I was on the phone with my grandma Jean. Of course, I couldn’t believe it was her so I was freaking out crying laughing, she asked me what I had for lunch and if I knew Aries was already in Venus and I just said rice, I was all choked up then, just said rice and yes!
|Gaga “Joe” Rahn, 1922-2012|
There are two versions of every life.
In the first one, you get a mother, a father,
your very own room,
a dandelion’s-worth of chances.
You learn to walk, which is only done by walking.
You learn the past tense of have, which is hunger.
You learn to ask almost anything
is to ask it to be over,
as when the lover asks the other
“Are you sleeping? Are you beginning
to go away?”
(And whether or not you learn it, life does not penetrate
more than five miles above the earth
or reach more than three miles beneath the sea.
Life is eight miles long.
You could walk it, and be there before sundown.
Or swim it, or fall it, or crawl it.)
The second is told from the point
of view of the sky.
by Anna Akhmatova, translated from the Russian by Jane Kenyon
Though this land is not my own
I will never forget it,
or the waters of its ocean,
fresh and delicately icy.
Sand on the bottom is whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine.
Late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pine trees.
And the sun goes down in waves of ether
in such a way that I can’t tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secret of secrets is within me again.
|West Africa, 2004|
When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark
seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees
thick with many lights.
I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.
And as I watched, all the lights of heaven
faded to make a single thing, a fire
burning through the cool firs.
Then it wasn’t possible any longer
to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.
Are there souls that need
death’s presence, as I require protection?
I think if I speak long enough
I will answer that question, I will see
whatever they see, a ladder
reaching through the firs, whatever
calls them to exchange their lives–
Think what I understand already.
I wake up ignorant in a forest;
only a moment ago, I didn’t know my voice
if one were given me
would be so full of grief, my sentences
like cries strung together.
I didn’t even know I felt grief
until that word came, until I felt
rain streaming from me.
Not I, you idiot, not self, but we, we–waves
of sky blue like
a critique of heaven: why
do you treasure your voice
when to be one thing
is to be next to nothing?
Why do you look up? To hear
an echo like the voice
of god? You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives: you go
where you are sent, like all things,
where the wind plants you,
one or another of you forever
looking down and seeing some image
of water, and hearing what? Waves,
and over waves, birds singing.
I couldn’t do it again,
I can hardly bear to look at it–
in the garden, in the light rain
the young couple planting
a row of peas, as though
no one has ever done this before,
the great difficulties have never as yet
been faced and solved–
They cannot see themselves,
in fresh dirt, starting up
the hills behind them pale green, clouded with flowers–
She wants to stop;
he wants to get to the end,
to stay with the thing–
Look at her, touching his cheek
to make a truce, her fingers
cool with spring rain;
in thin grass, bursts of purple crocus–
even here, even at the beginning of love,
her hand leaving his face makes
an image of departure
and they think
they are free to overlook
You think everyone knows
all about a thing so you don’t
write it down, don’t say.
Everybody does know
about it. It is difficult.
In the backs of our minds,
while several separate
groups of humans try
to entertain one another,
to be novel or bright,
a similar thought spider crouches.
Consider: the artist who was famously ironic
about being ironic. By each show’s end,
the whole audience felt stupid. We loved it!
But some of the crowd was only pretending,
you find out much later. It’s no wonder,
when even the family cat’s on
Prozac, we’re tired of emotion in art.
That antique sadness is the new
inside joke. It’s irrevocable, like when driving home
one night, the stranger who pulls up to the red light
next to you is weeping, both your windows
rolled up. You just begin to have a human reaction,
and then the light’s green.
|They were fast!|
But, alas, another cobbled-together job has come to an end and now I find in front of me the only road left, the Real Job, the job that I can find and then relax, the job that I can be at Peace with. I have a new Degree and no debt, and also no money which leaves me feeling like I am sitting on one of those little cloths I was selling, my butt hanging over the sides. It is very well-constructed, but how does it get off the ground?
A moment can move on and still stay with us, it’s one of the most beautiful things in life, Robert Hass’ Mississippi John Hurt lines in the poem about his brother, Ryan Gosling honoring the spirit of Patrick Swayze in his recent film, and in a thirty-three year-old, not-even-really girl anymore, back to the drawing board again, or perhaps there, officially, for the first time, thinking back on what she has to give to the next phase of life.
In Istanbul post-undergrad/pre-graduate school I taught English, wrote in my journal, and watched the O.C.
…and the little book I came across last night that reminded me of those days. Maybe it’s a non-sequitor, but I just don’t want to forget her.
Time to start looking for what’s out there. No pressure in a bad way. I’m looking everywhere…
It’s from On the Road, which I should read again. The ones who never yawn. So sick at heart. Tired, tired. Tired.
Knew he was on the train but couldn’t see him anymore. Bumped into a couple people on the way back to the car I was so out of it.
Rosemary calls me “babysitter.” It’s our first day together tomorrow and I have a feeling I am going to need all of my energy to be a good one.
My trip is over but maybe a new one is beginning inside of me, we can always hope.
I just like that quotation a lot, all of these stars in me again falling.
|Rm in her new boots.|
Sunday, my first day’s end destination is Medora, N.D., a beautiful park already over one-third of the way. Hope Jen and I don’t stay up too late talking, but we will, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This should be a great adventure and I’m really excited! Thanks for following along (I hope you do)!
|Iris from mom’s garden|
Wow, it has been a year since I landed in HCMC and added Saigon to Ramona Forever. Whoever is still following this blog since then, thank you, thank you, my friend.
What a year. Now a year ago I am awake my first day there, typing on this blog on the computer in the Van Trang, scared to go outside, texting Rufus. Knowing what I know now, I should have been more scared to stay in the Van Trang.
Like so many things, including this time of life, if it were possible to know how it all turned out, I mean how non-threatening it all was (what did I think was going to happen to me?) I just would have loved all of the good stuff even more, one text to a friend that gets a call.
So it is still cold in Wisconsin, it is supposed to freeze tonight actually, Memorial Day weekend. I really feel as though I have had a whole winter, and I got home in March. Should be interesting to see what happens next year…
and just for old time’s sake:
About me practice, spring ’11:
Gardener/lawn mower, bridesmaid, Master of Fine Arts, Adult Health Literacy Instructor, moth, kitten, and seal lover, poet.
|Dad’s Cecropia moth|
Stretched across the seat of an old truck heading west, taking me to school on a beautiful day like today but one in which
planes had crashed into buildings
& we’d watched them with our parents, we are such a country of dreamers.
Professor lobbed the papers, said A brand new chapter in history right to me.
Suddenly very interested in my life, how to make it good/better.
Birthday highlights: Crivitz/sledding/beer with dad and Ted and riding shotgun reading my poems,
the road trip with mom, the hot tub before the reading, Nick coming (and being on time :)),
the reading. Jevin going first and making me not nervous at all. The roses from Gretchen and Matt. Drinking Fat Squirrel with mom in the hotel room. Those comfortable beds.
The defense–how can I say it?–now I just want to be myself.
Harlow smiling. Jim telling me that he had been in a bad mood. Dancing with Sierra to “Piece of my Heart,” and her sitting at the bar eating pizza.
|Sierra and Javi|
by Joseph Stroud
I want to tell you the story of that winter
in Madrid where I lived in a room
with no windows, where I lived
with the death of my father, carrying it
everywhere through the streets,
as if it were an object, a book written
in a luminous language I could not read.
