to leave if you attempt to put out to the world what goes on here . . . yep, another reason why I just love Wal-Mart.

I was thinking about it, and it really just hit me: these people are willing to do physical harm to complete strangers, and why? Because it’s a great price on a widescreen TV? Because you can get that gaming system for 50 percent off? Oh, of course. It makes so much more sense when I consider it that way—a bargain is worth the trade-off of your dignity . . .

More later. Peace.

P.S. Here’s hoping that John recovers from his surgery without any complications and is on the road to recovery swiftly.

*All image are by Canadian artist Tom Thomson (August 5, 1877 – July 8, 1917), who is widely associated with the Group of Seven

Music by Radiohead, “The Tourist”

                   

Descent

Gian Giacomo Caprotti  to Leonardo Da Vinci

The money gone, I followed you
to the edge of love—only to find the city
sinking. Streets lit with dawn’s blue
ashes. But it was the flecks of amber
slipping between the chimneys
that had us running. Dim alleys leading
to nowhere—or water. Then
the Piazza San Marco opening
the Mediterranean. That sudden
brightness. Pigeons crumbling
from the angels’ rusted shoulders
in the hour before Venice vanished
beneath the crowd. Hour of birdsong
falling like pebbles on the promenade.
And the year’s first widow chanting a new
god’s name into the sea. Her body a stitch
in the shore. Brief inventor, make me
new again. For the heart fails not in its breaking
but the tightening. For the sun came on.
The plaza erupted in panels of blood.
And you were still my king. And I, still—
your king.

~ Ocean Vuong

 

“Our memory fragments don’t have any coherence until they’re imagined in words. Time is a property of language, of syntax, and tense.” ~ Siri Hustvedt, from The Sorrows of an American

Maximilien Luce 1896 oil on canvas Moonlight on Charleroi Canal
“Moonlight on Charleroi Canal” (1896, oil on canvas)
by Maximilien Luce

                   

“I don’t know what map I misread,
its roads now slipped into dust,
what cul-de-sacs and one-way streets
could have brought me to this,
my life driven as if through fog into a river.” ~ Judy Jordan, from “Fragments in February”

Tuesday afternoon. Rainy and cool, 50 degrees.

I think that my body is trying mightily hard to succumb to my annual fall cold, but I really don’t have time for that. This time last year I had a houseful of company, and I was heading for yet another case of pneumonia, but this year I made sure that I got a pneumonia vaccine along with my flu shot, so maybe . . . fingers crossed.

So, we’re back from our epic New Orleans trip, and I don’t even know where to begin, so how about if I just ramble a bit and see where it takes us? You good with that?

Emil Nolde Half Moon over the Sea 1945
“Half Moon over the Sea” (1945)
by Emil Nolde

Great.

So we finally made it past the boundaries of Hampton Roads last Monday around 8:30 a.m. (or so) after getting turned around almost immediately, this after a planned departure time of 6 a.m. (yes, I know, although we did pull out of the driveway before 7). We both thought that we knew where we were going, but apparently, not so much. Picked up the rental the evening before, and even that turned out to be a mess: We were supposed to get an Altima, but the guy at the counter said that the Altima was in bad shape, so he talked Corey into a Mustang convertible.

Okay, so at one point in my life the idea of traveling in a Mustang convertible would have been awesome, but the very thought of traveling for 16 hours in such a low-slung car made me uncomfortable, so another trade, and for only $10 more a day . . . ended up with a Mazda CX5 (I believe), which was pretty comfortable and great on gas; however, the upgrade pretty much negated all of the bargain shopping I had done online, along with the discount that I had found on one site. Oh well . . .

“The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind, and light. With complete attention, landscape celebrates the liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of a landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness.” ~ John O’Donohue, from “The Celtic Underworld as Resonance”

The drive wasn’t too bad as far as road conditions and weather, nothing like the great blizzard we drove through a few years ago, and we arrived in New Orleans around midnight (I think, it was kind of a blur). The good news is that our hotel was right in the French Quarter (Place d’Armes, definitely worthy of repeat visits), and they had upgraded us to a suite at no extra charge. We had a lovely balcony, and the ambiance was so nice, very old New Orleans. Parking, however, cost us $30 a night, so we made mental notes to try to find street parking for the second night, which we were actually able to do. Woo Hoo.

Konstantin Korovin Moonlit Night period Winter 1913 oil on canvas
“Moonlit Night. Winter” (1913, oil on canvas)
by Konstantin Korovin

So we got up early on Tuesday after only about six hours sleep and headed out to the first company that Corey wanted to visit. The website had stated that applications would be taken at both locations, but the New Orleans office directed us to their other headquarters, which was in Galliano. Our game plan had been to go to the NOL office first and then to Cut Off and then to Covington. That plan was changed immediately and we had to regroup and head to Galliano. Unfortunately, the first company seemed completely disinterested in him, which was a set back as this was his first choice.

