March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately, some referring to recent emotionally distressing events/memories, but most feature strange men and vampires trying to kill me, which they have been trying to do since my 20’s. (Before that, it was ghosts, swarms of insects and evil fog.) The cat persistently meowing me to wakefulness, the husband making toast, the sounds of New York in the spring – these are welcome reminders of the little sorrows I really face: working for a living, getting older, remembering to open my mail.
I have a new Macbook Air, which is making me happy. I like all my clients and enjoy editing – novels, memoirs, academic papers, other – except for the inconvenient effect it has of making me want to write my own books.
I’m learning more from editing and from reading self-published novels than I ever did in writing workshops. In particular, watching the writing/reading process minimally obstructed by the publishing industry is fascinating: so many “bad” books are very well liked by readers, maybe not in the tens-of-thousands-sold sense, but in the hundred-plus five-star reviews on Amazon sense.
I’m sorry to have to lost my financial freedom, but I appreciate having work come in over the airwaves – from all over the world at any time of day – meeting strangers and hearing their stories, honing my skills, feeling useful.
But mostly I love walking my city in the spring, buying strawberries and cupcakes, broccoli and tortellini, looking at the young beautiful women, the dreamy-eyed elderly, the street people with their snarly charm, and the groups of teenagers pouring out of the W 4th or 14th Street stations, thirsting for novelty, adorned with attitude.
The nightmares can have my slumber. I want the April days.
A new poet I’ve discovered—
Nothing is Lost
She would emerge from nightmares,
inch by inch, in the kitchen. Perched
on a wooden chair, she hugs her knees
. She is five, wearing a flannel gown
down to her ankles, with blue pistols
scattered over it, for killing mice at night,
her brother said.
The window lights up
like an altar. With her eyes half closed,
she looks at the particles of dust turning
inside the light, landing on the floor,
painted warm chestnut, as Mother
The coal stove still unlit,
she hears the breathing of the house,
its sunlit silence rising and falling,
a fly stirring, brushing its wings, buzzing out of the dark corner.
I see her
making room among the shadows,
and remember: nothing is lost
until we miss it.
February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
I didn’t get outside today, but the light was lovely from my bed. I woke up tired, tried to nap after breakfast but was kept awake by Fitzroy batting my face and sucking on my hair. Then I imbibed more coffee and got to work, editing almost seamlessly, in the zone. The romance novel I’m working on is all sex and champagne, cashmere, Louboutins, pink marble, MoMA. Sonoma, Manhattan, Stockholm. My favorite parts are the descriptions of vintage kitty litter odor coming from a neighbor’s apartment, and the erotic dream where her boss rips her shirt off.
The light brightened and faded. Charles took checks to the bank, fed the cats. I ate leftover wild rice and Brussels sprouts, browsed Valentine’s chocolate online, wanting it now.
“Did anything come for me today?”
“Just the cat food. Are you expecting something?”
“No, but I want a present.”
I miss being nine, my body painless and nimble. Tobogganing in the back yard, making Valentines cards with construction paper, Elmer’s glue, little red heart stickers and doilies. The one for my mother was the masterpiece, of course, though as I remember it I always put too much stuff on, hearts upon hearts, a big mess of needy love.
I can’t make money and do my creative work at the same time. My imagination folds over and hides its face. Even letting it out this far to say hello to you all feels dangerous. One of my clients emailed, “You’re such a good writer! Why aren’t you doing your own stuff?”
The light today was like children singing. Like a crystal bowl of lemons, silver steak knives, and eight-year-olds singing in French.
Just found this poem by Cynthia Huntington. It brought back memories.
Shot Up in the Sexual Revolution: The True Adventures of Suzy Creamcheese
“So, why don’t you sleep with girls?”
“I’m not really attracted to girls.”
“Are you telling me you were really
attracted to every man you slept with?”
Conversation with a friend
After twenty I stopped counting,
not like my friend Beverly, who sewed
an embroidered satin star on her bell-bottoms
for every new guy she fucked.
She had them running down both legs
and around the billowing hem,
and was starting up the inseam
when the jeans gave out in the wash.