Every day I left my room and wandered
across the great plazas of that city,
boulevards crowded with people and cars.
There was nowhere I wanted to go.
Sometimes I would come to myself
inside a cathedral under the vaulted
ceiling of the transept, I would find
myself sobbing, transfixed in the light
slanting through the rose window
scattering jewels across the cold
marble floor. At this distance now
the grief is not important, nor the sadness
I felt day after day wandering the maze
of medieval streets, wandering the rooms
of the Prado, going from painting
to painting, looking into Velazquez,
into Bosch, Brueghel, looking for something
that would help, that would frame
my spirit, focus sorrow into some
kind of belief that wasn’t fantasy
or false, for I was tired of deception,
the lies of words, even the Gyspy violin,
its lament with the punal inside
seemed indulgent, posturing.
I don’t mean to say these didn’t
move me, I was an easy mark,
anything could well up in me–
rainshine on the cobblestone streets,
a bowl of tripe soup in a peasant cafe.
In my world at that time there was
no scale, nothing with which
to measure, I could no longer
discern value–the mongrel eating
scraps of garbage in the alley
was equal to Guernica in all its
massive outrage. When I looked
in the paintings mostly what I saw
were questions. In the paradise
panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights
why does Bosch show a lion
disemboweling a deer? Or that man
in hell crucified on the strings of a harp?
In his Allegory of the Seven Deadly Sins:
Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Avarice,
Pride–of which am I most guilty?
Why in Juan de Flanders’ Resurrection
of Lazarus is the face of Christ so sad
in bringing the body back to life?
Every day I returned to my room,
to my cave where I could not look out
at the world, where I was forced into
the one place I did not want to be. In
the Cranach painting–behind Venus
with her fantastic hat, her cryptic look,
behind Cupid holding a honeycomb, whimpering
with bee stings–far off in the background,
that cliff rising above the sea, that small hut
on top–is that Cold Mountain, is that where
the poet made his way out of our world?
My father had little use for poems, less use
for the future. If he had anything
to show me by his life, it was to live
here. Even in a room without windows.
One day in the Prado, in the Hall
of the Muses, a group of men
in expensive suits, severe looking,
men of importance, with a purpose,
moved down the hallway toward me,
and I was swept aside, politely,
firmly. As they passed I glimpsed
in their midst a woman, in a simple
black dress with pearls, serene, speaking
to no one, and then she and the men
were gone. Who was that? I asked,
and a guard answered: The Queen.
The Queen. In my attempt to follow
to see which painting she would choose,
I got lost in one of the Goya rooms
and found myself before one of his
dark paintings, one from his last years
when the world held no more illusions,
where love was examined in a ruthless,
savage anger. In this painting
a woman stood next to Death, her beauty,
her elegance, her pearls and shining hair
meant nothing in His presence,
and He was looking out from the painting,
looking into me, and Death took my hand
and made me look, and I saw my own face
streaming with tears, and the day
took on the shape of a crouching beast,
and my father’s voice called out in wonder
or warning, and every moment
I held on made it that much harder
to let go, and Death demanded
that I let go. Then the moment
disappeared, like a pale horse, like
a ghost horse disappearing deep inside
Goya’s painting. I left the Prado.
I walked by the Palacio Real with its
2,000 rooms, one for every kind
of desire. I came upon the Rastro,
the great open-air bazaar, a flea market
for the planet, where everything in the world
that has been cast aside, rejected, lost,
might be found, where I found Cervantes,
an old, dusty copy of Don Quixote,
and where I discovered an old mirror,
and looking into it found my father’s face
in my face looking back at me,
and behind us a Brueghel world
crowded with the clamor of the market,
people busy with their lives, hunting,
searching for what’s missing. How casual
they seemed, in no hurry, as if they had all
of time, no frenzy, no worry,
as the Castilian sun made its slow
arch over us, the same sun
that lanced the fish on crushed ice
in the market stalls, fish with open mouths,
glazed stares, lapped against each other
like scales, by the dozens, the madrilenos
gaping over them, reading them
like some sacred text, like some kind
of psalm or prophecy as they made
their choice, and had it wrapped in paper,
then disappeared into the crowd.
And that is all. I wanted to tell you
the story of that winter in Madrid
where I lived in a room with no windows
at the beginning of my life without my father.
When the fascist officials asked Picasso
about Guernica: “Are you responsible
for this painting?” he looked back
at them, and answered slowly: “No.
You are.” What should I answer
when asked about this poem?
I wanted to tell you the story of that winter
in Madrid, where my father kept dying, again
and again, inside of me, and I kept
bringing him back, holding him for as long
as I could. I never knew how much
I loved him. I didn’t know that grief
would give him back to me, over
and over, I didn’t know that those
cobbled streets would someday
lead to here, to this quietude,
this blessing, to my father
When I woke up you were already gone. Went to the park to think about what you’d told me.
Listened to the song “See the Sky About to Rain.” And today it has been raining, through all the ins and outs of me.
Had dinner with my grandma and grandpa on Friday. Nana lost her earrings. Finished Lit by Mary Karr.
Read requirements for thesis defense. Looked into PhD programs. Wondered how I would afford them.
Had a whiskey and 7-Up. Read thesis again. Watched Pride & Prejudice. Again.
Not over everything that just happened, don’t know if I’m supposed to be or what.
Had an inkling that I would undergo what is termed “reverse” culture shock, clearly need to do a little bit more reading on it, see if I can find another screen.
Feeling like someone is going to come up to me and ask me what I’m doing here, that this was part of my life I’ve already lived.
Sitting here in a packed-up room wide awake, I have definitely been here before.
The last things have found their places in this bag “Potpourri:” feather boa, pink helmet, and now Scotch tape and a Tiffany box.
Someone will love these items. If not, they are just parts of a life.
Left a note for the Frenchman that says hello and thank you only in French and asks him to wake me up at 6, I hope I left it somewhere where it doesn’t blow off his breakfast tray, it’s windy tonight.
Windy for here.
My best friend Jenny had a baby girl today. She’s been pregnant almost exactly the time I’ve been gone. I was still having the knives in the stomach at the Van Trang when she told me via Skype.
She was probably having knives of her own, and I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve a partial naming-after besides writing Jen some quotations said by Oprah in the nineties, but I love this baby already.
Time is so timelike. -Deborah Keenan
Ten minutes from this time tomorrow I will be boarding the plane. I will sit down in my seat and stare out the window and I mean stare.
In my purse will be notes from the kids. As the plane takes off I’ll close my eyes and hopefully sleep.
Love from the field,
Nicole’s roommate (she is American, aged 22 years) calls expats “LBH’s” which stands for losers back home: I wonder about this.
It doesn’t make me so mad: we’re just losers in that we have lost. Everyone has, and, like everyone, we had courage for something but not something else.
Looking at the chance to love it is best to walk away, to paraphrase Anne Carson: it’s not what we usually tell the youth of today.
It deserves more time, more thoughtful consideration.
O’ Brien on courage:
Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down.
I am excited about this. As O’ Brien also says, it makes the day-to-day failings much easier to cope with.
My view on love today: something as big as a monster just looking at me.
And then I laugh, and it laughs, and we keep laughing until we have to stop, which is hopefully never.
Began the year drinking water on a balcony.
Fun night, amazing lunch…
Resolution, after long deliberation: write like my brain is on fire, and only writing will put it out.
So I found/that hunger was a way of persons outside windows/that entering takes away. -Emily Dickinson
Love in 2011 and always.
