Come and Gone

May 31, 2009 § Leave a comment

August Wilson & wife, Constanza Romero

August Wilson and wife, Constanza Romero, 1999

So Barack and Michelle came to New York to see a Broadway play. Not just any Broadway play, but one I saw too, just last week. Cool as it would have been to see it with the Obamas, I think it would have been distracting. And all those Secret Service men would have made it harder to sprint for the ladies’ room during the intermission. (My companion, who had to slip out to use the restroom during the first act, would probably have been arrested before he cleared the aisle.)

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone is a great play. It’s the second in August Wilson’s monumental 10- play cycle exploring the black experience in America. It’s complex, passionate, rich in language and character, joyful, tragic and funny. But more to the point—regarding the Republicans’ lament that the President should not have been allowed to leave his duties to attend the theater, especially since he didn’t invite the CEO of General Motors to go with him—the play resonates in important ways with the issues facing this Administration.

1) The central character was illegally captured and imprisoned for 7 years.

2.) An inability to get credit holds back a smart, entrepreneurial man.

3) Still, he manages to own a house by taking in boarders.

4) A salesman with a good database can find anyone.

Perhaps everyone in Congress should be required to see the play, and to write a 5-page paper explaining its central themes. These would be randomly shuffled into papers written by New York City high school seniors, and marked by teachers; only those Congressmen who scored as high as students in the top 25% should be allowed to keep their posts…

Here I go again, dreaming about small government.

Tonight, Charles and are going to a PS 122 production of Jimmy, a one-woman show written and performed by Marie Brassard. The New York Times describes it thus:

“Jimmy is a gay hairdresser inhabiting the psyche of a sleeping American officer who, having seen him in a bar, has adopted him into his memory. Jimmy is on the verge of kissing Mitchell, another fantasy figure, when the sleeping general dies, leaving Jimmy in a nether world, seeking consummation.

“Until years later, that is, when he is resurrected in the actress’s subconscious, joining regular residents there: a little girl and the actress’s old and judgmental mother…Against this background are excursions down shadowy corridors like race, sexuality and politics.”

It’s a good thing the Obamas didn’t decide to see this. I’m not sure the Republicans would have ever recovered. On the other hand, I doubt if The Times will ever recover from lines like “excursions down shadowy corridors like race, sexuality and politics.” Does anyone have any idea what this means? If one must resort to metaphor I think “waterboarded into the glaringly lit, cacophonous Grand Central Station of race, sexuality and politics” would be more apropos.

I’ll let you know if it’s any good.

****

From Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

LOOMIS. Had a whole mess of men he catched. Just go out hunting regular as you go out hunting possum. He catch you and go home to his wife and family. Ain’t thought about you going home to yours. Joe Turner catched me when my little girl was just born. Wasn’t nothing but a little baby sucking on her mama’s titty when he catched me. Joe Turner catched me in nineteen hundred and one. Kept me seven years until nineteen hundred and eight, kept everybody seven yeras. He’d go out and bring back forty men at a time. And keep them seven years. I was walking down this road in a little town outside Memphis. Come up on these fellows gambling. I was a deacon in the Abundant Life Church. I stopped  to preach to these fellows to see if I could turn some of them from their sinning when Joe Turner—brother of the Governor of the Great Sovereign State of Tennessee—swooped down and grabbed everybody there. Kept us all seven years.

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Friday Night and I Ain’t Got Nobody

May 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

park1I haven’t posted in so long it feels peculiar. I’m not sure I want to. But it’s like a closed window and I miss the fresh air.

I’m waiting for Charles to arrive and his plane is delayed 2+ hours so I’m restless. I’m cooking Bolognese sauce, mostly because I like how long it takes. It’s the only kind of kitchen pleasure I can have in my closet apartment, to cook something slowly so the aromas penetrate, so I can sit in my bedroom writing and know the sauce simmers, reminding me someone is coming.

That sounds pathetic, but that’s how it is when I work hard. I shut myself into the novel all day, and then once freed of it, feel like a naked grub. No, not really. I’m wearing my green lounging around dress so I’m not naked (though a bit grubby). It’s just Friday night in the Village and I can feel the excitement, hear the traffic, anticipate the swarms of revelers about to descend on the hopeful bars.

