Give Not Thyself Up

But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (ie. even while living) “in the congregation of the dead.”  Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert three, deaden thee; as for a time it did me.  There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

Moby-Dick, Chapter 96: The Try-Works

crawl from grave

Self-portrait of my soul’s intrepid effort to reclaim this space.

Today I try, because, if we never try. . . blah blah blah.  My muse is dead.  No, not dead, but seriously maimed, soberiingly mute.  So I’m putting her in the try-works.  Usually she bathes in the try pots at leisure, rendering oil from the blubber tossed her way.  But in the heat of critical self examination the pots must have boiled over and fried her something like a bug under a magnifying glass. “Like a plethoric burning martyr”, my muse burnt her little self out. I could bore you with the looped recording which, reeling madly, smoked her into her own little funeral pyre.  But I will not give those thoughts a life on this page, as they are tedious.  Deadly tedious,

Noted psychiatrist Albert Ellis once said : “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”

So here, today, with a nod to Ellis, I will dare to do. . .

not well,

but something.

And in doing something I place a tentative foot in the dirt and step away from the congregation of the dead.

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Ambergris from the Heart of Decay

Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay:is this nothing?

Chapter 92, Ambergris

Snake skin hanging in the Rusty Black Haw my dearest planted for me

He is perfect for me. He keeps me close this Sunday afternoon-sensing that something inside me is quietly bleeding out.  He is as aware of it as am I,  though the pain is folded deep into me. His instinct is to protect me, to keep me safely close by, within reach of his ready arm which he now extends to me, “Come for a walk. ”

He will not ask what demons I harbor. Perhaps he knows these demons are likely to hurt him more than they do me, or, perhaps, he knows that in order to fully shelter me from these demons he cannot draw them out.  I take his hand and we walk out to the truck.

He drives me to the edge of an adjacent neighborhood made up of run down mid-century tract houses, yards exposed through low chain link fences.  Beside the neighborhood sits the community college, and behind that, a field. A single path cuts through the scrub and prairie grass, disappearing into the nearby woods.

As we get out of the truck he comes around to me, takes my hand and smiles into my face as if he could will away the clouds hanging like so much distraction in my eyes. He gives my hand a gentle tug as he turns to lead me, “C’mon.”

He is excited, genuinely excited, because here, where the native  Texas prairie struggles to reclaim her footing, she has birthed a wild resurgence of rusty black haw.  This is what he wants to share with me, though as we make our way he pauses and points out the changing leaves of the sweet gum, the pile  of skeletal remains from a rabbit, a bend in the creek covered with lily pads.  He threads his arm under mine and around my waist to pull me in close as he gazes down on the water. “Like Giverny,” he says.

In such a moment, I have to wonder, how hard would I have to scour this earth to discover another heart like his?  A fifth generation Texan who can see Monet in the creek behind the community college.  But he is right, it is beautiful.

We reach the edge of the rusty black haws and a limb dripping with berries stretches out across our path.  He picks  one and bites into it– the field scientist using every possible sense to take in the specimen.  I wonder at the security that his understanding of  this plant gives him.  He knows its fruit will not poison him.  This is a gift of deep knowledge.  In the wild it is the difference between survival and starvation.  There is much to be said for deep knowledge of a thing.

I watch him and whisper, “You are perfect for me.”  He turns to look in my eyes then tilts his head and smiles as if to say: “How curious you are,” and though he is smart enough to wonder, he does not ask. We walk through the woods and I will not let go of his hand. How I hold on to him does not make him feel needed or strong, but simply fits– we are as natural in each other’s environment  as the resurgent black haw is to this prairie.

It is sometimes uncomfortable in marriage to know that the history between you carries the memories of a thousand flaws.  We are painfully aware of each others weaknesses  and we know we will continue to make mistakes and hurt each other time and again.  But we also know that each in our own corruption, give the other the chance to forgive us in ways we cannot even conceive.  Like the fragrant ambergris that is found in the heart of decay, our journey back from the dark brings us home.

This is the fruit of knowledge.

The Level Deadreckoning

 

Then falling into a moment’s revery, he again looked up towards the sun and murmured to himself:”thou seamark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I am-but canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be? Or canst thou tell where some other living thing besides me is this moment living?

Chapter 118, The Quadrant

Yesterday’s news that  2012 Nobel Prize  in Physics went to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland,“for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems,” rather unsettled me.