I was hoping for flowers and/or a beach, and Vung Tau had a little of both, but the best part of this excursion for me was staying at the Rex.
The carpet was all worn and nothing had been changed since the seventies. It was like going back in time, something that, I suppose, is impossible.
“Ghetto,” said Suze, but I just imagined a couple coming in mid-conversation, her in gabardine, Twiggy eyelashes…
Drink in hand, she is taking off her earrings and saying dah-ling; she totally runs the show.
My imagination went wild in that place. It was a lot of fun.
|Room 701, Rex, Vung Tau City.|
|God, I’m hungry. Where are those vegetarian big meat chunks?|
|What veggie person doesn’t love chicken feet?|
|Ah, good. They have vegetarian roasted baby pig.|
|Veg. cattle stomach looks quite a bit different than veg. shredded cattle stomach. I think the above was veg. internal organs of a chicken.|
|I mean, at this point, why not just call it something else.|
Well, Sean gave Amy two tickets to brunch for Christmas and I was lucky enough to go with her to the Intercontinental Hotel/Asiana Saigon (same place we had our work Christmas party)! It was soo beautiful and amazing; I probably can’t do it justice here but I’ll try.
When my xe om driver pulled up to the place, a worker in a saffron-colored ao dai (Vietnamese traditional clothing) and matching hat said Merry Christmas before I even got off the bike. Then I walked in and saw Amy watching a choir singing Christmas songs in the lobby, don’t remember what song but it was really nice,
and there were pointsettias everywhere, which I love.
I don’t even think I can list everything I ate but here are some highlights: pumpkin soup, vegetarian dim sum, spinach quiche, beets, brie cheese on whole grain bread, kiwi, an oyster, grilled okra, a mimosa, a cupcake, a chocolate-covered strawberry covered in chocolate from a fountain, and two kinds of ice cream: coffee and mint (mixed). I had four plates of food, don’t think I’ve ever done that.
We stayed there over three hours; when we left they were actually stacking up the chairs. It was just one of those good times I will always remember…
And now I get to say Merry Christmas to everyone back home again…
So it takes about six months to get used to living anywhere, I’ve decided. Because if I am actually used to it here now, well. Yeah.
I’m closing in on what once seemed an impossible distance; eight weeks now remain of this part of my life called Vietnam.
Luckily for me I made some travel plans and I hope these all happen: Vung Tau Dec. 26-7, Singapore Jan. 9-12, Philippines Jan. 31-Feb 8th. What. About. Angkor Wat. Boo. 😦
And yet. It is hard to imagine what my current state of mind would be had I not decided to go to Thailand; even my Vietnam trip early on offered a lot in terms of perspective.
How am I used to it here (I decided today)?
1.) I sleep late on my days off. There is not a lot to do during the day. So I stay up late and sleep late.
2.) I know how to spend my free time: I have one beautiful coffee shop/art gallery I can walk to, and I spend the rest of the time in the yoga studio (2 classes every MWF).
After that it is dinner (which I eat by myself with a book) and writing if I am lucky, followed (usually) by youtube.
I don’t watch tv, because I think it’s depressing, and I can’t concentrate at home enough to read anything longer than the NYTimes online.
3.) I call home whenever I feel like it. Hearing a friendly voice helps me be less grouchy heading into the long weekends of teaching. I’m a much better teacher when I’m in a good mood, duh.
Maybe it sounds like a boring existence, but I don’t think anyone will judge me, why would they? The point is I made this relentless city work for me somehow: I see that now.
There was a time when I actually didn’t think I would be able to do this. It’s not been easy, and I am proud of myself for sticking it out.
I don’t know what I’ll do yet after I graduate from Hamline in May, but the most important thing is not where I am but who I have around me.
I have been exhausted to the brink of tears at times thinking about how much I miss certain people. If I do move to another city, I would like to see if anyone will join me.
It’s not, as they say, science.
Happy Christmas all.
You do know how much you help me; I couldn’t get on at all if it weren’t for you. -Virginia Woolf, Letters VI
I feel like I should be telling them a Christmas story. No I don’t think so. TA Darius.
Because there will be too many words they don’t know. Remember when you told them about baby Jesus?
Haha. Yeah. That could have gone better. Not your fault.
In 2003 someone valued my openness, someone else asked if because of it I’m misunderstood, inferring that’s the case
& still I wonder, my poor heart lying around over all of the spaces. I hope you’re sitting down,
up until dawn and around, worlds within worlds.
The Sadness of the Lingua Franca
In Bird, I speak brokenly. Hiss and flail and never learn.
And the swan will never mouth
the noun for bread,
the declensions of crumb. Though i could stop
its migration with a crumb.
After English, we never do get to be strangers again.
The language is famous and followed,
it has no loneliness left.
It has made it to the moon. It has got god
to speak it. It will get
to everything first, if it can.
But not the swan, pale as a page
I will never have written.
Why are there always ten thousand sides to this holiday.
Don’t forget to tell them the Jesus story, too, she said.
So far teaching Rudolph, snowflakes on the horizon,
suddenly I’m back trying to remember those beautiful words from Sunday school
and an angel of the Lord came before him.
Definitely as worthwhile as Jingle Bell Rock (they are really cute when they sing that).
And the glory of the Lord shone around him.
It’s the time of year to be the person you want to be, know you can be the rest of the year when you fuck-up and forgive yourself or don’t,
it’s the time of the year, you don’t need to hear this from me, to think about the people you love.
Secret: when I worked as a waitress at the Loring I got suspended, as far as I can tell, for apathy.
They’d seen me apply myself, carrying so much down the stairs at one time; I wasn’t doing that anymore.
I was setting up the mezzanine and writing poetry in the dark with the red Christmas lights, looking down on the snow-covered city streets.
Only half caring if someone caught me, taking no measures against it. Having nothing to lose: in the end, too common an attitude for a waitress.
“There comes a moment, with increasing frequency when artists feel that they are hopelessly surrounded by goats and monkeys. I am against falling into despair because of superficial observations such as the foregoing.
Actually, I’ve never stopped looking for the real thing; and often I find the real thing. To fall into despair is just a high-class way of turning into a dope. I choose to laugh, and laugh at myself no less than at others.” -Saul Bellow
My new mind-set is not without problems: I am getting a little tired of knowing how I feel all the time. But as there is no one around to tell me not to analyze it, I know that the FACT that I do know counts for something. And what it counts for. Exactly.
So I am halfway through my contract here in Vietnam as of this past Wednesday. As these things go i.e. fractions, the end of the second third is coming around. I will have gotten back from Thailand 8 days before its commencement, unless that word means “begin.”
I have a new routine which enables me to write a lot these days which means I get to spend a lot of time rearranging words, and everything I write gets shorter and shorter, and with each word I take away something, like another word that may make sense, takes its place.
Significance of the image is only revealed in the act of preserving it, & the vow to be the one who sustains that significance must continually endow it with attention to the exlusion of real life, the everyday passing… -Fanny Howe
So I am thinking of this quotation even after I am at work making asinine comments about the Haunted House schedule. But I have an idea what I am going to be for Halloween. And it was an amazing day today, I hope that you believe me.
I Was Always Leaving
I was always leaving, I was
about to get up and go, I was
on my way, not sure where.
Somewhere else. Not here.
Nothing here was good enough.
It would be better there, where I
was going. Not sure how or why.
The dome I cowered under
would be raised, and I would be released
into my true life. I would meet there
the ones I was destined to meet.
