All the junk that goes with being human — the sweaty parts, the sour refusals, jealousies ocean-sized and petty, the worm of veins as aging wears out the body. We try, though, don’t we? We try to manage expectations, to overcome the vast array of annoyances, to face our fears as we watch the burning hellscape that is America.
To get up and fight.
It might be our turn to fall. If so, it won’t be from from hubris, but from a toxic blend of corrupt greed and epic stupidity. Plus Facebook. While Oleg Deripaska funds aluminum plants in Kentucky, a passel of white people in Pennsylvania storms Target yelling about their freedom not to wear masks.
Outside, a pounding — perhaps a new deck for a neighbor? Maple leaves ruffle in the wind. They will crisp and yellow and before long, fall and litter the fence line. How do your hold your suffering? With what secret thoughts or unsustainable compromises? Winter, as has been said, is coming.
By the time the neighbor’s new deck is nailed together and stained and holding chairs and company, the election will be upon us. The massive efforts to steal it, already in motion. If only this… if only that… How to do enough?
How many things have you lost of late? What of them matter? Where does Hope dwell in your body?
I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg would want us to hold fast to Hope with a ferocity past all reason. Don’t you?
Prompt: write for five minutes about all the junk that goes with being human.
Writing Prompt: “Throw consciousness to some particular part of the body. Put the whole mind there… what are the reports?”
This sounds like a Gestalt exercise, but it comes from an old book entitled, “Power of Will,” by Frank Channing Haddock. 1918.
(How weird to see that the book was published during the Spanish flu).
Here is a part of what I wrote, neck speaking:
Wasn’t it funny that you had a nail in your pocket during your bone scan? The x-ray technician queried, “Are you sure there’s nothing else in your pockets?” And there it was: a three inch nail, left over from a day of hanging mirrors on the wall where you come in. On the wall where you come in now light gathers on various rectangles of glass, a pleasing magic no less potent for being ordinary.
The diagnostics designed to show my crumbling demise partner with a tool for bringing in more light.
The scan sees through shirt and pants and flesh, all the way down to the bone. Look! There we are, the C-3’s and C-4’s, just below your skull. Perhaps a little gratitude is in order. How long we’ve upheld your head — through dance class, Take Back the Night Rallies, and snowstorms and screaming sex and giving birth and closing doors and making soup. . . Everything you can name and lots you can’t name as well.
Crumbling is one way to describe us. Compression: average to moderate. Waiting for severe. Still going, albeit with a crunch.
We could use your kind attention right now and in the right nows that follow. Please baby our nerves, stretch our muscles. Let the phone buzz and the screen stay dark. Take a bath with salts. Scrub your knees and elbows with the salt. Remember that you are an electrical being.
Sunlight is disinfecting, healing, which is why hanging mirrors is never merely ornamental. Find it. Sit in it.
Piggyback prayer. Burn a punk or two. It’s time to go deeper.
Remember how we used to say, “the breath knows how”?
Well, the breath knows how.
May all sentient beings by joyful, etc.
We prepare for darkness — the dust to dust part. Such preparations are not morbid. In fact, they are joyous. How lovely to breathe knowing that one day you will not. We crumble and compress on our way to the grave. Such is the way of all structures, not just skeletons, but also empires and republics.
Did it ever occur to you how much of your agonies arise from wanting, desperately wanting, the Republic to survive?
It might. It might not. Do your calls, your protests and postcards, but forget a return, a preservation, a rekindling or a revolution. Give all those ideas up. This we say to you.
After lunch with a friend, Finn and I made the figure eight: Jackson to Maplewood to Dudley, then home. It was almost three, so cars lined up on Cypress in front of the school and mothers with babies in slings and dogs on leashes walked past. Being so near the solstice, the sky was heavy with twilight. It will be dark long before five.
The mechanics of Tuesday writing class continue to be challenging — time and weather and whatnot, but the coalescing around words is powerful, so it all seems worthwhile. Zoom came to the rescue again.
Here is one of two poems that provided a writing prompt yesterday. From a publication (unknown) dated May 1981. Found in the clip file.
