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Dark, Terrifying Places, and What I Learned from Leonora Carrington, Mina Loy, Lorine Niedecker and Emily Dickinson

 

To know that human beings can do evil to each other almost breaks my faith over and over again. The almost is pivotal. Part of faith is doubt and to face this is important. The paradox of beauty and terror is something I wrestle with on a regular basis. This seeming impossibility of two powerful forces calls into question all of my beliefs about humankind. To accept that there are people who can do such horror is beyond comprehension, but also, I am drawn to trying to understand.

 

For me, it was learning about the Holocaust that triggered the all-too-human terror that exists in all of us. The specific trigger is important up to a point. What matters and what lights our way along this very dark path of navigating fear is that we all feel this, we all struggle with mindless horror, and our stories all contain a memory, a trauma, an experience that stays with us throughout our lives and makes us confront our startling vulnerability and mortality. How we move through this fear, this grief, this anger, this desire for things to be different than they are defines us—we develop survival mechanisms, avoidance techniques, addictions, and also courage, strength and a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of the human race on this earth at this time.

 

Just before beginning my adolescence, I found out about the Holocaust. Not only did I find out about this horrific history, it was told to me in a barbaric and traumatic way that would haunt me for the better part of my adolescence and twenties. I was away from home for the first time, at summer camp. That same summer, my best friend decided to be best friends with another girl in our grade and left me alone, lonely and alienated, during this time when I desperately needed comfort and love. The fear and despair this all instilled in me was potent, a deep trauma that I have spent a lifetime healing. There was something of that fear that became a fear of being who I am inside, deeply, as a human being, as a living creature. This was my first intimacy with suffering.

 

For most of my pre-adolescence and into my teenage years and my twenties, I was obsessed with tragedy. I read countless books about the Weimar Republic and World War II, looked at photographs that Lee Miller took after the war, read about families that saved other families, tried to understand how this genocide of so many could happen. This dovetailed with my fascination with and adoration of tragic heroines, those women who suffered at the hand of fate and created art that was so beautiful, it set the world on fire. The fire was bright and its sparks cascaded down to earth in a silent parade of the invisible, of those who were erased, who disappeared and then reemerged in a torrent of color and dream, pain transformed into beauty.

 

Leonora Carrington’s paintings and life encapsulated all of this, her and Max Ernst’s tragic love and the deepest suffering that she bore and couldn’t bear anymore and went mad and then lived a long, long, long life after tragedy and the war, during which she continued to make sculptures and paint and set the world on fire with her beautiful creations, with her beauty. I bought tons of gorgeously plated art books on the women Surrealists and read the work of the male Surrealists, because at that time, I couldn’t get my hands on the women’s work. Then I discovered Mina Loy, who shone like a newly discovered planet in the solar system. She was my lighthouse through my twenties. She also had a tragic love life.

 

This obsession of mine with women artists who all seemed to have tragic love lives started with Emily Dickinson, whose love life can be seen as tragic, but that is not the way I see it. She made a decision to remain unmarried at a time in which that was virtually unheard of and created her life around her passion. This is not tragic. So first there was Dickinson, then Loy, bringing me to a center of my soul I had never known before. They made their own language. Then there was Carrington, whose characters and surreal settings in her paintings were like the images in my imagination and dreams. They were my soul mates and guides at a time when I did not know either of those existed.

 

In my second stint at college, I read Lorine Niedecker. Her poems and life story hit me the hardest. I cried my way through the entire semester, reading her poems, so bare and lonely and real. There was a truth in them that I had never confronted, that love and loneliness go together, that we are all alone in our deepest struggles, and that nature feels this with us, feels this for us. And that words are incantations, calling forth the hidden spheres with their music and plea.

 

Natural Light

 

These women taught me how to be myself. They taught me that feeling pain is okay. That there is beauty in the world and in the darkest times. This saved me and continues to save me. Being able to write and draw (I drew many pictures of trees and birds, sitting alone and quiet in the woods) and have hope was life-affirming and strengthened me in ways I didn’t even know at the time.

 

I think about how all of these women had tragic love lives. The four women I admire most in the world of art and language. Does that mean anything? In my time now, I don’t think so. But I used to. Those definitions of being a woman artist. What does that mean for your personal life? I used to think it meant a lot of things, including the necessity to endure pain and live a life of extended monologue superimposed on passionate dialogue, neither of which were clear or understandable. I used to think it meant being alone. At the same time, I thought it meant having an intense love affair that included bonding on a bone-soul level so that our bodies and hearts and minds were subsumed ecstatically in each other. This electric bonding happens, chemical, whatever else bonds one to another in passion.

 

Now things have evened out—I trust myself to be in a committed relationship with a man without losing myself. This has been hard-won. Crazy hard-won, as the forces exerted on women and men to lose themselves are volcanic and atmospheric. And human. What it has taught me above all is that I can survive and endure, feel deep pain and face the world, myself and others, with truth and courage. And that I can make beauty out of all of it.

 

The darkest time in my life led me to discovering the deepest beauty and courage and hope. There is hope in our actions, in our creations, in our compassion and love.

 

I have no answers to the paradoxes. I have learned to balance opposing forces for small amounts of time, struggling with them, accepting them, fighting against the darkness, entering the darkness. I have trained myself to keep coming back to that part of myself that tells me the truth. What am I feeling right now? Is this true? This is core awareness, the center of my daily life. Within this is love and washing dishes and feeling lonely and feeling cranky and being mad and ecstatic and in love and the outside world and the inside world and writing and lights.

 

All of it matters. The strange beauty and terror of life right now, right where we are.

 

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This is part 2 of a series. 

2

The infected root canal was a ridiculously minor trigger, but as a tipping point it definitely had its precedents.

