Friday, July 20, 2012

George Oppen: Escape from ants, water meters, and the revival of the Melita coffee filter cone

We had quite a start to the day:  The café-presse broke, as café-presses will do, right when you want coffee;  Dobby discovered non-hairball inspired projectile vomiting, which I joyously cleaned up; I infused twice the amount of an antibiotic and decided to care less; The West of the Lone Alp Tête de Hergé Water Municipal OverLordShip sent us the sweetest municipal worker ever, even if he did keep slapping me on the shoulder [He told me that I "looked fetching today," so he can slap the hell out of that boneless hump as much as he likes, and he also declared the outrageous water readings to be the fault of the electronic doodad and not the result of a gushing leak, or my two diuretics.]; Then the ants attacked, again, this time traversing the back porch, the kitchen window, and proceeding, lemming-like, to drown themselves, en masse, in a sink full of soapy water.  This was accomplished in the course of 30 minutes, as I *know* there were no aunts committing suicide a half hour earlier, when I so carefully hooked myself up to the wrong antibiotic -- right next to the Death Pool of soapy Lemon Ajax.  Meanwhile, the Special-Oh-So-Special Topiary Team arrived to try and rectify some of the burgeoning Labyrinth issues... and we had to send La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore out to oversee their work, despite her obsessive reworking of the Jewel Song (Gounod's Air des bijoux) into a soulful Lithuanian version.  Unfortunately, her tendency to transpose parts with Latvian translation... well, we're not sure her focus is entirely on the correct training of the British Boxwoods.

I signed up last week for the Poem-A-Day service of the Academy of American Poets.

That can be a real life-saver on mornings such as this 'un.

And as I calmed down, I realized I didn't like today's poem much.  So I locked myself in the Computer Turret (one day soon, I'll explain the modifications we've made to accomodate slithering into that space from a power chair, with CRPS-flaring legs, a reconstructed ankle and elbow, a prosthetic hip, one prosthetic shoulder, and one shoulder gone missing... using the rope ladder/bridge strung from our small tower to the barn, now the Rehab Center for Carnies and Wayward Acrobats.)

And I spent several hours with George Oppen, renewed that love.  Fred was good enough to ferry up a thermos of excellent coffee mid-afternoon, and the Marlinspike Hall Domestic Staff showed me the kindness of pretending they didn't know it was me up here delivering my usual arias of "damndamndamndamn" when the Screaming Ninny CRPS Dystonia Spasms showed up.

I'm in a sharing mood, as your current thought ("Dear Jeezus, does she have to share everything?") attests.

Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, my intention to start a sort of poetry war action, and my outright theft of their holdings, here are Sections 1-22 of Oppen's Of Being Numerous:


There are things
We live among ‘and to see them
Is to know ourselves’.

Occurrence, a part
Of an infinite series,

The sad marvels;

Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.

‘You remember that old town we went to, and we sat in the ruined window, and we tried to imagine that we belonged to those times—It is dead and it is not dead, and you cannot imagine either its life or its death; the earth speaks and the salamander speaks, the Spring comes and only obscures it—’


So spoke of the existence of things,
An unmanageable pantheon

Absolute, but they say

A city of the corporations

In dreams

And images—

And the pure joy
Of the mineral fact

Tho it is impenetrable

As the world, if it is matter,
Is impenetrable.


The emotions are engaged
Entering the city
As entering any city.

We are not coeval
With a locality
But we imagine others are,

We encounter them. Actually
A populace flows
Thru the city.

This is a language, therefore, of New York


For the people of that flow
Are new, the old

New to age as the young
To youth

And to their dwelling
For which the tarred roofs

And the stoops and doors—
A world of stoops—
Are petty alibi and satirical wit
Will not serve.


