“Her life seemed to her a great engineering work scarcely begun. Lately more excavation than construction had occurred. She had lost a sense of her own invincibility.” ~ Marge Piercy, from Gone to Soldiers

Winslow Homer The Green Hill 1878 watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper
“The Green Hill” (1878, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper)
by Winslow Homer

                    

Two for Tuesday: Marge Piercy

The Listmaker

I am a compiler of lists: 1 bag
fine cracked corn, 1 sunflower seeds.

Thin tomato seedlings in hotbed;
check dahlias for sprouting.

Write Kathy. Call Lou. Pay
oil bill. Decide about Montana.

I find withered lists in pockets
of raincoats, reminders to buy birthday

presents for lovers who wear those warm
sweaters now in other lives. And what

did I decide about Montana? To believe
or disbelieve in its existence?

To rise at five some morning and fly there?
A buried assent or denial rots beneath.

I confess too that sometimes when I am listing
what I must do on a Monday, I will put on

tasks already completed for the neat pleasure
of striking them out, checking them off.

What do these lists mean? That I mistrust my memory,
that my attention, a huge hungry crow

settling to carrion even on the highway
hates to rise and flap off, wants to continue

feasting on what it has let down upon
folding the tent of its broad dusty wings.

That I like to conquer chaos one square
at a time like a board game.

That I fear the sins of omission more
than commission. That the whining saw

of the mill of time shrieks always in my ears
as I am borne with all the other logs

forward to be dismantled and rebuilt
into chairs, into frogs, into running water.

All lists start where they halt, in intention.
Only the love that is work completes them.

                   

Winslow Homer On The Hill
“On the Hill” (1878, watercolor)
by Winslow Homer

Six Underrated Pleasures

1. Folding sheets
They must be clean.
There ought to be two of you
to talk as you work, your
eyes and hands meeting.
They can be crisp, a little rough
and fragrant from the line;
or hot from the dryer
as from an oven. A silver
grey kitten with amber
eyes to dart among
the sheets and wrestle and leap out
helps. But mostly pleasure
lies in the clean linen
slapping into shape.
Whenever I fold a fitted sheet
making the moves that are like
closing doors, I feel my mother.
The smell of clean laundry is hers.

2. Picking pole beans
Gathering tomatoes has no art
to it. Their ripe redness shouts.
But the scarlet runner beans twine
high and jungly on their tripods.
You must reach in delicately,
pinch off the sizable beans
but leave the babies to swell
into flavor. It is hide-and-seek,
standing knee deep in squash
plants running, while the bees
must be carefully disentangled
from your hair. Early you may see
the hummingbird, but best to wait
until the dew burns off.
Basket on your arm, your fingers
go swimming through the raspy leaves
to find prey just their size.
Then comes the minor zest
of nipping the ends off with your nails
and snapping them in pieces,
their retorts like soft pistolry.
Then eat the littlest raw.

3. Taking a hot bath
Surely nobody has ever decided
to go on a diet while in a tub.
The body is beautiful stretched
out under water wavering.

It suggests a long island of pleasure
whole seascapes of calm sensual
response, the nerves as gentle fronds
of waterweed swaying in warm currents.

Then if ever we must love ourselves i
n the amniotic fluid floating
a ship at anchor in a perfect
protected blood-warm tropical bay.

The water enters us and the minor
pains depart, supplanted guests,
the aches, the strains, the chills.
Muscles open like hungry clams.

Born again from my bath like a hot
sweet-tempered, sweet-smelling baby,
I am ready to seize sleep like a milky breast
or start climbing my day hand over hand.

4. Sleeping with cats
I am at once source
and sink of heat: giver
and taker. I am a vast
soft mountain of slow breathing.
The smells I exude soothe them:
the lingering odor of sex,
of soap, even of perfume,
its afteraroma sunk into skin
mingling with sweat and the traces
of food and drink.

They are curled into flowers
of fur, they are coiled
hot seashells of flesh
in my armpit, around my head
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

5. Planting bulbs
No task could be easier.
Just dig the narrow hole,
drop in the handful of bone
meal and place the bulb
like a swollen brown garlic
clove full of hidden resources.

Their skin is the paper
of brown bags. The smooth
pale flesh peeks through.
Three times its height
is its depth, a parable
against hard straining.

The art is imagining
the spring landscape poking
through chrysanthemum, falling
leaves, withered brown lushness
of summer. The lines drawn
now, the colors mixed

will pop out of the soil
after the snow sinks from sight
into it. The circles,
the casual grace of tossed handfuls,
the soldierly rows will stand,
the colors sing sweet or sour.

When the first sharp ears
poke out, you are again
more audience than actor,
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

6. Canning
We pour a mild drink each,
turn on the record player,
Beethoven perhaps or Vivaldi,
opera sometimes, and then together
in the steamy kitchen we put up
tomatoes, peaches, grapes, pears.

