Boats I Have Been Upon #2 – “I’m not Pure”

galnewsydTess of the Turbervilles — it was great. I felt bad for her — Tess — being defiled so young and losing her purity. Angel Clare, her erstwhile lover, who found out about her past and disdained her, was a wimp. I lost my purity, I guess — or close enough — as a child on the 7oo foot ocean liner  Gallileo Galilie.  Scientist Gallileo, for those of you who missed elementary or middle school, was villified for stating (too early but correctly) that the world was not the center of the universe, but circled the sun.

At any rate, some Australasian ship owners named their Italian built 1,750 passenger ship Gallileo, and on this boat, (above), traveling in the early seventies as a cruise ship from Sydney to Mexico, I saw, two days before the ship captain banned it for extreme violence from child viewing, the 1972 movie Pope Joan, in which a nun disguised as a man almost makes it to popehood until her pregnancy, and hence sex, is discovered by crowds of her erstwhile fans who then rip her and her Baby in Womb literally limb from limb (leading to nightmares for me and perhaps my brothers for years to come.)

I also saw, on the Gallileo Galilie, the horror, as my parents saw it, of an ocean liner divided into classes with corresponding dining halls, swimming pools and tinned fruit/ice cream according to fees paid. I believe we were second. In which cabin thereof I lost my purity, or part of it, of the flesh. But was this so bad? It was, reader, if there be any reading this. It was so bad.woodbathtub

But not as bad, perhaps, as Natalie Wood not losing it, in my favorite movie Splendor in the Grass. Natalie, who, as Deenie, loses her great love Bud (Warren Beatty) to sexual and social constraints in the 1950s, ends up weeping and screaming at her mother  “Oh I’m not spoiled, I’m not spoiled,” from the virgin bathtub, (right): “I’m just as fresh and as virginal  as the day as I was born…  Mother, I just want to die.”

Don’t skip the clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQqB6c8r72U

 

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Your Picture Is Still On My Wall

Daniel teenagePoet Donald Revell once kissed me goodbye, on the cheek, at an arts colony in Vermont and said, “Go with God.” I was so surprised to hear this, I kept it quiet for fifteen years.  No one where I came from said  “Go with God”.  No one said “God” — only — if ever — the CoolSpeak word for God which was”HP” (Higher Power.)  Once, I was actually laughed at, in a gentle way of course, for “using the word Jesus below 14th Street.”

Some things you might as well not share.  Pandora’s Box — for example, everyone knows what ‘s in it. Also, once I had a pretty brilliant happy religious experience and told a brother about it. He thought for a while and said Louise, that experience was the result of Group Ritual.  Maybe it was. Maybe, as my father always told me, “Louise, you see things in people that just aren’t there.”

I think of this singer sometimes, Daniel Johnston (above as a teenager.) He is bipolar and tried to fly a plane, crashing it, while under the impression that he was Superman. He has this beautiful song Some Things Last A Long Time.

“Your picture is still on my wall. The colors are bright, bright as ever. The red is strong. The blue is pure. ….  I  think about you — often — often.”

Whoever the girl in the picture is, you get the feeling she is long gone. But not for Johnston.  As for those things we can’t see, as Rilke says, what then justifies you in missing them, if they never were?

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All the Best in Law School

monica 2014 I don’t know why it has taken me 15 years to read Monica’s Story, Lewinsky’s 1999 book with Princess Diana biographer Andrew Morton.

Actually, I do. But I but I don’t feel like telling you.

It awes me somehow that this book, which I picked up for free this week, was once in Miss Lewinsky’s very own hands. It is the first time a book signature has really wowed me.  I mean: All the best in Law School. Did she know what she was saying?

scanmonicaWhat a disturbing book. What an incredibly, unbelievable, sweet girl-child. And I mean child.  With her tears and pouting and girliness, Lewinsky sounds in it as if she is about thirteen — to her boyfriend “Handsome”‘s fifteen.  The man, according to this story, would juggle five presidential calls while placating the girl for not calling her more often.

And all those presents Lewinsky gives him: corny Hallmark cards and Starbucks mugs and games and ties.  From a woman hardly making more than a basic secretary. What did anyone buy her? A hatpin?

Shame on Hillary Clinton, for saying, this year, that she ‘didn’t care:’ it wasn’t Sex of “Any Real Meaning,” between Monica and Bill.

I bet it was real for Monica.  I bet Bill still dreams of someone as guileless as she.

This book. and its wretched sad details, pruriently pulled from a girl who was afraid, threatened and didn’t know any better, is harder to read than Unica Zurn’s Dark Spring.  And this is saying a lot — as Unica Zurn killed herself and her character received oral sex from her pet dog.

It’s as raw as  “True Confessions” — and I know, because I used to buy it when I was ten. Girls are curious. Lust is youth. We have feelings, too.

 

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Annihilation and an Oxygen High: with a shout out to “Urgent’

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerSeldom do I read fantasy/sci-fi, but I picked up this paperback Annihilation, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) partly because FSG is such a good publisher.  And am I glad.

The story itself seems not so new, to me, yet the way the text affected me was awesome, a slow build with the odd delicious accretion of simplicity and stillness in language.

As the character, a biologist in doomed (apparently) and pristine Area X, responds with increasing elation to her environment, so I responded with increasing elation before the deceptively simple text.

The wind picked up and it began to rain. I saw each drop fall as a perfect, faceted liquid diamond, refracting light even in the gloom, and I could smell the sea and picture the roiling waves. The wind was like something alive; it entered every pore of me and it, too, had a smell, carrying with it the earthiness of the march reeds….

Maybe my brain is on an oxygen high from living by the 5,000 feet of Lake Ontario waterfront up here, or maybe I am just having a flashback to my day popping strange blue pills in the Bronx Zoo with high school friend and future Global Art Dealer Marc G–  but the creeping high Jeff Vandermeer provides in this writing is up there with the physical:

The brightness infecting my senses had spread to my chest; I can describe it no other way. Internally, there was a brightness in me, a kind of prickling energy and anticipation that pushed hard against my lack of sleep. Was this part of the change? But even so, it didn’t matter — I had no way to combat what might be happening to me.

I felt this way in the car yesterday also when the song Urgent  came on, from the 80s, and by Foreigner.  Back then I was never allowed to admit being moved by such songs as “Urgent”, or “My Sharona” by The Knack, or “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac. LOL. My brothers were all indie fans.

But hey, time has passed and they’re not going to read this.

You’re not shy, you get around
You wanna fly, don’t want your feet on the ground
You stay up, you won’t come down

Got fire in your veins
Burnin’ hot but you don’t feel the pain
Your desire is insane
You can’t stop until you do it again

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Choosing a Face

How to reconcile the sides of a self?

Here is a photograph of my face at 12, left, then at 13, right:

Louise  age 12 crop walshalescanlouise13 (2)

 

 

 

Here is a photo of my face at 17, left, then 18, right:Louise at 18 crop

Louise at 19 cropHow can I know who I am, when I have so many faces? When I can hardly recognize myself in faces that have been my own. How could my face appear so — to me — completely and utterly different from itself?

Rilke writes that some people keep the same face for years: “they are thrifty uncomplicated people” who never change their face –“it is good enough, they say, and who can convince them of the contrary?”

Other people, according to him, change faces “incredibly fast:” they wear them out, think they have an unlimited supply — until the day they reach their last one.

Sometimes I think that I have grown into my face — that less and less does my face appear in different shapes and guises.

When I was a teenager I read a novel — I think it was Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard, in which a woman is noticed and admired for looking as if she has “chosen her own face.”  Always, this has stayed with me — the idea of choosing one’s own image, and wondering what I would have chosen, before birth, to be my own.

Also, if – - or whscanlouisetoweren — I finally achieve this f10402891_10152102208207761_8215822382500400480_nace, does it mean I have achieved my complete self? That I am, as they say, fully evolved into my self?

In these photographs, left, I am almost the same age: 27 and 28.

How should I know which is my real self? If I had to choose my one face, have I already reached, it, or have I passed it, or is yet coming to me?

What face am I in another’s memory? In my cousin’s, for example, who has always, though sporadically known me? What Face should I be in Eternity? If you could look at all the images of your own face, and chose one as reflecting your True Self — (not your best, not your worst but your True Self) — which would it be?  Serious replies only please.

Iwith midgieold crop

louisechild

Louise Old face

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They were all our friends, and they died

John SwerzkyI knew a young man, age 24, who jumped from his room on the 25th floor of a Manhattan hotel. He broke all the bones in his body, spent a year in hospital, got out, went back to the same hotel, and jumped again. The second time, he died.

He was friends with a brother of mine. He was tall, handsome, wealthy, and originally from Copenhagen.He went to private schools in New York.

Thomas Merton, the monk who went to Columbia College in 1he 1930s, says in New Seeds of Contemplation that relationships are so painful because they are the “resetting of human bones.”

In the past six years, I have broken two arms, (at the same time), my right arm (separately), my wrist and – slightly — my sternum. I do not see why this should be the case.

I don’t know why, either, so many friends of my brother’s and I died so young: Carter, Hannah, Peter and Scot to suicide. Max to cancer. Florence to anti-psychotics, the nature loving Into the Wild beach living John Swersky, above, apparently to the complications from some mental illness  that first struck him in his early 20s.

