Category Archives: Rants and Laments

Offspring: a poem, a lament

Speaking of offspring, here’s a lament written during the summer writing retreat.* I can’t remember what the prompt was — maybe something about emptying your mind?


Golden rod tug slightly in a breeze. Higher up, the rustle of maples. And everywhere: insects. Bees and flies and stinging pests. How sweet it’d be to merely lament the season coming to a close and not the earth herself melting, collapsing, churning, with the Ring of Fire activating quakes up and down the coasts on either side of the Pacific. Which one will open up under Brentwood, Pasadena, Korea Town, and Studio City and gobble up great edifices of society not to mention, people: Brother, Son? I could never have been the mother who said, ‘No. Do not go.’ And even if I had been, he’d not have listened which is how it should be, but still — a bigger worry added to the usual worries.

And then there’s the plains of Nebraska, the river banks along the Mississippi, the lower reaches of Missouri — should so much land be under water?

And how can the potential destruction of, say, one American Western city compare to all of Greenland’s ice melting, Paris and London frying under a merciless sun? Or colony collapse, the bees giving up the ghost, along with whole caveloads of bats, unable to fight the poisonous fight any longer, tongues and nails, slab and tourniquet. What place, then after?

When we look at the data, we also look away, preferring to note how a grasshopper landing not five feet away says something about summer ending and the memory of other summers ending — times when bikes, hoses, pools, bare feet were the signifiers. Our poor brood when little watched nature show after nature show offering up news of habitat decline and species extinction and people wonder why millennials are anxious?

We wonder why the young refuse heirlooms of any kind, but especially have no interest in the Rosenthal china, the Royal Doulton, the Strawberry Wedgewood. ‘Will we have a home or air?’ they wonder — the inability to afford the former a trifling but inescapable concern compared to the latter.

‘We have ten years,’ they keep saying, trying and failing to sound the alarm. ‘Ten years’ means something different to the young than it does to my aging ears. Gone are the days when insects present as cute and annoying pests. Not when closer scrutiny might reveal how numbered their days are. How connected they are to everything else.

Even if we all rowed in the same direction, what a monumental challenge! But with lies the prevalent currency and corporations granted all ascendancy, we first have to clean house and by then — I’m sorry, the thought is there — mightn’t it be too late?

How many monarchs migrated to the milkweeds, those perennials standing proud and erect, proper in their heliotropic course, casting lozenge-shaped shadows, offering praise to sun and nourishment to caterpillars? How many? Less than last year? A tenth of the year before?

It’s easy to shrug at the extinction of some two-toed sloth or a miniature lizard with nocturnal habits literally never seeing the light of day, but what about ALL of the passerines? Polar bears and reindeer? What about us? If we’d cared more about the two-toed sloth all those years ago, would we be better situated today — able to enter the “Wild Kingdom” programming, sponsored by Mutual of Omaha and hosted by some hokey and corny know-nothing, instead of learning about floating islands of plastic the size of Delaware and about Colorado burning for half a season?

 

* It turns out that the response to the prompt mentioned yesterday became a chapter in the book (working title: •Blood and Indigo•). That means I’m precluded from ‘publishing’ here (seriously, with 100 hits a day?) What would happen if I ‘published’ it, left it up for ten days, and then tagged it private? SShhh

Sharon Olds poem, published in Atlantic Magazine.

Jesus in the rubble

After the debris had been lifted and carted away, all that was left of the little yellow house was concrete — an impersonal litter devoid of any indicia of 40 or 50 years of living. I told myself that I would hold dear whatever little sign of life I found. Don’t ask me why.

First, I spied a disk of nylon tulle, scarlet against the grey debris like a splash of fresh blood. How did it survive when so little else did? During one of my trespasses, I’d come upon a pile of these in the basement — leftovers from a baby shower, perhaps? They were the perfect size to load with pastel-colored candies and tie up as a favor.

hipstamaticphoto-566341937.775817But mostly, there was rubble. No hemp. No copper. No stray nails. Nothing. When I squatted down near where one of the basement doors had been, however, I found four more things.

There was a hank of black cord, a padlock, and a dead mouse. I used the tulle to pick up the mouse. I would bury it later.

img_9538-1The house triggered thoughts about our predicament. Most of us operate under the shared hallucination that more is better, but developers and corporations do so with a vengeance. The old calculus of cost-benefit analysis (long-term consequences be damned) these days means risking the future of our planet.

