Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today I dressed up. Not because I felt good, but just because I knew I had to make some sort of effort or not leave the house at all. Have been complimented quite a lot, but it's not really helping me. Just can't seem to get beyond the aches, pains and generally poor mood.

A Hand-Mirror

Hold it up sternly--see this it sends back, (who is it? is it you?)
Outside fair costume, within ashes and filth,
No more a flashing eye, no more a sonorous voice or springy step,
Now some slave's eye, voice, hands, step,
A drunkard's breath, unwholesome eater's face, venerealee's flesh,
Lungs rotting away piecemeal, stomach sour and cankerous,
Joints rheumatic, bowels clogged with abomination,
Blood circulating dark and poisonous streams,
Words babble, hearing and touch callous,
No brain, no heart left, no magnetism of sex;
Such from one look in this looking-glass ere you go hence,
Such a result so soon--and from such a beginning!

-Walt Whitman

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.
-Henry David Thoreau.

I often wonder about whether or not keeping up my journal is a fool's errand. Still, something keeps compelling me to continue.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Dance

In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess

-William Carlos Williams

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Then there is more expansive Emily.

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

-Emily Dickinson

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This is a side of Whitman I don't tend to think about much - the sorrowful one, the more introspective, and perhaps even slightly depressed one.

I Sit and Look Out

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all
oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with
themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying,
neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband--I see the treacherous seducer
of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be
hid--I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny--I see martyrs and
prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea--I observe the sailors casting lots who
shall be kill'd, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon
laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these--All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look
out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.

-Walt Whitman

He is very much in tune with Emily Dickinson here, I think.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I guess I stand in good company when I say I want to blow this two-bit town and head for the hills.

A Letter

Dear brother, would you know the life,
Please God, that I would lead?
On the first wheels that quit this weary town
Over yon western bridges I would ride
And with a cheerful benison forsake
Each street and spire and roof incontinent.
Then would I seek where God might guide my steps,
Deep in a woodland tract, a sunny farm,
Amid the mountain counties, Hant, Franklin, Berks,
Where down the rock ravine a river roars,
Even from a brook, and where old woods
Not tamed and cleared cumber the ground
With their centennial wrecks.
Find me a slope where I can feel the sun
And mark the rising of the early stars.
There will I bring my books, - my household gods,
The reliquaries of my dead saint, and dwell
In the sweet odor of her memory.
Then in the uncouth solitude unlock
My stock of art, plant dials in the grass,
Hang in the air a bright thermometer
And aim a telescope at the inviolate sun.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chardon Street, Boston, 1831

(In truth, I feel this way every Spring. Never Ever intended to stay here as long as I have.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A lot of focus has been on the Free Tibet movement lately. One can argue the merits for or against, of course. In my opinion, anything that makes the Chinese government uncomfortable can't be all that bad.

What I found interesting was this bit in the news. It surprises me that it took China this long to start framing their abysmal treatment of the Uighurs in some sort of global terrorist threat context.

I don't have much faith that things will improve much for the Tibetans or any other groups marked for repression by China. I have even less for the Turkic people from the western lands, mainly because of their being largely followers of Islam.

Wake up!

Hey, poor Uyghur, wake up, you have slept long enough,
You have nothing, what is now at stake is your very life.
If you don’t rescue yourself from this death,
Ah, your end will be looming, your end will be looming.

Stand up! I said, raise up your head, no more slumber,
Behead your enemy, spill his blood!
If you don’t open your eyes and look around,
The end of your frustrated existence is certain.

Already, your body looks lifeless,
Is that why you are indifferent to death?
You remain unmoved by my calls,
Do you want to perish this way, without coming to your senses?

Open your eyes wide, look around,
Think well about your future,
If you let this one chance escape,
Tomorrow will be nothing but sorrow, nothing but sorrow.

My heart pities you, o my Uyghur,
My companion, my brother, my relative,
With a burning soul, I am calling out to you,
But your are not hearing me, what is going on?

One day will come, and you will regret,
That day you will understand the reason of my calls.
You will say “alas!”, but it will be too late,
Then you will realize what Uyghur (the poet) meant.

-Abduxaliq Uyghur, Turpan, 1921

Original translator: Unknown
© Retranslated by: Rahman & Waris A. Janbaz
Paris, August 21, 2004

Here's what it looks like in the original language (followed by a transliteration).

A tiny bit about the poet.

A bit about the Uighur people themselves.

Some on the Uighur detainees in limbo in Guantanamo Bay.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

8 Count

from my bed
I watch
3 birds
on a telephone
wire.
one flies
off.
then
another.
one is left,
then
it too
is gone.
my typewriter is
tombstone
still.
and I am
reduced to bird
watching.
just thought I'd
let you
know,
fucker.

-Charles Bukowski

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I know things are getting bad when I start losing concentration. When things like the phone ringing, emails or even people asking me how my day is going start making my head spin in a fit of rage. Relationships during the brighter periods become entanglements I need to extricate myself from. Sleep becomes an obsession.

It becomes apparent in my writing when the prose becomes dull or flat. When I speak, I screw up word order and often substitute one homophone for another. Eventually, I'll have a hard time reminding myself to pay bills, wash, even eat.

