Saturday, August 28, 2021

Woke and Awake

It occurs to me how some of us might be more inclined to get a dose of cable news than to dip into a book of Emily Dickinson or Wallace Stevens. Peggy did both but not in equal measure.

It’s one thing to be woke to the inequities, threats to democracy and our planet itself and quite another to notice patterns made by the sun on the wall or bark on a eucalyptus. Ignore either at your peril.

Peggy would assiduously read the front page and often follow an article to its conclusion on page 18. My meat is more on the op-ed page. When her hackles were raised, she’d write a letter to the editor. Over two dozen were published and many were not out of indignation but to support what was said.

Of course, being awake to the sensuality life offers is not a choice denied to those to being woke. I suppose it comes down to micro and macro, mankind and man. Yet how many of us have the antenna to pick up signals from the vast overlooked?

Maybe it comes down to where your perch is. Poets are half-in and half-out of this world. There are traps on either side. Too woke, seeing through a lens darkly, can lead to cynicism and even despair. Too awake might leave the eyes rosy-colored and remote. 

Peggy found her own balance. Her day was filled with gratitude and reverence feeding her creativity tempered by a simmering vehemence against what would act against that life force.

Visiting cathedrals in Europe was an occasion to experience awe. While Peggy marveled at the grandeur of the stained glass I might dwell on the back-breaking labor it took and concentration of stolen wealth accumulated. Faith and doubt make their own special light where the woke and awake mingle.

 

                                                                                

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Absence

We know how Nature feels about a vacuum. Human nature feels the same way. And here I am trying to fathom this enormous absence in my life. Of course, it can never be filled.

Peggy is both here and not here. I hear her and see her in every room. When a new flower opened its throat this morning, I wanted her to hear it sing.

She is nowhere and everywhere at once. Maybe she’s on that bus to elsewhere. There are glue sticks and number two pencils scattered about at the ready for her jottings and pastings. Her Commonplace Books numbered twelve over the years. They are compendiums of her passions, obsessions, notable paper, collages, clippings……..anything that grabbed her and caused a spark. Open any one and you know her, almost but not quite.

I’ve been looking through a file she kept called literary correspondence. There are letters from Saul Bellow, Wendell Berry, John Banville and Penelope Lively to name a few. When she read a book she admired, she’d track down the author’s address and let him/her know. She often included a poem written for the author with her letter.

Call it a healthy chutzpah. As a teenager she attended Broadway shows by slipping in during intermission. I guess she never saw act one. When the curtain went down, she’d go backstage and meet the actor. I found letters from Vincent Price, Robert Morley …..and Kathryn Cornell who advised her not to pursue a career on stage because she was too tall. Morley said it wasn’t wise to meet the actor because she’d always be disappointed, particularly in him.

She also interviewed Orson Welles, just six years older, when he was a wunderkind on stage, screen and radio. They charmed each other. Fortunately, he married Rita Hayworth instead.

She met Maurice Evans and Joseph Schildkraut ( a leading- man no longer a household name) even courted her as did Jerry Gray, Glenn Miller’s arranger.

Having noted all the above there is still so much more beyond those encounters. She had over twenty almost sons and daughters. Friends, a generation younger, who received her nurturing and regarded her as a role-model. Woody Allen once quipped that his only regret in life is that he’s not someone else. Peggy might have said her overwhelming gratitude in life is that she was fully herself. 

For many years we started play-reading groups. At one point we had three of them going at once. Three or four couples would meet with the host choosing a play and casting it. No rehearsal; we just discovered the character as we stumbled and bumbled along, hamming it up.

Having experienced a kind of abandonment as an orphan she became a world-class list-maker. Every film seen got written down along with every book she read and even every friend.

The vault is rich and overflowing. Release is not an operative word for me. There is evidence of her in every drawer and every shelf. I want her close. I want her breath to inhale. Her creatives bursts. Her vehemence. How reverence came to her so naturally along with an effervescent imagination. She saw the leaf as a fish and allowed it to swim back again as a leaf.

Peggy was thrilled when my daughter, Shari, arranged for her favorite Irish singing group, Celtic Thunder, to send her their greetings. An envelope arrived a few weeks ago with autographed pictures and a note of their appreciation. Peggy’s penultimate entry in her journal was, I’m a hundred year-old teenager. In fact, she was of every age and no age.

