Archive for November, 2014

Posy Simmonds: Mrs Scrooge and her cat

Dear friends and readers,

Two days ago I wrote on my old Sylvia blog a posting on why these Winter Solstice rituals are peculiarly painful; last year on this day I posted W. S. Merwin’s poem, “Thanks”. Well after supper tonight, I was reading Anthony Hecht’s poetry, which Jim liked, and found his favorite among the books by Hecht we have: The Hard Hours. I had earlier in the day remembered an old ditty Jim used to sing or recite around this time in his imitation (fair) of Hampshire dialect:

Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat,
please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha-penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha-penny, God bless you.

He’d smile that teasing smile of his. He was thinking about how we’d escaped ending up desperately poor (something that could have easily been) — as if we were Dickensian characters on Guy Fawkes day (he’d then mention bonfires sometimes), or were like Tiny Time who managed to live: Jim once said in response to my father trying to make a cheerful toast on Christmas day, in a falsetto, “God bless us everyone.”

Now I found in Hard Hours, a poem by Hecht which explicated the rhyme — perhaps a bit too heavily, tediously, overdone, but well-meant, connecting the dire poverty and violence of our world to
Christian and natural winter imagery, William Cowperesque even:


Darkness is for the poor, and thorough cold,
As they go wandering the hills at night,
Gunning for enemies. Winter locks the lake;
The rocks are harder for it. What was grass
Is fossilized and brittle; it can hurt,
Being a torture to the kneeling knee,
And in the general pain of cold, it sticks
Particular pain where crawling is required.

    Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat.
    Please put a penny in the Old Man’s hat.

Where is the warmth of blood? The enemy
Has ears that can hear clearly in the cold,
Can hear the shattering of fossil grass,
Can hear the stiff cloth rub against itself,
Making a sound. Where is the blood? It lies
Locked in the limbs of some poor animal
In a diaspora of crimson ice.
The skin freezes to metal. One must crawl
Quietly in the dark. Where is the warmth?
The lamb has yielded up its fleece and warmth
And woolly life, but who shall taste of it?
Here on the ground one cannot see the stars.
The lamb is killed. The goose is getting fat.
A wind blows steadily against the trees,
And somewhere in the blackness they are black.
Yet crawling one encounters bits of string,
Pieces of foil left by the enemy.
(A rifle takes its temper from the cold.)
Where is the pain? The sense has frozen up,
And fingers cannot recognize the grass,
Cannot distinguish- their own character,
Being blind with cold, being stiffened by the cold;
Must find out thistles to remember pain.
Keep to the frozen ground or else be killed.

Yet crawling one encounters in the dark
The frosty carcasses of birds, their feet
And wings all glazed. And still we crawl to learn
Where pain was lost, how to recover pain.
Reach for the brambles, crawl to them and reach,
Clutching for thorns, search carefully to feel
The point of thorns, life’s crown, the Old Man’s hat.
Yet quietly. Do not disturb the brambles.
Winter has taught the air to clarify
All noises, and the enemy can hear
Perfectly in the cold. Nothing but sound
Is known. Where is the warmth and pain?
Christmas is coming. Darkness is for the poor.

    If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
    If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.

From the poem from which Hecht’s title is taken:

Adam, there will be
Many hard hours,
As an old poem says,
Hours of loneliness.
I cannot ease them for you;
They are our common lot.
During them, like or not,
You will dream of me …
Think of the summer rain
Or seedpearls of the mist;
Seeing the beaded leaf,
Try to remember me
from far away …

This morning Yvette is playing an old rousing tape from Sesame Street, a “Sing-along”, which she burned to a CD, very cheerful, she is singing along and clapping.

This is from this very record album she and Caroline had when they were children (long-playing 33), and this song Jim used to say if he heard once more he’d go nuts: he could recite this one too:

as Caroline could recite sections of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, read by him, that Yvette loved to listen to so.

Going over to twitter to see how Caroline is getting on, and I discover Yvette’s just tweeted: having looked for something not “Totally Fucking Awful” (as a parodic New York Times front page headline has it on the Net), she found (as so many have) the Fergusson public library. The one bright spot one can find in that whole city is its library, and it has not been shut down nor even cut but is said to be thriving! Yvette has, as you know, gotten a permanent Federal job (as permanent as anything can be nowadays) as a librarian at the Pentagon this year.

Mrs Scrooge and the ghost of Christmases future

Miss Drake

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Clarycat looking at leaf (she has a passion for them): not one tough motherfucker, but then she’s not had to be

If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat. —Mark Twain

Dear friends and readers,

A particularly beautiful poem:

The History Of One Tough Motherfucker

he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,”not much
chance…give him these pills…his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he’ll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he’s been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there … also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off … ”
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn’t eat, he
wouldn’t touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn’t go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn’t work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat — I’d had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
“you can make it,” I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn’t want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he’s better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left …
and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,”look, look
at this!”
but they don’t understand, they say something like,”you
say you’ve been influenced by Celine?”
“no,” I hold the cat up, “by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!”
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he’s relaxed he knows…
it’s then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it’s bullshit but that somehow it all helps.


