Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Priest and An Atheist Walk into a Bar

 No, that’s not what happened.

A priest and an atheist walk into a Bar Mitzvah.  No, No. Let’s get serious.

A priest and an atheist walk into Peggy’s bedside. The man of the cloth is Father Patrick Comerford. Whatever gold dust he carries is exactly what Peggy has reception for. Her own resources are sparked. His simple presence mends bones, quiets a clamorous heart and recharges her cells.

We talk about pubs in Dublin, the poet / priest Gerard Manley Hopkins and his sister, Irish writers, the history of Trinity College, his days as a tennis champ, his brother the taxi driver, Vin Scully…….everything, thank God, but religion.

Father Paddy could have come out of central casting with his ruddy face, shock of white hair and County Cork brogue. In my early days I remember Hollywood’s Pat O’Brien playing the priest as he walked that last crooked mile with Cagney on the way to the electric chair. Later, came Barry Fitzgerald, with the black gown and the amiable voice bending his elbow with a wee bit of the drink and a well-delivered bit of blarney. Father Patty has them all beat.

Miraculously it was Easter Sunday when he popped in to resurrect Peggy’s spirits. T’was a secular Mass; No wine nor wafer. Yet she was lifted. Maybe it was the synergy between Father Patty, Peggy and me. Atheists (I prefer the word Humanists) too, work in mysterious ways. I would argue that there is a spiritual dimension in the mundane, the quotidian, the secular. The sublime hides in the ordinary

If the pagan spring festival got folded into the Christian myth let seasonal transformation be horizontal as well as vertical. Let my people go. And while April blooms let Peggy have her exodus out of St. John’s Hospital.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Way It Is

It is Monday and Peggy is feeling weak. She’s decided to spend the day in bed. Cancel the calendar. Actually the only visitors scheduled for the day are a nurse to draw blood, an occupational therapist and a professional bather but that’s not going to happen. She has shortness of breath and sleep is the preferred choice. But that was then.

By Tuesday she has bounced back. There is a mind / body split. For the day her spirit prevails and she is twenty-five again, for the fourth time. Wednesday is a continuation of the day before with high stamina until it isn’t. Now she is back down on the couch. Robust is a distant word. And so it goes.

Caregiving is a great adventure. It never ceases. Tuesday is indistinguishable from Monday and by Wednesday evening the morning has merged with yesterday.

I try to anticipate what’s around the corner. I’m at the ready. Exertion is to be avoided since it leads to listlessness yet the physical therapist has given her a series of exercises to keep the blood moving. Nothing is simple anymore. When I say exertion I mean transit from wheelchair to couch or commode to bed one step away.

For those who are a mere ninety-three or even ninety-eight this might sound a bit much. When Peggy was ninety-nine, almost a year ago she was spry scooting around with her walker and managing the nine steps outside our front door. That was true even six months ago but standing is no longer possible even for the National Anthem; particularly for the National Anthem. Decline happens incrementally and then it leaps.

On the other hand, creativity blossoms in the dark. At least it has with Peggy. Like night jasmine it has bloomed. I’m in awe but I’ve always been in awe. Is it because she is closer to the mystery, to ultimates? Peggy embodies both the social being and a pensive aloneness. I have witnessed her go to the well. She roams and probes her inner landscape and then emerges with a basketful of grapes.

No resistance, she proclaims, yet her spirit is irrepressible and her embrace grows wider and wider.  

 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Unremarkable

Yesterday I got my best birthday present: the results of my cat-scan. All organs, pancreas, liver, spleen, gall bladder and lungs are all termed unremarkable. I’ve always suspected as much. At this age unremarkable is better than fifteen minutes of fame.

I leave that adjective, remarkable, to describe Peggy who will be 100 years young in 5 weeks Until then I’m a mere eleven years her junior. She can hardly remember back that far when she was 88..

There is something special about those years divisible by eleven. At 88 I am now the number of keys on a piano. I expect to grow tusks soon sufficient to furnish the ivory. Then they can ship me off to a Steinway factory for my next incarnation.

The other thing about 8 is when you knock it on its side it becomes infinity which sounds like eternal life to me.

I just looked it up. 88 is a special number in numerology. It is supposed to bring great wealth. Too late; I don’t need a thing. Where would I put it?

The number also has some nefarious symbolic meaning for White Supremacists. Good thing I don’t buy into any of that nonsense.

Come to think of it reaching 88 is remarkable. In baseball terms it’s the bottom of the eighth inning. For a starting pitcher to go that far is noteworthy. As long as my organs remain unremarkable I shall go on into the breach.

The equinox is vernal. Rhododendrons have blanketed the bushes outside our window. Thank you, Rhoda. I hear you singing while our hummingbird is humming and the high wind is swaying. It must be the anniversary of myself.

