Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.
I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!
That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine
the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.
A writer of modest talent can only hope one day to put together a word or two—on on a rare week, a phrase—that’s worth keeping. This is not the conceit of perfectionism. This is just the reality of a mediocre vision that cannot totally grasp and share what floats in and out of view. It’s the frustration that has to be managed—The gap between what might be glimpsed, a brief impression of something sublime, and the skill that, were it a painting, only produces stick figure drawings.
So the experience is one of enduring a sense of constant failure, working to press my cheek up against the foggy glass that keeps me from the truth, but still trying to catch a scent of it and convey it honestly….Throwing the lariat a thousand times at a stallion that prances just out of reach, hoping that one more throw will tame the beast and bring him nearer to feel the heat and the true wild life of him.
That’s the job. (Neurotic? Of course it is. But what’s a little neurosis among friends?). It’s just a matter of putting up with failure long enough to feel the hot breath of something beautiful. It is insanity. But oh, so seductive.
Ed: I’m researching one or more works on climate fiction –CliFi–that will tiptoe through a increasingly alarming future. In the process, I’m finding some previous works that, while dark, are also windows into the subject. So, to brighten your day, here are two:
A Song on the End of the World
On the day the world ends|
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
Note: This poem is presumed to be in the context of the “Year Without a Summer,” 1815, where the entire world’s weather was affected by the titanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. There was a lack a perpetual fog and widespread rain leading to crop failure and widespread famine. The effects were felt most heavily in Europe where the prices of bread rose significantly leaving many people incapable of affording it. This then led to widespread riots which included the burning of bakeries to protest the cost inflation.
Modern people haven’t experienced anything quite like this, but speculations about “Nuclear Winter” had to do with similar dire results of nuclear war.
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came,
and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons;
cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within
the eye Of the volcanos,
and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend.
The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d;
Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—
She was the Universe.
Put your ear to the earth and wait…
Tune your senses to the long rhythms…
The sun’s daily higher in the sky,
It pounds a fist on the grave’s door:
Dormant in the frozen ground,
Life stirs from a sleep like death
Shudders and swells and pushes its fingers and shoulders against
The things that would keep it dead, climbing toward the
roar of the Sun:
Tune your senses to the long rhythms,
Close your eyes and see with an inner eye.
Life, bundled mystery, sleeps now,
but prepares to stir, move,
Grow from nothing to cover the world,
Rejoicing, contending, affirming, seeking, dying,
living again. Seeking and finding change.
The shoving and shifting and movement toward the light
Makes a soundless roar we will feel through our feet.
© Hemmingplay 2014
A local story tells
of a dam that blocked a creek in late ’60.
The water rose, year by year,
seeped over a poor family’s
the one that was supposed
to be an assured future.
58 years under
the dark, cool waves,
bass and perch swimming past
foundation stones covered in mud and algae.
The loss of a dream
is a reason
the family gives
They might be right. But…
If only they’d found another dream.
A WWII bomber is hoisted from the
mud of a bay in New Guinea, and a name
thought lost to an era before
plastic was found, reclaimed.
A niece, nearly 60, gets the call and walks into
the street, cries openly.
“I don’t know where that comes from,”
she tells a reporter through sobs. “I never knew my
A neighbor in his late 80s,
back from the grocery.
He fed my dog another biscuit,
leans on a cane, his back twisted. He told
of a son’s suicide 15 years ago.
Over a woman.
He shakes his head.
His beautiful boy,
Lost over a woman.
His wife died 12 years ago,
He talks about them both
quietly, all alone now, still
coaches little league,
and lives with loss.
“She likes her biscuits,” he says
looking at a pair of bright eyes,
gives her another and laughs.
A few doors further,
on the other side of the street, dark-haired
Michelle puts down a rake and
comes to pet my dog.
She lost her black Lab
two weeks before, and
was quiet, remembering.
She glanced through the dark
rectangle of their screen door,
source of the sounds of TV,
said her children were still sad, too.
She just wanted to
touch what she’d lost, resting her hand
in the warm fur and energy
for a moment.
Things that never used to reach me,
all the pains and burdens ordinary people
carry with such quiet dignity,
Well…I just didn’t want to see.
They’re all with me now,
and it’s both comfort and rebuke:
there but for the grace of God…
And I consider my sins anew.
Everyone has a story. So many stories…
“I never knew that life was loaded…
I never knew that things exploded
I only found it out when I
was down upon my knees,
looking for my life.”
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.
–Henry David Thoreau
This is something of a rerun, with apologies. But there’s a back story I’m keeping to myself. Music with lyrics from Carrie Newcomer. Enjoy
“We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the loss we’ve ever known
What is gone is always near
We’re all the love that brought us here
And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here
If I start by being kind
Love usually follows right behind
It nods its head and softly hums
Saying “Honey that’s the way it’s done.