Fortunately the second company on our list was just down the road from Galliano. This company was very interested in Corey, but the downside was that they weren’t hiring until February. The good news is that they are building a bunch of new boats/ships and have plans to hire 300 people in early 2014, so it looks very promising; however, by the time Corey finished speaking with the recruiter it was 3 p.m., and there was no way that we’d make it to Covington in time to speak with anyone before COB.

This meant a bit of a delay as we had planned to leave late morning Wednesday and possibly to stay somewhere on the route home. We had no idea how much of a delay it would turn out to be . . .

“On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live” ~ W. S. Merwin, from “The River of Bees”

Tuesday evening, back in New Orleans, we roamed around the French Quarter, spent some money, and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant that wasn’t too pricey. Best crab cakes I’ve ever had—hands down. We had originally brought going out clothes with us, but neither of us had the energy to change, get gussied up, as it were. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter what you wear (we saw one guy in a Spiderman outfit, and another one in some kind of monster get-up with spikes—pictures to come).

Nicholas Roerich Spell period New Moon period 1938 tempera on canvas
“Spell. New Moon.” (1938, tempera on canvas)
by Nicholas Roerich

So we acted like tourists, drank libations as we meandered along the streets, bought souvenirs and a few Christmas presents, then headed back to our very comfortable room and slept the sleep of the very tired. On Wednesday morning we had breakfast at the famous outdoor Cafe du Monde (only two blocks from our hotel), home of the famous delectable beignets. I inhaled my portion and delighted in my very large cafe au lait. Then back to the hotel to check out and get back on the road to Covington and company number 3.

Now while Corey was doing all of these interviews, I was hanging out in the car, pirating wi fi and trying to do something to amuse myself, mostly tumblr and some lazy magazine browsing. Company number 3 turned out to be super interested in Corey and said they’d be in touch. We plotted our route home, found a nearby Sam’s Club, gassed up, and as we were pulling out of the parking lot, Corey got a call from #3 asking if he could come in and fill out paper work. Second big Woo Hoo.

Great news, but . . . he needed to do a drug test and physical, as well as an agility test, and none of that could be done until . . . wait for it . . . Thursday . . .

“Change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Sweet Thursday

So there really wasn’t a choice, was there? I called the rental company, added another day, and we regrouped, again. Fortunately #3 paid for our hotel and breakfast for Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Small woo hoo only because it was a regular hotel and not the très cool accommodations from which we had just decamped, but hey, free . . .

Eugene Fredrik Jansson Moonlight Night 1896 oil on canvas
“Moonlit Night” (1896, oil on canvas)
by Eugene Fredrik

Thursday morning on to clinic for physical. Three hours later (I really don’t know what they do that takes three hours, but Corey said it was a whole lot of waiting). Slight hiccup on his physical (nothing major), and then around the block to the physical agility place.

Finally at 3 p.m., we were done. Decided to go ahead and eat dinner then hit the road so that we could try to make up some time (hooray for 70 mph speed limits and radar dectectors). Found a little locals restaurant and finally had our genuine Po Boys, shrimp and oyster, respectively. Full stomachs, weary bodies and minds, we hit the road around 4:30.

Everything had happened so fast, and we had had so very little time between everything that I think we were both kind of shell-shocked by this point.

“I’m forging my note to the future, recording
all I know of this moment before
the moment completes itself” ~ Chris Forhan, from “The Taste of Wild Cherry”

Corey drove for a while. I took over in the middle of the night. We stopped in a rest stop somewhere and napped for an hour like about 20 other weary travelers and many, many truck drivers (did you know that Virginia doesn’t let you do this? Of course not.). Anyway, we pulled into our driveway a little after 10 a.m.

Milton Avery Harbor at Night 1932
“Harbor at Night” (1932, oil on canvas)
by Milton Avery

We’re both still processing everything. Corey has to go back in December for training, and we’re not sure how many weeks that will be, and there is a possibility that he’ll go straight from training onto a ship. So much to digest.

Brett and the dogs were very glad to have us home; the dogs had apparently pined away for us and had made Brett’s life miserable.  Corey immediately fell into bed, but I was too wired by then, so I unpacked and cleaned, hoping to exhaust myself, but that never really happened. The weekend was a total blur, and I feel that I am so far behind that I may never catch up.

“You must make decisions knowing those decisions make you.” ~ Rakishi, from “The son without his father”

Anyway, here is where we are: Corey has a job, but is still in denial, kind of that other shoe dropping thing, you know? He can’t help it as he’s been bitten in the butt more than once by supposed job offers. I keep telling him that this company is different—well established, big, good reputation, not like some of the companies he’s had to endure in the past. He won’t be on tugs, but off-shore supply vessels (OSV’s). He’s anxious at the idea of starting over, but the good news is that this recruiting guy really seemed to like him and was already mentioning Corey upgrading his qualifications.

