Monday, April 30, 2007

Counting Steps

I'm getting chilled as I type this.

The sweat from my walk and the heat from my body
don't like this abrupt change--from outside
to inside in the air-conditioning.

Walked the cemetery this morning because the middle-
schoolers were outside at the track today and though
they don't bother me, I prefer to walk alone. So, I counted
my steps to get some idea of how far I was walking.

one, two, three...fifty....seventy

There's Marjorie's dad's stone

ninety-five, one hundred and twenty

Someone put some cattails in the urns
on Brenda's dad's stone...maybe Brenda...maybe
her mom. How long did he suffer with emphysema...
I can't remember now...seems years

two hundred, two twenty-five

And there is John's stone...someone I didn't know
at all but feel somehow I do now...died in his thirties,
left behind a wife and two daughters whose beautiful
faces are in frames in front of his stone

three hundred and five, three eighty

How sad. I feel so sad every time I pass Susan's
stone. An aneurysm in her late thirties, young children
at home, her life prolonged with feeding tubes, her death
some 20 years later in a nursing home

four hundred twenty, four hundred eighty, finally
five hundred. I am sweating and wondering why I do this.
Why do I walk? Why do I think I can make it work this
time? How many times I've tried to get healthier, take
better care of myself, stop the abuse, start to believe
I might make it this time only to just slide right back
into the same old comfortable bad habits that have sustained
me for years...

There's Patti's dad's stone. Someone has put flowers there
recently, or it appears so...She's lost her mom and her dad..
both have been dead for many years now.

Geez, only up to nine hundred fifty and I'm pouring sweat.
The sun is not a blessing this morning. I want clouds.
1,500 and counting. How many to make 2 miles? I think
I counted around 3,600 the other day.

What the hell's up with the step thing anyhoo? Because
I watched some show on the food channel (one of those
self-help for overeaters thingees--though I am not an overeater,
nor do I eat junk--I am an overdrinker--yeah, yeah--sure)
and the dietitian stressed the importance of walking at least
10,000 steps a day. What in the hell ever happened to the twelve
steps? Which makes me think of the book I am now reading--
A Million Little Pieces

Behind that tree are the graves of two of my high school
friends...brother and sister. Her death at 16--heroine overdose.
His death would come 4 years later--he drowned. She had the most
extraordinary eyes of any person I ever met--tiger eyes,
and he, oh my, he was the object of so many young girls'
affections (mine included--that was one mouth I would have
loved to have kissed)

Only two thousand and three hundred...I think I'm gonna pass
out...it's too frigging hot to be out here walking, so why didn't
I go first thing this morning? Why not wait until tonight?
This morning I didn't think I would walk at all. I was deep
in my depression and not wanting to be pulled out.
This evening, a walk would cut into my drink time and I can't
have that, now can I?

There's Nina's son--dead at twelve from a brain tumor.
His cousin is buried next to him--dead in his twenties--
motorcycle accident. And just up the hill are Ava's
boys--one dead at 6 weeks, shortly after I gave birth
to my first. The other dead only 2 years now--accidental
drug overdose.

Ok..finally three thousand and a shade tree coming up.
My hair is drenched from the sweat. I taste the salt
on my upper lip. I think this walking thing might
just big the biggest bunch of bunk I've ever embarked
on. Only 4 pounds lost the first month. And all that sweat
and all those steps.

Doc Fisher's grave is there on the right. He was a good
man and a good doctor. He listened to me when no one
else could or would. He tried to help. He always had
to pat my big, pregnant belly when he was doing rounds
at the hospital. I fell one night and there he was, checking
me out, making sure that mom and baby were fine. He
wanted me to name my son after him. We always got a laugh
outta that. His name was Charlie. And I am a Brown.
But doc is always in my heart. Matter of fact, I can still
see his smile

Thankfully I am done...3800 steps, I think, but I lost count
at times as I was thinking about the people I had loved
and lost. Or the ones I didn't know but I could venture
to guess that someone else's heart was broken when they
lost that person.

I take a big drink of water and am grateful for water.