They all went to private schools and they all had “it all.” They were all our friends, and they died.

With  Forever Thanks to James Carroll, who says it best: People Who Died

 

 

 

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On Transfixment and Speaking to the Air: Marriage and Jane Eyre

Joan of Arc“You transfix me quite,” says Rochester to Jane Eyre in the most recent movie version of Jane Eyre, with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. I had some pretty serious disbelief that some of the writing in this film had anything to do with the Charlotte Bronte book, and even searched the original online for said transfixment — to no avail — yet still the tumult and the angst were luring enough.

(Also, does any man today act the way of Rochester, — throwing himself into Heathcliffian torture despite wealth and fortune because he makes a bad teen marriage?)

Well, times have changed — and because of this I offer to my lover-husband Matthew the Bronte/movie line You Transfix Me, Quite, on the occasion of our 7.5 Wedding Ceremony June 21, 2014, which also asks the question “Why do you speak to the air?”  Because it speaks too, to us.

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Blaine, one morning when we left his house together, in Oxford, Mississippi

scanblaineBlaine Pitzer. Here he is at 20, or 21. I am not sure, but it was a while ago. He was one of those men who said you could crash on his couch and meant you could crash on his couch, no questions, no problems.  If I had spent more time in the company of men such as Blaine my whole life, as they say, would have been different.  He wrote me a letter once — it’s too good to post here, but it says everything there was to say about him. He wished me the things he said he had:  peace, hope and love. “I want you to have these.”

Blaine Pitzer.  R.I.P  – March, 2014, Age 47.

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Stealing from Gimbles, age 18, with Serge Harnett

Image (8)Ah, Serge and me, when being eighteen made it look like we were forty-eight: the Mudd Clubb (our first date), Danceteria, (our first kiss), Studio 52 (our freebie and regular), Area, where for the first time he seemed a stranger to me.  Who would have guessed he would go back to the then 14 year old Italian Catholic girl from Queens who — let’s be honest — he ditched the day he met me?

Who would have guessed, that our great shattering consuming love, our walk-up on 109th Street where it was still dangerous to live, our Balthus print, our dog Sophie, our Key West, Our Maine, our divine superlative unmatched love, our Engagement Ring that I left on a shelf – that all this would come to nothing.

Like this lingerie,which we stole from Gimbles on 86th Street and Lexington — the last time I stole anything — but which I stole for him, and with him, so in love with him, I wanted to make him proud.

 

 

 

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Stephen G Smith Comes Aboard

scanstevesThe last time I heard from this man he was rushing down my street trying to find another man who was trying to run away with me. I was 21 years old, Steve was 36 and he had tracked down my parents on the phone and told them the news.
A colleague/friend, (also age 35) was in love with me and had told his wife he was leaving her — to marry me!  We had to do something!  “But she’s 21,” my mother told him. “They’re both adults. Maybe they know what they are doing.”  Steve hung up at that. He ran across town to where I lived, (how he found out I don’t know; must have checked my file at work, TIME Magazine, where he had hired me as a teenager). Steve stood in the foyer of my building buzzing all the buzzers to all of the apartments so he could get in. The buzzer was actually broken, so no luck there, and no one to let him into the building either.  He went out and started using the phones. But my phone was off the hook.  He must have tried all night. Because the first time we plugged the phone back in Steve was there!  It was six-thirty in the morning.  He was just a few minutes away.  “Oh, no,” moaned my lover backing away from the phone. Oh, yes. “I know he’s there,” Steve told me. “Let me speak to him,” Steve told me.  As TIME said, above, “Steve brings enormous energy, creativity and good judgement to everything he does.”

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Life is Disorder

I used to wake up in my apartment on West 13th Street, NYC, to men jack-hammering the concrete below my window. This went on for a year or so, before they built a temporary doorway to my building and put up scaffolding around the entire building facade. Then they jack-hammered for another five years.

Noise — they use it to torture people. I saw it on the Sopranos.

Just look up my old address on Google: this is still the photo that comes up:

106 West 13th StreetNot that I am complaining, or am I? In this way, I began my travels out of Manhattan, in search of quiet.

The quietest place I found was in Paekakariki, New Zealand, where I met Matthew.  I had a cabin by the ocean. The loudest sound was the sound of Matthew making iced mojitos.

Then there was the desert, of course. It was terrifying there, for me, as if I had landed in a settlement on Mars. Then again, you could always look at the silent stars. Which we did, eating burgers from the Swagman’s, drinking beer from the bottle, sitting in front of a fire with son Riley at the red rocks of the ancient Granites.

Then as now, I always try to remember: Life is Disorder, Order is Death. Life is Noise, Silent is the Grave. Once again, I refer to Keats:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.
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Brutalism

It occurs to me that I am a fan of the word Brutal.

For instance, last month at Writers & Books while listening to David Merulla, I re-discovered on the shelves the poems “Brutalism” by Tessa Rumsey in a 1997 copy of The Colorado Review.

“If M sees himself through the gaze of a building; I have lost the
way to my eyes; if the building is brutal; whose lips are these;
whose windows…

“If M builds an edifice; I want you to remember; if the edifice is
brutal; how I saw the bird of paradise; destroyed from the
beginning…

Also, I voted Yes to a poem that was then published in Tin House — I am a reader for them — and, to cite a few lines from said poem by Elizabeth Lyon, “How All Things Are Managed:”

They call it a falling into death.
Two dogs are shot into my vein….
If I am lucky, there is only the darkness and then an explosion. Perhaps a fracture, a
concussion, a dislocation. Flecks of blood.
If the illness in your brain is brutal, be brutal back.

But did I even know what brutal is? Brutal, yes, brutalism? After 17 years, from the day I read my first Rumsey, I looked it up:

Brutalism See also Architecture

an aggressive 20th-century style, usually in rough-textured and unfinished materials, that frankly exhibits both structural and mechanical systems.
scanbrutal0002
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Ask Not Why The Torture Comes

For six years, I suffered from chronic pain:  the kind of pain that wakes you up in the morning unable to move, that comes randomly — while you are  sitting in a chair, or talking  to someone outside under a tree, for example, under the gentle sun — so that when it hits, you let out a small scream and find that you are crying  and unable to speak.

It is the kind of pain that leads you to ask Why? and, yes, even: Why Me, God?

Then, if you are lucky, as I have been, one day the pain lifts.  The only thing I can compare it to is the day when a great Obsession in my life lifted, when  I no longer saw my Obsession — my cathected* Love Object, before me — but the great Swimming World again.

How free I was, I remember writing, the day you stopped being beautiful.
I had a sudden wish to swim.

The blue of the sky was not like your eyes, but a pool after rain.

Ask not Why the Torture Comes, ask Why it Leaves.

pink*ca•thect (kəˈθɛkt, kæ-)

v.t. Psychoanal.

to invest emotion or feeling in (an idea, object, or another person).
[1930–35; back formation from cathectic relating to cathexis]
The Free Dictionary.com
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Revenge

louise28 I am too nice for revenge. Or too selfish. I think it will get me arrested, or into more trouble.

One fantasy I have had since about this age, left, is of throwing a rock through the glass window of an ex-es apartment, of the glass shattering around him.

forget herStill I worried that the shards would blind my ex, or maim him, which I did not want.

I wanted only to make a statement: to say
I Am,  I continue, I exist.  I wanted not to be forgotten, to leave —  at my worst, a scar — at my best, a Trace, a Memory.

Love is memory; it only dies when I do. Or as Euripides says:  And does not Loveliness Last Forever?

Remember me. Dido’s Lament, Jeff Buckley:  Remember Me.

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The Tea Chest

J.R. Tolkein

J.R. Tolkein

In 1977, when my family
fiscanarabellanally immigrated to America, my parents decided we could have one tea chest each for our belongings. Anything that did not fit into the tea chest — would not cross the ocean.

I took some clothes of course, and some toys — two tiny dolls from Japan, a pendant from Fiji, an old wallet my father had given me when I was in hospital and he came each day after work, on his motorcycle, to see me.

Then there were the books: a small green copy of Jane Eyre from 1932, the novel  Seven Little Australians (might not get that in New York),  Tiberius The Titirangi Mouse from  New Zealand, The Giant All-Colour Book of Fairytales — in which each story has a different illustrator, fantastically.

But even then, I knew: it’s not just the book. Hence the tome-like collection of Poetry and Limericks from which my father used to read me Macavity the Mystery Cat — and which our Labrador dog Huckleberry chewed violently — so at least with the book, I had a memento of him. Hence J.R.Tolkein’s fairytale of boy able to visit other worlds, The Smith of Wooton Major, which I had been given, along with a bar of Milky chocolate when I was at home alone one day.

Hence Arabellla the Mystery Cat  because in it mother has written:

To Louise, Because she is such a good girl.

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Favorite Band: Sherbet

Sometimes, I like to say the first band I saw was the Clash, at the Palladium in NYC, when I was about thirteen. Other times, I think of Bruce Springsteen at the Garden, or Earth Wind & Fire.

