Displacement

Distant ocean view from my desk

Here I face east and see the ocean, a blue mass that fills the horizon beyond the bare trees and rooftops, down the hill to the long flat spit of sand that makes the beach. At home I face west and look at cows, pastures and a distant line of pine and hardwoods.

I’ve purposely displaced myself. I want to see what I see when I’m looking at a new view, sleeping in a different bed, tapping at my keyboard in different light. My sister and her husband are off on an adventure to Australia and New Zealand, which means their comfortable house on the coast is empty and quiet and perfect for a writing retreat.

Whatever it is I let distract me when I’m home won’t be here. I can’t make plans to see a friend or go to an appointment because I’m away. I can’t reorganize the cupboards or pick out a new paint color for the bathroom. I can’t straighten the house or put the ski boots away. I’m also good at following rules I set for myself and I came here to write, so I’ll write.

Yesterday I finished an OpEd and sent it off to the paper. I wrote a poem and I’ll write another one today. I’ll open the documents of poems I’ve been writing for the last month and fiddle with those. I’ll read the books of poetry I brought with me — The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May, When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz, Midden by Julia Bouwsma — mostly to enjoy the poems but also to see what I can learn about writing that directly confronts injustice and harm to people of color. I’ll sort through the poems in the manuscript I worked on last winter to see what will fit in the new book I’m working on which, in a sea change for me, isn’t centered only on grief and recovery. Or is it the same book, just completely reimagined?

It doesn’t matter. There’s paper and pens and a computer and books and time. Time to write.

 

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Birthday Dreams

Astrocytes in the Brain
An Ava & Mimi collaboration

Early Wednesday morning I was being chased by creepy men in a nightmare. I’d been able to run away, along with some other women, until a large, blond, overweight man caught up to me. I looked at him and thought calling to my friends, who were somewhere in front of me, was my best chance of safety. I was terrified.

“Help,” I managed to squeak out, which was some kind of noise loud enough to wake David, who then woke me. Even awake the palem bloated face of the man in a short sleeve, patterned knit shirt stayed in front of me. I shook myself, got up to pee, then went back to sleep.

It wasn’t until later on Wednesday that I remembered the nightmares Eric had in the last year of his life. His whimpering and muffled cries would wake me. I’d sit up and shake him, and he’d rise from his dream to tell me about some ghoulish figure pursuing him. Months after Eric died I remembered those nightmares and wondered if they came from his body warning him that his cancer was back and blooming. There was a menace chasing him. The dreams started before we knew how sick Eric was, probably about the time the cancer got a foothold in his liver and bones.

Wednesday was Eric’s birthday. He would have been 67. A friend texted me early in the day to say she was going to eat a piece of candy in his memory — he had a pronounced sweet tooth. Candy was a way of life; Twizzlers and Peanut M&M’s were favorites.

I texted Adrienne and Sam about candy and Eric’s birthday and we all committed to Eric-inspired indulgences some time that day. Adrienne gave Emilio and Ava candy after dinner and told them it was to remember Grandpa Eric, who would have made sure they had access to sweets if he’d lived long enough to know them.

Ava said, as she ate her chocolate, “but we can’t call Grandpa Eric. He’s dead.” Emilio said, “we’re eating candy to remember Grandpa Eric because he loved candy. But can we not talk about him being dead. It’s almost my bedtime.”

Eric lives on, along with anxiety and pleasure and joy and connection and candy and dreams.

The night after the nightmare I had a long dream about Eric. He was just around. Being in life.

 

A New Year, Another Year

I sit in Temple, listening to the familiar Rosh Hashanah prayers. Eric is beside me, in his brown and black tweed sports jacket, reading along with the Hebrew. He taps me on the shoulder and points at something in the text, some letters I might recognize. He wants to teach me to read Hebrew.

Except he isn’t and he doesn’t and he won’t. This is the 13th Rosh Hashanah when he hasn’t sat beside me, but I still feel him there every year.

Today I sat behind a family I’ve known since Eric and I joined the Temple in 1981. Two daughters, a husband and wife. The older daughter is Sam’s age and they went through Temple school together. The mother worked in the same hospital as Eric and was principal of the Temple school for many of the years Eric was a teacher.

They switched seats often during the service, standing for a prayer and then shifting around. They chatted and put their arms across each others’ backs and tapped hands and leaned against a shoulder off and on. I loved watching their connection and affection and wondered what it feels like to have the same husband for all those years, to have your mother and father still together, to have a family unit uninterrupted by loss.

