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Not All Days Are Today

Each goes to our own corners,

This welcome May-warm April Sunday.

My husband claims the bed,

Supine, hands crossed over belly,

Feet crossed at ankles,

A double helix at rest.

The old, skinny cat

A circle in his heated bed.

No day too warm for his frail bones,

Head resting on a catnip mouse almost

As old and skinny as himself.

I take to the couch,

Stretched into a stick

Under the window beneath the sumac,

Listening to a house sparrow whistle

Without lips.

The day shapes itself into and around us,

Resting with us into the afternoon.

The Parable Series: My Kingdom for…

Wang_Zhaojun

My student recently reminded me of one of my favorite of the Tao parables:

An old man had built up a very wealthy life, owning many fine horses, and one very fine son. One day the latch on the horse corral was left open–quite possibly by the very fine son, but we’ll let that go–and the horses all ran away. The townspeople were all so sad for the man and cried “on, how awful for you.” The old man simply said “maybe.”

A few days later, the horses suddenly reappeared and not only did they return, they brought a bunch of wild horse friends with them (you know how horses party). This meant that the man now had even more wealth because more horses, more wealth, right, not accounting for oats, etc. Now the townspeople were so happy for him: “Look how lucky you are! Not only did your horses return, you have so many more. You are such a lucky man.” And the old man simply said “maybe.”

Wild horses need to be tamed so the very fine son took on the job of teaching the wild horses to play nice. As he was trying to ride one of them, the horse reared up, throwing the very fine son off and to the ground, breaking the son’s leg in several places–a very bad break in seemingly so many ways. Once again, the townspeople cried out “oh, we are so sorry for you, old man. What terrible luck this is to have your son so injured. How terribly bad and unlucky.” And once again the old man (I wonder whether he was getting tired of the nosy townspeople by now) simply replied “maybe.”

The very next day, while the son lay incapacitated in his bed, the soldiers of the king strode into town: “The king has decided he isn’t all that pleased with the country next door and is declaring war. All able bodied young men, especially very fine ones, must report immediately for duty.”

Except for the old man’s son who was, although still very fine, not at all able bodied and was not taken off to die in the not very fine war.

My Ukrainian Jewish grandmother when asked about her health or her children or her very fine husband who was a diamond auctioneer (which meant she had a couple very fine trinkets) always just responded “eh. So-so.” Because one shouldn’t ever brag about one’s luck. What might seem a piece of good fortune one day might be a piece of dreck the next. Just ask a Mega Lottery winner. Maybe.

‘Bash It Out Now; Tart It Up Later’

Whether or not that’s really what Nick Lowe used to tell the bands he was producing, it’s an excellent method of doing…well, just about anything. So here goes, bashing:

I want to write. I want to write daily. I want to write as “the thing I do.”

I don’t want to do this because I’m a good writer. Once I might have been an ‘ok’ writer but that was in graduate school so maybe I’m just remembering the hubris of every grad student in literature. Mercifully, I didn’t save any of my writing from 40 years ago so I’ll never be able to dismay, despair or disabuse myself of this idea. No, I’m a pretty bad writer.

I don’t want to write because I get pleasure out of it. Writing sucks. Writing is hard. Writing is both torturous and tortuous because it twists my brain into the kind of little bundles socks and underwear come out of the dryer in. I hate sitting in front of a keyboard or picking up a pen whether I’m writing a blog piece, an email or a birthday card. I used to tell my students that was what made me a good writing teacher: I knew just how much they hated it and wanted it all to just go away. No, I don’t get pleasure out of writing.

I want to write because writing is there. Inside my head, thoughts are thoughts and they can grow and play and saunter around all night but they are never ‘there.’ Never within a moment; never here. Only by writing them down do they become the plum, become the juice of the time that I have right now as I dangle on the vine between the tiger above and the tiger below. I want to write because writing is being.

Sit, Black Dog, Sit

My, I have been silent a long time, haven’t I?