I stand beneath a shade tree and think how much
I love trees and plants and the earth.

I look out at the sea of graves and think of all the pain,
but I don't feel sad. I feel comforted. I think for all
the pain, there must have been some happiness too.

I love them all...the dead. And I love all the angels
and balloons and wind chimes and weathered stones
and faded flowers and solar lights and stuffed animals
placed there for them.

Being with the dead makes me feel rather keenly
alive, and I thank them for spending their morning with me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

So, I made myself do it...

I read Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking
and I'm glad I did. I do believe I shall read it again
and most likely again again.

I never once felt like crying when I was reading it.

At times, I felt I couldn't breathe, and my heart
would go into its crazy sing-song pattern of skipped
beats and gallops, and my throat
would tighten and I would have to get up for a little
while. Just get up and walk around and think about things.

She says:

"I realize as I write this that I do not want to finish this account.
Nor did I want to finish the year.
The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place.
I look for resolution and find none.
I did not want to finish the year because I know that
as the days pass, as January becomes February and
February becomes summer, certain things will happen.
My image of John at the instant of his death will become
less immediate, less raw. It will become something that
happened in another year. My sense of John himself,
John alive, will become remote, even "mudgy,"
softened, transmuted into whatever best serves my life
without him. In fact this is already beginning to happen.
All year I have been keeping time by last year's calendar:
what were we doing on this day last year, where did we
have dinner, is it the day a year ago we flew to Honolulu...

...I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to
keep them alive in order to keep them with us.
I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes
a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them
go, keep them dead.
Let them become the photograph on the table.
Let them become the name on the trust accounts.
Let go of them in the water.
Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of
him in the water."

*

Cloudy today. Chance of strong storms. Need to mow
before the rain gets here but who knows if I will.

Right now, I need to move around. Get Molly up.
Take her outside before the rain comes.
Straighten up the house. Plan dinner.

Wash my face and brush my teeth. Drink some coffee.

Let the dead go today and join the living.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This year, this year that is gone

This year that I lost my father.
This year that I had a new great-nephew come
into this world. This year that my brother
had his first child, my newest niece.
This year that my son told me I was going
to be a grandmother.
This year that my daughter
completed one year of her master's.
This year that my youngest started driving.
This year that has passed now since my father

died.

Yes, he died. He is dead. He is no longer
at his house or driving his car to the store
or working in his garden. He is dead
now, a year.

So many good things have happened since his
passing. So many holidays and birthdays. So many
tears and so many things to laugh about. So many events
he would have enjoyed. So many times he would have
worried.

Yet, there is now this sense of loss that I can't explain.

*

I had a dream on the 21st, the day after
the year anniversary of Dad's death. I cut my foot.
On a broken ball jar. I don't remember it hurting
or seeming so bad, but then my friend P came and doctored
my foot. Later, my friend S came and doctored some more.
Both agreed I was going to be fine though the cut went
through tissue and tendon and fat and nearly bone.

*

In this year that has passed, I have thought about
my friends--old and new--and wondered where they
were in those long, lonely hours. I realize they can't
know the particular hour or minute that the worst
of the hurting happens. Even knowing that, I have
been angry or frustrated or disappointed thinking
anyone who loves me very much must certainly know
the level of despair.

*

I sat today, for a long time, on my porch. I watched
the traffic go by. I listened to the birds singing. I looked
out at one of my neglected flower beds. I looked at the grass
that will outlive me. I watched the girl across
the street, in her itsy-bitsy bikini, make a place
to lie out in the sun. I heard voices from the rooftops.
I saw boys and girls, men and women, pass by on the sidewalk
out front.

I tried to start reading Joan Didion's The Year Of Magical Thinking.
I skimmed through Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals. I read the preface
to Running With Scissors. I read a few poem from The Trouble
with Poetry (Collins). I looked at the cushion on the porch
swing and took note of its occupants: me, Joan Didion's book, a lighter,
a pack of cigarettes, a paper towel, the landline phone, and the cell
phone. And I waited and waited and waited for something to happen.


