I’m not usually conscious
of the totality of myself
of the profound
each part of my body
limb to limb
head to toe
there’s an integrity there
it all works together
an organic machine
even if my head feels
busy and jangled
my heart remembers to beat
my organs do what
they’re supposed to do
whether I think to be
grateful to them or not
they show up, without fanfare or vanity,
silent, and ready to work.
I wrote this on March 15, 2009, while participating in a writing workshop entitled Dialoguing with the Body, led by the gifted writer and wonderful teacher, Dara Lurie. The expressive and oddly charming image I found in connection with discovering the fascinating online multimedia novel, Reconstructing Mayakovsky, by Illya Szilak.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
It’s thought of as a disease but I wonder if it isn’t a sensible approach to a frightening, hostile world. I first learned the word when I was a girl, growing up in the 1960s. My mother was keen for me to pay visits to a woman who lived eight or ten houses down the street from us. Her name was Mrs. Pia. I went to school with one of her nephews or maybe he was a grandson. Anytime I mentioned David, just to make conversation, Mrs. Pia shrugged and didn’t seem interested.
I don’t remember Mrs. Pia’s first name or anything about her, if I ever knew much in the first place. “Mrs.” offers a clue – I suppose she was a widow. She lived in a charmless bungalow that had been built in the 1920s or '30s when our street was still a dirt road. Mrs. Pia kept the drapes and shades of her house drawn. Stepping inside her house was like entering a tomb or a cave. On even the most torrid summer days, I didn’t find it peaceful, soothing, or cool. I longed to get back outside in the sunlight, in the air, away from the faintly odorous stillness of her house, which was bland and featureless inside and out. Mrs. Pia wore housecoats, faded ones. I can’t imagine what she did all day. She seemed pleased to see me when my mother would send me over, and reluctant, though not overly so, when I made noises to leave.
My mother told me that Mrs. Pia was an agoraphobe. She never leaves the house, she said. How is that possible, I asked, how does she get groceries, for example? Someone brings them to her, her son, or another relative. Why is she an agoraphobe?, I asked. My mother shrugged. So the world needs to come to her. You’ll do her good to visit, my mother said. I don’t know if this was good for me, or bad either. I dutifully paid a few visits, which I didn’t enjoy, and when I was in Mrs. Pia’s living room, or seated at her kitchen table while she dished out Entenmann’s or poured tea, I so itched to get out of there that I felt I was there under utterly false pretenses. I was ten or eleven at the time, surely a little young to be made to keep company for a lonely, non-effusive septaganerian.
I think my mother had agoraphobic tendencies, as do I, and maybe my mother knew this. Did she want me to see how a real live agoraphobe lives?
Matisse, The Red Studio. I’ve always liked this painting. My home reminds me of it, though I don’t have red walls. But my office space in the upstairs aerie is lightfilled and colorful, and I’m surrounded by comforting, pretty things as well as cheerful cats, that make me content to be home.
Agoraphobia is from the Greek – literally, “fear of the marketplace.” I’m not afraid of marketplaces. I love farmers markets, for example, stands heaped with fruits and vegetables, buckets brimming with flowers. I love looking at the wares, taking in the myriad colors and sensations, seeing the seasons progress as offerings change with each passing week.
What I don’t like is the sensation of being an object in a marketplace, to be looked over, sniffed at, inspected from all sides, viewed with suspicion, discovered to be flawed (blemished, bruised, a bit overripe), and finally either grudgingly selected, or rejected, put back, put off, disdained, or ignored entirely. Perhaps to be agoraphobic is, in a broad sense, to be uncomfortable with capitalism. I prefer to be outside of it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I've been thinking of Jackie lately. I find her very human. On Saturday at the hairdressers, catching up on fashionable print magazines, I was struck by the cover of the current Vanity Fair. It features a head shot of a young Jackie. She was already married to John, but he hadn't yet been elected President. It's a beautiful image. She has healthy and lightly tanned good looks; her expression is unabashedly forthright and at the same time dreamy and sensuous. Take me as I am.
I like to think I have an inner Jackie – a goddess aspect like hers. Whichever goddess loves nature, poetry, and refined beauty, refinement and delicacy – truth with beauty and quality, never false sentiment. Aphrodite, with a drop of Athena? Maybe.