The almighty dollar will float like limp lily pads when a super storm floods the new and enlarged basement. Money in the bank won’t slow the storm surge when a torrential, 100-year-storm hits. And, by the way, when will we stop calling storms that happen twice a year, ‘100 year storms’?

The almighty dollar won’t buy our grandchildren a future when water becomes the new oil and Ted Turner’s descendants own the Mississippi. Money will be rendered conspicuously useless in a barter economy. What do stocks and bonds mean to hoards of refugees fleeing drought or civil war? And when the pandemic comes, bleach will be the precious commodity.

Maybe the empty lot, still forlorn and naked in transition, suggests that you won’t want to live in a post-capitalist disaster zone — one bottle of bleach and a beaker being enough, if you catch my meaning.

The empty lot speaks to the break down of bodies, since we too will crumble into anonymous debris. But while the decay of flesh falls within the natural order of things, conspicuous and reckless consumption does not.

New lives will occupy this square of land —  lives of sorrow and triumph, pettiness and valor. Will they act as if we can consume and invent our way out of climate change? Or will they be willing to look at hard truths and buckle up? Am I?

And then, I found Jesus in the rubble. A piece of maroon felt about the size of a quarter appeared at my feet. I flipped it over to find Jesus. Half a scapular. This and the dead mouse somehow became emblems of ‘radical hope.’


A crescent moon winked through the branches as I walked home. The air was crisp. With a dead mouse and half a scapular in my pocket, I pulled an airing quilt off the yew in front of my house. After the grey debris and feelings of regret, the colorful patchwork moved my tired and clamped heart. This was yet another emblem, wasn’t it? One of love. One I hope will survive as a minor but meaningful legacy.

 

Little yellow house : after

Early on demolition day, I blindly pulled this quote by May Swenson as a writing prompt: “Am I the bullet / or the target / or the hand / that holds the gun?

The destruction was unexpectedly and utterly fascinating. Yes, there went the bedroom then the room with the radio, the staircase — but what an efficient and powerful brutality! I was no longer the target, I was the gun. Sometimes the bucket chewed on support beams like a hungry beast. Other times the operator used it to nudge weakened walls into collapse, not unlike a mother animal nudging her wayward young. How did the operator know when to grab and claw and when to shove and tip? I was the finger pulling the trigger.

It was 19 degrees that morning. Gloves off to use the camera, my fingers quickly froze. Finn had hopped up onto the rock wall at my back, so when he started shivering I could feel it immediately. Oh but I wasn’t ready to leave!

I slung my arm around the dog and pulled him close. Like a gory car accident that you can’t look away from, the floors and walls being compressed into rubble kept us standing by.

Close to dusk, I went back only to be shocked at the uniformity and anonymity of the debris. It seemed to consist only of wood and bits of insulation. Where did the bed springs go? The yellow velvet cushions of the couch? Naturally, not a chip of the praying figurines showed up, but the pink bathroom tiles? How did they so thoroughly vanish? The crocheted afghan that had occupied the end of one of the beds just hours earlier might as well have been vaporized.

There were two very large stuffed creatures, pierced and toppled in a gruesome fashion. There was a piece of wood (part of a closet wall?) on which an oil change had been noted. A coil of wire. A glove. But not much else except round back.

Since the basement was still intact after day one, I went back to see what I could grab, not quite remembering earlier rationales for restraint. Perhaps the linens? Maybe that strange collection of incense burners? But to no avail. The basement door gushed pieces of the caved-in house like a barfing mouth.

On the second day of demo, they wrecked the last of the wooden structure and removed most of the debris. Again the utter lack of identifying detail in what was left seemed physically inexplicable. How could there be so little evidence of all those things — of all those years of living?

I told myself that if I found anything I would treat it as something important.

And that will be the third (and final?) post about this wreckage. Incredibly enough, the prompt in today’s writing class was: “the empty lot was a constant reminder of…

A tale of distraction

I went to read blogs. I’ve missed being in the loop. Don’t want to be a slacker, etc. But, having been away, the computer was off and in bending over to turn on the CPU, a lot of dust confronted me. So I got out my trusty little LED lamp that I keep to illuminate the dark cubbies of tangled cords and went to it. By then a neighbor’s yard crew, already loud, but legal, fired up a second leaf blower — not legal — so, tired of being the in-person enforcer, I leapt up to shoot my neighbor an email asking her to let them know. To control what I could (a helpful tactic in any arena), I pulled out my noise-cancelling headphones only to find that, yet again I’d left them on and drained the battery.