We don’t have to search for love
Wring our hands and wring our hearts
All we have to do is know
The love will find us in the dark
And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here
I can’t change the whole world
But I can change the world I know
What’s within three feet or so
We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the love we’ve ever known
When I don’t know what is right
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
by Raymond Carver I want to get up early one more morning, before sunrise. Before the birds, even. I want to throw cold water on my face and be at my work table when the sky lightens and smoke begins to rise from the chimneys of the other houses. I want to see the waves break on the beach, not just hear them break as I did all night in my sleep. I want to see again the ships that pass through the Straight from every seafaring country in the world— old, dirty freighters just barely moving along, and the swift new cargo vessels painted every color under the sun that cut the water as they pass. I want to keep an eye out for them. And for the little boat that plies the water between the ships and the pilot station near the lighthouse. I want to see them take a man off the ship and put another up on board. I want to spend the day watching this happen and reach my own conclusions. I hate to seem greedy—I have so much To be thankful for already. But I want to get up early one more morning, at least, And go to my place with some coffee and wait, Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.
What do I want?
The patience of Old Testament Jøb
the vision of a Steve Jobs…
Good eyes and ears,
Strong heart and lungs
Not too many aches and pains,
not too many pills.
The ability to
stay in shape without
And a quick end.
And I’d like
Striking women to smile and say ‘hi’
And those precious, luscious few–
I hope you’re out there–
To permit that faint, wet stirring
And dare to pause, question,
First silently, then aloud:
“Hello. I’ve never done this… but
Is there a chance we might
Find a good way to spend
And I’d be in favor of some more surviving,
(Without getting hung up about it.)
I’m one day older than yesterday…
One younger than tomorrow,
But– having never been strong in math–
I will n’t count days
Letting them come as they will.
Aside from all that…
What Do I wish?
Good sleep several times a week.
And a warm body curved
Contented into me,
A person hunting for
the true in herself.
I wish for the wisdom
I’ve paid for with
so many dumb mistakes,
And I wish the stamina of my 60s
flows into my 70s
I’m grateful for
The satisfactions of my 50s and 60s
The energy of my 40s;
The happiness of my 30s;
The libido of my teens and 20s.
If only I knew then how to
Be unselfish. I wish I’d known…
He Who Learns Must Suffer
In our sleep, pain
which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon
the heart until,
in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through
the awful grace of God.
—Aeschylus, “Father of tragedy”
c. 523 BCE- 456 BCE
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
n/aSource: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)
I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.
Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.
I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.
I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at yet another mystery.
I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;
There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.
I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.
It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.
by Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)
I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
to the graveyard and to lay away all, the head, the feet, the hands, all:
I know there is something left over they can not put away.
Let the nanny goats and the billy goats of the shanty
eat the clover over my grave
and if any yellow hair
or any blue smoke of flowers
is good enough to grow over me
let the dirty-fisted children
of the shanty people pick these flowers.
I have had my chance to live with the people who have
too much and the people who have
too little and I chose one of the two and I have told no man why.
And I guess I just got in the way.
Doin’ OK, though.
“I think everyone must love life more than anything else in the world.’
‘Love life more than the meaning of it?’
‘Yes, certainly. Love it regardless of logic, as you say. Yes, most certainly regardless of logic, for only then will I grasp its meaning. That’s what I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan: you love life. Now you must try to do the second half and you are saved.”
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Quotes from better writers
*Part of the “Saying Goodbye” collection to be published soon.
Do you remember our babies’
crying through the night
with colic, red-faced, kicking,
little fists clenched, punching the air?
We took turns with
new at this baby thing,
desperate to comfort, to
silence that infernal noise
so we could go to work
in a few hours and not
fall asleep in the elevator.
They didn’t seem to want
comfort, did they?
Continue reading “Cry”
– From The Talmud, 303
If we do, then not everything we hear or see need be about how awful everything is. The minute we feel the world’s grief, we are obligated to it. If there is more grief in this world, then there is more to do.
Please consider picking up a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes…” at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. The links are below. It’s not a beach book, I’m afraid. But that’s not all bad this time of year.
But don’t take my word for it. From one of the reviews.
August 9, 2018
When the sands
of our deeper selves
shift, slide, scald
at 3 a.m.,
when buried grief
slithers out again,
the night holds its
breath a moment,
exhales and the Eastern
Safe again, we wake.
Strange things stir,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
from the loins of
an ancient earth, from the night.
Secrets lurk between
every second on the clock,
there, then gone, then back…
neither light nor shadow,
but mere potential.