The Biblical allusion is probably to Joshua and his army bringing down the walls of Jericho by sounding ram’s horn trumpets and shouting. People blow trumpets to get others to pay attention, as signals of victory or defeat and when someone dies (the haunting Taps). The poet’s cat functions as a trumpet in our world. Our poet has had it bad, but not as bad as the (against people especially) helpless cat. This cat has been so mistreated he has had it worse (been treated worse) than Bukowski. But he survives. All the symbolism is of course bullshit but somehow it consoles to look out at others and let them see you enduring on together.

Charles Bukowski and his rescued friend-pussycat

On Bukowski and his tender affectionate nature, often obscured: “She is a joy. I look at her and light goes all through me.”

Charles Bukowski smoking


Did you know there is such a thing as a cat cafe?


In areas where those who own and or control spaces one can buy or rent to live in will not allow pets these cafes have grown up as safe havens for cats, places people can come to play with and become friends with a particular cat, bring their own cats to stay. Such places serve coffee and tea. My friend put it this way: People come, by tea or coffee, caress the lonely cats and pay money to the owners for more support of more cats. The cats are said to be well-treated: kept clean and healthy.

Caroline tells me she has been trying to “jumpstart” one in DC for quite a time. A friend who lives in Torquay told me of a cat cafe in Totnes. I have been told of areas in the world where the people are so starved and miserable if you do have a well-fed and well-treated cat, you must protect the cat from these people. Such is the state of the world. A YouTube of Nekkoaigi, cat coffee cafe in Kyoto:

Miss Drake

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Dear Friends and readers,

At dance fusion workshop this morning and a couple of weeks ago, this song came up and we danced to it. I was there for the first time in 2 weeks, and though the song was still part of the routine, the teacher had mysteriously dropped four Beatles’ songs part of this particular set. The song bought back unspecific memories of intense enjoyment dancing with Jim:

and so I remembered this song whose full lyrics I never looked at before, all I remembered was “buttercup fill me up, and “I need you so,” “I need you more than anyone darling, you know I have from the start …” and such lines would sound in my inner ears at high moments with him:

At the end of class I did have to endure all these cheerful wishes for a good holiday — or that was the dominating consensus. The teacher refrained and just remarked we would not have class next Friday. Last night I made a mistake last night of going to the Haven to listen to a presentation. That’s the last one of those I go to (so car liberty has downsides). I should have known better; Jim would have warned me against it. Platitudes ending on exhortations not to hurt other people’s joy. Right. But I did dare to drive there at night and met someone from the grief support group I attended last spring. She said two of the people there, an older man and a younger woman (statistical probability exemplified here) are now “going out with one another seriously.” They were not inconsolable it seems.

My win? I got from the DMV three days ago a brief letter (not even 8 by 11 in size) saying I had fulfilled all “medical requirements” and no further reports would be asked for. They wished me “continuous safe driving” from here on in. It only took nearly $5000, going through 2 lawyers, being part of an HMO which enabled me to reach several doctors readily and take tests, back and forth on cabs, much stress on phone. The last set of reports had two doctors’ describing me (no medical condition whatsoever, cause grief, endless tests are dangerous from the radiation &c&c) and my regular doctor was franker too (doubtless tiring of making out forms). The lawyer said the description was such it would help us win a hearing and the DMV would not want such a hearing. I’m told that of those whose license is suspended (and it’s not done to all people, unfairly upper middle class men are rarely suspended I’m told — as forsooth they need to drive), most lose it for life if they blank out for however small a period.


Having gotten it I celebrated by a scavenger hunt in my car. While at JASNA, I received by my cell phone a message from British seller telling me he had just cancelled a box of CDs recording Timothy West reading aloud Framley Parsonsage because the credit card I had on file doesn’t work. (If you knew how hard it is to get good readers reading great books since Amazon invented the thieving tricker of audible.com and bought up many many such recordings from Books-on-Tape, Cover-to-Cover, Blackstone’s even). This credit car number had been cancelled because it had been hacked into, and I had to wait until I got home to try to reach him and make him understand. He did. But mailed it “registered mail,” doubtless meaning well. I go to NYC and package arrives on my stoop but postman takes it back to post office as label means I must be there. To get my hands on it took 3 trips to two post offices, 2 phone calls and 1 supervisor and finally a man going in to their den and finding it in a bag. The US post office has gotten worse since it’s been under fire from Congress — trying to destroy and then privatize it. And changes in it make it more “independent” each office so now one post office doesn’t know what the other is doing. I’ve now bought myself Dr Thorne, from Downpour which still sells CDs, MP3s (so I can listen in my car), where people get on the phone to help you buy your product. Not West or David Case, but Simon Vance who is an intelligent reader at least and does the reading dramatically. Somehow it has always meant much to me to have this reading aloud in my car as I drive: it makes time not just endurable but pleasant.