They would make an opening for me
among the flutes and boulders,
and I would be taken up. That this
might be a form of death
did not occur to me. I only know
that something held me back,
a doubt, a debt, a face I could not
leave behind. When the door
fell open, I did not go through.
Stars rising like something said, something never
To be forgotten, shining forever–look
How still they are.
Blind hunter crawling
Toward sunrise, then healed.
He opened his eyes to find her waiting
–Afraid–and together they traveled
Lightly: requiring nothing
But a sense that the road beneath them stretched
Forever. At the edge
He entered the water, swam so far
That he became a speck: his body
Washed ashore, then raised to where we see it now–
The belt, the worn-out sword. I’m not
Except that there is nothing beneath us,
No ground without fear. The body vulnerable
–You can look at me–
The body still now, never
Changing, rising forever–stay–
Like something said.
“Would you like a receipt madam.” He asks, you-are-a-fucking-idiot-if-you-say-no tone.
“Um. Yes please.”
“Okay. One moment, madam.” Commence awkward smiles as the too-old-for-the-really-fancy-aromatherapy-lemongrass smelling fitness center lobby mimeographs me my own copy (he has his own).
“Ah, here you are madam.” He almost whispers this as he presents it to me with both hands, the long way, as if he is handing me one of the dead sea scrolls: I almost don’t feel worthy of this artifact.
Careful the wind didn’t catch it on the way out the door, on the way to the pool, I felt like I was about to take my seat at the right hand of the father. Ticket to paradise.
Lined up the corners just like we used to do with the American flag at Girl Scout camp; I will also not let this touch the ground.
I put it in my book next to the other one; know when I get home I might lay out all three side by side: representations of the price someone young-ish paid for silence.
There is a big-ticket price to pay to go from just outside heaven into actual heaven; it is important to have the documentation to prove that you have done so.
Gravitas: the word in my head that day as I read The Long Experience of Love, gift from Jevin when I left. Some things shouldn’t be taken lightly. Got it.
I wanted to learn how to do the bangs French braid and Teacher Linda (TL), being Linda, put together an evening to remember. I don’t think I even cried at prom, and that’s what it was titled.
“Steel Magnolias, French bread pizza, and French braiding: my apartment, Wednesday, 8 p.m.”
“I’m in,” Teacher Nicole said, not even looking up from her papers.
Amy and I get there at the exact same time as Nicole who has brought two bottles of wine. Linda has got all the fixings chopped up already including mozzarella cheese and salad. The dvd is in, playing the credits.
Linda suggests we start the movie while the pizzas are cooking, and then take a break from the movie to get them, that way we get the chit-chat out of the way at the beginning of the movie. Pizza and chit-chat means we wouldn’t actually watch the movie.
I have had this movie on VHS, the title written with Mr. Sketch markers, my whole life. The significance of it is lost on me until Jon, Linda’s boyfriend, comes home and all five of us are crying, and Linda tells him to go into their room and shut the door and he does: we are kind of like those women…
our friendship is on a smaller scale, we just live in the same town; we haven’t known each other long in the grand scheme of things, but living and working abroad have a way of leveling people plus we are in this crazy place, same page, same scene, and they even let me be Daryl Hannah, the most lovable dork of all time.
After the movie TL showed us how to do the bangs braid as promised. I’m going to show Nicole how later, as she was tired and didn’t feel like being in the bright lights of the bathroom which I totally get.
Around the beginning of the second third my attitude started to change. Maybe it was the mere prospect of a vacation. Actually, this probably has a lot to do with it! As I was turning the key in the padlock I had a pleasant thought: I was worried about not having fall, because who doesn’t love the cool air of fall after summer…but then I realized I’m also not going to have winter! No freezing my face off this year ye-ah…
As I was saying, things started to change, not a ton, just a little. I think if definitely has to do with my taking a vacation: the night of September 18th, after a full day of teaching, I will fly to Hanoi in North Vietnam to meet Suzanne Waddell and Louise Moseley, both of whom I have not seen in years, and we are going to check out that city and Halong Bay which I heard is really really amazing…
Suzanne only has six days to party with us before she has to go back to work in Hong Kong, but Louise has until October 6th so I have a nice little trip planned out for us: Hoi An, Cham Island, Nha Trang/Jungle Island and, if we have time, Mui Ne again (I really loved Mui Ne)! She has no idea I’m this organized. The only thing I don’t know is if we will fly from Hanoi or take a night train; it’s a trek but I have a feeling: we like trains.
I am missing my best friend Jenny’s wedding while on this trip I love you Jenny, a lot, and thank you for being my friend all these years, and inviting me anyway, etc. etc. Bawl. She understands.
So. It’s the beginning of my second third, as in three months out of nine, I realize as I am sitting in this park studying Vietnamese which entails me copying down the Vietnamese word and pronunciation for every single food I can eat here (only 2 pgs.!) out of my phrasebook with a hangover (bad headache); bought a big ol’ orange from the market, came home, put 2 bottles of water in the freezer and sit down to write.
Then…the hammering started, but instead of just sitting there letting it piss me off like I would have done in the first third, I put my headphones on listened to loud music get in my own world it is not difficult with good headphones write down some of the best lyrics while organizing poems (I have 2 book projects in the making!!…)
Starting to make the transition to work mode from whatever I want mode my thoughts again turned pleasant: full day off tomorrow (today, Tues.), the all-Vietnam tour, my old friend’s happiness….even the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to work my laundry machine could get me down. Which brings me to…
My Laundry Machine
Because I was too tired last night, Monday, to even think about why it wouldn’t spin, and the water had already emptied out onto my floor twice, my motto for today was eat a live toad first thing in the morning–you know the one–and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day, only with laundry. You should have seen me scooping that water with my dustpan. Good times.
I am laughing about it now but this morning, as I reached for the BIZ POWER again I was just wistfully recalling my $14 lavender Mississippi Market detergent, only half empty, just going FUCKING SPIN, I just keep turning the dial, hit it like the ones at the Loring, nothing. Shake it like the vending machines that make pretzels or Runts or whatever fall, Skittles, nothing.
So, alas, it doesn’t spin, asking the maid is out since she already climbed the four flights of stairs to show me how to turn it on, and because I am already not paying her to wash my seven articles of clothing and all my underwear; turning it off and on again which always works with my computer doesn’t even work so I reach in take out the wet clothes wring them out in the shower hang them by the window and head off to school to read in the free air because it’s getting hot.
When I get home just a few hours later the clothes are already dry because I also put the fan on them, the BIZ actually makes them smell all right! AND there is a postcard from Colin in Greece which is just too cool for words. It is the same colors as my mirror!
So I decide to go get a coconut milk which I understand why people call life juice; it is just a coconut with the top sliced, but it is flat on the bottom so it can just sit there when you’re not drinking it. It lasts so much longer than coffee and I actually think I like it better! Yay for life juice, and I actually said it almost right, nuoc dua, probably not, actually, but I tried AND I got a smile which is sometimes all you can really hope for.
I forgave my blood its mistake;
I must have forgiven all of it.
nor did I,
amid all the new
and old things.
Don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up: Michael Scott said it to Jim Halpert when Pam got engaged to Roy on that ship, sorry if you haven’t seen that one yet.
Yes, I esteem the writers like those on The Office, but that’s not the point: art comes out of troublesome, imperfect times… it might be hiding in the looking for a quiet place.
