March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Mouchette sits on my chest and her fur is soft as feathers. Soft as the goose down that drifts out of my pillows and comforter, collecting under the bed where the cats creep and hide. Often she has these curls of white goose stuck to her fur; maybe that’s what’s teaching her fur to be so feathery. Her little head looks like an owl’s head, now that she’s plump, with her round yellow eyes and unblinking stare. I’m glad she can’t fly though. She knocks over enough as it is, though it’s my fault for having a night table crowded with pills and glasses. She likes to prowl near my head. Who can fault her?
Smoothing the black and white feathers—I mean fur—of her shoulders and chest, I think about the claim she has on me, the only claim she has made in her short life. She runs from other people; she puts up with Fitzroy in an irritated sisterly way; she trusts me. This is about as much motherhood as I can handle. She seems to know when I’m feeling defeated: that’s when she sits on my chest. That’s when she looks at me, saying look at me! I am your cat, whom you cannot abandon. It’s only lately that she’s allowed me to stroke her chest down between her front legs—each new intimacy stitching her to my heart.
She’s learned that I adore it when she rolls on her back on the rug, legs splayed like a cooked chicken. So now, when she does it and I utter outrageous compliments, she’ll do more, sliding and twisting, tilting her head back to show her white throat that I love to touch with two fingers, feeling the pulse of her life so near. I named her Mouchette because she was such a waif-like cat, thinner than any cat I’d seen, except on the street, thin as licorice whips. Now she’s roly-poly, a little missus, and that bothered me at first but I’ve grown to like it. I imagine her in a tiny cottage, distilling herbs. I imagine her at the market, selecting petit fours: two pink, two green, two white, one lilac. I imagine her at home with six daughters, wondering who will marry each of them, and will he be good.
And I watch her when Fitzroy, who is neutered, attempts sex: she remains as she was before he climbed on her back, not moving, seemingly unbothered—certainly not as bothered as I am; I ache for him—gazing at me calmly. It’s only when he gets frustrated at his inability and starts obsessively licking her ears that she hisses, swipes at him with her paw, then stalks away. Does she, too, dream of sex, not knowing what it is? If she does, she’ll never tell.
March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
I posted something last night that I took down in the light of day.* But this much I want to include.
My situation has changed, and I’m going to be staying in New York at least another few months, maybe longer. I feel some easing of tension, even if the weather don’t seem quite natural. My life doesn’t seem quite natural either, and hasn’t for some time.
I’ll be giving a poetry reading at the Cornelia Street Café on Wednesday, March 28, a 6 pm. Poems of love gone wrong, my dead father and Mickey Mouse. Wait, maybe not Mickey Mouse. But there are some mice somewhere in the poems, I’m sure of it. Oh, that’s right, children turned into mice. Yes. That’s a good one. It’s about heartbreak but I depended on my vast and deep knowledge of trapping mice, how they live, how they die. There’s nothing like a little grit under your fingernails to add substance to the same old story.
* for those who read the earlier post and are confused by getting a truncated version.
March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
Shall we gather at the river? If there is a river, if we can find it, if it hasn’t departed, leaving its stony bed naked to the sky, if it hasn’t spilled over its banks and poured through our streets and houses…
Wednesday night, at the Cathedral’s Evening of Witness, we ended with the hymn whose title is my first sentence, and heard tales of the power of water and the cruelty of men. The Voice of Witness book series, founded by Dave Eggers and Lola Vollen, provided first-person narratives, read aloud by poets and our storyteller, Laura Simms. Dan Brights’s story: he was one of many prisoners left locked in the jail during Hurricane Katrina. As the water rose and no one came—not to feed them, not to help them—the men gathered their strength and broke out of their cells—hours of kicking metal—then dug through concrete to rescue other prisoners. Many drowned. Meanwhile, the guards sat outside. Waiting, he said.
