December 29, 2012 § 2 Comments
I got lots of receptacles for Christmas: water glasses, wine glasses and mugs. The mugs were from my mother’s house—she’s accumulated too many, I’ve broken too many—and it’s very nice to have these familiar objects, all holding bits of her history or soul. Many were gifts from the causes she supports: “Saving American’s Mustangs,” “Fund for Animals, “Their Courage Endures—American Veterans for the disabled.” In turn I gave her jewelry I made and a bound book of this years blog entries (her request). She said, “Only the good ones.” It’s nice to know someone so well that you can pretty much tell what that means.
I also got honey, chocolate and pears, Cava, truffle-scented polenta, scones, jam and lemon cake. The Paleolithic diet will have to wait. This is the week of hearing from old friends, expected and unexpected, of get-togethers before and after New Year’s. I love/hate this time of year.
I’m not sure what we’ll be doing Monday night, except that it won’t cost any money. Most likely what we did on Christmas: cook, drink something bubbly, listen to itunes, and take video of Fitzroy rolling in catnip. I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve. I think I’ve had maybe 3 good ones in my life, none recent.
Most of the time I don’t miss fancy restaurant meals, and I’ve replaced theater and music with poetry readings. While I feel less the indulged, sexy sophisticate, that’s made up for by the deep resonance of home cooking: childhood, my mother’s house, my early married days. This may not be the apartment or city to best experience this, but it’s what I’ve got, and in between my late-night financial panic, and frequent homicidal fury (recently upgraded from suicidal fury), I’m grateful that I have a home and at least some work; that Charles loves poetry readings and my cooking; that Mouchette now sleeps on top of me like a velvet-covered 10 pound weight, whenever she gets the chance; that most people forgive me my character flaws.
And always, night and day, the sound of Charles’ guitar from the other room. Sometimes it brings me pleasure, sometimes distress that he’s not working, sometimes envy that he’s working creatively, mostly the steadying reminder that I’m responsible for his happiness.
I’ve never been happy for any length of time, and not for lack of trying. Right now, it’s beyond my reach. I don’t care any more: I’d settle for being functional, non-depressed. Ah, the good old days of being only “normally” depressed! But if he can be happy because of me, that’s something.
Not enough, but something.
Fragments for the End of the Year
On average, odd years have been the best for me.
I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know.
Without fail, fall makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.
The sky is molting. I don’t know
if this is global warming or if the atmosphere is reconfiguring
itself to accommodate all the new bright suffering.
I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland.
Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit.
I was terribly sorry to be the one to explain to the first graders
the connection between the sunset and pollution.
On Venus you and I are not even a year old.
Then there were two skies.
The one we fly through and the one
we bury ourselves in.
I appreciate my wide beveled spatula which fulfills
the moment I realized I would grow up and own such things.
I am glad I do not yet want sexy bathroom accessories.
In the story we were together every time.
On his wedding day, the stone in his chest
not fully melted but enough.
Sometimes I feel like there are birds flying out of me.
Jennifer K. Sweeney
December 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
“… ‘But Gold was not all. The other kings bring Frank Innocence and Mirth.’ | Darcourt was startled, then delighted. ‘That is very fine, Yerko; is it your own?’ | ‘No, it is in the story. I saw it in New York. The kings say, We bring you Gold, Frank Innocence, and Mirth.’ | ‘Sancta simplicitas,’ said Darcourt, raising his eyes to mine. ‘If only there were more Mirth in the message He has left to us. We miss it sadly, in the world we have made. And Frank Innocence. Oh, Yerko, you dear man.’ …”
—Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels
I’m going to try to make my Christmas mirthful, but right now I’m just hoping to feel what I feel now: love for family, friends, Facebook friends, animals, oceans and trees. It’s funny from how many places joy can emerge when you give up hoping for the things you used to hope for, and merely think of life as something to watch and taste and think about. Of course, sadness can come out lots of ways too, and I just have to let that be.
