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September has come. Ah me.

I begin a day early with A Whiter Shade of Pale: my beloved companion and husband used to say this was an important piece of music at the time; a wall of sound he said, a new idea for rock-and-rock at the time in a song that became widely popular:

Dear friends and readers,

The Everyly Wheatley home had taken down the video of Jim’s life they said would be up on their site “forever.” I went looking for it the other week and couldn’t find it again. I had not been able to find it for a couple of weeks. This time I determined to ask where it was. It took several days for a response. They put it back up and apologized.

http://www.everlywheatley.com/obituaries/James-Moody-40882/#!/PhotosVideos/36a2aced-7ff7-4cab-a8d7-126ecb21405e/986da3c2-462e-4514-8f97-894a42c93c65

As I watch it nowadays I shake with desolation. My beloved seems to me to have died many times. The whole month of September last year and part of October. Tomorrow is September 1st. April 28th he was diagnosed and I saw the photo of this very ugly set of three lumps I was told were at the bottom of his esophagus and were very bad looking. Then home to read on the Net that 40% of people thus diagnosed were dead within a year and to my horror I saw the the same confirming photo on the Net. “Oh it cannot be” I thought. Then Aug 3rd when we were told “liver mets,” Aug 4th I realized this was probably a death sentence, that Thursday that it was, sometime after that soon began to keen. September he stopped drinking milk, one of his few forms of nourishment for a previous 2 weeks. Then stopped eating just about altogether with drinking only water. A cracker, a biscuit, a cup of tea, barely. His urine began to go brown as October arrived. He lost consciousness on Oct 7th.

It’s apparent to me the original was taken down as the new video has a different set of background pictures. My theory is they take down all such videos within a few months on the expectation the family doesn’t care. For the few who do enough to complain, they reassemble and put it up again. I expect if I wait a couple of years I’ll find it down again and if I demand to see it up, they will reassemble again (probably taking more time). But when I die, then they’ll save whatever money they do by keeping the semi-permanent stock of videos to a minimum.

A propos, a friend sent me this poem the other day — her beloved cat of many years died recently — and I held it over for Sunday:

END OF DAYS
Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you –
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise – sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly through hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vets, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.

And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than with ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

Published in Rattle, Vol. # 14, Issue 2, 2008,
forthcoming in The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems, 1980 – 2010.

Another friend whose blog I read regularly recently lost her cat to death and has been writing about her grief (the story begins here) and a new kitten she bought

 

VanGoghFieldwithPoppies

Vincent Van Gogh: “Field with Poppies” — Jim liked the poetry of Rupert Brooke and he paraphrased some lines from one of Brooke’s best known poems for his urn.

Miss Drake

Friends (I hope) and readers (few but valued),

Every three weeks we change our set of dances, and our new one began today. Keri ends brilliantly each time: lat time it was I will survive, before that Stand by Me. This 3 weeks Piano Man:

We do quite a dance to this. 18 bodies moving in stretches and waves … Mirrors all around.  Keri said all we needed was strobe lights; since these are not in the budget we contented ourselves with simply shutting the bright light down …

Sylvia

Casa Verdi

CasaVerdi
Casa Verdi or Casa Riposo di per Musicisti e Grabstatte (or Tosca’s Kiss, a 1984 film by Daniel Schmid)

quartet
The close of Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet (2013, inspired Hoffman says by Schmid’s film and the actual life of Casa Verdi)

They say that ‘time assuages,’–
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.

Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it proves too
There was no malady.

– Emily Dickinson

Dear friends and readers,

I had another lesson in how hard it is for me to find myself anywhere without remembering Jim, without an enveloping sense of lacking him. I went for a third time to the Sunday morning film club at the Cinemart Theater in Fairfax in the hope of enjoying an intelligent absorbing and possibly unusual film and hearing informative and insightful talk. I did all that, but how much more meaningful it would have been had Jim been there. It was a 1984 documentary about Casa Verdi. I first heard of this place when Jim was an undergraduate and took a course in musicology, and wrote a paper on Verdi’s last operas. I remember him reading Verdi’s letters, talking about Verdi’s relationship with his librettist, his long-time partnership with a woman he finally married, and his endowing a mansion in Milan for aging musicians, composers, singers. I cannot have dreamed up that he mentioned this place, and now I’m thinking maybe it was when two Februaries ago now (three months before he was diagnosed) I went with Izzy to see Quartet, and naturally wrote a blog.

