Monday, April 30, 2012

Month to Month


April  hath thirty days, and here we are in the eleventh hour, literally, of the last day of National Poetry Month, the sun having set at 7:42 p.m.—ah, ever so later it falls. April, from aperire, "to open." The time of year that the clenched fist of a bud loosens to reveal its soft, burgeoning soul. Peony as poultice. Sunflowers as big as parasols. 

And so, to close the month, I'm leaving here a poem written by the young and brilliant and beautiful poet, Darcie Dennigan, with whom I had the pleasure to sit—along with less than a dozen others—about a round table for three days, three hours each day, at last year's Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Talking and writing poetry. Poultice and parasols, indeed. Sun and rain and pungent catalpas, and lots and lots of writing. 

The title of Dennigan's poem, below, is, I hear, derived from a mishearinga mondegreen (something with which we had almost too much fun 'round the table)—of Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous dicta (likely from Tractatus, or is it Philosophical Investigations?— I don't have time to investigate, and if anyone knows which dicta, please don't hesitate to shout it out!).

From Dennigan's Corrina A-Maying the Apocalypse:

The Feeling of the World As a Bounded Whale Is the Mystical [The child affixes]

The child affixes one of her little pictures to my refrigerator. 
She asks, Can you detect the radiation? 

There is a house, one tree, and grass in dark slashes. A sun
shining. Beneath, in her child letters, she has written Chernobyl. 

At kindergarten they must be having nuclear energy week. 

One could look at the picture and say everything is in order. 
No, I say, I cannot see the radiation. 

The radiation poison, she says, sits 
inside the apple and the apple looks pretty. Then singsongs, 

Bury the apple and bury the shovel that buried the apple 
and put the apple-burier person in a closet forever. 

We are both thinking Then bury the burier.
Both thinking of her picture with no people. 

The poison sits inside the people and the people 
still look pretty, she says. Still, she says, sweetly, Away with them. 

The child is not a Hincher, which is why I love to tell her stories: 

Of the poisonous man who tumbled into the cold sea 
and turned the sea poignant. 
His bones glowed in the cold deep like dying coral. 
His ribcage was a cave for small, lost fish. 
Flecks of his glowing skin joined with green algae 
on the sea surface, where, on a boat, his widow choked 
as she looked down the sun shaft for her husband's greening body.

What is sunlight through seawater most like 
but the strange green fire 
that burnt the man? 
—Who had worked atop a steel hill until a whale—
a great green whale—bumped into the continental shelf 
and the steel hill cracked and its poison leaked out. 
And the man began to melt...

What I am jealous of in the child, what I really detest in her 
is how she nods 

with kindergarten grace and finality. Primly, into her pinafore, 
she tucks what I've told of the story. 

On the refrigerator her picture looks so pretty. 
There is no end to the green or pollen or the feeling of the bees coming.
Or of a hill and sky of poison. 

On fire, the man working on the reactor must have looked wavy— 
like a man trying to ride a humpback through the fast green sea. 

Her picture on the refrigerator looks so pretty. 

When I wake her from her nap I will ask 
if the dark green slashes are meant to be 
radiance, not plain grass. 
See you in May. Maia: Roman earth goddess...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — What's Happening?

OR: What Happens When the Suburban Soliloquist Searches for a Moment of Peace and Quiet.

Every December when asked what he wanted for Christmas, her father would, without fail, respond: Peace and quiet! He'd say it so fast and severely that she thought it was one word. Peacenquiet. In the colonial house in which they lived, on a street perpendicular to the fire station, within two blocks from the elementary school, in a city of fifty thousand, quiet was found only in the thick, Black Japan lacquer of night when the next day's clothing folded gracefully over wood chest at bed's foot, school books heaped in their rubber straps, the French horn and piano intermissionized, batted and clawed Teen Beat magazines softened, Hummel-murdering footballs idled in the toy box, and six children, boys in one room, girls in the other, slept soundly while parents exhaled conciliatory snores.