On May 25th, 2010 (the same day I had a flarf poem published in the Wall Street Journal —  yes, a flarf poem in the Wall Street Journal!) I received news that my Fulbright Specialist candidacy was about to move to the next, much-desired, level: a school had requested me.  I would be teaching in a small town in Russia called Orsk, on the border of Kazakhstan, thirty miles west of Siberia.  On my original grant application I was asked to pick two global areas where I’d prefer to teach, and I chose Eastern Europe and Asia.  Teaching in Orsk would be a dream gig because of its location on the Ural River, across which stretched a famous bridge with signage indicating “Europe” on the western side and “Asia” on the eastern.  I was ecstatic, and started making preparations, even though I wouldn’t be traveling for a year: I researched Orsk, Siberia, got a Rosetta Stone Russian course, began formulating my lecture series and started drinking vodka to raise my admittedly wimpy (for a writer with an Eastern-European ancestry) tolerance for the “little water.”

By September, though, the details of the gig began to get convoluted and the preparations frustrating.  First, the date of my teaching stint, agreed upon by the school and myself, had to be moved up (the wording on the grant summary regarding the start date wasn’t very clear), and so instead of traveling to Orsk in April, I’d be going in mid-February — yes: almost-Siberia in February.  Next, my travel agent refused to sell me a plane ticket because she didn’t think flying over the Ural Mountains in the dead of winter on a regional airline she’d never heard of before was safe.

“And they just had that big Aeroflot disaster,” she whispered, “right over the Urals . . .”

Her voice put the fear in me for the first time.  It felt like a cold fluid moving quickly up my spine and spreading out inside my brain – the first presentiment of the anxiety that would soon take over my life.  I seriously decided (for about ten seconds) that I would tell my American program officer, Alice, that I couldn’t reschedule for February because my school wouldn’t allow it.  But who turns down a Fulbright?  Riddled with anxiety but determined, I explained the situation to the school, and found a Russian travel agent by half-jokingly asking the students in my fiction workshop (on the day that a tornado touched down in Brooklyn, by the way), “Anybody know a good Russian travel agent?”  Not only did someone have a ready answer, but the agent she knew turned out to be a practicing Buddhist.  I had taken refuge as a Buddhist the year before, after my sister’s death, and so I figured this was a sign — not only would everything work out, it would work out Buddhistically!   But it took the agent, Izabell, a week and a half just to get a purchase confirmation for the plane tickets — she’d actually tried to buy them when she was in Moscow — and I spent my 50th birthday anxious and worried that the whole thing might fall through, but trying not to dwell on it because I was on a three-day silent retreat at a Zen monastery with my husband.  Things got even more complicated when I got back: my Russian program officer, Natalya, mentioned in an email that the school I was to teach at, a local branch of a state university, hadn’t gone through the proper channels or done the proper paperwork to procure a Fulbright Specialist, and that was why, a month before my scheduled departure, the “Letter of Invitation,” which I needed in order to apply for a business visa, still hadn’t arrived.   Visa processing, I learned, could take up to eighteen business days, and the Russian Embassy would be closed for the first two weeks of January, for Orthodox Christmas.  Natalya told me not to wait, but to just go ahead and apply for a tourist visa instead.  “At least it’ll get you into the country,” she wrote in an email.  I took her advice, but when the school found out I had a tourist and not a business visa they said I couldn’t legally teach  — or even stay — on the campus.  When I put the emails between Natalya and my contact at the school in Orsk through Google Translate (Natalya hadn’t bothered to delete them) I discovered the only place I’d be allowed to stay legally was “the infirmary” of the campus sports complex. I’d already spent a considerable sum on warm clothes appropriate for a Russian winter (not reimbursable by Fulbright) and the Rosetta Stone course (also not covered).  And then there were the five months spent researching and writing my ten lectures on “What American Literature Shares With the World”  — and how was that time to be adequately reimbursed?  When the letter of invite finally did arrive — a week before my departure — David suggested that I say nothing about it; if they didn’t know I had it, I wouldn’t have to go.  But, again: who turns down a Fulbright?

“I’ve known you for twenty years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen you this anxious. I thought this was supposed to be a positive experience.  Are you just doing this to have something to put on your CV?”

At this point, yes, I thought, as there certainly was no joy left in the project.  On the other hand, I didn’t want my five months of preparation to be for naught, so I applied for the expedited $350 business visa (also not covered by Fulbright, per policy), which wouldn’t be ready until the day before my departure.  Izabell, sensing how stressed-to-the-breaking-point I was, suggested that I go with her to her weekly meditation session and dharma talk with a well-known expatriate Tibetan monk, Pema Dorje, on the Lower East Side.  I agreed, and we met for dinner before the session at an Indian restaurant on First Avenue.

I’d never met Izabell, only talked to her on the phone.  She had a soft, measured, thoughtful voice.  And so it was a delightful surprise when a gorgeous, dark-haired woman my age (her birthday, in fact, fell on the same day as my sister’s death), entered the restaurant in a swirl of beige and ivory wool scarves and delicious perfume, and embraced me like a long-lost friend.

“I was thinking,” she said as we sat down, “when I was driving here — and I drive from New Jersey, so I have lots of time to think — that I just do not understand why you’re having so much trouble with this.  When I travel to Russia with my husband — he’s American — they treat him like the Dalai Lama or something.  They fall all over themselves trying to outdo each other to make an impression on him.  And this is a government agency?  There’s something wrong here.  Can you back out?  Or will you lose all your money?”

“At this point,” I said, “I don’t even care about the money.  It’s the time.  I have literally spent every day — almost all day — for five months writing these lectures.  I can’t just give up, with all that behind me.  I could’ve been writing other things.  But there I was, you know?”

She sat back in her chair, and looked at me intently through narrowed eyes.

“Okay, listen: after the dharma talk, and when the meditation is concluded, I’m going to introduce you to Pema and we’re going to ask his advice.  He is very wise.  He’ll tell you what to do.”

The dharma talk took place on the third floor of an unprepossessing walk-up on First Avenue and Second Street, next to a McDonald’s.  Who knew that secreted away in that dull grey building with the fire escape on the front was a shrine room decorated with icons and thangka paintings, a tall, golden altar at its center? As I got comfortable on a cushion on the floor next to Izabell, seven or eight people came in, greeted each other with bows, settled onto their meditation cushions and waited until tiny Pema Dorje entered and began the session.  After the meditation we chanted prayers, and then Pema gave a light-hearted talk about the significance of the night’s new moon.  When the session concluded, Izabell took me by the hand and introduced me to him — he was no taller than my shoulder — and explained my situation.

