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Archive for the ‘my poetry’ Category


Surviving plant (coleus, said to be tough) on a day when the deadly heat measures 113F at 12:49 pm

Friends and readers,

Izzy, I and Laura will be away starting Thursday: we are going to Northern France, a beach at Calais, to be specific, and we hope to “stretch” the time to visit Paris once or twice, London once (or twice). The bnb looks lovely: air-conditioned, wifi, each of us with a room of our own.

As we go off, here is Izzy’s latest personal rendition of a song: The Corrs’ Give Me a Reason

Here are the lyrics:

It’s not romantic here in blue
Swimming, swimming in blue
You left me lonely and confused
Question, questioning you
So soon goodbye you stole my heart
Believe, believing you
Was it a lie right from the start
Answer, answer me do
Well now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
You’ll never know the love I felt
Wanting, waiting for you
It takes a weak heart to forget
Follow, follow it through
Well now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
So what’s a girl like me to do
Drowning, drowning in you
And who’s to save me from the blue
Carry, carry me through
Cause now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
And my defense’s down so just give me a reason
I am strong enough so just give me a reason
Now my body’s weak so just give me a reason
And my make-up’s off so just give me a reason
My defense’s down so just give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
Give me a reason
What did I do wrong

They are an Irish musical group

Miss Drake

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The Great Falls of the Potomac, in Rockcreek Parkway, Montgomery, Maryland this morning


This is probably the best close photo taken of me in years

Dear friends,

I begin by telling you why I haven’t written for nearly two weeks again: it is hard for me to write just now since while I have had some enjoyable experiences to share (see below) or perhaps coming up (if I survive), I am still profoundly worried about this hepitatis C infection. One way with which I deal with life’s experiences is there comes up from my mind unbidden lines from texts that present an analogous situation, appropriate feelings, some indication of a good line of conduct I am able to follow with calm. Most often it’s a Jane Austen line, often half-remembered but enough so I can pinpoint which of the six novels and then remember where it was.

When I go to bed and think about what happened over a day wherein I disappointed myself, I say “I’ll do better tomorrow” or “I’ll try to do better tomorrow,” or even worse (from the viewpoint of originality): “Tomorrow is another day.” Another one where I realize I cannot do much or nothing at all to alter a particular future: “Che sera, sera” (what will be, will be). Upon coming home from a trip “determined, dared, done:” “Home again home again jiggedy-jig.” Upon going out of my house-nest, “Oh do not ask what is it. Let us go and make our visit …

Well I found myself remembering a conversation I couldn’t quite reach in my mind. It has to do with someone pressuring someone else to follow a line of conduct or decision that someone does not want to take and he or she replies to the first person she’s trying hard not to remember X at all (that is what Elinor Dashwood tries after she discovers that Edward Ferrars has been engaged to another women for four years. I felt it was a play, probably a woman or someone who could identify with vulnerable people who can speak with pride, dignity, self-containment. Finally the word “endeavour” came to me as I tried to formuate the line: “endeavour” is not a common word in many individual vocabularies, and google now took me straight to the correct text: it’s from Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons: Henry (Robert Shaw) asking More (Paul Scofield) if he has thought more about his divorcing Catherine and More replies: “Alas, as I think of it, I see so clearly that I cannot come with Your Grace, that my endeavour is not to think of it at all.” I taught and read Bolt’s play many times, watched the scene with Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw countless times with students too.

I am convinced it was Kaiser two or three summers ago when I was sick and had to have an IV when I came to a clinic or when I paid a dentist to put four implants and a semi-permanent denture into my jaw. For the first time too I’ve had an open run-around from Kaiser, where they seem to be stalling before they give me the medicine. I had the x-rays and my liver is as healthy as a 72 year old woman’s liver can be, apparently as yet unharmed. This doctor talked about my liver as people talk about my hearing: “it’s within the range of ordinary and average for a person your age;” on a scale of 1-4 I am in the “1s” – whatever that means. But when I showed up to talk to this specialist I discovered that having an infection of hepitatis C immediately makes the person a suspect — it’s transmitted through drug IVs — not just hospitals use but people take illegal drugs this way. Also that it’s transmitted by sex — this is said in the literature I’ve now read to be rare. I had to submit to half an hour of apparently genial questions and probably now have to have another scan because I did describe my 5 blood transfusions, so she’s giving a more expensive test. She asked if Jim had hepitatis C, she managed if he had other partners. I said I didnt think so to both questions, no symptoms.