As I watched, I realized how idealized Quartet had been about aging. While this film is as upbeat, because these are not actors but real people at ages 75 to 95, we see frail people hanging on. Some of them were living in bare rooms. Many looked not well at all. One woman talked of her loneliness — her sons promise to visit but do not. Not all of them can still sing — though all have opinions, memories, and love music still. Gary Arnold, the Washington Post film critic who chooses the films, and leads the discussion, talked of how the film was restored, and how he wished that the weekly watching of operas on Italian TV at the house had been included since the people are (comically) hypercritical. The other people in the audience talked of how they were aware how lucky these musicians are — for old age for most people in a retirement home is often a bleak and lonely affair, often the person is impoverished too. They talk and can enact and are respected for their old memories. A woman whose career came to a height in the 1930s, Sara Scuderi, was seen singing alone and with others most often:

SaraScuderi

Some of the best moments: a tenor takes us (the film-maker and his camera are part of the film as the people are very aware of them) to an attic room and his trunk filled with his old costumes. He puts on a Rigoletto outfit and begins to sing and enact the role. At the close he takes off his costume, closes his trunk, puts out the light and walks back downstairs. Memories is a central theme of the film. In another sequence a composer shows us his two pianos, plays for us, and shows us his awards and prizes. A woman who taught the harp tells us of her brief career on the stage and her long career as a teacher. We see a photo of her young and beautiful in a ball gown playing her harp. A 90 year old woman in the cafeteria eating soup complains that the chorus (she was in a chorus) is the center of the opera and they are insufficiently appreciated and underpaid. One man singing a Verdi tenor with Sara Scuderi uses a phone booth inside Casa Verdi to die in. (This was a little too close to his reality for comfort for me.) As with Quartet we see gatherings where groups of people sing and play instruments. See slideshow.

The film lacked a focus; it seemed simply to end. Schmid did not give the kind of on-going sense of life the way Frederick Wiseman can. It was more like home-movies snatched here and there and then put togeher. There were many poignant songs of loss from Verdi, but this may just be central to Verdi’s oeuvre, so one cannot say this was a theme; but one sequence where a man played a violin brought tears to my eyes as the song was about the irretrievable past and how painful it is to remember happy times. (A Dante thought.) Someone else in the audience was struck by that and suggested it could have provided a satisfactory ending. Jim would have recognized and appreciated so much more than I was able to do. Perhaps he would have commented as he read about the place. He said more than once that Verdi was a secular person and maybe would have said Verdi wanted to memorialize himself outside religious norms. (The irony here would be the place was filled with Catholic icons and pictures.)

A salutary thought was I could not get Jim to join the film club with me, so he and I would not have gone to it together. I would not have known about it, since it’s the policy of the theater owner not to tell the film until 10 am that Sunday morning and many of the films do not become a commercially scheduled film. I’ve missed what was probably some early extraordinary years of these. The club is in its 7th year and goes on between May and October. I am told it was better in the first three because there was a second owner more interested in art films and another critic who would “close read” films. Arnold provides very interesting thoughtful background but only when prompted does he produce a critical evaluative comment. He is often apt but he can be dismissive and is clearly not interested in women’s issues — as one woman has told me the previous critic was. Since Jim wouldn’t go I was loathe to leave him and go off by myself. I was already “not paying attention to him” with my teaching, scholarship, the Net, writing. Most of the time too Jim walked out immediately after a cultural event; he didn’t like most popular conversation. Often it is jejeune, but not always and for three times I’ve heard sensitive thoughtful comments on the films. It was though another moment where I find I can’t escape him — I wondered how many people in the audience knew about music and operas and recognized the songs or history spoken of.

As last month I talked to someone afterward. This time I didn’t spill my coffee all over the floor (as I did last month). I had the presence of mind to buy a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice. I did lose my car for a while. I had parked in close to the theater for the first time — usually when I’ve come (after 4 in the afternoon), it’s too crowded to get near. Well I couldn’t remember where I put it. Like Hansel without his bread crumbs. But I walked up and down the lines of cars and finally spotted it.