If we can say art is borne from inner conflict, what of the green grass of my home? And how precious that I get to know it and this and cold wind and quiet and twilight.
|I wish I understood the beauty/ in leaves falling. -David Ignatow|
|…am I wrong to wonder about their little lives?|
Yesterday all of the summer school classes at my school had a field trip. Twelve kids from my class came, as well as two teaching assistants who did most of the work. We had a lot of fun.
We went through the zoo a little fast for my liking, but they did have almost 600 kids to get through. The highlight of the day was probably the waterpark–there was this big bucket that filled up and dumped water on the kids, not a lot of water really, but it was the anticipation. When is it going to fall!!!
We played a lot of that, crawled around like crocodiles and I guess bonded–at the end of the day one of the little girls who had been holding my hand all day asked if she could go home with me. I looked at her ready to laugh and she was looking back like what? She is only six.
I caught a ride home with another teacher from Australia on the back of his motorbike. We stopped along the way and ate some fried corn flour, bean sprouts, and about fifteen different kinds of greens wrapped in rice paper. I also drank four glasses of iced tea, all less than $1.
On the way home he showed me the biggest and most beautiful park in Saigon that was the golf course for the American soldiers during the war, and we also drove past the famous Cu Chi tunnels, didn’t stop there but now I know where they are, and there is a wildlife rescue station I want to visit in Cu Chi as well.
Maybe you and Nana could write me back? I will tell Nana my address and hope that you do. I can’t believe I’ve been here a month already–it actually has gone fast and I am sure it will continue to. I will try to post some pictures of the kids and the food and the city now so you can see some small parts of this truly amazing city.
Gaga, I love you! Happy birthday to you.
Chopsticks was a song I played on the piano. Then my friend wore them in her hair. Then someone gave me some which I lost on the way to somewhere else, and now, every time I think I know about them I realize there are at least two more things I don’t know.
When I first moved to Saigon and I was still staying in the tourist district, which I have since found out is actually Saigon, although the whole city goes by the name now, I was hanging out with an Australian guy who could not use them: I took a whole meal’s worth of noodles showing him how to use them while some passersby shot photos.
Just yesterday I learned to take the ones that facing down because flies land on them. Plain bun, spinach, hopefully plain, hot sauce (really hot!) bean sprouts, mint, lime, lime, lime, limes face down.
After school Mme. Tuhy is chopping fruit she says “eat everything:” baby bananas, mango, sour cherry-grapes, grapefruit, dragonfruit… and she puts a bowl of rice in front of me which is awesome, I love rice.
So I am thinking nothing could be better being at school all day and walking home in the rain, and then the Frenchman pours me a beer. The Indonesian guy next to me goes oh, you drink? I was raising my glass to the Frenchman at the time or I would have spit out beer. The Frenchman would have gotten it, he always nods with me as though I am saying wise things.
So I am happy as a clam picking away at the rice and the fruit with my chopsticks and Jonny next to me is laughing. “We do not eat the fruit with the rice.” He motions to meat moves it closer to me. I keep on eating the grapes, but I like Jonny.
I put some rice in a lettuce leaf with my chopsticks and roll it up: this he cannot believe; he looks at Mme. Tuhy and the Frenchman as if to make sure they are seeing what he is seeing, but Mme. Tuhy is on the phone and the Frenchman is watching soccer. I wonder what he would have done if I’d thrown a mango in there.
Jonny gets up to go but sits back down. When I can’t eat anymore I set my chopsticks down carefully, silently. As I am saying goodnight I notice he is making a perfect ninety-degree angle with them and the edge of the table.
Decided on a couple of must-see places, Cat Tien National Park and an island called Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand. Went to inquire about them and found out I can take a bus to the park (four hours from HCMC) for only 5 dollars; can fly to the island for $48.00 one way which is very good; Saigon is a city I think I will have to leave to miss.
I left Vietnam Airlines crossed Truong Son St., which Rufus says it is not a hard street to cross but to me it is basically a four lane highway, and went back to my room which Mme. Tuhy had just finished cleaning. She brought me a little glass bowl and some chopsticks which really touched me for some reason, and she picked up all of my clothes off the floor, so she is not going to let me be a slob, got it.
When I walked out my room this guy who lives here asked if I wanted to go to the airport with him to pick up one of his friends which I usually never turn down a chance to go to the airport but I must say I have not been feeling 100% like myself and as all the power was still out decided to go to the mall just to be in the A/C someplace.
I hear “Hello teacher” turn around it is a new boy in one of my classes there with his mom and his brother. They all made me really happy, why was I getting emotional about chopsticks and students, two common things in the new life. Well, I felt done with the mall and it was too hot for parks or cafes, so I keep walking and eventually just end up back at the building where the school is, on the tenth floor of which there is a cinema.
I’ve never even gone up there; the school is on the sixth floor, but the elevator just happened to go up there and the next thing I knew I was in Sex and the City 2. Don’t read the reviews, I made the mistake of it while looking up the New York song (it’s by Jay-Z) I’d heard for the first time while bedridden watching Fashion TV on Bui Vien, second time just last night at the Piss Up (again Rufus).
Maybe it is just the simple fact that it was something familiar in this land of strangeness. That could have been it. I actually got choked up at a couple parts (did also roll my eyes at Carrie a couple of times–you do that with her), said out loud Carrie don’t forget your passport which is definitely good, talking to yourself in a movie.
When I walked out I was doing my Carrie walk obviously and this guy backed up and knocked over one of the heavy metal silver stands that hold those velvet ropes, it was nice. And when I left I thought this is what art is supposed to do. Is it art?
And then there was this little girl riding on the back of a motorbike in the light rain, yellow hooded sweatshirt, and the lights from the stadium were hitting her face like a spotlight, her little cameo, and she was pointing at something, gesture someone older would do, and I just thought, I love her: she is part of my life, not just here; anywhere.
You scratched my broken leg with your knitting needle.
You even remembered pickles in those lunches we packed to eat in the parking lot and you went on all the scary rides with us, the water rides, the Eagle, and even though I was only eight I remember thinking ‘I am sitting next to my grandma on Log Jam, how cool is that?’
I still think of the songs from Joseph when Donny Osmond got raised to the ceiling in that coat, and I remember when I called you from Africa and you said I was so far away, and I was.
They are just some moments in a whole life. Did Gags like the rhubarb and the asparagus?
I’m only leaving you
for a handful of days,
but it feels as though
I’ll be gone forever—
the way the door closes
behind me with such solidity,
the way my suitcase
I’d need for an eternity
of traveling light.
I’ve left my hotel number
on your desk, instructions
about the dog
and heating dinner. But
like the weather front
they warn is on its
way with its switchblades
of wind and ice,
our lives have minds
of their own.
Copyright © Linda Pastan
I say good morning to Mme. Tuhy and the Frenchman, leaving dressed again in the blue dress from Greta which, though comfortable, does not stop the stares.
The cafe across the street from my alcove looks promising. I order a Vietnamese coffee and wish it was three times the size. I feel like Bigfoot.
I walk down the street after an egg sandwich from a street vendor but none of them seem right so I walk past them all, sweaty Goldilocks.
A man slices the tops off coconuts. I stop and watch a man pull his motorbike over, drink one, pay, and take off without saying anything. I wish I were invisible.
In those first few days I
wanted to record everything
The old Westerner
sitting up straight in the cyclo
the way I had earlier
& I was trying to
read critical essays
but there was so much
more all the time which is good,
which is what Bishop
meant in “Casabianca:”
love’s the this,
the boy on the burning
deck and the sailors.