Truth is, though, the first band I saw live was Sherbet, when I was nine, in Sydney.  They were so popular girls got crushed swarming to see them.  I had a blue tube dress that had this photo of them on it:

sherbet1

 

No, seriously, do you think my father would let me get away with that? LOL. I believe the photo was this blue one:

sherbet2

I used to kiss the drummer’s face on the poster on my wall (Alan Sandow, on the bottom left.)

The “Sherbs” were the biggest 70s band in Australia, sweet as as the powdered sugar confection that shared their name.  Sherbet itself used to arrive in the Sweets and Ice Cream truck that toured the suburb of BelleRose and so on, on hot weekends, little bell tinkling….  It was packaged the way heroin is: powdered, in little waxy paper packets and tubes you could put your finger in to taste, or upload onto a long pinky fingernail and….

But wait, that was the eighties…
Ain’t No Body Does it Better… Chaka Khan…  But that will really make me high…

sherbert 3

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Hey Joe – Leaving Manhattan

Who wants to talk about 9/11? I don’t. And I was there. As immigrants to the United States in 1977, my parents photographed me against the Twin Towers: (left). scantwintowers  On August 22, 2001, I stood below the Twin Towers with my brother Dean who had just performed there:

scantwintowers20001I used to sit at the bottom, in the pavilion,  and wonder how can these spires stand up so tall? Feel them shake.

Then they were gone.

The thing is, we all thought it would be worse.  We thought the water would be poisoned, that Grand Central would be bombed. Instead, there was only silence. Silence and the sound of bulldozers, of course, bulldozers and ambulances tearing down the avenues to a place where, very quickly, no help was needed.

I called the man I was seeing when the first plane struck — Joe Andoe — the most jaded man, he told me, I would ever know. He was asleep when I called, at 9:30.a.m, and annoyed that I had woken him, and never called me back.

Why not, Joe? I didn’t ask.  I saw him on Sixth Avenue near my apartment later that day. He was chatting up a very young blonde and either didn’t see me, or didn’t acknowledge me.  I was embarrassed, and backed away.  Already, I was at the stage of moral exhaustion. In one year, I, too, would be gone from the city.

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Beautiful You, Beautiful Me

scanrickyI know it’s terribly corny now to talk of another person “completing” us, but some of my favorite fairy tales tell exactly that story – yet with a difference. What one person lacks, the other has, and when the two come together both share all.

For instance, in the 1697 (!) Charles Perrault fairytale “Ricky of the Tufts”, a “bad fairy” curses Prince Rick with ugliness but also great intelligence and Princess (no name but Princess) with beauty yet great dumbness.scanricky2

As in “Beauty and the Beast,” when the two forgive each other their defects, Ricky becomes beautiful, and Princess intelligent – so that both of them are both beautiful and intelligent.

My fairytale book is one of the few objects I have had since childhood: The Giant All-colour Book of Fairy Tales, 1971, Jane Carruth.

The odd thing is I always fancied Ugly Ricky  (top) more than beautiful Ricky (bottom).

“My heart would not be heavy if I had been gifted with looks such as yours,” Ricky declared…  “Well,” the Princess sighed, “if I could talk like you I would not mind being as ugly as you are.”

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Intensity — What is it good for?

scanstevrrae
You’re very intense,” said Steve, pictured left in New Zealand on his motorcycle. He was a suitor, briefly, and also a second cousin — though we didn’t know that at first. My grandfather was one of eleven, and one of his much younger brothers turned out to be Steve’s biological father.

But the question was, Steve wanted to know, was there any value to my intensity? Looking at him, when he asked me this, I sadly realized there probably wasn’t, for him.scansteveme

But for me there was, and still is. I never chose a safe life, an easy life, a protected life, or as Bonjour Tristesse says,”la vie facile.” I’ve probably had more heartache than Don Corleone.

But there is a payoff. As that intense little book everyone reads in high school says: (The Prophet):

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your soul, the more joy it can contain.”

(Me and Steve, above, just before I left New Zealand, age 21, or so…)

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Less empty: Love in The Age of Innocence

age_of_innocence_01WE cannot expect others to love the same books that we do. A relationship with a book is much like a marriage. As a psychiatrist told me once: “You never know what draws two people together.” Age of Innocence, the novel by Edith Wharton, is so full of longing, self denial and pain that it tops my list of most affecting ever.  Yet it is also the fact that convention, and perhaps fear and weakness, keep Madame Olenska and Newland Archer apart.  If only one of them could break free at the same time as the other.

The longing was with him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving… He could not see beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to… He simply felt that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.

 

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Carter Plus Oliver – When will I feel again?

scanoliver2scanoliver4

But back to Carter for a moment, as he wasn’t the only one in the park with me that day. With us was Oliver, pictured here on Carter’s left. The three of us became friends at thirteen, picnicking at night on Carter’s  terrace, wandering the moody rooms of Oliver’s house, devotees of Harold & Maude and Peter Weir movies.  We were all three to run our school magazine, The Blue Flag, until I changed schools and left them to it.

The year after this meeting, age 22 in the park,  it fell to me to call Oliver – then working in Japan – and tell him Carter had  killed himself. I was in a hospital at the time and when Oliver came back from Japan a month or two later, I was still there, so Oliver drove up to the hospital and signed me out on a Day Pass.  We went north to his college in Connecticut and walked around. It was punishingly hot. I was faint with the sun and somehow Oliver procured a white parasol.

scanoliver He looked after me, he long had, I well knew.  For years he sent me long chaotic brooding and amusing letters — always declaring his love and friendship.  Once, he sent me a dried leaf — to me in New Zealand — because he said I sounded sad.

In later years, Oliver was angry at Carter, which, was understandable.  I, however, was never angry.

“Will I ever feel again?” his mother told me were Carter’s last words.

Yet it was his death that lifted me out of my own darkness.
To grieve is to feel — to winter through in honor of the other; to grieve is to live.

 

 

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Hit the Ground Running

scanjonathanbikeI was driving down Avenue B by Tompkins Square Park one day, in a small truck with fiance #3, when a motorcycle appeared to my right, swerved around our truck, skidded on some oil, and smashed right in front of us. As the motorcycle screeched down the street on its side, the driver hit the ground, started rolling and took off running.

It was, I soon realized, my younger brother Jonathan (pictured left on his college Triumph).  If anyone defines what it is to hit the ground running, it is he.  He is about as fearless as you can get: a reckless glorious world unto himself.

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The Polish Rider; imitations of Frank O’Hara

The first chapter of a story of mine, Fiery World, is published in this month’s magazine, Rochester POST. (if you’d like to see it please email me.)

They did a good curious job with the topography. The words Fiery World are pretty evident as is a blooming tree. Sadly, they left out the copy of  Rembrandt’s “Polish Rider” from the Frick that gave this work its inspiration:

I was teaching Frank O’Hara to international students in Tarrytown in 2012 and had them imitate his poem “Having a Coke with You“:  and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world/except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick…

The efforts were the best and funniest and saddest work I could have imagined, written by high school students from Korea, Japan, Europe, Saudi Arabia and South America. Soon, I am going to upload them all to Tumblr.

Until then, however, some samplers (best served after reading the original)

Having a picnic with you is even more exciting than going to an amusement park or being recognized as dream come true in Korea

partly because  of my love for you, partly because of your love for “Kimbot,”
partly because of your pink dress that looks better than Obama’s

Having a dinner with you
is even more nice that going to  Rita Hall…
Partly because in your blue shirt you look like a better Prince Henry…

Having a picnic with you is always fun when I’m calling you on your
iphone in Roma

Watching a movie is even more fun than talking on the grass
partly because in the dark theater, we can talk more openly
than under the sunrise..  (Kentaro Okutsu)

I look  at you and I wish I could look at you until the end of the world,
except if you don’t want to occasionally, and anyway it’s possible
which thank heavens you haven’t decided yet so we can decide together

And the fact that you stare at me so frequently
more or less takes care of and shows me the true
Just as at home I never think of “The Godfather”
or watching a movie started by Johnny Dep or
Angelina Jolie that used to wow me
and what good do all the noises of a rainy day do them?
–Savio Melo

Check back for a link to Tumblr.

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Carter Vanderbilt Cooper: Youth, dream, chemical madness

Diamond

My friend Carter was, I thought once, perhaps the richest person I knew. His family was one of America’s famous. They had a university and a museum and yachts named after them.

He himself was a romantic. He liked the dreamy Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, where Miranda disappears into the wilderness. He liked F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.

I always thought that was because he understood what it was to be as rich as the people in that world were. But probably he felt a little bit the way Diamond‘s Kismine does: “oh to be an orphan and utterly free! Free and poor! What fun!” He was an idealist.

If he were Kismine and I the schoolboy she runs off with, we’d probably be fighting over money now, or wishing we were in Bermuda. Instead, for those who don’t know, Carter dove from his mother’s apartment to his death at age 23.

I have stillscancarter some letters from him. He was, to me — a complete outsider I suppose — very gentle. “Stay as nice as you are,” says one, “I bought this postcard of Miranda because it reminded me of you… I always picture you on the deck of a large white yacht in the Caribbean.”

We exchanged jackets for a year or so — mine was suede; his was hand-me-down military.

