Giving Thanks

November 27, 2014 § 3 Comments

photo 1 (14)

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.

Love in the Ruins

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

fitzmouch

I’m feeling sad so I will write about what I love.

The full moon on an empty road in the country, late at night, when I’d walk out on the light-drenched road, empty of cars or other walkers, aware of every movement in the underbrush and trees. The stream was to my left, down an embankment: sometimes rushing with rain, sometimes quiet. Even when there was no breeze and the stream was dry, I could hear the moon tuning the earth, a thrumming surroundsound like crickets—and maybe it was crickets, except that I also heard it in the winter.

But mostly it was summer then. I walked barefoot. The road ran gently downhill and around a bend; I was walking into a bigger bowl of sky. I didn’t care if the moon was a rock or a goddess, or if there was a difference. Her presence pulled at me. I used to make wishes on a full moon.

I wish I had my house, the mountain at my back, the deer in the roses. I wish I had that little slab of concrete porch where the mint grew wild and we’d eat steak and corn, bowls of string beans, homemade ice cream.

Not in the winter, though. In the winter, I stayed in the city, worrying about the house in the snow and rain. I waited for my birthday in March, the shock of turning 39, 40, 45. Life was still a package to be unwrapped, the great, terrifying gift in Plath’s poem.

What else do I love?

The dead mice of yore, whose little lives made mine so much roomier.

Daffodils, their shape and color.

The word “daffodil.”

My darling friend from France. “She brings tenderness to our life,” said Charles. “I’m tender,” I said. No, I didn’t say that. I was feeling that special kind of happiness you feel when someone you love is appreciated by someone else you love, and you think how easy it is to do nothing but love all day and all night.

Fitzroy and Mouchette, who, like every great couple, are exponentially better as a pair than individually. He’s a big lug, she’s a slim girlchild; they remind me of every older brother, little sister I’ve ever known, but feline so married as well (we pretend). I turn in delight from one to another; her snowy paws and black/white zigzag nose, his humped rug of a back, his forehead that smells of chocolate. He puts a paw out when he wants me, flexing his claws. She sleeps on my back at night like the child who never leaves home, or a very dedicated bodyguard.

Lola’s rage when she attacks Mouchette, her tail stiff as a toilet brush. Mouchette wails in warning, but when Lola doesn’t come, doesn’t dispute the territory—my boudoir where Mouchette rules and is imprisoned by her own fear—Mouchette goes looking for her. The enemy is seductive. Hate is as sticky as love, but with the unfocused strength of youth.

Love is so old, it often falls apart. You have to glue it carefully. It hurts to look at.

Glass, stones, pearls. I made a crystal necklace that sent a school of light-fish swimming around the room, and Fitzroy watched the new mystery.

The sound of the wind turning corners.

March.

Baudelaire.

Jaden and Jack and Daniel. Hannah and Myles and William.

Grilled asparagus with lemon.

Imagining America before the Europeans came, especially the abundant forests and rivers.

Portugal, Ecuador, Crete, Argentina, the Arctic Circle and all northern places where the ice is disappearing. My stubborn belief that I will see these landscapes.

My mother’s library.

My brother’s photographs.

My sister’s garden.

Charles, for loving me when I am unable to love myself; for loving the cats like children, which makes them more like children; for loving his music and never minding, as I do so much, whether there’s any reward for effort. For being pure of heart.

Language, which will still be here when we’re all gone. Language and music, gifts for the next brainy species.

***

I used to understand that fear was love inside out. That was when I was tender. Before.

A Birthday Present

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,

Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.

Sylvia Plath

For the Vampires and the Brokenhearted

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Fitzroy2
and, as always, for Fitzroy, who is my mirror


Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.

James Baldwin

Very tired, unable to sleep, I read an article in The Times about “reluctant caregivers”—people caring for difficult parents-in-law or parents who had always been cold and disapproving. It astonishes me how dutiful so many people are, what high standards they have for virtue.

I have never been nor will be that good. I can be kind to those I love, when I’m not too unhappy. If I am unhappy, I try to keep away, although that is also difficult for people. What I write about can be painful. My new friend Robin said yesterday that she was surprised at how much she was enjoying reading this blog, although it could be described as “a downer.” I told her she was exactly whom I wanted to write for and entertain—someone who doesn’t know me well enough to feel worried or sad, or irritated at my self-absorption.

