By Sharon Olds
I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.
by Jane Kenyon
How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge….The reeds
Continue reading “Walking Alone in Late Winter”
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
The nice people at Spillwords (and I know some of you are published there, too) have published “The Tunes of Life”, this morning. The link is below, and a visit and a vote would be awesome! (I’m offering a bucket of half-tone dots in a drawing later–and that will only make sense to those who served time as ink-stained wretches in the past.)
Meanwhile, “The Swan” was voted poem of the month recently, so I’m having a little trouble being my normal humble self. I’m sure I’ll get a flat tire or bounce a check or something today to bring me back to reality any minute now. But at the moment….. 🙂
Someone asked today if I remembered
My happiest time.
I thought of the usual ones you’re supposed to say:
The birth of children, First love.
All happy times, and each different.
But this time the question brought back a different memory.
Forty-six years ago yesterday, it was.
Two poor college students, we married in a year of great turmoil,
Packed an old van and headed to the ocean.
This was the year the Beatles broke up,
And Janis and Jimmy died.
The year Ohio National Guard troops killed four students at Kent State.
The year Gabriel García Márquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude,
And a U.S. stamp cost six cents.
The year Nixon invaded Cambodia.
We hardly planned anything, and were lucky we
Remembered to pack the tent and sleeping bags.
We were into winging it, letting the flat side drag in those days.
But we did have a tent and bedding. And what little I remembered
Of survival from growing up hunting and fishing on a farm,
And being a Boy Scout, which I still am, I suppose.
I told my new bride I knew enough.
It was the first time I felt like a man, like a husband,
The first time I felt responsible.
It would be fun, I said, hoping I wasn’t lying.
What a honeymoon. But it was just fine with us. We didn’t want more.
She’d never seen the ocean.
I got to show it to her as my wedding gift.
We got sunburn floating on rubber inflatable mattresses in the surf, and
Fished for crabs with chicken necks on string and a net,
We cooked them on the beach with Sterno and a dented camp pot.
She got sick at the sight of the crab guts, and doubted my supposed skills.
But we passed the days together, free as children,
Brand-new adults, wondering at our good luck.
We didn’t starve, learned how to
Cook on an open fire,
And stayed in the shade of the campground’s
Tall, dry pines and rhododendron bushes,
Falling asleep to the sound of the surf
That hissed and fretted just over the dunes.
Fooling the heat and humidity by not moving more than necessary.
Ducking into the little tent when it rained.
We were in that tent a lot that trip.
And all we had was a deck of cards and each other.
There in that little tent.
Forty-six years ago yesterday.
That was my happiest time.
We made love often, with no where else to go,
No limits on our imaginations,
Getting sand everywhere and
Working around it with determination,
We talked until dawn sometimes,
Made love when we ran out of words,
Strolled the beach at first light.
It rained every day, sometimes for hours.
And there we were, hoping for rain,
Thinking about getting back in that tent.
God, we were young.
We laughed like kids who broke into the candy store, and thought that
None of the other campers knew what were were getting up to
In that little tent,
in the rain,
in the heat and mosquitoes
All those years ago
And I remember the first time,
In the moonlight,
When you stood before me
Shy, uncertain, serene,
While I tried to start breathing,
Soaking in the sight of you
With your gown fallen, body free.
All these years, as you leaned in
Asking me to find the music,
To clumsily compose songs of our life,
Teaching me how it should go,
With you as the instrument upon which
Our song would be played.
Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.
“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003. (buy now)
Every year it happens.
We’re awash in forced romance, urged to buy cards and chocolates
For the one we should be doing this for every day.
Never mind, we say again. It’s not for us.
After 47 years together we look at each other
And shake our heads, like we do every year.
We made a pact, decades ago, to ignore this phony “holiday.”
Instead, we tend to go quiet as we remember what it really
Took to be able to still look at one another with
Respect and deep affection and a simple gratitude that
It wasn’t any harder than it was.
We feel like those who’ve been through combat do,
Stripped of all illusions and gauzy sentiments.
We’ve survived the testing of souls, when so many haven’t,
And still treasure a deep, seasoned, clear-eyed love.
How hard it was…
“For better or worse,” and there was plenty of “worse”.
We don’t have any secret solution,
Just a fundamental comfort in still being able to look
Across the room at the other and say
“At least she’s not like that friend of hers from college,
The one I almost ended up with, the one that exuded
Sex from every pore. Who danced naked at a concert once and became a Scientologist
And took too many tabs of LSD. Who, after three husbands
And two women partners, is living alone with her ghosts in a one-bedroom
Mobile home on a scrubby street in California,
Just in those trees, over there, behind the tire store,
Feeding her 7 cats and talking to Jim Morrison and a
Retired blackjack dealer two doors down.