I guess I am still “getting my bearings,” although I am now at the point where I can see for the first time a little bit more clearly what it is going to be like to live here. When I was staying in the Van Trang Hotel, it was still in effect my landing. I am now in another part of the city called Tan Binh which is closer to the airport and my school.
The reason I said Bui Vien/District I it is super touristy is because it is. Tourists here might be walking around anywhere but they are walking down Bui Vien in the heart of Saigon, ignoring or acknowledging other blue eyes amid the madness of it all, occasionally smiling when the fifteenth person that breakfast tries to sell you sunglasses.
I kind of love it so far: I love the craziness of it. Some of it makes me feel like a big fat privileged dork, like how hard the kids work and how much I get paid to slacker-teach them just because I have “experience” but I shouldn’t put it in quotes, I do have experience and this is why I get to walk down the hallway the exact minute class starts with my laundry basket which is actually pretty cool. I’ve made up my mind to concentrate on doing the best job I can and so far I do not feel like running away, on the contrary.
The job is the easy part for me so far, like flying was for Mave Rick, and if I were to make a Top Gun comparison I guess my romance with the city/culture would replace Kelly McGinnis. There is so much support in the other teachers, the staff at the school it is like walking a balance beam on the floor and the ground is all one of those special mattresses invented by NASA. It is much easier than other teaching jobs I’ve had.
This morning one of the kids did this wheelbarrow move which happened fast and his his shoe lifted up my skirt and the kids all started laughing, I felt my face turn red and I looked at Lan and she was laughing too and she just said “accident” and I was able to go on, it just really helps to have someone else in the room, needless to say when they are there to help, not judge or critique you. Even though we do 22+ hour weekends I notice myself actually taking the time to do things like use the bathroom and eat food during the day whereas other teaching jobs I’ve had were either too busy or too stressful or both to do either.
One more on the staff, Uyen, is Rose’s wingmate, Rose is the angel for me here so far and as I’ve lived abroad I know you need those. Rose got me the apartment I’m in now, with French lighting, marble floor, coy randomly swimming under the stairs, for 200 a month, friendly prices. The guesthouse was 300 and was chock-full of foreign teachers, but here I get invited to dinner with the family and eat a couple of bites of pork or something because I am not the biggest bitch in the world and am going to push away food people are giving me when I am starving.
The guy is French and I say Merci when he pours beer out of a 40 oz. bottle about 8 ways for all of us eating, he likes this. Finally, I find out there is a Taiwanese guy named Johnny living upstairs from me, a chemical engineer who has lived here in Saigon for three years and at this place for a year and a half. He rides his bike to work as it is only ten minutes away, and says I can use it whenever he’s not. He has a rice cooker in his room; I love that he’s told me this right off the bat.
Wow, I’ve been typing like crazy and I still feel like there is so much more of course I am sure that there is, we had bamboo soup for dinner, and some crazy drink that tasted like grass. I have had several remarks that I am good with chopsticks. They actually act like you are a guest in their country; I can see why people do not want to leave and don’t. That said, I miss all of you family and friends greatly. Think of you all the time, always. Am ready to have visitors. Although you will have to let me know in advance so Madam Thuy can register you with the Vietnamese officials lest she get fined 500 bucks.
Time to see if I can get some work done now…ooh except there is a cat here with a broken tail that sat by my feet during dinner and when they were all talking in Vietnamese I held my finger down to its nose and it nudged it as cats do and I thought I spoke its language as much as anyone else’s.
I don’t know who is reading this but as these things go, if it is being read you are reading it, hello and thank you. Feel a bit like I’m throwing it out into the void, not that I am going for definitive lines around me.
Woke up this a.m. feeling a lot better and finally began to search for apartments. The most promising one so far is an “expat guesthouse” located near my school, 300 USD/mo., shared space with 5 other teachers. From the outside the place doesn’t look like much–actually from the inside it doesn’t really either. It is located on a dusty street and you need a to open a gate to get in. I will have a room with AC and a bed and a closet, my own bathroom, use of the kitchen, living room, and rooftop terrace, and, believe it or not, a maid who does the laundry (even ironing)!
The main thing that I have had to get used to is the HEAT–it can really get to you and make you so tired. I drink about 2 L of water a day and just soak it all in. Last night there was a lizard on my wall in my hotel, as if to remind me where I was in case I forgot. I am looking forward to getting into a place where I can put all my stuff away–the transition period can be rather stressful as of course all I want to do is write poems and I can’t really do that when I have to get these life things out of the way shelter, figure out what food to eat, money etc. But I have a plan that once I get into this place and get new sheets and a lamp and get my AC going the words will start flowing again.
The other travelers I meet stress me out as well sometimes–it can be enough to just keep yourself sane without having to hear with every new person that they are homesick, they talk about how hard it is to be away from home and it just makes me wonder what they talk about when they are home and why they would decide to come all the way to Vietnam.
That said, I have the urge to call people from home a lot, the only reason I don’t is because I don’t know phone numbers. I have read and reread the comments DK wrote on my poems about 25 times since she gave them back to me, I’ve kept them in my carry-on, I’ve taken them to every cafe. I kept them in my bed with me when I was sick.
Virginia Woolf once said “I never travel without my diary. It is important to have something sensational to read in the train.” It is for the future poems that I am doing this. When I remember that, surprisingly it makes it all a little easier–they don’t even exist yet and already they are so reliable.
My jet pulling up to the airport in Hong Kong.
I always feel like such a dork when I travel, Saucony beside Armani, carrying two computers when I always said I was never even going to lug around one.
At the cafe a little girl was selling Lonely Planet Vietnam (which I special-ordered from Common Good Books for $25.00), but you don’t know these things unless you go to the country, or know before you get there that they don’t have copyright laws.
Took a ride around the city from a guy on a bike for 100.000 dong (about 5 bucks), which I’m totally happy I did, ate a weird, but good, sandwich, that I think was fifty cents, took another shower, and am now on my way to get a coffee and read some Bishop essays.
Still haven’t slept, there is so damn much going on, but there are few things I love more than falling asleep writing like I did last night.
Watched BIG FISH tonight, went to a bar called Diamond Dave’s, and afterwards for a walk down by a lake. My dad pointed out this crane and let me sneak up on it from three docks away with my camera knowing all the while it was a decoy.
Ritz crackers with melted cheese. I should have stayed longer.
Leaving, even the breeze is amazing. I love it here at my dad’s house.
And I remember this time I walked across a beach to a high dive, climbed the ladder, and something inside me said “go off backwards” so i lined up my toes up on the edge just like in the Olympics and did it.
You should know that I stole your Bon Iver cd but the joke was on me because I also left my laptop in Ted’s minivan and then destroyed my iPod with water.
What have I done, not done, it is all so crystallized, melodramatic, senseless. For some reason I keep thinking of the time we talked about Aspen trees, so here is a picture of some at my dad’s.
Hope all is well w/ you, your Robert Lowell glasses and your half-cafs.
Weird to think that when you read this I’ll be on the other side of the planet, but it’s just proximity.
Part of Eve’s Discussion
What tree may not the fig be gathered from?
The grape may not be gathered from the birch?
It's all you know the grape, or know the birch.
As a girl gathered from the birch myself
Equally with my weight in grapes, one autumn,
I ought to know what tree the grape is fruit of.
I was born, I suppose, like anyone,
And grew to be a little boyish girl
My brother could not always leave at home.