***************************

I find myself especially lonely in the car going along the highway coming home. I’m listening to Nadia May reading aloud the magnificent Daniel Deronda — which has a subplot about musicians and music. 

vlcsnap-2010-07-11-16h01m12s219

Jodhi May as Mirah singing (Andrew Davies’s Daniel Deronda)

I thought I’d mention how strongly feminist it is:  this time through I am so aware of the parallels between Mirah’s escape from her father’s attempt to sell her and Lucy Snowe’s anxious terror when she hits Bruges. I’ve listened to both in the car, once with Izzy in the car with me. Often people say there is little parallel between the Deronda and Grandcourt stories (named after the males) but in fact the women are utterly parallel: in the next scene Gwendolen comes home to learn how difficult it is for her to make real money, how she has not been trained to do anything but be a lady and teach others this — so the deadening mortification of governessing in a household where the mother strictly controls all her daughters’ education (thoughts as far as she can) is her fate unless she takes Grandcourt – and she has seen Lydia Glasher and her four children by Grandcourt.

Eliot (it seems to me) cannot but have a exemplary couple and fate and the beauty of Klessner and Miss Arrowcourt’s words as they come together to realize they want to marry are just splendid. There is no more beautiful sentence in all Eliot than these

Miss Arrowpoint (the arrows of her mind point unerringly to the heart of things)

“I am afraid of nothing but that we should miss the passing of our lives together (Bk 3, Ch 23)

I wish Elizabeth Bennet had said this to Lady Catherine de Bourgh:

“I will not give up the happiness of m life to ideas that I don’t believe in and customs I have no respect for.”

Klessner:

I am able to maintain your daugher, and I ask for no change in my life but her companionship.”

It’s this sort of thing in both Middlemarch and Deronda that make for the steadying influence on a soul hearkening to Eliot.

******************************

I’ll end with a photo taken of me about two weeks ago: those reading this blog may recall I took a boat ride up and down the Potomac with a few friends one Saturday evening. One person took photos with her cell phone and that’s see me between two people, one of whom with another friend I now plan to go to the 2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival with next Saturday. I hope to hear Alice Ostriker read her poetry, Clare Messud talk about her novels, Jules Ffeiffer discuss his cartoon art (among many others).

photo

Sylvia

PalestinianDream
Palestinian artist Wafa Hourani imagines the refugee camp as a thriving neighborhood (an exhibition, “Here and Elsewhere” from a column in the New Yorker)

Dear friends and readers

Nine years ago Dahlia Ravikovitch died, on 21 August 2005: this poem of hers could not be more timely today — generally, not just for Gaza where it is apparent the Israeli gov’t will not lift the blockade, will not allow a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. It’s timely for Ferguson where the murder of a young black teenager has still not resulted in the arrest of the man who killed him, and there has been a week of nights of military occupation (see the history of the militarization of US police forces around the country; and mass incarceration by Israel and the US); — and for all the other places where people try to live lives under the bombs or in despite of unjust prison and criminal justice systems, a capitalist-run economy which refuses through an equitable tax system to provide people with good jobs, education and a hopeful future, and uses internet surveillance by those who have the power to punish.

The Fruit of the Land

You asked if we’ve got enough cannons.
They laughed and said: More than enough
and we’ve got new improved antitank missiles
and bunker busters to penetrate
double-slab reinforced concrete
and we’ve got crates of napalm and crates of explosives,
unlimited quantities, cornucopias,
a feast for the soul, like some finely seasoned delicacy
and above all, that secret weapon,
the one we don’t talk about.
Calm down, man,
the intel officer and the CO
and the border police chief
who’s also a colonel in that hush-hush commando unit
are all primed for the order: Go!
and everything’s shined up like the skin of a snake
and we’ve got chocolate wafers on every base
and grape juice and Tempo soda
and that’s why we won’t give in to terror
we will not fold in the face of violence
we’ll never fold no matter what
‘cause our billy clubs are nice and hard.
God, who has chosen us from all the nations,
comforteth with apples
the fighting arm of the IDF
and the iron boxes and the crates of fresh explosives
and we’ve got cluster bombs too,
though of course that’s off the record.
Serve us bourekas and cake, O woman of the house,
for we were slaves in the land of Egypt
but never again,
and blot out the remembrance of Amalek
if you track him down,
and if you seek him without success
Blessed be the tiny match
that a soldier in some crack unit will suddenly strike
and set off the whole bloody mess.

– translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld, from Hovering at a Low Altitude: The collected poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch (NY: Norton, 20009).