It was a boys’ game anyway, those years
of our extended homage to the penis:
the guitar playing the penis, drums saluting it,
cock rock, Molotov cocktail, the motorcycle
gripped between the thighs, and I went down,
we all went down, in the old cultural disaster
of idol worship—a thousand-year bender.
Only this time it was the adolescent member,
oiled and laved, thrust forward arcing,
thin with ache, all tight flesh poked upward,
claiming its own. How it came and went,
penetrating but never settling down,
and how often we were caused to admire it:
hairless sweet warrior, raider against the State.
But I have this sweet pink flower
here between my legs—I put my hand down and touch it,
still soft and wet, and many-folded, endlessly opening,
hiding, seeking, hidden and sought,
but never very much admired or even smiled on
in those years, never served much less sung to.
Not a garden then but a citadel,
a wall to be breached, a new land claimed,
but linger there? No, I would say
there was an overall lack of appreciation,
though breasts were well respected, slopping loose
under T-shirts like little animals,
and I would feel my nipples brush the cotton
with pleasure, see them regarded also with pleasure.
Still, sex then was a taking, like spoils of war, a victory
over all those straight fucks back home, marooned
in the dismal suburbs that birthed us squalling and red
and watched us flee in ungrateful cars down night highways.
And God knows it felt good those nights.
I was ready, it was ready, to open and answer the call.
And take me down and roll me over, yes, and give
it to me—but why all this riding away afterward?
Where was everyone going
and why didn’t I get to ride along? Who knew at first
nothing had changed, just wanting the thrust and tug
and slam up against the headboard, I should say so,
but left still wanting more, wanting to leap
out of centuries’ shame and be something new,
not this old consolation of women for the powerless,
some kind of cosmic door prize awarded
just for showing up with a dick,
some proof to themselves these boys were men.
“You’re good,” he said. Hell, I wasn’t taking a typing test,
I was fighting to live in a dying world.
I was throwing myself away, an offering to wildest space,
surrender to the mind’s dissolve, the body’s electric light,
nerve endings firing like exploding stars.
“You’re good,” they all said:
you’d think somebody was doing a survey.
Girls say yes to boys who say no, and then
your professor asks if you’re wearing underwear,
when you meet for your conference on the poetry of Yeats.
Crossing the border after midnight in a borrowed car
after a visit to the after-hours doctor’s office in Sarnia.
Nodding out in the back seat, pills wearing off.
He was a legend among undergraduates:
cheap and reliable, always on call,
until a month later the headlines screamed
“Abortion Doc!” when a girl died in his office
and he dragged her down to the river
and dumped her body in the underbrush.
September 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
I thought of something that made me want to write a memory piece about visiting my grandmother in the Christmas of 1967. So I set the scene: my father and brother newly dead, my mother taking us to Houston—where she came from; we lived in new Jersey—which was a gift since I loved my elegant grandmother, her beautiful house, and her two golden retrievers. That was the week I became friends with my cousin Faxy, the first person in my life that I could talk to endlessly about nothing in particular. I was a pathologically shy and lonely child, and this friendship was one of the most important events of my first 20 years.
So I set the scene, but when I was ready to probe into that compelling memory, the piece of event or emotion that was vivid enough to hang a few paragraphs on, I had completely forgotten it.
I remembered the stories I usually remember: getting drunk on champagne with Fax and rolling around on the twin beds with their peach satin quilts, then, later, pushing a boy we didn’t like into the pool (clothed), though my grandmother didn’t have a pool, so that was somewhere else. The servants chiding us for our tipsiness with swallowed smiles, warning us to stay out of our grandmother’s sight. The adults, glimpsed from a distance, down the hall, holding cocktail glasses and cigarettes, so well dressed: suits, dresses, patent leather shoes, makeup and hairdos. No one in jogging clothes or shorts, sneakers or jeans, not even the children.
I felt so hopeful: I can forget all the dulling futility & constipated eroticism of this period of my life, write memoir from a softer and wider perspective than I did in 1999. Remember those I love with some complication, but mostly forgiveness and humor, no need to mention the frozen zombie heart I have pinned to my closet floor.
I see the two little girls rolling on twin beds, their faces flushed, their fine dresses rucked up above their knees. My first experience of champagne sparked that helpless laughter that reminds me of a toilet overflowing, great gulps brimming over and sloshing out.