MAGIC WORDS (after Nalungiaq)
In the earliest time, / when both people and animals lived on earth, / a person could become an animal if he wanted to / and an animal could become a human being. / Sometimes they were people / and sometimes animals / and there was no difference. / All spoke the same language. / That was the time when words were like magic. / The human mind had mysterious powers. / A word spoken by chance / might have strange consequences. / It would suddenly come alive / and what people wanted to happen could happen — / all you had to do was say it. / Nobody could explain this: / That’s the way it was.
* * *
Just found this online (not including the link because it’s not secure):
Nalungiaq, an Inuit (Eskimo) woman, reported that she learned the song “Magic Words” from an elderly uncle named Unaraluk. Unaraluk was a shaman, a kind of sorcerer or priest. The song was first written down by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who was part Inuit and spoke the Inuit language, lived for some time with the Netsilik people during his expedition across arctic America, known as the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924). He collected many Netsilik legends and tales in the desire to learn about the unique view such an isolated people had developed of their world and the universe. Poet Edward Field translated many of these stories. “Magic Words” is also included in Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of traditional Native American poetry,Shaking the Pumpkin.
You can also find the poem in Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos, edited by Edward Field. Published by Education Development Center (1968).
Here’s a 6.5 minute crude lament from today’s writing class. The prompt was to begin a piece with the line, ‘he steps a foot away and spits’. I stumble a few times and need to figure out how to turn pages more quietly, but hope the mistakes aren’t too distracting. Please let me know if viewing is problematic. Maybe YouTube’d be better?
Here it is in print (I fix a mistake in the 1st paragraph):
The Act of Tiny Fingers
He steps a foot away and spits. His phlegm lands in a glistening lump. He is a master
of distraction and will impose no bounds on his tricks… certainly not propriety or hygiene.
He will steal your dog, rifle through your purse just for fun, and decapitate your peonies some moonlit night in June.
You wake heartbroken at the pink debris, no idea he’d been by.
He picks his teeth and scratches his balls — especially in front of young women — as if those young women didn’t already feel the menace of his maleness.
He’s a ticket to hell. He’s hell itself.
But, don’t take it personally. He will do whatever crosses his path.
Of course he has a predilection for things with slits between their legs — see how even in calling out his sins how his sick cosmology taints our capacity to name ourselves!
But yeah, he’d prefer to fuck with girls or women but boys don’t get a free pass because of course by now you know that our gross master’s magic depends on opportunism.
He’s a sneak, but only for fun because he has the power to impose blatant violations openly. Day in and day out, he commits his atrocities. A fallen building here, starvation mid-Africa, soul-stealing all along the streets of Detroit.
I hope I don’t need to tell you who funds our clever sinner, now do I?
Big pharm, gun makers, gas and oil dealers and all their unmanned, creepy minions. Is it easier to sit atop your high horse, Mitch McConnell’s of the world, when your balls have been handed to you so long ago you can’t remember where you hid them? Did you hide them? A trophy of shame and compromise.
Oh the calls how they come! The justice mavericks need money more than ever and I’m just trying to eat my lunch, watching bad crime show re-runs. The insistent demanding fundraiser wasn’t having my refusal — kept on sputtering her message — Emily’s List! Georgia! 2018! I stopped being annoyed and became something like amused. But the wallet remained clamped shut until she misspoke (did she mispeak?) and called the Koch brothers, ‘the Cock Brothers’.
At that point, I might’ve handed over my first born. “Just for that,” I laughed, “here’s my Visa number, expiration June 2018.”
It is no glum, exaggerated prognostication to think we might not be here come June 2018.
He grossly clears another load of phlegm and lobs it through time and space so that it almost hits my shoe. Such precision! Such calculation! Of course he’d slobber on my foot if he so chose. I know it and he knows I know it. It’s all a game to him — tally and torment. Grabbing and removing lawmakers’ manhood one minute and violating an anchorwoman the next.
But! But! The predator’s ratings rise — like his purple veined member! Apparently, the dollars of hard working folk and the dollars of companies willing to take a stand don’t matter as much as we’d like to think.
Did he use a microphone? Was it greased with spit?
And you want to call ME gross? Does the reporting of violation constitute violation?
In the morning we rise, no longer unclear about what the matter is. Remember those frosty mornings in November — in that early time of disbelief when you’d wake and scramble through memory wondering, “Now what is it that’s so god-damned awful?”