Peacenquiet is the night's oasis

On a mid-April morning, half-way through an active week-long vacation, in a cold, wet Washington, D.C., the Suburban Soliloquist, roaming the halls of an enormous Greek Revival building set back from the rumpus of stretched streets, and stocked with American art, thirsted for peace and quiet (why she expected it there still baffles her). Hours earlier she had enthusiastically entered the Museum, children in tow, and set forth purposefully through its wide halls, vaulted galleries and curved stairways. Her rambunctious young teens, not to be slowed by portraits or sculptures or old mousetraps or mothers, quickly set out on their own path. But in the chamber that housed the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, and at de Kooning's frenzied pastel sketch of JFK, and by John Quidor's Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, and near Albert Bierstadt's fantastical paintings of the nation's frontiers, the children conspired to descend upon their mother, robbing her of peace and quiet.

Go see The Art of Video Games! she finally suggested (or demanded?). Third floor. Text me when you're done. And they were off without a question, the hall and stairwell echoing the notes of their laughter and heavy feet. She was certain to not be disturbed for a long while.

Later, she made her way back to the third floor, where she stumbled upon the black box of David Hockney's Snails Space. Inside: a long leather bench on which to sit, silence and aloneness, not one other museum goer in the box. She sat. She stared at, and listened to, the illuminated, multicolored canvases of a world within a world—a moving, breathing model of streams and mountains, valleys and woodland which changed as the light by which it was illuminated altered; a shy bleating of activity emitting from the landscape. It made her think of a pop-out book. For several moments she sat alone. Five minutes? Ten minutes? Alone. Could it be? It was beautiful. An oasis. Peaceful. Quiet. Snails. Space. The world within the world. Just as Hockney had intended.*

And what happens when the Suburban Soliloquist finds a moment of peace and quiet

Two young teens tend to find her. (Often, when she is trying to digitally capture worlds within worlds.) And decide to sit and stay. Look and listen. They speak in whispers. (And ratcheted-up whispers.)

Max: What's happening?

Lulu: Are the snails moving?

SS: Living.

Max (surprised): Wh-what?

(Pause. Room darkens and lightens.)

Lulu: The snails are moving!

Max: Where are the snails?


Max: Really, where are the snails?

(Pause. Bleating heard.)

Max: Where's the sound coming from?

(Pause. Room darkens.)

Lu: What happened?

SS (into Lu's ear): Hold on, it's not done yet.

Max: I seriously don't get it.


Lu (annoyed): Mom, what's going on?

(Inaudible whispers.)

(Kids, mildly agitated, exit. Camera out. Suburban Soliloquist: stands and exits.)

She made her way out of the black box, following the children toward the neon lights of Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway, wishing she could have lingered longer in the blackness of the box. But she would not leave Hockney and the snails entirely behind. She was to carry the bleat and tinct of them with her throughout their Capitol excursion, and far beyond.

The space of a snail is the day's oasis.

* “The installation unfolds as a kind of silent performance that evokes Hockney's experience of designing sets and costumes for operas even as he lost his hearing. In the absence of sound, pure visual experience compensates and suggests a different narrative to every viewer. The title offers a pun and a suggestion from the artist. To sit in this installation through the entire cycle of light shifts is to take time for what Hockney called "the pleasure of looking" that leads us to understand "how beautiful the world is.” - From Snails Space with Vari-Lites, "Painting as Performance" at the American Art Museum.
*  *  *
NOW, for more sensory experiences, and the pleasure of looking and listening:

From the website of Providence's Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, where Bobby McFerrin will be performing on May 10, 2012:
With a four-octave range and vast array of vocal techniques, McFerrin is not a mere singer; he is music’s last true Renaissance man, a vocal explorer who combines jazz, folk and a multitude of world music influences. As one of the foremost guardians of music’s rich heritage, he remains at the vanguard with his natural, beautiful and timeless music that transcends all borders and embraces all cultures.
McFerrin takes his audience through demonstrations that continually illustrate how music interacts with brain and emotion, such as the video above from the World Science Fesitival, 2009 (more on the topic of sound perception can be found at PBS's The Music Instinct—Science and Song). He charms, delights, unites—with a common chorus—and even transforms his admirers by creating his own oasis, engaging others in his improvisational forays. 