Hiding in plain sight.
shifting with the sand,
teasing us to pull
them into the light,
poisoning us until
The six dogs I’ve known over the years
all thought me better than I was,
lived with no regret or second thought…
protected my children, kept me company
when fevers curled
me up on the floor.
They expected food on time and little else,
thought a run in the woods
was the best thing in the history of the world,
squirrels up in trees where they belonged.
And with such sensitive noses,
not once did they judge morning breath.
(Beyond a sneeze.)
When the short years passed,
they were stoic, trusting
Even in pain, even then.
They trusted with great hearts,
comforted by a last touch,
Even as the needle slipped in, eyes
searched ours as they relaxed and were
Summoned home to wait for us,
Curled up and resting by the fire.
By Elizabeth Hardwick
Those with the least gift are the most anxious to receive a commission. It seems to them that there lies waiting a topic, a new book, a performance, and that this is known as material. The true prose writer knows there is nothing given, no idea, no text or play seen last evening, until an assault has taken place, the forced domination that we call ”putting it in your own words.” Talking about, thinking about a project bears little relation to the composition; enthusiasm boils down with distressing speed to a paragraph, often one of mischievous banality. To proceed from musing to writing is to feel a robbery has taken place. And certainly there has been a loss; the loss of the smiles and ramblings and discussions so much friendlier to ambition than the cold hardship of writing.
–from “Its Only Defense: Intelligence and Sparkle,” in The New York Times in 1986
Robert Frost held a special place in President Kennedy’s intellectual pantheon. Frost died in January 1963, at age 88. The following October, Amherst College held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library. Kennedy traveled to Massachusetts to deliver this speech; a month later, he, too, was dead.
(Did the headline catch your eye? Maybe pissed you off? Sorry. This is a political post, not really about poetry. But it is about poetry’s relationship to power, and how one president used to be. And how that compares to today.)
“Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.
“He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. Continue reading “The Purpose of Poetry”
A gentle reminder for July’s sales (going gangbusters!.. probably): if you meant to get a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes….” and haven’t yet, it’s available through several channels, including Barnes and Noble.
(It’s in stock at the State College (PA) B&N store near the mall, by the way. Or, you may order from B&N online and pickup at a store near you instead of home delivery.)
It’s also on Amazon, both paperback and e-Book. It is helpful if you leave a review and rating, as they use that for the algorithm to determine how visible it is. Thanks in advance. Now I can tell my marketing department I did my bit. 😉
Bulk orders for book clubs are available. Just email me with quantities and location so I can get you the discount price with shipping.
Oh, and I mentioned other channels. Your local small bookshop or library can order this one if you ask them to: ISBN: 978-1-64237-194-9
Different time zones
Different morn and night
hard to tell sometimes…
Might as well be different centuries
connected by a silver
thread so so fine
it’s hardly there
except on clear nights
when the moon is full
on the mountains, dark,
at ha’passed nine,
when the moonlight catches it just so
.and, for a minute, it hums with
a brilliant light.
“Not again,” He saw the ignition begin behind her eyes.
“God’s an amazing artist,” she said, gathering her righteous energies to spring into the “do you know Jesus? speech”.
“I just said I’d seen a sunset as though it were for the first time. Don’t make this all about you.”
“No. Just don’t. I was trying to tell you something, and you were about to use my pain to evangelize. It’s selfish. It’s unworthy of you.” Continue reading “Sunsets on Mars”
I’m happy to announce that I’ve just published (via Gatekeeper Press), “Snowflakes and Ashes: Meditations on the Temporary.” It’s still being propagated through the internet, but Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) have it up already. Distribution will also be through independent bookstores, libraries and academic users.
For now, you can take a peek at https://amzn.to/2kpYDLC
Steve Jobs said once that we can’t connect the dots of our lives looking forward. It’s only later, after the journey has a few miles on it, that one can look back and draw some conclusions and see the patterns that are usually invisible at the time. Some things we know, but some things are surprises. I wrote this out of the jumble of my own life, but have the conceit that my experiences and accidental insights are probably similar to some of yours. I hope so. (Solitary journeys can be lonely. Glad to have some company.) I’ll be posting some promo codes as soon as I get them if you can’t handle buying a book at the moment. I am gladly welcoming reviews, however.
by St. Thomas More
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to
take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.
I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.
All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.
By Robert Frost
You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.
A brief note as an update… my wife has left the hospital and transitioned to the Hospice program at home.
Some days it’s all about limitations,
And while it’s no use complaining,
That’s never stopped me before.
I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement. Continue reading “Umwelt”
Doubt is my most trusted traveling partner, that “curious questioner” who comes in the night, that voice that says what I’ve done is not what it should be, that I’m not what I should be. And it is then—out of a last-ditch, almost reluctant refusal to betray myself— that everything comes of which I am most proud.