She decided (and wrote down on her computer) that I’d gotten it from among these 5 hemorrhages, transfusion and the bad miscarriage I had between 1976 and 1984 (four pregnancies, one small rupture in my colin). This is preposterous. Were I to have had this infection for forty years and drunk the way I have I’d have no liver. I’ve had health assessments after 1984 (when Izzy was born) and no one came up with this diagnosis; Jim had health assessments in the 1990s when he had diverticulitis and no diagnosis for hepitatis C. Obviously I picked it up in the last couple years iatropically — from Kaiser. And she knows it. She is another liar — I’ve seen these liars before in Kaiser; before we went to Kaiser I had no criteria at all even to judge what I was told. Their first interest is their place in the organization. My health comes down low in their priorities.

I was astonished when she then asked me if I wanted to take this medicine, and she asked 3 times. They are powerful over us and I worried were I to get frank I’d be seen as aggressive and not get this medicine. Now I have to wait and get a phone call from a “clinical pharmacist” and she said she had no doubt he would recommend the medicine. But wait, that means he could not – he’s a Cyberus. I almost asked her “Are you doubting my veracity” but I held back. (I dislike so how these medical people have power over us.) Then he phones her, then she phones me, and then the medicine is sent to a pharmacy where I pick it up. Rigarmole or run-around. I’ve had no phone call. The GI specialist nurse has not returned my calls. I today emailed Dr Wiltz, my general practioner and this woman, Dr Chowla. By Friday I shall lodge a complaint they are not willing to take are of me. The price, dear reader, of this medicine is very high in the US. Kaiser would rather see me die

I remember reading how some necessary testing procedure to prevent cancer of the uterus or find it out early was being stopped because it supposedly would encourage girls to have sex – they need not be afraid. And an attempt to re-extend abortion rights has everyone up in arms as infanticide. There is it women want to commit infanticide. No talk about women’s health, whether the child has become severely disabled in the womb..

What the woman doctor is doing is dismissing what caused it — Kaiser — and putting all this stuff in the file about my bleeding history and answers to questions that put suspicion on me or Jim. This business of person phoning me as a way to take care of me is what happened to Jim when he was dying: he was taking a blood thinner and then one day his blood was so thin he was in danger of hemorrhaging from his skin — he was following orders from someone on a phone said to be watching his numbers. That’s how much this man on the phone was paying attention. Then Kaiser tried to bully me into going into the Emergency room at 10 o’clock at night or if it was my fault Jim would die. I said it was not my fault and the last place I was taking him to at 10 at night was a local emergency. You should have seen the weak state Jim was in. They called an ambulance anyway; these guys arrive and when I refuse to let them have Jim, they say “this happens all the time.” I’ll never forget that moment. Kaiser and others play this trick all the time. They said they would never advise anyone to take someone to one of these madhouse emergency rooms at the dea of night who was deeply sick and weak.

Finally a Kaiser nurse came and she had blood supplies and injections. She expected me to be grateful. She was overtime. She said the problem was different people paid for the drugs than the hospital, and each had to sign off on the other as no one knew what the other was doing for sure.

The next day that pharmacist called again and I got on the phone to tell he was a murderous criminal taking a salary for what he couldn’t therefore should not pretend to do, he should be ashamed of himself, for his unprofessional unethical behavior, and never call again. I said I knew they were taping me: well, they were bastards and I’d sue the lot of them. I hung up. We stopped all blood tests and the rest of their shit using this pharmacist. Jim had been calling and cooperating. I had not known about this so clearly. This is the result of privatizing: kaiser is refusing to hire a full time clinical pharmacist. And now I have to accept such phone calls or I don’t get my medicine. I vowed I never accept such phone calls.