Cocktails, strappy shoes, seafood, perfume, jazz, first dates, pick-ups, girls’ night out, powerful New York couples dining quietly…me and Fitzroy smelling my sauce cook, this dopey cat who has been offered 4 kinds of food and refused them all. After awhile he starts growling and acting like I’m going to hit him whenever I move. One’s early life can cast such a shadow…

The wine I bought for the sauce is elderly, edging into brown, and tastes like sherry. I had two sips and have a headache. It will probably taste fine cooked with beef and veal and peppers and tomatoes. I’m going to stew rhubarb as my sister did over the weekend, serve it to Charles over Haagen Dazs passionfruit ice cream.

***

It’s been interesting to notice how the idea that thought cannot exist without emotion—something scientists started saying several years ago, and many of us knew from the time we started thinking about thinking—has now caught on in a big way, making it into columns by David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof, among many others. So now it’s boring. I hope computers become self-conscious in my lifetime, or else Jesus (or Athena or Thor, Isis, Quetzalcoatl, I don’t care) comes back. Our collective human brain is starting to feel like Port Authority, circa 1985. A dirty sameness, wormlike buses going in and out, the usual predators and their unsuspecting prey watched over by drunken schizophrenics.

By the way, WS park is really looking lovely. Check it out, New Yorkers. The rest of you—I have an apartment I’ll trade if you live anywhere interesting, and like cats…

 

From Overheard in New York (overheardinnewyork.com)

Suit to man with cat on his head: Why is there a cat on your head?
Man with cat on his head: Why isn’t there a cat on your head, douchebag?

–Union Square

 

Washington Square

May 20, 2009 § 3 Comments

fountainkid

“She ordered a cup of tea, which proved excessively bad, and this gave her a sense that she was suffering in a romantic cause.”~Henry James, Washington Square

I went to Washington Square Park yesterday, to witness its grand re-opening. It was a perfect spring day: warm and cool, blue and sunny, with a little breeze. There were lots of people in the park at 6 p.m. Mothers with strollers and young men with guitars, tourists and NYU summer-school students and neighborhood folk. Everyone seemed to agree that the park looked beautiful, though a few old-Village types smiled ironically and wouldn’t stop for comment. It wasn’t the kind of day or crowd where you even wanted to say, It sucks.

Little children played in the fountain. People took pictures. They sat on the benches and on the grass, and though this is New York and people mingled with strangers only at the kid magnets and in front of the performers, there was a general mood of goodwill. Nobody was screaming about a wasted 27 million.

Most of the park was closed for two years for renovation, the most controversial part of which was realigning the stone fountain so it was centered with the arch (erected out of wood and plaster when Washington was elected President; in the 19th century redone in marble as a copy of the Arc de Triomphe). The renovation designer is George Vellonakis, who, according to The New York Times, envisioned “viewing corridors” and “great, clean lines.”

Lots of us thought the park and the fountain was fine the way it was. Off-center: so what? I’d never noticed and when it was pointed out to me, I realized it was part of the charm, tacit notice that you were not in Rockefeller Center or on the Champs-Elysees. Just in case you forgot. You were in Greenwich Village, which has its own history, much of which involves the off-center. The park was originally a cemetery for the indigent and victims of yellow fever, and then a military parade ground. More recently, artists and writers created the culture of the 20th century in the surrounding streets, while destroying marriages, neglecting their kids, driving their friends to distraction and dying of drink.

How often have you stumbled home profoundly intoxicated by one substance or another and been unable to make the world line up as it should? It doesn’t matter whether your answer is never, all the time, or only in my lost, glorious youth. The old fountain embodied it for you. It said: here be geniuses and crackpots. Check your compass. Hold onto your date and your wallet.

The park has gentrified almost beyond recognition since I first saw it in the late 1960’s. For years it’s been green and lush, full of flowers, carefully planned and tended to. When I used to prowl it at 14, smoking joints or drinking Mateus under a tree with my cousin Faxy, the grass was dingy and matted with dogshit, there was lots of trash, and I don’t remember any flowers. Of course it was always night when we went there, so I might not have noticed flowers.