“Ah, you know,” he laughed, mischievously, “we always fear our obstacles, don’t we?  We want to fight them — overcome them!  But our obstacles are also there to teach us.  You understand?”

“Yes,” came a deep male voice from somewhere behind me, “obstacles have often saved my life.  Pay attention to your obstacles.”

“That’s right,” a woman said, from another corner in the room.  “Your obstacles are serving you.”

Again, the cold fear up my spine.  But still, and even against the advice of a monk (and everyone else in that room, it seemed), I remained determined.

At the eleventh hour, the school in Orsk generously agreed to pay for my expedited visa, and as our plane skimmed a patch of very Russian-fairy-tale-looking snow-tipped fir trees near Sheremetyevo Airport, I was relieved and ecstatic to actually be in the country with David by my side (traveling at his own expense, to make sure I actually got there).  We checked into our hotel in Moscow — a Marriott! — and took a nap.  Afterward, refreshed and happy and looking forward to seeing some of Moscow before dinner (despite the 10 degree temperature), I got into the shower and promptly slipped and hit my head on the back of the porcelain bathtub.  I didn’t see stars, didn’t lose consciousness, but the pain was incredible.  When David called Natalya, my program officer, to get a reference for a doctor, she told him rather diffidently there were a couple of clinics I could go to, but didn’t provide phone numbers, or any Embassy or Consulate medical contacts.  I wasn’t surprised, actually; this was the same woman who’d instructed me to get the wrong visa.

“She’s no help,” David said, disgusted.  “I’m going down and asking at the desk.”

The hotel concierge, more helpful, called the paramedics, and they came to my room — a thin, dour, Harry Dean Stanton-looking man, and a husky, efficient woman — and checked me out: it didn’t look like I had a concussion, but I’d have to watch for symptoms (nausea, headache, vomiting) during the next twenty-four hours.  Naturally, Natasha Richardson came to mind.  The woman touched the bump on the back of my head and declared, gently, “маленький” (“small”). As I signed my name in Russian on the medical report I asked (via the hotel translator) if they thought I’d be okay to fly to Orsk the next morning.  The woman laughed and said (via the translator), “If you can sign your name in Russian you’ll probably be okay!  But just keep watch over yourself, especially if you have symptoms.”

The flight to Orsk the next morning was at 6 a.m., and at 6 a.m. I was, of course, in the cab en route to Domodedovo Airport with David.  The concierge packed our complimentary breakfasts up in plastic “lunch boxes,” so we’d have something to snack on while we waited at the gate.

“So where are you traveling to so early in the morning?” she asked, cheerfully.

“A place you’ve probably never heard of, even though you’re from here.  It’s called Orsk, and it’s right above Kazakhstan.”

“You’re right,” she laughed, “I don’t know it.  But I do know that it’s very, very far.  Very far, indeed.  So be careful, you know, because of your head.”

Her words so did not offer comfort, and the familiar chill arose.  And halfway to the airport I began feeling nauseous and headachey.  And panicky.  There was no way to tell if it was because of what the concierge had said, the overheated cab, the lack of a proper breakfast, an attack of nerves about flying over the Urals in the dead of winter on a regional airline that my travel agent mistrusted, Pema Dorje’s advice, or because I really did have a concussion. I looked at David and said, “I really feel sick.  I don’t know what to do. What the hell am I going to do?”

“Alright, I’m putting a stop to this nonsense right now,” he said, and the decision to turn back was made, on that dark, empty, snowy Moscow highway.  Natalya had never suggested helping me reschedule my flight so I could rest up for a day, so I knew that turning back would be forfeiting a Fulbright — the thing I most did not want to do, the one thing I had pushed and pushed against for all those months.  After we arrived back at the hotel and rebooked our room I called Natalya to tell her what happened.  She was sympathetic but not helpful, though she did suggest I try to get a free dinner from the hotel since I had fallen in their bathtub.  When I told her I didn’t feel right doing that she said, “Yes, they are probably accustomed to American tricks.”  We flew back to the States the next day and the day after that I saw my doctor.  Everything seemed okay by then.

Disappointed but resigned that the Fulbright was obviously never meant to be, but happy to have five months of pressure and worry behind me, I got back to what I’d been working on before I’d had to spend every spare moment on grant preparations: a very emotional  “prose poem story” about my sister Renee’s death in November 2009. On Wednesday, February 16 I read it at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan.  The response from the audience was unexpected and overwhelming, and some people came up to me with tears in their eyes.

“I envy your ability to expiate,” one friend — a journalist-commentator for National Public Radio — said.  It had been immensely difficult to write, and twice as difficult to read in public, as I was revealing the secret that lie at the core of my family’s own “breakdown”: that my father might’ve molested my sister.  Back in 1984 I walked in, after work, on a “family meeting” that she’d called, to make her announcement.  (Why did she do it while I was out of the house? I always wondered.)  Renee and our parents had been sitting around the kitchen table, and as I walked in the door my mother had said, “Your sister says Dad molested her when she was little.”  The discussion ended with her saying that it actually never happened.  Later, I told my parents I didn’t believe it, and I told Renee that I did.  Because I had seen something, when she was eight and I was ten, that had remained with me: as I was coming into the living room from the hallway I saw Renee and my dad on the couch, and he was whispering into her ear.  She had an odd, unidentifiable look on her face, a combination of boredom and annoyance.  Our dad was always sneaking up behind us and saying “Boo!” or whispering goofy things in our ears like, “Hey, how did that wheelbarrow get up there?”  There was no way of knowing what was happening, so I stopped and tip-toed backward to the bedroom and sat on the bed, scared.  As an adult I couldn’t help but wonder if molestation was the reason, along with abandonment by her birth mother (Renee had come to us as a foster child in 1968, and we adopted her two years later), for her nightmarish life of addiction and homelessness.  She’d died in a nursing home, and I didn’t find out until three days later, by which time one of her natural sisters, with whom she’d been reunited years before, had had her cremated.