Though the idea of having the capability of now building a clock which would–even had it started keeping track of time in the very  instant of the Big Bang– today be but five seconds off–oh, the thought of that to my perpetually time-challenged self was, to be sure,  disturbing enough but, that was not what struck fear in my heart. . .

Quantum physics, or at least the principle therein of quantum superposition (to my limited understanding and, alas, remember I am NOT a quantum physicist), tells us that the teensy-tiny parts of sub-atomic systems exist in all possible states simultaneously until, by observing and measuring them, we force them to behave as though they are confined to only one state of existence. . .

That is to say, that which we (and all things) are composed of are at one and the same instant in time

here and there

everywhere and nowhere

laughing and crying

reclining and gnashing our teeth

giving and taking

awake and asleep

And all that we are,

we are not

All that we are not,

we are,

But  .  . .

Pin me under the microscope and I will not be here.

Like a hologram, you handle me and

with the twist of your wrist

I will disappear.

For when

you insist of defining–

on shining your

sanitizing

operating room

overhead lamps

on the very fringes of my messy messy mind field. . .

I will implode

if for no other reason than to seek the invisibility of smaller and smaller fragments of myself.

Under observation,

the wavefunction collapses

(for, truly,

how do you pin down a wave?)

Or is the only way to observe a wave to see

every potential outcome at once?

Since the wave is

its every potential?

But if we, maddened like Ahab, cast our quadrants to the deck and rant “Thou canst not tell me where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon–”

We risk losing the beauty

both

of the wave

and

of

the infinite stretch

of the golden shore.

We risk losing all potential

and fall (like Schrödinger’s Cat)

collapsing

into the one and only

reality.

So ask yourself, are you ready to open the box?

Are you ready to end the fiction and take your

level deadreckoning?

 

The Compass

But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since inexplicable) thing occurred to me.  Starting from a brief standing sleep, I was horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. . .I thought my eyes were open; I was half conscious of putting my fingers to the lids and mechanically stretching them still further apart. But, spite of all this, I could see no compass before me to steer by;

Chapter 96, The Try-Works

There is a point in childhood ,or at least in (what I assume is) a healthy childhood –the sort where the child and the parent occupy two distinct and separate roles, when the demi-god parent figure stumbles just enough to fall to earth in his child’s eyes.

I recall the moment my father fell to earth. I remember where I was standing (at the end of a hallway in a house outside Oakland, California).  I remember the time (evening, just after bedtime). I remember he was sitting, as he always did, at night, in the gold arm chair in which he had taught me to read.

My father was brilliant.  (Does every girl think this about her father?) A doctor–who left each morning in his crisp white Navy uniform.  He would scoop me up each morning to hug me good bye, letting me crown his distinctive red head of hair with his officer’s cap.  Not only was he invincible, but, in his arms, I was too.

He could name any piece of classical music within two bars.  Composer, time period, movement.  He taught me to read and to tell time and to say “I beg your pardon” instead of “what?”.  He told us water was H2O and when things happened at the same time, they were occurring “simultaneously”.  He never talked down to us, ever.  He could draw, and remove splinters, and fix things.  He could fix anything.  I had lived my entire existence absolutely sure of this fact.  My father could fix anything.

But on that night, he told me he could not.

I was four and,being a superstitious creature -the sort of child tortured by the idea that a simple mis-step onto a crack could actually physically snap my mother’s back clear through–I followed my routines with a religious zeal.  To fall asleep each night I would turn the small gold key implanted in Winnie-the-Pooh’s back and on its release a serenade of  Pooh’s eponymous theme song would spring. On this particular night, as my small fingers gave the key one last turn, it did not lunge to its usual release, but sat frozen.

Immobile.

Paralyzed.

I slipped  from my bed and padded down the hall pausing at the end as if waiting to be announced.  From where I stood I saw only the back of my father’s head buried,as usual, in his New England Journal of Medicine.

“Pooh stopped.” I told him as I stood at the end of the hall, awaiting an invitation.

He did not look up.

I’m sure I repeated my announcement before he snapped:

“What do you expect me to do?”

Snapped.

This was not the man I knew–the invincible healer.  Where was the comforting smile, the arms opening to invite me onto his lap?

“I need you to fix him.” I patiently explained, to which he replied:

“. . .I can’t.”

(I begin to reel–

first stage:denial)

and then he capped it off without ever looking up “Go back to bed.”
Back to bed?

Without this resolved?

