The blossoms on the trees stir up the honey bees

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Ed and friend

Spring came this year with Congress passing the healthcare bill; astrologers will tell you there was a mighty configuration of planets in the sky, not all benign or easy, by any means, but as full of portent as any ancient comet. I only read astrological sites when I have insomnia or am trying to convince myself that whatever is happening is just about to stop happening, so I can’t remember the details. But American politics makes sense if you imagine it controlled by light-years distant lumps of cold stone or boiling gasses, by geometries indifferent to human logic, by the attributes the Greeks saw in their gods—vengeance, jealousy, spite, lust, the coddling of the favored and the inclination to turn a woman your husband has raped into a white cow.

But enough of that. Spring is buds on the trees and flowers up and down 9th St.  Spring is I can take long walks again, and soon will be lured out into the warm dark after dinner. Spring is poetry month and you should sign up here to receive a poem in your inbox everyday.

Spring (May) will also bring the reissue of Charles’ Simic’s book of translations, The Horse has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry, which you must read if you like Simic’s work. In it you will find much that casts light on his poems, though not so much that they’ll come all the way out of the shadows where they hang out between readings, swapping lines and putting them back just in time.

Here’s one of the good ones from the book


The little box which contains the world
Fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another box

The litle box of the little box
Also fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another little box

And so it went on forever

The world from the little box
Ought to be inside
The last offspring of the little box

But not one of the little boxes
Inside the little box in love with herself
Is the last one

Let’s see you find the world now

–Vasco Popa, trans. Charles Simic

4 A.M.

March 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Me at 9 or 10

At 4 a.m. I was thinking about my childhood bedroom. It had pink walls, white bookshelves, and a gold rug. Now I remember the gold rug—at 4 a.m., I just remembered “gold” and was thinking “gold trim?”, “golden brown furniture?” though I knew those were not right. And maybe the gold rug is wrong too, but it will do for now. The colors hold the child self that is still here, intact.

I was alone a lot in childhood, but especially alone when I woke up at night. I never knew what time it was, only that I had been asleep for hours and the house was quiet.  I would turn on the light and be Margaret, an activity. I pushed my seeing deep into the back of my brain, a darkly vivid place that was like a magic castle, with rooms neverending. I thought it should be a forest, but it was a house—I imagined that when I was older I would push further and find the forest. I investigated left and right: where thoughts came from and where they went. I painted my consciousness over and over myself, layers like the glaze on pottery.

I’ve spent my life trying to unveil myself, to lovers and friends, to the world in writing. Intimacy has always mattered more than money or success. And yet in therapy there was a moment when my therapist was saying that he didn’t think we’d make more progress until I was ready to let him in entirely. I said, “But I will never let anyone in entirely. It’s out of the question.” I felt then the presence of the child in her pink and gold room and knew she was me and I her, still, and it didn’t seem wrong.

He was shocked at the finality of my words. He said that, if such were the case, therapy wouldn’t work. I replied that I doubted anyone ever let a therapist in entirely; they just believed or pretended they did. We argued this a little, but it was a pointless argument.

The child keeps painting herself on the walls. She’s profoundly lonely yet balanced in the dark. I’ve given up trying to force the container. Once, when I was still in therapy, I battered my defenses down until my ego, that bundled nub of self, slid off its pedestal. I was a flickering spark in a maelstrom of unconnected images, my mind churning and thumping like an overstuffed washing machine. The dislocation, loss of control, the feeling of being tossed around like a dirty sock was terrifying beyond words; I had just enough me left to note that this must be what psychosis was like, or more simply: this must be psychosis.

I was lucky; I’d been investigating altered states for years and had some scraps of advice. I looked at my hands. I looked at the fingers, the thumbs, the raised greenish veins and knobby knuckles; then I looked at my arms and legs, their contours, bumps and freckles; I sank into my body’s posture and aches. Gradually the churning lessened and my ego anchored. The images retreated to their ordinary ocean, lapping my island self.