My kids and I have the kind of connection and affection I witnessed today, but there’s that hole that never goes away. We’ve walked a long way through our grief and are all living lucky lives in so many ways. But still, there’s a particularly piercing sadness during these High Holy Days that meant so much to Eric. I think about how life would be if Eric was still here — would we all be together at the Temple, would we each be living where we are now, with the same partners, the same work?

Probably not for most of those questions. But I still have Eric’s jacket and it’s back hanging in my study, a trick I thought of two years ago. I can almost see him in it. He’s smiling, watching me at my desk, happy to know I’m writing, happy to know that the kids and I are okay.

Sometimes we’re sad, but we’re okay.

 

Lichen On His Stone

I hadn’t been to visit Eric’s grave for a long time. Six months? More? I’m quite sure there was no lichen on the rose granite headstone the last time I was there.

Now there is. I thought, this looks like an old grave. I thought, this is beautiful. Eric loved mosses and lichens, the small plants and organisms that add richness to the world’s green.

How long does it take for lichen to take root on granite? Or how long does it take before I’d notice that lichen has crept into the carving of Eric. And January. The Hebrew letters too.

The stone has been there since April 2007. Many lichens grow less than a millimeter a year, so these could have been growing on Eric’s stone all along.

I’d like to live in a room painted the pale sage of the lichen on Eric’s stone. It’s almost the color of Squam Lake water over white sand. Eric would love that lapping at his grave.

Deathaversaries: When Dates Line Up

 

This deathaversary season (what Adrienne, Sam and I call the anniversary of Eric’s, or anyone’s, death) has felt harder than other years. Or do I say that every year? I don’t think so.

The accumulation of other losses, the spread of grief in my circle of friends and family from those losses, and the communal dismay of the majority of Americans at the continued display of arrogant greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (okay, I won’t go on forever) among the white fuckboys currently trying to run/ruin our country all contribute I’m sure.

But I suspected dates were lining up in a way to remind exactly of what was going on 11 years ago, when Eric was diagnosed with metastatic cancer just before Passover. I was right.

David and I had a busy weekend, spending time with my family to celebrate Easter in a decidedly secular way then coming home to host a Seder with a group of friends we’ve been celebrating Passover with for many decades.

Wasn’t this the weekend in April 2006 that we had a much diminished Seder after Eric got home from the hospital with his grim diagnosis? We’d planned to host the Seder with friends that year, but had called it off earlier in the week when we understood Eric’s back pain and accelerating fatigue was from bones full of cancer. Instead of a dozen friends seated around the table, we had a small family Seder, using a two minute Haggadah someone had sent to Adrienne. Eric sat at the head of the table as he always did at Seders, leading the ritual telling of the story of the Jew’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, embellishing the minimal text with his own knowledge of Jewish history and custom.

Yesterday afternoon when David and I got home I pulled out my folder of calendars and wasn’t surprised. Yes, the dates line up. The day Eric got home from the hospital in 2006 was Friday, April 14. We had our small Seder on April 15. This year David and I hosted our Seder on Sunday, April 16.

No wonder I’m feeling the presence of sorrow. The 2006 calendar is repeating. The sun is at the same angle, birdsong is rising out of the fields in the morning at the same pitch, the brook out back is running high and hard, and the red buds on the maple tree out front are fattening into their familiar, fuzzy flowers. On some level, my body takes this all in and connects it with that scared and bewildered body 11 years ago.

There is a difference in the Jewish calendar though. Passover is ending today, not beginning as it was in 2006. Tonight I’ll light a Yahrzeit candle, which I just learned is a tradition on the last night of Passover.

How fitting.

 

#daylightsavingstime

The Truth About Death
Cover painting “Grace” by David

My conversation with Adrienne about daylight savings time started on Instagram. Under her photo of scrambled eggs and coffee she wrote daylight savings is weird. #theend. When I commented I want my hour back she replied every year! Time for the poem from 10 years ago!

Yes, Adrienne has listened to me complain about this lost hour all her life. It’s such a let down after that extra hour (bonus galore!) we get in October.

I’m not alone. Twitter is full of complaints today. Mamas, how are your #daylightsavingstime naps going? (Accompanied by a photo through a door of a child standing in a crib playing with a mobile.) I remember those days.

And, as always on Twitter, there’s politics and humor. You didn’t lose an hour of sleep # just redistributed it to someone who needed it.
Losing an hour of sleep means you have to sleep in, right?
I woke up and it was like noon wtf
low key wishing we lost the next four years vs one hour of sleep last night.
so do i have one more or one less hour to be high today?
Well, at least the clock in my car is right again…

There was a suggestion we all chill out by Relaxing Back Into Soothing Stillness w/this

Here’s what I had to say about it ten years ago, the poem Adrienne recalled. I wrote it the weekend Sam and I helped her move to live with Matt in NYC. March 2007, in the midst of the writing fever that produced The Truth About Death, less than a year after Eric died. I could feel the raw pain coming up off the pages as I looked through the manuscript for this poem. What a time.

