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.



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).


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


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 ….)

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

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.


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.


Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline — the flowers are lovely, colors all alive, when the image is much bigger

Dear friends and readers,

It’s near mid-August. I’ve kept busy this sad week — sad because last year my beloved, my friend, my companion was still alive and now he’s dead, sad because last year we were not able to go to Glimmerglass just at this time: the Admiral had bought tickets for an opera, a musical, two concerts, we were to stay at a lodging house off the water (if only I had listened to him when he first was diagnosed and agreed to do nothing so he would not have had that criminal operation), sad remembering his agony. For quite a number of years these were the weeks we went away: to England several times, to Italy for 5 weeks once, to Paris for 1 week, often to Glimmerglass, or Vermont (a Landmark house).

Where we would swim in Vermont — with Yvette

It is quiet here now, Yvette asleep, the cats on their grey pillows, I’ve just been reading an excellent book on Breaking Bad (Wanna Cook?, the complete unofficial companion, only it’s not got season 6), and re-watched the extraordinary first pilot episode. What did I do this week? Well, I read my New Yorker, turning all the pages, reading some of it (since I can’t get to these plays, or concerts, or events any more I can join in by reading about it), looking at pictures: whence the Madeline picture; there’s an exhibit at the NY Historical Society for the 75th anniversary of the birth of Madeline (in New York City). I loved reading the books as a girl, and Caroline loved listening to me read them when she was a girl. A number of other books too, essays in periodicals, and this poem which I liked as it put me in mind of how I feel about my hairdresser who has been a sort of friend to me since Jim died. She is not young but the rest sort of applies:

My hairdresser

My hairdresser is young
and she tells me things
no one else can:
about the different kinds of straightening tongs;
about the war in Afghanistan.

I sit with my hands in my lap,
in the ridiculous cape that she fastens for me
at the back. She stands at the nape of my neck

and I concentrate.

She tells me about her nan’s hair –
which is coarse (“like yours”) –
she tells me about colour, and tone;
she tells me about her boyfriend, the soldier,
who covered his ears at the party,
and begged her to take him home.

I watch her in the mirror,
as she cheerfully takes hold of my hair,
and pulls it high up into the air;

I sit completely still in the swivel-chair,
and listen with great care
to all the things she has to tell me.

– Tara Bergin

and watched movies, swam twice, went to Dance Fusion once, an evening’s brief walk and sitting by a bunch of ducks in the Potomac in Old Towne. They kept turning upside down to fish. Some more remarkable summer poetry: I recommend Ellen Bass, Barbara Cook, Christina Pacosz.

No piano lesson though. The piano teacher cancelled again, said she had a meeting and then a week’s vacation time away: I’m thinking she lacks enthusiasm and may not want to do this with a 67 year old woman. I’ve been told that the JCCNV offers piano lessons at a much cheaper rate, so if she cancels again I may have to do that. I stopped practising because I felt silly. But Yvette carries on playing and singing on Saturday and Sunday morning. So the piano is used.

As I wrote on facebook, over Thursday and Friday I was feeling quite the grown up. Thursday morning around 8:00 am on the way to the JCCNV my car started to make frightening racket-like & sluice noises. Five minutes further down 236, I gave up going to Dance Fusion for a 2nd time, drove back home again (listening to the dreadful noise as I went), phoned Toyota; at first panicked and got myself lost but then retrieved myself by realizing I was going in a wrong direction; when I finally got there, the kind head mechanic (he had the work done on the car after it sat for 4 months) took me right away. What happened was I hit a pot hole. Rim of tire came away, slight bend in fender which they knocked back (like Dickens’s Mrs Joe) by hand. Friday morning got to JCCNV to swim class just fine.

That was the second day of house-fixing — with a decent handyman type — he did all I wanted, fasciaboard scraped, screwed in, painted; gutters cleaned; more small paint jobs (including of a birds nest on the side of the house). He and his helper rebuilt an old porch (that should have been done in 1987 when we bought the house), and beyond that put in handle on screen door, calked several leaks in the walls and by the kitchen; rebuilt the top part of the chimney. I did not overpay at all. He showed me where a part of my kitchen floor has a continual wet floor from leaks so my plan to fix the kitchen by replacing vinyl and painting the walls and ceiling, and buying new dark-colored and far fewer cabinets that are easy to clean will be more expensive than I thought. Still he was honest and if I pay for the slight flood to be dried up and the earth on the other side of the wall built up so that the water can run off the house will be sounder. The Admiral took the long view: our lives were short and frail; until the August before he died, we had not much money and the house would outlast us as is. I understood it, and were he here would be doing whatever he wanted or not, but as I now live here alone and cannot see that I will be spending the money to travel as he was hoping (now I think he thought to begin at 70 when he had been told we needed to spend some of the money from the Thrifty Account each year), I might as well make it a good place for Yvette to have after me. I know were I to sell it no matter what I did it would be a tear-down: as that would break my heart, I won’t sell. (I should say I’ve had several letters, phone calls, post cards by now, offering to come and talk about buying the place — widows are targets for predators — I hang up after saying “this is my home,” and citing “5 million please.”)