Nicolas Tarkhoff Paris, Montparnasse at Night c1905
“Paris, Montparnasse at Night” (c1905, oil on canvas)
by Nicolas Tarkhoff

So it’s Thanksgiving week. My body aches all over, and I haven’t quite recovered from the five days of whirlwind activity. The house is trashed. I am totally unprepared for Thursday, and truthfully, it’s beginning to hit me that Corey may not be here for Christmas. So much is still up in the air, and the trip ended up costing us a small fortune, but it was so worth it. We had a really nice time together, got to experience another new place with each other, had some great food (as my stomach can attest), and it looks like we’re about to embark on a new path.

Hard not to be anxious, but trying to be calm. Anyway, that’s the quick and dirty version. Lots of little details in between that I may tackle later before they slip through the sieve that is my brain. Until then . . .

Peace.

Music by London Grammar, “Nightcall”

                   

No crying, calling out, complaining…

No crying, calling out, complaining,
This all will pass, like the green of gold,
Like the white smoke of apple blooms,
And I won’t be as young as I used to.

Already, your blood isn’t as quick as it was,
I tell my heart—and it’s getting colder.
White birch roots stitch the ruddy fields
And you’ve lost the urge to wander.

Lips and eyes, emotions:
Where are your fire and anger,
Where your floods?
All were fresh, now are errant, scattered.

My wants are sparer now, leaner,
Or maybe they were just a dream
—Like the moment morning flashes green—
And I charged past on my sorrel steed.

We’re all, all of us in this world soon to spoil.
Copper leaves are tumbling coyly from the maples . . .
World-weary drifter, be forever grateful
To have faded fast, in early petalfall.

~ Sergei Esenin, trans. James Stotts

“from what we cannot hold the stars are made” ~ W. S. Merwin, from “Youth”

Joan Snyder Women Make Lists
“Women Make Lists” (nd)
by Joan Snyder

                   

Two for Tuesday: Thinking about getting older

Paul Gauguin two-women-flowered-hair-1902 oil on canvas
“Two Women (Flowered Hair)” (1920, oil on canvas)
by Paul Gauguin

Grandmother

old crow of a woman in bonnet, sifting through the dump
salvaging those parts of the world
neither useless nor useful

she would be hours in the sweatlodge
come out naked and brilliant in the sun
steam rising off her body in winter
like slow explosion of horses

she braided my sister’s hair with hands that smelled of deep
roots buried in the earth
she told me old stories

how time never mattered
when she died
they gave me her clock

~ Sherman Alexie

                   

Augustus John Washing Day 1915
“Washing Day” (1915)
by August John

The good old days at home sweet home

On Monday my mother washed.
It was the way of the world,
all those lines of sheets flapping
in the narrow yards of the neighborhood,
the pulleys stretching out second
and third floor windows.

Down in the dank steamy basement,
wash tubs vast and grey, the wringer
sliding between the washer
and each tub. At least every
year she or I caught
a hand in it.

Tuesday my mother ironed.
One iron was the mangle.
She sat at it feeding in towels,
sheets, pillow cases.
The hand ironing began
with my father’s underwear.

She ironed his shorts.
She ironed his socks.
She ironed his undershirts.
Then came the shirts,
a half hour to each, the starch
boiling on the stove.

I forgot bluing. I forgot
the props that held up the line
clattering down. I forgot
chasing the pigeons that shat
on her billowing housedresses.
I forgot clothespins in the teeth.

Tuesday my mother ironed my
father’s underwear. Wednesday
she mended, darned socks on
a wooden egg. Shined shoes.
Thursday she scrubbed floors.
Put down newspapers to keep

them clean. Friday she
vacuumed, dusted, polished,
scraped, waxed, pummeled.
How did you become a feminist
interviewers always ask,
as if to say, when did this

rare virus attack your brain?
It could have been Sunday
when she washed the windows,
Thursday when she burned
the trash, bought groceries
hauling the heavy bags home.

It could have been any day
she did again and again what
time and dust obliterated
at once until stroke broke
her open. I think it was Tuesday
when she ironed my father’s shorts.

~ Marge Piercy

*****

Rest in Peace Gerald D. Fickel (October 6, 1916 – September 14, 2013)

                   

Music by First Aid Kit, “Ghost Town”

“Everything that is, becomes.” ~ Gregory Orr, from “Yearning for permanence, and who wouldn’t”

Family birthday party today, and it’s hotter than Hades. So here’s a poem and some word art . . .

write

                   

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

~ W. S. Merwin

Music by Kacey Musgraves, “It Is What It Is”