When all the while, something was happening. Life was happening.
Everywhere all around me and inside of me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

*
We are at war between consciousness and nature, between the desire for permanence and the fact of flux. It is ourself against ourselves.

*

No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

*

No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
*

We are seeing, then, that our experience is altogether momentary.
From one point of view, each moment is so
elusive and so brief that we cannot even
think about it before it has gone. From
another point of view, this moment is always
here, since we know no other moment than the
present moment. It is always dying, always
becoming past more rapidly than imagination
can conceive. Yet at the same time it is
always being born, always new, emerging just
as rapidly from that complete unknown we
call the future. Thinking about it almost
makes you breathless.

Alan Watts



Monday, April 16, 2007

Elizabeth Gone
Anne Sexton


1.
You lay in the nest of your real death,
Beyond the print of my nervous fingers
Where they touched your moving head;
Your old skin puckering, your lungs' breath
Grown baby short as you looked up last
At my face swinging over the human bed,
And somewhere you cried, let me go let me go.

You lay in the crate of your last death,
But were not you, not finally you.
They have stuffed her cheeks, I said;
This clay hand, this mask of Elizabeth
Are not true. From within the satin
And the suede of this inhuman bed,
Something cried, let me go let me go.


2.
They gave me your ash and bony shells,
Rattling like gourds in the cardboard urn,
Rattling like stones that their oven had blest.
I waited you in the cathedral of spells
And I waited you in the country of the living,
Still with the urn crooned to my breast,
When something cried, let me go let me go.

So I threw out your last bony shells
And heard me scream for the look of you,
Your apple face, the simple creche
Of your arms, the August smells
Of your skin. Then I sorted your clothes
And the loves you had left, Elizabeth,
Elizabeth, until you were gone.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Curse Against Elegies
Anne Sexton

Oh, love, why do we argue like this?
I am tired of all your pious talk.
Also, I am tired of all the dead.
They refuse to listen,
so leave them alone.
Take your foot out of the graveyard,
they are busy being dead.

Everyone was always to blame:
the last empty fifth of booze,
the rusty nails and chicken feathers
that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,
the worms that lived under the cat's ear
and the thin-lipped preacher
who refused to call
except once on a flea-ridden day
when he came scuffing in through the yard
looking for a scapegoat.
I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.

I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you -- you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Time

keeps on slipping slipping slipping
into the future

Ti-i-i-ime

is on my side,
yes it is

No time left for you
On my way to better things
No time left for you
I found myself some wings
No time left for you
Distant roads are calling me
No time left for you, no time no time no time

*

I am inundated with time. At a time in my life
that I cannot fully appreciate such a thing.

Until October 2006, I had been working full time
and going to school part time through most of those
20 years. I had also been raising a family and cooking
and renovating and planting and cleaning and partying
and playing and singing and dancing and going to weddings
and funerals and the hospital and birthday bashes
and vacations and putting off things I did not have time to do.

Yes, I was having some fun, but I was also always
cognizant of the simple fact that if I took the time
to do one thing, then I would not have the time
to do another and would just add more stress
to my life.


Oh--there is that word-- stress. Oh how we think we know
it! And oh how we do. We do know it. We do. We just
know the direction our life goes as we follow this course
of events. We know. Why decide we know nothing
about what it is to really know stress? Why do I write
in the collective? Why am I thinking about Alan Watts--
drinker that he was--Taoist and intuitive but plagued
with all the insecurites many of us feel.

I can't spell.



Now, I have the time, but I don't have the energy
or the will or the money or the inclination to do
all the things I have put off doing.

Not put off doing as in I will do these in my retirement.
Just put off because I was tired by the TIME I got home
on any given day and just wanted to relax. To unwind. To not
think about all the things I had to do or needed to do.

*

I am up late. I've been going to bed around 9 or so.
I am inundated as well with tv and books.
Imus and Darfur and Iraq and Hip-hop and death
and the scratching of heads. Food shows and home
renovation shows. Biographies and movies. Animal
Planet and Discovery. News networks and (oh god)
even talk shows now and then. Time has permitted
such atrocities.