My park was mutilated in 1970 when the grass was ripped out for a cement “playground” with humps in it like what you’d expect if a few visiting camels fell into the mixer. The humps were supposed to inspire childish play: they were good for skateboarding, which I had outgrown. I preferred dim greenery where I could swig cheap wine and wait for my prince to come.

Park planners were surprised that the humps were taken over by minority kids practicing difficult moves on jazzed up boards. I guess they’d  expected Caucasian 8-year-olds to run up and down playing tag, exercising their chubby little legs.

I left the Village for a couple of decades, moving back in time for the crack years. My stepson could tell you more about that; he spent the summer of ’86 hanging in the park every night, selling my antique silver jewelry for drugs. Crack? I have no idea.

In those days you never walked through the park unless you wanted to be hounded by guys muttering, “smoke, smoke, smoke,” all the way. I sent my husband out to buy me pot one night (after my stepson had absconded for Florida). The cops nabbed him and wanted him to finger the dealer, of whom there were several in the vicinity, youngish black guys in sweats and sneakers. He didn’t want to do that, so, thinking fast, said, “I don’t know. All those guys look alike.” The cops let him go in disgust.

In the 90’s, the dealers were thinned out when locally-hated monster NYU stepped up its gorging on neighborhood real estate. (One of the more deeply held conspiracy theories is that NYU paid under the table for the current renovation in exchange for unspecified park-eating privileges.)

Yes, the park is beautiful and later I’ll go check it out in the less crowded daytime, but I miss the way it was last year. I miss the way it was when I was 14. A little squalor never hurt anybody. Well, yeah, it did, but life does that anyway. I never felt in serious danger there. The dodgiest thing that happened to us was when a charming young man who called himself J.C. talked us into panhandling to help support his pregnant wife and pregnant girlfriend. We did it for an hour or so, made him a few bucks. I don’t know about my cousin, but I was hoping for a kiss. (No more than that. I was 14, and not totally stupid.)

Guys didn’t talk to us often. We were too young and we didn’t wear make up, jewelry, girl shoes or sexy tops. Our posture was defensive and we never smiled if we could smirk.

The evening would end with the 10-cent Italian ices from the guy on 6th Avenue whom I can’t think of away from his cart anymore than I can think of Sancho Panza off a donkey. The ice came in little white paper cups, perfectly packed and mounded. And like every sentimentalist from the beginning of time, I’ll say it: no artisanal goat cheese and fennel gelato can beat those raspberry ices.

Still, I’m happy to have my park back.

fountain4

fountain

By Way of the Ear

May 17, 2009 § 2 Comments

catpen3

(This is not another post about the cat. I got lazy about finding just the right picture.)

I resisted reading Verlyn Kinkenborg’s New York Times piece on reading aloud* because I thought it referred to the successful complaint from publishers that the Kindle’s computer-generated voice infringed on their audio rights. This is an argument that makes no sense, since my laptop can read aloud to me (I discourage it). The Kindle may sound better, but the real threat, in the publishers’ tiny minds, is that Jeff Bezos will soon make the Kindle sound much better, nearly human, maybe better than human, at which point audio book sales will fall off a cliff.

This won’t be soon. Until the New York Times pointed it out to Bezos, The Kindle was pronouncing ‘Barack Obama’ as ‘Black Alabama’.

Still, I’m the last person to pooh-pooh possible advances in this field. I’m hoping for the perfect robot pal to gently usher me through old age, not only doing the chores and chatting with me, not only reading me to sleep in my mother’s voice—the voice she had when she was 35, I mean, which exists nowhere but memory—but doing so without rancor, without muttering under its breath when I repeat myself (knowing I’m repeating myself, as the elderly generally do: they don’t care).

When that great leap forward has been made, new computers will come equipped with the technology and the publishers’ point will be moot. It was a silly waste of money to fight Bezos on this, although I think he caved pretty quickly. He needs publishers to feed the Kindle.