It’s a beautiful sunny day, the food stores full of people, but not too full; A saxophonist was playing in the park, though it was cold; I talked to a neighbor who’s hosting a big celebration—which gave me a twinge of envy—;and gave my pocket change to the homeless man who always sits in front of Citarella.
This weekend we had a holiday dinner with my niece Ramona, who was sweet and dear as always, and we’ll be seeing Delilah after New Year’s. Sadly, the grandsons won’t be here, as planned, but Jaden already opened his Christmas present from us—a book on how to program computer games—and last I heard (a few hours after he opened it) had already programmed one. He’s probably programmed six or seven by now. As his mother said, “I’m so damn proud.”
I heard /watched Hannah and Myles playing piano on Facebook and my mother is hosting Whitney, Steffen and eight-year-old Daniel. My cousin Roberta got through surgery and is doing well, and my friends are with their families. So even though our Christmas will be quiet, it’s all good. We’ll take a walk in the park and get the cats stoned on catnip. Then I’ll cook a duck breast, and we’ll eat all the Christmas candy.
I looked up poems with “Christmas” in them and found this—not precisely a Christmas poem, but close enough for me. Anyway, Langston Hughes is good all the time.
Theme for English B
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
We were talking about guns, as many people have been lately, and Charles told me that when he was 15, he was first out of 400 in his summer camp rifle shooting competition. And as a matter of course joined the NRA. (Undoubtedly his membership expired when they started requiring membership fees.)
I thought that was cool. I would like to be first out of 400 in something requiring that kind of hand-eye coordination. And I guess if I were in a situation requiring a gun, and happened to have one handy, it would be nice to be able to shoot it effectively. But those days are long gone, not only for us (age), but for America.
Shooting a rifle well enough to win a prize is nothing like buying a machine gun you have no acceptable use for unless the zombie apocalypse comes (and everyone knows bullets barely slow down a zombie). Even if we devolve into barbarism in the lifetime of today’s adults, a machine gun is a tricky proposition: those people approaching your stronghold may be killer junkies but may also be not-so-bad guys you could negotiate with. A shotgun would be fine.
“But what if they have machine guns?” says the eager purchaser, the kind who has cleaned out gun shops this week. I don’t know…maybe…go fuck yourself? I’m not sure I want to hang out with those guys or have them survive, though I understand they see it differently. The point is, most of them don’t expect to need their guns, they just find them, as one said, “exciting.” Yeah, I found drunk driving kind of exciting when I was 17. I found one-night-stands with strangers exciting in my 20’s and early 40’s, and crazy love exciting well beyond that.
God save me from more excitement. When you’re in the midst of it—anything infatuating and dangerous—you don’t honestly reckon the cost. ‘Excitement’ has a way of skewing perception. We see 20 kids dead, they see a way to make Saturdays a thrilling break from the workweek, family, day-to-day blah of life. I get it. Your blood races, your nerves hum, your senses expand, power (in disguise as mastery) is an enormous rush. You feel manly. Womanly. Special. But then your kid dies or kills someone. Or you’re lucky and just shoot off a few toes.
My brother, as a teenager, almost shot someone with a gun he was certain was unloaded. At the last minute, he swung it away from his friend. He says he heard our father (who died when he was eight) telling him, “Never point a gun at someone unless you mean to kill him.” And the gun, which actually was loaded, blew out a window.
My father meant to kill himself and he succeeded. Death was one of his erogenous zones.
I’ve experienced what it’s like to have a child and a parent in the family die. I can imagine what it would have been like if my brother had killed his friend Jonathan. I don’t think he’d be recovered yet.
So if, by any chance, I’m not preaching to the converted, please pay attention: if a gun is exciting to you, how much more exciting might it be to your kid or the neighbor’s kid or the young guy who burgles your house? Not to mention that your wife might fantasize about mistaking you for an intruder a lot more often than you think.