 

 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Peggy Eternal

Peggy had me promise to say that word, die, when the time came. She didn’t pass on or slip away or go to a better place on the other shore. This was the grounded poet, Peggy, who abhorred euphemisms. She was, at the same time, a poet of risky leaps and flight, author of a children's album, a novelist and artist of collages and constructions in the manner of Joseph Cornell.

Then there was the romantic Peggy who dwelled on an image of a white horse in a library which she recently saw in the T.V series, Pursuit of Love. Her life was all about seeking love and finding it. Love and beauty. If it wasn’t there, she created it. The white horse was her totem. We managed to find one on every trip, even if the horse turned out to be a llama.

Our apartment has long been a library of signed first editions, contemporary and 19th century literature, letters and bios of poets and their work, pop-up books, crazy illustrated ones, heavy-duty philosophy (Wittgenstein) which she gobbled up, physics and astronomy which fascinated her. She loved books for their physicality, their smell and their paper. Our rooms contained running conversations among the shelves.

When Peggy and I met she was sixty and I, forty-eight yet I knew she was younger than I with more juice, more buoyancy and capaciousness for life. Of course we had no offspring but I console myself knowing we did bring something new into this world which sprung out of our union.

She did indeed live in the moment but it was a most elongated one which defied calendars and clocks. She had little regard for the date or year something happened, as I do, because she thought in terms of eternal verities which gave the finger to time itself. It can take a lifetime to become a child. She lived her wisdom with astonished eyes.

We traveled abroad over a dozen times and always took wrong turns or missed spokes on roundabouts. Yet we never got lost because everywhere was a destination with her. She made the unexpected her habitat.

Peggy was a world-class finder. She was a founder of the Valley Center of Art. She spotted art in a discarded key chain, a hard-boiled egg, the way a tube of toothpaste was squeezed or the juxtaposition of a pencil with peach. She found me and we founded a wondrous life. Peggy ennobled the overlooked.

I suppose we all have our own dark forest we either ignore or enter. Peggy was intrepid and she somehow transformed that mysterious place into a safe unknown for me.

Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety. Shakespeare had a way with words. I think he had Peggy in mind. Her life could have gone off the rails, many times. Six months in a convent, then orphaned at eight, unmarried with a baby, and many times rescued. With each fraught situation she licked around the thorn to find the rose.

Her mantra was, No Resistance. And so, she found her river’s current and all its tributaries. There was in her an inner alignment with the flow and a trust in her boat and its rudder.

Our life together has been a sumptuous rowing in Eden, oar to oar, making a banquet of forbidden fruit, lips to nectar, squeezing from life all its yield and cheering the garden to overthrow its walls.

Peggy’s life as a poet was much more than pages of Thursday words. That was just the trace of it. It was in her being. How she met the day and seeded so many of us in ways that affirm, without end, our brief candle.

 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Commotion In the Still

As they say, silence can sometimes speak loud. Perhaps you’ve overheard me. There’s a lot of noise going on in my head these days and it sounds cacophonous until I try to make music of it on this page.

I’m hearing sounds of dread and hurt mingled with Peggy’s sing-along of her favorite Irish singers.  A violin of flutter-byes. A ditty, a hymn and a dirge. An oboe of woe. Then a ditty again. Clarinets rising. Baritone sax descending. An orchestration that could be life itself in its phases.

Along with the choreography of wind swaying the leaves there is calligraphy in the bent branch reaching for a slice of sun. There goes a petal falling that is not a metaphor.

It is now 6:40 A.M. Peggy has taken her morning doses. The four tablets are racing to their assignment. There is a stillness outside the window. Yet I sense a commotion in the still-life. Yesterday there was a squirrel desperate for a dram of morning dew. Survival is a daily matter as the hummingbird beats with a frenzy just to remain motionless.

Increments of green from forest to near-yellow and every stop between. So much we don’t see until now. Later there will be exaltations of serenity in her eyes as if some sublime alignment. She may call for her notebook. There is a Thursday in every week at least once, maybe more.

I am here at her bedside. I want to feel with her. I am privileged to have been summoned and to answer the call. Hers is a life lived. The air is charged and I bear witness.