The great stone
Above the river
In the pylon of the bridge


Frozen in the moonlight
In the frozen air over the footpath, consciousness

Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,
Which loves itself


We are pressed, pressed on each other,
We will be told at once
Of anything that happens

And the discovery of fact bursts
In a paroxysm of emotion
Now as always.   Crusoe

We say was
So we have chosen.


Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreck
Of the singular

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous.


Amor fati
The love of fate

For which the city alone
Is audience

Perhaps blasphemous.

Slowly over islands, destinies
Moving steadily pass
And change

In the thin sky
Over islands

Among days

Having only the force
Of days

Most simple
Most difficult


‘Whether, as the intensity of seeing increases, one’s distance from Them, the people, does not also increase’
I know, of course I know, I can enter no other place

Yet I am one of those who from nothing but man’s way of thought and one of his dialects and what has happened to me
Have made poetry

To dream of that beach
For the sake of an instant in the eyes,

The absolute singular

The unearthly bonds
Of the singular

Which is the bright light of shipwreck


Or, in that light, New arts! Dithyrambic, audience-as-artists! But I will listen to a man, I will listen to a man, and when I speak I will speak, tho he will fail and I will fail. But I will listen to him speak. The shuffling of a crowd is nothing—well, nothing but the many that we are, but nothing.

Urban art, art of the cities, art of the young in the cities—The isolated man is dead, his world around him exhausted

And he fails! He fails, that meditative man! And indeed they cannot ‘bear’ it.


            it is that light
Seeps anywhere, a light for the times

In which the buildings
Stand on low ground, their pediments
Just above the harbor

Absolutely immobile,

Hollow, available, you could enter any building,
You could look from any window
One might wave to himself
From the top of the Empire State Building—


If you can


Phyllis—not neo-classic,
The girl’s name is Phyllis—

Coming home from her first job
On the bus in the bare civic interior
Among those people, the small doors
Opening on the night at the curb
Her heart, she told me, suddenly tight with happiness—

So small a picture,
A spot of light on the curb, it cannot demean us

I too am in love down there with the streets
And the square slabs of pavement—

To talk of the house and the neighborhood and the docks

And it is not ‘art’


‘In these explanations it is presumed that an experiencing subject is one occasion of a sensitive reaction to an actual world.’

the rain falls
that had not been falling
and it is the same world

. . .

They made small objects
Of wood and the bones of fish
And of stone. They talked,
Families talked,
They gathered in council
And spoke, carrying objects.
They were credulous,
Their things shone in the forest.

They were patient
With the world.
This will never return, never,
Unless having reached their limits

They will begin over, that is,
Over and over


           unable to begin
At the beginning, the fortunate
Find everything already here. They are shoppers,
Choosers, judges; . . . And here the brutal
is without issue, a dead end.
                                            They develop
Argument in order to speak, they become
unreal, unreal, life loses
solidity, loses extent, baseball’s their game
because baseball is not a game
but an argument and difference of opinion
makes the horse races. They are ghosts that endanger

One’s soul. There is change
In an air
That smells stale, they will come to the end
Of an era
First of all peoples
And one may honorably keep

His distance
If he can.


I cannot even now
Altogether disengage myself
From those men

With whom I stood in emplacements, in mess tents,
In hospitals and sheds and hid in the gullies
Of blasted roads in a ruined country,

Among them many men
More capable than I—

Muykut and a sergeant
Named Healy,
That lieutenant also—

How forget that? How talk
Distantly of ‘The People’

Who are that force
Within the walls
Of cities

Wherein their cars

Echo like history
Down walled avenues
In which one cannot speak.


Chorus (androgynous): ‘Find me
So that I will exist, find my navel
So that it will exist, find my nipples
So that they will exist, find every hair
Of my belly, I am good (or I am bad),
Find me.’


‘. . . he who will not work shall not eat,
and only he who was troubled shall find rest,
and only he who descends into the nether world shall rescue his beloved,
and only he who unsheathes his knife shall be given Isaac again. He who will not work shall not eat. . .
but he who will work shall give birth to his own father.’