That’s not very romantic, but after all this time,
After all the things life throws at you,
It’s something to still be able to look across the room
And say “Yes. This has been good.”
One day you’re thinking about ordinary things,
Groceries, taxes, walking the dog, the upcoming weekend,
Problems a friend is having, plans to celebrate a graduation,
Finances, cleaning out the garage,
And all the plans… trips we wanted to take,
Places to finally see, places we put off seeing
Until the kids were launched, happy, safe.
Then we hear thunder over the horizon,
Like the pounding of many hooves,
And the sky darkens, the air grows cold, the sun loses all warmth.
The pounding, the thunder, the messengers’ announcement
Comes up through your feet, sinks into your bones, and you know what it is.
Fear grips your heart, you clutch each other in silent recognition.
Again. Again. Not again.
Plans change in the instant, one one phone call,
Plans are such feeble things, rattled so easily
And so effortlessly by the sound of thunder,
Thudding hooves coming this way, and there is no escape.
Let me hold you tight, whisper in your ear the words I dreaded
I’d say again: “I’ve got you. I’m here. We have to saddle up again. The thunder is coming.
The hurricane will be upon us soon. There isn’t much time.”
I hope the author won’t mind me sharing this here, especially since I do it because she’s come up with an unexpected and fresh image or two, and that’s a hard thing to do. That last line is a surprise that hides some troubled days in the past, I suspect. There will be plenty of cloying and sweet sentiments flying about, and Hallmark will make a killing, in any case. (I put the link where you can buy her book. There’s that, too. 🙂 )
by Carol Ann Duffy
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
“Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy, from Mean Time. © Anvil Press, 2004. (buy now)
I’m dealing with three things at once. I’m feeling a little guilty about it, too.
One is that we’re getting ready for a party tomorrow. Superficially, it’s to celebrate a wedding anniversary and a retirement (her’s, not mine yet, dammit) and an excuse to go to the wine store. But really, it’s just a big ol’ wet kiss to the fact that we’re both still alive. It always comes down to that for all of us in the end, you know.
But the advice to finish what you start applies to the writing work. I am working on the book. I haven’t been talking about it, because i found out that if I was talking, I wasn’t writing. But I haven’t done much yesterday and won’t today.
Yesterday was due to the third thing, which is the aftermath of that annoying little blood clot in a tiny part of my brain that is still making itself felt. Yesterday was a day it was making itself felt, and I wasn’t able to get out of the chair much. Today I feel great. It seems to go like that. So today is party prep, tomorrow is the party, and then “Running Girl” is going to feel my hands all over her again.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t wait. 🙂
44 years married, 46 together. And CSN is still the best. 🙂
(Sorry about the ad, but you can skip it 10 seconds in.)
For women out there who talk about “bad hair days”, I’ve got another for slightly better days:
It’s the “I look pretty good from afar” day.
In case you missed it, that was a joke. Seriously, we think you look fabulous even when stumbling to the bathroom in that ridiculous flannel shirt in the morning. Do you really think we judge you as harshly as you do yourselves?
Correct answer: Nope.
By my favorite humorist, Dave Barry. I’m old enough, and married long enough, to certify that this nails it down, tapes it shut and puts a bow on it. Each side is charmingly, sweetly nuts in its own ways.
Let’s say a guy named Fred is attracted to a woman named Martha. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.
And then, one evening when they’re driving home, a thought occurs to Martha, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: “Do you realize that, as oftonight, we’ve been seeing each other for exactly six months?”
And then, there is silence in the car.
To Martha, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he’s been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I’m trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn’t want, or isn’t sure of.
And Fred is thinking: Gosh. Six months.
And Martha is thinking: But, hey, I’m not so sure I want this kind of relationship either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I’d have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily towards, I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?
And Fred is thinking: …so that means it was…let’s see…February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer’s, which means…lemme check the odometer…Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.
And Martha is thinking: He’s upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I’m reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed – even before I sensed it – that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that’s it. That’s why he’s so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He’s afraid of being rejected.
And Fred is thinking: And I’m gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don’t care what those morons say, it’s still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It’s 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.
And Martha is thinking: He’s angry. And I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can’t help the way I feel. I’m just not sure.
And Fred is thinking: They’ll probably say it’s only a 90-day warranty…scumballs.
And Martha is thinking: Maybe I’m just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I’m sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.
And Fred is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I’ll give them a warranty. I’ll take their warranty and stick it right up their…
“Fred,” Martha says aloud.
“What?” says Fred, startled.
“Please don’t torture yourself like this,” she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. “Maybe I should never have…oh dear, I feel so…”(She breaks down, sobbing.)
“What?” says Fred.
“I’m such a fool,” Martha sobs. “I mean, I know there’s no knight. I really know that. It’s silly. There’s no knight, and there’s no horse.”
“There’s no horse?” says Fred.