Then I bethought me I’d find where to park in Shirlington on weekdays: it’s a theater which genuinely plays the best movies available in the area (it does not reach for the NYC and LA first run or older film, nor Wiseman for example). It took a good deal of searching out, but I found a place set aside for the Shirlington theater on the second floor of a garage not far off. I saw Laura Poitras’s CitizenFour. It was a freezing cold day and to take a cab was to stand in the cold waiting for a cab 10 minutes each way, and Uber cab has a hard time finding the theater whose address is misleading.

Poitras and film-colleague at a first showing of CitizenFour in NYC

CitizenFour is chilling, a sombre piece. That it’s by a woman and shows a woman’s perspective is one source of its effectiveness; I notice the reviews are ignoring this and wonder if Poitras’s other films have failed to call attention to her by anyone but gov’ts able and willing to harass and threaten her. I’ve now made her The oath, the second of the trilogy, my next choice on Netflix: it’s about the man who became the chauffeur to Bin Laden and was imprisoned, tortured, but is now freed because his lawyer was able to win a court case about how to define terrorism — aiding someone tangentially is not enough to label you such it seems.

What sobering is the power of the people running these gov’ts and how easy it is for their agents to survey, arrest, and lie about it. Poitras’s use of clips from the mainstream media (CNN, Fox, NBC, MSNBC, even one from PBS) makes them stick out as gaudy circus material in comparison to her quiet palette. Snowden appears to suggest that since he is now not in a terrible prison for life, nor was tortured, nor is set to be executed, he has won sufficiently to encourage others to join in. It’s true a kind of network sprung up to help him: human rights lawyers, people with access to other people who got him on a plane and took him to where the US could not reach him and now by chance the resurgence of the cold war has led the Russian gov’t not to extradite him. Julian Assange’s wikileaks’ connections played a role: he is still in that Equadoran embassy. He has his long-time girlfriend living with him and the last scene of the two of them is through an apartment window where they are boiling water, perhaps for sphagetti? The closing scenes shows how dangerous all they are doing is for them. We see Glenn Greenwald telling Snowden about a new or other whistleblower and he writes the man’s name down on a pad with a pen; then he tells him something else by a pad with pen. Snowden does not say anything more than emit sounds of surprize and startle. The room they are in could be bugged.


One response to this movie could be to stop posting, stop blogging, silence yourself utterly — obviously that’s not mine. The news organizations which back or backed Greenwald, MacAskill are under threat but carry on because not to do is is not to exist and that’s my excuse for carrying on too. One almost does not know what to say: yes all your records are available to the US gov’t. Internet providers comply; if they don’t, they are supenaed and forced to hand over mountains of signficant data (like someone’s email, passwords) or shut down (as Lavibit courageously chose to). One learns about the British counterpart, especially CGHQ (is that the acronym), which has been doing its work far more broadly for more years than the US; which I remember Jim talking of when he went there once: Portsmouth is not longer a place where people mess around in boats much, he said. Big Brother has gone digital? David Bromwich’s essay.

There is a passing discussion of liberty which one lawyer says is now unfortunately defined as privacy: that’s a real loss as what’s at stake is more than privacy. The eighth amendment (saying gov’ts haven’t the right to confiscate or hold back your access to your money or property before a trial) is gutted. The way in which the actors in the film communicate is on black screen with white letters on the Net. The last time I saw that was 1993-95 the first two years when Jim and I were on the Net and that’s what the screen looked like when I sent messages to the original Trollope list and Austen-l. He had to type in strings of number and letters every once in a while to do this, and we used a phone line made available somehow or other from Mason (as an adjunct I did have that “privilege”).

Not over-stating what happened to me — I see the behavior of the DMV to me and what they were prepared to do to make me comply (put me in jail for a non-harmful act when I committed no crime) as the non-technological world supporting the technological nightmare the movie demonstrated exists. We are a society that incarcerates people upon first impulse, punishes them, immobilizes them, set up economically to make jobs insecure and get people to move about to take any where they can get one. set cities up to keep people apart (Atlanta, Georgia), pass laws to forbid improving public transportation (in Tennessee). Caroline told me of being a court (for something else) and seeing four desperate men with lawyers waiting for DMV hearings.