After our gun chat, Charles and I moved on to Christmas presents. He said, “All I want is that you not call me an asshole under your breath on Christmas day.” I mean, c’mon! He’d promised and promised he’d do something, we had a guest coming! It was only that once…
But since he said that, I’ve called him an asshole under my breath whenever I remember to. And he remarks to the cats, “That witch, your mother…that monstrous lump in the bed…” But nobody’s getting a gun in his (her) stocking. Really.
Gathering the Bones Together
for Peter Orr When all the rooms of the house fill with smoke, it’s not enough to say an angel is sleeping on the chimney.
1. a night in the barn
The deer carcass hangs from a rafter.
Wrapped in blankets, a boy keeps watch
from a pile of loose hay. Then he sleeps
and dreams about a death that is coming:
Inside him, there are small bones
scattered in a field among burdocks and dead grass.
He will spend his life walking there,
gathering the bones together.
Pigeons rustle in the eaves.
At his feet, the German shepherd
snaps its jaws in its sleep.
A father and his four sons
run down a slope toward
a deer they just killed.
The father and two sons carry
rifles. They laugh, jostle,
and chatter together.
A gun goes off
and the youngest brother
falls to the ground.
A boy with a rifle
stands beside him,
I crouch in the corner of my room,
staring into the glass well
of my hands; far down
I see him drowning in air.
Outside, leaves shaped like mouths
make a black pool
under a tree. Snails glide
there, little death-swans.
Something has covered the chimney
and the whole house fills with smoke.
I go outside and look up at the roof,
but I can’t see anything.
I go back inside. Everyone weeps,
walking from room to room.
Their eyes ache. This smoke
turns people into shadows.
Even after it is gone
and the tears are gone,
we will smell it in pillows
when we lie down to sleep.
He lives in a house of black glass.
Sometimes I visit him, and we talk.
My father says he is dead,
but what does that mean?
Last night I found a child
sleeping on a nest of bones.
He had a red, leaf-shaped
scar on his cheek.
I lifted him up
and carried him with me,
though I didn’t know where I was going.
6. the journey
Each night, I knelt on a marble slab
and scrubbed at the blood.
I scrubbed for years and still it was there.
But tonight the bones in my feet
begin to burn. I stand up
and start walking, and the slab
appears under my feet with each step,
a white road only as long as your body.
7. the distance
The winter I was eight, a horse
slipped on the ice, breaking its leg.
Father took a rifle, a can of gasoline.
I stood by the road at dusk and watched
the carcass burning in the far pasture.
I was twelve when I killed him;
I felt my own bones wrench from my body.
Now I am twenty-seven and walk
beside this river, looking for them.
They have become a bridge
that arches toward the other shore.
December 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Mouchette doesn’t have cancer. “Break out the champagne,” said Dr. Haddock. We didn’t, but had a happy evening anyway.
That was a few days ago. I’ve been dealing with Christmas presents while doing my best to forget that Christmas exists. Never mind why: it’s okay. I just want to get some work done, take a lot of walks and maybe see a movie.
These days, I routinely enter sweepstakes—I know the odds, but at least they’re free, and I wouldn’t mind a trip somewhere or a hunk of cash—and came across this:
Prepper Podcast—Post Election Gun Giveaway–new
That’s right Prepper, you can win a .45 caliber handgun from the Prepper Podcast Radio Network! This gun is the three things you never want to meet in a dark alley: Big, Ugly, and Heavy. Made here in the United States, it’s so rugged, if you run out of bullets and you have to beat the bad guy into submission, they will replace it for free if his thick skull damages the gun. FREE! And this warranty is transferable to the next owner.
Oh, America. When will you grow up? We love our children. At the Cathedral today, as I was leaving the Christmas party, I held the door for 12 or 14 choristers on their way to music practice–so many bright, smooth faces; soft, nimble bodies in sweatshirts and jeans. They looked like fresh air and spring branches, waves in sunlight, like the dense loam of the earth. People, but touched with everything that lives, blossoms, sustains, abides.