The evening after the reading, while eating granola cereal before bed, I felt a sharp pain in my tooth.  I knew I’d probably broken an old filling.  The next day I went to my dentist, and she said I’d fractured the tooth and would need a root canal, which she wanted to begin right then.  I have no idea why, but I asked her if it could wait until Monday — I needed to take antibiotics before dental work because of a mitral valve prolapse diagnosis.  I don’t know why she didn’t just write me a prescription, have me fill it at the drugstore down the street, pop two pills and get back in the chair — maybe she had appointments the rest of the day.  Whatever, she said she’d see me on Monday and to take ibuprofen if the pain got to be too much.  And it did indeed get to be too much because she never told me how much ibuprofen I could take.  As I drove to our house in Pennsylvania on Route 80 a day later the pain was overwhelming; it was that singular, nightmarish, deeply acute dental pain that feels like the suffering of all beings focused tightly on one tooth.  When we got to the house David called the dentist’s office and spoke to her partner, who gave me better directions regarding dosage.  Finally, with a combination of 3 Advils and deep breathing, it abated.  The procedure commenced when we got back to the city that Monday.

By Wednesday I noticed that the lower left side of my face was swollen, but figured it was because of the root canal. I called the dentist to ask her what the best way to bring the swelling down might be because I was starting to look like the Lady in the Radiator from “Eraserhead” (at least on the left side).

“The swelling is on the bottom?” she said, sounding surprised.  “Well, it’s probably infected.  Can you come in now?  I have no appointments the rest of the day.”

And that was what set the two-year breakdown off, at about 2:30 in the afternoon on March 23, 2011.

Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008). Fiction collections are In Ordinary Time and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose 2005 and 2000) and Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette, in French translation 2005). Other poetry collections include Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna 2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo 1997). Four poems appear in the newly released Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology (second edition) Her work has also appeared in Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, New American Writing, The Brooklyn Rail, Women’s Studies Quarterly, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, esque, Poets for Living Waters, and The Scream. An excerpt of her story, “Revenge,” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues). She teaches at NYU, the New School, and online for the Chicago School of Poetics.

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Language finds a place in the world. Language finds a place in the body.

 

One of the best things about working for myself is that sometimes almost everything just stops. There are lulls in the workflow, where regular work comes in but it’s not crazy. The daily to-do list is manageable. There are spaces in the rush of New York. I love being busy and working on a huge project and kicking ass on it and being inspired and energized by deadlines and the great teams I work with. And I also love when it slows down and I wake up to quiet mornings and slowly drinking coffee and reading and answering emails without the pressure of fifteen deadlines ticking through my brain.

 

I have been working on getting more honest, with myself, in the words that I speak to others, in what I write. I’ve been working with observing what I’m feeling and thinking and asking myself, are these honest thoughts? What am I really feeling? This bareness of observing and awareness to come to a place of truth is a solid path. Awareness itself becomes the stability, is the stability. When the pace of life and work slow down, there is room for this inquiry. And for noticing and listening without agenda or goal. Giving up of goals is difficult in an accomplishment-driven era. But that is the only way to really see your basic nature, hear your heart, allow your soul to express itself in unbidden and unpredictable ways.

 

So, lately, work has been slow. I finished up two big projects that took up much of my time and energy and mental space about two weeks ago. The silence and slowness have allowed me to get back into the imaginary worlds of my poetry manuscript and novel and spend lengths of solid time there. These are the stories and lines and paragraphs I write and live inside that are distinct imagination and creativity.

 

Then there are the other stories, the psychological constructs and emotionally driven patterns that are created. The slow pace of days and nights has also allowed me to separate my emotional reactions to events and see where the raw emotion is and where the story that accompanies the emotion starts. We all have memories and past hurts and past joys that connect to present events and we have overarching stories about who we are, what our lives are, what they’re going to be. These stories are based in fear and reaction, not the true presence of what is actually going on in our lives. It’s easier sometimes to create scenarios and outcomes in our minds than to face an uncertain array of futures, the fact that the future and even some things in the present are uncertain.  So we build stories, attributing opinions and actions to the people in our lives that we don’t know are real, but they comfort us, in their known-ness. When we allow ourselves the time to look at these stories honestly, and really break out which of the storylines are ones we have clung to so that our lives make sense, it becomes clear that most of what we think we know is not actually known to us. Then we are left with the honesty of that: that we don’t know what other people think and feel, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know the outcome of the path we are taking. When we face this, it is easier to stay grounded and make good decisions and choices, based on where we are right now, rather than reacting to a scenario in our heads.

 

Our concern then is: what can we do now that is true to ourselves and honest? What can we do now that feels right in a grounded way? This is a beautiful thing, this awareness and slowness and quiet. From this aware, slow, and quiet place, we make decisions based not on fear but on that quiet, still space inside of us that is connected to our root, our heart, our soul. Right action for the sole purpose of itself. Not to get anything or get anywhere but simply to be in the right place doing the right thing. The attunement to what feels right becomes steadier and is easier to gauge. This affects every action, from answering an email, to making a salad for lunch, to whether or not to move or take that job or sign that contract.

 

From this place, we naturally do what is most beneficial in a wholesome sense for ourselves and those around us. Beneficial in promoting peace and understanding and growth.

 

From this place, writing becomes a measure of silence, of the spaces between lives, where the dead speak and the unknown reaches of time and universal space inhabit themselves. Life, the way it moves, is an uncertain paradox. My connection to the words and the space that words represent becomes deeper and more intimate. Language finds a place in this quiet and quiets me. Quiets my breathing and my mind and my heart. This allows the stretch of language, of writing, to go deeper, to awaken musculature that has been sleeping, to open up the prime numbers of the mathematical equations that underlie grammar. I love the quiet intensity of these times of writing where I feel closer to language itself because it becomes a code through which the world is deciphered, for a minute, then the code breaks in another direction and is as soluble as so many substances in water.