The new landscape

Next week I’ll see Kill the Messenger at Ballston, with a typical review by Rolling Stone: to me it’s about a man murdered once he fell into obscurity. I’ve been reading Trollope seriously as a political writer (he is extraordinary if you think about the implications of his texts) and guess he would have seen that as central to the film’s message.

Miss Drake

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Central Park not far from West Park Drive — I took the photo by cell phone on Saturday, climbing high on a rock formation around 10 in the morning, bitter cold wind but sunny: I meant to snap the lake I saw too but didn’t manage it

Dear friends and readers,

Yvette and I reached home from New York City and our pussycats not far from midnight last night (Saturday). We had come to New York City for two nights and three days (at a huge expense) for reasons we made explicit and not so explicit. We said we were coming to NYC for Yvette at long last to go into the opera house and experiences one of the operas we’d been watching in an HD-screen theater live, and since John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer was removed from HD operas broadcast across the world (a genuine loss) we chose this weekend. In summer we had said we ought to have a holiday but didn’t exactly know where to go, and thought of NYC but since in August NYC is hot, to say nothing of the reality the plays I’d want to see were starting in later September, we decided on some time during the fall.

I knew I was coming as a way of breaking a thick wall of pain: NYC the place Jim and I had lived in so happily (well on and off) together for 11 years and visited many times since, my home (where I feel at home, crazy as this may seem, where when my inability to cope with space as to north, south, east, and west is not so bad once I am situated since I know so many of the streets and places like I know my hands). Why I needed to do this I don’t know: twice in the two days I began to shake uncontrollably from nervous distress, and at times it seemed everywhere I went I was looking at some place or scene he and I had been together, or some place or scene he and I had passed through together and remembering, here we did this, there we would do that. But never cried. Why I don’t cry I can’t figure out, instead I sit down and put my hands over my face for the time I need to do this until I’m calmer.

So many ghosts. I grew up here with two parents, both now dead, and I went to the theater with my father. Shopped on 34th Street when it was glamorous and had an Orbach’s and got a fancy coat with my mother. They were with me too. Sombre in Central Park I went walking with Memory.

Yvette and I had saw some terrific theater and great photographs, which I mean to write blogs on Ellen and Jim have a blog two. Beyond Death of Klinghoffer, which Yvette has already written in her concise brillian wry way upon, we saw together Stoppard’s The Real Thing and went to the Metropolitan Museum for a few hours and happened upon photographs by Thomas Struth, I saw Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and walked in Central Park, both wandered in Times Square where twice we found places to eat meals we could ingest (our old standby The Olive Garden, up against the Tickets booth, still there and offering the best meal we had while we were away). We missed out on Frederick Wiseman’s “rapturous” (so saith the New Yorker) National Gallery. Nowadays PBS (which devotes time to slick cliched dramas, with all star casts and writers (Worricker) does not air Wiseman. It was down at the Film Forum (Houston Street) starting at 4 pm or so, and it didn’t fit into our tight schedule. I noticed it played in AFI in Maryland today at 4 so there is hope it may show up here yet.

We had some comical misadventures, the type that seem funny in retrospect but not lived-in experience. I worry intensely about making trains and one of these liminal journeys between here and there (actually I go into mini-panics lest we miss a train, or fail to get off a train before it starts up again), one of these transition times was at 4 pm when we left Death of Klinghoffer and the Met Opera house, and had to get back to the Park Central Hotel at 56th Street and 7th Avenue to rescue our bags (we did it by subway, then walking, then tickets) and then, armed with said bags, into a taxi, and back to 34th Street to Amtrak, rattling down 7th Avenue through Broadway and east to Madison Square Garden. As it happened we were way early for a 7 pm train, so I said let’s trade in our tickets for 6 pm, and Yvette wanted to eat! She persists in this desire of hers to eat, though she is so fussy about what she eats. So we had a hunt, and finally found a place underground at Madison Square Garden (way expensive) and then when we got back to wait for some 30 minutes, on the board was a train delay of nearly an hour. We get on finally and so does all the world: the train was now supercrowded: Yvette and I could not find two seats together walking up and down the coach and I noticed a man was sleeping over 4 seats and as he looked like a bum, people were letting him occupy 4 seats (two double chairs facing one another). Fuck it I said, and went over, and shook him slightly and pushed him off the double seat we were going to occupy across the way from him. The way I cope with possible belligerence is to get very polite, perhaps schoolmistressy, and he asked me if I were the manager of the train. I replied he has no right to more than one seat, proceed to ignore him and barge on to the two seats and we took our stuff, sat down, and plugged in to recharge our phones and ipads.

