2012-the dregs

December 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

fitz.bow

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.
Such things.

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

Twas the Night Before Christmas

December 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

fitz
Fitzroy checking to see if it’s for him

“… ‘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.
That’s American.
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.

Langston Hughes

mouchexmas

Christmas is Almost Here

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

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2012

January 2, 2012 § 2 Comments


Harold Mabern

Since I felt like the world ended last year, but I survived anyway, I assume 2012 will be no big deal. Another birthday, another summer, another election. The war is over. Long live the war. And so on.

To backtrack to 2011 (the good part), on Christmas night, Charles and I went to hear Eric Alexander, Harold Mabern, Louis Hayes and John Webber (saxophone, piano, drums, bass) at Smoke, a small Upper Westside club that I thought I’d been to before, but apparently hadn’t. The music was enthralling—rich, dense, tight. We stayed for 2 sets, and I would have stayed for a 3rd if I hadn’t been tipsy enough already. It was the right moment to leave, with the music still sending electric pulses to my imagination, making story ideas rise with every breath—some of them even remembered in the morning. I want that night again. It didn’t feel as much like Christmas as when I’m with my family, but it was glorious.

We did a little work during the week, had lunch with our darling nieces in Chinatown, and dinner with Lisa and Caitlin at my place. Good food, beloved women. Caitlin, who’d been in Zucotti Park presenting a proposal for funds for OccupyOakland, announced a new desire to abolish gender. I don’t want that. I’d rather occupy it.

On New Year’s Eve we went to the Cathedral for the annual concert for peace. Judy Collins, a Cathedral Artist in Residence, opened the evening. She sang two songs; the first, “Song for Duke” was written after attending Duke Ellington’s funeral at the Cathedral in 1973. There were 14,000 people there on that occasion—the Cathedral record, according to a long-time congregant I was sitting next to. Judy’s voice, a cappella, was an astonishment: as pure and clear as in her youth but with the control and nuance of age.

At the end we all lit the tapers we’d been given with our programs and sang “This little light of mine” as we wandered out. I was a bit scared of a conflagration: it was all to easy to picture a candle setting someone’s hair on fire, and then people dropping their own candles as they rush to help, flames leaping merrily among the celebrants. It didn’t happen, and hasn’t in 30 years. Okay. Maybe I’ll risk it again next year.

New Year’s Day we woke to a little pool of cat vomit containing a dead but intact cockroach. Did Vomit Girl inhale it then puke it up or did the insect choose to die in what must pass for a cockroach cornucopia? This mystery returned us to the humble rhythm of our days.

And now? Charles is printing pictures. It provides an opportunity to hear him use every curse word and phrase in his vocabulary. “Douche bag. Jackass. You dirty little filthy fuck. How can a machine be so stupid?…OK, I jerked it off, now it’s going to do it. You have to be careful with these little shitheads…Jesus! Now what! You bastard! This is going to drive me nuts! This is the one that’s taking me over the edge.”

Meanwhile, Mouchette sleeps with one paw over her ears.

To hear Judy Collins sing “Song for Duke,” click below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTSjlLH4Aug

Cats’ Christmas

December 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Charles is arriving tomorrow, staying through New Year’s, and we have a number of social events and outings planned. So I won’t be deprived of festivities this season. But I’ve been alone, no work or social events, since last weekend and it’s been not exactly unpleasant— but solitude, even a gentle solitude, as it piles up has a certain devastating quality, the scent of annihilation.

It’s made me think about Christmases in my mother’s house when I was in my early 20’s. My stepchildren were still children, and adorable ones at that, sweet but not overly good; you could always count on the boys to find the BB guns, play with matches or spy on the adults’ bedrooms, and the girls to do things I still don’t know about because girls are sneakier. My mother was a vibrant and sexy Santa Claus/hostess, and for a while my sister brought home a new man every year, which made for a bit of drama. I liked it all: my sweetheart, his children, my mother’s and sister’s romances. I relished everything to do with love, including jealousy, secrets, fights and tears. I wasn’t afraid of love! What an innocent! And there was nothing worse. There was no hatred or real grief, no illness or poverty in our immediate circle, no political nightmares. Carter was President. Congress wasn’t synonymous with Remedial Evil in Hell. I believed in my glorious future. The Atlantic Ocean was right outside the door.