With my routine interrupted?

God knows what fatal shift in the heavens this could bode? I began to cry.

“Goddamn it!

go

to

bed!”

Memories at the age of four can be sparse, and it must have been a good ten years later that I realized what was happening that night.

My grandfather, my father’s father, had lost his battle with ALS.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

My grandfather’s passion had been building–building intricate machines and models from the thousands of pieces he carved and collected in his workshop whose walls were lined with shelf after shelf of  meticulously organized baby food jars containing the sorted screws and tacks and bolts he used, before his hands began to fail him.  He lost the use of his hands, he lost his ability to speak, and, finally, he lost his struggle to breathe.  His lungs were paralyzed.  The final stage of ALS.

When people ask me if I think it would be worse to lose your mind first or your body, I know my answer.

Take my mind.

My grandfather suffocated, paralyzed– unable to express a single thought from his trapped mind.

And my father, the doctor, could not do a thing.  And while he stood at the side of my grandfather’s grave, watching the body lower into the ground, my mother was in a shed on the Navy grounds three thousand miles away, pushing my brother, their only son, into this world.

My father’s son was delivered by his colleagues while the dirt fell on his father’s grave.

What was the real weight of his words that night when he did not look up.

Did not open his arms to me.

Goddamn it.

I

can

not

fix

this.

Robbed of the Bounty of Heaven

I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian courtesy has proved but hollow courtesy.

The Wheelbarrow, Chapter 13

When Melville was 11 his family went bankrupt.  The following year, Melville’s father died following a brief stint of  insanity (please, your family is ruined and you’re dying–where does sanity really fit into the equation here?) I do love Charles Feildson’s note that Allan Melville’s delirious exhaustion unto death “left its mark on his son’s imagination.”

Melville was 12. Is there anything doesn’t leave a mark on a boy’s imagination at age 12?  Young Mel left school to become a bank clerk.  Then worked a family farm.  Then he was a store clerk.  Then a schoolteacher. . .By the time he was 20 he had been working for eight years straight.  He signed up to sail on a merchant ship and for this

for this

Feildson calls him

“a restless young man.”

which makes me wonder what Feildson would make of most college freshman.  That said. . .

It was in January,1841, at the age of 21, that Melville sailed out as part of the crew of a whaling vessel called the Acushnet.  The trip dragged on a bit and so it was that eighteen months later, in the Marquesas Islands, Melville abandoned ship.

Rainforest Fatu Hiva

Wouldn’t you?

The next three weeks of his life Melville spent with a native tribe and this was the basis of his hit travel adventure tale and one big commercial success: Typee.

But Melville, man after my own heart that he was (and ever will be), did not want to sit and document facts about the island tribes.  You know, sometimes you just want to get a larger point across and so, okay, yeah I was on the island for three years, or maybe it was five months, or, well, come to think if it, might have been closer to three weeks–but what I want to tell you is. . .

I shudder when I think of the change a few years will produce in their paradisaical abode. .

Why? The kind reader may ask.

One word: missionaries

Or two: Damned Missionaries.

their disasters (will) originate in certain

tea-party excitements,

under the influence of which benevolentlooking gentlemen in white cravats solicit

and old ladies in spectacles,

 and young ladies in sober russet gowns contribute sixpences towards the creation of a fund, alms,

the object of which

is to

ameliorate the spiritual condition

of the Polynesians,

. . . but whose end has almost invariably been to accomplish

their temporal destruction.

. . . no sooner are the images overturned,

the temples demolished,

and the idolators converted into  nominal Christians, that

disease

vice

and

premature death

make their appearance.

The depopulated land is then recruited from the rapacious, hordes of enlightened individuals!

who settle themselves within its borders, and clamorously announce the progress of the Truth. . .

THE TRUTH

There is one thing I am badly distracted by and it is

–not truth, as I have decided truth is far less tangible than we like to think,

but identity.

Perhaps its an excess of ego, but more likely I think it is a sentiment of the displaced.

It has not so much to do with ownership of land so much as the existence of a homeland.  A place that you belong to more than it belongs to you.  And when you belong to a place you can no more imagine living in banishment than you can imagine living without air to breathe.

I have lost a homeland, but that is for another post.  Perhaps after I have learned to forgive, though it is the one violation I cannot see my way to forgiving, I who pride myself on being a Maestra of Forgiveness.