I also saw my financial advisor and talked with the financial consultant on Tuesday for about 2 and 1/2 hours. They said my life expectancy was 84. 17 years. My advisor tried to help me learn to read the monthly reports and use the website to understand what’s happening and what’s being done. I bought myself Investing for Dummies (used copy so am waiting for it to arrive). I renewed my old Sylvia blog: How I wish he were here; August.

I had trouble sleeping for a few nights — too much excitement. When Jim and I were in our thirties, our joke was we didn’t know as yet what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now I think alone we none of us know what we will end up with. A sad story of a friend, now still just 68. Her husband died this past Thursday. She and her husband and Jim and I were friends, a foursome when we were in our twenties in NYC. She is my oldest friend, though now become a distant memory-acquaintance. We met at age 16 when we both graduated high school and were hired as secretaries at the FAA; we both left after two years to go to college, and we both went on for Ph.Ds, she in Economics (and made a lot of money, justifying pay increases for the phone company) and me in English. Her husband was a gregarious man, a state gov’t bank examiner (when there were regulations that mattered); they were another couple who bought a dream house for their retirement. That was 10 years ago; she was 58 and he retired then. Two years later he came down with Parkinson’s Disease and my understanding was it was a bad case. So that was his last 8 years. Sometimes she traveled with her sister-in-law (a divorced woman), once to India I was told, to Istanbul too; she could afford round-the-clock nurses towards the end. Both of us widows now.

Again there was a weekend treat. Two weeks ago Yvette and I went to Hamlet on Friday, Antigone Saturday, and me to my film club alone on Sunday; last week we enjoyed the splendor of Wolf Trap, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the NSO; last night with a group of friends I went on a boat ride up and down the Potomac alongside D.C. — about an hour’s worth of touring. Very pleasant as the weather was breezy, balmy, and the blues and wide sky so refreshing. We had dinner in an Asian restaurant in Georgetown, some 16 people. Good talk too some of it. Someone told me of a movie I might enjoy: 84 Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Judi Dench. Bus, Metro and car home.

Yvette tells me that when I am gone for several hours (as I was last night), the cats curl up on my chair or on my part of the bed and wait for me to return. Right now Clarycat is on my lap; a little while ago Ian had his paws around my neck, was rubbing my face with his face; now he half-sleeps nearby on a pillow. In the car together Yvette read to me a funny wikipedia article on Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (which we are listening to right now) — about this dude who takes 800 pages to discover he’s Jewish. She and I are agreed we like the Daniel part of the novel best. I told her about the book of Spanish Jewish poetry (Hebrew translated) I have in the house as a result of reading this book.

What am I to do without him? So empty. All grown up now. I move through time trying to get through, pleasantly when I can by distraction, company, absorption. 17 years they said.

I understand how widows and widowers feel as they try to assuage the bereftness, to find some warmth in imagining the beloved person’s spirit is there with them conscious somewhere.


Dear friends and readers,

Last week we ended our hour set of dance-exercise at the Dance Fusion Workshop with Edelweiss: I’d hum it on the way home.

This week it is Ben E. King’s Stand by Me. It was all I could do not to burst into wild crying:

When the night has come, and the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we will see
No, I won’t be afraid, oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
So darlin’, darlin’ stand by me
Oh stand by me
Oh stand, stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’ stand by me
Oh stand by me
Whoa stand now, stand by me, stand by me

And darlin’, darlin’ stand by me
Oh stand by me
Oh stand now, stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’ stand by me
Oh stand by me
Whoa stand now, stand by me, stand by me
So darlin’, darlin’ stand by me
Oh stand by me
Oh stand now, stand by me, stand by me
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me
Oh stand by me
Whoa stand now, oh stand, stand by me…

It was what he did. He stood by me.