Outside my door now is a carpet cleaned daily but still pregnant with odors of interest to the cats. I only let them out after midnight, but they’re not good with time and clamor for adventure in the afternoon. “Non, mon cheres!’ I say. “Vous sont tres petite et peur.” In the wee hours we take a stroll together past all the locked doors, the felines walking with exaggerated care, looking around like actors in a silent movie. They stop to sniff every threshold, while I speak softly in my cat-mommy voice, about which I feel no shame, because I know that animals, like babies, respond greatly to the tone of voice adults think of as silly and sugary. They don’t even mind my French. Perhaps animals respond even more than babies. Dogs certainly do; cats are just a little less likely to show their gratitude with fresh slobber. But they do show it. If you want to know true intimacy with a cat, live in an apartment and spend most of your days and nights alone.

Is it worth it? That’s not the right question. My isolation has never been as simple as a choice, although it’s also a choice. Free will, as they say, may be a lie, but we disbelieve in it to our peril. There are compensations, though, for the lack of human hubbub. My cats never complain about my habits. When my moods disturb them they say so simply rather than uttering pieties about how I need help, or threatening to leave. They never leave. And they’re beautiful and smell like chocolate.

When I am in the Kitchen

I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend’s
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt’s sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband’s grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother’s
teapot, my mother’s Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law’s Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin’s egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father’s hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, “sift and mix dry ingredients”
with his note that this makes “3 waffles in our
large pan” and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.

–Jean Marie Beaumont

Feeling Christmassy

December 13, 2011 § 2 Comments


Christmas 2010

I’ve been in a remarkably good mood in the last week or so. Is it recent events, and going out more, looking forward to going out, or Christmas? Christmas is something I dread in October and November, then start to feel as a sparkle in my fingers once December comes around. However imperfect the holiday is now, it was always magical when I was a child, and that’s what sticks.

It certainly wasn’t religious. My father was a Catholic-turned-atheist who would drive his visiting mother to church in his undershirt so she wouldn’t try to entice him inside. My mother taught her children “God is love,” and didn’t elaborate on that. She also taught us that on Christmas we would wake to hand-sewn red velvet stockings on our bed and a plenitude of gifts around an enormous tree. She imbued the house, in the weeks around the holiday, with a happy, serene spirit I have rarely seen, as an adult, in mothers of four small children.

When I was a little older I chafed at the vagueness of “God is love.” What did it say about the important questions: is God paying attention? Is the soul immortal? Now I realize that what it says is about experience, and mine hasn’t been so different from my mother’s. I’ve been loved deeply and have loved in return. Not much else matters. Of course some of the things I love are not human.

One of my colleagues at the Cathedral of St John the Divine said to me twice recently, “Isn’t it amazing that we have this cathedral?” Each time it was as we were leaving, walking through to check on something related to the current art exhibit. She was the one doing the checking; I was merely accompanying her, but I knew what she meant. It was the pleasure I used to feel putting my house to sleep at night. Caring for a building that cares for you is a special kind of love. Caring for a cathedral that cares for so many, that holds their gifts, their art, and the marks of their passage is a blessing that cannot easily be put in words. There’s nothing of ownership about it, though it contains the effect of responsibility that is rarely mentioned: the sense of inner order that follows when you have done what is needed. In addition, there’s what’s often lacking when you spend too much time in a cramped apartment, office or subway car: the feeling that it’s right and proper for mind and heart to stretch and open, for the body to remember its love of motion at the same time as your whole being delights in the knowledge of belonging.

I love the Cathedral when it is empty, or nearly so—the great pillars, the shadowy stone and the immense space providing me with an experience of sacredness I find most reliably in wild places. Much of this has to do with stone and air, but it’s also true that the sacred wildness of the Cathedral is the wildness of the relationship between people: the freedom to grow. When I speak to another person in the nave, in front of the altar, or in one of the chapels, our conversation is nourished by the building around us. Catty remarks are not unheard of but a certain depth of sourness is hard to reach. The Cathedral contains us.