December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
We won’t hear about Mouchette’s test results until Saturday or Monday. Charles says he can’t think of anything else, but I’ve managed to make myself believe it will be all right. She’s occasionally moving her jaw back and forth as if to say, “There’s something wrong here, Mom, have you seen my teeth?” I hate looking in her mouth and seeing them missing, though she still has her front fangs.
We went to a poetry reading tonight at Cake on the Lower East Side. I used to go there often in the old days, when it was just beginning to become gentrified, my friends scoring cheap apartments among the Italian cafes and cloth merchants. I think there were maybe two places to eat. Now it’s a jumping and very young neighborhood,the sort of streets where you think they’ll card you in the bars, kick you out if you’re over 35. When I look into those joints—the talk, the drinks, the boys, the jive—I don’t feel nostalgia for youth but only for my youthful body, which has gone to the same distant happy place as Mouchette’s teeth. (Where you will also find the old Italian men who used to sit on their stoops or in chairs on the street—thick, short, round-shouldered bodies, drooping eyelids—looking at us with a gaze I’m beginning to grow into.)
The reading room at Cake, a café and bar, was in the basement of a narrow storefront and it was dark, dank and musty, with red glitter tinsel hanging at the back of the designated stage. Other than bar stools, there were only tiny, hard, plastic cubes masquerading as chairs, and Thai rock music on the sound system. Charles said it was exactly the sort of place he finds himself in his dreams when runs and runs but can’t find the exit. I thought it was more like one of those fictional bars where a handful of characters hunker down against the monsters that are eating the townspeople, much of the action happening as a result of a slow, inevitable slide into drunkenness. In other words, I liked it just fine.
There was a two-drink minimum and since one glass of the house wine (poured to the very brim of a jelly glass) was more than enough for me, Charles had three gin and tonics. He’s making dinner now. It’s okay if it takes a while.
We went because Alissa Heyman was reading. She’s the curator of the Cornelia Street Perfect Sense poetry series where I’ve read twice. I like her (she’s kind, considerate and wears great lipstick) and I liked her poems a lot: desire, fairytales, three poems about a girl who marries a skull. The last three lines of the first skull poem:
One day I will be a skull too,
and my husband won’t mind a bit.
He’ll say, “Now you’ve grown into a real beauty.”
To read more, click here
A few other poets read, including Cathy Park Hong. Hong, lithe and charming, is the author of three books: Translating Mo’um, Dance Dance Revolution and Engine Empire. Poets.org says, “A review of her work in Rain Taxi Review of Books described Hong’s…work that ‘manages to create a space for the irreducibility of meaning.’”
How much space does the irreducibility of meaning take up? Would you know if it was in hiding your closet or sitting beside you in a taxi? Sucking out the contents of your wallet?
The poems are good anyway.
Remember to check out my Etsy site and BUY STUFF. Do it for Mouchette and, if you have no female friends or relations, give a pair of earrings to your favorite lady veterinary worker. I do.
Ontology of Chang and Eng, the Original Siamese Twins
Chang spoke / Eng paused.
Chang threw a beach ball / Eng caught it.
Chang told a white lie / Eng got caught for the lie.
Chang forgot his first language / Eng picked up English.
In letters, Chang referred to themselves as “I” / Eng as “we.”
While proselytizing, the preacher asked Chang, “Do you know where you
go after you die?” Chang said, “Yes, yes, up dere.” / Thinking they didn’t
understand, he asked, “Do you know where I go after I die?” Eng said,
“Yes, yes, down dere.”
Chang married Adelaine / Eng married her sister Sally.
Chang made love to his wife / Eng daydreamed about money,
his Siam childhood and roast beef. He tried not to get aroused.
Chang checked his watch, scratched his head and fidgeted/
Eng made love to his wife.
Chang became drunk, knocked Eng out with a whiskey bottle
and went carousing with his boys / Eng was unconscious.