From his website:
Listening to Bobby McFerrin sing may be hazardous to your preconceptions. Side effects may include unparalleled joy, a new perspective on creativity, rejection of the predictable, and a sudden, irreversible urge to lead a more spontaneous existence.  

Here, the emotional spectrum of crying until you laugh and laughing until you cry:

This is what's happening: the pleasure and wonder of looking and listening, new perspectives, spontaneity, a common chorus. How beautiful the world is. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Saturation Point

It wasn't my first impression upon entering, although the Suprasensorial exhibit at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C.  has been described as "dreamy, otherworldly and transcendent," and inasmuch as I was fascinated by the merging and manipulation of light, color and space, I was discomforted, disoriented—yet, in retrospect, nourished by discomfort and disorientation, perhaps, in a dreamy, otherworldly and transcendent way.  
Maybe it was the slamming cold and grey drizzle of the city, the otherworldliness of the Hirshhorn building itself, which appears on the capital's mall as a concrete UFO that fell from the sky like a giant meteoroid too weighty to ever again lift itself, or the whimsical, if not disturbing, bean-bagged, stone-faced, bronze sculpture of Last Conversation Piece, by Juan Muñoz (which I could not bring myself to leave—what were they saying, what was the last conversation, what will it be?) that awaited us on the plaza by the unmerciful spaceship's entrance—yes, it was all these things, these things I do not really understand, yet these things, everything, seemed to be telling me something, imploring me to try to understand. The question, then: How does one approach the unknown
Eagerly, said the children, who darted through a radiant swath of blue brightened by a fluorescent fence. An open, yet bound space. Meanwhile, I paused, glanced cautiously at my sister.

Lu and her cousin slipped on white booties and dove into, got giddy with, an illumination of green, magenta and blue—a sensory experience that stirs moods.

What does it mean? This is how I approach the unknown.

Several days have passed since visiting the Hirshhorn. I left full. Uncertain of what I'd experienced, as if it were alien (and it was, in many ways), but certain I'd experienced it fully. It's meaning, it seems to me now: challenging questions—questions and disquietude that keep us from engaging in, or even approaching—in one sense or another— new, oddly different, experiences. 

Uncomfortable experiences.

Walk into it. Walk through it. Immerse. Let it saturate the senses. Fully. Whatever it shall mean.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Hath Thirty Days

April cold with dripping rain 
   Willows and lilacs brings again.     
                                                                               ~Ralph Waldo Emerson                                                                                         

This, from today's calendar in The Old Farmer's Almanac: Folly and learning often dwell together.

And this:

April brings the primrose sweet,
Scatters daisies at our feet.
~From The Year, by Sara Coleridge

I'm attempting to muster some writerly mojo. I've been in a royal funk since Sheila bid farewell to the earth twelve days ago. Mother gave me an aromatic, wild Irish rose plant in memory of my wild, crazy-enough-to-grab-hold-of-life (as Sheila's nephew said in his eloquent eulogy for her) Irish friend. It blushes just as blithely as Sheila did. I'll make room for it in the front beds, where it will get plenty of sunshine and attention. Or perhaps I'll plant it at the family camp in Maine, where Sheila loved to watch the sun fall to pulsing purple beyond the lake on a late summer evening.