From Bloch and Kronfeld’s notes: “The Fruit of the Land” (Hebrew, zimrat ha-arets), zimra means singing; in biblical Hebrew it can also mean “produce, bounty”. Block and Kronfield capture the macho voice of the defense types we constantly hear in the media rhapsodizing about Israel’s superior firepower. But nowadays they wouldn’t acknowledge they have “more than enough” and would have answered the opening question – ” You asked if we’ve got enough cannons” – with a demand for more funds for the military. There is much allusion to the Bible.

Central to the poem is the reality that things do not have to be this way. Armaments ever worse do not have to be the fruit of the earth. It’s an important idea not to let go off: things all around us do not have to be this way. Go back to More’s Utopia for one of the earliest statements of this principle.

Sylvia

ClaryMarch2014

ClaryCat this spring — do you glimpse the light bell around her neck, as she trots, scampers, walks about I hear a light gay tinkling bell

When my girls were young,
I would tell them,
Don’t be like me.
Don’t be like me.

Now I tell my cats
Don’t be lonely.
Don’t be lonely.
Don’t be like me.

Dear friends and readers,

The Times Literary Supplement has published another new poem by Clive James:

The sun seems in control, the tide is out:
Out to the sandbar shimmers the lagoon.
The little children sprint, squat, squeal and shout.
These shallows will be here until the moon
Contrives to reassert its influence,
And anyway, by then it will be dark.
Old now and sick, I ponder the immense
Ocean upon which I will soon embark:
As if held in abeyance by dry land
It waits for me beyond that strip of sand.

It won’t wait long. Just for the moment, though,
There’s time to question if my present state
Of bathing in this flawless afterglow
Is something I deserve. I left it late
To come back to my family. Here they are,
Camped on their towels and putting down their books
To watch my grand-daughter, a natural star,
Cartwheel and belly-flop. The whole scene looks
As if I thought it up to soothe my soul.
But in Arcadia, Death plays a role:

A leading role, and suddenly I wake
To realise that I’ve been sound asleep
Here at my desk. I just wish the mistake
Were rare, and not so frequent I could weep.
The setting alters, but the show’s the same:
One long finale, soaked through with regret,
Somehow designed to expiate self-blame.
But still there is no end, at least not yet:
No cure, that is, for these last years of grief
As I repent and yet find no relief.

My legs are sore, and it has gone midnight.
I’ve had my last of lounging on the beach
To see the sweet oncoming sunset light
Touching the water with a blush of peach,
Smoothing the surface like a ballroom floor
As all my loved ones pack up from their day
And head back up the cliff path. This for sure:
Even the memories will be washed away,
If not by waves, by rain, which I see fall,
Drenching the flagstones and the garden wall.

My double doors are largely glass. I stand
Often to contemplate the neat back yard
My elder daughter with her artist’s hand
Designed for me. This winter was less hard
Than its three predecessors were. The snow
Failed to arrive this time, but rain, for me,
Will also do to register time’s flow.
The rain, the snow, the inexorable sea:
I get the point. I’ll climb the stairs to bed,
Perhaps to dream I’m somewhere else instead.

All day tomorrow I have tests and scans,
And everything that happens will be real.
My blood might say I should make no more plans,
And when it does so, that will be the deal.
But until then I love to speak with you
Each day we meet. Sometimes we even touch
Across the sad gulf that I brought us to.
Just for a time, so little means so much:
More than I’m worth, I know, as I know how
My death is something I must live with now.

You will doubtless recall Jim liked the poetry of Clive James, James’s “Sentenced to Life,” and how I am left with four books by James from the which Jim would read aloud to me. And the poem TLS published by James about these the last of his life a couple of months ago. James’s end is much easier than Jim’s was, as he admits a kind of Arcadia (compared to most).

HenryMoore

Henry Moore (Bill Brandt), 1946 (silver gelatin print)

Sylvia

No man is an island entire of itself; no man stands alone … never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee — John Donne, Meditations 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

Dear friends and readers,

I continue to keep track of significant outings of the police state we live under. I began with the murder of Trayvon Martin and the replacement of courts of law linked to Clark and Wellman’s Ox-Bow Incident (novel and film). The last before this latest, the complete shutdown of Boston, Massachusetts. This week after the killing of the black teenage boy, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we saw in that city the opening start of a terrifying crushing use of weaponry, bombs, vehicles, first manufactured for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For a couple of days US and allied atrocious behavior abroad  (the Egyptian state) was seen in Ferguson: martial law was declared, media and cameras shut out, destroyed, people assembling to protest or parade gassed, arrested, beat up. Our tax dollars pay for this equipment (instead of say jobs programs, better schools, a truly adequate egalitarian health care system, roads, bridges, good recent trains ….)