I know I didn’t try to open myself properly. I know there are ways—yearas of meditation, etc—to do it more safely. But love, therapy and memoir- writing were my big gambles. The child doesn’t want to try anymore. She thinks adulthood is a mug’s game.

(In the poem below, the indentations are where the line continues…obvious in some poems, annoying in this one with its short lines. WordPress is hard to work in, sometimes. I can’t conrol the text.)

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death,
  but these Society shall be
Compared with that profounder
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
  Finite Infinity.

Emily Dickinson

The Wine and the Night, Brain Music

March 24, 2010 § 3 Comments

Last night my friend Jocelyn and I went to a play, Equivocation, and then a late supper. The play has King James commissioning Shakespeare to write a play about Guy Fawkes and friends’ attempt to blow up Parliament; Shakespeare, becoming intimate with the politics of the event, including the torture of the conspirators and evidence of royal manipulation, ends up writing Macbeth. It had some good bits, but was mostly kind of awful, full of clichés about writers, ham-handed efforts to evoke Iraq, sentimental father-son, father-daughter themes gumming up the story; lots of blather. It did make me want to see Macbeth, though. I’ve only ever read the play, and seen parts of a filmed version on TV.

But the supper was lovely, cozy and relaxing—a giant coil of roasted octopus; a bowl of fritti; a cheese sampling; two glasses of delicious, licorice-and-cherry Dolcetta D’Alba; and Jocelyn’s invitation to a weekend in the country with her new horse, her pretty chickens and her whippet. Afterward I walked down Broadway, wine lighting up my brain as the neon lit the sky, and all the books I want to write were layered like those signs, pulsing in green and pink, purple and blue, competing loudly yet most beautiful in concert: the children’s book starring my cats (based loosely on a poem I write when I was a child myself, about the nighttime adventures of my hairbrush and comb); the fantasy about the boy from the underground tribe and the teenage wife buried alive with the dead king; the non-fiction book about designer animals.

And if you gave me a few minutes, I could come up with several more I’d like to write. But since I have other things I need to do today, I’m writing this instead. Later I’ll take a walk and buy vegetables. Maybe I’ll make the salad I had in Venice 17 years ago: romaine lettuce, red onion, sweet corn, thin slices of Parmesan, strawberries and mint. I’ve made it several times and it never approaches the original but is very good just the same.

Sonnet 56

Sweet love renew thy force, be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allayed,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might.
So love be thou, although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love, with a perpetual dulness:
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new,
Come daily to the banks, that when they see:
Return of love, more blest may be the view.
Or call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.

William Shakespeare

Four More Years

March 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Shoulder and Neck, Leonardo Da Vinci

So they passed the bill.  Health care in 2014. I may manage to have insurance that long–or not–. What would really excite me is someone coming up with a cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or chronic yeast infections. Or depression…

(No, really, I’m very pleased. Thanks, Barack.)

Charles was here for 6 days and I greatly enjoyed his visit; we felt more comfortable together than we have in years. And toward the end, I felt the whisper of what was always there, what made me fear he wasn’t the right one, a crack in the rock, loneliness. I know now it would be there with Philip or anyone else. Philip is easier to be with, in some ways, because I always feel like I’m in a story with him, no matter how real and truthful I try to be, and he is; there’s something fictional about it all, which is not to say false…we fit like characters written by an author not entirely implausible, while Charles and are are simply children of The Great Spirit, The Great Blind Worm, or the great nothing. Which is its own story.

OK, TV on. They all seem to be having fun. Who brings the cupcakes to these things? Dennis Kucinich’s wife?

Robert Gibbs twittering from the White House…

Southern Republican shouting “Baby killer” at Bart Stupak…whose speech made me think of rows and rows of the unborn in doctor’s offices, floating in their little portable tanks (the mechanical wombs of the future), waiting to ask, “Where are my toes? Will I be blond? Why do knives cut? Flesh bruise? Who agreed to pain?”