Good thing as her ticket and mine had been cancelled (!) and she would have been distressed by the conductor: it seems that if you have a two-way ticket and the conductor on the way fails to swipe the ticket right, your whole ticket is cancelled. (What kind of system is this?) Somehow I was responsible said this conductor, giving me a phone number. I had to phone on the train someone in some inaccessible place and explain; I admit she immediately guessed the problem and said she could fix it; I just had to stay on hold. Yvette hears and says give her your phone number. I do. We did not get disconnected and the ticket became valid again and could be swiped by magical computers. This guy is watching us; but we carry on sitting and talking to one another and reading. We finally get to some stop where the layover allows for getting off the train, and he is walking off the train — without his bag. Suddenly Yvette was worried, “he’s forgetting his bag!” I said he’ll just get belligerent. He is a man who drinks heavily and falls asleep, “it’s none of our business” (an old NY axiom). But I could not stop her from running after him, pushing partly through the crowded aisles, to call to him, “Sir, sir … you are forgetting your bag!”, looking all anxiety. Most unexpectedly he turns round, comes back and is all courtesy to her, genuinely touched by her apparent concern, telling her all he meant to do was walk for the fresh air and come back into the train.

We then moved to the seats across the aisle as the train was less crowded, but he offers to get me a coffee, apologizes to me in positively courtly manner. I accept his apology. He had been impressed by my willingness to sit in seats across from his where everyone else treated him like some pariah. In a couple of stations he gets off and we say “cheerio” and other polite salutations.

However, turns out Yvette was not motivated (as he and I both thought) by her good heart, but was afraid that if he left his bag we would have to report it to the conductor as possibly a terrorist bomb and then we’d be stuck on the train with interviews for hours and hours. She wasn’t thinking of him at all. I said (startled at this), “no one would report such a bag … he’s not a terrorist, just a poor man who drinks too much and his stuff looked miserable in his wretched bag.” But could not persuade her she would not have had to report it. She would have reported lest we get in trouble for not reporting it. I ask myself, Have I neglected some aspect of her education?

Shall I say that NYC does have restaurants that are neither super-expensive or dead cheap (Montreal and other cities seem to have no half-way places) but often the food is sheer snobbery. Who eats that? I mean for real? I did begin to discover some better places, a real Trattoria up two blocks from the hotel, a good cafe near the park. The subway is a mystery to me once again, but Yvette got pretty good at navigating us up and down, east and west. A new system gives the trains with letters and numbers colors so you can see at a glance which set of trains run up and down and and in and our of the same tracks at some point or other. She had not taken an heavy enough coat and was not keen on walking above ground

Caroline faithfully visited the cats daily, played with them, put down food, cleaned the litter, including much later on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. Still they were upset. Caroline sent photos each day.

Wary Clarycat

All day today she has stuck close to me, sitting tight on my lap, half-clutching at me with paws.

They refuse to play with dead leaves: Ian all intense uncomfortableness:


Ian went into his hugging me act by 4 this afternoon.

I don’t know if I’ll return again soon. This time took a lot out of me. I had a lot to do today too: bills, much mail to go through, catching up on my courses: I am asked to submit a proposal which will entice retired people at the OLLI program at Mason to read Trollope — I ask myself, what am I doing enticing older people to read anyone? There’s something wrong here. I even managed to go out to DC this afternoon with a friend to meet with an all-women Aspergers group at a Teaism not far from the E-Street Cinema, and share experiences and problems and how to cope.

I’ll end with poem I came across a couple of weeks ago: by John Burnside he analogously captures something of the experience I felt during the three days: on Thursday night coming home exhilarated from seeing Glenn Close’s performance in Albee’s A Delicate Balance, I had a 11 block walk in the rain with the sidewalk running rivers so it was indeed


There is a kind of sleep that falls
for days on end, the foothills lost in cloud,
rain in the stairwells, rainspots crossing the floor
of the Catholic church

and the sense of a former life
at the back of our minds,
as if the dead had gathered here in shapes
that seemed at least familiar, if not perfect.

As children, we were told they came
for our sakes, bringing secrets from the cold,
the loam on their eyes and hands
a kind of blessing,

but now they are here,
in the creases and lines of our mouths,
speaking through us to friends we have never seen,
or only to the rain, because it sounds

the way it sounded then, when they were young,
setting a ladle aside, or a finished book,
and the world almost come to an end,
when we stopped to listen.

Late afternoon, and further along the canal
the lock-keeper’s prettiest daughter is setting
eel traps in the clockless silt and purl
of waters her mother fished, before marriage and barter,

and though she has been dead for forty years,
she is living the life I lost on the way to school
in the body I failed to grow up in, her hands in the flow
of the river, finding the current

and teasing it loose, like a story, the word by word
oftrains running through in the dark, in a seasonless rain,
and the faces in every compartment familiar and strange,
with a sister’s disdain, or a grandmother’s folded smile.