The piano a couple of weeks ago

Dear friends and readers,

I took that photo of my spinet piano a couple of weeks ago when Yvette had left a composition book on it. She had devised a song, sung it and somehow took a photo and recorded herself so as to put a video of herself singing on her blog. I wrote of this more than two weeks ago and how I was planning to begin piano lessons for myself. I finally did this week, one hour with a woman named Julie. We wrote out clefts, notes, begin playing on her Steinway grand piano. The sounds coming from the teacher’s piano were lovely — harmonious, bright like a bell. Full with an echo when you left your finger on a key. I like calm rhythms. As I said on facebook when I began to play I cried because I wished I could be happy while playing these. I felt I ought to be. I remember I wrote shortly after Jim’s death I felt I was living in a house which had lost one of its four walls. Now I understand the meaning of Haushofen’s Wall better: she said it was about how this transparent wall was between her and the rest of the world: Lessing said of the book it could have been written only by a woman. Maybe it’s good then that my spinet has a much tinnier, thinner sound. I don’t have to feel I’m can’t reach something I was surprised to feel I wanted.

I want the lessons for myself too: when I was 12 I asked for piano lessons, but my parents would not buy me a piano. My father insisted I learn guitar; he had some vicarious dream of me playing guitar to others at parties. How little he had to have imagined me for real to dream such a thing. But it was an old guitar; one he had picked up somewhere so I was ashamed of it. Nonetheless I took weekly lessons for three years. Looking back I realize that I was discouraged from the start, told I had no ear, or would not be very good at it by the teacher. Why I persisted I don’t know. I know why I quit but that belongs to a rape story. Suffice to say here I quit so as not to have to take a long walk past a big park by myself. Not that the teacher regretted my absence, though once I remember him worrying about me one day when I looked in some distress, and offering to phone my parents. Well now I’ve no one to tell me I will never play well. Not that I expect much more than simply learning to play songs and make music.

I looked diligently to see if I could find a photo of Jim playing, but I never seem to have taken one of him doing this. There’s only one of me one Christmas (2005) sitting next to the piano as it used to look with his books piled on the top for when he wanted to play anything. Why would I have taken such a photo? He didn’t play to show off to others; I didn’t expect I would have to remember him playing.

Julie’s a cancer widow too; she’s about 76 — 4 years ago her husband died age 72 of a horrible lung cancer metastasized: it had taken 2 years. The first time I met her (last week for an introductory brief time) she said by the end his death was a relief. She said she was “fine” now; this time she said as how when she used to look at a kind of flower he liked and they would drive by, she would cry but now when she drives by, she rejoices to remember he loved it. Her smile when she said this was slightly frozen; such a statement is of course a sign of madness.

This is a very sad weekend for me. Last year after several days of feeling bad (and going to one of several godawful oncologists at Kaiser who pronounced him as looking “really great,’ like all of them hardly paying any attention for real), and then telling me he could not drive to Caroline’s wedding, on August 3rd he awoke early and said in a kind of deep panicked voice, “something is very wrong.” A strange very bad pain; we rushed to the 24/7 Tysons Corner medical facility and by 12 the tests were done. It was some time after that a much better doctor sat down in that cubbyspace with us and pronounced two words quickly and softly, “liver mets.”

I had no idea what she meant. I felt bewildered. Later that afternoon when we were home and I looked about metastasis and then liver, did I realize the gravity of what had been said. Jim was not up to going to Caroline’s wedding that day; the reform rabbi who was performing the ceremony brought a computer person with her and they set up something which permitted Jim to watch the ceremony from home with Clarycat on his lap and to be seen by everyone at the wedding doing so. I think he heard it too. Still I did not understand this was a death sentence at first nor how soon death would come. I kept using the word probably for a week or so. Maybe it was when the doctor dismissed us to a hospice — how Jim hated them when he still had some strength, tried to throw them out, showed what scorn he could for the first woman’s phony spiel. He looked upon me as deluded by them; if I was at first (as I am a little slow this way), within 2 weeks I saw what most of them were.

I did eventually get a decent nurse (an ex-doctor from the Philippines who answered my questions instead of telling me what a good question that is and avoiding any answer lest they compromise their position with anyone, risk anything) twice a week, and it was due to him that the last four days we did have a round-the-clock second decent nurse. Once near the end they exasperated him to the point he removed a rubber sheet they had forced on him and he laughed to find this kind of emotion could still stir him.