Christmas intensifies this awareness of connection. It’s a cliché that the holiday has become too much about gifts. Events like the Black Friday pepper-spraying at Walmart make the case without need for elaboration. There is no doubt that finding presents for many people can be a chore, yet I’ve found that this demand sparks my imagination in a way that looking for a wedding or birthday gift doesn’t. It’s the feeling of loving everyone at once that makes each particular act of love, each choice of gift, so satisfying. It’s like the feeling of being in a packed cathedral.

Twas the Day Before the Day Before Christmas

December 23, 2009 § Leave a comment

My brother, Jimmy, 1964

Last night I got some wonderful books as gifts from Lisa, including the poems of Tennessee Williams and an anthology of poems by Christian mystics. “Such love does/the sky now pour/ that whenever I stand in a field/I have to wring out the light/ when I get/ home.” St. Francis of Assisi.

There’s a lot of light outside, but I stay in here where it’s warm, and feel the light of my mood, which is: Cats asleep on my unmade bed/Scent the air/ Like James Joyce writing of his Nora/ I love their little farts.

That’s not intended as a poem. It’s just the way words bounce when you’ve been reading poetry, when love glitters through the mind, stopping here and there at this or that person and animal and memory and book, but mostly moving on its way like water.

I’m lucky. I had wonderful Christmases when I was young, and so whatever anxieties attend the holiday now, they’re never anything like what other people report—people whose parents got drunk and smashed their presents; people whose relatives fought bitterly at Christmas dinner. My father had plenty of rage in him, but on Christmas mornings he was too tired from putting toys together until 3 a.m. to be angry, and seemed, anyway, chastened by the joy around him. I remember him on those days as a little fragile, a little embarrassed to receive gifts, perhaps stunned by the unfamiliar company of all four of his children in the daytime. This was a man who spent his weekend days mostly in bed, reading and drinking beer.

Christmas and children were my mother’s bailiwick, and she did Christmas like an impresario. The house was decorated everywhere, the tree was enormous and covered in ornaments of all kinds—fragile glass icicles; metal birds with feathered tails, and spring-clamps to fasten them to the branches; stars and angels, the Styrofoam and sequin balls she taught us to make—and Santa’s gifts weren’t wrapped because why would Santa bother with wrapping paper? It just didn’t seem to her like a Santa kind of thing. She wanted us to see the trains and dolls, the blocks and stuffed animals all at once, in their full splendor. So she arranged them: four tableaux around the tree. Separating the quadrants were the wrapped presents from relatives, the books that were our parents’ ostensible gifts to us, and the badly wrapped items we gave each other. Sibling gifts did not receive a lot of thought, most of the time. A Bic pen was acceptable.

But the Christmas before he died, when he was not quite fourteen, my older brother Jimmy gave my sister and me each our own copy of the new Beatles ’65. The munificence of that amazed me. The cost, for one thing, but also the understanding that I wouldn’t want to have to ask to listen to her record; how much it mattered to me to have my own gleaming black vinyl disk with those adored voices on it, the Capitol records logo, the dust jacket…

And then he died two months later and I listened to “Baby’s in Black” all the time. How lucky we are to not know the future.

Christmas Ballad

Sing a song of Christmas!

Empty pockets here;

Windows broken, garments thin,

Stove all black and drear.

Noses blue and frosty,

Fingers pinched and red,

Little hungry children

Going supperless to bed.

Sing a song of Christmas—

Tears are falling fast;

Empty is the baby’s chair

Since t’was Christmas last.

Wrathfully the north wind

Wails across the snow;

Is there not a little grave

Frozen down below?

Sing a song of Christmas!

Thanks to God on high

For the tender hearts abounding

With His charity!

Gifts for all the needy,

For the sad hearts, love

And a little angel smiling

In sweet Heaven above.

–Unknown

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