Doubt is my friend and lover. Doubt need not be fear’d, but endured and embraced as a means to an end. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became strong enough. Strong enough…. If I can, you can, too.
I too have—
I too have—felt the curious questioning come upon me.
In the day they came.
In the silence of the night came [they] upon me
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone ho know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudged,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I cared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The world, the snake, the hog not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest. …”
—”Leaves of Grass, ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ briefs, p. 219.
I’ve been reluctant to post some personal news here, but because just disappearing without an explanation seems odd, at the least, here goes.
Starting in November, my wife started coughing, and kept coughing. A blood test and then some scans detected a tumor in her lung, and some additional spots on her spine and pelvis. Biopsies confirmed these were Stage IV lung cancer, metastasized to 5-7 spots on vertebrae, the lungs, and pelvis.
She had radiation therapy to knock back the bone pain in her back, then had one chemotherapy infusion. Within 36 hours of that, we both came down with the flu that everyone’s getting. But it hit her very hard because her immune system is severely compromised. She ended up in the hospital for the flu as one very, very sick girl, and then for the pneumonia that followed. She recovered, although unable to eat much, was at home for nine days, then pneumonia returned and then she spent another week in the hospital. She’s on a feeding tube now and is regaining her strength.
I’ve been well occupied with all of this, obviously, and thought that a few of you would appreciate knowing what’s been happening. I’ll probably be absent a lot over the next months, as what’s ahead is going to be rough. I miss writing and reading your creations, and hope to be back. Until then….
“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony. … A lot of good fiction is sentimental. … The novelist who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then he just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.”
― Jim Harrison
I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.
The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.
To this brief journey,
to this time-travel adventure,
to the utter absurdity of our
helpless leap into the future;
to all the surprises and the pain… Continue reading “Snowflakes and Ashes*”
Lazarus never smiled
after he rose from the dead.
For 30 years, until he died again,
he was haunted by the
unredeemed souls he saw
in the four days he
journeyed in the afterlife.
A pall has settled in over the two of us in Chez Hemmingplay, and on our sons and others, a pall that may turn out to be nothing at all. I’ll have more to say if it seems things have gone sideways. But by accident, a writer friend mentioned some words Joan Didion wrote in “Blue Nights.” We can share these for now.
“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”
“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
I knew a guy.
but worn down by it
to the lacy bone.
Thin, with a dry look.
Still, a light shone through
his parchment skin
like a flame through
a mica shade,
like some kind of
The brush with death
left a calling card.
“I’ll be back” it said.
“You won’t know when.”
Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.
I’ve seen it, several times,
although much later in my own life.
It’s in the eyes
of men who
all had owned real estate
on the hopeless end
of Rockbottom Drive.
I didn’t want to find out
for myself what
was behind that look, though.
My dad made sure, as
He let me visit the address once.
For a little change of pace, I’m sharing an essay I wrote for “Storyworth”, a family history/memoir project brought to me by my two sons. When I run out of gas, or they run out of questions–or both– we’ll end up with a bound hard-copy book for each of us that will be, essentially, my memoir, driven by their questions, and done one week at a time. The following is this week’s essay.
What Gives You Peace of Mind? you ask…
Well… I have to take exception to the premise of this question. At least a little. I’m not against peace of mind in general, but just that I’m not sure that ought to be the goal. Or my goal, anyway.
And I think there’s a difference between being “happy” and having “peace of mind”. And there’s also a time element on both, and on unhappiness, too: nothing seems to be permanent, good or bad.
Lemme see if I can untangle that.
I am well past my 20s,
that golden time
when I only saw a little—and even that
with optimistic eyes.
I’m past the days of cheap
apartments with friends and wine and roaches,
lentils and rice for breakfast,
or leftover cold pizza.
I’m beyond learning of
war and death and pestilence.
The visitations of grief
have marked me, too.
Gone is the luxury of
happy, uninformed innocence,
the blind and smug assurance
that comes with youth.
I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Mysteries that can’t be explained.
If I were a Beatle
the quiet one–
I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
of permanent youthfulness.
The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
only teenagers and children could.
In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”
A little reminiscing. Reposting this just because I love this song. It makes me feel good. Time to head back to NOLA soon. …
“My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word ‘water’ sound SO good. More like ‘Wahrter.’ I love y’all’s town. And the world’s FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me.”
Trying to recapture a feeling…but what do I know? I’m just a white, white boy with too many miles on the transmission who dropped in for a few days of pretend. Nah, I’m just being coo-yon. That place can get under your skin quick. I’ll be going back. Ça c’est bon Continue reading “‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’ *”