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Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday I was reading some Scottish women’s poetry of the 18th century, and my line of thought and textual allusion brought me back to a beautiful ballad-like poem by Alison Cockburn (1713-94), one of the first of many set to the bagpipe folk tune.

Cockburn’s poem has repeatedly been misinterpreted as a lament honoring dead soldiers. Cockburn told Walter Scott that she was referring to social and economic injustices and private loss that she and others sustained around the year 1777 in Ettrick Forest, Selkirkshire “when there was a great deal of distress & misfortune come upon the Forest by seven Lairds becoming ruined in one year.” Yes, listening to the music and looking at the of the lone animal, one could yesterday (a Veterans’ Day) think of the hundreds of thousands of people killed, maimed, their lives destroyed in war, of those in uniforms who are trained to kill and come back altogether or semi-destroyed and treated badly (the many tours leave them emotionally traumatized and sometimes crippled terribly), but I remembered and mourned the thousands and thousands dead, dying, maimed, suffering here in other kinds of battlefields (some are violent — say on the street if anyone protests) and in my case from cancers and the diseases inflicted on us by our present Lairds.

It is very much a woman’s poem: Cockburn looks out from her experience of joy, happiness, beauty in the world, and then knows Dante’s nadir of remembering

I’ve seen the smiling of Fortune beguiling,
I’ve tasted her favours, and felt her decay;
Sweet is her blessing, and kind her caressing,
But soon it is fled, —- it is fled far away.

I’ve seen the forest adorn’d of the foremost,
With flowers of the fairest, both pleasant and gay;
Full sweet was their blooming, their scent the air perfuming,
But now they are wither’d and a’ wede away.

I’ve seen the morning, with gold the hills adorning,
And the red storm roaring, before the parting day;
I’ve seen Tweed’s silver streams, glittering in the sunny beams,
Turn drumly and dark, as they roll’d on their way.

O fickle Fortune! why this cruel sporting?
Why thus perplex us poor sons of a day?
Thy frowns cannot fear me, thy smiles cannot cheer me,
Since the flowers of the forest are a’ wede away.

When I found the YouTube for the Scottish music I realized the long historical trail of Pete Seeger’s great song, “Where have all the flowers gone … ” — truly a lament for those who have died so uselessly (it became an anti-Vietnam ballad in its stanzas “where have all the soldiers gone … long time ago … “):

It’s come to me as I’ve met other widows and widowers whose beloved died in their fifties or sixties, we are joined “in the bonds” because the beloved who made our lives what they were was him or herself cut off so early — as yet with years to go before becoming elderly or aging with diseases of old age. We can never be untrue to them because of their loss.

I have begun a massive volume I know I will enjoy, a little at a time in the evening, the half-hour before I turn out my light and take my sleeping pill: A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, edd. Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan and hope to share some of its recording of poetry and Scots cultural here from time to time.

How he loved to have others sing with him.


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Bayard Hall, University of Delaware where the Shakespeare pieces and “improvements” were performed — an ex-church

Ah! hills so early loved! in fancy still
I breathe your pure keen air; and still behold
Those widel speading views, mocking alike
The poet and the painter’s utmost art.
And still, observing objects more minute,
Wondering remark the strange and foreign forms
Of sea-shells …..
— Charlotte Smith, from Beachy Head

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d say I’m home from an almost 3 day away trip (and 2 nights) to the University of Delaware, at Newark, Delaware, where I stayed with a group of friends and colleagues at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel. I had a very good time, better than I’ve had in a long while. I was with people who made me feel and are my friends. Talked about all sorts of things I’ve not gotten to talk of in months. The effort to do it did take much out of me (I spare everyone and myself further elaboration). Talk of conversations or what I ate can’t go far. I’ve never been one to fill a trip with menus or what I ate — though perhaps some people like to hear this. In truth, I don’t much care what I eat, and have a plain taste so cannot regale anyone with menus: I was delighted to see some old-fashioned french toast in one place: I like it with white sugar on top. You see what I mean. One friend and I remembered that both of us came to England to study abroad for a year with one year of one another. So both took a small boat which she told me had been a U-boat during WW2; I know it was retired 2 years later as risky. It was filled to the brim with students in bunk-beds, 6 to a room. She remembered how one lost track of time, how one felt one had crossed 3000 miles. I’ll never forget sailing up the green Thames (that September day 1968) and seeing the White Cliffs of Dover I had read so much about — which Charlotte Smith so loved too (see below my reading while there). I did tell people that “after my two cats I like Uber Cab and its considerate drivers best of all things.” I was told I am become skinny.