The prankster works at all ends of a crisis — first (but not first) mortgage scams denying people of color entry to the middle class, then a so-called war on drugs (the Devil loves euphemism in case you don’t know), then the double, triple standards of education, employment —
Oh Christ! The line of sin is so long just recounting it takes more juice than I possess, but for now think: LEAD. Lead in the water. Not an iffy contaminant, but a known poison with known, documented harmful results upon ingestion, especially to growing brains.
Oh how we worried about paint chips in our 200 year old house! Waited for the blood work. Sighed with relief. Such privilege!
Syrian babies make buffoons cry on television. Or was it the man-baby’s wife-daughter who cried and inspired his missile attack? Talk about compensation! Maybe half our problems would go away if the giant fool could simply (simply?) fuck his daughter.
I am prepared to wipe my shoe if need be.
But am I brave enough to launch a kick — particularly when I am too short to reach any tender pieces above the knee?
The Devil operates in abstractions, too, but revels in the bawdy, the crude, the parts that smell and tug and shove and release. It’s not me reveling.
I can’t even make a gob of spit like that. Is phlegm production related to lying in any way? If so, there must be rows of spittoons in the House and Senate and along the corridors of our formerly esteemed White House.
The overwhelm of destructive might be working — shock and awe, they said, shock and awe. Or was it fire storm? I mix the metaphors — proof in point. When we turn on the news and the most recent, singular, and shocking revelation makes you reach for the clicker, that’s the Devil’s work, too. He wears us out.
Pandora has a place here, too. Let’s ask — how? How? How on earth do we stuff this bile and vitriol and regressive policy back into the box?
Don’t we already pay with pained childbirth and cancer? Must we also suffer as witnesses to the act of tiny fingers turning a clock back decades? Undoing, undoing, undoing.
Where do all the missed orgasms go? Do they stuff themselves into pelvic bones, later to afflict the unsatisfied with bursitis? Do they congregate in the shadows, behind the bureau, say, to become part of what haunts us in the half light when we are alone and already unsettled? Maybe they fly off like the geese that passed overhead this morning while I was walking the dog, barely visible in the fog, honking their lament.
Their ultimate destination ought to depend on how close they came to deliverance, so that the ones that never even stood a chance would go to one graveyard, while the ones that shunted off to the side seconds before blossoming into shuddering, clamping pleasure would go to another, presumably more exalted, resting place. The really near misses might properly be housed in a mausoleum, one lined with stone-carved lilies and angels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offer your disappointments a bouquet of flowers now and then? I would choose red roses, even if rock n’ roll cliché resided in every soft, perfumed fold.
The sorting of failed pleasure feels like a job for Pluto, that merciless lord of the Underworld. If you recall, he’s the guy who sucked Persephone down from a field of flowers where she had been skipping along in innocent glee, a mere handful of yards from her doting mother. What a way to lose your virginity! I’ll have to go back for clues. Are there any hints that Persephone grew to enjoy her year-long subjugation? Or maybe even that she enjoyed it right from the very first bloody, hymen-breaking start?
Maybe the collective missed orgasms sail down to the Underworld and settle in the young girl’s loins, giving her one thudding, yelping orgasm after another, so that in spite of being held captive by a foul-breathed master of cruelty with no capacity to care for her, she at least has that release – or dare I say — ‘fun’?
Probably unspent female pleasure serves no purpose whatsoever — either noble or trivial. And, think about it, if it could serve some greater aim than the simple satisfaction of its participant, why would it choose a story about rape, where the mere whiff of female enjoyment can be so easily misinterpreted by male listeners, the coercive ones that want to believe in their decency but shouldn’t?
All the skewed notions, why add fuel to the fire? On the other hand, why let certain malevolent others have power over the range of my inquiry?
And while we’re talking about women’s pleasure, how about the cinematic female orgasm? You know the one – the grinding mutual orgasm that takes four seconds and requires penetration only. It’s astonishing how ubiquitous it is. Here’s one of many versions: guy shoves lover up against wall while yanking up her skirt, enters her, pumps four or five times to much deep-throated moaning on her part, at which point they climax together. Four seconds, four or five thrusts of his member. To watch any screen for any amount of time gives the impression that there are lots of women going commando in black pencil skirts having way more fun than I do.
Just to be clear. I have fun. Okay?
I would give almost anything to see that improbably hot detective or that leggy, single mother who looks like she just stepped off the cover of Vogue, shove her lover back, look him square in the eye and ask with unfettered disdain, “Are you kidding me? That’s it?!”
