‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…’
— Jack Kerouac
It’s not known for sure if Ernest Hemingway once won a bet that he could write a short story of under 10 words, but a sort of urban legend has grown up about it. It may have come from playwright John deGroot’s 1996 play about Hemingway, “Papa”. In either case, it’s still the gold standard for brevity:
“For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
When you died on 11 February 1963, my mom was nine years old. My grandmother was your age: thirty. She’s eighty-one now, but to all of the world you still look like this:
“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”-Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
by Noel Coward
Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.
“Nothing is Lost” by Noel Coward from Collected Verse. © Graywolf Press, 2007.
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…
As some comedian once said, “Well, ain’t this a kick in the pants?”
Someone who’s a lot better at this than I, the sexy young thing who writes “The Migrane Chronicles,” just nominated this blog for the “Versatile Blogger” award. That is really gratifying. You should read her poems, you’ll see what I mean. Ripping good stuff. I think she may have a thing for older men, though. I know I have a thing for her. 🙂
I hate false modesty and humble bragging, so let me express how I feel this way:
Rules of the award: I will tell you seven things about me, and nominate 15 others.
1. I’ve thought I was a writer since I wrote a fire safety play that was performed in front of the whole school in the third grade. It was mostly “adapted” from a book my teacher gave me, but I did try to make the dialogue edgy. I added a scene about a fireman saving a puppy, which I was real proud of.
2. I sent some jokes and a short story in to the Readers Digest back in my distant childhood, and they published them. I got a check for $10. I don’t remember the jokes, but the story was about my grandfather who kept bees and chewed tobacco. Once, he forgot to tie the mask around his neck, some bees got up inside and he got a bit agitated and spewed tobacco juice all over the inside of the mesh. I thought it was funny when I was 8. Still do; that should tell you about my maturity level at age 64.
3. Oh, yeah, I’m in my sixth decade. I embrace it, but gently. I just took one of those Facebook quizzes that said my emotional age was 25. So. There. Bite me, Grim Reaper.
4. I lived overseas in high school. Two years in Karachi, Pakistan. Best experience an Ohio farm boy ever had. I visited places that were old when Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages, saw a skeleton of a soldier that had died in an attack on Mohen Jodaro 1500 years ago, and stood in the Taj Mahal. I went to high school with the greatest kids I’ve ever known. We world travelers like to hang out, you know?
5. Our flight to Pakistan was supposed to leave on Nov. 23, 1963. We got as far a Washington, DC, but stayed on for two weeks because the country was shut down following the assassination.
6. While I was staying there with my sister in Alexandria, I spent a day on my own down around the Mall. I saw men with submachine guns and shotguns lining the street. They all had skinny ties and dark suits on. Then motorcycles and a big black limo roared by at 70 mph. It was Lyndon Johnson on the way to Capitol Hill a week after the JFK killing. Later on that day I met Jimmy Stewart’s grandson and did stuff boys do. We climbed the steps of the Washington Monument. (You could do that then, especially if you were 14.)
7. I am a student of the human experience, despite having a mixed record at being human myself. I love wine and women, not necessarily in that order. I love the very idea of them, even though I’m married 43 years. (Hey, I’m married, not dead!). But everything we people do seems fascinating. I am afraid I’ll run out of time to tell all the stories I see all around me. I wonder about what it would be like to fall in love again, one more time, too. I think that’s when we feel most alive.
But the love of my life would probably kill me, which would make the experience rather brief. Still…. :-).
Nominations for other really good blogs
- Rambling Rowes
- Mike Steeden
- Must be this tall to Ride
- Blue Venice: Lost in the Midlands
- The Trouble with Kids Today
- Carrying the Gun
- Is This Gentleman Bothering You?
- Lightning Droplets
- The Wandering Poet
- A House of Pommegranates
- The Ancient Eavesdropper
- Beautiful Chaos
- The Prodigal Londoner
- The Public Blogger
No – Please
don’t bother with me.
it only hurts,
when I breathe.
It only hurts
open my eyes
that’s a lie
it hurts when I close them too.
I think of you.
don’t you see
you have hurt me.
perhaps, that’s the plan.
you’ve done well,
you are the man!
no – please,
don’t worry about me,
it only hurts
when I breathe.
Written in 2007 when I was going through a phase of intense interest in the early history of the Church, the 20 years or so after the crucifixion. Before Paul. Twenty years before the then-general-and-future-emperor Titus obliterated Jerusalem and the Temple and Judaism as it had been for more than three millennia.
Before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, too.
Those were dangerous, chaotic times for the disciples and other companions. The Jewish Temple authorities tried to suppress them, and the Romans were annoyed at any group they thought subverted good order and tax collection schedules. They killed people who annoyed them.
So…. They scattered, fearing both Rome and Jewish authorities. With good reason.There’s a whole body of legend about one of them, Mary Magdalene, including the unproven and problematic idea that she was Jesus’ wife and mother of a child, and that she was a co-equal disciple– until Jesus died, that is.
The whole story plays into the modern mutual smear campaign between men and women, and her story is used by some to say “see, those bastards have been repressing women for a looooooong time…the fascist bastards.” Personally, I think it’s a mistake to put modern interpretations on ancients, but I did become intrigued with the what-ifs: what if the legends contained some kernel of truth, including the one that said she and 40 others were set adrift on the Mediterranean on the west coast of Italy (she’d had an audience with the Emperor, pleading for justice for the proto-Christian movement) and eventually landed on the coast of Gaul, near modern-day Marseilles. This poem was an attempt to see things from her point of view, based on all the early history scholarship I could find.