Chang proved Einstein’s time dilation while drunkenly running
from one bar to the next / Eng was unconscious.
Chang apologized / Eng grudgingly accepted.
Chang paused / Eng spoke / Chang interrupted.
“I am my own man!” / Eng echoed, “We are men yes.”
Both broke their bondage with their pitchman, Mr. Coffin.
Both owned land in North Carolina and forty slaves.
Both were nostalgic for Siam: childhood of preserving
duck eggs, watching tiger and elephant fights with the King,
Mother Nok who loved them equally.
The physicians were surprised to find both were “personable.”
Both did not appreciate the outhouse joke.
“Are all Orientals joined?” “Allow me to stick this very sharp pin
in Eng’s neck to see if both of you feel the pain.” “Is it true that
you turn babies into cabbages?” “We are nice, civilized people.
We offer you bananas.”
Both were sick of fascination.
Both woke up, played checkers, sired children, owned whips
for their slaves, shot game, ate pie. Both wore French black silk, smoked
cigars, flirted. Both believed in the tenets of individualism.
Both listed these activities to the jury and cried, “See, we are American!”
Both were released with a $500 fine for assaulting another head hunter.
Both were very self-aware.
Both insisted on an iron casket so that grave robbers would not
dig up their bodies and sell them to the highest bidder.
Both did not converse with one another except towards the end:
“My lips are turning blue, Eng” / Eng did not answer.
“They want our bodies, Eng.” / Eng did not answer.
“Eng, Eng! My lips are turning blue.” / Eng turned to his body and did not answer.
–Cathy Park Hong
December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
I made an apple-pear pie, tossing the fruit with brandy and sour cherry jam as well as a little brown sugar and spices. It was as good as it sounds, and Charles suggested I could make a living baking pies and selling them on the street, and I said I wish I had a big apartment so I could have a Christmas party, and he said he wanted to eat all the pie himself.
I’m trying to get Christmassy but this is not the year for it. Medical bills have taken all the money we don’t have and that’s just for the animals. I’m feeling just the slightest bit psychopathic, little flickers around the edges, a kind of psychopath-halo effect.
Charles thinks me an angel because I cook dinner most nights and bake pies. “It was more impressive when I was 17,” I tell him. “By now, culinary competence is the least you could expect.”
“Frankly, I don’t expect anything.” The renegade wife is either punished ever after or appreciated all the more. If it had been the first, I would have killed one of us by now. As it is, things are good.
Well, maybe not. I woke up very early yesterday morning to take Mouchette to the vet for dental work. My usual bedtime is 3:30 am, and when dragged from the depths of slumber at 7, I experienced, for 15 minutes or so, what it’s like to be not depressed. It’s nothing like the way I feel when I up the Zoloft dosage, which replaces pain with white noise and a vaguely post-mortem indifference. No, this was the old me: the inner landscape colorful, various, rich with ideas, spread out in all directions, cities, villages, forest…I used to live there. God, I miss it.
But I’m glad it still exists, even if I can’t get to it. My buried self. What a weird life.
Mouchette needed thirteen teeth removed—we were expecting two or three. Peridontal disease. The staggering bill was the least of it. The doctor discovered a mass on the very back of her tongue and biopsied it while she was under.
I can’t think about it now. I have to believe she’ll be okay. She’s long and slinky and beautiful, velvet and snow: black/white nose, fuzzy chin, white whiskers. Her eyes brim with feeling. She sleeps on my chest in the afternoon, heavy and radiant as a warming iron. My Mouchette, my Mousie, my girl.
If she’s okay, that’s all the Christmas we need.
Last week, at KGB, Mark Doty mentioned Alan Dugan: “Whom I don’t think people read enough anymore.” I couldn’t remember if I’d ever read him, so I looked him up. Here’s a poem.
Drunken Memories Of Anne Sexton
The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know,” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover,
what? And just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
“Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue, one green”
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others’ beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.
December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
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