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Between the worlds is a seemingly endless construction of darkness and sparrows.

It takes courage to live the life you have. That is so powerful. Walking back home and now, lying down in my air-conditioned bedroom, I feel lucky and content and happy. I looked at my tree-lined street with its brownstones and its beauty and lush and calm and I said to myself, I live on this street. And walked up my stoop and went inside, like I have a thousand times before, and looked at the entranceway with its peeling paint and old walls and woodwork trim near the ceiling and thought, this is so homey, this feels like such a warm, happy home. The home my loved ones make for me. The home I make for myself.

Being naked in all this – the deer eating my mom’s begonias and the shivering of Souls in summer curtains, and fear.

 

Acceptance is simple, yet elusive.

What does it mean when I say, I want to live closer to my soul?

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So far, Retrograde has been slow. I’ve been slow-moving, sometimes almost at a dead standstill. Everything grinds to a halt, with only little rivulets of work, thank the heavens, and reading a mystery, set in Brooklyn, that I picked up on the street a couple years ago. I’ve been thinking about coffee but feeling like it’s too late in the day and it will keep me up. I’m sleepy, though, and really want to read so a nice jump start would be nice. It’s so nice to be sleepy, though, so I stave off the urge for coffee.

*

Getting there…this idea of animals, first of all. The way they are who they are, survival instinct, instinct for affection and family, but no psychological anguish about having to change who they are.

That constant doing something and getting somewhere and pushing ourselves. That does more harm than good. Being stressed out 27/7 because time both expands and contracts when you’re permanently stressed out. I’m so done reaching my potential and having to do things on an endless, meaningless loop. Silence and acceptance. Letting go of resistance to what we’re feeling, grief or anger or fear or joy or surprise, bewilderment. So much. To think about the depth of emotion is impossible because it’s unthinkable and immeasurable. We go on.

*

Presence has no measurable product except positive feelings, feelings of support, intimacy, and happiness. When we stop being busy and productive and switch to just being still and aware, we ourselves will also feel support, intimacy, and happiness, even if no one else is around.  – Tricycle magazine, Jan Chozen Bays

*
Woke up before 6 am today and the morning wasn’t humid or blazing hot yet, opened all the windows and curtains to let in early morning summer light. Looking out the kitchen window at the gorgeous roof garden the neighbors have started and keep adding to, and the day is so quiet and still, there’s no wind and the tree beyond the window doesn’t move at all, the leaves are still. This is the courage it takes to move through every day as who we are, what we really think, what we really feel, awareness and our thoughts and actions and feelings aligning, not speaking falsely or against ourselves. What are we really feeling in these moments? What are we thinking? What do we say? What actions do we take? In how much of these daily actions and words do we measure our truth and freedom? What freedom really is, not what it means but how it’s made real in our daily lives. Intimacy with that magical force of uncertainty.

Buddhist practices are just that – practices. They have to have bone and blood and muscle. They live in the real world as real actions and real energy, not as abstractions. Mindfulness, awareness, kindness are measured by their practice in the world – thoughts and beliefs are the root, and then the root comes into the air through the earth and the tree or plant or action or human being or animal lives. It lives. Buddhist practices are alive, they have a life, as emotions have a life, as bodies have a life. This is what makes practice powerful and humble and meaningful. Because of its presence, its blood and bone and tongue and hand in the world.

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I personally wouldn’t get an abortion. I also don’t drive. So I guess I have the right to tell people they can’t drive. Yeah, that makes sense. I also don’t own a tractor.

*

Solstice magic. “Golden days of sunlight.” Patterns in sky, thread, lines in the palm, hold together. “All that was missed will come back to you in another form but the same form.” (The same form you yield to.) The stretch of the circle begins, red ribbons of ashes, silk, river. Turnkeys. Heartache and darkness of walls, light of walls. Getting things done even when it hurts. Trusting body. Appreciate connections, bonds, intimacy, those who love you, bring you gifts that are invisible, felt. Hurting isn’t judgment or imbalance. The larger sphere that moves everything, like gravity. Joy weighs as much as pain. Consciousness revelatory, gratitude for all that.

*

What helps with intensity and revelations (sounds vaguely biblical but there are as yet no arks but there are encounters with the divine and a reorienting of faith towards all walls and windows, in all directions): working out every day, the body is god, it knows everything and can tell you anything you want to know, my loved ones, who are amazing and strong and loyal and kind and are love, reading, hours and hours of quiet, non-speech, non-words and the quiet of words too, the return or reacquaintance of a primal energy, movement of souls and body and faith, the sun, the night, the day, summer light, the wood of the floor, cats, dogs, green, life in full measure close to pulse and magic.

So what do you do when something becomes truth, you find out something so intense that it falls through you like so many nights and gravity itself and weighs in you like a separate solar system that now you must incorporate into your universe?

*

Maybe it’s the Solstice and moving through some invisible barrier but it feels like the fever of June has broken. There’s the aftershock but it’s gentler. Energy isn’t being sucked outward — life is not a wind tunnel. It feels calm at least for one second, maybe a minute or two and then three. Sitting here with my loved ones. You just move with it all, be as awake as you can, close your eyes and let it all go and sleep then do it all again. And every day is so different even though it seems the same. I think in that difference is the movement, the belief and the awakeness, the awakened, the letting go.

*

Juen (or June) the awakened self floats in the jar like a semi-suspended orchid I am love I am fuel and atrocity but the mind always.

This has been one of the most emotionally intense months. Looking forward to a weekend of decompressing, processing, but mostly, resting and recharging.  Solstice, where the light makes itself known from every corner of the sky.

*

Weird days leading up to the Solstice. Maybe the Solstice will even things out. It’s one of those times when new light and new information have come into my life, my sphere of knowing and experience fundamentally changed. It takes a while to integrate this new light that has shattered, to some extent, a held-together picture of what life is – this is both deepening and opening, so I’m trying to focus on that. And also get good nights of rest and sleep and dreams: a wooden sky.