But that beginning was wiped out in fear
The day I swung suspended with the grapes,
And was come after like Eurydice
And brought down safely from the upper regions;
And the life I live now's an extra life
I can waste as I please on whom I please.
So if you see me celebrate two birthdays,
And give myself out as two different ages,
One of them five years younger than I look-
One day my brother led me to a glade
Where a white birch he knew of stood alone,
Wearing a thin head-dress of pointed leaves,
And heavy on her heavy hair behind,
Against her neck, an ornament of grapes.
Grapes, I knew grapes from having seen them last
One bunch of them, and there began to be
Bunches all round me growing in white birches,
The way they grew round Lief the Lucky's German;
Mostly as much beyond my lifted hands, though,
As the moon used to seem when I was younger,
And only freely to be had for climbing.
My brother did the climbing; and at first
Threw me down grapes to miss and scatter
And have to hunt for in sweet fern and hardhack;
Which gave him some time to himself to eat,
But not so much, perhaps, as a boy needed.
So then, to make me wholly self-supporting,
He climbed still higher and bent the tree to earth,
And put it in my hands to pick my own grapes.
'Here, take a tree-top, I'll get down another.
Hold on with all your might when I let go.'
I said I had the tree. It wasn't true.
The opposite was true. The tree had me.
The minute it was left with me alone
It caught me up as if I were the fish
And it the fishpole. So I was translated
To loud cries from my brother of 'Let go!
Don't you know anything, you girl? Let go!'
But I, with something of the baby grip
Acquired ancestrally in just such trees
When wilder mothers than our wildest now
Hung babies out on branches by the hands
To dry or wash or tan, I don't know which
(You'll have to ask an evolutionist)
I held on uncomplainingly for life.
My brother tried to make me laugh to help me.
What are you doing up there in those grapes?
Don't be afraid. A few of them won't hurt you.
I mean, they won't pick you if you don't them/
Much danger of my picking anything!
By that time I was pretty well reduced
To a philosophy of hang-and-let-hang.
'Now you know how it feels/ my brother said,
* To be a bunch of fox-grapes, as they call them,
That when it thinks it has escaped the fox
By growing where it shouldn't on a birch,
Where a fox wouldn't think to look for it
And if he looked and found it, couldn't reach it-
Just then come you and I to gather it.
Only you have the advantage of the grapes
In one way: you have one more stem to cling by,
And promise more resistance to the picker/
One by one I lost off my hat and shoes,
And still I clung. I let my head fall back,
And shut my eyes against the sun, my ears
Against my brother's nonsense; 'Drop/ he said,
Til catch you in my arms. It isn't far/
(Stated in lengths of him it might not be. )
'Drop or I'll shake the tree and shake you down/
Grim silence on my part as I sank lower,
My small wrists stretching till they showed the banjo strings.
'Why, if she isn't serious about it!
Hold tight awhile till I think what to do.
I'll bend the tree down and let you down by it/
[ don't know much about the letting down;
But once I felt ground with my stocking feet
And the world came revolving back to me,
I know I looked long at my curled-up fingers.
Before I straightened them and brushed the bark off.
My brother said: 'Don't you weigh anything?
Try to weigh something next time., so you won't
Be run oft with by birch trees into space/
It wasn't my not weighing anything
So much as my not knowing anything
My brother had been nearer right before.
I had not taken the first step in knowledge;
I had not learned to let go with the hands,
As still I have not learned to with the heart,
And have no wish to with the heartnor need,
That I can see. The mind is not the heart.
I may yet live, as I know others live,
To wish in vain to let go with the mind
Of cares, at night, to sleep; but nothing tells me
That I need learn to let go with the heart.
Well, it’s my thirty-second birthday in three days; soon I will have made it longer than Sylvia Plath and Lizzie Siddal; one of my favorite moments so far involves watching “Othello,” the Laurence Fishburne version, with my Riverside Shakespeare, highlighting all of my favorite lines just in terms of how I could apply them to my own life, because that is what you do when you are young.
I started this blog when I was dating someone who suggested it; I’m glad I listened to him even though he said what he said about Ranch dressing. I have really come a long way since middle school when the joke involved tapioca pudding.
I didn’t know yet, then, the importance of making myself laugh; I didn’t know that if I didn’t learn how to laugh at myself I would go berserk. I just want people to read this blog; read anything I write.
It darted across the pond
toward our sunset perch,
weaving in, up, and around
a spindle of air,
this delicate engine
fired by impulse and glitter,
less image than thought,
and the thought came alive.
Swoosh went the net
with a practiced hand.
“Da-da, may I look too?”
You may look, child,
all you want.
This prize belongs to no one.
But you will pay all
your life for the privilege,
all your life.
Three people drinking out of the bottle
in the living room.
A cold rain. Quiet as a mirror.
One of the men
stuffs his handkerchief in his coat,
climbs the stairs with the girl.
The other man is left sitting
at the desk with the wine and the headache,
turning an old Ellington side
over in his mind. And over.
He held her like a saxophone
when she was his girl.
Her tongue trembling at the reed.
The man lying next to her now
thinks of another woman.
Her white breath idling
before he drove off.
He said something about a spell,
watching the snow fall on her shoulders.
crawls back into his horn,
at the approach of the wheel.
by Adrienne Rich
Those clarities detached us, gave us form,
Made us like architecture. Now no more
Bemused by local mist, our edges blurred,
We knew where we began and ended. There
We were the campanile and the dome
Alive and separate in that bell-struck air,
Climate whose light reformed our random line,
Edged our intent and sharpened our desire.
Could it be always so: a week of sunlight,
Walks with a guidebook picking out our way
Through verbs and ruins, yet finding after all
The promised vista, once!—The light has changed
Before we can make it ours. We have no choice:
We are only tourists under that blue sky,
Reading the posters on the station wall:
Come, take a walking-trip through happiness.
There is a mystery that floats between
The tourist and the town. Imagination
Estranges it from her. She need not suffer
Or die here. It is none of her affair,
Its calm heroic vistas make no claim.
Her bargains with disaster have been sealed
In another country. Here she goes untouched,
And this is alienation. Only sometimes,
In certain towns she opens certain letters
Forwarded on from bitter origins,
That send her walking, sick and haunted, through
Mysterious and ordinary streets
That are no more than streets to walk and walk—
And then the tourist and the town are one.
To work and suffer is to be at home.
All else is scenery: the Rathaus fountain,
The skaters in the sunset on the lake
At Salzburg, or, emerging after snow,
The singular clear stars of Castellane.
To work and suffer is to come to know
The angles of a room, light in a square,
As convalescents learn the face of one
Who has watched beside them. Yours now, every street,
The noonday swarm across the bridge, the bells
Bruising the air above the crowded roofs,
The avenue of chestnut-trees, the road
To the post-office. Once upon a time
All these for you were fiction. Now, made free
You live among them. Your breath is on this air,
And you are theirs and of their mystery.
Pulling Down the Sky
(the Sistene Chapel)
Piece by piece the sky was hacked, the star-flung heaven made years before,
its sheen of gold & ultramarine. And the firmament turned to pigmented dust
that caked & stained their forearms & necks & rained down in wide, benedictory arcs
into the space below. It grew dark, of course, & they worked torch-lit
& a man said said plaster, bucket. A man said scaffold, whore. And the hammers
mauling the sky from that height swallowed up the sounds from below:
a robed boy scurrying from the candles, the sunset vesper thrum.
