“Writing: a way of leaving no space for death, of pushing back forgetfulness, of never letting oneself be surprised by the abyss. Of never becoming resigned, consoled; never turning over in bed to face the wall and drift asleep again as if nothing had happened; as if nothing could happen.” ~ Hélène Cixous, from Coming to Writing and other Essays

“Sweetie,” by Terre des Hommes, Netherlands (click here for more information)

                   

“You promised me that oblivion
would strangle me with ringed hands.

You promised me I would remember nothing.” ~ Catherynne M. Valente, from “Helen in the Underworld”

Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and warm, 70 degrees.

Random thoughts on where poems come from:

The intriguing sequence of images above appeared on my tumblr dash recently. I knew I wanted to use them but was unsure as to how I could incorporate them into a post. Then I remembered that several days ago I came across the poem below by Erika Meitner about memory and her grandmother. I never knew my mother’s mother, and I only met my father’s mother once, so the idea of a grandmother has always been abstract to me.

Then this afternoon, I was reading while Olivia napped, and I suddenly thought about eyes, and then the following poem came to me all in a rush:

Grandmotherly Advice

We are peeling potatoes for Sunday dinner
and she says to me in that half whisper
she reserves for curse words
and perceived blasphemous phrases—
“It is in the eyes.
You can always tell by their eyes.”
And I wonder what this non sequitur it is
that my grandmother has suddenly given essence.
Evil? deception? duplicity? worse?
I think I may have seen this it,
once or twice in the eyes of strange men,
somewhere in how they first looked at me
and then through me, never finding me
substantive enough
for more than a second’s glance.
I do not tell her how much
I have wished a man (any man) might have stayed
long enough for me to see something in their eyes.
Anything at all.
She has already moved on
to the near-silent clucking
she issues to the cats
as she pours food
into their bowls,
and I know I will never again hear
of it or them.

L. Liwag
November 12, 2014

                   

Yizker Bukh

Memory is
flotsam (yes) just
below the surface
an eternal city
a heap of rubble
debris smaller
than your fist
an animal with-
out a leash
organized wreck-
age ghost net

or one hanging
silence on the phone—
she’s gone
, my sister said,
and we wept and wept
over my grandmother
while my sister sat
with her body and me
in the static and the rabbi
they sent told her to recite psalms
as comfort so we listened to each other
breathe instead and her breath was
a tunnel a handful of pebbles a knotted
Chinese jump-rope       her breath was the coiled
terrycloth turban our grandmother wore when she cooked
or walked the shallow end of her condo pool for exercise—
our grandmother still somewhere in her white turban sewing
Cornish game hens together with needle and string or
somewhere in her good wig playing poker or
somewhere in her easy chair watching CNN
while cookies shaped like our initials bake
in her oven O memory how much you
erased how many holes               we punched
in your facts since who knows the stories
she never told about the camps there are
no marked graves just too much food on
holidays diabetes my mother’s fear
of ships and the motion of some
suspension bridges O memory
you’ve left us trauma below
the surface and some above
like the fact that I can’t
shake the December
my sister’s red hair
caught fire from
leaning too close
to the menorah’s
candles, our
grandmother
putting her
out with a
dish towel
with her
strong
arms.

~ Erika Meitner

                   

Music by Michelle Branch, “Creep”

“Write what should not be forgotten.” ~ Isabel Allende


“Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance.” ~ Anna Quindlen, from Every Last One

Monday afternoon. Wispy clouds and lovely, 64 degrees.

I don’t know if it’s apparent, but I’m making an effort to write as much as possible lately, here and elsewhere. Part of the reason for my being so prolific is that my computer truly is on its last legs. I often get black screen in the middle of trying to do something, that or everything freezes as the fan makes this very loud sound. Perhaps the fear of this loss is also what is driving the poems that keep coming. I’m not complaining about the result, just the impetus driving it.

"Möwenschwarm an der Ostee" (1914, oil on masonite)
“Möwenschwarm an der Ostee” (1914, oil on masonite)

Brett has priced building a CPU for me with lots of memory and speed, to allow me to continue in my habits of having five to ten tabs open at any given time—mail, a couple of Word Press tabs, at least one tumblr tab, and then usually one or two art-related tabs, YouTube, and my MP3 converter. Yes, I know, I have probably hastened my computer’s demise, but I want and need a workhorse, even though the work is only for me.

So anyway, Santa, if you’re listening? A new ‘puter for Christmas would be nice . . .

“where is that voice from nowhere to remind us
that the holy ground we walk on, purified by native blood has rooted trees
whose fallen leaves now colour code a sacred list of demands?

who among us can give translation of autumn’s hues to morning news?” ~ Saul Williams, from “Bloodletting”

I don’t remember last night’s dreams, oddly enough. I can’t recall a single second. How strange . . . I watched “Walking Dead” last night, so maybe I dreamed of zombies . . . whatever . . .

Karl Hagemeister Wildpark bei Geltow 1933
“Wildpark be Beltow” (1933)

I have Olivia today and Wednesday, and Corey flies home Wednesday evening. He will be home for Thanksgiving, and so we must plan the family dinner, and it will be my first without either of my parents, and would that I could just lie in bed all day, beneath a tumble of blankets, and immerse myself in a book. I really have no idea how I will do it, or if I will actually be able. I only know that I must try, even though I really do not want to.

Life goes on for everyone else, regardless of what I am feeling or how much pain I am in. That is just the way of the world. And so I will probably make my mother’s recipe for cranberry relish, and drink wine as I prepare everything, and just wait for the time after dinner when I can become silent once again.

“Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn—and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.” ~ Muriel Barbery, from The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Karl Hagemeister Verschneites Gehölz am Ufer des Schwielowsees 1905 pastel on canvas
“Verschneites Gehölz am Ufer des Schwielowsees” (1905, pastel on canvas)

Here is what I have written so far today:

Olivia at Two

Did I ever
walk through the days as she does,
completely unfettered,
keen to commune with whatever comes,
barred by none of life’s lessons—
actions and consequences
absent from her tableau,
and without them,
no hesitation or trepidation
about how fate
can amass repercussions
without regard.
So I will grip fear for her,
tight in my fist, always aware
of destiny’s cruel dead reckoning.

Is it innocence or inexperience
that lets her grab the wet mass
of mud and grass,
examine the detached cricket’s legs
deposited on the porch,
by some nocturnal scavenger?
And what of her fierce pride
in sharing the rusty screw
she has somehow removed
from the old back door?
How curious I am
to see if I can relearn
this remarkable state
of permanent grace,
to see as she sees,
to feel without hindrance
before we teach her
to stay within the lines,
and put away her childish things
because life demands it of us all.

L. Liwag
November 10, 2014

Oh well. Hope your week is starting out on a mellow note . . .

All images are by German artist Karl Hagemeister (1848-1933). I really like his trees.

Music by Anadel, “Remember Me”

                   

What We Need

The Emperor,
his bullies
and henchmen
terrorize the world
every day,

which is why
every day

we need

a little poem
of kindness,

a small song
of peace

a brief moment
of joy.

~ David Budbill

“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