My Summer Vacation

August 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dover Beach circa 1900

Last night: a beautiful hour of floating in calm waters at sunset, the sky rosy around me, with mauve and peach billowing clouds, and the horizon the same blue as the sea.

Back home to fresh broiled grouper and roasted eggplant with red peppers, and Charles’ cat, Silk Rat, waiting for her share. I call her Silk Rat because she’s losing her black hair and the white skin shows through, making her look, at best, mousy, but she’s very soft and has lovely mint green eyes. She likes to be rubbed on her near-nude belly, and show off her impressive number of nipples. And when she manages to sneak outside, she bounds across the grass like my mother’s poodle did in his youth, with a springiness that seems to defy gravity.

Mostly, she makes Charles happy. She loves him with a grand devotion. As he loves me. I am the prodigal wife, and he always has a feast.

It’s hard to worry here. It’s hard to care. My mind hasn’t found great reward in thinking lately and has gone quiescent, like the ocean last night, content to shimmer in its borders and let the jellyfish float in on the tide.

***

I wrote the above a few hours ago; now, facing the flight to New York tonight, anxiety is spreading across my back, muscle by muscle. I miss my cats. I miss my apartment and the city. I’m looking forward to seeing Lisa and my mother and Delilah & Nick. It’s just that New York is my life, all the unresolved questions, which I keep resolving in my head and then find unraveled—unkind elves deconstructing me in my sleep.

This is a very familiar poem, but one of my all-time favorites.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold

Ship of Fools

August 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Charles' cat Lola wearing a necklace I made

I’ve been in Florida four days, and today was the first time I managed to make it to the beach during the brief period the sun was out. We splashed in the blue water, and I felt almost normal—and came out covered with baby jellyfish stings. They don’t hurt too much, but aren’t pleasant. I’m marinating in vinegar now, thinking of all the work I have to do, and the sadness comes and goes. Am I emerging from this depression, or is this merely a pause? Is the Zoloft working? Or is it what I decided yesterday…which I’m not going to tell you….

Okay. New topic: the Republican debate. Even I, in my romantic bathos, admit that this was more despair inducing than my personal life. Rank stupidity in high places used to be a good source of jokes, but it’s just not funny anymore. As for Obama; I’m suffering buyer’s remorse, big time. Hilary: I’m sorry! You were right! Maybe she wouldn’t have been terribly effective—the subhuman viciousness of the Republicans is not Obama’s doing—but she wouldn’t have been so craven. We could have cheered her on as the ship sank. The sword and sorcery novels I read all have a point where some character says: “All that’s left for him is a good death.” This concept is pretty much confined to fiction in modern America, a place where doctors blackmail bedridden, pain-wracked terminal patients into having more invasive tests so that “your children will know what cancers they’re genetically prone to.” Yes, this is happening to the mother of a friend of mine.

Charles said to me, “We need to get living wills,” and I replied, “It’s not really necessary yet. We each know the other would choose to die—”
“As soon as possible?”
Non. If we’re terminal, paralyzed, brain-damaged, or after more than a week in the hospital.”
“Or when the money runs out,” he said.
“If the money runs out, I’ll die in a worthy cause (see above), and you can go live in the nudist colony on your Social Security.”
“No; I’ll go with you.”
“But what about the cats?”
“I’ll work until I’m 90,” he said with a sigh.

We both will. But for the country, sinking into a ruin we won’t get out of in my lifetime, I do wish we had a noble captain on the bridge, fighting with a sword, a battle-axe, and wizard lightning. But this is a small time, small-minded, shortsighted—one of those historical periods when the writers skitter about like spiders, no place to anchor their webs, which collapse anyway under the weight of the death-bred flies…

(I was being metaphorical. In literal mode, The New Yorker ran a story this week about insect-eating, which includes a recipe for maggot seviche, using maggots obtained from corpses. Yes, we live in a damned era, but isn’t that taking it just a little too far?)

Once Upon A Time…

I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or
at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of
the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows,
robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman

Bedridden

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

don't expect being smart to help much in life

My friend says: I have no doubt you’ll be seeing him again in a few weeks, I don’t care what you say. But why do you have to feel this idiotic competitiveness? You’ve known what he’s like forever. Of course, you’re in denial…and she pauses, as one does at the stark of absurdity of another’s denial, while one’s own sits smiling in plain sight, picking his teeth…but you know he loves you; these other women….

The more common advice: never see him or speak to him, put him out of your mind and life entirely.

So far I’ve steered a middle course, like Obama. I meant to spend the morning planning what I need to write to make money. But I’m writing poetry, fueled by heightened emotion, the stark clarity of desire and desperation (his and hers included). Yes, I’ve read and responded to the many often-incoherent letters Beatriz wrote me or cc’d me on over the last 2 ½ months. But how could I resist? She’s forwarded long strings of their emails! Writers are snoops. I have so much material now.

I’m not pretending I did it for the material. I was obsessive and angry, and looking for an angle, just as she was. Most of my life, the writer-wanting-to-find-out-everything part of me has served me well. Intimacy has been the place where I take risks,learn things others don’t know. War zones, prisons, emergency rooms, executive suites, parent-teacher meetings…the very idea provokes panic. I prefer bed.

It’s the desire to write that keeps me in bed now, with my laptop, the relief it brings, which, if one were to use the terminology of addiction, would be like an alcoholic keeping one last bottle in the house, caressing it, sniffing the open mouth, but also—not to gross you out entirely, but I just finished reading Adam Gopnik’s piece about dogs in the New Yorker—it’s like a dog sniffing another’s butt, learning as much that way as we do having a long chat. And if a dog could sniff its own butt, believe me, it would.

Gopnik says that dogs “forget” what they’ve learned from the sniff, so keep going back for more, and that, oddly enough, every dog dislikes being sniffed. This doesn’t tally with what I’ve noticed. Some dogs dislike it. Some people talk to everyone, others guard their privacy. As for the dog “forgetting”? Don’t people say the same thing over and over; ask the same questions over and over? Do you love me? Do you really? Do you promise? I love you. I hate you. I hate you more than Hitler. Sniff my butt, it’ll say the same thing. But you’d have to be a dog to understand.

Country Fair

If you didn’t see the six-legged dog,
It doesn’t matter.
We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.

-Charles Simic

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