The roots of words
Dim in the subways

There is madness in the number
Of the living
‘A state of matter’

There is nobody here but us chickens


He wants to say
His life is real,
No one can say why

It is not easy to speak

A ferocious mumbling, in public
Of rootless speech


It is the air of atrocity,
An event as ordinary
As a President.

A plume of smoke, visible at a distance
In which people burn.


Now in the helicopters the casual will
Is atrocious

Insanity in high places,
If it is true we must do these things
We must cut our throats

The fly in the bottle

Insane, the insane fly

Which, over the city
Is the bright light of shipwreck


—They await

War, and the news
Is war

As always

That the juices may flow in them
Tho the juices lie.

Great things have happened
On the earth and given it history, armies
And the ragged hordes moving and the passions
Of that death. But who escapes

Among these riders
Of the subway,

They know
But now as I know

Failure and the guilt
Of failure.
As in Hardy’s poem of Christmas

We might half-hope to find the animals
In the sheds of a nation
Kneeling at midnight,

Farm animals,
Draft animals, beasts for slaughter
Because it would mean they have forgiven us,
Or which is the same thing,
That we do not altogether matter.


There can be a brick
In a brick wall
They eye picks

So quiet of a Sunday
Here is the brick, it was waiting
Here when you were born




In the sense of transparence,
I don’t mean that much can be explained

Clarity in the sense of silence.
George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous (1-22)” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1968 by George Oppen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: New Collected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2008)
Ants be damned, water workers be blessed, gratitude for Melita coffee filter cones, and thanks to Fred, but most especially thanks to George Oppen, who nailed poems to wood, and who STAVED, STAVED, STAVED, and singularly rendered it a not-necessarily transitive verb.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Rewrite: Dad laid down and went to sleep

Brother-Unit Grader Boob has returned to his own Home Land after seeing to the Father-Unit's cremation and memorial service, whose attendance was apparently mostly made up of beach locals:

"[A] waitress from their favorite eatery, the guy who does their lawn, their Mr. Fix-It, the brokerage guy from their bank, some guys he hung out with and drank coffee with down at the local BP station..." and a smattering of actual relations.  I'm betting that the waitress knew him best.  I'm betting he smoked when he dropped by at odd hours, alone, ordering some "regular" food item that she prepared just right.  He was a sucker for lemon pie -- maybe he developed a thing for the more available key lime -- the lemon pie was a specialty of his mother's.  Lemon Ice Box Pie.  Awfully graham-crackery and pucker::pucker tart.  But it was "hers" so we "loved" it, air quotes proving our citric credibility.

A scattering of his ashes is planned for Atlantic waters, and there don't seem to be a bunch of laws standing in the way.  Not like over at the western end of that state, where some weenies decided to regulate drifting cinders.  That was my first choice, somewhere (actually, "somewhere" very specific) along the Blue Ridge.  Then a California friend, a busy mother, ceramic artist, perpetual redesigner of kitchens -- but reportedly, by kin, even, a god-awful baker -- someone who eventually went to med school and, I'm willing to wager all my investment income -- income so piled high upon itself that it is seeping out of my Gringotts Wizarding Bank magical money jail cell -- solves more medical mysteries over coffee in her torn-to-pieces kitchen than in some speckled formica-ed San Franciscan examination cubicle...

My train.  That damned train of thought.  Choo!  Choo!***

Anyway, Margaret, this California friend, began sending me a local artist's series of Point Reyes note cards, a national park, a "national seashore." A shore, headlands, grasslands, beaches, a forest, even.  [I am notoriously challenged directionally... A trip up the PCH** meant the Pacific was on the left, the forests on the right.  The return trip required the PCH to be on the right, the woods to my left.  The weeping driver asking for directions, thank God, was *always* to my left, as The Great American Writer Wannabe refused to allow me to drive his Mustang.