As Fitzgerald says in Diamond:
“Everybody’s Youth is a Dream, a Form of Chemical Madness.”

 R.I.P.  Carter Cooper 1965-1988.

I took this photo the year before he died — on the last day I ever saw him.

We were 22 and in Central Park. There were fires in New Jersey and the air was dusty.
“I have this strange feeling,” I told him and our friend Oliver, “that it will be a long time before we see each other again.”

(Diamond as Big as the Ritz, published by Melville House, bought  May 5, 2014)

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O Mr Jamie Dimon, thanks for the gloves

Jamie dimon christmas

The only person who ever snapped his fingers at me was billionaire and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, pictured above playing tennis with his family at Christmas time. When I knew him, we were both working on the corporate floor of Smith Barney. I was a part-time secretary to the Vice Chairman. Jamie was Chairman.  At Christmas, Jamie Dimon’s wife gave acrylic gloves in multi-colored patterns such as leopard and floral to all the Corporate secretaries. They were, I recall, from Saks Fifth Avenue.

I remember because I wasn’t too impressed with the gloves. First, I didn’t wear acrylic. Also, what else was there at Saks that would match and I could afford?

My friend, Myrna Cruz, however, another secretary on the corporate floor, was touched.  She was one of ten children and lived happily alone up by the Cloisters – “It’s sweet,” she said, turning over her pair, “I think it’s sweet.”

Jamie Dimon earns $27.5 million per year. I am 49 years old and my husband and I have a $5,000 loan with his bank for our 2007 Subaru.  Perhaps the Dimons imagine the secretaries wearing their gloves this way (no clothes of course — too expensive, and let’s can the diamond necklace.)

gloves

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Lipstick

scanlouisetower
Graham said, in Boston on a grassy lawn near my brother’s college in Cambridge, that womens’ lips grew redder with sexual excitement. So if I painted my lips pink, or red, or any shade really, it would give off the sign that I was sexually excited and available.

“Do you want that?” he asked, obviously hoping I did not.

But I was not sure.

So what if I looked more attractive with lipstick? So what if I was more sexual?

Isn’t that exactly what I wanted?  “No, it’s not,” Graham insisted.

And so we moved, my high school friend and I, now in college, gently and inexorably, away from each other.

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While on earth

scancat0003You can do what you want, I always tell my students. It’s just about enjoying yourself. And if that cat, right, has a good time shredding lounge fabric, I bet he’ll find a friend who does, also.  Isn’t that all we do — have projects, build things, topple them when we’re fed up, try again. People, that’s all I do. As friend Paul Dodd says, Life is a Spell  — and I am under it.

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A pair of frights; George Eliot’s 1860

mead
Much of of Rebecca Mead’s study/memoir My Life In Middlemarch has Mead visiting sites where George Eliot lived and worked, with Mead saying things like (and I paraphrase) “Though all that existed in Eliot’s time was now depressingly gone, still I surveyed the pub/latrine/bowling alley that used to be her living room/boudoir/study…”

Which gets a little tiresome — Eliot did die in 1880; what did Mead expect– especially being not an ingenue but a well compensated (one assumes) New Yorker staff writer with some knowledge of the passage of time.  Nevertheless, ignoring this, as well as Mead’s alignment of her life with Eliot’s (both are from small towns! both have 3 stepsons!)  still Mead uncovers a great deal fascinating to the Eliot fan, such as:eliot 2

1) Eliot’s pitiable  “abjection” after her rejection by would-be lover Herbert Spencer and her Ask that he at least keep her in mind even if unable to love her: “If you become attached to some one else, then I must die, but until then I could gather courage to work and make life valuable..”

2)  Eliot’s late quasi marriage (as he was officially married to someone else) to George Henry Lewes, a man who who supported her so completely that a) she took his first name as her own and b) she found her writing unexpectedly flourishing in her mid- life years.

3)  Eliot’s noticeable devotion (compared for example to Dorothea Brookes Casaubon) to learning things such as German and French all by herself (Why did Dorothea never crack one of her husband’s library books?)

4) most superficial, yet nevertheless excellent — the fantastic descriptions of Eliot and Lewes as equally bizarre looking: she described by Henry James as “magnificently ugly, deliciously hideous” — he described as “like an old-fashioned French barber or dancing-master, very ugly, very vivacious, very entertaining.”  – and to top it off, from a neighbor:

“They were both very unattractive people to look upon, and they used to wander about the neighbourbood, the biggest pair of frights that ever was, followed by a shaggy little dog who could do tricks.”

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On the publication of Charlie Smith’s New & Selected Poems

Jump Soul
But how do you know it’s you, a friend of mine used to ask, plaintively, when I claimed a certain poet’s writing featured me in it. I guess she was right that another of his girlfriends could have been “Stunned by the power of her own rage.”  Maybe he had a penchant for rageful women — or, we do know, made women rageful. Fair enough.

But what about when a character has scars all down her back from a fire at age three (as I do) and what if she says sahlty instead of salty, and what if she climbed mulberry trees as a child and in “Address to the Ex” is missing on Twelfth, Mercer and Bethune, vanished from Eighth — while others know where she is and do not tell him.

To quote his poem “Old Business”, dedicated to L.W. and returning the sentiment to him:
“A quiet joy appears amidst loneliness, doesn’t replace it.”  I came to this man the night      I realized I had his poem “Mother at Eighty” taped to my kitchen wall.  I found his number in the phonebook, he lived four blocks away, and five minutes later I was, as they say, in his arms.

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The language(s) of Love and Tod

bonjour tristesse
Did you know
that the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth 1, set aside four hours a day for reading? Or that George Eliot grimly forced herself to learn both German and French out of books? While contemplating renewing my own language studies — assessing online courses, DVDs from Amazon and language Apps — I decided to hit my own bookshelves.

There lay a fresh copy of Threadsuns by Paul Celan.

DU WARST mein Tod
dich konnte ich halten
wahrend mir alles entfiel

I read this out loud in the kitchen — it sounded great!  I even understood the first line,
(but then I would, wouldn’t I?) :

YOU WERE my death
you I could hold/when all fell from me

After this, I recovered from a box a 1954 original edition of the paperback Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) by Francoise Sagan  It was inscribed to me in 1981 by an 18 year-old French exchange student who fell in love with a brother of mine.

To his despair, and soon my entire family’s, she took to arriving unannounced at my school in New York — from Paris — and asking if she could stay with me. Her love and histrionics for and over my brother led to a) her taking off all her clothes while chasing him down Park Avenue and b) him quitting the study of French permanently.

Pour Louise, 8 mar 1981
qui me rend gaie et qui malgre sa grande jeunesse m’est d’un precieuses soutien.

“For Louise,  8 March 1981
who makes me happy and despite her great youth is a precious support to me…”

(other translations welcome)

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Erma McCann, Jesus Loves Her

scanerma

Erma McCann turned 87 this year and every other day in this grueling winter I watched her walk gingerly and with some frailty out of her house in boots and with shovel, to complete the cleanup that the plows had started.

Her husband Martin was dead, as was her son, but Erma despite darkening skies and blackening ice, always said yes: to the storm, to the ice, to coffee, to tangelos, to a loaf of rasberry banana bread.

I saw her in church once and her heart, she told me,  was weak. The chemo had damaged it.  Last week a fire truck, police car and ambulance arrived to take her to hospice. She came out the house smiling, her head in a scarf and her tall slim body wrapped in a sheet. She looked like a disciple.

At hospice, from bed on one of the first bright balmy brilliant days of a long-awaited spring, her eyes shone blue fire; her skin was as white and smooth as the crocus I’d brought from her garden.  “You look radiant,” I said. She wasn’t leaving, it seemed evident, she was going somewhere.

Pastor Tim came and we all stood holding hands around Erma.  He spoke to her of her childhood, of play, of green grass and blue sky. Afterwards Erma broke out into a song of her own girlhood, “Jesus Loves me This I Know Because The Bible Tells Me So.”  Afterward, she gripped my hand, as if it were I who were being left.  “You take care of yourself,” she said.  To listen:  Jesus Loves Me

 

 

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Tricky is as Tricky Does

TrickyI had a boyfriend once– I’ve mentioned him before — with whom I had a painful breakup. We tried to get back together, but the problem was, he said, by then he knew that I wasn’t perfect and — he said,  “I want perfect.”

Here is Tricky, our new dog , pictured at the shelter two weeks ago.  Unfortunately, he has been badly treated and when he is afraid he cowers, flinches and cries. Even the wind scares him.

What more of a reason could have to love a creature? I can’t think of one.  To Tricky, who is already a beacon of affection and hope, we love you man.

As for my ex, another thing he told me, before he discovered my imperfection, was “Thanks for saving me from the jaws of despair.”

You’re welcome.

As the Japanese say, only God is perfect.  Any  work of art must have its flaw.

 

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Dont’ Cook Don’t F* What Do you Do? — Offill a Sebald follower?