Last night towards morning, in a groggy half-sleep I thought about what would make an ideal small dinner party. I imagined Jackie Kennedy having an intimate supper with Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.
I don’t know what conversation Jackie, Jefferson and Emily would have had. I picture Jackie at the head of a beautifully set table, with her guests on either side, dining by candlelight. Jackie smiles, her voice a murmur.
The three are kindred spirits. They revere nature, as well as high ideals. They draw strength from one another. After the meal they venture for a stroll around the Greenport Conservation Area, Jefferson in his silken threads and powdered wig, Emily dressed in white cotton, tiny as a sparrow, her hair pulled back, and Jackie, smiling. (I'm observing all this, or – heck, it’s my fantasy - Jackie stands in for me, since I can’t even pretend-imagine being confident enough to keep company with Jefferson and Emily.)
On the drive back from the preserve Jackie steers past the new Walmart consumer processing facility, sprawling and cheerless as a penitentiary, or a leveled Iraqi site, Basra on the Hudson.
Emily remains silent, but her hand flutters to her mouth.
Jackie sighs. "It's all so terribly hard on the spirit," she says, reaching to touch the lap of Emily's dress for a moment by way of comfort.
Jefferson, in back, looks out the window. He is horrified by the disfigured earth, disappointed that the divine gift of matchless landscape has been unceremoniously destroyed, especially to such wasteful and dubious purpose. All life has been removed, he thinks, nothing can grow.
But Jefferson is not altogether surprised, because he always understood that insensate, selfish forces were afoot in our country from the earliest days. They reside in each individual, to varying degrees, are played out within families, within communities, within a culture, all over the world, and between nations, over the millenia. These forces were too much for him sometimes and he’d retreat to his peaceful agrarian estate at Monticello to heal his spirit, regenerate. (Or so I imagine, having seen the series, John Adams.)
Maybe those, like Jefferson, like Emily, like Jackie, need to retreat to a protected, safe, reclusive space because they see all too clearly the brutish forces that without second thought would destroy them the same way they roll over everything that God holds dear.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It's misty in the blithy tove and a gentle rain is falling.
The peace is intermittently broken by the wail of one of the neighbors' children. Another neighbor laughs, cackling. Her partner curses several times, in exasperated fashion. His Rottweiler barks. Maybe he's bathing the dog.
The traffic on Route 9 sounds loud in the tricky atmospherics. I yell at one of my cats, Claire, to leave the frogs alone. She ambles up to the porch where I sit at a lit lantern doing a "write." She asks to be let in the house. I lean back in my chair and open the screen door. Two minutes later she asks to be let in. "I thought I just let you in." A minute later she miaows to be let out.
At least the frogs have some peace.
No, she's back at the pond.
Photo credits: my husband. The tube at the frog's head? Frogs are frabjous, don't seek the spotlight at all. It was hiding under the pump.
Friday, September 25, 2009
The river looks like the sea today, a branch of the sea, a sound. A blue jay calls. A jet sounds. The wind blows in the trees. Crickets vibrate. The jay trills. A bird flies by, squawking. A down comforter of clouds settles on the slate blue hills. The river is steel grey and in between is a thick lozenge of dark forest, lit in places as the float of clouds inches by. A freight train passes south. The mountains recede far into the distance, like images repeating smaller and smaller in a mirror. The rails are brown, and the wetland grasses are tan and green and move in the wind, like “amber waves of grain.” I am here at the Hudson, but I’m reminded of the golden light of the Sound in eastern Connecticut, the salt marsh and the rail line from New Haven to Westerly, the grey rippling Sound and the trees beginning to turn, my wool plaid skirt the color of the trees, brown, moss green, and amber, with flecks of the colors of fall flowers, two shades of lavender aster, and goldenrod, and my cream sweater the color of Queen Anne’s lace.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
On Monday, President Obama was in Troy, NY, which is about 25 miles north of my house, to give a speech on innovation, education, and the economy at Hudson Valley Community College. the 12534, a wonderful and indispensable blog devoted to All Things Hudson, marked the event with a post. That evening as I recollected my impressions I felt inspired to leave a comment, and the following morning the 12534's webmaster, North Fifth Street, gave it the Comments Ahoy treatment (ever an honor!) and made it into a separate post. Since I've now started this blog, where I intend to gather leaves that otherwise I tend to scatter all over the place (and ultimately lose track of for myself), I'm taking the liberty of reprinting my accidental poem here. I trust you don't mind, Mr. North Fifth Street - and thank you for the title, as well as for the idea of the perfect accompanying image (now, that idea I am shamelessly stealing).