*

Oh, June, you just keep bringing it. It just makes me stronger, more focused, more passionate. Everything happens in order to make meaning of these broken fields. When truths are revealed, they shock, disassemble and clarify, finally unifying life and patterns of being and soul and time into something blessed, whole. So keep bringing it, and along with it, the blazing sun of summer will burn through to its root, leaving nothing but the essential. You leave nothing but roots scattered.

*

It’s strange how sounds affect you. There has been infernal banging, sawing, drilling at both sides of my apartment, and I’m here, doing work, and listening to construction sounds: noises, jarring, loud intrusions – and the beautiful, lulling sound of the rain and the rain is so generously beautiful that, although it’s softer than the banging, and the walls don’t threaten to come down around it – the rain drowns out the other noises for small, sacred bits of time.

*

I am compiling a list of movies to watch on Netflix from a list of Existential Films. And am pulled toward a film about people in a small village, huddling in the winter cold under a big circus tent to view the carcass of a whale. Somehow, this seems, not prophetic, but a reality existing in an actual world of memory, of a past shared in ancestry and blood, a supernal physical presence, because I remember the cold and I remember the dead whale, and the pain that froze, because pain freezes, and then melts, but if we, ourselves and our ghosts, live in a climate that is winter nine months of the year, the winter gives birth to a Spring that is fleeting and hopeful, but doesn’t exist in the grand scheme of things. In other words, three months go by so fast, they don’t leave any lasting impression on the soul or the body. They are time waiting for winter to return. And whether winter returns in a boat or with a turnkey, it always does. And so we must sink into it because it is our life.
*
The welcome harmonies of pain and suffering are all around us, of course. Every day, we walk through their soldiered fields, seeing instead flowers growing wildly, with blazing color in the blazing sun (the sun is hot these days), and the one thing that separates before and now is my ability to let pain in, to let it just move through me and feel all of it, feel its presence in my throat and in my chest, as it takes up residence (like a residence hotel, so living there, but transient, or moving through rooms and transforming as it goes, ghost to living man, to living woman, to soldier, to ash, to wall, window, glass on a nightstand, because it is in everything and everyone, of course) in the heart, and I feel it there, and hold its hand, as corny as that sounds, as if sitting near a dying man’s bed, looking into the eyes right before death, with death knowing this end of life is coming to enter it, death, like a watch, wound perfectly and telling perfect time, and even more, like a translucent curtain through which only silhouettes are seen but the dying man and the caretaker can make out the shapes of this world passing into the next. Anyway, it seems all of this has released something in me of the truth, of a knowing. I feel it so acutely when something is wrong, or when there are things being hidden, and knowing is better, better than that haunted state of sensing and fear. We are connected through hope and maybe that’s what I feel, that we’re connected. We see beauty in devastating situations and that light is breaking through again. It seems we may have found magic again.

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Inspired by «We spoke of people in shells, & I was / not clear. But I mean / the new-born chick, in egg, / is given – datum – only / a certain length of time, a certain time, / to break out of it. If she doesn’t / she dies. Is given: / so much food, only so much food, / in the egg, or system. I said / I was the voice outside singing / This way sweet bird this way / new born aenigma of yourself, / break through this way, / I tear / the marble of the shell off with my hands, frozen ocean of albumen, / this way new life. / Break through this way.» (RK)

 

With Pēteris Cedriņš.

 

A

 

We spoke of a certain time, and thought that was the end, a rope thinly disguised as days coming to a logical end at the end of a street with a sign and some stores and apartment buildings and no trees. Meaning, urban. How are these urban houses this time around? Sheltered possums. The light between the buildings like opium. Not knowing the circumference of evil. So it becomes an easy thing to make potions and wear lanyards to indicate rank and the important things go unnoticed in the breath of fuels and velocity. Stop then, and tell me what really matters. What takes up space in the heart and lungs and makes for a healthy cardiopulmonary system. The breath agitates. The movement of curtains in a light wind after rain. When the sky darkens in the afternoon and you’re cleaning your apartment, do you think of what it would be like to be any other object in the room but the human? Do your curtains brush against you like the touch of a hand? The space between fires, their distance, the linear conclusion of love and sadness and loss. Where evil exists in a world of freshly burnt tulips because the sky has descended and become a well. There is still time, but is there? The unknown of this is terrifying. We all know this and we bow our heads to the sun because it still exists, as does water and dirt, and we think, the line of ice, the radius, the horizon.

 

*

 

We spoke of certain thoughts on the horizon, the way of blood and tooth and motion settling into the casket. The dead move. They are not aliens and they move. Tongues tied eternally in a mortal blanket, communion with angels and skyhomed carrier pigeons, carrying threads of long lace. The fires in the distance between thumb and lung, that is, breath is a conduit, a meaning found in old drawers along with albumen and absinthe, hidden from the best of partners with a skewed eye to infidelity and lustfulness. These, and all beads, lead to heartache and sustenance. Because it is the heat of heartache that sustains. You didn’t know that, did you? You thought the parallel of love and faith was happiness, no, this is not it. Learn about Almighty Change in the cabin. It exists between the eyelids, on top of factories and millenniums. The dirt goes unnoticed. The dirt of pain and standard-issue ache and solace. The solitude of birds. Frantic calculations to build sheds and nests and using tools meant for building chairs.

 

P

 

& then the green onrush, so sudden, so that one must worry about fixing the mower after a mirror of deadness, & that side of the coin (the opposite of spaciousness — strangulation) — to come out of that into this, hard, & now the sky is indigo & there is no horizon, but every night a light show, crocus crocus, its denizens & damsels, for now unfurled like fiddleheads

 

*

 

A or a

“visceral strugge.”

Visceral struggle. Every night haunts a new moon edging out to sea a small boat union of opposites all that sky. You’ve never fully opened. You’re charged and released. The body is the viscera. The moon hangs like a tongue.