And when they rested, they saw the ruin they had made & knew what was needed
would be done. To pull down the entire barrel vault blue, each starred width
of heaven. To prepare the space where they sky had been for, yes, a god
& the shapes of god. Of cloth, a mule, a knuckle. An axe, a bowl, some bread.
So hungover I wanted to die. All I ate all day was currants.
Kate’s poem’s speaker didn’t want to write about HIM, but she did, and Kate got such a beautiful poem out of it; lucky Kate, that she can do that.
Dr. Hayes said you should never refer to a poet as the speaker in her poem and poked fun of people who’d done so, but he also bought us pizza and Coke and said we were occasionally brilliant.
Walked home from school slowly, again, lucky life, and still frequently feel lucky in libraries and while looking at and walking around old buildings like cathedrals and less ornate things as grand in scale like wind turbines.
In Northfield I felt lucky the question Did I know how many people he had made happy? found its way into “Johnny Carson Poem”; lucky, lucky life.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let’s go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let’s tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let’s pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let’s dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn’t been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let’s go down to the diner and sniff
people’s legs. Let’s stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man’s mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let’s go to sleep. Let’s lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he’ll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he’ll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let’s just go back inside.
Let’s not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing? The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let’s go make a sandwich.
Let’s make the tallest sandwich anyone’s ever seen.
And that’s what they do and that’s where the man’s
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept–
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.
I love time (“It’s still burning,” etc.).
Because I am.
Because I avoid making eye contact with normal-looking couples.
Because Janis Joplin said freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose but she was a hypocrite and an alcoholic.
Because he called me crying from his iPhone, telling me not to forget about him. Because I still haven’t.
Because there is no one to talk to on Sunday nights when I am tired of Facebook. Because of the picture of two people I miss posing in front of a double rainbow with a happy-looking girl from Illinois. Because she looks like she realizes how amazing they are.
Because when he asked me if my past relationships were good I only nodded. Because I lied to him about how long it has been. Because there have been times that I don’t count. Because there is the chance he doesn’t care.
Because I am self-conscious around people to whom I am attracted. Because I don’t have anyone besides myself for whom to plan. Because I am so good at planning.
In a gymnasium in natural mostly gone dark, I sat on the floor watching a small, old-fashioned television set.
It was cold, and when I pulled a blanket over my legs, he took some too and also put both his hands over my hands and moved closer.
When the performance ended he stood, asked me in the light if I wanted to go
to a movie.
“Sure,” I said, my heart beating fast; people still did this? We walked outside. He opened the door to his Saab and we sat, didn’t talk, just drove.
He wore sunglasses, looked over once, smiled.
“Will you drop me off so I can take a shower, and then pick me back up again?”
I looked out my window, smiling to myself. The next twenty minutes or so would be the best I’ve had in years; the sunshine, the chances.
Meaning a preference for something.
She enjoys the beach, likes it. Meaning he’ll want
or choose, do as he likes. Meaning similarity,
a winter morning like that first in Minong, Wisconsin.
Meaning one thing typical of another, lying in bed
between the windows, the frames caked in frost
like eyelids crusty from sleep. Meaning as though
it would or should be. She said the clouds
look like rain. Meaning such as. A room lacking
in subjects, like physics. Meaning counterparts,
a group similar, and the like. Meaning resemblance.
Lovelike. More precise for what there was?
A man lying in bed beside a woman, about whom
he wrote poems of love and never did.
Jevin Boardman is currently a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Hamline’s Graduate School of Liberal Studies program. He is unpublished (until now) and resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
When the professor handed us an “example” answer to one of the essay questions, written by a former student, Carla started crying. She had to have known ahead of time they were going to do Dickinson, Carla whispered angrily after he left, her small face silently overtaken by red splotches. There is no way she could have written this otherwise.
We all knew it was Annie’s paper, and the general consensus was that Annie had known prior to the exam that it was Emily Dickinson’s “Poem 435” students would be asked to explicate. I walked out of the room, away from Carla, and smug-smiled Lisa, and Louie with his constant Gardetto’s and energy drinks, and whoever else was in there. I walked home slowly for once, concentrated on my breathing, ate an apple.
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
Kim Barnes: In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country
Elizabeth Gaskell: Mary Barton
Charles Dickens: David Copperfield
Fan Shen: Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard
Frank McCourt: Teacher Man
Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
Bram Stoker: Dracula
Kent Nerburn: Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder
William Stafford: Down in my Heart: Peace Witness in War Time
Paul Mariani: Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell
David Kalstone: Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
Nancy Milford: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury
Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare
Nicole Krauss: The History of Love
Michael Cunningham: The Hours
Elizabeth M. Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything…
James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Richard Ellmann: Ulysses on the Liffey
Harry Blamires: The New Bloomsday Book
Esmeralda Santiago: The Turkish Lover
Charles Johnson: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Marie Luise Kaschnitz: Circe’s Mountain
Patricia Francisco: Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery
Jamaica Kincaid: The Autobiography of my Mother
Ann Pancake: Strange as this Weather Has Been
He leaned in very close, scrutinizing numbers with me at a desk. I could feel how he smelled and how he breathed. Eighty-six, he said. I was on a Tolkien horse as I watched his finger trace a dotted line on my paycheck to another column.
Asking him out for coffee has been my plan since Friday over cocktails and edamame. The words were on the tip of my tongue when he stood up and told me that we were going to have to sort this out over coffee: that this type of thing could not be negotiated under these circumstances. Only I don’t think he said the word, thing.
We are going to have to get this sorted out over coffee and a walk, he said. I will follow you, and carry a dung stick. I doubled over with laughter at the top of the stairs he’d already descended; he stood at the bottom looking up at me the way you do when someone laughs at something you say. In real life I woke up smiling.
30, sushi eater, garage painter, lunch waitress, Hamline writer, Minneapolis mover, Olympics watcher, scrapbook putter-together, cot sleeper, dog, cat, and squirrel lover, angel.
1. Don’t give other people too much credit, especially the ones who seem like they want to bring you down! It is realistic, not pessimistic, to believe that they probably do.
2. Believe you can do things.
3. Don’t take things personally. Realize that other people are probably thinking of themselves and have their own problems and agendas… even your very best friends and family members.
This summer is wonderful. I have my own place, a bike, a job, rainbow sherbert, and uninterrupted hours to figure out what to do with the next phase of life, which, since I am unattached (no pets, even), gets to be whatever I want it to be.
I was accepted into Hamline’s Fine Arts in writing program. The closer it gets to fall term, the more intensely I think about my own writing. When/where do I write the most/best? I haven’t been writing long enough or seriously enough yet to find that out.
Is school the best way to take a serious look at what one can accomplish? I tend to lean towards yes, but then I think of writers without advanced degrees whose work I love. But then I think of how many more of them I will find out about and/or meet…
How wonderful and frightening, and exhausting, to be thirty, with so much life that could still go anywhere.
29, Vegan, Dog named Annie, Reader/Writer, Housepainter, Waitress, Big sister, Bob Dylan fan, Sucky volleyball player, World traveler, Perrot lover, regular lover, optimist, believer.
School was normal except for library reading. Everyone is supposed to be quiet and read a book for fifteen minutes, but without any warning I snorted very loud like a pig. After school came my third birthday party. Two of the men insisted on spanking me 9 times. I was thinking god damn it you two! It seemed like it was more their party than mine. I got an art kit, clay mask, and a stuffed bunny.
DILL pickle relish
2 cig. lighters
2 ZEST soap
2 mini wheats