“But I write badly. The part of my brain in charge of writing ability refuses to work.” ~ Anton Chekhov, “A Boring Story”

Writer Carson McCullers, by Leonard McCombe

“My memory has weakened, my thoughts lack consistency, and each time I set them down on paper it seems to me that I’ve lost the intuition of their organic connection . . . And, remarkably, the simpler the writing, the more excruciating is the strain.” ~ Anton Chekhov, from “A Boring Story”

Sunday evening, ice and snow, and very cold, 17 degrees.

Well, sleep eluded me again last night until after 3 a.m., which, relatively speaking, is not bad for me. There have been times when I’ve been in the midst of an insomnia bout, I’ve watched the sun rise and still couldn’t close my eyes. And yet again, I awoke with a migraine. Nevertheless, I’m going to make a true effort to write today. No promises that I’ll have anything interesting to say.

Eudora Welty Autographing a Book in 1984, by Terry James

Last night the wind whipped around the house with a sound resembling a freight train. I worried about the horses as they still don’t have a shelter. Corey assures me that as long as they have enough hay that they will be able to produce sufficient body heat. They still manage to get out of the pasture each night, and the ringleader, Napoleon, leads them to the front porch.

He’s a beautiful horse, but he’s already spoiled. When he hears me at the front door calling the dogs, he lumbers over and waits for me to give him treats, and often when I do, he comes all of the way to the door after I go inside as if he wants to come inside. Yesterday, both he and the mare Sassy stood at the side window looking in at us as if to let us know, in case we had forgotten, that they were out there.

I no longer wonder if it’s possible to spoil a horse.

“One morning you wash your face,
look into the mirror,
find the water has eroded your features,
worn them smooth as a rock in a brook.” ~ Daniela Gioseffi, from “Some Slippery Afternoon”

So my current problem with words? Probably a myriad of reasons. I still haven’t gotten my other mood stabilizing medication because there’s presumably a shortage, at least that’s what the pharmacy says, and of course, the ongoing lack of my pain maintenance medications doesn’t help things. Added to that the current state of my back is horrendous—it hasn’t hurt this much in years.

Dorothy Parker at Work at Her Typewriter in 1941

I know. I know. Nothing new, but between the ongoing winter depression and the recurrent pain, it’s hard to string thoughts together coherently. The physical always affects the mental, and vice versa.

And so I sit down at my little workspace (because my desk still isn’t set up), and I open YouTube and start playing news stories or true crime stories to run in the background, and then I open up a new screen for a draft, and I stare . . . that, or I work on putting quotes together for future drafts, or I spend some time on tumblr looking for more quotes or images for future posts, and then . . . after wasting more time, I go back to the draft screen, and nothing.

“. . . I hope to learn from you how things really are, why it is that around me things sink away like fallen snow, whereas for other people even a little liqueur glass stands on the table steady as a statue.” ~ Franz Kafka, from “Description of a Struggle”

The house still isn’t completely organized or painted, mostly because Corey has so much to do with all of the outside things that need to be handled, that or he ends up unwillingly wasting entire days with Dallas who always proposes projects and then never gets around to them.

Vita Sackville-West in Her Tower Study at Sissinghurst in 1939

The truth of the matter is that Dallas has a drinking problem, one that seems to be getting worse. I don’t like to be around drunks. I’ve had too much experience with drinking problems, and it really gets to me. I mean Dallas has a good heart and good intentions, but as Corey says, Dallas just cannot stay on task; his mind flits from one thing to another, and as a result, little gets done.

I don’t regret that Dallas entered our lives; the relationship is definitely beneficial on both sides: he’s a lonely man who doesn’t appear to have much of a relationship with either of his children, and I have to wonder if that is because of his drinking. But I do feel sorry for him, and I do really try to be patient with him unless he shows up three sheets to the wind. I know that Corey, too, gets frustrated, but there’s little he can do besides try to keep Dallas focused. Still, the ongoing state of the inside of the house is really starting to get to me; I wish so much that I could do some of this stuff myself.

If wishes were fishes . . .

“The place of language is the place between me
and the world of presences I have lost” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Imagining Starry”
Writer Clarice Lispector at Home in Rio de Janeiro, ca. 1973

I’m trying very hard, even it doesn’t seem like it, trying not to let things get to me, trying not to think about how my children are far away and out of touch, trying not to think about how there’s always so much to do, trying not to worry too much about Dallas and things that are out of my hands, trying to enjoy once again the act of writing these words . . .

. . . trying hard to be present in my life, which is so much harder than it might seem . . .

. . . trying hard to be thankful for what is here and not devastated by what is not . . .

. . . but no matter how hard I try, I just seem to find myself treading water, and I despise this more than I can say.

