Fingertips

January 17, 2010 § 3 Comments

I have a long history of walking into lampposts and knocking my head against tree branches. I used to walk with my head down, out of a fear of meeting people’s eyes and more profoundly of asserting myself in the world. I was also constantly and furiously daydreaming, speculating, conversing with myself…

Now cell phones are making everyone just like I was, while I’ve  become much less likely to run into things because now I walk with my head up and my head is far emptier than in my youth. I walk like a (sense-retarded) animal, paying attention to light, wind, color, distance, obstacle and threat. I only like using my cell phone in bed. It’s for when I’m too lazy to get up and walk the several feet to the computer to check my email. I use it to get through the half hour in the morning after taking my acid reflux pill before I can coffee. Occasionally, when I’m meeting someone or traveling I use it to make calls.

I’ve never cared for texting but I used to enjoy its precursor, instant messaging, for flirting. The reliance on written language and the time lag were perfect for my skill set. What people get out of it when they’re not flirting I’ll never understand viscerally, but I’m pretty sure it’s creating new neural pathways of pleasure/reward that privilege the fingertips.

Until this generation most people used their fingertips for specific, short-duration pleasure: lovemaking, feeling the cloth of a new dress, a baby’s cheek, a flower petal or rough bark, cold water. But our great-grandmother apes were always grooming each other with their fingers. That constant, busy nit-picking was (is) clearly a pleasure. Maybe people now are only thinking about the messages they’re transmitting, the hoped-for response, but below that consciousness the fingers are asserting primacy.

What will happen to these nerve endings once our devices no longer require such input? Will the 20-year-olds of today become anxiously touchy-feely, always running their hands over things, looking for the lost reward?

Inventors of the word: think touch-art. Touch-drugs. Breed miniature, well-behaved monkeys for pocket pets.

(I include the poem below for Charles especially.)

Touch Me

Summer is late, my heart.

Words plucked out of the air

some forty years ago

when I was wild with love

and torn almost in two

scatter like leaves this night

of whistling wind and rain.

It is my heart that’s late,

it is my song that’s flown.

Outdoors all afternoon

under a gunmetal sky

staking my garden down,

I kneeled to the crickets trilling

underfoot as if about

to burst from their crusty shells;

and like a child again

marveled to hear so clear

and brave a music pour

from such a small machine.

What makes the engine go?

Desire, desire, desire.

The longing for the dance

stirs in the buried life.

One season only,

and it’s done.

So let the battered old willow

thrash against the windowpanes

and the house timbers creak.

Darling, do you remember

the man you married? Touch me,

remind me who I am.

Stanley Kunitz

What a Little Moonlight Can Do

January 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

I haven’t listened to music in a while, but tonight I opened iTunes. I couldn’t find party shuffle, which is what I usually listen to, liking to be surprised, so instead clicked on, “Top 25…”

Oops. Ray Charles, “Here we go again”, Chet Baker, “Everything happens to me,” Sinatra, “One for my Baby,” Nat King Cole, “Blame it on my Youth.”

You get the picture. Now I’ve got Oscar Petersen being cool on “Days of Wine and Roses”, but don’t have much time before I get to Paul Desmond, “That old Feeling,” Ray singing, “Fever” and a little while after that Tierney Sutton, “What a little moonlight can do.”

The moon is full tonight. Why don’t I go look at it? Oh, right, it’s overcast. Always something.

I talked to my sweetie today, the one I never see anymore. He’s always so happy to hear from me until I get too  relaxed and  try to explain how and whatever I feel (tending toward the bad, because I hoard the good news, always have, not wanting it spoiled), and he snaps at me.  “You’re not in Haiti!”

I’m not going to even try to answer that.

Despair is a mighty force. Why can’t it power a city? It’s not any nastier than burning coal. It’s even pretty mild, this particular unhappiness, considering what I used to feel. I’d to sob for hours and rend my skin. All that between 2 and 5. The poor husband. He’d come home into the aftermath and his face would skew sideways, one shoulder hunching up, ordering dinner over the phone. I’d stalk out ragefully, walk the city for hours, come home full of sparks of unkindness.

I’m so much better than that; I’m not even the same person. But it’s just like everything else in middle age:  even a little is too much. Because, you know, the years aren’t billowing ahead, the earth isn’t deep and cool beneath me, and I don’t remember childhood anymore. I have to look carefully for the happiness so discreetly here, how it hides in the cat’s cocoa-smelling fur (especially rich on the top of his head), the lights that go on and off at my whim. Cold sparkling water. Traffic surf.

Ray is singing “Fever.” How do contemporary musicians not chew the earth in humiliation for thinking they share an art?

A Song of Despair

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.

The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the dwarves at dawn.

It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.

Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.

From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.

Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.

The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot’s dread, fury of blind driver,

turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.

Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,

sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,

beyond desire and act, I walked on.

Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,

I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.

Like a jar you housed infinite tenderness.

and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.

There was the black solitude of the islands,

and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.

There was thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.

There were grief and ruins, and you were the miracle.

Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me

in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!

How terrible and brief my desire was to you!

How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,

still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.

Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,

oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force

in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.

And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was my voyage of my longing,

and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,

what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!

From billow to billow you still called and sang.

Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.

You still flowered in songs, you still brike the currents.

Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.

Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,

lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour

which the night fastens to all the timetables.

The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.

Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.

Only tremulous shadow twists in my hands.

Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.

It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!

——Pablo Neruda

Where Am I?

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