Patricia Smith read her poem, 34, about the 34 elderly nursing home residents left to die during the disaster: fierce and funny, she recreated all the voices of the 34. Nicole Cooley read Evacuation, her long poem about waiting to hear what happened to her parents who stayed in New Orleans through the hurricane. This poem was quieter, low-key, but just as powerful; her narrator is middle-class, with middle class expectations, yet her fear and outrage is the same fear and outrage Patricia expressed, that Dan Bright expressed, that we all remember. As another woman, Diana, said (recorded by Voice of Witness), “I’ve never experienced conditions this bad, not even in my home village in Peru. There, when disasters happened, aid came. Here, nothing. It was worse here.”
We saw riveting photographs of Japan after the tsunami that took over 15,000 lives, and photographs of Katrina and other places, rivers, deserts (provided by the Magnum Foundation). The Cathedral choir sang, and the orchestra played Handel and Liszt, and Prayer of the Whale, based on a poem by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, composed by Christina Whitten Thomas. I kept looking behind me before it started, and during the first pause, checking attendance. A lot of people came at the last minute, or after the opening: the last time I looked there were rows and rows of people in the dimness of the Cathedral, hundreds, stretching far back, all seeming a little more solemn, more serious than an ordinary audience. I don’t know what they were thinking but I imagine them as spellbound as I was.
Marilyn Nelson, our Poet in Residence, read Nothing Stranger about the strangeness and wonder of human beings in the universe, and the wonder of the stars and distances, the celestial forces. She looked like a celestial force, with her spangled jacket, long gown and exquisitely done hair. But all the poets were beautiful. We only allow beautiful poets in the Cathedral.
At the conclusion, Amy Goodman spoke with passion about the need to fight back against the corporations controlling water, the do-nothing politicians, the swiftly-approaching climate catastrophe.
Yes, that. Not the disasters of 2004, 2005, 2011, but the future. Will things will be better, worse, the same…? Not the same, never the same. Water will rise up and clobber our frail bodies, dismantle our houses. Water will grow scarce, be fouled with agricultural run-off, methane from fracking, any number of pollutants. There will be fewer fish and animals, more people. Even with the diseases of crowding and dirty water (which kill so many children you would think we were like those “lesser” creatures that routinely let the weakest offspring die), there will be more people.
And it’s spring in New York; in March, the flowers of late April are blooming. The trees are all in blossom: the puffy pinks and whites so surprising—every year, surprising—against the geometric buildings. I was talking with Tom Miller from the Cathedral as we walked to the reception. “At this rate, can you imagine what summer will be like?” I asked. “Maybe will just have a long spring,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be nice? Four months of this.” Tom has a sunny disposition.
But yes, four months of spring flowers would make up for a lot, though not really for dead children.
I sat in the audience and listened and I thought about water, about the lake of my childhood that I loved like a lover, wanted to love that way, arms and legs straining against the cold humming depth, trying to make myself into something that could truly embrace a lake. I remembered the New Jersey ocean that flung me around, and the gentler Florida ocean where I sometimes swim at night, when the bruise-blue of the water invisibly meets the sky. I thought of how I love reading about journeys by water—I read Kontiki a dozen times in early adolescence, indoors, outdoors, in the bath, in the car, up a tree—and houseboats, and actual and invented cultures that live on rafts on the water, people never leaving the body of the river.
I don’t actually like boat travel. I only want to do it in my imagination, and I mourn the fact that this mode of experience isn’t as natural to me as it once was. I put it in words better, which may fool you. But once I really lived there, in the endless place, the only place on earth as vast and mysterious as the ocean: our first and last and in-between home, which we will all lose. I believe, though, that we can trust water—rivers, rain, lakes, the sea with its secret powers—to come up with something new, even if we all stupid ourselves to destruction.
Let’s not, though. People are having babies. Let them drink clean water. Let them gather at the river, dare each other to jump from high branches into the river, make love beside the river, scatter the ashes of their dead in the river.
That would be us, the ashes. I want the cold, dark water when I die. I want to know what they call the Styx on the other side. Maybe it’s the shore where everyone picnics, where the dogs we left behind who have found us again play, and the herons stand on one leg, where a hippo rears out of the mud with its great bulbous snout and female sway, and we all sing hymns of Earth, Heaven and Hell. And, you know, eat the cold meats, the spring salad, the cake; and drink the crystal water and make love. Here’s a poem you probably haven’t read.