I dreamed I was a vampire the other night, and I had the cutest little fangs, very pert and feminine. The best part was that although my fangs were small and I was facing eight male thugs ready for rape and murder, just flaunting them made the men scatter.

I love my dreams. They make so much more sense than my waking life.

I am trying, as so many times before, to focus on what and whom I love (writing; you, friend, stranger) to fight the impulse to isolation at its root; the hopeless attempt to convince myself that I don’t care about those who hurt me, I don’t care about whether my books are read, I don’t care if the world ends in fire and deluge…

I understand why my therapists gave up on me; I keep trying to do the same thing. But not yet. I don’t want to curdle into little grayish clumps of misery like what came off the pork chops when I cooked them too slowly. Love is fierce. You can’t stick it in the closet. If you can’t do the swoony sex thing you have to do something else. If you can’t do friendship, you still have to do something. If you can’t write you can always talk to yourself. Your strength may be gone but you’re left with courage.

I feel more like an immovable object than courageous, but I’d like to live up to Lao Tzu. “If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you’re heading.” And the worst is if you’re not heading anywhere.

Okay, here’s your poem

After Reading Lao Tzu

The one who speaks does not know.
The one who knows does not speak,

wrote the old master, which perhaps describes
the situation. Meaning we were all sad.

Meaning that when you were seized by desire,
it was nothing more than flesh, bared above the collarbone

she poured the long night of herself
into empty coffee cans and cornfields

and brushed by air. Meaning: It’s chemical. So
that when the moon rears its parched head,

her eyes a mask on her face, the livestock snorting and pacing,
her absent husband…she died young

when you feel a finger grazing your neck,
it’s only wind created by the movement of

her daughter crying and lighting
fires under the bed

your own body. Downdraft. Live
stock. Because sadness is multiplied

don’t worry, she told me,
you can’t inherit this

by sadness. A cradle of no compare.
Loose conspiracy of mind and body,

dough swelling over the edge of the bowl,
the yeasty smell of it, a disease that is

a blanket over the window
a pillow over the face

known and not spoken and
also the other one,

who speaks and does not know
what to say.

-Amy Newlove Schroeder

Charles’s Very Good Point

February 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

fitzroy2

On Thursday, Charles opened the champagne he bought me for Valentine’s Day and filled the glasses. My sister gave us these champagne flutes 30 years ago; they have outlasted all our other breakables, even the avocado-green mixing bowl from Charles’s first marriage, which I thought would be buried with us.

We were sitting on either side of the stubby, stained coffee table, surrounded by boxes, piles, stacks, shelves, cat-hair-covered black tee shirts, socks, towels, pens, knives, dental floss, two guitars, three cats and assorted detritus. This is Charles’ room. Mine is colonized by chocolate wrappers, books, papers, jewelry apparatus, lipstick and cat vomit. I lifted my glass and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

He lifted his glass, thought a moment and said, “Let this be a lesson to everyone who thinks falling in love will solve all their problems.”

“This” being us, our life, etc.

“Can I put that in my blog?”

“Of course. I never remember what I’ve said until I read it in your blog.”

We drank, listened to Bill Evans, talked about the things we always talk about. Is it like this for you? Each time you relax and have a little wine, the conversation finds the old grooves, the child Goth merry-go-round, no matter that each person is (face it) bored by the other’s tales and obsessions?

Charles used to say he didn’t mind hearing my stories over. And over. Philip never remembered that I’d told him before. I’d say, “I told you that” and he’d say very forcefully “No. I would remember,” or sometimes he’d try, “Well, your family is so weird I can’t believe half the things you tell me and so I forget them.” My family was especially weird between 1966-1980. Not in the grand scheme of things weird, but weird to an Italian boy from Staten Island, whose own family suffered no deaths, divorce, untoward sex, over-indulgence in alcohol, or Southern relatives.

My family’s not so weird now, if you don’t count my mother’s home décor. But Charles and I make up for it. My peculiarities are well known to my readers, and Charles thinks the cats talk to him. “Mouchette told me I had beautiful eyes,” he said today.

He also dreamed last night that he was making jewelry out of dead bodies.