Moving

Our daughter is going to the epicenter, someone is always
going somewhere, I can’t make small talk, I talk too much,
I am following the little red car, I can do anything I want,
I am a sparrow feeding in the bushes, the promised manna,

such pain to get here. Highways, cars, family, the irrevocable
center, flip your hand, wave off the evil eye, not evil, scary.
There is a blue balloon floating, this song is the tits, this song
is the bee’s knees, it’s if I had wings. I’m still mad

about the hour they took away two weeks ago. There are bells
ringing, it’s 6:00 p.m., the boys are watching college hoops,
the buildings out the window fall down in cubes, gardens
tucked into ledges, trees and statues below, a lion and a nymph

holding bounty, a set table in a room of glass, birds, planes
lifting west. I dance with a maenad, I dance by myself, drive fast
with my family. A lovely and ancient tradition. At dinner we discuss
predictive text, our son never finds his phone, our daughter’s lover’s

mother knows the pre-revolutionary Russian for lovely,
beautiful – veeleekalyepnah. When she found her grandfather’s book
of Torah commentary it opened to her son’s portion. Go forward
and be a blessing unto the world. Never enough, never enough.

The Elasticity of Time

 

franklinsites.com photo
franklinsites.com photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time moves horizontally, a train that passes on tracks and drags along minutes then weeks and months and years.  A station approaches, a dot in the distance at first, then gets bigger until it fills the entire window when the train stops.

Time stretches into a balloon of stillness then unfolds into a fan with a story on each rib.

A rocket shoots past the gravity of time and moments pass so quickly we don’t inhabit them, we only know time has passed by looking at an outside measure, a clock.

What if we didn’t measure time?  If the passing of the sun across the dome above us meant only what angle of shadow we could expect, and when it would be warmest, when our skin could burn and when we should rise and go to sleep?

Time?  How can the dimension of life that rules everything be nothing?  It’s consciousness itself, only the awareness of is and was and will be that moves the train, inflates the balloon, fires the rocket.

So it’s been a week and a half since I’ve written here and what is it that’s kept me away? I’ve been right here, just not in this definition of this time.  We work hard to be here now, in this moment, because we know it’s all there is.  But is it?

The wind was fierce yesterday and I felt sorry for the potted flowers on the porch, the onion greens all bending to the east, the zinnias putting out their first leggy blossoms into such a powerful force.  Today the branches of the old maple in the front yard are still twitching and the grass of the pasture across the street ripples with wind, the seed heads bowing and rising in waves that move on and come again.

I’ve been writing, I’ve planted vegetables and flowers and mulched the garden beds.  I ran for a long time in the rain and sucked up the endorphins.  I drew vessels and peonies and worked on shading, then scribbled the creases in my cupped hand without ever looking at what I was doing.  I glued and colored.  A lot of time has been spent with friends and seeing people I haven’t seen for a long time.

A long time?  What is that?

A poem from 2002.  So much time thinking about time.

South Twin Mountain

The land has a lot to teach –
rocks, roots, gullies, water’s
effect visible everywhere; land
hauls us into the exact
moment we are in, musings
about the nature of time gone,
how the asymmetrical arrow
measures in only one direction,
how time cannot be experienced
by any of our senses.
What would time smell like,
how would it feel
in our hands? For now, we can see
light, taste the wind, hear earth
crash as we walk along its borders
in to the next valley.

Home

Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957
*Portion of The Seasons, Lee Krasner, 1957, Whitney Museum of American Art

A steady clack comes out of the bedroom where the plastic pull knob on the cord for the blinds taps the sill, pulsing in the wind through the window opened to get air into the house.

Sunshine glints off the screens in the four large windows in my study, screens that will come out in the next few weeks.

There was a frost while we were away, nasturtiums drooping on themselves, the basil brown and wilted.  Was it last night?

Cows still graze the pasture across the street, framed by a branch of the old maple sprouting yellow, orange and red.

When I got home this morning I opened my journal to write about our last few days — all the places and family we’ve visited, the historic First Parish in Concord (this is the congregation Emerson and the Alcotts were part of, where Thoreau’s memorial was held) to meet with the minister who’ll be involved in the memorial service for Chris, the astonishing America Is Hard To Find exhibit at the equally astonishing new building now housing the Whitney Museum, watching Ava clap her gold moccasins together and laugh, fitting the pieces of a table-top-size Spiderman together with Emilio, last night in a Rodeway Inn off the traffic circle in Greenfield, MA, a former Howard Johnson’s with a glass shelf of spectacular crystal rocks behind the check-in desk that the clerk said no one knows the history of, this morning’s drive in pre-dawn darkness into the hills to the west and then east again into autumn smoke rising from rivers and dew — and instead I drew a map, with the buildings and skylines and houses we’ve visited, lines with arrows tracing our route, and then connecting the words when I began to write with language.