“I just can’t live an ordinary life, I can’t pass the time. I can’t organise myself, I don’t have ordinary motives anymore. I can’t even manage my body, when I go to bed I don’t know where to put my arms.“ ~ Iris Murdoch, The Green Knight

And I wonder if I have ever truly been present in my life, wholly present. I have this memory of my first husband asking me early in our relationship why I always worried about the future, always worried about what might or might not happen. I had no answer then, and I have no answer now.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston in 1955

I wonder if part of it is being an only child who always felt that I needed to be the mediator for my parents’ disjointed relationship. If I always worried so much about what might happen between them that I just got in the habit of always worrying about what might happen and never figured out how to just be present in today.

Or perhaps this inability comes from being a teenager and always wondering why I never felt as if I belonged. I had friends, a lot of friends. But still, there was always this feeling that these friendships were tenuous, dependent on my acting a certain way, a way that was acceptable, whatever that meant, and so I fretted and worried. No one ever made me feel this way. It was purely internal, and it went back years: In London I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my American accent and Filipino last name; In Norfolk, I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my British accent and Filipino last name.

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. How can a person even begin to hope to be normal (whatever that is), hope to make her way through the days in any kind of pseudo normal fashion when everything is a question and the answers never seem to be available?

Anyway, more later. Peace.


Music by Coldplay, “O (Fly On),” extended version


With a Changing Key

With a changing key
you unlock the house where
the snow of what’s silenced drifts.
Just like the blood that bursts from
your eye or mouth or ear,
so your key changes.

Changing your key changes the word
that may drift with the flakes.
Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
packed round your word is the snow.

~ Paul Celan (Trans. Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh)

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ragnar Sandberg White Birds on Dark Background 1968 canvas
“White Birds on Dark Background (1968, canvas)
by Ragnar Sandberg

                   

April is National Poetry Month

Here is another lovely that I’ve been storing up in my drafts. Just love Darwish, and can completely relate to the desire to become a bird . . .

Mural

This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished through the winding corridor
There I see heaven within reach.
The wing of a white dove carries me
towards another childhood. And I never dreamt
that I was dreaming. Everything is real.
I knew I was casting myself aside . . .
and flew. I shall become what I will
in the final sphere. And everything
is white . The sea suspended
upon a roof of white clouds. Nothingness is white
in the white heaven of the absolute.
I was and was not. In this eternity’s white regions,
I’m alone. I came before I was due;
no angel appeared to tell me:
“What did you do back there, in the world?”
I didn’t hear the pious call out,
nor the sinners moan for I’m alone
in the whiteness. I’m alone.
Nothing hurts at the door of doom.
Neither time nor emotion. I don’t feel
the lightness of things, or the weight
of apprehensions. I couldn’t find
anyone to ask: Where is my where now?
Where is the city of the dead,
and where am I? Here
in this no-here, in this no-time,
there’s no being, nor nothingness.
As if I had died once before,
I know this epiphany, and know
I’m on my way towards what I don’t know.
Perhaps I’m still alive somewhere else,
and know what I want.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a thought,
taken to the wasteland
neither by the sword or the book
as if it were rain falling on a mountain
split by a burgeoning blade of grass,
where neither might will triumph,
nor justice the fugitive.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a bird,
and wrest my being from my non-being.
The longer my wings will burn,
the closer I am to the truth, risen from the ashes.
I am the dialogue of dreamers; I’ve shunned my body and self
to finish my first journey towards meaning,
which burnt me, and disappeared.
I’m absence. I’m the heavenly renegade.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a poet,
water obedient to my insight. My language a metaphor
for metaphor, so I will neither declaim nor point to a place;
place is my sin and subterfuge.
I’m from there. My here leaps
from my footsteps to my imagination . . .
I am he who I was or will be,
made and struck down
by the endless, expansive space.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a vine;
let summer distil me even now,
and let the passers-by drink my wine,
illuminated by the chandeliers of this sugary place!
I am the message and the messenger,
I am the little addresses and the mail.
One day I shall become what I want.
This is your name —
a woman said,
and vanished in the corridor of her whiteness.
This is your name; memorise it well!
Do not argue about any of its letters,
ignore the tribal flags,
befriend your horizontal name,
experience it with the living
and the dead, and strive
to have it correctly spelt
in the company of strangers and carve it
into a rock inside a cave:
O my name, you will grow
as I grow, you will carry me
as I will carry you;
a stranger is brother to a stranger;
we shall take the female with a vowel
devoted to flutes.
O my name: where are we now?

Tell me: What is now? What is tomorrow? What’s time, what’s place, what’s old, what’s new?
One day we shall become what we want.

~ Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Sargon Boulus

Music by Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” ~ Charles Bukowski, “The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship”

Charles Warren Eaton Quiet Shore c1885 oil on canvas
“Quiet Shore” (c1885, oil on canvas)
by Charles Warren Eaton

                    

“the soft-aired Tennessee night
Gathers it children in its cupped hands.
Time has its covenant, and who’s to say that it is unjust.
We make our sad arrangements.
The sky clears, the sun sets.
No matter the words, we never forget our own song. ~ Charles Wright, from “Arrivederci Kingsport”

Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cool, 60 degrees.

A very quiet afternoon, alone in the house, just the dogs and me. Sometimes the quiet is too dense, as if it is filling all of the spaces around me, removing the oxygen and replacing it with something unnameable but palatable.

