Friday Morning Muse with Suicide on My Mind

I am not considering suicide at the moment, wanted to get that said. But I have considered, longed for, planned, and even attempted suicide in my past. So the two suicides this week do not leave me unscathed, even though I admit (sheepishly?) that in my cloistered life I didn’t know who Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdian were. But never mind that. I miss them anyway and feel the weight of public grief.

On top of those very human lives and deaths, I read two books over the past 24 hours (while traveling) that each made me cry. I would have sobbed if not on an airplane or in a coffee shop. It feels somewhat surreal that it’s been a long while since a novel moved me so, and now two in a row.  I’ll get there, but the one before that was “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward. I still read novels, but much fewer than I used to, reserving most of my reading time for poetry. The last poetry book that I immersed myself in also made me cry, “Seam” byTarfia Faiizullah. So good.

There is a feeling of being transported by literature that I crave and try desperately to hold on to after closing the book, although usually it is shortlived. I do catch a whiff of it when I am writing, and that is why I write. But comparing my own thoughts of suicide to others thoughts or actions, just like comparing my work to another’s work, it is clear that others transport me more than I am able to transport myself.  That may sound so obvious that it needn’t be uttered. I suppose I am chiding myself for not opening to others sufficiently, or more like, closing myself off so deeply.

This brings me to “Diary of a Bad Year” by JM Coetzee, which is brilliant and complex and devastated me. I’ve always loved Coetzee’s work, which over and again teaches me that self-knowledge is insufficient, others’ knowledge of us is distorted, and knowledge itself breeds the most desperate of feelings: typically guilt, remorse, powerlessness, hopelessness, angst. Although in Coetzee’s case it is a very quiet angst. There is no suicide in this book, more of a quiet withdrawal from life, which brought me to tears, and yet transported me to that feeling of belonging somewhere.

The other novel, which I just finished and haven’t yet recovered from is “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy, a new author to me. I’ll read more of her work, it’s brilliant and dangerous and I won’t spoil it for you, just recommend that you read it.

In other news, I’ve been transported to NYC, where I will be reading with other queer poets tonight and Sunday. And I just want to say this about the city:  the water. Right from the tap. I had almost forgotten how good it is. There are always surprises to be had, when you go looking for them.  I saw the poem by Galway Kinnell, “Wait” on someone’s Twitter feed. And I leave us who have thoughts of suicide with his words. Wait.

 

 

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Tuesday Morning Poem

When in flight, take heaps of notes

At 35,000 feet
jammed inside this incredible canister,
render the anonymity of air.

Dreams are full of words.
Sentences warp what is written.
Warn anyone who’ll listen.

Ask, what is a South wind?
Ramble to gather substance.
Hold the confession, the indulgence.

Say less than you mean. You’ll never be first-class.
(You are no Whitman, no Ginsberg, no Plath.)
Don’t give up now.

Worship verbs that slice silence.
Savor the lilt of tangled turbulence.
Don’t ask why.

Scribe stillness, soft and crumbly.
Language is faith. Best to trust similes
and metaphors to wing you home again.

 

Published in the Centrifugal Eye, March 2013
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Sunday Morning Muse with a Commitment

I can’t believe how many books of poetry I own that I have only leafed through; worse, there are piles of books I haven’t cracked open yet. I buy books of poetry for so many good reasons:

1) To catch up with poets I should have read decades ago since I basically studied science after high school, and I missed those lit courses.

2) To read works from poets who amaze me. They are everywhere. I can’t resist them.

3) As payment to enter contests  because I appreciate contests that, instead of charging a submission fee, have you purchase one of their press’s books. I like that idea.

4) Because I love poetry, believe in poetry, turn to poetry to save me, and like to have it surrounding me everywhere. You know, bathroom poetry, kitchen poetry, porch poetry, litter box poetry, standing in line poetry, library-borrowed poetry. Well, maybe not litter-box poetry.  That’s ew.

5) Because I’ll buy your book of poems if I know you, go to your reading event, spend time at a workshop with you, or am friends with you on social media. Because that’s what poetry friends do.

6) Not to mention keeping up with journals-that-I-subscribe-to poetry and daily-email-poems poetry.

I usually graze the journals. I read at least  4 email poems almost every day. The thing I am most unhappy about (in this realm) is that I don’t spend more time reading the books I have. That I don’t write enough reviews about books I love. That I don’t know if I will actually open up myself to all of these books before I die.

So I wish to make a commitment, uttered here in your presence.

In the evenings, before I sleep I will read poetry.

I will turn off the radio (I don’t even have a TV, but listening to the radio can be just as addictive).

I will shut down the computer and stop looking at FB and Twitter.

I will stop playing spider solitaire.

I will nourish my soul instead.

Next on the list: yoga

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Tuesday Morning Poem

Surface Tension

I failed physics twice, the contradictions foiled me.
Gravity, a force none could explain, like God or love,
more like love maybe, a plunging flume causing distant objects
to orbit, merge, collide, fracture, even die.

Quite the reverse when I pour water into the saucer
beneath the pot of plum-colored African Violets. The plate is wide and bowl-like,
unlike slender tubes used to pluck glistening blood-drops from fingers
to test for anemia. Capillary action, it appears, defies gravity: lamp wicks
and Brawny paper towels, tears splashing over corneas.
Rain tumbles cloud-to-earth, trees pull tons of groundwater
trunk-to-branch-to-leaf.

Denser than water, striders and basilisks sashay Jesus-style upon a pond’s skin.
Surface tension is a bouncer, adhesion inspires cliques, a convex meniscus
aches upward. Water is sticky— or is it small-minded and clannish?