A cousin I hadn’t seen since childhood died this week. I didn’t really respond when I heard, but it affected me. I’d rather it didn’t. When you have suicidal thoughts with depressing regularity, the deaths of one’s peers seems so unfair. I would have taken that for you, I think. It would have been my pleasure to barter my remaining time. Why can’t that work?

I’d always meant to connect with those boys (men), my father’s nephews, but was for so long nervous about any connection to my father, who gave me the crazy gene and then made sure it was fully expressed, that I kept putting it off. And then there were other family dynamics I won’t go into, but I missed out on Mike.

His brother Arthur I knew a lot better because he came to New England as a young man to see a specialist for his diabetes. He was a wild boy, and it killed him eventually. But when he was in his early twenties and I was maybe 19, we had a few drinks together and then kissed in my brother’s room (the only downstairs bedroom in my mother’s house in Newcastle, N.H.).

Arthur said, “We can’t do this! We’re cousins!” I didn’t really see the problem, but we stopped. I kind of regret that, though I wouldn’t have wanted to make him feel like a pervert. On my side of the family it was a badge of honor but Arthur was raised Catholic in the South.

That’s all I know of Mike: his brother. Not really anything.

I was talking to Charles tonight about the Cathedral, and various people in religious orders. He thinks religion is on its way out, like the pope, that people are sick of it. I think that will never happen. I said, “I understand why people like religion. Believing that some deity cares, that their lives matter. It would be comforting to believe in Jesus, but I can’t.” I took a thawed chicken breast out of the fridge, stared at that bloody slab of meat with its caul of yellow fat and wished we could go out to dinner.

Then I noticed my cat. “Look at Fitzroy, “I said. He was curled up on the couch like an animal from a storybook, all neat curves and shining fur.

“Fitzroy will always mean more to me than Jesus,” said Charles.

Song to Celia

Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kisse but in the cup,
And Ile not looke for wine.
The thirst, that from the soule doth rise,
Doth aske a drinke divine:
But might I of Jove’s Nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.
I sent thee, late, a rosie wreath,
Not so much honoring thee,
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered bee.
But thou thereon did’st onely breath,
And sent’st it back to mee:
Since when it growes, and smells, I sweare,
Not of it selfe, but thee.

Ben Jonson

Let Them Eat Chocolate

February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

chocolate-goddess

If you want to be loved, be lovable.
Ovid
If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.
Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Write me 500 words on whether or not the above quotes are in conflict.

Did you make valentines as a child, sitting at a table all weekend with construction paper and lace doilies, stickers and crayons? That early February snow-light, afternoons already longer, the smell of Elmer’s glue? Looking forward to hot chocolate, dinner, Saturday night TV (The Outer Limits, Gilligan’s Island)?

I had lots of creative activity as a girl—painting and poems and sewing projects, elaborate dioramas of dolls and toy animals—but making valentines was by far the most satisfying. We made them as a family. They were to be given away. I remember that feeling of being suffused with love, overflowing with it, when I handed the most embellished, the queen valentine, to my mother.

This year, my mother gave me a box of chocolate ladybugs, complete with rhyming couplet. And when I’m finished with the book I’m currently reading, The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, I’ll send it to her.

“In an early Colonial report on the ‘wild’ (that is, still unconquered) Chol Maya of the Chiapas forests, cited by Eric Thompson: ‘The form of the marriage is this; the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives five grains of cacao, and says to him “These I give thee as a sign I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same things.’”

We exchange gold rings instead of cacao beans; which is the fertile and nourishing symbol? I’m not quite certain of the reason for the small stool painted in colors. The gift of skirts for the bride makes me think of the husband under her skirts, sitting on the stool, etc, but that sounds more Victorian porn than Mayan wedding night. Not that I’d know anything about it.

Think of all the moments you have treated chocolate like a cheap commodity, something to consume in the form of powdered cake mix, Hershey bars, chewable chocolate-flavored vitamins. A Starbucks mocha is not far up the evolutionary ladder. Why then, should we not have a culture of penis growth supplements and vaginal cosmetic surgery? In my youth, a debased period but far superior to the present day, people licked chocolate syrup off one another’s genitals. Genitals untouched not only by the scalpel but the razor, I might add. I can’t say I actually did that myself. We did it with wine, Charles and I–not very good wine, either. It was messy.