But there was something else. Something resembling an idea. It’s gone, whatever it was. I feel as if pieces of me are disappearing at an alarming rate. That solid, ferocious ego of youth or even of forty—that’s as much history as the American cars of the mid 20th century that were big, hungry and powered like tanks. Some of you remember Old Green: ex-police, tough as nails. Whatever in me was like that is not anymore.
It’s been storming here lately. Last night it was so violent, I wanted to run outside and play in the lightning. The cooler weather is very welcome. There’s a young poet here who looks a little bit like my stepdaughter did in college, and that makes me nostalgic too. I’m going to keep doing this—residencies in beautiful places—but I miss being able to share a landscape with someone I love. My cats, for instance, would occupy this place with far more artistry and imaginative leaps than I ever could. I can see them nosing through the grass, chasing snakes and mice and rabbits, climbing fences and trees. If only the silly things liked to travel.
A few hours after Des Moines
the toilet overflowed.
This wasn’t the adventure it sounds.
I sat with a man whose tattoos
weighed more than I did.
He played Hendrix on mouth guitar.
His Electric Ladyland lips
weren’t fast enough
and if pitch and melody
are the rudiments of music,
this was just
memory, a body nostalgic
for the touch of adored sound.
Hope’s a smaller thing on a bus.
You hope a forgotten smoke consorts
with lint in the pocket of last
resort to be upwind
of the human condition, that the baby
and when this never happens,
that she cries
with the lullaby meter of the sea.
We were swallowed by rhythm.
The ultra blond
who removed her wig and applied
fresh loops of duct tape
to her skull,
her companion who held a mirror
and popped his dentures
in and out of place,
the boy who cut stuffing
from the seat where his mother
should have been—
there was a little more sleep
in our thoughts,
it was easier to yield.
To what, exactly—
the suspicion that what we watch
cornfields that stare at our hands,
that hold us in their windows
through the night?
Or faith, strange to feel
in that zoo of manners.
I had drool on my shirt and breath
of the undead, a guy
dropped empty Buds on the floor
like gravity was born
to provide this service,
we were white and black trash
in an outhouse on wheels and still
some had grown—
in touching the spirited shirts
after watching a sky of starlings
flow like cursive
over wheat—back into creatures
capable of a wish.
As we entered Arizona
I thought I smelled the ocean,
liked the lie of this
and closed my eyes
puppeted against my lids.
We brought our failures with us,
their taste, their smell.
But the kid
who threw up in the back
pushed to the window anyway,
and let the wind clean his face,
I couldn’t make out
but agreed with
in shape, a sound I recognized
as everything I’d come so far
to give away.
August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
Strong wind this afternoon, the kind that makes your feel like your hair is blowing off. French-blue sky, wheat-colored mountains drizzled with gold, the sharp grasses bending in great curls. A few deer, a few trucks and me. I could get addicted to this place.
The other night we went to the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo to hear bluegrass music. Multi-instrumentalists with impressive moustaches, a guitar player with an orange guitar strap marked “Dept. of Corrections,” a little girl standing on a box playing her fiddle, a woman who looked like Maureen Stapleton singing a torch song, and a youngish man doing a cover of “The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night,” which Charles used to play and sing to his children at bedtime. A good half of the customers were over 60, the ladies with perms and the men with high-waisted pants. The collection box handed around wasn’t for the musicians but needy townsfolk.
Nothing like live, homegrown music to make you feel the reality of a place, although the animal head décor had a say in that as well. We were looked down on by the big, glassy-eyed trophies and while this doesn’t affect me the way it does some people (roadkill bothers me far more), that may be a generational thing. I grew up thinking it was kind of normal—not that I knew anyone who shot and mounted ungulates but it was so prevalent in novels about England, the West, etc, that it seemed as if I did, and when I began came across the odd, real trophy, in my teens, I didn’t think twice. Now it just seems tacky.
We didn’t stay long at the Occidental, but it was fun to get off the grounds of this monument to creative solitude and remember that art is always of the people and by the people, both common and precious. Maybe before I die I’ll wring the last of the tortured romantic artist myth out of my soul.
Though, of course, I am tortured and romantic. But not because I’m an artist, and anyway, I’m much less romantic than I used to be. As for torment, they have drugs for that.