A couple of days ago I was reminded that April is National Poetry Month. For English class, Lulu's been scratching out various kinds of poems (you'd think that, alone, would have cast a fine hue of clues in my direction—seems I haven't been fully present). Last night, Lu embellished her poetry e-book with the requisite glitter and art, and asked me to take a look at it before she turned the project in today. I scanned the pages to find that not only was Lu's poetic mojo intact, but that some of her poems also demonstrated that folly and learning do, indeed, often dwell together (although, not always in the manner implied by the old proverb). By Lulu:

A Limerick:

Her name was Sam
And she loved ham
But soon
A loon
Took Sam and all her ham

A Clerihew Poem:

His name is Max
He can’t pay tax
When he walks in the room
All the glass goes kaboom

And finally, something a bit more subdued:

A Prepositional Poem:

Inside the house
Under the stars
Among the river
Through the brush
Above the trees
Near the land
Over the sea
Hidden in sand
Past the surface
Into the heart
Before the beginning
After the start
Inside us all

Daisies at my feet; primrose sweet. Loons and kabooms. Whatever April brings, I shall awaken to receive it. Stay open to it. Even a silly poem. Even rain. Even hope.

*  *  *

I'll be on a short blog break from today through April 22nd, and will hope to return with my mojo. For National Poetry Month, you may want to check the goings on over at Poetry Foundation. And at you'll find thirty ways to celebrate poetry this April.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — Seeing the Day

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. 
                                                                                        ~ Albert Einstein

Keep moving. It's been that kind of week. In Boston's Chinatown this past Wednesday everything seemed to be moving. Holding balance. People crossed busy streets when traffic walk signals told them to do so. Pedestrians hummed over street vendors' bins of fresh vegetables and fruits. Chinese willows shook themselves out in the breeze. In Mary Soo Hoo Park, locals huddled and swayed around small groups of men playing Chinese chess with brightly inscribed wooden pieces. Sirens flashed and swung in the air, in transit, to and fro Tufts Medical Center. 

And then there was the muted sound and movement of a pretty bicycle secured to a pole at the corner of Kneeland and Tyler, which stopped me in my hurried tracks. The gentle downward slope of the top bar of the dark frame, the woven basket, the leather saddle, and bowed fenders caught my eye. A city bike. A woman's city bike. I wondered if she, the rider, had ridden the bike to work, or if she had met a friend for dim sum, or if she was simply taking her Miniature Schnauzer, whom she had carefully tucked in her basket, for a stroll through the park. Had I seen her poking through the glossy Chinese eggplant? Was she wearing a knee-length wool skirt, cable-knit sweater and long linen scarf? Maybe she was a resident at Tufts and had come from her apartment in Fenway. In the hospital she was dressed in scrubs and listened carefully to patients.

I stayed a while by the bike, and took several photographs, feeling as if I were in a state of inertia in the center of a mob of exertion. I didn't want to leave. Yet I did want to leave. On the bike. I wanted to ride it around the whole damn city, like I'd done all those years ago on my raised-seat touring bike, racing around Beantown, through its emerald parks, or to the office downtown. On a mission. But this particular bike, the city bike, was not meant for mission. It was meant for hanging back, for diddling, for loitering, for which, I realized—simultaneously with those leisurely thoughts—I had no time.

At the Craniofacial Pain Center, Dr. Correa asked me how I slept. 

Not well.

Next time, we'll talk about sleep, he smiled. 

And then I was off with my thrice-adjusted mouth guards, racing to my car, maneuvering the slow-lanes/fast-lanes of 93 South, open throttle toward another city where I was to pick up the kids, all the while wishing I'd done what I ordinarily do: take the commuter train. 

It's a balancing act, life, though I don't feel like I ever truly keep balance. I lurch to the left, wobble to the right, and sometimes, on a lucky occasion, center myself amply enough to see a day as less than overwhelming. It's all right. I'm happy to see the day. See it right through.

*  *  *

And now, ballads and jingles that I like to call, well, loiter music.