Back to Klinkenborg. He’s waxing nostalgic for the days when adults read aloud, not only to children but each other. When it was a drawing room activity, as in Jane Austen’s day. He’s right that it’s an educative, emotional, sometimes erotic experience to read something in front of even a small audience (this doesn’t include reading aloud instructions on how to put together a piece of furniture while your husband sweats and swears).

“Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body…”

He’s restating Charles Olson’s famous dictum: poetry comes from,  “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE.”

When I was young, I knew a few people who liked to have poetry read aloud after dinner. Mainly it was one family—my friend Caitlin’s family—but I came across it on a couple of other occasions and instigated it myself a few times. In the right company, it’s the best way to end a good dinner.

Those dinners at Caitlin’s grandparents’ farm: steak with béarnaise sauce and several bottles of red wine, pretty women in long dresses, Julian with his cultured Argentinean accent nobody could understand though it was easier to pretend when you were drunk and so was he, summer in the country by a river.

I always blushed when it was my turn to read. I’d try to get someone to dim the lights, never admitting why. Mood and atmosphere mattered to them, so it was usually possible. “Is there enough light for you? Can you see?” I could see well enough. I just didn’t want them to see my red cheeks, which were an indicator of how scary and profoundly exciting attention was—a fact I found so embarrassing as to be nearly shameful.

I concentrated on reading well. The words were always strengthening. I remember reading Lorca. Yeats. I don’t know who else. And yes, it went through my whole body, brain to ear to heart to breath. Mouth, lips.  My head tipped over the book. My own voice and the poet’s in my blood. Breasts, hips, the pool of my long, flowered dress around my ankles. That particular audience—Caitlin, Tamsen, Julie, Julian, maybe Charles, maybe Annabel—would dim and the larger one emerge: the one I was waiting for, and the one I felt in surrounding night.

But audio books weren’t invented for nights like that. Reading aloud isn’t feasible if you’re commuting to work alone. I suppose the very rich could hire a reader to join him/her in the Mercedes, but the very rich don’t exist anymore, or so they’d like you to believe.

I don’t imagine it would be too popular on airplanes. Though if they start letting people use cellphones in the air, I’ll fight back by reading The Wasteland aloud. At the first complaint, I’ll call my answering machine. “It’s my husband,” I’ll say. “He’s having a panic attack. Hearing Eliot always soothes him.”

Some things need to be read aloud, even if you’re alone. This is especially true of poems (though Dickens and Hemingway also benefit). Reading poetry silently is not quite like reading notes of music on the page—I don’t think; I can’t read music—but it’s close. This is true of poems with lush gorgeous rhythms, like Keats’ odes or Shakespeare’s sonnets, or Dover Beach…or any of a thousand other poems…but also with Robert Creeley’s spare, odd poems.

The Rain

All night the sound had

come back again,

and again falls

this quite, persistent rain.

What am I to myself

that must be remembered,

insisted upon

so often? Is it

that never the ease,

even the hardness,

of rain falling

will have for me

something other than this,

something not so insistent–

am I to be locked in this

final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,

lie next to me.

Be for me, like rain,

the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-

lust of intentional indifference.

Be wet

with a decent happiness.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/opinion/16sat4.html?em

Sneezle Cat

May 14, 2009 § 3 Comments

wildabandon

I’m taking my cat to the doctor later. He’s been sneezing and feeling poorly (picture above deceptive). His pretty pink nose is a little swollen and he’s rubbing snot all over me and everything else, I suppose because he’s itching.

I met his first owner, Julia, the other day. She’s a very charming, friendly NYU student. She gave me his adoption papers. He was found starving in Williamsburg with his sister, Dahlia. The shelter strongly recommended in his bio that he be adopted with his sister, because “he is very playful and will be bored alone.” Yup. I guess Dahlia is long gone.

His origins explain why he startles so easily and why he yearns for the outside—source of danger, fear and excitement, as it is for me too. Of course, he could be like that even if he had a safe kittenhood, but it satisfies me to know his story. I’m sorry he lost his sister. It’s a good thing when siblings team up against the cruel world.

For some reason, my mind keeps inserting the adjective ‘black’ in front of her name. The Black Dahlia was the sobriquet given to famous murder victim Elizabeth Short by reporters. (Novel by James Ellroy, film by Brian de Palma. Neither read or viewed recently.)