I've crashed pretty badly four times in my life, the last being two years back at around this time. It was maybe 1/2 a year ago that I was convinced to try medicine. The stuff has had a pretty good effect thus far but I'm scared to death of it.

Having it Out with Melancholy

"If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure."

-A P Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours -- the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.

2 BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4 OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.

5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.

6 IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .

7 PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.

8 CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9 WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

-Jane Kenyon

***

This probably is the best description of the pain or lack of feeling and eventual rejeuvenation I've seen since Millay's Renascence. Actually, this might be better, as it addresses the cyclical nature of the sickness, the momentary well-being tempered by the ever-present fear of the slipping into that other awful, awful world. (I also love the image of the wood thrush in the last verse; it reminds me of the chickadee who brought me back to the world of the living years ago.)

I guess right now I feel myself slipping and am trying to figure out how to shore myself up. I have so much that needs to be done but am getting so tired again. The meds aren't meant to be a cure, I don't think. They just help the symptoms. The illness is something that needs to be lived with. I need to figure out how to either expand the good periods or reduce the depth/length of the bad periods. How, though?

Monday, April 07, 2008

A resurrected post on the insights of a thoughtful friend:

I ended up with two classics. They may bore you because although I did search long, they were easy to find and not very original or different. I picked them because they speak of spring in a way that I have never considered. I found it actually fascinating that I had never thought this way or even read of men, or women for that matter, thinking of spring in a negative light because of jealousy or bitterness. And this is coming from a man who has never been accused of being overly optimistic.

The first is a passage from Love’s Labors Lost (Act V, Scene 2)

When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the me adows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
“Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are plough men’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their sum me r smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men, for thus sings he:
“Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear.

The next is by Wordsworth. Again, he speaks of the beauty of spring but can’t take it for what it is. I’m not sure why these two struck me like they did. I’m going to have to think more on that. Once again, thank you for making me think.


Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot me asure:--
But the least motion which they made
It see me d a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


***

I'm sorry it took me so long to post this. I always learn something from this person.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Last Snow

Although the snow still lingers
Heaped on the ivy's blunt webbed fingers
And painting tree-trunks on one ide,
Here in the sunlit ride
The fresh unchristened things appear,
Leaf, spathe and stem,
With crumbs of earth clinging ot them
To show the way they came
But no flower yet to tell their name,
And one green spear
Stabbing a dead leaf from below
Kills winter at a blow.

-Andrew Young (from The Century's Poetry 5: Bridges to the Present Day; compiled by Denys Kilham Roberts)

Crocuses

Crocuses in my yard.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Harbinger of Spring.

Yes, today was the first time this year that the Bluebird of Happiness woke me up. At a quarter of four in the morning. Even the cats give me 'til about 6:30.

I Heard a Linnet Courting

I heard a linnet courting
His lady in the spring:
His mates were idly sporting,
Nor stayed to hear him sing
His song of love.—
I fear my speech distorting
His tender love.

The phrases of his pleading
Were full of young delight;
And she that gave him heeding
Interpreted aright
His gay, sweet notes,—
So sadly marred in the reading,—
His tender notes.

And when he ceased, the hearer
Awaited the refrain,
Till swiftly perching nearer
He sang his song again,
His pretty song:—
Would that my verse spake clearer
His tender song!

Ye happy, airy creatures!
That in the merry spring
Think not of what misfeatures
Or cares the year may bring;
But unto love
Resign your simple natures,
To tender love.

-Robert Seymour Bridges

(Full disclosure here: this was not what I was thinking at the time. Slingshots and clear paths were more what was coming to mind then.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

This little delight comes from Dr. Bob who uses it in his course to talk about social exclusion:

Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

-Jenny Joseph

***

(Didn't realize that she was a Birmingham native as well...thanks Dr. Bob!)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

One of my favorite people in the world turned 40 today. I'd like to give him the gift of looking forward in hope rather than being unhappy about the past. (Somehow, though, I think that that's something only he can give himself.)

Crossroads

The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.

-Joyce Sutphen

***

Happy Birthday, Pablo.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tomatoes don't really bother me that much. Mine always grow, though I may end up with more pickled green ones than reds for salads by the end of the season. Where I've been finding disappointment lately has been with the so-called hardy "native" plants.

Three years back, I planted lupines and they never came up. My thyme and mint both disappeared last year. Then there was the year of the one, anemic zucchini. The biggest frustration to date, though, has to be the strawberries. A couple years back, I planted three runners which, to my delight, turned into about 50 plants. Given how productive the three little originals were, I'd figured that by the next season, there'd be enough berries to make at least a few pots of jam. No such luck, as, though I got lots of lush greenery, not a single flower appeared.

Maybe this year will be better.

Vespers

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

-Louise Gl├╝ck

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

***

I am happy for Spring and I still do view April as a long-held, much-needed exhalation. However, this year is feeling strange. I'm tired. So, so tired. Not only emotionally but physically.

Maybe it's loneliness. Maybe it's the depression I'm said to be suffering from. Maybe I'm just getting old and need to face up to that.

In any event, it IS the time for new growth. For coaxing peas, lettuce, radishes out of the semi-frozen earth. If I keep working hard enough at it, maybe I'll find sustenance in the sun and air just like my little garden vanguards.