WG-Sebald-007

jenny-offill_5841-2-Firstly, I loved this book. Why would I not? It was absolutely everything I like: a Sleepless Nights (Elizabeth Hardwicke) Speedboat (Renata Adler) 2014 Literary-Smarty-Pants-with-Angst monologue spliced with quotes.  It reads  like any MFA candidate’s journal, rudely spilled from a notebook at a coffee house.  Only it’s not embarrassing. It’s finessed, whittled down to the point — writers know the point I mean — of pleasurable pain.
Jenny Offill’s second novel: Dept. of Speculation.

As it’s been written about by Mr Woods and countless others, I won’t bore and reiterate.  There is however, only one speculation I would like to add to the department.  Was not or is not Brooklyn based 40-something Offill devoted to the writings of the late great German writer of angst, history, and assemblage: Mr. W.G Sebald. Following is my case that she is.

1.

His advice: Fiction should have a ghostlike presence in it somewhere, something omniscient. It makes it a different reality.

Offill opening and ongoing thread: Antelopes have 10x vision, you said… That means on a clear night they can see the rings of Saturn.

2.

His advice: By all means be experimental, but let the reader be part of the experiment.

Offill , I can tell you myself, is experimental, yet never too much so; though wandering through her graphs like streets, we are not lost. Besides prose, Offill includes questionnaires, lists and Student Evaluations.

3.

Advice: There is a certain merit in leaving some parts of your writing obscure.

Random Offill :

‘As for us, our days are like grass.’   (to me that’s a little obscure)

“We don’t know, but the cards know,” her daughter says when they are playing a game later.”   (Ve-ry nice)

And Best of All (I can’t do this forever; I have a job)

4.

Sebald Advice: Don’t be afraid to bring in strange, eloquent quotations and graft them into your story.

Offill:
Advice from Hesiod…  (p17)
The Manicheans believed… (p23)
What Fitzgerald said  (p38)
What Keats said (p46)
What Simone Weil said (p54)
What T.S. Eliot said (p91)

And remember this, from the eighties I think:

Offill:

Don’t cook, don’t fuck, what do you do? Don’t
cook, don’t fuck, what do you do?

It’s not attributed but I do believe its the Soundtrack of my Adolescence.

 

Fantastic book, can’t wait for more.

 

 

 

 

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Strange Questions

scan

I found these questions while looking through some old notebooks. I have no idea who they were for, or why I wrote them.  If anyone would like to fill them out, answers will be gratefully received.

Do you believe your mother’s version of yourself or your father’s?

How do you respond to pharmaceutical opiates?

What, if you were a tragic Greek, would be your downfall?

Have you ever been in therapy? If so, did it help and how?

What food(s) if any are you adverse to eating?

What is the nastiest thing your mother ever said to you?

Describe your household growing up.

 What is the best thing a teacher ever said to you?

Recommend three contemporary writers.

What ended your great love affair?

Has any drug had a positive influence on your life?

Is there anyone who wish you had never met?

 Who was the hottest member of your family growing up?

On what subject is your greatest secret?

Name the line you most often quote in public.

Do you consider yourself a sensitive person? If so, define sensitive.

Would you rather be Freddy Mercury, (alive) or Prince (alive.)

If you had to commit suicide where would you do it? How?

(Perhaps don’t answer the last…. )

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The Edge of Town, age 49

mtmagnetair1 (2)Three years ago, on my birthday, I was living in this town, right.  I met some wonderful people there, namely Sister Monica, Jo and Fionna, in a desert town of 500 people in Western Australia. When I walked out the door of my house, to the left was the edge of town. When I walked seven minutes all the way across town to work,
I was also at the edge of town. Everywhere, in Mt. Magnet, was at the edge of town.  Now I am across the world, on the edge of Lake Ontario, in five months of snow and ice.

My cat, wh49o also traveled from the desert where she loved the warm earth of Mt Magnet, here lives with ice and cabin fever. But spring is coming, with its warm air and leaves.  Today was the dawn of my last year in a certain decade. Matthew bought me roses, right, and took me to the icy lake and to Lento where the bartender gave me a taste of the gin Ethereal.  I also had the cocktail Last Word  and followed this with Fire & Blood.  At my age, I have not had the Last Word. I have, however, known Fire & Blood and I am living, from now until death, in the Ethereal.

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Dating the Super Rich

I’ve had a few rich boyfriends. Super Rich? $300 million rich? Or $30 million rich?  Actually, scanjp0001I wasn’t counting.  Still, one I am thinking of,  right, had a couple of homes and a stable of cars and — the year I was with him — bought himself a jet plane, a $20,000 gold tank Cartier watch and a Mercedes.

I remember the plane because — well, it was a plane. I remember the watch because it cost about what I earned that year — and the Mercedes because, the last day I was with him, I asked to pull it over to curb on Sixth Avenue and Let Me Out.

It’s not really much fun remembering him.  But what I remember often is what he gave me:  a Coach watch! Two Barneys bikinis! A $600 shopping trip to Banana Republic! No one I loved had showered me with gifts before.

Then there was the dining out –Balthazar and the Water Club and  French bistros — every night for a year. Strangely, however, over this year, I lost so much weight I dropped from about a size 6 to a Size  size 0. That’s right, 0, at 5’7″ tall. I couldn’t keep a pound on. The stress of being with him was that great.

What was wrong? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  When I wasn’t losing a t-shirt he gave me (which made him livid) I was losing a bracelet that cost more than my rent to replace, (and which I had to find a way to do as I was so scared he’d find out.)

His complaint was that I wasn’t tough enough. I needed to “negotiate.” For instance, that Coach watch he gave me? When we’d been together longer, he said, he would buy me a better watch.  A better watch, I asked? Really? Long silent pause.

My next boyfriend was the great illuminator. He gave me gifts such as an emergency kit for my car in case it broke down. He bought me relevant vitamins and yoga classes. When he found out I had been in debt since age 23, he canceled a vacation for the two of us and paid for a lawyer who helped get me out of debt.

That was when I really understood: love is about helping someone to be their best.  It’s about giving them things like safety, or peace of mind. If you can’t turn to your lover for help, you are alone.

My ex married, after me, a Russian fashion designer. Last I saw, they were posing against a vintage Rolls Royce in animal fur coats — hers was white.  She had long blond hair and five inch heels. He had found, I saw, his negotiator.

I have plenty more to say, but I feel too bad for L’Wren Scott.

 

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Your God is Too Small

scanmargaretw

Until I read David Hume, in high school, I was somewhat lost. My family traveled a bit when I was a child and my mother, left at age 70, 2011, used to tell me that no one was better than anyone else — not the Australians or the Americans or the Fijians or the Japanese.  Everyone was different.

So I always held back on claiming surety for anything. The right religion, the right attitude, the right way of living — I didn’t know.

Then came Hume who explained that humans are trapped by the fact that they only see, perceive, hear and judge their world through their own humanness — an even better revelation that I was off the hook in terms of claiming any great truth or knowledge.

How good it was this week then to read in the New York Times that astronomers believe they have  discovered 40 billion planets in the galaxy that could contain life as we know it. Forty billion planets in the Goldilocks zone of life revolving around a sun.scaneileenzoom

How good it is to be small, to allow for multitudes, to realize how great is the firmament,  (let alone the multiverse.)

As my friend Eileen Crimmins used to tell me, Louise: “Your God is too small.”

Eileen: right in blue pants, with me, somewhere out of Nerja, Spain, 1998.

 

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How to Stop Fighting (it’s never too late)

 scanjohnferdinandFerdinand is a young bull who prefers sitting in the meadow and smelling flowers to “butting heads” and fighting with his friends. In fact, despite all prodding, he refuses to fight –
even when selected to perform in a major bullfight to a great crowd in Madrid.  He just sits down and looks the other way.

How could I have missed this book — published in 1936, never out of print, banned in Spain, and later by the Nazis, one assumes for its pacifism? Could it have saved me?

Not arguing wasn’t the goal in our house. My father, above at age 23 or so, was a debater — and not just any debater but a champion debater despite, or perhaps motivated by, a truly difficult speech impediment. My three brothers and I were set against each other in debates in a sort of early verbal Hunger Games.  These games could be held anytime any place, but invariably took place when my family was captive — two adults and four children — on a remote holiday in a 31 foot boat.  One thing I remember most acutely from this (and I could say more, but I won’t):

1) You can never win, when it comes to words. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can rip your soul up.

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Don’t Get Hurt

This was the advice I received from a certain counselor once.  Do what you can, she said, to Not Get Hurt. An interesting idea, for me, someone who has oft run naked into barbed wire fences — as they say.

I thought of it this morning when I picked up some fantasy books the most charming WXXI Classical 91.5 music announcer Mona Seghatoleslami gave me on loan. 