A Dog Was Crying Tonight In Wicklow Also
In memory of Donatus Nwoga
When human beings found out about death
They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message:
They wanted to be let back into the house of life.
They didn’t want to end up lost forever
Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke
Or ashes that get blown away to nothing.
Instead, they saw their souls in a flock at twilight
Cawing and heading back for the same old roosts
And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning.
Death would be like a night spent in the wood:
At first light they’d be back in the house of life.
(The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu.)
But death and human beings took second place
When he trotted off the path and started barking
At another dog in broad daylight just barking
Back at him from the far bank of a river.
And that is how the toad reached Chukwu first,
The toad who’d overheard in the beginning
What the dog was meant to tell. “Human beings,” he said
(And here the toad was trusted absolutely),
“Human beings want death to last forever.”
August 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
So quiet out tonight, so many stars…
I struggle with my work and the attendant depression, but this place is so beautiful, so nurturing, and I’m very comfortable here now. Most of this group is leaving Friday, which is sad, I like them all, but there will be new people Monday, and I’m looking forward to that. I don’t expect to have such an amiable group, but I’m curious about the differences.
This weekend I’ll be alone here with one other woman and we’ve rented a car, so I’ll get to see more of the area. The Devil’s Tower—a laccolith made famous by Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one destination; The Bighorn National Forest another. Lake DeSmet sounds good too. And the Dull Knife Reservoir (okay, I just put that in for the name). Maybe a night on the town in Sheridan or Buffalo.
I love the way new places become home in a couple of weeks. My bedroom, my studio, the dining room where we eat our fantastic meals, the road I walk on at dusk, the mountains and the fields full of deer-—hard to imagine giving it all up, now, though I miss the city every day (or maybe every other day).
Those of you who are artists or writers or composers—you should come here for a few weeks. It’s not to be missed. And Judith–you should come back.
I went looking for a poem about stars–one in the back of my mind, a very famous one I can’t quite remember–and found this; a young love poem by Gary Snyder. Written when he was studying zen in Japan, it has expresses more regret and uncertainty that I’m used to from this poet.
Four Poems for Robin
Siwashing It Out Once in Suislaw Forest
I slept under rhododendron
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I dont mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you.
A Spring Night in Shokoku-ji
Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress.
An Autumn Morning in Shokoku-ji
Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(Three times in nine years)
Wild, cold, and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost dawn. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.
December at Yase
You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”
After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.
Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were–
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.
Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.
We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.
I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
August 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Gray-golden fields; flat, rounded and pointy mountains; a haze of smoke in the air from those out-of-control fires in Yellowstone and Idaho. A bedroom with a good bed, good light; a huge studio with a desk, couch, several armchairs and a porch; meals prepared.
Dinner last night: cioppino with scallops, shrimp and mussels, salads, breads and three cheeses; flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream. Good company (4 men, 4 women; 4 writers, 4 artists) and no obligations, other than to clean up after myself. I even have phone and Internet service in my bedroom and a kitchen to make coffee in down the hall.
Yet I feel surprisingly homesick. I don’t want to go home, but I miss my domestic world, the triple feline and guitar-playing family. But the writing I have done is much better than what I’ve managed do in the city this year. So. No complaints.
Every night before dinner I’m stricken with shyness. I’ve only ever been in communal living situations with strangers twice: boarding school and college. Neither time was I leaving intimacy behind. And there were boys: walking enchantments, creatures too glorious for my eyes, sinister angels with the powers of heaven, strewn carelessly. None of that now. But the mountains, the sea of grass, the gray-gold, the sage green. Rumors of rattlesnakes. Cattle guards. A winding, metallic-blue creek. A full moon.
I had to spend most of Tuesday at the dentist because a tooth broke (at dinner the first night) but the doctor made the crown himself in 20 minutes, and it cost less than it would have in Manhattan—though not as much less as I expected. He said I needed at least two more crowns done soon. Medical tourism in Costa Rica, perhaps?
I’ve finished a novel (worked on, on and off, for over 10 years). It was really already done; I just needed to believe it was finished, to wrap it up and give it a final polish. Not perfect, but good enough. Now I’m sleepy.
A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.
May 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
“I’m more attracted to women’s noses than their breasts,” Charles said as we walked down Lafayette in the warm summer evening.