Waiting for the President. I’d like to be a speechwriter-bird sitting on his shoulder, adding my little nuggets…

Large Intestine

Look in the mirror. Let us both look.

Here is my naked body.

Apparently you like it,

I have no reason to.

Who bound us, me and my body?

Why must I die

together with it?

I have the right to know where the borderline

between us is drawn.

Where am I, I, I myself.

Belly, am I in the belly? In the intestines?

In the hollow of the sex? In a toe?

Apparently in the brain. I do not see it.

Take my brain out of my skull. I have the right

to see myself. Don’t laugh.

That’s macabre, you say.

It’s not me who made

my body.

I wear the used rags of my family,

an alien brain, fruit of chance, hair

after my grandmother, the nose

glued together from a few dead noses.

What do I have in common with all that?

What do I have in common with you, who like

my knee, what is my knee to me?


I would have chosen a different model.

I will leave both of you here,

my knee and you.

Don’t make a wry face, I will leave you all my body

to play with.

And I will go.

There is no place for me here,

in this blind darkness waiting for


I will run out, I will race

away from myself.

I will look for myself


like crazy

till my last breath.

One must hurry

before death comes. For by then

like a dog jerked by its chain

I will have to return

into this stridently suffering body.

To go through the last

most strident ceremony of the body.

Defeated by the body,

slowly annihilated because of the body

I will become kidney failure

or the gangrene of the large intestine.

And I will expire in shame.

And the universe will expire with me,

reduced as it is

to a kidney failure

and the gangrene of the large intestine.

–Anna Swir

Brandy and Ravens

March 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

I’ve been on the outskirts of people’s grief lately: serious illness, death. Perhaps because of that I dreamed of my friend Ann, who died of lung cancer 10 years ago: she’d gone back to a shady ex-boyfriend and was coming to stay with me (in a cramped house I lived in with my husband, sister, mother and others I don’t recall). Then it seemed she was only leaving her notebooks.

She did do that: leave many diaries, which her brother gave me because he couldn’t face reading them. When I sold my house in the country I went through them ruthlessly, throwing out ones that were mostly empty, or that contained only lists of all the things wrong with her, which she noted extensively elsewhere.

Her diaries were so much like mine that it made me feel hyper-real, as if her death had blended her into me. For the first (and only) time I understood viscerally the idea of eating one’s dead, taking in their qualities.

For this to mean something, there has to be a strong belief in the likeness of beings. I had had such a moment with her, right before she went into the hospital for good—a dinner during which we came as close as she could to speaking of her death. What she said was much less than what some people can say easily, but because it was so big for her, I felt the opening of the channel, her heart flowing into mine.

This is something I’ve felt—lucidly, consciously—only a few times, and the other partners have been lovers or animals. Because of this I miss her, and because her death was both slow and quick (3 months from diagnosis) and I was at an age when mortality is constantly, if softly, knocking, her death has become “the” death for me, the template.

The others, the first ones, were shock and awe.

Since I was old enough to understand the concept, I’ve been aware that the ground of existence (whether you think of it as the nature of consciousness, the consciousness of the divine, or the spilling-over noise of bacterial networks) is always very close to me, very much available. And yet I don’t get too close. I did when I was young and it was thrilling, like certain drugs. Then it got more serious and I was afraid.

All I know about what I’m afraid of is that death is at the heart of everything. The Buddhists are right about that. The enlightened being feels death shining as strongly as life. We are all dangerous bundles of energy. To feel oneself unmade by the process of dying is horrific; to get used to it ahead of time is either very wise or like trying to breathe underwater.

Some have done it. That doesn’t make me want to. I just feel like, I could. I can’t race motorcycles or give a speech, but cross a little into death’s territory and come back—yeah. I have what it takes. But you have to pay the toll, if you do that.

