Monday, November 30, 2009
arcing backwards from the old
brown couch. The ordinary room,
with its worn black rug, scattered
with pink roses like none that grew
out in the yard, became a reef,
crowned with the tiny
pulsing mouths of coral,
their home a crypt and
nursery,built on the others' bones.
The t.v.'s featureless face
gave back my own face, turned
alien and odd, and I, a curious
dolphin, weightless and free.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Pamela Johnson Parker's chapbook, A Walk Through the Memory Palace, winner of the first annual Qarrtsiluni Chapbook contest (see link below), seems to possess a sure sense of its shape, though its subjects range widely, from the apparently autobiographical, to mythological and literary poems, sparked with multiple allusions, to richly woven paeons to the natural world. Somehow, though the topics go beyond the personal, the chapbook takes on the shape of a woman's life, the title crowning the collection with purpose, despite the book's multifarious moods and themes.
One poem in particular, "Some Yellow Tulips," catches my attention. I include it in full below:
Some Yellow Tulips
Old Mrs. Sonnenkratz, there in her yard
Bent over like a bulb herself, works hard
To edge her sidewalks, salt the slugs, and spray
The aphids from her roses. Every day
She’s pruning, pulling, plucking, weeding out
The strays that might be festering. No doubt
She loves her lawn, loves order, symmetry
Of seedlings, herbal borders; she would be
Ruthless to seeds gone volunteer, to Queen
Anne’s livid bruise, half-hidden in its green-
White froth of lace. Today, her turban slants
Askew over her blue-rinsed hair; her plants,
Once straight as soldiers on her patio,
Are blitzkrieged out of order, the yellow
Tulips (three days blossoming in a vase
Atop her wrought-iron table) don’t erase
Her frown, her sloppy slippers, or the brown
Age spots (about the size of dimes around)
She often hides with gloves. A jagged scar
Runs up her forearm, where the numbers are.
The tulips, like her, blowsy, need to go;
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’s on her radio.
She thinks, Acht nicht, acht nicht, nacht musik…
Their leaves are lances, and they slant, oblique.
The tulips stems outlast their showy flowers;
For years she plants by day and, at night, cowers.
The yellow of the petals starts to burn;
Perhaps the worst of absence is return.
She smokes and shakes and smokes. Each flowerbed’s
As neat as graves. She stubs out ash. The heads
Of these tulips wore bright turbans, tight-wrapped
And now unwrapping. In Berlin, she was slapped:
Sie ist ein Jude… Dry-eyed in Dachau, how
She’s crying over bulbs bloomed too far now.
In a world of absence, presence leaves a scar.
Each tulip’s ravelled to a six-point star.
(for Lilo Mueller)
Read more: http://memorypalacewalk.com/some-yellow-tulips/#ixzz0YI9nANIl
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial
Written in orderly couplets, the poem embraces the strength this form offers. The lines are clipped as topiary bushes to fit the inevitable end rhyme, yet remind one of Bishop or perhaps Hopkins (think "Spring and Fall"!) in their subtle emotional power.
The poem begins with a mildly critical and perhaps even disapproving tone, but morphs to a power statement of the futility of any effort to erase the past or the threatening future of mortality we all face with our present rituals. Loss enters into all our enterprises, and the poem muses, "Perhaps the worst of absence is return."
This poem about the Holocaust is one of the few that manages to universalize that event without trivializing it--a delicate balance to be sure.
I recommend this book to you, and also the journal Qarrtisiluni, and plan to send an entry of my own this year to its chapbook contest, the yoga sequence, if all goes well. Here is a link that will tell you more about that contest:
Enjoy, and visit Qarrtsiluni, which is always interesting.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
All lifetime long, fated to tread
their single paths on yielding earth,
to press parched soles against
unsympathetic streets, they desire
only new routes, not dreaming
what they truly seek.
Yet meeting arch to arch, each
toe pressing its long-lost opposite,
these feet have met their match.
