Here I am Again

June 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

There have been complaints that I haven’t been keeping up my blog. I thought maybe if I stopped pouring my heart out here, I’d get more work done. This has proved not to be the case. A general sluggishness prevails in my household, possibly a cat virus. Or maybe it’s the no sex, so sugar thing I’ve got going on…

It’s been five minutes; can I go yet? How about if I take a break for a cup of tea? Or spend an hour on the Internet looking at fares to recession-battered Europe, or figuring mortgage rates on decaying mansions near a certain oil slick that will probably be cleaned up before I die?

Local news: I passed a young woman on the street, talking on her cell. She said, “I’ve only been able to see, like, 2.5 people since I’ve been in New York. I was planning to see, like, 5.5.”

And in the NY Times today, “When two children discover a special bond between them, we honor that bond, provided that neither child overtly or covertly excludes or rejects others,” said Jan Mooney, a psychologist at the Town School, a nursery through eighth grade private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “However, the bottom line is that if we find a best friend pairing to be destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom, we will not hesitate to separate children and to work with the children and their parents to ensure healthier relationships in the future.”

Destructive to others in the classroom? Like, two kids who get together to buy trench coats and plan a school shooting? I don’t think that’s what she means. I actually went to Town School. I didn’t have a best friend, but other kids did. I don’t remember being destroyed by it. In fact, and you may find this hard to believe in a 7th grader, but even in my post-traumatic isolation (family deaths) I found others’ friendships heartwarming. And when I had a best friend again, in 9th grade, we excluded others heartlessly and it was essential to our bond, you and me against the world, etc. The smell of dog pee on a rug still brings back the memory of those afterschool afternoons in her room, the flow of talk that never stopped though we didn’t actually have anything to say. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

That woman quoted above? May she lose her job and have to go work in a robot nursery. May all her friends call up and say, “Guess what? I’m not allowed to be friends with you anymore. Bye.” I’m glad I don’t have to deal with people like her because if someone said that to me about my kid I think I might bite her fingers off.

An Extraordinary Morning

Two young men—you just might call them boys—
waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get
them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also
dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve
finished a short work week and if they’re not rich
they’re as close to rich as they’ll ever be
in this town. Are they truly brothers?
You could ask the husky one, the one
in the black jacket he fills to bursting;
he seems friendly enough, snapping
his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings
“Sweet Lorraine,” or if you’re put off
by his mocking tone ask the one leaning
against the locked door of Ruby’s Rib Shack,
the one whose eyelids flutter in time
with nothing. Tell him it’s crucial to know
if in truth this is brotherly love. He won’t
get angry, he’s too tired for anger,
too relieved to be here, he won’t even laugh
though he’ll find you silly. It’s Thursday,
maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe
the Sabbath, but these two, neither devout
nor cynical, have no idea how to worship
except by doing what they’re doing,
singing a song about a woman they love
merely for her name, breathing in and out
the used and soiled air they wouldn’t know
how to live without, and by filling
the twin bodies they’ve disguised as filth.

–Philip Levine

A Good Deed in a Naughty World

October 2, 2009 § Leave a comment


Yusef Komunyakaa, poet

A lot of people have been kind to me since my financial troubles began. I don’t think anyone wants credit, so I’ll leave it at that. It’s not that I’m surprised, exactly—I know the people in my life are good people. But it reminds me of when I got married. I was worried about all sorts of things—the details of the wedding, whether I was doing the right thing, my phobia of speaking in front of people…all of that occupied me, so that when the ceremony was over and people began to congratulate me and I suddenly realized I was the center of a crowd of well-wishers, everything, for the moment, about me (because Charles, of course, had disappeared onto the bandstand with his musician pals), I was stunned. I’d never experienced anything like it. It made me feel transparent and radiant and afraid of coming apart. I had to keep it at a distance emotionally because it was so uncanny, but I did note how odd it was that it hadn’t occurred to me that it would happen.

The next thing that was like that was, after years of therapy, finally being able to talk about my brother’s death naturally, from the heart, and accept people’s sympathy and interest. Before that it felt strangely criminal to even mention it, as if I were spending a stolen coin.