Weddings weren’t the only rituals cacao was used for. The Spanish were astonished to discover that these “savages” had their own form of baptism.

“The ritual was in the charge of a gorgeously arrayed priest. The children gathered together inside a cord held by four elderly men representing the Chacs (rain gods), each standing in a corner of the room. Then the noble who was giving the ceremony took a bone and wet it in a vessel filled with water made of ‘certain flowers and of cacao pounded and dissolved in virgin water, which they call that brought from the hollows of trees of the rocks of the forest’; with this liquid he anointed the children on their foreheads, faces, and the spaces between their fingers and their toes, in complete silence.”

My mother did her best to approximate this: Easter Sunday overflowing with chocolate eggs and rabbits, much of it ending up smeared on our faces. Even she forgot the spaces between our fingers and toes.

For those of you with small children, unencumbered by Christianity, consider inventing your own baptismal ritual. Depending on where you live, rain gods may or may not be warranted.

In other news:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

(from Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold)

Let us be true to one another because the world offers no joy nor love nor light; we just made that stuff up ourselves. Mostly Matthew loved his talent, and his love, whoever she was, probably didn’t even like him.

But maybe she did. I’m surrounded by happy couples: both siblings, both nieces. And I love Charles too, though it’s a cracked happiness, one of those hearts with a zigzag lighting bolt going through, all sorts of things falling out the broken place. But I did buy him a box of Li-Lac truffles. He promised to wash the dishes sometime this week.

The Warning

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

Robert Creeley

Gun Appreciation Day, Take Two

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Women Against Gun Violence

Women Against Gun Violence

At the end of this post, instead of a poem, is a list of people injured and killed on Gun Appreciation Day. It will make you appreciate the times you use your hands to caress a shoulder, change a diaper, cook a meal, pat a dog, open a door. If you want the heft of a weapon in your hand, try forgiveness. It’s much harder to acquire, and very hard to hold onto, but when you wield it, the results are quite spectacular.

I’ve put in my application, but I only get occasional visits. But even instants of that experience make me deeply appreciative that my violent tendencies stay in my swampy psyche, where they belong.

Oh, how I used to treasure my imagination! Now it’s a survival tool—my outlandish fantasies distract me from the more boring repetitive emotions, bleed off pain—but I don’t like being me, and if I could get out of it in an acceptable way, I would.

Maybe you can’t imagine you could shoot your own child, or that your child could shoot his brother, her friend, herself. Maybe you don’t know your potential for rage, for what happens the day your beloved says, “I’m in love with someone else—but I still need you.” I bent my favorite carbon steel knife stabbing a book instead of my heart. Every time I use that knife, I remember. No amount of guns falling from the sky would make me kill someone, but myself? Who knows? Stabbing oneself in the heart is very difficult. Pulling a trigger, not so much.

It’s late to be learning the things I’m learning, all of which I’d read about repeatedly by the time I was 25. I devoured all the great spiritual texts and understood them intellectually, felt their emotional pull. I remember quite distinctly thinking something akin to St. Augustine’s, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” I thought the age I am now was the proper age for “goodness,” assuming that by now I would have had success, passion, exciting experiences, and so on. And I have, though not as I imagined them.

It used to be, for crimes of passion, you got a pass (if you were male). That once made me furiously indignant, but now I kind of get it (and probably would get it more if I were male). Jealous rage and brokenheartedness are unbearable feelings, and just because most people feel them at one time or another and bear them doesn’t change that. They are unbearable; we get through. They return in dreams and are still unbearable. It’s almost enough to make you believe in the Old Testament God. Who else but that asshole Yahweh would create such a set-up?

I keep stopping the writing—the larger piece of which my gun dialogues are a part—thinking: I need more time to heal. But I want to get it done. I would like nothing better than to abolish the past, erase it and fill those years with pictures of waves at dusk, pine trees in sunlight, the scampering of green monkeys across a road…but the past is real; we saw the monkeys; I have to meet and match it with something big and inclusive of joy and sorrow and stupidity and terror; 11 years of believing that if I lost or left this person, the pain would kill me—

And only slightly over the line of believing that it won’t kill me, though never certain it won’t in some roundabout way—I’m strengthened, maybe; weakened, no question.