St_Johns_dog

The image of depression as a black dog is usually that of a Baskerville-like hound, running at the heels, biting and snapping. And yet that seems terribly active for the depressed state, one where the sufferer is more likely to simply wait to be devoured than to run away.

My black dog seems more likely to settle in at my side, head dropped on paws, unmoving and unmovable. He just sits. Is he waiting for me to make the first move so he can then spring up to block my way, stopping any forward progress I might try to make? No, I don’t think so. He knows I’m not going anywhere; he knows I don’t have the mental energy. He’s really quite content to hang with me, to be my wing man (if that’s not too confusing a metaphor for a dog). When he nestles beside me, my black dog of depression seems almost calm and friendly rather than threatening and ravening.

He sits. I sit. I do what has to be done. And when I return from those chores, he’s there, waiting and sitting. If I stumble into a burst of activity, he isn’t threatened. My black dog knows I’ll be back, that I’ll always return to him. And sit with him. And he will sit with me. Calm. Strong. Stronger than I. Lowered head, sad eyes, knowing eyes. How could I ever leave him?

Villanelle For The Black Dog (First Draft)

weepingbuddha

 

You will go through each motion, one by one,

As gentle night gives up to brutal day.

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Pull the cord of the blinds, turn your back to the sun,

Step into the shower, dissolve in the spray.

You will go through each motion, one by one.

 

“Get over yourself; go have some fun.

Can’t be depressed with a smile!” silly optimists say.

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

It’s not like you’re out buying pills or a gun.

You’ve never been one to make a display.

You still go through each motion, one by one.

 

You’ve been here before, and at least you’ve begun,

Studied the lines, know the acts of the play:

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Yes, you’ll go through each motion, one by one

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

Why Write If You Can’t Write Anything Nice

Public Domain

NaPoWriMo: Day 1. Oh, grand. I’m supposed to write a poem a day in April and I’m already out of ideas. But that never stopped me before. So I’m going to start with a short rhymed–abacadaea–piece about something I heard listening to an audio of a Alexander McCall Smith story the other day. Is it true that W.H. Auden never put a space after his commas? I haven’t tried to confirm but it’s a lovely story.

Auden, I’ve heard, never left a space

After the comma; never a pulse

After the pause. Why no trace

Of breath where breath is signified?

Was he bidding us hurry, to race

On to his next thought, his next image:

Calling on the lagging reader to embrace

His poem as he did, flying from typewriter

To page, dissonant jazz beat, staccato grace.

And yes, I did leave spaces after my commas. Mama didn’t raise me to be a copy-cat.

So, Day 1, mutilated and done.

“The time has come, the walrus said…”

Public Domain Reprint

Public Domain Reprint

Eve of NaPoWriMo. Poetry exercises done: 0. Ah, yes, the cruelest month, indeed.

My favorite book on writing poetry came from an unexpected source. I’ve been a fan of Stephen Fry since he and Hugh Laurie did their sketch comedy show on BBC and can’t read P.G. Wodehouse without his voice as Jeeves. But when I picked up a book called “The Ode Less Traveled,” I wasn’t linking the author’s name with either of those. Stephen Fry. Yes, it sounded a tad familiar but…Well, gosh dang it (as Rich Hall might say on QI, the Stephen Fry quiz show that I’m so hooked on as to not accomplish anything in my break time), the author is indeed that Stephen Fry. And I can hear his voice once again on every page.

“Ode” is not just a book about poetry or writing poetry but an exhortation to write poetry and play with poetic form–with “poetics,” in fact, the figures of speech, rhymes, rhythms. His exercises prod you to just put words on paper: but words in order, words that may rhyme or not, words that fit into the gallop of tetrameter or the Victorian flow of pentameter. And if they’re junk, well, so what. They’re your junk.

So…in that spirit. A short bit of iambic pentameter to prepare for April 1 and “a poem a day.”

The practice must begin with lines of stress

Pentameter must come before the rhyme

Let beats of rhythm pound within the breast

The planning out to come before the crime.