Being pushed out at least gives you something to push back against, but when the land is taken out from under your feet. . .you become, as Melville noted of the Polynesians:

an interloper

in the country of his fathers,

and that too

on the very site

of     the      hut      where      he     was     born.

. . .

When the famished wretches are cut off in this manner from their natural supplies,they are told by their benefactors

to

work

and

earn

their support, by the sweat of their brows!

thus robbed

of the bounty of heaven. . .Paul Gauguin - Two Tahitian Women

want,

disease,

and vice,

all evils of foreign growth,

soon

terminate

his

miserable

existence.

So,

yes,

that is what Melville came home and wrote.

And the adventure story about this fantastical and exotic people became a best seller and the bible-orators, the descendants of puritanical pilgrims, read his words and they were,

well,

not very Christian about it.

Or perhaps they were very much Christian about it.

At any rate, they were like to whirl themselves into clouds of smoke and in so doing they pulled out the worst insult they could think of:

They called him a liar.

They said it was fiction.  

To which Melville said:

“Oh, you want fiction?

I’ll show you fiction.”

And then he wrote

Moby-Dick

So, for that, you 19th Century Christians,  for that, I do forever thank you.

The Intersection of Shelly and Keats

I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.

Chapter 85, The Fountain

When I go to get milk I pass this street sign.

And it never fails to set my mind awhirl.  Who was this street planner?  Did he (or she) have an affinity for the Romantic poets of the late 19th century?  Or did he (or she) simply pick up his daughter’s English text and flip through the index?

Let’s face it, it was probably a he, seeing as how the houses were built post WWII in the June Cleaver era where the women on TV were at home in apron and pearls, though, in this little neighborhood of Sears and Roebuck houses there were probably no women with the luxury of either time or television to drink in that image which was being drummed into the minds of suburban women in the name of Feminine Mystique.

But that– all of that–apron and pearls and kit homes and the passing cars in the intersection–plays into the mental spasm which is this intersection, at least in my mind.  And here’s the raft trip of my mind as I pass this sign.

I begin from the very outskirts of Shelly—by which I mean Wollstonecraft, the British feminist who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman .

This unconventional woman was speaking out in a manner most radical—with progressive thought that was certainly ahead of June Cleaver and even more radical than the actions of the gangs who have tagged the neighborhood surrounding this intersection.

Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter,

the mind shapes itself to the body,

and roaming round its gilt cage,

only seeks to adorn its prison.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary, beautifully free souled Mary who questioned men and God far ahead of her time, died a mere ten days after giving birth to my favorite Shelly—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, who, on a cold and dreary winter’s night at 18, sat with her then lover (Persey Shelly) and their bud, Lord Byron (oh, you Twilight fans—know you the debt you owe Lord Byron?) at Byron’s Swiss Villa swapping ghost stories when The Modern Prometeus, or as it is better known, Frankenstein, came into her mind.  This is some of Mary W. Shelly (she later married that Persey boy and became Mary Shelly) in the words of her achingly tormented sweet soul of a monster:

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.

Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly

The vision of Victor Frankenstein’s rejected creation drifting into the darkness on his raft of ice, alone to carry out his own sacrifice is, to me, one of the most haunting images in literature—right up there with Tashtego nailing the sea hawk to the mast as the Pequod is swallowed by the enveloping sea.

Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks.

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly

And finally in its intersection gymnastics, my mind reaches the literary intersection of Shelly and Keats, in the form of Adonais, the poem Percy Shelly wrote upon the death of his friend Keats–Keats being John(a-thing-of-beauty-is-a-joy-forever) Keats.

In contrast to what Keats requested be inscribed on his tombstone:

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.

Shelly wrote an entire tribute to the poet who died at the age of 25 casting young Keats as Adonis (or, as he spelled it Adonais):

The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.

The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me;

my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

And from this intersection I reach Keats, whom one has to appreciate if for nothing else than the spirit of youth’s passionate romance:

 Yet she had,

Indeed, locks bright enough to make me mad;
And they were simply gordian’d up and braided,
Leaving, in naked comeliness, unshaded,
Her pearl round ears, white neck, and orbed brow;
The which were blended in, I know not how,
With such a paradise of lips and eyes,

Blush-tinted cheeks, half smiles, and faintest sighs,
That, when I think thereon, my spirit clings
And plays about its fancy, till the stings
Of human neighbourhood envenom all.