I’d like to tell some of the fun I had beyond going to sessions, listening to papers, reading mine (and my two panels on The Anomaly went very well, the first especially well-attended but both had a goodly number of people). The trouble is I feel they should go on another of my blogs, specifically the afternoon at the Winterthur Museum, and the evening watching sets of scenes from Shakespeare paired with their “improvements” by 18th century playwrights set into a modern playlet where Shakespeare meets with Pepys who does not think very well of his work, and they argue over which version of each scene is better should go on Jim and Ellen as about culture, theater, and Downton Abbey too. I glimpses the elegant gardens and vistas of the museum — it was too late, cold, wet to walk through; I took buses to the gift shop and bookstore (a genuine book store with serious books).

Winterthur map

I can confirm that in Newark, Delaware as I drove through I saw yet another American city sharply divided economically, some blocks boarded up (not that many as others I’ve seen), with a small super-wealthy area of splendid old Edwardian and other houses beautifully appointed, a small area of middle class looking recently built (say 1960s) homes, but the rest and most of it culturally and financially impoverished. Here a vast glittering mall (all neon lit) and there a coffee shop or expensive gourmet-type restaurant where cars drove to and from elsewhere. Not much tourist shopping, instead long avenues of car-dealers. The hotel was a generic hotel; it did have a decent lobby for people to gather and drink, and one could get a warm breakfast there. I glimpsed the university; it was too far, too cold and windy for me to visit the library though I could see it from afar and on-line read about it as a place in terms of what research one can do.

I read Charlotte Smith’s poetry and a short story (“The Spotted Dog”) by Trollope while away. I did have free connectivity in my room and used my ipad to read my email and get onto the Net. O I was tempted and succumbed to buying one book, Chris Mounsey’s collection of essays, The Idea of Disabilty in the Eighteenth Century; I’ve yet to read my Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture (and novels) by Martha Stoddard: I promised to review it for the Victorian web months ago ….

Miss Wren from Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (illustration by Marcus Stone)

It was suggested to me by someone who has a university press I could try to get up a collection of essays myself on the topic of single women in the 18th century who tried to live alone or live without a male peer (protector). So now I have to try for that some time this Tuesday morning perhaps — start writing a book proposal. I’ve never done this sort of thing in my life.

I also drove through the Washington DC area near and about Dupont Circle on Saturday night: it’s turning into a thriving mixed ethnicity (but nowadays heavily white) city, lots of places to go out, good movie-house, pretty tree-lined streets, supermarkets, pharmacies and other neighborhood places. I could see all sorts of people going and coming and spending their Saturday night as pleasantly or usefully (two people were carrying a couch along the street) as they could. I did envy my friend who lives there for a moment, but my home is large enough for me and Yvette to have separate large and high-ceiling space with lots of light (big windows) and for our two cats and many books and furniture including two different largish TVs and now professional level computers with all accompanying kind of equipment. I went to Noodles and Company and brought home a bowl of delicious pasta (penne pasta it’s called, with parmesan cheese) and washed it down with Paisano wine.

I had missed my cats, worried about them. Ian, my ginger tabby, has a way of watching me drive away nowadays (from a front window). Clarycat, a torty, came trotting up, and was nudging and licking me in no time. Last night she slept in the crook of my arm inside between my shoulder and chest somehow or other — except those times I got up with bad pains in my legs. Ian remained more out of touch, but he was sleeping by my side when I woke and this afternoon he put his paws to my face (retracted) and climbed into my lap and cuddled. He puts his arms (they are his arms) around my neck and his head goes in the back of mine — this is something he does characteristically. It’s him hugging me. He’s glad I’m back. Later he was crying about something I couldn’t figure out what. I can’t bear when he cries.

Pussycats on one of my library tables with DVDs of Jewel in the Crown and Ingmar Bergman movies (Jim liked Bergman’s movies) — taken Wednesday night by Caroline who visited us just before my trip


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Friends and readers,

Only a few people talking about the US election on face-book, at least not in my limited home feed.

I’m told some imposed algorithm prevents me from getting most of the messages of my 249 friends onto my general page; to look at these I have to go to each person’s timeline one at a time. Come to think of it this is a way of limiting social interaction and community building at the same time as face-book gathers as much information about the person on the site as they please, and sends it on, or blocks people as required.

So I’ll put this here and then offer the URL on face-book and twitter and my listservs:

While the election is gerrymandered, so that in each case an artificial grouping is obtained; the proportions rotten in the way of later 19th century boroughs in the UK (2 senators for states with hardly any people and 2 senators for hugely crowded states); and the choices were limited by who could get money to run ads and please local powerful constituents, and the electorate such as it is, increasingly successfully stymied by many attempts to stop people voting; nonetheless there was an election, and the majorities of the groups voting chose the worst candidates most often, Republicans who threaten to shut down the government, who have and will continue to destroy unions, public schools, the Affordable Care Act, destruction of social communities as people hunt any and everywhere for whatever sort of jobs they can find, and spend most of their waking lives at them; or a middle class job and similarly use up their life at it; punitive militarized police … &c&c. The list is long and I need not particularize further. After all the gerrymandering, artificial grouping, stymied voting has come about through previous similar electoral and socially active groups and their supreme and other court results.