Each fruit has a different
ritual: popping the grapes
out of the skins like little
eyeballs, slipping the fuzz
from the peaches and seeing
the blush painted on the flesh beneath.

It is part game: What shall
we magic wand this into?
Peach conserve, chutney, jam,
brandied peaches. Tomatoes
turn juice, sauce hot or mild
or spicy, canned, ketchup.

Vinegars, brandies, treats
for the winter: pleasure
deferred. Canning is thrift
itself in sensual form,
surplus made beautiful, light
and heat caught in a jar.

I find my mother sometimes
issuing from the steam, aproned,
red faced, her hair up in a net.
Since her death we meet usually
in garden or kitchen. Ghosts
come reliably to savors, I learn.

In the garden your ashes,
in the kitchen your knowledge.
Little enough we can save
from the furnace of the sun
while the bones grow brittle as paper
and the hair itself turns ashen.

But what we can put by, we do
with gaiety and invention
while the music laps round us
like dancing light, but Mother,
this pleasure is only deferred.
We eat it all before it spoils.

~ Marge Piercy

                   

Music by Sarah Jaffe, “Clementine”

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“Northeaster,” by Winslow Homer (1895)

                   

“The dead have no sense of tact, no manners, they enter doors without knocking, but I continue to deal with them . . . They pack their bodies into my dreams, they eat my feelings . . . but I cannot shake them and do not want to. Their story, being part of mine, refuses to reach an end.” ~ Thom Gunn, from “Postscript: The Panel

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and cool.

"Northeaster," by William Beaubre (nd, watercolor on paper)

The first of November, the beginning of my worst month, the onset of my deep melancholy. Remembrance of those gone before me, memories of moments, snippets in time. Longings for what was and will never be again.

November 1st, the bane of my year.

Kathleen’s birthday on November 1st. I fear she is gone from my life for good. Mari’s birthday on October 1st. I fear I have lost her. Alan’s birthday November 23, gone much too young, and I never made that last visit. And then there are the anniversaries of the deaths. It’s all too much.

I saw my father once after he had died. He was sitting in the chair in my mother’s living room. That was the longest sighting. I’ve probably not mentioned that as it seems more than a bit off-kilter. But I have seen him in a few other glimpses since. Not in dreams, but in waking. I wonder about that.

I hate this time of year, and I love it. The dichotomy eats at me. I embrace the colors, the smells, the cool wind on my face. I have always loved autumn more than any other season, since I was young and old enough to remember. Yet I wish that the losses I have suffered were not so acutely present in autumn.

“Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Friday afternoon. Overcast, low 60’s and windy. Storm brewing.

I had wanted to write a full post on Tuesday, to continue on my melancholic journey, but Eamonn had the day off from work, which meant that access to the working computer in his room was limited. It is hard to write about grief and loss when the movie Troy is playing in the background (Brad P.’t buffness kept distracting me). And so I abandoned the post, hoping to return on Wednesday, and then on Thursday, only to find myself now finally sitting here, wondering where I was going with all of this.

"Capul Caliacra pe Furtună" (Cape Kaliakra on the Storm), by Eugen Voinescu (oil on canvas)

On Wednesday, I had to download a presentation program for Eamonn’s project, which led to the computer crashing and freezing. Corey and I took turns deleting unnecessary programs. I say that we took turns because it took so long to delete just one program that the process—which should have taken no more than 30 minutes tops—ended up taking hours. Deleting just one program under 40 MG took a good 20 to 30 minutes. This hard drive is essentially hanging on with a wing and a prayer.

Then Thursday, yesterday, I had two doctor’s appointments, one of which was to get the Botox for my migraines. I was mistaken in thinking that the shots would go into my scalp. Instead, I got shots between my eyebrows. on the top of my forehead, at my temples, behind my ears, and down my neck. Now we are in wait and see mode: wait to see if it takes effect, and see if it actually makes any difference.

So here I am, three days later, trying to remember what I had to say on Monday.

“a wind has blown the rain away & the sky away & all the leaves away, & the trees stand. i think i, too, have known autumn too long.” ~ E.E. Cummings

"L'orage" (The Storm), by Georges Michel (1843)

The house is very quiet. Corey is at work, as is Eamonn. Em and Brett are away for their conference this weekend, so it’s just the dogs and me. I had the saddest dream before I awoke: I was in a children’s hospital ICU, and I was visiting a baby girl who was quite ill. Her mother was also very ill. Somewhere in my dream, the mother had been bitten by a child vampire, so she was dying and had to be isolated from her baby. I told the nurses that I wanted to adopt the baby,who they had named Emma.

The social services people came and started asking me questions, and then they went away. I found out that my mother had sent them away and had told them that I wasn’t interested in adopting the baby. I became furious and tracked down the people who would be deciding and plead my case, and just as they were about to make a decision, I woke up.