Bound in a forced embrace, they find
a blessing in this union, welded
in a prayer to all things lost,
to what was always there.
NOTE: "Yoga" is from a Sanskrit word that, roughly translated, is said to mean or at least to connote "union." It is probably the root of our word "yoked."
Friday, November 27, 2009
I found the mop without too much trouble, but I had to wait in line for a long time; that line stretched halfway across the store. It was awkward and heavy to carry that box without a cart too.
Next, I went to Steinmart, and I spent quite a while looking around for jackets or something reasonable for women who take care of my parents. I was considering buying the cashmere doorbuster sweater that was on sale for one of them, but I decided not to because the mop cost $10. more than I expected, making the price of the sweater too much for us to spend.
And last, I went to Kohls. It was a nightmare. I bought my son some sheets and pillows and towels, but again there were no carts and the line was really really slow. I was there for 2 hours, trying to hold all this stuff in my arms, which was impossible. I would have bought more, but I couldn't hold what I had. Finally, I begged a passing worker to go get me a shopping bag, which she did. And another worker helped me carry the stuff to my car.
I don't want to go shopping for a while.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The smoked bird was very good, and the roasted vegetables were actually my favorite part of the dinner. It was red onion, portobello mushrooms, butternut squash cubes, garlic, carrots, and yellow bell peppers, plus shallots, olive oil, pomegranite vinegar, and fresh herbs. It could have stood more cooking on the lower shelf of the oven, but that was occupied by the bird. The guys liked their mashed potatoes and gravy, but that's really not my thing at all. The stuffing was good, and of course, the cranberry orange relish!
Jeremy sat with my mom and showed her old pictures of when he was a baby and before he was born. It was fun for all of us to talk about where those places were, who those people were, when it might have been, etc. My mom was not too interested. She didn't even know who the people in the room were, never mind the ones in the pictures.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Despite the fact that R asked me to buy a precooked turkey so I would not have to cook, I am actually making quite a few sides for tomorrow. It doesn't come with mashed potatoes, so I have to make those. My dad asked for cornbread, so I am making that (from a box). And, being southern, it doesn't come with veggies, so I am roasting butternut squash, asparagus, portabello mushrooms, and yellow bell peppers with rosemary, oregano, olive oil, and garlic... maybe a little balsamic too. And of course, there's the diabetic dessert for dad, a cranberry apple crisp, made with diabetic brown sugar and sweetener. I found a recipe online. And sugarless vanilla ice cream on top.
I polished my mom's old silver today. It is actually pretty beat up. I should not have insisted on taking it from the house. It doesn't seem too appetizing, even now that I've polished it up, because of the plastic handles on the knives (I guess it's plastic... it hasn't aged too well, anyhow).
But I took it, and I cleaned it, so people can use it if they wish. Of course, I didn't keep the china, taking pity on my uncle when he asked me not to make him send it out here. Too expensive, he said. Not worth it. So people will have to eat from my everyday stoneware. I am not buying china, or paper plates either.
I guess then that I'll be pretty busy tomorrow, along with most of the rest of female kind in the U.S. ... .
Monday, November 23, 2009
carving out an underworld
composed of legs and torso,
a cave, where intestines'
pearly ropes fall free,
and the heart, suspended,
beats its regular tattoo
against the chest
till the vaulted rafters
shake. The lungs, two sails,
spread their manta wings,
and breath bears me
through the sweet darkness,
all the way to the end.
After the appointment, I started to back out of the spot--it was a handicapped spot, the closest to our doctor's office, a score, I thought, when we pulled in, but it turned out to be a huge hassle. Well anyway, behind me, there were two cars going up and one coming down, and no room for me to go out to the street, so I had to go all the way up to the top of the parking facility, almost up to the roof, before I could find a spot to back out of and go down. That woman who wanted into my spot didn't have a handicapped sticker, and I am sure she found out she'd have to park elsewhere, after she insisted on making me drive in the wrong direction.