In Lord of Light,  science fiction writer Roger Zelansky opens up with some apt lines from Buddha’s the  Dhammapada:

He whose desires have been throttled,

who is independent of root,

whose pasture is emptiness –

signless and free –

his path is as unknowable

as that of birds across the heavens.scanlouiseanddean0001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Play To Win

win

I’ve been thinking about this “lucky” thing, and what it means when we try to draw luck to us. Does this work, ever? Do talismans give us power?  When I was eighteen, my father gave me a Maori pendant of luck, the tiki, below. Throughout high school, I wore it during exams. Did it work? No comment.  When I was in my early twenties my beautiful Upanishads reading brother Jonathan gave me a massive wooden cross he bought in Poughkepsie. It was made of tree branches and when I saw it, I literally screamed: it was that strange and beautiful.  In my late twenties, after I was baptised at St. Thomas church in Manhattan, I received three crosses from three ‘love interests’: one was a silver rose cross, two were gold. tikiDid they work? No comment.
Matthew, when we met,  gave me a rare piece of precious green stone for luck.  That did work: we married. Then in the outback, three years ago, Sister Monica gave me a small pendant of a dove, which I wore for good luck, and still sometimes do. A few months ago I considered buying some some good luck pendants at Zaks in the South Wedge.  But then I thought — what good were they, symbols? Who needed them?  Luck didn’t come to you through pendants. Yesterday, however, in the third month of the polar vortex, I went back to pick them up: one with Lucky on it, another, which I am wearing now, with Play to Win.  I was the shop lady’s first customer all day.      “You’ve brought me luck,” she said. 

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To Trespassing, to Matthew

scangoodluckMatthew took me out to Good Luck last night. We had an Old-Fashioned in homage to my (probable) new publisher who says the Old-Fashioned is her favorite drink. Here is to Matthew who never says things like, You are Responsible for Your Own Good Time or Make Your Own Luck. I am grateful for that. Also, he listened to my new story when we got home and has a lot to say about cultures — he is good at crossing them, and also recognizes that good intentions are not always enough to cross them.  This made me think of the only other “foreign” kid in my high school in New York: Fazal Sheikh. scanfazalHe’s now a famous photographer of the “displaced.” No one ever knew what his background was exactly and he is American but rumors at our school were rife with a fascinating cross cultural background (i.e. parents from different places or some such).  He once told a journalist that in his first forays into taking photographs in refugee camps (he’s been all over — India, Kenya, Asia) the photojournalists weren’t inhibited at all about moving through the camps and taking photographs, but for him “That was not my sensibility. I was fearful of  the idea of trespass.”  Here’s Fazal, taken by me, in school in 1978. Behind him is our dear departed Hannah Wit (1965-2007.) I only realized she was in this shot after I was searching for Fazal’s image this morning.

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Why Say You’re Sorry?

wolfI now have this print, Lone Wolf by Victor Kowalski –one of the most reproduced prints ever — to the left of my desk above a framed cover of the novel The Virgin & the Gypsy, by D.H. Lawrence. What I’m thinking about now is the pull from being the lone wolf (note his scary relation to the town below) to being socialized. It all comes down to whether you ‘re a person who accepts – or gives apologies. Someone apologized to Virgin and the Gypsyme once for years of  bad childhood behavior — but then went on to treat me almost as badly as an adult. In that case: apology good at the time, but ultimately meaningless. Another person, a poet and novelist I had been with for five years wrote me an amends letter. Expressly, he said, “So that he could move on with his life.” Not an apology either.   But an apology for being what one was at the time — and since being changed, since offering something new — that is an apology that brings a person back into the world.

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The Death of Fairytales — for the NYS Dept of Environment

This image does not do justice to the golden gleam upon this profusely illustrated Cinderella series book, which we picked up at the Brick House in Palymra, NY.  Yet I present iscansleepingt to you on This the Day of the Death of Fairytales. Because on this day I have learned that the mute swans of New York are to be shot, for interfering with other wildlife. The sickening feeling this gives me reminds me of the sickening feeling Robert Coover gives Sleeping Beauty in his masterful Briar Rose, in which sleep, dream, nightmare life and death are hopelessly entangled:
There is this to be said for the stabbing pin of the spindle prick. It anchors her, locates a self when all else in sleep unbinds and scatters it…. When a passing prince asks who she is, she replies simply, having no other to offer, I am that hurts.  Join the Protest

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Yes, I am Cruel

I was reading Vince Passaro today, talking about his alma mater, and all it was promising to new students, and it reminded me of a particularly elitish school I aheiress1ttended in New York City in the early eighties and what they promised theirs — to be cultivated- it appeared to me- in the art of subtle and arcane cruelty, to learn to inflict the most damage with the least effort, to use words to have as much vicious impact as the violent ripping out of a human heart. Did my school teach me such? Did it teach my school mates, many now lawyers and leaders of the free world. I still say the Brits teach it best: this art of destroying others cruelly and while appearing not to.  But Yes, I say, Yes, as Catherine says in Henry James’ masterpiece Washington Square, shot above in movies as “The Heiress,”  Yes, I can be very cruel.  I’ve been taught by masters.

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To Remember Everything

Degrees of despair: to remember nothing at all; to remember some things; to remember everything. Elias CanetticanettiRight photo of Austrian Elias Canetti with his lover, apparently of fifty years, the Austrian painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky.

 

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A message

“If you have no more happiness to give me
Give me your pain.” Lou Andreas-Salome

Salome2.jpg (483×576)

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How Not to Pose for an Author Photo

Marcos Giralt Torrrente is a man who appears to take himself seriously. Perhaps too seriously, as his stony posed photographs show.  He comes across best, it seems to me, in the candid or unposed photo , where he looks a little less like the kind of writer I personally cannot stand – the I at the center of the universe, whose every word is gold.

Here, in an unposed 1999 photograph in Paris, he is on the right and  looks most pleasing:

marcos1But here, what was he thinking?

marcos2

marcos3

 

carlos4This has to stop.

 

 

 

 

Return for a new post on how much I actually love his work.

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On decadence, on the rich, on the great Flaneur

Great beautyDespite my recent rant to my friend Henry about the depravity of the rich:  I don’t know how much you know about me but  I cannot understand how any person can live buffeted by wealth in a large city of gross inequal wealth and suffering and feel good about themselves….
I am under no illusions of life Behind the Green Door.  In all my time as a guest gorging at the feasts of the University Club, the Union Club and the Century Association, I had better luck borrowing $20 from a struggling artist or a poor Catholic than a multi-millionaire “friend.”  and so on…and so on and so forth… Still, I say

scanyacht Isn’t Paolo Sorrentino’s new movie The Great Beauty, played by a great 65 year old roue and flaneur and kingpin of the Italian high society, the most fantastic thing going?  I loved this movie; I loved its lush decadence. I loved the aging beauties with no surgery or botox dancing in haute couture to .. of course, what else? – Yo Lando Be Cool’s “No Speak Americano…” –  novels The Leopard, The Talented Mr Ripley, Edward St. Auburn’s The Patrick Ambrose novels come to mind. Any other suggestions – please — throw my way. We can’t all suffer forever.

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Disgraceful deeds unfinished

Brief HistoryPicked up this book at our local antique “What You Want” store — yes, that is its name — and the book is the original 1894 Fourth Edition with Revisions of the famous classroom text Brief History of the Empire State by Welland Hendrick. While vastly entertaining, with many facts now dubious, still its most interesting feature to me was the delicately penned marking of the book’s owner — apparently, based on the beautifully signed frontispiece, the mysterious young Grace Seager of the Madison School.  It just goes to prove that women have had minds of their own for a quite a while now.

On page 39, besides Hendrick’s  text that reads:  “At least, true it is that England thus secured an uninterrupted coastline from Maine to Georgia and made a United States possible… Our country obtained geographical unity…” Miss Seager writes: Otherwise an impossibility.

On a page 33 header called Summary List of Events, from 1478 to 1664,
carefully squeezed between
1626    Minute director-general
(AND)
Manhattan island bought by the Indians,
Miss Seager adds in large, for her, script Slavery introduced

Going on to correct a little grammar and make some personal remarks on some people’s appearance — one statesman being not only 5’2″ in height but also 5″2′ in circumference, therefore enormous”  she writes in the margins, she then completes the page 165 header

NEW YORK DURING THE STRUGGLE WITH SLAVERY – 1855-1869
with Abolished July 4, 1827

And, on page 175, under the title Wonders of Art and of Nature, Hendrick writes that the 1871 building of the State Capitol at Albany has so far consumed twenty million dollars:  “Its wasteful elegance tells the story of many disgraceful deeds” — and, adds Miss Grace Seager: yet unfinished. 

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Walking in the Arboretum, Beloved Son

Beloved SonSometimes, when I go out into the world, where I live now near Lake Ontario, the arboretum is so beautiful I think I might disappear: out of life, and into it. How to keep ourselves on earth? When something else appears so evident?
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A Flowery Band to bind us to the earth…
So wrote John Keats. And yet this Beloved Son is gone. May his parent, who placed this rock here, bind him back to us, at least for a moment.

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What chance of anything else in life?

“You say,” the poet John Keats wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1818, “‘I fear there is little chance of anything else in this life.’  You seem by that to have been going through with a more painful and acute zest the same labyrinth that I have — I have come to the same conclusion so far. My Branchings out therefrom have been numerous: one of these is a consideration of Wordsworth’s genius….”

Here, then, a sample of Wordworth’s It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free:

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility…

Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine…

Wordsworth also wrote a series of poems about a girl named  Lucy. (Come to be known as The Lucy Poems) Lucy was frequently alone, unnoticed, yet of perfection and always headed to early grave.

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

        Beside the springs of Dove,

A Maid whom there were none to praise

        And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone

        Half hidden from the eye!