But to get back to the positive—there is still and always good news—I haven’t shot anyone, nor will I. My swampy psyche polices its dangerous characters, manhandles them into stories that will eventually dazzle.

And when Charles plays his guitar on the street, people stop and thank him.

(I’m sure you’d rather read a poem than what I’ve copied below. Maybe you should go buy a poetry book.)

Gun Appreciation Day, as it played out

• A 14-year-old suburban Atlanta boy shot and killed his 15-year-old brother while playing with their mother’s handgun.
• A 26 year old was shot and killed while driving in San Francisco.
• A man was found dead from a gunshot wound in his home in Kansas City, Kansas.
• A woman in an El Paso County, Texas shooting range was hit in the knee by a bullet that ricocheted off a trash can.
• Two women were shot to death in a Dallas-area home.
• Two women were injured after someone opened fire at a crowded soccer field in Las Vegas.
• A 15-year-old girl was shot while sleeping in her bed when her Anchorage home was shot at.
• A 7-year-old boy in Tallahassee shot a 5 year old with a gun he found in a 22-year-old relative’s room.
• A Huntsville woman shot her boyfriend after the two had an argument.
• A 23-year-old man died after being accidentally shot in a Greshman, Oregon home.
• A Cleveland father has been charged in connection with the death of his 6-year-old daughter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
• One man was shot in Elyria, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, early Saturday morning.
• A man was found shot dead in a parking lot in Greenville County, South Carolina.
• Two people were shot and killed outside an inn in Hampton, Virginia.
• At least 10 people were shot in Chicago, at least two were fatal.
• A Colorado Springs man was driven to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
• A Jackson, Mississippi police officer was shot while responding to a disturbance call.
• One man was shot at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Jackson.
• Two men and one woman were shot at a home in Oakland.
• An 11-year-old boy was shot in an Oklahoma City apartment complex.
• Police in Richmond, Virginia are looking for three men who shot another man in his thirties.
• Police believe gang violence is to blame for the shooting death of one man in Santa Ana, California.
• An early morning shooting in Tuscaloosa injured two teenagers.

Gun Appreciation Day

January 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Detail from Liza Lou's Kitchen, a full size replica made of tiny beads.

Detail from Liza Lou’s Kitchen, a full size replica made of tiny beads.

I decided to have a chat with my imaginary gun on America’s first Gun Appreciation Day. I know that January 19 was chosen as a fuck-you to our better-than-most President, who has proposed gun control in response to the deaths of 20 children, but guns are a vast territory, an American wet dream, and I am not immune.

My gun is red, dirt-cheap, and can’t shoot straight due to hungry-ghost emotional problems. Her name is Christine, after the deceased wife of an ex-lover who once told me (Christine, not the faithless husband) that she was a rock-ribbed Texan with a powerful & persistent fantasy of shooting men. She was drunk at the time and reminded me of my Aunt June, the lesbian feminist writer, who was also very intelligent, charismatic, obsessive, Texan, profoundly angry at men and drank too much.

“So what do you think about Gun Appreciation Day?”
“It ought to be a national holiday.”
“Why’s that?”
“So women and children can stay home from work and school, hide in the trees.”
“Good idea. I’ll write the President. But about today—you think I should take you out to dinner? Buy you chocolates?”
“Shoot him.”

We all know who “him” is. He, too, was once real but is on the way to becoming imaginary. It’s harder when they’re still alive, but I can do it. I’m like the artist Liza Lou who spent five years creating a portrait of her kitchen out of tiny beads. Bead, words: very similar. It’s why I bought too many of the former, being accustomed to an infinite number of the latter, but that’s another story. The takeaway is: five years. Obsessive focus. An exact replica, but utterly different. Liza Lou’s “Kitchen” was so beautiful it made my whole body light up.

I answered Christine. “As you once said, I’m a mousy sort of person. I can’t shoot anyone and I don’t want to. I understand that the moment of aiming the gun, pulling the trigger, seeing the man fall might be a thrill, but one minute later I’d be terrified of being caught, mauled by guilt, and I’d miss knowing he was alive, much as I hate to admit it—.”

“Shoot the other one, then.”

“Ditto, except I wouldn’t miss her.”