Eyes Fastened with Pins

How much death works,

No one knows what a long

Day he puts in. The little

Wife always alone

Ironing death’s laundry.

The beautiful daughters

Setting death’s supper table.

The neighbors playing

Pinochle in the backyard

Or just sitting on the steps

Drinking beer. Death,

Meanwhile, in a strange

Part of town looking for

Someone with a bad cough,

But the address is somehow wrong,

Even death can’t figure it out

Among all the locked doors …

And the rain beginning to fall.

Long windy night ahead.

Death with not even a newspaper

To cover his head, not even

A dime to call the one pining away,

Undressing slowly, sleepily,

And stretching naked

On death’s side of the bed.

–Charles Simic

Felix and Oscar

March 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m so pleased Avatar didn’t win at the Oscars.  The most I got out of that movie was memories of lying in my tumble-down apartment in Berkeley in the late ‘70’s, reading science fiction that brought soaring alien forests, memory trees, glorious birds and beasts vividly to mind, aided by the scent of ripe lemons from the backyard and yeasty bread rising in the kitchen. Then a walk through our dreamy neighborhood with its mismatched houses and effortless bohemian charm; the Eucalyptus-rich hills and the secluded public rose garden where we’d drink champagne from the bottle; sunny afternoons, working mornings, and always more used books from Moe’s.

Other than that, Avatar made me think it’s really time to go to Costa Rica. But the movie itself is not worth the words to criticize. You want to feel awe for Mother Nature, go to the redwood forests, the Louisiana swamps, or the Shawngunk Mountains. Read the great fantasists. Take LSD and look at a bouquet of fresh rosemary, the grain of your wooden cutting board, an open window.

(‘Felix’ means happy, in Latin.)


Across the shimmering meadows–
Ah, when he came to me!
In the spring-time,
In the night-time,
In the starlight,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Up from the misty marsh-land–
Ah, when he climbed to me!
To my white bower,
To my sweet rest,
To my warm breast,
Beneath the hawthorn tree.

Ask of me what the birds sang,
High in the hawthorn tree;
What the breeze tells,
What the rose smells,
What the stars shine–
Not what he said to me!

Willa Cather

Thank You

March 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Bobby McFerrin

The other night I was at a program called Thank You, Tibet at The Cathedral of St John the Divine: Tibetan monks, musicians and dancers, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Bobby McFerrin, John Giorno, various speakers. The music of Philip Glass has always made me feel like I’m lying in a warm bath gradually cooling, on hold, for a decade. Listening to  Bobby McFerrin, on the other hand, is like falling into a dream after taking a gentle hit of mescaline with one pinkie finger in an electric socket. John Giorno, the  beat-up but still kicking (and charming) Beat poet, recited his poem, “Thanks for Nothing,” which you can watch him perform on Youtube Here’s a sample:

“Thanks for the resounding applause. /Thanks for exploiting my big ego/and making me a star for your own benefit/thanks for not paying me….I give enormous thanks to all my lovers…countless lovers of boundless, fabulous sex/countless lovers of boundless fabulous sex/countless lovers of fabulous boundless sex/ may they all come here and make love to you/if you want…Thanks, America for your neglect/ I did it anyway.”

Lisa was trying to figure out how Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson managed to neutralize the usual echoes and produce clear sound, something the Cathedral has trouble with. I tried to get Bobby McFerrin’s autograph but he slipped out, and then I wondered why I was trying to get it anyway. Just an excuse to speak to him, I suppose, to stand next to him. The sounds he made slapping his chest while singing made me want to slap his chest too, to lay my hand against his skin and feel his voice vibrate. There are many, many videos of Bobby McFerrin, but this is an interesting one from the World Science festival, which I almost attended last year…and deeply regret now that I didn’t.

Here’s a poem by William Matthews, who lived in New York and wrote often about the music he loved.

Mingus At The Showplace

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th st., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but as it happens they were wrong.

So I made him look at this poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He glowered
at me but didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.

Where Am I?

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