—Fair as a star, when only one

        Is shining in the sky.

                                                                            Thirty five years later, John Hamilton Reynold’s daughter, also named Lucy, died at the age of ten. Reynolds went bankrupt, moved to the Isle of Wight as assistant clerk in a county court, and –according to Wikipedia,  “became depressed and started drinking heavily, although he was not without friends and admirers to the end.” He died in 1852, at the age of 58 — some 31 years after John Keats died.  Sad…?  Still, I say, why be an atheist when you can be a Romantic? And is not three days — as Keats said — with the right one, better than fifty years with the wrong: as he wrote to his own ill-fated love Fanny Brawne (as his death ate age 25 was to part them):

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”

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Gide’s Narcotic Labyrinth

William_Butler_Yeats,_Marc_Allégret,_André_Gide_by_Lady_Ottoline_MorrellWho knew that Andre Gide’s labyrinth, in which Theseus slays the Minotaur, turns out to be a narcotic laced haven where men go to swoon?  Who knew either how easy it would be for Gide’s Theseus to slay the Minotaur in such a god-given Palace: beyond a dark hall, and then another, and then into a flood lit garden, on a flower-bed strewn with buttercups, adonises, tulips, daffodils and pinks, I saw the Minotaur lying. Not only was he not terrifying, he was beautiful — and young — and asleep, which proved most handy.  He all but opened one eye — and Theseus, numbed by the narcotic vapours managed to kill  him with nothing left behind but, all things considered, a rather voluptuous memory. More tomorrow on the far more arduous feat of actually leaving the labyrinth. (Above: W.B. Yeats, Gide’s lover Mark Allegret, and Andre Gide in 1920)

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The First Phrase

“What’s the first sexscancspoemy or suckering phrase you read which made you point at the page..and deep breathe-in and go, shit, that’s what I want to do?” asked Weston Cutter in Ploughshares of the divine Olena Kalytiak Davis. She quoted Robert Hass:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.

As to her reasoning, she said “I think I fell in love with the possibility/pacing of this kind of logic.”

Of course, I immediately wondered what was my first suckering phrase and, barring juvenalia, remembered a Charlie Smith poem I once, in August 1992, ripped from The New Yorker and taped to my West 13th Street kitchen wall.

You come in dream Mother, or not at all,
Distressed by drugs, scattering quips, complaining how they torture you.

(Excuse the paraphrase. This quote is from memory.)

What was the draw? Do I even want to know? Enough that I telephoned the man and became a girlfriend of five years. While pondering this I turned to the first line of a poem he wrote for me when the five years were over — or at least, I assume it was for me — as it is dedicated to L.W. my initials at the time.

A quiet joy appears amid loneliness, doesn’t
replace it.

 

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Love is not Consolation: Brigid Hughes and Eamon Grennan

True that the editor of A Public Space, Brigid Hughes, chose David Beach — New Zealand Post letter sorter and poet of “chopped up sonnets” (his publisher’s words) over me and my small fictions for a $65,000 prize some few years ago — but far be it for this to prevent me from picking up the first issue of A Public Space in a public place just last week.

Picture (x4) of Beach here:

David BeachAnd what a good thing it was, reading this Issue 01 from Spring 2006, for in it I found Knowledge by Eamon Grennan, surely the best farewell to yesterday and 2013 that I could have read:

“Might words like relish, savor, endure, be a way to end the year? The clouds are radiance at first, scarcely matter, only thick light, white brilliance against blue. Later, they become a heart-fraught leaden gray, the day dimming, through there’s a still-fierce gleam to the west ahead of you, one small cloud melting in the blue, the low sun transfiguring birches…the ceiling of your head become a crown of stars, their names unknown, a realm away from impermanence, though that’s your main address now, the word home only cropping up here and there. Love is not consolation...

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It is You I Will Miss: Louise Gluck

My soul has been so fearful, so violent. Forgive its brutality…

It is the earth I will miss; it is you I will miss

Crossroads, a Village Life

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Facebook’s Your Best Moments of 2013: Dave Eggers’ The Circle

Worrying that Facebook is asking you to rate your friends? Affronted that they’d like to know when you met your significant other and when you got engaged to them and when you got married wearing what clothes and which accessories in what place?
Worried, mildly, that Facebook is putting out an album of your best moments of 2013? Read The Circle,  the new novel by Dave Eggers.
thecircle

To be afraid of no privacy perhaps you have to have a private life to protect, and most of Eggers’ young workers at the updated Facebook or Google quarters The Circle do not. Instead, they spend their time trying to best each other at social media connectivity, gain followers, and become ever more available, trackable ‘followable’ and ‘transparent.’
To quote: “Mae looked at the time. It was six o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending four zings (tweets?) ** and thirty-two comments (online)** and eighty-eight smiles (online, on the phone on wherever)** . In an hour, her PartyRank rose to 7,288… by eight o’clock, after joining and posting in eleven discussion groups…..she… But she couldn’t sleep… thinking how much better she could do, she logged on again, this time on her tablet, and pledged to work until two in the morning.” ** MY ITALS

Social media and Facebook are Terrifying, to some of us. But the people in Eggers’ The Circle are so oblivious as to what it means to lose Privacy that they are the really terrifying ones.  Mae, the protagonist, who wears a camera so that her every move (except in the toilet) is documented for the public, hardly flinches when her ex boyfriend tries to bow out and choose privacy in the woods and is instead Tracked Down To (spoiler) His Death — I mean, what was wrong with him? That’s as far as Eggers gets in this exciting, yet still slightly anticipatory nightmare.

 

 

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Madonna, Mailer, Maser and my breasts

madonna mailer

So Wayne Maser, a photographer, took this photo of Madonna and Norman Mailer, but more interesting is that before this shot, he had reached over, in their photo shoot, and lifted her left breast out of her dress so she was, thus, exposed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good look, and neither were any of the other poses Maser went for, including having Madonna sit in Mailer’s lap.  Madonna and Mailer simply had too much to say to each other — an actual conversation deliciously detailed in Esquire in 1994.  (Google it.) In the end, they stood together,  on the same level, no personal parts up for viewing, and this being one fantastic and beautiful result. I was never much of a fan of Madonna or Mailer, but I am more so now, and this is not because Maser himself was a somewhat friend of mine who pronounced my “tits” admirable the few times he saw them — times which, sadly my friends,  were not documented in photo shoots — would that they had been — but that is another story….

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You are SO divine; ending the White Eagle story with fairies and Houdini

The founding of White Eagle Lodge was also supported by messages from the recently deceased Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle became a Spiritualist after the deaths of his wife, his son, his brother and two brother-in laws. A friend of Harry Houdini, he believed that Houdini had supernatural powers — and when Houdini tried to convince him that his work was only illusion, the two had a bitter falling out. (you are so divine; I am not; you are so; no really I swear I am not; to hell with you then… )
Doyle also printed Fairiesin his 1922 book The Coming of the Fairies, the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies, five   photographs taken by two girl cousins of sixteen and nine chronicling their garden hang-outs with with delicate fairies — photographs that Doyle and others believed to show psychic or supernatural life.  The photographs were examined by experts, who were unsure about them — even at Kodak — and they were only debunked in the early 1980s  when aged cousin Elsie confessed to sketching the fairies from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, then making paper cutouts and holding them in place with hatpins.

Doyle and HoudiniMeanwhile… for anyone still with me… help for the Lodge also came from a Parisian group: the Fraternité des Polaires, which, based on my French and Google Translator, was a secret society influenced by Jule Verne with goals including “Bring a ray of light where there is darkness… Study, act and bring truth where there is quackery,” and, most important: “Fight by all means the mad fear of death that haunts the human brain.”

Also, through White Eagle and Barbara Cooke, the dead Doyle stated that he now found himself in a world consisting entirely of his own thoughts — and that “it is thoughts, as well, that help us build our temples which become our FAIRIESafter-death reality.”(Hence the need for the temple-lodge!)

Yet what does this all  mean to lovers of the Quiet World, to me, to my friend, to Kristen who gave the work to Laura Hyde, and Laura Hyde who lost or rid herself of it?

I do not know.  All I know is take the advice you like, and leave the rest. It offers a lot of freedom.

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White Eagle flies right toward the sun — through a British woman

grace_cookeSo back to White Eagle, and his sayings.  What have I found out about him: one, he is no longer —  and if he was, there is no proof of him. Two, he may or may not therefore have been, or officially now be capable of being, (intake of breath) Native American Indian.  However, he  is a being, who needed an earthly name. So to him an Earthly name was given. And this name — White Eagle — was given as a  “symbolic name” because, in Native American legend, White Eagle means “spiritual teacher” and, just as importantly   “the white eagle flies straight towards the sun.”
What importance the sun? Those half million of us who have bought and read The Quiet Mind Sayings of White Eagle know very well that White Eagle sayings are frequently about if not the sun exactly, then light. They are  about accessing light, or bearing light  or  carrying it — the light of Christ, or just the light within.                  It pours like a golden ray into the heart….

Still, we remain at the question who was and is White Eagle?