“I’m attracted to their dresses,” I replied, looking at all the bright, patterned cloth and bare shoulders. We had nothing much to do, so wandered into Astor Place Wines & Spirits for a free tasting of German Rieslings. Nice cold wine, lots of info about where the vineyards were in relation to the Rhine River, which made me want to interrupt and whine that I didn’t win the wine-tasting Rhine River cruise sweepstakes I entered last year, ten days and plane fare, dinners.
We drank a thimbleful of a new ginger-flavored cognac, cut with sparkling wine. It tasted like a cross between craft ginger ale and the nectar of the gods. I stood there with those drops on my tongue and saw myself swallowing 6 or 8 ounces—the biting creamy sweetness sliding down my throat—then darkness—and waking up in another world (and I don’t mean the world of headache and vomit). The world where edges are always rounded, where people are naked like the nudes of great paintings, where poetry flows like water and water speaks in its own erudite tongue.
Astor Wine, in its new incarnation on Lafayette Street, is big and roomy. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to buy one of everything, not because you’re feeling alcoholically deprived, but because there are so many choices, with such pretty labels, and the years and vineyards and countries all compete for attention so politely.
The aisles are wide enough. The traffic isn’t bad for 6:30 in the evening. The jug wine cabinet is only steps from the locked “rare dessert wine” cabinet, where one can see a $599 half bottle of wine behind glass, and wonder if the old boyfriend’s credit card number has expired yet. The traffic was mostly couples. I glanced around, trying to see what connected them. I was too overwhelmed by memory, though, and only saw myself, myself, myself, in different eras and guises. If I were young now. . . if I had known then. . . .
Home to dinner: lamb chops, roasted onions and asparagus served on a fold-up table in the bedroom; iTunes routed through Apple TV (Chet Baker, who always sounds one or two stages of sad beyond where I’ve ever been); cats on the table, the bed, the floor, one each. Charles asks to be read something and I read him the previous five paragraphs of this entry, composed before dinner, and he laughs at the old boyfriend’s credit card number joke. Then he says, “The only way I can get a message to my girlfriend is through your blog. She’s too busy to answer my emails.”
“Can I quote you on that?”
“You can quote me on anything.”
“I like to remind my readers I’m not the only one who sinned against the bonds of matrimony,” I say, and he looks at me quizzically. Sinned? Bonds? That’s not the way we look at things.
Though I sometimes do. The pain of jealousy is brutal. But I never cut Charles off, never stopped being his friend, never let anyone else hurt him. That wouldn’t be enough for most people, but Charles and I are different from most people.
He’s playing his guitar in the street every day, making a little money. He doesn’t need to make much. I’m getting more work and we’ll be okay, pay off the debt, stay in NYC. When my nerves subside, when my nerves uncross their legs, when my nerves return or leave or sheathe themselves in fur, I’ll write my own stuff again. In August. Maybe sooner. Meantime, this is it, my bulletins from the land of needy cats, thawing hearts (I’m at the stage where, if I were a pound of ground beef, you could bend and slowly break apart the mass), and creative aging. On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. I have my own version of that, but this is the Internet so it shall remain behind the veil.
As if I haven’t told you all everything already.
A Drinking Song
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
A Noun Sentence
A noun sentence, no verb
to it or in it: to the sea the scent of the bed
after making love … a salty perfume
or a sour one. A noun sentence: my wounded joy
like the sunset at your strange windows.
My flower green like the phoenix. My heart exceeding
my need, hesitant between two doors:
entry a joke, and exit
a labyrinth. Where is my shadow—my guide amid
the crowdedness on the road to judgment day? And I
as an ancient stone of two dark colors in the city wall,
chestnut and black, a protruding insensitivity
toward my visitors and the interpretation of shadows. Wishing
for the present tense a foothold for walking behind me
or ahead of me, barefoot. Where
is my second road to the staircase of expanse? Where
is futility? Where is the road to the road?
And where are we, the marching on the footpath of the present
tense, where are we? Our talk a predicate
and a subject before the sea, and the elusive foam
of speech the dots on the letters,
wishing for the present tense a foothold
on the pavement …
Mahmoud Darwishh translated by Fady Joudah