So, today.  Horrible dreams last night; an unexpected kindness this afternoon. Also, last night, some words of wisdom from a friend. What he told me is something I want to keep private, not because of the sentiment but how it made me feel. I was quailing in front of life’s cool choices—his words made me glad I was aware of the fear for what it was, no longer just enmeshed in bad-bad-bad. Here is a poem by a poet I had to my house for Thanksgiving 30 years ago.

For Carol Rigolot

When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
across honed knives on the table.
If we can see it push shadows
aside, growing closer, are we less
broken? A barometer, temperature
gauge, a ruler in minus fractions
& pedigrees, a thingmajig,
a probe with an all-seeing eye,
what do we need to measure
kindness, every unheld breath,
every unkind leapyear?
Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses, saying, Look,
here are the broken treaties Beauty
brought to us earthbound sentinels.

—Yusef Komunyakaa

Oh, Susannah

May 9, 2009 § 8 Comments


     Sappho, Charles-August Mengin, 1877

Today I am seeing Sanna (Susannah), my high school friend, whom until recently I hadn’t seen in 14 years. Facebook reconnected us.

Her older sister was my best friend, so she came to me in the role of the little sister. Big-eyed, petite, pretty as a doll, very long wavy dark hair, she was just what a little sister should be: admiring and sweet. She told me her sister Abby was beautiful and fascinating. She was her staunchest defender. She was everything I wanted to be to my older sister but never could because there was too much rivalry between us, though I also thought my sister was beautiful and fascinating.

Sanna was my experiment in corruption. Most of it was make-believe: a lot of hot air from me, yearning from her. But I did get her drunk—or tipsy—a few times before she was 16. I think we smoked pot together. I told her stories about sex, since I had had a bit by then, a few nights here and there with Jerome and Jonathan and Ken: Ken in the woods, sticks biting my back, in my bedroom in the house on Bank Street while my mother and stepfather chatted in the kitchen 3 flights below, on my scary Aunt June’s water bed (she didn’t allow males in her apartment, but she wasn’t home).

It’s so easy, even now, to leave out the parts about loneliness and desperation. It was erotic; it was exciting. I wouldn’t give back those experiences. But with Sanna I jumped at the chance to practice my craft of cleaning up the stories so they were properly corrupting (in the best sense): only the worldliness, none of the shame.

Her older sister listened too, but more skeptically. She was well acquainted with her dark side, which was why we had become friends in the first place. Dark, smart, sarcastic and weird: that was Abby. Sanna was the little sunshine girl, the lambkin who took a few more years to find her own darkness and weirdness.

And now Abby’s happy. In her pictures (I haven’t seen her in decades) she looks radiant, while Sanna’s face is shadowed with all that hasn’t worked out. Middle-aged sorrow, that frame I am so accustomed to, though Sanna still looks pre-Raphaelite to me.

She’s writing a novel. When I close my eyes, I can see her handwriting on a story she wrote in high school, though I don’t recall the story. I remember thinking her handwriting was very soothing. And I remember the time I wanted to make an invocation to some goddess or another and Abby and I talked Sanna into lying naked on a table while we covered her with fruits and vegetables. It had to be her because she was the virgin.

She’s probably still embarrassed about this. Too bad. Most virgins in that position get fed to dragons. All Abby and I did was admire our own silliness and marvel at how obedient Sanna was.

In boarding school, 18 months earlier, I used a real centuries-old magic book, banded together with Ken, Amy Wallace and a few others, built a fire on a hillside and invoked a demon to kill a teacher. (It didn’t work, maybe because the others were too chicken to voice this wish. I was the only one.) With Sanna and Abby, all I remember doing is giggling.


The Dog of Art


That dog with daisies for eyes

who flashes forth

flame of his very self at every bark

is the Dog of Art.

Worked in wool, his blind eyes

look inward to caverns and jewels

which they see perfectly,

and his voice

measures forth the treasure

in music sharp and loud,

sharp and bright,

bright flaming barks,

and growling smoky soft, the Dog

of Art turns to the world

the quietness of his eyes.


 ~Denise Levertov

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