Giving Thanks

November 27, 2014 § 3 Comments

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I’m thankful that my husband and cats are always excited when I wake up in the morning. I’m thankful that my mother wasn’t hurt badly when she tripped over a cement divider in the supermarket parking lot. I’m thankful that I no longer need to use a typewriter and carbon paper. I’m thankful that Charles is doing the dishes. I’m thankful that Fitzroy has woken up and is shaking his furry head to get rid of the ends of dreams. I’m thankful that I have indoor plumbing. I’m thankful that my clients pay their bills. I’m thankful that I can see pictures of beloved children on Facebook. I’m thankful for bitter greens, ripe pears, French cheese, and walnuts. I’m thankful that there is still winter. I’m thankful I don’t live in Buffalo, though, as a child, I always wanted it to snow up to the roof, just because. I’m thankful that my husband is incredibly cute at 72. I’m thankful that my cousins Roberta and Kate are so kind to my mother, and that my cousin Faxy works to save animals. I’m thankful that my sister’s health issues are better now and that my brother is happy with his vibrant poet laughing woman. I’m thankful that when Fitzroy stares at me, he reminds me of my grandmother. I’m thankful for the English language and its thousands of world-creating writers. I’m thankful for certain evenings I will never forget— the sun throwing rosy light over my bed and bare skin and promises like fireworks. And certain other nights in New Hampshire, Virginia, California, New York, in cars, bed, fields and forest. I’m thankful for James Taylor, Janis Joplin, Frank Sinatra and George Gershwin. I’m thankful that I knew Jesus, if only for a week in my teens after taking LSD. I’m thankful to history for having my back, and death for making sure nothing lasts forever. I’m thankful for Africa, the ocean, the Internet, and crickets. I am thankful that I have written books, painted pictures, made jewelry, love, money and peace. I am thankful that it wasn’t worse.

Quaker Meeting, The Sixties

BY ROBIN BECKER

Seeing my friend’s son in his broad-brimmed hat
and suspenders, I think of the Quakers
who lectured us on nonviolent social action
every week when I was a child. In the classrooms
we listened to those who would not take up arms,
who objected, who had accepted alternative
service in distant work camps and showed
slides of hospitals they helped to build.
On Wednesdays, in Meeting for Worship,
when someone rose to speak,
all the energy in the room
flew inside her mouth, empowering her to tell
what she had seen on her brief
encounter with the divine: sometimes, a parable,
a riddle, a kindness. The fall that we were seventeen,
we scuffed our loafers on the gravelly path
from the Meetinghouse, while maple and elm
leaves sailed around our shoulders
like tiny envelopes, our futures sealed inside.
Despite the war in Vietnam, I felt safer
than I ever would again. Perhaps
those aged, protective trees had cast a spell
on us, or maybe the nonviolent Quaker God
had set up a kingdom right there—
suburban Philadelphia. Looking back, I see how
good deeds and thoughts climbed with us to the attic
room for Latin, descended to the gym for sports,
where we hung from the praiseworthy scaffolds
of righteous behavior. We prepared to leave
for college, armed with the language of the American
Friends and the memories of Thanksgiving
dinners we’d cooked for the unfortunates:
borrowing our parents’ cars to drive
downtown to the drop-off point, racing back
to play our last field hockey match. Grim center forwards
shook hands before the whistle, the half-backs’
knee-pads strapped on tight; one varsity team vanquished another.

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Happy Birthday, Grace

November 20, 2014 § 5 Comments

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It’s my Facebook friend Grace’s birthday today and when I wished her many happy returns, she asked for a new blog post, illustrated with a photo of my cats on the bed. Dear Grace, how did you know that I started a new post yesterday—for the first time in ages—but gave it up when it veered into unpleasant territory? It’s your birthday, so I won’t go to that place. I will tell you about my daily life. When I woke up this morning, my husband said, “Today is a day of celebration.”

“Why?” I asked. “Oh, Fitzroy shit?”