Battery was not just dead, but fuzzy and its corridor of power rimed, so using a bamboo skewer and paper towel, I reamed out the dark compartment. Even a new battery failed to make the green light appear (this, after trying several from a baggie marked, “used but maybe not dead,” a phrase I remembered as “old but not necessarily dead.”)  I donned the headphones anyway and took to standing on tables and stools, because by then the fury of dusting had gone up an elevation to bookcases and ceilings. I worry about falling now. How different from when I relied on balance and agility, sometimes making a long athletic reach, letting the support tip, completely secure in the possible outcomes (“old but not necessarily dead,” indeed).

It is sufficiently chilly and light-less now to want curtains on our back wall of glass, so I hung those and in the process passed a new credit card enough times to want to activate it. Thought it’d be simple. The card had no raised numbers to report to the robot, so I kept pressing “1” for more time and the robot kept asking me if I wanted more time before I’d had a chance to do anything, so ultimately I opted for a call- back. The return call was ALSO a robot, obnoxiously asking for additional numeric selections, a fact I found sufficiently outrageous to begin my communication with “Cookie” by complaining.

“You were calling ME,” I say, as if any big bank gives a shit about customers, a status further revealed (and not countermanded as they might think), by asking me at the close of the call if I wouldn’t mind taking the additional time to complete a survey about the transaction. Are they crazy? Did Cookie not hear how I interrupted her attempt to log my initial complaint in order to abbreviate our exchange? And meanwhile, it didn’t help that the call was necessitated by the fact that I’m an idiot. “Really? I’ve had this card since 1997?” And, who knew the account number was on the back and not raised because that’s how they do it now?Soon I was windexing the transom windows and listening to Pod Save America’s coverage of Kavanaugh — wondering why — what’s enough!— since at this point it’s like listening to my own thoughts I’ve followed the whole sorry story so closely.

What is enough? How many times?

How much coverage is enough or how many times must we go through this very scenario before guys in power figure anything out? Apparently, Anita Hill taught two of these very senators absolutely nothing.

Here, let me remove my imaginary glasses and proclaim what is real.

I plunked into my chair, opened facebook and watched a cute video called, “Fart Out Loud Day” IN ITS ENTIRETY and laughed and that ends this Tale of Distraction.

***

Here are two links that made a positive difference to me this week.

The first is political, but reads like poetry. It pushes the boundaries of genre in an exciting way and gets at where we find ourselves without being analytical.  By Alexandra Petri.

And the other is a poem by WB Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion, referenced in the TV detective show, Shetland, that I’ve been watching. The last lines read:

I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The River Lethe and Mercy

Lately, I’ve had an overwhelming and sometimes irresistible need to sleep — I’m calling it, “the Helsinki Reaction”.

Imagine my shock upon turning over in bed Sunday morning to see that it was 10:30. 10:30! And WITH A NEW YORK TIMES CROSSWORD PUZZLE on the stoop, no less. That was one thing, but then to polish off the puzzle WHILE DRINKING A CUP OF COFFEE and subsequently lie down and sleep some more?

(K. has the excuse of jet lag. I don’t).

Yesterday driving home from Salem in stop and start traffic with a hot summer sun blasting through the windshield, sleep arose as a weird and disturbing possibility. Oh, to close the eyes for just a second! Just a second. This, even with the AC going full tilt. This, even while listening to Pod Save America — a news podcast that I find addictively funny and informative. It’s not normal, this need for sleep.

Aside #1: Jon Favreau is my pod crush, what with that big, big brain of his and the charming space between his front teeth. A fellow fan warms to Tommy Vietor and though I’m less inclined toward blondes, I get it: all those clean cut good looks in a neat preppy package.

(I made it home and don’t worry I wasn’t really gonna fall asleep while driving).

I’ve ticked through the list: am I coming down with something? (no); is it the Sun traveling though my Twelfth House, triggering the Underworld corner of my Grand Cross (perhaps, but this is an annual event and one I often find energizing); could it be my thyroid? (alas, no– recently checked — which is too bad because it’d also account for a recent 15 lb weight gain); could it be the collision of the dew point and scorching temps? (well, maybe? but I’m mostly inside with AC). Wait, did you say ‘collision’? That’s getting close to the nub of it, I think.

When I turn to the Tarot, “Logic” comes up. Three times. Anyone who has a relationship with a deck knows this means: PAY ATTENTION. But Logic? Logic as answer to the question, what do I need, what can I lean on now for succor and strength?

I no longer view logic as mere sturdy upholder of truth and argument, but rather as a potent gateway to mercy and justice. I can thank former NAACP President and CEO, Cornell William Brooks, for that insight.