Does anyone wonder why the US is 32nd in health care across the world.

I did stop drinking, though my respect for wine has gone up when I looked at supermarket shelves to discover the vile chemically flavored sugared water with addition of juices that are sold — and bought! — by large numbers of people instead of 100% tomato juice, or pear nectar, or pineapple. I had to go to the gourmet section of the supermarket to find decent healthy drinks.

If I can’t get them to take care of me, I’ll ask a few friends for names of doctors and go privately and pay a lot. Shameful disgraceful society so self-deluded and helpless against a ruthless oligarchy using a ferocious military and a 18th century constitution re-rigged by bad faith criminal behavior so a tiny minority of super-rich together with deluded fools and white bigots run the place ….

I have no picture: this is not the first time I’ve been unable to find any picture depicting the poor care the average patient gets from the medical establishment: most of the pictures blame the patient somehow (he or she takes too many drugs) or the insurance or drug companies, not the linchpin person, the doctor. Jim never wanted to leave Kaiser and advised me not to: most of the “care” he and I had outside Kaiser in the US was poor, and over-price outrageously.  The National Health in Britain I found took care of me and saved me once but very autocratic.

The trouble is, how do you find someone else to go to? The reason Jim and I rejoiced at Kaiser was for the first time in our lives we had an array of doctors to go to.  I can think to ask Panorea if she knows  a good doctor of this new friend David. To this day I have no idea how people find doctors. They talk of research, but that seems to be nowadays talking to people (how do they know?) and reading on the Net: these are advertisements.  It was the ridiculous word of mouth that I used before Kaiser and sometimes I got a decent reasonable man but more often the experience was bad — I was fleeced, laughed at, minimally taken care of. That’s the real key to why Jim and I and now Izzy joined an HMO. This is no way at all.

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


Laura Linney as Caroline in The City of Your Final Destinationwhich is your Moscow?

Better news is my course for the summer at OLLI at AU has been accepted. Here’s the proposal:

The Mann Booker Prize: short and short-listed

We’ll cover 2 (short) short-listed, 1 (short) winner, & watch 1 movie (outside class) from a screenplay by a Booker winner from an American novel it’s said should have won the prize had it been given to Americans at the time. Our novels: Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop; J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country; Julian Barnes’s A Sense of an Ending, and a Merchant-Ivory film, screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, The City of your Final Destination (from Peter Cameron’s novel). We’ll discuss our prize-obsessed culture, how the Bookers function in the literary marketplace, & their typical themes, techniques & moods: autobiographical, historical, self-reflexive, witty, post-colonial, mostly melancholy books & films

The last time I wrote it was January 26th, and winter term for the OLLI at Mason had started but all had been shut down because it snowed — and this DC, Maryland, Virginia area goes paralyzed, announces a standstill when it snows, as the local gov’ts will not pay to clear the snow and ice adequately. They get away with this because when the sun comes out, the snow melts. This week we have warmed up and the OLLI at AU has its week of 4-5 day a week courses. It lasts for one week; the rest of January and February includes lectures, special events (one all-day reading of some of Joyce’s Ulysses once again).

I’ve enjoyed two excellent classes in Joyce’s Dubliners, given a professor who seven years ago had Izzy in his class on Irish Literature. When I told her the teacher was this man, her eyes lit up: she gave a paper or presentation on Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September, and he liked it and saw how gifted she is, and after that went out of his way to include her in the class. She was very sad that year, not being able to get any job despite her wonderful degree, so dressed oddly and the classes she went to at night meant a lot to her. She read Anne Enright in that classes; also Joyce’s “The Dead” from the Dubliners. She and I watched a fine film adaptation of Last September with Michael Gambon and Fiona Shaw in feature roles. Now this week I have four sessions on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: the teacher is too simplistic in the way she presents the material but the class is leading her to talk more deeply of what she knows; it’s late in the day so I can work on my projects, read (see below) — after I finish phoning and emailing Kaiser.