Margaret wasn't campaigning that I scatter my ashes anywhere in our nationally shared Point Reyes park.  It just came to bright me, it came as a longing, as a fulfillment.  And it turned out to be a pain in the caboose:

• A permit is required for all areas. 
• Remains to be scattered must have been cremated and pulverized. 
• Scattering by persons on the ground is to be performed at least 100 yards from any trail, 
road, developed facility or body of water, and 440 yards seaward from the shoreline on 
the Pacific Ocean. 
• Scattering from the air will not be performed over developed areas, facilities or bodies of 
water and will be performed at a minimum altitude of 2000 feet above the ground. 

Just at that point in your After-Existence when you're looking for the few people left who love you to have a freeing moment, a laugh in the wind?  Bullet points.  And I gotta say, "pulverized" kinda kills the good mood. Of course, I suppose that if my already cindered remains were not put through some huge spice grinder, I'd shift from a figurative to a literal portion of the Giant Floating Garbage Patch.

I do appreciate, though, the posting of allowable driving speeds.  It reads like a marvelous poem:

15 MPH: 
• The unpaved section of Mesa Road 
• Oyster Farm Access Road 
• Mount Vision Road 
• Estero Trail Access Road 
• Marshall Beach Road 
• Sacramento Landing Road 
• Chimney Rock Road 
• The following sections of trails open for administrative vehicle use: 
• Sky Trail (from Limantour Road to Sky Camp) 
• Bear Valley Trail (Bear Valley Trailhead to Glen Junction) 
• Coast Trail (Limantour Road to Coast Camp) 
• Drivable sections of the Inverness Ridge Trail (Limantour Road to the Mt. Vision 
• Marshall Beach Trail 
• Stewart Trail (including Glen Camp Spur Trail from Stewart Trail to Glen Camp)  
• Lighthouse Road from the parking lot to the Lighthouse Visitor Center 
• Bolinas Ridge Trail 
• Randall Trail 
25 MPH: 
• Limantour Road (Sky Trail to Limantour Parking Lot, including the road to the southern 
parking lot) 

Yeah, so now?  Just put me in a cardboard box, mix with some perlite -- me and some Home Depot volcanic glass -- and plant something that you don't think I'd kill.

Brother Grader Boob wrote this about the Father-Unit:  "Sometime early in the morning of July 3, he got up and went over to his spot on the couch in the living room, laid down, and went to sleep and passed away. Mom found him when she came upstairs."

Photographic evidence shows that he was skinny beyond belief.  I doubt now that he strolled much on the beach, his front lawn, because he surely would have been lifted high as a kite.

I guess Brother-Unit Grader Boob has scads of photos and such to go through -- the inevitable gift to the family photographer (They've never seen TW's work). To lighten things up, and to make me snort coffee up my nose, he sent his "current favorite" of the degrading pictures:

I actually remember that day. We'd been out shopping for carpets for the Father-Units' parents, and someone clearly thought I looked great in shades of eggplant.  I hope to goodness that that was not the carpet we chose.  The box, I believe, was a gift from a stinky cigar-smoking uncle named, quite inappropriately, "Happy," and his wife, the lovely, sweet Doris.  It was a piggy bank.  Without the piggy.  It did some sort of magic trick -- you know, like it took your money and disappeared it.

The funeral, Grader Boob said, was very much against Father-Unit's will.  I wish I knew more as to why he did not want one.

You may not remember [!], but I dreamt of Dad's watch a few nights before he died.  In the dream, it was simply heavy, silver, and nothing special.  Here is a close up of the apparently meaningful item (no matter the number of times I insist on its ordinariness):

Various peer-reviewed studies suggest these interpretations:
--To dream of a watch is a symbol that you are too caught up in structure. Control, rules, and laws rule your day. You are unable to relax and let go. 
--A generation or two ago, a gold watch was the standard gift presented to a valued employee at retirement. So in this sense, a dream of a gold watch would suggest that something was coming to a good, satisfactory conclusion. Alternatively, any watch or clock represents time and gold symbolizes great value. Together they represents the value of time.  [Please note that, in my dream, there was no allusion to "gold" or "great value";  In fact, the opposite asserted itself.]
--Being late or early (or a fear of being so), short on time, or having too much time, or the idea of adhering to a schedule.