Is art hard to find or hard to find the time for?

For the first time since the beginning of July, I’m home with no immediate plans to be anywhere else overnight.  What will I find the time for?

* From Whitney exhibit description of the painting above:  This monumental painting offered Krasner an outlet during a time of deep personal sorrow.  The year before, her husband, fellow artist Jackson Pollock, had died in a car accident.  In the wake of this sudden loss, Krasner remarked about The Seasons, “the question came up whether one would continue painting at all, and I guess this was my answer.”

The Refusal of Time

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The Refusal of Time is a brilliant exhibit by South African artist William Kentridge.   Currently showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (but only through Sunday so get there soon if you want to see it), the work uses drawings, collages, dance and theater moving across five-channels of video projected on large wall panels, music and spoken text, and a central “breathing machine” sculpture to explore time’s mysterious elements — how time shifts and moves, how we try to regulate time, how time is perceived, how the measurement of time has changed over human history, how we “refuse” time.

“Everybody knows that we are going to die,” writes Kentridge, “but the resistance to that pressure coming towards us is at the heart of the project. At the individual level, it was about resisting; not resisting mortality in the hope of trying to escape it, but trying to escape the pressure that it puts on us.”  And politically, “the refusal was a refusal of the European sense of order imposed by time zones; not only literally, but this refusal also referred metaphorically to other forms of control as well.”

Sound deep and interesting?  It is.  The 30 minute video and sound loop is mesmerizing and complex enough that I sat through much of it for a second time.  I wrote down words that were projected or announced that spoke to my own musings about time, which find their way into my writing over and over.

Some samples:  “In praise of bad clocks.”  “Full stop swallows the sentence.”  “Here I am, here I am, here I am.”   “The universal archive of images.”  “Poems I used to know.”  “Performances of transformation.”  “A suitcase of teeth and glass.”  The poetry of this astounding work is profound.

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The Shore

I grew up on the South Shore of Boston, in Scituate, a lovely town on the ocean with an excellent harbor and numerous sandy beaches.  We occasionally went to Cape Cod when I was young (I had an aunt who lived there), and we had family gatherings for several summers on Martha’s Vineyard when I was an adult, but mostly I didn’t go to “the shore” other than to Scituate.  Why go to the ocean when home was the ocean?

When I met David he talked about his family’s tradition of going to “the shore.”  The New Jersey shore?  Like in Atlantic City?  Why would anyone go to the beach in New Jersey?(Yes, I was ridiculously ignorant about where millions of people on the East Coast go to the beach.)

When I first met David’s parents, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they talked lovingly of their home on the shore, telling me I would have to come visit there the next summer.  Which I did and realized for the first time that the New Jersey coast is a long series of barrier islands with beautiful beaches and long bays with wide sweeps of marshland and creeks behind the islands.

David and I are here for a week, along with our kids, in the house his parents bought in the 1960’s.  It’s not fancy, but it’s on the bay side of the island that’s divided between Avalon and Stone Harbor and sits right on the water.  From the deck you look out across “the basin,” an inlet of water from the bay, the bay itself, and then the marshes, with the mainland in the distance.

My first summer here I sat with Betty, David’s mother, one afternoon when the rest of the visiting family was out doing errands or at the beach, three blocks across the island on the ocean side.

“Oh, forget about time,” Betty said that day.  I was talking about an outing from years before, trying to remember how many years.   “Time is out there and I’m here,” Betty said.  “I’ve given up on being fact actual.”  Betty had been suffering from dementia for years when I met her, but could be amazingly lucid and insightful at times.

I was reading Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates, Entering the Mind of Poetry.  “Do you do any reading?” I asked Betty, knowing she didn’t.  She sat in a chair most of the time, going through magazines and catalogues and piles of paper, clipping coupons and flipping pages, over and over.

“Oh yes,” Betty said.  “But I have no book now.”

“Here’s what I’m reading,” I said, and picked up my book.  “Want to hear a poem?”  I read her Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”  She laughed in delight.

“Well isn’t that the perfect poem for here,” she said, and I read the last stanza again, with its lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore. 

“The water is language,” Betty said.  “If you don’t watch the water here you miss the whole thing.”

I stopped reading and watched the water.