Fergusson
The photo seen on TV and in various permutations (importantly) on the Internet

Individualsupagainst
What individuals face: a black woman against a police force 94% white (typical of the US)

It was halted mid-week (from “the powers that be”) and by Friday a black man (face) Johnson and specially trained “people” police put in charge for the nonce, and we saw on TV various members of a police force (perhaps every black person they could find) walking alongside the peaceful assembly protesters. This is not cause for celebration, only passing relief. 

The weapons are not to be returned to the centers they came from; they are held in readiness, supposedly controlled by norms intended to protect a local population? From what? They need protection all right — from those with such weaponry: like Skylar in Breaking Bad, we need to protect ourselves from our protectors, their motives, their agenda, their courts. What happened was the incident roused the building quiet apprehension of enough people in positions of relative power to worry about themselves as they saw police arrest, beat up, and hurt elected officials and reporters of mainstream media. It was apparently decided not enough was riding on this event. One dead young man will be forgotten, he has but a few relatives, and what happened in the case of Trayvon Martin will have its analogous end in the trial of the police officer who killed Brown (if he comes to trial, already slurs against the character of Brown have begun). Thus as there is no hot spot, the incident is brought to an end. Remember the case of Miriam Carey: murdered with her baby in the back seat because she understandably panicked when surrounded by heavily armed shooting police? no, you didn’t remember it? 

The recent past larger history (and thus documented extensively) to keep remembering is what happened to the Occupy Movement (what we are being taught: Under the Sign of Sylvia I contains a history of the Occupy movement over the course of 2011). All over the US such uses of the war machine hitherto used outside the US were suddenly manifest in major cities, ports, and small ones. Ruthless destruction, suppression, imprisonment, with those papers who reported it, framing the Occupy people as an anomaly, as poverty-striken losers, as hippies, as whatever would do to trivialize and dismiss them. Where were our first amendment rights then? 

A new awareness of all,  a distinct unease, has been building slowly, ratcheted up recently by the revelations of close surveillance and monitoring of just about everyone in the US and around the world where the NSA can reach. Here and there abroad those who have suffered under the inflictions of the US empire expressed solidarity.

Palestinians

See the need to lift the siege over occupied Gaza;  and No pretense of regard for life or humanity.

Brief stories: Washington Post reporters arrested in Tehran and Fergusson; the second amendment and white people

It’s untrue to assume these killings happen only to black Americans; a while back, I read of an incident where a young mentally ill white man was killed by an small invading police group (I regret that I lost the URL to the AP column), but it is true the white girlfriend of this young man was profoundly shocked (shattered to the point of not being able to speak). I had a woman friend, white, whose son got involved in taking and selling illicit drugs; he was killed, she claimed, by some police officers; she fought to have this case reach the court, but never managed it: his death was declared a suicide. She denied this and her story rang true — she would recount it tirelessly on the phone as she tried to persuade people to do something for her son’s memory, to bring whoever killed him to justice. It only reached a local paper, a small ambiguous column.

Locally too (not mentioned enough) much of the on-the-street police behavior we see is the natural result of the spread of firearms. Here see the murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, a retired elderly black man who was so unfortunate as to have his heart-attack equipment set off and bring the police upon him.

Dear friends and readers,

Imagine full routine of steps, about 30 women in rows, a young leader in front, mirrors on three sides — and we clap too:

Try it. It’s exhilarating.

Today I met a woman, Minnie, 76 whose husband died 3 weeks ago, he had an infection, then a heart attack; it took a week; he was 84. Married 50 years.  One son, age 49.  She is in a trance of grief. By the end of dancing with the group to this number she was smiling too. I learned something too: if I bend my knees to a certain angle, I can swivel my hips freely and easily.

The good news is this dance fusion class will be held as of September 2nd each Monday and Friday morning. As of late September my teaching classes are Tuesday (The Gothic, OLLI at AU) and Wednesday (Beyond Barsetshire, OLLI at GMU) afternoons.

Disco: one of the teachers for water-arobics comes armed with an hour of this kind of music on tape Dancing, walking exercising swimming in water to disco. Here the leader has to do it on the floor in front of the pool (with a fan behind her). Listening makes me want to re-watch Whit Stillman’s Last Days of Disco, which includes a free adaptation of Emma and Sense and Sensibility and an soundtrack filled with these numbers.

Sylvia

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