Robert Vonnoh The Bridge at Grez c1890
“The Bridge at Grez” (c1890, oil on canvas)
by Robert Vonnoh

It’s this first week in November that does me in, causes my heart to collapse, makes my mind travel to dark places. This week—it is too much with me. “The world is too much with me” . . . Wordsworth? Yes, Wordsworth. For a moment almost said Eliot, but it is not cynical enough. Wordsworth still had hope, I think.

Don’t worry if you cannot follow along. I cannot either. Heavily immersed in stream of consciousness, easier than linear thought—at times, this is so.

If you want to know how little you matter in the grand scheme, Google your name. Grandeur is quickly extinguished. Who does this?

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God

In memory, the days from that Halloween until the seventh of November all collapse upon each other, like white-dotted dominoes laid out in a row.  Unable to halt the tide, unable to hold at bay the hours. Nothing could have stopped what happened.

Wojciech Weiss Sunset ca1902
“Sunset” (c1902, oil on canvas)
by Wojciech Weiss

Alexis, small and innocent, a fairy princess, a silver magic wand, a plastic crown. Standing on the front porch, posing for her last picture as a sister until years later.

There was a nurse in a clown costume, or was it a rag doll costume(?). I remember only the bright colors, the two red circles on her cheeks. I wondered then how anyone who worked amidst such perpetual sadness could muster the mettle to come to work in costume, to tend the grievously ill for 12 hours dressed as a doll? Who does this?

Now it makes perfect sense. The costumes provided an escape, albeit temporary, from the monitors, the beeps, the sterile white noise that is the backdrop to everything in an intensive care unit.

“If you have endured a great despair,
then, you did it alone;
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.” ~ Anne Sexton, from Courage

From that night forward, it was as if we were propelled by adrenaline and sadness. Ineffable sadness. The six days between were anomalous to the twenty-four-hour cycle, having only two or three hours a day. I’m certain of it. Time was different then. Supernormal with its sunrises and sunsets heaped upon one another, not enough minutes between sleeping and waking, perpetually exhausted.

Pierre Bonnard Landscape, Pink House, Sunset c1934
“Landscape, Pink House, Sunset” (c1934, oil on canvas)
by Pierre Bonnard

Did I eat? I don’t remember. I do remember many cups of coffee.

Approximately one hundred and forty-four hours between Alexis’s fairy princess smile and Caitlin’s pale countenance. Everything about the two was opposite: Alexis’s fair skin and hair, and Caitlin’s olive skin and dark dark hair—as if fate sought to heighten the differences between the two.

Of course we will never know what kind of personality Caitlin might have had, whether she would have been a reader, or perhaps a writer, what she would have liked to do with her time, what paths she might have chosen. All such speculation is pointless. How much can you know of a person in seven months? How much of a person can seven months reveal?

“I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones.” ~ Rebecca Stead, from When You Reach Me

Long before Google could tell me of my irrelevance, I met it first-hand on a November afternoon. It only took a few minutes to break my heart irreparably, to harden me with a cold cynicism bred from loss.

Pang Xunquin Autumn on Fragrance Hill 1962
“Autumn on Fragrance Hill” (1962, oil on canvas)
by Pan Xunquin

I think that I laughed more easily before that day, found more joy in the ordinary nothingness. I know that I smiled more, or at least, I think so. But it would be a lie to say that I knew how to be happy then because I don’t think that I’ve ever quite known how to do that.

I will not lie to you: I do not remember what Caitlin looked like. I mean, I know from the pictures, but I cannot, simply am quite unable to conjure her image in my mind. She has become two-dimensional.

I never thought I would find the day in which I could no longer smell her, so long did I carry her belongings with me wherever I went.

It this all too much for you? Perhaps I should have warned you sooner of my propensity to crash so completely, should have placed a label somewhere to shield you from my carefully guarded obsession with those days in early November, the ones that I hoard like first editions and garage-sale masterpieces.

“But I understand how light works.
. . . . . . . . . .

Later I will go out in a leopard-coat of light
with you: just me and the trees baring themselves
for winter, and the marbled paving stones,
and my empty hand shining” ~ Henry Shukman, from “The Call”

I am never quite sure how much to say when my mind and heart conspire against me and take me back to that afternoon and the days immediately preceding. It’s as if I somehow can still be caught unawares, regardless of how many times I have made this journey.

Max Slevogt Red Arbor with Dog 1897c
“Red Arbor with Dog” (c1897)
by Max Slevogt

And sometimes I think it would be better if I did not allow myself to acknowledge this tack, pretend it is not just there, on the periphery of my vision, waving its arms madly to get my attention. If I just don’t look . . . perhaps . . . maybe. If I spend enough hours in the bathtub with the lights out, it won’t be able to get a toehold, will fall away.

Who am I kidding? It always wins. Always.

More later. Peace.

Music by Bastille, “Oblivion”

                    

Any Night

Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don’t let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he’s running
and singing too. He could be happy.

~ Philip Levine