The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.
Days and days and days. In a week. So many ways to distract self. The annals of avoidance would fill a book of the world. What else could lure me to my closet and sort out my sock and tights, search for runs, holes, for among the mess I cannot find a decent pair of 30 den black tights? And what’s with the long reams of sheets on the ironing board? And good God, a user’s manual? Pinning myself to an online help center and following the steps, in order, one two three, to obtain access to a recalcitrant app? To keep the cesspool of news and social media warp at bay. Also, the inarticulateness of grief.
Then something turns my stubborn head: Emily Dickinson. If it feels as if the top of my head is taken off, it’s poetry, Dickinson said – she knew. Could she have been more articulate about grief in the poem titled after its first line: After great pain, a formal feelings comes—? “After a trauma, stiffness takes over, and in the poem becomes personified: “The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –”
Woh. With such delicacy, Dickinson hovers around the anesthetized parts after the adrenaline wears off. The stony interior that is aware of the magnitude and overwhelmed by the change. Transparent and beautiful, the poem allows a subtle inner consciousness to be spied on, made alive, moved through. Some things are made delicate, beautiful and meant to run, like nylons; others, like poetry, are delicate, beautiful and are built to last.
Because I still have an oven, I can bake bread and knock on the crust: a hostage might answer. Because yeast is alive for a short time, embroider my name in your handmade world.
Oh long reams of sheets on the ironing board, I give you my full attention. I give you Simone Weil and Malebranche: attentiveness the soul’s natural prayer Is prayer. Pray, pray. With feet. With flowers, sticks. With undone lips, with murmuring surf.
To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores. To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky. To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.
I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.
From one kind of abyss to another. Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.
The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance!
This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me.
Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia hanging like a bunch of radishes.
Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”
When the same word floats up from the most disparate-seeming characters. My yoga teacher. My poetry mentor. A black hat rabbi. The list would be disparate enough without Baudelaire – but the dark prince poet was at the forefront in demanding we slough off our lazy habits that inure us to precision and keep us from paying – drum roll please – Attention! Attention – the practice my yoga teacher, poetry mentor and rabbi insist we devote ourselves to rather than allow slothful addiction to routine to cloud perception of what is.
The reason I think about it is that this weekend: Shofar! The curly ram’s horn provocateur is regularly blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. One prayer: May the cry of the shofar chatter our complacency. Another: May the cry elicit the response, hineini, I’m in the moment. As Maimonides said, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber.”
Then there’s the fact that this Saturday, the shofar took a Shabbat rest; the routine that breaks routine was broken. The rabbi compared us to attendees to John Cage’s 4:33, walking into the hall expecting a blast – and instead we hear silence. Or non-silence: coughs, shoes, heavy breath, pulse of the universe. Dereglement of the senses. Music/life in the white space. Or rather, music/life is the white space.
Finally it rains. Slapping and paddling the thick leaves; gliding down (d)rain pipes to be spit out onto recumbent weeds, filling puddles that I see mixed with the mesh of my screen window. Puddles like a running woman, arms outstretched, hair flung behind her, legs poised and bent. Now a drip, now a piling, now a pulsing on my phone: Flood Watch in your area!
Now at the risk of life and death, to wonder what becomes of rain after a poet dances it into language. Does it still slap as sound on the receiving mind, as rain but more so? Do we lose it to the beyond, or to a “finely woven curtain – sheer net perhaps – thinly broken, relentless in its fall, but relatively slow, which must be down to the Lightness and size of its droplets, an ongoing, frail precipitation, like real weather atomized.” So poet Ciaran Carson writes in a poem inspired by the Impressionist painting, “Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877,” the poem a riff on Francis Ponge, ‘La Pluie.’”
Ripples upon ripples in ripples. Enchanting patterns as droplets outside my window dissolve one upon another into larger radiating ripples –teasingly certain, never bothering to answer the question.
My dad used to say, at age 65, I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. My daughter used to say, around age 5, I miss my childhood.
Traveling in their heads, forward, backward, time moving faster. Who has decided? Who doesn’t miss roaming around in her head?
Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.