 

 

 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Out of Time

In more ways than one are we off the clock. We have been out of time long before Salvatore Dali melted that watch in his 1931 painting. Climatologists have been warning our deaf ears of impending doom for decades. Time and tide are tired of waiting. 

The notion of clock came as imposition on the natural rhythm of human existence. Eating, sleeping, and working all yielded to the tyranny of the clock as if to an alarm. Being punctual became a virtue. Pre-literate societies had no such need to punctuate their lives. When Big Ben strikes on the hour, all fourteen tons of it, you’d better check your timepiece and hurry up or else. The great London clock came at the height of the British Empire upon which the sun never set. It could be regarded as the symbol of uniformity and authoritarian rule. Everyone knew their place and when teas served, one lump or two.

Football, basketball and soccer are all played against the clock as well as their opponent. Managing the clock has become the hallmark of a successful team while a baseball game defies it as the great board game moves counter-clockwise into eternity.

Mrs. Dalloway, in Virginia Woolf’s classic novel, measured her life by the gongs of Big Ben. Harold Lloyd hung for his life on the big hand in one of the most enduring images of the silent film era as if to mock time itself. Orson Welles had his licks in a moment of levity during the zither-filled Third Man movie when he ridicules the Swiss for their neutrality and cuckoo clock as their sole contribution to Western Civilization. In fact, everything in that memorable speech was about as accurate as a broken clock.

But Mrs. Dalloway’s noon was altogether different than the other character’s twelve o’clock. Woolf used time was a way of giving relativity its due and give voice to the inner lives of her characters. In her masterpiece, time is subjective; for some an occasion for buying flowers or accepting a lunch invitation; for another a time for dying.

The clock gives us the illusion of quantifying our lives just as commodification monetizes it. It provides us with the idea of  our existence being a chronicle. World War I shattered this sequential narrative. The myth of progress was laid to rest along with millions of dead bodies to fertilize the fields of Europe. A generation was lost and survivors were also lost in the stupidity of it all, a life left in fragments and the dread of a world without God to write the fable.

In his review of Erica Hunt’s poetry book, Jump the Clock, Ben Lerner suggests she is leaping beyond clock-time and the logic of society’s givens enforced by racism and violence. She asserts that clocks belong to a culture of domination and her poems redress that imperfect past.

Perhaps time is not of the essence, at least, according to the clock or watch. Both James Joyce and Virginia Woolf took their Leopold Bloom and Clarissa Dalloway through a single day which recapitulated their entire life. History, both personal and otherwise, cannot be dismissed nor the consequences of our behavior ignored as it determines our future on this orb.


Sunday, February 28, 2021

In the Time of Two Viruses

(This not a poem. It only looks like one in which some paragraphs got pretentious and thought they were stanzas. But it has no lift. I’m hearing a final thud.) 


Even as our arsenal of antibodies delivers its shock

Covid is not in awe, busy unmuting its mutant.

It’s tit for tat, is it? Then take this and this!

And we still have that other toxic miasma,

Trump residue, against which we have not

achieved herd immunity. What’s heard

is the herd of sheep. Bah! 

 

Donald, part Big Mac, hollow and where’s the beef?

Part duck, he quacks and everywhere a quack, quack. 

Over his four years, virus-Trump has morphed

from stormy erection and MEGA resurrection

 to rigged election to mindless insurrection.

 

Masked in flim-flam, delusions and lies

his cover has fallen away and he walks unmasked

having washed his hands of a half million deaths,

a government in shambles, a nation divisible

and an ignorant army of somnabulant thugs.

 

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Each from his Perch

When I had my pharmacy Wilt Chamberlain walked in one day. I had my head down and when I looked up, I thought a tree had made its way into the store. He was wearing a  cropped tank top and I found myself staring into his belly button. In my brief conversation he told me he was returning from a volleyball game. At 7 ft. 1 it seemed unfair but then again Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could look down on him. Now I’m wondering what it must be like to see the world from that angle.

Yogi Berra was with the New York Yankees for eighteen years as a player. He stood at 5 ft. 7 in. In fact, his position as catcher lowered him another couple of feet to approximately 3 ft. 7 in. He spent his time situated between the umpire and the batter at a level with their belly buttons. From that crouched perch he looked at his teammates in the way conductors, with their backs to the audience, observed their orchestra.

As Berra said, You can observe a lot by watching. He did a lot of watching and orchestrating. From almost down in the dirt he was grounded in common sense. Some of his wisdom can only be understood as inside baseball talk as when asked what to do about a teammate’s batting slump. Berra’s answer was, Try swinging at strikes. 