What is viscera? What makes matter? What takes up space in the heart, in the living room? In the kitchen?

No, I meant something else. It’s always something else. The darkness settles like. The moon creates shadows like. Moo.

Cow sealegs.

I am sound and broken and bells and hosiery.

Surrounding sea.

No. That is what keeps coming to me this morning, what is left of it. What is left of the release, of the feeling of freedom, as we struggle against the window screen. In Spring, we are all devils of pollination. No. This is it. No, no, no. Against the screen, puht-puht-puht. Knocking our many-eyed little heads. Fluht fluht fluht.

 

*

 

P:

Today narcissi & tulips & more swans than sea-stones & magpies swooping to devour the leftovers & gather silver.

& the neighbor, the poacher, slowly disappearing behind a screen of green (summer a different solitude, peopled by birds).

*

 

A:

 

This is what it’s like: the soft gathering of space.

 

We break the break. In the Shadow of Heaven, perfect flies. I grew up in a carriage house, or what used to be a carriage house, and then additions were built on top, so there’s a half-staircase of stone stairs that goes up into the floor of the living room, it goes nowhere, dusty, not-in-this-world nowhere.

 

We start with working ideas and then work them. Puttyballs. That’s what thoughts are. Big, floating terrariums.

 

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from prompts by Elizabeth Treadwell & myself.

& all these wonderful poems!

 

Sonnet for Boston
by Noelle Kocot

A flower in the window, these latitudes, iridescent.
I only wanted to touch your sleeve as you went by,
Foggy and lovely, flaking off the residue of night.
Atmosphere thickening, keep on going in the locked

City, pressed maybe against a store’s glass. The
Randomly delicate windows, somewhere, there is
Certain calm, an interior recognizable on these empty
Streets. What reaches something in you, what gives

Its moments unto us. In the hotel, people move about,
Clouds in motion, whatever is dealt to you, accept it,
But not necessarily quietly. My orange quavering, circa
1990, my insoluble bond thereafter, I know you are rumpled

Into the olden sense that does not erode. Building,
Brick-edged, the shadows and whiteness are nearly whole.

 

*

 

To the Q
by Sarah Sarai

Tattooed or pimply,
briefcased, suitcased,
stinky plastic bag encased,
fists tight on pillowy
breasts or slack arms,
head atilt, aftersmiles
flickering like flickers
flick as it all streams
open and by unto us,
river, estuary, ocean
limp as a quilt on our
beach ball home and
the sun, the sun sparkling
from, glinting in, flattering
even briefcased wolfish
suits growling to steal
hearts and devour but
first we all (all) inside
the car look for marvels
(marvels) racing past.

 

*

 

morningpoem

Elizabeth Treadwell

all the years I’ve spent and spend
on the hills below the temple
the brunette caterpillars like buffalo
across their petite fields

 

*

 

Urban Consolation : Altar : Subaltern

Michelle Detorie

underground is best where I can disappear
the smokestacks have so many eyes so many
numbers ticker-flicking.  debris scattered
in the garbage-grave of gears and pipes and conveyors.
Those machines we trusted and loved, how they
were formed to fit our bodies, hand and hip.
I have no babies:
only this self I drag around in the automobile
of my belly full of gentle plastics.
In the gray line
above the sea the trash birds weave
and underwater whales shrug their soft
skeletons. how much holy do I need? Am I so greedy?
Look how full my fist is.

 

*

 

Altars and subalterns
by Sarah Anne Cox

a garland for Artemis
From virgin meadow from virgin greenery
Hippolytus places reverent
from his pure soul
As much as he hates Aphrodite, she hates him
as much
her altar bare
but scripting death
the lopsided stage
as much as children make one
impure
the night’s labors
her catastrophe a secondary consideration

 

*

 

Midwestern Altars & Offerings
(If mine was a family/culture that practiced ancestor worship)
by Nicole Stefanko-Fuentes

Black soil and peonies
a passing shadow in the chrome
a sunfish slipped back into the water

Recitations of the periodic tables
voices in the gravel
by the cars
on the porch at
the cottage at Linden Lake

Horseradish, dill
Crown Royal &
cucumber seedlings under a storm window
cleared of snow

Detroit Tigers & Lions
borscht bright roses
& rosaries
for the grandchildren

Old names & young mothers
Alexo & Stella
elemental again

 

*

 

yerba buena
by Elizabeth Treadwell

over in the copse-place, on this royal oak day
by the lake-oak, beneath the temple
send your altar’d consolations,
yo to line this threadbare mecca
with motion y contraption gracias

 

*

 

[i blew up a bed]

Becca Klaver

http://news.bloofbooks.com/2013/04/i-blew-up-bed.html

 

*

 

URBAN / CONSOLATION
by Taylor Brady

floating up rooting
complexity of the nude
has no unicorn today
is also spring the rumpled
caterpillar and advice re: tasers

and the test shots cops
fired off last night because they could

an epic poem only 50
copies an amazing London
performance in June should I

fade before horizon comes the whole
picture comes to grief comes to gray comes
in at the window and ignoring it my nose
roots in at the base of your neck

at everyone growing up
in the immediate all-girl
Egyptian heavy metal
talk of poetry and a glass
of wine with you storms out
in honor of the farm

whose “ideology of child-murder”

is this but ours machines
and images of cats
a voiceover gig standing
still before the fountain
which often goes on lockdown

ten years proposed as more or less
enough to forget the mass massing

snow falls not here stop this
lawman at the grocery store
been going mad be safe be over
soon about as empty as it gets the blast
is classed as either public or as

private as the face you share with anyone

/

skin comes to
tend to where
your touch lifts
off and there’s
the world that
comes to hurt

 

*

 

GOTHAM
by Shanna Compton

The word grotesque
comes hidden
in a small cave.

Its meaning restricted
to an extravagant style.

Copied in factual rooms,
in the unfinished palaces
singed in the unceasing Great Fires.

It is overgrown and buried,
until broken.

It spreads
to other languages.

Long used
for decorative curving,
it sprouts foliage elements.