John Keats, Endymion

And speaking of the neighborhood envenoming all, a thumper inevitably passes through the physical intersection as I am lost in 19th century romance and tears me ahead to the 21st century brand of this passion of youth as his radio blasts, and, really—is it so different?:

When I walk on by, girls be looking like damn he fly

I pimp to the beat, walking down the street in my new lafreak, yeah,

This is how I roll, animal print pants out control

It’s Redfoo with the big ass ‘fro

And like Bruce Leroy I got the glow, yo

Ahhh girl look at that body

Ahhh girl look at that body

Ahhh girl look at that body

I work out.

LMFAO, Sexy and I Know It

Well, yes it is that different.  And here on the corner of Keats and Shelly I think of the articulate monster, and the tubercular poet and oh what I would give for that boy coughing up blood who wrote:

Methought I fainted at the charmed touch,
Yet held my recollection, even as one
Who dives three fathoms where the waters run
Gurgling in beds of coral: for anon,

I felt upmounted in that region
Where falling stars dart their artillery forth,
And eagles struggle with the buffeting north
That balances the heavy meteor-stone;–
Felt too, I was not fearful, nor alone,
But lapp’d and lull’d along the dangerous sky.

Soon, as it seem’d, we left our journeying high,
And straightway into frightful eddies swoop’d;
Such as ay muster where grey time has scoop’d
Huge dens and caverns in a mountain’s side:
There hollow sounds arous’d me, and I sigh’d
To faint once more by looking on my bliss–
I was distracted; madly did I kiss
The wooing arms which held me, and did give
My eyes at once to death: but ’twas to live,. . . .

John Keats Endymion

(Versus:

Take me by the tongue and I’ll know you

Kiss me till you’re drunk and I’ll show you all

All the moves like Jagger

I got the moves like Jagger

Maroon 5, Moves Like Jagger)

Oh, it is too too easy to condemn—I do appreciate the passion, the fun, the joy but still. . .

Ah, desperate mortal! I ev’n dar’d to press
Her very cheek against my crowned lip,
And, at that moment, felt my body dip
Into a warmer air: a moment more,
Our feet were soft in flowers.

John Keats Endymion

The words of Persey Shelly assure us that this boy was no watercolor, but we. . .

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep-
He hath awakened from the dream of life-
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.-We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

Persey Bysshe Shelley, Adonais

Given Each Other by The Sun Himself

Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion – most seen here at the equator – denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away.

Chapter 132, The Symphony

 

Last week I fell in love.

Madly ,

deeply ,

undeniable and

intoxicatingly

in love. . .

with my husband of fifteen years.

It happens sometimes.

Without a birth, or a death,

Without the jarring realignment of a move from one home to the next,

Without any transition at all.

It can come without a long separation,

Without an absence depriving me for nights on end

of his presence pressing warm against my spine,

his arm anchored around my ribs,

to pull me in to him.

It happens sometimes for no reason at all except

That he is

there.

Stubbornly there.

And that  I have slipped just far enough away to see myself whole

Outside of him.

And I suddenly long

For the harbor

of his intimate knowledge of me.

He has studied me

and learned me over the course

of two decades.

And the knowledge has not left him

disillusioned,

but rather,

the knowledge is its own pleasure.

The depth of the knowledge

Carves a  secret, private world where the two of us

alone

can escape.

And there is too,

the capacity he displays in his

determination to view the fact

that I,

somehow,

forgot the change the oil in the van

for three years

and now the engine is shot. . .

as a sort of adventure.

We will help each other remember

to pour a quart of oil in

every Saturday

Oh, yes, it is burning oil badly now,

a puff of  blue smoke at ignition

clouds over the bumper sticker which reads, ironically:

“Environmental Protection

IS a Family Value”

And we cringe, at our lack of funds

To maintain our ethics.

But he speaks no blame.

In the midst of this

mundane

and everyday

nothing-glittering-about-it

clean-the-cat-box,

water-the-chickens

life,

it is not often noted that just as often

as things fall apart,

they come together

and after fifteen years

he can insist

he wants me,

only me,

as he presses a mug of coffee into my hands

and

leads me outside

to point out the dew

which morning has left on the vines.

 

 

“It took me by surprise when you told me I’ve been sleeping, with my eyes open wide.”

Colin Devlin, The Heart Won’t be Denied.

This song, by the way, is available as a FREE MP4 on Amazon .  I went into a freebie music download frenzy last week, and this little album was one of my finds.  Check it out.