Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Great Unsaid

There’s a lot of noise out there. One can mistake it for a majority. Nazi America. January 6th.

Theodore Roethke, the poet, wrote how he wanted to make his silences more accurate.

Sherlock Holmes told Dr. Watson he was an invaluable companion because of his gift for silence.

Henry Fonda portrayed men of few words. I can’t say enough about how I admired that.

Gary Cooper always played Gary Cooper but the way he gulped and said, Yup, spoke volumes to me.

Harpo expressed what Groucho couldn’t. The world was a broken piano and he made a harp of it.

Trump, with a megaphone, was loud and ignorant. Now, in  exile, he shouts his lies even louder.

Blessed is the man, said George Eliot, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

I need sunshine and the paving stones of the street without companions or conversation, only the music of my heart for company, said Henry Miller (of all people).

I once participated in a Quaker meeting where nothing was said. We shared the silence and felt closer for it.

What is music without intervals?

How much better is silence, to sit by myself with this coffee cup, this knife and fork, things in themselves, myself being myself………something invisible to others having shed its attachments.   Virginia Woolf

Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us? Lawrence Durrell

As happens sometimes, a moment settles and hovers for much more than a moment. John Steinbeck

Lincoln’s ten sentences at Gettysburg followed a notably unremembered two-hour speech.

90% of conversation is unspoken and silent films lost that to talkies with vacuous dialog along with the language of cinema, the artful camera.

Nuts, was the American General’s reply to the German demand to surrender during the Battle of the Bulge in Dec.1944. Short and to the point. Trump deserves nothing more.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Writing While Watching

The thing I love about baseball is what most people don’t like. Too damn slow! But how else could I write a blog while watching? Poets need their space to roam, their outfield grass. The batter steps out of the box, calls for time, knocks at the dirt, that isn’t there, from his spikes. The poet takes out the comma he put in ten minutes ago. He is looking for a startling phrase, a fat fastball down the middle but instead he’ll take a walk.

Slow is under-rated. It is why time-lapse photography was invented. Give the game its due. If you want action turn on the basketball game. I’ve been ignoring the season the way I have no taste for fast food. Eating a taco on the run doesn’t stand a chance next to high tea.

Yet here I am watching the last two minutes of the Laker game which can take half an hour; the clock seems to slow down. The season is over and now the real season begins with the playoffs. LeBron James is a dribbling Baryshnikov. Michelangelo would have yearned to render him in marble. His look is menacing to the opposition. His body twists and spins into unexpected stanzas. His quick release is like a charged language, sprung.

Grown men in their colored underwear are running back and forth across the page talking fluent trash even with the mute button on. Two zebras with whistles among the gazelles as words roll beyond the margin like loose balls.

It’s all about that hole bigger than the sum of its dimension. Athletes live for holes, from little to big.....golf, billiards, hockey and soccer. A space to be filled, but none to match this game of basketball like a gush of participles dangling on the rim, dropping or sputtering away into the delete button. It’s about getting into the right juxtaposition. Fakes, double pumps and slam dunks when that line, that leaping image brings it home.

This is not baseball, slow-mo and stoic on a summer day. If the National Pastime is that unhurried refuge basketball has caught the zeitgeist. It is the inner-city ferocious tango of finesse and power. Each point scored a punctuation, an assertion to redress a grievance. A riff from Charley Parker.

They are putting it to the gods. The god of normalcy, of margins, making it jagged. LeBron is Icarus defying Newton; he is the apple that won’t fall…yet, graceful beyond any gothic arch with his game-face a gargoyle, the way you might strain to reach for a word not yet grunted, hang-time longer than a sentence by Proust and when he returns to that wood, this page... cartilage might tear as if the small syllables of breath denied his ancestors and his brothers. The score is settled for a moment. The blank page is filled, never quite saying the unsayable.

 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cousins

Given that my mother had five brothers and my father fractions of siblings you would think I’d have had cousins by the dozens. I probably do but I’ve never met them.

My mother created a mystery in our family by not speaking to her brothers in those years of my growing up. Not Harry or Irving or Mickey, Sammy or Nat. It has left me wondering what sort of treachery those guys were up to. Did they put a cockroach in her porridge? Or dip her pigtails in the inkwell of life?

In fact, I have a fuzzy memory of my grandma and grandpa living with us when I was about five years old. My theory is when they died, my mother paid for the tombstone and her brothers-five never came through with their share. My mother was not one to let go of a grudge.