I get very very nervous backing out, especially since that big SUV hit me a few weeks ago and I had to get the car fixed, even though that wasn't my fault. Seeing how nervous and tentative I was, my father went ballistic and started yelling at me, and I yelled back, the worst possible thing when I am driving. Then, to make matters worse, someone collapsed at the exit, and a whole line of cars, including me, had to make a U-turn and go out a different way... more yelling, more ultimatums, nightmare. I have such a long history of terror in the car with my father, years when he was "teaching me to drive," but turned out to be making it impossible for me to get behind the wheel for about 30 years. He would pull my hair, kick me in the leg, scream in my ears, till I got out of the car and walked home.
As soon as we were out of that situation, things reverted to their usual state, and nothing more was said about driving, but I would have liked to have done better with that situation than I did. I'm disappointed in myself.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The inchworm angles
upward, its back end
lagging, to inspect a leaf.
In this pose, I am stillness
set in motion, legs like young
oaks, with all their secret life
beneath the skin. Half of me
insists on earth, feet wedded
to the floor--the other
half aspiring to the sky, the spine
yearning for what it's not,
while the arms, those mediators,
lie somewhere in between, and the head
a full moon among clouds.
The maid had actually begun to lose her mind, and much of the film records her struggle to regain some semblance of sanity and carve out some kind of life for herself. It was another young woman, brought in to care for the house and family while the other maid recovered from her collapse, as much mental as physical, who brought the original maid back to life, making her see that she needed to find her own way. At the end of the film, she was trying, in a small and rather pathetic manner, to do that. It was a funny, dramatic, and sad film.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Of course, neither I nor any of the other regulars would ever speak to her about these feelings. We respect her views, and what's more, sympathize with them. Perhaps one day I will stop eating meat. I don't eat cheese or enjoy milk products though, so it would make for a pretty boring diet, I think. At most, I could probably manage a pescavorian diet, vegetables, grains, and fish.
In any case, the yoga class WAS humbling and difficult. I lost my balance and fell backwards or forward more times than I can say when we were balanced on the side with the other leg in the air. One of these was anantasana, Buddha's couch, I think it's called. It looks easy, but it isn't, for me at least.
Despite my squatting prowess, my legs screamed for mercy when we squatted at the wall with a block between the thighs and stayed there for a while. But humbling is good. It makes one remember that however much she practices, there are always things to learn. Lots of them.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Inside its shell, all martial
turrets, spiral points, the whelk,
soft as a tongue, slips unhindered
through the polished rose-pink
lips, while I, a creature of another
sea, head downward on
this folding chair, extend
my toes like pink-tipped
tentacles. My head is free
for once to lose its lofty
place, and pillowed
on the floor, looks only
inwards at the chest, hands
lightly grasping the back bar.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I like to cook, but R has requested repeatedly that I not shift into my usual frantic, one-track mode of feast days, when I cook and fill the fridge for days at a time to over-flowing, something that in his OCD heart of hearts, he hates. And when my parents are around, I am already stretched to my limit, so I appreciate for once how he feels about this.
This morning I spoke to R about Jeremy's request, and he agreed that if I promised not to cook for hours and hours and got the place where I buy the turkey to carve it, we could eat here. It costs a lot less, which I appreciate, especially after I found out that I accidentally cleaned out R's bank account (causing late fees) paying my parents' medical bill. The account numbers are almost identical. I cleaned my own self out paying that back, and took only half from my parents for the moment (I'll get the rest after the checks arrive).
So I did some research and found we can eat almost the same meal as take-out from Johnny Reb's if I pick it up next Weds. I'll leave plenty of space in the fridge for left overs. Perhaps I'll fix a nice side dish (it doesn't come with a vegetable). I could also fix an extra dessert. It comes with everything else.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
undulate under the clouds like fish
in the shallows, soft morning light
singing on their silver scales.
