Apples and Wine

October 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s richly autumn now, and the air is like wine. I know this is not a new simile. It’s one I used to be puzzled by. I didn’t think air was at all like wine—air was too free and fast and invisible. But as one gets older the light thickens. It slows down. The deepness in the afternoon sun, in October, is indeed like a goblet of wine: a Sancerre or a Chablis. A hint of overripe fruit rides the wind, even in New York City. Okay, I’m at the farmer’s market in Union Square. There are lots of bins of apples as well as Concord grapes. In the middle of Sixth Avenue, there wouldn’t be fruit on the air, although there would still be that honeyed light like the conversation of a 40-year-old courtesan played by Catherine Deneuve.

Actually I’m not at the Farmer’s Market anymore, and it’s quite dark outside. I’m remembering and I can feel the brain ants patiently taking apart the memories of the day, sorting them into piles with older memories, so that Keats’ Ode to Autumn, and all the autumn walks of my New Hampshire adolescence and Van Gogh paintings are getting mixed up with the apples and light and cars and the books I dropped off in the chute at Whole Foods, to be distributed to subway riders. I’ve given them my entire collection of post-Jungian psychology, those intricate, myth-inspired ramblings that meant so much to me at 35, and now seem entirely beside the point. Although, of course, now that they’re gone, I wonder. But I did keep Marie-Louise Von Franz’s On Dreams and Death, in case I need a booster.

I have an apple I could eat now, while listening to my little black cat sing for love—head tilted up, chin whiskers glistening, white teeth showing in the seam of her smile—while waiting for the orange cat to come knock her off the sofa top for presuming. I want it to be a perfect apple. I want it to taste like those apples that make you think Eve made a good deal. I’ve had apples like that, but I suspect the one I bought is not that good.

The brain ants come trundling in with the little memory bit that holds the apple cider doughnuts we ate at the farm stand the final weekend we were moving out of our house in the country. I’d been on a no-sugar diet for weeks, but after several days of hard physical labor I saw those doughnuts, fresh out of the boiling fat, and I bought three for a dollar and ate 2 and told Charles he was lucky to get any. Then we had to hang around until the next batch came out. I don’t remember if the air was like wine that day. I think it was probably like Heaven.

There is a gold light in certain old paintings

That represents a diffusion of sunlight.

It is like happiness, when we are happy.

It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light,

And the poor soldiers sprawled at the foot of the cross

Share in its charity equally with the cross.
Orpheus hesitated beside the black river.

With so much to look forward to he looked back.

We think he sang then, but the song is lost.

At least he had seen once more the beloved back.

I say the song went this way: O prolong

Now the sorrow if that is all there is to prolong.
The world is very dusty, uncle. Let us work.

One day the sickness shall pass from the earth for good.

The orchard will bloom; someone will play the guitar.

Our work will be seen as strong and clean and good.

And all that we suffered through having existed

Shall be forgotten as though it had never existed.

–Donald Justice

And Paint My Breasts Blue

March 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hieronymus BoschI’m not going to Florida after all. Not now, anyway. Charles isn’t certain how long his job will last. I’m both relieved and disappointed. I like feeling that I still have my city, even if I don’t know how to afford it, but I miss the idea of escape, of being in another quieter place for a long time. I miss the prospect of living with my dear, delightful husband again. I’m very tired of loneliness and simply seeing more people more often doesn’t cut it. Social life is work. I like domestic codependence with a man, which I was having on weekends this winter with Philip. That’s not all good nor is it easy but it comes to me naturally, just like some people are talented at jiving strangers out of fortunes.

I can’t go into the reasons why Philip will be relatively inaccessible for the foreseeable future, except to say that it’s not under his control, and if I don’t like the extent to which he’s responded to the situation, I have to admit it’s entirely in character and most people would say good character.

My view is more nuanced, which is a nuanced way of saying selfish. Let’s face it: I respect his choice,  and my rage is like a wall of fire. Except that I’m not charred and dead, and the furniture looks untouched, so I guess it isn’t really. That was the image that came to mind though, yellow flame 20 feet high, no wider than a bedsheet, what any demon worth her salt could throw out with a flick of a taloned hand if she were pissed. And then shrug if the humans got upset, saying, “What do you expect? I’m a demon.”

I can tell you one thing: writing supernatural fiction isn’t nearly as cathartic as reading it. Too much lowly human labor, too much, “You have to write even if you don’t feel like it, bitch,” (said to self), and most of all the curse of all writers of a certain age: the awareness that no matter how well crafted a story may be, what illusions it can create in the target brains, words are still lifeless.

We know it; you don’t.

Humans have a hard time believing anything is lifeless. I read a story in New Scientist about money’s wily power. People who have had  their hands burned in boiling water report their pain lessened if they’re handed a few bills. The lonely feel less so. Those asked to make sentences out of ‘money’ words (‘salary’, ‘pay’, etc), rather than out of neutral words, reveal in a follow up, difficult puzzle-game more reluctance to ask for help, even though they’re allowed to, and more reluctance to offer it to others when asked.

Not that this should surprise anyone. We all understand the movie images of criminals rolling in their leaf-pile of cash, laughing or kissing in wild good humor as the green notes flutter, and the subsequent scenes where they get suspicious and proceed to kill each other. The classic end for such a story is all the people dead, knives sprouting from chests, brains splattered against the wall—and on the bed, the pile of money untouched by blood, waiting in deceptive stillness for its next victims.

It’s hard not to be interested in what stories are going to come from this economic swoon. Crimes, heroism, religious conversions, and everyone’s favorite: the next great invention, produced by those creative geniuses previously shacked to remunerative work. But my natural curiosity has been quelled somewhat by what I’ve been reading lately about threats entirely likely and infinitely more dire than the last 6 months (not climate change or suitcase nukes). I won’t inflict them on you, at least not until tomorrow or next week.

I’m taking comfort from the idea that if Charles’s company goes under, he’ll visit me a lot more often. I can visit him too—in the nudist colony where he’ll share a doublewide with his brother. He says the middle-aged and old ladies shave their crotches there, just like young women do nowadays. I’ll feel like a savage. Maybe I can figure out how to grow it to my knees. And paint my breasts blue.


I have never walked down Fifth Avenue alone without thinking of money.

~Anthony Trollope





Hobo: Any change? Anything you got to give?

Suit: I wish I had something to give, but pretty soon, I’m going to be like you.

Hobo: My man, you cannot be this awesome.

–Bleecker & Lafayette



The faces in New York remind me of people who played a game and lost.

~Murray Kempton 


No one as yet had approached the management of New York in a proper spirit; that is to say, regarding it as the shiftless outcome of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance. No one is likely to do so, because reflections on the long narrow pig-trough are construed as malevolent attacks against the spirit and majesty of the American people, and lead to angry comparisons.

~Rudyard Kipling 


In New York it’s not whether you win or lose–it’s how you lay the blame.

~Fran Lebowitz

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