A beautiful early cover for Graham’s Demelza (1940s) — a dream place through a window (the first cover for Ross Poldark is based on a similar conceit)

I am still reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: how it hits home, how I recognize myself in both Lenu and Lila and something like the working and lower class world I grew up in.  We are still reading Trollope’s strong The Way We Live Now on Trollope&Peers, I listen to Simon Vance reading aloud Can You Forgive Her? and nightly I watch and re-watch Outlander. It is addictive:  at the center is a couple I find a dream image of Jim and I; they are essential a tragic pair that faery romance keeps saving. I work on my Poldark paper for the Denver ASECS; it’s coming slowly and has a title now: “‘After the Jump’: The Historical Fiction of Winston Graham.”


Me standing in front of one of the waterfalls

I will end on another pleasant experience with the man, a widower, I mentioned I went on a date with in mid-January; the second time he seems to be a gentle kind old man, sweet; whatever he was when younger, he is kindly now.  Second impressions are better than first; more knowledge comes in.

I saw his house where he has himself made some of the furniture including beautiful wooden rocking horse for a child. He showed me his late wife’s picture; it is much bigger fine home — with a large room given over to his computer and books, and another for a TV on the wall (so you watch the screen like a movie). He has a garden and two cats. One large lovely long-haired one (many colored)  is friendly. We had breakfast and then there was just time to go to Great Falls of Potomac where I’d never been (indeed I never heard of it before he told me of it. You see it above and a photo he took of me. Here are two more:


A friendly young person took this photo of David (that’s his name) and me together

The park all around this waterfall and ancient rock area was created by Frederick Law Olmsted. So I’ve now walked in four of Olmsted’s Parks: Central Park and Brooklyn Park in NYC, Montreal park, and now this part of Rockcreek parkway. From the site: David told me he took an OLLI at AU course about the geology and history of the formation of Washington, DC a few years ago:

Many people consider the Great Falls of the Potomac to be the most spectacular natural landmark in the Washington D.C. area. Here, the Potomac River builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.

This dramatic scene makes Great Falls Park, located just fifteen miles from the Nation’s Capital, a popular site with local residents and tourists from around the world who are visiting the Washington area.

The falls consist of cascading rapids and several 20 foot waterfalls, with a total 76 foot drop in elevation over a distance of less than a mile.

The Potomac River narrows from nearly 1000 feet, just above the falls, to between 60 and 100 feet wide as it rushes through Mather Gorge, a short distance below the falls. The Great Falls of the Potomac display the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river.

Maybe I shall go with him canoeing — if he can manage with a person like me who is so unathletic and nervous. I keep using the word “nervous” of myself as an explanation of this or that but I don’t think he hears me. He bike-rides twice a week.  omg!  I did manage to get lost finding his house — even with a map from Mapquest and my garmin. I explained to him I never learned to ride a bike partly because my father was against it: my father worried I would get killed or in an accident as we lived in the southeast Bronx, hard city. I said Jim had gotten into a bad accident once riding on his bike to the British public school he was a day boy at, and he said he had been twice in bad accidents and once in hospital for 23 days so badly had he hurt his spine.

I realized that he has grasped how unadventurous I am — his wife was a much more daring type; she had a literary degree but she also did many athletic and other things (cooked for example), from a much more upper class background than mine — as he is. Other things about me too. As with women friends I’ve made I cannot know if this will be sustained as a friendship.

He told me of a three week tour he and she did of Italy years ago, and I told him about Jim and my time in Rome for 5 weeks with Izzy and Laura (1993 or 94) where we rented a flat, went out by ourselves for a half a day, and with these children for the other half. That we took a train to Naples and stayed in Ischia for 3 days (I was seeing where Vittoria Colonna lived as a landscape, where she grew up it’s said or visited) and how Izzy loved the beach and made friends with the Italian children with a few Italian words. I still recall her saying to them: Mi chiamo Isabella.

It was warm and sunny and I thought there is much left to live for for me and I hope I get to do it. I will keep trying to reach Kaiser and then complain. I’ve been told how people on National Health in Britain have to wait and wait and some deemed unimportant are thrown away.

Ellen

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Nighttime in my front garden: if you look hard you can glimpse my glowing penguin waving at the world from his window in my (during the day) sun-room

The dead are always with us
The dead never cease to be with us
We need not imagine they have consciousness
No they are literally gone
But our minds and memories are strong
And take them with us everywhere

We want to bring back the past
Make it alive again
Let it wash over you, wash into you, become you
But we need not
We may turn to
The sublimity of historical romance
the ghosts of time-traveling

Here are some less commonplace or unsettling pictures from the Victorian era: anthropomorphic cats, murderous frogs, and insects dancing by moonlight have not become part of our Christmas card tradition today.  We must I suppose acknowledge that Christmas is a time of fierce cold which can bring on death, and Robin redbreasts looking piteously cold under shivering wings are part of Mother Goose rhymes. For those impoverished, winter presents hardships in which living creatures can perish for not having enough or out of loneliness or isolation at the time when others it may seem heartlessly celebrate their good luck. It is allied to death because our memories are allied to deaths of those we’ve lost and the winter solstice is a time for remembering; hence the ghost stories

https://designyoutrust.com/2018/12/bizarre-and-creepy-vintage-christmas-cards-from-the-victorian-era/

I confess to a fondness for Jacquie Lawson’s kitsch cards, and send them out to listserv, email, FB, twitter and other online genuine friends at Christmas time. I wonder what is our tradition today: sentiment, pictures of groups of people happy together — dogs and cats at play — in 19th century settings in lovely countryside. I hope others will appreciate this parody as I do:

Ellen

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Richard Feynman: I share his metaphysical and pro-education outlook and assigned his books to classes for many years …

Friends,

This I wrote four days ago upon waking:

I looked out the window and saw such a pretty winter scene — the differently colored leaves (some withered, some not) scattered in the light green grass like decorations. I love these darker flowering bushes, the auburns, and browns, the chrysanthemums, bareness and configurations of the trees, the light blues and pinks in the sky. I find winter’s austerity beautiful.
And it’s another reason to stay alive.

This to someone who this morning objected to my analysing the Outlander films, one at a time each week as they are shown andp posting it onto a face-book Outlander non-censored page:

I’m with Richard Feynman: To me to know more about a thing only adds to its beauty and interest: I don’t see how it subtracts.  I taught a course in science from a humanities point of view for many years and used to read these passages aloud to my students — at three different times as they come from three different places:

To which I add Patricia Fargnoli (one of my favorite poets), a poem I’ve not posted here before:

The Room

The clock pressed the hours by,
frost blinded the windows.
The language beyond them disappeared
into ice.
If you sit in such a room you can forget.
The orange cat stretched out full-length
on the table and slept
the sleep of a careless one.
I lived there — or did not live¬ —
the future a cutoff thing,
the past not part of me anymore¬ —
smoke flying back from the train
on a Russian steppe
in an old complicated novel.
Gone, gone. Gone, gone. And goodbye.
In that standstill time, the cat and I
studied each other like mirrors —
his topaz inscrutable eyes.
I thought I was safe in the room.
The plow came to plow through the whiteness.
Because I was locked in my body
the frost climbed higher.
Because I was not safe
my arms wrapped around me.
One minute became the next¬ —
nothing shifted
except the cat
who jumped down and went to his bowl.
In the bookcase, the books leaned
to the right and glazed over.
The white Greek rugs and three bright watercolors
dulled to the gray of a wolf’s pelt.
The ice entered and shook the curtains.
Then it was time to move, however slightly

some action to break the frozen surface.
Still I did not move but the cat disappeared
into his hiding place between the boxes
under the bed.
I think of the people out in the world
moving around in their lives.
in/out, up/down, bending, standing,
wheels under them, the open skies.
How brave they all are.
In that room, I held fear
like the egg of a beast, about to break open.

and a favorite picture – by one of my favorite 20th century women artists:


Nell Blaine, Night Light Snow

Ellen

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I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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Caspar David Friedrich (174-1840), Le Soir (Evening, autumn), 1821

Dear readers and friends,

My friend, Martin, remembering this is the anniversary of Jim’s death wrote me tonight about reading Auden, especially “The Sea and the Mirror.” So I took down from its shelf W.H.Auden: Collected Poems — it was once Jim’s book, one of those he would return to read. I went to where Prospero speaks to Ariel and thought this closest to my condition:

Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:
    As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober,
    With all my unanswered wishes and unwashed days
Stacked up all around my life; as if through the ages I had dreamed
    About some tremendous journey I was taking,
Sketching imaginary landscapes, chasms and cities,
    Cold walls, hot spaces, wild mouths, defeated backs,
Jotting down fictional notes on secrets overheard
    In theatres and privies, banks and mountain inns,
And now, in my oId age, I wake, and this journey really exists,
    And I have actually to take it, inch by inch,
Alone and on foot, without a cent in my pocket,
    Through a universe where time is not foreshortened,
No animals talk, and there is neither floating nor flying.

When I am safely home, oceans away in Milan, and
    Realise once and for all I shall never see you again,
Over there, maybe, it won’t seem quite so dreadful
    Not to be interesting any more, but an old man
Just like other old men, with eyes that water
    Easily in the wind, and a head that nods in the sunshine,
Forgetful, maladroit, a little grubby,
    And to like it. When the servants settle me into a chair
In some well-sheltered corner of the garden,
    And arrange my muffler and rugs, shall I ever be able
To stop myself from telling them what I am doing,
    Sailing alone, out over seventy thousand fathoms -?
Yet if I speak, I shall sink without a sound
    Into unmeaning abysses. Can I learn to suffer
Without saying something ironic or funny
    On suffering? I never suspected the way of truth
Was a way of silence where affectionate chat
    Is but a robbers’ ambush and even good music
In shocking taste; and you, of course, never told me.
    If I peg away at it honestly every moment,
And have luck, perhaps by the time death pounces
    His stumping question, I shall just be getting to know
The difference between moonshine and daylight…
    I see you starting to fidget. I forget. To you
That doesn’t matter. My dear, here comes Gonzalo
    With a solemn face to fetch me. O Ariel, Ariel.
How I shall miss you. Enjoy your element. Good-bye.

****************************
ianthisevening
In my house during renovation of kitchen, Ian pussycat this evening — does not like to kept in the back half of the house so staring at closed door (cats don’t like closed doors either)

My own feebler effort as I watched:

How does it feel
to be
half a person?

Hard to describe.
I take
up half our space.

I stand there
next to
an alert silence.

My awareness
creates
him, there, unseen.

But people disappear,
all the time,
everywhere

The thread is to know how
to seek,
find what is lost.

“Where did you go,
you disappeared?!”
I once said to him,
half-frantic.

He replied solemnly
“I did not, I
remained
perfectly visible
all the time.”

And now
I am the one
who remains
perfectly visible
all the time.

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

jamesnortonasandrei

jamesnortonjessiebuckleyandreimaria
James Norton and Jessie Buckley as Andrey and Marya Bolkonsky (2016 War and Peace, scripted Andrew Davies)

As you know, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Maud English translation, with the Elisabeth Guertik French translation (La Guerre et la Paix) tucked in just below, and listening to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s translation.

This is an extraordinarily good book: I can see falling back into it endlessly. Among so many other themes, kinds of scenes, characters, arguments about what is history, how large events happen, Tolstoy understands and records death, how the dying die, and how those of us left are split through the soul: in Tolstoy’s description of how Andrey went through the process of dying (Book 3, Part 3, Chapter 32), he seemed to me to capture in words how the person inwardly feels and outwardly behaves. Tolstoy has explained to me what I saw in Jim – but physiological, psychological, mental changes, what I saw in his eyes, the lack of affect,e.g., “his attention was suddenly carried into another world, a world of reality and delirium in which something particular was happening.” Natasha’s grief, “where it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch” (Book 4, Part 4, Chapter 1).

lilyjamesasnatashawp2016
Lily James as Natasha Rostova leaving Moscow, her eyes seeking (same movie as above)

I now know why all 4 films of War and Peace I’ve watched thus far (1955 Vidor; 1966 Bondarchuk; 1972 BBC Pulman; 2016 Davies) felt they must dramatize some of this – though to my mind Davies’s dwelling and Norton’s acting comes closest, there’s nothing comes near Tolstoy and his three translators’ words.

Miss Drake

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brickdale
This (“Ugly Princess”) is the image wanted for George Eliot’s Romola (by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, 1902)

The face of all the world is changed, I think
since I first heard the footsteps of your soul.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Dear friends and readers,

This past week I returned to my project of writing blogs on women artists: their lives and work (Joanna Boyce Wells to be specific), and came across this line of poetry, which made me remember Jim in the later phases of our marriage, when we ended up in Virginia and were thrown back on one another; and a picture new to me from one of two new books, Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists, both filled with strangely beautiful images and women artist’s names and something of their lives and art. I will be writing from these two books on Austen Reveries for a long time to come. One image from them lit up my mind, of Spillman’s of Dante looking to Virgil to lead him through hell, made me remember how Jim and I used to read Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Commedia together now and again: I began to read Dante because Jim loved the Commedia and eventually I taught myself to read Italian so I could read, study and translate women poets of the Italian Renaissance.

DanteVirgilSpillman
Marie Spartalli Spillman (1844-1927, Dante and Virgil in the Dark Wood — Dante to my eyes last night looking like a young woman

I am almost to the end of listening to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as read aloud magnficently mesmerizingly by Gildart Jackson: Shelley’s is an astonishingly original book, with extraordinary for its time new ways of thinking, talking, writing, feeling about death. She was someone deeply griefstruck by loss and life. While indirect (made explicit in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein film) Frankenstein’s urge to create life comes out of his creator’s urge to bring back those death has destroyed:in the film, his mother, in Mary’s life her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, her babies all but one by Shelley and probably others I don’t know of. Passages like this:

I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day and whose very existence appeared a part of our own can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connection? And why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest and learn to think ourselves fortunate whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized (Chapter 3, 2nd paragraph).

lucymadoxbrownnargaretroper
Lucy Madox Brown, Margaret Roper rescuing the head of her father, Thomas More (1873) — only a mad picture can capture the truth of women’s experience as told to us by Mary Shelley

The monster grieves because he can’t share the burden of his existence with another, he can neither lean on someone or be leant on.

For the course in 19th Century Women of Letters I hope to teach this fall at the OLLI at AU (if they can find parking for participants) I’ll be “doing” Frankenstein with a class, and hope this week to try and then read through Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws on the mother and daughter. I daren’t do Romola as it’s too long and erudite: I conquered it, by listening to Nadia May read it ever so dramatically, touchingly on books-on-tape one summer so I’ve chosen a short story, “Janet’s Repentance” and we’ll read on-line if I can find it, and Eliot’s review of Madame de Sable, a 17th century woman of letters on how “the mind of woman has passed like an electric current through the language of French at the time, and began feminism in books.

When did I begin my feminism? what led to my seeing the world anew and comfortingly, strengtheningly, in which I could see a meaningful purpose for me to work through out of which I started to work on women novelists, women poets, and now women artists.

I was talking with two friends, one in her sixties and the other 72 (I am 69) yesterday over lunch about our “feminism” and I said I did not “convert” until the early 1990s because locally the only feminists I ever saw or knew were to me snobbish, exclusive upper middle girls/women. all white, who I saw as ambitious careerists (a no no for me, especially as seen in these girls) who cared nothing for anyone but wanted power and to show off, girls part of exclusive coteries (meaning from which I was excluded), the AP types who went to name colleges. It was not until I came onto the Net (1992) and met other women and came into contact with books that could speak to me that I began to see the good purpose of the movement. Woolf and highly literary women did not speak frankly and directly enough in ways I could recognize my experiences: A Room of One’s Own mattered but only theoretically and about older literary studies. An unearned income of £500 could mean nothing to me.

Then it happened: crucially for me I saw that for the first time I was given a language in which I could talk about what I had experienced sexually starting around age 12; I found other girls had had the same experiences as I (once I tried to tell a girl and after another girl came over the told me, why did you tell her that, now she is telling everyone, and I was shamed, and never told anyone again for years and years); for the first time I didn’t blame or berate myself but saw a system set up to crush me. The book that made the difference was Mary Pipher Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls; also important were Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf and (covering other areas of de-construction written in a language that I could understand) Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. I used the last again and again in teaching after that (not assigning it as I never taught any upper level feminist or theoretical courses), as a help with my own lectures about books. See Signs, Short takes.

lucymadoxbrownduet
Lucy Madox Brown, Duet (1870)

This is the hardest summer yet. My third without my beloved, the admiral as I used to call him. Summer is hard in ways the other seasons aren’t except at ritual holidays marking passing of time and evoking memory. It seems everyone is having a good time. They go to the beach, take lovely trips, and these sorts of things are not done to see historical or other sites but to be together and happy. I felt left out as do I find many widows. The beach too: I had a strong fit of deep grief when I went to the beach with my friend last January in Florida. I just went to pieces because it is such an emblem of life too. There’s even a term for it: STUG (sudden tremendous upsurge of grief). I watched The City of Your Final Destination this week again for the sake of one line: uttered Laura Linney as the dead man’s widow, though it could have been Anthony Hopkins as the dead man’s gay brother.

How could any outsider
understand this place
or what it was like
to all live here together
or what it’s like now
without him?
— Ruth Jhabvala Prawer, the script outof Peter Cameron’s novel

So for the sake of my heart (literally) I am only going to those few Fringe Festival events that are close by, easy to get to, and classical and good plays I recognize.

Shall I end on an absurd or comic note: I’ve said I stubbed my big toe badly trying to reach Clarycat who appeared to be munching away on one of the computer wires: was in a stinging agony that night, had to take extra strength sleeping pill, lots of spurted blood and what I thought was dry blood sticking out. It wasn’t: it was a broken off big of a piece of wood under my toenail. I had not realized that I’ve been in a dull pain since that Sunday night. The white at the top of the nail was spreading, it was white around the nail (like pus) and it was going a dark dark and shiny red. I thought, maybe I have made it worse by bandaging it to protect it. Made the pressure worse. So I cut a slipper and tried to walk with that. No go.

So I phoned Kaiser for the second time, and it emerged from talk with an advice nurse, I may have an infection. I needed to come in that day. So after teaching, after the above, lunch, garmin plugged in, I drive from lunch place to the offices in less than 20 minutes. Dr Wiltz had actually phoned me and suggested I got to a podiatrist. When I arrive, she takes a look at it and pronounces “you have a piece of wood, a splinter there, no wonder the pressure hurt.” It took only years of study and a specialist to understand what we were looking at. She numbs the big toe thoroughly (more needles) and then clips half the nail off. Blessed relief: pain, pressure gone. For my bleeding disorder she had a new thing: a local coagulant. So now I should get better.

Who would have cats? it’s not their fault. They were being cats. My desk is old – Jim bought it as a present for me in 1970 when I started graduate school and I have lived sitting by and writing on it and now on this computer for half a century. When I stubbed the toe I drove a splinter from one of its drawers into it.

IngLook
Ing Look (supplied by my kind Net-friend, Sixtine)

My friend, Phyllis, said I had accepted all this pain because I expect to be miserable. That’s funny too. That’s what Austen’s Mrs Dashwood says about Elinor, my favorite character in all literature.

Miss Drake

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