Generally adjective—
strange, fantastic, ugly,
incongruous, unpleasant,
disgusting—we arrive at
weird shapes In art.

Here is an audience
uncomfortable in their
collective pity.
This is a gargoyle—he is
an immense hybridity,
a fundamental grotesque.

 

*

 

for Urban Consolations/Altars/Subalterns
by Ash Smith

http://eyelashleye.tumblr.com/post/48694496206/4-21-13

 

*

 

wifthing two
a (sub)urban consolation for Elizabeth Treadwell et al
by Pattie McCarthy

suburban recompense he
says fundamental grotesque & a large
latte to go bring me the paper
work bring me double-knotted
gnawed on thumbnails bring me
stims bring me my big girl bed
volvo full of ornamental grasses
I’ll be on the 2.34 I have
soft pretzels we might even have a gap
coupon for 30% off privacy
winter fall spring l’ete great now
can you say that all in English
what do you mean
a pastoral a paradise & me
without my umbrella at chaos baseball
find my body here & that praxis

 
*

 

Faerie Drill
by Melissa Eleftherion Carr

 

*
the future as it was seen then
by kathryn l. pringle

a tree folds over the falling
ignorance a reckoning of vision

a sign
the stilling veins

an open someone
forgets environment
forgets or becomes

a forensic seer

rounding opposition
salivating orders

remembering so
owns vocalization
a tale sprung and bated
a grandiose schemata
tilling each chord
mining each synapse

what we forget is blood carries everything through us

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Amalgamations from Plooth

Following are notes from my novel in progress, The Bird Diaries.

 

Fourty-four a window: the way to parallel time. Windows like train tracks, or bemusels, sign posts on the road. You read the windows you see in passing while you’re driving and get to your destination (death ruin) that way. Or death rune, or run. She couldn’t make out the handwriting and then after, the cypher. Anyway, the windows in the buildings and houses along this particular highway were like lanterns, or lit road signs. They told you where to go when you were lost.

 

So the body is sleeping, but the person is gone, transported?

 

As in most cities, there are absurd rules in the outer provinces and you can get in serious trouble if you don’t follow them but they’re for infractions of the kinds of things you do naturally…and it’s all the more terrifying that the repercussions of these mundane actions are so violent and permanent.

 

So when a person is “sleeping,” they could be anywhere and take any shape or shadow. They could be a line on the wall where the paint smeared. Snd. Colson patrolled the outer rooms as the passengers slept.

 

You’re looking at a doppelgänger. See? An unconscious manifestation of only form. Do you understand? The body is empty. There is no one in there. They’ve gone somewhere else.

 

 

At first, Plooth was like walking underneath an open window and hearing the muffled sounds from a TV, but she couldn’t make out any of the dialogue or even which show was being watched. She knew the hunger for it well, though, hollowness in her stomach as if she’d gone days without food.

 

 

Everyone knew someone or knew someone who knew someone who had disappeared into the Ether surrounding Punfeux Mountain. It was said they lived in the mountain now, unseen and unavailable to us on the outside of those boundaries. Territories were no joke in Plooth—even compared to Earth, with its delineations of countries and political distinctions and discrete continents even, separated by water, the weight of passing held such strong sway over the Ploothians that it determined the lion’s share of their actions and decisions. They called this fate.

 

These enclosed fields of short dry brown grass, dry dirt and, in some miracle of growth, bunches of dandelions, white-crowned and ready for wishing, were the port city’s launching pads. From here, I could get back to San Francisco.

 

We exist in a plane of sadness, boarding the next train, accumulating dust-cells and fancy organisms of alien descent. We are sad because we don’t have this light movement: everything exists in a forgotten darkness. We say things we will edit out later. We have the reels of our troubles: that is, our days; we suffer ourselves in them, like angels in a bath. This is how we live; right. Somnambulists of Ether. We come from these; the clouds of hope. But, submarining into oceans leaves us winded. In a land where the air doesn’t move, this is quite a task. Our bruises shine like hood ornaments and celestial bodies. We cornicate. We fall again and again to our knees. We think to pray but then we just cry.

 

 

Half-asleep, she would look over and half of her right arm would be missing. Replaced with a vaguely reminiscent shape of air. She halted her breath subconsciously as the word “prosthetic” ricocheted in her thoughts. Half-asleep. That’s what this is, a half-dream. But still it would scare the daylight out of her and that visceral panic would still be there, in morning, sunlit form, when she woke up. She never could quite shake the feeling of something being off, and of being in some unknown immediately threatening danger.

 

 

She had thought of her deaths many times—but not exactly death. More like, disappearance. Being involuntarily taken to another realm of existence, even if on this plane, in this light year, speed of light world. Where the speed of light differs is where things start to blur—between life and death, mural and reality, water and ground.

 

Fossils.

Hauntjng.

 

Magda sees her father, but he is in Supradeath, so she is not allowed to talk to him and it’s heartbreaking and devastating. Like the scene in Europa Europa where he sees his mom’s ghostly presence, fantasizing her, as he speeds through this forbidden, damned land on the trolley. Haunting, absolutely haunting.

 

Revelation of various dangers, alien powers, alien piers, landscapes to avoid. Fences, girds, grids, axes, trees–all these secret barriers.

 

This seam, its burning, her sensations and visions.

 

Edge of words, of language, which led to sound, national, natural breaks in the continuity of life form and force.

 

Then there was the edge, the edge of worlds, allegedly. But the edge was not just a physical place, it was a spiritual and bodily and emotional one.

 

This world in our city exists at the shoulders of their world, so interesting. We are constantly in danger from unseen beings, living side by side with us, our time and their time the same. Think Weimar and perilous Poland right there, across a rowhouse’s threshold or a sneeze or looking a certain way at your own reflection in the glass doors of the flower shop’s refrigerated container, your own eyes, registering fear of an unknown, but felt presence, among the birds of paradise and roses.

 

Death is one of the passings; there is nothing like death here, and there are more things like death than at home. Supra death ?

 

 

 

 

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