If White Eagle is a dead, when did he write or say his sayings? He did not write or say his sayings. Instead, he chose Spiritualist Barbara Cooke to be his medium and write down hi sayings.  And why not her? She was British, at a time when being British was still advantageous. She was not bad looking, and in 1913 she was already a successful young medium.  Add to which, she married another Spiritualist, Ivan, with whom she set up the first White Eagle Lodge in 1936.  This lodge still exists: below is their current rendition of White Eagle.  White Eagle as an Indian

See Part 3 of this blog, tomorrow, for details yet to come on the White Eagle Lodge, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and the artful invention of photographs of fairies by two girl cousins in Britain…

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The Quiet Mind poses some questions for White Eagle

scanwe20001

ONE half million copies of this tiny book have been sold, and several of those to me.  I bought my first back at a strange spiritual gathering in the 1990s which brings to my addled mind the words “Eric Butterworth.” Yet whoever Mr Butterworth was or was not — I refuse to Google him  — his gathering gained status and legitimacy by being held each Sunday at  Lincoln Center – not in the basement   — but in one the many-tiered golden-draped chandeliered Center concerto halls.

Why I ended up with Kristen’s copy I do not know, but Laura Hyde’s use of faux calligraphy and the word “blossom” seem entirely appropriate .scanwe

Personally, I take advice wherever I find it — and most of it contradicts itself — but White Eagle has always been a calm favorite.  How to not like headings such as LAY DOWN YOUR PROBLEM  NO COMPROMISE YOU ARE DIVINE  ACCEPT THE TASK  BE UNDISMAYED.  I feel better already.

Yet who is White Eagle? And is he Native American?
It does not say inside the book:  no author photo. No bio. Instead only the mysterious  “White Eagle Publishing Trust” of England.  Return tomorrow — for I have learned the answers, and they include a woman, a French secret society and Arthur Conan Doyle speaking from beyond the grave…

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Louise Gluck on how writing never does get Easy

gluck1Ah the beauty of Louise Gluck, who on a sudden re-reading seems to have all the knowledge and glory of sleeping with a God.  (yet that is another story.) For here, right now: a photograph of her on her first book, (left) and a more recent photograph (below) as well as her both daunting and comforting statement — for she is a master — that writing never does get easy: Gluck2 “The fantasy exists that once certain hurdles have been gotten through, this art turns much simpler, that inspiration never falters, and public opinion is always affirmative, and there’s not struggle, there’s no torment, there’s no sense that the thing you’ve embarked upon is a catastrophe. I’ve been seriously writing since I was in my earliest teens, and I suffer the same torments that I did then. And the only difference is that now I know they’re never going to go away.”

 

 

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My German Fiance; Paul Celan and Threadsuns

 

FOR several months in the 1990s, I was engaged to a man whose father escaped Nazi Europe for the United States at age eighteen. Word had it that he pleaded with his parents to leave Europe also, but they refused and were killed in the camps, as were his sisters.  Joop
Such was the case with the poet Paul Celan who remonstrated so violently with his parents one night, in an effort to get them to leave, that he finally gave up and spent the night elsewhere. The same night, it was a June 21, his parents were taken from their home to a labor camp in the Ukraine where his father died, apparently of typhus, while his mother was shot dead in the head after being exhausted by forced labor. Below is a photo of Celan with poet Ingeborg Bachman, whom he later met in Paris.

bachmann_celan52Celan is perhaps most famous for his lyrical poem Death Fugue in which black milk flows and flows as the antithesis of milk and honey, darkening and darkening on the tongue. This Thanksgiving, my mother gave me a collection of his later poems  Threadsuns, in which many poems feel part effort or sigh or exhalation — all written in Celan’s original German — but in 1960s when Celan was struggling with his mental health.

A sample:

DEW. And I lay with you, thou, in the rubble,
a mushy moon
pelted us with answer,

we crumbled apart
we brittled back together:

the Lord broke the bread,
the bread broke the Lord.

He was was, as his translator Katherine Washburn wrote of his book Poppy and Memory, “The heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.”

 

(Top image by Joop Sanders)

 

 

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What is Love?

“Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to embrace her; he attempted to rise, but she seized his hair and kept him down.scanwuthering
‘I wish I could hold you,’ she continued bitterly, ’till we were both dead! I shouldn’t care what you suffer. I care nothing for your suffering. Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do!’

‘Don’t torture me till I am mad as yourself,’ cried he, wrenching his head free, and grinding his teeth.

The two, to a cool spectator, made a strange and fearsome picture… on his letting go,     I saw four distinct impressions left blue in the colourless skin.

 

‘Are you possessed with a devil,’ he pursued savagely…………………”

From the Pocket Library Edition, 1954, bought Sunday Dec 1, 2013.

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Death – pain or beauty?

scanlwc

ONCE, it was in the year 2000, I had such a broken heart I thought it better to die — and almost did — and when I did not, I despaired.  So is the story of the 60 page ‘novel’ masterpiece by Katherine Anne Porter: Pale Horse Pale Rider in which Miranda loses her lover Adam to World War II, and herself, at the same time, comes close to death from influenza. Yet death appears not as she first fears, but as something beautiful, radiant, and the cessation of pain. “What is this whiteness and silence but the absence of pain?”

Yet from this we are sometimes held back — by life, or some mysterious hand. We are separated — being composed entirely, of “one single motive, the stubborn will to live. ..Trust me, the hard unwinking angry point of light said. Trust me. I stay.”

Porter herself later said that the novel was based on her own life. She came so close to death her hair turned white and fell out.  Yet never again did she fear death.

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Discovering Henry

WHEN I WAS a  young(er) woman, Henry Alcalay took me horse back riding. He took me swimming at a country estate and drove me to Queens in his navy blue vintage car to show me his childhood house. Back in Manhattan, he lived in a brownstone in the East Teens that had been owned by a gynecologist/obstetrician. It was full of old wooden contraptions that Henry told me they were birthing tables.

Alcalay (2)Last week I picked up an issue of Open City (26) and read Henry’s story Learn to Drive Trucks Big Money. His prose is delicious: dense, wry and slippery:  full of sudden depths and emotional openings: a journey through a New York City both hideously slick and deeply jarring.  Walter spends his days in suits and his nights wandering downtown, shy, removed and usually high. He is both intimate and close, and — at the same time — distant with opiates and a sort of gentle caution.  The Vietnam War sits in the background like ash in a fireplace.

Walter meets Mary in a candy store and their perambulations are both superficial and painful, peaking with a white tablecloth dinner at a boxing match:
Two half naked men trying to kill each other, hot bright lights, everyone watching.    There you are, on your own, with whatever you’re made of.

Other favorite lines: Their eyes sparkled like lakes on fire…

I lit two matches and with them lit the whole book. With a whoosh and some sparks it flared into a flame, which I held to my cigarette…Hurricanes don’t scare me, I said, tossing the matchbook away when it began burning my hand. Nine years ago Hendrix died.. You’re a good listener, I added, amazed she had hung around this long.

And an unforgettable rendering of the Apocalyptic:

ANow“This was the year of the first big Vietnam movies… and like with all epics, romance and fantasy had been grafted onto what must have been a terrifying and sordid experience. But now the war was all romantic: trees the size of buildings, Jim Morrison crooning as jets dispatch napalm… The summer before I’d seen this guy, my age more or less, sitting shirtless on a couch in a sweltering tenement on the Lower East Side, both of us waiting for the dealer to return. He had the sort of stillness that has nothing about it of a conscious choice….(my italics) What happened? I asked. Vietnam, he said, no more intonation than if he’d said vanilla.”

 

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Boats I Have Been Upon #1 — Atlantis

The first boat was a Manly Jumanly juniornior, eight feet eight with a spinnaker, mainsail and jib. My brother Dean and I shared the Atlantis: as my diary at the time said — when I was nine years old and terrified of the ocean, rivers and deep water — “Today we bought a horrible boat. It is five years old. Everyone is laughing at us.”

True to its name, the Atlantis, after the island that sank, had holes in its air tank(s) and when it swamped sank under the water line, with only the mast, and the two of us, above water.  How did I hate that boat.scanlouiseanddean0001  The best thing about it was a) leaning out over the side in the wind (above) before the fearsome dumping into local waters and b) wearing matching orange storm gear and finishing the race to claim hot pineapple donuts from the canteen (right). Rough childhood, yes? This is one of the sweetest photos I have of Dean smiling.

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Monday Dreaming

I woke up this morning striking a glass of water by my bed so it smashed into pieces against the wall, spilling its water to the floor.

In sleep I had been wrestling with a particular man, pleading, and imploring. He was,
I complained, too difficult to love:

“For years, I have worked to love you. For years. Yet, one day you love me and the next you hate me.”

Then came the great implore: Please, I said, Please stay away from me.

A smile came to the man’s lips, and then his eyes. He looked about — as if for a Witness. “Really?” he asked, as I had asked this of him before. “Are you sure?” he said, looking vaguely amused. “Because I am quite happy to do that.”

After the shock was over — the glass shattered, the shards retrieved, the water mopped up and the dog calmed down I thought of a line by Louise Gluck, whose poems I had been reading aloud, from Marshland that weekend.

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime.

Yet not for me..

 

 

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