Not to say I haven't learned a trick or two for the evening
meal or the garden. Good things to know. Good things
when one has more time on ones hands.

Not to say I haven't learned more
about Hitler and Stalin. Things that I wish
I didn't know. Things that just elaborated on the already
horrific things I knew.

Not to say I haven't seen more
of the beautiful work of Kahlo and Wright and Evans
and Matisse. Things that make me hungry for more.
That make me want to take more road trips
to museums and galleries. Things I have time
for but no money to do.

Not to say I haven't listened to more
Dylan and Reed and REM and Lucinda.
I have already invested my money in these
things. These people. Their work. Why did
I not play them more before when I was cooking
dinner or cleaning the house.

Or did I and I just can't remember?

Time. It has this way of altering perception.
Or we have the way. Time is just a human device.


And we are so hung up on things like time.

Like I am thinking now it is after 10. Past my bed
time, which used to be my wake up and greet the world time.

Time for another glass of merlot. Cheap merlot at that.

Monday, April 09, 2007

This Evening Sky

The birds aren't leaving. They are flirting,
swooping in grandiose dives and swirls, circling
and harassing one another. They are nesting,

they are love-making. And in all
that grandiosity, my Molly, my bird-
dog, red-baby Irish setter Molly,
takes wingless, full-throttle flight

herself across the backyard, never
getting close to trapping one, much less
savoring the feast of the forbidden. She stops

when one lights in the magnolia, knowing
what she savors is far from her reach.
I relinquish my hold on the leash, know
she's perplexed and not apt to run from me.

We stand there, two solitary animals, thinking
about the one that got away, wondering
about the ones that stay. I say this with certainty

as she is no ordinary dog. Today, she pissed
on my comforter--her hallelujah--her right
to be here. Her this bed is the forbidden
song. She spent some time outside after that,

tethered to her tie-out, her red fur gleaming
in the early April light. We all want to own
something--some spot, some place we can claim

as our own, a place reserved for others that our flesh
and bone never get to inhabit, an evening sunset
we know others have as much right to witness.
And all the while, birds flutter above and wing

themselves relentlessly into a blinding blue.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sandy Denny - Who Knows Where the Time Goes - Demo recording

Laurel,

I listened to the Queen song and it brought me here to Sandy Denny. When I go visit my friend in Lexington, she plays this on the piano and I sing (or we both sing). I like this version, but I love the cover with Fairport Convention (couldn't find it here).

Bad day today. Cried all day, but I am not going to beat up on myself about it.

Friend, thank you. For believing in me. Though we have never laid eyes on one another, we have shared so much.

Thank you. Thank you.
M

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Under Cover

Last night, before dark,
I went outside and covered
the wisteria and garden phlox
with my moon and star flannel sheets,

but to no avail. This morning, the wisteria
buds sagged like old breasts, though they were small
and so seemingly ripe. The phlox leaves, unfettered
and unfurled, had turned inside of themselves as if

ashamed. Even the clematis, whose tendrils had attached
themselves tightly to the faux wood trellis, were drooping
and seemingly disinterested in the whole shenanigan.
So I disrobed them completely and finally before noon,

with the realization that my small amount of effort
mattered not at all, and that even the best efforts one can make
are at the whim of something larger than oneself. I won't
cover them tonight. I'll let the natural course of living take

its place, let the south reclaim everything to gravity,
as it' s prone to do, cover my own sagging, weathered
body tighter tonight, some simple ruse to soothe
my own misgivings.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

From my son's room comes the sound
of my youth, so long gone now:


Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang her name on you
when you change with every new day
still I'm gonna miss you

What do I miss?

What I never knew
as much as what I knew.

The boys whose kisses created warmth
where there had been none before, the girls
who laughed and cried with me, the grandmother
who taught me to chain one and loop two
(or something like that), the father who taught
me how to parallel park in his old brown caddy.

This afternoon, in the cold that decided
to revisit this town, I sat in the sun
and crushed buttercups. Not because


Enough.