Hate, hate, hate dreams like that, especially when a baby girl is just within my reach but not quite.

I remember thinking in the dream that the baby was quite ill and that it was possible that she would die, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to give her a loving home. Of course, she was olive-skinned with dark hair and brown eyes. My soul tortures me even in my sleep.

“Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.” ~ Adelaide Crapsey, from “November Night

So the pain level today? Head about a 2, back about an 8. It’s a trade-off. I consider myself lucky when it’s just one or the other and not both.

"The Wave," by Gustave Courbet (1870, oil on canvas)

Last night I helped Brett with an annotated bibliography for his technical writing class. Hate those things, especially in APA style, which I do not know by heart as I do MLA style. In fact, all styles are quite arbitrary. I mean, index numbers, no index numbers, date order, list of authors using an ampersand or the word and . . . and on and on ad nauseum. Reminded me of one of the aspects of research that I truly hate.

But it also reminded me of how much I miss doing research of my own. Of course, nothing is stopping me from doing research. Only myself. The very nature of research has changed so much in the last decade, with sources available with a few key search terms. It’s possible to find ten or twenty good sources within a half hour if you know what you’re doing.

Anyway, my next school project is to help Eamonn with his Power Point presentation for medical terminology. He chose Parkinson’s Disease as his topic. I was surprised that he did so, but then, not really. All of the kids are grieving their grandmother in their own way. Eamonn internalizes, Brett talks, Alexis cries.

As for me, I truly dread the upcoming holidays. My mind keeps flashing this picture of my m-in-law sitting at the end of the table in her dining room, wearing one of those silly paper hats that come out of a Christmas cracker. I cannot get the image out of my head.

“There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

I read something recently, cannot remember where (sorry), that discussed the downside to having personal blogs, to putting so much personal information out there into the ether where it will remain forever and ever, amen.

"Between the Waves," by Ivan Aivazovsky (1898)

Of course, I have considered this, but quite frankly, I do not care. I try to respect other people’s privacy and not use full names, but what I put out here about myself is my responsibility, no one else’s, and unlike some teenager who is craving social acceptance, I am an adult who has made this decision fully aware of the potential pitfalls. I chose this forum; I use this forum to talk about life, my dreams and desires, and sometimes I venture into other territories, like politics, but I do not sit here at this keyboard expecting my words to be taken as anything more than what I intend: my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I do not claim to be a news blog, but those who do, should abide by the rules.

I mean, I have had people leave really nasty comments when I was posting about politics during the 2008 presidential election; that’s the expected price one pays for opining in an online forum And I have had my stalker, who picks and chooses what he/she wants to use against me, but in spite of this, I do not worry. I mean, I have no employer who is policing what I write to see if I slander the company or my managers. I’ve never written anything deliberately libelous against a former employer.

But I must admit that I am bothered by the very nature of the Internet that allows anyone to say anything about anyone. There exists no type of safe-hold. In some ways, it’s the first amendment run amok. Personal blogs and chat rooms have no managing editor to nix content. So things go out there, and people who are not as discerning as they should be, accept these words whole cloth.

I think that the maxim that just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something should be considered more carefully. But of course, that’s just my two cents. Not sure what took me off on that tangent. Apologies.

“There is starlight drifting on the black water.
There are stones in the sea no one has seen.
There is a shore and people are waiting.
And nothing comes back.
Because it is over.
Because there is silence instead of a name.” ~ Mark Strand, from “Elegy for my Father”

"The Northeaster, Cape Ann," by Ted Kautzky (1945, watercolor on paper)

Outside, the sky is darkening quickly, and the wind is gusting. Sounds like a nor’easter is coming. The various wind chimes surrounding the house are clanging in the background. On days such as this, I wish that I could take a hot bath, soak in the water with the candles lit, a cup of hot Constant Comment, or Typhoo, or Darjeeling on the ledge. But our old tub has a few rust holes in it which prevents it from holding water. Another thing on our list of home repairs needing attending to . . .

I have yet to buy flowers for Caitlin’s grave for the fall and winter.  I have memories of walking the aisles at the big florist wholesale place in downtown Norfolk, looking for just the right combination of silk flowers to place on my daughter’s grave, a bi-annual ritual that I have since abandoned. This year, though, I feel a need to do this again, to look for temporary beauty to take to a place that is both beautiful and horrible, the infant cemetery.

But it is a place that has brought me comfort in an odd sort of way, a place that I used to frequent daily, and then weekly, and then intermittently. It is the place that used to anchor me to this city, this region, the thought of not being nearby was actually impossible to fathom.

She has not come to me in dreams in a very long time. If I had to, I could leave this place now, knowing that she is in my heart and not in that place of parents’ worst nightmare made true. I suppose I have reached some sort of resolution in my own small way.

More later. Peace.

Music by David Gray, “As I’m Leaving”

                   

In November

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

~ Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems