Advice for my beloved

Do not touch your face

or the shoulder of a friend.

Do not lean in to whisper a secret.

Do not leave your face uncovered,

do all your talking with your eyes.

You have given the key to your house

to a man you do not trust.

When you waken at 4 am,

think about the sounds you hear—

is it the wind or a key in the lock?

You will not find sunlight when you venture out.

Walk through the dark in the middle of the street.

Do not look at anyone, but rather, sly,

glance from the corner of your eye

and hurry on, quickly, you must.  

I Don’t, by Jon Frankel

Jon brought this poem to our latest writing group and I thought it was the perfect Valentine.

 

I Don’t

 

I don’t give a flying fuck

but I’ll give a flying fuck to you

Usually don’t but I will

And I’ll give a shit to you

Because I care I do

But prefer the flying fuck who

wants a shit to give?

It doesn’t suck

This flying fuck

I give it cause I care

I could also give a fuck

A fuck that doesn’t fly

Or a flying shit now that’s

a thing to give I don’t know why

A thing that flies, like shit

We should not give perhaps

The problem is receiving it

A question here arises

Am I who give these things

A bird? A bird is flipped–

A sort of flying fuck

But birds themselves don’t

fuck in air, the sky above

Is not for love but is a splendid

Place for shit to fly

I won’t lie the shit I give

The fuck I fly

These are the measure

Of my love and so I sigh

I give a fuck, I give a shit,

I give a flying fuck for you

What You Wanted for the First Day of School

Before Peggy died, she and I discussed her poems which have not yet been published. Although Red Rooster Crowing came out recently, it had taken some years in production and she had been writing steadily since. I am now going through her papers and transcribing poems which will eventually be gathered into a final poem. I just transcribed this one, and it is sweet, tender, and powerful. She never showed it to me–perhaps she did not think it was finished, or just did not have the time before her stroke struck her down. But it seems finished to me.

 

What You Wanted for the First Day of School

 

You wanted a cotton blouse

and a wool pleated skirt.

 

You wanted a poplin jacket

like the girls in town wore.

 

You wanted a new pair of penny loafers.

You wanted a perm.

 

You wanted to carry your books

without a book bag.

 

You wanted enough money for lunch.

You wanted someone to tell you what to do.

 

You wanted all your friends

to come back to school.

 

You wanted your mother to feel better

when you got home at the end of the day

 

and walked across the dusty road and yard.

New Poems by Andrea Romeo Hall

Andrea Romeo Hall has published her first book of poetry, Love Poems for Terrorists. It is a slim volume full of watchful, well-crafted work.

Dangers abound in the world she creates–a husband steps off the curb into the path of a bus, a random terrorist attack happens, a family gets lost in a desert, children start fires and jump off the roofs. But what saves them all is also in the title: love. The collection closes with two newlyweds, twin typewriters clacking, and this wise instruction:

Remember to

crack your way in

every so often

and rearrange the jelly

of your imagination.

 

To acquire a copy of this extraordinary debut, go to:

https://andrearomeohall.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR3Okjds0fpQ2rzHxLmcoLiWTULIF6ygvRdNu3aNI_QKKnzmsapHitWPf3Y

 

A Full End

Ezekiel 13:13

Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end.

How will those who deny climate change rule as it occurs? I have been thinking about this. Interestingly, I think climate deniers do not deny that the earth is changing; what they deny is that the actions of humans are the cause. Those who deny that humans are causing our climate to change tend to be conservative, and evangelical. I am always a student of narrative. One might notice that when catastrophic weather (storms, floods, droughts, fires) happens in the Bible, it’s because God is angry with humans.

Psalm 148:8

Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!

As believers notice the increasing intensity of climatic events and the destabilization of the natural world, they may indeed interpret events as of God’s will, and destined to happen, and not to be thwarted. They may indeed see them as indicators of end time approaching.

When Attorney General Barr uses the words “holy war” and former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry tells us that Trump is “the chosen one,” we should be listening to them and looking to the bible to understand what they say.

Nahum 1:3

The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

We should also note the strong sympathy with white supremacists in Trump’s administration, and that climate change, now, is affecting first the poor people of the world, the black and brown people who literally live on the margins, in the liminal space between land and sea. There are people in power who see the suffering and elimination of black and brown people around the globe to be a desirable goal, and they may well be happy to let the Lord do the work for them with storms and fire. Ditto for California, that bastion of liberalism full of brown people.

Isaiah 30:23

And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones.

I fear they will let it burn.

 

Microchip Fascism

Two weeks ago, I saw a production of Tony Kushner’s early play, A Bright Room Called Day, in New York at the Public Theater. It’s not a great play–really, it’s juvenalia–but I have been thinking about it since, nonetheless.

The play takes place in Germany during the months in which Hitler gains power and the Third Reich is hardened. Kushner wrote the play in the mid-80s, with Reagan on his mind, and has re-written it now, current circumstances bringing it also to mind. I do think he was right that Reagan was the vanguard of what we see now coming to fruition, a powerfully conservative Republican party. The development of their movement, and it is a movement, has just taken a little longer than Kushner thought it would.

The play reminded me of the long poem, Autumn Journal, by the Northern Irish poet Lous MacNiece. He wrote the poem in the fall of 1938, while living in a London which was preparing itself to enter the war. When I first read it, as a young poet in Belfast, I was struck first how it seemed to be the missing link between Leaves of Grass and Howl, and by its prescient insouciance. MacNiece knows darker times are coming and yet, he allows himself to enjoy the moment and process the past. Perhaps it is not yet, but because.

I have been hesitant to become hysterical about America in the era of Trump, as we do have a remarkably strong constitution which has weathered catastrophe before. (Now that’s a well-thought-out and well-written document, indeed.) I have preferred to think this is a stress test which the country will pass.

But I have wavered. Now, I feel as if we are on a precipice ourselves. Trump has committed impeachable offenses. All rational minds agree. But. If the Republicans do not remove him from office (and they will not, I believe, because they love power more than honor and the gold ring of power, for which they have striven since the 80s and before, is just within grasp)–if they do not remove him from office, we move from a state of a few incompetent criminals in power to a fully corrupt class of citizens who have overturned the constitution and are ruling by force.

That is when I get nervous. I am not scared of clowns, but I am scared of sour and small-minded bureaucrats.

I see dark times ahead, and yet, and because, I must allow myself to enjoy the moment and to process the past.

In his afterword to A Bright Room Called Day,  Kushner quotes the philosopher Marcuse in the 1972 book Counterrevolution and Revolt:

“History does not repeat itself exactly, and a higher stage of capitalist development in the United States would call for a higher stage of fascism. This country possesses economic and technical resources for a totalitarian organization immeasurably greater than Hitler Germany ever had.”

Kushner continues, “Postmodern, cybernetic, microwave, microchip fascism may not look anything like its modernist forebear.” Yes and no. We recognize it for what it is, but those factors, especially the microchip, have certainly intensified the state’s power even more.

Another poem also keeps coming to mind, one that you certainly know. “Things fall apart; the centre can not hold…”

It is my own particular way to understand the world around me through the poems I have known as intimately as my own bones. The echo chamber of poets, speaking to one another through time and place, will tell us that this moment in time is nothing new, and it is endurable, and we can survive and even make art within it. And yet, it is new, for us, and especially, for our children.

Kushner mentions Brecht’s “long anger” as informing him, and yes, we may need a long, a very long anger to move through what is coming. The part I most enjoyed about his rewritten play is when the playwright character reveals the genesis of the play’s title–Kushner was at an art show of works of Cecile and Agnes DeMille and misheard the choreographer on videotape saying a title of her new work, A Bridegroom Called Death. I was delighted! How marvelous! We must, we must, we must continue to turn death into day, if we are to endure.

 

 

What I remember now

Autumn is my favorite season, and this part of it, mid-September, is the morsel I treasure most–warm, bright days of clear blue sky, cold nights which make for good sleeping, the last of the blackberries and tomatoes. Many people–those of us in the Northeast–begin telling our stories about 9/11 by mentioning the gorgeous sky, the amazing weather. Of course. The planes would not have been in the air if the weather had soured.

Peggy’s birthday was September 10. She would have turned 91. Our mutual friend and poet, Inta Ezergailis, was born on September 11 and would have been 87. My father died on September 4, in 1998, at the age of 57. He would have been 78 this year.

All those numbers, just to tell you, that my favorite weather coincides with a time of melancholy, when I miss people.

In a way, that melancholy makes the beautiful more precious: the unceasing song of the cicadas, the goldenrod nodding in the fields, the brisk mornings with dew sparkling in the long grass. It is banal to admit that part of my mourning of Peggy, and of Inta, and of all those lost on 9/11, and of my father, is the recognition that my days will end at some point too, and that realization makes this life even more delicious to me. But that is true.

I see my life of understanding as a spiral–when my parents died in the late 90s, one after another, I understood as much as I could about death and life, at that moment. And now, years on, I am mourning Peggy and understanding just a little more, having returned to the experience in the spiral, though at a different level. I guess I’d prefer to not have too many chances to return to this point in the spiral.

Recently Mary Lou showed me a picture of Peggy at her 50th birthday party–my age now–and I marveled at the power, mischief, humor, and sense of a star around whom people gathered she conveyed.

I am coming to realize, as I examine my reaction to Peggy’s death, that she was a very special friend to me, indeed, one that I may have taken granted in the busyness of life. Did she know what she meant to me? I did tell her many times in the last year, nearly every time I saw her, that I loved her and her friendship had meant a lot to me. I know she heard me. If she had been able to speak, I am pretty sure she would have said the same thing.

What lingers, as she writes in the following poem, is the sound of her husky, amused voice, a timbre, a wash of color or feeling.

 

The Sea Wall

 

I thought I would remember every word

you said that June afternoon.

What I do remember now is the heat;

how after a sudden shower,

 

small plumes of steam rose through the cracked concrete.

What remains is only a tone of voice;

a resonant note to be held, like

a breath blown softly through a tuning fork.

 

This stays, along with the sound of a boat

passing through the channel,

and bare feet splashing in the warm puddles

still standing on the seawall.

 

 

 

 

 

What sense can one make of the night?

It is a virtue to resist the easy path of using weather as a metaphor for feelings when one writes poems. And yet the burgeoning fall mimics so closely the beautiful sadness that is still on me, not dispersed by a late summer trip to the beach, a silent retreat in the Berkshires, and the hubbub of school starting and children emerging once again into new selves. Despite all that, a sadness emerges in me each morning and grows throughout the day.

I do like to understand things, I do, and I don’t at all understand the utility of a long period of grief and mourning. The word “consolidation” comes to mind, as if losing Peggy–perhaps the very act of holding her body in my hands as her spirit became not solid–has loosened the essential stuff of myself. I apparently need a fair amount of time to re-set into a firm understanding of myself, without her.

Peggy was a quiet, steady force in my life for 25 years. Not in the foreground, not steering action for the most part, but a grounding note which came at the moment I needed it. Of course my harmonic progression is unsettled, seeking a new resolution.

The leaves are falling. The wind gusting. The evenings growing shorter. I, too, am feeling the time to shed, to quiet, to cool, to rest. Here is an autumnal poem by Peggy.

 

All Hallow’s Eve

 

After the storm, the hunter’s moon

hung low in an uncertain sky,

while the souls of the recent dead

shimmered in the halo around her.

 

We watched their passage above the field

our neighbors labored to harvest,

working until midnight, missing

their supper and the last milking.

 

What sense can one make of the night,

with its confluence of forces,

turning our skies into a realm

of both tragedy and joy?

 

We saw a fair harvest gathered.

The souls of the dead did return,

free to see family and friends

and share the feast of food and wine.

 

In the absence of usual industry

The Protestant strain of my nature impels me to respond usually to stress by working hard, very hard, often physical work around the house and garden. And summer is when my list of chores is longest. In these waning days of August, I should be racing around, trying to complete all my tasks (wash the windows, paint the barn door, point the foundation, finish edging the beds…).

But. Grief is surprising me with sweet lassitude. I want to sit and think, or merely look at the trees, the sunsetting light, the butterflies on the blooms. When I stop moving, I can feel a heavy sadness on me, one that stills my limbs. This weight envelops me. It tells me that I must, momentarily, not move.

I suppose it is a fine season to sit on the porch and think. I notice that the tree across the street is already starting to shed fine yellow leaves. Peggy would not begrudge me some time to sit still, in her wake.

I may really be tired, as I am sleeping poorly, with vivid dreams of unresolved conflicts surfacing, and fears, and loneliness.

I expected to feel grief. I have felt grief before. I understand grief. And yet, it surprises me, by taking control of my body and mind, somehow outside of my rational control.