Yes.” (The pumpkin-and-spun-sugar-colored cat threw up a mess of slimy stuff yesterday morning, kindling fears that he had, once again, swallowed something that would require surgery.)

There followed a long conversation about my husband’s obsession with our cat’s digestive issues—and then a sharing of “Dear Prudence” from Slate, with a letter by someone who doesn’t want to go to her sister-in-law’s for Thanksgiving because she expects the SIL’s cats to lick the turkey and walk across the table with fecal-tainted paws.

We agreed that this would not stop us.

“But we’re not going anywhere for Thanksgiving,” Charles said.

“That’s because no one invited us.”

“Would we go if they did?”

“Depends on who it was.”

Charles then veered into fantasy about the sort of invitations he would accept, none of which would excite me. I’d be happy going to my brother’s—where my mom and cousins will be—but my brother’s in San Francisco and anyway I just saw most of the family at Ramona’s wedding. I don’t mind ignoring this holiday. It was exciting as a kid; it was exciting when I grew up and got to be the hostess; it was a challenge when my stepchildren were small and I wanted them to clean their plates. It was heartwarming when my stepson hosted us, several years in a row, when the grandchildren were little. But then they stopped inviting us. (We were lovely guests, playing with the children, helping with the dishes. We brought expensive wine, not our fecally-challenged cats. We did not drink too much wine.)

This Thanksgiving I will roast a duck and do something with apples. Apples are the most comforting of foods, especially cooked with maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. The only thing better than apples is money—green sheafs of it—or a brisk autumn wind through an open bedroom window. Or the sunlight through Fitzroy’s pink ears. Or Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.

And to write again, even this frippery of a blog post, is always good; I can imagine the long novels, filled with characters to adore and torment, scrolling out through the twilight of my years— forgive the cliché—into the dawn of the dead, which I hope is vast and white and full of souls with poor eyesight (wrapped in fluttering draperies like travelers in a sandstorm) so I can avoid the ones I have nothing to say to, the ones I would erase from Eternity if I could.

This is part of what I wrote yesterday:

The writer needs to be able to not give a fuck. But in order to not give a fuck, one must also care very passionately, believe that one’s story has power and resonance. One must be willing to feel fully human, which I have spent the last couple of years trying not to do. One cannot be any good as a writer without believing that the story is a gift. Whether others like it or not—it is a gift, like a child, and one must be willing to do (almost) anything for it. I have retreated from that position. I have disdain—or possibly terror—for my inner life.

Grace, I’m not sure I have the strength for my next book yet, but thank you for making me put words on something resembling paper. Since this is also a day of celebrating writer’s prizes, here’s a poem I wrote a little while ago for another friend.

For a Poet Winning a Prize

She read a poem about wanting immortality,
questioning if that was alright.
I remember the hot wish, late teens,
More alluring than sex.
Now I think: clown shoes, Kaleidescope glasses
a wish like the last stain
of blood on my underpants.

I’ve no grudge against the future.
Anyone who likes my words can use them.
But why should I imagine this
or care about posterity
with its swaggering, know-nothing ransack
of our personal histories?
Let the dead stay dead, ice thickening
over their tiny ears.

But since none of us
can want only one thing
I admit to a scribble of hope
jammed in a pocket, easily ignored
to be born again in a place like this
almost exactly the same as this,
except—

I just don’t see why
it should matter to me if my poems
are feted when I’m dust.

The poet has gentle eyes.
Fame becomes her.
She looks at stars seriously.
When she spoke, there was a hum in the air
as if thousands of gold and black
already pollen-dusted bees
with their fat, furry backs
and inexorable honey
were under her skin.

I drank too much wine at the reception,
left early.
A five-year-old could draw my heart with crayons.

And that would be all,
Another snapped off night,
But the bees followed me.

Tucked in bed, I watch them crawl on the ceiling—
earnest wobble of sun and ink—
and write this poem.

Where Am I?

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