The legend says she stayed in Gaul for 40 years, preaching and founding churches.
*This is my Last Testament, left here for my friends to find when they bury me among the rocks that have been my bed these many years.”
Because I was true,
My bones grind each night on bare rock, but I remember what was;
I wish that you were beside me again; the pain reminds me that you are not
And I welcome it.
In the pain and dreams, my stony bed becomes a wedding bower and I dream of times long past–of Jerusalem, and Rome and my girlhood home in Magdala.
Because I was true to You, all fell away, save a few who suffered with me in those hungry weeks on a stormy sea.
In times long ago, those I thought my friends were not, and my enemies grew numerous and cast me out with slashing lies, abandoning me on the waves in a boat with no sail or rudder—telling me I would die a worthless and forgotten failure.
And when the tides brought our starving bodies to this shore, those that knew me not walked past quickly, scowling, on the other side of the road, never knowing who it was they passed, or whose child was curled, safe at last, in my belly.
Because I was true, my enemies made the world believe my name was female sin writ large, The Harlot branded with letters of flame and shame forever; my body forsaken by other men; my words tossed aside as the rantings of a mere woman; my womb barren save the one girl child— who walks as a light in my life–and my life was seen as worthless, or dangerous, even as yours was thought to be.
Because I was true, and stood almost alone, sharing your final agony; because I and I alone saw you rise when no one else believed; because, when you were gone, and no longer protected me, those who desired only a return to the old ways finally tossed me aside and thought themselves righteous;
Because I was true I was—and remain—a nothing, a nobody, forgotten and shamed.
But I am not what the World says of me. I am nothing, a nobody, but I am not forgotten and wear my shame like a crown. I live. I know the truth and it has warmed me in this lonely cave.
Because I was true, my heart is glad; I have lost everything men value but have gained the heavens; I forgive and forget the actions of those who did not understand. I am blessed beyond measure, and lay my head on a stone every night, content and filled with gratitude. The owl calls in from the gnarled spruce in the night and the stars above the great inland sea whirl above me. My soul is one with the Infinite, and I know that this barren cave will be my grave, but can never hold me.
Because I was true…I wait with a light and singing heart.
Mary of Magdala (as I was known); the Harlot; companion of the Son of Man, and one who, for 40 years, has never forgotten what we began together.
On the southern coast of Gaul, ready to leave this life and join my soul.
Life is hard. I’ve always heard that,
But thought it had to be cinematic to be true.
You know, like it had to have a music score by John Williams and play on the big screen.
A friend decided this week to separate from her husband;
They have two small children and a house to sell.
Its winter, and the market is soft.
So, they’ll be living together there for a while, knowing
The marriage is over but unable to move on.
The screaming matches have evaporated from mutual exhaustion,
The warring parties withdraw to separate bedrooms to
Wait for Spring, for the lawyers, for a miracle.
Another’s wife had abdominal surgery,
another’s daughter is struggling with a devastating cosmetic disease,
another’s child is drifting through life, and her mother worries.
A week ago, a 96-year-old woman went through the last chapter and scenes of her life:
A stroke, a fall, pain, sedation, confusion, fear, loneliness;
Her daughter shoulders a burden she has carried before, four times,
With her husband, husband’s parents (both with dementia and in separate rooms in the nursing home) and an aunt.
Walking with them in their last ghastly hours. Sacrifice without complaint.
Then, when life seemed to offer a little
Love for her, that was taken away, too.
She found him in his home
When he failed to show up for dinner.
Life is hard.
She seemed to shrink after that.
What’s the use, her body said.
A distant acquaintance gets the flu and, through a series of
Freak accidents, breaks several toes while throwing up.
Then loses her job, just before finding out that her husband
Has been unfaithful with a teller at the local bank and it all comes pouring out,
How much he hates her. She never knew.
Months later, before the divorce is final, the last is that she learns he’s given her a little bug for a present.
Another friend is dropped during a community theater rehearsal while being carried offstage
and shatters several bones in one leg. Months of recovery and rehab and dreariness ensue.
Healing takes so much longer now.
Life. So hard.
A friend watches yet again as disease erodes the spirit of
His mate and best friend of decades.
Long nights in the darkness, wondering if her breathing
will stop this time… or this time… or this time…
He falls asleep, finally, and wakes at dawn in a panic.
Her chest is moving up and down. This day, like the others,
Will be hard. Nothing to do but get through it. Weeks need to pass.
He lays his head back on the pillow and stares at the ceiling.
Feels his advancing age and
Fears his own decay, he wants to quit, to leave.
He think about the restorative power of new love, could he have it?
But he cannot abandon his first when she needs him most.
There is no one to comfort him, no one to care for the caregiver.
No one likes a whiner. He is silent.
A shower. Helping her to the bathroom. Helping her dress. Holding her. Going to work.
These are the scenes of quiet desperation in ordinary lives. Not cinematic, not grand, not all that unusual.
These are our lives, We’re busy with our lives. Our regular lives.
Full of pain and delusion and quiet courage, full of sorrows and sins and weaknesses, too.
And if any pollster wants to check the country’s mood,
They need to find a way to measure the kind of courage it takes
To face every dawn and keep going. Meanwhile, it’s fine for us to
tell the pundits and pollsters and politicians and other vermin like them,
You need to
We’re busy with important things.
Ah. Sometimes the old stuff is still pretty good.
The complete version at the link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659
Tennyson’s Ullyses, 1842, an excerpt:
“…Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows;
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides;and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.