I was in my kitchen and watched his speech. I loved how he thanked "whoever organized the weather."
Afterward, daily life transpired in my home, during which I shut off the TV.
Then I was back in the kitchen, and turned the TV back on. It was a live-shot of Air Force 1 leaving Albany International. The blue behemoth seemed to lumber, then improbably take off. I crossed my fingers as the anchors mindlessly blathered.
That thing looks heavy.
Just north of Hudson I watered the garden, let lunch wait until maybe I saw the plane fly overhead, or on the horizon.
Minutes passed and we speculated.
How'd he go down to NY or Washington - via Chicago?
And where are the escorter jets?
Finally, 20 minutes later, a jet streaked solo, so so so so high up in the big blue sky.
Written on Sunday at a "plein air" creative writing workshop, led by Kathe Izzo, on the grounds of Olana. Kathe shared with us an excerpt from Plant Spirit Medicine, by Eliot Cowan, and a repeated phrase in the piece resonated with me as we moved to the next exercise. Kathe fanned a deck of Tarot cards on the table and asked the participants (about a dozen adults on a beautiful afternoon) to select a card and to go outdoors in the fresh air to write whatever thoughts, observations, associations that might come to mind.
I select a card from the spread Tarot deck. “We can do nothing unless we are asked.” Vampires cannot come in unless they are invited. I think, I’m not a self-starter – it takes a gentle group like this to get me writing.
My card. A black-cloaked figure – like a vampire! But it’s not one. I think the figure is female, the hair is pulled back in what in one glimpse might be a bun. (Just now I’m interrupted by a little chipmunk that comes up beside me – I give it some apple from my purse. Possibly against the rules, but I’m into interspecies communication these days.)
Back to the figure: Emily Dickinson, I think, though she wore white. But she’s dead now, of course, on the other side – so perhaps she wears a black cloak of death. Emily and ecstasy – her poetry is ecstatic – it is in that state that she apprehends nature and forms it into a pellet-poem. Like Gertrude Stein’s “cows” – the odd code word for orgasm. (But I’m not thinking of Gertrude Stein, and certainly not of Alice B. Toklas.)
Emily. Her back is towards me and her shoulders are bent, her face hidden. She is erect, but I have a sense of loss, of mourning. I feel that she cannot turn to show me what she has come down to water’s edge to show – unless I ask her. She can do nothing until she is asked, like a muse who is present only when she is invoked.
I imagine stepping into the card, crossing the yellow desert to Miss Dickinson. She turns to me as I approach and her face is kind, relieved to have been freed from her suspended state. She extends her arm to me, beckons me to the shore, and her face lights as she finds someone who is interested in learning what she sees, seeing through her eyes, ready to stand with her, hand in hand, as the tidal water flows forever under the bridge and the ancient Castle of Olana beckons like an improbable throne.
I take daily walks in the vicinity of my home near Hudson, New York. On fogbound mornings the edges of woods and fields transform into veritable galleries of amazing spider webs. I am in awe of their sturdy gossamer architecture, displayed against a verdant backdrop in the opalescent light. The webs are strung on impromptu frames, between the thumb and fingertips of a skeletal twig, for example, or within a tiny garland of shriveled leaves. I examine some closely and am surprised at their sculptural quality - they're not always 2D, but rather astonishingly parabolic, suggesting to me a microcosm, a model of the very structure of the universe. (The answers are everywhere, right before our eyes!) I am aware that these webs have a deadly purpose - but this fly is transfixed merely by their beauty. From the perspective of the human beholder, the beauty is gratuitous - a gift, held in outstretched fashion - and for that I am delighted, humbled, and grateful. In homage to these industrious arachnids (self-effacing too - for I see only the evidence, rarely the maker), and with a nod to the feminine art of lacemaking, here I offer my own tatted webs - my thoughts, inspired by nature, spun as best I can into poetic prose.