Dogma in physics has oscillated wildly,
leaving me dizzy, nearly suicidal. The unknown familiar:
god, demon, nostrum, vapor, quark.
Despite gravity, things fall apart, the center
doesn’t hold.
 Forces oppose one another, like attracts like, wars ensue.

While we quibble, ice caps thaw, magnetic poles shift,
species vanish, another blue crab is boiled alive
in the pot. We cannot seem to dodge science,
nor pin it down, despite our lepidopterist ways—
nets, killing jars, electron microscopes. The most venerated
physicists are dumbstruck by their own utterances.

I long along with multitudes gazing at a vast penumbra.
How do we manage to be so uncertain of what we know
and so sure of what we don’t know, as we glide
along this thin ice of our own private eternity?

 

 

Surface Tension was published online at The Chimaera in July 2011 and republished in Hip Mama in 2012.
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Sunday Morning View from My Desk

desk view 2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At four, a trace of pink below a mound of countless shades of dark.
At six, morning fog has risen like a lord, flaunting abundance on this modest plot of earth.
Tomatoes, cilantro, bok choy, thyme and collards in beds on the porch awaken to their daily water.
Glass hummingbird hangs from a string against the glass.
Quick hummingbird touches down, hovers, nectars at the feeder, flickers away.
Birds, polite or quarrelsome, vie for a perch at their seed.
Light wind today, glistening bay, glimpse of Mt Baker to the East.
Fat jade plant sunning at the window like a Buddha.
Coffee cup, stapler, daisies, composition book open to a fresh page.
Eight distinct bird calls, soft wind chimes, and three gas mowers are the morning sounds.
Bo cries to go outside, agrees finally to chase toy instead of bird.
Three loads of laundry and three hairballs removed.
The very wonder of it all, as if all is well.
As if all is well.
As if.

Time for writing now.
Time for writing.
Time.

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Tuesday Morning Poem

I first saw cancer 

I first saw cancer in winter, rocking gently
as if to mollify a small child by keening
a lullaby. She murmured a promise—
a truss of blossoms.

After a chill, in the thaw of spring,
wisps of hair returned, a limp corkscrew crown
while pain cracked open bones and shred
them into lacy stalks.

Cancer rocked gently again in autumn, smothering
the lumpish soil with a thin coat of saltpeter.
And when it dried out like a codfish on the shore,
she offered her caress.

Floating Bridge Review, 2013
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Tuesday Morning Poem

I got your email

You threw your past away to have kids.
I squandered some of mine too, but for other reasons.

The kids did not need you to erase your past, erase your first wife, erase me.
The wife who would give you kids made you promise.

You mailed pictures of us back to me, your face inked out.
You asked others to lie for you.

You gave up something precious.
And now you think you can salvage it from its ruin?

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Sunday Morning Mourning

It’s too much.

What could I say that even touches what I feel about these school shooting. About closing in on the impending cliff that humanity’s future wobbles upon. Again. Emotional and intellectual resistance seems not enough. How is it even different than going along with the lemmings over that cliff?

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found  a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning.  By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by  Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.

 

 

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Tuesday Morning Poem

The Chronically Well

queue at my exam room, hoping
for a visitation. They don’t feel well,
but that’s another matter. They don’t yet
know what it is to be ill. If they ask me,
which seldom happens, I recommend
reading Magic Mountain or Cancer Ward.

Then again, they do solicit remedies.
What should they do for their megrims,
lethargy, catarrh, lumbago, vertigo?
I can only tell them there is no cure
for ordinary good health, the discomforts
life offers gamely. I encourage them
to wait patiently.

Originally published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012
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Sunday Morning Muse with Mothers on My Mind

zappa

Everyone wants to remind me that it’s mothers’ day –a day that clearly holds Hallmark irrelevance while calling forth complex emotional responses. The grammatical confusion alone is enough to make me cringe; let’s see, is it “Mother’s Day”, “Mothers’ Day” or “Mothers Day”? Funny, or not so much, but when I hear the word “mothers” my first thought is of Frank Zappa, followed closely by the slur M-F’er.

Like many women who call themselves, or are called by others, mother, I have a lot of baggage to unload (or suppress) when I consider my personal history. So I try not to go there on a day prescribed by a consumer notion. But ignoring hasn’t worked today. I just read a version of the first “celebration” of mother’s day which was the brainchild of one Anna Jarvis, whose mother was a community health activist (Yay for that! ).  Apparently she came to despise the national holiday. Her story below is sad, but edifying.

Jarvis died in a sanitarium in 1948. The holiday she created lives on.
Today, more people purchase flowers and plants for Mother's Day than 
for any other holiday except Christmas/Hanukkah. This year alone, Americans 
will spend $23.1 billion on the holiday. And most of that money will be 
spent on jewelry: $4.6 billion.

So. I have difficult memories of both having and being a mother.  I learned to love my mother late in her life, and am grateful that we managed to become close before her death. I lost custody of my son when he was barely five; yet he is and always has been my greatest joy. So whoever you are, whatever you are feeling on this day, be gentle and kind. Not everyone has the same associations with this day.  I share this, but only for myself.

In which my brother goes to her grave and I shed a tear

My brother goes to the grave
site and says farewell
to the engraving on the rock.

I live far away and today
the buttress crumbles and I miss my mother
for the first time.

I don’t know why he does it
knowing and not knowing him so well
is all I have to go on.

Debt, veneration, relief, it’s all
so mixed, right? Maybe in his melancholy
he hoards an image of our family,

but I feel misplaced today, weepy
as if disowned, shorn from that photo
not like me at all, the cold unfeeling

bitch of me, knowing and not knowing
myself so well, with no urge to go on
after so many years.

 


							
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