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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.

 

Zen and the Art of Writing Bad Poetry

003After many months away from this blog, I’m coming back to torment my followers by making this my site for National Poetry Writing Month in April. I’m hoping to start doing some practice work here over the next few weeks. And, no, not all my poems for April will be related to Mindfulness, Buddhism, Qi Gong, etc. but some may well turn out that way.

I love “form” poetry (as opposed to “free verse”), so I’m going to try to write in as many different forms as I can, from villanelles to haikus to, maybe, even a limerick. No promises that I’ll get in a poem a day. My grand word total for National Novel Writing Month–where the goal was 50,000 words–was just over 4000. But I did get a nifty little start on a mystery about a meditation retreat that I called “Being With Nothingness.” Maybe I’ll return to it someday.

Thus begins my scribbling.

Kuan Yin: Beyond Human

The Subject As A Younger Boy

The Subject As A Younger Boy

He’s lying in the sun, breath heavy and fast, sides shrunken, bones of the chest and neck showing through the skin, backs of the ears and the toes almost hairless now. Just an old cat suffering from age and pain and a host of ailments. “Just put him down,” people tell me especially after they hear I have to clean up his feces several times a day and live with puppy training pads on my bedroom floor because that’s the only way to keep him from urinating on the carpet.

Only one room still has carpet, in fact. He ruined all the rest so we’ve replaced it with hardwood, an oddly beautiful gift he’s given me through his feline dementia. And he still climbs onto my lap while I write, sleeps by my side at night, meets me at the door with his companion cat, who doesn’t understand why there are no wrestling matches every day.

My husband would be relieved to see him go–as I would be much of the time–but has come to understand and accept why we go on with him: not because I can’t bear to part with him but because he still has a pure enjoyment in much of life. I feel I need to respect and support that in an old cat no less than I would in any person.

Yesterday, I bought a new scratch pad laced with cat nip (which I’ve been referring to as “medical cat nip”) and he scratched and rolled and rubbed his cheek on it, then plowed through a bowl of cat food to satisfy the “munchies.” And as we ate dinner, this old arthritic boy came barreling down the hall top speed, startling his companion, and stretching his paws up onto the cat perch. This is not a cat ready to “go gently.” And I feel I need to respect that as well.

We don’t go to extraordinary measures to keep him alive. He’s off almost all medication because the drugs for one illness just make another worse. And he gets to eat the cheap grocery store cat food he loves rather than the “special diet” that is supposed to make him feel better. He’s in hospice with us. We just want to give him comfort.

I will respect his right to die when his quality of life degrades or he is in pain. But I will also respect and show compassion for his delight in life until then, this old, skinny, balding orange tiger. Even as I clean up his latest gift.

Age and Ache

003

 

When I was young, if I was young, I believed the lies about how age creeps up on you, setting in like a fog, oozing into your pores a bit at a time. I also believed Sandburg when he said that the fog comes in quietly “on little cat’s feet.” Well, neither the fog not the fog of age comes on  quietly, not creeping, not oozing.

No, age leaps from hiding in the innocent branch of the willow and rips out the throat of your youth, fierce tiger, not gentle kitten. While I waited for the tiny lines, each signaling some new wisdom, the tiger raked its claws across my forehead in the night leaving deep gullies and yet no new wisdom. One morning, your skin is soft; the next hard and dull. As you dance one night away in heels and silk, you have no prescience that by morning your feet will only tolerate flats and that the bulky cotton sweater you saved from your last husband will now become your daily uniform.

I was going to be a star. I would write a vibrant dissertation that would astound my profs. Or find my voice at last and sing blues in smoky taverns. Maybe Christie-like disappear into Egypt to dig dinosaur bones. Age had other ideas. While I painted myself as the Renaissance Man, moving from dabbling first at academia, then at business, then on again like a bored but broke Gatsby, I missed that really I just wasn’t meant to be the star. While refusing to settle down, I settled sideways, never up.

There would always be time.

The tiger had other ideas.

No wiser, just older.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

 

T. S. Eliot “Prufrock”