Aside #2: At the inception of the BLM movement, or to be more precise, at the time All Lives Matter rose up as a stupid and reactionary hashtag, Cornell Brooks made this elegant argument: If All Lives Matter, then perforce, Black Lives Matter (which is to say, if you believe that all lives matter, you should have absolutely zero problem with the assertion that black lives matter).  Conversely, if Black Lives DON’T Matter, then it cannot be true that All Lives Matter (so if you’re siding with “blue lives” at the expense of black lives, you don’t really believe that all lives matter). In the realm of illogic serving up racial animus, it also bears saying that believing in racial equity does not automatically make you anti-police. (I unfriended someone over that asinine argument).

Is this logic in service of Mercy or Justice?

Aside #3: A recent sharp edit by storyteller extraordinaire and generous beta reader, Deb Lacativa, brought this very question into focus. How are Mercy and Justice different? When are they the same?

To those who’d say, take up the arms of resistance to beat back your stupor, I say, not right this second. Did I mention: I want to go to sleep?

When I input my zip code into Swing Left’s ‘get involved’ page on Monday and New Hampshire came up, I thought, “NO! NO! Not going there again.” Getting high school students down the street registered sounds more like my speed especially because I don’t think my day of canvassing in the fall of 2016 made any difference at all, unless you count settling my conscience (which is not nothing and there’s no reason to assume that 2018 would be the same as 2016, but still… ) Post cards. I’ll write post cards. But only if someone hands me a list.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday’s Indivisible phone call, I listened to others’ laudable efforts — one networking with folks from Free Speech for People (drivers of #impeachdonaldtrumpnow on the basis of the emoluments clauses), another collaborating with Quakers on international measures protecting justice, and a third taking part in a celebration with a faith community that has housed and nurtured a family in sanctuary for a full year. This comparison is only to highlight how fucking tired I feel and not to otherwise feel bad about myself.

Okay, so could it be the dog? (Now you can tell me that I’m being ridiculous). But how restrictive a presence he is — making a trip to the beach difficult, causing a visit to my ailing father-in-law to require more planning than I have the wherewithal for right now, making even a trip to Macy’s in Framingham feel like it’s pushing it at times, for Christ’s sake. That I spend my dog-free hours on trips to Salem is just another indignity of that situation and puhleeze don’t get me going on that (yesterday was a difficult one).

Aside #4: It’s a wonder that a creature who imposes such regular restriction also offers salvation, for there I go, twice a day, out into the neighborhood, always the better for it. And later, there he is, modeling sleeping and relaxing as a Correct Way of Being. And, every time I stand at the cutting board, there are his liquid eyes, such attention affirming that we are connected, that he notices what I’m doing, and that he’s learned how to get stuff from me, all incredibly reassuring somehow, even as I’m also lambasting myself (just a little) for making a food beggar out of him.

So, it has to be the news. Of course, it’s the news. Even for this prolonged and shocking shit storm, the Helsinki Summit came as a drastic and soul-wrecking event.

Part II of this Lament: tomorrow. It’s all of a piece but this post is already too long. I promise it won’t just be about politics. Look for words about coyotes, unintended consequences, and how we construct narratives.

A screen grab from almost a year ago

PS The River Lethe is one of five rivers in Hades. Ten seconds of research produced this relevant passage:

“those who drink from it experience complete forgetfulness. Lethe is also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion.”

(picture above by Thomas Benjamin Kennington)

Lament to a prompt

If you’re up for a lament without much by way of sentence structure, here’s my response to a prompt in class this morning (using a bunch of song/nursery rhyme fragments/Catholic echos). I may come back tomorrow and add the text but for now here’s the video. It runs 6:45 minutes. Sorry about the hair that kept bothering my lower lip.

Lament to writing prompt “burial”

These days, I could write a lament or a rant everyday (and some days, every hour). This one was a response to an in-class writing prompt on “things we bury”. At six minutes, it runs a little long (who do I think I am, anyway?). Tomorrow I’ll post the written version.

So just to place this in time. I wrote this four days after the Golden Globes and a few hours before learning about the “shithole countries” remark.

A couple caveats: the business about Oprah running for president is worthy of considered response. In this “Lament” there is merely a tossed off line about that. And though I’m sneering about the black gown business in this piece, I was actually moved and inspired by the solidarity expressed in the gesture.

Footnote: the Western referred to is “Godless“, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Dockery. Binge worthy Netflix viewing.