You could call the cinematic four second female orgasm (with penetration only) a male orgasm with tits. But the better view is that the quick, ecstatic humping we see time and time again stands in as pure male fantasy, something akin to the letters published in Penthouse, which even as a fourteen year old babysitter scanning the text surreptitiously, I knew to be pure fiction.
Can you imagine the relief that would flood this planet if women came as predictability, quickly, and with as little reliance on circumstance as men did? In four seconds with penetration only, in other words? Like they do in the movies?
I know women have these kinds of orgasms, and some women have them routinely (and I hope I don’t need to point out that to assert as much would require obnoxious gloating and very personal revelations?) For the sake of discussion, let me say that at no time have I come in four seconds while being pushed up against a restaurant bathroom stall wearing a pencil skirt with no stockings or underwear on. The point isn’t whether these brief climaxes happen or not — I know someone who came while dining out and enjoying a plate of shrimp, for God’s sake — but why that’s all we ever see, time and time again… the one version that just happens to be congruent with male fantasy.
I’m reading a well-written debut novel that features a lot of sex. In chapter after chapter, we are treated to a whole range of ways to have it, to enjoy it, and to be hurt and baffled by it. The protagonist is a privileged, self-destructive twenty-something who wanders through the sordid bedrooms of S&M, but also lies down in a fragrant eucalyptus grove and comes three times while enjoying the great California outdoors. At the author’s reading in Cambridge, her introducer focused a bit on the self-destructive and violent parts in a way that obscured the more subtle experiences described. Leave it to a guy to fail to mention the female protagonist’s multiple orgasms or her bland and recurring let downs.
I wish I’d said, “You don’t have to be a wanton 20-something hell-bent on self destruction to be bewildered or disappointed by sex. Hello? Anybody?!”
Instead, I raised my hand and asked if she wrote with pen or keyboard.
There was some pretty gross shit in there. But still, I’d rather read a passage about a feckless young woman being enamored with the vulnerability of a man’s ass as he walks away from their bed, even if they just shared a violent interchange that I can’t relate to at all than see that god damned four second improbable climax on the screen again. The fact that the novel’s passage is so wholly, explicitly, and credibly told from a female perspective makes it food for the soul. Scene after scene produced feelings of recognition and I doubt that I am alone in this.
The dog I walk does not look up at the passing geese. More and more I’m seasonally confused – remind me – what time of year is it?! He tugs at the leash and lunges, hackles raised, bark, bark, barking his head off at other dogs – sometimes, not always, and never for the dog walker. It’s an at least twice daily reminder that life is difficult. This is the dog I got. This is the life I got.
The embroidered pouch slung across my shoulder once held coins for wending my way – sometimes the change exacted by the ferryman in order to cross the dark river, sometimes as shiny offerings for Demeter when she missed her daughter the most. Now it stinks of beef. I offer up hot dog chunks to the dog in hopes of rewiring his canine circuitry into something friendlier, more manageable, more normal. “Please god,” I say at least twice a week. That I have zero faith in our strategies – strategies paid for with bloody dollar bills, by the way – I can only hope has no impact on their efficacy.
Arriving home, I look out over the still misty ground to what remains of the now abandoned play structure. There, I can just make out the black, spray painted letters that spell out: ‘ZERO FAITH’. Probably scrawled during one of the boy’s passages through middle school. Could be a skateboard brand. Or a song. Probably also a declaration. It makes me wonder: does misery pass through the body’s code, along with hair color and shoe size? Please don’t answer, I already know.
Notes: This was written to an ‘object prompt’ in a writing class. My object was a black cloth zippered bag embroidered with flowers.
A lament is a bit like a rant in that it resorts to stylized exaggeration. A rant uses the lens of anger and irritation, while a lament is more elegiac. In other words, don’t take this as autobiography. It’s more like sharing a dream.
The novel referred to is, “Wreck and Order” by Hannah Tennant-Moore. I plan to post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (and maybe here) and so I am ruminating about the novel. I haven’t quite finished, but can certainly recommend it. It is a stunning literary debut.
Finally, after reading this to my husband, he recommended not posting– not because it includes stuff about sex, but because it is so grim. Well, this may be unwise, but I trust all 35 of my readers to hold this a certain way.