Whatever damage those nasty brothers did, my mother went through life in combat mode with a tongue sharp as a bayonet. She stabbed the butcher with his finger of the scale. She pierced the vitals of the super when he held back on the heat coming through the radiator. She damned the neighbors and cursed God for God knows what. Yet behind all that was the fear of a little girl which I attribute to Harry, Irving etc… A simple case of post traumatic familial syndrome.

My father was the Nobel Peace Prize winner of the family system. Destitution of his early years somehow got translated into equanimity. When I say fractions of brothers and sisters, I refer to his three half-brothers and one half-sister from a father who had gave him up to be raised by an aunt and uncle and then went on to have 4 more children all raised in an orphanage.

I shouldn’t put all the blame on my absent cousins. I left New York at age 21 and settled in Los Angeles. I sought the seclusion that a cabin grants…away from my sisters and my cousins and my aunts……..to paraphrase G&S’s HMS Pinafore. I made no effort to seek them out nor did they. I wonder if they hold annual cousin gatherings with an empty chair set aside for me to come busting up through the cake.

It’s been a cousin-less life for me except for one. Irving’s daughter Mildred holds a special place though I have only a picture of her with my brother, and me off to the side, around age five. They were both about four years older than I. Mildred famously did not marry. When I got up the nerve to call my aunt Anna about thirty years ago to inquire about a possible blight in the family tree I asked about Cousin Mildred. You know, Anna said, she never got married. And so, Mildred was henceforth to be known as Mildred-Who-Never-Got Married. Good for you, Cuz. You answered your own drummer.

The road to cousinhood may be a happy union. John and Abigail Adams were 3rd cousins. Obama is cousin to six other presidents. On the other hand, monarchs in England, Germany and Russia were cousins whose family squabble killed over twenty million in World War One. I might be better off going it alone.

 

 

  

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mel

Is he a relative? I’m not sure. Relatively speaking he is. Mel is my ex-brother-in-law. My first wife’s kid brother. My lasting memory of him was when I gave him my maroon varsity basketball jacket in 1954. I loved that jacket. It was reversible. I want it back but it’s too late. Gone even from Mel’s memory.

Here’s the thing about Mel. Peggy has fallen in love with him. What can I do? She loves her doctors, her physical therapist. Back in the day she even loved a particular bank teller and cashier at the market checkout. 

Mel turned into a witty, charming retiree living in Florida. It must have been that jacket that has given him such panache. He is Peggy’s knight in shining armor. They have their fun.

He calls me Rebbe because he knows how devout I am, steeped in orthodoxy and ready I am to lead the flock out of the back lot in the next Cecil B. DeMille epic.

Strange how both he and his sister had the same mother and father and yet one of them escaped unscathed. I presume Mel loved his Dad since he honors him in his email address.

Today Mel’s older brother died. His name was also Norm. By all accounts, a damaged guy. I don’t believe they spoke to each for many years. Not everyone could endure two Norms on his family tree. 

Mel blesses Peggy and me with three or four emails every day which he passes along for our amusement and edification. He is a world-class conduit.

Today I learned that in order to work in Antarctica one must have their wisdom teeth and appendix removed. One never knows when to drop such information at a dinner party but it is sure to impress.

The other day I learned that Canada ranks highest in Quality of Life survey with the U.S. down five notches at number twenty but still ahead of Uzbekistan. There are some things one cannot keep to oneself.

Don’t thank me; thank Mel. He is, by far, my favorite ex-anybody. Life has a way of circling back and I’m glad he is back in mine with or without that reversible jacket. Some things are just irreversible.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Living / Dying

Everytime we say goodbye, I die a little

Everytime we say goodbye, I wonder why a little....

The now famous coral tree outside our window has never looked better. The red petals have their throats open wide with nectar dripping. By month’s end they will have vanished, replaced by poisonous pods. They may be now seen as living their dying. Fortunately, the hummingbirds know when to poke their elongated snouts in for a drink and when to abstain.

At the same time the large green leaves have been roused from their slumber, waking into verdant wokefullness. As throughout all life, it’s a matter of, Hello, I must be going. The curtain goes down at the same time as the curtain goes up. I know the feeling.

Like Schrodinger’s cat, alive and dead at once, we are both in the maternity room and intensive care. The Republican Party is a moribund assemblage of Trump sycophants suffering from moral vacancy. We are witnessing a comatose party with no principles and no platform other than obstruction, suppression and denial. They are killing us softly with their song.