Be careful if you take this flower into your house. The peony has a thousand lips. It is pink and white like the lady’s skirt and smells sharp and sweet as cinnamon. There are a thousand ants living inside but you will only see one or two at a time. I am like that down there–pink and busy inside. The dark is a bolt of cloth, crushed and blue, and I unfurl against it. If you lie down on the floor of the closet the hems of silk will lick you. My own gown is thin as the skin of dried grass so I can see the ants dancing down there. The night has big paws. I imagine the wool of the bears, the cloth of monkeys. The night smells like vetiver and cedar. His mouth is cool with mint and warm with rum, and I am not afraid as he rubs his wool against me. I saw the bear dancing at the circus when I was small. He was wearing a green felt cap with gold bric-a-brac and kept by a thin wire thread. My brother bought me a sucker for the train ride home, and I am like that now on the inside, burning soft with lemon. What fruit do you like best? I like tangerines. And the night leaves me these. A small paper bag on the bedside table. The wrought iron and roses like an altar. I am glowing now. My teeth are stitching kisses to my fist. I go to the river. My legs are frogs legs. Tiny wands, see how they glisten. A thousand fish swim through me. I am a boat now. I know no anchor. My hair unfurls, copper and cinnamon. Look how it opens, beautiful world.
March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
It was my birthday yesterday, March 17, and it was warm and sunny in New York. This has never happened before, and though I’m sure it’s a sign of global climate change slowly but inexorably destroying the world as we know it, I’m cool with it. For now.
This age I now am, which most of you know or can figure out but I don’t have to actually admit to, is one that I really don’t like. Not because it’s a big one, a special one—it’s just this particular number. It reminds me of the woman in the mystery novel who opens the door suspiciously to the detective, her hair like coach stuffing, squinty eyes, smoker’s skin and a stained sweater buttoned wrong over her sagging bosom. She says she knows nothing, saw nothing, never pays attention to the cretins in the building, then proceeds to sneeringly describe every visitor the dead slut across the hall has had in the last 18 months.
But I had a wonderful birthday anyway. A walk in the sun; an art exhibit “In The Company of Animals” at The Morgan Library; 20-odd Irishmen dressed in Civil War uniforms, with muskets, on the subway; birthday calls and Facebook good wishes; lemon cake and white roses; and ½ hour coaxing Fitzroy out from under the bed after he strongly objected to wearing a ribbon around his neck for my tea party.
But the best part, of course, was the music. Listening to Pat Martino at Birdland, I thought of the phrase “wall of sound.” Pat creates such a wall, a churning, furious wall like a very strong wind as you walk into it, the sort of experience that some find overwhelming and others, like me, exhilarating. And just when it was almost too much, the organist, Pat Bianchi, joined in and made openings in the wall like the openings in that wall in the park in San Juan where hundreds of birds nest. Square, shadowy openings, birds fluttering in and out—that was the organ music, except that the organ was also leading us down the garden path to the sea, summery and melodic as Pat continued his relentless gale force wind.
I was in deep pleasure, thoughts about writing emerging from every corner of my brain. This novel, that novel, a one-act play, poems—all of it blooming like flowers in time-lapse photography. Alcohol helped, of course, but only by blocking out anxieties and minor physical irritants: it’s the music that charms out the ideas, the music that makes me remember that writing is pattern and change. My focus on subject matter, though necessary, needs to go blurry from time to time so I can feel the currents of my imagination willing to flow into any vessel, to shape it in ways I can’t predict or control, to shape it for the joy of shaping.