It was a terrible two weeks last August, filled with pain for him: he was also pretending to be more delusional than he was to avoid talking to me. I just keened on and off. August 3rd is in some ways far worse for me than October 9th (the night he actually died). All hope died. Hope gone. It was the end of the life we had lived. He had used the metaphor of a wall too. When we still hoped he was going to recover for a while, live yet for a couple of or even few years, he’d say he was on the other side of a wall where cancer patients dwelt. That no one who had not had cancer could know what it was to experience it. No matter how I empathized I was on the other side — I felt that was not quite so, since the world had gone grey for me. I’d see as in a distance farmer’s markets with people buying food and crafts cheerfully. The brightness on the other side of a wall.

Polser’s film of The Wall

A musical weekend: Yvette plays and sings weekend mornings and I began practicing twice a day for 15 minutes. I bought a metronome. Furniture polish to make the instrument look better. We also ventured forth for the first time in two years to Wolf Trap: to hear a favorite folk-rock singer, Mary Chapin Carpenter, sing with the National Symphony Orchestra (and her own band intermingled with them). What a journey — and a hugely crowded set of parking lots. It’s not a trivial trip, and without Vivian it would have been much harder to get there and taken much longer getting home. The National Symphony Orchestra made such beautiful sounds — especially the exquisite opener, Yvette and I considered getting a subscription. Vivian said the first piece of music was the best. Yvette called it a wonderful night of music, only the orchestra out-performed her. We will keep an eye out for concerts we might like and go to the Kennedy Center on the occasional Sunday. Carpenter’s voice in real physical life is a deep harmonious melancholy mezzo soprano too — she was singing a new kind of song for her, more emotional, “Songs for a Movie” a new album. I did miss her rousing, raucous ones but they wouldn’t go with that orchestra. The evening was cool, the sky pretty — until it began to rain after we were driving home.

I like music. Thus far the class I genuinely enjoy at the JCCNV is the dance fusion workshop. This week I went once to waterarobics and the instructor had a tape of disco music. There is one jolly woman who doesn’t bother follow the instructor and she was water-dancing the whole hour.

A friend told me about Stephen Grosz’s Examined Lives, a book partly about grief. He writes about popular beliefs, saying that death and grief are quite distinct. (So Kubler-Ross is a codification of the social lies I outlined the other day. I remember when Jim was still thinking he might recover him ironically going over the stages, telling me where we were in this scheme of things.) She wrote: “With death there is closure – the person dies. Grief is different – there is no such closure, only a gradual lessening of the pain over time.” Perhaps accurate words wanted are bereft and gradual numbing. But I am not numb.


The man I hired to see my lawn mowed each week has obligingly grassed over both little plots I made for Jim and I to have flowers in for our retirement years together. All that is left is the circle around the maple tree. It’s so small even I can weed it, but if there are no daffodils after this year, that will be fine.

I thought of Emily Bronte’s Remembrance with its opener, “Cold in the earth,” and read it and it helped to reconcile myself to Jim’s having been cremated (though never fully) — at least I don’t have to dream of him cold in the earth. But Marina Tsvetaeva’s stanzas as translated by Elaine Feinstein are more appropriate to a world where missiles drop bombs on sleeping people who had the temerity to want to eat more:


Tonight — I am alone in the night,
a homeless and sleepless nun!
Tonight I hold all the keys to this
the only capital city
and lack of sleep guides me on my path.
You are so lovely, my dusky Kremlin!
Tonight I put my lips to the breast
of the whole round and warring earth.
Now I feel hair — like fur — standing on end:
the stifling wind blows straight into my soul.
Tonight I feel compassion for everyone,
those who are pitied, along with those who
    are kissed.


Who sleeps at night? no one is sleeping
In the cradle a child is screaming
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
young enough talks to his love, breathes
into her lips, looks into her eyes

Once asleep — who knows if we’ll wake again?
We have time, we have time, we have time
    to sleep!
From house to house the sharp-eyed
watchman goes with his pink lantern
and over the pillow scatters the rattle
of his loud clapper, rumbling.

Don’t sleep! Be firm! Listen, the alternative
is — everlasting sleep, Your — everlasting house!

Here’s another window
with more sleepless people!
Perhaps — drinking wine or
Perhaps only sitting,
or maybe two lovers are
unable to part hands,
Every house has
a window like this _
A window at night: cries
Who sleeps at night? No one is sleeping.
In the cradle a child is screaming.
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
of meeting or leaving.
Perhaps — there are many lights,
perhaps — only three candles.
But there is no peace in
my mind anywhere, for
in my house also, these
things are beginning:

Pray for the wakeful house,
friend, and the lit window.



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