“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” Martha says.
“No!” says Fred, glad to finally know the correct answer.
“It’s just that…it’s that I…I need some time,” Martha says.
(There is a 15-second pause while Fred, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)
“Yes,” he says. (Martha, deeply moved, touches his hand.)
“Oh, Fred, do you really feel that way?” she says.
“What way?” says Fred.
“That way about time,” says Martha.
“Oh,” says Fred. “Yes.” (Martha turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)
“Thank you, Fred,” she says.
“Thank you,” says Fred.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Fred gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a college basketball game between two South Dakota junior colleges that he has never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it’s better if he doesn’t think about it.
The next day Martha will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification.
They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it either.
Meanwhile, Fred, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Martha’s, will pause just before serving, frown, and say: “Norm, did Martha ever own a horse?”
And that’s the difference between men and women.
On a beach somewhere
A flash of thigh, a sigh,
Sidelong glances, mysterious smile,
Hints of pleasure,
Share glimpses of your heat:
Is this revelation of desire?
Or wrinkles in the mirror,
Dame Mortality slithering near,
Beside you, mocking?
The old tricks don’t work as they did,
Do they? A cold stab of fear.
I’ve felt it too. We all do.
Let me see your secret selves
The parts you don’t like
And the parts you do.
I can already see them, but
It doesn’t matter to me. But you
Need to quit pretending
They matter to you.
Then let’s take it from there, shall we?
We’ll sit on a beach and watch the sunrise,
Dig our toes in the sand,
Sing our sad songs one last time,
Let the gulls and crabs scavenge them.
So the healing can come in
With the tide.
by Cecilia Woloch
How do people stay true to each other?
When I think of my parents all those years
in the unmade bed of their marriage, not ever
longing for anything else—or: no, they must
have longed; there must have been flickerings,
stray desires, nights she turned from him,
sleepless, and wept, nights he rose silently,
smoked in the dark, nights that nest of breath
and tangled limbs must have seemed
not enough. But it was. Or they just
held on. A gift, perhaps, I’ve tossed out,
having been always too willing to fly
to the next love, the next and the next, certain
nothing was really mine, certain nothing
would ever last. So faith hits me late, if at all;
faith that this latest love won’t end, or ends
in the shapeless sleep of death. But faith is hard.
When he turns his back to me now, I think:
disappear. I think: not what I want. I think
of my mother lying awake in those arms
that could crush her. That could have. Did not.
“On Faith” by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © BOA Editions, 2003.
A note. I post a mixture of things from other blogs and sources, and while this is kind of raw, it is a poignant account.
This past weekend we took a little family vacation and went dog sledding with our son, Wyatt. We had a great time and it is a family memory we will have forever. As we create new family memories with our son, we do so without the fourth member of our family. Olivia, our beautiful daughter, is an angel in Heaven. She is forever 20 months and 3 days old.
As we experience life with Wyatt we know that these new memories don’t include his twin sister. She is always in our hearts and our thoughts but it’s not the same. As we were pulled through the trail by the pack of beautiful dogs I kept thinking we are missing one. Olivia would absolutely love this! She would have thought it was hysterical to see the dogs playing and how excited they were. She would have thought the cold was funny…
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Note: This was written a while ago, in the depths. Since this one, last June there was a fourth (3 were breast cancers). Like all the other times, she came through it OK.
Three cancers, different each time.
I watched you climb the stairs, two steps,
Then a pause, a rest, then on up like that.
Your stubborn courage gave me courage.
If you could do it, so could I.
We were so innocent, once, you and I,
Young and Beautiful. But since then
Death has taken a seat at the table,
Waiting to be fed.
We learned to ignore him, mock him,
But he doesn’t care. He gets us all in the end.
Hard lesson: accept that, but never surrender.
Can I keep going,
Keep plugging along, keep a happy thought?
I am so tired.
It just wears a person down, and I’m not even the sick one.
My burden is hidden to everyone but me.
At times like this, I just want someone to turn back the clock
And let me be a child again, scampering off to play
And jump in rain puddles until I’m called into supper.
I’ll just have a glass of wine and write a few words.
It’s all I have, all I can do.
There’s always tomorrow.
We just have to make it through the nights. The nights…
Do women dream differently than men? Researchers from the University of Montreal plunged into the gendered unconscious in a new study forthcoming from the journal Sleep. Their focus: nightmares, defined as dreams intense and disturbing enough to wake you up. (An unpleasant reverie that doesn’t rouse you is simply a bad dream.) The study uncovered a trove of captivating facts about nightmares in general—that they prove “more bizarre” and “less rational” than regular dreams, that they don’t necessarily provoke fear. (About one-third of these nocturnal ordeals instead breed sadness, confusion, guilt, or disgust.) But of special interest to me was the discovery that nightmare themes often vary by gender.