That was Birdland. Later, at the Village Vanguard, we heard the Heath brothers, Jimmy on sax, Albert on drums, along with an amazing piano player, Jeb Patton. Jimmy Heath is 85 now, Albert 76. Jimmy’ s not looking too good these days; he’s aged a lot since I saw him a few years ago. But his horn is still tender and lyrical, with drop-dead phrasing and a sound that carries the flavor of the ‘40s, though with a certain wised-up framing. Albert on drums—Albert in his final drum solo—I don’t have the words for that kind of thrill, except that if anybody cares to find someone of that caliber for my funeral, I can assure you grief will be banished for the occasion. And if the dead retain any hint of consciousness, I will be very pleased. (You write a sentence like that, you know the universe means to knock you off soon, just to create a little irony for a midday snack. But I’m going to risk it anyway.)
March 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
Lovely springtime weather in New York, that softness in the air, the tender shoots greening the soil in the park, afternoon light lavender on the 19th century stone houses. I was wearing my boots and winter jacket, unzipped; in the park a young woman was hula hooping in a two-piece bathing suit and knee socks. The families are out; the lovers are out; the old people sit on the benches, basking like reptiles in the sun.
That was Sunday. Yesterday was even warmer, in the 70’s, and all the memories of summer came rushing back, good and bad. I’m putting the bad aside for the moment. The best thing about this year is that it’s not last year.
It’s been long enough now that I haven’t spent weekends in the country that the flowers and trees of Manhattan, the hyacinths and daffodils, have full potency; all it takes is two feet square of new blooms in turned earth to make me feel that renewal that I’ve been so desperate to attain, that people keep insisting I’m capable of.
The future is precarious; I very much need new work so if anyone needs a crack editor/writer; if you need your novel critiqued, your academic paper edited; if English is your second language and you write it well but not perfectly and you’d like any professional communication polished and checked for errors; if you want your website improved (with words, not programming skills), get in touch. I’m in this position because I spent too many decades devoted to creative work, and had the means to do so, which I don’t anymore. But coming late to the professional world has its advantages: the worldly knowledge of age, the curiosity of youth…and if I don’t quite have the stamina of youth, in freelance work that’s not the problem it might be if you were hiring me for a 60 hour work week.
But I’m feeling optimistic. They say (far too often they say) that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; it’s also true that what doesn’t kill you now will kill you later, so it’s best to get on with things. The cats need new catnip mice. I need a haircut and sandals, and to have my teeth cleaned. Money should grow in the spring, not outdoors where anyone could take it, but inside, behind the books, beneath the lacy things, under the bed. My friend Paula once told me about a Brazilian voodoo (not the right name for the magical tradition, but whatever is Brazilian that’s like voodoo) belief that if you said the right prayer over your money as you spent it, it would come back to you, creeping out of cash registers and others’ pockets to return like a dog, faithful to the end. Let’s call this a metaphor for art—though I’m quite sure it wasn’t meant to be so; let’s pretend all the ninnies are right and if I ask the universe nicely, it will pause in its endless expansion, and toss me a few of its magic marbles, beans, geese, what have you. When the beggar accosts me, I shall be kind. When the frog asks for a kiss, it will be given. I just hope the good fortune doesn’t show up in some especially dodgy guise because I’m really not going to answer any chain letters or send my social security number to that U.K. site that keeps claiming I’ve won a million pounds. Nor am I going into any dark, stinky basements just because I hear a ghostly whisper, “Come, dear child, I have a little surprise for you.” You have to do better than that, Fairy Godmother.
March 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
(Poem made solely of search terms used to find this blog)
Goodnight zombie, perfect kitten, Camilla nude,
Morgan Library, female perversions.
Brain edit last supper, cave of forbidden dreams.
In the afternoon I was
Margaret Diehl author,
Philip Larkin, The Aquatic Uncle
Two cats in a box
The tyranny of the male gaze
Penis in a beehive.
Walking with head down
walking into a lamppost.
Artemis, goddess of the hunt.
In the light and the half light
Women torture Christopher Hitchens.
This was once a love poem.
Cupid fucking Sylvia Plath
“margaret diehl,” retarded monkey.
Mature discreet afternoon girdle fitting sessions
Artificial penis had a nice time,
alcohol by Franz Wright.
Stay slim the French way
read wonder woman comics.
I can make your panties disappear.