I want to lie down in that light
and become a hill, but my mind
won't let me. Let me try again
to still the muscles' long
sigh as legs enfold the hips,
tucked under like hospital corners,
the thighs pulled taut as a harp string,
the ribs pried open as I
lie back on the folded blankets
exposing my heart to the world.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
This was a bit of an adventure. I had never taken my parents to a play, especially one as long as this one (2 1/2 hours), and mom gets antsy even at the moves. She doesn't hear well, and is very confused at this point about what is going on, but she loves old songs, and she knows these songs well. We went to see the original off Broadway when I was a kid. She did fine till the intermission, and then she wanted to go home, and kept loudly talking and complaining until I got a chair and sat beside her. Because of my dad's walker, we had to sit in seats other than the ones we had tickets for, one behind the other on the far right side. Then we went out to dinner. That's always a risky proposition because there is very little she will eat these days. I know she likes steak, but I wasn't about to pay $16. for a small piece of strip steak at Mimi's. So I ordered her pot roast, on the advice of my dad. Since it came with soup and dessert, I figured she'd eat something, even if she didn't like the entree. But she wouldn't eat any of it, except dessert. We ended up taking it home. It was exhausting. I haven't taken her anywhere for an entire afternoon aside from shopping for some time. She doesn't remember how to get the toilet to flush, get paper towels from the towel dispenser, or how to get a roll of toilet paper to unroll. It just kept spinning round and round without giving her any paper till I spun it the other way.
Just now, at 8:30 PM, my dad called, after I dropped them off, saying he couldn't find his glasses. He had them with he got out of the car. I'm sure they are right on his dresser where they belong, since he is going to bed. Sigh.
One newsflash before I do: the caregiver didn't leave! I'm happy to say that. However, her furniture is still gone. Either that means that she is going to leave or that she is moving out of that house and into another one the owner has. Either way, that isn't good. I guess I'll ask her what's up.
About the film: I saw the movie last night, and I found it really thought provoking. As any review will tell you, this is a remake of the story of Job, set in late sixties suburban Minnesota, a milieu native to the Coens themselves. Unlike my old stomping grounds in Philadelphia, an urban shtetl closer to the roots of old world immigrants (a step up from the tenements, but not much of one), this is goyishe suburbia, but inhabited almost exclusively by country club Jews.
The main character is a physics professor, Larry Gopnik, a shlemeliel to beat all shlemiels. Mild mannered to a fault, he accepts without rejoinder his wife's unfaithfulness, his neighbors' insults, the rabbis' mealy-mouthed homilies, his supervisor's insinuations. Like Job, he is definitely being tested. Is he really a virtuous man? For most of the film he does not fall to temptation, until, after his wife leaves him for a disgusting and hypocritical neighbor (who later dies, and then she makes him pay for the man's funeral), and his financial world collapses, causing him to take the bribe a student gives him for a passing grade. Then he gets a cosmic answer to the question he has been pursuing, of what God is trying to tell him with all these accumulated disasters. There is even a satanic presence, in the form of the single most soulless-looking woman I have ever seen, a seductive neighbor, who sunbathes in the nude.
I will not spoil the rest of the film for you. Though if you are not Jewish you will probably be a bit puzzled at some of the references, much of it is pretty comprehensive. You may wonder at the Yiddish frame of a film, a seemingly-unrelated scenario set in Lithuania, which features a possibly supernatural presence. But it isn't irrelevant... far from that.
In this film, the Coen's, who have always been the Jewish clowns, tumlers, of tradition, only in film, make an explicit comment on the Jewish and western spiritual tradition, while in earlier films, that comment had only been tacit.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
There are other caregivers who come in every once and a while, but not one of them can do what Susie can. She is an excellent cook, very smart, reliable, and trustworthy, and most of all, kind and compassionate. She gets up early to wake, wash, dress, and feed my early-waking parents, tolerates their difficulties (my mom throws all her clothes on the floor, and, if not watched carefully, stashes important things away so that no one can find them; my dad insists on going out in the yard and over-exerting, then yells and moans when he suffers the consequences). She can be counted on to follow their extremely complex medication schedules. I don't trust anyone else to do that, except perhaps the owner and his wife, and they don't live at the house anymore.