Elizabeth Short was found on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, severely mutilated, cut in half, and drained of blood. Her face was slashed from the corners of her mouth toward her ears, and she was posed with her hands over her head and her elbows bent at right angles.

Elizabeth Short was born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts and her father built miniature golf courses until the 1929 stock market crash. In 1930, he parked his car on a bridge and vanished,[1] leading some to believe he had committed suicide. Later, it was discovered he was alive. Elizabeth Short was raised in Medford, by her mother. Troubled by asthma and bronchitis, Elizabeth was sent to Florida at 16 for the winter, and spent the next three years living there during the cold months and in Medford the rest of the year, while working as a waitress. She was 5’5″ and 115 pounds, with bad teeth, light blue eyes and brown hair. At the age of 19, she went to Vallejo, California, to live with her father, who was working at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The two moved to Los Angeles in early 1943, but after an argument, she left and got a job at one of the post exchanges at Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base), near Lompoc. She then moved to Santa Barbara, where she was arrested on September 23, 1943 for underage drinking and was sent back to Medford by juvenile authorities.

Elizabeth Short returned to Southern California in July 1946 to see an old boyfriend she met in Florida during the war. For the six months prior to her death, she remained in Southern California, mainly in the Los Angeles area. During this time, she lived in several hotels, apartment buildings, rooming houses, and private homes, never staying anywhere for more than a few weeks.

~Condensed from wikipedia article. Their links.

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many mystery novels. His sister is most likely The Apricot Danish, adopted by a strange, solitary novelist in his mid 40’s, determined to write the first bestselling paranormal romance in which the heroine changes, not into a lioness or a leopard, but an orange tabby cat with miraculous demon-killing powers.

The paranormal romance field is booming these days. If only I’d thought to write one 10 years ago. I’d be a natural. But now there are women falling in love with shapeshifters left and right (werewolves, weretigers, werehorses. The wererats are so far only supporting characters.) It makes you wonder how much bestiality really takes place in this country.

I do have a shapeshifter in my fantasy novel, but she’s dead. She doesn’t even come back as a vengeful ghost or a charismatic zombie. She’s merely a beautiful memory.

***

One thing I’d like to teach the cat is not to step on my breasts. I work in bed because it’s the most comfortable for my arms, and he sleeps near me. When he gets lonely, he walks up to my face for a cheek-rub without regard to terrain. When I yelp he runs and hides in the closet so I try not to, but it hurts. Especially when he steps directly on the nipple. That made me scream. An armored bra would be appreciated, if any of you have one lying around.

I like it when he walks up between my breasts and gently bites my chin. That’s just so romantic, so ruggedly masculine, so…feline. Nevertheless, I’d like to get him a sister-wife (everyone says he looks Egypytian), and let our honeymoon be over, but this trip to the vet today reminds me why I should think twice. Charles has offered to pay for it, in exchange for the 3 or 4 new pictures of the cat I send him every day, but cats live long and my sister the vet—who likes nothing better than working for free for relatives, friends of relatives and perfect strangers with the same first name as one of her relatives—lives out of town.

Later  Back from the vet, the one Julia used. I wasn’t thrilled with the guy, though he seemed to know his stuff. He kept asking questions that I had already answered in my initial conversation, when he wasn’t listening. He gave me antibiotics for the cat’s cold, telling me that cat colds were bacterial, not viral. What I understand (and perhaps I’m wrong) is they start out as viral, and then sometimes bacteria move in when the immune system is compromised. I wish I knew a way to talk to doctors that would indicate I have enough brains and background to understand simple or even moderately difficult medical concepts without making them feel they’re being clobbered by an Internet-crazed knowitall. I can talk to my sister, and I can talk to Whitney and Laura, who are people docs, but it would be nice to be able to talk to the attending physician.

Fitzroy freaked when I put him in the cat carrier, but was good at the doctor’s. He sat quietly on the metal table, looking scared, only trying to jump off every few minutes. He hissed at the technician once, but for good reason. Now he’s home and seems relaxed, sitting on the living room floor licking his butt where the thermometer went in.