March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
Can’t sleep, so I come to this, writing, the promise of an audience, what I never had all those years of my youth, but it was easier then; I wasn’t so aware of how disconnected I was—or didn’t know what it mean to feel close to people and lose it. I’m scared of my mind that refuses to stay interested in all the lovely possibilities of life and writing. I’m scared of moving—not of Florida, not of Charles, my sweetling—but of leaving here, this city, this apartment, these 25 years…
The terrible lie that still sours my stomach. I see things wrongly. I know that. I keep steadying myself, putting myself in other shoes, using my not half-bad brain to see what is and what can be. “Why aren’t you interested in your strength?” Lisa asks me, and I am, but somehow it’s always connected to anger. When I’m angry, I’m strong. When I feel very afraid and threatened, I get angry and am strong. But the tide comes in and washes away the anger; I understand why people do what they do, say what they say, and I feel a great tenderness—not just for Philip but everyone who sometimes hurts or angers me; we are all afraid and want more love and I keep seeing that and can’t be angry. Should I cling to my anger on purpose? It feels like a profound distortion. But to be strong within that seeing—why can’t I? Why does it always lead back to grief? Is it because strength in compassion is such an enormous spiritual leap and I have no foundation?
Janet says she needs to write or she can’t live. I know that’s true of me, and I should pay more attention. To write everyday, morning and night, no matter what other work I have—and yet, to be honest, this blog is the only kind of writing I really feel called to, and it’s so dangerous. It’s not controlled. I hurt people, I hurt myself, but I also do good work. “Like Elmore Leonard on crack,” Philip said of a blog entry I took down; well, it’s better than writing newsletters, isn’t it? Though I rather enjoy writing newsletters. It makes me feel normal.
But this is what stirs me, the blog, what I’m drawn to, it’s my edge, it’s what I do with life—like what I did with Philip that felt like the only thing I could do, never mind that I knew he’d break my heart, that he was breaking it all along. To walk on the thin ice because I loved, because I was drawn there, and I have to deal with this, that I am really only interested in life if I go where I feel pulled. I’ve been denying that lately. Saying I made this terrible mistake (many mistakes) and I never will again; I’ll be good, I’ll be safe—but maybe that life has no appeal for me.
I’ve been so angry at him for not finishing things with me, if not as love, as investigation. What? Why? What? He used to run away when I talked like that. Charles just says helplessly that he doesn’t know. Philip knows—something—but he doesn’t tell. Still, I realize that what I want is something people just don’t do for each other. I do—have—for some, because it interests me, but it’s not generally on offer. So it’s up to me. I need to make it all into something concrete: what I felt and experienced that he didn’t, or doesn’t, or denies now, to fix it in words and say: that was that. But it’s frightening—it’s humiliating. To re-enter a place of intimacy, all alone, like the last living person visiting the Met. I want to go to Florida and bask in the sun. I want to eat fudge cake. I want to remember that this is my life, and its oddity is my treasure.
We both hate each other—no, hate’s much too powerful a word. We don’t hate each other. We feel a childish, self-pitying resentment shot through with longing and hatred (I’m guessing, a little). But beneath that is what lies unfinished. Different for him; he’s in love elsewhere. For me, a kingdom where all the books wait, still open, words flowing like wine. The story begins in Little Red Riding Hood’s woods or Sleeping Beauty’s thicket and ends up in a moonlit lake where a Chinese poet gets drunk and writes his perfect poems, then falls with a splash into the black water. The moon set while he was writing. It does that. (No one knows, two thousand years later, that he crawled ashore and hid in another city, writing different poems.)
I realize I don’t really know what I’m saying. It’s past 2 am, and even I’m getting tired. The cats are already asleep. But I see the python I wrote about; and a leopard-woman who’s half ghost and won’t say anything about what that’s like, goddamn it; and a sarcastic scorpion resembling John Malkovitch. They surround me, my companions, my characters who want their scripts. I should be writing stories all the time, all day, all night, what stops me, why do I feel none of it really matters? What happened to that youthful pride in my work? Now I read it over, and if it’s good I see that and am glad. But “glad” is a small word.
No matter how much I say, I feel like I’m being murdered by silence.