We decided to give it a week or so and see what happens. We don't think Susie is coming back because her belongings (an armchair and treadmill) are gone. I am sad that we didn't get to say goodbye. And I'm not looking forward to having to look for a new place or moving my parents.
Friday, November 13, 2009
We ate and ate, overlooking the ocean, and then took a long walk down the beach as far as we could walk ( that is, until the way was completely blocked by rock and ocean). We watched a few surfers and a family or two digging sand castles on the deserted beach, the sky pure blue with nary a smudge of cloud. But mostly our only company was a flock of gulls, some small sea birds the name of which I do not know, running from the waves as fast as their legs could carry them, and long-beaked avocets, poking at the wet sand to find their own breakfasts. Piles of kelp and other seaweed washed up on the beaches was still wet from this morning's high tide, not yet covered with flies as it will be this afternoon.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
At the reptile house I watched
with curiosity a two-headed
black snake, one head straining
to the left, the other straight,
a strategy that failed.
In this pose, each leg
stretches its own way,
parsing space like calipers,
and yet the spine, braided through
with thorns, becomes a stem
to hold all wayward parts
in check. I bow forward, pale
bloom bending in a breeze,
to honor each in turn.
The book was full of epic catalogues and formulas describing how each tribe lined up and displayed its colors and then how the Levites lined up, in their thousands, to be counted. There had to be a separate counting for the two groups because the first counting was for military conscription purposes, and the Levites, bound to the temple, were not to serve in the military or work in other occupations unrelated to the temple. In fact, the taxes went to support this latter group.
It struck me while we were reading over and discussing this hodgepodge of information that I know now where Melville got his idea for Moby Dick, since it so precisely mirrors the almanac-like structure of the Torah--a little history, some law, taxonomy, etc. ... .
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Here is another yoga poem:
Upavistha Konasana--Revolved Seated Angle Posture
At the zoo I saw a snake
whose two heads, to the
left and straight ahead,
each insisted that the rest
follow its lead, a strategy
In this pose,
my legs each stretch
a different way, parsing
space like calipers,
and yet the spine's
intelligence holds them in check
as I bow forward,
honoring each leg in turn.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Niralumba--Unsupported Shoulder Stand
The earth hangs in space.
No guide wires, not even
the thinnest, suspend
this green-blue bauble
from the sky. My body
also has its gravity, propelled
by breath, unfurling
like a fiddlehead,
head down and backward,
open fingers grasping
only air. If breath
should flutter, I would fail
instead of folding
inward, like a snail.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Niralumba into karnapidasan on the wall-- Unsupported shoulder stand with a chair
to ear pressure pose at the wall
The earth hangs
suspended in space.
No guide wires, not even
the thinnest, suspend
this green-blue bauble
from the sky.
Likewise, the body,
propelled only by breath
to land head down
and backwards from the chair,
unfurls like a fiddlehead,
and then, a time lapse
in reverse, spirals shut,
a snail's shell, on the wall.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
This was a history of yoga, unraveling its complex roots in religion, history, and philosophy of India. I knew only a very little of what it taught, and that was convoluted and dense, but for me, enlightening, since we in the U.S. have disconnected yoga asana, physical postures, from their context in the culture, history, and religion of India. I personally know so little about that. I have not studied the Vedas though I have had the opportunity to do it. The next time I have an opportunity, I promise to take it.
The lunch, by the way, was delightful. We had Idlis, a steamed semolina cake in this case with cashews, served with a cardamon chutney and sambar, a spicy vegetable stew, among other things.
Then there were numerous home-baked desserts. I had a slice of almond torte. Yum. All of this took place in Denise's paradise of a back yard, a tropical corner of fruit trees, full of chattering birds.