Oh, all right.  It's not hard.  I lost my time with him, I ran out of time, but maybe, maybe, maybe -- there is something that is timeless?


***One day when we were on the subject of transportation and 
distribution, it came Bolenciecwz's turn to answer a question. “Name 
one means of transportation,” the professor said to him. No light came 
into the big tackle's eyes. “Just any means of transportation,” said the 
professor. Bolenciecwz sat staring at him. “That is,” pursued the 
professor, “any medium, agency, or method of going from one place to 
another.” Bolenciecwz had the look of a man who is being led into a 
trap. “You may choose among steam, horse-drawn, or electrically 
propelled vehicles,” said the instructor. “I might suggest the one which 
we commonly take in making long journeys across land.” There was a 
profound silence in which everybody stirred uneasily, including 
Bolenciecwz and Mr. Bassum. Mr. Bassum abruptly broke this silence 
in an amazing manner. “Choo-choo-choo,” he said, in a low voice, and 
turned instantly scarlet. He glanced appealingly around the room. All of 
us, of course, shared Mr. Bassum's desire that Bolenciecwz should stay 
abreast of the class in economics, for the Illinois game, one of the 
hardest and most important of the season, was only a week off. “Toot, 
toot, too-toooooootf” some student with a deep voice moaned, and we 
all looked encouragingly at Bolenciecwz. Somebody else gave a fine 
imitation of a locomotive letting off steam. Mr. Bassum himself 
rounded off the little show. “Ding, dong, ding, dong,” he said, 
hopefully. Bolenciecwz was staring at the floor now, trying to think, his 
great brow furrowed, his huge hands rubbing together, his face red.
“How did you come to college this year, Mr. Bolenciecwz?” 
asked the professor. “Chuffa chuffa, chuffa chuffa.”
“M'father sent me,” said the football player.
“What on?” asked Bassum.
“I git an allowance,” said the tackle, in a low, husky voice, 
obviously embarrassed.
“No, no,” said Bassum. “Name a means of transportation. What 
did you ride here on?”
“Train,” said Bolenciecwz.
“Quite right,” said the professor. 

-- "University Days," James Thurber

**State Route 1 (SR 1) is a major north-south state highway that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California. Highway 1 has several portions designated as either Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway. Its southern terminus is at Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point in Orange County and its northern terminus is at U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) near Leggett in Mendocino County. Highway 1 also at times runs concurrently with US 101, most notably through a 54-mile (87 km) stretch in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The highway is famous for running along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the USA, leading to its designation as an All-American Road. In addition to providing a scenic route to numerous attractions along the coast, the route also serves as a major thoroughfare in the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and several other coastal urban areas.

SR 1 was built piecemeal in various stages, with the first section opening in the Big Sur region in the 1930s. However, portions of the route had several names and numbers over the years as more segments opened. It was not until the 1964 state highway renumbering that the entire route was officially designated as Highway 1. Although SR 1 is a popular route for its scenic beauty, frequent landslides and erosion along the coast have caused several segments to be either closed for lengthy periods for repairs, or re-routed further inland.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

red hourglass, black spider?

Fred is such a card.

He is at war with the Water Department -- they are notoriously inaccurate when dealing with medieval garderobes instead of high-efficiency stealth toilets -- and so, in preparation for battle, Fred is often seen running like a maniac to take time-stamped photography of the old water meter.