Which reminds me of a story about someone my brother knows, who fed her cat cloves of garlic for days to cure worms. “The cat had worms literally hanging out its butt,” he said. I first remembered this as the woman stuffing the garlic up the cat’s anus, and only when I started trying to picture how the garlic got through the commuter-crowd of worms (and felt a pang of disbelief that this woman, whom I also know, would be so…hands-on), did I realize my mistake. The stillbirth of a tall tale.

catatvetAt the doctor’s

The Fell of Dark

May 10, 2009 § 4 Comments

self-portrait

(I took this photo of myself a few years ago. It sets a mood, I think.)

 

Daphne Merkin’s written a new piece on depression in The New York Times magazine. It’s not bad, if you’ve never read anything about the subject of depression or about Daphne. The point she’s making, I guess, is the chronic nature of it: the deeply boring manner in which it returns over and over, knocking your life off track with the same indifferent paw.

What I find interesting about all the articles and books published in the last several years (The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon is the best) is that depression is described so often as a kind of emptiness, a dark futility that has no particular cause.  Mine has only felt like that once.

I was in my late 30’s, and had been in therapy several years.  I loved therapy, loved my pretty Virginia and how carefully she listened, but talking and writing in my diary for hours about pain made things worse, though I did learn a great deal. I learned things I don’t want to give back, but they were excessively costly.

Virginia didn’t encourage me to write in my diary obsessively. On the contrary, she told me to get out, have fun, save the psychic delvings for our sessions. I didn’t listen. I wanted to get it over with. I thought it was like squeezing a blackhead.

Instead, it was strengthening connections in my brain, enhancing all the associations to the dark side. Soon, I was walking the streets seeing everyone, including children in strollers, as the pre-dead. It was as if we were in a waiting room for death, leafing through magazines, sitting on uncomfortable chairs, and the exit to the street had never existed. Only the door to nothingness. All our names were on the list.

Which is accurate as far as it goes, but it’s not a helpful way to look at things.

After a few weeks of that, I caved in and took drugs, something I’d been resisting for years. The psychopharm put me on Zoloft. At first it made me semi-psychotic, but I lowered the dose until I was merely cradled in cotton wool, docile and admiring of all the pretty colors. I remember looking at snow, the first day the drug really worked: I felt like I was stoned, but more gently. White against the green, against the gray. And the blue and rose shimmering off the stone of the houses on 9th street.

But before things got so bad, and after they got better, depression was always around. It doesn’t feel empty. It’s full to bursting with grief. Grief over something or someone that’s missing—even (or especially) if what’s missing is my courage. I’m so used to grief. I sniff it out relentlessly, and yet I didn’t invent it; in the beginning it came and found me.

It’s hard to fight something so seamlessly integrated with my life, with memory, hope and beauty. I don’t think sorrow is the shadow that brings out the light, necessarily: I have no idea what consciousness is like for the constitutionally cheerful. But for me it’s like the rise and fall of waves and when I try to take control, to negate the troughs, I begin to feel unreal, isolated from myself, as if I’m approaching that country Merkin talks about.

My grief is not healthy, but maybe it’s healthier. Philip said to me recently, “I just realized your father’s death was much harder on you than your brother’s.”

“Of course,” I said. “Jimmy’s death was clean. I felt terrible grief, but it was pure. I knew who I was; I knew that more deeply than ever before. When my father died, I shut down. My feelings about him were so conflicted anyway, and then his choice to suicide…I had a stone wall an inch behind my eyes. I couldn’t find myself. By the time the stone disappeared, I was a teenager. A different person.”

Therapy showed me the door back to the pure grief. I don’t always take it. But when I do, love swarms in and my mood settles. Not happy, but not suicidal. Not crazy.

Age has made things better and worse. I’m less pained by my inadequacies and I trust my strengths. But I also know that I’m stuck with depression, and that it’s a serious disability. I’m almost convinced that nothing will turn out well. I try anyway, and get some solace from trying until the next rejection (real or imagined). Then the maxim “You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try,” seems like something invented as a torture device for depressives, probably during the Enlightenment.