Meanwhile our planet begs for remedial care. We are losing over one hundred species a day according to some computer models while over 200,000 people join the human race daily. Make room for an additional two billion by 2050.

Schrodinger’s cat was simply part of a thought experiment set out to challenge Einstein (of all people) and demonstrate a fallacy of quantum mechanics. If this or any creature were confined in a box bombarded by electrons or any other lethal substance there is a point where it might be said to be both alive and dead, yet on observation this cannot be true. Beyond this oversimplification I get a brain ache. But the concept fascinates me at least metaphorically.

I take my cue from that tree busy making chlorophyll for greeny leaves and their day in the sun while those operatic flowers are hitting their high notes of the season with all corpuscles bursting, divas that they are.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Now It Can Be Told

Over the past few days, I’ve been part of several Zoom celebrations for Peggy’s centennial birthday with dozens of friends from decades back and some we’ve just connected with in the past few years. All are rightfully in awe of her most remarkable embrace of life and effervescent spirit.

Of course, I’ve been blessed by her enthusiasms and capaciousness for over forty years. In that time, I’ve taken meticulous notes explaining the phenomenon of her however since I can’t read my own hand-writing they’re of no use. 

Something was brought home to me as I asked myself what accounts for her longevity and specialness. Peggy has been rescued several times over the years.

Her father died when she was three and her mother five years later in October, 1929, a few days before the stock market crash. The aunt and uncle who took her in and raised her lost their two homes, apartment building and factory during the Depression. Later, she was a mother, without benefit of clergy (as they used to say), at twenty-five and then rescued again by another uncle who flew her and her baby daughter to Los Angeles.

I mention all this not as a hard-luck story but as her good fortune which has become the pattern of her life. If you get through the refiner’s fire you are all the more resilient. Peggy sees the world as a redeeming place.

So now I’m ready to spill the beans. When I hear someone say to live in the moment the words fall limp to my deaf ears. However, in baseball hitters say when they live in the moment the ball looks larger and hittable. Kobe Bryant used to report how the game slowed down and he forgot about yesterday’s loss or tomorrow’s big game. Peggy actually lives this way.

On Friday our friend Phyliss asked me if Peggy was excited about the big weekend coming up. I thought for a minute and reported that she showed no sign of that. She neither rehearses dreadful news nor anticipates good news.

Translation: she trusts her resources will respond accordingly. If the message is burdensome, she knows she can deal with it; if it is exhilarating, she is altogether present to meet it spontaneously. She has been able to retain the face of wonder which I've seen on our great grandchildren as they meet the world for the first time.

She is at home in that space of unknowing, welcoming the unexpected. She walks her walk emotionally unarmoured. For all this Peggy leaves her signature and the air is charged.  

She lives with a minimum of what ifs. There is a downside to the Girl Scout motto, Be Prepared. Troubling over the possibility of rain on the picnic takes its toll. Instead she trusts her well-spring which confers empowerment sufficient to carry the day. Peggy has found her way to that bubbling place within. It has continued to quench her for over one hundred years.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Century of Living Fully

One hundred years of multitudes contained within,

of beatitude, plentitude, and gratitude

which is to say grace, overflow and thanks.

Of living in the Now, with time arrested

when we embrace over nothing whatsoever

except the all of it…

the arrival of the red cardinal from Georgetown

with no sense of direction, the oriole down from

Crestline to yellow our days.

This extravagant life of clarinets and cucumbers,

of Orson Welles’ baritone shadowing you

and Irish tenors with whom you swoon.

 

So, too, I’ve seen you enter your forest.

The window out is also the window in.

One hundred years of solitude, too, are yours

in the silence of the skeletal tree, the hush

of the calendar’s fiction, the interval

between squirrels where you dwell,

a pilgrim on your inscape in the dusk

where tulip bulbs wait before their burst.

 

You live in that unknown space made an aviary

by your loving. Your basket is always full,

an offering of nocturnal scribbles become poems

like a caterpillar taking wing.

 

I gave you the stump of an oak………………..you give me seeds for an orchard, a garden overthrowing its walls.

I gave you a sack of soft clay…………………. you give me a Hopi pot, Navajo rug and Kwakiutl mask.

I gave the Apollonian sun in a cantaloupe …you give me a lunatic moon of cows leaping.

I gave you a compendium of pills……………….you give me a map to my underground spring.

I give you a paragraph of participles…………you give me a poem of exclamation points.

I give you days of devotion………………………you give me moments of dwelling in astonishment.