Translation: Only commit to what IS hittable; don’t chase bad balls. The pitcher will know this and you will never see a strike again. Or to put it another way, seize what you can and don’t waste your time running after foolish stuff or you will strike out. It doesn’t matter that Yogi didn’t follow his own advice; he was probably the best bad-ball hitter in the game.

Books have been written about all his pithy pieces of wisdom, many of which he says he never said. Maybe that is the ultimate honor to have words attributed to you which you might have said but didn’t.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a valued voice. At his height, 7 ft. 2 inches, he is closer to the gods of Mt. Olympus. He has gone on, after his basketball days were over, to become an author, historian and spokesman for Civil Rights issues. He has transcended those days as the highest scorer in the history of professional basketball. He contends that his mind is his greatest resource.

Yogi wrote that one cannot think and hit at the same time. It takes a fine mind to make such a statement. Berra is referring to all those failures in the batter’s box who tried to outthink the pitcher. They would be advised to rely on their muscle memory and not take themselves out of the moment to analyze what they were doing wrong.

Both Yogi and Kareem exceeded their dimensions. They saw things from a different latitude. The statistics they posted may never be reached again but they have achieved a life even beyond those numbers.

One was a common man whose utterances have become immortalized as the epitome of common sense, awkwardly expressed. Berra was an imp who played tall and saw with a street-smart erudition tapping into a larger humanity. Listeners come away scratching their heads and nodding in agreement.

Abdul-Jabbar is that rare combination of a scholar-athlete whose lofty words have a special ring of truth, whose perspective is not often articulated. His sky-hook shot was unstoppable. His insights come from the rarefied air he breathes.                                                                                                      

Monday, February 15, 2021

Q and A

No, not Qanon. They are a different question and answer.

In the decade of the 1930s when capitalism was on the brink of extinction, I look to pop culture to describe the way it was. Movies provided us with the stuff of dreams. Crooners crooned, killing us softly with a song. Ma Perkins always had a pie in the oven. Dr. Goodfellow would be making a housecall soon and scribble a prescription that would make us whole in seven days whether we took it or not.

Jigsaw puzzles were the craze. I had a few myself. I vaguely remember spreading out all those pieces looking for the straight edges of cloud or brook. And when I finally got the brook to stop babbling along with all the other irregular shards it was always an idyllic scene as if, as Rimbaud said, It was of Eden I was dreaming.

Detective stories were also widely read, watched or listened to. We wanted answers by the last page or final reel. This disintegrating, baffling, indifferent world must be put to right, brought to justice or tidied up. Somebody was to blame and we had Ellery Queen, Charlie Chan or Sam Spade to dig up the truth along with an army of private eyes, cops sleuths and mild-mannered guys with a cape under their white shirt to do battle with evil, those crooks, rustlers and mad scientists.

Radio also gave us answers with Dr. I.Q., Information Please, the Quiz Kids and the Answer Man to name a few. Life was a quiz. If only…….

Today we’re still looking for What’s Wrong with this Picture. The Republican Party is a jigsaw with leaders talking out of both sides of their irreconcilable mouths. Some voters can’t make up their minds as if they had a mind to make up. What evil lurks in the hearts of men? What drives a person to relinquish his autonomy and hand it over to a flimflam artist? What primal fear compels a man to become a feral beast? How does a nurturing woman who fiercely advocates for the life of a fetus care not a hoot about the life of a person born? Why would a voter turn against government, the very institution, which provides them with healthcare, unemployment insurance, living wage, clean water, unadulterated medication, and old-age security? What makes a person militate against their own well-being?

Sorry, Virginia, there are questions with no answers. Live with it. For some, Mercury is always in retrograde. Nothing aligns. There are pieces missing to the puzzle and no straight edges. Crimes, against which Captain Marvel is still marveling and Krypton looks like that proverbial Better Place we all seem to go according to the obits.

Yes, the world is in flux…….but it’s always been fluxing. What was good enough for Grand Dad was not really good enough for him. He, too, was yearning for an imagined time. The elevator operator lost his job. So did the Chinese laundryman. And the soda-jerk. The milkman is finished and the guy who drove the Good Humor truck. Where are all the floorwalkers? All gone. Get over it.

Those early movies taught us an essential life lesson. We learned to distinguish between the real and the fantasy. We walked into the dark theater with eyes still wide with the sun and staggered out three hours later as if back to Kansas from Oz. We knew to expect that bullet aimed at our hero’s heart was only a flesh wound requiring a bandaged head by next Saturday. We didn’t live in that penthouse with parents in tuxedos. We just accepted the illusion and somehow knew it wasn’t our reality. Not an answer to hard-times, just another piece of the puzzle we instinctively put in its place. The answer may be blowing in the wind but it is just out of reach; we need to keep yearning.   

As for Qanon they need to be either arrested, committed or deprogrammed, one nitwit at a time.