About singer/songwriter/pianist Joe Purdy, from thesixtyone:  
Purdy, an independent singer/songwriter from Arkansas, put in his time working at a loading dock and as a counselor at a private high school before his song "Wash Away" became synonymous with the 2004 season of ABC's Lost. Purdy left Arkansas for California in 2001, where he learned how to play the piano and began writing songs. He went on to record several homemade albums, breaking into the L.A. music scene with 2003's StompinGrounds. It was around this time that Purdy was contacted by J.J. Abrams, the executive producer of Lost, who asked Purdy to write a song for the show. Purdy, who at the time was visiting an island on a river in upstate New York, wrote "Wash Away," which went on to chart in the Top 25 on the /iTunes country charts…
In addition to his music heard on Lost, his songs have also appeared on the soundtrack of the TV series Grey's Anatomy, and the motion picture Peaceful Warrior.

From Last Clock On The Wall:

And, one of my favorites from Paris In The Morning:

In total, Purdy has self-released a total of twelve CDs, the latest being This American.

All of Purdy's music can be listened to for free, on his website, available on album playlists.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Temerity of Light


If it is real the white
light from this lamp, real
the writing hand, are they
real, the eyes looking at what I write?

From one word to the other
what I say vanishes.
I know that I am alive,
between two parentheses.

~Octavio Paz, from Selected Poems (©1984 by Eliot Weinberger)

It's been so dark lately. I wanted big light today. Fierce light. Shouting, screaming, raging light. Light with claws, barbed teeth and a tail of burs. But today's light won't fight like that. Today's light plays demure, like a child who won't perform on demand. Oh, come on now, what's wrong? You know how to do this, you just did it the other day. Show us what you can do, don't be shy. (Baby blushes with a big-dimpled grin.)

Upstairs, in my room (the only room in the house that hasn't been finished, never mind re-finished), which faces east into the morning sun, I'm writing, trying to make sense of a certain citrus-scented light that has left this planet. Marks—the parentheses—of this fruity light are set with dates on both sides of the dash. My good friend Sheila: born and died in March. I don't imagine, though, that she is gone.

Death is the only certainty, we are told. It should be of no surprise, especially when we're prepared—as if we can prepare—yet, we're surprised. Events following take on a surreal aura. Death cannot be real. It's a trick. Smoke and mirrors. Like the Botanica print hanging on the wall above my desk that appears, in the picture, to be a mirror. The things reflected: an old yarn winder topped with magazines and an enormous, inherited, "Authorized or King James Version" of The Holy Bible. The Bible has so many bookmarks and notes tucked within its pages that it's nearly twice its original size and its spine is reinforced by duct tape.

Honey-haired Sheila was all light, as refreshing as orange essence; her zest for life, her insistence upon positivity, palatable. You could scrape her sideways and she'd smile. An orange spritz. Effervescence. A concentration of sweet and light. Peacemaker. Where there was darkness, she brought light. Orange glow.

Yellowed paper clippings are taped to the backside of the Bible's cover. I hadn't given the big book much attention, but one clipping strikes me—a passage from Olive Moore's Collected Writings:
Be careful with hatred. Handle hatred with respect. Hatred is too noble an emotion to be   frittered away in little personal animosities. Whereas love is of itself a reward and an object worth striving for, personal hatred has no triumphs that are not trivial, secondary and human. Therefore love as foolishly as you may. But hate only after long and ardent deliberation. Hatred is a passion requiring one hundred times the energy of love. Keep it for a cause, not an individual. Keep it for intolerance, injustice, stupidity. For hatred is the strength of the sensitive. Its power and its greatness depend on the selflessness of its use.
The sun, now, is willing itself to be present, and in the hall where it shines through the picture window it concentrates on the center of the rug, but it doesn't appear too concerned. It spreads across the tapestry, carefully, until the hall is fully infused with warmth. Ah yes, now it's thrashing and there's not a shadow to be seen! I think of Sheila's energy. She loved foolishly. Wildly. Generously. She still does. I feel her here now. Here. In the orange glow. Not gone at all. No sense to be made. I can smell the oranges and see her blushing. For this, I am certain.