“Then put me back in your subconscious where you have her staked out naked in the sand for the red ants and the pterodactyls, where you’ve installed control-bots in his brain so you can make him cry like the proverbial girl whenever he’s criticized at work, and be inundated by images of drunken chimpanzees watching porn at moments of attempted passion.”

“That was last year. I don’t have those fantasies anymore.” This isn’t true, but I don’t have them quite as often. I also imagine hammering nails into their foreheads, filling their orifices with cement, and weaving a spell to make radioactive worms crawl out of the flesh of their faces.

“Once a fantasy, always a fantasy.”

“That’s what my friend Lisa said. She thinks gun control is admirable but doomed because there are already 10 billion guns out there.”

“Exactly. Your past fantasies never leave you. They build character, as it were. You’re stuck with me, and someday I’ll shoot someone.”

In the leg, maybe. Her bullets always spin sideways and down. “You’ll shoot me.”

“That would be my first choice.”

“I like you, you know, now that you’re dead.”

“You don’t like me, you like your imaginary gun. It soothes your overwhelming awareness of your own powerlessness.”

“I’ve accepted that. I never liked power anyway. I wanted it, but having it made me feel lonely and guilty. What I really wanted was to be in a big love-fest with the world, Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in the class.”

“You’ve accepted it maybe 1%,” she sneered in that special way only a gun can do, the lip of the barrel lifting an eighth of an inch.

“I’m trying to appreciate you, you stupid gun.”

“You’ll never appreciate me. You have no idea. In life, in death, my experiences are beyond the horizon of your mouse-sized imagination.”

“This is also true of the lives of dung beetles, Iranian clerics, and rich men who buy little girls.”

“Try harder.”

“I could get an assault rifle bra, but I prefer writing.”

“You’re way too old to wear Lady Gaga’s bra and look anything but ridiculous.”

“Sometimes I miss being so full of hatred. It had fire and teeth. Now everything feels pointless. Posthumous. I listen to the newscasters gabble and I think: does anybody really care what the new social trends are? Why don’t we all avert our eyes in embarrassment? America, America. You want to shoot the way other people want to fuck. You want to be free to kill your children or other people’s children, or the neighbor’s dog or your ex-lover. You’d shoot the stars out of the sky if your guns were long enough. America, your poets forgive you and then die, and you just keep getting stupider. What are we going to do about you?”

“How about if we just shoot some cans in the backyard? Okay? This conversation is depressing the fuck out of me.”

“I talk to cats, to the dead, to the figments of my imagination. Don’t deny me simple pleasures.”

The gun squirmed and jerked, knocking itself off the bureau into the kitty litter. She’s going to shoot my cat in the ass, I thought. Bury herself and wait…the bitch…but what can you expect from a gun named Christine? (I assume you’ve all read Stephen King’s novel of that name. No? Hint: King’s Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, but, oh, so much more than that.)

I stuffed her back into the primordial ooze and thought about applying to a writer’s colony in Wyoming.

Never imagine that you know what you will be like in the future, I read recently. What you hate now, what you fear now, what you crave now…it will all be different. Except, of course, that it won’t all be different, just some of it will be, and you don’t know which parts. Isn’t it delightful that the future offers nothing to the present moment, that it is unmade, wide open, that you are suspended in fog and see and hear only a minute fraction of what’s happening around you and inside you; that you are almost (but not quite) an unplanned Lego monstrosity created by a bored 7-year-old boy who will soon kick you to pieces and turn off the light?


The Children’s Hour

Soldiers with guns are at our door again.
Sister, quick. Change into a penny.
I’ll fold you in a handkerchief,
put you in my pocket
and jump inside a sack,
one of the uncooked rice.

Brother, hurry. Turn yourself
into one of our mother’s dolls
on the living room shelf. I’ll be the dust
settling on your eyelids.

The ones wearing wings are in the yard.
The ones wearing lightning are in the house.
The ones wearing stars and carrying knives
are dividing our futures among them.

Don’t answer when they call to us in the voice of Nanny.
Don’t listen when they promise sugar.
Don’t come out until evening,
or when you hear our mother weeping to herself.

If only I could become the mirror in her purse,
I’d never come back until the end of time.

–Li-Young Lee


Is My Heart Asleep

Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?

No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming—
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of vast silence.

Antonio Machado
(translator unknown)

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