One has also to take into consideration that Obama and the democrats did not deliver on jobs programs, on a single payer and good health care system, on really working to make good public schools, on housing, on public transportation. Obama has not done outrageously evil things and has stopped some from happening, but that is not enough to get people out to vote for him and his colleagues.

So in a nutshell, those who voted voted stupidly, fooled by character ads and hot senseless talk (“against Washington” as a cover for coming in and giving away to the rich and powerful the material assets and money of this country), they voted for more immiseration here and more horrific wars abroad. They will get these things. The puzzle is how they must feel what has happened around them personally and many knows this is the result of conservative politicians’ votes: among other things this will mean cutting back women’s control over their bodies more and more (men seem to want this), and increasing cancers for all in young, middle years, middle aged people as the environment and things we ingest and use are further chemically polluted (all the while the newspapers continue to blame the cancer victims and shout how complicated these problems are without funding fundamental research to the level needed).

Clarycat this morning

Miss Drake

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Ian this morning

When Jim existed
  the rest of the world
  didn’t matter to me finally.
His love made up for all.
  Now I am naked against all I see.
  I hate death

I am a bye-blow. The powerful people of the US have screwed the US criminal (in)justice system so that the 1st, 4th and 8th amendments are gutted. For minor crimes the punishment is egregriously harsh, as well as removing any right to vote in many states. No recourse against powerful institutions anywhere for most. No wonder then that I had again yesterday to run about frantically making out absurd medical reports, going back and forth to an super-expensive lawyer, to send to the DMV in order to try to stop them immobilizing me (because they can). Esopheagal cancer up 500% and the New York Times: article says it’s the fault of those dying: they ate late at night. People will say anything you know. Any wonder my beloved died and at each stage of that game was treated with high indifference, a object for extracting money? (70% rise in profits too.) Learn from us; do not turn to these people, do whatever it was you have been longing to do as soon as you can. Then go out drinking and eating normally as long as you can, then find something to end it all. A man whose wife was done in by brain cancer at age 50 told her physicians she’d rather drink wine than let their massive chemotherapy into her veins. I can’t count early deaths from industrial and stress-filled debased degrading alienating low-wage jobs.

We are each a small side-effect.

Faber does not bow to the intense intoleration against expressing what it is to live alone in this contemporary world afterward.

From yesterday:

An Iranian woman executed for attempting to protect herself against a rape by a US “intelligence agent.” The trial.

Another murdered for protesting in Iran.

As a friend said “bloodletting of epic proportions going on;” so too mass incarceration continues apace. Are you aware how easy it is to block you from most sites in the internet? agreements set up between wall-owners omnipresent.


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You don’t know real loneliness
if you don’t know closeness.
The road to great solitude
passes through great love
— Dimitrova, from Scars(English text Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman

Dear friends and readers,

This week two friends introduced me to the poetry of Blaga Dimitrova; she is not well known among western readers: a Bulgarian poet, novelist, essayist, politically active woman. Here is a photo of Dimitrova and on-line interview by a Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi, a poet, essayist, and editor who has translated Dimitrova’s poetry into Farsi. You will find that Blaga answers Farideh’s questions with poems. There are images of both women’s books.

Last night I entered into her “Introduction to the beyond” because she captured something of what I felt when Jim lay dying in my arms and his great courage:

Expiring fully conscious,
you mustered enormous strength
to die peacefully,
without any cry, or moan, or shiver-
so I’d have no fear.

Carefully, your hand
grew cold in my hand
and imperceptibly led me
into that beyond to death
just to introduce me.

In the past, and as carefully,
you used to hold my small hand
and lead me through the world,
show me life –

so I wouldn’t be afraid.
I’ll follow you
with the trust of a child
to that silent country
where you went first,
so I wouldn’t feel strange there.

And I won’t be afraid.
(1966) (English text Brenda Walker)


I will go
and the space I used to take
will be filled with air —
a liberation —
invisible and spacious.
A silent presence,
form which someone else,
unconsciously will take a big breath.

She seems to me deeply alive in these poems:


Two people touching each other
    doomed to love one another,
    is wounding.

Repelling each other
    is scratching the wound
    till it bleeds.

Whatever they do
    to each other out of love

This binds them together blindfolded
    And the only remedy
    is the pain.

I know only too well.
(March 88) (the above and this English text Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman)

Dimitrova’s poems to her mother seem to me especially “emotionally intelligent” (a phrase I found in an review of her work I can’t copy and paste here), one of which I’m going to use to introduce a review of a good film, My Old Lady.


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