Friday, November 6, 2009
My mom's relatives were different types... more intellectual, more educated, I believe. They lived in Lithuania somewhere, where the more skeptical Jews were supposed to come from. They went to England instead of to the U.S. intially, and to South Africa, where my great-grandfather and great-grandmother went, and that's how my mom was born in Cape Town.
But back to the performance. Given that I saw my first Fiddler in New York (perhaps even Broadway; I was too young to remember), this production had a lot to live up to. But the guy who played the main character, Tevye the milkman, was really terrific. He captured that certain spark the character has to have, as well as being a good singer and a credible dancer too.
I felt bad that Steve, my friend from choir, who has played Tevye in other productions as well as other parts and is the understudy here, did not get a larger singing part because he has such a great voice and after all speaks Yiddish and lives the part in some ways in his knowledge of Jewish history and lore. I hope the director used him as a resource in planning the production.
Most things rang true. The sets were absolutely amazing, fully as wonderful as in the big production I saw in New York--very evocative and creative. However, the makeup, particularly the beards and (ugh!) Yentl the matchmaker's stereotypically "Jewish" hooked nose were downright offensive, especially the nose. And some of the bit parts were filled by people who seemed carved out of wood, whose faces and voices expressed nothing at all. But given the reality that this is small time theater, in a tiny venue, I was well pleased, and plan to go back with the synagogue choir and my parents on the 15th. I recommend the show to whomever might be interested.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
School today was rather aggravating, and I'd like to get it out of my mind for a few hours, so this outing seems the best way to do that. A number of my students are not showing up. Some, I am sure, are sick. Some have given up and will not return. There is another paper coming up, and if the students have not done the work up to now, it is past the point of no return as far as catching up is concerned. The earlier class is okay, though a bit smaller. The later class is full of people asking questions like, "Will we get extra credit for showing up?" I am not sure how to answer that.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The moon swells like a seedpod.
Inside the quiet studio, I take
my aching head into my hands,
fingers web to web. A breath,
and then this awkward frame
ascends, becomes an aspen
flexing in a nonexistent breeze.
Grounded in air, movement merges
with stillness, my ear a vehicle
for surging tides, the galaxies'
faint hum. Everywhere
and nowhere, the worlds
fall away, balanced
on these two arms.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
But this semester, the problem has increased.
Early on in the semester, he expressed an interest in exploring the psychological effect of slavery on the slave (he would have rather focused on the master, but there isn't a lot written about that, which makes it a poor topic for a research project). I told him, as I told the rest of the class, that he needed to focus on a particular kind of slavery in a particular country and industry with ties to the U.S. . He didn't focus. When the peer review group and I told him he needed to do that back at paper 2, he ignored it, and failed the paper. Now we are at paper 4, a causal argument about the problem, and all this while, he has still refused to focus. We are now at an impasse. I have some suggestions, but I don't think he will be very amenable to them. He will still need to rewrite the definition completely, and begin researching a topic he has not looked at before quite late in the semester. I frankly don't think it is possible to pull off. I suppose I could have said something to him a few weeks ago, to make sure he was working on something, but I didn't. I figured he would have learned something from the experience with the second paper, but apparently not. Now I don't see how I will avoid having to deal with the scene when it inevitably comes.
Monday, November 2, 2009
I find my mind drifting off to other things, such as a sonnet sequence about a sequence of yoga asanas for emotional stability that my teacher Denise has been doing in bits and pieces with us this past week. I got a call for submissions at Qarrtsiluni, an online journal where I have published before, that they are doing an issue on "health," and this may be just the ticket for that issue, if I can manage it. I've never been able to write about yoga somehow, though I do it every day. That part of me has been compartmentalized in a place other than the one where the poems come from, but perhaps I can manage it.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
While the computer is gone I read a Ruth Rendell mystery, Monster in a Box, and am beginning another book a friend gave me for my birthday, Brother to Dragons Companion to Owls, a fantasy that is one of her favorites.