I heard him stomping his way in through the mid-Manor faux florentine Baptistry Bronze Doors -- faux in the sense that Tête de Hergé ain't Florence, also faux in that we only duplicated the work of competitors Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti;  There is nothing from Jacopo della Quercia, Simone da Colle, Niccolò d'Arezzo, Niccolò di Pietro Lamberti, and Francesco di Valdambrino (we know where all the competition panels were stashed, ha!).

Nothing "faux" about the bronze part, so when Fred wants to slam a door, he really gets to slam a door.

Fred knows how I feel about bugs. insects, spiders, snakes, icky-things.

"Look what I found on top of the water meter!"

Thinking he was trying to get the better of me, something oh-so-hard-to-do, I let loose with my only bit of knowledge about black widow spiders:  they gotta be female to getcha.

"Yeah," replied Fred, "she was right next to three egg sacs."

So:  Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

15 to 20 minutes

i so wish i could say things were looking up.  actually, *i* am looking up, as i am all scrunched down in the bed, with my neck in an oh-so-comfy perpendicular formation... which, yes, i will fix in a minute.  sadly, stuff like that requires lots of effort.

oh, poor moi!

i feel a strong need to get to a neurologist and soon.  the crps dystonia, aka the screaming ninnies, have returned, damn each spasm to hell.  but what scares me, terrifies me, is the first 15-20 minutes of it.  it must fire or trigger in an area of my brain in charge of emotion and impulsiveness.  i don't even know if such a segmented brain area exists.  but in those first minutes, i come perilously close to committing suicide.

not kidding.

if i can make it through, and obviously, thus far i have, those 15-20 minutes, i'm okay.  or at least not suicidal.  i used to be full of gratitude and relief.  now, it's more like, "well, damn... still here."

it's clearly neurological and not "emotional."

i tell myself:  "come on, it's just a few minutes..." i tell myself:  "the meds will kick in, the spasms will ease up, nothing has really changed." i tell myself:  "if only i had a gun, i could end this."

tuesday, when they had to call 911 at the infectious disease dood's office, i got hit with total body spasms, but couldn't let anyone touch me.  i remember doing wheelies with the wheelchair and yelling, over and over, "what am i going to do?  what am i going to do?"  this really sweet, but slightly (okay, extremely) weird infusion nurse kept grabbing me by the non-existent shoulder and that actually kept me going, i believe.  it hurt so bad, and it kept me so busy snarling at her ("don't touch me, don't touch me" -- to which her everlovin' reply was, "oh, god, i did it again, i am so sorry, it's just the nurse in me!" grrrrrrrrr...) that it kept my BP up and me alive.

forget my near 104 spike in temp, my BP did some funky, scary stuff.  200/100 for a good while.  then, they said i got all pasty pale and it began readings like 150/25, 145/30 over and over again.  what does that mean?

and my brain HURT.  fred helpfully pointed out that it was not, technically, my brain that hurt, as it was incapable of doing so.  i tried to reach fred with the business end of my cane, no luck.

so... can youse dear readers understand a little hypochondriasis over the state of my brain when my exquisite body goes dystonic?

i have tried to put together some things to help me through the 15-20 minute of please-slay-me, slay-me-now.  these include:

playing mahjong
trying to stand and walk
getting into the chair and going anywhere
distributing treats to the felines
doing a swan dive from the computer turret into the least algae covered area of the moat
calling a creditor and promising to pay in full
my nephew adrean, whom i've never met, managed to break his arm in two spots... so i think about him.
my other nephew john, whom  i've also never met, writes keen emails, so sometimes i compose answers.
the ManorFest 2012 labyrinth has developed some humongous holes in its otherwise pristine english boxwood density, so i dream up solutions to that pressing problem (they could be archery stations, or maybe beanbag toss spots?)
i pick things up so that i can drop them, and pick them up, so that i can drop them.

well, one mission accomplished: by writing this, i've made the big hand move on the clock to the time where i'm supposed to run in the last antibiotic of the day.  so... excuse moi while i go do that.

thanks for getting me through this quarter hour.