I can’t ever forget that the world is beautiful. That’s why Merkin’s descriptions seem foreign to me. Even when I walked through the valley of the pre-dead, I saw an awful beauty there. And I was angry that I was dead. I wanted life, that torn-up illusion.

There’s always something I want. I want it, I want to get it; I want to do what needs to be done. But if I push too hard, I reach the knot, the voice that says: If you go forward, you’ll reach death sooner.

Can somebody explain to this idiot inside me that it doesn’t work like that? Believe me, I’ve tried. Somebody who knows his knots made her.

 Another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

What hours, O what black hours we have spent

This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!

And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

   With witness I speak this. But where I say

Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament

It cries countless, cries like dead letters sent

To dearest him that lives alas! away.

 

I am gall. I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree

Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

   Selfyeast of spirit, a dull dough sours. I see

The lost are like this, and their scourge to be

As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

Oh, Susannah

May 9, 2009 § 8 Comments

sappho

     Sappho, Charles-August Mengin, 1877

Today I am seeing Sanna (Susannah), my high school friend, whom until recently I hadn’t seen in 14 years. Facebook reconnected us.

Her older sister was my best friend, so she came to me in the role of the little sister. Big-eyed, petite, pretty as a doll, very long wavy dark hair, she was just what a little sister should be: admiring and sweet. She told me her sister Abby was beautiful and fascinating. She was her staunchest defender. She was everything I wanted to be to my older sister but never could because there was too much rivalry between us, though I also thought my sister was beautiful and fascinating.

Sanna was my experiment in corruption. Most of it was make-believe: a lot of hot air from me, yearning from her. But I did get her drunk—or tipsy—a few times before she was 16. I think we smoked pot together. I told her stories about sex, since I had had a bit by then, a few nights here and there with Jerome and Jonathan and Ken: Ken in the woods, sticks biting my back, in my bedroom in the house on Bank Street while my mother and stepfather chatted in the kitchen 3 flights below, on my scary Aunt June’s water bed (she didn’t allow males in her apartment, but she wasn’t home).

It’s so easy, even now, to leave out the parts about loneliness and desperation. It was erotic; it was exciting. I wouldn’t give back those experiences. But with Sanna I jumped at the chance to practice my craft of cleaning up the stories so they were properly corrupting (in the best sense): only the worldliness, none of the shame.

Her older sister listened too, but more skeptically. She was well acquainted with her dark side, which was why we had become friends in the first place. Dark, smart, sarcastic and weird: that was Abby. Sanna was the little sunshine girl, the lambkin who took a few more years to find her own darkness and weirdness.

And now Abby’s happy. In her pictures (I haven’t seen her in decades) she looks radiant, while Sanna’s face is shadowed with all that hasn’t worked out. Middle-aged sorrow, that frame I am so accustomed to, though Sanna still looks pre-Raphaelite to me.

She’s writing a novel. When I close my eyes, I can see her handwriting on a story she wrote in high school, though I don’t recall the story. I remember thinking her handwriting was very soothing. And I remember the time I wanted to make an invocation to some goddess or another and Abby and I talked Sanna into lying naked on a table while we covered her with fruits and vegetables. It had to be her because she was the virgin.

She’s probably still embarrassed about this. Too bad. Most virgins in that position get fed to dragons. All Abby and I did was admire our own silliness and marvel at how obedient Sanna was.

In boarding school, 18 months earlier, I used a real centuries-old magic book, banded together with Ken, Amy Wallace and a few others, built a fire on a hillside and invoked a demon to kill a teacher. (It didn’t work, maybe because the others were too chicken to voice this wish. I was the only one.) With Sanna and Abby, all I remember doing is giggling.

 

The Dog of Art

 

That dog with daisies for eyes

who flashes forth

flame of his very self at every bark

is the Dog of Art.

Worked in wool, his blind eyes

look inward to caverns and jewels

which they see perfectly,

and his voice

measures forth the treasure

in music sharp and loud,

sharp and bright,

bright flaming barks,

and growling smoky soft, the Dog

of Art turns to the world

the quietness of his eyes.

 

 ~Denise Levertov

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